TAMPA, Fla. – Larry Rothschild is a hard-bitten baseball lifer who rarely gets overly excited about much of anything, at least in public.
But the Yankees' pitching coach can’t help but break into a grin of sorts when Jonathan Loaisiga’s name is mentioned.
“The stuff,” Rothschild said. “And then you get to know him and his makeup’s good. I don’t think at this level he’s shown what he’s capable of yet, which is perfectly normal for a guy that hasn’t been able to have [a lot of] innings. But just stuff-wise and his execution is usually really good. And he works at it.”
Loaisiga, 24, who started Friday night’s 6-3 victory over the Phillies and who made four big-league starts last season after a call-up from Double-A Trenton, is in the mix for a rotation spot, along with Luis Cessa and Domingo German.
Luis Severino will start the season on the injured list, as could CC Sabathia. (Aaron Boone did say before Friday’s game that it’s possible – though not definite – that Sabathia will start the season on the 25-man roster and immediately serve the five-game suspension he was given last September for intentionally hitting the Rays' Jesus Sucre, meaning the Yankees would play those first five games a man short.)
Cessa’s brilliant work in spring training has all but assured him of a spot, but regardless of what the Yankees decide, Loaisiga showed on Friday, even as his command wasn't quite as sharp, why he’s widely considered the Yankees' top pitching prospect.
He allowed three hits, including two homers, but the righthander struck out seven in four innings with a fastball that sat at 95 to 97 mph and a nasty breaking ball. The second of Giancarlo Stanton’s two home runs, which gave him four this spring, put the Yankees ahead 3-2 in the fifth.
Loaisiga is highly regarded by both the Yankees and opposing team talent evaluators – not always the case when it comes to prospects – and his rotation opportunity, while probably not likely to come right out of camp, will come soon enough. And if or when he does stick in the big leagues, it will be the continuation of some journey.
Initially signed by the Giants out of Nicaragua in 2013, the 5-11, 165-pounder had a promising start to his career, going 8-1 with a 2.75 ERA in the Dominican Summer League that year.Then he missed all of 2014 because of injury and was released in May 2015.
The Yankees signed him in February 2016, but his season debut three months later with Class A Charleston lasted all of 2 1/3 innings because of an injury that required Tommy John surgery and cost him most of 2017. The most innings he’s thrown in a season is still the 68 2/3 from 2013.
“He’s got a fairly simple delivery,” Rothschild said. “And for a young kid, the command he’s had through the system coming up is because he can repeat his delivery.”
Austin Romine has caught Loaisiga quite a bit in spring training the last two years and has consistently raved about him and the smooth delivery Rothschild referenced.
“Fastball that moves, the hook, a changeup he can throw at any time,” he said after catching Loaisiga on March 6 against the Cardinals. “It’s an easy 97 [mph]. A lot to like.”
Though a couple of misplaced fastballs led to the home runs, Gary Sanchez, who threw out two runners Friday night, has been impressed.
"He has the ability to command a low fastball," he said through his translator. "When he has that going combined with his breaking pitches, he's sharp. He's tough to hit."