Organizational depth was among the key elements of the Yankees’ success in 2019 as the team battled frequent injuries to numerous key players. The pitching staff is the part of the roster that sees the most rapid and constant turnover, especially in the bullpen. Bullpen arms move up and down from the minor leagues on a regular basis to fill needs based on performance, fatigue, and injury. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the players who in 2020 will make up the rotation of arms that has become known as the Scranton Shuttle.
Jonathan Holder has a tremendous amount of major league experience to draw on as he heads into the next campaign. He made his major league debut in late 2016, and has thrown 155 major league innings over parts of four seasons. The Yankees would love to see the version of Holder who posted a 1.2 fWAR in 2018, but he will be pushed for a roster spot during spring training.
Holder is coming off a difficult season that saw him post a 6.31 ERA and finish the season on the 60-day injured list with shoulder inflammation. He will have to prove that he is healthy and able to return to his 2018 form, as there are several other talented arms already on the 40-man roster that could challenge for his slot.
Competing with Holder early in the season will be players with less major league experience but likely with a higher ceiling. Jonathan Loaisiga and Ben Heller could earn an Opening Day roster spot with a strong spring, but consistency and health could dictate how often they bounce between the major leagues and Triple-A.
Heller hit the injured list for Tommy John surgery right at the end of spring training in 2018. After missing the entire season, he began his rehab in June of 2019. While working his way back towards the majors he experienced a month-long set-back due to forearm tightness. This pushed Heller’s timeline back, and he was not activated from the 60-day injured list until September 10th of this past season.
When he did pitch, Heller was sharp. In his last two appearances with Triple-A Scranton in 2019, Heller came into games where the RailRiders’ pitching staff allowed a combined 30 runs. In those two outings he pitched a combined three innings, striking out six and allowing only one baserunner. That included closing out the one-game playoff where Scranton clinched the division title and a playoff spot.
Heller also looked good during his limited look with the Yankees late in September. He struck out nine batters in 7.1 innings pitched while allowing only one run. His fastball and slider both looked effective, and with his injuries in the rear-view mirror he appears ready to contribute at the major league level.
In addition to Heller, Loaisiga also looks to be key depth piece for the Yankees bullpen this coming season. In the past, Loaisiga has been asked to work as a swingman, filling needs both in the starting rotation and bullpen. This season, with 40-man roster members Deivi Garcia, Mike King, and Nick Nelson all set to work as starters for Triple-A Scranton, the time is right for Loaisiga to transition to the big-league bullpen.
In a relatively small sample size last season, Loaisiga pitched to a 3.20 ERA with a 1.27 WHIP while working in relief. That said, he’s still very much a novice in that role, as Loaisiga found himself in uncharted territory during the ALCS when he was asked to work on back-to-back days for the first time in his career.
Brooks Kriske is one more member of the 40-man roster that figures to become familiar with the highways between Scranton and the Bronx in 2020. Kriske was added to the 40-man roster on the heels of an outstanding season pitching for High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Kriske has yet to pitch at the Triple-A level, but after recording an 11.8 K/9 rate during his time at Double-A, the Yankees believe that his stuff will continue to play at the next level.
The players who come up and down on the Scranton Shuttle provide key contributions for the Yankees major-league squad. This season the options will range from a player with over a 155 major league appearances, to another who has yet to pitch his first inning at Triple-A. Due to their status on the 40-man and proximity to the majors, they all know that the call to the majors could come at any time.