Entering 2018, very few non-baseball scouting professionals knew much of anything about Loaisiga, which is pronounced lo-AYE-siga. There’s been so much trouble with articulating his last name that Loaisigia is OK with “Johnny Lasagna” as a moniker.
Jonathan Loaisiga said that people call him "Lasagna" because they can't pronounce his last name. So Johnny Lasagna it is, Twitter.
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) June 15, 2018
Loaisiga basically came out of nowhere. He was absent from all preseason top-100 prospect lists, though he did come in at No. 12 on Eric and Kiley’s Yankees preseason organizational list.
The San Francisco Giants signed Loaisiga as an international free agent in 2012, but injuries, including Tommy John surgery in 2016, forced him to miss a lot of baseball. He was released by the Giants after the 2015 season and signed by the Yankees. From 2013 to -17, he pitched only 71 innings in full-season baseball. This season? He’s enjoyed a meteoritic rise, posting a 31.2-point K-BB% mark at High-A and a 28.4-point figure in Double-A. He had walked just four batters in 45 minor-league innings this season against 58 strikeouts.
This coming-out-of-nowhere-to-dominate story has increasingly become a thing for the Yankees and intriguing pitching prospects.
Luis Medina was signed for a mid-tier sum of $280,000 in 2015.
Domingo German was part of a deal with the then-Florida Marlins on Aug. 8, 2009, having signed out of the Dominican Republic for a paltry $40,000. After being being traded to the Yankees in 2014 and then non-tendered in 2015 following Tommy John surgery, he signed a minor-league deal with New York. He’s risen to join the major-league club and has had bat-missing moments in the rotation.
Erik Swanson, an eighth-round pick by the Rangers in 2014 who was acquired in the 2016 Carlos Beltran deal, has struck out more than 30% of batters he’s faced at Double-A and Triple-A this season after improving his breaking ball. If he can’t stick in a rotation, Swanson looks like a potentially significant bullpen arm.
And then there is staff ace and Cy Young-contender Luis Severino, who was signed for $225,000 in 2011. That’s one of the great value IFA signings in recent baseball history.
The Yankees are making a habit of this. When a club can produce impact arms without spending premium draft picks and/or international bonus pool dollars, it’s a significant way to produce value.
We’ll have to wait and see how the Loaisiga story plays out, but his debut was remarkable — five shutout innings — considering he had started only six games above A-ball. He at times overwhelmed Tampa Bay hitters in his debut on Friday.
Let’s start with his fastball that averaged 96.3 mph. We’ll have to see if the adrenaline from his first major-league appearance bumped up his velocity — or hurt his command (he walked four) — but he was regularly touching the mid-90s in the minor leagues earlier this season. Among qualified starters, his mark of 96.3 mph would tie him for sixth with Chad Kuhl, James Paxton, and Blake Snell. Pretty good company.
The pitch also featured above-average spin of 2,366 rpms, per Statcast data, and above-average lift at 9.5 inches.
While he missed with this following location, the fastball got over the swing of Wilson Ramos.
In his Fringe Five writeups, there were interesting GIFs of the Johnny Lasagna breaking ball. Here is one of it in major-league action:
But what was most intriguing to this author was how his changeup played. It looked like a wipeout offering. Consider this back-to-back changeup sequence to the helpless Mallex Smith:
The high-80s changeup had significant fade and he seemed to be able to manipulate its shape, some versions of it showing greater arm-side movement, others greater depth.
Loaisiga threw 91 pitches in his debut and got 17 swinging strikes: five via the fastball (47), seven via his breaking ball (31), and five on his changeup (13).
A high-velocity, high-spin fastball? Check. A swing-and-miss breaking ball? Check. What appears to be a potentially plus changeup? Check. Plus command? That’s what Loaisiga demonstrated in the minors. That’s a very intriguing skill set and starting point. And it’s yet another out-of-nowhere success story for the Yankees, who are either having incredible luck with these types of high-upside, high-risk, low-cost arms, or Brian Cashman and company are on to something.