Open Thread: March 23rd Camp Notes

The Yankees neither won nor lost today. They tied. First of the spring. The Yankees were down 5-0, then they chipped away and tied the game in the top of the ninth. There’s the ol’ Fighting Spirit. Aaron Hicks had a double and a walk while Aaron Judge had a double and a single. Jacoby Ellsbury had a pair of knocks. Oh, and Ronald Torreyes homered. How about that?

Jordan Montgomery started and looked very good, allowing two runs on three hits in 4.1 innings. The first run scored after Judge missed a diving catch and turned a single into a triple, and the second run was an inherited runner allowed to score by the bullpen. Montgomery struck out eight and I assume he really helped his Opening Day roster spot case. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here are the rest of the news from Tampa:

  • Brendan Kuty has the day’s pitching assignments and hitting groups. Starlin Castro worked out at shortstop, as expected, and Matt Holliday took grounders at third (with a first baseman’s mitt). I wouldn’t read anything into that. Players mess around at different positions all throughout camp.
  • Shane Hennigan has the day’s minor league lineups. Jorge Mateo played center field at some point today, which apparently he’s done a few times already. Also, hitting coach Alan Cockrell said he’s working with Mateo to make some swing changes. Farm system head Gary Denbo hinted at some offensive adjustments recently. [Kuty]
  • Chris Carter has been working on some mechanical tweaks to help him make more contact. “I think the biggest thing is just my lower half … I was always a little more handy. I’m trying to incorporate it a little more and feel like I have a little bit of a better base up there,” he said. [Kuty]
  • Jake Cave will start the season on the minor league disabled list. He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee recently, Denbo confirmed. No idea how long he’ll be out. Cave was going to have a hard time getting at-bats in Triple-A anyway. [Hennigan]
  • The Yankees will be at home to take on the Phillies tomorrow. I believe CC Sabathia is starting. That game will be on YES and MLB.tv.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all in action, plus March Madness resumes. ESPN has the Dodgers and Rangers right now, and MLB Network is showing a Spring Training game on tape delay later tonight. Talk about those games or anything else right here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Spring Training Game Thread: Montgomery’s Big Chance

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This afternoon left-hander Jordan Montgomery will make his first and possibly only Grapefruit League start. The Yankees have two open rotation spots and two open bullpen spots, and Montgomery has opened enough eyes this spring that he’s now being considered for the Opening Day roster. Today will be his best chance to show what he’s got against actual big league hitters rather than the minor leaguers he mostly faces out of the bullpen.

In other roster battle news, I guess we have to start keeping a close eye on right field, huh? Joe Girardi said yesterday the Aarons are neck and neck right now. Hicks is hitting .256/.341/.513 with two homers this spring. Judge has a .273/.360/.477 batting line, and also has two homers. So I guess these last eight exhibition games will determine who gets that right field job. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here are the players the Yankees sent on the road trip:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Chris Carter
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. C Austin Romine
  7. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 2B Donovan Solano
  9. SS Pete Kozma
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

Available Pitchers: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Tyler Wade, 3B Ruben Tejada, LF Clint Frazier, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Billy McKinney will come off the bench. C Radley Haddad, IF Billy Fleming, OF Mark Payton, and UTIL Wilkin Castillo are the extra players. Haddad, Fleming, and Payton are up from minor league camp for the road trip.

Available Position Players: LHP Jason Gurka, RHP J.R. Graham, LHP Chasen Shreve, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, and RHP Matt Wotherspoon are all expected to pitch after Montgomery. RHP Travis Hissong, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Andrew Schwaab, and RHP Colten Brewer are the extra arms. Feyereisen, Wotherspoon, Hissong, Coshow, Schwaab, and Brewers are up from minor league camp. (Feyereisen was a non-roster invitee, but he was reassigned to minor league camp earlier this month.)

The Yankees made the long 100-mile trip south to Port Charlotte, where it is warm and sunny, for this afternoon’s game. Today’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET, and you can watch live on ESPN and MLB.tv. This is the only ESPN broadcast of the spring for the Yankees. Enjoy the game.

Jordan Montgomery and the prospect of an Opening Day roster spot

 (Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later today left-hander Jordan Montgomery will make his first Grapefruit League start as the Yankees begin to bear down and really evaluate  their Opening Day roster candidates. They have two open rotation spots and two open bullpen spots, and lots of guys competing for them. Montgomery has pitched his way into Opening Day roster consideration these last few weeks.

“(Getting the start Thursday) makes me feel that I’m here for a reason and that they want me here, so I’m just going to try to keep getting better and working hard and preparing myself the right way,” said Montgomery to Mike Mazzeo last week, after throwing the final four innings in the team’s no-hitter (lol). “I’ve been working toward that my whole life, so I’m just going to try to keep getting better.”

The Yankees have a loaded farm system, and while Montgomery is not one of the big names, he came into the spring as their most MLB ready starting pitcher prospect. Last season the 24-year-old southpaw had a 2.19 ERA (2.91 FIP) with 22.7% strikeouts and 7.7 % walks in 152 total innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Do that and you’re going to be on the big league radar. No doubt about it.

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have made a habit of carrying surprise Spring Training performers in their Opening Day bullpen. Last year Luis Cessa, Johnny Barbato, and Kirby Yates made the Opening Day roster. The year before it was Chris Martin and Chasen Shreve. The year before that it was Vidal Nuno, and the year before that it was Cody Eppley. The last few Opening Day bullpens have been weird, man.

Montgomery is an actual prospect like Cessa, not a journeyman like Yates, though the point stands. If you impress in camp, the Yankees will take you north for the regular season. Today’s start will be pretty important for Montgomery. It’s a chance to really state his case for an Opening Day job. It’s there for the taking. A few thoughts on this.

1. Forget about the Spring Training numbers. Oftentimes when a young guy unexpectedly emerges in Spring Training and wins a regular season roster spot, his numbers knock your socks off. That is not the case with Montgomery: 10.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K in four appearances. Those are good numbers, but not holy cow this guy needs to be on the roster numbers.

First of all, who cares about Spring Training stats? Montgomery has come out of the bullpen in each of his four appearances, so he’s faced plenty of minor league hitters late in games this spring. We know he can get minor leaguers out. Today’s start will be a chance to face a few more big league players. Secondly, Montgomery’s numbers are worse than they should be because there was some defensive funny business behind him his first two times out.

Montgomery has not necessarily impressed with his numbers and performance. He’s impressed the coaching staff by locating his three fastballs (four-seamer, sinker, cutter) and two non-fastballs (curveball, changeup) well, by repeating his delivery well, and by not unraveling when things don’t go his way. Montgomery has a very calm, stoical presence on the mound. Managers like that.

2. Montgomery doesn’t have any bullpen experience. Between college and pro ball, Montgomery has made 98 starts and six relief appearances over the last five seasons. Girardi said they’re looking at Montgomery more as a reliever than a starter — “I think as more of a bullpen guy, but I’m open to anything,” he said to Dan Martin — and that’ll be a new experience for him. He’s never been a full-time reliever. Not in college, not in pro ball.

That’s not enough of a reason to not take Montgomery north as a reliever, of course. It’s just an acknowledgement of an adjustment he’ll have to make. Even this spring Montgomery knew exactly when he was entering the game and when to start warming up pitcher usage is so regimented. That’s rarely the case during a meaningful regular season game. If the Yankees do carry Montgomery in the bullpen, he’ll have to figure out a warm-up routine that works.

3. Montgomery might not be a great left-on-left matchup guy. For whatever reason, there’s always the temptation to use a left-handed pitcher in left-on-left matchup situations out of the bullpen. Montgomery might not be well-suited for such a role because his best pitch is his changeup, a pitch that is typically used against hitters of the opposite hand. That’s why lefties (.230/.308/.353) had more success against him than righties (.233/.287/.303) last summer.

Montgomery’s curveball is a quality offering, though it’s not a dominant pitch. Use him as a left-on-left guy and the Yankees will be asking Montgomery to either a) abandon his best pitch, or b) use his best pitch against lefties, which is probably not something he’s done much throughout his career. You know as well I that Girardi loves his matchups. Loves loves loves them. Shoehorning Montgomery into left-on-left duty might not work out too well.

4. The more multi-inning relievers, the better. Now, despite that last section, I don’t think Girardi will use Montgomery as a matchup reliever. I think he’d use him as a true long man, especially at first when he’s still getting his feet wet. Perhaps he pitches well enough that he enters the Circle of Trust™ and becomes almost a left-handed Adam Warren, that middle innings guy who can give you five or six outs when necessary.

Anyway, the point is Montgomery is someone who can give you multiple innings, and carrying multiple multi-inning relievers is becoming a necessity, not a luxury. Aside from Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees can’t count on their starters to pitch deep into games. Carrying someone like Montgomery to help share the relief workload stemming from all those five-and-fly starts could really come in handy. Again, this isn’t a luxury anymore. Teams need guys like this with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings.

5. Hey idiot, why not make him a starter? Good question, fellow idiot. I do think the Yankees will consider Montgomery a rotation option, especially since none of the rotation candidates have separated themselves from the pack yet. My gut still says Luis Severino is all but assured of a rotation spot, though that still leaves another spot open. It would be silly for the Yankees to not consider Montgomery for the rotation, right? Right.

Keep in mind Montgomery threw 152 total innings last season. He threw 134.1 innings the year before and 119 innings the year before that. The guy’s never missed a start. Not in college and no in pro ball. Montgomery’s innings have been built up nice and steadily, so much so that it’s not crazy to think you can pencil him in for 30 starts and 175 innings this season. That’s pretty cool. The workload management gymnastics could be kept to a minimum.

For what it’s worth, ZiPS pegs Montgomery as a 4.87 ERA (4.76 FIP) pitcher right now while PECOTA has him at 4.99 ERA (5.06 DRA). That would make him a +1 WAR pitcher, or thereabouts. And, truth be told, that wouldn’t be terrible for a rookie pitcher in Yankee Stadium. The completely objective computer systems are a little bearish on Montgomery right now. That’s okay. Computers are ruining the game anyway ya nerds.

* * *

We’re not talking about 20-year-old Gleyber Torres replacing the injured Didi Gregorius here. Montgomery is a polished 24-year-old pitcher with Triple-A experience who has been successful everywhere he’s played, and if the Yankees deem him one of their 12 best pitchers at the end of Spring Training, he should absolutely be on the Opening Day roster. There’s no reason to hold him back. Montgomery is ready to help, even if it’s in an unfamiliar role out of the bullpen.

“We like him a lot. We’ve said that all along,” said Girardi to Mazzeo last week. “He’s got a good breaking ball, a good changeup and throws on a downward angle, which we like. He’s different than a lot of lefties in a sense. He threw the ball very well today. We’re curious about him … We’re going to keep evaluating him.”

Open Thread: March 22nd Camp Notes

The Spring Training of our dreams continued with another win this afternoon. Greg Bird crushed two no-doubt home runs, and I’m pretty sure the first one sailed out of the stadium. It looks like it cleared the chain link fence in center field in the first clip above, no? Chase Headley socked a dinger too. Gary Sanchez smoked a double off the wall and also drew a walk. The Yankees swung the bats well today.

Masahiro Tanaka started and had probably his worst outing of the spring, meaning he actually allowed some hits. Three of ’em, in fact. The very first hitter of the game ended his 8.2-inning hitless streak. Can’t finish off the hidden spring no hitter, huh? Some ace. Tanaka struck out three in 5.1 scoreless innings. He’s up to 18.2 innings with a 0.00 ERA this spring. Ernesto Frieri struck out the side in his inning. He’s faced seven batters since signing with the Yankees: six strikeouts and a homer. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here are the day’s notes from Spring Training:

This is the open thread for the evening. USA and Puerto Rico are playing the World Baseball Classic Championship Game tonight (9pm ET on MLB Network), so that should be fun. The (hockey) Rangers, Islanders, and Knicks are all playing as well. Talk about anything except religion or politics right here. Thanks in advance.

Piecoro: Yanks believed to have some interest in Nick Ahmed

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

According to Nick Piecoro, the Yankees are believed to have some level of interest in Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed. Arizona has plenty of middle infielders (Ketel Marte, Chris Owings, Brandon Drury, Daniel Descalso) and they reportedly started gauging interest in Ahmed a few days ago. The Yankees will be without Didi Gregorius for a few weeks, hence their interest.

Ahmed, 27, starred at UConn and was a second round pick by the Braves in 2011. They sent him to the D’Backs in the Justin Upton trade a few years ago. Ahmed has spent the last two seasons as Arizona’s most of the time shortstop, hitting .223/.271/.335 (56 wRC+) in 767 plate appearances overall. He had surgery to repair the labrum and an impingement in his right hip last August, but he’s fully recovered and playing without restrictions in Spring Training.

As you probably figured given that batting line, Ahmed isn’t in the lineup for his bat. It’s his glove. He’s an excellent defender beloved by both the stats — he is third among all shortstops in DRS (+32) and sixth in UZR (+19.9) the last two seasons despite playing less than full-time — and the eye test. You better be able to pick it when you hit like that. Here’s some video:

The Yankees have some decent shortstop options in-house, though you can understand why they’d keep an out for anyone who might become available. Also, they’ve shown a willingness to completely punt offense when no great options exist. They did it for entire seasons with Stephen Drew at second base and Chris Stewart behind the plate, remember. Ahmed would be a defensive upgrade over Ronald Torreyes, Ruben Tejada, etc.

As always, it boils down to cost. The Yankees will check in on Ahmed because they should absolutely check in following the Gregorius injury, but that doesn’t mean they’ll pay big to get him. I wonder if Tyler Jones could be a factor. The D’Backs took Jones from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, so New York could trade his rights to Arizona, thereby removing the Rule 5 shackles. Jones plus a low-to-mid range prospect? My trade proposal sucks.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out Ahmed is still in his pre-arbitration years, so he’s making something close to the league minimum, plus he has at least one minor league option remaining. (Possibly two but it’s hard to tell for sure.) He won’t cost much money and the Yankees could stash him in Triple-A once Gregorius is healthy. Not the worst piece of infield depth when the alternatives are guys like Tejada and Pete Kozma.

Anyway, we’ll see whether this leads anywhere. Like I said, the Yankees are smart to check in following the Gregorius injury, and if the price is right, perhaps there’s a deal to be made. Maybe not. Maybe the D’Backs value Ahmed highly and are willing to stash him in Triple-A themselves if they don’t get an offer they like.

(For what it’s worth, Brendan Kuty says Jose Iglesias and Zack Cozart have also been “floated as potential targets.” They’d both cost quite a bit more than Ahmed, both in terms of prospects and salary. Cozart is definitely available because the Reds are rebuilding. I have a hard time believing the Tigers would trade their starting shortstop though.)

Spring Training Game Thread: In Search of a Shortstop

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Thanks to Didi Gregoriusshoulder injury, the Yankees suddenly have an opening at shortstop that will last for at least the first few weeks of the regular season. They have a small army of okay-ish fill-in shortstops, and now they have to sort through them and figure out who can best handle the job. Opening Day is only eleven days away now. There’s not much time to evaluate.

On the mound this afternoon is Masahiro Tanaka, who is making his fifth Grapefruit League start. He’s looked excellent this spring, allowing only three hits and two walks in 13.1 scoreless innings. Tanaka has struck out 19 and is currently riding a 8.2-inning hitless streak. One more out to complete the hidden Spring Training no-hitter. Here is the Phillies’ lineup and here are the players the Yankees sent across the bay to Clearwater:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. DH Chris Carter
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Tyler Wade
  8. LF Rob Refsnyder
  9. RF Billy McKinney
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Available Pitchers: RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Matt Marsh, RHP Ernesto Frieri, RHP Jonathan Holder, LHP Caleb Frare, and LHP Joe Mantiply are all expected to pitch after Tanaka. It’s a Johnny Wholestaff kinda day. Gallegos, Marsh, Frare, and Mantiply are all up from minor league camp. (Gallegos and Mantiply were reassigned earlier this month after being in big league camp.)

Available Position Players: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Donovan Solano, SS Ruben Tejada, 3B Pete Kozma, LF Zack Zehner, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Rashad Crawford will be the second string off the bench. C Radley Haddad, IF Abi Avelino, OF Clint Frazier, and UTIL Wilkin Castillo also made the trip. Zehner, Crawford, Haddad, and Avelino are up from minor league camp for the day.

It’s a very pleasant afternoon in Clearwater, the internet tells me. Mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s. Perfect. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET. If you’re in the Philadelphia market, you can watch the game on TCN. If not, you can watch on MLB Network and MLB.tv, even in the New York market. Enjoy the game.

It’s official: Yankees name Greg Bird starting first baseman

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Greg Bird has officially been named the starting first baseman. Joe Girardi made the announcement this morning, according to Andrew Marchand. Bird is hitting .421/.500/.947 with four home runs and eleven extra-base hits this spring, the most in baseball. He’s been the team’s best hitter all Spring Training.

Bird, 24, missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, so while he was the favorite for the first base job coming into camp, the Yankees had to see how he looked following the lost season. It was fair to wonder whether he’d need time in Triple-A to regain his strength and/or timing at the plate. That’s been a non-issue this spring.

Also, the Chris Carter signing gave the Yankees a viable first base alternative, and the team could have sent Bird down for service time reasons. Roughly two months in Triple-A would have “bought back” the year of control the Yankees lost to the injury last season. I totally get why teams manipulate service time, but I believe big league caliber players should be in the big leagues.

Now that the first base question has been answered, the Yankees still have to figure out right field (Aaron Judge vs. Aaron Hicks) as well as two rotation and two bullpen spots. And also shortstop following the Didi Gregorius injury. Those competitions are a bit more wide open at the moment.