Clayton Beeter: Yankees multi-inning monster?

Jan 26, 2023 - 5:30 PM
MLB: ALDS-<a href=New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays" src="" />
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Chafin is a pretty funny guy. He’s a pretty good reliever, too — quite possibly the best unsigned reliever left on the market actually. But for our purposes, it’s more important that he’s funny. Remember this?

The amusing thing about such self awareness, of course, is that it comes just at a point where that’s starting to not be true. When Washington used the luxury of a second top-ten draft pick to take closer Drew Storen in 2009, almost every reliever in the majors was, indeed, a failed starter. Not as much the case now! Pitchers are increasingly being specialized at an earlier and earlier stage, with short-relievers being separated from the starters sometimes even before they reach the pros. And while closers and setup men still exist, bullpen roles have become more nuanced. “Middle Reliever” hardly does the trick any better than “Failed Starter!”

Which brings us to the Yankees. The Yankees have done excellently in recent years to utilize the threat of the multi-inning relief pitcher (MIRP), which might sound like a new way of saying “swingman” or “long reliever.” MIRP has a slightly different connotation to it, though. Popularized (to my knowledge) by FanGraphs prospect writer Eric Longenhagen, the MIRP isn’t just a failed starter hanging around to soak up garbage innings, it’s a reliever who, often because of their starting experience, has the flexibility to get more than three outs at a time without sacrificing anything in the way of intensity or effectiveness.

Since Aaron Boone took over as manager, the Yankees have typically employed at least one of the top few pitchers in the league in multi-inning relief appearances, with Chad Green, Luis Cessa, and Jonathan Loáisiga all finishing in the top-five for such appearances at various junctures. Michael King was well on his way to getting there last year before his terrible injury, but Clarke Schmidt stepped in seamlessly with 19 multi-inning looks down the stretch in 2023.

Now, even with Carlos Rodón in the fold, depth in the MIRP role is suddenly thin. The gruesome nature of King’s injury may mean his days of throwing more than inning at a time are probably over, assuming he continues to throw in the high-nineties. We won’t be seeing Luis Gil until the second half of the season at the earliest, and Frankie Montas is set to miss at the least the first month of the season, taking one of Domingo Germán or Clarke Schmidt out of the MIRP picture and into the early-season rotation. Less than a third of the oft-injured Loáisiga’s appearances were of multiple innings in 2022 after making up nearly half of his 2021 outings. And sadly, it’s now been three full seasons since Deivi García was last effective at any professional level.

Enter Clayton Beeter.

Just a few weeks ago, Andrés Chávez shone a spotlight here on Beeter, noting that his “double-plus” fastball and “hammer” curveball could get him to the big leagues sooner rather than later, if the control he discovered upon his arrival in the Yankees organization decides to stick around.

My suggestion is to take the “could” out of the equation. Let’s cut to the chase: The reality is that despite having started 50 games in the minor leagues over the past two seasons, Beeter has been working as a quasi-MIRP in any case, as those 50 starts (plus three relief appearances) have worked out to just 129.1 innings pitched since being taken out of Texas Tech in the second round of the 2020 draft. That’s because Beeter worked as a reliever for the bulk of his time in Lubbock; his star turn in the Red Raiders’ rotation was limited to just four starts by the lost 2020 season. He had already undergone Tommy John surgery in 2018, giving him a grand total of 41.2 innings pitched between the ‘18, ‘19, and ‘20 seasons.

The Dodgers handled him with baby gloves, and while it’s kept him healthy, the result is that despite reaching Double-A in 2023 and performing well there post-trade, a boatload of things still need to go right for Beeter to be an effective starting pitcher for the Yankees within the next two seasons.

As Andrés noted, he needs to demonstrate that the improved control he demonstrated upon his arrival in Trenton has staying power. But even then, it’s not clear that it’ll be enough to work as a starter: his 12-percent career minor league walk rate would have been the worst in the majors over the past two seasons, and even the substantial improvement to 10-percent he made post-trade would have had him in the bottom ten of all 140+ pitchers with 100+ innings last year. The bottom ten on that list is really not a place you want to be.

Beeter’s stiff mechanics and maxed-out frame don’t project for a ton of growth beyond what we’re already seeing. When one considers that he has to refine his accuracy in spite of this while also simultaneously building his pitch and inning load to a level that can get through a lineup more than one-and-a-half times, it’s hard for optimism to not wane.

Optimism that he’ll be a valuable rotation member in the next year or two, at least. Based on all video and reports, Beeter has a ready-made reliever’s arsenal as we speak, and with the already-elite fastball’s velocity liable tick up in relief work, the potential is tantalizing. Longenhagen’s 2022 report on Beeter laid on a Nick Anderson comparison, as did Baseball Prospectus’s recently-released 2023 preseason prospect list. Such projections are always dangerous, but when they agree like that, it’s easy to see where it’s coming from.

Beeter has made it this far as a starter because that backspinning, over-the-top fastball plays well against batters of both hands, and with two deadly breaking balls, he has multiple weapons to draw from against different kinds of batters. But the road to the majors is littered with would-be strikeout kings that simply couldn’t find the zone, and Beeter’s problem is bad enough that he’d easily be a top-100 prospect if it were tempered just a little bit. Perhaps it’s time to bring together the best of both worlds and consider that there’s no need to push Beeter beyond the two-, sometimes three-inning outings he’s become used to as a professional.

The Yankees are in it to win it now. Within the next two or three years. If there’s a substantial chance that Clayton Beeter is a Nick Anderson starter kit just waiting for a role change, then you’d be hard-pressed to get me to pass that up in favor of maybe a 20-percent chance that he remains healthy and improves his command and durability enough to make an impact as a starting pitcher for the Yankees while Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge are still in their primes. For years, the team’s bullpen has been wealthy in starters-turned-relievers who are electric enough to gas up opponents for an inning, but flexible enough to get more than two or three hitters out, if they need to. It remains to be seen which current Yankee farmhand will follow in the footsteps of Green, Loáisga, and King. I know who my money’s on.

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