A few notes and links as we head into the weekend.
• I couldn’t get down to Joe Torre’s Safe at Home Foundation gala last night, so I sent my old friend Marc Carig in my place (not really, but he was there for Newsday). Torre explained that Andy Pettitte hasn’t been ruled out as a WBC pitcher, but the Yankees aren’t sold on the idea. “They have expressed concerns because of the injuries he has had,” Torre said. “Again, that’s the most important thing, to make everybody comfortable with what’s going on.” Brian Cashman didn’t have much to say about the Pettitte decision, telling the Daily News only that Pettitte’s not currently on the Team USA roster.
• Speaking of Marc, now that he’s switched papers and beats, Andy McCullough is jumping onto the Yankees beat for the Star-Ledger. Give him a follow on Twitter. I think you all will like him.
• Alex Rodriguez had major hip surgery earlier this month. Not sure why it’s news that Brian Cashman admitted Rodriguez could miss the entire season, but apparently it is. As both Andrew Marchand and Erik Boland have pointed out — trust me, those two always agree with one another — Cashman has always said it’s at least possible Rodriguez could miss the whole year.
• The Royals claimed A’s catcher George Kottaras off waivers. That means, even if the Yankees had been interested, they couldn’t have claimed him because the Royals have a higher waiver priority.
• According to Baseball America’s latest minor league transactions, the Yankees have re-signed RHP Kelvin Castro. You might be familiar with the name because Castro spent seven seasons in the organization as a light-hitting middle infielder, but last year he was converted to the mound. No clue what sort of upside he has as a pitcher. My guess is the Yankees are still in the process of finding out for themselves.
• Buster Olney picked the 1998 Yankees as the best team of all time.
• Not among the best of all time is Carl Pavano, who’s somehow managed to get hurt again. This time he ruptured his spleen while shoveling his driveway. No, I don’t think the Yankees would have been interested even if he were healthy.
• One player I thought the Yankees might be interested in, Yorvit Torrealba, has signed a minor league deal with the Rockies. Not sure Torrealba would have been a legitimate upgrade over what the Yankees already have in camp, but he would have been one more veteran option at catcher.
Associated Press photo
Yankees at the break: Second base • 07.13.11
After making a run at the MVP award last season, Robinson Cano came into this season with sky-high expectations. He’s been very good, but he’s played a tick below last year’s production. If there’s any disappointment in Cano’s performance, it’s only because of the expectation coming into this season.
Through significant chunks of the season’s first half, Cano has reverted to the free-swinging approach that he seemed to keep under control last season. His strikeouts are up slightly, and his walks are down significantly. Otherwise, Cano has been roughly the same player he was last season, on pace for roughly the same power numbers and the same sort of run production. His defense seemed spotty in the first month or so, but that’s been much better lately.
Cano is never going to be a Nick Swisher or Brett Gardner type of hitter. He swings. That’s what he does. He’s acknowledged a need to be more selective, but he doesn’t want to lose the aggressiveness that makes a dynamic hitter. Last year he found a great balance between selective and aggressive. This year, that balance has come and gone. If he finds it again in the second half, don’t rule him out as the Yankees best hitter down the stretch.
Kevin Russo got his season turned around in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Corban Joseph has been his typically productive self in Trenton – he’s been especially good against right-handed pitching and seems to hit every year – and Kelvin Castro has been a pleasant surprise in Tampa. The Yankees disappointment at second base has to be that David Adams took longer than expected to get healthy (he’s finally playing again) and that Anderson Feliz has struggled in Charleston (he seemed primed for a breakout season). The name to watch now is Angelo Gumbs, last year’s second-round pick who’s playing second for Staten Island.
Can Cano pick up the slack for the next month?
When Alex Rodriguez went on the disabled list late last season, Cano had 15 RBI in the 14 games without A-Rod. It wasn’t that he necessarily hit better than he had all season – most of his numbers were actually a little worse – but he was productive enough to pick up some of the slack. The Yankees might need him to find a way to do something similar while Rodriguez is out again for the next month or so.
The Yankees have club options for 2012 and 2013, and right now it looks like a no-brainer to exercise them. Of all the young players on the big league roster and all the talented prospects in the minors, no one is better positioned to be a career-long Yankee than Cano.
Associated Press photo
I didn’t see or hear about last night’s Buster Posey injury until I was several thousand feet above the fly-over states of middle America. After sleeping for a little while and reading for a little while, I turned on the little satellite TV screen in front of me to catch up on the news of the day. Then I flipped briefly to SportsCenter.
Posey is probably out for the year with a broken bone and possibly some ligament damage. It’s a bad situation, and an unfortunate situation, but we can’t pretend it’s a new situation. The Posey injury doesn’t necessarily change anything for Jesus Montero or the other elite catching prospects in the Yankees organization.
It’s not as if the Yankees turned on a television at the same time I did and suddenly realized that being a catcher is dangerous.
If injury concerns lead the Yankees to eventually move Montero or Austin Romine or Gary Sanchez to a different position, it would be perfectly justifiable, but it would not be a move to be taken lightly and with a sigh of relief. Part of what makes these catching prospects so valuable is their ability to play behind the plate, lending a premium bat to a position that often has minimal offensive impact.
Risk comes with the position, but so does reward. That was true before and after Posey was rocked at home plate last night.
• Speaking of catching prospects, Gary Sanchez is playing in extended spring training after opening the year in Low-A Charleston. Mark Newman told Josh Norris that Sanchez is down there because of a back injury. He seemed to be getting things turned around before landing on the Charleston disabled list. Sanchez was hitting .314/.455/.657 in his last 10 games before going on the DL.
• Speaking of behind the plate in Charleston, J.R. Murphy’s breakout season continues with the Low-A affiliate. He’s played some third base and designated hitter, but Murphy continues to get most of his time behind the plate and he just keeps hitting. He’s up to .318/.358/.497, a huge leap from last season.
• While we’re behind the plate: Jesus Montero is hitting .260/.337/.377 this month. I know a lot of the fan base is anxious to get this kid into the big league lineup — and I understand why — but player development is a very real thing, and Montero’s still just 21 years old. Consistency might be the next — and final — part of his development.
• Jorge Vazquez is still hitting home runs at a stunning rate, but the thing that catches my attention is that he has seven walks in his past 10 games (he had four in all of April). Either he’s becoming a little more selective, or teams are completely pitching around him. By the way, his home run total is up to 17. That’s insane, especially in a pitchers’ league.
• Vazquez’s teammate, Justin Maxwell, is second in the International League with 13 home runs.
• Speaking of Triple-A hitters, a few guys who struggled early have started to hit in the past month: Brandon Laird (.293/.341/.373 in May), Kevin Russo (.288/.367/.404 in May), Ramiro Pena (.310/.356/.310 in May).
• D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren and David Phelps are still pitching well out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre rotation — well enough that they’d have to be involved in any call-up conversation — but if the Yankees want a new long man, they might also need to look at George Kontos. Lost in the Rule 5 draft this winter — just like Lance Pendleton — Kontos has a 2.22 ERA and a .209 opponents batting average this season, and he’s been better this month than last month. If the Yankees are looking for a one-inning option, Kevin Whelan keeps getting it done in that Triple-A closer’s role.
• Veteran left-hander Randy Flores has yet to allow a hit in four appearances since joining the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen.
• Two Double-A starters you might have heard about: Dellin Betances has a 1.30 ERA with 39 strikeouts through seven starts, and Manny Banuelos has a 1.96 ERA with 34 strikeouts through eight starts. Both have had some walk issues from time to time, but my gut reaction is to blame their youth. On the whole, their numbers are awfully impressive.
• No overwhelming home runs numbers or anything like that, but the Yankees regular Class-A third basemen in are both playing pretty well. In High-A Tampa, Rob Lyerly is hitting .326/.368/.481, and in Low-A Charleston, Rob Segedin is hitting .288/.384/.445. Each has three homers, and between them they have 21 doubles and six triples.
• Talked to Alan Horne earlier today. He’s pitched in extended spring training twice in the past week and he’s pretty encouraged. His fastball’s been good, but he’s still looking to build some arm strength.
• Surprise numbers of the month: Utility man Kelvin Castro who’s hitting .462 with five triples and more walks than strikeouts in 12 games since joining the Tampa infield. Last season he hit .224 with five triples all year. He also struck out more than three times as often as he walked.
• A blast from the recent past: Zach McAllister is starting for Triple-A Columbus tonight, attempting to become the minor league’s first eight-game winner. Traded away in last year’s Austin Kearns deal, McAllister is thriving in his second attempt at Triple-A. He has a 2.48 ERA and seems to be getting better as the season progresses. He had a 5.09 ERA with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before last year’s trade.
Associated Press photo of Posey, headshots of Sanchez, Murphy, Kontos and Whelan
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)