New York Yankees: Lucas Luetge turning heads in spring training

Mar 14, 2021; Dunedin, Florida, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Lucas Luetge (63) pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays during the fourth inning at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

During the offseason, the New York Yankees made an interesting addition to the Yankees. The 33-year-old Lucas Luetge, a pitcher that hasn’t been in the major leagues since 2015. Although the Yankees signed him to a minor league contract, he knew he has little chance to make the 40 man Yankee roster or even earn any regular-season innings for the team.

However, through five spring appearances with the Yankees, Lucas Luetge is on pace to turn some heads. One must remember it’s easy to be overly optimistic when looking at a small sample. But at the same time, it’s hard to overlook striking out 11 of 18 batters faced. That can’t just be a coincidence; it’s got to be a sign of true talent.  Across five full innings, Luetge has yet to allow a single run while permitting just a single base on balls to go along with two singles. He has struck out the likes of Bryce Harper, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Andrew McCutchen, and Didi Gregorius.

New York Yankees assistant GM Mike Fishman pursued Lucas Luetge each of the past two years and signed him to a minor league deal this offseason; he said, “A lot of people are talking about him [in camp]. He is opening eyes with how he is performing — and the quality of the stuff, too. He has swing-and-miss pitches.” Luetge has been trying to get from the minors to the majors for the last six years. He did it for just one game back in 2015. He pitched 2 1/2 innings of shutout ball. But his return to the majors has been elusive.

One of the problems holding Luetge back has been his inability to get righties out. However, now late in his career, he is doing just that. 8 of his 13 strikeouts have been against right-hand hitters. Manager Aaron Boone has been gushing over Luetge. When talking about the Luetge slider, he had this to say:

Boone about Luetge’s slider to Sports Illustrated’s Max Goodman, saying “It’s a really good breaking ball, it’s a swing-and-miss breaking ball. He’s got all the spin numbers that take you back a little bit. Even though he’s not overpowering with the fastball, the fastball really plays as well.”

As CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa reports, Boone’s claims ring true through the spring training pitch data. Luetge has radically boosted the spin rate on each of his three offerings to well past the MLB average, especially his slider, giving them a late-life that has left anyone lucky enough to watch him toss in person awestruck.

The New York Yankees added another left-hander in veteran Justin Wilson; they just lost one as well, with Zack Britton going under elbow injury. His three-to-four-month recovery time from that surgery leaves an opening for either Wison or Luetge, a place setting up for Aroldis Chapman. In that effort, it’s hard to ignore Luetge’s 18.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Now that Britton is out, after Aroldis Chapman and Wilson, the only other lefty currently projected to make the Yankee bullpen (per FanGraphs Depth Charts) is fellow 33-year-old non-roster invitee Tyler Lyons. Though he’s spent time on a major league roster every season since 2013, Lyons has always had a high ERA over the period. Lyons has been okay in this spring training with an ERA of 2.45 but not close to Luetge’s performance. Luetge is almost certainly in if Lyons is out, should the Yankees choose to add another lefty to the bullpen. With Luetge’s performance so far this spring training, the Yankees will have the obvious choice of adding him to the Yankee’s bullpen.