A player development system is operating at a high level when its different branches are working in unison. The amateur scouts identify and sign players who have traits that can then be conditioned and refined by the strength training staff and professional instructors, utilizing the input of analysts and sports scientists. Ideally, the collective effort turns more drafted players into major league options, but judging the success of that system requires the proof to be in the pudding. Will Warren is part of that proof for the Yankees.
The odds of a drafted player reaching the major leagues fall off round by round, but recently the Yankees have seen a number of later-round pitchers beat those odds. Just last year Ken Waldichuk (5th round), Hayden Wesneski (6th round), and Ron Marinaccio (19th round) made their big-league debuts, albeit not all with the Yankees, and right-hander Will Warren seems to be following that path. Taken in the 8th round of the 2021 draft out of Southeastern Louisiana University, Warren, 23, didn’t throw his first professional pitch until this season. It wasn’t necessarily that Warren had thrown too many pitches in the spring of his draft year, but rather the delay gave him and the Yankee trainers a chance to put him in a better position to take off in 2022.
In an interview with Randy Miller of NJ.com, Warren explained the benefit of his post-draft training. “I had the height when I came in, but I was scrawny. I weighed 177 when I showed up to Tampa for strength camp and when I went to spring training this year I was 196,” Warren told Miller. “They put me on a strength program. I’ve never really lifted that much, but I looked at it as now it’s my job and this is what I have to do to make it. After I gained the first five pounds, I was like, ‘Wow, they know what they’re doing.’ I also learned from all the technology and all the Yankees guys that are hands on.”
The added strength impacted Warren’s stuff. His fastball gained a few ticks, and he now sits in the 92-94 range with what he describes as a one-seam sinker. “Instead of being on the two seams, I’m both fingers on a seam. One is the right seam, and the other is on the left seam,” Warren said in an interview with David Laurila of FanGraphs. The one-seamer was discovered while experimenting with grips during his time with the Hudson Valley Renegades earlier in the 2022 season, and, while unorthodox, Warren found that it worked for him.
The impact of the Yankees’ strength staff was complemented by their pitching coaches. Helping Warren better utilize his lower half in his delivery improved his fastball velocity, but he also added a true weapon to his arsenal. Warren credits minor league pitching coach (and former Yankee) Preston Claiborne with helping him develop a slider that MLB Pipeline says “has added significant velocity and movement, and it now operates at 85-88 mph with wicked horizontal sweep and 3,000-plus rpm.”
Warren has a feel for spinning the baseball, so he reaches top-scale spin rates on his curve and has added a cutter to go along with a changeup to combat lefties. Speaking about his repertoire to David Laurila, Warren said, “I try to keep a steady mix going with anything and everything, but the slider and the one-seamer definitely favor me against right-handed hitters. They’re my best pitches.” Warren uses the slider in particular as a strikeout pitch to righties.
You play baseball, Will Warren plays wiffle ball pic.twitter.com/xOPQUqCl7i— Somerset Patriots (@SOMPatriots) July 22, 2022
Warren’s pitch mix and movement help him to keep the ball on the ground; he put up a 53 percent groundball rate that ranked 18th in the minors for pitchers with at least 100 innings. He also struck out almost a hitter per inning in 2022 and kept his BB/9 to a respectable 2.9. These numbers seem promising for a potential starting pitcher, but a hard fastball and sweeping slider that both grade as plus pitches indicate a potential impact reliever as well. Some evaluators question Warren’s future as a starter due to what Baseball America calls “shaky overall command” and “effort in his delivery, which makes it tough to repeat.” Given the improvement Warren made in just one year out of college, it is too early to decide his future role. As for Warren’s opinion on the matter, he told Randy Miller, “I’m good with whatever. In college I did both.”
Will Warren is arguably the best pitching prospect in the Yankees’ organization. He does not need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft until the winter of 2024, so there is no need to rush him. Warren may be the one applying the pressure. He spent the better half of this past season in Double-A with the Somerset Patriots, and it is a good bet he opens 2023 in the same place. If he continues to develop at the pace he’s established, perhaps he finishes next season in Triple-A Scranton, and at that point we may have a better idea of how the Yankees feel he will be best utilized going forward. Whether it is as a starter or a reliever, Will Warren is a name Yankees fans will be hearing plenty about in the near future.
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