Looking ahead to September • 08.18.14
This post contains way too many words about possible September call-ups.
Why is this way too many? Because aside from the possibility of a left-handed reliever, there really don’t seem to be any impact September call-ups on the horizon. A few guys will come up to provide pitching and bench depth, but that’s about it. There isn’t a ton of playing time up for grabs, and there aren’t many obvious auditions that could take place. A left-handed reliever might get into some key situations, but that’s about it. If the Yankees fall completely out of contention, I suppose they could give a guy like Bryan Mitchell a start or maybe give Zoilo Almonte a chance to make a fresh impression with some right field starts. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t expect a ton out of the September additions.
But, I like minor league baseball and I think September call-ups are interesting, so here are a few thoughts and possibilities broken into four pretty typical September call-up categories.
Pretty standard September addition. The Yankees have been playing with an eight-man pitching staff for quite a while now, but even so, they’re still likely to add a few guys just to give them depth down the stretch.
Best bet: RHP Bryan Mitchell
He’s been up and down a few times, and he’s been pitching well out of the Triple-A rotation. He’s pretty much custom-made for providing innings, and there’s a real benefit to giving him some more big league experience. Seems like a strong candidate to be a rotation candidate at some point next season, even if he opens the year in Triple-A.
Keep in mind: RHP David Phelps
Worth remembering that Phelps is currently on the disabled list but due to be reevaluated today. Phelps was pitching pretty well before that mess of a start in Boston, and he could certainly move right back into the rotation once he’s healthy again. That could essentially push Chris Capuano into a bullpen role as another long man.
Uncertainty: RHP Preston Claiborne and RHP Matt Daley
Both are on the 40-man roster, but both are also on the Triple-A disabled list. If they’re healthy, it would be easy to call up both Claiborne and Daley to be extra middle-inning or extra-inning arms. Claiborne seems pretty close to coming off the disabled list. Another injured Triple-A reliever, Jose Ramirez, won’t be healthy in time to come up next month.
Worth mentioning: RHP Brandon Pinder, RHP Diego Moreno, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa
Montgomery and Burawa have been demoted to Double-A, which probably isn’t a good sign for them getting a call-up to the big leagues. Worth mentioning, though, because all four have been pretty good at times this season, and all four should be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If any of these pitchers are going to be protected in the offseason, might make sense to go ahead and add them to the roster now. My guess would be that Pinder is at the top of this particular pecking order right now. Veteran RHP Jim Miller could also be part of this discussion if the Yankees want a short-term roster addition just to provide some innings.
Probably not: RHP Nick Rumbelow
He’s moved quickly through the system and has been alright since getting to Triple-A, but he’s not Rule 5 eligible yet and there’s probably no reason to have him filling a 40-man spot all winter just so he can get a mopup inning or two in September.
The Yankees might very well bring up a new lefty before September 1, but given the fact they’re not carrying a true left-on-left specialist, it seems like a solid bet that they’ll eventually give some young lefty a call-up. Might even try more than one.
Best bet: LHP Manny Banuelos
Can’t say for certain that Banuelos is the “best bet” to come up as a left-on-left reliever, but he’s the only option who’s currently on the 40-man roster. He’s also pitched pretty well lately, which is surely easing some of the concerns about his early season inconsistency. Whether a career starter — and a young one at that — would be a viable situational lefty, I have no idea. But having a spot on the 40-man makes him an easy call-up if the Yankees want to either get his feet wet or see what he can do in a fairly important role.
Keep in mind: LHP Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees first-round draft pick back in June was a college reliever who throws pretty hard from the left side, and the Yankees have already pushed him all the way to Double-A. Pitching in Trenton isn’t exactly knocking on the door, but Lindgren has a big arm and a bunch of strikeouts and it’s not unheard of for a team to push a college reliever all the way to the big leagues in his first pro season.
Uncertainty: LHP Chris Capuano
He won’t be a September call-up, but Capuano factors into this discussion because of David Phelps. If Phelps is ready to return to the rotation fairly quickly, he could takeover for Capuano, who could move into a left-on-left role out of the bullpen. A possibility if the Yankees aren’t sure any of the young guys can handle the job.
Worth mentioning: LHP Tyler Webb, LHP James Pazos, LHP Francisco Rondon, SHP Pat Venditte
My guess is that all of these except Webb should be considered real long shots. I mention Pazos because he has good numbers in Double-A and the Yankees seem to like his arm; Rondon because he was once on the 40-man and has had the Yankees attention at various points; and Venditte because he’s been a pretty solid reliever for years now and has generally been pretty good with that side-arm delivery against lefties. Webb, though, is the left-handed relief prospect who’s most on the radar. Doesn’t have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft yet, but the Yankees have been pretty aggressive with him and he’s probably their most advanced left-handed relief prospect.
Probably not: LHP Nik Turley
There are actually a ton of lefties on the Triple-A pitching staff right now, including Turley, Matt Tracy and Jeremy Bleich, all of whom would be capable of giving multiple innings and — in theory — matching up against a left-handed hitter. My thinking, though, is: If the Yankees are going to try a long-time starter in this role in September, why not just try Banuelos? That’s easier than putting some of the other non-traditional relievers onto the roster. Know who else is a probably not? Cesar Cabral. The guy was actually in the big leagues at one point this year, but he’s fallen completely off the radar. Double-A lefties are knocking him around.
Happens basically every September that teams give themselves an extra catcher for the final month of the season. The question with the Yankees isn’t whether they’ll call up a third catcher, it’s whether they’ll call up a fourth catcher.
Best bet: C John Ryan Murphy
Even thought it was Austin Romine who came up when Brian McCann went on the disabled list, I’m still going to bet that Murphy is the best bet for a September call-up. I’m basing that almost entirely on the fact that Murphy played well during his extended big league call-up earlier this season, and based on the fact that Mark Newman has said Murphy is likely to come off the Triple-A disabled list pretty soon.
Keep in mind: C Austin Romine
These days, Murphy generates much more prospect buzz than Romine. But, down in Triple-A, it’s actually Romine who has better offensive numbers this season. He’s also played a decent amount of first base and could, in theory, fill in for Mark Teixeira in some late innings. Romine hasn’t played much in August, but he hit .342/.385/.466 in July, and it’s not like the big league staff is unfamiliar with him.
Uncertainty: Why not both?
Does it make sense to go ahead and bring both Murphy and Romine to the big leagues in September? Maybe leave one of them behind to play that last Triple-A game, and then just carry four catchers in the final month? In blowouts, one could get behind the plate and the other could rest Teixeira by playing first base.
Worth mentioning: C Francisco Cervelli
There’s only one other catcher call-up candidate worth mentioning, and we’ll get to him in a second. For now, it’s worth mentioning that the Yankees are facing an offseason decision about whether to bring back Cervelli — who’s been awfully good — or to give the backup catcher job fulltime to either Murphy or Romine. If the Yankees are out of it in September, one of these September call-up catchers could step into some serious playing time just to see what they’ve got.
Probably not: C Gary Sanchez
He’s on the 40-man roster, and he’s one of the biggest names in the Yankees minor league system, but it’s hard to predict a Sanchez call-up this year. He’s been alright this season, but he’s also been benched for disciplinary reasons, and it’s hard to imagine much playing time being available for him. Just doesn’t seem that he’s on the verge of getting his feet wet, but I guess you never know. If he’s sorted out his disciplinary issues, maybe he’s rewarded. My guess is that he won’t be.
VERSATILITY ON THE BENCH
There’s no one currently in the system who seems on the verge of a September call-up to play a significant role in the everyday lineup. Position players who come up are most likely going to be complimentary pieces given very occasional playing time.
Best bet: OF Zoilo Almonte
Joe Girardi hasn’t seemed sold on Almonte ever since his so-so performance last season, but he’s still a powerful left-handed hitter — technically switch hitter, but he’s significantly better from the left side — and he’s on the 40-man roster with some big league time already this season. Not sure he’ll actually get at-bats, but he seems like an obvious choice to bring up at least serve as an option for some pop as a pinch hitter or occasional platoon starter.
Keep in mind: UT Zelous Wheeler
In a lot of ways, Wheeler is an ideal September call-up. He’s already on the 40-man, he’s held his own in the big leagues already this season, and he can play almost any position on the field, which means he provides terrific versatility down the stretch. As long as Wheeler stays on the 40-man roster, there’s little reason not to give him a call-up.
Uncertainty: UT Jose Pirela
The one reason not to call up Wheeler would be to call up a somewhat similar but younger player in Pirela. Wheeler is probably the better defensive player, but they’re both versatile right-handed hitters who are putting up good numbers in Triple-A. If the Yankees aren’t planning to keep Wheeler through the offseason — but are interested in keeping Pirela — they could basically swap the two, putting Pirela on the roster in Wheeler’s place and giving Pirela the September call-up. Pirela can play second base and left field, and he could play third base, first base, right field and presumably shortstop in a pinch.
Worth mentioning: OF Ramon Flores, 1B Kyle Roller, OF Adonis Garcia, OF Taylor Dugas
Of these four, only Flores is on the 40-man, and he’s a nice fit for September. He can run, he can play all three outfield spots, he has some first base experience, and he was playing pretty well in Triple-A before an injury. Indications are that Flores could be off the DL and active by the time September rolls around, but would the Yankees call up a guy who’s hardly played since the start of June. The other three listed are not on the 40-man, and I’m not sure they’d play roles significant enough to find a way to get them on the roster. Dugas in particular has been terrific this year, but he’s not yet Rule 5 eligible, so there’s probably little sense having him take up a 40-man spot all winter. I would suggest OF Antoan Richardson as an interesting possibility as well — speed off the bench, ability to play all three outfield spots — but he’s currently on the temporarily inactive list, and I’m not sure what that’s about or how long he’ll be there. Could temporarily add him without worrying about a DFA this winter.
Probably not: 2B Rob Refsnyder
Arguably the most buzzworthy September call-up possibility. Probably is, Refsnyder is just like a handful of guys on this list in that he’s playing in Triple-A already but won’t be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If he’s only going to come up to sit the bench and maybe get his feet wet, is that really worth taking up an otherwise valuable 40-man spot all winter? If he were coming up to play every day, that would be one thing. But bringing him up to backup Stephen Drew probably isn’t worthwhile.
Associated Press photos
Alex Rodriguez, according to the New York Post, told the Yankees yesterday his hip isn’t ready for rehab games. The Daily News had him allegedly planning to start playing rehab games, then claim he physically can’t play and retire before a possible 100-game MLB suspension comes, so he could get his full 4 1/2 seasons of money owed to him.
“A couple of conflicting reports from sources,” Joe Girardi said. “That’s why I always say for me, when a player gets here, he gets here. When he’s ready, he’s ready. But everything that I understand, he’s been making progress and moved better day after day. So it sounds like things are pretty good.”
The erratic Phil Hughes gets the start today in the series finale against the Rangers.
“I’m not saying he’s pitching for a spot,” Girardi said.
But Hughes hasn’t pitched well in three of his last four starts and has gone 1-4 with a 5.86 ERA over his last seven starts. He’s 3-6 with a 5.09 ERA in 14 starts overall.
Girardi did say this start is “important. This is a guy who we need to be consistent for us and get on a roll like he’s capable of doing. It starts with his fastball command and using his other pitches.”
Ivan Nova pitched pretty well in his spot start Sunday and Michael Pineda has been pitching very well in his rehab starts, albeit against Single-A and Double-A hitters. Could that be in the back of Hughes’ mind? Could he be feeling any extra pressure for this start?
“I’m not sure,” Girardi said. “I think guys are aware of what’s going on around them. I’m not so sure when you get out on the mound, you start thinking about that. I think you think about making your pitches. Usually when you get on the field, you’re able to block everything out. It could be in someone’s thought process off the field.”
There’s no plan yet on what to do with Nova, according to Girardi. But by keeping him around, the Yankees are going with a shorter bench for the time being.
“It’s something that we’re going to have to look at and see if there’s someone who we think can help us that we can add,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. Is there someone who we think can help? We had Thomas Neal here. The minimum a guy has to be down is 10 days, and I’m not saying he’d be the guy that we would call up. Right now, a lot of players are on the DL and we’ll just have to see.”
Joba Chamberlain has given up at least one run in five of his last seven outings,, including two in two-thirds of an inning last night.
“I thought he threw pretty well before he got hurt,” Girardi said. “He just really hasn’t gotten on track for us. We’ve got to find a way to do it. Whatever it takes, we’ll try to do it.”
Brett Gardner isn’t starting today. He has a cold.
“But it’s more I’m just giving him a day because he’s played every day,” Girardi said.
So Vernon Wells is in the lineup, but he’s in right. Ichiro Suzuki is in center. Wells appears to have lost the regular left-field job after that 9-for-90 slump. Zoilo Almonte is starting in left for the sixth straight game. The rookie is 7 for 19 with three walks, two doubles, a homer and four RBI in seven games on the homestand.
“We’re running ‘Z’ out there,” Girardi said. “We’ll continue to do that, continue to watch how he’s doing. But he’s done pretty well.
“(Wells) has been ready to play every day. He’s ready to pinch hit. He’s worked very hard. I think he’s dealt with it very professionally.”
The 26-year-old righty got called up for the spot start and left with two on and two outs in the seventh in a 1-1 game. He ended up being charged with three runs and seven hits. He struck seven, six with curves, walked three and hit two — both after he got the first two outs in the seventh.
“He was consistently throwing strikes,” Chris Stewart said. “… Repeating his mechanics has been a problem in the past, but for the most part he was good today.”
Asked if he pitched well enough to stay, Nova said, “I’ve got to say yes. Here is where you want to be.”
Joe Girardi was happy with the effort, too. Nova made three starts after being sent down to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Girardi didn’t want him languishing as a long man here. Nova sees himself as a starter, too.
Asked about whether Nova stays or goes back down, Girardi said, “I have no idea what we’re going to do.”
Perhaps this will turn up the pressure on Phil Hughes to start being more consistent. Hughes’ next start has been pushed back to Thursday against the Rangers at the Stadium. Girardi said it’s “to try to keep everyone closer to a regular turn (and) a couple of extra bullpen sessions for him.”
“This is a game where you have to prove yourself over and over,” Girardi said.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon raved about Nova.
“Their guy really settled in,” Maddon said. “I don’t understand why this guy struggles. I have never seen him bad. I don’t know — one of the best pitchers in the world as far as I’m concerned. He gets that hook over and he’s really tough on left-handers.”
Boone Logan gave up a two-run, bases-loaded single to James Loney that broke the 1-1 tie in the seventh, so 10 of Logan’s 28 inherited runners this season have scored.
Brett Gardner went 3 for 4, giving him at least one hit in 24 of his last 29 games and a .336 average over that stretch.
Zoilo Almonte started for Vernon Wells in left the last three games and went 6 for 10 with two doubles (both in this latest game), a homer and four RBI.
Photo by The Associated Press.
Yankees pregame: Kuroda takes the day shift • 06.19.13
Welcome to a long day/night of baseball. Hiroki Kuroda will start for the Yankees in the opener of the doubleheader against the Dodgers and Phil Hughes will take the night shift. Kuroda is 7-2 with a 2.18 ERA in his 12 day starts with the Yankees these two seasons, tied for the top winning percentage in the AL (.778).
“A lot of times when you have a little age on you, you prefer the first game instead of waiting around all day,” Joe Girardi said. “Hughesie seems to like to pitch a little better at night. So it actually works out pretty well.”
Kuroda went 7-12 with a 3.79 ERA in 26 games, including 25 starts, working on the day side for the Dodgers. And now he gets to go against his old team.
“What might help is this situation is a lot of the guys that are playing today weren’t teammates of his,” Girardi said. “They have a lot of new faces there.”
Girardi said he hadn’t spoken to Brian Cashman as yet about the Yankees’ plan for the outfielder they reportedly have acquired from the Astros, Fernando Martinez, the former Mets prospect who got hurt often and didn’t pan out. The Yankees do need outfield depth at Triple-A.
The tentative plan for new call-up Zoilo Almonte is to give the 24-year-old switch-hitting outfielder a start in the second game and probably one against a righty in the coming Tampa Bay series. He was batting .297 with 12 doubles, six homers and 36 RBI with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was batting .354 in 16 games this month, including 10 for 17 in his last four games. Almonte played all three outfield positions for the RailRiders.
“We really believe this kid is going to hit,” Girardi said. “At times, we really saw it in spring training. He struggled a little bit in spring training. Maybe it was the excitement of trying to make a team. But he has seemed to swing the bat pretty well down there, especially left-handed. He’s a guy that can play either left or right, which is helpful in this situation.”
Photo by The Associated Press.
Here’s an interesting lineup note: Tonight’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre infield has Ronnier Mustelier at third, Corban Joseph at second and David Adams at first.
We’ve already seen the Yankees send Joseph to first base a few times this season. Now Adams is getting a turn, and as far as I can tell, it’s his first time ever playing the position.
As for what to read into that…
Given the current first base situation in New York, where Lyle Overbay has no real backup, it makes sense to have two pretty solid utility-types learn the position. But it’s also worth noting, that while Joseph and Adams are pretty good offensive infielders, neither one stands out as a first-base type bat. Learning first base in order to play it in a pinch makes sense, but it’s hard to imagine either one being truly converted to the position.
Another thing to consider is that it makes sense to use first base almost like a second DH. The Yankees want to give Adams some time at second base, and when that happens, they can keep Joseph in the lineup by playing him at first. They also want to give Mustelier some time at third, and when that happens, they can move Adams to first. First base could be little more than a way for these guys to get at-bats.
More playing time, with a little extra defensive flexibility? Why not?
• This morning, Zoilo Almonte was named International League Player of the Week. He had a hit in all eight RailRiders games, batting .355 with two home runs and a league-best seven RBI. His season slash line is pretty terrific — .293/.393/.455 — but the problem with Almonte, from the Yankees perspective, is that he’s a switch hitter who’s much better from the left side. He’s hitting .299/.400/.494 against righties, but .273/.370/.318 against lefties. He has 10 extra-base hits this season, only one of them against a left-hander. The Yankees would have far more use for Almonte from the right side.
• Chien-Ming Wang is making another Triple-A start tonight. Wang’s numbers are terrific — 0.95 ERA through three starts — but Brian Cashman said last week that the Yankees want Wang to be more effective with his offspeed stuff. He still has the sinker, but it doesn’t have the same velocity that he had when he was a 19-game winner. The Yankees believe he’ll need to use his secondary stuff to have success with the current fastball.
• If this Eduardo Nunez rib cage injury is a real issue that requires a DL stint, who would the Yankees bring up? Gil Velazquez is a steady veteran, but he’s hitting .197 with no extra-base hits in Triple-A. Addison Maruszak is less proven defensively, but he has a .390 Triple-A on-base percentage and can play basically any position except pitcher. The bigger issue might be this: There’s not another shortstop on the 40-man roster. If the Yankees had to make a call-up, it might make more sense to recall Joseph and simply consider Chris Nelson the emergency shortstop for a couple of weeks.
• This really has little impact on the big league roster, but it seems like a real issue for the Triple-A team: Cody Johnson, Dan Johnson and Luke Murton have combined for three home runs for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dan Johnson has always raked at that level, and both Murton and Cody Johnson have — at the very least — shown legitimate power in Double-A. I have to imagine that the Yankees expected their Triple-A roster to get a power boost from at least one of those three.
• Down in Double-A, Slade Heathcott is hitting just .198/.276/.291, Tyler Austin is slugging just .394 — granted, his on-base percentage is also .394 — and Ramon Flores recently hit a cold spell that’s dropped his batting average from .333 to .263 in a span of two weeks. So who’s the prospect standout in Trenton? It has to be catcher J.R. Murphy who’s hitting .309/.408/.543 with more walks than strikeouts.
• It’s worth noting that Rob Segedin was also putting up terrific Double-A numbers — .338/.390/.606 with 10 doubles — before landing on the disabled list with a hip injury. The down side: He’d also made nine errors at third base, the most errors of anyone in the system.
• After making a huge impression in spring training, Jose Ramirez was kept back in extended spring for a few weeks before finally making his regular season debut with four scoreless innings on April 26. He then pitched five innings with one hit and one unearned run on Wednesday. He’s scheduled to make his third appearance tomorrow. So far, he has 12 strikeouts and two walks through nine innings.
• Francisco Rondon as a starter this season: 7.16 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 22 strikeouts and 17 walks through 27.2 innings. Wonder how long this experiment will continue if the numbers don’t improve drastically.
• Most eye-opening offensive stats in the Yankees organization? Has to be Rob Refsnyder. An NCAA standout at Arizona, Refsnyder is moving from the outfield back to second base — where he played in high school and, I believe, early in college — and his 11 errors show that there’s a bit of a learning curve. But the bat… my goodness. Refsnyder has already been promoted from Low-A to High-A, and between the two stops he’s hitting a combined .374/.486/.504 with more walks than strikeouts and 12 stolen bases without being caught. His numbers have actually been better since the promotion. He’s played 16 High-A games, and he’s had multiple hits in eight of them. Crazy.
• Yonkers native Dan Fiorito — signed last year out of Manhattanville after impressing the Yankees during a workout for non-drafted players — was sent to Tampa on April 22 to help out at shortstop. He’s basically become the everyday guy hitting .400/.478/.425 through 40 at-bats. He’s not a name on the prospect radar, but because of where he’s from I know him a little and was actually paying attention to him every time I was at the minor league complex this spring. He really, really stood out as a guy who seemed willing and able to lead. Heard him talking to teammates a lot between innings. A lot of “Let’s go, we can do this” kind of stuff. It stood out considering it was coming from a guy who’d never been in spring training and didn’t have the draft pedigree of most of the guys around him. Not saying he’s a future Jeter, just something that caught my attention.
• Back-to-back two-hit games by Gary Sanchez and his slash line is back up to .269/.355/.472 with five home runs, most of anyone in the system.
• Big strikeout numbers from Tampa starters Corey Black (36 in 30.2 innings), Mikey O’Brien (34 in 26.2 innings) and Shane Greene (33 in 36.1 innings) but the Tampa starter with the lowest ERA and lost opponents batting average is Bryan Mitchell with a 3.06 ERA and .235 opponents average. His down side has been the 18 walks. Lowest WHIP in that Tampa rotation belongs to the other starter, Scottie Allen, at 1.19. Pretty decent young arms in that group.
• We head all the way down to Charleston to find the organizational leader in walks. Low-A first baseman Greg Bird has 25 walks, good for a .425 on-base percentage. He slugged .494 in limited at-bats last season, but that power hasn’t shown up so far this season (only a .364 slugging percentage with one homer) but obviously the approach is encouraging for a 20-year-old.
• Less encouraging are the numbers for Low-A third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., who’s still trying to recapture his standout 2011 results. Sent to Charleston for a second season, Bichette is hitting just .186/.246/.265 with two homers, seven walks and 33 strikeouts. Speaking of repeating Low-A, shortstop Cito Culver has always been a glove-first player, but his .212/.305/.354 slash line is basically the same as last season except with a more power (Culver hit two homers last year, he’s already hit three this year).
• Want more good news in the Charleston lineup? Catcher Peter O’Brien has seven hits in his past three games and is hitting .313/.348/.563 for the year. He played in 21 games and has more than one hit in nine of them. He’s thrown out just over 25 percent of base stealers, which ranks him near the bottom of the South Atlantic League.
• Welcome to the U.S., Rafael De Paula. I was beginning to think he was more myth than man, but he’s finally pitching in the states and has an unreal 46 strikeouts through 27.1 innings with Charleston. Opponents are hitting .188 against him. That’s called living up to the hype, but Gabe Encinas is not sitting quietly in the shadows. Drafted in 2010, Encinas hasn’t put up particularly impressive numbers until this season. Through six starts he has a 0.84 ERA while holding opponents to a .175 average. His 28 strikeouts aren’t as impressive as De Paula’s massive number of Ks, but Encinas’ 1.05 WHIP is lower than De Paula’s 1.21.
Adams photo from my great friends at the Scranton Times-Tribune; headshots of Almonte, Murphy, Refsnyder and Bird
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
Almonte making an impression in Yankees camp • 03.11.12
Zoilo Almonte wasn’t necessarily organizational filler, but for too long he’d been an intriguing young hitter with so-so results. He had a pretty nice year with Staten Island in 2009 — .274/.355/.440 — he followed it with a kind of all-or-nothing 2010 split between Charleston and Tampa. There was always something to like, but rarely anything to love, and he remained firmly on the fringes of prospect buzz.
Last spring was the breakout that landed him a spot on the 40-man, and his first week and a half in big league camp have him on the radar.
“His at-bats are really good,” Joe Girardi said today. “His defense has been good. He’s run the bases. Everything that you’d ask a player to do, he’s done. This is a young man that really kind of burst on the scene a little bit. He showed up on the radar, (and) we might really have something. He’s just continued to do it in camp. Has there been a hitter more productive?”
Counting his big game against South Florida, Almonte is 6-for-10 with seven RBI. You could certainly make the case that Alex Rodriguez and maybe even Jose Gil have been just as good, but Almonte has made himself a player worth watching. He hit .293/.368/.514 before a promotion to Trenton last season, and this year’s trick will be continuing that production at the Double-A level. The upper levels of the Yankees system are thin in the outfield, so Almonte could easily put himself on the verge if he continues to hit.
In some ways, Melky Mesa is a cautionary tale. Mesa was also a fringy prospect who landed a 40-man spot after a big season in Tampa only to follow it with a disappointing year in Trenton, but Almonte is younger — still just 22 – and hasn’t shown the same consistently extreme strikeout totals. Almonte is far from a sure thing, but he’s an interesting guy in an organization that’s waiting for a big-league-ready outfield prospect to emerge. Even if he’s nothing more than a switch-hitting fourth outfielder, Almonte could be helpful in these money-saving days.
Associated Press photo
Tuesday notes: “I didn’t want any excuses” • 03.06.12
Joe Girardi didn’t exactly rip Phil Hughes this morning, but he did address the fact that Hughes wasn’t in great shape last spring. Girardi talked about expectations, entitlement and work ethic, and Girardi more than implied that he wasn’t happy with the way Hughes approached last spring.
“There’s a concern,” Girardi said. “The thing is, I’d seen him work very hard before. But yeah, it does question where their mindset is. Where’s their mindset?”
“I think you could tell by the way he came into camp that there’s a little bit more of an edge,” Girardi said.
After the game, Hughes was very good about addressing those conditioning concerns. It’s not the kind of thing players like talking about, but Hughes touched on a little bit of everything, from the disappointment of last season to the notion that complacency might have played a role.
“Last year was a failure and I didn’t want to do that again,” he said. “I didn’t want any excuses coming into spring. I needed to be strong and I needed to pitch well, so that’s on me. Everyone can want you to succeed as much as they want but at the end of the day I have to go out and do it.”
On last winter’s training program: “Maybe I thought I needed more rest than I really did in that off-season. Maybe just didn’t push it as hard as I could have. At the end of the day, it falls on me, and I paid for it with a disappointing year.”
On this winter’s training program: “I don’t think there was necessarily a message sent in my direction. I did my offseason program on my own. I actually had to call the team and make sure it was OK that I did it. So it wasn’t like I was being punished and sent to boot camp somewhere. It was something I wanted to do.”
• In his first spring start CC Sabathia allowed hits to the first three batters he faced, then he retired the next five. “I’ve still got a little work to do, but my arm feels good and my body feels good,” Sabathia said.
• Someone asked whether Sabathia can more easily dismiss some of those first-inning hits because they were helped by the wind. “No because the two balls that were outs in the next inning were crushed,” he said. “It’s just baseball.”
• Hughes was at 38 pitches when he came out of the game in the third inning. He laughed about Larry Rothschild’s trip to the mound that inning. “That was kind of a stall there, a little bit,” Hughes said. “I think he talked about the hitter that was up there. I’m pretty sure he was making it all up.”
• With Hiroki Koroda pitching tomorrow, the Yankees starters will slide into their regular five-game routines. It’s pretty much the usual rotation — with Hughes and Sabathia on the same day — from here on out. Girardi said Sabathia might pitch in a minor league game when it comes his turn next week.
• Despite the fact he played today, Derek Jeter said he’s planning to play tomorrow. He didn’t explain, but it’s pretty easy to look at the schedule and figure out why. Tomorrow and Friday are home games. Thursday and Saturday are on the road. Jeter might not be Mariano Rivera, but he’s got some clout.
• Girardi said he didn’t think Mark Teixeira was scheduled to play tomorrow, so if he’s out of the lineup, don’t read anything into it. Today’s thumb incident — he jammed his thumb a little bit applying a tag — seems to be a non-issue.
• George Kontos came through long toss yesterday with no problem. He was cleared today to resume full workouts with core work and regular lifting. He’ll do long toss again tomorrow and hopes to be in a bullpen within a few days.
• Zoilo Almonte’s perfect spring training came to an end with an 0-for-1 afternoon. He was 5-for-5 until now.
• None of the Yankees had more than one hit. Justin Maxwell and David Adams each had doubles — Adams’ came off former Yankees prospect Dan McCutchen — and there were singles from Jeter (first hit of the spring), Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Mesa, Chris Dickerson and Ramiro Pena. Mesa showed off his arm a little bit, throwing out Jake Fox at third base from center field.
• Brett Marshall had the pitching line of the day with 1.2 hitless innings. Graham Stoneburner allowed a run on four hits through two innings and Chase Whitley gave up three runs and five hits in the eighth.
Associated Press photos
Monday notes: A strong first impression • 03.05.12
The first time Michael Pineda was approached by a massive group of Yankees reporters, he’d just thrown batting practice in Tampa, and as soon as the crowd began to surround his locker, Pineda looked like a deer in the headlights. It had been quite a while since he’d pitched — he wasn’t mobbed as soon as he got to the clubhouse — but he seemed overwhelmed by the attention. You couldn’t help but wonder if it would be a bit much for him.
Today, he stood up in the corner of the clubhouse and gave an easy, light-hearted interview. Asked whether he was nervous to pitch today, he said “Hell no!” and started laughing. He didn’t come across as arrogant, just young and confident and perfectly at ease.
“I feel very good now,” he said. “I feel (a part of) the Yankee team right now.”
Freddy Garcia said yesterday that Pineda has been asking a lot of questions about what it’s like to pitch in New York. Larry Rothschild said he’s been more than willing to try new things that might make him better. Russell Martin was impressed with his willingness to use his developing changeup his first time out.
“In the meeting we had before the game, he was like, ‘I really want to work on my changeup today,’” Martin said. “And I told him, we’re going to use it, and use it the way you would use it during the season. I like him because he wants to work on stuff that he hasn’t mastered yet. He has a really good feel for his slider, his fastball. The velocity wasn’t where it’s going to be during the season but he has good fastball command and that was key.”
What I’ve seen of him, Pineda seems mostly quiet but confident. After today’s start, he was engaging. A language barrier sometimes limited him to one-word answers, but he seemed happy to talk and willing to consider his answers. He said he hadn’t been surrounded by so many reports since last year’s all-star game. As far as first impressions go, this was a good one.
“He seems to have that attitude that nothing really seems to bother him,” Joe Girardi said. “I’m curious to see as we move along how he carries himself on an everyday basis because I don’t know him. You try to learn a guy as soon as you can but you want to see, as they go through things, how they carry themselves.”
• No radar display at the stadium, but I was told Pineda’s fastball was roughly 89-91 mph and reached 92 once. That’s quite a bit lower than he’s expected to be in the season, but Larry Rothschild seemed unfazed. “Not what it’s going to be later in spring,” he said. “A little bit below, which you expect. Guys that are power pitchers usually take a little bit longer.”
• Pineda said earlier this spring that he showed up weighing about 10 pounds more than last season. He said today that he’s already lost seven to eight pounds and would like to drop two to four more.
• Nick Swisher fouled a ball off his shin but should be fine. No real concerns there.
• Dave Robertson struggled with his command in his spring debut. He allowed a run on a hit and a walk. “Sloppy, very sloppy,” Robertson said. “I just felt like my timing was off… Usually I feel like if you can throw it pretty close to the strike zone, the guys are going to swing (because) they’re not used to seeing it. I wasn’t able to get it in that zone today. I just couldn’t quite find it.”
• Jimmy Rollins stole two bases in that third inning, and Robertson said neither one was Russell Martin’s fault. “Nothing Russ could do about it,” Robertson said. “Because I was so slow to the plate.”
• The thing you really care about: Robertson said he’s thinking about sticking with the stirups this season. He wore them in college and for a while in the minor leagues – I can’t remember whether he had them in Scranton – and he’s taking them on something of a test drive this spring. “Have a bunch more outings like that and I won’t,” he said.
• I was down in the clubhouse and didn’t see much of Ryan Pope’s 1.2 hitless innings, but things were out of hand before that because Adam Miller and Juan Cedeno really struggled. They combined for four walks, five hits and eight earned runs. Miller also hit a guy. Cesar Cabral threw a scoreless fourth inning, but he was hit pretty hard. “You want them to get some outings under their belt before you really start analyzing what they’re doing,” Girardi said.
• Zoilo Almonte. 1-for-1. RBI. Still the late-inning star of these first few games.
• The only Yankee with more than one hit was Gustavo Molina who went 2-for-2. Brett Gardner had a triple, Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez, Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena, Jayson Nix and Colin Curtis each singled.
• As planned, George Kontos threw long toss today. That’s his next step back from a sore oblique.
• After failing his physical with the Yankees, Hideki Okajima has signed a deal to return to Japan.
• Newly acquired reliever David Aardsma did a Q&A with the blog Yankees Fans Unite. Check it out.
Associated Press photos
Yankees at the break: Outfield corners • 07.13.11
Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher each started the season with horrible numbers. Gardner lost his grip on the leadoff spot by the end of April, and Swisher sat for two days so that he could get his swing together. Lately, they’ve both been back to last year’s level of production.
As recently as May 25, Swisher was hitting just .208 with just two home runs. He was frustrated and it was beginning to show. Since then, he’s hit .302/.420/.566 with eight homers and the same over-the-top attitude that made him a fan favorite. Gardner was hitting .188 with a .273 on-base percentage at the end of April, but in the past two and a half months he’s hit .292 with a .374 on-base. He’s also become a much more dangerous and effective base stealer. He’s been streaky, but he’s also been productive, and he’s played his usual Gold Glove caliber defense.
Unless the Yankees decide to replace Andruw Jones on the bench, they really have no need for an outfield upgrade. Gardner’s not a typical corner outfielder, but he’s been effective with his unusual approach at the plate and his game-changing speed on the bases. Swisher has regained last year’s form and is once again one of the Yankees most dangerous and versatile hitters. Where they best fit in the lineup might be a legitimate question, but whether to play them regularly shouldn’t be.
Justin Maxwell was crushing the baseball in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and might have hit his way onto the big league roster if not for a season-ending injury. With Maxwell on the DL, Jordan Parraz as been the top corner outfielder in Triple-A, and Tampa left fielder Ziolo Almonte has been the best corner outfielder in the system. Almonte has been hitting for average and power while stealing bases, and he has to be considered a promotion candidate in the second half. Ray Kruml has emerged as a terrific leadoff man in Trenton, while Ramon Flores has lived up to his reputation for outstanding plate discipline for a teenager in Charleston.
Is Gardner about to win his first Gold Glove?
Gardner’s always had great speed, and last year he seemed to slowly make people realize just how well that speed plays in the outfield. This year, he’s also been effective throwing the ball. His four outfield assists aren’t near the AL leaders, but runners seem to be respecting his arm a little bit more this season and not taking as many chances. I’m guessing manager have noticed.
Gardner is heading for his first year of arbitration, so he’s still relatively cheap for next season. Swisher has a $10.25-million club option for next year, and the Yankees have to decide whether to exercise it. Given the money that Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth got this winter, they might not think twice about getting Swisher at that price.
Associated Press photo