Open Thread: March 3rd Camp Notes

The Yankees opened Grapefruit League play with a 5-5 tie with the Phillies today. They were one strike away from a 5-2 loss when top prospect Aaron Judge hit a two-out, two-strike, game-tying three-run homer off actual big leaguer Mario Hollands in the top of the ninth. Jose Pirela also plated a run with a Baltimore chop single in the first and Jake Cave infield singled in a run in the ninth. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury both went 0-for-3.

Adam Warren started and allowed one hit in two otherwise perfect innings. Luis Severino had a dominant first inning of work (two strikeouts, broken bat ground out) then got dinked and dunked to death in his second inning. Lots of weak hits, but that’s baseball. Diego Moreno balked in a run and Jacob Lindgren allowed two unearned runs thanks to Rob Refsnyder‘s throwing error. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from Tampa:

This is your open thread for the night. This afternoon’s game will be rebroadcast on MLB Network at 9pm ET tonight, if you’re interesting. Otherwise the Devils, Islanders, and Knicks are all playing, and there’s the usual slate of college basketball as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Update: Luis Torrens to miss 2015 due to shoulder surgery

(MLBpipeline.com)
(MLBpipeline.com)

Tuesday: Torrens was diagnosed with a torn right labrum and will have surgery tomorrow, the Yankees announced. He will miss the entire 2015 season. Dr. David Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York will perform the surgery. Bummer.

Monday: Luis Torrens‘ shoulder is acting up again. George King reported late last week that the young backstop was heading for tests on his right shoulder, and today assistant GM Billy Eppler told Chad Jennings the team is still gathering information and will know more in the next 24 hours. Earlier today reports were floating around that Torrens needs surgery and will miss the season, but the Yankees aren’t ready to commit to that yet.

Torrens, 18, missed two months last season with a right shoulder strain. He returned from the injury in mid-June and hit .270/.327/.405 (115 wRC+) with two homers in 48 games for Short Season Staten Island as one of the youngest players in the NY-Penn League, so if the shoulder was still bothering him, it didn’t show in his performance at the plate.

In 109 games across two minor league seasons, Torrens has thrown out 50 of 122 attempted base-stealers (41%), which is excellent. Especially considering he did not become a full-time catcher until the Yankees signed him out of Venezuela for $1.3M during the 2012-13 international signing period. Hopefully the injury does not compromise his arm behind the plate, because it is a weapon.

I ranked Torrens as New York’s sixth best prospect two weeks ago because he’s taken to the catcher position extremely well and shows offensive promise. Losing an entire season at age 18 (he turns 19 in May) or even just a chunk of it would be pretty serious though. He’s at a crucial stage in his development. Yeah, Torrens is still very young and will have time to recover, but this is crummy news. No other way to put it.

Armed with new mechanics, Masahiro Tanaka looks to be the exception after elbow injury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the very first day of Spring Training, Alex Rodriguez has dominated the headlines from Yankees’ camp. They’re inescapable. Hopefully that will start to change now that Grapefruit League play has begun, but I’m guessing that’s not the case. C’est la vie.

Despite A-Rod‘s presence, the single most important story in camp this year is the status of Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow. He faced hitters in live batting practice for the first time yesterday and so far everything is going well. Tanaka feels great and the coaching staff is pleased with how he is throwing. Can’t ask for much more at this point. So far, so good.

Tanaka admitted to slightly altering his throwing program over the winter — he threw with less intensity, basically — following last season’s elbow injury, but that’s not the only change he made. Jeff Passan recently managed to tear himself away from A-Rod long enough to learn Tanaka has altered his mechanics in hopes of keeping his elbow healthy. That … seems like a pretty big deal. From Passan:

“I don’t think (my mechanics) were solid (before the injury),” Tanaka told Yahoo Sports through interpreter Shingo Horie recently. “With the right mechanics, the right form, the right balance, you’re able to throw a solid pitch. It’s not about how much power you can put on the throw. It’s more about the mechanics. That’s what I believe.

“I’m never really satisfied. Your body is different every day. You’ve got to talk with your body and make small or, sometimes, big adjustments to get that pitch form right. It’s hard to get to a point where you’re completely satisfied with your mechanics.”

Passan doesn’t give many details about the mechanical adjustments but does say they “mostly (have) to do with ensuring his arm is in sync with the rest of his delivery, preventing excessive stress on the elbow.” It sounds not like some sort of mechanical overhaul, but minor tweaks to be more efficient and maybe incorporate his lower half more.

So will the new mechanics a) keep Tanaka healthy, and b) impact his performance in any way? There’s no possible way I could answer that and I’m guessing Tanaka and the Yankees wouldn’t be able to tell you with any certainty either. They clearly think these adjustments at least have a chance to help him stay healthy without hurting performance. Otherwise the adjustments wouldn’t have been made.

It’s easy to say Tanaka’s injury is the result of throwing so many splitters, and while that may very be true, it’s worth noting pitchers in Japan use the splitter a ton and have a way lower rate of Tommy John surgery than their MLB counterparts. Tanaka’s elbow may have started barking because his mechanics were a bit out of whack, which is what he is aiming to fix. Or maybe he hurt his elbow because sometimes pitchers just break. Who knows? Pitching ain’t natural.

Many pitchers have suffered partially torn UCLs like Tanaka and very few have been able to significantly delay surgery. Even fewer have been able to avoid it all together. Tanaka is trying to become one of those exceptions and stay healthy after getting hurt, and these mechanical changes are part of his efforts to stay on the mound. Everything in camp has gone well so far, and while I’m not sure I’ll ever truly feel confident in that elbow going forward, Tanaka seems to be, and that is important.

Spring Training Game Thread: Baseball Returns!

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After five long months of offseason, Yankees baseball returns this afternoon. The team begins Grapefruit League play today with a quick trip over the causeway to Clearwater to play the Phillies. Yeah, I know it’s only Spring Training, but it’s baseball. And baseball is way better than no baseball in my book.

As always, the regulars in the starting lineup will not play the entire game. This is only the first of 34 spring games, remember. Starter Adam Warren is scheduled for two innings — or 30 pitches, based on previous springs — and the starting position players will get two or three at-bats before heading home.

Today’s reason to watch: Both Luis Severino and Jacob Lindgren are scheduled to pitch. Probably just one inning each, but they are the team’s top pitching prospect overall and top bullpen prospect, respectively. I’m certain we’ll see Lindgren in MLB this summer. Severino … maybe. Also, the new pace of play rules are in effect, so this will be our first look at them.

Here is the lineup that will start this afternoon’s Grapefruit League opener:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Chris Young
  4. 1B Garrett Jones
  5. 2B Jose Pirela
  6. C Austin Romine
  7. DH Kyle Roller
  8. 3B Jonathan Galvez
  9. SS Nick Noonan
    RHP Adam Warren

Available Position Players: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cito Culver, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Slade Heathcott, CF Jake Cave, RF Aaron Judge, and DH Mason Williams will come off the bench. C Kyle Higashioka, C Francisco Arcia, and 1B/OF Tyler Austin are also available if needed.

Available Pitchers: RHP Luis Severino, LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Branden Pinder, RHP Nick Goody, and RHP Diego Moreno are all scheduled to pitch. RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Kyle Davies, LHP Chasen Shreve, and LHP Tyler Webb are the extra arms.

It’s a perfect day for baseball in Clearwater. Temperatures in the upper-70s and low-80s, not many clouds in the sky, and no threat of rain. And humid as hell. That’s Florida for you.

This afternoon’s game is available on MLB.tv only — well, it’s also on CSN if you’re in the Philadelphia market — and traditionally there have been no MLB.tv blackouts in Spring Training, so you should be able to watch today’s game online. I can’t make any promises, they may have changed their policy this year, but hopefully that’s not the case. Yep, no blackouts. Enjoy the game, folks.

Thoughts prior to the start of Grapefruit League play

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I know it’s only Spring Training, but the Yankees are playing a real live baseball game today, and dammit that makes me happy. It’s been a long offseason, what can I say. So, before the Yankees embark on a month’s worth of meaningless yet still fun baseball, I have some thoughts to share.

1. Both John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine are making the trip to Clearwater today and I don’t think that’s insignificant. Those two are competing for the backup catcher’s job — a competition that starts today — even if all signs point to Murphy being the favorite. Romine reportedly came to camp in excellent shape and is hellbent on making the decision tough for the team. This is one of those situations where Spring Training stats will matter. If Romine comes out and knocks the crap out of the ball for a few weeks, the Yankees will be hesitant to trade him or try to pass him through waivers at the end of camp. I don’t think it will happen, but I wouldn’t be completely surprised if the team decides to send Murphy to Triple-A Scranton come Opening Day and give Romine what amounts to a few extra weeks to audition himself as Brian McCann‘s backup in the regular season.

2. Prospects I am most excited to see in camp: Jacob Lindgren, Aaron Judge, and Rob Refsnyder. I mean, yeah, I want to see all the prospects, and those three are among the most obvious “must see” prospects in camp, but I have my reasons. Lindgren because I want to see just how MLB ready his slider looks. Judge because he’s a monster — “We have a defensive end in camp,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty about the club’s top prospect — and it’s not often you get to see someone that big and that athletic on baseball field. And Refsnyder because I want to see just how bad his defense really is at second base. That stuff can be easy to overstate. Everyone gets graded on a curve in Spring Training, especially early in Spring Training, but get enough looks at a guy in camp and you can learn something. With so many games set to be broadcast this month, we should get a chance to see all of the team’s top prospects multiple times.

3. Spring Training is a time for optimism, but inevitably someone is going to get hurt to knock us all down a peg. This year that player is catching prospect Luis Torrens, who is facing a potentially serious shoulder injury. (We should know more soon but early reports indicate he may need season-ending surgery.) Torrens is one of my favorite prospects in the system and I thought he had a chance this year to really zoom up some prospect rankings and possibly into next year’s top 100 lists. He’s a very good defender despite a general lack of experience behind the plate, and basically all he needs to do offensively is get stronger. The approach and hitting smarts are already there. Hopefully whatever the injury is, Torrens can rebound and continue his development. He’s still really young (18), after all. But make no mistake, nothing good comes from this injury.

Ramirez. (Presswire)
Ramirez. (Presswire)

4. Consider this my annual “please oh please let Jose Ramirez stay healthy this year” blurb. Please let him stay healthy. Please. He missed most of last year with a lat strain but is supposedly healthy now, and yesterday he impressed Mariano Rivera with his live batting practice session. “I like him, he looks stronger. He can be a guy that can help the team. He has tremendous stuff, electric stuff. He has it all. He is a good kid and put on weight in the lower half and his legs are a lot stronger,” said Rivera to George King. Ramirez won’t do what Dellin Betances did last year — you can’t put those kind of expectations on anyone — but I do think he has impact reliever potential if he ever stays healthy. He topped out at 98.3 mph during his brief MLB cameo last year according to PitchFX, and when opponents swung at his changeup or slider, they missed more than 30% of the time. I want to see more of that guy going forward. The tools for dominance are there.

5. Last, but certainly not least, I just want to say I’m so happy baseball is back. I’m one of those weird people who enjoys Spring Training games — meaningless exhibition games are fun in their own way — so I’m very much looking forward to Grapefruit League play beginning today. This was a long offseason because the Yankees missed the postseason — it felt longer than last offseason for whatever reason — and I’m glad it’s all behind us now. No more rumors, thankfully. That stuff ran its course and I’m ready to move on. Eight months of baseball — some of it waaay more stressful than the rest — begins today and I don’t think I could have waited another day. Hooray for the end of the offseason.

Open Thread: March 2nd Camp Notes

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yankees baseball returns to tomorrow. Granted, it is only Grapefruit League play, but baseball is baseball. Tomorrow’s game will be available on MLB.tv but not YES, if you’re wondering. (Here’s the full Spring Training broadcast schedule.) Here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

Here is your open thread for the evening. The new look (hockey) Rangers are playing, and so are the Nets. There’s also some college basketball on as well. Talk about those games, Spring Training, tomorrow’s upcoming exhibition opener, or anything else right here.

The pressure’s on Didi Gregorius, but not because he’s replacing Derek Jeter

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The first few days of Spring Training have been predictably dominated by Alex Rodriguez. The focus on A-Rod has gone well beyond overboard. But, if there’s anything good to come out of the A-Rod attention, it’s that other players in camp have been able to get their work in and fly under the radar. That includes the team’s first new starting shortstop in two decades.

“People didn’t pay a lot of attention to (Didi Gregorius) the first few days of camp,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings over the weekend. “It could change as time goes on, but I’m sure it helped him to get comfortable a little bit earlier and get to know his teammates without having to answer a lot of questions.”

Gregorius is replacing Derek Jeter as the team’s starting shortstop but he’s not really replacing Jeter. It’s not like the Yankees picked between the two. Jeter retired and the Yankees needed to find a new shortstop no matter what. They could have taken the easy way out and signed a proven veteran like Jed Lowrie or Asdrubal Cabrera, but instead they went young and traded for Gregorius. That’s all.

The “Didi replacing Derek” storyline is unavoidable the same way the same storyline was unavoidable when Tino Martinez replaced Don Mattingly, but so far Gregorius has said all the right things whenever the media has been able to tear themselves away from A-Rod. “I am going to play the game, that’s all. What Jeter did nobody else can do. If they compare me to Jeter, there is nothing I can do. It’s my choice if I want to get it in my head,” said Gregorius to Ken Davidoff.

Any pressure Gregorius feels this year should not come from being the guy who plays shortstop for the Yankees after Jeter. It should come from Gregorius himself because this season is a tremendous opportunity for him. He just turned 25 and he’s the starting shortstop for the New York Yankees (!) with no one coming from the farm system to breathe down his neck anytime soon. The job is his for the taking. He should be putting pressure on himself to capitalize.

Gregorius had a similar opportunity with the Diamondbacks two years ago — the opportunity to cement himself as an MLB regular — and he responded by hitting .252/.332/.373 (92 wRC+) in 404 plate appearances. That isn’t great by any stretch and I remain skeptical of Didi’s bat going forward, but I get the feeling the Yankees would be pretty happy with that kind of production from Gregorius this year. At least as long as he catches the ball and shows improvement against lefties at the same time. Besides, that would be a big upgrade over what Jeter gave them last season.

Being the shortstop that follows Jeter will not be easy. The microscope will be on Gregorius all year the same way it was on David Robertson when he replaced Mariano Rivera last year. There’s nothing Didi can do about that. That’s baseball. All he can go is play his game, the game the Yankees acquired, and work to develop into the best player he can be. Given the opportunity in front of him, Gregorius has a chance to cement his spot in the team’s long-term future, and that should be his goal. Not to make people forget the Cap’n.

“(Replacing Jeter) doesn’t bother me at all,” said Gregorius to Jennings. “I came here a little bit early so I could get to know everybody. I’m not worried about the attention. Of course I’m going to get interviewed no matter what I do, so it’s fine. When you guys come here, like right now, I’m going to answer you guys. Whenever you guys go talk to Alex, I’ll be waiting.”