Some notes and updates from the Arizona Fall League and various winter ball performances:
• Briefly mentioned this yesterday, but I’ll still start with it today: Bryan Mitchell is currently pitching in the Puerto Rican Winter League. As a guy who got his first extended look in the big leagues this season, Mitchell isn’t a typical winter ball player, but he makes sense as a guy who could use a few more innings after spending time in the big league bullpen and missing time with a couple of short-term injuries (the concussion in the minors; the line drive to the face in the majors). Mitchell made his first Puerto Rican start on Friday and went 3.2 innings with three strikeouts, one walk and two earned runs on four hits. Numbers don’t there probably won’t mean much. He’s definitely a guy who benefits just from getting on the mound a little bit.
• After playing nothing but first base in his first seven Arizona Fall League games, Tyler Austin has played the outfield corners his past three games. He’s also moved up to the cleanup spot for the past two games. He’s hitless in his past three games, including 0-for-3 with a walk this afternoon.
• Still leading the Arizona Fall League in home runs and RBI, Gary Sanchez came into today’s action hitting .365/.382/.808 with six homers and 17 RBI in 12 games. He’s had multiple hits in more than half of his games, and he’s homered in nearly half of them. He took a turn at designated hitter today and went 0-for-4.
• Speaking of corner outfielders, Jose Pirela continues to get all of his time in left field this winter. Taking his familiar spot in the Zulia lineup down in Venezuela, Pirela is hitting an absurd .475/.563/.700 through his first 40 at-bats. He’s the team’s regular No. 3 hitter. It’s not unusual to see Pirela put up big numbers in Venezuela, but it’s unusual to see him confined to the outfield. He usually moves around a lot. Interestingly, the guy getting most of the third base playing time for Zulia is former Yankees infielder David Adams, who’s hitting .307/.402/.533 (perhaps that’s one way to keep these numbers in perspective).
• On Sunday night, Ben Gamel hit his third winter ball home run. Through 56 at-bats in Venezuela, Gamel is hitting .268/.348/.500 while playing all three outfield positions and stealing a couple of bases. The Yankees have a little less than two weeks before they have to decide whether to protect Gamel from the Rule 5 draft.
• Two more hitless innings in the Arizona Fall League for young hard-throwing Domingo Acevedo on Monday. He’s gotten in four games in Arizona. Three of them were scoreless outings, five innings total. The other was a three-run appearance across an inning and a third. All told, he’s struck out five and walked one. He’s incredibly inexperienced compared to the hitters around him.
• Through three Fall League starts, Ian Clarkin‘s pitching lines are starting to look familiar. He’s gone four innings each time (well, 4.1 once), and he’s walked three in every start. He’s allowed three runs in two of his three starts (one run in other), he’s struck out two in two of his three starts (had four strikeouts last time out), and he’s allowed four hits in two of his three starts (seven hits in the other). His 5.11 ERA and 1.95 WHIP aren’t good, but this is a really young kid just getting some work in after a lost season.
• Picking up his third straight win last week, Jaron Long continues to thrive in his first taste of winter ball. He’s made four starts, and allowed four runs in one of them. In his other three: 16.2 innings, 15 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts. All told he has a 1.90 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP.
• Upper-level left-handed reliever Tyler Webb is trying to stay relevant with a bunch of other upper-level lefties in the Yankees’ system. He’s pitched well in the Fall League with four strikeouts, no walks and a 0.83 WHIP. Lefties are just 1-for-10 with two strikeouts against him. The only runs he’s allowed in Arizona came on a three-run homer in a two-inning appearance.
• Also in the Arizona Fall League: Still playing primarily second base, with two games at shortstop, Tyler Wade is hitting .194/.235/.258 through 31 at-bats. He’s struck out once in his past seven games, but he hasn’t hit much against a bunch of pitchers who are older than him. … Speaking of young guys in Arizona, Dustin Fowler is hitting .227/.261/.227 through 22 at-bats as a travel squad player. He’s split his time between left field and center field. He’s 4-for-4 stealing bases and has a couple of two-hit games. … Pitcher Chaz Hebert was just named to the Fall Stars Game. He has a 1.29 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP through seven innings, all of them in long relief. He’s basically been a piggyback starter behind Clarkin.
• Other position players: In Puerto Rico, Cito Culver has gotten a little bit of playing time, playing strictly third base so far. He has just six at-bats. … He was taken off the roster earlier this winter, but Rico Noel is up to his old tricks in Mexico. He’s hitting just .138, but he’s 5-for-6 stealing bases. He’s walked four times. … Not sure why, but Ali Castillo hasn’t played a game in Venezuela since October 15. He was a lineup regular last winter.
• Other pitchers: After a decent year in Double-A, Cesar Vargas has pitched to a 1.08 ERA with 12 strikeouts and no walks through 8.1 innings in Mexico. He’s allowed 11 hits, one of which was a homer. … Getting a few save opportunities in Venezuela, former high-end relief prospect Mark Montgomery has a 1.65 WHIP with five walks through 6.2 innings. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities, but he’s allowed quite a few base runners. Just hasn’t been the same in recent years. Had a shoulder issue which might explain it. … Off-the-radar young pitcher Luis Niebla continues to pitch well as a starter in Mexico. Through four starts he’s 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.
Associated Press photo
It’s still awfully early in the winter ball season. The Arizona Fall League is only four games deep, and the Dominican League just got started a few days ago. These sample sizes don’t mean much at this point, but here are a few quick updates from the Yankees’ prospects who are still playing somewhere.
• Top catching prospect Gary Sanchez is one of the early standouts in the Arizona Fall League. He’s played three games so far and hit two home runs. He’s 6-for-11 with two strikeouts and five RBI while regularly hitting cleanup. Both home runs came off right-handed pitchers. The second game he caught, his pitchers tossed a shutout. He’s back at catcher and back in the cleanup spot this afternoon.
• We’ll find out later whether Ben Gamel can turn his breakout season into a spot on the 40-man roster, but he’s already turned it into regular at-bats in the Venezuelan Winter League. Gamel is getting time at all three outfield positions this winter — mostly starting in center field — and through nine games he’s hitting .290/.368/.516 with a home run, four doubles, five walks and six strikeouts.
• As expected, Tyler Austin‘s early Arizona Fall League playing time has come at first base. He’s started at first for three of the Saguaros’ first five games. He’s 3-for-7 with a double, a walk and a strikeout. … Primarily a shortstop this season, Tyler Wade has played second base in his first three Fall League games including one this afternoon. He’s young for that league, but Wade’s gone 2-for-6 so far. … Also young for the Fall League, center fielder Dustin Folwer has gotten into just one game in Arizona and he went hitless with a sacrifice. He played left field.
• Back in Venezuela this winter, Ali Castillo — who was terrific there last year — is hitting .200 through his first four games split between shortstop and second base. His Aguilas team has Francisco Arcia and Juan Graterol splitting time at catcher.
• After struggling early in the season in Triple-A, Jaron Long pitched pretty well after he was sent back down to Double-A. Now he’s pitching in Venezuela with a 3.27 ERA through two starts. His first start was terrific: six scoreless innings with one hit. His second start wasn’t so good: five innings, four runs on seven hits.
• Hard-throwing young prospect Domingo Acevedo made his Arizona Fall League debut on Thursday and pitched two scoreless innings with two strikeouts. He allowed two hits to lefties, but right-handers went 0-for-5 against him.
• Kind of the opposite of Aceveda, upper-level lefty Tyler Webb made his Fall League debut on Wednesday and allowed three runs in two innings. All three runs came on a three-run homer by first-round pick D.J. Peterson who’s shown massive power in the past but didn’t have a particularly good year this season. Webb faced only one lefty and struck him out.
• Ian Clarkin is starting a Fall League game this afternoon. It’s his first official game of the year. We’re still waiting for Chaz Hebert to get in a game.
• Other than Long and the Fall League guys, the most recognizable Yankees’ pitching prospect currently playing winter ball is reliever Mark Montgomery, who’s gotten into six games in Venezuela. He allowed three runs in one of them, but he’s otherwise been outstanding with eight strikeouts in five innings. He’s 4-for-4 in save opportunities. His only walks came in that one game when he allowed the three runs. All of his other outings were scoreless.
Carlos Beltran is 38 years old. He’s been through a long list of injuries in his career, and just last season he took quite a hit when he flipped over a low wall trying to make a running catch at Tropicana Field. He used to be a Gold Glove center fielder, but now he’s a barely passable right fielder.
And Joe Girardi said he’s OK with that.
“We knew when we got him he wasn’t the center fielder he was back in the day,” Girardi said. “We knew that. Our ballpark being a shorter distance between home and right, it doesn’t play in as much. But you get to some of these other parks and it plays in a little bit.”
Here in Baltimore — and in a few others parks this season — Beltran’s let balls fall where other right fielders might have made a catch. He at times looks hesitant. Just two days ago, it seemed Brett Gardner expected Beltran to be in position to make a catch on a ball that fell for an embarrassing and avoidable base hit. Gardner took responsibility, but off the bat it looked like the right fielder’s ball.
“(The effort) is always there,” Girardi said. “I know Carlos is not a guy that plays like his hair’s on fire, but he’s playing hard. You have those certain guys that, I mean, Carlos was a Gold Glove center fielder and probably at times he looked like he was gliding to the ball. That’s just the way he runs. And I think sometimes people can mistake that for effort. The effort is there. … How many of you move as well as you did 20 years ago? I know I don’t.”
Today the Yankees have Garrett Jones in right field, and they have Chris Young available for late-inning defense, but Girardi said he plans to have Beltran back in right field these next two days in Miami. That’s another big ballpark, but the Yankees are banking on Beltran hitting enough to make up for the balls he can’t catch.
“That’s a lot of the reason why we replace him late in games,” Girardi said. “That’s why we do it. He’s in there for his bat.”
• Still listed as TBA as recently as yesterday, the Orioles are starting right-hander Mike Wright today. He’s 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA. Apparently they’re getting lefty reliever Brian Matusz back today as well.
• Ivan Nova finished with an impressive pitching line in last night’s Triple-A rehab start, but Girardi didn’t sound completely sold on the outing. “He threw OK,” Girardi said. “The reports on him (said) he threw OK. … They said (his command) was OK too. His velocity was decent. His curveball maybe wasn’t quite as sharp as we’ve seen it. But he got stretched out a little bit and has been going every fifth day, so like I said, I’ll sit down with Brian and talk about what we think is best.”
• Obviously Girardi gave no definitive plan for Nova, but after listening to Girardi this morning, I’ll be a little surprised if Nova doesn’t get at least one more minor league start. I heard from a friend at last night’s Triple-A game who said Nova’s command was pretty bad. Not a lot of walks, but apparently he was a bit erratic.
• Still no plans to have Alex Rodriguez in the starting lineup at any point these next two days in Miami. “But everything is always subject to change,” Girardi said. Getting to 3,000 hits might have to wait until the upcoming home stand.
• What’s made Adam Warren so good lately? “I think it’s the consistency in his stuff,” Girardi said. “The location. Being able to use all four pitches. Able to keep hitters off balance doing that and showing them different looks. He’s been real consistent.”
• Triple-A outfielder Tyler Austin has been added to the minor league disabled list. He apparently hurt his hip diving for a ball. Not great timing. Austin was finally starting to hit this season. Had a .360/.429/.520 slash line in his last seven games.
• Tuesday’s pitching matchup: Former Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi against former Yankees starter David Phelps.
Associated Press photos
Today it’s Adam Warren’s turn. Last night it was Esmil Rogers, and at some point it will be Bryan Mitchell again, but today’s it’s Warren trying to make an impression in the fifth-starter competition.
“I always wanted to just come in and get ready for the season,” Warren said. “And those last couple of weeks, get ready to compete a little bit. I think they know what I’m capable of. Maybe not as a starter (though), so just try to go out there and try to prove myself a little bit, and just go from there. I don’t know if I’ve really ramped it up any or anything like that. I just want to go out there and compete. That just says the same no matter what.”
Rogers is relatively new to the organization, and Mitchell has very limited big league experience. The other two vaguely in the mix are Scott Baker and Chase Whitley, another guy who’s new to the organization and another guy with limited big league experience.
Then there’s Warren, who came up through the Yankees organization and has solidified himself as a big league pitcher the past two years. He’s made some spot starts, but his real breakout came as a late-inning reliever last season.
“I was always (thinking), I’m a starter, I’m a starter, I’m a starter,” Warren said. “But then I kind of liked the bullpen the last couple of years. I see myself being more versatile now as opposed to just a starter. I still want to hold onto being a starter because I love doing that. I don’t have a preference. It’s not going to matter to me where I end up. I still want to be labeled as a starter and be a starter because that’s what I’ve always done. … I’m not going to be disappointed either way, but I would love to be a starter so I can kind of hold onto that.”
Joe Girardi has stressed that the Yankees are looking to build a 12-man pitching staff, not just a five-man rotation. They have to take the entire group into account. For a decision like this, it’s not necessarily a matter of picking the best pitcher, putting him in the rotation, and letting the second-best fall into the bullpen. Some guys are better suited for the pen. Some are better suited for the rotation.
Does the fact the Yankees have seen Warren thrive in the bullpen make them lean toward keeping him in the relief role?
“The thing about Adam, I think he’s extremely equipped to do both because he is a four-pitch guy,” Girardi said. “Adam is one of the few guys that uses four pitches out of the bullpen. I think he’s grown up a lot in the last couple years. It’s just trying to figure out how we’re the best.”
• Speaking of the rotation, Girardi said the current rotation order — in which CC Sabathia is on an every-five-days routine that leads toward Opening Day, while Masahiro Tanaka lines up after him — is not necessarily the order the Yankees will take into the season. The Yankees have built in some wiggle room to make adjustments along the way. “We still have plenty of time to iron it out,” Girardi said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. A lot of it depends on Tanaka and CC and where they’re at, where we think they’re at. That’s the bottom line. The fact we haven’t announced anything is because we haven’t got them built up enough to feel comfortable that they’re ready to go.”
• Alex Rodriguez is back at designated hitter today while Garrett Jones gets another turn at first base. Girardi said he still thinks there’s a chance Rodriguez will play first base a game or two this spring, but for now, it’s more important that Jones gets time at the position because he’ll be the go-to backup. “I said I did want to put (Rodriguez) out there one time, two times,” Girardi said. “So it might be something that we mess around with the last couple of weeks. And it may not be.”
• Plan is for Brendan Ryan to play four or five innings at shortstop today. He’s basically on a schedule similar to most guys getting into spring training games for the first time. Girardi wants to make sure he gets a couple of at-bats, but there’s no sense of pushing him to play seven or eight innings right out of the gate.
• Carlos Beltran is skipping the upcoming long road trip to the east side of the state and will instead get at-bats at the minor league complex (Rodriguez is doing the same thing). Girardi said that’s not because Beltran is considered to be behind and in need of extra at-bats, it’s more to let him avoid two long bus rides.
• The Yankees made another round of cuts late last night. Girardi said he didn’t have the full list, but Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Jose De Paula and Nick Rumbelow had their lockers cleared out this morning. Apparently a full, official list of cuts will be sent out later today.
• Dellin Betances is throwing a simulated game today, pitching to John Ryan Murphy while facing Francisco Arcia and Eddy Rodriguez.
• Jose Ramirez, Ivan Nova and Vicente Campos have bullpens today.
• A few guys are back from minor league camp to add extra depth today: RHP Branden Pinder, RHP Cesar Vargas, LHP Fred Lewis, RHP Chris Smith, INF Ali Castillo, OF Ben Gamel, OF Aaron Judge, OF Jake Cave.
• Today’s second string: C Austin Romine, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Cole Figueroa, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Ben Gamel, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Aaron Judge, DH Eddy Rodriguez
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Chase Whitley, Chris Martin, Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren
Associated Press photos
As expected, Carlos Beltran will play right field and Alex Rodriguez will DH in the second game of today’s split-squad doubleheader.
Joe Girardi said he could have played Rodriguez at third — A-Rod has said he’s ready to play the field — but playing him at DH makes it easier to assure he gets three at-bats. He will play the field soon.
“I debated doing it today, but I thought, you know what, my focus is to get him at-bats,” Girardi said. “So it’s probably better just to do it this way.”
It’s funny, there’s all this attention on Rodriguez, and it’s often labeled as a distraction or a circus. Well, the circus part is over. At this point, the stories are all about a 39-year-old former superstar trying to be a viable baseball player again, and that doesn’t feel circus-like at all. As for being a distraction, the opposite might be true.
In his own weird way, Rodriguez has made it easier for everyone else to focus on the task at hand.
“I’m sure it makes it a lot easier on the guys,” Girardi said. “A lot of people think it’s a distraction. It makes it easier on 90 percent of the people that go. It made it easier on me one day. Alex hitting at the minor-league facility and there were four people in here asking me questions.”
• Masahiro Tanaka has another sim game tomorrow, then his next outing will be in a real game. By getting stretched out to two innings in a sim game, Tanaka will likely go three innings for his first game appearance. Girardi said this sim games are basically just an easier, safer way to get Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia stretched out a little bit early in camp.
• Called up from minor league camp for the day, bullpen prospect Mark Montgomery said he sees a noticeable difference in the way he’s been pitching this spring. He said his shoulder always felt fine last season, but tests showed his range of motion was limited, which suggested there was still some tightness in there. Montgomery said that finally went away in November, and he’s been facing hitters this spring with better results. Said he’s getting swings and misses again; feels like he’s able to throw his fastball by guys like he used to. Needs to reestablish himself, but sounds confident and optimistic.
• Heard from a scout this morning who said yesterday’s Tyler Austin home run didn’t get much help from the wind. It was a monster shot, but the scout said that’s because Austin crushed the ball, not because Mother Nature got ahold of it.
• Jaron Long, former hitting coach Kevin Long’s son, is up from minor league camp and scheduled to pitch in today’s game in Clearwater. Jaron has been around the clubhouse for years, but Girardi’s never seen him pitch in person. “I’m anxious to see it,” Girardi said.
• Justin Wilson and Andrew Bailey are each throwing live batting practice today. They’ll be facing Mason Williams and Rob Refsnyder.
• No lineup posted for tonight’s home game, but minor leaguers Tyson Blaser, Tyler Wade, Dante Bichette and Ben Gamel are coming up from the minor league complex for it.
• Just an FYI for anyone making the trip to Clearwater today: The Yankees are stretching and taking batting practice here in Tampa. The bus to Clearwater doesn’t even leave until 11 a.m., so the Yankees won’t be doing much on the field pregame. There obviously will be a separate stretch and batting practice before the night game.
• Second string in Clearwater: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Kyle Roller, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Eric Jagielo, LF Michael O’Neill, CF Mason Williams, RF Taylor Dugas
• Scheduled relievers in Clearwater: Nick Goody, Jaron Long, Matt Tracy and Mark Montgomery (with James Pazos, Caleb Cotham and Branden Pinder making the trip just in case).
• Tomorrow’s travel squad to Kissimmee:
Pitchers: Scott Baker, Danny Burawa, Kyle Davies, Jose De Paula, James Pazos, Wilking Rodriguez, Nick Rumbelow, Tyler Webb
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
Infielders: Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Stephen Drew, Jonathan Galvez, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Nick Noonan, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller, Mark Teixeira
Outfielders: Tyler Austin, Jake Cave, Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, Aaron Judge, Mason Williams
From minor league camp: RHP Taylor Garrison, RHP Zach Nuding
Associated Press photos
When Mariano Rivera showed up in Yankees camp a few days ago, he spent a lot of time sitting at Esmil Rogers’ locker. It was the kind of conversation that used to happen all the time in the Yankees clubhouse, a young pitcher hanging on every word from the game’s greatest closer. It seemed so natural and typical that the conversation came and went without me thinking about ever again.
But today Rogers threw a lot of strikes, hit his spots and immediately mentioned Rivera’s name.
“I just listen,” Rogers said. “I don’t say nothing. That’s not good when you have people like that, that (are) experienced like that. I just tried to hear it, to catch everything that he said. I’ve got the opportunity now to hear people like that, so I’m going to ask them any questions I can to get out what I need to do. I’m going to ask them.”
“He only told me about what I need to pound the zone,” Rogers said. “And don’t open my arm. The routine, everybody’s got different routines. He only told me about my shoulder. I’m not to (fly) open a little bit (with) my shoulder and front shoulder. Keep it on the line. You saw today, I pound the zone and hit the glove every time.”
Rogers threw two scoreless innings this afternoon. He gave up one hard hit — a double by new Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang — but was otherwise sharp. Joe Girardi has said the Yankees think of Rogers the same way they used to think of David Phelps: as a versatile pitchers capable of pitching long relief or sliding into the rotation.
“I thought he used all his pitches (today),” Girardi said. “I thought he was down in the zone. It’s interesting, it’s a 2-1 game (but) it’s not an easy day to pitch with the way the wind was blowing, but both sides did a nice job.”
It’s funny, Rogers talked about feeling comfortable as a starter and about wanting to make sure he uses all his pitches, then he talked about taking advice from a great closer known for throwing just one pitch. But I suppose Rivera advice carries weight for everyone. For Rogers, he said living up to his raw stuff is a matter of more than throwing strikes. It’s about throwing something other than a fastball.
“I throw fast, and I can throw 96 or whatever,” he said. “But everybody can hit fastballs in this league. … I throw my fastball, curveball, changeup and slider. I just try to use all. I don’t want to stay with one pitch. Before, I only thought about fastball, fastball, fastball and slider. Now, I try to think of everything and try to hit the zone.”
• In a one-run game, the difference was Tyler Austin’s massive home run in the top of the eighth. It was Austin’s only at-bat of the day, and the ball went well out of the park to left-center against Deolis Guerra. “Pretty impressive,” Girardi said. “Not sure where it landed, but somewhere back there. Cars probably took a little damage. I’d ask for my money back if I parked back there.”
• When the game ended, Austin signed a few autographs and was one of the last players to enter the clubhouse. As soon as he walked in, Gene Monahan — who’s serving as an extra trainer down here — looked up and announced: “The man of the day right there, Tyler Austin folks!”
• By the way, Austin had a nasty and bloody scrape on his left side from a diving attempt in the outfield. He was clearly fine — hit the homer not long after — but it was a definite reminder that these guys are banged up all the time. Nothing that would ever be considered a real injury, but if I had a huge bloody patch like that on my side, I’d need a DL stint.
• I wasn’t there, but apparently everything was good about the simulated games at Steinbrenner Field. “I heard CC threw well,” Girardi said. “Pineda threw well. They all threw well. Betances threw well. Larry (Rothschild) was encouraged by everything he saw today.” None of those three has gotten into a game yet this spring. Seems likely CC Sabathia will pitch another simulated game before getting in a real game. Michael Pineda, though, threw two innings today, so he’s probably all set. And I can’t imagine Dellin Betances needs more than one sim game.
• No new injuries to report, Girardi said. Brendan Ryan apparently didn’t do much today. The Yankees, though, don’t sound too concerned that his back injury is putting Opening Day at risk.
• Two outfield assists today, but I’d say both had more to do with horrible base running than great throwing. Austin threw out a guy at home and Brett Gardner threw out Sean Rodriguez trying to stretch a single to a double. The out at the plate was absurd (really nice throw, but totally senseless for the guy to have rounded third in the first place). The out at second was another good throw, but again, made little sense that Rodriguez would have gone for the extra base in the first place.
• Although there were a lot of former Yankees in today’s game, there was one familiar face in the Pirates clubhouse that clearly drew the most attention. “My career’s not done, yet,” Francisco Cervelli said. “I did what I could there. I tried, but injuries (happened). I had the opportunity with Chris (Stewart) in 2013, and I got hurt. Now I’ve got a second chance. But I think the Yankees were the best thing that ever happened in my life. My foundation, the way they treat us since the minor-leagues — win, win, win, win, win; that was the mentality. I think they prepared me, and I’m ready for this job.” Good luck to Cervi, always a real favorite among the guys I’ve covered.
• By the way, Cervelli said he still talks to Carlos Beltran “all the time,” but he’s clearly focused on the Pirates clubhouse. He said he doesn’t remember the last time he spoke to Alex Rodriguez. “He was my teammate. That’s it,” Cervelli said. “I haven’t talked to him. I worry about myself, my teammates and that’s it. I don’t need anything else outside of here; 2013 was a nightmare. I learned so many things from that. It won’t happen anymore, guaranteed.”
• Speaking of former Yankees, it was Mark Melancon who allowed the first Yankees run. It was an RBI double by Garrett Jones, who had two hits today. Rob Refsnyder also had two hits including a double. … Chris Young also had a double in today’s game, also off Melancon. … Ramon Flores was picked off at first base. … Maybe the coolest hit of the day came from Tyler Wade, the young shortstop called up just for the day.
• After Rogers, Chase Whitley also threw two scoreless innings this afternoon. Whitley allowed a couple of singles but walked none and struck out former Yankees prospect Jose Tabata. … Nice debut by Nick Rumbelow, who struck out three batters in the eighth inning. One of them came on a nasty breaking ball. … Good day for pitchers called up for the day. Cesar Vargas got into two innings, Fred Lewis got the win and Taylor Garrison got a save.
• Final word goes to Girardi on what stood out to him about today: “Just the way our pitchers threw the ball again. It’s good. They’re battling. I thought we had some good swings. You see a young kid like Wade come up and get a hit. That’s nice to see. A lot of contributions from our young players.”
Associated Press photos
There are three distinct groups in today’s Yankees lineup.
1. The big league infielders. Familiar names all around the diamond, each with well-established story lines, from bounce back seasons, to lingering health issues, to a young shortstop trying to make a strong first impression.
2. The designated hitter. A thoroughly unique situation, and the one that will most certainly generate the most attention this afternoon. Is there any chance Alex Rodriguez won’t be the focus today? Nope.
3. The young outfielders. Three guys on the 40-man roster but with no time in the big leagues. All three have a chance to play a big league role this season (and a chance to be overshadowed and forgotten by September).
Of the nine players in today’s batting order, the one most easy to dismiss just might be the guy who, only two years ago, was considered by many to be the top prospect in the entire Yankees system. Mason Williams gets the start in center field today, one year after he hit just .223/.290/.304 in Double-A.
“Obviously everyone knows this is a game of failure,” Williams said. “And for me, honestly, that’s the first time I’ve ever really failed (at baseball). For me, honestly, last year was probably the biggest year of my career so far. I feel like I learned the most I could have by going through that failure and seeing my struggles. Now I feel like I’m knowing what I do when I go wrong and how to not put myself back into that situation.”
There is no doubt Williams has a lot to prove this season, especially when he can look around the Yankees clubhouse and see Ramon Flores sitting right next to him, Slade Heathcott two lockers away, Jake Cave wandering through the middle lockers, and Aaron Judge generating as much attention as anyone other than A-Rod. Williams used to be a standout. Now he’s a guy with big tools and disappointing numbers in a system heavy on upper-level outfield prospects.
But it says quite a bit that the Yankees protected him from the Rule 5 draft this winter. His speed and defense are already seen as big league ready. It’s the bat that has to make some strides.
“For me, I learned that I’ve got to give myself chances,” Williams said. “Last year, I struggled, and I feel like I gave a lot of at-bats away. And that’s something I want to clean up this year. … I want to be a better player in general. I want to be a better teammate. I want to be better on the field, in the dugout. Even in my house. I just want to be a better person. I feel like if I try to be that, other things will be OK.”
Williams arrived in camp in good shape. He said he began really focusing on the nuances of the game last season, and he feels like a smarter player because of it. He spent his offseason training at home in Orlando, driving the hour or so to the minor league complex every once in a while to check in. With that new spot on the 40-man, Williams isn’t simply setting his sights on finally conquering Double-A. Players on the 40-man are one opportunity and one phone call away from the big leagues.
“It definitely shows they still believe in me,” Williams said. “I obviously still have a lot of faith in myself, and I believe in myself. Knowing that they still believe in me, come out here and try to help New York this year and try to win a championship.”
• The clubhouse opened to media pretty early this morning, and there was no sign of Rodriguez, who’s return to the lineup will obviously be the biggest story of the day. I assume he’s hitting second to make it a little easier to give him extra at-bats. It’s worth noting that no one is listed as the backup DH for today. Someone might replace him at some point, but the Yankees seem to be leaving Rodriguez’s playing time pretty open-ended.
• Ramon Flores is starting in left field today. Long overshadowed by guys like Williams, Flores has become an organizational standout. A severe ankle injury probably robbed him of a big league call-up last season, but he put up a .347/.435/.505 slash line in winter ball. Flores said his ankle was never 100 percent even after he came off the disabled list late last season, and he was still nervous about it when he started playing this winter. Eventually, though, he became convinced that he was completely healthy, and the results were pretty overwhelming.
• In the other outfield corner is Tyler Austin, who finally recovered from a lingering wrist injury last season and hit .336/.397/.557 in the second half. While Austin acknowledged heath might have played a part in that, he said that strong second half had more to do with physical adjustments he’d been working on with hitting coach Marcus Thames. They simply began to click in the second half, and the numbers took off. Count Austin among many, many people in the organization who love Thames has a hitting guru.
• Vicente Campos threw a 25-pitch bullpen yesterday. It was all fastballs, and Campos said he’ll start incorporating changeups next week. Working his way back from Tommy John surgery, Campos said he’s targeting May for his return to game action.
• Today is the two-year anniversary of Brian Cashman breaking his ankle while skydiving. Cashman said he was invited to try it again but turned down the invitation.
• Jose De Paula is throwing a simulated game today. He’ll pitch to Kyle Higashioka and face Greg Bird and Cito Culver.
Chris Capuano (to John Ryan Murphy)
Masahiro Tanaka (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Domingo German (to Juan Graterol)
• Today’s second string: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Nick Noonan, SS Cito Culver, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Jake Cave, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Aaron Judge
• Today’s scheduled relievers: Andrew Miller, Kyle Davies, Danny Burawa, Wilking Rodriguez, James Pazos, Tyler Webb (with Nick Rumbelow, Scott Baker and Jose Ramirez listed as just-in-case options)
• Tomorrow’s travel squad to Bradenton:
Pitchers: Jacob Lindgren, Diego Moreno, Esmil Rogers, Nick Rumbelow, Chasen Shreve, Chase Whitley
Catchers: Trent Garrison, John Ryan Murphy, Eddy Rodriguez, Austin Romine
Infielders: Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Garrett Jones, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder, Kyle Roller
Outfielders: Tyler Austin, Jake Cave, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ramon Flores, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Mason Williams, Chris Young
Up from minor league camp: SS Tyler Wade, RHP Cesar Vargas, LHP Fred Lewis, RHP Zach Nuding, RHP Taylor Garrison
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
Kind of a pointless exercise — you could probably say that about 80 percent of offseason stories and blog posts — but it occurred to me last week that you could put together a pretty decent organizational all-star team based on the guys who played in winter ball this year. The pitching is thin, and there’s not really a standout behind the plate, but otherwise the Yankees had one pretty solid young player at almost every position.
Just because it’s a Friday, here’s an attempt at a starting lineup of guys who played in winter ball this year. Let’s consider this a kind of recap of the winter standouts.
1. Ramon Flores CF
A lot of corner outfielders in the mix, so Flores shifts from left to center. He hit .347/.435/.505 in Venezuela and could be the first outfielder in line for a big league call-up this season. If he weren’t left-handed, he might have a better shot of making the team out of camp.
2. Jose Pirela 2B
Pulled from the Venezuelan playoffs because of a relatively minor hand injury, Pirela showed once again why he’s a candidate for a utility job with the Yankees. He hit .296/.394/.515 while playing second base, third base, left field and right field.
3. Aaron Judge RF
Probably the top offensive prospect in the Yankees system, Judge capped his professional debut by hitting .278/.377/.467 in the Arizona Fall League. That’s after he hit .308/.419/.486 during the regular season. Seems headed for Double-A. Question is, how quickly can he move up?
4. Greg Bird 1B
Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League, Bird hit .313/.391/.556 and established himself as one of the top first-base prospects in the game. The converted catcher has always had an advanced approach at the plate, but this year the power seemed to really arrive.
5. Tyler Austin LF
Primarily a right fielder — with time at first base and third base — Austin started playing some left field in the Arizona Fall League, perhaps setting up the possibility of a big league bench role this season. His bat is still the key, and Austin hit .304/.392/.449 in Arizona.
6. Dante Bichette Jr. 3B
After a strong regular season, Bichette went to the Arizona Fall League and fell flat with a .260/.317/.274 slash line. That said, 2014 restored some of his prospect status as he seemed to make meaningful adjustments at the plate to hit .264/.345/.397 across two levels. That’s an OPS jump of basically 100 points better than the previous two years.
7. Adonis Garcia DH
His team lost in the Venezuelan championship series, but Gracia was key in simply getting them that far. He hit .313/.369/.468 as a regular in the middle of the order for Navegantes del Magallanes. After playing only the outfield corners in the winter ball regular season, he saw some time back at third base in the playoffs.
8. Ali Castillo SS
Not really considered much of a prospect, but in the Yankees’ thin system, Castillo might be the top upper-level shortstop (even if he’s more of a utility man). He hit .305/.346/.408 while playing all over the field in Venezuela this winter, but he might have to return to Double-A this season.
9. Francisco Arcia C
Despite all the catching depth in the minor league system, the Yankees didn’t have a big name behind the plate this winter. Kyle Higashioka got into just six games in the Arizona Fall League (hit .409/.480/.682 in those limited chances). Arcia was in Venezuela and hit just .184/.228/.218 through 87 at-bats. He hit a little better (.235/.316/.353) in the playoffs.
Starting pitcher: Esmil Rogers
Certainly not a prospect at this point, but Rogers was pretty much the headliner among Yankees pitchers in winter ball. He had 18 strikeouts and just four walks through 11.1 innings in the Dominican Winter League (he worked strictly as a starter), then he got into the playoffs and pitched to a 3.55 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 28 strikeouts and six walks through five starts.
Left-handed reliever: Jose De Paula
Although he’s really a starter, De Paula’s quickest path the big leagues is probably as a reliever. Signed to a major-league deal this offseason, De Paula made just two appearances in the Dominican Winter League — both starts — with 10 strikeouts, one walk and one run through 10 innings.
Right-handed reliever: Kyle Haynes
The Yankees were position player heavy in their Arizona Fall League assignments. Branden Pinder was on the initial list and would have been the pitching standout, but he was replaced by Haynes, the hard-thrower acquired in last winter’s Chris Stewart trade. He had a 2.31 ERA in Arizona, but an ugly 1.63 WHIP.
Associated Press photo of Pirela