The Yankees entered the 2015 international free agency (IFA) signing period with their spending capacity severely hampered. They blew through their international bonus pool limits the previous year and thus were subjected to stiff penalties. As a result, New York was barred from spending more than $300,000 on any one prospect.
It was quite a coup, therefore, that they were able to sign Luis Medina out of the Dominican Republic for $280,000 on July 8, 2015. Weeks prior to his signing, the 16-year-old righty touched triple digits for the first time after pitching in the mid-90s as a 15-year-old. Medina instantly entered the Yankees organization with the best raw stuff in the minor league system; the question was whether he could refine it.
2021 Minor League Stats (High-A Hudson Valley/Double-A Somerset): 22 G (21 GS), 6-4, 106.1 IP, 3.39 ERA, 11.3 K/9, 5.1 BB/9, 1.345 WHIP
2022 Expected minor league level: Double-A Somerset and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
Major League ETA: 2022
Like with many young pitchers with eye-popping velocity, Medina’s effectiveness is dictated by his command. He struggled with run prevention his first four years of pro ball, pitching to a 5.51 ERA across his first 183 professional innings in the low minors between Pulaski, Charleston, and Tampa. This was driven largely by a walk rate in excess of 17 percent. Almost half the batters that Medina allowed to reach base came via the free pass, creating undue traffic and lengthening innings.
Something seemed to click for Medina at the end of 2019 as he began to find a more consistent release point. He kept his head down and honed his craft when COVID cancelled the 2020 minor league season. That work culminated in his performance in the Puerto Rican Winter League, when he when he really put his name on the national top prospect map.
That winter, Medina struck out 32 batters in only 16.2 innings against just six walks en route to winning the league’s Pitcher of the Year honors. He and his team would go on to compete in the Caribbean Series later that winter, giving him a chance to showcase his electric stuff.
The Yankees have the potential to have a bullpen that can only be described as absurd.— Joe Randazzo (@Yankeelibrarian) February 1, 2021
Luis Medina gave up some runs tonight but this is flat out filth wtf pic.twitter.com/A2y3Z16YDw
Luis Medina could probably start and simmer in the minors, but it’d be much cooler if he’s slinging it for the Yankees in the pen.— Joe Randazzo (@Yankeelibrarian) February 6, 2021
It’s very tempting to be absolutely ridiculous and give him Josh Hader or Devin Williams comps pic.twitter.com/wqqQZqEkci
Medina carried that momentum into his first seven starts of the season at High-A Hudson Valley in 2021. He pitched to a 2.76 ERA, striking out 50 batters against 18 walks and 19 hits in 32.2 innings, earning himself a June 15th call-up to Double-A Somerset.
The jump in competition wasn’t without its hiccups, as some of the control problems that plagued Medina in his early season began to resurface. Still, he ended the season with a 3.67 ERA, 83 strikeouts, and 41 walks in 73.2 innings.
Medina even earned himself a spot in the 2021 MLB Futures Game. In an outing that epitomizes his pitcher profile, Medina faced six batters, struck out two, gave up a pair of hits and a walk, registered the game’s fastest pitch at 101, and threw a handful in the dirt.
Medina throws three pitches: a four-seamer in the high-90s that can get all the way up to 102, a devastating overhand curveball in low-80s, and a fading low-90s changeup with splitter-like tumbling action. The initial scouting report on Medina out of the Dominican Republic suggested that he might have to ditch the curveball for a slider, but to his credit, he’s honed the pitch along with his fastball so that the pair can become plus-plus offerings in the majors while the changeup has the potential to be above-average.
Medina’s command is still at the point where he simply has it or doesn’t on any given day that he’s pitching. That said, multiple evaluators believe it is not a mechanical issue — Medina possesses a low-effort, easily-repeatable delivery — but instead a mental one. Medina and his Double-A pitching coach Daniel Moskos echo this sentiment, acknowledging the work that needs to be done in that department. Moskos called it part of the maturation process, and that the keys for Medina are trusting his stuff and showing up every day with focus and concentration.
Moskos said he saw a change of mentality in Medina this past year. Instead of focusing on how to climb from one level to the next, Medina attacked each day focusing on how to be the best pitcher he could. The results speak for themselves:
“He still did things that he hadn’t really done,” Moskos said of Medina’s winter performance. “He was moving the fastball around, locating it in and out when he needed to, throwing the offspeed for strikes when he needed to. He’s picking up where he left off in winter league to where he is now.”
The big question for Yankees fans is whether Medina can stick in the rotation or if he is destined for the bullpen. Evaluators remain undecided on this question. The repertoire points to a ceiling as a front-end starter, but there are other signs — elevated walk rates, arm-heavy delivery instead of engaging full kinetic chain, propensity to spin off toward first base — that shout high-leverage reliever.
Yankees #8 prospect Luis Medina made his LIDOM debut last night, going two innings allowing no hits and striking out four. pic.twitter.com/2vf0LvsGgV— Eli Fishman (@elijfishman) December 9, 2021
Medina is arguably the Yankees’ most intriguing pitching prospect and probably the one with the widest range of outcomes. His pure stuff gives him the highest ceiling while his command issues need to get ironed out. The ranking systems are somewhat split on the righty flamethrower. Baseball America has him ninth in the system, MLB Pipeline eighth, and Baseball Prospectus seventh. Meanwhile, FanGraphs has Medina third in the system and 60th overall — the only publication to list him in the top 100 — while Keith Law has him fourth in the system.
This slight discrepancy is likely due to varying degrees of confidence in Medina’s ability to find consistent command. And though a cup of coffee in the majors is possible this season, the number one focus for Medina this year should be to throw strikes.