Written by: Nick Lobraico
Follow him on Twitter: @LobraicoNick
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Since the end of the 2019 season, there has been a lot of hype around some Yankees pitching prospects. There were ideas of Deivi Garcia the bullpen last October, Clarke Schmidt has been a social media sensation during Summer Camp, and Michael King made his MLB debut. When push came to shove, the Yankees were not willing to part with one of these guys even if it would’ve gotten them Josh Hader. With that, there comes a serious question the Yankees have to ask themselves: is it worth it? Let’s find out.
The hype was justified until he reached AAA near the end of the 2019 Minor League season. He wasn’t able to keep up his astronomical strikeout numbers (although he did finish with a 25.3 K% in AAA), his walks stayed around 11%, and he had a much harder time limiting the long ball. Of course that last one is an adjustment for anyone considering the juiced balls used in both MLB and AAA last year, but it really did give his overall run prevention stats a bad look. His batting average against reached a career high .253, and with his walks that made for a WHIP of 1.48.
Garcia really can spin the ball well, which explains the extreme movement on his curveball and the fact that hitters pop up low 90s his fastball. However, it looks like his release point is inconsistent. On the breaking balls he might let up a little and release early, which causes his low 70s curve to get loopy. When he gets enough extension on it, though, it’s an amazing pitch. The goal should be to start the trajectory on the top of the parabola, not to get the whole up-and-down motion: that’s when hitters lay off on it, which is a shame considering how devastating it can be.
There’s no way to say this with 100% certainty, but it looks like MLB stopped using the juiced balls for the 2020 season. In that case, Deivi Garcia would absolutely be worth the hype. High-spin fastballs are not so easy to hit for power, especially up in the zone. Without the hitters benefiting from the ball, it is much more likely that we see the pre-AAA Garcia when he reaches the big leagues.
From the start of Summer Camp, there has been a lot of buzz around this guy. Recognized as the Yankees’s most outstanding rookie in Spring Training (including Summer Camp), he must be in their plans for this season. In what capacity, we don’t know. A 2017 Tommy John surgery has limited his innings, which reached a career high of 82.1 last year. For a starting pitcher, that stands to put a cap on how much he can help the big league club while maintaining his health.
Schmidt has been effective on his way to a full starter’s workload. His K% has always been above 25, and usually higher. The mid-20s range is from his 19 IP in AA, where his usual 5-10 BB% became 1.4. So at the highest level he’s pitched, hitters have made a lot more contact, and probably early in the count, too, if his walks were that low. Even if his strikeouts go down, he gets a lot of ground balls (roughly 50% of batted balls in his career), which because of his mid-90s sinking fastball. He can also four-seam the fastball, and he has two off speed pitches: a sharp, low 80s curve that he can comfortably land in the zone and a changeup with similar horizontal break to the two-seamer. While his pitches don’t move a particularly extraordinary amount, he had a great deal of success so far. His xFIP never exceeded 3.00 through AA, and the Yankees hope that this can continue in the Bronx.
There are some question marks with Schmidt but not enough to remove the excitement of having him in New York. As long as they watch his innings (which has been a struggle for the Yankees in the past), he should do well.
King is considered to be the most polished of the three, but he is by no means a finished product. Sometimes his fastball command is on, sometimes it isn’t; sometimes his two-seamer has enough movement to catch the corners, sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes his changeup moves, sometimes it doesn’t. At his best, King consistently throws a mid-90s fastball that runs to the edges of the plate. His changeup moves similarly to the fastball but 10 mph slower, and his slider has the potential to be a two-plane nightmare. What prevents him from being at his best is inconsistency.
Compared to Garcia and Schmidt, King does not get much attention. Maybe it’s because he’s not a strikeout pitcher and an elbow injury that gave his 2019 stats a bad look, but he definitely has the chance to be a top two pitcher in this group. As King continues to grow as a pitcher, especially as he improves the break on his slider, he will start to gain momentum among the Yankees fan base. Despite an eyesore of a stat line in Saturday’s massacre by the Nationals, manager Aaron Boone said after the game that King’s only real mistake was a hanging slider on the double by Howie Kendrick. So far, the Yankees like what they see, and with Gerrit Cole being the only sure thing in this rotation, Michael King may be able to find an opening this year.
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