Yankees at the break: Second base • 07.13.11
After making a run at the MVP award last season, Robinson Cano came into this season with sky-high expectations. He’s been very good, but he’s played a tick below last year’s production. If there’s any disappointment in Cano’s performance, it’s only because of the expectation coming into this season.
Through significant chunks of the season’s first half, Cano has reverted to the free-swinging approach that he seemed to keep under control last season. His strikeouts are up slightly, and his walks are down significantly. Otherwise, Cano has been roughly the same player he was last season, on pace for roughly the same power numbers and the same sort of run production. His defense seemed spotty in the first month or so, but that’s been much better lately.
Cano is never going to be a Nick Swisher or Brett Gardner type of hitter. He swings. That’s what he does. He’s acknowledged a need to be more selective, but he doesn’t want to lose the aggressiveness that makes a dynamic hitter. Last year he found a great balance between selective and aggressive. This year, that balance has come and gone. If he finds it again in the second half, don’t rule him out as the Yankees best hitter down the stretch.
Kevin Russo got his season turned around in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Corban Joseph has been his typically productive self in Trenton – he’s been especially good against right-handed pitching and seems to hit every year – and Kelvin Castro has been a pleasant surprise in Tampa. The Yankees disappointment at second base has to be that David Adams took longer than expected to get healthy (he’s finally playing again) and that Anderson Feliz has struggled in Charleston (he seemed primed for a breakout season). The name to watch now is Angelo Gumbs, last year’s second-round pick who’s playing second for Staten Island.
Can Cano pick up the slack for the next month?
When Alex Rodriguez went on the disabled list late last season, Cano had 15 RBI in the 14 games without A-Rod. It wasn’t that he necessarily hit better than he had all season – most of his numbers were actually a little worse – but he was productive enough to pick up some of the slack. The Yankees might need him to find a way to do something similar while Rodriguez is out again for the next month or so.
The Yankees have club options for 2012 and 2013, and right now it looks like a no-brainer to exercise them. Of all the young players on the big league roster and all the talented prospects in the minors, no one is better positioned to be a career-long Yankee than Cano.
Associated Press photo
The Yankees first-round pick in 2009 was also a high school position player, and Slade Heathcott was moved cautiously in his first full season. Heathcott opened last year in extended spring training and didn’t join Low-A Charleston until June.
Vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said the Yankees will “most likely” do the same thing this season with both Culver and second-round pick Angelo Gumbs. Both are 18 years old and developing at key defensive positions. Rushing them is not in the plans.
The same sort of caution could be true for fourth-round pick Mason Williams, a 19-year-old center fielder who played five Gulf Coast League games last season. Newman said the Yankees will “see where he is” in spring training before deciding where Williams opens the season.
Newman said there’s “no question” Culver will continue to be developed as a shortstop, but Gumbs will be tested at different positions. He could see some time at second base, and center field is a legitimate option. “We’re still in the evaluation stage,” Newman said.
• Speaking of Heathcott, he hit .258/.359/.352 with 101 strikeouts in 76 games with Charleston last season. It’s entirely possible he’ll return to Charleston for the beginning of the 2011 season. “We’ll see,” Newman said.
• Last year’s third-round draft pick, Rob Segedin, was selected out of Tulane, so he’s older and more advanced than Culver and Gumbs. Segedin will open in Charleston, where he’ll continue to play third base while also getting some reps in right field.
• If David Adams, Corban Joseph and Brad Suttle all open the season in Double-A, they’ll have to mix and match positions, including some reps at DH, to give all three regular at-bats. Newman said there’s a chance one of those three could open at a different level, but it’s a “low” chance.
• Outfielder Cody Johnson, acquired from the Braves this winter, is most likely heading for Double-A instead of Triple-A. He’s been in Double-A for part of the past two seasons, but he has yet to hit above .189 at that level. The guy does have some power, though.
• Don’t rule out lefty Shaeffer Hall for Double-A. He opened last season in Low-A Charleston but pitched his way to High-A Tampa where he had nine wins and a 3.91 ERA in 15 appearances. This is only his second full season, but Hall is already 23 years old, so the Yankees might push him to Trenton to open the season.
• The Yankees have not decided where shortstop Carmen Angelini will open the season — Tampa or Charleston — but this is clearly a season when Angelini needs to finally show something at the plate. “He needs to get it going,” Newman said. Culver and Gumbs are already overshadowing him in the lower levels.
• Pretty much every scouting report you’ll ever read about Graham Stoneburner suggests his ultimate role could be as a reliever rather than a starter. The Yankees, though, will continue to use Stoneburner out of the rotation, and they believe that he could remain a starter if his changeup continues to develop. Stoneburner had a 2.41 ERA between Tampa and Charleston last season, and the Yankees won’t change his role until he pitches himself out of the rotation. “The game is smarter than us,” Newman said.
• I mentioned Anderson Feliz in yesterday’s look at the Yankees second base depth, and Newman sounds excited about the young middle infielder. “He’s a good player,” Newman said. “He’s got hitting ability. He’s got power. He can run.” Feliz is probably going to open in Charleston.
• Fu-Lin Kuo, a third baseman out of Taiwan, could be developing into a legitimate prospect. “He looked like it at times last year,” Newman said. Last season Kuo hit .243 in the Gulf Coast League, but that was his first season in the United States, and Newman said it’s hard to make much of those stats because of the significant cultural adjustment. The Yankees saw some flashes of promise at the plate. Kuo is probably going to open the season back in extended spring training, but he’s a player to keep the name in the back of your mind for now.
Pretty sure Pete took that picture of Heathcott. I just found it in the blog archives.
Yankees organizational depth: Second base • 01.10.11
Robinson Cano is signed through 2013, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him stay with the Yankees well beyond his current contract. Second base is not up for grabs today, and it might not be up for grabs until the end of the decade. The Yankees have second base talent coming up through the system, but the bulk of that talent brings defensive versatility and could emerge as some sort of utility option should Cano keep his hold on second.
In the big leagues
If Cano continues his current production, and carries that into his mid-to-late 30s, the Yankees might never have a need for any of the players currently in the system to see significant time at second base. Cano is 28 years old and should be just now entering his prime. He showed last season that he’s already developed into one of the best hitters in the American League, and certainly one of the top second basemen in baseball. The Yankees have an abundance of players who could fill-in at second base to cover any sort of short-term need — nagging injury, unexpected absence — but the organization’s best-case scenario is to simply stick with Cano for the foreseeable future.
On the verge
Here’s the list: Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo, Reegie Corona, David Adams and Corban Joseph. Six young players, all of them ready to play second base at Double-A or higher, and all of them with enough tools to play some sort of role in the big leagues sooner rather than later. Each of them can also play at least one other position, which some defensive flexibility for potential bench roles down the line. Nunez, Pena and Russo have already gotten to New York, Corona has a spot on the 40-man and needs to come back from a late-season shoulder injury, and Adams was hitting in Trenton before an ankle injury cost him most of last season. The name to watch might be Joseph, a former fourth-round pick who’s been building prospect buzz with his bat the past two years.
Deep in the system
The top second base prospect in the lower levels was Jimmy Paredes, who put himself on the prospect map with a strong 2010 season. Paredes, though, was traded to Houston in the Lance Berkman deal, and without him, the top lower-level second base prospect might be Anderson Feliz, a former shortstop out of the Dominican Republic who hit .273 with some power in the Gulf Coast League last year. Of course, the real second base depth might ultimately depend on the development of Cito Culver and Angelo Gumbs, last year’s first- and second-round draft picks. Both are shortstops, but Cano also saw a lot of time at shortstop when he was a kid. As they develop, Culver or Gumbs could — in theory — find themselves shifted to second base.
Organizational depth chart
My own rough guess. It’s far too early for the Yankees to settle on who will be where next season.
New York: Robinson Cano
Scranton/WB: Kevin Russo, Reegie Corona
Trenton: David Adams, Corban Joseph
Tampa: Walter Ibbara, Emerson Landoni, Kevin Mahoney
Charleston: Anderson Feliz, Casey Stevenson
The big league depth chart beyond Cano probably begins with two players not listed here. Nunez and Pena are the front-runners for the big league utility job, and those two probably have a leg up should the Yankees need someone to fill in at second base for a few games (or even a few months). Russo is also in that discussion, and Adams or Joseph could climb into the mix by the end of the summer.
I have more than one player listed at every minor league level because there are a lot of multi-position players who are going to need time at second. Tampa especially could be a bit of a mix-and-match. The natural fit should have been the since-traded Paredes, and without him, a series of utility types — none of them highly touted — could get opportunities in High-A. Stevenson was the Yankees 25th-round pick last year, and he got most of the second base time at Staten Island last season, but Feliz is the bigger name of the lower-level second basemen. Additional upper-level bench depth will come from versatile infielders like Justin Snyder, Luis Nunez and Doug Bernier.
Associated Press photo of Cano, headshots of Cano, Joseph and Feliz