Pitchers and catchers are the theme of the week, and since I already covered the backup catcher competition, today it’s time for the fifth starter role.
If it wasn’t for James Paxton’s surgery, this probably wouldn’t have been a competition at all. Brian Cashman proclaimed JA Happ as the team’s fifth starter in January. Personally, I expected some sort of competition whether or not Happ was still with the team, but that’s moot now. Happ’s going to be in the rotation leaving the last spot up for grabs. Let’s take a look at whose in the hunt for the last starter spot.
It certainly seems like Jordan Montgomery is the heavy favorite. Aaron Boone spoke highly of him. He’s also got the most big league experience and success compared to the rest of the bunch in this battle. In 182 2/3 pre-TJS innings with the Yankees, Montgomery had a 3.84 ERA, 4.09 FIP, and 3.5 WAR. That’s rock solid for a back of the rotation guy.
Track record aside, the one concern I have is how rusty he may be. Now, he did return to pitch four innings last September after missing most of 2018 and 2019 rehabbing, which is a plus. But he really hasn’t pitched in a competitive game since early 2018. On the other hand, when is there a better time to dust off the cobwebs than April?
Remember, Monty won a rotation spot out of camp as a rookie in 2017 — before he had ever thrown a major league pitch. The Yankees liked him then and certainly still do now. Expect him to be in the rotation from the get go.
Better off in the bullpen?
Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa were named as options by Brian Cashman after the Paxton news broke. However, both may be better utilized in relief.
Cessa seemingly found his home in the bullpen last year. In 43 games and 81 innings, all in relief, Cessa recorded a 4.11 ERA and 4.87 FIP. The 27 year-old righty’s fastball-slider combination appears to play up in shorter stints. And frankly, I don’t really want him facing the top of the opponent’s order in the first inning. He’s better suited in low leverage opportunities as he showed last season.
Loaisiga is tantalizing simply because of his nasty stuff. Not only did he average 96.9 miles per hour on his fastball last year, but he also was in the 84th and 89th percentile in fastball and curveball spin, respectively. Though his command wavers, we know he can be dominant at times. As we’ve seen with so many other hard throwers with suspect command, sometimes they’re better off in short stints and in fact more valuable in relief anyway.
After a strong 2018 following his inclusion in the Giancarlo Stanton trade, there was some intrigue about Michael King’s potential to be a back of the rotation starter. As a 24 year-old in 2018, King dominated across 161 1/3 innings between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. He had a 1.79 ERA and 2.76 FIP supported by a good strikeout rate (24.7 percent) and stupendous walk rate (4.7 percent).
Unfortunately, 2019 was mostly a lost year for King, hence his chances in this competition being a bit of a mystery. He had a stress reaction in his pitching elbow last spring training which basically derailed all of his campaign. Once he completed his rehab and returned to action, he wasn’t as good as the year before. He did get to make his major league debut in relief last September, at least.
King’s kind of in the same boat as Montgomery except he doesn’t have the big league track record. Both pitchers returned late last season after lengthy layoffs, so it’ll be interesting to see how sharp they are in the early going. King’s going to get a look, but chances are he’s in Scranton to begin 2020.
The Yankees’ 40-man is littered with pitching prospects, though only one of them is close to the big leagues. Deivi García, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Nick Nelson, and Miguel Yajure were all new additions to the 40-man roster this winter and will be exciting to see in camp. However, only García appears to have a legitimate shot given his proximity to the majors.
Deivi reached Triple-A by the end of 2019 and there were some whispers of him joining the big league bullpen by season’s end. That never came to fruition as García stumbled a bit in Scranton. Nonetheless, the 20 year-old righty is a consensus top-100 prospect specifically named by Cashman as in the running for the gig.
Don’t count on Deivi winning the job out of camp, but it’s not impossible. Being on the 40-man alone is a booster, and if he shoves in Grapefruit League action, people are going to want to see him in the majors soon.
If we move away from the 40-man, we’ll also find Clarke Schmidt as a non-roster invitee. Schmidt’s prospect pedigree is basically on par with García’s, sans the BP rankings which prefers the latter by a good margin. There’s a decent shot we see Schmidt in pinstripes by year’s end, but since the Yankees would need to cut someone to add him for Opening Day, his odds are slim to none. Worth a mention though because of his upside and inclusion in big league camp.
Break glass in case of emergency
The Yankees brought in Nick Tropeano on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. He’s assuredly destined for Triple-A to start the season, but he does have over 200 major league innings to his name. Tropeano’s struggled to stay healthy and was last effective in 2015 and 2016, so he’s not particularly enticing.
Unless there are tons of injuries to the staff in spring, Tropeano’s not going to see action with the Yankees. He’s here more to fill out Scranton’s rotation than serve as an actual major league option. Still, he’s in camp and has pitched at the highest level before, so I suppose he has some qualifications. Again though, it’d take a true emergency to need him right away.