After a busy 2018 season that saw the Yankees cash in some chips to help the major-league roster, the organization's farm system is looking a little thinner. Most of its premier prospects have graduated, and some of its depth has been exchanged for immediate veteran contributions.
That’s certainly not a bad thing, and to help counteract the prospect-for-veteran trades, the Yankees have seen some of their prospects take big steps forward. Who made the biggest leaps in 2018? Which prospects boosted their stock the most year-over-year?
The most prominent name that comes to mind is Jonathan Loaisiga. We probably don’t spend enough talking about Loaisiga’s rise, as it was truly meteoric. The San Francisco Giants released Loaisiga after he didn’t pitch in 2015, and he made just one start after signing with the Yankees in 2016.
Loaisiga went on to breeze through rookie ball as a 22-year-old in 2017, then set fire to Single-A and Double-A in 2018, maintaining a 2.89 ERA with 67 strikeouts against eight walks in 56 innings. Famously, Loaisiga skipped Triple-A and was called up to the bigs directly from Trenton, capping an unlikely rise from afterthought to major-leaguer.
Loaisigia’s performance at the highest level was uneven, marred by shaky control and command throughout. Yet Loaisiga made it clear he belonged by flashing premium velocity and a devastating hook. After shooting through the ranks in 2018, Loaisiga ranked second on MLB Pipeline’s Yankees top prospects list, after entering the year ranked 24th. Loaisiga is a legitimate talent now, despite scarcely being known at 2018’s outset.
Next on the list might be Clarke Schmidt, largely because the young right-hander was coming off Tommy John surgery. The Yankees popped Schmidt with the 16th pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, despite knowing Schmidt had just gone under the knife. It seemed a bit of a curious move, with Schmidt undergoing major surgery that would cost him all of his age-21 season and much of his age-22 campaign.
Yet Schmidt was able to return the mound in 2018, and showed enough of the stuff that got him drafted in the first round to peg him as a worthwhile prospect. His numbers, while not particularly important, were impressive, with a 3.09 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 23 innings. More notably, Schmidt looked healthy, reportedly hitting the mid-90s with his fastball and flashing solid command.
Just last week, Tyler Norton highlighted Schmidt as a prospect still with a lot to prove in 2019, as how Schmidt’s body responds to a full season of work will go a long way toward determine whether the Yankees have a premium young pitcher on their hands. Still, a healthy return from Tommy John is never a guarantee, and Schmidt made it back and pitched well. That’s enough to give a big boost to his stock, as he now sits sixth on MLB Pipeline’s Yankees list.
From there, we start to get into the lesser-known pitching prospects in the Yankees’ system. Garrett Whitlock sticks out after a tremendous 2018. Whitlock shot through three levels, ultimately finishing 2018 in Double-A after totaling 120.2 innings with 122 strikeouts and a 1.86 ERA. The Yankees apparently helped Whitlock work a four-seamer into his repertoire, which could be the source of his breakout.
Whitlock might be one of the Yankees’ better pitching prospects after dominating the minors at 22-years-old, despite not having been anywhere on the radar prior to the year. He wasn’t in MLB Pipeline’s Yankees top-30, FanGraphs’ top-27, or Baseball Prospectus’ top-10 entering 2018, but will be a name to watch going forward.
The Yankees’ system truly is littered with hard-throwing right-handers, and there are a couple more that probably deserve a mention after raising their profile last season. Trevor Stephan, a 2017 third-rounder, struck out 140 batters in 124.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A, flashing the ability to run his fastball to the upper-90s. Deivi Garcia, who spent most of 2018 at age-19, struck out 105 batters across 74 innings between Single and Double-A. He also can touch the upper-90s with a plus curveball to boot.
Then we have Michael King, who was acquired from the Marlins a year ago in exchange for Caleb Smith and Garrett Cooper. King doesn’t quite have the premium velocity or knee-buckling breaking ball that many of the Yankees’ other prospects have, but he does deserve credit for simply dominating in 2018. King struck out 152 and walked 29 in 161.1 innings, working to a minuscule 1.79 ERA.
Obviously, none of these young hurlers are anything close to sure things. Pitching prospects are fickle, and they are all liable to flame out at a moment’s notice. But the Yankees did see plenty of their prospective right-handers raise their stocks in 2018. Whether it was Loaisiga’s stunning arrival at the highest level, or no-names like Garcia and Whitlock turning into actual prospects, there was no shortage of good news on the farm this year. Keep an eye on all of these pitchers heading into 2019.