When the Yankees first acquired Mike King from the Marlins in the 2017 offseason for Garrett Cooper and Caleb Smith, there wasn’t much reaction. It seemed like a minor trade through and through. However, King has had a rapid rise through the Yankees’ system over the past few years, and has positioned himself for a chance to make the team out of spring training.
King had a brief cup of coffee with the Yankees last year, pitching in one game out of relief, allowing one unearned run. With the final spots in the team’s bullpen uncertain, there is at least an opportunity for King to make it into the relief corps. In light of recent injuries to James Paxton and Luis Severino though, there is even a chance for King to make an impression in the team’s rotation.
The right-hander doesn’t have the traditional profile of a top pitching prospect, which has made his rise even more unexpected. A sinkerballer who sits in the low 90s and mixes in a curveball and changeup, King isn’t a guy who is going to get by on his stuff. In that regard, I’m not sure a role in the bullpen is best for him. Instead, King profiles best as a back-of-the-rotation, pitch-to-contact kind of guy. Think Rick Porcello, Charlie Morton, or, even more locally, Jordan Montgomery.
Montgomery’s rise is intriguing when it comes to projecting King’s fit. Montgomery has a lot in common with King—excellent minor league numbers, a heavy sinker, and an opportunity that arose out of an excellent spring training. When Montgomery became the team’s fifth starter in 2017, he was barely mentioned as a potential option, behind guys like Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Adam Warren and Luis Cessa. Instead, Montgomery stole the show in spring training.
The Yankees need a fifth starter with Paxton and Severino out. Right now, the options are an inconsistent Jonathan Loaisiga, a raw Deivi Garcia, a permanent bullpen game slot, or King. Keep in mind, too, that this is assuming Montgomery is the team’s fourth starter, which seems likely, but still cannot be guaranteed as he returns from Tommy John surgery. Fortunately, the Yankees don’t seem to think Paxton or Severino will be out too long, but they could miss the first month or so, which provides an opportunity for a young arm in the meantime.
Why can’t it be King? His groundball-heavy style could serve him well at Yankee Stadium, and although he’s never been a high-strikeout pitcher, his strikeouts have gone up a tick with the Yankees when compared to his Marlins numbers. He’s also posted a stingy sub-2.0 walk rate for most of his minor-league career. He certainly has the tools to succeed, so why not give him a chance?
King likely won’t be a huge contributor to the Yankees once the cavalry returns, but his skillset is interesting enough and his minor league numbers have been dominant to the point where he should be considered to be in the mix for the temporary fifth starter’s spot. The Yankees may just have another Jordan Montgomery on their hands.