On September 14 Jonathan Loaisiga pitched his 50th major league inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. The significance of that moment is that he reached the threshold where he is no longer eligible for consideration as a prospect. Loaisiga graduated from MLB Pipeline’s top 30 Yankees prospects, and Brandon Lockridge moved onto the list. Let’s take a look at Loaisiga’s rise up the prospect rankings, his accomplishments at the major league level, and what the future may hold for this talented young arm.
Jonathan Loaisiga signed as an international free agent with the San Francisco Giants in 2012, and was assigned to their Dominican Summer League for the 2013 season. In what has become a trend with Loaisiga, injuries derailed him and he was released in the fall of 2015 after missing his second straight season. The Yankees saw Loaisiga as part of a February 2016 tryout camp and signed him to the organization.
Loaisiga’s first game action since 2013 came with the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs, and it was a very short return. Leaving his first start after 2.1 innings, Loaisiga’s next stop was a year on the shelf following Tommy John surgery. Loaisiga returned in 2017, and was able to log 32.2 IP between rehab work with the Gulf Coast (GCL) Yankees, as well as with the Short-Season A Staten Island Yankees.
Following his head-turning performance with Staten Island, the Yankees noticed that several teams seemed to have scouts at all of Loaisiga’s outings during the fall instructional league. As a Rule 5 draft eligible player, the Yankees feared that one or more teams was preparing to select Loaisiga, and that he was talented enough to stick on a major league roster. That November the Yankees surprised many when they protected Loaisiga from the Rule 5 draft by adding him to the 40-man roster despite only having pitched 19.1 innings above rookie ball.
Debuting as a member of the 40-man roster in 2018 with the High-A Tampa Tarpons, he excelled with a 1.35 ERA, and 26 strikeouts in his first 20 innings. This performance earned him a quick promotion to Double-A Trenton before the end of April. When injuries hit the Yankees pitching staff in June of 2018, Loaisiga was promoted straight from Double-A to the majors, making his MLB debut on June 15.
Loaisiga pitched extremely well during his first four games, including 5.1 innings of shutout ball on June 25 against Philadelphia. Heading into the summer, Loaisiga looked like a big time arm that could help the team in either a starting or relieving role. Injuries reared their ugly head again as shoulder issues landed him on the injured list for six weeks that summer. When he returned to the majors in September he struggled and allowed 8 ER in only 6.2 innings.
The right-hander had shown enough that he found his way onto numerous top 100 prospect lists, and was ranked among the Yankees’ top three-to-five prospects by the end of the season. His mix of an elite fastball complemented by a plus curveball and changeup made him an arm to watch.
While Loaisiga has the electric pitch mix to be a starting pitcher, he has not exhibited the durability to work deep into games or handle a starter’s work load. Even in the minor leagues he has never been pushed past five innings in a game; the organization clearly recognizes his limitations. It is likely that his future profile is as a reliever, and this season he is proving effective in that role with a 3.38 ERA and 11 K/9.
While injuries are a concern with any pitcher, they are the biggest red flag holding Loaisiga back. Since joining the organization in 2016, he has been on the injured list five times, including one Tommy John surgery, and two consecutive years with shoulder issues. As a professional he has pitched a total of 243.1 innings in the minors and majors since his 2013 debut. To put that in perspective Justin Verlander averaged 241 IP a season between 2009-2012.
The ceiling is still extremely high for Loaisiga, but probably in a reliever and opener role where his usage rate is managed carefully. The Chad Green 2017 season of 40 games and 69 innings feels like a good goal for Loaisiga moving forward. Eventually, he could be used in an 8th and 9th inning role as his fastball has continued to tick up in velocity—he hit 100 mph in his last outing.
When one player graduates from the prospect rankings another comes in. MLB Pipeline has elevated centerfielder Brandon Lockridge to the 30th spot in the Yankee organization. Lockridge was the Yankees’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 amateur draft, and just completed an outstanding season with Low-A Charleston RiverDogs. He was considered the fastest player available in the 2018 draft, and his 75 grade speed is the highest rated tool of any Yankee prospect on MLB Pipeline’s rankings. That impressive speed also allows him to play above-average defense in the middle of the outfield. Lockridge is coming off a season where he hit 12 home runs, and finished fourth in the South Atlantic League in total bases. The 12 home runs matched his entire total from college. Next season Lockridge will likely start the season in High-A Tampa for the Yankees.
Loaisiga still has minor league options for next season, so his time in the minors may not be over, but he is no longer considered a rookie or prospect. As he moves forward, another exciting player hits the prospect list for the Yankees. Lockridge will have to find more consistency to continue moving through the Yankees system, but the elite elements of his game give him a chance to be a contributor in many different ways.