If MLB opts to use expanded rosters in 2020, the New York Yankees can bring up two hot pitching prospects—Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia.
Unfortunately, their chances of breaking camp with the Yankees was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to Major League Baseball’s hiatus. Now, it could be difficult for either pitcher to earn a spot within the starting rotation this season.
With MLB paused, James Paxton has been able to recover from his back surgery and he’ll likely be ready to play whenever the regular season begins. As a result, there’ll just be one open spot within the Yankees’ pitching rotation and there’s a very good chance that it’ll be awarded to Jordan Montgomery this summer.
If not for his Tommy John surgery in 2018, Montgomery would’ve likely won a job in the rotation last spring. Nevertheless, the fifth spot on New York’s staff will undoubtedly be his to lose this season.
Based on multiple reports, it’s becoming more clear that there won’t be a minor-league season in 2020. If so, MLB is expected to increase roster sizes to 30 players and allow for a “taxi squad” of 20 players who’ll be able to fill in if needed throughout the 2020 campaign.
MLB is suggesting rosters expand to 30 to account for a shorter spring and arms not as ready as usual, plus a taxi squad of perhaps up to 20 more to account for no minor leagues, which seems extremely likely.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) May 11, 2020
In this scenario, the Yankees would be able to keep both Schmidt and Garcia in the bigs this season and have each of them become key members of the pitching staff. Even if they’re assigned to the bullpen, there’s still a very good chance that each pitcher would be able to make an impact in 2020.
While both pitchers have the potential to remain as starters in the majors, Schmidt appears to be ahead of Garcia with his development to the next level. Based on his impressive results from last season, the 24-year-old hurler could be very effective as an opener and as a multi-inning reliever this season.
During the 2019 campaign, the former first-round selection created a 3.84 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 2.97 xFIP, 1.31 WHIP, .243 OPP AVG, 25.5% strikeout rate, 8.9% walk rate, 56.2% GB rate along with a 5% HR/FB rate over his 63.1 innings of work at High-A Tampa.
After enduring a ton of success at High-A in 2019, Schmidt was awarded a late-season promotion to Double-A. Despite making just three starts, the young hurler continued utilizing his mid-90s four-seamer and two-seamer along with his mid-80s changeup and low-80s curveball, allowing him to improve his results with the Trenton Thunder.
In total, the right-hander produced a 2.37 ERA, 2.01 FIP, 2.47 xFIP, 0.79 WHIP, .200 OPP AVG, 26.8% strikeout rate, 1.4% walk rate, 44% GB rate and a 4.5% HR/FB rate over his 19 innings pitched at double-A Trenton.
With the Yankees hoping to avoid further injuries to their pitching staff, they’ll likely need to limit their starters’ workload during the first few months of the season. One way to accomplish that feat would be letting Schmidt fill the gap either at the start of games or during the middle innings.
Since the 6-foot-1 hurler also has a lengthy history of elbow issues, including his Tommy John surgery in 2017, this plan would also allow the Yankees to limit his workload as well. With Masahiro Tanaka, possibly J.A. Happ and Paxton entering free agency after this season, taking this approach would likely put Schmidt in a better position to join the Yankees’ rotation during the 2021 campaign.
Similar to Schmidt, Garcia could also be utilized as an opener this season. With that said, his repertoire would likely be better suited in high-leverage situations, profiling him as a late-inning reliever.
Prior to last season, the right-handed hurler had been very effective with his mid-90s fastball, high-70s curveball along with his mid-80s slider and changeup. During his first three seasons within the Yankees’ organization, the Dominican native was successful at creating a ton of strikeouts while limiting home runs and walks.
Unfortunately, the 5-foot-9 hurler experienced command issues at all three levels of MiLB last season. As a result, he produced a miserable 5.40 ERA, 5.77 FIP, 5.18 xFIP, 1.48 WHIP, .253 OPP AVG, 25.3% strikeout rate (career-low), 11.2% walk rate, 37.4% GB rate and a 18.2% HR/FB rate (career-high) over his 40 innings pitched at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Despite these struggles, Garcia’s dominating curveball and high-spin fastball would likely help him find his footing in the bullpen this season. As a relief arm, there’s a very good chance that he’d be able to keep hitters off-balance with just these two pitches, allowing him to occasionally mix in his slider and changeup.
With the Yankees looking to internally fill the void left by Dellin Betances, pairing Garcia with Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino would likely provide their team with another reliable arm this season. Furthermore, this transition could provide him with a fallback option if he fails to remain a starter in the majors.
Ideally, New York would probably prefer to send both Schmidt and Garcia to Triple-A if they fail to win the final spot within the starting rotation. But without a minor-league season, moving both pitchers to the bullpen will likely be the best way to allow each of them to continue developing this season.
If successful during their rookie seasons, their chances of breaking camp with the Yankees next spring will undoubtedly increase and they could each be featured within the starting rotation as soon as 2021.