Late this morning, about two hours before today’s Grapefruit League finale, Joe Girardi was asked what’s surprised him most this spring. Girardi paused for several seconds, then gave three answers:
1. “Really pleased with what Alex did.”
That was Girardi’s first response, a one-sentence answer that basically speaks for itself. Alex Rodriguez was perhaps the least predictable piece of the roster coming into camp, but he’s thrived in all aspects. He’s played a passable version of first base and third base, he’s hit .286/.400/.524, and he’s handled inevitable off-the-field questions without digging himself into a new hole.
“I’ve said all along, I thought Alex was going to help us,” Girardi said. “But until you get into (you don’t know). I mean, it’s two years, really, since he played. I wasn’t 100-percent sure. If I was a betting man, I would have bet on him playing well, but there’s still that, you’ve got to see it after two years of not playing and being 39 and a half.”
2. “Pleased with our infield and them working together.”
This was the second sentence of Girardi’s answer, a fairly broad response that involves four players. Third baseman Chase Headley has been arguably the best everyday position player in camp, second baseman Stephen Drew has begun to hit in the last two weeks or so, first baseman Mark Teixeira has looked healthy and stronger than he did late last season, and shortstop Didi Gregorius has been perhaps the team’s most encouraging new addition.
“The way he moves (has been impressive),” Girardi said. “Arm strength. You can watch it go across the diamond, but you don’t realize it’s just that little flick and it’s gone. Relay throws. He’s the whole package. When you watch him play defense, he’s the whole package. And I’m excited to watch him play all year.”
3. “And I was really impressed with our kids.”
The Yankees’ farm system — particularly it’s lack of upper-level success stories — has been a problem in recent years, but the organization seems to be getting stronger. Not only with the addition of young talent, but also with the development of on-the-verge prospects. Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Luis Severino impressed early in camp, while Jacob Lindgren, Rob Refsnyder and Slade Heathcott stuck around long enough to stay on the radar until the very end. That’s to say nothing of Mason Williams’ improvement, Cito Culver’s defense and Nick Rumbelow’s emergence.
“The kids played a lot in spring training,” Girardi said. “Their talent level. The way they hold each other accountable. The way they push each other. It’s really neat to see.”
Associated Press photo
Twenty three strikeouts. One walk. Michael Pineda knew he’d been pretty good this spring, but he didn’t know those numbers until a reporter mentioned them in the clubhouse after today’s start at Steinbrenner Field.
“It’s good,” Pineda said, laughing. “I’m very happy for that. I’m not really paying attention, but thank you for telling me about it. I’m very happy because I’m feeling, in spring training today, it’s a really good number. I’m very happy. It’s what I try to do: throw a strike when I get on the mound and get an out.”
Pineda struck out six this afternoon. He walked none, allowed one run and finished spring training with a 1.42 ERA and a 0.89 WHIP. There’s been no indication that there’s any lingering problem in his shoulder. Instead, Pineda has looked fully healthy, and fully dominant.
“I think he really just picked up where he left off last year,” Joe Girardi said. “I really didn’t expect a whole lot different because of what we saw last year from him and how well he pitched, but it’s really nice to see it carry over. … I feel really good when he takes the mound. I do. You know he’s going to pound the zone and he’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”
Pineda’s not the only Yankees starter who pounded the zone. Nathan Eovaldi has 14 strikeouts and no walks this spring. Masahiro Tanaka has 13 strikeouts and one walk. Adam Warren: 11 strikeouts and one walk. CC Sabathia: six strikeouts and no walks.
That’s 67 strikeouts and three walks for the rotation.
“It’s good because if you don’t walk too much hitters, you don’t get in trouble,” Pineda said. “When you walk a lot of hitters, you get in trouble. So, it’s good. Throw strikes.”
Easier said than done, but the Yankees have thrived in that regard this spring. And Pineda seems to be leading that charge. If the shoulder issues really are behind him, Pineda just might be the Yankees’ most reliable starter. This spring he’s been their most dominant, looking like an even better version of the guy the Yankees first acquired more than three years ago.
“Every year I’m growing and growing, (becoming) a better person,” Pineda said. “So now I’m a better person and a better pitcher. I feel happy with that.”
• Another rocky outing for Dellin Betances who walked two batters but got through his inning without a run. “I’m getting my work in,” Betances said with a laugh. “I’m throwing a lot of pitches, but health-wise I feel fine. I felt a little stronger today. I’ve just got to be able to get that first guy out right away. I can’t be walking the leadoff guy. I got myself into a little jam again but I was able to come out with no damage, I guess. That’s a positive note.”
• Betances said he’s convinced his command issues have been caused by a minor mechanical issue that he’s close to fixing. He said he’s drifting too much, and that’s hurt him. It’s led to walks and pitches up in the zone. He’s expecting to pitch again on Saturday, which should be his final tune-up before Opening Day.
• Still no word on who will be the closer. “That’s one discussion we have not talked a lot about,” Girardi said. “It’s probably something we’ll talk a lot about tomorrow.”
• Speaking of the bullpen, it now looks like the Yankees will carry three left-handed relievers. Obviously Andrew Miller will be used as something more than a lefty specialist, and Girardi said the same is true for both Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve. “Shreve was a starter for most of his career,” Girardi said. “And I trust Justin against both, too.”
• Carlos Beltran did not play today because he had flu-like symptoms. He probably won’t play tomorrow either. “You worry about the dehydration factor,” Girardi said. “My guess is, right now I do not have him penciled in (tomorrow). Everyone who’s had this, we’ve given them two days.”
• Girardi on the decision between Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy: “I think defense has to come first in that situation. Pitchers being comfortable, you want them to be able to work. So we have a tough decision.” The Yankees aren’t expecting to make that decision until Saturday night.
• Pretty good day for Alex Rodriguez at first base. He had to make a couple of scoops and nearly started a double play on a sharp ground ball. “I didn’t realize how involved and alert you have to be on every play (at first base),” Rodriguez said. “Even on that base hit up the middle, I had to sprint to the mound for a cutoff man. Those are things that I’ve never really had to do. A couple times, you find yourself just kind of standing around not knowing what to do and then you kind of go. It’s not really natural.”
• Girardi was clearly happy with the way Rodriguez looked in the field today and said he would not hesitate to use him at first base during the season. Garrett Jones is still the go-to backup, but Girardi said he could also imagine putting Jones in right field and playing Rodriguez at first on days he wants to DH Carlos Beltran and rest Mark Teixeira.
• The first real challenge for Rodriguez came on first-inning a throw in the dirt from Stephen Drew, who was playing shortstop for the first time this spring. “It’s natural,” Drew said, joking that he was trying to make sure Rodriguez got his work in. “It’s just more or less getting throws over there, which I haven’t taken all spring because of Didi. He’s done a good job, and knock on wood, everybody’s healthy and we’re ready to go.”
• The Yankees got their first look at Gregorius Petit this afternoon. He played shortstop and got a couple of at-bats in the second half of today’s home game. “He’s a player that can play anywhere; second, short and third,” Girardi said. “He’s going to give you good at-bats, going to play hard. He can run a little bit. I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. He got caught in a position where there were a few guys over there that could do the same role that he could, so he became available. We’re happy to have him.”
• As planned, Didi Gregorius played shortstop in today’s road game. He seems past the wrist issue and should be ready for Opening Day. So when Gregorius takes a day off, will Drew or Petit play shortstop? “It’s probably something I need to talk about our scouts with, what’s the best scenario there,” Girardi said.
• Girardi stressed that the Yankees are sending Rob Refsnyder to Triple-A because they expect him to be an everyday guy when he finally gets to the big leagues. “He’s pretty close,” Girardi said. “I think for him, it’s a guy that’s made a position change, really. There was talk about him yesterday, could he possibly be that guy? I think we felt it was more beneficial for him to play every day, finish his development, and when he comes he’s here for good and that he’s an everyday player. Because I think that’s how we envision him.”
• Speaking of guys sent down, a source told me today that the Yankees will have center fielder Slade Heathcott open the season in Triple-A. That wasn’t the plan coming into spring training, but Heathcott has played so well that the Yankees think Heathcott is ready to make the jump. For whatever it’s worth, I also heard that Gary Sanchez has looked very impressive in minor league camp. Apparently the feeling is that he’s taken a giant leap forward.
• Final word goes to Girardi on a day the Yankees very nearly finalized their roster: “There’s a lot of guys in this camp I’ve had to send down that you can’t really tell them they’ve done a lot wrong. And (that includes) even some of the younger kids we played. These guys did a lot of things right, and it is difficult. I still say, it’s the worst part of my job. It’s very difficult for me and I feel for them, because it’s a dream of theirs. Obviously we believe that a guy like Chase Whitley is going to help us at some point this year. We believe that. And you just have to remind him of that. And you just try to talk about where you were last year at this time, and how far you’ve come, and be prepared, because there’s a good chance we’re going to need you at some point.”
Associated Press photos
In the very back of the Yankees’ clubhouse, along the wall that separates the showers from the batting cage door, John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine have sat side-by-side all spring knowing eventually there will be room for only one of them. And now that the Yankees are about to break camp, that time is fast approaching.
With a minor trade and wave of roster cuts, the Yankees have settled just about every aspect of their roster except the backup catcher. Barring a trade or a late waiver claim, the team is set except for that inevitable choice between Romine and Murphy, two guys in their 20s, developed by the organization, and finally given a real chance to make the team out of camp.
“We kind of talk about it,” Murphy said. “It’s no secret. We know what’s going on, and we’re both trying to play our best, and we’re both trying to make the team. Inevitably, one of us is going to and one of us isn’t.”
With Opening Day a little more than 72 hours away, the Yankees have made every other in-camp decision. They’ve set their rotation, picked their relievers, and found a new utility infielder. They could still make a trade or put in a late waiver claim — and this time of year usually sparks a flurry of minor activity — but barring an addition, all that’s left is that inevitable decision between Murphy and Romine.
Joe Girardi said the Yankees might not make that decision until Saturday night, and he’s dreading it. Girardi likes working with catchers, and he’s known these particular catchers for a long time. He doesn’t want to tell either one he hasn’t made the team.
“There’s a mutual respect there,” Romine said. “I like looking across the pitch and seeing a guy who’s busting his butt as hard as I am. I don’t want to say it’s a good thing – he is competition – but at the same time, it’s nice to know someone else is busting their butt; the guy you’re going up against. … However it turns out, I wish him nothing but the best, I’m sure he feels the same upon me. We’re just here trying to play.”
General manager Brian Cashman today wouldn’t comment on any trade talk regarding Romine, who’s out of options and has not hit as well as Murphy this spring. In the past, Cashman has said that the fact Romine’s out of options could factor into the final decision, suggesting the Yankees could elect to carry Romine strictly because they have the option of sending Murphy to Triple-A, but that remains to be seen.
Here’s Cashman explaining some of the other decisions made in the past 24 hours or so:
Gregorio Petit set as utility infielder
This seemed obvious from the moment the Yankees traded for Petit last night. He’s a right-handed hitter, he has big league experience, he hit pretty well this spring — and last season — and he can play all over the infield. Petit was acquired to replace Brendan Ryan on the roster.
“We brought him in here with that in mind,” Cashman said. “He’s right-handed versus, for instance, (Nick) Noonan. We didn’t want (Rob) Refsnyder to sit the bench.”
Ultimately, the in-house candidate who best fit as a Ryan replacement is Jose Pirela, but at this point there’s a solid chance he’ll open the season on the disabled list because of that concussion suffered almost two weeks ago. Without Pirela, it was Refsnyder who seemed to have the best shot, but the Yankees didn’t like the idea of him playing a part-time, platoon role at this stage of his career. They’d rather send Refsnyder to Triple-A to get the defensive reps he needs. Refsnyder’s hit a ton this spring, but he’s also made a team-high six errors.
“I think he had a tremendous camp,” Cashman said. “But at the same time — we were talking to him earlier today — (he has) maybe 240 games at second so far. He just needs to finish off some more defense. If we needed to use him, we’d be comfortable enough, but at the same time, you guys saw in camp he’s got some work to do on the defensive side. We want him to be finished off and ready to go whenever we need him. But at some point, if injuries hit and we have to have him in that role or situation, I’m not saying you won’t see that down the line. But we’d prefer not to do that right now.”
Esmil Rogers set as only long reliever
Yesterday, Joe Girardi really seemed to hint that the Yankees were going to carry a second long reliever. He acknowledged that the team has some workload concerns in the rotation, and said that rainy weather in early April could make it important to carry another multi-inning pitcher in the bullpen. This morning, though, the Yankees made the opposite decision in optioning Chase Whitley to Triple-A.
“We’re going with one long man and that’s Rogers,” Cashman said. “So that was really, basically, it came down to that. (Whitley) will get stretched out and start in Scranton for us and be one of the names vying for an opportunity when and if something presents itself.”
Whitley pitched extremely well this spring, but the Yankees seem to be prioritizing rotation depth ahead of bullpen innings. A bunch of off days early in the season seem to make that a little easier. The idea of using a sixth starter at some point also suggests Whitley could have another opportunity before the end of April.
“It just makes the most sense to get him down there and continue to get stretched out and be ready when and if we need him at some point,” Cashman said. “Obviously he has to pitch well to put himself in that position still, so the competition continues. We have a lot of flexibility with the bullpen, a lot of these guys have options, so it’s going to be something that we can recycle during the season which gives us a lot more flexibility. Chase did everything he needed to. Those are not easy conversations. He’s a Major League pitcher right now on his way to Scranton.”
Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin set in the pen (for now)
The Yankees have decided to keep Andrew Bailey in Tampa, assigned to the Class-A roster, out of spring training. Bailey will stay down here where it’s warm to go through those final steps back from shoulder surgery. He’s pitched well this spring, but he hasn’t pitched much, and he hasn’t gone back to back. He’ll change that in Tampa, which could make him a big league option fairly soon. Bailey said he’s totally on board with the plan.
“Man, he looks good,” Cashman said. “He really does. I love the fact that he also knows his body too, and he agrees that the prudent thing is to finish it off properly to make sure that he responds well, that he’s recovering great from everything and improving on that and feeling better and better. So he’s all in, and he agrees that staying here (is best). We’ll have (Greg) Pavlick watching him every game and working through the back to back situation. If he stays like this and he gets through all that, he can help us.”
With Whitley and Bailey gone, the Yankees have essentially chosen Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin to fill the final two spots in the bullpen. With Martin, in particular, Cashman said the Yankees couldn’t ignore the fact he has 16 strikeouts and only one walk. They also like that he gets ground balls. Shreve has 12 strikeouts with three walks and also gets more ground ball outs than fly outs.
“We always have flexibility if we so choose,” Cashman said. “But obviously these (moves) were all designed where Shreve and Martin would be in the bullpen for the start of the season. But it’s only Thursday, and the season doesn’t start until Monday, and I’m open-minded about things that might present themselves over time. And we can adjust. As of right now, we know those guys are in good position.”
Associated Press photos
Think back to the beginning of March.
Despite a lot of offseason talk about Rob Refsnyder getting a real opportunity this spring, he was getting no significant time with the big league regulars, and it seemed clear the Yankees weren’t considering him an go-to option for the major-league roster. As recently as today’s fifth inning, Refsnyder still seemed to have no realistic chance of opening in the big leagues.
By the end of the sixth inning, he was perhaps a favorite break camp with the team.
Utility infielder Brendan Ryan strained his right calf muscle during an awkward play in the sixth inning, leaving the Yankees searching for a last-minute replacement only five days before Opening Day. One week removed from his 24th birthday, Refsnyder has been one of the Yankees’ best hitters this spring, and just enough dominoes might have fallen to land him a spot in New York.
“The young man, I think, has continually improved,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s a name that I’m sure is going to fly around a lot today.”
It was less than two weeks ago that Ryan returned from a back injury, and the Yankees made it clear they fully expected him to be on their roster despite the shortened spring training. The Yankees liked his defense, liked the fact he hits right-handed, and liked the fact he could play both shortstop and second base. He was going to make the team.
If not Ryan, the best alternative would have been Jose Pirela, another right-handed utility man who had the highest batting average in camp before suffering a concussion last Sunday. Now Pirela’s gone more than a week without baseball activities and Girardi called him a “long shot” to be ready for Opening Day.
That means the only Refsnyder alternative in big league camp is Nick Noonan, who has some big league time but also hits left-handed, making him a less-than-ideal backup to lefties Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew. Even if the Yankees were to bring someone up from minor league camp, Cole Figueroa — the other Triple-A middle infielder — also hits lefty.
“Things can happen quick,” Girardi said. “I think a lot of clubs hold their breath this time of year that you leave camp the way you are. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and you’ve got to deal with it. … Didi and Drew are healthy, so we’re going to have to look at probably more of a second baseman in a sense. You could look at a second baseman more than a shortstop because you have two shortstops.”
Assuming Drew can slide back to shortstop without any problem — he has yet to take a single ground ball there this spring — the Yankees don’t need someone who has Ryan’s versatility. Instead, hitting from Ryan’s side of the plate might be more important. Refsnyder has impressed with a .333/.447/.538 slash line and the most doubles in camp, but he’s also shown room to grow with his team-high six errors. That’s twice as many as anyone else in camp.
“I think that my game reps haven’t reflected how well I’ve fielded in practice,” Refsnyder said. “Some of the errors I’ve made have been tempo plays, getting into the rhythm of the game again. … I wish I could have played better on all sides of the ball. But I’m happy with where my work is right now. Hopefully it translates in the game a little bit more, in the season, to be honest.”
It’s a curious situation. Refsnyder fits the profile of what the Yankees want and need, but they clearly want him to improve defensively, and it’s worth wondering whether they would be OK with one of their top prospects getting sporadic playing time off the big league bench. Carrying Refsnyder is certainly not what the Yankees had in mind, but it might be what they decide to do.
“Shoot, coming into camp, I was 23,” Refsnyder said. “I’m 24 now, and I’m playing with some of the best players in the entire world. Some of the best guys. It’s definitely not discouraging. Every day you can learn and get better from all these guys. They’ve been awesome to younger guys like myself who started this camp. I’ve learned a lot. Some things I can really continue on for the rest of my career hopefully. This has been a great opportunity for me.”
• Really strong outing by Chase Whitley today. He allowed a run on three hits in the second innings, but that was the extent of the damage. He finished with four innings, one run, no walks and six strikeouts. That might have locked up a spot in the Yankees bullpen. “I wanted to have a good spring and I was able to accomplish that,” Whitley said. “The results matched up today with how I felt, so that was pretty good.”
• If the Yankees carry Whitley, it would be as a second long man. Girardi said today that he considers Esmil Rogers locked into a roster spot. Rogers pitched 1.1 innings with an unearned run today. He struck out three and walked one.
• Another bullpen candidate, Chasen Shreve, allowed one hit and one unearned run in two-thirds of an inning. He struck out one. Most damaging to his case might be the fact he allowed a hard double to left-handed hitter James Loney. Presumably, Shreve would have to handle lefties to play much of a role in New York.
• Andrew Bailey delivered another scoreless inning with one hit and one walk. He has yet to allow an earned run this spring, but he’s also thrown just five innings.
• Why Adam Warren as fifth starter? “Consistency,” Girardi said. “Four-pitch mix. He throws strikes. His ability to get lefthanders and righthanders out, holds runners, does the little things, fields his position. He just does a lot of things right.”
• Gregorius is definitely playing tomorrow. “Unless something happens overnight,” Girardi said. “He felt good in BP. He’s scheduled and circled in on the trip. He’s going.” Gregorius said he’s perfectly unconcerned about the wrist after taking BP and going through fielding drills today. He’s fine.
• Alex Rodriguez is playing first base again tomorrow. He’ll play in the home game.
• Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mark Teixeira came through today’s game with no problems.
• Here’s Girardi on Refsnyder’s defense: “It’s a guy that was a right fielder. I think it’s improved over the spring. I’ve seen him on the back field every day and it’s improved. I think he’ll continue to get better. There’s no shortage of work ethic in this young man. He’s young. That’s the bottom line, he’s young. But depending on what we do, do I think we have a number of candidates that can handle it? Yes, I do. It’s just picking which one we think is the right one.”
• Would Pirela have been the favorite had he stayed healthy? “Yeah, I think he would’ve had a good shot at it,” Girardi said. Amazing how that weird decision to play Pirela in center field in Port St. Lucie — under what circumstances would Pirela play center this season? — might have impacted things.
• No surprise, but Girardi said he plans to stay on rotation at least through the early part of the season. Even after off days, the Yankees won’t skip Warren or any other starter. They’ll use off days for extra rest and occasionally insert sixth starters for even more rest when necessary.
• Chris Capuano is playing catch — not in a chair, standing up — but there’s still no time table for his return. “That’s hard to say,” Girardi said. “Obviously he’s playing catch, but it’s not the freedom you would have if you didn’t have a leg injury.”
• Final word goes to Girardi: “Those guys (Gregorius, Ellsbury, Teixeira), in my mind, I was pretty convinced we’d have them back. Now, it’s different now with Brendan. I think it’s a long shot. What happens, your depth is tested. We’ve got to talk about it. You understand going in that these things can happen and you’ve got to deal with it. I think that’s why they try to go out and acquire as many good players as they can.”
Associated Press photos
Rob Refsnyder had two more hits today, his fourth and fifth doubles of the spring. He also drew a walk, stole a base and raised his spring training slash line to .343/.452/.571.
Refsnyder and Jose Pirela have been two of the best hitters in Yankees camp, but general manager Brian Cashman said today that what he’s seen this spring has only reinforced his decision to bring back Stephen Drew to play second base.
“I know there’s a lot of dialog wrapped around Refsnyder and Pirela,” Cashman said. “But I think also that those guys have shown they still have work to do on the defensive side still. It doesn’t mean if we have to go there we wouldn’t be comfortable doing so. I also think they’ve shown they have some development still to go, despite the bats. The bats are impressive, but you’ve seen the defensive stuff they’ve shown us in short sample sizes as well. So, like anything else, you’d love to pluck a guy from the minor leagues when they’re on a roll in all aspects of the game so they can kind of hit the ground running at the big-league level. So right now I’m pretty comfortable that Drew signing was the smart play for us on the front end.”
Refsnyder’s already made five errors at second base. Pirela has two errors, and while he’s played all over the field, he’s never had a strong defensive reputation anywhere.
Drew, meanwhile, got off to a slow start this spring but has started to hit a little more lately. He had a three-hit game on Friday, a home run on Saturday, and he doubled today. He’s now batting .244/.306/.444.
“He’s looked really good at the plate,” Cashman said. “He’s looked so much better than last year the last week to 10 days. That’s encouraging. I know it’s got to be building his confidence and having memories of what he was prior to last year, because that’s certainly what’s playing around in my head. I feel much better about the situation right now.”
Associated Press photo
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