Finding a second gear after a sizzling first act

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

There are always certain phases of the major league season. The highs and lows, the streaks and skids, fluctuating from month to month and week to week.

Unlike last season, the Yankees began 2017 on fire. The start seemed reminiscent of 2010, when the team got off to a roaring start coming off a championship. The funny thing about that 2010 team is they didn’t soar to a division title. They struggled. They blew their early division lead, gained it back and then lost it in the final weeks of the season, settling for a wild card.

I don’t mean to make a straight side-by-side comparison between the 2010 Yankees and the current squad, but the lesson is important: There are going to be lulls in the season and the team can’t let up, allowing a division rival to sneak ahead. This year, the Yankees likely won’t be overcome by a pesky Rays squad, but the Orioles and Red Sox are enough to handle.

And in April, the Yankees handled them well enough. They split their six games with the O’s and took both contests with the Sox. Considering they had to face AL Cy Young favorite Chris Sale and started 0-2 against the O’s, that’s a strong result.

It was all part of a magical month where everything seemed to go right. Aaron Judge, Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, among others, put up surprising numbers en route to a 15-8 record. The only thing perhaps more eye-catching was the rotation, which consistently worked deep into games despite most assuming it would be a liability going into the season.

That’s the catch: It wasn’t supposed to go that way. One would have assumed coming out of the spring that if the team caught fire early, it’d be on the backs of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and a knockout bullpen alongside Masahiro Tanaka as the ace. Well, Sanchez and Bird got hurt. Tanaka was off on Opening Day and despite a 5-3 record, hasn’t looked quite right since. The bullpen was quite good, perhaps even better than expected, but it was overshadowed and not asked to perform many herculean tasks.

And now that we’re late in May, phase two is well underway. The team is 6-8 in their last 14 dating back to May 8 and have seen some stinkers out of the rotation. Castro and Judge have looked more Earth-bound recently and Headley has crash landed. Early expectations have proved more prescient with the bullpen carrying a bigger load, Tuesday’s blown lead notwithstanding. Sanchez has taken off and so has Brett Gardner, who seems to have found the hitting stroke that earned him an All-Star appearance just a few seasons to go.

Despite this sub-par stretch, the Yankees still hold a 2.5 game lead in the division over the Orioles, 3.5 on the Red Sox. That lead is actually their largest this season.

But the team has an upcoming stretch that could help define them. After this homestand with the Royals and Athletics wraps up, they play 13 straight games in division, including six with the O’s and three with the Red Sox, all condensed into two weeks. You’re not going to win the division with a good two weeks, nor are you going to lose it with a lousy fortnight.

(David Banks/Getty Images)
(David Banks/Getty Images)

Yet this is the time when the Yankees need to begin figuring out who they are long-term, finding that second gear that can help carry them throughout the summer. The 11 wins by five or more runs have been nice and so have the standout starts from guys like Luis Severino and Michael Pineda, who would have castoffs this offseason if certain sections of the fan base had their way. But is this young crew really going to dominate all season? Is this team actually arrived ahead of schedule and not just showing glimpses of 2018 and beyond?

The team’s diverse set of skills in the lineup serves them well if sustained success is indeed in the cards. If, let’s say, Matt Holliday and Judge going into month-long slumps, the team can rely on hitters like Gardner or Didi Gregorius to carry them in a different way, not needing to pound home runs game-by-game.

It doesn’t hurt to have that sturdy backbone of a bullpen, which may end up as the defining positive for this team. Even with Aroldis Chapman out, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and co. are a force that can hold down most leads. With a few quality long relievers, the team can withstand a few 4-5 inning outings and keep the team within striking distance.

Or maybe the rotation with a rejuvenated Tanaka can lead the way. With Jordan Montgomery and CC Sabathia as strong back-end starters, perhaps Tanaka, Severino and Pineda can carry the team every five days and enable more winning streaks.

So that second gear doesn’t necessarily have to look all that different from the first one. It can be a continuation. But in order for the Yankees to sustain their early success, they’ll need to figure out just what makes this team special and utilize those defining characteristics in the crucial weeks ahead.

Why are the Yankees sticking with eight relievers?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

For the last 15 days, the Yankees have had eight men in their bullpen.

At first, it was out of necessity. The team was coming off an 18-inning marathon with the Cubs and had to play a two-game series starting the next day. Making a move to add a long reliever — in this case Chad Green — was a prudent move after everyone but Tommy Layne was used on that Sunday night/Monday morning vs. the Cubs.

But two days later, the team had an off-day. They had optioned Rob Refsnyder, the obvious 25th man, to make room for Green, so he wasn’t available for a call-up. However, the team still had/has Mason Williams ready to call-up and an open 40-man roster spot to utilize for an extra position player, should they see the need.

By this time, it’s obvious they don’t see the need. They’re fine with a three-man bench as it provides them the luxury of eight relievers. It’s likely they’ll go back to a four-man bench with Tyler Austin comes off the 60-day DL either later this month or in early June, but that would mean another week or so with this peculiar arrangement. And it truly is a luxury as they aren’t all necessary.

When you look at the composition of the bullpen right now, there are the guys that are being used consistently and with purpose; Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren and Jonathan Holder each have their roles right now and are minimally influenced by another man in the bullpen. Chad Green has taken on Warren’s long-man-in-close-game role and has been quite solid in said role.

But beyond those five guys, there hasn’t been much to do. Tommy Layne and Chasen Shreve, the two lefties, have thrown just 4 1/3 and five innings, respectively, over a combined nine appearances. With few lefty-laden lineups with which to deal, there simply isn’t much work for the duo. They’ve pitched in the same game twice, mostly as mop-up guys.

Giovanny Gallegos was used in a similar fashion, taking mop-up innings and helping the team get by during the Astros doubleheader. He’s more of a 1-2 inning guy anyway, so the team called up Bryan Mitchell in his spot.

Mitchell (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
Mitchell (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

This seems like a poor use for Mitchell. Mitchell had been getting stretched out in Triple A and would be ready to call on as a spot starter. With the rotation’s struggles, that seems like it may be on the horizon, particularly with few off-days upcoming. And with an eight-man bullpen, an extra long reliever is superfluous. Green and Warren can both go multiple innings. Even if you say that Warren is now a one-inning reliever, the nominal ‘7th-inning guy’, you still have both Shreve and Layne sitting in the bullpen with little recent mileage most nights. They can take the long relief on any given night. With the current arrangement, Mitchell neither has a role nor a chance to develop further despite his ability to be either a solid back-end starter or quality reliever if given the opportunity.

The main reason to keep the eight-man bullpen going would be with the struggles in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka has had a few short starts in a row, same with Luis Severino, while Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia have been the ones getting consistently through 6-7 their last few times out. The rotation has gone from 5.93 innings per start in April to 5.45 this month. This opens up about an inning every other game, yet that seems hardly enough to justify an extra reliever when the team was still barely using its last reliever when they had seven in April. If the innings trend continues to go down, both this season and in the future, an eight-man bullpen may become more of the norm to help spread innings among a taxed bullpen, but that isn’t the Yankees reality right now.

Eight relievers were fully necessary during the doubleheader, but the team was also allowed to call up an extra man for the roster. If the team wants another long reliever but needed an extra position player right now, they could either jettison Layne or option Shreve to call up Tyler Webb, who has been effective in Scranton since he was returned from his Rule 5 stint with the Pirates, and use Mitchell’s spot for a position player. Still, you run into the same issues with Webb that you did with Mitchell, as the team already has capable long men and at least one other lefty ready to go.

The question does need to be asked: Would the spot be better utilized for another position player? Ultimately, it seems like there hasn’t really been a role for an extra position player. Perhaps they should have had Kyle Higashioka up vs. Tampa last Friday with Gary Sanchez feeling off — thereby allowing them to pinch hit for Austin Romine in a big spot — but a roster spot for one at-bat, maybe a couple innings of defense, doesn’t seem like a better use than 4 1/3 innings.

So with the last 15 days, the Yankees have shown how little they utilize the 25th spot on their roster at the moment. With Greg Bird and Tyler Austin out and few ready-to-use and effective position players on the 40-man roster, the team seems more than content to get by the eighth reliever. Perhaps, this is a glimpse into the future of baseball yet, for now, it doesn’t seem like an efficient use of resources, although there may not be a better use within simple reach.

An appreciation for the unconventionally successful Tyler Clippard

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

Many relievers live off intimidating opposing hitters. Aroldis Chapman comes at you with 100+ mph and a changeup that hits 90. Dellin Betances can touch 100 and has a curveball that can’t be touched when he’s on. Former Yankee Andrew Miller comes at you with his 6-foot-7 frame and tosses his signature slider with a fair dose of imposing fastballs.

Tyler Clippard doesn’t really fit that category. But that hasn’t stopped the Yankees now-setup man from not only carving out a solid career, but continuing to excel at 32.

Thoughts of doom crept in when Clippard was traded to the Yankees at last year’s deadline. A flyball pitcher at Yankee Stadium? A guy seemingly on the downside of his career having a sub-par season? Yikes. The idea that he would replace Miller seemed laughable. For me personally, I had most recently seen Clippard struggle in the 2015 postseason for the Mets, leaving an impression that was at least somewhat misleading.

But his 3+ months back in pinstripes have been fine. Actually, better than fine. He’s thrown 40 2/3 innings over 46 appearances, allowing just nine earned runs while striking out 47 batters. That’s good for a 1.99 ERA and 10.4 K per nine. His ERA had steadily climbed since his 2014 All-Star appearance and he was typically worse in the second half, so his resurgence has been surprising and that much more rewarding and exciting. This is a homegrown talent returning to the Bronx and thriving, even if it’s been less than a full year’s worth of work.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a goofy guy who seems to be genuinely nice getting big outs for you, adding to the overall Clippard experience.

He goes out there with a top-notch changeup and a fastball with some “rising” action, a quality slider and splitter, and all of this plays up in part thanks to his quirky motion. It’s not something to teach your kids, but you can’t say it doesn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong, he can terrify you with some of his appearances. We’re still talking about a flyball pitcher in a park that plays very small. He’s typically off to fast starts (2.50 and 2.14 ERA in first two months, respectively for his career) before the summer air aids a few more flyballs in their pursuit of becoming home runs in June and July. His 2016 return was all rosy in August until hiccups came in September.

We were indoctrinated early in 2017 about his potential pitfalls when he earned a loss against the Orioles with a two-run homer allowed to Seth Smith. And don’t act like you weren’t biting your nails on the edge of your seat during his save against the Cardinals. Perhaps the best example of how the Clippard experience can frustrate is the Adam Jones catch from March’s World Baseball Classic. Clippard’s “Oh my” reaction was all of us in that moment.

But he also turns it on at times. He changed the complexion of the 18-inning win vs. the Cubs, ending the 9th inning rally before striking out the side in the 10th. Watch the video below: He utilizes his entire arsenal to create three punchouts.

Compared to most team’s “7th inning guy”, Clippard is light years ahead. Some teams would even kill for him to be their setup man.

Which, coincidentally, is where he’ll be for the next month, taking the 8th with Betances closing. We were spoiled last year with No Runs DMC. Miller is gone and Chapman is hurt, although the Yankees hope he’ll be back in a month or so. However, Clippard is adept. He’s certainly a non-traditional back-end reliever with below-average velocity, but he’s out here with career-best strikeout and walk rates in 2017.

The Tyler Clippard renaissance will only last so long. He has a .161 BABIP and a 98 percent strand rate. His home runs per fly ball are actually up vs. last season, but his 1.17 ERA isn’t going to hold and it would be foolish to expect it. He’s going to blow at least a game or two, but, then again, so does every reliever.

But Clippard is a pitcher worth enjoying for what he is. Clippard is an above-average reliever who won’t overpower or intimidate, but he’s beat expectations and he’s doing it in a Yankees uniform, coming full circle. If that’s not something to sit back and appreciate, then I don’t know what is. I suggest enjoying the ride.

Yankees-Astros has the makings of a budding rivalry

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Teetering near mediocrity for 3-4 seasons has left the Yankees with few true rivals. But there may be a budding rivalry in the opposing dugout this weekend.

Since the Yankees last played a multi-game playoff series in 2012, the team has hovered near .500 and played fewer truly intense games. The exception would be in-division. The games against the Blue Jays the last two seasons have had fans on the edge of their seats, particularly after the Jays made moves at the 2015 trade deadline. The Orioles’ emergence since 2012 has led to a few interesting regular season series. The classic Yankees-Red Sox rivalry still exists, but I doubt anyone would consider it near its peak. David Ortiz’s retirement really drives that home.

The Bombers have had rivals outside the division in the past, particularly during the 1996-2012 period of constant contending for titles. The Mariners at the turn of the century. The Indians before them. The Angels and Tigers each beat the Yankees in the playoffs multiple times and it created a bit more importance for those series, particularly the Angels games. Anaheim was always the team that had the Yankees’ number in their 15 years of contention and it was brought to the surface in three playoff series over an eight-year span.

Ultimately, that’s probably the best way to create a rivalry: Close playoff series. If two teams play multiple tense series in a short time span, it can lead to regular season series that mirror the same character of a postseason series.

In that regard, the Astros and Yankees already have step one out of the way. The two players who hit home runs for the Astros in that 2015 Wild Card Game have moved on from Houston, but we still have both starting pitchers: Dallas Keuchel and Masahiro Tanaka.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

And I think that a potential rivalry can pivot on the abilities of Keuchel. His tormented the Yankees in 2015, both in the regular season and one postseason game. The Yankees kinda sorta maybe got to him in his two starts last year and then he looked like Cy Young for four innings on Thursday before grinding out the fifth and sixth innings. It seemed that to be a fait accompli that Keuchel would wiggle out of his self-made jams and get a lead to the Astros’ bullpen. Just like how the early 2000s Yankees-Red Sox rivalry rose to new heights with Pedro Martinez on the mound, Keuchel can take that role on. He’s imperfect with less intensity and flare on the mound, but he gives the Yankees a nemesis, a hurdle either in a regular season series or in the postseason. With that, perhaps he’s more similar to 2009-10 Cliff Lee than 1999-2004 Pedro, but still, a tough challenge.

Beyond one key starting pitcher, a rivalry also can be aided by similarly built teams going to battle and we certainly have that with Astros-Yankees. A lot of young, exciting position players poised to man the middle of the lineup for the next decade? Check. Bullpens full of flame throwers? You got it. They both have questions in their rotation and have been linked to Jose Quintana this last offseason. With the young talent on these teams, it’s not hard to see ESPN, Fox or TBS market a series centered around Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve vs. Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. They’re not limited in that regard as the teams seem to match each other budding star for budding star.

With their similar constructions also comes a similar timeline for success in this case: Both teams are rising to the top of the American League at the same time. Many in baseball foresaw the Astros’ success this year, perhaps as far as three years in advance. (Thanks Sports Illustrated!) Even though the Yankees came out of nowhere for some, they seem to be a team on the cusp of contention with their strongest days ahead of them.

This weekend’s series with the Astros may be getting overshadowed by the sweep of the Cubs and the upcoming festivities for Derek Jeter, yet it’s still an important series. Important at least for mid-May. Houston is a useful measuring stick for the Yankees, bringing a team just as hot as them into Yankee Stadium for four games. Come out with three wins and you gain a lot of respect. Lose three of four or get swept and it will be much easier nationally to dismiss the Yankees as a flash in the pan, a team not quite there.

Without 1-2 more playoff series between the two franchises, it will be hard to create a real rivalry. Close games like Thursday night can nudge it that way and so could a brawl, although the latter isn’t something for which to rot. A larger impediment is that they’re limited to 6-7 regular season games a year spread out over two series, not the 19 games the Yankees play against the Red Sox. But as far as rivalries go outside the AL East, the Astros are the best bet for one over the next half decade.

Six-game win streak snapped as Yankees lose to Reds, 5-3

The streak was fun while it lasted! The Yankees got on the board early but CC Sabathia gave up five runs in a disastrous second inning. The Reds made that lead hold up as the Yankees’ comeback efforts came up just short at Great American Ballpark.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Very hittable CC for just one inning
Sabathia started the year with three strong starts in a row, but he followed that up with three straight clunkers. Make that four?

The 36-year-old southpaw worked around a one-out error — Starlin Castro let a ball go straight through his legs — and walk to escape any damage in the first inning. The second inning … not so much.

The Yankees handed CC a 2-0 lead through two innings — more on that later — and the Reds’ offense was intent on getting going. Two straight line drive singles brought No. 8 hitter Devin Mesoraco to the plate and he drew a walk. CC’s command was off and the balls over the plate early were getting hit. He struck out the pitcher, hooray for NL baseball, before the real damage was done.

The next four hitters singled, starting with a Billy Hamilton grounder that hit off a stretched out Ronald Torreyes, starting in the place of Chase Headley, and trickled into left field for two runs. After the bases were re-loaded, Joey Votto struck the go-ahead blow with a two run single up the middle before Adam Duvall’s hard-hit grounder found a hole on the left side, scoring the fifth run.

From there, Sabathia actually settled down quite a bit. He retired the next 10 batters, hit one batter, and then retired his next three before Billy Hamilton made an out on the bases to end the sixth. Indeed, CC (and the Yankees) were done in by one bad inning.

His final line looks ugly — six innings, seven hits, two walks, five runs, two strikeouts — yet there is some encouragement with the way he finished out his night. His ERA is well above five right now, but his next start presumably comes against a weak-hitting Royals team, the perfect chance to get back in a rhythm.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Two blasts and a bloop
After the second batter of the game, it looked like the winning streak was heading to seven. With one out, Gary Sanchez launched a home run. I mean launched it! He drilled it 448 feet into the left field upper deck at Great American Ballpark. He now has seven hits in his last four games.

An inning later, Didi Gregorius got in on the action with a solo shot of his own, depositing it into the right field seats for his first of the year. He hit 20 a year ago, so we knew he had power.

After the five-run second, the Yankees got a few small rallies going that were snuffed out by double plays. CC drew a walk in the third but was quickly erased on a GIDP by Brett Gardner. After Castro doubled and Jacoby Ellsbury walked to start the fourth, Aaron Judge grounded into a double play. The inning was not for nothing as Gregorius knocked in the run with a bloop single to right.

The only other major rally before the ninth inning came with two outs in the sixth inning. Judge walked on four pitches, Gregorius lined a single and Chris Carter was hit by a pitch, bringing Torreyes to the plate, where he soon grounded out. Oh well. A Gardner walk in the seventh and a Judge broken bat single in the eighth brought the tying run to the plate, but the Yankees were unable to capitalize.

Back-to-back walks from Aaron Hicks and Matt Holliday, who both came off the bench, in the ninth brought Sanchez to the plate as the winning run, but he lined into a double play. Very hard hit but right at the third baseman, who quickly doubled off Hicks, who was far off the bag. Bad baserunning, but he may have been doubled off anyway with how hard hit the ball was.

Leftovers
Picking up his second win of the season was Tim Adleman, a Reds starter from Staten Island. He struggled through five innings, but he got big doube plays when he needed them.

For the final four innings, the Reds used just two relievers — Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias. Both former starters, they’ve developed into go-to guys in relief for manager Bryan Price.

Dellin Betances and Chad Green each threw a shutout inning of relief. Betances threw eight straight balls to begin the seventh and dive right into trouble. In classic Betances fashion, he then struck out the next three guys. Green gave up a hit and struck out two in his season debut.

Gregorius had three hits while Gardner, Sanchez, Castro and Judge each had one. Ellsbury and Sabathia(!) drew walks among the starters while Hicks and Holliday each walked as well. Carter and Torreyes were a combined 0 for 6 with three strikeouts. Headley lined out to left in the ninth. He’s 0 for his last 15 and his batting average is down to .268.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has tonight’s box score and updated standings while you can check out the highlights from MLB.com. Also take a look at our Bullpen Workload page as the bullpen has finally gotten a fair amount of rest. Here’s the win probability graph.

Up Next
The Yankees head back home after a 4-1 road trip and have an off-day Wednesday. From there, they’ll play the Astros for four games. The starting pitchers for Thursday’s 7:05 start haven’t been announced but they’re projected to be Michael Pineda vs. Dallas Keuchel.

* * *

Farm System Update by Mike: I’m still out of town, so I don’t have time for a full fledged DotF. Here are the box scores and here is the short version: the trio of SS Tyler Wade, LF Dustin Fowler, and RF Clint Frazier each had a single, 2B Thairo Estrada went deep, SS Gleyber Torres had two hits and two steals, 3B Miguel Andujar doubled, and RHP Yefrey Ramirez fanned ten in five scoreless innings.

Blowouts in bulk a sign young Yankees are for real

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

There’s nothing like a comeback win.

Whether you’re down to your final out vs. the defending champs or down eight to a division rival, those are the games you remember. These are the ones that stick with you a few seasons later. Those, and the games that go on so long that they feel like 2-3 games.

But there’s value, perhaps even more value, in a good old fashioned blowout. However, beyond the 20-run games or the 10-RBI evenings, these will barely be distinguishable by September. You’ll think to yourself, ‘How did the Yankees take two of three from the White Sox? Didn’t Aaron Judge hit a long home run?’ or ‘How’d the Yankees get runs for Michael Pineda on opening day?’ Maybe the details from one of these easy victories comes to mind but others slip into the 162-game oblivion.

Still, when viewing the season as a whole from further out, the blowouts stand out a lot. We knew going into the season the Yankees could win close games with their bullpen. Andrew Miller was gone but Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren stack up well with any team’s finishers. That was evident going into the season.

But last season, with a killer bullpen, the Yankees won almost exclusively close games until Gary Sanchez came on the scene. The reasons were two-fold: The starting rotation was unable to shut down opposing lineups — even weak ones — and the aging lineup didn’t have the oomph of 2015, instead decomposing before our eyes. Thinking back to April and May of last season doesn’t bring bad memories as much as it brings muddied memories: That’s how boring the Yankees were then, even in wins.

So that’s where the most year-over-year improvement comes. The Yankees’ starters are taking advantage of bad lineups and going deep into games. There’s no three-game sweep at the hands of the Athletics or losing two of three to the lowly Mariners. Comparing to this season, the Cardinals and White Sox series were the type in which the Yankees absolutely would have lost two of three. There would have been general moans and groans about Matt Carpenter or Melky Cabrera owning the Yankees and the team would have slipped towards .500.

But the other way this team is different is the lineup. It’s the main reason the team is 9-1 in games decided by five or more runs after going 17-22 in those same games a year ago. Either the team is never out of it (see the Orioles game) or they never let the opposing team into the contest. Aaron Judge gets most of the credit nationally but it has truly been everyone. Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, yes, even Jacoby Ellsbury, large contract and all.

There are assorted sayings about how great teams not only beat bad teams, but blow them out. You can make the playoffs winning one-run games galore like the 2016 Texas Rangers, but the teams that tend to win it all are the ones that knock teams out early like last season’s Cubs. The Yankees have been doing that aplenty this year, showing off a circular lineup and non-stop rotation, just as they did last night. They’re landing that first punch and are 13-3 (.821 winning percentage) when scoring first as opposed to 46-27 (.644) in 2016.

Even good teams need to be able to put together blowouts to hand rest to their key relievers. The Cubs played 13 innings with the Phillies on Thursday and then had to sweat a close game against the Yankees Friday, a large part of the reason they ultimately lost. After 18 innings against the Cubs Sunday, scoring three runs before Masahiro Tanaka even threw a pitch on Monday allowed an exhausted team to relax and not rely on an even more exhausted bullpen. It follows a trend as the Bombers are scoring first in 53 percent of their games vs. 45 percent last season.

This ultimately may not last. It could be that the team has everyone hot at the same time and those same players will take a step back at the same time. Or maybe this rotation can’t sustain its success.

But then again, Sanchez is just getting going.  We haven’t seen the best of Didi Gregorius and Greg Bird. Or even Tanaka. If they play like fans expected this spring, there really could be a second gear to this young team. Or at least a maintaining of this early cruise control. If the team was winning exclusively close games, it’d be much easier to chalk this start up as a fluke that would come crashing to earth.

After this season, we’ll forget the Yankees scoring 10 runs on Rookie Davis and the Reds. Yet that’s precisely the type of game the Yankees lost last season or at least make hard on themselves, perhaps further compromising the bullpen for the next night. Again, the close ones, the comebacks, that’s what sticks with you. But the blowouts may be the signal that this young team means business.

It looks like Luis Torrens just may stick with the Padres

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A 21-year-old catcher with just 198 plate appearances in above short-season ball, should logically not make it through an entire season on a major league roster. It just doesn’t happen.

But with Luis Torrens and the 2017 San Diego Padres, it’s time to throw logic to the wind: The Yankees really might lose a solid catching prospect for nothing but $100K and a practically useless roster spot.

Surprisingly taken with the second pick of the Rule 5 draft by the Reds, Torrens was quickly dealt to the Padres. The Padres still have the top three picks from December’s Rule 5 draft on their 25-man roster and seem committed to keeping all three of Torrens, pitcher Miguel Diaz and utility man Allen Cordoba. Diaz is the oldest of the three at a whopping 22 years old, so keeping all three players is a lot of why the Padres have the youngest roster in baseball.

Just a few days past his 21st birthday, Torrens was the most puzzling pick of the three. Diaz is a hard throwing reliever with quality stuff. Cordoba, despite a lack of experience in the minors, brings potential at the plate and versatility in the field. You can work with that on a squad not built to compete this year, let alone the next few years.

Torrens? He’s a catcher. He missed all of 2015 with injury. He’s a quality player behind the plate but his bat is nowhere near big league ready. You have to be more than willing to accept a well below replacement level player on your roster to keep a 21-year-old inexperienced backstop on your roster all season in order to keep him.

But the Padres have the right situation in order to pull this off. Torrens is one of three catchers, playing behind starter Austin Hedges and backup Hector Sanchez. It was four before two-way player Christian Bethancourt was sent to Triple-A. The Friars are a team committed to losing, or at least not committed to winning in 2017, so they can accept having what is essentially a dead roster spot.

The question then becomes: Is it worth losing this roster spot and a full year of development just to get Torrens into your system? He already lost his entire age-19 season to injury and now he loses his age-21 season to, well, inactivity. He’s played just nine games thus far, gone into the field in just eight and started just three. He’s played all nine innings just once and is just 1 for 13 with a walk at the plate. Torrens will, for all intents and purposes, lose two years of at-bats and experience before he’s even gotten a full season of at-bats above Low-A. In reality, he hasn’t even had a full season AT Low-A because he’s only played 49 games there.

The ideal scenario for the Yankees would have been to have a 21-year-old Torrens in Single-A Tampa this season with the possibility of a promotion to Double-A Trenton if he took a major step forward. Will Torrens have to go all the way back to Single-A next year to restart his development? Can it truly be worth it to stash him on the roster for the year with the possibility that he won’t be really ready for the big leagues until 2020?

These questions would stop a lot of teams from stashing Torrens for a year. However, there is one benefit for Torrens: Big league coaching. Torrens gets a full year of top level coaching on his swing and a chance to work with MLB pitchers (if you can classify the Padres staff as such). That could be a big plus. Imagine if the Yankees were in the Padres’ position and could offer a young catcher a full year of coaching from Tony Pena, a catching guru.

And surely Torrens is relishing the opportunity to be in the big leagues. He was staring up at a Yankees system with Gary Sanchez as the presumed catcher of the future. Now he has an opportunity to be the guy in a new organization with the sacrifice of much-needed playing time. Plus MLB travel, nice hotels and the bright lights of the big leagues. It’s good work if you can get it.

Still, it’s tough to watch him lose this year of development. They don’t check IDs behind the plate, but it could be a serious setback to Torrens’ eventual hopes of becoming a viable everyday player. Furthermore, the Padres have a 24-year-old catcher starting for them right now in hopes of him being the future solution. Maybe this works out with Torrens pushing Hedges aside in a few years, but now it looks like the Yankees are losing a solid, young catching prospect while the Padres stash him on the bench for a season. And it all may be for nothing.