Three weeks before the Yankees made a blockbuster trade with the Derek Jeter-led Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton last December, the clubs conducted business on a much smaller scale for the very first time.
In an effort to clear up space on the 40-man roster, New York shipped away first baseman Garrett Cooper and left-handed pitcher Caleb Smith to Miami in exchange for $250,000 worth of international bonus pool money. But that wasn’t all — the Yankees also received Michael King, a “throw-in” right-hander from Rochester who was drafted in the 12th round of the 2016 June Amateur Draft.
At the start of this season, the 23-year-old King wasn’t listed on any top prospect charts. He was just another young arm, masked by top-tier pitchers in the Yankees’ deep farm system. But it didn’t take long for King to jut out, as his steady climb through the minor league ranks has garnered considerable attention.
Since being called up from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in early August, King has flourished in his first stint on the circuit. On Tuesday night against Syracuse (the Nationals’ affiliate), he tossed six perfect innings with six strikeouts for the RailRiders, which helped lower his ERA to a stunning 1.09 in five starts.
That metric — along with King’s 27 strikeouts, 0.64 WHIP, and .149 opposing average in 33 innings of work — has sparked conversation in the Yankees’ front office. And according to general manager Brian Cashman, King’s progress and development can best be described as a happy accident — something neither team really envisioned back in November.
“He’s becoming a pretty exciting, valuable commodity,” Cashman recently told the New York Post. “We had a ton of requests on him [at the trade deadline]. We had a few teams tell us he would go into their rotation now.
“In fairness to the Marlins, what he has become is not what was traded. He has gotten better. They didn’t trade this guy. What they had and what he has become, he has jumped a category or two. It happens in development.”
New York accomplished multiple goals in a November 2017 trade with the Marlins: clearing 40-man roster space by giving up Garrett Cooper and Caleb Smith, acquiring international bonus pool money to bolster its ultimately unsuccessful run at Shohei Ohtani and also picking up King. A 12th-round pick in 2016, when he earned Boston College’s lone win in its only NCAA super-regional appearance in school history, he earned a promotion to Double-A six weeks into his first season as a Yankee.
King’s best attributes are his two-seam fastball and his command. He has quality life on his 91-95 mph heater, showing the ability to run and sink it on or off either corner. He generates a lot of groundouts and misses his share of bats.
While he has had success as a starter early in his pro career, King lacks a solid second pitch. Both his slider and changeup are decent offerings but unlikely to bother big league hitters. Unless he can improve them, he might face a future as a middle reliever who depends on his sinker.
In 24 total games (155.1 innings, 23 starts) this season, King is 10-5 with a 1.80 ERA and 148 strikeouts.