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
Pirela gets in the lineup at DH • 09.22.14
Brett Gardner CF
Derek Jeter SS
Brian McCann C
Chris Young LF
Chase Headley 3B
Francisco Cervelli 1B
Stephen Drew 2B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Jose Pirela DH
RHP Michael Pineda
After yesterday’s five innings against low-level minor leaguers, Masahiro Tanaka complained of no unusual pain or discomfort today and will step back into the Yankees rotation on Sunday. It’s entirely possible the game will be completely meaningless in the standings, but it will be Tanaka’s most significant test of an elbow ligament that was found to be slightly torn in early July.
“More than anything, I want to see if my body is able to go fully on a major-league mound; pitch on the mound,” Tanaka said. “That’s by far, (more than) anything, most important to me. Also, the fact that, to be able to contribute in the team’s win would be something important to me too.”
Joe Girardi made it clear that Tanaka will pitch Sunday even if the Yankees are mathematically eliminated at that point.
“Obviously he’s got to throw his bullpen again, which I don’t suspect will be a problem, but he’s got to do that,” Girardi said. “… He’s pitching if he’s OK.”
Roughly 70-75 pitches, Girardi said. It seems likely Tanaka would make one more start as long as Sunday goes as hoped.
“Even if it’s short, if I’m able to go out there and have a strong outing, it’ll give me some good confidence (that the elbow has healed),” Tanaka said.
• No surprise that Martin Prado is out of the lineup, but it was a mild surprise that Mark Teixeira’s not in there. It’s hit right wrist again. Girardi said it was bothering him the final game of last week’s home stand, but now it’s significant enough to keep him out of the lineup. “I told him, come see me when you’re ready to go again,” Girardi said.
• Girardi gave absolutely no indication that Teixeira will miss the rest of the season, but it seems worth wondering if that’s possible. “You’re hoping when you have the surgery (last year) that you’re healthy and you can play every day,” Girardi said. “But for whatever reason, it’s lingered with him. Maybe the offseason will help and he’ll get through it and we won’t have that problem. That’s my hope for next year.”
• As for Prado, he had the appendectomy this morning. “He had a stomach ache all day yesterday and played through it,” Girardi said. “He went right from here to (the hospital) to have the tests and they determined that he needed to have surgery.”
• To add similar defensive flexibility, the Yankees have called up Jose Pirela, but he hasn’t played since the end of the Triple-A season two weeks ago. “We’ll try to get him in there,” Girardi said. “He hasn’t done much for two weeks. We’ll work him out a couple of days, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t just throw him in there one day.”
• Girardi said Francisco Cervelli got full medical clearance last night, but Girardi waited until today to get Cervelli back on the field. This is Cervelli’s first game action since those migraines earlier this month.
• This is another Michael Pineda start. He’s faced 102 consecutive batters without allowing a walk or a hit-by-pitch. He hasn’t walked anyone since August 20.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees offense took another hit today when Martin Prado was placed on the 60-day disabled list after undergoing an appendectomy this morning. Prado had been one of the few offensive high points down the stretch, but he won’t play again until next season.
Prado was sent to the 60-day so that the Yankees could open a roster spot for utility man Jose Pirela, who was called up and added to the active roster. He’s expected to be with the team tonight at Tropicana Field. Pirela was arguably Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s most valuable player this season hitting .305/.351/.441 while playing all over the field (he basically capable of playing the same spots Prado can play).
It seems entirely possible, if not likely, that giving Pirela a late September call-up sets the stage for him staying on the 40-man through the winter and trying to win a big league bench spot next season. He’s versatile and has a recent history of hitting in the upper levels and in winter ball.
Looking ahead to September • 08.18.14
This post contains way too many words about possible September call-ups.
Why is this way too many? Because aside from the possibility of a left-handed reliever, there really don’t seem to be any impact September call-ups on the horizon. A few guys will come up to provide pitching and bench depth, but that’s about it. There isn’t a ton of playing time up for grabs, and there aren’t many obvious auditions that could take place. A left-handed reliever might get into some key situations, but that’s about it. If the Yankees fall completely out of contention, I suppose they could give a guy like Bryan Mitchell a start or maybe give Zoilo Almonte a chance to make a fresh impression with some right field starts. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t expect a ton out of the September additions.
But, I like minor league baseball and I think September call-ups are interesting, so here are a few thoughts and possibilities broken into four pretty typical September call-up categories.
Pretty standard September addition. The Yankees have been playing with an eight-man pitching staff for quite a while now, but even so, they’re still likely to add a few guys just to give them depth down the stretch.
Best bet: RHP Bryan Mitchell
He’s been up and down a few times, and he’s been pitching well out of the Triple-A rotation. He’s pretty much custom-made for providing innings, and there’s a real benefit to giving him some more big league experience. Seems like a strong candidate to be a rotation candidate at some point next season, even if he opens the year in Triple-A.
Keep in mind: RHP David Phelps
Worth remembering that Phelps is currently on the disabled list but due to be reevaluated today. Phelps was pitching pretty well before that mess of a start in Boston, and he could certainly move right back into the rotation once he’s healthy again. That could essentially push Chris Capuano into a bullpen role as another long man.
Uncertainty: RHP Preston Claiborne and RHP Matt Daley
Both are on the 40-man roster, but both are also on the Triple-A disabled list. If they’re healthy, it would be easy to call up both Claiborne and Daley to be extra middle-inning or extra-inning arms. Claiborne seems pretty close to coming off the disabled list. Another injured Triple-A reliever, Jose Ramirez, won’t be healthy in time to come up next month.
Worth mentioning: RHP Brandon Pinder, RHP Diego Moreno, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa
Montgomery and Burawa have been demoted to Double-A, which probably isn’t a good sign for them getting a call-up to the big leagues. Worth mentioning, though, because all four have been pretty good at times this season, and all four should be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If any of these pitchers are going to be protected in the offseason, might make sense to go ahead and add them to the roster now. My guess would be that Pinder is at the top of this particular pecking order right now. Veteran RHP Jim Miller could also be part of this discussion if the Yankees want a short-term roster addition just to provide some innings.
Probably not: RHP Nick Rumbelow
He’s moved quickly through the system and has been alright since getting to Triple-A, but he’s not Rule 5 eligible yet and there’s probably no reason to have him filling a 40-man spot all winter just so he can get a mopup inning or two in September.
The Yankees might very well bring up a new lefty before September 1, but given the fact they’re not carrying a true left-on-left specialist, it seems like a solid bet that they’ll eventually give some young lefty a call-up. Might even try more than one.
Best bet: LHP Manny Banuelos
Can’t say for certain that Banuelos is the “best bet” to come up as a left-on-left reliever, but he’s the only option who’s currently on the 40-man roster. He’s also pitched pretty well lately, which is surely easing some of the concerns about his early season inconsistency. Whether a career starter — and a young one at that — would be a viable situational lefty, I have no idea. But having a spot on the 40-man makes him an easy call-up if the Yankees want to either get his feet wet or see what he can do in a fairly important role.
Keep in mind: LHP Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees first-round draft pick back in June was a college reliever who throws pretty hard from the left side, and the Yankees have already pushed him all the way to Double-A. Pitching in Trenton isn’t exactly knocking on the door, but Lindgren has a big arm and a bunch of strikeouts and it’s not unheard of for a team to push a college reliever all the way to the big leagues in his first pro season.
Uncertainty: LHP Chris Capuano
He won’t be a September call-up, but Capuano factors into this discussion because of David Phelps. If Phelps is ready to return to the rotation fairly quickly, he could takeover for Capuano, who could move into a left-on-left role out of the bullpen. A possibility if the Yankees aren’t sure any of the young guys can handle the job.
Worth mentioning: LHP Tyler Webb, LHP James Pazos, LHP Francisco Rondon, SHP Pat Venditte
My guess is that all of these except Webb should be considered real long shots. I mention Pazos because he has good numbers in Double-A and the Yankees seem to like his arm; Rondon because he was once on the 40-man and has had the Yankees attention at various points; and Venditte because he’s been a pretty solid reliever for years now and has generally been pretty good with that side-arm delivery against lefties. Webb, though, is the left-handed relief prospect who’s most on the radar. Doesn’t have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft yet, but the Yankees have been pretty aggressive with him and he’s probably their most advanced left-handed relief prospect.
Probably not: LHP Nik Turley
There are actually a ton of lefties on the Triple-A pitching staff right now, including Turley, Matt Tracy and Jeremy Bleich, all of whom would be capable of giving multiple innings and — in theory — matching up against a left-handed hitter. My thinking, though, is: If the Yankees are going to try a long-time starter in this role in September, why not just try Banuelos? That’s easier than putting some of the other non-traditional relievers onto the roster. Know who else is a probably not? Cesar Cabral. The guy was actually in the big leagues at one point this year, but he’s fallen completely off the radar. Double-A lefties are knocking him around.
Happens basically every September that teams give themselves an extra catcher for the final month of the season. The question with the Yankees isn’t whether they’ll call up a third catcher, it’s whether they’ll call up a fourth catcher.
Best bet: C John Ryan Murphy
Even thought it was Austin Romine who came up when Brian McCann went on the disabled list, I’m still going to bet that Murphy is the best bet for a September call-up. I’m basing that almost entirely on the fact that Murphy played well during his extended big league call-up earlier this season, and based on the fact that Mark Newman has said Murphy is likely to come off the Triple-A disabled list pretty soon.
Keep in mind: C Austin Romine
These days, Murphy generates much more prospect buzz than Romine. But, down in Triple-A, it’s actually Romine who has better offensive numbers this season. He’s also played a decent amount of first base and could, in theory, fill in for Mark Teixeira in some late innings. Romine hasn’t played much in August, but he hit .342/.385/.466 in July, and it’s not like the big league staff is unfamiliar with him.
Uncertainty: Why not both?
Does it make sense to go ahead and bring both Murphy and Romine to the big leagues in September? Maybe leave one of them behind to play that last Triple-A game, and then just carry four catchers in the final month? In blowouts, one could get behind the plate and the other could rest Teixeira by playing first base.
Worth mentioning: C Francisco Cervelli
There’s only one other catcher call-up candidate worth mentioning, and we’ll get to him in a second. For now, it’s worth mentioning that the Yankees are facing an offseason decision about whether to bring back Cervelli — who’s been awfully good — or to give the backup catcher job fulltime to either Murphy or Romine. If the Yankees are out of it in September, one of these September call-up catchers could step into some serious playing time just to see what they’ve got.
Probably not: C Gary Sanchez
He’s on the 40-man roster, and he’s one of the biggest names in the Yankees minor league system, but it’s hard to predict a Sanchez call-up this year. He’s been alright this season, but he’s also been benched for disciplinary reasons, and it’s hard to imagine much playing time being available for him. Just doesn’t seem that he’s on the verge of getting his feet wet, but I guess you never know. If he’s sorted out his disciplinary issues, maybe he’s rewarded. My guess is that he won’t be.
VERSATILITY ON THE BENCH
There’s no one currently in the system who seems on the verge of a September call-up to play a significant role in the everyday lineup. Position players who come up are most likely going to be complimentary pieces given very occasional playing time.
Best bet: OF Zoilo Almonte
Joe Girardi hasn’t seemed sold on Almonte ever since his so-so performance last season, but he’s still a powerful left-handed hitter — technically switch hitter, but he’s significantly better from the left side — and he’s on the 40-man roster with some big league time already this season. Not sure he’ll actually get at-bats, but he seems like an obvious choice to bring up at least serve as an option for some pop as a pinch hitter or occasional platoon starter.
Keep in mind: UT Zelous Wheeler
In a lot of ways, Wheeler is an ideal September call-up. He’s already on the 40-man, he’s held his own in the big leagues already this season, and he can play almost any position on the field, which means he provides terrific versatility down the stretch. As long as Wheeler stays on the 40-man roster, there’s little reason not to give him a call-up.
Uncertainty: UT Jose Pirela
The one reason not to call up Wheeler would be to call up a somewhat similar but younger player in Pirela. Wheeler is probably the better defensive player, but they’re both versatile right-handed hitters who are putting up good numbers in Triple-A. If the Yankees aren’t planning to keep Wheeler through the offseason — but are interested in keeping Pirela — they could basically swap the two, putting Pirela on the roster in Wheeler’s place and giving Pirela the September call-up. Pirela can play second base and left field, and he could play third base, first base, right field and presumably shortstop in a pinch.
Worth mentioning: OF Ramon Flores, 1B Kyle Roller, OF Adonis Garcia, OF Taylor Dugas
Of these four, only Flores is on the 40-man, and he’s a nice fit for September. He can run, he can play all three outfield spots, he has some first base experience, and he was playing pretty well in Triple-A before an injury. Indications are that Flores could be off the DL and active by the time September rolls around, but would the Yankees call up a guy who’s hardly played since the start of June. The other three listed are not on the 40-man, and I’m not sure they’d play roles significant enough to find a way to get them on the roster. Dugas in particular has been terrific this year, but he’s not yet Rule 5 eligible, so there’s probably little sense having him take up a 40-man spot all winter. I would suggest OF Antoan Richardson as an interesting possibility as well — speed off the bench, ability to play all three outfield spots — but he’s currently on the temporarily inactive list, and I’m not sure what that’s about or how long he’ll be there. Could temporarily add him without worrying about a DFA this winter.
Probably not: 2B Rob Refsnyder
Arguably the most buzzworthy September call-up possibility. Probably is, Refsnyder is just like a handful of guys on this list in that he’s playing in Triple-A already but won’t be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If he’s only going to come up to sit the bench and maybe get his feet wet, is that really worth taking up an otherwise valuable 40-man spot all winter? If he were coming up to play every day, that would be one thing. But bringing him up to backup Stephen Drew probably isn’t worthwhile.
Associated Press photos
Yankees organizational depth: Shortstop • 01.12.11
In certain corners of the Yankees fan base, Derek Jeter is perhaps the least beloved icon in baseball. A vocal minority — at least I think it’s a minority — is ready to give up on him after the first rather pedestrian season of his career. The Yankees aren’t so pessimistic, having just locked Jeter into a three-year deal with a fourth-year option, but they are preparing for life without their captain. The Yankees top two picks in last year’s draft were shortstops.
In the big leagues
Hard to believe Jeter is only one year removed from being a legitimate MVP candidate. Concerns about production are inevitable when a player reaches his late 30s, but Jeter seemed to be charging into his twilight years before a sudden step back last season. Defensively, he’s fundamental rather than dynamic, and the Yankees seem willing to accept those limitations. Offensively, it’s hard to say what Jeter is at this point. If he falls somewhere between his ’09 and ’10 levels of production, he’ll remain one of the better offensive shortstops in the game. He showed signs of bouncing back in September, but another step in the wrong direction could be a real problem and would almost certainly force Joe Girardi to drop his captain to the bottom of the lineup.
On the verge
The Yankees know what they have in Ramiro Pena. He’s a terrific defensive player with a little bit of speed, but his bat is limited to say the least. The shortstop who seems to have their attention is Eduardo Nunez, who last year hit .289/.340/.381 with 23 stolen bases in Triple-A, then held his own after a late-season major league call-up. He seems to have made defensive progress last season as well. Beyond Nunez, there’s a large gap before the next wave of significant shortstop potential reaches the upper levels. Jose Pirela, who should open in Double-A, isn’t a no-name, but his ceiling seems closer to a utility infielder than a starting shortstop.
Deep in the organization
It was considered something of a surprise when the Yankees took a shot on Cito Culver as their first-round draft pick last summer. They backed that pick by selecting another teenage shortstop, Angelo Gumbs, in the second round. Three years earlier, the Yankees took a 10th-round shot on a high school shortstop named Carmen Angelini — they knew he was raw, but thought he might improve too much in college for them to ever have a shot at him when he was older — only to see that pick fizzle through bad numbers and a hip injury. Instead, the long-term, in-house future of the shortstop position might rest on the two kids who turned pro just a few months ago.
Organizational depth chart
My own rough guess. It’s far too early for the Yankees to settle on who will be where next season.
New York: Derek Jeter
Scranton/WB: Ramiro Pena/Eduardo Nunez
Trenton: Jose Pirela
Tampa: Kelvin Castro
Charleston: Carmen Angelini
The big league depth chart at shortstop doesn’t extend much beyond Nunez and Pena. Kevin Russo and Reegie Corona have experience at the position, but both are better suited elsewhere. If Jeter gets hurt, Nunez seems to be the best long-term solution. If Pena wins the utility job, he’ll be the guy to get occasional starts here and there.
In the lower levels, the shortstop situation could change significantly by mid-season. Culver will probably open in extended spring training with a eye toward making his Charleston debut in early June. Until then, an organizational shortstop — Jose Mojica, Emerson Landoni, Angelini — could get the Low-A job. Up in High-A, Castro is the natural fit for the job despite hitting just .224 in Charleston last year. If not him, perhaps Walter Ibarra or Addison Maruszak could return to Tampa, but as an everyday player this time. There is also the chance that Angelini could impress in spring training and get the Tampa job out of camp. Basically, the shortstop position in the lower levels is remarkably flexible heading into spring training. The upper levels will have Luis Nunez, Doug Bernier and Justin Snyder to fill some shortstop time off the bench.
Associated Press photo of Jeter, headshots of Jeter, Nunez and Angelini (milb.com doesn’t have a Culver headshot yet and I don’t want to steal one from another site)
Rule 5 decisions looming for Yankees • 11.02.10
Last winter, the Yankees added seven minor leaguers to the 40-man roster. If I had to guess, I’d say it will be closer to four or five this winter.
Of the players eligible for the Rule 5 draft, only Dellin Betances and Brandon Laird jump out as guys who absolutely need to be protected. Beyond that, each addition is likely to depend on how many roster spots come open and how highly the Yankees think of some of their lower-level players.
This post is not an attempt to list every Yankees minor leaguer who’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft. These are simply some of the names who jumped out to me as leading candidates at various positions. My friend Donnie Collins has a more comprehensive list.
Pitchers: Wilkins Arias, Dellin Betances, Jairo Heredia, Craig Heyer, Alan Horne, George Kontos, Adam Olbrychowski, Jonathan Ortiz, Lance Pendleton, Ryan Pope, Pat Venditte, Kevin Whelan, Eric Wordekemper
Betances (right) is the no-brainer of the group. He’s a huge talent who seems to be finally healthy, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could pitch his way to New York as early as next season.
Heredia is also a pretty big talent, but injuries have held him to only 39 innings above Low-A. The Yankees took a chance on getting the young and raw Ivan Nova through the Rule 5 in 2008, and that worked out. They took no such chances with Hector Noesi last year. The Yankees have to make a similar decision on Heredia this year.
Beyond Betances, the names that standout most are Arias, Pendleton and Pope. Arias is the only lefty on the list, Pendleton is coming off a nice year in Double-A (he finished in Triple-A) and Pope was invited to big league camp this spring then got an Arizona Fall League assignment this offseason. Heyer is also in the Fall League. Those Fall League assignments suggest the Yankees like the potential of Heyer and Pope, but one year ago Zach Kroenke, Grant Duff and Colin Curtis were all sent to the Fall League, but each was still left exposed to the Rule 5.
Horne and Kontos would be much more prominent in this discussion if not for injuries. Kontos is pitching again, but after a solid regular season, he’s struggling in Arizona.
Infielders: Brandon Laird, Jose Pirela, Brad Suttle
Laird (right) was terrific this season. He can already play the infield corners, now he’s in the Fall League learning to handle the outfield. He seems like a lock.
Pirela is the biggest name of a few small-name middle infielders who are eligible. He’s never played above Class A, and the Yankees already have quite a few middle infielders on the roster. Suttle is an interesting case: A fourth-round pick who showed an impressive bat in college but missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury. He started to hit in the second-half of this season, but I’m not sure he could actually stick on a Major League roster at this point.
Outfielders: Abraham Almonte, Zoilo Almonte, Austin Krum, Melky Mesa, Damon Sublett
The top candidate here is Mesa (right). He can hit for power, he can run and he can throw. He also struck out 129 times in 121 games this season. And that was an improvement on last year’s 168 strikeouts. Strikeouts aside, Mesa can play center field and he brings a ton of tools. Beyond Laird, I’d say Mesa is the top position player worth a spot.
Of the other outfielders: Neither of the Almonte’s has played above Class-A, while Krum and Sublett hit below .230 in Double-A this season. Sublett and Abraham Almonte are converted infielders.
Catchers: Jose Gil
No big names are eligible at catcher. Right or wrong, Gil (right) has been treated more like an organizational catcher than as a prospect. P.J. Pilittere will become a free agent this winter, but he’s not someone the Yankees are likely to consider adding to the roster, and he’s much better off finding a new organization.
Jesus Montero and Austin Romine are a year away from Rule 5 eligibility.