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Ron Marinaccio could be the Yankees’ next unexpectedly excellent reliever

With an impressive changeup and an improved fastball-slider combo, Marinaccio could surprise more than a few people in 2022.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

For most Yankees fans, pitcher Ron Marinaccio was a relative unknown before his breakout 2021. It might be a surprise to learn that he will turn 27 during the season, so he is not exactly the hottest young fireballer on the roster. Yet, due to the gains that Marinaccio made last year with his stuff, he could very well become the Yankees’ next high-impact arm that most of us didn’t see coming.

If Marinaccio continues his upward trend from the beginning of 2021 onward, he might slowly enter Boone’s trust circle. Two games will not move the needle, but he did not offer any reason to demand a demotion; in 2.1 frames, he threw zeroes on the scoreboard under “runs” and “hits,” and walked one while fanning three batters. More relevantly, in 2021, Marinaccio demonstrated a rather impressive ability to get strikeouts, notched a 41.3-percent K-rate in 39.2 Double-A innings, and a 38-percent mark in 26.2 Triple-A frames. His run-prevention stats? A 1.82 ERA and 2.61 FIP in Somerset; and a 2.36 ERA and a 2.39 FIP in Scranton.

How does Marinaccio do it? Well, he has a solid three-pitch mix with a lot of movement in his secondaries. His changeup is particularly impressive, and his slider, which is still to earn a whiff in 2022 (again, before Wednesday’s game) moves a lot and now looks like a weapon.

Here is Eric Longenhagen’s evaluation of Marinaccio for the 2022 season, in which he appointed him the Yankees’ 20th-best prospect:

“At least for us, Marinaccio was a 2021 revelation. The former Blue Hen had a four-tick bump in velocity and now sits 94 mph. While pitching exclusively in relief, he rode a three-pitch mix across three levels in 2021, performing better and better at each stop, en route to a 40-man add after the season. Marinaccio is extremely likely to factor in the Yankees’ 2022 bullpen as a bulk middle-inning reliever, and his stuff quality portends a bigger future role.”

Good bulk middle-inning relievers are increasingly valuable commodities in today’s game, but he could develop into something more. That would be a coup for a guy who will turn 27 in a few months and was drafted in the 19th round out of the University of Delaware (which isn’t exactly a hotbed of future MLB talent).

Back to his changeup. Longenhagen says it has “trapdoor action” and sits mostly in the 80-84 mph range. Here, Boston Red Sox slugger Bobby Dalbec looked awful swinging through one of Marinaccio’s changeups:

Marinaccio’s changeup “has so much movement that it still elicits whiffs when he doesn’t locate it well,” per FanGraphs. Its movement profile is well-above average, as evidenced by Baseball Savant.

Whereas Marinaccio can afford to miss his spots with his changeup, he needs better command to make sure his fastball-slider combination is effective. The slider was an average offering entering the season, but it appears that he worked a lot on the pitch. The whiffs should come, and if they don’t, he still can get plenty of called strikes with it.

Marinaccio’s fastball is another exciting offering, especially with the added velo since 2021. It can miss bats:

Marinaccio’s bullpen spot might be in jeopardy by the beginning of May simply because teams will return to 26-men rosters rather than 28. Nonetheless, there’s still plenty of time to make an even greater impression, and should the pitching corps remains healthy, as Albert Abreu demonstrated in 2021, relief depth has a way of always finding its way back to The Show anyway.

With all the puzzle pieces in place, Marinaccio looks like a solid middle reliever who could possibly take care of an inning or two any given night and give the Yanks another effective relief arm to add to their collection. If Marinaccio’s slider takes a step forward in 2022 — which may be possible given how it looks and with the Yankees’ recent track record — a big season could be in store.