Can Yankees Prospect Albert Abreu Maximize His Potential?
The strength of the Yankees’ farm system is undoubtedly in its righthanded pitching. Eighteen of its Top 30 prospects, as ranked by BA, are righthanders, sprinkled from the upper levels all the way to extended spring training in both the United States and the Dominican Republic.
Near the top of that group is Albert Abreu, a 23-year-old righthander getting his first extended taste of the upper levels.
The Yankees acquired Abreu from the Astros in the winter of 2016 as part of the two-prospect package for catcher Brian McCann. He was a lottery-ticket type of acquisition at the time of the trade, but he has shown plenty promise as he’s moved up the ranks.
"When (Abreu) first got to us, he was 96-100 (mph), then went through that little arm issue and (the velocity) went back down,” Yankees pitching coordinator Danny Borrell said after Abreu’s start on May 6 at Richmond. "But now, the last game he averaged above 97, so he’s obviously feeling much better.”
Abreu regularly brings his fastball into the upper 90s and pairs it with a changeup and curveball that each flash plus potential. His delivery is smooth and easy, and his body is big and strong enough to handle a starter’s workload.
A big pitcher with a big arsenal and an ease of operation usually equals dominance. The last and most important ingredient, however, is command. In that area, Abreu is lacking. In seven outings this year at Double-A Trenton, the 23-year-old is walking more than six hitters per nine innings.
To maximize the potential of his extremely talented right arm, Abreu might have to change the way he uses his legs. A scout who’s seen Abreu this year noted that the short stride in his delivery might be leading to below-average command and control, as well as inconsistency in the crispness of his pitches.
"In order for me to get the pitcher to get the ultimate result, I’ve got to get him to get the concept in his head. If you’ve got a low leg lift or you’ve got a short stride, if you’ll just get the concept that as soon as your front foot lands, you’re coming," the scout explained, "and that's why your command is erratic.
"I think that his landing foot is off by just a few inches every single time. It’s not in the same place. And even if it was in the same place, what if he’s landing it in the wrong place every single time? Well, the result is going to be a miscue every single time . . . It’s really about a timing issue with him, and it’s really about his lower half.”
Obviously, not all of Abreu’s pitches are miscues. At their best, his fastball touches triple-digits and features hard, riding life up in the zone. His changeup is an effective weapon to both right and lefthanded hitters and shows above-average fade and deception. His curveball is a downer in the upper 70s, and it can be thrown for called strikes or chases.
There is extreme inconsistency in his pitch package, however, especially as the curveball is concerned. That, once again, ties back to his delivery.
"It’s even harder to get on top of a pitch that has to create spin,” the scout said. "If you have a short leg lift, you’re landing early, you’re opening your front side early (and) your shoulder is flying open because the second your front foot plants you’re opening up. The second you open up, your arm is going to throw the ball from wherever (the arm) is.
"If you’ve got a curveball grip in your hand, guess what? It’s not coming up anywhere near the top, it’s missing up and away a lot more that it’s missing down and away. If you look at his video and you watch him over and over and over again, I bet you he misses up and away more than he misses down and away.”
Scouts are far from convicted on Abreu’s ultimate role. Some see the potential for a dynamic combination of fastball and curveball as well as his tendency to labor through innings and at-bats and think he’s better suited for a bullpen role, where he can blow it out for a few hitters at a time rather than try to turn over a lineup two or three times every fifth day. Others see a pitcher who, with a few small but crucial tweaks, could feature three strong pitches with a body of a classic workhorse.
If he does settle into a rotation role, those scouts believe, it would be with a ceiling of a No. 3 starter with a more likely outcome as a back-end pitcher.
The Yankees, however, are confident that once his development is finished, the ceiling for Abreu is very, very high.
"Just the stuff that comes out of his hand, the three-pitch mix all profile as plus pitches,” Trenton manager Patrick Osborn said. " . . . Hopefully he keeps building and by the end of this year he’s no longer here—he’s where he needs to be in the big leagues. You’re looking at a guy who profiles as a front-of-the-rotation starter.”
Eastern League Top 20 Prospects For 2019
Looking for potent arms? The Eastern League had plenty. Nate Pearson, Casey Mize and Matt Manning are among those ranked.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Cardinals righthander Tommy Parsons doesn’t have stuff that will blow you away, but his results at two levels of A-ball this season have been outstanding. He allowed just one run in 34 innings at low Class A Peoria, then recovered from a clunker in his Florida State League debut to throw seven innings of one-run ball his next time out. He gets those results from a combination of size, deception and a low-90s fastball that plays well up in the zone.
— Speaking of Yankees righthanders, Glenn Otto, who last year had surgery to remove a blood clot from his shoulder, has looked excellent in his return this season. One evaluator who attended one of Otto's recent starts at high Class A Tampa noted the 23-year-old was pitching with a plus fastball and a plus curveball.
— Two evaluators have noted that Pirates prospect Mitch Keller has added a slider this year.