The Yankees 2014 rookie class • 11.10.14
Tonight the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will announce its choices for Rookie of the Year. We already know one Yankees player is going to finish in the top three — Dellin Betances was announced as a finalist — but this really was a pretty solid year for rookies in pinstripes. Here’s look back at a five-man ballot for an all-Yankees Rookie of the Year.
1. Dellin Betances
By the numbers: 90 IP, 0.78 WHIP, 1.40 ERA, 135 K, 24 BB
What he meant: So good he earned Mariano Rivera comparisons
Coming into spring training, Betances didn’t have a big league job, and he had an extra option that meant the Yankees didn’t have to keep him on the roster. But he pitched well in big league camp, made the most of some early season opportunities, and emerged as one of the very best relief pitchers in baseball. The Yankees waited through a lot of minor league ups and downs, and the patience paid off. Betances looks like a bullpen mainstay, and quite possibly a near-future closer.
2. Masahiro Tanaka
By the numbers: 136.1 IP, 1.06 WHIP, 2.77 ERA, 141 K, 21 BB
What he meant: Huge investment paid off in a big way before elbow injury
Angels rookie Matt Shoemaker was announced as a ROY finalists, but compare his numbers to Tanaka’s: Shoemaker had a 1.07 WHIP and 3.04 ERA through 136 innings. He had fewer strikeouts and more walks than Tanaka, but he was healthy in the second half and helped push the Angels to the top of the American League West. Shoemaker won seven of his last eight starts, which might have helped him finish higher in the ROY voting, but in the big picture, Tanaka was just as good if not better.
3. Shane Greene
By the numbers: 78.2 IP, 1.40 WHIP, 3.78 ERA, 81 K, 29 BB
What he meant: Mid-season call-up helped solidify the short-handed rotation
Always kind of an on-the-verge prospect — one who got some attention, but never really emerged as a standout — Greene took a giant step forward last season, and he made he good impression this spring. By the time the Yankees desperately needed rotation help in early July, Greene was the top candidate. And he was terrific. Numbers would have been even better if not for two rough starts in September. In 14 starts, only twice allowed more than four earned runs (allowed three or fewer 11 times).
4. John Ryan Murphy
By the numbers: 81 AB, .284/.318/.370
What he meant: Productive backup catcher while Francisco Cervelli was hurt
Fewer at-bats, but Murphy finished with a slash line pretty similar to that of Yangervis Solarte, who was one of the biggest surprises of the year before his mid-season trade. Murphy’s production was a bit inconsistent, but that might be a product of inconsistent playing time. For the most part, he looked like a productive young catcher who could fully replace Cervelli next season. Still determining whether Murphy is a long-term backup or a future starter. He was good in a limited role.
5. Chase Whitley
By the numbers: 75.2 IP, 1.48 WHIP, 5.23 ERA, 60 K, 18 BB
What he meant: Provided a temporary and unexpected boost for the rotation
After years of productive but not-quite-overwhelming relief work in Triple-A, Whitley went unselected in the Rule 5 draft. Then he broke camp as a full-time starter and saw his stock rise in a big way. Called up for a spot start in mid-May, Whitley’s first seven starts were terrific, then he stumbled, made one more really good start and moved into the bullpen where he was pretty good again late in the year. A year ago he was passed over in the Rule 5. Now he looks like a pretty good long-man, spot-start candidate.
Honorable mention: Yangervis Solarte
By the numbers: 252 AB, .254/.337/.381
What he meant: Surprise regular third baseman became key trade chip
The real point of looking back at the Yankees top rookies is to think about what these guys might do in the future. In that way, Solarte doesn’t exactly fit because he’s now in San Diego. But his rookie year was a pretty good one, and if this were a normal ROY ballot, he’d probably rank fourth ahead of Murphy and behind Greene (maybe even third ahead of Greene). His first two months were incredible. From June 10 through the trade, though, he hit just .078 without an extra-base hit.
Associated Press photo
Several years ago, when I was still living and working in Scranton, I had brief clubhouse conversation about the construction of a Triple-A roster. I wasn’t really working on story, I was just asking questions and getting some answers, and the bit of information that stuck with me was the amount of money one particular minor league free agent was making that season.
He had very little big league time, but he had a great defensive reputation at a position where the Yankees were relatively thin. As I heard it, the Yankees were paying him well over $100,000 to hang out in the minor leagues just in case they needed him. Doesn’t seem like much money compared the contracts we’re usually talking about around here, but in a Triple-A clubhouse, a six-figure contract made him a pretty rich man (and he would, in fact, become a useful big leaguer).
I was reminded of that when I read this excellent piece by Kiley McDaniel over at FanGraphs. McDaniel looks at an under-the-radar way the Yankees have put their financial muscle to use. They’ve paid big money — in minor league terms, anyway — to sign some of the market’s top minor league free agents. That’s one way to make up for a lack of upper-level organizational talent.
I was told last offseason that 3B Yangervis Solarte was a target for multiple teams in the minor league free agent market. Both executives, analysts and scouts from different types of organizations had pinpointed Solarte as being one of the top tier minor league free agents at this point last year. There wasn’t a huge bidding war for him alone, but multiple teams were calling his agent with offers on the first day of free agency. This also happened with a couple dozen other players deemed to be top tier free agents.
Logic follows that in this sort of situation, Solarte would sign with one of the teams that spends up to $20,000 per month ($100,000 for the a full season in the minors). The Yankees ended up signing him last offseason for $120,000 ($24,000 per month) with a split contract (meaning he’d make more than the MLB minimum if he is in the big leagues: $515,000 in this case instead of the $500,000 minimum), a Spring Training invite, provisions to leave for an Asian professional club during the year if he chooses and a guaranteed $66,000 salary ($13,200 per month) for the season even if he’s cut during Spring Training and he plays the whole season for another organization (or stays at home).
As we now know, Solarte went on to make the Opening Day roster, have a breakout first half, and become a central part of the Yankees mid-season trade for Chase Headley. That’s a relatively small investment paying off in a big way. Other players brought in as minor league free agents who played at least some role this season included Zelous Wheeler, Matt Daley, Scott Sizemore, Rich Hill and Antoan Richardson. Guys like Chris Leroux, Bruce Billings and Jim Miller cycled through just to eat innings and give the Yankees a fresh arm when they needed one. The Yankees also landed Chris Young on a minor league deal and got a big month of September out of him.
These aren’t star players by any means, but they’re helpful, and the Yankees have the financial freedom to give the extra $20,000 or so to bring in the best from that roughly replacement-level market. McDaniel goes into great detail, with terrific examples, showing the ways in which the Yankees have supplemented their minor league system by targeting and paying for specific minor league free agents in recent years. We’ve seen other recent examples of the Yankees spending on things other than big league payroll. They dumped a ton of money into the international market this summer (bought a bunch of lottery tickets, as one official explained it) and they added an extra rookie-level affiliate just to give more players at-bats and innings (makes it easier to get all of those lottery tickets some playing time).
It might be a small part of the big picture, but it also seems that baseball teams are constantly searching for any marginal advantage, and signing the top minor league free agents is one way to have a slight advantage. Ideally, the Yankees will do less of it going forward — best-case scenario, the system begins to fill those roles from within — but for now, it’s an unheralded part of their spending, and they’ve found some helpful pieces along the way. Giving too much to a major-league free agent can be crippling. Giving too much to minor-league free agent barely even creates a ripple.
Associated Press photos
Yankees in need of more production • 06.23.14
Orioles starters really shut down the Yankees in the three-game series that ended Sunday with Baltimore’s 8-0 win. The Yankees managed four hits to follow up on their one-run, seven-hit Saturday loss. They needed a walk-off three-run homer from Carlos Beltran Friday to claim a 5-3 victory.
The offense really hasn’t taken off on a consistent basis.
Asked if he expected more, Joe Girardi said: “Yeah, I think that’s probably fair to say, but we still have a long way to go. And I see signs of us swinging the bats better. I do. But it is what it is and we’ll go from here.”
They have a lot of below-average averages right now on a 39-35 team. For instance: Carlos Beltran .220; Brian McCann .222; Kelly Johnson .222; Alfonso Soriano .232; Brian Roberts .244; and Mark Teixeira .246. The Yankees also have Yangervis Solarte at 0 for his last 28, dropping him to .263.
“We definitely have more in us,” Teixeira said. “I think we expect more out of each other. Hopefully we can score more runs.
“There’s a lot of time left, but we do need to pick it up.”
Here’s my story on Sunday’s events, from the Old-Timers’ Game to Masahiro Tanaka’s effort to the punchless offense to Steve Pearce’s takeout slide to Teixeira’s fear he had broken a toe or two. And here’s my Yankees notebook on Goose Gossage heading to Monument Park, Jeter’s response to Hideki Matsui’s marital advice and Girardi talking about the Adam Warren/Vidal Nuno situation. Thanks for reading. You’re always welcome to join me on Twitter as well at @bheyman99. Chad will be back with you later.
Photo by The Associated Press.
Nova off to shaky start • 04.08.14
He allowed seven earned runs and 10 hits over 3 2/3 innings in losing to the Orioles after walking five in 5 2/3 in his first start in Houston. Nova only gave up two runs in that game and was the winner, but in this game, he couldn’t minimize the damage and the Yankees ended up losing 14-5.
“I don’t feel good when you pitch that way with the good spring training that I had,” Nova said. “It’s only the second time. I have plenty of time to fix it and get back to where I want to be.”
He had a problem with his curve, and his sinker was up. Nova said he needs to get his pitches down.
“I wouldn’t make too much out of two starts,” Joe Girardi said. “I know it’s glaring in the beginning. I know he’s more than capable of turning this around and being a big-time pitcher for us.”
There was a chance for Nova to get out of the first with no runs scored instead of three. But Derek Jeter couldn’t reach Delmon Young’s bouncing single for a double-play try.
“I know he tried the best to get the double play,” Nova said. “That’s the game.”
Despite struggling, Nova didn’t walk anyone. So Yankees starting pitchers haven’t walked a batter now in five straight games.
Francisco Cervelli got his first shot at first base. He admitted he missed one foul ball that he probably should have caught. But Girardi said he was OK with his work over there.
“He passed for me,” Girardi said.
So Cervelli could be another option vs. lefties with Mark Teixeira out.
Yangervis Solarte doubled twice, making the rookie third baseman the first player since 1900 with at least six doubles in the first seven games of his career.
Jacoby Ellsbury went 3 for 4 and is 12 for his last 22 after starting 0 for 7.
Alfonso Soriano hit homer No. 1 on the season and No. 407 for his career, tying Duke Snider for 50th on the all-time list.
I’ll have more on Masahiro Tanaka’s Wednesday night Bronx debut in the morning.
Photo by The Associated Press.