The Arizona Fall League has ended, so our weekly winter ball updates are going to be a little more limited at this point. The Yankees really don’t have a ton of high-profile guys playing this offseason — the pitching is especially thin — but there are some upper-level guys who could fight for bench jobs in spring training, so it seems worth keeping track of how they’re doing.
• On Saturday, Jose Pirela went 2-for-4 with a home run for Aguilas del Zulia in Venezuela. It was his first homer since October 27, and it started a stretch of three straight two-hit games during which he also doubled twice. Yesterday he went 0-for-4 and struck out for the first time in seven games. In the past week he’s played right field three times, second base once and third base once. That ability to play all over the field might be just as important as his bat when it comes time to play for a big league job this spring.
• We’ve seen Pirela put up great winter numbers in the past, which is why I’m actually more fascinated by the offseason production of outfield prospect Ramon Flores., who hit two homers on Sunday and has multiple hits in five of his past eight games. Coming off a minor league season that was limited by an ankle injury, Flores has hit .390/.470/.520 as an everyday guy in Venezuela. He was most recently moved into the No. 3 hole in the lineup. The past two years, Flores has never gotten much playing time in winter ball, but this year he’s become a regular and he’s made the most of it while getting time in all three outfield spots. Flores has a spot on the 40-man, so he could become a legitimate big league option if a Yankees outfielder gets hurt this year.
• Also on the 40-man roster, and also in the mix for a big league job should someone get hurt, relatively new outfielder Eury Perez has finally shown signs of life in the Dominican Republic. He went 4-for-6 last Friday — that one day his batting average jumped nearly 50 points — and he followed with a two-hit game the very next day. One curious thing about Perez: He has a .360 career on-base percentage in the minors, but he really doesn’t walk a ton. He has yet to draw a walk after 74 at-bats this winter. He walked 13 times in 238 Triple-A plate appearances last year. For comparison, Flores drew 33 walks in 271 Triple-A plate appearances. Perez was hit by a pitch eight times; Flores was hit by a pitch once.
• He doesn’t have a 40-man spot, but Adonis Garcia belongs in that conversation of outfielders who could play for a bench job at some point next season. The versatile Cuban — he’s played all three outfield spots and a little bit of third base in the minors — has finally gotten his bat going this winter. He homered last Friday, then he homered again on Sunday. That was the end of a stretch when he had 14 hits in seven games, and he’s had hits in his past two games as well, bringing his winter slash line up to .317/.371/.417. He’s capable of hitting for more power than that slugging percentage suggests. Needs to hit to keep from being completely eclipsed by the Yankees glut of upper level outfielders.
• The Yankees have absolutely no shortstop depth in the upper levels, and their middle-infield depth is pretty much limited to Pirela and Rob Refsnyder. But a kid named Ali Castillo is doing what he can to be on the radar. Trenton’s shortstop this season is now hitting .317/.348/.421 in Venezuela this winter — he’s Pirela’s teammate — while playing shortstop, third base, second base and left field. As I’ve written before, he’s not really considered much of a prospect, but the top of the Yankees system is awfully thin in the infield. Beggars can’t be choosers, and Castillo’s doing what he can this winter. He currently has a five-game hitting streak.
• Here’s a guy I know very little about: Right-handed pitcher Luis Niebla is pitching in Mexico and has a 3.25 through seven starts. On Tuesday he went five scoreless with three hits and three strikeouts. He was signed back in 2011 and pitched pretty well at three different levels this season. He finished the year in Charleston where he had a 2.23 ERA through 36.1 innings. In his final start of the minor league season, Niebla went seven scoreless with seven strikeouts and no walks.
• Another guy signed out of Mexico in 2011 is Giovanny Gallegos, and like Niebla, he’s currently pitching in the Mexican Winter League. Working out of the bullpen, Gallegos has allowed just one run — it came on a home run — through 12 innings. He’s walked four, given up nine hits and struck out eight. He’s already 23 and had a not-so-great year as a multi-inning reliever in Charleston. His last outing of the regular season was a good one: four scoreless innings.
• Recently re-signed Triple-A reliever Diego Moreno vultured a couple of wins out of the bullpen this past week in Venezuela. He got off to a great start in winter ball, then had a bat stretch, but he’s now gone six straight outings without allowing a run, and an intentional walk on Tuesday was his first walk since October 31 and only this third walk in 13.1 innings this winter.
• New addition Jose De Paula — the minor league lefty signed to a big league deal earlier this month — still has just two appearances this winter. He made two starts back in October, but he hasn’t pitched for his Dominican team since the Yankees acquired him.
Associated Press photo of Pirela
The Yankees first significant signing came this weekend when they agreed to a new one-year deal with Chris Young, bringing some right-handed balance to the outfield and some power/speed potential to the bench. With that signing, the Yankees seem set in the outfield with no need to add either a big league bat or additional minor league depth.
As it is, the Yankees have seven full-time outfielders on their 40-man roster — that’s to say nothing of the three 40-man infielders who have a solid amount of outfield experience — and they’re likely to add one or two more outfielders when it comes time to protect Tyler Austin and possibly Mason Williams from the Rule 5 draft.
Just taking a look at the projected big league roster, and the potential options at the highest levels of the minor league system, it seems the Yankees should have all that they need in the outfield. The depth could also leaves the Yankees with trade options should they decide to make a move.
Granted, it’s not remotely a lock that Pirela is going to make the team, and there’s a solid chance Wheeler will be designated for assignment at some point, but this is still a clear picture of three obvious starters, an experienced fourth outfielder, and at least one infielder who can play the outfield regularly if necessary. This roster also has three guys who can play center field when necessary, so the Yankees are covered as the most difficult-to-fill outfield position. Maybe another outfielder comes to camp on a non-roster invitation just in case — stranger things have happened — but there’s no overwhelming need here. Especially if the Yankees carrying a versatile utility guy like Pirela, they have plenty of big league outfield options as it is.
Picking the three “starting” outfielders for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre next season isn’t an easy task. I assume Austin will move up after his finishing strong in Double-A, and the bulk of his playing time will surely come in the outfield corners (perhaps with a little bit of corner infield now and then). Flores and Perez clearly need regular at-bats as well — they could be first in line for an outfield call-up — and both Dugas and Garcia have played well enough to also deserve playing time. Chances are Refsnyder will be strictly a second baseman, but he’s listed here just to show the Yankees have yet another guy who could play some Triple-A outfield if necessary. There’s also the chance that Pirela and/or Wheeler could end up back in Triple-A providing even more depth. There’s not much big league experience here, but there are only so many Triple-A at-bats to go around, and the Yankees surely want to prioritize legitimate prospects ahead of minor league veterans. Bringing back a guy like Antoan Richardson or signing someone similar would only take away at-bats from young guys who need the playing time.
Kind of like the Triple-A outfield, the Double-A outfield has more than three guys who seem worth of everyday at-bats. The tough part here is predicting what the Yankees are going to do with Heathcott and Williams. Is Heathcott going to be healthy enough to stay on the field (and if so, is he going back to Double-A or finally jumping to Triple-A)? Is Williams going to be lost in the Rule 5 draft (and if not, would he get priority playing time ahead of the other guys listed here)? Like with Austin, I’m assuming Judge will be challenged with a jump up a level, which means right field is taken, and Cave has played too well to be anything less than an everyday outfielder next season. In terms of immediate outfield depth, the important thing to notice here is that Heathcott and Williams are still looming as upper-level outfielders who could be on the 40-man roster and still warrant playing time as well. That leaves the Yankees with a lot of outfielders who need at-bats.
Associated Press photo
Ramon Flores continues to get more winter ball at-bats than ever before, and he’s making the most of them.
Moved regularly into the No. 2 spot in the order, Flores has 13 hits in his past five games for the Tigres de Aragua in Venezuela. He had three straight two-hit games, then he went 6-for-6 with a double on Wednesday. He has yet to steal a base, he hasn’t hit for a ton of power, but Flores has taken some walks and he’s struck out just nine times in 17 games. He’s hitting .411/.468/.518 through 56 at-bats.
Still just 22 years old, Flores has a spot on the Yankees 40-man roster, and he was hitting pretty well in Triple-A before a June 1 ankle injury cost him most of the second half. He’s mostly a left fielder — that’s where he’s playing regularly this winter — but he can play center, and he has some experience in right field and at first base.
Could be a legitimate bench option coming out of spring training. It’s worth noting, though, that Flores is left-handed and the right-handed fourth outfielder might be a better fit.
A few other notes from winter ball:
• Well, it seems Jose Pirela isn’t going to hit three home runs every week this winter (he did that in his first week in Venezuela). On Sunday, though, he did go 3-for-4 with a triple. Pirela already has three triples and three homers through his first 10 games this winter. He took an 0-for-6 on Thursday, but he’s still hitting .317/.364/.707 through 41 at-bats. He’s played mostly left field with starts at second base, third base and right field.
• One of Pirela’s winter teammates is utility man Ali Castillo, who’s having a terrific winter as the Aguilas leadoff hitter. Castillo is hitting .348/.378/.478 with nine stolen bases. He was playing shortstop until Freddy Galvis arrived, and now he’s basically playing left field or second base (whichever Pirela isn’t playing on a given day). Not really considered much of a prospect, but the Yankees don’t exactly have a ton of guys who can play shortstop in the upper levels.
• Not everyone is raking in Venezuela. On Thursday Adonis Garcia was dropped to sixth in the order for Navegantes del Magallanes. He put up impressive winter league numbers last year, but this year his power has been nowhere to be found. He’s hitting .272/.314/.296, with his only extra-base hits being a couple of doubles. I’d still say he has a chance to make an impression in spring training, just hasn’t done much this winter.
• Eury Perez, the guy acquired at the very end of the year, is still playing a lot of left field and batting leadoff in the Dominican Republic. He has just seven games 31 at-bats so far. He has yet to take a walk and he’s 0-for-2 in stolen base attempts — speed is a pretty big part of his game — but he’s also played in just seven games and has just 31 at-bats. The Dominican Winter League started a little later than the Venezuelan Winter League.
• Down in the Arizona Fall League, Dante Bichette Jr. has gotten his bat going a little bit. He has four hits and five RBI in his past three games, and one Wednesday he got his first Fall League extra-base hit (a double). He’s hitting .256/.328/.276, which pales in comparison to the other Yankees position players sent to Arizona this year.
• Speaking of those other Yankees hitters in Arizona, after winning Fall Stars Game MVP over the weekend, Greg Bird promptly had another 2-for-4 game on Monday, then he took two walks on Wednesday. He’s hitting .341/.404/.610 through 67 at-bats. … Aaron Judge hasn’t had an extra-base hit since his two-homer game last Thursday — he’s only had 15 at-bats since then — but his Arizona slash line is still an impressive .284/.395/.507 with nearly as many walks (12) as strikeouts (14). … Riding a mild four-game hitting streak, Tyler Austin is hitting .318/.392/.470 in the Fall League. He’s still seeing time in both outfield corners. Has yet to play either first base or third base.
• I’ve said this before, but it remains true: It seems that every year the Yankees have one pitcher who gets absolutely rocked in the Arizona Fall League. This year, it’s Alex Smith. In an offense-heavy league, Smith was roughed up for two more runs on Wednesday and his ERA is up to 9.72 with a 3.12 WHIP through eight appearances. … The other two Yankees pitchers in Arizona, Kyle Haynes and Caleb Cotham, each pitched one hitless inning this week. Cotham has 12 strikeouts and only two walks this Fall, but he also has a 5.56 ERA. Haynes has a 1.86 ERA, but he also has seven walks and four unearned runs in 9.2 innings.
• Recently re-signed minor league reliever Diego Moreno had four saves in his first five appearances this winter, but he’s now allowed eight hits and four earned runs in his past 2.2 innings spread across his past three outings. Really aren’t many Yankees pitchers getting many innings so far this winter.
Associated Press photo of Flores; headshots of Pirela, Perez and Smith
Before the end of the regular season, Jose Pirela put up impressive numbers in Triple-A, landed a spot on the 40-man roster, and got his first big league call-up. He undoubtedly emerged as a serious candidate for some sort of big league role next season, and he’s spent the past week further making his case with a terrific first few games of winter ball.
Pirela stepped into the heart of the Aguilas del Zulia lineup last Friday, and in six games he’s hit .391/.440/1.000 with three home runs, two triples, and seven RBI. Oh, and he’s already started at four different positions: second base, third base, left field and right field.
Good winter numbers are nothing new for Pirela. Just last year he hit .332/.415/.514 while playing second base and left field in Venezuela.
If the Yankees don’t add an impact infielder this offseason, Pirela could come to spring training with a chance to win the second base job next season. If nothing else, though, his bat and versatility could make him a prime candidate for a bench job.
A few other notes from the offseason leagues.
• Two weeks ago, Tyler Austin was hitting .259/.355/.333 and still waiting for his first Arizona Fall League home run. Not a ton of at-bats, but also not an overwhelming start in an offense-heavy league. Since then, Austin’s gotten on a roll. In a span of eight games, Austin has raised his Arizona slash line to .322/.394/.492. He has two homers, two doubles and eight RBI during this latest hot streak. He’s had three hits in each of his past two games. Austin also continues to get time in both right field and left field — still no time at first base or third base — which seems at least mildly significant. He hadn’t played left field in the minors, so it’s helpful to get at least some familiarity on that side.
• The hitting streak is over. Greg Bird finally took an 0-for-3 on Wednesday — he did take a walk, so he was at least on base — marking the first time he failed to get a hit in the Fall League. How did he respond? By going 2-for-2 with a pair of walks the very next day. Making a bid for the league’s MVP award, Bird is hitting .347/.400/.653 with six homers through 72 at-bats. He had a 16-game hitting streak before Wednesday’s 0-for.
• Not to be outdone, the Yankees biggest name assigned to the Fall League is also on a roll. Aaron Judge hit two home runs yesterday, he also homered on Saturday, and his Arizona slash line is up to .288/.387/.577 with nearly as many walks (9) as strikeouts (10). He continues to get all of his time in right field. Safe to say this guy is not being groomed for a potential bench role.
• One other guy who could be a bench candidate, though, is left-handed outfielder Ramon Flores, who continues to get the most playing time he’s ever seen in winter ball. Playing down in Venezuela, Flores isn’t necessarily playing every day, but he’s playing pretty regularly, and he’s hitting .303/.395/.394 through 33 at-bats while getting most of his time in left field. Flores got just six winter at-bats last year, only 13 the year before, and none before that. Now that he’s older and more advanced, he’s getting to play.
• Late-season addition Eury Perez just got started down in the Dominican Winter League on Tuesday. He’s played in just two games, but he hit leadoff and started in left field for each of them. He’s gotten fairly regular playing time for that team in the past (one of his winter teammates is former Yankees prospect Melky Mesa). Perez has a hit in each of his two games so far.
• Not sure this makes him a legitimate big league roster candidate going forward, but shortstop Ali Castillo is putting up huge numbers so far this winter. Castillo’s been hitting leadoff for Pirela’s team, and he’s hitting .391/.411/.536 through 69 at-bats. He was playing shortstop every day, but he’s moved around to second base and left field ever since Freddy Galvis joined the team a little more than a week ago. Castillo was the regular shortstop in Trenton this year and hit .254/.318/.327. Another smaller name putting up big numbers in Venezuela: catcher Jose Gil is hitting .345/.387/.586 while getting pretty regular playing time.
• A few offensive quick hits: Dante Bichette Jr. is still looking for his first extra-base hit in Arizona. He’s hitting .239/.321/.239 with 12 strikeouts and six walks. … Kyle Higashioka is still getting very little playing time in the Fall League, but he’s had a hit in all four of his appearances. On Wednesday, Scottsdale had Judge, Bird, Higashioka, Austin and Bichette all hitting together in order 3 through 7. Kinda cool. … Still playing left field and batting in the heart of the order every day in Venezuela, Adonis Garcia is hitting .300/.338/.329 while waiting for his power to show up.
• Not a ton of Yankees pitching that catches the eye this winter. Down the Fall League, Caleb Cotham hasn’t walked a batter in his past 7.1 innings, but opponents are still hitting .318 against him. … Also in Arizona, Kyle Haynes has more than four ground ball outs for every one out in the air. Quite a few walks, though. … The third Yankees pitcher assigned to the Fall League, Alex Smith, finally had a scoreless outing on Monday. He’s allowed at least one run in each of his other five appearances.
• Recently re-signed reliever Diego Moreno gave up a two-run home run in the ninth inning in Venezuela on Monday. He’d allowed a run in only one of his first seven outings before that. Also recently re-signed, Joel De La Cruz has allowed two unearned runs in his two appearances in the Dominican Republic. He’s struck out six and allowed four hits in 4.2 innings.
Associated Press photo
Earlier this week, Jim Callis wrote quite a bit about the Yankees currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. He understandably focused on breakout right field prospect Aaron Judge, noting that Judge is wrapping up the longest stretch of baseball he’s ever experienced.
Pro ball often forces a young player into a longer and more rigorous schedule than he’s used to, but Judge’s adjustment was delayed because of last year’s quadriceps injury.
“After you get drafted, you just want to show people who you are,” Judge told Callis. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise, though. I met a lot of great big leaguers while I was down in Tampa rehabbing. It kind of helped me with the mental side of baseball. Everyone’s going to have ups and downs, and just trying to stay even keel through that whole process is a huge part of it.”
Check out the Callis story. It has some basic scouting details on all of the Yankees players down in the Fall League.
A few other notes from winter leagues:
• The Yankees top first base prospect, Greg Bird, has played in 12 games in the Fall League, and he has a hit in every one of them. Four of those hits have been home runs. It’s an offense-heavy league, but a .333/.382/.627 is awfully good. The guy can hit. It’s not reflected in the numbers here, but Bird doubled in his first at-bat today, so make that a 13-game hitting streak.
• After getting time at right field, first base and third base in the minor leagues, Tyler Austin is getting some time in left field while on assignment in the Arizona Fall League. In fact, he’s playing left field again tonight (while Judge plays right). It will be his fourth turn in left field, which can’t be a bad thing for a guy who could earn some sort of big league role next season, possibly as a corner bench player. Austin’s had two hits and and two RBI in two of his past four games. Hasn’t shown much power so far, but after 36 at-bats his slash line is a not-bad .278/.366/.361.
• Interesting for Yankees fans that the Scottsdale team has often gone with Yankees prospects in the 2, 3 and 4 spots in the lineup — Austin, Judge, then Bird as the cleanup hitter. Judge has been in the No. 3 spot for each of his starts down in Arizona. He’s hitting .276/.313/.448 with eight RBI in seven games.
• Off to a slow start in Arizona, Dante Bichette Jr. has now reached base seven times in his past four games, which has helped his slash line. He’s still hitting just .226/.306/.226. Only 31 at-bats, though. In his MLB.com piece, Callis notes that Bichette might eventually end up as a DH. The bat is his ticket to the big leagues. Needs the power that he showed his first season of pro ball.
• As expected, catcher Kyle Higashioka is only getting occasional playing time down in Arizona (he’s part of the roster that’s only occasionally active) but he’s making the most of it so far. Through two games, Higashioka has five hits, a home run and a stolen base. The Yankees have long liked his defensive ability, but he’s never shown much offense at all in the lower minors.
• The group picked by the Yankees for the Fall League is heavy on position players, and the pitchers sent to Arizona remain somewhat underwhelming statistically. Alex Smith has allowed at least one earned run in each of his five outings and currently has an 11.81 ERA with more walks (6) than strikeouts (4). … Caleb Cotham has 10 strikeouts and just two walks through seven innings. He also has a 7.71 ERA. Last time he pitched was Monday when Cotham allowed six hits and three earned runs through two innings. … Kyle Haynes hasn’t pitched since Saturday. Through 5.2 innings, he has yet to be charged with an earned run, but he’s allowed three unearned. Has a solid 1.24 WHIP. Tiny sample size, of course.
• Looking for more encouraging pitching numbers? Reliever Diego Moreno, who had some solid moments with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, has pitched well as a closer in the Venezuelan Winter League. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities, and he’s allowed just two hits through 5.1 innings. He recently re-signed a minor league deal to return to the Yankees system.
• Also down in Venezuela, Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia continues to be the regular left fielder and usual No. 3 or 4 hitter for Navegantes del Magallanes. He’s hit for a strong average and stolen a couple of bases, but Garcia’s still waiting for the winter power to show up. He’s hitting .283/.313/.304. Last winter he hit .325/.347/.502 in Venezuela.
• After getting just six winter at-bats last year, and 13 at-bats the year before, young outfielder Ramon Flores continues to get fairly regular playing time this winter. Two weeks into the Venezuelan season, Flores has played in seven games and hit .333/.429/.500 through 18 at-bats. If he weren’t left-handed, Flores might be an even stronger candidate for the Yankees bench next season. As it is, some winter playing time couldn’t hurt after missing so much time this season with an ankle injury.
• Notable at least partially because of the Yankees total lack of standout shortstop prospects in the upper levels, utility type Ali Castillo continues to hit in Venezuela. He’s playing shortstop everyday — he was the regular shortstop for Trenton this year — and he’s hitting .395/.429/.447 through 38 at-bats in 10 games. He’s also stolen five bases in seven attempts. He’s been hitting leadoff. The same winter ball team used Castillo all over the infield and hit him ninth last year.
Some winter leagues have not even started yet, and the ones that have started are only a week or so into their schedules, so these updates come with really small sample sizes. But almost three weeks into the season, perhaps it’s nice to see some actual stats from young Yankees who are still playing actual baseball games. Here are a few winter and fall league updates.
• Getting regular turns as his team’s cleanup hitter, Greg Bird is off to a strong start down in the Arizona Fall League. The Yankees top first base prospect has a hit in each of his first seven games, he started with a four-RBI performance in the Fall opener, he had two hits and a walk last night, and he’s so far hitting .379/.438/.586 in an admittedly tiny sample size. It’s always dangerous to make too much of Arizona Fall League results — and that’s especially true after 29 at-bats — but Bird’s been good so far. Better than the alternative, I suppose.
• Interesting Scottsdale Scorpions lineup last night if only because it had Tyler Austin in left field. That’s relevant because Austin has actually never played left field in the minor leagues. He’s played the other corners — first base, third base, right field — but he’d never seen time in left until this Fall. He played left field on Monday and again on Wednesday. Probably not a huge leap for Austin to move to the other outfield corner, but for a player who could hit his way into a big league role at some point next year, being able to play left field and bring some right-handed balance to the outfield would be a plus.
• Each time that Austin has played left field, it’s opened right field for another Yankees prospect, Aaron Judge. Last night, Judge homered and drove in two runs. So far, Austin has gotten more Fall League at-bats. Might stay that way considering Judge had more regular season at-bats and, in theory, has less need to play regularly this Fall.
• Catcher Kyle Higashioka is only a part-time player in Arizona — rosters down there have guys who aren’t active for every game — but he made the most of his first bit of playing time. He started a game last weekend and went 3-for-5 with a home run. Needs playing time and plenty of production to get back on the fringes of the prospect radar after injuries and unimpressive seasons. The Yankees other Fall League position player, Dante Bichette Jr., is playing fairly regularly but still has fewer than 20 at-bats and just three hits. Doesn’t mean much.
• The Yankees have far more high-profile hitters than pitchers in the Fall League this year. A quick update, though, on the guys on the mound: Caleb Cotham made his third appearance last night and went two hitless innings. He allowed two homers in his first Fall outing, so this was a step in the right direction. Seems like every year a Yankees pitcher gets absolutely rocked in the Fall League, and it might be Alex Smith who has that unfortunate distinction this year. Through three outings, Smith has this line: 2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 22.50 ERA and a .533 opponents batting average. Much, much better numbers for late Fall League assignee Kyle Haynes. His line through three outings: 4.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Covering the AFL for Baseball America, Josh Norris reported that Haynes has a 93-95 mph fastball with an mid- to upper-80s slider and changeup.
• Presumably because of his age and relative inexperience, outfield prospect Ramon Flores has rarely gotten many at-bats with his Venezuelan Winter League team. So far this winter season, though, Flores is playing pretty regularly. Might change as we get deeper into the winter season, but Flores has 15 at-bats so far, and that’s more than he had an either of the past two winters. He’s played both center field and left field, and some regular winter playing time would be a good thing for a guy who missed a lot of time this season with an ankle injury. Flores has a spot on the 40-man roster and he does a lot of things well, so he really could come into spring training with a chance to push for some sort of big league role. Winter at-bats probably won’t hurt.
• Adonis Garcia is used to getting regular winter at-bats, and this year he’s been the everyday left fielder and No. 3 hitter for the Navegantes del Magallanes in Venezuela. Hasn’t hit for much power yet — just 29 at-bats into the season — but last winter he slugged .502, so there’s reason to think the power will arrive. Last winter, Garcia got a ton of time at second base and third base during winter ball. It’ll be interesting to see whether that happens again this winter. Garcia got a solid amount of third base playing time with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, so it seems the Yankees haven’t completely ruled out some sort of infield flexibility.
• Dominican Winter League gets started tonight and the Puerto Rican Winter League gets started at the very end of this month. For now, here a few other Yankees minor leaguers who are already playing in Venezuela (and all playing for the same team, no less): Trenton shortstop Ali Castillo is hitting .313 through 16 at-bats while pretty regularly playing shortstop for Zulia, recently re-signed catcher Francisco Arcia has five RBI through five games as Zulia’s regular behind the plate, and recently re-signed reliever Diego Moreno already has three saves with a 0.75 WHIP as one of Zulia’s go-to late-inning options.
Associated Press photo of Flores
State of the organization: Left field • 10.15.14
Our final state of the organization stop among position players is left field, where the Yankees have committed long-term to a bit of an unconventional choice for the position (more speed and on-base than true power). It’s also a position that leaves open the option of making a trade and eventually opening the door for one of many possible alternatives down the road. The left fielder of the future doesn’t necessarily have to be a guy who’s playing left field right now.
Signed through 2019
When the Yankees locked Jacoby Ellsbury into a long-term contract last winter, it seemed like bad news for Gardner’s staying power. Having long been considered a kind of poor-man’s version of Ellsbury, Gardner was giving up his leadoff spot and his defensive position to a what seemed to be a superior player, and free agency was fast approaching. But the Yankees changed that in spring training with a four-year contract extension plus a team option. Gardner responded with a unusually typical season. His .749 OPS was just slightly higher than his career OPS, and his 111 OPS+ was right in line with the previous season. But Gardner got there by hitting for a surprising amount of power with a career-high 17 homers. Those home runs came with a career-low .327 on-base percentage. There were stretches when Gardner looked like the best hitter in the Yankees lineup, and he finished with the highest OPS among the regulars. When this year started, it seemed Gardner might be on his way out. Now his production and contract essentially lock him into an everyday job for the foreseeable future (unless the Yankees decide to do something drastic).
On the verge
You could make a case for several “on the verge” left field options — and in a lot of ways, Ramon Flores is the best fit for this distinction because he’s a true left fielder who had a solid year when he was healthy — but if there’s an in-house guy who’s well positioned to actually help out in left field out of spring training, it’s probably Pirela. He’s a right-handed hitter, which makes him a nice complement to Gardner. He’s also versatile, which makes him a nice fit on a Yankees roster with so much uncertainty at various positions. Pirela came up as an infielder, but he’s been getting regular reps in left field for a few years now. He will surely try to win an everyday job at second base during spring training, but it might be easier for him a win a job as a bench player who can play the outfielder corners while providing additional depth in the infield. Adonis Garcia and Zelous Wheeler (if he’s not DFA) could also be right-handed corner outfield options off the bench.
Hard to find a true left field prospect. Quite often a young player comes up at another position and plays his way into a left field job (or, in the case of Gardner, ends up shifting to left field because the other outfield positions are filled). Flores, though, has been primarily a left fielder throughout his career. He can play center, and he has experience as a right fielder and first baseman, but the vast majority of his time has come in left. And he has a set of tools that might actually profile pretty well for a fourth outfielder type who can run a little, get on base and handle all three spots in the outfield. He has a spot on the 40-man roster and he hit .247/.339/.443 in Triple-A this year (though his season was limited to 63 games because of an ankle injury). There are bigger names who could end up in left field depending on various circumstances, but Flores is a left fielder by trade, and he’s done enough to stay on the prospect radar into the upper levels of the system.
Deeper in the system
You can dig into the lower levels of the system and find a few names worth watching in left field. Former third-rounder Michael O’Neill still strikes out a lot, but he was better this year than last year. A pretty young kid named Frank Frias had a solid year in rookie ball. A 2012 draftee named Chris Breen hit .281/.376/.504 in Staten Island. In terms of organizational depth at the position, though, the Yankees abundance of left field options basically revolves around all the guys who can play center field. If Slade Heathcott gets healthy or Mason Williams gets back on track, either one could become a left field alternative as long as Ellsbury remains in New York. Same for emerging center field standout Jake Cave. Right fielders Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge would presumably become left field options if circumstances forced the change. One interesting name that stands out, though, is Dugas. An eighth-round pick out of the University of Alabama, Dugas can play center and right but he’s mostly been a left fielder in pro ball. He’s undersized — listed at 5-foot-9 — but he’s done a terrific job of getting on base. This year he hit .299/.399/.390 between Double-A and Triple-A, essentially forcing the Yankees to not only give him regular at-bats but also to promote him to the highest level of the minors. Easy to overlook a year ago, Dugas put up numbers that can’t be ignored.
Making a trade to open a door
Aside from the year he was hurt most of the season, Gardner’s been a pretty steady player since moving into the everyday lineup. He doesn’t run as much as his speed suggests he should, and he strikes out a lot for a top-of-the-order guy, but he’s been a good lineup regular. This season’s power surge was a welcome surprise, he remains a patient hitter, and his outfield defense is a plus. Right now, Gardner’s spring contract extension looks like a pretty good one for the Yankees. So it’s worth asking, should they trade him? Gardner’s contract should make him an attractive trade chip, and the upper levels of the Yankees system have a lot of outfielders — many of them left-handed hitters like Gardner — who could become alternatives in left field. If Jake Cave, for example, builds off last season, could he be an even cheaper version of Gardner? Very little guarantee that any of the outfield prospects will be able to match Gardner’s big league production, but Gardner himself is proof that a prospect labeled as an eventual fourth outfielder can eventually play his way into being a productive everyday guy. If the Yankees want someone to follow in Gardner’s footsteps, they might first have to open Gardner’s position.
Associated Press photo
Looking ahead to September • 08.18.14
This post contains way too many words about possible September call-ups.
Why is this way too many? Because aside from the possibility of a left-handed reliever, there really don’t seem to be any impact September call-ups on the horizon. A few guys will come up to provide pitching and bench depth, but that’s about it. There isn’t a ton of playing time up for grabs, and there aren’t many obvious auditions that could take place. A left-handed reliever might get into some key situations, but that’s about it. If the Yankees fall completely out of contention, I suppose they could give a guy like Bryan Mitchell a start or maybe give Zoilo Almonte a chance to make a fresh impression with some right field starts. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t expect a ton out of the September additions.
But, I like minor league baseball and I think September call-ups are interesting, so here are a few thoughts and possibilities broken into four pretty typical September call-up categories.
Pretty standard September addition. The Yankees have been playing with an eight-man pitching staff for quite a while now, but even so, they’re still likely to add a few guys just to give them depth down the stretch.
Best bet: RHP Bryan Mitchell
He’s been up and down a few times, and he’s been pitching well out of the Triple-A rotation. He’s pretty much custom-made for providing innings, and there’s a real benefit to giving him some more big league experience. Seems like a strong candidate to be a rotation candidate at some point next season, even if he opens the year in Triple-A.
Keep in mind: RHP David Phelps
Worth remembering that Phelps is currently on the disabled list but due to be reevaluated today. Phelps was pitching pretty well before that mess of a start in Boston, and he could certainly move right back into the rotation once he’s healthy again. That could essentially push Chris Capuano into a bullpen role as another long man.
Uncertainty: RHP Preston Claiborne and RHP Matt Daley
Both are on the 40-man roster, but both are also on the Triple-A disabled list. If they’re healthy, it would be easy to call up both Claiborne and Daley to be extra middle-inning or extra-inning arms. Claiborne seems pretty close to coming off the disabled list. Another injured Triple-A reliever, Jose Ramirez, won’t be healthy in time to come up next month.
Worth mentioning: RHP Brandon Pinder, RHP Diego Moreno, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa
Montgomery and Burawa have been demoted to Double-A, which probably isn’t a good sign for them getting a call-up to the big leagues. Worth mentioning, though, because all four have been pretty good at times this season, and all four should be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If any of these pitchers are going to be protected in the offseason, might make sense to go ahead and add them to the roster now. My guess would be that Pinder is at the top of this particular pecking order right now. Veteran RHP Jim Miller could also be part of this discussion if the Yankees want a short-term roster addition just to provide some innings.
Probably not: RHP Nick Rumbelow
He’s moved quickly through the system and has been alright since getting to Triple-A, but he’s not Rule 5 eligible yet and there’s probably no reason to have him filling a 40-man spot all winter just so he can get a mopup inning or two in September.
The Yankees might very well bring up a new lefty before September 1, but given the fact they’re not carrying a true left-on-left specialist, it seems like a solid bet that they’ll eventually give some young lefty a call-up. Might even try more than one.
Best bet: LHP Manny Banuelos
Can’t say for certain that Banuelos is the “best bet” to come up as a left-on-left reliever, but he’s the only option who’s currently on the 40-man roster. He’s also pitched pretty well lately, which is surely easing some of the concerns about his early season inconsistency. Whether a career starter — and a young one at that — would be a viable situational lefty, I have no idea. But having a spot on the 40-man makes him an easy call-up if the Yankees want to either get his feet wet or see what he can do in a fairly important role.
Keep in mind: LHP Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees first-round draft pick back in June was a college reliever who throws pretty hard from the left side, and the Yankees have already pushed him all the way to Double-A. Pitching in Trenton isn’t exactly knocking on the door, but Lindgren has a big arm and a bunch of strikeouts and it’s not unheard of for a team to push a college reliever all the way to the big leagues in his first pro season.
Uncertainty: LHP Chris Capuano
He won’t be a September call-up, but Capuano factors into this discussion because of David Phelps. If Phelps is ready to return to the rotation fairly quickly, he could takeover for Capuano, who could move into a left-on-left role out of the bullpen. A possibility if the Yankees aren’t sure any of the young guys can handle the job.
Worth mentioning: LHP Tyler Webb, LHP James Pazos, LHP Francisco Rondon, SHP Pat Venditte
My guess is that all of these except Webb should be considered real long shots. I mention Pazos because he has good numbers in Double-A and the Yankees seem to like his arm; Rondon because he was once on the 40-man and has had the Yankees attention at various points; and Venditte because he’s been a pretty solid reliever for years now and has generally been pretty good with that side-arm delivery against lefties. Webb, though, is the left-handed relief prospect who’s most on the radar. Doesn’t have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft yet, but the Yankees have been pretty aggressive with him and he’s probably their most advanced left-handed relief prospect.
Probably not: LHP Nik Turley
There are actually a ton of lefties on the Triple-A pitching staff right now, including Turley, Matt Tracy and Jeremy Bleich, all of whom would be capable of giving multiple innings and — in theory — matching up against a left-handed hitter. My thinking, though, is: If the Yankees are going to try a long-time starter in this role in September, why not just try Banuelos? That’s easier than putting some of the other non-traditional relievers onto the roster. Know who else is a probably not? Cesar Cabral. The guy was actually in the big leagues at one point this year, but he’s fallen completely off the radar. Double-A lefties are knocking him around.
Happens basically every September that teams give themselves an extra catcher for the final month of the season. The question with the Yankees isn’t whether they’ll call up a third catcher, it’s whether they’ll call up a fourth catcher.
Best bet: C John Ryan Murphy
Even thought it was Austin Romine who came up when Brian McCann went on the disabled list, I’m still going to bet that Murphy is the best bet for a September call-up. I’m basing that almost entirely on the fact that Murphy played well during his extended big league call-up earlier this season, and based on the fact that Mark Newman has said Murphy is likely to come off the Triple-A disabled list pretty soon.
Keep in mind: C Austin Romine
These days, Murphy generates much more prospect buzz than Romine. But, down in Triple-A, it’s actually Romine who has better offensive numbers this season. He’s also played a decent amount of first base and could, in theory, fill in for Mark Teixeira in some late innings. Romine hasn’t played much in August, but he hit .342/.385/.466 in July, and it’s not like the big league staff is unfamiliar with him.
Uncertainty: Why not both?
Does it make sense to go ahead and bring both Murphy and Romine to the big leagues in September? Maybe leave one of them behind to play that last Triple-A game, and then just carry four catchers in the final month? In blowouts, one could get behind the plate and the other could rest Teixeira by playing first base.
Worth mentioning: C Francisco Cervelli
There’s only one other catcher call-up candidate worth mentioning, and we’ll get to him in a second. For now, it’s worth mentioning that the Yankees are facing an offseason decision about whether to bring back Cervelli — who’s been awfully good — or to give the backup catcher job fulltime to either Murphy or Romine. If the Yankees are out of it in September, one of these September call-up catchers could step into some serious playing time just to see what they’ve got.
Probably not: C Gary Sanchez
He’s on the 40-man roster, and he’s one of the biggest names in the Yankees minor league system, but it’s hard to predict a Sanchez call-up this year. He’s been alright this season, but he’s also been benched for disciplinary reasons, and it’s hard to imagine much playing time being available for him. Just doesn’t seem that he’s on the verge of getting his feet wet, but I guess you never know. If he’s sorted out his disciplinary issues, maybe he’s rewarded. My guess is that he won’t be.
VERSATILITY ON THE BENCH
There’s no one currently in the system who seems on the verge of a September call-up to play a significant role in the everyday lineup. Position players who come up are most likely going to be complimentary pieces given very occasional playing time.
Best bet: OF Zoilo Almonte
Joe Girardi hasn’t seemed sold on Almonte ever since his so-so performance last season, but he’s still a powerful left-handed hitter — technically switch hitter, but he’s significantly better from the left side — and he’s on the 40-man roster with some big league time already this season. Not sure he’ll actually get at-bats, but he seems like an obvious choice to bring up at least serve as an option for some pop as a pinch hitter or occasional platoon starter.
Keep in mind: UT Zelous Wheeler
In a lot of ways, Wheeler is an ideal September call-up. He’s already on the 40-man, he’s held his own in the big leagues already this season, and he can play almost any position on the field, which means he provides terrific versatility down the stretch. As long as Wheeler stays on the 40-man roster, there’s little reason not to give him a call-up.
Uncertainty: UT Jose Pirela
The one reason not to call up Wheeler would be to call up a somewhat similar but younger player in Pirela. Wheeler is probably the better defensive player, but they’re both versatile right-handed hitters who are putting up good numbers in Triple-A. If the Yankees aren’t planning to keep Wheeler through the offseason — but are interested in keeping Pirela — they could basically swap the two, putting Pirela on the roster in Wheeler’s place and giving Pirela the September call-up. Pirela can play second base and left field, and he could play third base, first base, right field and presumably shortstop in a pinch.
Worth mentioning: OF Ramon Flores, 1B Kyle Roller, OF Adonis Garcia, OF Taylor Dugas
Of these four, only Flores is on the 40-man, and he’s a nice fit for September. He can run, he can play all three outfield spots, he has some first base experience, and he was playing pretty well in Triple-A before an injury. Indications are that Flores could be off the DL and active by the time September rolls around, but would the Yankees call up a guy who’s hardly played since the start of June. The other three listed are not on the 40-man, and I’m not sure they’d play roles significant enough to find a way to get them on the roster. Dugas in particular has been terrific this year, but he’s not yet Rule 5 eligible, so there’s probably little sense having him take up a 40-man spot all winter. I would suggest OF Antoan Richardson as an interesting possibility as well — speed off the bench, ability to play all three outfield spots — but he’s currently on the temporarily inactive list, and I’m not sure what that’s about or how long he’ll be there. Could temporarily add him without worrying about a DFA this winter.
Probably not: 2B Rob Refsnyder
Arguably the most buzzworthy September call-up possibility. Probably is, Refsnyder is just like a handful of guys on this list in that he’s playing in Triple-A already but won’t be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If he’s only going to come up to sit the bench and maybe get his feet wet, is that really worth taking up an otherwise valuable 40-man spot all winter? If he were coming up to play every day, that would be one thing. But bringing him up to backup Stephen Drew probably isn’t worthwhile.
Associated Press photos
State of the organization: Corner outfield • 01.18.13
There’s a reason — beyond the obvious talent — that Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and Mike Morse generated so much trade talk among Yankees fans this winter. A big, power-hitting, prototypical corner outfielder would fit incredibly well on this roster. The minor league system might have a legitimate outfield slugger on the way, but he’s at least a year away, and for the time being, the Yankees outfield is filled with two small-ball players and one all-or-nothing free agent to be. Those are three legitimate pieces, but the Yankees outfield could certainly make room for one of Brian Cashman’s big, hairy monsters if he could find one.
Curtis Granderson / Ichiro Suzuki
Signed through 2013 /2014
We know Suzuki will be in right field. We can only guess whether Granderson or Brett Gardner will be in left (as I wrote a couple of days ago, I’m heading into spring training expecting Gardner to shift to center). Either way, the Yankees are going to have considerable speed in their outfield and should cover a lot of ground. They’re going to count on Gardner and Ichiro to run on offense, and on Granderson to hit home runs. What’s still unclear is who they’re going to count on to hit against lefties. Matt Diaz is coming to camp on a minor league deal, and Russ Canzler is going to try to win a job in spring training, but Cashman has made no secret of the fact he’d like to add another right-handed hitting corner outfielder. Nick Swisher gave the Yankees a steady right field presence for four years, and he’s been difficult to fully replace this winter.
On the verge
Maybe Tyler Austin can play his way into the big league picture this year, but it’s more likely that immediate help will have to come from either Zoilo Almonte or Ronnier Mustelier, two players who really weren’t even worth watching two years ago. Almonte was signed way back in 2005, but he didn’t put himself on the map until 2011 when he cut down on his strikeouts and hit .276/.345/.459 between High-A and Double-A. His power numbers went up during a full Double-A season last year, and now he has a 40-man spot with a Triple-A job on the way. He’s a switch hitter who was especially good against righties last year (it hasn’t always been that way). Mustelier is a Cuban defector who didn’t join the Yankees until 2011 when he was already 26 years old. He’s too old to be considered a typical prospect, but he’s hit .324/.378/.497 through two pro seasons, including a pretty good 89 games in Triple-A last year. He’s played some second base and center field, but Mustelier’s ticket to the big leagues might be his ability to play all four corners. He’s kind of a less proven version of Canzler, who’s probably higher in the pecking order. Under certain circumstances, center fielders Melky Mesa and Abe Almonte could also factor into the corner conversation.
Deeper in the system
Austin is easily the top corner outfield prospect in the system, and he appears to have been a 13th-round steal. Drafted out of high school in 2010, Austin was the unquestionable breakout star of the Yankees minor league system last year. He hit .322/.400/.559 while climbing all the way from Charleston to Trenton. Despite that little bit of Double-A experience, the Yankees are considering sending Austin back to High-A to open this season. If he repeats last year’s results, he won’t stay there for long. Austin’s breakout season easily overshadowed Ramon Flores, a left-fielder who has a knack for getting on base (.362 on-base percentage in his minor league career). Flores was added to the 40-man this winter and is ticketed for Trenton. It’s hard to mention all of the system’s mildly interesting corner outfielders — converted third baseman Rob Segedin, under-the-radar Cuban prospect Adonis Garcia, does-a-little-of-everything Ben Gamel, and 2012 draftees Taylor Dugas and Nathan Mikolas are names worth knowing — but I’ll save room for Jake Cave, the Yankees sixth-round pick in 2011 who’s hardly played since being drafted because of a knee injury. Cave could have been drafted as either a left-handed pitcher or an outfielder, but the Yankees liked his bat. There’s upside to him, just no professional track record.
On the move
College outfielder Rob Refsnyder played right field for the Yankees Low-A team last year but seems likely to shift to second base next season. On the flip side, long-time middle infielder Jose Pirela began to see considerable time in left field last year and kept at least a little bit of prospect status alive with a strong Double-A season. The Yankees have shown a willingness to move players into the outfield corners when necessary — that’s how Austin got there after signing as a corner infielder — and they could eventually do that with last year’s second-round pick Austin Aune, who will first get a chance to sink or swim as a shortstop. Obviously, if top center field prospects Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott each get to New York, one of them will have to shift to left field.
What to watch
The development of Austin is among the most interesting aspects of the Yankees system this season. Last year was a revelation, the kind of year that suggested he just might be a real life, in-house, power-hitting corner outfielder that can rise through the system and get to New York within two years. That would be huge for the Yankees. For now, the thing to watch is the Yankees on-going pursuit of a right-handed outfield bat and the how-long-can-he-last uncertainty of Ichiro’s two-year deal.
Associated Press photo; headshots of Granderson, Ichiro, Almonte, Mustelier, Austin, Flores, Williams and Heathcott
Yankees at the break: Outfield corners • 07.13.11
Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher each started the season with horrible numbers. Gardner lost his grip on the leadoff spot by the end of April, and Swisher sat for two days so that he could get his swing together. Lately, they’ve both been back to last year’s level of production.
As recently as May 25, Swisher was hitting just .208 with just two home runs. He was frustrated and it was beginning to show. Since then, he’s hit .302/.420/.566 with eight homers and the same over-the-top attitude that made him a fan favorite. Gardner was hitting .188 with a .273 on-base percentage at the end of April, but in the past two and a half months he’s hit .292 with a .374 on-base. He’s also become a much more dangerous and effective base stealer. He’s been streaky, but he’s also been productive, and he’s played his usual Gold Glove caliber defense.
Unless the Yankees decide to replace Andruw Jones on the bench, they really have no need for an outfield upgrade. Gardner’s not a typical corner outfielder, but he’s been effective with his unusual approach at the plate and his game-changing speed on the bases. Swisher has regained last year’s form and is once again one of the Yankees most dangerous and versatile hitters. Where they best fit in the lineup might be a legitimate question, but whether to play them regularly shouldn’t be.
Justin Maxwell was crushing the baseball in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and might have hit his way onto the big league roster if not for a season-ending injury. With Maxwell on the DL, Jordan Parraz as been the top corner outfielder in Triple-A, and Tampa left fielder Ziolo Almonte has been the best corner outfielder in the system. Almonte has been hitting for average and power while stealing bases, and he has to be considered a promotion candidate in the second half. Ray Kruml has emerged as a terrific leadoff man in Trenton, while Ramon Flores has lived up to his reputation for outstanding plate discipline for a teenager in Charleston.
Is Gardner about to win his first Gold Glove?
Gardner’s always had great speed, and last year he seemed to slowly make people realize just how well that speed plays in the outfield. This year, he’s also been effective throwing the ball. His four outfield assists aren’t near the AL leaders, but runners seem to be respecting his arm a little bit more this season and not taking as many chances. I’m guessing manager have noticed.
Gardner is heading for his first year of arbitration, so he’s still relatively cheap for next season. Swisher has a $10.25-million club option for next year, and the Yankees have to decide whether to exercise it. Given the money that Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth got this winter, they might not think twice about getting Swisher at that price.
Associated Press photo