Just over three years ago, the Yankees traded outfielder Jake Cave to the Twins for Luis Gil. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t think much of the swap at the time. The Bombers were faced with a never-ending 40-man roster crunch, and had to offload someone in order to make room for Neil Walker. They designated Cave for assignment, and the Twins offered to take him on in exchange for Gil, a lottery-ticket teenager who had all of 65 professional innings to his name.
In hindsight, the trade looks like a potential low-stakes heist. Gil could yet flame out, but he’s played very well for a complete flyer, and now profiles as one of the Yankees’ most interesting pitching prospects.
2019 Stats (Low-A and High-A): 96 IP, 2.72 ERA, 1.229 WHIP, 11.5 K/9, 4.4 BB/9, 6.7 H/9
2020 Stats (Winter League): 5.2 IP, 6.35 ERA, 1.941 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 4.8 BB/9, 12.7 H/9
Prospect Rankings (Yankees System): 5 (MLB.com), 13 (FanGraphs)
After coming over from the Twins in 2018, Gil diced up rookie ball and Low-A, maintaining a 1.96 ERA but struggling with control. The story continued in 2019, when he kept his run prevention numbers stellar but still had trouble finding the zone.
That’s where the attention has to be for Gil in 2021. He’s produced sparkling ERA and strikeout figures at nearly every stop for the Yankees, but he’s never been able to stop shepherding opposing batters to first base via free passes. He’s never had a full season with a BB/9 rate lower than 4.4, and his career BB/9 stands at 5.4.
His control issues, and the extent to which he develops his secondary offerings, will dictate whether Gil can stick as a starting pitcher. He features a slider and changeup to go along with an upper-90’s fastball. Scouts put the slider ahead of his change at the moment, with MLB.com praising it as “a power breaking ball that features slider velocity and sometimes has more of a curveball shape”. His change comes in around 90 mph but reportedly lacks consistency; FanGraphs’ Eric Longehagen put a current 40 grade on the pitch, below average on the 20-80 scale.
Gil could make it as a high-octane reliever should he simply evolve into a two-pitch pitcher with control problems. That profile describes many an effective late-inning hurler across the majors, and many don’t have the easy velocity Gil can summon. It’s more tempting to imagine Gil shaping his changeup into an average third offering, cutting the walks under four-per-nine, and actually making it as a starter.
This season will go a long way towards determining whether Gil can stay on that path. He flashed some positive signs on the control front in 2019, when he walked 4.2 per nine in 17 starts in A-Ball. He started throwing the changeup relatively recently, which could auger future improvement with the pitch as he gains more experience throwing it. It’s certainly plausible Gil could stay pitching every five days a while longer.
Yet we’ll see if the Yankees’ plans allow for that development course. The Yankees protected him on the 40-man this past winter, meaning he’s an option to come up and contribute out of the major-league bullpen some time this year. His fastball/slider combo could very well get big league hitters out right now. Should a need arise in the bullpen this summer, the Yankees may have to weigh the pros and cons of a Gil promotion. If Gil keeps working as a starter this year, a sudden shift to a major-league relief role could throw a wrench in his development. It could also prove to be the optimal position for Gil, particularly if it turns out he can help the Yankees right away.
However Gil’s 2021 plays out, the Yankees have an intriguing young pitcher on their hands, one they procured almost out of thin air. He offers a ceiling to dream on, as well as a direct route to major-league contributions. The Yankees will have to make some difficult decisions soon, and how Gil looks in the season’s early going will inform those choices. With any luck, whichever development path Gil ends up on by season’s end will prove to be the one that suits him best.