At the very top of the Yankees minor league system, two Triple-A starters — Andrew Brackman and Adam Warren — are top five in the International League in walks. Down in Low-A, one of the Yankees best young catchers — Gary Sanchez — is hitting just .238 with 37 strikeouts in 32 games.
“It’s like somebody trying to lose weight and looking at the scale every day,” vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. “It’ll drive you nuts.”
Less than two months into the minor league season, the big picture is nowhere near coming into focus, and Newman said this part of the season is still about making initial adjustments to a new level. The Yankees focus more on the second-half results for most of their minor leaguers, curious to see how they adjust and adapt.
Right now, Warren is eight walks away from his total for last season. Brackman is 12 away from his 2010 total. From the outside, the Brackman number is more glaring because, 1. His ERA is three runs higher than Warren’s, and 2. He had similar control issues in 2009.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an issue long term, because he’s showing he can throw strikes,” Newman said. “He’s just got to get back (to last year’s command). His mark right now is well above where we want it to be, but I don’t think it’s going to stay there.”
As for Sanchez, he was hitting .314 with three home runs in his previous 10 games before going on the disabled list a week ago. More importantly, he’s 18 years old.
“He’s swinging it good now,” Newman said. “He’s like a high school senior playing in that league. He’s doing well.”
• Speaking of letting the big picture come into focus… Slade Heathcott and J.R. Murphy were the Yankees first- and second-round picks in the 2009 draft, and both are off to eye-opening starts in Charleston. Newman called it little more than the natural progression of two talented kids who had very little little experience when they put up pedestrian numbers in Charleston last season. “That was a helluva challenge,” Newman said. “Now they’re getting a little experience, and we’re seeing what kind of players they are. There’s nothing particularly surprising about it.”
• As you might expect, Newman said both Heathcott and Murphy will “probably” jump to Tampa midseason.
• As previously reported, Newman said Sanchez has a “stiff lower back” that he’s trying to work through in extended spring training. Once he’s through that, Sanchez will return to Charleston.
• In the wake of the Buster Posey injury, Newman said the Yankees have not discussed moving any of their catchers from behind the plate just to avoid injury. “Not because of health concerns,” he said. “All of our catchers do work at first base. We have a lot of young catching prospects. Who knows who’s going to catch, who’s going to play first base and who’s going to DH?” Newman once again stressed that the Yankees believe Jesus Montero can catch.
• Other injury updates:
Greg Golson: About a week away from playing in games.
Mark Prior: “Not throwing (off a mound),” Newman said. “He’s really struggling with this kind of hip, abdominal thing. Hard to nail it down.”
Alan Horne: Throwing in extended spring and building arm strength.
Graham Stoneburner, Steve Garrison, Jeremy Bleich: “Still a ways to go,” Newman said.
David Adams: Having some leg problems that the Yankees believe to be related to the ankle injury that forced him to miss most of last season. He was back and playing, but then the leg started bothering him. Not sure how close he is to returning.
• Carlos Silva can opt out in mid-June and pitched well last night. “This is a contingency plan,” Newman said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
• Veteran Brad Halsey, signed to a minor league deal earlier this month, is throwing in Tampa, basically going through his own spring training.
• Outfielder Damon Sublett has been throwing some bullpens in Double-A. He was a closer in college and hasn’t been getting a ton of playing time as a position player, so he asked the Yankees if he could start working out on the mound. “We’re just checking it out, getting his arm in shape,” Newman said.
• Newman said there’s no one in extended spring training who’s “setting any world records or anything,” but the name-to-know that jumped to his mind was starting pitcher Bryan Mitchell. “He’s got electric stuff,” Newman said. “He’s got the stuff to be the next Banuelos, Betances. The high-end guy. That’s Mitchell.”
Brackman photo from my friends at the Scranton Times-Tribune
I didn’t see or hear about last night’s Buster Posey injury until I was several thousand feet above the fly-over states of middle America. After sleeping for a little while and reading for a little while, I turned on the little satellite TV screen in front of me to catch up on the news of the day. Then I flipped briefly to SportsCenter.
Posey is probably out for the year with a broken bone and possibly some ligament damage. It’s a bad situation, and an unfortunate situation, but we can’t pretend it’s a new situation. The Posey injury doesn’t necessarily change anything for Jesus Montero or the other elite catching prospects in the Yankees organization.
It’s not as if the Yankees turned on a television at the same time I did and suddenly realized that being a catcher is dangerous.
If injury concerns lead the Yankees to eventually move Montero or Austin Romine or Gary Sanchez to a different position, it would be perfectly justifiable, but it would not be a move to be taken lightly and with a sigh of relief. Part of what makes these catching prospects so valuable is their ability to play behind the plate, lending a premium bat to a position that often has minimal offensive impact.
Risk comes with the position, but so does reward. That was true before and after Posey was rocked at home plate last night.
• Speaking of catching prospects, Gary Sanchez is playing in extended spring training after opening the year in Low-A Charleston. Mark Newman told Josh Norris that Sanchez is down there because of a back injury. He seemed to be getting things turned around before landing on the Charleston disabled list. Sanchez was hitting .314/.455/.657 in his last 10 games before going on the DL.
• Speaking of behind the plate in Charleston, J.R. Murphy’s breakout season continues with the Low-A affiliate. He’s played some third base and designated hitter, but Murphy continues to get most of his time behind the plate and he just keeps hitting. He’s up to .318/.358/.497, a huge leap from last season.
• While we’re behind the plate: Jesus Montero is hitting .260/.337/.377 this month. I know a lot of the fan base is anxious to get this kid into the big league lineup — and I understand why — but player development is a very real thing, and Montero’s still just 21 years old. Consistency might be the next — and final — part of his development.
• Jorge Vazquez is still hitting home runs at a stunning rate, but the thing that catches my attention is that he has seven walks in his past 10 games (he had four in all of April). Either he’s becoming a little more selective, or teams are completely pitching around him. By the way, his home run total is up to 17. That’s insane, especially in a pitchers’ league.
• Vazquez’s teammate, Justin Maxwell, is second in the International League with 13 home runs.
• Speaking of Triple-A hitters, a few guys who struggled early have started to hit in the past month: Brandon Laird (.293/.341/.373 in May), Kevin Russo (.288/.367/.404 in May), Ramiro Pena (.310/.356/.310 in May).
• D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren and David Phelps are still pitching well out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation — well enough that they’d have to be involved in any call-up conversation — but if the Yankees want a new long man, they might also need to look at George Kontos. Lost in the Rule 5 draft this winter — just like Lance Pendleton — Kontos has a 2.22 ERA and a .209 opponents batting average this season, and he’s been better this month than last month. If the Yankees are looking for a one-inning option, Kevin Whelan keeps getting it done in that Triple-A closer’s role.
• Veteran left-hander Randy Flores has yet to allow a hit in four appearances since joining the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen.
• Two Double-A starters you might have heard about: Dellin Betances has a 1.30 ERA with 39 strikeouts through seven starts, and Manny Banuelos has a 1.96 ERA with 34 strikeouts through eight starts. Both have had some walk issues from time to time, but my gut reaction is to blame their youth. On the whole, their numbers are awfully impressive.
• No overwhelming home runs numbers or anything like that, but the Yankees regular Class-A third basemen in are both playing pretty well. In High-A Tampa, Rob Lyerly is hitting .326/.368/.481, and in Low-A Charleston, Rob Segedin is hitting .288/.384/.445. Each has three homers, and between them they have 21 doubles and six triples.
• Talked to Alan Horne earlier today. He’s pitched in extended spring training twice in the past week and he’s pretty encouraged. His fastball’s been good, but he’s still looking to build some arm strength.
• Surprise numbers of the month: Utility man Kelvin Castro who’s hitting .462 with five triples and more walks than strikeouts in 12 games since joining the Tampa infield. Last season he hit .224 with five triples all year. He also struck out more than three times as often as he walked.
• A blast from the recent past: Zach McAllister is starting for Triple-A Columbus tonight, attempting to become the minor league’s first eight-game winner. Traded away in last year’s Austin Kearns deal, McAllister is thriving in his second attempt at Triple-A. He has a 2.48 ERA and seems to be getting better as the season progresses. He had a 5.09 ERA with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before last year’s trade.
Associated Press photo of Posey, headshots of Sanchez, Murphy, Kontos and Whelan
There’s only so much to talk about with only pitchers and catchers in camp. Even these bullpen sessions don’t mean a whole lot.
“You don’t put a lot of stock into bullpens, especially this early in camp,” Joe Girardi said. “I just think it’s unfair to do that. The last thing I want is someone thinking is that I want to see more in a bullpen, because then they’re going to try to do too much and end up getting hurt.”
Camp will finally get a little more lively tomorrow when position players report for their physicals, and we’ll be in the full swing of things with the first full-squad workout on Sunday.
“It’s hard to believe we start games in a week,” Girardi said.
• Rafael Soriano has not yet thrown a bullpen. Girardi said Soriano will probably get on a mound for the first time next week. The Yankees don’t need Soriano to get stretched out beyond one inning, and they aren’t expecting a heavy workload when the spring schedule starts. “We’re not going to ask him to make 13 or 14 appearances,” Girardi said.
• Soriano will wait until next week to get off a mound, Mariano Rivera will wait “maybe a little longer” according to Girardi. Whenever Rivera needs to pitch off a mound, he’ll pitch off a mound. This is a pretty polished process.
• A lot of the pitchers who are already pitching off a mound are slightly ahead of last year’s schedule. “We’ve had a lot of kids who have been down here for a while throwing in Tampa,” Girardi said. “Maybe they are a little bit ahead.”
• Hector Noesi is still dealing with visa issues, but Girardi said there’s a chance he’ll be in camp — in uniform and ready to pitch — on Sunday. “I’m hoping it doesn’t have much of an impact,” Girardi said. “I hope he’s been doing his throwing, and I’m sure he has been doing his throwing.”
• Speaking of guys showing up, Girardi said he expects every position player to be in camp on time this weekend. As far as he knows, no one is going to be late.
• I went to the minor league complex very briefly this morning to see which position players were going through one last day of hitting. There were only minor league guys at the complex when I was there. One of the guards said Ramiro Pena was the only big leaguer he saw taking BP today.
• Gustavo Molina didn’t catch today. He felt some pain in his leg, but Girardi said it’s very minor. “Nothing alarming,” he said.
• Greg Golson got an early start moving into his locker. He showed up this afternoon wearing street clothes and carrying a big box full of stuff.
• Some people had asked about Alan Horne, who’s been battling injuries since being name Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2007. Now coming back from a shoulder injury, Horne is throwing in Tampa and scheduled to pitch off a half mound some time around March 1.
• If you’re ever in a spring training press box with a good set of headphones, and you need to write a newspaper story about Freddy Garcia, Alexi Murdoch makes rock solid writing music.
Associated Press photos of Francisco Cervelli and Soriano
Rule 5 decisions looming for Yankees • 11.02.10
Last winter, the Yankees added seven minor leaguers to the 40-man roster. If I had to guess, I’d say it will be closer to four or five this winter.
Of the players eligible for the Rule 5 draft, only Dellin Betances and Brandon Laird jump out as guys who absolutely need to be protected. Beyond that, each addition is likely to depend on how many roster spots come open and how highly the Yankees think of some of their lower-level players.
This post is not an attempt to list every Yankees minor leaguer who’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft. These are simply some of the names who jumped out to me as leading candidates at various positions. My friend Donnie Collins has a more comprehensive list.
Pitchers: Wilkins Arias, Dellin Betances, Jairo Heredia, Craig Heyer, Alan Horne, George Kontos, Adam Olbrychowski, Jonathan Ortiz, Lance Pendleton, Ryan Pope, Pat Venditte, Kevin Whelan, Eric Wordekemper
Betances (right) is the no-brainer of the group. He’s a huge talent who seems to be finally healthy, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could pitch his way to New York as early as next season.
Heredia is also a pretty big talent, but injuries have held him to only 39 innings above Low-A. The Yankees took a chance on getting the young and raw Ivan Nova through the Rule 5 in 2008, and that worked out. They took no such chances with Hector Noesi last year. The Yankees have to make a similar decision on Heredia this year.
Beyond Betances, the names that standout most are Arias, Pendleton and Pope. Arias is the only lefty on the list, Pendleton is coming off a nice year in Double-A (he finished in Triple-A) and Pope was invited to big league camp this spring then got an Arizona Fall League assignment this offseason. Heyer is also in the Fall League. Those Fall League assignments suggest the Yankees like the potential of Heyer and Pope, but one year ago Zach Kroenke, Grant Duff and Colin Curtis were all sent to the Fall League, but each was still left exposed to the Rule 5.
Horne and Kontos would be much more prominent in this discussion if not for injuries. Kontos is pitching again, but after a solid regular season, he’s struggling in Arizona.
Infielders: Brandon Laird, Jose Pirela, Brad Suttle
Laird (right) was terrific this season. He can already play the infield corners, now he’s in the Fall League learning to handle the outfield. He seems like a lock.
Pirela is the biggest name of a few small-name middle infielders who are eligible. He’s never played above Class A, and the Yankees already have quite a few middle infielders on the roster. Suttle is an interesting case: A fourth-round pick who showed an impressive bat in college but missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury. He started to hit in the second-half of this season, but I’m not sure he could actually stick on a Major League roster at this point.
Outfielders: Abraham Almonte, Zoilo Almonte, Austin Krum, Melky Mesa, Damon Sublett
The top candidate here is Mesa (right). He can hit for power, he can run and he can throw. He also struck out 129 times in 121 games this season. And that was an improvement on last year’s 168 strikeouts. Strikeouts aside, Mesa can play center field and he brings a ton of tools. Beyond Laird, I’d say Mesa is the top position player worth a spot.
Of the other outfielders: Neither of the Almonte’s has played above Class-A, while Krum and Sublett hit below .230 in Double-A this season. Sublett and Abraham Almonte are converted infielders.
Catchers: Jose Gil
No big names are eligible at catcher. Right or wrong, Gil (right) has been treated more like an organizational catcher than as a prospect. P.J. Pilittere will become a free agent this winter, but he’s not someone the Yankees are likely to consider adding to the roster, and he’s much better off finding a new organization.
Jesus Montero and Austin Romine are a year away from Rule 5 eligibility.
Joe Girardi started his pregame media session with a very, very true statement.
“Day games after night games are always a little slow,” he said. “Nothing happens in the time that we leave.”
On this day, the only exception to that rule was Phil Hughes, who made his final extended spring training start this morning at the Yankees minor league complex. According to Girardi, Hughes threw 84 pitches across six innings. He had “five or six strikeouts,” Girardi said.
Hughes will make his regular season debut on Thursday, and Girardi said there will be no pitch limit. “He’s the same (as the other starters),” Girardi said. “He’s built up.”
As for how the Yankees will manage Hughes innings this season, Girardi said the same thing he said this spring: The limit is higher than Joba Chamberlain’s was last year, and so the team isn’t worried about it right now. They’ve told Hughes not to worry about it when he pitches. If they have to adjust, they’ll adjust, but right now there’s no set plan for when they’ll skip his turn in the rotation.
“If there’s a situation where we feel we need to skip him, we’ll skip him,” Girardi said.
Here’s Girardi’s audio.
• Girardi said he “will not hesitate” to pinch hit for Francisco Cervelli in a big spot this afternoon.
• Who’s the emergency third catcher? “Nino puts the shin guards on from time to time, and A.J. used to catch,” Girardi said. Nino is Ramiro Pena. A.J. is A.J. Burnett. You can guess which of the two is most likely to get out there in an emergency.
• Girardi acknowledged that Brett Gardner probably would have caught the double that got past Marcus Thames last night, but he said he had no problem with Thames diving for the ball. “Marcus did everything he could to get to it,” Girardi said. “But (Gardner) probably does.” Girardi indicated that he might not platoon Thames in left field when the Yankees are playing in a big outfield, but he certainly didn’t commit to that, just mentioned it as something to consider.
• At this time last year — a week into his return to the Yankees lineup — could Alex Rodriguez and his bad hip have tripled on the ball he hit last night? “I don’t think he gets to third base in that situation,” Girardi said. The surgically repaired hip rarely crosses anyone’s mind any more.
• Every reliever except Sergio Mitre is available tonight, but Girardi said Mitre felt good after his 2-plus innings last night.
• A Yankees highlight video of last season was on TV in the Yankees clubhouse this afternoon, but Dave Robertson and the writers seemed to be the only people interested. I don’t think anyone else gave it a second look.
• Mike Ashmore checked in with injured pitching prospect Alan Horne, who has decided to postpone his rotator cuff surgery and will try platelet-rich plasma treatments. Other news from Trenton: Christian Garcia is waiting for MRI results on his sore elbow. It doesn’t sound like a great situation.
Like Girardi said, not much has happened since last night, so I pulled a random AP picture from the Boston series. It was either that or another shot of a dejected Javy Vazquez.
Horne’s long road continues • 03.29.10
Just rolled into Sarasota where the wind is howling out to center field. Even I could hit a ball at least over the second baseman’s head (my baseball goals are very low).
The big pitching news of the day out of Yankees camp has to be Alfredo Aceves and his balky back, but the big news out of the minor league complex is Alan Horne and his torn rotator cuff.
“It never felt great last year,” Horne said. “But that was to be expected. I took a break this fall before I began to really get after it in the weight room. It felt great and I started throwing around December 1. It felt fine for the first two months but started to go downhill fast at the beginning of spring.”
Horne had mild shoulder surgery after the 2008 season. He tried to pitch last year, but the shoulder and a strained hamstring limited him to 14 outings between rookie ball and Double-A. He’s now scheduled for surgery with Dr. Andrews on April 9, and it will definitely knock him out for the season. When he can get back on a depends on the severity of the injury.
“I honestly have no idea until he gets in there and sees how bad things are and what time of repair has to be made,” Horne said. “All of that determines down time.”
Back in 2007, Horne was outstanding in the Double-A Eastern League. He went 12-4 with a 3.11 ERA and 165 strikeouts in 153.1 innings and was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year. In 2008 he ranked ahead of Jesus Montero, Brett Gardner, Ross Ohlendorf and Andrew Brackman on Baseball America’s Yankees prospect list, and he might have been one of the slew of big league call-ups that year had he not strained his biceps in his second Triple-A start.
“It’s been a long road for me over the past 10 years,” Horne said.
When he’s been healthy, Horne has been a young pitcher on a no-doubt course to the big leagues, but his body has had way of letting him down. He’s already come back from Tommy John surgery, now he’ll have to come back from this.
Aceves day-to-day with sore back • 03.29.10
Alfredo Aceves will skip tomorrow’s scheduled relief appearance because of a sore back. Joe Girardi said Aceves has been tight and “a little out of line” for a few days and the Yankees decided today to give him a few days off.
It’s possible the problem could keep Aceves off the Opening Day roster, but Girardi said right now he believes Aceves will pitch later this week and be ready for the opener.
The problem started in September and Aceves saw a doctor in January. Girardi said Aceves is better today than he was over the weekend.
“It’s something we’re going to have to manage,” he said.
• Girardi said the team will likely wait until Thursday or Friday before finalizing their roster. “I imagine we’ll go pretty far,” Girardi said.
• The idea of starting Phil Hughes in the minor leagues and calling him up when the Yankees need a fifth starter remains a possibility. “I have not had a chance to talk to Cash about it yet, (to finalize) how we’re going to do it.”
• Who starts in center field? “I’m not quite read to make that decision,” Girardi said. “But I’m definitely leaning one way.” If I had to guess, I’d say it’s Curtis Granderson. Joel Sherman has reported that a source told him the organization is leaning that way.
• On the travel roster for tomorrow’s split-squad game against the Braves is switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, and Girardi is pumped. “I’ve wanted to see it all spring,” he said. “I’d like to put him in against a left, right, left.”
• Available to pitch today: Javier Vazquez, Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson, Grant Duff and Royce Ring.
• Available off the bench: C P.J. Pilittere, C Ryan Baker, INF Ramiro Pena, INF Jose Pirela, INF Justin Snyder, INF Marcos Vechionacci, OF Jon Weber, OF David Winfree, OF Edwar Gonzalez and OF Ray Kruml.
• I’ll have more on it later tonight, but former Eastern League Pitcher of the Year Alan Horne is scheduled for rotator cuff surgery on April 9. He has more than an 80 percent tear. It’s a brutal blow for a very good pitcher who’s had trouble staying healthy the past two years.
With that, I’m getting in a car with Erik Boland and making the drive to Sarasota. I’ll be back with more from down there.
Two more sent down • 03.15.10
This morning, the Yankees sent two more pitchers out of big league camp.
Right-handers Ivan Nova and Hector Noesi were optioned the minor leagues, with Nova assigned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Noesi assigned to Tampa. There’s a solid chance Noesi will actually open the season in Double-A, but for now he’s assigned to the High-A roster.
There are now 52 players in big league camp.
Some other notes from my morning at the minor league complex.
• Talked to George Kontos briefly. Coming back from Tommy John, he’s working off a half mound right now but should be on a full mound in a week. His ligament was completely torn in half, and the doctors told him it had probably been torn for more than a year. Might explain his dip in velocity when he came out of college. Right now, Kontos said, his arm feels great. Keep his name in mind. Before the surgery, he was really pitching well last year in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and it turns out that was with a bad elbow.
• Jorge Vazquez will open the season in Triple-A, playing 1B, 3B and DH. That probably locks up the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre infield: Juan Miranda at first, Vazquez at either corner, and whichever three 40-man middle infielders don’t make the major league roster (Kevin Russo, Eduardo Nunez, Reegie Corona and Ramiro Pena). The Yankees believe Vazquez has the arm to play third, it’s a matter of agility at the position.
• Despite being optioned to Triple-A when he was cut from big league camp, Wilkin De La Rosa is still expected to open the season in Trenton.
• As a precaution, Alan Horne was shutdown briefly because of soreness in his shoulder, but he should be back on the mound in a matter of days. He and Kontos were both going through fielding drills with the Triple-A group. So were recent major league cuts Kevin Whelan, Kei Igawa and Grant Duff.
• I saw other big league cuts down there — Jeremy Bleich, D.J. Mitchell and Christian Garcia — but I couldn’t tell which group they were with. I’m pretty sure they were all working with the Double-A group, but I can’t be sure. The listed work groups haven’t changed since the players were sent down.
• There wasn’t much to see during the morning drills, but Seth Fortenberry did catch my eye with a strong throw from center field to third base.
• The minor league spring training schedule (sort of) starts on Thursday with intrasqaud games, Triple-A vs. Double-A and High-A vs. Low-A. They’ll do that again on Friday, then played the Pirates minor leaguers on Saturday.