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The Yankees, and fans, should embrace any potential Luis Gil outcome

The Yankees’ hard-throwing righty may end up in the bullpen, but he could be an impact arm there and that wouldn’t be a bad outcome at all.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

By now, a fair number of fans are probably familiar with the reality that Luis Gil, who had an impressive stint as a spot starter with the Yankees in 2021 (3.07 ERA, 29.5 percent strikeout rate in 29.1 innings), doesn’t really have a good third pitch. He throws an electric, high-spin, high-90s fastball and a very good slider, but his changeup clearly lags behind and he doesn’t have another weapon.

However, while fans and even some media circles have tabbed Gil as a future rotation piece — he has, after all, started every game for the Yankees in the minors and majors since coming over from the Minnesota Twins in 2018 — we have no assurances that will be his actual role down the road.

It’s hard to know whether the Yankees were trying to develop him or just trying to shoot for the best possible results last season, but the fact that he used his changeup only six percent of the time in the minors and seven percent of the time in MLB is certainly telling. The changeup is bad. There is no way around it. Yes, the sample was very limited in 2021 (just 39 pitches), but the results were awful: .525 xwOBA and an 18.8 percent whiff rate. That leaves him without a truly consistent weapon against left-handers. He doesn’t have good command of it and as exemplified below, there isn’t much speed differential with his fastball:

That 94-mph changeup wasn’t much of an outlier either; Gil’s MLB changeup averaged 92.3 mph in 2021, just a few ticks below his 96.1 mph heater.

The fact the Yankees didn’t appear to have him develop that third pitch may tell us what we won’t like to hear: Gil may (emphasis on the word ‘may’) be ticketed to the bullpen down the road.

The Yankees could be having their doubts about his future in the rotation, at least more than they publicly project, so fans might want to adjust expectations accordingly. That doesn’t mean a final “reliever” outcome would be a disappointment. Here is what FanGraphs’ prospect expert Eric Longenhagen had to say about Gil in his latest report of Yankees prospects:

“Gil’s big league career began with two efficient starts at a time when the injury-riddled Yankees desperately needed them. That efficiency was a pleasant surprise given Gil’s walk-prone history, but he quickly regressed to career norms and continues to project as a late-inning reliever.”

Late-inning reliever is not bad at all, friends! Given his control issues and power stuff, he actually looks a lot like Dellin Betances when he was a prospect. Gil did have a 29.5-percent strikeout rate last year, but it came with a 14.7-percent walk rate, in line with his minor league performance.

This is not to say that Gil is Betances, or even Betances-lite (Dellin’s strikeout prowess was something to behold, on another level, and it’s unfair to compare them directly), but both had electric stuff and walk issues as prospects. Dellin was also a starter for most of his minor league career but could never consistently find the zone and while he had other pitches in his repertoire, he was mostly a fastball-curveball guy.

If Gil can’t be a starter, but ends up being a “late-inning” arm, would that be so bad? Premier bullpen arms are always at a premium, and Gil has a chance to become one. Of course, there is still an outside chance of being a starter, but the Yankees would have him throwing his changeup more, or working on another pitch, if that was their intention.

Longenhagen continued, saying that, when the Yankees acquired him, “Gil was a hard-throwing lottery ticket with a velvety smooth delivery and projectable frame, but he had crude feel for release. He’s since developed a good slider and his control is now dialed in enough that he is unlikely to have serious, role-altering walk issues, but not so much that he projects as a starter.”

Gil has advanced a lot since he came to the Yankees to this point. If he ends up being a high-leverage reliever for years to come, that’s a more than acceptable outcome for the modicum price of Jake Cave, who was facing a roster crunch at the time.