Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
True, it's early in spring training. But with the way injuries have piled up for the Yankees since 2019, including in camp, it's never too early to consider contingency plans.
That's why we've cooked up a look at what the club's rotation might be like on Opening Day if Luis Severino is not healthy enough to start the season.
Severino, who only threw 20.1 innings in '19, including the postseason, has complained of soreness in the top of his right forearm when he throws his changeup. He is scheduled for three days of tests in New York this week and it's clear the Yanks are worried.
That, plus James Paxton's back surgery, has thrown what seemed to be a strong rotation into a bit of chaos in the Florida sun. Hence, this hypothetical rotation. Our hypothetical does not include Domingo German, who is still serving a domestic violence policy suspension for the first 63 games of the season.
The first three rotation spots are easy, though it gets a bit murkier after that. Gerrit Cole figures to start Opening Day (duh, they didn't give him $324 million to be supporting cast; that's ace money), followed by Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ.
Jordan Montgomery, who is entering his first full season since 2018 Tommy John surgery, seems likely to snag one spot. But the fifth spot is up for grabs. In an interview prior to spring camp, Yanks GM Brian Cashman named Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King and Deivi Garcia as possibilities who would compete with Mongtomery for the fifth spot, so they remain options.
"All those guys will be fighting it out, along with whoever else might get in the mix," Cashman said. "(The opener) was successful for us, too, (in 2019). Whatever the best alternative is, that's what we'll do."
It's reasonable for the Yanks to feel comfortable with the top two spots in this projected rotation. Cole and Tanaka are known and high-end quantities. Cole is coming off a spectacular year in which he was probably the most-feared pitcher in baseball.
Tanaka had the second-highest ERA of his career (4.45) in 2019, but two abysmal outings against the Red Sox in which he allowed 18 earned runs in just four innings skewed his stats. Without those clunkers, his ERA would've been 3.64. And he proved his postseason mettle again, going 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA and holding opponents to a .148 average in three October starts.
Happ, who endured some struggles last season, vaults into a much more important role now. The Yanks must hope he can revert to his 2018 form, when he was 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts following a midseason trade.
Last year, he was 12-8 with a 4.91 ERA, the second highest full-season mark of his career. He also allowed a career-worst 34 homers, fifth in the AL, in 161.1 innings.
Montgomery has the most experience as a starter among the Yanks' up-and-comers. He was a revelation in 2017, going 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA in 29 starts. But he only made six starts in 2018 before surgery and while he made it back at the end of last season, he still has a few things to prove.
Among the other competitors, Garcia is the most highly-touted and might be the best prospect in the system. Still, the righty doesn't turn 21 until May. He rocketed from Class A to Triple-A last year and there was talk he'd get a call-up. But he had a 5.40 ERA in 11 games (six starts) at Triple-A and one opposing scout opined that he was "rushed" last year.
"He has excellent pitchability and a quality pitch selection overall," the scout said. "His fastball was plus earlier in the year, and I saw him down to 90 in September. It's going to be interesting to see how much more development he'll need before he gets a Major League opportunity. Spring training will help him, getting around the big boys."
The 25-year-old Loaisiga could win the fifth spot. He's got electric stuff and some rotation experience in the big leagues, starting four games in each of the last two seasons. He has 70 career strikeouts in 56.1 innings.
Cessa, 27, was a multi-inning reliever last year and did not make a start, delivering 81 frames in 43 games in the majors. He could come in after an opener and stick around for a few innings or start outright - he's made 19 big-league starts in his career.
King, 24, made his MLB debut last year but only threw 46 innings in the minors because of a stress reaction in his elbow. Another potential name to watch: Righty Clarke Schmidt, the Yanks' No. 1 pick in 2017, who reached Double-A last year in his first full pro season following Tommy John surgery.
"I like Schmidt," the scout said. "He's got a really good feel for pitching."
So, assuming Severino isn't ready, figure on Cole, Tanaka, Happ and Montgomery for the first four spots and one pitcher from Cessa, Loaisiga, Garcia, King and Schmidt for No. 5. If we're going by experience, perhaps it's Loaisiga. By potential? Maybe Garcia.
It's all subject to change and likely will. As Cashman noted, the Yanks still await the returns of Paxton and German. And maybe Severino is healthy enough to only be behind a bit.