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
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.
Friday notes: Jeter showing signs of comfort • 03.11.11
Derek Jeter had another base hit today, his eighth in the past seven games (seven half games is more like it). I wasn’t in Tampa to see it, but the past week or so, Jeter has stopped slapping everything into the ground and has started driving the ball a little bit. He hasn’t shown much power — his only extra-base hit has been a misplayed triple — but he’s making good, solid contact.
“I think you’re seeing it on how hard he hits the ball,” Joe Girardi said. “I think you see the comfort. You see that he comes back and talks to K-Long (after) every swing, that he felt this or felt that. When you can recognize what you’re feeling, that’s a good sign.”
We all know that spring training numbers mean very little, but Jeter is hitting .333, and at the very least, the Yankees can take that as a sign that Jeter is finding his timing with his adjusted mechanics.
“I think he just needs to get at bats and say golly, I could have waited more, and get to the feeling where it’s OK to wait more,” Girardi said. “It’s just readjusting when he necessarily needs to start something.”
To be fair, I’m not sure Jeter has ever said the word “golly” in his life, but Girardi’s point is well taken.
• Speaking of adjusted swings, Curtis Granderson hit his third spring home run this afternoon in Dunedin. “He showed it at the end of last year,” Giradi said. “He’s been a different hitter since he made that adjustment with K-Long, and we’re seeing it in the spring as well.”
• Phil Hughes wasn’t too happy with his outing today in Tampa, but apparently his changeup was good. He told reporters there that he got six of his seven outs with the changeup.
• Ivan Nova came to camp seeming to be a favorite, but now that all of the rotation candidates seem to be pitching well, it’s worth noting that Nova is the only one who can be sent to the minors. Mitre is out of options, Garcia and Colon can both opt out if the don’t make the big league club. “I don’t think (it matters),” Girardi said. “We’re going to take what we feel is the best, gives us the best chance to win.”
• Even with split-squad games, Robinson Cano and Russell Martin didn’t play today. Both had played two days in a row, and both are making tomorrow’s long trip to Viera.
• In his second spring appearance, Rafael Soriano struck out two through a hitless inning in Tampa. Joba Chamberlain followed with a scoreless inning of his own.
• The Yankees lost both games today — 10-3 in Dunedin, 6-2 in Tampa — and most of the damage was done against guys unlikely to make the big league club. Steve Garrison allowed four runs in one inning in the home game, and David Phelps allowed four runs through one inning in the road game. Phelps pitched part of a second inning but couldn’t get an out. That’s when one of his four runs scored.
• Is it just me, or does Phelps look a lot like Ian Kennedy in this picture on the left? He doesn’t really look like him in person, but I did a double take when I saw this picture from today’s game in Dunedin.
• Eduardo Nunez had a double and continues to hit this spring. He’s hitting .385 while Ramiro Pena is batting .174. Those two have been good friends since the very beginning of their careers, and they seem to be taking this as a friendly competition, but right now Nunez is thriving and Pena’s not doing much to hold him off.
• The Yankees have announced that they’ll be donating $100,000 to the relief efforts in Japan.
• Mark Newman told Marc Carig that Kei Igawa has not been able to get in touch with his family.
• Former Yankees Darrell Rasner and Jonathan Albaladejo are playing in Japan. Todd Linden, who was in Triple-A with the Yankees, might also still be playing over there. It’s probably going to be a while before we find out whether everyone is OK. The Yankees have a close working relationship with the Yomiuri Giants. “The players and people and families of Yomiuri are good (according to what the Yankees are hearing), but obviously it’s not true of the people in the country,” Brian Cashman said.
Associated Press photos
All winter we heard about the Yankees young pitching talent, a series of arms that could help out sooner rather than later. A week and a half into spring training, manager Joe Girardi is sold on both the quantity and the quality.
“I’ve seen a lot of good things this spring, from a lot of the young kids as well,” he said. “I thought Phelps threw pretty well today. Warren. Brackman. All of these kids have thrown the ball extremely well at this point in camp. I’m happy. Very happy… We’ve talked about that we have pitching coming, and I really believe that.”
Today, Girardi was asked specifically quite a bit about Manny Banuelos, largely because Banuelos faced live hitters on the main field, with Girardi watching most of the BP session. Girardi said what he saw “matches up” with what he’d already heard about Banuelos. Right now, Girardi knows what he wants to see out of young pitchers, and Banuelos has shown it.
“Strikes, and good strikes,” Girardi said. “Not just strikes, but good strikes. If they throw a ball where they don’t want to, can they adjust quickly? Say he throws a curveball and leaves it way up, can they adjust and get it where (they want it)? What I’ve seen, he’s pretty good at it.”
That said, the plan remains the same. The Yankees are happy with their pitching depth, but they brought in some rotation options that might buy the kids a little more time to develop.
“You have to be open minded, you have to evaluate,” Girardi said. “But it’s not necessarily what you plan on going in.”
• More evidence that the Yankees take Bartolo Colon seriously as a rotation option: “He’s looked pretty good,” Girardi said. “It’s the Bartolo that I remember: A guy that keeps the ball down, uses his fastball a lot and is able to hit his spots.”
• New lefty Pedro Feliciano is used to pitching 85 to 90 times each year. Last year, no Yankees reliever made more than 73 appearances. Boone Logan, Damaso Marte and Royce Ring combined for fewer appearances than Feliciano made last season. “I talked to him about the way we do things here,” Girardi said. “That I’m not a big proponent of throwing guys three days in a row, so don’t be surprised if I do some things different. He’s important to our bullpen. We have to keep him healthy all year long.”
• Eduardo Nunez and Austin Romine were sent home sick today. “It’s the head cold and the throat,” Girardi said. “We gave them medicine and sent them home. We felt that was the best thing to do.”
• With Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez and Ronnie Belliard, the Yankees have given themselves some options for veteran experience on the bench. And not just experience, but guys who were very good everyday players before settling into supporting roles. “I think it’s great, because you know they know how to play the game,” Girardi said. “You know that situations when they get in that day to play, there’s not going to be an extreme emotional high. They’re going to prepare the way they’ve always prepared. They know the league, they know the ballparks and they know what it takes to be successful.”
• On the other hand, the Yankees have taken notice of Brandon Laird: “He’s obviously proven that he knows how to drive in a run, he knows how to put good at-bats together when guys are on base,” Girardi said. “He’s a guy that you might think about (on the roster).”
• Speaking of which… Charging choppers at third base this morning, Laird might a nice play on a short hop at the edge of the grass. Minor league defensive coordinator Torre Tyson, who was doing the hitting for the defensive drill, said, “You couldn’t get there two years ago.” Laird agreed, said he had no shot at making that play two years ago. He looks pretty good at third these days. Not implying he’s a defensive wizard, but I haven’t seen anything to make me think Laird can’t play the position.
• Didn’t see anything particularly out of the ordinary about defensive positioning during drills today. Ronnie Belliard continued to take some reps at first base, and I did see Brad Suttle go to first base for a while.
• Dave Robertson was the only pitcher I saw throw his batting practice without a protective screen in front of him. Some pitchers just hate having the thing in front of them and feel like it actually causes them to mess with their mechanics (they feel like their arm or the ball is going to hit the screen). Robertson pitched without it, and as soon as he was done, the screen was put back in place for Ivan Nova.
• Didn’t seem serious, but Colin Curtis fouled a ball off his calf and crashed to the dirt. He was hobbling around for a while, and got some ice for it, but he should be fine.
• Here’s a must-read Times piece about the relationship between Yogi Berra and Ron Guidry. Four years ago, during my first spring training covering the Yankees organization, Berra was the very first person I saw when I first walked into the Yankees clubhouse.
Associated Press photos: Girardi surrounded by players; Berra with Derek Jeter; Alex Rodriguez laughing during drills
The Yankees spring training clubhouse is pretty full as it is, but Brian Cashman said he wouldn’t mind finding room for one more. He’s still on the lookout for a starting pitcher, either through free agency or the trade market.
“If it makes sense, I’m ready to rock and roll,” Cashman said.
As it is, the left side of the Yankees clubhouse is full of fourth and fifth starter candidates. Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova have lockers right next to one another. Five lockers away, in his same spot as last year, is Sergio Mitre.
The younger candidates — D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps and the rest of the young guys — are in the middle-of-the-room lockers usually assigned to minor leaguers and the more borderline big-league candidates. The fact Nova is with the veterans, in the same row as CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett, is a pretty clear indication that he’s a step ahead of the other guys who were in the minor league system last year.
“The chances that the fourth and fifth starter role will be answered sooner than later are not very good,” Joe Girardi said. “I think we’ll spend all spring evaluating everybody in our camp. You’re going to look at Nova, and Garcia (and) Colon and Sergio, and some of the young kids that are coming up… You want to see, as they develop in spring training and they get strong, who we feel has the best chance of helping us during the course of the season. So, basically, we have an open competition until March 30.”
• I doubt there’s anything to read into this, but Girardi mentioned three young starters by name: David Phelps, Adam Warren and Dellin Betances. Again, I’m sure those are just the first three names that jumped into his head, but they were specifically mentioned.
• Speaking of Betances, he said he’s been in Tampa since January. And I’ll say this again, he’s a bigger guy than I ever expected. I knew he was tall, but he’s no scrawny kid. There’s some strength to that guy.
• The Yankees expect Russell Martin’s hip and knee to be just fine, but they won’t push him in spring training. “You’ll see him catching tomorrow,” Girardi said. “It’s not like he’s not going to catch at all, but we’ll take it a little bit slow.”
• Girardi acknowledged that Brett Gardner was playing through fairly steady wrist problems in the second half of last season. “I know it bothered him a lot last year,” Girardi said. “We would talk about it every day, ‘How are you feeling?’”
• I didn’t see Jorge Posada this morning, but Girardi said Posada will do work as a catcher this spring. “We’re going to see Jorge go through some of this catching in spring training,” Girardi said. “I can’t tell you if he’s going to catch in games right now. I’m physically going to watch him and evaluate how he feels. But as you know, we asked him to prepare as if he was going to catch.”
• Girardi on how Rafael Soriano might react to becoming a setup man after a great season as a closer. “I know Rafael looks up to Mariano, and he talks about how he watches what he does, so I’m sure that will be a joy a little bit,” Girardi said. “A lot of times that depends on your ego, how easy it is to go from being a closer to not being a closer and being the setup. He seems that he’s excited about being here. He’s excited about doing his job, and he wants to do whatever it takes to win a championship.”
• No innings limits for either Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova. “Right now I don’t have any innings limitations for anyone,” Girardi said. “It’s kind of nice.”
• Speaking of pitching limits, Girardi said CC Sabathia’s offseason surgery shouldn’t impact his workload this season. “I’m pretty much going to manage CC the same,” Girardi said.
• Sabathia said he expects to be one of the guys who throws 20 to 25 pitches in the bullpen tomorrow.
• For the first time, David Wells is in camp as a spring training instructor. “Sometimes camp can get long,” Cashman said. “I think Boomer will keep it lively for us.”
• As you can tell by the picture, the Yankees did a few light drills today. That’s an AP shot of Jesus Montero. Brett Gardner was also in and out of the clubhouse briefly, and he did some light throwing in the outfield with a player I didn’t recognize from far away. Sergio Mitre threw a little bit off flat ground. Curtis Granderson was there at one point.
Associated Press photos
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
Good stuff from today’s Michael Kay Show, where Brian Cashman went on the air to address any number of Yankees offseason topics. Of course Cashman talked about this morning’s Derek Jeter comments, but far more time was spent discussing Andy Pettitte’s ongoing retirement decision.
Cashman said he’s been in constant contact with Pettitte, including a phone call today.
“He’s not hurting us, he can only help,” Cashman said. “If not, we will find something to make us better. That’s the job. It’s going to take longer than everyone will like… Because of the available situation in front of us right now, patience is required.”
Given the current free agent market, Cashman said Pettitte’s indecision is not preventing the Yankees from making any sort of move. Cashman has told Pettitte that he doesn’t want the lefty to come back because of pressure from teammates or because of desperation from the fans. He only wants Pettitte back if he’s 100 percent committed to coming back.
“His heart’s got to be in it,” Cashman said.
• If you don’t listen to the entire Cashman interview, at the very least I highly recommend the part around the 20-minute mark when Cashman addressed his comments at the Rafael Soriano press conference. Cashman said he felt the need to acknowledge that he wasn’t onboard with the signing because he had previously told agents, GMs and the media that he didn’t want to spend that much money for a setup man. He needed all of those parties to know that he wasn’t lying. “You have to have credibility,” Cashman said.
• Along the same lines, Cashman said he and Hal Steinbrenner talked before the Soriano press conference, and Steinbrenner knew Cashman planned to make his feelings public. No one was blindsided. “It was not the first time I was overruled,” Cashman said. “And it won’t be the last”
• Cashman also addressed the speculation that he might be unhappy with the Yankees, wanting to prove himself with a smaller market club. “I think all things are pretty good (with the Yankees), and I’m proud to be a part of that,” Cashman said. “So why would I want to jump ship and run somewhere else?”
• Cashman said he’s proud of the fact he’s transitioned the franchise away from being strictly a “checkbook” organization, working to both buy the right pieces and build the right prospects. He called the amateur draft, “the most important day of the year.”
• The final word on the Derek Jeter position change situation: “We have no intention of moving Derek at this point. We’re not talking about moving Derek at this point.”
• Will Jeter stay at shortstop throughout this contract? “It’s hard to say,” Cashman said.
• On Joba Chamberlain: “The stuff as a starter has been watered down. I think we’ve seen enough of a sample.”
• Had the Yankees signed both Cliff Lee and Pettitte, Ivan Nova would likely have opened the season as a long man in the bullpen.
• Cashman indicated that in-house young pitchers could compete for the fifth starter spot in spring training. He specifically mentioned Adam Warren and David Phelps, saying they could be, “Nova or better.”
Associated Press photos
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.