The Yankees are marching into the 2019 season with one of the most stacked bullpens in the Major Leagues, on paper. There are some areas of concern with this group in terms of injuries, velocity issues, control issues, amongst other things. Nonetheless, this group has a chance to be great, and that all starts with how they perform throughout Spring Training. Here’s what to look for out of the projected bullpen pieces for the New York Yankees.
In 2018 Chance Adams got opportunities both as a starting pitcher and coming out of the bullpen. Adams has actually experienced a fall from grace over the course of the past two seasons. A rather inconsistent 2018 season has seen him fall from being a top pitching prospect in the Yankees’ system to now maybe not even being in the top 10. The MLB Pipeline Prospect Watch list has not been released for 2019, but once the number two prospect in the Yankees’ system, Adams has fallen to number 12. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not Adams can live up to the hype that he once had, but if his inconsistencies continue this Spring then it’s hard to imagine he’ll have a big impact this season.
Tarpley threw nine innings on the Major League Level in 2019 and was not all that bad, coming out with a 3.00 ERA. Though a pretty small sample size, Tarpley nonetheless provides the Yankees with an intriguing left-handed relief option. With Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman being the guys who will man the high leverage spots, we might be seeing Tarpley as a middle-relief option throughout the season. Ideally, Tarpley has a solid Spring, as the Yankees could use an extra lefty out of the bullpen.
It’s not so long ago that Tommy Kahnle felt like one of the steals of the 2017 trade that sent Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and himself to the Yankees. He was electrifying, with a fastball in the high 90s, and had a devastating changeup to balance it out. For the majority of 2018, however, Kahnle was nowhere to be seen and his velocity dipped. Kahnle’s average fastball velocity in 2017 was 97.8 MPH, in 2018 it was 95.1 MPH. If Kahnle is, in fact, healthy, we should look for his fastball to be in that 97-100 MPH range. He also lost a bit of zone control last season too, as his in zone% dropped across the board. There’s no reason to give up on Kahnle, however, especially if he can get his velocity back.
Holder has made a name for himself in the Yankees’ bullpen. He had a solid 2018 campaign throwing 66.0 innings while posting a 3.14 ERA. It’s possible that he got a little bit lucky last season, as partially evidenced by his .261 BABIP, but he is a reliable arm out of the pen in an early or middle-inning role. The real thing to watch for with Holder throughout the Spring is if there are any noticeable changes in his body type or any glaring issues with command or velocity. If he is able to be the same pitcher that he was last season, he fits right in with this team.
Chad Green, much like Holder, has been one of the most reliable righty arms out of the Yankees’ bullpen. He too had a productive 2018 campaign, posting a 2.50 ERA in 75.2 Innings Pitched. Green’s best pitch is his fastball, so keep an eye on if there are any velocity dips throughout the Spring. As far as beyond Spring Training goes, we will get into more detail with that later. For now, however, it’s just important to see a guy like Green be able to pick up where he left off.
Alongside Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton will be the other high leverage lefty out of the bullpen for the Yankees. I think the number one thing that needs to be watched in regards to Britton in the Spring has to be if he is able to control his sinker better. He got fewer swings and misses on all of his pitches last season, and he seemed to leave his sinker over the middle of the plate more than usual. So, the main thing to watch for with Britton will be the effectiveness of his Sinker in getting groundballs or swings and misses. His ground ball % dropped 5 percentage points last season compared to 2017. It usually sits at around 80%, but last year it was at 74%. So, throughout the Spring it will be interesting to see if he is able to find his old Sinker again.
Adam Ottavino was probably the biggest free agent signing of the offseason for the Yankees, so far. He provides a really solid right-handed arm for the late innings. We know he has one, if not the nastiest slider in all of baseball. If he hasn’t lost that pitch, then there’s not much the Yankees should worry about. Despite being 33-years-old, there’s no huge reason to worry about age. He has basically stopped throwing a fastball and has instead relied so heavily on his slider. Watch that slider throughout the Spring, as it may be one of the nastiest you’ve ever seen.
The issue with Dellin Betances every Spring seems to be that his velocity is always a bit lower than usual. It’s hard to tell whether he’s just not going all out before the season or if there’s something wrong, but it’s definitely a consistent thing. That’s likely the main thing to watch for throughout the Spring. If his velocity is down, it does not necessarily mean cause for concern, but it is certainly head-scratching. Beyond velocity, I’d like to see if Betances can improve when runners are on. It was an automatic stolen base every time a runner was on against him last season, so ideally that part of his game can improve.
Chapman battled with a knee injury for what seemed to be the entire second half of the 2018 season. You could see it in the way he would get off the mound for a groundball. You could even see it when he would be walking around. He did not look right. What I’ll be looking at for Chapman this Spring will be if he continues to favor that knee. It definitely seemed like an issue last season, so hopefully, he is back at full strength. He lost a bit of velocity last year, averaging 98.7 MPH on his fastball as opposed to 100 MPH the year prior. He complemented that, however, by working on a Slider that had a 62.4% Swing and Miss % in 2018, by far the highest of his career for that pitch. So, even if we see a dip in Chapman’s velocity, he may continue to develop his slider to combat it.