Mike King is proof that a pitcher doesn’t have to sign for $324 million to get fans excited. His acquisition from the Marlins in late 2017 didn’t exactly receive the wall-to-wall coverage, but his potential is engaging fans nonetheless.
King swept through the Yankees system after he joined the organization, and made his debut last September in a two-inning relief appearance. He’s now one of a contingent of young Yankees who could become a future mainstay in the rotation or in the bullpen. But with the pitching talent presently at Aaron Boone’s disposal, a question remains: does the team need King right now?
2019 Stats: 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2.21 FIP, 4.5 K/9, 0 BB/9, 1.00 WHIP, 0.0 fWAR
2020 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 29 IP, 4.83 ERA, 4.94 FIP, 7.10 K/9, 2.36 BB/9, 1.34 WHIP, 0.2 fWAR
With the ongoing suspension of play due to the coronavirus outbreak, James Paxton looks more likely to be ready by the season’s official opening, bumping Jordan Montgomery to the fifth starter role. Jonathan Loaisiga seems to have earned himself a place on the staff, which means King will have to jockey for the final spot in the bullpen.
Among the obstacles he’ll have to overcome is fellow 24-year-old prospect Clarke Schmidt, another righty who flashed a killer curveball and a knack for strikeouts this spring. While King doesn’t project to strike out as many as Schmidt, his alternative skill set might offer its own value, and position him for a bulk role or long relief.
King features plus control and a highly effective sinking two-seamer that induces plenty of ground balls — a skill that could translate nicely to homer-happy Yankee Stadium. In his three minor league seasons, he recorded 1.66 groundouts for every out in the air.
And despite stress reactions in his elbow last season and in college, he has demonstrated his body can hold up for a full season under the workload of a starter — he threw 149 and 161.1 minor league innings in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Even if he doesn’t make the roster to begin the year, King should be among the first called upon should the Yankees need reinforcements from the minors.
A compressed schedule will test every team’s depth, and some have speculated the league might expand rosters to allow managers more flexibility, as they did in the strike-shortened 1995 season. If the Yankees need an arm to deepen their staff, King may be their man.
If they do tab him for a role, it will be important to watch how the infield performs behind him. The Yankees’ sturdiest defensive alignment last season included DJ LeMahieu at first, Gleyber Torres at second, Didi Gregorius at short, and Gio Urshela at third.
Urshela is the lone holdover playing the same position in 2020, and Torres was wobbly at shortstop this spring, committing five errors to lead the Grapefruit League. If King continues to generate groundballs as a major league pitcher, it will be crucial for the infield to do its part in instilling confidence in the young righty.
And in a season that promises to be unpredictable, confidence will be key. If the Yankees know they can call upon Mike King to provide effective and efficient bullpen innings when needed, then fans will have something to look forward to — in 2020 and beyond.