Luis Severino Becoming Yankees’ Latest Failed Homegrown Starter
By Aaron Dortch
Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, even Mariano Rivera and Dellin Betances didn’t pan out in the Yankees’ attempts to develop reliable starting pitching through the farm. Now, in parts of two Major League seasons, Luis Severino is continuing the troubling trend.
The Yankees have trouble developing starters, and Luis Severino is their most recent disappointment. Continuing to outdo himself, in the most negative sense, Severino’s latest clunker lasted only 3 2/3 innings Sunday afternoon, when the Tampa Bay Rays bruised him for eight hits (including three doubles and two homers) and seven runs.
The 22-year-old continues to flash tantalizing stuff. Seven Rays struck-out against Severino. The heralded right-hander has a dominant raw fastball, but control issues and lackluster secondary pitches make him the largest question mark in the rotation’s future.
The Yankees first optioned Severino after he was winless with a 7.46 ERA in seven starts to begin the year. He was told first-and-foremost to improve his slider during his time at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Yanks became encouraged when Severino greatly improved his ability to locate the pitch. He won seven decisions with Triple-A Scranton, so they promoted him to get work out of the big league bullpen. From there, three scoreless appearances and a 3.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio was enough to upgrade him into the Starting Five.
Unfortunately, Severino immediately faltered in his rotation return, surrendering five runs in 4 1/3 innings at Fenway Park. He admitted to losing all confidence in his changeup, and was scheduled to return to Scranton and refine the pitch before Nathan Eovalid’s injury forced Severino back into the rotation.
After more of the same failure in Sunday’s outing, the Yankees again optioned Severino, who will be replaced by Luis Cessa.
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As a starter this season, Severino has allowed 41 earned runs in 43 innings (8.58 ERA); as a reliever, no base runners have scored in 8 1/3 innings. Does the franchise have another Joba Chamberlain on their hands?
The Yankees drafted Chamberlain 41st overall in the 2006 Draft. By ’07, Baseball America ranked him as the organization’s No. 1 prospect, third-best in BA’s Top 100 Prospects and awarded him with Best Fastball, Best Curveball and Best Slider in the Yankees system, as well as the Best Pitching Prospect in the Florida State League.
But Chamberlain’s sure-thing success didn’t translate in the majors, where he was doomed to bounce between bullpen and rotation before the Yankees ultimately released him in 2013.
Chamberlain’s story, perhaps the worst-case scenario, forewarns about getting too smitten with prospect hype. Severino is traveling down a similar, alarming path.
Not every failed starter can claim the transitional success of Mariano Rivera or Dellin Betances. Rivera excelled in 39 minor league starts before flopping in 10 starts for the Yankees. As legacy would have it, he became the greatest closer in the history of the game.
Betances followed a similar blueprint when his breakout ’14 season as a reliever cemented his role in the back of the bullpen. He’s been an All-Star every year since, and is thriving as The Bronx’s newest closer since the departures of Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.
The Yankees need to determine how they value Severino within the coming seasons. He hasn’t shown enough promise to be entrusted into the rotation yet, but he’s still just 22 years old, and his electric stuff, which plays even livelier from the bullpen, remains too tempting to limit him as a one- to two-inning man.
The one thing the Yanks can’t do, however, is be continuously intrigued by his stuff as a reliever enough to endorse him as a starter, allow him to keep failing in that role, demote him back into the bullpen and repeat the ego-damaging cycle.
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Right now, Severino has two separate ceilings that are to be determined. He can top out as a front-end starter or a high-impact reliever, but he cannot be both.
Just ask Joba how that went.