Archive for the ‘Misc’
I suppose slow days in October often follow a familiar pattern here on the blog. I spent this morning writing about the Yankees pitching staff, and it turns out I did the exact same thing a year ago. Not the same format or the same premise, but apparently October 17 is the day I write about pitching.
Looking back. last year’s post primarily serves as a reminder that things rarely go as planned. And predicting a pitching staff in October is something done only by truly stupid people like myself.
A year ago, I broke the pitching staff into individual parts, writing about which player filled each role in 2013 and who seemed likely to fill that role in 2014. Surprise, surprise, when basically an entire rotation gets hurt and a rookie emerges as a dominant reliever, predictions prove really, really wrong.
Here’s the way I broke down the pitching staff a year ago along with who seemed likely to fill each role, who actually filled each role, and — because I don’t learn from past mistakes — a prediction of who might fill each role next year.
2013: CC Sabathia
2014 prediction: CC Sabathia
2014 reality: Masahiro Tanaka
2015 prediction: Masahiro Tanaka
In my defense, Tanaka hadn’t even been posted yet. And honestly, I don’t think I really expected Tanaka to be a true ace regardless. The job seemed to be Sabathia’s if only because of a lack of alternatives. Now it seems the only way Tanaka won’t be the ace in 2015 is if his elbow doesn’t hold up.
NO. 2 STARTER
2013: Hiroki Kuroda
2014 prediction: Masahiro Tanaka or “just maybe” Michael Pineda
2014 reality: Brandon McCarthy and Michael Pineda
2015 expectation: Michael Pineda (unless the Yankees spend on a high-end free agent)
The Yankees No. 2 starter was kind of a combination. McCarthy was the Yankees best pitcher while Tanaka was hurt, and Pineda was great whenever he was healthy, so in some ways they kind of shared the No. 2 job. Right now that job seems to be Pineda’s to lose unless the Yankees go out and sign Jon Lester, Max Scherzer or James Shields.
2013: Andy Pettitte
2014 prediction: Hiroki Kuroda or David Phelps
2014 reality: Hiroki Kuroda
2015 prediction: Best-case scenario? CC Sabathia
Just a reliable presence in the middle of the rotation. That’s what Kuroda was for three years, and he brought some much-needed stability again this year. The Yankees might be able to find something similar by re-signing McCarthy, but I think they have to hope that Sabathia can become this kind of starter for the final few years of his contract. Seems overly optimistic to hope he can be a workhorse ace again, but a few Kuroda-like seasons would be awfully valuable at this stage.
2013: Ivan Nova
2014 prediction: Ivan Nova
2014 reality: Shane Greene
2015 prediction: Ivan Nova
Yes, I made Nova his own category as a hit-or-miss starter that’s hard to predict. Could be great, could be awful, but will most certainly get some chances. After Tommy John surgery, Nova carries that familiar unpredictability into next season. For this year, though, that role was basically filled by the rookie Greene, who gave the Yankees a Nova-like second half. Now the challenge for Greene is the same as it’s often been for Nova: Pitch like that over the course of a full season.
2013: Phil Hughes
2014 prediction: David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno
2014 reality: David Phelps
2015 prediction: Shane Greene
Phelps actually had the third-most innings of any Yankees pitcher this season. That’s kind of amazing considering he opened in the bullpen and spent quite a bit of time on the disabled list. The fifth starter was really a rotation this year — Phelps, Vidal Nuno, Chase Whitley, Chris Capuano — and no matter who the Yankees carry on Opening Day, the bottom of the rotation is inevitably going to rotate a little bit next season as well. It always works out that way. Would be interesting to see Manny Banuelos take this job and run with it at some point.
LONG RELIEVER / SPOT STARTER
2013: Adam Warren
2014 prediction: Adam Warren (among others)
2014 reality: Chase Whitley
2015 prediction: David Phelps
Really, the Yankees had a ton of guys who played this role this season, and Phelps was one of them. Seems entirely possible he could do the same thing next year. He’s a guy the Yankees trust in either the bullpen or the rotation, and he could once again be crowded into a bullpen job out of spring training, only to emerge as a necessary starter down the road. Another possibility for this role: young starter Bryan Mitchell.
2013: Mariano Rivera
2014 prediction: Dave Robertson
2014 reality: Dave Robertson
2015 prediction: Dave Robertson
This transition was about has easy and effective as the Yankees could have hoped. Robertson was terrific in the ninth inning. When he had a bad outing, it was often really bad, but the overall product was a definite success. I’m still guessing the Yankees will find a way to bring Robertson back on some sort of deal to reprise his ninth-inning role and leave Dellin Betances free to once again work multiple innings as a one-man bridge to the ninth.
2013: Dave Robertson
2014 prediction: Shawn Kelley
2014 reality: Dellin Betances
2015 prediction: Dellin Betances
In guessing the Kelley was most likely to step into the eighth inning, I noted that it seemed likely the Yankees would bring in at least one other experienced reliever to add some depth to the role. That actually didn’t happen, instead a pair of young guys — Betances and Warren — stepped up to become trusted late-inning relievers, with Betances emerging as one of the very best in baseball. Now the setup job seems to be his for the taking unless the Yankees need to move him into the ninth.
2013: Boone Logan
2014 prediction: Cesar Cabral? (with an important question mark)
2014 reality: Matt Thornton? (also an important question mark)
2015 prediction: Jacob Lindgren
To my credit, I noted that Cabral was the prediction only because the Yankees didn’t really have anyone else in-house. A free agent addition seemed most likely, and that’s exactly what happened with the Thornton signing. Ultimately, though, the Yankees bailed on their two-year deal with Thornton, leaving the lefty specialist job wide open, possibly for one of several upper-level minor leaguers. Free agent signing still seems possible, but the Yankees do seem to have set the stage for one of the young guys to get a real opportunity in spring training.
2013: Joba Chamberlain then Shawn Kelley
2014 prediction: Shawn Kelley/Preston Claiborne
2014 reality: Shawn Kelley/Adam Warren
2015 prediction: Shawn Kelley/Adam Warren
As I noted last year, this isn’t really a role for one person. For Betances, it was a pit stop on the way from mop-up work to the setup job. For Kelley and Warren, it was a chance to pitch some key innings while occasionally getting opportunities in the eighth. For next year, a young guy could certainly emerge to take some of these innings as well.
LAST MAN IN THE PEN
2013: Shawn Kelley then Joba Chamberlain
2014 prediction: Dellin Betances
2014 reality: Dellin Betances then David Huff/Esmil Rogers
2015 prediction: Depends on many, many factors
The last spot in the bullpen is often used as either a way to break-in a new guy (Kelley in 2013, Betances in 2014) or as a way to hide a key reliever who’s lost his effectiveness (Chamberlain in 2013). At this time last year, it seemed like a pretty safe bet that the Yankees would carry Betances in that sort of role out of spring training, and that’s exactly what happened. For next year, there’s not a real Betances-type in the mix. Who takes this role could depend entirely on who the Yankees sign, which minor leaguers pitch well in spring training, and whether the Yankees are willing to put a guy like Greene or Mitchell in a bullpen role.
THE CALL-UP WHO MATTERS
2013: Preston Claiborne
2014 prediction: Mark Montgomery/Chase Whitley/Manny Banuelos/Jose Ramirez
2014 reality: Chase Whitley/Chris Capuano
2015 prediction: Jose Ramirez/Nick Rumbelow
Plugging holes is inevitable, and this year the Yankees did that with both call-ups (Whitley, Greene, Claiborne) and external additions (Capuano, McCarthy, Rogers, Huff). Next season the Yankees should have a long list of potential bullpen callups, but two that stand out to me are Ramirez (who might have gotten more of a look this year had he not been injured) and Rumbelow (another college reliever who shot through the system and showed good stuff in Triple-A).
Associated Press photos
Within a few weeks — if they haven’t already — the Yankees are going to have to finalize an approach to Dave Robertson’s pending free agency. They’re going to have to determine how much he’s worth and whether they need him at all, and in making that decision, it will be worth remembering that Robertson got hurt this year.
And that might be all the more reason to sign him.
Just as the Yankees have to build some rotation depth to ease their overwhelming rotation injury concerns, they also have to keep in mind the importance of depth and options in the bullpen. Health is not a guarantee, and given the inconsistent nature of most relievers, neither is performance. Just this year, Robertson went on the 15-day disabled list in April, the bullpen was saved by Shawn Kelley’s ability to step into the closer role while Dellin Betances and Adam Warren emerged as reliable setup options.
In deciding what to do about Robertson, the Yankees have to look at their own 40-man roster and decide whether they have the bullpen depth they need. Or do they need to bring back their closer and rebuild the depth that so often served as a real strength in an otherwise disappointing year? These are the relief options already in place on the current 40-man roster.
THE RETURNING SETUP CREW
Dellin Betances – After just one year in the big leagues — and even after being declared a near-bust in the minor leagues — Betances was so good as a rookie that he’ll surely return next season as a trusted reliever from the moment the Yankees break camp. Whether he slides into a setup role or moves into the ninth inning will likely depend entirely on what the Yankees do with Robertson. Betances looks like a future closer, but he’s proven he can be incredibly valuable getting more than three outs before the ninth inning.
Shawn Kelley – One last year of arbitration eligibility, Kelley will surely get a raise but probably not enough of a raise for the Yankees to non-tender him. He’s still relatively cheap and legitimately valuable on a one-year deal. Kelley emerged after a minor trade in 2013, and last year he temporarily filled in as a replacement closer. He has the ability to get strikeouts, and he now has experience in the late innings. Back injury might account for some of his rocky moments this year.
Adam Warren – Despite that rough stretch in the middle of the season, Warren actually had a lower WHIP this season than Brandon McCarthy (counting only the part of the year when McCarthy was pitching for the Yankees). He did go through a pretty significant bump in late June and July, but Warren was terrific again at the end of the season (four hits and 17 strikeouts in the month of September). Came up as a rotation prospect, but might have found a home in the late innings.
THE ROTATION/LONG RELIEF CANDIDATES
David Phelps – Not at all an unusual position for Phelps. Ever since he broke into the big leagues as a surprise long man in 2012, Phelps has consistently bounced between rotation consideration and bullpen potential. No reason to think he’ll be looked at any other way in spring training. An elbow injury this year derailed his season just when Phelps was getting on a role. Ability to pitch multiple innings is a real plus, but he could have a Warren-like emergence into the late innings if necessary (and if he pitches well in short bursts).
Shane Greene – For the time being, I wouldn’t peg Greene as a real bullpen candidate, but depending on who the Yankees bring in to fill out the rotation, Greene could potentially slide into a relief role. He certainly did enough in his big league debut to suggest he deserves to stick around in some capacity. Maybe he’ll win another rotation job, maybe he’ll head to Triple-A as rotation depth, or maybe the Yankees will put him into the bullpen and find a way to use him as a reliever.
Chase Whitley – Without a big fastball or a wipe-out breaking ball, Whitley put up strong numbers as a Triple-A reliever but never gained much traction until the Yankees tried him as a starter. Pitchers usually take the opposite development path — from starter to reliever — and maybe that’s what’s next for Whitley. Now that he’s broken into the big leagues as a replacement starter, he could find a more permanent home as a long man who has minor league experience in the late innings.
THE MINOR LEAGUERS
Preston Claiborne – Big league success has come in bursts for Claiborne. He came up in 2013 as a kind of surprise selection, but earned his keep for a while before being shipped back to Triple-A. This year, he shuttled back and forth between the big leagues and the minor leagues, but he again had some very good moments in the majors. Could yet again come to camp fighting for a job, and could yet again end up being Triple-A depth looking for another chance to prove himself.
Jose Ramirez – This time it was a lat injury that forced Ramirez to the disabled list. Once considered a high-risk, high-potential rotation prospect, Ramirez was actually converted to the bullpen in an effort to keep him healthy. It was a move that got him to New York, but the end result was another season cut short by injury. Ramirez did not need surgery, though, and he’s expected to be healthy and ready for spring training. Ramirez has a pretty big fastball and a good changeup, and he could pitch his way onto the Opening Day roster if the Yankees leave a bullpen opportunity open for competition.
Branden Pinder/Mark Montgomery/Dan Burawa — I mention these three because they’re Rule 5 eligible this winter and could be added to the 40-man. Earlier today I named some minor league starters who could be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, but the relievers are the safer bets. My sense is that Pinder is the best bet of this group — big guy, good minor league numbers — but Montgomery has also put up huge strikeout numbers in his career, and Burawa has a massive fastball. Ultimately, the point is that the Yankees have bullpen depth well beyond the guys currently on the 40-man. These guys could be added this winter, and guys like Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb and Nick Rumbelow (who aren’t Rule 5-eligible yet) could also force their way into the mix if they keep pitching well.
THE SOON-TO-BE FREE AGENTS
Dave Robertson – Obviously this is where the bulk of the immediate curiosity comes from. Will the Yankees give Robertson a qualifying offer? Would he accept it? Does it make more sense to offer a multi-year contract? Should the Yankees let him walk? Has Robertson taken it personally that the Yankees didn’t try to extend him when they had a chance? Robertson has been terrific, and he’s homegrown, and now is the time for each side to make a big decision about his future.
David Huff/Rich Hill – Huff is a non-tender candidate, and Hill is at the end of a one-year contract. They fit together to really show that the Yankees don’t have a dependable left-handed reliever locked onto the roster. They let Matt Thornton go in an effort to cut salary, and that might very well open the door for one of the young guys — Lindgren, Webb and James Pazos in particular — to come into spring training looking to win a big league job (and a pretty important one) despite having no big league experience. Either that or the Yankees are going to have to sign someone.
Esmil Rogers – The Yankees clearly like this guy’s arm, and he’s still arbitration eligible, but I’m listing Rogers among the soon-to-be free agents because he really stands out as a non-tender candidate. He made nearly $2 million this year, and if the Yankees were willing to let Thornton go for nothing because he’s making $3.5 million next year, it would be surprising to see them commit roughly $2 million for a guy like Rogers who wouldn’t have a clear role going forward.
Associated Press photos
In trying to break down the state of the Yankees organization, it’s hard to look at pitchers the same way we look at position players. The development is different. The roles are different. The number of jobs available is different. It’s just … different. In trying to look at the state of the Yankees rotation, it seems best to start by looking directly at the current 40-man roster (before free agency) where no less than 12 rotation possibilities are already in place. Given the Yankees injury concerns, they’re going to need some rotation depth heading into next season. They just might be able to find that depth while staying in house.
THE OBVIOUS INJURY CONCERNS
Masahiro Tanaka – His elbow might be a ticking time bomb, but he’s also an ace-caliber pitcher. The Yankees know Tanaka might need Tommy John surgery at any moment, but they’ve done what they can to postpone that procedure, and a couple of healthy starts at the end of the year were enough to build some cautious optimism. Tanaka should be the Yankees No. 1 starter. But that depends largely on a tiny ligament in his elbow.
Michael Pineda – The Yankees finally got to see the guy they acquired years ago, and they liked what they saw. Sure, the pine tar situation was embarrassing, and there was yet another shoulder setback, but when Pineda was on the mound, he was terrific. He’s far removed from surgery, but that doesn’t mean health concerns don’t linger. Would be a strong No. 2, but again, that’s only if he stays healthy.
CC Sabathia – This could be the year his run of Opening Day starts come to an end. That said, if he gets to spring training healthy and reasonably effective, he might still get the nod in the opener if only because he’s still very clearly the leader of the staff (and this is a clubhouse that could be searching to leadership next season). Whether Sabathia will be anything more than a symbolic choice, though, remains to be seen. If he can at least be a reliable back-of-the-rotation arm, that would be helpful. There’s clearly a new ace in town.
Ivan Nova – Almost certainly will not be ready to break camp with the Yankees, but initial word about Nova’s recovery from Tommy John surgery has been nothing but positive. Still a long way to go, but Nova made it through the initial rehab steps with no problem. Tommy John has become a relatively routine procedure these days, but some pitchers say it takes close to two years to truly feel 100 percent. Timing suggests Nova could be back in the New York around early May. But how effective will he be?
THE REPLACEMENT STARTERS
David Phelps – When the Yankees rotation went through a series of injuries last season, Vidal Nuno was technically the first replacement starter, but Phelps wasn’t far behind. He was solid, then he got knocked around one game, then he looked really good for about a month and a half before his upper elbow became a problem. Phelps should be arbitration eligible this season, and he might once again come to camp as a rotation candidate who could easily slip into a bullpen role.
Shane Greene – Phelps’ chances of winning a spot in the rotation surely took a hit when Greene showed up. Having made a strong impression in spring training, and having struggled in his brief big league debut, Greene wound up pitching like a rotation mainstay through the second half of the season. He had a 3.24 ERA before a six-run mess in his final start. Given the Nova injury, Greene could legitimately come to camp as a rotation favorite.
Chase Whitley – A career minor league reliever until the very end of 2013, Whitley moved to the Triple-A rotation, improved his breaking ball and got his first big league call-up as a replacement starter. He was a bit streaky — very good at first, pretty good at the end, plenty of rough outings in the middle — but Whitley joins the mix as a swing man who could start or work in long relief. Could also go to Triple-A as rotation insurance.
THE MINOR LEAGUERS
Manny Banuelos – Once considered to be among the top left-handed pitching prospects in baseball, Banuelos needed Tommy John surgery, which slowed his ascent considerably. He missed all of 2013 and put up inconsistent results this year in Double-A and Triple-A. Banuelos has an awfully good arm, though, and being further removed from surgery surely helps his cause heading into his age-24 season.
Bryan Mitchell – For the longest time, Mitchell’s reputation was far better than his results. The Yankees regularly touted his potential, and that was enough to put him on the 40-man roster last winter despite a 5.12 ERA in High-A the year before. More so-so results followed in Double-A this season, but the Yankees challenged Mitchell with a Triple-A promotion and things seemed to take off. He got 11 innings in the big leagues and looked solid. Probably no more than rotation depth to open the season, but he’s among the most advanced young starters in the system.
Matt Tracy/Nik Turley – These guys aren’t on the current 40-man roster, but they stand out as Rule 5 eligible lefties had at least 60 Triple-A innings with mid-4.00 ERAs this season. Neither one was great next season, and there’s a chance both will be left exposed to the Rule 5 this winter — guys like Zach Nuding, Jairo Heredia and Caleb Cotham are in vaguely similar situations — but they’re potential rotation depth options who could be on the 40-man eventually (or could be added next year if necessary). Turley’s been on the 40-man before, and he in particular was putting up better numbers at the end of the year.
THE SOON-TO-BE FREE AGENTS
Hiroki Kuroda – Of all the Yankees soon-to-be free agents, none has a future quite as uncertain as Kuroda. He turns 40 in February, and despite yet again providing some much-needed stability for the Yankees rotation, there seems to be a solid chance Kuroda will retire this winter. He could also come back, pitch elsewhere, or decide to pitch one last season in Japan. Kuroda left all options open at the end of the year.
Brandon McCarthy — Aside from Dave Robertson, there might not be an outgoing free agent who’s more interesting for the Yankees. McCarthy throws strikes and gets ground balls, he thrived during his three-month stint with the Yankees, and he seems like a strong fit in this unusual market. At the right price, McCarthy could be a strong choice for additional rotation depth (though he comes with injury concerns of his own).
Chris Capuano – Would be easy to dismiss Capuano as a non-factor going forward, and maybe that’s exactly what he’ll be. Two things to consider, though: 1. Capuano really was a pretty good No. 5 starter during his time with the Yankees, and he has experience as a bullpen lefty, which the Yankees don’t really have at the moment. Probably least like to return of anyone on this list, but he did his job during his time with the team.
Associated Press photos
While the Giants and Cardinals are about to get their Game 5 underway, we already know which team is representing the American League in the World Series, and it would have been a tough one to predict coming out of spring training. The Royals have been on a remarkable run this postseason. They’re quite different from the Yankees in almost every way, and today Paul White took a look at the unusual American League champions for USA Today. It’s a nice read on a night when the World Series matchup might become complete. Here’s Paul:
The Royals players, running so fast and playing so hot they don’t dare stop to figure out what they’ve just accomplished;
The Kansas City community, euphorically coming out of a three-decades cycle of disappointment to indifference to unfulfilled anticipation.
“I dream it all the time,” says Jarrod Dyson, Royals outfielder, pinch-runner and spokesman for the speed game that has become the trademark of what’s becoming a postseason of historic proportions. “I just didn’t know what year it was going to happen. But it seems like this is the year right here. You never know when you’re going to get back in this position, so you have to take advantage of it.”
Royals fans know how excruciating that wait can be. Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles and American League Championship Series sweep sends the Royals into the franchise’s first World Series since 1985, a series that begins Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium.
Two runs in the first inning, with the only hit an infield single, more spectacular defense and another 11 outs from Kansas City’s infallible bullpen was the familiar formula for a team threatening to redefine destiny.
“There’s no better weapons,” says manager Ned Yost. “Speed and the defense and the bullpen.
“It goes back to playing the game the way the game was built to be played. It’s exciting baseball. I think we’ve made a bunch of new fans throughout the country. They’ve fallen in love with our team, our athleticism, our energy.”
The victory Wednesday was Kansas City’s eighth in a row in these playoffs, the first time any team has won its first eight games in a single postseason.
At 11 postseason wins and counting — going back to the 1985 World Series that could be reprised against the cross-state Cardinals — the Royals are one victory from that all-time record. Two incarnations of the Yankees won 12 in a row: The 1998-99 squads and the 1927, ’28 and ’32 teams from the World Series-only era.
Don’t go through the Royals clubhouse looking for much of that perspective.
“I can’t tell you,” says 24-year-old reliever Kelvin Herrera, who has combined with Wade Davis and Greg Holland for the most impactful part of the Royals’ success — forcing opponents to try to beat K.C. in the first six innings. “I’ve never been there. I’m so excited I can’t tell you.”
Dyson was asked if he comprehends how unbelievable this must be to Royals fans.
“Oh, they know,” he says. “I’m quite sure they know.”
Yes, reality, which is scheduled to kick in again Tuesday. Then again, consider the way this team has played since its unlikely come-from-behind wild-card win over Oakland on the eve of October.
That’s the point for a team and a fan base so used to this sudden and stimulating success that victory has become an assumption.
History gives us the 2007 Colorado Rockies, the last team to win its first seven games of a playoff year. Those Rockies were on a 10-game roll dating back to the end of the regular season and a 163rd game with San Diego just to be, like these Royals, a wild card.
And those Rockies lost 13-1 in Game 1 of the World Series to Boston, which made the eventual sweep quick and merciful.
Yes, Colorado had eight off days after the NLCS to lose its momentum. These Royals will have five. And there’s nothing resembling the ’07 Red Sox waiting at the next stop on this wild ride.
More important is how real the October incarnation of the Royals is.
They went 41-23 after July 22, one win behind Baltimore for the most over that stretch, this a year after the Royals had the best record in the American League after the All-Star break. Maybe these Royals were waiting to break out last season only to have their playoff push fall a few days short.
What’s really different about the playoff Royals? And is it sustainable?
Everything is up from 2013: batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and most notably their home run rate.
They’ve heard incessantly how they don’t hit homers — fewest in the majors this season, fewest in the AL two years running — so much so it’s considered a given.
Part of that is by design, as first base coach Rusty Kuntz explains.
“(General manager) Dayton Moore had this vision: Let’s try the speed deal,” says Kuntz, who’s behind much of the Royals’ basepaths mayhem. “Speed costs a whole lot less than power. If we can get the right guys and the right program and get them to buy into it and apply it and all the fun stuff, maybe it will work.”
These guys do buy in. Not only did they lead the majors in stolen bases, they also had the lowest strikeout rate. Make contact, put the ball in play, but there’s more this postseason. The Royals batters have improved a major league worst walk rate, taking free passes more than 35 percent more frequently, an attribute that’s more discipline and focus than pure skill.
But there’s also a near forgotten “whatever-happened-to” aspect of the power outage.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas, who bats ninth but leads the team with four postseason homers, once hit 36 in a season to lead the minor leagues just four years ago. Power was one of the reasons he and first baseman Eric Hosmer were first-round picks in 2007 and 2008, also one of the reasons Royals fans have been hearing for several years how a core of homegrown players was about to change the franchise.
“We’re in the early stages of a window where this team has a chance to keep winning,” Moore says. “They’re not in the prime years of their careers yet. They’re still getting better.”
That fits for most of these Royals, a group that learned how to win in the minors.
Eight of the Royals active for the ALCS won the 2011 Pacific Coast League championship, five won the Texas League the year before. Moustakas played on a team that won at least a division title every year he played in the minors (2007-11).
“It was important for us to try to win in the minor leagues because we hadn’t won at the major league level,” Moore says. “We had nothing to hold our hat on here at the major league level.”
They only really found it as recently as the wild card game against Oakland, Yost insists and the players agree, about the time the rest of the world began discovering these Royals.
“It’s a world of difference from that point on,” Yost says. “Something clicked and all of a sudden. These guys were immune to any type of pressure, any type of situation and they totally believed.”
Still, Yost admits despite getting to six World Series as a player and coach, his leg was shaking as Holland tried to get the final three outs.
“I tried to hold it in and not give off the appearance of being nervous,” he says. “I didn’t want Holland looking over and seeing me all fidgety.”
It didn’t take long for the 40,000-plus in Kaufmann Stadium to be dancing all over the place, players circling the field and running across the dugout roof, players’ wives wearing their playoff shirts with numbers and names such as Mrs. Moose (Moustakas) and Mrs. Big Dub (Davis).
The Royals have proclaimed themselves for real.
“When you have got a group of players that are young, enthusiastic, and athletic, that have great chemistry, that have won championships together, you know it’s a matter of time,” Yost says. “Now, did some of our fans get a little impatient? Yeah, a little bit. But you can see why — 29 years.”
It’s not over yet.
Associated Press photos
Some winter leagues have not even started yet, and the ones that have started are only a week or so into their schedules, so these updates come with really small sample sizes. But almost three weeks into the season, perhaps it’s nice to see some actual stats from young Yankees who are still playing actual baseball games. Here are a few winter and fall league updates.
• Getting regular turns as his team’s cleanup hitter, Greg Bird is off to a strong start down in the Arizona Fall League. The Yankees top first base prospect has a hit in each of his first seven games, he started with a four-RBI performance in the Fall opener, he had two hits and a walk last night, and he’s so far hitting .379/.438/.586 in an admittedly tiny sample size. It’s always dangerous to make too much of Arizona Fall League results — and that’s especially true after 29 at-bats — but Bird’s been good so far. Better than the alternative, I suppose.
• Interesting Scottsdale Scorpions lineup last night if only because it had Tyler Austin in left field. That’s relevant because Austin has actually never played left field in the minor leagues. He’s played the other corners — first base, third base, right field — but he’d never seen time in left until this Fall. He played left field on Monday and again on Wednesday. Probably not a huge leap for Austin to move to the other outfield corner, but for a player who could hit his way into a big league role at some point next year, being able to play left field and bring some right-handed balance to the outfield would be a plus.
• Each time that Austin has played left field, it’s opened right field for another Yankees prospect, Aaron Judge. Last night, Judge homered and drove in two runs. So far, Austin has gotten more Fall League at-bats. Might stay that way considering Judge had more regular season at-bats and, in theory, has less need to play regularly this Fall.
• Catcher Kyle Higashioka is only a part-time player in Arizona — rosters down there have guys who aren’t active for every game — but he made the most of his first bit of playing time. He started a game last weekend and went 3-for-5 with a home run. Needs playing time and plenty of production to get back on the fringes of the prospect radar after injuries and unimpressive seasons. The Yankees other Fall League position player, Dante Bichette Jr., is playing fairly regularly but still has fewer than 20 at-bats and just three hits. Doesn’t mean much.
• The Yankees have far more high-profile hitters than pitchers in the Fall League this year. A quick update, though, on the guys on the mound: Caleb Cotham made his third appearance last night and went two hitless innings. He allowed two homers in his first Fall outing, so this was a step in the right direction. Seems like every year a Yankees pitcher gets absolutely rocked in the Fall League, and it might be Alex Smith who has that unfortunate distinction this year. Through three outings, Smith has this line: 2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 22.50 ERA and a .533 opponents batting average. Much, much better numbers for late Fall League assignee Kyle Haynes. His line through three outings: 4.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Covering the AFL for Baseball America, Josh Norris reported that Haynes has a 93-95 mph fastball with an mid- to upper-80s slider and changeup.
• Presumably because of his age and relative inexperience, outfield prospect Ramon Flores has rarely gotten many at-bats with his Venezuelan Winter League team. So far this winter season, though, Flores is playing pretty regularly. Might change as we get deeper into the winter season, but Flores has 15 at-bats so far, and that’s more than he had an either of the past two winters. He’s played both center field and left field, and some regular winter playing time would be a good thing for a guy who missed a lot of time this season with an ankle injury. Flores has a spot on the 40-man roster and he does a lot of things well, so he really could come into spring training with a chance to push for some sort of big league role. Winter at-bats probably won’t hurt.
• Adonis Garcia is used to getting regular winter at-bats, and this year he’s been the everyday left fielder and No. 3 hitter for the Navegantes del Magallanes in Venezuela. Hasn’t hit for much power yet — just 29 at-bats into the season — but last winter he slugged .502, so there’s reason to think the power will arrive. Last winter, Garcia got a ton of time at second base and third base during winter ball. It’ll be interesting to see whether that happens again this winter. Garcia got a solid amount of third base playing time with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, so it seems the Yankees haven’t completely ruled out some sort of infield flexibility.
• Dominican Winter League gets started tonight and the Puerto Rican Winter League gets started at the very end of this month. For now, here a few other Yankees minor leaguers who are already playing in Venezuela (and all playing for the same team, no less): Trenton shortstop Ali Castillo is hitting .313 through 16 at-bats while pretty regularly playing shortstop for Zulia, recently re-signed catcher Francisco Arcia has five RBI through five games as Zulia’s regular behind the plate, and recently re-signed reliever Diego Moreno already has three saves with a 0.75 WHIP as one of Zulia’s go-to late-inning options.
Associated Press photo of Flores
Here’s The Associated Press with the story…
MIAMI (AP) — The former owner of a South Florida anti-aging clinic pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of illegally providing performance-enhancing drugs to athletes including high-profile Major League Baseball players, most notably New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.
Anthony Bosch, former owner of the Biogenesis of America clinic in Coral Gables, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute testosterone before U.S. District Judge Darrin P. Gayles. Bosch, who called himself “Dr. T,” faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence but is likely to get far less because of cooperation with prosecutors and with MLB’s investigation into player drug use.
Defense attorney Guy Lewis said Bosch, 51, provided key information to MLB investigators that led to suspensions of 14 players, including the record season-long suspension handed to Rodriguez for this past year. Bosch also met numerous times with federal prosecutors and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, Lewis said.
“He was faithful in terms of appearing each and every time he was requested to,” Lewis said. “Each and every time he appeared, answered questions and was available.”
Rodriguez has denied taking illegal substances while with the Yankees but did admit to doing so earlier in his career with the Texas Rangers. He remains on the Yankees’ roster for next season.
MLB previously sued Bosch and his clinic but withdrew the lawsuit in February. The league had accused Bosch and others with conspiring to violate player contracts by providing them with banned substances.
In a plea agreement, Bosch admitted to providing testosterone to baseball players, from professionals to high school athletes. Six other people are charged in the case, and Bosch has agreed to testify against them if they go to trial.
“We are quite satisfied with what he promised he would do,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael “Pat” Sullivan.
Earlier this month, Gayles revoked Bosch’s $100,000 bail because he twice tested positive after his August arrest for cocaine use and had missed appointments at drug treatment programs. On Thursday, Gayles agreed to release Bosch on bail with several new conditions, including a requirement that Bosch attended a 24-hour inpatient drug treatment program.
Prosecutors did not object, and Lewis said Bosch needs the treatment badly.
“You have before you an individual who does need counseling. We recognize that. He’s begging for it,” Lewis said.
When Bosch is not in the treatment program, he will remain on house arrest with electronic monitoring, Gayles said. Sentencing for Bosch is set for Dec. 18.
Associated Press photo
Ranking prospects league-by-league is an annual thing over at Baseball America, and it’s always interesting and worthwhile to look back. Here’s a link to a blog post about last year’s rankings, and here are a few observations.
1. It’s entirely possible to overlook even the most advanced prospects
Last year, the Yankees didn’t have a single prospect make the International League’s Top 20 list. That wasn’t remotely surprising at the time, and it’s easy to understand even in retrospect. But there is one glaring omission: Dellin Betances would have qualified for last year’s IL prospects list, but a half season of true dominance out of the bullpen wasn’t enough to erase all the concerns about past struggles. Again, can’t blame Baseball America for keeping him off the list, but if they’d known that a year later Betances would be one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, I’m betting they would have found a spot for him.
2. Extremely young players can rise and fall quickly
At this time last year, Luis Severino came in 17th on the Gulf Coast League rankings. Not only were 16 GCL players ahead of him, four Yankees GCL players were ahead of him! Baseball American had nothing but praise for his raw stuff — “reached 98 (mph),” “easy delivery,” “plenty of strikes,” “a lot of ground balls” but he’d made just six appearances in rookie ball, four more in Low-A, and there was a sense of still needing to prove himself. Safe to say Severino did exactly that this season, which pushed him all the way to No. 4 on this year’s South Atlantic League rankings. One of the Yankees ahead of him in 2013, catcher Luis Torrens, sits at No. 4 on this year’s New York-Penn League rankings. The three other Yankees who ranked ahead of Severino last season — Miguel Andujar, Abiatal Avelino and Gosuke Katoh — did not make any of this year’s Top 20 league rankings. Some of that’s the unpredictable nature of those extremely low-level prospects.
3. Some of this is pretty fickle
Last year’s Eastern League list had John Ryan Murphy at No. 18. Granted, that’s just barely on the list, but it’s certainly enough to put him well in the conversation for a spot on this year’s International League list. And, of course, he’s not there. How much could his prospect stock have fallen in a year when he at least held his own as a big league backup and hit for pretty good power — especially in the second half — down in Triple-A? Fact is, not a lot has changed about him. He’s just not on a list this year, and he was on one last year. These lists are more interesting than definitive. Looking for a similar but far more meaningful change? Mason Williams was No. 19 on last year’s Florida State League list, but he didn’t make the cut — and I can’t imagine he came particularly close — for this year’s Eastern League rankings.
4. It’s inevitable that players are going to come and go
The Yankees have only three players who appeared in last year’s league-by-league rankings and showed up again this season: C Gary Sanchez (7th in the Florida State League, now 11th in the Eastern League), RHP Severino (17th in the GCL, now 4th in the South Atlantic) and C Torrens (10th in the GCL, now 4th in the New York-Penn).
Four Yankees showed up this year after no appearing last year: 2B Rob Refsnyder made both the International League and Eastern League rankings after proving he could still hit and play a passable second base in the upper levels; RF Aaron Judge made both the Florida State League and South Atlantic League lists after putting up big numbers in his first pro season; LHP Ian Clarkin jumped onto the South Atlantic League list after getting healthy; international shortstops Jorge Mateo and Angel Aguilar made the GCL list after strong U.S. debuts.
Five Yankees fell off the league rankings altogether: C Murphy didn’t make the International League cut, CF Williams didn’t perform nearly well enough in the Eastern League, RHP Rafael DePaula couldn’t repeat last year South Atlantic League results (especially not after being traded, when his numbers really dipped), 3B Eric Jagielo was sixth in the New York-Penn League last year but seems to have just missed the cut in his first full-season, and for various reasons young guys Andujar, Avelino, Katoh and Thairo Estrada went from making last year’s GCL cut to missing this year’s rankings. Each of those extremely young guys could very well play his way into the league rankings again next season (same for Jagielo if he stays healthy and keeps hitting for power).
Associated Press photo
The good people over at Baseball America — including our old friend Josh Norris — have completed their Top 20 prospect lists for each league. The lists are free, but the scouting reports are behind a worthwhile pay wall. Along with each detailed list, Baseball America also shows it’s Top 20 lists for each league from five years ago. It’s a nice bit of perspective on what might (or might not) happen down the road. Here are the Yankees prospects who made Baseball America’s cut.
13. Rob Refsnyder, 2B
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster had a lot of young, in-house players this season — of the 13 players with 200 at-bats, nine were homegrown — but it didn’t have many of the organization’s high-end prospects. Refsnyder was the biggest exception, and he made Baseball America’s cut. Since the scouting reports are behind a pay wall, I’m not going to give many details, but there are no real surprises in the BA write-up about Refsnyder. He’s a work-in-progress at second base, but he can hit.
Five years ago: Interestingly, the No. 13 IL prospect five years ago was Jose Tabata. At the time he was in Triple-A with the Pirates, but he’d spent most of his developmental years with the Yankees. He’s developed into a useful but not great big leaguer.
Off the list: Although they’re promising young starters, neither Shane Greene nor Bryan Mitchell has ever gotten much prospect hype beyond the hope and expectations of those inside the Yankees organization. Neither made Baseball America’s IL list (to be fair, Greene was actually better in the big leagues than in the minors this season). Jose Pirela, Ramon Flores, Kyle Roller and John Ryan Murphy were also left off. Again, no surprises there.
11. Gary Sanchez, C
Considering how much attention his bat gets, it’s easy to be underwhelmed by Sanchez’s .270/.338/.406 slash line in Double-A this year. It’s also easy to be concerned with the fact he was benched for disciplinary reasons mid-season. The Yankees, though, will point out that at 21 years old, Sanchez is still maturing as a person and as a player. BA’s ranking reflects that. Big hitting potential, strong arm, questions about makeup and receiving ability.
Five years ago: The Eastern League’s 11th-best prospect five years ago, according to Baseball America, was right-handed pitcher Hector Rondon. Converted to the bullpen, he had a great year as the Cubs closer this season. If Sanchez becomes the catching version of a good young closer, that’s a big win for the Yankees.
13. Rob Refsnyder, 2B
Funny that he fell at the exact same spot for each league in which he qualified. Refsnyder was a monster during his relatively brief stint in the Eastern League. Again, there’s little mystery in a scouting report. Refsnyder can hit. He’s still learning to play second.
Five years ago: No. 13 on this list in 2009 was Mets first baseman Ike Davis. A year later he was in the big leagues and looked like a pretty good player. Today he’s been traded away and looks like he might not have enough bat for his position.
Off the list: Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott have lost their grip on lists like this one. A half season of production from Tyler Austin wasn’t enough to make the cut, and it seems the jury is still out on whether Manny Banuelos can regain his old traction and his former ceiling. A lot of interesting players in Trenton this year, just not very many reliable ones.
Florida State League
15. Aaron Judge, RF
Top position prospect in the Yankees system is surely a debate between Judge and Sanchez. Both generate raves for their offensive power potential, and in his pro debut, Judge seemed to impress everyone with his patience and command of the strike zone. He also seems to have the range and plenty of arm strength to stick in right field without a need to move to first base or designated hitter. It’s been only one year, but Judge has earned the attention.
Five years ago: A Twins right-hander named David Bromberg ranked 15th on Baseball America’s FSL list five years ago. He’d been excellent that season, and he got to Triple-A the next year, but he has yet to make his major-league debut. The lesson: A lot can happen between High-A and the big leagues.
Off the list: Don’t want to reveal too much about the scouting reports, but in writing about Judge, BA did note that his fellow 2013 draftee Eric Jagielo also “had supporters among league observers.” Greg Bird is also a name that was worth consideration for this list. Jake Cave probably doesn’t have the perceived ceiling for a list like this, and Luis Severino wasn’t in the league long enough to qualify.
South Atlantic League
4. Luis Severino, RHP
Baseball America noted that it was basically a toss-up between Severino and Reynaldo Lopez for the second-best pitching prospect in the league (former 16th-overall draft pick Lucas Giolito was at the top of BA’s list). Severino began to make a name for himself last year, and this was the year he really emerged as one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. The Yankees have even left open the possibility of Severino pitching his way to New York as early as next season. The kid is really, really good.
Five years ago: A’s catcher Derek Norris ranked fourth on BA’s Sally list in 2009, and he’s become a pretty good big league regular. It’s worth noting that, at the time, Norris ranked between a pair of Rays prospects: pitcher Matt Moore and shortstop Tim Beckham. Hard to peg guys when they’re this young.
8. Aaron Judge, RF
Ranks a little higher on the Low-A list than the did on the High-A list, but the scouting reports read about the same: Lots of tools, good approach, enough defense for right field. Baseball America does note that Judge was expected to take advantage of inexperienced Low-A pitchers and did exactly that.
Five years ago: Back in 2009 the eighth name on this list was a White Sox outfielder named Jared Mitchell, a first-round pick who was hurt the next year and still hasn’t reached the big leagues. He did do a nice job getting on base in Double-A and Triple-A this year, though. Was a huge White Sox prospect when he was younger. No. 9 five years ago was Manny Banuelos.
15. Ian Clarkin, LHP
As I’ve said, I don’t want to give away much of these scouting reports, but I will note that Baseball America gave Clarkin credit for being one of the “safer bets” among South Atlantic League pitchers. They go into detail about his stuff and mechanics, all of which would be welcome words for the Yankees. Clarkin is fully healthy and ready to roll after missing some early time because of injuries. He was another first-rounder in 2013 along with Judge and Jagielo. Still very young.
Five years ago: Here’s the risk of getting too excited about a young prospect, especially a pitcher: Five years ago, Baseball America had a college draftee named Dexter Carter in this spot on the SAL list. He never made it out of A ball and wound up released before the 2012 season.
Off the list: A lot of sleeper-type prospects hanging around that Charleston roster this season. Shortstops Tyler Wade and Abiatal Avelino, third baseman Miguel Andujar, and underperfoming second baseman Gosuke Katoh. There’s also a pitcher named Brady Lail who the Yankees like, but who’s not likely to land on a list like this one.
New York-Penn League
4. Luis Torrens, C
An 18-year-old out of Venezuela, Torrens was extremely young for this level (Baseball American notes that he was the youngest player in the league this year), and he generates raves for his defensive work. He has a huge arm, he’s apparently has an advanced feel for catching, and there’s promise in the bat. Last month, Mark Newman noted that there are those who believe Torrens will ultimately be the best everyday catcher in the Yankees farm system — and that’s a deep position — but he’s too young to think of him as a remotely finished product. A ton of promise, and a lot of good stuff in place already, just needs time and patience.
Five years ago: A pretty good cautionary tale, five years ago it was another young catcher named Sebastian Valle who ranked fourth on Baseball America’s list of NYP-League prospects. He was also a teenager — more bat than glove — and the Phillies liked him, but his bat has diminished considerably and Valle has yet to reach the big leagues. Not even on the 40-man. Adam Warren ranked 12th on this list five years ago.
Off the list: In a chat, Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt mentioned that no other Yankees were particularly close to making the New York-Penn list — though he did go into specifics about quite a few other Yankees prospects, so check that out — but it’s worth wondering if Ty Hensley might have pitched his way into the mix had he thrown enough innings to qualify. He was awfully good in a small sample size.
Gulf Coast League
4. Jorge Mateo, SS
The Yankees love this kid. Incredible amount of speed, there’s a belief that he’ll be perfectly fine staying at shortstop, and he has real tools pretty much across the board. This was an international investment back in 2012, and Mateo is quickly becoming one of the real high-ceiling prospects in the system. A long way to go, but Mateo has real high-end potential. He’s 19 years old and has a chance to be — eventually — the shortstop of the future.
Five years ago: This is a promising comparison. Rookie-level kids are hard to predict, but five years ago, Baseball America ranked a fairly raw but talented pitcher name Jarred Cosart as the fourth-best prospect in the GCL. He’s since emerged as a good young starting pitcher, first with Houston and now with Miami. Hard to bank on kids this young, but some of them clear all the hurdles. Yankees are hoping that’s the case with Mateo.
15. Angel Aguilar, SS
What is it with the Yankees landing at No. 4 and No. 15 on these lists? Weird. But the addition of Aguilar actually fits well with the Yankees minor league system because the team has really built a lot of low-level depth at shortstop. They’ve focused on the position with a flurry of recent international signings. Aguilar signed in 2012 and hit .311/.373/.536 in his first season playing in the United States. Intriguing bat for a guy who seems to have a chance to stick at shortstop.
Five years ago: Would it mean anything to you to find out that the 15th player on the GCL list five years ago was a guy named Brooks Pounders? He was a second-round pick out of high school and now has fewer than 20 starts above Class A. Incredible amount of uncertainty with rookie ball players.
Off the list: Extremely young even for rookie ball, center fielder Leonardo Molina put up ugly GCL number this year but could get another shot next year (when he’ll still be young for the level). The Yankees like him, but recognize that he was probably pushed over his head this season. Third-rounder Austin DeCarr had a promising stint in the GCL but didn’t make Baseball America’s cut.
For your consideration: Chase Headley • 10.15.14
Here’s what Brian Cashman said on the day the Yankees traded for Chase Headley:
“Next year is next year. Right now I just kind of frame is as what it is. He’s got an expiring contract that runs through the end of the year. It’s a rental in terms of the acquisition cost, and that’s how we approached it. We’ve taken on some money. We got some money to offset some of the remaining balance of his contract, and they’ve got some players that they can hold onto as they move forward and try to support their future. I can’t predict 2015 and what our needs will or won’t be. That’s not what this is all about. We’re all really focused on the remaining push in 2014 and trying to push through with what we’ve got.”
Truth be told, I can’t imagine that Cashman has any better idea today what his third base needs will or won’t be next season. Alex Rodriguez is still a total wild card, working out in California with no proof of how well he can play baseball in 2015 and beyond. What Cashman does have, though, is a better sense of what Headley is capable of doing and how well he’s able to handle the New York market.
During his two-plus months with the Yankees, Headley showed himself to be an awfully good fielder, and while he’s certainly not a true power hitter, he came through in big situations and got on base at an impressive rate. He’s most certainly a useful player, and he seems to have found a way to manage the lower-back issue that bothered him in San Diego.
“I feel like I played like me,” Headley said. “Even the month or so before I got traded, I felt like I started play like me, as a player. I feel like (if) I play like me, that’s a good player, and that’s going to be attractive to clubs. I’m glad that I was able to finish out the way that I did, and hopefully things will work out good.”
Going forward, is Headley still a strong fit for the Yankees?
The third base situation is well understood. Best-case scenario is that Rodriguez’s year off has left him healthy and strong, physically able to play third base regularly while contributing to the middle of the order. Worst-case scenario is that a year off, coupled with the recent injuries, has left Rodriguez unable to play the field and unable to be much of a run producer. The Yankees aren’t likely to know which is closer to the truth until spring training, and even then health and durability concerns must linger.
Signing Headley would give the Yankees a quality backup plan at third base. But Headley’s also in position to be paid like an everyday player, so it’s more likely he would lock the Yankees into a plan to use Rodriguez regularly at designated hitter while trusting Carlos Beltran to regularly handle right field. Headley is not the only player who could play that role — Pablo Sandoval is a free agent this winter as are any number of utility types — but Headley brings a comfortable blend of familiarity and experience. He was a useful rental, which makes him a more attractive target.
“I don’t know if they’re going to be interested,” Headley said. “They do have a player under contract. We’ll kinda see how that shakes out. If they do show interest, then there would be mutual interest. But that would be something we’d want to talk about, and see what the role would look like, coming into (next season). Not something that I’d be scared of, but something I’d like to have clarity on, and I’m sure the organization would as well.”
Associated Press photos
State of the organization: Left field • 10.15.14
Our final state of the organization stop among position players is left field, where the Yankees have committed long-term to a bit of an unconventional choice for the position (more speed and on-base than true power). It’s also a position that leaves open the option of making a trade and eventually opening the door for one of many possible alternatives down the road. The left fielder of the future doesn’t necessarily have to be a guy who’s playing left field right now.
Signed through 2019
When the Yankees locked Jacoby Ellsbury into a long-term contract last winter, it seemed like bad news for Gardner’s staying power. Having long been considered a kind of poor-man’s version of Ellsbury, Gardner was giving up his leadoff spot and his defensive position to a what seemed to be a superior player, and free agency was fast approaching. But the Yankees changed that in spring training with a four-year contract extension plus a team option. Gardner responded with a unusually typical season. His .749 OPS was just slightly higher than his career OPS, and his 111 OPS+ was right in line with the previous season. But Gardner got there by hitting for a surprising amount of power with a career-high 17 homers. Those home runs came with a career-low .327 on-base percentage. There were stretches when Gardner looked like the best hitter in the Yankees lineup, and he finished with the highest OPS among the regulars. When this year started, it seemed Gardner might be on his way out. Now his production and contract essentially lock him into an everyday job for the foreseeable future (unless the Yankees decide to do something drastic).
On the verge
You could make a case for several “on the verge” left field options — and in a lot of ways, Ramon Flores is the best fit for this distinction because he’s a true left fielder who had a solid year when he was healthy — but if there’s an in-house guy who’s well positioned to actually help out in left field out of spring training, it’s probably Pirela. He’s a right-handed hitter, which makes him a nice complement to Gardner. He’s also versatile, which makes him a nice fit on a Yankees roster with so much uncertainty at various positions. Pirela came up as an infielder, but he’s been getting regular reps in left field for a few years now. He will surely try to win an everyday job at second base during spring training, but it might be easier for him a win a job as a bench player who can play the outfielder corners while providing additional depth in the infield. Adonis Garcia and Zelous Wheeler (if he’s not DFA) could also be right-handed corner outfield options off the bench.
Hard to find a true left field prospect. Quite often a young player comes up at another position and plays his way into a left field job (or, in the case of Gardner, ends up shifting to left field because the other outfield positions are filled). Flores, though, has been primarily a left fielder throughout his career. He can play center, and he has experience as a right fielder and first baseman, but the vast majority of his time has come in left. And he has a set of tools that might actually profile pretty well for a fourth outfielder type who can run a little, get on base and handle all three spots in the outfield. He has a spot on the 40-man roster and he hit .247/.339/.443 in Triple-A this year (though his season was limited to 63 games because of an ankle injury). There are bigger names who could end up in left field depending on various circumstances, but Flores is a left fielder by trade, and he’s done enough to stay on the prospect radar into the upper levels of the system.
Deeper in the system
You can dig into the lower levels of the system and find a few names worth watching in left field. Former third-rounder Michael O’Neill still strikes out a lot, but he was better this year than last year. A pretty young kid named Frank Frias had a solid year in rookie ball. A 2012 draftee named Chris Breen hit .281/.376/.504 in Staten Island. In terms of organizational depth at the position, though, the Yankees abundance of left field options basically revolves around all the guys who can play center field. If Slade Heathcott gets healthy or Mason Williams gets back on track, either one could become a left field alternative as long as Ellsbury remains in New York. Same for emerging center field standout Jake Cave. Right fielders Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge would presumably become left field options if circumstances forced the change. One interesting name that stands out, though, is Dugas. An eighth-round pick out of the University of Alabama, Dugas can play center and right but he’s mostly been a left fielder in pro ball. He’s undersized — listed at 5-foot-9 — but he’s done a terrific job of getting on base. This year he hit .299/.399/.390 between Double-A and Triple-A, essentially forcing the Yankees to not only give him regular at-bats but also to promote him to the highest level of the minors. Easy to overlook a year ago, Dugas put up numbers that can’t be ignored.
Making a trade to open a door
Aside from the year he was hurt most of the season, Gardner’s been a pretty steady player since moving into the everyday lineup. He doesn’t run as much as his speed suggests he should, and he strikes out a lot for a top-of-the-order guy, but he’s been a good lineup regular. This season’s power surge was a welcome surprise, he remains a patient hitter, and his outfield defense is a plus. Right now, Gardner’s spring contract extension looks like a pretty good one for the Yankees. So it’s worth asking, should they trade him? Gardner’s contract should make him an attractive trade chip, and the upper levels of the Yankees system have a lot of outfielders — many of them left-handed hitters like Gardner — who could become alternatives in left field. If Jake Cave, for example, builds off last season, could he be an even cheaper version of Gardner? Very little guarantee that any of the outfield prospects will be able to match Gardner’s big league production, but Gardner himself is proof that a prospect labeled as an eventual fourth outfielder can eventually play his way into being a productive everyday guy. If the Yankees want someone to follow in Gardner’s footsteps, they might first have to open Gardner’s position.
Associated Press photo