Heading into the last 17 days of spring training Jonathan Loaisiga seems to be a near lock to leave camp with the major league club. Entering the spring that was far from a sure thing as Loaisiga — in what has become a constant in his career — battled through injuries. The Yankees have continued to use him as both a starter and reliever, and that trend is likely to continue in 2020.
2019 Statistics: 31.2 IP, 4.55 ERA, 4.95 FIP, 10.52 K/9, 4.55 BB/9, 1.71 HR/9, 1.48 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR,
2020 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 75 IP, 4.19 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 9.98 K/9, 1.29 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR
The FanGraphs projections paint a favorable picture for Loaisiga this coming year. They do not show a truly dominant pitcher, but a very solid contributor that is working both out of the starting rotation and the bullpen.
What is interesting is that they think he will throw 75 IP in 2020, something he has only done once in his professional career. In the 2018 season Loaisiga rose from High-A Tampa to making his major league debut midseason, and pitched a combined 80.1 IP overall.
Loaisiga’s lack of durability has led many to feel that he should be transitioning to the bullpen full-time. Since joining the Yankees in 2016 he has been on the injured list five times, including several trips to the 60-day with arm and shoulder injuries. It is somewhat amazing that Loaisiga is still a viable candidate to pitch in the major leagues, as he has pitched a total of just 233.2 regular season innings at all levels in his career dating back to 2013.
The Yankees — recognizing his high ceiling — have tried to walk the line between developing a starter and over-using an injury prone prospect. Loaisiga has never pitched more than 5.1 innings in a game as a member of the organization. The Yankees have said that Loaisiga is a starting candidate this spring, and he is pitching multiple innings during his recent outings. Even if he is able to crack the rotation it is unlikely that the Yankees will be expecting him to be working past the fifth inning often this season.
The presence of Gerrit Cole as the ace at the top of the rotation will help the Yankees manage the fifth starter spot. Cole has thrown over 200 inning in each of the last three seasons, and can routinely work late into games. If the Yankees are forced to taxed their bullpen every fifth day, they can take that risk willingly knowing that their starter is likely working into the seventh inning the next day.
Loaisiga’s mix of pitches fits the profile of a viable starter, and that is the main reason that the organization continues to look to him in that role. Armed with a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball that he can pair with a sharp slider and an effective change-up, the Yankees have viewed him as a starter since he joined the organization.
Should Loaisiga begin transitioning to the bullpen, the Yankees have a model of how he can be used effectively. In 2017 the Yankees saw Chad Green transition to the bullpen after rising through the minors as a starter. In that season he only made 40 appearances for the Yankees, but pitched 69 innings as he usually worked more than three outs an appearance while pitching at an elite level.
While the Yankees have used Loaisiga out of the bullpen over the last two seasons, he has not found himself an established role. His lack of bullpen experience was on display in the ALCS when he was asked in a big spot to pitch on back-to-back days for the first time in his career.
Jonathan Loaisgia is pitching extremely well this spring, and should leave camp with the Yankees. The Yankees have the option to give him another shot at starting, or push him to a bullpen role in an attempt to protect his electric right arm. Any argument over Loaisgia’s role with the big league club may be rendered mute by mid-May when James Paxton is expected back, followed several weeks later by Domingo German. It is likely that Loaisiga will continue to work as both a starter and reliever for the Yankees in the 2020 filling the needs of the team as they arise.