Luis Severino Under Immense Pressure to Become Yankees' Ace in 2016

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterApril 6, 2016

New York Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino delivers a pitch during the first inning of an exhibition baseball game against the Miami Marlins on Saturday, April 2, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rob Foldy)
Rob Foldy/Associated Press

The New York Yankees are doing this right with Luis Severino, trying to lessen the pressure on him to be great right away, even if that pressure is his reality. They're doing this right, even if there is an argument to be made that the 22-year-old will be their best starting pitcher.

Severino didn't start Tuesday's Opening Day game against the Houston Astros and Dallas Keuchel, just as he didn't start the Yankees' lone 2015 playoff game against the Astros and Keuchel. Masahiro Tanaka started Tuesday, just as he did last October, and the Yankees lost, just as they did then.

If you want to say Severino could have done better, well, perhaps he could have. The Yankees won six of his final eight starts last year, when Severino was so impressive and so steady that it seemed impossible he was only 21 years old.

Masahiro Tanaka wasn't bad Tuesday, but he left soon after allowing Carlos Correa's game-tying home run in the sixth.
Masahiro Tanaka wasn't bad Tuesday, but he left soon after allowing Carlos Correa's game-tying home run in the sixth.Kathy Willens/Associated Press

He's 22 now, on a big league Opening Day roster for the first time. And even if the Yankees handed him a rotation spot behind Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, they certainly know he can be better than that.

They need him to be better than that if they're going to compete for a championship.

Young players rule Major League Baseball these days, and you only need to look at the New York Mets to be reminded that young pitchers can bring a team to the top, too. The Yankees may not have a rotation full of them, but they do have Severino.

"A real live arm," said one scout who followed the Yankees this spring. "Obviously, they need him."

They need him. They need the other guys, too. They need Tanaka to overcome any concerns about his right elbow. They need Pineda to finally stay healthy. They need Eovaldi to prove last year's strong stretch was real. They need CC Sabathia not to look old.

It's not fair to say Severino is the one potential difference-maker, because Pineda can be brilliant and Eovaldi can throw 100 mph. Even Tanaka still shows a few flashes of the guy who the Yankees signed for $155 million.

But as one veteran scout told the New York Post's Kevin Kernan, Severino is "the best starter on the staff."

Kernan suggested it should have been Severino starting on Opening Day, but really, there was no need for that. There's enough pressure on him already and enough uncertainty about the speed of his development.

Severino looked the part of an ace last September, but the Yankees don't need to call him that yet.
Severino looked the part of an ace last September, but the Yankees don't need to call him that yet.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

"It takes time," said the scout who watched the Yankees in the spring. "I'm sure some people will project Severino to be that guy right now, but I don't like to say that. He's got stuff, but he's got to command his fastball, and that takes time."

The Yankees can give Severino that time even while starting him every fifth day in the big leagues. They don't need to call him the ace just yet. The Chicago Cubs didn't call Jake Arrieta their ace when the 2015 season began.

If starting the fourth game of the season rather than the first takes some pressure off Severino, all the better. There will be enough pressure just from pitching in New York. There'll be even more if Tanaka's fastball isn't any more impressive than it looked Tuesday, and more if Pineda once again breaks down or Eovaldi once again shows how many hits you can give up while throwing 100 mph.

Last August and September, Severino looked like a guy who can handle the pressure. He embraced New York and the atmosphere that comes with pitching for the Yankees. But he also enjoyed overwhelming success, and the tougher parts of development can come with the inevitable failures.

Maybe Severino is ready for that. Maybe he's ready to be the ace right now.

If he is, he'll show it. If he is, we'll see it.

The Yankees may well need it to happen, but they can't force it to happen.

But they sure would be a much better team if it does.

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

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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