The Battle for the Fifth Spot
Ed Botti, March 7, 2021
Here we are square in the middle of the early stages of spring training. You know, that time of year when all the players are “in the best shape of their lives” and some prospects are considered the “next great player”.
The 2021 Yankee line up is pretty set. Not much different than the 2020 Yankees or even the 2019 Yankees.
As with every spring, there are always competitions for open spots, roles and questions that need to be answered by spring training performance.
2021 is no different. What is considered an open spot on this team?
Let’s start with the fifth starter.
If everyone makes it through spring training healthy the 1-4 starters shape up as Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, and Jordan Montgomery.
The big question is who follows. The candidates to date (trades can be made) are Deivi García, Domingo Germán, Michael King, Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Medina, Clarke Schmidt (injured) Nick Nelson, and Jhoulys Chacin.
Who wins this competition will be decided under the hot Tampa sun. It’s a stressful time for all as only one or two bad outings can knock one of them out of competition.
It would not be unrealistic if 28 year old Domingo Germán, despite not pitching since September 2019, emerges as the leading candidate.
Remember, in his first full season as a starter in 2019 he went 18-4 striking out 153 in 143 innings. Like it or not, those numbers can’t be ignored.
Under normal conditions, there wouldn’t be much of a conversation or competition, but as we all know, there is some baggage here. He was suspended for 81 games at the tail end of the 2019 season under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.
In addition to his 81 game suspension he also did not accrue major league service during the suspension and at 2 years, 17 days he was just short of salary arbitration eligibility for 2021.
He has paid a hefty price for his actions, and rightfully so.
With the controversies surrounding German, he may not even get a chance to win the job.
Many consider Deivi Garcia as the favorite, but in my opinion he’s by no means a sure thing. He gets a lot of attention, and of course there is that whole “Pedro Martinez” comparison that is so ridiculous. The fact is in 2020, in what some may view as a fast-tracked promotion to the big leagues, he threw to a 4.98 ERA over 34+ innings striking out 33 and walking 6. I look to WHIP as a solid tool to view performance, Deivi had a 1.194 WHIP.
Would it shock any of us if he was sent back to the minors after spring training for more developmental time?
Don’t rule it out.
Aaron Bonne in late February stated that the fifth spot is “fluid” meaning they might just shuttle guys in and out as needed. Thus, buying time until Luis Severino returns sometime shortly after the all-star break.
It makes more sense to have a winner in the competition, but the shuttle may just be what they decide to do if no one steps up and wins it.
Photo by Mike Stobe
An interesting prospect in this battle is Nick Nelson. Last year as a rookie he pitched to an uninspiring 4.79 ERA over 11 games. However, if you back out of that his brutal outing in Philadelphia on August 5th (six earned runs over 1 2/3 innings) he pitched to a 2.37 ERA over the remaining 18+ innings. Not much of a track record, and if we back out his bad outing, we should do the same for everyone, right?
But in my eyes there is something interesting and intriguing about him. His four seam fastball has been clocked in the high 90s, and he has an above-average changeup, he will occasionally use his slider against righty hitters and a curveball that he did not surrender a hit on all of last season.
Some scouts believe his stuff plays better out of the bullpen, and has even drawn comparisons to Chad Green.
But I like the fact that his four seamer plays at the MLB level, and he uses his changeup very effectively, and works in his slider and curveball when needed.
I think he has a legitimate shot.
Many think of Luis Medina as a possibility. I am not one of them. At least not yet.
Medina has struggled mightily in the Yankees’ farm system, registering a 5.51 ERA and 1.65 WHIP across four seasons and four levels.
His problem is his command. He walked 144 in 183 innings.
However, he had a very solid winter playing in Puerto Rico and the Serie del Caribe. In 16 innings in the Puerto Rican Winter League he struck out 32 with a 0.54 ERA. But the control problems did not go away. The Caribbean league players have a saying, “you don’t walk your way off the island; you hit your way off the island”. So it’s pretty safe to imagine, that the hitters he was facing were going up there hacking. In MLB, that will not be the case.
Case in point, this past Friday, he pitched against the Tigers. He was pulled after walking 4 in 2/3 of an inning.
During the winter against better completion in the Serie del Caribe he got hit hard against the Dominican Republic Team which has a line up full of big leaguers such as Robinson Cano, Johan Camargo, Melky Cabrera, Juan Lagares and others. He pitched very well in his first two innings against the Dominican Republic then it unraveled. He gave up five runs over his next five outs.
He settled down and shut down Mexico, 2-1.
He’s only 21. So there is plenty of time for him to gain his command. The stuff is there.
Jhoulys Chacin is a veteran whose best 2 years were back in 2017 and 2018 while pitching for the Brewers. He essentially has no shot to break camp with the big leaguers and will be assigned to Scranton, and might very well get a shot on the shuttle later this season.
That leaves us with Michael King and Jonathan Loaisiga in the mix as well.
I Love Loaisiga out of the pen and can see him dominate this year.
King will certainly get a shot as well, and I think his time has come to step up.
Cashman and Boone have a big decision to make, and I have a feeling German is going to make it a very difficult decision.
Next week we will take a look at the battle for the bench depth. Some interesting pieces to figure out.
RIP to the great Michael Stanley. A music legend!