Some winter leagues have not even started yet, and the ones that have started are only a week or so into their schedules, so these updates come with really small sample sizes. But almost three weeks into the season, perhaps it’s nice to see some actual stats from young Yankees who are still playing actual baseball games. Here are a few winter and fall league updates.
• Getting regular turns as his team’s cleanup hitter, Greg Bird is off to a strong start down in the Arizona Fall League. The Yankees top first base prospect has a hit in each of his first seven games, he started with a four-RBI performance in the Fall opener, he had two hits and a walk last night, and he’s so far hitting .379/.438/.586 in an admittedly tiny sample size. It’s always dangerous to make too much of Arizona Fall League results — and that’s especially true after 29 at-bats — but Bird’s been good so far. Better than the alternative, I suppose.
• Interesting Scottsdale Scorpions lineup last night if only because it had Tyler Austin in left field. That’s relevant because Austin has actually never played left field in the minor leagues. He’s played the other corners — first base, third base, right field — but he’d never seen time in left until this Fall. He played left field on Monday and again on Wednesday. Probably not a huge leap for Austin to move to the other outfield corner, but for a player who could hit his way into a big league role at some point next year, being able to play left field and bring some right-handed balance to the outfield would be a plus.
• Each time that Austin has played left field, it’s opened right field for another Yankees prospect, Aaron Judge. Last night, Judge homered and drove in two runs. So far, Austin has gotten more Fall League at-bats. Might stay that way considering Judge had more regular season at-bats and, in theory, has less need to play regularly this Fall.
• Catcher Kyle Higashioka is only a part-time player in Arizona — rosters down there have guys who aren’t active for every game — but he made the most of his first bit of playing time. He started a game last weekend and went 3-for-5 with a home run. Needs playing time and plenty of production to get back on the fringes of the prospect radar after injuries and unimpressive seasons. The Yankees other Fall League position player, Dante Bichette Jr., is playing fairly regularly but still has fewer than 20 at-bats and just three hits. Doesn’t mean much.
• The Yankees have far more high-profile hitters than pitchers in the Fall League this year. A quick update, though, on the guys on the mound: Caleb Cotham made his third appearance last night and went two hitless innings. He allowed two homers in his first Fall outing, so this was a step in the right direction. Seems like every year a Yankees pitcher gets absolutely rocked in the Fall League, and it might be Alex Smith who has that unfortunate distinction this year. Through three outings, Smith has this line: 2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 22.50 ERA and a .533 opponents batting average. Much, much better numbers for late Fall League assignee Kyle Haynes. His line through three outings: 4.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Covering the AFL for Baseball America, Josh Norris reported that Haynes has a 93-95 mph fastball with an mid- to upper-80s slider and changeup.
• Presumably because of his age and relative inexperience, outfield prospect Ramon Flores has rarely gotten many at-bats with his Venezuelan Winter League team. So far this winter season, though, Flores is playing pretty regularly. Might change as we get deeper into the winter season, but Flores has 15 at-bats so far, and that’s more than he had an either of the past two winters. He’s played both center field and left field, and some regular winter playing time would be a good thing for a guy who missed a lot of time this season with an ankle injury. Flores has a spot on the 40-man roster and he does a lot of things well, so he really could come into spring training with a chance to push for some sort of big league role. Winter at-bats probably won’t hurt.
• Adonis Garcia is used to getting regular winter at-bats, and this year he’s been the everyday left fielder and No. 3 hitter for the Navegantes del Magallanes in Venezuela. Hasn’t hit for much power yet — just 29 at-bats into the season — but last winter he slugged .502, so there’s reason to think the power will arrive. Last winter, Garcia got a ton of time at second base and third base during winter ball. It’ll be interesting to see whether that happens again this winter. Garcia got a solid amount of third base playing time with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, so it seems the Yankees haven’t completely ruled out some sort of infield flexibility.
• Dominican Winter League gets started tonight and the Puerto Rican Winter League gets started at the very end of this month. For now, here a few other Yankees minor leaguers who are already playing in Venezuela (and all playing for the same team, no less): Trenton shortstop Ali Castillo is hitting .313 through 16 at-bats while pretty regularly playing shortstop for Zulia, recently re-signed catcher Francisco Arcia has five RBI through five games as Zulia’s regular behind the plate, and recently re-signed reliever Diego Moreno already has three saves with a 0.75 WHIP as one of Zulia’s go-to late-inning options.
Associated Press photo of Flores
Austin back on the map after wrist recovery • 10.13.14
Maybe it was wishful thing, maybe it was youthful ignorance, or maybe a 22-year-old kid had a locker really close to Derek Jeter and felt like he was supposed to say that a nagging injury was a non-issue. For whatever reason, Tyler Austin spent most of spring training saying he was optimistic and healthy; that his right wrist would be good-as-new in no time.
It was perhaps more telling that the Yankees didn’t give him a single spring at-bat, preferring to continue a rehab process that started last season.
“It’s hard to hit when your hands hurt,” outgoing vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. “So you lose bat speed. His bat speed and his ability to impact the ball improved over the course of the year, and the second half was like what it used to be.”
Having just turned 23, Austin has put himself back in the long-term right field conversation by getting back to the kind of production that put him on the map in the first place. He hit .322/.400/.559 during a dominant 2012 season, but 2013 was a disappointment cut short by the wrist injury, and 2014 started just as slowly. Austin was invited to big league camp, but he had to sit out, then he didn’t hit his first regular-season home run until May 27. He didn’t hit his third homer until June 28.
In July, though, Austin hit .301/.342/.437. In August, he was up to .304/.368/.551. This offseason he’s playing the Arizona Fall League — had to be pulled out of it last year because of the wrist — where he has four hits and three RBI through the first four games.
A good half season and a return to Arizona don’t prove much, but they’re enough to spark fresh optimism in a young hitter who’d gone quiet for a while.
“He made a little adjustment with where he sets up with his hands,” Newman said. “That seems to help, (but) I think he’s finally mentally over this hand/wrist thing. Those are (tough). They can take a while. … That’s all part of the rehab process is getting your brain out of your hand or elbow or whatever, being able to play freely without thinking about it.”
State of the organization: First base • 10.07.14
Yesterday we looked behind the plate, today we move 90 feet up the line to first base where the Yankees are locked into a long-term contract with a former MVP candidate who’s most recently struggled to stay both healthy and productive. If there’s a bright side it’s this: The level of first base productivity in the minor leagues was actually very good this year, and there could be alternatives in place sooner rather than later.
Signed through 2016
During that offseason spending spree of 2008, the Yankees really broke the bank for Teixeira. They’d already signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and they’d traded for Nick Swisher, but getting Teixeira was a legitimate game-changer. He arrived in New York with a resume of durability and consistency, and he delivered that first season with near-MVP production. Gold Glove. Silver Slugger. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be, and as far as long-term gambles go, Teixeira seemed relatively safe. He’d always been healthy. He’d always been productive. There was little reason to think he’d ever need to move away from his position. Six years into an eight-year contract, though, Teixeira is about as uncertain as they come. His production has dipped considerably — even his power began to lag in the second half of this year — and he’s admitted that he’s unlikely to be a 150-game player any more. Yankees have to hope that a healthy offseason restores some of his strength and durability for the final two years of his deal.
On the verge
Eighth-round picks are not insignificant, but even as the Yankees eighth-rounder in 2010, Roller has never generated much prospect attention. What he has done is hit, and hit, and hit. A left-hander with power, Roller just had the best season of his career, and he did it in the upper levels. Between Double-A and Triple-A he hit .300/.391/.550 (he destroyed the Eastern League for a month, then hit .283/.378/.497 with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre). Roller is a bad defensive player, even at first base, but he can hit. And given the offensive decline across baseball, Roller’s one standout tool is becoming harder and harder to ignore. “Understanding scarcity is important,” Mark Newman said. “That which is scarce is valuable, and you have hard time finding these dudes.” First basemen are rarely picked up in the Rule 5 draft, and the Yankees could try to pass Roller through again. Assuming they don’t lose him, Roller should return to Triple-A as the most obvious and immediate Teixeira alternative.
Although he was technically a catcher when the Yankees drafted him back in 2011, no one seemed surprised to see Bird move to first base almost immediately. He was never a sure thing to stick behind the plate, and given the Yankees catching depth, first base actually seemed to be an easier path to the big leagues. Since then, Bird has provided hope that he might have enough bat for the position. The left-handed hitter with a good and patient approach at the plate, Bird hit 20 home runs in his first full season, and he hit 14 this season while playing just 102 games because of injury. Seven of those home runs came during his 27-game promotion to Double-A Trenton, where Bird hit .253/.379/.558 in his first real test against upper-level pitching (granted, small sample size). For any player limited to first base defensively, there are huge offensive expectations. Bird’s been pretty steady so far, and he’ll spend all of next season at 22 years old with a real chance of getting to Triple-A by the end of the year. The timing could work out so that Bird is a ready replacement by the time Teixeira’s contract is coming to an end.
Deeper in the system
Just like in 2010 when they used an eight-round pick to sign first baseman Roller, the Yankees used their 2014 eighth-round selection on Spencer. The first line of Baseball America’s draft scouting report said: “Spencer is simply a hitting machine,” and he showed that in his first year of pro ball. Assigned to short-season Staten Island, Spencer hit .364/.389/.444, leading the league in batting average by a giant margin. He hit a whopping .410/.429/.520 through 100 at-bats in the month of August. One problem: While he’s hit a lot of doubles, Spencer did not hit a home run this year and hit just one homer during this three-year college career. That will almost certainly have to change if he’s going to stay at first base where true power is important. Slightly more traditional first-base production came from undrafted Mike Ford, who hit .292/.383/.458 with 13 homers between Low-A and High-A (might have hit more home runs had he not missed time with an injury). Undrafted guys don’t often generate much attention, but Ford had good numbers at Princeton and then crushed the ball in the Cape Cod League, which led the Yankees to sign him. “He was killing it in the Cape last year,” Newman said. “Last year, after 100 at-bats there, he had an OPS of 1.100 in the Cape, so we thought, why not? He can hit.”
A right-handed, versatile alternative
This is not a bad thing, but it’s worth noting that all of the minor league first basemen listed above have one thing in common: They’re all left-handed hitters. Roller, Bird, Ford and Spencer — the guys who could very well be the Opening Day first basemen for each full-season affiliate next year — are all lefties. One right-handed option to keep in mind is Tyler Austin, who’s a right fielder by trade but could certainly enter the first base discussion if he’s able to build off his strong finish to this season. More important than being right-handed, he also has some defensive flexibility. Austin’s played first base, third base and right field, and as long as Teixeira is around, the Yankees might not have room on their roster for another pure first baseman (which would rule out Roller and Bird the next two seasons). Austin, on the other hand, could emerge as a four-corners guy who could fill-in at first base whenever Teixeira needs a day off. He’s not strictly a first baseman, but Austin could be a first-base option sooner than any true first baseman in the system.
Associated Press photo
Arizona Fall League gets started today • 10.07.14
Today is Opening Day for the Arizona Fall League. While it’s always dangerous to make too much of Fall League numbers — it’s typically an offense-heavy league, and the competition is kind of unusual just because of the mix of experience and inexperience, plus some guys who might be a little drained after already playing through a full season — the Yankees are sending some of their heavy hitters into the desert, which will make those box scores a little more interesting this year.
Here are the eight Yankees assigned to the Scottsdale Scorpions:
OF/INF Tyler Austin – Listed as an outfielder on the Scottsdale roster, Austin is really more of a four-corners guy who could become a big league option at first base, third base, left field or right field (he actually hasn’t played any left field as a pro, but it seems safe to assume that wouldn’t be ruled out as a possibility). The real key for Austin is that he continues to hit. He had a terrific 2012 season which put him squarely on the prospect map, but that breakout year was followed by a disappointing 2013 year in Double-A when he was bothered by a wrist injury that lingered through much of this season. In the second half of this year, though, Austin was back to his old self hitting .336/.397/.557 in his final 122 at-bats with Double-A Trenton. He’ll almost certainly be added to the 40-man roster this winter.
3B Dante Bichette Jr. – The Yankees intended to send their top third base prospect, Eric Jagielo, but that plan was scrapped after Jagielo was hit in the face by a pitch last month in instructs. In his place, they’ll send Bichette. Jagielo was a better fit largely because he missed a decent amount of time with an injury this season, but Bichette is an interesting alternative coming off a strong bounce-back season. His first half was better than his second half, and he didn’t hit much after a late-season bump to Double-A, so a strong Fall League would be a better way to wrap up the year.
1B Greg Bird – On the disabled list through the month of April, Bird got a late start this season, which explains his inclusion on the Fall League roster. A former fifth-round pick out of a Colorado high school, Bird entered pro ball as a catcher but has emerged as the top first-base prospect in the Yankees system. He’s shown an advanced approach for a young hitter, and he hit for quite a bit of power this season. Given a late promotion to Double-A in early August, he finished the year by hitting seven home runs in just 27 games with Trenton. He’s also shown a good eye throughout his pro career. The left-handed hitter is one of several legitimate corner bats in the system, many of which are joining him in Arizona.
RHP Caleb Cotham – Of the three Yankees pitchers going to Arizona, I’d say that Cotham is the biggest name. He was a fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt back in 2009, but his career was almost immediately thrown off track by knee and shoulder injuries. He missed time again this season and pitched just 54 innings, most of them split between Double-A and Triple-A, and the results were underwhelming. He had an ERA well over 5.00 with each upper-level affiliate, and the same thing happened in Triple-A last year. Cotham turns 27 in November, and he’s clearly trying to reestablish himself after some lost years and some down seasons.
RHP Kyle Haynes – Triple-A reliever Brandon Pinder was originally assigned to the Fall League, but he’s been replaced by Haynes, who was the player to be named later in last winter’s Chris Stewart trade with the Pirates. He’s a former 20th-round draft pick, and a relatively small name among the Yankees assigned to Arizona. He’s been a reliever nearly all of his career, but he made a brief rotation cameo last season, and this year he regularly went two innings or more out of the High-A Tampa bullpen. Haynes turns 24 in February, so he’s not particularly young for his level, but he was steady throughout the year. He actually had a .250 opponents’ batting average for the month of May, then again for the month of June, and again for the month of July.
C Kyle Higashioka – Injury limited Higashioka to just 49 at-bats this season, so he’s going to Arizona to get some much-needed playing time. That said, he probably won’t play much. Each roster has a handful of guys not assigned to play regularly, and Higashioka is one of those. He’ll get in a few games a week but won’t be a regular catcher. A seventh-round pick out of high school in 2008, I believe Higashioka spent one spring as the youngest player in Yankees big league camp (that’s how I remember it, anyway). Problem is he’s never hit much and he’s had trouble staying on the field (just 68 games the past three seasons). A thoroughly forgotten name in an organization still deep at catcher, Higashioka really needs to play to get himself back on radar.
RF Aaron Judge – This is a strong group the Yankees have chosen for the Fall League, and Judge is the headliner. Listed at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, Judge looks like a strong safety and leaves little down that he can drive the ball, but he impressed this season by showing patience and an ability to hit for average. He’s arguably the top prospect in the Yankees minor league system — I would put him second behind Luis Severino, but that’s just me — and it will be hard to improve upon his .308/.419/.486 slash line for the season. Judge turns 23 in April and seems likely ticketed for Double-A Trenton next season. Question is, how quickly can he move up if he keeps hitting like he did this season?
RHP Alex Smith – The Yankees have had some success with non-drafted guys, and Smith has pitched pretty well since signing in 2012 out of the University of New Haven. Statistically he’s pretty similar to Haynes as a right-handed reliever who’s been used regularly to pitch two innings. Also like Haynes, he’s not a particularly big name in the system, and he’d be pretty easy to overlook if the Yankees hadn’t picked him for Arizona. He does have good numbers, though. Pitching all year with High-A Tampa, Smith had a 1.17 WHIP and 11 saves. He also kept the ball on the ground, with more than twice as many ground ball outs as fly ball outs.
Assuming the rain goes away, tonight will be Derek Jeter’s eighth start at designated hitter this season. He’s still a long way from his single-season career high — 25 DH games in in 2012 — but it seems significant that four of those turns at designated hitter have come in his past nine games.
Now that Carlos Beltran is available to play some right field, it’s clear that Joe Girardi is taking advantage of the opportunity to get Jeter a half day off now and then. Perhaps it’s strictly a rest issue. Perhaps it has a lot to do with Stephen Drew’s glove.
“I’m in the mode that I’m just taking it day by day,” Girardi said. “But with Carlos being able to go into the outfield once in a while, it gives me more flexibility to do this. … We’ve had some long stretches. We have a lot of lefties coming up the next five days after today where he’s going to play (probably at shortstop), so try to give him a little blow when I can. And I thought today was probably a good day. Two plane flights in two days, and as I said, we have day games after night games, so we’re going to need him in there a lot.”
Obviously Jeter prefers playing the field, but he said he understands the DH days, and he seems to embrace them — even when he’s had so many these past couple of weeks.
“I don’t know how many times I’ve done it,” Jeter said. “What, three or four times this year? I think a couple of years ago, in 2012, I may have done it 20 or 30-something times. Because of injuries, Carlos had to DH, so I haven’t really thought about it. My job is to come here, and when I’m in the lineup, play. I like to play every day. I like to play shortstop every day. Everyone is aware of that. But I get it. I understand it. We’ve had a long stretch here. I think we only have a couple of more days off, and then we have another long stretch at the end of the year. So, I don’t know what his plans are. My job is to play.’
Late last season, we saw Girardi use Mariano Rivera a little more heavily, making sure to get every last bit out of the retiring closer. Would he do the same with the retiring shortstop, running him out there with very little rest down the stretch?
“I don’t think I can play him much more than I’ve played him,” Girardi said. “He’s played in all but about 10 games maybe, maybe a few more than that, but there was a time when he missed three because his leg was bothering him. But when you get in these long stretches, these 13-game stretches, I’ve usually given him on day off. And that might be all he gets in this.”
• Brett Gardner was hoping to run today, which he sees as the final test for his sore ankle. If he can run today, he thinks he should be available in some capacity tonight. Gardner didn’t run at all the past two days. “Hopefully that goes well and I’ll be available to play tonight,” he said.
• Here’s Girardi on his approach to the Gardner injury: “My concern was: he said he felt better but he needed to run,” Girardi said. “Gardy’s pretty tough, and Gardy’s played through a lot, which made me believe that it’s probably not 100 percent, which it might not be for a while. This extra day will probably do us some good. My concern is that he favors it, or that he gets out there and he can’t run, and then I’ve got to make a change. It can just really mess things up.”
• Not much concern about Mark Teixeira’s hamstring. “I think you’re always going to watch it a little bit,” Girardi said. “I think the day off probably helped, and we just tell him to play smart. I mean, he did play smart the couple of days that he had it, so he’s just going to have to continue to do that.”
• Masahiro Tanaka threw today, and as long as he still feels fine tomorrow, he’ll remain on track to throw a simulated game on Thursday.
• Initial Arizona Fall League rosters were announced this afternoon. The Yankees are sending RF Aaron Judge, 3B Eric Jagielo, OF/IF Tyler Austin and 1B Greg Bird. They’re also sending pitchers Caleb Cotham, Branden Pinder and Alex Smith. There remains a TBA spot on the roster listed as a Yankees catcher. Pretty interesting group of position players. I actually thought Ramon Flores might go, but I guess not. Jagielo seemed like a near lock in my mind after missing so much time. Bird and Austin make a lot of sense too.
• On the current Yankees momentum: “I think they feel pretty good about themselves,” Girardi said. “But the thing about baseball is you’ve got to go do it every day. It starts with your starting pitcher that night, and I don’t know how you could for any more (than) what Brandon McCarthy has done, but we need him to continue to pitch like this.”
• On the importance of three games against a team that’s also in the mix for the second wild card: “You’ve got to win the series. It’s extremely important. We know they’re a very good team, and we’re facing a good pitcher tonight who didn’t give up too many runs against us the last time. But Brandon pitched really well. You’ve got to win games.”
Associated Press photos
Last night on MLB Network, Jonathan Mayo and the crew at MLB.com counted down their Top 100 prospects in baseball. Three Yankees made the list: Gary Sanchez (36), Mason Williams (41) and Tyler Austin (75). The only player who I thought might make it but didn’t is Slade Heathcott, who will almost certainly shoot onto the list — probably pretty high on the list — if he has a full, healthy and productive season in Double-A.
What does a Top 100 list mean exactly? Not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a decent snapshot of the way players are viewed. There’s more or less no difference between No. 36 and No. 41. It’s mostly just interesting to see which players rank at the very top and which ones make the list at all.
State of the organization: Corner outfield • 01.18.13
There’s a reason — beyond the obvious talent — that Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and Mike Morse generated so much trade talk among Yankees fans this winter. A big, power-hitting, prototypical corner outfielder would fit incredibly well on this roster. The minor league system might have a legitimate outfield slugger on the way, but he’s at least a year away, and for the time being, the Yankees outfield is filled with two small-ball players and one all-or-nothing free agent to be. Those are three legitimate pieces, but the Yankees outfield could certainly make room for one of Brian Cashman’s big, hairy monsters if he could find one.
Curtis Granderson / Ichiro Suzuki
Signed through 2013 /2014
We know Suzuki will be in right field. We can only guess whether Granderson or Brett Gardner will be in left (as I wrote a couple of days ago, I’m heading into spring training expecting Gardner to shift to center). Either way, the Yankees are going to have considerable speed in their outfield and should cover a lot of ground. They’re going to count on Gardner and Ichiro to run on offense, and on Granderson to hit home runs. What’s still unclear is who they’re going to count on to hit against lefties. Matt Diaz is coming to camp on a minor league deal, and Russ Canzler is going to try to win a job in spring training, but Cashman has made no secret of the fact he’d like to add another right-handed hitting corner outfielder. Nick Swisher gave the Yankees a steady right field presence for four years, and he’s been difficult to fully replace this winter.
On the verge
Maybe Tyler Austin can play his way into the big league picture this year, but it’s more likely that immediate help will have to come from either Zoilo Almonte or Ronnier Mustelier, two players who really weren’t even worth watching two years ago. Almonte was signed way back in 2005, but he didn’t put himself on the map until 2011 when he cut down on his strikeouts and hit .276/.345/.459 between High-A and Double-A. His power numbers went up during a full Double-A season last year, and now he has a 40-man spot with a Triple-A job on the way. He’s a switch hitter who was especially good against righties last year (it hasn’t always been that way). Mustelier is a Cuban defector who didn’t join the Yankees until 2011 when he was already 26 years old. He’s too old to be considered a typical prospect, but he’s hit .324/.378/.497 through two pro seasons, including a pretty good 89 games in Triple-A last year. He’s played some second base and center field, but Mustelier’s ticket to the big leagues might be his ability to play all four corners. He’s kind of a less proven version of Canzler, who’s probably higher in the pecking order. Under certain circumstances, center fielders Melky Mesa and Abe Almonte could also factor into the corner conversation.
Deeper in the system
Austin is easily the top corner outfield prospect in the system, and he appears to have been a 13th-round steal. Drafted out of high school in 2010, Austin was the unquestionable breakout star of the Yankees minor league system last year. He hit .322/.400/.559 while climbing all the way from Charleston to Trenton. Despite that little bit of Double-A experience, the Yankees are considering sending Austin back to High-A to open this season. If he repeats last year’s results, he won’t stay there for long. Austin’s breakout season easily overshadowed Ramon Flores, a left-fielder who has a knack for getting on base (.362 on-base percentage in his minor league career). Flores was added to the 40-man this winter and is ticketed for Trenton. It’s hard to mention all of the system’s mildly interesting corner outfielders — converted third baseman Rob Segedin, under-the-radar Cuban prospect Adonis Garcia, does-a-little-of-everything Ben Gamel, and 2012 draftees Taylor Dugas and Nathan Mikolas are names worth knowing — but I’ll save room for Jake Cave, the Yankees sixth-round pick in 2011 who’s hardly played since being drafted because of a knee injury. Cave could have been drafted as either a left-handed pitcher or an outfielder, but the Yankees liked his bat. There’s upside to him, just no professional track record.
On the move
College outfielder Rob Refsnyder played right field for the Yankees Low-A team last year but seems likely to shift to second base next season. On the flip side, long-time middle infielder Jose Pirela began to see considerable time in left field last year and kept at least a little bit of prospect status alive with a strong Double-A season. The Yankees have shown a willingness to move players into the outfield corners when necessary — that’s how Austin got there after signing as a corner infielder — and they could eventually do that with last year’s second-round pick Austin Aune, who will first get a chance to sink or swim as a shortstop. Obviously, if top center field prospects Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott each get to New York, one of them will have to shift to left field.
What to watch
The development of Austin is among the most interesting aspects of the Yankees system this season. Last year was a revelation, the kind of year that suggested he just might be a real life, in-house, power-hitting corner outfielder that can rise through the system and get to New York within two years. That would be huge for the Yankees. For now, the thing to watch is the Yankees on-going pursuit of a right-handed outfield bat and the how-long-can-he-last uncertainty of Ichiro’s two-year deal.
Associated Press photo; headshots of Granderson, Ichiro, Almonte, Mustelier, Austin, Flores, Williams and Heathcott
Yankees at the break: First base • 07.13.11
A little more than two years ago, the Yankees set their course at first base by giving an eight-year deal to Mark Teixeira. He is the Yankees recent past, their obvious present and their distant future at the position.
It was kind of an unusual first half for Teixeira. He’s on pace for a career-high in home runs, but a career-low in batting average. He’s been plenty productive with the team-high in RBI, but he’s also been streaky. Teixeira has homered in three straight games four different times this year, including the first three games of the season. He has all-star type numbers, but at a position with Adrian Gonzalez, Paul Konerko and Miguel Cabrera, Teixeira was crowded out.
He’s not having the same sort of all-around season that he had in his Yankees debut, but if Teixeira keeps up this pace, he’ll probably get some of those back-of-the-ballot MVP votes. Eighth, ninth and tenth-place votes, that sort of thing. He hasn’t done much this July, but Teixeira is typically a better second-half hitter, with his best month-by-month numbers coming in August and September. Teixeira’s not going anywhere, but the Yankees have discovered that they can play Jorge Posada at first base occasionally to give him a few days off.
Jorge Vazquez is nowhere near the top prospect in the system, but he might be the most immediately intriguing. Plucked out of Mexico, Vazquez was a spring training standout, and he’s now a Triple-A all-star with the organization’s minor league lead in home runs. At 29 years old, he is what he is, and that might be enough to be productive should the Yankees find a spot for him. Lower in the minors, Charleston first baseman Kyle Roller hit enough to earn a mid-season call-up to Tampa, and the way down in the Gulf Coast League, last year’s 13th-round pick Tyler Austin is off to a strong start while playing both infield corners.
Should Teixeira fall into the cleanup spot now that Rodriguez is out?
The Yankees could bump Robinson Cano up a spot to fill the cleanup void, or they could move Brett Gardner into the leadoff spot, move Curtis Granderson into the No. 3 hole and give the switch-hitting Teixeira the No. 4 spot between lefties Granderson and Cano.
Nothing has happened this season to change the Yankees long-term plans at first base. Teixeira is still a middle-of-the-order hitter in his prime, and his power numbers have helped make up for Alex Rodriguez’s relative lack of power in the cleanup spot. First base still belong to Teixeira for the foreseeable future.
Associated Press photo