It’s pretty easy to predict how the Yankees are going to staff their bullpen this season. There are six players guaranteed a roster spot, barring injury. The team is planning to carry a 13 man pitching staff this year, meaning that there are two open spots assuming a five man starting rotation. Tommy Kahnle probably snags one of the two jobs considering he’s out of options. The last opening probably will be interchangeable throughout the season, though having a long reliever could be the outcome.
There are no shortage of relievers who could ride the Scranton shuttle this season, rotating as the 13th pitcher as needed. Some of them are already on the 40-man, while others are non-roster invitees. It would be easy to write off any of the foregoing players as significant contributors, but let’s not forget that what Jonathan Holder did last year. He went from being the main back-and-forth guy to a major league bullpen staple.
There usually isn’t too much to say about a September call-up who’s a reliever. Yet, Tarpley has become a pretty fascinating pitcher to follow. The Yankees probably envision him as Zack Britton-lite, and there’s good reason why. Prior to Britton joining the Yankees, Tarpley spent some time shadowing him prior to the 2017 season. Who knows if that story would have been uncovered had Britton not been traded to New York.
Tarpley saw his groundball rate jump dramatically in 2017, almost certainly due to Britton’s influence. Combine that with the high strikeout rates in the high minors and you have an interesting relief prospect. Tarpley was pretty good in his 10 inning cameo last September and even made the playoff roster. He’ll probably get the bulk of the major league time that anyone else on the Scranton shuttle gets this summer.
Tommy John surgery cost Heller all of 2018 and will curtail part of his 2019 as well. After going under the knife last April, he’s six weeks away rehab game action. That doesn’t mean he’s close to the big leagues, though. In all likelihood, he’s probably not an option until mid-season.
The Yankees acquired Heller as part of the Andrew Miller trade a few years ago. He’s already seen small parts of two major league seasons with the Yankees, totaling 18 innings. Best known for his mid-to-high 90s fastball, it’ll be interesting to see how his velocity returns this summer. Even though he’s already had a good deal of success in Triple-A, he’s probably going to spend a lot of time there this year.
Harvey was a somewhat surprising 40-man roster addition a few months ago. One of the reasons I profiled him in February was because I didn’t know anything about him. He’s still a bit of a mystery, though the Yankees clearly like him enough to save him a seat on the 40-man.
A little bit has been made about the spin rate on his fastball. It’s very good, and spin rate has become all the rage in baseball these days. Just look at what the Astros have done with their pitchers. Anyway, Harvey doesn’t appear to have much else other than a good fastball. Yet, if he puts up numbers like he did in the minors last year (sub 2 ERA), he’ll get his shot this summer.
Non-roster possibilities with big league experience
As Mike wrote last month, it’s pretty easy to pull for Farquhar to carve out a role with the big club. It’s a distinct possibility that he could return to the majors after his near-death experience in the White Sox dugout last summer. As a non-roster invitee who’s already been sent to minor league camp, he’s still on the outside looking in. It’s not hard to see why the Yankees like him: he strikes out plenty of hitters and has had good seasons with Seattle and Tampa Bay. Plus, the Yankees have had him in the organization before, back in 2012. There’s still a lot for Farquhar to overcome, but if he resembles something of his old self he could be in pinstripes this year.
Brothers is representative of the adage that lefties never run out of opportunities. The southpaw was pretty impressive for the Rockies early in his career with his high velocity fastball. Eventually, Colorado cut bait when his control evaded him. After not making the Cubs in 2016, he sat out the entire season. Beginning in 2017, he worked his way back to the big leagues with Atlanta. His walk problems never went away though, and he walked more than a batter per inning in the minors last year. Still, his velocity from the left side is tantalizing. He averaged over 96 MPH on his heater in limited time with Atlanta last season. He can’t be totally ignored as an option for the Yankees since he is in camp, but it would probably take a ton of injuries or an unlikely resurgence.
Stylistically, Coulombe is the opposite of Brothers. Instead of a high-octane fastball, Coulombe is a lefty who relies on his slider and curveball two-thirds of the time. He’s been in the majors every year since 2014, split between the Dodgers and A’s, with middling results. It’s hard to see him as much more than emergency depth even though he’s hung around the highest level for a while now. Maybe another team will want to give him a big league chance before the month is over, but if not, he’ll hang around in Scranton most of the year. Maybe he could be plucked for September call-ups if the Yankees want a matchup lefty.
Prospects invited to big league spring training
Even though Stephan has been a starter in the minors, it sounds like 2017’s 3rd-rounder could be best deployed out of the bullpen. He works exclusively out of the stretch, doesn’t really have a third pitch just yet, and has a little bit of an odd delivery. Stephan’s a pretty big guy, standing at six-foot-four, but his fastball extension is even more impressive. He’s got a seven foot reach which certainly makes his fastball tougher to hit. He’ll be in the minors to start the year, but he should be knocking on the door by year end.
25-year-olds aren’t always prospects, but Lail became mildly interesting after moving to the bullpen last summer. From getting drafted in 2012 through his climb to Triple-A, the righty was a starter. Last year, he became a full-time reliever and started picking up more strikeouts. He wasn’t a one-and-done type of guy though; he pitched multiple innings quite a bit out of the pen. His ERA was too high, sitting over 5, but as a multi-inning option he could become an alternative to someone like Luis Cessa this season. Lail’s already been assigned to minor league camp, but he could be around later this year.
Raynel Espinal and Phillip Diehl
I’m grouping these two together because Domenic called them out as guys who could help the Yankees this year. Espinal, 27, has been in the organization since 2013 and finally made Triple-A last year. He’s yet another hard-thrower with impressive strikeout rates. Diehl, 24, is a lefty without much of a platoon split thus far in his minor league career. He’s had a great spring (6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 10 K) and Aaron Boone has mentioned him by name when asked who’s impressed in camp. Both are probably heading to Scranton to start the year, but either could become part of the shuttle in a few months.
At six-foot-five and 270 pounds, Coshow has a presence on the mound. He flip-flopped between starting and relieving from 2013 through 2016 until becoming a reliever full-time in 2017. You’ve heard this story before: he started to miss a lot more bats in the bullpen. He’s likely low on the promotion pecking order, but the fact that he was in big league camp means the Yankees like him to some degree.