Looking for upgrades: The pitching staff • 06.27.11
Two weeks from the all-star break and a little more than a month before the trade deadline, the Yankees are at a point where they can — sort of — figure out what they need to add for a second-half push toward the playoffs. Making this picture a little less clear is the status of their injured players who could provide a significant boost if/when they get healthy.
On the pitching staff, the preseason concern has become a surprising strength, and the preseason strength has become a surprising concern. These are three areas where the Yankees might look to upgrade their pitching staff in the second half.
The Yankees rotation has been better than anyone could have expected, and that’s despite injuries to Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon. The Yankees, though, will surely kick the tires on alternatives, if only to add depth and peace of mind.
Trade market: Hit-and-miss.
A starting pitcher will be traded before the deadline, history tells us that much. The question is whether an addition would be an upgrade over the Yankees in-house options. If Hughes and Colon come back and pitch well – and both Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova continue to pitch well enough – then the need for a starter will be minimal (though the want might still exist). If Hughes or Colon suffers a setback, Garcia or Nova regresses, or A.J. Burnett falls into last year’s habits, then the Yankees will need someone. Carlos Zambrano and Brett Myers seem to be available targets, but are they worth the headache? The Twins have been disappointing and could shed starting pitchers at the deadline, but are they more reliable than what the Yankees already have?
In-house: The kids.
Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are still in Double-A and both are pitching well (though still working on some control issues). Not so long ago, the Yankees had Hughes and Alan Horne dominating in Double-A as highly regarded prospects, but the Yankees left them there, and there’s not much reason to expect the Yankees to change course and suddenly rush Betances or Banuelos without at least a brief stop in Triple-A. More likely options might be Carlos Silva, Hector Noesi or someone from the David Phelps-Adam Warren-D.J. Mitchell trio in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Warren is probably at the top of that pecking order with Phelps is currently on the DL.
Joba Chamberlain is lost for the year, and Rafael Soriano is almost certainly lost until after the all-star break. Dave Robertson has been terrific in the eighth inning, but the Yankees are mixing-and-matching in the sixth and seventh, still searching for one-inning relievers to complete that bridge to Mariano Rivera.
Trade market: They’re all relievers. Last year, the Yankees took a chance on Kerry Wood, and that move completely changed the bullpen. At the time of the trade, though, Wood was coming off injury and had ugly numbers with Cleveland. He came to the Yankees as a complete wild card and became a dominant setup man. The Yankees could go looking for something similar, but relievers are an unreliable group. Based on what Wood was doing at this time last year, he would not have looked like an especially attractive target. There will be risk in anyone the Yankees go after, though some big names seem to be on the market, including Padres closer Heath Bell.
In-house: Untested. The Yankees have had success plugging minor league starters into bullpen roles, and that’s occasionally worked as a stepping stone to the big league rotation. Right now, they seem to be trying something similar with Noesi.* They also might have found something in Cory Wade, though his innings have been limited. Andrew Brackman has moved to the Triple-A bullpen, but the results have not been encouraging. The Yankees have looked at Kevin Whelan and they’ve run through a series of long-relievers, but so far Noesi has been the call-up standout and Luis Ayala has been better than expected. George Kontos still seems to be pitching himself toward a call-up in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Yankees top two left-handed relievers should be Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte, but those two proven veterans have yet to pitch this season because of injuries. In their place, Boone Logan has been erratic, unable to repeat last year’s second-half success.
Trade market: Still relievers. The same problem that applies to the setup trade market applies to the lefty trade market: These guys tend to be unpredictable. The Yankees could take their chances on a veteran, with hopes that he doesn’t fall into either the Logan Trap of ineffectiveness or the Feliciaino/Marte Trap of arm problems. The Phillies just released J.C. Romero, who actually had solid numbers against lefties this season but passed through waivers without a claim. Logan has struggled all season, and the Yankees haven’t traded for a replacement yet, which might say something about the market.
In-house: Minor league veterans. The Yankees have signed some lefties for the Triple-A pitching staff, and those might be legitimate options. Randy Flores has pitched well out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen, holding lefties to a .233 average with nine strikeouts, seven hits and one walk. Greg Smith has pitched well out of the rotation, but that’s only 14.2 innings and he has almost zero bullpen experience. If he could pitch in relief, Smith could give the Yankees a second lefty who doubles as a long man. It’s also worth noting that Whelan has had tremendous success against left-handers, but he’s currently on the DL and his first stint in New York was so short, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees trusting him with the bizarre role of right-handed lefty specialist.
* In my mind, this is why it makes sense to have Noesi playing a bullpen role while Brian Gordon gets a few spot starts. Noesi’s role could be a long-term thing. The Yankees have a very real need in the late innings, and if Noesi adapts to the role, he could be a significant boost the rest of the way. The current rotation opening is a no-doubt-about-it part-time job. Gordon is going to get one or two more starts before Hughes is ready, and obviously they’re going to skip him when they can. He had great numbers this year, so the Yankees are riding the hot hand for a while. They’re hoping for more than a short-term contribution from Noesi.
Associated Press photos
Kevin Whelan opened this season as a rather forgettable part of a potentially memorable Triple-A pitching staff. Legitimate prospects filled the rotation, and the bullpen was dotted with returned Rule 5 picks and veterans with big league experience.
Then there was Whelan, the last remaining piece of the 2006 Gary Sheffield trade. He was a fallen prospect, a guy who always walked too many batters and finally reached a new low with a 6.02 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last season.
Whelan’s been a completely different pitcher this year. As Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s closer, he’s cut down on the walks significantly. He has a 1.73 ERA, 17 saves, and he’s allowed just 17 hits and six walks through 26 innings. He’s struck out 28, and his 0.88 WHIP is the lowest on the team.
“It is the command, which translates to confidence,” pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras said in an email.
Contraras was the second person I talked to who mentioned confidence when explaining Whelan’s sudden improvement. He’s always had a good fastball and a big splitfinger — and he’s had some real success from time to time — but it seems that things are just now coming together. If the Yankees find an opening for a one-inning guy, Whelan would surely be the front-runner for the job. It’s worth noting that he’s been especially good against left-handers, holding them to a .178 batting average with 19 strikeouts and only two walks.
It’s also worth noting that Whelan’s not on the 40-man, and the Yankees have found more openings for multi-inning relievers than short relievers this season. Jonathan Albaladejo had even better numbers as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s closer last season — and he actually was on the 40-man — but Albaladejo barely got a look at the Major League level. So Whelan might not be looking for apartments in the city, but he’s surely put himself on the map. It’s impossible to ignore a guy who’s always had the potential and is just now finding the consistent results.
• Gary Sanchez is back on the Charleston active roster. He returned Saturday after being sent to extended spring training for what appears to be some combination of a bad back and a bad attitude, probably more of one than the other. He had a hit and drew a walk in his first game back.
• Greg Golson has been activated from the Triple-A disabled list, a move came one day after Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s most productive outfielder, Justin Maxwell, went on the disabled list with a jammed shoulder. Maxwell actually has a higher slugging percentage than Jorge Vazquez and homered in three games in a row just before the injury. For the season he’s hitting .260/.358/.588 and might have hit his way into a big league role had Andruw Jones not started hitting lately.
• Speaking of banged-up Triple-A players who might or might not be playing their way into a call-up: Carlos Silva was scratched from a start on Sunday because of tightness in his shoulder. Doesn’t seem too serious. Manager Dave Miley told Donnie Collins, “We’re just pushing him back.”
• If there’s no spot for Whelan as a short reliever in New York, the Yankees certainly have options for long relief out of Triple-A. George Kontos and Buddy Carlyle are still pitching well in long relief for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Kontos is holding right-handers to a .143 average with 24 strikeouts and four walks. Out of the rotation, tonight’s starter D.J. Mitchell has a 2.78 ERA and pitched seven scoreless in his most recent outing.
• After hitting .218/.292/.287 in April, Kevin Russo hit .316/.384/.408 in May. Brandon Laird made a similar turnaround, from .184/.213/.289 in April to .307/.343/.406 in May. Jesus Montero went the other way, from .365/.360/.473 to .269/.333/.413.
• Strange stuff in Double-A Trenton where hitting coach Julius Matos was ejected last week, then got into some sort of argument with manager Tony Franklin and has since been removed from his role. Popular roving hitting instructor James Rowson has taken over the job for now. It’s unclear whether Matos will return in any capacity.
• Austin Romine is the only Trenton regular hitting better than .277, and he’s missed a few games with a stiff neck and back after a home plate collision. Romine has certainly been the high point of the Double-A lineup. Melky Mesa is back to being an all-or-nothing hitter, Bradley Suttle is hitting for good power but a .233 average and Corban Joseph has been good but not great.
• I talked about him a little bit in today’s chat: Trenton reliever Tim Norton is starting to get some attention. Injuries have always been the biggest knock on the guy. This year he’s healthy and putting up incredible numbers (44 strikeouts in 29 innings, for example). One scout told Bill Madden that Norton is, “better than (Joba) Chamberlain right now.”
• Manny Banuelos has a 2.12 ERA and Dellin Betances has a 1.99, so those two are doing just fine despite higher-than-you’d-like walk totals. Craig Heyer, a guy the Yankees sent to the Fall League this offseason, has been awfully good since stepping into the rotation to fill in for some injuries.
• Tampa third baseman Rob Lyerly made the Florida State League all-star team, but as expected, the High-A roster is lowest of the four affiliates in terms of prospect buzz. Starters Brett Marshall and Jairo Heredia, though, are starting to do some things. In Heredia’s past three starts he’s allowed one earned run through 21 innings. He’s walked two and struck out 22. He’s another of those “if-things-go-right” prospects.
• J.R. Murphy remains the best all-around hitter in Low-A Charleston, but first baseman Kyle Roller leads the team with a .563 slugging percentage and corner outfielder Ramon Flores leads with a .407 on-base percentage.
• Slade Heathcott in April: .370/.453/.630. — Slade Heathcott in May: .216/.283/.289.
• The amateur draft begins tonight. The Yankees don’t have a pick until the supplemental first round — No. 51 overall — but they’ll almost certainly be part of the story with pick No. 1. The Pirates are reportedly planning to take Gerrit Cole, the former Yankees first-round pick who ultimately signed with UCLA rather than join the Yankees minor league system.
Headshots of Whelan, Sanchez, Golson, Romine and Norton
Mark Prior is all alone in one corner of the Yankees clubhouse. All around him are empty lockers, most of them cleared out this morning through the Yankees first round of cuts.
Prior’s neighbor, Neal Cotts, didn’t make it through the first week of camp. The next three lockers in his row belonged to Buddy Carlyle, Brian Anderson and Andy Sisco but they’re all gone now. In the middle of the clubhouse, empty lockers belonging to Adam Warren, David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell are clustered together.
There seems to have been a bit of a system to the first round of cuts. Of the pitcher in camp on a minor league deals, only Warner Madrigal — who’s dealt with an injury — has fewer innings than Carlyle, Anderson and Sisco. Those three weren’t pitching much anyway. The other four cuts were minor league starters — Phelps, Mitchell, Warren and Hector Noesi — who just pitched either Friday or Saturday. They won’t pitch again for a few days, and with the big league starters stretched out to four-plus innings, it was becoming difficult to get those four stretched out as well.
Still waiting for word on whether any of the seven cuts were released. The assumption is that all seven were simply reassigned (or optioned) to minor league camp.
• The only minor league starters still in big league camp are Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos (and maybe Steve Garrison, depending on how the Yankees plan to use him this season). Might not be long before the Yankees have to send some of the Killer Bs down as well to give them innings.
• Banuelos turns 20 years old today. He’s the youngest guy in camp.
• Combined spring numbers for Mitchell and Warren: 8 G, 10.2 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 10 K, 2.53 ERA. Mitchell walked no one. Warren allowed just one earned run.
• Sisco didn’t allow a hit in big league camp, but he did walk four through 3.1 innings.
• Greg Golson said he’s still not able to do much with that oblique injury. He said it feels better day after day, but he’s not able to swing or doing any real baseball activity until it’s back to 100 percent. “Whenever this thing lets me,” he said.
• Today’s sides: Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Pedro Feliciano, Mitchell and Phelps.
• Mariano Rivera will make his spring training debut this afternoon against the Twins. We’ll see a lot of the regular Yankees bullpen, with Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain and Dave Robertson also scheduled to pitch. None of the big league relievers is scheduled to make tomorrow’s trip to Fort Myers (except starter Sergio Mitre).
• Minor league utility man Justin Snyder is on the list of players making tomorrow’s trip to play the Red Sox. The Yankees are taking their regular outfielders, but none of the other everyday guys.
• Available in the bullpen today: Rivera, Soriano, Chamberlain, Robertson, Brackman, Romulo Sanchez, Steve Garrison, Ryan Pope, Eric Wordekemper and Dellin Betances. Everyone after Brackman seems to be a backup.
• Off the bench: C Gustavo Molina, 1B Eric Chavez, 2B Ronnie Belliard, SS Eduardo Nunez, 3B Kevin Russo, LF Melky Mesa, CF Austin Krum, RF Daniel Brewer and DH Kyle Higashioka.
• Tomorrow’s travelers today: Tomorrow the Yankees have their second long road trip in three days. They’ll travel to Fort Myers to play the Red Sox before an off day Tuesday. There will be a workout at the stadium in Tampa on Monday afternoon before the bus leaves.
Pitchers who will be making the trip: Sergio Mitre, Luis Ayala, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Steve Garrison, Ryan Pope, Mark Prior, Romulo Sanchez and Eric Wordekemper.
Players who will not be making the trip: Francisco Cervelli, Russell Martin, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Eric Chavez, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Colin Curtis, Greg Golson and Andruw Jones.
In the back of the Yankees clubhouse, on the left side of the room, there is a row of five lockers. Jorge Posada is in the corner, followed by Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, Jesus Montero and Russell Martin. They’re all grouped together, the top of the food chain in this catching-rich organization.
Martin’s locker is at the end of the row, almost as if they’re easing the new guy into the mix.
So far, the Yankees are easing Martin into catching drills. His hip is fine, but Martin is still working out some range-of-motion issues with the MCL in his right knee. He said it loosens day by day, and squatting behind the plate actually seems to be helping the process.
The only thing Martin is not doing is block balls in the dirt. The Yankees don’t want him to start blocking drills just yet, worried that slamming his knee into the ground might cause a setback at a time when he’s very nearly 100 percent.
For the most part, though, Martin said he feels good and his lower half feels strong. Yankees camp is very regimented, and the team goes pretty hard from the very beginning of camp.
“I’m glad I came prepared,” he said.
• The closer has arrived. Mariano Rivera got into town last night and will begin his usual spring training routine this morning. As usual, he’s not sure when he’ll finally throw off a mound, but it won’t be any time soon.
• Reegie Corona has been scratched from big league camp. He’s still rehabbing and will get his treatments at the minor league complex. His locker at big league camp has been cleaned out. Name plate taken down and everything.
• Speaking of name plates, there is finally a locker labeled D.J. Mitchell. Either as a joke or a mistake, Mitchell’s locker was originally labeled Bryan Mitchell.
• CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett each threw bullpens earlier this morning. “The earlier the better,” Burnett said. They’re up around 30 pitches each.
• Bullpen assignments:
Bartolo Colon (to Francisco Cervelli)
Freddy Garcia (to Russell Martin)
Sergio Mitre (to Austin Romine)
Luis Ayala (to Jesus Montero)
Boone Logan (to Gustavo Molina)
Mark Prior (to Jose Gil)
Buddy Carlyle (to Austin Romine)
Robert Fish (to Kyle Higashioka)
Ryan Pope (to Jose Gil)
• Same hitting groups as the past two days.
Associated Press photo of Martin with Jorge Posada
Spring decision: Back of the rotation • 02.07.11
For the week leading up to spring training, I thought we’d take a daily look at some of the decisions the Yankees have to make before Opening Day. No sense starting with anything but the most obvious decision of all.
Think back. You might remember hearing something this winter about Cliff Lee going to Philadelphia, Andy Pettitte staying home in Texas and the Yankees sorting through the scraps of the free agent starting pitcher market. It was the biggest Yankees story of the offseason, an on-going saga that won’t be settled until a five-man rotation finally comes together this spring (and one that might not be settled — one way or another — until mid-season). For now the Yankees have three starters in place, and two spots up for grabs.
Assuming no late-minute trades or additions, the Yankees have four prominent candidates for two spots: Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Both Garcia and Colon are in camp on minor league deals, while the rookie Nova is actually coming to camp as an incumbent and a favorite. The Yankees could also look deeper in the farm system, giving prospects like David Phelps, Hector Noesi and Adam Warren a chance to impress.
The easy choice
Last season, Nova showed promise in New York and Garcia was reasonably productive in Chicago. Heading into spring training, they seem to be the front-runners for the fourth and fifth spots. Mitre, though, is even further removed from Tommy John surgery and got some spot starts last season. From the outside — my opinion anyway — he seems more likely to end up back in the bullpen, but Joe Girardi seems to like him, and Mitre is probably a legitimate candidate. He could certainly pitch his way into the rotation.
Colon is a complete wild card here. He hasn’t pitched a full big league season since he won the Cy Young back in 2005. He didn’t pitch at all last year, and it’s hard to believe he has much left, but the Yankees were impressed in winter ball, so he’ll get a look. More intriguing options come from the minor league system where the Yankees have considerable pitching depth.
Noesi, Phelps and D.J. Mitchell each finished last season in Triple-A. It’s impossible to count out any of those three. Andrew Brackman also took considerable steps forward in Double-A last year, but it’s Warren who’s name is brought up surprisingly often. A fourth-round pick in 2009, Warren made just 10 Double-A starts last year, but he was impressive, and his name seems to always come up in interviews with Girardi and Brian Cashman. He seems like a long shot, but one that might get a long look.
A separate but related issue
It’s a minor issue — one that will hardly matter by the second week of the season — but the Yankees have a decide how to line up the top of the rotation. CC Sabathia will obviously start on Opening Day, but who gets Game 2? Should the Yankees show A.J. Burnett that they still have confidence in him, or should they acknowledge that Phil Hughes seems to be the more reliable option at this point? Hughes and Burnett will be the Nos. 2 and 3, but who gets which number is a matter of opinion.
Associated Press photos of Nova and Garcia
Sherman pointed out that 10 years ago, Alfonso Soriano hit his way into a big league role sooner than expected, and four years ago, injuries forced Phil Hughes into a big league role sooner than the Yankees would have liked. Who’s to say something similar couldn’t happen this season with the Yankees talented young pitchers?
It’s a good point, especially considering Hughes was rushed to the big leagues precisely because the Yankees rotation became very thin, very quickly. That’s a scenario that could easily play out with a rotation that’s pretty thin to begin with. The Yankees would prefer to move slowly with Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, but if one of those three once again cruises through minor league hitters — especially Brackman, who’s more advanced — the Yankees could combine need with performance and make those moves sooner than expected.
Right now, Hector Noesi, David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell might be closer to a big league role than any of the Killer Bs — Noesi, Phelps and Mitchell have already pitched in Triple-A — but it’s worth remembering that back in 2007 the Yankees went through Darrell Rasner, Jeff Karstens and Chase Wright before calling on their top pitching prospect. Even so, they still had Hughes in the big leagues before the end of April.
2. “I think it remains a pretty good likelihood that Andy Pettitte will return and the Yanks will make a trade in spring for a starter…”
It’s not clear whether this is based on conversations within the Yankees front office or simply a guess on Sherman’s part. The Pettitte part isn’t what interests me — at this point I think everyone has an opinion, but no one has a strong sense of what he’s going to do — but I wonder if Sherman’s onto something about a spring trade.
Obviously the starting pitcher trade market didn’t offer much of interest this winter. I’m sure there were names tossed back and forth, but ultimately Brian Cashman decided nothing made sense for the Yankees. The market, though, might change once spring training gets started and teams get a better sense of exactly what they have.
Who might the Yankees target? I have no idea, and that’s kind of the point. If there were an obvious trade partner right now the Yankees would have pulled the trigger already. As it stands, though, it seems that nothing worthwhile is out there, so the Yankees need something to shake up the market. Spring training might be just the thing to do that.
Associated Press photo of Hughes
There is perhaps no higher commodity in baseball than a young starting pitcher. As the Yankees have discovered this winter, finding a reliable starter on the trade market is difficult and costly, and the free agent market is no sure thing. The bad news for the Yankees is that the back of their big league rotation is still unsettled. The good news is that there are a lot of legitimate pitching prospects nearly ready for the show.
In the big leagues
The Yankees have their ace in CC Sabathia. They have their young gun in Phil Hughes. They have their erratic talent in A.J. Burnett. Beyond that, the Yankees have high-hopes for Ivan Nova and a whole lot of praying for rain. For now, Sergio Mitre seems to be the top in-house option to round out the rotation, but that will almost certainly change — in one way or another — between now and spring training. There is still hope that Andy Pettitte will come back, and if he doesn’t, the free agent market still offers a handful of risk-reward pitchers coming back from injury, plus a few veterans looking for some sort of resurgence. The Yankees top pitching target went elsewhere, and now they’ll have to build a rotation with the pieces that are left.
On the verge
At this point, Nova seems nearly locked into a big league rotation spot, but the Triple-A rotation could still have five legitimate prospects, headlined by Hector Noesi and Andrew Brackman, each of whom is on the 40-man, possibly leaving them in line for early promotions should the Yankees need an additional starter. D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps are also in line to open in Triple-A after finishing last season at that level. Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos — considered, along with Brackman, to be the top pitching prospects in the system, affectionately known as the Killer Bs — will likely return to Double-A, but they could move quickly.
Adam Warren, Gordon Stoneburner and Shaeffer Hall are also legitimate rotation prospects who would be far more prominent in most systems but fall somewhat into the shadows because of the Yankees upper-level depth. Warren in the most advanced of those three, having made 10 Double-A starts, but Stoneburner might be generating the most buzz after a 2.41 ERA between Low-A and High-A last season. Hall is a lefty out of Florida State, and the Yankees are willing to push him aggressively.
Deep in the system
The bulk of the Yankees rotation prospects are actually in the upper levels of the system, having already cleared several minor league hurdles. That’s one of the most impressive things about the system as a whole. In the lowest levels, there are three names that stand out: Brett Marshall, Jose Ramirez and Bryan Mitchell. Back from Tommy John surgery, Marshall had a 2.50 ERA and a .199 opponents batting average in Charleston last season. Ramirez put himself firmly on the map in 2009 with a terrific first season in the States. He followed that with a 3.60 ERA and 105 strikeouts last season in Charleston. Mitchell is the youngest of this trio, and he pitched well in the short-season leagues in his first taste of pro ball. He was a 16th-round pick in 2009, falling only because of signability issues. He’s considered a front-line talent.
As a rule, I’m hesitant to get too caught up in players at the Class A level — pitchers especially — because they have so far to go, but those three standout as names to know and follow right now. Other names to keep tucked away: Jairo Heredia (talent slowed by health and conditioning issues), Gabe Encinas (the top starter taken in last year’s draft) and Sean Black (seventh-round pick in ’09 had a 3.88 ERA in Charleston and made two Tampa starts last 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: CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova and a free agent
Scranton/WB: Hector Noesi, Andrew Brackman, David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell and Lance Pendleton
Trenton: Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Graham Stoneburner, Shaeffer Hall
Tampa: Jose Ramirez, Brett Marshall, Sean Black, Jairo Heredia, Josh Romanski
Charleston: Bryan Mitchell, Shane Greene, Michael O’Brien, Nik Turley, Zachary Varce
Even this late into the offseason, the big league rotation remains a work in progress. As for who gets the first call beyond those top five, that’s also up in the air. There should be enough talent in Scranton to build a legitimate competition for any spot-starter needs that pop up during the season.
For now, I’ve projected a Scranton rotation that includes Pendleton, a Rule 5 pick currently hoping to win a spot in the Astros rotation. Minor league signee Andy Sisco could also work as a Triple-A starter, as could Kei Igawa if necessary. When he’s ready to come back from surgery, Jeremy Bleich could rejoin the Trenton rotation. He made eight starts there last season. Craig Heyer, who was sent to the Arizona Fall League and has worked as both a starter and reliever, could fit into the Trenton rotation at some point, especially if Pendleton sticks with Houston. As for the lower levels, those rotations are more difficult for me to predict, and some of those assignments might be based on what these pitches show in spring training.
Associated Press photo of Hughes, headshots of Sabathia, Brackman and Marshall
Let’s go heavy on prospects today, shall we? This is Baseball America’s Top 30 Yankees prospects heading into this season, listed with each player’s rank at the beginning of the season and the level where he finished the season.
No. 1 Jesus Montero
After a rocky start to the season, Montero turned things around in the second half and could fight for a big league job in spring training. He remains one of the elite prospects in baseball, with the only significant questions being where he’ll play in the field.
No. 2 Austin Romine
Romine dropped to sixth in this year’s rankings, but I’m not sure his ceiling or expectations have fallen. He had a kind of Derek Jeter-type season, starting strong and finishing strong, with three rough months in the middle. He’s in the Arizona Fall League now, and it’s easy to forget that he hasn’t turned 22 yet. Still very highly regarded, but he was passed on Baseball America’s list by young players and injured players whose stock soared after strong seasons.
No. 3 Arodys Vizcaino
Traded to the Braves
The big prospect in The Boone Logan Trade had a 2.74 ERA between two Class-A levels this season, but he was shutdown with an elbow injury.
No. 4 Slade Heathcott
Low-A center fielder
Got to Charleston at the start of June, and he might have lost a little ground in the prospect standings — he hit .258 with 101 strikeouts — but it’s hard to read too much into a 19-year-old’s first season of pro ball. He still in Baseball America’s Top 10 for the orgnization.
No. 5 Zach McAllister
Traded to Cleveland
This was the cost for two months of Austin Kearns. Had he stuck around, McAllister probably would have fallen out of the Top 10 after a 5.09 ERA in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was certainly overshadowed by several other upper-level pitchers.
No. 6 Manny Banuelos
Double-A left-handed starter
After a healthy second half that took him from High-A to Double-A, Banuelos is living up to expectations. Building up his workload seems to be the next step in his development. He’s in the Arizona Fall League right now and could pitch himself to the cusp of the big leagues next season. At 19 years old, he’s the youngest of the Yankees Killer B pitching prospects.
No. 7 Gary Sanchez
He’s been compared to Montero, except with more defensive tools. That’s why he moved all the way to No. 2 on this year’s Baseball America list. There is a ton of talent, but also a long way to go.
No. 8 J.R. Murphy
In so many ways, Murphy is “the other” catching prospect in the Yankees system. He’s only 19 years old — one year older than Sanchez — and he already held his own in Charleston. The power started to show in the second half.
No. 9 Jeremy Bleich
Injured Double-A left-handed starter
Stock took a hit because of shoulder surgery. He made only eight starts for Trenton. Hard to learn much about him from this season.
No. 10 Andrew Brackman
Double-A right-handed starter
This season might have been the best-case scenario for Brackman, the towering right-hander who had Tommy John surgery before throwing a single professional pitch. Brackman has always been a high-end talent, but he lived up to those expectations with a healthy and much-improved second season.
No. 11 Bryan Mitchell
Short-season right-handed starter
Opened in extended spring training, then pitched in the Gulf Coast League and got up to Staten Island in September. Still young, and Rookie Ball opponents hit .190 against him. Obvious potential. Obviously young.
No. 12 Mike Dunn
Traded to Atlanta
Another part of The Boone Logan Trade, he pitched his way to Atlanta but the Yankees might have gotten the better of the two young lefties in that trade.
No. 13 Corban Joseph
Double-A second baseman
Terrific numbers in Tampa sparked a second-half call-up to Trenton, where Joseph struggled with his first taste of upper-level pitching. Could play second or third base. Nothing especially flashy, but he lived up to expectation and might have exceeded it with his promotion.
No. 14 Eduardo Nunez
Major League shortstop
Nunez had to prove that 2009 was not a fluke, and he did just that with a terrific Triple-A season that ended with a call-up to New York and a late spot on the postseason roster. He hit .289 in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but also showed an improved glove. That combination pushed him into the Yankees Top 10.
No. 15 Mark Melancon
Traded to Houston
Sent to the Astros in the Lance Berkman deal, Melancon simply never made that final step with the Yankees. He pitched pretty well in 20 appearances for the Astros.
No. 16 Ivan Nova
Major League right-handed starter
The Yankees always liked Nova’s potential, but he developed slowly until a strong 2009 season that landed him a spot on the 40-man. Now he’s a candidate for a spot in the back of the big league rotation. He’s the most advanced of the Yankees many upper-level pitching prospects.
No. 17 D.J. Mitchell
Triple-A right-handed starter
Moved into the Yankees Top 20 prospects, then got an invitation to big league camp, then pitched his way from Double-A to Triple-A. He generated better than a 2-to-1 ground out to fly out ratio in Double-A, then had a 3.57 ERA in three Triple-A starts. Overshadowed by some teammates, but he had a very nice season.
No. 18 Melky Mesa
High-A center fielder
He obviously did something right because now he’s on the 40-man roster. The MVP of the Florida State League has legitimate power and speed, but he also strikes out a ton and this year’s .260 average was actually his career-high. A complete wild card in this system.
No. 19 Kelvin DeLeon
Short-season right fielder
Stock might have slipped through a .236 average with six home runs and 80 strikeouts. Just turned 20, so there’s plenty of room to grow, but also a long way to go.
No. 20 Jose Ramirez
Low-A right-handed starter
A good arm lurking in the lower-levels of the Yankees minor league system, he had a 3.60 ERA with 105 strikeouts in Charleston this season. For now, he exists in the shadows of the pitchers ahead of him, but he’s certainly not an unknown. He’s a legitimate prospect in his own right.
No. 21 Graham Stoneburner
High-A right-handed starter
Leading into this season, Stoneburner was a favorite among writers and bloggers who closely follow the Yankees minor league system. He proved those believers right with a 2.41 ERA between Charleston and Tampa. He could be one of the fastest-rising stars in the organization, and there is considerable speculation that he could eventually end up in the bullpen, making ascent even faster.
No. 22 David Adams
Injured Double-A second baseman
Off to a .309 start in Trenton, Adams’ season was cut short by an ankle injury that cost him the bulk of the year and might have cost the Yankees a shot at Cliff Lee. I tend to lump Adams and Joseph together as Double-A guys able to play second or third. He seemed to be showing a lot this season, but it’s hard to make much of 39 games.
No. 23 Caleb Cotham
Cotham should have been in Charleston, but a pair of surgeries left him unable to pitch in an actual game this season. He has only eight professional innings to his name.
No. 24. Hector Noesi
Triple-A right-handed starter
Noesi had pitched only nine games above Low A when the Yankees put him on the 40-man roster this season. That said a lot about their expectations, and Noesi lived up them with a season that catapulted him into Baseball America’s Top 10. From High-A to Double-A to Triple-A, he could be next year’s Ivan Nova.
No. 25 David Phelps
Triple-A right-handed starter
There’s a common theme among most of these back-end starting pitchers: Except the injured Cotham, they were all outstanding. This was Phelps’ second full season, and he finished it with a 3.07 ERA in 12 Triple-A outings.
No. 26 Adam Warren
Double-A right-handed starter
Kind of like a one-year-younger version of Phelps, Warren had a 3.15 ERA in 10 Double-A starts after opening the year with a 2.22 in Tampa. The upper-level pitching depth in this system is incredible, as evidenced by the fact neither Phelps nor Warren deserved a spot among the Yankees Top 10 prospects.
No. 27 Kevin Russo
Major League utility
Russo’s value is in his ability to do a lot of things well. He served that role perfectly as a call-up who shifted to left-field when the Yankees were searching for outfield help. Nothing flashy, but when he was getting regular at-bats, he was contributing. He could easily play that same role next season.
No. 28 Dellin Betances
Double-A right-handed starter
This is the biggest leap of the bunch, and his jump into the Top 10 had as much to do with his health as his performance. Betances has always been a premier talent, but this year he got healthy and stayed healthy through a dominant second half. Expectations are sky
high again. He just has to stay off the disabled list this time.
No. 29 Jairo Heredia
High-A right-handed starter
Kind of like Nova in 2008 and Noesi in 2009, the Yankees have to decide whether to protect Heredia from the Rule 5 or take their chances that an unproven but talented young pitcher will sneak through. Heredia just turned 21, but he pitched just six times above Low A this season. Opponents there hit .359 against him.
No. 30 Jamie Hoffmann
Rule 5 pick sent back to Dodgers
The Yankees were clearly never planning to bring back Brian Bruney this offseason, so they traded him away for the right to draft Hoffmann. He hung around spring training for a while, but was ultimately sent back to the Dodgers. He hit .310 with eight home runs, 17 steals and 36 doubles in Triple-A.
Still waiting for a Damon decision • 08.24.10
It’s a beautiful day in Toronto. Of course, you wouldn’t know it from inside the dome.
While we’re still waiting for the clubhouse to open, the Red Sox are still waiting on a decision from Johnny Damon, who has to decide whether to accept a move out of Detroit and back to Boston. This afternoon, he told our old friend Pete Abraham that he’s leaning toward Detroit.
“I think we’re still in this,” Damon said. “But I’ve got to know whether they’re going to keep playing me or whether they’re going to go with the younger guys. If I’m not going to play as much, the decision is a no-brainer.”
For whatever it’s worth Buster Olney thinks Damon will be convinced to leave.
In other waiver news, the White Sox are apparently planning to claim Manny Ramirez whenever he ends up on waivers. That would have to happen really quickly to impact the Yankees upcoming series in Chicago. The bigger Yankees impact of a White Sox claim might be keeping Ramirez out of Tampa Bay.
As for some Yankees news this afternoon: D.J. Mitchell is about to make his Triple-A debut in a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation that has a combined 19 Triple-A starts this season. Mitchell had been pitching very well in Trenton the past two months or so. He was easily one of my favorite guys to talk to this spring. Just a really nice guy who happens to induce a lot of ground balls.
Notes from Day 1 • 02.17.10
There wasn’t much breaking news coming out of Steinbrenner Field this morning. The Yankees pitchers and catchers showed up, then some of them talked, then all of them left. For a first day of spring training, it was pretty much exactly what you would expect.
As for some smaller notes from the day, here’s one that is quite literally smaller.
Who’s in shape and who’s not always seems to be an early spring training question, and the only player I saw who was a noticeably different size was Jonathan Albaladejo, who said he lost 30 pounds this winter. “A lot of running,” he said.
For the first time since he turned pro, Albaladejo did not play winter ball in Puerto Rico. He instead focused on getting into shape. “I definitely feel more fresh,” he said. “My arm feels more life.”
• For now, Phil Hughes is only throwing fastballs and changeups in his bullpen sessions, and he expects to throw one more bullpen before he mixes in curveballs and cutters. He compared the development of his changeup to last year’s development of the cutter. “I’ll concentrate on it all spring,” he said. “Hopefully I’ll get it to a point where it’s a solid pitch for me. It just comes with repetition.”
• Along the left wall, the first group of lockers goes in this order: CC Sabathia, Joba Chamberlain, Javier Vazquez, Chad Gaudin, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. That’s a clearly defined section if I’ve ever seen one.
• One random locker assignment comes on the right side of the back wall: Nick Swisher, Marcus Thames, Randy Winn, Curtis Granderson, Reid Gorecki and Mark Teixeira. Poor Gorecki is going to be surrounded by writers every day without being asked a single question. Unless it’s a question about one of the guys sitting near him.
• Congratulations to Mark Melancon, who got married this winter. Also congratulations to Jason Hirsh, who had hardly said hello before he flipped open his phone to show me a picture of his newborn.
• Speaking of Hirsh, I still consider him one of the sleepers of big league camp, and he came up with a great line to explain his offseason conditioning. “Functional training instead of meathead lifting,” he said. Nice.
• Jorge Posada said he watched that World Series highlight DVD this winter. I’m sure a lot of Yankees watched it, but Posada was the first I’ve heard talking about it. “I watched it and you can’t believe it,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
• I doubt I’ll have any reason to write more than five words about D.J. Mitchell this winter, but I did get to meet him this morning. Really nice guy. He said he found out on Monday that the Yankees made him a late addition to big league camp. He drove from North Carolina to Tampa on Tuesday, and was in camp this morning. He’s a sinker baller who climbed from Low-A to High-A last season. The Yankees haven’t told him where they expect him to open this season.