Category Archives: Player Analysis

Player analysis, speculation, statistical analysis, etc.

Pondering Andy Pettitte’s Future

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees2013 will rightfully be remembered as Mariano Rivera’s final season. He announced his intent to “hang ‘em up” at a press conference during spring training, and has not backed down from those statements. This truly is it for the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history.

So, as the calendar flips to September, all eyes will be on Mo as he and the Yankees try to will their way into the playoffs. It will take a big, and possibly historic run for the team to do so, but no matter how far the Yanks go, we are all experiencing the final weeks of Rivera’s legendary career.

Two players who have been through it all with him are of course Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. Aside from Andy’s three-year stint with the Houston Astros, the trio have been together for their entire adult lives. Starting out as fresh-faced minor leaguers who became fan-favorite youngsters of the late-90′s dynasty, the “Core Three” are now grizzled, battle-tested veterans in the twilight of their careers.

While Rivera has made it clear that his future in baseball extends no further than this fall, and Jeter seems intent on at least playing one more season, Andy Pettitte appears very uncertain if his days in pinstripes are numbered.

Or, if he wants them to be, that is.

Andy has had quite a frustrating 2013 season. Pettitte picked up right where he left off in 2012 by having a strong start in April until back issues forced him to go on the disabled list and miss two weeks. When he returned, he was not the same pitcher, allowing 38 runs in 68.1 innings in June and July. Many people believed he was done, some suggesting he should be removed from the rotation. He has since rebounded with four straight quality starts, but certainly cost the Yankees and himself a fair share of wins during the dog days of summer.

When he came out of retirement last year, it wasn’t just because he got the “itch” to go back out and play. Pettitte has always been a competitor and his sole focus is winning. Had he not been effective in 2012, it’s likely he wouldn’t have come back. But, thanks to his injury-shortened season and glimpses of ace-like performances, Andy decided to give it another go this year.

Even though he has rebounded, he still isn’t the same. He runs out of gas very quickly once he hits 85 pitches, and has gotten extremely lucky with players popping up or completely whiffing on easily hittable breaking pitches left up in the zone. Yet, (and though it has almost become a cliche) it is true that 85 quality pitches from Pettitte is better than what they’ve gotten out of Phil Hughes, CC Sabathia, and even Hiroki Kuroda as of late.

Still, Andy will turn 42 years old next June, and he is one awkward delivery away from another injury. He is that fragile. Does he really want to return next year, knowing he will be extremely limited as far as the leash he is given in each start? And, to ask the even bigger question – is it worth it? The Yankees are no where near World Series contention, even if they do make it to October or come into next season with a somewhat formidable team. And surely all that is on Pettitte’s agenda at this point is winning it all. He has come back, he has pitched well for the most part, and certainly has assessed any regrets he had about retiring back in 2011.

That’s why I just can’t see any reason for Andy to want to pitch in 2014, and right now I don’t think he will. He has a had a long, successful Major League career, and his comeback has been better than I think any of us expected. But at some point, every player eventually comes to the realization that it is time to walk away. Andy thought he had after the 2010 season, but I think this winter he truly will “hang ‘em up” for good.

So, while we all relish each time Mariano Rivera jogs in from the bullpen to “Enter Sandman”, we should also take pleasure in watching the final starts that ol’ number 46 makes this season. Because like Mo, he is almost certainly in his final weeks with the New York Yankees.

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Yankees creeping closer to second Wild Card Spot

Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and the Yankees have a big task this September--get into the second Wild Card spot.

Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and the Yankees have a big task this September–get into the second Wild Card spot.

All right, let’s play a quick game. Raise your hand if on May 1st you thought this team was going to be in a position to take the second Wild Card spot in September with a lineup that didn’t have Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson or Mark Teixeira. Be honest, because from Twitter from May-July there were some pessimistic tweets about them.

It is September 1st. The Yankees are 3.5 games back for the second Wild Card spot entering play today and they have 27 games remaining. The Tampa Bay Rays have been fading recently, going 3-7 in their last ten games, playing the first Wild Card spot team the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees in their last 10 games are 7-3.  The team the Yankees need to keep below them in the Wild Card, the Baltimore Orioles are 4-6 in their last 10 games. Yes, the Yankees have been playing with the cards that have been dealt to them but it’s easier now, considering the Yankees have some power in the lineup.

Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter have returned. The Yankees have traded for Alfonso Soriano. They claimed Mark Reynolds off waivers. The world (and the season) no longer falls on Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki‘s shoulders. They are now a small (but important) part of a large puzzle. The rotation has been getting quality work from Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte. Hiroki Kuroda is expected to turn it around after a dismal August, which could be because of fatigue. The bullpen has been flawless this year (well, majority of the bullpen). The Yankees pieces are all clicking together at the right time and if they keep playing the way they are playing, they have a legitimate chance to knock Tampa Bay out of the second spot and claim it for themselves.

Two weeks ago, the Yankees chances seemed slim. They had to hop over three teams to even get behind the Rays. Going into September…the Yankees hope to pass the Rays and get into postseason contention and prove all the naysayers wrong. This team could be good enough to get into the playoffs, but how far could they possibly go?

Mark Reynolds vs. Lyle Overbay: Take Your Pick

Coming into the stretch, would you put Mark Reynolds (pictured above) in the lineup, or Lyle Overbay?

Coming into the stretch, would you put Mark Reynolds (pictured above) in the lineup, or Lyle Overbay?

There’s no denying two things:

1) Mark Reynolds is carrying a hot bat into this Baltimore Orioles series, having three hits last night and simply demolished the Toronto Blue Jays;  going 5-for-8 in his two games.

2) Lyle Overbay is seriously struggling coming into this series He hasn’t had a hit since August 18 vs. the Boston Red Sox.

The way that it was designed since the New York Yankees had picked up Mark Reynolds was simple; Reynolds will hit vs. LHP and Lyle Overbay will hit vs. RHP. However, the stakes are high and the times have changed. The Yankees are fighting for the final WC spot (along with the Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics). They need the hottest bats in the lineup. They need Mark Reynolds. Reynolds is slowly forming back into his April form, hitting .319 in August. after having a sluggish May-July which ultimately caused him to lose his job with the Indians. Lyle Overbay however is hitting .231 in August and is 0-for his last-15.

If I’m the manager of the Yankees, Reynolds would be in the lineup today over Overbay. I like Lyle Overbay, I do–but this is a time where people’s feelings can’t get hurt. If you’re not producing whether on the mound or at the plate, you’re either getting pulled early or you’re not getting the start. It’s as simple as that. Right now, Overbay wouldn’t get the start; Reynolds would. It sounds mean and sounds cruel but looking at numbers, that’s how it would have to be done if the Yankees want to keep their playoff hopes alive. So take your pick, would you take Mark Reynolds…or Lyle Overbay going forward in this stretch?

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.

Five Yankees Questions For the Second Half

We will find out a lot about the Yankees very quickly as they begin the second half of the season tonight in Boston.

They currently sit six games back of Boston in the AL East and three back in the AL wild card race. The first 10 games for the Yankees after the All-Star break have the potential to be a disaster. They play three at the first place Red Sox, four in Arlington against a very talented Texas team and three at home against red hot Tampa Bay.

If I were Brian Cashman I would have desperately been working the phones trying to get an impact bat over the All-Star break because if he waits until after this 10 game stretch it might be too late.

Here are five things to watch over the Yankees second half of the season:

1. What happens at the trade deadline?

The Yankees have recently been linked to Chase Headley and Asrdubal Cabrera and both would be huge gets for the Yankees. Unfortunately, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote that Padres have little interest in dealing Headley despite his down year.

Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain will be continued to be shopped by the Yankees, and it will be interesting to see what happens with them. I do believe that Hughes will be moved because the starting pitching market is very thin, and the Yankees can sell teams on his home/road splits this year. Although, Joel Sherman of the New York Post, wrote that the Yankees would be o.k. with keeping Hughes and offering him a qualifying offer this winter.

As I mentioned earlier, I believe that the time for Cashman to try to strike is right now with this brutal 10 game stretch upcoming. I would be looking for players who are under team control for a few years. I would not be giving up big prospects for rentals this year, since I believe that the Yankees are more than one bat away from being championship contenders this season.

2. Will Ivan Nova’s progression continue?

Nova’s development will probably be the number one thing I will be watching for over the second half. He has looked terrific over his last two starts, as he has 17 strikeouts to only three walks. Nova has always had the talent and if he can finally put it together it will be huge for the future for the Yankees, who have had a tough time developing their own starting pitchers.

What is fascinating about Nova is how he has completely transformed himself as a pitcher from his solid rookie season in which he went 16-4. He only averaged 92.6 MPH and he only was not a strikeout pitcher (5.33 K/9) in that rookie season. He had success because he was able to keep the ball on the ground with his sinker (52.7 GB%), but most thought that he would not have long term success unless he was able to get more strikeouts.

Nova added a slider to his repertoire in 2012 to try to remedy this issue. He threw it 14% of the time and he raised his K/9 to 8.08, but he also allowed a lot of hard contact (16.6% HR/FB%) because he missed location to often with his fastball and that new slider. Also, Nova’s GB% went down to 45.2%.

This year, Nova has mostly scrapped the slider, as he has only thrown it 3.4% of the time compared to 33.5% for his curve ball. Over his last two starts, Nova has thrown 66 curves, 43 of them have been for strikes and 17 of them have induced whiffs. When you combine that dominant curve with a fastball that has been in the 94-97 MPH range, you have a pitcher that has the potential for greatness. His  GB% is back up to 51.4% this year, so hitters are really having a hard time getting good contact on his hard sinker.

3. How much will Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez contribute?

The first question with them is how much will they play? Rodriguez hit a home run for Triple-A Scranton last night and appears set to rejoin the Yankees in Texas on Monday. We should find out more about Jeter’s status today. If Jeter and Rodriguez can stay on the field it will be pretty much impossible for them to not be upgrades, as Yankee shortstops have a slash line of .214/.271/.268/.539 with a 46 wRC+ and Yankee third basemen have a slash line of .218/.281/.293/.574 with a 57 wRC+. They should also add some much needed excitement and buzz to the team as well.

4. What is the plan for Michael Pineda?

At Triple-A Scranton last night, Pineda threw 4.2 scoreless innings and struck out eight. He was dominant in the first three innings before throwing a lot of pitches over the fourth and fifth innings. Right now, with Nova pitching well and Hughes still in New York, the Yankees do not have room for Pineda in their rotation. If there is an injury, or Hughes is traded, than Pineda can slide right in. The Yankees should try to get Pineda to New York as quickly as possible to get more information on what they can expect out of him next year.

If the Yankees continue with their $189 million plan they will need cheap starting pitchers, and Pineda can be one of them. It would be good for him to get as much experience as he can this year and it will be very interesting to see what he looks like if he does come up to the big league club.

5. Can CC Sabathia turn it around?

Sabathia had an uncharacteristically average first half, as he was only 9-8 with a 4.07 ERA. His average fastball velocity has only been 90.6 MPH, although it has been better later in the season. Sabathia has not fully adjusted to pitching with his loss of velocity yet and when he has missed location with his fastball he has gotten hit hard. Sabathia has also had a bit of hard luck this season, as his 3.53 xFIP is very solid. His slider and changeup are still great pitches, and Sabathia has still been an innings eating machine, which is still an under appreciated aspect of his game. I still believe that he is capable of pitching like the Sabathia of old and hopefully we see that in the second half of the season.

 

 

 

Almonte and Ichiro Improving Outfield

The Yankees outfield has been a mess for most of the season. Outside of Brett Gardner and a hot start from Vernon Wells, they have gotten little production from their outfielders. However, recently, Zoilo Almonte and Ichiro Suzuki have been very productive, and if they can keep on playing well the outfield situation will look a lot better.

Ichiro’s walk-off home run last night was not his only contribution of late. Ichiro has hit .299/.341/.390/.731 with a 101 wRC+ and .323 wOBA in the month of June. Overall, he only has a .289 wOBA, 78 wRC+ and .6667 OPS, which are very poor numbers. However, the Yankees would be ecstatic if he could keep those numbers from June up for the rest of the season. Ichiro has also made a lot of sparkling plays in the field of late.

In only 18 at-bats, Almonte has hit .438, with a home run and 4 RBI. He has provided a spark to the team like few players have for the Yankees so far this season. Obviously, the sample size is extremely small, but Almonte has shown he has some skills to work with. It has not only been his skills, but his approach at the plate that has been impressive, as Almonte has not looked over matched by MLB pitching so far. Almonte hit .297/.369/.421/.789 in Triple-A before he got called up.

Almonte is not considered to be one of the Yankees’ best prospects, but then again neither were Gardner or Robinson Cano, so you just never know. The Yankees are in desperate need of a young breakout player, so they will give Almonte every opportunity to do that. They could really use young and cheap players not only for this season, but next year when they try to get under $189 million in payroll.

If Almonte and Ichiro can keep up their hot streaks, the Yankees might look more at infield help at the trade deadline. That is not to say that if a good deal for an outfielder comes along the Yankees shouldn’t jump on it because they need bats at any position they can get them. However, the infield seems to be in worse shape than the outfield at this point.

David Adams and Jayson Nix may just be the left side of the infield combo in all of MLB at this point. After a hot start to his Yankees career, Adams looks absolutely lost at the plate right now. He has hit .105/.171/.105/.276 in the month of June, which is pretty much as bad as a player can possible be at the plate. Despite the love Joe Girardi has given Nix at times he is not a MLB caliber starting shortstop. His .280 wOBA, 71 wRC+, and .066 ISO are just not good enough.

The Yankees are also getting horrible production out of first base and catcher. Despite the perception of how good he has been this year, Lyle Overbay really is not very good. Yes, he has had some key hits and has been better than expected, but that is still not saying much. Overbay’s .232 avg, .289 OBP, 90 wRC+ and .1 WAR are just not very impressive.

Like their left side of the infield combination, the Yankees’ catching combination is also in the running for the worst combo in MLB. Chris Stewart is nothing more than a backup catcher and Austin Romine is nothing more than a Triple-A catcher right now. This is the bed the Yankees made when they refused to pony up money for Russell Martin or A.J. Pierzynski. Hopefully, Francisco Cervelli is on his way back soon.

Despite all of this, the Yankees are still only one game behind the Red Sox in the loss column in the AL East. They still have great pitching and with some offensive reinforcements coming back and some potential trades the Yankees can still win the division.

With a little more than a month to go until the trade deadline a lot of the potential trade targets are still just speculation. However, with Ichiro and Almonte playing well and Curtis Granderson returning the Yankees may need infielders more than outfielders. Ideally, the Yankees could trade for a versatile players like Chase Headley, Mike Morse, or Corey Hart who could play both. The trade deadline season is just beginning and it will be a very interesting time for the Yankees.

Pineda on the Rebound

Michael Pineda finally pitched in his first official game for the Yankees at Single-A Tampa on Saturday.

Pineda was very impressive, as he pitched 4 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run. He only allowed two hits: a bunt and a bloop to right. Also, his fastball touched 95 MPH, he struck out four batters and only walked one.

“His fastball had life,” a scout told Anthony Rieber of Newsday. “His fastball had good life to it. Looks like the guy I saw in Tacoma a couple of years ago. . .Unfortunately for us.”

“I expected to see some red flags,” said the rival scout. “None that I saw. The arm action looked good. All the check marks you want to cross off for a guy’s first outing in a long time, the checkmarks were all there. He threw strikes, competed, held his velocity. Looked good. Looked good.”

This is great news for the Yankees, as they may finally see a return in their investment of Pineda when they traded Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for him and Jose Campos on January 13th, 2012. After Pineda went down with a torn labrum in his right shoulder last season the Yankees were getting killed for the trade. However, Montero has been terrible for the Mariners (.208/.264/.327/.590 this season) and was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma on May 23rd. The Yankees still have a solid chance of winning the trade.

The Yankees were hoping that they acquired a top of the rotation starter in Pineda, and he still has the talent to be that guy. In 2011 in Seattle, Pineda was 9-10, with a 3.74 ERA, a 3.42 FIP and 9.11 K/9. Pineda wowed people with his blazing fastball (94.7 average MPH) and a devastating slider (19.27 Whiff %). The key in Pineda’s development was developing his changeup to keep hitters off balance.

Pineda was dominant in the first half of the 2011 season, as he was was 5-4 with a 2.92 ERA and made the AL All-Star team. However, he struggled in the second half going 4-6 with a 4.40 ERA. What those numbers don’t tell you is that Pineda was more unlucky in the second half than he was poor.

Opponents only hit .236/.298/.391/.688 against Pineda in the second half of the season and he struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings. His BABIP went from .247 in the first half to .286 in the second half. Also, his second half FIP was still a solid 3.78, so Pineda did not pitch as badly in the second half as his standard numbers would indicate.

Anything the Yankees get out of Pineda this year would have been considered a bonus at the beginning of the year, but they have to be pleased with his progress so far. Considering how much they gave up for Pineda, the Yankees are very likely to insert him into the rotation once he is ready to come up to the Bronx. Assuming there are no injuries- which is never a safe assumption with the Yankees- it will be very interesting to see who is the odd man out in the rotation. CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are all safe, which leaves Phil Hughes and David Phelps.

Phelps has continued to prove me wrong this season and has done a great job since he has been inserted into the rotation. Phelps’ ERA as a starter this season is 3.38 and his overall FIP this season is 3.37. The most surprising thing about him is that he has averaged 9.10 K/9 this season without what you would call great stuff. His poise and confidence on the mound are also big for him.

While Phelps has gotten the most out of his talents this season, the opposite can be said for Hughes. Hughes has a 4.80 ERA this season and has been very inconsistent again. It has usually been either a very good game or a brutal game with no in between. Home runs have once again been an issue, as Hughes has allowed 12 long balls already this season. His fly ball percentage is 50.5%, which is a career high even for Hughes.

The Yankees should try and trade Hughes if Pineda comes back healthy, although he probably would not fetch much with him pitching poorly and being a free agent this upcoming winter. Hughes and Phelps both have bullpen experience so they can make the transition easily.

With Jayson Nix, Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells and Chris Stewart as regulars in the Yankees lineup they need all the pitching help they can get. The Yankees already have one of the best starting pitching staffs in all of baseball, but a healthy Pineda would only make it better if he can perform like he did in Seattle.

The Yankees need to find out what they have for Pineda not only for this season, but for down the road since Sabathia is the only top of the line starting pitcher under contract for next season. With everybody talking about the offensive reinforcements Pineda has kind of been the forgotten man, but he can have a big impact and give the Yankees a great boost for the stretch run.

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.

Rodriguez hits an all time low as he faces suspension

250px-Alex_Rodriguez_2008-04-19

Alex Rodriguez isn’t the most popular choice for a Yankees fan. Heck, who could blame them? A-Rod’s career isn’t as glorious as half the women that he publicly has dated over the years. When the Yankees signed A-Rod, they knew what they were bargaining for. Rodriguez publicly revealed that he used steroids during his years with the Texas Rangers, causing Yankees fans to become uncertain with their newest 3B addition. Rodriguez has done some good for the Yankees; he helped win the World Series for the Yankees in 2009 (though most of the World Series heroics came from Hideki Matsui) but some good came with a price for the Yankees. A-Rod has struggled in the postseason every year aside from 2009, he’s been riddled with injuries and his antics on the field have caused uproars (going back to last postseason when A-Rod asked for a female fans phone number on a baseball). However, what could possibly come next for A-Rod overshadows the good and the upsetting things that he’s done in the past.

In Spring Training, there were reports that Alex Rodriguez was tied to the Biogensis reports, reports that said high profile ball players received illegal substances from a Miami clinic. Other names were mentioned such as Robinson Cano (who I’ve been told is not going to be suspended since his spokeswoman was the one tied, not him), Francisco Cervelli (who is in danger of being suspended 50-games), Ryan Braun (who on a technicality had his ruling overturned after he was suspected of using steroids during the offseason), Melky Cabrera (who already faced a suspension last season), Nelson Cruz and so many others. MLB agreed to look into the reports, leaving fans to wonder what could happen to some of these players.

Yesterday, MLB announced that they were planning on suspending players such as A-Rod, Ryan Braun and about 20 other players that were tied to the Biogensis reports. Rodriguez and Braun would face 100-game suspensions since they had used illegal substances in the past. With 20+ names on the Biogensis reports, why does A-Rod’s stick out like a sore thumb? Because of his 10-year contract with the New York Yankees that makes him one of the highest paid players in baseball.

If Rodriguez is proven guilty and MLB suspends him, this would be the ultimate all-time-low for A-R0d, tainting his career to the point of no return, and making him a disgrace to baseball. It’s easy for us to automatically assume that A-Rod is guilty given his past, but A-Rod’s fate could lie in the hands of the Biogensis reports and Major League Baseball.

I took to Twitter yesterday during the Yankees game, asking fans that if A-Rod was suspended if it would be the end to his career in Yankees pinstripes. Here’s what some tweeters had to say:

170px-Alex_Rodriguez_2008-05-28A-Rod is a player that has too much baggage, but the Yankees can’t easily get rid of him if he is guilty of using illegal substances once again. As some of the tweets mentioned, A-Rod is under contract and his contract is pretty ironclad to prevent him from losing everything if he decided on cheating again. The Yankees may be stuck with A-Rod’s contract for the next four years, but Major League Baseball can decide if A-Rod’s contract should be null and void. A-Rod’s fate is no longer in the hands of the Yankees, but in the hands of Major League Baseball, meaning that his future and possibly his career is on the line.

Major League Baseball will release more information in the coming days, elaborating on which players will be suspended and which players are off the hook. Looking from the business standpoint and the fan standpoint, both teams are feeling the exact same way when they look at A-Rod; disappointment. They can only hope that A-Rod doesn’t fall into a deeper hole.

Swisher Missed Badly

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

What kind of player do the Yankees need the most right now? A switch hitting, patient and versatile outfielder who can backup first base would be a really good answer to that question. Didn’t the Yankees used to have somebody like that for the last four seasons?

It was quite fitting that as Nick Swisher returned to the Bronx last night for the first as a Cleveland Indian the Yankees were experimenting with Lyle Overbay in right field.  Swisher signed a four-year contract worth $56 million with Cleveland this past winter, and he was one of the first casualties of the Yankees $189 million budget plan. The Yankees valued saving money over production in not bringing back Swisher and have paid for that decision in a big way this season.

The Yankees move to put Overbay in right field last night was a desperate attempt to get an average bat in the lineup. While Overbay performed as well as the Yankees could have hoped for with Mark Teixeira on the DL, he is not exactly lighting the world on fire this season with a slash line of .249/.294/.459/.752.

A lot of that has to do with his performance against lefties, but still Overbay is not the kind of bat the Yankees would have to go to this kind of lengths to get into the lineup in recent years. However, with the loss of Swisher, Ichiro Suzuki looking finished, and Vernon Wells regressing, it is hard to blame the Yankees for giving it a shot. Of course, if Swisher were still around it would not be an issue.

If the Yankees had adequately replaced Swisher his loss might not have been felt as hard as it has been this season. Giving a two-year contract to Suzuki was a disaster and it was mostly likely done for marketing reasons, as upper management thought Suzuki had a shot to get to 3,000 hits in a Yankees uniform. They willing took a lesser player in right field because of monetary reasons and are paying for it, which is something that would have been hard to imagine a few years ago with the Yankees. The same can be said for catcher as well, as Russell Martin is enjoying a very nice season in Pittsburgh.

Swisher was a model of consistency for the Yankees in his four years in the Bronx. He had an OPS+ ranging from 120 to 129 in all four years and wouldn’t you know he is at 127 this year, which would rank second on the Yankees this season. Before Mark Teixeira returned last week the Yankees had not had an at-bat by a switch hitter all season. They often have had to run a bunch of lefties stacked in the lineup on most nights because they have  had no righties to balance their lineup out. Also, even with Teixeira and Youkilis back, their lineup only runs about six deep with black holes in right field, shortstop and catcher. The Yankees have always been known for having a balanced and circular lineup, which certainly has not been the case this season, and a lot of that is because of Swisher’s absence.

Swisher is a great example of fans not being able to appreciate a player until he is gone. The same way fans used to complain about how the Yankees scored runs, even though they had one of the best offenses in MLB. Obviously, Swisher’s postseason struggles were well documented, but how much will that matter if the Yankees do not even make it there this season? He loved being a Yankee and had a very positive influence on the clubhouse, which was evident in the joy he showed in his return last night.

“It’s super exciting to be back here a couple of days,” Swisher told Howie Kussoy of the New York Post. “Just that atmosphere, that was a great thing to be a part of. Just being part of the whole tradition, obviously winning the World Series in ’09 was pretty cool. I think the mystique of being a Yankee was so great and something I was so proud to be a part of.”

The Yankees only rank 11th in the AL in runs, 10th in OPS, 11th in wOBA, and 13th in wRC+ as a team. Obviously, a lot of that has to do with injuries, but also willing playing lesser players for financial reasons at catcher and right field is a huge reason as well. Yankees right fielders this year have a -.5 WAR, .116 ISO, .262 wOBA and 70 wRC+, which is simply pathetic. As, the Yankees try to experiment a career first baseman in right field they can look across the field the next two nights and wonder what if.

Yanks have injuries but not slowing down veterans

ny_a_hafner_400The Yankees have lost a lot of familiar names: Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Francisco Cervelli, Ivan Nova and possibly Kevin Youkilis. With a lineup that won’t feature most of these names for a while, you would think the Yankees would lie down and take the beating, not fight at all and prove every non-believer right. The Yankees have done the opposite. Going into today’s game, the Yankees are 13-9, 12-5 since April 7. In a team that’s bruised and beat up, there’s a shining light, where veterans stepped up and are producing for the Yanks.

No one expected Travis Hafner to be such a big catalyst in the Yankees lineup vs. right handed pitching. And no one would have thought that Vernon Wells would come out of the gate swinging. Well, that’s the case for the Yankees. The veterans are taking over the lineup for the Yanks, and they intend on milking out every opportunity possible to prove their worth to the ball-club. Here are some Yankees that surprised us so far in the season, making their cause known to the team.

Brett GardnerIf you told me on April 1st that Brett Gardner was going to have 3 HR’s and have the second most RBI’s (12) on the team behind Robinson Cano, I’d say you were a dreamer. I’d call you crazy as well, but mostly a dreamer. Well, Brett Gardner has been opening some eyes, proving that he deserves to be in the lineup vs. left handed pitching as well as right handed pitching. Out of Gardner’s 3 HR’s this season, two are of significant importance: Gardner hit them vs. left handed pitching. Before his first HR, the last time Gardner hit a HR vs. left handed pitching was on July 3, 2010 vs. Ricky Romero of the Blue Jays. Gardner has been showing strength, and although he’s paid to run and steal bases, we’ll excuse him for not stealing bases as of yet since he’s doing a great job in bringing runners in scoring position to the plate.

Robinson Cano: Robinson Cano had an odd start to his 2013 campaign. He was struggling just like Brett Gardner and just like Ichiro Suzuki. However like Gardner, Cano quickly turned it around and started providing offense for the team. With no Curtis Granderson, no  Mark Teixeira and no Derek Jeter, there is a loss in home runs for the Yankees meaning that Cano has to carry the team on his back every single game. After a putrid first week, Cano has done just that. He’s carried the team on his back. Does 7 HR’s and 17 RBI’s prove my point? It should.

Travis Hafner: Pronk has become a pleasant surprise to the Yankees, showing his power and is dubbed the “2013 version of Raul Ibanez“. Pronk is easily one of my favorite acquisitions, since he comes up in the clutch in the playing time he’s had. He has 5 HR’s, (one of them was so dramatic, it won the game). He also made Cleveland Indians fans remember why they loved him so much…although he hit home runs AGAINST his former team, leaving the fans unhappy. Anyway, Pronk is a player that I wish could hit vs. left handed pitching…but I’ll take him as he is. He’s been a great player so far and we hope he stays healthy.

Vernon Wells: Who would have thought that out of all people, Vernon Wells would be the player he was before he signed the gigantic contract that caused him to get traded to two different teams? Vernon Wells is second for team batting average, home runs and is third in RBI’s. It might have helped that the Yankees faced the Blue Jays twice, once on their recent road-trip and on their current home-stand. Vernon Wells has no trouble showing the Blue Jays fans what they were missing, and the Yankees love it.

Minor League Week In Review

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The RailRiders ended up with four straight rainouts, but caught up a bit with a doubleheader on Sunday and finished up at 4-2 the last seven days. David Adams led the charge this week for Scranton, going 8-16 with a HR and an RBI. He raised his season batting average top .355 and his OPS to .976. With a lack of right handed bats and the news of Jeter being out until after the All Star break, there may be an opening for David to get some cuts in the majors. Corban Joseph got things rolling in the last few days, getting 8 hits in the last 26 AB’s including a pair of doubles and a homer. He drove in three while walking once and striking out three times. Zoilo Almonte also had a strong showing, going 10-21 with three doubles and a home run. The standout part of his performance this week was his lone strikeout while taking six free passes. That’s been his achilles heel, and if he can show some plate discipline while still hitting for power and not sacrificing hits he’ll make a much better case for getting himself a job with the big club. Melky Mesa went just the opposite, taking only one walk while striking out six times.

On the pitching front, Nuno continued his excellent work on the mound tossing 6 scoreless. He allowed just four hits, walked one and struck out eight. Nuno would be number one on my AAA depth chart right now as Brett Marshall (4.1 IP, 6H, 5R, 4BB, 3K) has been getting knocked around a bit while returning Chien Ming Wang will make his AAA debut tonight, and it’s yet to be seen how he will fare. Chris Bootcheck chipped in another solid stand-in performance throwing six scoreless of his own. Graham Stoneburner stepped in with a spot start and had his own scoreless outing of six innings, allowing just four hits while walking none and striking out a pair. Dellin Betances made two starts this week, opening with a pathetic outing that lasted just .2 IP, allowing six earned on four hits and two walks. His next outing wasn’t much better, although he managed to last four innings while allowing five earned runs. This is Dellin’s last chance to make something of himself before he becomes a FA, and so far it’s more of the same. Here’s to hoping that the change in his stride eventually pays off, because his time is running out. On the relief end Mark Montgomery continues to throw zeroes, going two innings, allowing a single hit, zero walks while striking out three. Codey Eppley and Craig Claiborne combined with 5.1 scoreless innings of their own while lefty Juan Cedeno tossed 2.1 innings of scoreless ball on three hits. He walked one and struck out a pair.

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The Thunder offense had a heyday this week, finishing up at 4-3. Their record could have been a lot better if it were not for the pitching. JR Murphy continued to raise his line, going 10-21 with a pair of doubles and a three home run performance last night that should have been the nail in the coffin were it not for ten earned runs given up by Matt Tracy. Murphy got his average up to .375 and his OPS to 1.097 after his own personal derby. Rob Segedin chipped in a pair of bombs of his own, and together drove in 18 runs on the week. Tyler Austin may be coming around a bit, as he went 8-27 with a double and 7 RBI’s. He also took 6 walks to go with 7 strikeouts. Ramon Flores pulled off nine hits of his own, including three doubles and a triple while driving in seven. He walked and struck out three times each. Slade Heathcott made his way back from a stiff neck, but is in limbo still, chipping in just a single hit in eleven AB’s. His OPS stands at .573, a far cry from his fall league performance.

As mentioned earlier, Matt Tracy got lit up in his last performance, allowing ten runs over three innings. His previous start was far better, as he went 5 scoreless on three hits. He struck out four and walked four in that appearance. Nik Turley made some more steps to a solid performance tossing 4 innings of 2 run ball, allowing three free passes while striking out seven. He’s gotten a bit better each time out, so here’s to a quality start next time around. Francisco Rondon as a starter experiment continued as he had two outings combining for 9 innings of five run ball. Walks are a bit of an issue and the righties are eating him alive… in fact he’s yet to allow an earned run to a left handed hitter yet. If anything this gives him plenty of innings to pitch and a move to the pen won’t require any stretching out, so if/when they decide to ditch this idea he could step in and help the big club rather soon if needed. Tommy Kahnle came out of the pen to pitch three scoreless on two hits, allowing three walks and racing up six K’s. Zach Nuding worked four innings resulting in 5 runs, two of them earned. Danny Burawa was Jeckyl and Hyde, tossing 2 scoreless and then getting tuned up for four runs in just a single inning. While there were a couple of highlights and things to look forward to, the pitching overall was the downfall this week. With all the runs scored they could have gone 7-0.

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Tampa had it’s share of offense this week as well. Gary Sanchez turned on the lights knocking three over the wall along with a double to go 8-23 on the week driving in ten runs and working his OPS up to 1.113. Mason Williams also went 8-23 including a pair of doubles and a triple. He got his batting average up to .289 on the season and his OPS to .860. Ben Gamel continues to spray the ball all over the field, going 9-28 with a pair of doubles and a pair of triples that he knocked in just last night. He’s yet to go deep, but 9 of his 20 hits thus far have gone for extras. The long ball power could be just around the corner. Carmen Angelini… yes… that guy, is hitting .308 on the year. In fairness he’s 24 so don’t take this as being a late bloomer, just way too old for his level. Matt Snyder is in the dark so far, posting a .088/.139/.147/.286 line. Yikes. Angelo Gumbs was placed on the DL and replaced on the roster with Robert Refsnyder. I have an unconfirmed report that he’s suffering from a strained tendon, and I wonder if it had any effect on his performance thus far, which has been pretty dismal.

Bryan Mitchell got straightened around his last time out, throwing 5 innings of 4 hit ball. He walked two but also only struck out two. With his kind of stuff you’d think we see more knockouts. Shane Greene made two starts; his first he gave up 5 runs over six innings, walking one and striking out four. In his second outing he went 6.1 IP and allowed a pair of runs, giving away zero free passes and struck out six. Corey Black made another start this past week, going 5 innings while allowing 4 earned. He walked a pair and struck out eight. The thing to watch with him is his velocity, as last year in his first go around in the pros he tended to lose his FB in the latter innings. He’s a guy that can run it up to triple digits, but falls considerably as he tires. Manuel Barreda appeared in two games and pitched four innings of one hit ball. He walked a pair and struck out five.

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Robert Refsnyder led the Dogs this week to go 3-3 before getting promoted to the Tampa club. He parted with a .370/.452/.481/.933 slash line, and went 1-6 in his high-A debut. That was about it for the highlights of the greater known prospects. Greg Bird has been in a major funk as of late. He went 4-22 with zero XBH’s this past week, although he did drive in three. Dante Bichette Jr. also drove in three but had one fewer hit. Cito culver, after starting out on a good note, had just three hits himself including a double. He’s making K Law’s limited look at him earlier this week appear pretty spot on. As noted earlier, Gumbs was sent to the DL with what is supposedly a strained tendon after posting an anemic .286 OPS. Pretty fugly all the way around, save for Refsnyder who is now in Tampa, and Peter O’Brien who went 6-18 with 5! doubles and a HR. He struck out five times, walked twice and has his OPS up to 1.041 on the year.

The pitching end was a bit brighter, led by Gabe Encinas who tossed 11 innings of one run ball. He allowed six hits, three walks and struck out eleven in the process. He’s sporting a sub one ERA right now and is the unsung star of the show. Rafael DePaula took another trip to the mound and tossed six innings of 3 run ball. He had some yips his previous start and couldn’t find the zone but bounced back a bit this time out, allowing just a single walk while striking out seven. For those of you interested, he’s leading the SAL with a K/9 north of 18. Jose Campos made his third start after spending most of last year on the DL. He was limited to just three innings again, allowing one earned run while walking three and striking out five. His command and control should continue to come around as he works his way back and continues to build his arm strength. Looks like they’re taking it easy on the younger guys; wondering if it’s the Patterson effect in play. Ceasar Vargas chipped in 5.1 innings of two run ball, striking out four and allowing three free passes. Daniel Camarena continued to struggle, throwing three unfortunate innings of five run ball. He struck out two and walked two.

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. 

Middle Relief An Issue Early On

The Yankees bullpen was supposed to be a strength this year, just like it has been throughout the Joe Girardi era.  One of Girardi’s biggest strengths as a manager has been his bullpen management, as he usually never overworks anybody.  Bad starting pitching has forced his hand this year, and other than David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, the bullpen has been terrible.

The Yankees bullpen has allowed 21 runs and 52 base runners over 25.2 innings this season. Yesterday, they turned a painless game into an annoying one, as they made closing out a 11-3 game a lot harder than it should have been. Shawn Kelley was awful, as he allowed three runs, three hits and a walk, over 1.1 innings. Kelley was selected to be on the roster over David Aardsma for his ability to pitch multiple innings, but in the second inning of his last two appearances he has allowed two and three runs respectively. His career fly ball percentage of 51.3% may not play well in Yankee Stadium, and his fastball has been down two MPH this year (90.4).

Also, contributing to yesterdays and this season’s poor bullpen performance was Joba Chamberlain. He did not allow a run yesterday, but he did walk two batters in the ninth inning of a 11-6 game, which is brutal. Chamberlain was throwing full count sliders with that 11-6 lead, which just made no sense. This is when he gets into trouble. He over thinks things and does not attack hitters enough. He has great stuff, yet is still always nibbling at the corners, as he has six walks already this year in only 2.2 innings.  The Yankees desperately need Chamberlain to get consistent and become a reliable pitcher in the seventh inning.

Boone Logan has not looked good for the Yankees either, which is a big problem since he is their only lefty. Clay Rapada got released because he was injured and the Yankees had a tight squeeze on the 40 man roster. Logan allowed a big three-run home run to Prince Fielder on Friday that blew the game open and could not retire him again on Saturday either, allowing a single. He threw 80 innings last year, which you might think could be the reason for his struggles now, but his velocity is essentially the same as last year, so it might just be a slow start. Logan was very good last year, as lefties only hit .231/.293/.372/.665 against him, so he deserves the benefit of the doubt. If he continues to struggle the Yankees could call up Vidal Nuno, who lit it up spring training, but he is not on the 40 man roster.

Chamberlain and Logan are the two most important players that have to get going because they are the most proven and have the talent. The Yankees have often gotten in-season reinforcements in the bullpen that nobody saw coming, so that is always possible. David Phelps, who has also been bad, Adam Warren and Kelley all have minor league options available. The Yankees might want to consider sending Phelps or Warren down to be stretched out as a sixth starter if one of the starters gets injured.

Obviously, we are dealing with a small sample size, so this is nothing to go crazy over yet, but it is something to keep a close eye on. On some level everybody team’s middle relief is bad, since they are always the worst pitchers on a baseball team. Also, the starting pitchers pitching at least six innings is a good way to improve your middle relief, which has not been happening for the Yankees. This is a much better problem to have than having late inning issues or starting rotation issues because it is less important. However, if Rivera or Robertson were ever to get hurt than it would become a huge problem. The bullpen was supposed the be the biggest strength on the team and it needs to get turned around.

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.

Prospect Profile: Slade Heathcott

Vitals: th-1

DOB: 09/28/1990
Height: 6′ 0″ Weight: 195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Signed 1st Round 2009 Draft

Numbers:

Slade made his very brief debut in the GCL for a handful of AB’s, and then moved on to SI in 2010 where he put up a .258/.359/.352/.712 quad slash over 298 AB’s, good for a .335 wOBA and 108 wRC+. He worked 42 walks, struck out 101 times and stole 15 bases in 25 attempts. He also assaulted a catcher after a HBP, a move that sparked the blogosphere to revisit his past. Slade injured his shoulder that year and underwent his first of two shoulder surgeries to repair the damage. He returned to Charleston in 2011 and hit .271/.342/.419/.761 (.346 wOBA, 110 wRC+) working 19 walks and striking out 57 times. His base stealing sunk even further, getting caught in 7 of 13 attempts. Slade saw a promotion to Tampa mid season, but played one game and ended up back under the knife for his shoulder. After two years of injury laden baseball, Slade broke out in 2012. After a delayed start to the season due to a cautious bout of rehab, Slade appeared in the FSL and hit .307/.378/.470/.848, a .389 wOBA and 142 wRC+. He worked 20 walks and struck out 66 times. His base stealing improved dramatically, stealing 17 of 21 bags. After an abbreviated stint in regular season ball the Yanks sent Slade to Arizona to play in the Fall Leagues. Slade went postal, putting up a .388/.494/.612/.1.106 quad slash, good for a .499 wOBA and 192 wRC+ over 67 AB’s. Not only did he tear the cover off the ball, but he put up a near 1:1 K/BB ratio (14/12) and stole 5 bags in 8 attempts. The performance got him ranked 6th best in the league, with at least one evaluator giving him top honors.

Tools:

Slade has quick strong hands and exceptional bat speed. He’s able to pull his hands in on inside pitches and hit them with authority. He can also extend on outside pitches, covering the outer half of the plate. Line drive hitter that can spray the ball to all fields. Has had a tendency to press in the batters box, possibly due to his lost time from injuries and tries to make up for it by rushing himself at the plate. He can also get overly aggressive making his swing longer than it needs to be. Pitch recognition needs work as well, and his K rate north of 22% indicates just that. His numbers in the AFL saw a bit of a turnaround in the patience department; Slade spoke about his altered approach in the fall leagues during a YES interview, and if he can keep it up it will mean a big step forward in his hitting.

Slade’s hitting all around has come around and that includes the power department. He has the strength to turn on the inside pitch and drive the ball, and what has been power to the gaps could lead to balls leaving the park. Some of that will depend on him being able to pick his pitch and let his swing do the rest. He shows power to all fields and the ability to get under the ball and get some lift to it. Being a left hander in Yankee Stadium never hurts either. Overall he grades out as above average power to all fields and some plus power to the pull side. Baseball America gives Slade a 60 potential on the 20-80 scale, putting him in the ~25+ range on the high end.

On defense Heathcott shines. Plus defender whose speed takes him gap to gap with ease. An aggressive all out style of play in the field, he foes back on the ball well and will charge hard on the plays in front of him laying out to make the big play. He shows some good instincts reading balls, gives max effort and his incredible athleticism carries him in spite of some loopy routes on certain plays. Despite a pair of shoulder surgeries, his arm is still a plus tool which will allow him to play any position in the OF. Accuracy an issue on occasion as he let’s the ball get away from him from time to time, but easily corrected through repetition. He’s shown some decent improvement in the short time he’s spent in the pro’s and could compete for a fielding award so long as he doesn’t run through the OF wall chasing down a fly ball. Slade’s plus speed has him launching out of the batters box and gives him a chance to steal 20-25 bases. His reads on the paths were worlds better after returning from his last surgery which should keep his SB% at an acceptable clip.

Makeup:

As many are aware, Heathcott had a bit of a rough upbringing; he bounced around a bit, lived in his car at one point and turned to alcohol as an escape/coping mechanism. This manifested while Slade was a new prospect and the Yankees nipped it in the bud, giving him a mentor that helped him get back on track. No one could ever accuse the kid of not giving it his all, and from what I can gather from various interviews, he’s focused on baseball and improving on his craft every day. His max effort approach to the sport will serve him well and take him far as long as his body holds up.

Overview:

An outstanding athlete; physically gifted with explosive athletic ability. Tools are incredible and the ones that aren’t there yet have the potential to be a plus grade. Has the tools to stay in center field in spite of the shoulder injuries. His defense is already enough for the position but is still improving. His hit tool has the potential to be a plus grade if he can get his patience at the plate under wraps. If what we saw in the AFL is for real, the hit tool has taken a big step forward. Plenty of pop to both gaps, and has the bat speed and enough projected power to play at a corner spot with plenty of glove to field it. There’s no lack of hustle to his game; Keith Law described him as “playing like his hair is on fire”. This could actually be a bit of a drawback for him, as he holds nothing back on the diamond which has led to his injuries and sending him to the DL. Toning it down by just a bit wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Projection/ETA:

It’s really up to him. He ended the year knocking on the door to Trenton and then tore up the AFL. With that said things could move even more quickly….he’ve heard comments from Mark Newman about how he might make his way up later this year, and Cashman just yesterday indicated that he could be in the Bronx shortly. His biggest obstacle is staying healthy, so if he can do just that we’ll be seeing him sooner than later. In summation, Slade is a balls to the wall do or die type of player that is full of tools and ambition. He’s the kind of guy that brings people to the ballpark. He has one of the highest ceilings in the entire system, but at the same time due to the aforementioned high risk profile, also has a pretty low floor. He could end up a perennial All Star, or broken down and out of baseball entirely. He’s the kind of guy you want to root for because he’s going to leave it all on the field trying to win.

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