Luis Medina flashed his elite fastball velocity shortly before he was signed by the Yankees out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. His progress has been slowed by a total lack of control, but all the signs are pointing to a player who is putting it all together. A series of small sample sizes are showing sustained results as Medina’s control improves, and it is time to recognize that he might very well be the Yankees’ top pitching prospect.
Coming off a 2018 season where he walked more than a batter per inning at the Rookie-Advanced level, the praise of Medina’s potential was still there. In a discussion of the Yankees system following the season, Jason Woodell of Prospects Live said “He’s going to be the number one pitching prospect in baseball… an ace, number one, top of the rotation, on a playoff team stuff.”
Woodell was not the only scout to praise Medina’s raw stuff, but the fact remained that the then 19-year-old was coming off a season where he posted a 6.25 ERA, 11.5 BB/9, and 2.167 WHIP. Fans and many evaluators can be excused if they could not make the leap of faith required to see Medina ever putting it all together.
Nine starts into his 2019 campaign for Low-A Charleston, it looked like Medina was on track for more of the same. He had a 10.5 BB/9 rate and an atrocious 9.28 ERA. However, the Yankees continued to show their faith in his upside, and on June 7th, his season turned around sharply with six innings of no-hit, two walk ball. The improved control remained for the rest of the year and he finished strong down the stretch, earning a promotion to High-A Tampa to close out the season. In his final eight starts between Charleston and Tampa, Medina pitched to a 1.77 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 2.96 BB/9, and 12.42 K/9 in 45 2⁄3 innings.
Following that attention-grabbing finish, FanGraphs listed Reds righty Luis Castillo as a model for envisioning where Medina’s ceiling is. Please read Josh’s piece from a few weeks ago to see how that ceiling would place Medina among the top-15 pitchers in baseball.
Added to the 40-man roster following the 2019 season, Medina was in position to start the season with High-A Tampa and likely finish at any of the levels above that. With the cancellation of the minor league season, the media and public has less information on his progress, leaving many to still cast doubt to Medina’s ability to show up and throw strikes.
In early December, Medina began taking the mound for Indios de Mayagüez in the winter baseball league hosted in Puerto Rico, Liga de Béisbol de Roberto Clemente. Building up into a shortened season, Medina has taken the mound four times, and the results are those of an elite pitching prospect.
Facing lineups with numerous players who have reached Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors, Medina has pitched 16 2⁄3 innings and struck out 32 batters while walking just six. In his most recent start, he gave up his first run of the season, but has still allowed a mere six hits during the season. Medina’s ERA is 0.54, his K/9 is 17.3, and his WHIP is a measly 0.78. He has picked up where he left off during the end of his 2019 season. The progress with his control was real, and his stuff is as good as ever.
If anything his stuff may have ticked up, as Baseball America reported that he hit 102 mph during his time at the alternate site. They also label his stuff in their most recent report as “the best pure stuff in the Yankees’ system.” It is not the first time that a scouting organization has put that label on Medina.
One of the challenges that comes with ranking prospects is balancing players with high ceilings against those who are much closer to the major leagues. Deivi García and Clarke Schmidt have both cracked the major league roster and will likely figure prominently into the Yankees’ plans for 2021 and beyond. Scouting reports on Schmidt generally have him peaking in the middle of the rotation, and similar reports on García mention that he could end up in the bullpen. Medina’s ceiling is well above that and he is building a track record of consistently pounding the zone with strikes.
Luis Medina’s winter ball performance in a vacuum is just a small sample size. Joined with a strong finish to his last season of minor league baseball and the control problems that have caused many to doubt his future did not re-emerged. The pitcher with the best stuff in the system is showing it off and in my estimation, should be considered the best pitching prospect the Yankees have.