Last year, Luis Cessa and Chad Green arrived at spring training as afterthoughts. Products of a relatively minor trade with the Tigers, the pair drew little fanfare once camp convened. While most eyes were glued to Aroldis Chapman’s electric fastball, Cess and Green quietly pitched their way on to the Yankees’ radar. They went on to combine for 17 starts at the big league level and played a significant role in keeping the club afloat down the stretch.
This situation could repeat itself as a pair of pitching prospects report to Tampa in a few weeks. Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams won’t headline anyone’s must see lists this spring. James Kaprielian and Justus Sheffield hold those honors in the pitching department. If they pitch well, however, the duo could find themselves in the Bronx in relatively short order.
What’s intriguing is that Adams and Montgomery are more highly touted prospects than Cessa and Green. This time last year, Cessa was a fringe top-30 Yankees prospect. Scouting reports for him were a mixed bag. According to the 2016 edition of the Baseball Prospect Book, Cessa “...can get his fastball up to 93-95 MPH and has a workable change-up, but his breaking ball is very erratic, varying between adequate and poor. He has arm strength and can command two pitches, but without a better breaking ball I think he is destined for the pen.”
Green, on the other hand, didn’t crack any top prospect lists. He did, however, receive a write up by Kiley McDaniel while still in the Tigers’ system. “Green signed for $100,000 out of Louisville in 2013 and has made nice progress since then, with his velocity ticking up a bit. He now sits 91-94 with above average life and has hit 96 mph, with and slider and changeup that are both fringy and flash average at at times,” McDaniel wrote. Some questioned if Green was destined for the bullpen, but his scouting report noted that he “...likely will continue starting since it’s hard to pass on back-end starter potential.”
As far as 2016 is concerned, hose reports undersold Cessa and Green. Their seasons exceeded all expectations. Cessa turned into a four-pitch right-hander who could throw any of those pitches for strikes. Green even had the best start of the year according to game score. To gain a better appreciation for their performances, it’s useful to consult a table.
Luis Cessa and Chad Green 2016 Pitching Stats
I’ve been the low man on Cessa and Green in the past, but it’s tough to deny that Cessa and Green pitched well for rookies last season.
The exciting part here is that Montgomery and Adams profiles as better prospects. According to MLB.com, Adams is the 14th best prospect in the Yankees’ system. The reliever-turned-starter works with a fastball that “...jumped up to 94-96 and hit 98 since he turned pro. His slider is sharper as well, showing signs of becoming a consistent plus pitch.” There are some questions about durability, but his electric stuff combined with an ability to pound the strike zone bodes well for his future.
Montgomery isn’t too far behind, listed at number 19 on the Top 30 list. The five-pitch southpaw has seen his velocity jump in recent years. He now tops out at 95 mph with his four-seam fastball. Per the MLB.com scouting report, A good athlete, he “...repeats his clean delivery well, which allows him to locate his pitches where he wants. He's a safe bet to become a back-of-the-rotation starter, and if his newfound velocity is for real, he could be more than that.”
To the outside observer, it might be tough to discern the similarities between Cessa and Green and Montgomery and Adams. Both pairs, however, were overshadowed by other spring training headliners. They also each throw strikes with an assortment of pitches. Green and Adams are especially hard throwers. Both sets also have questions about their longevity and staying power. It’s kind of uncanny.
The Yankees have two question marks in their rotation heading into camp. While it’s unlikely that Adams or Montgomery claim a spot immediately, the lessons of Cessa and Green linger. It’s likely they’ll make their big league debut in 2017. When they do, they could make quite the impact.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and MLB.com.