Lost in Tuesday’s 9-2 spring defeat at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees had a long look at one of their most impressive minor leaguers in 2021. Left-handed pitcher Matt Krook was on the mound for three innings, and what he did raised some eyebrows.
He only allowed a single hit in those three frames, with no runs and no walks. He struck out five Blue Jays. Overall, he threw 35 pitches, 28 of which were strikes, but the best part is that he generated eight swings and misses. Manager Aaron Boone said after the game that “Krook really came in and was impressive.”
It’s important to note that most of the Jays’ regulars were gone when Krook took the mound, making his job a bit easier. But he did tremendous work against those he faced nonetheless, and excelled in a crucial area for him: control.
Before going over Krook’s 2021 season, let’s get to know him a little better. The Miami Marlins took Krook 35th overall in 2013 when he was 19, but he failed a physical and the team withdrew its offer. He ended up going to the University of Oregon, where he had a stellar freshman season before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
In 2016, the San Francisco Giants took him in the fourth round of the draft. He mostly struggled there, especially with his control. He was a part of the 2017 trade that netted the Giants Evan Longoria, so he went to the Tampa Bay Rays before the 2018 season.
In typical Rays fashion, Krook’s role shifted between the rotation and the bullpen in Tampa. He started 24 of the 69 games he played with the Rays between 2018 and 2019, and while his ERA finally was in the 4.20-4.50 range both years, his control was still a problem: he walked 6.1 hitters per nine innings in 2018 and 5.8 in 2019, both seasons at Double-A.
There was no minor league season in 2020, and then the Rays left him unprotected for the Rule 5 Draft that year. The Yankees took him in the Triple-A phase and had him return to the rotation full-time.
Always a sinker-slider guy, Krook felt the need to develop a third pitch upon joining the Yankees for the 2021 minor league season. He started at a familiar level for him, Double-A, for the third consecutive campaign. Krook promptly learned a cutter grip and, with time and patience, the pitch is now part of his repertoire. He told the San Mateo Daily Journal last summer:
“The sinker and the breaking ball have always been good. It’s sort of what makes me, me. The cutter was just something, it’s easier to get in the zone because it doesn’t move quite as much. It was just good to have a third pitch. And going back to starting this year after being a reliever then past few years, I just had to get a third pitch.”
His stint at Double-A Somerset was awfully impressive, as he finally appeased his control demons. In seven starts and 29.1 innings, he not only posted a 2.15 ERA, but his BB/9 was at 3.38, a much more manageable rate.
Finally, he broke the Double-A barrier and was called to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in June. There, his control woes returned: in 76.2 innings, he finished with a solid 3.17 ERA, but had a disappointing 5.8 BB/9.
For Krook, Triple-A was a whole new world, and he had to make adjustments. If we look at his last four games of the season, it appears he made some; he compiled a 3-0 record and a 0.40 ERA in 22.2 innings, with five walks and 26 punchouts. That’s progress.
Now, Krook is armed with a sinker in the low-90s that can touch 94-95, a solid sweeping slider, and a high-80s cutter that can do this:
Matt Krook's stuff looked pretty sharp. 92-94 sinker with a lot of downward action, high-80s cutter, low-80s sweeping slider (a few spinning north of 2800 rpm). This pitch here was a cutter at 88. pic.twitter.com/n9Ms3jAIXY— Lucas (@DBITLefty) March 22, 2022
The Yankees are hoping he can gain consistency with his three-pitch mix and continue to make strides with his control. “Pitch usage has been something that [the Yankees] talk about a lot,” Krook said to the Daily Journal in that interview. “But other than that, they picked me for a reason, I guess. … Just try to be in the zone a little bit more. That’s obviously been the biggest thing they’ve harped on.”
Limiting free passes will be the key with him. If Krook can keep the walks relatively under control, he could plausibly position himself for a call-up in the summer. The Yankees have thus far opted not to bring in any additional starters, so they will need their own internal options to step up and provide innings if needed. This summer could be Krook’s biggest opportunity.