Back in the 2015 international free agent signing period, the New York Yankees inked a lanky teenager who could throw very, very hard, but had no idea where his pitches were going. Luis Medina is that young fireballer.
While he’s not a teenager anymore he’s still a lanky 21-year-old. Does he have an idea of where his pitches are going, five years later? Well, it’s complicated.
For years, Medina struggled to advance through the Yankees’ system largely because of his control issues. Before the 2019 season, his lowest BB/9 in a season was 5.48, and it came in 23 Rookie ball innings back in 2017. Sure, he also misses lots of bats thanks to his excellent fastball-curveball combo, but those walks often came back to hurt him in the end.
Enter the 2019 campaign. Medina started the year in Low-A ball, and there, he had a 6.00 ERA (4.72 FIP) in 93 innings, with 11.13 K/9 and a 6.48 BB/9. One might see that stat line and think “more of the same,” but in his last six turns there, he managed to cut his walks significantly, all the way down to a 3.09 BB/9 mark.
Seeing that sizable improvement, the Yankees decided to bump Medina to High-A ball. With the Tampa Tarpons, Medina made a couple of starts, notching a 10.13 K/9, a 2.53 BB/9, and a 0.84 ERA.
Medina was having a good spring training in February/March, but the pandemic prevented him from getting valuable minor league time in High-A or Double-A. Instead, he was with the Yankees in the alternate training site, honing his craft.
The best stuff in the system
It’s probably not a stretch to say that Medina has the most impressive stuff in the Yankees’ system. For him, it is a matter of finding consistency and repeating his delivery. He needs to keep those walks down if he’s going to realize his full potential, or something close to it.
However, Medina badly needs a minor league season to happen. There wasn’t one in 2020, and who knows if 2021 will be different. Teams appear to be working under the assumption that minor league ball will come back next year, and it will probably be the case. But with COVID-19, we can’t take anything for granted.
If everything goes according to the plan, Medina could reach the high minors next season. However, at 21, the Yankees can (and should) take it easy with him. They should probably let him get his feet wet and see if the control gains he made last year can stick to some degree. Class A-Advanced seems like the most likely landing spot for him, at least to start 2021.
Medina’s future role is still up in the air. It will depend, of course, on his walk rate and the development of his third offering, a changeup-splitter. This quote from NorthJersey.com by 2019 Charleston pitching coach Gabe Luckert pretty much says it all about the Yankees’ prospect:
“Medina has probably one of the best arms I’ve ever seen. Once he commands the fastball and learns how to throw it in different parts of the quadrant, the sky is the limit.’’
Come spring training, all eyes will be on Medina. He is in control of his own destiny.