2015 Statistics: AAA:3-0, 2.18 ERA, 53.2 IP, 39 H, 42 SO, 16 BB, 1.025 WHIP
MLB: 1-0, 5.23 ERA, 10.1 IP, 9 H, 8 SO, 3 BB, 1.161 WHIP
2015 Roster Status: Minor league free agent
The Yankees acquired RHP Diego Moreno—along with OF Exicardo Cayones (later dealt for Vernon Wells)—from Pittsburgh on February 19, 2012 in exchange for A.J. Burnett. The Pirates signed him as a teenager back in 2007 and Moreno had already spent five seasons in their system, reaching Double-A by the time of the trade. Moreno was never much of a prospect. For the Yanks, dumping Burnett's salary was its own reward. What's more, Moreno was hampered by injuries after he missed his first year in the Yankees' organization.
When he returned, the Yankees assigned him to High-A Tampa, where he tossed 27.2 innings in 2013. Although he posted a 4.88 ERA, his 3.78 FIP demonstrated that he was not as bad as the surface numbers indicated and the Yankees rewarded him with a promotion to Double-A Trenton. Moreno had worked his way back to full health and had the numbers to show for it. In 2014, Moreno dominated at Trenton right from opening day, smothering Eastern League competition with an ERA of 0.79 in 11.1 innings before getting pushed to Scranton. There, he registered a deceptively high ERA of 4.86 in 46.1 innings, though his FIP was a worlds-better 3.08.
Heading into his age-27 season, 2015 was an important year for Moreno. The Yankees needed right-handed relief help and he finally earned a shot. Moreno maintained a 2.18 ERA, while allowing just 39 hits, walking 16 and striking out 42 in 53.2 innings across 26 games (4 starts) this year. It was a terrific season for a player who had frequently been overlooked during his minor league climb. After several years in the minor leagues, the Higuerote, Venezuela native made his major league debut on June 22 against the Phillies in the Bronx.
With the Bombers holding a 10-5 lead, Joe Girardi summoned Moreno from the bullpen to relieve Chris Capuano in the seventh inning. Moreno must have been jittery because he plunked catcher Cameron Rupp with just his third major league pitch. Although he surrendered a pair of hits in the outing, Moreno wriggled out of trouble. He escaped the inning by striking out Maikel Franco to clear a bases-loaded jam. Two days later, he was back on the hill, again facing the Phillies. This time, Girardi brought him in to close out a 10-0 ballgame.
After a demotion, Moreno rejoined the team on July 28 in Arlington for one of the wildest contests in recent baseball memory. Capuano started the game, but failed to make it out of the first inning. Already in an early 5-0 deficit, all the Yankees could hope for was some length out of Moreno and to hopefully limit the damage enough to give their bats a chance. Instead, Moreno was flat-out awesome, earning a win by shoving 5.1 hitless innings while striking out five Rangers batters. He started 13 of the 17 hitters he faced with first-pitch strikes, and mustered a masterful 51/19 strike-to-ball ratio. By every measure, it was a stunning performance. The offense erupted for 11 runs in the second inning, and 21 total runs in the game to push the Yankees to a season-high 15 games over .500.
The Yankees kept Moreno on the 25-man roster through the trade deadline and he would take the mound for his fourth and final appearance on August 1 in Chicago against the White Sox. It didn't go well as Moreno ceded four runs on four hits in three innings of work, including a towering home run to Melky Cabrera. His strike/ball ratio was a more modest 31/21. After the game, the Yankees placed Moreno on the disabled list with elbow pain and his season was over.
After the season, the Yankees outrighted him off the 40-man roster and he then became a minor league free agent. Moreno throws three pitches: a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, a mid-to-upper-80s slider which he'll use about a quarter of the time, and a high-80s changeup that he tosses at a similar rate. With the Yankees in 2015, Moreno used his fastball just 46% of the time. He's great at changing speeds and hitting spots, and rarely allows walks or longballs. Still, his stuff isn't all that special and in order to be successful he needs to constantly think one step ahead of the batter. He's got the stuff to be a major league pitcher, but likely not an above average one.
There's a chance they could re-sign him for the 2016 season, but the Yankees need to determine where Moreno fits in. He's shown that he's capable of success in the minors and in his four appearances, displayed an ability to get big league hitters out at times. If he returns, he could compete with the likes of Bryan Mitchell, Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder, Nick Goody and Caleb Cotham for one of the final bullpen roles. Still, Moreno isn't exactly vital to the organization and I wouldn't be surprised if he wound up elsewhere in 2016.