After a good road trip and a quiet off day, the Yankees are about to begin a key 10-game home stand. But really, you don’t need me to tell you about the importance of games down the stretch. Especially games at home when Toronto is coming to town at the end of next week.
Instead, let’s spend this morning looking back into the minor league system. Assistant general manager Billy Eppler spent some time last night explaining the Yankees’ choices for the Arizona Fall League. It’s a good group of legitimate prospects worth keeping an eye on. The Fall League schedule begins in mid-October.
Who he is: The Yankees top draft pick in 2013 broke camp with Double-A this season, but he hasn’t played since mid-June because of a knee injury that was worse than originally hoped and/or expected. Jagielo as one more medical check up in the next few days and sould begin baseball activities “in a pretty short timetable,” Eppler said.
What he does: Considered an advanced hitter coming out of Notre Dame, Jagielo has hit for good power in his brief professional career, including a .495 slugging percentage before this year’s injury. “He puts the ball in the air to the pull side, and he can really impact the baseball,” Eppler said. “He has an idea of the strike zone. Kind of fits the mold of the players you’ve seen us gravitate to over the years.”
Why the Fall League: This is a pretty clear-cut case of a player going to the Fall League to make up for lost time. Eppler said he wasn’t positive whether Jagielo would play both infield corners in Arizona, but the Yankees expect to keep giving him at least some time at first base. Jagielo”s still considered a third baseman, but he got three starts at first base this season. “He hasn’t played very much first at all,” Eppler said. “So third base is where the comfort level and familiarity lies at this point in time.”
Who he is: The top catching prospect in the system got to Triple-A this year and was almost certainly going to get a September call-up before a late-season hamstring injury. Could he become an option before the end of the regular season? “Probably T.B.D.,” Eppler said. “Just depends on how he feels. Pretty minor hamstring injury from the feedback we got from the minor league staff, the medical staff, so we’ll just kind of base it on how he feels on an every few days cycle.”
What he does: Sanchez has impressed the Yankees since spring training with his improved defense and maturity, and he capped his season with a whopping .295/.349/.500 slash line in Triple-A. “This guy’s 22 years old, so he’s coming out of college right now, essentially,” Eppler said. “And he’s basically dominating Triple-A. That’s pretty valuable. And he’s doing it at a premium position. He’s a pretty complete player right now. We’re excited by how he’s grown.”
Why the Fall League: Eppler said the Yankees discussed sending Sanchez to the Fall League even before the injury. This isn’t about making up for lost time. It’s about continuing Sanchez’s steps in the right direction. “Just wanted him to continue,” Eppler said. “Get his games called and games caught up there.”
Who he is: Emerging as one of the system’s top position prospects, Wade was a fourth-round pick in 2013, and he opened this season playing shortstop every day in High-A Tampa. He’s finishing the year in Double-A Trenton. He reached that level that despite being just 20 years old. “For us to move a player that young up to Double-A, there’s going to be ingredients that go beyond performance,” Eppler said.
What he does: Those ingredients beyond performance, Eppler said, center on Wade’s drive and competitive nature. It has been noticeable since spring training that the organization — from the big league coach staff on through the minor league system — is already wildly impressed by the way Wade works and carries himself. It’s hard not to notice the way people talk about Wade, and that high-end makeup goes alongside good numbers for such a young guy playing a premium position. “He’s got a very good chance to achieve his potential,” Eppler said.
Why the Fall League: Wade has more than 500 plate appearances as it is, so this isn’t a matter of playing time. The Yankees are sending Wade to Arizona strictly to challenge him even further. “Just the experience level, getting to play against advanced competition,” Eppler said. “He’s getting a little exposure to that in Double-A right now. We’re going to put him against some pretty good arms in the Fall League, and I think that will be good for him. And continuing his reps at shortstop and the infield is going to be good for him.”
Who he is: An 18th-round pick out of high school in 2013, Fowler’s had one of the best all-around seasons of anyone in the Yankees’ system. He played his way from Low-A to High-A, and he has the second-most RBI in the organization. He also has the third-best batting average among full-season prospects, and the fifth-most stolen bases. “Improving his ability to put the ball in play,” Eppler said. “(Also) improving his selectivity. He’s clearly getting stronger.”
What he does: Eppler said there’s “no doubt” Fowler can stick in center field, and the team has been encouraged by his all-around offensive improvements. Fowler could be an emerging prospect, and Eppler noted his combination of speed, hitting ability, improving plate discipline, and “strength arrows pointing upward” have been encouraging. Add him to the list as yet another left-handed outfielder who has the Yankees’ attention.
Why the Fall League: Fowler is one of the Fall League players assigned to the taxi squad, meaning he’ll only be active a couple of times a week. He’s not going to Arizona to play a ton, just to keep doing what he’s been doing and see some higher competition. “Our reports on him in 2014 were the same we have on him in 2015,” Eppler said. “He’s a guy Damon (Oppenheimer) and his guys identified as a prospect out of the gate. He’s a guy that our pro scouts and some of our amateur staff that cycle through our system still identify as a prospect. He’s a guy who’s very much on our radar and has maintained that position on our radar.”
Who he is: A college draftee in 2013, Webb reached Triple-A in his first full season of pro ball. He got a look in big league camp this spring, then he opened the season back with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He might very well have pushed for a big league call up, but a tendon issue in his pitching hand landed Webb on the disabled list in late June. No surgery required, and Webb has resumed baseball activities. Eppler said Webb has a bullpen coming up. Might even be today, he wasn’t sure.
What he does: Keep Webb on the suddenly long list of lefties with a chance to play a big league role next season. Justin Wilson, Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren and James Pazos are in the big leagues now, and Eppler said he still thinks of Webb as belonging in that group. “There’s a lot of candidates for those roles, and that’s a good thing,” Eppler said. “I don’t really put Andrew Miller in that. He’s occupying a different role.”
Why the Fall League: Like Jagielo, this is a standard case of sending a player to the Fall League to make up for lost time. Webb was hurt in the summer, so he’ll pitch in the fall. “He’ll just go down to kind of make up for some of the innings that he missed this year,” Eppler said. “The Fall League will provide those innings.”
Who he is: It’s a credit to the level of talent the Yankees are sending to Arizona that if there’s a name on this list you don’t know, I’m guessing it’s Hebert. Not that Hebert is a huge name, but he’s had a good year, including seven shutout innings in a Triple-A spot start late last month. Most of Hebert’s season was spent as a 22-year-old in High-A where he was excellent from the first of June onward (his month of June started with a nine-inning shutout, one of three shutouts he’s thrown this year).
What he does: Essentially, Hebert fits the profile of a young pitcher who doesn’t get a lot of attention but does enough to keep the Yankees intrigued by his potential. “Left-handed starter that controls the strike zone (and) manages the strike zone well,” Eppler said. “Has a pretty advanced changeup. Small cutter that is showing improvement. Breaking ball that he can throw for strikes. He’s still pretty young at 22 years old and pitched pretty well in the Florida State League.”
Why the Fall League: Teams basically work with the Fall League to settle on the general role each prospect will play in Arizona. Eppler said he wasn’t on the conference call that finalized those roles, but it seems likely Hebert will work as a starter in Arizona. “Just an avenue to get him more innings,” Eppler said.
The Yankees still have to assign two more pitchers to the Fall League. Not sure when those announcements will happen, but it’s not at all unusual for a few Fall League choices to be settled a little later. Two names that stand out as possible candidates — legit prospects who need innings — are Jacob Lindgren and Ian Clarkin. I asked about both, but Eppler said he wasn’t sure what minor league director Gary Denbo had in mind. My own thought is that Clarkin might not be quite advanced enough — he made one start above Low-A last year and hasn’t pitched at all this year — but Lindgren seems like a good fit as long as he’s health enough. That’s 100 percent opinion, though. Eppler didn’t indicate one way or the other.
Lindgren had bone spur surgery to clean up his elbow back in June. He is still in a throwing program, but he hasn’t thrown a bullpen yet. Eppler said his rehab is moving in the right direction.
“Player has no complaints,” Eppler said, reading off a recent report from Tampa.
Clarkin had an elbow issue in spring training and hasn’t pitched in a game this year, but he didn’t need surgery and he’s currently in a throwing program. He has progressed to the point of throwing live batting practice. “Everything seems to be going good, so we’ll see,” Eppler said.
Associated Press photo of Sanchez
On the day he was drafted, Yankees reliever Jacob Lindgren was home in Mississippi. His girlfriend got into town that morning, and so he showed her around. A family friend invited some people over, and so there was barbecuing and swimming.
“It was nice and hot out,” Lindgren said.
It was June 5 of last year, and Lindgren knew he might be a high-round pick. When his name was called, he was the top selection of a Yankees team that hadn’t had much success with top picks. He was a college reliever built to move quickly, joining an organization notorious for advancing even its top prospects slowly.
Less than a year later, Lindgren was in the big leagues, tangible evidence that this might be a new era for the Yankees on draft day.
“A lot of guys that got drafted behind you, they’re like, oh, why did this guy get drafted ahead of me? Stuff like that,” Lindgren said. “There’s always that. Obviously you’ve just got to play good and show them why they drafted you high.”
The Yankees, too, have something to prove.
After two decades of far more failure than success, the Yankees enter tonight’s first round of the draft with the 16th overall selection, their highest pick since 1993. They have three of the top 57 selections, and they have something of a hot streak going. Focused heavily on college players like Lindgren, Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo, the Yankees early picks the past two years have advanced quickly and shown significant promise.
Lindgren is already in the major league bullpen, Judge is considered the top hitting prospect in the system, and Jagielo has nine home runs in Double-A. Both Judge and Jagielo could be in Triple-A by the end of the summer, just two years after being drafted.
“I always heard (the Yankees) were slow moving their guys,” Lindgren said. “But I was going to do everything in my ability to make things happen.”
Lindgren pitched at four levels with 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings the year he was drafted. He pitched well in big league camp this spring, opened the season in Triple-A, and was called up on May 24, the first Yankees prospect since Deion Sanders in 1989 to reach the majors less than a year after being drafted.
It was a significant step for the Yankees, not only because they were willing to make the move, but because they had a top pick playing well enough to deserve the promotion.
With a few exceptions — Phil Hughes in 2004, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain in 2006 — the Yankees’ top picks have mostly fallen flat since the overwhelming success of Derek Jeter taken sixth overall in 1992.
The Yankees took a high schooler named C.J. Henry during the otherwise talent-rich first round of 2005. They took a shot on injured basketball player Andrew Brackman with their top pick of 2007. They took a signability risk with Gerrit Cole in 2008. They gambled on high school shortstop Cito Culver in 2010 and have watched him hit well below .200 this season. In the decade before that, they picked forgotten names like Shea Morenz, David Walling and David Parrish.
What draft success the Yankees have had in recent years has been largely confined to the middle rounds: Brett Gardner in the third round of 2005; Adam Warren in the fourth round of 2009; Dellin Betances in the eighth round of 2006, the same year they got former closer David Robertson as a 17th-round steal.
Draft classes, though, tend to be defined by their top picks, and so Lindgren stands out as a success story, both for the player and the organization.
He had been a 12th-round pick of the Cubs out of high school, but Lindgren said Chicago didn’t offer him the signing bonus he wanted until the day before classes started at Mississippi State. Lindgren was already moved in, living on campus and ready to start college. He decided to stay and take his chances that pro ball would be waiting for him.
“Early on, especially when you’re not getting the playing time you wanted, you’re like, man, what am I doing here?” Lindgren said. “But it worked out. It kind of taught me how you have to compete for any job you want. … There was a lot of hype and stuff (as a first-round pick), but I knew I had to come in and prove myself. I always tried to prove that I didn’t belong at each level and just tried to move up as fast as possible.”
It’s hard to move much faster than Lindgren has. He made his big league debut in the same year as the Yankees 2009 first-round pick, Slade Heathcott, whose development had been slowed by a series of injuries (he’s back on the disabled list now). The Yankees, though, seem to believe the arrival of Lindgren and Heathcott – plus the development of Judge, Jagielo, and former fifth rounders Rob Refsnyder and Greg Bird – are a sign that the team’s draft futility is turning around. They’ve especially struggled to find impact hitters, and suddenly the upper levels are crawling with both high-probability and high-ceiling bats.
“We do have an evolving system with some high-end position players,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
Tonight, the Yankees look to add to that stable of talent, trying to build off the recent success of their past two drafts, and trying to find someone capable of following Lindgren’s path to the big leagues.
“They probably just draft whoever’s the best available,” Lindgren said. “They’re just trying to bring good talent into the organization.”
Associated Press photos
Now that the non-roster invitations have been announced, it’s hard to be too surprised by the omission of low-level prospects like Jorge Mateo, Luis Torrens or Ian Clarkin. They’re simply not far enough along to get much benefit out of big league camp, and the major league coach staff doesn’t need to see them just yet.
What’s more surprising are a handful of upper-level guys who have gotten some attention but were ultimately left out. Spring snubs can be a bit eye opening, telling us something about organizational depth or organizational opinion. Or, in some cases, both.
Here are 10 names that stand out as invitation snubs (or maybe not snubs, just guys who might have expected an invitation but didn’t get one).
1. Mark Montgomery RHP
Kind of eye-opening to see him not get an invitation, especially considering he got one the past two years. At this time in 2013, he was probably the top relief prospect in the system, but he had a shoulder issue and his velocity dropped. Now he’s fallen behind because of diminished numbers and increased depth.
2. Eric Jagielo 3B
Four players from the 2013 draft class were invited, but the top pick wasn’t one of them. Jagielo’s prospect status hasn’t taken a massive hit — he hit for quite a bit of power in a solid but injury shorten season in High-A — but he’s clearly not on the big league radar for this season, and a lot of other guys need time at third base this spring.
3. Taylor Dugas OF
Did everything he was supposed to do last season, and normally a .399 on-base percentage in Double-A and Triple-A would be enough to earn a spring training invite. But Dugas is clearly a victim of numbers. The Yankees’ system is overloaded with upper-level outfielders, and a lot of them hit left-handed like Dugas. Only so many at-bats to go around. Not a huge prospect, but I thought he’d get an invitation.
4. Jaron Long RHP
Made the same journey that Luis Severino did last season, going from Charleston to Tampa to Trenton, and pitching well at every step along the way. That said, even a 2.35 ERA and 1.06 WHIP through 11 Double-A outings wasn’t enough to get Long into big league camp. He signed as a non-drafted free agent. Might take more than one standout season to really get himself on the map.
5. Dante Bichette Jr. 3B
Perhaps a more surprising snub than Jagielo, though I think Jagielo remains a bigger name. Bichette regained some prospect status by hitting .271/.352/.410 in High-A and earning a late call-up to Double-A (he was especially good in the first half of the season). But, again, a lot of guys need third base time this spring, and Bichette seems at least a year away from helping in the big leagues.
6. Adonis Garcia OF
Getting the Ronnier Mustelier treatment. Garcia was invited to big league camp the past two years. Last year, he hit .441/.457/.559 through 34 spring at-bats, then he hit .319/.353/.474 in Triple-A, and capped his year with a strong showing in winter ball. But Garcia is an older prospect — turns 30 in April — and he too seems overshadowed by the organizational outfield depth.
7. Johnny Barbato RHP
Acquired in the Shawn Kelley trade, he’s only 22 years old but pitched well enough in Double-A last season to think he would be a Triple-A candidate this year (and thus a near lock for an invitation). His barking elbow, though, might have convinced the Yankees otherwise.
8. Fred Lewis LHP
You might remember Lewis from last spring when he stuck around until the very end, making a strong impression that seemed to give him a shot at a call-up at some point. But when the regular season started, Lewis struggled to the point of a demotion from Triple-A to Double-A. Clearly no longer in the mix with all of the fresh left-handed depth.
9. Rob Segedin 3B
Former third-round pick was invited to camp back in 2013, but he got hurt that year and spent most of last season getting on base a lot in Double-A (with a rough stretch when he was called up to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre). With Bichette and Jagielo coming up behind him, Segedin might have seemed for Triple-A this year, but no invitation suggests a handful of minor league free agents are ahead of him in the pecking order.
10. Ali Castillo UT
Seemed like kind of a long shot because he’s never carried much prospect status, but the Yankees let Castillo play shortstop everyday in Double-A last season, and he just turned in a strong season in winter ball. That, combined with the Yankees shortage of upper-level middle infielders, seemed to open a door. Instead, the Yankees chose to invite Cito Culver. That might tell us who’s likely to open at shortstop in Double-A this year.
There are also a handful of potential Triple-A starting pitchers who didn’t get an invitation — Matt Tracy, Zach Nuding, Caleb Cotham — but none would have gotten more than an inning or two at a time in big league camp anyway, and the Yankees have a lot of legitimate bullpen candidates coming to camp. I have to assume the relievers have priority to get that playing time.
Associated Press photo of Montgomery
Yankees youth movement is an ongoing process • 02.02.15
As Jackson wrote this morning, the Yankees made an obvious effort to get younger this winter. They traded away one young starter, but added an even younger one. They went with a 24-year-old to fill their glaring hole at shortstop. They made two long-term commitments, neither was signed beyond his 34th birthday. They made a boatload of trades, but kept nearly all of their high-end prospects.
So just how overwhelming was this youth movement? It wasn’t universal — some positions are still tied to veteran contracts — but if this is a trend and not just a one-winter effort, the Yankees might have set themselves on a path to be younger still within a few years.
In place: Brian McCann, 31 years old, signed through 2018
Getting younger: The Yankees commitment to McCann created a roadblock behind the plate (which might speak to the uncertainty about whether John Ryan Murphy or Gary Sanchez can be everyday catcher in the big leagues). The Yankees did, however, commit to either Murphy or Austin Romine being their backup, which is a clear attempt to give a young player a chance.
Next in line: Sanchez should be in Triple-A this season. He just turned 22 in December, so he’s still awfully young for his level. If his offensive numbers begin to match his raw talent, and if his receiving skills take a step forward, he could be pushing for a big league job next season and eventually force the Yankees to make a decision of Sanchez vs. McCann. Before then, Murphy should have an extended opportunity to show what he can do in the big leagues. Luis Torrens is very good, but he’s also way too young to be in the big league picture just yet.
In place: Mark Teixeira, 34 years old, signed through 2016
Getting younger: The Yankees really made no effort to get younger at first base this winter. Their hands were essentially tied because of their ongoing commitment to Teixeira, who’s deal still has two more years. For a backup option, the the Yankees traded for Garrett Jones and suggested Alex Rodriguez getting some time at the position, all of which could block a brief window of opportunity for Kyle Roller, who had an .875 OPS in Triple-A last year.
Next in line: Roller is at the top of the minor league depth chart, but he’s not necessarily next in line for the position. The guy best poised to replace Teixeira in two years is Greg Bird. He’s coming off a standout regular season and the MVP award in the Arizona Fall League. Bird seems likely to open in Double-A, which puts him on a pretty good trajectory — as long as he keeps moving forward — to have a real shot at the first base position when Teixeira is gone in 2017.
In place: Stephen Drew, 32 years old, signed through 2015
Getting younger: In their own weird way, the Yankees kind of opened the door to getting younger at second base. The job would have been Martin Prado’s with no questions asked, but the Yankees traded Prado and signed Drew, who comes with a much smaller commitment and much higher chance of being dumped to the bench should Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela play well enough to win the second base job.
Next in line: One other thing about Drew: he’s only signed for one year; Prado had two years left. While the Yankees still believe Refsnyder has the potential to be an everyday second baseman — last year could have only reinforced that idea — his experience at the position is limited, and another turn at Triple-A could finish off his development. Pirela has taken an obvious step forward, but Refsnyder is still the top second base prospect in the system, one of the better second base prospects in baseball, and he could take the job — and keep it — sooner rather than later.
In place: Didi Gregorius, 25 years old, pre-arbitration
Getting younger: The Yankees could have signed Drew early in the offseason, put him at shortstop and been done with it for the time being. Or maybe they could have signed Jed Lowrie, or traded for Jimmy Rollins. Instead, they acquired Gregorius, a 25-year-old on Opening Day who has yet to really establish himself in the big leagues. His glove is strong and his bat is questionable, but he’ll get every opportunity to play shortstop regularly this season and beyond.
Next in line: Really, no one. Not in the immediate future, anyway. The Yankees have Jorge Mateo and others in the lowest levels of the minor league system, but that group is a long way from the big league radar. Unless Cito Culver’s bat finally takes a sudden leap forward, there’s really no shortstop in the system who’s remotely close to the big leagues. That’s one reason Gregorius seems likely to get multiple chances and a long leash. Aside from stopgaps Drew and Brendan Ryan — and minor league free agent Nick Noonan — there’s really no one else in the picture.
In place: Chase Headley, 30 years old, signed through 2018
Getting younger: Compared to 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez, Headley does make the Yankees younger at third base. And compared to players signed into their late 30s, Headley will remain relatively young through the end of his contract. While the Yankees have some third base talent in the system, there wasn’t anyone ready to take a shot at the big league job.
Next in line: Pirela and Rob Segedin probably fit in this conversation somewhere, but it’s really the two guys who shared third base time in High-A Tampa last year who are next in line. Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. are each first round picks with some uncertainty about whether they’ll be good enough — offensively and defensively — to eventually play third base regularly in the big leagues. Miguel Andujar is lurking lower in the system, but before he’s truly on the verge, a full year in Double-A should provide some clarity about what to expect from Jagielo and Bichette.
In place: Brett Gardner, 31 years old, signed through 2018
Getting younger: Instead of opening the door for a homegrown prospect, the Yankees committed to a homegrown big leaguer. Gardner is one of the farm system’s true success stories of the past decade; one of their very few position players to actually become an everyday guy in the majors. Last spring, the Yankees gave him a four-year extension plus a team option. With his speed and defense, he’s been a solid everyday guy his past four healthy seasons.
Next in line: Ramon Flores could be on the verge of a big league role, but he’s typically labeled more of a fourth outfielder than a future starter (granted, so was Gardner, but Flores hasn’t shown Gardner’s speed or defense). The upper levels of the Yankees system have several other left field candidates like that — Pirela, Taylor Dugas, Ben Gamel, a few guys who usually play center field — so it might be a matter of someone exceeding expectations, someone moving positions, or Gardner keeping his job for a while.
In place: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31 years old, signed through 2020
Getting younger: This is one spot where the Yankees seem fully committed. Even if Ellsbury were to get hurt, the center field job would likely transfer to Gardner before it went to one of the young guys in the minor league system. The Yankees have some center fielders close to the big leagues, but they’re all left-handed, and basically their best-case scenario is to eventually become lesser versions of Ellsbury himself.
Next in line: It will be interesting to see how the Yankees react if one of their center field prospects has a huge year in Double-A or Triple-A. If Slade Heathcott is healthy and productive, if Mason Williams starts to hit again, or if Jake Cave takes another leap forward, would the Yankees simply trade away the prospect or try to find a place for him in New York? Leonardo Molina is an interesting young player in the lower levels, but he’s far from the big league roster. First the Yankees have to figure out what they have in Heathcott, Williams and Cave (and what to do with them while Ellsbury’s in place).
In place: Carlos Beltran, 37 years old, signed through 2016
Getting younger: Basically the exact same situation that the Yankees are dealing with at first base. The organization has high-end right field talent entering the upper levels of the minor league system, but the team is also tied to a declining veteran for two more seasons. The Yankees added some short-term right field depth with Jones and Chris Young, which might block a young guy, but there’s also no guarantee a young guy will be ready to play right field this season.
Next in line: After last season’s strong second half, Tyler Austin seems ready for Triple-A, and his bat can’t be dismissed as a right field option. But the clear standout here is Aaron Judge, generally considered the top positive prospect in the system who had a standout professional debut and should open in Double-A. Just like Bird at first base, Judge seems to be on a good trajectory to have a shot at the right field job by the time Beltran is gone in 2017.
Youth in place: Masahiro Tanaka, 26 years old; Michael Pineda, 26 years old; Nathan Eovaldi, 25 years old; Ivan Nova, 28 years old
Age in place: CC Sabathia, 34 years old; Chris Capuano, 36 years old
Getting younger: The youth movement has been a process in the rotation, and it was hard to notice until this winter when the trade for Eovaldi put the Yankees in line to eventually have four 20-somethings in their rotation this season. Signing Tanaka gave the Yankees the young ace they’ve been unable to develop internally, and Eovaldi gave them an experienced big leaguer who’s a month younger than prospect Jose Ramirez. As long as Nova gets healthy, the Yankees will have a pretty young big league rotation by mid-summer.
Next in line: How fast can Luis Severino make it to the big leagues? That’s the question. Are the dominant numbers he put up last season a true sign of his long-term potential, and can he jump on a fast track that leads to New York by late 2015 or early 2016? The Yankees have other upper level starters (Bryan Mitchell is the headliner) and they have intriguing lower-level talent (Ian Clarkin headlines that group), but Severino is the guy who immediately jumps out as the next impact arm for the rotation. He could easily be in Triple-A at some point this season, perhaps on Opening Day.
In place: Andrew Miller, 29; Dellin Betances, 27; David Carpenter, 29; Adam Warren, 27; Justin Wilson, 27
Getting younger: Miller and Dave Robertson are basically the same age, so that swap was a wash in terms of youth in the bullpen. But the Yankees have gotten younger by transitioning from Shawn Kelley to Carpenter, and from Matt Thornton to Wilson. They’ve also found good young relievers in Betances and Warren. This winter, they also acquired several young bullpen arms, and last summer they drafted a high-rising reliever. The bullpen has added some youth without losing its reliable depth.
Next in line: The core of the Yankees bullpen has no one who will be older than 30 at the end of the year, and Miller’s the only one tied to a long-term contract. That’s a pretty young core as it is, but the Yankees have legitimate power arms on the way. Jacob Lindgren and Chasen Shreve stand out from the left side; Nick Rumbelow, Jose Ramirez and Branden Pinder have Triple-A experience from the right side. The bullpen is fairly young as it is, and there’s more young talent on the way.
Photo from the Scranton Times-Tribune
A few random thoughts on this morning after the Chase Headley signing…
• Four years and $52 million is too much for Headley, but that’s what happens in free agency. The Yankees needed an infielder, and this is where the market set Headley’s value (actually, remarkably, his value seems to have been set a little higher than what the Yankees are paying). Headley’s a strong defensive player who’s generally stayed in the lineup despite his back issues. He’s a nice hitter, but certainly not a great hitter, and he’s never hit for much power outside of that standout 2012 season. For the money, I’m not entirely sure the Yankees are better off having Headley instead Jed Lowrie, but I do think this is the kind of overpay the Yankees are willing to make. They committed to Headley without committing to someone beyond his mid-30s.
• Yes, the Headley signing blocks Rob Refsnyder’s most obvious path to the big leagues, but does anyone really expect the Yankees lineup to stay fully healthy all of next year? Refsnyder turns 24 in March, he’s been playing second base for just two years, and he has just 77 games of Triple-A experience. He’s not even on the 40-man yet. Going back to the minor leagues out of spring training shouldn’t hurt his development, and it wouldn’t shut the door to the possibility of having him in a regular big league role by the end of the season. The Yankees absolutely had to get some additional infield depth of some sort. They essentially got the best infield depth possible on the market. Now, the key is, if something happens in the infield, they have to be willing to give Refsnyder his shot.
• During interviews yesterday, Headley made it clear that he turned down larger contracts to sign with the Yankees. I regularly get emails saying no free agents are going to want to sign with the Yankees because the Yankees are no longer a winning team. I understand the frustration that leads to such a belief — and I don’t remotely believe the Yankees are currently a favorite to compete for a championship in 2015 — but I don’t believe players look at the Yankees as a losing organization right now. Certainly not over the course of a multi-year deal. Time will tell whether those players are right or wrong.
• One thing I like about Headley: He’s a good fit for this atmosphere. He seems to handle pressure, he’s good with the media, and he seems confident enough to slide into a secondary role without feeling as if he’s been slighted. “I didn’t know how I’d like playing in New York just with all the other things that come with playing in New York,” Headley said yesterday. “But once you get here and you realize how well you’re treated, how much the fans care, how much the city cares, how well the Yankees family take care of you and your family, it was pretty obvious after a week or so that I was extremely lucky to get a chance to play in the pinstripes. So, I was surprised, but it didn’t take long to see why other players had spoke so highly of the organization.”
• With Headley, Didi Gregorius, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, the Yankees have at least five players who have a chance to be above-average defenders next season. I think Brian McCann could be as well if you factor in his pitch framing and the way he works with the pitching staff. Martin Prado at second should be just fine as well. If nothing else, the Yankees have made themselves a better defensive team.
• You know what the Yankees need to go with that defense? An actual pitching staff. That has to be the final piece of the puzzle. The Yankees really have no more glaring needs in their lineup. They could even consider their bench to be complete with John Ryan Murphy, Chris Young, Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela. But the pitching still needs work. The rotation in particularly has taken a hit with the loss of Shane Greene. Most of the pitchers who seemed to fit the Yankees desire for rotation depth have already come off the board. I do wonder if Hiroki Kuroda could jump back into the picture at some point.
• Speaking of pitching: I still believe the Yankees when they say they’re not planning to get into the Max Scherzer bidding, but if they go another three or four weeks without signing a starting pitcher who they actually like, and Scherzer still out there as a big splash who fills a clear need, I do wonder if they could talk themselves into taking the risk — yet again — on a long-term commitment that carries obvious risk down the road. Not saying it will happen, only that I could imagine a scenario in which the Yankees ultimately bit the bullet and jump into the Scherzer sweepstakes.
• Interesting that the Yankees gave Headley pretty close to the same contract they weren’t willing to give either Dave Robertson or Brandon McCarthy. Of those three, I’d say McCarthy was the best fit — the Yankees have reached a point where they most desperately need a starting pitcher — but he was also the most obvious overpay (incredibly risky to give a guy with his injury history a four-year deal). I think Robertson would been a better investment on a four-year deal, but relievers tend to come and go, and before this offseason I’m not sure I would have been on board with such an investment into a bullpen arm, even one as good as Robertson. Free agency is all about picking battles, and when it came to spending roughly $50 million across the next four years, the Yankees prioritized Headley ahead of the two familiar and desirable pitchers.
• The top third basemen in the minor league system are Miguel Andujar, Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. Andujar is still a teenager and won’t necessarily be blocked by the Headley contract, Bichette hasn’t shown enough consistency for the Yankees to really bank on him, and there are enough questions about Jagielo’s defense and strikeouts that the Yankees couldn’t let his presence standing in the way of a deal. That’s not at all to say Jagielo (or anyone else) won’t develop into a legitimate big league third baseman, but I don’t think the Yankees could say with confidence their farm system will be ready to fill the third base hole within the next four years.
Associated Press photos
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
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.
Assuming the rain goes away, tonight will be Derek Jeter’s eighth start at designated hitter this season. He’s still a long way from his single-season career high — 25 DH games in in 2012 — but it seems significant that four of those turns at designated hitter have come in his past nine games.
Now that Carlos Beltran is available to play some right field, it’s clear that Joe Girardi is taking advantage of the opportunity to get Jeter a half day off now and then. Perhaps it’s strictly a rest issue. Perhaps it has a lot to do with Stephen Drew’s glove.
“I’m in the mode that I’m just taking it day by day,” Girardi said. “But with Carlos being able to go into the outfield once in a while, it gives me more flexibility to do this. … We’ve had some long stretches. We have a lot of lefties coming up the next five days after today where he’s going to play (probably at shortstop), so try to give him a little blow when I can. And I thought today was probably a good day. Two plane flights in two days, and as I said, we have day games after night games, so we’re going to need him in there a lot.”
Obviously Jeter prefers playing the field, but he said he understands the DH days, and he seems to embrace them — even when he’s had so many these past couple of weeks.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve done it,” Jeter said. “What, three or four times this year? I think a couple of years ago, in 2012, I may have done it 20 or 30-something times. Because of injuries, Carlos had to DH, so I haven’t really thought about it. My job is to come here, and when I’m in the lineup, play. I like to play every day. I like to play shortstop every day. Everyone is aware of that. But I get it. I understand it. We’ve had a long stretch here. I think we only have a couple of more days off, and then we have another long stretch at the end of the year. So, I don’t know what his plans are. My job is to play.’
Late last season, we saw Girardi use Mariano Rivera a little more heavily, making sure to get every last bit out of the retiring closer. Would he do the same with the retiring shortstop, running him out there with very little rest down the stretch?
“I don’t think I can play him much more than I’ve played him,” Girardi said. “He’s played in all but about 10 games maybe, maybe a few more than that, but there was a time when he missed three because his leg was bothering him. But when you get in these long stretches, these 13-game stretches, I’ve usually given him on day off. And that might be all he gets in this.”
• Brett Gardner was hoping to run today, which he sees as the final test for his sore ankle. If he can run today, he thinks he should be available in some capacity tonight. Gardner didn’t run at all the past two days. “Hopefully that goes well and I’ll be available to play tonight,” he said.
• Here’s Girardi on his approach to the Gardner injury: “My concern was: he said he felt better but he needed to run,” Girardi said. “Gardy’s pretty tough, and Gardy’s played through a lot, which made me believe that it’s probably not 100 percent, which it might not be for a while. This extra day will probably do us some good. My concern is that he favors it, or that he gets out there and he can’t run, and then I’ve got to make a change. It can just really mess things up.”
• Not much concern about Mark Teixeira’s hamstring. “I think you’re always going to watch it a little bit,” Girardi said. “I think the day off probably helped, and we just tell him to play smart. I mean, he did play smart the couple of days that he had it, so he’s just going to have to continue to do that.”
• Masahiro Tanaka threw today, and as long as he still feels fine tomorrow, he’ll remain on track to throw a simulated game on Thursday.
• Initial Arizona Fall League rosters were announced this afternoon. The Yankees are sending RF Aaron Judge, 3B Eric Jagielo, OF/IF Tyler Austin and 1B Greg Bird. They’re also sending pitchers Caleb Cotham, Branden Pinder and Alex Smith. There remains a TBA spot on the roster listed as a Yankees catcher. Pretty interesting group of position players. I actually thought Ramon Flores might go, but I guess not. Jagielo seemed like a near lock in my mind after missing so much time. Bird and Austin make a lot of sense too.
• On the current Yankees momentum: “I think they feel pretty good about themselves,” Girardi said. “But the thing about baseball is you’ve got to go do it every day. It starts with your starting pitcher that night, and I don’t know how you could for any more (than) what Brandon McCarthy has done, but we need him to continue to pitch like this.”
• On the importance of three games against a team that’s also in the mix for the second wild card: “You’ve got to win the series. It’s extremely important. We know they’re a very good team, and we’re facing a good pitcher tonight who didn’t give up too many runs against us the last time. But Brandon pitched really well. You’ve got to win games.”
Associated Press photos