The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


State of the organization: Center field01.16.13

Three years ago, the Yankees traded their center fielder of the future (who was basically ready for the big leagues) to acquire a center fielder of the present (who had a team-friendly contract through four more seasons). For the Yankees, the trade looked a lot better at this time last year, before Granderson took a step back and Jackson took a step forward. Now that Curtis Granderson is entering the final year of his contract, attention has shifted to the next wave of center fielders. It’s generally assumed that Granderson won’t be back next year — might not even be in center field this year — there are two players who can legitimately claim to be the Yankees center fielder of the future.

Brett Gardner
Second year of arbitration
I can’t tell you who exactly is going to play center field next season, but because the Yankees have acknowledged considering the idea of Gardner in center, I’m heading into spring training expecting that to happen. It’s not based on concrete facts — I honestly believe the Yankees are open to either option – but we’ve seen Granderson run a little less in recent years, my gut says that Gardner would be a better defensively, and it might make sense to go ahead and use Gardner in center now and go shopping for a left fielder next winter. Either way, the Yankees have options (even Ichiro Suzuki has proven he can still handle center if necessary). Gardner is an elite defensive player with speed. Granderson is, at the very least, one of the top power hitters in the game. The position is not a short-term concern for the Yankees.

On the verge
Speed, power and defense make Melky Mesa a tantalizing young player. Strikeouts make him a player who might never get more than the two Major League at-bats he had last season. In the minors last year, Mesa struck out 118 times, and that was actually his lowest single-season total since he reached full-season leagues. His Triple-A slash line of .230/.271/.524 pretty much tells the story of a guy who can hit the ball out (if he actually makes contact). Mesa can also run, but he is perhaps best known for failing to touch a base during his late-season call-up last year. He might be an all-or-nothing wild card, but Mesa does give the Yankees immediate depth in center. Zoilo Almonte has also played some center field in his career, and speedy Abe Almonte could be another option if he can build on a solid 2012 season in Trenton (and if he can get playing time on a crowded Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster). Another name to watch here is Adonis Garcia. The Cuban outfielder played well in winter ball and could become an option if he hits.

Deeper in the system
I considered listing Slade Heathcott as an “on the verge” option, but I’m just not sure I buy Damon Oppenheimer’s optimism that Heathcott could be in the big leagues this year. Heathcott still hasn’t played above High-A Tampa, and although he was terrific in the Arizona Fall League, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees suddenly pushing Heathcott too hard (not when they’ve previously worked so hard just to keep him healthy). But even if he doesn’t arrive this year, Heathcott is on his way. So is Mason Williams. They are two of the Yankees truly elite prospects, and it seems likely that Heathcott will open this season in Double-A with Williams right behind him in High-A. Both have significant upside, but they still need some development time and some patience. Ravel Santana was a part of this conversation a year ago, but he struggled so badly in Staten Island last season — .216/.304/.289 — that his stock has taken a considerable hit.

On the move
Overshadowed on a stacked Charleston roster, 2010 10th-round pick Ben Gamel had a so-so first half last season, but after Williams was promoted, Gamel shifted from left field to center field and hit .320/.347/.419 in the second half. He doesn’t stand out in this system — and he might not see a ton of center field time considering the other options — but there’s something to like about him. It’s also worth noting that Ronnier Mustelier has played quite a bit of center field, including some time as a center field regular this winter. The Yankees have never shown signs of making that a go-to position for him, but he does have experience there. Like with shortstop, it’s rare to see a player shift from any other position into center field. It happens occasionally — Abe Almonte moved from second to center when he was extremely young — but for the most part, guys play their way out of center field, not into center field.

What to watch
There’s an fairly immediate decision to make. Are we going to see Gardner getting regular center field reps this spring? Are we going to see Granderson getting most of his time in left? The decision isn’t going to revolutionize the big league roster, but it’s going to be interesting to watch. For those who closely follow the minor leagues, it seems that every full-season team will have a center fielder worth watching. Can Mesa cut down on the strikeouts? Can Heathcott stay healthy? Can Williams carry his success to High-A? Can Santana get back on the prospect map (and will the Yankees make him repeat short-season ball)?

Associated Press photo; headshots of Gardner, Mesa, Heathcott, Williams and Gamel

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 145 Comments →

Mesa has memorable Yankees debut (and not in a good way)09.23.12

Imagine if George Steinbrenner were around and in his blustery prime and the Yankees had lost Saturday’s extra-inning game to the A’s in the midst of this airtight pennant race. Melky Mesa would’ve been sent down to the Instructional League 30 seconds after the game. Maybe sooner.

The 25-year-old rookie’s major-league debut didn’t go so well. Joe Girardi inserted him as a pinch runner after a leadoff single by Eric Chavez in the 14th, the score tied. After a sacrifice by Derek Jeter and an intentional walk to Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez ripped a single into center. The game should’ve been over. But Mesa stepped over third, missing the bag. He had to go back.

“I’ll give him credit,” Girardi said. “He didn’t compound the problem by continuing to go.”

Mesa was then forced at the plate by Robinson Cano. But Oakland first baseman Brandon Moss bailed out Mesa from possible infamy, making an error on Eduardo Nunez’s grounder, allowing the Yankees to win 10-9 and retain their one-game edge over the Orioles.

“The first time it’s happened to me,” Mesa said. “What can I do? A mistake.”

Girardi still came over to his locker and presented him with the lineup card as a souvenir from his first game.

“He won’t forget it,” Girardi said.

Mesa hit a combined .264 with 26 doubles, 23 homers and 67 RBI in 121 games at Double-A and Triple-A this season.

His Yankees teammates offered him encouragement after the mistake.

“You feel for him,” Raul Ibanez said. “That’s his debut.”

Hope you’ll check my linked LoHud.com/Journal News articles today about yesterday’s wild and entertaining game with that great Yankees comeback and about the state of Mark Teixeira’s calf.

Posted by: Brian Heyman - Posted in Miscwith 135 Comments →

Monday morning notes: Big enough to block the sun02.27.12

CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda are each listed at 6-foot-7. They’re intimidating figures at the best of times. Imagine seeing them on a mound, early in the morning, when you’re facing live pitching for the first time of the spring.

“It was good,” Colin Curtis said. “Because the sun was up there, and they were kind of blocking it.”

Sabathia and Pineda threw live batting practice to Curtis and Melky Mesa. At this point, we all know what to expect from Sabathia, but Pineda is still in the process of making a first impression. It was the slider that most impressed Curtis, but it’s still a little early to get a great read on a pitcher. Curtis said he didn’t see any changeups, but he saw a few thrown to Mesa.

Last time Curtis faced live pitching? It was few weeks before spring training, and he badly wanted to get on a field, so he put together a scrimmage with some high school kids in his home town. Not exactly the kind of thing that prepares a guy for Sabathia and Pineda.

“Facing sophomores is a little different than facing these two guys,” Curtis said.

David Aardsma’s locker is still empty, but he’s now on the schedule for pitchers conditioning. He’s in a group with Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano. Aardsma was originally scheduled to arrive today, so he could show up at some point.

Joba Chamberlain said this morning that he’s scheduled to finally throw off a full mound tomorrow. He’ll do standard long toss and flat ground, then he’ll throw 20 pitches off a mound. He said the mound has felt huge during PFP, so he’s looking forward to making it feel familiar again.

Tomorrow’s early batting practice pitchers are Dave Robertson and Boone Logan. They’ll be pitching to David Adams and Corban Joseph.

Today’s batting practice pitchers:

Field 1
Phil Hughes (to Russell Martin)
Hiroki Kuroda (to Russell Martin)
Manny Banuelos (to Jose Gil)
Dellin Betances (to Kyle Higashioka)

Field 2
Freddy Garcia (to Gustavo Molina)
Cory Wade (to Gustavo Molina)
D.J. Mitchell (to J.R. Murphy)
Cesar Cabral (to Gary Sanchez)

Today’s batting practice groups are the same as yesterday. They’ll probably stay the same for a while now.

Group 1
Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Brandon Laird, Eduardo Nunez

Group 2
Eric Chavez, Ramiro Pena, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Doug Bernier

Group 3
Russell Branyan, Bill Hall, Jayson Niz, Jorge Vazquez, David Adams

Group 4
Francisco Cervelli, Jose Gil, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez

Group 5
Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher

Group 6
Chris Dickerson, Justin Maxwell, Cole Garner, Dewayne Wise

Group 7
Zoilo Almonte, Colin Curtis, Melky Mesa, Corban Joseph

Group 8
Kyle Higashioka, Russell Martin, J.R. Murphy, Gustavo Molina

Same fielding groups too:

Group 1
C: Kyle Higashioka, Russell Martin, Gustavo Molina, J.R. Murphy
INF: Russell Branyan, Robinson Cano, Eric Chavez, Bill Hall, Derek Jeter, Brandon Laird, Eduardo Nunez
OF: Zoilo Almonte, Colin Curtis, Curtis Granderson, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Justin Maxwell

Group 2
C: Francisco Cervelli, Jose Gil, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez
INF: David Adams, Doug Bernier, Corban Joseph, Jayson Nix, Ramiro Pena, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Vazquez
OF: Chris Dickerson, Brett Gardner, Cole Garner, Melky Mesa, Nick Swisher, Dewayne Wise

It seems that everyone made it through photo day with no problems. I’m sure that’s always a big concern.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 97 Comments →

Yankees at the break: Center field07.13.11

The change started late last season when Curtis Granderson finally had enough and asked Kevin Long for help. He made some minor mechanical changes, and since then he’s been one of the most dangerous hitters in the baseball.

First half
At the all-star break, Granderson is a legitimate MVP candidate. He’s always had good power for a center fielder, but now he’s showing Mark Teixeira-type power. While he’s still better against right-handers, he’s no longer a platoon candidate. He actually has a higher slugging percentage against lefties this season. He moved into the No. 2 spot in the order when the Yankees were experimenting with their lineup, and he hasn’t let it go. He’s been so good that Joe Girardi has found it almost impossible to rest him.

Second half
Because the improvements started last season, it’s hard to label this kind of production a first-half fluke. Granderson has been this good for almost a year now. He likes to say that the home runs have simply come a little earlier than usual, but he’s about to venture into uncharted home run territory. He’s only five away from his single-season career high, and at this rate he could be there by August. Granderson has started 86 games this season, and he’s played in 87 of them. Girardi might have to be careful about overplaying him in the second half, but so far, it’s been hard to take his bat out of the lineup. And it won’t be any easier without Alex Rodriguez.

The minors
Early on, this seemed to be Slade Heathcott’s breakout season. The first-rounder was unbelievably good in April, but he slowed won in May and now he’s on the disabled list with a shoulder problem that reportedly could cost him the rest of the year. Abe Almonte has not had the breakout season the Yankees were hoping for in Tampa, and Eduardo Sosa has been good but not great as Heathcott’s replacement in Charleston. Melky Mesa is hitting .211 in Trenton. The bright spot is Greg Golson, who might be hitting his way into a call-up in Triple-A. Also, keep an eye on Mason Williams in Staten Island. Last year’s fourth-round pick is off to a pretty impressive start.

One question
Do the strikeouts matter?
Before the break, Granderson said he’s been disappointed by his number of multi-strikeout games and by the fact he’s already approaching 100 strikeouts for the season. Obviously it’s not a perfect scenario, but it might simply come with the territory, and as long as it comes with this sort of production, the Yankees might be more than happy with the tradeoff.

The future
Granderson is under contract for next year with a team option for 2013. The Yankees gave up Austin Jackson because they believed Granderson could be their center fielder of the present and the future. Right now, it looks like they were exactly right. Barring something unforeseen, he’ll be around for at least two more years.

Associated Press photo

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 186 Comments →

Minor league notes: Whelan setting himself apart in Scranton06.06.11

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

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 182 Comments →

Pregame notes: New look at the top03.17.11

Brett Gardner is not trying to lead all of baseball in pitches per plate appearance. He did it last year but said that was partially because his injured wrist left him reluctant to swing through the second half of the season.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing,” he said. “If you told me I could lead off all year or hit ninth or wherever, see five pitches per plate appearance and still get on 38 percent of the time, I’d sign up for it. I don’t think that’s something that’s easy to do. If I had 500 at-bats last year, probably 400-something of those I hit behind in the count. It’s like you’re always uphill. That’s something I want to try to improve on.”

Tonight, the Yankees will take a look at Gardner in the leadoff spot. Joe Girardi said he’ll probably have his everyday guys in the same lineup another eight or nine times this spring, and he’ll continue to play with different batting orders.

Girardi said he has no plans of dropping Derek Jeter out of the top two spots. He also liked Nick Swisher in the No. 2 spot last season, “and we’re not sure we want to upset that,” Girardi said. Based on last year’s numbers, though, Gardner is a prototypical leadoff man, and the Yankees like the fact that his speed opens some holes on the right side of the infield for Jeter.

“We’re trying it because of what he did last year, and the problems that he causes for other teams,” Girardi said. “He puts pressure on the pitcher, and a lot of times pressure leads to mistakes. You get to the guys in the middle of the order, and those mistakes become bigger mistakes. That’s what we want our hitters to be able to do.”

Gardner led the Yankees in on-base percentage last season, and the ability to draw a walk became his greatest weapon in the second half of last season. In the first half, though, he proved he could both take his walks and get his hits. The Yankees have talked to him about bringing back some of that early aggressiveness.

“That’s something we talk about a lot, something I feel I’ve done a little better job of working on this spring,” Gardner said. “I’ve swung at some 2-0 pitches, some 3-1 pitches, 1-0 pitches. Maybe even an 0-0 pitch. I think I’ve been more aggressive this spring at certain times. I know it’s something I need to improve on and I plan to do that this year.”

• For the record, even hitting in front of the 3-4-5 hitters, Girardi said he wants Gardner to run when he gets on base. “I want him to get a bag any time he can get it,” Girardi said. “I don’t want it to take away from his aggressiveness.”

• Sergio Mitre came through yesterday’s bullpen just fine and will pitch tomorrow, probably around 65 pitches, but Girardi wasn’t sure of the number.

• Rafael Soriano pitched at the minor league complex today and said he walked a guy and gave up a double. He said his command wasn’t great, but he also seemed unconcerned. Girardi said he didn’t find it all that unusual that Soriano didn’t want to face an AL East team yesterday.

• Joba Chamberlain is doing long toss and throwing a flat side today. “We’ll make an evaluation with him after today,” Girardi said.

• Phil Hughes is set for 75 to 80 pitches tonight.

• These are the factors Girardi said he thinks about when deciding which lineup is best: “You look at the consistency of your lineup. You look at how easy it is to bring up situational guys to face your guys, how that’s setup. You look at how hitters work together, if it changes a guy’s approach or not (to have someone else hitting in front or behind).”

• Pat Venditte is up from minor league camp for tonight’s game, but he probably won’t pitch. He’s a backup, and Girardi said he would be more likely to give Ryan Pope or Eric Wordekemper a batter or two. RHP Josh Schmidt also up from minor league camp as a backup.

• Today’s outfield off the bench is made entirely of guys who were optioned down last night: Brandon Laird, Melky Mesa and Kevin Russo.

• Greg Golson is able to run and do defensive drills and could begin swinging a bat again in the next day or two.

Off the bench: C Gustavo Molina, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Ramiro Pena, SS Doug Bernier, 3B Eduardo Nunez, LF Brandon Laird, CF Melky Mesa, RF Kevin Russo, DH Jordan Parraz

Out of the bullpen: Boone Logan, Romulo Sanchez, Luis Ayala, Eric Wordekemper, Steve Garrison, Ryan Pope, Pat Venditte and Josh Schmidt.

Tomorrow’s travelers today: The Yankees regular outfielders are going on the road tomorrow to play the Blue Jays.

Pitchers who will be making the trip: A.J. Burnett, Sergio Mitre, Andrew Brackman, Steve Garrison, Ryan Pope, Eric Wordekemper, Amaury Sanit and Kevin Whelan.

Players who will not be making the trip: Austin Romine, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Greg Golson, Francisco Cervelli and Colin Curtis. Walter Ibarra is scheduled to come up from minor league camp to provide infield depth.

RAYS (8-9-1)
Ben Zobrist 2B
Johnny Damon LF
Evan Longoria 3B
Manny Ramirez DH
Matt Joyce RF
B.J. Upton CF
Dan Johnson 1B
Reid Brignac SS
John Jason C

RHP Chris Bootcheck

Associated Press photos

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 210 Comments →

Saturday notes: Vazquez keeps hitting03.12.11

It’s impossible to ignore Jorge Vazquez this spring. The guy made a career out of smashing baseballs in Mexico, he’s hit through his first two seasons in the minor leagues, and this spring he’s leading the team in RBI, tied for the team lead in home runs and batting .480.

“He’s played really well for us in spring training. He continues to swing the bat and continues to do what he needs to do,” Joe Girardi said. “This kid has shown that he can hit, and he’s hit at every level that he’s been at.”

Girardi has more than once called Vazquez “more of a first baseman,” but he can play third. If Eric Chavez weren’t also hitting this spring, Vazquez might be playing his way into a strong chance of landing a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Instead, he’s making an impression. The Yankees seem to be heading toward carrying Chavez on the bench, but it’s hard to ignore what Vazquez is doing right now, and it will be hard to forget if/when the Yankees need an extra bat in the middle of the summer.

“We know what he can do, and he’s shown us what he can do,” Girardi said.

• Burnett was most encouraged by his curveball today, but he continued his spring training tradition by working in a few changeups that he said were pretty effective. He threw one to right-handed hitter Ryan Zimmerman, who lined out on the pitch.

• Speaking of the changeup, here’s Burnett talking about pitching to Russell Martin: “He has an idea what I want to do. I faced him a couple of times a long time ago. He’s got an idea what my strengths are, but he wants me to use my changeup. He’s a big believer in that. It’s all confidence with him.”

• One more Burnett note: He has yet to walk anyone, and he seemed realize talking about it probably jinxed it this afternoon. “I haven’t walked anybody yet, have I?” Burnett said. “Well, there goes that.”

• In his first action in center field, Brett Gardner played there through the seventh inning. Eduardo Nunez stayed at shortstop throughout.

• Rule 5 pick Daniel Turpen gave up a walk-off single in the ninth inning, sending the Nationals to a 6-5 win. Not sure how much longer the Yankees will look at Turpen and Robert Fish, but it’s a crowded bullpen as it is, and neither Rule 5 pick has strong numbers this spring.

• Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano are both scheduled to pitch tomorrow.

• The Yankees remain excited about what they’ve seen from Chavez, but they decided to play it safe when it came to today’s road trip. “Extremely encouraged,” Girardi said. “I just thought it was silly to put him on a bus for two hours after he played yesterday.”

• When Ramiro Pena popped out in the eighth, he turned and flung his bat back toward the Yankees dugout, a rare show of emotion for the Yankees utility man. Hard not to notice that he’s hitting .154 this spring while Eduardo Nunez has thrived. I still think there’s a chance Pena will be the pick — the utility job is going to be an incredibly minor role, and the Yankees love Pena’s glove at short — but Nunez is clearly outplaying him this spring.

Alfredo Aceves is likely to start against the Yankees on Monday.

• Speaking of former Yankees: Talked to Chien-Ming Wang a little bit before today’s game. He said he’s thrown a sim game this spring and he’s hoping to be game ready early this season. His fastball has been 86-87 mph, and he thinks that will go up as he gains arm strength. “It’s been a long time, but I’ve been patient,” he said.

• I couldn’t see it from the press box, but Gardner said a stealth bomber flew by in the middle of the game. It happened before the bottom of an inning, while he was warming up with Melky Mesa. Gardner told Mesa to turn around and look at it, and Gardner said Mesa’s reaction was priceless. Gardner told him it was a UFO. Mesa’s reaction? “Maybe.”

Associated Press photos of Vazquez with Montero; Burnett’s arm; and Cano laughing after a called strikeout

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 148 Comments →

Wednesday notes: Results encouraging, the market is not03.09.11

So far, tonight’s Bartolo Colon start has been the worst outing in this four-man rotation competition, and even Colon wasn’t too bad.

It’s too early to make too much of it, but rotation results have been encouraging this spring, and Brian Cashman said it’s entirely possible the Yankees have all the pieces of their Opening Day rotation already in camp. Cashman said he wouldn’t rule out adding a pitcher before the end of March, but right now an addition doesn’t seem likely.

“I’m not encouraged (by the market),” Cashman said. “I’m only saying there’s a chance because who knows what’s going to happen between now and then? There’s nothing hot. I’ve got nothing going on. Zero. That type of activity doesn’t usually take place right now.”

Colon had a rocky second inning, but that came after he struck out the side in the first inning and before he pitched a scoreless third and fourth. All told, Colon allowed two runs through four innings, striking out seven and walking none.

“I’ve been a little bit more surprised about Colon than (Freddy) Garcia,” Joe Girardi said. “Freddy, I saw Freddy pitch last year so I had a pretty good idea of what he was going to do. Bartolo, the movement on his fastball surprised me a little bit. I’m not surprised with his command and I’m not surprised with the changeup. The breaking ball is a little bit better than it was in the past.”

If the situation changes, could the trade market heat up at the end of March?

“Usually with bad contract guys, out of option guys, that type of stuff,” Cashman said.

• If the Yankees don’t add a starter, they probably won’t add anyone this spring. The lineup is set, the bullpen is deep and Cashman said he’s happy with the bench options. “I don’t think we have to go outside camp unless we have injuries looking for bench help,” he said. “We have the potential of a real good bench going forward to open the season.”

• Colon started his outing by striking out the side in the first inning. “Usually I try to pace myself, but today I went hard right from the very beginning,” he said. “Today I just felt very strong.” Colon allowed two runs in the second inning, but Girardi was impressed that the outing didn’t snowball and Colon pitched a scoreless third and fourth. “You want to see a guy be able to shut it down and get back to making pitches,” Girardi said.

• Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless inning in his spring debut. Girardi said this could be the best bullpen since he came to New York. “Our bullpen in 2009, at the end, was special,” Girardi said. “With Hughesy down there and Marte back and Robertson, the strides that he made. Joba. Ace. That was pretty good. I think this bullpen has a chance to be better.”

• Girardi was impressed by Soriano’s debut. “I didn’t really expect a whole lot different than that,” Girardi said.

• Eduardo Nunez played left field tonight and caught the only ball hit to him. “It was weird, but good,” Nunez said. The Yankees want Nunez and Ramiro Pena to get a little bit of outfield time this spring, preparing themselves to play there in a pinch this season.

• Nunez also had another hit, raising his spring average to .375. He also got his fifth stolen base.

• Russell Martin and Andruw Jones each hit their first Yankees home runs tonight. The Yankees started seven players likely to make the Opening Day roster, and all seven had a hit. The Yankees won 4-2.

• Manny Banuelos made his third scoreless appearance of the spring. Nice work by Andrew Marchand on this piece about Mariano Rivera’s impressions of the young lefty. Safe to say, the Yankees closer is impressed. Girardi said before the game he thought Banuelos would go three innings, but the Yankees changed their mind and gave him two innings. Banuelos would have pitched three innings if Colon had lasted just three innings, Girardi said.

• Gustavo Molina had a root canal today.

• There’s a chance of rain tomorrow. If that happens, Girardi said CC Sabathia will probably throw a simulated game in the indoor cages. If not, Sabathia will matchup against Roy Halladay in Clearwater.

• Speaking of Clearwater, Ronnie Belliard is scheduled to make the trip. He could get in his first game tomorrow.

• Just a random observation: I hadn’t talked to Melky Mesa much this spring, but talked to him a little bit today. The guy’s a ball of energy, laughing and smiling, even when he’s in the game. He’s definitely one of those “I just love to play the game” kind of guys.

• After today’s paintball outing, someone asked Girardi if he’s still hoping to have a players outing in spring training. “I don’t know,” Girardi said. “We’ll see. A lot of times during the beginning of the season we’ll watch the Final Four together as a team. This was a year that was a little bit different (in spring training). I’ve had some ideas in my mind about things that I could do, but it seems like time gets short sometimes.”

• The Yankees finally posted tomorrow’s travel roster for Clearwater, and it includes one regular infielder — Robinson Cano — traveling with the regular outfielders. It also includes every healthy catcher, including Jorge Posada.

Pitchers who will be making the trip: Brian Anderson, Robert Fish, Warner Madrigal, David Phelps, Ryan Pope, Mark Prior, Dave Robertson, CC Sabathia, Romulo Sanchez, Andy Sisco, Daniel Turpen and Eric Wordekemper.

Players who will not be making the trip: Colin Curtis, Greg Golson, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Francisco Cervelli.

Associated Press photos of Colon, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez. Williams threw out the first pitch, Martinez is in camp as a guest instructor.

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 256 Comments →

Two main events02.20.11

More early activity than usual here at Steinbrenner Field this morning.

In deep right field, Joba Chamberlain just finished warming up and walked into the bullpen, and now Ivan Nova is warming up with some flat-ground throwing before he too goes for an early bullpen.

In shallow right field, Melky Mesa, Bradley Suttle, Justin Maxwell  and a fourth player I can’t ID are doing some light jogging, apparently getting ready for some sort of early work of their own. I would guess that they’re about to take some fly balls — there are coaches holding bats as if they’re about to hit a few — but a third baseman is in the mix, so maybe they’re just getting loose before they go to the cage.

Today’s main events will take place later this morning.

First Derek Jeter will address the media, then the Yankees will hold their first full-squad workout of the spring.

Associated Press photo of Jeter with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, pitchers and position players together again

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Noteswith 27 Comments →

Yankees organizational depth: Center field01.13.11

A little more than a year ago, the Yankees sacrificed their perceived center fielder of the future to obtain a proven center fielder of the future (and the present). Within months of the trade, the Yankees watched Austin Jackson get off to a terrific start in Detroit while Curtis Granderson struggled in New York. By the end of the season, the tide had shifted, and now the Yankees are left hoping Granderson’s second-half momentum carries into 2011.

In the big leagues
The Yankees gave up a lot to land Granderson. He was seen as a plus defensive player with unusual power for a center fielder, and he was also significantly more proven than Jackson, whose lack of power and strikeout totals were obvious concerns. Granderson finished last season by hitting .261/.356/.564 in his final 48 games, and he carried that into a terrific postseason. The Yankees are one of the few teams with two legitimate big league center fielders — Brett Gardner is also more than capable in center — but there’s no question Granderson will be the everyday man at the position. The only question is whether he’ll continue to improve as he steps further into what should be the prime of his career.

On the verge
Greg Golson and Colin Curtis are able to play a role in the big leagues right now. They proved that last season, and although neither got much time in center field at Yankee Stadium, both are able to play the position. Curtis and Golson seem likely to go into spring training competing with Jordan Parraz to be the Yankees fifth outfielder (if the Yankees carry five outfielders). Coming up behind them is one of the great wild cards of the Yankees system. Melky Mesa has tools to spare — arm, speed, power — but he also struck out 297 times the past two seasons, and his .260 average and .338 on-base percentage last season were both career highs, by a lot. If he makes progress, Mesa could be a legitimate everyday player in the big leagues. If not, he could top out at Double-A.

Deep in the system
Abraham Almonte is still on the prospect radar after a injury shortened season in Tampa — my friend Patrick Teale has always been very high on Almonte — but most of the Yankees young center field talent is coming up from the very lowest levels. Slade Heathcott, the Yankees first-round pick in ’09, didn’t put up big numbers in Charleston last year, but he’s still very young with considerable tools and talent. If Heathcott returns to Charleston this season, he could be joined in the outfield by Eduardo Sosa, a natural center fielder who’s bat has yet to match his glove. A half step behind them is last year’s fourth-round pick Mason Williams, another super-athletic kid taken out of high school. There is a lot of raw talent and athleticism here, but that talent has a long way to go. It’s just as you’d expect from this position in the lower levels.

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: Curtis Granderson
Scranton/WB: Greg Golson
Trenton: Melky Mesa
Tampa: Abe Almonte
Charleston:
Slade Heathcott

The true center field depth chart in New York is two names deep: Granderson and Gardner. Both are plus defenders, and the Yankees showed last season that if Granderson gets hurt, Gardner will immediately slide over from left field. Golson and Curtis can certainly handle the position, but as long as at least one of Granderson and Gardner is healthy, there will be no reason for anyone else to see significant time in center field.

As for the minor leagues, the system is full of outfielders who are able to handle center field, it’s a matter of prioritizing that playing time. Curtis will get some center field time in Triple-A, and Damon Sublett could get some time in Double-A. It gets a little more tricky in the lower levels depending on assignments. Whether he’s in Tampa or Charleston, Heathcott will almost certainly be the priority in center field, but Sosa, Williams and Gumbs are coming up behind him and also need time at the position. If the Yankees decide Heathcott needs a little more Low A time — that’s how I have it predicted, at least to start the season — Sosa could see significant time in the outfield corners for the first time. If Heathcott does open in Charleston, the best-case scenario would be for him to finish in Tampa.

Associated Press photo of Granderson and Gardner, headshots of Granderson, Mesa and Almonte

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 66 Comments →

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