Yankees Phenom Luis Severino Too Good to Be Traded for Cole Hamels, David Price

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterAugust 26, 2015

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

NEW YORK — Kids are all the rage in the major leagues these days, to the point that one scout was saying this week he'd rather have 20-year-old Carlos Correa than just about any player in the game.

"Not for the future," he said. "For now."

So what's wrong with the New York Yankees relying on a 21-year-old starting pitcher?

Nothing. Nothing at all, especially when the kid is as talented and grounded as Luis Severino seems to be.

Watch Severino pitch, even once, and it seems obvious the Yankees were right not to consider trading him for David Price, Cole Hamels or anyone else they could have gotten. Talk to Severino, even once, and you start thinking maybe his Yankees teammates are right when they keep using the word "special" to describe him.

Cole Hamels
Cole HamelsLeon Halip/Getty Images

Other teams seemed to believe the same thing. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Severino was always one of the first players asked for when he sought a big-name upgrade in July trade talks. Cashman told those teams—and said publicly—he wasn't willing to pay that fee for Price or others.

You start thinking Severino could be that rarity of all rarities, a homegrown starting pitcher who makes it to the top of the Yankees rotation and stays there. The last guy who did it was Andy Pettitte, and they just retired his number.

Severino is just four starts into his major league career, so this is all a little quick. Every bit of praise still comes with the "it's early" qualifier and with the reminder that developing a starting pitcher can be difficult and unpredictable.

Severino looks good enough that it's fair to wonder why the Yankees didn't turn to him sooner and also whether he should make the cut in what would be a four-man postseason rotation. But he's young enough that you can understand Yankees manager Joe Girardi's reluctance to consider the postseason question.

"I think that's a little early to put that type of pressure on him," Girardi said. "But I will say that everything we've seen from him, we like."

David Price
David PriceStephen Dunn/Getty Images

It starts with the fastball that reaches the high 90s and the slider that comes with a sharp edge and sometimes comes in at 93 or 94 mph. There's also the mound presence that enabled Severino to walk into the Rogers Centre in Toronto and pitch well in a charged atmosphere, as well as a clubhouse presence that enables him to fit in around guys who were starring in the major leagues before he was in elementary school.

"I feel very comfortable, very happy," he said. "I'm around all the stars."

Severino's command of English still isn't as good as his command on the mound, but the poise he shows when he's pitching comes across off the field too. He has relied on an interpreter for group interviews after games, but he seems perfectly at ease speaking one-on-one in a language he learned mostly by watching movies and television.

"He's got the mentality of a winner," said Yankees first baseman Greg Bird, who remembers a 19-year-old Severino walking into the clubhouse in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2013. "You've got to have poise. He's special, talent-wise and his head. He's got a good head."

He'll need it if he's going to succeed where so many others have failed.

Over the last 25 years, 10 Yankees pitchers have had at least three seasons with double-digit wins. Pettitte is the only one of the 10 who was developed through the Yankees farm system.

Andy Pettitte won 219 games for the Yankees, who hope Severino can be their next homegrown ace.
Andy Pettitte won 219 games for the Yankees, who hope Severino can be their next homegrown ace.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Contrast that with the Toronto Blue Jays, who had nine homegrown starters with at least three 10-win seasons. Or the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles, who each had five.

Developing starting pitching is complicated anywhere, but the Yankees have made it seem even harder.

"Your successes are bigger, and your failures are bigger too," Cashman said. "So there's a lot more pressure to deal with."

The old way was to find a proven pitcher from somewhere else, whether it was Mike Mussina or Roger Clemens or CC Sabathia. Cashman has been determined to change that old way, and his public refusal to part with Severino, Bird or other top prospects in July fits in with how he has wanted to operate.

The early results have been good, but Cashman knows better than to claim vindication just yet.

"You just do what you think is right," he said. "We're very comfortable with the position we took."

He knows the real test for Severino and the others will be when they inevitably struggle.

"Until he goes through the ups and downs," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "You'll know more later."

It's like that with every young pitcher, as Andrew Miller knows. He is the Yankees closer now, but in 2007 he was a 22-year-old former first-round pick with great stuff who was trying to establish himself with the Detroit Tigers. He threw six shutout innings in his first big league start and had three other starts where he went at least six innings while giving up one run or none.

He also finished the season with a 5.63 ERA. That winter he found himself included in the trade that brought Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers.

"I think it's a confidence thing," Miller said. "For me, all anyone ever told me is how hard it is up here. You don't want guys to come up and think it's going to be easy, but confidence is key."

So far, at least, Severino looks like he has it.

"He certainly has shown he's ready," Miller said. "He obviously has the stuff, but mentally he's ready to compete at this level."

For the Yankees' sake, he'd better be. If he's not, there won't be a Hamels or Price ready to take his place.

 

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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