While their attention remains focused on the negotiations with DJ LeMahieu, the New York Yankees bullpen remains untouched. Relief pitching dominance has been intertwined in their identity for the past several seasons. Still, the relief pitching, like the rest of the roster, had a series of highs and lows throughout 2020.
Tommy Kahnle’s absence was part of the problem. After his season-ending injury, the front office was never able to bring in a suitable replacement. Brian Cashman admitted as much in December.
Now, Kahnle is a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, awaiting 2022 and his chance at a return. Meanwhile, the Yankees still have a formidable backend of the bullpen with Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Chad Green, but there are question marks. Currently, the starting rotation will feature a lot of youth and inexperience, and that will only exacerbate those question marks over a full season. The only pitching additions the team has made have been minor league contracts to Adam Warren and Jhoulys Chacin
The farm system has several talented arms developing, and 2021 could be the time for some of those arms to make a difference in the Yankees bullpen.
Yankees Bullpen Options
With the hope of getting under the luxury tax threshold, the offseason budget will mostly go to LeMahieu if the two do agree on a price. Therefore, the Yankees will not have a great deal of money to spend on pitching. In this case, the bullpen may take a backseat to the rotation in terms of upgrades, ruling out the top of the free agent market.
The Yankees bullpen depth can still improve in a cost-effective manner. Miguel Yajure is one of several young pitchers that got MLB experience in 2020. Yajure is the organization’s 15th-best prospect, according to MLB.com. Although he does not possess overpowering stuff, his ability to control four above-average pitches will induce weak contact.
Cashman expressed confidence in the organization’s pitching depth in December, and he mentioned Yajure by name in doing so.
Nelson, specifically, averaged 96.3 mph with his fastball and 88.6 mph with his changeup in 20 2/3 innings pitched in 2020.
Albert Abreu also made his debut in 2020, struggling in his lone outing. At his best, he can reach triple digits, with three well-above average pitches, and a future in the bullpen continues to look inevitable.
Those Still Developing
Some of the other talented arms are already on the Yankees’ 40-man roster, but did not debut in 2020. Alexander Vizcaino, Yoendrys Gomez, Luis Medina, and Roansy Contreras are all top-20 prospects in the system. The lack of a MiLB season hurt their development, but they were all projected to be MLB ready in 2022.
Therefore, it is not outlandish to think at least one of these pitchers could contribute out of the Yankees bullpen in 2021, depending on how they develop. With the 2021 MiLB season reportedly being pushed back, it is likely that these prospects will not make an impact until later in the season.
The highest ranked of those four is Vizcaino, who sits in the mid-to-high 90 mph range and has touched 100 mph with his fastball. He also sports a good changeup and made good strides in his ability to throw strikes in 2019. MLB.com’s long-term projection for him is as a high-leverage reliever if he does not pan out as a starting pitcher.
Additionally, Medina stands out with his ability to touch 102 mph with his fastball, coupled with a plus curveball. Throwing strikes and repeating his delivery are holding him back from unlocking his potential, but some believe it to be more mental than physical. If he learns to consistently throw strikes, he can at least be another major weapon for the Yankees bullpen in the near future.
The Yankees’ pursuit of DJ LeMahieu will continue to dominate the offseason until he signs somewhere. Both the starting pitching and relief pitching need some reinforcements, as well. Assuming they don’t pursue free agent relief upgrades, they have options to confidently fall back on in 2021.
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