Yankees pitching prospect Domingo Acevedo.
By Brendan Kuty
TAMPA — Yankees righty Luis Severino has a problem. The 23-year-old’s fastball hit 99 mph in a recent start and his slider can turn hitters into windmills, but if he wants to remain a starting pitcher, he’s going to have to develop a third pitch. So the Yankees have been pushing him to rediscover the changeup he lost at some point in his minor-league development.
Across the street at the organization’s minor league facility, where spring training workouts started Monday, a prospect is experiencing a similar problem — except his fastball has touched 103 mph.
Domingo Acevedo has turned heads with his crazy velocity and 6-foot-7 frame. Some talent evaluators think his future lies in the bullpen, perhaps even as a dominant closer. But the Yankees aren’t ready to give up yet on Acevedo, who turned 23 on Monday, as a starting pitcher, and they’re pushing him to add a slider to his arsenal, which also includes an above-average changeup.
“He’s obviously got the big arm,” major-league pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “He needs to develop the breaking ball. And that’s going to determine if he’s a starter or a reliever down the road.”
Minor-league pitching coordinator Scott Aldred was asked if he agreed.
“I would think so, yeah. He’s going to be at a level where he’s going to be afford an opportunity to throw quite a few sliders to make sure it comes around, and then he could move quickly,” said Aldred, who added that the Yankees haven’t determined whether Acevedo will begin the season at High-A Tampa or Double-A Trenton.
If Acevedo makes it to the majors in any role, it will be a coup for the Yankees’ international scouting department, which signed him for just $7,500 as a 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic.
The team thinks he will. Vice president of player development Gary Denbo called Acevedo a “fast riser” last season, before he finished with a 2.61 ERA, 9.9 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 18 starts between Low-A Charleston and High-A. Acevedo hasn’t yet pitched in relief professionally.
Rothschild worked with Acevedo at the team’s training complex before spring training.
“It’s a good place to start with, what he’s got,” the pitching coach said. “It looks like his work habits were good when I was over there and saw him. Yeah, there’s a lot of positives. But the development is going to be the key.”
Pat McMahon used to lead the Yankees’ international player development effort.
“I think with the ability that he has, particularly with the fastball, that’s something that is not often taught,” McMahon said. “He’s blessed with that. He’s worked hard with his delivery and mechanics until he could command the fastball.”
But can Acevedo be a starter?
“I think at this time he has the capability to start,” McMahon said. “And because that starting ability, also when you look at him, that’s the beauty of him, he can pitch in a lot of different roles for us.”
“With the arm that he has and learning to command the fastball and his work ethic, he’s a hard-working young man. We’re rooting very much for him.”
Rothschild wasn’t sure.
“He kind of makes that decision of what he’s capable of doing and how quickly he’s capable of doing,” Rothschild said.