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Looking for contributions in unexpected places for the Yankees bullpen

Will one of these relievers pitch their way onto fans’ radar in 2024?

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

I like writing about pitchers. Not necessarily just the good ones — the interesting ones, the forgotten ones, the ones you don’t think about until they’re suddenly sitting in your bullpen. Few teams manage to pull bullpen aces out of thin air quite like the Yankees do, whether it be through internal development or finding a diamond in the rough on the trade or free agent market.

A few weeks ago, Estee Rivera took a look at some of the “homegrown” candidates for a breakout in the Yankees bullpen next summer. Here, I’m going to do the same, except coming from the opposite direction. These are the afterthoughts; the returnees from injury; the non-roster invites and minor league signings that you don’t even know are on the roster until they’re in the majors with a 1.26 ERA. There are a lot of names to choose from, but if I had to guess at who 2024’s Ian Hamilton might be, I’d probably put my money on one of these names.

Luis Gil

This isn’t the first time we’ve written about how Gil shouldn’t be written off, as Andrés Chávez called him a “dark horse” for a rotation spot just a few weeks ago. All of his points stand firm here: he’s talented, he has MLB experience, he’s finally healthy, and he’s on the 40-man roster. No matter what role it’s in, Gil will almost certainly have a chance to make an impact in some regard in 2024.

Personally, I just think it’s almost certainly going to be in the bullpen. It’s really tempting to see if pitchers as gifted as Gil can stick as starters, but between his strike-throwing issues, his health issues. and the fact that he only has two real pitches, I’d just cut to the chase and stick him in the back of the bullpen. Because he has stuff that’ll play in the back of a bullpen, for sure.

It seems like teams can spit out hurlers who throw in the high 90s with a biting slider with ease these days, but it’s still a small number who have shown even to an extent as limited as Gil that they can do it against quality MLB hitters. He’ll need to prove his health before anything else, but it’s worth taking a moment to watch that video and remind ourselves what he looked like when he first made the leap in 2021. If anything of that pitcher still remains, it’s hard to not to think there’s a path to making him a contributor next summer.

Yerry De Los Santos

You know it’s the dog days of the offseason because I just cranked up MLB Film Room and binge-watched five appearances from Yerry De Los Santos, a 26-year-old right-hander formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates who signed a minor league deal with the Yankees in November, and I am simply enthralled. It’s a package that very much resembles what Jimmy Cordero brought to the table when the Yankees brought him in on a minor league pact. It’s a big sinker that, while falling a little short of Clay Holmes’ bowling ball, has some pretty heavy drop and run to it, and he can push it all the way up near the top of the velocity scale.

Like Cordero, he pairs it with a slider, one that seems mostly gyro-oriented in nature but with a lot of inconsistency in how much up-down movement it generates on any given pitch.

That stuff was good enough for a 3.33 ERA and 54.2 percent grounder rate in 22 appearances last season, but the performance wasn’t enough to stop him from hitting the waiver wire when the Bucs needed to make some 40-man roster room. His mechanics up there are not pretty — there could be a lot more fluidity and athleticism in his torso and hip separation through his leg plant, and my untrained eye doesn’t love the angle that his upper body rotates at, either. If some of those kinks can be ironed out and he can start hitting spots consistently, though, the Yankees could have another sinkerballing monster on their hands.

Nick Burdi

Stuff isn’t the issue with Burdi. It’s never been. Burdi was a second-round pick out of Louisville in 2014, but he was the first pure reliever off the board, with only 22 starters being selected before him. That should tell you enough about the kind of talent he’s working with. Unfortunately, he’s also an excellent example of why teams don’t like using high draft picks on relievers, no matter how electric, as he’s simply been unable to stay healthy for more than a few months at a time. Between 2016 and 2022, he appeared in just 43 professional games (16 in the majors), none of which came after 2020. He finally managed a hard-earned return to the mound in 2023, when he appeared in 23 games for the Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate, and three for the big club.

Even with all that time off, the electricity was still there in 2023. His ERA with Triple-A Iowa was just 3.86, but he struck out 35 hitters (with 15 walks) in just 21 innings. His fastball still crackled at an even 98 mph in his brief MLB cameo.

Yeah, uh, that’s some hot stuff! He pairs it with a biting side-to-side slider that’s drawn whiffs 44 percent of the time hitters have swung at it in the big leagues. Probably the most confident prediction I’ll make in this article is that if the Yankees can keep Burdi healthy, he’ll wind up getting some high-leverage innings in the Bronx this summer.

Nick Ramirez

Ramirez was with the team last year, so this isn’t quite the same thing as the other three, but his performance last year shouldn’t be discounted. I’ve written about him a couple times here, first over the summer, then his postseason report card, and not much has changed.

Diametrically opposed to Burdi, the stuff that Ramirez brings to the table is wholly unexciting, but he has a combination of lefty funkiness and unorthodox pitch traits that both make it easy to see why the Yankees brought him in, and make me think the 2.66 ERA he posted in 32 apperances last year is, while not sustainable, not totally a fluke, either. He still has options remaining, so he probably won’t make the Opening Day roster, but with Wandy Peralta not currently in the fold, there are a lot of ground-ball-oriented-lefty innings to fill. Victor González seems likely to get the first crack at them, but it wouldn’t be absurd to see Ramirez get a shot at it as well.

I have my doubts that the ink is dry on pitching staff changes for the coming season. Even with Marcus Stroman in tow, it feels as if the rotation and bullpen is still just a little bit short, maybe by just a name or two. Whether another big name joins the fray or just a few smaller ones, there will be plenty of rough for Matt Blake and the team’s pitching dev group to attempt to find a diamond in.