Rays manager Joe Maddon has opted out of his contract and is leaving the organization, the team announced. I’m sure we’ll hear tons about him potentially joining Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers in the coming days and weeks. Or maybe he just has his eye on that open first base coaching job in the Bronx. Times are a changin’ down in Tampa, that’s for sure.
Got six questions in this week’s mailbag. The best way to send us mailbag questions or comments or links or anything else is through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Greg asks: What kind of stats can we expected from Rob Refsnyder at the major league level in 2015?
I’m not really sure how to answer this so I’ll start by saying Steamer projects a .262/.328/.390 (102 wRC+) line from Refsnyder next season, which seems reasonable enough to me. (Reminder: Projections are not predictions, they’re an attempt to estimate current talent level.) The jump from Triple-A to MLB is always the toughest, though to his credit Refsnyder never really had any kind of extended adjustment period whenever he was promoted in the minors.
Chad Jennings recently spoke to a scout who compared Refsnyder to Giants second baseman Joe Panik, saying it was a “very good comparison” of “two guys making the most of their ability, and both have the knack of putting the barrel to the ball.” The scout also said Panik was smoother at second base. Panik hit .305/.343/.368 (107 wRC+) with an 11.5% strikeout rate after a midseason callup this summer, and I’m pretty sure we’d all be thrilled if Refsnyder did that next year. It’s worth noting Refsnyder’s minor league track record is way better than Panik’s as well.
I think Refsnyder’s gaudy minor league numbers may have set expectations unreasonably high. If he comes up and hits like, .270/.330/.400 while playing a bit below average defensively, people are going to call him just another over-hyped Yankees prospect or whatever. It’s inevitable. In reality, .270/.330/.400 would be pretty damn awesome and huge upgrade for the Yankees at second base. I think his introduction to MLB might be similar to Brett Gardner‘s — up and down a few times the first year before settling in the second year.
T.J. asks: I know it is unlikely that the Cleveland Indians decline Mike Aviles’ option, or trade him, but wouldn’t he be one of the best options out there for the Yankees, at shortstop? He also offers more infield versatility.
I would prefer Aviles more as a bench player than a starting shortstop, though he does meet the relatively low standard of “better than Brendan Ryan” though. The 33-year-old Aviles hit .247/.273/.343 (74 wRC+) for the Indians this year and he’s been at that level for three full seasons now (75 wRC+ in 2012 and 79 wRC+ in 2013). He’s a righty but his numbers against lefties aren’t all that good (82 wRC+ since 2012), and, depending on the stat, he’s somewhere between below-average and average at short. Aviles can play second, third, and left field in a pinch as well.
The Indians have a $3.5M club option for Aviles and that’s kinda pricey for a player who has been just above replacement level the last two years, but then again guys capable of playing shortstop are hard to find. I’d be happy if the Yankees replaced Ryan with Aviles as their backup infielder, though that’s a relatively small upgrade. Not something that will make a huge difference. I would much prefer bringing Stephen Drew back on a one-year “prove yourself” contract than settle for starting someone like Aviles at short. He’s a pure bench player for me and has been for Cleveland the last two years.
Daniel asks: Maybe this is a stupid question since it’s so unlikely. But, to me signing Adam LaRoche would be a good move for this roster. Not saying it’s top priority or anything, but doesn’t a modest two-year deal for LaRoche to split time with Mark Teixeira at 1B and take a few DH at-bats seem like a good idea? He is a lock to play more games than Tex, and he still is good for 25 HR and probably more in Yankee Stadium.
I don’t see LaRoche as a fit at all. He’d help the offense and I’m sure he’d mash a bunch of homers in Yankee Stadium, but the Yankees don’t need another full-time first baseman who soaks up DH at-bats. He doesn’t fit the roster. Square peg, round hole, etc.
The Yankees need someone who can play another position — third base or right field are obvious spots — and back up first base easily. Someone who was able to do what Nick Swisher did from 2009-12, play another position full-time and sub in at first in a pinch. Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Alex Rodriguez are enough first base/DH types for one roster. LaRoche doesn’t make any sense for this team as is.
Yes! It’s happened once in baseball history. On August 4th, 1982, Joel Youngblood played for the Mets against the Cubs in the afternoon and then for the Expos against the Phillies at night. He even traveled from Chicago to Philadelphia between games. Here is the box score for the first game, the box score for the second game, and the Wikipedia blurb:
On August 4, 1982, Youngblood became the only player in history to get hits for two different teams in two different cities on the same day. After Youngblood had driven in two runs with a single in the third inning for the Mets in an afternoon game at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs, he was replaced in center field by Mookie Wilson, and traded to the Montreal Expos for a player to be named later (On August 16, the Expos sent Tom Gorman to the Mets to complete the deal). Youngblood rushed to Philadelphia in order to be with his new team, and hit a seventh-inning single. Interestingly, the two pitchers he hit safely against, Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs and Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies, are both in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Isn’t that neat? Maybe it’ll happen again someday.
Brian asks: Not sure if you know or can answer this one, but do you have any idea on the process for doing an MLB schedule? Just seems like a massive undertaking.
ESPN put together a 30-for-30 Short on the making of the schedule a year ago. Here’s the 12-minute video (it autoplays), and here’s the short version: MLB executive Harry Simmons drew up the schedule each year until the husband and wife team of Henry and Holly Stephenson were hired in 1982. They created the schedule every season until 2005, when MLB started using a computer system that randomly generates the schedule each year.
The Stephensons, who did much of the work by hand, had to deal with several division realignments and the introduction of interleague play over the years. MLB and MLBPA have a bunch of collectively bargained rules about travel and off-days and all that, plus each team had special requests each year (home for this holiday, away for that week, etc.), so yeah, it was a massive undertaking. I can’t really explain how they did it, it’s incredibly complex. Check out the video when you get a chance. Nowadays it seems like they just input a bunch of criteria and the computer spits out a schedule, which is how you end up with Derek Jeter playing his final game in Fenway Park rather than Yankee Stadium.
George asks: Any update on the “make the game go faster” changes from the Arizona Fall League?
Unsurprisingly, many players aren’t a fan of the rule changes at this point. Players are routine-oriented and this breaks the routine they’ve been developing their entire life. Not being able to step out of the batter’s box between pitches, being forced to make the next pitch within 20 seconds … yeah I’m sure it’s an adjustment. Alexis Brudnicki recently spoke to some players about the rule changes, so check that out. Here’s one quote:
“It’s tough,” (Dodgers prospect Corey) Seager said. “You almost feel rushed. It’s not your normal (routine) where you can take your time, get your rhythm. It’s kind of on somebody else’s rhythm. It was a little rushed … getting on and off the field, getting your stuff done in the dugout and in the box mainly because you only have 20 seconds between pitches. You swing and then get right back in—it’s a little weird.”
Salt River Field is the only park with the 20-second pitch clock installed and there have only been a handful of games played their so far. Earlier this week MLB Pipeline reported games with the pitch clock (and some other rule changes) are averaging only two hours and 20 minutes, down from two hours and 51 minutes last year. Knocking a half-hour off the average game time is a pretty big deal, though we are talking about a small sample thus far.
I’m sure some of these rules will be changed and others will be eliminated before they are implemented at the MLB level. I’m sure there will be more complaints from the players, but there’s almost no way to shorten games without forcing them to make some kind of adjustment to their routine. Even shortening up commercial breaks between innings will be a big change for them. Hopefully MLB keeps at it and they come up with some solutions. Games are just too long nowadays.
Rawlings announced the 2014 Gold Glove finalists earlier today, and, somewhat surprisingly, no Yankees were among the players selected. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury were their best Gold Glove candidates but neither made it. Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes, and Michael Brantley are the left field finalists while Jackie Bradley Jr., Adam Eaton, and Adam Jones are up in center.
Here is your open thread for the night. Today is an off-day for the World Series as the Royals and Giants travel from Kansas City to San Francisco. The Islanders are playing and the Thursday NFL game is the Chargers and Broncos. Feel free to talk about those games or whatever else is on your mind right now.
Thursday: Drellich clarifies Hillman was only offered the chance to interview for Newman’s job. He wasn’t offered the job itself. Drellich also says Hillman confirmed he was on a scouting trip to see the Astros and Athletics late in the season, so … Jed Lowrie I guess?
Wednesday: Via Evan Drellich: Former Yankees special assistant Trey Hillman confirmed the team offered him the opportunity to replace the retiring Mark Newman as their VP of Baseball Ops and head farm system honcho. He turned it down because he wanted to get back on the field and coach. “(Brian Cashman) said, ‘Trey, I would never hold you back from that,’” said Hillman, who was recent named the Astros bench coach. Gary Denbo will replace Newman.
In other news, Hillman also said part of his job this summer was scouting free agent-to-be shortstops. “I did three different trips scouting potential free agent shortstops to replace a guy named Jeter,” he said. I don’t think that means the Yankees will definitely sign a free agent shortstop this winter — they could always make a trade or, gasp, go with Brendan Ryan — but they are doing their due diligence. I’m sure Hillman was one of several people the Yankees sent to see the various impending free agent shortstops throughout summer.
MLB announced yesterday that Royals closer Greg Holland won the first Mariano Rivera Award, which will be given annually the top reliever in the AL. Craig Kimbrel won the NL version, the Trevor Hoffman Award. The award is voted on by Rivera, Hoffman, and Hall of Fame relievers Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, and Goose Gossage.
According to Jon Heyman, Dellin Betances finished second to Holland in the voting for the Mo Award. Zach Britton finished third. Betances threw more innings (90 vs. 62.1) and had a better ERA (1.40 vs. 1.44), FIP (1.64 vs. 1.83), strikeout rate (39.6% vs. 37.5%), and walk rate (7.0% vs. 8.3%) than Holland this past season, as well as more fWAR (3.2 vs. 2.3) and bWAR (3.7 vs. 2.5). But he had 45 fewer saves. A bunch of ex-closers voted for the closer. Such is life.
In yesterday’s Season Review post, I noted Shane Greene was a big player development success for the Yankees, who turned an under-scouted (due to Tommy John surgery) right-hander into a bonafide Major Leaguer with a 15th round pick, a $100k bonus, and patience. They haven’t had enough success stories like that, so much so that director of player development Pat Roessler was recently let go. I’m pretty sure VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman would have been cut loose as well if he wasn’t retiring.
The Yankees do, however, get just enough from their farm system each year to fill out their roster and make trades. This past season it was Greene in the rotation, Dellin Betances in the bullpen, and Vidal Nuno on the trade market. Last year it was Adam Warren and Preston Claiborne in the bullpen and Corey Black in a trade. They seem to crank out a few supporting players and trade chips every year despite the overall lack of production from the system. Spare parts aren’t a problem. Getting regulars and above-average contributors is.
Anyway, both Joe Girardi and Hal Steinbrenner recently indicated the Yankees will get younger going forward. “At times we ran out four guys, five guys over 35 years old. I don’t think that will happen next year,” said Girardi during his end-of-season press conference. Hal said “there’s no doubt, young players, player development, that’s going to play a big part (going forward)” during a radio interview. They could both be blowing smoke, but I do think they’re sincere.
Incorporating more young players into the roster going forward is a wonderful idea but it’s not easy to pull off. If it was, every team would be doing it. They try, but many fail. That’s baseball. The Yankees are also at a disadvantage because most of their top prospects are in the lower minors and aren’t big league ready, so they’re still a year or two away from the show. Which prospects could help next year, a la Greene or Betances or Black? Let’s look.
The Obvious Candidates
As always, the Yankees have some upper level relievers who are knocking on the door and figure to get an opportunity in 2015. Top 2014 draft pick LHP Jacob Lindgren is the most notable bullpener while others like RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Nick Goody, and LHP James Pazos could force the issue and get called up at some point. Every team winds up dipping into their farm system for bullpen help at some point and these guys are at the front of the line for the Yankees.
Elsewhere on the roster, both RHP Bryan Mitchell and C John Ryan Murphy have already gotten a taste of the show and are primed for bigger roles if the need arises. Same with RHP Jose Ramirez. I think we’ll finally get to see LHP Manny Banuelos next season as well. He missed just about all of 2012-13 with elbow problems and had an up-and-down 2014, which wasn’t entirely unexpected after the long layoff. With the rust shaken off, Banuelos is finally in position to help the Yankees next summer, either in the rotation or out of the bullpen.
And then there’s 2B Rob Refsnyder, who is very likely to get an extended trial at second base in 2015. It might not happen right away, he might have to spend a few weeks in Triple-A, but I’m very confident it’ll happen at some point. Refsnyder has hit his way into big league consideration but his defense might be what keeps him in the minors a little longer. He’s still rough around the edges at second base after playing the outfield in college. Aside from the relievers, Refsnyder seems like the safest bet to be called up next year.
New York’s two best prospects are OF Aaron Judge and RHP Luis Severino. If you want to debate the order, fine. It doesn’t really matter though. Both are Yankees. Both are also likely to start next season with Double-A Trenton, and any time a top prospect starts a season in Double-A, he’s a candidate to be called up at midseason. The Yankees were very aggressive with the 20-year-old Severino this year in particular, so I’d be less surprised if he debuted in 2015 than I would with Judge.
Defensively-challenged C Gary Sanchez is expected to move up to Triple-A next season, so it’ll be interesting to see how the team distributes playing time between him, Murphy, and C Austin Romine. Sanchez’s climb up the ladder has been deliberate — he’s spent parts of two seasons in Low-A, High-A, and Double-A — and a full year at Scranton is probably in the cards next season. I do think he’ll end up getting a September callup since he’s already on the 40-man roster though.
Other possible call-ups include OF Ramon Flores and OF Taylor Dugas, both of whom spent part of last season with the RailRiders and will return there in 2015. 1B Kyle Roller is in the same boat. 1B/OF Tyler Austin is expected to join them next year and because he plays two positions where the Yankees will need backup (right field and first base), the chances of him making his debut next season are very good. Even if it’s only as a September call-up. Austin will be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
Among the pitchers who could pitch their way into a big league callup are RHP Jaron Long, RHP Zach Nuding, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa, and LHP Matt Tracy. Long is the son of recently dismissed hitting coach Kevin Long but I don’t think that will have any impact on his standing in the organization. This is a business. Jaron knows it, Kevin knows it, the Yankees know it. If he’s the best option to help the team at some point next year, Jaron will get a chance and both he and his father will be thrilled.
The Long Shots
In all likelihood 3B Eric Jagielo, 1B Greg Bird, and DH Dante Bichette Jr. will open next year with Double-A Trenton, though I think they’re further behind Judge and Severino. Jagielo probably has the best chance of debuting in 2015 among these three and that’s only because he plays third base (not well, apparently). If the team needs a first baseman or DH, Austin and/or Roller are head of Bird and Bichette on the depth chart.
OF Jake Cave is in the same situation as those guys — starting the year at Double-A but unlikely to see the show in 2015. If the Yankees need an outfielder, both Austin and Flores will already be on the 40-man roster and in Triple-A. We won’t see young guys like LHP Ian Clarkin, RHP Brady Lail, OF Miguel Andujar, and LHP Daniel Camarena next year. It’s too early for them. We can talk about them more seriously next offseason and even more seriously the offseason after that.
The Trade Chips
Everyone. Seriously. I don’t think the Yankees have any prospects worthy of being deemed untouchable. But, to use an old Brian Cashman phrase, some are more touchable than others. I mean, if the Marlins come calling and say they’re willing to deal Giancarlo Stanton as long as the package starts with Judge and Severino, how do the Yankees say no to that? They shouldn’t give anyone away but everyone should be available in the right situation. Cashman did a great job getting a lot for a little at the trade deadline this year and I’m sure that’s the approach he’ll take going forward.
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The Yankees say they plan to incorporate more youth going forward, and for 2015 that means Refsnyder and a bunch of relievers. That’s really it. The 2016 season is when others like Judge, Severino, Jagielo, and Bird become realistic big league options. It will probably take them a year or three before they have a real impact, but that’s true of every prospect. The process has to start sometime though, and for the Yankees, next season means better late than never.
Here is your nightly open thread. The Royals and Giants are playing Game Two of the World Series a little later tonight (8pm ET on FOX). It’ll be Yordano Ventura against Jake Peavy. Both the Knicks and Nets are playing preseason games as well. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.
The Yankees were saddled with a ton of position player injuries last year, including Mark Teixeira‘s wrist, Curtis Granderson‘s forearm (and hand), and Derek Jeter‘s ankle. The result was far too much playing time for guys like Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, and Eduardo Nunez. The offense stunk. It was a lot worst than it was in 2014.
This past season, pitching injuries were the problem. Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) and Michael Pineda (shoulder) each made four starts in April before landing on the disabled list for several months. CC Sabathia‘s knee gave out on him in May. Then, right before the All-Star break, Masahiro Tanaka suffered a partially torn elbow ligament that essentially ended his season. Four-fifths of the team’s Opening Day rotation was on the disabled list by early-July.
That should have been the end of the line for the Yankees, but Brian Cashman & Co. did an excellent job cobbling together a pitching staff in the second half, a pitching staff that kept the Yankees close enough to the second wildcard spot to keep everyone interested. Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano were brought in on low-cost deals, and another quality rotation piece came from the (gasp!) farm system.
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With Pineda, Tanaka, and the now-healthy Manny Banuelos hogging the pitching spotlight in Spring Training, right-hander Shane Greene was able to fly under the radar despite pitching well in camp. He struck out ten, walked one, and got eleven ground ball outs against just two in the air in 7.2 innings of relief work. Yeah, it was Spring Training, but guys like Greene need to have strong Spring Trainings to open eyes. I remember one outing against the Phillies in particular, in which he was breaking off nasty sinking fastballs like this one:
Greene was one of the very last roster cuts in Spring Training, which meant he wasn’t able to get properly stretched out before joining the Triple-A Scranton rotation. He opened the regular season in Extended Spring Training just to get some more tune-up innings under his belt before joining the RailRiders in mid-April. Greene made two relief appearances in Triple-A before being called up to the big league team on April 24th to help their overworked bullpen.
That night, Greene made his MLB debut against the Red Sox in Fenway Park. It was a disaster. He came out of the bullpen with the Yankees up 12-2 in the seventh, faced five batters, walked three of them, and allowed three runs while getting only one out (a strikeout of Shane Victorino). All three runs were unearned because Jeter made an error behind him, but still. Only eight of Greene’s 22 pitches were strikes and he looked very much like the marginal pitching prospect who walked 11.7% of batters faced in the minors from 2011-12 before breaking out in 2013.
The performance earned Greene a trip back to Triple-A, where he (finally) joined the rotation and was able to start every fifth day. His first eight starts with the RailRiders were pretty terrible: 6.56 ERA (3.72 FIP) with a 1.91 WHIP (!) in 35.2 innings. That’s a ton of base-runners. Greene’s strikeout (17.2%) and walk (8.9%) rates weren’t anything special either. It was hard not to think he was coming back down to Earth after such a strong breakout season last year.
Greene’s next five starts were much better (1.93 ERA and 3.25 FIP) — he threw seven scoreless innings on June 27th then another six scoreless innings on July 2nd — and, given the injury riddled state of the MLB rotation, that was enough to earn him a call-up. It was supposed to be just a one-start cameo, but Greene pitched well (two runs in six innings) in his first career start and the team kept him around for one more start to give the rest of the rotation an extra day of rest. Five days later, he did this:
Tanaka suffered his injury between Greene’s first and second starts, so even if he hadn’t dominated the Orioles the weekend before the All-Star break, Greene would have stayed in the rotation anyway. That was a good thing because his next three starts weren’t particularly good (ten runs in 15.2 innings), which probably would have earned him a trip back to Triple-A had the Yankees not already tapped out their pitching depth. (He made three errors in one of those games, as I’m sure you remember.)
Greene shook off those three lousy starts and fired eight shutout innings against the Tigers on August 7th. Only twice in his next eight starts did he allow more than two runs — he did have a disaster start against the Red Sox on September 2nd, allowing six runs in 2.2 innings — before the Orioles hit him around in his final start of the season on September 24th (six runs in 3.2 innings). Here is Greene’s game log after being called up to join the rotation:
That four-start stretch from August 7th through August 27th is when Greene really made his mark and solidified his standing as a member of the rotation. He had a 2.96 ERA (3.59 FIP) during his eight-start stretch from August 7th through September 18th, which is cherry-picking at its finest, but I don’t care. Greene was tremendous during that stretch and it looked like the Yankees had themselves a real live homegrown rotation stalwart.
Greene finished the season with a 3.78 ERA and 3.73 FIP in 78.2 innings, which includes the ugly MLB debut out of the bullpen. He posted excellent strikeout (9.27 K/9 and 23.5 K%) and ground ball (50.2%) rates, and his walk rate (3.32 BB/9 and 8.4 BB%) was fine. Lefties did hit him a bit harder than righties — .281/.365/.400 (.345 wOBA) with a 30/18 K/BB against lefties and .240/.305/.356 (.297 wOBA) with a 51/11 K/BB against righties — which isn’t surprising since he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher, relying on that sinker and slider.
Those two pitches are very, very good though. Greene’s sinker averaged 93.9 mph this season, making it the third fastest sinker in baseball among pitchers who threw at least 70 innings this season. Only two relievers (Jeurys Familia and Tony Watson) had harder sinkers. Furthermore, the sinker had a 13.2% swing-and-miss rate and a 56.5% ground ball rate, both better than the league average for the pitch (5.4% and 49.5%, respectively).
Greene’s slider would sometimes come in at 87-88 mph, so PitchFX often classified it as a cutter. The slider had a 40.2% (!) swing-and-miss rate and a 45.4% ground ball rate, and again both were better than the MLB slider average (15.2% and 43.9%). Greene threw very few straight four-seamers and changeups in 2014 (~18% combined). He’s a sinker/slider pitcher and both the sinker and slider were above-average at getting whiffs and ground balls. That’s huge. Greene legitimately has two above-average pitches in his arsenal.
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If not for Greene and the team’s other midseason rotation additions, the Yankees would have been knocked into irrelevancy in late-July. They kept them in the race longer than they should have been. McCarthy and Capuano were rentals who will become free agents in about a week. Their time in pinstripes may be short-lived.
Greene, on the other hand, will turn 26 next month. He emerged as a potential rotation building block going forward, even if he’s nothing more than a mid-rotation guy with a big platoon split. That has a lot of value. I won’t do it, but if you’re an optimist and you squint your eyes, maybe you can see the next Doug Fister (another former Yankees draft pick). That would be awesome.
Either way, Greene is a major player development success story for the Yankees. They drafted him in the 15th round of the 2009 draft and gave him a $100k signing bonus after only seeing him throw a handful of bullpens as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees did a helluva job developing him over the years and getting him over his control issues. Now he’s a bonafide big league starter.
(Title comes from @JakeMHS, who has terrible opinions.)
Even though the Yankees haven’t played a game in nearly a month now, there are still some injuries that need updating. Here’s the latest on the walking wounded, courtesy of Pete Caldera, Dan Martin, George King, and Josh Norris.
- CC Sabathia (knee) is still throwing twice a week and he feels “pretty much back to 100%.” He has decided against throwing a bullpen session sometime before Thanksgiving, however. “I thought about that, but what’s the point of throwing a bullpen at Thanksgiving? That was more me not knowing if I was gonna feel good. Now that I know I feel pretty good, I don’t think there’s any reason for me to crank it up at that time. I’ll wait and probably go down to Spring Training a little early in January,” he said.
- Preston Claiborne missed six weeks with an unknown arm injury while with Triple-A Scranton this past season, and it has now been reported that he had a separated shoulder and an inflamed AC joint. He returned in August and was called up in September. “I was pretty scared. I didn’t know what was going on,” said Claiborne. “Going into the offseason I am healthy and strong. I am in much better shape already.”
- And finally, retiring VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed John Ryan Murphy suffered a concussion late in the season. This is the injury that sidelined him for two weeks in August while he was with Triple-A Scranton. Murphy was healthy in September and he started behind the plate in two of the final three games of the regular season, including Game 162.