Tanaka, comedy of errors boost Yankees past Mariners, 10-1

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

This one really got out of hand quick. A cavalcade of errors by the Mariners in the bottom of the first put the Yankees ahead for good and gave them breathing room en route to the series win. That breaks a skid of 10 straight losses in rubber games and they did it without needing the backend of their bullpen.

Fly like an E-6

The game was wild from the start. The Mariners took a 1-0 lead after a half inning after stringing three hits together,(more on that later), but the Yankees quickly fought back with plenty of help from the lackluster M’s defense.  Lackluster is putting it lightly. Let’s go to the play-by-play.

pbp

(1) After Starlin Castro doubled, Gary Sanchez lined a single into left field. It was easily going to score Castro, but former Yankee Ben Gamel let the ball get through him and roll towards the auxiliary scoreboard. That gave Sanchez second base and

(2) Jean Segura may have had the worst first inning of his career. He made an out to start the game and this was his first of three (!) errors as he misplayed Didi Gregorius‘ pop-up. It was an easy ball and should have easily been Andrew Albers’ second out. Instead, bases loaded with one away.

(3) Chase Headley bought off three 0-2 pitches before grounding one right to Kyle Seager. It was going to easily be an out at third base, if not a 5-5-3 double play, but Seager couldn’t corral the ball. He just needed to come up with the ball and take a few steps to his right for an easy force, but alas, it was one of those days for the Mariners’ defense.

(4) Todd Frazier struck out with the bases loaded, something he seems to have done a few too many times this series. But the Mr. Clutch Jacoby Ellsbury got his third hit with runners in scoring position of the last two days, lining a ball into left-center field.

And that’s when everything went haywire for Segura.

It easily scored two runs, but Segura dropped the throw in by Gamel, committing his first error of the play as Headley ran home. The Mariner shortstop tried to catch Headley at home but his throw got by Mike Zunino, allowing Ellsbury to reach third. Ronald Torreyes knocked him in with a bloop single.

That’s all five errors. Aaron Hicks made two outs in the inning and had an error in the top of the first, although it didn’t cause the one run to score. And it was nowhere near the worst first inning for anyone. That’s got to be a tie between Segura and Albers, who had to get five outs against a potent Yankees lineup.

It was the first time since July 1977 that a team made five errors in one inning. What a mess!

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Back to Ace Tanaka

Four batters into the game, Tanaka seemed like he may be heading towards a tough one, allowing hits to Yonder Alonso, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, the last one an RBI double. However, he rebounded with a strikeout of Kyle Seager before inducing a fly out to escape further damage.

After that, he pitched with a lead and did so quite well. He had only two 1-2-3 innings (2nd and 7th inning) but had some of his best stuff. His breaking pitches were doing exactly what he wanted as he struck out 10 batters. He allowed just three fly outs compared to eight ground-ball outs. That’s precisely what he needs to do.

The Cruz strikeout was his only one looking while the rest were swinging. He ran into trouble in the fifth with back-to-back singles before falling behind 3-0 on Segura. He threw two straight four-seamers for strikes before getting him to whiff on a slider. Two groundouts to the right side later and he was out of trouble, still leading 7-1.

Tanaka’s ERA is down to 4.69 and he has a 2.92 ERA in his 11 starts. In that stretch, he’s struck out 79 batters in 71 innings. He’s making his early season hijinks look more and more like a fluke than a permanent step back.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Leftovers

Starlin Castro is back in full force. As the DH, he went 4 for 4 with a double in four plate appearances. He got things started in the first and knocked in a run in the third with a bloop single. He didn’t get a chance for a fifth hit as Greg Bird pinch hit for him in the seventh with the bases loaded. Bird came through with a two-run single.

The Yankees’ other run came on a Headley sac fly with the bases loaded that turned into a double play. Sanchez got caught off second base not expecting the cutoff and was gunned down in a 8-3-6 DP.

Nearly everyone got in on the party. Ronald Torreyes had three hits and is now batting .302 on the season. Sanchez and Ellsbury had two hits each while Aaron Judge (double), Hicks, Gregorius and Bird each had one. Judge had two walks while Sanchez and Frazier had one each. Headley had the sac fly and another line drive that nearly got over Gamel’s head.

Frazier made an error to start the sixth, but Tanaka got the Mariners in order with two strikeouts and an easy grounder afterward.

Caleb Smith pitched two easy innings out of the bullpen in relief of Tanaka and was the only reliever for the Yankees. Only needed 20 pitches to do so while striking out one. Perhaps the best he’s looked in his limited appearances this year.

Joe Girardi was ejected in the third inning after the umpires bungled a clear interference play. With a runner on first and one out, Robinson Cano hit an easy double play ball to Headley, who turned to throw Segura out at second. Segura clearly stepped out of the baseline to try and block the throw before continuing to slide towards Gregorius to break up the double play. Headley dropped the ball at first. Take a look at the play.

The umps reviewed it but kept the call on the field, leading to Girardi’s ejection. Segura interfered with the play twice and it was baffling how the play wasn’t ruled a double play. Tanaka struck out Cruz looking right afterwards, so it wasn’t a huge deal. Still, a bad call leads to Girardi’s second ejection in four games.

Lastly, this is the first time the Yankees have scored 10 runs this season without hitting a home run. How about that?

Box Score & Standings

Go to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, the MLB.com for the video highlights. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page.

Up Next
The Yankees will continue their 10-game homestand with a three-game set against the Cleveland Indians on Monday night. It’ll be a marquee pitching matchup with AL Cy Young favorite Corey Kluber faces Luis Severino in a 7:00 start. And they’ll begin play Monday just 2.5 games back of Boston, which was swept by Baltimore.

Game 129: Rubber Match

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Since June 8, the Yankees have split the first two games of a three-game series 10 times. And each time they’ve played the third game, they’ve lost. That’s right: They’re 0-10 in their last 10 rubber games.

Luckily, the Bombers can turn to Masahiro Tanaka, who has been his normal self for the last two months. In his last 10 starts since June 23, he’s pitched to a 3.09 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 64 innings while allowing just 67 baserunners. After allowing 21 home runs in his first 14 starts, he’s limited opponents to eight in the aforementioned stretch.

Tanaka is 5-0 with a 2.51 ERA in six starts against the Mariners, although the one no-decision came in a loss earlier this season. He’ll duel with Andrew Albers, one of Seattle’s 16 starters and 37 overall pitchers this season.

Here is the Mariners’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

    1. LF Aaron Hicks
    2. DH Starlin Castro
    3. Gary Sanchez
    4. RF Aaron Judge
    5. SS Didi Gregorius
    6. 1B Chase Headley
    7. 3B Todd Frazier
    8. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
    9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
      RHP Masahiro Tanaka

The forecast is relatively clear in the Bronx, so it should be a nice day for baseball. The 1:05 PM start will be broadcast on the YES Network locally and TBS nationally. Happy Sunday!

Game 127: Back to Business

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

After handily winning back-to-back games against a lackluster Tigers squad, the Yankees let themselves get sidetracked by retaliation and brawls in a loss on Thursday afternoon. It was ugly. It was disappointing. To borrow a phrase from Joe Girardi, it’s not what you want.

So now it’s time for the Bombers to get back to business, shaking off a horrid getaway day and embracing the light side of the force. It is Star Wars day after all!

The Yankees start a 10-game homestand tonight, beginning with a three-game set against the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners are just four games back of the Yankees and are in the thick of the Wild Card chase. There are only big games remaining, just to varying degrees of importance.

Here is the Mariners’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup, featuring the return of their starting second baseman:

    1. LF Brett Gardner
    2. CF Aaron Hicks
    3. Gary Sanchez
    4. RF Aaron Judge
    5. SS Didi Gregorius
    6. 2B Starlin Castro
    7. DH Tyler Austin
    8. 1B Chase Headley
    9. 3B Todd Frazier
      LHP CC Sabathia

This will be the first time the Yankees have ever worn nicknames on the back of their uniforms with baseball’s first ever Players Weekend. Should be fun to see A-A-Ron and Kraken bat back-to-back.

Cloudy skies are on tap in the Bronx as the Yankees take the field for the 7:05pm ET start. The game will be broadcast on WPIX 11 locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game!

Roster move: To make room for Castro on the roster, Tyler Wade was optioned to Triple A.

Prospect Profile: Stephen Tarpley

(Rick Ferry/Pinstriped Prospects)
(Rick Ferry/Pinstriped Prospects)

Stephen Tarpley | LHP

Background

Born in Los Angeles, Calif., Tarpley attended Gilbert High School in Arizona. The lefty was drafted in the eighth round (248th overall) of the MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians. He declined to sign with the Indians, instead opting to attend the University of Southern California (USC).

As a freshman, he pitched well for the Trojans. He didn’t allow any home runs and went 5-4 with a 3.22 ERA in 14 games (13 starts). He earned All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention and Freshman All-American honors.

Instead of remaining at USC, he transferred to Scottsdale Community College, closer to home in Arizona. In 16 games (15 starts), he had 2.35 ERA with 108 strikeouts in 92 innings. After one season at Scottsdale, he was able to re-enter the draft and was taken in the third round (98th overall) by the Baltimore Orioles. He signed for the slot bonus of $525,500.

Pro Career

He began his career with the GCL Orioles in July 2013, slowly building up to four inning outings (all starts) with escalating strikeout totals to boot. He was hit harder in later outings, but still strong peripherals with a 25-3 K-BB ratio in 21 innings with no homers. After the season, he was the Orioles’ 21st ranked prospect according to Baseball America.

The then-21-year-old was promoted to Aberdeen in the New York Penn League for the 2014 season. He allowed two homers (half of his season total) in his first game and had the reverse of his rookie season, slowly improving as the year wore on. He finished the year with a gem, going eight innings with 10 K and no runs vs. Lowell. He ended with a 3.66 ERA in 66 1/3 innings and was BA’s 16th ranked prospect in the O’s system.

The following January, Tarpley was dealt alongside reliever Steven Brault to the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF Travis Snider. Joining West Virginia in the South Atlantic League, he got his first taste of full season ball beginning in May 2015. For the year, he went 11-4 with a 2.48 ERA in 116 innings. Despite throwing nearly 50 more innings, he issued just one more walk and had two fewer homers. He maintained a strong groundball rate thanks to his sinking fastball. The southpaw even had a weather shortened no-hitter against his former teammates.

The No. 17 prospect for the Pirates after 2015, he moved to High-A in 2016. Unfortunately, his numbers were worse across the board. He didn’t begin his year until May with an oblique injury. He threw 20 starts for the second straight year, averaging just five innings a start. His strikeout rate remained level, but his walk issues crept back up while allowing eight home runs, two more than he’d allowed to that point in his professional career.

On Aug. 30, the Pirates dealt him as a PTBNL (with Tito Polo) to the Yankees for Ivan Nova. He made just one start for Tampa before his season ended and didn’t make a postseason appearance.

2017 Performance

For the second straight season, Tarpley missed the beginning of the season with an injury. In an interview with Pinstriped Prospects, Tarpley said it was “a little shoulder soreness.” The injury kept Tarpley out through June 10, when he made his debut with two scoreless innings out of the bullpen. That started a trend.

Pitching out of the bullpen for the first time in his career, Tarpley has excelled. In 14 games, he’s thrown 30 2/3 innings and has yet to allow a run. His groundball rate is an off-the-charts 66.7 percent while posting a career best strikeout rate of 13.3 percent, more than 10 percent higher than 2016. Despite an elevated walk rate, he still has the best K-BB% since Rookie ball and has a 2.50 GB/FB ratio. He even has an 18.8 infield-fly ball rate.

All but one of his outings has been for at least four outs and 10 of his 14 have gone at least two innings. He’s allowed just eight hits, thanks in part to a .129 BABIP and a career-best 5.3 line-drive percentage. Groundballs and weak fly balls are a heck of a way to excel and have helped him post a .082 batting average against.

It was just 30 2/3 innings in High-A (a level he repeated), but this is also his first experience as a reliever. As a plus, he has nearly identical numbers against LHBs and RHBs this year after posting reasonable splits in past seasons. In the interview with Pinstriped Prospects, Tarpley said “my two-seam has improved a lot, just overall my pitches in the zone have improved.”

The southpaw earned a promotion to Double-A Trenton this week and threw two shutout innings (No hits, 1 BB, 3 K) en route to a win.

Scouting Report

Tarpley is 6-foot-1 and weighs 185 pounds. He’ll be 25 next February. He works off a two-seam fastball that has solid sinking action. He has three off-speed pitches with a curveball, changeup and an improving slider. His fastball tops out around 94-95.

Here’s part of MLB.com’s breakdown of Tarpley prior to his trade to the Yankees last August:

He’ll run his fastball up to 94-95 mph at times and throws it with good sink to generate ground-ball outs. Tarpley has two breaking balls and likes to throw his curve more than his slider, though the Pirates feel the slider is better … He also has a good feel for his changeup, giving him a solid three-pitch mix he uses to pound the strike zone.

In their 2016 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America said Tarpley “profiled as a back-of-the-rotation” starter and was able to neutralize right-handed batters with the way he attacked the zone.

My Take

Tarpley is in Trenton for the stretch run and postseason, where he’ll get a new challenge, albeit in a pitcher’s park. That, along with a potential stint in the Arizona Fall League, should give the Yankees a better idea of whether he deserves a 40-man spot after being passed up for one last year.

A left-handed relief pitcher repeating High A can be a tough sell for a 40-man spot, but his dominance in Tampa could have made the Yankees think otherwise. He is, after all, a former third round pick and could be finally hitting his potential at 24. As the saying goes, they don’t check IDs on the mound.

As for a return to the rotation, his Rule 5 status makes this a tougher proposition. He’d likely need to repeat High A or spend a full season in Double A to return to starting. As my cousin, who first turned my attention to Tarpley, pointed out, his walk rate also doesn’t fit the profile of a starter.

If he can impress in Double A or the AFL (in his return back to Scottsdale perhaps), he’d be a potential shuttle reliever as soon as mid-2018 in the best case scenario. Otherwise, Rule 5 eligible for the second straight year, he’s shown enough to be chosen by another organization at the winter meetings.

8/18 to 8/20 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

The Bombers squandered an opportunity to inch closer to Boston in the division last weekend, losing two of three after a disastrous outing from Luis Severino and Rafael Devers spoiling Aroldis Chapman‘s attempt to close out Sunday’s humbling defeat. Here’s the game-by-game of the series.

  • Yankees went silent for seven innings vs. Eduardo Rodriguez, then erupted for five runs in the eighth. Aaron Hicks saved the day with a two-run shot off Addison Reed and a key outfield assist to help hold off the Red Sox in the ninth to take the opener.
  • Things looked good after a two-run shot by Gary Sanchez in the first, but Severino turned in his worst start since last season, giving up 10 runs (eight earned) including a pair of home runs to Andrew Benintendi, prompting this gleeful picture of Mookie Betts by our Sung Min Kim.
  • On Sunday Night Baseball, Chris Sale and Jordan Montgomery went toe-to-toe, each allowing a run. The Yankees got to Matt Barnes for a run in the 8th. However, Aroldis Chapman squandered the one-run lead by allowing a homer by Devers before giving up a run in the 10th in a 3-2 loss.

For more information, check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

Last weekend, Dustin Pedroia (knee) went back on the DL and the team is going to have him be more conservative in his return timeline this go-around. David Price (elbow) has thrown off flat ground but has yet to throw off a mound and we don’t know when he will. He won’t be starting this series. Meanwhile, RHP Blaine Boyer (neck strain) joined Carson Smith, Ben Taylor, Tyler Thornburg and Robbie Ross among a strong middle relief corps all on the shelf.

Since We Last Met

Since you surely know about the Red Sox, let’s go into their games since last weekend instead of a recap of their season.

  • Doug Fister gave up five runs, including a go-ahead two run homer to Edwin Encarnacion, and failed to make it out of the fifth inning in a 7-3 loss to the Indians, a make-up game of a rainout from two weeks ago. Devers hit two solo shots in the defeat.
  • An eight-run fifth inning buoyed the Sox to a blowout win over the Cardinals on Tuesday as Rick Porcello improved to 7-14 on the year. The highlight of the game: Devers starting a 5-4-3 triple play. Is there anything he can’t do?
  • The Red Sox grabbed a win from the jaws of defeat, storming back from a two-run ninth inning deficit against a trio of pitchers. It was capped off by Betts’ two-run double, the celebration of which you can see at the top of this post.

Lineup We Might See

John Farrell adjusts his lineup based on handedness. Therefore, with two lefties set to take the hill for the Yankees this weekend, the lineup below is the one he’s been going with against LHPs. That means a fair amount of Chris Young and maybe a day off for the 20-year-old wunderkind Devers.

1. 2B/3B Eduardo Nunez
2. RF Mookie Betts
3. LF Andrew Benintendi
4. 1B Hanley Ramirez
5. DH Chris Young
6. SS Xander Bogaerts
7. 2B Brock Holt/3B Rafael Devers
8. C Sandy Leon/Christian Vazquez
9. CF Jackie Bradley Jr.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:10 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz

With Porcello’s struggles and Price’s elbow, Pomeranz has probably been Boston’s second-best starter this season. He’s 2-0 against the Yankees after getting 10 runs of support on Saturday, though he’s allowed nine runs in 17 2/3 innings, striking out 19 while allowing three homers.

Last Outing (at NYY on Aug. 12) – 6.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Saturday (7:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Chris Sale

What is there to say about Chris Sale that hasn’t already been said about Pedro Martinez? The guy is a beast. After Sunday night’s performance, here’s his line vs. the Yankees in 2017: 3 GS, 22.2 IP, 15 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 HR, 4 BB, 1 HBP, 35 K. Good news? He has no wins and the Sox are just 1-2 in those games.

Last Outing (at NYY on Aug. 13) – 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 12 K

Sunday (1:30 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. TBD

The Red Sox haven’t announced a starter for Sunday, but this writer expects them to skip Fister and start Porcello, who’d be on normal rest. He was solid his last time out and his K-BB% has improved in the second half. However, he’s allowed 2.06 HR per nine since the break. For what it’s worth, he’s 0-3 with a 3.79 ERA against the Yankees this year, allowing four homers in 19 innings.

Last Outing (Porcello vs. STL on Aug. 15) – 7 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

Kimbrel dominated the Yankees for four outs on Sunday and is still striking out more than 50 percent of the batters he faces. He has a 46 K-BB%. That’s … absurd. The less you see of him, the better.

The Yankees did get to his two setup men last weekend, first Reed and then Barnes. Barnes, however, is much better at home (1.47 ERA at Fenway vs. 5.20 on the road). Joe Kelly and his hard but flat fastball sit in wait in middle relief. Beyond him Robbie Scott and Fernando Abad handle lefties while Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman and potentially Fister sit in middle/long relief.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

Obviously, these games have tremendous division implications. The Yankees sit four games back of Boston. After this weekend, they have just a four-game set at Yankee Stadium in two weeks left with their rivals, so the chance to make up ground head-to-head is scarce.

The thing I’ve been waiting to see since July 31? Sonny Gray vs. the Red Sox, which we get to see Sunday (which isn’t Sunday Night Baseball!). This is part of why they brought Gray in: to win big games, particularly in division. Sonny days are ahead.

Hicks’ and Frazier’s injuries show the Yankees can’t have too many outfielders

Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)
Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)

For a few weeks this summer, it seemed like the Yankees had a great problem on their hands: Too many outfielders.

Clint Frazier was lining extra-base hit after extra-base hit, Aaron Judge was, well, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner was hitting home runs and Aaron Hicks was on his way back to the majors. That’s four guys for three spots, not to mention the presence of Jacoby Ellsbury, but with Ellsbury and Matt Holliday‘s respective struggles, playing time wouldn’t have been an issue.

With Frazier’s oblique injury, the Yankees’ outfield was cemented for the time being with Hicks, Gardner and Judge and a few too many Ellsbury starts. Oblique injuries take a while to heal, as evidenced by Hicks’ time away from the team, so the outfield overload is an issue the team can deal with when it actually comes to pass.

But the oblique injuries to Hicks and Frazier should be a warning to the front office not to deplete its outfield depth going into 2018.

It seems logical for the Yankees to pursue a trade for Ellsbury, who will have three years and about $68.5 million left on his deal after this season. The team would have to absorb some of that money and/or take back a bad contract, but it’d leave the Yankees with four outfielders for three spots. In theory, that can be an issue. But that’s only at the surface.

Yes, the team would have four men for three spots, but that’s assuming perfect health. Hicks has missed time with injuries each of the last two years. Frazier’s out now. Judge lost time in 2016 with a knee and oblique injury, respectively. While Gardner has placed at least 145 games each year since 2013, he’s been banged up plenty and the ability to give him days off in his age-34 season is important.

Performance-wise, there are concerns with each. Hicks and Judge each look like entirely different hitters from last season and how they can sustain their improvements will help define the 2018 OF. Gardner is getting older and has been off and on all season. Frazier is only 22 and didn’t exactly light the world on fire with a 92 wRC+ in 117 PAs.

That right there is enough of a reason to keep all four guys with concerns across the board, but the team will also have the ability to start all four plenty with the open DH role. Holliday is a free agent after this season and hasn’t hit his weight while dealing with injuries. He’ll be 38 come spring training next year and it looks unlikely he’ll be back in pinstripes.

The Yankees will surely seek out another veteran either via free agency or trade (Carlos Santana please!) that can take DH bats or act as Greg Bird/Gleyber Torres insurance. However, the team is also trying to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold next season so they can be even more competitive in the 2018-19 offseason. Adding a high priced veteran shouldn’t be in the cards, even if it means taking a chance on a cheaper option like Chris Carter was this year.

The counterargument to giving DH ABs to the four-man outfield (and Gary Sanchez, among others) would be the ability to flip one of the OFs at their peak value for another piece to the roster puzzle, whether a starter or infielder or otherwise. Only Gardner is close to free agency, but his one year of value is likely more valuable to the 2018 Yankees than the players he could get in return.

With Judge staying in place, that leaves Hicks and Frazier as potential trade chips. Maybe if the Yankees still had Dustin Fowler set to return for 2018 it would make sense to deal from this position of strength this winter. But the Yankees OF depth close to the majors is down to Jake Cave and Billy McKinney, neither of whom you can count on for significant contributions as rookies next year.

And if you want to win a championship, you need both depth and talent. Keeping the outfield together minus Ellsbury for 2018 is the best way to go about building a contender. If they need to acquire controllable starters via trade, they have plenty of prospects still in the minors to deal. But the current outfield is worth keeping together for another season.

Jake Cave may have a future in pinstripes after all

(Courtesy of Max Kassan)
(Courtesy of Max Kassan)

While the Yankees are undeniably improved from their deadline moves, the underrated part of Brian Cashman‘s trades are the 40-man roster spots it opens for this upcoming year. With Yefry Ramirez, Dietrich Enns, Jorge Mateo, Zack Littell, Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo and Dustin Fowler all gone, that helps lessen the 40-man roster crunch the Yankees were going to deal with after the season. Plenty of players would have been lost for no return, so Cashman acted.

One player who could directly benefit is Jake Cave. Cave, 24, was left off the 40-man this past year because he was expendable and seemed like he may be on his way out of the organization. After all, he’d hit .261/.323/.401 in his first extended taste of Triple-A and the acquisition of outfield depth made Cave the odd man out. However, the other 29 teams passed on him as a second-time Rule 5 pick and he remained a Yankee for the time being.

But this year has been different. Splitting his time between Trenton and Scranton, he’s done nothing but hit. In 171 PAs in Scranton, he’s batted .376/.427/.682 while hitting 12 home runs, more than he had posted in any entire season until now. In total, he’s hit .326/.377/.607 with 42 extra-base hits. That’s just one fewer XBH than last season in 159 fewer PAs. His strikeout rate remains about the same with a slight uptick in his walk rate while his home run per fly ball rate has skyrocketed. Maybe some of the power is a mirage, but he’s increased his flyball and line drive rates as well. Seeing him in person last week vs. a year ago around this time, he appears to have better command of the strike zone.

If you’re going to have a player repeat a level, you need them to show improvement and he’s clearly taken a step forward. He can play all three outfield positions well and now has shown the hit tool necessary to receive a look.

Where he benefits from this year’s deadline is the lessening of the Yankees’ outfield depth. Mateo, Fowler, Polo are no longer obstacles. Neither are Rob Refsnyder or Mason Williams, the latter who is still in the system but off the 40-man. The organization has five full-time OFs on the 40-man roster (Gardner, Ellsbury, Hicks, Judge and Frazier) and Tyler Wade as a utility man. At least one of the veterans, likely Ellsbury, could be gone this offseason, leaving room for a backup outfielder, or at least someone waiting in the wings in Scranton.

Billy McKinney complicates things. Acquired in last year’s Aroldis Chapman deal, McKinney is nearly two full years younger, comes with a higher pedigree (former top 100 prospect and first round pick) and has more power potential. Also a lefty, McKinney has hit nearly as well as Cave in his small sample with Scranton, hitting seven home runs and batting an impressive .343/.385/.676 in 110 PAs. Not bad for someone three weeks shy of turning 23. Cave’s calling card over McKinney is his ability to play center more often.

But there could be room for both on the 40-man, one in the majors and one in the minors, whereas both were borderline roster candidates at best prior to this deadline. The Yankees could utilize Gardner, Hicks, Judge and Frazier in the three OF spots and the DH role, leaving Wade and one of McKinney or Cave to back them up.

Cave went unprotected last season for good reason and there’s reason to believe the team didn’t see a future in the organization for the 2011 6th round pick. He’s a minor league free agent after this season, so adding him to the 40-man is the only way to keep him under team control. But that could now be in the cards, both with his performance and thanks to factors outside his control. As improbable as it may have seemed even a month ago, there may just be a role for Cave to play for the Yankees.