New York Yankees: Breaking down the No. 5 starter’s race

Who is in the lead to be the No. 5 starter for the New York Yankees?

Death, taxes, the New York Yankees not knowing who their fifth starter will be.

Granted, it’s not like the Yankees need to figure this out now. The random days off at the start of any baseball season mean a team doesn’t usually need a No. 5 arm until about two-ish weeks in.

Except the Yankees are in a different spot. Unless a trade for Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, or somebody else happens before Opening Day on April 7, take a guess. Which of the plethora of young arms will bookend the back of New York’s rotation?

The Yankees’ pitching staff ranked sixth in baseball last year with a 3.74 ERA and pitching coach Matt Blake would love to repeat that success. Gerrit Cole. Jordan Montgomery. Jameson Taillon. A returning Luis Severino.

And a fifth man who will be trusted to eat some innings before the bullpen takes over.

Who’s that going to be? Let’s take a look at the candidates.

Nestor Cortes

[embedded content]

Cortes posted a 2.90 ERA in 22 games (14 starts) for the Yankees last year, and is probably the odds-on favorite to make the rotation out of spring training. The crafty lefty showed off his growth as a pitcher in 2021, constantly changing both his arm slots and delivery motions. Somewhere in between it all, he became New York’s favorite turtle dad.

The numbers alone scream for Nestor Cortes to get the job. He posted 9.97 K/9, kept his walks down, and allowed almost 20% soft contact all while averaging just 90.7 mph on his fastball. Even if the balls were deadened, that’s impressive given Yankee Stadium’s short porches.

Luis Gil

Thanks to his blazing fastball and pitching 15.2 scoreless in his first three starts, Gil quickly became a midseason favorite. He was a starter in the minors and owns a career K/9 of 12 down on the farm. The problem is that like many young fireballers, Gil pairs his heat with a slider and not much else.

This spring has been no different for Gil. His velocity is there, but the command still needs polishing. Even after tossing three scoreless relief innings on Monday, it’s clear Gil is still mastering the changeup as his third pitch. Unless he blows the rest of the competition out of the water the rest of the way, he’s ticketed for either the bullpen or the minors.

Michael King

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. King rocketed through three levels of the minors in one season, ran head first into an injury, and has kind of been in limbo ever since. He’s served the Yankees as a starter, reliever, and everything in between.

The problem is King is unpredictable and thus unreliable. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff. His control is hot and cold to near-Katy Perry levels, and a 5.79 ERA in spring training doesn’t help. Barring injuries to multiple arms, King probably won’t be on the Opening Day roster.

Clarke Schmidt

[embedded content]

It’s been a wild ride for Clarke Schmidt too. His path to the New York Yankees got upended by the pandemic, and Schmidt debuted to struggles in 2020 just because the Yankees needed the arms. Cut to an injury-riddled 2021, and Schmidt only managed 44.1 innings across the majors and minors last year.

Now 26, Schmidt knows his New York Yankees window could close in a New York minute. He was drafted mid-Tommy John recovery in 2017 and has just 152 minor league innings under his belt. But the Yankees have been patient with him and he has two scoreless spring innings thus far. If he sets himself apart from the rest of the pack, he could land the much-heralded job.

Deivi Garcia

[embedded content]

In 2019, 20-year-old Deivi Garcia rocketed through the minor leagues with 13.3 K/9 so quickly across three levels that his 4.4 BB/9 were ignored. He parlayed that success into a brief call-up and playoff start in 2020, though the control questions remained. In 2021, Garcia regressed to the point that his future as a New York Yankees starter seemed in serious doubt.

But if we listen to Matt Blake in the clip above, Garcia’s problems were more mechanical and mental. He’s since turned in a 1.80 ERA in his two spring starts, having more command of his mid-90s fastball and more confidence in his breaking pitches. Will he open the season as the No. 5 starter? Probably not, but the increased rosters in April could mean he gets some bullpen reps.

Where things stand

As of now, the job looks like Nestor Cortes’ to lose. We can probably pull both King and Gil out of the running. As was said before, Cortes’ effectiveness despite minimal velocity last season gives him an edge. So long as he holds serve, he’ll get the job.

That said, both Garcia and Schmidt have livelier arms and higher ceilings as starters. If they each dominate in their next outings, Blake and Aaron Boone have their work cut out for them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.