Yankees News: Surprise rookie projected to make the active roster come Opening Day

Alexander Wilson
New York Yankees, Nick Nelson

The New York Yankees took multiple risks this off-season regarding starting pitching, acquiring Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon. With both pitchers coming off serious injuries, we should be cautiously optimistic when formulating our expectations for the 2021 season.

Both starters are above average when 100% healthy, there’s no guarantee they will return to full form and dominate at the level we know they can. With that being the case, the Yankees have several youth options that can fill roles in a worst-case scenario.

Last season, they were forced to elevate 21-year-old Deivi Garcia to the active roster, injecting him into the starting rotation despite minimal experience in the minor-league system.

Garcia finished the 2020 season with a 4.98 ERA and 1.194 WHIP. He secured three wins and two losses over 34.1 innings pitched, logging 33 strikeouts and 19 earned runs allowed. While he was batted around a bit at times, García showed he can compete at the highest level, and at such a young age, his ceiling is sky-high. However, there is one other youth arm that could get the call before García in 2021 under normal circumstances.

The Athletic’s Jim Bowden predicted which rookie will likely make the active roster in 2021:

The Yankees have five rookie pitchers who all have a shot of making their pitching staff out of spring training, but their preference would be to park them all in the starting rotation at Triple A. Nick Nelson might have the best chance of making the team in a bullpen role, thanks to his nasty fastball/changeup combination and how well he pitched in 2020. However, Clarke Schmidt and Deivi García could easily make the team’s starting rotation if Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon or Domingo Germán have some type of physical hiccup. Michael King could be valuable in a swing role as a sixth starter or long reliever. Luis Medina is a real long shot, but he actually has the best ceiling of any of their rookie pitchers; he dominated winter ball, leading most scouts to label him the best pitching prospect they saw.  Yankee fans can expect to see all five of these rookies at some point in the 2021 campaign.
Nelson, a 25-year-old native of Panama City, Florida, pitched 20.2 innings last season. He recorded a 4.79 ERA and 1.500 WHIP, striking out 18 batters and allowing 11 runs. While he had his ups and downs over a small sample size, Nelson is more prepared for the MLB compared to Garcia. Having been drafted back in 2014, he has been working his way through the minor-league system, spending time in Tampa, Trenton, and Scranton during the 2019 campaign.
In AAA ball, he recorded a 4.71 ERA over 21 innings but had a larger sample size of 65 innings with Trenton, where he secured a 2.35 ERA. The expectation is that he will be elevated at some point in the season, as injuries and fatigue inevitably take their toll.
He is a good option to consider, given his experience and the time he’s paid in the minor leagues.
Nonetheless, it is a surprise that the Yankees would consider Nelson over Garcia, and I would actually assume the opposite. García showed enough that I would rely on him as a back-end starter if necessary. His devastating breaking ball and solid velocity on his fastball can only be a positive influence. Giving him more experience and time at the major-league level will only spur his growth even further.