It is Wednesday, and that means we are one day closer to the official start of the Grapefruit League season. That’ll be Saturday at 1:05 pm against Toronto, and you can watch it on YES. I’m working on a full schedule with all of the broadcast information, but not all of the networks have released their schedules yet. Blah. But be on the lookout for that. It should be a handy guide.
In the meantime, here’s what is on my mind, aside from the Astros sign-stealing scandal, which is seemingly getting worse by the day.
1. Don’t Sleep on Luis Severino: Is it just me or is everyone sleeping on Luis Severino? I know there is a shiny new toy around in Gerrit Cole and that’s exciting, but the Yankees are essentially adding Luis Severino to their 2019 team, too. That is a very good thing. On some level, it’s understandable: Severino struggled in the second half of 2018 and didn’t look himself at the end of 2019. In the world of “what have you done for me lately”, it might be easy to forget how good Severino is. But let us not forget it. Remember, this is how Severino stacked up against the rest of the league in 2017-18, even including his rough second half:
- Wins: 33 (4th)
- ERA: 3.18 (11th)
- FIP: 3.01 (5th)
- Innings Pitched: 384.2 (10th)
- Strikeouts per 9: 10.53 (9th)
- Walks per 9: 2.27 (13th)
- HR per 9: 0.94 (17th)
- fWAR: 11.2 (5th)
That is very good! He was essentially a top 10 pitcher in baseball and no worse than top 15. That is a bonafide top-of-the-rotation talent right there. To boot, he consistently sits 98 mph with a slider like this:
He was not exactly this pitcher in 2019, of course, but there were plenty of signs that he is still roughly the same pitcher. He maintained his velocity, he made batters miss (35% strikeout rate), and didn’t allow a regular season homer in 12 innings. Just 12 innings, of course, but he didn’t look like a pitcher who was spent. The biggest issue was his command and control (12.5% walk rate) but his Spring Training was a late August Triple-A stint and September in the big leagues. A full offseason of normal work, coupled with a regular spring, should do wonders for the soon-to-be 26-year-old Yankee fireballer.
I know everyone wants to see Cole don the interlocking NY for the first time in a game this weekend, but the Yankee pitcher I’m most looking forward to watching this spring is Luis Severino. If all goes well, he will be a huge part of this team – and fans won’t be forgetting just how good he is.
2. The Hidden Importance of Chad Green: There’s another forgotten element to the 2020 Yankees, though this one is a bit more understandable: the return of Chad Green to bullpen full-time. Green was very good as an opener last season – and the team went 11-4 in his “starts” – but as Green said himself, that was a role that came out of “a bit of necessity” in 2019. “With [Jordan Montgomery] being back and guys getting some experience under their belt, I think we should be good,” Green told Bryan Hoch when he reported for camp last week.
We should not sleep on how important this could be for the Yankees and their bullpen. If you look at the Yankees’ likely roster heading into Opening Day, it’s apparent how dominant the bullpen is even without longtime relief ace Dellin Betances. That was true last year, too, of course, but the presence of Green is an important one. Here’s how the top 6 shakeout:
- Aroldis Chapman
- Zack Britton
- Chad Green
- Adam Ottavino
- Tommy Kahnle
- Luis Cessa
That’s not necessarily their order in the bullpen per se, but those are the six names we’ll see for sure. Green will play a huge role. Remember, he threw to a 2.64 ERA (2.50 FIP) in 61.1 innings after returning to the bigs last May with a 36% strikeout rate against just a 6% walk rate. He was the Chad Green of old. Having that Chad Green available full-time in the bullpen strengthens one of the Yankees’ biggest competitive advantages – and it shouldn’t be overlooked.
3. Miguel Andújar in the Outfield: I think it’s pretty tough not to root for Miguel Andújar. Not only did the 2018 rookie sensation hit .297/.328/.527 (130 wRC+) in his debut campaign with 76 extra-base hits, he looked like he was having the time of his life doing it. That makes for a lot of fun to watch as a fan. Of course, his injury-laden 2019 was a huge bummer – and it also put his future in doubt. That’s why Miggy is working out in the outfield. To the video!
As you know, the Yankees are planning to use Miggy in the outfield and at first. That’s in addition to third, of course. Andújar, not oblivious, saw this coming last year as Gio Urshela took the American League by storm. In a press conference the other day, Aaron Boone said that “when we first broached the subject [switching positions] with him, he was excited about it and even told us that he had started to do some things on his own.” That’s not the most surprising news – this is a business and players need to do what they can to keep their jobs – but it’s still encouraging to hear.
I have faith in Andújar to make it work somehow. One thing is for sure: the Yankees will try everything they can to keep his bat in the lineup. Andújar looked like a special player in 2018 and it will be good to have him back in 2020.
4. For the Love of God, Please Stay Healthy: I don’t think I can stress how badly I just want to make it through the rest of Spring Training without any more injury scares. Now, I know that’s not possible – it’s not how sports work – but it sure would be nice, wouldn’t it? We’re only a week into camp and already James Paxton needed surgery and Aaron Judge is not allowed to swing. The Yankees are once again deep enough to power through any injuries — and Judge’s is supposedly minor — but they deserve a healthy year.
With Grapefruit League games set to begin this weekend, the biggest priority has to be getting the team to Opening Day in one piece. The stats in March don’t matter. This does. It will also matter for our sanity. Twitter was nigh unusable yesterday with the slow drip of Aaron Judge news and repetitive jokes. Enough is enough.
5. The MiLB Player to Watch is Clarke Schmidt: It’s official. I am declaring Clarke Schmidt the Minor League Player to Watch™ this Grapefruit League season. Schmidt is a pretty polarizing player from a scout’s point of view – he ranges from being the best pitcher in the system on some lists to non-existent on others – but I think it’s pretty obvious that the Yankees love him. They drafted him in the first round just weeks after he underwent Tommy John Surgery. He throws a fastball, a change, and two breaking balls (curve and slider). The Yankees always speak highly of him.
He was great with Tampa in Advanced A-ball last year, pitching to a 3.84 ERA (2.87 FIP), with just 59 hits in 63.1 innings. That earned him a late-season call-up to Double-A Trenton, where he was fantastic. He had a 2.37 ERA (2.01 FIP) with 19 strikeouts, 1 walk, and 14 hits in 19 innings pitched in Double-A. (He was also great in their postseason run.) Overall, he struck out about 28% of the batters he faced and looked very good in his second season. Jack Curry was just raving about him:
He’s got an outside chance for fifth starter this year, but don’t bet on it. Odd are, he will probably return to Trenton with a call up to Scranton looming. He could even make the big league squad this September. First things first, though. That starts with the Grapefruit League. I’ll be closely following Schmidt all spring. The Yankees will be, too.