Can Luis Gil replace ‘teacher’ Cole as Yankees ace nears opt-out year?

New York Yankees pitcher Luis Gil pitches before the game against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium Thursday, May 23, 2024, in New York.
Sara Molnick
Tuesday May 28, 2024

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When the Yankees decided to have Luis Gil fill Gerrit Cole‘s rotation spot two months ago, they would have expected to see merely healthy and league-average results from the young right-hander. A month later, his performance put him in contention for AL Rookie of the Year honors.

Today, one could make a case for Luis Gil to start the All-Star Game and be considered for the AL Cy Young Award – distinctions earned by Cole last season. In the most stunning development of the Yankees’ brilliant first third, nothing compares to his emergence as a facsimile of Cole in every facet.

And above all, many have started to see him as a perfect replacement for the Yankees ace, as Cole’s opt-out year nears after this season.

Luis Gil becomes star of Yankees rotation

Luis Gil showcased “amazing talent” and “great ceiling” as he threw 6 1/3 shutout innings of one-hit ball in the Yankees’ 5-0 win over Seattle. The victory allowed New York to split the four-game set and return to 18 games over .500 at 35-17.  

The game saw an impressive power show with homers from Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, making New York the first team with three players at 12-plus home runs – Judge, Stanton, and Juan Soto. But the right-hander stole the limelight with his ace outing.

Yankees' Luis Gil has another special outing, and gives due credit to his teacher, Gerrit Cole.
San Diego Union-Tribune, Newsday

It came on the heel of his another outstanding performance that saw Luis Gil’s setting a Yankees rookie record with 14 strikeouts. New York’s rotation anchored by him, strong offense paced by a formidable slugging trio, and catalytic table-setters like Volpe have combined to propel the club’s torrid start to the third-best in their history.

While Luis Gil’s emergence has fortified the Yankees, their success truly stems from a rotation that has been brilliant from top to bottom sans Cole. Just one qualified Yankees starter since 1997 had an ERA of 2.85 or lower in a 162-game season – Cole himself last year. Yet this entire Cole-less rotation of Gil, Nestor Cortes, Carlos Rodon, Clarke Schmidt, and Marcus Stroman boasts a combined 2.85 ERA.

The Yankees, founded in 1903, had never before assembled an 11-game stretch where all their starters worked at least five innings while allowing two earned runs or fewer. That streak began and was bookended by Gil, who was brilliant in the middle of it as well. Over his last five starts, Gil is 5-0 with a 0.59 ERA, surrendering just two earned runs on 12 hits across 30 2/3 innings.

It’s a scenario akin to Kurt Warner anonymously stepping in for an injured Trent Green in 1999 and leading the Rams to a Super Bowl title as MVP, according to Cole. The veteran lauded Gil’s “high-end stuff” and “high aptitude,” praising his ability to quickly make adjustments after his latest outing.

Yankees' Luis Gil before the game against the Chicago White Sox, on May 19, 2024

The capacity to absorb teaching is frequently highlighted regarding Luis Gil. He dubbed Cole his “professor” after setting a Yankees rookie record with 14 strikeouts against the White Sox last weekend. In nine minutes interrupted by just three questions, Cole expounded on what he has emphasized most with Gil.

It began primarily with imploring the rookie not to be too fine with a fastball capable of succeeding in the zone, and to dominate by getting ahead with strike one. Cole stressed the importance of getting a strike when the count is 1-1 to avoid problematic 2-1 counts. He advised Luis Gil to take a deep breath when his command wavers rather than letting frustration set in, recalibrating to his best mechanics. Above all, Cole said, Luis Gil must never stop competing.

Can Luis Gil replace Cole?

Heeding that counsel, Luis Gil has blossomed into an ace-caliber force complementing an already stacked Yankees rotation and lineup. His rapid development from fill-in to frontline starter has been the club’s most stunning achievement in an otherwise brilliant first third of the season.

Luis Gil’s ability to continually improve has been likened to an AI system, constantly learning and getting better. His walk rate stood at 13.6% through his first three starts but has dropped to 9.4% since, including 7.4% over his last three outings. Still, before Thursday’s game, Mariners manager Scott Servais said the key was “to get him in the strike zone.”

They did, but Luis Gil remained effective. He threw strike one to 10 of the first 11 Seattle batters, had just two three-ball counts through five innings, and didn’t issue a walk until tiring in the sixth when he allowed two free passes. With two outs and runners on, Luis Gil fell behind 3-1 to the left-handed hitting Luke Raley, but battled back to get ahead 1-2 before blowing a 98 mph fastball by him for the strikeout and a 2-0 lead.

Luis Gil of the Yankees returns to dugout after pitching against the Diamondbacks in Arizona on April 01, 2024.

“He just continues to get better and better,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of Gil, who ranks third in the AL in ERA (2.11) and strikeouts per nine innings (11.39), while leading the majors with a .143 batting average against – 44 points better than any other AL qualifier.

Unlike when Kurt Warner stepped in for an injured Trent Green, Gerrit Cole is expected back from injury this season to rejoin a rotation featuring Luis Gil. Cole left for Tampa to continue throwing batting practice with the potential to return from a nerve irritation in his elbow in about a month. 

In mid-March, there were calls for the Yankees to trade for Dylan Cease or sign Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell to replace Cole. New York wasn’t even sure if Luis Gil would beat out Clayton Beeter or Will Warren for the final rotation spot, or if he’d be asked to fill Michael King’s hybrid relief role instead. But now, things are different.

So far Luis Gil has emerged as a savior for the Yankees’ rotation, putting up ace-caliber numbers while alleviating concerns about Cole’s absence with his continued development. But if the Yankees ace opts out in 2025, he may step up to fill the place.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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2 thoughts on “Can Luis Gil replace ‘teacher’ Cole as Yankees ace nears opt-out year?

  1. The Cole opt out is a joke. All they have to do is guarantee an additional year, consider that done at the minimum.

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