My guesses at the Top 100

Baseball America will be releasing their annual Top 100 Prospects list tomorrow, so I thought I’d have a little fun and try to predict what Yankee farmhands will make the list. You can find BA’s top 10 Yankee prospects (pre-Sheff and Unit deals, and pre-Garcia and Melancon injuries) here.

Phil Hughes – he’s the shit, and lock for the top 10, nevermind the list. I’ll guess number 5, with Dice-K, Alex Gordon, Delmon Young and Brandon Wood ahead of him, and Homer Bailey breathing down his neck. He won’t be eligible for the list next year.

Jose Tabata – also the shit, albeit a not as advanced version. Before the nagging hand injury, I’d have guessed he’d be in the 15-20 range, but now I’m thinking 25-30. Amongst outfielders, he’ll be behind (in no particular order) the Youngs (Delmon and Chris), Jay Bruce, Andrew McCutchen (the best prospect no one is talking about, the kid had a .853 OPS at AA as a 19-yr old last year for chrissakes), Cameron Maybin, Justin Upton and probably Fernando Martinez.

Humberto Sanchez – the lack of durability is a concern, but he’s got an electric arm. He needs to lose some weight and tighten up his mechanics if he wants to stick in the rotation, but he could be a poor man’s Joel Zumaya (as in he’ll only hit 97-98 instead of 100-101 with each pitch) out of the pen. I see him slotting into the 50-55 range, littered amongst the Chuck Lofrgens and Jacob McGees of the world.

Dellin Betances – I think he’ll sneak onto the list, somewhere in the 95-100 range. You may laugh now, but look for a 80-85 spot jump for Betances in the 2008 list. Amongst ’06 prep pitcher draftees, I see only Betances, Kasey Kiker and Clayton Kershaw making the list. Sorry Kyle Drabek, but you’re too much of a brat.

Joba Chamberlain – He’s on the fringe, and if he made it it would be as number 99 or 100. It’s ok, he could the Yanks secret weapon.

Ian Kennedy, Tyler Clippard and JB Cox are the longshots, putting it nicely.

There’s alot of truly great minor leaguers out there nowadays; the generation that followed the Yankee Dynasty and Summer of ’98 as pre-teens are all starting to graduate high school or head into their junior years of college. Just for fun, here’s my list of the top 10 prospects in baseball (not counting that Japanese guy):

  1. Alex Gordon
  2. Delmon Young
  3. Phil Hughes – jumps a spot because the next guy changed positions
  4. Brandon Wood
  5. Homer Bailey
  6. Tim Lincecum – there’s no better potential 1-2 combo in the game right now than Cain-Lincecum. He’s filthy.
  7. Cameron Maybin
  8. Jay Bruce
  9. Andrew McCutchen
  10. Yovani Gallardo – every bit as good as Hughes and Bailey in 2006, but no one really noticed

Ah, nuts. Yes, again

The official site has Humberto Sanchez out two to four days with an inflammed elbow. Pete Abraham reports that he’s out “10 days or so.

Any pipe dream of Sanchez making the Opening Day roster seem to be out the window, not because he’ll be injured, but because he might not get enough work in. Not that it was going to happen, anyway.

Taking 10 days off sounds like the best idea at this point. Better to resign him to Scranton and let him heal fully, rather than rush him back and risk further injury. He does have a history of elbow troubles…

Bat Alex Fifth

An article on lineup protection by Ken Rosenthal inspired some thought on the state of the Yankees lineup. It has been widely speculated that Alex Rodriguez needs protection in order to hit at his best. Why people think this, I have no idea. He’s Alex freakin’ Rodriguez; shouldn’t he be the one protecting others in the lineup?

The short, short version of the protection myth: hitters benefit from having a power hitter behind them because a pitcher is more likely to pitch more cautiously and throw more strikes so that he won’t have to face said power hitter. Anecdotally, this makes a degree of sense. A pitcher working extra cautiously can be prone to making mistakes, and mistakes lead to big plays. Even absent a screw up, the increase in strikes should lead to more hittable pitches.

Ah, but what of the hitters in front of the power duo? Ryan Howard, via Rosenthal’s article, believes that the guys in front of him contribute to his success just as much as the guy behind him. This also makes a degree of anecdotal sense. Wouldn’t a pitcher become more cautious with a few men on base — particularly if they’re in scoring position — than he would in fear of the on-deck hitter?

In the Yankees lineup, batting Alex later seems to be the best choice. Sabermatricians may disagree, arguing that lineup order doesn’t have much affect on the number of runs it can produce. While that’s true in a purely statistical sense, Rosenthal makes an excellent point to the contrary:

The numbers that statistical analysts produce to debunk the importance of lineup protection are difficult to ignore. But those numbers are mere outcomes that reveal little about a pitcher’s process — his approach to an at-bat, a game situation, a lineup as a whole.

We obviously cannot measure these factors as they relate to a pitcher’s approach. This is why a study of the effect of lineup protection would likely yield less than accurate results. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put together a case based on circumstantial evidence, right?

The top of the Yankees order is filled with on-base machines. Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter and especially Bobby Abreu find themselves on base well more than the average player. Add Jason Giambi‘s exquisite plate discipline and you have an excellent chance that Alex hits with plenty of men on base. Plus, don’t forget that dude hitting behind him…what’s his name…Hideki Matsui. He may not be Manny Ramirez, but he provides a more than adequate degree of protection.

I’ll admit that the next bit of evidence is a bit disingenuous. Nothing here speaks of the players hitting in front of Alex in these particular at bats, and it also comes with the caveat of a small sample size. All that aside, in 461 career plate appearances when batting in the fifth slot (roughly a season’s worth with a stint on the DL), his line is .334/.422/.641, good for a monstrous 1.063 OPS, his highest of any position in the batting order. Of course, he has much larger samples when hitting in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th spots. But it’s not like we’re working with a sample size of 40 plate appearances.

Many fans would object to this because they don’t want Alex hitting with men on base. “He chokes,” they say. “And he was pressing last season,” they add, and in both instances they’re not wholly inaccurate. However, in 294 at bats with runners on last season, his OPS was .938 (.293/.404/.534). Not too shabby.

The Yankees high on-base guys, combined with Alex’s career trends, is, I believe, reason enough to place him fifth in the order, at least to start the season. The guys ahead of him will afford him many opportunities to hit with men on base, and the guys behind him — from Hideki to Jorge to Robby (sorry, MInkie) — basically make protection in the Yankee order a non-issue.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Ah nuts

Abreu to miss two weeks. An oblique strain, they say.

The good news: Two weeks means he’ll still have time to get in shape before the season starts.

The bad news: An oblique strain is an injury that has a propensity to recur. Thankfully, Bobby has time to make sure he’s fully healed.

The better news: This doesn’t mean Bernie is coming to camp.

Keeping expectations low for Yanks’ own Felix Unger

In 1968, Neil Simon introduced the world to Felix Unger, a satirical portrayal of a hypochondriac. Well, ladies and gentlemen, the Yankees have their own hypochondriac earning nearly $10 million a season. That man is, of course, oft-injured pitcher Carl Pavano.

And wouldn’t you know it, the Rajah of Rehab is at it again. This time, he was the unfortunate recipient of a line drive off the bat of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during batting practice. While Brian Cashman says it’s just a bone bruise, LoHud’s Peter Abraham noted that bone bruises often take 18 months to heel (Just kidding).

Meanwhile, Pavano is indeed slated to pitch on Sunday against the Phillies during a Grapefruit League contest. Sadly, the game won’t be on TV, but many other games will be shown on the YES Network in the coming weeks. Glory days are here again.

But joking aside, the Yankees will be counting on Carl Pavano to pitch this year. I’m not sure we should really expect too much from him. Last week, Joseph took a look at Pavano’s numbers over his last few seasons on the mound. I want to look at what we should expect from him this year.

Let’s break it down by projection.

PECOTA 90 131.2 21 3.32
PECOTA 50 108 17 4.63
Marcel 70 NA 4.50
ZiPS 128 20 4.64
CHONE 2.1 90 NA 4.38

Boy, that 90-percentile PECOTA projection sure looks appealing, doesn’t it? Well, don’t get your hopes up. It’s hard to imagine Carl Pavano as an integral part of the Yankee rotation this summer. At best, Pavano may start around 20 games and throw 115-120 innings. That still leaves about 14 starts for the team’s 5th starter slot.

More discouraging – but not very surprising – is Pavano’s expected ERA. Pavano is set to deliver around 115 unspectacular innings of league-average ball. That 4.50 ERA is hardly comforting. Luckily, the Yankees are a team built to score runs. So Carl may actually win more than a handful of games. He most likely won’t be a dominate pitcher though.

Luckily for us though, the Yanks have ample back-up plans. They’ve got Darrell Rasner and Jeff Karstens. They’ve got Tyler Clippard and Humberto Sanchez. And they’ve always got Phil Hughes. These young guns all look a lot more appealing than one league-average Carl Pavano.

Image: Tony Randall, left, as Felix Unger. (Courtesy of Slate)

Keeping up to date

I’m not one for linking to mainstream media stories and then turning the other way. If you wanted that, you’d look straight into the horse’s mouth, right? I’d rather dig into questions regarding the state of the team, even if much of it is well-reasoned speculation at this point. However, I’m not finished with my current project (you should see my Farnsworth piece tonight or tomorrow morning), and there are a few loose ends to tie up:

Damon is back in camp. He says it has nothing to do with his daughter or father. From the quotes in the story, it sounds like something Damon just needed to clear his conscience. Glad to hear that it was, in fact, a non-story.

Also contained in the above link is the result of Pavano’s MRI. A bone bruise they say. I’m not sure how long that will keep him out, but it doesn’t seem like it will shelf him past Tuesday’s intrasquad game.

Villone turned down offers to accept Yanks minor-league deal. This is kind of troubling, because his acceptance of a guaranteed contract elsewhere would have meant a sandwich pick for the Yanks. Looks like Villone didn’t give the Yankees much choice in the matter.

And really, that’s all that’s newsworthy. The analysis will return to its regular schedule later tonight.