Soon enough, the Yankees will welcome back a veritable All-Star team from the injured list. The returns of Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, and Giancarlo Stanton will capture the headlines, and rightfully so.
One return, however, seems to have gone overlooked. Jonathan Loaisiga, who currently ranks as the Yankees’ sixth-best prospect by MLB Pipeline, rejoined the team on August 13. Understandably, Loaisiga isn’t as seasoned as the other returning players mentioned, and he did get reassigned into the bullpen. There are still plenty of reasons to be excited about the 24-year-old, though.
For example, the Yankees have an aptitude for taking former starters and giving them new life in the bullpen. Like Betances and Chad Green before him, Loaisiga has the potential to become another great arm in the Yankees’ fearsome bullpen. Not only does he have the talent, but Loaisiga has the same profile as many of the Yankees’ relievers as well, combining a high-velocity fastball with a productive off-speed pitch.
When thinking about Yankees pitchers featuring a hard fastball combined with a devastating curveball, the first few names that might pop into your mind are Domingo German and Betances. Furthermore, not only do German and Loaisiga have the same arsenal, but their pitch usage is incredibly similar. Both use their fastballs about half the time and their curveball about a third of the time.
Those two pitchers make good company for Loaisiga. Whether the 24-year-old chooses to take some tips from them or not, his curveball isn’t too far behind theirs. Both Betances and German’s curveballs produce a whiff percentage slightly over 45%, while Loaisiga has been able to hover around 40% over the past two seasons. Hitters haven’t had much success when hitting curveballs off Betances and German either, creating xBA marks under .200. Loaisiga wasn’t able to do so during last season, but in 2019 he has been up to the task. The pitch has a high spin rate, over 2600 rpm, and averaging about 84 mph.
For Loaisiga it isn’t all about his curveball of course, the fastball is just as important to his success. Since making his first appearance after returning from the injured list, Loaisiga has been able to throw his fastball at an average of 97.3 mph. What’s interesting is that not only is this velocity faster than his average from last season (95.9 mph), but it’s faster than his average from earlier in the season (96 mph) as well.
This possibly shows two promising points for the Yankees. First, Loaisiga may have already taken to transitioning to the bullpen, throwing harder because he doesn’t have to throw as many pitches. Secondly, this could signal he is back to full strength.
Come the postseason, Aaron Boone will likely deploy his relief staff early and often. Carrying a three-man bench will result in a nine-man bullpen, while a four-man bench would force eight. Loaisiga may not crack many roster predictions, but he might be able to sneak in; injuries to Jonathan Holder and Stephen Tarpley have opened up the possibility. It might be a long shot, but if Loaisiga is able to impress like he has before, he just may get a chance to pitch in October.
Plenty of relievers have left the Yankees to later flourish in other organizations. Shane Green, Kirby Yates, and most recently Giovanny Gallegos come to mind. Hitters like Didi Gregorius and Luke Voit have been the results of these trades so their isn’t any reason to regret these departures, but the Yankees have a knack for building relievers. They know a good arm when they see one. Like Betances and Green before him, Loaisiga’s talent could take off in the bullpen. For the Yankees, that kind of production is worth a try.