Back in 2021, the Yankees used their 8th-round pick in the MLB Draft to select Will Warren, a right-hander from Southeastern Lousiana University. He grew up in a small town in Mississippi and went to a small college as well, but in just two years with the organization, Warren is now preparing to pitch on the grandest stage in the world. Sporting an excellent arsenal headlined by his sweeper, the 24-year-old is one of the 10 best prospects in the organization, and hopes are high for what he can provide next year.
In talking to Will Warren, he revealed a lot of what has made him a better pitcher, the behind-the-scenes of being a professional pitcher, and some insight on a young emerging catcher on the Yankees’ roster.
Preparing For a Chance to Play With the Yankees
Will Warren is on the doorstep of reaching the Major Leagues, as he ascended through Double-A and Triple-A last season, finishing strong with a 0.63 ERA in September and turning plenty of heads. Growing up in Brandon, Mississippi, he focused heavily on playing baseball through his younger years, and when his uncle was drafted by the Atlanta Braves, a love for the team blossomed. Warren had his sights set on playing baseball at Mississippi State, an SEC with plenty of Division I notoriety.
Instead, the right-hander would find himself at Southeastern Louisiana, and while it’s a much smaller school, he made enough of an impression there for the Yankees to pick him up in the 2021 MLB Draft. The first weapon he added to his disposal upon joining the organization was learning a sweeping slider, a pitch his now become infamous for and has relied upon to dominate right-handed batters, as it’s created a devastating sinker-slider profile that can be unhittable.
“It’s fun when I look up there and see a right-handed hitter in there because you’ve got the sinker going one way and the sweeper going the other, and on a good day I may have 18 [inches] on the sinker and 18 [inches] on the slider, and that’s a lot of space that’s got to be accounted for as a hitter.”
Right-handed hitters had no chance against Will Warren, who had just a .564 OPS against him while striking out 30% of the time. The sweeper generated incredible Stuff+ numbers as well (161.4), and the pitch proved to be dominant for him in these matchups. His sweeper averages 16.9 inches of horizontal break with a 39.8% Whiff Rate, and it was his most relied-upon pitch as he tried to navigate the highest level of Minor League Baseball.
A sinker is Will Warren’s primary fastball of choice, generating a 66.7% groundball rate and working as a pitch he could reliably locate in-zone. Stuff+ also loves his sinker, grading it out at an elite 137.1, and the ability to average nearly 16 inches of horizontal break allows him to consistently avoid barrels. It’s not the elite strikeout pitch that his sweeper is, but put the two of them together, and it’s easy to see why he was under top-100 consideration from Baseball America.
There’s just one problem with the sweeper-sinker profile, and it’s that horizontal movement is far more deceptive in right-on-right situations but not right-on-left ones. As a result, left-handed hitters would give Warren fits for most of the season, and it changed the playing field for what these matchups would look like. A four-seamer and cutter would become weapons that Warren relied upon, and it helped him figure out his issues against opposite-handed hitters.
Will Warren was getting crushed by opposite-handed hitters, who posted a 1.009 OPS with 11 home runs across 162 Plate Appearances. His inability to get swings-and-misses or soft contact against them would cause him to have to try and find a way to sequence and locate better in order to get outs. He had the pitch shapes and velocity to get outs against lefties, but it would require making some changes to his usage to better deceive them.
In the month of September, left-handed hitters had a ,300 OPS against him, and increases in his four-seam and sinker usage allowed him to tunnel his three fastballs well. Warren discussed his emphasis on working on the cutter and four-seamer in the offseason but also touched on the ability to command his three fastballs to keep lefties guessing and off-balance in starts.
“I went in the offseason, worked on the cutter and the four-seam…when I made that strong to the Triple-A season it was more of commanding my cutter, my four-seam, [and] my sinker all at once…if I can command those I can constanly keep them guessing and use all three then they all move differently.”
Pitchers that can command three fastballs can have their fastballs overperform their pitch grades since they tunnel extremely well, and batters oftentimes find themselves unsure which direction a fastball will take in flight when they don’t know which one they’re getting. He can still throw the sweeper backdoor or backfoot to lefties and go to his changeup for softer contact, but having command of five different pitches has made him an extremely well-rounded arm.
Having Some Familiar Friends in the Bronx
Spending the last two seasons in High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, Will Warren has had some notable teammates that the Yankees have promoted to the Major Leagues over the past year. Anthony Volpe, Everson Pereira, Jasson Dominguez, Oswaldo Cabrera, and most notably, Austin Wells. The left-handed hitting catcher is expected to be the starter behind the plate for the Yankees this season, impressing with his strong bat and improving defense.
Will Warren and Austin Wells developed a close bond that flourished with the Somerset Patriots in 2022, and the team ended up winning the Eastern League Championship. When talking about what working with the 24-year-old catcher was like, he wasted no time going in-detail about the experience and raving about his abilities as a battery mate.
“He’s good at finding who the guy on the mound is…he knows how we tick and he can use the way he’s talking to you based on who you are and find a way to motivate you, jump on you if he needs to, and it goes both ways, where you can do the same thing to him”
Carlos Rodon also gravitated to Austin Wells, and his strides behind the plate were genuinely excellent. This isn’t the first account from someone within the organization detailing how excellent of a personality he brings to the table. Trevor Amicone, the Yankees’ Triple-A hitting coach, provided a quote to Empire Sports Media earlier in the offseason where he discussed the excellent of Austin Wells as a leader in the clubhouse.
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Amicone mentioned how Wells gains the respect of his teammates because of his incredible work ethic, something that has aided him in his progression as a catcher. Plenty of talent evaluators had doubts regarding his defensive abilities, but he’s come a long way since joining the organization. Baseball Prospectus grades him as an above-average defender behind the plate, and his leadership qualities have allowed him to appeal to different pitchers in the organization.
He’s described as having a “loose but focused energy” by Trevor Amicone, and Will Warren talked about how he and Wells would often jar on the field. Sometimes it was as simple as Austin Wells barking at the right-hander to throw strikes and trust his stuff, especially since he dealt with command issues when he initially got to Double-A.
“We would always joke coming off the mound, like laughing at each other or he’d yell at me ‘Throw it over the plate!’…and one of our guys in the dugout was like ‘Look at these two guys, how do they work together?’…but he’s holding me accountable because he knows I’m better than what I’m giving…Austin’s awesome, he’s for sure, he’s the real deal.”
The pair have won plenty of games together, and they’ll hopefully join a budding group of young players on the verge of making the Yankees’ roster. Warren is already well on his way to making the MLB roster as some point during this season, especially given the faith the organization has begun to show in their young pitchers. The Yankees have big plans for the right-hander, and Spring Training will be a chance for him to prove his worth.
He’s one of the most talented pitchers in Minor League Baseball, leading all Triple-A pitchers in Suff+ (124.5) and Pitching+ (107.4). Having command of his five-pitch arsenal alongside elite-level stuff makes for a profile that should have success at the Major League level, and the Yankees should be extremely excited about Will Warren. He’s as talented as they come, and there are few players coming into camp with more drive to impress than him this Spring Training.