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Domingo German has gone from afterthought to legitimate Yankees starter

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The young righty was a throw-in from the Nathan Eovaldi trade, but three years later, German appears ready to stick in the bigs.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Domingo German made his first major league start in style last Sunday. He twirled six no-hit innings, fanning nine before being removed as he bumped up against his pitch limit. While no-hit bids may be as common as ever these days, thoroughly shutting down a talented Cleveland lineup in his first start was a neat trick from German.

Now that Yankee fans are acquainted with him, and now that he is in the rotation for the time being with Jordan Montgomery injured, it’s worth noting how German arrived at this point. German had a strange journey as a prospect, one that left him as an afterthought, but he’s arrived now, and he might have a stronger pedigree than most give him credit for.

German came over along with Nathan Eovaldi in a trade with the Marlins that sent away Martin Prado and David Phelps. It’s hard to pin down exactly how highly German was regarded as a prospect at the time, given the trade was nearly three-and-a-half years ago, but it’s safe to say he was pretty much a throw-in in the deal.

MLB.com didn’t rank German in their top 20 Marlins prospects at the time. Beyond The Box Score didn’t include him in their top 28, and Baseball Prospectus didn’t mention German in their appraisal of the Marlins’ system. German had fine numbers in 2014, a 2.48 ERA and 8.2 K/9 rate, but he was a 21-year-old in Single-A. He just didn’t have much prospect shine to him.

So when he immediately underwent Tommy John surgery upon joining the Yankees organization, German essentially became a non-prospect. From the Yankees’ perspective, German was going to be a 23-year-old starting the 2016 season in Single-A coming off major elbow surgery and a long layoff. There was simply little reason to expect a whole lot from German at that point.

Yet to his immense credit, German kept working. He returned to the mound midseason in 2016, and after 10 solid starts, he earned a promotion to High-A Tampa. German made five more starts there, before concluding his season with 49.2 total innings and a 3.08 ERA.

That’s still nothing to write home about, but German had successfully returned to professional ball after Tommy John surgery. Even so, he was still essentially a non-prospect. MLB.com still didn’t place him among the team’s 30 best prospects after 2016, and BP didn’t rank him either. German was at least mentioned in FanGraphs’ write-up of the Yankees’ system, but still he wasn’t among the top 33 prospects they listed.

It was on that backdrop that German had a very strong 2017 season, one that quietly garnered him real prospect pedigree. He opened as a 24-year-old at Double-A, and after a quality six-start stint there, the Yankees pushed German to Triple-A. He continued to excel, to the tune of a 2.88 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 109 innings, before earning a quick cup of coffee in the majors, posting a 3.14 ERA in seven relief appearances.

If you didn’t pay much mind to German’s small contribution out of the bullpen last year, it’s hard to blame you. He had been an afterthought in a loaded Yankee farm system. Yet if you get past German’s lack of historical track record as a top prospect and focus on his recent pedigree, he profiles as someone who could really contribute at the big league level.

After years of flying under the radar, prospect mavens finally took notice of German prior to this season. FanGraphs rated him the 13th-best prospect in the Yankees’ still loaded system, and noted he “shows two pluses in his heater and curveball, along with at least an average changeup.” BP was even more aggressive, ranking German 8th in the system, praising his fastball and breaking pitch and assigning him mid-rotation potential if he could refine his changeup.

German wasn’t really in consideration, among the team’s brass or among the fanbase, for the Yankees’ rotation before the season, but suddenly, the pedigree was there. German had a stellar 2017 season of minor league performance under his belt, and his raw stuff finally had the full attention of scouts. German was a real prospect, even if he had largely gone unnoticed.

He isn’t going unnoticed anymore. No, he won’t flirt with a no-hitter every time he goes out, but German’s impressive opening salvo removed any doubt that he has a real chance to stick. He sat over 95 mph as a starter, per Brooks Baseball, and generated a heaping of whiffs with both his curve and change. That’s legit big-league stuff, and while there’s no guarantee it will show up every time out, German has obvious potential to be a contributor.

Even if German has no more big-league success as a starter than his wonderful first start, that no-hit bid would still cap an impressive journey from non-prospect to starter in the majors. German was an afterthought with little prospect pedigree and a tough arm surgery on his record. Three years later, he’s worked through it all, and just might hang around in the Yankees’ rotation. That’s a story of persistence, work, and player development worth celebrating.