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The New York Yankees are doing nearly nothing. At the same time, they wait to see if they can re-sign DJ LeMahieu; they are not addressing their Major League need for a premium type starting pitcher. They need to replace Tommy Kahnle in the bullpen, but they have been quietly building strength in the minor leagues’ available pitchers. In November, the Yankees selected RHP Roansy Contreras and Alexander Vizcaino from Tampa Tarpons. During December, they assigned pitchers Matt Krook and Reggie McClain to the Yankees.

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In the mid-month of December, they signed pitchers Lucas Luetge, Luis Garcia, Matt Bowman, and Adam Warren, who previously pitched for the Yankees. During January, they have signed pitchers Nestor Cortes Jr., Tyler Lyons, James Reeves, and just yesterday, Jhoulys Chacin. Just this offseason, the Yankees have added 14 pitchers to the already 70 plus pitchers they have in the minor leagues, and that doesn’t include the rookies pitching in the Dominican Republic. It makes you wonder what the New York Yankees are up to.

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Some prospects are known from the second they are signed or drafted by the organization as players who will have a major impact on a team’s future. Others tend to fly under the radar after being drafted late, or fighting injuries early in their minor league career before positioning themselves as players that can contribute to a major league roster. Greg Weissert and Glenn Otto are two players who have worked their way through the organization without much fanfare, but could be on the verge of joining the Yankees as early as this coming season.

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Every year, Baseball America releases a list of the prospects with the “best tools” for each minor league system. You can generally expect to find the top prospects in a given system among the pitching list. This year, Luis Gil (fastball), Clarke Schmidt (curveball) and Alexander Vizcaino (changeup) were top pitching prospects credited with a “best pitch” in the system. With his prospect status in tact, it would not have been surprising to see Deivi García retain his position from the previous year’s list of best slider among Yankees minor leaguers. I honestly did a double-take when reading the list and saw Greg Weissert listed as the pitcher with the best slider in the system.

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Weissert was an 18th round draft pick out of Fordham University in 2016, and has never been highly regarded when it comes to prospect rankings. He has never made a top-30 Yankees’ prospect list for Baseball America, and FanGraphs did not have him listed among their top-54 Yankees prospects in 2020.

After working mostly as a starter in college, the Yankees moved him to the bullpen and he began a steady rise through the system, peaking with Double-A Trenton in 2019. Armed with the plus slider, he has consistently been able to miss bats while recording a 11.5 K/9 in four minor league seasons.

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Only once, a 12-game stretch with Low-A Charleston in 2016, have opponents hit better than .229 against the righty. Limiting hard contact and generating a lot of strikeouts is a recipe for success, but Weissert also has consistently missed the strike zone as well.

Many minor-league pitchers around baseball have used 2020 as an intense development period. Weissert was not at the alternate site and he did not pitch anywhere in 2020, but reports of improvement must have come from somewhere for him to be named to this list. Armed with a plus-slider, Weissert is at the upper levels of the system where even just a moderate improvement in his control could land him in the majors in short order.

As Weissert was pitching in his first full professional season, the Yankees drafted Glenn Otto with their fifth-round selection in 2017. After working as a closer for Rice University, the Yankees saw starter potential in the 6-foot 3-inch, 240-lb right-hander and moved him to a starter’s schedule every fifth day.

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Armed with a 12-6 curveball that generates swings and misses and a strong fastball, Otto produced outstanding strikeout rates. A blood clot in his shoulder cost him most of the 2018 season. He returned for about half of the 2019 season and recorded more good results for High-A Tampa. The Yankees thought enough of his performance to send him to the Arizona Fall League to log more innings in a prospect rich environment.

Otto performed well again in Arizona, striking out 26 batters in 24 innings and producing a 0.958 WHIP. The walks were once again a problem though, as he recorded a 4.9 BB/9.

Since the end of the 2019 season, the Yankees have added a number of their top pitching prospects to the 40-man roster. Pitchers like Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Alexander Vizcaino and Roansy Contreras are all at a similar level or ahead of Otto in the Yankees system. Armed with a fastball, curveball combination the former college reliever could be a candidate to move fast if the Yankees move him back to the bullpen.

The Yankees have two relatively unheralded prospects that could move quickly through the system if things go well this year. Both Greg Weissert and Glenn Otto have a fastball, breaking ball combo that could play well out of the bullpen. The pitchers need to improve their control, but after a year of unseen development, that could be just what they have in store for hitters in 2021.

It appears at the moment that baseball is counting on a 162 game season that might possibly allow some fans in the stands at some point in the season. However, with the slow distribution of the new coronavirus vaccines, it doesn’t look as though those stands will return to full occupancy until very late in the season if then. The full health protocols and whether rules implemented last year will be continued yet to be seen.

However, after a 2020 canceled minor league season, there will be changes this season as well. It appears that the Triple-A season will start on time, but the lower levels will be delayed until the Triple-A players leave camp. This is obviously being done to increase social distancing and limit player interactions. There is no definite date set as of yet.

With the Yankees pitching needs, the New York Yankees will be watching all of these pitchers to see how they may contribute during the 2021 season. We know that Deivi Garcia will certainly be on the opening day roster. Depending on what the Yankees do to augment the every day pitching staff, fans will surely see Clarke Schmidt, Micheal King, Luis Gil, and Luis Medina at some point in the season. As far as the bullpen is concerned, the Yankees will have many arms to evaluate. Two relievers could come into play this season; Greg Weissert and Glenn Otto have worked their way up through the ranks.

A photo accompanying the article is of Yankee pitcher Luis Media who has have an excellent winter season in Puerto Rico.

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Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has been caught up in a lawsuit involving the Angels and a fired clubhouse manager for the team after attorneys for Brian “Bubba” Harkins submitted a text message, allegedly from Cole, in Orange County (Calif.) Superior Court on Thursday, according to reports, including one in the Los Angeles Times.

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“Hey Bubba, it’s Gerrit Cole, I was wondering if you could help me out with this sticky situation,” the pitcher, then with the Astros, wrote on Jan. 17, 2019, adding a wink emoji, according to the reports. “We don’t see you until May, but we have some road games in April that are in cold weather places. The stuff I had last year seizes up when it gets cold.”

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Harkins, who was fired in March after the Angels were informed that a Major League Baseball investigation had found he was providing banned substances to pitchers to enhance their grip on the baseball, filed a defamation suit against the Angels and MLB in August. The team and the league filed a motion in November to dismiss the suit. In response to that motion, which claimed the 55-year-old Harkins was being used as a “scapegoat,” his attorneys submitted evidence, including the text.

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The origin of that information has not been verified and could be in question. More than a dozen other pitchers were also mentioned — both Angels and visitors — in the suit as having used the substance provided by Harkins. Pitchers have used similar substances through the years, but MLB has sought to crack down on the practice.

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The other kind of substance are the slippery kinds, like petroleum jelly, personal lubricant, Crisco. This is used not for grip but to change the effect shape of the ball in flight. A perfect sphere will move predictably along a trajectory, but a more oblong shape will move in more unpredictable ways. Gaylord Perry was famously, finally, ejected in 1982 after being perhaps the most widely-recognized spitballer in baseball, and a couple of seasons later, Rick Honeycutt had a thumbtack in his glove, grooving the sides of the baseball to induce this kind of unpredictable movement.

Of course most stories about spitballs are anecdotal and some apocryphal, only confirmed when a pitcher is actually caught — see Michael Pineda’s famous case — but this week, a court filing shed a little light on the continued usage of spitballs around the league.

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Hey Bubba, it’s Gerrit Cole, I was wondering if you could help me out with this sticky situation. We don’t see you until May, but we have some road games in April that are in cold weather places. The stuff I had last year seizes up when it gets cold.

Aside from my general disappointment with Gerrit Cole texting like a 13-year old, this appears to be a case where a player is conspiring to doctor baseballs, and that last sentence indicates that this is not Cole’s first time. The recipient of the text, Brian “Bubba” Hawkins, was the visiting clubhouse manager for the Angels, fired almost a year ago and now the plaintiff in a case contending baseball writ large made him a public scapegoat for distributing spitball-friendly substances to players around the league. Hawkins’ suit accuses not just Cole, but Cy Young winners Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, and most of the notable Angels pitchers of the last 15 years.

The inclusion of Cole and Verlander in particular caught a lot of attention, as the two are among the vanguards of pitching analytics, especially with respect to their use of high-spin fastballs up in the zone. Of course, both are veterans of the Astros analytics system, and their habit of increasing spin rate. Verlander’s spin on the fastball went from averaging 2559 RPM his last full season in Detroit to 2618 RPM in first full season in Houston, while Cole saw an even greater increase:

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You can increase spin rate naturally — velocity alone is linearly related to spin, so throwing a ball harder will impart more spin — but even that link, from the venerable Driveline, makes mention of how the changing physical condition of a pitcher’s hand can increase spin, making a fastball much more effective:

Given that we know pitchers have only a handful of milliseconds to impart shear force on the baseball, any additional adhesive properties or friction between the fingers and the ball is likely going to be valuable in helping generate spin (Kinoshita et al., 2017).

This is more or less public knowledge. Players aren’t conspiring in the back rooms of smoking clubs, and even the wink and nod that MLB and its umpires give to the use of spitballs in a modern context are open secrets around the game. In Japan, NPB has gone one step further, proactively adding tack to every single league baseball, so the incentive to further doctor a ball is lessened, and the necessity of better grip in less-than-ideal weather disappears.

And that’s where I think MLB needs to go with this. In all things, you can take a prohibition attitude towards rule breaking, or a harm reduction attitude. The former would mean that players like Cole, Verlander, and others found to be enhancing their grip face substantial punishment from the league. However, as our own commenter Harlan Spence put it yesterday:

Yankees sign pitcher Jhoulys Chacin to minor league contract
Last year, Trevor Bauer wrote in The Players’ Tribune that he was suspicious of how pitchers on the Astros teams Cole pitched for had improved their spin rate so dramatically.

“When I see a guy go from being a good pitcher for one team and spinning the ball at 2,200 rpm, to spinning the ball at 2,600 or 2,700 in Houston, I know exactly what happened,” Bauer wrote.

Bauer never mentioned Cole’s name in the story. The Post’s Joel Sherman asked Cole about the issue in February, after he signed a nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees. Cole did not respond to Bauer’s story, but regarding the notion the Astros were better at creating a sticky product or teaching how to use that product, Cole repeated three times, “No.”

In response to the LA Times story, Bauer wrote on Twitter, “It’s almost like it did exist. Wow. The more you know… how crazy.”

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He had a meltdown in Game 2 of the Wild Card series against the Yanks, but one bad appearance won’t erase his overall body of work. Several teams are circling him, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. If the Bombers want to bring an elite southpaw for their bullpen, Hand is the man.

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Justin Wilson: An old friend of the Yankees
New York Yankees: Justin Wilson
Sep 22, 2020; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets relief pitcher Justin Wilson (38) pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
If the Yankees want some certainty, they could bring Justin Wilson, a familiar face that already knows how to pitch in the Bronx. The lefty dominated out of the Yankees’ bullpen in 2015, posting a 3.10 ERA and a 2.69 FIP in 61.0 innings.

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He has a 3.27 ERA and a 3.34 FIP in his career, with almost 10 strikeouts per every nine frames. He is experienced, he is talented, and he can get both lefties and righties out.

There are appealing options on the free-agent market, paced by Brad Hand, whom the Yankees last saw coughing up the lead in the memorable Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series against the Indians. The lefty was lights-out during the regular season, converting all of his Major League-leading 16 saves while pitching to a 2.05 ERA over 22 innings. He struck out 29 against four walks.

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Hand’s $10 million price tag was too rich for the Indians, and the other 29 teams passed when he hit the waiver wire — an indication of the financial crunch that 2020 placed upon the league. The Yankees should circle back once LeMahieu’s situation is settled. Other names of interest include Archie Bradley, Liam Hendriks and Kirby Yates. At present, the Yanks’ bullpen locks project to be Zack Britton, Luis Cessa, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green and Adam Ottavino.

How do you think the Francisco Lindor deal affects LeMahieu’s market? Is Cashman under more pressure to get a deal done now?

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Lindor’s arrival in Queens erases a backup plan, but it also nixes a dark-horse landing spot for LeMahieu, who remains most prominently connected to the Blue Jays, Dodgers and Yankees. Thus far, none of those clubs are believed to have offered the guaranteed fifth year that LeMahieu’s agent, Joel Wolfe, is seeking.

The industry bet continues to be that LeMahieu will eventually land back in The Bronx (perhaps a four-year deal with a fifth-year option), but the sluggish pace of negotiations seems to be impacting the Yankees’ other business. Cashman acknowledged as much recently, saying that LeMahieu’s free agency is “driving the bus” on the team’s offseason plan.

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In 2019, Wilson pitched well for the Mets (3.66 ERA, 3.04 FIP in 19.2 innings). Even at 33 years old, he remains a reliable reliever that shouldn’t cost more than $5 million per season and probably won’t require a long, multi-year commitment.

Jake McGee: Another affordable lefty reliever for New York
Relievers who make sense for the New York Yankees: Jake McGee
Oct 13, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Jake McGee (41) pitches during the sixth inning against the Atlanta Braves in game two of the 2020 NLCS at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
McGee, a 34-year-old left-hander, had six very good years in Tampa to start his career. However, everything went south when he joined the Colorado Rockies in 2016. He pitched poorly in three out of four seasons there but joined the Dodgers just a few days before the start of the shortened 2020 campaign. And what a performance he had.

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With a 2.66 ERA and a 1.67 FIP in 20.1 innings, not to mention 14.61 strikeouts per nine frames, McGee regained the form that made him one of the top lefties in MLB in the early 2010s.

Of course, we are talking about only 20.1 innings, but wow. Although the Yanks have Britton and Chapman, it wouldn’t hurt to add McGee, who shouldn’t be too expensive despite his big year.

More:New York Yankees’ wish list? How about finding another quality reliever now

18. On the last day of the regular season, with an AL wild card bid on the line, the Yankees beat the Rays, 3-2, in the Bronx. With the clubhouse awash in sparkling wine, Boone and his coaches pop the cork on a 2012 Bollinger.

19. Masahiro Tanaka and the Oakland Athletics, on the way to the World Series, eliminate the Yankees in postseason.

20. Cole finishes second in the AL Cy Young award balloting, behind the Chicago White Sox’s Lucas Giolito.

21. Before signing a new three-year contract in November, Boone invests in a Napa Valley vineyard.

Pete Caldera is the Yankees beat writer for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to all Yankees analysis, news, trades and more, please subscribe today and download our app.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @pcaldera