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Yankees 2023 Season Preview: Jimmy Cordero

Will the flamethrower be this year’s Lucas Luetge?

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The last two springs have seen a pitcher come out of nowhere and establish himself as a reliable arm out of the bullpen. Last year, it was rookie Ron Marinaccio, who not only forced his way onto the post-lockout expanded roster, but also became a critical arm throughout the year. The year before that was veteran Lucas Luetge, who had not made an appearance at the big league level since 2015 — and that was only one game with Seattle!

Could Jimmy Cordero be the 2023 version?

2022 Statistics (AAA Scranton): 32 appearances, 38.2 innings, 2.09 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 31.8 K%, 8.3 BB%, 0.98 WHIP, 51.7 GB%

2023 ZiPS Projections: 38 appearances, 45 innings, 3.60 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 24.5 K%, 8.5 BB%, 1.18 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR

Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012, Cordero has bounced around quite a bit over the course of his career. The Blue Jays traded him to the Phillies at the 2015 deadline in the Ben Revere deal, then the Phillies flipped him to the Nationals after the 2016 season. He made his major league debut with them in August 2018, with whom he made 22 appearances. The following spring, he did not make the team out of spring training, was designated for assignment, and claimed by the Blue Jays. He made one appearance, was DFA’ed, claimed by the Mariners, DFA’ed again, and claimed by the White Sox. He spent the rest of 2019 and the 2020 pandemic season with Chicago. In March 2021, he underwent Tommy John surgery; that November, the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal, and after a strong 2022 with the RailRiders, they added him to the 40-man roster this past winter.

Although it was clear that the Yankees were high on Cordero — you don’t add a player without any options remaining to the 40-man unless you think he has a serious shot at making the roster — the right-hander still had an uphill battle to break camp with the team. Injuries to Tommy Kahnle and Lou Trivino, however, opened up two extra bullpen spots. Cordero seized the opportunity: although his four runs in nine innings might not exactly look great, he’s struck out a batter per inning and allowed just one walk and seven hits. Take away the one bad outing against the Red Sox on March 12th where he allowed three runs on four hits, and his numbers look even better.

Despite his overall solid spring, Cordero’s numbers aren’t the reason I think he could be a real weapon for the Yankees this year. His sinker has been his primary weapon, and he threw it 59 percent of the time back in 2020 before he got hurt. Here’s the Statcast data of every sinker he threw against the Twins on March 24th, a day that he struck out three across 1.2 scoreless innings.

In this game, his sinker averaged 97.6 mph, with a 2177 spin rate, 16.2 inches of vertical movement, and 14.9 inches of horizontal movement. That velocity is comparable to Sandy Alcantara’s and Josh Hader’s sinkers (and is slightly faster than Clay Holmes’), and represents the type of power pitcher that the Yankees have developed well during the Matt Blake era.

To expect Cordero to become a top-of-the-line reliever right away would not be fair, but he has the tools to be a serviceable arm in the bullpen while the team weathers injuries to the pitching staff. The Yankees would sign up for that immediately, and the fans should, too.