An unearthed pitching prospect shows a Yankees advantage over Mets

The scout came up to Tim Naehring, and the Yankees vice president of baseball operations dismissed him.

This was in the stands behind Field 1 at the Yankees’ Tampa-based minor league complex. The Instructional League was ongoing last September, and Naehring had circled back for many reasons, but front and center was to get another view of Jonathan Loaisiga and provide input whether the righty was worth a 40-man roster spot.

Naehring saw high-90s octane, strike-throwing repetition and quality potential with both a changeup and power curve. He also saw something else — 12 scouts watching the same thing. Really, to him, they were vultures. Loaisiga was just the kind of pitcher scouts implore their bosses to take in the December Rule 5 draft — not just stuff, but control that makes it feasible that he could stick (as he would have to by rule) all of the 2018 season in the majors.

So, Naehring told the inquiring scout: “Don’t even bring his name up. I am calling New York.” That meant Brian Cashman to tell the GM what his vote was — put Loaisiga on the 40-man roster, protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

Naehring’s vote mattered. He is the most trusted pair of scouting eyes in the organization, and so on a jammed-with-talent 40-man roster, the Yankees used a precious spot on a 5-foot-11 righty who had thrown to that point 46 ²/₃ innings in stateside minor leagues, none above Low-A.

Nine months later, Loaisiga is a consideration to start Friday for the Yankees against the Rays. A reminder that the search for talent must never stop and that self-scouting is an invaluable tool and that the search for organizational depth must be obsessive. All of these are areas in which the Yankees have had an advantage over the Mets.

Look, it is easy to talk payroll, where the Yankees have it over the Mets even in a season when they are committed to falling under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold. An easy narrative has formed in this Subway Series about the Yankees’ high-end youth having it over that of the Mets. And it certainly is hard to ignore, for example, that in winning the sandwich game Saturday, the Yankees got homers from 2017 AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge plus Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, who are going to challenge for the award this season. Meanwhile, vital Met youngsters such as Michael Conforto and Amed Rosario struggle.

All of this helps explain why the Yankees are the superior team of New York. But don’t minimize how much better the Yankees have been in unearthing talent and/or developing it in a way that has escaped the Mets, whose lack of 25- and 40-man depth has been crippling the past two years, in particular.

Can you find anything on the Mets that looks like the buy-low trades on upside talents such as Chad Green, Didi Gregorius or Aaron Hicks? The Yankees at one point took Tyler Austin, Domingo German, Austin Romine and Ronald Torreyes off their 40-man roster, but saw reasons to retain them and work with them and ultimately have derived benefits from the judgment and perseverance.

The Yankees signed Loaisiga to a minor league contract in February 2016 after he had been released by the Giants without pitching beyond the Dominican summer leagues. Naehring was in Whitaker Bank Ballpark in Lexington, Ky., when Loaisiga made his Yankees organization debut on May 13, 2016, in the Sally League. Naehring liked what he saw. But he saw just 2 ¹/₃ innings, Loaisiga blowing out and needing Tommy John surgery.

He would return for 11 starts and just 32 ²/₃ innings last year and the Instructional League and it was all enough for Naehring.

“It was a special arm,” Naehring said. “I didn’t have to make a decision. The young man made the decision.”

Pitching between Single-A and Double-A this year, Loaisiga is 6-1 with a 3.00 ERA — his worst start coming Sunday, when he yielded four runs in two innings for Double-A Trenton. Still, the strike-throwing Naehring saw has been borne out — the 23-year-old Nicaraguan having walked four and struck our 58 in 45 innings. A scout compared Loaisiga to fellow diminutive righties Ramon Ortiz and Yordano Ventura, liking his 94-97 mph fastball, offspeed assortment and command.

It has him under consideration to fill the injured Masahiro Tanaka’s rotation spot, with at least a chance to become the latest example of the Yankees mining talent at the margins.

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