Yankees: Who is the favorite to win the fifth spot in the starting rotation?

There will be an open competition for the fifth starter spot in the Yankees starting rotation at this year’s spring training according to GM Brian Cashman. Who’s the favorite entering camp?

Following the announcement that James Paxton will miss the next three to four months after undergoing back surgery on Wednesday the Yankees rotation isn’t set in stone heading into the regular season.

Prior to Wednesdays’ news, Cashman had recently proclaimed that J.A. Happ would be New York’s fifth starter but now that Paxton is out he’ll slide into the four spot behind Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka. That means the final spot will be up for grabs between Jordan Montgomery, Deivi Garcia, Mike King, Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga per the Yankees GM.

Based on big-league experience alone Montgomery has to be the heavy favorite to win the job this spring. After undergoing TJ surgery in May of 2018 the left-hander returned to the Yankees last September and he had a full offseason to prepare for the upcoming year so he should be ready to pick up where he left off before he got injured.

Let’s remember back in 2017 Montgomery entered Spring Training as somewhat of an afterthought but ended up impressing the coaching staff enough to make the starting staff out of camp. He went on to have a terrific rookie campaign going 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA and 144 K’s in 155.1 IP and finished sixth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. He’s been in this position before and that could give him an edge in addition to having the most experience.

2018 was definitely a setback but now that he’s over a year and a half removed from surgery the Yanks have high hopes for Montgomery this season. He’s already proved himself at the major league level and I believe the best is yet to come from him in pinstripes. It would really be a shocker if he didn’t win the job out of camp because he still projects to be a fixture in this Yankee rotation for years to come.

Montgomery is the clear favorite, but he’s going to have to earn it and the other four players in the mix aren’t going to just hand him the job. With that being said, I don’t think Luis Cessa or Jonathan Laoisiga are going to be the guys who pose the biggest threat. Both right-handers have pitched in the Yankee rotation before, but they each seem better fit to pitch out of the pen.

Loaisiga hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout his pro career and whenever he’s started games for the Yanks he hasn’t given them much length because his pitch count rises too quickly. He has great power stuff but he really struggles to put hitters away with two strikes and hasn’t been able to get through a lineup more than two times in the majority of his starts.

He has a 4.50 ERA in eight career starts compared to a 5.13 ERA in 16 relief appearances but that’s obviously a small sample size. I wouldn’t put too much stock into those numbers because there’s no doubt Loaisiga has the stuff to dominate for an inning or two when he’s right and given his history of injuries he’s built more to pitch out of the pen.

As for Cessa, I think he showed last season that like Loaisiga his stuff plays better out of the pen in a multi-inning role. At times he was still maddingly inconsistent but for the most part, he was solid in 2019, posting a 4.11 ERA with 75 K’s in 83 appearances. I don’t see why the Yankees would try him as a starter again at this point in his career after he hasn’t made the most of his opportunities in that role many times before.

Deivi Garcia finished last season as the top-ranked prospect in the organization after he made it all the way to Triple-A Scranton in late July despite starting the year in high A-ball. He dominated at Tampa and Trenton but in 11 games with the Railriders, he posted a 5.40 ERA.

The 20-year-old right-hander is expected to make his major league debut at some point this season and he should make a big impact when he arrives. However, unless he blows his competition away this spring I think the Yankees are going to bring him along slowly and let him finish off his development at Scranton to start the season.

24-year-old Mike King is probably the name most fans know the least about, but he shouldn’t be slept on. King is a strike-thrower who induces a lot of groundballs because of his power sinker and has had success at every level of the minors since joining the Yankees back in November of 2017. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff but at 6’3, 210 lbs he might fit the profile of a starting pitcher more than anyone competing for the last rotation spot outside of Montgomery.

Next: Who sticks out among the Yankees 19 non-roster spring invitees?

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I don’t think he’s going to win the job over Montgomery, but his time will come and if somebody in the rotation goes down with an injury he could be the first in line for a callup.

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