No, his name was not on the list of 26 non-roster invitees the Yankees released Thursday morning, but it may be the last time Jaron Long is omitted.
It would not be a surprise if the 23-year-old native of Scottsdale, Ariz., is on the Yankees’ 25-man when camp breaks in the spring of 2016. He is the Yankees’ “stealth” pitching prospect, making progress in under-the-radar fashion. He was named as having the Best Control in the system by Baseball America.
Having pitched effectively at both Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona and Ohio State – overcoming a broken wrist in junior college and warts on his pitching hand with the Buckeyes – he became one of the top starters in the Big Ten. Yankees Vice President and Director of Amateur Scouting Damon Oppenheimer spotted him in the 2013 Cape Cod League, where he led the circuit with an 0.30 ERA pitching for the Bourne Braves.
Oppenheimer signed him to a free-agent contract that August. It didn’t hurt that his dad, Kevin Long, was the Yankees’ hitting coach. At the time, both the Yankees and the player told anyone who asked nepotism had nothing to do with his signing.
“I never think of, or connect my dad with anything I do with the Yankees,” said Long. “I’m just glad I got a chance. I know what I have to do to take advantage if it. I have to throw strikes and get batters out. That I know I can do.”
Throwing mostly a cutter and sinker in 2014 – he also has a changeup – Long is not a fireballer. He may tip the clock at 90-91 or so. It’s not the speed, but as in real estate: location, location, location. He emerged in 2014, on the minor-league level, just as Shane Greene did on the big-league level.
“The key is pitching to the spots I need to,” Long said. “It’s my pitches against the hitter, and I have to be better than him.”
There were some who mentioned, now that his dad is the Mets’ hitting coach, the Yankees might pay less attention to Long. Certainly not the case.
“Jaron has the stuff to pitch in the majors, no doubt about it,” said Tony Franklin, for whom he made 11 appearances (10 starts) with the Double-A Trenton Thunder in 2014. Franklin has moved on to become a roving observer and manager of the new Yankees Appalachian League farm team in Pulaski (Va.), but he’ll still keep his eye on Long.
“The big thing with Jaron last season is he got better at every level, with every promotion,” said Franklin. “He’s a bright guy. He has a plan when he goes out to pitch.”
After making just six appearances, all in relief with the Gulf Coast Yankees and Class-A Advanced Tampa after his August 2013 signing, Long began 2014 in the Class-A Charleston bullpen. He showed excellent command, control and movement, and, after making four starts and compiling a 3-1, 1.64 mark, was promoted to Tampa.
Florida State League hitters proved little match for his cutter-sinker combination, as he put together a 2-2, 2.77 record in six appearances, four of which were starts. That effort pushed him to Double-A Trenton for the second half of the season, where he enjoyed playing in front of the Thunder’s large crowds.
“When you see 5,000 or more people coming to watch you, it gets you pumped,” Long said.
And Thunder fans enjoyed watching Long give Double-A Eastern League hitters headaches. In those 11 appearances, Long was 7-2, 2.35 and seriously one of the best in the circuit down the stretch, For the season, he was 12-5, 2.18, threw a strong 144.1 innings, had a strikeout/walk ratio of 122-22, a WHIP of 1.012, allowed just four home runs and 124 hits.
Long will likely start 2015 at Triple-A Scranton. If he continues to throw strikes as accurately as he has, and his pitches have the movement they have had – a combination which places hitter after hitter off-balance – the Yankees could definitely have a homegrown starter here.
If that occurs, you can bet his dad, watching from across town, would be proud.