The Garrett Cooper and Caleb Smith for Michael King and international bonus slot money trade between the Yankees and Marlins in 2017 was far from a blockbuster on the surface. For the Yankees, the money was the most important part, as it got them more in their attempt to sign Shohei Ohtani.
That didn’t end up working out, but it appeared the deal might work out for them anyway. In 2018, King, a 2016 12th round draft pick, dominated across three levels, including a ERA barely over one in 39 innings in triple-A. Injuries wiped out most of his 2019, but he would get to make his major league debut, throwing two innings in the final series of the regular season.
He was expected to, and did, play a bigger role in 2020. Unfortunately, it didn’t go great.
2020 Stats: 26.2 IP, 7.76 ERA, 5.14 FIP, 1.54 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.7 HR/9, 0.1 fWAR
2021 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 47.0 IP, 4.58 ERA, 4.64 FIP, 7.8 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.5 HR/9, 0.2 fWAR
King was likely destined to be a “Scranton shuttle” depth piece in 2020, but injuries and other circumstances forced him into a more prominent role. Thanks to the increase in doubleheaders, he ended up making four starts, in addition to getting innings as a long reliever.
Other than a 0.2 inning appearance against the Blue Jays on September 8th, King allowed at least one run every time he took the mound. So, is there anything to suggest that he could turn things around in the future?
The first thing you have to mention while looking into anyone’s 2020 is that it was a small sample size. King also didn’t get regular work, and there was nowhere for him to get that anyway. With no actual minor league games going on, the only game action for him was as one of the last men in the bullpen or as an occasional spot starter. Most of his appearances were on five or more days rest. His results are his results, but it’s not like there’s any Triple-A stats we can judge him favorably or unfavorably on.
There are some underlying stats from King’s 2020 that show a rebound is not out of the question.
Besides his FIP indicating that he got a bit unlucky, opponents didn’t make a ton of hard contact off him. The average exit velocity off him was just 87 MPH. The issue was, even if it wasn’t hard contact, other teams still made lots of contact against him. Statcast’s expected stats suggest King was a bit unlucky in 2020, but not massively so.
Good news is, King knew he needed to make adjustments. His last regular season appearance in 2020 was on September 21st. After that, he was sent to the alternate site, where he tinkered with things. According to Bryan Hoch, King refined his changeup while also remaking his slider into a curveball. He then made an appearance in the playoffs coming in mop up duty in Game 3 of the ALDS. He went two innings and retired all six Rays’ hitters he faced.
So far in spring training, King has had mixed results. He was the starter in the spring opener, and allowed three runs in two innings, with three hits and two walks while hitting two batters. His second appearance was much better, blanking the Blue Jays for two frames.
It’s too early to make any final judgements on King in general, never mind the adjustments he made. Hopefully at the very least, he’ll become a passible arm in some role for the Yankees in 2021.