Report: Kenta Maeda will not be posted this offseason

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)
(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)

The Hiroshima Carp have decided not to post ace right-hander Kenta Maeda this offseason, according to a report in Kyodo. The team has informed the player he will not be posted. Back in October, Carp owner Hajime Matsuda said “we would like to let him go, but based on his production this year it will be difficult.”

Maeda, 26, has made it no secret that he wants to play in MLB, though he will not qualify for international free agency until after the 2017 season. He reportedly told the media in Japan he wanted to play for either the Yankees or Red Sox next season. Speculation had him receiving a five or six-year contract in the $100M to $120M range, on the top of the release fee that would be owed to the Carp.

Maeda is arguably the best pitcher in Japan, though his 2014 season was not as good as his 2010-13 efforts. I guess the team was worried the down year wouldn’t allow them to get the maximum $20M release fee. Hiroshima supposedly has a good club, so they can keep their ace, try to win with him in 2015, then post him again next year. Here are Maeda’s career stats (via Baseball-Reference):

Year Age Tm W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP BF WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 K/BB
2008 20 Hiroshima 9 2 3.20 19 18 1 1 109.2 103 43 39 10 35 55 3 462 1.258 8.5 0.8 2.9 4.5 1.57
2009 21 Hiroshima 8 14 3.36 29 29 3 1 193.0 194 82 72 22 29 147 3 795 1.155 9.0 1.0 1.4 6.9 5.07
2010 22 Hiroshima 15 8 2.21 28 28 6 2 215.2 166 55 53 15 46 174 7 848 0.983 6.9 0.6 1.9 7.3 3.78
2011 23 Hiroshima 10 12 2.46 31 31 4 2 216.0 178 61 59 14 43 192 6 864 1.023 7.4 0.6 1.8 8.0 4.47
2012 24 Hiroshima 14 7 1.53 29 29 5 2 206.1 161 46 35 6 44 171 9 820 0.994 7.0 0.3 1.9 7.5 3.89
2013 25 Hiroshima 15 7 2.10 26 26 3 1 175.2 129 46 41 13 40 158 2 690 0.962 6.6 0.7 2.0 8.1 3.95
2014 26 Hiroshima 11 9 2.60 27 27 1 1 187.0 164 61 54 12 41 161 2 746 1.096 7.9 0.6 2.0 7.7 3.93
7 Seasons 82 59 2.44 189 188 23 10 1303.1 1095 394 353 92 278 1058 32 5225 1.053 7.6 0.6 1.9 7.3 3.81

Ben Badler (subs. req’d) gave a scouting report on Maeda back in October, saying he “doesn’t have overpowering stuff of a frontline starter like we’ve seen from fellow Japanese righthanders Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish, (but his) ability to command his fastball and mix his pitches allows him to keep hitters off-balance.” Badler said Maeda sits anywhere from 87-94 with his fastball and his go-to pitch in a low-80s slider. He also throws a mid-80s changeup, an upper-80s cutter, and a slow low-70s curveball. Here’s video.

The Yankees were never connected to Maeda this offseason, though they need pitching and he figured to be someone they might explore, especially now that almost all of the mid-range starters are off the board. The reported $100M+ price tag seems pretty steep though, especially since Maeda is not considered an elite pitcher along the lines of Tanaka and Darvish. There’s always next offseason, I guess.

Prospect Profile: Tyler Webb

(Robert Pimpsner)
(Robert Pimpsner)

Tyler Webb | LHP

Background
Webb, whose full name is Jon Tyler Webb, is from the tiny little town of Nassawadox on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. He pitched at Northampton High School. Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank him as one of the 31 best prospects in the state for the 2009 draft, and Webb ultimately went undrafted out of high school. He instead followed through on his commitment to the University of South Carolina.

Webb worked as a swingman during his freshman year with the Gamecocks, pitching to a 3.96 ERA with 36 walks and 13 strikeouts spread across seven starts and ten relief appearances. He held the same role as a sophomore, and while Webb improved to a 3.00 ERA in 36 innings across five starts and 17 relief appearances, he struck out only 28 and walked 17. USC won the College World Series both years.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Webb, who was a draft-eligible sophomore, as one of the 40 best prospects in South Carolina after the 2011 college season. The Reds selected him in the 48th round (1,465th overall pick) of the 2011 draft and whatever bonus they offered Webb wasn’t enough. He opted to return to school for his junior season.

USC moved Webb into the bullpen full-time as a junior and he was excellent, pitching to a 1.56 ERA in 39 appearances. He struck out 58 and walked 18 in 57.2 innings. Despite that performance, Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Webb among the top prospects in the state for the 2012 draft and he went undrafted, so he returned to school for his senior season. (The draft was shortened from 50 rounds to 40 rounds in 2012.)

Webb took over as the team’s closer as a senior and saved 17 games with a 1.47 ERA in 43 innings. He struck out 60, walked 14, and, for the second straight year, did not allow a homer. That earned him a spot on the All-American Third Team. Webb appeared in 32 games that spring and set the school’s all-time record with 110 career pitching appearances. He finished his career at USC with a 2.34 ERA and a 182/62 K/BB in 173 innings.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Webb as the 17th best prospect in South Carolina for the 2013 draft but not as one of the top 500 draft prospects overall. The Yankees selected him in the tenth round (314th overall) as a way to save draft pool space — they signed him to a well-below slot $30,000 bonus almost immediately, saving a little more than $100,000 in draft pool space. (That money eventually went to Aaron Judge‘s above-slot bonus.)

Pro Career
The Yankees assigned Webb to Short Season Staten Island after the draft but he didn’t stay there long. After striking out eight and walking two in five hitless innings, they bumped him up to Low-A Charleston. Webb had a 3.86 ERA (3.25 FIP) with 40 strikeouts and only six walks in 30.1 innings across 16 appearances with the River Dogs to close out his first taste of professional baseball.

Assigned to High-A Tampa to open the 2014 season, Webb made only eight appearances there before being moved up to Double-A Trenton. He had a 2.77 ERA (1.24 FIP) with 17 strikeouts and one walk in 13 innings and eight appearances with Tampa. Webb’s stint with the Thunder was also relatively short — he was there for only 35.2 innings and 23 appearances, during which he had a 4.04 ERA (2.65 FIP) with 51 strikeouts and 14 walks.

The Yankees moved Webb up to Triple-A Scranton late in the season and he had a 4.05 ERA (3.76 FIP) in 20 innings across 17 appearances with the RailRiders. He struck out 26 and walked seven. All together, Webb had a 3.80 ERA (2.74 FIP) with 94 strikeouts (32.1%) and 22 walks (7.5%) in 68.2 relief innings at three minor league levels in 2014.

Scouting Report
First things first: Webb is huge. He’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. Not a small man. Despite all that size, Webb’s fastball is only average, usually sitting in the 90-92 mph range even as a full-time reliever. His upper-70s curveball is a decent second offering but not a knockout pitch. I’m guessing the Yankees had him tinker with a cutter at some point as well. Here’s some video from his senior year at USC:

Webb’s average-ish stuff plays up a little bit because he has some funk in his delivery and hides the ball well. It’s a classic lefty specialist profile — lefties have hit .216/.264/.353 with a 40.5% strikeout rate and a 4.0% walk rate against Webb as a pro for what it’s worth, which isn’t much because it’s only 126 plate appearances spread across parts of two seasons — without a ton of upside. Webb has an okay fastball, can spin a breaking ball, and uses his delivery to create deception. Textbook matchup southpaw.

2015 Outlook
Given his zoom up the ladder and proximity to the Major Leagues, I expect Webb to get an invitation to big league Spring Training come February. I don’t think he has much of a chance of winning a bullpen job, but it will be an opportunity to show the staff what he can do and put himself in position for call-up later in the season. Kinda like Preston Claiborne in 2013. Either way, impressive camp or not, Webb is ticketed for a return to the Triple-A Scranton bullpen to start next season.

My Take
I like Webb in a “he’s exceeded all expectations a senior sign in the tenth round” kind of way. He’s a little older than the typical prospect (turns 25 in July), but if all he ever does is reach MLB and throw about ten good innings, it’s successful draft pick. Webb might be most useful to the Yankees as a trade chip though — granted, players like this don’t have a ton of value, but some team might like him as the second or third piece in a trade — because the organization has a lot of left-handed relief depth at the moment. Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, and Jacob Lindgren are ahead of Webb on the depth chart and James Pazos is right behind him. Webb will get an opportunity to open eyes in Spring Training, and not only the Yankees’.

Aaron Judge tops Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects list

Judge putting a hurtin' on a baseball. (MiLB.com)
Judge putting a hurtin’ on a baseball. (MiLB.com)

The crew at Baseball Prospectus is currently in the middle of their annual top ten prospects series breaking down the best young minor leaguers in each organization. They published their top ten Yankees prospects list yesterday, though it is behind the paywall. You can see the list itself for free, but you have to pay for the scouting reports and everything else. Here’s the top ten:

  1. OF Aaron Judge
  2. RHP Luis Severino
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. LHP Ian Clarkin
  5. SS Jorge Mateo
  6. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. CF Leonardo Molina
  9. LHP Jacob Lindgren
  10. C Luis Torrens

Nine of those ten names are fairly straight forward and not surprisingly included in a Yankees top ten in whatever order. The one surprise is the 17-year-old Molina, who hit a weak .193/.267/.260 (58 wRC+) with one homer, six steals, and a 23.5% strikeout rate in 53 games with the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees this summer. That was his pro debut after signing for $1.4M in August 2013, making him the team’s top international pickup during the 2013-14 signing period.

Needless to say, the BP gang is very high on Molina. They grade all five of his tools as at least average — in fact, only the hit tool is average, everything else is above-average — and say the “tools are very loud, though far from being polished and playing together collectively as a group.” The write up also says Molina’s emergence as a top prospect “should be more subtle” rather than one huge breakout year. “It’s a boom-or-bust prospect, for sure, with a heavy serving of risk on the plate, but there’s a feel this one is going to start emerging over the next couple of seasons.”

Also in the article, 3B Miguel Andujar, RHP Austin DeCarr, and RHP Ty Hensley are listed as three prospects on the rise. Andujar and DeCarr are just starting their careers while Hensley is returning from hip and hernia surgery. RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Danny Burawa, and OF Tyler Austin are listed among the non-top ten prospects who could have an MLB impact in 2014. And, finally, BP ranks the organization’s ten best players age 25 and under. It’s basically the top ten prospects list with SS Didi Gregorius sandwiched between Severino and Sanchez. RHP Michael Pineda is no longer eligible because he turns 26 next month.

“This system is thinner in the upper levels with potential impact talent, where the near-term contribution is likely to be more modest, but a wave brewing in the lower levels is starting to breathe some life and offer more promise,” said the write-up, summing up the state of the system. Every club has interesting prospects in the low levels, but I do think the Yankees have more than most, especially following their huge international free agent spending spree this summer. It’ll be a little while before those players begin to make a name for themselves and emerge as top prospects, of course.

DotF: Jose Pirela’s winter ball dominance continues

Before an update on everyone in winter ball, here are some minor league notes:

  • Long-time Double-A Trenton manager Tony Franklin will not return to the team next year, report Dan Pfeiffer and Matt Kardos. Word is he will be reassigned to another position within the organization. I wonder if he’s moving up to Triple-A Scranton to replace Luis Sojo as third base coach. Franklin had been Trenton’s manager since 2007.
  • The Yankees have signed catcher Juan Graterol to a minor league contract, reports Pete Caldera. Graterol, 25, spend most of last season in Double-A with the Royals and hit .280/.313/.398 (103 wRC+) with four homers in 70 games. He’s an organizational catcher. The Yankees could lose the out-of-options Austin Romine at some point before Opening Day and Graterol adds depth.
  • Some updates on ex-Yankees farmhands: IF Corban Joseph has signed with the Braves and LHP Nik Turley signed with the Giants, both on minor league deals. The Braves have now signed CoJo, Zoilo Almonte, and Francisco Rondon. I’m guessing Gordon Blakeley, who left New York’s front office for Atlanta’s, recommended them.

Arizona Fall League (season is over, so these stats are final)

  • OF Tyler Austin: .304/.392/.449 (135 wRC+) with two doubles, two homers, ten walks, and 19 strikeouts in 19 games.
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: .260/.317/.274 (67 wRC+) with one double, seven walks, and 18 strikeouts in 20 games.
  • 1B Greg Bird: .313/.391/.556 (156 wRC+) with six doubles, six homers, 13 walks, and 23 strikeouts in 26 games.
  • C Kyle Higashioka: .409/.480/.682 (216 wRC+) with three doubles, one homer, three walks, and two strikeouts in six games. He actually led the league in hitting if you set the plate appearance minimum to zero.
  • OF Aaron Judge: .278/.377/.467 (133 wRC+) with five doubles, four homers, 13 walks, and 22 strikeouts in 24 games.
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 10 G, 13.1 IP, 18 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 14 K, 2 HR, 1 HB, 1 WP (6.08 ERA, 4.25 FIP)
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 10 H, 11.2 IP, 11 H, 7 R, 3 ER, 8 BB, 9 K, 1 WP (2.31 ERA, 4.24 FIP)
  • RHP Alex Smith: 10 H, 10.1 IP, 25 H, 15 R, 12 ER, 8 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 2 HB (10.45 ERA, 7.79 FIP)

Australian Baseball League (season doesn’t end until late-January)

  • OF Adam Silva: 11 G, 8-43, 6 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 14 K, 1 SB (.186/.271/.302)

Dominican Winter League (season ends two weeks from today)

  • OF Eury Perez: 24 G, 18-86, 9 R, 3 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 17 K, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.209/.218/.279)
  • IF Jose Rosario: 2 G, 0-1, 1 R, 1 SB
  • RHP Joel De La Cruz: 4 G, 3 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 1 WP (0.00 ERA, 4.00 WHIP)
  • LHP Jose DePaula: 2 G, 2 GS, 10 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K (0.90 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) — hasn’t started since he signed a one-year MLB contract with New York

Mexican Pacific League (season ends three weeks from tomorrow)

  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 16 G, 16 IP, 16 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 12 K, 2 HR, 1 HB (1.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP)
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 9 G, 9 GS, 37.2 IP, 29 H, 14 R, 12 ER, 18 BB, 27 K, 2 HR, 2 HB (2.87 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (season ends three weeks from today)

  • SS Vince Conde: 1 G, 0-1

Venezuelan Winter League (season ends three weeks from Tuesday)

  • C Francisco Arcia: 20 G, 14-73, 3 R, 3 2B, 8 RBI, 4 BB, 16 K, 1 HBP (.192/.244/.233)
  • UTIL Ali Castillo: 43 G, 56-170, 33 R, 7 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 13 RBI, 7 BB, 25 K, 14 SB, 5 CS, 2 HBP (.329/.359/.412)
  • OF Ramon Flores: 42 G, 47-148, 23 R, 5 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 19 BB, 27 K, 2 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.318/.396/.439) — great winter after missing much of the season with an ankle problem
  • OF Adonis Garcia: 43 G, 51-179, 17 R, 8 2B, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 11 BB, 21 K, 3 SB, 2 CS, 4 HBP (.285/.338/.380)
  • OF Ericson Leonora: 5 G, 3-11, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 5 K, .273/.273/.545)
  • UTIL Jose Pirela: 32 G, 39-121, 24 R, 10 2B, 4 3B, 6 HR, 19 RBI, 12 BB, 17 K, 1 CS, 2 HBP (.322/.393/.620) — even if the Yankees sign another infielder, Pirela’s versatility puts him in position for a bench job
  • C Jackson Valera: 3 G, 0-0
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 1 G, 0 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 HR (? ERA, ? WHIP)
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 20 G, 18.1 IP, 18 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 14 K, 2 HR, 1 HB (2.95 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

Prospect Profile: Rob Refsnyder

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Rob Refsnyder | 2B

Background
Refsnyder, who will turn 24 in Spring Training, was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Orange County when he was only three months old. He played football and basketball in addition to baseball at Laguna Hills High School and was named Pacific Coast League MVP in baseball as a senior and twice in football. Despite all that, Refsnyder was not much of a pro prospect — Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank him among 190 California prospects for the 2009 draft — so he followed through on his commitment to Arizona after going undrafted out of high school.

As a freshman, Refsnyder stepped right into the starting lineup and played everyday for the Wildcats, and immediately became one of the team’s best hitters. He hit .344/.397/.440 with nine doubles, two homers, 14 walks, and 31 strikeouts in 57 games that spring while playing some second and third base but mostly left field. Refsnyder went 4-for-10 in three games as Arizona was knocked out of the postseason in the Regionals, though he was named to the All-Region Team. The overall performance earned him an All-Pac 10 Team Honorable Mention as a freshman.

Refsnyder played in all 60 of the team’s game as a sophomore — almost all of them in right field — and hit .320/.371/.498 with 13 doubles, six homers, 16 walks, and 31 strikeouts. Although the Wildcats were again eliminated in the Regionals, Refsnyder was named to the All-Pac 10 First Team and ABCA West Regional First Team. He played for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League that summer and hit .308/.406/.436 with nine doubles, four triples, 17 walks, and 26 strikeouts in 39 games.

Refsnyder was one of the best players in the country as a junior, putting up a .364/.453/.562 batting line with 19 doubles, eight homers, 14 steals, 34 walks, and only 26 strikeouts in 65 games. He again spent most of his time in right field. Arizona blew through the Regionals and Super Regionals — they went 5-0 and outscored their opponents 61-20 — to advance to the College World Series. Arizona won all five of their games in the CWS to win the National Championship. Refsnyder homered in the first game of the CWS and went 10-for-21 (.476) in the five games overall, which earned him the College World Series Most Outstanding Player Award.

Baseball America ranked Refsnyder as the 369th best prospect in the 2012 draft class that spring. The Yankees selected him in the fifth round, with the 187th overall selection, and he signed quickly for the full slot $205,900 bonus.

Pro Career
Although they had plans to move him from the outfield back to second base (his high school position), the Yankees let Refsnyder play out the 2012 season in the outfield after signing. They sent him straight to Low-A Charleston after the draft and he hit .241/.319/.364 (91 wRC+) with four homers and eleven stolen bases in 46 games for the River Dogs.

The Yankees moved Refsnyder to second base and sent him back to Low-A Charleston to start the 2013 season, though he was quickly bumped him up to High-A Tampa after hitting .370/.452/.481 (173 wRC+) with seven steals in 13 games for the River Dogs. Refsnyder put up a .283/.408/.404 (140 wRC+) line with six homers and 16 steals in 117 games for Tampa after the promotion. All told, he hit .293/.413/.413 (143 wRC+) with 32 doubles, six homers, 23 steals in 29 attempts, 84 walks, and 82 strikeouts between the two levels in 2013.

Refsnyder started the 2014 season with Double-A Trenton and hit .342/.385/.548 (~159 wRC+) with 19 doubles and six homers in 60 games before the organization moved him up to Triple-A Scranton. In 77 games with the RailRiders, Refsnyder hit .300/.389/.456 (137 wRC+) with 19 doubles and eight homers. His combined batting line for the 2014 season was .318/.387/.497 (~146 wRC+) with 37 doubles, 14 homers, nine steals in 18 attempts, 55 walks, and 105 strikeouts.

Scouting Report
Refsnyder is listed at 6-foor-1 and 205 lbs., and he stands out for his simple and balanced setup at the plate. He knows the strike zone and his combination of hand-eye coordination and level swing allow him to spray line drives to all fields. Refsnyder, a right-handed hitter, did focus on going the other way in college and during his first full year as a pro, though this past season he did a better job of pulling the ball with authority when he got a pitch to drive. Here are his 2013 (on the left) and 2014 (on the right) spray charts, courtesy of MLB Farm:

Rob Refsnyder Spray Charts-001

Refsnyder has some power but most of it figures to be into the gaps for doubles at the next level. He isn’t much of a runner either despite the nice pre-2014 stolen base totals and success rate. He’s a high-contact hitter who knows how to get on base, which fits the traditional number two hitter mold rather well. Here’s some video:

In the field, Refsnyder remains rough at second base but he has improved since turning pro, particularly around the bag and on double play pivots. His movements in the field are choppy and he still shows some indecisiveness when it comes to charging a ground ball or waiting back. Some of that is simply due to a lack of experience, though Refsnyder isn’t particularly quick on his feet.

Refsnyder draws high marks for his makeup and work ethic, and others like Robinson Cano and Chase Utley worked their way to become above-average defenders at second after being below-average elsewhere early in their careers. That’s not to say Refsnyder will definitely turn himself into an asset in the field, just that it has happened in the past when it looked like it wouldn’t.

2015 Outlook
Perhaps moreso than any non-reliever prospect I’ve profiled over the years, Refsnyder’s landing spot at the start of next year will depend heavily on what the big league team does this offseason. If the Yankees manage to bring in a second or third baseman this winter, Refsnyder will go back to Triple-A and wait for a call-up. If the Yankees don’t bring in a second or third baseman, then Refsnyder will compete for the second base job in Spring Training (Martin Prado would presumably play third) with someone like Jose Pirela and/or some non-roster invitees. Either way, it seems like Refsnyder will make his Major League debut at some point in 2015, perhaps as soon as Opening Day.

My Take
I really like Refsnyder and want the Yankees to give him a chance to be their everyday second baseman at some point next summer, but I also think the hype has gotten out of control at this point. That’s not to say I don’t think he’ll be a quality big leaguer — there a lot between future star and future bust, you know — just that I’m not sure how much of an impact he can have a low-power hitter and below-average defender at second, especially when he first makes the jump to MLB. There’s a lot to like about Refsnyder, particularly his potential to hit for a high average with a good on-base percentage. He’ll have to make some big strides to contribute anything more than that though.

A Guide to Possible SS Target: Jung-Ho Kang

(Richard Heathcote/Getty)
(Richard Heathcote/Getty)

It’s safe to say the the Yankees have a glaring hole at the shortstop position following Derek Jeter’s retirement. There are options in free agency (Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, etc.) and in trades (Didi Gregorious? Starlin Castro? Elvis Andrus?) to fill the position. However, there is an intriguing unknown commodity that can arise as an option: SS Jung-Ho Kang of the Nexen Heroes in the Korean Baseball Organization.

Reports have indicated Kang will not be posted until “after the Winter Meetings,” which are next week. Two Korean pitchers have already been posted to the big league teams — LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim and LHP Hyeon-Jong Yang — and it looks like the Kang market is not in a huge rush. In fact, with two of the big infield names (Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez) gone in the free agent market, Kang will get more attention from teams that will look to bolster their infield.

The shortstop has been interested in moving over to majors for awhile. In an article from Newsis from Dec. 2013, Kang expressed desire to face pitchers “like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman,” saying “I am confident in the power versus power matchup.” The article also mentions that Kang’s favorite players are Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera, two Major League infielders who are known for their power displays — something Kang aspires to be in the majors.

Speculation of the Yankees looking at Kang isn’t surprising given their positional need and the team’s history of tapping into Asian talents. Just like Masahiro Tanaka, Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, Kang would be expected to be ready to contribute to the ML team. However, Kang differs in that he is a positional player. There definitely have been hitters that enjoyed immense (Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui) to considerable (Norichika Aoki) success coming from their nation’s league to MLB, but the track record of Asian infielders in MLB isn’t too pretty.

In past few years, two of the top Japanese infielders went stateside — Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hiroyuki Nakajima — and neither lived up to the hype. Nishioka, who had hit .346/.423/.482 in 2010 for Chiba Lotte of NPB before signing with the Twins, totaled an awful .503 OPS in 233 AB in two years with Minnesota. Hiroyuki Nakajima, an eight-time NPB All-Star with the Saitama Seibu Lions, never played in majors during his two-year contract with the Athletics that just terminated, hitting a total of .682 OPS in Triple-A and Double-A. In the past, other Japanese infielders like Kaz Matsui, who once hit for a 1.006 OPS in the 2002 season, also did not perform as expected. One player who turned out to be a solid contributor was 2B Tadahito Iguchi, who played for the World Series Champs 2005 White Sox and posted a solid 3.5 fWAR that year. But the overall history of Asian infielders in U.S. is too shaky to feel confident about Kang’s success as a major leaguer.

Kang is the best position player in Korean Baseball Organization right now. As the starting shortstop for the Nexen Heroes (based in Seoul), Kang demolished pitching in 2014. In 117 games, Kang put up a .356/.461/.739 slash line, good for a whopping 1.200 OPS. He also had 78 extra base hits, with 40 of them being homers. Many consider KBO to be lesser in talent than NPB, but those are still very impressive numbers. Here are his career stats:

Year Age Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2006 19 Hyundai 10 21 1 3 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 8 .150 .150 .200 .350
2007 20 Hyundai 20 15 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .133 .133 .133 .267
2008 21 Woori 116 408 36 98 18 1 8 47 3 1 31 65 .271 .334 .392 .726
2009 22 Woori 133 538 73 136 33 2 23 81 3 2 45 81 .286 .349 .508 .857
2010 23 Nexen 133 522 60 135 30 2 12 58 2 2 61 87 .301 .391 .457 .848
2011 24 Nexen 123 504 53 125 22 2 9 63 4 6 43 62 .282 .353 .401 .754
2012 25 Nexen 124 519 77 137 32 0 25 82 21 5 71 78 .314 .413 .560 .973
2013 26 Nexen 126 532 67 131 21 1 22 96 15 8 68 109 .291 .387 .489 .876
2014 27 Nexen 116 497 102 147 36 2 39 115 3 3 67 106 .354 .457 .733 1.189
9 Seasons 901 3556 469 914 193 10 138 543 51 28 386 601 .298 .382 .502 .885
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/2/2014.

As you may notice, he has power. According to Keith Law, who ranked Kang as the No. 15 free agent in his top 50 free agents list, the shortstop has a “swing that will generate legit plus power.” Law also notes that Kang’s swing is more of a “power swing” than for contact. Here’s a video of all of his 40 regular-season homers from this season. A lot of his dingers are pulled but there are some that go to dead center or to right. He has good enough power to hit home runs to any part of the field, and that is what makes him desirable to scouts and fans.

How will Kang hit in the majors? While the shortstop did hit for a high .356 average, he also struck out 106 times in 117 games, the third most in the league. His BABIP in 2014 is .398 — a rate that certainly shouldn’t be expected when he transitions to MLB. He also shows a league above-average plate discipline — his 13.6 BB% ranks eighth in league. I expect that to go down and strikeout rate (21.2%) to go up as he moves to the majors. How much? I’d say it depends on how well he adapts on seeing Major League-caliber pitches.

Relatively high strikeout rates and a high batting average tells me that he has an aggressive power swing approach most of the time — while he can be fooled by certain pitches, his bat speed and control is good enough to be deadly when he makes contacts. It is a plus that he’s been able to draw walks as well. The challenge for him in majors will be laying off more advanced secondary pitches, challenging faster and more difficult fastballs, facing more advanced set of pitches overall, etc.

In 2014, only one qualified shortstop put up an OPS higher than .800 (Hanley Ramirez with .817) with two between .750 and .800 (Jhonny Peralta at .779 and Starlin Castro at .777). If Kang can put up one around .750, barring a league-wide offensive explosion, he could be considered as one of the top hitting shortstops in ML, which would be deemed quite valuable in the market. Can Kang hit well against Major-League caliber pitchers? A 1.200 OPS to .750-ish is quite a sink, but keep in mind a good amount of Asian hitters never became competent on hitting ML-level fastballs and breaking balls and completely tanked. Also, it should be noted that not all ML scouts think his power will translate in states. According to Joel Sherman, MLB executives aren’t sure how his power will do in states considering that “competition in Korea is inferior to even that in Japan.” The only way to find out how he will do in majors is for him to actually play over stateside and see the results.

Kang’s defense has been a topic of ambivalence for the scouts. As I have mentioned, the history of Asian infielders in ML is not great. The history of Asian shortstops, by the way, is even worse. The aforementioned Nishioka and Nakajima have been failed projects. Kaz Matsui, who won four Mitsui Gold Glove Awards in Japan, became such a defensive liability that the Mets converted him to second base. Munenori Kawasaki has been a solid ML shortstop, but he has suffered with hitting. Kang, while possessing a strong arm, has gathered doubts with range. Law wrote that Kang is “not as fleet foot as you would want a shortstop to be.”

The Korean infielder’s homefield, the Mokdong Stadium, uses artificial turf, which makes fielding grounders easier due to the smooth surface. Unfortunately, there are no in-depth fielding data from Korean Baseball Organization a la Ultimate Zone Rating to give more analysis for his range. The consensus is that he is not the most mobile shortstop but he gets a good read of ball off the bat and has a strong arm. It also remains to be seen if Major League teams see him something other than shortstop. Third base and second base are definite possibilities, as Kang has played in those two spots before becoming the starting shortstop for the Heroes.

Another factor to consider: Kang has been quite durable. Since becoming a regular in 2008, he never missed a significant amount of playing time due to injuries, though he will have to play a chunk of more games in a ML season (128 games per season in KBO). What also works to his advantage is that he is younger than most of the infielders named in the trade and free agent markets. The infielder will turn 28 this upcoming April. If his tools translate well into the majors, a team that signs him may enjoy the best years of his career. But then again, it is a big “if.”

Two other Korean players posted this winter — the lefties Kim and Yang — did not garner as much of a posting fee as their respective teams had hoped. The Padres bid $2 million for Kim, and though the high bid for Yang is not yet reported, it is speculated to be less than that since the Kia Tigers decided not to let the pitcher go. While Kim and Yang are not the same caliber of pitcher as Hyun-Jin Ryu (whom the Dodgers bid $25 million to the Hanhwa Eagles for), the amounts were quite low for the teams to confidently let go of their top pitchers. But it does speak for the scouts’ opinion of how well they would survive in the majors.

As for Kang, I do think that the Nexen Heroes will get more than the Tigers and Wyverns for their pitchers. First off, there’s the pedigree of an infielder with power being in the prime time of his career. With Hanley and Sandoval off the market, two of the biggest bats and infielders are out, which makes Kang an attractive non-trade option for teams that are willing to gamble some money. While the scouts don’t love him ubiquitously, I bet some do see him as a Major League starter talent.

While the Kang posting will not be a subject to a $20 million cap as it applies to NPB players, I don’t think teams will have to break serious bank to win. Nakajima, who hit for .300 average and 20 HR power in NPB, gathered only a $2 million posting fee for the Seibu Lions (from the Yankees, actually. But they didn’t sign him). Nishioka, who had a breakout 2010 with the Chiba Lotte Marines by hitting a .346/.423/.482, garnered a $5.32 million bid from the Twins, not a small amount but not intriguing either.

Of course, Kang is a different player than those two. But given that the top hitters in NPB were not treated top-notch, I don’t know if Kang, from KBO (considered in a lower level of play than NPB by many), would garner much more. Also, I assume many Major League scouts and teams are aware that KBO had a high-octane offense season.  His 40 homers are very impressive — especially as a shortstop — but before this past season, his career-high was 25 in 2012. Did he actually tap into his true power potential or is it a by-product of the bat-heavy KBO season?

C.J. Nitkowski of FOX Sports, who played with Kang in the second half of the 2010 season, is calling for a range of $5-8 million in posting with a “reasonable big league contract” to acquire Kang. Ryan Sadowski, another former major leaguer who played in Korea, wrote for Global Sporting Integration that he expects around $6-9 million range, citing that Kang has the “raw power necessary” despite the offensive outburst in the league. Sadowski also notes taht the Yankees probably monitored on Kang while looking at the IFA signee, SS Hyo-Jun Park.

I’d say I agree with both Nitkowski and Sadowski’s outlook. Kang’s salary for 2014 was around $378,000, which is less than the MLB minimum of $500,000. Nishioka (3 yr, $9.25 million) and Nakajima (2 yr, $6.5 million) both got a ML contact around $3 million per year and that would be a huge raise over Kang’s KBO salary. For comparison’s sake, the highest paid player in KBO, 1B Tae-Kyun Kim, was paid around $1.35 million in 2014. It is possible that Kang may get a figure quite different than Nakajima or Nishioka’s, but I don’t think he’ll get any close to Ryu’s 6 year, $36 million contract.

Assuming that Kang is willing to settle for a two or three-year contract, the possible amount of total money to get the shortstop, including the posting fee, could be anywhere between $12 million to $20 million. If Kang turns out to be a middle infielder that can hit in the neighborhood of .750 OPS and provide an acceptable defense for two or three years, it will be a good investment. I don’t think money would be a problem for the Yankees to get Kang. But are they willing to invest much on a KBO shortstop that has seen zero Major League action? We shall see. My bet at this moment is that the team will work the hardest towards acquiring a shortstop that’s already in the Major League market, whether it be via trade or free agency. If the Yanks can get a known commodity that is sure to produce in 2015 and beyond, great! If New York don’t acquire anyone until the posting starts, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to monitor if the team will bid on Kang.

2014 Season Review: The Farm System

The 2013 season was a total mess for the Yankees, both at the MLB level and down in the minors. Hal Steinbrenner and his staff reviewed the team’s player development system late last year, opting for minor personnel changes and some procedural adjustments instead of a major overhaul. The result in 2014 was a slightly improved system and, well, that major overhaul. Let’s review the year that was down on the farm.

Gary Denbo, the new head of the farm system. (NY Post)
Gary Denbo, the new head of the farm system. (NY Post)

New Leadership

More than anything else, the biggest story to come out of the farm system this year was the personnel changes after the season. Significant ones. Long-time VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman, who had run the system for more than a decade, retired when his contract expired in October, though there was speculation the team wasn’t going to retain him anyway. His assistant Billy Hart was cut loose as well. So was Pat Roessler, the club’s director of player development since 1995. Several minor league coaches and coordinators were also let go.

After a series of interviews, the Yankees replaced Newman with Gary Denbo, whose hiring still has not been officially announced. That’s just a formality at this point. Denbo has had three different stints with the organization over the years, most recently serving as a scouting and player development consultant since 2009. We still don’t know who the Yankees will bring in replace Roessler or Hart — rumor has it Roessler’s assistant Eric Schmitt will take over as the director of player development, but that is unconfirmed — or how the rest of the farm system staff will shake out.

Regardless, these are significant changes. The leadership core in charge of developing players has been completely changed these last few weeks. And that’s a good thing. The Yankees have done a pretty terrible job of producing anything more than relievers and back-end starters in recent years. The talent acquisition has been mostly fine in my opinion. The Yankees do bring in a lot of high-upside players, but turning them from prospects into big leaguers just hasn’t happened. It’s been a long time since the team had a raw prospect take a big step forward in his development and help at the MLB level.

Whether the new leadership will result in improved player development going forward is a total unknown. Your guess is as good as mine. Evaluating front office hires like this is a fool’s errand if you’re on the outside looking in, which we are as fans. We’re just going to have to wait and see, which is boring but it is what it is. I think these changes should have been made last year, when it was clear player development was a problem. I guess waiting one year isn’t the end of the world. At least the changes happened. Whatever they were doing flat out wasn’t working. Now, maybe, it might.

Clarkin. (The Post and Courier)
Clarkin. (The Post and Courier)

Promising Returns From 2013 Draft

On the field, the Yankees watched as their three first round picks (well, technically one first rounder and two supplemental first rounders) from the 2013 draft had strong full season debuts. OF Aaron Judge emerged as the organization’s top prospect and not only because he hit .308/.419/.486 (~158 wRC+) with 17 homers in 131 games split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. Reports indicate he showed a much more advanced hitting approach than initially expected, focusing on driving the ball to the middle of the field rather than selling out for power. Judge is also a legitimate right fielder with a strong arm. He’s pretty much the total package. A true two-way threat.

3B Eric Jagielo, who was the first of those three first round picks, hit .259/.354/.460 (132 wRC+) with 16 homers in 85 games for Tampa around an oblique injury. He was scheduled to play in the Arizona Fall League with Judge until an errant pitch in Instructional League hit him in the face and broke some bones. Jagielo is expected to make a full recovery and be ready in plenty of time for Spring Training. When healthy, he showed off his impressive left-handed power, though there are lingering concerns about his defense at the hot corner. It seems like everyone just decided to saw he couldn’t play third all of a sudden. The Yankees will still keep Jagielo at the position for the time being.

The third and final of those three first rounders was LHP Ian Clarkin, who opened the year in Extended Spring Training before joining the Low-A Charleston rotation in early-May. He pitched to a 3.21 ERA (3.74 FIP) in 70 innings for the River Dogs and had very promising strikeout (9.13 K/9 and 25.0 K%) and walk (2.83 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) rates for a 19-year-old in a full season league. Clarkin reported added a cutter — cutters are the new curveballs; the Yankees used to teach all of their prospects curveballs and now they teach everyone cutters — during the summer as well, giving him four distinct pitches before his 20th birthday. He might not have true ace upside, but Clarkin is mighty impressive for a teenager.

Judge, Jagielo, and Clarkin all had strong first full seasons in pro ball — Jagielo was the worst of the bunch and he was one of the five best hitters in the system this summer — and the Yankees desperately needed that kind of talent infusion. Having three first rounders was a very rare opportunity for this club and so far it appears they nailed their selections. It’s early, of course, and not all three of these guys will work out, that’s just how these things go, but one year in and everything is so far, so good. The organization really needed that.

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

Actual Position Player Prospects

In case you haven’t noticed, no one can hit these days. Offense is at a premium throughout baseball. That’s why a) the Yankees’ inability to produce even an average position player the last six years has hurt, and b) Judge and Jagielo are so important. They also have several other position player prospects at Double-A and above, most notably 2B Rob Refsnyder. The 23-year-old hit .318/.387/.497 (~146 wRC+) with 38 doubles and 14 homers in 137 games split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton.

One level down is 1B Greg Bird, who missed the start of the year with a back issue but returned to hit .271/.376/.472 (~140 wRC+) with 30 doubles and 14 homers in only 102 games, mostly with High-A Tampa. He then won the AzFL MVP earlier this month. Both Refsnyder and Bird carry serious concerns about their defense, but again, offense is at a premium. The bat is the most important thing. At this point I think the expectations for both guys far exceeds the scouting reports and what they’re likely to do in MLB, but that’s inevitable. There’s a clear path for both to get MLB playing time in near future, Refsnyder in 2015 and Bird as soon as 2016.

C Gary Sanchez was New York’s top prospect coming into the year, but, like so many of the team’s other top prospects in recent years, he didn’t take a step forward. He wasn’t bad by any means, hitting .278/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) with 13 homers as a 21-year-old in Double-A while catching 90+ games for the third straight year, though the improvement offensively and defensively wasn’t there. OF Jake Cave had a big year split between Tampa and Trenton: .294/.315/.414 (~118 wRC+) with 28 doubles, nine triples, and seven homers. The hype may be exceeding reality there but he’s performing and that counts for something.

Pitchers, Because Teams Need Them Too

Severino. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Severino. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

The Yankees graduated both Dellin Betances and Shane Greene to the big league staff this summer, continuing the trend of producing relievers and back-end starters but little else. In the minors, RHP Luis Severino emerged as a force, pitching to a 2.46 ERA (~2.41 FIP) with excellent strikeout (10.09 K/9 and 27.8 K%) and walk (2.14 BB and 5.9 BB%) rates in 113.1 innings. The 20-year-old righty made 24 starts and the Yankees promoted him aggressively — Severino made 14 starts with Low-A Charleston, four with High-A Tampa, and six with Double-A Trenton. There’s talk he could open 2015 in Triple-A. No matter where he starts, he is clearly the team’s top pitching prospect and arguably their top prospect overall thanks to his fastball/slider combo.

RHP Bryan Mitchell had a typical Bryan Mitchell year, including flashes of dominance and a bunch of walks (3.93 BB/9 and 10.0 BB%). He did make his MLB debut though, including a spot start in which he held the Orioles to two runs in five innings at Camden Yards. Mitchell will open 2015 back with Triple-A Scranton and is poised to be the next David Phelps/Vidal Nuno/Shane Greene — the guy who comes up from the minors to contribute in a swing man/spot starter role. Relievers RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Branden Pinder, and LHP Jacob Lindgren are in the 2015 bullpen mix as well. Lindgren was the team’s top pick in the 2014 draft.

Healthy Returns

The Yankees had two once top pitching prospects return from injury and actually stay on the field to shake off rust this past season. One was LHP Manny Banuelos, who we discussed earlier today. He missed most of the last two years with elbow problems. The other is RHP Ty Hensley, the team’s first round pick in 2012. The 21-year-old missed all of 2013 with hip and hernia surgery, then returned in 2014 to pitch in Extended Spring Training and briefly for the rookie Gulf Coast League team and Short Season Staten Island. Hensley had a 2.93 ERA and struck out 40 in 30.1 innings. RHP Gabe Encinas returned from Tommy John surgery in the second half of the year as well.

1B/OF Tyler Austin played through a bone bruise in his wrist for much of last season, which hurt his performance, and he again tried to play through it early in 2014. Austin, 23, hit .249/.318/.350 (87 wRC+) with two homers in his first 52 games of the season for Double-A Trenton, then hit .302/.355/.487 (133 wRC+) with seven homers in his final 53 games of the year. He also mashed in the AzFL before suffering a minor knee injury in an outfield collision. It would make for a neat story if Austin simply got over the wrist issue at midseason and that’s why he started to rake, but we don’t really know if that’s what happened. I do think that’s a reasonable assumption though.

Lower Level Risers

A pet peeve of mine is when people tout a club’s farm system because they have a lot of high-upside talent in the lower minors. Every team has high-upside guys in the low minors. Every one of them. It’s not a separator in my opinion so I’m not going to focus too much on it here. C Luis Torrens and 3B Miguel Andujar had nice seasons in 2014 — Andujar had a monster second half and Torrens was especially good after he hurt his shoulder and was moved down from Charleston to Staten Island, a more appropriate level — and everyone is talking about SS Jorge Mateo as the next great Yankees prospect after his 15-game cameo in the Gulf Coast League. Others like SS Tyler Wade and OF Dustin Fowler had promising summers with the River Dogs. The Yankees have some really interesting talent in the lower minors. So do the other 29 teams. Let’s move on.

Williams. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
Williams. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

The Duds

It wasn’t all good in 2014, you know. This is baseball — minor league baseball at that — and things are going to go wrong. Guys are going to get hurt, like OF Slade Heathcott and RHP Jose Campos. Heathcott played in only nine games with Double-A Trenton before needing yet another knee surgery. Campos blew out his elbow in the spring and underwent Tommy John surgery. It’s his second major elbow injury in the last three years. Heathcott and Campos are two former top prospects who haven’t been able to stay on the field. This past season was no different.

OF Mason Williams was arguably the best prospect in the system two years ago, but he struggled in 2013 and hit a woeful .223/.290/.304 (66 wRC+) in 128 games with Double-A Trenton in 2014. He was also benched on a few occasions for insubordination and for playing with a lack of energy, a concern that has followed him since his days in high school. Just a brutal year for Williams. And yet, the Yankees put him on the 40-man roster last week to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft anyway. Not sure I get that but whatever.

And then there’s 2B Gosuke Katoh, who had a dynamite pro debut after being the team’s second round pick in the 2013. He hit .222/.345/.326 (96 wRC+) with a sky high 30.5% strikeout rate in 121 games with Low-A Charleston this year. I guess a 96 wRC+ isn’t terrible for a 20-year-old in Low-A, but the scouting reports were not exactly glowing either. From Baseball America (subs. req’d):

Frank (Chicago, IL): What went wrong with Gosuke Katoh this year, if you could summarize for us?
Josh Norris: Hooooo boy. It was hard to find a scout with anything positive to say about him at all. Here’s what went right. He took a ton of walks. Scouts knocked his defense, his body, his projection, his hitting ability. A few I spoke to didn’t turn him it all. It was a bad, bad year.

That doesn’t sound very promising. Katoh wasn’t exactly a top top prospect coming into the year, but his strong debut in rookie ball last summer made it appear he could be better than expected. We kinda fell for the same thing with 3B Dante Bichette Jr. a few years ago. Not a good year for Katoh at all.

Elsewhere in the system, many others either got hurt (OF Ramon Flores, RHP Jose Ramirez) or simply disappointed (LHP Nik Turley, SS Abi Avelino). That’s baseball. Not everyone is going to work out. Turley has since been released, but the other three are still so young that bouncing back next season wouldn’t be a surprise at all. If they don’t, then so be it. Win some, lose a lot. That’s the nature of player development.

Wrapping Up

Overall, I think this was a positive year for the Yankees’ farm system but not overwhelmingly so. Judge and Severino are clearly the headliners right now, and others like Jagielo, Clarkin, Refsnyder, and Bird are more than interesting. It would have been nice if just one of Heathcott or Williams started to approach their potential, but it doesn’t appear that will happen anytime soon (if ever). The system is tilted heavily towards position players at the moment and that’s totally cool with me given the offense-less nature of baseball these days.

The on-field developments were nice, but the most important stuff to happen in the organization this year were the changes made at the top of the player development system. Newman, Hart, and Roessler are out with Denbo and some other unannounced folks taking over. The Yankees just spent over $28M (and counting) on international players this summer and that has the potential to be a franchise-altering investment. The player development needs to be better though. The Yankees took steps these last few weeks to make that happen and, if things go well, those changes will help the system going forward more than any single prospect.