Random thoughts on the way back home • 07.22.11
Last time the Yankees played at home, they were still feeling warm and fuzzy in the glow of Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. Seems like that was three months ago. This eight-day road trip was a long one.
“Obviously you’d like to have done better,” Joe Girardi said. “But after how we started losing the first two, we finished up pretty good and it will be nice to get off the turf and get home for a while. I think we have 10 games in 10 days, and I think our guys are looking forward to that.”
Just a few thoughts before I get back to New York.
• Phil Hughes gets the ball tonight. It will be his first start at home since the start that convinced the Yankees he needed to go on the disabled list. It’ll be interesting to see if that curveball is as good as it was in Toronto.
• Be careful what you wish for at the top of the order. I can’t see Derek Jeter being dropped to the bottom, so moving Brett Gardner to the top only pushes Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher down a spot. As always, I’m of the belief that lineup construction doesn’t matter all that much.
• Also worth considering (as Sweeny Murti pointed out a couple of days ago): In the eight games since the all-star break, Gardner is hitting .517 with a .576 on-base percentage. In the eight games before the break, he was hitting .207 with a .281 on-base percentage. I think he’s the right choice at the top, but you have to accept that he’s a streaky hitter.
• Big spot in the seventh inning, who would you trust more: Luis Ayala, Hector Noesi or Cory Wade? Who do you think Girardi would most trust? I’m honestly not sure the right answer to either of those questions.
• Gardner, Jeter, Andruw Jones and Jorge Posada have each taken turns as the most anger-inducing Yankees hitter this season. Now it seems to be Mark Teixeira’s turn. He’s also a streaky hitter, and he always talks about waiting for that next hot streak that will turn his batting average around.
• Girardi when asked if he’ll have to eventually take Teixeira out of the No. 3 hole if the batting average doesn’t improve: “He has taken his fair share of walks and gotten on base. That’s the one thing Tex does. Sometimes people look at average a lot. We’re going ot look at on-base percentage too because he does take his fair share. You hit .250 and you’ve got a .370 on-base percentage or .360, you’re doing OK.” It’s a fair point — and Teixeira does have a higher OBP than Cano — but Girardi overestimated the numbers a little bit. Teixeira has a .240 average with a .341 on-base.
• If the Yankees are going to trade for a starter, they really only have a spot for a legitimately elite pitcher. They have plenty of No. 3 types. To find someone obviously better than what they have is going to cost a lot in terms of young players. Maybe it’s worth it, maybe it’s not, but it would be costly.
• I’ve always liked but never loved U2, but I absolutely loved this performance on Letterman. I’m surprised I haven’t broken the internet watching it over and over again the past few days. Say what you will about Bono, but the guy has a terrific voice and knows how to deliver a song.
• Kind of surprised that Eric Chavez was able to get in the field this quickly. Not much to lose there, I guess. The Yankees need to find out before July 31 whether he can help them in the second half.
• George Kontos has to get to New York eventually, right? The Yankees could actually use a long man now, and Kontos has 64 strikeouts and a .210 opponents batting average in Triple-A. Also worth mentioning that D.J. Mitchell and Lance Pendleton just put together terrific back-to-back starts.
• Speaking of Triple-A guys: Jorge Vazquez’s numbers have fallen off quite a bit, but Kevin Russo is really hitting again. And if you were waiting for Jordan Parraz to fall off, it doesn’t seem to be happening.
• If Russell Martin really is a Gold Glove caliber catcher, and he keeps hitting exactly like this — low batting average with occasional pop — is he worth bringing back next season? All things considered, isn’t he still one of the better everyday catchers in the league?
• Don’t let the fact that you gave up on Boone Logan in the first half — or that he misplayed a ball three nights ago — keep you from seeing the fact he’s pitching much better. I know I’m usually a glass-half-full kind of guy, but since May 28 opponents are hitting .196 with four walks and 17 strikeouts against Logan.
• There’s still something very fun about talking to a guy who just got his first big league call-up. It was fun when I was covering the minor leagues, and it’s just as fun now that I’m covering the big leagues.
• Martin made the right choice. He put in a good effort and did everything the right way, but the mustache had to go. It was time. It really was, “ugly as (crap).”
Associated Press photos
Yankees at the break: Outfield corners • 07.13.11
Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher each started the season with horrible numbers. Gardner lost his grip on the leadoff spot by the end of April, and Swisher sat for two days so that he could get his swing together. Lately, they’ve both been back to last year’s level of production.
As recently as May 25, Swisher was hitting just .208 with just two home runs. He was frustrated and it was beginning to show. Since then, he’s hit .302/.420/.566 with eight homers and the same over-the-top attitude that made him a fan favorite. Gardner was hitting .188 with a .273 on-base percentage at the end of April, but in the past two and a half months he’s hit .292 with a .374 on-base. He’s also become a much more dangerous and effective base stealer. He’s been streaky, but he’s also been productive, and he’s played his usual Gold Glove caliber defense.
Unless the Yankees decide to replace Andruw Jones on the bench, they really have no need for an outfield upgrade. Gardner’s not a typical corner outfielder, but he’s been effective with his unusual approach at the plate and his game-changing speed on the bases. Swisher has regained last year’s form and is once again one of the Yankees most dangerous and versatile hitters. Where they best fit in the lineup might be a legitimate question, but whether to play them regularly shouldn’t be.
Justin Maxwell was crushing the baseball in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and might have hit his way onto the big league roster if not for a season-ending injury. With Maxwell on the DL, Jordan Parraz as been the top corner outfielder in Triple-A, and Tampa left fielder Ziolo Almonte has been the best corner outfielder in the system. Almonte has been hitting for average and power while stealing bases, and he has to be considered a promotion candidate in the second half. Ray Kruml has emerged as a terrific leadoff man in Trenton, while Ramon Flores has lived up to his reputation for outstanding plate discipline for a teenager in Charleston.
Is Gardner about to win his first Gold Glove?
Gardner’s always had great speed, and last year he seemed to slowly make people realize just how well that speed plays in the outfield. This year, he’s also been effective throwing the ball. His four outfield assists aren’t near the AL leaders, but runners seem to be respecting his arm a little bit more this season and not taking as many chances. I’m guessing manager have noticed.
Gardner is heading for his first year of arbitration, so he’s still relatively cheap for next season. Swisher has a $10.25-million club option for next year, and the Yankees have to decide whether to exercise it. Given the money that Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth got this winter, they might not think twice about getting Swisher at that price.
Associated Press photo
CC Sabathia so thoroughly dominated the Rays yesterday, that Curtis Granderson didn’t know where to stand. He was playing center field, with a perfect view of the pitcher and the plate, but he had trouble positioning himself.
“I’m always trying to figure out where I want to be versus this lineup (with) some guys who could potentially pull the ball,” Granderson said. “But with CC keeping guys off balance I had to second-guess myself a lot today. Luckily I had Andruw to my left who has a great deal of experience. I could trust him to say, let’s move the other way, these guys aren’t necessarily going to catch up to what he’s got going on.”
It was an interesting insight into Andruw Jones’ knowledge of the game, but surely the Yankees can get more value than that out of their fourth outfielder.
Jones’ batting average is down to .195 after an 0-for-3 yesterday. He’s hitting .231/.315/.446 against lefties, but he hasn’t had an extra-base hit since May 29, which says a lot about how infrequently he’s played and about how unproductive he’s been when he’s gotten at-bats.
There is a familiar alternative in Triple-A. Greg Golson is hitting .295/.350/.432 in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He’s been especially productive lately, but he comes with two concerns: 1. He doesn’t have a history of hitting quite like this, and 2: His platoon splits are completely backwards. Golson is hitting just .196 against lefties. Another right-handed Triple-A outfielder, Jordan Parraz, also has impressive numbers with the same unusual splits (though not as extreme). Chris Dickerson is a lefty, which doesn’t let him perfectly fill Jones’ role.
Given the Yankees three outfield regulars, the team don’t need much out of their fourth outfielder. But right now, Jones’ only real value is his experience, and that’s not helping too much.
Associated Press photo
The Yankees 1-2 punch in Triple-A • 04.18.11
Nine games into the Triple-A season, Vazquez is still hitting, and Montero has finally started.
This afternoon, Vazquez was named the International League Player of the Week. All he did was hit .423 with five home runs and 11 RBI through six games. For the season he’s hitting .325/.333/.775 with a team-high 15 RBI (more than twice as many as any one of his teammates). Vazquez is always going to strike out a bunch, and he’s not going to walk much, but that’s a big bat to have in reserve behind Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Eric Chavez.
Montero has played in eight games this season, and he has three hits in half of them. He has one home run and three doubles, and my line earlier about him finally hitting was kind of a lie. Reports were positive about Montero from the moment he was assigned to minor league camp. He showed this spring that there might still be room to grow, but he’s shown this season that his bat is still one of the elite tools in minor league baseball.
Some other off day notes from the minor leagues:
• The early standout from the deep Triple-A outfield has been Jordan Parraz, the guy who was claimed this winter and designated for assignment just before spring training. Parraz has two homers, two triples and a .395 average. Ramiro Pena and Justin Maxwell are also off to strong starts in Triple-A. Off to surprisingly slow starts: Brandon Laird, Kevin Russo and Chris Dickerson.
• Kevin Millwood was mostly 86-87 mph in his Double-A start on Sunday. Freddy Garcia showed on Saturday that a veteran pitcher can have success at that velocity, but it’s still hard to see a place for Millwood in New York. He’s going to have to prove he’s not only worth a call-up, but worth taking someone off the 40-man roster. For what it’s worth, Millwood’s line on Sunday was impressive: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB and 3 K.
• Ten games into the Eastern League season, Trenton has two home runs as a team, one by Cody Johnson and one by Melky Mesa. Only Johnson and Ray Kruml are hitting better than .265.
• Stats from a name you might not know: Tampa starter Josh Romanski is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA through two stats. He’s allowed five hits and two walks through 11 innings. The only run he’s allowed came on a homer.
• Speaking of Tampa, the High-A corner infielders are off to strong starts. Third baseman Rob Lyerly is hitting .364 with two doubles, two triples, two homers and 14 RBI. First baseman Luke Murton is hitting .341 with two homers, a triple and four doubles.
• Ten games into the Low-A season, former first-round pick Slade Heathcott is hitting .364/.396/.705, though he has struck out 15 times. Another name to keep in mind on that Charleston roster is corner outfielder/first baseman Ramon Flores. He popped onto the radar with an impressive turn in the Gulf Coast League last year, and now he’s hitting .353/.522/.471 in Low-A. He’s played in 10 games and drawn 10 walks with seven strikeouts.
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
A few winter league numbers • 01.06.11
Just a few winter league statistics from the Yankees organization. As usual, there aren’t many big names playing down south this offseason, but there are a few names that might at least ring a bell.
.233/.295/.308 in 33 games
Splitting his time pretty evenly between shortstop and third base, the Yankees utility infielder put up a fairly typical offensive slash line (though he did hit one homer). Truth be told, even for Pena this was a pretty slow offensive winter. He’s hit better than this the past two winters.
Dominican Winter League
.348/.333/.391 in seven games
Nunez bunted a ball off his face and was limited to only seven games. Last time I talked to anyone in the Yankees organization about the incident, the team hadn’t heard much but knew enough to be overly concerned. Like Pena, Nunez was getting time at shortstop and third base.
Dominican Winter League
.240/.356/.300 in 14 games
Tiny sample size for Curtis, who got all of his time in the outfield corners this winter (and probably made some pretty solid money doing it). He actually had a hit in six of his last season games, and finished with the same number of walks as strikeouts, but it’s hard to make too much out of 14 games.
Venezuelan Winter League
1-2, 6.89 ERA in 19 games
The hard-throwing right-hander did have 17 strikeouts in 15.2 innings, and he generated a lot of ground balls, but he also allowed a .292 opponents batting average and gave up three homers. Not nearly as good as last year’s winter ball numbers (45 strikeouts and a .218 opponents average in 31 innings).
Venezuelan Winter League
.306/.393/.389 in 25 games
This is the outfielder the Yankees claimed off waivers this winter. He played center field and right field this winter, and he got his hits in bunches. He had seven multi-hit games, including three three-hit games.
.346/.401/.647 in 36 games
If you don’t already know this name, you should probably store it somewhere in the back of your mind. Vazquez is a big, power-hitting corner infielder who more than held his own in Triple-A last season. He’s primarily a first baseman, but he can play third. He hit 10 homers but also struck out 41 times this winter.
Venezuelan Winter League
5-3, 2.79 ERA in 14 games, 13 starts
There is absolutely nothing flashy about Schmidt, but this is the second winter in a row in which he’s pitched very well in Venezuela. He’s been terrific in Trenton as well, but his stuff simply doesn’t compare to the bigger name pitchers in the Yankees system. He’s eligible free agency after this season, and it will be good for him to move on.
.356/.452/.561 in 64 games
I believe Christian is a minor league free agent, but he spent last season in the Yankees organization and has his only big league service time with the Yankees. I mention him primarily because he was absolutely dominant this winter, leading the league in hits, doubles, stolen bases, runs and extra-base hits. He fell off the map with some injury problems the past few years, but those winter league numbers are hard to ignore.
A few more…
C Gustavo Molina: .170/.207/.364 in 31 games in Venezuela
Signed as a minor league free agent this winter.
LHP Andy Sisco: 6-5, 4.04 in 15 games in Mexico
Minor league signing worked as a starter this winter.
INF Walter Ibarra: .303/.356/.387 in 56 games in Mexico
Class-A utility man did pretty well for himself.
SS Jose Pirela: .333/.387/.471 in 29 games in Venezuela
Fringy prospect hit just .180 in the Arizona Fall League.
INF Luis Nunez: .361/.425/.389 in 15 games in Venezuela
Continuing a trend, another organizational infielder with good winter stats.
LHP Wilkin Arias: 3-0, 3.21 in 17 games in the Dominican
30-year-old held lefties to a .192 average. Old for a prospect.
RHP Eric Wordekemper: 0-0, 6.05 in 21 games in Mexico
Four-run outing didn’t help. Good Triple-A numbers last year.
Associated Press photo of Pena
Yankees claim outfielder Parraz off waivers • 12.17.10
A team official confirmed a report from Jon Morosi that the Yankees have added outfielder Jordan Parraz off waivers from Boston.
Parraz never actually played in the Red Sox system. He was claimed off waivers from the Royals last month, and when Boston took him off their 40-man roster, the Yankees grabbed him.
Baseball American ranked Parraz as the Royals No. 19 prospect entering last season. The magazine described him as a “gap-to-gap hitter with below-average usable power.” His best tool is his arm, “which rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale.” Last year was his first full season in Triple-A, and he hit .266 with 11 home runs and 27 doubles in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
Nothing to get too worked up about, but the Yankees are thin on outfielders in the upper levels, and a guy like Parraz could play a role similar to what Chad Huffman, Colin Curtis or Greg Golson did this year.
Plus he has a cool last name. Parraz. I don’t even know how to say it, but I like it.