Over the last several seasons, the term “Scranton Shuttle” has come to signify a group of players who routinely bounce back and forth from the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate and the major leagues. Bullpen arms with minor league options are frequently rotated to give manager Aaron Boone as many fresh weapons as possible no matter what the game situation is. This year, a handful of pitchers have helped the Yankees fill both expected and unexpected needs while providing valuable innings that take some pressure of the bullpen’s top arms. Let’s take a look at who is making up the Scranton Shuttle so far this year and how they are faring.
The player who has made the biggest impression so far this season is Mike King. King was no lock for the Yankees’ early season roster after struggling in spring training. Several years removed from being the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year, he has yet to carve out a permanent role on the team.
His first chance to contribute came on Easter Sunday, as Domingo Germán was knocked out of the game after just three innings. With the potential for the bullpen to be heavily taxed and the team blown out, King took the ball and threw six scoreless innings, saving many members of the relief corps for another day.
For his six strong innings, King was immediately rewarded with a trip back to the alternate training site in Scranton and soon after replaced with veteran Justin Wilson. With the rules forcing him to remain in the minor leagues for at least 10-days, many observers saw situations for him to see action in a long relief role. King was called up and sent down three times in April, but his performance has allowed him to stick around with the Yankees through the month of May. In total, King has tossed 16.2 innings with a 2.16 ERA for the Yankees this season.
Often heading one way while King heads the other is Albert Abreu. For most of the winter, it was reported on the most reliable sites that Abreu was out of minor league options after spending three full seasons on the Yankees 40-man roster. Granted a fourth minor league option year due to a little known clause in the MLB rulebook, the Yankees have put it to full use by sending Abreu up and down three times.
The strong righty recently impressed the Yankees by saving the bullpen during Monday night’s blowout loss in Texas. Entering the game in the fifth inning, he tossed three scoreless innings, finishing out the game and giving his team at least the chance of mounting a comeback (they did not). Life on the shuttle dictated that he be sent down for a fresh player the next day, but in his case it was to provide a roster spot for Rougned Odor, who returned from the Injured List. In five innings this season, Abreu has allowed only one run and will likely continue bouncing back and forth on the shuttle as the season continues.
Several other bullpen arms are candidates for the Scranton Shuttle but have yet to frequently start carving the path back and forth from the Bronx. Nick Nelson started the season in the big league bullpen and appeared to have the inside track on remaining there for most of the year. He struggled with control early, and the Yankees optioned him to Scranton in late April. He could be in play to return to the Yankees soon, as he has tossed 6.2 scoreless innings over his last three outings.
Brooks Kriske impressed Yankees’ coaches during his time at the alternate training site last season. With a hard and high spin rate fastball, he has the makings of an effective short-inning reliever. He’s struggled so far this season, allowing seven earned runs in just 5.2 innings for Triple-A Scranton, though he is still flashing the ability to strike batters out. Kriske pitched in one game for the Yankees this season but has not been up with the team since late April. Like Nelson, he has multiple years of minor league options and could be a fixture on the shuttle in the future.
Also in play, but in a much different way, is Deivi García, who has found his footing in Triple-A Scanton and is coming off back-to-back shutout performances over the last week. He already spelled the rotation for one start this season and could be in line to do it again. If that is the case, he would fill a different role than King and Abreu, but García still could prove to provide significant value to the major league team before the season is throug.
The Scranton Shuttle has become an integral part of the Yankees’ success over the last few seasons. The bullpen is built around a core of high leverage relivers that need to be protected at times through the ability of fresh young arms to manage lower leverage innings. This season, due largely to Mike King and Albert Abreu, the Scranton Shuttle has worked as well as anyone could have predicted.