Earlier this week, Jim Callis wrote quite a bit about the Yankees currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. He understandably focused on breakout right field prospect Aaron Judge, noting that Judge is wrapping up the longest stretch of baseball he’s ever experienced.
Pro ball often forces a young player into a longer and more rigorous schedule than he’s used to, but Judge’s adjustment was delayed because of last year’s quadriceps injury.
“After you get drafted, you just want to show people who you are,” Judge told Callis. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise, though. I met a lot of great big leaguers while I was down in Tampa rehabbing. It kind of helped me with the mental side of baseball. Everyone’s going to have ups and downs, and just trying to stay even keel through that whole process is a huge part of it.”
Check out the Callis story. It has some basic scouting details on all of the Yankees players down in the Fall League.
A few other notes from winter leagues:
• The Yankees top first base prospect, Greg Bird, has played in 12 games in the Fall League, and he has a hit in every one of them. Four of those hits have been home runs. It’s an offense-heavy league, but a .333/.382/.627 is awfully good. The guy can hit. It’s not reflected in the numbers here, but Bird doubled in his first at-bat today, so make that a 13-game hitting streak.
• After getting time at right field, first base and third base in the minor leagues, Tyler Austin is getting some time in left field while on assignment in the Arizona Fall League. In fact, he’s playing left field again tonight (while Judge plays right). It will be his fourth turn in left field, which can’t be a bad thing for a guy who could earn some sort of big league role next season, possibly as a corner bench player. Austin’s had two hits and and two RBI in two of his past four games. Hasn’t shown much power so far, but after 36 at-bats his slash line is a not-bad .278/.366/.361.
• Interesting for Yankees fans that the Scottsdale team has often gone with Yankees prospects in the 2, 3 and 4 spots in the lineup — Austin, Judge, then Bird as the cleanup hitter. Judge has been in the No. 3 spot for each of his starts down in Arizona. He’s hitting .276/.313/.448 with eight RBI in seven games.
• Off to a slow start in Arizona, Dante Bichette Jr. has now reached base seven times in his past four games, which has helped his slash line. He’s still hitting just .226/.306/.226. Only 31 at-bats, though. In his MLB.com piece, Callis notes that Bichette might eventually end up as a DH. The bat is his ticket to the big leagues. Needs the power that he showed his first season of pro ball.
• As expected, catcher Kyle Higashioka is only getting occasional playing time down in Arizona (he’s part of the roster that’s only occasionally active) but he’s making the most of it so far. Through two games, Higashioka has five hits, a home run and a stolen base. The Yankees have long liked his defensive ability, but he’s never shown much offense at all in the lower minors.
• The group picked by the Yankees for the Fall League is heavy on position players, and the pitchers sent to Arizona remain somewhat underwhelming statistically. Alex Smith has allowed at least one earned run in each of his five outings and currently has an 11.81 ERA with more walks (6) than strikeouts (4). … Caleb Cotham has 10 strikeouts and just two walks through seven innings. He also has a 7.71 ERA. Last time he pitched was Monday when Cotham allowed six hits and three earned runs through two innings. … Kyle Haynes hasn’t pitched since Saturday. Through 5.2 innings, he has yet to be charged with an earned run, but he’s allowed three unearned. Has a solid 1.24 WHIP. Tiny sample size, of course.
• Looking for more encouraging pitching numbers? Reliever Diego Moreno, who had some solid moments with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, has pitched well as a closer in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities, and he’s allowed just two hits through 5.1 innings. He recently re-signed a minor league deal to return to the Yankees system.
• Also down in Venezuela, Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia continues to be the regular left fielder and usual No. 3 or 4 hitter for Navegantes del Magallanes. He’s hit for a strong average and stolen a couple of bases, but Garcia’s still waiting for the winter power to show up. He’s hitting .283/.313/.304. Last winter he hit .325/.347/.502 in Venezuela.
• After getting just six winter at-bats last year, and 13 at-bats the year before, young outfielder Ramon Flores continues to get fairly regular playing time this winter. Two weeks into the Venezuelan season, Flores has played in seven games and hit .333/.429/.500 through 18 at-bats. If he weren’t left-handed, Flores might be an even stronger candidate for the Yankees bench next season. As it is, some winter playing time couldn’t hurt after missing so much time this season with an ankle injury.
• Notable at least partially because of the Yankees total lack of standout shortstop prospects in the upper levels, utility type Ali Castillo continues to hit in Venezuela. He’s playing shortstop everyday — he was the regular shortstop for Trenton this year — and he’s hitting .395/.429/.447 through 38 at-bats in 10 games. He’s also stolen five bases in seven attempts. He’s been hitting leadoff. The same winter ball team used Castillo all over the infield and hit him ninth last year.
When he looked into the stands, Joe Girardi saw his old friend Dante Bichette holding a video camera. When he looked onto the the field, Girardi saw Dante Bichette Jr. rounding the bases.
Could he imagine the feeling of ever watching his own son hit two home runs in a big league spring training game? Girardi leaned back and smiled.
“Hopefully I’ll get that chance,” he said.
This afternoon, Bichette Jr. came up from minor league camp to get a couple of at-bats against the Astros. First time he went to the plate, he swung at the first pitch and hit a wind-aided home run to right. Second time he went to the plate, he again swung at the first pitch, and hit a legitimate shot to center field.
“I was lucky to make contact with the first two swings, and they went pretty far,” Bichette Jr. said. “I’m happy with that. I was just trying to hit the ball, that’s all. … Family is the world to me, so my Mom and Dad here is everything. It’s a family effort, everything that’s happened so far, so having them here is perfect.”
Bichette Jr. grew up 20 minutes from this ballpark and played here in high school. Hard to imagine he ever had a day quite like this one, though. The wind got harsh as a line of bad weather moved through the area, and that helped the two teams combine for nine home runs. Bichette’s first was a product of that wind. The second one surely got some help, but he hit it pretty hard.
“It was pretty special,” Girardi said. “The second one, he really hit. Seeing his mom and dad, who we’ve been close to for a long time, his little brother; they played on this field a lot. They greew up in the area, so he’s been on this field. It’s pretty neat.”
Did Girardi say anything to Bichette Jr. in the dugout?
“I don’t know, honestly,” Bichette Jr. said. “I don’t remember any of them. It was kind of surreal.”
• If you missed it in the game post, the Yankees final diagnosis of Cesar Cabral is a stress fracture in his olecranon (essentially the tip of his elbow). Girardi said it’s the same injury Warner Madrigal had last spring, and an injury Jonathan Albaladejo had at one point. “It’s frustrating because he had a really good camp for us,” Girardi said. “I can’t tell you what was going to happen, but he had a good camp for us.”
• Francisco Cervelli was taken out of the game after being hit by a pitch in the forearm, but he’s fine. Girardi said there are no concerns about it.
• Certainly the conditions didn’t help, but Adam Warren conceded that he “just wasn’t sharp” this afternoon. He allowed six runs on 10 hits through 5.2 innings. He walked none and struck out three, but said his command was bad from the very beginning. He did feel better as the game progressed, he said. Four of those runs came in the second inning.
• Girardi on Warren: “I thought he threw the ball better than the numbers indicated. It’s a windy day, an extremely fast infield — not great conditions to be a pitcher here. I thought he threw the ball better than what it indicated.”
• The game was called in the middle of the ninth inning because of steady rain. Each team agreed there was no sense taking the risk of injury. “We just said, ‘If it starts raining any harder, we don’t want to get anyone hurt,’” Girardi explained. “It kind of stopped a little bit, they put down some Diamond Dry, and then it started raining hard again. So, that’s it.”
• Clay Rapada gave up a home run to a lefty today, but it was hit to right field, where the wind was carrying fly balls over the wall. Hard to think the Yankees make too much of that.
• Raul Ibanez now has three home runs in his past five games. He’s also raised his spring batting average more than 100 points in that time.
• Curtis Granderson went 3-for-3 to raise his spring average to .381. He’s looked really good at the plate from the very beginning of spring. … Bichette, Ibanez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira each had two-hit games. … Jose Gil got a start and had another hit. A 1-for-4 day dropped his spring average to .455. … Doug Bernier also had another hit and is having a nice spring of his own. He’s hitting .344 and has played very good defense all over the infield, particularly at short. … Preston Claiborne got in the game and pitched the final two innings for the Yankees. He allowed two runs, one of them on a homer.
• After the game, the Yankees got back on the bus to go to Tampa. When they get back, the guy who are making the road trip to play the Marlins will join their teammates for a flight to Miami. Tomorrow is a day game followed by a night game on Monday. I’m going to hit the road myself. Long drive ahead of me.
Assocaited Press photos