Last season was a great one for prospect-loving Yankee fans, as heralded prospects Greg Bird and Luis Severino both reached the majors and found success playing with the big boys.
While Bird will spend 2016 rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, Severino projects to pitch his first full season with the Yankees this year. He was definitely worth the hype in 2015, pitching to a 2.89 ERA in 62 and one-third innings with 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. As such, it is safe to say that Yankee fans are hopelessly excited to see what Severino can do given a full season of work in 2016.
It would be phenomenal for Severino to meet the high expectations placed on him in his first full major league season. However, both history and Severino's 2015 peripheral statistics suggest that perhaps Yankee fans should lower their expectations for his performance in the upcoming season.
Over the course of the current decade, there has yet to be a Yankee top prospect to pan out. Heading into the 2011 season, Baseball America ranked Jesus Montero and his 80-grade power as the third best prospect in baseball behind future MVPs Bryce Harper and Mike Trout (he was also obviously ranked the top Yankee prospect). He reached the majors when rosters expanded in September and hit .328/.406/.590 in 61 at-bats.
Prior to being traded to the Mariners for Michael Pineda, Montero was once again ranked as the Yankees' top prospect for the 2012 season. The Yankees used Montero's value to acquire Pineda, the Mariners' number two prospect (behind his current teammate Dustin Ackley).
It's a good thing Brian Cashman traded Montero when he did because Montero's value sank quickly following his debut with the Mariners. He began his tenure in Seattle with a poor 2012 campaign (hitting .260/.298/.386 through 135 games with an OPS+ of 64), and has spent the majority of time since then letting the Mariners down. First, he was suspended for PEDs in 2013. In 2014, he famously arrived overweight to camp, and later that season threw an ice cream sandwich at a scout. He has failed to perform offensively, hitting .247/.285/.383 (88 OPS+) in 745 at-bats as a Mariner, and does not adequately defend at any position.
Baseball America's top Yankee prospect in 2013 was Mason Williams, who has yet to stick in the Majors for more than eight games (injuries have not helped his cause). The team's top prospect entering the 2014 season was Gary Sanchez, who has yet to make the majors (other than during September call-ups) but does have a good chance this year. Severino was the team's top prospect in 2015.
The Yankee top prospect lists since 2011 show that there has been a relative dearth of elite pitching talent in the Yankee system. The last Yankee pitching prospect to rank as the team's top prospect was Manny Banuelos, who ranked as such prior to the 2012 season after Montero had departed for the Mariners.
Despite his potential, Banuelos never found success with the Yankees. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and missed the entire 2013 season. He did not perform well in the minors in 2014 (4.13 ERA) and was traded to the Braves for relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve prior to the 2015 season. After making his Major League debut with the Braves in 2015, he underwent surgery to remove a bone spur this offseason.
Prior to Banuelos, the last Yankee pitching prospect ranked so highly was Joba Chamberlain, who was the Yankees' top prospect before the 2008 season. Chamberlain pitched well in the Yankees' rotation that year, but innumerable transitions between the bullpen and the starting rotation greatly affected his performance later on. Most recently, Chamberlain pitched terribly out of the bullpen for the Tigers (who designated him for assignment) and the Royals. He signed a minor league deal with the Indians this offseason.
Outside of the failures of past Yankee top pitching prospects, there are signs from Severino's 2015 performance that he may not live up to such high expectations in 2016. Although he pitched to a 2.89 ERA last year, his FIP was much higher at 4.37. This discrepancy is likely due to his high 1.30 HR/9, 17.3% HR/FB, and below-average 3.18 BB/9. Severino also failed to pitch deep into games, averaging 5.2 innings per start.
On the other hand, both Steamer and ZiPS project him to pitch to about a 3.80 ERA in 2016 and that he will be worth upwards of 2.0 WAR this season. He is predicted to lower his HR/9 and BB/9 this year, both of which will likely improve his performance.
Hopefully, Severino lives up to the hype and dominates in his first full big league season, but as history and his peripheral statistics show, there is a real chance that he could stumble at times throughout the season. Thus, to avoid potential disappointment, it may be best for Yankee fans to lower their expectations for Severino in 2016 ever so slightly.