By Mark W. Sanchez
All 6-foot-7, 250 pounds of Domingo Acevedo, the towering right-hander with a rocket arm that touches 103 mph, was worried.
The trade deadline approached and so did what he feared would be his Yankees conclusion. His name reportedly was bandied about in trade talks for Oakland’s Sonny Gray, and whispers let Acevedo think the only team he has known for his five-year professional career was about to become his former team.
But 4 p.m. on July 31 came and went, and Gray was heading to The Bronx. Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo and James Kaprielian got the call Acevedo dreaded.
“It was pretty hard. The team here is like a family,” Acevedo, the Double-A Trenton pitcher, rated the Yankees’ eighth-best prospect by, said in Spanish over the phone Friday. “And it’s hard starting over someplace new, where you don’t know anyone and you don’t know their rules and routines. I think whereever I go I’m going to work hard and keep proving that I can stay focused. Trades are a part of the game I can’t control.
“I think there certainly was the possibility [to be traded]. To be honest, I’m not sure what happened. Only God knows what’s best for me.”
What’s been best for Acevedo is surprising control. The 23-year-old is a three-pitch starter with a developing slider, impressive changeup and fastball that lives in the mid- to high 90s. But what’s opened the Yankees’ eyes the most is how accurate he’s been.
In 118 innings split between High-A and Double-A, to where he was promoted in mid-May, Acevedo has struck out 125 and walked just 27, to go along with a 3.28 combined ERA.
“Just his ability to throw strikes at a very hard rate,” Yankees minor league pitching coordinator Danny Borrell said of what’s impressed him. “Honestly that’s been the biggest thing with me. The higher he goes, the more strikes he throws with all three pitches. Considering, you look at his body, and he’s [6-foot-7], there’s a lot of moving parts. But he’s still able to throw strikes. It’s a testament to how his body works. … I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
But not by the fastball that few this side of Aroldis Chapman can boast. And speaking of Chapman, “We’ve spoken a little,” Acevedo said. “His advice is not to focus too much on velocity, but more to hit within the zone. He says you should definitely have good velocity, but when you take command of your pitching, everything usually falls into place. He also said not to overstrain yourself.”
Acevedo has been with the Yankees since 2013, when he was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a ball of clay to mold. He’s struggled with injuries since until he broke out this season – his 118 innings pitched this year is easily a career high, topping last year’s 93. As a result, the Yankees are holding him to five innings per start as a way to protect his health.
Despite persistent back injuries last season and a right arm built for blowing batters away, Borrell said he still envisions Acevedo’s future in the rotation.
“I’ve been a starter this whole time,” said Acevedo, who credited improved mechanics for his 2017 success. “I like the position, and I think I can continue being a starter because thank God I have the right control in my pitching.”
Topping off Acevedo’s season was a trip to the Futures Game in Miami on July 9, notable for him mostly because his mother “who has always supported me” could see him pitch on TV from the Dominican Republic — even if she saw him allow three runs in an inning in the game.
So Acevedo returns to a team that is now without his teammate, Mateo, which is sad, but isn’t the news he was fearful of.
“Very tough. It’s hard to see all these guys go,” Borrell said about the trade-deadline deal. “We want [prospects] to succeed, whether it’s with us or with someone else.”
Acevedo has his preference.