The dream of a New York Yankees rotation featuring the best versions of Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, and Frankie Montas seems like it never should have existed, just as the reality did not exist for even one turn. Montas did not make it to spring training, and Rodón and Severino have battled injury and ineffectiveness all year. The “sixth man” in the starting picture, Domingo Germán, has left the team as he gets treatment for alcohol abuse. With Cortes now likely being shut down for the remainder of the season with a rotator cuff issue, the rotation, and by extension the pitching staff, is now in disarray.
Every team knows going into a season they will need more than five starting pitchers to get them through the grind of 162 games. It’s difficult to prepare for losing five out of your top six starters, however. The depth going into 2023, namely Clarke Schmidt, Jhony Brito, and Randy Vásquez, has filled in admirably, and they will be leaned upon to eat up innings for the last six weeks of the season. Back in February, one might have said the Yankees would be in trouble if they are getting starts from Randy Vásquez in late August. Well, they’re in trouble.
In fact, the 40-man roster contains only one more healthy starting pitcher, and that’s Yoendrys Gómez in Double-A, who a week ago pitched into the fourth inning for the first time this year because he is on a pitch count as he builds up. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so now there is talk of stretching out reliever Michael King and trying to get some starts from him, though that path should be fraught with injury concern. The only other rotation help from within the organization has to come from starters currently with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
This may have been an opportunity for right-hander Sean Boyle, who was invited to major league spring training, but he has not pitched since May. The names of Will Warren and Clayton Beeter have been floated as potential call-ups because they are good prospects, but both have been up and down in Triple-A and have 21 starts between them at the level. Edgar Barclay is starting for the RailRiders, and he is a decent prospect in his own right, but he has all of three starts to his name after recently converting from a reliever following his promotion from Somerset. All of this means a true dark horse could emerge should the Yankees reach for another starter from Triple-A, and he has been perhaps the most consistent starter for Scranton this season. That’s Mitch Spence.
Spence’s name is not getting pulled out of thin air. Just this week, Yankees’ pitching coach Matt Blake mentioned Spence as being “in the conversation” when asked about candidates from Triple-A should the big league club need another starter. He put himself in that conversation by being a horse this year, throwing 120.1 innings in 22 starts with a 4.86 ERA and 109 strikeouts. He hasn’t been dominant, but he’s been dependable, pitching into the sixth inning or beyond in seven of his last eight starts. If the Yankees want to get some innings out of a starter and take some of the strain off of their bullpen, Spence might be the guy most prepared to do it.
The 25-year-old right-hander does it with a mix of pitches. His fastball sits between 90-92, and he will rarely bump it up to 94 or 95. The rarity of that velocity is due in part to the way he goes at hitters, throwing cutters, sliders, and changeups the majority of the time. The slider is a strong pitch for Spence, particularly against right-handed hitters, and in his last start he registered 19 total whiffs against the Syracuse Mets. His command has helped him keep the ball on the ground at a 48.6 percent clip.
The move to get Spence, or any pitcher not on the 40-man roster, to the Bronx should coincide with Nestor Cortes moving to the 60-day injured list. We are highly unlikely to see Cortes pitch again in 2023, but the likelihood is increasing that we will, at some point, see the debut of a pitcher who was not on the major league radar back in February. It is getting to the point where there is very little reason for it to not be Mitch Spence.