Saturday Links: Profar, Ohtani, Stanton, Ellsbury

Didi and Profar in the WBC. (Matt Roberts/Getty)
Didi and Profar in the WBC. (Matt Roberts/Getty)

Monday should be a pretty busy day, folks. It is the deadline the MLBPA has set to hammer out the posting agreement for Shohei Ohtani. If a deal isn’t done by Monday, he’s going to stay in Japan next season. Also, Monday is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft. There’s going to be plenty of roster shuffling that day. Here are some other bits of news to check out.

Yankees interested in Profar again

Once again, the Yankees have some interest in former Rangers top prospect Jurickson Profar, reports Joel Sherman. Pretty sure this is the third straight offseason the Yankees have been connected to Profar. They’ve been trying to buy low on him since his shoulder problems started a few years ago. Interestingly, Sherman says Texas has interest in some depth arms at the bottom of New York’s 40-man roster, and a deal could be built around them. Huh.

Profar, 25 in February, missed both the 2014 and 2015 seasons with shoulder surgery. He’s hit only .227/.316/.315 (71 wRC+) since coming back, including .172/.294/.207 (40 wRC+) in 22 big league games in 2017. The Rangers sent Profar to Triple-A, where he hit .287/.383/.428 (116 wRC+) in 87 games. They did not give him a September call-up though, and Profar is reportedly preparing to file a grievance because the non-call-up pushed his free agency back a year.

Acquiring Profar would be very similar to acquiring Aaron Hicks. The Yankees would be betting on talent and a chance of scenery. Profar was a tippy top prospect not too long ago, he’s still only 24, he’s a switch-hitter, and he’s played basically every position other than pitcher or catcher. He is out of minor league options, so it’s MLB or bust. That’s one drawback. Ultimately, just stockpile high-end talent. If all it takes is some fringe 40-man roster arms, this is a no-brainer.

Ohtani wants to hit and pitch

Not surprisingly, Ohtani wants to both hit and pitch whenever he comes over to the big leagues, reports Yahoo! Japan (translation via @NPB_Reddit). “Ohtani said he wants to play both ways in MLB. I plan to respect that wish,” said his agent. If you’re interested, Dan Szymborski put together statistical translations and ZiPS projections for Ohtani, which seem quite relevant. Here are the 2018 projections:

  • As pitcher: 3.55 ERA (119 ERA+), 10.4 K/9, +3.3 WAR in 139.1 innings
  • As hitter: .266/.328/.466 (112 OPS+), 12 HR, +2.2 WAR in 305 at-bats

That would be pretty incredible in his first year as an MLB player. And, for what it’s worth, ZiPS projects a 125 ERA+ and 121 OPS+ at Ohtani’s peak at age 27. That would be amazing. I think everyone has kinda assumed Ohtani will want to hit and pitch when he comes over, but now we know for sure. His agent confirmed it. We’ll see how it goes. Doing one thing well is hard enough. Doing both well would be rather remarkable.

Yankees checked in on Stanton

Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. (Eric Espada/Getty)
Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. (Eric Espada/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees have reached out to the Marlins to discuss Giancarlo Stanton this offseason, reports Jon Heyman. They also checked in back around the trade deadline. Stanton is the big trade commodity this offseason — Heyman says at least eight teams are involved, and I expect more to get involved before it’s all said and done — and so far the Cardinals and Giants have emerged as the most serious suitors.

The Yankees typically check in on everyone during the winter, especially any star players who become available. That doesn’t mean they’re seriously interested in acquiring Stanton. Would they take him if the Marlins make an offer that’s too good to be true? Of course. In that case you get Stanton and figure out where he fits later. That’s why you make the call. In case a favorable deal can be made. Otherwise this is just due diligence. The Yankees have more than enough outfielders as it is.

Ellsbury not yet asked to waive no-trade clause

According to Brendan Kuty, Brian Cashman confirmed this week that the Yankees have not yet asked Jacoby Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause. Last offseason they approached Brian McCann about waiving his no-trade clause fairly early. I assume that’s because there was legitimate interest in McCann at the trade deadline and serious interest again in the offseason, so there was a real chance of a trade. That probably isn’t the case with Ellsbury. Here’s what Cashman told Kuty:

I have not had any dialogue with Scott (Boras), haven’t even approached Scott, I guess it’s a similar situation. I think in both cases — in McCann’s case as well as if there is going to be something for consideration with Jacoby — I would make sure I would stay ahead of it and have to include anybody in the process on their side of it to make sure it’s handled the proper way.

“They have a full no-trade for a reason, and I would walk through that process with the highest level of communication and respect because of it. I haven’t connected with Scott at all, but I know he’s here somewhere, and I’ll make sure I’ll get a chance to talk to him before I leave just generally about everything Scott Boras related for the winter, and I’m sure we’ll also talk about Jacoby as well.

Cashman also said that, as of right now, Ellsbury is the fourth outfielder. Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge are entrenched in the corners, and Hicks is the man in center going forward. “They were the best that we had (in the postseason), and so I think we would anticipate going (into 2018) that way again,” said Cashman. The Yankees are going to have to eat a lot of money to trade Ellsbury, but I think they’re more willing to do it right now than ever before, so I expect them to shop him around pretty aggressively. And when the time comes, they’ll ask about the no-trade clause.

Thoughts on the Yankees’ pursuit on Shohei Ohtani

(Getty)
(Getty)

The offseason is in full swing. The other day, Shohei Ohtani’s NPB team the Nippon Ham Fighters announced that they will post their two-way player/phenom to the Major Leagues.

Ohtani will be a special case. You know the deal. He is uber-talented on both sides of the ball and has the potential to be great as a pitcher and hitter in the MLB. Because of his skills, marketability, etc. the Yankees are expected to go hard after him and many experts have predicted Ohtani will head to Bronx. Wouldn’t it be nice?

However, even if the Yankees are objectively favored to be his destination, many things have to go right in order for the marriage to happen. And even if things work out, there are question marks that will only be answered by time. Here are few thoughts on things to be addressed assuming Ohtani gets successfully posted and the Yankees are in strong contention for him (duh).

1. Could the two-way talent become a sweet poison?

The skills Ohtani has shown as a 23-year old are insane. 2017 was a down season because of his injuries, but take a look at how well he did in 2016, his MVP season. As a pitcher, he went 10-4, 1.86 ERA with 174 K/45 BB in 140 IP while allowing only 4 home runs (!). As a matter of fact, he hit way more than that. On the plate, he hit .322/.416/.588 (1.004 OPS) with 22 HRs (41 extra-base hits) in 323 AB’s. For a player to excel like that on both sides of the ball is utterly insane. Again, we’re not talking about a guy who just merely helped the team out. He was a superstar on both facets of the game. The Fighters had a Corey Kluber and Freddie Freeman morphed into one player.

Now, it’s no secret that Ohtani wants to continue being a two-way guy in the MLB. He certainly has the potential and tools to be very good at both. Because Ohtani has been seen as a special talent since he was drafted by Nippon Ham, the team took care of him quite differently than other NPB players. Having to practice and play two different positions can take a toll on body. In the NPB, Ohtani was a weekly starting pitcher and hit DH two or three times a week. From 2014-16, he racked up more than 140 IP each season and from 2013-2017, he had more than 200 plate appearances in every season but one.

I don’t know how much that workload contributed to his injury troubles in 2017, but he started out this season with a thigh injury and recently, he underwent an ankle surgery (but is expected to be ready for the Spring Training). Now, it’s not great when you hear a 23-year-old get hampered by lower body issues. You just hope that they don’t turn into something long-term. Though he should be 100% and ready to go come Spring Training, these injuries at this stage of his career should serve as a cautionary guideline on how to handle him going forward.

2. How much would a team be willing to work around him?

This is something that will probably be talked about on and off for years. Never in recent ML history has a team had to adjust their roster and usage based on one player. Ohtani – and whichever club that would acquire him – could be a pioneer in something a bit more complicated.

I think this will play a big part in how a team can sell themselves to Ohtani. Remember, the initial contract is not a huge factor in signing him. He will choose a team that is the best fit for him and that club would most likely tell him that they will do this and that to accommodate his playing interests.

Let’s go back to the injury aspect though. It is worth noting that an ankle trouble for someone at Ohtani’s age is troubling – especially considering that he pitches and bats. Both of those activities require a lot of use of lower body (as does athletics in general) and it’s conceivable that the stress of all those motions have caught up to Ohtani’s ankle and caused him to miss the 2017 World Baseball Classic and beyond. It is quite possible that his lower body troubles don’t suddenly end after the surgery he went through. It is reasonable for teams to feat that Ohtani’s ankle problem could reoccur later on and bring that up to him when proposing their plan.

The concern doesn’t end at his ankle either. There’s also the pitching workload. Typically, Ohtani’s had to pitch only once a week with 6 days of rest. In the MLB, starting pitchers get four or five days of rest before they go back to the hill. If a team wants to accommodate Ohtani’s two-way wishes, it means that they have to give him a good amount of rest time in between his starts AND have to find time for him to hit. That is a lot of physical demand, especially in 162 games (an NPB season lasts 146 games, with every Mondays off). That tells me that, if a team wants to keep Ohtani healthy and have him pitch and hit, they would have to run the roster a bit unorthodox than other teams. It will lead to some headaches, I would imagine.

For what it’s worth, that will make it much harder for NL teams to pursue him. If they promise him a hitting gig, it would mean that he has to go out and field. Being a pitcher and DH can be strenuous enough but pitch + hit + field? Lordy.

3. Prospect

Let’s take a different look at Ohtani – him as a prospect instead of a guy who’s expected to produce big time right away. He may not dominate right away in the majors. He is young, he just came off a season hobbled with injuries, and he will have to get acclimated to a whole other league. However, a healthy Ohtani could be as nasty as anyone. I’m sure you’ve seen a share of Ohtani pitching videos by now, but here’s a reminder of how deadly he can be:

Ohtani will be 23-years old on the 2018 Opening Day. That’s the age where a lot of young ML players either reach the show or start settling in. Aaron Judge reached to the bigs at age 24, for instance. Ohtani can grow more by getting ML experience, which is an exciting thought.

Now, what am I trying to say? I’m saying that you can see him as an exciting potential ML’er that can make an impact right away but can improve significantly after a few seasons. Now, it’s also reasonable to expect some growing/adjustment pains as well. It would be neat if he performs like a superstar from the game one, but it’s never easy to just come over to a different league and do that.

As exciting as he is, Ohtani does come with certain flaws. For instance, he struck out for a 27.3% clip at the plate in 2017. That number would most likely increase in the MLB. Also as mentioned, there are question marks with his health, which certainly impacted his pitching performance in ’17 (19 walks allowed in 25.1 IP). The greatness might not come right away and, frankly, it doesn’t have to. It’s perfectly normal for guy like him to take some time to blossom in the MLB.

Ohtani has already put his skills and potential into action in the NPB with monstrous performances. All that needs to happen – much easier said than done – is for him to do the same in the MLB. Ohtani has the potential to be a big part of the core of a team’s future. Think of how much the Yanks are counting on guys like Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, etc. going forward. Ohtani could be one of them.

4. Are the Yankees going to get him anyways?

The Yankees have their share of history bringing in Japanese talents. Because of that, it’s easy to assume that they are one of the very likely destinations for Ohtani. In their recent history, the Yanks went all-out to convince Masahiro Tanaka to sign with the team with video presentations, etc. I’m sure they’ll do at least the similar for Ohtani as well.

However, you never know what goes behind the curtains. Ohtani would not cost a lot of money for any team thanks to the CBA rule, which means, hypothetically, a small-market club like the Rays could sign him without financial hitch if they somehow can appeal to him. Remember, the big factor to signing him is how much a club can sell themselves to him. The Yankees are obviously very charming but so are many other clubs. One thing that goes well for them and other AL clubs is that Ohtani wants to hit and they can plug him in a DH role regularly. Good luck to NL teams trying to get him convincing him that he can try to hit regularly without having him to field.

On a personal note – I remember the Daisuke Matsuzaka saga in the winter of 2006. The rumored posting fee to get to talk to him was $25 million and it seemed a lot at the time. The Yankees were interested and, of course, that was around the amount that they bid to the Saitama Seibu Lions. However, the Red Sox blew everyone out of the water by giving an unprecedented $50 million bid. That was shocking to many. And sure, the Matsuzaka and Ohtani situations are quite different, but my point here is that anything could happen when all 30 MLB teams are in play.

This Ohtani situation is something truly unique. Whatever happens and however he pans out as a player, it’s a good bet that the next month or two will be talked about for a long, long time.

Saturday Links: Otani, Minor League Free Agents, 2018 ZiPS

(Getty)
(Getty)

The offseason has been slow-moving so far, so here are some bits of news and notes to help you pass the time. Hopefully something exciting happens soon.

Otani will be posted this offseason

Yesterday the Nippon Ham Fighters announced they will indeed post Shohei Otani for MLB teams this offseason, according to the Japan Times and the Kyodo News. It’s important to note the (Ham) Fighters have only announced their intention to post Otani. He hasn’t actually been posted yet. MLB, MLBPA, and NPB are still haggling over the posting agreement. From the Kyodo News:

“Everyone in our ballclub accepts his thoughts,” said Hideki Kuriyama, manager of the (Ham) Fighters, at a press conference yesterday. “It’s not just me, but everyone in the ballclub believed in what he can do. I never lost doubt and I was sure he can do it. I spent the past five years just believing in that.”

Otani recently hired Nez Balelo of CAA, an MLBPA certified agent, which could help settle the posting squabble between MLB, MLBPA, and NPB. The union knows Otani is in good hands now — Balelo is a veteran agent who has experience representing Japanese players (Nori Aoki, Junichi Tazawa) as well as big name players (Ryan Braun, Adam Jones) — and can be sure he is completely aware of the situation. Once the posting stuff if sorted out, Otani will be posted. Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.

16 Yankees become minor league free agents

Earlier this week a whopping 572 players became minor league free agents across baseball, according to Matt Eddy. Sixteen of those 572 players are Yankees. Or were Yankees, anyway. Here are the 16.

  • Pitchers (8): RHP Colten Brewer, LHP Daniel Camarena, RHP Juan Jimenez, RHP Tyler Jones, LHP Joe Mantiply, RHP Jose Pena, RHP Eduardo Rivera, LHP Eric Wooten
  • Catchers (4): Wilkin Castillo, Kellin Deglan, Eddy Rodriguez, Wes Wilson
  • Infielders (3): 3B Dante Bichette Jr., IF Cito Culver, IF Donovan Solano
  • Outfielders (1): Mason Williams

Bichette and Culver are the most notable names here as former high draft picks, and Williams was once among the organization’s very best prospects. Brewer and Camarena are the best prospects right now, though neither comes particularly close to cracking the organization’s top 30 prospects list. Or even the top 40 list. Solano and Williams are the only two of those 16 players who played in the big leagues with the Yankees.

Also, according to Eddy, the Yankees have re-signed LHP Chaz Hebert, who was due to become a minor league free agent this winter. The 25-year-old southpaw had a breakout 2015 season, throwing 134 innings with a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) at three levels. Then he blew out his elbow and missed the entire 2016 season and the first half of 2017 with Tommy John surgery. Hebert got back on the mound late this year and will back in the fold next year.

Yankees top 2018 AL ZiPS projections

A few days ago Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to put together way-too-early 2018 projected standings. ZiPS right now pegs the Yankees for 92 wins and first place in the AL East next year. In fact, those 92 wins are the most among all AL teams — the 90-win Astros are second — and second most in MLB overall behind the 96-win Dodgers.

New York of course had a gigantic payroll in 2017 as it typically does, but what people haven’t completely noticed about this team is that it got far more of its wins from inexpensive, young talent than the good Yankees teams typically do. The last time the team won a World Series, it got 9.7 WAR (17 percent) from players making less than a million bucks. In 2017, that number was 25.9 WAR (49 percent).

Of course, there is still an entire offseason to go, so every team’s roster can and will change before Opening Day. As things stand right now though, the Yankees are set up well going into next year thanks to their young core and some nice veteran complementary players. It’s entirely possible they could go into next season even bigger favorites to win the AL East depending how the offseason plays out.

Shohei Otani is both the No. 1 target and a back-burner issue for the Yankees this offseason

Dingers. (Getty)
Dingers. (Getty)

Free agency is now underway. The five-day exclusive negotiating period is over and, as of 12:01am ET this morning, free agents are free to negotiate and sign with any team. MLB isn’t the NFL, NBA, or NHL though. There aren’t a flurry of Day One signings because there’s no salary cap. MLB free agency, like the regular season, is a marathon rather than a sprint.

Although the free agent signing period has opened, the No. 1 offseason target on every team’s list is still not available. Nippon Ham Fighters righty/slugger Shohei Otani has not yet been posted for MLB teams, and depending who you ask, he might not be posted at all this winter. MLB, MLBPA, and NPB are haggling over the posting system. It’s clear Otani wants to come over this winter. Now he just needs all parties involved to let him.

The 23-year-old Otani is basically the coolest baseball player on Earth. He’s a 100 mph throwing starter with wicked breaking stuff who also socks dingers on the days between starts. Otani hit .332/.403/.540 in 231 plate appearances with a 3.20 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 25.1 innings around ankle and quad injuries in 2017. Last year, when fully healthy, he hit .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers and had a 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings.

Otani’s appeal is obvious. He’s young and he has a chance to not only contribute on both sides of the ball, but be an impact player both on the mound and at the plate. The consensus is Otani has more potential as a pitcher, but at this point, it makes sense to see whether he can hit and pitch. There is so much value to be gained. And if you have to pull the plug as a hitter or pitcher at some point, so be it.

The Yankees scouted Otani during the season (duh) and they’re expected to pursue him aggressively this offseason — Joel Sherman recently reported “they plan to push as hard as possible” to land Otani — which makes perfect sense. They have a fun up-and-coming team and Otani would fit right in with the exciting young core. He’s five months younger than Luis Severino! Of course this guy should be their No. 1 offseason target.

At the same time, the Yankees can’t — and shouldn’t — focus on Otani this winter. They need to proceed with their offseason as if they won’t sign Otani. That means filling out the rotation and coming up with a solution for the designated hitter spot (one set player? revolving door?), among other things. There are two reasons for this.

1. Otani might not come over. Back when Masahiro Tanaka was coming over, there were weeks and weeks of “he’s coming over/he’s not coming over/posting system negotiations could hold it up” talk. The same thing is happening here. I expect everyone to come to their senses and to get it worked out in time. But, until it happens, there’s always a chance Otani won’t be posted this winter. You can plan your offseason around a No. 1 target who might not actually be available. The Yankees don’t want to miss out on other players because they’re waiting for Otani.

2. It’s a minimal financial investment. This is the big one to me. Unless MLB, MLBPA, and NPB completely rewrite the international hard cap rules, which is possible but extremely unlikely, signing Otani will involved three financial commitments:

  1. The release fee paid to the (Ham) Fighters.
  2. His signing bonus.
  3. His 2018 salary.

MLB and the NPB already agreed Otani would be grandfathered in under the old posting agreement, meaning the (Ham) Fighters will set the maximum $20M release fee. Whichever team signs him, pays it. Every single MLB team can cut a $20M release fee check for Otani right now. Don’t let the owners trick you into thinking otherwise.

The signing bonus is a relatively small investment. Otani is subject to the international hard cap and teams only have so much international bonus money left to spend. Mark Feinsand says the Yankees have as much available international money as any team.

Eight teams have the ability to pay Ohtani a signing bonus of more than $1 million: the Rangers ($3.535M), Yankees ($3.5M), Pirates ($2.27M), Twins ($1.895M), D-Backs ($1.87M), Marlins ($1.74M), Tigers ($1.072M) and Mariners ($1.056M).

Conversely, 12 teams are prohibited from giving a signing bonus of more than $300,000 as a penalty for exceeding their bonus pools under the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement: the A’s, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Padres, Reds, Royals and White Sox.

Otani’s salary next season is an important consideration for the Yankees given their luxury tax plan. Because of the international hard cap rules, Otani can only sign a minor league deal, and he has to be treated like any other rookie. That means three pre-arbitration seasons and three arbitration seasons before qualifying for free agency. Otani will earn the $545,000 minimum salary in 2018. That’s nothing. It won’t complicate the luxury tax plan at all.

So the financial investment boils down to the league minimum salary that is a drop in the bucket for every club, international bonus money every team is planning to spend one way or another, and the $20M release fee every team can afford. The financial playing field is level. That means the Yankees won’t be able to blow everyone away with a big offer like they did for Tanaka. That lowers their odds of signing him some degree.

The more important factor here is Otani’s league minimum salary in 2018. That won’t have much impact on the Yankees’ plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. They can go about their offseason, get the pieces they need, and if they land Otani at some point along the way, great! His salary won’t blow up the luxury tax plan. Treat him almost like a luxury item. Build your team as if you won’t get him, and if you do, it’s the icing on the cake.

Saturday Links: Otani, League Top 20 Prospects, Cessa

The most fun player on Earth. (Getty)
The most fun player on Earth. (Getty)

The offseason is off to a pretty good start. Last night we learned Masahiro Tanaka will not opt-out of his contract, and instead give the Yankees his age 29-31 seasons for $67M. Not bad. Not bad at all. Now the Yankees can now move on to other things, like finding a new manager. Here are some notes and links to check out.

Otani’s move on hold while MLB, MLBPA, NPB haggle

According to Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman, Shohei Otani’s move to the big leagues is on hold while MLB, MLBPA, and NPB haggle over the posting agreement. The posting agreement expired last month, though MLB and NPB agreed Otani would be grandfathered in under the old agreement, meaning the Nippon Ham Fighters would still get the $20M release fee. The players’ union doesn’t like that arrangement. From Sherman:

But MLB cannot enter into any transfer agreement with any country — Japan, Korea, Cuba, Mexico, etc. — without approval from the MLB Players Association, as stated in the CBA. And the union, to date, has refused to make an exception for Otani, concerned about the precedent and fairness of the player receiving, say, $300,000 and his former team $20 million.

Under the international hard cap Otani can only receive a small bonus — the Yankees and Rangers reportedly have the most bonus money to offer at $2.5M or so — and sign a minor league contract, which is nothing. He’s getting screwed beyond belief, financially. I get why MLBPA doesn’t want to set this precedent, but maybe do something about it during Collective Bargaining Agreement talks? It’s a little too late now. You agreed to the hard cap, you dolts.

Anyway, my guess is Otani will indeed end up coming over at some point this winter. It seems like he really wants to despite the hard cap. So far this Otani stuff is following a similar path as the Tanaka stuff a few years ago. He wants to come over, oh no his team might not post him, now MLB and the NPB are at an impasse during posting system talks … blah blah blah. Same story, different year.

Otani undergoes ankle surgery

Oh, by the way, Otani had ankle surgery last month, according to the Kyodo News. The ankle had been bothering him since late last year, when he rolled it running through first base in October. He then reaggravated it in November. The ankle injury as well as a nagging quad problem limited Otani to only 231 plate appearances (.332/.403/.540) and 25.1 innings (3.20 ERA and 10.3 K/9) in 2017.

The surgery comes with a three-month rehab, meaning Otani is expected to be back on his feet by January. That could throw a wrench into his offseason workout routine. Obviously the surgery is a red flag and something MLB teams must consider when pursuing him, but given the nature of the injury — rolling your ankle while running through first base is kinda fluky — and the fact his arm is sound leads me to believe it won’t hurt his market at all. It could mean Otani is brought along a little more slowly in Spring Training, however.

More Yankees among BA’s league top 20 prospects

Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)

It just dawned on me that I never passed along Baseball America’s remaining league top 20 prospect lists. I did post Triple-A, Double-A, and High-A, but that’s all. There are still four more levels to cover, and many Yankees prospects. Let’s get to them quick:

  • OF Estevan Florial (Low-A No. 2): “He’s a higher-risk, high ceiling prospect who has further refinement to come, but special tools.”
  • RHP Jorge Guzman (NYPL No. 2): “(The) 21-year-old took a big step forward as a pitcher this year … He mixed in his curveball and changeup more regularly, which only made his plus-plus fastball more effective.”
  • RHP Trevor Stephan (NYPL No. 9): “Stephan sat 92-94 mph but touched 95-96 regularly. His slider got plenty of swings and misses thanks to his ability to bury it.”
  • RHP Juan De Paula (NYPL No. 14): “De Paula was one of the more skilled pitchers in the league, showing an ability to control the strike zone and throw in and out, up and down, raising and lowering hitters’ eye levels and never letting them get real comfortable in the batter’s box.”
  • IF Oswaldo Cabrera (NYPL No. 16): “Managers and scouts felt confident about Cabrera’s ability to hit for average and get on base … Scouts are concerned that Cabrera’s tools are more modest than his work ethic and feel for the game.”
  • RHP Luis Medina (Appy No. 6): “Medina’s upside is enormous. He attacks hitters with a true 80-grade fastball on the 20-80 scouting scale and sits anywhere from 96-100 mph … Medina pairs his heater with two potentially above-average secondaries. His curveball works in an 11-to-5 arc and is his preferred knockout pitch, whereas his changeup lags a little behind.”
  • RHP Deivi Garcia (Appy No. 15): “Garcia’s fastball sits in the low 90s and touches as high as 96 mph … His curveball is nearing plus status and boasts high spin rates and firm shape.”
  • SS Oswald Peraza (GCL No. 14): “Peraza is a smart, savvy player and a good athlete. He has a smooth, efficient stroke, good bat-to-ball skills and manages his at-bats well with a good sense for the strike zone.”
  • SS Jose Devers (GCL No. 19): “Devers’ glove is ahead of his bat, but he held his own against older competition in the GCL, showing a sound swing and contact skills, though without much power.”

In the Appalachian League chat, 3B Dermis Garcia was called “a very divisive player” because his pitch recognition isn’t great and he’ll probably end up at first base, but “(on) the flip side, he’s got enormous raw power and a strong throwing arm.” Also, OF Blake Rutherford placed 18th on the Low-A South Atlantic League list. Eek. Hopefully he bounces back next year. Rutherford’s a good dude.

Cessa activated off 60-day DL

A small transaction to note: Luis Cessa was activated off the 60-day DL yesterday, the Yankees announced. The Yankees now have four open spots on the 40-man roster. They’re going to go to Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects later this month. Chances are the Yankees will have to open a few more 40-man spots, in fact. Cessa, 25, had a 4.75 ERA (5.75 FIP) in 36 swingman innings this year before going down with a rib cage injury. I like him more than most. I think Cessa has a chance to be a nice little back-end starter and soon.

Saturday Links: Otani, Denbo, Judge, Sanchez, YES Network

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

The Yankees and Indians have an off-day today as the ALDS shifts from Cleveland to New York. The best-of-five series will resume with Game Three tomorrow night. Here are some links to check out in the meantime.

Otani dazzles in possible final start in Japan

Shohei Otani, who may or may not come to MLB this offseason, made what could be his final start for the Nippon Ham Fighters earlier this week. He struck out ten in a two-hit shutout of the Orix Buffaloes, and Jason Coskrey says dozens of MLB scouts attended the game. Otani finished the season with a 3.20 ERA in 25.1 innings and a .340/.413/.557 batting line in 63 games. He missed time with quad and ankle problems, hence the limited time on the mound.

Joel Sherman says the Yankees are “known to be extremely interested” in Otani, who, if he does come over this year, will come over under the old posting rules. That means the (Ham) Fighters will set a $20M release fee. MLB and NPB are currently renegotiating the posting agreement for other players going forward. The Yankees have roughly $2M in international bonus money to offer Otani based on my estimates, though if he comes over this year, it won’t be for top dollar. Basically no team has much international money to offer. Otani will go wherever he thinks is the best fit based on his own personal preferences. Good luck predicting that.

Denbo expected to join Marlins

Folks in baseball expect Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo to join Derek Jeter and the Marlins this offseason, reports Jon Heyman. Marlins general manager Mike Hill is expected to remain on, with Denbo coming over to head up their player development department, the same department he runs for the Yankees now. Denbo’s contract is up after the season, so he’s free to come and go as he chooses.

Jeter and Denbo are very close and go back a long away, and I figured Jeter would try to poach him once we found out he was buying the Marlins. Denbo has done a phenomenal job turning around the farm system and the Yankees will miss him, assuming they can’t convince him to stay. Who will take over the farm system? I have no idea. The Yankees will find someone. I’m curious to see which Yankees farmhands the Marlins try to acquire going forward. You know Denbo has some personal favorites in the system.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Judge had most popular jersey in 2017

The most popular player jersey this season, according to sales on MLB.com, belongs to Aaron Judge. Here is the press release. The average age of the top 20 players in jersey sales is 27, so that’s fun. Here’s the top five:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees
  2. Kris Bryant, Cubs
  3. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  4. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  5. Bryce Harper, Nationals

Also in the top 20 jersey sales: Gary Sanchez. He ranked 15th in jersey sales overall and sixth among AL players, behind Judge, Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve. Only two pitchers in the top 20, which is kinda weird. Kershaw is fourth and Noah Syndergaard is 19th. The people love dingers, I guess.

YES Network ratings up 57%

Not surprisingly, the YES Network’s rating were up a whopping 57% this season, the network announced yesterday. This season’s ratings were the best in five years. Primetime game broadcasts on YES had higher ratings than the primetime schedules of all other cable networks in New York, plus ratings for non-game broadcasts (pregame and postgame shows, etc.) were up as well. Ratings outside the city also increased substantially. Turns out if you put a very good and very fun team on the field, people will watch. Who woulda thunk it?

Thursday Links: Top High-A Prospects, Shohei Otani

Tate. (Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Rays wrap up their three-game series later today — final night game of the regular season! — so, until then, here are some stray links and notes to check out.

Two Yankees among top High-A prospects

Baseball America (subs. req’d) continued this week with their analysis of the top 20 prospects in each minor league. They covered the High-A Florida State League today, with Blue Jays 3B Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Blue Jays SS Bo Bichette sitting in the top two spots. Two Yankees farmhands made the top 20:

  • 7) RHP Dillon Tate: “His fastball reaches 98 mph consistently, and unlike past seasons, he held his velocity, often getting up to 97 as late as the eighth inning of his last two starts. His fastball command, changeup and slider all have improved from 2016.”
  • 14) 2B Nick Solak: “(He) has fast hands, a feel for hitting and above-average speed. He’s put in the work to become an average defender … ‘He’s a baseball player who can really hit,’ one league manager said. ‘He’s a pain in the butt to have to play against; that’s a compliment.’

In the chat, John Manuel said RHP Taylor Widener has a chance to be “in the Adam Warren family of swing man,” which would be an amazing outcome for a 12th round pick. Widener successfully transitioned from college reliever to pro starter this year, though Manuel says it’s unfair to compare to him to RHP Chance Adams because Adams has more fastball. Still pretty cool that Widener raised his stock this year.

Anyway, glad to hear Tate is back to being the 2015 fourth overall pick version of himself after the Rangers tried to tweak his mechanics last year. Keith Law had a similar report recently too, so we’re getting a consensus here. OF Estevan Florial did not spend enough time with High-A Tampa this season to qualify for the top 20 list. Interestingly enough, neither Athletics SS Jorge Mateo nor Twins RHP Zack Littell made the top 20. I wonder if that was an oversight. I figured both would be locks, especially Mateo. Whatever.

Otani interviewing MLB agents

According to Jon Heyman, two-way superstar Shohei Otani has started interviewing prospective agents. This is another indication Otani is indeed preparing to make the jump to MLB, though it doesn’t confirm anything. He could just be doing his homework. Here’s more from Heyman:

Big-time agencies Wasserman (led by Joel Wolfe and Adam Katz), Octagon (headed by Alan Nero), The Legacy Agency and the Scott Boras Corporation are believed to be in the early mix and seen as among the favorites, as all have experience repping Japanese stars. Many groups declined comment or ignored messages regarding the process, but other big-time agencies with experiencing repping Japanese stars include Excel (Casey Close), CAA (Brodie Van Wagenen) and John Boggs.

Otani is basically interviewing the who’s who of player agents, and the Yankees have relationships with all of ’em. Brian Cashman and his staff have hammered out deals with Wasserman (Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui), Octagon (Hiroki Kuroda), Legacy (CC Sabathia), Boras (Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez), and Excel (Derek Jeter) plenty of times over the years. I wouldn’t say those relationships give the Yankees an advantage — every team has a relationship with every agent! — but they can’t hurt.

Otani will be exempt from new posting agreement

MLB and NPB are currently negotiating a new posting agreement — MLB is trying to knock down the cost of acquiring players from Japan again — and, according to Jim Allen, the next agreement will not apply to Otani. Should he come to MLB, it will be under the old posting agreement, meaning the Nippon Ham Fighters will set the release fee — it’ll surely be the max $20M — and whichever team signs Otani will pay it. That’s good. It means no delay in Otani’s posting as the two sides haggle over the posting system.

There are two posting system proposals on the table: a flat 15% of the player’s contract, or 15% up to $100M with a flat $20M fee for deals in excess of $100M. Under that arrangement, the (Ham) Fighters would receive less than $1M for Otani given the international hard cap. Allen says MLB’s international rules, which say players under 25 count against the hard cap and come with six years of control, effectively tell Japan’s best young players to come straight to MLB out of high school. Don’t bother playing in Japan because it’ll just delay your big payday. Junichi Tazawa did that. NPB teams aren’t thrilled, as you can imagine.