No second-half question affects the Yankees long-term future quite like this one: Is Jesus Montero’s greatest value as a trade chip or as the future of the Yankees lineup?
In other words, should the Yankees think of Montero as a potential impact hitter in the second half, or should they think of him as the bait that brings an impact hitter — or pitcher — in the second half?
Similar questions could be asked about Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, who have clearly set themselves apart as the top two pitching prospects in the system. Andrew Brackman was right there with them for a while, but his season has been a significant disappointment. Montero’s season has been only partially disappointing. He’s gone through stretches of as-expected production, but his .419 slugging percentage is uninspiring. Right now he’s on the disabled list with a sore back.
Russell Martin is an all-star, and the Yankees love him behind the plate, but he hasn’t hit much since the end of April. Francisco Cervelli is hitting just .214 as Martin’s backup. There’s certainly the opportunity for an offensive upgrade behind the plate, and the designated hitter spot could be fairly open next season if not immediately.
It’s certainly possible to envision a big league role for Montero sooner rather than later. It’s also possible to envision a significant trade target with Montero as the asking price.
If the Yankees still believe in Montero but don’t think he’s quite ready, then it’s worth keeping him in Triple-A and postponing the question and its inevitable answer. But if the Yankees have made up their mind one way or the other, Montero could be an immediate help. The only question is how to use him.
Associated Press photo
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
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 off day minor league notes • 04.21.11
Off days seem to work pretty well for minor league updates. There’s not much going on with the big league team on these days, so we might as well look into the minor league system.
Today let’s start in Double-A. Austin Romine is always the other catcher in the Yankees system. He’s not considered one of baseball’s elite like Jesus Montero, and he’s not a raw mega-talent like Gary Sanchez, but Romine is a legitimate prospect his bat is heating up.
He hit a walkoff single on Tuesday, then he homered twice on Wednesday. Romine got off to a slow start in the season’s first week, but in the past five games he’s collected nine hits including a double and two home runs. He has nine RBI in the his past five games after not driving in a run in any of his first six games. His slash line is up to .310/.420/.500.
Of course, in this system, Romine isn’t the only minor league catcher who’s been hitting lately.
Jesus Montero continues to rake for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He had another three-hit game last night, and although he hasn’t homered since April 9 and has yet to draw a walk, Montero is batting .423/.423/.558 through 11 games. Down in Charleston, Gary Sanchez is back from a brief stint on the disabled list and had a hit last night. While Sanchez was out — Josh Norris says it was a sore oblique, of course — J.R. Murphy got some regular time behind the plate and his bat is still going strong with three homers, 13 RBI and a .326 average.
For the immediate future, the catching situation that has the most impact on the Yankees is happening in Tampa, where Francisco Cervelli is supposed to be begin a rehab assignment tonight.
• Kei Igawa is up from Double-A to start for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre tonight. Kevin Millwood is coming up from the Double-A roster to start for Scranton tomorrow. As Donnie Collins pointed out, Millwood should have time to make one start after tomorrow before his out kicks in.
• Speaking of Triple-A starters, David Phelps and Adam Warren have turned in back-to-back gems this week. Phelps allowed three hits and struck out six through 6.1 innings on Tuesday night, then Warren followed with eight scoreless innings on Wednesday. Minor league pitchers — and big league pitchers for that matter — occasionally talk about creating a friendly rivalry in which one player’s success helps to spark another’s success. Those two outings could start something like that.
• Jorge Vazquez is up to seven home runs in Scranton, meanwhile Chris Dickerson has started hitting in Triple-A. Eight hits in his past four games has Dickerson’s slash line up to .292/.393/.375. He’s had two doubles and a triple in the past three days, his first extra-base hits of the year.
• Manny Banuelos is back from his blister and made his second start on Tuesday night. He allowed two hits and one unearned run through four innings for Double-A Trenton. Dellin Betances is still on the disabled list in Trenton, but he seems close to a return.
• Good numbers from a name you might not know: Mikey O’Brien, a ninth-round pick in 2008, has a 2.16 ERA with 19 strikeouts through his first three starts with Charleston. He’s walked only three and his production has been pretty steady (his numbers aren’t the product of just one good start), but he has yet to get a win. O’Brien could be building on last season when he had a 2.08 ERA in Staten Island.
Pedro Feliciano had an MRI this winter before he signed with the Yankees. It showed no problems. When he got to spring training, he pitched with no pain and no cause for concern. In his fourth spring outing, he allowed one hit and struck out the other three batters he faced. It seemed to be another good sign, but that’s the day Feliciano first felt something in his shoulder.
“That day that I pitched, I remember I threw long toss with Soriano and I was fine,” he said. “I did my short toss and everything, then in the bullpen I was fine. After I got my first out, I got a single bloop to the righty and then I got my two strikeouts. I got the last two outs, but it wasn’t me. That inning was weird. I’ve never had that, so I thought it would go away. That’s why I kept pitching, but the next day was bad.”
Initially, Feliciano thought it was just unexpected soreness. When it lingered, he initially labeled it a triceps issue. Gradually, the diagnosis shifted closer to the shoulder, and yesterday he found out that there’s a small tear in his shoulder capsule. Feliciano believes it’s a new injury, one that happened that day in Florida, not over time at Citi Field. He wonders if it’s connected to all the weight lifting he did this spring.
Bottom line, Feliciano will see Dr. Andrews on Monday for a second opinion, but he’s expecting to have surgery. The Yankees are expecting the same. Brian Cashman called it a “very obvious” diagnosis, and surgery will keep him out all year.
Even if Andrews says surgery is not necessary, Feliciano will still be out several more weeks leaving the Yankees without their primary left-handed reliever, the guy they gave two year, $8 million this winter. The Yankees were well aware of Feliciano’s workload with the Mets, but they thought this was a risk worth taking.
“He was definitely abused over there,” Cashman said. “But we knew that.”
Here’s Cashman. It’s worth a listen. He talked for about 20 minutes about the Yankees own history of overusing pitchers. Cashman said he spoke to Joe Torre about it several times, asking that he not go to the same guys over and over again, and he seems happy that it’s no longer an issue with Joe Girardi.
• For now, the Yankees are going to stick with Boone Logan as their only left-handed reliever. There’s no one in the system they’re considering calling up at the moment, and Girardi said he doesn’t expect to find a lefty on the market right now.
• The most obvious left-handed addition might be Andy Sisco, but Cashman said Sisco’s fastball in Scranton hasn’t been what it was when the Yankees saw him this winter. Sisco might be an option down the road, but Cashman said he’s not an option right now.
• Here’s Joe Girardi on the bullpen without Feliciano: “The bullpen is what it is. We believe that we have right-handers that are capable of getting left-handers out. At this point, Pedro has to make a decision on what he’s going to do. It’s disappointing. We were counting on him to be a big left-hander out of our bullpen. Boone Logan stepped up for us last year, and he’s going to have to do it again.”
• The Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball is leaning toward expanded use of instant replay next season.
• Both Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos have been placed on the Double-A disabled list because of blisters. Cashman said he believe it’s because the seams are smaller — not as raised — on minor league baseballs, which might have been an issue for Betances and Banuelos shifting from big league spring training to the minor league season.
• In other minor league injury news, Josh Norris reports that Gary Sanchez is headed for the disabled list in Charleston. Not sure why.
• Obviously today is a pretty big start for Phil Hughes, as big as a third start of the season can be anyway. Both Girardi and Cashman said Hughes has generally been slow to generate velocity, that it usually doesn’t come until a little later in the season. Last year was an exception to the rule. Girardi said he still considers the velocity a secondary issue. “I wasn’t getting so caught up in it,” he said. “It comes down to locating the ball and changing speeds.”
Brian Roberts 2B
Nick Markakis RF
Derrek Lee 1B
Vladimir Guerrero DH
Luke Scott LF
Adam Jones CF
Mark Reynolds 3B
Matt Wieters C
Cesar Izturis SS
Associated Press photo of Feliciano
Saturday notes: Final decisions coming soon • 03.26.11
After announcing his final rotation decisions this morning, Joe Girardi said this afternoon that he plans to announce his final roster on Monday. He might do it tomorrow, but Monday is probably the day he’ll fill in the blanks.* Monday just so happens to be the deadline to add Eric Chavez to the roster.
“I don’t think he can look any better than he looks,” Brian Cashman said. “He’s done everything he needs to do.”
Chavez is in camp on a minor league deal, and as Cashman explained the technical language, Chavez can request that he be added to the roster on Sunday. The Yankees then have 24 hours to agree, or Chavez can opt out and go elsewhere. It won’t be an issue.
“You never know until it happens,” Chavez said.
Fact is, Chavez is hitting .410 this spring. He’s hit one home run, four doubles and played solid defense at first and third. Joe Girardi has said more than once that Chavez is showing no signs of injury, and Chavez keeps saying he feels great. He had that minor calf injury, but even Chavez — a guy who has reason to be worried about the slightest nagging pain — was never concerned. The Yankees won’t make it official until they have to, but it’s clear that Chavez is making this team.
“He’s looked really, really good,” Girardi said.
Truth be told, most of today’s notes came in the morning. Scroll down a little bit or click here to read those.
• Russell Martin was supposed to catch CC Sabathia this morning, but he sat out because of a tight left hamstring. The fact it has nothing to do with his surgically repaired knee seems to be a good sign, and Girardi said he’s not concerned. Martin is scheduled to catch again on Monday. “We feel that he’s going to be fine,” Girardi said.
• Speaking of Sabathia: 3 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K. He threw 37 pitches, 24 for strikes. No surprise, but Gustavo Molina said he looked great.
• As for Molina, he caught Sabathia’s minor league start, then hustled back to Steinbrenner Field in time to catch all of the major league pitchers who threw the late innings. Molina caught a total of nine innings today, and Girardi said he won’t catch tomorrow. Molina got to the big league park in the third inning, just in time to catch Mariano Rivera in the fourth.
• Rafael Soriano pitched two-thirds of an inning and said this was his last spring outing. Girardi wasn’t so sure Soriano was finished until Opening Day, but Soriano said he would not be pitching again until the regular season. “I’m ready to go,” he said.
• Today was almost certainly the final appearance of Manny Banuelos, who allowed one run on two hits and three walks through three innings. He struck out three and will leave big league camp with a 2.13 ERA. “I’ve been pleased,” Girardi said. “For the most part, I think he’s handled his surroundings very well for a 19- and 20-year-old. He has been able to throw strikes for the most part, quality strikes.”
• Alex Rodriguez’s insane spring continued with his sixth home run this afternoon. He has 14 RBI and a .422 batting average.
• On March 14, Nick Swisher was hitting .188 with two RBI this spring. After a 2-for-3 game today he’s up to .250 with eight RBI. He’s not exactly on fire, but he’s starting to get something going offensively.
• I mentioned it earlier, but I’ll mention it here as well: Girardi was encouraged by the fact Curtis Granderson swung a bat today. He wasn’t supposed to do that until tomorrow, but he came through his other drills so well that the training staff let him take about 30 swings, 15 soft toss and 15 off a tee. Girardi said he feels a little more encouraged that Granderson might have a shot at Opening Day.
• The Yankees still don’t know who’s starting tomorrow. Only three 40-man pitchers are scheduled to make the trip: Steve Garrison, Romulo Sanchez and Ryan Pope.
Additional minor league pitchers added to the travel roster: Buddy Carlyle, Eric Wordekemper, Francisco Gil, Josh Schmidt, Pat Venditte, Andy Sisco, Kevin Whelan, Amaury Sanit, Wilkins Arias and Tim Norton.
Position players not making the trip to Fort Myers: Russell Martin, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Chris Dickerson. Gustavo Molina is still listed, but he probably won’t actually go after catching nine innings today.
Minor league position players who will be making the trip to Fort Myers: Luke Murton, Luis Nunez, Yadil Mujica, Ray Kruml, Austin Krum, Abe Almonte and J.R. Murphy.
Associated Press photos, that’s Chavez being low-fived by Nick Swisher in the top picture
Bartolo Colon has outpitched Freddy Garcia this spring. It that weren’t obvious before tonight, six innings of two-hit, one-run ball from Colon surely removed any doubt. Thing is, the Yankees are weighing more than spring training numbers in choosing their fourth and fifth starters.
“I know what Freddy is,” Brian Cashman said. “I’ve seen it. He is what he is. I know what he is. Bartolo is a little bit more of a newbie in the fact that, alright, this guy is really showing us a lot of good stuff and it’s nice to see, but is it enough? Have we seen enough? Is the comfort level there?”
Colon hasn’t pitched in a year in a half. He’s 37 years old and reported to camp admittedly 25 to 30 pounds overweight. Pitching well in March is no guarantee he’ll pitch well in April, and it’s certainly no guarantee he’ll hold up through June and July.
“(The weight) is somewhat of a concern because of his stamina and if we get into the dog days, how his body holds up,” Joe Girardi said. “It hasn’t been cool here and he seems to bounce back well from day to day. In Anaheim, I’m not sure what weight he pitched at, but he was fairly large there too.”
Ultimately, there’s no way the Yankees will have enough information to make a risk-free decision. They have one week before Girardi’s self-imposed roster deadline of March 28. At that point they’ll have to do the best they can with what they have.
“We’ve all been deceived in March before,” Cashman said. “But we’ve also been rewarded with March before. You go through the motions. You put the work in. You see what you see in the games, and you have to make a call. And you hope it’s going to be the right call. We might be picking the right guy, we might be picking the wrong guy. Just have to wait and see.”
Here’s Yankees catcher Russell Martin talking about what he’s seeing from Colon. Safe to say, he’s been impressed.
• It doesn’t sound serious, but Eric Chavez has been shutdown for a few days with spasms in his right calf. Girardi said Chavez won’t play again until Friday. “I didn’t see a lot of concern from him,” Girardi said. As of right now, no tests are scheduled.
• Including the sixth inning, Colon was consistently throwing 91-93 with his fastball. Martin said he also mixed in more cutters than usual, which worked as an effective combination with the two-seamer. He had to throw another 18 to 20 pitches in the bullpen after the game.
• Here’s Martin on Colon: “His command is what has impressed me the most. He throws so many strikes. It almost gets to the point where, when we get ahead 0-2, you almost want to expand a little bit more than he has. Guys are swinging because he is throwing so many strikes. If there is any adjustment to make, it would just be maybe throwing a little less quality pitches with two strikes and maybe expanding a little more.”
• After a streak of eight scoreless innings, Manny Banuelos allowed a solo home run to Dan Johnson in the seventh inning. He responded by striking out B.J. Upton in the very next at-bat. Banuelos took the loss tonight, allowing two runs on three hits through two innings.
• Another minor injury: Ramiro Pena has a sort left shoulder and had it iced after the game, but he said it’s a non-issue. Girardi described it as normal spring training soreness.
• Tomorrow in Sarasota, Joba Chamberlain will pitch for the first time since March 11. “He felt he’s been over it since it started,” Cashman said. “He’s like, ‘I feel fine, I feel fine.’ I’m glad that the trainers are ready to place him in a game situation now. Next thing you know — knock on wood — if it all goes well, you forget that he had to be pushed back a little bit.”
• Cashman said Freddy Garcia’s upcoming outing on Thursday’s off day will be a minor league start.
• More or less echoing Cashman’s comments, Girardi said he doesn’t expect to learn anything from Garcia’s minor league outing this week. “For us, not a whole lot,” Girardi said. “I think we have a pretty good idea what Freddy can do.”
• Brett Gardner is off tomorrow, but Girardi said he expects to have Gardner leading off and Jeter batting second the next two times they play together. “We’re starting to play them together and we’re trying to see what it looks like,” he said. “You’ll probably see that again on Friday too, and Wednesday.”
• Girardi said this afternoon that he had absolutely no idea how Mariano Rivera did in his minor league outing this morning. “We’re not really worried about him,” Girardi said. “If something went wrong, I would have known.” Rivera went two innings, three hits and two strikeouts.
Associated Press photos
First, an announcement: We’ll be hosting a live chat here at the LoHud Yankees Blog tomorrow afternoon at 2:30. Not sure whether Sam is going to be around, but I’ll be back from the clubhouse in time to do a little chatting about the Yankees at roughly the mid-way point of their spring schedule. Stop by.
Second, a remarkably minor detail: For those of you who care about the lowest levels of the minor league system, it turns out the four minor leaguers brought over to face CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon this morning were Kelvin DeLeon, Jose Toussen, Damon Sublett and Neil Medchill. It was DeLeon who doubled off Sabathia’s first pitch of the day. DeLeon also had two of the four hits off Colon, and Sublett later smoked a double to center off Sabathia.
Third, an actual blog post:
Last year Jon Weber won the Dawson Award as the best rookie in Yankees camp. He was out of the organization by the middle of the season. The year before last, it was Brett Gardner who won the Dawson Award. Now he’s the everyday left fielder. Basically, the Dawson Award is about as reliable as a spring training batting average for predicting long-term success.
But, let’s face it, part of the fun of spring training is seeing the new guys.
If I had to vote today, I would pick Jorge Vazquez for this year’s Dawson Award. There’s much more hype around Manny Banuelos, and Eduardo Nunez is much more likely to play his way onto the team, but Vazquez has been the Yankees best hitter. And that’s in a camp with a red-hot Alex Rodriguez.
Look at it this way: Imagine Vazquez were a Top 10 Yankees prospect. Imagine he came into camp with the same sort of hype as Banuelos, then hit .463/.483/.893 with three home runs through 28 at-bats. Imagine these were Jesus Montero’s numbers.
If Vazquez had any sort of prospect hype, the entire Yankee Universe would be exploding. He doesn’t generate the same attention as Banuelos or Montero or Andrew Brackman — and he might not have the same long-term impact — but that doesn’t mean he’s not having a better spring.
Banuelos has been terrific, and if he tosses three more scoreless innings against a major league lineup, I could easily change my tune.
Nunez has been all-around impressive, and if he does play his way onto the team, that might be worth rewarding.
But right now I’ll take Vazquez’s production.
Associated Press photo of Vazquez with Montero
Postgame notes: Banuelos holds his own • 03.14.11
Joe Girardi was asked tonight whether he knew many 20-year-olds who would be willing to throw a 3-2 changeup to Kevin Youkilis. When he said no, Girardi was asked if he knew many 30-year-olds who would be willing to throw a 3-2 changeup to Youkilis.
“How old is CC?” he said.
Manny Banuelos wasn’t perfect tonight, but he showed the Yankees — and himself — that he has the stuff to face big league hitters and get them out. He struck out Carl Crawford on a fastball, he got back-to-back ground balls to escape a bases-loaded jam, and he made Youkilis look bad on a 3-2 change that was his last pitch of the game.
“It’s a lot for me because now I know how I can pitch,” Banuelos said. “I have an idea how can I mix the pitches to the major league hitters. It’s a lot different, minor league to the major league hitters. Now I have an idea, how can I throw, what pitch can I use against the big hitters?”
Before the game, Brian Cashman made it clear that there was nothing Banuelos could do to change the Yankees plans. He’s going to open the season in Trenton.
“What we’re looking for, I’m not expecting for him to provide at this time,” Cashman said.
This was never going to be the night that pushed Banuelos into the big league rotation, and this was not the night Banuelos emerged as a front-line prospect. This was simply the night he got his first taste of the big stage. His command was off and he got into a lot of deep counts, but Banuelos more than held his own against a legitimate big league lineup. He showed some flaws, and he showed a lot of promise.
“I feel ready for this,” he said.
The Yankees will wait. They’ll let Banuelos develop a little longer and they’ll try to show some patience, but there is an obvious excitement about this kid. And that excitement is starting to spread.
“Let’s put it this way: Probably most people couldn’t pronounce his name before camp,” Cashman said. “I think everybody pronounces it now, accurately.”
Here’s Banuelos in the clubhouse after his start.
Here’s Cashman on the field before the game.
• Mark Prior did not make today’s road trip because he’s sick. Doesn’t sound serious.
• Cashman labeled his level of concern about Sergio Mitre as, “low.” Mitre tried to convince the Yankees to let him pitch, but the Yankees didn’t want to risk anything with his oblique. “Girardi had to do a little bit of a wrestling match with him,” Cashman said. “He almost had to get me on the phone.”
• Here’s Mitre’s take on the situation: “It was a little bit sore and tight (Sunday). They don’t want to chance it because I pulled an oblique on the same side last year. We’re trying to figure out if it’s related. If it blows out, they’re talking about six weeks, so hopefully it won’t. I feel pretty good today.”
• Joba Chamberlain’s injury is around his ribs, but Cashman said it’s technically in his oblique. Just like with Mitre, the Yankees don’t seem especially worries. Chamberlain felt something, let the Yankees know, and now they’re playing it safe. “Could it play itself into (taking) a while? That’s what we’re trying to prevent,” Cashman said.
• Dellin Betances hit a batter with his first pitch, walked two batters, threw two wild pitches and allowed both Boston runs. “A little wild,” Girardi said. “But he didn’t cave. To me that’s a sign he’s making progress as well.”
• Nick Swisher went 0-for-3 and his spring average dropped to .188. “I don’t get too caught up in numbers,” Girardi said. “I watch the way he’s swinging the bat, and I’ve been pleased with his at-bats. He’s not a huge concern of mine.”
• Eric Chavez didn’t have a hit today, but he did get another game at first base. “He’s been really good (at first),” Girardi said. “I’ve been really pleased with what he’s done. It seems to be a pretty good adjustment for him. He hasn’t been tested a ton, but every play he’s needed to make, he’s made.”
• Brett Gardner had his fourth spring double. It came immediately after Jesus Montero’s first double and drove in the only Yankees run in a 2-1 loss.
• Another hit for Jorge Vazquez. Of course.
• Ramiro Pena had a hit and stole a base. He said a few days ago that he wanted to use his speed a little more to show the Yankees he could help on the bases, but Eduardo Nunez also had another hit today and continues to be a significantly better offensive option this spring.
• Against his old team, Alfredo Aceves pitched three innings, allowing one run on three hits and a walk. Cashman reiterated that the Yankees did not have enough confidence in his back to offer Aceves a major league deal. “He’s got a back condition and we could not get him healthy, and I’ll leave it at that,” Cashman said.
• CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon will throw 80-85 pitches during tomorrow morning’s sim game.
Associated Press photos of Banuelos, Betances and Swisher