There is no denying that Luis Gil’s 2021 season has been a success. Up until this year, he hadn’t even reached Double-A, topping out at High-A in 2019. In 2021, he has pitched in Somerset, Scranton, and finally, the Bronx.
For years, Gil was seen as a pitcher with big stuff – at least two excellent pitches in his triple-digits fastball and his slider – but iffy control. During his career, he had never posted a BB/9 mark below 4.0, but that changed this year in 30.2 innings in Double-A (3.8 BB/9), in which he also had a fantastic 2.64 ERA.
The Yankees aggressively promoted Gil to Triple-A, and he definitely felt the increase in competition level. In 46.1 frames, he had a 4.66 ERA and conceded 5.4 walks per nine innings. Because of need, however, the Yankees had to call him up as a COVID replacement in early August. He rewarded them with an incredible, surprising run of excellence, with 18.2 scoreless innings, striking out 24 batters along the way (11.4 K/9).
That streak was interrupted on Wednesday, when Gil allowed three earned runs in 3.1 innings, handing out a staggering seven bases on balls in the process. His control had been the only real blemish on his previous three starts, but it was Maddux-like in comparison to Wednesday. The walk count pushed his pitch total up to 91 in just 3.1 innings, as well — not exactly efficient work despite just the single hit allowed.
There is an obvious-but-important fact that should be clarified, though: Gil wasn’t a Cy Young candidate before Wednesday, and he isn’t the worst pitcher in organized baseball now. He is just a talented 23-year-old pitcher who happens to be struggling to consistently throw strikes in the hardest league in the world.
If Luis Gil learns how to consistently throw strikes and keep his walks at least relatively in check, watch out, because he has star potential. Right now, he need two things: more seasoning and time to figure out a legitimate third pitch.
That seasoning, for the his sake and the Yankees’, should come in the minor leagues, a lower-pressure environment in which he can learn from mistakes without the consequences being too severe. In a preferred scenario to the current world, the Yankees wouldn’t need him forced into action at the Major League level.
By now, we know that Gil’s fastball is nasty and his slider is very good. However, to succeed in the major leagues, he needs a third pitch. He doesn’t have too much confidence in his shaky, seldom-used changeup.
During his brief time in the major leagues, Gil has thrown his heater 57 percent of the time, and his slider 35.7 percent. The changeup? Only 7.3 percent. He hasn’t allowed any hits on a changeup yet, but the command has been up-and-down and only three at-bats have ended while throwing that offering. That’s not nearly enough sample to draw any conclusions.
The fact that he throws it only seven percent of time is, however. It’s a pitch that he will surely focus on during the offseason.
At Gil’s current point in his development, he’s a hard-throwing pitcher with big fastball velocity but inconsistent command, a good slider, and not much more. He could probably survive as a Major League starter and figure things out at the back of the big-league rotation. He’s almost certainly a better option than, say, Andrew Heaney, right now, and someone has to make these pivotal starts every five days down the stretch (especially with Gerrit Cole banged up and Jameson Taillon on the IL).
However, with a pitcher like Gil, the idea is to have him in a position in which he has a realistic opportunity to succeed. At the moment, he needs refinement as a starter, which would ideally come in Triple-A. However, with his two-pitch mix and big velo, he could theoretically be used as a reliever down the stretch; it may be better than hoping for extended starts from him.
In fact, the Yankees have a few openings in their bullpen right now, since Zack Britton has been lost for the year and Jonathan Loáisiga just suffered a shoulder injury. It may be an idea worth exploring, but there may not be time to make a smooth transition and have him helping as a reliever this season.
All in all, the Yankees have a good one in Gil. He needs more time to develop a third pitch and refine his fastball command, but he remains an exciting part of the future in New York.