Despite spending restrictions, the Yankees have an impressive collection of Latin American pitching prospects

Medina. (@MiLB)
Medina. (@MiLB)

For years the Yankees built their farm system through international free agency. They haven’t had access to top of the draft talent in more than two decades now, but they were able to spend freely internationally, so they made up for the lack of high draft picks that way. That’s how the Yankees landed Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino, among others.

The rules have changed, however. MLB implemented a soft spending cap for international players six years ago and a hard cap this year. The Yankees are no longer free to wield their financial might internationally. This year they were held to a $4.75M hard cap, which is nothing. They gave Sanchez a $3M bonus back in 2009. Three years ago the Yankees blew their soft cap out of the water and spent $30M between taxes and bonuses, and once other teams followed suit, MLB pushed for the hard cap, so here we are.

Anyway, as a result of that $30M spending spree during he 2014-15 signing period, the Yankees could not sign a player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods. That took them out of the running for the top talent. When other teams could offer millions and you’re limited to $300,000, it’s a huge disadvantage. It figured to be tough for the Yankees to attract top players, and it was. C’est la vie.

The Yankees, however, have become very adept at finding under-the-radar international talent, and turning smaller bonus players into top prospects. Severino, for example, signed for $225,000 as an amateur. Jorge Mateo signed for $250,000. Top outfield prospect Estevan Florial signed for $200,000. The big seven-figure bonuses like $3M for Sanchez get all the attention, but it’s those small bonus signings that make a big difference in the long run.

The Yankees have Donny Rowland, who returning to the organization in 2007 and has been their director of international scouting since 2014, and his army of scouts in Latin America to thank for that. Despite being limited to $300,000 bonuses during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, the Yankees landed several interesting power arms who make up their next wave of pitching prospects. A partial list:

  • RHP Roansy Contreras: Signed for $300,000 in July 2016.
  • RHP Deivi Garcia: Signed for $100,000 in July 2015.
  • RHP Rony Garcia: Signed for an undisclosed bonus in July 2015. (Had to be $300,000 or less.)
  • RHP Luis Medina: Signed for $280,000 in July 2015.

All four of those pitchers have received quite a bit of attention recently. Contreras was considered the top pitching prospect in the Dominican Republic during the 2016-17 signing period. Jim Callis said Medina has the highest ceiling of any pitching prospect in the system. Both Deivi (“One of the Yankees’ brightest low-level arms“) and Rony (“(He) shouldn’t be anonymous for long“) Garcia received glowing reports from Baseball America recently.

Also, the Yankees have traded for several lower level Latin American arms within the last year, most notably RHP Albert Abreu and RHP Jorge Guzman, both of whom came over in the Brian McCann trade. Also, RHP Juan De Paula was part of the Ben Gamel trade. De Paula and especially Guzman have seen their stock rise considerably this year, and I have no doubt Rowland and his staff were consulted during trade talks. The international scouting department had eyes on these guys long before the Yankees traded for them.

This group doesn’t include RHP Domingo Acevedo ($7,500 bonus in October 2012) or RHP Freicer Perez ($10,000 bonus in December 2014), both of whom received small bonuses, but not while the Yankees were held to the $300,000 bonus maximum. Both are among the better pitching prospects in the system — Acevedo figures to make his MLB debut at some point next season — and both signed for relative peanuts. They’re just two more examples of how well the Yankees identify under-the-radar international talent.

It would be unwise and unfair to expect any of these pitchers to turn into another Severino. Severino has been a top ten pitcher in baseball this season and, as long as he stays healthy, he has the ability to remain a top ten pitcher for several years. It’s hard to expect that from any prospect, no matter how good. The hope is several of these Latin American arms will turn into useful big leaguers or trade chips. These days teams take lower level prospects back as the headliners in trades more than ever before. It might not be long before the Yankees cash these guys in.

The Yankees were limited to $300,000 bonuses internationally from July 2015 through July 2017, and they knew they would be following the 2014-15 spending spree. That was part of the plan. They still managed to land several pitching prospects who are already drawing rave reviews, with Medina and the Garcias in particular becoming hard to ignore. Contreras, who signed just last year, is next in line. The Yankees have graduated a lot of prospects and traded a lot of prospects recently. Now the next wave is in place, despite those international spending limits.

Should the Yankees have used the 10-day DL more often this year?

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Last night Masahiro Tanaka returned to the rotation after a quick stint on the 10-day DL to deal with what was essentially a dead arm. The Yankees announced it as shoulder inflammation, though everyone involved called it fatigue. No big deal. Tanaka returned three days after CC Sabathia returned from the 10-day DL. Sabathia had more problems with his troublesome right now. Both guys missed the minimum ten days.

MLB went from a 15-day DL to a 10-day DL this year and, not surprisingly, teams are really taking advantage of it. Pretty much anytime a player is banged up, he gets quick ten-day vacation. Already this year there have been 502 DL stints across baseball. There were 472 all of last year. No team has used the new 10-day DL more than the Dodgers. They’ve had 25 DL stints already, most in baseball.

That is, at least somewhat, by design. The Dodgers have put all their starting pitchers on the 10-day DL at some point just to give them a little rest here and there. The Yankees have had 17 DL stints this year, which is middle of the pack. They’ve had the opportunity to use at times and declined. Aroldis Chapman‘s hamstring injury last week, for example. They went a few days without Chapman being available rather than give him that quick ten-day break.

It’s a little too late to take advantage of the 10-day DL now — rosters expand in nine days and there’s no point in placing someone on the 10-day DL in September — but should the Yankees have used it more often this year? For, say, Chapman’s hamstring. Or to give Luis Severino a quick breather at some point with his innings mounting. Or for Aaron Judge’s achy shoulder. It’s easy to say yes, but three things to consider.

1. Players don’t like going on the DL. Players are competitors. They aren’t robots and this isn’t a video game. You don’t put a player on the DL for ten days when he only needs a day or two without potentially upsetting him. They all want to play. Every single one of them. No one wants to go sit on the DL for a week and a half when it’s not necessary. There are relationships to be maintained — even explaining the situation to the player isn’t guaranteed to smooth things over — and heck, a player could even go to the union to file a grievance.

2. You need to have quality depth to do this. Okay, so you want to put Judge on the DL to knock out his shoulder issue? Who steps into the lineup then? It’ll be Jacoby Ellsbury, who is hitting .238/.315/.367 (83 wRC+) this season. And who gets called up? Probably another reliever with the way the Yankees are going. Chapman going on the DL likely means Gio Gallegos or Bryan Mitchell. Want to skip a Severino start? Prepare for more Mitchell or Luis Cessa. There’s inevitably going to be a drop off from the regular being stashed on the DL to the guy replacing him.

3. The Yankees are in the postseason race. This ties in to the previous point. The Yankees are trying to catch the Red Sox in the AL East and hold off basically the rest of the AL in the wildcard race. They need as many Severino starts and Judge at-bats as possible. They’re not in position to voluntarily give some of those away. I suppose the counterargument here is that a quick 10-day DL stint here and there means more effective players down the stretch. That’s more a theory than a proven fact though, isn’t it? It’s tough to see how sitting your regulars for ten days at a time equals improved odds of winning.

* * *

The Dodgers have manipulated the 10-day DL rule expertly, and they’ve been able to do it because they’re on pace for 116 wins and have a 20-something game lead in the division. If the Yankees had the same lead, I’m certain Severino’s workload would be getting scaled back a bit, and Judge and everyone else would be getting more time off. That’s not the case though. The Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot and they need their best players on the field as much as possible.

Using the 10-day DL to give players a midseason rest is something to keep in mind for the future. The Yankees seem to be building toward something special, toward sustained excellence, and should they achieve it some point, resting their players for ten days at a time would be more doable. It’s too late to do it this year, and besides, the Yankees need all their players to help them reach the postseason. This is one of those ideas that sounds great in theory but isn’t quite as easy to put into practice.

Gary Sanchez, passed balls and all, is an absolute star

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Fresh off Monday’s off-day, the Yankees pounded the Tigers in their series opener last night, and that’s exactly what I’m sure we were all hoping they’d do. The Tigers are not good, not by any stretch, and Matt Boyd has had a rough year. After getting shut down by a few too many crummy pitchers in recent weeks, the Yankees hung seven runs on Boyd in three innings and cruised to a 13-4 win. Perfect.

Leading the way offensively was catcher Gary Sanchez, who has been leading the way offensively for a few weeks now. He bookended last night’s attack with two two-run home runs. One pulled to left field in the first inning and the other driven the other way to right field in the ninth inning. The first home run traveled 493 feet. Second longest home run in baseball this season. Only Aaron Judge has hit a ball farther. He had that 495-footer against the Orioles.

Following last night’s performance Sanchez is hitting .304/.375/.739 (183 wRC+) with nine home runs in August, and .274/.348/.536 (131 wRC+) with 25 home runs overall. The franchise record for home runs in a season by a catcher is 30 by Jorge Posada (2003) and Yogi Berra (1952, 1956). Sanchez might get there by the end of August despite missing just about the entire month of April with a biceps strain.

Since arriving in the big leagues for good a little more than one year ago, Sanchez has slugged 45 home runs in 143 games, which is far and away the most by a catcher. Salvador Perez and Willson Contreras are tied for distant second with 27 home runs each. Here’s where Sanchez ranks among the 21 catchers with at least 300 plate appearances this season:

  • AVG: .274 (7th)
  • OBP: .348 (5th)
  • SLG: .536 (1st)
  • wRC+: 131 (3rd)
  • HR: 25 (1st)

There’s a very good chance Sanchez will hit 30 home runs this season — again, he missed almost all of April with that biceps injury — and if he does, he’ll be the sixth catcher in history to swat 30+ homers in a season at age 24 or younger. Johnny Bench did it twice. Mike Piazza, Gary Carter, Rudy York, and Matt Nokes did it as well. Sanchez is poised to join that group. Heck, he has a chance to join Bench and Piazza as the only catchers to hit 35+ homers in a season before their 25th birthday.

The knock against Sanchez has never been his bat, of course. He’s always been rough around the edges defensively, and while he has improved quite a bit over the years, he’s not going to get confused for Yadier Molina anytime soon. Sanchez currently leads baseball with 12 passed balls despite missing a month, and that’s a problem. It is. That’s 12 free bases (more, really, if two runners were on base) and some of those led directly to runs.

Blocking balls in the dirt is an ongoing problem and the Yankees continue to work with Sanchez to help him improve. They’re not giving him a first base mitt anytime soon. They’re sticking with him as a catcher because that’s where he’s most valuable to the team. Blocking balls has been a issue. Throwing has never been.

Sanchez has gone 17-for-45 (38%) throwing out runners this year, the fourth best rate among the 23 catchers with at least 600 innings behind the plate this year. Only Yan Gomes (46%), Tucker Barnhart (43%), and Martin Maldonado (41%) have been better. As far as pitch-framing goes, Baseball Prospectus ranks Sanchez the 14th best framer — among 92 total catchers — at +3.7 runs saved.

The only glaring deficiency in Sanchez’s game is his blocking. That’s it. He hits, he throws, and he frames. I guess he’s not much of a runner, but running isn’t all that important when you’re hitting so many glorious dingers. The point is this: Sanchez is a star. Not “he’ll be a star one day” or “he could be a star with some fine tuning” or anything like that. He is a star. Right now. Today. Barely more than one full year in his MLB career.

Is that hyperbole? Premature, maybe? No. It’s not. Sanchez, even with the passed ball issues, is an impact player on both sides of the ball. He’s the best power hitting catcher in baseball and one of the best throwers and pitch-framers. Gary’s blocking is an obvious deficiency he needs to work to improve, and he will. And you know what? Even if he never improves, he still does enough to help the Yankees win. More than enough.

The Yankees are in the middle of this youth movement right now and Sanchez, as the field general behind the plate and the thumper in the middle of the lineup, is the center piece. You build championship teams up the middle, and the Yankees have a bonafide franchise catcher behind the plate in Sanchez. He’s not going to be star one day. He is a star right now. Everything he’s done in the 143 games since being called up last year makes it crystal clear.

Tanaka returns, Sanchez homers twice in 13-4 win over Tigers

Good start to a series against a bad team. The Yankees came out and took control of Tuesday night’s opener against the Tigers in the very first inning, and they never let up. The final score was 13-4 good guys. The Yankees have won six of their last eight games.

The ball hasn't landed yet. (Presswire)
The ball hasn’t landed yet. (Presswire)

Seven Early Runs
The Yankees did exactly what you want them to do against an objectively bad pitcher: they scored early and often. The first batter of the game, Brett Gardner, hit a rope to right-center field that was caught by Mikie Mahtook, but was a sign of things to come. Hard contact up and down the lineup. The Yankees hammered Matt Boyd.

Following that Gardner line out, Aaron Hicks found outfield grass with a ground ball back up the middle, then Gary Sanchez launched a bomb over the left field bleachers and off the french fry vendor for a two-run home run. Boyd hung the hell out of an offspeed pitch. The official measurement: 493 feet. Second longest homer in baseball this season and the second longest by a Yankee, behind the 495-foot homer Aaron Judge hit against the Orioles. Boyd’s reaction:

matt-boyd-gary-sanchez

The Yankees scored a third run in that first inning courtesy of a Judge walk, a Didi Gregorius double, and a Tyler Austin sac fly. The Hicks single, Judge walk, and Austin sac fly all came in two-strike counts. Just like that, the Yankees were up 3-0 before Masahiro Tanaka even took the mound. A good start, that was.

Fortunately, the Yankees did not stop at three runs. They ended Boyd’s evening with a four-run third. That started with a Judge walk. Gregorius reached on an infield single that probably should’ve been an error on Boyd — he literally kicked the ball into foul territory when he went to field it — then Austin brought Judge home with a single to shallow right field. It was a little bloop Judge read well, allowing him to score from second.

But wait! There’s more. Following the Austin single, Chase Headley ripped a line drive to center for an out, but it was well-struck. Sounded good off the bat and just so happened to be at someone. It happens. Todd Frazier picked him up by inside-outing a two-run triple down the right field line. He looked surprised to hit it. Definitely did not intend to go that way. Ronald Torreyes plated Frazier with a sac fly and boom, 7-0 lead in the third. Love it.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Master Tanaka Returns
Very strong outing for Tanaka in his return from that little shoulder inflammation/dead arm phase. He allowed three runs in seven innings, though it was one run in 6.1 innings before Nick Castellanos found the seats with a garbage time two-run home run. Eh, whatever. The Yankees were up 11-1 at the time. Tanaka held the Tigers to those three runs on six hits and no walks in seven innings. He struck out four.

According to my untrained eye, Tanaka’s slider was very sharp and his splitter was just okay. He left a few up in the zone that got hit hard. Some went for hits and some were caught. Tanaka threw only 90 pitches in his seven innings. Ten swings and misses and only one three-ball count to the 25 batters he faced. He looked like Tanaka, which is exactly what I wanted to see. Good start back from the disabled list. Masahiro is sporting a 3.37 ERA (3.49 FIP) in his last 12 starts and 74.2 innings now. Sign me up.

Leftovers
The Yankees did not stop scoring after hanging seven runs on Boyd. Hicks and Judge drove in runs with a fielder’s choice and a single in the fifth, respectively, and Hicks clobbered a two-run home run in the seventh. Sanchez added his second two-run home run of the game in the ninth. That was an opposite field shot. The Yankees had men on base in every inning but the eighth. They threatened all night.

Every starter had a hit except Headley, who went 0-for-4 with a walk and three line outs. The exit velocities on the line outs: 95.7 mph, 99.1 mph, and 99.6 mph. Tough night for Chase. He hit the ball hard three times, twice to the opposite field, and had nothing to show for it. There always seems to be that one guy who doesn’t get in on the fun in a game like this. That was Headley.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Judge reached base four times within the first five innings. Three walks and a single. He was removed for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning, once the score was already out of hand. His strikeout streak officially ends at an MLB record 37 games. Cheap it ended because he was removed as a pinch-hitter? Who cares. Judge had his four plate appearances like any other game.

Three hits for Frazier and Sanchez and two hits for Hicks, Gregorius, and Torreyes. Austin had a single and a walk, so he reached base multiple times as well. The Yankees went 4-for-12 (.333) with runners in scoring position. We all have to hear about RISP numbers when they lose and I feel it is my duty to report them when they win, so there.

And finally, Chasen Shreve was the only reliever used, and he allowed one run in two innings. Castellanos hit an inside-the-park home run. Jacoby Ellsbury, who pinch-hit for Judge, tried to make a sliding catch and the ball got by him. Castellanos was off to the races. Womp womp.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, head over to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights and we have a Bullpen Workload page. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Tigers continue this three-game midweek series with the middle game Wednesday night. Luis Severino and Jordan Zimmermann are the scheduled starting pitchers. Please don’t get shut down by Zimmermann again, guys.

DotF: Ford homers, Mesa dominates in Trenton’s win

Triple-A Scranton‘s game was suspended due to rain with one out in the top of the fourth. It’ll be completed tomorrow. Here’s the box score. I’m not quite sure what that means for 2B Starlin Castro‘s and 1B Greg Bird‘s rehab. Castro played the field tonight and Bird was the DH. I imagine they’ll resume those positions in the completion tomorrow, then Castro will DH and Bird will play first base in the second game of the doubleheader. We’ll see.

Double-A Trenton (8-0 win over Portland)

  • SS Thairo Estrada: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • CF Rashad Crawford: 2-5, 1 R, 2 K — threw a runner out at second
  • 2B Nick Solak: 2-4, 1 R, 1 BB — 16-for-47 (.340) in his last 12 games
  • DH Mike Ford: 2-3, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 HBP — leads the system in homers (20) and walks (84)
  • 1B Ryan McBroom: 0-5, 1 K
  • RHP Jose Mesa Jr.: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 6/2 GB/FB — 53 of 80 pitches were strikes (66%) … in six starts this year: 0.36 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 4.25 K/BB … in 21 relief appearances: 3.12 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 3.11 K/BB
  • RHP Colten Brewer: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K — 12 of 15 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 124: Tanaka Returns

(David Maxwell/Getty)
(David Maxwell/Getty)

The Yankees are finally starting to get healthy. CC Sabathia returned over the weekend and at some point soon Starlin Castro, Greg Bird, and Matt Holliday figure to return as well. They’re all on minor league rehab assignments. Tonight Masahiro Tanaka returns from what was essentially a quick ten-day vacation to knock out a dead arm phase. Tanaka threw an extended bullpen session over the weekend and feels good to go. Good news.

Tonight the Yankees begin a three-game series with the very bad Tigers in Detroit. The Tigers are 54-69 this season and 3-12 in their last 15 games. The Yankees lost two of three to these Tigers a few weeks ago, and geez, that can’t happen again. The Yankees really need to start beating up on bad teams these final few weeks to reach the postseason. One game at a time though. Win tonight and go from there. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. RF Aaron Judge
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. DH Tyler Austin
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

The weather was not good in Detroit today. Rained pretty much all afternoon. It’s supposed to clear out tonight and stay cleared out, so the Yankees and Tigers shouldn’t have a problem getting this game in. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 7:10pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Bryan Mitchell was sent down to clear a roster spot for Tanaka, the Yankees announced. The Yankees still have eight relievers in the bullpen.

8/22 to 8/24 Series Preview: Detroit Tigers

(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

With so much discussion revolving around the Yankees failure to claw their way back into the race for the AL East, it seems as though their increasingly tenuous grasp on the Wild Card has been ignored. There are four teams within three games of those spots, and the Yankees will face one of them (the Mariners) this coming weekend. In order to stay in control of their own destiny, they must continue to beat-up on the subpar teams that they meet down the stretch; enter the Tigers.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees hosted the Tigers from July 31 through August 2, dropping two of three. It was a frustrating series that included their 20th one-run loss of the season, and a shutout loss in a game started by one of the worst pitchers in the game. Some notes:

  • The Yankees went 3-for-3 with RISP in the first game, plating five runs in those at-bats. 7 of their 10 total base-runners scored in the game as a whole.
  • The newly acquired David Robertson finished the second game, and reminded us all of his Houdini act. He allowed three hits in a scoreless ninth inning, and was saved by Brett Gardner throwing out a runner at home.
  • Jordan Zimmermann — the aforementioned awful starter — shut the Yankees out for 7 innings in the final game of the series. The last time he tossed a scoreless outing was on April 20, 2016; he had a 5.81 ERA (5.20 FIP) in 198.1 IP in the interim.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

Daniel Norris has been out since July 5, and just made his first rehab start last week. He could be back soon, but not in time for this series. And Anibal Sanchez just hit the DL on Friday, so he won’t be back, either. The Tigers are healthy otherwise.

Their Story So Far

The Tigers are in fourth place in the AL Central with a 54-69 record. Their -53 run differential is 21st in baseball, and they’re trending downwards. To wit, they lost six in a row before beating the Dodgers (!) on Sunday, and have been outscored by 25 runs this month.

Not much has changed since these teams last faced, in terms of the root cause of their struggles. They simply have too many players performing poorly, and they don’t have the depth to make up for the struggles of foundation pieces like Miguel Cabrera (100 wRC+ this year, 79 in August) and Ian Kinsler (95 wRC+). Justin Verlander has shown signs of life, though, pitching to a 2.48 ERA in eight second-half starts. Luckily, the Yankees won’t have to face a resurgent Verlander this week.

The Lineup We Might See

The Tigers lineup has been among the most consistently deployed in baseball this year, with the only real shake-ups coming from trades and injuries. As a result, it’s fairly likely that we’ll see something along these lines:

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Mikie Mahtook, CF
  3. Justin Upton, OF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  6. Victor Martinez, DH
  7. James McCann, C
  8. Andrew Romine, RF
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Matt Boyd

Given the way the last series against the Tigers went, Boyd would be my pick to annoy the heck out of Yankees fans this week. The 26-year-old southpaw sports a 5.70 ERA (77 ERA+) in 90.0 IP, and has allowed at least 3 earned runs in 13 straight starts. He was said to be heading to the bullpen, but the injury to Anibal Sanchez kept his place in the rotation safe for the time being.

Boyd is a four-pitch guy, utilizing a low-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider, a low-80s change-up, and a mid-70s curveball. He also throws a variation of a sinker, but it doesn’t really sink, as evidenced by his 39.0% groundball rate.

Last Outing (vs. LAD on 8/18) – 1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K

Wednesday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann

Zimmermann had his best start in a season and a half the last time this teams met (7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K), and promptly turned back into a pumpkin (15.2 IP, 23 H, 17 R, 6 BB, 8 K in three starts since). He currently has career-worsts in K/BB, GB%, ERA, FIP, xFIP, and a slew of other metrics, even as his velocity has rebounded from last season. I’d say that he’s toast, but he certainly didn’t look that way three weeks ago.

Last Outing (vs. LAD on 8/18) – 5.1 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Thursday (1:10 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Michael Fulmer

The Yankees beat up on Fulmer last time around, plating 7 runs in 6 innings and earning some small measure of vengeance for last year’s Rookie of the Year award. Though his overall numbers are solid, it is worth noting that Fulmer is once again struggling in the warmer weather. He has a 4.38 ERA since June 1, and a 4.91 ERA since the All-Star Game. It’s a small sample size, of course, but that’s part of the reason why many were concerned that last year’s success was a bit of an illusion.

Last Outing (vs. LAD on 8/19) – 7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

Former Yankee Shane Greene inherited the closer role when the Tigers dealt former Yankee Justin Wilson to the Cubs, and he has performed adequately thus far, closing out all three save opportunities. He has a 2.87 ERA in 53.1 IP on the season.

Alex Wilson (3.99 ERA in 49.2 IP) is the set-up man, and Daniel Stumpf (2.52 ERA in 25.0 IP) serves as the LOOGY, while the rest of the bullpen is kind of a mish-mash of roles. Warwick Saupold (3.47 ERA in 49.1 IP) is primarily a mop-up/long reliever, while Drew VerHagen (6.14 ERA in 7.1 IP), Bruce Rondon (10.91 ERA in 15.2 IP), Joe Jimenez (11.70 ERA in 10.0 IP), and Chad Bell (5.59 ERA in 38.2 IP) handle the middle innings.

As you can probably imagine from looking at this group, the Tigers have the worst bullpen in the majors (at least by WAR and ERA).

Who (Or What) To Watch

There is a chance that Greg Bird and/or Starlin Castro could be back for this series. Nothing concrete has been said about their return dates as of this writing, but both are rehabbing at Triple-A. The Yankees lineup will look a great deal better once they’re back – so the sooner the better.

In terms of this specific match-up, Justin Upton bears watching. He is back to raking this year (.282/.366/.546, 26 HR, 10 SB, 140 wRC+), and could opt-out of his contract and hit free agency as a 30-year-old. I highly doubt that he’d be on the Yankees radar if that happened, but they’ve been interested in him before.