What to do with Aaron Judge? • 10.18.15
Continuing to look through some of the Yankees with an uncertain role for next season, let’s spend some time on this Sunday considering the possibilities of the Yankees’ top position prospect. High-end minor leaguers began graduating to the big leagues late this season, and it could be time for another to break through next year.
This year: Considered the top hitting prospect in the Yankees’ system, Judge got a ton of attention in spring training, even with no chance of making the big league roster out of camp. He predictably went to Double-A where he hit .284/.350/.516 with 12 home runs in 63 games. Bumped up to Triple-A, Judge seemed to be finally challenged by minor league pitching. He hit .224/.308/.373 with three home runs in 61 games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
A few possibilities for next season:
1. Stay open to the idea of him breaking camp in the big leagues
The Yankees aren’t going to open an everyday job for a guy who hit just .224 in Triple-A last year, but they also know Judge is a better hitter than he showed in the second half of last year. He’s already older than both Greg Bird and Luis Severino, and the Yankees could at least consider the possibility of carrying him on the Opening Day roster. Doesn’t mean they go into spring training planning to play him ahead of Carlos Beltran, but they could be open to the idea of him playing some sort of role either as an everyday option should someone get hurt or even as a platoon player who could hit his way into more playing time. Given the desire to keep players rested, a right-handed fourth outfielder might get more than a handful of at-bats against lefties.
2. Send him to Triple-A and wait for the right moment
That first stint in Triple-A was enough to show Judge is not a finished product just yet. Beltran was perhaps the Yankees’ most consistent hitter last season. Even with his defense — and especially with his contract — there’s no reason to believe the Yankees won’t play him right field again next season. There’s no sense trying to force the issue with Judge, so make the easy decision and send him back to Triple-A no matter what. Give him a few more minor league at-bats, and if he’s hitting the cover off the ball by the end of May, then find a way to get him into the Major League lineup. If he’s not, then give it a little more time. Trust that Judge is going to be a big league hitter, but there’s no reason he has to be that hitter right away.
3. Make a splash on the trade market
In most of these “what to do with…” posts, it’s easy to suggest some vague trade possibility. With Judge, the idea is a little more concrete if the Yankees want to go that route. Judge could headline a true impact trade, maybe for a high-end starter or a proven power hitter. Swapping Judge for an ace might require more pieces, but it would be a start. Brian Cashman is a fan of saying prospects are suspects. There’s no guarantee that Judge is hit up to expectation, so let that risk-reward uncertainty fall on someone else’s shoulders. While Judge’s trade value is high, the Yankees can swap him out for an immediate difference maker.
Associated Press photo
Speaking to reporters at the Owners’ Meetings in Chicago on Wednesday, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said the decision to hold onto top prospects at the trade deadline was his own preference. He simply was not willing to give them up for a short-term rental.
“I just wasn’t going to do it,” Steinbrenner said, according to ESPN New York. “I don’t think we kind of had the glaring need that you would address by giving up one of your Triple-A prospects, especially not for a loaner. For a guy you’re going to have three months or so. It’s just not something we were going to consider.”
While it’s widely reported the Yankees were willing to give their top lower-level prospect, Jorge Mateo, in a possible deal for Craig Kimbrel, general manager Brian Cashman has acknowledged that starting pitcher Luis Severino, right fielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird — all three of whom were in Triple-A at the trade deadline — were untouchable.
The Yankees did part with relatively redundant upper-level prospect Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez, but they ultimately did not trade other valuable Triple-A prospects including Rob Refsnyder, Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott and Nick Goody. Young and emerging big leaguers Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren and John Ryan Murphy also stayed put.
“I didn’t want to give those kids up,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ve been looking at them for two, three years now. They’ve progressed perfectly. And they’re all sitting there in Scranton. Any one of them could contribute now if need be, and we’ve already seen that on Severino the last two starts.”
According to Ken Davidoff at the New York Post, Steinbrenner also mentioned future payroll as a factor in the team’s deadline decisions.
“I have always felt, still feel, that you don’t have to be in that position [the top spender] to win world championships,” he said. “Now that we’ve got all this young talent that’s very close, some of whom are here, I think it’s going to make it easier to do things with the payroll in years to come.”
Associated Press photo
A few quick notes heading into this afternoon’s series finale in Minnesota:
• Biggest news of the early afternoon has been Ken Rosenthal’s report that the Royals are trading for Johnny Cueto. News of the swap began to leak apparently before the Reds had even told Cueto that a deal was in place. The Yankees trading for Cueto never seemed particularly likely given their reluctance to trade one of their high-end, on-the-verge prospects.
• As for the Yankees, they have Alex Rodriguez on the bench for a day game after a night game. Of course, that night game happened to be a three-homer event for A-Rod. Rodriguez said he feels fine, just getting a day to rest. Days off for a DH seem to bother plenty of folks in the fan base — as does the unwillingness to use Rodriguez in the field from time to time — but at the end of July, Rodriguez has been consistently productive and incredibly healthy. If that’s because of the way Joe Girardi has used him, then it’s hard to argue with the approach.
• Right fielder Aaron Judge has returned to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre lineup after missing basically a week with what seems to have been a minor injury. Could be nothing more than the Yankees being their usual, overly cautious selves. Even without providing details, Brian Cashman insisted several times that there was no serious issue.
• Speaking of Triple-A, Andrew Marchand reports that Bryan Mitchell was supposed to be lined up to start Tuesday’s game in Texas, but a mild injury altered his turn in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation. Mitchell was sent down rather suddenly to start last Saturday, which would have put him perfectly on turn to be on schedule and eligible to return on Tuesday, but he wound up not making his next start until yesterday (when he pitched pretty well). Now it seems either Adam Warren or Chris Capuano will probably make that spot start on Tuesday.
• Scranton/Wilkes-Barre activated Austin Romine from the disabled list today. Going to be interesting to see how they use Romine now that Gary Sanchez is on the roster. It’s not like they have a ton of DH at-bats to give away. Those have been going mostly to Kyle Roller now that Greg Bird is on the roster, and the outfield is also suddenly overcrowded with Judge, Ben Gamel, Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin. There don’t seem to be enough at-bats for everyone who needs regular playing time to actually get regular playing time.
Associated Press photo
The Yankees just swept a three-game set against the Orioles. Their roster looks healthy, they’ve played well since the All-Star break, and they’ve pushed their division lead to 5.5 games. They’re in the driver’s seat in the American League East.
With the trade deadline one week away — and the trade market starting to move after yesterday’s Scott Kazmir deal — the Yankees are clearly buyers and not sellers, though Brian Cashman has warned not to expect a massive acquisition. It seems the Yankees would rather hold onto the key prospects that just might make a big impact in the very near future. And for the time being, their roster actually looks pretty good. Not perfect, certainly, but pretty good.
Since we already know the big league club is in a good spot, and since the Yankees are always tough to predict at the trade deadline, let’s start this Friday with a quick look into the minor league system. Just a few quick updates before the Yankees start this weekend series in Minnesota.
• Top position prospect Aaron Judge has now missed the past six games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. General manager Brian Cashman said earlier in the week that there was no serious issue with Judge, and he said the same in an email last night. “Just day to day stuff,” he said, without elaborating further. I know the immediate thought is that the Yankees could be holding him out to prepare for a trade, but I honestly can’t remember a player ever sitting out a week because two teams are discussing a possible deal. It seems unlikely Cashman is going to deal Judge anyway, and the Yankees haven’t put Judge on the disabled list, so for now it seems to really be just a day-to-day issue that’s taken a bunch of days.
• Two more hits including a game-winner for Gary Sanchez last night. In six games since getting to Triple-A, the 22-year-old Sanchez has hit .316/.391/.526. Assistant general manager Billy Eppler said the decision to promote Sanchez was not strictly a response to Austin Romine going on the disabled list. Sanchez was on his way up regardless. “It’s very, very positive in all direction and all sides of the ball,” Eppler said. “He’s checked all his boxes at Double-A. That (decision) was all Gary.”
• Given an overabundance of solid bullpen prospects in Double-A and Triple-A, the Yankees have begun using Diego Moreno and Danny Burawa as starting pitchers. It’s not necessarily a permanent conversion, but it’s the kind of thing the Yankees have the luxury of trying because of their bullpen depth. The Yankees tried something similar with Chase Whitley a couple of years ago, and it was the rotation adjustment that ultimately got Whitley to the big leagues. “I think that could become an ancillary benefit of that,” Eppler said. “Maybe something does occur where one of them does present himself as a capable starter. But also when you allow a guy to throw more pitches and take regular turns in a rotation or a game or what have you, you get more consistent work away from that game, and you get more of an opportunity to test certain pitches or to test certain situations.”
• Speaking of upper-level relievers, Nick Goody has 11 strikeouts and no walks in 6.2 innings since coming up to Triple-A. Right behind him in Double-A, Andrew Bailey pitched two scoreless innings last night. Double-A hitters are batting .122 with 16 strikeouts in 12.1 innings against Bailey this season. Cashman said earlier in the week that Bailey is “absolutely” worth paying attention to (though he said there are a lot of upper-level relievers putting themselves in consideration for big league opportunities).
• Considering they were trading a reliever who’d been designated for assignment, the Yankees actually seemed to get an interesting young player in the David Carpenter deal in early June. Second baseman Tony Renda was assigned to Trenton and got off to a slow start, but he’s begun to pick up steam lately, bringing his Trenton slash line to .287/.371/.352. “A guy that has a very professional approach at the plate,” Eppler said. “Knows the strike zone. Can grind an at-bat out in a number of ways. High contact ability. We see a pretty polished approach, and a guy that has historically, in his career, been one of those guys that gets discounted early and then you look up and go, this guy’s a really good player. That’s kind of how his story has gone.” Despite some early struggles in the field — he made 12 errors in his first 30 games with the Yankees — Eppler said the Yankees feel confident that Renda can handle second base. “He’s got the speed,” Eppler said. “He’s got glove ability.” Renda hurt his thumb last night and is reportedly considered day-to-day (where have I heard that before?).
• In Triple-A, right fielder Tyler Austin has deservedly moved to the bottom third of the order lately. He had a resurgent second half last season, and he’s trying to find the something similar this season. He’s had a couple of DL stints this season, which surely hasn’t helped him find a stride that seemed to come and go throughout his career. So far he’s hitting just .226/.292/.306 in Triple-A, and given the outfield depth in this system, numbers like that could leave Austin thoroughly overshadowed pretty quickly. “Still confident in the bat,” Eppler said. “As with a lot of guys, it’s just kind of a consistency thing. I wish I could tell you there’s some ingredient to remedy that, but it’s physically just playing.”
• Trying to regain some prospect traction, reliever Mark Montgomery has mostly impressive numbers with a 1.07 WHIP and .188 opponents’ batting average in Double-A, and Eppler said the Yankees are seeing positive signs beyond the numbers. “Little bit more arm strength,” he said. “And consistency with the action on the breaking ball.” That said, it seems telling that Montgomery has been kept in Double-A — except for four games — while quite a few other relievers have been bumped up from Double-A to Triple-A for lasting stretches (Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Caleb Cotham).
• Back in 2010, the Yankees used their second round pick on a high school athlete who was committed to playing quarterback at Texas Christian University. The Yankees lured him into baseball with a $1-million bonus. Since then, Austin Aune has struck out. A lot. Despite still averaging well over a strikeout per game, Aune’s OPS has significantly improved as he’s move up each level. He has significant power when he makes contact, and he’s Low-A Charleston’s RBI leader this year (just yesterday he struck out three times, but did have an RBI. “It’s a loud sound off his bat,” Eppler said. “He’s strong. He’s got physical tools. He’s got makeup. He’s got just strength, and he can do some damage. Swing and miss is a part of it, but it’s a part of it for a lot of guys who have found their way to the big leagues and been successful in the big leagues. With that kind of impact ability, there’s no reason to hit the panic button.”
• The Yankees have had a lot of sometimes-overlooking pitching prospects put up nice numbers this season. Guys like Brady Lail, Jordan Montgomery and Rookie Davis have pitched well. “They’re all prospects,” Eppler said. “To varying degrees obviously, but they’re all guys (worth watching).” Add to that list Jonathan Holder, last year’s sixth rounder who got off to a strong start and is now returning from the disabled list. “Advanced,” Eppler said. “He can read swings. He can read what hitters are trying to do. He can kind of play the chess match with them and stay a pitch or two ahead.”
Associated Press photo
Just a few notes and links from this final off day before the trade deadline:
• A fun story to check out at the end of an off day, Billy Witz from the New York Times wrote about Hideki Matsui moonlighting as a pitcher and right-handed cleanup hitter in a New York City adult rec league. “We’ve all followed him since our high school days,” one of the other players told Witz. “So whenever he comes to bat, everybody stops.”
• Jon Heyman writes that the Yankees have expressed interest in finding a starting pitcher, but they might not find one because of their unwillingness to trade Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Greg Bird or Rob Refsnyder. Heyman says a right-handed reliever and right-handed hitter are also points of interest for the Yankees.
• Ken Rosenthal says the trade market for starting pitching could erupt as we get close to the trade deadline and teams decide whether to go all in on some of the impact arms available. Still doubt the Yankees make a play for one of these arms, but Rosenthal lists Johnny Cueto, Scott Kazmir, Cole Hamels, Jeff Samardzija, Yovani Gallardo and “even David Price” as big starters who could be available at the right price.
• If you missed it, it’s worth listening back to Michael Kay’s radio interview with Brian Cashman earlier today. There was not necessarily anything surprising about it, but he was on the air for about 20 minutes and talked through the Refsnyder demotion, the possibility of calling up Severino, and his approach to the trade deadline. Kay covered a lot of ground. Give it a listen.
• Last night Brett Gardner wore bright white cleats, which stood out as quite different from his teammates. Gardner told George King that CC Sabathia and others had been pushing him to wear the new shoes, but Cashman said during today’s radio interview that he actually talked to Gardner about sticking to the normal uniform going forward. “You’re not going to see those white spikes again,” Cashman said. “… That doesn’t look good, so we’ve fixed that. No big deal.”
• Before tonight’s Triple-A game, the Yankees activated shortstop Nick Noonan from the disabled list and immediately released him from his contract. The RailRiders have been playing Cole Figueroa at shortstop these days, and their infield has grown crowded with Gregorio Petit, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder, Greg Bird and Kyle Roller.
• Speaking of the Triple-A team, Aaron Judge was held out of the lineup for the third day in a row. Cashman said earlier today that it’s a minor day-to-day issue. He sounded thoroughly unconcerned when I asked about it.
Associated Press photo
Luis Severino was supposed to make his 10th Triple-A start tonight, but someone finally found a way to slow his rise through the Yankees’ minor league system.
Severino’s away from the team for the birth of his child.
“Ecstatic about who he is and what he is and the level he’s at at the age he’s at,” Brian Cashman said. “It’s ridiculous.”
At 21 years old, Severino is roughly six years younger than the average Triple-A player. He’s a kid, and he has a 1.79 ERA and 0.95 WHIP since joining Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. His strikeouts are down and his walks are slightly up compared to his Double-A performance, but the Yankees are clearly happy with Severino’s progress to the highest level of the minor leagues. At 88.1 innings, he’s only 25 innings away from last year’s total, but Cashman said there’s no concern about Severino’s workload at this point.
“We’ve got a strong comfort level on how he’s been managed,” Cashman said. “I have no worries about his innings.”
While Cashman didn’t rule out the idea of using Severino in the big leagues this season, it seems he doesn’t feel the need to make that move at the moment.
“Even if I did,” Cashman said. “I’ve got (Adam) Warren who’s done great for us in that rotation, and I’ve got (Bryan) Mitchell who’s got more experience.”
“Same thing I’ve been doing,” he said. “My throwing problem, arm exercises, just trying to strengthen the arm and shoulder.”
Williams hurt himself while sliding back into first base during a big league game in mid-June. He’d previously survived a serious collision with the outfield wall in Baltimore, but got hurt making a fairly routine play on a pickoff. This is not the same shoulder that required surgery back in 2012. It was the left shoulder last time; it’s the right shoulder this time.
Recovery has already taken longer than expected, but Williams spent the All-Star break getting treatment at Yankee Stadium, and he said he’s felt a little more encouraged lately.
“I’d like to be playing, that’s basically it,” he said. “But I feel like I’m getting better.”
• Williams isn’t the only young center fielder on the disabled list. Slade Heathcott has been out since late May with a Grade 2 quadriceps strain. Heathcott is currently rehabbing in Tampa, and although the Yankees say he’s close to playing in games again, Cashman said he didn’t have an exact date for Heathcott’s return to a minor league lineup. “I know he’s doing well,” Cashman said. “But I don’t have a date I could tell you.” I assume Heathcott will ultimately be optioned back to Triple-A once he’s healthy. There’s not a lot of big league playing time currently available.
• Left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren is also in Tampa rehabbing his way back from surgery to clear up an elbow bone spur. Cashman said he expects Lindgren to pitch again this season, but Lindgren hasn’t even started a throwing program just yet. “It’s going really well,” Cashman said. “I think the throwing program is probably going to come soon.”
• After playing in the Futures Game last weekend, Aaron Judge returned to Triple-A to hit a home run on Thursday and go 2-for-4 on Friday. Since then, though, he’s missed two straight games. “Just dealing with some minor stuff,” Cashman said. “So it’s a day to day thing.”
• Top draft pick James Kaprielian has reported to the team complex in Tampa, but Cashman said his opening assignment is entirely up to new farm director Gary Denbo. “I haven’t asked Gary if he’s going to knock some rust out at the Gulf Coast League,” Cashman said. ‘
• With Severino unable to make tonight’s start, Double-A standout Eric Ruth has been promoted to start tonight’s game for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cashman said he’s legitimately impressed and intrigued by Ruth’s breakout season — 1.89 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in Trenton — but this call up is more about “shuffling the deck” to fill Severino’s spot. Probably only a spot start before Ruth returns to Double-A.
• Still pitching out of the Double-A bullpen, veteran Andrew Bailey continues to put up good numbers while trying to work his way back from 2013 shoulder surgery. He’s allowed just two hits and four walks through 8.1 Double-A innings. He’s struck out eight and held opponents to a .074 average. He went 1.1 hitless innings last time out. Could he pitch his way into the big league mix? “Absolutely,” Cashman said. “We’ve got a lot of (bullpen) guys now.”
• Speaking of that upper-level bullpen depth, the Yankees have already seen a bunch of guys shuttled up and down to the big leagues, and Nick Goody was recently promoted from Double-A to Triple-A. Cashman, though, specifically mentioned two other relievers who should be on the radar. Wilking Rodriguez, Cashman said, belongs in that mix with some of the familiar names for a potential call-up. The 25-year-old was suspended to start the season, but he’s pitched well in four appearances since being activated. Cashman also mentioned Johnny Barbato, the Double-A reliever acquired for Shawn Kelley this offseason. He’s been excellent his past five outings.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees are prepared to carry a six-man rotation for at least a few days.
Ivan Nova will be activated from the disabled list to start on Wednesday. Adam Warren will take his turn on Thursday, followed by the rest of the usual starters. Joe Girardi said, for now, the team prefers to carry the extra starter to give everyone an extra day of rest, but at some point — some point soon — they will cut back to a typical five-man rotation.
“The one thing that we have after this long streak is we have some off days (in early July),” Girardi said. “I wouldn’t anticipate us doing it after we get home from Anaheim.”
A six-man rotation will carry the Yankees through the end of June. On July 1, they’ll basically have to decide whether to have Warren start on an extra day or rest or to pitch Nathan Eovaldi on four days of rest. Scheduled off days mean the Yankees wouldn’t have to pitch anyone else on four days rest until the day before the All-Star break.
How the rotation adjusts in the next week or so is an issue for another day. For now, the Yankees have decided Nova is ready, so they’re taking him off the disabled list a little more than 13 month after Tommy John surgery. His last Triple-A rehab start wasn’t particularly overwhelming — 5 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 K — but the Yankees believe that if Nova is healthy and pitching well, he can help them.
“To be honest, I wasn’t trying to show myself anything,” Nova said. “I was just getting ready. Trying to get my arm healthy and in good shape. I know exactly what I have to do when I go to the mound. Even knowing that you don’t get the results that you want, that stuff happens in the game. I was working hard, getting my arm back and in good shape.”
The Yankees have significant workload concerns throughout their rotation — Warren has basically matched his workload for the past two seasons — so adding Nova could be a boost, but there’s always a wild card element for a pitcher coming back from Tommy John. They’re physically able to pitch a year after surgery, but many say they don’t really feel 100 percent until two years after. Nova was prone to ups and downs even before the surgery, but the Yankees see him as a boost for their often worn-thin pitching staff.
“I don’t think you can ever make too much of what a Major League hitter or pitcher is doing in a minor league situation because it’s just different,” Girardi said. “We just feel that he’s ready to go. No matter how he does Wednesday, I don’t think you could say he wasn’t ready or he was ready. It’s just kind of a feel that we’re using, and we feel that it’s probably important that we inject this sixth starter in right now, in a sense, and that’s why we’re going to do it. … We know what he’s capable of doing, and he’s fairly rested in a sense, so it could mean a lot to our rotation.”
• Mark Teixeira had an MRI on his sore neck, but results weren’t available pregame. The Yankees are hoping this is only a short-term issue that will be reasonably corrected by another day off (he had one last week because of the same issue). “I don’t know if it’s ever really went away completely,” Girardi said. “It’s been going on for about 10 days now. We’ll continue to evaluate, I’m just going to give him a day today.”
• Against a right-handed pitcher, the Yankees have lefty Garrett Jones to easily step into first base. But they face a lefty — Cole Hamels — on Wednesday. “My thought is that Tex will be in there Wednesday,” Girardi said.
• Not that these things are related, but the Yankees minor league affiliates have officially announced that Aaron Judge has been promoted to Triple-A.
• Closer Andrew Miller expects to play catch on Wednesday. That’s just the start of a long-toss program, so he would still be several days away from throwing a bullpen, which would leave him even more days away from coming off the disabled list. As a reliever, though, his arm-strength-building process should be much quicker than it was with Masahiro Tanaka.
• Not much of an update on Jacoby Ellsbury: “He’s going to run the bases again, he’s going to take normal BP with us and go through normal BP,” Girardi said. No word on when he’ll take his next step.
• The Yankees have their go-to guys for the late innings — Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson, Chasen Shreve — and they have Chris Capuano as their long man, then they have three relatively unproven right-handers in Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow and Diego Moreno. Rumbelow and Moreno were just called up today. “Pinder’s the most experienced of my (new) right-handers,” Girardi said. “And it’s just trying to get a feel for the other two as quick as I can. You’d like to put them in a situation where it’s not necessarily high-leverage right away, but sometimes you’re not afforded that.”
• With Danny Burawa and Jose De Paula each making their Major League debuts on Sunday, the Yankees have now used 20 pitchers in June, their most pitchers ever in a calendar month (excluding September). Could climb past that very soon with Rumbelow and Moreno. “Because of some of our concerns about the length that we get, we kind of rotate people in and out here a lot,” Girardi said. “And it doesn’t mean we don’t believe in them; we’re doing it to protect the arms of everyone.”
Associated Press photos
On the day he was drafted, Yankees reliever Jacob Lindgren was home in Mississippi. His girlfriend got into town that morning, and so he showed her around. A family friend invited some people over, and so there was barbecuing and swimming.
“It was nice and hot out,” Lindgren said.
It was June 5 of last year, and Lindgren knew he might be a high-round pick. When his name was called, he was the top selection of a Yankees team that hadn’t had much success with top picks. He was a college reliever built to move quickly, joining an organization notorious for advancing even its top prospects slowly.
Less than a year later, Lindgren was in the big leagues, tangible evidence that this might be a new era for the Yankees on draft day.
“A lot of guys that got drafted behind you, they’re like, oh, why did this guy get drafted ahead of me? Stuff like that,” Lindgren said. “There’s always that. Obviously you’ve just got to play good and show them why they drafted you high.”
The Yankees, too, have something to prove.
After two decades of far more failure than success, the Yankees enter tonight’s first round of the draft with the 16th overall selection, their highest pick since 1993. They have three of the top 57 selections, and they have something of a hot streak going. Focused heavily on college players like Lindgren, Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo, the Yankees early picks the past two years have advanced quickly and shown significant promise.
Lindgren is already in the major league bullpen, Judge is considered the top hitting prospect in the system, and Jagielo has nine home runs in Double-A. Both Judge and Jagielo could be in Triple-A by the end of the summer, just two years after being drafted.
“I always heard (the Yankees) were slow moving their guys,” Lindgren said. “But I was going to do everything in my ability to make things happen.”
Lindgren pitched at four levels with 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings the year he was drafted. He pitched well in big league camp this spring, opened the season in Triple-A, and was called up on May 24, the first Yankees prospect since Deion Sanders in 1989 to reach the majors less than a year after being drafted.
It was a significant step for the Yankees, not only because they were willing to make the move, but because they had a top pick playing well enough to deserve the promotion.
With a few exceptions — Phil Hughes in 2004, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain in 2006 — the Yankees’ top picks have mostly fallen flat since the overwhelming success of Derek Jeter taken sixth overall in 1992.
The Yankees took a high schooler named C.J. Henry during the otherwise talent-rich first round of 2005. They took a shot on injured basketball player Andrew Brackman with their top pick of 2007. They took a signability risk with Gerrit Cole in 2008. They gambled on high school shortstop Cito Culver in 2010 and have watched him hit well below .200 this season. In the decade before that, they picked forgotten names like Shea Morenz, David Walling and David Parrish.
What draft success the Yankees have had in recent years has been largely confined to the middle rounds: Brett Gardner in the third round of 2005; Adam Warren in the fourth round of 2009; Dellin Betances in the eighth round of 2006, the same year they got former closer David Robertson as a 17th-round steal.
Draft classes, though, tend to be defined by their top picks, and so Lindgren stands out as a success story, both for the player and the organization.
He had been a 12th-round pick of the Cubs out of high school, but Lindgren said Chicago didn’t offer him the signing bonus he wanted until the day before classes started at Mississippi State. Lindgren was already moved in, living on campus and ready to start college. He decided to stay and take his chances that pro ball would be waiting for him.
“Early on, especially when you’re not getting the playing time you wanted, you’re like, man, what am I doing here?” Lindgren said. “But it worked out. It kind of taught me how you have to compete for any job you want. … There was a lot of hype and stuff (as a first-round pick), but I knew I had to come in and prove myself. I always tried to prove that I didn’t belong at each level and just tried to move up as fast as possible.”
It’s hard to move much faster than Lindgren has. He made his big league debut in the same year as the Yankees 2009 first-round pick, Slade Heathcott, whose development had been slowed by a series of injuries (he’s back on the disabled list now). The Yankees, though, seem to believe the arrival of Lindgren and Heathcott – plus the development of Judge, Jagielo, and former fifth rounders Rob Refsnyder and Greg Bird – are a sign that the team’s draft futility is turning around. They’ve especially struggled to find impact hitters, and suddenly the upper levels are crawling with both high-probability and high-ceiling bats.
“We do have an evolving system with some high-end position players,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
Tonight, the Yankees look to add to that stable of talent, trying to build off the recent success of their past two drafts, and trying to find someone capable of following Lindgren’s path to the big leagues.
“They probably just draft whoever’s the best available,” Lindgren said. “They’re just trying to bring good talent into the organization.”
Associated Press photos
Late this morning, about two hours before today’s Grapefruit League finale, Joe Girardi was asked what’s surprised him most this spring. Girardi paused for several seconds, then gave three answers:
1. “Really pleased with what Alex did.”
That was Girardi’s first response, a one-sentence answer that basically speaks for itself. Alex Rodriguez was perhaps the least predictable piece of the roster coming into camp, but he’s thrived in all aspects. He’s played a passable version of first base and third base, he’s hit .286/.400/.524, and he’s handled inevitable off-the-field questions without digging himself into a new hole.
“I’ve said all along, I thought Alex was going to help us,” Girardi said. “But until you get into (you don’t know). I mean, it’s two years, really, since he played. I wasn’t 100-percent sure. If I was a betting man, I would have bet on him playing well, but there’s still that, you’ve got to see it after two years of not playing and being 39 and a half.”
2. “Pleased with our infield and them working together.”
This was the second sentence of Girardi’s answer, a fairly broad response that involves four players. Third baseman Chase Headley has been arguably the best everyday position player in camp, second baseman Stephen Drew has begun to hit in the last two weeks or so, first baseman Mark Teixeira has looked healthy and stronger than he did late last season, and shortstop Didi Gregorius has been perhaps the team’s most encouraging new addition.
“The way he moves (has been impressive),” Girardi said. “Arm strength. You can watch it go across the diamond, but you don’t realize it’s just that little flick and it’s gone. Relay throws. He’s the whole package. When you watch him play defense, he’s the whole package. And I’m excited to watch him play all year.”
3. “And I was really impressed with our kids.”
The Yankees’ farm system — particularly it’s lack of upper-level success stories — has been a problem in recent years, but the organization seems to be getting stronger. Not only with the addition of young talent, but also with the development of on-the-verge prospects. Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino impressed early in camp, while Jacob Lindgren, Rob Refsnyder and Slade Heathcott stuck around long enough to stay on the radar until the very end. That’s to say nothing of Mason Williams’ improvement, Cito Culver’s defense and Nick Rumbelow’s emergence.
“The kids played a lot in spring training,” Girardi said. “Their talent level. The way they hold each other accountable. The way they push each other. It’s really neat to see.”
Associated Press photo
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