At some point in the next ten days or so, Joe Girardi and his staff are going to finalize their pitching staff by selecting a fifth starter and the last two relievers. They might also pick a closer but that’s not the most important thing in the world since they have multiple candidates for the job. Adam Warren is the heavy favorite to be the fifth starter yet there hasn’t been any hint as to who might be selected to fill out the bullpen.
The Yankees have plenty of relievers in camp, both 40-man roster and non-40-man roster players, and they’ve already eliminated some players from the bullpen competition by sending them down to minor league camp. Jose Ramirez, Branden Pinder, Jose DePaula, and Danny Burawa were among the bullpen candidates sent down already. Jared Burton is hurt (lat strain) and out of the running as well. Here’s how the remaining bullpen candidates have performed this spring:
- RHP Andrew Bailey: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K in only two games as he works his way back from major shoulder surgery.
- RHP Scott Baker: 8.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K in three games.
- RHP Kyle Davies: 7 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 2 K in five games.
- LHP Jacob Lindgren: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K in seven games.
- RHP Chris Martin: 6.1 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 8 K in seven games.
- RHP Bryan Mitchell: 7.1 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 6 K in three games.
- RHP Nick Rumbelow: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 12 K in six games.
- LHP Chasen Shreve: 8 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 10 K in eight games.
- RHP Chase Whitley: 10 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K in four games.
The Yankees have taken a long look at Shreve this spring and have been using him against right-handed hitters to see if he can get them out — 26 of the 37 batters he’s faced during Grapefruit League play have been righties. Seven of the 26 have reached base. Shreve’s last few outings have been rough though, and while making a roster decision based on Spring Training performance is sorta foolish, teams still do it and Shreve potentially pitched his way to Triple-A.
Davies was never a serious MLB roster candidate and the Yankees have indicated they would like Mitchell to open the year in Triple-A to continue working on things, specifically his command. Same with Rumbelow. Bailey has a lot of rust to shake off and not much Spring Training time left to shake it off. Martin started out well — Girardi mentioned him by name a week or two ago when asked who had impressed him — but he’s allowed at least one hit in each Grapefruit League outing and always seems to be in trouble.
That leaves three bullpen candidates: Baker, Lindgren, and Whitley. Whitley has been fantastic in camp with the caveat that Baseball Reference’s opponent quality stat says he’s been facing Triple-A caliber hitters. Still, when you toss up that many zeros in camp, people notice. And the fact Whitley was in the big leagues last year helps his case. Baker got destroyed in his first spring outing (three runs on six hits in one inning) but has been excellent since. He’s been facing better than Triple-A caliber competition. The Yankees are likely to use one of last two bullpen spots on a long man (maybe two!) and right now I think we have to say Whitley has a leg up on Baker.
The last remaining name is the most interesting one. Lindgren has dominated in camp — his 19 outs are broken into nine strikeouts, eight ground outs, and two fly outs — yet he’s faced Double-A caliber competition. Lindgren manhandled Single-A and Double-A hitters during his pro debut last summer and it’s no surprise he’s doing it again this spring. His slider is lethal. He’s basically Andrew Miller minus about nine inches of height. The dominant showing this month has only reinforced what many felt coming into Spring Training: Lindgren is one of the seven best relievers in the organization right now.
The Yankees drafted Lindgren, who was a reliever at Mississippi State, with their top pick (55th overall) last year because they expected him to get to MLB in a hurry. There was talk they were going to call him up last year until they decided 79.2 high leverage innings were enough. Teams don’t draft college relievers in the first or second round only to leave them in the minors for two or three years. They pick them high because they can get to the big leagues quickly, and by all accounts Lindgren is as MLB ready as a one-inning reliever can be.
There are no roster space issues — the Yankees have 39 players on the 40-man roster right now and can clear another spot by placing Ivan Nova on the 60-day DL and potentially another when Austin Romine is moved — and manipulating service time with a reliever shouldn’t be a high priority. And let’s be real here, there’s also a “there are only so many bullets in that arm” factor too. Lindgren is a slider heavy reliever and may eventually blow out his arm because that’s what slider heavy relievers do. The Yankees should want to get as much as possible out of him before that happens.
At this point in time, I think the best Opening Day roster is one with Lindgren in the bullpen, even if he’s only working low-leverage middle innings at first to gain experience. This isn’t based on his spring performance either, I felt he could get MLB hitters out last summer. The Yankees have the luxury of a great bullpen, allowing Girardi to break Lindgren in slowly, like he did with Dellin Betances early last year and David Robertson years ago. And if Lindgren doesn’t perform well, so be it, they can send him down. That’s part of the development process. Robertson went up and down a whole bunch of times early in his career too.
No bullpen candidate other than Whitley has really stood out in Spring Training, making Lindgren impossible to ignore. If the Yankees had a bunch of guys performing great in camp, this would be a much more difficult decision. That is not the case though. Lindgren was basically MLB ready at the time of the draft last year and he’s done nothing to dispute that since turning pro. He’s one of the seven best relievers in the organization, so if the Yankees want to field the strongest possible bullpen heading into the season, Lindgren belongs on the Opening Day roster.