Hope Springs Eternal on the Mound
Luis Medina Stares In
As I alluded to in my post yesterday, Spring Training is supposed to be a time for hope. Based on the unfortunate events that have occurred early on in Yankee camp this year, I don’t think that we have focused enough on some of the truly exciting developments that have been right in front of our noses. Spring Training stats are mostly meaningless as far as I am concerned, but I think that some early performances on the mound give me reason for genuine excitement. Of the pitchers that I have watched in Spring Training thus far, four young pitchers at various stages of development have given me real reasons to be optimistic: Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, Clark Schmidt, and Luis Medina. I’ll talk more deeply about each below.
Monty is almost guaranteed a spot in the rotation coming out of Spring Training, given the injuries that have occurred in camp. Monty has announced his presence with authority at Spring Training in the past, forcing his way into the rotation with a big Spring prior to his excellent rookie season in 2017. Of course, Monty’s last two seasons were decimated by Tommy John Surgery, so he once again came into camp a little under the radar.
When we last saw Montgomery, he was getting his first exposure to big league hitters since his elbow gave out in September. While the results were poor in a very limited, 4 inning sample size, the most important positive I took from his performance was that the quality of his pitches had returned to their 2017 levels. Just prior to tearing his elbow in 2018, Monty’s velocity was down, as was his spin rate on his four-seam fastball and his curveball. According to Statcast, his numbers were back in line with 2017, indicating that he is really healthy.
Fast forward to Spring Training this year, and Monty even looks as though he has taken another step forward. Monty’s fastball averaged 91.7 MPH last year, but if the radar gun at Yankee camp is to be believed, Monty has been up as high as 94 MPH early in camp. We didn’t see Monty reach those heights last season, so I am greatly encouraged by the fact that he is hitting what used to be his maximum velocity this early in March. As a lefty that throws the kitchen sink at people, a better fastball only sets up those secondary and tertiary pitches better. Aaron Boone, for one, seems to be a believer in Monty’s fastball, telling MLB Network on their 30 for 30 series in Yankee Spring Training that Monty’s fastball is “as good as I’ve ever seen it.” I think that Monty is primed for a welcome back party in 2020, and is likely to beat his projected performance.
Garcia is a pitcher we all waited for last season, expecting his arrival after he shot through 3 levels of the minors in one season. He stalled somewhat in AAA, possibly due to the juiced ball, possibly due to fatigue, but for whatever reason, Garcia’s performance at AAA led to the Yankees making the correct decision to leave him in the minors in 2019. Fast forward to camp this year, and Garcia is part of the competition to be the 5th starter. Thus far, Garcia has done little to lose the job.
The stats may not do him justice thus far, but Garcia flashes a fastball in the low-mid 90s, an athletic delivery, plus breaking balls, and a usable change-up. I’m not sure that Garcia is ready for a rotation spot at the start of the season, but the delivery and stuff have been impressive thus far in camp.
If you haven’t heard about Clarke Schmidt yet this Spring Training, you need to start paying closer attention. Prior to Spring Training, Schmidt was part of a group of pitchers that I thought could challenge for Major League innings by the summer of 2020. Between injuries and performance, Schmidt may just force his way into the rotation from Opening Day.
Before I even talk about him in any further detail, just check him out:
First off, I am impressed by how much cleaner Schmidt’s delivery is versus what it looked like prior to his draft year. I wasn’t sure his delivery would be repeatable enough to start when the Yankees drafted him, but now I think the delivery is repeatable and cleaner such that Schmidt is a no-doubt starter.
In the video, you also see two power curveballs that are located nicely. No question, the curveball is Schmidt’s claim to fame, and it was good to see that the pitch lived up to the hype. What I can’t find video of is his change-up, which was way better than I expected. He threw two that I counted against the Rays that had enough fade that it looked like a breaking ball in movement, but out of the hand, looked like a fastball. Schmidt is dangerous with 3 pitches that appear to be big league ready. We’ll see how his command and control hold up as Spring Training progresses, but I am beginning to think that Schmidt is ready for the Majors now. Schmidt’s progress is as exciting as anything in Yankee camp, and I think that he is poised to pull a 2017 Monty and make the rotation out of Spring Training.
On pure stuff, Medina likely has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Yankee system. Until the end of 2019, the performance has never matched the talent and athleticism that Medina shows on the mound. Medina finally got walks under control for a period of a few months to end the season in 2019, showing enough progress to convince the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster. Early evidence suggests that Medina’s steps forward are real.
Below, I’ve embedded video of this weekend’s game against the Red Sox (video should begin at 1:33:45). Check out this sequence from this weekend’s game against the Red Sox:
In the video, we see Medina fall behind 3-0 to Jackie Bradley Jr. In the past, this would have been a lost at-bat, as Medina would have either walked Bradley or grooved one down the middle, allowing hard contact. Instead, Medina worked the count back to 3-2, throwing fastball after fastball to the edges of the zone. Finally, on the 9th pitch of the at-bat, Medina put JBJ down with a truly wicked breaking ball to end the inning. That one sequence provided evidence that Medina’s progression is for real, and he could be this year’s fast-riser through the system.
Additionally, Medina’s athleticism and pure stuff are obvious watching him pitch. Medina throws mid-high 90s heat without seemingly breaking a sweat, and his change-up and breaking balls are easily plus pitches. Medina’s deliver could still use cleaning up, as he falls off to the left side of the mound pretty significantly when he pitches, but he has made real strides since the beginning of 2019. I can’t wait to see Medina’s progress this season.
On the mound, the kids have given the Yankees plenty to be excited about early in Spring Training. Time will tell how many of these positive signs are for real once the season starts, but I admit to being greatly encouraged by what I have seen from Monty, Garcia, Schmidt, and Medina.