For several years the Yankees prospects rankings have been dominated by pitchers. This coming season the High-A Tampa Tarpons will see a starting rotation that from top to bottom is loaded with major league potential. Their entire starting rotation could be made up of players within the Yankees’ top 20 prospects. Each one of these players took a step forward in their production and prospect status in 2019, but will come into the season with something to prove as they try to continue moving towards the major leagues.
Following the 2019 season, Baseball America rated four pitchers from the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs among the top 15 prospects in the South Atlantic League. Luis Gil, Roansy Contreras, Alexander Vizcaino, and Luis Medina have created a debate among evaluators as to who has the brightest future and most potential.
Luis Gil was acquired from the Minnesota Twins when the Yankee traded Jake Cave. At the time he had never pitched above rookie ball and was the definition of a “low level lottery ticket.” That lottery ticket now looks like a potential winner, as Gil thrived in 2019 with an 11.5 K/9 rate that saw him earn a promotion to High-A in late July.
Armed with an elite fastball that sits in the 94-98 mph range and touches 101, Gil’s development floor if he stay healthy is a solid reliever. If he can continue to develop his changeup he could move quickly through the upper levels of the system and continue working as a starting pitcher into the majors.
Roansy Contreras pitched the entire 2019 season as a 19-year-old with Low-A Charleston and, after some early struggles, finished the season with an amazing run. Over his last 11 starts, Contreras posted a 1.80 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP.
While he has less velocity on his fastball than some of his peers, Contreras still can throw his fastball in the mid-90s when he needs to. He has also shown a solid curveball, and has a changeup that he can command. He is routinely credited with having an advanced feel for pitching to the situation.
The player who jumped up prospect rankings within the Yankees system more than anyone else in 2019 was Alexander Vizcaino. An unheralded prospect when he signed with the Yankees a week before his 19th birthday in 2016, the lanky right-hander caught the eyes of many scouts during the 2019 campaign.
Vizcaino’s outstanding changeup has garnered the most attention, and paired with his fastball that touches the upper 90’s he has two plus pitches. Vizcaino will have to develop his third pitch, as it’s currently a very inconsistent breaking pitch that at times morphs between a curveball and a slider.
The most electric stuff, and the highest ceiling on the Tarpons pitching staff in 2020 belongs to Luis Medina. For several years now Yankees fans have heard about his incredible arsenal of pitches, and his complete lack of ability to harness any of them. Nine starts into 2019, he had an astounding 10.5 BB/9. From that point forward he gained control of his pitches, only allowing 3.8 BB/9 and a .197 Batting Average Against. His last four starts were particularly impressive, as he had a 0.40 ERA and only six walks in 22.2 innings. Yankees executive Tim Naehring was recently quoted about Medina, saying, “early in the year he was very inconsistent, and at the end of the year he found a release point that brought the stuff back.”
If Medina can keep the ball in the strike zone he has the potential to move up rapidly through the Yankees system. His fastball averages over 97 mph, and last season opponents had a 32% swing and miss rate against his fastballs in the strike zone, over double the average rate.
Gil, Contreras, Vizcaino, and Medina were all with Low-A Charleston for a significant portion of last season. What is going to set this Tarpon’s rotation apart is the fifth pitcher who is set to join the group, T.J. Sikkema. Sikkema was drafted by the Yankees in June with the 38th overall pick that they acquired in the Sonny Gray trade.
After a full season of pitching for the University of Missouri, the Yankees held Sikkema back in his professional debut. He only pitched four times, and threw 10.2 innings for the Class-A Short-Season Staten Island Yankees before the Yankees decided to pull him from game action. Sikkema continued to go through the routine of throw days and bullpen sessions, but held back on adding to his workload. College pitchers drafted as high as Sikkema generally start the next season in High-A, and he will be set to round out this impressive rotation.
The lefty Sikkema will provide a different look from his hard throwing right-handed teammates. He comes armed with four pitches that rate as at least average. He worked early in his career out of the bullpen as a closer before moving into and thriving in a starting role in the Southeastern Conference.
If you want to see a legitimate major league prospect pitch this season, then the Tampa Tarpons on any given night are a safe bet. Their starting rotation will boast five of the best arms in a system loaded with quality arms. This immensely talented group might not stay in Tampa for long, as each and everyone of them has the talent and potential to force their way to the next level.