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Jordan Yamamoto needs a shoulder to rely on

Health is the biggest obstacle for the former top prospect.

New York Mets Photo Day Photo by Mark Brown/MLB Photos via Getty Images

From a minor piece in a larger trade to promising young starter to potential injury washout, Jordan Yamamoto has had a tumultuous career so far. Long a favorite of prospect enthusiast and fantasy deep diverse, the undersized righty now faces serious questions about the viability of his arsenal in the wake of two injury plagued seasons. Hopefully he can answer those questions, because the Mets may be calling on him for depth sooner rather than later.

Originally traded from Milwaukee to the Marlins in exchange for Christian Yelich, Yamamoto steadily improved his stock in 2018 and ‘19. The fastball velocity was never great, but he had at least two and possibly three good secondary offerings and good control, allowing him to post some impressive results as a “more than the sum of his parts types”. He arrived in style in 2019, posting 14 consecutive scoreless innings to start his career and ultimately tallying 0.9 fWAR in 78.2 innings as a rookies.

Everything has been downhill since. Yamamoto dealt with shoulder issues in 2020 that led to a disastrous 18.26 ERA, with his fastball sitting below 90 MPH more often than not. He wound up with the Mets via DFA claim, but the same issues continued to plague him - his average fastball velocity barely topped 90, his major league results were poor, and he eventually landed on the 60-day disabled list with a season-ending shoulder injury.

Unfortunately, Yamamoto looks like the latest in a long line of promising pitchers to be taken down by nebulous shoulder problems. Stuff models, like Cameron Grove’s great publicly available tool Pitching Bot, didn’t rate Yamamoto’s arsenal highly even when he was throwing 92 MPH. This profile of pitcher depends on every little edge they can get, making the lost velocity a huge killer to Yamamoto’s viability as a major league pitcher. It’s frustrating, both as a fan and even more so for the player, because the rest of his arsenal looks like it should work at the back of a rotation.

The Mets sent Yamamoto to minor league camp pretty quickly this spring, a decision perhaps driven by some unfavorable early signs on his velocity. An optimist might point instead to the Mets’ improved pitching depth as the primary factor, with David Peterson, Tylor Megill, and Trevor Williams all ahead of Yamomoto on the depth chart. Nevertheless, this is the Mets, and with injuries to Jacob deGrom and possibly Max Scherzer in the last week, the chance we see Yamamoto in the big leagues before May has greatly increased. He might even wind up starting opening day for a team with a $280M payroll. Hopefully he and the team can rely on his shoulder should that come to pass.