Any look at the Yankees’ farm system shows an organization dominated by high-ceiling arms, albeit with some questions to answer. In the last year a number of those arms have graduated to the upper levels of the system and positioned themselves to help the big-league club when called upon. Let’s continue our tour of the Yankees’ minor leagues with a look at the pitching prospects who expect to start in Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this season.
Of course Deivi Garcia, and Clarke Schmidt start the conversation. These two have impressed scouts, taking it to the next level in 2019, aggressively climbing the ladder and landing on numerous top-100 lists heading into 2020.
Garcia, who will not turn 21 middle of next month, does not have the stature of a typical pitching prospect. Standing just 5-feet 9-inches and weighing about 165 lbs, many question his ability to handle a major league starter’s workload. His absurd strikeout numbers (13.3 K/9) show that he has an aptitude for missing bats, and that could keep him in the major-league rotation.
That said, Garcia will have to improve his consistency if he wants to reach the majors this season. After walking just 2.4 batters per nine in 2018, that number ballooned to 4.4 in 2019. This factored in with his struggles at the Triple-A level, where he recorded a 5.63 ERA across 40 innings pitched.
Clarke Schmidt also features prominently in the discussion. Drafted in the first round a month after having Tommy John surgery, the Yankees and their fans have shown patience with Schmidt as he has worked his way back to the mound. This last season he showed the form that made him a first-round prospect while pitching for the University of South Carolina. He finished with three strong starts for Double-A Trenton, and then flashed his potential during spring training.
Also in the mix for major-league innings this coming season is Michael King, who made a two-inning cameo in the last week of 2019. King came to the Yankees as a High-A pitcher in November 2018, and then turned into one of the best minor league pitchers in baseball, climbing to Triple-A Scranton in 2018.
Double-A Trenton has been the home of another strong armed righty who has earned significant prospect hype over the last few seasons in Albert Abreu. He consistently ranks as a top-15 Yankees prospect due to his high-90s fastball, and two other plus pitches. His progress has been hampered by injuries and lack of command, making his pitches more hittable than he would like.
The Yankees also got strong performances out of two pitchers who earned their way onto the 40-man roster following last season. Miguel Yajure was the Yankees’ minor league pitcher of the year, after posting a 2.14 ERA mostly at the High-A level. Yajure was promoted late in the season to Double-A and excelled at that level in a two-game cameo to finish the season. Nick Nelson has put together a strong resume that saw him finish 2019 with Triple-A Scranton. Across two levels last season he recorded an 11.4 K/9 rate.
The Yankees had a pair of complete game no-hitters in the minor leagues last season, but they came from players who came to the system with different expectations. Trevor Stephan was the Yankees third round pick in 2017, and was the third player in all of baseball from that draft class to reach Double-A. Since then he has struggled, even finding himself demoted to High-A Tampa in the middle of 2019. It was there that he threw a seven-inning perfect game in late July, and then finished strong with an 0.67 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP over his last five games including a promotion back to Double-A.
The other pitcher to throw a no-hitter for the Yankees was Brian Keller, who was taken in the 39th round of the 2016 draft. Keller has pitched to a 3.22 ERA, and struck out a batter per inning coming through the minors for the Yankees. His no-hitter capped a strong 2.32 ERA, 0.94 WHIP campaign in Double-A. Keller struggled like many pitchers when promoted to Triple-A and exposed to the offense friendly ball for the first time last season.
Some arms have come through the system with the profile of high end relievers. The Yankees showed a tremendous amount of faith in the ability of Brooks Kriske when they added him to the 40-man roster last November. Kriske recorded strong numbers in Trenton as part of a very strong bullpen for the Eastern League Champions.
Alongside Kriske in that bullpen was closer Daniel Alvarez, who has posted a 1.92 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP since moving to the bullpen full-time at the start of the 2018 season. James Reeves and Trevor Lane are a pair of lefties who have put up strong numbers and should be pitching out of the Scranton bullpen this coming season.
Garrett Whitlock was looking like a steal after the Yankees took him in the 18th round of the 2017 draft. He proved to be a groundball-generating machine and produced a 2.41 ERA, with a 1.16 WHIP through 205.1 professional innings, before requiring to Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2019 season.
The Yankees have a strong group of pitchers on the cusp of the majors. With a shortened season forced on the big leagues this year, traditional concerns such as innings limits should be eliminated from consideration if the Yankees need to call on a minor league arm during the season. The help could come from the top prospects like Garcia and Schmidt, or players who elevate their game once or if they are given that chance to play out this season.