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The Yankees are offering a big opportunity to their top pitching prospect

New York’s pitching staff seemed set, but then the injury bug bit.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In a perfectly executed plan for a baseball season, the Yankees would send five pitchers to the mound to make 32 starts apiece, with the top two arms each taking one additional turn. That literally has not happened once in franchise history. In fact, the club has never had as many as four pitchers make 32 starts in a season, and the last time three did it was in 2009.

Last year, 12 pitchers started games for the Bombers, with 10 of them making at least four starts each. Luis Severino was the only member of the staff to start 32 games, making 2018 the fifth straight year that either one or zero pitchers managed to hit this oddly elusive mark.

It was fun for awhile, talking about the trade that put James Paxton in pinstripes. We also debated general manager Brian Cashman’s decision to re-sign CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ. Were these the right moves? Should Cashman have made a greater effort to sign top-of-the-class starter Patrick Corbin?

We pondered these questions, all the while focused on whether or not the Yankees had succeeded in building the best possible five-man rotation heading into 2019. Alas, we forgot that the five-man rotation is nothing but a unicorn.

So here we stand, mere weeks away from Opening Day, and the team plans to start the season with both Severino and Sabathia on the injured list. Back in January, I noted the inevitability of injuries and recommended that the Yankees sign free agent Dallas Keuchel (while holding CC as the sixth starter), but the team showed no interest in pursuing the former Cy Young Award winner. Keuchel is still available, but Cashman last week said that the Yankees are sticking with internal rotation options. Meanwhile, Manager Aaron Boone said right-handers Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga could both begin the year in New York’s rotation.

Loaisiga is currently the Yankees’ number-two ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline (behind outfielder Estevan Florial), and his rise through the organization’s minor-league system has been nothing short of meteoric. Originally signed as an amateur free agent out of Nicaragua by the Giants in 2012, Loaisiga suffered arm trouble and was released by San Francisco three years later. The Yankees scooped him up, and although he spent only two years in the low minors (which was interrupted by Tommy John surgery), Loaisiga was added to the team’s 40-man roster.

After making only nine starts in Double-A last spring, Loaisiga leapfrogged over Triple-A and was summoned to the Bronx when injuries created a need for a starter in June. He notched a win in his MLB debut, throwing five shutout innings against the Rays at Yankee Stadium. That performance earned him a spot in the rotation, where he remained for three more turns.

In his next outing versus Seattle, Loaisiga allowed three runs, while failing to complete four frames. He followed that with 5.1 scoreless, one-hit innings against the Phillies, before getting hurt during his final start versus the Braves. All totaled, Loaisiga pitched to an even 3.00 ERA, with the Yankees winning three of his four starts. When he returned to the majors in September, Loaisiga made five relief appearances with mixed results. His 33 strikeouts in 24.2 innings on the year really opened some eyes, though.

Loaisiga sports three quality pitches. His four-seam fastball sits around 95-96 mph, while topping out at 98. He used his fading changeup to great effect during his first stint in the Bronx, and he boasts a nasty slurve. Best of all, he throws strikes. Loaisiga has averaged just 1.9 walks per nine over 196 professional innings.

When pitchers and catchers reported to camp last month, Loaisiga didn’t have a clear path back to the majors. After all, the rotation appeared set, and so did the bullpen. With proven relievers Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Zach Britton, and Jonathan Holder locks to occupy six spots, and Luis Cessa and Tommy Kahnle out of minor-league options, Loaisiga seemed headed for Triple-A for the first time in his career.

But then the injury bug bit, and now the 24-year-old has an opportunity to begin this season in the Yankees rotation. Although nothing has been officially announced yet, Loaisiga certainly appears to have an inside track for one of the two spots. The opportunity is there for Loaisiga to seize the day and stick in the rotation this time around. Losing Sevy and CC was a big blow, so the Yankees and their fans must hope that the club’s top pitching prospect will step up and grab the mantle.