The Yankees just swept a three-game set against the Orioles. Their roster looks healthy, they’ve played well since the All-Star break, and they’ve pushed their division lead to 5.5 games. They’re in the driver’s seat in the American League East.
With the trade deadline one week away — and the trade market starting to move after yesterday’s Scott Kazmir deal — the Yankees are clearly buyers and not sellers, though Brian Cashman has warned not to expect a massive acquisition. It seems the Yankees would rather hold onto the key prospects that just might make a big impact in the very near future. And for the time being, their roster actually looks pretty good. Not perfect, certainly, but pretty good.
Since we already know the big league club is in a good spot, and since the Yankees are always tough to predict at the trade deadline, let’s start this Friday with a quick look into the minor league system. Just a few quick updates before the Yankees start this weekend series in Minnesota.
• Top position prospect Aaron Judge has now missed the past six games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. General manager Brian Cashman said earlier in the week that there was no serious issue with Judge, and he said the same in an email last night. “Just day to day stuff,” he said, without elaborating further. I know the immediate thought is that the Yankees could be holding him out to prepare for a trade, but I honestly can’t remember a player ever sitting out a week because two teams are discussing a possible deal. It seems unlikely Cashman is going to deal Judge anyway, and the Yankees haven’t put Judge on the disabled list, so for now it seems to really be just a day-to-day issue that’s taken a bunch of days.
• Two more hits including a game-winner for Gary Sanchez last night. In six games since getting to Triple-A, the 22-year-old Sanchez has hit .316/.391/.526. Assistant general manager Billy Eppler said the decision to promote Sanchez was not strictly a response to Austin Romine going on the disabled list. Sanchez was on his way up regardless. “It’s very, very positive in all direction and all sides of the ball,” Eppler said. “He’s checked all his boxes at Double-A. That (decision) was all Gary.”
• Given an overabundance of solid bullpen prospects in Double-A and Triple-A, the Yankees have begun using Diego Moreno and Danny Burawa as starting pitchers. It’s not necessarily a permanent conversion, but it’s the kind of thing the Yankees have the luxury of trying because of their bullpen depth. The Yankees tried something similar with Chase Whitley a couple of years ago, and it was the rotation adjustment that ultimately got Whitley to the big leagues. “I think that could become an ancillary benefit of that,” Eppler said. “Maybe something does occur where one of them does present himself as a capable starter. But also when you allow a guy to throw more pitches and take regular turns in a rotation or a game or what have you, you get more consistent work away from that game, and you get more of an opportunity to test certain pitches or to test certain situations.”
• Speaking of upper-level relievers, Nick Goody has 11 strikeouts and no walks in 6.2 innings since coming up to Triple-A. Right behind him in Double-A, Andrew Bailey pitched two scoreless innings last night. Double-A hitters are batting .122 with 16 strikeouts in 12.1 innings against Bailey this season. Cashman said earlier in the week that Bailey is “absolutely” worth paying attention to (though he said there are a lot of upper-level relievers putting themselves in consideration for big league opportunities).
• Considering they were trading a reliever who’d been designated for assignment, the Yankees actually seemed to get an interesting young player in the David Carpenter deal in early June. Second baseman Tony Renda was assigned to Trenton and got off to a slow start, but he’s begun to pick up steam lately, bringing his Trenton slash line to .287/.371/.352. “A guy that has a very professional approach at the plate,” Eppler said. “Knows the strike zone. Can grind an at-bat out in a number of ways. High contact ability. We see a pretty polished approach, and a guy that has historically, in his career, been one of those guys that gets discounted early and then you look up and go, this guy’s a really good player. That’s kind of how his story has gone.” Despite some early struggles in the field — he made 12 errors in his first 30 games with the Yankees — Eppler said the Yankees feel confident that Renda can handle second base. “He’s got the speed,” Eppler said. “He’s got glove ability.” Renda hurt his thumb last night and is reportedly considered day-to-day (where have I heard that before?).
• In Triple-A, right fielder Tyler Austin has deservedly moved to the bottom third of the order lately. He had a resurgent second half last season, and he’s trying to find the something similar this season. He’s had a couple of DL stints this season, which surely hasn’t helped him find a stride that seemed to come and go throughout his career. So far he’s hitting just .226/.292/.306 in Triple-A, and given the outfield depth in this system, numbers like that could leave Austin thoroughly overshadowed pretty quickly. “Still confident in the bat,” Eppler said. “As with a lot of guys, it’s just kind of a consistency thing. I wish I could tell you there’s some ingredient to remedy that, but it’s physically just playing.”
• Trying to regain some prospect traction, reliever Mark Montgomery has mostly impressive numbers with a 1.07 WHIP and .188 opponents’ batting average in Double-A, and Eppler said the Yankees are seeing positive signs beyond the numbers. “Little bit more arm strength,” he said. “And consistency with the action on the breaking ball.” That said, it seems telling that Montgomery has been kept in Double-A — except for four games — while quite a few other relievers have been bumped up from Double-A to Triple-A for lasting stretches (Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Caleb Cotham).
• Back in 2010, the Yankees used their second round pick on a high school athlete who was committed to playing quarterback at Texas Christian University. The Yankees lured him into baseball with a $1-million bonus. Since then, Austin Aune has struck out. A lot. Despite still averaging well over a strikeout per game, Aune’s OPS has significantly improved as he’s move up each level. He has significant power when he makes contact, and he’s Low-A Charleston’s RBI leader this year (just yesterday he struck out three times, but did have an RBI. “It’s a loud sound off his bat,” Eppler said. “He’s strong. He’s got physical tools. He’s got makeup. He’s got just strength, and he can do some damage. Swing and miss is a part of it, but it’s a part of it for a lot of guys who have found their way to the big leagues and been successful in the big leagues. With that kind of impact ability, there’s no reason to hit the panic button.”
• The Yankees have had a lot of sometimes-overlooking pitching prospects put up nice numbers this season. Guys like Brady Lail, Jordan Montgomery and Rookie Davis have pitched well. “They’re all prospects,” Eppler said. “To varying degrees obviously, but they’re all guys (worth watching).” Add to that list Jonathan Holder, last year’s sixth rounder who got off to a strong start and is now returning from the disabled list. “Advanced,” Eppler said. “He can read swings. He can read what hitters are trying to do. He can kind of play the chess match with them and stay a pitch or two ahead.”
Associated Press photo
Stephen Drew made all the plays he was supposed to make today, but he also went 0-for-3 at the plate. It was kind of a take-the-good-with-the-bad kind of day for a guy who’s suddenly having to prove himself on both offense and defense.
“These guys brought me over here to fill that role (at second base),” Drew said. “And playing in the league for as long as I have and understanding the game, it’s definitely big. And it’s still early. With these at-bats, it’s huge for me, whereas last year I was going into a season where guys were four months (ahead). It’s not an easy task. It’s not an excuse, but at the same time, it’s something that really I don’t think anybody has done quite like that. Knowing that, and knowing that feeling, it’s definitely a big key to be here in spring (training) right now.”
Yes, Drew knows there’s a big league job waiting for him. But it would be hard for anyone to not notice the way Jose Pirela is hitting so far this spring, and Rob Refsnyder gets more attention in the clubhouse than some of the veterans. Drew is coming off the worst offensive season of his career, and now he’s trying to learn a new position. Will he really break camp as the Opening Day second baseman? Probably. The Yankees have basically committed to that much, the question is whether he can play well enough to keep the job going forward.
“I mean, if (anyone) was to struggle, we’d probably make a change,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s the nature of our game, but we didn’t sign him to struggle. We signed him to play at a very high level, and we expect that he will.”
How does Drew go about learning second base and getting his numbers back on track with the rest of his career? Well, it starts right here, with games like today. If he stays healthy, this will be Drew’s first full spring training since 2011. He played no spring training games in 2012 because of a broken ankle, he missed most of the 2013 spring with a concussion, and he didn’t sign last year until May. He was in the big leagues roughly two weeks later.
“I was in good shape (last spring),” Drew said. “And like I keep telling you guys, the biggest thing is you haven’t seen live pitching, Major League pitching, along with that (time off). Last year was definitely a challenge. Really, you’ve got to slow the game down. I was rushing the game, trying to speed it up, trying to play catch up. To be here now is definitely a big moment for me.”
Drew has just 11 at-bats this spring, but he also has just one hit. He made an error on his first opportunity of the exhibition schedule. Anyone who follows this game knows not to make much of early spring training results, but it’s hard not to analyze everything Drew’s doing given his situation. For those who hated the signing in the first place, every 0-for-3 and every defensive mistake seems like proof that Drew’s contract was a mistake.
The Yankees, though, see a good defensive player, who’s athletic and experienced enough to learn a new position, and who’s 2013 — when he had a .777 OPS — is far more indicative of the kind of hitter he’s been through most of his career. They see a potential bargain where others see a sure bust.
“We expect him to be a productive hitter, to get back to the form that he was at before last year,” Girardi said. “I think he got behind, and I think it was difficult for him to catch up when you miss spring training. When you slowly progress into playing and then you have a rushed spring training in a sense. He wasn’t there very long. Maybe he had 15, 16 at-bats or whatever he had. It’s just hard to catch up. I think you get behind, and then you start off slow and you try to make things up. It just makes things worse a lot of time. We feel that he’ll get back to the form that he was at.”
• Despite going three scoreless innings, Chase Whitley wasn’t all happy with his start today. He walked three guys, got into jams in the first and second innings, and threw only 24 of 46 pitches for strikes. Good work to get out of trouble with a lot of ground balls, but Whitley said he’s clearly still in early spring mode. “Overall pleased with the result,” he said. “But the process has to get a little bit better.”
• Girardi seemed to like the fact Whitley had to handle some adversity and make big pitches. “He got some big ground balls when he needed them,” Girardi said. “He got in some long counts and got some baserunners, but he did a good job with runners in scoring position. You want to see that.”
• The Yankees lost 3-1 with all of the Orioles runs coming against Branden Pinder and Chasen Shreve, two 40-man guys who seem to be fighting for that open spot in the bullpen. Pinder was knocked around early in the fifth inning — four straight hits, two runs — but also got some big outs to limit the damage. Shreve gave up a solo home run to a switch hitter.
• Both Jacob Lindgren and Esmil Rogers pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
• A sure sign that it’s absurdly early: Chase Headley came into this game hitting .100 for the spring. He went 3-for-3 and in one day raised his average to .308. He had hits from each side of the plate. “It’s tough to figure out what you’re trying to do early,” Headley said. “You really want to see pitches, track the ball good out of the pitchers’ hands. I didn’t feel very good doing that, wasn’t seeing them like I wanted to, so I figured today I’d be a little bit more aggressive, try to take it a little more like regular-season at-bats. I think that put my rhythm and timing in better spots. It was good. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but you want to get hits.”
• Yet another start for Didi Gregorius against a left-handed starting pitcher. Girardi seems happy about that, but he said it’s strictly coincidence. The lineups are generally set before the Yankees know who they’re facing in spring training. “I want to see him (against lefties),” Girardi said. “Obviously a lot of times you can get pegged early on in your career; I’ve seen it happen to a lot of players. We have a lot of confidence in Didi and we want him to get at-bats.”
• Aaron Judge made a nice diving catch in right field today. Headley almost made a terrific diving stop on a Machado double. He dived toward the foul line, but the ball hit off the tip of his glove. “I was mad at myself that I didn’t catch it,” Headley said. Would have been a sick catch.
• Big-time injury in the American League East as Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman is likely to miss all year with a torn ACL. “I feel like it’s becoming the NFL; there’s one big injury every day,” Girardi said. “It’s frustrating when you lose your players, guys that you count on. No one is going to feel sorry for you and you have to just move on, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
• Speaking of AL East injuries, the Yankees saw Manny Machado back in the Orioles lineup today. He went 3-for-3, and Girardi said the situation reminded him of a Yankees prospect. “Two knee surgeries, and having to fight back; it’s frustrating as a player,” Girardi said. “For him, he’s really young, but you know your time is limited. And that’s the last place you want to spend it is rehabbing on the DL. I look at a young kid that we have. He’s not as accomplished as Manny, but what Slade (Heathcott) has gone through, the knee surgeries. It’s frustrating. It delays your progress as a player.”
• Gary Sanchez hit a pretty long home run for the Yankees only run of the day. … Pirela went 1-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base. He’s hitting .462 (Refsnyder went hitless but is hitting .455). … Aside from Pirela, Sanchez and Headley, the only Yankees hit belonged to Mark Teixeira.
• For today’s final word, here’s Girardi’s response to a joking question about whether he’s ready for the big game against Boston tomorrow. “Huh? Oh yeah. I was thinking, big Boston game, what’s he talking about? Do you guys (in the media) have a game or something?” Rivalry games just don’t carry the same weight down here in spring training.
Associated Press photos
Associated Press photos
Eight days before the Yankees’ first spring workout, we’ll continue looking at some of the key issue the Yankees have to figure out in spring training. We’ve already discussed the backup catcher competition and the batting order possibilities, today we’ll look at a fairly hard to define bit of decision making.
Who’s first in line to fill the inevitable roster needs during the season?
While much of spring training is spent sorting out the Opening Day roster — assigning roles and weeding out the lesser candidates — the Yankees have to pay especially close attention this spring to the guys who won’t break camp with the team. That’s an impossible to ignore aspect of a team that has serious health concerns in the rotation and serious production concerns in the lineup. It’s also a good bit of reality for an organization that finally has a wave of young players getting close to the majors.
Basically, the Yankees have to figure out who can help right away, because chances are, they’re going to need some help at some point.
And in the case of this group of next-in-line possibilities, there are few cut-and-dry decisions. The Yankees have a lot of upper-level outfielders, but there’s not one who definitely fits the current roster better than anyone else. Is Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder the best choice for an infield opening? Is Gary Sanchez ready if the Yankees need another catcher? What about that long list of relievers; who stands out in that pack?
Spring training gives the entire organization — especially the big league coaching staff — a chance to really evaluation the options, and there’s a good chance one of these mid-season call-ups will end up playing a much bigger role than some of the guys who make the Opening Day roster. Last year, the Yankees had to make moves to fill holes. The hope is they can plug holes from within this time.
A few possibilities they’ll have to consider:
1. What if the Yankees need an outfielder?
Right now, it seems Chris Young and Garrett Jones are fourth and fifth on the outfield depth chart, but the Yankees have four other outfielders on the 40-man (counting Jose Pirela) and another three outfielders coming to camp on non-roster invitations. That’s a big group to consider, and who gets the call might depend on need and production. When the time comes for a call-up, is there room for another left-handed bat, and if so, who stands out among Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams? If an offensive-minded right-handed hitter fits best, does Tyler Austin seem ready? How close is Aaron Judge? Has Pirela picked up where he left off last season?
2. What if the Yankees need an infielder?
Obviously this question could depend on specific positions, but the Yankees have enough flexibility with Jones, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan that they could move pieces around and simply call-up the best infielder available. That means, even if they don’t make the team, Pirela and Refsnyder will be competing for big league attention. And after seeing Yangervis Solarte last season, it’s hard to dismiss a guy like Nick Noonan (how good is he at short?) or Jonathan Galvez (can he hit enough to be a big league utility man?).
3. What if the Yankees need an offensive boost?
Given what we saw last year, it’s not out of the question that the Yankees might need a bat at some point. Maybe Alex Rodriguez stinks at designated hitter, or Carlos Beltran hasn’t fully recovered from elbow surgery, or Mark Teixeira’s still battling nagging injuries. If the Yankees have to go looking for offense, Kyle Roller should be worth serious consideration. Maybe Austin is still rolling after last year’s strong second half. Maybe Judge or Greg Bird deserve consideration straight from Double-A.
4. What if the Yankees need a catcher?
If the Yankees pick Austin Romine as their backup and option John Ryan Murphy to Triple-A, then this question is easy to answer. If, however, the Yankees keep Murphy and lost Romine on waivers, it could get complicated. Sanchez is on the 40-man and should be playing everyday in Triple-A, but he also carries significant questions about his defense and maturity. Is he ready for a big league job (even a part-time one) at this point, or should the Yankees keep an eye on guys like Eddy Rodriguez and Francisco Arcia as just-in-case alternatives.
5. What if the Yankees need a spot starter?
When the rotation began to fall apart last season, the Yankees first turned to a pair of relievers in David Phelps and Vidal Nuno. This year, though, Phelps and Nuno are gone. If there’s a need early in the season, perhaps Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers could play the Phelps/Nuno role, sliding out of the bullpen and into the rotation. If not, who’s the best alternative among Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, Jose De Paula, Kyle Davis and Scott Baker? Whitley got an early call-up last year. Mitchell pitched well late in the season. Shane Greene made a strong first impression in big league camp last spring, and we all know where that led.
6. What if the Yankees need a reliever?
Inevitable, isn’t it? Bullpens always evolve in the course of a season, and the Yankees are loaded with upper-level relievers who seem fully capable of filling in at any point this season. If all goes as planned, the Yankees will have just one bullpen opening out of spring training, but they’ll have no fewer than 10 guys looking to fill it (Bailey, Whitley, Mitchell, Ramirez, Pinder, Burawa, Martin, Rumbelow, Shreve, Lindgren, Webb). There won’t be room for everyone in New York, so the Yankees will have to make some judgments about who ranks 13th and 14th on a 12-man pitching staff.
7. What if the Yankees need to make a trade?
Kind of the opposite of every other question on this list: the Yankees not only have to figure out who can help them in the short term, they also have to decide which players are most expendable in the long term. If Sanchez looks less and less like a catcher, maybe he looks more and more like trade bait. If Williams, Heathcott and Jake Cave all seem to be making strides toward playing a role in New York, maybe it’s best to whittle down a group of similar players. If that bullpen depth is legitimate, maybe it’s easy to include an arm as a way to push a trade package over the top.
Associated Press photos
On the 40-man: Gary Sanchez • 02.11.15
Next up in our look at each player on the Yankees 40-man roster is a high-end catching prospect who’s close to the big leagues, but still has some development to do.
Age on Opening Day: 22
Acquired: Signed out of the Dominican in 2009
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 in 2013
In the past: A top 10 organizational prospect from the moment he signed, Sanchez was touted for his big arm and plus power potential even as an international amateur. The past five-plus years have brought some questions about his maturity and his ability to stay behind the plate, and his recent stats have been relatively underwhelming considering his offensive reputation, but Sanchez is still awfully young and still carries the potential to be an impact hitter at the big league level. The Yankees still believe he could stick at catcher.
Role in 2015: In his second year on the 40-man roster, Sanchez should finally get his first taste of Triple-A. He spent part of 2013 and all of 2014 in Double-A where he’s hit .267/.342/.401 and run into some discipline issues, but the Yankees see him as a young guy still finding himself on the field and off With Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy expected to open the season in New York, the Yankees have the luxury of patience with Sanchez. He can be optioned this year and again in 2016.
Best case scenario: His 2012 was good, but Sanchez is still waiting for a true breakout season, and this year would be a good time to have it. Still in his early 20s but finally ready for the highest level of the minor leagues, Sanchez could reestablish himself as a future everyday catcher if he has a strong year in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He doesn’t necessarily have to get to New York before September to make this season an overwhelming success. Hitting for average and power while winning the confidence of the Triple-A pitching staff would be a giant leap forward.
Worst case scenario: Jesus Montero. That’s pretty much the personal worst-case scenario for Sanchez: that he can’t stay at catcher and falls flat at the big league level. Of course, the Yankees sold high on Montero and got — possibly — a rotation mainstay in return. In the case of Sanchez, if he falls flat and disappoints, the Yankees will have missed their opportunity to capitalize on his trade value. They’ll just have a prospect who didn’t work out.
What the future holds: Sanchez can be optioned to Triple-A this year and next, so the Yankees have some time to let him develop. In the meantime, they have McCann and Murphy in place, meaning there’s no rush. After two years, though, Sanchez should be out of options while McCann will still have at least two years left on his contract. There’s no need to make a big decision about Sanchez right now, but eventually the Yankees are going to have to decide whether he has a future, whether he should stay at catcher, and whether that changes things with the other catchers in the organization.
Associated Press photo
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
How’s everyone doing out there in the snow? If you’re stuck at home, here are a few Yankees minor league links and notes that are worth having on your radar.
Pretty surprising news out of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre today. The Railriders announced that Rob Crain is out as team president and general manager. Executive vice president Jeremy Ruby will step into the GM role for the time being, at least through the 2015 season. Crain had been with Scranton/Wilkes-Bare since 2012, and though I only knew him a little bit, he seemed like a good guy for the spot. I will say, however, that Ruby has been with that Triple-A organization for years including previous time as general manager, and I always thought he was perfect in that role. He played the game at a pretty high level, his father is a longtime pitching coach, and both players and staff seem to really like dealing with him.
• There are always a lot of prospect rankings around this time of year, and Kiley McDaniel has come up with an absurdly detailed Yankees list over at FanGraphs. McDaniel ranked his top 35, then kept going with mild scouting reports for another 30 or so others in the Yankees system. “Tampa Bay is the only other team with close to this kind of depth,” McDaniel wrote, “but the Yankees have two top-end talents (RHP Luis Severino and RF Aaron Judge) that the Rays can’t match, which helps separate the Bombers from Tampa Bay and other deep systems. Right now, I have the Yankees as the 10th best system in baseball, but with the bulk of high upside young talent and five of the top six prospects likely returning to next year’s list making it better than 50/50 that they’ll be even higher next year.”
• Speaking of absurdly detailed, this list Patrick Teale is still working through his individual scouting reports over at Pinstripes Plus, but his Top 50 list has been posted for a while. Patrick sees a lot of the really young kids in the system, and he’s never been afraid to break from conventional thinking in putting his list together. I have Patrick’s list bookmarked every year. That alone is worth the subscription fee.
• To go with McDaniel’s ranking, FanGraphs has also published a list of the five Yankees prospects projected to have the highest big league WAR this season. Might be surprised to see John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez tied — Sanchez gets a lot more hype than Murphy — but it probably comes as little surprise to see Rob Refsnyder at No. 1. Ramon Flores projects at slightly above replacement, which seems to make sense. Really does seem like a solid fourth outfield candidate (though not a great fit on the current roster because he hits left-handed).
• Over at MLB.com, the good folks who handle MLB Pipeline are ranking the top five prospects at each position. Greg Bird came in at No. 3 among all first basemen, and Rob Refsnyder was seventh among second basemen (right behind Devon Travis, the guy traded from Detroit to Toronto this offseason). I’m not surprised that neither Eric Jagielo nor Miguel Andujar cracked the top 10 at third base, though I was a little surprised to see Gary Sanchez fall out of the top 10 at catcher (his numbers haven’t been overwhelming, but he’s still so young for his level). Shortstops and outfield rankings are coming later this week (wonder if Jorge Mateo or Aaron Judge will make the top 10). MLB.com has already ranked its top 10 right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Luis Severino came in seventh among right-handers, but Jacob Lindgren didn’t make the list among lefties (even Royals standout Brandon Finnegan barely made top 10).
• Finally, he’s not a Yankees prospect — at least, not yet — but this winter has brought a lot of worthwhile focus on Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada. Both McDaniel and Baseball America’s Ben Badler have taken a look at what’s keeping Moncada from clearing the final government hurdle that would make him eligible to sign. McDaniel suggests it’s all about U.S. policy and perhaps some concern that Moncada could funnel money back to the Cuban government (maybe that’s why Cuba let him leave in the first place), but Badler says bluntly that “Major League Baseball, not the United States government, is the reason that Yoan Moncada and several other Cuban players have yet to begin their careers.”
UPDATE: Our good friend Jeff Passan has weighed in with more on Moncada, including this key bit of information: “One league source estimated Yoan Moncada could be a free agent as soon as two weeks from now should MLB square away its concerns with OFAC.” Making Moncada a free agent within two weeks should give the Yankees plenty of time to be involved in the bidding.
Associated Press photo
I try not to think of prospect rankings as any sort of definitive analysis. They’re more useful as a tool for discussion. Slade Heathcott falling out of Baseball America’s top 10 list for the Yankees, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t be an impact player, but it says a lot about his injuries and the uncertainty he faces going forward. By the same token, a guy like Jorge Mateo jumping into the top three doesn’t mean he’s absolutely going to be the Yankees starting shortstop in a few years, but it says a lot about his raw talent and high-end potential.
Top 10 lists like this one point out some organizational highlights, and they spark plenty of conversation about not only the names that made the cut, but also those players who didn’t. They’re interesting. They’re not definitive.
Josh Norris — who used to cover the Yankees system and put together this particular top 10 list — will be chatting over at BA’s website at 2 p.m. ET. Go jump into that conversation. For now, here are a few of my own thoughts about this year’s Baseball America Top 10 Yankees prospects.
1. RHP Luis Severino
In my mind, this is a no brainer. Big fastball. Already has a feel for the good changeup. Undeniable numbers. Clearly being fast-tracked through the system. Even as the Yankees have struggled to produce big league position players, they’ve had some success with big league pitchers. Perhaps not an ace — Phil Hughes carried that expectation and settled for being simply a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy — but the Yankees have added plenty of minor league arms to the big league pitching staff. And Severino could follow that path as early as next year. Can’t reveal everything about the Baseball America scouting reports, but BA does note that Severino is “likely” to open next season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after making just six Double-A starts this season. The Yankees have publicly mentioned Severino as a guy who could help them next season. This kid is really good, and he’s moving very quickly.
2. RF Aaron Judge
The Yankees were in Oakland when Judge showed up for batting practice just after being drafted in 2013. It seems most everyone had heard about him at that point — mostly we’d heard that he was huge — and Judge did not disappoint. His massive frame suggests an all-or-nothing slugger, but his first season of pro ball proved otherwise. He was patient, hit for average, and showed a willingness to send line drives to the gap rather than constantly go for massive home runs. There’s very real power, no doubt, but there’s also an advanced hitting approach that should have Judge in Double-A to start next season. Although there was some talk of center field after he was drafted, Judge has played only right field since joining the Yankees, and that’s clearly his position of the future. There’s so far little indication that he’ll have to move to first base or designated hitter. There are two years left on Carlos Beltran’s contract, and when it runs out, Judge just might be ready to take over.
3. SS Jorge Mateo
Just a personal preference of mine: I’m always hesitant to make too much of a toolsy teenage prospect. I’ve only seen a very small first-hand glimpse of Mateo as a player, but I’ve heard enough about him to understand why Baseball America ranked him this high. The kid has all of the tools to be a Jose Reyes-type shortstop. His speed is off the charts, and his defensive ability suggests he’ll be able to stay at the position. I’ve heard former vice president of baseball operations get pretty excited talking about some young kids, but he saved some of his most colorful descriptions for Mateo. “Holy (cow) tools!” he said, and you can imagine which word he said instead of “cow.” My only hesitation about Mateo is that he has 58 at-bats in rookie ball, and I like to hold off on setting expectations until a player moves up the chain a little bit. Last year, Baseball America had Severino and No. 9 and then adjusted after seeing him pitch a full season and move quickly. That’s more the way I would have approached ranking Mateo. But the kid is awfully talented. There’s a reason he’s this high.
4. 1B Greg Bird
I think it was two years ago that Bird was invited to big league camp. He was really young at the time, but the Yankees needed some extra bodies because of the World Baseball Classic, and so Bird took his place in the clubhouse and observed. He was 20 years old, in a locker room with some of the biggest names in baseball, and he carried himself with a surprising amount of quiet confidence. Bird hardly played, but he made a strong first impression for the way he went about his work and largely blended into the background. He seemed comfortable, even though he was barely out of high school. Since then, it’s been a mature approach at the plate that’s kept Bird’s stock high. He’s been a steady hitter who gets on base at a good clip. He’s also shown some increased power, and he’s currently raking in the Arizona Fall League. A converted catcher, Bird does not get strong reviews on defense, but I’ve also never had a scout tell me that he’ll have to give up the position. If he can play a passable first base, keep putting together smart at-bats and continue his recent power surge, he could legitimately emerge in the next year or two as the heir to Mark Teixeiera.
5. C Gary Sanchez
I’m not necessarily the biggest Sanchez believer in the world — and I’m a big Bird believer — but even for me, this ranking is a little low. I can completely understand it, just would have put Sanchez up at No. 3. In my mind, Severino, Judge and Sanchez are the clear standouts in the system. As for why Baseball America has Sanchez slightly lower: Obviously this year’s offensive numbers weren’t overwhelming, there’s still some question about his ability to stay behind the plate, and the discipline issues are concerning. But Sanchez is still just 21 years old. He’s less than three years older than Mateo, and just like every kid his age — kids in and out of baseball — there’s some maturing that has to happen. Even though he’s ready for Triple-A, Sanchez still faces a lot of questions, and those can’t be ignored. But he also has a strong mix of being advanced in the system with a high ceiling if things work out.
6. LHP Ian Clarkin
Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that it’s pretty easy to overlook Clarkin. Maybe it’s because he missed time with an ankle injury his first season. Maybe it’s because Judge and top pick Eric Jagielo get the bulk of the attention from the 2013 draft class. Maybe it’s because Severino has so clearly emerged as the top pitching prospect in the system. For whatever reason, Clarkin kind of falls into the shadows a little bit, but I don’t think there’s any doubt he belongs in the Top 10. Somewhere in the middle of the Top 10 seems about right, too. The sense I’ve always had about him is that, while there’s no single thing that really shines, Clarkin does a lot of things very well. And Baseball America notes that he added a cutter this season, which has further enhanced his ability to get ground balls. He’s only a few months older than Mateo, and he’s already pitched to a 3.21 ERA in a half season with Low-A Charleston (he also made one solid start with High-A Tampa). He’s light on innings and experience, so I doubt the Yankees will rush him too much, but Clarkin could really emerge with a strong full season next year.
7. 2B Rob Refsnyder
This is where prospect rankings really depend on personal preference. Do you prefer Mateo’s high-ceiling with a long way to go, or do you prefer Refsnyder’s reliable impact with perhaps limited upside? Probably depends on what you make of rankings in the first place. Ultimately, there is no high-end Yankees prospect better poised to make an immediate impact than Refsnyder. He’s obviously still learning second base — played outfield in college — but the bat has been outstanding. In fact, Refsnyder has advanced to the very top of the minor league system and his numbers are still terrific. That said, there are still doubters. When the World Series started, I mentioned in a blog post that multiple scouts and executives saw comparisons between Refsnyder and Giants second baseman Joe Panik. A couple of days after that piece ran, another executive got back to me saying his organization still had Refnsyder projected as nothing more than a backup. We’ll see. It seems a safe bet that Refsnyder can and will play some sort of role in New York (probably soon). The question is, just how will great that impact be?
8. LHP Jacob Lindgren
Two names that were not on Baseball America’s Top 10 Yankees list a year ago: Dellin Betances and Shane Greene. Betances obviously carried some of the doubt that he’d generated throughout his up-and-down minor league career. Greene was coming off a breakout season and there was a sense of wait-and-see with him. There’s no such hesitation with Lindgren, the Yankees top draft pick from this summer. Hard to remember the Yankees ever drafting more of a sure thing. As a left-handed college reliever, Lindgren entered the Yankees system perfectly poised to move quickly, and he did exactly that with eight games in Double-A this year. If the big league team were realistically in the playoff hunt, I wonder if Lindgren might have moved even faster. As it is, he’s kind of like Refsnyder in that he’s a safe bet to play a big league role, the only question is how significant that role will be. Is he strictly a left-on-left guy (which would be the extreme low end), or can he establish himself as a setup man or closer? Good chance for both immediate and long-term impact here.
9. C Luis Torrens
As I’ve written many times, I’m hesitant to make too much of extremely young players, but I would have been surprised to see Torrens not make the cut here. Still just 18 years old, Torrens gets rave reviews for his ability behind the plate, which is pretty stunning for such a young kid who’s relatively new to the position. He’s also shown some ability to hit, though he’s obviously still maturing. Time will tell just how good he’ll be, but this is another case of the tools being simply too good to ignore. “We have people who think he’s the best catcher out of the whole group,” Newman said late in the year. “But he’s 18. He’s got a long way to go. Slow down.” Fair enough. There has to be time for Torrens to develop, and there’s incredible uncertainty with any 18-year-old, but I tend to think of Top 10 lists like this one as a way to highlight certain aspects of a system. And Torrens deserves to be highlighted.
10. 3B Miguel Andujar
Naturally could have gone any number of directions with the No. 10 slot. Could have mentioned Manny Banuelos and his return from Tommy John surgery. Could have chosen Slade Heathcott, with an acknowledgement that his injuries might be too much to overcome. Could have gone with a guy like Bryan Mitchell as a relatively safe bet to play some kind of big league role. And could have gone with top 2013 draft pick Eric Jagielo after he showed impressive power during an injury-shortened season in Tampa. Instead, Baseball America went with another low-level guy in Andujar, who had a rough first half but reestablished himself with a .319/.367/.456 second-half slash line in Low-A Charleston. It’s an interesting choice for this spot on the list if only because he’s a guy who can easily go unnoticed. Clearly one of the better prospects in the system, but at this point in a ranking, it’s a matter of preference and who gets highlighted. Andujar joins Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. as legitimate third base prospects in the organization.
Associated Press photo of Sanchez
The good people over at Baseball America — including our old friend Josh Norris — have completed their Top 20 prospect lists for each league. The lists are free, but the scouting reports are behind a worthwhile pay wall. Along with each detailed list, Baseball America also shows it’s Top 20 lists for each league from five years ago. It’s a nice bit of perspective on what might (or might not) happen down the road. Here are the Yankees prospects who made Baseball America’s cut.
13. Rob Refsnyder, 2B
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster had a lot of young, in-house players this season — of the 13 players with 200 at-bats, nine were homegrown — but it didn’t have many of the organization’s high-end prospects. Refsnyder was the biggest exception, and he made Baseball America’s cut. Since the scouting reports are behind a pay wall, I’m not going to give many details, but there are no real surprises in the BA write-up about Refsnyder. He’s a work-in-progress at second base, but he can hit.
Five years ago: Interestingly, the No. 13 IL prospect five years ago was Jose Tabata. At the time he was in Triple-A with the Pirates, but he’d spent most of his developmental years with the Yankees. He’s developed into a useful but not great big leaguer.
Off the list: Although they’re promising young starters, neither Shane Greene nor Bryan Mitchell has ever gotten much prospect hype beyond the hope and expectations of those inside the Yankees organization. Neither made Baseball America’s IL list (to be fair, Greene was actually better in the big leagues than in the minors this season). Jose Pirela, Ramon Flores, Kyle Roller and John Ryan Murphy were also left off. Again, no surprises there.
11. Gary Sanchez, C
Considering how much attention his bat gets, it’s easy to be underwhelmed by Sanchez’s .270/.338/.406 slash line in Double-A this year. It’s also easy to be concerned with the fact he was benched for disciplinary reasons mid-season. The Yankees, though, will point out that at 21 years old, Sanchez is still maturing as a person and as a player. BA’s ranking reflects that. Big hitting potential, strong arm, questions about makeup and receiving ability.
Five years ago: The Eastern League’s 11th-best prospect five years ago, according to Baseball America, was right-handed pitcher Hector Rondon. Converted to the bullpen, he had a great year as the Cubs closer this season. If Sanchez becomes the catching version of a good young closer, that’s a big win for the Yankees.
13. Rob Refsnyder, 2B
Funny that he fell at the exact same spot for each league in which he qualified. Refsnyder was a monster during his relatively brief stint in the Eastern League. Again, there’s little mystery in a scouting report. Refsnyder can hit. He’s still learning to play second.
Five years ago: No. 13 on this list in 2009 was Mets first baseman Ike Davis. A year later he was in the big leagues and looked like a pretty good player. Today he’s been traded away and looks like he might not have enough bat for his position.
Off the list: Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott have lost their grip on lists like this one. A half season of production from Tyler Austin wasn’t enough to make the cut, and it seems the jury is still out on whether Manny Banuelos can regain his old traction and his former ceiling. A lot of interesting players in Trenton this year, just not very many reliable ones.
Florida State League
15. Aaron Judge, RF
Top position prospect in the Yankees system is surely a debate between Judge and Sanchez. Both generate raves for their offensive power potential, and in his pro debut, Judge seemed to impress everyone with his patience and command of the strike zone. He also seems to have the range and plenty of arm strength to stick in right field without a need to move to first base or designated hitter. It’s been only one year, but Judge has earned the attention.
Five years ago: A Twins right-hander named David Bromberg ranked 15th on Baseball America’s FSL list five years ago. He’d been excellent that season, and he got to Triple-A the next year, but he has yet to make his major-league debut. The lesson: A lot can happen between High-A and the big leagues.
Off the list: Don’t want to reveal too much about the scouting reports, but in writing about Judge, BA did note that his fellow 2013 draftee Eric Jagielo also “had supporters among league observers.” Greg Bird is also a name that was worth consideration for this list. Jake Cave probably doesn’t have the perceived ceiling for a list like this, and Luis Severino wasn’t in the league long enough to qualify.
South Atlantic League
4. Luis Severino, RHP
Baseball America noted that it was basically a toss-up between Severino and Reynaldo Lopez for the second-best pitching prospect in the league (former 16th-overall draft pick Lucas Giolito was at the top of BA’s list). Severino began to make a name for himself last year, and this was the year he really emerged as one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. The Yankees have even left open the possibility of Severino pitching his way to New York as early as next season. The kid is really, really good.
Five years ago: A’s catcher Derek Norris ranked fourth on BA’s Sally list in 2009, and he’s become a pretty good big league regular. It’s worth noting that, at the time, Norris ranked between a pair of Rays prospects: pitcher Matt Moore and shortstop Tim Beckham. Hard to peg guys when they’re this young.
8. Aaron Judge, RF
Ranks a little higher on the Low-A list than the did on the High-A list, but the scouting reports read about the same: Lots of tools, good approach, enough defense for right field. Baseball America does note that Judge was expected to take advantage of inexperienced Low-A pitchers and did exactly that.
Five years ago: Back in 2009 the eighth name on this list was a White Sox outfielder named Jared Mitchell, a first-round pick who was hurt the next year and still hasn’t reached the big leagues. He did do a nice job getting on base in Double-A and Triple-A this year, though. Was a huge White Sox prospect when he was younger. No. 9 five years ago was Manny Banuelos.
15. Ian Clarkin, LHP
As I’ve said, I don’t want to give away much of these scouting reports, but I will note that Baseball America gave Clarkin credit for being one of the “safer bets” among South Atlantic League pitchers. They go into detail about his stuff and mechanics, all of which would be welcome words for the Yankees. Clarkin is fully healthy and ready to roll after missing some early time because of injuries. He was another first-rounder in 2013 along with Judge and Jagielo. Still very young.
Five years ago: Here’s the risk of getting too excited about a young prospect, especially a pitcher: Five years ago, Baseball America had a college draftee named Dexter Carter in this spot on the SAL list. He never made it out of A ball and wound up released before the 2012 season.
Off the list: A lot of sleeper-type prospects hanging around that Charleston roster this season. Shortstops Tyler Wade and Abiatal Avelino, third baseman Miguel Andujar, and underperfoming second baseman Gosuke Katoh. There’s also a pitcher named Brady Lail who the Yankees like, but who’s not likely to land on a list like this one.
New York-Penn League
4. Luis Torrens, C
An 18-year-old out of Venezuela, Torrens was extremely young for this level (Baseball American notes that he was the youngest player in the league this year), and he generates raves for his defensive work. He has a huge arm, he’s apparently has an advanced feel for catching, and there’s promise in the bat. Last month, Mark Newman noted that there are those who believe Torrens will ultimately be the best everyday catcher in the Yankees farm system — and that’s a deep position — but he’s too young to think of him as a remotely finished product. A ton of promise, and a lot of good stuff in place already, just needs time and patience.
Five years ago: A pretty good cautionary tale, five years ago it was another young catcher named Sebastian Valle who ranked fourth on Baseball America’s list of NYP-League prospects. He was also a teenager — more bat than glove — and the Phillies liked him, but his bat has diminished considerably and Valle has yet to reach the big leagues. Not even on the 40-man. Adam Warren ranked 12th on this list five years ago.
Off the list: In a chat, Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt mentioned that no other Yankees were particularly close to making the New York-Penn list — though he did go into specifics about quite a few other Yankees prospects, so check that out — but it’s worth wondering if Ty Hensley might have pitched his way into the mix had he thrown enough innings to qualify. He was awfully good in a small sample size.
Gulf Coast League
4. Jorge Mateo, SS
The Yankees love this kid. Incredible amount of speed, there’s a belief that he’ll be perfectly fine staying at shortstop, and he has real tools pretty much across the board. This was an international investment back in 2012, and Mateo is quickly becoming one of the real high-ceiling prospects in the system. A long way to go, but Mateo has real high-end potential. He’s 19 years old and has a chance to be — eventually — the shortstop of the future.
Five years ago: This is a promising comparison. Rookie-level kids are hard to predict, but five years ago, Baseball America ranked a fairly raw but talented pitcher name Jarred Cosart as the fourth-best prospect in the GCL. He’s since emerged as a good young starting pitcher, first with Houston and now with Miami. Hard to bank on kids this young, but some of them clear all the hurdles. Yankees are hoping that’s the case with Mateo.
15. Angel Aguilar, SS
What is it with the Yankees landing at No. 4 and No. 15 on these lists? Weird. But the addition of Aguilar actually fits well with the Yankees minor league system because the team has really built a lot of low-level depth at shortstop. They’ve focused on the position with a flurry of recent international signings. Aguilar signed in 2012 and hit .311/.373/.536 in his first season playing in the United States. Intriguing bat for a guy who seems to have a chance to stick at shortstop.
Five years ago: Would it mean anything to you to find out that the 15th player on the GCL list five years ago was a guy named Brooks Pounders? He was a second-round pick out of high school and now has fewer than 20 starts above Class A. Incredible amount of uncertainty with rookie ball players.
Off the list: Extremely young even for rookie ball, center fielder Leonardo Molina put up ugly GCL number this year but could get another shot next year (when he’ll still be young for the level). The Yankees like him, but recognize that he was probably pushed over his head this season. Third-rounder Austin DeCarr had a promising stint in the GCL but didn’t make Baseball America’s cut.
Here’s an interesting lineup note: Tonight’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre infield has Ronnier Mustelier at third, Corban Joseph at second and David Adams at first.
We’ve already seen the Yankees send Joseph to first base a few times this season. Now Adams is getting a turn, and as far as I can tell, it’s his first time ever playing the position.
As for what to read into that…
Given the current first base situation in New York, where Lyle Overbay has no real backup, it makes sense to have two pretty solid utility-types learn the position. But it’s also worth noting, that while Joseph and Adams are pretty good offensive infielders, neither one stands out as a first-base type bat. Learning first base in order to play it in a pinch makes sense, but it’s hard to imagine either one being truly converted to the position.
Another thing to consider is that it makes sense to use first base almost like a second DH. The Yankees want to give Adams some time at second base, and when that happens, they can keep Joseph in the lineup by playing him at first. They also want to give Mustelier some time at third, and when that happens, they can move Adams to first. First base could be little more than a way for these guys to get at-bats.
More playing time, with a little extra defensive flexibility? Why not?
• This morning, Zoilo Almonte was named International League Player of the Week. He had a hit in all eight RailRiders games, batting .355 with two home runs and a league-best seven RBI. His season slash line is pretty terrific — .293/.393/.455 — but the problem with Almonte, from the Yankees perspective, is that he’s a switch hitter who’s much better from the left side. He’s hitting .299/.400/.494 against righties, but .273/.370/.318 against lefties. He has 10 extra-base hits this season, only one of them against a left-hander. The Yankees would have far more use for Almonte from the right side.
• Chien-Ming Wang is making another Triple-A start tonight. Wang’s numbers are terrific — 0.95 ERA through three starts — but Brian Cashman said last week that the Yankees want Wang to be more effective with his offspeed stuff. He still has the sinker, but it doesn’t have the same velocity that he had when he was a 19-game winner. The Yankees believe he’ll need to use his secondary stuff to have success with the current fastball.
• If this Eduardo Nunez rib cage injury is a real issue that requires a DL stint, who would the Yankees bring up? Gil Velazquez is a steady veteran, but he’s hitting .197 with no extra-base hits in Triple-A. Addison Maruszak is less proven defensively, but he has a .390 Triple-A on-base percentage and can play basically any position except pitcher. The bigger issue might be this: There’s not another shortstop on the 40-man roster. If the Yankees had to make a call-up, it might make more sense to recall Joseph and simply consider Chris Nelson the emergency shortstop for a couple of weeks.
• This really has little impact on the big league roster, but it seems like a real issue for the Triple-A team: Cody Johnson, Dan Johnson and Luke Murton have combined for three home runs for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dan Johnson has always raked at that level, and both Murton and Cody Johnson have — at the very least — shown legitimate power in Double-A. I have to imagine that the Yankees expected their Triple-A roster to get a power boost from at least one of those three.
• Down in Double-A, Slade Heathcott is hitting just .198/.276/.291, Tyler Austin is slugging just .394 — granted, his on-base percentage is also .394 — and Ramon Flores recently hit a cold spell that’s dropped his batting average from .333 to .263 in a span of two weeks. So who’s the prospect standout in Trenton? It has to be catcher J.R. Murphy who’s hitting .309/.408/.543 with more walks than strikeouts.
• It’s worth noting that Rob Segedin was also putting up terrific Double-A numbers — .338/.390/.606 with 10 doubles — before landing on the disabled list with a hip injury. The down side: He’d also made nine errors at third base, the most errors of anyone in the system.
• After making a huge impression in spring training, Jose Ramirez was kept back in extended spring for a few weeks before finally making his regular season debut with four scoreless innings on April 26. He then pitched five innings with one hit and one unearned run on Wednesday. He’s scheduled to make his third appearance tomorrow. So far, he has 12 strikeouts and two walks through nine innings.
• Francisco Rondon as a starter this season: 7.16 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 22 strikeouts and 17 walks through 27.2 innings. Wonder how long this experiment will continue if the numbers don’t improve drastically.
• Most eye-opening offensive stats in the Yankees organization? Has to be Rob Refsnyder. An NCAA standout at Arizona, Refsnyder is moving from the outfield back to second base — where he played in high school and, I believe, early in college — and his 11 errors show that there’s a bit of a learning curve. But the bat… my goodness. Refsnyder has already been promoted from Low-A to High-A, and between the two stops he’s hitting a combined .374/.486/.504 with more walks than strikeouts and 12 stolen bases without being caught. His numbers have actually been better since the promotion. He’s played 16 High-A games, and he’s had multiple hits in eight of them. Crazy.
• Yonkers native Dan Fiorito — signed last year out of Manhattanville after impressing the Yankees during a workout for non-drafted players — was sent to Tampa on April 22 to help out at shortstop. He’s basically become the everyday guy hitting .400/.478/.425 through 40 at-bats. He’s not a name on the prospect radar, but because of where he’s from I know him a little and was actually paying attention to him every time I was at the minor league complex this spring. He really, really stood out as a guy who seemed willing and able to lead. Heard him talking to teammates a lot between innings. A lot of “Let’s go, we can do this” kind of stuff. It stood out considering it was coming from a guy who’d never been in spring training and didn’t have the draft pedigree of most of the guys around him. Not saying he’s a future Jeter, just something that caught my attention.
• Back-to-back two-hit games by Gary Sanchez and his slash line is back up to .269/.355/.472 with five home runs, most of anyone in the system.
• Big strikeout numbers from Tampa starters Corey Black (36 in 30.2 innings), Mikey O’Brien (34 in 26.2 innings) and Shane Greene (33 in 36.1 innings) but the Tampa starter with the lowest ERA and lost opponents batting average is Bryan Mitchell with a 3.06 ERA and .235 opponents average. His down side has been the 18 walks. Lowest WHIP in that Tampa rotation belongs to the other starter, Scottie Allen, at 1.19. Pretty decent young arms in that group.
• We head all the way down to Charleston to find the organizational leader in walks. Low-A first baseman Greg Bird has 25 walks, good for a .425 on-base percentage. He slugged .494 in limited at-bats last season, but that power hasn’t shown up so far this season (only a .364 slugging percentage with one homer) but obviously the approach is encouraging for a 20-year-old.
• Less encouraging are the numbers for Low-A third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., who’s still trying to recapture his standout 2011 results. Sent to Charleston for a second season, Bichette is hitting just .186/.246/.265 with two homers, seven walks and 33 strikeouts. Speaking of repeating Low-A, shortstop Cito Culver has always been a glove-first player, but his .212/.305/.354 slash line is basically the same as last season except with a more power (Culver hit two homers last year, he’s already hit three this year).
• Want more good news in the Charleston lineup? Catcher Peter O’Brien has seven hits in his past three games and is hitting .313/.348/.563 for the year. He played in 21 games and has more than one hit in nine of them. He’s thrown out just over 25 percent of base stealers, which ranks him near the bottom of the South Atlantic League.
• Welcome to the U.S., Rafael De Paula. I was beginning to think he was more myth than man, but he’s finally pitching in the states and has an unreal 46 strikeouts through 27.1 innings with Charleston. Opponents are hitting .188 against him. That’s called living up to the hype, but Gabe Encinas is not sitting quietly in the shadows. Drafted in 2010, Encinas hasn’t put up particularly impressive numbers until this season. Through six starts he has a 0.84 ERA while holding opponents to a .175 average. His 28 strikeouts aren’t as impressive as De Paula’s massive number of Ks, but Encinas’ 1.05 WHIP is lower than De Paula’s 1.21.
Adams photo from my great friends at the Scranton Times-Tribune; headshots of Almonte, Murphy, Refsnyder and Bird