The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Ten factors to determine the success or failure of Cashman’s winter02.09.15

Brian Cashman

When I put out the call for Pinch Hitters, I honestly didn’t expect to get one in defense of Brian Cashman. That said, I kind of like when these posts go against the typical public opinion, and this winter, a pro-Cashman blog post certainly qualifies.

Now that James Shields has landed in San Diego, we know the Yankees are not going to make a free agent signing any bigger than Chase Headley. They’re going to roll the dice in the rotation, lean heavily on the bullpen, and hope for bounce-back seasons from several veteran hitters.

As a general rule, I’m of the opinion that the Yankees needed to restrict spending this offseason to avoid some familiar pitfalls, so I mostly agree with Daniel’s morning post: I basically think Cashman did a fine job under the circumstances. There are plenty of questions in the rotation and the lineup, and the farm system seems a year away from making a major contribution, but the Yankees did manage to get younger without adding any huge-risk contracts.

I think it was a reasonable approach to the offseason, but it clearly comes with considerable risk. Whether it works in the short-term will depend on several touch-to-predict factors.

Here are 10 issues that may determine whether we look back at Cashman’s offseason as a real success or a total failure.

Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann1. Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow
Of all the health questions in the Yankees’ rotation, none is as significant as Tanaka’s torn elbow ligament. When the injury came to light last season, some of the top medical experts in the world recommended the Yankees postpone surgery and try to rehab the injury. The Yankees listened, followed that advice, and Tanaka returned to make a couple of late-season starts. The elbow, though, still looms as a ticking time bomb. Whether it was his decision or not — his evaluation or not — Cashman will most certainly take the heat if Tanaka’s elbow blows out between now and the postseason. If it holds up, the Yankees have their ace. If it doesn’t, Cashman will have missed out on the opportunity to acquire a ready replacement in Max Scherzer or Jon Lester.

2. Brian McCann’s bat
Last winter, there seemed to be near universal agreement that McCann was a natural fit for the Yankees. There were certainly those who wanted the team to stay away, but the Yankees have a long tradition of impact catchers, and McCann’s left-handed power and pitch-framing reputation made him an obvious target. Cashman gave him a five-year deal, despite the presence of John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez. Now the Yankees are committed, and McCann stands out as the one middle-of-the-order slugger who can’t blame injuries of last year’s diminished production. His bat remains a key piece of this lineup, both in the short term and the long term. If he doesn’t produce for a second straight season, McCann’s contract is going to look like an overwhelming problem going forward.

3. Stephen Drew’s return
A one-year, $5-million deal isn’t a make-or-break contract for the Yankees. In this case, though, it seems like an all-or-nothing decision for Cashman. If Drew struggles to another sub-.200 batting average, Cashman is going to look foolish for giving a second opportunity to a player who performed so poorly a year ago (especially when there were younger second basemen in place). If Drew bounces back to his 2013 level of production — providing a great glove and decent power for a middle infielder — Cashman will appear savvy, taking advantage of a buy-low opportunity (especially for a player who provides insurance at not only second base but also at shortstop).

Dellin Betances4. The ninth inning
Whoever takes the job, the Yankees need someone to effectively close the door in the ninth inning. It stands out as an especially sensitive issue because of the decision to let Dave Robertson sign with the White Sox for marginally more money than the Yankees gave Andrew Miller. Cashman has said the decision was based, at least partially, on the draft pick compensation tied to Robertson. A draft pick, though, is no sure thing, and right now the Yankees don’t have a single reliever with significant ninth-inning experience. Robertson was a known quantity. If Miller or Dellin Betances or whoever else can’t handle the closer role, Cashman will have neglected a job that the Yankees — after two decades of Mariano Rivera — should appreciate as much as anyone.

5. The fifth starter
Top-of-the-rotation concerns aside, one of the Yankees most pressing rotation issues is the apparent lack of depth. If healthy, the Yankees seem to have a perfectly good top four, but right now their fifth starter is Chris Capuano, with relievers Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers looking like the most immediate sixth starter candidates. Pitching prices got out of control this winter — four years for Brandon McCarthy, eight figures for Brett Anderson — but the Yankees certainly went into the offseason recognizing their need for rotation help. They acquired Nathan Eovaldi, but also gave up Shane Greene. Essentially, Cashman chose to roll the dice on the health of his in-place starters, the return of Ivan Nova, and the short-term ability of Capuano. A big contract would have been a big risk, but the alternative isn’t exactly risk-free.

6. Everything about Didi Gregorius
This was the choice at shortstop. With Derek Jeter retired, the Yankees were left with a glaring hole at a position once claimed by an icon. Cashman chose to make a trade for a 24-year-old kid who’s never proven he can be an everyday player in the big leagues. If Gregorius is a great defensive player (and others are able to provide some offense), the decision might look like a solid one. If Gregorius can actually hit beyond his Arizona numbers, the decision could look like a great one. But if Gregorius falls flat, the Yankees will have given up a young starting pitcher — one who might have solved some of those familiar rotation issues — for a guy who does nothing to solve an issue the Yankees had to see coming for several years.

Joe Girardi, Chase Headley7. Everything about third base
There was little Cashman could do this offseason about Alex Rodriguez. Unless ownership decided to simply cut ties, Cashman was stuck with a roster that included a 39-year-old coming off a year-long suspension after a series of injuries and several seasons of declining numbers. All Cashman could do was try to work around the Rodriguez issue. He did so by making his most expensive commitment of the winter: a four-year, $52-million deal with Chase Headley, a player with a history of back problems and only one season with more than 13 home runs. It was a fairly risky deal, but if Headley plays well — and doesn’t cause a stir with A-Rod — it will look like a reasonable reaction to a difficult situation. If Headley gets hurt or doesn’t produce, it will stir questions about the decision to give such a contract while trading away a guy like Martin Prado.

8. Three names: Judge, Bird, Severino
Rob Refsnyder and Jacob Lindgren might be the first chance to make the big league roster, but the perceived value of the Yankees farm system could hinge heavily on the continued development of Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Luis Severino. Those are the high-end, upper-level talents — or at least, those are the perceived high-end, upper-level talents — and those three are natural in-house solutions for the bad contracts that currently belong to Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia. Younger guys like Jorge Mateo and Luis Torrens might help eventually, but Cashman needs a minor league victory sooner than that. Get Judge, Bird and Severino to Triple-A this year — perhaps even to New York before the end of the year — and the Yankees will at least have a farm system that seems ready to provide immediate impact.

Manny Banuelos9. One other name: Manny Banuelos
Prospect success goes both ways for Cashman. If he’s going to get credit for the success of those he’s kept, he has to take the blame for those he’s traded away. Even without a single inning in the big leagues, Banuelos was pretty close to a household name as far as prospects go (at least among Yankees fans). He was kind of like Jesus Montero in that way. Fans were waiting for him and expecting big things, and Cashman traded him away. If Banuelos gets back on track with Atlanta and lives up to his potential, Cashman will have given up a young, much-anticipated young starter for a couple of relief pitchers. Even if David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve are great, that trade will look ugly if Banuelos is racking up wins in Atlanta.

10. Yoan Moncada’s free agency
This is a strange fit on this list for two reasons: 1. it will have absolutely no impact on the 2015 Yankees, and 2. it will probably have very little to do with Cashman himself. That said, if ownership is willing to pay a massive price to sign the market’s most coveted international free agent, Moncada could very well stand out as the Yankees most impressive signing of the offseason. It will show a willingness to spend big bucks, it will give the farm system a huge talent — and a big name — and every evaluation of the Yankees’ winter will have to include the fact that, while they passed on a guy like Scherzer, they went all in for Moncada. It will make very clear that Cashman came into this offseason with a plan to get younger and build for something long-term.

Associated Press photos

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Yankees youth movement is an ongoing process02.02.15

Refsnyder (Farmer)

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.

Murphy (2)CATCHER
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.

BirdFIRST BASE
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.

RefsnyderSECOND BASE
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.

GregoriusSHORTSTOP
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.

JagieloTHIRD BASE
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.

FloresLEFT FIELD
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.

HeathcottCENTER FIELD
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).

JudgeRIGHT FIELD
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.

TanakaROTATION
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.

BetancesBULLPEN
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

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Winter ball notes: Recapping the Yankees offseason standouts01.30.15

Jose Pirela

Kind of a pointless exercise — you could probably say that about 80 percent of offseason stories and blog posts — but it occurred to me last week that you could put together a pretty decent organizational all-star team based on the guys who played in winter ball this year. The pitching is thin, and there’s not really a standout behind the plate, but otherwise the Yankees had one pretty solid young player at almost every position.

Just because it’s a Friday, here’s an attempt at a starting lineup of guys who played in winter ball this year. Let’s consider this a kind of recap of the winter standouts.

Flores1. Ramon Flores CF
A lot of corner outfielders in the mix, so Flores shifts from left to center. He hit .347/.435/.505 in Venezuela and could be the first outfielder in line for a big league call-up this season. If he weren’t left-handed, he might have a better shot of making the team out of camp.

2. Jose Pirela 2B
Pulled from the Venezuelan playoffs because of a relatively minor hand injury, Pirela showed once again why he’s a candidate for a utility job with the Yankees. He hit .296/.394/.515 while playing second base, third base, left field and right field.

3. Aaron Judge RF
Probably the top offensive prospect in the Yankees system, Judge capped his professional debut by hitting .278/.377/.467 in the Arizona Fall League. That’s after he hit .308/.419/.486 during the regular season. Seems headed for Double-A. Question is, how quickly can he move up?

Bird4. Greg Bird 1B
Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League, Bird hit .313/.391/.556 and established himself as one of the top first-base prospects in the game. The converted catcher has always had an advanced approach at the plate, but this year the power seemed to really arrive.

5. Tyler Austin LF
Primarily a right fielder — with time at first base and third base — Austin started playing some left field in the Arizona Fall League, perhaps setting up the possibility of a big league bench role this season. His bat is still the key, and Austin hit .304/.392/.449 in Arizona.

6. Dante Bichette Jr. 3B
After a strong regular season, Bichette went to the Arizona Fall League and fell flat with a .260/.317/.274 slash line. That said, 2014 restored some of his prospect status as he seemed to make meaningful adjustments at the plate to hit .264/.345/.397 across two levels. That’s an OPS jump of basically 100 points better than the previous two years.

Garcia7. Adonis Garcia DH
His team lost in the Venezuelan championship series, but Gracia was key in simply getting them that far. He hit .313/.369/.468 as a regular in the middle of the order for Navegantes del Magallanes. After playing only the outfield corners in the winter ball regular season, he saw some time back at third base in the playoffs.

8. Ali Castillo SS
Not really considered much of a prospect, but in the Yankees’ thin system, Castillo might be the top upper-level shortstop (even if he’s more of a utility man). He hit .305/.346/.408 while playing all over the field in Venezuela this winter, but he might have to return to Double-A this season.

9. Francisco Arcia C
Despite all the catching depth in the minor league system, the Yankees didn’t have a big name behind the plate this winter. Kyle Higashioka got into just six games in the Arizona Fall League (hit .409/.480/.682 in those limited chances). Arcia was in Venezuela and hit just .184/.228/.218 through 87 at-bats. He hit a little better (.235/.316/.353) in the playoffs.

RogersStarting pitcher: Esmil Rogers
Certainly not a prospect at this point, but Rogers was pretty much the headliner among Yankees pitchers in winter ball. He had 18 strikeouts and just four walks through 11.1 innings in the Dominican Winter League (he worked strictly as a starter), then he got into the playoffs and pitched to a 3.55 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 28 strikeouts and six walks through five starts.

Left-handed reliever: Jose De Paula
Although he’s really a starter, De Paula’s quickest path the big leagues is probably as a reliever. Signed to a major-league deal this offseason, De Paula made just two appearances in the Dominican Winter League — both starts — with 10 strikeouts, one walk and one run through 10 innings.

Right-handed reliever: Kyle Haynes
The Yankees were position player heavy in their Arizona Fall League assignments. Branden Pinder was on the initial list and would have been the pitching standout, but he was replaced by Haynes, the hard-thrower acquired in last winter’s Chris Stewart trade. He had a 2.31 ERA in Arizona, but an ugly 1.63 WHIP.

Associated Press photo of Pirela

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Minor league notes and links: Fresh batch of Yankees prospect rankings01.27.15

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.

Luis Severino 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

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Wednesday notes and links: Robertson, De Paula, Bird11.12.14

A few notes and links from this third day of the GM Meetings in Phoenix:

Dave Robertson• Brian Cashman told reporters in Arizona that he met yesterday with Dave Robertson’s agent, Scott Leventhal. Earlier today, Andrew Marchand reported that Robertson is expected to look for a contract similar to the four-year, $50-million deal that Jonathan Papelbon signed three years ago. As the top closer on the market, it makes sense for Robertson to go looking for a deal that large, but I would be the surprised to see the Yankees give it to him.

• Much smaller pitching news came late this morning when the Yankees signed relatively anonymous lefty Jose De Paula to a major-league contract. Cashman confirmed today that De Paula has an option remaining — so he could be Triple-A depth — and that the Yankees believe he could be a rotation option. De Paula’s minor league splits do not suggest he’s a strong lefty specialist out of the bullpen, but I guess you never know.

• Yankees first base prospect Greg Bird made Jonathan Mayo’s list of the eight players whose prospect stock — and prospect attention — got a boost in the Arizona Fall League this year. The Fall League schedule wraps up tomorrow. Bird is a candidate for the league’s MVP award.

• Interesting story from Bob Nightengale in USA Today taking a look at the sometimes confusing job titles filling baseball front offices these days. The Braves technically don’t have a general manager, while the A’s basically have two, neither of whom is really running the show.

• Writing for the New York Times, Tyler Kepner takes a look at a new MLB website called Pitch Smart that’s trying to help young pitchers stay healthy. Pretty great idea by Major League Baseball, and as the media game ace for Team New York, Tyler’s the perfect guy to write about it.

Associated Press photo

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Winter ball notes: Flores earning more playing time11.07.14

Ramon Flores

Ramon Flores continues to get more winter ball at-bats than ever before, and he’s making the most of them.

Moved regularly into the No. 2 spot in the order, Flores has 13 hits in his past five games for the Tigres de Aragua in Venezuela. He had three straight two-hit games, then he went 6-for-6 with a double on Wednesday. He has yet to steal a base, he hasn’t hit for a ton of power, but Flores has taken some walks and he’s struck out just nine times in 17 games. He’s hitting .411/.468/.518 through 56 at-bats.

Still just 22 years old, Flores has a spot on the Yankees 40-man roster, and he was hitting pretty well in Triple-A before a June 1 ankle injury cost him most of the second half. He’s mostly a left fielder — that’s where he’s playing regularly this winter — but he can play center, and he has some experience in right field and at first base.

Could be a legitimate bench option coming out of spring training. It’s worth noting, though, that Flores is left-handed and the right-handed fourth outfielder might be a better fit.

A few other notes from winter ball:

Pirela• Well, it seems Jose Pirela isn’t going to hit three home runs every week this winter (he did that in his first week in Venezuela). On Sunday, though, he did go 3-for-4 with a triple. Pirela already has three triples and three homers through his first 10 games this winter. He took an 0-for-6 on Thursday, but he’s still hitting .317/.364/.707 through 41 at-bats. He’s played mostly left field with starts at second base, third base and right field.

• One of Pirela’s winter teammates is utility man Ali Castillo, who’s having a terrific winter as the Aguilas leadoff hitter. Castillo is hitting .348/.378/.478 with nine stolen bases. He was playing shortstop until Freddy Galvis arrived, and now he’s basically playing left field or second base (whichever Pirela isn’t playing on a given day). Not really considered much of a prospect, but the Yankees don’t exactly have a ton of guys who can play shortstop in the upper levels.

• Not everyone is raking in Venezuela. On Thursday Adonis Garcia was dropped to sixth in the order for Navegantes del Magallanes. He put up impressive winter league numbers last year, but this year his power has been nowhere to be found. He’s hitting .272/.314/.296, with his only extra-base hits being a couple of doubles. I’d still say he has a chance to make an impression in spring training, just hasn’t done much this winter.

PerezEury Perez, the guy acquired at the very end of the year, is still playing a lot of left field and batting leadoff in the Dominican Republic. He has just seven games 31 at-bats so far. He has yet to take a walk and he’s 0-for-2 in stolen base attempts — speed is a pretty big part of his game — but he’s also played in just seven games and has just 31 at-bats. The Dominican Winter League started a little later than the Venezuelan Winter League.

• Down in the Arizona Fall League, Dante Bichette Jr. has gotten his bat going a little bit. He has four hits and five RBI in his past three games, and one Wednesday he got his first Fall League extra-base hit (a double). He’s hitting .256/.328/.276, which pales in comparison to the other Yankees position players sent to Arizona this year.

• Speaking of those other Yankees hitters in Arizona, after winning Fall Stars Game MVP over the weekend, Greg Bird promptly had another 2-for-4 game on Monday, then he took two walks on Wednesday. He’s hitting .341/.404/.610 through 67 at-bats. … Aaron Judge hasn’t had an extra-base hit since his two-homer game last Thursday — he’s only had 15 at-bats since then — but his Arizona slash line is still an impressive .284/.395/.507 with nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (14). … Riding a mild four-game hitting streak, Tyler Austin is hitting .318/.392/.470 in the Fall League. He’s still seeing time in both outfield corners. Has yet to play either first base or third base.

Smith, Alex• I’ve said this before, but it remains true: It seems that every year the Yankees have one pitcher who gets absolutely rocked in the Arizona Fall League. This year, it’s Alex Smith. In an offense-heavy league, Smith was roughed up for two more runs on Wednesday and his ERA is up to 9.72 with a 3.12 WHIP through eight appearances. … The other two Yankees pitchers in Arizona, Kyle Haynes and Caleb Cotham, each pitched one hitless inning this week. Cotham has 12 strikeouts and only two walks this Fall, but he also has a 5.56 ERA. Haynes has a 1.86 ERA, but he also has seven walks and four unearned runs in 9.2 innings.

• Recently re-signed minor league reliever Diego Moreno had four saves in his first five appearances this winter, but he’s now allowed eight hits and four earned runs in his past 2.2 innings spread across his past three outings. Really aren’t many Yankees pitchers getting many innings so far this winter.

Associated Press photo of Flores; headshots of Pirela, Perez and Smith

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Yankees prospect Bird wins Fall Stars Game MVP11.03.14

BirdIn case you missed it over the weekend, Yankees first baseman Greg Bird was named the MVP of the Fall Stars Game on Saturday.

In case you missed it the past month or so, this is just the latest highlight of Bird’s eye-opening stint in the Arizona Fall League.

“I think the right attitude is to look for your pitch. If you don’t get it, take your walks,” Bird told Jonathan Mayo at MLB.com. “I think in the past, I was a little more passive in those count-related situations. I’ve tried to be more aggressive for my pitch early in at-bats and let the walks come more, rather than, ‘Maybe I’ll walk, maybe I’ll hit.’ It’s been good out here.”

Bird wasn’t on the original list of Fall League selections, but he wound up starting at first base and batting cleanup. He delivered a fairly typical game: One strikeout, one walk and one home run. That’s not to say Bird can’t hit for average — he’s a career .283 hitter in the minors — but he’s touted for his patience at the plate, it’s recognized that he strikes out a decent amount, and most recently he’s shown a ton of raw power. Bird homered seven times in a brief 27-game stint with Trenton at the end of this season, and now he leads the Fall League in homers.

His home run on Saturday was a monster. That MLB.com link about has a video, and it’s impressive. Deep center field. Third tier of a terraced batter’s eye. Jim Callis estimated at least 450 feet and wrote that it’s the longest homer in the Fall Stars Game’s nine-year history. Perhaps just as significant is the fact both Callis and John Manuel noted that Bird worked the count, fouled off pitches and put together a strong at-bat before teeing off on the monster home run.

As a first baseman, Bird’s going to have to hit, and right now he’s doing that in a big way.

By the way, two other recognizable names from the Fall Stars Game: Former Yankees prospect Peter O’Brien started at catcher and current Yankees prospect Aaron Judge played right field off the bench. Both went 0-for-2. Judge struck out once.

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Winter league notes: Pirela off to a strong start in Venezuela10.31.14

Jose Pirela

Before the end of the regular season, Jose Pirela put up impressive numbers in Triple-A, landed a spot on the 40-man roster, and got his first big league call-up. He undoubtedly emerged as a serious candidate for some sort of big league role next season, and he’s spent the past week further making his case with a terrific first few games of winter ball.

Pirela stepped into the heart of the Aguilas del Zulia lineup last Friday, and in six games he’s hit .391/.440/1.000 with three home runs, two triples, and seven RBI. Oh, and he’s already started at four different positions: second base, third base, left field and right field.

Good winter numbers are nothing new for Pirela. Just last year he hit .332/.415/.514 while playing second base and left field in Venezuela.

If the Yankees don’t add an impact infielder this offseason, Pirela could come to spring training with a chance to win the second base job next season. If nothing else, though, his bat and versatility could make him a prime candidate for a bench job.

A few other notes from the offseason leagues.

Austin• Two weeks ago, Tyler Austin was hitting .259/.355/.333 and still waiting for his first Arizona Fall League home run. Not a ton of at-bats, but also not an overwhelming start in an offense-heavy league. Since then, Austin’s gotten on a roll. In a span of eight games, Austin has raised his Arizona slash line to .322/.394/.492. He has two homers, two doubles and eight RBI during this latest hot streak. He’s had three hits in each of his past two games. Austin also continues to get time in both right field and left field — still no time at first base or third base — which seems at least mildly significant. He hadn’t played left field in the minors, so it’s helpful to get at least some familiarity on that side.

• The hitting streak is over. Greg Bird finally took an 0-for-3 on Wednesday — he did take a walk, so he was at least on base — marking the first time he failed to get a hit in the Fall League. How did he respond? By going 2-for-2 with a pair of walks the very next day. Making a bid for the league’s MVP award, Bird is hitting .347/.400/.653 with six homers through 72 at-bats. He had a 16-game hitting streak before Wednesday’s 0-for.

• Not to be outdone, the Yankees biggest name assigned to the Fall League is also on a roll. Aaron Judge hit two home runs yesterday, he also homered on Saturday, and his Arizona slash line is up to .288/.387/.577 with nearly as many walks (9) as strikeouts (10). He continues to get all of his time in right field. Safe to say this guy is not being groomed for a potential bench role.

Flores• One other guy who could be a bench candidate, though, is left-handed outfielder Ramon Flores, who continues to get the most playing time he’s ever seen in winter ball. Playing down in Venezuela, Flores isn’t necessarily playing every day, but he’s playing pretty regularly, and he’s hitting .303/.395/.394 through 33 at-bats while getting most of his time in left field. Flores got just six winter at-bats last year, only 13 the year before, and none before that. Now that he’s older and more advanced, he’s getting to play.

• Late-season addition Eury Perez just got started down in the Dominican Winter League on Tuesday. He’s played in just two games, but he hit leadoff and started in left field for each of them. He’s gotten fairly regular playing time for that team in the past (one of his winter teammates is former Yankees prospect Melky Mesa). Perez has a hit in each of his two games so far.

• Not sure this makes him a legitimate big league roster candidate going forward, but shortstop Ali Castillo is putting up huge numbers so far this winter. Castillo’s been hitting leadoff for Pirela’s team, and he’s hitting .391/.411/.536 through 69 at-bats. He was playing shortstop every day, but he’s moved around to second base and left field ever since Freddy Galvis joined the team a little more than a week ago. Castillo was the regular shortstop in Trenton this year and hit .254/.318/.327. Another smaller name putting up big numbers in Venezuela: catcher Jose Gil is hitting .345/.387/.586 while getting pretty regular playing time.

Higashioka• A few offensive quick hits: Dante Bichette Jr. is still looking for his first extra-base hit in Arizona. He’s hitting .239/.321/.239 with 12 strikeouts and six walks. … Kyle Higashioka is still getting very little playing time in the Fall League, but he’s had a hit in all four of his appearances. On Wednesday, Scottsdale had Judge, Bird, Higashioka, Austin and Bichette all hitting together in order 3 through 7. Kinda cool. … Still playing left field and batting in the heart of the order every day in Venezuela, Adonis Garcia is hitting .300/.338/.329 while waiting for his power to show up.

• Not a ton of Yankees pitching that catches the eye this winter. Down the Fall League, Caleb Cotham hasn’t walked a batter in his past 7.1 innings, but opponents are still hitting .318 against him. … Also in Arizona, Kyle Haynes has more than four ground ball outs for every one out in the air. Quite a few walks, though. … The third Yankees pitcher assigned to the Fall League, Alex Smith, finally had a scoreless outing on Monday. He’s allowed at least one run in each of his other five appearances.

• Recently re-signed reliever Diego Moreno gave up a two-run home run in the ninth inning in Venezuela on Monday. He’d allowed a run in only one of his first seven outings before that. Also recently re-signed, Joel De La Cruz has allowed two unearned runs in his two appearances in the Dominican Republic. He’s struck out six and allowed four hits in 4.2 innings.

Associated Press photo

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Yankees prospect list shows emergence of young talent10.31.14

Gary Sanchez, Antoan Richardson

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.

Severino1. 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.

Judge2. 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.

Bird4. 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.

Sanchez5. 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.

Clarkin6. 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.

Refsnyder7. 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?

MiLB: July 27 - Fort Myers Miracle at Tampa Yankees (LoMoglio)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.

Torrens9. 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.

Andujar10. 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

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Notes from winter ball: Bird on a roll in Arizona10.23.14

JudgeEarlier this week, Jim Callis wrote quite a bit about the Yankees currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. He understandably focused on breakout right field prospect Aaron Judge, noting that Judge is wrapping up the longest stretch of baseball he’s ever experienced.

Pro ball often forces a young player into a longer and more rigorous schedule than he’s used to, but Judge’s adjustment was delayed because of last year’s quadriceps injury.

“After you get drafted, you just want to show people who you are,” Judge told Callis. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise, though. I met a lot of great big leaguers while I was down in Tampa rehabbing. It kind of helped me with the mental side of baseball. Everyone’s going to have ups and downs, and just trying to stay even keel through that whole process is a huge part of it.”

Check out the Callis story. It has some basic scouting details on all of the Yankees players down in the Fall League.

A few other notes from winter leagues:

Bird• The Yankees top first base prospect, Greg Bird, has played in 12 games in the Fall League, and he has a hit in every one of them. Four of those hits have been home runs. It’s an offense-heavy league, but a .333/.382/.627 is awfully good. The guy can hit. It’s not reflected in the numbers here, but Bird doubled in his first at-bat today, so make that a 13-game hitting streak.

• After getting time at right field, first base and third base in the minor leagues, Tyler Austin is getting some time in left field while on assignment in the Arizona Fall League. In fact, he’s playing left field again tonight (while Judge plays right). It will be his fourth turn in left field, which can’t be a bad thing for a guy who could earn some sort of big league role next season, possibly as a corner bench player. Austin’s had two hits and and two RBI in two of his past four games. Hasn’t shown much power so far, but after 36 at-bats his slash line is a not-bad .278/.366/.361.

• Interesting for Yankees fans that the Scottsdale team has often gone with Yankees prospects in the 2, 3 and 4 spots in the lineup — Austin, Judge, then Bird as the cleanup hitter. Judge has been in the No. 3 spot for each of his starts down in Arizona. He’s hitting .276/.313/.448 with eight RBI in seven games.

Bichette• Off to a slow start in Arizona, Dante Bichette Jr. has now reached base seven times in his past four games, which has helped his slash line. He’s still hitting just .226/.306/.226. Only 31 at-bats, though. In his MLB.com piece, Callis notes that Bichette might eventually end up as a DH. The bat is his ticket to the big leagues. Needs the power that he showed his first season of pro ball.

• As expected, catcher Kyle Higashioka is only getting occasional playing time down in Arizona (he’s part of the roster that’s only occasionally active) but he’s making the most of it so far. Through two games, Higashioka has five hits, a home run and a stolen base. The Yankees have long liked his defensive ability, but he’s never shown much offense at all in the lower minors.

• The group picked by the Yankees for the Fall League is heavy on position players, and the pitchers sent to Arizona remain somewhat underwhelming statistically. Alex Smith has allowed at least one earned run in each of his five outings and currently has an 11.81 ERA with more walks (6) than strikeouts (4). … Caleb Cotham has 10 strikeouts and just two walks through seven innings. He also has a 7.71 ERA. Last time he pitched was Monday when Cotham allowed six hits and three earned runs through two innings. … Kyle Haynes hasn’t pitched since Saturday. Through 5.2 innings, he has yet to be charged with an earned run, but he’s allowed three unearned. Has a solid 1.24 WHIP. Tiny sample size, of course.

Moreno• Looking for more encouraging pitching numbers? Reliever Diego Moreno, who had some solid moments with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, has pitched well as a closer in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities, and he’s allowed just two hits through 5.1 innings. He recently re-signed a minor league deal to return to the Yankees system.

• Also down in Venezuela, Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia continues to be the regular left fielder and usual No. 3 or 4 hitter for Navegantes del Magallanes. He’s hit for a strong average and stolen a couple of bases, but Garcia’s still waiting for the winter power to show up. He’s hitting .283/.313/.304. Last winter he hit .325/.347/.502 in Venezuela.

• After getting just six winter at-bats last year, and 13 at-bats the year before, young outfielder Ramon Flores continues to get fairly regular playing time this winter. Two weeks into the Venezuelan season, Flores has played in seven games and hit .333/.429/.500 through 18 at-bats. If he weren’t left-handed, Flores might be an even stronger candidate for the Yankees bench next season. As it is, some winter playing time couldn’t hurt after missing so much time this season with an ankle injury.

• Notable at least partially because of the Yankees total lack of standout shortstop prospects in the upper levels, utility type Ali Castillo continues to hit in Venezuela. He’s playing shortstop everyday — he was the regular shortstop for Trenton this year — and he’s hitting .395/.429/.447 through 38 at-bats in 10 games. He’s also stolen five bases in seven attempts. He’s been hitting leadoff. The same winter ball team used Castillo all over the infield and hit him ninth last year.

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