Modern pitching staffs don’t rely on just five starters to get through a season anymore. For the Yankees, it’s essentially a sure thing CC Sabathia will need a 10-day DL stint to rest his balky knee. James Paxton doesn’t exactly have an injury-free history, and there’s the ever-looming threat of Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow giving away. But even without injuries or a Sonny Gray-like implosion, teams are going to need the occasional spot starter. The season is just too long, and hitters are just too good. In 2018, eleven different Yankees started a game on the mound, twelve if you count the bullpen game against the Rays on September 24th.
The Yankees’ starting pitching depth has changed considerably over the last year. Erik Swanson and Justus Sheffield would have been near locks to get a handful of big league innings had they not been traded for Paxton. Additionally, the team’s go-to spot starters of the last couple of seasons -- Luis Cessa and Domingo German -- have zero minor league options remaining. Fortunately for the Yankees, they still have more than a few candidates that could potentially move into the role of spot starter.
First, one can’t discount the chance that Jordan Montgomery makes a few appearances for the Yankees in 2019. Montgomery had Tommy John surgery in June of this year, so he ought to be back to game action hopefully by the 2019 trade deadline. It would be great if Monty can return to the Yankees in 2019, but best-case scenario, the Yankees have him for maybe two months of the season. They are going to need to find depth outside of Montgomery alone.
Jonathan Loaisiga is easily the favorite to move into the spot-starter role and deservedly so. In two of his four starts last season, he kept his opponents scoreless. Plus, he posted a 12 K/9 rate and flashes three plus pitches. Here’s a clip from his MLB debut:
On the whole though, his numbers from last season are objectively not great. In 24.2 innings, Loaisiga posted a 5.11 ERA with a 1.541 WHIP and an 86 ERA+. Ironing out the command issues would make him much more valuable than a spot starter, but a spot starter is what he remains for now. All eyes on Johnny Lasagna coming in to 2019.
Rotation depth outside of Loaisiga is very thin, but Chance Adams and Mike King will likely have a cup of coffee in the big leagues next season. Both pitchers will be in the Scranton rotation, but both come with serious question marks about their ability to be effective against big league hitters.
Adams was on the cusp of a big league call up for what seems like a decade now, but his prospect stock took a major hit last season after posting a 4.78 ERA in 113 Triple-A innings. Still, after injuries and a lengthy bullpen day, the Yankees needed Adams to make a spot start. I’ve never made a start at Fenway Park against the would-be World Series champs, but I can’t imagine it’s an easy thing to do. All things considered, Adams faired decently in his MLB debut.
Adams had surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow last offseason and that seemed to affect his stuff in 2018. Hopefully a full year removed from the surgery will allow him to fully bounce back. For better or for worse, we’re probably going to find out in 2019.
On the other hand, Mike King seems to be trending upwards in the mind’s Yankee fans. King came out of nowhere to dominate the minor leagues last season after the Yankees landed him in the other Marlins trade last offseason. King’s above-average command and sinking two-seamer allowed him to post a sub-1.00 WHIP across three levels last season. However, serious questions remain about the effectiveness of his slider and changeup. King will undoubtedly get a long look in spring training, and we’ll likely see him don pinstripes at some point in 2019.
There are other pitchers deeper in the Yankee system that could get the call at some point in 2019, but for one reason or another, odds on them finding their way to the Bronx are much longer. Noted Yankee prospects Domingo Acevedo and Albert Abreu only pitched a handful of innings each this year because of injuries, and Abreu has only thrown 5 innings at Double-A.
Trevor Stephan and Nick Green made waves at A-ball in 2018, but they both seem to be at least a year away from being in the big league conversation. Both have some interesting tools. Stephan has a big fastball and an above average slider, and Green is a ground ball machine who’s only given up 18 homers in nearly 400 professional innings. Still, both only have a handful of innings at Double-A. If they’re in the big league conversation at all in 2019, it likely won’t be until September rolls around.
The Yankees will inevitably need starting pitching help from their minor league system in 2019. Regardless of who gets the call, the season won’t be made or broken by the spot starter, but it could shape how the Yankees’ pitching staff looks in 2020 and beyond. Chad Green, for example, was a tepid big league starter but parlayed that into a pretty great run in the bullpen. The next crop of up-and-down starters will help the Yankees find out who they have in their system, and get the team through the dog days of the 2019 summer.