A Closer Look at Jordan Yamamoto

Jordan Yamamoto was ranked 23rd on the site’s 2019 Marlins prospect list, given a 40-grade future value as a potential backend starter. The right-hander, who came over in the Christian Yelich deal, was credited for his pitchability and depth of arsenal that would allow him to carve out a role in the backend of a rotation or as a multi-inning reliever. A 12th-round pick back in 2014, Yamamoto has put up a 26% strikeout rate, 7% walk rate, 3.75 ERA, and 1.24 WHIP in 463 innings. He put up a 3.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 14% K-BB in 12 starts at Double-A which earned him the call.

His prospect profile highlighted his four-pitch arsenal (FB, CB, SL, and CH), but may have sold him short as he’s also shown a cutter in his two MLB starts (though the CH has been relegated to a show-me pitch). The scouting report was AFL-focused as he threw 26 solid innings back in October/November so it was the freshest look at Yamamoto. His fastball was high-80s, with dips down to 86 mph, though there was a high end of 94 (not sure if that was done at AFL or during the 2018 season). This capped some of his upside per Eric and Kiley:

It (the fastball) gives Yamamoto little margin for error with the pitch in the strike zone, and caps his ceiling well beneath that of some of the lower probability prospects in this system, which is why Yamamoto is down here even though we like him a lot.

The lower velocity likely played a role in the 45-grade on the fastball, but he’s been at 90.9 mph in his two MLB starts, topping out at 93.9. The curveball was graded as the best secondary pitch at 55 followed by the slider and changeup both sitting at 50. Solid-average or better command allows the entire arsenal to play up, too.

Yamamoto’s best pitch thus far has been either the fastball or slider. He doesn’t get any swings and misses on the fastball – literally has one – but it has a 44% called strike rate and the Cardinals (the team he’s faced in both starts) weren’t able to do anything with it, hitting .133/.188/.200 with a 13% K-BB rate in 16 PA. They’ve also been hitless against the slider with six strikeouts in 11 PA.

Back-to-back outings of seven shutout innings against the Cardinals have earned Yamamoto some attention, but obviously no one expects him to maintain this kind of level. I can say with certainty that his .156 BABIP and 100% LOB rate won’t last. And home runs could become an issue with a 50% flyball rate, even with a strong pop-up rate to go with that flyball lean. He was fastball/cutter predominantly in the debut, throwing those two pitches 72% of the time.

Every outlet does distinguish between a slider and cutter for Yamamoto with the cutter sitting at 86.1 mph while the slider is down at 79.7 mph on average. According to Savant, Yamamoto uses the cutter more than any other pitch against lefties (29%) followed by the fastball (25%) and curve (22%). Both the slider (14%) and changeup (10%) were lightly used, but done so effectively, holding Cardinals lefties to an 0-for-8 with three strikeouts. Against righties, he’s at 41% fastball, 29% slider, and 18% cutter as his primary pitches with sprinkled usage of the curve (9%) and changeup (3%).

He faced the same hitters in each outing with only slight differences in the batting order. He did change his approach the second time around, shaving down his fastball usage from 46% to 30%, ditched the lightly used changeup (6% to 0%), and funneled the excess into more sliders (+21 points to 35%) and curveballs (+9 to 17%). He also dropped the cutter from 25% to 17%. Here’s a highlight reel from the second start and you can see the variety of pitches used to keep the Cards at bay. The outcomes of both starts were quite similar:

  • 1st start: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 95 pitches – 8 swinging strikes, 18 looking, 6 GB, 11 FB (3 popups)
  • 2nd start: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 95 pitches – 10 swinging, 19 looking, 5 GB, 10 FB (4 popups)

There isn’t a guaranteed spot for Yamamoto unless he continues to succeed. He doesn’t have to be this good, obviously, but a string of duds would likely cost him the rotation spot. Jose Urena was moved to the 60-day injured list with a lower back strain while both Caleb Smith (hip) and Pablo Lopez (shoulder) were recently placed on the 10-day IL which would seem to create enough openings for Yamamoto.

However, Zac Gallen will debut on Thursday and could become a staple in the rotation quickly (more on him down the line) leaving Gallen, Trevor Richards, and Sandy Alcantara as the locks right now and then both Smith and Lopez taking spots as soon as they’re ready. This means Yamamoto and Elieser Hernandez will have to impress enough to even stay in the majors, let alone the rotation. Lopez doesn’t have a timetable while Smith is slated for a rehab start soon.

Assuming he does carve out some time, I don’t think Yamamoto’s outlook differs a ton from where the prospect list had it back in December. The improved velocity from what that report had and his command looking strong in the two MLB starts might make him more of a #4-type, but that’s still going to be a mid-4.00s ERA with a low-1.30s WHIP.

A fantasy manager might able to curate a high-3.00s/mid-1.20s combo out of him by starting him at home and in friendly road matchups, but I’m unsure where the strikeout rate will land. His 9% SwStr rate doesn’t support a 25% mark, but he hasn’t topped 11% in any of his last three minor league stops, yet he ran up K rates of 30% (in 41 IP at A+), 34% (in 17 IP at AA), and 24% (in 65 IP repeating AA) so he might be able to play above his swinging strike rate.

Yamamoto is on 80% of the NFBC’s Main Event teams (15-team mixed) and 23% of the Rotowire Online Championship (12-team mixed) so he’ll be picked up a decent bit this week after another gem. I’m open to giving him a shot in those 15-teamers on the cheap (<=$35-40 out of $1000), but I don’t think he’ll come that cheaply now so I’m likely to pass. He gets Philadelphia in back-to-back outings (at PHI on Sunday, v. PHI next Friday) and then a trip to Atlanta after that. Philly hasn’t been great against righties (19th in wRC+ at 90) while Atlanta has been top 10 on the season (9th at 107) and 5th over the last month with a 118 mark.

We hoped you liked reading A Closer Look at Jordan Yamamoto by Paul Sporer!

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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The_Beard
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The_Beard

Obviously not the same caliber of prospect but his stuff and delivery reminds me of Matt Cain. Cain threw a little harder, but he also always managed to out-pitch the peripherals, maybe Yamamoto will too.

Might even help downgrade (upgrade?) the Yelich trade from dumpster fire to tire fire.