Yanks arms growing together at Double-A

July 15th, 2021

About a month ago, the Double-A Somerset rotation got an overhaul. Although No. 5 Yankees prospect Luis Gil -- he who'd held opponents to a .207 batting average and posted a 2.64 ERA through seven starts -- was to depart for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, reinforcements were headed to New Jersey.

Among the nine roster moves affecting the Patriots roster on June 15, the Yankees promoted a new core from High-A Hudson Valley that included three other ranked pitching prospects -- Luis Medina (No. 7), Ken Waldichuk (No. 27) and Hayden Wesneski (No. 30). That trio briefly joined the company of Glenn Otto (No. 28), who has consistently been among the strikeout leaders in the Double-A Northeast -- and all of the Minor Leagues -- since he fanned 28 over his first three starts of the year.

“It’s been exciting. As a manager, what more can you ask for?" said skipper Julio Mosquera. "They’re great, talented young pitchers that have a high ceiling, and they come over to your team and just continue to pick up what the other guys who left did. It’s exciting to see those guys come out and compete every day. They really want it, and they have the talent to do it and they’re always going to go out there and fight. They’re going to do the best they can that night.”

When the Yankees jumped Otto up to the RailRiders on Tuesday, he was tied with top Nationals prospect and Futures Game standout Cade Cavalli for the Minors lead with 103 strikeouts. That's serious gravitas for the Patriots to lose, but a rotation with a core of Medina, Waldichuk and Wesneski hardly lacks for presence.

Medina, for example, tossed a scoreless inning for the American League in Sunday's Futures Game, striking out ranked Rockies prospects Michael Toglia (No. 3) and Willie MacIver (No. 29) while pumping up his fastball to 100.7 mph. It's a 75-grade offering with life, and the 22-year-old righty complements it with a curve that has real knee-buckling potential and a changeup that can tumble. He also seems to have a positive impact on his teammates.

“Luis, I hadn’t known until Hudson Valley and the more I’m around him, the more I love the guy," Wesneski said. "He’s a great human being. He’s a better human being than he is a baseball player, and that says a lot about him. I love to be around him – he’s a positive dude and he smiles all the time.”

Both Wesneski and Medina have endured growing pains since the promotion. After going 2-1 with a 2.76 ERA over seven starts for the Renegades, Medina was 1-1 with a 5.21 ERA through his first four starts for the Patriots. Wesneski was 1-1 with a 1.49 ERA in High-A but has started Double-A 1-3 with a 6.30 ERA.

“At Hudson Valley, a lot of hitters swung at a lot of bad pitches out of the strike zone," Medina said, with Mosquera interpreting from Spanish to English. "The result over here is that the hitters are going to swing at strikes and these at-bats are longer than they used to be in Hudson Valley, so I’ve started making adjustments to that.

“It’s a good group [that I was promoted with], and everybody has to make an adjustment. Everybody’s making an adjustment when they come to a higher level, so ... you have to continue to make adjustments yourself.”

For Wesneski, who has an above-average two-seam fastball with serious sink, that means developing his other pitches. The righty is working hard on a four-seamer. ("To the outsider, throwing the four-seam sounds like, ‘Just grab the thing and throw it,’" he said. "But there’s a process.") He sees room for improvement in a cutter he's been throwing for a year and wants to be able to depend on his changeup more reliably.

Meanwhile, his roommate -- Waldichuk -- has posted a 3-0 record and 3.08 ERA over his first five Double-A starts, striking out 42 in 26 1 /3 innings. As good as those results look on paper, comparatively speaking, Waldichuk has taken his lumps while adjusting to the new level. He started the year with a seven-start, 30 2/3-frame scoreless streak, bringing a 0.00 ERA with him to Somerset.

“Obviously, [a streak like that is] in the back of your mind during the week," the 23-year-old lefty said. "The thing that works for me is, whenever I go out there I just want to win the game, so I put it in the back and just focus on competing in the moment.”

In his first outing for the Patriots, he allowed three runs over 4 2/3 innings. In his second, he took a no-hitter into the sixth against Portland, ultimately being charged with two runs on two hits and four walks. He's yet to make a shutout appearance at the Double-A level.

“Here, you definitely see yourself getting punished for mistakes or bad pitch sequences, which is something I may have to get better at," he said. "It’s definitely more challenging.”

Whatever the box scores look like as the trio figures out the level, they've made games in central New Jersey a bit more electric.

“We get a lot of Yankee fans," Mosquera said. "... The fans really come to watch the young prospects we have on the team ... and it’s exciting for the players, because they see the fans are impressed with the work they’re doing.”