Gary Sánchez’s late-season emergence in 2016 made veteran catcher Brian McCann expendable to the Yankees during the following offseason. With an eye at resetting the roster, McCann was moved to Houston ahead of the 2017 season. Albert Abreu was the top prospect that the Yankees received in return in that deal, but he has yet to realize the full potential in his electric arm.
2019 Stats (AA): 96.2 IP, 4.28 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 9.6 H/9
2020 Stats (MLB): 1.1 IP, 20.25 ERA, 4.50 WHIP, 13.5 K/9, 13.5 BB/9, 27 H/9
Prospect Rankings (Yankees System): 18 (MLB.com), 33 (FanGraphs), 17 (Baseball America)
Added to the 40-man roster ahead of the 2018 season, Abreu has battled injuries and inconsistent performances for most of his time with the Yankees. For most of this past winter, it was reported that Abreu was out of minor league options heading into 2021 and would have to make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster or be removed from the Yankees 40-man and potentially lost from the organization.
Only as spring training began was it reported that a small quirk in the MLB rule-book allowed Abreu a fourth year of minor league options, allowing him to remain with the Yankees while providing roster flexibility to the team. The team has thus assigned him to the alternate training site to begin the year.
Abreu struggled in his MLB debut as the Yankees attempted to transition him to the bullpen during the shortened 2020 season. After coming out of the bullpen just five times since joining the Yankees organization, the transition was not seamless. He pitched in two games, logging just 1.1 innings and giving up four earned runs. At least Abreu fanned a pair of batters for his trouble.
During the winter, Abreu pitched for Tigres del Licey in the Dominican Winter League, performing well overall, thought still struggling with command and control of his pitches. For the winter, he started five games and tossed 19.1 innings with a 2.79 ERA. He struck out 23 batters, but walked 12. Of note was that Abreu did not spend any time coming out of the bullpen this winter, potentially missing the chance to work on some of the situations he is sure to face this coming year.
This spring, Abreu worked exclusively out of the bullpen, pitching 4.2 innings in five games. It looks like he may be transitioning to that role full-time in the near future. For several years now, scouts have speculated that Abreu’s future lies in the bullpen, where he can maximize his elite pitches in short outings.
Armed with a fastball that has touched 101 mph in recent year and routinely sits around 98 mph, Abreu has shown the ability to miss bats in the past. He combines that elite velocity with a changeup that is considered well above average and a slider that has big-time potential if he can regularly land it in the strike zone.
Abreu’s poor command is what most holds him back from a starter’s role. He has a 4.3 BB/9 rate in his career, and during his time in the Dominican this winter, it creeped up even higher than that. Abreu’s raw stuff is good enough that he can overcome a lack of precision in short stints, but his control will have to improve, or major league hitters will be waiting to tee-off on even an above average fastball.
With his major league debut behind him, Abreu will certainly be riding the “Scranton Shuttle” this coming season. The bullpen has already been hit by several injuries and fresh arms will be needed throughout the campaign. Abreu and Brooks Kriske are the top two candidates to be riding the shuttle up and down from the minor leagues this season. His season can be considered a success if he shows the Yankees that he can adapt to a bullpen role and contribute to the team moving forward. To do that, he will have to limit the free passes and generate the swings and misses that scouts feel his pitches require.
The Yankees have believed in Albert Abreu’s electric arm as he has attempted to harness his pitches over the last several years. The team and Abreu seem to be embracing a full shift to the bullpen, which could help unlock some of the value and lead to a regular major league role. This season, Abreu is not predicted to be a main piece to the Yankees MLB plans, but based on his proximity to the majors, he will certainly have the opportunity to contribute.