Eight days before the Yankees’ first spring workout, we’ll continue looking at some of the key issue the Yankees have to figure out in spring training. We’ve already discussed the backup catcher competition and the batting order possibilities, today we’ll look at a fairly hard to define bit of decision making.
Who’s first in line to fill the inevitable roster needs during the season?
While much of spring training is spent sorting out the Opening Day roster — assigning roles and weeding out the lesser candidates — the Yankees have to pay especially close attention this spring to the guys who won’t break camp with the team. That’s an impossible to ignore aspect of a team that has serious health concerns in the rotation and serious production concerns in the lineup. It’s also a good bit of reality for an organization that finally has a wave of young players getting close to the majors.
Basically, the Yankees have to figure out who can help right away, because chances are, they’re going to need some help at some point.
And in the case of this group of next-in-line possibilities, there are few cut-and-dry decisions. The Yankees have a lot of upper-level outfielders, but there’s not one who definitely fits the current roster better than anyone else. Is Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder the best choice for an infield opening? Is Gary Sanchez ready if the Yankees need another catcher? What about that long list of relievers; who stands out in that pack?
Spring training gives the entire organization — especially the big league coaching staff — a chance to really evaluation the options, and there’s a good chance one of these mid-season call-ups will end up playing a much bigger role than some of the guys who make the Opening Day roster. Last year, the Yankees had to make moves to fill holes. The hope is they can plug holes from within this time.
A few possibilities they’ll have to consider:
1. What if the Yankees need an outfielder?
Right now, it seems Chris Young and Garrett Jones are fourth and fifth on the outfield depth chart, but the Yankees have four other outfielders on the 40-man (counting Jose Pirela) and another three outfielders coming to camp on non-roster invitations. That’s a big group to consider, and who gets the call might depend on need and production. When the time comes for a call-up, is there room for another left-handed bat, and if so, who stands out among Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams? If an offensive-minded right-handed hitter fits best, does Tyler Austin seem ready? How close is Aaron Judge? Has Pirela picked up where he left off last season?
2. What if the Yankees need an infielder?
Obviously this question could depend on specific positions, but the Yankees have enough flexibility with Jones, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan that they could move pieces around and simply call-up the best infielder available. That means, even if they don’t make the team, Pirela and Refsnyder will be competing for big league attention. And after seeing Yangervis Solarte last season, it’s hard to dismiss a guy like Nick Noonan (how good is he at short?) or Jonathan Galvez (can he hit enough to be a big league utility man?).
3. What if the Yankees need an offensive boost?
Given what we saw last year, it’s not out of the question that the Yankees might need a bat at some point. Maybe Alex Rodriguez stinks at designated hitter, or Carlos Beltran hasn’t fully recovered from elbow surgery, or Mark Teixeira’s still battling nagging injuries. If the Yankees have to go looking for offense, Kyle Roller should be worth serious consideration. Maybe Austin is still rolling after last year’s strong second half. Maybe Judge or Greg Bird deserve consideration straight from Double-A.
4. What if the Yankees need a catcher?
If the Yankees pick Austin Romine as their backup and option John Ryan Murphy to Triple-A, then this question is easy to answer. If, however, the Yankees keep Murphy and lost Romine on waivers, it could get complicated. Sanchez is on the 40-man and should be playing everyday in Triple-A, but he also carries significant questions about his defense and maturity. Is he ready for a big league job (even a part-time one) at this point, or should the Yankees keep an eye on guys like Eddy Rodriguez and Francisco Arcia as just-in-case alternatives.
5. What if the Yankees need a spot starter?
When the rotation began to fall apart last season, the Yankees first turned to a pair of relievers in David Phelps and Vidal Nuno. This year, though, Phelps and Nuno are gone. If there’s a need early in the season, perhaps Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers could play the Phelps/Nuno role, sliding out of the bullpen and into the rotation. If not, who’s the best alternative among Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, Jose De Paula, Kyle Davis and Scott Baker? Whitley got an early call-up last year. Mitchell pitched well late in the season. Shane Greene made a strong first impression in big league camp last spring, and we all know where that led.
6. What if the Yankees need a reliever?
Inevitable, isn’t it? Bullpens always evolve in the course of a season, and the Yankees are loaded with upper-level relievers who seem fully capable of filling in at any point this season. If all goes as planned, the Yankees will have just one bullpen opening out of spring training, but they’ll have no fewer than 10 guys looking to fill it (Bailey, Whitley, Mitchell, Ramirez, Pinder, Burawa, Martin, Rumbelow, Shreve, Lindgren, Webb). There won’t be room for everyone in New York, so the Yankees will have to make some judgments about who ranks 13th and 14th on a 12-man pitching staff.
7. What if the Yankees need to make a trade?
Kind of the opposite of every other question on this list: the Yankees not only have to figure out who can help them in the short term, they also have to decide which players are most expendable in the long term. If Sanchez looks less and less like a catcher, maybe he looks more and more like trade bait. If Williams, Heathcott and Jake Cave all seem to be making strides toward playing a role in New York, maybe it’s best to whittle down a group of similar players. If that bullpen depth is legitimate, maybe it’s easy to include an arm as a way to push a trade package over the top.
Associated Press photos
The Yankees have invited 26 non-roster players to spring training. Here’s an attempt to rank them in terms of significance these next two months. It’s totally pointless, but it’s also a random Thursday in early February. What else is there to write about today?
Obviously, this isn’t a prospect ranking, and it’s not an attempt to determine ultimate upside or talent. It’s simply an attempt to evaluate which players have a chance to have an impact — whether by making the big league team, affecting minor league assignments, or climbing to the verge of a call-up — based on what they do in big league camp. Basically, for which players does getting an invitation really mean something?
1. Rob Refsnyder 2B
For me, this an easy choice as the Yankees’ most relevant non-roster invitee. Refsnyder brings a perfect combination of long-term potential and short-term opportunity. A big spring could push him into the Opening Day lineup, and if he gets there, he could stick around for the next decade. The Yankees have Stephen Drew penciled in at second base. Refsnyder could change their minds.
2. Jacob Lindgren LHP
Maybe Refsnyder is 1A and Lindgren is 1B. Lindgren also has that combination of long-term potential and short-term opportunity, though the Yankees’ crowded bullpen could diminish Lindgren’s immediate impact. Even if he makes the team, he would likely open in a smaller role like Dellin Betances did last season. Big time potential, though, even if it doesn’t show right away.
3. Luis Severino RHP
Seemingly very little chance of actually making the big league roster out of spring training, but I’m keeping Severino this high because a big spring — making a big impression on Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild — could accelerate his development, push him to Triple-A to open the season, and put him on the verge of a call-up if/when the Yankees need rotation help. Top pitching prospect in the system. Impossible to overlook.
4. Andrew Bailey RHP
This might be too high considering he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, but the Yankees must have seen something positive in his rehab because they brought him back for another look. The Yankees have at least one wide-open spot in their bullpen, and Bailey has been a very good reliever in his career. Still just 30 years old, too. Might be an all-or-nothing situation; either he’s healthy and valuable or he’s a complete non-factor.
5. Kyle Roller 1B
An admittedly aggressive ranking, but here’s my thinking: The Yankees don’t know what they have in Alex Rodriguez at DH, and they can’t feel totally confident about Mark Teixeira at first base. Roller hit .283/.378/.497 in Triple-A, and this is “don’t forget about me” moment. With Greg Bird on his heels, Roller’s window of opportunity with the Yankees could be very small. This spring, he can make a case that he’s the solution if and when the Yankees need a big bat this season.
6. Nick Rumbelow RHP
Still not Rule 5 eligible, otherwise he’d be a slam dunk for a 40-man roster spot. He’s one of many in a crowded field of relievers, but Rumbelow has impressed and moved quickly — got to Triple-A in his first full season of pro ball — so he belongs on the big league radar. If he outpitches a guy like Danny Burawa or Branden Pinder, Rumbelow could take one of their 40-man spots when the Yankees go looking for bullpen help.
7. Scott Baker RHP
The only veteran starter signed to a minor league contract, Baker is coming to a big league camp in which on starter is a lock for the disabled list (Ivan Nova) and three others carry significant health concerns (Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia). There might not be a spot for Baker right now, but that could certainly change before Opening Day. Baker is trying to prove he has enough left to fill a spot if one becomes available.
8. Tyler Webb LHP
Drafted just a few rounds after Rumbelow back in 2013. Now, those two are in roughly the same spot in terms of call-up potential. Webb has big strikeout numbers and got to Triple-A last season. I’m putting him behind Rumbelow largely because the Yankees already have two lefties locked into big league jobs, plus they have Lindgren and Chasen Shreve also in the picture. But Webb has a real chance to pitch in New York this year.
9. Slade Heathcott CF
Hard to know what to make of Heathcott, which is why I’m keeping him in the top 10. What does he look like after missing nearly all of yet another season because of yet another injury? In a system loaded with left-handed center fielders, can Heathcott do enough to get back on the radar? His status will be more heavily affected by the regular season, but big league camp is a chance to make a real statement.
10. Aaron Judge RF
He’ll get a ton of attention for obvious reasons, but I’m keeping just this low because I’m not sure he can do anything in big league camp to change the fact he’s heading to Double-A to open the season. A big spring might speed up his development a little bit and slightly increase the chances of maybe getting to the big leagues this season, but this is really just a first impression. His regular season will determine who quickly he moves.
11. Greg Bird 1B
Very similar to Judge, except that Bird might have an even greater obstacle standing in his way with both Teixeira’s contract and Roller’s Triple-A success standing between him and New York. Bird is going to be fascinating to watch this spring, but no matter what he does, he’s almost certainly headed to Double-A with only a slim chance of getting to the big leagues this season.
12. Nick Goody RHP
Injuries have slowed his progress significantly, but Goody has a good arm, and spring training might be a chance to make a statement and get himself back on the radar. He’s clearly jumped ahead of Mark Montgomery in the organizational pecking order, so he shouldn’t be taken lightly. Big league camp could be a “remember me” moment.
13. Nick Noonan SS/2B
I really think there’s some chance Noonan is too low on this list. Still just 25 years old. Former first-round draft pick. Has big league experience. Hits left-handed. Able to play all over the infield. The Yankees apparently like his defense at shortstop. Given the lack of infield depth in the Yankees’ system, a guy like Noonan could make a strong impression and get on the radar. The fact the Yankees like him at short seems significant. Maybe a Dean Anna-type.
14. James Pazos LHP
A lot of walks but not very many hits in Double-A last season. Has a non-zero chance of pitching in New York this season, but of the six left-handed relievers coming to camp, Pazos is probably sixth on the depth chart. His spring could be more about making sure he doesn’t get completely overshadowed.
15. Jonathan Galvez 3B
Just turned 24 years old. Coming off a pretty good season in the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League. And the Yankees signed him early this offseason, which would seem to be a sign of serious interest (they also signed Zelous Wheeler really early last offseason). Can’t say that he has a great chance of making the roster at some point, but Galvez seems awfully similar to both Wheeler and Yangervis Solarte (or even Jose Pirela). Could be absolutely nothing, or he could be a surprising something.
16. Wilking Rodriguez RHP
Pitched two games in the big leagues last year. Signed with the Yankees very briefly, became a free agent, then signed again. He turns 25 in March, and not that long ago he was considered a pretty solid prospect in the Rays’ system. Probably gets buried in the Yankees bullpen depth, but shouldn’t be dismissed. A lot of strikeouts (with a lot of walks) in his minor league career.
17. Cole Figueroa INF
Similar to Noonan and Galvez in that the Yankees lack of upper-level infielders could create an opportunity for Figueroa, who played 23 games for the Rays last season. He plays all over the infield and has shown a real knack for getting on base. He’s another left-handed hitter. Could make a spring impression and eventually get a call-up like Wheeler did last year.
18. Eddy Rodriguez C
Cuban catcher who got a cup of coffee with the Padres back in 2012. He’s basically the token veteran catcher brought in to add some experience. If the Yankees lose Austin Romine on waivers and aren’t satisfied with Gary Sanchez’s progress in Triple-A, then I guess Rodriguez could be in the mix for a call-up if the Yankees need help behind the plate. It’s a long shot, but he does have some experience.
19. Cito Culver SS
Hard to know what to make of this one, but the Yankees have repeatedly said that they haven’t given up on Culver, and they seemed to back up those words by inviting him to big league camp. Strong glove, but he’s shown no offensive ability in the minors. Clearly he’s still on the radar. Does a big spring push him to Double-A with a chance to get to Triple-A at some point? Does he still have a big league future? He plays shortstop in a system that’s thin at the position in the upper levels. That can’t be overlooked.
20. Jake Cave CF
Interesting young prospect, one that has jumped ahead of Heathcott and Mason Williams to become the top center field prospect in the organization. He’s this low on the list not because of his long-term potential, but because of his short-term opportunity. Best-case scenario is probably that he plays well enough to end the season in Triple-A.
21. Jose Campos RHP
This is a definite “remember me” opportunity for a guy once considered to be among the top pitching prospects in the organization. Tommy John surgery derailed his development so much that Campos was released this winter. He ultimately re-signed, and a good big league camp — probably with very limited appearances — would simply be a chance to get his name back on Girardi’s radar.
22. Diego Moreno RHP
Came to the Yankees from Pittsburgh in the A.J. Burnett trade back in 2012. He pitched alright in winter ball this year; has good Double-A numbers but didn’t pitch well in his first taste of Triple-A last year. Probably a non-factor, but again, it’s worth recognizing that he got a big league invitation ahead of a guy like Montgomery. Clearly Moreno is on the radar somewhere.
23. Kyle Higashioka C
Got some big league invitations early in his minor league career, but he’s also dealt with injuries while putting up unimpressive offensive numbers. The Yankees like his glove, and like him as a prospect enough to send him to the Arizona Fall League for a few at-bats this offseason. Not a lot of standout, mid-level catchers in the Yankees system. Higashioka is basically trying to earn regular minor league at-bats again.
24. Trent Garrison C
Little surprise that the end of this list is loaded with catchers. Every team brings catchers to camp who have no real chance of impacting the big league roster. I’m putting Garrison ahead of the next two because he was drafted in 2013 and played in High-A last season. Still fairly young and could become a regular among non-roster invitees the next few years.
25. Francisco Arcia C
Hits left-handed. Played in Triple-A last season. Got some playing time in winter ball. It tend to think of Arcia as an organizational catcher who will basically play wherever the Yankees have an opening (could be A-ball, could be Triple-A). I don’t think of him as a factor, but I did have one scout suggest that a team really desperate for catching could have considered Arcia in the Rule 5 draft, so there’s that.
26. Juan Graterol C
Right down to the birth year, the home country, and the little bit of time at first base, it’s hard to see a ton of difference between Arcia and Graterol. Maybe I’m completely missing something, but Graterol seems like additional organizational filler, except this one’s less familiar than Arcia.
Photo from the Charleston RiverDogs
It’s the final day of the Winter Meetings, which means it’s time for the Rule 5 draft. This year’s draft starts at noon ET, and the Yankees have plenty of open roster spots to make a selection or two, but they’re not expected to take anyone. Maybe if there were an interesting infielder out there — maybe a guy to compete with Jose Pirela for a utility spot — but the Yankees seem more interested in keeping their roster spots open.
Rather than wonder if the Yankees will take some one, it might be more relevant to wonder who they might lose.
Last year, the Yankees lost hard-throwing reliever Tommy Kahnle, who stuck with Colorado and had a perfectly solid season. Chase Whitley was available in last year’s Rule 5 draft, but he went unselected and wound up getting to the big leagues with the Yankees. Danny Burawa was also available in last year’s Rule 5, but the Yankees protected him this time around.
I’ve listed a few names the Yankees left unprotected for this year’s Rule 5. One scout I talked to called this the thinnest Rule 5 class in recent memory, but Baseball America says it’s actually a pretty good class (“The Rule 5 draft is always about the eye of the beholder,” BA wrote).
Another scout said that the available Yankees prospects are “not prime targets,” but he did say teams could take a shot on a few players. Here are some of the more notable Yankees available in this year’s draft. Solid chance none will be selected.
RHP Mark Montgomery – Probably the biggest and most interesting name on this list. In the low minors, Montgomery earned Dave Robertson comparisons because of his ability to strike out so many guys. As he climbed the system, though, Montgomery’s numbers became much more pedestrian. Still gets quite a few strikeouts, but his velocity is way down. One scout mentioned him as a candidate for a team hoping his fastball jumps back to what it was back in 2012.
1B Kyle Roller – Honestly, this is the name that intrigues me the most. Roller went unselected in last year’s Rule 5, but that was before he went to Triple-A and hit .283/.378/.497. He’s a bad defender even at first base, but offense is down and Roller can hit. That said, one scout said it’s a “long shot that he could come off the bench (against) good pitching.” Bad defensive players with zero defensive versatility aren’t often targeted in the Rule 5, but Roller has hit in Triple-A, and that’s hard to overlook these days.
LHP Fred Lewis – Pitched so well in big league camp this spring that Lewis seemed to emerge as a big league bullpen option, but his regular season was a mess statistically, he got hurt, and now he’s off the radar again. But he throws from the left side, and one scout specifically mentioned him as a guy worth at least considering for the Rule 5.
RHP Zach Nuding – Solid starting pitcher for a few years now, but he went unselected in last year’s Rule 5, then he split this year between Double-A and Triple-A. His Double-A numbers were awfully good (1.10 WHIP) while his Triple-A numbers weren’t so good (1.55 WHIP).
LHP Matt Tracy – Throws left-handed, and he’s stretched out to be either a starter or a long man. One scout called Tracy a guy who might be worth a low-risk gamble in spring training just to see if he could make a roster in one role or another. That said, Tracy was hit pretty hard in Triple-A this year. He’s a notable guy who’s available, but another who seems like a longshot to stick if he were actually selected.
SS Cito Culver – Notable almost exclusively because he’s a former first-round draft pick. Ultimately, Culver hasn’t hit nearly enough to think he’s a true Rule 5 candidate, but he is a decent defender, and teams sometimes use the Rule 5 to go fishing for utility types who can play a role off the bench. The Yankees went into this offseason as desperate as anyone for a shortstop, and they chose not to put Culver on the 40-man. That says a lot.
C Francisco Arcia – Had no intention of mentioning Arcia until a scout specifically mentioned him as a guy who could get a look as a backup catcher. A couple of years ago he had a really nice first half in Low-A, but he’s since been underwhelming and the Yankees have treated him largely like organizational filler. I’d be stunned if he’s selected (unless he’s picked in the minor league phase), and I’d been more stunned if the Yankees seriously missed him.
Associated Press photos
State of the organization: First base • 10.07.14
Yesterday we looked behind the plate, today we move 90 feet up the line to first base where the Yankees are locked into a long-term contract with a former MVP candidate who’s most recently struggled to stay both healthy and productive. If there’s a bright side it’s this: The level of first base productivity in the minor leagues was actually very good this year, and there could be alternatives in place sooner rather than later.
Signed through 2016
During that offseason spending spree of 2008, the Yankees really broke the bank for Teixeira. They’d already signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and they’d traded for Nick Swisher, but getting Teixeira was a legitimate game-changer. He arrived in New York with a resume of durability and consistency, and he delivered that first season with near-MVP production. Gold Glove. Silver Slugger. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be, and as far as long-term gambles go, Teixeira seemed relatively safe. He’d always been healthy. He’d always been productive. There was little reason to think he’d ever need to move away from his position. Six years into an eight-year contract, though, Teixeira is about as uncertain as they come. His production has dipped considerably — even his power began to lag in the second half of this year — and he’s admitted that he’s unlikely to be a 150-game player any more. Yankees have to hope that a healthy offseason restores some of his strength and durability for the final two years of his deal.
On the verge
Eighth-round picks are not insignificant, but even as the Yankees eighth-rounder in 2010, Roller has never generated much prospect attention. What he has done is hit, and hit, and hit. A left-hander with power, Roller just had the best season of his career, and he did it in the upper levels. Between Double-A and Triple-A he hit .300/.391/.550 (he destroyed the Eastern League for a month, then hit .283/.378/.497 with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre). Roller is a bad defensive player, even at first base, but he can hit. And given the offensive decline across baseball, Roller’s one standout tool is becoming harder and harder to ignore. “Understanding scarcity is important,” Mark Newman said. “That which is scarce is valuable, and you have hard time finding these dudes.” First basemen are rarely picked up in the Rule 5 draft, and the Yankees could try to pass Roller through again. Assuming they don’t lose him, Roller should return to Triple-A as the most obvious and immediate Teixeira alternative.
Although he was technically a catcher when the Yankees drafted him back in 2011, no one seemed surprised to see Bird move to first base almost immediately. He was never a sure thing to stick behind the plate, and given the Yankees catching depth, first base actually seemed to be an easier path to the big leagues. Since then, Bird has provided hope that he might have enough bat for the position. The left-handed hitter with a good and patient approach at the plate, Bird hit 20 home runs in his first full season, and he hit 14 this season while playing just 102 games because of injury. Seven of those home runs came during his 27-game promotion to Double-A Trenton, where Bird hit .253/.379/.558 in his first real test against upper-level pitching (granted, small sample size). For any player limited to first base defensively, there are huge offensive expectations. Bird’s been pretty steady so far, and he’ll spend all of next season at 22 years old with a real chance of getting to Triple-A by the end of the year. The timing could work out so that Bird is a ready replacement by the time Teixeira’s contract is coming to an end.
Deeper in the system
Just like in 2010 when they used an eight-round pick to sign first baseman Roller, the Yankees used their 2014 eighth-round selection on Spencer. The first line of Baseball America’s draft scouting report said: “Spencer is simply a hitting machine,” and he showed that in his first year of pro ball. Assigned to short-season Staten Island, Spencer hit .364/.389/.444, leading the league in batting average by a giant margin. He hit a whopping .410/.429/.520 through 100 at-bats in the month of August. One problem: While he’s hit a lot of doubles, Spencer did not hit a home run this year and hit just one homer during this three-year college career. That will almost certainly have to change if he’s going to stay at first base where true power is important. Slightly more traditional first-base production came from undrafted Mike Ford, who hit .292/.383/.458 with 13 homers between Low-A and High-A (might have hit more home runs had he not missed time with an injury). Undrafted guys don’t often generate much attention, but Ford had good numbers at Princeton and then crushed the ball in the Cape Cod League, which led the Yankees to sign him. “He was killing it in the Cape last year,” Newman said. “Last year, after 100 at-bats there, he had an OPS of 1.100 in the Cape, so we thought, why not? He can hit.”
A right-handed, versatile alternative
This is not a bad thing, but it’s worth noting that all of the minor league first basemen listed above have one thing in common: They’re all left-handed hitters. Roller, Bird, Ford and Spencer — the guys who could very well be the Opening Day first basemen for each full-season affiliate next year — are all lefties. One right-handed option to keep in mind is Tyler Austin, who’s a right fielder by trade but could certainly enter the first base discussion if he’s able to build off his strong finish to this season. More important than being right-handed, he also has some defensive flexibility. Austin’s played first base, third base and right field, and as long as Teixeira is around, the Yankees might not have room on their roster for another pure first baseman (which would rule out Roller and Bird the next two seasons). Austin, on the other hand, could emerge as a four-corners guy who could fill-in at first base whenever Teixeira needs a day off. He’s not strictly a first baseman, but Austin could be a first-base option sooner than any true first baseman in the system.
Associated Press photo
Haven’t done this in a while, so here’s a quick update on a few guys in the minor league system. Now that we’re approaching the end of August, there’s a heavy emphasis on the upper-levels in this post. Just seems more relevant with September call-ups around the corner. Minor league seasons will end in just a few weeks, and at that point it will be a little easier to take a big-picture look at what everyone — including the low-level guys — did and did not do this season. For now, it seems more worthwhile to focus on the Triple-A and Double-A guys who could be on the big league radar either next month or early next year.
• Strictly my own speculation, but don’t rule out Manny Banuelos as either a September call-up candidate or perhaps a left-handed relief possibility. Once the Yankees top pitching prospect — and one of the better left-handed pitching prospects in baseball — Banuelos is beginning to look like a standout again. On Tuesday he returned to Triple-A for the first time since his 2012 Tommy John surgery, and he allowed one run on two hits through five innings. He had an up-and-down year in Double-A, but in his last five Trenton starts before the promotion Banuelos had a 3.00 ERA with a .151 opponents’ batting average through 21 innings. Probably still some work to be done, but at least showing signs of life again.
• Other left-handed pitchers to have in mind now that the Yankees don’t have a true lefty specialist: In 10 games since moving up to Triple-A, Tyler Webb has 18 strikeouts through 13.1 innings. Lefties, though, are hitting .357 with two home runs against him. Nik Turley is still working as a Triple-A starter, with kind of up-and-down results, but lefties are hitting just .179 against him (with a bunch of walks). Not sure the Yankees would go that direction, but I suppose it’s a possibility. Down in Double-A, first-round pick Jacob Lindgren has faced just two lefties in three games, but he was dominant against them in similarly limited chances with High-A Tampa. Another Double-A reliever, James Pazos, is having a really nice year and has a .143/.205/.143 slash line against lefties (though surely if he were close to a big league call-up, he would have been pushed to Triple-A at this point). There’s also Pat Venditte, who’s overall Triple-A numbers are solid, with lefties hitting .246/.313/.298 against him.
• Rob Refsnyder just keeps hitting in Triple-A. He’s hit .300/.345/.440 in the month of August and he’s hitting .300/.391/.480 overall since getting to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. True to Brian Cashman’s word, Refsnyder has not played right field since the trade deadline. He’s strictly a second baseman with a few DH turns that let Jose Pirela get occasional time at second.
• If the Yankees can get Carlos Beltran into the outfield, I wonder if they would consider giving DH at-bats to Kyle Roller. Clearly Joe Girardi isn’t sold on Zoilo Almonte, who would also seem to be a prime candidate to bring some left-handed power to the lineup. But Roller might be an interesting alternative. Strictly a first baseman when he’s in the field, Roller is hitting .284/.374/.510 against Triple-A right-handers — and lefties don’t exactly give him trouble, he has an .858 OPS against them. Plus, Roller’s hit .316/.420/.600 in his past 95 overall at-bats, and he’s homered in three of his past six games. This guy has been forced to perform in order to keep himself (or get himself) on the map. Not a big name, but plenty of people speak pretty highly of his bat and work ethic.
• Been a strange year for pitching throughout the upper levels of the Yankees organization. Obviously the big league issues are well documented, but all of the injuries and turnover in New York have left Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shorthanded several times this season. Last night, Venditte had to make a spot start, and that game went 13 innings — Venditte and four other relievers pitched at least two innings — ending with outfielder Taylor Dugas making his second pitching appearance of the season. Everything can run smoothly, and Triple-A pitching staffs are still left short-handed from time to time. It’s the nature of the beast, but it’s occasionally gotten awfully tough for the Railriders this season. They’re feeling the impact of all of those big league pitching problems.
• By the way, when he’s not filling in on the mound, Taylor Dugas is having an awfully good season. When the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury and extended Brett Gardner, it seemed a little odd at least partially because the Yankees farm system was already overloaded with left-handed center field types. At this point, though, Ramon Flores has been hurt most of the year, Slade Heathcott once again had season-ending surgery, Mason Williams has underperformed, and Ben Gamel hasn’t hit a ton. Dugas is kind of the last man standing, having emerged from that group with a .299/.393/.398 slash line between Double-A and Triple-A. Doesn’t get nearly the recognition of those other guys, but he’s the only one consistently performing and staying on the field. We’ll see if that means anything this winter. Could make a case for himself as a fifth outfielder type.
• Speaking of left-handed outfielders, another emerging possibility is Jake Cave. He’s always generated some prospect attention, but because of injuries he’d never reached high enough into the upper levels to join the conversation with Williams and Heathcott. That’s surely changed at this point. Still just 21 years old, Cave moved up to Double-A in mid July and has hit .287/.368/.455 since getting there. He’s played all three outfield positions, occasionally forcing Williams into the corners. Cave already has five triples in 25 Double-A games.
• When the Yankees picked Cave in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, it came one round after they selected first baseman Greg Bird. Both were high schoolers at the time, and both have already reached Double-A. Bird jumped up to Trenton at the beginning of August, so he has just a 10-game sample size. So far, though, he’s hitting .273/.400/.636 with three home runs, all of which came in a pair of back-to-back games. Bird basically came up to Double-A as soon as Pete O’Brien was traded away. Bird got the available first-base playing time (and I have to believe Bird’s steady bat is part of the reason the Yankees felt comfortable trading O’Brien). Different kind of hitters, for sure, but each seemed more likely to settle in at first base than at any other position. Bird, by the way, was also drafted as a catcher, just like O’Brien.
• In case you’re curious about Pete O’Brien, he was assigned to Double-A and landed on the disabled list just four games after the trade. Interestingly, he didn’t play first base in any of those four games after the trade. He caught three times and played right field once after moving into the Diamondbacks organization.
• One more note about that 2011 draft class: It’s top pick, Dante Bichette, is also up to Double-A at this point. Having rejuvenated his prospect stock down in Tampa, Bichette was moved up to Trenton a week ago. He has five hits in six games. He was hitting .271/.352/.410 in Tampa.
• And one last note about that 2011 draft class: Big relief pitcher Branden Pinder has pitched 3.2 scoreless innings in four appearances since coming off the Triple-A disabled list. I wouldn’t necessarily consider him a favorite for a September call-up, but he is Rule 5 eligible this winter, and he’s been a pretty good reliever, and the Yankees currently have both Jose Ramirez and Preston Claiborne on the disabled list, meaning they might not be healthy enough to come up in September. If the Yankees are planning to protect Pinder this offseason, might make sense to give him a 40-man spot next month and bring him on up. Maybe. They could just bring up Banuelos, Matt Daley and Bryan Mitchell — guys already on the 40-man — and have a pretty massive pitching staff for the final month (especially if Masahiro Tanaka and David Phelps are off the disabled list at that point).
• Top pitching prospect Luis Severino has been placed on the Double-A disabled list with that oblique injury that was previously described as “very slight.” Could be that it really is a very slight injury, and the Yankees are just being extra cautious with their best young arm. Not like it would be unusual for them. Another top prospect, Ian Clarkin, has also been added to the disabled list. I emailed Mark Newman today to ask about the severity of the injury — could be little more than innings management with Clarkin — but I haven’t heard back just yet.
• A few very quick hits from the lower levels: Tampa right fielder Aaron Judge continues to be pretty awesome, in my mind solidifying himself as the team’s top hitting prospect ahead of Gary Sanchez. He’s homered three times in his past eight games, and he’s still taking a ton of walks. … Tampa shortstop Cito Culver‘s bat has actually regressed in the second half of the season. … Also in Tampa, third baseman Eric Jagielo is back from the disabled list and continues to hit for more power than average. He’s hit .233/.346/.433 in 90 at-bats since coming off the DL. He’s homered in his past two games. … In Charleston, second baseman Gosuke Katoh has hit .280/.378/.382 through 49 games in the second half. That’s after hitting .190/.302/.315 in the first half.
Associated Press photos of Banuelos and Roller; headshots of Dugas, Bird and Pinder
Best case, worst case: First base • 01.23.13
The premise is pretty simple. Now that we’ve looked at the Yankees organization, position-by-position, what’s the organization’s best-case and worst-case scenario at each spot? We’ll start at first base, where the upside is significant and could make a huge difference in the way this lineup is viewed going forward.
Party like it’s 2009
It wasn’t all that long ago that Mark Teixeira was an all-star, a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glover and second in the MVP race. Oh, and he was also a World Series champion. Back in 2009, Teixeira’s first year with the Yankees, he was still one of the best all-around hitters in baseball. In addition to his defense, 30-plus home run power and good plate discipline – all of which have remained more or less in place the past three years — Teixeira also hit for a high average and had an OPS above .900 from each side of plate. About to turn 33 years old, Teixeira has not yet aged beyond that sort of offensive potential. His best-case scenario is about as good as it gets. The Yankees haven’t seen it in three years, but it’s still lingering out there as legitimate wishful thinking.
There’s also something to be said here for new addition Russ Canzler proving he can play a powerful, platoon role at the big laegue level. But, although Canzler can play first base, the Yankees best-case scenario certainly doesn’t include him getting more than five or six games at the position. If anything, it involves Teixeira staying healthy enough that Canzler’s only at-bats come at DH and occasionally in the outfield corners.
In the minor leagues, the Yankees would like to see power-hitting first basemen Luke Murton and Kyle Roller continue to hit homers as they advance, but the real prize seems to be Greg Bird, the Yankees 2011 fifth-round pick who’s been moved permanently from catcher to first base. A big year in Charleston could put Bird on the radar as a potential Teixeira replacement in four years.
A sign of things to come
At this point, Teixeira’s production seems fairly steady. Some health problems might have dragged down his numbers a little bit last season, but it ultimately feels safe to expect roughly .250/.330/.480 with 30-35 home runs. If what we’ve seen the past three years is a going to continue, at least there’s still some power and reason to think that — even in a horrible year — he could still hit 25 homers and slug .450 or so. The strength is there … unless last year’s health problems were the beginning of an Alex Rodriguez-type free fall. If we’re talking worst-case scenario, it surely has something to do with a doctor.
Teixeira eventually got his cough figured out last season, and his calf injury has had three-plus months to heal, but he got off to a horrible start last season — hitting just .229/.281/.386 into late May — and he blamed it, at least partially, on bad health. Teixeira actually slugged .518 the rest of the way, but nagging health and injury problems have taken a temporary toll in the past, and an unhealthy Teixeira might leave the Yankees longing for the version who could at least hit a home run every once in a while.
If Teixeira has to miss significant time, the Yankees best first base alternatives might be Canzler (a guy with fewer than 100 big league at-bats), Kevin Youkilis (the guy who’s supposed to be filling in at third) or Murton (a guy who hasn’t played above Double-A and whose batting average has declined year-by-year). Bird is an interesting but remarkably unproven young player, and the first basemen around him in the system — Matt Snyder and Saxon Butler — we just drafted last year and fall into the same boat: Could just as easily fall off the map as climb onto the radar. If a larger sample size against professional pitchers exposes holes in those young prospect’s games, the Yankees won’t really have a standout first baseman to look toward as a short-term or long-term replacement. If the Yankees have to turn to Tyler Austin to help at first, several things will have gone wrong.
Associated Press photos
Yankees at the break: First base • 07.13.11
A little more than two years ago, the Yankees set their course at first base by giving an eight-year deal to Mark Teixeira. He is the Yankees recent past, their obvious present and their distant future at the position.
It was kind of an unusual first half for Teixeira. He’s on pace for a career-high in home runs, but a career-low in batting average. He’s been plenty productive with the team-high in RBI, but he’s also been streaky. Teixeira has homered in three straight games four different times this year, including the first three games of the season. He has all-star type numbers, but at a position with Adrian Gonzalez, Paul Konerko and Miguel Cabrera, Teixeira was crowded out.
He’s not having the same sort of all-around season that he had in his Yankees debut, but if Teixeira keeps up this pace, he’ll probably get some of those back-of-the-ballot MVP votes. Eighth, ninth and tenth-place votes, that sort of thing. He hasn’t done much this July, but Teixeira is typically a better second-half hitter, with his best month-by-month numbers coming in August and September. Teixeira’s not going anywhere, but the Yankees have discovered that they can play Jorge Posada at first base occasionally to give him a few days off.
Jorge Vazquez is nowhere near the top prospect in the system, but he might be the most immediately intriguing. Plucked out of Mexico, Vazquez was a spring training standout, and he’s now a Triple-A all-star with the organization’s minor league lead in home runs. At 29 years old, he is what he is, and that might be enough to be productive should the Yankees find a spot for him. Lower in the minors, Charleston first baseman Kyle Roller hit enough to earn a mid-season call-up to Tampa, and the way down in the Gulf Coast League, last year’s 13th-round pick Tyler Austin is off to a strong start while playing both infield corners.
Should Teixeira fall into the cleanup spot now that Rodriguez is out?
The Yankees could bump Robinson Cano up a spot to fill the cleanup void, or they could move Brett Gardner into the leadoff spot, move Curtis Granderson into the No. 3 hole and give the switch-hitting Teixeira the No. 4 spot between lefties Granderson and Cano.
Nothing has happened this season to change the Yankees long-term plans at first base. Teixeira is still a middle-of-the-order hitter in his prime, and his power numbers have helped make up for Alex Rodriguez’s relative lack of power in the cleanup spot. First base still belong to Teixeira for the foreseeable future.
Associated Press photo
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
Yankees organizational depth: First base • 01.09.11
Up next in a position-by-position look at the Yankees organization we’ll turn to first base, where the Yankees lack of organizational depth shouldn’t be a significant concern because of the guy who’s already playing the position in New York.
In the big leagues
If you go from 2004 through 2009 and choose Mark Teixeira’s lowest single-season batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage you get this slash line: .281/.370/.514. That makes last year’s slash line of .256/.365/.481 a complete outlier. It was quite literally — in every way — unprecedented since Teixeira’s rookie year. No Yankees position player is better positioned for a rebound season than their soon-to-be 31-year-old first baseman. At his age, there’s little reason to expect a repeat of 2010, which is good for the Yankees because he’s locked up through the 2016 season.
On the verge
For the past three years, the first baseman waiting in the Triple-A shadows has been Juan Miranda. He always hit, but his path was always blocked and this winter he was traded to Arizona. Instead, the immediate minor league depth at first base centers on Jorge Vazquez and Brandon Laird. Vazquez is a veteran of the Mexican League, a raw power hitter who slugged .526 in Triple-A last season. Laird is a self-made prospect who’s spent most of his time at third base and is starting to see time in the outfield corners. Laird is more versatile than Vazquez — plus he has a 40-man spot with more prospect hype — but Vazquez isn’t out of the picture entirely. He’d have to impress to jump ahead of Laird for a call-up, but he’ll probably get most of the Triple-A starts at first base.
Deep in the system
Even in the lower levels, there isn’t a lot of pure first-base talent that jumps out as big-name prospects. Kyle Roller was the Yankees eight-round draft pick this summer, and he hit .272/.367/.402 while leading Staten Island in total bases last year. Luke Murton was a 19th-round pick in ’09 and slugged .463 in Charleston last season. A first-base wild card is Reymond Nunez, who’s shown good power in the extremely low levels of the system but hit just .222/.263/.361 and suffered a hamstring injury last year. He could be in the mix in Charleston, if not in April maybe some time during the season.
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: Mark Teixeira
Scranton/WB: Jorge Vazquez
Trenton: Myron Leslie, Brad Suttle
Tampa: Luke Murton
Charleston: Kyle Roller
The true New York first-base depth chart probably includes Nick Swisher and Brandon Laird as well, but as long as Teixeira stays healthy, those two will obviously get most of their playing time elsewhere.
Suttle is a good defensive third baseman, but I listed him in the mix at first only because the Triple-A and Double-A infields are pretty crowded, and first base could be a position used primarily to get people at-bats. If Suttle, David Adams and Corban Joseph all open in Trenton, there will be only so many second base and third base at-bats to go around. Leslie is a former independent leaguer who could fill the gap. Guys like Rob Lyerly, Addison Maruszak, and Ramon Flores could also get some time at first base in the full-season leagues, but they primarily play other positions.
Associated Press photo of Teixeira, headshots of Teixeira, Vazquez and Murton