Game 132: An Important Rubber Game

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

As soon as the Royals tied last night’s game, it felt like a loss was inevitable. It was only a matter of time until they completely blew it, right? Rather than suffer the inevitable loss, the Yankees rallied for an improbable tenth inning win to keep pace in the wildcard race. That was a character building game. Going to need to win some ugly ones like that throughout the season.

Tonight’s game is a chance for the Yankees to win this series against the Royals, after winning series against the Mariners and Orioles, two other wildcard competitors. Sweeps would have been nice, but winning the series is step one, and the Yankees accomplished that against Seattle and Baltimore. Time to do it against Kansas City. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. DH Brian McCann
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Luis Cessa

It rained in Kansas City for much of the day but the forecast is clear tonight. Should be no win-sabotaging rain delay in this one. Tonight’s game will begin at 8:15pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Yankees acquire Eric Young Jr. from Brewers for cash

EYJ several teams ago. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
EYJ several teams ago. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

The Yankees have acquired outfielder Eric Young Jr. from the Brewers for cash, the team announced. There’s your September pinch-runner specialist. Young is not on the 40-man roster and will report to Triple-A until rosters expand tomorrow.

The 31-year-old Young is a career .247/.314/.328 (74 wRC+) hitter with 114 steals in 149 attempts (77%) in nearly 1,700 big league plate appearances. This year he owns a .263/.338/.339 (83 wRC+) batting line and 23 steals in 116 games with Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate.

None of the offense matters. Young was acquired to run and nothing else. Not hit, not field, nothing. Just run. He is this year’s version of Rico Noel, except we won’t have to pull for him to get his first career MLB hit. Young figures to be called up as soon as rosters expand.

Ben Gamel traded to Mariners for two pitching prospects

(Photo via @SWBRailRiders)
(Photo via @SWBRailRiders)

The Yankees have started to clear up their outfield logjam. Ben Gamel has been traded to the Mariners for right-handed pitching prospects Juan DePaula and Jio Orozco, both teams have announced. Gamel either cleared trade waivers at some point this month, or was claimed by the Mariners this week.

Just yesterday Gamel was named International League MVP after hitting .308/.365/.420 (125 wRC+) with six home runs and 19 steals in 116 games for Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees have a ton of left-handed hitting outfielders and something had to give. Mason Williams and Jake Cave are at Triple-A too, and Dustin Fowler and Billy McKinney are next in line at Double-A.

Orozco, 19, is the better of the two prospects coming to the Yankees. Seattle was able to buy him away from Arizona as their 14th round pick in the 2015 draft. Orozco has a 4.07 ERA (3.51 FIP) with a 29.3% strikeout rate and a 7.4% walk rate in 48.2 rookie ball innings this year. MLB.com ranked him as the 19th best prospect in the Mariners’ system. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

His fluid arm action and clean delivery allow him to pitch to both sides of the plate with his 91-94 mph fastball, while his extension through the ball gives it some sinking action. Orozco’s curveball has above-average potential, thrown from an over-the-top slot with good arm speed, creating a 12-to-6 shape with depth, and he also shows good feel for a changeup, giving him the chance for three average-or-better offerings … Beyond the stuff, Orozco’s overall feel for pitching sets him apart from most pitchers his age.

The 18-year-old DePaula has a 3.07 ERA (2.98 FIP) with a 30.6% strikeout rate and a 6.4% walk rate in 41 rookie ball innings this season. He did not rank among MLB.com’s top 30 Mariners prospects, though Baseball America did have him 29th in Seattle’s system in their 2016 Prospect Handbook. Here’s what Baseball America had to say about DePaula:

De Paula was throwing in the mid-80s when he signed, peaking at 87 mph, but in his complete game he was still throwing 93 mph in the ninth inning. De Paula is a strike thrower even with his extra velocity, and he’s starting to grow into his lanky frame. He has a solid feel for his age with his ability to mix his fastball, curveball and changeup, and the Mariners are impressed by his early velocity gains. He has a clean arm, and aside from his youth, his biggest issue appears to be the development of his curveball.

For all his Triple-A success, Gamel’s trade value was limited. You needn’t look beyond last year’s Ramon Flores trade for evidence. Flores, a very similar lefty hitting Triple-A outfielder, landed the Yankees half a Dustin Ackley at last year’s trade deadline. They had to send another prospect (Jose Ramirez) to the Mariners to complete that trade.

The Yankees have a ton of depth at Gamel’s position and they still do, really. Rather than sit on the depth and do nothing with it, they sold high on Gamel — how much higher can you get than the day after he wins IL MVP? — and turned him into two interesting lower level pitching prospects. The move also clears a 40-man roster spot, which is kind of a big deal. The Yankees have a big crunch coming.

The schedule is about to get a lot tougher as the Yankees prepare for last gasp run at a postseason spot

More unexpected contributions required. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
More unexpected contributions required. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Thanks to last night’s improbable extra innings win over the red hot Royals, the Yankees remain 3.5 games back of the second wildcard spot with 31 games to play. Their postseason odds are long — FanGraphs has them at 4.2%, Baseball Prospectus at 6.5% — but you know what? They’re in the damn race. The Yankees are playing meaningful baseball.

Tonight’s series finale against the Royals closes out the AL Central portion of the Yankees’ schedule this year. They’re already done with the AL West too. From here on out, the Yankees play nothing but AL East teams and one interleague series, at home against the Dodgers. Here’s a quick breakdown of the remaining schedule:

  • vs. Royals: one game (on the road)
  • vs. Dodgers: three games (at home)
  • vs. Orioles: six games (three at home, three on the road)
  • vs. Rays: seven games (four at home, three on the road)
  • vs. Red Sox: seven games (three at home, four on the road)
  • vs. Blue Jays: seven games (three at home, four on the road)

The seven games against the last place Rays are the only remaining games that can be considered “easy,” and playing the Rays is never easy. There’s no such thing as an “easy” game within the AL East, which is, yet again, the toughest division in baseball. It’s the only division with four teams over .500 and the only division with four 68+ win teams.

The September schedule is always heavy on AL East games. MLB likes to schedule intradivision games in the final month to spice up the postseason races, and also to make travel a little easier at the end of the season. At this point the division title isn’t happening for the Yankees. It’s not realistic at all. The AL East heavy September schedule will at least allow them to keep pace with the Orioles for the second wildcard spot. And the Red Sox too. Boston is only one game up on the O’s.

At the same time, the Yankees haven’t played all that well against the AL East this season. They’re 21-28 against division rivals this season, including 3-9 against the Blue Jays. Toronto has been pushing the Yankees around since late last season. The Yankees have no answer for them. I suppose the good news is New York is 11-11 against the AL East in the second half, which is way better than their 10-18 mark in the first half.

Right now, I think the Yankees are a better team than they were for the first four months of the season. Gary Sanchez has helped the offense, and others like Mark Teixeira and Starlin Castro are contributing more as well. The bullpen is weaker, no doubt about it, but Luis Severino may solve that problem. If nothing else, the Yankees are more fun to watch now. I’ll take it. That’s cool.

The path to the postseason is going to be difficult because the Yankees only have 31 more games to make up 3.5 games and pass four other teams in the standings (O’s, Tigers, Astros, Royals). The fact 27 of their 31 games are against AL East rivals only makes things more difficult. The Yankees have a very tough remaining schedule, so if they’re going to stay in the race until the final week, they’ll have to overcome a brutal month of games.

Update: Yankees sending Andujar, Bird, Torres, Wade, and Koerner to the Arizona Fall League

Bird is the word. (Presswire)
Bird is the word. (Presswire)

4:28pm: The rosters have been officially announced. The Yankees are sending RHP Brody Koerner to the AzFL in addition to Bird, Torres, Andujar, and Wade. They have three pitching spots listed as TBA. Wade is listed as an outfielder, so that’s interesting.

2:30pm: According to Josh Norris, the Yankees are sending first baseman Greg Bird to the Arizona Fall League this season. I imagine this is still a tentative assignment, but it does suggest Bird’s rehab from shoulder surgery is going well. The Yankees wouldn’t plan on sending him to the AzFL if there was serious concern he wouldn’t be ready in time.

Bird, 23, has missed the entire season after having shoulder surgery in February. He had a shoulder injury in the minors last year, raked during his second half cameo with the Yankees, then re-injured the shoulder during an offseason workout. Given how poorly Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez hit this year, the Yankees really missed Bird this summer.

This will be Bird’s second AzFL stint, though the circumstances are very different. He’s a rehabbing player now. Two years ago he was a prospect getting extra at-bats. Bird hit .313/.391/.556 (176 wRC+) with six homers in 26 games during his first AzFL stint. He was named the league’s 2014 Most Valuable Player, then made his MLB debut a few months later.

Norris says the Yankees are also sending third baseman Miguel Andujar and shortstops Gleyber Torres and Tyler Wade to the desert as well. All three are among the clubs better prospects and the Yankees are sending them to the desert for extra at-bats. Andujar is Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and I imagine the team will use the AzFL stint to further evaluate him and make their 40-man roster decision.

The Yankees still have 3-4 pitching spots to fill and it could be a while before those are announced. James Kaprielian would be an ideal candidate if he gets healthy in time, though I doubt the Yankees will rush him back from a flexor injury. AzFL pitching assignments tend to be boring. Most top pitching prospects are already bumping up against their innings limit, so there are a lot of third and four tier pitching prospects in the league.

The AzFL season begins on Tuesday, October 11th, and runs through Thursday, November 17th. Yankees prospects will suit up for the Scottsdale Scorpions this year. They’ll be on a team with Phillies, Angels, Giants, and Mets prospects. There will be days Scottsdale has an all-Yankees infield. Pretty cool.

Sherman: Yankees not planning to call up any prospects before they’re Rule 5 Draft eligible

Frazier. (@Kelsie_Heneghan)
Frazier. (@Kelsie_Heneghan)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees are not planning to call up any prospects this week who are a year away from Rule 5 Draft eligibility. This applies mostly to two players: outfielder Clint Frazier and righty reliever Jonathan Holder. It also applies to guys like Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams.

Rosters expand tomorrow and right now we know with near certainty Luis Severino will be among the first wave of call-ups. I’d expect other prominent shuttle riders to come up this week as well, namely Nick Goody and Rob Refsnyder. There will be many more additions in September too. Don’t worry. Anyway, I have some quick thoughts on this.

1. The Yankees are facing a severe 40-man roster crunch this offseason. The Yankees got a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection by calling up Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and Ben Heller earlier this month. Other notable prospects like Jorge Mateo and Miguel Andujar are Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter, ditto countless other second and third tier prospects.

When I wrote our September call-up preview, I said I think the Yankees will protect five more prospects after the season: Mateo, Andujar, Dietrich Enns, Tyler Webb, and Kyle Higashioka. On top of that, the Yankees will need to clear four 40-man spots for 60-day DL players the day after the World Series ends: Greg Bird, Branden Pinder, Conor Mullee, and Dustin Ackley. Chances are Nathan Eovaldi will land on the 60-day DL soon enough too.

Based on all of that, the Yankees will need to clear ten 40-man spots after the season, assuming Eovaldi finds himself on the 60-day DL. They only have one impending free agent too: Mark Teixeira. That’s it. Nine guys are losing their 40-man spots after the season. Nine! Some are obvious (Anthony Swarzak, J.R. Graham, Blake Parker, Richard Bleier, etc.) but many of them won’t be. The Yankees are going to have some tough decisions to make*.

* My guess is the Yankees will get a head start on non-tendering Eovaldi and Ackley by releasing them the day after the end of the World Series to clear 40-man space. They won’t have the luxury of waiting until the December 2nd tender deadline. That’s still only two extra spots.

Point is, the Yankees don’t have the luxury of adding players like Holder and Frazier to the 40-man early. Roster spots are going to be at a premium. (It would also unnecessarily burn an option, unless they both make the 2017 Opening Day roster.) I know we all want to see prospects in September. Who doesn’t? But the Yankees have to think big picture here. Roster spots are finite resource. They can’t call up the prospect flavor of the week just because.

2. The Holder hype is getting a little out of control. Earlier this week Holder turned in one of the most dominant pitching performances I’ve seen in all my time following the minors. He struck out 12 of 13 batters faced en route to a four-out postseason berth clinching save with Triple-A Scranton. It was incredible. Sheer dominance.

Holder has had a phenomenal season this year, pitching to a 1.65 ERA (1.30 FIP) in 65.1 innings while climbing from High-A to Triple-A. He’s struck out 101 and walked only seven. That works out to a 42.4 K% and 2.9 BB%. Insanity. Holder’s been as good as any reliever in the minors this season, and because of that, he’s viewed as a potential late-inning option in the near future.

While I’m certain Holder will get a big league opportunity soon, likely early next year, I think maybe he’s getting a little too much prospect love thanks to his minor league numbers. Holder’s a 92-94 mph fastball guy with a good but occasionally loopy curveball. He thrives by getting minor league batters to chase heaters up and out of the zone, as you can see in the video of his eleven straight strikeouts.

I’m not sure how well that strategy will work in the show, because big leaguers will do a better job laying off those pitches than minor leaguers. That said, Holder is still a quality relief prospect and the Yankees should be happy to have him. I just feel that, on the team’s righty relief prospect depth chart, Holder definitely falls behind Heller, and also Goody, Johnny Barbato, and even healthy Nick Rumbelow as well. Goody has a much better breaking ball and his minor league numbers are off the charts too (40.2 K% and 4.6 BB% in Triple-A in 2016).

It seems like every season we fall in love with a different minor league reliever who is carving up two or three levels. I could be completely wrong about Holder. Maybe he is a future relief ace. I was dead wrong about David Robertson, after all. (I thought his minor league control issues would keep him out of high-leverage work.) I’m just always skeptical of dominant minor league bullpeners. These guys are all over the place.

3. The Frazier hypothetical sure is fun. Frazier is currently on the Triple-A DL with a hamstring problem and isn’t a call-up candidate right now anyway. Also, he hasn’t exactly torn up Triple-A. He’s hitting only .229/.282/.375 (85 wRC+) since the trade and .231/.274/.368 (80 wRC+) in 29 Triple-A games overall. Frazier hasn’t forced the issue. He’s a top prospect because his tools are off the charts, not because his numbers are good.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the Yankees would have gone all-in on youth and called up Frazier in September had be been performing better in Triple-A. They could have stuck him in left field everyday and taken playing time away from Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury the same way they’ve taken playing time away from Teixeira and Brian McCann. Gary Sanchez has been a smashing success and Judge has had his moments too. Frazier is a potential impact bat who might have helped. Fun hypothetical, I think.

The Pros and Cons of Putting Luis Severino in the Bullpen

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

Last night, in preparation for a call-up later this week, the Yankees had right-hander Luis Severino throw 2.1 innings in relief for Triple-A Scranton. He allowed two hits and no runs and struck out five, so everything went well. Rosters expand on Thursday and Severino will apparently be among the first wave of call-ups.

The Yankees essentially have three options with Severino for the final month of the season. The three:

  1. Leave him in Triple-A and let him pitch in the postseason.
  2. Call him up and put him in the rotation.
  3. Call him up and put him in the bullpen.

The Yankees are going with option No. 3 and that’s fine. All three are fine, really. They all have their pros and cons. Option No. 1 would have allowed Severino to continue working on his changeup in games that don’t matter. Option No. 2 would have given him a chance to work on his changeup in games that do matter. Option No. 3? Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss.

I know we’re all still scarred from the Joba Rules and all that, but there are some very real benefits to letting a young starting pitcher prospect — Severino has eclipsed the rookie limit of 50 innings, but for all intents and purposes, he’s a prospect — work out of the bullpen. Teams do it all the time. There are also some potential drawbacks. Let’s discuss them as they pertain to Severino.

Pro: He’ll help the Yankees win

In case you hadn’t noticed, the middle relief kinda sucks right now. Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren are not Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but by and large they’ve done done the job in the seventh and eighth inning. Everything before them is shaky. We’ve seen too much Anthony Swarzak and Blake Parker these last few weeks.

Severino has the potential to be dominant in relief. Heck, we saw him dominate out of the bullpen a few weeks ago. He struck out ten and allowed one unearned run in 8.1 innings of relief with the Yankees last month, including 4.1 shutdown innings against the Mets on August 3rd.

Simply put, the middle innings are a total mess right now and Severino is the best arm available to the Yankees. They’re still trying to make a run at a postseason spot — as they should! — and Severino is a potential solution to their bullpen problem. Putting him in a relief role improves the roster.

Con: He won’t get to work on his changeup

The Yankees sent Severino to Triple-A a few weeks back because a) he was getting hammered as a big league starter, and b) he really needs to work on his changeup. He wasn’t throwing it at all and Severino even admitted he lost confidence in it. That’s not good. It needed to be fixed and the minors were the place to do it.

Severino went to Triple-A with orders to work on his changeup and actually throw it in games, and by all accounts he’s done that. The results haven’t been pretty since his latest demotion (11.1 IP, 19 H, 8 R, 3 BB, 16 K in two starts) but that’s not a surprise because he’s throwing his third best pitch more than he normally would. Hitters can sit on it. That’s what happens.

Unless the Yankees tell Severino to continue throwing his changeup in September — that seems unlikely because winning is the priority and they’ll want him to use his best pitches to get outs — he’s not going to throw his changeup out of the bullpen. The development of the pitch may stagnate during his time as a reliever, which impacts his ability to be a starter down the road.

Pro: He’ll build confidence

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Gosh, Severino was so bad as a starter with the Yankees earlier this season. So, so bad. He has a 7.19 ERA (4.73 FIP) in 51.1 big league innings this year, and that includes his stellar relief work. When you get smacked around that much, how could it not hurt your confidence? Severino is only human. Fail at something that spectacularly and you can’t help but doubt yourself, even a little. It’s human nature.

Pitching out of the bullpen and having success is a good way for Severino to rebuild his confidence. It’s pretty clear that won’t happen as a starter. Not this year, at least. He’s had zero success in that role in 2016. Severino has pitched well as a reliever and he has the tools to continue pitching well in that role now that he’s locating his slider down and away from righties more consistently. You can’t measure confidence, but it is absolutely important. The confidence he builds as a reliever can carry over when he returns to the rotation. We see it happen around the league all the time.

Con: He’s not going to build up innings

Between the triceps injury in May and his stint in the bullpen, Severino has only thrown 133.2 innings this season. He threw 161.2 total innings last year, and unless he’s the most heavily used reliever in baseball history in September, Severino is not going to match last season innings total, nevermind build on it and continue stretching out his arm. That’s kind of a problem if the plan is indeed to put him in the rotation next year.

There’s always the option to send Severino to winter ball, but one thing at a time. Gotta get through September before sending him home to the Dominican Republic for winter ball becomes a serious discussion. Right now the apparent plan to use Severino out of the bullpen in September means he won’t increase his workload this season. He still won’t be ready to be a 200-ish inning starter next season. Letting Severino start in September, either in Triple-A or MLB, better allows him to accumulate innings and build up arm strength.

* * *

I both am and am not surprised the Yankees are calling up Severino as soon as rosters expand. I’m surprised because I thought they were really prioritizing his changeup development and would leave him in Triple-A through the postseason, so he could start and really build up innings. At the same time, I’m not surprised because they are still hanging around the wild card race and absolutely need another reliever, and Severino is their best option.

I don’t love seeing Severino jerked back and forth between starter and reliever, Triple-A and MLB. The Yankees don’t exactly have a stellar track record when it comes to developing high-end pitching prospects. Severino can definitely help them in relief though, and while I’m sure they believe his long-term future lies in the rotation, the best place for him right now is in the bullpen. That role has some real benefits. Enough to outweigh the negatives? The Yankees sure seem to believe so.