State of the organization: Shortstop • 10.10.14
It’s been two decades since the state of Yankees at shortstop looked quite like this. The position was in safe hands for almost all of a 20-year window that produced five championships and an iconic Hall of Fame infielder, but now the Yankees face short-term uncertainty in the big leagues while their top prospects are mostly teenagers who are still several years from their arrival in the Bronx (and that’s assuming everything goes exactly right, which is rarely the case). This is a state of transition, and the transition might last a while.
Seems dumb to start this post with anyone else. I’ve tried to start these “state of the organization” posts by listing the projected starter at each position, but for shortstop, there’s really no projected starter in place. I suppose Brendan Ryan sits at the top of the depth chart, but there’s little sense pretending that he’s currently the favorite to be at the position on Opening Day. The reality is that one of Jeter’s great strengths was his durability and reliability. Through his 20-year career he really only had two significant injuries. The worst was the broken ankle that basically cost him all of 2013, but even at 40 years old last season, he still played 145 games. The Yankees have almost always had a shortstop in place, so it’s odd to be in this position of complete uncertainty. If there’s a bright spot to the Yankees overwhelming uncertainty it’s this: they’re not replacing the version of Jeter that’s going into the Hall of Fame. In his final season, Jeter was among the least productive everyday players in baseball, and he was especially bad in the second half. Finding an upgrade over a .617 OPS with questionable defense shouldn’t be especially hard. Replacing everything else that came with Jeter’s status and persona might be impossible.
On the verge
If you create a current Yankees depth chart, Ryan would be the starting shortstop. Zelous Wheeler played some shortstop in Triple-A last season, and Jose Pirela played the position in the lower levels, but neither is a true shortstop at this point (I’ve had people ask about Pirela, but it’s worth remembering that he was moved off the position for a reason, and there aren’t any scouts raving about his defense as it is). So what the Yankees have in place is Ryan, who’s kind of an all-glove fallback plan. If everything else falls through, the Yankees at least have a guy who was once considered perhaps the best defensive infielder in baseball. He hasn’t hit a bit since those early years in St. Louis, but Ryan can handle the position. Having him play it regularly, though, does not seem to be the plan. The Yankees are clearly in the market for a shortstop, and the free agent market offers several options even with J.J. Hardy off the board. It’s all but certain that Jeter’s immediate replacement is not currently in the system.
The name you put here probably depends on your definition of “top” prospect. The Yankees really don’t have an upper-level shortstop who stands out. The hope was that Cito Culver would have that distinction by now, but he’s simply never hit enough to gain any traction. He is by all accounts a rock-solid fielder, but he hit .220/.298/.303 in High-A Tampa this season, and it wasn’t the first time he’d put up a line like that. Culver’s an easy guy to like, and by all accounts he puts in all the work, he just hasn’t hit. So to find a true “top” prospect, you have to dig all the way down to Low-A Charleston where Abe Avelino (that’s him on the right) and Tyler Wade are each legitimate prospects. From there, the list continues through a bunch of international free agents headlined by Mateo, a ridiculously toolsy 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. I’ve heard Mateo rated as an 80 runner — very top of the scale — and Baseball America named him the fourth-best prospect in the Gulf Coast League. But he’s a long, long way from the big leagues.
Deeper in the system
Everything about the Yankees organizational shortstop depth should be labeled “deeper in the system,” because the high-end talent is about as far from the big leagues as it can get. While Avelino and Wade (pictured on right) could open next season in High-A Tampa, both are still just 19 years old and there’s simply a lot of distance between them and New York. From there, the list is long and deep, dotted with a flurry of international signings. Mateo, Angel Aguilar and Thairo Estrada signed back in 2012, and this month Mateo and Aguilar landed on Baseball America’s Top 20 prospects list for the GCL. That’s the first wave. The next wave signed this year in an international class of Wilkerman Garcia, Diego Castillo, Dermis Garcia, and Hyo-Jun Park. All four are at least initially listed as shortstops — Garcia in particular seems likely to change positions — and there’s clearly an organizational attempt to stockpile options at the position. The Yankees know first-hand how difficult it is to develop a shortstop, so they’re buying as many lottery tickets as possible. It’s worth remembering these 2014 signees are incredibly young and raw. A lot of talent. A long way to go.
The value of the glove
Last winter, the Yankees gave Ryan a two-year deal — plus an option for a third year — strictly because of his defense. I think there’s a lot to be said for his personality in the clubhouse, but personality doesn’t lead to multi-year contracts. Ryan was signed because he can catch and throw at the game’s most difficult position. And that might be the biggest reason to hold out some hope for Culver, the former first-round pick who gets positive reviews for his defense but has hit just .233/.316/.321 through five seasons in the minors. I think there’s a solid comparison to Cardinals utility infielder Pete Kozma, who was also a first-round pick and hit just .238/.311/.348 in the minors. My Cardinals-fan friends back home were already calling him a bust years ago, but Kozma could always play defense, and he’s scratched out a big league career that way. He was even the Cardinals’ regular shortstop last season despite hitting just .217 (and that team was awfully good with Kozma at the position). Kozma’s back on their postseason roster this year. Offense is down across the board, which could open more chances for a defense-first shortstop like Culver.
Associated Press photo
Hiroki Kuroda said he usually gets off to slow starts in spring training. He leans on an assortment of pitches, and it makes sense that it might take him a while to get comfortable with all of them. Despite pitching three scoreless innings tonight, the new Yankees starter wasn’t happy.
“I don’t think I had all my stuff today,” he said. “Nothing was really consistent. Two-seamer wasn’t there. Cutter wasn’t cutting.”
Joe Girardi said the problem was consistency in the strike zone. Kuroda wasn’t throwing as many quality strikes, and so he had a few more runners on base. He didn’t throw many splitfingers tonight — arguably his best pitch — but he used to to strikeout No. 3 hitter Brian Bogusevic with the bases loaded in the third inning.
“I think probably most of the nights he’s going to have the split and he’s going to have his cutter and he’s going to have his sinker and four-seamer and his slider,” Girardi said. “But early in spring training, it’s hard to get them all going because you’re not out there long enough.”
• Typical for a night game in spring training, the clubhouse was pretty empty after the game. Pretty much everyone expect the guys who were still playing had already gone home, so notes are pretty night tonight.
• One guy who stood out was Dellin Betances. The big right-hander threw two scoreless innings with two strikeouts and one harmless single. “Good curveball. Good changeup. Good fastball,” Girardi said. “Throwing a lot of strikes.”
• No significant injury updates tonight. Girardi said, as far as he knows, everyone came through tonight’s game with no problems and he’s encouraged by the fact Dave Robertson was able to play catch. “He definitely feels better, so that’s a good sign,” Girardi said.
• Girardi was disappointed because the Yankees didn’t turn a double play — leading to two runs in the ninth — and they failed to catch a popup in foul territory which led to a run in the fourth. Ultimately, the Yankees lost 4-3 and had just five hits. They gave up 12 hits.
• Nick Swisher had an RBI triple in the sixth and J.R. Murphy had an RBI single in the ninth. The other Yankees run scored on a ground out. Robinson Cano, Dewayne Wise and Jose Gil — who’s have a nice spring — had the other Yankees hits.
• Girardi said he though Rafael Soriano threw the ball “alright” and should have pitched a scoreless inning had the Yankees caught that popup. It looked like Francisco Cervelli’s ball, but he seemed to not see it until it was too late.
• Nice work by my friend Jon Paul Morosi who took a look back at the day Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were optioned to Triple-A on the same day. It’s a nice read on the pair of iconic teammates.
• Also, head over to Yankees Fans Unite to read a Q&A with shortstop prospect Cito Culver.
Associated Press photo
Yankees at the break: Shortstop • 07.13.11
Derek Jeter is still a universally beloved Yankees icon, but he now has his share of detractors who appreciate his past and dread his future. He’s sparked more debate than any other Yankee this season, but he’s also provided the year’s most memorable moment.
The batting average is the exact same, but Jeter is hitting for less power and drawing fewer walks than he did last year. He’s remained in the leadoff spot at least partially because Brett Gardner has struggled in that role (and because Curtis Granderson has laid claim to the No. 2 spot in the order). Defensively, he seems roughly the same as last year, still without a ton of range, but as sure-handed as anyone. After a calf injury cost him the second half of June, Jeter returned as a significantly better hitter in the days leading up to the all-star break. He’s been driving the ball for the first time this year.
If the last week was a sign of things to come, then the Yankees are in good hands. It wasn’t only the 5-for-5 game on Saturday, even in the days leading up to that unforgettable performance, Jeter was hitting line drives for the first time this season. But the bulk of the year suggests last week was an outlier. It’s hard to expect him to return to his 2009 form, but he left some reason for hope heading into the second half.
Most of the shortstops in the Yankees system seem to be little more than role players – if that – at the Major League level. Walter Ibarra is having a nice year in Tampa, but this is also his third year at that level. Jose Pirela hasn’t done much in Trenton, and the Yankees know what they have in Ramiro Pena. That’s why there’s considerable focus on Staten Island, where last year’s first-round pick Cito Culver has been pretty good after a slow first week. He’s been outstanding against lefties – batting average around .500 against them – and the Yankees have no doubt that he can handle the position defensively.
Why is Jeter so good in the first inning?
It’s easy to understand why so many fans prefer Brett Gardner in the leadoff spot, but Jeter’s hitting .281 with a .342 on-base percentage as the Yankees leadoff hitter this season, and he’s been unusually good in the first inning. When leading off the game, Jeter is hitting .404/.475/.500. Is that a matter of experience? Is he better prepared for the game to begin than any starting pitcher he’s going to face? Is that a meaningless statistic?
Unless Culver flies through the system – which isn’t likely to happen – the Yankees have two shortstop options for the next few years. They can stick with Jeter, or they can find a new place for their iconic captain and hand the position to Eduardo Nunez. He’s not as polished as Jeter, but Nunez has shown why the Yankees like him. He can hit, he can run and he has a powerful – if erratic – arm. It remains to be seen how long Jeter can hold down the position, but the Yankees have an alternative in place.
Associated Press photo
Yankees organizational depth: Shortstop • 01.12.11
In certain corners of the Yankees fan base, Derek Jeter is perhaps the least beloved icon in baseball. A vocal minority — at least I think it’s a minority — is ready to give up on him after the first rather pedestrian season of his career. The Yankees aren’t so pessimistic, having just locked Jeter into a three-year deal with a fourth-year option, but they are preparing for life without their captain. The Yankees top two picks in last year’s draft were shortstops.
In the big leagues
Hard to believe Jeter is only one year removed from being a legitimate MVP candidate. Concerns about production are inevitable when a player reaches his late 30s, but Jeter seemed to be charging into his twilight years before a sudden step back last season. Defensively, he’s fundamental rather than dynamic, and the Yankees seem willing to accept those limitations. Offensively, it’s hard to say what Jeter is at this point. If he falls somewhere between his ’09 and ’10 levels of production, he’ll remain one of the better offensive shortstops in the game. He showed signs of bouncing back in September, but another step in the wrong direction could be a real problem and would almost certainly force Joe Girardi to drop his captain to the bottom of the lineup.
On the verge
The Yankees know what they have in Ramiro Pena. He’s a terrific defensive player with a little bit of speed, but his bat is limited to say the least. The shortstop who seems to have their attention is Eduardo Nunez, who last year hit .289/.340/.381 with 23 stolen bases in Triple-A, then held his own after a late-season major league call-up. He seems to have made defensive progress last season as well. Beyond Nunez, there’s a large gap before the next wave of significant shortstop potential reaches the upper levels. Jose Pirela, who should open in Double-A, isn’t a no-name, but his ceiling seems closer to a utility infielder than a starting shortstop.
Deep in the organization
It was considered something of a surprise when the Yankees took a shot on Cito Culver as their first-round draft pick last summer. They backed that pick by selecting another teenage shortstop, Angelo Gumbs, in the second round. Three years earlier, the Yankees took a 10th-round shot on a high school shortstop named Carmen Angelini — they knew he was raw, but thought he might improve too much in college for them to ever have a shot at him when he was older — only to see that pick fizzle through bad numbers and a hip injury. Instead, the long-term, in-house future of the shortstop position might rest on the two kids who turned pro just a few months ago.
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: Derek Jeter
Scranton/WB: Ramiro Pena/Eduardo Nunez
Trenton: Jose Pirela
Tampa: Kelvin Castro
Charleston: Carmen Angelini
The big league depth chart at shortstop doesn’t extend much beyond Nunez and Pena. Kevin Russo and Reegie Corona have experience at the position, but both are better suited elsewhere. If Jeter gets hurt, Nunez seems to be the best long-term solution. If Pena wins the utility job, he’ll be the guy to get occasional starts here and there.
In the lower levels, the shortstop situation could change significantly by mid-season. Culver will probably open in extended spring training with a eye toward making his Charleston debut in early June. Until then, an organizational shortstop — Jose Mojica, Emerson Landoni, Angelini — could get the Low-A job. Up in High-A, Castro is the natural fit for the job despite hitting just .224 in Charleston last year. If not him, perhaps Walter Ibarra or Addison Maruszak could return to Tampa, but as an everyday player this time. There is also the chance that Angelini could impress in spring training and get the Tampa job out of camp. Basically, the shortstop position in the lower levels is remarkably flexible heading into spring training. The upper levels will have Luis Nunez, Doug Bernier and Justin Snyder to fill some shortstop time off the bench.
Associated Press photo of Jeter, headshots of Jeter, Nunez and Angelini (milb.com doesn’t have a Culver headshot yet and I don’t want to steal one from another site)
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 sign 29 draft picks • 08.17.10
Before Monday’s signing deadline, the Yankees signed 29 draft picks including each of their top 13 selections.
Top overall pick Bryce Harper agreed to a deal with Nationals in literally the minute before the midnight deadline. The Nats front office celebrated — seriously — with a pie to the face of their general manager.
As provided by the Yankees player development staff in Tampa, here’s a list of the picks the Yankees signed.
1 Culver, Cito
2 Gumbs, Angelo
3 Segedin, Robert
4 Williams, Mason
5 Kahnle, Thomas
6 Encinas, Gabe
7 Anderson, Taylor
8 Roller, Kyle
9 Morton, Taylor
10 Gamel, Benjamin
11 Varce, Zachary
12 Burawa, Daniel
13 Austin, Christopher
15 Whitley, Chase
16 Rutckyj, Evan
17 Claiborne, Preston
20 Ferraro, Michael
21 Hobbs, Dustin
22 Johnson, Trevor
23 Brown, Shane
24 Mullee, Conor
25 Stevenson, Casey
30 Nuding, Zachary
31 Gipson, James
32 Sneed, Kramer
35 Oliver, William
36 McCoy, Nick
46 Forer, Nathan
47 Lewis, Frederick
Culver signing official • 06.18.10
See what happens when you go for a haircut on this beat? You’re 20 minutes late on the draft pick signing news. Buster Olney says Cito Culver signed at slot. Here’s the press release from the team.
The 17-year-old Culver, out of Irondequoit High School in Rochester, N.Y., batted .561 (37-for-66) with 10 doubles, five triples, nine home runs, 38 RBI and 20 walks in 22 regular season games this past season as a high school senior, according to his school’s Web site. He also had a .933 fielding percentage, committing just eight errors in 120 total chances, helping lead his school to the Monroe County Division title. Named his team’s most valuable player in each of the last three seasons, Culver was also a three-time all-county selection and an Under Armour All-American.
Last summer, Culver played on the Yankees’ Area Code team, working out at Yankee Stadium and participating in a tournament in California. Baseball America rated the shortstop as the third-best prospect out of the state of New York. Under his high school bio page, Culver lists his favorite baseball team as the New York Yankees and one of his favorite baseball players as Derek Jeter.
“We are very excited to get Cito signed so quickly and get him out on the field to begin his development as a Major League prospect,” said Damon Oppenheimer, Yankees Vice President of Amateur Scouting.
Culver was just the second high school shortstop drafted by the Yankees (also C.J. Henry in 2005) in the first round since the organization selected Derek Jeter with the sixth overall pick in the 1992 First-Year Player Draft.
Also, in case you missed it, the Yankees have signed utility man Eric Bruntlett to a minor league deal. He started at third base for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last night. He’s never hit much in the big leagues, but Bruntlett can play everywhere and there are certainly much worse backup backups out there.
Report: Culver has reached agreement • 06.16.10
According to Kevin Levine-Flandrup, covering the draft for Pinstripes Plus, the Yankees have reached an agreement with first-round pick Cito Culver. Levine-Flandrup sites a source he spoke to this morning who says the deal is done pending a physical and Culver’s graduation.
In minor league news a little closer to New York, after outfielder David Winfree was released last night, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees sent infielder Matt Cusick to Trenton, apparently to open a spot for a minor league free agent.
Can’t help wondering how much longer it will be before Scranton makes another move, sending a player to New York to replace Chad Moeller.
Culver backs out of Maryland • 06.16.10
As if there needed to be another indication that first-round pick Cito Culver plans to sign with the Yankees, the young shortstop sent a pretty clear signal this week.
According to my old friend Jim Mandelaro, Culver has backed out of his commitment to the University of Maryland and will travel to the Yankees minor league complex tonight. It’s a three-day visit, and Culver told Mandelaro that he’s not sure what’s on the schedule other than a physical.
By my count, that leaves only two steps: Agreeing on money and finding a working ink pen. I like the Pilot G-2, but whatever’s handy should work.
Culver can’t officially sign until the graduates from high school. That’s happening on Sunday.
The one who probably won’t get away • 06.09.10
Yankees first-round pick Cito Culver was supposed to be on a conference call with the media at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. It was pushed back to 4:30 because Culver was getting a tuxedo for the senior ball at his high school. He and a friend picked out a pinstriped version, and there was disappointment in his voice when he told the New York writers that the pinstripes are black, not blue.
“I’ve been working for this all my life,” Culver said. “And to go 32 overall to my favorite team, and the team I’ve been growing up watching, and the team my family has followed for years now, it was an awesome feeling. It was unreal.”
Two years ago, the Yankees drafted a high school kid who didn’t sign. That doesn’t seem likely in this case. Culver has advisors working for him, and so he naturally didn’t rule out the idea of sticking to his commitment to the University of Maryland, but there was a sense that he simply couldn’t help himself.
“I think that I just can’t wait to be a Yankee,” he said.
WHY HE PLAYS BASEBALL: “My whole family grew up playing baseball. If you didn’t play baseball in my family you were pretty much exiled from the family. It’s something that ran in the family, and when you have a lot of cousins like I do – I have a ton of cousins – they’re all playing baseball and you’re going to play with them. It’s just something that grew on me.”
WHAT KIND OF PLAYER HE IS: “Switch hitter. Love to hit. Love to hit from both sides. I’m a pretty good runner. My best asset I think is my arm strength. I think I have good feet in the infield, know how to get myself in good position to take a ground ball and make an accurate throw.”
WHAT POSITION HE EXPECTS TO PLAY: “I see myself as a shortstop. That’s the position I played growing up, throughout my whole life. Once a shortstop always a shortstop, but I’m open to do whatever the team needs to do to get the win.”
WHAT HE EXPECTED ON MONDAY: “I wasn’t really sure to be honest. I knew a couple of teams were interested in me. Did I know I’d go 32 overall? No I didn’t. When I was called, I was very grateful and just honored to be able to begin and finish off my career being a Yankee.”
WHY DEREK JETER IS HIS FAVORITE PLAYER: “I just love the way he plays the game. He goes hard every time. The best part about his game to me is when he hits a ground ball, he runs it out hard every time. You can expect that from him, just giving his best effort every time. That’s something I want to resemble when I get older, playing as hard as he did. He’s one of the best that’s ever played the game.”