Joe Girardi made a change at the top of the order today, just not the change so many have been suggesting. Jacoby Ellsbury is back in the leadoff spot, Brett Gardner is batting third for the first time, and Derek Jeter is still right in between them as the No. 2 hitter.
“For the first four months of the year, he was probably one of our most consistent hitters,” Girardi said. “One of the three most consistent hitters in our club. I consider us kind of to be in playoff mode right now, for us, because we obviously need to win games. Throughout his career, he’s been clutch in the playoffs, and we’re leaving him there. He’s a hot topic always just because of who he is, but there’s other issues that we have in our club that we have to get better at as well.”
Is there pressure to keep Jeter in that spot for his final month?
“No, not necessarily,” Girardi said. “… If I had eight other guys hitting .300, it probably wouldn’t be difficult (to move him down). When you look up and down at our numbers, we’ve had a number of guys that have had tough years. Years that we wouldn’t have projected. So (if) I move him, who am I going to put there? That’s my question. Who you going to move there that’s been more consistent during the course of the season. We haven’t hit collectively as a team, and to single him out is not fair. … (Rank) 13 out of 15 in runs scored. That’s not all Derek’s fault. That’s collectively we haven’t hit.”
Of course, it’s hard to know how much of Girardi’s persistence with Jeter is because of external pressure — because of who Jeter is and what his final season means — and how much is because of the disappointing hitters around him. The Yankees really haven’t had many consistent alternatives. Martin Prado is hot right now, but his first few weeks with the team were underwhelming. Gardner is coming off a bad month. Mark Teixeira is coming off a terrible month.
“(Jeter) could hit .600 and if the other guys don’t produce around him and through the lineup, then it’s not going to matter what he hits,” Girardi said. “So, as I said, it’s going to have to be a collection of all these guys that can swing the bat extremely well. And if one guy’s not, the other guy picks him up. That’s the bottom line.”
• Masahiro Tanaka has been examined by Dr. Chris Ahmad, who diagnosed him with nothing more than arm fatigue. “Every manual test that they did came out really well,” Girardi said. “They just said he had some arm fatigue. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen sometime this week and hopefully he’s ready to do it.” Tanaka played catch today and apparently had no issues.
• For those confused by the move: Putting Tanaka on the 60-day doesn’t really mean much. Those moves are always retroactive, and he’s missed close to 60 days already. He could still come back this season.
• David Phelps threw a 25-pitch bullpen this afternoon (fastballs and changeups), and he’s scheduled for a 35-pitch bullpen on Friday (all of his pitches). Phelps said he expects to throw a simulated game on Sunday, and that might be the final step toward getting him off the disabled list and into the bullpen. “I know that we’ve been going kind of conservative with it just to make sure everything comes back,” Phelps said. “All of the steps have been good along the way, so it shouldn’t be too long.”
• Of the Yankees eight September call-ups, five are relievers. Two of those — Whitley and Mitchell — are basically long men. “Obviously pitching is always important this time of year,” Girardi said. “It gives you more options, with a doubleheader coming up eventually here.”
• Why John Ryan Murphy but not Austin Romine? “The organization made the decision to go with (Murphy),” Girardi said. “Obviously I don’t get to see either one of them play a lot. So they went with Murphy.”
• Not much of a surprise that Chris Young got a call-up. I have to imagine that was a condition of any contract he was looking to sign after being released. “(He’s) been pretty productive in his career off left-handers,” Girardi said.
• If there’s a surprise among the call-ups, it’s certainly Antoan Richardson. “Speed off the bench,” Girardi said. Richardson played with Atlanta a little bit in 2011. He was 26-for-27 stealing bases with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he also had a .380 on-base percentage. Kind of a custom-made September call-up, just wasn’t sure the Yankees would actually make the move to get him on the 40-man.
• Zoilo Almonte was designated for assignment after leading Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in home runs and RBI this season. After Almonte struggled in New York last season, Girardi just never seemed to have much faith in his ability to hit big league right-handers the way he did in Triple-A. His splits are so extreme that, despite being a switch hitter, he’s likely a platoon player at best. Last year might have been his opportunity to show something, but he hit .236/.274/.302 (vRHP .250/.296/.342).
• Why Gardner batting third? “He’s probably been as good against right-handers as anyone in our lineup,” Girardi said. “I left Jake in the one hole. My concern in switching the guys when they both were going well was that they’re both going well, why move them. So I put Jake in the one hole when Gardy got hurt and he did extremely well. I’ll leave him there and just put Gardy third.”
• On Ellsbury’s health: “I saw him run on Sunday, which, I was really encouraged,” Girardi said. “He said he felt better yesterday and felt better today and that’s why I have him in center. In saying that, I told him, look, if you feel that it’s an issue out there you’ve got to let me know. If you feel you need to DH a day, you have to let me know.”
Associated Press photos
Looking ahead to September • 08.18.14
This post contains way too many words about possible September call-ups.
Why is this way too many? Because aside from the possibility of a left-handed reliever, there really don’t seem to be any impact September call-ups on the horizon. A few guys will come up to provide pitching and bench depth, but that’s about it. There isn’t a ton of playing time up for grabs, and there aren’t many obvious auditions that could take place. A left-handed reliever might get into some key situations, but that’s about it. If the Yankees fall completely out of contention, I suppose they could give a guy like Bryan Mitchell a start or maybe give Zoilo Almonte a chance to make a fresh impression with some right field starts. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t expect a ton out of the September additions.
But, I like minor league baseball and I think September call-ups are interesting, so here are a few thoughts and possibilities broken into four pretty typical September call-up categories.
Pretty standard September addition. The Yankees have been playing with an eight-man pitching staff for quite a while now, but even so, they’re still likely to add a few guys just to give them depth down the stretch.
Best bet: RHP Bryan Mitchell
He’s been up and down a few times, and he’s been pitching well out of the Triple-A rotation. He’s pretty much custom-made for providing innings, and there’s a real benefit to giving him some more big league experience. Seems like a strong candidate to be a rotation candidate at some point next season, even if he opens the year in Triple-A.
Keep in mind: RHP David Phelps
Worth remembering that Phelps is currently on the disabled list but due to be reevaluated today. Phelps was pitching pretty well before that mess of a start in Boston, and he could certainly move right back into the rotation once he’s healthy again. That could essentially push Chris Capuano into a bullpen role as another long man.
Uncertainty: RHP Preston Claiborne and RHP Matt Daley
Both are on the 40-man roster, but both are also on the Triple-A disabled list. If they’re healthy, it would be easy to call up both Claiborne and Daley to be extra middle-inning or extra-inning arms. Claiborne seems pretty close to coming off the disabled list. Another injured Triple-A reliever, Jose Ramirez, won’t be healthy in time to come up next month.
Worth mentioning: RHP Brandon Pinder, RHP Diego Moreno, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa
Montgomery and Burawa have been demoted to Double-A, which probably isn’t a good sign for them getting a call-up to the big leagues. Worth mentioning, though, because all four have been pretty good at times this season, and all four should be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If any of these pitchers are going to be protected in the offseason, might make sense to go ahead and add them to the roster now. My guess would be that Pinder is at the top of this particular pecking order right now. Veteran RHP Jim Miller could also be part of this discussion if the Yankees want a short-term roster addition just to provide some innings.
Probably not: RHP Nick Rumbelow
He’s moved quickly through the system and has been alright since getting to Triple-A, but he’s not Rule 5 eligible yet and there’s probably no reason to have him filling a 40-man spot all winter just so he can get a mopup inning or two in September.
The Yankees might very well bring up a new lefty before September 1, but given the fact they’re not carrying a true left-on-left specialist, it seems like a solid bet that they’ll eventually give some young lefty a call-up. Might even try more than one.
Best bet: LHP Manny Banuelos
Can’t say for certain that Banuelos is the “best bet” to come up as a left-on-left reliever, but he’s the only option who’s currently on the 40-man roster. He’s also pitched pretty well lately, which is surely easing some of the concerns about his early season inconsistency. Whether a career starter — and a young one at that — would be a viable situational lefty, I have no idea. But having a spot on the 40-man makes him an easy call-up if the Yankees want to either get his feet wet or see what he can do in a fairly important role.
Keep in mind: LHP Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees first-round draft pick back in June was a college reliever who throws pretty hard from the left side, and the Yankees have already pushed him all the way to Double-A. Pitching in Trenton isn’t exactly knocking on the door, but Lindgren has a big arm and a bunch of strikeouts and it’s not unheard of for a team to push a college reliever all the way to the big leagues in his first pro season.
Uncertainty: LHP Chris Capuano
He won’t be a September call-up, but Capuano factors into this discussion because of David Phelps. If Phelps is ready to return to the rotation fairly quickly, he could takeover for Capuano, who could move into a left-on-left role out of the bullpen. A possibility if the Yankees aren’t sure any of the young guys can handle the job.
Worth mentioning: LHP Tyler Webb, LHP James Pazos, LHP Francisco Rondon, SHP Pat Venditte
My guess is that all of these except Webb should be considered real long shots. I mention Pazos because he has good numbers in Double-A and the Yankees seem to like his arm; Rondon because he was once on the 40-man and has had the Yankees attention at various points; and Venditte because he’s been a pretty solid reliever for years now and has generally been pretty good with that side-arm delivery against lefties. Webb, though, is the left-handed relief prospect who’s most on the radar. Doesn’t have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft yet, but the Yankees have been pretty aggressive with him and he’s probably their most advanced left-handed relief prospect.
Probably not: LHP Nik Turley
There are actually a ton of lefties on the Triple-A pitching staff right now, including Turley, Matt Tracy and Jeremy Bleich, all of whom would be capable of giving multiple innings and — in theory — matching up against a left-handed hitter. My thinking, though, is: If the Yankees are going to try a long-time starter in this role in September, why not just try Banuelos? That’s easier than putting some of the other non-traditional relievers onto the roster. Know who else is a probably not? Cesar Cabral. The guy was actually in the big leagues at one point this year, but he’s fallen completely off the radar. Double-A lefties are knocking him around.
Happens basically every September that teams give themselves an extra catcher for the final month of the season. The question with the Yankees isn’t whether they’ll call up a third catcher, it’s whether they’ll call up a fourth catcher.
Best bet: C John Ryan Murphy
Even thought it was Austin Romine who came up when Brian McCann went on the disabled list, I’m still going to bet that Murphy is the best bet for a September call-up. I’m basing that almost entirely on the fact that Murphy played well during his extended big league call-up earlier this season, and based on the fact that Mark Newman has said Murphy is likely to come off the Triple-A disabled list pretty soon.
Keep in mind: C Austin Romine
These days, Murphy generates much more prospect buzz than Romine. But, down in Triple-A, it’s actually Romine who has better offensive numbers this season. He’s also played a decent amount of first base and could, in theory, fill in for Mark Teixeira in some late innings. Romine hasn’t played much in August, but he hit .342/.385/.466 in July, and it’s not like the big league staff is unfamiliar with him.
Uncertainty: Why not both?
Does it make sense to go ahead and bring both Murphy and Romine to the big leagues in September? Maybe leave one of them behind to play that last Triple-A game, and then just carry four catchers in the final month? In blowouts, one could get behind the plate and the other could rest Teixeira by playing first base.
Worth mentioning: C Francisco Cervelli
There’s only one other catcher call-up candidate worth mentioning, and we’ll get to him in a second. For now, it’s worth mentioning that the Yankees are facing an offseason decision about whether to bring back Cervelli — who’s been awfully good — or to give the backup catcher job fulltime to either Murphy or Romine. If the Yankees are out of it in September, one of these September call-up catchers could step into some serious playing time just to see what they’ve got.
Probably not: C Gary Sanchez
He’s on the 40-man roster, and he’s one of the biggest names in the Yankees minor league system, but it’s hard to predict a Sanchez call-up this year. He’s been alright this season, but he’s also been benched for disciplinary reasons, and it’s hard to imagine much playing time being available for him. Just doesn’t seem that he’s on the verge of getting his feet wet, but I guess you never know. If he’s sorted out his disciplinary issues, maybe he’s rewarded. My guess is that he won’t be.
VERSATILITY ON THE BENCH
There’s no one currently in the system who seems on the verge of a September call-up to play a significant role in the everyday lineup. Position players who come up are most likely going to be complimentary pieces given very occasional playing time.
Best bet: OF Zoilo Almonte
Joe Girardi hasn’t seemed sold on Almonte ever since his so-so performance last season, but he’s still a powerful left-handed hitter — technically switch hitter, but he’s significantly better from the left side — and he’s on the 40-man roster with some big league time already this season. Not sure he’ll actually get at-bats, but he seems like an obvious choice to bring up at least serve as an option for some pop as a pinch hitter or occasional platoon starter.
Keep in mind: UT Zelous Wheeler
In a lot of ways, Wheeler is an ideal September call-up. He’s already on the 40-man, he’s held his own in the big leagues already this season, and he can play almost any position on the field, which means he provides terrific versatility down the stretch. As long as Wheeler stays on the 40-man roster, there’s little reason not to give him a call-up.
Uncertainty: UT Jose Pirela
The one reason not to call up Wheeler would be to call up a somewhat similar but younger player in Pirela. Wheeler is probably the better defensive player, but they’re both versatile right-handed hitters who are putting up good numbers in Triple-A. If the Yankees aren’t planning to keep Wheeler through the offseason — but are interested in keeping Pirela — they could basically swap the two, putting Pirela on the roster in Wheeler’s place and giving Pirela the September call-up. Pirela can play second base and left field, and he could play third base, first base, right field and presumably shortstop in a pinch.
Worth mentioning: OF Ramon Flores, 1B Kyle Roller, OF Adonis Garcia, OF Taylor Dugas
Of these four, only Flores is on the 40-man, and he’s a nice fit for September. He can run, he can play all three outfield spots, he has some first base experience, and he was playing pretty well in Triple-A before an injury. Indications are that Flores could be off the DL and active by the time September rolls around, but would the Yankees call up a guy who’s hardly played since the start of June. The other three listed are not on the 40-man, and I’m not sure they’d play roles significant enough to find a way to get them on the roster. Dugas in particular has been terrific this year, but he’s not yet Rule 5 eligible, so there’s probably little sense having him take up a 40-man spot all winter. I would suggest OF Antoan Richardson as an interesting possibility as well — speed off the bench, ability to play all three outfield spots — but he’s currently on the temporarily inactive list, and I’m not sure what that’s about or how long he’ll be there. Could temporarily add him without worrying about a DFA this winter.
Probably not: 2B Rob Refsnyder
Arguably the most buzzworthy September call-up possibility. Probably is, Refsnyder is just like a handful of guys on this list in that he’s playing in Triple-A already but won’t be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If he’s only going to come up to sit the bench and maybe get his feet wet, is that really worth taking up an otherwise valuable 40-man spot all winter? If he were coming up to play every day, that would be one thing. But bringing him up to backup Stephen Drew probably isn’t worthwhile.
Associated Press photos
Romine catching on • 05.19.13
There was that forgettable first start April 29 against the Astros at Yankee Stadium. Andy Pettitte lost his cutter in the first inning and Romine struggled to get on the same page with him. The Yankees ended up losing 9-1.
But the 24-year-0ld rookie catcher has taken some steps forward back there since then. Good thing, too. Because Cervelli’s primary replacement, Chris Stewart, hurt his groin Thursday night and has been only available in a pinch. It sounded like Stewart won’t be starting the first two games in Baltimore. So Romine, who has guided the pitchers to a 2.25 ERA during his 60 innings, will get more time.
“I think he’s gotten in a better rhythm with our pitchers,” Girardi said. “He has a better understanding. He’s been able to watch them a couple of times. He’s gotten back there with I think almost everybody at this point. So I think he’s just getting more comfortable.
“It’s always tough when you come in the middle of the season as a catcher, and especially when you’re a young catcher, to feel like you know exactly what they want to do. That can be difficult. It could be a day when the guy doesn’t have everything, and that even makes it harder. But I think he’s adjusted really, really well.”
Romine is also 3 for 6 at the plate over the last two games after starting out 1 for 16.
Photo by The Associated Press.
Romine aiming to prove himself with Yankees • 04.30.13
Austin Romine’s season debut with the Yankees didn’t go so well Monday night in the 9-1 loss to the Astros. The rookie catcher went 0 for 3 and got hit by a pitch. And he and Andy Pettitte struggled to get on the same page with Pettitte not able to locate his signature cutter. But Romine will get other chances with Francisco Cervelli down for at least six weeks. He wants to make a statement when he does.
“Any time you can get a chance to show them what you can do, it’s huge,” Romine said before the game. “So I’m going to take however long I’m here and do the best I can to show them I can handle it up here and I can do it.”
This is the player Baseball America named as the organization’s best defensive catcher following each of the last three seasons. The publication rated him No. 3 in arm strength among high school catchers in the 2007 draft, when the Yankees took him in the second round. But he has to prove he can contribute both ways up here.
“I think he can play at this level,” Joe Girardi said.
Romine only had a .158 average to show for the last time he was up, September of 2011. But that nine-game experience made him more comfortable for this sequel.
“Being here before, knowing what to expect, having caught a lot of these pitchers, it’s going to make that transition that much smoother and easier,” Romine said. “I have relationships with these pitchers. There are only a couple of guys I haven’t caught. So I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them and getting on the same page with what they’re doing this year.”
Here’s the link to my full feature story today on Romine, plus a link to my story on Pettitte’s difficult night and one to my Yankees notebook with items on Kevin Youkilis’ continued back problem, Cervelli and reaction to Jason Collins coming out.
Andy Pettitte turned in his worst start of the season, charged with seven runs and 10 hits in 4 1/3. It was 5-0 after four and the Yankees were on their way to a 9-1 loss to the AL’s worst team, the Astros.
“It’s frustrating,” Pettitte said. “We’ve been playing well. And to come out here and give up those five runs that early in the game and feel like we don’t have a chance to get back in it and not give us a chance to win, it makes me sick to my stomach.”
Pettitte and rookie catcher Austin Romine had trouble getting on the same page, especially since the 40-year-old lefty’s signature cutter had abandoned him.
“I’ve got to get into his head and figure out what he wants to do,” Romine said. (I’ll have more on Romine in my morning post.)
Joe Girardi couldn’t remember ever seeing Pettitte without that cutter working.
“He had a tough start,” Girardi said. “It happens.”
On the other hand, the Yankees had trouble with righty sinkerballer Lucas Harrell. They managed eight hits off in 6 1/3, but just the one run in the sixth. They grounded into four double plays overall, three against Harrell.
“He was able to continue to pound the sinker down in the zone,” Girardi said, “and we kept hitting it into the ground.”
The news that came out of his postgame press conference was that Kevin Youkilis’ MRI came back negative. He’s supposed to have an epidural injection Tuesday. The Yankees were supposed to make a decision late Monday night about whether to put him on the DL. So we’ll know Tuesday.
Yankees postgame: More injuries • 04.27.13
The Yankees certainly aren’t having any luck in the injury department. They keep dropping. Add Ivan Nova and Francisco Cervelli to the list.
Nova left with pain around the right elbow area. Joe Girardi was still waiting for the MRI results after the game. He was under the impression the problem was in the triceps connecting to the elbow. Nova complained of a little stiffness after the second inning, but he wanted to try to go in the third. After he hit the first batter and gave up a single to the second, he was done.
“We went out there and asked him; he said he wasn’t OK,” Girardi said.
Cervelli only lasted five pitches. Leadoff batter Rajai Davis fouled a ball off the back of Cervelli’s right hand. Surgery is set for Saturday. The catcher will be out at least six weeks.
“It’s disappointing, and I know it’s real disappointing to him because of all he’s been through to get to this point,” Girardi said.
Girardi said he’ll play the catching situation by ear with Chris Stewart and Austin Romine, coming up now from Triple-A. Romine was batting .333 with a homer and four RBI in 14 games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Stewart said the 24-year-old righty hitter has “got a lot of talent. It’s just a matter of getting experience up here.”
Phelps would seem to be the logical choice to replace Nova, but Girardi said he wanted to wait a few days before announcing anything. Phelps had a 6.23 ERA in five outings before the game. He said he had struggled with the mentality of coming out of the bullpen, that he has been a starter basically his whole career. He said he has been better in these longer outings.
And he was good in this one, four innings, one run, two hits, nine Ks. The strikeout total was not only a career high. It was the most by a Yankees reliever since Jay Howell fanned nine over 4 2/3 in 1983. Phelps is the first Yankees pitcher to strike out at least nine in four innings or less in the Live Ball Era.
Despite all the injuries, the Yankees keep winning. They’re 13-9 overall, and 12-5 since April 7.
At the postgame press conference, Girardi expressed his happiness over what this team has achieved to date.
“Injuries are part of the game,” Girardi said. “It’s part of life. I’m sure everyone in here can attest that life doesn’t go exactly the way we want it to sometimes. But when you’re able to accomplish things and go out and continue to win games, it’s very satisfying. I’m proud of what these guys have done so far. We’ll keep fighting and we’ll keep finding ways.”
Toronto, meanwhile, has found ways to go 9-15, probably the biggest disappointment in baseball so far after all its acquisitions.
“I’d say that we’re just not playing good enough to win right now,” manager John Gibbons said.
Tuesday notes: Another opportunity for Nunez • 02.19.13
It’s going to be a while before Derek Jeter is ready to play in games, and that means playing time for someone else. Most notably, it means playing time for Eduardo Nunez.
“I can’t kill him,” Joe Girardi said. “I can’t play him nine innings every day, but he’s going to play a substantial amount.”
Nunez and Jeter went through shortstop drills together again today, and the Yankees plan to keep Nunez at short this spring, and there’s little doubt that the Yankees idea of letting Jeter DH against lefties in the regular season leaves a legitimate opportunity for Nunez to get big league playing time again.
“I want Jeter to be healthy again and play how he plays,” Nunez said. “But for now, it’s my opportunity to show I can play every day and show I can play defense. I can do different things than people think I can do. … I feel great right now. My confidence is (high). I know what I can do. I know what kind of player I can be, and that I can be right now.”
Girardi said the Yankees will look for consistency out of Nunez, and that should come as little surprise. Nunez has shown flashes of being a valuable big leaguer — most recently, he played well during his short time playing in Jeter’s place during the ALCS — but his defensive lapses are well documented.
“He has to earn it,” Girardi said. “We’ve got to toy with some different options, but we liked what he did at the end of last year. We know he provides a lot of excitement. Our plans are probably to keep him at short for the most part — we did talk about that — but he does have to earn it.”
Girardi said there’s a chance the Yankees could carry both Nunez and Jayson Nix, but it would leave the Yankees without a left-handed pinch hitter, which they’d like to have. Ultimately, Girardi repeated his familiar promise to carry the best players to make up the best team. Nunez will have a chance to put himself in that group.
“Jeter’s a Gold Glove,” Nunez said. “Cano’s a Gold Glove. (So are) Teixeira and A-Rod. You don’t see too many errors from these guys. When they come to me, I make an error, it’s a big thing. … It was a little bit in my mind, frustration for that, but I thank Jeter, thank A-Rod (and) thank Cano. They talked to me a lot and teach me how to fix that.”
• Here’s Girardi explaining the Phil Hughes injury: “It’s upper back, up here by his shoulder blades, so we’ll see how he is in a couple of days. The good thing is he was ahead of where he probably would normally be at this time, which helps. … You’re usually more concerned about the lower lingering. But until it’s gone, it’s going to linger. That’s like a Yogi-ism.”
• Despite being ahead of most of the other big league pitchers, Hughes was not in consideration to start Saturday’s spring opener even before the injury.
• Austin Romine said he’s more or less stopped thinking about his back. He doesn’t really notice it any more. Bascially a week into spring training and Romine’s had no problems so far. He’s very optimistic that he’s gotten past the problem.
• Haven’t heard much about Michael Pineda lately. He said today that his shoulder still feels good, but he’s not scheduled for another bullpen until Friday.
• David Phelps gets the opening start on Saturday, and although Girardi didn’t talk about it today, he’s always made it clear in the past that early spring outings don’t carry a lot of weight. I can’t imagine Phelps is going to feel that way. This is what he said earlier in camp: “I pushed myself a little more in the offseason so my arm is ready a little quicker during spring training because I’m trying to make an impression.”
• Speaking of making an impression, I didn’t see it, but there was some buzz today about Ichiro Suzuki’s behind-the-back catch during outfield drills. I asked Brett Gardner to describe it and Gardner started laughing. “That’s my fault,” he said. “I told him to do it.” Gardner said that Ichiro has a variety of behind-the-back catches that he’ll do every once in while when the team is shagging fly balls. Gardner wanted to see a few today, and Ichiro was up to the task. Girardi said he didn’t see Ichiro do it today, but “I’ve seen him do it before,” Girardi said.
• Mark Teixeira’s last day in Yankees camp is March 2. Robinson Cano’s last day is March 3. After that, those two will join their World Baseball Classic teams to prepare for the tournament.
• Random conversation of the day was with new outfielder Thomas Neal. If a handshake is any indication of a man’s strength, Neal just might be a 40-homer guy. I’m not sure how he uses a cell phone without crushing it. Seriously, Neal said he got some interest from the Yankees pretty soon after being designated for assignment, but he took some time making his decision on where to sign. He decided the Yankees were the best fit, with the potential for a real opportunity.
• Matt Diaz tried to convince me to write a story about his son’s tee-ball team. Seriously. He thinks that group has a real shot this year.
Associated Press photos
Best case, worst case: Catcher • 01.28.13
This should be fun…
Best case scenario
The path is finally clear
The situation really needs no introduction. Jesus Montero is gone (you already knew that), Russell Martin is also gone (you knew that too), and the most proven catchers in the Yankees organization are a trio of long-time backups looking for an opportunity to finally get regular playing time (that too has been discussed a few times). There’s very little about the Yankees immediate catching situation that inspires confidence, but it certainly creates opportunity, and the best-case scenario is that Austin Romine takes that opportunity and runs with it.
Sure, there’s something to be said for one of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart or Bobby Wilson proving the doubters wrong — it’s certainly a good scenario to have one of those three have an impact with the glove and hit a little better than expected — but the absolute best-case scenario is Romine establishing himself. Because he was overshadowed for so long, it’s easy to forget that Romine was a second-round pick who, before last year’s back injury, was considered one of the better catching prospects in the game. Two years ago, MLB.com ranked him ahead of Travis d’Arnaud. A healthy Romine — with a steady bat and a glove that lives up to recent Yankees hype — could be a young, cheap solution for this year and the immediate future.
And if we’re talking best-case scenario’s, Romine will have to take advantage of this window, because the Yankees highest hopes don’t leave much time before Gary Sanchez is ready. Still very much a work in progress, Sanchez’s bat has plenty of believers, but if he can show some maturity in the clubhouse and improvement behind the plate, he just might push himself among the very best prospects in the game. A good year at Double-A will suggest that Sanchez is transitioning from potential to performance, and it could put him on track to have a big league impact as early as the second half of 2014. Add in some Double-A improvement from J.R. Murphy, and the Yankees days of a glove-only catcher could be limited to this offseason only.
Where have you gone Chad Moeller?
Stewart is a career .217/.281/.302 hitter in the big leagues. Cervelli hit .246/.341/.316 in Triple-A last season. Wilson has never started more than 58 games in a major league season. The worst-case scenario behind the plate is just as obvious as the opportunity that it provides: If no one steps up, the Yankees could have an offensive black hole at the position. Defensively, the in-house options provide at least some sense of stability – even in a worst-case scenario, the Yankees should be able to catch and throw behind the plate – but the low side of offensive possibilities is awfully low.
As for a prospect to fill the gap and provide a bat, the immediate option is Romine, with some outside chance of Murphy putting himself into the picture in the second half. But Romine’s back problems kept him sidelined almost all of last year, and back problems have a tendency to linger. If that injury lingers, and if Murphy fails to live up to his offensive potential – which is his prospect calling card – then the Yankees will have no catching prospects within two years of being big league ready.
Sanchez could push to be in New York within two years, but that’s a best-case scenario involving improvements behind the plate and continued development at the plate. In a worst-case scenario, Sanchez creates more doubt and less optimism about his ability to stick at catcher, which would be a significant blow to his prospect status and leave the organization in needing to commit resources – either on the free agent market or via trade – to find a catcher who can handle the job for the next several years.
Associated Press photos
Pinch hitting: Jordan Ozer • 01.23.13
Our next Pinch Hitter is Jordan Ozer, a 24-year-old who grew up in South Orange, N.J., went to college at the University of Wisconsin, and now works as a media relations assistant in the athletic department of the University of Arkansas. Jordan as a signed, 1952 poster of Mickey Mantle in his living room and still has his old Yankee Stadium subway route memorized.
Jordan is used to moving around, but he sees an opportunity for the Yankees to find – just maybe — some stability at a position of traditional strength for the franchise.
The offseason is nearly over, and the team with the long history of all-star backstops is looking at a gaping hole at catcher. For years the Yankees were buoyed by Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, and younger Yankees fans were spoiled by Jorge Posada’s potent bat. But as Russell Martin prepares his Pirates uniform for spring training, the current Yankees squad presents a myriad of uninspiring options for the starting catcher spot.
The Yankees are steadily marching toward their self-imposed $189-million limit, and while the number would give many clubs a large berth to work with, the New York club, as currently constructed, is forced to use some creativity. The incumbents, namely Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, fit squarely into the “all-glove, no-bat” mold that backups have long utilized to craft lengthy professional careers. The most intriguing option for what otherwise seems to be an offensive black hole is to go on potential, install Austin Romine as the starting catcher, and see if he can run with it.
The Yankees farm system has been stacked with young backstops of late, and Romine’s all-around tools allowed for the Jesus Montero trade. While in hindsight, Montero could have been a solution to this problem, Romine’s ceiling is a higher in the combination of glove and bat.
While Romine has been in the Yankees farm system for five years, last season’s injury really hurt his development. With only 21 games at AAA, Romine is lacking in high minor league seasoning (Montero’s lingering presence kept him in Trenton longer than was needed). In an ideal world, Romine would spend another year developing in AAA while a veteran manned the plate in the Bronx, but that was last season’s plan before back trouble derailed things. With the given alternatives, there’s no reason not to give Romine the chance to cut his teeth at the big league level. His defense, which VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman called “plus, plus,” will approximate the values that Stewart and Cervelli bring, while at least offering a semblance of being able to produce at the plate. Cervelli hit .246 in AAA in 2012. Stewart hit .241 for the Yankees. With the other question marks in their lineup, the Yankees cannot afford either of those players in the everyday lineup.
The Yankees know what Cervelli and Stewart can produce. Romine should get a big opportunity this spring, especially with Cervelli not in Tampa while he participates in the World Baseball Classic. If Romine proves he can handle himself, the Bombers should be aggressive and gamble on his upside.
The Romine decision represents more than one starting spot in the 2013 lineup. As currently constructed, the Yankees will need to rely on their youth and farm system to succeed under the $189-million mark. That requires players such as Romine to pan out, because the Yankees eventually will need replacements for some of the current veterans.
It seems ownership wants to abandon the prior strategy of big free agent splashes that got the Yankees locked into long-term contracts with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett. This shift will only work if the Yankees get cheap production from within. That requires the homegrown Ivan Nova to hold down a spot in the starting rotation. Michael Pineda needs to get healthy and contribute. David Phelps and Manny Banuelos can become a part of the solution. Eduardo Nunez can carve out a role on the club with the tools he provides. Even further down the road, the Yankees have a wealth of impressive talent in the low minors. Between Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, Gary Sanchez and Jose Campos, the Yankees simply have to look at last year’s Charleston Riverdogs squad to envision a future New York team that is already wearing Yankees pinstripes.
Recent evidence across the league has proven that young players can make an immediate impact on winning clubs. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper not only captured the nation’s attention last year, but they were key pieces of playoff contenders. The Yankees may not have an on-the-verge superstar such as those two, but the Yankees do have a solid farm system. More importantly, they need to start relying on their young talent more than ever before.
The Yankees can start this transition this season, and it can begin with rolling the dice on Romine behind the plate.
Associated Press photo
Yankees injury report • 03.19.12
A quick rundown of the injuries suffered in Yankees camp this spring…
Hit by a pitch last night, Cano was pulled from the game, then he went for x-rays that came back negative. He’s going to be reevaluated on Tuesday, but the Yankees don’t seem overly concerned.
Sore left calf
Jeter felt some soreness in his calf during Wednesday’s game in Dunedin. He finished the game but hasn’t played since. Today he’s scheduled to get treatment at the stadium. He hasn’t done baseball activities since Thursday. He’s expected to play Tuesday.
Martin was scratched from yesterday’s road trip because of some stiffness that he says is between his groin and hamstring. He felt something similar a few years ago and decided to be cautious about it this year. He’s expected to play Tuesday.
An MRI came back negative, but Swisher hasn’t played since feeling something “tug” running out of the box on Wednesday. He’s been going through regular baseball drills and is expected to play on Tuesday. Like Martin, Swisher said he wouldn’t have come out of the lineup if this were the regular season.
Bruised right foot
The most infamous Yankees injury of the spring seems to have resolved itself. Robertson stumbled down a step while carrying a box at his house and he hasn’t played in two weeks, but he threw a bullpen yesterday and is scheduled to throw another one tomorrow. He could be in a game within a week or so and the expectation is that he’ll be ready for Opening Day.
Swollen right hand
Hit by a comebacker on Wednesday, Garcia has been shutdown for a few days. He’s skipping a scheduled minor league start this afternoon but could be back in a game as early as Friday. X-rays showed no broken bones, and Garcia’s simply been waiting for the swelling to go down.
Bruised right hand
Although he still had the hand wrapped after the game, Nunez played last night and said everything felt fine. He’s now played in back-to-back games after missing nearly two weeks because of soreness than lingered longer than expected. He suffered the injury when he was hit by a pitch in Clearwater.
Sprained right ankle
Pena is scheduled to take batting practice off Brad Meyers on Tuesday, which seems to indicate that he’s pretty close to returning from a sprained ankle suffered while sliding into second base on Thursday. He’s been walking around the clubhouse with no noticeable limp.
Romine missed time with a sore back last season as well, so the Yankees decided to be extra cautious when his back began feeling sore this spring. Romine has not played in a game and just started taking swings two days ago. He might be able to get in a game late in spring training, but he’s spent most of his time just trying to make sure the back doesn’t become a lingering issue.
Injured in his first bullpen of the spring, Kontos waited longer than expected before getting back on a mound, but he finally made his spring debut last night with a 1-2-3 eighth inning.
Something of a wild card for the Yankees platoon DH job, Branyan hasn’t had a chance to plead his case because he’s been shutdown with a sore back. He received epidurals last week, but it’s still not clear when he’ll be ready to play.
The former Red Sox reliever hasn’t pitched in a game this season, but he threw a bullpen yesterday. Based on the timing of other pitchers he seems to be on track to get in a game in about a week.
The biggest long-term injury of the camp could force Burawa to miss significant time. The young relief pitcher seemed to make a fast impression — both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman mentioned him at different points — but he had to shut it down at