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Domingo Acevedo could be something special out of the bullpen

The Yankees have used Acevedo as a starter exclusively, but a switch to the bullpen might be in the cards

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

For Domingo Acevedo, 2018 could be a big year. After a successful 2017 campaign, the Yankees added Acevedo the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and now he’s just a phone call away from the big leagues. Armed with a big fastball, the best changeup in the farm system, and a 6-foot-7 frame, Domingo Acevedo could see time in the rotation, or as an effective bullpen arm for the Yankees this season.

The last few seasons have seen Acevedo take some major steps forward in his development. Injuries limited him to just 18 starts in 2016, but the numbers from that season are still strong. Across Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, Acevedo had more strikeouts than innings pitched, and more importantly, he limited walks in his first season of A-ball. In 2017, Acevedo continued to climb the minor league ranks.

Despite a handful of shaky starts with High-A Tampa to begin the season, Acevedo still showed promising numbers—11.32 K/9, 1.96 BB/9, 3.17 FIP—and earned his first call-up to Double-A Trenton. While there, he really found a groove and was arguably the team’s best starter. His performance at Double-A earned Acevedo a couple of big time promotions, but they didn’t go well.

In two Triple-A spot starts in June, Acevedo gave up eight walks and six runs in 12 1/3 innings, and he gave up three runs on four hits in his one-inning appearance in the Futures Game during the All-Star break. All things considered, Acevedo still had a fantastic 2017. He pitched very effectively for Trenton and avoided injuries, allowing him to throw a career-high 123 innings.

As a member of the 40-man roster, Acevedo will at least open spring training with the big league club. Where he’ll go from there is still unclear. The Yankees were conservative with Chance Adams last season and sent him to Double-A to begin the year, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them do the same thing with Acevedo. Given Acevedo’s tools, it might not be long before fans see him suit up for the Yankees in either the rotation or the bullpen.

The Yankees clearly see Acevedo as a starter, at least for now. He made just one relief appearance in the Dominican Summer League back in 2013, but that’s it. In an interview with Larry Rothschild last summer, Brendan Kuty asked the Yankees’ pitching coach about the possibility of moving Acevedo to the bullpen, even if just temporarily, but Rothschild shot that down. He stated, “I don’t know. I’m not even sure it’s time for that conversation. Right now, you develop him as a starter and see where that goes.”

If keeping Acevedo as a starter is indeed still the plan, it would seem he has a way to go before cracking the big league rotation. Domingo German, Luis Cessa, and Chance Adams all seem like locks to open the season at Triple-A. Both Cessa and German already have Major League innings under their belts, and Hal Steinbrenner singled out Adams as a possible contributor to the big league rotation in 2018. There’s also questions about Acevedo’s arsenal that could potentially keep him out of the rotation, but make him a valuable asset in the bullpen.

If you’ve followed the Yankees minor league system at all the past couple of years, you’ve likely heard about Acevedo’s fastball. The righty has run his heater up to 103 MPH but is most effective when he works it between 95-100 MPH. However, Acevedo’s off-speed offerings—a slider and a change—aren’t on-par with his 75-to-80 grade fastball.

Baseball America called Acevedo’s changeup the best in the system, but take that with a grain of salt. Keith Law doesn’t see the changeup or the slider as a truly effective secondary offering, nor does he see Acevedo standing up to the rigors of starting because of his delivery. With that and the Yankees’ current rotation depth in mind, it would stand to reason that Acevedo could find a home in the bullpen sooner rather than later.

Despite the questions about Acevedo’s repertoire, he could still be a unique and effective piece in the bullpen. A fastball like Acevedo’s would obviously be a huge asset in one-inning spurts, and his massive size and low three-quarter arm slot could make him deadly against righties in particular. If he can touch 103 MPH as a starter, then watching him work as a reliever could be a lot of fun. Moreover, offsetting that big fastball with a good-but-not great changeup could just be enough to keep hitters honest.

As Yankees fans have seen, Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman have both found success primarily using fastballs, and Tommy Kahnle has shown that the rare fastball-changeup relief pitcher could also be extremely effective. While Acevedo probably needs more time before he’s ready for his big league debut, it’ll be interesting to see how the Yankees decide to use him. Whether it’s as a starter or as a reliever, Domingo Acevedo could be something special for the Yankees beginning as early as this summer.