Rookie Davis trade, injuries leave Yankees thin on starting pitching prospects

Kaprielian. (Staten Island Advance)
Kaprielian. (Staten Island Advance)

Heading into the 2015 season, the Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system. Only two of their top ten, three of their top 14, and seven of their top 30 prospects were starting pitchers in my opinion. Being heavy on position players is not necessarily a bad thing, but in a perfect world you’d like to have a little more balance in the farm system.

The Yankees did graduate Luis Severino to the big leagues last season, which is a major positive, but most of the rest of their top rotation prospects battled adversity. Check out what those seven starting pitching prospects in my top 30 did last year:

2. Severino: Graduated to MLB wooo!
4. Ian Clarkin: Missed regular season with an elbow injury.
11. Domingo German: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
15. Bryan Mitchell: Spent regular season going up and down an extra arm.
16. Austin DeCarr: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
18. Ty Hensley: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
25. Brady Lail: Had a strong season at Double-A and Triple-A.

Not great! Four of the seven didn’t pitch at all during the regular season season. (Clarkin did pitch some in the Arizona Fall League.) Severino was great, Mitchell was useful, and Lail took steps forward. I guess that’s pretty good, all things considered. The attrition rates for pitching prospects is rather high.

Several lower level pitchers had solid seasons and improved their prospect stock, most notably Rookie Davis and Jordan Montgomery. Davis was traded for Aroldis Chapman last week and Montgomery has yet to pitch above High Class-A. The Yankees did add one significant (James Kaprielian) and one solid (Drew Finley) rotation prospect in the 2015 draft. They also flipped Justin Wilson for two depth arms (Luis Cessa and Chad Green) last month.

So, after all of that, the Yankees’ starting pitching prospect depth chart looks something like this:

Kaprielian
Clarkin
Mitchell
Finley
Lail
Montgomery
Cessa
Green
Other injured guys

We can debate the exact order all day but those are the names and that’s the general order. The Yankees have a true stud in Kaprielian, a potential stud in Clarkin if he’s healthy, then a bunch of depth guys. Mitchell has nasty stuff but still seems to be a ways away from fully harnessing it. Finley is both similar and much further from the show. Lail, Montgomery, Cessa, and Green all have limited upside. The injured guys like German and DeCarr? Who knows.

When it’s laid out like this, it’s easy to understand why the Yankees have focused on adding a young controllable starter this offseason. Severino is their only big league starter under control beyond 2017, and while Kaprielian looks like he could fly through the minors, he has to actually do it before you can count on him as a long-term rotation piece. Clarkin’s injury really stunk. He had a chance to emerge as a top rotation prospect last year if healthy.

Mitchell, Lail, Cessa, and Green give the Yankees some immediate upper level pitching depth heading into the 2016 season, which is good. They might need it given the health concerns in the MLB rotation. Mitchell may crack the Opening Day big league roster as a reliever while the other guys are ticketed for Triple-A Scranton. That’s good. The Yankees have depth arms for whenever a need arises, and it will inevitably arise.

The Yankees again have a position player heavy farm system, and that’s one of the reasons they’re said to be looking for a young controllable starter in a trade. They have Severino and they might have Kaprielian soon, but that’s about it at the moment. Davis could have potentially fit into that long-term rotation equation, ditto guys like Clarkin and German had they not gotten hurt. Instead, a system already thin on starters has gotten a wee bit thinner over the last 12 months.

Prospect Profile: Chad Green

(Joel Bissell/MLive.com)
(Joel Bissell/MLive.com)

Chad Green | RHP

Background
Green, 24, grew up in Effingham, Illinois, which is roughly halfway between St. Louis and Indianapolis. He played both baseball and basketball at Effingham High School, where he was a three-time All-Conference and two-time All-Area honoree. Chad’s twin brother Chase also played baseball, and went on to use up all five years of eligibility at Southern Illinois.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Green among their top 200 prospects for the 2010 draft, but they did rank him the No. 12 prospect in Illinois. The Blue Jays selected Green out of high school with their 37th round pick but failed to sign him. He instead followed through on his commitment to Louisville and stepped into a low-leverage relief role as a freshman.

Green posted a 1.93 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 16 walks in 42 innings in his first year on campus. He remained in the bullpen as a sophomore, throwing 46.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA and 42/23 K/BB. After the season, Green headed to the Cape Cod League, where he really broke out with a Bourne Braves. He pitched to a 2.79 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 42 innings against the top college players in the country.

The Cardinals moved Green into the rotation his junior year. He threw 104.1 innings across 18 starts, posting a 2.42 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 27 walks. That earned him Second Team All-Big East honors. Green allowed five runs in 12 innings in two postseason starts, both wins. Louisville advanced to the College World Series but was eliminated after losing their first two games, so Green didn’t get a chance to pitch in Omaha.

Green left Louisville after 193 innings with a 2.38 ERA, the best in school history at the time. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the ninth best prospect in Kentucky and the 267th best prospect in the 2013 draft class. The Tigers selected him in the 11th round (336th overall) and signed him for $100,000. The Yankees acquired Green from Detroit in the Justin Wilson trade earlier this month.

Pro Career
The Tigers had Green start his pro career with their High Class-A affiliate — he went for a quick tune-up with their rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate first — where he worked as a reliever following his big workload in school. Green had a 3.54 ERA (3.22 FIP) with 16 strikeouts and six walks in 20.1 pro innings in 2013.

Despite the solid showing in High-A, the Tigers sent Green to their Low Class-A affiliate for the 2014 season. He spent the entire year at the level, throwing 130.1 innings with a 3.11 ERA (3.08 FIP). Green struck out 23.9% of batters faced and walked 5.4%. Baseball America ranked him as the team’s 29th best prospect following the season in their 2015 Prospect Handbook.

The Tigers jumped Green straight to Double-A this past season — High-A to Low-A to Double-A is an atypical development path, I’d say — where he had a 3.93 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 148.2 innings. He had solid strikeout (20.9%) and walk (6.6%) rates while being about six months younger than the average Eastern League player.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs., Green is a big and physical right-hander with a low-90s sinker that is his key to success. He throws a lot of strikes with the pitch and consistently locates it at the knees. The Tigers introduced Green to a splitter last season and it has since emerged as his top secondary offering. He’s still working to gain consistency with the pitch.

Green also throws a sharp low-80s slider that he struggles to locate on the outer edge to righties. He tends to miss way off the plate or hang it over the middle. The split-finger, which replaced a changeup, is Green’s put-away pitch against both righties and lefties at the moment. There’s not much video of him available, so here’s a clip from April 2014, when he was in Low Class-A with the Tigers.

Green’s delivery is pretty simple and in-line with the plate, allowing him to throw strikes with his fastball with ease. He’s been praised for his ability to outsmart hitters and keep them off balance. Also of note: Green’s a very good athlete and a strong fielder, which is not insignificant for a ground ball pitcher.

2016 Outlook
After pitching well and spending the entire season in Double-A in 2015, Green is ticketed for the Triple-A Scranton rotation next season. I’m guessing he’ll get an invite to big league Spring Training so the coaching staff and front office can see him up close. Assuming he pitches well with the RailRiders, Green figures to make his MLB debut at some point next year, even if he’s only an up-and-down arm at first. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so a 40-man roster spot hangs in the balance.

My Take
Pitching prospects like Green don’t excite me much but the Yankees seem to have success with guys like this, guys who can throw strikes and pitch off their fastball. David Phelps and Adam Warren are the most notable recent examples. The Yankees worked with both to develop secondary stuff. Green’s new-ish splitter is promising and I’m guessing tightening up the slider will be a point of emphasis going forward. There’s nothing sexy about back-end starters, but the Yankees need cheap rotation help, and Green just might be able to help in that capacity.