The New York Mets signed Luis Cessa in 2008 as a 16-year-old infielder from Mexico. Cessa played three infield positions in his first two seasons as a Met; second, third, and short. However, he showed little hitting ability and was moved to the mound in 2010, and made his first official pitching appearance in 2011.
Cessa’s first stop on his road to becoming a legitimate pitching prospect was in the DSL, where he put up a 2.49 ERA, and a 1.015 WHIP in 21.2 innings. He was then promoted to the GCL where he continued to post impressive numbers, he had a 3.66 ERA, and a 1.219 WHIP, while pitching 32 innings. Perhaps the most noteworthy element of his first season pitching was his stellar walk rate. He posted a 2.2 BB/9 over the course of his first 53.2 innings.
His low walk total shows that he really started his career as an advanced strike-thrower, which is very impressive. Looking at a couple of position players the Yankees converted to pitchers gives you a little perspective into just how difficult it is to learn to throw strikes: The Yankees turned Claudio Custodio into a pitcher in 2014/2015 and this year in the GCL he had 4.37 BB/9, Andury Acevedo was an infielder with the Pirates, but switched to pitching, was signed by the Yankees, and posted a BB/9 of 8.2 over his first 3 seasons.
Andury eventually showed enough control to sign a major league deal with the Cubs, and time will tell if Custodio ever learns control, but the point is that both guys had/ will have to work hard to get to a point where they learn to pitch. Cessa seemingly always knew how to pitch, which really speaks to his coachability.
This is perhaps why Cessa was able to rise up the Mets system relatively quickly; Cessa was able to get to the majors after 5 seasons, despite not throwing a full season until he was 19. He started his second season in the NYPL pitched 72.1 innings (13th most in the league) while posting the following stats: 2.49 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 1.065 WHIP, BB/9 of 1.6, and a K/9 of 5.5.
He spent the next season in A-ball, and his first taste of full-season play was arguably the best season he’s ever had. He pitched a 130 innings and posted the following numbers: 3.12 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 1.192 WHIP, 1.3 BB/9, 8.6 K/9 and a K% of 23.1. The reason I feel that this was his best season was because it was his first time outside the DSL that he showed strikeout ability.
Over the first three seasons of his career Cessa clearly showed that he was worth keeping an eye on, his stuff wasn’t overly dominant, but his fastball command helped make him an interesting prospect that could get better as he continued to develop.
Unfortunately, he could not maintain his momentum during his fourth season in A+. It wasn’t that he was bad, it was just that he didn’t seem to have had improved. He posted the following stats in 114.2 innings at High-A: 4.00 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 2.12 BB/9, 6.51 K/9 and a K% of 17.6. His K/9 and K% both fell significantly, He was then promoted to AA to finish the season, and was crushed in his only start.
So it shouldn’t be too shocking that the Mets chose to not protect his in the Rule-5 draft. Fortunately for the Mets he wasn’t chosen by anyone, as he posted impressive numbers in AA last season, and was used as a part of a major trade.
Cessa began the 2015 season in AA and pitched 77.1 while posting a 2.56 ERA, which was in line with his 2.69 FIP. As usual he also posted a low WHIP (1.22) and maintained a low BB/9 (1.98). His K% bounced back up to 19.2, and his HR/9 fell to a career low .23.
After pitching 77.1 innings at the level Cessa was promoted to the AAA team. The Mets AAA team is located in Vegas, and is in the PCL, so really no-one should be expected to put a pretty stat-line. Cessa pitched 24.1 innings before being traded, and put up the following stats: 8.51 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 1.48 BB/9, 8.88 K/9, and his career worst HR/9 (1.11).
He was then used as a secondary piece in the Yoenis Cespedes trade. After the trade he was assigned to the Toledo Mudhens-Tigers AAA team—and continued to show the importance of advanced stats. He posted a 5.97 ERA, but had a 3.40 FIP, and simply had some bad luck; namely his inability to strand runners. His LOB% was a meager 59.8 percent, which is much lower than his career average. He also struggled with control for the first time in his career, and posted a career high 3.58 BB/9, on the bright side his k% was 20.2 which was very close to his career average of 19.6.
Overall Cessa has had an impressive minor league career. He’s shown elite control (career BB/9 of just 1.9), and some ability to miss bats (K% of 19.6). With that said his repertoire as a pitcher isn’t all that impressive. He has a good fastball, that sits low 90’s but can reach 96 MPH. He knows how to command his fastball very well and it is a pitch with some movement. In his addition to his fastball he throws, a slider, a changeup, and a curveball which is he started throwing in 2015.
At the trade deadline Kiley McDaniel had this to say about Cessa: “Cessa will run it up to 95 mph, has a slider, changeup and command that are all average to slightly above and projects as a back-end starter, swing man or 7th inning reliever depending on how the command plays at the big league level.”
Kiley didn’t mention his curve, but his much maligned replacement graded it as a 45/50+ offering (current/future). Overall, it seems that everyone has basically the same outlook on Cessa, which is that he doesn’t have much upside but could be a useful fifth-starter, longman or reliever, depending on how much he continues to progress.
My overall impressions of Cessa is that he gives the Yankees something they desperately needed at the start of the off-season, and that’s pitching depth. I could see why fans would be upset that he was the better component of the Justin Wilson trade, but I feel the Yankees have plenty of Justin Wilson types in AAA, and very few options that could help the team the way Cessa can.
I feel that Cessa’s stuff will play up in short appearances and that he will have value as a long reliever, in a way he’s Adam Warren’s replacement. He might not have Warren’s secondary pitches, but overall I feel he will be okay in that type of role.