|Photo Credit: MiLB.com and Scranton/WB RailRiders|
Young Righty Gets First Taste of Major League Camp…
It seemed like such an innocuous and under-the-radar trade in November 2017 when the Yankees traded marginal prospects LHP Caleb Smith and 1B/OF Garrett Cooper to the Miami Marlins for $250,000 in international bonus pool money and young Single A RHP Michael King. Moving Smith and Cooper were clearly designed to clear space on the 40-man roster in advance of that year’s Rule 5 Draft. At the time of the trade, the international bonus pool money appeared to be the objective as the Yankees were making preparations for what would prove to be the failed run at international superstar Shohei Ohtani. King just came along for the ride…or did he?
In 2017, Caleb Smith was dominant for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, riding an unbeaten streak for most of the year. He finished 9-1, with a 2.39 ERA, starting 17 of 18 games played for the RailRiders. He made his Major League debut for the Yankees on July 17, 2017 but the Yankees and Smith lost to the Minnesota Twins, 4-2. He shuttled back and forth between Scranton, PA and the Bronx, finishing 0-1, with 7.71 ERA, in 18 2/3 innings. Despite his Triple A success, Smith, then 26, did not appear to be a top prospect. To his credit, Smith did pitch better for the Marlins last year. He went 5-6 with 4.19 ERA over 16 starts covering 77 1/3 innings before shoulder tightness ended his season. He is expected to be part of the Marlins’ rotation this year.
Garrett Cooper had been acquired by the Yankees in July 2017 in a trade that sent LHP Tyler Webb to the Milwaukee Brewers. Cooper had some nice moments in the Bronx, playing 13 games. He was 14-for-43 (six extra-base hits) with no homers and 6 RBI’s. 2018, in a Marlins uniform, was largely a lost season for Cooper. He injured his wrist early in the season and later re-injured it during a rehab assignment, undergoing surgery in August. He appeared in just 14 games for the Marlins. He’s now healthy and expected to compete for a job with the Marlins this season, likely as a reserve first baseman/outfielder.
After the Yankees lost out on Ohtani, the international bonus pool money was put to good use as the Yankees had a number of highly rated signings including OF Kevin Alcantara, OF Mauro Bonifacio, C Antonio Gomez, C Agustin Ramirez, RHP Denny Larrondo, and RHP Osiel Rodriguez, plus Luis Severino’s little brother, RHP Rafael Severino.
But setting everything aside, the crown jewel of the Yankees-Marlins trade has turned out to be Michael King. King, born in Rochester, New York and a graduate of Bishop Hendricksen High School in Warwick, Rhode Island, was drafted in the 12th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Marlins. At the time, King was the staff ace for Boston College. He signed with the Marlins, foregoing his final year of college eligibility, and was a combined 3-3 with 4.11 ERA over 30 2/3 innings at the lowest three levels of the Marlins’ farm system. He returned to Class A Greensboro in 2017 with much better results, 11-9 with 3.14 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 106 strikeouts, over 149 innings. Still, at the time of the trade to the Yankees, he was largely unheralded and unranked as a prospect.
Last year, he opened eyes in the Yankees farm system. He started the year with High A Tampa, spent time with Double A Trenton, and finished the year with Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In 24 starts and a relief appearance, King was 11-5 with 1.79 ERA. He struck out 152 batters in 161 1/3 innings with 0.91 WHIP.
Yankees minor league pitching coordinator Danny Borrell, via The New York Post, recently said, “Every time he moved up, he seemed to get better. He wasn’t fazed by the better competition and he knows how to pitch.” Borrell went on to say that he could see King pitching in New York this year if he pitches like last season and does not see the young right-hander regressing.
King, 6’3” and 210 lbs, turns 24 on May 25th. He is currently rated as the Yankees’ fifth-best prospect by Baseball America, behind OF Estevan Florial, RHP Jonathan Loaisiga, OF Everson Pereira, and C Anthony Seigler. His primary pitch is a two-seam fastball that sits in the mid-90’s. The key to his success in the Major Leagues is dependent upon his continued development of secondary pitches.
King will get his first taste of Big League Camp this year when he reports to Tampa as a non-roster invitee for the Yankees. While he is not expected to make the Opening Day Roster (he only made six Triple A starts last year), his goal is simple. Catch the attention of Manager Aaron Boone, Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild and the Yankees’ army of analytics. Even though he is not yet on the 40-man roster, there’s no doubt he will be among the first to be considered if/when the Yankees have needs for help in the starting rotation this year. I’ve heard the claims that he’ll never be anything more than a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but if memory serves correctly, that’s what they said about Andy Pettitte when he was first called up. Let Luis Severino and James Paxton be the aces, the strength of the middle to back end of the rotation is what championships are made of. I am thrilled about King and what he potentially means for the Yankees. This could very well be the year of his Major League debut. I have greater belief in King as a starter than a guy like Chance Adams who I feel is better suited for the pen. Mike King is a winner, and carrying that intangible with his tremendous talent, should make Yankee fans very excited. The King of the Hill is going to create great memories in the Bronx in the not-so-distant future.
This was a brilliant trade by GM Brian Cashman. King has proven better than we expected and he’ll continue to open eyes in Tampa in a few weeks. When the Spring games start, be sure to look out for #93.
As always, Go Yankees!