The Yankees’ rotation looked set when the month of February started, but the back surgery left-hander James Paxton recently underwent threw a wrench in their plans. They’re now lacking an obvious answer after Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ. The team will give plenty of hurlers chances to emerge as its No. 5 during spring training, though, as Bryan Hoch of MLB.com relays.
General manager Brian Cashman on Wednesday named five pitchers – Luis Cessa, Deivi Garcia, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King and Jordan Montgomery – as candidates to take the last spot in New York’s rotation. The leader may be the 27-year-old Montgomery, who had an impressive rookie campaign in 2017 but hasn’t been much of a factor since then because of injury troubles. Montgomery underwent Tommy John surgery in June 2018 after throwing a mere 27 1/3 innings that year, though he did make a late-season return to a major league mound in 2019. Manager Aaron Boone said Wednesday that Montgomery’s now “in a good place” with respect to his health.
As for Montgomery’s competition, Cessa and Loaisiga have each garnered a decent amount of experience at the game’s highest level. Cessa’s heater checks in around 95 mph, but it hasn’t led to great results in the majors. He’s the owner of a 4.50 ERA/4.98 FIP with 7.37 K/9 and 2.91 BB/9 in 232 career innings. Most of his work (67 of 86 appearances) has come as a reliever. Cessa is out of minor league options, so he could end up in another organization if he doesn’t make the Yankees this spring.
Loaisiga can throw even harder than Cessa (96-97 mph), and he’s a former top-100 prospect, but his MLB production hasn’t been special, either. While Loaisiga recorded a tremendous strikeout rate of 11.18 per nine in his first 56 1/3 innings as a Yankee from 2018-19, he walked almost five per nine and only registered a 4.79 ERA/4.33 FIP. Moreover, the right-hander dealt with shoulder problems last season.
Neither Garcia nor King has appeared in the majors yet, but there’s plenty of promise in the two cases. FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen ranked the 20-year-old Garcia as the game’s 42nd-best prospect Wednesday, calling the 5-foot-10, 163-pounder “a diminutive firecracker righty with a beautiful curveball.” However, because of his size, there are questions about Garcia’s durability. He also didn’t put up great numbers last year as an extremely young Triple-A pitcher, as he managed a subpar 5.40 ERA/5.77 FIP with 10.13 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 over 40 innings at the level.
King, 24, racked up a combined 62 2/3 innings in Triple-A from 2018-19, pitching to a sterling 2.30 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 in that span. He even made a one-appearance MLB debut last season, and currently ranks as the Yankees’ 19th-best prospect at MLB.com.
Considering how volatile the back end of most teams’ rotations are, it’s entirely possible (maybe even likely) that more than one of the above hurlers will start games for the Yankees as they await Paxton’s return. The World Series hopefuls figure to get Paxton back early in the summer, so those who wind up filling his spot could be on borrowed time in that role.