After Sunday’s doubleheader, the Yankees’ rotation needs a hand. Additionally, as Chad Green is set to miss the rest of the season with his upcoming Tommy John surgery, and with Aroldis Chapman and Jonathan Loáisiga’s recent struggles, the bullpen may also need a hand.
The situation opens up a few spots in the Yankees’ pitching staff: a rotation slot temporarily, and a bullpen position with more chances to be of use in long relief. One of the Yankees’ most impressive minor league arms is getting the start on Wednesday, per Boone, and will have an opportunity to show that what he is doing at Triple-A Scranton is legit: left-hander JP Sears.
Manager Aaron Boone said on Monday that Sears will “likely” take the ball on Wednesday. The organization, which began utilizing him in short spurts (two-three inning outings) has been stretching him out as a starter in his last two outings.
JP Sears is the likely starting pitcher for Wednesday, Aaron Boone said. #yankees— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) May 23, 2022
To say that Sears is completely dominating Triple-A would be an understatement. After a masterful start against the Boston Red Sox’s Triple-A affiliate on Friday (4.2 innings, no hits, one earned run, one walk, and seven strikeouts), the southpaw’s ERA is now 0.83 in 21.2 frames. Other metrics validate his success as well — his 1.12 FIP is elite, as is his 38.5 percent strikeout rate. He has minuscule 2.6 percent walk rate, which means his K-BB% is an outstanding 35.9 percent.
What is behind the numbers? A potential No. 4 pitcher who throws his good heater in the 93 mph range but is able to dial it up to 94 or 95 in a relief role. Sears has a bat-missing slider that he can use against right-handed hitters, too, and a developing changeup.
Here is FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen scouting report on Sears, who he ranked as the Yankees’ number 25 prospect entering the season:
“(…) He’s got a real chance to take a turn in a big league rotation every five days (…) Of the 40-man pitchers who aren’t currently projected in the Yankees’ Opening Day rotation, Sears is arguably the most stable strike-thrower. He has a 2.6 career BB/9 and his command has weaponized his stuff enough to flummox Triple-A hitters, at least. Sears sits about 93 mph and his fastball lives off its angle at the top of the zone, which is hard to hit. He also has a swing-and-miss slider that has great back-foot angle against righties. He alters his release somewhat when throwing the slider but hitters haven’t been able to pick that up so far. A great on-mound athlete, Sears may yet develop a better changeup but for now it’s a fringe pitch. He’s a low-variance fifth starter prospect.”
In the following video, you can see that while he has a solid slider, he is extremely confident on his four-seamer, and loves to throw it with two strikes:
JP Sears was UNTOUCHABLE tonight— SWB RailRiders (@swbrailriders) May 21, 2022
4 IP // 0 H // 1 R // 1 BB // 7 K // 0.83 ERA pic.twitter.com/8ZxWHH1hBO
Sears has been dominating high-minors hitters since 2021, and has shown he deserves an extended chance to stick with the Yankees. At the moment, he should be considered “pitching depth”, because he can be deployed either as a starter or as a reliever. The Yanks’ more immediate need is in the rotation, but since everybody is healthy there and his call-up was the result of the weekend’s doubleheader somewhat altering short-term plans, it could be a one-and-done thing on Wednesday.
Tomorrow, however, is extremely important for him. If he shows he can handle a big-league lineup at least two times through the lineup, that could open more possibilities for him and he could stick around to help the relief corps. He has the command to succeed — will his stuff hold up against the best hitters in the world? It’s time to find out. The two innings he pitched in MLB earlier in the season are obviously not enough to evaluate him.
Sears, based on what he has done in the minor leagues in 2021 – a 10-2 record, 3.46 ERA, 136 strikeouts in 104 frames between Double-A and Triple-A – and 2022, is more than deserving of an extended look that goes well beyond Wednesday. His chance may come in the bullpen, but he could thrive there, too.
At 26-years-old, his time is now. There is an overabundance of left-handers in the Yankees’ bullpen, but if someone comes in and shows he can dominate, the Yankees should open up a spot for that person. Sears could very well be that guy.