TRENTON, NJ – Last August, the Yankees took a shot at an Ohio State pitcher who showed some potential, a right-hander named Jaron Long.
He also happened to be the son of Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, which possibly had something to do with his being signed to a free-agent contract.
“I told them to treat Jaron like any other kid,” said Kevin Long.
Whether Kevin is his dad or not, the Yankees have uncovered something of a Diamond in the Rough with the 22-year-old (he turns 23 next week). Long, after making just four appearances with the Gulf Coast Yankees and two with Class-A Tampa in 2013, has put together an 11-4, 2.25 mark in 26 appearances (16 starts) with Charleston, Tampa and Trenton.
If you are looking for a pitcher who is emerging in the Yankees system – similar to Shane Greene a year ago – Long gets the honor. He’s not Luis Severino, not Greene, but he has shown he could be a serviceable option.
This is a pitcher who started 2014 in the Charleston bullpen, going 3-1, 1.64 with 11 appearances (four starts), He made four starts and a pair of bullpen appearances in Tampa, compiling a 2-2, 2.77 mark before breaking out in Trenton.
While he doesn’t have Severino’s velocity or recognition, he’s traveled the same road as the more-heralded prospect as his body of work has improved. He knows what he has to do to succeed.
“I just keep working every time out to get better,” said Long, whose sparkling, eight-inning scoreless effort in Trenton’s 3-0 win over New Hampshire Thursday night, continued his emergence with the Thunder. “I don’t have that fastball at 95 as a strikeout pitch. I have to hit my spots.”
What Long does have is fastball that sits right around 90 – he might throw one 93 here and there – a plus-changeup, effective sinker and cutter. He works quickly, following the mantra of “Work quickly, throw strikes, trust your stuff.”
He does work quickly. He throws strikes (a strikeout/walk ratio of 110-21) and trusts his stuff (pitching to contact and allowing just four home runs in 132 innings. Batters are hitting .223 against him this season, and his WHIP is an excellent 1.01.
“Hitters keep adjusting, so I have to adjust,” said Long. “I have confidence in what I bring to the mound, and I feel I can get the upper hand on hitters.”
With the exception of his worst outing – at Binghamton July 26, he has pitched into the sixth inning in each of his nine Trenton starts. His lone loss came at Bowie Aug. 15, when he allowed three earned runs.
He seems to be getting stronger as the Eastern League season nears its conclusion. His sinker and change have kept Double-A hitters off-balance, setting up his fastball. Long is becoming a master at using the corners in picking up many swing-and-miss strikeouts.
“I really like his approach and what he is doing,” said Trenton manager Tony Franklin. “He has a feel of what he has to do with the hitters.”
Pitchers learn to read a hitter’s swing. Long appears to be grasping that as well.
The Yankees recognize their Minor League Pitcher of the Year with the Kevin Lawn Award. There will be plenty of competition for that plaudit this season, but he certainly will be in the conversation.