James Kaprielian was too far away from the Bronx for Thursday’s news of his pending Tommy John surgery to immediately rattle the Yankees at the major-league level. Slotted to begin the season at high Class A Tampa, Kaprielian still had the team’s decision-makers dreaming of a September call-up, then bankrolling that experience toward having him compete for a rotation spot the following February.
These days, top prospects move quickly. And for the Yankees, who are expected to have some big rotation holes in the offseason, a potential star such as Kaprielian, yet to start his arbitration clock, is crucial to rebuilding a franchise. Securing ace-caliber pitchers is very expensive on the open market, if they become available at all, and Kaprielian is among the young arms the Yankees planned to rely on in the next few years.
“Our hope was that he could pitch all year and make some strides,” Joe Girardi said yesterday. “It wasn’t meant to be.”
Kaprielian, the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft, is only 23 — the same age as another future pillar of the Yankees’ rotation, Luis Severino, who struck out a career-high 11 in seven innings in Thursday night’s 3-2 win over the Rays. The Yankees fast-tracked Severino to the majors in a breakout 2015, then watched him struggle his sophomore year before thriving in a bullpen role.
With a 98-mph fastball and a sharp-biting slider, Severino profiles as a dominant, short-burst reliever. But the Yankees already know he can do that. They’re projecting him as a front-line starter because that’s where he is most valuable, and Thursday night’s impressive outing helped solidify that footing.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Severino said. “Not only for me, but to the team, because they trust me to be a starter.”
Severino was winless in his last 13 starts, dropping eight previous decisions, and on Thursday night, he got his first victory as a starter since September 2015. His only walk came with one out in the second and his only real mistake was teeing up a fastball for Peter Bourjos, who still had to catch up to 98 mph to airmail it into the leftfield bleachers.
As effective as Severino’s slider was, catcher Austin Romine credited his changeup as the difference-maker. Severino threw 28, according to BrooksBaseball.net, and 56 percent for strikes, giving the Rays something else to worry about.
“He needs that third pitch,” Romine said. “Otherwise, it’s a coin flip, and they have a better chance of guessing right.”
Going forward, Hal Steinbrenner has been clear about his intentions to further trim the payroll, and rebooting a team’s rotation with homegrown pitchers is a good place to start. The Yankees’ two highest-paid players are CC Sabathia, whose $25 million is coming off the books, and Masahiro Tanaka, who is earning $22 million but can opt out after this season. Even Michael Pineda ($7.4 million) is a pending free agent. At the low end is Severino ($550,000), but the rotation accounts for roughly 29 percent of the Yankees’ $195-million payroll.
Compare that expense to what a homegrown rotation has done across town for the Mets, who boast arguably the best one-through-seven in the majors. Sandy Alderson traded to get Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler as prospects, but Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo were all drafted by the Mets.
They not only are talented but cheap, too — for now. Harvey is the highest-paid of the group, making $5.125 million this season, and Syndergaard, the undisputed No. 1, was renewed by the team for $605,000 — or less than Sabathia’s paycheck per start.
Overall, the Mets’ rotation takes up only 7 percent of their $154-million payroll, an incredible bargain for a franchise with World Series aspirations.
It’s not realistic for the Yankees to get their percentage that low in a year’s time. Tanaka will make $22 million next year if he chooses to stay. And delaying Kaprielian’s development hurts them for 2018. But Severino’s shutdown of the Rays shows that he could help spearhead the youth movement, as the Yankees hope, with the others to fill in behind him.