Jonathan Loaisiga has become one of the most divisive Yankees pitchers in recent memory. He’s young and recently graduated from prospect status, but his future role remains difficult to pinpoint. Still, the Yankees like what they see. It may be easy to forget, but Loaisiga pitched in parts of four playoff games last season!
The kid gloves are definitely off when it comes to handling Loaisiga; the Yankees expect him to help the team in 2020. But how can he best serve them? That’s a question the Bombers still haven’t figured out. He’s only pitched in 24 MLB games so far, starting eight of them and coming out of the bullpen for the other 16.
Despite a more bullpen-centric role in 2019, Loaisiga didn’t noticeably improve. He still struck out a lot of batters, still walked too many, and still nibbled around the corners of the strike zone en route to too many deep counts. In other words, the tantalizing potential is still there, but the results are still scattered.
The Yankees now have the chance to reassess how Loaisiga can best help them. Due to James Paxton’s injury, there is an opening in the starting rotation. Although it’s expected that Jordan Montgomery and J.A. Happ will occupy the last two spots, Loaisiga’s name absolutely has to get thrown into the mix. At this point in his career, it might be his best opportunity to prove that he can be a big-league starter. He at least deserves the chance to come into spring training as a starter and push for the job.
However, a sentence to the bullpen wouldn’t exactly be a demotion for Loaisiga; he can still help the team there too! The Yankees’ bullpen is fairly top-heavy. Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino is an imposing foursome. There’s some uncertainty after them, though. Can Chad Green return to 2017-2018 form? Is he better suited as an “opener” anyway? What are the odds that Luis Cessa can figure it out? Will anyone from the bunch of Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder or Mike King stand out? These questions could all go away if Loaisiga can become a weapon out of the bullpen.
Loaisiga’s best fit may be in relief. Focusing on short appearances might help his electric fastball play up, and might enable a greater attack mentality, instead of the nibbling that has been his downfall in the past. It’d also help the Yankees offset the loss of Dellin Betances to the Mets. Faced with Cessa, Heller or Jonathan Holder as their sixth reliever, I’m sure the team would rather see Loaisiga, who has the most electric stuff of the bunch, in that spot.
The Yankees have options in the rotation. The top four is set (when healthy), Happ and Montgomery are a fine bottom two starters, Domingo German will come back from suspension over the summer, and the team can always throw Green or Loaisiga out there as an opener whenever they’re particularly short on trustworthy starters. Although it would be nice to see Loaisiga, a natural starter, pan out in the rotation, I’m not sure he has the necessary pitch mix or consistency to start in the Majors. Although I’d give him one last chance this year to start, I’d bet on Loaisiga proving his value to the Yankees in relief in 2020 and beyond.