New year, same stuff. The injury bug has returned with a vengeance to sink its teeth into the Yankees’ roster. One hoped the Yankees had addressed this when the cleared house in the strength and conditioning department over the winter, but COVID-19’s abbreviation of spring training complicated matters. The Bombers have already eclipsed last year’s record pace of players going down with injury, with ten players currently on the IL.
One of the areas hit hardest by this wave of injuries is the bullpen. The Yankees, in their latest run of playoff appearances, have always counted the bullpen as an area of strength which they could ride in high-leverage spots. Now, with Tommy Kahnle out for the season to Tommy John surgery, and Zack Britton and Luis Avilán shelved with hamstring and shoulder issues, respectively, the relief corps is all of a sudden looking thin. With the trade deadline a little over a week away, the Yankees could make a play for on of the highest trending players in baseball: Josh Staumont.
Kansas City drafted Staumont in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Azusa Pacific University, where he had the reputation as a hard thrower. And just like with many other gas-throwing pitching prospects, he didn’t always know where the ball was going. His minor leagues average of around seven walks per nine made some question if he could make the leap to the majors. He hovered around the top ten prospects in the Royals organization until he made his big league debut in July of 2019.
Let’s start off with the traditional statistics: Staumont currently owns a 0.79 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 11.1 innings pitched. That translates to a ridiculous 18.3 K/9 rate and 46.9% strikeout rate. He’s struck out almost half the batters he’s faced! He sits in the 97th percentile in whiff percentage, 98th percentile in expected batting average against, and 99th percentile in strikeout percentage. He is pitching like a man possessed on the mound.
How has he found such dominating levels of success so far this season? He is third in MLB in average fastball velocity at 98.4 mph, ahead of guys like Dustin May and Brusdar Graterol, and has thrown the hardest recorded pitch this season at 102.2 mph. He seems to have turned the page on his MLB career, going from a cannon arm with spotty command to a legitimate stud that can anchor the back end of a bullpen. He gained 2.5 mph on the fastball since last season, and sits in the 92nd percentile of curveball movement.
Speaking of his curveball, it’s an absolute hammer. Think Dellin Betances levels of devastating. Staumont imparts tremendous levels of downward tilt, which coupled with the 16 MPH separation from his four-seamer, makes his curve a sword machine. So far, the curve has generated an absurd 68.2% whiff rate. Just look at these levels of filth:
Josh Staumont, 100mph Fastball (down the dick/ball) and 84mph Curveball (swinging K), Overlay. pic.twitter.com/7wCbEtW5XM— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 22, 2020
The Royals are one of the few teams in MLB without serious playoff ambitions, and therefore are among the handful of sellers as the deadline approaches. Given the relative lack of supply on the market, the Royals can demand a fairly hefty return for the type of game-changing reliever that contenders so covet in the postseason. And considering Staumont is only in his second year of pre-arbitration, with four more years of team control after this season, he could net a small fortune from the acquiring team.
The Yankees have the upper-level prospects in their player pool needed to pull of a trade of this caliber, but it’s another matter entirely as to their willingness to depart with multiple of those players. The Yankees are in the weakest position to dictate the terms of a trade, as they are both in win-now mode and are the ones needing to fill a bullpen shortage.
Given the glaring demand on the Yankees side of the bargaining table, the prospect cost for acquiring Staumont is even more inflated. I won’t speculate too much as to what a hypothetical package for Staumont might look like, but I have to imagine at least one of the top-tier starting pitching prospects (i.e. Deivi Garcia or Clarke Schmidt) would have to be included.
Ultimately, the asking price may be too exorbitant for the Yankees’ blood. They could be forgiven for holding onto their top minor league talent and weathering the current injury storm, hoping the likes of Britton and Avilán return sooner rather than later. However I also wouldn’t fault them if they decided to pull the trigger, as they would be getting a player who looks to be one of the game’s next great relievers in the making.