This morning, I was thinking about the New York Yankees‘ pitching situation and the Yankees’ lack of addressing it as they wait to find out if they can re-sign slugger DJ LeMahieu. If they can sign him, they will likely not spend for a major starting pitcher upgrade; instead, they will rely on the young and upcoming prospects. It reminded me that Luis Severino’s return from Tommy John’s surgery would become an important part of the Yankees’ success in 2021. The two big questions are when will he return, and when he does, how effective he will be. We know more about the first question than the second. Industry insiders and the Yankees seem to think he will be back before the All-Star Break, possibly in June.
With him not pitching in nearly two years, it’s time for Yankee fans to reexamine how Severino got to this point in his career. Luis Severino was born on February 20, 1994, in Sabana de la Mar, Dominican Republic. As a boy, he played baseball in the sand fields of the Republic, he played most infield positions, but as he aged, he preferred pitching. He loved baseball and grew up idolizing fellow Dominican and former New York Yankees player Robinson Cano. He hoped to play professionally and hoped to someday throw for the New York Yankees, his favorite childhood team.
Yankee scouts in the Dominican Republic took notice of Severino and invited him to the Yankee training academy. The Yankee Academy is a state of the art training facility in Boca Chica, the Dominican Republic. When he was just seventeen, the Yankees signed him as an international free agent. He was offered a signing bonus of $225k, which the Colorado Rockies matched, but Severino wanted to pitch for his childhood favorite Yankees. When he was scouted, he could throw a fastball in the low 90’s. He made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League for the Yankees, where he went 4-2 with an ERA of 1.68 in fourteen games. He stayed in the Dominican League until 2013, when the Yankees promoted him to the Charleston River Dogs. During his time with the Dogs, Severino gained strength and increased his fastball to the high nineties; he finished his first season with the River Dogs going again 4-2, this time in ten games with an ERA 2.45.
Severino again started the 2014 season with the River Dogs but was quickly promoted to the Tampa A team. The same year he was selected to play in the All-Star Futures Game. Severino was propelling his way up the Yankee organization and was sent to the Trenton Thunder. Between the three teams, he went 6-5 with an ERA of 2.45 and with 127 strikeouts in 24 games. He started the 2015 season with Trenton but was again promoted to Scranton Wilkes/Barre. Before leaving Trenton, he was 2-2 across eight games. Severino went 7-0 with an ERA of 1.68 for the Rail Riders.
In 2015 due to Michael Pineda’s injury, Sevy was called up in August to pitch in his first major league game against the Red Sox; he pitched five innings allowing two hits and one earned run with seven strikeouts. At the time, he was the youngest starting pitcher in the major leagues at age 21. He ended his rookie season having started 11 games, pitching 63 innings with a 5–3 record, 2.89 ERA, and 56 strikeouts. 2016 was a rough year for Sevy; he had injuries and was optioned back to the Scranton Wilkes/Barre Rail Riders. Later being called back up but only as a reliever. In 2017 he started the season back in the rotation. Sevy impressed big time as he went a season-high in innings pitched and achieved a record of 14-6 with an ERA of 2.98. He tied CC Sabathia for most strikeouts in a season by a Yankee pitcher. He was chosen to start the All-Star game but was removed after giving up three runs. He ended the season being voted 3rd in the Cy Young voting.
In the first half of the 2018 season, he recorded 14 wins before the All-Star Game, the first Pitcher to that since 1969, when Mel Stottlemyre did it. He was again selected to pitch in the All-Star game. Severino started the AL Wild Card game against the Oakland Athletics in a game the Yankees won 7-2. Severino finished the season 19-8 with an ERA of 3.39. He led all major league pitchers with an average fastball velocity of 97.6 miles per hour for the second consecutive year. At the end of the season, Severino signed a $40 million contract for four years with a Yankee option for a fifth year.
In Luis Severino’s short career, he earned Pitcher of the Week in the Florida League for the week of June 30. He was a AAA All-Star in 2015 for the Scranton Wilkes/Barre Rail Riders and an AL All-Star in 2017 and 2018. In 2018 he also won the most games for a 24-year-old pitcher in Yankee history. Sevy also holds the Yankee record for the most strikeouts per nine innings on average.
During spring training in Tampa in 2019, he suffered a rotator cuff inflammation and then suffered a strained lat muscle during his initial rehab. After much delay, he pitched in several simulated and minor league games. On September 17, after missing most of the entire season, he felt good and started his first game of the year against the Los Angeles Angels. In his first outing, he pitched well, going four innings in the Yankees 8-0 victory over the Angels. On September 22, he had another win against the Toronto Blue Jays, followed by a loss to the Rangers for a regular-season ERA of 1.50. While still being stretched out, he pitched two games in the postseason with an ERA of 2.16.
When the 2019/2020 postseason turned into spring training, Severino reported early to begin his workouts. As the first week of training started, Severino was glad to be ready for a comeback season and feel healthy. As he tossed fastballs and sliders, he felt good but noticed that he was developing soreness in his elbow and forearm when throwing the changeup. As it continued to bother him, Manager Aaron Boone shut him down. Severino spoke about the problem:
“I just want to play baseball. I just want to pitch,” Severino said. “I’ve been doing all the things that they want me to do in the offseason to come here healthy. I was pretty good, I was feeling healthy until yesterday. I was watching TV and I was starting to stand up, I was doing something that wasn’t right. Something happens, you have to just deal with it.”
Severino underwent tests in Tampa with Yankee team Doctor Chris Ahmad. The tests could not determine the cause of the soreness. The physician ruled out an elbow or shoulder injury. It was thought that there might be a muscle or nerve injury that would require more intensive tests. The Yankees shipped him back to New York City, where he will go through a battery of tests with Dr. Ahman at New York-Presbyterian Hospital on Monday. After the Yankees acquired one of the best pitchers in baseball, Gerrit Cole counted on a healthy #2 ace in Severino in the offseason. Now with this problem, his season could be in doubt again, at least at the start.
After postseason MRIs and CAT scans showed no problems with his arm, Severino was hopeful that he would be pitching during spring training. Upon learning he would have to leave camp and go back to New York, Severino said:
“It’s definitely frustrating to hear this stuff again,” Severino said. “We’re dealing with it. We’re seeing what we can do to get me healthy. I think we have the right people here to figure out what is the issue and fix it.”
As we all know, it turned out that Severino had to have Tommy John surgery making him miss the entire 2020 shortened season and the postseason. The New York Yankees sorely missed not having Severino in the rotation during the season, and his absence from the postseason may very well have cost them a trip to the World Series.
General Manager Brian Cashman gave an update on his recovery. He said Severino was in approximately week six of his throwing program and had progressed to about 90 feet at the team’s facility in Tampa. Cashman said Severino’s rehab Is “going well.” Cashman said Tommy John rehabs are “anywhere between 14 to 15 months sometimes. So, I’ve got to give myself and therefore our fans a few safety rails in terms of the expectation of when would be the appropriate time to expect him to be reintroduced to the major-league club.” Most scouts believe he will return to the Yankees in June, but no later than July, giving the Yankees new hope for a successful 2021 season.
Now we get back to question two: How successful will he be upon his return? That is a question that can only be answered when he returns and has a few games under his belt. In addition to him returning for form, the Yankees have to be cautious with him because of his multiple arm issues. But the reality is that anything he can do will be a bonus to the Yankees with such a questionable starting rotation. If healthy and can return to form, he can be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Here are his career stats: 3.46 career ERA (125 ERA+) -3.35 career FIP -10 Ks Per 9 Innings -Strikeout to walk ratio of ≈ 4:1 -1.09 WHIP since 2017. If the New York Yankees can get close to that from Severino, they will be happy campers. But like so many things with the Yankees, this is to wait and see as well. Severino seems healthy and happy, posting several recent photos of himself with his daughter, even teaching her a golf swing on Twitter.
New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has not given a rehab update on Severino since October.