The Yankees have long been a model team for developing high leverage relievers from their farm system. From Mariano Rivera, to Dellin Betances, to Jonathan Loáisiga they have developed a lengthy track record, making the following exercise extremely interesting. There are a few different candidates with a timeline in the next year or two who have the stuff to get outs in high leverage situations. A few you probably know, but there is one you probably do not.
I am obligated to start with the most obvious candidate, Luis Gil. He stormed onto the scene this year with three scoreless starts to begin his career. After those three starts, his control worries came back to haunt him. He walked 12 batters in 13.2 innings. While many of us hoped the control issues would magically disappear after his strong starts against Baltimore and Seattle, we were ultimately bound for disappointment.
Gil has had walk issues for his entire professional career. The stuff is electric though. His FanGraphs scouting report grades his stuff out as a 70 fastball, 50 slider, and 40 changeup. That goes along with 40 command. When you see a 70 fastball you get extremely excited, but 40 command indicates the destiny of a reliever.
The Yankees didn’t try him out in that role this season, but with Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery bound for starter roles, the odds are Gil doesn’t beat the many players hunting for the fifth spot in the rotation. Combine an average 96.1 mph fastball as a starter and a horizontal moving slider, and you have the makings of a powerful, two-pitch reliever. My guess is Gil will follow a similar track to Loáisiga by getting spot starts initially, but in the end will transition to a full-time reliever.
The next player may follow a very similar track to Luis Gil. That player is Luis Medina. He also grades out to have a future 70 fastball. He’s touched triple digits in the past, and tends to pop up on social media because of it. Here is an overlay of his fastball/curveball combination.
He is not a similar pitcher to Gil in terms of stuff since his two-pitch mix is mainly the fastball and future 70 grade curveball, but he is similar when it comes to control. Like Gil, he grades well below average for command with a 30/40 present/future grade. That’s not so promising for his starting aspirations, but it does make him a great candidate for a high leverage reliever!
There are truly not many people in the world who can do what Medina can with a baseball. Despite his 175-pound frame, he can run it up to 102 mph. That’s special stuff. In the minor leagues, he had games where he struck out as many as 12 batters. When he’s on, he flashes ace potential, but with a pitcher like this, the control can never be ignored.
He likely won’t be a reliever within the next season or so. His ceiling is too high. He is extremely athletic and deserves the time to try and figure it out before being expelled to the pen. That said, he is certainly a candidate in the future depending on how his development goes.
The last player is a bit of a sleeper considering he’s a late bloomer relative to Gil and Medina. Greg Weissert will enter the 2022 baseball season at the age of 27, but there are reasons to believe he can be a highly effective pen arm. Our own Dan Kelly predicted Weissert as a breakout candidate before the 2021 season because of the pitcher’s nasty side-sweeping slider. In fact, Baseball America ranked Weissert’s slider as the best in the Yankees farm system. That says a lot considering some of the young arms they have.
In 36.2 innings in Triple-A this year, Weissert dazzled for a 1.96 ERA. His 3.77 FIP wasn’t quite as low, but with a pitcher whose success comes from a purely horizontal moving slider — ala Chaz Roe or Adam Ottavino — there’s an expectation for a discrepancy between these two numbers. Another promising statistic for Weissert was his 25.6 percent fly ball rate. That plummeted relative to the rest of his career when he got to Triple-A, indicating he figured out something with his pitch mix.
That number is also very similar to Loáisiga and Wandy Peralta who had 23.4 and 23.8 fly ball rates, respectively — and both of those pitchers rank in the top 10 in the AL when it comes to that stat. In the age of the home run, having relievers who simply do not let the ball in the air is extremely important. It allows Peralta to get high leverage outs with runners on base despite stuff that isn’t amazing. Weissert will more than likely debut with the big league club at some point next season and we’ll be able to get a better look at him then.
There are certainly other candidates for this type of role in the future, but these three pitchers have extremely interesting cases. Only time will tell, but it shouldn’t be long before the next homegrown Yankee reliever takes the league by storm.