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
State of the organization: Left field • 10.15.14
Our final state of the organization stop among position players is left field, where the Yankees have committed long-term to a bit of an unconventional choice for the position (more speed and on-base than true power). It’s also a position that leaves open the option of making a trade and eventually opening the door for one of many possible alternatives down the road. The left fielder of the future doesn’t necessarily have to be a guy who’s playing left field right now.
Signed through 2019
When the Yankees locked Jacoby Ellsbury into a long-term contract last winter, it seemed like bad news for Gardner’s staying power. Having long been considered a kind of poor-man’s version of Ellsbury, Gardner was giving up his leadoff spot and his defensive position to a what seemed to be a superior player, and free agency was fast approaching. But the Yankees changed that in spring training with a four-year contract extension plus a team option. Gardner responded with a unusually typical season. His .749 OPS was just slightly higher than his career OPS, and his 111 OPS+ was right in line with the previous season. But Gardner got there by hitting for a surprising amount of power with a career-high 17 homers. Those home runs came with a career-low .327 on-base percentage. There were stretches when Gardner looked like the best hitter in the Yankees lineup, and he finished with the highest OPS among the regulars. When this year started, it seemed Gardner might be on his way out. Now his production and contract essentially lock him into an everyday job for the foreseeable future (unless the Yankees decide to do something drastic).
On the verge
You could make a case for several “on the verge” left field options — and in a lot of ways, Ramon Flores is the best fit for this distinction because he’s a true left fielder who had a solid year when he was healthy — but if there’s an in-house guy who’s well positioned to actually help out in left field out of spring training, it’s probably Pirela. He’s a right-handed hitter, which makes him a nice complement to Gardner. He’s also versatile, which makes him a nice fit on a Yankees roster with so much uncertainty at various positions. Pirela came up as an infielder, but he’s been getting regular reps in left field for a few years now. He will surely try to win an everyday job at second base during spring training, but it might be easier for him a win a job as a bench player who can play the outfielder corners while providing additional depth in the infield. Adonis Garcia and Zelous Wheeler (if he’s not DFA) could also be right-handed corner outfield options off the bench.
Hard to find a true left field prospect. Quite often a young player comes up at another position and plays his way into a left field job (or, in the case of Gardner, ends up shifting to left field because the other outfield positions are filled). Flores, though, has been primarily a left fielder throughout his career. He can play center, and he has experience as a right fielder and first baseman, but the vast majority of his time has come in left. And he has a set of tools that might actually profile pretty well for a fourth outfielder type who can run a little, get on base and handle all three spots in the outfield. He has a spot on the 40-man roster and he hit .247/.339/.443 in Triple-A this year (though his season was limited to 63 games because of an ankle injury). There are bigger names who could end up in left field depending on various circumstances, but Flores is a left fielder by trade, and he’s done enough to stay on the prospect radar into the upper levels of the system.
Deeper in the system
You can dig into the lower levels of the system and find a few names worth watching in left field. Former third-rounder Michael O’Neill still strikes out a lot, but he was better this year than last year. A pretty young kid named Frank Frias had a solid year in rookie ball. A 2012 draftee named Chris Breen hit .281/.376/.504 in Staten Island. In terms of organizational depth at the position, though, the Yankees abundance of left field options basically revolves around all the guys who can play center field. If Slade Heathcott gets healthy or Mason Williams gets back on track, either one could become a left field alternative as long as Ellsbury remains in New York. Same for emerging center field standout Jake Cave. Right fielders Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge would presumably become left field options if circumstances forced the change. One interesting name that stands out, though, is Dugas. An eighth-round pick out of the University of Alabama, Dugas can play center and right but he’s mostly been a left fielder in pro ball. He’s undersized — listed at 5-foot-9 — but he’s done a terrific job of getting on base. This year he hit .299/.399/.390 between Double-A and Triple-A, essentially forcing the Yankees to not only give him regular at-bats but also to promote him to the highest level of the minors. Easy to overlook a year ago, Dugas put up numbers that can’t be ignored.
Making a trade to open a door
Aside from the year he was hurt most of the season, Gardner’s been a pretty steady player since moving into the everyday lineup. He doesn’t run as much as his speed suggests he should, and he strikes out a lot for a top-of-the-order guy, but he’s been a good lineup regular. This season’s power surge was a welcome surprise, he remains a patient hitter, and his outfield defense is a plus. Right now, Gardner’s spring contract extension looks like a pretty good one for the Yankees. So it’s worth asking, should they trade him? Gardner’s contract should make him an attractive trade chip, and the upper levels of the Yankees system have a lot of outfielders — many of them left-handed hitters like Gardner — who could become alternatives in left field. If Jake Cave, for example, builds off last season, could he be an even cheaper version of Gardner? Very little guarantee that any of the outfield prospects will be able to match Gardner’s big league production, but Gardner himself is proof that a prospect labeled as an eventual fourth outfielder can eventually play his way into being a productive everyday guy. If the Yankees want someone to follow in Gardner’s footsteps, they might first have to open Gardner’s position.
Associated Press photo
State of the organization: Second base • 10.08.14
Moving around the diamond in our look at the state of the Yankees organization, we settle into second base where the Yankees made a massive decision last winter to pass on the 10-year deal it would take to sign Robinson Cano. Recognizing that Cano was the team’s best short-term fit, the team instead made a long-term decision to avoid a potential repeat of the Alex Rodriguez contract. Passing on Cano has left uncertainty but also opportunity at the position.
Signed through 2016
For now, Prado projects as the Opening Day second baseman, but that’s hardly a sure thing. In fact, it’s Prado’s ability to play so many other positions that makes him a nice fit for this current Yankees roster. If the lineup is full uncertainty, it’s nice to have a guy who can plug a lot of holes, and that’s Prado. In a perfect world, Alex Rodriguez will be able to play third base, Carlos Beltran will be able to play right field, and second base will belong to Prado until one of the young guys is ready to take over. But if Rodriguez isn’t moving well in spring training — and if the Yankees haven’t signed a go-to backup — then Prado could shift to third base. If Beltran suffers some sort of setback and can’t handle right field, then Prado could become an outfield regular (which is the way the Yankees planned to use him this season when they acquired him at the trade deadline). Through most of his career, Prado has hit for a strong average while showing a decent amount of power, especially for a middle infielder, and he’s clearly going to play regularly. If it’s not at second base, it will be somewhere.
On the verge
Really, there are two second basemen who qualify as “on the verge” of winning a big league job. The bigger name, and arguably the safer bet, is Rob Refsnyder, but he fits best in the next category. So we’ll use Pirela in this spot. Despite his standout season in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre — hit .305/.351/.441 and made the postseason All-Star team — the Yankees initially held off on giving Pirela a September call-up. It wasn’t until Prado with down with a season-ending appendectomy that Pirela got to make his big league debut, and it seems telling that he was the Yankees starting second baseman for each of those final three games in Boston. The Yankees big league staff got a chance to see him at the position before heading into the winter. Pirela does not have a great defensive reputation, but he does have plenty of defensive flexibility. He’s played every position except catcher and pitcher, and while he would be more of an emergency option at shortstop or center field, he seems at least passable at second, third, first and the outfield corners. He’s on the 40-man roster now, which suggests the Yankees intend to keep him and give him a look in spring training. Could be a utility man off the bench, or he could play his way into more regular playing time if he carries this year’s offensive success to the next level.
Of the Yankees top position prospects, Refsnyder is the one most immediately in the discussion for a big league job. Aaron Judge, Eric Jagielo, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez aren’t ready to compete for jobs this spring, John Ryan Murphy is blocked at his position, and it’s hard to call Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams a top position prospect at this point. Refsnyder, though, has moved quickly, and he spent most of this year hitting .300/.389/.456 in Triple-A. His bat was impressive enough that the Yankees began to prepare him for a possible outfield job until trade deadline reinforcements let Refsnyder continue to get reps at second base, where the team has been impressed by his improvement. So far Refsnyder has lived up to his billing as an advanced hitter, and he seems to impress everyone around him with his work ethic and maturity. When the Yankees decide Refsnyder is ready, there may be no easing-in process. He could very well show up in New York — either on Opening Day or soon after — already holding the keys to the second base job.
Deeper in the system
A second-round draft pick out of a California high school, Katoh was drafted a year and a half ago, and he’s just now — on this very day, actually — turning 20 years old. He’s young, and his first full season of pro ball seemed to show some of that youthful inexperience along with some of the tools that made the Yankees draft him so highly in the first place. Katoh’s overall slash line in Charleston wasn’t overly impressive (.222/.345/.326) but the on-base percentage stands out. He struck out a whopping 142 times, but he also walked 71 times. And he showed improvement, hitting .190/.302/.315 in the first half before hitting .251/.382/.337 in the second half. “He’s a good defender,” Mark Newman said. “He can run. He can play. He’s smart. He’s got the kind of approach at the plate that’s going to allow him to get on base. It was a big jump for him.” That’s true. A full season at Low-A is pretty aggressive for a 19 year old. Katoh’s performance was a sign of what he could be, with proof that he’s not there yet. Even so, he’s clearly ahead of Angelo Gumbs and Anderson Feliz among organizational second base prospects, and he’s still a step ahead of 2014 draftee Ty McFarland (who had a solid debut in Staten Island) and versatile Dominican Junior Valera (who had a nice U.S. debut in rookie ball).
A game of adjustments
Cano’s first year of pro ball, he played shortstop and third base. Pirela was primarily a shortstop through Double-A. Refsnyder was an outfielder in college. Point is, predicting long-term second basemen is often tough when looking through a minor league system. At this point it seems safe to assume Refsnyder is a second baseman barring a surprising twist of fate — or a complete inability to do the job in New York — but as long as we’re looking at the state of the entire organization, it’s worth recognizing that the long-term future of second base could depend on a young kid who’s never played the position at this point. Shortstop prospect Abe Avelino, for example. Just this year, the Yankees spent heavily on young international free agents, and many of them were infielders who currently profile at shortstop — guys like Wilkerman Garcia, Diego Castillo, Hyo-Jun Park — but their position could certainly change as they get older. The biggest name of that bunch is Jorge Mateo, an incredibly toolsy young shortstop out of the Dominican Republic. Expectation is that he can stay at short, but circumstances and opportunity may dictate that he’s eventually part of the second base conversation. Think about what happened with Manny Machado moving off shortstop for a while in Baltimore. It happens.
Associated Press photo
“He can hit,” Newman said. “He plays third base, second base, left field, right field, first. He plays a little short. And he can hit. He’s a Martin Prado type. Great kid. Plays hard.”
Newman is going to retire as the Yankees vice president of baseball operations later this fall, but he held that job throughout Pirela’s up-and-down path from Venezuela to Yankee Stadium. Signed as a teenager, Pirela was a pretty decent prospect for a while, but he didn’t hit much when he first got to Double-A, he was eventually moved off of shortstop, and he became a relatively forgotten man.
Now he looks like a guy whose skill set just might be a nice fit for the Yankees bench next season.
Still just 24 years old, Pirela hit .305/.351/.441 in Triple-A this year. He put up even better numbers last offseason in the Venezuelan Winter League. He can run a little bit, he has experience at every position except pitcher and catcher, and he’s a right-handed hitter (which isn’t a bad thing when the current Yankees outfield has two lefties). It’s true that Pirela largely disappeared from the prospect radar for a few years, but he’s still young, and Newman immediately mentioned both Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances as vague comparisons. Gardner, basically as a guy who was largely dismissed as nothing more than a fourth outfielder, and Betances as a guy who was often labeled a bust before his breakthrough season out of the Yankees bullpen.
Newman’s point: Plenty of guys have played their way beyond expectations. Why not Pirela?
Right now we know two spots on the Yankees 2015 bench will be filled by a backup catcher and by Brendan Ryan (safe to assume the team will add a starting shortstop and keep Ryan as the backup). We also know that Brett Gardner will basically serve as the backup center fielder. Pirela’s ability to play the outfield corners, second base, third base, and a little bit of first base means he could essentially backup every other position (could even play center or shortstop in a pinch). He also hit enough this season to think he just might be able to hold his own in part-time duty, while maybe playing his way into more at-bats.
The Yankees have an aging roster with plenty of regulars who are going to need days off. Versatility is going to be a pretty strong commodity on this roster. We’ve already seen Prado help out by being a lineup regular at various position. Having a younger, second version of Prado waiting on the bench wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Associated Press photo
You know, this was a really good day for the Yankees. It might very well be too little too late, but taken in a vacuum, this was a really good day.
Jose Pirela’s mad-dash triple in his first career at-bat. Michael Pineda flat-out dominant next-to-last start of the year. Derek Jeter’s continued resurgence in his final home stand. Fifth win in six games, and this one coming against a first-place team. There’s a reason the Yankees were smiling a whole lot when this one was finished.
“I am so excited today,” Pirela said. “So I come here, and I’m looking to see if I play. When I see the lineup, I feel so excited. I try to enjoy this moment, enjoy for the rest of my life and play in the big leagues.”
That’s the kid talking. Here’s the soon-to-be-retired icon.
“You continue to play hard and you continue to fight until you’re out of games,” Jeter said. “That’s all you can do. I’m well aware of the situation that we’re in, but the only thing we can control is the games that we’re playing. It was a good win for us today, and we need to come out and win tomorrow.”
I don’t think anyone is really expecting the Yankees to advance to the postseason at this point, but this game was impressive because of Pineda, and it was fun because of Pirela and Jeter. There was something interesting about seeing a guy like Pirela have a debut like this on the same day that Jeter continued to swing the bat so well.
“It’s exciting to watch (Pirela),” Jeter said. “You see how excited he was to get his first hit, then his second hit. It never gets old. We’re all happy for him. He got an opportunity to play and I’m pretty sure he didn’t think he was going to get called up this year. For him to come up and get his first hit, that’s a fun thing to watch.”
As for Jeter, today’s double was the ninth hit during the first five games of this home stand. And the crowd was into his every at-bat.
“I never said I didn’t think I couldn’t play anymore,” Jeter said. “This is the time for me to call it a career after this season. Sometimes things are difficult, sometimes they come a little bit easier. Not easy, but they come a little easier at times. You have to continue to battle. This is a game of adjustments and I’ll continue to make those adjustments until I’m out of games.”
• Pineda was terrific. One hit and one walk through 7.1 innings. It was the longest scoreless outing of his career, and eight strikeouts was his highest total since September 10, 2011 with Seattle. “I’m very happy for coming back and help my team,” Pineda said. “It’s very important for me to help my team every five days, when I take the mound. And I’m very happy, because I love pitching.”
• When Pineda came to the Yankees, he was mostly a fastball-slider guy with a changeup that needed work. But that changeup has come a long way, and we saw some of them tonight. “Every time I’m feeling more comfortable with my changeup, and I’m happy with that, you know?” Pineda said. “It’s very important. It’s a good pitch for me. Before, I’m not using my changeup. Now, it’s very good for me.”
• First Orioles base runner was a J.J. Hardy single in the fifth inning. It was the furthest into a start that Pineda had ever gone without putting anyone on base.
• Eight starts since coming off the disabled list and Pineda’s walked just four batters while striking out 34. “He really picked up where he left off,” Joe Girardi said. “He was throwing the ball great for us before he got hurt, and he’s just really picked up where he left off. … I think it was important for him to come back and pitch well. He’s done that, and he’s pitched really well. And he’s got another start for us.”
• One other thing to note: It was pretty chilly today, and Pineda got through the start pitching well and without an ejection for using pine tar. That’s not to say that he wasn’t using pine tar, but he’s either found a more acceptable way to use it or learned to pitch without it. “You’ve got to remember, the night that he pitched (in Boston) was miserable,” Girardi said. “I do think it’s important to give him confidence when it’s cooler and it’s windy out. The wind a lot of times is the worst thing for a pitcher when it’s cool. It was windy out there, and I think it was important.”
• In his big league debut, Pirela went 2-for-3 with an energizing RBI triple in his first at-bat. He hadn’t played in about two weeks when the Yankees called him up as a late September addition, so he was given a few days to take batting practice and get ready again, but his debut was awfully memorable. “When I see the outfielder go to get the ball (in the first at-bat), I see that’s a hit,” Pirela said. “I say, I want to hit a homer. I thought the ball is gone but I hit a triple and I enjoy that.”
• This was Jeter’s first three-RBI game since September 9, 2012 at Baltimore. Each of his last three games with at least three RBI have come against the Orioles.
• Ichiro Suzuki got his 2,840th career hit, tying Charlie Gehringer for 47th place on MLB’s all-time hit list.
• The Yankees scored more than three runs against Baltimore for the first time since June 20 at Yankee Stadium. They had not scored at least four runs in any of their past 11 games against the Orioles. According to Elias, that was their third-longest such streak against any team since 1920.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “I really believe we have to pretty much win out is pretty much it, but you never know. Strange things happen in sports. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen people that were 10 games back, come back in a month’s time and find a way to get back into the playoffs on the last day. Crazy things happen, and it’s obviously tougher when you’re chasing more than one team, to happen to a lot of teams, but the teams we’re chasing have had their struggles too. And you never know.”
Associated Press photos