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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…

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Phelps looks sharp as Yanks clobber Braves 8-3 in Spring opener

David Phelps knew how vital this start could be in the factoring decision on whether or not he would get the fifth rotation spot. So far, so good for the young pitcher who is entering his sophomore season in the majors with the Yankees and is desperately trying to win a roster spot, whether it be in the rotation or in the bullpen.

Yesterday, Joe Girardi said he expected Phelps to go two innings or throw 37 pitches. Phelps made it through his two innings, not allowing a single run. Phelps’s final line was 2 innings, no runs, three hits, no strike outs and no walks.

The Yankees bats were quiet for the first two innings but a third inning where the Braves committed two errors, a pass ball and a wild pitch opened the door for them when Zolio Almonte hit a two run homer, bringing home Melky Mesa. Eduardo Nunez also reached on an error and Robinson Cano reached on poor fielding, putting on a four spot in the third. Cano homered in the fifth inning, extending the Yankees lead while Austin Romine hit a two run single with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh.

The Yankees displayed both Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine in the game, Cervelli throwing out a runner in the second and Austin showing off his bat in the seventh.

Major League Players Look

– Robinson Cano went 1 for 3 with a HR and an RBI.

Mark Teixeira went 0 for 3, grounded into a double play and has an RBI on a fielders choice.

Back at Yankees camp:

Derek Jeter ran on the field back in Tampa, showing progress on trying to make it back to the Yankees by Opening Day.

What’s Next?

The Yankees will take on the Toronto Blue Jays tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m, the first televised Yankees game by YES. Players such as Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Ichiro Suzuki and Kevin Youkilis are expected to be in the lineup. Adam Warren is slated to start the game.

Yanks miss out on Pierzynski

Where was the Yankees offer?

Where was the Yankees offer?

It has been reported that the Texas Rangers have agreed to terms with Free Agent Catcher A.J. Pierzynski.  The Yankees were said to have looked into the 35-yr old as an option to replace Russell Martin but ultimately backed off because he supposedley wasn’t strong enough defensively.  To me, I thought AJ would be an excellent match for the Yankees but I thought he was out of the picture because he would receive a 2-yr deal from someone.  I wanted to see the Yanks offer a Kevin Youkilis type deal – high money for just 1 yr for AJ.  In fact I thought they should have offered the same $12M deal to AJ that Youk signed for.  Well, I was crushed to see that Pierzynski signed with Texas for a mere $7.5 Million for 1 year. Where was the Yankee offer?

Based on the wreckage that is the current state of Yankees catching and the club’s ridiculous insistence on 1-yr contracts – there really couldn’t have been a better match.   I don’t expect AJ to hit 27 HRs and win a Silver Slugger again like he did in 2012, but he seemed to be a good fit and would have improved the team immensely over the Catchers they have now.  AJ is a high average , contact hitter who is one of the toughest to strike out in the league.  He crushes RHP which would be ideal to match with any of the Yankees RH hitting backups in Stewart, Cervelli or Romine.  AJ feasted on RHP in 2012, hitting .287/.338/.536/.874 with 24 HRs in 399 PAs.  It would have been ideal to have him start the roughly 110 games this year vs RHP and one of the RH backups to start vs LHP.

Pierzynski is an all-out player with a fiery personality who gets under the skin of opponents.  He’s one of the more disliked players in MLB but he’s known to be a good teammate and leader.  His demeanor and effort would be a welcome addition to the team.  Apparently, the Yankees had concerns that he was only an “average” defensive catcher. This is rather laughable considering the Catchers currently on the team.   At this point in their careers AJ is better defensively then Cervelli and Romine.  And while Stewart is a solid defender he is like having a Pitcher in the batting order.  Pairing AJ with Romine may have been a good move so the young catcher could learn on the job from a seasoned veteran the way a young Posada learned from the veteran starter Girardi.

Looking at the state of catching in MLB, Pierzynski was an excellent option and a no-brainer at the contract he got.  Although its been just 114 PAs over the last decade, he’s shown that he won’t wilt in the post-season with a .300 BA, 5 HRs and a  .892 OPS.  AJ’s LH power also could have made it easier to trade Curtis Granderson for young talent without inhibiting their offense in 2013.  There seems to be a multitude of good reasons to have signed Pierzynski to be the Yankees catcher in 2013 yet they had very little interest.  I have been perplexed with a number of the team’s decisions this Winter (and the last 2-3 Winters actually) but I totally don’t understand this one.  Currently, it looks like the Yanks have perhaps the worst starting Catcher in the A.L. which doesn’t add up with their apparent strategy.  All of their moves this offseason make it seem that they are going with a lot of veterans to take one last shot while guys like Pettitte, Mariano and Jeter are still around.  They have made no effort to get younger or to make any significant additions for the team’s future beyond 2013. Pierzynski was the perfect fit to go after it in 2013 without adding any further commitment/burden to the 2014 payroll.  I want to believe the team has a plan but with each subsequent move and non-move it makes it harder to understand it.

Morning Bits: Rivera, just a game, AFL Rising Stars, Pascual Perez

Good morning everyone and Happy Sunday to you all. Don’t forget to move your clocks one hour back today. Here are your morning links. 

– After publicly toying with the idea of retirement, Mariano Rivera will pitch in 2013. That almost means that Rafael Soriano is gone from the Yankees.

– In the wake of a natural disaster, New York teams will win games that will make a night emotional. But in the end–they’re only games. Winning games doesn’t help relief efforts–donating money does.

– Last night the AFL Rising Stars game took place on MLB Network. The three Yankees that took apart of the game: David Adams, Austin Romine and Mark Montgomery.

– Dominican Republic police arrested three men yesterday in connection to the murder of former Yankees starting pitcher Pascual Perez.

Yankees Offseason Notes: Former Yankee SP killed, Yankees interested in Torii Hunter?

Good evening everyone. We’re only Day 4 into the Yankees (official) offseason and already so much has happened. Here are some notes from today.

– I hate to begin with sad news but former Yankees starting pitcher Pascual Perez was killed in the Dominican Republic during a robbery. Reports say that Perez was stabbed in the neck and the attackers were probably after Perez’s pension money which he recently received. He finished his final 2 major league seasons with the Yankees–but he’s mostly known for getting lost driving to his home stadium. Condolences go out to his family.

– There’s a rumor that the Yankees are interested in free agent right fielder Torii Hunter. A lot can change (it’s only the fourth day of the offseason) but it looks like the Yankees aren’t into Nick Swisher returning.

– Finally, Austin Romine, David Adams and Mark Montgomery were selected to play in the Arizona Fall League Rising Star Game.

Morning Bits: Chavez, Mariano, Kuroda, Romine, Girardi, Nova

It’s Friday so Hooooray for that.  With everyone reporting to camp more stories should be coming out.  Let’s get right to the links.  Have a good weekend everyone.

* The Washington Post reports that Chavez is happy to be back with the Yankees.  (Has a player ever said I’m not happy to be back with a team?)

* MLB.com reports that Hal Steinbrenner mentions that Mariano is a life long Yankee.

* Newsday writes that Kuroda is getting good reviews this spring.

* Nice article from The New York Times about Romine and how Girardi is working with him.

* MLB.com has Nova more secure after tough stretch last year.

* The Daily News says that Russell Martin, Yankees not yet close on a new deal.

* This article from The Daily News goes into how Girardi might be around longer than Joe Torre.

Spring Training Notes: 2/23/12

Russell Martin & Francisco Cervelli signing autographs

Another quiet day for the Yankees as they prepare for their first Spring Training game next week. Of course, Russell Martin & Francisco Cervelli just couldn’t say no to autographing for fans. How nice! Now onto today’s Spring Training notes:

– After signing with the Yankees, Eric Chavez has reported to camp!

– The Yankees aren’t going to retire #34 for A.J Burnett–they’ll just give the number to David Aardsma instead!

Austin Romine experienced soreness in his back while doing workouts today. The Yankees might hold Romine out of workouts tomorrow as a precaution.

– Russell Martin said that he was “baby-ing” Michael Pineda with his first few changeups. Once Pineda had thrown the changeup with the same arm speed as the fastball the there was big improvement. Russell Martin also believes that Pineda can win with the fastball-slider combination but believes that if Pineda trusts the changeup  & develops it then it would make him a much better pitcher.

There are a few reminders for Yankees fans:

  1. Tonight at 7pm we are hosting a live chat, so come with any questions that you may have about the Yankees.
  2. Also all position players are slated to report tomorrow (that includes Rodriguez & Teixeira) and workouts will begin on Saturday.
  3. Also, there are 43 days until Opening Day so mark your calendars.

Spring Training Notes: 2/20/12

Photo courtesy of Andrew Marchand of ESPN

Today was the day that the Yankees Pitchers and Catchers started their workouts! Here were some of the highlights of today’s Spring Training.

Mariano Rivera arrived to Spring Training after telling Cashman he was going to be late. Mariano, you weren’t late. You can come whenever you want. You’re Mariano after all.

– The Yankees and Raul Ibanez had agreed on a 1 year, $1.1 Million deal pending a physical.

– The chances that Eric Chavez returns to the Yankees are “50-50″ according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Chavez says that he will also speak with his agent about the matter.

– Joe Girardi spoke to the media for the first time this season and he mainly focused on the rotation and on former Yankee pitcher A.J Burnett.

  • On A.J Burnett: “I feel like A.J did everything we asked him to do. Without A.J, we may not have won the World Series.”
  • On Michael Pineda: “I’m always amazed at how big players are today. They’re large humans.”
  • On Starting Rotation: Sabathia will be pitch opening day but for the rest “You go with an open mind.”
  • David Robertson will continue to be the 8th inning man while Soriano is the 7th inning guy.
  • Girardi is leaning towards having the lineup Cano-Rodriguez-Teixeira but he isn’t exactly “married to the idea.”
  • Girardi says that he anticipates Francisco Cervelli to be the back-up catcher but others such as Austin Romine will get a shot.
  • Girardi mentions that he believe that it is important for CC’s weight to “stay there or close to it.” He also said the most crucial thing is that Sabathia “stays strong.”
  • A-Rod will be scrutinzed once he shows up for Spring Training. Girardi isn’t expecting A-Rod to hit 45 HR’s but he says he expects a big season.

Michael Pineda was working on his slider with Russell Martin earlier this morning which slightly surprised Girardi since it was still very early. However after nailing the pitch, Martin pumped his fist towards Pineda with praise.

– Mariano Rivera says he already knows if he is going to retire after this season. “I know now, but I don’t have to tell you.” Thanks Mo. That really answers our question.

Morning Bits: Rotation, Romine, Power Rankings, Burnett

Good morning all.  We are now two days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training.  Today could also be the day that AJ is sent packing.  Stay right here for all the latest.  We also have a couple spots open in our blogs first ever fantasy baseball league.  Click here for the information to join.

Enjoy the links….

* The Wall Street Journal says the new additions bolster the Yankee rotation.

* Newsday reports that Austin Romine is fighting for the backup catcher role.

* USA Today has the Yankees in the number one spot in the power rankings.

* The Star Ledger mentions that Larry Rothschild will not come into the season short-staffed.

* If Yankees can’t find away to trade AJ Burnett, Larry Rothschild doesn’t expect awkwardness in Spring Training reports The Daily News.

Interview with Charleston Hitting Coach Greg Colbrunn

Charleston RiverDogs Hitting Coach Greg Colbrunn

I had a great opportunity to interview Greg Colbrunn yesterday and he provided a lot of feedback on the hitters in the Yankees organization.  Colbrunn played 13 seasons in the Major Leagues as a career .289/.336/.460 hitter and was part of the World Series Champion Arizona Diamondbacks team that beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 season.

He has been with the Yankees since 2007, serving as Hitting Coach of the Charleston RiverDogs every season except for 2010 when he stepped in as Manager.  This will be his 6th season with the team so he has worked with nearly every hitter in the Yankee system above the Rookie ball level.  With his knowledge and experience I thought he’d be a great resource to find out more about the hitters in the Yankee chain.  My questions are in BLUE.

How did you get into coaching for the Yankees and do you prefer Managing or coaching hitting?

I live here in Charleston, we moved her in 1999/2000 when I was still playing. I took a year off after I stopped playing but I knew I wanted to get into coaching. I met Gary Denbo (Yankee organization hitting coordinator), and we had some of the same beliefs about hitting. It seemed like a great fit and great opportunity to coach for the RiverDogs and the Yanks have been a very good organization.

I enjoyed Managing but I prefer Hitting Coach more. I have more impact on the kids and I really enjoy working in the cage. I relate well to hitters.

Between Kevin Long, Gary Denbo, Butch Wynegar, yourself, etc., a young hitter progressing through the system will work with different hitting coaches all the time. How much communication is there between you and the other hitting instructors talking about individual players, tendencies and areas to work on?

Its kind of the same philosophy. We have good communication. When one guy moves from one level to another, we talk about him and what type of drills he’s doing. When you have different coaches that are on the same page but may go about it in different ways , you can find out what works with certain hitters.

It seems the Yankees at the MLB-level, stress the importance of going deep into counts and wearing down pitchers. Is that an organizational philosophy they try to instill early on?

When kids are starting out you want to see what a kid can do first. See what they do well, see what they can and can’t hit so we can develop a program from there. The main thing we stress is to get a good pitch and hit it hard somewhere. Learn how to recognize a curve ball from a Fastball. We talk about the importance of OBP.

During their 1st or 2nd year, the kids are still developing so you don’t want to tell them they can’t hit a certain way or that’s not gonna work. When you watch the big leagues, you see a lot of different styles, different stances – hands up, hands down. There are a lot of different ways to hit. We kind of let them go and just put them in a good position where they can have some success and be able to repeat their swing. If we see something that’s getting in the way of having success I’ll make an adjustment. I might alter hand position or something like that. But for most part in the 1st or 2nd year, I kind of let them go and make some suggestions here and there. If they’re struggling I might step in and tell them what I think but as far as any big mechanical adjustments, I try to stay away from that for the most part.

You’ve been in the organization sine 2007 and have worked with most of the highly thought of hitters. If I were to list some specific characteristics, tell me who comes to mind as the prospect in the organization that best epitomizes these skills/strengths. (NOTE: Greg hasn’t seen the hitters below the Charleston level yet)

Strike zone Recognition

Ramon Flores gets rave reviews from Colbrunn

Ramon Flores. It’s something we work on but for some reason he’s always had a real good sense. He picks up pitches as well as anyone I’ve seen come through here. He picks up pitches right out of the pitcher’s hands and has real good strike zone discipline and pitch recognition – and he recognizes it real early. The biggest thing with him was getting him to be more aggressive in counts where he could take advantage of it and let some of his natural ability take off more.

Pure bat speed

JR (Murphy) has some bat speed…….Kyle Roller, big 1B – he’s got some unbelievable bat speed coming through the zone and that’s something you cant really teach. Of course Montero.

Pull Power

Montero, Gary Sanchez. Melky Mesa hit some balls a long way when he was here but Montero had the most pure power.

Power to All Fields

Gary Sanchez, Kyle Roller had some tremendous power, he hit some balls that were unbelievable. Great all around power, oppo power. Gary, being only 18 is impressive and has ability to drive the ball the other way.

Hits for Average

Rob Segedin, he was 22 but he kind of dominated, he uses the whole field and I could see him hitting for a high average throughout the system as he gets acclimated and gets his feet on the ground. Also David Adams and Corban Joseph too.

Uses the Whole Field

Segedin, Corban Joseph. Gary (Sanchez) does a good job when we convince him to use the whole field. He’s still only 18 and gonna be real good.

Best Fastball Hitter

Brandon Laird. Romine was a good fastball hitter.

Best Breaking Ball Hitter

(Ramon)Flores does a real good job, Laird was good at hitting the hanging breaking balls, Montero, Sanchez

When I watched Slade Heathcott play this year, his physique and immense natural talent really stood out. What are his strengths as a hitter and how do you see his shoulder injuries effecting his development?

He’s got all the talent in the world. His first year here, he was 19 yrs old and we just let him go. This year he was able to make adjustments and apply them early on until his shoulder started bothering him. Hopefully the shoulder thing he can put it past him and go out there and get enough ABs so he can move up through the system. He has ability to adjust his swing, we call it “Adjustability” with his swing – he can be fooled and still get the bat head to the ball. He definitely has the power, has the bat speed, can run, put the ball in play, get on base…..so he has all the things you look for in a Major League player

Gary Sanchez has been getting some high praise as one of the best hitters in all of the Minors. Talk about Gary’s strengths and what you see for him down the road.

Gary Sanchez is the top hitter in the system

I see a bright future. He has a cannon for an arm, he’s got power, he’s got bat speed, uses the whole field, has good pitch recognition – all the things you look for in a good young hitter The praise is justifiable. He’s still learning how to play. This was the first year he played every day and was just getting the feel for it and it took him until the last 3 or 4 weeks of the season to really get going and put it all together before he got hurt. He just needs repetitions, getting games behind the plate and playing baseball.

JR Murphy looked like he was hitting everything hard with Charleston in 2011. Do you see him developing his gap to gap line drives into HRs as he progresses?

Yes, I do. He’s still 20/21. He swung the bat real well the first half of last year where he was hitting 3 or 4 balls hard per game. He ran into a little lull before he was promoted. In Charleston, the wind blows in 80% of the time, it’s not a big HR park, so power numbers might be down when you look at Charleston hitters. I think he’s gonna hit some HRs since he does hit the ball hard. As he gets bigger and stronger, when he learns to sit on pitches and take advantage of some pitches he can really handle the HRs will come.

Ramon Flores has a pretty swing for a 19-yr old. Do you see him developing enough power to be a Corner OF in the Bigs?

I do. He has one of the most natural swings we’ve had come through here. And he does have some power. Last year he took advantage, he hit 11 HRs which is pretty good for a 19 year old in Charleston. The difference between 2 years ago when I first saw him and last year when his body filled out and the strength he had was big and hopefully he’ll continue to make that progress. I’m looking forward to see him in the spring to see what kind of shape he comes in. He hit some balls well, has a great swing, a natural swing, and a real great feel. Definitely one of the best natural hitters I’ve seen come through here.

Austin Romine seems like his Catching skills will lead to a long MLB career. Do you see him being a good hitter once comfortable in the Majors?

Yes, especially for a catcher. He had a real high leg kick when he was here 3 years ago – kind of out of control with it. The time he spent here we calmed it down some, got it under control some. In the bigs, the more he gets accustomed to better pitching, he’ll hit. He has characteristics of a big league hitter – real good feel for the barrel, power, power to all fields and ability to use the whole field too. That’s something he did show as a young hitter. I think he will be an above-average hitter.

Corban Joseph and David Adams have shown ability to hit at every level. What is your opinion of them as hitters?

Colbrunn called David Adams a poor man's Jeff Kent

They are hitters. We’re fortunate that the Yanks do a great job in the amateur scouting department to bring in pure hitters. They are natural hitters. David went through some changes at Virginia (in college), when he came to us we simplified some things and he just took off, took right to it. He’s gonna hit wherever he goes, a line drive hitter who works hard. If there’s one guy I could compare him to probably a poor mans Jeff Kent, that type of hitter.

Corban is natural, gets bigger & stronger every year, ball comes off the bat a little crisper. He has an uncanny ability to get the barrel to the ball. He can be fooled, he can be beaten by a fastball and still be able to get the barrel to the ball. Great set of hands on him, he can go out and flick some things or jump on some things. Corban’s going to hit wherever he goes.

How does it feel to work with a kid, watch him progress up the ladder, then see him traded to another club right when he’s ready to make an impact in the Majors a la Montero?

I’m happy for him. I’m glad he’s going to get the chance. When I came up through the Montreal system, that was one thing they always told us – there are 27 (now 29) other teams out there. Working for the Yankees you want to see a young player come up and play for the Yankees but you have to be realistic. We try to get them better whether they are gonna help us out or help another team out.

Pineda allows Yanks to spend on offense in future

Pineda gripping the changeup he must develop (used via creative commons license)

By now, the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade has been dissected from every angle.  But lost in the aftermath of Friday’s atom-bomb dropped by Brian Cashman is the effect this deal will have on the Yankees future beyond the upcoming 2012 season and the change in philosophy it signifies. The popular belief prior to the deal was that the team would try to get through this season with the pitching they had, maybe adding a veteran on a 1-year deal, then try to play their hand in the big 2013 market for Free Agent Pitching.  Is that still a viable strategy?

I believe the trade of Montero for Pineda denotes a change in Cashman’s philosophy of paying top dollar for FA pitchers.  He sees the trend in MLB with teams locking up their good young starters – and he knows his own track record of signing FA pitchers has been dubious with the one exception being the $161M deal for CC Sabathia. But Cash knows he doesn’t have the long-term flexibility to risk $100M+ deals on pitchers even if they do reach the open market.

Whether Pineda instantly becomes a formidable pitcher or struggles in his sophomore year, the Yankees are invested in him for the long haul.  The nucleus of CC, Nova & Pineda will be what they build around with Banuelos & Betances ready to contribute in 2013. Barring trades, they will also have 1 more year of AJ Burnett & Phil Hughes next season so unless there is a major breakdown, I don’t see the Yankees allocating their resources on a high-priced Free Agent starter.

With the emphasis on pitching and the search for a viable frontline starter for the last 2 years, the future of the offense has been neglected.  The core of the team is aging and they will have to endure some lean years with an old ARod & Jeter in the lineup.  Jesus Montero was supposed to be the one to equalize that.  We all saw him as an eventual middle of the order bat that would hit for average and power.  With virtually no potential impact bats in the system above A-ball, there is little help from within coming in the next 2-3 years.  That is where Cashman will spend his money in the coming years.

So where will the Yankees have openings and what will be on the market?  After 2012, Swisher and Russell Martin will be Free Agents, so there will likely be openings at C, RF & DH.  There is also the possibility that ARod takes over a good chunk of the DH duties so the team may look at potential 3B.

With Austin Romine MLB-ready and JR Murphy & Gary Sanchez right behind him, I doubt the Yanks will be in the market for a Catcher.  Martin could be brought back but if Romine shows he’s ready, I think they’ll go with him and let Martin walk.  There will be one very attractive FA Catcher available in lefty swinging , 28-yr old Miquel Montero. Miquel hit .282/.351/.469/.820 in 2011 and led an impressive Arizona pitching staff.

There is also an older version of Jesus Montero on the market.  Mike Napoli crushed the AL in 2011 to the tune of a .320/.414/.631/1.045 clip while catching 65 games and playing 1B/DH for 50 games.  He’ll only be 30 in 2013 and could play the role that Jesus was going to play as back-up Catcher, primary DH and middle of the order run producer.  This would leave the DH spot open for 50-65 games for ARod while Napoli caught and might be the perfect way to break in a young Austin Romine at Catcher in 2013.  We’ll soon find out whether Texas will add Yu Darvish and/or Prince Fielder to the mix but even if they don’t they have the FA of Josh Hamilton in 2013 so they may not attempt to re-sign Napoli.  It’s difficult to determine what he’d cost in FA without seeing if he’ll repeat his dominating 2011 but I’d say he best profiles with Victor Martinez who signed a 4yr-$50M deal prior to 2011.  If Napoli has a another big year and can show some durability, he may be a player for the Yanks to consider.

The options in RF include Josh Hamilton (32), Andre Ethier (31), Carlos Quentin (30), Delmon Young (27), Melky Cabrera (28), Nick Swisher (32) & Ichiro Suzuki (39).  While Hamilton is the elite player of the group, I don’t think the Yanks will lay out the big money needed for a 32-yr old that has played more than 133 games only once (2008).  I like Ethier as a lefty hitter who hits for average and power and a 4 year deal would only put him at 34 in the final year.  He’d be looking at similar money as Swisher (3-4 yrs @$11-12M)

However, with the goal to get under the Luxury Tax threshold in 2014, I don’t see Cashman giving out a long-term deal unless he really likes a player and he has a lot of prime years left.   The DH possibilities are plentiful every year and it’s easy to find all types of DH’s on 1-yr deals.  David Ortiz will be on the market again next year at age 38 so maybe the Yanks put in a big 1-yr offer to steal him.

Next years FA third base crop has absolutely nothing to offer so if ARod needs to DH they will have to find a 3B from within (Laird or Nunez?) or trade for one.  I like lefty hitters Chase Headley & Daniel Murphy.  Both are young players in their primes who hit for average and would be a good compliment to the rest of the lineup.  They have both also been discussed in trade rumors this Winter. Headley will be in his final arbitration year in 2013 so it’s likely SD will look to move his salary with several promising young 3B behind him.  The Mets have David Wright at 3B and have Murphy playing out of position at 2B.  Both players also offer the flexibility to play other positions, 1B, corner OF and in Murphy’s case 2B.

It’s futile to look at who is available beyond 2013 since so many teams sign their young players to extensions nowadays.  But one thing is clear, with the impressive young pitching the Yanks have assembled behind CC, they no longer have to lay down huge chunks of money on risky FA pitching.  More often than not, big money FA contracts for pitchers do not work out.  By Cashman trading his big young offensive chip for a big young pitcher, he is electing to spend his future money on offense – which is generally far less risky and easier to project.  When I first heard of the trade I didn’t like it.  Montero is going to be a big hitter but it will be easier to find a bat of his caliber on the FA/trade market than it will be to find a pitcher of Pineda’s ilk.  The last 2-3 years of searching for pitching has taught him that.

So going into 2013, Cashman should have room for one significant contract. Anymore than that and there’d be no chance to stay under $189M with Cano & Granderson as FAs in 2014.  Who would you look to sign for the offense in 2013?

Yankees Top 40 Prospects for 2012

Could Mason Williams be #1 on this list next year?

Based on their recent actions and remarks, it seems the Yankees are serious about sticking to a smaller payroll now and at least through the 2014 season in an attempt to get under the $189 Million Luxury Tax threshold.  In order to do so, the club will need to look  to fill important positions from within and develop both impact and role players.

The Yankees system became known in recent years as being deep in Pitchers and Catchers but lacking in strong position prospects.  This was definitely a weakness identified by Mark Newman & Damon Oppenheimer and they addressed it by adding several solid up the middle athletes and corner players who can rake in the last 2 years.  Now, the system is more well-rounded although there is definitely a lack of upper-echelon hitters in the higher levels of the organization.

The system is still strong in upper level pitching. Even with Nova & Noesi graduating to NY, they still have 5 potential MLB starters in AAA (Banuelos, Betances, Warren, Phelps, DJ Mitchell).  The next level of pitching is led by Brett Marshall and several guys that need to take a step forward in 2012.  Oppenheimer has a history of drafting good college relievers and there are many strong-armed righties in the pipeline who could advance quickly.

Today, I will list the Top 40 with a quick blurb, then will follow-up with more in-depth on the Top 20 or so players in the coming weeks.  Each player has their position, Opening Day 2012 Age & expected level to start season.

1) Jesus Montero - C/DH, 22 – MLB

Has an elite bat that will make him a middle of the order MLB hitter for the next decade+. Rare blend of natural power to all fields with ability to make adjustments and take what pitcher gives him.   Only question is whether he will be anything more than a DH but a .300 hitter with 30 HR power will always find a spot even if he’s eventually a full-time DH.

2) Manny Banuelos- LHSP, 21 – AAA

Manny Banuelos

Had control issues in AA/AAA but most believe it’s just a matter of trying to be too fine as he has solid mechanics and repeats his delivery well.  Threw a career-high 130 innings so will be in line for 150-160 this year and could be ready to pitch for NY in 2nd half.

3) Gary Sanchez - C, 19 – HiA

Has big-time raw power and still growing into his 6’2″ frame.  His defense has been poor but I think he has the athleticism to convert to corner OF or 1B down the line and his bat is definitely strong enough to support such a switch.

4) Dellin Betances - RHSP, 24 - AAA

This is a big year for Betances. At 24, he needs to have a good year in AAA to prove he can pitch in a MLB rotation. Has plus, swing-and-miss stuff but most improve his control to cut down his pitch counts.

5) Mason Williams – CF, 20 – LoA

Dynamic player with plus-plus MLB speed and defense already. He put on a show in rookie ball and if he shows his offensive skills are for real this year in full-season ball, he may vault to #1 on this list next year.

6)  Dante Bichette, Jr. - 3B, 19 – LoA

Drafted for his plus power, he’s shown better defense than was thought. He’s really impressed the organization with his intangibles & makeup - namely his work ethic, advanced approach, knowledge of the game & leadership. Baseball America named him top prospect in Gulf Coast League and VP of baseball operations Mark Newman calls him “a special player and person.”

7) Austin Romine- C, 23 – AAA

His defense behind the plate is MLB-ready now.  His bat isn’t special but will be good enough for him to have a long career as a starting catcher in the bigs.

Phelps is a winner.

8) David Phelps - RHSP, 25 – AAA

Phelps is a winner who knows how to pitch. He’s 38-15 with a 2.61 ERA in his 4 years in the organization. He’s maintained the same solid numbers at every level including a 7.4 K/9 & 2.0 BB/9. Reminds me a little of Ian Kennedy. Missed time with shoulder issue but came back strong in August and was solid in AFL also.

9) Ravel Santana – OF, 19 – LoA

Tremendous physical skill set with power & speed. BA rated the wiry 6’2″ 160 pounder  right behind Bichette as best in the Gulf Coast League after he put up a .425 wOBA. Will have to overcome the broken ankle & torn ligaments he suffered last season so will likely start in extended ST this year.

10) Tyler Austin- 3B, 20 – LoA

Tyler Austin can hit for average and power.

I seem to be in the minority but I  really like this guy. He made his debut in the Gulf Coast and smashed to a .517 wOBA in 20 games, then followed up with .448 wOBA  in Staten Island. Has power to all fields and an advanced approach that helps him drive off-speed pitches. How many 20-year olds can you say that about? BA ranked him 8th best prospect in NY Penn League. Only question mark is his defense at 3B but he’s athletic enough to play the OF if need be. He even stole 18 of 18 bases in just 47 games which tells me he has good instincts and a feel for the game.

11) J.R. Murphy - C/3B, 20 – HiA

Improved his game offensively & defensively before ending season early with leg injury. Rips line drives to all fields and scouts now believe he has the ability to remain as a catcher while also showing the athleticism to play 3B and OF. Could become a very versatile asset in the Majors.

12) Slade Heathcott - CF, 21 – HiA

He’s Gardner-like in the OF right now and has more offensive potential. However, I’m a little concerned with his constant injuries and questionable makeup. To have his speed and get thrown out stealing 17 times in 38 attempts is baffling. But, if he matures and stays healthy, he could be special.

13) Brett Marshall- RHSP, 22 – AA

Brett Marshall

Now fully recovered from his 2009 Tommy John Surgery, he threw career high 140 IP with 3.24 FIP. Has good low 90s sinker and makings of a plus slider. Has flashed mid 90s velocity at times and will be interesting how he does in AA this year.

14) Adam Warren- RHSP,  24 – AAA

Warren is next in a succession of Yankee right handers, behind Nova and Noesi, ready to advance to the majors. He threw 152 IP in AAA with a 3.60 ERA and on a lesser team without depth, he’d have a great chance to make the rotation.

15) Corban Joseph - 2B, 23 – AAA

Has patient approach and nice lefty stroke that generates hard line drives but there are concerns about his defense at 2B and 3B. He had .346 wOBA in Trenton with 38 doubles and 8 triples but doesn’t get the lift and backspin to hit HRs.

16) Zoilo Almonte – OF, 22 – AA

Solid all-around skills. Good defense, speed and power that has improved the last 2 years. Yanks added the switch-hitter to their 40-man to protect him from Rule 5 draft and he could be a candidate to make the team in 2013.

17) Graham Stoneburner - RHSP, 24 – AA

Season was marred by a neck injury that kept him out 2 months and he was never quite effective as excellent debut in 2010. But he still has a great sinking fastball that gets tons of grounders.

18) David Adams - 2B, 24 – AA

The ankle injury he suffered in 2010 lingered all season and the Yankees were very careful with Adams. He played sparingly in only 29 games.  If he’s finally healthy this season he could progress quickly as he has an excellent bat that rips line drives to all fields.

19) Angelo Gumbs- 2B, 19 – LoA

Great up the middle athlete shows lightning quick bat speed and raw power to go with strong arm and nice speed. BA rated him 14th best prospect in NY Penn League where he had .341 wOBA, 4 triples & 11 SB in 220 PAs.

Nik Turley has that Andy Pettitte look down pat.

20) Nik Turley - LHSP. 22 – HiA

6’7″ lefty reminds me a litle of Andy Pettitte.  Took a step forward with 2.51 ERA and 8.9 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 82 IP in Charleston til a broken hand ended his season after being promoted to Tampa.

21) DJ Mitchell - RHSP, 24 – AAA

Similar to David Phelps, Mitchell is someone who just keeps pitching well and winning. Sinker/slider pitcher with solid change-up could be another back end starter/long-relief candidate.

22) Mark Montgomery - RHRP, 21 – HiA

Overwhelmed hitters with low-mid 90s Fastball and an unhittable slider leading to a 16.4 K/9 and 1.91 ERA as closer in Charleston.  His slider is just unfair to young hitters and he needs to be tested against more advanced hitters to see how quick he can advance.

23) Brandon Laird - 3B, 24 – AAA

Strong defensive 3B with good power but he doesn’t take many walks or hit for much average.  Has also played some 1B & LF so could be a backup candidate in NY.

24) Cito Culver- SS, 19 – LoA

Showed strong arm with smoothness in the field and compact swing from both sides of the plate. BA rated him 6th best prospect in NYPenn League where he hit .250/.323/.337.  He’s a project that will take time to develop his offensive game.

25) Ramon Flores - OF, 20 – HiA

Sweet lefty stroke and patient approach at plate, had .350 wOBA in Charleston. Good OF with strong arm and solid all-around tools. Only 5’10″ 160 so should get stronger and develop some pop.

26) George Kontos - RHRP, 26 – MLB

Standard FB/Slider reliever, held RH hitters to a .182 BAA in AAA.  Averages about a strikeout per inning but is a fly-ball pitcher who is prone to HRs.

27) Claudio Custodio - 2B, 21 – LoA

Talented 2B/SS with very good speed.  Hit ball well in GCL and  showed willingness to take a walk.  Hit .325 with .433 OBP and 26 SB in 28 attempts.

28) Tommy Kahnle - RHRP, 22 – HiA

Power reliever had 2.45 FIP in 81 IP with 12.4 K/9 but also 5.4 BB/9. Sits around 93-95 and can dial it up to 96-97 with a developing slider.  Needs to improve his command and secondary pitches.

29) Isias Tejada – C, 20 – LoA

Next in line of promising Yankee catcher prospects, Tejada showed his ability to make good, hard contact with a .971 OPS in the GCL with only a 12% strike out rate.

30) Brandon Pinder - RHRP, 23 – LoA

Dominated mostly younger hitters as closer in Staten Island with 11.0 K/9, 1.4 BB/9 and 1.16 ERA.  Has great command of 94-95 mph Fastball but has no quality secondary pitch yet.

31) Bryan MitchellRHSP, 20 – LoA

Plus stuff but still very raw. Put things together by end of year and shows strikeout (8.6 K/9) and ground-ball stuff (2.19 GO/AO rate)

32) Jose Rosario- SS/2B, 20 – LoA

Hit just as well as teammate Bichette with .331 average and .529 SLG%.  He’s a hacker with a 3.2% Walk rate but he’s caught the attention of the organization and earned a late season promotion to Charleston. Mark Newman stated, “He can run (11 SB in 43 games) and throw. He hit 6 HRs, so he has some ability to impact the ball.  By diligence, he’s turning himself into a quality prospect.”

33) Taylor Morton - RHSP, 20 – LoA

Made impressive debut in GCL. The 6’3″ righty should get stronger and he already possesses a plus change, low 90′s FB and good command.

34) Rob Segedin - 3B, 23 – HiA

Big 3B/OF with strong hitting skills. Earned promotion with .395wOBA at Charleston but struggled some in Tampa. Yanks put him in AFL this Fall where he went .250/.367/.407.

35) Daniel Lopez – CF, 20 – LoA

Another emerging all-around athlete with good speed. Showed power potential this year hitting .327/.413/.490 with 27 SB in 61 games across 3 levels.

36) Jose Ramirez - RHSP, 22 – HiA

Promising arm took a step back this year but still notched strong K rates so stuff is still there.

37) Evan Rutckyj- LHSP, 20 – LoA

Big strong 6’5″ lefty got stronger as the season progressed and generates a lot of ground-balls.

38) Cesar Cabral - LHRP, 23 – MLB

Rule 5 pick from Red Sox system, he’ll have chance to make team in ST as second lefty in pen. Gets a lot of Ks with good Fastball and plus Changeup.

39) Pat Venditte SWRP, 26 – AAA

Doesn’t have dominating stuff but continues to post good overall numbers and solid K rates at every level.  Biggest drawback is he’s a heavy flyball pitcher.

40) Abe Almonte – OF, 22 – AA

Plus defender and baserunner but wildly inconsistent at the plate. Switch-hitter had huge 2nd half, riding a 30-game hitting streak and showing off good extra base hit power.  Needs to prove 2nd half surge was real at AA this year.

Other NotablesWalter Ibarra, Kyle Roller, Zach Nuding, Dan Burawa, Chase Whitley, Ronnie Mustlier, Yeicock Calderon, Robert Lyerly, Melky Mesa, Dan Brewer, Brad Suttle, Jorge Vazquez, Ben Gamel, Gabe  Encinas, Matt Tracy, Zach Wilson, Evan DeLuca, Mikey O’Brien

New Additions to Watch in 2012: Greg Bird, Jake Cave, Matt Duran, Jordan Cote, Justin James, Dan Camarena, Hayden Sharp, Rookie Davis, Miquel Andujar

Afternoon Notes: Wilson, Garza, Gonzalez, Danks, 40-Man Roster

The Yanks have expressed particular interest in White Sox hurler John Danks. Chicago on the other hand is a big fan of NYY Triple-A catcher, Austin Romine.

Via Joel Sherman of the NY Post:

— Brian Cashman would like to do something this offseason, before Christmas, but he won’t unless the prices drop from where they are now. (Sherman)

— Symbolic of the Yankees’ current lack of enthusiasm, when C.J. Wilson’s agent requested a meeting in New York, he was told “we’ll get back to you.”

— The Yanks have looked into a possible trade for Cubs’ starter, Matt Garza. However, a Chicago official said trading Garza would be “very, very unlikely”.

— Among their particular likings is left-hander Gio Gonzalez of the Athletics. Billy Beane, talking about the availability of Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, said, “In our situation, we are open to anything.” However, Oakland is looking for an ace return for either Gio or Cahill. This probably implies a package centered around Jesus Montero or Manny Baneulos.

— They also favor ChiSox lefty, John Danks, who will be a free agent after this 2012 season. Sherman notes that Danks is “very” available, with the sudden Chicago rebuilding process. The asking price for Danks appears to be similar to that of Billy Beane’s in Oakland. The Yanks don’t view Danks as worth that kind of price, especially considering they’d only be getting one year of him. However, don’t shut the door on this trade possibility. Sherman adds the White Sox are very keen on a number of Yankee prospects, including a “particular fondness” for Austin Romine.

Via Mark Feinsand of the NY Daily News:

— On a different note, the Yankees added infielders David Adams and Corban Joseph, outfielder Zoilo Almonte, and right-handed pitchers, D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps to their 40-Man Roster. It seems likely that the latter two will see at least some time in the majors next season.

A little about each of them.

Almonte batted .276/.345/.459 with 15 homers and 18 steals between High- and Double-A this season. He’s an unexciting talent but one the Yankees felt they couldn’t lose in the Rule 5 draft.

Joseph, 23, hit .277/.353/.415 with five homers and 58 RBI over 499 at-bats for Trenton this season. The former fourth-round pick is below average defensively and hasn’t progressed much with the bat, but the Yankees are still holding out hope that he’ll be a useful piece of the roster eventually.

Adams batted .370/.421/.509 over 29 games in an injury-shortened 2011 season. The former third-round pick has little in the way of tools but profiles as a solid backup at the major league level.

A former outfielder from his college days, Mitchell doesn’t have much upside but has a nice minor league track record, having held a 3.28 ERA over three seasons, including a 3.18 mark at Triple-A in 2011. He probably has a better shot to eventually earn a roster spot for the Yankees as a middle reliever, though.

Phelps is now off-limits for the Rule 5 draft. A former 14th-round pick, Phelps posted a nice 3.19 ERA and 90/26 K/BB ratio over 107 1/3 innings at Triple-A this season. Though his ceiling isn’t high, Phelps boasts a 2.61 ERA in his minor league career and has a good shot of being a useful back-end starter or middle reliever for the Yanks one day.

Morning Bits: Sanchez, Catchers, Posada, Cashman, D.R.

Good morning everyone. Not a good day for sports yesterday, with the Penn State scandal, and the kidnapping of Nationals’ catcher Wilson Ramos.

Here are your notes and links:

Via Marc Carig of the Star Ledger:

— Although they knew Jonathan Sanchez was on the trade block, the Yankees never had any real discussions about acquiring him.

— “I’ve had a lot of teams express ‘Hey, if you’re ever going to do something there, mark us down,’ that type of things.” This is Brian Cashman speaking about how other clubs have been inquiring on the Yankees’ plethora of catchers, including Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, and Francisco Cervelli.

— Cashman is still feeling for the pitching market, and has reportedly requested medical information from some players, which he says is standard procedure.

— Jorge Posada has accepted the fact that if he plays in 2012, it won’t be with the Yankees. He just has to decide whether to call it quits, or put on another uniform.

— The Yankees have a large number of scouts in the Dominican Republic this week. However, they aren’t only watching center-fielder Yoennis Cespedes.

Via Anthony McCarron of the NY Daily News:

— Brian Cashman noted that the Yankees’ roster “isn’t perfect”, and will look to improve it throughout free agency.

Morning Bits: Rivera, Romine, Betances

Good morning everyone.  Back to the work week.  Yankee finally got back on the winning track yesterday and Boston continued to lose.   Yankees start a new series tonight in Seattle.  Hughes will be on the mound.  Also tonight starts the championship round of the best of 3 for the New York Penn League.  Staten Island looks to start off the series with a win tonight.

The Yankees magic number is now at 14.

and here are your morning links.

* Rivera, Yankees catch break in victory.

* Catching Mo,  Romine savors intro into the bigs.

* Called up Yankee, Betances ready if needed.

 

AL EAST STANDINGS

EAST W L PCT GB HOME ROAD RS RA DIFF STRK L10 POFF
NY Yankees 88 57 .607 - 46-27 42-30 785 585 +200 Won 1 6-4 99.1
Boston 85 61 .582 3.5 42-29 43-32 783 638 +145 Lost 5 2-8 88.2
Tampa Bay 81 64 .559 7 42-33 39-31 625 546 +79 Won 4 7-3 11.4
Toronto 74 73 .503 15 38-36 36-37 687 686 +1 Won 2 5-5 0.1
Baltimore 58 87 .400 30 33-39 25-48 614 765 -151 Lost 2 4-6 0.0

Game 145: Yankees @ Angels

Freddy Garcia takes the mound to try to end the Yankees skid at 4 games

Lineup:

Derek Jeter SS
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Robinson Cano DH
Jesus Montero C
Eric Chavez 3B
Andruw Jones RF
Eduardo Nunez 2B
Brett Gardner LF

Pitchers:

Freddy Garcia (11-7, 3.50 ERA) v.s Ervin Santana (11-10, 3.18 ERA)

Pregame Notes:

— Russell Martin can now be added to the injury list after being hit in the thumb in yesterday’s 6-0 loss. Martin is day to day.

— To help with the catching duties, Austin Romine was called up. Steve Garrison was DFA’d to make room for Romine this morning. Romine will year #71.

— Evaluators who have been traveling with the Yankees said that Swisher, A-Rod & Martin might not be completely fine for the rest of the season. Also they revealed after giving Brett Gardner an evaluation that he is suffering from exhaustion.

Enjoy the game.

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