Projecting the Yankees Opening Day 25 Man Roster: Part 2 of 2: Pitching Staff

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Yankees fans rejoice: We are now just 10 days away from Opening Day!  Part two of our Yankees Opening Day Roster Preview takes a look at the Yankees projected pitching staff they will carry out of Spring Training.  As mentioned in yesterday's post, the Yankees are expected to stock a pitching staff of 12 men; comprised of five starting pitchers and seven relievers. With only a few spots currently locked up, much is still to be determined. Let's take a look at who you can expect to see with the Yankees in Tampa Bay on April 2nd. 

Starting Pitchers  

With only three definitive locks at the top of the Yankees starting rotation, and a well documented five-man battle for the remaining two spots coming into it's final week, it's not yet clear who the Yankees will deem their fourth and fifth starters.  Below is a player comparison of the seven men currently vying for the five starting rotation spots: 

Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia have already been deemed locks for the top three spots in the rotation, but the five-man battle behind them appears a bit messy at this point. Tanaka and Pineda have looked like bona fide front-of-the-rotation starters and CC Sabathia should be expected to round into shape within the next 2 weeks. Yes, CC's ERA and WHIP are a bit eye-popping, but I'm sure he'd tell you that he is just getting the rust off and that we shouldn't be too concerned. 

The Yankees still want to give Luis Severino every possibility to recapture the brilliance he displayed in his debut back in 2015.  After an incredibly rocky 2016, he still has something to prove, but his Spring stats thus far have been encouraging. 

Bryan Mitchell was expected to be a key cog of the Yankees pitching staff in 2016 before a late Spring Training injury (a broken toe occurred while fielding a ground ball) ended his spring and nearly his entire season.  He returned late in the season and showed some flashes of the talent he possesses. By all accounts, he has been the Yankees' third best pitcher in camp this Spring behind Tanaka and Pineda. 

Photo Credit: Paul J. Bereswill; Charles Wenzelberg

Earlier this week, Steve Eareckson previewed Adam Warren's role with the Yankees in 2017. While the Yankees are giving Warren as much a chance as the other four guys, the feeling has always been that he will ultimately end up in the bullpen, but should be available as a spot starter the first time the Yankees need a fill-in. 

Chad Green's strong ERA of just 1.50 would seem to put him in a favorable position for one of the two rotation spots, but his 8:6 strikeout to walk ratio is a bit concerning, as his control is still a part of his game that needs work. 

Luis Cessa has struggled the most of the five guys vying for the final two rotation spots this Spring despite showing some success in the rotation at the end of 2016.  For now, it seems like he needs to sharpen his skills down in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. 

Prediction: The Yankees open the season with Severino and Mitchell in the rotation, Warren in the bullpen, and send Cessa and Green to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to stay stretched out and perfect their respective games, with the intention of bringing them up if one of the five starters suffers an injury or struggles severely.  


Beyond the seventh, eighth, and ninth inning trio of Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman (all of whom have pitched to 0.00 ERAs, by the way), the Yankees still have four other bullpen slots to fill.  First and foremost you can pencil in a lefty specialist, which at this point is down to either Tommy Layne or Chasen Shreve.  After that, if you figure Adam Warren joins the bullpen ranks as well, there are only two remaining spots available.  Here's where the fun begins, as the Yankees have given ample opportunity to plenty of their young arms, many whom have been pleasant surprises this Spring.

First and foremost, I want to acknowledge Ben Heller as one of the favorites for a bullpen spot at this point. Heller absolutely dominated in the minor leagues last season, and although he struggled in limited action after his September call-up, he looks ready to take on the Major Leagues in 2017. So far, through nine appearances, Heller has thrown to a 0.93 ERA across 9.2 innings pitched to go along with a stout .161 BAA and 1.14 WHIP.  Like Chad Green, Heller has probably walked a few more batters than he would like, but all in all he has looked rock solid.

Photo Credit: Brad Penner, USATSI

Other names to watch over the final week of Spring Training are Jonathan Holder, Jon Niese, newly acquired Ernesto Frieri, and standout lefty Jordan Montgomery.  Jonathan Holder, as I’ve written on the blog previously, should be a key component in the Yankees bullpen over the next few years, but his numbers aren’t quite as strong as Heller’s thus far, though still good.  Across nine innings (seven appearances), Holder has pitched to a 4.00 ERA with a .206 BAA, although his peripheral numbers are very good – zero walks, seven strikeouts, and a tidy 0.78 WHIP.

Former Angels closer Ernesto Frieri was given an invite to Yankees camp on a minor league deal after he impressed in the World Baseball Classic for his native Colombia, but has only been given two innings of work thus far.  It’s likely the Yankees see him as an important middle relief piece, but he’ll likely start the season in Triple-A. Jon Niese has modest numbers across five innings pitched this spring.

Jordan Montgomery is the wild card in this bunch.  The ace of the 2016 International League Champion Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders was seen as a long shot to make the team out of camp, but has continually impressed Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild.  Through four appearances, Montgomery has thrown 10.1 innings of 3.48 ERA ball with a 0.87 WHIP.  He also threw the final four innings of the Yankees combined no-hitter on March 17th. It's unlikely he sneaks into the fifth rotation spot, but Girardi really likes him, so stay tuned.

Prediction: The Yankees seven man Opening Day bullpen will be comprised of Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, Tommy Layne, Adam Warren, Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances, & Aroldis Chapman. Look for Niese to opt-out after not getting a roster spot, and Montgomery and Frieri to be in line to ride the “Scranton Shuttle” this season.

Article by: Andrew Natalizio  


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