Brian Cashman has gained a reputation for always stocking the Yankees bullpen with a strong cadre of pitchers who can throw big innings down the stretch. Even with bullpens that sometimes run four or five deep on pitchers with high-leverage profiles, the Yankees have seen some of their best relievers seemingly hit a wall during deep playoff runs. Faced with a season-ending injury to Tommy Kahnle and inconsistent performances throughout the rotation, the Yankees missed the opportunity to develop their bullpen from within.
Following the trade deadline, Cashman said that the price of upgrades was too high for him, and the Yankees decided to stand pat. With several young arms in the system and an expanded postseason to fall back on, the Yankees had a prime opportunity to test their young pitchers as potential bullpen weapons. The organization is no stranger to young players emerging to play key roles out of the bullpen, with arms like Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Chad Green emerging to handle significant relief roles very early in their careers.
This season, the Yankees had several candidates who could have been given a bigger chance to find their stride coming out of the bullpen. Clarke Schmidt, Nick Nelson and Miguel Yajure all should have been given more opportunities to prove their worth and possibly give the Yankees one more weapon to use in the playoffs.
The Yankees’ number one pitching prospect according to some, Clarke Schmidt was off the 40-man roster at the beginning of the season. He made some noise with a solid spring training, and was front and center during the parts of summer camp that the public was allowed to view.
He could not crack the Yankees’ opening day roster in late-July, but when veteran catcher Erik Kratz got the call to the majors, he quickly mentioned to reporters that “They’re ready to go. There’s no other way to say it” when asked about Schmidt and fellow prospect Deivi García.
It looked like Schmidt was being groomed for a relief role as the Yankees brought him into his major league debut in the middle of an inning with runners on base. Schmidt was given one more chance three days later, pitching a scoreless frame before being sent back to the alternate site until the last weekend of the season.
While Schmidt was waiting for more opportunities at the alternate site, Nick Nelson was spending time sitting in the Yankees bullpen. After being called up for the second and final time on August 18th, Nelson twice spent 10 days between outings with no chance to see game action. He has pitched two scoreless innings this postseason but in very low leverage situations.
The Yankees also gave Miguel Yajure a chance to make his debut in 2020. Added to the 40-man roster last offseason, Yajure only had limited experience at the Double-A level heading into this season.
In his three appearances, he pitched seven innings while giving up just one run, and striking out eight. Known for his command and control in the minors after a 1.9 BB/9 rate last season, there was a chance that he still had the potential to give the Yankees even stronger outings after walking five in those three outings.
After giving the Yankees two quality outings in a six-day stretch, Yajure was sent back to the alternate training site until the last week of the season. Yajure proved that he was not overmatched by big league hitters, throwing three no-hit innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in his debut.
The Yankees should have found time for Clarke Schmidt, Nick Nelson, and Miguel Yajure to get extended looks in their bullpen during the regular season. Once the trade deadline came and went without any moves the Yankees needed to find the players who could earn their way into Aaron Boone’s circle of trust. There is no guarantee that these players would have risen to the occasion, but when nudged to the sideline they certainly did not get the game action to have a shot.