With the injury to Masahiro Tanaka requiring a 10-day disabled list stint that could be much longer than that, the Yankees have decided to turn to an internal option to take his rotation spot: No. 12 prospect Jonathan Loáisiga. Manager Aaron Boone announced Loáisiga would start Thursday in a news conference prior to Tuesday’s game, but corrected himself postgame to say his debut would be Friday.
With the timetable for Tanaka’s return uncertain, the Yankees opted to go with one of the better arms so far in their minor league system this year in Loáisiga. Though he has not appeared above Double-A, the 23-year-old has demonstrated impressive control through 10 starts in the minors. In 45 innings, he has walked just four batters compared to 58 strikeouts. His 4.32 ERA in the Double-A Eastern League was inflated by his most recent outing, where he allowed four runs in 2+ innings because he reached a 50-pitch limit imposed in anticipation of him starting Friday.
“We feel like Loáisiga coming up in a spot situation where we may only need him for a start — two or three depending on Tanaka — I certainly feel good about the decision to bring Jonathan up,” Boone said. “I think he has a chance to come in, because of his stuff and the way he pounds the strike zone, I don’t think he’ll be overwhelmed by all of it. I think it’s a sound decision.”
Loáisiga was picked up by the Yankees at a tryout camp once he was released from his contract with the San Francisco Giants. He signed in February 2016, but made it through one start at Low-A before requiring Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He recovered in time to make 11 starts in 2017, and impressed enough there and in instructional league to land a spot on the 40-man roster after the season.
His scouting report, per MLB Pipeline:
While Loáisiga is small and skinny, he has surprising power to his three-pitch repertoire. His quick arm repeatedly generates 93-96 mph fastballs that top out at 98 with life down in the strike zone. His low-80s curveball features a high spin rate and his upper-80s change-up has nice fade, albeit with a bit too much velocity.
Loáisiga has a clean delivery that he repeats well, allowing him to work the bottom of the strike zone and issue just three walks in 32⅔ innings last season. His stuff and control give him a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter, though his size and health history are concerns.
The Yankees passed over a veteran with MLB experience, David Hale, and a heralded top prospect, Justus Sheffield, in order to tap Loáisiga for this start. They likely did not want to risk losing Hale to free agency again as he is out of options, and they do not want to start Sheffield’s service clock until they are confident that he won’t be returned to the minors again.