Albert Abreu is another promising prospect in the Yankees system.
(Lynne Sladky/AP Photo)

Injuries have slowed down New York Yankees prospect Albert Abreu from rising through the ranks, but there’s a potential role for him in 2020.

Thomas Hall

Back on Tuesday, the New York Yankees made the first round of cuts to their spring training roster. In total, seven players were reassigned to minor-league camps, including Albert Abreu.

Despite making 23 appearances at Double-A Trenton in 2019, the Yankees optioned Abreu back down there to begin this season. As a result, the right-handed pitcher is now without any minor-league options remaining.

Following this transaction, the Yankees will be forced to decide on Abreu next spring, as he would need to be sent through waivers first before being eligible to be optioned down to the minor leagues once again.

Heading into this season, Abreu is ranked as the Yankee’s seventh-best pitching prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. So, it’ll be extremely important for him to climb up the rankings during the 2020 campaign.

Last season, the 24-year-old hurler completed 96.2 innings at double-A and he produced a 4.28 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 4.21 xFIP, 1.61 WHIP, .271 OPP AVG, 20.7% strikeout rate, 12.0% walk rate along with a measly 8.7% HR/FB rate as well. In addition, he also generated a 41.5% ground ball rate, 36.9% fly ball rate and a 21.6% line drive rate during his time at Trenton in 2019.

Based on these results, it’s a little more clear as to why the Yankees decided to send Abreu back down for more seasoning. The hard-throwing righty struggled with his command last season, which led to the third-highest walk rate of his career.

The 2019 campaign also marked the third year in a row where Abreu has suffered an injury to his throwing arm. Last season, the highly touted prospect missed nearly a month due to biceps soreness. Since he’s only thrown a combined 101.2 innings in two shortened seasons at Trenton, it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to provide him with a little more experience before promoting him to the next level.

If these injuries are truly behind the former Astros’ prospect, then it shouldn’t take him much longer to make his major league debut. In fact, there’s a high chance of that taking place this season.

Since Abreu has struggled to locate his pitches with consistency, it’s becoming more likely that he’s destined for a role in the bullpen when he reaches the major-league level.

With Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia waiting in the wings, the Yankees don’t exactly have a role for Abreu within their starting rotation in 2020. However, his impressive repertoire could be utilized from out of the bullpen this season.

As a starting pitcher, the Dominican native features a 94-98 mph fastball that is capable of reaching 101 mph at its peak. If the young hurler transitions into the bullpen, his heater would likely sit in the high-90s. In other words, more frequently than it did when he was a starter.

If successful, Abreu would be able to perfectly set up his curveball and changeup with that electric fastball. Along with his impressive heater, the Yankees’ young arm also features a mid-80s curveball that creates a ton of swings and misses. Lastly, his mid-80s changeup produces a lot of deception with its late fading movement just before it reaches the plate.

Based on all three of these pitches, Abreu has the potential to develop into a multi innings reliever starting in 2020. Once he’s able to control his pitches more effectively, he could also become a late-inning reliever in the major leagues.

Following the departure of Dellin Betances along with the struggles that Adam Ottavino faced at times last season, the Yankees may need someone to step up in the seventh and eighth innings in 2020. Currently, Zack Britton is expected to occupy one of the two setup roles in their bullpen this season. But, New York will need more than just one reliable pitcher to bridge the gap to Aroldis Chapman.

If Abreu was positioned in that role, he could potentially perform like an earlier version of Chapman. Similar to the Yankees’ closer, Abreu’s breaking ball has been his primary strikeout pitch throughout his minor-league career. When paired with his dominating fastball, the young righty could become another shutdown reliever within the Yankees’ bullpen in 2020.

With Chapman, Britton, and Abreu, the Yankees could have one of the best bullpens in the major leagues for the second straight season. However, any possibility of this trio coming together probably won’t happen until later this summer.

While making his major league debut would be a huge accomplishment, staying healthy throughout this season should be Abreu’s main goal. When healthy, he’s arguably the most complete pitching prospect within the Yankees’ farm system.

If Abreu can stay on the mound this season, he should be able to have a lot of success during his seventh professional season. But if he continues to face health issues with his pitching arm, the 2020 campaign could be his last one as a member of the Yankees’ organization.