Yanks Go Yard is combing through the New York Yankees minor league system in search of hidden gems in this ongoing series. Today, reliever Taylor Widener.
One of the biggest surprises from the 2016 draft class was 21-year-old righthander Taylor Widener whom the New York Yankees selected in the 12th out of the University of South Carolina. Widener has always had electric stuff, but his results with the Gamecocks were mixed.
He split his junior year between starting and relieving, pitching to a 4.20 ERA with 10.99 K/9 and 2.59 BB/9 in 55.2 innings of work. Control had been Widener’s biggest issue earlier in his college career, issuing 5.34 free passes per nine as a sophomore.
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As we’ve seen with many recent Yankees draft picks, including James Kaprielian and Chance Adams, Widener saw a significant bump in his velocity after joining the organization. He worked mostly around 90-93 in college, occasionally touching the mid-90’s. After joining the short season Staten Island Yankees, Widener was regularly hitting 97 mph.
Widener’s professional career got off to a fantastic start. He did not allow a single run in his stint with Staten Island, pitching 15.1 scoreless innings for the Baby Bombers, allowing just two hits and four walks while striking out an incredible 25 opposing batters.
The Yankees rightfully concluded that New York-Penn league hitters were not enough of a challenge for Widener, and quickly promoted him to Low-A Charleston, where he continued to dominate the rest of the year, with just two earned runs allowed in 23 IP. He finished the year with a 0.43 ERA and 13.3 K/9 combined between the two levels.
Hudson Belinsky of Baseball America just recognized Widener for having the “Best Fastball” and being the “Closest to the Majors” out of New York’s 2016 draft class. As we saw with Jacob Lindgren, the Yankees aren’t afraid to push power relievers through the system if the results show they are ready.
Maybe that’s a bad example because Lindgren ultimately got hurt before he had a chance to establish himself, but I would maintain that was more of a fluke than any ill effects from being rushed to the majors. With a starter, you want to make sure they have a chance to refine their secondary offerings (see: Luis Severino). Being a reliever is more straightforward, and Widener looks like he’s pretty close to a finished product.