Can’t predict Yankees top pitching prospect will hold up, ESPN analyst says

 

Yankees top pitching prospect Jonathan Loaisiga exhibited some major league-ready stuff during his brief stint as Masahiro Tanaka’s rotation stand-in last June.  So when pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for spring training in two weeks, figure the 24-year-old right-hander will be one of the few youngsters vying for a swingman role in the Bronx this season.  

Loaisiga has the tools — clean delivery, velocity, control, and command — to contribute at the big league level, and soon.  But his growth and progress are largely contingent upon health — his biggest hurdle — and that’s why ESPN prospect expert Keith Law refrained from adding Loaisiga to his annual Top-100 prospect list.

“He’s just never been healthy.  The number one predictor of future injuries, as far as I know, is past injuries,” Law said in a media conference call on Wednesday.  “And he’s had Tommy John [surgery], a significant shoulder injury, not a surgery, but missed a ton of time with it.  Missed time the year before with other injury.  He’s just always hurt.  I love the stuff.  He’s a mid‑rotation starter if he’s healthy, but how could I possibly predict him to stay healthy when he’s got no track record of doing so.”

Law’s assessment of Loaisiga is fair, as is his skepticism.  Originally signed by the San Francisco Giants out of his native Nicaragua back in 2012, Loaisiga missed all of the 2014 season with an undisclosed injury, and was ultimately released by the Giants in May 2015.  Loaisiga remained unemployed until the Yankees signed him in February 2016, but in his season debut that May with Class-A Charleston, he lasted just 2.2 innings before suffering another injury.  This was the Tommy John surgery that Law referred to, and it cost Loaisiga an additional 13 months.

But Loaisiga returned to the fold in 2017, and his success in the instructional leagues convinced the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster that November.  From there, Loaisiga went 6-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 10 starts between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last spring, and on June 15, he made his major league debut against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium.

While his first four career starts were commendable (3.00 ERA, 21 strikeouts in 18 innings), Loaisiga caught the injury bug once again, as this time shoulder inflammation limited him to just nine total appearances (5.11 ERA overall) for the Yankees in 2018.

It’s the injury history, not talent, that leaves Law wondering what Loaisiga’s future holds.

“He’s only got about 150 professional innings,” Law said.  “I looked it up the other day because he’s in the Yankees Top-10, obviously.  But he’s really not pitched very much at all at any level…  So I’m not really sure what we have here.  I can’t just say, well, put him in the bullpen, he’ll be fine.  I don’t think this is a matter of not holding up as a starter, I just think physically he has not held up yet…

“There’s no guarantees.  You hope he will hold up going forward.  But so far, there’s just no reason to believe that he will do so…  But grading out the stuff, he’s — he might be more than a mid‑rotation starter.  At least an above‑average starter if you’re going by stuff, and I think he’s got the control, at least, to potentially get there.  But we’ve got to see 120 innings out of this guy on some calendar year before going all in.”

If Loaisiga isn’t offered the sixth-stater job by the end of camp, he’ll most likely begin the 2019 season at the Triple-A level where, surprisingly, he has never pitched before.

 

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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