Sunday notes: Less is more • 02.20.11
The weight issue won’t quite go away here in Tampa. Alex Rodriguez arrived in camp a little bit lighter. Buster Olney reported it was 10 pounds lighter. Joe Girardi said it wasn’t quite that much. Whatever the exact number, it’s more than a pound or two, but not so much that Rodriguez looks drastically different.
“Sometimes guys just feel like they want to be a little bit lighter,” Girardi said. “It might add to their game. Physically they might bounce back quicker. That’s not uncommon for a player to try to put more energy into their body, and sometimes it is by not having to carry so much mass.”
Girardi said he didn’t know Rodriguez was planning to lose weight until Rodriguez reported to camp. But seeing him, Girardi has no complaints.
“This is just the weight that he showed up,” Girardi said. “He showed up in very good shape, so I’m not going to complain about that.”
“I’m careful to not try to push players right now or to say a whole lot to pitchers — we need a little bit more, your breaking ball’s not quite as sharp – because I don’t want them trying to overdo it,” Girardi said. “Sometimes there might even be a guy that’s throwing the ball well, and if I come around I see that he missed a couple of spots, I might just move on (if it’s) a young guy. I don’t want them thinking, gosh, the manager’s watching. Just let them go about their business. There will be plenty of time to evaluate.”
• That said, five pitchers threw batting practice to actual hitters early this morning: Joba Chamberlain, Ivan Nova, Dave Robertson, Brian Anderson and Manny Banuelos. “Some guys got an early morning wakeup call at 8:15,” Girardi said.
• Eight more pitchers will throw BP tomorrow. Girardi didn’t say who.
• Because there are fewer workout days, there will be no intrasquad games before the actual spring schedule.
• Girardi said he knows who he wants to start the spring opener, but he wants to wait a few days to make sure that pitcher is still good to go. He promised to make the announcement on Tuesday.
• When he finished hitting, Jorge Posada spent some time at first base. Girardi said it’s possible Posada could see some time at the position this spring, but whether he’s a legitimate option at first during the season depends on who else is on the roster. “Is it a viable option? Is it an emergency option? A lot of it depends on the makeup of your roster,” Girardi said.
• Kevin Russo was listed as an infielder today, but he instead worked as an outfielder during drills. He said he expects to work in the infield tomorrow.
• Random infield assignments: Eric Chavez, Brad Suttle and Brandon Laird did their infield work at third base, and Jorge Vazquez got his time at first. Those four will probably spend time at both infield corners this spring. Ronnie Belliard and Doug Bernier got time at both second base and shortstop, though the time at short was just fielding grounders. I doubt Belliard is being looked at as a shortstop option. Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez both worked at shortstop.
• Tino Martinez has arrived in Yankees camp as a guest instructor.
• Girardi and his staff are still discussing possible team outings. Not sure what it will be this year.
Associated Press photos of Jeter with Rodriguez during stretch; Nova in the bullpen; and Andruw Jones in the outfield
The Yankees first-round pick in 2009 was also a high school position player, and Slade Heathcott was moved cautiously in his first full season. Heathcott opened last year in extended spring training and didn’t join Low-A Charleston until June.
Vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said the Yankees will “most likely” do the same thing this season with both Culver and second-round pick Angelo Gumbs. Both are 18 years old and developing at key defensive positions. Rushing them is not in the plans.
The same sort of caution could be true for fourth-round pick Mason Williams, a 19-year-old center fielder who played five Gulf Coast League games last season. Newman said the Yankees will “see where he is” in spring training before deciding where Williams opens the season.
Newman said there’s “no question” Culver will continue to be developed as a shortstop, but Gumbs will be tested at different positions. He could see some time at second base, and center field is a legitimate option. “We’re still in the evaluation stage,” Newman said.
• Speaking of Heathcott, he hit .258/.359/.352 with 101 strikeouts in 76 games with Charleston last season. It’s entirely possible he’ll return to Charleston for the beginning of the 2011 season. “We’ll see,” Newman said.
• Last year’s third-round draft pick, Rob Segedin, was selected out of Tulane, so he’s older and more advanced than Culver and Gumbs. Segedin will open in Charleston, where he’ll continue to play third base while also getting some reps in right field.
• If David Adams, Corban Joseph and Brad Suttle all open the season in Double-A, they’ll have to mix and match positions, including some reps at DH, to give all three regular at-bats. Newman said there’s a chance one of those three could open at a different level, but it’s a “low” chance.
• Outfielder Cody Johnson, acquired from the Braves this winter, is most likely heading for Double-A instead of Triple-A. He’s been in Double-A for part of the past two seasons, but he has yet to hit above .189 at that level. The guy does have some power, though.
• Don’t rule out lefty Shaeffer Hall for Double-A. He opened last season in Low-A Charleston but pitched his way to High-A Tampa where he had nine wins and a 3.91 ERA in 15 appearances. This is only his second full season, but Hall is already 23 years old, so the Yankees might push him to Trenton to open the season.
• The Yankees have not decided where shortstop Carmen Angelini will open the season — Tampa or Charleston — but this is clearly a season when Angelini needs to finally show something at the plate. “He needs to get it going,” Newman said. Culver and Gumbs are already overshadowing him in the lower levels.
• Pretty much every scouting report you’ll ever read about Graham Stoneburner suggests his ultimate role could be as a reliever rather than a starter. The Yankees, though, will continue to use Stoneburner out of the rotation, and they believe that he could remain a starter if his changeup continues to develop. Stoneburner had a 2.41 ERA between Tampa and Charleston last season, and the Yankees won’t change his role until he pitches himself out of the rotation. “The game is smarter than us,” Newman said.
• I mentioned Anderson Feliz in yesterday’s look at the Yankees second base depth, and Newman sounds excited about the young middle infielder. “He’s a good player,” Newman said. “He’s got hitting ability. He’s got power. He can run.” Feliz is probably going to open in Charleston.
• Fu-Lin Kuo, a third baseman out of Taiwan, could be developing into a legitimate prospect. “He looked like it at times last year,” Newman said. Last season Kuo hit .243 in the Gulf Coast League, but that was his first season in the United States, and Newman said it’s hard to make much of those stats because of the significant cultural adjustment. The Yankees saw some flashes of promise at the plate. Kuo is probably going to open the season back in extended spring training, but he’s a player to keep the name in the back of your mind for now.
Pretty sure Pete took that picture of Heathcott. I just found it in the blog archives.
Yankees organizational depth: First base • 01.09.11
Up next in a position-by-position look at the Yankees organization we’ll turn to first base, where the Yankees lack of organizational depth shouldn’t be a significant concern because of the guy who’s already playing the position in New York.
In the big leagues
If you go from 2004 through 2009 and choose Mark Teixeira’s lowest single-season batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage you get this slash line: .281/.370/.514. That makes last year’s slash line of .256/.365/.481 a complete outlier. It was quite literally — in every way — unprecedented since Teixeira’s rookie year. No Yankees position player is better positioned for a rebound season than their soon-to-be 31-year-old first baseman. At his age, there’s little reason to expect a repeat of 2010, which is good for the Yankees because he’s locked up through the 2016 season.
On the verge
For the past three years, the first baseman waiting in the Triple-A shadows has been Juan Miranda. He always hit, but his path was always blocked and this winter he was traded to Arizona. Instead, the immediate minor league depth at first base centers on Jorge Vazquez and Brandon Laird. Vazquez is a veteran of the Mexican League, a raw power hitter who slugged .526 in Triple-A last season. Laird is a self-made prospect who’s spent most of his time at third base and is starting to see time in the outfield corners. Laird is more versatile than Vazquez — plus he has a 40-man spot with more prospect hype — but Vazquez isn’t out of the picture entirely. He’d have to impress to jump ahead of Laird for a call-up, but he’ll probably get most of the Triple-A starts at first base.
Deep in the system
Even in the lower levels, there isn’t a lot of pure first-base talent that jumps out as big-name prospects. Kyle Roller was the Yankees eight-round draft pick this summer, and he hit .272/.367/.402 while leading Staten Island in total bases last year. Luke Murton was a 19th-round pick in ’09 and slugged .463 in Charleston last season. A first-base wild card is Reymond Nunez, who’s shown good power in the extremely low levels of the system but hit just .222/.263/.361 and suffered a hamstring injury last year. He could be in the mix in Charleston, if not in April maybe some time during the season.
Organizational depth chart
My own rough guess. It’s far too early for the Yankees to settle on who will be where next season.
New York: Mark Teixeira
Scranton/WB: Jorge Vazquez
Trenton: Myron Leslie, Brad Suttle
Tampa: Luke Murton
Charleston: Kyle Roller
The true New York first-base depth chart probably includes Nick Swisher and Brandon Laird as well, but as long as Teixeira stays healthy, those two will obviously get most of their playing time elsewhere.
Suttle is a good defensive third baseman, but I listed him in the mix at first only because the Triple-A and Double-A infields are pretty crowded, and first base could be a position used primarily to get people at-bats. If Suttle, David Adams and Corban Joseph all open in Trenton, there will be only so many second base and third base at-bats to go around. Leslie is a former independent leaguer who could fill the gap. Guys like Rob Lyerly, Addison Maruszak, and Ramon Flores could also get some time at first base in the full-season leagues, but they primarily play other positions.
Associated Press photo of Teixeira, headshots of Teixeira, Vazquez and Murton
Rule 5 decisions looming for Yankees • 11.02.10
Last winter, the Yankees added seven minor leaguers to the 40-man roster. If I had to guess, I’d say it will be closer to four or five this winter.
Of the players eligible for the Rule 5 draft, only Dellin Betances and Brandon Laird jump out as guys who absolutely need to be protected. Beyond that, each addition is likely to depend on how many roster spots come open and how highly the Yankees think of some of their lower-level players.
This post is not an attempt to list every Yankees minor leaguer who’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft. These are simply some of the names who jumped out to me as leading candidates at various positions. My friend Donnie Collins has a more comprehensive list.
Pitchers: Wilkins Arias, Dellin Betances, Jairo Heredia, Craig Heyer, Alan Horne, George Kontos, Adam Olbrychowski, Jonathan Ortiz, Lance Pendleton, Ryan Pope, Pat Venditte, Kevin Whelan, Eric Wordekemper
Betances (right) is the no-brainer of the group. He’s a huge talent who seems to be finally healthy, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could pitch his way to New York as early as next season.
Heredia is also a pretty big talent, but injuries have held him to only 39 innings above Low-A. The Yankees took a chance on getting the young and raw Ivan Nova through the Rule 5 in 2008, and that worked out. They took no such chances with Hector Noesi last year. The Yankees have to make a similar decision on Heredia this year.
Beyond Betances, the names that standout most are Arias, Pendleton and Pope. Arias is the only lefty on the list, Pendleton is coming off a nice year in Double-A (he finished in Triple-A) and Pope was invited to big league camp this spring then got an Arizona Fall League assignment this offseason. Heyer is also in the Fall League. Those Fall League assignments suggest the Yankees like the potential of Heyer and Pope, but one year ago Zach Kroenke, Grant Duff and Colin Curtis were all sent to the Fall League, but each was still left exposed to the Rule 5.
Horne and Kontos would be much more prominent in this discussion if not for injuries. Kontos is pitching again, but after a solid regular season, he’s struggling in Arizona.
Infielders: Brandon Laird, Jose Pirela, Brad Suttle
Laird (right) was terrific this season. He can already play the infield corners, now he’s in the Fall League learning to handle the outfield. He seems like a lock.
Pirela is the biggest name of a few small-name middle infielders who are eligible. He’s never played above Class A, and the Yankees already have quite a few middle infielders on the roster. Suttle is an interesting case: A fourth-round pick who showed an impressive bat in college but missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury. He started to hit in the second-half of this season, but I’m not sure he could actually stick on a Major League roster at this point.
Outfielders: Abraham Almonte, Zoilo Almonte, Austin Krum, Melky Mesa, Damon Sublett
The top candidate here is Mesa (right). He can hit for power, he can run and he can throw. He also struck out 129 times in 121 games this season. And that was an improvement on last year’s 168 strikeouts. Strikeouts aside, Mesa can play center field and he brings a ton of tools. Beyond Laird, I’d say Mesa is the top position player worth a spot.
Of the other outfielders: Neither of the Almonte’s has played above Class-A, while Krum and Sublett hit below .230 in Double-A this season. Sublett and Abraham Almonte are converted infielders.
Catchers: Jose Gil
No big names are eligible at catcher. Right or wrong, Gil (right) has been treated more like an organizational catcher than as a prospect. P.J. Pilittere will become a free agent this winter, but he’s not someone the Yankees are likely to consider adding to the roster, and he’s much better off finding a new organization.
Jesus Montero and Austin Romine are a year away from Rule 5 eligibility.
State of the Yankees: Third base • 02.11.10
The Yankees’ situation at third base feels both unique and familiar. Let there be no doubt that Alex Rodriguez is a one-of-a-kind player with a one-of-a-kind contract, but in terms of the Yankees plans and preparations, Rodriguez isn’t all that different from Mark Teixeira. Both are among the game’s premier players, locked into long-term contracts at positions where the Yankees don’t have an obvious replacement rising through the system. First base belongs to Teixeira, third base belongs to Rodriguez, and it should stay that way for a long time.
Starter: Alex Rodriguez
Backup: Ramiro Pena
Veteran insurance: none
Almost ready: Kevin Russo
Low rising: Brandon Laird, Brad Suttle, (plus a handful of lower-level guys who play all over the infield)
Pena seems to be the favorite to open as the Yankees utility infielder, and that makes him the most obvious backup at third base. Similar to the situation at second, though, Russo might be a better long-term solution should the Yankees need someone other than Rodriguez to play third base more than once or twice a month. With Jerry Hairston and Eric Hinske gone, there is no veteran who could step in and handle the position for a few weeks. Laird should be in Double-A, and he has legitimate power, but Suttle might be the most intriguing young third baseman in the system. He needs to bounce back from injuries and regain the form that made him a highly touted college hitter in the 2007 draft.
Worst-case scenario: You remember what happened last spring. At the time, it was believed that Rodriguez would need a second surgery this winter, but his doctors checked him out and determined that second surgery was no longer necessary. The worst-case scenario is that those doctors were wrong. There is absolutely no reason to believe they were wrong, but the possibility looms. If Russo takes a step backward in his return to Triple-A, Laird proves unable to stick at third in his Double-A debut and Suttle’s injuries prove too much for him to stay on the field at any level, the minor league system would take a hit at third base.
Best-case scenario: Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 American League MVP, Alex Rodriguez. The same best-case scenario that applied to first base fits perfectly at third. Look at Rodriguez’s 2007 numbers. That’s what we’re talking about here. Icing on the cake would be another .320 batting average from Russo, 20 home runs from Laird and 400 at-bats from Suttle. A huge season from one of the lower-level infielders — Garrison Lassiter, Corban Joseph, Addison Maruszak, Jimmy Paredes — would be the cherry on top.
The future: Rodriguez is signed through 2017, so any talk of the future begins with him. He even has a contract that becomes more affordable year-by-year. There is some third base talent in the minor league system, but none of it is likely to bump Rodriguez as long as Rodriguez stays productive. If Rodriguez gets hurt, his skills fall off a cliff or the Yankees make a radical decision to have him change positions, then we can talk about a change of plans. For now, Rodriguez is the Yankees present and the future at third base.
An attempt at the complete depth chart
An educated guess, but just a guess
Scranton: Kevin Russo
Trenton: Brandon Laird
Tampa: Garrison Lassiter, (eventually Brad Suttle)
Charleston: Rob Lyerly, Kevin Mahoney
Both High-A and Low-A could have a lot of guys moving all around the infield, and even Double-A and Triple-A will likely see some defensive flexibility at second, third and short.