Yankees could get a big boost to their pitching staff from this prospect in 2024

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Ed Pagliarini via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Entering the 2024 season, the Yankees are going to need some insurance in their pitching staff, especially for the rotation. While their interest in Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto is legitimate, they still have injury concerns with multiple starters in their rotation. At just 820.2 innings, the Yankees were in the bottom half of baseball in innings pitched by starters, and that’s going to have to change if they want to keep their bullpen fresh. Reliever depth hasn’t been an issue for the team, but Will Warren could help mitigate some of their rotation depth issues heading into 2024.

After climbing to Triple-A, the 24-year-old right-hander displayed some excellent pitches in his repertoire, and while San Diego might be asking for him in a potential Juan Soto trade, as of right now, he’s one of the most exciting arms in the Yankees’ farm system.

One of the Best Pitch Mixes in Minor League Baseball

Will Warren’s pitch repertoire is not only one that grades out well in Stuff+, but it’s also an extremely diverse pitch mix with different movement profiles. His bread-and-butter pitch is his sweeper, which he threw 29.7% of the time in 2023 at the Triple-A level. Warren’s sweeper averaged 82.8 MPH this past season with 16.9 inches of horizontal movement, working down and away against right-handed hitters and serving as his primary strikeout pitch in those situations.

Batters struggled to make contact with his sweeper, as they whiffed 39.8% of the time against it, and Stuff+ grades it out at 161.4, making it one of the best sweepers in all of professional baseball. One could argue this is an 80-grade pitch, but I’m relatively strict with giving any pitch that high of a designation, so I’d call it more of a 70-grade slider. Still, it’s a wipeout slider that truly elevates his profile to the next level, and that sweeper works in tandem with his sinker to make his arsenal extremely difficult on right-handed batters.

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His sinker is a stellar pitch as well, averaging a pretty average 93.6 MPH, but also having strong dropping action with sharp movement towards right-handed hitters and away from lefties. It generates 15.8 inches of horizontal movement, and in terms of vertical movement, it’s at 3.8 inches of induced vertical break, which is 4.1 inches more vertical drop than the average MLB sinker thrown this past season.

According to Stuff+, Warren’s sinker generated a 137.1 Stuff+, making it one of the best sinkers in all of baseball, and it’s easy to see why right-handed batters posted just a .564 OPS against him this past season. Will Warren throws from a lower slot that bodes well for developing plenty of horizontal movement, and a lot of that stems from his ability to spin the ball effectively as well. His sweeper averaged 3,052 RPMs and his sinker averaged 2,347 RPMs, and both pitches generate more movement than the league average because of how effectively he generates sidespin.

The immediate issue that popped up last season was that once Will Warren got to Double-A, left-handed hitters weren’t fooled by his sweeper-sinker combination. Left-handed hitters sported a .796 OPS and .357 OBP against Warren, striking out just 13.7% of the time and seeing his FIP climb to 4.03 while in Somerset. Developing pitches that prioritized more vertical deception would be a point of emphasis entering the 2023 season, and in Double-A, it seemed he corrected these issues, as lefties would strike out 32.8% of the time and be held to a .698 OPS.

With a 2.45 ERA and 1.84 FIP, most notably allowing zero home runs in a hitter-friendly ballpark, Will Warren would head to Triple-A, where he’d go through another adjustment period. Through his first 14 starts, he’d sport a 5.10 ERA, with his strikeout rate dropping to 23.6% over that stretch and most notably allowing a 1.80 HR/9 after allowing zero HRs in Double-A.

Those struggles against left-handed hitters would arise once more, as through those 14 starts, lefties had a 1.000 OPS, striking out just 19.9% of the time and walking 17.6% of the time. Part of the issue that Warren was having stemmed from the fact that his four-seam fastball was getting hammered by left-handed hitters, but throughout his final seven outings, he allowed just three home runs, and left-handed hitters would struggle mightily against his four-seamer and changeup.

His four-seamer and changeup combined for a 1.131 OPS in his first 14 outings in Triple-A, but down the stretch of those final seven, he held lefties to a .448 OPS on those two pitches. Left-handed hitters had a 24.3% K% and 4.1% BB% against Warren with a .559 OPS, and he overcame the aforementioned issues with left-handed batters by increasing the plate appearances he ended with four-seamers and changeups in those matchups by 9%.

On the surface, neither pitch is anything to write home about, with his four-seamer grading out at a 101 Stuff+ and possessing mediocre vertical movement while his changeup had an 86 Stuff+, but it’s the vertical separation between the two pitches that make them stand out. With 11.7 inches of vertical separation between the two, his four-seamer and changeup can generate swings and misses, as it’s the most important variable of making a good fastball-offspeed combination.

The final pitch in his mix is a slider, and while this sounds like it’s just his sweeper, there’s a difference between the two classifications. Sweepers prioritize horizontal movement, but these sliders rely more on bullet spin to generate a sharp dropping action, and this pitch averages 86.3 MPH with 5.8 inches of horizontal sweep and 4.5 inches of induced vertical break. It’s a 94 Stuff+ pitch, and batters sported an OPS north of .800 on it, so I wonder if he could tweak this pitch to act more as a cutter instead.

As a whole, his pitch mix graded out for a 124.5 Stuff+, the best mark in Triple-A for any pitcher who threw at least 1,000 pitches at the level. He was able to lower his ERA in Scranton to 3.61, which is the third-lowest mark for any pitcher with at least 80 IP, and both arms ahead of him were older and non-prospects at this point in their careers. Warren also sported the fourth-best groundball rate under those qualifications (52.7%), and with his stellar pitch mix, it’s easy to be excited about what he can do in the future.

With all of that said, if he’s such a dynamic prospect, why doesn’t he get more attention in the public sphere?

Why the Yankees Have MiLB’s Best-Kept Secret

One of the reasons that the Yankees’ 2021 8th Rounder often gets overlooked is the fact that his counting numbers on the season don’t bode well for statline scouting, which is more popular among the public sphere now with how easily accessible data has become for Minor League games compared to years past.

Among MiLB pitchers with at least 100 IP this past season, Warren was 41st in ERA (3.35) and 88th in K-BB% (16.3%), but the reason for his solid-at-best numbers comes from how aggressively the Yankees have promoted him. His first professional pitch was thrown at the start of the 2022 season, and yet he’s already climbed up to Triple-A. It’s normal to struggle, and he’s been tasked with aggressive promotions early into his seasons.

With public information regarding his pitch mix and how it grades out, we can see that Will Warren is a lot better than what those numbers suggest, especially given the deep pitch mix he has. Some of the contexts of how Minor League Baseball has changed over the past year get lost as well, as the average ERA in the International League this past season was 5.18. This makes Warren’s 3.61 ERA translate to a 130 ERA+, which would be the equivalent of what we saw from Cy Young runner-up Logan Webb this past season.

The incredible seasons from Drew Thorpe and Chase Hampton left Will Warren overlooked for most of the season, but his numbers at the MiLB level should allow him to get Major League looks in 2024. Projections like what Warren can provide out of the gate, as FanGraphs projects the right-hander for a 3.91 ERA in 2024, and he immediately profiles well for a role similar to the ones Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez had last season on the Yankees.

Providing spot starts while also having the ability to deliver multi-inning relief outings could be the versatile and high-upside weapon the Yankees are looking for on the roster. The Yankees selected the 24-year-old out with an 8th Round Pick in 2021, and now he’s on the cusp of becoming a Major League arm, but the big question looming is whether his debut will happen here or somewhere else. Part of the benefit of having an arm like Will Warren is that the team has another piece to aid them in a potential Juan Soto package, one that many have overlooked publicly.

MLB: San Diego Padres at New York Yankees
May 27, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; San Diego Padres left fielder Juan Soto (22) reacts after striking out against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres are set to lose over 600 innings of pitching, and the first domino in that fell last night when Nick Ramirez signed with the Cincinnati Reds. If they’re set on trying to compete next season, they’ll sorely need to add some pitching, and the Yankees could aid them. Clarke Schmidt and Chase Hampton are presumptive headlining pitchers, but could the Yankees add Will Warren to give the Padres a third arm with plenty of upside?

Will Warren is arguably the most talented pitcher in the Yankees’ system from a stuff basis, and the Padres could slot him into the backend of their rotation at a low cost. I’d love to keep Will Warren, but I also understand that you can’t let him hold up a potential Juan Soto deal as well. There are a lot of ways to navigate his value on the trade market and to the roster, and they won’t have to rush to make a decision. He’s not yet Rule 5 eligible and thus hasn’t been placed on the 40-Man Roster, which makes him a bit more versatile on a roster than arms like Clayton Beeter or Randy Vasquez.

Wherever he is next season, Will Warren is somebody who could make a serious impact on a Major League roster in 2024, and the upside is certainly tantalizing. There’s still some room to grow in 2024, but if the end of his season is a sign of what his future looks like, the Yankees could have one of the most sought-after rookie arms in the sport this summer.