It’s still awfully early in the winter ball season. The Arizona Fall League is only four games deep, and the Dominican League just got started a few days ago. These sample sizes don’t mean much at this point, but here are a few quick updates from the Yankees’ prospects who are still playing somewhere.
• Top catching prospect Gary Sanchez is one of the early standouts in the Arizona Fall League. He’s played three games so far and hit two home runs. He’s 6-for-11 with two strikeouts and five RBI while regularly hitting cleanup. Both home runs came off right-handed pitchers. The second game he caught, his pitchers tossed a shutout. He’s back at catcher and back in the cleanup spot this afternoon.
• We’ll find out later whether Ben Gamel can turn his breakout season into a spot on the 40-man roster, but he’s already turned it into regular at-bats in the Venezuelan Winter League. Gamel is getting time at all three outfield positions this winter — mostly starting in center field — and through nine games he’s hitting .290/.368/.516 with a home run, four doubles, five walks and six strikeouts.
• As expected, Tyler Austin‘s early Arizona Fall League playing time has come at first base. He’s started at first for three of the Saguaros’ first five games. He’s 3-for-7 with a double, a walk and a strikeout. … Primarily a shortstop this season, Tyler Wade has played second base in his first three Fall League games including one this afternoon. He’s young for that league, but Wade’s gone 2-for-6 so far. … Also young for the Fall League, center fielder Dustin Folwer has gotten into just one game in Arizona and he went hitless with a sacrifice. He played left field.
• Back in Venezuela this winter, Ali Castillo — who was terrific there last year — is hitting .200 through his first four games split between shortstop and second base. His Aguilas team has Francisco Arcia and Juan Graterol splitting time at catcher.
• After struggling early in the season in Triple-A, Jaron Long pitched pretty well after he was sent back down to Double-A. Now he’s pitching in Venezuela with a 3.27 ERA through two starts. His first start was terrific: six scoreless innings with one hit. His second start wasn’t so good: five innings, four runs on seven hits.
• Hard-throwing young prospect Domingo Acevedo made his Arizona Fall League debut on Thursday and pitched two scoreless innings with two strikeouts. He allowed two hits to lefties, but right-handers went 0-for-5 against him.
• Kind of the opposite of Aceveda, upper-level lefty Tyler Webb made his Fall League debut on Wednesday and allowed three runs in two innings. All three runs came on a three-run homer by first-round pick D.J. Peterson who’s shown massive power in the past but didn’t have a particularly good year this season. Webb faced only one lefty and struck him out.
• Ian Clarkin is starting a Fall League game this afternoon. It’s his first official game of the year. We’re still waiting for Chaz Hebert to get in a game.
• Other than Long and the Fall League guys, the most recognizable Yankees’ pitching prospect currently playing winter ball is reliever Mark Montgomery, who’s gotten into six games in Venezuela. He allowed three runs in one of them, but he’s otherwise been outstanding with eight strikeouts in five innings. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities. His only walks came in that one game when he allowed the three runs. All of his other outings were scoreless.
This morning, Gamel was named the International League Rookie of the Year. He emerged as Scranton’s regular leadoff hitter, staying in that role even after Slade Heathcott returned from the disabled list and even as Jose Pirela put up big numbers as a super utility player.
Gamel did not receive a September call-up, presumably because there wasn’t a clear role for him to play — better to use that potential 40-man spot for either a third catcher, a pure pinch runner or an extra reliever — but the Yankees will have to make a 40-man decision on Gamel this winter because he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
Last thing the Yankees need is yet another left-handed outfielder, but Gamel’s been too good to ignore. He was the only Scranton/Wilkes-Barre player named to the International League’s postseason all-star team (in addition to Rookie of the Year, he was also named an outfielder on the all-star team).
Here’s the breakdown of Gamel’s season as announced by the league:
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre outfielder Ben Gamel has claimed the 2015 Rookie of the Year Award. The 23-year-old leads the IL with 14 triples and is in the top three in the League in batting average, hits, runs, and slugging percentage. Gamel’s very first month playing above the Double-A level was his best this season, as he came out of the gate with a .383 average in April. He has primarily served as the leadoff hitter for the RailRiders, posting a .311 average in that role. He’s hit at a .329 clip since the All-Star break as SWB closes in on a division title. Gamel, who was also elected as an outfielder on the Postseason All-Star Team, becomes the first Scranton/WB player to be honored as IL Rookie of the Year since Austin Jackson in 2009. Ben’s brother Mat played for the Brewers for parts of five seasons.
Game 15: Yankees at Tigers • 04.22.15
RHP Adam Warren (0-1, 4.82)
Warren vs. Tigers
Anthony Gose CF
Ian Kinsler 2B
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Victor Martinez DH
J.D. Martinez RF
Yoenis Cespedes LF
Nick Castellanos 3B
Alex Avila C
Jose Iglesias SS
LHP David Price (1-0, 0.40)
Price vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 7:08 p.m., YES Network
WEATHER: It’s legitimately cold here in Detroit. A few flurries during the day. Not great.
UMPIRES: HP Gerry Davis, 1B Phil Cuzzi, 2B Tony Randazzo, 3B Will Little
GLOVE STORY: The Yankees have not made an error in their past six games since April 15 at Baltimore. They’ve gone 4-2 in those games. In their first eight games of the season, the Yankees made 11 errors and went 3-5.
ONE SUCCESS STORY: As you might expect, the Yankees do not collectively have good numbers against David Price. One significant exception, though, is Jacoby Ellsbury who’s a career .327 .353 .551 hitter in 49 at-bats against the Tigers’ ace. Brian McCann has also hit Price in his career. He has just 14 at-bats against him, but he has seven hits including three homers.
GOING DEEP: The Yankees entered today leading the Majors with 20 home runs this season. They have averaged five runs per game, fifth in the A.L. and tied for sixth in the Majors. They are third in the Majors with a .182 ISO (measuring the average number of extra bases a player gets per at bat), trailing only the Dodgers and Blue Jays.
UPDATE, 7:23 p.m.: Bases loaded in the first, McCann just floated an RBI single that landed barely in fair territory along the right-field line. It was enough to score a run — guy weren’t running because it looked like it would be caught — and so the Yankees are up 1-0 still with just one out against Price.
UPDATE, 7:33 p.m.: Price has already thrown over 40 pitches, Gregorio Petit — yes, Gregorio Petit — has just doubled in three runs, and it’s a 5-0 Yankees lead in the first inning.
UPDATE, 7:38 p.m.: Another run off Price. By the way, Rob Thomson is coaching third base today. Espada is at home because his wife just had a baby.
UPDATE, 7:44 p.m.: Top of the first lasted 31 minutes, 51 pitches and six Yankees runs.
UPDATE, 7:50 p.m.: Kind of odd to see Warren have no feel for the strike zone, but he’s walked three of four to start this game. Have to assume the cold has something to do with it (and the fact he had to sit so long after his pregame warmup). Bases loaded with one out for the Tigers.
UPDATE, 7:54 p.m.: Oof. Warren makes it four of the first five to walk in a run. Brutal.
UPDATE, 7:56 p.m.: Nice diving stop by Gregorius, but he seemed to have an easier out at third than second. He went to second, runner safe and that’s another run.
UPDATE, 7:57 p.m.: Another grounder to short, this time Gregorius throws to second underhand for some reason. The play develops too slow for a double play and another run scores. It’s now 6-3.
UPDATE, 8:00 p.m.: Esmil Rogers getting loose in the Yankees bullpen. The Tigers also had a guy getting loose in their half of the first inning.
UPDATE, 8:09 p.m.: Beltran given a triple on that ball to left. So he joins McCann and Jones as the only Yankees to have tripled this season. It’s now 7-4.
UPDATE, 8:12 p.m.: And now Headley has tripled. And now Petit is being intentionally walked. It’s been a weird night.
UPDATE, 8:34 p.m.: Price is finished with one out in the third. He allowed two more hits this inning. It’s an 8-4 game.
UPDATE, 8:46 p.m.: Ball might have taken a little bit of a bad hop, but that’s still a pretty ugly error for Gregorius who botched a relatively routine grounder in the third.
UPDATE, 8:58 p.m.: Didi! Two-run double in the fourth pushes the lead to 10-4.
UPDATE, 9:11 p.m.: Warren is through the fourth inning without allowing another run. He’s at 83 pitches, so he might actually stay in this thing long enough to get a win.
UPDATE, 9:45 p.m.: What a weirdly good start for Warren. That first inning was a total disaster, but he wound up pitching 5.2 innings without allowing another run and without even allowing another runner into scoring position. Looked like the Yankees were going to have to go to their bullpen after one inning, and instead they get to use their pen basically just as they intended coming into this game.
UPDATE, 9:58 p.m.: Long home run by Teixeira, a three-run shot to make it 13-4 in the seventh. Yes, it’s only the seventh.
State of the organization: Corner outfield • 01.18.13
There’s a reason — beyond the obvious talent — that Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and Mike Morse generated so much trade talk among Yankees fans this winter. A big, power-hitting, prototypical corner outfielder would fit incredibly well on this roster. The minor league system might have a legitimate outfield slugger on the way, but he’s at least a year away, and for the time being, the Yankees outfield is filled with two small-ball players and one all-or-nothing free agent to be. Those are three legitimate pieces, but the Yankees outfield could certainly make room for one of Brian Cashman’s big, hairy monsters if he could find one.
Curtis Granderson / Ichiro Suzuki
Signed through 2013 /2014
We know Suzuki will be in right field. We can only guess whether Granderson or Brett Gardner will be in left (as I wrote a couple of days ago, I’m heading into spring training expecting Gardner to shift to center). Either way, the Yankees are going to have considerable speed in their outfield and should cover a lot of ground. They’re going to count on Gardner and Ichiro to run on offense, and on Granderson to hit home runs. What’s still unclear is who they’re going to count on to hit against lefties. Matt Diaz is coming to camp on a minor league deal, and Russ Canzler is going to try to win a job in spring training, but Cashman has made no secret of the fact he’d like to add another right-handed hitting corner outfielder. Nick Swisher gave the Yankees a steady right field presence for four years, and he’s been difficult to fully replace this winter.
On the verge
Maybe Tyler Austin can play his way into the big league picture this year, but it’s more likely that immediate help will have to come from either Zoilo Almonte or Ronnier Mustelier, two players who really weren’t even worth watching two years ago. Almonte was signed way back in 2005, but he didn’t put himself on the map until 2011 when he cut down on his strikeouts and hit .276/.345/.459 between High-A and Double-A. His power numbers went up during a full Double-A season last year, and now he has a 40-man spot with a Triple-A job on the way. He’s a switch hitter who was especially good against righties last year (it hasn’t always been that way). Mustelier is a Cuban defector who didn’t join the Yankees until 2011 when he was already 26 years old. He’s too old to be considered a typical prospect, but he’s hit .324/.378/.497 through two pro seasons, including a pretty good 89 games in Triple-A last year. He’s played some second base and center field, but Mustelier’s ticket to the big leagues might be his ability to play all four corners. He’s kind of a less proven version of Canzler, who’s probably higher in the pecking order. Under certain circumstances, center fielders Melky Mesa and Abe Almonte could also factor into the corner conversation.
Deeper in the system
Austin is easily the top corner outfield prospect in the system, and he appears to have been a 13th-round steal. Drafted out of high school in 2010, Austin was the unquestionable breakout star of the Yankees minor league system last year. He hit .322/.400/.559 while climbing all the way from Charleston to Trenton. Despite that little bit of Double-A experience, the Yankees are considering sending Austin back to High-A to open this season. If he repeats last year’s results, he won’t stay there for long. Austin’s breakout season easily overshadowed Ramon Flores, a left-fielder who has a knack for getting on base (.362 on-base percentage in his minor league career). Flores was added to the 40-man this winter and is ticketed for Trenton. It’s hard to mention all of the system’s mildly interesting corner outfielders — converted third baseman Rob Segedin, under-the-radar Cuban prospect Adonis Garcia, does-a-little-of-everything Ben Gamel, and 2012 draftees Taylor Dugas and Nathan Mikolas are names worth knowing — but I’ll save room for Jake Cave, the Yankees sixth-round pick in 2011 who’s hardly played since being drafted because of a knee injury. Cave could have been drafted as either a left-handed pitcher or an outfielder, but the Yankees liked his bat. There’s upside to him, just no professional track record.
On the move
College outfielder Rob Refsnyder played right field for the Yankees Low-A team last year but seems likely to shift to second base next season. On the flip side, long-time middle infielder Jose Pirela began to see considerable time in left field last year and kept at least a little bit of prospect status alive with a strong Double-A season. The Yankees have shown a willingness to move players into the outfield corners when necessary — that’s how Austin got there after signing as a corner infielder — and they could eventually do that with last year’s second-round pick Austin Aune, who will first get a chance to sink or swim as a shortstop. Obviously, if top center field prospects Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott each get to New York, one of them will have to shift to left field.
What to watch
The development of Austin is among the most interesting aspects of the Yankees system this season. Last year was a revelation, the kind of year that suggested he just might be a real life, in-house, power-hitting corner outfielder that can rise through the system and get to New York within two years. That would be huge for the Yankees. For now, the thing to watch is the Yankees on-going pursuit of a right-handed outfield bat and the how-long-can-he-last uncertainty of Ichiro’s two-year deal.
Associated Press photo; headshots of Granderson, Ichiro, Almonte, Mustelier, Austin, Flores, Williams and Heathcott
State of the organization: Center field • 01.16.13
Three years ago, the Yankees traded their center fielder of the future (who was basically ready for the big leagues) to acquire a center fielder of the present (who had a team-friendly contract through four more seasons). For the Yankees, the trade looked a lot better at this time last year, before Granderson took a step back and Jackson took a step forward. Now that Curtis Granderson is entering the final year of his contract, attention has shifted to the next wave of center fielders. It’s generally assumed that Granderson won’t be back next year — might not even be in center field this year — there are two players who can legitimately claim to be the Yankees center fielder of the future.
Second year of arbitration
I can’t tell you who exactly is going to play center field next season, but because the Yankees have acknowledged considering the idea of Gardner in center, I’m heading into spring training expecting that to happen. It’s not based on concrete facts — I honestly believe the Yankees are open to either option – but we’ve seen Granderson run a little less in recent years, my gut says that Gardner would be a better defensively, and it might make sense to go ahead and use Gardner in center now and go shopping for a left fielder next winter. Either way, the Yankees have options (even Ichiro Suzuki has proven he can still handle center if necessary). Gardner is an elite defensive player with speed. Granderson is, at the very least, one of the top power hitters in the game. The position is not a short-term concern for the Yankees.
On the verge
Speed, power and defense make Melky Mesa a tantalizing young player. Strikeouts make him a player who might never get more than the two Major League at-bats he had last season. In the minors last year, Mesa struck out 118 times, and that was actually his lowest single-season total since he reached full-season leagues. His Triple-A slash line of .230/.271/.524 pretty much tells the story of a guy who can hit the ball out (if he actually makes contact). Mesa can also run, but he is perhaps best known for failing to touch a base during his late-season call-up last year. He might be an all-or-nothing wild card, but Mesa does give the Yankees immediate depth in center. Zoilo Almonte has also played some center field in his career, and speedy Abe Almonte could be another option if he can build on a solid 2012 season in Trenton (and if he can get playing time on a crowded Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster). Another name to watch here is Adonis Garcia. The Cuban outfielder played well in winter ball and could become an option if he hits.
Deeper in the system
I considered listing Slade Heathcott as an “on the verge” option, but I’m just not sure I buy Damon Oppenheimer’s optimism that Heathcott could be in the big leagues this year. Heathcott still hasn’t played above High-A Tampa, and although he was terrific in the Arizona Fall League, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees suddenly pushing Heathcott too hard (not when they’ve previously worked so hard just to keep him healthy). But even if he doesn’t arrive this year, Heathcott is on his way. So is Mason Williams. They are two of the Yankees truly elite prospects, and it seems likely that Heathcott will open this season in Double-A with Williams right behind him in High-A. Both have significant upside, but they still need some development time and some patience. Ravel Santana was a part of this conversation a year ago, but he struggled so badly in Staten Island last season — .216/.304/.289 — that his stock has taken a considerable hit.
On the move
Overshadowed on a stacked Charleston roster, 2010 10th-round pick Ben Gamel had a so-so first half last season, but after Williams was promoted, Gamel shifted from left field to center field and hit .320/.347/.419 in the second half. He doesn’t stand out in this system — and he might not see a ton of center field time considering the other options — but there’s something to like about him. It’s also worth noting that Ronnier Mustelier has played quite a bit of center field, including some time as a center field regular this winter. The Yankees have never shown signs of making that a go-to position for him, but he does have experience there. Like with shortstop, it’s rare to see a player shift from any other position into center field. It happens occasionally — Abe Almonte moved from second to center when he was extremely young — but for the most part, guys play their way out of center field, not into center field.
What to watch
There’s an fairly immediate decision to make. Are we going to see Gardner getting regular center field reps this spring? Are we going to see Granderson getting most of his time in left? The decision isn’t going to revolutionize the big league roster, but it’s going to be interesting to watch. For those who closely follow the minor leagues, it seems that every full-season team will have a center fielder worth watching. Can Mesa cut down on the strikeouts? Can Heathcott stay healthy? Can Williams carry his success to High-A? Can Santana get back on the prospect map (and will the Yankees make him repeat short-season ball)?
Associated Press photo; headshots of Gardner, Mesa, Heathcott, Williams and Gamel