For several years now, the Yankees system has been known for its collection of power arms in the minor league system. As those players such as Luis Medina, Luis Gil and Clarke Schmidt have move through the upper levels, the Yankees will need new players to develop and position themselves to become the next wave of Yankees pitching prospects. Let’s take a look at the arms that the Yankees have at the lower areas of the minor league system who could begin making noise when their season gets under way this summer.
The Yankees’ fourth=round pick in the 2020 draft, Beck Way is one of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects in the lower levels of the system. His stock rose when scouts were able to see him against some of the best college hitters in the country during the 2019 Cape Cod League. Way continued to impress when he re-entered the JUCO ranks with Northwest Florida Junior College in early 2020, where he struck out 58 batters in 40 innings of work before COVID shut down the season. Baseball America ranked him as the 84th best prospect in the draft. With a fastball that was touching 97 mph, he has an strong arm to build off of. Way could start the season with Low-A Tampa this year, but may be eased into pro-ball through extended spring training first.
The Rookie-Advanced Pulaski Yankees had the best winning percentage of any Yankees minor league team in 2019. On their way to that impressive record, they rode the strong pitching of young players rising from below and also those making their professional debut after the 2019 draft. One arm that stood out in the crowd was the Yankees’ fifth-round pick, Ken Waldichuk. Coming off a strong college career, Waldichuk outclassed the competition in the Appalachian League, striking out 49 batters in just 29.1 innings pitched.
With some limits on the Yankees college arms, the Yankees Pulaski had one pitcher stand out from the beginning of the season in Randy Vasquez. In two seasons of pitching at the various Rookie ball levels, Vasquez has recorded a 2.75 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. His arsenal consists of a low to mid-90’s fastball that he pairs with a high spin-rate curveball that garners attention from scouts. Analysts generally see him as a future reliever, but he has worked almost entirely as a starter to this point in his career.
Another piece of Rookie-Advanced Pulaski’s rotation has an interesting stat line that can draw attention. Leonardo Pestana has struck out 105 batters in just 74.1 career innings, but his ability to miss bats is matched by the ability to miss the strike zone. The 6-foot-4 righty sports an ERA of 7.26 due in large part to his 52 BB in that same stretch. The big strikeout numbers indicates there is potential here.
Hayden Wesneski was tagged leading up to the draft as someone who could benefit from a move to the bullpen. The hard-throwing righty was used as a reliever during his pro debut with Pulaski in 2019, but has shown off a four-pitch arsenal that could give him a chance to start moving forward.
21-year-old Nicio Rodriguez made his professional debut with the Yankees in 2019 and immediately flashed real potential. His carrying pitch at this point is a fastball that touched 98 mph recently, though his slider and command are a work in progress. FanGraphs ranked him as the team’s 26th best prospect heading into the season.
The Yankees are hoping that Cuban born Denny Larrondo can capitalize on his athletic ability to harness his pitching arsenal on the mound. Once considered a legitimate international free agent as either a shortstop or centerfielder, he chose pitching when signed with the Yankees in 2018. He was promoted to the Gulf Coast League as a 17-year-old, and had one stretch of 12.1 innings where he did not allow a hit. Like many young pitchers, he has struggles with his control and will have to show improvement in that area this coming year.
The Yankees have two other interesting arms that last pitched in the GCL in Jose Chambuco and Yaljeldriz Diaz, who made their stateside debuts at age 17 like Larrondo. Both have promise, and the entire trio of now 19-year-olds could see time with Low-A Tampa this coming year.
Pitching alongside those players in the GCL was Montana Semmel, a late-round draft pick who the Yankees paid a $125,000 bonus to sign out of high school in 2019. The 6-foot-4 pitcher has been working out at Eric Cressey’s facility in Florida this offseason and should enter camp in great shape. He is also a year further removed from Tommy John surgery, and is a good bet to show strong improvement this coming year.
The highest profile pitcher signed by the Yankees in the 2018 international signing class was Osiel Rodriguez. His pro debut was cut short due to injury, as he was struggling to hit 90 mph after sitting in the mid-90s in Cuba. It has been reported that his velocity was back heading into 2020. Still just 19-years-old, Rodriguez has not pitched above the Dominican Summer League, and it is likely that he will start in extended spring training and the GCL.
The Yankees have some strong candidates to breakout at the lower levels of the system this coming year. Numerous players on the farm are hitting elite velocity after maximizing their time off to improve their strength and pitching game. When games start in May, some of these young arms will hit the field, while others may have to wait for the Gulf Coast League to start later in the summer. Either way, they will have the chance to establish themselves as legit pitching prospects.