The Yankees might not have an experienced closer on their roster, but they do have one in camp.
Andrew Bailey is back with the Yankees on a minor league contract. He threw a bullpen this afternoon, and said he no longer thinks of himself as a rehab pitcher just trying to get healthy. He sees himself as a legitimate reliever trying to make the big league roster.
“One hundred percent,” Bailey said. “I came in and spent the offseason training, working as I would if I played last year. The doctor gave me 18, 24 months (to be healthy after surgery), and we’re in that 18th, 19th month. Everyone around here, training staff, coaches and strength and conditioning have all kind of (treated it as if) I’m a normal guy with some needs. Hopefully we get rid of those needs. Everything feels great. I’m with the team and doing everything as I would normally, and if I need a little extra work here or there, that’s fine too. I’m here to compete and earn a spot.”
Bailey has thrown five bullpens since he reported to Tampa after the Super Bowl. In between bullpens, he takes a few more days off than other guys, but the Yankees believe that’s a temporary precaution. Bailey expects to start throwing live batting practice around the time the exhibition schedule begins, which he believes will give him enough time to pitch the innings necessarily to break camp.
“I thought today he looked pretty good, actually,” Joe Girardi said. “I talked to Gil Patterson about it. Compared to where he was last year to where he is (now), there’s significant improvement. I don’t know exactly what we’ll see as far as games, and his bullpens are a little more spread out than maybe some of the other relievers, but that’s on purpose right now, and our hope is that we can catch him up and keep him healthy.”
Bailey’s still just 30 years old. He made two all-star teams as a closer in Oakland, and he could be an option for that wide-open spot in the Yankees bullpen (maybe not as closer, and maybe not by Opening Day, but certainly at some point he could play a significant role). Hard to know what exactly to expect from a guy who hasn’t pitched anything beyond a simulated game in more than a year, but Bailey was awfully good in the past, and he said he feels that way again.
“To feel as good as I do and locate as well as I have been, it’s a pretty awesome feeling,” Bailey said. “I feel fresh and ready to go, and excited for the next step.”
• Bailey is one of the few players who aren’t expected to be ready to play in games the first week of camp. Bailey is just slightly behind the others, but Girardi said he expects Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia to each be ready for games when the spring schedule starts.
• Over at the minor league complex, Rodriguez was asked about the leadership void in the Yankees clubhouse. “First, no one can replace The Captain,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I know I’m going to miss him tremendously. I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of things. If guys want to ask questions, I love talking baseball, and you guys know that better than anyone. I love the game, and I love to talk it. Whoever needs my help, I’m available.” Clearly Rodriguez isn’t going to be a leader in the way Derek Jeter is a leader, but he really does talk hitting with other players a lot.
• Speaking of which, Didi Gregorius said he got some hitting tips from Rodriguez at the minor league complex this afternoon. Said it was good to meet him. “He’s a good teammate,” Gregorius said. “He introduced himself to everybody when he walked in (at the complex). New player, you don’t know everybody yet, so everybody comes to introduce (themselves) or you go to them.”
• Several other position players began to move stuff into their lockers this afternoon, including outfield prospects Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores and Tyler Austin, who have three lockers in a row right next to one another on a back wall. Jose Pirela also arrived today. Rodriguez, Gregorius, Chase Headley, Chris Young and Garrett Jones all worked out at the minor league complex.
• Heathcott had yet another knee surgery last season and spent six months recovering at the Andrews Institute. He said he feels a significant difference between now and last spring. “Excellent,” he said. “I’m ready to play in a game right now.” I’ve been talking to Heathcott for many springs at this point, this is the most confident I’ve heard him in years. Finally sounds like he truly believes he’s healthy.
• So far, no significant injuries to report in Yankees camp, though minor league catcher Juan Graterol is still coming back from a broken arm and hasn’t been taking batting practice with the other guys. He’s been catching bullpens, though.
• Speaking of bullpens, there were a lot of them today. I caught most of Michael Pineda’s, and he looked sharp. “I thought his bullpen was excellent,” Girardi said. “I think he ended up throwing 35 pitches. I thought everything was working for him. Arm strength was really good, so that was good.” Remembering that spring of 2012, the arm strength seems to be a key issue.
• Another bullpen that seemed to catch the manager’s eye: “You know, I thought (CC Sabathia’s) bullpen was good today,” Girardi said. “I was pleased, I mean really pleased, with what I saw. Physically, I know the recovery is important, and going out there inning after innings, sitting down and getting back up (will be a different challenge), but I saw a lot of good signs today.”
• Girardi has not yet talked to Rodriguez face-to-face about playing first base, but he said he expects that conversation at some point. “I anticipate that, yeah,” Girardi said. “I’ll talk to him about taking some grounders over there just to be prepared, if I need to give a guy a day off or whoever we chose to do it, but yeah, I’m going to talk to him about it and see how comfortable it is.”
• With Rodriguez set to work at first base, and Headley having some experience there, Girardi left open the decision about who will backup Mark Teixeira. There seems to be one obvious standout candidate, though, and Girardi mentioned him by name. “I think it’s too early to decide who our backup first baseman is,” Giradri said. “Garrett Jones has played over there. That’s something that we’ll work on in spring training.”
• Interesting tidbit from Brendan Kuty: Former Gold Glove third baseman Scott Rolen has been working with third-base prospect Eric Jagielo at the minor league complex. That was at the suggestion of Gary Denbo.
• Final word goes to Girardi, about the way he’ll handle Rodriguez now that position players are set to report in the morning. “The idea for me as a manager is to get the most out of a player,” Girardi said. “I have to do whatever it takes; that’s my job. Will I be any different? I don’t know if the situations will be the same, in a sense. In 2013, he hadn’t served his suspension, a lot of things were still in question and it was different. Now it’s different. He’s served his suspension, a lot of questions have been answered, and now my job is to get to the most out of him again. I’ll do what it takes.”
Associated Press photos
Above is video of new Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi throwing live batting practice this morning. There was no radar on the field, but velocity really isn’t much of an issue with Eovaldi. The Yankees are well aware that he can throw hard. They’re also well aware that his strikeout numbers aren’t what you’d expect from a guy with such a big fastball.
“I want to be a swing-and-miss guy,” Eovaldi said. “But contact (isn’t bad). If you locate the pitch, you should get quick outs. That’s really the main goal; limit the pitches and try to get guys out as fast as possible.”
The Yankees have said they want Eovaldi to get more comfortable with his secondary pitches. They want him to feel confident mixing pitches in various counts. In short, they want him to be more than a guy who throws hard. To that end, Eovaldi began working on a split-finger last year, and he’s planning to carry that into this season.
“The curveball was just kind of (used for) a first-pitch strike,” Eovaldi said. “I needed another strikeout pitch other than the slider and the fastball. We just started messing around with it, and it just happened to feel real good. … I took it in the bullpen and it’s just a comfort pitch. It felt good for me, so I felt comfortable throwing it out there. This year I’m going to mix it in there a lot more.”
• Kind of an under-the-radar candidate for the Yankees bullpen, former Athletics’ closer Andrew Bailey said he feels “night and day difference” since last spring training, which was his first after shoulder surgery. Bailey’s thrown four bullpens — last threw one on Friday, has another on Tuesday — and said he feels like he did during those all-star years in Oakland. He’s already throwing all of his pitches. Sounds incredibly optimistic and confident.
• While Bailey is throwing bullpens, he’s still on a slightly different program than the other guys in camp. Instead of throwing another bullpen today or tomorrow, he’ll simply long toss and throw off flat ground before his next bullpen on Tuesday. He’s basically getting a little extra rest between pens at this point, but Bailey said he feels healthy and feels on track. “It’s all geared toward Opening Day,” he said.
• As expected, Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to throw another bullpen today. He threw one on Thursday at the minor league complex.
• Once again, Brian McCann is assigned to catch one of the Yankees new relievers. He’s matched with Justin Wilson for today’s bullpen. John Ryan Murphy will handle new lefty Chasen Shreve.
• Branden Pinder was initially assigned to the Arizona Fall League this offseason, but he said that after coming back from a mid-season groin injury, he felt some elbow soreness — nothing serious — and the Yankees decided to not to put the extra innings on his arm. Feels good now.
• Carlos Beltran is not listed for batting practice today.
• Adam Warren and Danny Burawa also threw live batting practice this morning. Eovaldi pitched to Gary Sanchez; Warren to Kyle Higashioka; Burawa to Trent Garrison. Eddy Rodriguez and Francisco Arcia hit against all three pitchers. Sanchez hit against Warren and Burawa.
John Ryan Murphy
Kyle Davies (to Francisco Arcia)
Chris Martin (to Juan Graterol)
Masahiro Tanaka (to Austin Romine)
Esmil Rogers (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Chasen Shreve (to John Ryan Murphy)
Justin Wilson (to Brian McCann)
Jose De Paula (to Gary Sanchez)
Wilking Rodriguez (to Trent Garrison)
Associated Press photos
The Yankees’ first spring workout is four days away. We’ll continue counting down the team’s key spring training decisions by looking at the end of games. While the Yankees have considerable depth in their bullpen, they’ve left themselves without an experienced closer. There are standout relievers, but the Yankees still have to answer this question:
Who replaces Dave Robertson in the ninth inning?
Although there’s something to be said for a closer-by-committee situation, or perhaps a mix-and-match closer depending on matchups, manager Joe Girardi has indicated that he’d like to have defined roles when the season starts.
“I think it’s important they have an idea how they’re going to be used,” Girardi said during the Winter Meetings. “But sometimes it takes time to develop that.”
That second sentence is worth remembering. Bullpen usage could evolve during the season. The Yankees saw that last year with the emergence of Dellin Betances, who went from basically the last guy in the pen, to a trusted strikeout pitcher in key spots, to one of the best setup relievers in baseball. Now he stands out as an obvious option to takeover as closer in just his second big league season.
While the role could evolve, the Yankees will want to make some sort ninth-inning of decision out of camp. Someone is going to get the first crack at the closer role.
“I would not assume that anybody could do that (job),” Brian Cashman said at the end of last season. “It’s just not that type of role that you could guarantee someone can easily transition to.”
Someone’s going to get a chance to do it. The question is who, and in what capacity. Here are five directions the Yankees could go.
1. Just give Betances the job
It’s the most obvious solution, and it might be the most likely. Betances was one of the very best relievers in baseball last season, so good that he generated comparisons to Mariano Rivera’s 1996 season (which was Rivera’s final step toward becoming a closer). Betances generates a ton of strikeouts, he’s able to pitch back-to-back days, he’s been thrown into tough late-inning situations, and he can get more than three outs when necessary. Why over-think it? Just give Betances the job.
2. Go with the guy who’s getting closer money
When the Yankees decided to let Robertson walk away, they did so knowing they could sign a free agent with similarly dominant numbers. Andrew Miller has never been a closer, but he has a longer big league track record than Betances. He’s also older and last year pitched well for the Orioles in the thick of a pennant race. Betances is relatively inexperienced, and why mess with such a good thing? Leave Betances in his multi-inning setup role and let Miller take the place of the guy he essentially replaced on the roster.
3. Build the bridge first
Clearly baseball is beginning to put increased value on middle-inning setup men. That’s why a guy like Miller got so much money, and why a guy like Wade Davis has gotten so much attention. There’s incredible value is being able to bridge that cap between a starting pitcher and a closer. The Yankees could let Miller and Betances focus on those in-the-middle outs, while trusting that someone like David Carpenter or Adam Warren — or former closer Andrew Bailey, if he’s healthy — can take care of the final inning. Why save the best relievers for an inning that might not matter as much?
4. Don’t pick one
Of course someone is going to pitch the ninth inning of a close game, but why should it be the same person each time? The Yankees could push away from the tradition of the past few decades and simply use their relievers based on in-the-moment need instead of assigned roles. If the 3-4-5 hitters are due up in the eighth, and the 6-7-8 hitters in the ninth, why save the better reliever for the bottom of the order? Just use relievers as they fit in the moment, making pitching changes based on matchups and situations — runners on base, score of the game, place in the order — rather than preassigned roles. Betances might close one night, Miller might close the next night, and Warren might be the guy the next night.
5. Bring in an expert
The only experienced closer coming to Yankees camp is Bailey, who didn’t pitch at all last season and hasn’t been a full-time closer since 2011. Hard to know what to expect from him. Even a good spring might not give real confidence in his ability to slide back into the ninth inning. The free agent market, though, still has a pair of experienced closers available. Both Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are still out there, available to the highest bidder, and the Yankees could make a push for one of them. Even if they only hold the closer job out of spring training before someone replaces them, Rodriguez or Soriano would surely add depth and options for the late innings.
Associated Press photos
With the Yankees first workout now seven days away, we’ll continue counting down some of the key spring training decisions by looking at the most wide open spot on the roster. The Yankees have a two-way competition for the backup catcher, they could be convinced to change their plans at second base, but there’s only one roster spot that has a slew of candidates and no obvious favorites heading into camp.
Who’s going to fill the final spot in the bullpen?
Granted, that one open spot could be two or three open spots by the time Opening Day rolls around. But that’s always the case. What’s unusual about this particular bullpen spot is there’s really no telling which direction the Yankees might go.
To be clear, these are the 11 spots on the pitching staff that have clear favorites:
Rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Capuano
Bullpen: Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers
Of course “favorites” aren’t guarantees, but based on what we know today, those 11 feel like safe bets. The 12th spot, on the other hand, is thoroughly up in the air. The Yankees could go several directions with that final spot in the bullpen, and nearly every direction comes with its own set of options.
A hard-throwing right-hander
Based on pure numbers, this might be the most likely decision. Protecting Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder from the Rule 5 draft added two hard-throwing, right-handed prospects to the 40-man roster. Acquiring Chris Martin from the Rockies added yet another. As long as Jose Ramirez is fully healthy, he’ll be another possibility (having made his big league debut last season). Nick Rumbelow isn’t on the 40-man, but he was invited to big league camp and finished last season in Triple-A. Minor league free agent Wilking Rodriguez seems like a long shot, but he did pitch in the big leagues with the Royals last season. It’s worth remembering that one of these guys could fill, essentially, the role Betances had at the beginning of last season. Joe Girardi often talks about taking the 12 best pitchers, and it’s worth wondering if one of these guys could really take advantage of the opportunity.
A third left-hander
With Miller and Wilson, the Yankees seem to have two left-handed relievers with big league spots waiting for them. Miller is certainly going to make the team, and Wilson seems like a near lock, if not an absolute lock. But is there room for a third lefty? Neither Miller nor Wilson is purely a left-on-left specialist, the Yankees could ease a young pitcher into the big leagues by starting him in a situational role. Maybe that’s the way top draft pick Jacob Lindgren gets his feet wet. Or it could be the way the Yankees get their first up-close look at Chasen Shreve, who broke into the big leagues with Atlanta last season. Tyler Webb didn’t have standout splits last season, but he did put up good numbers in Triple-A. James Pazos would seem like the long shot of this group, but he was dominant against Double-A lefties last year.
A former big league closer
Only one guy in all of Yankees camp fits this description, and it’s not any of the guys listed as favorites for the big league bullpen. After missing all of last year while recovering from shoulder surgery, former Oakland closer Andrew Bailey signed a new minor league deal with the Yankees this offseason. He’s said to be healthy and expected to be pitching off a mound this spring. It’s hard to know what to expect from Bailey, but that’s part of what makes him so intriguing. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2009, an all-star in 2010, and as recently as 2013 he had huge strikeout numbers with the Red Sox. Hard to know what he can do at this point, but there could be high-end potential if he’s close to his pre-surgery form.
A pure long man
With plans to have Warren and Rogers work as starters in spring training — just in case they’re needed in the rotation — the Yankees projected bullpen already has two guys who could serve as long relievers. They also have both Betances and Miller who aren’t necessarily restricted to one inning at a time. But there could still be room for a long reliever/sixth starter. Perhaps Chase Whitley, who worked as a reliever most of his career before getting to the big leagues as a starter last season. Or maybe Bryan Mitchell, who’s become one of the Yankees top upper-level rotation prospects, but could find an immediate role in the bullpen. Long relief could also open a big league door for new lefty Jose De Paula. If the Yankees prefer a veteran, both Scott Baker and Kyle Davies are coming to camp, each with multiple years of big league rotation experience.
Associated Press photo of Whitley
Just got off the phone with assistant general manager Billy Eppler, who answered a few questions about the non-roster guys invited to Yankees camp this spring.
Eppler confirmed that both Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers have been told to prepare as starting pitchers. They will essentially show up in Tampa as sixth-starter options — guys who could fill a rotation spot if someone else gets hurt — but Eppler didn’t rule out the idea of either Warren or Rogers pitching well enough to win a rotation job even if everyone else is healthy.
“I don’t know,” Eppler said. “I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see. I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you.”
Rogers pitched well as a starter in winter ball this offseason, and Warren was a legitimate rotation prospect throughout his minor league career (he made his big league debut as a starter back in 2012). For now, the Yankees seem to be looking at a five-man rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Capuano, while they wait for Ivan Nova to come back from Tommy John.
The Yankees expect reliever Andrew Bailey to be an active pitcher in camp. After missing basically all of last season while recovering from a shoulder injury, Bailey should be back on the mound this spring, presumably with a real chance to win a spot in the Yankees bullpen.
“He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” Eppler said.
Slade Heathcott is also expected to report to camp fully healthy. He had surgery yet again last season and played in just nine Double-A games, but the Yankees signed him to a new minor league contract this offseason.
“His progressions are moving forward really positively,” Eppler said. “The last checkup we had, he’s able to do full baseball activities, it’s just (a question of) how regular and how long of a duration.”
New reliever Johnny Barbato — acquired in the Shawn Kelley trade — is also healthy. Barbato didn’t get an invitation to big league camp, but Eppler said that’s not because of the elbow injury that kept him off the mound the second half of last season. Eppler said Barbato actually finished 2014 healthy and pitched in the Padres’ instructional league this offseason before the Yankees acquired him. They’re considering him a healthy and available pitcher, one that will continue to work as a reliever.
“He was cleared and good to go,” Eppler said.
MINOR LEAGUE ASSIGNMENTS
While he wouldn’t give an exact date, Eppler said that veteran pitcher Scott Baker does have an opt-out in his contract (pretty common for a veteran guy on a minor league deal). He’ll come to camp to provide rotation depth, but that could be a short-term thing. If he goes to Triple-A at all — and that might be a big, if — Baker might not be there very long before looking for an opportunity elsewhere.
As for Heathcott and Mason Williams — two prospects whose assignment, Double-A or Triple-A, seems pretty far up in the air — Eppler said their assignments will, in fact, be determined in spring training. This spring could be pretty important for each of those two.
“Any young player wants to make an impression,” Eppler said. “… But you want them to do so in a very cautious manner. (Joe Girardi) tells them, no one is making the team in the first week of spring training.”
Along those same lines, Eppler said the Yankees entered the offseason with strong interest in minor league infielders Noonan, Jonathan Galvez and Cole Figueroa — Galvez, in particular, was signed very quickly — and the team sees all three as potential Yangervis Solarte-types who could really capitalize on a fresh opportunity. Galvez is 24, Noonan is 25, and Figueroa is 27.
And for whatever it’s worth, Eppler said not to dismiss Cito Culver, the former first-round pick who’s hit just .233/.316/.321 in the minor leagues but still got an invitation to big league camp.
“When people look at Cito or whoever, when you look at a player, you’re throwing his offensive numbers in your face,” Eppler said. “We do feel that Cito Culver is a very high, high-end defender. Very high-end defender.”
Because of that defensive ability at such an important defensive position, Eppler said the Yankees still believe Culver could become a consideration should the Yankees have a need at shortstop in the big leagues. In the past, I’ve compared Culver to Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, also a first-round defensive standout who didn’t hit much in the minors but has seen quite a bit of big league time on pretty good teams.
Some of the more notable names left off the Yankees’ list of spring invites were, as expected, simply the victims of a numbers crunch. Taylor Dugas and Adonis Garcia each played well in Triple-A last season, but the Yankees have 10 other outfielders coming to camp, and Eppler pointed out that infielders Garrett Jones and Jose Pirela will also get some outfield time. As it is, that’s 12 outfielders for three spots.
A similar glut of third basemen kept Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. from getting invitations, and Eppler confirmed that reliever Mark Montgomery is healthy, he was simply kept out of big league camp by the recent influx of bullpen talent.
“There’s a limited number of at-bats and innings to hand out in spring training,” Eppler said. “You don’t want to water it down.”
Associated Press photo
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
Just starting the first week of February, the free agent market has grown predictably thin. James Shields is still out there, as are a couple of experienced closers, but the market is really down the bare bones.
Here’s an attempt to list the significant free agent signings each team has made this offseason. In some cases, the term “significant” is stretched to the limit (I’ve included a handful of minor league deals with recognizable names, most of whom will never play anything close to a significant role). Obviously free agency isn’t the only way to build a team — the Padres, for example, used trades to completely restructure their outfield — but this does give some idea of which teams were most active on the open market this winter.
You’ll notice the Yankees have quite a few names attached, but almost all are re-signings, and there’s a chance that only two will play a particularly big role in 2015.
Blue Jays – Russell Martin, Andy Dirks, Daric Barton, Ronald Belisario, Ramon Santiago
Orioles – J.P. Arencibia, Delmon Young, J.J. Hardy (re-signed before he hit the market)
Rays – Asdrubal Cabrera, Ernesto Frieri, Ronald Belisario
Red Sox – Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Justin Masterson, Craig Breslow, Alexi Ogando, Koji Uehara (re-signed before he hit the market)
Yankees – Andrew Miller, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Andrew Bailey
Indians – Gavin Floyd
Royals – Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Kris Melden, Ryan Madson
Tigers – Victor Martinez, Tom Gorzelanny
Twins – Ervin Santana, Torii Hunter, Tim Stauffer
White Sox – Dave Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, Zach Duke, Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham, Geovany Soto, Jesse Crain
Angels – no standout free agent additions
Astros – Colby Rasmus, Jed Lowrie, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek
Athletics – Billy Butler
Mariners – Nelson Cruz, Endy Chavez
Rangers – Kyuji Pujikawa, Adam Rosales, Colby Lewis, Kyle Blanks
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves – Nick Markakis, Jason Grilli, A.J. Pierzynski, Jim Johnson, Alberto Callaspo, Dian Toscano, Jonny Gomes, Kelly Johnson, Zoilo Almonte
Marlins – Mike Morse, Ichiro Suzuki
Mets – Michael Cuddyer, John Mayberry
Nationals – Max Scherzer, Casey Janssen, Dan Uggla
Phillies – Aaron Harang, Wandy Rodriguez, Chad Billingsley, Grady Sizemore, Jerome Williams (Sizemore and Williams were extended before they hit the market)
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers – Neal Cotts, Dontrelle Willis, Aramis Ramirez (options picked up on both ends)
Cardinals – Mark Reynolds, Matt Belisle, Dean Anna
Cubs – Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Chris Denorfia, Jason Motte, David Ross
Pirates – Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Jung-ho Kang, Corey Hart
Reds – Jason Marquis, Brennan Boesch, Paul Maholm
Diamondbacks – Yasmany Tomas, Gerald Laird
Dodgers – Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Erik Bedard, David Huff
Giants – Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo, Nori Aoki, Ryan Vogelsong
Padres – Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Clint Barmes, Ramiro Pena, Wil Nieves
Rockies – Daniel Descalso, Nick Hundley, John Axford
Associated Press photo
This morning, Baseball America released its annual list of minor league free agents. These are the players whose contracts expired at the end of the season either because they were on one-year minor league deals or because their original contracts ran out (essentially, players drafted or signed in 2008 became free agents this year if they weren’t added to the 40-man roster).
Andrew Bailey is listed here because the Yankees declined their 2015 option on the veteran right-hander, but two sources say he’s been re-signed to a new minor league contract, which means he’ll be back in the Yankees system next year.
The Yankees originally signed Bailey back in spring training, and he spent all year rehabbing a shoulder injury. He never actually got into a game this season, but he’s been a very good big league reliever in the past. Very low-risk move bringing him back. Could be helpful if he gets healthy.
Here’s the list of Yankees minor league free agents:
RHP: Andrew Bailey (AAA), Jairo Heredia (AA), David Herndon (AAA)
RHP/LHP: Pat Venditte (AAA)
LHP: Ramon Benjamin (Hi A), Jeremy Bleich (AA), Francisco Rondon (AA), Nik Turley (AAA)
C: Jose Gil (AAA)
1B: Reymond Nunez (Hi A)
2B: Jose Toussen (AA)
3B: Scott Sizemore (AAA)
SS: Carmen Angelini (AAA)
OF: Zoilo Almonte (AAA)
A few things worth pointing out:
• Rondon, Turley and Almonte are all organizational prospects who were previously on the 40-man roster at some point. Almonte got some big league time the past two years, but he was designated for assignment, cleared waivers and became eligible for free agency. He clearly needs a fresh start with a team that might give him a real chance to get big league at-bats. Turley was released and re-signed earlier this year (he’d been hurt in spring training, and the Yankees needed to open a 40-man spot). I tend to think of him as being similar to a Rule 5 candidate: The Yankees either had to put him back on the 40-man or risk losing him. As long as he’s throwing strikes, Turley’s a solid prospect. Wouldn’t be stunned to see the Yankees try to re-sign him. Also wouldn’t be stunned to see him try his luck elsewhere.
• There was a time this season when I thought Venditte might have a real chance for a call-up. The Yankees were basically out of upper-level left-handed relievers — Rondon, Fred Lewis and Cesar Cabral had each stumbled in Triple-A — and Venditte was once again putting up pretty solid numbers. If the Yankees had suddenly needed a lefty, I wonder if Venditte might have gotten a chance (which would have been really cool to see). Instead, Rich Hill and Josh Outman were brought onboard and Venditte never got a look. Often labeled a novelty act because he throws with both hands, Venditte has a career 2.46 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in the minors.
• Bleich was a supplemental-round pick in 2008, but he had some early injury problems that derailed his development for a while. Heredia was also once considered a pretty good prospect, but he too had some health problems. Despite being a starter through most of his career, he’s only once thrown more than 100 innings in a season, and that came way back in 2008 when he threw 102.1 innings in Low-A. Similar story with Angelini, who at one point might have been the top shortstop prospect in the system, but he missed a lot of time and never hit much.
• Many others Yankees minor leaguers were either released midseason or elected free agency previously this offseason. Among those most recognizable names: RHP Jim Miller, RHP Bruce Billings, RHP Chris Leroux, LHP Cesar Cabral, LHP Josh Outman, 1B Russ Canzler, 2B Corban Joseph, OF Antoan Richardson.
Associated Press photos of Almonte and Turley; headshot of Bailey
Pregame notes: “I just feel like it’s time” • 08.16.14
Carlos Beltran last played right field on May 11. It was one day later, on May 12, that Beltran felt sudden pain in his right elbow, which led to the discovery of a bone spur, which led to the Yankees decision to keep him out of the field for several months.
But he’s been playing catch for a while now, and the tightness that had developed in his forearm has subsided, and so the Yankees feel ready to get him back into right field. Beltran prefers playing out there, he feels confident that he’s healthy, and getting Beltran in the field opens the DH spot for other regulars to get a bit of a rest from time to time.
“I just feel like it’s time,” Beltran said. “Right now I’ve been throwing and I don’t feel nothing. It’s good.”
There’s some risk here — Beltran has been a productive hitter since the All-Star break, and a setback would be a real blow to an offense that can’t afford to lose much — but Beltran said he’s convinced his elbow is up to making throws, and Joe Girardi said he doesn’t feel much need to pay extra attention to Beltran on defense.
“I feel that he’s healthy, and that it shouldn’t be an issue,” Girardi said. “They can test him (on the bases). His arm’s fine. He’s thrown. This an aggressive club anyway, so I don’t think they’re going to play any different.”
The Yankees have several long stretches late in the season, and the DH spot will surely be used to give players a half day off from time to time. Girardi wouldn’t commit to whether he considers Beltran to be the everyday right fielder or still a regular DH going forward. Surely he’ll get at least some DH days.
“Just wait to see how it goes,” Girardi said. “Let’s go day by day. I don’t want to make a decision too quickly here. Let’s just go day by day.”
Beltran is hitting .299 with five home runs and 17 RBI since the All-Star break. It seems little coincidence that his improved production has come as he’s grown more confident that the elbow and forearm are healthy.
“I guess in the back of my mind sometimes I get caught up a little bit protecting it,” Beltran said. “Especially, I don’t know, (when) it’s kind of sore a little bit, my forearm. But at the end of the day, I just have to come and prepare myself and try to do the best I can. Once the game starts, I try not to think about it, but during batting practice and cage work and things like that I try to be smart and try not to do much.”
• Brian McCann has not been activated. There’s no medical concern, the Yankees just want him to go through at least one more day of baseball drills. “I just felt that he was kind of lethargic (during drills yesterday),” Girardi said. “I think what happens is that when you are used to doing something every day for five, six months, and then you’re not able to do anything for five days, we’ve got to make sure because I don’t want to put him in there too soon and you get the foul tip and lose him for a long period of time.”
• It’s possible McCann will come off the disabled list tomorrow, but Girardi said that’s not a sure thing. Could wait until Tuesday.
• Worth noting that the Yankees wanted to play a bunch of right-handers against Drew Smyly anyway, and Francisco Cervelli has been catching Shane Greene regularly. Even so, Girardi said the determining factor on McCann had much more to do with wanting to get him more swings and work on the field. “It was more our feeling that he wasn’t quite ready to go,” Girardi said.
• Going right-handed is part of the reason today is Beltran’s return to right field. Putting him out there lets the Yankees sit both Stephen Drew and Ichiro Suzuki. “Try to get as many right-handed hitters in there against Smyly as possible,” Girardi said. “He’s been very tough against left-handers this year – and the last couple of years – and it’s one way of doing it.”
• After today’s bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka will stay with the Yankees when they leave Tampa. He’s not going to stay behind to do work at the complex. No word yet on when exactly he’ll throw his next bullpen, but he’s expected to throw some real breaking balls at that point. “We’ll see how he is tomorrow and then design the next few days,” Larry Rothschild said. “I don’t like to get ahead in the schedule with the rehabs. We have an idea of what he’ll do, but first we’ll see how he comes in.”
• What was Rothschild watching for in the bullpen today? “More facial expressions to see if he’s trying to hide something, which I don’t think he’s going to, but you never know,” Rothschild said. “You watch his delivery to make sure he’s not forcing anything. The most important part early in this is that he stays smooth and finishes his pitches so we don’t tweak anything. He’s had some time off, so it’s not only going to be the elbow. You have to watch everything.”
• Everyone involved indicates the Yankees are planning to bring Tanaka back this season regardless of where they are in the standings. Even if they’re out of it by the time Tanaka’s ready to pitch again, it’s still likely he’ll come off the disabled list to make a few starts. “I think it’s important that we know that he’s healthy,” Girardi said. “And I think the only way you’re going to find out is if you get him in games.”
• Tanaka on the possibility of coming back to a team that’s no longer in the race: “I think it’s important for the team to fight until the end of the season, so for me, if it would be possible, I’d like to contribute until the end of the season.”
• By the way, David Phelps is scheduled to be re-examined on Monday, which will be two weeks since his upper elbow/lower triceps issue. It’s entirely possible he’ll start playing catch that day as well.
• As Mark Newman said in this morning’s blog post, indications are that Andrew Bailey is not going to pitch at all for the Yankees this season. Girardi said Bailey’s had a few setbacks in his recovery from shoulder surgery, and he doesn’t expect to see him this season. Maybe next season.
• Girardi responding to last night’s Kevin Long comment about morale being low: “You’re always going to look down when you don’t score runs,” Girardi said. “That’s the nature of the game. Guys are frustrated. I’ve said that guys are frustrated because they know that they’re capable of doing more. We want to play in October, and when you lose, you should be frustrated. You shouldn’t just blow it off. Every day is a new day, and things can change very quickly in a clubhouse. You can get on a roll, and that’s what we need to do.”
Associated Press photos