Luis Gil can pitch, but he has no future as a starter.
The Yankees brass saw this in person on Thursday, when the young flamethrower made a spot start against the White Sox in an eventual 15-7 win over Chicago. He got the nod despite a brutal start at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with a 9.53 ERA and 6.4 walks per nine innings.
In fairness to Gil, his appearance was not an unmitigated disaster. The Yankees offense showing up and offering six runs of support helped a lot too. Even so, Gil had anything but a clean game in four innings of work.
Gil allowed four runs on five hits, walking two with five strikeouts. He tossed 83 pitches, 54 of which were strikes. That’s not an awful ratio, but Gil also gave up more than his fair share of hard contact. Getting to six three-ball counts also doesn’t help.
And yet, it’s obvious that Gil has a future. It just is as a high-leverage reliever.
Consider this: Gil’s fastball not only consistently touches 98 MPH, but he touches that speed almost effortlessly. At no point in his four innings did his fastball velocity dip below 95 MPH. Imagine if Gil shifted his approach to just pounding the zone with that fastball instead of trying to nip the corners. He could prove untouchable as a reliever.
Therein lies Gil’s problem as a starter. He has all that velocity, but no idea how to control it. Furthermore, he’s prone to hanging his slider. Of Chicago’s five hits against him, three came against sliders left up in the zone. Gil’s been tinkering with a changeup, but what good is it if he can’t even control his two main pitches?
Not to get all Uncle Junior about it, but he doesn’t really have the makings of a long-term starter.
Thankfully for Gil, the Yankees know how to make this very switch with pitchers like him who have elite velocity, but lack control. Remember, before there was Gil, there was Dellin Betances. Betances’ path to the majors was very similar to where Gil is now, blowing hitters away with fastballs but also issuing too many walks.
Betances turned his career shift into an opportunity, and the rest is history. He set a record with five straight 100-strikeout seasons out of the bullpen and made four All-Star teams along the way. Gil making the same switch sets him up for success with the Yankees not just now, but down the road too.
Assume Aroldis Chapman leaves in free agency and Jonathan Loaisiga becomes the closer. The Yankees could have a setup crew of Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes, and Gil. That’s a lefty with a nasty changeup, a big righty with a power sinker, and a young live arm with endless velocity and a potentially deadly slider. And then Loaisiga shuts the door.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
All this to say that despite his rough showing down on the farm, Gil did not pitch badly in his brief call to the show. Even with a lot of help from the lineup, he kept the Yankees in the game and gave them some innings. For all we know, he’ll head back to Triple-A, adjust his grip on the ball, and get the walks under control.
More likely than not, however, he’ll soon make a permanent shift to the bullpen. In the end, that will prove the best move for his career and also prolong it. Here’s hoping the Yankees make that switch soon and Gil gets more opportunities to help the team in the Bronx.