Yankees at the break: The bullpen • 07.12.11
This was supposed to be the Yankees obvious strength, instead they’ve spent the season plugging holes and moving Dave Robertson into later and later innings. At this rate, he’ll be their designated 10th-inning reliever by mid-August. The Yankees bullpen has held it together despite a series of injuries and a few disappointments.
The problems started when Pedro Feliciano couldn’t break camp. Pretty soon Phil Hughes was hurt, which forced Bartolo Colon out of the bullpen and into the rotation. Then Rafael Soriano went on the disabled list. Then Joba Chamberlain needed Tommy John. If not for Robertson’s all-star performance, the Yankees bullpen would be a mess. Given the situation, though, it’s been pretty good. CoryWade’s been a nice pickup, Luis Ayala has given the Yankees more than they could have expected, Hector Noesi has filled in from minor league system and Boone Logan has finally had some success after a brutal beginning. All things considered, the situation could be much worse.
At this point, Damaso Marte actually seems closer to a return than Feliciano, but the guy the Yankees really need to get back is Soriano. He would give the bullpen some of the late-inning depth that made it so imposing when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Logan’s shown some recent signs of getting himself straightened out, and that could also be huge in the second half (he was certainly crucial in the second half last season). Every year, relievers are among the most discussed trade possibilities, but it’s worth remembering that last year’s bullpen addition – Kerry Wood – had ugly numbers and was coming back from an injury when the Yankees acquired him. You just never know who might make the difference in a bullpen.
The Yankees have already seen a long line of long relievers up from Triple-A. At this point, George Kontos might have moved to the top of the pecking order. Temporarily lost in the Rule 5 draft this offseason, Kontos has been outstanding with a 2.26 ERA and 59 strikeouts for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Back from Tommy John surgery, he seems to have regained a lot of his prospect status. The Yankees also have right-hander Kevin Whelan and veteran lefty Randy Flores putting up good Triple-A numbers. And don’t forget the name Tim Norton. He was terrific before a shoulder injury, and Donnie Collins has reported that he could be back soon.
Beyond the relievers on the verge of the big leagues, the Yankees have had great success with some of the college relievers that they drafted last year. Chase Whitley has already pitched his way to Double-A, Preston Claiborne has a 1.17 ERA and 24 strikeouts in his past 10 outings at High-A, and Tommy Kahnle has a 68 strikeouts and a .194 opponents batting average in Low-A. Ryan Flannery, a 47th-rounder in 2008, has 13 saves and has allowed a total of two walks out of the Tampa bullpen (and this is the second year in a row he’s shown outstanding control). Everyone’s favorite switch pitcher, Pat Venditte, has pitched pretty well in Trenton after a miserable first month.
Is there a new version of Hughes or Chamberlain waiting in the system?
In the past, the Yankees had great success moving Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain out of the Triple-A rotation and into a big league setup role. Could they try a similar trick this season? The Triple-A rotation has been impressive, and guys like Adam Warren and David Phelps have fastballs that might translate to late-inning success. Ivan Nova, too.
The Yankees have Mariano Rivera under contract for one more year, so they don’t have to find his replacement just yet. Soriano can opt out after this season, but surely that’s not going to happen after an injury. Robertson is just now eligible for arbitration, so he’ll still be incredibly cheap. Those are three pretty important pieces coming back next year, and the Yankees should get Chamberlain back at some point next season. There are pieces already in place for next year and beyond. What’s left is for the Yankees to sort through their upper-level pitching depth to decide who can help their rotation, and who’s better suited for a bullpen role in the near future.
Associated Press photos of Rivera and Robertson, headshots of Kontos, Claiborne and Chamberlain
Looking for upgrades: The pitching staff • 06.27.11
Two weeks from the all-star break and a little more than a month before the trade deadline, the Yankees are at a point where they can — sort of — figure out what they need to add for a second-half push toward the playoffs. Making this picture a little less clear is the status of their injured players who could provide a significant boost if/when they get healthy.
On the pitching staff, the preseason concern has become a surprising strength, and the preseason strength has become a surprising concern. These are three areas where the Yankees might look to upgrade their pitching staff in the second half.
The Yankees rotation has been better than anyone could have expected, and that’s despite injuries to Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon. The Yankees, though, will surely kick the tires on alternatives, if only to add depth and peace of mind.
Trade market: Hit-and-miss.
A starting pitcher will be traded before the deadline, history tells us that much. The question is whether an addition would be an upgrade over the Yankees in-house options. If Hughes and Colon come back and pitch well – and both Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova continue to pitch well enough – then the need for a starter will be minimal (though the want might still exist). If Hughes or Colon suffers a setback, Garcia or Nova regresses, or A.J. Burnett falls into last year’s habits, then the Yankees will need someone. Carlos Zambrano and Brett Myers seem to be available targets, but are they worth the headache? The Twins have been disappointing and could shed starting pitchers at the deadline, but are they more reliable than what the Yankees already have?
In-house: The kids.
Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos are still in Double-A and both are pitching well (though still working on some control issues). Not so long ago, the Yankees had Hughes and Alan Horne dominating in Double-A as highly regarded prospects, but the Yankees left them there, and there’s not much reason to expect the Yankees to change course and suddenly rush Betances or Banuelos without at least a brief stop in Triple-A. More likely options might be Carlos Silva, Hector Noesi or someone from the David Phelps-Adam Warren-D.J. Mitchell trio in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Warren is probably at the top of that pecking order with Phelps is currently on the DL.
Joba Chamberlain is lost for the year, and Rafael Soriano is almost certainly lost until after the all-star break. Dave Robertson has been terrific in the eighth inning, but the Yankees are mixing-and-matching in the sixth and seventh, still searching for one-inning relievers to complete that bridge to Mariano Rivera.
Trade market: They’re all relievers. Last year, the Yankees took a chance on Kerry Wood, and that move completely changed the bullpen. At the time of the trade, though, Wood was coming off injury and had ugly numbers with Cleveland. He came to the Yankees as a complete wild card and became a dominant setup man. The Yankees could go looking for something similar, but relievers are an unreliable group. Based on what Wood was doing at this time last year, he would not have looked like an especially attractive target. There will be risk in anyone the Yankees go after, though some big names seem to be on the market, including Padres closer Heath Bell.
In-house: Untested. The Yankees have had success plugging minor league starters into bullpen roles, and that’s occasionally worked as a stepping stone to the big league rotation. Right now, they seem to be trying something similar with Noesi.* They also might have found something in Cory Wade, though his innings have been limited. Andrew Brackman has moved to the Triple-A bullpen, but the results have not been encouraging. The Yankees have looked at Kevin Whelan and they’ve run through a series of long-relievers, but so far Noesi has been the call-up standout and Luis Ayala has been better than expected. George Kontos still seems to be pitching himself toward a call-up in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Yankees top two left-handed relievers should be Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte, but those two proven veterans have yet to pitch this season because of injuries. In their place, Boone Logan has been erratic, unable to repeat last year’s second-half success.
Trade market: Still relievers. The same problem that applies to the setup trade market applies to the lefty trade market: These guys tend to be unpredictable. The Yankees could take their chances on a veteran, with hopes that he doesn’t fall into either the Logan Trap of ineffectiveness or the Feliciaino/Marte Trap of arm problems. The Phillies just released J.C. Romero, who actually had solid numbers against lefties this season but passed through waivers without a claim. Logan has struggled all season, and the Yankees haven’t traded for a replacement yet, which might say something about the market.
In-house: Minor league veterans. The Yankees have signed some lefties for the Triple-A pitching staff, and those might be legitimate options. Randy Flores has pitched well out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen, holding lefties to a .233 average with nine strikeouts, seven hits and one walk. Greg Smith has pitched well out of the rotation, but that’s only 14.2 innings and he has almost zero bullpen experience. If he could pitch in relief, Smith could give the Yankees a second lefty who doubles as a long man. It’s also worth noting that Whelan has had tremendous success against left-handers, but he’s currently on the DL and his first stint in New York was so short, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees trusting him with the bizarre role of right-handed lefty specialist.
* In my mind, this is why it makes sense to have Noesi playing a bullpen role while Brian Gordon gets a few spot starts. Noesi’s role could be a long-term thing. The Yankees have a very real need in the late innings, and if Noesi adapts to the role, he could be a significant boost the rest of the way. The current rotation opening is a no-doubt-about-it part-time job. Gordon is going to get one or two more starts before Hughes is ready, and obviously they’re going to skip him when they can. He had great numbers this year, so the Yankees are riding the hot hand for a while. They’re hoping for more than a short-term contribution from Noesi.
Associated Press photos
Six Yankees were hit by a pitch in their three-game series against the Red Sox. Tonight’s was different. It was different because of the pitch that came immediately before it, and it was different because of all the pitches Mark Teixeira saw the past five years.
“We’ve had (seven) guys hit in the past four days,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I can’t tell you 100 percent, but if I was to say one was intentional, that was tonight.”
Benches cleared, bullpens poured onto the field and Girardi got into a toe-to-toe shouting match with Indians manager Manny Acta. It was all because Fausto Carmona threw a first-pitch fastball into Teixeira’s upper back.
Curtis Granderson had just homered on the previous pitch. The Yankees were leading by four runs, and Teixeira history against Carmona told him that a first-pitch fastball, up-and-in, was no accident. Teixeira slammed his helmet to the ground, picked himself off the dirt and began shouting.
“I was just telling him that it’s a coincidence that he throws every pitch to me in the last five years down and away,” Teixeira said. “Changeups down and away. He must have really missed his spot on that one.”
Girardi was the first one out of the Yankees dugout, and he got himself between Teixiera and Carmona, who kept shouting at one another as the infield flooded with players. In the heat of the moment, no one was hotter than the usually even-tempered Girardi. He and Acta were face-to-face at one point.
“Manny told my guy to stop,” Girardi said. “Take care of your own guy. I’ll take care of my guy, you take care of your own guy. I have respect for Manny. I actually had a nice exchange with Manny at 3 o’clock today, but that doesn’t mean there’s not some feistiness in me, and when my guys are getting plunked, I’m going to protect them.”
Acta described the incident as “normal baseball stuff” and said the argument was nothing more than each manager defending his player.
“Hit by pitches are a part of the game,” Teixeira said. “I get hit plenty. Guys try to bust me in to keep me off the pitches away sometimes. I got hit in the knee the other day on a cutter that just got away from (Jon) Lester. I’m not going to get upset about that, but when I know it’s a purpose pitch and it’s up near my head, I take exception to that.”
And here’s Teixeira.
• If I had to guess which hit-by-pitch quote will be the most popular, I’d guess this one: “Sometimes it doesn’t really matter if it’s on purpose,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Overall as an offense, (the Red Sox) came in here and pretty much embarrassed us at our home field. Sometimes people are too comfortable… I thought tonight was a good way to answer back and answer the call. The last three games at home were very embarrassing for us, and it’s really not acceptable for us to play that type of baseball.”
• It might be lost because of the fight and because of the Yankees bullpen and because there were so many runs scored, but Ivan Nova was tremendous tonight. It was the second-longest outing of his big league career, and he was outstanding at the end. “I never pitched like that in my life,” he said. “In the seventh inning, I started pitching the way you pitch in the first inning.”
• Nova on his reaction after the benches cleared: “In that moment, the first thing that kept going through my mind was, you’ve got to keep pitching your game. It was too early in the game. I was never thinking, do something bad, but if you think you’ve got to do something to protect teammates or whatever, I was just thinking, keep pitching my game and get deep in the game and then decide after that what you’ve got to do.”
• Jorge Posada singled in his first three at-bats and momentarily raised his batting average higher than Nick Swisher’s. This was his fourth straight multi-hit game, which has raised his average from .169 to .215. Posada is hitting .323 with five doubles in 20 games since May 8.
• Curtis Granderson has homered in back-to-back games and leads the team with 19 homers. He didn’t hit his 19th home run last year until September 18.
• Rodriguez’s 12th homer of the season was an absolute bomb. As the Yankees postgame notes explain: It was to the left of the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar, clearing the 22-foot roll-up door that sits 25 feet behind the outfield wall. “Unfortunately it only counts as one,” Rodriguez said.
• Fifteen hits were a season-high for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
• Derek Jeter has a six-game hitting streak and is now nine away from No. 3,000.
• After three rookie relievers struggled to hold onto an 11-2 lead after eight innings, Girardi went to Mariano Rivera for the final two outs. “You don’t want to have to,” Girardi said. “But he hasn’t worked in a while so it’s not the worst thing in the world.”
• Kevin Whelan walked six batters in 27 Triple-A innings this season. He walked four of the six batters he faced in his big league debut. When Girardi pulled him in the eighth, Girardi actually got Whelan to laugh before letting him leave the mound. “I said, we’ve all been through that first moment,” Girardi said. “The first time that we’re on the field, the big league field, there’s a lot of nerves there, and you’re never sure how you’re going to react.”
• I only talked to Whelan briefly after the game. He was kind of shaking his head about his eventful debut. He found out around 3:30 that he was being called up, got his wife and kid, drove to New York, got to the park around 6:30 and was in a benches clearing situation by the second inning. Pretty wild day even before that inning.
• The Yankees are going to look for internal options to fill the hole left by Joba Chamberlain, and tonight’s game showed that it might be an occasionally difficult process. “I think you have to have as much patience as you can,” Girardi said. “I think you have to give these guys a chance to grow up in front of you. We all were young. We all had those nerves when we were in situations our first game, when we were put in tough situations later on. We’ve all been through that. You have to show some patience. But in turn, guys have to make pitches as well.”
• Chamberlain on his upcoming surgery: “Obviously the guy doing it has done it a few times. I’m pretty confident that he’ll do a good job, and the rest relies on me and making sure I get back to where I can be and even stronger.”
• Russell Martin plans to hit on Saturday, but he probably won’t play until the next day. “There’s a good chance I’ll be ready to play on Sunday,” he said. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”
Associated Press photos
Pregame notes: Opportunities on the way • 06.10.11
“I was pretty convinced that he was going to have surgery,” Girardi said.
Dr. James Andrews confirmed the diagnosis today, and Chamberlain will have surgery on Thursday. He’s likely lost for a year or so, certainly through the rest of this season and probably well into next season.
A Yankees bullpen that was seen as an overwhelming strength at the start of the spring training schedule now includes only three relievers who were projected to make the team when camp opened — Mariano Rivera, Dave Robertson and Boone Logan — and two of those three have been thrust into more significant roles than expected. Now it’s Luis Ayala who seems poised to take a larger-than-expected role. The Yankees will try some young guys, but Ayala’s experience essentially makes him the new Robertson, while Robertson becomes the new Chamberlain (who was already the new Rafael Soriano).
“(Ayala)’s become real important,” Girardi said. “He’d kind of taken Robby’s spot in the sixth, and now he’s going to be moved up to Robby’s spot in the seventh, so he’s become real important for us. He is a guy that has experience. He’s pitched in the back end of games, which I think is important. What we’ve seen from him is he has his good sinker, he comes in and throws strikes and he has a slider. He’s not afraid. He’s been through this before.”
The Yankees are expected to make a move before tonight’s game. We already know Kevin Whelan is on his way from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Once he arrives, he’ll be the first of what could be several internal options the Yankees look at in the late innings, trying to see who else might fit.
“You could see some guys that are going to get an opportunity, and we’re going to see what they can do,” Girardi said. “Obviously, when you start talking about pitching in the back end of games, a lot of times you prefer power arms or a lot of deception, and there’s some young kids down there — and some young kids in Double-A, and you probably even go down further — that have that, and they don’t have the experience. Some of them might get it.”
• Russell Martin texted Girardi this morning to say his back was feeling better, but the Yankees coaching staff told Girardi that Martin’s still not ready to play. Girardi said it’s just tightness. “We are going in the right direction,” Girardi said. “Maybe tomorrow is feasible. Maybe on Sunday. I’m hoping by this weekend we can play him.”
• Without Martin, the Yankees have leaned on Francisco Cervelli, who’s been throwing the ball into center field more often than the throws it to second base. Girardi and Tony Pena have been working with him to fix a mechanical flaw. “It’s similar to with a pitcher,” Girardi said. “If that front shoulder flies a little bit early, that ball’s taking off. And that’s what’s happening with him.”
• Girardi said Martin’s injury do not have him thinking about making a move to call up a catcher. “I think we’re OK for a while just because we do have Jorge in case of emergency,” Girardi said. “It would be different if we didn’t have Jorge.”
• Speaking of Posada, his son is feeling better two days after surgery. “He’s doing good,” Posada said. “He’s doing better.”
• Talked to Damaso Marte for a little while this afternoon. He’s playing catch, but only from about 20 feet. Much beyond that, his shoulder still feels sore. Playing light catch, though, the ball comes out “nice and easy” and Marte is still hopeful that he’ll be able to get himself back at some point after the all-star break.
• On Wednesday, the Indians optioned Shelley Duncan to Triple-A. It goes without saying that I was hoping to see him this weekend. He’s an easy guy to like, and an easy guy to root for.
• The Indians are one of the biggest surprises in baseball, a first-place team expected to finish at the bottom of the AL Central. “They’ve played well,” Girardi said. “They’ve pitched. Offensively, a lot of left-handed hitters. A lot of those guys are switch-hitters as well. They’re a young team that’s played well and they’ve gotten Grady Sizemore back. They’ve gotten huge contributions from Asdrubal Cabrera and there’s some experience there in bringing in Orlando Cabrera which I’m sure has helped out a lot and has helped out these young kids. Hafner, even though he’s been hurt, has had a pretty good year. I mean, this is a pretty good club, and they have some guys that have struggled but they’re still winning.”
• Tony Gwynn is one of the few players who would know, and he says the last 10 hits are the hardest to get on the way to 3,000. Derek Jeter is 10 away right now. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to get 3,000 hits,” Girardi said. “But I would imagine if I was at 2,990 it would be on my mind. But sometimes things just have a way of working out where it looks like it’s on your mind but it’s really not, or it’s on your mind and it looks like it’s not. I don’t think he’s ever going to let us know, but I’m sure it’s possible.”
Associated Press photos
Kevin Whelan opened this season as a rather forgettable part of a potentially memorable Triple-A pitching staff. Legitimate prospects filled the rotation, and the bullpen was dotted with returned Rule 5 picks and veterans with big league experience.
Then there was Whelan, the last remaining piece of the 2006 Gary Sheffield trade. He was a fallen prospect, a guy who always walked too many batters and finally reached a new low with a 6.02 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last season.
Whelan’s been a completely different pitcher this year. As Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s closer, he’s cut down on the walks significantly. He has a 1.73 ERA, 17 saves, and he’s allowed just 17 hits and six walks through 26 innings. He’s struck out 28, and his 0.88 WHIP is the lowest on the team.
“It is the command, which translates to confidence,” pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras said in an email.
Contraras was the second person I talked to who mentioned confidence when explaining Whelan’s sudden improvement. He’s always had a good fastball and a big splitfinger — and he’s had some real success from time to time — but it seems that things are just now coming together. If the Yankees find an opening for a one-inning guy, Whelan would surely be the front-runner for the job. It’s worth noting that he’s been especially good against left-handers, holding them to a .178 batting average with 19 strikeouts and only two walks.
It’s also worth noting that Whelan’s not on the 40-man, and the Yankees have found more openings for multi-inning relievers than short relievers this season. Jonathan Albaladejo had even better numbers as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s closer last season — and he actually was on the 40-man — but Albaladejo barely got a look at the Major League level. So Whelan might not be looking for apartments in the city, but he’s surely put himself on the map. It’s impossible to ignore a guy who’s always had the potential and is just now finding the consistent results.
• Gary Sanchez is back on the Charleston active roster. He returned Saturday after being sent to extended spring training for what appears to be some combination of a bad back and a bad attitude, probably more of one than the other. He had a hit and drew a walk in his first game back.
• Greg Golson has been activated from the Triple-A disabled list, a move came one day after Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s most productive outfielder, Justin Maxwell, went on the disabled list with a jammed shoulder. Maxwell actually has a higher slugging percentage than Jorge Vazquez and homered in three games in a row just before the injury. For the season he’s hitting .260/.358/.588 and might have hit his way into a big league role had Andruw Jones not started hitting lately.
• Speaking of banged-up Triple-A players who might or might not be playing their way into a call-up: Carlos Silva was scratched from a start on Sunday because of tightness in his shoulder. Doesn’t seem too serious. Manager Dave Miley told Donnie Collins, “We’re just pushing him back.”
• If there’s no spot for Whelan as a short reliever in New York, the Yankees certainly have options for long relief out of Triple-A. George Kontos and Buddy Carlyle are still pitching well in long relief for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Kontos is holding right-handers to a .143 average with 24 strikeouts and four walks. Out of the rotation, tonight’s starter D.J. Mitchell has a 2.78 ERA and pitched seven scoreless in his most recent outing.
• After hitting .218/.292/.287 in April, Kevin Russo hit .316/.384/.408 in May. Brandon Laird made a similar turnaround, from .184/.213/.289 in April to .307/.343/.406 in May. Jesus Montero went the other way, from .365/.360/.473 to .269/.333/.413.
• Strange stuff in Double-A Trenton where hitting coach Julius Matos was ejected last week, then got into some sort of argument with manager Tony Franklin and has since been removed from his role. Popular roving hitting instructor James Rowson has taken over the job for now. It’s unclear whether Matos will return in any capacity.
• Austin Romine is the only Trenton regular hitting better than .277, and he’s missed a few games with a stiff neck and back after a home plate collision. Romine has certainly been the high point of the Double-A lineup. Melky Mesa is back to being an all-or-nothing hitter, Bradley Suttle is hitting for good power but a .233 average and Corban Joseph has been good but not great.
• I talked about him a little bit in today’s chat: Trenton reliever Tim Norton is starting to get some attention. Injuries have always been the biggest knock on the guy. This year he’s healthy and putting up incredible numbers (44 strikeouts in 29 innings, for example). One scout told Bill Madden that Norton is, “better than (Joba) Chamberlain right now.”
• Manny Banuelos has a 2.12 ERA and Dellin Betances has a 1.99, so those two are doing just fine despite higher-than-you’d-like walk totals. Craig Heyer, a guy the Yankees sent to the Fall League this offseason, has been awfully good since stepping into the rotation to fill in for some injuries.
• Tampa third baseman Rob Lyerly made the Florida State League all-star team, but as expected, the High-A roster is lowest of the four affiliates in terms of prospect buzz. Starters Brett Marshall and Jairo Heredia, though, are starting to do some things. In Heredia’s past three starts he’s allowed one earned run through 21 innings. He’s walked two and struck out 22. He’s another of those “if-things-go-right” prospects.
• J.R. Murphy remains the best all-around hitter in Low-A Charleston, but first baseman Kyle Roller leads the team with a .563 slugging percentage and corner outfielder Ramon Flores leads with a .407 on-base percentage.
• Slade Heathcott in April: .370/.453/.630. — Slade Heathcott in May: .216/.283/.289.
• The amateur draft begins tonight. The Yankees don’t have a pick until the supplemental first round — No. 51 overall — but they’ll almost certainly be part of the story with pick No. 1. The Pirates are reportedly planning to take Gerrit Cole, the former Yankees first-round pick who ultimately signed with UCLA rather than join the Yankees minor league system.
Headshots of Whelan, Sanchez, Golson, Romine and Norton
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
A few short minor league notes • 05.04.11
A few quick minor league notes this late morning. Don’t forget, we’re doing a chat at 2:30 this afternoon.
• Two injuries to players on the 40-man roster: Greg Golson is on the Triple-A disabled list with a hamstring injury, and Steve Garrison could be headed for the Double-A disabled list after groin pull.
• Two other Triple-A injuries that seem fairly minor: Chris Dickerson has missed three straight games with a neck injury. He would have missed a fourth if not for a rain out last night. Ramiro Pena was out of last night’s lineup with a sore foot.
• Three non-40-man pitchers to keep an eye on: George Kontos (two runs in his past 15.1 innings as Scranton’s long man), Kevin Whelan (much improved control to go with only two hits allowed in past 10.2 innings as Scranton’s closer) and Andy Sisco (still no earned runs with four hits allowed through 10.1 innings as Scranton’s bullpen lefty).
• The Associated Press reports that the Yankees have signed Brad Halsey to a minor league deal and sent him to extended spring.
• He’s still a long, long way from the big leagues, but Slade Heathcott is hitting .351/.436/.574 through 94 at-bats in Charleston. Have to think he’ll be in Tampa around mid-season or so, maybe sooner if he keeps this up. JR Murphy is also really hitting in Charleston (.316/.340/.490) but Gary Sanchez is not (.200/.238/.293).