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The Yankees’ pitching depth is now one injury away

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Paxton’s injury sends the Yankees to spring training knowing that they are one injury away from testing their inexperienced pitching depth.

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB photos via Getty Images

The Yankees knew that their organizational pitching depth would be tested at some point early in the 2020 season. James Paxton’s back surgery validates the Yankees’ decision to hold onto J.A. Happ though the offseason, when very few thought he would come to spring training with the franchise. This spring will put the spotlight on the Bombers’ starting rotation depth like Mike King, Deivi Garcia, Nick Nelson, and Albert Abreu, but they have no way of knowing how timing will dictate who gets the call.

Chance Adams was not suppose to be starting on Saturday August 4th, 2018 in Boston. In July, the Yankees had just traded for two pitchers capable of starting games in J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn. After rising through the minors and becoming one of the Yankees’ top prospects, Adams, who was not yet on the 40-man roster, was struggling through the season with Triple-A Scranton.

Then Happ contracted Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease, putting several wheels in motion. Luis Cessa was the first pitcher recalled from the minors after pitching brilliantly as a starter that July, at both the major-league and Triple-A level, by only allowing six earned runs in 31.1 innings pitched.

Cessa was forced into action early in the series against Boston, when the Yankees were shelled on Thursday night. With no other realistic options on the table, it quickly became Adams’ time to pitch for the Yankees. Adams never found traction in that game, or at the major-league level for the Yankees. He was not the best option, or the first option to make that start in Boston, but he was the option that could be ready to pitch when the roster needed him.

Fortunately for the Yankees this coming season, their first time testing their starting pitching depth will be met by Jordan Montgomery, who has 36 major-league starts and a 3.4 rWAR to his name. Behind Montgomery, though, is where the Yankees will be counting on their collection of young arms to step up.

Triple-A Scranton should see as many of four members of its rotation made up of pitchers on the 40-man roster. All of these players have development hurdles to overcome before as they attempt to stand out from the crowd.

King made his major-league debut late in 2019, but saw most of his season washed away by an injury. Garcia jumped three levels in the system last season, but has flaws with control and consistency that the organization would like to see him improve upon. Nelson struck out more and walked less than his previous season, but has only four games of Triple-A experience to his name heading into 2020. Abreu continues to be highly ranked by some scouts, but has yet to put it all together for a full season.

The timing of the injures could also dictated that a player like Miguel Yajure, Luis Gil, or Luis Medina, also members of the 40-man roster, get the call. Over the last few season the Yankees have reached down to Double-A to promote members of the 40-man roster when a fresh arm was needed in the Bronx. Those calls brought up players like Ronald Herrera, Domingo Acevedo and Jonathan Loaisiga. When Loaisiga was called to the majors he had thrown fewer professional innings across his entire career than many starting pitchers throw in a season.

Players off the roster can also get the call. Over the last few seasons pitchers like David Hale, Tyler Lyons, and Adonis Rosa have all received promotions to the major leagues without previously being on the 40-man roster. These three have shown enough that the front office brought them back into the fold.

The Yankees have built a roster that can withstand multiple injuries and still compete at a high level. Pitching depth will be tested; it happens every season. The timing of those injuries or illnesses, however, cannot be predicted. While candidates may stick out in the minor leagues as the most obvious player to promote, timing will dictate that the Yankees reach farther down the roster, or even pull someone from off the roster to fill the void.