Remember Luke Voit? Of course you do. When the Yankees traded the slugger to the San Diego Padres before the 2022 season, they received a young pitching prospect in return. His name is Justin Lange, and he happens to be opening eyes in the Yankees’ organization in 2023.
Lange produced one of the best pitching performances on the Yankees this year, no matter the level. On Sunday, he pitched five scoreless innings and struck out 10 hitters, allowing only two walks and three hits for the Low-A Tampa Tarpons.
That day, Lange earned an impressive 25 whiffs out of 53 swings. Take a minute to process that: 25 swings-and-misses! The best thing of all is that he got the whiffs with multiple pitches: 10 with his sinker, 5 with his cutter, 7 with his four-seamer, and 3 with his slider. For the season, Lange has a 1.80 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 10 innings.
While reviewing the Yankees’ best prospects, Lange wasn’t even mentioned in Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, or The Athletic. FanGraphs did have him in their yearly top prospects series, ranked 38th. So the 21-year-old clearly entered the year as a long-term project. Two starts aren’t going to change that. However, the pieces appear to be starting to come into place for the young righty.
In his scouting report from the list of the Top 44 Yankees prospects (from March 2023), Eric Longenhagen said that when the Padres drafted Lange in the supplemental round—34th overall in 2020—he had “an elite frame, arm strength, and athleticism, but they didn’t have much opportunity to shape his stuff as he dealt with a shoulder and knee issue that limited him to 22 walk-riddled pro innings before he was shipped to New York.”
Longenhagen went on to say, “Lange had a fair season on the [Yankees] complex, where he punched tickets at a nearly 30-percent clip, but he struggled with walks and his velocity seems to have settled in the 92-95 mph range.”
Well, over the weekend, Lange’s four-seamer was sitting in the 95-97 range and topping out at 98 mph. You can see the heater exploding on the catcher’s mitt:
Justin Lange bringing the heat!! pic.twitter.com/cPGDw7L44P— Tampa Tarpons (@TampaTarpons) April 9, 2023
Elite frame, arm strength, athleticism and health mean that the Yankees had a chance to help Lange increase his velocity, and he appears to be throwing harder. This is also evidenced in the speed of his breaking stuff.
Per Longenhagen, “Lange currently deploys a mid-80s cutter as his secondary pitch of choice.” Remember, this was written before the season started. In his weekend start, his cutter ranged between 86 and 90 mph. He can also miss bats with his 85-88 mph changeup and 81-83 mph slider, as he did on Sunday.
The movement profile of his breaking stuff is impressive, as described by Baseball America’s Geoff Pontes:
Justin Lange dominated this afternoon. He tossed 5 scoreless striking out 10 w/ 3H & 2 BB. FB sat 95-97 mph T98 mph, mixed CT at 86-90 mph, CHG 85-88 mph & SL 81-83 mph. Generated 25 whiffs. CHG up to 22 inches of HB, FF up to 18 inches of IVB, SL up to 13 inches of sweep #RepBX pic.twitter.com/8fhX85JzrI— Geoff Pontes (@GeoffPontesBA) April 17, 2023
The horizontal break on the changeup is incredible, as is the sweep of his slider.
Multiple pitches that can miss bats is an excellent foundation, but everything will come down to walks. In 9 starts and 22 innings at the Florida Complex League in 2021, Lange handed out 15 walks, a 14.7-percent walk rate. The latter figure went up to 17.4 percent last year, as Lange issued 30 walks in 36.1 frames and 12 outings. Injuries might have had something to do with that lousy control, but his control was obviously a problem.
In Lange’s 10 innings thus far in 2023, he’s walked just a pair of batters out of the 37 he’s faced (5.4%). It’s a huge improvement, but the sample size is of course so small that it’s impossible to draw any conclusions yet.
It’s best to keep treating Lange as a project arm, let him get his feet wet in full-season ball and give him a chance to harness his stuff for an extended period of time. At the same time, it’s hard not to get excited about his potential and his stuff. The Yankees might have a good one on their hands in Lange.