Last season, the High-A Hudson Valley Renegades were the launching point for several breakout pitching performances, including those of Hayden Wesneski and Ken Waldichuk, who both now frequently rank among the Yankees’ best prospects. This year, the Renegades once again appear to have a strong roster, as their pitching staff is proving to be among the best in the South Atlantic League at missing bats and displaying the type of nasty pitches that will continue to play at a higher level.
The Renegades are near the top of the Sally League in strikeouts with over 12 a game through their first dozen contests. Under the guidance of pitching coach Spencer Medick, the staff is made up of players who have emerged from different paths and timelines to prove proficient at fanning opposing batters.
Leading the way in the early going is one of the newest members of the Yankees organization, Will Warren. Selected in the eighth round of the 2021 MLB Draft, Warren did not generate the same amount of attention as those players picked above him. However, reports began to surface during minor league spring training that the 22-year-old had impressed the Yankees player development staff, and an aggressive promotion to High-A to start the season followed. Warren has struck out 19 batters in his first 13 innings this season.
The right-hander has displayed a strong fastball and flashes the wicked slider that is quickly becoming a hallmark of the Yankees’ system.
Also off to a fast start is the Yankees’ second-round pick from 2017, Matt Sauer. Highly-touted out of high school during his draft year, Tommy John surgery in 2019 and the lost 2020 campaign set Sauer’s development path back on his way through the organization.
After logging 111.1 innings in 2021, Sauer appears poised for a jump forward in the system at age 23. He is off to a good start to the season, striking out 17 batters in his first 10.2 innings. He has not worked very deep into games yet but is limiting the damage with just a 2.53 ERA.
Sauer uses a strong mid-90’s fastball and slider combination. There are scouts who have envisioned him as a righty reliever for years, but the improvement in his command and strike-throwing will be something to watch moving forward.
Also logging big strikeout numbers thus far is fellow right-handed pitcher Beck Way. He was the Yankees’ fourth-round pick in 2020, after a year in the junior college ranks. He has recorded 16 strikeouts over 9.1 innings in his first two starts.
Way uses a pair of fastballs that started hitting the upper-90s last season to set up a slider that is developing quickly. Along with Warren and Sauer, he is a strong candidate to break out this season and improve his prospect stock.
Hudson Valley’s lofty position near the top of the league in strikeouts is not the product of just three pitchers, though. Of the 14 Renegades who have appeared this season, only three have failed to average at least a strikeout per inning. With his plus command and changeup, Edgar Barclay has been able to keep the hitters off balancing and missing the ball in the early going. So has Tanner Myatt with his power pitching arsenal leading to 12 strikeouts in just 5.1 innings pitched (but also eight walks). The pool of pitching talent could get even deeper in the near future as former 38th-overall pick TJ Sikkema reportedly threw a bullpen earlier this week and could return soon to the Renegades rotation.
And we would be remiss if we didn’t at least mention recent viral sensation Wellington Diaz, a 24-year-old out of the Dominican Republic who has been with the Yankees since 2017. The overall numbers aren’t particularly notable just yet, but man, was his rendition of the Yankees organization’s signature pitch something:
This slider by Yankees prospect Wellington Diaz pic.twitter.com/g5QA009ka1— Eli Fishman (@elijfishman) April 20, 2022
The Hudson Valley Renegades have some outstanding arm talent on their roster. As is the case with most pitchers at the High-A level, many are still developing their command, control, a third pitch, and other traits that turn a pitching prospect into someone who potentially reach the major leagues.
The staff’s early tendency to miss bats and pitch effectively indicates that there are several potential breakout candidates coming from this level. We could quickly see them jumping to Double-A Somerset (if not further) depending on their progress in 2022.