In recent years, nothing can be said to be certain in life except for three things: death, taxes, and the Yankees’ need for starting pitchers. This season isn’t any different. Brian Cashman and his team have done their diligence on the variety of the choices out there, but more recently, it’s been Rangers’ lefty Mike Minor. Whether they have serious interest in the southpaw remains to be seen, but he’s sure an intriguing option.
The 31-year old Minor has been everything and more for Texas in 2019. He has pitched to a superb 2.86 ERA in 129 innings and has a strikeout rate of 25.1%. He relies heavily on his four-seam fastball, throwing it almost 45% of the time, but is also equipped with a changeup, slider, and curveball. His fastball won’t blow hitters away, as it sits around an average of 93 mph, but it has been an efficient pitch in his arsenal.
In order to have success in a hitter-friendly park like Yankee Stadium, a pitcher needs to keep the ball in the yard. This year, Minor has done that with a career-high 43% groundball rate, along with a modest 38.9% fly ball rate, his lowest since 2014. Though, because he pitched in the National League up until 2014, he hasn’t had many reps in the Bronx, throwing just 12.1 innings there.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Minor was elected to the All-Star Game for the first time in his eight-year career, and rightfully so. He has been an absolute workhorse for the Rangers. His 129 innings pitched is the fifth-most in the American League, and his two complete games are tied for most in the majors, one of which was a shutout. With that, Minor has recorded 131 strikeouts thus far. For comparison, the Yankees have just one complete game as a team this year, and Minor’s 131 punch-outs would be the most for a Yankee, as James Paxton currently leads with 108. The lefty has also been notably impressive when pitching in high leverage situations. Opponents are slashing a mere .232/.281/.318 and an OPS of .599 against him during decisive parts of the game.
Another attractive element in putting Minor in pinstripes is his contract. Back in 2017, he agreed to sign with the Rangers for a three-year $28 million dollar deal, making him a free agent in 2021. If acquired, he could be an important piece for the Yanks both this year, and next.
Although Minor has generally kept the long ball at bay this year, he was pummeled for four home runs in his most recent outing against the Houston Astros on July 19. However, he was able to turn it around and dominate late in the game, as he retired 10 in a row at one point and allowed just one baserunner in his last four innings. Minor has faced the Astros four times this season. In 24 innings, the ‘Stros have teed off against him, producing a slash line of .286/.350/.527/.877 in addition to an ERA of 4.13 and six homers. With the Astros being one of the top threats to the Yankees in the AL, these numbers are something to keep an eye on, but it’s also a small sample size.
Speaking of the Astros and threats in the AL, let’s talk about Mike Minor’s postseason history, or should I say his lack thereof? While it may not be his fault that he’s hurled only 6.1 innings in October, it’s still not a positive thing. His one start in the playoffs came all the way back in 2013 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. For what it’s worth, he surrendered just one run on eight hits, struck out five, and was awarded with the win.
Diving a little deeper into some of Minor’s other stats, they’re rather mediocre. He has an xFIP of 4.38 and through 20 games, his 45 walks are already his highest since 2014, imposing a total walk percentage of 25.1%. Opponents are batting .222 against him, but their xwOBA is .374, which has taken a bad turn of late and is now well above the league average.
He does have a bit of an injury history, too. In 2015, Minor had a major surgery to fix a torn labrum that forced him to miss that season, and the next one, as well. He couldn’t return until 2017, where he had to pitch out of the bullpen to limit his innings. Ironically enough, his fastball actually climbed to as high as 95 mph compared to 91 mph before the injury. Minor finally returned to his normal role as a starter in 2018.
Mike Minor has the potential to be a significant addiction to an underwhelming Yankees rotation. He has been excellent in many ways this season, but has struggled with control at times and in a small sampling, hasn't been at his best against Houston. He does have an extra year of control and is not just a “rental” piece, but because of that, he may come at a steeper price than other pitchers. Ranger beat writer, Evan Grant thinks it will take two organizational top-10 prospects, plus a third piece in exchange for the veteran lefty. If that’s so, are the Yankees willing to pay the price? Is acquiring Minor worth coughing up significant minor league talent? One way or another, Brian Cashman has a tough decision headed his way.