Battles in spring training are as common as tired arms and late swings. However, when a rotation competition goes two roles deep and has five competitors, some might question the team's reasoning.
Why such an expanded competition?
For the Yankees, the reasons for an expanded rotation competition run parallel to the ongoing changes in roster construction. New York has worked hard to alter the complexion of the roster, looking to fill as many voids as possible with young and talented players instead of spending on older, risky veterans.
The Yankees believed that the crew they had under their control provided as much, if not more, potential as any pitcher on the free agent market. As the Yankees continue to distribute salaries in an effort to curtail frivolous spending, sticking with a core of fresh, cost effective arms with plenty of upside made sense.
Additionally, the stage in the club's transition process also had a good deal to do with the choice to stay in house for the final two rotation spots. The Yankee outwardly claim they want to be competitive in the standings, and with some luck and good health, they certainly have a chance to be in the mix. However, the reality is they have more questions than assurances, which makes the 2017 season as good as any to test out the players right in front of them.
Who are the competitors and where will they land?
Each of the five competitors - Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino and Adam Warren - have provided assistance to the Yankees at the major league level over parts of the last couple of seasons. The timing has not always coincided and the results have fluctuated, nonetheless the common denominator is that each pitcher has experienced success as a big leaguer.
Cessa and Green came together to the Yankees from the Tigers in the Justin Wilson trade. The purpose of the trade was initially to provide depth on the Triple-A roster. Cessa made the Opening Day roster in the bullpen, but was quickly sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to get stretched out. Green established himself as the top rotation arm for the RailRiders. By summer, both Cessa and Green were throwing for the major league club. Cessa and Green were used interchangeably as relievers and starters, but I envision their strength coming as starters.
I view Cessa, who will pitch in his age-25 season, as one of the pitchers who will claim the fifth starter spot. Meanwhile, I see Green, who turns 26 years old in May, completely missing out on a roster spot simply because of the rest of the competitors' strengths, and how I believe the club views their best chance to make an impact in 2017. I think Green will remain stretched out and at the ready in Triple-A in case of injury or poor performance. I believe Green will be able to deal best with the potential up and down from Triple-A to the big leagues.
Mitchell, who turns 26 in April, was set to break camp last spring as a member of the bullpen, but broke his right big toe and was not able to return to game action until August. Mitchell worked himself all the way back to the big leagues and made a handful of starts in September for the Yankees. Personally, I think Mitchell will claim the same role he was set to take on last spring as the Yankees' swingman. The Yankees might want to manage Mitchell's innings total in 2017 after throwing just 46 innings in 2016. I also believe that Mitchell's repertoire makes him a good fit as a swingman, much like Warren displayed for the Yankees in the past.
Speaking of Warren, while he wants to be a starter and I absolutely believe he can handle the role, I think he will be planted in the bullpen when camp breaks. As Warren has recently mentioned, the club trusts him in the role and in my view, he is needed there more than the rotation. My feeling is that the Yankees need to see what the younger players have in them and while Warren is not old, he's 29, he is well beyond the rest of the group in terms of experience. Further, the Yankees bullpen can be a certain strength with Warren's ability to provide more than one inning of work, considering each of the presumed starters do not provide significant length when on the mound.
Finally, the Yankees absolutely want Severino, 23, to grab a spot in the rotation and run away with it. Severino, the Yankees former top prospect, remains the pitcher with the highest upside of the five and he worked extensively during the offseason on improving his change up, the third pitch in his repertoire. As such, if Severino proves he has all three of his pitches working well by the end of March, he will break camp in the fourth slot in the rotation. Beyond earning a rotation spot, I fully believe that Severino is poised to climb the pecking order in the rotation by the end of this season.
My assertions are all based on the premise that the Yankees break camp with their top three starters healthy. In case that changes, any of the three remaining competitors could jump into a starting role and succeed. In my view, the Yankees made the correct call in sticking in house to round out the rotation, because each member has the potential to flourish. Further, the need to determine the long-term readiness of their young pitchers this season, in an effort to aid decisions for 2018 and beyond, cannot be understated.
Related: 2017 expectations for key Yankees