Rehabbing pitchers with promise [2019 Season Review]

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No one could have anticipated he amount of injuries the Yankees sustained during 2019. The injury bug struck hard and often, with numerous setbacks throughout the campaign. Even though the sheer number of injuries was unfathomable, the Bombers were aware of a few guys who would be out for extended periods before the regular season began. Namely, Jordan Montgomery, Ben Heller, and Mike King.

Jordan Montgomery

After a solid rookie campaign in 2017, Montgomery made just six starts in 2018 before he needed Tommy John surgery. The Yankees weren’t counting on the 26 year-old southpaw to return until late this season, if at all. The rehab process for this surgery is now as long as 18 months. In Montgomery’s case, he made his final start of 2018 on May 1st and underwent surgery in early June. He returned to big league action in mid-September of this year after roughly a 15 month layoff.

The 26 year-old southpaw starting throwing batting practice this June, but suffered a setback in his rehab not long after. An MRI later revealed shoulder inflammation, unrelated to his surgically repaired elbow. After sitting out a few weeks, Montgomery got back on track in July and eventually threw a simulated game in August. Later in August, he began a formal rehab assignment in the minors.

J-Mo made three starts in the minors: one in Tampa, one in Scranton, and another in Trenton during the Eastern League playoffs. After his last outing for the Thunder on September 10th, the Yankees activated him. He made his 2019 debut in relief against Toronto on the 15th.

Montgomery pitched one more game in 2019, nine days later against the Rays. This time, he started against the Rays and threw two shutout innings. He struck out three and surrendered three hits. More important than anything, Montgomery ended the year healthy.

It’s not clear what role Montgomery will serve next year, at least from the start. He was obviously big league ready before he got hurt, but whether or not he starts 2020 in the minors depends on what the Yankees do this winter. He’d be a perfectly competent fifth starter, but the Yankees may want to bide some time with him in order to make sure he’s fully back.

Ben Heller

Like Montgomery, Heller didn’t return until late 2019 because of Tommy John surgery recovery. Heller had his surgery last April and didn’t pitch a single game in 2018.

Heller began a rehab assignment in late June, but was shut down in July due to forearm pain. By mid-August, Heller was back on the mound in minor league games for Scranton for take two. This time, no setbacks. The Yankees activated Heller on September 10th and he got into his first game two days later. His first batter faced went pretty well:

Travis Demeritte homered in the next at-bat, but from there on out, Heller didn’t allow a run the rest of the season in seven more innings.

Heller is a major league bullpen candidate next year. It feels like we’ve been ready to see him entrench himself in the Yankees ‘pen ever since he was acquired as part of the Andrew Miller trade, but obviously the surgery created a big gap. He also has options still, so he could spend time in Triple-A in 2020. But if all goes well health-wise, he should spend a good amount of time in relief for the Yanks.

Mike King

Unlike Montgomery and Heller, King wasn’t on the 40-man roster at the beginning of the season. However, he was expected to contribute in the majors at some point this season. In 2018, King threw 161 1/3 innings of 1.79 ERA ball between High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and Triple-A Scranton. He was on the precipice of the big leagues by the end of that year and could have been one of the first guys to come up when the rotation needed help this year. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Very early in spring training, it was revealed that the righty had a stress reaction in his elbow. Three weeks and an MRI to determine the next steps turned into King missing almost all of the season.

The 24 year-old righty, originally acquired from Miami in exchange for Garrett Cooper, started a rehab assignment in July and made his way back to Double-A by the end of the month. He pitched thrice for Trenton before moving up to Triple-A, where he had finished his stellar 2018 campaign. Overall, his minor league numbers (5.48 ERA in 46 innings, including rehab) were a far cry from what he did a year before. But more importantly, he was healthy.

On September 19th, the Yankees selected King’s contract to the 40-man roster. He was going to get added at some point given his Rule 5 eligibility, but Domingo Germán’s domestic violence investigation opened up a spot on the roster. King made his big league debut against the Rangers, his sole outing with the Yankees in 2019, before the regular season ended.

Expect King to return to Triple-A to start 2020. He could get some action in the rotation in the Bronx at some point next year, but probably not right away. The surgery recovery pushed his timetable back a bit and he’s already lower on the depth chart someone like Montgomery.


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  1. Wire Fan

    I think they leave Monty in AAA as the 6th starter to start the year.

    Though the wildcard here is the German suspension. If it is relatively short and he only misses a few starts, I could see Monty being the temporary fill-in. If it is a lengthy suspension, I think the Yankees pick someone up.

  2. RetroRob

    I remain a King fan. I don’t expect he’s a front-line starter at all, but could be a solid back-end option.

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