When the first batter of the game hit a ground ball to second base, the former shortstop charged it, scooped it, and botched it. It was an error on Stephen Drew’s first play of the spring, which was not the best way to win over a fan base that’s already skeptical at best. For a while, Drew’s name was actually trending on Twitter, and not in a good way.
“For me, I’ve got to trust my talent,” Drew said. “I know it’s there, it’s just more or less, now at second, just learning that. I want to get the best I can at that, and then taking everything in at second that I can (learn). Then hitting, I know it’s there, now I just have to get in that rhythm. I haven’t had a normal spring training in three years. So if I can get in a routine finally, I think it will pay off.”
After hitting just .162/.237/.299 last season, Drew accepted a one-year deal and a position change because, he said, he liked the organization and saw this as an opportunity to win. He basically dismissed the idea of getting some reps at shortstop this spring, saying he needs to focus on learning second base. Clearly, the way he sees it, that’s his position now.
“That route (on the first-inning error), you just need to come around a little more,” Drew said. “Then I can square up to the ball, set the feet and then throw. It’s definitely the angles over there still are going to be the ones that I’m going to work through the whole spring training to get really used to that before the season starts.”
The Yankees have two young second base alternatives in Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, but the early spring indications suggest Drew would have to fall flat for either alternative to take the job. Joe Girardi has said he wants to keep Drew and Didi Gregorius playing together, a clear indication that he sees those two as his double play combination. If Drew’s not going to play much — if any — shortstop this spring, that would seem to rule out putting him into a utility role to back up Gregorius at short, which is surely good news for Brendan Ryan sticking with the team, making it harder to find a spot for Pirela or Refsnyder even on the bench.
A broken ankle, a concussion, and a contract issue have kept Drew from having a normal spring the past three years. Now he sees this spring as an opportunity to truly prepare, to learn a new position, and to prove he can be the same hitter who had such a productive 2013 season in Boston. He clearly sees himself, not as a utility man or as shortstop insurance, but as the Yankees regular second baseman. All he has to do is simply learn to play the position.
“It’s still that ticking process in my mind, especially in spring training,” Drew said. “(There are) little things I’m running through to get more comfortable. I know I did it last year just on a whim, but to be able to not be thinking during a game. Just be able to do it like I do at short, where everything comes natural.”
• Pretty good first start for Nathan Eovaldi, who showed the velocity we’ve heard so much about — his fastball got into the upper 90s at times — and had some success with the developing split finger he’s been working on. Eovaldi allowed one run on two hits through two innings, and his one strike out came on a splitter. “I think I threw four or five splits today,” Eovaldi said. “Mixed in some first-pitch curveballs; tried to go up on (Ryan) Howard. Everything is good. I moved the ball inside, outside.”
• Elevating his fastball against Howard was another checklist item for Eovaldi, who said earlier this spring that he wanted to work on pitching up in the zone more often. His attempt today was too high, but Eovaldi said he sees the high fastball as a weapon to change eye levels and set up low strikes.
• A scout in attendance on Eovaldi: “Looks like he’s ahead of last year’s pace. Looks a little smoother in his delivery. I think that Rothschild could really help him. … Definitely can get better from this point on.”
• Strong Yankees debut by Andrew Miller, who had a runner at third base but left him stranded thanks to a pair of strikeouts and a ground ball. “I’m really happy with the way I was throwing the ball,” Miller said. “I’m not too concerned with things right now. It could have been absolutely horrendous and there’s nothing to worry about. It’s just, going out there and getting it going. I’m happy with it in general. I felt my breaking ball was really good, so it’s always nice to come back and realize it’s still there after the offseason.”
• Girardi on Miller: “It was nice. We saw him throw some breaking balls behind in the count. He can’t be a comfortable at-bat for a lot of guys, that’s the bottom line. So it was nice to see.”
• After another problem-free bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka said he feels ready to pitch in a game. “Gradually am able to build up so far,” he said. “Whenever they want me to go, I think I’m ready.” Tanaka said he’s talked to Larry Rothschild about when he will make his spring debut, but Tanaka didn’t want to divulge the date. Girardi said Tanaka will pitch a simulated game before getting in a real game.
• Does getting into a game feel more significant this spring because of the elbow situation? “I’m really not looking at that as something significant,” Tanaka said. If that’s true, he might be the only one.
• Brendan Ryan sounds encouraged about the progress of his back injury, but the Yankees still had him take today off because he complained of soreness after yesterday’s workout. “We’ll go day-by-day again,” Girardi said.
• Alex Rodriguez on when he could play the field: “Whenever Joe wants. I had some good work in the back field with Jody (Reed) today, both at third and at first. That felt pretty good.” Girardi said he’ll put Rodriguez in the field whenever Rodriguez says he’s ready, but it’s also easier to get him more at-bats when he’s a DH.
• Really nice play by Cito Culver late in the game. Had to go in the hole and made a really strong throw to first base. “Quite a play,” Girardi said. “That’s when you wish you could run in and watch the replay or it was on the (video) board, you know?”
• By the numbers: Culver had one of the five Yankees hits. Rodriguez, Francisco Arcia, Mason Williams and Cole Figueroa had the others. Williams and Arcia doubled. … Gary Sanchez had the Yankees only RBI on a sac fly. … Scoreless inning apiece for Tyler Webb, Danny Burawa and Wilking Rodriguez. … The three Phillies runs came off Eovaldi, James Pazos and Kyle Davies, who pitched two innings.
• We’ll give the final word to Didi Gregorius, on playing his first game with the Yankees. “It was amazing. The fans are here to support our team, so it was really good. It was a real great feeling for me to wear the pinstripes and go out there for the first time. … I think (the fans) have their eyes on everybody, because it’s a team. It’s not one player. I’m not pitching. I’m not doing all those positions. They’ve got their eyes on everybody that’s on the team.”
Associated Press photos
Just got off the phone with assistant general manager Billy Eppler, who answered a few questions about the non-roster guys invited to Yankees camp this spring.
Eppler confirmed that both Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers have been told to prepare as starting pitchers. They will essentially show up in Tampa as sixth-starter options — guys who could fill a rotation spot if someone else gets hurt — but Eppler didn’t rule out the idea of either Warren or Rogers pitching well enough to win a rotation job even if everyone else is healthy.
“I don’t know,” Eppler said. “I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see. I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you.”
Rogers pitched well as a starter in winter ball this offseason, and Warren was a legitimate rotation prospect throughout his minor league career (he made his big league debut as a starter back in 2012). For now, the Yankees seem to be looking at a five-man rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Capuano, while they wait for Ivan Nova to come back from Tommy John.
The Yankees expect reliever Andrew Bailey to be an active pitcher in camp. After missing basically all of last season while recovering from a shoulder injury, Bailey should be back on the mound this spring, presumably with a real chance to win a spot in the Yankees bullpen.
“He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” Eppler said.
Slade Heathcott is also expected to report to camp fully healthy. He had surgery yet again last season and played in just nine Double-A games, but the Yankees signed him to a new minor league contract this offseason.
“His progressions are moving forward really positively,” Eppler said. “The last checkup we had, he’s able to do full baseball activities, it’s just (a question of) how regular and how long of a duration.”
New reliever Johnny Barbato — acquired in the Shawn Kelley trade — is also healthy. Barbato didn’t get an invitation to big league camp, but Eppler said that’s not because of the elbow injury that kept him off the mound the second half of last season. Eppler said Barbato actually finished 2014 healthy and pitched in the Padres’ instructional league this offseason before the Yankees acquired him. They’re considering him a healthy and available pitcher, one that will continue to work as a reliever.
“He was cleared and good to go,” Eppler said.
MINOR LEAGUE ASSIGNMENTS
While he wouldn’t give an exact date, Eppler said that veteran pitcher Scott Baker does have an opt-out in his contract (pretty common for a veteran guy on a minor league deal). He’ll come to camp to provide rotation depth, but that could be a short-term thing. If he goes to Triple-A at all — and that might be a big, if — Baker might not be there very long before looking for an opportunity elsewhere.
As for Heathcott and Mason Williams — two prospects whose assignment, Double-A or Triple-A, seems pretty far up in the air — Eppler said their assignments will, in fact, be determined in spring training. This spring could be pretty important for each of those two.
“Any young player wants to make an impression,” Eppler said. “… But you want them to do so in a very cautious manner. (Joe Girardi) tells them, no one is making the team in the first week of spring training.”
Along those same lines, Eppler said the Yankees entered the offseason with strong interest in minor league infielders Noonan, Jonathan Galvez and Cole Figueroa — Galvez, in particular, was signed very quickly — and the team sees all three as potential Yangervis Solarte-types who could really capitalize on a fresh opportunity. Galvez is 24, Noonan is 25, and Figueroa is 27.
And for whatever it’s worth, Eppler said not to dismiss Cito Culver, the former first-round pick who’s hit just .233/.316/.321 in the minor leagues but still got an invitation to big league camp.
“When people look at Cito or whoever, when you look at a player, you’re throwing his offensive numbers in your face,” Eppler said. “We do feel that Cito Culver is a very high, high-end defender. Very high-end defender.”
Because of that defensive ability at such an important defensive position, Eppler said the Yankees still believe Culver could become a consideration should the Yankees have a need at shortstop in the big leagues. In the past, I’ve compared Culver to Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, also a first-round defensive standout who didn’t hit much in the minors but has seen quite a bit of big league time on pretty good teams.
Some of the more notable names left off the Yankees’ list of spring invites were, as expected, simply the victims of a numbers crunch. Taylor Dugas and Adonis Garcia each played well in Triple-A last season, but the Yankees have 10 other outfielders coming to camp, and Eppler pointed out that infielders Garrett Jones and Jose Pirela will also get some outfield time. As it is, that’s 12 outfielders for three spots.
A similar glut of third basemen kept Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. from getting invitations, and Eppler confirmed that reliever Mark Montgomery is healthy, he was simply kept out of big league camp by the recent influx of bullpen talent.
“There’s a limited number of at-bats and innings to hand out in spring training,” Eppler said. “You don’t want to water it down.”
Associated Press photo
It’s the final day of the Winter Meetings, which means it’s time for the Rule 5 draft. This year’s draft starts at noon ET, and the Yankees have plenty of open roster spots to make a selection or two, but they’re not expected to take anyone. Maybe if there were an interesting infielder out there — maybe a guy to compete with Jose Pirela for a utility spot — but the Yankees seem more interested in keeping their roster spots open.
Rather than wonder if the Yankees will take some one, it might be more relevant to wonder who they might lose.
Last year, the Yankees lost hard-throwing reliever Tommy Kahnle, who stuck with Colorado and had a perfectly solid season. Chase Whitley was available in last year’s Rule 5 draft, but he went unselected and wound up getting to the big leagues with the Yankees. Danny Burawa was also available in last year’s Rule 5, but the Yankees protected him this time around.
I’ve listed a few names the Yankees left unprotected for this year’s Rule 5. One scout I talked to called this the thinnest Rule 5 class in recent memory, but Baseball America says it’s actually a pretty good class (“The Rule 5 draft is always about the eye of the beholder,” BA wrote).
Another scout said that the available Yankees prospects are “not prime targets,” but he did say teams could take a shot on a few players. Here are some of the more notable Yankees available in this year’s draft. Solid chance none will be selected.
RHP Mark Montgomery – Probably the biggest and most interesting name on this list. In the low minors, Montgomery earned Dave Robertson comparisons because of his ability to strike out so many guys. As he climbed the system, though, Montgomery’s numbers became much more pedestrian. Still gets quite a few strikeouts, but his velocity is way down. One scout mentioned him as a candidate for a team hoping his fastball jumps back to what it was back in 2012.
1B Kyle Roller – Honestly, this is the name that intrigues me the most. Roller went unselected in last year’s Rule 5, but that was before he went to Triple-A and hit .283/.378/.497. He’s a bad defender even at first base, but offense is down and Roller can hit. That said, one scout said it’s a “long shot that he could come off the bench (against) good pitching.” Bad defensive players with zero defensive versatility aren’t often targeted in the Rule 5, but Roller has hit in Triple-A, and that’s hard to overlook these days.
LHP Fred Lewis – Pitched so well in big league camp this spring that Lewis seemed to emerge as a big league bullpen option, but his regular season was a mess statistically, he got hurt, and now he’s off the radar again. But he throws from the left side, and one scout specifically mentioned him as a guy worth at least considering for the Rule 5.
RHP Zach Nuding – Solid starting pitcher for a few years now, but he went unselected in last year’s Rule 5, then he split this year between Double-A and Triple-A. His Double-A numbers were awfully good (1.10 WHIP) while his Triple-A numbers weren’t so good (1.55 WHIP).
LHP Matt Tracy – Throws left-handed, and he’s stretched out to be either a starter or a long man. One scout called Tracy a guy who might be worth a low-risk gamble in spring training just to see if he could make a roster in one role or another. That said, Tracy was hit pretty hard in Triple-A this year. He’s a notable guy who’s available, but another who seems like a longshot to stick if he were actually selected.
SS Cito Culver – Notable almost exclusively because he’s a former first-round draft pick. Ultimately, Culver hasn’t hit nearly enough to think he’s a true Rule 5 candidate, but he is a decent defender, and teams sometimes use the Rule 5 to go fishing for utility types who can play a role off the bench. The Yankees went into this offseason as desperate as anyone for a shortstop, and they chose not to put Culver on the 40-man. That says a lot.
C Francisco Arcia – Had no intention of mentioning Arcia until a scout specifically mentioned him as a guy who could get a look as a backup catcher. A couple of years ago he had a really nice first half in Low-A, but he’s since been underwhelming and the Yankees have treated him largely like organizational filler. I’d be stunned if he’s selected (unless he’s picked in the minor league phase), and I’d been more stunned if the Yankees seriously missed him.
Associated Press photos
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.