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Ken Waldichuk is missing bats and positioning himself to help the Yankees

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The left-handed pitcher was among the strikeout leaders for all of minor league baseball in 2021.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Over the last few years, the Yankees’ minor league system has been known for its deep roster of hard-throwing right-handed pitchers. With a system deep on righties, the Yankees pivoted from that strength and selected three left-handed pitchers inside of the first five rounds of the 2019 draft. While T.J. Sikkema and Jake Agnos have yet to see much time on the mound due to injuries, fifth-round pick Ken Waldichuk has begun to fly up the ranks of Yankees prospects. After a breakout 2021 season, Waldichuk could be a factor for the Yankees as soon as 2022.

Waldichuk drew serious attention during his sophomore season at Saint Mary’s College of California, as he racked up a 2.05 ERA in 92.1 innings pitched. Pitching at the alma mater of Corbin Burnes and several other recent major league pitchers, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound pitcher had the size, arm talent, and results that scouts could easily envision on a future Major League mound.

Entering the Yankees system, Waldichuk used his college experience to work over the hitters of the Rookie-advanced Appalachian League. Like many pitchers drafted following a full college season, Waldichuk saw limited action but made the most of it. In 29.1 innings pitched, he struck out an astounding 49 hitters against just seven walks.

During the lost 2020 minor league season, Waldichuk continued working to improve his velocity. After sitting 91-92 mph in college with his fastball, he has flashed upwards of 98 mph in short bursts for the Yankees in his first full season as a professional. This season, he has held those gains for longer stretches, often hitting the 95-96 mph range during his starts.

Waldichuk’s fastball comes at hitters from a low arm slot and has been called a “invisiball” by some scouts as hitters have had trouble picking it up. That pitch — paired with its increased velocity and three other quality pitches — allowed Waldichuk to explode out of the gate in 2021. Starting the season with High-A Hudson Valley, he did not allow a single run at the High-A level, racking up 30.2 straight scoreless innings before earning a promotion to Double-A. That 30.2-inning stretch also included 55 strikeouts and just 12 hits allowed.

The shutout streak did not continue at Double-A, but Waldichuk continued to fan hitters at a very high rate. At Somerset, he recorded a 12.3 K/9 and his 163 strikeouts across both levels on the season placed him fourth among all minor league pitchers.

Waldichuk was a key part of the Somerset pitching staff that had the best ERA in the Double-A Northeast by a sizeable margin. He also saw his stock rise, and MLB.com ranks him as the Yankees’ ninth-best prospect.

Beyond his fastball, Waldichuk has the pitch mix to work as a starting pitcher with a slightly above-average curveball and slider. His changeup is more of an average offering that will need more work going forward. Yankees minor league pitching coordinator Sam Briend was recently quoted by Baseball America as saying, “Pitch-package wise, he’s one of those guys who’s got everything you could want.”

Waldichuk put himself on the radar of evaluators early this season and continued to excel even after a promotion to the Double-A level. He has positioned himself to start next season with either Double-A Somerset or Triple-A Scranton, essentially knocking on the door of the Bronx. His ability to miss bats makes him an attractive arm either in the rotation or out of the bullpen, and he could very well be the first Yankee from the 2019 draft to reach the major leagues.