Category Archives: Analysis

Miraculous 8th Inning Comeback Propels Yanks To 6-4 Win

APTOPIX White Sox Yankees Baseball.JPEG-01d77

Despite going up against arguably the best pitcher in baseball in White Sox ace Chris Sale, it still would’ve been a disappointment had the Yankees lost last night. There’s no need to explain that the team has to go on a 2011 Cardinals-esque run to even have a shot at the playoffs in a few weeks, so any loss against a lesser team is simply unacceptable.

Unfortunately, it looked like the Yanks had accepted their fate in last night’s game, as Sale had gone out and completely dominated the lineup. If it weren’t for yet another defensive miscue by Chicago that allowed Vernon Wells to steal home in the 2nd inning, the 24-year old lefty would’ve been working on a shutout as  he started the 8th inning after allowing just three hits.

After recording an out, Sale surrendered a single to Derek Jeter and a double to Robinson Cano that put runners on second and third. Manager Robin Ventura elected to bring in Nate Jones to face Alfonso Soriano with Chicago’s  4-1 lead still in-tact.

But, it probably shocked no one who was on the field when Soriano poked a single into center field, scoring Jeter and Cano to make it a 4-3 game. Even on nights when he may not have his A-game, Sori just keeps on producing and coming through in the clutch. It’s pretty remarkable.

Anyway, Jones stayed in there to face Alex Rodriguez who singled to center as well, putting runners at the corners. As Joe Girardi went to his bench and pinch-hit Curtis Granderson for Vernon Wells, Ventura did some match-making of his own by bringing in Donnie Veal.

Yet, it was Joe who won this battle of the skippers as Grandy picked up the Yankees’ fifth straight hit of the inning with an RBI single. The game was now tied up at 4, and fans who were watching could swear a DeLorean picked them up and brought them back to 2009. It was that magical of a comeback, and the best part was that it was far from over.

Mark Reynolds struck out, but Ventura again went to the bullpen, bringing in Matt Lindstrom. Although it really didn’t matter who was on the mound, because the momentum had shifted completely. People knew that the Yanks were going to find a way to get it done no matter what.

So when Eduardo Nunez laced a two-run double down the left field line, the Yankees had a 6-4 lead and it was time to “put it on the left side”, as Michael Kay once said. In came Mariano Rivera and in a matter of minutes the ballgame was over, as Mo racked up his 40th save of the season.

While the Yanks may not have gained any ground as the Rays defeated the Angels, they luckily did not lose any. The team was well on its way to a well-deserved loss through the first 7 1/2 innings, but luckily they found a way to claw back in what may turn out to be their best game of the season.

But as is the case during a playoff chase like this, last night’s likely Yankee Classic is exactly that – in the past – and the Yanks have to focus on winning TODAY. It’ll be our former ace CC Sabathia going up against right-hander Erik Johnson, who is making his Major League debut. Game time is 7:05pm, and it’s can’t-miss television, folks. Now is the time to be fully invested in this Yankee team. It’s got talent, it’s got heart, it’s got pride, and it’s got the mentality Mariano Duncan and the 1996 world championship team had – that “We play today, we win today, das it!”

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Yankees Road Through September (and maybe the playoffs)?

Robinson Cano and the Yankees have a tough task in September--get into the wild card race anyway they can

Robinson Cano and the Yankees have a tough task in September–get into the wild card race anyway they can

The Yankees have 29 games left this season, and they gained a half game yesterday without playing a game (thanks Angels and Tigers). As the Baltimore Orioles come into town this weekend, the schedule for the Yankees in September will tell them just how much of a playoff contending team they are. Here’s a preview of the September calendar, and where the Yankees could stand at the end of the month.

August 30 – September 1

Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees

The Baltimore Orioles pitching is a bit sketchy, but they can survive sketchy pitching with their lineup. With the power bat of Chris Davis and the ability for the rest of team to scratch out runs, the Yankees are in for the fight of their life this weekend. This series won’t be easy but the Yankees have added Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano should he be well enough to play at some point this weekend. The Yankees need to at least take two out of three in this series, which means that CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova need to step up and pitch well (Nova has done that this season, the sentence was more for Hughes and Sabathia). Also a word of advice, if the Yankees want a chance to take the series, I’d suggest taking Hughes out of the rotation and put David Huff to start instead. Just because David Huff combined with his last two outings had pitched a full game giving up no runs and one hit. I’d sign up for that instead of home runs and runs from Hughes.

September 2 – September 4

Chicago White Sox vs. New York Yankees

The last time these two teams faced one another, the White Sox swept the Yankees in three games. This time it should be a bit different since we didn’t have any power bats in our lineup at the time (minus Robinson Cano). This White Sox team is a bit different since they gave up a lot of their key players during the season to contending teams, so it should be an easier battle this time around. If all goes according to plan, the best case scenario would be to take two out of three. I’d be greedy saying I want the sweep, but hey…don’t we all?

September 5 – September 8

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

The Red Sox and Yankees were the highlight of ESPN baseball two weeks ago when the Red Sox woke up the Yankees after an intentionally pitch to Alex Rodriguez hit him in his ribs. This time it’s a four game set at Yankee Stadium and the Red Sox will have to face off against the Yankees once again. The Yankees took two out of three last time due to great pitching and timely hitting. The Yankees need to have the same formula coming into the series. The keys to this series: keep Jacoby Ellsbury off base since he’s the Red Sox version of Brett Gardner and find a way to get David Ortiz out anyway they can. (As of the morning of August 30, Ortiz has been in a slump going 0 for his last 23). This series is crucial. The Yankees need to at least take two out of the four games.

September 9 – September 12

New York Yankees vs. Baltimore Orioles

The Yankees go from one four game series to another four game series, this time traveling to Camden Yards for this four game set vs. the Orioles. Keys to the rest of the Orioles series is simple: Don’t give them anything to hit, especially Chris Davis. One mistake and it could go out to Eutaw street faster than you can say “Mariano Rivera“. Which means I strongly advise Joe Girardi to again not play Phil Hughes. Don’t know how many times I’m going to have to say this.

September 13 – September 15

New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox

After the Orioles series, the Yankees go to Boston and play another series at Fenway. Yep, same old same old Yankees vs. Red Sox. But this has more on the line for the Yankees than it does for the Red Sox. Let’s just say find a way to stop the Red Sox bats, score some runs, take two out of three and get the heck out of there? Sound good? Good.

September 17 – September 19

New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The Yankees go to Canada to play the Toronto Blue Jays in their final showdown this season. The Yankees have owned the Blue Jays this season, minus the most recent series where the Blue Jays took two out of three from the Yankees. Well, the Yankees will be looking for a vengeance. Key to this series: Keep the power hitters at bay, don’t walk Jose Reyes and Rajai Davis–and try to get to the Blue Jays pitching. The Yankees have the discipline to do so and have proved it in the past.

September 20 – September 22

San Francisco Giants vs. New York Yankees

All right, who made this schedule? An interleague game at the end of the year? Anyway, back to the topic at hand: The Giants this year–aren’t very good (and that’s an understatement). The Yankees could have themselves a two out of three series (or maybe a sweep) if the Yankees run into bad pitching, which the Giants have had this season. Well, we don’t know when the Giants will come back to Yankee Stadium so we might as well enjoy this series (that and we could see how starstruck the players get when they run into Mariano Rivera).

September 24 – September 26

Tampa Bay Rays vs. New York Yankees

The final series at Yankee Stadium for the 2013 season is against the Tampa Bay Rays who have the pitching to get them where they need to be if they make the first wild card spot. The keys to this series is simple: Don’t give any of the power hitters (and there are some power hitters) anything good to hit. That includes Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce…you get the picture. It’s also important to stay patient with the pitchers.  You never know when you can get into their bullpen which has had an up and down year.

September 27 – September 29

New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The final series of the season takes the Yankees to Texas, but not to face the Rangers. Instead, they will face the Houston Astros. Honestly, if the Yankees can’t sweep the Astros, then we don’t deserve to be contending. The Houston Astros are a minor league team in the Major Leagues, and that’s me putting it as nicely as I can. Depending where the Yankees are in the wild card standings at this point in the season, this series is important. This series could make or break the chances of getting into the playoffs if the race is that close in the end.

The Interim Captain Steers The Yankees Ship

Derek Jeter has always been a leader for the Yankees, but when he went down with an injury, someone had to step up

Derek Jeter has always been a leader for the Yankees, but when he went down with an injury, someone had to step up

It’s not a secret that Derek Jeter is the Captain of the New York Yankees. His presence in the clubhouse, how he keeps his composure after tough losses and how he has that mentality that if it’s not broken, he can play is what makes him one of the greatest Yankees alive. When reporters go to the clubhouse, they anticipate going to see what wisdom Derek Jeter has for them today. What knowledge he’s going to instill in their brain, what sarcastic humor he has up his sleeve. The Yankees are a gigantic ship and Derek Jeter is their Captain.

But when Derek Jeter was constantly out of the lineup this season, the team started to look lost and confused, losing games constantly and feeling as if there was no hope for their play-off dreams. I remember discussing Derek Jeter’s injuries and the Yankees troubles with my mother one day, and the words that came out of her mouth had me thinking long and hard for the next couple of months:

“The Yankees ship can’t go anywhere if it doesn’t have a captain to steer them.”

The Yankees looked as if they were giving up, as if all was hopeless for the team. They still weren’t doing their best on the field and they became defeated–until the media decided to speak to the normally quiet Brett Gardner. For the last couple of seasons, Gardner was just one of the guys in the clubhouse. He was quiet, he never had much to say and he continued to try to keep his starting job in left field. But after a tough loss, something sparked Gardner to talk to the media, about what Derek Jeter had taught him.

One thing I’ve really learned from Jeet over the years. He’s not here right now, but he’s been so good at turning the page. Doesn’t matter if you are 0-for-5 or 5-or-5, or if we win or lose, we’ve got a game tomorrow. As soon as we walk out here tonight, we’ve got to focus on getting ready to play tomorrow.”

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Brett Gardner has become more vocal about the Yankees on and off the field and he’s slowly transforming into a leader

Ever since Brett Gardner uttered those words, I never looked at him the same again. Before that night, he was one of the guys just trying to get on base like he normally does in order to help the team win. But that night, he became someone–a leader. The times that he was quiet, he would spend it observing Derek Jeter, what Derek Jeter would do, what Derek Jeter would say, how Derek Jeter would handle a situation. Gardner would observe everything and in the end, it seemed like he was the one to learn the most from the Captain. From that moment on, Gardner became a huge catalyst on the team, driving in runs, getting on base, giving up his body for the game of baseball, playing hard and gritty as he always does, all to make sure that his team would reach victory.

He took it upon himself to create a new walk-off tradition after A.J Burnett took his pies to Pittsburgh. He thought of Gatorade. He would pour Gatorade on players that hit a walk-off. It became a hit with the crowd and soon, he was the one being doused in his own walk-off creation after saving the Yankees from two extra losses this past weekend. Joe Girardi would quip that Gardner enjoyed the walk-off tradition more than anyone on the team, and that when the time came, he should be a football coach just to take baths in Gatorade after a victory.

Gardner was even talking to the media more, the media wanting insight on what happened each night,  his thoughts on a particular player. Typical Gardner would nod politely, give his opinion as professionally as possible and still find some ways to bring the win around the team, even if he was the one that hit a game winning base-hit or saved a play in the outfield. With Gardner it was all about the team, something he learned from Derek Jeter. He would sign things for kids, he was more active around the team, he showed he was the heart and hustle, hence winning the 2013 Heart and Hustle Award. He proved he had love for the game and it wasn’t about the money. He enjoys being out there and it’s evident every time that he goes to the plate.

When he messes up and gets tossed from a game, he goes back the next day to apologize to the umpire for what he believes was his irrational behavior. When he doesn’t make a catch that he thought he could make, he vows to his teammates and to himself that he’ll get the next one. When the chips are down and things look impossible for the Yankees, Gardner steps up.

Joe Girardi took a notice to Brett Gardner’s leadership behavior and frankly, he has been impressed by the young spunky outfielder.

“Gardy is fiery, and I think his personality comes out. It’s been great having him all year. As I said, we really missed him last year – what he’s capable of doing. His personality has definitely come out this year. It’s good.”

When Jeter returns from the disabled list, the job of Captain will once again be his, but us Yankees fans can never forget to thank Brett Gardner for being the one to step up and keeping other teams from sinking our battleship.

Yankees re-acquire Alfonso Soriano in trade w/Cubs

alfonso_soriano_by_cool_sports_players_1Next February, it will be an even ten years since the Yankees decided to trade for Rangers star shortstop Alex Rodriguez. At first, a deal with Boston was vetoed by the Commissioner’s Office, so Texas turned their attention to what New York had to offer.

Seeing the potential success A-Rod could bring to the team on and off the field, the Bombers parted with their fan favorite Dominican second baseman Alfonso Soriano, along with a player to be named later. That “PTBNL” ended up being infielder Joaquin Arias, selected from a pool of prospects that included international signee Robinson Cano.

To say the least, things haven’t quite worked out for the Yanks. However, they have now made a move to bring this controversial and monumental decade in franchise history full circle.

So, here it is. The Yankees have re-acquired Alfonso Soriano in a trade with the Chicago Cubs. Chicago has agreed to pay 18 of the 25 million dollars still owed to Soriano, and in exchange pitching prospect Corey Black will be heading to the Windy City.

“Sori” is a different player than he was when he last wore the pinstripes. No longer a speed demon, leadoff hitter, nor infielder, Soriano has played left field since his one and only season with the Washington Nationals in 2006. He has managed to stay mostly healthy throughout his career, as now at 37 years old Sori has been a lock for at least 20 home runs, 70 RBI, and a slugging percentage in the .400s each year.

So far in 2013, the seven-time All-Star is batting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI, which instantly makes him the Yankees’ best [active] right-handed hitter. Yet, sabermetrics suggest this won’t be that big of a boost to the lineup (0.7 WAR, 100 wRC+). Defensively he is also a liability, perhaps even worse than Raul Ibanez who faked his way as an everyday left fielder in 2012.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Soriano’s deal runs through 2014, so he now joins Ichiro and Vernon Wells as another old, washed-up outfielder that is practically irremovable considering all the money owed to him by now both Chicago and the Yankees.

This is not to say Soriano can’t be a somewhat productive player for this year and next, but it’s unlikely he will be as productive as a younger, perhaps cheaper alternative (Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, and Jason Kubel to name a few).

However in the interim, as in the rest of this season, this definitely will help out the Yankees lineup. They are desperately searching for power from the right side of the plate and it appears Soriano can provide that. He will likely bat in the middle of the order, and probably will DH more often than not with Vernon Wells still being a capable defensive outfielder.

But, this probably can’t won’t be a season-changing addition, and certainly without Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, [maybe A-Rod] and perhaps another bat via trade, this deal could go down as a useless one.

It will be nice to see an old face back in pinstripes, but it may be nothing more than that. Don’t expect an offensive turnaround with Soriano now in the fold; as mentioned it will take a lot more than him to get this team back into legitimate playoff contention.

Still, let’s all welcome back to the Yankees Alfonso Soriano. Hopefully he proves me wrong.

Three years later, George’s death looms large over the Yankees

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
A
nd the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

The last verse of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” can perfectly be applied to the current state of baseball’s most championed franchise, the New York Yankees.

Yes, the team has continued to make the playoffs and be perennial contenders, but things haven’t been the same and the times surely began to change when the “dynasty” era of Yankees baseball came to a crashing end on July 13th, 2010.

New Yorik Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner speaks at a new

This of course was when George Steinbrenner passed away due to a massive heart attack at the age of 80. His death came just two days after long-time public address announcer Bob Sheppard, known as “The Voice of God”, passed on as well at the ripe old age of 99. Two seemingly immortal figures of the organization were gone in a flash.

Admittedly, both legendary men had disappeared from the public years prior. Due to deteriorating health, Sheppard could no longer muster the strength needed to do his job, as he announced his last game in person on September 5th, 2007. He would later officially retire in November of 2009.

The Boss, on the other hand, made the decision himself to step down as the day-to-day operator of the team. On November 20th, 2008, his sons Hal and Hank Steinbrenner officially became the co-owners of the Yankees, with Hal becoming the managing general partner as well.

George had faith in them, so everyone else did too. And Hal gave no reason to think otherwise when he went out and signed CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixiera all to huge free agent contracts during his first winter as the owner of his dad’s most prized possession. Spending in excess of $400 million, the phrase “like father, like son” held true when he put the Yankees in a position win the World Series in 2009.

Which they did on November 4th, 2009, with George Steinbrenner watching from his home in Tampa, Florida. The Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games to capture, what seemed like, an elusive 27th championship since losing the 2001 Fall Classic to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

100_0806Sitting high up in the grandstands that night, I can recall, “Boss, this is for you!” displayed across the Yankee Stadium jumbo-tron. And it was true – the Yanks had won this for George. They sensed his morality and Hal wanted to ensure that if his dad’s life was coming to an end, one of his last memories could be watching his Yankees win the World Series, as George once said that breathing is the only thing better than winning.

So, when The Boss did pass on eight months later, the Bombers were the defending champions and in first place, which was probably the only way he could envision leaving the earth.

And it was that day, as I said, when times really started to change. The Yankees lost control of the AL East and settled for the Wild Card in 2010, losing in the ALCS to the Texas Rangers. Of course, the Yankees had far worse seasons under The Boss’ reign, but you really felt his absence, especially in the following offseason. The Yanks attempted to sign lefty ace Cliff Lee to a contract similar to the one Sabathia received, yet they couldn’t quite close the deal as Lee went back to the Phillies.

Once Cliff spurned the Yankees, the team didn’t know what to do, and most probably were looking back on some foolish moves made once The Boss stepped down as the team’s owner. On December 9th, 2009, the Yankees traded two of their most highly touted prospects, Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy, in a three-team deal to get Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson. New York had decided to sacrifice its future for immediate success, something that George had been turned away from doing for years.

Now, there is no denying that The Boss had looked into, and nearly pulled the trigger on, trading the Core Four and other players such as Bernie Williams and Robinson Cano early in each of their respective careers. But when George felt the need to upgrade the team for a particular season, there were guys like Buck Showalter and Gene “Stick” Michael to convince him to hold onto the future stars.

Buck was, of course, fired by George after 1995, and Stick left his position as vice president of the team in 2002. It can be argued that with their departures, went the genius scouting of the Yanks that they had lacked for decades, and once again are in need of. As mentioned, with the Granderson trade, the Yankees mindlessly dealt top prospects for what will turn out to be a three-year rental of a potent, yet strike-out prone outfield bat. Meanwhile, Jackson has become one of the best lead-off men in the game with the Tigers, and Kennedy was an N.L. Cy Young candidate in 2011 with Arizona.

That trade, along with the one for Javier Vazquez weeks later, are moves that wouldn’t have happened if The Boss and his “cabinet”, if you will, were still here. They had the guts to stand up to George and tell him he was wrong, and he had the trust in his advisors to realize that and pull back or prevent any franchise-altering moves to go down. In the three years since he died, there’s already been a slew of those types of trades, and not for the better. Don’t even remind me of the Montero-Pineda deal, which, while we can’t judge quite yet, certainly hasn’t benefited the Yankees at all.

At the same time, while trading away and failing to develop solid prospects, the Yankees haven’t dipped back into the free agent market for any impactful players either. This has left them to piecemeal together their roster over the past few years, signing players off the scrap-heap and simply getting lucky that they actually perform well. The Yanks ran out of such luck towards the end of 2011, resulting in a disappointing ALDS loss, and in 2012 Derek Jeter broke his ankle and the team was subsequently swept out of the ALCS.

While consistently making it into October is universally considered a successful streak of seasons, every year since George Steinbrenner died, it just feels like the franchise is pushing itself farther and farther away from a championship. Although 2013 can perhaps be considered a fluke season considering all the injuries, the Yankees are in a dire situation for the future. Their top prospects are either just drafted or still in the lower levels of the minor league system, and their lone star is Robinson Cano, who is an impending free agent. Their headlining talent of the past such as Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia, are all either injured, aging, and past their primes, or perhaps a combination of all three. Relying on them to be key contributors at this point is downright foolish, and won’t garner the results the team may hope for as far as October appearances are concerned.

A reluctancy to spend, coupled with an ignorance to focus on developing the farm system, the Yankees have little to offer their fans that would make them, first of all, return to Yankee Stadium and turn their TVs back on to the YES Network. And second, sense a 28th world championship soon to be won.

You may blame it on the scouting. You may blame it on the front office. Heck, you may blame it on the baseball gods giving the Yankees hell for the first time in decades. But the fact remains that since The Boss passed away three years ago today, things haven’t, and probably never will be the same.

Is handicapping the payroll again worth keeping Cano?

robinson-cano2Amazingly, the Yankees are nearing the halfway point in the season. Yes, the All-Star break is next month, but their 81st game of the campaign will be played at the beginning of next week.

The team is in an unusual situation to say the least. Though only trailing the Red Sox by one game in the loss column, the Yanks have struggled mightily over the past few weeks. Since the Subway Series when they were swept aside by the Mets, there hasn’t been any showing of the hope and promise that the year once had back in April.

Sure, no one could have foreseen Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis, and Mark Teixeira all going back on the disabled list days after they came off of it, but the fact remains the offense is anemic, only recently beginning to score north of a couple runs a game.

Brett Gardner has been the one keeping the lineup from turning Astro-nomically bad, currently hitting .285 with 28 RBI and 42 runs scored. That may surprise you since the Yankees have an even better hitter playing everyday in second baseman Robinson Cano, but to say he has had a good season [considering his pure talent and expectations of having a big contract year] would be wrong.

Robbie got off to a torrid start in April, hitting .327. Since then, he has hit .257 in May and .229 so far in June, failing to come up with the big hits when needed. He’s been seen swinging out of his shoes on some occasions, striking out and swinging at pitches that no .300 career hitter would.

The argument certainly can be made that with the replacement-level players that surround Cano in the lineup, he is not getting any good pitches to hit. I mean, who in their right mind would pitch to him when you have Lyle Overbay or Thomas Neal on deck? But at some point, Cano has to make the adjustment to focus on making contact with the ball and getting on base, rather than smashing a game-winning home run. With the superstar status he’s gained over the past few seasons along with the pressure he must be under to perform every night, it’s understandable, but ultimately unacceptable.

That’s why it concerns me when the Yankees seem willing to hand out a lucrative long-term contract to this guy. Right now they are far apart on negotiations, but all signs point to Robbie eventually inking a deal worth at least $150 million over six, seven, eight or even more years. And to see the way he’s performed this year when for the first time he truly is the sole bright spot in the lineup, it’s concerning.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely think Robinson Cano is a top-five MLB player when he is playing up to his potential. He’s certainly the best second baseman in the game and will be for a while. Unlike other pessimists, it’s not necessarily how he’ll age that worries me, it’s the rest of the Yankees that Cano will play with for the duration of his deal.

If you’re still living in the fantasy world that Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, and Granderson will come back strong later this year and lead the charge to a 28th world championship, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. I am an optimistic, but realistic fan, and right now the chances that those four come back and provide so much production so that teams will wind up giving Robbie pitches to hit are rather slim. Cano is the most feared hitter in any Yankee lineup that can be conjured up using the 40 man roster, and we saw how the short returns of Tex, Youk, and Grandy resulted in disrupting the chemistry and production that was once consistently evident in the offense.

Robinson+Cano+Detroit+Tigers+v+New+York+Yankees+783bvcpDTPKlWhich brings me to another point – what will the Yankees lineup look like for the next five years? As frustrating as it’s been to watch the team this season, it may become the norm to see guys who really should be part time minor leaguers, be in the lineup every night in the Show. It seems like Jeet and Alex’s careers are hanging on by a thread, Granderson is almost surely to be lost this offseason, and who knows if Tex can ever be the 30-home run, 100 RBI guy he was penciled in to be throughout the duration of his own albatross of a contract. That leaves way too many holes on the roster for the Yanks to really focus on paying just one solid ballplayer.

It reminds me of a question probably asked when the Texas Rangers were debating to trade Alex Rodriguez – “Are we a better team with [Cano] than without him?” It can be argued that the Yankees really won’t be if they re-sign him. Sure, they may win a few more games, and the new Yankee Stadium will look just a little more full every night, but is that really worth once again limiting your ability to address other areas of the team?

Now I know many of the young, budding MLB superstars have been or will be locked-up by their current teams before they ever hit free agency. But remember, the Yanks’ current top prospects such as Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams, and recent draft picks like Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo are years away from becoming everyday contributors in the Major Leagues. So, where does that leave the team in its search for new “Bronx Bombers”?

Personally, I see it as a dead end.

The Yankees can never be considered a “rebuilding” team. Their fanbase is too widespread and hungry for success for them ever to accept a year when they weren’t striving for a World Series title. And although letting Robinson Cano walk after this season would at first feel like an apocalyptic decision, it may ultimately result in a brighter future for a Yankee dynasty to re-surface.

The first few years may be very tough to swallow, but letting the fading stars play out their deals and starting fresh may just be a recipe for greater success down the road. If Cano is playing like a Hall-of-Famer and making $20 million a season, but has no support from his teammates to actually win anything, what’s the point? Higher TV ratings on YES? Higher attendance ratings?

Maybe, but that’s not what Yankee fans care about. It’s about championships at the end of the day, and once again giving another bloated contract to a player who will be done with his “prime years” very soon, would be arguably a move pushing the Yankees even farther away from a return to glory.

In a cruel twist of fate, the Yankees will need A-Rod the most

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Two weeks ago, it appeared that the Alex Rodriguez era in New York was coming to a crashing conclusion. MLB had announced they are seeking to suspend him and about twenty other ballplayers for having connections to Anthony Bosch, the PED supplier from the Biogenesis clinic in Miami.

Many Yankees fans reacted with pure joy, believing that A-Rod and his mess of a contract could finally be shed by the team. With him taking only baby steps in his long road back from a second hip surgery, the looming 100-game suspension almost certainly would ensure that 2013 would be a year without the 37-year old has-been slugger.

As the Yanks had just gotten Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis back off of the disabled list, there was little doubt that the team wouldn’t continue its surprisingly hot start to the season. Yet, just returning home after losing six out of ten games on the West Coast, the Bombers have hit a low point. The offense can barely score more than two runs a game, and the pitching has been average at best.

Adding injury to insult, Tex and Youk were both placed back on the disabled list with the same injuries that had them land on it in the first place. Inflammation in the right wrist for Mark, and a herniated disc for Kevin, one that was just operated on and will take 10-12 weeks at the minimum to heal.

If it explains their anemic performance since first returning from the DL, so be it. But the fact remains that the disabled list has once again inflated back to including all of the potent Yankee hitters not named Robinson Cano. With Youkilis almost certainly done for the year, and the constant threat of Teixeira suffering the same fate, it is not looking promising for the lineup to get any better any time soon.

That is, until A-Rod comes back.

You read that right. As far as the public knows, the only evidence MLB has been able to sniff out of Biogenesis is the journal of names and drugs Bosch allegedly kept for keeping tabs on all his clients. If I were a betting man, the investigation could go on well into the winter. Meaning (when he is physically ready), A-Rod can come back and be re-inserted as the team’s everyday third baseman.

It sounds ridiculous and trust me it’s not something I want to see happen. I am just like the common fan who would forever love Brian Cashman if he was able to get #13 out of the Bronx somehow. But, putting all the baggage Rodriguez brings with him aside, the Yankees need offense in the worst way possible. The trade market looks incredibly thin for impact bats, and the Yankees probably don’t have the pieces to acquire one even if they tried to.

So if I’m the Yankees and I can count on A-Rod hitting .280, driving in runs, and having the occasional power to hit one out, why the hell wouldn’t he be welcomed back? The fact is, no one knows if Curtis Granderson will still have enough pop in his broken hands to be the main power source of the lineup, or if Derek Jeter’s cranky ankle will hold up for him to be a reliable top-of-the-order hitter for the stretch run.

At this point in the year, as the lineup looks as bad as its been in decades, Alex Rodriguez may be the last hope for the Yankees to have a shot at competing for a playoff spot. The Red Sox, Orioles, and Rays are not going away anytime soon, and they have the younger, more athletic, and overall healthier ball-clubs.

Counting on Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, and Travis Hafner to be a potent middle-of-the-order bunch come the dog days of summer and the tense moments of a pennant race is not the way to go. As lost as the season once seemed for the Yankees’ oldest, most banged-up stars, it may be up to the Captain, and more importantly A-Rod alone, to keep Yankee Stadium’s lights glowing for the month of October.

As crazy as it sounds, it may be the only rational route to another Yankee playoff berth.

The time is now to trade Joba and Hughes

image-6It still seems like yesterday when, in 2007, two Yankee mainstay pitchers of the past seven seasons made their first appearances in pinstripes.

First, there was 20-year old Phil Hughes, a hard throwing right-hander who drew comparisons to Roger Clemens as he advanced through the farm system. Drafted 23rd overall in the 2004 amateur draft, the Yankees had high hopes that finally, after a dry spell of All-Star caliber players emerging from the minors, that Hughes would become their ace for the next decade. Due to injuries to the pitching staff, he came up and made his debut on April 26th, 2007, finishing the year with 72.2 innings under his belt and a respectable 4.46 ERA for such a young starting pitcher in such a ferocious AL East division.

Then there was Joba Chamberlain, who was drafted 41st overall in 2006. Not even a full calendar year after signing his first contract, the then 21-year old Joba burst upon the scene when he pumped 100 mph fastballs past a dazed Blue Jays team in Toronto on August 7th. His pure dominance of each batter he faced allowed Joe Torre to entrust him with the eighth inning job, setting up Mariano Rivera. Like Mo had done years prior, it was the hope of the organization that Joba would start out as the bridge to a dominant closer, and then become one. Allowing one earned run in 24 innings surely reassured any of the doubters.

Since such promising starts to their careers in ’07, both Hughes and Chamberlain have endured injuries, moves into and out of the bullpen, and flat out inconsistent performances. There have certainly been bright spots along the way for both hurlers, however.

Hughes pitched to a 3.03 ERA in 2009, starting out as a starter and then filling the role of set-up man admirably. And after permanently being put back into the rotation in 2010, he won 18 games. Also, Joba was putting together a terrific 2011 season [2.83 ERA in 28.2 innings pitched] before he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Yet, to claim their Yankee careers to date have been successful ones would probably be a misguided belief. They are now in what are considered their “prime” years, and yet 2013 has been one of the ugliest for Joba and Phil. Of course, with the offense the pitching staff has to deal with or lack thereof, both are certainly under a lot of stress and any small mistakes they make are magnified like never before. But, there is no escaping the fact that both of them have underperformed, no matter the circumstances.

Yes, Hughes has had his share of good starts this season, but they are normally sandwiched in-between horrible outings. It is still fresh in this fan’s mind that he allowed 7 runs in the first inning to the Mariners, who in all respect have a better offense than last season, but certainly not good enough to put up rallies like that against even an average starter. But as I said, then he goes out the other night in Seattle against the very same team and throws seven shutout innings. It’s frustrating, bizarre, and as much potential as he has to be great every night, the times that he isn’t have really cost the Yankees so far this year.

At this point it really doesn’t matter what Joba Chamberlain does, because he is in the doghouse for eternity with Yankee fans. No matter how he “shushed” Mariano Rivera, all I care about is what happens on the field, and even still Joba has been disappointing. Granted, he did miss practically the whole month of May with a strained right oblique, but collectively in 2013 he has given up three more hits than innings pitched, a red flag right off the bat. Even when he has an “effective” outing, he still often gets into trouble  by nibbling at the corners and forgetting that he boasts a 95 mph fastball that still has some bite left in it. He too has been such a streaky pitcher, and ultimately you’d have to hope it wouldn’t last long in New York. Right?

Well, that is why I strongly consider that the Yankees trade not just one of them, but both Joba and Phil. Like I started the article saying, these two guys have been here for a long time, and it certainly would be odd not seeing them in the dugout or on the mound every other day. But it’s been shown that when they are “on”, Chamberlain and Hughes can be two of the most dominating pitchers in the American League, and that potential alone attracts pitching-deprived teams.

With the way the Yankees lineup has fallen into its worst slump since likely before I was born, I am shocked there aren’t many rumors going around about the team trading some of its pitchers. The pitching has been tremendous, Hughes and Joba aside, so what is holding back Cashman from dumping them off for a bat? I’m not talking players. A literal bat.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but the fact remains that the Yankees are not a better team with Joba and Hughes on the roster than they are with them off it. Now I have no specific players I would target, which may be where my argument falls a bit flat, but there has to be a match somewhere. There always is, if the Yankees want one. It would be bittersweet to trade Joba, and especially Hughes, but giving up on these guys in a trade would be a signal to me that the Yanks are not by any means ready to surrender their AL East crown, which is still very much in reach with the right reinforcements.

Get to work Cash. You too Joba and Phil.

Yanks have missed the boat with talented IFAs

The IFA market is where the Yanks can find high upside talents like Yasiel Puig

The IFA market is where the Yanks can find high upside talents like Yasiel Puig

Anyone watching Sportscenter for the last week or so has seen Dodgers OF Yasiel Puig put on a show, cracking opposite field HRs and gunning runners out from RF.  He has jump-started the anemic Dodgers offense and energized their fan base while looking like a young Bo Jackson on the field.  Watching Puig and being reminded of fellow Cuban OF Yoenis Cespedes while playing the A’s tonight, I couldn’t help but cringe when thinking that both of these talents were available to the Yankees a little more than a year ago.  At a time when the Yankees offense is putrid and their corner OFs are the worst in baseball it is very frustrating

Puig was one of 3 talented Cuban OFs who were available to the highest bidder in 2012.  Cespedes and highly regarded Cubs prospect Jorge Soler were the other 2.   Many of us fans thought the Yankees would sign at least one of them and it’s beginning to look like they made a big mistake by passing on these talents.  Under Brian Cashman’s leadership, the Yankees have become extremely conservative on the International Free Agent market.  After being burned by the signings of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, the team has refused to spend significant money on any IFA.  In an interview this winter with Drew Voros, Cashman said. “We have learned over time to be very conservative and cautious in acquiring pitching talent from Japan, for instance. It’s a different game there”

Cashman has been applying that conservative approach to all IFAs, signing only a few low-priced players like Adonis Garcia and Ronnier Mustelier.  While it’s natural to be conservative, it seems the team has become gun-shy and is more afraid of making a mistake.  When you have the largest payroll in MLB, you can afford to take some risks on high-upside talents.  While it’s true you cannot expect success in Japan, Cuba, Korea or any other league to equate to success in MLB, talent plays anywhere.  And that is where the Yankees are missing the boat.  If a 20-yr old LHP in the U.S. was consistently throwing 98-100 MPH or when a trio of young OFs are displaying 4 out of 5 plus tools or a 6’5′ 225 pitcher is throwing 3 plus MLB pitches with great command and poise, you have to get involved!  The Yanks let all of the above players pass them by when all they would cost was money….no draft picks, no players in trade.  Where else can the Yankees obtain talent like that? The answer is no where.  While I think the Yanks did well in this year’s amateur draft, they never have access to elite amateur talent picking at the end of the first round and the financial restraints put on them in the new CBA when it comes to signing amateur foreigners, they are going to have trouble finding high-end talent there also. Well, no problem, the Yankees have always just been able to buy Free Agents at the Major League level, right? Well that window has been closing also.  Teams are locking up their young talented players before they become FAs and the small number of big talents that do hit the open market are able to command huge salaries since so many teams have money to spend.

The Yankees MUST become players on the IFA market again.  They are paying $27 Million for washed up Vernon Wells and Ichiro to play LF and RF this year and next – approximately $6.5M per yr for each of them.  Meanwhile, 22-yr old stud Yasiel Puig signed with LA for $6 Million a year for 7 years and the A’s 27-yr old slugging OF Yoenis Cespedes (36 HRs and .843 OPS in 181 games) is earning $9M per season over 4 years.  And they aren’t the only IFA players doing well.  Japanese OF Norichi Aoki had a strong year for Milwaukee last season hitting .288 with 10 HRs and 30 SBs and is hitting .300 with a .375 OBP this season while earning just $1.25 M per yr (plus a $2.5M posting fee for his rights).  These are just some IFA OFs who were signed in the last year or2 but there are other IFAs all over MLB from Shin-Soo-Choo to Dayan Viciedo to Alexi Ramirez, etc.

There has also been a wave of talented foreign pitchers doing well in MLB the last year or 2 also.  The 100-MPH lefty I mentioned of course is Reds closer Aroldis Chapman who has a 15.4 K/9.  Texas Ace Yu Darvish was a guy I thought the Yanks should have been all over.  He’s a true #1 type starter in his prime at just 26 and signed for the extremely reasonable 6 years @ $56M. An ace pitcher hitting the FA market would get nearly triple that. And make no mistake about it, Darvish is an Ace.  He’s 7-2 with a 2.75 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and a 12.0 K/9 pitching in the offensive haven of Texas.  And he’s not alone as a front-end starter, Korean LHP Ryu-Hyu Jin is 6-2 with a 2.89 era in his first year for the Dodgers,  Japanese RHP Hisashi Iwakuma is 7-1 with a 1.89 ERA and 0.81 WHIP for Seattle in his 2nd season and 27-yr old Taiwanese LHP Wei-Yin Chen has been Baltimore’s best starter the last year and a half.

It’s time for the Yankees to dive back in to the IFA waters.  George Steinbrenner was a trailblazer who was all over talented IFAs.  While it worked brilliantly with Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Hideki Matsui, the failures of Irabu and Igawa seem to have the Yankee brass afraid today.  It is poor reasoning to write off all big-ticket IFAs because of a couple of failures.  This is the last market where the Yankees money can be used to acquire high-end talent.  Amateur IFAs are subject to spending limits and penalties in the CBA but for veteran IFAs 23 and older, it’s still an open market and one which the Yankees must begin to capitalize on or they will have to continue to spend their money on the veteran has-beens like Wells and Ichiro.

Gardner’s a different hitter this year

Gardner hasn't hit like the typical leadoff this yr (Zimbio photo)

Gardner hasn’t hit like the typical leadoff this yr (Zimbio photo)

During Brett Gardner‘s career, he has always displayed the perfect approach and skill set for a leadoff hitter.  He takes a lot of pitches, draws walks, slaps the ball on the ground and runs like the wind. However, because of the Yankees loaded offense and the presence of Derek Jeter, Brett never settled into the leadoff spot for the Yankees until this year.  Finally getting the opportunity to lead off everyday, for the first time in his career Gardner has not produced like a typical leadoff hitter.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but Brett is definitely getting different results.

He is still doing a fine job of working pitchers as he is 12th in the A.L. with 4.17 Pitches per Plate Appearance.  However, he is swinging at more of those pitches, putting more of those pitches into play and Walking less.  His Walk Rate is a career low 8.9% which has led to a semi-disappointing .333 OBP which is about 20 points below his career average.  Per this Fangraphs article, he has is swinging at 42% of pitches this  year which is a 8.3% jump from his previous 4 seasons – a bigger jump than anyone in MLB over the same period of time.  He is also swinging at the 1st pitch more than twice as much as before and hitting the ball on the Ground less (from 51% to 40%).

But the results of this change in approach isn’t just a reduce in Walks and OBP%, Brett is driving the ball with much more authority this year.  His 6 HRs are just 1 below his career-high and he’s also on pace for career-highs in Doubles and Triples.  His .429 SLG% is 4th on the team behind only Cano, Hafner & Overbay and he is behind only the same 3 players for the team lead in RBIs with 26.  For a leadoff man in a weak lineup to drive in that any runs is impressive and means he’s getting a lot of big hits. 15 of those RBIs have come on 2-out hits when he has done most of his damage this year hitting .322/.365/.525/.891.

Watching the games it’s evident Brett is more comfortable with his swing and driving the ball with more authority than any time in his career.  Although his .265 Batting Average this yr is the same as his career mark, the type of hits he’s getting has changed.  In his last 2 full yrs of 2010-11, he had 48 infield hits which made up 18.2% of all his base hits.  This yr, he has legged out just 4 hits which is just 6.9% of all his hits. Speaking of legging it out, Brett has not had a great year on the bases with just 9 steals in 14 attempts – a far cry from the 49 and 46 SBs he had in 2011 & 10, respectively.  I think there are 3 main reasons for this, the first being less chances.  His SB opportunities have decreased because of the drop in OBP% and the increase in extra base hits.  He’s simply been on First base less.  The other reason is Robinson Cano has been batting 2nd most of the year.  Cano is a free swinger and Girardi doesn’t want to send the runner too often with his best hitter at the plate.  The last reason is he hasn’t been good leading off in the 1st inning with just a .208 BA and .296 OBP.  That is the only time he’s assured of batting with no one in front of him but he’s struggled for whatever reason. I think that will level out and he’ll steal more as the season progresses.

Are these changes in Gardner’s game a good thing? I think they are.  I’ve always thought that Gardner could put up better power numbers and a higher average because he has shown the ability in the past for spurts.  But he always seemed conflicted between being the hitter he is now and the slap-hitting ground ball machine he often was.  While I’d like to see him getting on base more often out of the leadoff spot, I like the confidence and more aggressive approach at the plate.  The Yanks have been starving for run production this year and Gardner has stepped it up.  If he can begin to incorporate the power gains with the Walks & SBs of previous years, he will really be something special.  He’s also providing his offense out of CF now, where he should have been years ago.  His defense has not slipped a bit moving from LF to CF and he’s truly one of the game’s best defensive OFs.

Teixeira & Youkilis’ return serves as a sign of urgency for Yankees

YankeesInjuredPlayersBaseball161418--415x415Publicized to incredible heights, Kevin Youkilis and Mark Teixeira were in the Yankees’ lineup last night as they opened up a three-game set with the Red Sox. After being swept by the Mets in a Subway Series where the offense never really posed a threat, re-acquiring [in a sense] two former All-Stars to bolster the middle of the order certainly is the biggest boost the Yanks will get all year.

Up until this week, the team had been excelling with the likes of Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, and Travis Hafner, but right now it appears they all are out of gas. The lineup’s struggles do not fall on their shoulders alone, but all three look lost at the plate and are shells of the .300 hitters they were for the month of April. Even Robinson Cano went through a cold streak, as he fell into the habit of trying to make contact with anything near the strike zone, which resulted in pop ups, ground outs, strike outs, and only the occasional bloop single.

Robbie did go 2 for 4 with a home run in Thursday night’s loss to the Mets, so he may be coming out of it. But the fact remains that he alone cannot carry the offense, and though the pitching has been solid the saying holds true that, “you can’t win if you can’t score.”

So unfortunately as we expected, the return of Tex and Youk can not just be a sight for sore eyes. These two sluggers must produce like they have in the past, otherwise the team could find itself battling it out with the Blue Jays in last place by the end of next week.

Maybe I’m over-exaggerating, but the upcoming schedule offers little time for the Yankees to struggle like they just did. As detailed the re-tooled Red Sox are at the top of the division and intend to stay there through the weekend, while next week Terry Francona will look to re-establish himself as a man no one wants to see in the opposing dugout when his Indians come for a visit. After that it’s off to the West Coast to battle it out with the Mariners, Athletics, and Angels – all of them improving and posing a real threat. Anything worse than a .500 record in those games and this joyful, miracle-like season could quickly turn to despair and doubt.

Am I saying Teixeira and Youkilis will decide our fate? Of course not. Robinson Cano needs to start hitting like he’s capable of doing, and Vernon Wells needs to stop hitting as he did with the Angels, as in, poorly. Overall, the Yankees have hit better than predicted, as they’ve scored just enough to win in numerous games. But now they aren’t, and it concerns me greatly.

Perhaps it’s the simple fact that the replacement-level guys such as Overbay, Pronk, and Wells couldn’t carry the team as much as we thought they could when everything was dandy in Yankeeland. Ultimately they were going to break down, and it looks like now is the time. Getting back Teixeira and Youkilis is a huge boost, but if that boost isn’t visible over the next two weeks, to paraphrase a baseball quote to fit this new month – “you can’t win a division in June, but you sure can lose one.”

Finally, a Yankees team we can love

Let’s be honest. When the “Yankees” lined up down the first base line on Opening Day, was this a team you were ready to watch for 162 games? Probably not.

Sure, there was Robinson Cano. You may have spotted Brett Gardner and Ichiro as well. But besides them, did anyone else catch your eye? Kevin Youkilis in pinstripes was “something else”, but what I mean is, did you feel comfortable relying on Lyle Overbay at first, or Vernon Wells in left? I don’t think so.

Where was Nick Swisher, the heart and soul of the team the past four seasons? What about Russell Martin, our Munson-esque backstop? How could we possibly win with these replacement-level, over the hill scrubs?

These questions and more swirled through many fans’ heads as the Yankees opened up the season back in April. Numerous analysts were picking them to finish last, and if they weren’t that harsh, they still predicted them to miss the playoffs.

Now of course it’s still early in the season, but who could have thought just how different the first month and a half would play out on the field, than we thought it would in our minds.

Here are our 2013 Yankees, at 22-13, first place in the A.L. East. A familiar sight without a doubt, but how they’ve gotten to the top of the division is as unusual as it’s ever been in the Bronx. Absent are the headlining stars – Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson – and present are former big name players revitalizing their careers, and youngsters trying to sink their teeth into the major leagues.

They still hit home runs like the usual Bombers, but win close games more often than not with solid pitching and nearly flawless defense. When was the last time those two aspects were keys to winning for the Yankees? It may have been in the playoffs, but certainly not on the path to get them there.

As mentioned, injuries have paved the way for players young and old to make an impact in pinstripes. Vernon Wells is second to Robbie Cano in runs scored, home runs, and average, Lyle Overbay already has 20 RBI, and Travis Hafner has made a fairly big impact when it matters with his still ferocious bat. Austin Romine, Preston Claiborne, Adam Warren, [and soon David Adams] have all made their big-league debuts and figure to be relied upon more as the days get longer and the season moves into the dog days of summer.

It’s hard to pinpoint the last time the Yankees have had so many role players, rather than superstars, and have been A) successful, and B) fun to watch. Maybe sometime in the 90’s, but they never went anywhere.

Sensing the sarcasm, no, this roster right now is not world championship worthy, and it will be a big help when everyone comes back off the DL. But, when they do, don’t be so willing to part with the Overbays, Hafners, and Wellses of the world.

Because truth be told, they’re the reason why Tex, Grandy, A-Rod and the Captain will jump right back into a pennant race they can win.

Keep it up guys…

Minor League Week In Review

Following a long awaited start to major league games that count, the minor leagues kicked off last week with opening series against the Red Sox affiliates. Over the past months we at YFU have brought you numerous prospect profiles along with our top 40 in the system list, so many of you will be familiar with the names thrown around here in the regularly scheduled recaps. Each week we’ll highlight performances and keep you updated on some of the bigger names in the system, along with some who should be on the radar soon. Without further ado, let’s get rolling. 

SWB RailRiders:

The newly coined RailRiders kicked off the season with a thud, losing 4 straight and going 1-5 in what was a dismal, rainy start to the season. Like the parent club, SWB missed their last two games due to inclement weather, and luckily so. There’s been a bit of good news though, and that starts with budding catcher Austin Romine who went 7/18 with 3BB’s and 8K’s. No extra base hits yet, but it’s ggod to see him out there and making a bit of contact. Addison Maruszak stepped in at short and drew 5 walks to one strikeout while going 4/11. Melky Mesa is busy doing his best windmill impression, hitting .250 while whiffing 13! times. Newly re-signed Mike Adams is struggling to get going with just three hits in 15 AB’s, but has walked as many times as he’s struck out (4). 2B Corban Joseph is also off to a sluggish start going 5/23 with 5BB’s and 4K’s. Good to see at the least his plate discipline is holding fast. 

On the pitching end Vidal Nuno continues to shine. He went from an impressive 2012 campaign to shining in winter ball, carried that opver to major league spring training and he still hasn’t stopped. The soft tosser didn’t pick up a win, but threw 11.2 IP of 3 run ball on 6 hits, walking none and striking out twelve. Aside from the guys already in the BX, Nuno is making a strong case to be the next in line for a spot in the rotation or that of long man. I iamgine he could serve as a lefty reliever, but he shouldn’t be limited to short bursts and lefties only. Dellin Betances also made his debut and threw 4 innings of 2 run ball on three hits and two walks, striking out four. He started off a bit shaky and then settled in. Normally a stat line like this wouldn’t be much to speak of, but considering the drubbing he took last year this is actually a good sign. Sinkerballer Brett Marshall was toasted in his outing, giving up 5 runs on 6 hits over 3.2 innings. He walked and struck out four. Mark Montgomery got in five innings of work and gave up a home run….the second of his professional career spanning over 100 innings. I suppose he’s allowed. He conceded only one run and four hits, walking none and knocking out nine. Left Juan Cedeno has been solid, going 3.1 innings, allowing a lone run on one walk and four K’s. Craig Claiborne also had a good week, throwing 3.1 innings of two hit ball, walking none and striking out four. 

Trenton Thunder:

The Thunder have quite a team this year, sporting several players in the top 20 of the system, with a few more likely to join them later this year. They ended the week 4-3 backed by Neil Medchill, who went 9/23 with three 2B’s and 2 HR’s, driving in 8 runs. Catcher JR Muprphy is focusing more on his bat this year now that his defense is well on it’s way, going 6/23 with a HR, driving in 4, taking 4 walks and striking out 4 times. Ramon Flores is sputtering a bit with only 8 hits in 33 AB’s including a double and three RBI’s. The notable part of his line is that he’s only taken 2 walks while striking out 9 times. He’s considered one of the better disciplined hitters in the system so let’s hope he gets himself adjusted to AA ball. Fellow outfielders Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin are having their struggles getting used to a new level as well. Slade has gone 7/29, albeit with a pair of doubles and a triple, but had some early strikeout woes ending the week with 8 K’s and 3 BB’s. Austin went 6/31 with three doubles and a HR, driving in three while striking out 11 times. Let’s hope he can get his feet under him as he adjusts to life in Trenton. 1B Kyle Roller chipped in 6 RBI’s this week including a HR. 

The Thunder pitching has gotten knocked around a bit, namely southpaw Nik Turley who made two starts this week, going 8.2 innings, allowing 9 runs on 14 hits. He walked four and struck out 6. Matt Tracy made his brief debut, recording a single out before getting yanked for giving up 5 runs. He walked the park (4) and recorded a K in his only out. Zach Nuding had the best debut, allowing just a single run in his two starts totaling 9.2 innings and 11 hits. He walked four and struck out eight. Newly converted starter Francisco Rondon threw 5 innings of 3 run ball, all on HR’s, and all to right handers. We’ll see how long this experiment lasts, as he could be a very effective guy out of the bullpen for the Bombers. Kelvin Perez, who may be a victim of the numbers game finds himself back in Trenton after making his way to AAA last year, went 5 IP, allowing just two hits while striking out five. Branden Pinder has gotten kicked around thus far, allowing 8ER over just 4.2IP. Tommy Kahnle is also off to a shaky start, albeit not as ugly as Pinder’s. He’s allowed a pair of runs to cross the plate in his two innings pitched, walking two and striking out a pair. Jeremy Bleich….yep, that Jeremy Bleich has returned to the fray pitching in relief. He’s tossed 5.1 scoreless innings on 5 hits, walking three and striking out four. 

Tampa Yankees:

Tampa sports the other half of our top four prospects in Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams. Gary has picked up where he left off, going 11/30 with four 2B’s and four RBI’s. He’s taken one free pass and struck out four times. Mason is getting back into the swing of things after having season ending shoulder surgery last year. He went 7/27 with a pair of doubles, walking 6 times and striking out 7. New to the Tampa club is Angelo Gumbs, who is struggling as of now in a 3/30 slump, a triple his only XBH. He’s walked once while striking out five times and swiping a pair of bases. Another outfielder to keep an eye on is Ben Gamel, who I spoke with Matt about earlier in the offseason, regarding why he was left off the top 40 list. It was for the most part a matter of too many players and not enough chairs, and at that point in the list you could re-write it a dozen times and make a case for a myriad of endings. Gamel is one to watch though, and from all accounts he added some mass to his frame over the winter and should see a power spike this year. If that comes to fruition he’ll be making his way up the best of sheets in no time. The kid can hit, but for a corner outfielder he’s going to have to add some pop. He’s had a nice start to the year showing some gap power with 5 of his 11 hits going for doubles. He’s walked twice, struck out four times and stolen two bases. 

Bryan Mitchell led the team in innings this week, tossing 12 while allowing 4 runs on 8 hits. He walked five and struck out ten. Corey Black added 11 innings of his own, giving up 3 runs on 9 hits. He walked four and struck out ten. He was also noted to be in the low to mid 90′s, touching 96 at times. He has no problem getting it up there, but maintaining that velocity through the latter innings has been his issue. He’ll need to show he can build up some stamina or he could be off to the pen. Nothing wrong wit ha late inning guy that can dial it up to triple digits, but you can’t blame them for trying to get as many innings out of him as they can. Scottie Allen and Shane Green combined for 11 innings of two run ball, Mikey O’brien pitched 4.2 innings allowing 3 runs on five hits. He walked none and struck out four. Nick Goody, who was invited to big league camp but missed most of it due to a sprained ankle as the result of a car accident returned to action, pitching 3 innings of one run ball on two hits. He walked two and struck out three. Once he gets rolling he could be a quick mover, and a trip to Trenton is not out of the question later this season. Manny Barreda chipped in 2 innings of one hit ball while Sean Black added 3 innings of 3 hit ball. 

Charleston RiverDogs:

Cito Culver is the big news this week for the RiverDogs. Over the winter he decided to ditch the whole swithc hitting thing and go solely as a right hander. He also gave up the high leg kick for one more abbreviated and so far the results have been outstanding. He kicked off opening week going 11/37, which included three 2B’s, a 3B, and 2 HR’s. No…that’s not a typo. Cito went deep twice in the same game and has amassed about a third as many XBH/s in the first 8 games as he did all of last year. Small sample size admitted, but he looks damn good at the plate. Robert Refsnyder rolled in with nine hits of his own, including three doubles. He drove in one, took four walks, struck out five times and stole four bags. He’s getting used to life at second base and could give Gumbs a run for his money as best in the system at that spot. Greg Bird, who is now a 1B after back problems moved him away from catcher, started off the year going 10/30 with a double a HR and 4 RBI’s. He’s walked eight times while striking out ten. Taylor Dugas is also off to a good start, going 9/26 with a double. He’s driven in a pair, walked four times, struck out twice and stolen two bases. Dante Bichette was getting it going later in the week and finished 6/33 with a pair of HR’s (one a grandy) and 11 RBI’s. He also adjusted his swing over the winter, so keep an eye on him even if last year soured you on his future. 

Two of our more interesting pitching prospects currently reside here, first in Jose Campos, the other piece in “The Trade” who went down with elbow inflammation early last year. He made his first start in 11 months, and was a little rusty, He allowed 4 ER on 4 hits including a HR, while walking one and striking out three. Cobwebs i’m sure…he has great stuff and is pretty polished for his age. Expect a lot more from him moving forward. Rafael DePaula was the big story this week. He rang in his stateside debut with a bang…er, K. Eleven of them actually. He went about 70 pitches in his opener and knocked out eleven of the nineteen batters he faced. He made another start later in the week and was a little wild, giving up four free passes. He finished off with 6.1 IP, 6H, 4ER, 5BB, 16K and 2 HB. There’s a lot to look forward to with this guy as he has some great stuff coming from a good sized frame and free and easy delivery. Gabe Encinas had a nice little game of his own, going 6 innings and allowing just one hit. He walked three and struck out four. Even Rutckyj pitched five shutout innings of his own, allowing 3 hits and two walks against one K. Daniel Camarena had a rough first week, allowing 5ER on 11H, walking one and recording not a single strikeout. Charlie Short, Ben Paullus and Alex Smith pitched a combined 13.2 innings of eight hit ball, striking out 20 while walking just five. 

That’s it for our first week in review, tune in every Friday for the rundowns of all our minor league action, and keep an eye out for more prospect profiles, as well as some articles detailing the upcoming 2013 first year player draft. 

Opening Day is coming, so how’s the team shaping up?

Brett Gardner could be a valuable player in the Yankees lineup...

Brett Gardner could be a valuable player in the Yankees lineup…

In a little less than three weeks, the Yankees will begin their home-opener against the Boston Red Sox with CC Sabathia on the mound. However, this year’s Opening Day lineup might be a little different than what we’re used to due to all of the injuries the Yankees were plagued with during the 2013 season. The Yankees are missing Curtis Granderson (broken forearm), Mark Teixeira (strained forearm) and Alex Rodriguez (hip surgery) in their offense which is sure to look like the ‘Robinson Cano Show’ for the first month and a half. But with still some time to go, just how are the Yankees shaping up as they prepare for the season?

Lineup:

The Yankees lineup has many question marks after losing so many players to free agency and injuries. The bats of Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez will be with different ball clubs, while we will most likely have to wait for Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson to return to their post in early to mid-May. However, the lineup hasn’t looked as puzzling as it did when Spring Training started. The Yankees proved that they can manufacture runs by using a key element that they possess: speed. Players like Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Eduardo Nunez are capable of getting on base, going station to station on their own before a key teammate has to drive them in with an RBI. Speed will play an important part this season since the Yankees have lost over 100 home runs than in season’s past. But just because the Yankees are relying on speed, it doesn’t mean we should start calling them the ‘Bronx Bunters’. They will still find a way to hit home runs with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira making their way back into the starting lineup.

Starting Pitching:

Throughout the course of Spring Training, the starting pitching has been one early glimpse of how our starters will perform during the 2013 season. It looks as if they left off from last season. Hiroki Kuroda looks to be in mid-season form, David Phelps has a 0.63 ERA 14 Spring appearances  Ivan Nova has an ERA of 1. Andy Pettitte has still proven that his pitches are effective although he’s the oldest starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. And as expected, there is no concern over CC Sabathia, whatsoever. The starting pitching looks to be one of the Yankees strong points like it was in season’s past. Let’s hope that the pitching can carry the Yanks this season.

Bullpen:

...while Mariano Rivera could be a dynamic piece to the Yankees bullpen

…while Mariano Rivera could be a dynamic piece to the Yankees bullpen

The Yankees bullpen was another one of their key pieces that helped define the Yankees last season. With pitchers such as David Robertson, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada and Joba Chamberlain, it seemed like an easy task to get the ball to the 9th inning before handing it off to the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. Last season’s bullpen dynamic was different since there was no Mariano in the bullpen due to an ACL injury, giving the Yankees a glimpse of what it would look like if Mariano Rivera wasn’t there. With Rafael Soriano, the Yankees were able to still close games with a dominant force but this year there is no Rafael Soriano. Mariano Rivera plans to retire after the 2013 season, which gives Yankees fans one last look of the greatest closer before he hangs up his cleats and says goodbye to the game. The bullpen is expected to be a strong part of the Yankees once again, and from Spring observations, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shawn Kelley and David Phelps get spots in the bullpen. With both of their arms this spring, the Yankees bullpen could become an iron gate to prevent runs from scoring.

There’s only 17 days until Opening Day so from now until Spring Training is over, it would be a good time to start watching the games to see who has a legitimate shot of making the team. And from what I’ve seen all Spring so far, there are quite a few who have a chance to go north.

Prospect Predictions: 2013 Edition

New home of the SWB Rail Riders

New home of the SWB Rail Riders

With spring training under way and a pretty good view of what’s to come, let’s get into a little fortune telling for the 2013 season. I’ve singled out a few categories to focus on concerning our young up and comers and have chosen a position player and pitcher to highlight in each one, so without further nonsense let’s get started….

Returning from Injury:

Jose Campos

Here’s the obvious choice for a rebound season after spending much of 2012 on the DL. The sometimes referred to “spare part” in The Trade, Campos broke out of the gate and did exactly what he was projected to have done. Through his first four starts consisting of 22 innings, he allowed three earned runs, walked five and struck out 23. In spite of only allowing 2 runs in that fourth start, he allowed twice as many hits (8) as he had in any other game, indicating a bit of an issue. In his following outing the wheels came off and he gave up a staggering 8 earned in just 2.2 innings. He was pulled from that game and shut down for what ended up being the remainder of the season. It later came out that he was experiencing some elbow discomfort, and not just the usual aches and pains that pitchers go through but something more serious. He admitted that he tried to look past the pain in order to stay on the mound, not wanting to disappoint his new team. Armed with some plus stuff, excellent command and polish not usually found in players his age, Jose has an excellent chance to make his way up the prospect lists. His health is obviously a question mark right now, but if he can stay off the DL he will be an important part of the depth of pitchers in the system.

Ravel Santana

Santana made his way back to the diamond last year, but it was on the tail of a devastating ankle injury, much like that suffered by David Adams. Reports were that he was not operating at full tilt, and was tentative in many respects. It wasn’t surprising to see as the injury was fairly severe and a full recovery wasn’t expected to come in his first year back. After a stint in the DSL, Ravel made his stateside debut in the GCL in 2011 and put up a .929 OPS. His season ended in ugly fashion, and he spent the winter and into the following summer rehabbing his way back to the field. Before the injury, Santana was a five tool player that was one of the most exciting in the system. Since his recovery he’s held back in the field and on the bases, as well as getting antsy at the plate. He also experienced some issues seeing the ball in his first ever night games, which was addressed and supposedly he began to adjust to. It remains to be seen how he’s going to come back once he’s had a full recovery and he gains his confidence back, so this prediction has a few caveats but I’ll take the gamble. Ravel has major upside to his game and can make an impact in a number of ways; the kind of player you’d love to dream on.

Other notables: Danny Burawa, Angelo Gumbs, Jake Cave, Anderson Feliz

Bounce-back Season:

Dante Bichette Jr.

Dante’s first year of full season ball was well, a disaster on paper. A former first round pick, DBJ tore up his debut in short season leagues hitting to the tune of a .947 OPS across both the GCL and NYPL. Dante earned a promotion to play in low A at Charleston and that’s when he hit a wall. Both his power and patience at the plate took a hiatus, and his average fell nearly a hundred points, bringing his OPS down to .653. What you won’t find on any of the stat sheets are the things behind the scenes; mainly the changes in his approach that he went through in his quest to make it to the big leagues. While Dante has always been a bat first guy, there were some things about his swing that concerned the team with him moving forward. While it wasn’t something that would hinder him in the lower levels, his swing was a bit long and would be subject to exposure against advanced pitching. Better to address it now then to wait until he was already over his head. DBJ went through a few different approaches at the plate, making slight alterations to his mechanics throughout the year. He finally settled in to something that was comfortable to him, and reports were that it finally paid off, although it was quite late in the season for it to make any significant change in his overall numbers. With his swing working the way they want it to, look for Dante to bounce back in 2013 and show the prowess at the plate we saw in his debut.

Bryan Mitchell

Mitchell is regarded as having some of the best raw stuff in the system, but has yet to put it all together in a consistent season long run. He has the strike out numbers you want to see, knocking out a batter per inning, but his walk totals tell the story of his inconsistencies around the zone. Looking at his game logs you’ll see him go from one run games to an ERA north of 9, further exemplifying his issues with staying on track. He’ll be heading into his age 22 season and a trip to Tampa this year, so he’s not exactly behind the curve, but with his raw stuff and pitchability you want to see better results. He did end the season on a high note, throwing two scoreless 6 inning outings to cap off an up and down year. If he can stay within himself and not revert to the max-effort approach on every pitch he might just start to live up to his potential. When he’s free and easy he’s a force to be reckoned with, it’s a matter of getting that guy on the mound each night.

Other rebounders: Cito Culver, Taylor Morton, Graham Stoneburner

Breakout Year:

Jose Ramirez

I did a profile on Jose last year, as I really liked what I was seeing out of him and his finally putting it all together. The rub with Jose was his issues in staying on the field, and is still a concern but the questions about his stuff have been put to rest. He’s always had potential as a reliever, with two offerings that are easily a plus grade if not higher. He throws a heavy FB with good arm side run to it that sits in the mid 90′s and gains a few ticks as he gets warmed up. He was reported to have hit a legit 100 mph last year and can get just below that with regularity. His changeup is one of the two or three best in the system beside Banuelos and Kahnle giving him a great jump-off point. What he struggled with for so long was his breaking ball, changing it numerous times trying to find something he was comfortable with. He eventually settled on a slider, which shows being anywhere from average to plus depending on the outing. It’s this third pitch that will help keep him in the rotation and keep his value at a maximum. We’ve gotten to see him a few times during this years spring training, and so far he’s showing that potential. He’s garnered some praise from the staff and stood out on the mound flashing his plus pitches. One area that was questionable about him, his poise and makeup, has been put to the test thus far as he’s gotten himself in a few jams but managed to work his way out of them. A good sign for sure, and hopefully he’ll continue in that vein. He’ll be part of a pretty solid rotation in Trenton and with a solid year could make a play for time in the BX in 2014.

Greg Bird

Bird could have been also fit into the bounce back from injury category, just Ravel could have been pegged into this one, but so be it. Bird is all bat; he started out as a catcher but injury concerns have pushed him to first base. He has plenty of stick to remain there though, as he displays plus power to the pull side and above average to the opposite field. A short stroke, tremendous bat speed and an eye for the plate could easily have him hitting for average as well. He’s also showed to have above average defense playing first base. A healthy season in Charleston could have him putting his middle of the order potential on display for us all in 2013.

Also on the rise: Rafael DePaula, Matt Snyder, Gabe Encinas, Corey Black

Dark Horse:

Vidal Nuno

I’ve mentioned Nuno in the past, and probably have a bit of bias towards the guy but he’s earned a mention here as a dark horse candidate. Vidal went through some growing pains as a young player and ended up getting cut from Cleveland’s system and looking for work in the Indy Leagues. Through all that he’s come a long way as both a person and a player, committing himself to his craft and further developing his repertoire. He worked on his changeup and cleaned up his mechanics, giving him a nice pitch mix and a consistent solid delivery that saw him handing out very few free passes and leading the system in K’s last year. He’s not an overpowering pitcher, sitting around 88-91 with his FB, but he has a fair amount of deception to his delivery and very good command of the zone. He’ll always have to rely on his accuracy as he won’t be able to simply muscle his way through a lineup, but being left handed and keeping runners off the basepaths is a good thing in YS. He will come to SWB to start the year, and likely sits behind Warren in the pecking order but i’d really like to see him get his shot in the BX, wether it’s for a few spot starts or as a left handed long man in the event that Phelps gets bumped up to the rotation. Nuno is a bit of an underdog here, and I like that about him.

Ben Gamel

Gamel got the snub on our prospect list this year, but when you consider how close those guys are at the bottom of that list it’s not as bad as it first seems. When you get to that point, you could exchange several of them and they all could make a claim for making the cut. Gamel, like Flores a year ago gets lost in the fray a bit with all of the big name OF prospects that have made their way to center stage the last two years. Flying under the radar isn’t a bad thing though, but it may not be for long. Gamel can flat out hit, showing excellent plate recognition, the ability to hit to all fields and get the barrel on the ball. Right now his power is mainly to the gaps, but from what we’ve heard he’s packed on a bit of muscle this past winter and that gap power could translate into over the fence power. Gamel can cover any spot in the OF, playing up a bit more to the plus side in the corners. In a system wrought with center fielders his best chance to make a name for himself may be a corner spot, so his power will have to evolve as he moves along. If he did indeed bulk up and it carries over to game time Ben could make his bones as a regular corner guy. Everything else is there, it’s all about the long ball now.

Deeper in the shadows: Chris Breen, Rookie Davis, Jordan Cote

The baseball world is no doubt abuzz today with the news that one Mariano Rivera will announce his retirement upon the conclusion of the 2013 season in a press conference being held tomorrow. I just want to take a quick moment to tip my cap to not just the greatest closer the game has ever seen, but one of the greatest pitchers, mentors, role models and all around human beings to ever grace the diamond. It’s been nothing short of a thrill to have spent the better part of the last two decades watching him confound hitters, breaking their bats and sending them on their way. He is as ageless as he is beguiling, and I look forward in relishing every last time he takes the stage this final season. Thanks for all of the great memories Mo… words that hardly seem adequate.

“Experienced” players will decide the outcome of 2013

Turning 39 years old this June, Derek Jeter has re-iterated over the past few years that age is simply just a number to him and the rest of his veteran teammates.

Of course, most baseball minds have thought otherwise, saying as they have in prior offseasons that this upcoming season will be the season the old guard finally breaks down and prevents the Yankees from making the playoffs.

“I’ve heard it before,” Jeter told the New York Post in response to the skepticism. “Regardless of how old anyone is, it’s our job to come here and be ready to play and help us compete. We’ve been able to do that pretty successfully over the years. Our plans don’t change.”

It’s definitely great to hear The Captain having that mindset, and he’s right. With the old age and doubt at its highest, the Yanks have won consecutive division titles and made two ALCS appearances in three years. Mind you, the reason there was even a chance for a pennant last October was thanks to a 40-year old carrying the team on his back in the late innings – Raul Ibanez.

So whether it’s the experience factor, fate, plain luck, or some other reason, time nor age has phased this Yankees team. They have remained just as big a threat to win the World Series as they were when Robinson Cano was a teenager in the late nineties.

Without saying its a problem, however, the oldest guys on the roster must do the un-expected once again to keep the Yanks at the top of the American League’s totem pole.

That may have been stating the obvious, but the team is definitely centered around a group of extraordinary, extra-old veterans who somehow have kept up with the rest of MLB over the past decade. Jeter (38), Andy Pettitte (40), Hiroki Kuroda (38), Ichiro Suzuki (39), and Mariano Rivera (43) are absolutely essential parts of this year’s ball-club. As I said, it’s not too often players their age are still in the game, let alone performing at a high level.

Now is it fair to doubt them, with all they’ve done in each of their careers? No. But people will, and have some reason to do so. To think that these players can lead the team through a six-month season and still have it in them to keep it up [hopefully] in October is a lot to ask. It’s not impossible, but I wouldn’t consider it the most likely scenario.

I refuse to say this will be the year the Yankees’ age finally catches up to them, as each year in thinking that they surprise me and win the division. They are not too old to compete, but we’ve seen in the past few seasons the team dominating in the regular season, and just running out of gas come October. Things could change between now and September, but a realistic take on the 2013 Yankees is that they have the talent to return to the postseason. But their efforts to win in the postseason may again derail their quest for a 28th title.

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