In the modern MLB, every team needs more than five starters. It’s just the nature of the game.
That especially applies to the 2019 Yankees. Luis Severino is on the shelf until May. CC Sabathia is expected back in mid-April, but he always has his mid-summer IL stint. Therefore, the Yankees are going to need one of their depth starters from the jump and another within a couple of weeks of the season starting.
So who do the Bombers have backing up their starting rotation?
Say hello to your No. 4 starter! That’s right, the pitcher who had a 5.57 ERA last season will be in the Opening Day rotation.
German had an extreme go of it in the rotation in 2018. In his first start, he no-hit Cleveland for six innings. He then gave up six runs in each of his next two starts with a total of six walks and three homers.
While he gave up plenty of home runs and had bouts of wildness, he also displayed flashes of brilliance. In a three-start stretch last June, he struck out 28 batters and walked two over 19 innings.
What won him the rotation spot this spring? German’s pure stuff is electrifying: He sits in the mid-90s with his fastball/sinker with a high-80s change and low-80s curve. His offspeed pitches had a whiff rate of 35.8 and 41.3 percent, respectively.
He struck out 22 and walked just two over 15 1/3 Grapefruit League innings. His 4.11 ERA doesn’t tell the whole story as he gave up five of his eight earned runs in his final spring start, when the Cardinals launched three homers against him.
What is his role for all of 2019? If the Yankees get all five of their main starters healthy, he’s likely ticketed for Triple-A, though there will be plenty of starts. Despite Gio Gonzalez in the system, German could very well get more than the 14 starts he had last season. If he does, the team will need more consistency from the 26-year-old pitcher.
What may help is the opener. For both German and the No. 5 starter, the Yankees may utilize Chad Green or Jonathan Holder as an opener. That’s especially important for German, who had an 8.36 ERA in first innings last year.
It feels like Cessa has been on the shuttle between Scranton and the Bronx for a half-decade, but that time will come to an end in 2019. The fourth-year pitcher is out of options and will be serving in the Opening Day bullpen.
While German had good underlying numbers this spring, Cessa had fantastic ones. He struck out 19, walked just two and gave up only 11 hits over 18 1/3 innings.
The 26-year-old righty lives in the mid-90s with the fastball like German but works in a healthy dose of sliders, turning to the pitch 41 percent of the time last year.
His role is more indeterminate than German. He’ll be the long reliever to begin the year, yet his spring performance may make him the favorite to take the No. 5 starter role when the turn first pops up. Unlike German, he won’t be going to Scranton anytime soon and his lack of options may mean this is it for him in pinstripes.
As with any pitcher, working in shorter outings out of the bullpen could unlock a new level of performance for Cessa. He’s done a better job of attacking the zone this spring, which could help his fastball play up in relief action.
Of the Yankees’ depth starting options, Loaisiga has the best pure stuff. His fastball averages 96 mph with a high-80s changeup and low-80s slider/curve. The whiff rate on his slider/curve was well above 30 percent. The spin rate on his curve is in the 86th percentile and his fastball velocity in the 89th. He’s got all the talent to be a contributing major leaguer.
But his health and control tell a different story. He’s a regular on the injured list, as one might expect from a hard-throwing righty under six-feet tall. Meanwhile, despite a strikeout rate above 30 percent last year, he also walked 11.1 percent of batters. His underlying numbers were still above-average, but he had a 5.11 ERA in his short MLB stint.
This season, he’ll be up in the majors for game No. 6 i.e. when Sabathia’s suspension is up. His role is anybody’s guess. Moreso than the previous two entries to this list, he may be ticketed for the bullpen long term and his stuff makes you believe he could be quite dominant once there. His chance to start in the Bronx is slim, even if he grabs the No. 5 spot in mid-April.
In the next tier, there’s Adams. Added to the 40-man roster for a spot start last August, he didn’t impress in limited action. He’s in his third year repeating Triple-A after his performance took a turn for the worse in 2018.
This may be familiar by now, but he’s a two-pitch pitcher (fastball-slider) who gets strikeouts but can’t seem to find the plate often enough for sustained success. He’s walked more than three per nine the last few years with the walk rate going up.
Therefore, this is a big season. He can’t stall out in Triple-A and expect to a have a safe 40-man spot a year from now. His optionability makes him a potential up-and-down arm at times with spot starts likely going elsewhere. He needs to turn things around in Scranton before he sees the Bronx for an extended period.
Beyond those four, the team still has some starting depth. Gonzalez’s MiLB deal has an out on April 20 and struggles from German or Cessa could open the door for the established veteran.
After Gonzalez, it’s anybody’s guess. David Hale and Drew Hutchison, both ticketed for Triple-A, each saw some time in the Show last year, with Hale having multiple stints in pinstripes before going overseas. They’re veteran depth arms.
As for prospects, Michael King lost out on Spring Training with an arm injury. Domingo Acevedo didn’t get a look in big league camp and will be repeating Double-A Trenton, though he’s on the 40-man roster. If the Yankees run through the above options and are looking for more, something has seriously gone wrong.