Hopefully the Yankees have shredded and burned all copies of the “Joba Rules.”
Jokes aside, assuming the Yankees’ attempt to resurrect Luis Severino’s pitching career doesn’t result in the complete and tragic downfall of another promising pitching prospect, the team would still be able to make good use of the 22 year-old should he prove unable to be an effective major league starter.
Severino showed bullpen promise last year after falling flat on his face as a starter in his sophomore season. The plan remains to help Severino rebound and rediscover his effectiveness in 2015 that resulted in a 2.89 ERA, but in the event that it doesn’t work out, at least there will still be a place for him on the roster to help contribute.
Joe Girardi recently stated that Severino will be sent down to Triple-A in 2017 if he continues to struggle in the rotation. It is an understandable desire given Severino’s potential, and given the state of the Yankees’ rotation right now. They need starting pitching badly, and Severino is still incredibly young and has time to adapt into a solid starter. He has shown flashes of what he can do. He just needs to expand his pitch selection to be effective against hitters in his second and third times through a lineup. Tuning Severino into a starter should be the number one priority for the near future.
Now let’s say it doesn’t work out. Severino can’t develop a reliable changeup, or his confidence as a starter is permanently rattled, whatever the case may be. That doesn’t make it time to dump the project entirely and chalk Severino up to the many other Yankees pitching prospects who failed to live up to the hype. Today’s baseball has shown us the value of bullpens, and Severino has shown his value in that position.
Of course, Joba Chamberlain comes to mind when Yankees fans think of Yankees youngsters rocking back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen, and rocking all the way to disaster. The Yankees don’t need to repeat their mistakes and cradle Severino like a fragile infant. Try him as a starter, and if there are little signs of improvement, move him to where he has proven to be an asset. There have been young starters converted to relievers who have proved to be valuable in New York. Ramiro Mendoza struggled in a starter’s role but proved to be a valuable reliever in the middle innings, including in some high-pressure playoff games. It likely wasn’t how Joe Torre envisioned it, but I’m sure he wasn’t fuming at the result. There was also another starter-turned-closer during the same era as Mendoza, but we’ll consider him the best case scenario.
Severino was a major disappointment in 2016, but also a pleasant surprise when he showed his bullpen prowess, which never would have happened if not for the team’s unexpected surge into the playoff hunt. Now at least Severino and the Yankees have something to fall back on.
With a revamped farm system and a promising core of young prospects on the way, now is as good a time as any to manage our expectations. Not every prospect is going to turn into a franchise cornerstone just because they were highly touted in the minors. Some “only” become reliable assets instead of perennial superstars. Severino finding his groove in the bullpen is definitely Plan B, but it’s also not the end of the world if that’s where he winds up. At least it could be a better outcome than Joba’s.