Some notes and updates from the Arizona Fall League and various winter ball performances:
• Briefly mentioned this yesterday, but I’ll still start with it today: Bryan Mitchell is currently pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter League. As a guy who got his first extended look in the big leagues this season, Mitchell isn’t a typical winter ball player, but he makes sense as a guy who could use a few more innings after spending time in the big league bullpen and missing time with a couple of short-term injuries (the concussion in the minors; the line drive to the face in the majors). Mitchell made his first Puerto Rican start on Friday and went 3.2 innings with three strikeouts, one walk and two earned runs on four hits. Numbers don’t there probably won’t mean much. He’s definitely a guy who benefits just from getting on the mound a little bit.
• After playing nothing but first base in his first seven Arizona Fall League games, Tyler Austin has played the outfield corners his past three games. He’s also moved up to the cleanup spot for the past two games. He’s hitless in his past three games, including 0-for-3 with a walk this afternoon.
• Still leading the Arizona Fall League in home runs and RBI, Gary Sanchez came into today’s action hitting .365/.382/.808 with six homers and 17 RBI in 12 games. He’s had multiple hits in more than half of his games, and he’s homered in nearly half of them. He took a turn at designated hitter today and went 0-for-4.
• Speaking of corner outfielders, Jose Pirela continues to get all of his time in left field this winter. Taking his familiar spot in the Zulia lineup down in Venezuela, Pirela is hitting an absurd .475/.563/.700 through his first 40 at-bats. He’s the team’s regular No. 3 hitter. It’s not unusual to see Pirela put up big numbers in Venezuela, but it’s unusual to see him confined to the outfield. He usually moves around a lot. Interestingly, the guy getting most of the third base playing time for Zulia is former Yankees infielder David Adams, who’s hitting .307/.402/.533 (perhaps that’s one way to keep these numbers in perspective).
• On Sunday night, Ben Gamel hit his third winter ball home run. Through 56 at-bats in Venezuela, Gamel is hitting .268/.348/.500 while playing all three outfield positions and stealing a couple of bases. The Yankees have a little less than two weeks before they have to decide whether to protect Gamel from the Rule 5 draft.
• Two more hitless innings in the Arizona Fall League for young hard-throwing Domingo Acevedo on Monday. He’s gotten in four games in Arizona. Three of them were scoreless outings, five innings total. The other was a three-run appearance across an inning and a third. All told, he’s struck out five and walked one. He’s incredibly inexperienced compared to the hitters around him.
• Through three Fall League starts, Ian Clarkin‘s pitching lines are starting to look familiar. He’s gone four innings each time (well, 4.1 once), and he’s walked three in every start. He’s allowed three runs in two of his three starts (one run in other), he’s struck out two in two of his three starts (had four strikeouts last time out), and he’s allowed four hits in two of his three starts (seven hits in the other). His 5.11 ERA and 1.95 WHIP aren’t good, but this is a really young kid just getting some work in after a lost season.
• Picking up his third straight win last week, Jaron Long continues to thrive in his first taste of winter ball. He’s made four starts, and allowed four runs in one of them. In his other three: 16.2 innings, 15 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts. All told he has a 1.90 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP.
• Upper-level left-handed reliever Tyler Webb is trying to stay relevant with a bunch of other upper-level lefties in the Yankees’ system. He’s pitched well in the Fall League with four strikeouts, no walks and a 0.83 WHIP. Lefties are just 1-for-10 with two strikeouts against him. The only runs he’s allowed in Arizona came on a three-run homer in a two-inning appearance.
• Also in the Arizona Fall League: Still playing primarily second base, with two games at shortstop, Tyler Wade is hitting .194/.235/.258 through 31 at-bats. He’s struck out once in his past seven games, but he hasn’t hit much against a bunch of pitchers who are older than him. … Speaking of young guys in Arizona, Dustin Fowler is hitting .227/.261/.227 through 22 at-bats as a travel squad player. He’s split his time between left field and center field. He’s 4-for-4 stealing bases and has a couple of two-hit games. … Pitcher Chaz Hebert was just named to the Fall Stars Game. He has a 1.29 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP through seven innings, all of them in long relief. He’s basically been a piggyback starter behind Clarkin.
• Other position players: In Puerto Rico, Cito Culver has gotten a little bit of playing time, playing strictly third base so far. He has just six at-bats. … He was taken off the roster earlier this winter, but Rico Noel is up to his old tricks in Mexico. He’s hitting just .138, but he’s 5-for-6 stealing bases. He’s walked four times. … Not sure why, but Ali Castillo hasn’t played a game in Venezuela since October 15. He was a lineup regular last winter.
• Other pitchers: After a decent year in Double-A, Cesar Vargas has pitched to a 1.08 ERA with 12 strikeouts and no walks through 8.1 innings in Mexico. He’s allowed 11 hits, one of which was a homer. … Getting a few save opportunities in Venezuela, former high-end relief prospect Mark Montgomery has a 1.65 WHIP with five walks through 6.2 innings. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities, but he’s allowed quite a few base runners. Just hasn’t been the same in recent years. Had a shoulder issue which might explain it. … Off-the-radar young pitcher Luis Niebla continues to pitch well as a starter in Mexico. Through four starts he’s 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.
Associated Press photo
Yankees catching prospect Gary Sanchez has been named the Player of the Week in the Arizona Fall League.
In the press release announcing the award, the AFL listed Sanchez’s stats through two weeks, but those numbers don’t include Monday’s game when he homered yet again. Through eight games in Arizona, Sanchez has five home runs, 15 RBI and a .457 average. Last year, Greg Bird was named the Arizona Fall League MVP with six home runs and 21 RBI through 26 games.
Here’s the press release announcing Sanchez’s Player of the Week honors.
Through the Fall League’s first two weeks of play, the native of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic led the AFL in homers (4), hits (14), RBI (14) and total bases (28) and ranked fifth in batting (.467).
The 6-3, 230-pound catcher, who made his major-league debut as a Yankee on October 3 vs. Baltimore, split his 2015 season between Double-A Trenton (.262, 12 homers, 36 RBI in 58 games) and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (.295, 6 homers, 26 RBI in 35 games).
In his six-year professional career, he owns a .274 batting average with 89 homers and 378 RBI in 565 games.
Associated Press photo from the Futures Game
It’s still awfully early in the winter ball season. The Arizona Fall League is only four games deep, and the Dominican League just got started a few days ago. These sample sizes don’t mean much at this point, but here are a few quick updates from the Yankees’ prospects who are still playing somewhere.
• Top catching prospect Gary Sanchez is one of the early standouts in the Arizona Fall League. He’s played three games so far and hit two home runs. He’s 6-for-11 with two strikeouts and five RBI while regularly hitting cleanup. Both home runs came off right-handed pitchers. The second game he caught, his pitchers tossed a shutout. He’s back at catcher and back in the cleanup spot this afternoon.
• We’ll find out later whether Ben Gamel can turn his breakout season into a spot on the 40-man roster, but he’s already turned it into regular at-bats in the Venezuelan Winter League. Gamel is getting time at all three outfield positions this winter — mostly starting in center field — and through nine games he’s hitting .290/.368/.516 with a home run, four doubles, five walks and six strikeouts.
• As expected, Tyler Austin‘s early Arizona Fall League playing time has come at first base. He’s started at first for three of the Saguaros’ first five games. He’s 3-for-7 with a double, a walk and a strikeout. … Primarily a shortstop this season, Tyler Wade has played second base in his first three Fall League games including one this afternoon. He’s young for that league, but Wade’s gone 2-for-6 so far. … Also young for the Fall League, center fielder Dustin Folwer has gotten into just one game in Arizona and he went hitless with a sacrifice. He played left field.
• Back in Venezuela this winter, Ali Castillo — who was terrific there last year — is hitting .200 through his first four games split between shortstop and second base. His Aguilas team has Francisco Arcia and Juan Graterol splitting time at catcher.
• After struggling early in the season in Triple-A, Jaron Long pitched pretty well after he was sent back down to Double-A. Now he’s pitching in Venezuela with a 3.27 ERA through two starts. His first start was terrific: six scoreless innings with one hit. His second start wasn’t so good: five innings, four runs on seven hits.
• Hard-throwing young prospect Domingo Acevedo made his Arizona Fall League debut on Thursday and pitched two scoreless innings with two strikeouts. He allowed two hits to lefties, but right-handers went 0-for-5 against him.
• Kind of the opposite of Aceveda, upper-level lefty Tyler Webb made his Fall League debut on Wednesday and allowed three runs in two innings. All three runs came on a three-run homer by first-round pick D.J. Peterson who’s shown massive power in the past but didn’t have a particularly good year this season. Webb faced only one lefty and struck him out.
• Ian Clarkin is starting a Fall League game this afternoon. It’s his first official game of the year. We’re still waiting for Chaz Hebert to get in a game.
• Other than Long and the Fall League guys, the most recognizable Yankees’ pitching prospect currently playing winter ball is reliever Mark Montgomery, who’s gotten into six games in Venezuela. He allowed three runs in one of them, but he’s otherwise been outstanding with eight strikeouts in five innings. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities. His only walks came in that one game when he allowed the three runs. All of his other outings were scoreless.
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
Speaking to reporters at the Owners’ Meetings in Chicago on Wednesday, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said the decision to hold onto top prospects at the trade deadline was his own preference. He simply was not willing to give them up for a short-term rental.
“I just wasn’t going to do it,” Steinbrenner said, according to ESPN New York. “I don’t think we kind of had the glaring need that you would address by giving up one of your Triple-A prospects, especially not for a loaner. For a guy you’re going to have three months or so. It’s just not something we were going to consider.”
While it’s widely reported the Yankees were willing to give their top lower-level prospect, Jorge Mateo, in a possible deal for Craig Kimbrel, general manager Brian Cashman has acknowledged that starting pitcher Luis Severino, right fielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird — all three of whom were in Triple-A at the trade deadline — were untouchable.
The Yankees did part with relatively redundant upper-level prospect Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez, but they ultimately did not trade other valuable Triple-A prospects including Rob Refsnyder, Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott and Nick Goody. Young and emerging big leaguers Bryan Mitchell, Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren and John Ryan Murphy also stayed put.
“I didn’t want to give those kids up,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ve been looking at them for two, three years now. They’ve progressed perfectly. And they’re all sitting there in Scranton. Any one of them could contribute now if need be, and we’ve already seen that on Severino the last two starts.”
According to Ken Davidoff at the New York Post, Steinbrenner also mentioned future payroll as a factor in the team’s deadline decisions.
“I have always felt, still feel, that you don’t have to be in that position [the top spender] to win world championships,” he said. “Now that we’ve got all this young talent that’s very close, some of whom are here, I think it’s going to make it easier to do things with the payroll in years to come.”
Associated Press photo
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