I posted about some of the Yankees minor league injuries yesterday. Here are a few leftover minor league notes from my conversation with vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman.
• Simplistic way of looking at Rule 5 eligibility for this winter: Anyone drafted in 2009 or earlier (Slade Heathcott, Shane Greene and Bryan Mitchell stand out), and college players drafted in 2010 (Tommy Kahnle, Danny Burawa, Chase Whitley). International signees are harder to figure out. Newman said that neither Ronnier Mustelier nor Adonis Garcia needs to be protected, but he specifically said that Gary Sanchez is eligible this winter, meaning he’ll need to be protected.
• Mentioning Heathcott and Mustelier in the same paragraph seemed like a good excuse to pull out the spring training picture of their outfield collision.
• Speaking of Heathcott, his overall Double-A numbers didn’t look like much this season (.261/.327/.411), but the Yankees came away happy with his performance because they saw obvious improvement. Heathcott hit .306/.342/.509 in the month of July, and he was hitting .310/.444/.552 before landing on the disabled list in August. “His second half was good,” Newman said. “And by the metrics we use, he improved over the course of the season. He needs at-bats, and he needs some time.”
• Whitley was a career reliever before being moved into the Triple-A rotation late this season. He’d just pitched 17.1 scoreless innings of relief in the month of July, and went on to make five August starts with a 1.64 ERA. It’s not out of the question that Whitley will continue to work as a starter in the future. “He’s got a great changeup, so it was, let’s see if he can do this,” Newman said. “His velocity picked up over the last two years, he’s always had a very good changeup, we’re working on his breaking ball. We had some innings in the rotation, and he’s got starter stuff, so he may get a look in that way in the future.”
• One of the real emerging names from that Rule 5 eligible list is Greene. He had a 5.22 ERA in High-A Tampa last year, but he had a 3.38 between High-A and Double-A this season. He was actually better during the second half in Trenton than he’d been in the first half in Tampa. He walked 63 batters last year; only 30 this year. “Big time (improvement),” Newman said. “Command. Look at his walk totals. … He’s got good stuff. He gets it up to 95, 96 and can sink the ball. Now he’s getting it over the plate.”
• Kind of a strange year for Jose Campos, the other pitcher acquired in the Michael Pineda trade. Having missed most of last year with an elbow injury, Campos was routinely limited to three or four innings per start this season. He threw a total of 87 innings (which was actually a career-high) with only 16 walks and a 3.41 ERA. “He did well,” Newman said. “We shut him down and we’re happy. … We just don’t want to jack his innings up too much.” Newman said Campos will likely be on a similar but less-restrictive program next year. “He’ll have more innings next year, but it will be managed (again),” Newman said. “He’s not going to go to 180 innings after what he did this year.”
• Sounds like the conversion of 2012 draftee Rob Refsnyder from college outfielder to professional second baseman is being viewed as a success. Working with closely with infield coach Carlos Mendoza — himself a former Yankees minor league infielder — Refsnyder made 25 errors, but only two in the final month and none in his final 17 games. He also hit .293 with a .413 on-base percentage. “Huge improvement (defensively),” Newman said. “So far it’s been good, and he can hit. And he had a bunch of walks.”
• Refsnyder’s strong season might have pushed him ahead of Angelo Gumbs in the second base pecking order. Gumbs was hurt again this year (had a concussion), and he hit just .213/.263/.330 between Low-A and High-A. “He’s got some work to do,” Newman said. “He’s a talented kid, but he’s got work to do. He needs to have a good year. … He can run and he can impact the ball. He’s real athletic. Like so many of those (young) guys, it’s plate discipline, using the field, being a quality hitter.”
• Also in need of a good year is center fielder Ravel Santana, whose stock has plummeted in the two years since his terrific U.S. debut. A severe ankle injury and a broken arm have robbed him of development time. “He’s had two really tough injuries,” Newman said. “He’s had a tough go.”
• Since this is apparently the negative section of the minor league notes, it was a brutal year for 2012 second-round pick Austin Aune. Considered pretty raw but gifted — he turned down a quarterback scholarship to TCU — Aune hit just .192/.230/.263 in the Gulf Coast League. He struck out 72 times in 41 games. He did have a double in four of his last five games, but clearly there’s work to be done if Aune is going to live up to that second-round status. “He had a rough year,” Newman said. “He had a tough year. We’ll see how it goes next year. He’s a hard-working, good kid and I’ll leave it at that.”
• Let’s end with something a bit more positive — Instructional league ended this week, and I asked Newman if anyone stood out. He didn’t hesitate. “Bryan Mitchell,” he said. “He’s got a great arm. He’s getting better.” Still just 22, Mitchell is Rule 5 eligible this year, but he’s hardly pitched above Class-A. He had just a 5.12 ERA in Tampa this season, but the Yankees bumped him to Double-A at the end of the year anyway, and he had a 1.93 ERA in three starts at the higher level. The Yankees — and opposing scouts — have talked about this kid’s raw talent for a while. He’s one of those guys who still has a lot to prove, but also has a lot of believers.
Associated Press photos of Heathcott, Mustelier and Greene; headshots of Refsnyder and Gumbs