Who should the Yankees turn to in order to fill out the rotation?

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Auburn's Richard Fitts (43) pitches during the Auburn-Alabama Capital City Classic at Riverfront Park in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Alabama defeated Auburn 6-3. Jc Aubase 27

With the season-ending injury to Luis Severino, the Yankees are shutting him down for 2023, likely ending his tenure as a Yankee. As we roll deeper into September, the window to get rehab games with a MiLB affiliate and work back into a starter’s rhythm grows smaller, and with Severino’s impending free agency, it was best to shut him down before injuries can further plague him. That being said, this creates a pressing need for a starter to fill in for Severino in the rotation, and with the youth movement underway, all options seem on the table.

The Yankees have an abundance of pitching talent in their system, but which arm makes the most sense for that final spot?

Is It Clayton Beeter Time in the Bronx?

Acquired last summer for Joey Gallo, the 24-year-old right-hander is Rule-5 eligible following the 2023 season and is a lock to get rostered at some point before the winter. The Yankees could expedite that process and just make that move sooner, but is the Yankees’ #16 prospect ready for Major League Baseball? Clayton Beeter began his season in Double-A, where he struck out 29.7% of batters faced in his first full season as a starter, posting a 2.08 ERA and 14.7% Swinging Strike Rate while averaging about 5 innings a start.

In his first full season as a starter, Beeter got off to a great start before heading to Triple-A, where the intense run environment coupled with likely inning fatigue has caused him to struggle mightily. He has a 5.89 ERA with a 24.6% K% but has struggled mightily with keeping the ball on the ground and preventing HRs (2.13 HR/9). His amazing slider and Rule-5 eligibility could allow him to work MLB innings, but it seems as if that will have to come in a bullpen role. Sure, he was the Yankees’ sole pitching representative in the MiLB Future’s Game, but he’s hitting an innings limit soon.

After throwing just 77 innings last season, he’s already up to 115.2 in 2023, and the Yankees probably don’t want to throw a tiring Beeter at the Major League level. If they wanted reliever innings, they could turn to Beeter as a multi-inning weapon to open for an arm like Jhony Brito, but it’s highly unlikely that they ask him to go five or more innings in an outing this late into the season. We’ll get back to the Brito point later, but there is an avenue for Clayton Beeter to get the call.

I’m not as concerned about Beeter’s struggles with Scranton since the baseballs could be juiced and it might affect pitch shapes, and Beeter profiles as a great reliever. As a starter in his first full season of being stretched out, he’s sitting 93.1 MPH on his four-seam fastball with 16.6″ of Induced Vertical Break, and in a reduced sample in Spring Training, we’ve seen Beeter sit 95.2 MPH on the fastball, and his best pitch by far is his sharp gyro slider.

With -0.3″ of Induced Vertical Break, his slider and four-seamer come from the same over-the-top slot with anywhere between 16-18″ of vertical separation between the two. The vertical separation he gets consistently allows him to play up in the strike zone, but it doesn’t seem like Beeter is the type of arm the Yankees could ask to make a start tomorrow and expect success from. The potential is certainly there, and it is his first professional season over 100 IP, but for right now, Beeter is likely more of a reliever or opener than a starter.

Verdict: Maybe, but not as a starter.

Could the Yankees Make an Aggressive Promotion?

Drew Thorpe is the talk of the town if you’re looking at the Yankees’ farm system. With Jasson Dominguez, Austin Wells, Everson Pereira, Oswald Peraza, and Anthony Volpe all up with the big league club, Thorpe has taken the prospect world by storm with his meteoric rise from unknown second-round pick to a consensus top-100 arm and on-paper this would be the sexy and flashy move that electrifies the fanbase.

Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner greenlighting an aggressive promotion for a guy like Thorpe is a win-win on paper for the organization. Your second-round pick from last year’s draft making it all the way up to the Majors in his first season with the organization is a testament to the improvements the scouting and development teams have made over the years, something they would get universal praise for. That praise would only get louder if Drew Thorpe performed well in his starts, and the numbers between High-A and Double-A would suggest he’s capable.

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Somerset Patriots rout Erie on Sept. 27, 2022 evening to force decisive Game 3 of Eastern League Championship Series Erie Seawolves At Somerset Patriots

Thorpe is a workhorse, a dying breed in the modern game, as up until his final outing, he faced at least 20 batters in every start at the professional level. He’s fourth in MiLB in innings pitched despite having two or three fewer starts than the three names ahead of him, and he’s been remarkable in that large workload. He has a 2.52 ERA, the third-best mark among qualified starters excluding the Dominican Summer League and Florida Complex League, and he has the most strikeouts in all of MiLB (182), and the gap between him and second-place is larger than the gap between second and 12th.

He’s only gotten better at Double-A, with a 1.48 ERA and 35.5% K-BB% across 5 starts with the Somerset Patriots, averaging roughly six innings per start. He’s a high-groundball pitcher who leads the Minor Leagues in Swinging Strike Rate, and there’s not a lot to pick out and critique in his performances throughout the season. Steamer projects him for a 4.32 ERA, which is better than the projections they have for any other name on this list, so it’s clear that the answer lies in the tall right-hander, right?

Well, it’s not that simple.

Similar to the situation with Clayton Beeter, Thorpe has smashed through his previous career-high in innings pitched, and just like his teammate and fellow member of the 2022 Draft Class Chase Hampton, he’s likely to be shut down at some point in September. Despite tossing four efficient innings with five strikeouts and just one run allowed, he was pulled before the fifth inexplicably, a sign that the Yankees are starting to slow down his workload as Somerset will play postseason baseball as well late into September.

It wouldn’t make much sense for the Yankees to push Drew Thorpe past their innings limit for him just to make some starts at the Major League level. He also has below-average velocity for a right-handed starter, and if the Yankees give him the rest of the season at Double-A and the offseason to continue to make strides with his velocity, he could have a big Spring Training and earn himself a spot in the Yankee rotation. Don’t get it twisted; he could make starts in 2023 and compete, but you have to be smart with this.

Verdict: Probably not, although it would be awesome.

Yankees’ Overlooked Workhorses

Despite how many innings Drew Thorpe has under his belt, he isn’t first in the organization in innings pitched. In fact, he isn’t even second. Richard Fitts and Mitch Spence are your prototypical workhorses, as the right-handed pitchers have eaten innings at Double-A and Triple-A, respectively. First is the younger pitcher of the two, Richard Fitts, who hasn’t thrown a pitch at Triple-A but has been a serviceable arm for the Somerset Patriots.

After throwing just 112 innings last season, Fitts is likely to skyrocket past the 150 mark on the year, especially with the Patriots’ aforementioned title defense on the horizon. He’s posted a 3.51 ERA in a run-heavy environment, although not to the extent of the International League in Triple-A. Fitts has started to slow down after a great summer, which is expected considering he’s reaching new heights in terms of workload and he’s likely dealing with fatigue. He has a strong arsenal with a riding four-seamer that can touch 96-97 but sits 92-93.

He’s developed a sweeping slider to go with a cutter and changeup, and he has the command and aggressiveness in-zone to pitch at the Major League level but has struggled at times with hard contact, especially in the home run department. Fitts would be a low-walk pitcher who lives in the zone and can pitch deep into games, but can he avoid barrels? That’s the question he’s going to have stuck with him until proven otherwise, but the Yankees could potentially overlook that with the idea that he could use the Major League experience he gets to develop better sequencing or feel of his arsenal.

The issues with promoting Fitts lie in his already heavy workload and not being on the 40-Man Roster nor being Rule-5 eligible this winter. Historically speaking, the Yankees have always had 40-man Roster jams with the abundance of talent they’ve had over the years, and Fitts would block them from rostering somebody like Clayton Beeter, who would 100% get picked up in the draft. Another name, who would get scooped up, most likely? The MiLB leader in innings pitched, Mitch Spence.

Spence was always an interesting inning eater who never projected to do much with the organization, but 2023 has raised some eyebrows (in a good way). In 2022, he put up a 3.86 ERA in 10 starts with Scranton, and while this year the ERA has jumped up to 4.66, it’s important to note that the average ERA in that league is 5.25. The ball is flying down there, but Spence has been pretty solid as of late, with a 2.97 ERA in five starts in August, striking out 37 batters in 30.1 IP.

He’s a high-spinner who relies on movement and his durability to get through starts, but he certainly has the oddest case out of any name discussed thus far. Spence doesn’t have the flashy arsenal or prospect status, but he’s arguably the most MLB-ready. Looking under the hood at the results, he has a Swinging Strike% of 13.2% and a groundball rate nearing 50%, and those peripherals will translate wonderfully to the Major Leagues. It’s not impossible to see how Spence could eat innings and reliably get into the fifth inning, and he’s only about 20 innings past his 2022 total, so he shouldn’t be too fatigued.

MLB: 2023 New York Yankees Media Day
Mar 14, 2023; New York, NY, USA; New York Yankees Mitch Spence poses for a 2023 MLB media day portrait. Mandatory Credit: Ariele Hecht/ New York Yankees via USA TODAY Sports

He most recently completed seven frames of no-walk baseball with two runs and nine strikeouts, and his arsenal seems to really be coming together. His sweeping slider is great, and while for some reason it’s listed as a cutter, it has a 33% Whiff%, and he has a four-seam fastball that plays a lot like a cutter due to its glove-side movement. His unique pitch mix with solid velocity and good movement makes him a Stuff+ darling with a 108.3 Stuff+ on the season with the Scranton RailRiders, so while the prospect status isn’t there, the pitch movement and results are.

Given his Rule-5 eligibility, teams will pick him up if he isn’t rostered, which could give the Yankees a seamless explanation to get him starts. Matt Blake spoke about Mitch Spence when asked about potential starting options as well, so even if the prospect world doesn’t give him his dues, the organization clearly does. He’s seen the strikeouts improve in his last 13 starts, striking out 25.9% of batters faced, and that’s come with more breaking pitches instead of fastballs, a change that’s limited his ERA to 3.97 in those outings.

His sweeper and curveball are his best pitches, and given his recent success and workload, Spence might just be the right guy for the job.

Verdict: Richard Fitts is a wild card, but Mitch Spence is one of the leading candidates

Best Mix of Stuff and Workload

In terms of Stuff+, it’s hard to find an arm in the Yankee system as well-graded as Will Warren, in fact, it’s hard to find anybody with better Stuff+ numbers at the Triple-A level. After dominating with the Somerset Patriots to start the season, the Yankees 8th Round Pick in the 2021 Draft hit a wall in Triple-A, as the new run environment presented HR problems that saw him post a 7.08 ERA and 2.66 HR/9, posting an 11.8% K-BB% in those outings. Since then, Warren has adjusted nicely, as while he still has command issues (11% BB%), his 14% K-BB% and 3.11 ERA are massive improvements.

His sweeping slider is his best pitch, sitting 82.8 MPH on it with 16.7″ of horizontal sweep and a 39.4% Whiff%, and it has a whopping 161.4 Stuff+, and it’s the primary weapon in his arsenal. He also loves his sinker, a pitch that gets plenty of drop and arm side run with a 63.2% GB% with a 137.1 Stuff+. Righties understandably have a .581 OPS against Warren, but it’s left-handed batters who give him the most trouble. Lefties have a .899 OPS against the 24-year-old right-hander, and that is reflected in his pitch mix.

Will Warren relies on his gyro slider the most against lefties, with his sweeper and changeup serving as alternate non-fastballs that he’ll mix in as well. His four-seam fastball has a 101 Stuff+, but the gyro slider is at 94., and he’s allowed a .982 OPS on those two pitches in Triple-A. The stuff is certainly there, and with improving command and ridiculous upside, the Yankees could use this stretch to continue to challenge him as he tries to find a way to handle lefties. There is a vertical tunnel he creates from his four-seamer and changeup, but the command isn’t exactly there yet.

With incredible spin rates and solid velocity, the Yankees could have an interesting wild card in their 2024 rotation plans, and there’s a lot in Warren’s profile to suggest he could be an incredible MLB arm. We could also see Warren as a multi-inning reliever until he improves his arsenal against left-handed batters, but the biggest issue we’ll see for Warren is that he isn’t Rule-5 eligible this winter. The Yankees have names like Mitch Spence and Clayton Beeter to protect, and every roster spot is extremely valuable.

Holding off from promoting him down the stretch would make sense because of it, but if the Yankees are okay with making that decision a year early, similar to how they handled Anthony Volpe, the Yankees would have an electric arm on their hands. Warren has also yet to surpass his 2022 innings total, so it’s more than likely that he has plenty left in the tank for the season. I’d lean yes on Warren, and I think there’s more of a chance Warren comes up over Beeter in terms of an MLB viability standpoint. If the Yankees believe in Warren, having him on the 40-man is fine, but it’s a tough call.

Sure, you have bullpen arms like Matt Bowman and Anthony Misiewicz, and Yoendrys Gomez is on their 40-man roster with the Yankees running out of time before they’ll have to place him on their 26-man roster. The issue with these guys is that the Yankees can’t expect starts from them, and going with a more traditional starter just makes sense considering the talent they have in the organization. Out of this group, Will Warren provide the best Stuff+ numbers coupled with a fresh arm and the numbers at Double-A and Triple-A, the final call?

Verdict: The most fun option, he’s a prime candidate to get promoted.

Between Spence and Warren, I think the Yankees promote one of the two. They’re in the best physical conditions in terms of build-up to pitch late into the season, and they serve as arguably the two most talented options as well from a pure stuff basis. We’ll see who (if any) of these arms takes the most advantage of what feels like their inevitable MLB debuts, but we’ll have to stand pat and wait to see.

It should also be noted that the Yankees can wait to promote a starter from their system. They’ll have until Severino’s next turn in the rotation to figure it out, and promoting a reliever just to option them for that open slot in the rotation is something they’ve done before. It’s hard to ask for a rookie to step in and immediately shove, but there’s one thing for certain and that’s in regards to the excellence of their farm system and player development.

The Yankees have made some fun promotions, and if they make another, it’s hard to complain about the team’s mediocrity in September. It’s about building towards 2024, and we might see one of these arms breakthroughs in the Bronx this winter or next Spring.

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