State of the organization: Third base • 10.09.14
Well, we were going to get here eventually. Might as well deal with it on a random Thursday in early October. The state of the Yankees organization at third base is a strange mix of embarrassing uncertainty in the big leagues and optimistic potential in the minors. The Yankees have a first-round pick waiting in the wings to replace a 10-year contract that stands out as one of the worst in all of sports.
Signed through 2017
Nope, you didn’t read that wrong. Rodriguez turns 40 in July, he’s hardly played in the past two years, and he’s signed for three more seasons. That’s the lingering mess of a 2008 contract that’s been nothing but trouble. Amazingly, Rodriguez’s previous record contract had actually been a fairly good one. In 2007 he won his third MVP award in five seasons. He was paid a boatload of money, but he was as productive as anyone this side of Barry Bonds. Then he opted out, negotiated a new deal, and things went downhill quickly. From a .965 OPS in 2008 to a .771 OPS in an injury-shortened 2013, Rodriguez’s production has declined each year of his current deal. And last year he was suspended for a full season because of his Biogensis ties (you probably heard about that). Now the Yankees say they’re expecting Rodriguez to play third base again next season, but there’s obviously a solid chance someone else has that job pretty soon.
On the verge
No sense pretending there’s someone in the Yankees system who’s truly “on the verge” of taking over the third-base job. Jose Pirela has played third base in the past, but he didn’t play a single inning at the position this year. Rob Segedin is the system’s most advanced third base prospect, but he’s had injury problems and hit just .143 in limited Triple-A at-bats this year. Zelous Wheeler is a third baseman by trade, but he’s also a DFA candidate. Adonis Garcia and Tyler Austin have some third base experience, but they’re primarily corner outfielders. Instead, the most ready alternatives are either Martin Prado (assuming either Pirela or Rob Refsnyder is ready to play second base) or a free agent, and the most notable free agent is Headley, who made a strong impression during his two-plus months with the Yankees. Given the uncertainty of Rodriguez and the injuries to Mark Teixeira, the Yankees surely need someone capable of playing the infield corners. If it’s not Headley, it’s got to be someone. Prado could do it, but that’s going to require someone else who can play second.
In two of the past four drafts, the Yankees took a third baseman with their top pick. They took Dante Bichette Jr. out of high school back in 2011. Two years later, they took Jagielo out of Notre Dame. Despite a bounce-back season from Bichette, it still seems that Jagielo has to be considered the system’s top third-base prospect. He struck out a lot this season — 93 times in 85 games with High-A Tampa — but he also might have led the league in home runs had he not missed time with an injury. He instead ranked fifth with 16 homers. Only one player in the league had more than 19. “Jagielo hit home runs in college,” Mark Newman said. “He probably hit more and exhibited more power than we had anticipated, but we thought he had power.” While I would give Jagielo the nod as the system’s top third base prospect, Bichette had a nice year after back-to-back disappointing seasons. He wasn’t nearly as good after a late promotion to Double-A, but he did enough to get back on the map. If he can rediscover some of the power numbers he showed during his strong half season in 2011, Bichette could really make a push next year.
Deeper in the system
Two top draft picks headline the third base position in the Yankees minor league system, but two young players signed out of the Dominican Republic had nice years in the lower levels. Andujar in particular stands out as an interesting and legitimate prospect. Playing full-season ball for the first time, Andujar got off to a slow start with Low-A Charleston — a brutal month of May left him with a .212/.267/.335 slash line at the All-Star break, but he rebounded in a big way by hitting .319/.367/.456 in the second half. Still just 19 years old, Andujar’s a kid with a long way to go, but he put up good numbers in rookie ball last year, and this season’s second half was another step forward. Coming up behind Andujar, a 21-year-old named Allen Valerio hit .292/.404/.472 in his first season in the U.S., but he was pretty old for rookie ball.
An outfielder in the infield
While the Yankees don’t have a full-time third base prospect who’s knocking on the door to the big leagues, they do have Tyler Austin who’s likely to land on the 40-man roster this offseason and should open next season in Triple-A. Converted to right field back in 2012, Austin really hasn’t played much third base lately, but he’s played the position in the past and he got a little bit of time at third last season. After a strong second half and an assignment back to the Arizona Fall League, Austin should be one of the top prospects on the Scranton/Wilkes-Barer roster next season. If he hits, the Yankees might have to find a way to give Austin an opportunity in New York, and third base could be a way to do that either as a regular or part-time player at the position. A right-handed corner utility man would fit pretty well with this roster, and Austin could be that type of player if the Yankees still trust him in the infield.
Associated Press photo
Arizona Fall League gets started today • 10.07.14
Today is Opening Day for the Arizona Fall League. While it’s always dangerous to make too much of Fall League numbers — it’s typically an offense-heavy league, and the competition is kind of unusual just because of the mix of experience and inexperience, plus some guys who might be a little drained after already playing through a full season — the Yankees are sending some of their heavy hitters into the desert, which will make those box scores a little more interesting this year.
Here are the eight Yankees assigned to the Scottsdale Scorpions:
OF/INF Tyler Austin – Listed as an outfielder on the Scottsdale roster, Austin is really more of a four-corners guy who could become a big league option at first base, third base, left field or right field (he actually hasn’t played any left field as a pro, but it seems safe to assume that wouldn’t be ruled out as a possibility). The real key for Austin is that he continues to hit. He had a terrific 2012 season which put him squarely on the prospect map, but that breakout year was followed by a disappointing 2013 year in Double-A when he was bothered by a wrist injury that lingered through much of this season. In the second half of this year, though, Austin was back to his old self hitting .336/.397/.557 in his final 122 at-bats with Double-A Trenton. He’ll almost certainly be added to the 40-man roster this winter.
3B Dante Bichette Jr. – The Yankees intended to send their top third base prospect, Eric Jagielo, but that plan was scrapped after Jagielo was hit in the face by a pitch last month in instructs. In his place, they’ll send Bichette. Jagielo was a better fit largely because he missed a decent amount of time with an injury this season, but Bichette is an interesting alternative coming off a strong bounce-back season. His first half was better than his second half, and he didn’t hit much after a late-season bump to Double-A, so a strong Fall League would be a better way to wrap up the year.
1B Greg Bird – On the disabled list through the month of April, Bird got a late start this season, which explains his inclusion on the Fall League roster. A former fifth-round pick out of a Colorado high school, Bird entered pro ball as a catcher but has emerged as the top first-base prospect in the Yankees system. He’s shown an advanced approach for a young hitter, and he hit for quite a bit of power this season. Given a late promotion to Double-A in early August, he finished the year by hitting seven home runs in just 27 games with Trenton. He’s also shown a good eye throughout his pro career. The left-handed hitter is one of several legitimate corner bats in the system, many of which are joining him in Arizona.
RHP Caleb Cotham – Of the three Yankees pitchers going to Arizona, I’d say that Cotham is the biggest name. He was a fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt back in 2009, but his career was almost immediately thrown off track by knee and shoulder injuries. He missed time again this season and pitched just 54 innings, most of them split between Double-A and Triple-A, and the results were underwhelming. He had an ERA well over 5.00 with each upper-level affiliate, and the same thing happened in Triple-A last year. Cotham turns 27 in November, and he’s clearly trying to reestablish himself after some lost years and some down seasons.
RHP Kyle Haynes – Triple-A reliever Brandon Pinder was originally assigned to the Fall League, but he’s been replaced by Haynes, who was the player to be named later in last winter’s Chris Stewart trade with the Pirates. He’s a former 20th-round draft pick, and a relatively small name among the Yankees assigned to Arizona. He’s been a reliever nearly all of his career, but he made a brief rotation cameo last season, and this year he regularly went two innings or more out of the High-A Tampa bullpen. Haynes turns 24 in February, so he’s not particularly young for his level, but he was steady throughout the year. He actually had a .250 opponents’ batting average for the month of May, then again for the month of June, and again for the month of July.
C Kyle Higashioka – Injury limited Higashioka to just 49 at-bats this season, so he’s going to Arizona to get some much-needed playing time. That said, he probably won’t play much. Each roster has a handful of guys not assigned to play regularly, and Higashioka is one of those. He’ll get in a few games a week but won’t be a regular catcher. A seventh-round pick out of high school in 2008, I believe Higashioka spent one spring as the youngest player in Yankees big league camp (that’s how I remember it, anyway). Problem is he’s never hit much and he’s had trouble staying on the field (just 68 games the past three seasons). A thoroughly forgotten name in an organization still deep at catcher, Higashioka really needs to play to get himself back on radar.
RF Aaron Judge – This is a strong group the Yankees have chosen for the Fall League, and Judge is the headliner. Listed at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, Judge looks like a strong safety and leaves little down that he can drive the ball, but he impressed this season by showing patience and an ability to hit for average. He’s arguably the top prospect in the Yankees minor league system — I would put him second behind Luis Severino, but that’s just me — and it will be hard to improve upon his .308/.419/.486 slash line for the season. Judge turns 23 in April and seems likely ticketed for Double-A Trenton next season. Question is, how quickly can he move up if he keeps hitting like he did this season?
RHP Alex Smith – The Yankees have had some success with non-drafted guys, and Smith has pitched pretty well since signing in 2012 out of the University of New Haven. Statistically he’s pretty similar to Haynes as a right-handed reliever who’s been used regularly to pitch two innings. Also like Haynes, he’s not a particularly big name in the system, and he’d be pretty easy to overlook if the Yankees hadn’t picked him for Arizona. He does have good numbers, though. Pitching all year with High-A Tampa, Smith had a 1.17 WHIP and 11 saves. He also kept the ball on the ground, with more than twice as many ground ball outs as fly ball outs.
This was the first week of the offseason, and it was full of stuff pretty typical of the first week of the offseason. Most notably, both Hal Steinbrenner and Joe Girardi spoke publicly about their disappointment.
“I apologize,” Steinbrenner said. “We did not do the job this year. We know what you expect of us, and we expect the same thing of ourselves, and we certainly did what we thought we could do in the offseason to field a pretty good team come April 1, but it didn’t work out for reasons we’ve just discussed. And we’re going to get right back to work.”
Getting back to work begins with hiring a general manager. Brian Cashman’s contract expires at the end of this month, but all parties involved seem to expect a new deal to be worked out. Steinbrenner acknowledged that he and Cashman have already discussed a new deal.
“Overall, everything Cashman does — dealing with you guys (in the media), dealing with the coaches and the manager — he is a good GM,” Steinbrenner said. “So, yes, we have been talking about that, but there is no deal done.”
Steinbrenner was less supportive of the Yankees coaching staff, indicating it’s possible we’ll see some coaching changes this winter.
“If I do deem that somebody is liable,” Steinbrenner said. “Or if I do deem that somebody is responsible, that things could have been better, I will act.”
• Both Girardi and Steinbrenner indicated — just as Brian Cashman did last week — that the Yankees plan to bring Alex Rodriguez back next season, and they’re hoping to have him play a lot of third base. Rodriguez is working out in California, but he’s missed all of one year and most of another. Hard to have any idea what to expect.
• As expected, Carlos Beltran underwent surgery to have his bone spur removed. Dr. Chris Ahmad also removed loose pieces from the elbow.
• Derek Jeter wrapped up his Farewell Tour — he might not like the name, but that’s clearly what it was at the end — but doing a pair of television interviews, first with a morning appearance on Today and then with an evening appearance on The Tonight Show. Nothing new revealed, just Jeter being a retired celebrity. He’s honestly pretty good in those situations.
• Bigger news from Jeter came in his announcement that he has started an online media platform called The Players’ Tribune, which is designed to give athletes a chance to present their thoughts without the filter of typical media. Interesting idea. We’ll see how it plays out.
• Eric Jagielo will have to skip the Arizona Fall League after being hit by a pitch to the face during instructs. He’s been replaced by Dante Bichette Jr.
• Speaking of the Fall League, baseball is going to try some new pace-of-game initiatives out there. I like the idea. Shaving game times by just 15 minutes or so would be a positive thing for the league.
• Brett Gardner was announced as the Yankees nominee for the Hank Aaron Award, which goes to the top offensive player in each league. Says a lot about the kind of season Gardner had, but also about the kind of season the rest of the Yankees hitters had.
• A possible offseason target, Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, became an eligible free agent. Would be an chance to add power potential for right field. Obvious risk, though.
• The playoffs got started. Some awesome nights for the Kansas City Royals. Not such good nights for Joba Chamberlain.
Associated Press photos
Hit in the face by an instructional league pitch late last month, Yankees third base prospect Eric Jagielo will miss the next four to six weeks. Josh Norris first reported the time table last night, and Mark Newman confirmed this afternoon.
In the short term, Jagielo’s injury is significant because he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League and will obviously have to skip that.
Newman said that Dante Bichette Jr. — the former first-round pick who really put himself back on the map this season — will take Jagielo’s place in Arizona. Having struggled the previous two seasons in Low-A Charleston, Bichette was bumped up to High-A Tampa this year and hit .271/.352/.410 before playing his final 18 games in Double-A. He just turned 22 in September, so he’s still fairly young, and he won’t be Rule 5 eligible until next winter.
One other mid-day note of interest: Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas is an eligible free agent. Could be an interesting young target for the Yankees this offseason. If you have a subscription, here’s a ton of Baseball America information about Tomas.
Here’s the latest from the Associated Press about the second game of Major League Baseball’s exhibition tour of Taiwan. Curtis Granderson had the big home run in the first game. Robinson Cano had the big hit in the second game.
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Robinson Cano doubled in a run in the seventh inning to help an MLB All-Star team beat Taiwan’s national team 5-3 Thursday in the second game of a five-game series.
The New York Yankees’ second baseman also singled and scored in the sixth inning in the game in Taichung.
“They got a great team,” Cano said. “They played a pretty good game.”
The Taiwanese went ahead 3-2 in the fifth, scoring twice on three hits and a walk. The MLB squad tied it in the sixth and added two more runs in the seventh.
Relievers Rich Thompson of the Los Angeles Angels, Ramon Ramirez of the San Francisco Giants and Bill Bray of the Cincinnati Reds kept the Taiwanese scoreless from the sixth inning on.
In the series opener Tuesday, the MLB team won 7-0 in a game halted in the sixth inning because of rain. The teams play in Taichung on Friday before closing the series with two weekend games in Kaohsiung.
• Chien-Ming Wang is heading back to the Nationals. The Washington Post reports that Wang got a one-year deal worth $4 million to return to the Nats’ rotation.
• Don’t count on the Yankees keeping scouting director Damon Oppenheimer just yet. The Orioles still haven’t picked a GM, and the Baltimore Sun reports that Oppenheimer is among those who could still interview for the job. We learned earlier that Yankees pro scouting director Billy Eppler was apparently the runner-up for the Angels GM job.
• Yankees prospects Mason Williams and Dante Bichette Jr. were named the Topps Player of the Year in the New York-Penn League and Gulf Coast League.
• Former Yankees outfielder Juan Rivera was one of the first significant free agents to sign with a new team, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Dodgers.
• Outfielder Jordan Parraz, who had a terrific season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this year, has signed a minor league deal with the Braves. It includes separate language if he makes the big league club.
• After his one-year stint in the Yankees front office, it took Kevin Towers just one year to land an extension as the GM in Arizona.
Associated Press photo
Yankees at the break: Third base • 07.13.11
When Alex Rodriguez stopped driving the ball late last month, it was obvious something was wrong. The Yankees talked about a sore knee, and it seemed he needed to play through it until he got back to normal. Turns out, getting back to normal required surgery that will force Rodriguez to miss a month or more.
When Rodriguez finished the month of April hitting .290/.407/.609, it seemed he might have regained his MVP form. He’d talked a lot about finally going through his regular offseason routine – he was no longer forced to rehab – and it seemed to be paying off. May wasn’t nearly as productive, June was another big month, and then came the surgery. It was an up-and-down first half even before Rodriguez injured his knee while running the bases in Chicago.
Rodriguez probably won’t be back until mid-August or so. The Yankees are hoping that he’ll return at 100 percent, ready to hit for power and provide a significant spark down the stretch. He was hitting .302/.413/.623 in the 15 games leading up to that Chicago series, so maybe a healthy knee is all he needs to be one of the best hitters in baseball again. If he comes back as good as ever, the Yankees will have a bigger addition than any team could hope for at the trade deadline. It’s worth noting that Rodriguez has only 13 home runs at this point. His streak of 13 straight seasons with at least 30 homers is probably coming to an end.
Added to the 40-man after a tremendous 2010 season, Triple-A third baseman Brandon Laird started this season with a .184 average through the month of April, and he’d still hit only two home runs by the end of May, but he’s turned things around significantly and how has a .268 average with 10 homers at the break. He’s been especially good against lefties and could play a role at the big league level to help fill the A-Rod void. In the lower levels, Rob Segedin and Robert Lyerly played well enough to earn mid-season promotions to Tampa and Trenton respectively (Lyerly has primarily played first since joining the Double-A roster). First-round pick Dante Bichette is off to a slow start in rookie ball.
Can Eric Chavez play a role in the second half?
The Yankees seemed to have landed a significant bench player when Chavez started this season hitting .303 as a part-time third baseman, first baseman and designated hitter. He might have pushed Jorge Posada out of the DH spot had he not hobbled off the field in Detroit back in May. He hasn’t played since, and his rehab has included a series of setbacks. If Chavez could come back healthy, he could be the best Rodriguez place holder the Yankees could ask for.
It was the quad in 2008, the hip in 2009, the calf in 2010 and now it’s the knee. Rodriguez remains one of the game’s better hitters, but he’s about to turn 36 years old and he’s showing signs of breaking down. He’s signed through 2017, so the Yankees might have to count on more DH time and fewer starts at third base in the not-so-distant future.
Associated Press photo
Monday night notes and links • 06.27.11
I have very few absolute rules in life, but one of them is this: If the AP has a cool picture of Yogi Berra and Don Larsen together in the Yankees dugout on Old Timers’ Day, I should find a place for it on the blog.
So, as we’re wrapping up the Yankees final off day until the all-star break, we’ll start with a picture of the catcher and pitcher together again.
Naturally, the return of Joe Torre grabbed the headlines today. Some of Torre’s history might be tainted, but in the end, I think John Harper’s column today was right on the money: Whatever your take on Torre’s book, it’s silly to ignore his place in the franchise’s history. I think it’s possible to be disappointed in the book, but still celebrate the legacy. That seems to be what the Yankees did in inviting Torre to yesterday’s event.
Anyway, here are few more notes and links for the day. The Yankees get back on the field tomorrow against the Brewers.
• Back in Scranton, my old darts playing partner Marty Myers caught up with the one-armed military veteran who made a highlight catch at Yankee Stadium on Friday night. Michael Kacer is from the Scranton area, lost his left arm in a rocket attack in Afghanastan and made a now famous leaning catch with his cap. Great story.
• Here’s a really nice read about Eduardo Nunez’s role on the Yankees and his part in Sunday’s win. It’s written by one of the finest writers and reporters I know.
• Dante Bichette Jr. is getting the full Yankees experience down in Tampa. He seems to be enjoying working alongside Derek Jeter.
• Over at Baseball Prospectus, Jay Jaffe looked at the Yankees struggles against pitchers they’ve never seen. It’s not as much of a problem this year as it was last year.
• River Ave. Blues looked ahead to the 40-man spots that could open when injured Yankees come off the disabled list. I tend to agree with their list. I’d put Buddy Carlyle, Kanekoa Texeira and Brian Gordon at the top of the list of guys who could be removed to open a spot, though Gordon could certainly pitch his way into sticking around as a long man.
• This one’s a few days old, but with Derek Jeter taking some swings today, it seems to apply: The Hardball Times looked at other players — like Jeter — who have experienced an extended wait while on the verge of a major milestone.
• In the final NL voting update before the all-star rosters are announced, Rickie Weeks has moved ahead of Brandon Phillips in the race for second base.
• I failed to mention it until now, but the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center reopened last week after being closed for nearly a year for extensive renovations.
Associated Press photos