2016 Statistics: 3.03 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 77.1 IP (AAA)
4.35 ERA, 5.52 FIP, 5.9 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 70.1 IP (MLB)
2017 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration eligible
Heading into the 2016 season, the Yankees needed some additional starting pitching depth, so the team made a move that no one saw coming. Left-handed reliever Justin Wilson was traded to the Tigers for pitching prospects Luis Cessa and Chad Green. Everyone knew the Yankees needed pitching, but these were the guys they went with? No one expected much from either of them, however, they both ended up playing useful roles this season.
A former Mets farmhand, Cessa signed in 2008 and almost immediately converted into a pitcher. The change meant he wouldn’t get into an official game until 2011, but at only 19, he still had plenty of time to develop. He showed plenty of promise for the Mets before he hit the high minors and struggled against tougher competition. He was eventually traded to Detroit in the Yoenis Cespedes trade.
Still, he had reached Triple-A and would likely be ready for a call up at some point during the long season. It turned out that he was ready for a shot almost immediately, after an impressive spring training (and a few injuries) earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster in the bullpen.
He spent most of the year traveling between Scranton and the Bronx, but Cessa still managed to give the Yankees a reliable arm to fill the rotation when they needed one. He was great in Triple-A, helping to carry the team to the playoffs. Both Cessa and Green spent some time at the major league level, and both proved to be adequate major league replacement players. Cessa appeared sporadically over the first half of the season, pitching in at least one game a month, until he was permanently added to the rotation in mid-August.
While Cessa’s time in the bullpen was highlighted by an ugly 5.30 ERA, a bear minimum 4.01 ERA as a starter is perfectly acceptable from a 24-year-old rookie with no expectations attached. He induced a healthy amount of ground balls and worked quickly on the mound, but his strikeout rate dropped from 8.0 K/9 in the minors to 5.9 K/9 in the majors, and he suffered mightily when it came to allowing home runs. A 2.0 HR/9 is probably not sustainable, but it’s something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Heading into the future, Cessa should continue to offer quality pitching depth to a system that is desperate for some. It would be interesting to see what he could do with a full year in the majors, but I don’t think Cessa has a future as a full-time starting pitcher. Give him a long look in spring training, and install him as the longman in the bullpen going forward. He’s not going to be the answer to the team’s ongoing pitching problem, but he can certainly help. There’s still value in that.