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.