NEW YORK — Stroll into the Yankees' clubhouse at RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland and within a few steps, you're surrounded by stars.
Hang a left and you'll find a row of lockers featuring some of the most recognizable names in Major League Baseball. There's a pair of Most Valuable Player Award winners,a two-time batting title champion, blockbuster acquisitions from past trade deadlines and the slugger that's on pace to break the single-season record for home runs in the American League.
Stride forward and on your right is the league's strikeout leader, an ace that recently signed the largest contract for a starting pitcher in the sport.
Don't stop there, though. Keep walking all the way to the very back of the clubhouse,past the blaring speakers, the trainer's room and the kitchen, stocked to the brim with coffee, protein drinks and postgame burgers from In-N-Out. That's when you'll run into three young right-handers sitting in a circle in the corner.
Every team has young pitchers on their active roster, but it was striking just how much of a presenceRon Marinaccio, Clarke Schmidt and Greg Weissert commanded during New York's recent road trip. It seemed like at least one of those hurlers was on the mound or a topic of conversation—for both good and bad reasons—each day while the Yankees were on the West Coast.
This isn't a case of expendable commodities getting their shot, a brief opportunity before an inevitable demotion back to the minor leagues. New York has had quite a few of those appearances this year. No, this group has the makings of a young pitching core in pinstripes, two relievers with late-inning potential and a starter that profiles as a piece of the rotation for years to come.
For a franchise associated with household names, championship expectations and this year, a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance of historic proportions, every player in that room is under a microscope. As Schmidt recently called it, the Yankees are leaning on a "youth movement" as they attempt to hold off a collapse in their division while combatting a barrage of injuries.
Beyond promising results, this trio of arms is leaving a lasting impression on those around them in the clubhouse as well, another sign that they have a bright future in that room.
Greg Weissert's Major League debut against the Athletics was hard to watch.
The right-hander simply couldn't find the zone, hitting the first two batters he faced before walking two more, mixing in a balk as well. By the time Lucas Luetge came on and cleaned up Weissert's mess, the newbie had an 81.00 ERA.
Weissert's wild first impression looks even worse when you think back to the right-hander's comments pregame regarding his command and how the key to his meteoric rise in the minors has been throwing strikes, getting ahead so he can pitch to his strengths with his nasty stuff.
In that moment, as Weissert slammed his glove on the bench and sat in silence, it was a debut to forget. Thanks to his teammates—and a few reminders that every big leaguer has moments where the game speeds up on them—it transformed into a debut to remember.
Catcher Jose Trevino, who was behind the plate during Weissert's debut, was one of the first Yankees to sit with the right-hander in the dugout in Oakland. Television cameras picked up the conversation. The backstop patted the rookie on the back, making him smile and laugh with words of encouragement.
"I was letting Greg know that he's gonna get back out there and he's gonna be fine, he's here for a reason. We believe in him and trust him," Trevino told Sports Illustrated's Inside The Pinstripes a few days later, reiterating that every player to ever set foot on a big-league diamond can attest to what he had gone through. "That stuff's gonna happen. Everybody has their own road in the big leagues, how they get there and the success they have, the failures they have."
Asked if he has his own unforgettable moment where he hit rock bottom early on in his own career, Trevino grinned, instantly recalling a game from his rookie season with the Rangers. He had subbed in for Jeff Mathis at catcher, crouching helplessly behind the dish as the Athletics poured it on against his batterymate, Texas' left-hander Mike Minor.
"Oh yeah, it was against Oakland in 2019," he said without hesitation. "I felt as big as an ant in the middle of 30,000 people. I clearly remember it."
In that moment, Trevino felt like the "smallest creature in the world," but from it, he learned accountability, preparation and the ever-important skill to move on, flushing what transpired while transitioning his focus to the next pitch.
Luetge shared that he feels the game speed up on him every single year he's been in the pros. By mastering the ability to ignore the numbers on the scoreboard, concentrating on the fact that a terrible outing is a fluke, Luetge learned to power through those moments—that's coming from a pitcher that endured a six-year odyssey back to the big leagues leading up to last season.
"After that first game, Weissertwas like, 'I can't feel my legs.' I said, 'Man, I have that feeling every first outing of the year until I throw that first strike,'" Luetge said. "It's never gonna go away. You just get a little more used to it."
Weissert later gushed over the way his teammates slammed into action, supporting him as he grappled with his debut. All that advice, giving the 27-year-old a chance to step back and eliminate the negatives, allowed him to move past it.
Sure enough, Weissert has blossomed since then, showing flashes of what made him so effective as a closer with the Triple-A RailRiders earlier this year. The right-hander rattled off four perfect innings across two outings in the immediate aftermath of his debut. He ran into trouble over the weekend in Tampa Bay, but has already earned two MLB wins.
Further, every time Weissert has been summoned from the bullpen, he's also made appearances on PitchingNinja's Twitter feed. The mixof his sweeping slider and sinking two-seam fastball—along with his deceptive delivery—has led to some filthy pitches.
Weissert struck reigning MVP Shohei Ohtani out on four pitches a week ago in Anaheim, he made Luis Arráez (a front-runner to win the batting title in the AL) look silly on Monday afternoon during his Yankee Stadium debut and absolutely undressed Rays infielder Yandy Díaz at Tropicana Field with a front-door slider, a clip that went viral on social media.
Making the baseball move like a wiffle ball isn't everything. With his remaining minor league options, odds are Weissert will board the Scranton Shuttle back to Triple-A this month once certain veteran pitchers are ready to return from the injured list. But this stretch, after such a bizarre debut, is something to build on.
"We do feel like he could be a contributor and if he can throw like that, hopefully we get that going," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
Ron Marinaccio showed some promise during spring training, carrying over from a spectacular campaign the previous year down in Triple-A. It was enough for the local kid from Toms River to earn a spot on New York's Opening Day roster.
Nobody could've imagined Marinaccio would be this good in a Yankees uniform, though.
The rookie has been one of New York's most reliable relievers this season, posting a 1.80 ERA over 31 appearances. Subtract Marinaccio's first stint with the big-league club in April, pulling numbers from May until now, and the right-hander has been one of the best in all of baseball, pitching to the tune of a 0.58 ERA in 27 games (two earned runs in 31 innings pitched).
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By Max Goodman
By Max Goodman
By Max Goodman
In that span, beginning with Marinaccio's return to the Yankees' bullpen on May 22, the 26-year-old has the second-best ERA among all MLB relievers that have thrown more than 30 innings. His .100 opposing batting average is the best in baseball.
Speaking of limiting hits, here's one more jaw-dropping note. Before this latest road trip, Marinaccio became the first pitcher in MLB history not to allow a hit in 22 of his first 27 career games.
Pitching coach Matt Blake told Inside The Pinstripes in Oakland that the organization expected Marinaccio to pitch well 2022, but anticipations are different than the reality once a young pitcher gets into an in-game situation, sticking around at the big-league level for an extended period.
For the former prospect to produce this type of dominant and historic stretch, he's confirmed the belief that his ceiling in pinstripes is to become a setup man or even a closer, pitching in high leverage and for multiple innings at a time. Blake referenced what Michael King was able to accomplish out of the 'pen before he suffered a season-ending elbow injury in July.
"I think it's a testament to the fact that he has the stuff with his changeup and his fastball and even the sweeper slider that he's got," Blake explained. "His stuff is capable of performing the way he has, but then the execution of that on a consistent basis is the next step.
"For me, it's more about how we get him in the game as often as possible and in big spots, letting him keep growing because that's ultimately how he's going to continue to develop."
Blake singled out the 27-year-old's changeup, a pitch that Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka recently referred to as "one of the best pitches in the league." Opponents are hitting .125 (7-for-56) against that pitch this year, striking out 23 times.
It's not like Marinaccio is mixing his changeup in every once in a while. The righty uses it 37.9 percent of the time, nearly as much as his four-seam fastball (44 percent). Statcast’s Run Value metric has Marinaccio’s changeup worth minus-7 runs this season, tied for the 12-best rating in the game.
Those numbers were even better before Marinaccio surrendered a rare home run on a changeup to Athletics pinch-hitter Steven Vogt in the 10th inning last weekend. It says a lot when a rookie giving up an earned run is that much of a surprise.
"Clearly he was sitting on that pitch," Higashioka said, agreeing it wasn't in a bad spot either. "If you're gonna get beat, you might as well get beat on your best pitch."
Other relievers in New York's bullpen have taken notice to Marinaccio's plus pitch as well. Weissert started toying with Marinaccio's changeup grip in Triple-A when he first returned to the RailRiders this spring. Now, he's using it during his first stint in pinstripes.
"Mine wasn't very consistent and I needed something to throw to lefties," Weissert said. "I asked him how he held his and started messing around with it. It's been good so far."
That Ohtani strikeout for Weissert featured that changeup, biting down and away, dropping off a table. Acting it out in front of his locker in Anaheim, Schmidt explained that Marinaccio's arm angle is what allows him to produce such devastating depth on that pitch—Weissert's cross-body release, similar to that of King, leads to a lethal drop as well.
From Marinaccio's changeup to Weissert's slider and Schmidt's curveball, each of these three youngsters has a plus pitch, the type of dominant offering that they can lean on.
"The advice I've given them is to keep throwing it. Don't think that you're throwing it too much. You have a plus pitch for a reason," Luetge said. "Use it until somebody shows you they can hit it. You have elite stuff, just let it play."
During spring training leading up to what turned out to be a pandemic-shortened season in 2020, Clarke Schmidt confidently stated that he would be the No. 1 starter in New York's rotation five years down the road.
Three seasons later, Schmidt is still trying to etch his name onto the starting staff depth chart with permanent ink, not pencil.
Injuries and a talented group at the big-league level ahead of him have kept the organization's former top pitching prospect from leaping into a long-term role with the Yankees. He's made some spot starts, but spent the majority of his time relegated to Triple-A, even coming out of the bullpen foran extended period of this season, helping to fill in with several relievers sidelined due to injury.
This past road trip, Schmidt returned to the big leagues in a new role, taking one final step closer to a consistent spot in the starting staff. Replacing an injured Nestor Cortes, Schmidt was lined up to make multiple starts in a row with the Yankees for the first time in his career.
On the surface, the numbers that the right-hander produced were subpar. The former first-round pick pitched to a 6.23 ERA in his two starts, allowing six runs in 8.2 frames. He took the loss in both games (against Oakland and Tampa Bay). From a development standpoint, however, those two outings—back-to-back turns in the big-league rotation during a road trip in a stretch run—will go a long way.
"I think this year has been huge for Clarke," Boone said in Oakland. "He's been healthy, so I think he's gained a ton of experience. He's been able to log some innings, building that little bit of volume."
Boone added that Schmidt has improved significantly this year, especially in the strike-throwing department. He's right. The 26-year-old's walk rate is the lowest it's been at the big-league level, albeit still a work in progress. It's also a small sample size considering he only pitched in 6.1 big-league innings in each of the previous two seasons.
Considering Schmidt's up-and-down year, pitching in different roles at different levels, that's an encouraging sign. His overall ERA with the Yankees (3.02 in 41.2 innings) is in line with his potential and the quality of his stuff as well, especially his slider and curveball. Opponents are hitting .145 against those two off-speed pitches, accounting for 30 of Schmidt's 38 strikeouts in 2022.
"He's fearless, a really confident kid with really good stuff," Boone added. "You feel comfortable putting him in any situation and knowing that he's got the gumption to handle it."
It's too early to tell if Schmidt will be one of the five Yankees pitchers that will make up this club's rotation next year. He's a candidate to replace Jameson Taillon, who is set to enter free agency this offseason.
Judging by that confidence and the radiant positivity he carries himself with off the field, he'll be readywhen his number is called.
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