For the last few years, the calling card of the Yankees’ farm system has been its surplus of power-armed righties. While some of these pitchers have graduated to the upper levels of the minors, many of the most promising hurlers have yet to advance to Double-A. Let’s take a look at the intriguing arms that the Yankees have in the lower levels of the minors.
The fate of the 2020 minor-league season remains in question, but we can project where many of the top prospects would have started. The High-A Tampa Tarpons were set to have an exciting pitching staff, as all five of their projected starters rank as top-20 Yankees prospects by MLB Pipeline.
Luis Gil, whom the Yankees acquired from Minnesota in a trade for Jake Cave, leads the group. Back in 2018, Gil was a low-level lottery ticket, struggling to get out of rookie ball despite having a mid-90s fastball. Since arriving to the Yankees, however, that fastball has improved and is regarded by many as the best fastball in the system. It now sits 95-98 mph through entire starts, touching triple-digits.
Gil produced an 11.5 K/9 last season mostly pitching for Low-A Charleston. That production was good enough to earn a late-season promotion to High-A Tampa. His future progress will depend on how much improvement he can show with his slider and change-up.
Joining Gil in the rotation is Alexander Vizcaino, who shot up the prospect-ranking lists last season. Vizcaino did not sign with the Yankees until he was a few days short of his 19th birthday, late compared to many of his international peers. He has seen his velocity increase, while displaying what many scouts think is the best changeup in the Yankees’ farm system.
Also ranked among the top-10 prospects in the Yankees’ system is the player with perhaps the biggest upside, Luis Medina. Medina’s struggles with control have been frightening at times, including early last season. Through his first nine starts Medina was walking 10.5 BB/9, right in line with some of his worst career production. In early June, that trend reversed itself, and Medina’s control started to stabilize: He had a 3.8 BB/9 rate over his last 13 starts. Once his elite fastball and curveball started finding the strike zone, opponents only hit .197 off of him down the stretch.
Pitching in Low-A at just 19 years old, Roansy Contreras showed significant progress as the season went on in 2019. After struggling early on in his introduction to full-season ball, Contreras finished with a 1.80 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP over his last 11 starts. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball that he pairs with a curveball and changeup. Scouts see an advanced pitcher for his age, as he pitches through his struggles instead of just reaching back for more velocity.
T.J. Sikkema, the 38th overall pick in the 2019 draft, also figures to join the Tampa rotation. After a standout career at the University of Missouri, he made a brief debut with the Staten Island Yankees last season. Sikkema, the only left-handed pitcher in the Yankees’ top 30 prospects list, does not have an overpowering fastball, but he is considered an advanced pitcher from his ability to locate pitches and exploit the weaknesses of his opponents.
Joining Sikkema as the rare southpaw in the system is Josh Maciejewski. He made his season debut in late-May and pitched at four different levels for a combined 2.33 ERA. Maciejewski was asked to pitch at the three Class-A levels, and he made even a few spot starts for Triple-A Scranton.
The first player who may graduate to the upper levels of the minors this season is the Yankees’ fourth-round pick from 2018, Frank German (pronounced like the country). The New York native made his mark at the University of North Florida, where he finished in the top six of the NCAA in ERA and WHIP his junior year. Like many Yankees prospects. he has seen his velocity increase in the professional ranks, and this past season he struck out 82 batters in 76 innings for High-A Tampa.
When the Yankees went all-in on pitching in the 2017 draft, one of the interesting names was Glenn Otto. He racked up big strikeout numbers for Rice University while working out of the bullpen. The Yankees have attempted to transition Otto to a starting role, and while the numbers look pretty good, there is reason for caution. Otto missed the entire 2018 season after suffering a blood clot in his shoulder, and he has only been able to throw 91 innings as a professional so far. Scouts love his fastball-curveball combination, and they think he could move quickly as a relief pitcher just on the strength of those two offerings alone.
The Yankees have some extremely high ceiling arms in the lower parts of their minor league system. With numerous arms in position to move to the upper levels of the minors, these players will be looking to break out from the pack and make the jump to Double-A and the next step in the minor leagues.