Thoughts following Greg Bird’s trip to the disabled list

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The baseball gods just won’t let the Yankees have all their young players at once, huh? Now that Gary Sanchez is inching closer to a return, it’s Greg Bird‘s turn to hit the disabled list. The Yankees placed him on the 10-day DL yesterday with a bone bruise in his right ankle. He’s been dealing with it since fouling a pitch off the ankle in Spring Training. Sigh. Anyway, I have some thoughts on all this.

1. The Yankees really Mets’d this one, huh? Kinda hard to believe they let Bird play on the sore ankle all those weeks — Joe Girardi said yesterday Bird went for an initial MRI when the Yankees returned to New York for their first homestand a few weeks ago, and that MRI showed the bone bruise — given, well, everything. The fact Bird is one of their prized young players. The fact he’s coming off major shoulder surgery. The fact Mark Teixeira had a bone bruise in his shin a few years ago that didn’t get better until surprise! They found a fracture. (To be fair, 24-year-old Greg Bird presumably heals quicker than 35-year-old Mark Teixeira.) What if Bird changed his hitting mechanics to compensate for the ankle injury and re-injured his shoulder? Players can change their swing or delivery or whatever to compensate for an injury and not even realize it. Remember when he tried to make that leaping catch of a line drive Monday? What if he came down on the ankle the wrong way? Oy vey. Bird hasn’t been running well for weeks now — I first mentioned it in the game recap on April 15th — which was the clearest sign the ankle wasn’t 100%. I can’t help but wonder whether this would all be in the past already had Bird been placed on the disabled list when the first MRI showed the bone bruise.

2. This stupid nagging ankle issue has turned into a stupid disabled list stint so I decided to find the stupid foul ball in the stupid Spring Training game that led to the stupid injury. Both Bird and Girardi said it happened in Clearwater on March 30th, literally the last Grapefruit League game of the spring. Bird drew a walk in all three trips to the plate that day and yep, he fouled a ball off his right foot. It was the first pitch of his third and final at-bat. To the action footage:

greg-bird-ankle

So that’s how all this started. That foul right there. Bird took a walk around the umpire and got right back in the batter’s box. The trainer didn’t come out or anything. There was no indication he was hurt! Bird finished the at-bat, drew his third walk, then was removed for a pinch-runner because all the regulars were being taken out of the game at that point. The Yankees played the exhibition in SunTrust Park the next day and Bird not only played in the game, he hit a home run. Again, no indication he was hurting. Blah. So anyway, that’s where all this started. A seemingly innocuous foul ball to the foot that looked like all those other foul balls to the foot we see during the season.

3. I absolutely buy Bird’s struggles at the plate being a result of the ongoing ankle injury. Maybe the ankle isn’t the only reason for tough year at the plate, but I do believe it’s a significant contributing factor. Hitting starts from the ground up. If you don’t have a solid base under you, you’re not going to be able to hit properly, and clearly Bird’s lower half was compromised. One of the YES analysts — I forget who, maybe David Cone? — recently pointed out Bird has been getting his front (injured) foot down late, which is why he’s been late on so many fastballs. His timing has not even been close to where it needs to be the last few weeks. Almost every swing looks like a defensive swing, like he’s just praying to make contact rather than looking to drive the ball. Hopefully once the ankle clears up, Bird can get his legs underneath him again and get locked back in at the plate. Spring Training was a reminder that when he’s right, Bird can be a really productive hitter. As long as he’s healthy, of course.

4. Let’s not discount the mental break Bird will get. The Yankees said he’ll be shut down entirely these next 7-10 days. He’s not going to travel with the team and will instead stay off the ankle as much as possible. Once the Yankees get back from the upcoming road trip, they’ll reevaluate him and determine the next step. Bird’s body language has been awful the last few weeks. He’s usually a pretty enthusiastic guy. Chatty at first base, always smiling, that sort of stuff. We haven’t seen that Greg Bird lately. It’s been a while since he’s cracked a smile on the field. You can tell the slump — Bird is 6-for-60 so far (ahhh!) — has started to weigh on him. How could it not? Bird has never not been a dominant hitter. He was the man all throughout high school and the minors, and he produced right away when he first got called up two years now. Now suddenly he was close to an automatic out. That had to be taking a toll mentally. The disabled list stint will allow him to clear his head for a bit and stop worrying about baseball. A clear head and a healthy ankle could do wonders whenever Bird returns to the field.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

5. Not surprisingly, Girardi confirmed Chris Carter will take over as the regular first baseman while Bird is absent. This is exactly why they signed Carter: Bird insurance. Everyone just kinda assumed that if Bird did miss time, it would be due to his shoulder or being rusty. Not his ankle. I’ve seen folks talk about playing Austin Romine or even Aaron Hicks at first base and … no. Just, no. Let’s not overthink things here. Play the first baseman who hit 41 home runs last year at first base. With any luck the regular at-bats will get Carter going and give the Yankees yet another power threat. He’s already had his Signature Yankee Moment™. Now we’re just looking for a little consistency and the semi-regular dinger. The Yankees don’t need Carter to carry them. Just contribute more than Bird, which isn’t exactly a high bar to clear.

6. That said about Carter, are you ready to see Matt Holliday at first base? It’s totally going to happen at some point soon. The Yankees have a six-game road trip through a pair of NL cities coming up, and following the series in Pittsburgh, Girardi said he wants to get Holliday more involved. “I’ll see what we do on the next trip,” he said to Dan Martin at the time. I have a hard time thinking Holliday will sit out an entire six-game road trip, especially one bookended by off-days. That’d be eight straight days on the bench. Nope. Not happening. Girardi said yesterday he’s willing to use Holliday at first even though he didn’t play the field at all during Spring Training — he has been taking grounders at first pretty much every day, for what it’s worth — and I’m betting it happens at least once during the upcoming road trip. Heck, it might happen all six games. Get three at-bats out of him, then sub him out. We’ll see.

7. Remember Tyler Austin? He came up last year and hit some dingers. It was cool. Austin broke a bone in his foot with a foul ball very early in Spring Training and he hasn’t been heard from since. At the time of the injury, The Yankees said he’d need at least six weeks to heal before resuming baseball activities. That was ten weeks ago. I suppose Austin could be getting ready and playing in Extended Spring Training games down in Tampa, but who knows? The Yankees haven’t said anything. It sure would be nice to have Austin right now. He’d give the Yankees another option at first base. Tough break for the kid. This would have been a great opportunity for him.

Yankees place Greg Bird on 10-day DL with ankle bruise, call up Rob Refsnyder

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Greg Bird will finally get a chance to rest his achy ankle. Earlier today the Yankees announced they have placed their young first baseman on the 10-day disabled list with a bruised right ankle. Joe Girardi said Bird had an MRI a few weeks ago and another one today, and both showed a bone bruise that is healing slowly. Rob Refsnyder has been called up from Triple-A Scranton to fill the roster spot.

“In watching him yesterday, and talking to (hitting coach Alan Cockrell) about his work yesterday, I just didn’t feel like there was a lot of explosion in his lower half,” said Girardi. “We talked after the game. We felt that we just need to give this some time … He just felt like his ankle wasn’t working properly. Yesterday was the first day I really, really noticed it.”

Bird, who missed all of last season with shoulder surgery, has been playing through soreness since fouling a pitch off the ankle at the end of Spring Training. He sat out a few games early in the season to rest the ankle and also get over an illness. Girardi said Bird will be shut down completely for 7-10 days — he won’t make the road trip with the Yankees — and they’ll reevaluate him after that.

“I know what I am capable of and those guys know, too. It’s frustrating but you got to deal with it,” said Bird to George King yesterday. “I have been open to them and I am playing and giving my all … (The ankle) is slowly getting better. When I am playing I am playing.”

Bird had a monster Spring Training and is off to a dreadful start to the regular season, hitting .100/.250/.200 (35 wRC+) with 30.6% strikeout rate in 72 plate appearances. His timing seems completely off at the plate — the bone bruise is in his right ankle, his front ankle when hitting, so it could have an effect on his leg kick — and he hasn’t looked 100% when running either.

Letting Bird play through the ankle soreness perhaps wasn’t the team’s best idea, especially given what happened with Mark Teixeira and his bone bruise two years ago. Hopefully this disabled list stint does the trick. The ankle gets to heal, Bird gets a bit of a mental break, then he can go rake in a few minor league rehab games before rejoining the Yankees.

James Kaprielian to undergo Tommy John surgery

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2017 season will be another lost year for the Yankees’ top pitching prospect. Right-hander James Kaprielian will indeed undergo Tommy John surgery, the Yankees announced this morning. Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform the surgery next Tuesday. Brian Cashman strongly indicated surgery was coming while speaking to reporters yesterday.

“We met last night,” said Scott Boras, Kaprielian’s agent, to Mike Mazzeo. “And it was something where, after the discussion with the doctors and compiling the proper information and having a history with pitchers, you don’t want to send a pitcher out to the mound where he’s going to have something in the back of his mind that’s troubling him from start to start. The surgery allows us to alleviate those concerns.”

Kaprielian, who turned 23 last month, missed nearly the entire 2016 regular season with a flexor tendon strain, and Cashman said the same injury resurfaced this spring. Last year’s rehab essentially failed. Here’s a quick recap of Kaprielian’s timeline:

  • April 25th, 2016: Placed on the minor league disabled list with elbow pain after three starts with High-A Tampa.
  • June 28th, 2016: Diagnosed with a flexor tendon strain after the elbow continued to be a problem and did not show improvement. ElAttrache examined Kaprielian at the time.
  • October and November, 2016: Makes seven starts in the Arizona Fall League. PitchFX says his fastball averaged 95.7 mph and the scouting reports were glowing.
  • March, 16th 2017: Throws two innings in his only Grapefruit League appearance. The Yankees took it slow with Kaprielian in camp and limited him to simulated games early on.
  • March 26th, 2017: Throws 4+ innings in a minor league spring game, according to Josh Norris. As far as we know, that’s the last time he pitched before this latest injury.
  • April 6th, 2017: Elbow begins acting up again.

These days Tommy John surgery comes with a 14-16 month rehab, sometimes even 18 months. The days of a 12-month rehab are all but over. A few years ago a rash of pitchers needed a second Tommy John surgery and the industry seems to have concluded the 12-month rehab was too aggressive. Kaprielian figures to be out until midseason 2018 at the very least.

Between the flexor injury last year and the Tommy John surgery now, Kaprielian is essentially going to miss two full seasons, likely more depending on the length of his rehab. Throwing 45 total innings, all in High-A and the AzFL, from Opening Day 2016 through midseason 2018 is, obviously, really bad. That’s an awful lot of development time Kaprielian won’t be able to make up. Sucks, but what can you do?

Despite last year’s injury, Kaprielian was very highly regarded coming into the season. I was surprised at how high he ranked on the various top 100 lists this spring, and I’m pretty sure I wrote that a few times. Look at his placement on the various top 100 lists:

2016 Rank 2017 Rank
Baseball America top 100 Not ranked 87th
Baseball Prospectus top 101 Not ranked 58th
Keith Law top 100 87th 28th
MLB.com top 100 Not ranked 55th

Kaprielian missed most of last year with a major elbow problem and he still climbed on every single list. That’s how impressive he looked during his admittedly brief AzFL stint last year. He was healthy and throwing well. The same was true in Spring Training. Then something gave. Pitchers, man.

The Yankees selected Kaprielian with their first round pick (16th overall) in the 2015 draft and paid him an above-slot $2.65M bonus. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Kaprielian’s velocity ticked up his draft year at UCLA, and again in pro ball both after the draft and early in 2016. Velocity spikes seem to have a way of leading to elbow woes.

I suppose the good news is Kaprielian is a top of the line makeup and work ethic guy who will attack his rehab. Tommy John surgery has a high success rate, but it’s not perfect. If it fails with Kaprielian, I don’t think it’ll be due to a lack of effort on his part. Kaprielian has been through worse in his life. Hopefully everything goes well and he comes back a better (and healthier) pitcher next season.

Quick Postgame Notes: Sanchez, Montgomery, Shreve

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees announced some news following this afternoon’s win over the Rays. A quick recap:

  • Sanchez out four weeks. Gary Sanchez will miss four weeks with a Grade I strain of his brachialis muscle. That’s the muscle behind the biceps. Girardi clarified that the Yankees expect Sanchez to be back in the big leagues in four weeks, not just starting baseball activity.
  • Montgomery to debut Wednesday. Jordan Montgomery will start Wednesday’s game and make his big league debut. Girardi said they’re doing that specifically to give Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia an extra day of rest. Luis Severino will pitch Thursday instead.
  • Shreve sent down. The Yankees optioned Chasen Shreve to Triple-A Scranton following today’s game. That clears a 25-man roster spot for Montgomery. They still need to clear a 40-man spot. That might not happen until Wednesday.

So good news and bad news. Yay for Montgomery, boo for the Sanchez injury. All things considered though, four weeks for Sanchez isn’t terrible. The way he grimaced in pain Saturday had me thinking it was a serious shoulder problem.

Update: Gary Sanchez headed to disabled list with biceps strain

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

8:00pm: Sanchez will be placed on the 10-day disabled list, according to Jack Curry. Sweeny Murti says Higashioka is coming up from Scranton. Following today’s game Joe Girardi said the Yankees will be cautious with Sanchez because the injury is to his throwing arm.

6:02pm: The Yankees say Sanchez has a right biceps strain. Phew. I was worried it his shoulder. They’re not out of the woods yet, but a biceps strain is far more preferable to a shoulder (or elbow) issue. Here’s video of the injury:

5:40pm: Gary Sanchez left this afternoon’s game with some sort of right arm injury. He took a swing in the fifth inning, then immediately grimaced and doubled over. No idea what it could be, though he was clearly favoring his right arm. Sanchez left the game without really lobbying in to stay.

Needless to say, losing Sanchez for any length of time would be pretty devastating. He is one of the Yankees’ best hitters despite his relatively slow start to the season, and he’s also their starting catcher. That’s kind of a big deal. Kyle Higashioka is the No. 3 catcher in Triple-A right now. Hopefully Sanchez’s injury is nothing serious and he isn’t needed.

The Yankees have not yet released any sort of update on Sanchez, so stay tuned.

James Kaprielian heading for MRI on pitching elbow

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once again, James Kaprielian‘s elbow is acting up. The Yankees placed their top pitching prospect on the minor league disabled list with elbow pain earlier today, the team announced. He’s going for an MRI and a dye contrast MRI. The Yankees will know more once the tests are done.

Kaprielian, as you know, missed most of last season with a flexor strain. He did return in time for the Arizona Fall League and reports said he looked very god. PitchFX clocked his fastball at 95.7 mph on average with a max of 99.1 mph out in the desert. Kaprielian threw 45 total innings between High-A and the AzFL in 2016.

“It’s a concern,” said Brian Cashman to Erik Boland. Cashman also confirmed Kaprielian first complained of discomfort two days ago, so this is a relatively new injury. The discomfort is in the same spot as Kaprielian’s injury last year. Pitching is terrible. Don’t ever pitch.

The Yankees took it slow with their 2015 first round pick in Spring Training, opting to have him throw simulated games for the first few weeks before letting him make a two-inning Grapefruit League appearance. Kaprielian threw four-plus innings in a minor league camp start last week and told Josh Norris he felt good.

Hopefully this is nothing serious. Needless to say though, elbow trouble in back-to-back seasons is not good. Kaprielian is New York’s best pitching prospect in terms of stuff and command, but health is a skill and he hasn’t shown it as a pro yet. Even a minor injury is a red flag at this point. Sigh.

Could Didi Gregorius’ injury be Rob Refsnyder’s opportunity?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Didi Gregorius‘ injury is unfortunate in every way, even if he may only miss a month of the season. The Yankees don’t have a ready-made replacement and, much more importantly, a key cog of their future has to deal with an injury that can set him back after he made strides last season and hoped to bring into this season. Furthermore, Gregorius’ best tool is perhaps his arm strength and that could be affected by this injury.

As with every injury in sports, there is now an opportunity for someone else. As Mike detailed the other day and some reporters have indicated, the likeliest scenario is Starlin Castro, despite his prior experience at short, to stay at second while Ronald Torreyes and possibly Ruben Tejada or Pete Kozma take the load at short. This is a fine option, albeit with the lesser offensive (and likely defensive) production at shortstop. It’d be tough to imagine Tyler Wade or Gleyber Torres are quite ready for the job either (again, check out Mike’s piece on this).

There is another option, albeit one that guarantees lesser performance defensively and that is moving Castro to shortstop — he played just three games there last year — and handing the second base job to … Rob Refsnyder. The oft-talked of second baseman has been masquerading as a super utility player for the last year, but perhaps this is the opportunity he needs to prove himself, one way or another.

Joe Girardi talked about how the team sees him as that utility player, working all around the field. “I look at him at second, first, right and left, is how I look at Ref,” Girardi said to the Daily News. “Depending on what we do, that’s why I talked about he can play his way in, and if he’s an extra infielder and outfielder, whatever he is, then you might have to move Castro to play some short. If you give (Chase Headley) a day off and you move Torreyes over, then that would be Ref’s spot at second. Those are the different options we have.”

Is this the chance Refsnyder needs? Well, he’ll need to show some improvements to make it happen.

1. Refsnyder needs to show more at the plate

So far in his MLB career, Refsnyder has had all of 222 plate appearances. For all the talk of him taking over second base during the 2015 season, it would seem like he’d have taken more ABs, but alas, that is not the case. He hit quite well during his 47 PAs in 2015 (131 wRC+) but looked exposed in sporadic stints last season, batting just .250/.328/.309 (72 wRC+).

As has been discussed on this website before, he needs to hit for power in order to make at the big league level. He actually had a .512 slugging percentage (.210 ISO) in 2015 and there was reason to believe he has some power potential. With Torreyes, you’re simply not going to get much power, but you’ll get plenty of contact. He hit .258/.305/.374 (81 wRC+) last season in 168 plate appearances and had an 11.9 percent strikeout rate compared to Refsnyder’s 17.1 percent mark.

Refsnyder does walk a bit more than Torreyes, but as detailed below, he’s enough of a negative defensively that he’ll need to more than make up for it at the plate for this experiment to be worth it. While spring stats are relatively meaningless, Refsnyder has struck out in 11 of 39 PAs while Torreyes has just two in 41 PAs. Refsnyder does have a better slash line this spring but neither has impressed with the bat.

2. How would it work defensively?

Losing Gregorius is a blow to the Yankees’ team defense. While defensive metrics were down on Didi last season, it’s likely that Gregorius would have been a defensive plus for the month or so he’ll now miss. Last season, Torreyes only played 99 innings at shortstop, his only time at short in his brief MLB career. He made one error in 11 starts there while UZR had him at -0.7 there (-15.9 UZR/150). Again, short sample size, hard to judge.

So what would happen if instead of Torreyes getting extended time at short, Castro shifted over and Refsnyder moved to second in his place? In Castro’s case, it could actually work out well. Castro has been seen as a definite negative in his 1,524 innings at second over the last two years with a -7.4 UZR. At shortstop, he’s been a minus in his career, albeit less so. He only played 20 innings there last season, but it is his natural position. He wasn’t particularly adept there (negative in DRS each season except 2012).

And then there’s Refsnyder. To be fair, he’s only played 147 MLB innings at second base, but they haven’t been pretty, either in terms of statistics or the eye test. He has a -3 DRS and -2.6 UZR in those innings and has been better, albeit in similarly small samples, at each other position he’s played in the majors. 1B, LF and RF are the ones he has more than an inning played (He actually graded out well in RF during 132 2/3 innings last year, if that’s worth anything). It’s also simply hard to forget how inept he looked at times during his stint at second in 2015. It seemed like a common announcer phrase during that time was “past a diving Refsnyder.”

All of this is to say that defensively, this pairing could be tough to stomach, hence why it’s so necessary that Refsnyder hit if he’s going to be anything more than a Quadruple A player.

3. Easy to change course

Putting Refsnyder in at second would be a perfect chance to see whether he sinks or swims at the big league level. He’d have the chance to know he’s starting every day for certain period and the team would see if he can produce with that comfort level. I have my doubts, but it’s an imperfect solution just like every other replacement for Gregorius.

If he didn’t perform after a few weeks, it’s easy to course correct. First of all, this is only temporary since Gregorius should miss only a month or so. With Torreyes on the roster, it’d also be simple enough to begin giving him the starts if the defensive minuses are too much or Refsnyder simply hack it at the plate.

The questions about Refsnyder can seem pretty glaring, but this would be a chance to answer them in a low cost scenario. It’s not like Torreyes will be much better with the bat. The worst case is that Refsnyder is so unpalatable at second that the team decides to send him back down to AAA quickly. In the best case, the Yankees find a suitable backup with restored promise for when Gregorius returns.