Last night’s game wasn’t much to talk about, so let’s start today with some notes from Yankees vice president of baseball operations, Mark Newman.
• Because he’s considered the Yankees top relief prospect — and because his Triple-A numbers are terrific – Mark Montgomery seemed like a no-brainer for a big league call-up following the Joba Chamberlain injury. Instead, it was Preston Claiborne. Newman explained that behind Montgomery’s impressive results is a pitcher who’s not yet at full strength. “He’s not there yet, but he’s pitching well,” Newman said. “He’s not at 100 percent yet. (It will) take another couple of weeks.” The problem isn’t an injury, it’s simply building arm strength. Newman said Montgomery can sit at 90-94 mph at his best, but he’s been more like 89-91 this season. The arm strength is getting there, but Montgomery’s not where the Yankees want him to be. “It’s just figuring out how to deal with the offseason,” Newman said.
• Speaking of bullpen prospects, hard-throwing lefty Francisco Rondon opened the season in the Double-A rotation, but after six starts, he’s moving back to the bullpen. The decision to make him a starter for a while was about development, not an attempt to legitimately convert him. “I think we think he’s a long-term reliever,” Newman said. “It doesn’t hurt any reliever to pitch in the rotation for a while, anyway. … It’s not even (to develop) arm strength. It’s developing the ability to locate and spin the ball.”
• There is currently no internal punishment in place following Mason Williams’ DUI arrest. “The court system hasn’t even had its say in this,” Newman said.
• Jose Campos has pitched six times this season, and five of those outings lasted exactly three innings. The other start lasted three and two-thirds. Newman said the Yankees are limiting Campos’ workload this season strictly because he threw so few innings last year. They’re trying to limit those innings on the front end so that he can be stretched out as the season progresses.
• Also, Campos indicated last week that last year’s elbow injury was a fracture. Newman said it wasn’t actually a fracture, more of a serious bruise that could have gotten worse if the Yankees hadn’t shut him down.
• Speaking of Charleston starters, Rafael De Paula has 46 strikeouts through 27.1 innings. He’s 22 years old, but this is his first year in the U.S. and Newman said the Yankees aren’t likely to push De Paula to Tampa any time soon. “We expected that he would pitch well, but he’s pitching better than we expected,” Newman said. “He’s a first-rate kid who works very hard. … (But) he needs time. He’s got to develop secondary pitches. He hasn’t pitched that much competitively.”
• Similar story for the other dominant Charleston starter, Gabe Encinas, who has a 0.84 ERA but is not expected to advance levels at all this season. “He’s made a lot of progress so far,” Newman said. “He’s got a very good arm. He’s run it up there 95, 96 and he’s learning how to pitch. But he’s going to stay there. He’s going to spend the season there. He’s figuring out what it takes to be successful in terms of command and secondary.”
• One player who’s already been promoted from Charleston to Tampa is second baseman Rob Refsnyder, the former college outfielder who’s hitting at an absurd rate this season. The Yankees are trying him at second because he’s played there before and his offensive approach profiles well at the position. “We’re converting him to second base, and that’s a work in work progress, but offensively our scouts love him,” Newman said. “I’m sure that anybody that swings the bat like that will profile somewhere.”
• Another early offensive standout is Double-A catcher J.R. Murphy, who’s finally living up to his reputation as a big hitter. But Newman said the Yankees are most excited by Murphy’s improvement behind the plate. “The biggest thing is that he’s catching very well,” Newman said. “Early on it was, solid hit grade; let’s try to catch (even though) we’re not sure how it will go. He’s worked his butt off. … Murph can catch. He can catch, and he can throw. He’s smart. He can run a game.”
• Jose Ramirez has been activated in Double-A after being held back at the end of spring training. There was no injury, but the Yankees felt that Ramirez was dealing with some fatigue, the result of pitching in winter ball and overdoing it a little bit in big league camp. “Probably over-extended himself a little bit early in the process,” Newman said. “That’s fairly normal for young kids. They get excited to pitch in that environment.”
• The early results are not encouraging for either Cito Culver or Dante Bichette Jr., each of whom is repeating Low-A but getting familiar results at the plate. Culver has stopped switch hitting — he’s strictly a righty these days — and Bichette is working on using the whole field rather than trying to pull home runs every at-bat. “They’re both working at it, and the coaches have a real solid program for them, so we’ll see what happens,” Newman said.
Associated Press photo