The playoff chase continues for the Orioles, not that any of the teams vying for the second wild card spot can be said to be chasing much of anything. September brings along expanded rosters and for many young players this is their time to shine. Many are now getting their first proverbial cup of coffee in the major leagues. For some, it may be their only chance.
This why I actually like to watch some September baseball, even if the expanded rosters are horribly abused. It is a chance for some players to leave their mark on 2017 in hopes of making the 2018 team. Some of the most interesting of those players tend to be the relief prospects that get called up to mop up some innings or work in extra innings.
One of those players this season is Jimmy Yacabonis. The O's have had Yacabonis up in the majors before, but he has earned the win two recent appearances and has not given up a run. Furthermore, those wins came in extra innings in high leverage situations. He has certainly earned a second look.
The long road to the majors
Yacabonis has spent a long time in the minor leagues. The 25-year-old right-handed pitcher was drafted by the Orioles in the 13th round of the 2013 draft. He has spent at least part of five seasons in the minor leagues.
In the minors, he has a career 3.01 ERA over the course of 272 innings pitched in 190 appearances. He has struck out 263 batters in that time and walked 138. That works out to a 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings and a 4.6 walks per nine innings. Not great command, but an ability to get whiffs, which is always an encouraging sign for a young pitcher.
Astonishingly, Yacabonis has only surrendered nine minor league home runs over the course of his 272 innings pitched. That is an important characteristic in today’s high home run environment. That also pairs nicely with his career 48.6 percent ground ball rate.
The scouting report
Not much in the way of recent information about Yacabonis is out there in the scouting world. Eric Longenhagen, the lead prospect analyst over at Fangraphs, wrote this about him before the season.
“St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia hasn’t had a big-league alumnus since Jamie Moyer’s retirement. Yacabonis, an arm-strength relief prospect, could be next. He was 94-97 for me in the Fall League with an average breaking ball that he needs to drive down beneath the zone more consistently. He has a chance to be a middle reliever but needs to repeat his arm slot (which varied quite a bit in the AFL) and throw more strikes.”
So far in the majors, Yacabonis he has thrown his fastball 69.4 percent of the time, his curve ball 25.6 percent of the time, and his change up only five percent of the time. He relies on his 95.6 mph fastball to get the job done.
The reason that Yacabonis caught my eye in the first place was that fastball. This at bat against Ryan Goins. Below is the pitch chart with the pitch number labeled on the plot.
All five pitches were his fastball. He starts off with a ball away, but comes back to grab a called strike on the outside part of the plate. Then down 2-1 in the count he goes back to back on the outside corner with the fifth pitch foul tipped, but caught, for the strike out. Below is a .gif of that pitch.
That is a solid above-average velocity on a fastball that has a ton of sink and movement. That is a pitch to be built around.
According to Pitch f/x that Yacabonis’ fastball, which is classifies as a four seam fastball, has a vertical movement of 5.99 inches and a horizontal movement of -9.74 inches (his horizontal movement is negative becuase it is moving away from his arm side).
One of the cooler updates to Pitc hf/x to me is their landing page with little description of each player. This is their description of Yacabonis’ fastball:
“His four seam fastball has heavy sinking action, has an obvious tail, generates a very high amount of ground balls compared to other pitchers' four seamers and has well above average velocity.”
For a comparison, because I know that looking at only values for these numbers can be a bit esoteric, I looked up what Zach Britton’s movement on his sinker was for a bit of context. From 2016, Zach Britton had a 3.70 vertical movement on his sinker and a 7.27 horizontal movement on that same pitch. Put in layman’s terms, Britton’s sinker has a little more sink, but less run on it.
No one is sure of what Yacabonis can be, but he is getting his chance in September, in meaningful games, to show that he be worth something for the Orioles moving forward. He has shown in the minor leagues that he can pitch multiple innings, get ground balls, keep the ball in the ball park, and strike batters out.
Now, Yacabonis has to show it at the major league level. His upper 90’s fastball with lots of life is a good place to start for a middle reliever. Look for Yacabonis to make more appearances as September goes on and see if he can solidify a shot at the bullpen during Spring Training in 2018.