Yankees: Luis Severino’s 2017 Role Still a Major Question Mark


The New York Yankees still seem unclear on what role pitcher Luis Severino is best suited for following his second season in the big leagues.

Although Luis Severino finished the 2016 season back in the New York Yankees rotation, it is far from clear that he’s done anything to convince the club he belongs as a starter long-term. He took Masahiro Tanaka‘s last two turns on the mound after the Yankees ace suffered a mild forearm strain, but that mostly seemed to be a result of New York more or less running out of viable starting pitchers late in the season.

Because of Severino’s struggles as a starter early in the season, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell seem to have passed the 22-year-old on the club’s depth chart, at least temporarily. It took a trade of Ivan Nova, and injuries to Nathan Eovaldi, Green, and Tanaka before Severino was given the ball again by the team.

Neither of his final two starts are going to do much to change the hearts and minds of the Yankees coaching staff. New York did win both games, but Severino’s contributions to those victories were minimal.

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In last Monday’s series finale against the Blue Jays he loaded the bases with a HBP, a single, and a walk, then proceeded to walk in a run before escaping the inning. His night ended early after he drilled Justin Smoak to retaliate against Chase Headley being plunked. Unwritten rules aside, it felt like a missed opportunity for the kid to audition for a rotation spot.

Amazingly, Severino managed to avoid a suspension for the incident and once again took Tanaka’s place for the penultimate game of the Yankees season Saturday. He was sharp in the first inning, sitting down the top of the Orioles lineup down in order, but things fell apart quickly from there.

Severino failed to make it through four frames in his final start of the season allowing five hits, two walks, and a big homer to Manny Machado before being replaced by Jonathan Holder. Luckily the Yankees offense rallied back to take home the win, but it was another in a long string of ugly starts for the heralded young pitcher.

When asked what Severino’s role with the team would be next season, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was surprisingly non-committal. The usual party line from the team is that they still consider him a starter long-term. Instead, on Saturday Girardi told Chad Jennings of the Journal News:

"I think it’s a topic for discussion in the winter. I do. And I think what you try to do next spring is you take the 12 best pitchers when you leave camp, but I’m sure there will be talks around the table about that."

Not a very strong vote of confidence from the skipper. It could be that Severno’s excellent performance out of the bullpen has convinced one of the club’s key decision makers that he is better suited to short relief. Severino himself said he didn’t know what the team had in mind yet, but his plan was to prepare to challenge for a starting job next spring:

"I don’t know what [opportunity] I’m going to get, but I’m going to go ready. In the offseason I’m going to work hard on my changeup and my fastball command to get a shot."

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The Yankees rotation is pretty much wide open behind Tanaka, Pineda, and Sabathia, so at the moment it seems this will come down to another spring training competition. Severino has a much higher ceiling than guys like Mitchell or Cessa, so I have to imagine he’ll be given every chance to win the job during the Grapefrut League.