Yankees fans look to the organization’s history of success and expect the best use of their tremendous resources. One area that has received a lot of attention from fans over the last decade is the Yankees’ ability, or lack thereof, to develop starting pitchers.
One of the teams that fans have looked at with envy over the last few season is the Cleveland Indians. Their core of elite, young arms should be viewed positively by Yankees fans because they now employ a man who worked extensively with Cleveland’s homegrown arms. Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake helped develop Cleveland’s starting pitching corp, and he now will be looking to replicate that success with the Yankees.
Blake joined the Cleveland Indians in 2016 after stints with the Yankees (as an area scout) and Cressey Sport Performance. After spending four seasons in the organization, he left behind a club stocked with major-league arms that are performing at an elite level.
Cleveland’s seven starting pitchers this year have all came through their farm system. This staff of homegrown starters leads the league in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and many more pitching categories.
Blake’s arrival in 2016 saw him working with pitchers from the major-leagues and through all levels of the minors. That season Cleveland drafted three pitchers who are now members of their starting rotation. Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac all entered Cleveland’s organization without hype and college performances that indicate they would rise quickly to the major leagues.
Bieber was coming off a college career where he viewed as a “pitchability” type with no plus offerings. His fastball sat in the low 90’s, peaking around 92 mph in his draft report, and only his command made him worthy of note.
After being drafted in the fourth round, he consistently improved, arriving in the major leagues in 2018 as a serviceable starter. In 2019 he was an All-Star who led the league in complete games and shutouts. His fastball now averages 94 mph and he has a 14 K/9 rate in 2020. Whatever Blake and the Cleveland pitching coaches did, it worked.
Drafted one round before Bieber in 2016 was Aaron Civale from Northeastern University. In Civale’s draft profile only his breaking ball received positive reviews from his pitching arsenal. Civale reached the major leagues last season, and in 16 major league starts, he has built up 2.6 WAR. He is another pitcher to come through that system ready to contribute at the major league level.
Plesac is the other member of that 2016 draft class now starting for Cleveland. As he found himself embroiled in controversy recently he opened the door for more homegrown starters in Adam Plutko and Triston McKenzie. All of these players have interactions with Matt Blake in common.
One of the first players to credit Blake is Trevor Bauer. Bauer, who was with the Indians and worked with Blake in 2016, is known for searching far and wide for pitching knowledge. When the Yankees hired Blake, he quickly tweeted that “One of the smarter guys I know. Knows a lot about pitching. A lot about development. Good communicator.” This stands out as a ringing endorsement from a player who is can be highly critical of pretty much anyone.
Blake has also received credit for his work with Mike Clevinger who has produced 12.5 WAR since his MLB debut in 2016. It is not surprise that rumors abounded earlier this week that the Yankees and Cleveland have engaged in trade talks surrounding their young pitcher.
The Yankees are constantly looking to make their organization more efficient and maximize the ability of all their young players. Matt Blake is coming from a team that is excelling at developing starting pitching. Watching Cleveland’s success, Yankees fans are left hopeful that he can instill the lessons learned into their own organization that is already loaded with power arms and potential that needs to be fully capitalized on.