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There’s no Scranton Shuttle coming to aid the Yankees’ bullpen

The Yankees’ relief depth has been excellent in recent years, but the system is stressed when they need it most

MLB: New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A few years ago, the Yankees had a tremendous advantage in their farm system that was paying dividends at the major league level. A rotating cast of young pitching prospects were available to fill in the final spot or two in the team’s bullpen. With minor-league options on all of their contracts, the Bombers could pull them up as they pleased whenever they needed a fresh arm.

Fast forward to 2019, and the Yankees sure could use that level of support from within the organization. Things haven’t gone as planned with their latest iteration of a super-bullpen, with injuries and subpar performances bogging down what was expected to be one of their main strengths. The starters have been stronger than initially expected, which has saved the ‘pen from being totally taxed, but there hasn’t been a lot of opportunities to rest the top-tier relievers from regular use.

It’s not that those pitchers that ran the Shuttle have disappeared from the roster. Several of them are still around, but rather than rotatable pieces, they’ve become mainstays on the roster like Jonathan Holder. Others like Luis Cessa and Tommy Kahnle have ran out of minor-league options and can no longer get sent down without having to designate them for assignment, thus risking other teams grabbing them.

Pitching is still one of the farm’s strengths however, so there must be some candidates available. And that is true, though most are a few levels away from the majors. Jonathan Loaisiga does come to mind immediately, as he was just sent back down after fulfilling that role during the Yankees series against the Angels. The Yankees could certainly continue to use Loaisiga in that capacity if the team needs it, but they also see him as a starting pitcher who needs development and consistent starts. Loaisiga certainly seems to be in the middle ground that Domingo German appeared to be in before the season started, where they could flex him to the ‘pen out of necessity, but would prefer to see their upside.

Besides, one pitcher alone wouldn’t solve the problem, and outside of Loaisiga the choices drop quickly. Chance Adams is another top pitching prospect that the Yankees view currently as a starter, but he is struggling out of the gate in Scranton. A call-up to the Bronx seems unlikely for Adams in the moment, as he needs to work things out at his level. The only other candidate to consider then becomes Nestor Cortes Jr., whose only major league stint came with the Orioles last year after Baltimore selected him in the Rule 5 draft.

That’s not a lot of pitchers to consider from, but surely Scranton carries more pitchers than that. Who else is on the roster then? Well, aside from Michael King who is currently injured, the majority have either been ineffective or journeymen on minor league deals hoping to reestablish themselves. Six pitchers on Scranton’s roster are players that signed as free agents this offseason, and among them only Rex Brothers still has options remaining. The rest would either have to be called up and then stay or get cut, or have been stuck down in the minors for several years.

The Yankees have graduated a lot of pitchers in the past few years, and they’ve made sure to restock the system as they go along. They hit a gap in the pipeline at an unfortunate time, though. The system is taxed at the top level due to the string of injuries hitting the club, but ineffectiveness has shut down most of the choices they once had. It’s possible that the starters can keep the pressure from getting too high during this stretch, but that’s a gamble that the Yankees will be forced into.