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Yankees 2021 Season Preview: Luis Medina

The highest ceiling arm in the Yankees’ system has a chance to reach the majors in 2021.

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

When it comes to prospect rankings, evaluators must factor in potential alongside on-field performance. It says something about the talent on display when a player can walk more than a batter per inning and still have scouts raving that he has the potential to be “an ace, top of the rotation on a playoff team” as one scout did following the 2018 season. Over the course of his professional career, Luis Medina has teased the Yankees, scouts and fans with one of the highest ceilings in baseball, while at the same time struggling to find the strike zone on a regular basis. In 2021, he has the potential to put it all together and move quickly through the system to help the major league club if called upon.

The narrative on Medina began to change in June 2019. After walking more than a batter per inning through his first nine starts that season, the Yankees’ pitching coaches worked with him on shortening his arm action, and the results were almost immediate. Following the change, he drastically improved his control, but had a few games where he ran into familiar problems. It was his last eight starts of the season where almost everything seemed to click, as he posted just a 2.96 BB/9 in 45.2 innings pitched while earning a promotion to High-A Tampa. The hype on Medina has only risen from there, and he is now in a position where he could plausibly make his major league debut in 2021.

2020-2021 Stats (Puerto Rican Winter League and Caribbean Series): 25.1 IP, 1.78 ERA, 1.026 WHIP, 13.9 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9

2021 ZiPS Projections: 64 IP, 6.58 ERA, 6.68 FIP, 8.53 K/9, 9.93 BB/9, -0.4 fWAR

The projections are going to be ugly for Medina, no matter what system crunches the numbers. He does not have a long track record of control, and until he can put more quality performances on his resume, the projections will see a player who cannot throw strikes and will not perform at the highest level.

Medina’s strong finish to 2019 earned him a spot on the 40-man roster. That designation led to him being sent to the alternate training site, where he was able to face live hitters under the watchful eye of Yankees pitching coordinator Sam Briend.

While at the alternate site, he improved on his already elite fastball and was hitting 102 mph by the end of his time there. Working off that elite velocity, Medina also throws an above average curveball and a changeup that looked like a series weapon this winter.

On a recent edition of the Future Projection podcast, Baseball America’s Ben Badler was asked about Medina and said “There are not many pitchers in the minors who have better stuff… It’s one of the best curveballs in the minors when it’s right, when he’s able to land it in the strike zone… It is a really nasty swing and miss, hammer type breaking ball... If he can just throw enough strikes, it’s a frontline starter type of repertoire.”

After his work at the alternate site, Medina pitched this winter for Indios de Mayagüez in Liga de Béisbol de Roberto Clemente, the Puerto Rican Winter League. His stuff was electric this offseason, and in one of his starts he struck out eight of the first ten batters he faced. After being named the league’s pitcher of the year, he was able to pitch for Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series at the end of January and early February.

With two minor league option years remaining, the Yankees are in no hurry to rush Medina to the major leagues. He will turn 22-years-old a day before the start of the minor league season, and has already been assigned to High-A Hudson Valley. He is the type of arm that could move through the system quickly this season if he continues to makes gains.

Given the realignment of the Yankees’ minor league affiliates, Medina will likely be playing his home games within an easy drive of Yankees Stadium. As a member of the 40-man he will be on the short list of players who can be called up at any moment.

A successful season for Medina does not necessarily end with him in the major leagues. While pitchers have risen from High-A to the majors in one season, that is not an easy jump. Medina needs to continue improving his command and control while learning how to negotiate lineups of more advanced hitters multiple times a game. If he is ready or needed, the Yankees could give him the call. In the best-case scenario, he has improved enough to work as starter, but he could also have tremendous value as a relief option.

Luis Medina has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Yankees’ minor league system. With scouts routinely using terms like frontline starter or ace to describe his potential, Yankees fans have every reason to be excited about his future with the team. In 2021, Medina and the Yankees will be hoping to consolidate the gains that he made late in 2019 and continued to show this winter while pitching outside of the organization. While not a make-or-break season, Medina has the chance to emerge as one of the Yankees’ top-two prospects this coming year.