Chris Capuano’s injury complicates pitching situation and creates an opportunity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two batters into yesterday afternoon’s game, the Yankees lost left-hander Chris Capuano for what is expected to be several weeks with a Grade II right quad strain. It was a fluke injury — Capuano was covering first base on a ground ball and landed awkwardly on the bag. That’s all. Not exactly an uncommon baseball injury.

The big problem here is Capuano was supposed to be one of the starters who didn’t get hurt. We were all supposed to start the year waiting for Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow to give or CC Sabathia‘s knee to crumble while complaining about Capuano slopballing is way through five or six innings every fifth day. Capuano was supposed to be the guy who stayed healthy.

“We’ll look at everyone, that’s the bottom line. Because we need to fill a spot now,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings following yesterday’s game. The Yankees will now dip into their pitching reserves to bolster the rotation early in the season, something we expected to happen pretty much all winter. We just didn’t think they’d be replacing Capuano. Here’s a look at the team’s options at the moment.

Internal Options: Warren, Rogers, Mitchell, Whitley

Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell, and Chase Whitley are all working as starters in camp for this exact reason: to be ready to step into the rotation if needed. Others like Luis Severino, Jose DePaula, and Scott Baker are in camp as non-roster players and yeah, I guess that makes them rotation candidates, but I get the sense they are deep depth options, not guys being seriously considered for the Opening Day rotation.

Warren was mentioned as a rotation candidate every time a starter got hurt last season and for whatever reason I get the sense this spring he’s the guy the Yankees want to use as a starter if necessary, and it is necessary now thanks to Capuano’s quad. Warren’s been successful as a reliever these last two years but he has enough pitches to start, came up through the system as a starter, and it seems like the Yankees believe he can be an effective MLB starter.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At the same time, both Girardi and Brian Cashman recently went out of their way to praise Rogers, who spent a few years floundering as a starter with the Rockies earlier in his career. “(Rogers has) thrown the ball really well. Larry (Rothschild) worked with him long and hard last year during some bullpen sessions about changing a few things … He’s been really good this spring. He’ll be one of the guys we’re really looking at,” said Girardi to Jennings yesterday, for example.

Mitchell probably has the best raw arm of the group but is the most green of the bunch. He could use some more time in Triple-A to iron a few things out, particularly his fastball location. Whitley had a nice little run as a starter last year before the league figured him out, though he has three pitches, and as long as he has three pitches, the Yankees might as well keep working him as a starter.

The Yankees have only played a week’s worth of Grapefruit League games, so none of these guys have had a chance to jump to the front of the pack yet. Besides, Spring Training performance isn’t — or shouldn’t be, anyway — the only factor in this decision. My hunch is this four-man race is really a two-man race between Warren and Rogers. It’s their job to lose, not someone else’s to win.

External Options? Probably Not Happening

When Yu Darvish blew out his elbow a few days ago, Rangers GM Jon Daniels said they will fill his rotation spot internally. When Marcus Stroman tore his ACL earlier this week, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said they will replace him internally. That’s the standard operation procedure time of year. Everyone says they will replace injured players internally because saying “we’re going to make a trade” just isn’t smart business. It makes you look desperate.

Like it or not, the Yankees are not going to trade for Cole Hamels because Capuano got hurt. (Hamels is the kind of move that gets made regardless of the status of guys like Capuano.) They’re probably not going to take on $5.3M in salary and give up a prospect to get Dillon Gee either. The Yankees might scour the scrap heap for an out of options arm — Mariners changeup specialist Erasmo Ramirez is also out of minor league options and another name to keep in mind — these next few weeks, but I don’t expect a move to bring in a no-doubt big leaguer.

Remember, when starters were dropping like flies early last year, the Yankees cycled through their internal options to make sure they did need to go outside the organization for help before actually doing so. I expect the same this year. They might pluck someone off waivers or make a minor trade for depth, but a significant move isn’t happening. At least not right now. Their M.O. in recent years has been to try internal options first.

The Schedule

Thanks to the usual slate of early-season off-days, the Yankees only need their fifth starter three times in April. Opening Day is April 6th, so based on the above calendar they will need their fifth starter on April 12th, 21st, and 26th. They won’t need him again until May 5th either. So only three times in the first 26 games of the season. Capuano might be ready to return by then.

Now, that said, the Yankees have already been talking about occasionally using a sixth starter early in the season to give guys like Tanaka, Sabathia, and Michael Pineda extra rest. I’m guessing they aren’t too enthusiastic about the idea of riding their top four starters hard in April and skipping the fifth spot whenever possible. They could do it, sure, but they have to think big picture here. A few more starts by the fifth (and sixth?) starter in April could mean many more Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda starts in August and September.

So yes, the schedule does give the Yankees the flexibility to skip their fifth starter a few times in April. That doesn’t mean it would be a good idea, however. The Yankees have played it very cautiously with Tanaka and Sabathia so far this spring and I don’t expect them to change course just because Capuano got hurt. The fifth starter, whoever it ends up being, is probably going to end up taking a regular rotation turn early in the season.

What About The Bullpen?

If the Yankees do end up using Warren or Rogers to replace Capuano in the rotation, it opens up another spot in the bullpen. They already had one open coming into Spring Training. This is no big deal though. If there’s one thing the Yankees have in spades, it’s relievers. They have about a dozen candidates for those last bullpen spots: Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Andrew Bailey, Danny Burawa, Chris Martin, Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez, Jose DePaula, Jared Burton, Nick Rumbelow, Tyler Webb, Wilking Rodriguez … on and on it goes. They’ll find someone to fill the necessary bullpen spots. No worries here.

* * *

Capuano’s injury is unfortunate, though the silver lining is that he is the team’s most replaceable starter. The Yankees also don’t have to replace him today. Spring Training doesn’t end for another three and a half weeks. It’s not like they need to come up with his replacement in time for his start next week or something like that. They can take their time, see how every looks with some more innings under their belt, then make a decision.

The majority of RAB readers believe Warren will get the call to replace Capuano based on yesterday’s poll and I agree. I just feel like he’s the guy. I do expect the Yankees to keep an eye on any pitchers who may become available before Opening Day — they were going to do that anyway, Capuano injury or not — but I would be surprised if they made anything more than a minor move. That just hasn’t been the way they’ve operated in recent years. Capuano’s injury means someone who is already with the Yankees is about to get a big opportunity in the rotation.

CC Sabathia scheduled for simulated game on Thursday, setting up Opening Day options for Joe Girardi

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this morning, CC Sabathia told reporters he is scheduled to throw a 30-pitch simulated game on Thursday, which will be his first action in any kind of game situation since last May. He threw live batting practice over the weekend and reiterated that he feels great following knee surgery. Now he just needs to get stretched out and develop feel for his pitches before the start of the regular season.

Sabathia is pitching in a simulated game instead of the day’s actual Grapefruit League game for two reasons. One, the Yankees can better control the simulated game. They can end innings if they start to go too long, stuff like that. Two, Masahiro Tanaka is already scheduled to pitch and make his Spring Training debut that day, and I doubt the Yankees want to have either guy come out of the bullpen for their first spring appearance.

Clearly the most important thing is Sabathia and Tanaka getting their work in, and the Yankees have a plan to do that. More interestingly though, Thursday’s outings line up both guys to start Opening Day, assuming they stay on a normal five-day schedule the rest of spring. By having them both lined up to start Opening Day, Joe Girardi can make the call later in camp based on who’s healthy, who’s throwing the best, stuff like that. It gives him some options.

The Opening Day start doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things but it is a neat little honor. Sabathia would be the first Yankees pitcher ever to start seven straight Opening Days — Mel Stottlemyre, Ron Guidry, and Whitey Ford all started seven Opening Days in pinstripes but not consecutively — and it would be his 12th Opening Day start overall, which would be the seventh most in history. That’s pretty neat. Tanaka, obviously, would be making his first Opening Day start for the Yankees.

Hopefully Girardi gets to actually make this decision and Tanaka’s elbow or Sabathia’s knee doesn’t make it for him. I know a lot of people consider the Opening Day starter a big deal and all that, but it really isn’t. It’s just one of 162 games. If Girardi goes with Sabathia because he’s the “been there, done that” veteran, fine. If he goes with Tanaka because he’s the best pitcher on the team (arguably!), that’s cool too. Both being healthy is by far the most important thing here.

The easy to forget but still really important Ivan Nova

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since Spring Training officially opened last week, all eyes have been on Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. Well, at least the eyes that weren’t glued to Alex Rodriguez‘s every step. Tanaka and Sabathia are by far the biggest pitching stories in camp since they are both being counted on as rotation anchors and are coming off pretty serious injuries. It has not yet been a week, but so far, so good with those two.

Early in the morning yesterday, before Sabathia threw his second bullpen session of his spring, rehabbing righty Ivan Nova was at the team’s complex throwing his third bullpen as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. It was a relatively light throwing session — 25 pitches, all fastballs — and he’ll likely throw another all fastball bullpen before introducing offspeed pitches. When the team breaks camp in early-April, Nova will stay behind to continue rehabbing in Tampa.

The Yankees have taken it very slow with Nova’s rehab so far — he had surgery in late-April, and according to Mike Dodd’s classic Tommy John surgery rehab article, Nova should have been throwing bullpens by October or November — and that is by design. A lot of pitchers have rushed back from elbow reconstruction in the last year or two only to need another procedure almost immediately. Cory Luebke and Daniel Hudson didn’t even complete the rehab from the first surgery when they blew out their elbows again. Brandon Beachy made it back for 30 innings. The Yankees are playing it safe.

“One good thing, you know you’re not going to be ready in April,” said Nova to Chad Jennings yesterday. “So you prepare yourself to be ready whenever they tell me. I don’t have to be thinking right now that I’ve got to be ready in April, so that’s kind of fortunate. I’m just taking it day by day, and I know that — I believe — a month before they think I’m going to be ready to go to the big leagues, they’re going to tell me. So that’s the time when I’m going to really prepare for that day.”

Because he’s been out of action for so long — Nova made only four starts last season before getting hurt — it’s been pretty easy to forget he exists. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. That doesn’t make him any less important to the team, however. The Yankees have a risky rotation led by Tanaka and Sabathia, so getting Nova back healthy at midseason will be a boost to the starting staff. Hopefully an extra boost, not a “oh goodness we need him back as soon as possible” sort of boost.

Last year Jeff Zimmerman ran some numbers on performance before and after Tommy John surgery and confirmed that yeah, pitchers tend to struggle immediately after having their elbow ligament replaced. Their ERA increases 5.8% relative to projections, their walk rate increases 5.0%, and their strikeout rate drops 4.4%. It’s not until two years after surgery that they really get back to being themselves. Using that info, here’s a quick and dirty look at Nova’s projected performance for 2015:

ERA K% BB%
2013 Actual Performance 3.10 19.8% 7.5%
2014 Actual Performance 8.27 12.5% 6.3%
2015 ZiPS Projection 4.08 19.6% 7.2%
2015 ZiPS + TJS Penalty 4.32 18.7% 7.6%

Nova has been a perfectly league average pitcher overall so far in his career (career 100 ERA+!) though it’s been a roller coaster. He’s had some great years and some really bad years, including his brief four-start cameo in 2014. ZiPS, unsurprisingly, pegs him as a true talent league average pitcher for this coming season (99 ERA+) but it doesn’t know he had his elbow rebuild. Add in the Tommy John surgery penalty from Zimmerman’s research and he’s a projected below average pitcher, more like a 93 ERA+ guy.

What does that mean? Not a whole lot, really. I just think it’s important to remember the road back from Tommy John surgery can initially be a little bumpy. Pitchers on average have seen a slight performance dip, but each pitcher is a little snowflake that is different than everyone else. Thanks to the team’s conservative approach to his rehab, Nova could shake off the usual pre-Tommy John issues and return in June, picking up right where he left off in 2013. That would be sweet. Or maybe the performance dip hits him extra hard. We’ll find out when he gets back.

Personally, I hate relying on players coming back from major injury, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. New York’s rotation is what it is and I am comfortable saying with great certainty they are looking for upgrades at all times. Hopefully one pop up at some point. “Chris Capuano, fifth starter” is really “Chris Capuano, just keep us afloat until something better comes along.” That sometime just might end up being when Nova returns in May or June (likely June). Hopefully not, but it’s possible.

“I know they expect big things from me,” said Nova to Bryan Hoch yesterday. “I know I’ve had an up and down career so far, but I know what I’m able to do. I just have to put things straight and hopefully by the time I have everything in line, I can contribute to the team and win some games.”

For Nathan Eovaldi, not all adjustments will be physical

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

Earlier this week in our little poll, RAB readers voted right-hander Nathan Eovaldi as the Yankees’ most important pickup of the offseason. (He received 40% of the 2,500+ votes.) He beat out the likes of Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, and various relievers because he’s a hard-throwing starter with obvious upside and three full years of team control remaining. He’s a rotation building block going forward.

Although he already has 79 career starts and 460 big league innings under his belt, Eovaldi is still just a kid. He turned 25 less than two weeks ago. He’s almost two full years younger than reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. He’s younger the all five of the top five finishers in last year’s AL Rookie of the Year voting. At his age, Eovaldi is far from a finished product, and the Yankees know that. He’s a work in progress.

“He kind of defies some of the logic with the analysis, as far as velocity and location and then giving up so many hits,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to Billy Witz over the weekend. “I’ve watched the tape, but I want to sit and watch during the game and try to figure out, how do you eliminate that? There’s not any great explanation.”

Eovaldi throws very hard — his fastball averaged 95.5 mph last year, fifth highest among the 88 qualified starters — and he doesn’t really walk many batters (5.0 BB% in 2014), yet he led the NL in hits allowed last season (223 in 199.2 innings) and only struck out 16.6% of batters faced, well below the 20.4% league average. An argument can be made all those hits were the product of bad luck (.323 BABIP was fourth highest among qualified starter), especially since his batted ball profile held steady.

Clearly though, there’s some kind of disconnect here. You’d expect someone who throws as hard as Eovaldi to strike out more batters, especially since he throws so many strikes. Eovaldi ranked 32nd out of those 88 qualify starters in first pitch strike percentage (62.9%) last year and he ranked 21st in percentage of 0-2 counts (22.0%), right alongside noted control artists like Jon Lester (22.3%), Zack Greinke (22.0%), and Doug Fister (21.8%). Getting in favorable counts wasn’t a problem.

Getting strike three has been an issue and Eovaldi knows that — “That’s one of the big issues I’ve had, not being able to finish the batters off. I try and do too much,” he said to Mark Feinsand recently — so he spent the weekend working on elevating his fastball with Rothschild, according to Chad Jennings. High fastballs are an excellent swing-and-miss pitch due to effective velocity. High fastballs look faster to the hitter and make it appear like they have less time to react.

There’s also an experience component to this that’s tough (impossible?) to quantify. It’s been said Eovaldi tries to throw harder when he’s in a jam like many pitchers his age, but the numbers don’t back that up. According to Baseball Savant, Eovaldi’s fastball has averaged 95.5 mph with the bases empty in his career, 94.9 mph with men on base, and 95.3 mph with runners in scoring position. Batters have a 94, 108, and 115 OPS+ against him in those situations, respectively.

The radar gun might not say Eovaldi is trying to throw harder in big spots — remember, trying to throw harder doesn’t automatically result in throwing hard. The result could be the same velocity but a “rushed” delivery and therefore bad location — but that doesn’t necessary mean the game doesn’t speed up on him in certain situations. Baseball is hard, man. It’s even harder when you’re young. It can be overwhelming.

“Sometimes, I think (his competitiveness) takes him into territory where he needs to back off a little bit, and not be not competitive, but get it under control. Or not always run it into the middle of everything. Step off and gather yourself and not try to necessarily power yourself through the inning,” said Rothschild to Witz. That sounds like a pitching coach describing a pitcher who needs to learn how to slow the game down in certain spots.

I’m not going to quote Yogi Berra here but you all know the saying. Eovaldi has the natural gifts — the big fastball, the solid slider, the work-in-progress changeup — but his development into a top flight pitcher will take more than physical adjustments. There’s a mental component to the game that can be easy to overlook but is also really important. I’m not saying Eovaldi is stupid or anything. He’s just a young kid and the game can spiral out of control on occasion. It’s normal. Learning to slow things down and stay in control will be an important part of his development, and that’s not something we can stick a number on.

Six-man rotation is a conversation worth having for the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Today is the final day of the offseason. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to officially report to Spring Training tomorrow, though more than a few Yankees are already in Tampa working out at the team’s complex. Tomorrow it’ll be official though. Like officially official. Spring Training is about to begin, folks.

Down in Tampa yesterday, pitching coaching Larry Rothschild told Bryan Hoch the Yankees plan to discuss using six starters early in the season, in April and possibly May. They briefly used a six-man rotation at the end of last season — obviously it’s easier to pull off with expanded rosters — and as early as last August we heard it was something the team was considering for 2015.

“It’s a result of some of the stuff that’s gone on over the last few years, not just here, but everywhere,” said Rothschild to Hoch. “We’re aware of situations here and early in the season, we need to get these guys through these stretches. Being that possibly early in the spring, some of them aren’t going to be able to throw a lot, we’re going to need to build them up too and give them the extra days when we can.”

A six-man rotation seems ambitious — the Yankees might have a hard time cobbling together five starters by the end of Spring Training based on the injury risk in the current rotation — though there’s no harm in discussing it. It might be unconventional, but baseball has been trending towards using pitchers less and less over the last, I dunno, 30-40 years or so. This is the logical next step. Let’s look at this a little deeper.

What Are The Benefits?

In the most basic terms, the less a pitcher pitches, the less likely he is to get hurt. The Yankees have two major injury risks in the rotation in Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) and CC Sabathia (knee), and pitching every sixth day instead of every fifth could help keep them on the field. I’m certain that’s what the Yankees are thinking. They want these guys to get through the entire season in one piece.

Pitchers in Japan work just about once a week and, according to Eno Sarris, they’ve undergone Tommy John surgery less than half as often as their MLB counterparts. Eno also spoke to Brian Bannister, a former big leaguer who spent time in Japan, and he said the extra time off does help while also noting NPB training methods are much different. “The recovery process in Japan is very deliberate with massage and soaking in alternating hot/cold water common,” he said. This isn’t as simple as “six-man rotation = less elbow injuries because look at NPB.” The preparation is different too.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Okay, now here is the important part: reducing the risk of injury is not guaranteed. Tanaka’s elbow has already been compromised and it could be that there’s nothing that can be done to improve his chances of staying on the field. The doctors have already given him the okay to pitch in games. If his elbow’s going to give, it’s probably going to give regardless of whether he’s starting every fifth day or every sixth day. Same with Sabathia’s knee. The Yankees could go through all the trouble of using a six-man rotation and these guys could still get hurt again.

Using a six-man rotation will ostensibly help the Yankees keep their starters healthy, and that’s a good thing. Their starters are actually pretty good when they’re healthy and they want those guys to make as many starts as possible. At this point a six-man rotation would be reactive instead of proactive — Tanaka and Sabathia (and Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova) have already suffered their major injuries. They’d just be trying to stop them from getting worse.

What About The Rest Of The Roster?

A six-man rotation means either a three-man bench or a six-man bullpen. The extra roster spot has to come from somewhere. If the Yankees go with a three-man bench, it means one of Chris Young, Garrett Jones, or Brendan Ryan won’t make the roster because one spot needs to go to a backup catcher, and I find cutting one of those guys unlikely. They all make seven figures. Maybe someone gets hurt in camp — Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, for example — opening a spot and making a three-man bench doable.

More than likely though, the Yankees would use a six-man bullpen based on their current roster. Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers — one of whom could end up the sixth starter — are both capable of throwing multiple innings, as is Dellin Betances. Justin Wilson isn’t a lefty specialist, he can throw a full inning. (A LOOGY has no place in a six-man bullpen.) The Yankees have the personnel to swing a six-man bullpen, especially since Joe Girardi is so meticulous about rest and keeping his relievers fresh. Plus they have the bullpen depth in the minors to make call-ups when necessary.

A Chance To Get Creative

That last part about call-ups is where it gets interesting. The sixth starter doesn’t have to be one starter, it could be a collection of starters. For example, Bryan Mitchell could make the start, then be sent down to Triple-A for an extra reliever, say Chris Martin. Then, when that rotation spot comes up again, Martin goes down and Chase Whitley comes up. (Mitchell couldn’t come up because of the ten-day rule.) Then after Whitley’s start, he goes back down in favor of a reliever, say Jacob Lindgren this time. When the rotation spot comes up again, Lindgren goes down and Mitchell comes up. Rinse, repeat. Make sense?

If the Yankees want to keep both Warren and Rogers in the bullpen so they can be used for multiple innings — a good idea with a six-man bullpen — Mitchell and Whitley could work in tandem as the sixth starter, pitching on the same schedule and alternating starts in MLB and Triple-A. Jose DePaula could be part of this arrangement too. He’s got an option left. It sounds great in theory because it allows the Yankees to keep a full seven-man bullpen most of the time with the sixth starter only on the roster the days he’s needed. These are people though, remember. Imagine being Mitchell or Whitley and having to do all that traveling from Triple-A to MLB for a day or two every other week. It would really suck and could impact performance.

How’s The Schedule Look?

Usually the month of April is cluttered with off-days because of weather concerns, enough that teams can often avoid using their fifth starter for a rotation turn or two. Off-days allowed the Yankees to avoid using their fifth starter (Freddy Garcia) until the 13th game of the season in 2011, after three full turns through the rotation. The Yankees won’t have that luxury this year. Here’s the April schedule from the official site:

April 2015 Schedule-001

The regular season starts on April 6th, the Yankees have the token “in case it rains on Opening Day off-day” on the 7th, then they play eight games in eight days. So right off the bat they need their fifth and potentially sixth starter. Following the off-day on the 16th, they play 13 games in 13 games, so again, there’s no chance to hide the fifth and sixth starter. After that off-day on the 30th, they play 17 games in 17 days.

Point is, there is no chance to skip the fifth and/or sixth starter early this season, and that might be part of the reason why the Yankees are considering a six-man rotation. The scheduled off-days don’t really allow for much extra rest early in the season and they want to make sure Tanaka, Sabathia, and everyone else gets a little breather in April. A six-man rotation is the only way to do it.

Okay, So What’s The Downside?

A six-man rotation does sound wonderful. As I mentioned though, it messes with the rest of the roster by taking a spot from the bench or bullpen. It also means fewer starts from your top starters. Starters average 32.4 starts in a five-man rotation and only 27 starts in a six-man rotation across a 162-game system. For the Yankees, that means five or so fewer starts each from Tanaka and Pineda, their best pitchers. Of course, without a six-man rotation, those two could end up making way fewer starts due to injury.

The idea of using a six-man rotation is more complicated than it seems. First of all, the Yankees would have to find six starters worthy of being in a big league rotation, which isn’t all that easy. It also screws with the rest of the roster and any health benefits aren’t guaranteed. It is a conversation worth having though. The Yankees have undoubtedly done more research on six-man rotations that us, and if they have reason to believe it will reap real benefits, then it’s a plan worth putting into place.

Eppler confirms Esmil Rogers is coming to Spring Training as a starter

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

This isn’t surprising: assistant GM Billy Eppler has confirmed right-hander Esmil Rogers will report to Spring Training stretched out and prepared to work as a starting pitcher. “I don’t know, I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see. I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you,” said Eppler to Chad Jennings.

Rogers, 29, worked as a starter in winter ball this offseason, allowing six runs in 11.2 innings (4.63 ERA) while striking out 18 and walking four. He has a 5.50 ERA (4.72 FIP) in 225.2 career innings as a starter at the MLB level, though most of that damage came when he was stuck pitching for the Rockies in Coors Field from 2019-12 (6.24 ERA and 4.87 FIP in 114 innings). Still, his track record as a big league starter isn’t very good.

Rogers did make one fine spot start for the Yankees last season (one run in five innings) and there’s really no reason not to bring him to camp as a starter. New York has a lot of injury risk in their rotation and it’s better to have Rogers stretched out and ready to go just in case. He can always slide back into the bullpen if need be. At best, I think Esmil is the team’s seventh starter behind the regular five and Adam Warren.

Eppler also reiterated Warren is coming to camp as a starter as well. David Phelps was scheduled to come to camp as a starter before he was traded to the Marlins in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi swap. Minor league righty Bryan Mitchell is another rotation candidate and the Yankees recently signed veteran righties Scott Baker and Kyle Davies to add some extra rotation depth.

Severino could help in 2015, but Yankees shouldn’t count on him making an immediate impact

(Trenton Thunder)
(Trenton Thunder)

At this point it goes without saying the Yankees have some major injury risks in their rotation heading into next season. We’ve been talking about it all winter. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka were all hurt for significant periods of time last year and Ivan Nova is still on the mend from Tommy John surgery. There’s no way to feel comfortable with this group from a health standpoint.

Of course, the Yankees did actually deal with a ton of rotation injuries last year, and they were still able to cobble together a decent staff. At one point five of the six best starters in the organization (Sabathia, Pineda, Tanaka, Nova, David Phelps) were all on the disabled list, yet Brian Cashman & Co. dug up a Chris Capuano here, found a Brandon McCarthy there, and made it work. Even with the injuries, the rotation had the fourth highest fWAR in baseball (14.9). It helps that no one can hit anymore.

As with Shane Greene last summer, the Yankees will inevitably have to dip into their minor league pitching reserves at some point this summer, and it appears Bryan Mitchell is first in line for a call-up after making his MLB debut last year. Chances are the team will need more than one fill-in starter though. That’s just baseball. Getting through a season using only five or six starters never happens these days. Add in the Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda injury risk and the Yankees are even more likely than most to need extra starters.

New York’s top prospect heading into the 2015 season is soon-to-be 21-year-old right-hander Luis Severino, who is the team’s best right-handed pitching prospect since pre-2008 Joba Chamberlain. In their midseason updates, Baseball America and MLB.com ranked Severino as the 34th and 62nd best prospect in baseball, respectively, and he’s only climbed further up those rankings since. You will find no argument that he is one of the top pitching prospects in all the land.

The Yankees have very clearly put Severino on the fast track — he made 14 starts for Low-A Charleston, four for High-A Tampa, and six for Double-A Trenton in 2014 — and there’s little reason to think they’ll slow him down now. I don’t expect him to start the season with Triple-A Scranton but he’ll be there soon enough, likely by May or at the latest June. Once he’s there, it’s only a matter of time before he gets the call to the show. The Yankees usually don’t let their top pitching prospects spend much time in Triple-A. It’s just a quick stop on the way to MLB.

There is a very clear path for Severino to join the big league team at some point in 2015, likely around midseason after a last little bit of token fine-tuning in the minors. His performance speaks for itself — he had a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) at those three levels last year — but we can’t forget there is more to prospecting that stats. Severino himself admitted he needs to improve his command of the outer half of the plate and the consistency of his slider at MLB’s Rookie Development Camp recently. Here, look:

Improving location and the consistency of his breaking ball are real issues Severino has to address and things that can be improved and worked on in the minors, where wins and losses don’t matter. Severino might be able to get by without pitching to both sides of the plate or by hanging a bunch of sliders against minor leaguers, but the big leagues are unforgiving. Execution is more important than potential.

Even if Severino does master the outside corner and learn how to throw his slider where he wants, when he wants, there is still the issue of his workload. Severino threw 44 innings plus some unknown amount in Extended Spring Training in 2013 and then 113.1 total innings in 2015. That puts him on track for what, 150 innings in 2015? Maybe 160 if you really want to push it? Perhaps that will be enough — Greene threw 145 innings last year, but only after that weird April in which he went up-and-down a bunch of times and never really pitched (6.1 total innings in April — but more than likely it only makes Severino a temporary solution until he has to be shut down.

The workload is just something the Yankees and Severino will have to deal with. I hope they have learned from the Joba fiasco in late-2009 and will simply shut young pitchers down when they approach their innings limit rather than try something silly like 35-pitch starts or something like that. (My goodness that was such a mess.) There are innings Severino will be able to contribute to the big league team before the shutdown, but only a finite amount, and the quality of those innings is a total unknown.

A quick search shows 40 instances (featuring 31 different players) of a pitcher age 21 or younger starting at least five games in a season for an AL team since the turn of the century, and, of those 40, only 17 had a league average or better ERA. Just four have done it since 2007. Here’s the list. It’s not often pitchers this young get a somewhat extended shot in MLB, and those who do are rarely more than serviceable. It’s one thing if the Yankees call up Severino in 2015. It’s another if they call him up hoping he makes an impact rather than simply allowing him to get his feet wet.

Believe me, I would love nothing more than to see the Yankees bring up a hotshot pitching prospect and have him dominate this coming season. And with all due respect to Greene, I don’t mean someone like him. Someone like Severino, who is among the best pitching prospects in the game and could be a rotation fixture for years to come. That would be amazing. I don’t see how anyone could realistically expect that though. Severino might get a chance to help the Yankees in 2015, but if it comes in a spot where they need him to make a difference, he’ll be coming up under the wrong circumstances.