If you read my piece on the Yankees’ pitching depth last week, you know that the team is pretty deep in starting pitching. Sure, some of those pitchers have their warts, but there are also a number of viable options to pitch out of the rotation. Pitchers break — they always do — so it’s best to have a lot of them. By midsummer, the Yanks may have nearly a dozen major league caliber starters. Yes, some far better than others, but that’s a lot of insurance.
Today, it’s time to preview the organization’s starters. Not just those who’ll see major league time, either. Like my catcher preview or Dom’s corner infield breakdown, I’ll dive into the starters down the rungs of the minors.
A formidable front four
It’s awfully exciting to have a full season of Gerrit Cole ahead of us. In that sense, he still feels like a new addition to this team. I know we saw him for 12 regular season and 3 postseason starts in 2020, but there’s nothing quite like having a bona fide ace for 30-plus starts and 200 innings. And that’s what we can expect from Gerrit this season: a workhorse who could easily win the American League Cy Young award.
If there’s any uncertainty regarding Cole in 2021, it’s his battery mate. As you know, Kyle Higashioka became Cole’s personal catcher by last September. Cole had better numbers with Higgy behind the plate, and given Gary Sánchez’s struggles offensively, it was an easy decision at the time. This year, the Yankees are hoping to pair Cole and Sánchez, and understandably so. Ideally, the two mesh and Gary mashes once again.
After Cole is when folks start getting nervous, which I can understand. What’s a soon-to-be 35 year-old Corey Kluber going to look like after two injury-riddled seasons? How will Jameson Taillon rebound from his second Tommy John surgery? Will Jordan Montgomery‘s results catch up to his peripherals? And so it goes. No, this isn’t a rotation for the risk-averse. But at the same time, how many other big league rotations are full of sure things?
It’s not much, but there’s finally some transaction news to pass along this offseason. The Yankees added Oswald Peraza, Alexander Vizcaíno, Roansy Contreras, and Yoendrys Gomez to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from being eligible for next month’s Rule 5 draft. Brief snippets on those four can be found in our Rule 5 protection preview. The Yankees’ 40-man roster is now full.
Notably not protected: Addison Russ and Trevor Stephan. Relief profiles like those two tend to get picked in the Rule 5, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see either of them chosen.
Lastly, here’s how you all voted on who the team should protect:
Friday is the deadline for teams to add minor leaguers to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from the Rule 5 draft (for other key offseason dates, be sure to check out our offseason calendar). As of this writing, the Yankees have four open slots available. They could open up another spot or two via trade in the coming days, but at the same time, the organization may not feel the need to protect more than four players.
For a full list of draft eligible minor leaguers, head over to Pinstriped Prospects. I’ll briefly profile a few of the notable players the Yankees have to consider protecting.
Oswald Peraza | SS | 20 y/o | Single-A | 4th-best team prospect per MLB Pipeline
Peraza’s minor league numbers don’t jump off the page, but he has a good contact-oriented approach, plenty of speed, and is projected to stick at shortstop. It’s hard to imagine him sticking in the majors next year, but his prospect status makes it risky to expose him. I wonder if the Yankees are still scarred from losing catcher Luis Torrens, who was at the same level and age when the Padres drafted and stashed him.
Alexander Vizcaino | RHP | 23 y/o | High-A | 8th | 2020 Player Pool
Vizcaino was an older J2 signing in 2016 but has impressed in the minors. He can touch triple-digits with his fastball and has a plus changeup to boot. Clearly, the Yankees like the righty quite a bit because he spent this summer in Scranton. Even though he’s pitched exclusively as a starter over the past couple of minor league seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him hold his own in a big league bullpen next season. I expect the Yankees to add him the 40-man this week.
We’ll finally see the Yankees make some roster moves this week. Tomorrow’s the deadline to protect eligible players from the Rule 5 draft, which occurs at the end of the winter meetings next month.
Right now, the Yankees have four open spots on the 40-man roster, which is ample room to select the players I believe are must-adds. That said, there’s always the possibility that the Yankees swing a minor trade in order to open up one more spot. In any event, let’s take a brief look at some of the eligible players.
Deivi García is now one of baseball’s top prospects and nearly made it to the majors this year. The 20 year-old should see some time in pinstripes next season, but will certainly start the season in Triple-A. After his rapid ascension last year, he’s a no brainer.
Two other pitchers need to be added in my view: Luis Gil and Luis Medina. The Yankees nabbed Gil from the Twins in exchange for Jake Cave, and he’s done nothing but dominate. He’s yet to reach Double-A and only has 13 innings in High-A, but there’s no way he’d slip through the Rule 5 draft. Elvis Luciano stuck with the Blue Jays all of last year as a 19 year-old who never pitched above rookie ball. That example, along with an expanded 26-man roster, would make Gil a top target.
I wouldn’t have expected Medina to be a definite earlier this year. He struggled in his first taste of action out of rookie ball and seemed doubtful to be drafted, even with his tantalizing stuff. Then, come July, Medina went off and earned a promotion to High-A Tampa. In his final 8 starts, we saw some of Medina’s remarkable potential: 45 2/3 innings, 63 strikeouts, 15 walks, and a 1.77 ERA. He seems like a prime candidate to stash as the 26th man all season, and the Yankees shouldn’t risk losing him.
Lastly, soon-to-be 22 year-old Estevan Florial will get a 40-man spot. Though he’s struggled the past two seasons since his breakout 2017, he’s dealt with a number of injuries. He’s far away, but his ability is too good to risk losing.
These next three all feel deserving of a 40-man spot, but the Yankees are in a crunch. Nick Nelson, Miguel Yajure, and Kyle Holder all have their merits, but could be on the outside looking in.
Nelson, the team’s 4th round pick in 2016, posted strong numbers between Double-A and Triple-A this year. In 89 2/3 innings, he had a 2.81 ERA and 3.22 FIP. Nelson fanned 114 batters but walked a few too many (11.4 percent). Seems like prime draft fodder, but there’s only so many the Yankees can protect. That’s why we included him as a trade piece in our offseason plan.
Yajure performed very well this year, mostly in High-A Tampa. He did finish the year with two starts in Trenton. His 2.14 ERA and 2.65 FIP in 138 2/3 innings was impressive, but he also wasn’t overpowering as he’s not a hard thrower who racks up strikeouts. He was another guy we dealt in our offseason plan.
Holder is a glove-first shortstop who hasn’t hit much — until this year. Not that he raked or anything, but he did well for himself in Trenton. He hit .263/.335/.405 (119 wRC+) with the Thunder and had solid discipline (8.7 percent walk rate and 13.8 percent strikeout rate). That modicum of offense makes him a bit more intriguing as a utility-type, which is why we added the Yankees’ first rounder in 2015 to the 40-man roster in our offseason plan. It may be a stretch to add him with Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada already around, though.
Unlikely, but somewhat close to the majors
Ben Ruta’s shown good bat-to-ball skills and the ability to play three outfield positions, but without much power, the Yankees don’t need to add the 25 year-old. He doesn’t seem particularly likely to be drafted, either.
The Yankees seem to protect a reliever every year, and Brooks Kriske could be that guy this time around. He struck out 32.2 percent of hitters in Double-A this year, but also had a walk rate north of 11 percent.
Power hitting Dermis García hasn’t become the guy the Yankees hoped when they gave him a $3.2 million bonus during their 2014-2015 IFA shopping spree. He did hit an impressive 17 dingers in just 297 plate appearances in Double-A this year, but his 35.4 percent strikeout rate will scare probably scare teams off.
22 year-old shortstop Hoy Jun Park performed well in Double-A (120 wRC+). He’s a speedy runner but doesn’t have really have a standout tool. If he had a glove like Holder, perhaps his situation would be different.
Rony García made 20 starts in Trenton this summer after he earned a promotion from Tampa early in the season. The nearly 22 year-old righty is an intriguing arm but not a must-protect.
Chris Gittens won the Eastern League MVP this year, but will have a hard time finding a 40-man spot. The first base/designated hitter prospect hit .281/.393/.500 with 23 dingers in 478 plate appearances, but struck out 29.1 percent of the time. Considering his age (26 in February), position, and high strikeout totals, it’s hard to see him get picked despite his impressive power.
Too far away
Oswaldo Cabrera, Freicer Perez, and Jio Orozco are just a few examples of prospects who are too far away for a team to gamble on in the Rule 5 draft.
Pitchers Perez, Orozco, and Vizcaino haven’t surpassed High-A yet. Orozco had mild success at the level this season, but nothing eye opening. Meanwhile, Perez didn’t pitch all of this season with an undisclosed injury. Seems to be shoulder-related, but there’s very little info.
Cabrera’s a 20 year-old infielder who was just OK with Tampa this season (104 wRC+) and lacks any standout tool. His teammate Olivares performed similarly at the level (107 wRC+), but the outfielder lacks power.
It’s often difficult to figure out who’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft each year, but there are a couple of indispensable sources that help. There’s often some uncertainty about some prospects, like 2015 international signee Alexander Vizcaino this year. He wasn’t included as eligible on MLB Pipeline or Pinstriped Prospects, which is what we’re referencing.