The LoHud Yankees Blog

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


Yankees postgame: Hughes or Huff?09.02.13

David HuffPhil Hughes had bad luck in this game. The hour and 53 minute rain delay took him out of the game after just four outs and five batters. The Yankees erupted for a season-high eight runs in a single inning, the fourth. That could have been Hughes’ property. Instead the runs belonged to David Huff.

The lefty picked up the ball for Hughes and earned the 9-1 win over the White Sox. He worked  5 2/3, a career high in relief, and allowed one run, five hits and no walks.

Afterward, Joe Girardi was noncommittal about whether there will be a change from Hughes to Huff for Saturday’s game against the Red Sox.

“I haven’t made any decisions about changing the rotation,” Girardi said.

Huff, who has allowed one run in 15 innings over five outings since coming back from Triple-A, is ready for anything.

“When I first got here, Joe was saying, ‘We’re going to be using you.’ I said, ‘OK,’ ” Huff said. “A few innings, whatever he needs, I’ll make sure I’m ready for it.”

Hiroki Kuroda will get the ball Tuesday night. He has appeared to be wearing down, going 1-4 with a 5.12 ERA over his last five starts.

“We need him to pitch well because he has been a staple in our rotation,” Girardi said. “He’s been struggling a little bit. … He got an extra day off. Maybe that will help him get going again.”

Both Cesar Cabral and J.R. Murphy made their major-league debuts, giving the Yankees a franchise-record 52 players used this season. Cabral pitched a scoreless eighth. And Murphy got a pinch-hit infield single batting for Robinson Cano in the eighth.

“I didn’t know who I was hitting for until they announced it, so that was pretty cool,” Murphy said. “After that, I just wanted to have a good at-bat. I was nervous, so I made sure I took the first pitch instead of swinging at it.”

Brett Gardner doubled twice, so six of his last eight hits have been doubles.

Associated Press photo.

Posted by: Brian Heyman - Posted in Miscwith 173 Comments →

Minor league notes: Adams gets first start at first05.06.13

Adams

Here’s an interesting lineup note: Tonight’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre infield has Ronnier Mustelier at third, Corban Joseph at second and David Adams at first.

We’ve already seen the Yankees send Joseph to first base a few times this season. Now Adams is getting a turn, and as far as I can tell, it’s his first time ever playing the position.

As for what to read into that…

Given the current first base situation in New York, where Lyle Overbay has no real backup, it makes sense to have two pretty solid utility-types learn the position. But it’s also worth noting, that while Joseph and Adams are pretty good offensive infielders, neither one stands out as a first-base type bat. Learning first base in order to play it in a pinch makes sense, but it’s hard to imagine either one being truly converted to the position.

Another thing to consider is that it makes sense to use first base almost like a second DH. The Yankees want to give Adams some time at second base, and when that happens, they can keep Joseph in the lineup by playing him at first. They also want to give Mustelier some time at third, and when that happens, they can move Adams to first. First base could be little more than a way for these guys to get at-bats.

More playing time, with a little extra defensive flexibility? Why not?

Almonte• This morning, Zoilo Almonte was named International League Player of the Week. He had a hit in all eight RailRiders games, batting .355 with two home runs and a league-best seven RBI. His season slash line is pretty terrific — .293/.393/.455 — but the problem with Almonte, from the Yankees perspective, is that he’s a switch hitter who’s much better from the left side. He’s hitting .299/.400/.494 against righties, but .273/.370/.318 against lefties. He has 10 extra-base hits this season, only one of them against a left-hander. The Yankees would have far more use for Almonte from the right side.

Chien-Ming Wang is making another Triple-A start tonight. Wang’s numbers are terrific — 0.95 ERA through three starts — but Brian Cashman said last week that the Yankees want Wang to be more effective with his offspeed stuff. He still has the sinker, but it doesn’t have the same velocity that he had when he was a 19-game winner. The Yankees believe he’ll need to use his secondary stuff to have success with the current fastball.

• If this Eduardo Nunez rib cage injury is a real issue that requires a DL stint, who would the Yankees bring up? Gil Velazquez is a steady veteran, but he’s hitting .197 with no extra-base hits in Triple-A. Addison Maruszak is less proven defensively, but he has a .390 Triple-A on-base percentage and can play basically any position except pitcher. The bigger issue might be this: There’s not another shortstop on the 40-man roster. If the Yankees had to make a call-up, it might make more sense to recall Joseph and simply consider Chris Nelson the emergency shortstop for a couple of weeks.

• This really has little impact on the big league roster, but it seems like a real issue for the Triple-A team: Cody Johnson, Dan Johnson and Luke Murton have combined for three home runs for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dan Johnson has always raked at that level, and both Murton and Cody Johnson have — at the very least — shown legitimate power in Double-A. I have to imagine that the Yankees expected their Triple-A roster to get a power boost from at least one of those three.

Murphy• Down in Double-A, Slade Heathcott is hitting just .198/.276/.291, Tyler Austin is slugging just .394 — granted, his on-base percentage is also .394 — and Ramon Flores recently hit a cold spell that’s dropped his batting average from .333 to .263 in a span of two weeks. So who’s the prospect standout in Trenton? It has to be catcher J.R. Murphy who’s hitting .309/.408/.543 with more walks than strikeouts.

• It’s worth noting that Rob Segedin was also putting up terrific Double-A numbers — .338/.390/.606 with 10 doubles — before landing on the disabled list with a hip injury. The down side: He’d also made nine errors at third base, the most errors of anyone in the system.

• After making a huge impression in spring training, Jose Ramirez was kept back in extended spring for a few weeks before finally making his regular season debut with four scoreless innings on April 26. He then pitched five innings with one hit and one unearned run on Wednesday. He’s scheduled to make his third appearance tomorrow. So far, he has 12 strikeouts and two walks through nine innings.

Francisco Rondon as a starter this season: 7.16 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 22 strikeouts and 17 walks through 27.2 innings. Wonder how long this experiment will continue if the numbers don’t improve drastically.

Refsnyder• Most eye-opening offensive stats in the Yankees organization? Has to be Rob Refsnyder. An NCAA standout at Arizona, Refsnyder is moving from the outfield back to second base — where he played in high school and, I believe, early in college — and his 11 errors show that there’s a bit of a learning curve. But the bat… my goodness. Refsnyder has already been promoted from Low-A to High-A, and between the two stops he’s hitting a combined .374/.486/.504 with more walks than strikeouts and 12 stolen bases without being caught. His numbers have actually been better since the promotion. He’s played 16 High-A games, and he’s had multiple hits in eight of them. Crazy.

• Yonkers native Dan Fiorito — signed last year out of Manhattanville after impressing the Yankees during a workout for non-drafted players — was sent to Tampa on April 22 to help out at shortstop. He’s basically become the everyday guy hitting .400/.478/.425 through 40 at-bats. He’s not a name on the prospect radar, but because of where he’s from I know him a little and was actually paying attention to him every time I was at the minor league complex this spring. He really, really stood out as a guy who seemed willing and able to lead. Heard him talking to teammates a lot between innings. A lot of “Let’s go, we can do this” kind of stuff. It stood out considering it was coming from a guy who’d never been in spring training and didn’t have the draft pedigree of most of the guys around him. Not saying he’s a future Jeter, just something that caught my attention.

• Back-to-back two-hit games by Gary Sanchez and his slash line is back up to .269/.355/.472 with five home runs, most of anyone in the system.

• Big strikeout numbers from Tampa starters Corey Black (36 in 30.2 innings), Mikey O’Brien (34 in 26.2 innings) and Shane Greene (33 in 36.1 innings) but the Tampa starter with the lowest ERA and lost opponents batting average is Bryan Mitchell with a 3.06 ERA and .235 opponents average. His down side has been the 18 walks. Lowest WHIP in that Tampa rotation belongs to the other starter, Scottie Allen, at 1.19. Pretty decent young arms in that group.

Bird• We head all the way down to Charleston to find the organizational leader in walks. Low-A first baseman Greg Bird has 25 walks, good for a .425 on-base percentage. He slugged .494 in limited at-bats last season, but that power hasn’t shown up so far this season (only a .364 slugging percentage with one homer) but obviously the approach is encouraging for a 20-year-old.

• Less encouraging are the numbers for Low-A third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., who’s still trying to recapture his standout 2011 results. Sent to Charleston for a second season, Bichette is hitting just .186/.246/.265 with two homers, seven walks and 33 strikeouts. Speaking of repeating Low-A, shortstop Cito Culver has always been a glove-first player, but his .212/.305/.354 slash line is basically the same as last season except with a more power (Culver hit two homers last year, he’s already hit three this year).

• Want more good news in the Charleston lineup? Catcher Peter O’Brien has seven hits in his past three games and is hitting .313/.348/.563 for the year. He played in 21 games and has more than one hit in nine of them. He’s thrown out just over 25 percent of base stealers, which ranks him near the bottom of the South Atlantic League.

• Welcome to the U.S., Rafael De Paula. I was beginning to think he was more myth than man, but he’s finally pitching in the states and has an unreal 46 strikeouts through 27.1 innings with Charleston. Opponents are hitting .188 against him. That’s called living up to the hype, but Gabe Encinas is not sitting quietly in the shadows. Drafted in 2010, Encinas hasn’t put up particularly impressive numbers until this season. Through six starts he has a 0.84 ERA while holding opponents to a .175 average. His 28 strikeouts aren’t as impressive as De Paula’s massive number of Ks, but Encinas’ 1.05 WHIP is lower than De Paula’s 1.21.

Adams photo from my great friends at the Scranton Times-Tribune; headshots of Almonte, Murphy, Refsnyder and Bird

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 163 Comments →

Best case, worst case: Catcher01.28.13

This should be fun…

Best case scenario
The path is finally clear
The situation really needs no introduction. Jesus Montero is gone (you already knew that), Russell Martin is also gone (you knew that too), and the most proven catchers in the Yankees organization are a trio of long-time backups looking for an opportunity to finally get regular playing time (that too has been discussed a few times). There’s very little about the Yankees immediate catching situation that inspires confidence, but it certainly creates opportunity, and the best-case scenario is that Austin Romine takes that opportunity and runs with it.

Sure, there’s something to be said for one of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart or Bobby Wilson proving the doubters wrong — it’s certainly a good scenario to have one of those three have an impact with the glove and hit a little better than expected — but the absolute best-case scenario is Romine establishing himself. Because he was overshadowed for so long, it’s easy to forget that Romine was a second-round pick who, before last year’s back injury, was considered one of the better catching prospects in the game. Two years ago, MLB.com ranked him ahead of Travis d’Arnaud. A healthy Romine — with a steady bat and a glove that lives up to recent Yankees hype — could be a young, cheap solution for this year and the immediate future.

And if we’re talking best-case scenario’s, Romine will have to take advantage of this window, because the Yankees highest hopes don’t leave much time before Gary Sanchez is ready. Still very much a work in progress, Sanchez’s bat has plenty of believers, but if he can show some maturity in the clubhouse and improvement behind the plate, he just might push himself among the very best prospects in the game. A good year at Double-A will suggest that Sanchez is transitioning from potential to performance, and it could put him on track to have a big league impact as early as the second half of 2014. Add in some Double-A improvement from J.R. Murphy, and the Yankees days of a glove-only catcher could be limited to this offseason only.

Worst-case scenario
Where have you gone Chad Moeller?
Stewart is a career .217/.281/.302 hitter in the big leagues. Cervelli hit .246/.341/.316 in Triple-A last season. Wilson has never started more than 58 games in a major league season. The worst-case scenario behind the plate is just as obvious as the opportunity that it provides: If no one steps up, the Yankees could have an offensive black hole at the position. Defensively, the in-house options provide at least some sense of stability – even in a worst-case scenario, the Yankees should be able to catch and throw behind the plate – but the low side of offensive possibilities is awfully low.

As for a prospect to fill the gap and provide a bat, the immediate option is Romine, with some outside chance of Murphy putting himself into the picture in the second half. But Romine’s back problems kept him sidelined almost all of last year, and back problems have a tendency to linger. If that injury lingers, and if Murphy fails to live up to his offensive potential – which is his prospect calling card – then the Yankees will have no catching prospects within two years of being big league ready.

Sanchez could push to be in New York within two years, but that’s a best-case scenario involving improvements behind the plate and continued development at the plate. In a worst-case scenario, Sanchez creates more doubt and less optimism about his ability to stick at catcher, which would be a significant blow to his prospect status and leave the organization in needing to commit resources – either on the free agent market or via trade – to find a catcher who can handle the job for the next several years.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 127 Comments →

Pregame notes: Nunez anxious to get back03.11.12

Eduardo Nunez looked like a man ready to hit. He was standing at his locker with a bat in his hand, but that’s as close as he’ll get to batting practice. He joked that he keeps his bat with him just so the bat will know he still loves it and hasn’t abandoned it.

“I want to play,” Nunez said. “I’m excited to play. I want to show I’m ready to go, (but) I don’t want to rush anything. I don’t want to play two, three games and go back again to the DL.”

Nunez’s sore right hand feels better than it did six days ago, but it’s still tender. He tried to take batting practice yesterday and had to shut it down. Nunez said a doctor is coming to the field to re-examine him today, but tests have already shown nothing serious. He was hit by a pitch on Monday, and it’s just taking longer than expected for the soreness to go away.

“That’s weird because everything says negative,” Nunez said. “The doctors say I’m fine, but it still hurts a lot, and the doctor is coming back today to see me… It feels better, but it’s coming slow.”

Nunez admitted feeling a little bit worried, but mostly he just seems anxious. He worked out a lot this winter with Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols. He looks stronger, said he feels faster, and he wants to show that he’s a better player than he was a year ago. Right now, though, he’s just waiting. And keeping his bat company.

• Pretty thin clubhouse today. The guys who are traveling to Fort Myers were already gone by the time the clubhouse opened. Joe Girardi is making the trip and Tony Pena will manage the game at home.

• Dave Robertson walked into the clubhouse with no crutches this morning. His right foot is still in a walking boot, but he was moving pretty easily. This is supposed to be his last day in the boot.

• George Kontos threw another bullpen today and threw a few pitches with Larry Rothschild standing in the batters box like a hitter. Kontos will throw batting practice on Tuesday and could get into a game after that. He’s been out with an oblique injury.

• Today’s other sides: Manny Banuelos, D.J. Mitchell and Freddy Garcia.

• Tomorrow’s sides: Brad Meyers, Matt Daley, Joba Chamberlain, Brett Marshall and David Phelps.

• J.R. Murphy will play third base off the bench in the road game against the Twins. He’s played that position in the past but this will be his first time in big league camp. With Jose Gil playing first base in the home game and Gary Sanchez DHing in the road game, a total of seven Yankees catchers will play in some capacity today. That’s not counting Ryan Baker and Jeff Farnham, a pair of minor league catchers called up to help catch bullpens today.

• Several minor league guys were called up to play off the bench today. Most of them went on the road to play against the Twins.

HOME
vs. Phillies

• Available pitchers: CC Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, Cory Wade, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada, Chase Whitley, Kevin Whelan, Michael O’Connor and Craig Heyer.

• Second string: C Gustavo Molina, 1B Jose Gil, 2B David Adams, SS Doug Bernier, 3B Kevin Russo, LF Cole Garner, CF Justin Maxwell, RF Austin Krum, DH Colin Curtis

• Extra players on the bench: C Mitch Abeita, UT Addison Maruszak, UT Ronnier Mustelier, OF Abe Almonte

ROAD
at Twins

• Available pitchers: Phil Hughes, Adam Warren, Graham Stoneburner, Adam Miller, Juan Cedeno, Cesar Cabral, Ryan Pope, Josh Romanski and Ryan Flannery

• Second string: C. Kyle Higashioka, 1B Luke Murton, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Walter Ibarra, 3B J.R. Murphy, LF Zoilo Almonte, CF Melky Mesa, RF Ray Kruml, DH Gary Sanchez

• Extra players off the bench: INF Jose Pirela and OF Dan Brewer. The Yankees aren’t carrying any additional catchers on the road, but Higashioka, Murphy and Sanchez give them plenty of depth there for the day.

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 80 Comments →

Pregame notes: Robertson optimistic while awaiting results03.09.12

Joe Girardi said yesterday that there was a “cause for concern” in yesterday’s MRI on Dave Robertson’s injured foot. This morning, Robertson himself painted a much more optimistic picture.

“The first MRI, they said there wasn’t really anything really wrong,” Robertson said. “Just had some questionable things and they just wanted to make sure. They said it looked fine, but let’s just go ahead and check it out again and make sure nothing’s wrong.”

Robertson went back to the hospital for a second round of tests, and he’s still awaiting those results. Today he shuffled into the clubhouse wearing a walking boot and using crutches. The crutches seemed more for stability than anything. He wasn’t putting all of his weight on them, just sort of using them to carry a little bit of his weight as he walked fairly close to normal (as close as he could in a protective boot).

Optimism aside, Girardi sounded legitimately concerned yesterday. At this point, it’s hard to know what to expect while the Yankees wait for a foot specialist to give his diagnosis.

“After hearing that they didn’t see anything in the first round, I’m feeling better today,” Robertsons aid. “I’m hoping it’s something that’s going to pass in a week or so and I’ll be right back out there.”

• Robertson on having to address the injury: “It’s embarrassing. I don’t even want to have to come and talk to you guys about it. I’d rather be like, I tripped over a chair in the clubhouse or something than tell you I fell down the stairs at my house. And not like a full flight of stairs, just one stair.”

• Truth be told, Robertson’s injury wasn’t nearly the most unusual in baseball yesterday. David Price hurt himself while toweling off between innings, and Robertson was happy to hear he wasn’t the only one talking about an awkward injury. “Yes,” Robertson said, giving a little fist pump. “That’s good news right there. That’s the best news I’ve heard.”*

• For whatever reason, Eduardo Nunez isn’t listed for batting practice today. I didn’t see Nunez in the clubhouse and didn’t have a chance to ask Joe Girardi about it before the clubhouse closed for a team meeting. Could be that he’s just going to take BP inside rather than out on the field with everyone else, but it seemed unusual considering he was making progress from that hand injury.  

• Brad Meyers, George Kontos, Adam Warren, Joba Chamberlain, Cory Wade, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada and Hiroki Kuroda all have sides today. Dellin Betances, David Phelps and Ivan Nova are throwing sides tomorrow.

• J.R. Murphy is planning to get the vast majority of his time at catcher this season, but today he’s working out at third base during fielding drills. The Yankees like his bat and have given him a look at the four corners, adding some versatility to the young catcher. For whatever it’s worth, Brett Gardner will take fly balls in center field today. He said he hadn’t taken any balls in center field this spring before starting there yesterday, but center field always feels more natural for him anyway.

• Today’s available pitchers: Freddy Garcia, Rafael Soriano, Manny Banuelos, D.J. Mitchell, Juan Cedeno, Chase Whitley, Ryan Pope, Kevin Whelan, Dan Burawa, Adam Miller, Michael O’Connor and Cesar Cabral

• Today’s second string: C Gustavo Molina, 1B Jose Gil, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Doug Bernier, 3B Ramiro Pena, LF Cole Garner, CF Dewayne Wise, RF Colin Curtis, DH Zoilo Almonte

• Making the trip to Orlando tomorrow…

Pitchers: Dan Burawa, Cesar Cabral, Juan Cedeno, Brett Marshall, Michael O’Connor, Michael Pineda, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner, Kevin Whelan, Chase Whitley
Catchers: Francisco Cervelli, Jose Gil, Kyle Higashioka, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez
Infielders: David Adams, Doug Bernier, Bill Hall, Corban Joseph, Brandon Laird, Jayson Nix, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Vazquez
Outfielders: Zoilo Almonte, Colin Curtis, Brett Gardner, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Justin Maxwell, Melky Mesa, Dewayne Wise

* Before any Rays fans get offended, Robertson was clearly kidding and talking strictly about being hurt in an embarrasing way. He quickly said something about not really wanting anyone else to be hurt, he just liked the idea that he wasn’t the only one talking about an unusual injury.

UPDATE, 10:07 a.m.: The Braves have both RHP Buddy Carlye and OF Jordan Parraz on this trip. Those two played in the Yankees system last year, with Carlyle getting a little bit of big league team.

BRAVES
Michael Bourn CF
Tyler Pastornicky SS
Matt Diaz RF
Freddie Freeman 1B
David Ross C
Christian Bethancourt DH
Drew Sutton 2B
Brandon Hicks 3B
Jose Costanza LF

RHP Julio Teheran

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 266 Comments →

Yankees at the break: Catcher07.12.11

When the Yankees decided to move Jorge Posada to designated hitter, they had three choices: Give the job to one of their prospects, take a chance on Francisco Cervelli full time or sign a free agent. They decided to go after Russell Martin, and the results have been mixed.

First half
Through the first month, the Martin signing seemed inspired. Jesus Montero and Austin Romine had flopped in spring training, and Martin came roaring out of the gate with a .293 average and six home runs in April. He’s hit just .185 since then, but the pitching staff seems to love everything about him – his personality, his game calling, his ability to block A.J. Burnett’s curveballs – and it says a lot about the state of catching in the American League that Martin was voted to the all-star team on the players’ ballot. Good everyday catchers are hard to find, and Martin’s been better than most.

Second half
Even if he doesn’t hit, Martin has value for his ability to work with pitchers and play reliable defense behind the plate. Martin’s been banged up through much of the year, and the Yankees seem to think that might have contributed to his slumping offensive numbers. The Yankees also have Jesus Montero waiting in Triple-A. His power numbers aren’t nearly as good as everyone expected this season, but there still seems to be little doubt that he will be a middle-of-the-order hitter in the big leagues. If the Yankees decide Martin’s defense isn’t enough to make up for his offense, they could call up Montero.

The minors
Montero is the big name, and even without his usual power, he’s still be a pretty good hitter in Triple-A. A step below Montero, Austin Romine has pretty similar numbers in Double-A (he’s also hit for average, but not much power). All the way down in Charleston, the Yankees top lower-level prospect, Gary Sanchez, has gone through an inconsistent first full season in the minors. The organization’s breakout star behind the plate might be J.R. Murphy, who hit his way out of Charleston and is still waiting for his first Tampa home run.

One question
Are there enough at-bats for Montero off the bench?
The Yankees don’t have to pick one or the other. They could carry both Martin and Montero, but it only makes sense if they believe Montero would get enough at-bats while splitting time behind the plate. He’s certainly a better hitter than Cervelli, but the Yankees would have to be sold on Montero’s defense and they would have to make sure he got enough playing time – either at catcher or DH – to continue his development.

Beyond 2011
There are plenty of options here. Martin is still arbitration eligible, so the Yankees could easily bring him back next year. They could decide to give the position to Montero next year, or they could decide to dangle Montero as a potent trade chip. The Yankees are making decisions behind the plate for the first time in a long time, and it’s hard to know which direction they’ll go.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 166 Comments →

Notes from Newman: Brackman, Sanchez, Heathcott and more05.27.11

At the very top of the Yankees minor league system, two Triple-A starters — Andrew Brackman and Adam Warren — are top five in the International League in walks. Down in Low-A, one of the Yankees best young catchers — Gary Sanchez — is hitting just .238 with 37 strikeouts in 32 games.

“It’s like somebody trying to lose weight and looking at the scale every day,” vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. “It’ll drive you nuts.”

Less than two months into the minor league season, the big picture is nowhere near coming into focus, and Newman said this part of the season is still about making initial adjustments to a new level. The Yankees focus more on the second-half results for most of their minor leaguers, curious to see how they adjust and adapt.

Right now, Warren is eight walks away from his total for last season. Brackman is 12 away from his 2010 total. From the outside, the Brackman number is more glaring because, 1. His ERA is three runs higher than Warren’s, and 2. He had similar control issues in 2009.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an issue long term, because he’s showing he can throw strikes,” Newman said. “He’s just got to get back (to last year’s command). His mark right now is well above where we want it to be, but I don’t think it’s going to stay there.”

As for Sanchez, he was hitting .314 with three home runs in his previous 10 games before going on the disabled list a week ago. More importantly, he’s 18 years old.

“He’s swinging it good now,” Newman said. “He’s like a high school senior playing in that league. He’s doing well.”

• Speaking of letting the big picture come into focus… Slade Heathcott and J.R. Murphy were the Yankees first- and second-round picks in the 2009 draft, and both are off to eye-opening starts in Charleston. Newman called it little more than the natural progression of two talented kids who had very little little experience when they put up pedestrian numbers in Charleston last season. “That was a helluva challenge,” Newman said. “Now they’re getting a little experience, and we’re seeing what kind of players they are. There’s nothing particularly surprising about it.”

• As you might expect, Newman said both Heathcott and Murphy will “probably” jump to Tampa midseason.

• As previously reported, Newman said Sanchez has a “stiff lower back” that he’s trying to work through in extended spring training. Once he’s through that, Sanchez will return to Charleston.

• In the wake of the Buster Posey injury, Newman said the Yankees have not discussed moving any of their catchers from behind the plate just to avoid injury. “Not because of health concerns,” he said. “All of our catchers do work at first base. We have a lot of young catching prospects. Who knows who’s going to catch, who’s going to play first base and who’s going to DH?” Newman once again stressed that the Yankees believe Jesus Montero can catch.

• Other injury updates:

Greg Golson: About a week away from playing in games.
Mark Prior: “Not throwing (off a mound),” Newman said. “He’s really struggling with this kind of hip, abdominal thing. Hard to nail it down.
Alan Horne:
Throwing in extended spring and building arm strength.
Graham Stoneburner, Steve Garrison, Jeremy Bleich: “Still a ways to go,” Newman said.
David Adams:
Having some leg problems that the Yankees believe to be related to the ankle injury that forced him to miss most of last season. He was back and playing, but then the leg started bothering him. Not sure how close he is to returning.

• Carlos Silva can opt out in mid-June and pitched well last night. “This is a contingency plan,” Newman said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

• Veteran Brad Halsey, signed to a minor league deal earlier this month, is throwing in Tampa, basically going through his own spring training.

• Outfielder Damon Sublett has been throwing some bullpens in Double-A. He was a closer in college and hasn’t been getting a ton of playing time as a position player, so he asked the Yankees if he could start working out on the mound. “We’re just checking it out, getting his arm in shape,” Newman said.

• Newman said there’s no one in extended spring training who’s “setting any world records or anything,” but the name-to-know that jumped to his mind was starting pitcher Bryan Mitchell. “He’s got electric stuff,” Newman said. “He’s got the stuff to be the next Banuelos, Betances. The high-end guy. That’s Mitchell.”

Brackman photo from my friends at the Scranton Times-Tribune

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 190 Comments →

Off day minor league notes: Risks behind the plate05.26.11

I didn’t see or hear about last night’s Buster Posey injury until I was several thousand feet above the fly-over states of middle America. After sleeping for a little while and reading for a little while, I turned on the little satellite TV screen in front of me to catch up on the news of the day. Then I flipped briefly to SportsCenter.

Posey is probably out for the year with a broken bone and possibly some ligament damage. It’s a bad situation, and an unfortunate situation, but we can’t pretend it’s a new situation. The Posey injury doesn’t necessarily change anything for Jesus Montero or the other elite catching prospects in the Yankees organization.

It’s not as if the Yankees turned on a television at the same time I did and suddenly realized that being a catcher is dangerous.

If injury concerns lead the Yankees to eventually move Montero or Austin Romine or Gary Sanchez to a different position, it would be perfectly justifiable, but it would not be a move to be taken lightly and with a sigh of relief. Part of what makes these catching prospects so valuable is their ability to play behind the plate, lending a premium bat to a position that often has minimal offensive impact.

Risk comes with the position, but so does reward. That was true before and after Posey was rocked at home plate last night.

• Speaking of catching prospects, Gary Sanchez is playing in extended spring training after opening the year in Low-A Charleston. Mark Newman told Josh Norris that Sanchez is down there because of a back injury. He seemed to be getting things turned around before landing on the Charleston disabled list. Sanchez was hitting .314/.455/.657 in his last 10 games before going on the DL.

• Speaking of behind the plate in Charleston, J.R. Murphy’s breakout season continues with the Low-A affiliate. He’s played some third base and designated hitter, but Murphy continues to get most of his time behind the plate and he just keeps hitting. He’s up to .318/.358/.497, a huge leap from last season.

• While we’re behind the plate: Jesus Montero is hitting .260/.337/.377 this month. I know a lot of the fan base is anxious to get this kid into the big league lineup — and I understand why — but player development is a very real thing, and Montero’s still just 21 years old. Consistency might be the next — and final — part of his development.

• Jorge Vazquez is still hitting home runs at a stunning rate, but the thing that catches my attention is that he has seven walks in his past 10 games (he had four in all of April). Either he’s becoming a little more selective, or teams are completely pitching around him. By the way, his home run total is up to 17. That’s insane, especially in a pitchers’ league.

• Vazquez’s teammate, Justin Maxwell, is second in the International League with 13 home runs.

• Speaking of Triple-A hitters, a few guys who struggled early have started to hit in the past month: Brandon Laird (.293/.341/.373 in May), Kevin Russo (.288/.367/.404 in May), Ramiro Pena (.310/.356/.310 in May).

• D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren and David Phelps are still pitching well out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation — well enough that they’d have to be involved in any call-up conversation — but if the Yankees want a new long man, they might also need to look at George Kontos. Lost in the Rule 5 draft this winter — just like Lance Pendleton — Kontos has a 2.22 ERA and a .209 opponents batting average this season, and he’s been better this month than last month. If the Yankees are looking for a one-inning option, Kevin Whelan keeps getting it done in that Triple-A closer’s role.

• Veteran left-hander Randy Flores has yet to allow a hit in four appearances since joining the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen.

• Two Double-A starters you might have heard about: Dellin Betances has a 1.30 ERA with 39 strikeouts through seven starts, and Manny Banuelos has a 1.96 ERA with 34 strikeouts through eight starts. Both have had some walk issues from time to time, but my gut reaction is to blame their youth. On the whole, their numbers are awfully impressive.

• No overwhelming home runs numbers or anything like that, but the Yankees regular Class-A third basemen in are both playing pretty well. In High-A Tampa, Rob Lyerly is hitting .326/.368/.481, and in Low-A Charleston, Rob Segedin is hitting .288/.384/.445. Each has three homers, and between them they have 21 doubles and six triples.

• Talked to Alan Horne earlier today. He’s pitched in extended spring training twice in the past week and he’s pretty encouraged. His fastball’s been good, but he’s still looking to build some arm strength.

• Surprise numbers of the month: Utility man Kelvin Castro who’s hitting .462 with five triples and more walks than strikeouts in 12 games since joining the Tampa infield. Last season he hit .224 with five triples all year. He also struck out more than three times as often as he walked.

• A blast from the recent past: Zach McAllister is starting for Triple-A Columbus tonight, attempting to become the minor league’s first eight-game winner. Traded away in last year’s Austin Kearns deal, McAllister is thriving in his second attempt at Triple-A. He has a 2.48 ERA and seems to be getting better as the season progresses. He had a 5.09 ERA with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before last year’s trade.

Associated Press photo of Posey, headshots of Sanchez, Murphy, Kontos and Whelan

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 179 Comments →

A few off day minor league notes04.21.11

Off days seem to work pretty well for minor league updates. There’s not much going on with the big league team on these days, so we might as well look into the minor league system.

Today let’s start in Double-A. Austin Romine is always the other catcher in the Yankees system. He’s not considered one of baseball’s elite like Jesus Montero, and he’s not a raw mega-talent like Gary Sanchez, but Romine is a legitimate prospect his bat is heating up.

He hit a walkoff single on Tuesday, then he homered twice on Wednesday. Romine got off to a slow start in the season’s first week, but in the past five games he’s collected nine hits including a double and two home runs. He has nine RBI in the his past five games after not driving in a run in any of his first six games. His slash line is up to .310/.420/.500.

Of course, in this system, Romine isn’t the only minor league catcher who’s been hitting lately.

Jesus Montero continues to rake for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He had another three-hit game last night, and although he hasn’t homered since April 9 and has yet to draw a walk, Montero is batting .423/.423/.558 through 11 games. Down in Charleston, Gary Sanchez is back from a brief stint on the disabled list and had a hit last night. While Sanchez was out — Josh Norris says it was a sore oblique, of course — J.R. Murphy got some regular time behind the plate and his bat is still going strong with three homers, 13 RBI and a .326 average.

For the immediate future, the catching situation that has the most impact on the Yankees is happening in Tampa, where Francisco Cervelli is supposed to be begin a rehab assignment tonight.

• Kei Igawa is up from Double-A to start for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre tonight. Kevin Millwood is coming up from the Double-A roster to start for Scranton tomorrow. As Donnie Collins pointed out, Millwood should have time to make one start after tomorrow before his out kicks in.

• Speaking of Triple-A starters, David Phelps and Adam Warren have turned in back-to-back gems this week. Phelps allowed three hits and struck out six through 6.1 innings on Tuesday night, then Warren followed with eight scoreless innings on Wednesday. Minor league pitchers — and big league pitchers for that matter — occasionally talk about creating a friendly rivalry in which one player’s success helps to spark another’s success. Those two outings could start something like that.

• Jorge Vazquez is up to seven home runs in Scranton, meanwhile Chris Dickerson has started hitting in Triple-A. Eight hits in his past four games has Dickerson’s slash line up to .292/.393/.375. He’s had two doubles and a triple in the past three days, his first extra-base hits of the year.

• Manny Banuelos is back from his blister and made his second start on Tuesday night. He allowed two hits and one unearned run through four innings for Double-A Trenton. Dellin Betances is still on the disabled list in Trenton, but he seems close to a return.

• Good numbers from a name you might not know: Mikey O’Brien, a ninth-round pick in 2008, has a 2.16 ERA with 19 strikeouts through his first three starts with Charleston. He’s walked only three and his production has been pretty steady (his numbers aren’t the product of just one good start), but he has yet to get a win. O’Brien could be building on last season when he had a 2.08 ERA in Staten Island.

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 107 Comments →

Yankees organizational depth: Outfield corners01.14.11

For this sort of exercise, it’s much easier to lump left field and right field into one category. They aren’t exactly the same position — teams prefer a better glove in left, a better arm in right — but in terms of organizational depth, the two positions are pretty interchangeable. In New York, though, they’re occupied by two very different players.

In the big leagues
Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher are different hitters who share a similar approach at the plate. They are two of the most selective hitters in baseball, but that’s where the common ground ends. Gardner’s game is built on speed, Swisher’s is built on power, and each had his own sort of breakout season in 2010. Gardner is 27 years old and established himself as a legitimate everyday outfielder. With over-the-top patience, he led the Yankees in on-base percentage and stolen bases. He’s arguably the best defensive left fielder in baseball with exceptional range and a better-than-expected arm. Swisher just turned 30 and made his first all-star team. He’s in the final year of his contract, but there is a club option for 2012. With no obvious replacement in the upper levels of the minor league system, the Yankees could exercise that option if Swisher has another productive year.

On the verge
Unless one of them finds a spot on the big league roster, a Triple-A outfield of Colin Curtis, Greg Golson and Jordan Parraz will give the Yankees plenty of reserves: All three on the 40-man, all three able to play each outfield spot, and all three ready to play a role in New York as needed. Third baseman Brandon Laird will also get some time in the outfield, and his power bat fits the profile of a corner outfielder. The Double-A outfield is more of a hit-or-miss group. Center fielder Melky Mesa has more than enough arm for right field and is perhaps the biggest wild card in the system’s upper levels. Cody Johnson, acquired from the Braves this winter, is a former first-round pick who’s shown significant power but a complete inability to hit for average. Dan Brewer — who could jump to Triple-A if there’s an opening — hit 10 homers and 34 doubles in Trenton last season, but he’s never been considered a prominent prospect.

Deep in the system
Long-term, the Yankees depth in the outfield corners will probably be built on their current depth at other positions. For now, Slade Heathcott, Eduardo Sosa, Mason Williams and Abe Almonte are best suited for center field, but they could move to the corners as necessary. Catcher J.R. Murphy will see some time in right field this season, as will third baseman Rob Segedin. For now, the lower levels should have guys like Zoilo Almonte, Taylor Grote and Kelvin De Leon getting considerable time in the outfield corners (all three have generated some prospect buzz but haven’t done much either because of injury or lack of production). The name to remember seems to be Ramon Flores. One talent evaluator was raving about him during the Winter Meetings, comparing him favorably to former Yankees prospect Jose Tabata. Flores hit .303/.390/.419 last year and should be ready for a full season in Charleston.

Organizational depth chart
My own rough guess. It’s far too early for the Yankees to settle on who will be where next season.
New York: Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher
Scranton/WB: Colin Curtis and Jordan Parraz
Trenton: Cody Johnson and Dan Brewer
Tampa: Taylor Grote and Zoilo Almonte
Charleston: Eduardo Sosa and Ramon Flores

The big league depth chart is incomplete until the Yankees sign a fourth outfielder. The Yankees have been strongly linked to Andruw Jones, and if he’s signed, Jones will become the primary backup in both left and right field. The Yankees have no shortage of additional players ready to step into a corner outfield role as necessary: Curtis, Golson, Parraz, Laird and Kevin Russo are all in the mix.

Lower in the minor league system, I based my projections on Heathcott opening in Charleston, forcing Sosa to open in left field instead of center. As is always the case, the Yankees have plenty of additional outfielders who could see time in the corners. In rough top-to-bottom order: Austin Krum, Damon Sublett, Jack Rye, Raymond Kruml and Deangelo Mack are among the guys who will get corner outfield time for the full-season teams. The impact of multi-position guys like Segedin and Murphy, though, will probably be more significant.

Associated Press photo of Swisher, headshots of Gardner, Curtis and Zoilo Almonte

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 88 Comments →

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