Just yesterday, Trey Mancini “graduated” from the MLB.com Orioles minor-league prospects list, accumulating enough big-league time to be removed from the rankings. That left one spot to be filled, a no-brainer decision that inserted reliever Jimmy Yacabonis onto the top prospects list.
A 13th round selection in the 2013 MLB Draft, Yacabonis has climbed the ladder within the organization the way you’d like to see any young pitcher do so. He spent the entire 2015 season in High-A Frederick, most of 2016 in double-A Bowie and now calls Norfolk his temporary home while awaiting the call from the big-league squad.
And while he waits, it’s safe to say he’s making the most of his opportunity that has plenty of eyes on his nightly performances, most definitely including those of Buck Showalter.
In 19.1 innings, Yacabonis has allowed just 10 hits and 2 earned runs, good for a 0.93 ERA. As opposing batters are hitting just .153 against, the right-hander is turning heads on a nightly basis.
The key to early success? A mid-to-high 90s two-seamer with a developing slider that Yacabonis helps can morph into a deadly two-pitch punch.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good,” the 25-year-old said of the early season. “I’ve been really trying to get ahead of guys early in the count and attack guys. I have the heavy two-seam sinking fastball so most of the time I try to dump that in there… if the guy swings he usually gets himself out or if he takes it, then I’m up 0-1.
“One of the pitches I’ve really been working on – in the offseason I was working on it and then when I got to spring training – was a harder slider. So, I’ve been throwing that a lot and it’s definitely a pitch that is getting better. That’s what I’m going to need to have success at not only this level, but the next one.”
By looking at the numbers, it’s more than clear that Yacabonis has avoided hard contact throughout his time pitching in the system. With 193 hits allowed in 230 career innings, he’s used the fastball seen in the video above to capitalize on inexperienced minor-league hitting.
As the velocity has spiked, the pitch appears to have gotten that much better. For Yacabonis, he says the two-seamer has been the key to keeping opposing offense off-balance and uncomfortable in the batter’s box.
“I attribute [the 2017 success] to the late movement I have on my fastball. I throw predominantly a two-seam fastball, so I feel like a lot of the time the ball might be looking like it’s a fat pitch and then the late movement out of the zone allows me to get that weak contact or sometimes even a swing through and a miss.”
Following a 2016 season between Frederick and Bowie in which Yacabonis held hitters to just a .216 average against, he spent plenty of time with the Orioles throughout the offseason and spring. While he was stationed in minor-league camp for the majority of spring training, Yacabonis was called up to pitch in Grapefruit League games and work with the big-league coaching staff.
He says the spring experience along with January’s team minicamp – where he met Orioles pitching coach Roger McDowell for the first time – allowed him to get a sense of what the MLB lifestyle was like. Perhaps most importantly, the experiences allowed him to further build his knowledge of of the big-league game.
“[January’s camp] was the first time I’ve really talked to Buck, too, so just that whole experience was awesome,” Yacabonis said. “It’s awesome just to pick the guys’ brains. Even guys that are down here in Norfolk on the team now, a lot of those guys have big-league time. They know how to pitch. They know, even with certain hitters in the league that they have been around for awhile, they know how to pitch those guys. It’s cool just to see the way that they perceive it, because a lot of times the way I think about things is a lot different than the way they think.”
The velocity and movement on the heater means nothing without command, so it’s worth noting that Yacabonis’ strike-throwing ability is the most important factor to keep an eye on while tracking his progression.
This season, he’s walked eight batters in his 19.1 innings, but last season saw Yacabonis post roughly a 2.7 BB/9 ratio between his stints with the Keys and Baysox. For a hard-throwing relief pitcher, that’s a number that will be welcomed quickly at the big-league level if it sticks.
From the sounds of Yacabonis’ confidence, the command might just be here to stay.
“I honestly think the number one factor of my success has been my fastball command,” Yacabonis said. “Last year I started in Frederick, and there something just clicked and I was able to spot my fastball.
“Then I carried that onto Bowie last year and then out to the [Arizona] Fall League. I think this year even more so, I’d like to think that fastball command has even gotten better. It’s one of those skills that I’ll just have to continue to hone and continue to improve on. You can never take a day off of it, because when you do it might go astray.”
Yacabonis is 25, was drafted with the 399th pick in 2013 and just made his first appearance on a major prospect list – at #30 to top it all off. There’s no blaming anyone who doesn’t know his name. But the reality remains that this new “prospect” might just be the next name to make the leap to Baltimore and help out the Orioles bullpen.
For now, Yacabonis will do his best to help the Tides win ballgames. Keep an eye on his results and progression – chances are, it won’t take long before he’s donning the orange and black.