Andrew Brackman is not new to Yankees camp. He’s a familiar face around here, and almost everyone in the big league clubhouse is long past first impressions of the tall right-hander.
But Justin Maxwell is new. He arrived in Tampa having only heard of Brackman, and today Maxwell faced the highly touted prospect for the first time in live batting practice. Maxwell’s first impression?
“Really good command,” he said.
Never would have heard that two years ago. Today, Brackman opened eyes with an impressive batting practice session that included all of his pitches, and most importantly, included a bunch of strikes.
“He’s much further ahead than he was (at this time last year),” Joe Girardi said. “He had a hard time consistently throwing strikes, where now it appears that’s behind him. You look at what he’s done the second half of last year, what he’s done here in spring training, he’s throwing a lot of strikes. That’s a big part of the battle when you’re pitching.”
As Mark Feinsand detailed this weekend, Brackman has been fighting that battle ever since his 2007 Tommy John surgery, and he finally seems to be winning after a breakout 2010 season in Trenton.
“My first two camps, those BPs would have been awful,” Brackman said. “Nowhere near the plate or anything like that. The further away I get from surgery, the more comfortable I get on the mound.”
• Hank Steinbrenner spoke after the Rodriguez press conference this afternoon, including a comment that seemed to be a shot at Derek Jeter. In fact, I have a hard time coming up with another way to take it: “Sometimes I think maybe they celebrated a little too much last year,” Steinbrenner said. “Some of the players are too busy building mansions and doing other things, not concentrating on winning. I have no problem saying that. I think they’ve come into this spring with a new hunger.” There’s always something unexpected that pops up around here.
• Jorge Posada did the catching portion of team fielding drills this morning. It was the first time he’d gone through catching drills. The Yankees still haven’t had him squatting or throwing to second base, but that will happen soon. He’s supposed to catch a bullpen Wednesday or Thursday. “He’s been great talking to the players and being involved, but we haven’t asked him to do much behind the plate,” Girardi said.
• Mariano Rivera will throw his first bullpen this week, probably Wednesday or Thursday. “It won’t be long now,” Girardi said.
• Girardi said no injury concerns have popped up. Gustavo Molina was dealing with a quad issue, but he caught a bullpen today and is feeling fine.
• Just a personal observation: Eric Chavez still looks awfully good at third base. He made some solid plays going to his right during batting practice.
• Speaking of BP defense: Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Eduardo Nunez were taking turns fielding grounders at shortstop — it’s just a ground ball drill, the position on the field doesn’t really matter — and after Jeter charged a ball kind of awkwardly, Nunez started dancing around in shallow left field, mocking the Captain’s approach. Cano and Jeter were cracking up, and Jeter gave Nunez a little shove.
• I mentioned it earlier today, but Ronnie Belliard got some time at first base after working at second yesterday. Kevin Russo worked at second after working in the outfield yesterday.
• Boone Logan signed autographs for a while after the morning long toss session. One of his throws had sailed way over Buddy Carlyle and hit a little girl in the stands, so Logan tried to make up for it. Head’s up people! Even the pros let one slip every now and then.
• Joe Girardi is still trying to figure out, plan and schedule a team outing, but there aren’t many options, and the dates are limited before this weekend’s first game. Friday might be the best bet. “We’re going to try,” Girardi said.
Associated Press photos. That’s Kyle Higashioka at the top.
Two main events • 02.20.11
More early activity than usual here at Steinbrenner Field this morning.
In deep right field, Joba Chamberlain just finished warming up and walked into the bullpen, and now Ivan Nova is warming up with some flat-ground throwing before he too goes for an early bullpen.
In shallow right field, Melky Mesa, Bradley Suttle, Justin Maxwell and a fourth player I can’t ID are doing some light jogging, apparently getting ready for some sort of early work of their own. I would guess that they’re about to take some fly balls — there are coaches holding bats as if they’re about to hit a few — but a third baseman is in the mix, so maybe they’re just getting loose before they go to the cage.
Today’s main events will take place later this morning.
First Derek Jeter will address the media, then the Yankees will hold their first full-squad workout of the spring.
Associated Press photo of Jeter with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, pitchers and position players together again
Spring decision: Fourth spot on the bench • 02.12.11
The Yankees know Andruw Jones will be their fourth outfielder. They know their utility infielder will be one of two candidates. They know their backup catcher will be either Francisco Cervelli or one of the young guys. The spot that seems wide open is the fourth man on the bench, a spot that could go to either an infielder or an outfielder, a power bat or a pinch runner, a defensive replacement or a potential pinch hitter.
The Yankees could go almost any direction with this spot. If they want additional outfield depth, Greg Golson and Justin Maxwell are both speedy, right-handed hitters who could be defensive replacements or pinch runners, and Colin Curtis could be a left-handed balance to Jones. In the infield, the Yankees could choose to carry both Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena, or they could carry one of those two as a backup shortstop, with either Eric Chavez or Ron Belliard — or Brandon Laird or Kevin Russo or Jorge Vazquez — available to fill in at the corners.
The easy choice
That’s what the Yankees are hoping for: An easy choice. If anyone steps up in spring training and puts himself clearly above the other candidates, the Yankees choice will be simple. It seems that in an ideal world, Chavez will prove he’s healthy and can still hit for power. He would be a left-handed hitter on a predominantly right-handed bench, and if he can step in as the guy to give Alex Rodriguez an occasional day off at third base, that might be the best use of the fourth bench spot. Any other choice — either a fifth outfielder or a light-hitting second utility man — would have no clear role other than late-inning defense and base-running.
If Chavez is finished, the Yankees could focus on late-inning defense and base-running. Carrying both Pena and Nunez would let the team use either one as a pinch runner without losing defensive flexibility. The same would be true for either Golson or Maxwell, each of whom has enough speed to steal a bag and could slide into right field for the last inning or two.
Normally, the fact Curtis is a left-handed hitter would be a negative in an already left-leaning outfield, but of the favorites for a bench job, Jones, Cervelli and Nunez are all right-handed, and switch-hitter Pena isn’t much of an offensive threat from either side of the plate. If Chavez doesn’t emerge as a legitimate option from the left side, Curtis could bring some left-right balance to the bench.
The Yankees could also prioritize flexibility, opening a spot for either Russo or Brandon Laird as a player capable of filling in at the infield and outfield corners.
A separate but related issue
Eleven players had at least 150 at-bats for the Yankees last season (a group that included Pena and the since-departed Marcus Thames). Of the group that had fewer than 150 ABs, no one had more home runs or RBI than Juan Miranda. Defensive versatility is crucial on the bench, but the Yankees might be on the lookout for a hitter who can bounce back and forth from Scranton and occasionally give the Yankees productive big league at-bats, regardless of defensive ability.
Associated Press photos of Curtis and Chavez
For those of you curious about what’s going on down in Tampa this week, one of our frequent readers — blog handle, Tyanksfan36 — emailed this picture which was taken this morning at the Yankees minor league complex in Tampa.
• With good reason, the story of Wake Forest coach Tom Walter is spreading to various media outlets: Walter donated a kidney to freshman outfielder Kevin Jordan, who was actually drafted by the Yankees before committing to Wake Forest.
• Jay Jaffe used PECOTA to evaluate the Yankees fourth and fifth starter candidates. Believe it or not, the best projected numbers belonged to Sergio Mitre and Hector Noesi. Ivan Nova’s numbers are near the bottom, behind Manny Banuelos and David Phelps. By the way, I think there’s a very real chance we’ll still be talking about Noesi in the middle of March. He could make a run at this thing.
• The Yankees signed a kid named Freiter Marte out of the Dominican Prospect League. He’s a 20-year-old outfielder, but that’s pretty much all I know about him.
• A a few days ago Donnie Collins offered a nice take on new Yankees outfielder Justin Maxwell. Donnie wrote: He is a guy that you see, and you remember. He has hit 19 homers in 177 games the last two seasons with Syracuse, and when he connects, the ball flies. And when the ball is hit toward him, he flies. He is as good a defensive outfielder as there was in the International League.
• To make room on the 40-man for Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, the Rays designated outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Leslie Anderson for assignment. Ruggiano’s opportunity had kind of come and gone in Tampa, but Anderson showed some promise as an older-than-usual prospect last year.
• Not sure this should be considered “cool” but I think it’s pretty awesome: Baseball Prospectus figured out which game Ferris Bueller attended during his day off.
Maxwell: “I feel pretty much 100 percent” • 02.02.11
“We’re a little over three months out and I feel pretty much 100 percent,” Maxwell told Bryan Hoch at MLB.com. “I’ve already been hitting and throwing, doing everything. I feel good.”
At this time last year, Maxwell was considered the Nationals’ eighth-best prospect according to Baseball America. The magazine noted his “above-average power potential” and said he was a “plus runner” and an “above-average defender.” I saw him a little bit during my last year in Scranton. I just remember him as a toolsy guy, a player who had the attention of the league.
At the end of last season, Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said he was looking forward to giving Maxwell another shot in 2011.
“Hopefully, it all comes together and he has a good spring for us and he’s part of the ballclub next year,” Riggleman said. “There’s no reason to give up on him. I think it’s all going to click. There’s no last-chance situation. I wouldn’t put that on him. I’m just hoping he does use the opportunities on the field, as sparing as they’ve been, to show us that he’s the real deal.”
Some other notes and links on this icy Wednesday:
• Terrific piece from my friend Donnie Collins, who wrote that Russ Springer’s retirement sparked memories of watching the Yankees with his grandmother. Be sure to give that a read.
• The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Lou Piniella has accepted a job in the Giants front office. The paper notes that, “GM Brian Sabean goes back with Piniella to their Yankee years in the ’80s, and they’ve remained tight.”
• Josh Norris posted a Q&A with vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman. I didn’t realize the Yankees had moved Vic Valencia to Charleston to work with Gary Sanchez this season.” He’s done a nice job with the catchers he’s worked with so far,” Newman said. “We move staff around to try and match them up with players so we get the biggest bang for our buck from our staff.”
• Heres’s a video of Nick Swisher addressing the media before last night’s Munson dinner. Swisher started to give his acceptance speech in the press room, but ultimately cut it short and saved it for the ballroom.
• Looks like the Rays minor league deal with Felipe Lopez is all but official.
• Here on the blog, I haven’t really mentioned the Mets situation. If you’re curious but haven’t been following the whole mess, here’s a good Times story on the situation. It still seems unclear how this will affect the Mets moving forward.
• I was never a huge White Stripes fan — always thought they were interesting but only bought a couple of their albums — but today the band announced that it’s splitting up, with no plans to ever record or tour again. That’s a shame. At the very least they were always making music that stood out as something different.
Associated Press photo of Maxwell
The New York Yankees today acquired outfielder Justin Maxwell from the Washington Nationals in exchange for right-handed minor league pitcher Adam Olbrychowski.
Maxwell, 27, has appeared in 122 career Major League games over three seasons with Washington (2007, ’09-10), compiling a .201 (44-for-219) batting average with nine home runs and 26 RBI. He entered the 2010 season ranked by Baseball America as the eighth-best prospect in the Nationals organization, hitting .144 (15-for-104) with three home runs and 12 RBI in 67 games at the Major League level in 2010. He also appeared in 66 games with Triple-A Syracuse, batting .287 (66-for-230) with 17 doubles, six home runs and 21 RBI. The Maryland native was selected by Washington in the fourth round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.
Olbrychowski, 25, combined to go 3-2 with a 3.90 ERA (67.0IP, 29ER) in 32 games (one start) with Double-A Trenton and Single-A Tampa in 2010. He spent the majority of the season with Tampa, where he went 3-2 with a 4.02 ERA (62.2IP, 28ER), before being promoted to Trenton on September 1.
To make room on the Yankees’ 40-man roster, outfielder Jordan Parraz was designated for assignment.
UPDATE, 2:55 p.m.: When Maxwell was designated for assignment, I wrote that he might be an interesting addition for the Yankees, but I wasn’t sure he’d fit because Parraz was already on the roster.
His big league numbers aren’t much, but Maxwell can play all three outfield positions, and he has a little bit of speed and power. Three years ago, when Baseball America ranked him as a Top 10 prospect in the Nationals system, they noted that Maxwell, “garners comparisons to Mike Cameron for his speed/power mix and inability to hit for average.”
That might be what he is: A young, poor man’s version of Cameron. He’s probably not an everyday guy on a team like the Yankees, but he has enough going for him to be a complimentary piece off the bench. Nothing against Parraz — who I’ve never met and have never seen — I’d rather have a guy who hit .287/.390/.439 last year in the pitcher-friendly International League (Maxwell) than a guy who hit .266/.350/.410 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (Parraz).
It’s basically an upgrade of fifth outfielder options, and it came at the cost of a guy who’s buried in this system. Olbrychowski might develop into a solid reliever, but he was pretty low on the depth chart for the Yankees.
By the way, I was just told that Maxwell has a fourth option year, so he can be sent to the minor leagues this season if he doesn’t make the big league roster.
Associated Press photo of Maxwell