Before today’s game, the Yankees named Rob Refsnyder and Luis Severino their Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year for last season. Their past four players of the year: Greg Bird, Tyler Austin, Austin Romine and Eduardo Nunez. Their past four pitchers of the year: Shane Greene, Mark Montgomery, D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps. That’s a pretty wide spectrum of success following the honor. From the Yankees, here are the details of today’s honorees:
The New York Yankees announced today that infielder Rob Refsnyder and right-handed pitcher Luis Severino were named winners of the 2014 Kevin Lawn Award as the Yankees’ minor league “Player of the Year” and “Pitcher of the Year,” respectively. The two players received their awards prior to today’s Yankees vs. Orioles game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The annual awards are dedicated to Kevin O’Brien Lawn—the son of longtime Yankees Vice President and Chief of Operations Jack Lawn—who passed away in 1999.
Refsnyder, 24, split the season with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, combining to bat .318 (164-for-515) with 82R, 38 doubles, 6 triples, 14HR and 63RBI in 137 games. The 2012 fifth-round draft pick ranked third among all Yankees minor leaguers in batting average. Following the season, he was tabbed an Organization All-Star by MiLB.com and ranked as the Yankees’ seventh-best prospect by Baseball America.
Severino, 21, combined to go 6-5 with a 2.46 ERA (113.1IP, 31ER) in 24 starts with Single-A Charleston, Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. He allowed three earned runs or fewer in 23 of his 24 starts, posting a 1.96 ERA (110.0IP, 24ER) in those games. The right-hander led all Yankee minor leaguers in strikeouts (127) and competed for the World Team in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. Following the season, he was named an Organization All-Star by MiLB.com and was tabbed the Yankees’ best prospect by Baseball America.
Each player was presented with a trophy designed by C&C Awards, as well as a designer watch, courtesy of Betteridge Jewelers.
Associated Press photo of Refsnyder
Yesterday, Reggie Jackson compared Aaron Judge’s raw power to that of Willie Stargell and Willie McCovey. The day before, Alex Rodriguez called Judge and Greg Bird two of the best young hitters he’d seen in years. All spring, guys like Luis Severino, Jacob Lindgren and Rob Refsnyder have generated significant attention despite having a half-season of Triple-A experience among them.
“That’s what you do in the game, for better or for worse,” Brian Cashman said. “People go to the dream aspect.”
While the big league Yankees seem to have captured anything but the imagination this spring — far more doomsday scenarios than best-case scenarios floating out there — the young Yankees have stolen the show early this spring. At least, in theory they have. Counting my days with the minor league system, I’ve covered nine spring training, and it’s hard to remember a Yankees’ spring with this much prospect hype. Maybe the year of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, but this spring is different because many of the players in question are not even on the 40-man roster, much less on the verge of making the Opening Day roster.
Judge probably gets the most attention, and he has just one year of professional experience.
“I don’t think it’s hurtful,” Cashman said. “Listen, we all project what someone could be on a maximum case. Whether people want to throw out Giancarlo Stanton or Dave Winfield or McCovey, it doesn’t matter at all. You’re dreaming on the player’s abilities. Some players, you can dream bigger on than others. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big on a guy, especially a guy like that, that’s that big. It’s not hurtful.”
Seems to help that the Yankees like the mental makeup of their young players. Judge and Refsnyder have lockers right next to one another, and both have been soft spoken all spring. Girardi has raved about Severino’s early spring composure. Bird tends to sit quietly at his corner locker, doing as much observing as talking.
“I’ve discovered that there’s nothing I can do to prevent (growing expectations), regardless,” Cashman said. “I’ve gotten trained over time that whatever will be, will be. … Our young guys — the B-Bombers, I’ll call them — have been great. They’re in tremendous shape, they’re hungry, you can see they play with passion. The performance has been high-end this spring as well. Those are the stories you really want. You want your young guys to step up. It shows your fan base that, hey, there’s some good things on the come.”
Associated Press photo
It’s worth remembering that, only two years ago, Jose Pirela was about to open his third straight season in Double-A. He’d been an awfully good hitter in Double-A the year before, but his prospect status had nearly disappeared, and moving him up the ladder was clearly not a priority for the Yankees.
Now Pirela’s in big league camp with a spot on the 40-man roster and a few big league at-bats to his name. He’s getting legitimate playing time with the obvious major leaguers, and the Yankees clearly see him as a candidate for a big league job.
Brendan Ryan might ultimately push him off the roster, but Pirela does not seem to feel dismissed. He knows what dismissed looks like, and this isn’t it.
“I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity,” Pirela said. “They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”
Pirela is back in the lineup today, playing second base and hitting seventh — ahead of big league bench candidate Austin Romine — for the first spring matchup against the Red Sox. Ryan’s health is still up in the air, it’s still unclear just how well Alex Rodriguez can play third base, and Pirela could still win a spot on the Opening Day roster. He’s not necessarily considered a favorite, but he might be the contingency plan for several possible scenarios.
“Whether someone is hurt or not, that isn’t something that I consider,” Pirela said. “No one wants a teammate to ever be hurt, especially starting the season. I have to focus on myself, competing with myself.”
Hitting .333/.360/.542 in a brief big league cameo last season surely didn’t hurt his chances.
“It was an extraordinary experience,” Pirela said. “It was unexpected but it finally came. I learned a lot from being with those veteran players. The very little time that I had up in the Majors, it was one of the most special experiences for me.”
• CC Sabathia will throw his simulated game tomorrow (scheduled to face Trent Garrison and Cito Culver). Interesting that he’s pitching on the same day as Masahiro Tanaka. I assume at some point one of those two will get an extra day of rest, splitting up so that one of them will pitch Opening Day and the other will start Game 2.
• Andrew Bailey is also scheduled for early work tomorrow. Not sure whether that’s a bullpen or if he’s a part of the simulated game. I’m assuming a bullpen.
• Luis Severino is back in camp after missing yesterday because of strep throat. He said he’s feeling better, but he’s not sure when he’s throwing another bullpen.
• Random clubhouse conversation this morning: Spent quite a while talking to Rob Refsnyder about nothing in particular (not an interview, just a conversation). At one point, he looked across the clubhouse at Austin Romine’s locker and randomly began talking about how much respected he has for Romine, and how much Romine worked with him and helped him last year in Triple-A. Also a big help to Refsnyder last season: since departed infielder Corban Joseph, who could have seen Refsnyder as an internal threat and instead went out of his way to work with him in the cage and on the field.
• Aaron Judge was laughing this morning that some places have listed him at 225 pounds. One look at him, and Judge’s is clearly bigger than that. The Yankees’ online roster has him at 255, and even that’s off by roughly 15 pounds. Judge said he weighed in closer to 270 this spring.
• Nathan Eovaldi is throwing a bullpen today. Looks like Michael Pineda will throw one tomorrow. That’s significant only because those two last pitched on the same day. Perhaps Pineda pitches the day after Eovaldi the next time through the rotation?
• Garrett Jones is back in the lineup after missing yesterday because of food poisoning. Nick Noonan is not in the lineup, but after missing yesterday with a stiff neck, he is scheduled to face pitchers in live batting practice.
• No update on Brendan Ryan. Didn’t see him this morning, but he’s supposed to resume light baseball drills today.
• For Boston: The Yankees are facing starting pitcher Joe Kelly this afternoon. Steven Wright, Edwin Escobar, Craig Breslow, Mitchell Boggs and Brandon Workman are among the relievers making the trip for the Red Sox.
Domingo German (to Trenton Garrison)
James Pazos (to Kyle Higashioka)
Danny Burawa (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Worth noting that both Pazos and Burawa are scheduled for two “innings” of work
• Today’s second string: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Slade Heathcott, CF Mason Williams, RF Chris Young, DH Tyler Austin
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Bryan Mitchell, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Jared Burton, Tyler Webb, Nick Rumbelow (with Chris Martin and Diego Moreno available just in case)
Associated Press photos
Tyler Wade just turned 20 in November. He’s too far from the major league radar to have gotten a real invitation to big league camp, but the Yankees keep bringing him up from the minor league complex day after day to play a little middle infield in the late innings.
The guy already has more spring training hits than Alex Rodriguez, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brett Gardner.
With the Yankees trailing by one in the ninth inning this afternoon, it was Wade who started the game-winning rally with a leadoff single to right. Jonathan Galvez and Jake Cave added singles of their own. Nick Noonan walked in the tying run, Rob Refsnyder put the Yankees in front with a two-run single, and Greg Bird put the game out of reach with a home run.
“Really (exciting) to see that our system has a lot of good players,” Joe Girardi said. “And a lot of kids are going to contribute along the way here is what we’re going to see at some point. That’s what you need. We need to continue to have young players come up and contribute, and a lot of it’s been in the bullpen the last couple of years, but it looks like you’re getting some real position players who are coming up too.”
To be fair, a lot of minor league players began hitting at the minor league complex long before the big league hitters arrived. In the late innings, minor league hitters are usually facing minor league pitchers, and it seems that minor leaguers — eager to open eyes — go all out early in camp, while big league hitters take their time and try to fine tune specifics without really trying to get early results.
That said, the Yankees have hit a total of five home runs so far this spring, and each one was hit by a minor leaguer (Bird, Cave, Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge). Eight players have more than two hits, and only one of them — Garrett Jones — seems to have a spot on the big league roster. Wade already has two hits, and he’s not even officially here.
“It’s pretty fun to watch young players contribute and what they’re capable of doing,” Girardi said. “… You watch their at-bats. You watch the pitches that they’re swinging at. If they’re over-swinging. Their approach. How the ball comes off the bat. You saw a lot of good things.”
• After this morning’s simulated game, Masahiro Tanaka said once again that he feels ready to pitch in a real game. He seems to really feel that the elbow is a non-issue at this point. “It’s obviously really good and I really don’t think about it at all,” he said. “I think all of the pitches I threw today, I’m pretty satisfied with.”
• While Tanaka’s split gets a lot of understandable attention, Tanaka said that’s not the pitch that tells him his elbow is fine. “I do look at the split, how it moves and all that,” he said. “But I actually look at my fastball the most when I’m pitching. The fastballs are coming off my hand pretty good right now.”
• Although Girardi wouldn’t give an exact date, he said Tanaka’s next outing will in fact be a real game.
• Speaking of pitchers in a real game, Scott Baker said he felt better than the numbers indicate. He was disappointed with some of the pitches he made early in counts, and the Astros came out swinging, which caused problems. But he got better later in the inning. “They jumped on Baker pretty quick,” Girardi said. “He made some adjustments as the inning went along and got his split going and got some outs with that. His first outing, I don’t make too much of that.”
• Asked a broad question about today’s pitching, Girardi singled out Nick Rumbelow and Jose De Paula — who was making his spring debut — as guys who pitched well. Rumbelow was charged with a run, but only after he went out for a second inning of work (when he didn’t end up recording an out). His first inning was clean with a strikeout.
• Shortstop Didi Gregorius got another start against a left-handed pitcher, and the Yankees seem to like that. They want him to see lefties in hopes of improving his numbers against them. “To be honest, it’s the only way you’re going to get better,” Gregorius said. “Not getting better if you’re not doing work. For me, facing all these lefties means I’ll stay in there and get more comfortable against lefties.”
• Gregorius said he’s already made a minor mechanical change. “Just trying to stay a little bit taller and a little bit closer (with the hands) too,” he said. “I tend to fly open. I’m going to try not to do that and stay on the ball more and drive the ball the other way.”
• Jose Pirela struck out during that go-ahead, six-run ninth inning, but Girardi was quick to point out that he really helped get the rally going with an RBI double in the eighth. That’s what pulled the Yankees within a run (after Cave had homered earlier in the inning).
• Girardi on the fact it’s taking CC Sabathia a long time to get into games this spring: “We’re taking it slow. We just think it’s a good idea to do it. He’s probably going to throw a couple of innings tomorrow. It’s like starting in a game but you can control it more, that’s all.”
• We’ll give the final word to Gregorius, talking about the Yankees infield defense. “It looks really good, I’m not going to lie. Defensively we look really good. Offense is getting there. It’s Spring Training, so we’re getting there. It’s really good guys we’re playing with. … Today (Headley) cut one of my ground balls off. That means he plays hard. Trying to catch everything. The whole infield is like that and it’s great.”
Associated Press photos (that’s Wade and Judge at the top, Flores in the middle, Bird at the bottom)
Luis Severino and Aaron Judge surely spark some optimism for the future, but if you were looking for immediate impact in the present, the big names from today’s Yankees spring opener were Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.
“I think we can do some damage as long as we both stay healthy and do our jobs,” Gardner said. “Get on base and take some attention from the hitter and (put it) on us from the pitcher and the catcher; get over into scoring position and give those guys in the middle of the lineup some RBI opportunities.”
That’s the idea, and the Yankees might actually be able to put it into action this season. When Ellsbury signed last winter, there was some immediate thought about the impact he and Gardner might have together as speed-oriented hitters and defenders. They played well side-by-side in the outfield, but they rarely hit together in the lineup. It seems inevitable that they’ll do that this year.
They didn’t do much today — a combined 0-for-6 — but last season, Gardner and Ellsbury ranked first and second in OPS among Yankees everyday players. They combined for 60 steals and each hit more home runs than any Yankee other than Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann. They are, perhaps, the most reliable pieces of this season’s projected lineup.
“If I play a full season this year and hit six (home runs), or if I hit 20, it really doesn’t matter to me,” Gardner said. “I still have to get on base. I don’t have to drive myself in. I just have to get on base and put myself into scoring position and those guys in the middle will drive me in if they’re healthy. … Get on base a little more (than last year), run a little more, and just use my speed to my advantage. Just taking things pitch by pitch, try and keep things simple. I kind of felt like I fell off a little bit towards the end of the season, the last month of last year. Right now I feel great. Just stay strong, try to stay healthy all season.”
For Ellsbury, hitting ahead of Gardner means he should have plenty of chances to run. Gardner’s a patient hitter, and Ellsbury can be an aggressive runner.
“I tend to go early in the count just to give a hitter a better opportunity before he’s down in the count or whatnot,” Ellsbury said. “But yeah, if I don’t go early, it just gives me opportunities to take a base. Brett does a good job with the bat and controlling the bat. Maybe he just advances me from second to third with no outs, something like that. … If I feel I can go, I’m going to take off unless they give me the red light and want the guy to hit if they’re so focused on the hitter seeing a pitch. I feel if I get my jump, I’m going to make it more often than not.”
• Pretty solid first outing for Adam Warren, who allowed just one hit — a weak single — through two scoreless innings. “I wanted to get ahead of hitters,” Warren said. “Didn’t really do that great today, but also wanted to establish fastball in to a lot of guys, which I did well today. Just have to keep working and improving. Getting ahead of guys for me is a the name of the game, so I want to do that a little bit better, but overall felt good.”
• Warren said he feels like he’s competing for a rotation spot and not simply serving as rotation insurance in case someone gets hurt. “Who knows where I’ll end up,” he said. “But right now my mind is being a starter and see where that leads.”
• Joe Girardi’s impression of Warren’s start: “A lot of quality strikes today. Good counts.”
• Every prospect reliever seemed to really thrive today except Jacob Lindgren. I was doing interviews in the Yankees clubhouse while Lindgren was pitching, so I actually missed most of his outing. He went two-thirds of an inning, gave up two hits and allowed two runs, which were unearned because of a Rob Refsnyder throwing error. Branden Pinder wound up finishing off that inning with a strikeout.
• Refsnyder wasn’t the only young second baseman with a throwing error. Jose Pirela also threw a ball away trying to make a tough turn on a double play.
• Aaron Judge on seeing his game-tying home run go over the fence. “I thought he robbed it, so I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to turn around or keep going. So I just kept going, and no one stopped me.”
• Luis Severino said he believes he could be pitching in New York at some point this season, but he quickly shot down the idea that he’s trying to make a big impression this spring to make that happen. “No,” he said, flatly. “The same I do last year, I’ve got do this year the same.”
• Some of the pace of play rules were used today. The field had two red clocks counting down two minutes and 25 seconds for a pitcher to get ready at the start of an inning. I honestly didn’t even notice it at first. “It was a little strange,” Warren said. “I didn’t think about it the first inning. I went out there for the second inning, I noticed it at like a minute, 50 (seconds) when I first got out there. I’m like, ‘Crap, that’s not long at all.’ Then all of a sudden I look back after my last pitch, it’s at 50 seconds still, so it only took me a minute. After you’ve already gone out there, and you’re already a little bit loose, it didn’t affect me. I think you just have to get used to knowing the time’s ticking down to kind of know how long it takes you.”
• Garrett Jones singled in his first at-bat with the Yankees. Chris Young also had a single today. Of the guys really fighting for a roster spot, Pirela was the only other one who had a hit. Both Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy went 0-for-2. Jake Cave, Slade Heathcott, Greg Bird, Kyle Roller, Mason Williams, Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, and of course Judge all had at least one hit today.
• Girardi said everyone came through today’s game healthy. No new injuries to report.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “You want to learn as much as you can about these (young) guys because we haven’t seen them a lot. See what their abilities are, what some of their strengths are. I think we’ve said all along, there’s some really good position players that are coming. They’re getting closer and closer, and at some point – you hope that you don’t have injuries, but at some point you know that it usually happens and these kids get a call-up and a chance to do something.”
Associated Press photos
Last night I was asked what I’ll be keeping an eye on the rest of spring training. And for the most part, the answer is obvious.
Now that camp is in full swing, the Yankees have clear points of interest with their trying-to-stay-healthy starting pitchers and their trying-to-stay productive veteran hitters. Alex Rodriguez is his own sort of curiosity, but the success and failure of the Yankees seems to hinge on Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia on the pitching staff, and Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann in the lineup.
Having a pair of good leadoff hitters doesn’t mean much if no one can drive them in, and having a deep core of relievers doesn’t mean much if they aren’t given a lead.
So that’s what I’ll be keeping an eye on … the obvious things.
But I’m also curious about the Yankees middle infielders. Not so long ago, shortstop and second base belonged to Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. Now belong to a whole lot of unknowns.
Can Didi Gregorius take the next step toward being a legitimate everyday player?
Can Stephen Drew rebound from a horrible season to become a real free agent bargain?
Can Rob Refsnyder hit his way onto the lineup?
Can Brendan Ryan’s glove win him a role that comes with some regular playing time?
Can Jose Pirela keep himself on the radar and prove he’s a big leaguer (and maybe more than a big league utility man)?
Can someone like Jonathan Galvez emerge as this year’s Yangervis Solarte?
The middle of the Yankees infield probably won’t make or break the team, but it’s going to be an interesting storyline throughout camp. It’s not really an area that hinges on massive health concerns or aging veterans. There’s some youth at those positions, and there’s some real possibility for better-than-expected production.
Speaking of which, up top is some video of Refsndyer taking batting practice and fielding a few ground balls yesterday. As you can tell from the footage, yesterday’s defensive drills weren’t exactly high intensity. It’s extremely early. We’ll have a better idea of what exactly Refsnyder can do as the Yankees get into the exhibition schedule next week.
With the Yankees’ first spring workout three days away, we’ll continue counting down the team’s key spring training decisions by looking at the situation at second base. The Yankees signed a veteran free agent who’s able to handle the position right away. The decision is whether that’s the best way to go for Opening Day. The choice comes down to this:
Is one of the young guys ready to play second base?
The Yankees are fully aware of just how bad Stephen Drew was last season. He had the worst offensive season of his career, and saved the very worst of it for his two-month stint with the Yankees. Even so, the Yankees gave him a fresh one-year, $5-million contract because it could be a prime buy-low opportunity. He’s been a good defender in his career, and as recently as 2013 he was a pretty good hitter.
Drew gives the Yankees a veteran option at the position.
Even with Drew under contract, though, the Yankees have to take a serious look at Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, a pair of 20-somethings who played well in Triple-A last season and could be ready for the big leagues immediately. The Yankees have gone out of their way to say the Drew signing doesn’t rule out the possibility of a prospect making the team and playing second base on Opening Day.
These are the second base possibilities the Yankees have to consider:
The second-chance veteran
32 years old
Last year: .162/.237/.299 in Boston and New York
Career: A long-time shortstop in Arizona, Drew was a good defensive player with good offensive power for a middle infielder. Last season he signed late, missed all of spring training, and had a season far worse than any he’s ever had in the past.
Why give him the job? Because he’s been a good fielder at shortstop and looked pretty good at second last season (maybe still working on the double plays, though). Also, his .777 OPS in 2013 is far more representative of his career than last year’s numbers.
If he doesn’t get the job? It’s not second-base-or-bust for Drew. If he’s not the everyday second baseman, Drew could still play a platoon role with regular at-bats against right-handers, or he could slide into a utility role, perhaps replacing another defense-first veteran, Brendan Ryan.
The resurgent utility man
25 years old
Last year: .305/.351/.441 in Triple-A (.333/.360/.542 in seven big league games)
Career: A teenager when he signed with the Yankees back in 2006, his prospect status basically faded away a few years ago, but he moved off of shortstop, started bouncing around to different positions, and put himself back on the map with good Double-A and Triple-A numbers, leading to a September call-up last season.
Why give him the job? Because he’s been around for a while, but might just now be figuring out the kind of player he can be. He’s still young, but this could be a good window to figure out what he can do. At the very least, he could take Ryan’s spot on the bench and former a second-base platoon with Drew.
If he doesn’t get the job? Pirela’s versatility leaves him with a few options if he’s not the Yankees’ regular second baseman. He could go back to Triple-A, or he could find a role on the big league bench as a guy who can help out at second, third and the outfield corners.
The on-the-verge prospect
24 years old
Last year: .318/.387/.497 between Double-A and Triple-A
Career: A fifth-round pick in 2012, Refsnyder came into the organization as a college outfielder, but he was quickly converted to second base. He’s played the position for two years and has a half-season of Triple-A experience.
Why give him the job? Because, quite frankly, he might be the best second baseman in the organization. His defense is improving — though it’s clearly a work in progress — and he’s always been touted as a good hitter who gets on base and sprays line drives. He’s a legitimate prospect who might not need anymore minor league seasoning.
If he doesn’t get the job? Back to Triple-A to keep learning the position. If the Yankees want a right-handed second baseman on the bench, Pirela might be the better fit because he’s more versatile. With Refsnyder still learning the position, it makes sense to have him playing second base everyday either in New York or in the minors.
The in-the-conversation backup
33 years old
Last year: .167/.211/.202 in extremely limited playing time
Career: Originally a utility type with the Cardinals, Ryan became known as one of the best — if not the very best — defensive shortstops in baseball. His offense, though, has declined to point of non-existence and the Yankees have used him as a backup.
Why give him the job? To be clear, no one is suggesting Ryan will become the everyday second baseman. He’s in the conversation only because he’s a right-handed hitter who could provide a platoon alternative at both second and shortstop this season. Basically, if Drew can’t hit lefties and neither Pirela nor Refsnyder makes the team, Ryan could be a part of the second-base puzzle for a while.
If he doesn’t get the job? For now, Ryan’s greatest attribute is the fact he’s a proven defender at shortstop. Although he doesn’t hit much, the fact he hits right-handed gives him some offensive value as a platoon partner for Drew and Didi Gregorius (each of whom has struggled against lefties). If Ryan can’t play at least occasionally at second base and shortstop, there won’t be much use keeping him on the roster at all.
Cole Figueroa/Nick Noonan/Jonathan Galvez
The minor league free agents
27, 25, and 24 years old
Left, left, and right-handed hitters
Last year: All three were Triple-A regulars with only Figueroa getting any big league time
Career: Noonan is a former first-round pick and the current favorite to play shortstop in Triple-A this season, but he’s been mostly a second baseman in his career, including a few big league games in 2013. Figueroa is the oldest of the bunch, and he’s shown a real knack for getting on base while playing basically anywhere. Galvez is the youngest of the bunch, has no big league experience, but he put up good Triple-A numbers last year.
Why give one of them the job? There’s no good reason to unless something goes wrong between now and Opening Day. That said, last spring the Yankees wound up finding big league playing time for Yangervis Solarte, Dean Anna and Zelous Wheeler, so it no longer makes sense to completely dismiss these sort of minor league free agents.
If they don’t get the job? Most likely, all three are heading to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where Noonan is already the favorite to play shortstop every day, and either Figueroa or Galvez could see a lot of time at third base (which is relatively wide open unless Rob Segedin takes it). Because the upper levels are thin in the infield — especially up the middle — the Yankees needed additional infield depth, and they got it with these three.
Associated Press photo
This morning’s Pinch Hitter post centered on an issue that seems key to the perception of the Yankees’ offseason: there’s a real sense that there’s nothing to be excited about this season.
With familiar icons having faded into retirement, the Yankees are now a collection of relatively new guys, many of them disappointing veterans whose best years are behind them. Even those players who could bring some excitement also bring cause for concern either because of an injury, because of lagging numbers, or because of one very prominent suspension.
As Derek pointed out this morning, the Yankees don’t have a standout source of constant excitement. There’s no Enter Sandman playing in the ninth inning, no Bob Sheppard announcing No. 2, and no telling what to expect from Alex Rodriguez. Out of that desperation, Derek wrote this morning that he sees hope for Rodriguez to create some kind of stir; to at least grab the crowd’s attention four or five times every game.
I’m wondering if there might be other reasons — in some cases, more likely reasons — to cheer this season.
Here’s my list of 10 things that could grab fans’ attention and give reason to cheer at Yankee Stadium this season. As always, these are based on positive scenarios, because how often does a worst-case scenario capture our imagination?
This is probably the most obvious and most important element in making any stadium feel “electric.” Fans like a winner, even if it’s a winner that doesn’t have some roster ties to past championships. Want Yankee Stadium to feel exciting again? Put a winner on the field. Teams that miss the playoffs two years in a row tend to draw less-than-enthusiastic crowds. Want Yankee Stadium to be a place opposing players fear? Put those opposing players against a good team.
2. Masahiro Tanaka
More than A-Rod, I think it’s Tanaka who has the best chance to single-handedly bring some excitement to Yankee Stadium this season. Sure, he pitches only once every five days, might pitch only once in a given home stand, and might not pitch at all if his elbow blows out — but if Tanaka is healthy and as good as he was last year, he could be electric and bring some true excitement. This isn’t a past-his-prime veteran. This is an ace in his mid-20s with a bright present and a bright future (assuming things go the right way).
3. Young guys up the middle
If the common knock against the Yankees is that they’re too old with a roster past its collective prime, Didi Gregorius and Rob Refsnyder could change that with a pair of 20-somethings playing in the middle of the infield. Gregorius isn’t homegrown, but he never really established himself elsewhere, so any upside belongs to the Yankees. Refsnyder isn’t a finished product, but he could hit his way into the lineup, and he could stick around for the next decade. These two could make a case for helping the Yankees in the short-term, while giving fans some long-term hope for the future.
4. Resurgent veterans
If CC Sabathia is good again, I think he’s worth watching every time he’s on the mound. He’s an emotional player. He’s a clubhouse leader. He’s a guy who’s fallen down the past two seasons, and seeing him pick himself up would surely make him a fan favorite (even if he’s nothing more than a No. 2 or 3 starter at this point). Carlos Beltran could also be a rallying point, and a strong Mark Teixeira could give the Yankees a true home run threat, the kind of guy who could change a game with one swing.
5. Second-half arrivals
I suppose it depends on the circumstances in which they arrive, but there’s a lot to be said for a wave of young players showing up it the second half to make a difference. Maybe Refsnyder takes the second base job. Maybe Jacob Lindgren joins the bullpen. Maybe Slade Heathcott gets healthy, gets back on track, and gets a chance. Maybe it’s not out of the question that Aaron Judge and/or Luis Severino could be in the Bronx before September. A mid-season youth movement should catch the attention of the fan base.
6. Speed on the bases
I’ve said it several times: I love the way speed plays in the game of baseball. I love watching someone track down a fly ball in the outfield. I love watching an infielder charge a slow roller while a hitter sprints down the first-base line. I love watching a guy steal second base or try to leg out a triple. The Yankees have speed in Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, and those could can generate excitement without hitting home runs.
7. Dellin Betances
Asking that he become the next Mariano Rivera is probably asking too much, but give this guy the closer role and pick a good song to serenade his trip to the mound, and Betances could be a show worth watching in the ninth inning. Homegrown prospect, raised in New York City, throwing 99 mph fastballs and striking out a ton of guys? How is that not worth watching? How is that not going to grab the attention of Yankee Stadium?
8. A rotation of 20-somethings
If Tanaka’s elbow holds up, and Michael Pineda’s shoulder doesn’t blow out, and Ivan Nova comes back from Tommy John, and Nathan Eovaldi improves his strikeout numbers — that’s four starting pitchers, each in his 20s, filling almost all of the Yankees’ rotation. Yes, the Yankees’ rotation is a giant question mark right now, but if it gets/stays healthy, it could be an exciting group to watch for now and for the future.
9. Alex Rodriguez
Let’s face it, Derek was onto something this morning. Rodriguez could be worth all of the attention he’s going to get. If he’s terrible, he’s going to be just another part of the problem; just another guy who fans don’t want to see at the plate or in the field. If Rodriguez stinks, he’ll be a microcosm of all that’s drained the life out of Yankee Stadium (too rich, too old, too unproductive, too unappealing). But if he hits, people will take notice, and people will react one way or another. If Rodriguez is doing anything positive on the field, Yankee Stadium will not be quiet about it.
10. Some sense of a plan
Maybe this is too broad, but I do think that some life will return to Yankee Stadium if there’s some sense of a clear direction. Back in 2013, the lineup was a complete mess and it was clear that the roster was full of short-term placeholders. Last year, injuries again took away key pieces, and it was hard to tell whether the Yankees were still focused on spending or development. This year, some clarity — something to let us know which direction this team is heading — might renew confidence and let fans focus on the bigger picture instead of booing every disappointment along the way.
Associated Press photos
Five days before the Yankees’ first spring workout, we’ll keep counting down the key decisions to make in spring training. We’ve already looked at picking a backup catcher, setting a lineup, figuring out Triple-A depth, rounding out the bullpen and choosing a fifth starter. Today we’ll look at a decision that’s a combination of individual evaluation and full roster analysis.
What’s the best way to setup the Yankees bench?
The bench is all about role players. It’s about having backups at every position, about having some speed and defense in the late innings, and about using match-up hitters when necessary. It’s not about simply choosing which young catcher should play once a week; it’s about truly maximizing every spot on a 25-man roster.
Assuming a pretty standard roster construction — 12 pitchers, 13 position players — the Yankees have four bench spots to work with. Here are the projected reserves, their projected roles, and a few alternative ways of approaching each spot.
1. Chris Young
Role: Right-handed fourth outfielder
Similar option: Tyler Austin
Alternative approach: Right-handed utility man
Clearly the Yankees re-signed Young to be on the Opening Day roster. He brings right-handed balance to the outfield, and a bounce-back season would make him a real bargain. Ramon Flores would standout as a homegrown alternative, but he’s a lefty, which limits his value in an outfield that already has two lefties in Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner (and could have another in Garrett Jones). If being a right-handed hitter is a key aspect of this role, the alternative way of approaching it might involve thinking beyond the outfield. Both Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder have outfield experience, meaning they could bring Young’s right-handed balance, but also provide some infield utility. Young has decent speed and potential for impact at-bats against lefties, which will probably be tough to pass up.
2. Garrett Jones
Role: Left-handed outfield and first base depth
Similar option: Ramon Flores
Alternative approach: Prioritize either the bat or the glove
A secondary piece of the Nathan Eovaldi trade, Jones has left-handed power that makes him a solid match-up hitter against certain right-handed pitchers. He also brings value because of his ability to backup a first base, right field and designated hitter, three spots where the Yankees have significant age, health and production concerns. Flores also hits left-handed and has some first base experience, but he doesn’t bring nearly the same amount of power. Austin could be a right-handed version of the same thing. To use this roster spot differently would be to prioritize one or the other: either the bat or the glove. Either give the spot to a true utility guy (someone like Pirela who adds more defensive flexibility than Jones) or give the spot to a pure hitter (someone like Kyle Roller, who barely plays a passable version of first base, but just might bring more offensive upside). Either of those alternatives seems unlikely. Jones has just enough flexibility and just enough platoon power to actually fit the roster pretty well.
3. Brendan Ryan
Role: Backup shortstop/infielder
Similar option: Nick Noonan
Alternative approach: Let Stephen Drew back up at shortstop
If Drew is strictly a second baseman, then Ryan stands out as the only experienced option as a backup shortstop. Minor league free agent Noonan is probably next in line — seems likely to play shortstop in Triple-A — largely because guys like Refsnyder and Pirela aren’t really shortstops (Pirela’s done it in the past, but not well enough to stick at the position). Thing is, the Yankees don’t have to think of Drew strictly as a second baseman. Even if Drew is playing second base regularly, he also serve as the No. 2 option at short (kind of like Brett Gardner plays left field, but is still the No. 2 option in center). By treating Drew as the backup shortstop, the Yankees could open Ryan’s roster spot for someone who’s a lesser defender but a better hitter. In that case, either Refsnyder or Pirela could be a strong fit. It’s worth noting that losing Ryan would cut into the Yankees shortstop depth should either Drew or Didi Gregorius get hurt. Basically, the Yankees would be an injury away from having either Noonan or Cito Culver on the big league roster.
4. John Ryan Murphy
Role: Backup catcher
Similar option: Austin Romine
Alternate approach: Catcher as designated hitter
Every team needs a backup catcher, so there’s really no way to approach this roster spot with any sort of radical change. One way or another, the Yankees need two catchers. The only way to look at it differently would be to use the backup catcher as a regular designated hitter. If, for example, Alex Rodriguez looks lost at the plate and Murphy looks like one of the best right-handed bats in spring training, perhaps the Yankees could regularly put both Murphy and Brian McCann in the lineup. It would essentially open a spot on the bench for Rodriguez or someone else, while also opening the possibility of losing the DH if the starting catcher can’t finish a game. Seems unlikely as an everyday approach. More likely, the Yankees will simply choose a backup catcher and use him as such.
Associated Press photo
Eight days before the Yankees’ first spring workout, we’ll continue looking at some of the key issue the Yankees have to figure out in spring training. We’ve already discussed the backup catcher competition and the batting order possibilities, today we’ll look at a fairly hard to define bit of decision making.
Who’s first in line to fill the inevitable roster needs during the season?
While much of spring training is spent sorting out the Opening Day roster — assigning roles and weeding out the lesser candidates — the Yankees have to pay especially close attention this spring to the guys who won’t break camp with the team. That’s an impossible to ignore aspect of a team that has serious health concerns in the rotation and serious production concerns in the lineup. It’s also a good bit of reality for an organization that finally has a wave of young players getting close to the majors.
Basically, the Yankees have to figure out who can help right away, because chances are, they’re going to need some help at some point.
And in the case of this group of next-in-line possibilities, there are few cut-and-dry decisions. The Yankees have a lot of upper-level outfielders, but there’s not one who definitely fits the current roster better than anyone else. Is Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder the best choice for an infield opening? Is Gary Sanchez ready if the Yankees need another catcher? What about that long list of relievers; who stands out in that pack?
Spring training gives the entire organization — especially the big league coaching staff — a chance to really evaluation the options, and there’s a good chance one of these mid-season call-ups will end up playing a much bigger role than some of the guys who make the Opening Day roster. Last year, the Yankees had to make moves to fill holes. The hope is they can plug holes from within this time.
A few possibilities they’ll have to consider:
1. What if the Yankees need an outfielder?
Right now, it seems Chris Young and Garrett Jones are fourth and fifth on the outfield depth chart, but the Yankees have four other outfielders on the 40-man (counting Jose Pirela) and another three outfielders coming to camp on non-roster invitations. That’s a big group to consider, and who gets the call might depend on need and production. When the time comes for a call-up, is there room for another left-handed bat, and if so, who stands out among Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams? If an offensive-minded right-handed hitter fits best, does Tyler Austin seem ready? How close is Aaron Judge? Has Pirela picked up where he left off last season?
2. What if the Yankees need an infielder?
Obviously this question could depend on specific positions, but the Yankees have enough flexibility with Jones, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan that they could move pieces around and simply call-up the best infielder available. That means, even if they don’t make the team, Pirela and Refsnyder will be competing for big league attention. And after seeing Yangervis Solarte last season, it’s hard to dismiss a guy like Nick Noonan (how good is he at short?) or Jonathan Galvez (can he hit enough to be a big league utility man?).
3. What if the Yankees need an offensive boost?
Given what we saw last year, it’s not out of the question that the Yankees might need a bat at some point. Maybe Alex Rodriguez stinks at designated hitter, or Carlos Beltran hasn’t fully recovered from elbow surgery, or Mark Teixeira’s still battling nagging injuries. If the Yankees have to go looking for offense, Kyle Roller should be worth serious consideration. Maybe Austin is still rolling after last year’s strong second half. Maybe Judge or Greg Bird deserve consideration straight from Double-A.
4. What if the Yankees need a catcher?
If the Yankees pick Austin Romine as their backup and option John Ryan Murphy to Triple-A, then this question is easy to answer. If, however, the Yankees keep Murphy and lost Romine on waivers, it could get complicated. Sanchez is on the 40-man and should be playing everyday in Triple-A, but he also carries significant questions about his defense and maturity. Is he ready for a big league job (even a part-time one) at this point, or should the Yankees keep an eye on guys like Eddy Rodriguez and Francisco Arcia as just-in-case alternatives.
5. What if the Yankees need a spot starter?
When the rotation began to fall apart last season, the Yankees first turned to a pair of relievers in David Phelps and Vidal Nuno. This year, though, Phelps and Nuno are gone. If there’s a need early in the season, perhaps Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers could play the Phelps/Nuno role, sliding out of the bullpen and into the rotation. If not, who’s the best alternative among Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, Jose De Paula, Kyle Davis and Scott Baker? Whitley got an early call-up last year. Mitchell pitched well late in the season. Shane Greene made a strong first impression in big league camp last spring, and we all know where that led.
6. What if the Yankees need a reliever?
Inevitable, isn’t it? Bullpens always evolve in the course of a season, and the Yankees are loaded with upper-level relievers who seem fully capable of filling in at any point this season. If all goes as planned, the Yankees will have just one bullpen opening out of spring training, but they’ll have no fewer than 10 guys looking to fill it (Bailey, Whitley, Mitchell, Ramirez, Pinder, Burawa, Martin, Rumbelow, Shreve, Lindgren, Webb). There won’t be room for everyone in New York, so the Yankees will have to make some judgments about who ranks 13th and 14th on a 12-man pitching staff.
7. What if the Yankees need to make a trade?
Kind of the opposite of every other question on this list: the Yankees not only have to figure out who can help them in the short term, they also have to decide which players are most expendable in the long term. If Sanchez looks less and less like a catcher, maybe he looks more and more like trade bait. If Williams, Heathcott and Jake Cave all seem to be making strides toward playing a role in New York, maybe it’s best to whittle down a group of similar players. If that bullpen depth is legitimate, maybe it’s easy to include an arm as a way to push a trade package over the top.
Associated Press photos