Any other year, Michael Pineda’s six strikeouts today would have been perhaps the biggest non-A-Rod story of spring training. He was hit hard early, adjust quickly and looked sharp the rest of the way. He got swings and misses with his changeup, threw strikes with his fastball and delivered yet another terrific start.
Any other year, it would have been a huge deal.
This spring, thought, the image of a smiling, dominant, healthy Pineda is beginning to feel commonplace.
“I’m happy because today is good outing,” Pineda said. “I’m feeling good. This is very important for me. I’m feeling great. And I stay in the game. … I feel very strong today. I’m happy with that because we won.”
After three years of struggling, rehabbing and working his way back, it seems Pineda has finally arrived, perhaps even better than the Yankees expected back in 2012. His changeup has become a legitimate weapon, and he still pounds the strike zone. It’s hard not to wonder what might have been had he been this way since that first spring when he first injured his shoulder.
“I’m more concerned about this year, what it could mean for us this year,” Joe Girardi said. “There’s not much we can do about the past. But I really believe if he stays healthy and gives us 30 (to) 32 starts, he could have a pretty good year.”
Given Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, CC Sabathia’s knee and Nathan Eovaldi’s transition, I think you could make the case that Pineda is the most reliable weapon in the Yankees rotation, and right now he’s pitching like a guy who’s capable of bringing both reliability and dominance. What we saw today was nothing new, and that’s the good thing.
“I’m very, very happy in the spring, especially today,” Pineda said. “You know, I throw two innings, three innings and I feel very strong. I like it.”
• The Yankees might be lining up Masahiro Tanaka to start Opening Day. He’ll make his next start on Wednesday, getting a full week between starts. If he then pitches every six days, he would be perfectly lined up for the Opener on April 6. “I’m just going to leave it at that for now,” Girardi said.
• Asked why Tanaka is getting an extra day of rest leading into this upcoming start, Girardi said it was all about lining up the rotation, but he wouldn’t give specifics. “We’re trying to line people up, but I can’t give you an Opening Day starter because it kind of depends on where we feel they’re at,” Girardi said.
• Along those lines, Nathan Eovaldi is going to start a minor league game on Tuesday, the same day Esmil Rogers is starting a major league game. Again, Girardi said that’s all about getting guys lined up.
• Good second outing for Andrew Bailey who struck out two and hit a batter in his one inning. He said he recovered nicely after his previous outing and felt fully ready for this one. “That was the first time I’d pitched in a game in quite some time,” he said. “So I was eager to see how the next game was. It was fine, and the same thing the next day, and out there again today. I’m looking forward to more of the same.”
• Girardi said he’s still not sure when Bailey will try to go back-to-back.
• Last time out, Bailey was disappointed by his cutter. “I just stayed through it a little bit better (this time),” he said. “I worked on that on flat ground with Larry (Rothschild) and some of the other coaches. It’s me just driving the baseball to the plate instead of pulling off of it. It’s a little mechanical thing.”
• Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson also had two strikeouts in their outings today. Add a scoreless inning apiece for Nick Rumbelow and Jacob Lindgren, and it was a good day for the bullpen.
• Pineda seemed especially happy with his changeup today, and Girardi seemed to echo the same. Asked for a general analysis of today’s starting, Girardi started by saying Pineda was a little bit up in the zone early, then offered this: “Thought he threw some really good changeups today. Really, really good.”
• Two days in a row now Didi Gregorius has gotten a hit against a lefty. Today’s was a sharp single right down the first-base line. “He’s worked really hard with (hitting coach Jeff Pentland) about making some minor adjustments,” Girardi said. “I can’t tell you what exactly they are, but all these guys have worked really hard with Pent now, and with Alan (Cockrell), just little things. Things that they see. Didi’s really swung the bat (when) you look at the last week. Sometimes when you make adjustments, it might take you a little bit of time to get going because everything’s a little bit different, but it looks like it’s paying dividends.”
• After not scoring in the first eight innings, the Yankees rallied with three runs in the ninth to win 3-2. The winning run came on a sacrifice fly by Jake Cave. The big hit was a two-run double by Eddy Rodriguez.
• Aaron Judge had a hit in that game-winning ninth, but he most impressed with a running catch to end the seventh. “I was impressed with the jump he got on the ball,” Girardi said. “He made that catch easily. He made it look easy.”
• Mark Teixeira had two hits including a double. … Gregorius, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann also had hits and Brett Gardner drew a walk as some of the big league guys continue to look better at the plate. … That ninth-inning rally started with a Nick Noonan single.
• Final word goes to Gardner about his decision to climb the wall to retrieve Chris Young’s glove: “Is the fence eight feet? It feels taller than eight feet. I’m really short. We’d be in the eighth inning still if I didn’t get the glove. I wanted to throw the ball back in all the way to second base, but I didn’t have room between the batter’s eye hanging down and the fence, so I just tossed it back over. I actually didn’t even think about the ball, I was going to get the glove and the ball was laying right next to the glove. So then I wanted to throw the ball back to second base but I didn’t really have room to throw it between where the batter’s eye came down.”
Associated Press photos
I spent the past few days back home in New York, and now I’m returning to a slightly more spacious Yankees clubhouse. On Sunday, the Yankees made their first 10 cuts. None were particularly surprising — all were expected to landed in the minor leagues as some point — but some were significant if only because they’d generated quite a bit of early attention.
RHP Luis Severino
Most notable name of the bunch for two reasons: He’s one of the system’s top prospects (I’d argue he’s No. 1, some might argue No. 2), and there was actually some support within the fan base for giving him a rotation spot after Chris Capuano went down with an injury. Severino breaking camp with the Yankees never seemed particularly likely, and the Yankees took the possibility off the table with an early assignment across the street. Looked good when he did get into games, though. Can’t rule him out for a late-season call-up.
OF Aaron Judge
No prospect in camp earned as much early attention as Judge, who put on several batting practice shows — more hard line drives than towering home runs — before putting up good numbers in limited Grapefruit League at-bats. Judge earned raves for the way he handled himself in camp, but he was always going to end up playing right field in Trenton on Opening Day. Could move quickly, but too early to think he was going to break camp in the big leagues. Strong first impression, no doubt.
LHP Tyler Webb
Got to Triple-A last season and seemed to have a slim but still realistic chance of making the roster if the cards fell just right. Instead, the Yankees quickly sent Webb back to the minor leagues. The wealth of lefties in camp — including young guys Chasen Shreve and Jacob Lindgren — probably made Webb a little more expendable, so he’ll get his innings across the street while other relievers get priority opportunities in big league camp.
OF Jake Cave
Another guy who came into camp destined for the Double-A outfield, but before was dismissed, Cave hit .417/.417/.750 in 12 at-bats. That’s a pretty strong first impression for a guy capable of playing all three outfield positions. Cave has emerged as one of the top outfield prospects in the system, no longer overshadowed by fellow left-handed hitters Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores (though those three will get to stick around big league camp a little longer).
LHP James Pazos
In a big group of bullpen lefties brought to camp, Pazos was probably at the bottom of the pecking order. The Yankees like him and believe he could have a future in the big leagues, but he’s never pitched above Double-A and seemed to fall somewhere behind Shreve, Lindgren and Webb in terms of having an immediate opportunity. Little surprise, then, that he was one of the first sent down. His next challenge is standing out from the crowd.
SS Cito Culver
Former top draft pick showed off his greatest asset early in camp when he made a good play and then a terrific throw on a ball in the hole. With one hit in 13 at-bats, Culver also showed the limited bat that creates real questions about whether he’ll ever actually crack the big leagues. Culver’s never played above High-A, but the Yankees say they haven’t given up on him. Needs a good year in Double-A to stay on the radar. Right now he looks like a lesser version of Brendan Ryan, but his glove could open doors under the right circumstances.
RHP Nick Goody
Had an ankle injury the first time he was invited to big league camp, then he needed Tommy John surgery, but now Goody is back and healthy and on the radar as one of the organization’s legitimate relief prospects. Missed time has slowed his development, but this year’s invitation to camp was a pretty good indication that the Yankees have neither forgotten about him nor given up on him. Might not be knocking on the door, but bullpen guys can move quickly if they get on a roll.
RHP Diego Moreno
For me, this was perhaps the biggest surprise among all the non-roster invitations. Despite pitching in Triple-A last season, Moreno seemed pretty easily overshadowed by other relievers in the system (including at least one who wasn’t invited to camp). Moreno actually pitched a lot — only three guys had more innings before Sunday’s cuts — but one particularly bad outing pushed his ERA to 5.68. Worth wondering what the Yankees will do with him this year given all the bullpen depth.
C Trent Garrison
Young guy brought to camp strictly to give the team an extra catcher to handle all the bullpens and live batting practice sessions. This was more about getting experience than getting a chance. He got into three games and will now likely head to either Tampa or Trenton to open the season. Each spring seems to have at least one young catcher like this. This year, it was Garrison.
C Juan Graterol
Signed as a minor league free agent, Graterol was rehabbing all through his stint in big league camp. He caught bullpens and did other baseball drills, but he’s coming back from an arm injury and so never got into an actual game. He’s basically upper-level catching depth and could plug holes in Double-A or Triple-A depending on where he’s needed. My guess is he falls somewhere behind Francisco Arcia and Eddy Rodriguez in the pecking order.
Associated Press photos
Yesterday, Reggie Jackson compared Aaron Judge’s raw power to that of Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey. The day before, Alex Rodriguez called Judge and Greg Bird two of the best young hitters he’d seen in years. All spring, guys like Luis Severino, Jacob Lindgren and Rob Refsnyder have generated significant attention despite having a half-season of Triple-A experience among them.
“That’s what you do in the game, for better or for worse,” Brian Cashman said. “People go to the dream aspect.”
While the big league Yankees seem to have captured anything but the imagination this spring — far more doomsday scenarios than best-case scenarios floating out there — the young Yankees have stolen the show early this spring. At least, in theory they have. Counting my days with the minor league system, I’ve covered nine spring training, and it’s hard to remember a Yankees’ spring with this much prospect hype. Maybe the year of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, but this spring is different because many of the players in question are not even on the 40-man roster, much less on the verge of making the Opening Day roster.
Judge probably gets the most attention, and he has just one year of professional experience.
“I don’t think it’s hurtful,” Cashman said. “Listen, we all project what someone could be on a maximum case. Whether people want to throw out Giancarlo Stanton or Dave Winfield or McCovey, it doesn’t matter at all. You’re dreaming on the player’s abilities. Some players, you can dream bigger on than others. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big on a guy, especially a guy like that, that’s that big. It’s not hurtful.”
Seems to help that the Yankees like the mental makeup of their young players. Judge and Refsnyder have lockers right next to one another, and both have been soft spoken all spring. Girardi has raved about Severino’s early spring composure. Bird tends to sit quietly at his corner locker, doing as much observing as talking.
“I’ve discovered that there’s nothing I can do to prevent (growing expectations), regardless,” Cashman said. “I’ve gotten trained over time that whatever will be, will be. … Our young guys — the B-Bombers, I’ll call them — have been great. They’re in tremendous shape, they’re hungry, you can see they play with passion. The performance has been high-end this spring as well. Those are the stories you really want. You want your young guys to step up. It shows your fan base that, hey, there’s some good things on the come.”
Associated Press photo
Stephen Drew made all the plays he was supposed to make today, but he also went 0-for-3 at the plate. It was kind of a take-the-good-with-the-bad kind of day for a guy who’s suddenly having to prove himself on both offense and defense.
“These guys brought me over here to fill that role (at second base),” Drew said. “And playing in the league for as long as I have and understanding the game, it’s definitely big. And it’s still early. With these at-bats, it’s huge for me, whereas last year I was going into a season where guys were four months (ahead). It’s not an easy task. It’s not an excuse, but at the same time, it’s something that really I don’t think anybody has done quite like that. Knowing that, and knowing that feeling, it’s definitely a big key to be here in spring (training) right now.”
Yes, Drew knows there’s a big league job waiting for him. But it would be hard for anyone to not notice the way Jose Pirela is hitting so far this spring, and Rob Refsnyder gets more attention in the clubhouse than some of the veterans. Drew is coming off the worst offensive season of his career, and now he’s trying to learn a new position. Will he really break camp as the Opening Day second baseman? Probably. The Yankees have basically committed to that much, the question is whether he can play well enough to keep the job going forward.
“I mean, if (anyone) was to struggle, we’d probably make a change,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s the nature of our game, but we didn’t sign him to struggle. We signed him to play at a very high level, and we expect that he will.”
How does Drew go about learning second base and getting his numbers back on track with the rest of his career? Well, it starts right here, with games like today. If he stays healthy, this will be Drew’s first full spring training since 2011. He played no spring training games in 2012 because of a broken ankle, he missed most of the 2013 spring with a concussion, and he didn’t sign last year until May. He was in the big leagues roughly two weeks later.
“I was in good shape (last spring),” Drew said. “And like I keep telling you guys, the biggest thing is you haven’t seen live pitching, Major League pitching, along with that (time off). Last year was definitely a challenge. Really, you’ve got to slow the game down. I was rushing the game, trying to speed it up, trying to play catch up. To be here now is definitely a big moment for me.”
Drew has just 11 at-bats this spring, but he also has just one hit. He made an error on his first opportunity of the exhibition schedule. Anyone who follows this game knows not to make much of early spring training results, but it’s hard not to analyze everything Drew’s doing given his situation. For those who hated the signing in the first place, every 0-for-3 and every defensive mistake seems like proof that Drew’s contract was a mistake.
The Yankees, though, see a good defensive player, who’s athletic and experienced enough to learn a new position, and who’s 2013 — when he had a .777 OPS — is far more indicative of the kind of hitter he’s been through most of his career. They see a potential bargain where others see a sure bust.
“We expect him to be a productive hitter, to get back to the form that he was at before last year,” Girardi said. “I think he got behind, and I think it was difficult for him to catch up when you miss spring training. When you slowly progress into playing and then you have a rushed spring training in a sense. He wasn’t there very long. Maybe he had 15, 16 at-bats or whatever he had. It’s just hard to catch up. I think you get behind, and then you start off slow and you try to make things up. It just makes things worse a lot of time. We feel that he’ll get back to the form that he was at.”
• Despite going three scoreless innings, Chase Whitley wasn’t all happy with his start today. He walked three guys, got into jams in the first and second innings, and threw only 24 of 46 pitches for strikes. Good work to get out of trouble with a lot of ground balls, but Whitley said he’s clearly still in early spring mode. “Overall pleased with the result,” he said. “But the process has to get a little bit better.”
• Girardi seemed to like the fact Whitley had to handle some adversity and make big pitches. “He got some big ground balls when he needed them,” Girardi said. “He got in some long counts and got some baserunners, but he did a good job with runners in scoring position. You want to see that.”
• The Yankees lost 3-1 with all of the Orioles runs coming against Branden Pinder and Chasen Shreve, two 40-man guys who seem to be fighting for that open spot in the bullpen. Pinder was knocked around early in the fifth inning — four straight hits, two runs — but also got some big outs to limit the damage. Shreve gave up a solo home run to a switch hitter.
• Both Jacob Lindgren and Esmil Rogers pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
• A sure sign that it’s absurdly early: Chase Headley came into this game hitting .100 for the spring. He went 3-for-3 and in one day raised his average to .308. He had hits from each side of the plate. “It’s tough to figure out what you’re trying to do early,” Headley said. “You really want to see pitches, track the ball good out of the pitchers’ hands. I didn’t feel very good doing that, wasn’t seeing them like I wanted to, so I figured today I’d be a little bit more aggressive, try to take it a little more like regular-season at-bats. I think that put my rhythm and timing in better spots. It was good. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but you want to get hits.”
• Yet another start for Didi Gregorius against a left-handed starting pitcher. Girardi seems happy about that, but he said it’s strictly coincidence. The lineups are generally set before the Yankees know who they’re facing in spring training. “I want to see him (against lefties),” Girardi said. “Obviously a lot of times you can get pegged early on in your career; I’ve seen it happen to a lot of players. We have a lot of confidence in Didi and we want him to get at-bats.”
• Aaron Judge made a nice diving catch in right field today. Headley almost made a terrific diving stop on a Machado double. He dived toward the foul line, but the ball hit off the tip of his glove. “I was mad at myself that I didn’t catch it,” Headley said. Would have been a sick catch.
• Big-time injury in the American League East as Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman is likely to miss all year with a torn ACL. “I feel like it’s becoming the NFL; there’s one big injury every day,” Girardi said. “It’s frustrating when you lose your players, guys that you count on. No one is going to feel sorry for you and you have to just move on, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
• Speaking of AL East injuries, the Yankees saw Manny Machado back in the Orioles lineup today. He went 3-for-3, and Girardi said the situation reminded him of a Yankees prospect. “Two knee surgeries, and having to fight back; it’s frustrating as a player,” Girardi said. “For him, he’s really young, but you know your time is limited. And that’s the last place you want to spend it is rehabbing on the DL. I look at a young kid that we have. He’s not as accomplished as Manny, but what Slade (Heathcott) has gone through, the knee surgeries. It’s frustrating. It delays your progress as a player.”
• Gary Sanchez hit a pretty long home run for the Yankees only run of the day. … Pirela went 1-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base. He’s hitting .462 (Refsnyder went hitless but is hitting .455). … Aside from Pirela, Sanchez and Headley, the only Yankees hit belonged to Mark Teixeira.
• For today’s final word, here’s Girardi’s response to a joking question about whether he’s ready for the big game against Boston tomorrow. “Huh? Oh yeah. I was thinking, big Boston game, what’s he talking about? Do you guys (in the media) have a game or something?” Rivalry games just don’t carry the same weight down here in spring training.
Associated Press photos
Alex Rodriguez already has four hits this spring. He went 2-for-3 today, drove in a run, and raised his spring batting average to .444. He doesn’t have an extra-base hit, but for a guy who’s talked a lot about finding his timing, he’s making pretty decent contact and showing a good eye at the plate. He’s been good, which might impress some people, but it doesn’t impress Rodriguez himself.
“Nothing. Zero,” he said. “(Whether the numbers are) 0-for-9, 4-for-9. … It doesn’t really mean anything. I’ve played for a long time. It’s better than 0-for-9, I guess.”
But that’s not to say Rodriguez hasn’t been impressed this spring. Quite the opposite, actually. Asked a pretty broad question about Opening Day, Rodriguez used the opportunity to heap praise on some of the young guys in Yankees camp.
“I actually like our team,” he said. “One of the nice things about being here in spring this year is seeing the collection of nice young power arms. That’s been a really pleasant surprise. The other thing I’ve seen is two of the finest young hitters I’ve seen in a long time. One is righty and one is lefty. I think they’re both under the age of 24. That’s really encouraging. And I also saw that our lineup has the potential to be pretty deep and that’s something that I think can help us.”
Who exactly are those young hitters?
“Greg Bird and Aaron Judge,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t see those type of young hitters come around very often. We’re lucky to have two of them. I’m very impressed.”
And Rodriguez wasn’t finished there. He also had plenty of kind words for Michael Pineda.
“When you have stuff like that, it makes you be a little bit more relaxed,” he said of Pineda’s recent demeanor. “I think the thing about Pineda that I learned in my rehab with him when we were down here in Tampa together is how athletic he is. He’s one of the fastest guys on the team. It doesn’t make sense that a guy that big can move that fast. He’s extremely athletic and fast. Then in the weight room, he can just lift the whole weight room. Those combinations, when you know that and you see how that transfers to his power stuff, it makes a lot of sense.”
How fast are we talking? Faster than Brett Gardner?
“No,” Rodriguez said. “But he’s faster than me and a lot of other guys.”
• Hard to ignore Pineda in his debut — and it’s impossible to ignore A-Rod saying the Yankees have two of the best young hitters he’s seen in a long time — but it’s worth leaving some of today’s spotlight for Nathan Eovaldi. In his second spring outing, Eovaldi racked up five strikeouts in three innings. “Just working ahead in the counts, I think, for the most part was the big key today,” he said.
• Eovaldi has said all spring that he wanted to work on his offspeed pitches. Today he got two strikeouts on fastballs, two on sliders and one on a split. “With every year you’re going to get more comfort with yourself and what you can and can’t do,” Brian McCann said. “With that stuff, it’s just going to be a matter of putting it all together and elevating when he needs to elevate and put it in the dirt when he needs to put it in the dirt, because he’s an uncomfortable at-bat for anybody.”
• One complaint from Eovaldi, he said he felt like he was rushing some of his offspeed pitches, but the results were still positive. “Besides rushing, I felt good,” he said. “I was able to throw the majority of them for strikes. I threw some splits. I felt like they were quality pitches, I just didn’t get offers on them.”
• Minor league reliever Diego Moreno — who could, honestly, be crowded out of even the Triple-A bullpen — gave up all three Rays runs in today’s 4-3 Yankees win. Moreno struggled, but the rest of the Yankees pitchers really thrived today. David Carpenter (pictured on the right), Justin Wilson and Chris Martin each pitched a scoreless inning today. All three allowed one runner.
• Last time out, Martin seemed to really catch Girardi’s attention. I have to imagine today’s outing did nothing to dull that strong first impression. Martin allowed a double, but he struck out the last two batters of the game. The first was on a 95-mph fastball, the second was on a big breaking ball.
• Pineda and Esmil Rogers will start the upcoming split-squad doubleheader on Saturday. Pineda will pitch at home, Rogers on the road. That leaves an upcoming rotation of — Tuesday: Chase Whitley, Wednesday: Chris Capuano, Thursday: Masahiro Tanaka, Friday: Adam Warren, Saturday: Rogers and Pineda.
• Prospect Luis Severino showed up sick this morning and was diagnosed with strep throat. He’s been told to stay home tomorrow and he’ll be back Wednesday. Severino was scheduled for early work tomorrow — I assume it was going to be a bullpen — so it sounds like the illness might only push him back a day or two.
• Shortstop Nick Noonan has a stiff neck and has been scratched from tomorrow’s road trip (Girardi said he might make the trip, but his name was literally scratched off the list). Girardi indicated it’s a minor injury at this point. “We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” he said.
• Nothing new on Brendan Ryan. He’s still on track to begin light baseball activities on Wednesday.
• Predictably, Girardi wouldn’t say whether he’s planning to use today’s lineup as his Opening Day lineup. That seems like a safe bet, but Girardi would only say, “it’s possible.”
• Rob Refsnyder made his second spring error. He also had another hit and is batting .500 this spring. … Bird and Brian McCann had the Yankees only extra-base hits today. Each doubled. … Slade Heathcott stayed hot with another hit. He’s batting .800. Small sample sizes are fun! … Austin Romine got his first hit. John Ryan Murphy also has just one hit this spring.
• Final word goes to Girardi about feeling at least a little encouraged by A-Rod’s early success: “I think it’s impossible not to. If you’re struggling in the beginning, like a lot of our hitters are, you say it’s timing. That was my concern for Alex, really, coming into camp. How long would it take for him to get his timing? I think he’s done a pretty good job adjusting, and I want to continue to see it.”
Associated Press photos
Only two big league regulars were in the Yankees lineup today, and those two went 0-for-6. Only one projected big league pitcher got on the mound, and he pitched two relatively quiet innings. This was the start of the big league spring training schedule, but if you’re looking for highlights, it was the minor leaguers who stole the show. From Luis Severino’s dominant debut inning, to Aaron Judge’s game-tying home run in the ninth, the Yankees might have glimpsed their future as they tried to get ready for the present.
“I saw a lot of good things overall today from a lot of our guys,” Joe Girardi said. “You look at what Severino does. He came in and threw strikes and did a really nice job. Pinder comes in and does a really nice job for us. Shreve right there (in the ninth) does a nice job for us. You look at the at-bats a lot of our young kids had late in the game – really, really good. Encouraging to see.”
Branden Pinder faced four batters and retired them all. Chasen Shreve faced five batters and struck out two of them. Nick Goody pitched a scoreless inning. Slade Heathcott went 2-for-2 with a double. Greg Bird went 2-for-3, also with a double. Mason Williams doubled to start that game-tying, four-run ninth inning.
The Yankees got bad news on catcher Luis Torrens today, but there were plenty of positives in Clearwater. The biggest names in this minor league system are Severino and Judge, and they were impossible to ignore this afternoon.
First batter Severino ever faced in a big league spring training game, he fired fastballs at 94 and 95 mph, then he finished off the at-bat with a strikeout looking at an 86 mph slider. The pitch actually confused me when I saw it because there wasn’t a ton of movement (I actually thought it might have been a changeup), but Severino explained afterward that he likes to manipulate his slider. Sometimes he throws a big, sweeping one, and sometimes he tries to keep it tighter and smaller. This was a tight, small one, and a left-handed hitter froze against it.
Next batter, a strikeout swinging through 94 mph. The next, a broken-bat ground ball to third base.
Severino’s second inning wasn’t as smooth. He gave up four singles — all to left-handed hitters — and was pulled after an RBI bloop to left field. None of the hits were hard (could of ground balls up the middle, couple of flares just over the infield), and Severino said that when Girardi came to get him in the middle of the inning, the message was simple. Girardi just told him, good job.
“There’s no fear there,” Girardi said. “The young man has a lot of belief in what he’s doing, and he has command, and he went right at guys today. I wasn’t sure how he’d react being the first time, and you worry about guys trying to do too much, but he seemed calm and threw the ball pretty well.”
Severino said the at-bat that stood out to him was against Ryan Howard, who had a long at-bat and ultimately shot a weak single into right field. Severino clearly considered it a test to face such an accomplished hitter.
“It’s a good challenge,” he said. “I tried to strike him out or get him out, but I don’t get it. … I can get a lot of experience that way.”
First thing anyone seems to notice about Judge is just how big he is, but last season he showed he’s more than simply a raw slugger. Judge has an advanced approach at the plate. He takes pitches, works the count and stays patient. After a ground out in his first at-bat, Judge worked a walk in his second trip to the plate.
His third plate appearance came in the ninth when he again took pitches until he found one he liked. His game-tying, three-run homer barely made it over the wall, but it was also sky high.
“He’s just big,” Girardi said. “He’s just big and strong. You’re not going to see too many people that big in the game. It’s just not tall, there’s a lot of strength there as well. He’s a really good athlete, and sometimes when you see a guy like that, you’re not sure how good of an athlete you have, but you have a really good athlete too. … He had two really, really good at-bats today. He was patient. He waited for his pitch. He didn’t over swing.”
Judge was quick to credit Williams, Heathcott and Jake Cave for having good at-bats ahead of him to set the stage for that three-run shot. He said that his first thought after seeing the ball go over the fence was to think the outfielder had caught it. He said he was more nervous on deck than he ever was in the box. He honestly sounded like a guy who’d been in that situation — surrounded by media after an eye-opening home run — dozens of times in his career. He sounded like a pro, and he looked like one too.
“I’m trying to make it as hard as I can for them to send me back across the street for the minor leagues,” he said. “Just doing whatever I can to help us win.”
Associated Press photos
Alex Rodriguez was no where to be found, but even so, it was hard to ignore what was happening on the back field here at the Yankees spring training complex this morning.
Top pitching prospect Luis Severino vs. top hitting prospect Aaron Judge
It was live batting practice, and it’s so early in camp that pitchers are well ahead of the hitters (some guys don’t even like to swing this early, they just track pitches when the step in for live BP). But there’s a lot of fascination about these two key pieces of the Yankees’ plan to get younger through player development.
Severino was part of a pretty impressive group of pitchers facing hitters on the back field. He alternated “innings” with Nathan Eovaldi, then Jacob Lindgren and Branden Pinder came out for an inning apiece. Those are four hard-throwers against a group of four hitters — Judge, Kyle Roller, Jake Cave and Tyler Austin — who just had their first official workout yesterday.
“Not the guys you want to face,” Roller said. “That was rough. Glad we got that out of the way. Everything should look slower now.”
Cave said Severino threw him everything, and while he missed some spots with the offspeed pitches, even those pitches looked sharp. Cave sounded impressed by Severino, but then again, he said Severino always looks impressive.
I think I saw only two Judge vs. Severino at-bats. The first was just as I got onto the back field, and Judge rolled over a ground ball to the shortstop (would have been in the hole, not an easy out but not the kind of thing Judge was trying to do). The second at-bat is the one filmed above. It was a six-pitch at-bat with Judge swinging once and ultimately striking out on a 3-2 pitch.
• The Yankees have some meetings this morning, so today’s workout won’t start until a little later than usual. Batting practice isn’t until around 12:30. All of the pitching stuff was handled earlier this morning.
• Last thing I saw as the Yankees clubhouse closed to media was Mariano Rivera sitting near his old locker, talking to new reliever David Carpenter and Justin Wilson. Carpenter said earlier in the morning that he has so much respect for Rivera, he feels like he should get dressed up just to have a conversation with him.
• Talked to Mason Williams for a little while this morning. I’m sure I’ll write more about it at some point, but Williams said he honestly thinks last season — when he hit just .223/.290/.304 in Double-A — might have been the most important year of his career. He feels like he learned a lot about what he’s been doing wrong and about the way upper-level pitchers are going to attack him. He got a trainer at home in Orlando this offseason and reported to camp in better shape than I’ve ever seen him. This is going to be a big year for him. He has a lot to prove. He also has a spot on the 40-man and said his eyes are set on helping the big league team before the end of the season. Good speed and defense, just needs to show he can hit again.
• Today was photo day in Yankees camp. Lots of photography stations setup all around Steinbrenner Field, and the players had to go to each one, one at a time, to get a series of pictures and videos done. Players … don’t love it.
CC Sabathia (to Brian McCann)
Andrew Bailey (to Juan Graterol)
Esmil Rogers (to Austin Romine)
Ivan Nova (to Roman Rodriguez)
Jose Campos (to Roman Rodriguez)
• Live batting practice:
Facing Jake Cave, Kyle Roller, Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge
Nathan Eovaldi (to John Ryan Murphy)
Luis Severino (to Gary Sanchez)
Jacob Lindgren (to Austin Romine)
Branden Pinder (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Facing Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder
Chris Capuano (to Francisco Arcia)
Scott Baker (to Kyle Higashioka)
David Carpenter (to Trent Garrison)
Dellin Betances (also to Trenton Garrison)
• Infield drills:
Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Alex Rodriguez, Kyle Roller, Mark Teixeira
Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones, Jose Pirela
Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Brian McCann, Eddy Rodriguez
Cito Culver, Jose Pirela, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones
Greg Bird, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Kyle Roller
Tyler Austin, Carlos Beltran, Jake Cave, Chris Young
Ramon Flores, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Jacoby Ellsbury
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
Francisco Arcia, Trent Garrison, Kyle Higashioka, Gary Sanchez
Associated Press photo
When I put out the call for Pinch Hitters, I honestly didn’t expect to get one in defense of Brian Cashman. That said, I kind of like when these posts go against the typical public opinion, and this winter, a pro-Cashman blog post certainly qualifies.
Now that James Shields has landed in San Diego, we know the Yankees are not going to make a free agent signing any bigger than Chase Headley. They’re going to roll the dice in the rotation, lean heavily on the bullpen, and hope for bounce-back seasons from several veteran hitters.
As a general rule, I’m of the opinion that the Yankees needed to restrict spending this offseason to avoid some familiar pitfalls, so I mostly agree with Daniel’s morning post: I basically think Cashman did a fine job under the circumstances. There are plenty of questions in the rotation and the lineup, and the farm system seems a year away from making a major contribution, but the Yankees did manage to get younger without adding any huge-risk contracts.
I think it was a reasonable approach to the offseason, but it clearly comes with considerable risk. Whether it works in the short-term will depend on several touch-to-predict factors.
Here are 10 issues that may determine whether we look back at Cashman’s offseason as a real success or a total failure.
1. Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow
Of all the health questions in the Yankees’ rotation, none is as significant as Tanaka’s torn elbow ligament. When the injury came to light last season, some of the top medical experts in the world recommended the Yankees postpone surgery and try to rehab the injury. The Yankees listened, followed that advice, and Tanaka returned to make a couple of late-season starts. The elbow, though, still looms as a ticking time bomb. Whether it was his decision or not — his evaluation or not — Cashman will most certainly take the heat if Tanaka’s elbow blows out between now and the postseason. If it holds up, the Yankees have their ace. If it doesn’t, Cashman will have missed out on the opportunity to acquire a ready replacement in Max Scherzer or Jon Lester.
2. Brian McCann’s bat
Last winter, there seemed to be near universal agreement that McCann was a natural fit for the Yankees. There were certainly those who wanted the team to stay away, but the Yankees have a long tradition of impact catchers, and McCann’s left-handed power and pitch-framing reputation made him an obvious target. Cashman gave him a five-year deal, despite the presence of John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez. Now the Yankees are committed, and McCann stands out as the one middle-of-the-order slugger who can’t blame injuries of last year’s diminished production. His bat remains a key piece of this lineup, both in the short term and the long term. If he doesn’t produce for a second straight season, McCann’s contract is going to look like an overwhelming problem going forward.
3. Stephen Drew’s return
A one-year, $5-million deal isn’t a make-or-break contract for the Yankees. In this case, though, it seems like an all-or-nothing decision for Cashman. If Drew struggles to another sub-.200 batting average, Cashman is going to look foolish for giving a second opportunity to a player who performed so poorly a year ago (especially when there were younger second basemen in place). If Drew bounces back to his 2013 level of production — providing a great glove and decent power for a middle infielder — Cashman will appear savvy, taking advantage of a buy-low opportunity (especially for a player who provides insurance at not only second base but also at shortstop).
4. The ninth inning
Whoever takes the job, the Yankees need someone to effectively close the door in the ninth inning. It stands out as an especially sensitive issue because of the decision to let Dave Robertson sign with the White Sox for marginally more money than the Yankees gave Andrew Miller. Cashman has said the decision was based, at least partially, on the draft pick compensation tied to Robertson. A draft pick, though, is no sure thing, and right now the Yankees don’t have a single reliever with significant ninth-inning experience. Robertson was a known quantity. If Miller or Dellin Betances or whoever else can’t handle the closer role, Cashman will have neglected a job that the Yankees — after two decades of Mariano Rivera — should appreciate as much as anyone.
5. The fifth starter
Top-of-the-rotation concerns aside, one of the Yankees most pressing rotation issues is the apparent lack of depth. If healthy, the Yankees seem to have a perfectly good top four, but right now their fifth starter is Chris Capuano, with relievers Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers looking like the most immediate sixth starter candidates. Pitching prices got out of control this winter — four years for Brandon McCarthy, eight figures for Brett Anderson — but the Yankees certainly went into the offseason recognizing their need for rotation help. They acquired Nathan Eovaldi, but also gave up Shane Greene. Essentially, Cashman chose to roll the dice on the health of his in-place starters, the return of Ivan Nova, and the short-term ability of Capuano. A big contract would have been a big risk, but the alternative isn’t exactly risk-free.
6. Everything about Didi Gregorius
This was the choice at shortstop. With Derek Jeter retired, the Yankees were left with a glaring hole at a position once claimed by an icon. Cashman chose to make a trade for a 24-year-old kid who’s never proven he can be an everyday player in the big leagues. If Gregorius is a great defensive player (and others are able to provide some offense), the decision might look like a solid one. If Gregorius can actually hit beyond his Arizona numbers, the decision could look like a great one. But if Gregorius falls flat, the Yankees will have given up a young starting pitcher — one who might have solved some of those familiar rotation issues — for a guy who does nothing to solve an issue the Yankees had to see coming for several years.
7. Everything about third base
There was little Cashman could do this offseason about Alex Rodriguez. Unless ownership decided to simply cut ties, Cashman was stuck with a roster that included a 39-year-old coming off a year-long suspension after a series of injuries and several seasons of declining numbers. All Cashman could do was try to work around the Rodriguez issue. He did so by making his most expensive commitment of the winter: a four-year, $52-million deal with Chase Headley, a player with a history of back problems and only one season with more than 13 home runs. It was a fairly risky deal, but if Headley plays well — and doesn’t cause a stir with A-Rod — it will look like a reasonable reaction to a difficult situation. If Headley gets hurt or doesn’t produce, it will stir questions about the decision to give such a contract while trading away a guy like Martin Prado.
8. Three names: Judge, Bird, Severino
Rob Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren might be the first chance to make the big league roster, but the perceived value of the Yankees farm system could hinge heavily on the continued development of Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Luis Severino. Those are the high-end, upper-level talents — or at least, those are the perceived high-end, upper-level talents — and those three are natural in-house solutions for the bad contracts that currently belong to Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. Younger guys like Jorge Mateo and Luis Torrens might help eventually, but Cashman needs a minor league victory sooner than that. Get Judge, Bird and Severino to Triple-A this year — perhaps even to New York before the end of the year — and the Yankees will at least have a farm system that seems ready to provide immediate impact.
9. One other name: Manny Banuelos
Prospect success goes both ways for Cashman. If he’s going to get credit for the success of those he’s kept, he has to take the blame for those he’s traded away. Even without a single inning in the big leagues, Banuelos was pretty close to a household name as far as prospects go (at least among Yankees fans). He was kind of like Jesus Montero in that way. Fans were waiting for him and expecting big things, and Cashman traded him away. If Banuelos gets back on track with Atlanta and lives up to his potential, Cashman will have given up a young, much-anticipated young starter for a couple of relief pitchers. Even if David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve are great, that trade will look ugly if Banuelos is racking up wins in Atlanta.
10. Yoan Moncada’s free agency
This is a strange fit on this list for two reasons: 1. it will have absolutely no impact on the 2015 Yankees, and 2. it will probably have very little to do with Cashman himself. That said, if ownership is willing to pay a massive price to sign the market’s most coveted international free agent, Moncada could very well stand out as the Yankees most impressive signing of the offseason. It will show a willingness to spend big bucks, it will give the farm system a huge talent — and a big name — and every evaluation of the Yankees’ winter will have to include the fact that, while they passed on a guy like Scherzer, they went all in for Moncada. It will make very clear that Cashman came into this offseason with a plan to get younger and build for something long-term.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees have invited 26 non-roster players to spring training. Here’s an attempt to rank them in terms of significance these next two months. It’s totally pointless, but it’s also a random Thursday in early February. What else is there to write about today?
Obviously, this isn’t a prospect ranking, and it’s not an attempt to determine ultimate upside or talent. It’s simply an attempt to evaluate which players have a chance to have an impact — whether by making the big league team, affecting minor league assignments, or climbing to the verge of a call-up — based on what they do in big league camp. Basically, for which players does getting an invitation really mean something?
1. Rob Refsnyder 2B
For me, this an easy choice as the Yankees’ most relevant non-roster invitee. Refsnyder brings a perfect combination of long-term potential and short-term opportunity. A big spring could push him into the Opening Day lineup, and if he gets there, he could stick around for the next decade. The Yankees have Stephen Drew penciled in at second base. Refsnyder could change their minds.
2. Jacob Lindgren LHP
Maybe Refsnyder is 1A and Lindgren is 1B. Lindgren also has that combination of long-term potential and short-term opportunity, though the Yankees’ crowded bullpen could diminish Lindgren’s immediate impact. Even if he makes the team, he would likely open in a smaller role like Dellin Betances did last season. Big time potential, though, even if it doesn’t show right away.
3. Luis Severino RHP
Seemingly very little chance of actually making the big league roster out of spring training, but I’m keeping Severino this high because a big spring — making a big impression on Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild — could accelerate his development, push him to Triple-A to open the season, and put him on the verge of a call-up if/when the Yankees need rotation help. Top pitching prospect in the system. Impossible to overlook.
4. Andrew Bailey RHP
This might be too high considering he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, but the Yankees must have seen something positive in his rehab because they brought him back for another look. The Yankees have at least one wide-open spot in their bullpen, and Bailey has been a very good reliever in his career. Still just 30 years old, too. Might be an all-or-nothing situation; either he’s healthy and valuable or he’s a complete non-factor.
5. Kyle Roller 1B
An admittedly aggressive ranking, but here’s my thinking: The Yankees don’t know what they have in Alex Rodriguez at DH, and they can’t feel totally confident about Mark Teixeira at first base. Roller hit .283/.378/.497 in Triple-A, and this is “don’t forget about me” moment. With Greg Bird on his heels, Roller’s window of opportunity with the Yankees could be very small. This spring, he can make a case that he’s the solution if and when the Yankees need a big bat this season.
6. Nick Rumbelow RHP
Still not Rule 5 eligible, otherwise he’d be a slam dunk for a 40-man roster spot. He’s one of many in a crowded field of relievers, but Rumbelow has impressed and moved quickly — got to Triple-A in his first full season of pro ball — so he belongs on the big league radar. If he outpitches a guy like Danny Burawa or Branden Pinder, Rumbelow could take one of their 40-man spots when the Yankees go looking for bullpen help.
7. Scott Baker RHP
The only veteran starter signed to a minor league contract, Baker is coming to a big league camp in which on starter is a lock for the disabled list (Ivan Nova) and three others carry significant health concerns (Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia). There might not be a spot for Baker right now, but that could certainly change before Opening Day. Baker is trying to prove he has enough left to fill a spot if one becomes available.
8. Tyler Webb LHP
Drafted just a few rounds after Rumbelow back in 2013. Now, those two are in roughly the same spot in terms of call-up potential. Webb has big strikeout numbers and got to Triple-A last season. I’m putting him behind Rumbelow largely because the Yankees already have two lefties locked into big league jobs, plus they have Lindgren and Chasen Shreve also in the picture. But Webb has a real chance to pitch in New York this year.
9. Slade Heathcott CF
Hard to know what to make of Heathcott, which is why I’m keeping him in the top 10. What does he look like after missing nearly all of yet another season because of yet another injury? In a system loaded with left-handed center fielders, can Heathcott do enough to get back on the radar? His status will be more heavily affected by the regular season, but big league camp is a chance to make a real statement.
10. Aaron Judge RF
He’ll get a ton of attention for obvious reasons, but I’m keeping just this low because I’m not sure he can do anything in big league camp to change the fact he’s heading to Double-A to open the season. A big spring might speed up his development a little bit and slightly increase the chances of maybe getting to the big leagues this season, but this is really just a first impression. His regular season will determine who quickly he moves.
11. Greg Bird 1B
Very similar to Judge, except that Bird might have an even greater obstacle standing in his way with both Teixeira’s contract and Roller’s Triple-A success standing between him and New York. Bird is going to be fascinating to watch this spring, but no matter what he does, he’s almost certainly headed to Double-A with only a slim chance of getting to the big leagues this season.
12. Nick Goody RHP
Injuries have slowed his progress significantly, but Goody has a good arm, and spring training might be a chance to make a statement and get himself back on the radar. He’s clearly jumped ahead of Mark Montgomery in the organizational pecking order, so he shouldn’t be taken lightly. Big league camp could be a “remember me” moment.
13. Nick Noonan SS/2B
I really think there’s some chance Noonan is too low on this list. Still just 25 years old. Former first-round draft pick. Has big league experience. Hits left-handed. Able to play all over the infield. The Yankees apparently like his defense at shortstop. Given the lack of infield depth in the Yankees’ system, a guy like Noonan could make a strong impression and get on the radar. The fact the Yankees like him at short seems significant. Maybe a Dean Anna-type.
14. James Pazos LHP
A lot of walks but not very many hits in Double-A last season. Has a non-zero chance of pitching in New York this season, but of the six left-handed relievers coming to camp, Pazos is probably sixth on the depth chart. His spring could be more about making sure he doesn’t get completely overshadowed.
15. Jonathan Galvez 3B
Just turned 24 years old. Coming off a pretty good season in the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League. And the Yankees signed him early this offseason, which would seem to be a sign of serious interest (they also signed Zelous Wheeler really early last offseason). Can’t say that he has a great chance of making the roster at some point, but Galvez seems awfully similar to both Wheeler and Yangervis Solarte (or even Jose Pirela). Could be absolutely nothing, or he could be a surprising something.
16. Wilking Rodriguez RHP
Pitched two games in the big leagues last year. Signed with the Yankees very briefly, became a free agent, then signed again. He turns 25 in March, and not that long ago he was considered a pretty solid prospect in the Rays’ system. Probably gets buried in the Yankees bullpen depth, but shouldn’t be dismissed. A lot of strikeouts (with a lot of walks) in his minor league career.
17. Cole Figueroa INF
Similar to Noonan and Galvez in that the Yankees lack of upper-level infielders could create an opportunity for Figueroa, who played 23 games for the Rays last season. He plays all over the infield and has shown a real knack for getting on base. He’s another left-handed hitter. Could make a spring impression and eventually get a call-up like Wheeler did last year.
18. Eddy Rodriguez C
Cuban catcher who got a cup of coffee with the Padres back in 2012. He’s basically the token veteran catcher brought in to add some experience. If the Yankees lose Austin Romine on waivers and aren’t satisfied with Gary Sanchez’s progress in Triple-A, then I guess Rodriguez could be in the mix for a call-up if the Yankees need help behind the plate. It’s a long shot, but he does have some experience.
19. Cito Culver SS
Hard to know what to make of this one, but the Yankees have repeatedly said that they haven’t given up on Culver, and they seemed to back up those words by inviting him to big league camp. Strong glove, but he’s shown no offensive ability in the minors. Clearly he’s still on the radar. Does a big spring push him to Double-A with a chance to get to Triple-A at some point? Does he still have a big league future? He plays shortstop in a system that’s thin at the position in the upper levels. That can’t be overlooked.
20. Jake Cave CF
Interesting young prospect, one that has jumped ahead of Heathcott and Mason Williams to become the top center field prospect in the organization. He’s this low on the list not because of his long-term potential, but because of his short-term opportunity. Best-case scenario is probably that he plays well enough to end the season in Triple-A.
21. Jose Campos RHP
This is a definite “remember me” opportunity for a guy once considered to be among the top pitching prospects in the organization. Tommy John surgery derailed his development so much that Campos was released this winter. He ultimately re-signed, and a good big league camp — probably with very limited appearances — would simply be a chance to get his name back on Girardi’s radar.
22. Diego Moreno RHP
Came to the Yankees from Pittsburgh in the A.J. Burnett trade back in 2012. He pitched alright in winter ball this year; has good Double-A numbers but didn’t pitch well in his first taste of Triple-A last year. Probably a non-factor, but again, it’s worth recognizing that he got a big league invitation ahead of a guy like Montgomery. Clearly Moreno is on the radar somewhere.
23. Kyle Higashioka C
Got some big league invitations early in his minor league career, but he’s also dealt with injuries while putting up unimpressive offensive numbers. The Yankees like his glove, and like him as a prospect enough to send him to the Arizona Fall League for a few at-bats this offseason. Not a lot of standout, mid-level catchers in the Yankees system. Higashioka is basically trying to earn regular minor league at-bats again.
24. Trent Garrison C
Little surprise that the end of this list is loaded with catchers. Every team brings catchers to camp who have no real chance of impacting the big league roster. I’m putting Garrison ahead of the next two because he was drafted in 2013 and played in High-A last season. Still fairly young and could become a regular among non-roster invitees the next few years.
25. Francisco Arcia C
Hits left-handed. Played in Triple-A last season. Got some playing time in winter ball. It tend to think of Arcia as an organizational catcher who will basically play wherever the Yankees have an opening (could be A-ball, could be Triple-A). I don’t think of him as a factor, but I did have one scout suggest that a team really desperate for catching could have considered Arcia in the Rule 5 draft, so there’s that.
26. Juan Graterol C
Right down to the birth year, the home country, and the little bit of time at first base, it’s hard to see a ton of difference between Arcia and Graterol. Maybe I’m completely missing something, but Graterol seems like additional organizational filler, except this one’s less familiar than Arcia.
Photo from the Charleston RiverDogs
Yankees youth movement is an ongoing process • 02.02.15
As Jackson wrote this morning, the Yankees made an obvious effort to get younger this winter. They traded away one young starter, but added an even younger one. They went with a 24-year-old to fill their glaring hole at shortstop. They made two long-term commitments, neither was signed beyond his 34th birthday. They made a boatload of trades, but kept nearly all of their high-end prospects.
So just how overwhelming was this youth movement? It wasn’t universal — some positions are still tied to veteran contracts — but if this is a trend and not just a one-winter effort, the Yankees might have set themselves on a path to be younger still within a few years.
In place: Brian McCann, 31 years old, signed through 2018
Getting younger: The Yankees commitment to McCann created a roadblock behind the plate (which might speak to the uncertainty about whether John Ryan Murphy or Gary Sanchez can be everyday catcher in the big leagues). The Yankees did, however, commit to either Murphy or Austin Romine being their backup, which is a clear attempt to give a young player a chance.
Next in line: Sanchez should be in Triple-A this season. He just turned 22 in December, so he’s still awfully young for his level. If his offensive numbers begin to match his raw talent, and if his receiving skills take a step forward, he could be pushing for a big league job next season and eventually force the Yankees to make a decision of Sanchez vs. McCann. Before then, Murphy should have an extended opportunity to show what he can do in the big leagues. Luis Torrens is very good, but he’s also way too young to be in the big league picture just yet.
In place: Mark Teixeira, 34 years old, signed through 2016
Getting younger: The Yankees really made no effort to get younger at first base this winter. Their hands were essentially tied because of their ongoing commitment to Teixeira, who’s deal still has two more years. For a backup option, the the Yankees traded for Garrett Jones and suggested Alex Rodriguez getting some time at the position, all of which could block a brief window of opportunity for Kyle Roller, who had an .875 OPS in Triple-A last year.
Next in line: Roller is at the top of the minor league depth chart, but he’s not necessarily next in line for the position. The guy best poised to replace Teixeira in two years is Greg Bird. He’s coming off a standout regular season and the MVP award in the Arizona Fall League. Bird seems likely to open in Double-A, which puts him on a pretty good trajectory — as long as he keeps moving forward — to have a real shot at the first base position when Teixeira is gone in 2017.
In place: Stephen Drew, 32 years old, signed through 2015
Getting younger: In their own weird way, the Yankees kind of opened the door to getting younger at second base. The job would have been Martin Prado’s with no questions asked, but the Yankees traded Prado and signed Drew, who comes with a much smaller commitment and much higher chance of being dumped to the bench should Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela play well enough to win the second base job.
Next in line: One other thing about Drew: he’s only signed for one year; Prado had two years left. While the Yankees still believe Refsnyder has the potential to be an everyday second baseman — last year could have only reinforced that idea — his experience at the position is limited, and another turn at Triple-A could finish off his development. Pirela has taken an obvious step forward, but Refsnyder is still the top second base prospect in the system, one of the better second base prospects in baseball, and he could take the job — and keep it — sooner rather than later.
In place: Didi Gregorius, 25 years old, pre-arbitration
Getting younger: The Yankees could have signed Drew early in the offseason, put him at shortstop and been done with it for the time being. Or maybe they could have signed Jed Lowrie, or traded for Jimmy Rollins. Instead, they acquired Gregorius, a 25-year-old on Opening Day who has yet to really establish himself in the big leagues. His glove is strong and his bat is questionable, but he’ll get every opportunity to play shortstop regularly this season and beyond.
Next in line: Really, no one. Not in the immediate future, anyway. The Yankees have Jorge Mateo and others in the lowest levels of the minor league system, but that group is a long way from the big league radar. Unless Cito Culver’s bat finally takes a sudden leap forward, there’s really no shortstop in the system who’s remotely close to the big leagues. That’s one reason Gregorius seems likely to get multiple chances and a long leash. Aside from stopgaps Drew and Brendan Ryan — and minor league free agent Nick Noonan — there’s really no one else in the picture.
In place: Chase Headley, 30 years old, signed through 2018
Getting younger: Compared to 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez, Headley does make the Yankees younger at third base. And compared to players signed into their late 30s, Headley will remain relatively young through the end of his contract. While the Yankees have some third base talent in the system, there wasn’t anyone ready to take a shot at the big league job.
Next in line: Pirela and Rob Segedin probably fit in this conversation somewhere, but it’s really the two guys who shared third base time in High-A Tampa last year who are next in line. Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. are each first round picks with some uncertainty about whether they’ll be good enough — offensively and defensively — to eventually play third base regularly in the big leagues. Miguel Andujar is lurking lower in the system, but before he’s truly on the verge, a full year in Double-A should provide some clarity about what to expect from Jagielo and Bichette.
In place: Brett Gardner, 31 years old, signed through 2018
Getting younger: Instead of opening the door for a homegrown prospect, the Yankees committed to a homegrown big leaguer. Gardner is one of the farm system’s true success stories of the past decade; one of their very few position players to actually become an everyday guy in the majors. Last spring, the Yankees gave him a four-year extension plus a team option. With his speed and defense, he’s been a solid everyday guy his past four healthy seasons.
Next in line: Ramon Flores could be on the verge of a big league role, but he’s typically labeled more of a fourth outfielder than a future starter (granted, so was Gardner, but Flores hasn’t shown Gardner’s speed or defense). The upper levels of the Yankees system have several other left field candidates like that — Pirela, Taylor Dugas, Ben Gamel, a few guys who usually play center field — so it might be a matter of someone exceeding expectations, someone moving positions, or Gardner keeping his job for a while.
In place: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31 years old, signed through 2020
Getting younger: This is one spot where the Yankees seem fully committed. Even if Ellsbury were to get hurt, the center field job would likely transfer to Gardner before it went to one of the young guys in the minor league system. The Yankees have some center fielders close to the big leagues, but they’re all left-handed, and basically their best-case scenario is to eventually become lesser versions of Ellsbury himself.
Next in line: It will be interesting to see how the Yankees react if one of their center field prospects has a huge year in Double-A or Triple-A. If Slade Heathcott is healthy and productive, if Mason Williams starts to hit again, or if Jake Cave takes another leap forward, would the Yankees simply trade away the prospect or try to find a place for him in New York? Leonardo Molina is an interesting young player in the lower levels, but he’s far from the big league roster. First the Yankees have to figure out what they have in Heathcott, Williams and Cave (and what to do with them while Ellsbury’s in place).
In place: Carlos Beltran, 37 years old, signed through 2016
Getting younger: Basically the exact same situation that the Yankees are dealing with at first base. The organization has high-end right field talent entering the upper levels of the minor league system, but the team is also tied to a declining veteran for two more seasons. The Yankees added some short-term right field depth with Jones and Chris Young, which might block a young guy, but there’s also no guarantee a young guy will be ready to play right field this season.
Next in line: After last season’s strong second half, Tyler Austin seems ready for Triple-A, and his bat can’t be dismissed as a right field option. But the clear standout here is Aaron Judge, generally considered the top positive prospect in the system who had a standout professional debut and should open in Double-A. Just like Bird at first base, Judge seems to be on a good trajectory to have a shot at the right field job by the time Beltran is gone in 2017.
Youth in place: Masahiro Tanaka, 26 years old; Michael Pineda, 26 years old; Nathan Eovaldi, 25 years old; Ivan Nova, 28 years old
Age in place: CC Sabathia, 34 years old; Chris Capuano, 36 years old
Getting younger: The youth movement has been a process in the rotation, and it was hard to notice until this winter when the trade for Eovaldi put the Yankees in line to eventually have four 20-somethings in their rotation this season. Signing Tanaka gave the Yankees the young ace they’ve been unable to develop internally, and Eovaldi gave them an experienced big leaguer who’s a month younger than prospect Jose Ramirez. As long as Nova gets healthy, the Yankees will have a pretty young big league rotation by mid-summer.
Next in line: How fast can Luis Severino make it to the big leagues? That’s the question. Are the dominant numbers he put up last season a true sign of his long-term potential, and can he jump on a fast track that leads to New York by late 2015 or early 2016? The Yankees have other upper level starters (Bryan Mitchell is the headliner) and they have intriguing lower-level talent (Ian Clarkin headlines that group), but Severino is the guy who immediately jumps out as the next impact arm for the rotation. He could easily be in Triple-A at some point this season, perhaps on Opening Day.
In place: Andrew Miller, 29; Dellin Betances, 27; David Carpenter, 29; Adam Warren, 27; Justin Wilson, 27
Getting younger: Miller and Dave Robertson are basically the same age, so that swap was a wash in terms of youth in the bullpen. But the Yankees have gotten younger by transitioning from Shawn Kelley to Carpenter, and from Matt Thornton to Wilson. They’ve also found good young relievers in Betances and Warren. This winter, they also acquired several young bullpen arms, and last summer they drafted a high-rising reliever. The bullpen has added some youth without losing its reliable depth.
Next in line: The core of the Yankees bullpen has no one who will be older than 30 at the end of the year, and Miller’s the only one tied to a long-term contract. That’s a pretty young core as it is, but the Yankees have legitimate power arms on the way. Jacob Lindgren and Chasen Shreve stand out from the left side; Nick Rumbelow, Jose Ramirez and Branden Pinder have Triple-A experience from the right side. The bullpen is fairly young as it is, and there’s more young talent on the way.
Photo from the Scranton Times-Tribune