One of the best parts of spring training, or in the case of this year, summer camp, is getting a good look at the promising prospects coming through the Yankees system. Two of those arms raised some eyebrows on Monday night with impressive performances in the last preseason game of 2020 camp for the Yankees. Nick Nelson and Brooks Kriske both looked impressive, and as members of the 40-man roster and are now on the short list of players who could see action in the Bronx this season.
The Yankees selected Nick Nelson in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He was coming off an impressive junior college season where he was a two-way player leading his team in both innings and at-bats. The Yankees were able to sign Nelson away from the baseball powerhouse of the University of Florida where he was expected to keep playing on both sides of the ball.
As a professional, Nelson has climbed through the ranks, routinely striking out over a batter per inning on his way through the minors. In 2019, working as a starter across three levels he struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings, rising to Triple-A Scranton in the process.
After an IL stint early in the season, he was able rebound and show off his development as a pitcher. Working off his 94-97 mph fastball, Nelson also has a solid changeup and two breaking pitches. His curveball is the better pitch right now, but last season he showed a promising slider that gives him another weapon.
With some progress this spring, Nelson could be an option for the starting rotation. He is more likely to see major league action as a reliever. While just a small sample size, he was able to come in against the Phillies and strike out three of the five batters he faced, stranding two inherited runners. The Yankees were able to get Nelson, who has only come out of the bullpen twice in the minor leagues, a look in a scenario with runners on base. He passed the test, and could have increased his chances of pitching in the big leagues this year along with it.
Two rounds after the Yankees selected Nelson, they grabbed right-handed pitcher Brooks Kriske from the University of Southern California. Kriske improved dramatically during his last season in college, putting him on the Yankees’ radar.
Kriske needed Tommy John surgery almost immediately after joining the Yankees organization. Returning in 2018 he pitched for Short-Season A Staten Island and Low-A Charleston. Despite putting up strong numbers on the season, he entered 2019 with just 44.1 professional innings under his belt.
He made his mark last season, improving his velocity up to 98 mph, and developing a splitter that is already considered an above average pitch. The Yankees made the somewhat surprising decision to protect Kriske, a relief pitcher, on the 40-man roster over starting pitcher Rony Garcia, who was then the first player taken in the Rule-5 draft by Detroit.
Kriske has yet to pitch at the Triple-A level, but has developed three pitches to neutralize opponents. On his way through the minors, he has a 11.5 K/9 rate and a 1.082 WHIP. Several years removed from Tommy John surgery, he looks better than ever.
Expanded rosters over the first month of the 2020 season will provide opportunities for many players. Nick Nelson and Brooks Kriske have positioned themselves to get the call if they Yankees need a quality arm.