Minor League Notes: Hernandez, Coaching Staffs

Duncan is heading back to Staten Island. (AP)
Duncan is heading back to Staten Island. (AP)

Got some minor league notes to pass along, including an interesting (because of his story, not prospect potential) signing and the coaching staffs for the lower level affiliates.

Yankees Sign OF Robert Hernandez

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed outfielder Robert Hernandez to a minor league contract. He hit .264/.350/.358 with three doubles during a 20-game stint in winter ball in his native Venezuela this offseason. Hernandez is notable because he used to be a pitcher — he converted some time ago and is not trying to make it as a position player. Here’s more from Eddy:

… he worked as a pitcher in the Cubs system from 2006 through 2009, making it as far as low Class A Peoria as a starter, but he hasn’t played affiliated ball in any of the past five seasons. The obvious parallel for Hernandez is Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta, who flamed out as a Cardinals pitcher, took three years off, toiled as an outfielder for two and half years in independent ball, then got noticed by Arizona scouts in 2013. Now he’s a big leaguer coming off a successful rookie campaign in 2014.

Hernandez played with a few current Yankees’ farmhands in winter ball, including UTIL Jose Pirela, so maybe the team liked what they saw as they were tracking their own players. He hasn’t played at all since 2009 — not in the minors, not in independent ball, not overseas, nothing — so obviously he’s an extreme long shot to make it. Either way, this is next level deep scouting. Hopefully Hernandez does well. It’ll be fun.

More Coaching Staffs Announced

Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton announced their coaching staffs not too long ago, and the rest of the minor league affiliates followed suit these last few days. Here are the coaching staffs set to lead the lower levels this coming season.

A+ Tampa A- Charleston SS Staten Island Rk Pulaski
Manager Dave Bialas Luis Dorante Pat Osborne Tony Franklin
Hitting Coach Tom Slater Greg Colbrunn Ty Hawkins Edwar Gonzalez
Pitching Coach Tommy Phelps Tim Norton Butch Henry Justin Pope
Defensive Coach J.D. Closser Travis Chapman Eric Duncan Hector Rabago
Trainer Michael Becker Jimmy Downam ? Josh DiLoreto
Strength Coach Joe Siara Anthony Velazquez ? James Gonzalez

So, first things first, yes, Franklin will indeed be the manager for the team’s new rookie ball affiliate, the Pulaski Yankees. We recently heard he will serve as a “roving instructor” and travel to the various affiliates this summer to help out, but Matt Kardos confirmed Franklin will do the roving thing in the first half of the season before joining Pulaski when their season begins in late-June. Alrighty then.

Anyway, the most notable name among the coaching staffs is Eric Duncan, who was New York’s first round pick in the 2003 draft. He spent a few years in the system — the Yankees really rushed him up the ladder in an effort to boost his trade value (he was in Double-A four months after turning 20) — but eventually flamed out and retired after the 2012 season. Duncan spent the last three years getting his degree and is now getting into coaching. Neat.

Norton, Gonzalez, Pope, and Rabago are all recently retired Yankees’ farmhands. Norton had a ton of arm problems during his career. He flat out dominated with Double-A Trenton in 2011 (1.55 ERA and 2.42 FIP) was on the verge of a call-up to MLB when he hurt his shoulder again. That led to the team signing Cory Wade off the scrap heap — they had to replace the depth. Norton was the pitching coach in Staten Island last year.

Dorante is returning as manager of the River Dogs while Osborne is moving up from one of the rookie Gulf Coast League squads. Bialas just joined the organization and has been managing in the minors for over 30 years. He’s part of new farm system head Gary Denbo’s initiative to have veteran managers lead young players at the lower levels. Colbrunn is returning to Charleston after spending the 2013-14 season as the Red Sox’s hitting coach. He lives in Charleston and left the Sox because he wanted to be closer to his family. Colbrunn was with the River Dogs as either hitting coach or manager from 2007-12.

RHP Andy Beresford Retires

Beresford, the club’s 19th round pick out of UNLV in 2013, has decided to retire according to a message he posted on Instagram. The 24-year-old reliever had a 2.67 ERA with 54 strikeouts and 19 walks in 91 career innings, most with Low-A Charleston this past season. Beresford was suspended 50 games last August after testing positive for amphetamines.

Sorting out the projected 2015 Triple-A Scranton roster

Sanchez will be the top prospect in Triple-A in 2015. (Presswire)
Sanchez will be the top prospect in Triple-A in 2015. (Presswire)

As we’ve seen firsthand the last few seasons, these days it takes way more than 25 players to get through a 162-game season. It usually takes more than the 40 guys on the 40-man roster as well. Players get hurt and/or underperform, and reinforcements are needed. The Yankees used a franchise record 58 different players last season and over the last five seasons they’ve averaged 50 players per year.

Needless to say, the Triple-A affiliate is very important. Many clubs use it as a taxi squad for their extra players, calling up fresh arms for the bullpen as needed or an extra right-handed bat if they’re slated to see a lot of lefty starters that week. Stuff like that. Triple-A is a place to stash spare players, the important depth pieces each team needs throughout the season.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at the projected Triple-A Scranton roster for the upcoming season. Keep in mind that it is only the middle of January and a lot can and will change between now and Opening Day. This is just a snapshot in time. Let’s get to it.

Position Players

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Utility
Gary Sanchez* Kyle Roller Eury Perez* Jose Pirela*
Austin Romine* Nick Noonan Tyler Austin* Adonis Garcia
Juan Graterol Rob Refsnyder Ramon Flores* Jonathan Galvez
Francisco Arcia Cole Figueroa Taylor Dugas Ali Castillo
Rob Segedin Ben Gamel

Players on the 40-man roster are denoted with an asterisk. Aside from putting the 40-man guys at the top, there’s no particular reason why the players are listed in that order, so don’t read anything into it.

Sanchez, who seems to be a little underrated at the moment, will serve as the RailRiders’ regular catcher after spending a year and a half in Double-A. Romine is the most obvious candidate to back Sanchez up, though he is out of minor league options, so sending him down will require a trip through waivers. I suppose Romine could back up Brian McCann with John Ryan Murphy in Triple-A, but that seems highly unlikely. If Romine does get lost on waivers, Arcia and minor league free agent pickup Graterol are the backup candidates. I’d bet on Arcia backing up Sanchez in that case with Graterol either in Double-A or on the phantom DL.

Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

The first of two locks on the infield is Refsnyder, who will play second and probably bat third if he doesn’t slip onto the big league roster somehow. That would require an injury in Spring Training, most likely. Roller at first base is the other lock and he’ll probably bat cleanup behind Refnsyder. He mashed last summer. Segedin spent some time in Triple-A last year and it didn’t go well (2 wRC+!), though he’ll likely get another shot this year and play his usual third base. Noonan and Figueroa were signed as minor league free agents and are candidates to play short.

The outfield is a little crowded, though I expect Perez to be designated for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Stephen Drew. (No, the Drew signing still isn’t official. They’re taking their time with that one.) Assuming Perez goes, Dugas and Garcia will share center field duty like they did at times in 2014. Flores and Austin are natural fits in left and right field, respectively, and Pirela will probably wind up playing a different position everyday, like he did last season. He’ll be the rover. That’s assuming he doesn’t win a big league bench job somehow.

That brings us to 12 position players assuming Perez loses his roster spot to Drew. The 13th position player spot will go to one of Gamel, Castillo, or Galvez, and I think Galvez is the obvious choice, mostly because he’s spent the last two years in Triple-A. Gamel (80 wRC+) and Castillo (81 wRC+) weren’t particularly good with Double-A Trenton in 2014. Galvez was another minor league free agent signing and his 101 wRC+ at Triple-A the last two years suggests he will be there again in 2015. He might even start at third over Segedin.

Alright, so after all of that, the position player portion of the RailRiders roster figures to look something like this:

C Sanchez
1B Roller
2B Refsnyder
SS Noonan or Figueroa
3B Segedin
LF Flores
CF Dugas or Garcia
RF Austin
DH Pirela

Bench: Romine/Graterol/Arcia, Noonan or Figueroa, Dugas or Garcia, Galvez

If you want to play around with the batting order, I’d go with Pirela at leadoff, then Flores, Refsnyder, Roller, Sanchez, Austin, Segedin, Dugas or Garcia, then Noonan or Figueroa in the ninth spot. More importantly, Pirela is likely to be the first player called up whenever help is needed simply because he’s already on the 40-man and can play almost anywhere. Not well, mind you, but he can do it. Versatility works in his favor.

Austin, Sanchez, and Flores are all on the 40-man and I think all three will make their MLB debuts this season, even if it’s nothing more than a September call-up. Flores played 63 games around an ankle injury in Triple-A last summer and will probably get the call before Austin if an outfielder is needed. Sanchez isn’t ready to catch in MLB so an awful lot would have to go wrong for him to get called up at midseason. Someone like Noonan or Figueroa could get a random call-up at some point if necessary. We’ll see. For the most part, this is the crop of position players I expect to head to Scranton at the end of Spring Training.

Pitchers

Starters RH Relievers LH Relievers
Jose DePaula* Jose Ramirez* Chasen Shreve*
Bryan Mitchell* Branden Pinder* Jacob Lindgren
Chase Whitley* Danny Burawa* Tyler Webb
Zach Nuding Chris Martin* James Pazos
Matt Tracy Mark Montgomery Fred Lewis
Caleb Cotham Diego Moreno
Joel De La Cruz

Update: I totally forgot about RHP Nick Rumbelow, who ended last season in Triple-A. He’ll be in the bullpen mix this year as well. My bad.

Again, don’t read anything into the order of the players in the table. I just listed them as they came to mind. Also, I’m not actually sure if De La Cruz is with the organization any more. He re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent last offseason and I don’t know if he did so again this year.

Anyway, the Triple-A rotation is very much up in the air depending on the needs of the big league team. If the Yankees need to dip into this group of players before Opening Day, Mitchell would presumably get the first shot at the rotation. Whitley made some starts last season and was actually pretty good for a while, but the wheels eventually came off and I don’t think anyone’s looking forward to seeing him in the rotation again anytime soon. I do think he’ll start for the RailRiders just to stay stretched out as an emergency option though.

DePaula’s interesting. The Yankees liked him enough to give him a Major League contract and a 40-man roster spot a few weeks ago, though he’s thrown only 131 innings over the last three years due to injury (51.1 in 2014). He’s a starter and an easy call for the Triple-A rotation. Nuding, Tracy, Cotham and De La Cruz all spent part of last season with the RailRiders and I think I’d put them in that order on a depth chart. Meaning if everyone in the MLB rotation stays healthy, I think the Triple-A rotation would include Mitchell, DePaula, Whitley, Nuding, and Tracy with Cotham and De La Cruz stuck back in Double-A. Assuming De La Cruz is still in the system, of course.

One rotation candidate who is not listed is top pitching prospect Luis Severino, who the Yankees have clearly put on the fast track. I don’t think Severino will start the year with Triple-A Scranton — he made six starts with Trenton at the end of last season — because right now it appears the RailRiders have enough bodies for the rotation. More than enough, really. Plus he’s an actual prospect, not just someone to soak up innings. A few more starts in Double-A won’t be the end of the world. Severino will be up in Triple-A before you know it.

The bullpen is where it really gets a little tight. The Yankees have one open spot in the big league bullpen right now and that spot will go to one of those eleven guys listed in the table above. I fully expect a) there to be a Spring Training competition for that last bullpen spot, and b) that last spot to be a revolving door all year. It always is. Whoever wins the roster spot in camp doesn’t automatically get to keep it all year either. If that player isn’t doing the job, the Yankees will be quick to make a change because they have plenty of options.

Lewis and Moreno have Triple-A time but are non-prospects and low priority players, so they’ll be on the short end of the roster stick come decision time. They could start the year in Double-A or be flat out released if there’s no room. Montgomery, who isn’t much of a prospect anymore because he lost a ton of velocity following his 2013 shoulder injury, was demoted from Triple-A to Double-A last year. I think he’ll get another shot at Triple-A this year. Pazos had a 1.50 ERA (2.78 FIP) in 42 innings from Trenton last season and could wind up back there because of the numbers crunch.

Ramirez. (Presswire)
Ramirez. (Presswire)

Assuming Lewis, Moreno, and Pazos don’t make the RailRiders roster — and the extra starters (Cotham and De La Cruz) are sent to Double-A instead of the bullpen — we’re down to eight relievers for eight roster spots — the last spot in MLB and seven in Triple-A. Who gets that MLB spot will be determined in camp and I honestly think it’ll go to whoever looks the best during Grapefruit League play. If it’s Ramirez, it’s Ramirez. If it’s Shreve, it’s Shreve. If Martin surprises and wins the last bullpen spot, great. I think that race is wide open.

So, based on all of that, I think the Triple-A rotation will be Mitchell, DePaula, Whitley, Nuding, and Tracy with an eight-man bullpen pool of Shreve, Lindgren, Webb, Ramirez, Pinder, Burawa, Martin, and Montgomery. One of those eight gets to start the year in the show as the last reliever and 25th man on the roster. Guessing which pitcher will be the first to get called up is a fool’s errand. That depends on rest and availability as much as it does performance. The 40-man guys are always a safe bet to get the call first.

It goes without saying this all subject to change. We’re still five weeks from the start of the Spring Training, meaning there is plenty of time for trades and DFAs and injuries and all sorts of other stuff before the start of the regular season. This is just a best guess based on the personnel available right now. The Yankees have built up quite a bit of depth this winter, particularly pitching depth, and that carries over into the minors. Guys like Cotham, Lewis, and Pazos would have been locks for Triple-A in part years, but now it appears they’ll have to return to Double-A until there’s an injury. One way or another, expect to see many of these guys in the Bronx this summer.

Prospect Profile: Miguel Andujar

(Charleston River Dogs)
(Charleston River Dogs)

Miguel Andujar | 3B

Background
Considered one of the top players available during the 2011-12 international signing period, the Yankees signed Andujar as a 16-year-old out of San Cristobal, Dominican Republic in July 2011. He received a $750,000 bonus. It was the second largest bonus they gave out during the signing period, behind only the $2.5M (originally $4M) they gave Cuban lefty Omar Luis.

Pro Career
The Yankees were very aggressive with Andujar. They skipped him right over the Dominican Summer League and had him make his pro debut in the rookie level Gulf Coast League as a 17-year-old in 2012. Andujar predictably struggled, hitting .232/.288/.299 (80 wRC+) with one homer in 50 games. The Yankees sent him back to the GCL in 2013 and Andujar was much better the second time around, putting up a .323/.368/.496 (152 wRC+) line with four homers in 34 games.

Last season, the Yankees bumped Andujar up to Low-A Charleston, where he played the entire season at 19. He started out very slow, hitting .212/.267/.335 (67 wRC+) with ten doubles, five homers, 16 walks, and 46 strikeouts in his first 63 games. The second half was much better — Andujar put up a .319/.367/.456 (129 wRC+) line with 15 doubles, five homers, 19 walks, and 37 strikeouts in his final 64 games. The end result was a .267/.318/.397 (99 wRC+) batting line with 25 doubles, ten homers, a 15.7% strikeout rate, and a 6.6% walk rate in 127 games.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-0 and 175 lbs., Andujar is a right-handed hitter with good bat speed and above-average power potential. He’s aggressive but not a hacker — Andujar can wait back on breaking balls but doesn’t hesitate to punish a fastball in the zone. It’s more of a low walk, low strikeout offensive profile than a low walk, high strikeout profile. Here’s some video (there’s more at MiLB.com):

Andujar is a good athlete whose best defensive tool is his arm, which is plenty strong for third base. His footwork needs to improve and he needs to add experience at the hot corner in general. Andujar’s worst tool is his speed. He’s not someone who adds much value on the bases, not now and not in the future either.

Like just about all 19-year-olds, Andujar is more potential than “now” skills. He projects to hit for average, hit for some power, and play a strong third base, but getting from here to there is going to take a lot of time and work.

2015 Outlook
Andujar will jump to High-A Tampa this coming season after his strong finish with the River Dogs last year. He’s going to be very young for the level — Andujar was the tenth youngest player on a Low-A South Atlantic League Opening Day roster last year — and I expect him to stay in Tampa all season. There’s no reason to fast track him whatsoever.

My Take
I really like Andujar, especially because he’s struggled initially at each level and shown the ability to adjust and improve. It happened with the GCL Yanks (across 2012-13) and again with Low-A Charleston (in 2014). Andujar has jumped over 2013 first rounder Eric Jagielo as the best third base prospect in the system in my opinion, and he has some of the best pure upside among the team’s prospects as well. The Yankees haven’t had much success developing raw young prospects into big leaguers these last few years, and I really hope Andujar is the exception.

News & Notes: Lopez, Sabathia, Sterling, Waldman, Franklin

(Wall Street Journal)
(Wall Street Journal)

Got a few smaller miscellaneous updates of various importance to pass along. Away we go …

Diamondbacks sign Yoan Lopez

According to multiple reports, the Diamondbacks have signed free agent Cuban right-hander Yoan Lopez. His $8.25M bonus is a record under the new international spending rules. Arizona will have to pay a 100% tax on the bonus. Jesse Sanchez says Lopez turned down more money to sign with the D-Backs because he feels it’ll be easiest to crack their rotation. I guess that’s a compliment?

The Yankees reportedly had “strong interest” in Lopez along with several other teams. Meanwhile, the baseball world continues to wait for infielder Yoan Moncada to be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control so he can sign. That needs to happen before June 15th for the Yankees to have a shot at signing him, and by all accounts Moncada is a potential star at age 19. Moncada is definitely the greater of the two Yoans.

Sabathia feels good, will begin throwing bullpens soon

For the third straight year, CC Sabathia has spent part of the offseason rehabbing. Two years ago it was the bone spur that had to be removed from his elbow. A year ago it was the Grade II hamstring strain he suffered late in September. This year it was the clean-out procedure on his balky right knee.

Sabathia started playing catch in September and, after deciding not to throw off a mound before Thanksgiving, he plans to start throwing bullpen sessions soon. “I’ve been good. I’ve been playing catch. I’ve been throwing. I’ll probably start throwing bullpens by the end of the month … I feel good, I don’t have any pain, no nothing. My arm feels good,” said Sabathia to Mitch Abramson over the weekend.

There’s no real way to know what Sabathia will give the Yankees next season. It could be the knee injury was the root cause of his problems from 2013-14, and this procedure will get him back to being an effective pitcher every fifth day. Or it could just be that he’s a 34-year-old with a ton of innings in his arm and he won’t be much of a help from here on out. Sabathia is going to be one of the most important players to watch in Spring Training.

Sterling and Waldman officially coming back in 2015

This isn’t much of a surprise: John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are officially returning as radio voices of the Yankees this coming season, according to Neil Best. WFAN operations manager Mark Chernoff confirmed the duo will return for their 11th season together. The Yankees don’t have hiring or firing power over the radio announcers, but they do have input.

Sterling hasn’t missed a game in 26 years, and, back in September, he said he is “never going to retire. I don’t understand why people would.” I seem to be in the minority that doesn’t mind Sterling and Waldman, though then again I don’t listen to more than a handful of games on the radio each year. Sterling is an icon at this point. I can’t imagine a Yankees radio broadcast without him.

Franklin set to take over as “roving evaluator”

Over the weekend, Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton announced their coaching staffs for the upcoming season, and a report said longtime Thunder manager Tony Franklin will be taking over manager of the team’s new rookie ball affiliate, the Pulaski Yankees. That isn’t the case though. Franklin told Nick Peruffo he is moving into a “roving evaluator” role.

“I’m extremely happy. It’s given me some renewed energy,” said the 64-year-old Franklin to Peruffo. “(New player development head Gary Denbo) asked me to do something for him. It was an honor for me that he asked … I’m very happy he thought enough of me to do that.”

According to Peruffo, Franklin is going to travel between the team’s minor league affiliates — with an emphasis on the lower level affiliates — and help the organization’s players, managers, and coaches. His official title has not been finalized but he’s basically going to be a roving baseball guru. Franklin had been Trenton’s manager since 2007. Now he’ll have an opportunity to impact more people. Neat.

Bullpen overhaul doesn’t change Jacob Lindgren’s timetable

(Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)
(Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)

The Yankees have been very active this offseason, eschewing big money long-term deals in favor of lower profile transactions, often with more players coming in than going out. The bullpen in particular has been overhauled this winter. In fact, the only two members of the 2014 Opening Day bullpen still with the organization are Dellin Betances and Adam Warren. David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno are all gone. How about that?

Betances will again anchor the late innings this coming season, and while Warren could join him, there’s a chance he could up in the rotation to start the season. More than a small chance, I’d say. Robertson has been replaced by Andrew Miller, Kelley by David Carpenter, Thornton by Justin Wilson, and Phelps by Esmil Rogers. The Yankees still need to figure out who will take Nuno’s spot (and potentially Warren’s) but have no shortage of candidates. Chasen Shreve, Chase Whitley, Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez, Branden Pinder, and Gonzalez Germen are all 40-man roster options.

Among the non-40-man options is left-hander Jacob Lindgren, the Yankees’ top pick in last year’s amateur draft. The 21-year-old Lindgren is a pure reliever out of Mississippi State who was widely expected to be the first player from the 2014 draft class to reach MLB, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Brandon Finnegan of the Royals beat him to the show. Lindgren did reach Double-A Trenton in his pro debut before being shutdown due to his workload, however.

Between college and pro ball, Lindgren threw 80.1 innings in 2014, allowing eleven earned runs (1.23 ERA) on 35 hits and 38 walks (0.91 WHIP) while striking out 148. That’s a 16.6 K/9 and 45.1 K%. Lindgren also had a 71.0% or so ground ball rate at Mississippi State and an 81.0 % ground ball rate in pro ball. If you’re going to select a college reliever early in the draft — Lindgren was a second rounder (55th overall) after the Yankees forfeited some picks to sign free agents — he needs to really dominate, and dominate he did.

You can learn more about Lindgren in our Prospect Profile, but, to use a Brian Cashman phrase, the short version is that he checks every box. Misses bats, gets grounders, deception in his delivery, two excellent pitches in his fastball and slider … the works. Lindgren is about eight inches shorter than Miller and that’s not insignificant, though they have similar styles as southpaws with a knockout slider who can get both righties and lefties out. Between Miller, Wilson, and Lindgren, the Yankees have three lefty relievers at the upper levels who are more than matchup specialists. That’s pretty cool.

This winter’s bullpen overhaul means Lindgren’s chances of making the Opening Day roster have taken a hit. There are still some open spots, but the team already has several 40-man roster options ahead of Lindgren on the depth chart. Depth is never a bad thing, but in this case is works against him. That’s life. He will likely have to start the season with Triple-A Scranton and wait for a call-up. Make no mistake though, Lindgren is still very much part of the team’s 2015 plans.

“We saw a guy with above-average tools — an above-average fastball, a well above-average slider and he has some deception,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to George King (subs. req’d) recently. “He has the ingredients to move quickly, especially the role he is in … Either way (Opening Day roster or not), he has made an impact.”

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Simply put, the Yankees didn’t select a college reliever with their top draft pick and pay him a seven-figure signing bonus to not get him to the big leagues in a hurry. Lindgren was on the fast track last year and that track will continue into 2015. Yeah, the bullpen turnover means his chances of making the roster out of Spring Training have gone down, but I still expect Lindgren to be one of the first bullpen arms called up when reinforcements are inevitably needed.

Part of my thinking — and I’m guessing part of the team’s thinking as well — is the whole “there are so many bullets in that arm” thing, and there’s no sense wasting those bullets in the minors. Relievers generally have a short shelf life and the best way to maximize Lindgren’s value is to get him to MLB soon, not let him sit in the minors and waste time tinkering with a changeup or something like that. He’s a finished product for his role. The only development left for him is the learning and development that takes place in the big leagues.

Even before the bullpen was overhauled, I thought Lindgren’s first year in the big leagues could look like Robertson’s, meaning a few rides on the bus between Triple-A Scranton and the Bronx. (Robertson went up and down five different times from 2008-09 before sticking for good in late-May 2009). That’s how most relievers break in, and given all the team’s bullpen arms, it seems even more likely now. That’s fine as long as Lindgren gets chances. He doesn’t have to step right into high-leverage work, doesn’t need to immediately enter Joe Girardi‘s Circle of Trust™, just get opportunities to contribute. Given Girardi’s track record with relievers, I have no doubt it’ll happen.

The Yankees will benefit if and when Lindgren spends time in the minors by delaying his free agency one year — he only has to spend about eleven days in the minors for that to happen — but beyond that there isn’t much to be gained. Lindgren is ready to contribute right now and the Yankees know this. He wasn’t pushed aside by all the relievers brought in this winter, he’s part of the depth the team has been building. The bullpen at the end of the season is always different than the bullpen on Opening Day, and even though Lindgren is unlikely to be part of the picture in April, expect him to be there by September.

Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton announce coaching staffs

Thames is movin' on up. (Times of Trenton)
Thames is movin’ on up. (Times of Trenton)

The Yankees have yet to hire a new hitting coach and first base coach, but they have finalized the coaching staffs for their top two minor league affiliates. They were officially announced a few days ago. There was quite a bit a turnover — which isn’t uncommon at the minor league level —  and some of it appears to have long-term big league implications. Here are the new staffs:

Triple-A Scranton

Manager: Dave Miley
Hitting Coach: Marcus Thames
Pitching Coach: Scott Aldred
Defensive Coach: Justin Tordi
Trainers: Darren London (head trainer) and Lee Tressell (strength and conditioning)

Miley, Aldred, and London are all returning. Miley has been managing New York’s top farm team since 2006, when they were still affiliated with the Columbus Clippers. Aldred was considered for the big league pitching coach job a few years ago before Larry Rothschild was hired. Tordi was the first base and bench coach with Low-A Charleston last summer.

The most notable name here is Thames, who was said to be a candidate for the big league hitting coach job earlier this offseason. In fact, at one point it was erroneously reported he would take over as the team’s assistant hitting coach, but obviously that isn’t the case. Thames was the hitting coach for High-A Tampa in 2013 and Double-A Trenton in 2014, so he’s moving up another level. He has a lot of supporters in the organization and it appears the team is grooming him for an MLB coaching job in the future, perhaps as soon as 2016. Maybe that whole assistant hitting coach report thing was a year early.

Double-A Trenton

Manager: Al Pedrique
Hitting Coach: P.J. Pilittere
Pitching Coach: Jose Rosado
Defensive Coach: Michel Hernandez
Trainers: Lee Meyer (head trainer) and Orlando Crance (strength and conditioning)

Hernandez, Meyer and Crance are all returning to the team. Rosado is joining the Thunder after spending the last four seasons as a pitching coach with one of the team’s two rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliates.

Pilittere, who longtime RAB readers will remember as a player from Down on the Farm, was High-A Tampa’s hitting coach last year, Low-A Charleston’s hitting the coach the year before that, and the Rookie GCL Yanks hitting coach the year before that. The scouting report on him as a player always said he was smart guy with top notch makeup, which made him a good coaching candidate down the line. Like Thames, Pilittere seems to be a faster riser up the coaching ranks.

Pedrique is replacing longtime Thunder skipper Tony Franklin, who had been managing the team since 2007. Pedrique has some big league managerial and coaching experience — he spent 83 games as interim manager of the awful Diamondbacks in 2004 — and has been with the organization since 2013. He managed Low-A Charleston in 2013 and High-A Tampa in 2014.

Franklin, meanwhile, will manage the Pulaski Yankees in 2015, the organization’s new rookie ball affiliate, according to George King (subs. req’d). King notes that under new player development head Gary Denbo, the Yankees want to put veteran managers at the lower levels of the minors to work with their youngest prospects. I like the idea. I have no idea if it’ll make any real difference, but I like it.

Cuban Free Agent Notes: Moncada, Lopez, Olivera

Got some updates to pass along on three Cuban free agents the Yankees are said to be pursuing. Maybe they’ll actually sign one of these guys. Could be cool.

Yankees are “heavy favorites” for Yoan Moncada

According to Kiley McDaniel, the Yankees and Red Sox are currently the “heavy favorites” for 19-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada. That’s consistent with everything we’ve heard the last few weeks and months. Moncada has been declared a free agent by MLB but Jesse Sanchez says he still hasn’t been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, so he can’t sign yet. Private workouts are coming later this month.

In order for the Yankees to have a shot at signing Moncada, he needs to be unblocked by the OFAC before the end of the current international signing period on June 15th. (Really well before that so they have to time to negotiate.) As a result of their massive international spending spree last summer, the Yankees won’t be able to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, and that simply won’t be enough to get Moncada. He’s expected to receive a $30M to $40M bonus, which will be taxed at 100% no matter which teams signs him.

Also, make sure you check out the video embedded at the top of post. It’s a part of a recent documentary about baseball in Cuba called El Trogon. The clip above is video of Moncada with Ben Badler providing commentary about his skills and all that sort of stuff. It’s basically a video scouting report. Make sure you check it out. By all accounts, Moncada is a budding star.

Yoan Lopez now able to sign, Yankees interested

Right-hander Yoan Lopez is now free to sign after being unblocked by the OFAC and declared a free agent by MLB, according to Sanchez. The 21-year-old is expected to sign before Spring Training and the Yankees are one of several teams to “express strong interest” in Lopez. Here’s a scouting report from Sanchez:

Lopez throws a cut fastball, a change, a curve and a slider, but he is best known for a fastball that has reached 100 mph and usually hovers in the 93-95 mph range. In Cuba, Lopez played three seasons for Isla de la Juventud in Serie Nacional, the island’s top league. He sported a 3.12 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks in 49 innings in his final season before defecting.

Because of his age, Lopez will be subject to the international spending restrictions, meaning the Yankees can sign him for any amount prior to June 15th. After that, they can only offer $300,000. I’m guessing that won’t get it done. That doesn’t figure to be a problem since Lopez seems likely to sign within the next few weeks.

Lopez held a showcase for teams in November and has participated in private workouts the last few weeks. The consensus seems to be that he is not quite MLB ready and will need at least some time in the minors, so Lopez isn’t someone who can step in and help New York’s shaky rotation right away. That doesn’t mean he isn’t worth signing, of course. Sign all the Yoans!

First showcases scheduled for Hector Olivera

Third baseman Hector Olivera will hold his first showcase for teams later this month, at the Giants’ academy in the Dominican Republic on January 21st and 22nd, according to Badler. Olivera has established residency in Haiti but has not been unblocked by the OFAC or declared a free agent by MLB. Since he will turn 30 in April, he is not subject to the international spending rules.

The Yankees are among the teams connected to Olivera, though that was reported before they re-signed Stephen Drew. There isn’t a spot on the roster for another infielder now, and I doubt Olivera is looking to go to Triple-A. The Yankees should be focusing on the 19-year-old Moncada and the 21-year-old Lopez. Olivera is expected to be a solid player, not a star, and at his age he’s simply a lower priority for New York.