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Minority Report: Game time! Who to watch and why, pitcher edition

We have all been “that guy.” You sit through Christmas with Yule logs and eggnog while dreaming of baseball. Your new Bronx Pinstripe hat or Gerrit Cole shirt from Santa is your latest prized possession. February comes and the excitement mounts. You can hardly sleep the night before spring games begin because of the thought of live baseball. Saturday arrives, you get the chips and beer out, tune out all the noise around the house, and settle in for the 1 p.m. game. Life could not be better!

Gleyber and DJ are out of the game by 2 p.m., and you are snoozing in the chair by 2:15.

Admittedly, those who are there more out of persistence than a real chance to be a legitimate big-league player will cure insomnia. They are what the NFL calls “camp bodies.” However, MLB is also different. Its future stars are not all in college and instead get assigned to minor league affiliates. The club then invites them to big league camp alongside the stars and camp bodies. Unlike the fourth quarter of an NFL preseason game, watching them today is watching the Yankees tomorrow.

Today we will be looking at those pitchers in camp most likely to be part of the future of the franchise. Although system rankings tend to favor teams with “cannot miss” prospects at the highest levels, the Yankees still have a robust and deep system with a substantial number of high upside players. Today, we will look at the top five pitchers to look for in Tampa who you will be on your living room TV screen through March. We will look at position players tomorrow.

Deivi Garcia

I list Garcia first not because he is a can’t miss or the organization’s best prospect, but because he is the most well known among fans and closest to the big club. Baseball America has Clarke Schmidt rated as the better pitching prospect. Other scouts see one or more of last year’s core four pitchers in Charleston as highly regarded as Garcia.

That’s not a knock on Deivi. It’s a shout out to the depth.

The 20-year-old Dominican and third-ranked (Baseball America) Yankee prospect returns in 2020 for a season likely to begin in AAA, even though his projected WAR (1.3) is fifth among potential Yankee starters. The organization likes to see players conquer a level before moving them up, something he has not yet done in SWB. Last year began in A+ Tampa, where he excelled with a 3.06 ERA and a 16.81 SO/9 in 17 innings. He moved to AA Trenton sporting a 3.86/14.59, before ending in SWB with a 5.40/10.12 line. The SO/9 is what caught the imagination of scouts and fans and will continue to do so, even if he did get knocked around a bit.

Garcia’s big jump is attributed mostly to adding a slider after 2018, a pitch already considered to be the best in the system. It adds to a big hook and a low to mid 90’s fastball. Scouts do not agree on his ultimate role, as he has starter stuff but a small, 5’10”, 160 lb frame. Along with a high effort delivery, it may limit him to a leverage relief role.

Clarke Schmidt

From a piece I wrote on Schmidt last week:

Schmidt was the Yankees first-round pick, 16th overall, in the 2017 MLB draft after playing college ball for South Carolina. A month before the draft, he underwent successful Tommy John surgery causing many to consider him a reach prospect. He made his minor league debut late in the 2018 season in the GCL and finishing up in the NYPenn with Staten Island.

2019 began his first full season in the minors, including his season premiere gem against 2018 overall number one pick and Tiger farmhand, Casey Mize. Schmidt threw five perfect innings with nine strikeouts.

He climbed to A+ Tampa and eventually to Trenton for his last three regular-season games. In the Eastern League, Schmidt had a 2.37 ERA, 0.47 BB/9, 9.00 SO/9, and an incredible 0.79 WHIP. Three starts is an admittedly small sample size, but he continued pitching well through the Eastern League Championship, giving up one run in 10.2 innings.

The 6’1” 200-pound right-hander boasts a 94-95 MPH fastball, a plus change-up, a curve, and a slider. However, Schmidt describes the last two as more of a “slurve,” which he can manipulate with speed and arm slot. Due to the variety of pitches, scouts have him projected as a middle of the rotation starter who will likely begin the season in Trenton but could find himself with the big club as a late-season call-up.

Luis Gil

Gil is the first of the Charleston core four from last year, along with Roansy Contreras, Luis Medina, and Alexander Vizcaino.

The word of the day for Gil is heat. The fourth-ranked prospect has a fastball that reaches 100 mph, plus plus movement, and grades out to 70+ on the scouting 20-80 scale. It comes with a low 90’s changeup and an 85 mph curveball, both graded at around 55.

The former Twin farmhand acquired in a trade for Jack Cave began 2019 in Charleston before finishing up in Tampa with a 2.72 ERA, 123 strikeouts in 96 innings while giving up only one home run. Like all young pitchers, control and command were significant issues, giving up a walk nearly every two innings. The development of his secondary pitches will likely determine if he ends up a starter or short reliever.

Luis Medina

The seventh-ranked Yankee prospect struggled for much of the 2019 season, gifting six walks per nine innings that he would let snowball into big innings. He is another kid with an elite arm, however, sporting a fastball averaging at about 98 along with his changeup and curveball that both have plus movement. His swing and miss rates best illustrate the potential. When in the strike zone, batters missed his fastball 32% of the time. The curveball had a 44% miss rate. For comparison, Gerrit Cole had a 29% miss rate in 2019.

Medina did seem to find some control and command in August and flourished. He would have a 10 strikeout outing on July 11 and take off. Medina pitched to the tune of 62 strikeouts and 15 walks in almost 46 innings over his last eight starts. It was strong enough to be promoted to A+ Tampa, where he ended 2019 with one ER and 12 strikeouts in his final 10.2 innings.

Alexander Vizcaino

Vizcaino is probably the one I’m most interested in seeing. I am not a professional scout, but comments like this make my neck hairs stand up:

“It’s one of the best changeups in baseball. Not the minor leagues. Not in the Yankees’ system. In all of baseball.” -Yankees Vice President of Baseball Operations, Tim Naehring

He then goes on to compare Vizcaino to a young Felix Hernandez, both sporting elite changeups with a power fastball (95-98).

That sounds like the sputter of the Bugs Bunny eephus pitch, even if it is with a nice helping of hyperbole.

Others to watch

By no means does that exhaust the list of excellent prospects. Michael King, Domingo Acevedo, etc. Stick around for those guys as well!

See you tomorrow with the position players…

Don’t be “that guy!”