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On Deivi García, Clarke Schmidt, and the perils of overvaluing pitching prospects

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A cautionary tale of player evaluation

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Luis Gil’s dazzling MLB debut Tuesday night marked the beginning of the next wave of Yankees pitching prospects. He, alongside Luis Medina, is the latest pitching duo to capture attention in the minors and stir the hopes of Yankees fans. In doing so, they could very well leapfrog the pair that immediately preceded them, Deivi García and Clarke Schmidt.

Just a year ago, García was being lauded as “little Pedro,” with aspects of his debut season causing some to dream that the Yankees had a future Cy Young winner on their hands. Meanwhile, some scouts predicted that Schmidt would be an even more effective MLB starter, praising his mastery over a four-pitch repertoire. Now both are in danger of being left in the dust by the newest upstarts.

It’s a tale as old as time. The Yankees have displayed a knack for overvaluing the arms on the farms, largely failing to cash in on their prized prospect statuses whether via development or as part of a trade package. Prospects are always a gamble, but the Yankees sure do lose to the house a disproportionate amount of the time.

Two of the three Killer B’s fizzled out without achieving any real success in the majors. Chance Adams went from hero to zero the minute he stepped foot in the majors. Albert Abreu is still searching for the strike zone while it takes two hands to count the number of times Domingo Acevedo was DFA’d, outrighted, released, or non-tendered. And that brings us back to García and Schmidt, both of whom look further from MLB glory than in their pre-debut days.

That’s not to say the Yankees have whiffed on every pitching prospect. Dellin Betances was probably the best reliever in baseball for a three-year period. Luis Severino has been an ace when healthy while Domingo Germán has given glimpses of third starter potential for stretches at a time. Justus Sheffield netted the Yankees James Paxton.

Imagine that! Brian Cashman trading a top prospect for a player with a proven track record in the bigs. It’s amazing what one can get back by moving a well-regarded prospect before his stock has plummeted. And for the record, I would absolutely pull the trigger on that trade ten times out of ten. Paxton provided them 150.2 innings of 3.82 ERA, 29.4 percent strikeout rate ball. What the Yankees wouldn’t give for a three-and-a-half win pitcher right about now.

That brings me back to García and Schmidt. Maybe they represent the latest instance of the Yankees hanging onto a prospect for too long. But before we get into where the Yankees may have erred, let’s look at exactly what has gone wrong for each of the young pitchers.

García surprised many of us with his sparkling debut against the Mets last season. For a pitcher whose number one issue in the minors was the free pass, the fact he issued zero walks that game seemed borderline miraculous. Unfortunately for García, the command issues have returned with a vengeance. This season, he has walked 43 batters in 59 innings in Triple-A — good for a staggering 15.2 percent walk rate. These walks in addition to a mile-high 2.6 home runs per nine inning have pushed his ERA north of seven. The potential culprit for his struggles is even more startling than the struggles themselves.

How the Yankees could manage to mess up the delivery of their number-two pitching prospect this much is beyond me. Forget about cementing a spot in the big league rotation, there are legitimate worries that García’s career is in jeopardy. He’s worse off than back to square one. He’s turned into a pumpkin!

As for Schmidt, he has been injured all season, though did recently make a rehab appearance for Double-A Somerset. Schmidt was drafted by the Yankees in 2017 with full knowledge that he would have to undergo Tommy John surgery. That is why is the extensor strain in his surgically-repaired elbow caused such a scare. Although he did not require a second TJS, the multiple setbacks in Schmidt’s recovery from this latest injury are reason for concern.

This is what makes Brian Cashman’s tenure as GM so frustrating. One day, he pulls off one of his patented ninja trades, seeming to fleece the partner team out of an impact player for a handful of throwaway prospects. But the next, he’s clinging onto the bluer chip prospects, all the while missing an opportunity to boost his team’s chance of winning.

We all understand that pitching prospects are the most volatile of commodities in the league. That is why in most cases it is better to cash in when their value hits a certain point rather than play the risky game of hoping their stock continues to climb. I look at some of the pitchers traded this past winter with particularly strong regret.

Lance Lynn moved to the White Sox in exchange for a package headlined by Dane Dunning — a pitcher who profiles similarly (from a prospect ranking perspective) to Clarke Schmidt. Then there were the rumors that Pittsburgh’s ask of García in a package for Joe Musgrove proved to be a bridge too far for Cashman. Both Lynn and Musgrove have proven to be absolutely pivotal additions for their teams, and look mighty nice compared to the Andrew Heaney’s and bullpen days of the duct-taped Yankees rotation.

Last fall, Cashman gave us a glimpse into the mindset that precipitates this prospect-hugging behavior:

Cashman knows, though, there are more than a few teams who wish the 21-year-old right-hander was in their rotation right now. They wanted to take Garcia from the Yankees.
“Not just recently,” Cashman said, “but going into last year’s deadline and prior, clearly there’s a lot of value with his age, his control years, his economic circumstances as we move forward.”

Therein lies the heart of the Yankees’ method of evaluation. They value his age, years of control, and economic circumstances (read: cheapness) over his actual ability to pitch.

It is difficult for me to level these accusations at my favorite team. I would much prefer a team of home-grown talent, and admit that I rooted the hardest when Dellin and Sevy would pitch. But the sporadic successes of yesteryear cannot continue to justify committing the same mistake over and over. If Deivi García and Clarke Schmidt teach us anything, it’s TINSTAAPP.