When Gary Sanchez emerged as the catcher of the present and future in late 2016 it made Brian McCann an expendable piece on a Yankees roster that was being retooled towards youth. That winter the Yankees moved McCann to the Houston Astros for two pitchers in the lower levels of the minors, Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman. The former has been moved from the organization as part of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, while Abreu has slowly climbed up the minor league ladder and could find his way to the Bronx this season.
Abreu has tantalized the Yankees and outside evaluators with his fastball, and array of pitches that grade out above average. Despite the high ceiling identified by numerous scouts, Abreu’s production failed to meet the potential as he has battled injuries and poor control during his tenure in the Yankees’ organization.
2019 Stats: 96.2 IP, 8.547K/9, 4.93 BB/9, 0.84 HR/9, 4.28 ERA, 4.36 FIP (Double-A Trenton)
2020 ZiPs Projections: 87.0 IP, 7.24 K/9, 6.41 BB/9, 1.97 HR/9, 6.62 ERA, 6.75 FIP, -0.7 WAR
FanGraphs is not high on Abreu’s projections for the coming season, as they do not even have him on the Yankees’ breakdown for their 2020 depth chart projections. Their ZiPs projection paints an ugly picture as well, and it is hard to see anyone on the Yankees getting that many innings with that type of production.
After working almost exclusively as a starter during his first three seasons with the Yankees, it will be hard to see Abreu cracking the starting rotation this season in the Bronx. Established major leaguers James Paxton and Domingo German both figure to return to the big league club before the middle of June. In addition to those quality starters, Abreu is currently slotted behind fellow members of the 40-man roster such as Deivi Garcia, Mike King, and Nick Nelson. Even Clarke Schmidt, who would have to be added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster, could pass Abreu if he does not show significant improvement early this season.
Abreu’s path to the majors will likely come though the bullpen. He finished the 2019 season with three appearances out of the bullpen, including a four-strikeout performance over two perfect innings during the Eastern League playoffs. Those were Abreu’s first relief appearances since joining the organization, and could be a sign of things to come.
The strong-armed pitcher has continued to be developed as a starter based on his four-pitch mix, with all of his pitches rated above average. A lack of control has held Abreu back and allowed opponents to punish his pitches when he is routinely working from behind in the count. Abreu’s best pitch in the eyes of scouts is a fastball that tops out in the upper 90’s and is type of power offering that can help him transition to the bullpen.
If Abreu is not able to crack the roster by late August, he will be hampered by the new September roster rules that go into affect this season. Previously a prospect like Abreu would have been a prime candidate for a September call-up, but with teams limited to 28 players, including a maximum of 14 pitchers, the Yankees will have to choose from what could be a crowded list of candidates for that last pitching spot in September.
Despite battles with injuries and poor performance over the last three season since joining the Yankees, Albert Abreu has consistently ranked as one of their top prospects. With two seasons on the 40-man roster under his belt, Abreu is entering his last year with minor league options. The Yankees have been patient with this very talented arm as they hope to maximize his ceiling in the starting rotation. This season he is likely to be called upon to work out of the bullpen where he can help the team, while they attempt to keep the talented righty from being overexposed.