Jose Campos had elbow trouble all the way back in 2012. It’s the reason he made just five starts that year, and the reason the Yankees so strictly limited his workload last season. So why did the Yankees wait until late last month to finally send him for Tommy John surgery?
“The doctors wanted to treat it conservatively,” vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. “See if he could get through it with exercise and therapy, and (they) finally decided to operate on it.”
Newman said there was no exact tipping point. The ligament didn’t suddenly snap, it simply became clear that a more drastic measure was necessary.
“I think the wear and tear over time,” Newman said. “… He had been throwing in spring training and it just wasn’t (right). It didn’t feel the way it was supposed to feel.”
A few other minor league notes from Newman…
ABOUT A WEEK AWAY
High-A first baseman Greg Bird came off the disabled list on Wednesday, and other big names won’t be far behind. Tyler Austin (groin injury), Slade Heathcott (recovering from knee surgery), and Bryan Mitchell (elbow soreness) are each about a week away from coming off the disabled list, according to Newman. Heathcott will “most likely” be assigned to Trenton. The other two certainly will. Newman said Austin will continue to see time at both third base and right field.
Elbow soreness sounds problematic for Mitchell, especially in the wake of Tommy John surgeries for Campos and Ivan Nova, but Newman said the Yankees believe Mitchell might have simply overexerted himself while getting loose in the bullpen during his one-day call-up to the big leagues. In the days after the call-up, Mitchell’s elbow was “tender,” but tests showed no problems.
“Did the tests, nothing wrong,” Newman said. “He went up to the big leagues and was throwing in the pen, threw a pen in Tampa, and guys told me he was throwing the daylights out of it. He might have gotten a little adrenaline rush.”
Other injury updates: Dan Burawa (oblique injury) is likely to rejoin the Triple-A bullpen in about a week, but lefty Fred Lewis (blister) will take a little longer. Another lefty, Francisco Rondon, has been out since spring training because of a shoulder issue, but Newman said he should also be back in about a week.
GETTING IT RIGHT
Remember last season when Peter O’Brien clobbered the ball at two different levels and became the big breakout offensive prospect in the Yankees system? Well, he’s actually been even better this year. His overall OPS last season was .893 (his first-half OPS in Charleston was a more-robust 1.012). This year’s OPS is a whopping 1.068. Through 109 at-bats, O’Brien is hitting .330 with 10 home runs and nine doubles, and Newman said the Yankees have been happy with his work in right field. O’Brien is still mostly catching, but the Yankees have played him in right six times.
“He moves around OK (in the outfield),” Newman said. “Can really throw. Has a couple of outfield assists. … Obviously Peter’s got serious power, and that might be another way for him to get (to the big leagues) for us.”
Last year the Yankees experimented with O’Brien at third base, but Newman said that’s really a “last option” at this point. The Yankees believe it would simply take too long for O’Brien to fully learn the position. Catcher, right field and first base are apparently more realistic options for him going forward. The Yankees recognize they have some catching depth, and have a long-term catching contract already in place, so O’Brien will continue to move around.
BACK ON TRACK
The past two years, it got pretty easy to jump off the Dante Bichette Jr. bandwagon. The Yankees 2011 first-round pick had been terrific in rookie ball, but his numbers were pretty brutal in Charleston in both 2012 and 2013. This season, the Yankees pushed Bichette to Tampa, and suddenly he’s a really good hitter again. Through 32 games he’s hitting .308/.414/.486 with almost as many walks (19) as strikeouts (22). His three home runs don’t seem like much, but that’s the same as his total for all of 2012.
“He’s doing things he’s done in the past,” Newman said. “He’s doing things he did in high school when we saw him before we drafted him. Basically he’s changed his approach somewhat. He’s using the field more. He’s cut down on the extreme forms of body movement in the box. His movements have gotten more compact, his approach has become more simple. … He’s done this before. I think he was just searching for who he was as a hitter. His case was extreme, though, because as a rookie he really swung it well, and then for two seasons he struggled.”
Newman said he couldn’t think of another example of such an extreme performance variation at this stage of a player’s career. Bichette literally had a .947 OPS one year, then spent two full years in the low-to-mid .600s, and now he’s back up to .900.
“There’s no reason he can’t be an excellent hitter if he stays with this approach,” Newman said. “It is kind of a strange path, though.”
STRANGE IN A DIFFERENT WAY
Aaron Judge looks like a guy who could hit 30 home runs by accident. He’s 6-foot-7, built like a strong safety, and looks as if any time he makes contact the ball should go over (or straight through) the outfield wall. Yet in his first pro season — didn’t play after being drafted last season because of a quad issue — Judge has done everything except hit for extreme power. It’s not a bad thing, just kind of a strange thing based on the one tool that seems obvious just from seeing the guy. Playing right field everyday in Charleston, Judge is hitting .311/.413/.415.
“We’re happy that plate discipline and ability to put the ball in play in play is there,” Newman said. “Aaron Judge’s problem is never going to be how hard he hits the ball. We’re not worried about that at all.”
When I told Newman that this wasn’t at all the kind of performance I expected, Newman said he could understand why, but he said he hasn’t been particularly shocked.
“Not surprised about the plate discipline,” he said. “We thought he had that when we drafted him. He really impacts the ball. When he learns how to get it in the air a little more often, I think we’re going to see quality home run numbers on him. Right now, we’re just going to ask him to be a good hitter. We’re going to let that (home run power) emerge over time.”
ON THE RADAR
You know who else is hitting? Low-A Charleston first baseman Mike Ford, who went undrafted out of Princeton, played well in the Cape Cod League and wound up signing with the Yankees last season. Through 96 at-bats, he’s hitting .327/.400/.475, including eight hits in his past five games. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to make of undrafted guys like that — a college hitter in the Sally League might simply be taking advantage of younger competition — but Newman said the Yankees had been monitoring Ford for years, and their scouts liked him despite the team not drafting him.
“We’ve known about him for a while,” Newman said. “He had some eligibility left at Princeton. You can get overlooked playing in the Ivy League with the bad weather. We’re happy we have him.”
Despite the strong numbers, Ford might be stuck in Charleston for a while. With Bird, Bichette and Eric Jagiello filling the infield corners and DH spots in Tampa, there just aren’t many at-bats available right now. Might need one of those guys — maybe Bichette? — to be promoted to Trenton for Ford to have a real opportunity to move up.
ODDS AND ENDS
• Released last month so that the Yankees could open a 40-man roster spot, Nik Turley is expected to re-sign with the team some time soon. Turley went down with an arm injury in spring training, and Newman said he’s continued to rehab with the Yankees since his release. Newman said the situation is just like David Adams last year when the Yankees chose to release him — rather than DFA him — in order to open a 40-man spot. “That’s exactly the comparison,” Newman said. It’s worth noting that within weeks of his release, Adams was in the big leagues with the Yankees. The release doesn’t exactly indicate that the Yankees have given up on Turley, only that this was their best bet for opening a roster spot without losing a player.
• Rafael De Paula dominated Low-A last season, then he went to High-A Tampa and had a 6.06 ERA with a 1.74 WHIP. Sent back to Tampa this season, De Paula has shown significant strides. His most recent start was a bad one — six walks in three innings — but overall he has a 3.62 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. “Just keeping the ball down,” Newman said. “His breaking ball has improved. His changeup has improved. That’s encouraging. We’re happy about that. He’s happy about that.”
• De Paula’s been good this year, but at this point the team’s top low-level rotation prospect has to be Luis Severino who has a 2.32 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 33 strikeouts with just seven walks through 31 innings with Charleston. He got his first win earlier today. The kid’s just 20 years old, but Newman said that in his most recent start before today’s, Severino was pitching at 95 mph and topping out at 97 mph. Newman said Severino maintained that 95 mph through the sixth inning. “Big-time arm,” Newman said.
• Last year’s late first-rounder Ian Clarkin just joined Severino in that Charleston rotation and went five scoreless innings. With Caleb Smith also pitching extremely well, and a few bullpen guys off to strong starts, the pitching in Charleston has been really good so far.
• A first-round pick in 2012, Ty Hensley has been slowed by injuries, and he’s currently throwing bullpens at the minor league complex. He’s not particularly close to getting into games, but Newman said Hensley is scheduled to face hitters next week. “He’s coming along,” Newman said.
• Last year’s top pick, Eric Jagielo his hitting just .256 in Tampa, but he’s also drawn 13 walks and hit seven home runs. “He’s not hitting for a high average yet,” Newman said. “I think he will.” It’s worth noting that Jagielo skipped Charleston to open this season in Tampa. The Yankese are basically trusting that Jagielo is advanced enough to handle the higher level and make the necessary adjustments. “There’s a big difference between the Florida State League and the South Atlantic League,” Newman said.
• Asked who — other than the guys we’d already talked about — stood out early in the season, the first two names Newman mentioned were Tampa center fielder Jake Cave (“Dynamite,” Newman said. “He has really swung it well”) and Charleston shortstop Abiatal Avelino (a .367 on-base percentage with 11 stolen bases). Newman also mentioned Gary Sanchez and said that despite the ugly numbers, the Yankees actually think Gosuke Katoh has been alright as Charleston’s regular second baseman.
Associated Press photos