The New York Yankees bullpen has been one of the few bright spots in recent years. Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, David Robertson, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman have made the back end of the Yankees bullpen one of the most dominant forces in the game.
That success could sustain itself for years to come. The Yankees have some intriguing depth on the pipeline.
The Yankees had a pretty solid 2016 MLB Draft. They snagged Blake Rutherford 18th overall, despite many projecting him as a top ten pick. Nick Solak was one of the Louisville brigade and put in a great debut in the NYPL. Their biggest steal may have come later in the 12th round, when they selected Taylor Widener.
Widener came to the Yankees from South Carolina. After making waves in the Coastal Plains League in 2015 (Baseball America named him the second best prospect in the summer league), Widener split his junior season in the rotation and bullpen for the Gamecocks. He went 4-2 with a 4.20 ERA, striking out 68 and waling 16 over 55.2 innings.
Those weren’t bad numbers, but they weren’t great either. That makes what he did in his professional debut all the more impressive.
Dominant. If there was one word to describe how he pitched in his Yankees debut, it is dominant. He made six appearances for the Staten Island Yankees. All but one came out of the bullpen. Widener allowed no runs over 15.1 innings pitched, striking out 25 and walking four, while recording a save in his only opportunity and allowing just two hits.
He earned a quick promotion to Charleston just in time for their playoff run. Widener logged 23.1 more innings, striking out 34 and walking three. He did allow two runs in the SAL, both coming off long balls.
The righty concluded his first professional test going 3-0 with a 0.47 ERA (behind a 1.50 FIP) and a 0.63 WHIP over 38.1 innings. Widener struck out an impressive 13.9 per nine while walking just 1.65 per nine. Opponents hit just .135 against him as he stranded 100 percent of the little base runners that reached.
He was equally impressive in the playoffs. Trailing 3-0 in the fourth inning, RiverDogs skipper Luis Dorante turned to the rookie. Widener would go 4.1 innings, striking out six, walking none. He allowed just one hit and no runs, picking up the win as the RiverDogs came back for the 4-3 victory against eventual SAL champs the Rome Braves.
Widener has a low-90s fastball that has touched as high as 97 according to most reports. He has what River Ave Blues refers to as a wipeout slider that gives him a second plus pitch. Throw in a solid changeup and an obviously impeccable command of the strike zone, and Widener becomes an exciting prospect
Widener has both starting and bullpen experience. It will be interesting to see what course the Yankees take with him. It would not be surprising to see Widener fast-tracked up the pipeline, should they decide to keep him in the bullpen. He may become part of Joe Girardi’s Scranton Shuttle as soon as 2018.