Player debuts have been the talk of MLB during the first few days of the season. The Yankees don’t have anyone matching the fanfare of Bobby Witt, Jr. or Julio Rodriguez, but they do have two pitchers who made the major league roster for the first time. What can we expect from rookie relievers Ron Marinaccio and JP Sears?
Ballplayers from Toms River are like vampire slayers. There must always be one, but only one. On the day Todd Frazier retired, the Yankees announced Marinaccio made the team out of Spring Training. They originally drafted the right-hander in the 19th round of the 2017 draft out of the University of Delaware, immediately converting him to full-time relief work. He spent 2017-2019 racking up plenty of strikeouts in the low minors and allowing just one home run over three years, but also fighting through injuries. He was not invited to the alternate site in 2020, but dominated Double-A and Triple-A in 2021, posting a 2.04 ERA across 66.1 innings with 105 strikeouts and just 35 hits allowed.
Prior to the 2022 season, FanGraphs ranked him the Yankees’ 20th-best prospect and Prospects 1500 ranked him 28th. The 26-year-old throws a mid-90s fastball that can touch the high-90s from a low arm slot. His best secondary pitch has always been his changeup, which can help neutralize left-handed hitters. This spring, he demonstrated an improved slider with increased horizontal movement— as did several other Yankee pitchers— which was a prominent reason why he made the team (along with the expanded 28-man rosters).
Do you remember Nick Rumbelow? He threw 15.2 unremarkable innings for the Yankees in 2015, then was traded to Seattle for Sears and Juan Then (still in the minors, traded back to the Mariners a year later). Sears was an 11th-round pick out of The Citadel in 2017. Seattle immediately converted him to relief where he excelled in his first professional season, but the Yankees reverted him back to a starter. Much like Marinaccio, he muddled through the low minors and did not get an invite to the alternate site, then excelled in Somerset and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, striking out 136 in 104 innings mostly as a starting pitcher.
Sears is 26 now and listed at 5’11, 180 lb. The lefty features a fastball in the 92-94 mph range. He throws a slider that dives toward the back foot of right-handed hitters and away from lefties as well as a changeup. Neither of his three offerings is particularly special, but his best feature is his ability to locate. His excellent command helps his stuff play up and placed him 25th on the FanGraphs list of Yankees prospects and 39th on Prospect 1500’s. As an undersized lefty with fringey stuff as a starter, it’s a little perplexing that they haven’t moved him to the bullpen full-time. Nevertheless, he would probably have been in the Triple-A rotation if he hadn’t made the team out of Spring Training, so he could provide multi-inning relief work in blowouts.
Expectations for Rookie Relievers
Both Marinaccio’s and Sears’s middling prospect rankings indicate that they are highly likely to stick around as middle relievers for a few years, but unlikely to ever be much more than that. That’s fine! Chad Green and Jonathan Loáisiga can’t pitch every day. The team’s greatest strength is the depth and quality of their bullpen. For a frame of reference, Marinaccio and Sears would probably be among the best relievers on the Orioles. On the Yankees, they just have to handle low-to-medium leverage innings without being a disaster. Both pitchers have the talent to do at least that.