PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- In the late 1980s and early '90s, Joe Girardi had a young teammate with the Chicago Cubs named Greg Maddux. Maddux broke into the majors at just 20 years old, carrying himself with a certain confidence.
"I was around Greg Maddux when I was a young player," Girardi said Saturday before Severino took the mound at Charlotte Sports Park and threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. "There was a ton of poise, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. And I feel like Sevvy is the same way. He knows what he wants to do."
Severino, one could argue, is the most important player in the entire Yankees' franchise. He doesn't necessarily have to be a Hall of Famer like Maddux, but the Yankees need a few All-Star seasons, at least, from him. His continued development into a possible No. 1 starter is crucial because of the high level of future uncertainty with the Yankees' pitchers.
In two years, it would seem very likely that Severino will be in the rotation, but after him, who else is a guarantee? Masahiro Tanaka has the contractual right to opt out after the 2017 season. CC Sabathia's contract runs out following '17. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi can become free agents after '17. Ivan Nova could leave as a free agent after this season.
The Yankees, with all the money from the contracts of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Sabathia falling off the books, will surely be able to go into free agency for reinforcements by then. But if Hal Steinbrenner's game plan to become younger, more athletic and cheaper is to be initiated, then Severino must be a big part of the solution.
Just 11 starts into his major league career, Severino's development is far from done. The next step for him, like for most young pitchers, is refining his secondary pitches -- his changeup and slider.
Severino has the gift of a 96 mph fastball, which allows him to set up his other pitches. He needs multiple choices because if major league hitters don't have to guess much, they will punish a fastball.
"He's a guy who is not afraid to use his fastball," said Carlos Corporan, who has been in the majors for parts of the last five years and is trying to make the Yankees as the backup catcher. "It is just a matter of how to find out how to throw his off-speed pitches. He throws a lot of strikes."
On Saturday, Severino struck out the Rays' Logan Forsythe on a nasty 92 mph slider to begin the bottom of the first. On the Sports Park Stadium speed gun, Severino hit 98. It is a lot of what everyone saw last year from Severino as a rookie, but he still needs to know how to read hitters, who will adjust to him.
"He's around the zone all the time," Corporan said. "Hitters know that and they will swing, they will take some hacks on him."
Severino is focusing on his slider and change this spring. He threw a few good ones Saturday.
"I'm trying to throw more in the dirt," Severino said of his slider.
After going 5-3 with a 3.03 ERA last season, Severino showed that his future could be a great one.
"I see Severino being one of the best pitchers in the game," Carlos Beltran said.