Death, taxes, and injuries are the only certainties for the Yankees, who sport a rotation that has its warts and question marks in between the list of former and current All-Stars. If they want to get through an entire season, they’ll need to turn to depth starters in the organization to cover for injuries or skipped starts as they manage the innings for various arms in the rotation. The Yankees boast a strong farm system that they could tap into for pitching depth, but relying on rookies can open up to even more variance.
It’s a group anchored by young talent and journeymen, but can this group of unproven talent provide the Yankees with the insurance that they’ll desperately need throughout a grueling 162-game schedule?
Is Luke Weaver the Yankees’ Next Success Story?
When the Yankees claimed Luke Weaver off of waivers at the end of the season, nobody expected that he would provide solid innings, and yet here he is with a guaranteed spot on the MLB roster. He was inked to a one-year $2 million deal prior to the signing of Marcus Stroman, and he’ll serve as a long reliever who could make spot starts if need be. Upon his arrival in the Bronx, Weaver began using his cutter 33.6% of the time, pitching to a 3.38 ERA in his three starts.
The lack of a reliable breaking ball creates some concerns about his profile, but breaking balls are typically the easiest pitch group to alter the shape of. We saw the 30-year-old boast a solid curveball and two different sliders, a firmer gyro slider that prioritizes vertical drop and a sweeping slider with more horizontal movement, but the Yankees might be able to help him develop a stronger breaking pitch.
With the Seattle Mariners, Weaver was a fastball-cutter-changeup-sweeper pitcher, and the Yankees could potentially build off of that mold to make him better. He gained nearly two inches of vertical break on his fastball when he came to the Yankees but decreased the sweeper reliance and went for a cutter with more vertical ride that could mirror the four-seamer. The Yankees are excellent at developing breaking balls and could tweak his to help him find a pitch that can put hitters away.
Luke Weaver’s ability to tunnel his four-seamer and cutter to deceive hitters is enough to allow both pitches to overperform their Stuff+ metrics, but having a breaking pitch that can put hitters away would be the final touch to making his profile legit. Weaver already has a good feel for his changeup, and being able to command four different pitches with dramatically different movement profiles would make him a great swingman option for the Yankees.
Steamer likes what Luke Weaver can bring to the table, projecting him for 63 innings at a 4.23 ERA and 22.2% strikeout rate, which would certainly be of benefit to the Yankees. Whether the Yankees are able to unlock more in his profile or not will determine whether I believe he’s a long reliever or competent spot starter for the team, and he will most certainly make starts for this team in 2024 if he doesn’t get hurt.
He’s the Yankees’ first man up, and I believe they signed him because they think they can get more out of his profile. It’s difficult to make in-season tweaks, but having an entire winter and Spring Training to develop certain skills and tinker with certain pitches can certainly aid the right-hander in finding consistency in his repertoire. He’s a significant step down from a pitcher like Michael King but eerily similar to Jhony Brito in the sense that he’s a swingman in desperate need of a breaking ball.
You can’t guarantee progression even if you think a team is excellent at pitching development, but the pitch mix is right up the Yankees’ alley, and there’s a reason they brought him back with guaranteed money.
Will Warren Could Be a New Weapon For Aaron Boone
The Yankees used their eight-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft on Will Warren and could come away with one of the best picks of that draft because of it. One of the best prospects in the organization, the right-hander has wicked stuff that has made him a fringe top-100 prospect, and while the MiLB data has always been good but not great, part of it is due to aggressive promotions that have seen him struggle at first before eventually adjusting to the new level.
Warren made it all the way up to Triple-A this past season and was one of the best pitchers at that level after shaking off some early-season struggles. Left-handed hitters presented issues for him, but with the improvements made to his four-seamer, he was able to pitch to a 0.63 ERA in the month of September and hold those opposite-handed hitters to a sub-.400 OPS, raising his stock a ton and looking like one of the most polished pitching prospects in the upper levels of Minor League Baseball.
Ranking in the 98th Percentile in Stuff+ (124.2) among Triple-A pitchers with at least 100 pitches thrown, and that excellent arsenal is headlined by his great sweeper. It generates over 16 inches of horizontal break with excellent swing-and-miss numbers that can dominate any right-handed hitter with how aggressive he is with his usage. He mixes in his great sinker as well with the ability to generate harmless contact on the ground, and these pitches are right up of the organization’s alley.
Will Warren put up a 3.35 ERA across 129 innings last season with the Scranton RailRiders and Somerset Patriots, but there were some concerns about his walk rate increasing. Something that people need to adjust for is the environment that he pitched in, as the International League had inflated run-scoring numbers due to the implementation of an Automatic Ball-Strike system that was inaccurate and error-prone, to say the very least.
A 10.9% walk rate is actually below the league-average mark (11.8%), and while I wouldn’t say that he has great command, it’s certainly better than the numbers in Scranton would suggest. In terms of ERA, his 3.61 ERA is significantly better than the 5.18 ERA the average pitcher sported in the International League, and he certainly has the pitchability to go with his excellent stuff.
As for what Steamer projects for Warren, they believe he’ll post a 4.12 ERA and 48.8% groundball rate across 49 innings on the Yankees next season. He’s someone who could really impact this pitching staff in both a long-relief and starting role, and it’ll be interesting to see if the Yankees have him waiting in the wings for a chance to slot into their rotation full-time in the case of an injury.
The talent is undeniable here, and if the Yankees can continue to develop his feel for the four-seamer and changeup, he’ll have the ability to dominate against both right-handed and left-handed batters.
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Potential Risers on the 40-Man Roster
The Yankees have some talent on their 40-man roster with starting experience, although each of them has warts that could limit them in starting roles. Luis Gil has arguably the best stuff out of the group, flashing an upper-90s fastball with excellent movement and pairing it with a wipeout slider that can generate swings and misses. Gil will have an opportunity to stretch himself out in Triple-A thanks to a fourth MiLB option that he qualified for, so that helps.
He doesn’t have a third pitch, but his stuff is good enough to overpower hitters with a below-average changeup, given how good the fastball and slider are. If Luis Gil had some semblance of what a strike was, he would at the very least be a five-and-dive starter who runs a strikeout rate nearing 30%, but the walk rates will likely always be in the double-digits, and that might be too much to overcome for the young right-hander.
Yoendrys Gomez has more pitches to work with but has a worse track record with injuries, so it’s not great for his projectability as a starter. The Yankees probably will end up pushing him to the bullpen as well, but again, he could end up making starts in Triple-A and stretching out to a full-time role. Unfortunately, he might end up getting hurt doing so, and perhaps the Yankees have to protect him from himself.
Clayton Beeter is the most MLB-ready starting option in their Triple-A group, as he’s the most durable and inexperienced option in the group. Sure, he’s entering his age-25 season, but he had just 41 innings at Texas Tech, didn’t pitch in any summer leagues, and had under 130 MiLB innings pitched entering the 2023 season. Walking away with an above-average ERA at both Double-A and Triple-A is a win for your first full season as a starter.
We saw his velocity kick up to 94.1 MPH on the four-seamer in September, which, if sustainable for 2024, could give Beeter a fastball that’s closer to average in terms of Stuff+. His slider is an already excellent pitch, as hitters had a .515 OPS against the pitch due to a high release point and sharp vertical drop, but he could be a candidate for a pitch like a cutter that could bridge the gap in vertical and horizontal movement between his fastball and slider.
The Yankees led all of Minor League Baseball in cutter usage last season, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them have a starter develop a cutter, given the general ease of learning that pitch when you can get behind or around the ball well. If he never develops a third pitch, I have him slated for a bullpen role, but just like Jhony Brito, it’s possible that he could develop a new pitch that improves the quality of his arsenal and makes him a valuable arm in the organization.
It seems that the Yankees did a lot of homework on Cody Poteet, who underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2022 and didn’t return to the mound until the end of the 2023 season. The 29-year-old right-hander has solid stuff, sporting a great changeup alongside a solid four-seamer while having a solid feel for his slider as well, which has given him shaky-at-best results. He also added a sinker in 2022 that seemed to improve his groundball rate, but it’ll be interesting to see what tweaks Poteet will make entering 2024.
Cody Morris is another flier they took, as the 27-year-old was brutal in his six MLB outings this past season, pitching to a 6.75 ERA and 8.13 FIP. He’s a swingman who would likely perform better in a full-time role as a reliever, with his profile anchored by a solid four-seam fastball that generates a strong amount of vertical carry. Injuries and inconsistency in his offspeed pitch have made him ineffective at times, and the Yankees will hope that he can stay on the mound more frequently.
Could We See Chase Hampton This Season?
A name that could emerge and force its way into the Yankees’ pitching plans is right-hander Chase Hampton, who is a consensus top-100 prospect in baseball with four strong pitches in his arsenal. His four-seam fastball averages roughly 19 inches of vertical break at 93.3 MPH, and it’s a dominant offering that he lands in-zone frequently. Add an excellent cutter, sweeper, and curveball on top of that strong fastball, and you suddenly have one of the most well-rounded arms in MiLB.
While a 4.37 ERA in 11 starts at Double-A could raise some concerns, he far exceeded his career-high in innings at college (56.2) as he has under 220 innings of college and professional experience under his belt. Hampton already made massive strides with his command due to a tweak in his mechanics, and the stuff is so good that you could argue he’s an MLB-caliber arm.
If the Yankees continue to help Hampton build velocity, his fastball will only get better, and it’ll improve the quality of his entire arsenal as a result. The Yankees have mentioned Hampton’s name, among other starters, in this article as upper-level MiLB depth, and that’s no mistake; this is an arm they believe can take off in 2024. We rarely see the team turn to a rookie to make starts consistently for them, but the 22-year-old might break the mold in New York.
The diversity and quality of his arsenal will give him excellent projectability, and he was already third this past season in K-BB% among MiLB pitchers (min. 100 IP). We could be looking at a future mainstay in the Yankees’ rotation for years to come, and 2024 might be the year we get an extended look at him. He’s the organization’s top pitching prospect and has plenty of buzz around him, and if he can stay healthy and consistent, I have no doubts that he’ll find his way to the Bronx during the season.
Relying on rookies as depth will be met with plenty of skepticism, and rightfully so, given how volatile young pitchers can be, but the Yankees have a plethora of arms to turn to in 2024. Even if they’re just openers, the team will have an arm to call upon when someone goes down with an injury, and if they can find a diamond in the rough from their MiLB signings or strike gold with one of their prospects, the ceiling for this pitching staff would be immeasurable.