The Yankees’ rotation already looks different than we expected entering spring training. James Paxton won’t be around for at least the first month or two of the regular season. Luis Severino is done for the year. But even before those two blows, it was reasonable to expect a number of new faces getting starting opportunities with the Yankees this season.
Other than Gerrit Cole, which major leaguers can the Yankees actually count on in 2021 and beyond? Maybe Jordan Montgomery if all goes well in his first season post-Tommy John surgery. (Note: I erroneously left out Domingo Germán when first published. He’s certainly a candidate but a lot depends on the outcome from his rehabilitation) But after that, there could be as many as three openings in the rotation. That means we could see a number of prospects auditioning this year for long-term roles. Expect to see guys like Deivi García, Clarke Schmidt, Michael King, Jonathan Loaisiga, et. al. to get significant looks this season.
Now, it’s far more likely than not that the Yankees won’t have that many spots available. Even though James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka are free agents after 2020, I’d bet on one of them coming back. Plus, JA Happ’s 2021 option could vest with 27 starts or 165 innings pitched. Lastly, Luis Severino presumably will return at some point mid-2021. Even with all of those possibilities in mind, one would figure at least one or two internal options are in mind in the long run.
Oftentimes, the Yankees have tried to fill long-term spots by trade. The organization did internally develop Montgomery and Severino, but the number of external acquisitions to bolster the rotation greatly outnumber what’s come from the farm system. Think Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Sonny Gray, and Paxton. Maybe the Yankees will do something similar again. That said, it’s been a while since the Yankees have been flush with pitching prospects near the majors. That last time was the big three: Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. Time flies.
The Yankees will have a chance to find out about at least one of their young arms right from the get-go. With Cole, Tanaka, Happ, and Montgomery locked into the first four rotation spots, there’s a job up for grabs. Maybe that job goes to a non-roster invitee with major league experience in Chad Bettis, but it would behoove the Yankees to get a look at someone who’s expected to be around longer. King and Loaisiga, both who have already reached the majors, seem like the current favorites.
King profiles as more of a back-end starter, whereas Loaisiga has frontline stuff. King’s got a great minor league track record, albeit not overwhelming stuff and an injury-riddled 2019. Meanwhile, Loaisiga is injury-prone himself and many believe he’s a better fit in relief. I lean in that direction as well, but I don’t mind giving him chances to keep starting as long as he has options remaining. The Yankees’ bullpen is deep as it is so he’s not needed in the ‘pen, at least not at the moment.
Then there’s the 20-year-old hyped García, who seems to be next in line on the 40-man. Depending on your publication of preference, he’s the Yankees’ top pitching prospect. He got knocked around a bit in Triple-A after a rapid ascension through the minors, but he’s definitely close to major league ready. He was nearly promoted last season to help the bullpen. Now it’s just a question of when he’ll get his chance in 2020.
There are other 40-man roster options too, but none figure to get a shot early this season. Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Miguel Yajure, Nick Nelson, and Albert Abreu are either far away from the majors or still have some work to do.
Clarke Schmidt is the most enticing non-40-man roster pitcher. He’s impressed early in Grapefruit League action.
A pair of Clarke Schmidt power-curveballs pic.twitter.com/vGVxZOAqt1— Lucas Apostoleris (@DBITLefty) February 27, 2020
Just because Schmidt is a non-roster invitee doesn’t mean he can’t win the job out of camp. Remember, Montgomery wasn’t on the 40-man roster entering spring training in 2017 and won the fifth starter job anyway. Schmidt has quite a bit of competition to beat, but as perhaps the team’s top pitching prospect, he can’t be ruled out. In any case, I expect to see him in the majors before the season is all said and done.
So, we know that the Yankees basically will hold a long-term tryout as long as Paxton’s on the injured list (and assuming everyone else remains healthy). But what happens if and when the staff returns to full-strength? “If” is the key here, of course. There are plenty of ways to envision prospects getting continued run throughout the season:
- Paxton could have a setback or get hurt again given his injury history
- Montgomery could struggle to re-establish himself and need time in the minors
- Happ could pitch his way out of the rotation or the Yankees could look to avoid his 2021 option vesting
Even though there are going to be plenty of opportunities for the Yankees to see what they have internally this season, they can’t fool around too much. The division is still on the line, you know. The Yankees are still favorites even with the injuries they’ve sustained. But even still, there may come a point that they need to look outside the organization to bolster the rotation.
The Yankees are currently a team very much in the present that is in its title window. This year is World Series or bust, but the team’s future is still at play. 2020 could provide for a unique opportunity for the team. It can not only to sort out its rotation over the next few years, but even improve it internally this season. It’s not that hard to envision someone like García or Schmidt breaking out and helping ease the blow of losing Severino all season.