One of the most surprising things about the New York Yankees’ recent history has been the club’s utter inability to develop starting pitching from within. Yes, the team’s unofficial nickname has long been the “Bronx Bombers,” and most of the iconic players in Yankee history have been position players. But this is a team that’s almost always in the postseason, and a true World Series contender more often than not – and they’ve done it without much at all in the way of homegrown pitching talent.
In fact, one can make a legitimate argument that the Yankees have not produced a lasting impact starter from their own farm system since Andy Pettitte, who first pitched in 1995 and put together what could wind up having been a Hall of Fame career.
This, in part, is why you’ve been seeing the name Luis Severino all over baseball news of late. The 21-year-old flamethrower who’s in the midst of his first stint at the MLB level after rocketing through the Yankees’ minor league system is generating more attention than any homegrown Yankee pitcher since Joba Chamberlain. Part of that is due to the fact that he was brought up to fill in for Michael Pineda in the midst of a playoff race. Pineda has been the closest thing there is to an “ace” on this Yankees staff, and though he’ll likely return in September, the feeling is that if Severino performs well, he’ll keep a spot in the rotation one way or another. Part of the attention is also due to the shocking lack of anyone resembling a career success having grown up on Yankees minor league mounds.
To spark your memory, here are some of the would-be contenders for the Yankees’ homegrown starting crown.
The Late-‘90s Dynasty Contributors
In the midst of the Yankees’ late-‘90s dynasty run, two homegrown pitchers come to mind who may have had a chance to be long-term, impact Yankees. The first is Ramiro Mendoza, who first played in the MLB in 1996 after coming up through the Yankees’ system. Mendoza was at times a very effective pitcher, but he wound up playing for the Red Sox by 2002 before fizzling out of the league a few years later.
Another big name is Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, much beloved among Yankees fans for his emotional backstory, unique pitching delivery (his knee would just about hit his chin), and catchy nickname. Hernandez signed with New York in 1998 after defecting from Cuba and started his professional career the same year. He ultimately spent six years with the Yankees and as a starter and reliever compiled a 61-40 record and 3.96 ERA. That’s an extremely respectable career, and El Duque is remembered fondly by the Yankee faithful, but it only lasted six years, and he didn’t actually come up through the organization.
The Tragic Figure
Perhaps the saddest story in Yankees pitching in the past decade is that of Chien-Ming Wang, an talented player who rose through the Yankee ranks to reach the majors in 2005. He was not nearly as highly touted as some other players, but he wound up compiling a 55-26 record and 4.16 ERA in the five years spent with the club. That’s not bad, but the part that tortures Yankees fans’ memories is Wang’s “prime” with the club. In the span between 2006-2008, after Wang got adjusted to the big leagues, and before he started dealing with the lingering foot injury that ultimately saw him out of New York, Wang was 46-15 with a 3.80 ERA, including two back-to-back 19-win seasons. If he’d stayed healthy, we may well now have been viewing him as the best homegrown Yankee starter since Pettitte.
2007’s Stars That Never Were
In the mid-2000s, the Yankees had three potential starting pitchers rising quickly through the farm system, set to revitalize the staff at the pro level and potentially solidify the rotation for years to come. Those prospects were Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, and by 2014 they all played elsewhere.
Chamberlain was the most frustrating of the bunch, playing on-and-off from 2007-13 and missing time due to both injuries and off-field issues. He showed immense talent, but both his results and his personality were unpredictable, and he was ultimately let go and picked up by Detroit in 2014.
Hughes is probably regarded as the biggest Yankee success of the three, and did enjoy a longer career in pinstripes than most homegrown starters in the Bronx. He played in New York from 2007-13, almost exclusively as a starter, and was generally valued for throwing hard, eating up innings, and pitching at an elite level when fully healthy and locked in. But the end numbers are underwhelming: Hughes was just 56-50 with a 4.53 ERA as a Yankee.
Kennedy, meanwhile, technically made his first appearance in the MLB in 2006, but got most of his opportunities between 2007-09, never really making an impact. He was traded to Arizona in a deal that netted the Yankees Curtis Granderson from Detroit (and sent then-Diamondbacks prospect Max Scherzer to Detroit), and he’s since had a good deal of success – just not with the Yankees.
The Killer Bs
This was a nickname given to two big time Yankees pitching prospects in recent years: Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. Both were expected to become big league starters, and Banuelos was even hailed by the great Mariano Rivera as the greatest pitching prospect Rivera had ever seen. Unfortunately for the Yankees, he also dealt with a number of injuries, including one that led to surgery before ever debuting in the MLB. Banuelos, once the hottest prospect in the Yankee farm system, was traded to Atlanta this past winter.
Betances, meanwhile, has become one of the most dominant pitchers in the MLB in 2014 and 2015 while wearing a Yankees uniform. The only problem is, he’s done it as a reliever. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, and Betances is still the long-term heir apparent to Mariano Rivera – but he still leaves the search for a homegrown career starter active.
And that brings us to today. Now, Yankees actually boast more homegrown pitching talent than they have in years. Ivan Nova has been a solid, if not great starter since debuting with the club in 2010, and Adam Warren, though often relegated to a relief role, has shown signs of potential emergence as a rotation pitcher.
But neither of those two has the raw talent or prospect reputation that Luis Severino carries with him. This young man is not a big deal merely because of the situation in which he was called up, or because his fastball flirts with triple digits on a regular basis. He isn’t famous merely because he’s a Yankee at 21 or because he rose through AAA with a 7-0 record and sub-2.00 ERA.
Luis Severino is a big deal because his situation has given him an exceedingly rare opportunity to become a great Yankee starter who wore pinstripes from the start.