Name: Taylor Widener
DOB: October 24, 1994
Repertoire. Fastball, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball. Widener has a plus fastball in almost every possible way. He sat in the mid-90's with his fastball coming out of the bullpen last season and can approach triple digits in shorter one-inning relief stints but what the Yankees found out late last year after transitioning him to the starting rotation and into Instructional League was that he was able to hold his 94-97 mph range for more than a few innings at a time and do so with advanced control too. And that's kind of what separates Widener from a lot of power pitchers -- he can command his fastball rather well. It's a big-time strikeout weapon and he has shown in the early going an ability to miss low when/if he misses at all, and that should allow him to keep the ball in the yard.
Other Pitches. Not just a fastball guy, Widener has a really good breaking ball too. Technically a slider in the 80-84 mph range with late sweeping action, it dives down a bit too so it does have some curveball bite to it as well. Like his fastball he can throw it any point for strikes and the whole package makes it yet another plus pitch for him. It too is a big strikeout weapon for him. He rounds out his repertoire with officially can only be labeled a 'developing' changeup, a pitch he didn't throw much in college or even in his debut season last year, but it's a pitch that is rapidly coming along extremely well. He went to work on it at Instructional League this offseason the early returns are beyond favorable: big-time fade, big depth, and he can throw it for strikes. He hasn't yet unleashed it in official minor league games but if he can duplicate the one he had as Instructs it could wind up being a third plus pitch for him. He still has to prove it though in-season.
Pitching. The best term to describe Widener's game is 'high octane'. He proverbially puts the pedal to the metal approach-wise, throwing a ton of strikes with power stuff early and often, consistently gets ahead in counts, employing a quick-tempo pace, and has the kind of wicked stuff to put away batters once he is ahead. There is no messing around, period! He is all business on the mound and shows an unflappable demeanor too, and simply hates giving batters a free pass. He is very athletic too and it allows him to repeat his delivery well, field his position as asked, and have an ability to hold runners close. He's not just a grip-it-and-rip-it type either despite his power ways, there's a cerebral feel to his game and a chess-like approach to his pitching. He knows how to set up batters earlier in counts and he pitches with both intelligence and confidence. He has virtually no weaknesses in his game.
Projection. With a power fastball, power breaking ball combination Widener has the kind of nasty stuff that could easily slot into the back-end of a big league bullpen someday, anywhere between a setup role and closing out games. He has that kind of plus stuff!! But while that kind of stuff and strike-throwing ways conjure up images of a younger version of Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, the fact is the Yankees are going give him every opportunity to develop as a starting pitcher given his ability to hold his velocity deeper into games and given the early returns on what could wind up being a plus changeup in due time. There aren't many pitchers with three plus pitches and Widener has that potential. Given his propensity for filling up strike zones so consistently, the Yankees believe they have another Chance Adams on their hands, somebody with the ceiling of a front-half of the rotation starting pitcher or potential big league setup man or closer as a fallback option. He can fill more than a couple of roles if need be.
ETA. 2018. Whatever role the Yankees wind up deciding on for Widener long-term, short-term he shouldn't be long for the minor leagues. There are many apt comparisons to Chance Adams and it appears Widener could have an Adams-like first full season in 2017, starting the year anchoring the high-A Tampa rotation before getting ample Double-A starting time later in the year.