What each Yankees player needs to prove heading into the 2020 season part 2

New York Yankees, Luis Severino
Feb 13, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino (40) throws as pitchers and catchers report for spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In my previous article, I took a look at each of the New York Yankees position players and gave a rundown of what they need to prove going into this upcoming season.  In this article, I will highlight the pitchers instead. I’ll start with the starting rotation and finish with the relievers.

Gerrit Cole:  Cole is an interesting player to watch.  Over the last two seasons, we have seen him grow into one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.  He has very few flaws in his game which is why the Yankees handed him the largest contract for a pitcher ever.  That will be his battle over the next season and the ones that follow. Cole needs to prove that he’s worth the big money that he’s being paid.  If he can be anything close to what he’s been the last couple seasons and maybe win a World Series or two, I think he will be worth it.

Luis Severino:  Severino lost almost all of the 2019 season to injury.  He came back just in time to contribute to the playoff run.  In 2020, he needs to prove that the injury concerns are behind him and that he can continue to build on his young career.  Becoming the Co-Ace of the Yankees rotation would be a nice spot for him.

James Paxton:  This one is fairly obvious.  First and foremost, Paxton needs to stay healthy, something he has yet to do over his major league career.  If I had to pick a second, I would say he needs to find a way to be consistent like when he put together a string of 10 starts to end the season that showed he could carry a rotation.  Getting past the first inning was a struggle at times throughout the season but I think Paxton found success in the second half of the season that he can carry over to the 2020 season once he returns from his back surgery.

Masahiro Tanaka:  Tanaka is the poster child for inconsistency in the regular season.  He can put together an incredible outing one day and completely falter the next. I think part of that this past season was due to the “juiced balls” causing him to abandon the splitter grip that has brought him so much success.  If he can get more comfortable with his new grip that should still be a useful weapon in his arsenal. However, postseason Tanaka is all that really matters. When the big games come, there are very few pitchers that can match his success.  Next season is his the last of his contract so he needs to prove that he can be counted on moving forward if he wishes to remain a Yankee after 2020. I have no doubt he’s up to the task.

JA Happ/Jordan Montgomery:  Happ delivered one of the worst seasons in his long career, ultimately being relegated to long relief duty by its end.  Due to Paxton’s injury, Brian Cashman has said that Happ will be the starter who fills in for him to start the year. Happ needs to prove that last year was not an age-related decline.  No one is asking him to lead the rotation like he used to. He just needs to go out every fifth day and deliver some stability to the back end of the rotation. Montgomery has an opportunity this year to reclaim his spot in the rotation that he lost due to Tommy John elbow surgery.  Prior to the injury, he was quietly becoming a real weapon for the Yankees. In 2020, he needs to prove that he’s healthy and that he’s trustworthy to potentially take over when Tanaka and Paxton reach free agency season’s end.

Chad Green/Tommy Kahnle/Zack Britton/Adam Ottavino/Aroldis Chapman: I’ve only included the core group of the bullpen as the rest are generally a revolving door known as the “Scranton Shuttle” who pitch in here and there.  Green needs to prove that he can still get hitters out at a high level given his lack of a true secondary pitch. Kahnle needs to show that he’s consistent enough to trust in high leverage situations as he was this past postseason.  Britton needs to prove that he’s still one of the elite relievers in the game. Limiting walks was a big issue for him this past season so that would go a long way for him as hitters still had trouble putting a good bat on the sinker balls he was throwing.  Ottavino needs to carry over his regular season success into the postseason. He was dominant in the regular season of 2019 but was barely used in the postseason due to his inability to get important outs. As with most of the bullpen, I will attribute a lot of that to the fact that he was overused.  The starters didn’t go very deep into games and the bullpen was constantly being called on early to finish the games out. Chapman is pretty interesting in that each year one of two things happen. He loses some velocity off that once 105 mph fastball, and he utilizes his slider more frequently to make up for the loss.  The last couple of seasons have seen Chapman become a more complete pitcher as he learns he can no longer blow a fastball by a hitter but instead keeps them guessing with a slider that has turned into a legitimate weapon for him. In 2020, he needs to prove that he is still one of the best closers in the game and one of the most difficult at-bats for a hitter. 

All the pitchers on the Yankees team have unique skills that they bring to the table.  If they can put them all together on a regular basis, they very well could be bringing home their next World Series trophy!