Winter leagues playoffs are wrapping up, and the Yankees might have dodged a bullet down in the Venezuelan postseason.
Utility man Jose Pirela was finishing off a terrific winter when he was hit by a pitch in the right hand (he went 2-for-3 in that game, by the way). There was lingering soreness so Pirela went for X-rays, which were negative, but an MRI revealed a bruise near the bottom of his hand (base of his second metacarpal if you’re into exact details).
It was a mild injury, but Pirela was shut down for the rest of the winter. He didn’t play in his team’s final 12 postseason games, but Yankees assistant general manager Billy Eppler said Pirela is back to working out and going through normal offseason drills.
“He’s all good to go,” Eppler said.
With no serious damage to the hand, Pirela is expected to be in big league camp to make his case for a spot on the big league roster. He hit .333/.529/.417 in his four Venezuelan postseason games after hitting .296/.394/.515 in the Venezuelan regular season. That bat is interesting as a bench guy who can play all over the field.
A few other notes from winter ball:
• In the Dominican Winter League, Esmil Rogers has a 3.55 ERA through five postseason starts for Estrellas de Oriente. He has 28 strikeouts and six walks through 25.1 postseason innings. Rogers last pitch on Tuesday, but his team is in the Dominican championship series, so he could get another start before the playoffs finish. I still wonder if he could come into spring training as basically a sixth starter candidate who could move into a long-man role if all the other starts stay healthy.
• Navegantes del Magallanes have advanced to the Venezuelan Winter League championship series, and they’ve gotten there with Adonis Garcia generally hitting cleanup. Garcia hit .313/.369/.468 in the regular season, but he’s hit just .237/.286/.305 through 14 playoff games. After playing only the outfield corners during the regular season, Garcia’s actually gotten a little bit of time at third base in the postseason. He’ll likely return to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, trying to squeeze into that crowded outfield.
• Also down in Venezuela, Ramon Flores hit just .200/.289/.300 in the postseason but didn’t play in his team’s last three games (Eppler said there’s no injury). Flores had a terrific winter ball regular season. … Pirela’s winter ball teammate, Ali Castillo, hit .250/.361/.288 in the playoffs. He did a pretty good job getting on base all winter. … Reliever Diego Moreno pitched four hitless innings in the postseason. He got a lot of closer opportunities with Aguilas del Zulia in the regular season, but the Yankees now have so much Triple-A bullpen depth that Moreno could be crowded back to Double-A this year.
• By the way, the go-to starter for Magallanes in the postseason has been former Yankees up-and-down long man Chris Leroux who has a 1.93 ERA and 0.99 WHIP through four playoff starts. He had a 1.23 ERA in five regular-season starts. He’s not still in the Yankees organization, but he’s pitched well this winter.
• New Yankees outfielder Robert Hernandez — the former pitcher signed to a minor league contract this winter — hit .264/.350/.358 while playing each outfield corner during the Venezuelan regular season. He played just one game in the postseason (1-for-4 with a double and a strikeout).
Associated Press photo
We’re all well aware that there’s a lot of uncertainty on this Yankees roster. That’s a bad thing if you’re looking for a dependable roster, but it could be a good thing if a few bounces go the Yankees’ way. A few players getting healthy or outperforming expectation could leave the Yankees with some good problems to have in spring training (a group of positive what-if scenarios). A little later in the day, we’ll look at the opposite (what if some things go wrong).
What if Alex Rodriguez looks really good?
Turns out those declining numbers in recent years had more to do with health than age, and a full year away from the game didn’t leave him rusty, it left him rested. The Yankees are clearly approaching this season with low expectations for Rodriguez, but it’s worth remembering that he’s one of the best all-around baseball players we’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have to be at his old MVP-level to be a very good everyday player. How much would a strong spring change the plans for A-Rod? Would the Yankees trust him in the cleanup spot on Opening Day (knowing having to eventually move him down in the order would cause a massive stir)? Is there any way he could play the field well enough to be the regular third baseman ahead of Chase Headley? Is a month of exhibition at-bats enough to build true confidence?
What if the new-look bullpen seems even better than last year?
Clearly the Yankees bullpen is being built around Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, but the arrival of David Carpenter and Justin Wilson gives the Yankees two more strikeout pitchers who could play roles in the late innings. Adam Warren also looked good last season. If the top five relievers all look great in spring training, would Joe Girardi be tempted to keep Betances and Miller in flexible, multi-inning roles, while opening the season with one of the smaller names pitching the ninth inning? It doesn’t seem likely right now — surely Betances or Miller will be the closer — but the Yankees know first-hand the value of dominance and depth in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Could a secondary reliever emerge as Girardi’s ninth-inning guy?
What if there’s a new Yangervis Solarte?
Except, this time, the spring training superstar isn’t a guy who came to camp on a minor league deal and a non-roster invitation. What if it’s Jose Pirela who’s simply too good to ignore this spring? Last spring, Solarte hit .429/.489/.571. If Pirela does the same while playing second base, third base, the outfield corners and maybe even a little bit of shortstop — proving he could play there in an absolute pinch — wouldn’t the Yankees have to find a way to carry him? Could he replace Chris Young as the right-handed fourth outfielder? Could he replace Brendan Ryan as the spare middle infielder (and would that depend on the Yankees confidence in Didi Gregorius)? Could he play his way into an everyday job at second base, pushing Stephen Drew into a true backup role?
What if Luis Severino is one of the five best starters in camp?
The Yankees still haven’t announced their non-roster invitees, but their top pitching prospect seems like a safe bet to get at least a brief look in spring training. Severino turns 21 on the day pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, and he made six Double-A starts last season. He’s not exactly knocking on the door to the big leagues, but he’s put himself in a position where he could be on the radar fairly soon. Is a strong spring — I mean, really strong spring — enough to put him on that radar right away? Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day rotation, could Severino pitch well enough in spring training that he’s a lock for Triple-A with an eye on being the first call-up when the Yankees inevitably need pitching help? Basically, how much could an overwhelming spring impression accelerate Severino’s development clock?
What if Austin Romine outplays John Ryan Murphy?
Last season made it clear that Murphy has jumped ahead of Romine on the catching depth chart, but that wasn’t always the case. At one point, Romine ranked as the second-best prospect in the entire system according to Baseball America, and this spring could be his last chance to stick witht he Yankees. If Romine clearly outplays Murphy in big league camp — it’s worth noting that their Triple-A numbers were fairly similar last year — could he win the backup job? It’s a question complicated by the presence of Gary Sanchez, who seems ready to graduate to Triple-A, meaning Murphy could be optioned into a part-time role even in the minors. Does a terrific spring by Romine simply increase the chances he or Murphy gets traded?
Associated Press photos
Winter leagues are into the postseason at this point, which means we have complete regular season numbers from Venezuela, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The results are pretty solid for most of the Yankees who had significant playing time.
The standout, in my mind, is left fielder Ramon Flores. This was the first winter Flores received significant at-bats in his home country of Venezuela. At 22 years old, he was the everyday left fielder for the Tigres de Aragua, and by the end of the season, he was their regular No. 3 hitter. And he finished with a flourish.
In his final eight regular season games, Flores had 14 hits including three doubles, a triple and a home run. He finished with a .347/.435/.505 across 196 at-bats. That’s a .940 OPS, by the way, .007 points lower than the OPS that earned Greg Bird MVP of the offense-heavy Arizona Fall League. Flores led the Venezuelan Winter League in on-base percentage, finished third in batting average and was fifth in runs scored. He’s hit .286/.333/.571 with one home run and eight RBI through three playoff games.
Flores has a spot on the 40-man roster and he was having a pretty solid Triple-A season before a severe ankle injury sent him to the disabled list for roughly half of the season. He can play all three outfield spots (and has some first base experience), he can run a little bit, and he’s general shown an ability to get on base, hit for a solid average and provide a very little bit of power. He stands out as an obvious fourth outfielder type, with the only problem being that he hits left-handed (which makes him not a great fit behind fellow lefties Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner).
In what’s likely to be a crowded Triple-A outfield, though, Flores could be at the top of the pecking order for an early season call-up. Tyler Austin has never played at the Triple-A level, Adonis Garcia doesn’t have a spot on the 40-man, Mason Williams has struggled offensively (and could certainly return to Double-A rather than going to Triple-A), no one seems sure what to expect from Slade Heathcott (or at what level he’ll open the season), and Eury Perez could be easily outplayed (could even be DFA when Stephen Drew is added to the roster).
Can’t make too much of winter league numbers, but for a young kid like Flores coming off a season cut short by injury, an impressive winter seems to keep him on the map as a legitimate big league candidate sooner rather than later.
Some other winter ball updates:
• Here’s a regular season slash line nearly as impressive as Flores: Jose Pirela finished his Venezuelan season hitting .296/.394/.515 with 21 extra-base hits in 47 games. He split his time pretty evenly among second base, third base and left field, though he’s stayed in the outfield through four playoff games. Pirela did not finish the season particularly strong — no extra-base hits in his final 11 games — but he’s hit .333/.529/.417 through his first few playoff games. His chances of making the big league roster seemed to take a hit when the Yankees signed Stephen Drew, but he could still force his way into the mix with his versatility and right-handed bat. This winter has only further established the fact he can hit and play all over the field.
• One of Pirela’s teammates in Venezuela is middle infielder Ali Castillo, who’s generally been easy to dismiss as little more than an organizational utility man. Given the lack of upper-level infield depth, though, Castillo manages to stand out a little bit, and he had a strong season with the Aguilas del Zulia hitting .305/.346/.408 while playing shortstop, second base, third base and left field. He was the team’s primary leadoff hitter, and he’s been their everyday second baseman in the playoffs. He led the league with 16 stolen bases. That said, a solid winter isn’t enough to declare Castillo a legitimate candidate for the big league roster, in fact, on the infield depth chart he’s probably behind each of the minor league free agent additions. But Castillo was the everyday shortstop in Trenton last season, and he could continue to play his way into regular minor league at-bats while trying to prove he’s more than organizational fodder.
• Looking for an especially strong finish in winter ball, check out the way Adonis Garcia reestablished himself as a corner outfielder capable of providing right-handed power. In his final 13 games, Garcia hit four home runs, a triple, and five doubles, raising his winter slugging percentage from .377 to .468. He finished second in the league with 41 RBI and had a .313/.369/.468 slash line. Although he’s played some center field and a little bit of infield in the past, he got all of his winter playing time in the outfield corners. He so far has one homer but just four hits through five playoff games. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees use Garcia this season. He turns 30 in April, so if they’re going to get any sort of big league impact out of him, it has to happen soon. Guys like Austin and Flores probably deserve priority at-bats.
• Not such a great winter for Eury Perez. The Yankees late-season waiver claim has held onto his 40-man spot so far this offseason, but his stint in the Dominican Winter League could not have inspired much additional confidence. Perez opened the season as the regular left fielder and leadoff hitter for the Leones del Escogido, but he finished the season on the bench getting just scraps of playing time. He hit .194/.202/.258 with no walks and 21 strikeouts. He tried to steal two bases and was caught each time. Now that Slade Heathcott has re-signed, adding even more center field depth for the upper levels, I wonder if Perez could fall off the 40-man at some point. Losing him on waivers wouldn’t be crushing (though I think the Yankees do like his defense, sped and right-handedness).
• Possibly putting him on track to come into spring training as a rotation candidate (if only to provide depth just in case someone gets hurt before opening day), Esmil Rogers has worked as a starting pitcher this winter. He made three starts in the regular season and he’s so far made three more in the postseason (he’s pitching for a different team in the playoffs for whatever reason). His final regular season start spanned five scoreless innings with only one hit and 10 strikeouts. In the playoffs he’s had a 1.10 WHIP with 18 strikeouts and two walks through 16.1 innings. His most recent two starts came on Jan. 3 (six innings, one run, four strikeouts) and on Thursday (5.1 innings, two runs, nine strikeouts).
• New Yankees reliever Gonzalez Germen — the guy acquired from the Mets who basically replaced Preston Claiborne on the roster — made 10 appearances in the Dominican Winter League. He allowed nine hits and six earned runs through seven innings, strikeout out four and walking three. He hasn’t pitched since December 11.
• A few quick hits: Triple-A reliever Diego Moreno finished with a 1.43 WHIP through an up-and-down winter in Venezuela. He’s pitched two scoreless innings with one save so far in the playoffs. … Young shortstop prospect Abiatal Avelino got in one game for his Dominican Winter League team (super young guys like that rarely play much). He went 1-for-4 with a double. … Newly acquired left-handed starter Jose De Paula pitched in a couple of Dominican games before signing with the Yankees, but he didn’t pitch at all this winter beyond October 24. …. In the Mexican Winter League, low-level minor leaguer Luis Niebla had a 2.87 ERA with a 1.25 WHIP in nine starts (none of them coming after November 29), while Giovanny Gallegos had a 1.69 ERA and 1.31 WHIP through 16 relief appearances (none of them coming after December 1).
Associated Press photo
With Slade Heathcott re-signed to a minor league deal, the Yankees now have a ton of outfield depth, but still not the kind of depth that necessitates a trade or a particularly difficult decision. It’s not like the Francisco Cervelli situation in which the Yankees have a player with a defined value, along with the need to move someone in order to open up the proper at-bats for everyone else. Here’s a rough look at the Yankees top upper-level outfielders. Each comes with some good, some bad, and some reason — either because of the team’s needs or because of his own value — that limits his trade possibilities.
The good: Already a borderline Hall of Famer expected to be healthy again after last year’s elbow injury.
The bad: About to turn 38 years old — are we sure last year’s .703 OPS was strictly the product of injury?
Trade him? Not a lot of trade value in an aging player, coming of a bad year, with $30 million left on his deal.
The good: Signed a hefty deal last winter and more or less delivered an as-expected season in his Yankees debut.
The bad: Even coming off a solid season, seven years and $153 million is a massive contract.
Trade him? Might be the best position player on the roster right now.
The good: Power numbers spiked, and for a while he looked like a better player than Ellsbury last year.
The bad: Still a rather streaky player with limited power for a corner outfielder.
Trade him? Might be the most valuable trade chip on the big league roster, but also signed to a reasonable extension.
The good: History of left-handed power with an ability to backup first base, right field and designated hitter.
The bad: Turns 34 in June and his power numbers have been down the past two seasons.
Trade him? Would be more of a salary dump than an actual effort to get anything valuable in return (also provides first base insurance).
The good: Returns to bring right-handed balance after reestablishing himself with a terrific September.
The bad: Other than one good month, last season was bad enough to get him released … by the Mets.
Trade him? Plays a role the Yankees need as a veteran right-handed bat with power and speed off the bench.
The good: Last year’s terrific second half brought back memories of how good a hitter he was earlier in his career.
The bad: A wrist injury contributed to much less exciting numbers before that second-half resurgence.
Trade him? Of all the outfielders ticketed for Triple-A, Austin probably has the most offensive impact potential.
The good: Left-handed hitters with speed and some defensive flexibility; looks like a nice fourth outfielder down the road.
The bad: Coming off an ankle injury and isn’t a great fit while Gardner and Ellsbury are on the roster.
Trade him? Low power potential probably limits his value to more of a second or third piece in a significant trade.
The good: Right-handed hitter who’s shown some speed, defense and on-base ability in the minor leagues.
The bad: Plucked off waivers, suggesting he was not exactly a high commodity (also put up bad winter ball numbers this year).
Trade him? Value is pretty low just a few months after being placed on the waiver wire; DFA might be more likely than a trade.
The good: Offensive utility man put himself back on the prospect map — and in the big league picture — with a terrific Triple-A season.
The bad: Can’t really play shortstop and hasn’t really established whether he hits enough to keep a job in the big leagues.
Trade him? First and foremost, he seems to have a legitimate shot at the big league second base job heading into spring training.
The good: Speed and defense were deemed major-league ready, enough to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter.
The bad: Hasn’t hit the past two years, doing a number on his once elite prospect status.
Trade him? Would be selling awfully low — Williams no longer has the value to remotely headline a significant deal.
The good: Might have surpassed Williams and Heathcott as the system’s top center field prospect.
The bad: Doesn’t have overwhelming speed or power, and doesn’t have more than 42 games above A ball.
Trade him? Could be a nice complementary trade piece; could also be the most viable center fielder in the minor league system.
The good: The guys gets on base way too much to ignore; played his way out of the shadows and up to Triple-A last year.
The bad: Never a standout prospect, doesn’t run much, very little power, has spent more time in left field than center.
Trade him? Has never moved the needle among prospect watchers, suggesting his stock is too low to be considered a real chip.
The good: Has been a solid hitter throughout the minor leagues, even when easily overshadowed by other prospects.
The bad: Always kind of a sleeper prospect, but not one who’s forced people to really wake up and take notice.
Trade him? Hasn’t done nearly enough; could more easily simply become a Double-A bench player behind all of this depth.
The good: Has been a pretty nice hitter both in Triple-A and in winter ball (able to play center field and third base in a pinch).
The bad: Turns 30 years old in April so the upside is probably limited.
Trade him? Sure, if some team values a 30-year-old with no major league experience; could be another Ronnier Mustelier.
The good: No one seems to question the former first-round pick’s raw talent and ultimate potential.
The bad: Just can’t stay healthy, which has cost valuable development time; hard to gauge his ceiling at this point.
Trade him? Was a free agent until yesterday; if another team valued him highly, he probably wouldn’t have come back.
The good: After a standout first full season, he emerged as the top offensive prospect in the entire minor league system.
The bad: Ultimately we’re talking about fewer than 500 minor league at-bats; he’s promising but unproven.
Trade him? Plenty of value here, but Judge could be the best middle-of-the-order bat the Yankees have developed since Robinson Cano.
Associated Press photos
I had this post planned before the Yankees got busy making moves. If you’re interested in things not involving the loss of Martin Prado and the addition of a young starter, here are a few updates from winter ball:
• A little less than two weeks ago, Esmil Rogers reported and began pitching a little bit in the Dominican Republic. Rogers has made three appearances this winter, and all three have been starts. His first start was pretty good (four innings, six strikeouts, one earned run), his second was brutal (2.2 innings, six hits, five earned runs), and his most recent start was outstanding. On Thursday, Rogers went five scoreless innings with one hit, one walk and 10 strikeouts. Brian Cashman has mentioned Rogers as a potential rotation candidate in spring training, so the fact he’s getting stretched out this winter seems at least mildly significant.
• Because of the Winter Meetings, it’s now been two weeks since we did one of these winter ball updates, and in that time, Adonis Garcia has gone nuts at the plate. He has six multi-hit games — and 18 hits total — in his past 12 games. Three of those hits have been home runs and five have been doubles. Garcia wasn’t having a particularly good winter down in Venezuela, but now he’s hitting .305/.356/.450 while spending all of his time in left field and right field (not time in the infield this winter). The Yankees Triple-A outfield will be crowded next season, but Garcia’s an interesting right-handed bat.
• Speaking of that crowded Triple-A outfield, Ramon Flores continues to put up great numbers while getting his first dose of significant winter playing time. As the regular left fielder for the Tigres de Aragua, Flores has a .320/.403/.456 slash line with nearly as many walks (24) as strikeouts (28). In his past five games, Flores has walked five times and struck out only once. Flores has gotten a little bit of time in center field and right field this winter, and he could be an interesting bench option for the Yankees at some point next season.
• And while we’re speaking of bench options, it seems Jose Pirela is a legitimate favorite to win a spot as a big league reserve next season. And his production this winter is doing nothing to diminish his chances. While playing mostly second base and third base — he’s gotten a little bit of time in the outfield corners, but he’s mostly played the two spots where he could most easily backup in New York — Pirela has hit .313/.415/.560 in Venezuela. After not stealing a bag all winter, he now has one stolen base in each of his past two games. He’s also has exactly as many walks (24) as strikeouts (24).
• Pirela’s winter ball teammate, Ali Castillo, has seen his numbers slide a little bit, but he’s still having a nice winter while getting time at shortstop, second base, third base, left field and designated hitter. Castillo has five hits in his past nine games, but two of those were triples and two were doubles, so he’s still hitting .299/.342/.397. Castillo was the regular shortstop in Trenton last season, but it’s worth wondering if the Yankees offseason minor league additions will crowd him out of a Triple-A promotion next season.
• Acquired late last season and so far kept on the 40-man roster for outfield depth, Eury Perez has seen his winter go from bad to worse. He opened the season as the regular left fielder and leadoff hitter for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. He’s since lost his everyday job, and in a part-time role his bat has gone completely silent. Perez hasn’t had a hit since November 18, going 0-for-19 while playing very sparingly. In those past 19 at-bats, he’s struck out seven times, and he currently has 21 strikeouts with no walks this winter. He’s hitting .194/.202/.258 and he’s been caught stealing the two times he’s tried to swipe a bag.
• Outfielder Adam Silva has barely played in regular season minor league games since joining the Yankees in 2013, but this winter he’s getting some regular at-bats back home in Australia. The 20-year-old is hitting .270/.343/.365 as a regular right fielder.
• Just when reliever Diego Moreno was getting on a roll again in Venezuela, he’s hit another rough path. Since our last update, Moreno’s pitched just three times and has allowed six earned runs on five hits, a walk and a hit batter. His winter ERA is up to 5.40 with a 1.45 WHIP and a .291 opponents’ batting average. He does have at least one strikeout in 10 straight outings.
Associated Press photo
We’ve known for months that the Yankees would lose their longest-tenured, homegrown player this offseason. But as it’s turned out, Derek Jeter’s not not the organization’s only familiar face who’s moved on this winter. The Yankees lost some of their other longest-tenured, homegrown players when Zoilo Almonte reached free agency, Francisco Cervelli was traded to Pittsburgh, and Dave Robertson signed a contract with the White Sox.
It’s now kind of amazing now to look at which players stand as the longest-tenured Yankees who have never played for another organization. Based on the year they were acquired (without nitpicking about the precise date) here are the 10 longest-tenured, homegrown Yankees who remain in the system.
1. Ivan Nova
Signed: international free agent, 2004
Debut: May 13, 2010
The Yankees nearly lost Nova before they had a chance to really see what he could do. Back in 2008, Nova was left exposed to the Rule 5 draft, and the Padres picked him. Coming off a solid but uninspiring year in High-A, Nova got a little bit of a look in spring training, didn’t make the San Diego roster, and returned to the Yankees. The next year, he was added to the 40-man roster, and now he stands — with the next two players on this list — as one of the top three homegrown big leaguers in the organization. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery, but would otherwise have a rotation spot waiting for him in spring training.
2. Brett Gardner
Signed: amateur draft, 2005
Debut: June 30, 2008
One of the most talked-about drafts of the past several decades, the 2005 draft was mostly a bust for the Yankees. They thoroughly missed the boat on first-rounder C.J. Henry, and second-rounder J.B. Cox was too injured to ever reach his future-closer ceiling, but their third-round pick was one of their most successful of the decade. Gardner has outplayed his detractors to become a legitimate everyday outfielder, and the Yankees have rewarded him with a long-term deal through the 2018 season. By the way, despite being mostly a bust for the Yankees, that 2005 draft also yielded Austin Jackson, another of the Yankees best draft picks of the past decade.
3. Dellin Betances
Signed: amateur draft, 2006
Debut: September 22, 2011
That 2006 draft class was a great one for the Yankees. Ten picks made it to the majors and seven are still legitimate big leaguers in some capacity, but the only one who’s still with the Yankees is Betances. Slow to develop with a lot of bumps along the way, Betances could very well replace one of his draft-mates as the Yankees closer this season. The other members of that Yankees draft class to reach the big leagues: Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Zach McAllister, Colin Curtis, George Kontos, Mark Melancon, Daniel McCutchen, Dave Robertson and Kevin Russo.
4. Jose Pirela
Signed: international free agent, 2006
Debut: September 22, 2014
Signed out of Venezuela, Pirela built some prospect status as a teenager in the lower levels of the minor league system. As he climbed into the upper levels, though, he was moved away from shortstop, his offensive production faded and Pirela more or less fell off the prospect map. He hit his way back on the map with a couple of strong years in Double-A, a potent year in Triple-A, and finally a September call-up. Now with a spot on the 40-man roster, Pirela has a legitimate chance to win a big league bench job. And he’s still just 25 years old.
5. Austin Romine
Signed: amateur draft, 2007
Debut: September 11, 2011
Immediately after that successful class of 2006, the Yankees had a real letdown with the draft of 2007. Andrew Brackman was the first rounder, and the only others to actually reach New York were Brandon Laird and Romine. There’s a solid chance that, by the end of spring training, the Yankees won’t have anyone from that class left in the organization. Remarkably, shortstop Carmen Angelini — largely seen as a bust — is actually one of the more successful members of that class.
6. Jose Ramirez
Signed: international free agent, 2007
Debut: June 4, 2014
On the 40-man roster, with 10 innings of big league experience and his 25th birthday coming up in January, Ramirez is a longtime prospect who’s put himself in position to begin playing a legitimate role in the big leagues. Of course, that’s largely a matter of staying healthy, which has been an issue throughout his career. Once seen as a high-potential rotation prospect, Ramirez is now an interesting bullpen option. From a year when the Yankees didn’t add much lasting talent into the organization, Ramirez stands out as a possible exception. He could play at least some role in the immediate and long-term future.
7. Ali Castillo
Signed: international free agent, 2007
Doesn’t have a spot on the 40-man roster, and doesn’t have much chance of actually playing a role in New York, but Castillo remains one of the longest-tenured players in the organization. Signed out of Venezuela in late 2007, he’s been essentially an organizational utility man. He’s putting up nice numbers in winter ball this offseason, and he spent the regular season as the starting shortstop in Double-A Trenton. He signed a new minor league deal this fall. Could play a role in Triple-A this season, if only because the Yankees lack middle infield alternatives.
8. David Phelps
Signed: amateur draft, 2008
Debut: April 8, 2012
In the first 10 rounds of the 2008 draft, the Yankees selected five guys who have reached the big leagues. Their top pick was Gerrit Cole (who wouldn’t sign and wound up with the Pirates years later), then they went on to draft David Adams, Corban Joseph, Brett Marshall and D.J. Mitchell. Those four played minor roles in New York, and it’s now 14th rounder Phelps who stands out as the key piece of that draft class. That draft class, by the way, is the one that just reached free agent status this offseason, so Phelps really has emerged as the last man standing (though catcher Kyle Higashioka has re-signed on a minor league deal).
9. Manny Banuelos
Signed: international free agent, 2008
Two years ago, it seemed Banuelos was knocking on the door to the big leagues and on the verge of taking a lasting spot in the Yankees rotation. Then he had Tommy John surgery and his steady climb was thrown off track. Now Baneulos is back to the doorstep of the big leagues, but taking that next step will be a matter of pitching effectively one year after an inconsistent season in Double-A and Triple-A. Banuelos still has an option remaining, so he doesn’t have to make the big league roster out of spring training. It remains to be seen whether he’ll live up to his lofty potential and become a rotation mainstay for years to come.
10. Ramon Flores
Signed: international free agent, 2008
There are a few other players from the international class of 2008 who are still hanging around, but Flores and Banuelos stand out as the ones with easily the most reasonable chance of actually playing a role in New York at some point (the others are not on the 40-man and not making much impact in system). Back in 2008, Flores got the 10th-highest bonus during the international signing period (he was a much bigger name than Baneulos at the time). If it seems lousy that the Yankees have so little impact from that international class, check out the other names who got top-20 international bonuses that year. Those young international guys always come with a high level of risk.
Associated Press photo
The Arizona Fall League has ended, so our weekly winter ball updates are going to be a little more limited at this point. The Yankees really don’t have a ton of high-profile guys playing this offseason — the pitching is especially thin — but there are some upper-level guys who could fight for bench jobs in spring training, so it seems worth keeping track of how they’re doing.
• On Saturday, Jose Pirela went 2-for-4 with a home run for Aguilas del Zulia in Venezuela. It was his first homer since October 27, and it started a stretch of three straight two-hit games during which he also doubled twice. Yesterday he went 0-for-4 and struck out for the first time in seven games. In the past week he’s played right field three times, second base once and third base once. That ability to play all over the field might be just as important as his bat when it comes time to play for a big league job this spring.
• We’ve seen Pirela put up great winter numbers in the past, which is why I’m actually more fascinated by the offseason production of outfield prospect Ramon Flores., who hit two homers on Sunday and has multiple hits in five of his past eight games. Coming off a minor league season that was limited by an ankle injury, Flores has hit .390/.470/.520 as an everyday guy in Venezuela. He was most recently moved into the No. 3 hole in the lineup. The past two years, Flores has never gotten much playing time in winter ball, but this year he’s become a regular and he’s made the most of it while getting time in all three outfield spots. Flores has a spot on the 40-man, so he could become a legitimate big league option if a Yankees outfielder gets hurt this year.
• Also on the 40-man roster, and also in the mix for a big league job should someone get hurt, relatively new outfielder Eury Perez has finally shown signs of life in the Dominican Republic. He went 4-for-6 last Friday — that one day his batting average jumped nearly 50 points — and he followed with a two-hit game the very next day. One curious thing about Perez: He has a .360 career on-base percentage in the minors, but he really doesn’t walk a ton. He has yet to draw a walk after 74 at-bats this winter. He walked 13 times in 238 Triple-A plate appearances last year. For comparison, Flores drew 33 walks in 271 Triple-A plate appearances. Perez was hit by a pitch eight times; Flores was hit by a pitch once.
• He doesn’t have a 40-man spot, but Adonis Garcia belongs in that conversation of outfielders who could play for a bench job at some point next season. The versatile Cuban — he’s played all three outfield spots and a little bit of third base in the minors — has finally gotten his bat going this winter. He homered last Friday, then he homered again on Sunday. That was the end of a stretch when he had 14 hits in seven games, and he’s had hits in his past two games as well, bringing his winter slash line up to .317/.371/.417. He’s capable of hitting for more power than that slugging percentage suggests. Needs to hit to keep from being completely eclipsed by the Yankees glut of upper level outfielders.
• The Yankees have absolutely no shortstop depth in the upper levels, and their middle-infield depth is pretty much limited to Pirela and Rob Refsnyder. But a kid named Ali Castillo is doing what he can to be on the radar. Trenton’s shortstop this season is now hitting .317/.348/.421 in Venezuela this winter — he’s Pirela’s teammate — while playing shortstop, third base, second base and left field. As I’ve written before, he’s not really considered much of a prospect, but the top of the Yankees system is awfully thin in the infield. Beggars can’t be choosers, and Castillo’s doing what he can this winter. He currently has a five-game hitting streak.
• Here’s a guy I know very little about: Right-handed pitcher Luis Niebla is pitching in Mexico and has a 3.25 through seven starts. On Tuesday he went five scoreless with three hits and three strikeouts. He was signed back in 2011 and pitched pretty well at three different levels this season. He finished the year in Charleston where he had a 2.23 ERA through 36.1 innings. In his final start of the minor league season, Niebla went seven scoreless with seven strikeouts and no walks.
• Another guy signed out of Mexico in 2011 is Giovanny Gallegos, and like Niebla, he’s currently pitching in the Mexican Winter League. Working out of the bullpen, Gallegos has allowed just one run — it came on a home run — through 12 innings. He’s walked four, given up nine hits and struck out eight. He’s already 23 and had a not-so-great year as a multi-inning reliever in Charleston. His last outing of the regular season was a good one: four scoreless innings.
• Recently re-signed Triple-A reliever Diego Moreno vultured a couple of wins out of the bullpen this past week in Venezuela. He got off to a great start in winter ball, then had a bat stretch, but he’s now gone six straight outings without allowing a run, and an intentional walk on Tuesday was his first walk since October 31 and only this third walk in 13.1 innings this winter.
• New addition Jose De Paula — the minor league lefty signed to a big league deal earlier this month — still has just two appearances this winter. He made two starts back in October, but he hasn’t pitched for his Dominican team since the Yankees acquired him.
Associated Press photo of Pirela
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:
• 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.
• Eury 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.
• 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
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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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
What to do about second base? • 10.27.14
The Yankees really don’t have a problem at second base. They have a perfectly capable big league option in place with Martin Prado, and they have on-the-verge second base prospects in Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. They’re set in the short term, and they have some hope for the long term.
None of these guys is Robinson Cano, but the options aren’t bad.
Problem is, what happens at second base is connected to what happens at third base, and so there’s still a bit of uncertainty. Move Prado to third and second base becomes all about potential and nothing about proven experience.
So what to do about second base?
1. Make third base a separate issue
This means, essentially, committing to Prado as the Opening Day second baseman. Pirela could still play his way into a bench role, and Refsnyder could force a change if he rakes in spring training (or in the first month or so back at Triple-A) but the Yankees could essentially approach this offseason with Prado locked in at second base, making the third base uncertainty a separate issue. If the second base situation is what it is – with Prado and the two young guys – then there’s little else to discuss at the position.
2. Commit to one of the young guys
Essentially, do nothing at either second base or third base. The roster stays as it is, but instead of Prado being penciled in at second base, he’s penciled in at third base. Alex Rodriguez is the regular designated hitter, and the Yankees commit to either Refsnyder or Pirela playing second base on Opening Day. It would essentially let them spend money elsewhere, but would force some level of belief and patience through inevitable growing pains.
3. Prepare to mix and match
Don’t commit to anything at either second base or third base. Simply try to find three options for two infield positions: Rodriguez, Prado and someone else. That likely means signing some sort of veteran second baseman – maybe a Mark Ellis type – to add an experienced option just in case Refsnyder and Pirela each fall flat. Mixing and matching would not require the kind of contract that absolutely has to be in the lineup, but it would likely involve some sort of free agent who has experience.
4. Focus on a second base upgrade
Maybe Chase Headley is too expensive for a defense-first player. Maybe Pablo Sandoval is too expensive, period. Maybe there’s not a great third-base option out there, so instead of focusing on third base a position of uncertainty, the Yankees decide that Prado is the third baseman, Rodriguez is the DH, and they go looking for help at second. That could mean finding a low-cost veteran to compete with Pirela and Refsnyder – perhaps that’s all the market will allow – but it would surely mean a more concentrated effort to do more. For example: how readily available and viable is Chase Utley? Essentially, instead of signing a new third baseman, the Yankees commit resources toward a regular second baseman.
Associated Press photos