There was some interesting discussion sparked in the comments of my last batch of pitching prospects. The Juan Soto deal inspired that piece, as while the trade brought us the dynamite pairing of Soto and Aaron Judge, it also necessarily thinned out the team’s pitching depth. Clayton Beeter, Will Warren, and Chase Hampton, among others, appear to be the key names to watch as the Yankees flesh out their pitching depth in 2024.
Today. we’ll turn to our sights lower on the farm system. While the likes of Warren and Beeter may play a role in the majors this year as upper-level depth, the Yankees will need some of their younger, greener prospects to also move up the system. All three of the guys we’ll examine are 6-foot-7 or taller and throw above average fastballs, so the physical tools are impressive across the board. All three have a shot to receive promotions in both rankings and minor league levels to start 2024.
RHP Danny Watson
2023 Stats (High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset): 45 games, 62.2 IP, 1.58 ERA, 82 K, 0.88 WHIP
Watson is a hulking 6-foot-7, 240-pound behemoth and Albany native drafted out of Virginia Commonwealth University in the 15th round of the 2021 draft. Traditional belief based on his frame indicates his arm slot should be as high as possible, a la Jordan Montgomery, but Watson bucks the stereotype and comes at hitters with a sidearm delivery. He edged his way into the final spot of the top 30 Yankees prospects toward the end of 2023, depending on which rankings site you trust.
Watson has eye-popping physical talent first of all, and after a shaky first full year in 2022, he returned with a vengeance in 2023. With his frame and arm angle, injury risk is high. He throws a hard running fastball with sink as his primary offering and compliments it with a nasty slider. One is immediately reminded of a slightly lower arm slot version of the Orioles’ shutdown setup man Yennier Cano.
Here are their mechanics compared in GIF form:
Like Cano, Watson doesn’t let his sidewinding jerk his head toward the first-base dugout until after release. Mechanics can be wonky and vary depending on many factors, but a stable head moving smoothly toward the target is a hugely encouraging indicator of a strike-thrower with pinpoint control like Cano.
The Yankees obviously see something in him, having spent a not-insignificant pick on a pitcher who had a 4.06 ERA his last college season in the Atlantic Ten conference. His path to the majors could diverge in any number of ways as he approaches the upper minors depending on how his handedness splits develop.
2022 Stats (DSL Yankees, DNP in 2023): 5 games, 17 innings, 1.06 ERA, 24 K, 0.94 WHIP
Benitez was signed out of the famed baseball town San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic in July 2021. At just 20-years-old, Benitez didn’t play at all in 2023 due to serious injuries, meaning he has just 17 pro innings under his belt from 2022, of which there is no video. In those 17 innings, when he was barely 19-years-old, he struck out 24, although walks were a concern. He ended up with a sub-1.00 WHIP, only allowing nine hits.
FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen calls Benitez a “great arm strength and body projection prospect”:
One of the biggest and hardest-throwing teenagers in the entire DSL, Benitez sat 93-95 mph throughout a 17-inning 2022 season... His changeup, which has sinking action that plays nicely with his pitches’ downhill plane, is his best secondary right now.
He’s another guy who has tons of upward mobility this year, and could crack the preseason top 30 in the system for 2024. He could start in the DSL to shake the rust off, but a promotion to Low-A or even High-A could also be in the cards in 2024.
2023 stats (Florida Complex League): 11 starts, 21.2 IP, 4.57 ERA, 34 K, 0.97 WHIP
A part-time Bronx native with dual citizenship in the Dominican Republic, the 19-year-old Lalane was ranked the number four overall prospect in the rookie-level Florida Complex League in 2023. It’s most impressive considering he had Tommy John surgery late in 2022 and this past season consisted mostly of pitch-count-restricted rehab starts. There are murmurs of a solid 2024 landing him on a short list of the top pitching prospects in baseball. He possesses that much talent. Lalane comes from a family of athletes — his father played Division I basketball at Brooklyn’s St. Francis College and his mother played on the Dominican Republic national volleyball team.
The potential is obvious in the lanky 6-foot-7, 211 -ound lefty. He definitely could stand to put on some weight, so some chicken-fried steak may be called for. Here’s a bit of video of some game action. Lalane loved Randy Johnson growing up, and it shows:
19 year old lefthander Henry Lalane went 3 IP, H, R, ER, 2 BB, 8 K mixing three pitches. FB sat 93-96 mph T97 mph, CHG 84-86 mph, SL 77-79 mph. 6-foot-7 lefty with big stuff and good FB shape. #RepBX pic.twitter.com/JkcPOrcjDo— Geoff Pontes (@GeoffPontesBA) August 4, 2023
The side angle is notable too, showing his exceptional stride length that lets his 94 play more like 98. He could receive multiple promotions next year, 18 months removed from surgery, if he starts to look polished.
Lalane and Benitez likely won’t be ready until late 2025 at the earliest. Watson, however, has an outside shot to find his way onto the roster sometime in 2024. The organization is excited about these three imposing hurlers, especially Lalane. Next season will be crucial to repopulate a prospect pool that is starting to look depleted on the pitching side.