By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Luis Severino, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees
2015 season (Minors): 19 G, 19 GS, 99.1 IP, 2.45 ERA, .997 WHIP, 9 W, 98 SO, 27 BB
2015 season (Majors): 11 G, 11 GS, 62.1 IP, 2.89 ERA, 1.203 WHIP, 5 W, 56 SO, 22 BB
With CC Sabathia past his prime, Michael Pineda looking more like a middle-of-the-rotation anchor at best along with Nathan Eovaldi, and Masahiro Tanaka — the closest thing the Yankees have to an ace — surrounded by elbow concerns with Tommy John Surgery seemingly lurking in the shadows, it’s safe to say the Yankees’ rotation is shaky, at best.
That brings us to Luis Severino. A 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic who has been in the organization since he was 18, Severino absolutely skyrocketed through the Minor Leagues last season before making his MLB debut with the Yankees in August. The young right-hander dominated every level in the Minors: 2.45 ERA, 1.068 WHIP and 10.8 K/9 at age 19 from Rookie league to Class A in 2013; 2.47 ERA, 1.062 WHIP and 10.1 K/9 from Class A to Double A in ‘14; and a 2.45 ERA, 0.997 WHIP and 9.0 K/9 from Double A to Triple A last season.
With no setbacks at any level and with the Yankees dealing with injuries in their rotation, it made all the sense in the world to give their top pitching prospect a shot in August. He made his first MLB start on Aug. 5 and once again, showed no signs of slowing down with seven strikeouts and one earned run in five innings. He rebounded from his one bad start vs. Blue Jays to post very strong numbers over 11 starts.
Severino enters Spring Training focused, with a goal of 200 innings that manager Joe Girardi believes he can handle — though it’s certainly not a foregone conclusion, especially considering that’s something no Yankee pitcher has accomplished since 2013. It’s not completely irrational, though, as he logged 161 2/3 innings between the Minors and Majors last year. The Yankees have been burned by pitch limits before (Read: Chamberlain, Joba) so it would benefit them to just let him pitch and see where they are at come August.
Health and arm strength aside, Severino has another obvious challenge, and that’s handling hitters who now have more of a scouting report on him and a better sense of what to expect from him. Severino has already said that he understands that, and noted that he also has a better idea on how to pitch certain hitters. It’s clear Severino has the right mindset moving into his first full big league season.
Severino is primarily a three-pitch pitcher, with a fastball that clocked in at 95.2 mph according to Fangraphs’ PITCHf/x data last year. To go along with the fastball, he features a wipeout slider, which he threw 30.6 percent of the time last season, and a changeup that clocked in at around 8 mph slower than his fastball on average. The slider will be key, as he had issues leaving it up last season, which MLB hitters will have no problem with. As long as he can keep that down, he should be able to maintain on his impressive 9.6 SwStr% (swinging-strike percentage) and solid 50.9 ground-ball rate and elevate himself to the top of the Yankees’ rotation at just 22 years old.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.