Passan: Yoan Moncada officially a free agent and able to sign

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

3:55pm: Kiley McDaniel says MLB will now accept a general license from the OFAC and a “sworn statement [from the player] that the prospect permanently resides outside of Cuba and has no intent to return to Cuba.” McDaniel also says this only applies to players who have already left Cuba, like Moncada, who now resides in Guatemala.

3:43pm: According to Jeff Passan, Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada is now officially free to sign after MLB changes its rules regarding Office of Foreign Assets Control licensing. MLB had required a “specific license” from the OFAC before a player can sign but presumably now only requires a more basic “general license.” MLB used to accept general licenses but changed their policy a few years ago.

Now that Moncada is able to sign, the Yankees are free to pursue him and can offer him any amount. Had MLB not gotten its act together before June 15th, the team would not have been able to offer him more than $300,000 due to the penalties stemming from their international spending spree last summer. Most expect Moncada to receive a bonus in the $30M to $40M range, which would be taxed at 100% no matter who signs him.

By all accounts, the 19-year-old Moncada is a potential switch-hitting star with five tools. The expectation is that he will settle in as a second or third baseman when it’s all said and done, but I expect whoever signs him to at least keep him at shortstop for a little while to see if he improves. The Yankees are considered one of the “heavy favorites” to sign Moncada and have already had him in for a private workout at their complex in Tampa.

I’m guessing Moncada will have a deal in place before Spring Training. He wants to get paid and start his career, not sit around even longer than he already has. Now that MLB stopped dragging its feet, Moncada can begin negotiating with teams in earnest and get the process started. Since we’re talking about a $60M to $80M up front payment (bonus plus tax), the Yankees should have an advantage over smaller market teams. We’ll see.

Severino, Judge make MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s prospect season, and on Friday night, the gang at MLB.com released their top 100 prospects list for the 2015 season. Twins OF Byron Buxton sits in the top spot despite his injury plagued 2014 campaign, and is followed by Cubs 3B Kris Bryant and Astros SS Carlos Correa in the top three. The Yankees had two players in the top 100: RHP Luis Severino (No. 23) and OF Aaron Judge (No. 68).

“Severino has a loose, quick arm that makes up for his lack of physicality. It allows him to maintain a mid-90s fastball throughout his starts and reach a peak velocity of 99 mph,” said the write-up. “Severino’s fading changeup gives him a second plus pitch, and he’s not afraid to throw it. His slider is more of a work in progress but should become at least an average third offering.” The MLB.com crew says they believe Severino can remain a starter long-term, for what it’s worth. There’s a healthy debate about that.

MLB.com calls Judge “one of the most physically imposing prospects in baseball” thanks to his 6-foot-7, 230 lb. frame. “He has huge raw power, though he’s content for now to use a shorter stroke and the entire field, working counts and producing line drives,” says the write-up. “A more advanced hitter than expected, he currently projects to bat .275 with 20-25 homers per season but could produce more power (and hit for less average) if he becomes more aggressive and turns on more pitches.” Again, Judge’s biggest flaw is that he hasn’t yet learned how to fully tap into his power potential.

In addition to the top 100, MLB.com also released top ten prospects lists for each position. Severino ranks seventh among right-handed pitchers, 1B Greg Bird ranks third among first basemen, and 2B Rob Refsnyder ranks seventh among second basemen. Judge didn’t make the deep outfield group and C Gary Sanchez fell short on the catcher’s list. Others like C Luis Torrens, 3B Miguel Andujar, 3B Eric Jagielo, RHP Domingo German, and LHP Ian Clarkin are good prospects, but not yet top ten at their position.

As always, MLB.com’s rankings are free, and they include full scouting reports and tools grades on the 20-80 scale. Their rankings are always a little off the beaten path — they seem to be more performance-based than anything — but it’s a great resource either way. Everything’s free and all in one place. In the coming weeks MLB.com will release top 30 prospects lists for each team — their lists used to only run 20 players deep, so they added an extra ten this year — though specific dates are not set yet.

Aaron Judge tops Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects

Judge in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)
Judge in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)

One day after releasing his top 100 prospects list, Keith Law published his top ten prospects for each team on Friday. Here is the index and here is the Yankees list. The individual team lists are Insider only. Here is New York’s top ten:

  1. OF Aaron Judge (No. 23 on the top 100)
  2. 1B Greg Bird (No. 80 on the top 100)
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. RHP Luis Severino
  5. OF Tyler Austin
  6. SS Jorge Mateo
  7. RHP Domingo German
  8. LHP Ian Clarkin
  9. C Luis Torrens
  10. 3B Eric Jagielo

Also, based on the write-up, we know 2B Rob Refsnyder, 3B Miguel Andujar, LHP Jacob Lindgren, SS Tyler Wade, RHP Brady Lail, and RHP Ty Hensley are prospects 11-16. Law is lower on Severino and higher on Austin than most, but otherwise the top ten (top 16, really) seems pretty straight forward. No major surprises. You could argue someone should be a spot higher or whatever, but it’s not worth it.

With Stephen Drew in Refsnyder’s way at second base, Law lists Lindgren as the mostly likely prospect to have an impact in 2015. OF Mason Williams is the “fallen” prospect, the guy who was once one of the best in the game but is now an afterthought. Law’s sleeper for the Yankees is Mateo, who he says is “so well-regarded in the industry that other teams have already targeted him in trade talks.” He adds that Mateo has “tremendous tools, is an 80 runner and plus fielder who shows above-average raw power in BP.”

The Yankees have a very position player heavy farm system right now — seven of Law’s top ten and nine of his top 12 are position players — and that’s a good thing because quality position players are hard to find these days. Even better, several of those position players will be at Double-A or higher this coming season, including Judge, Bird, Sanchez, Austin, Jagielo, and Refsnyder. There’s a clear path for some of those guys to get MLB at-bats in the next year or two, and the team’s apparent commitment to getting younger means they’re going to get a chance. That’s exciting.

Passan: Yoan Moncada could be cleared to sign within two weeks

(ObstructedView.net)
(ObstructedView.net)

Free agent Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada has not yet been cleared to sign by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, but there is growing hope he will be allowed to sign within two weeks, reports Jeff Passan. Moncada has already established residency in Guatemala and has been declared a free agent by MLB. Once he gets OFAC clearance, he can officially sign a contract.

However, as Ben Badler and Jesse Sanchez report, MLB currently requires Cuban players to receive a “specific license” before signing, not a “general license.” The league has accepted general licenses in the past — Yasiel Puig signed using a general license — but they changed their policy within the last few years. According to Badler and Sanchez, Moncada already meets the requirements for a general license. If he has to wait for a specific license, forget about the two weeks thing.

Earlier this week, MLB sent each team a memo stating their policies remain the same. They still require players to receive a specific license, though they are working to OFAC to clarify whether a general license is sufficient. Here’s the memo, courtesy of Sanchez:

“MLB is aware that the Cuban Assets Control Regulations published by the U.S. Treasury on January 16, 2015, may affect the unblocking process for Cuban Players,” Major League Baseball said in a statement earlier in the day. “MLB has important questions regarding how the new regulations apply to the unique circumstances of Cuban Players based on our significant experience in this area, and our discussions with OFAC in prior years. MLB is committed to following the laws of the United States, and will not change its policy requiring that Cuban Players receive a specific OFAC unblocking license until it confirms with all relevant branches of our government, including OFAC, that any new approach is consistent with the law. We hope to receive clarity on this issue as quickly as possible.”

So anyway, this is a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense. MLB decided they wanted players to have the specific license a few years ago even though the OFAC’s policies say it isn’t necessary. Moncada doesn’t have the general license just yet but he does meet the requirements, so he could receive it at any moment. Hence the two weeks thing. But, since MLB wants the specific license, he may have to wait longer.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, the deadline for Moncada to be unblocked by the OFAC — in a way that satisfies MLB — is June 15th. (It really is sometime before that because the two sides need time to negotiate.) Because the Yankees exceeded their spending pool for the 2014-15 international signing period, they can’t sign a player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. If Moncada signs before June 15th, he’ll count towards the 2014-15 signing period and they can sign him for whatever they want. If not, he’ll count towards 2015-16 and $300,000 ain’t getting it done.

The expectation is that Moncada will receive a $30M to $40M bonus, which would smash the record for a player bound by the new international spending rules (Yoan Lopez, $8.25M). His bonus will be taxed at 100% no matter which team signs him because they will exceed their pool, so he’s a $60M to $80M investment. Moncada will be like any other young international amateur signing — he gets his bonus up front, then goes into the farm system as a non-40-man roster player. Once he reaches MLB, he’ll go through three pre-arbitration years and three arbitration years like everyone else.

By all accounts, the 19-year-old Moncada is a budding star, a switch-hitter with power and speed and high-end athleticism. The Yankees had him in for a private workout at some point recently, as did the Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Rangers and Brewers, according to Sanchez. The Rays, Cubs, Phillies, and Cardinals also have interest in Moncada, though it’s worth noting the Cubs exceeded their spending pool last year and would need Moncada to wait until after July 2nd — the start of the 2015-16 signing period — to sign him.

The Yankees are considered the “heavy favorites” to sign Moncada even though they haven’t signed a big name Cuban player since Jose Contreras. Moncada’s talent is obvious — assuming the scouting reports are accurate, of course — and since he’s still only 19, he’s a potential franchise cornerstone type of player. And there’s also plenty of time for his development to veer off course as well. That’s the reality of the situation. At this point, I’m just ready for this whole thing to be over. I have Moncada (and Cuban player in general) fatigue.

Judge and Bird crack Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list

Judge and Bird in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)
Judge and Bird in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)

Over at ESPN, Keith Law released his list of the top 100 prospects in baseball today (subs. req’d). Cubs 3B Kris Bryant claimed the top spot, with Twins OF Byron Buxton and Astros SS Carlos Correa rounding out the top three. The Yankees had two players in the top 100: OF Aaron Judge (No. 23) and 1B Greg Bird (No. 80). Law’s list might be the only top 100 that includes Bird this spring.

“Judge has a short swing, surprisingly so given the length of his arms, and very strong command of the strike zone … he should be able to hit 30 without needing to get bigger or stronger,” wrote Law while more or less saying Judge’s biggest flaw is that he hasn’t yet learned when to really cut it loose and tap into his huge raw power. “He’s an above-average defender in right, faster than you’d expect, with the arm to profile there and the potential to post strong triple-slash numbers if he can make that one big adjustment.”

As for Bird, Law says he is a “high-IQ hitter with outstanding plate discipline and understanding of how to work a pitcher, giving reason to think he’ll continue to post high OBPs even though he’ll probably hit only .250-260 with a lot of strikeouts.” He also notes Bird makes “hard contact to all fields, rarely putting the ball on the ground because he squares it up so frequently.” As always, the concern with Bird is his defense at first and his lingering back issues, which forced him out from behind the plate a few years ago. Some of his defensive trouble is due to a lack of experience, some is due to a lack of athleticism.

Judge ranks third among all outfielders (behind Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler) and Bird ranks third among all first baseman (behind Mariners 1B D.J. Peterson and Mets 1B Dominic Smith). The most notable omission from Law’s list is RHP Luis Severino, who will undoubtedly show up on (all) other top 100 lists this spring. Law has said repeatedly that he loves Severino’s arm but believes he is destined for the bullpen long-term because of his delivery and the fact that he doesn’t use his lower half all that much. Law seems to be the low man on Severino and the high man on both Judge and Bird.

In addition to the top 100, Law also posted his annual farm system rankings earlier this week (subs. req’d). The Cubs claimed the top spot and the Tigers the No. 30 spot. The Yankees ranked 20th, exactly the same as last year. “The Yankees’ system still has more talent than production, as several key prospects continued to have trouble staying on the field, but a very strong 2013 draft class and a blowout year on the international front have the system trending up again,” said the write-up. With two first round picks this June and that massive international haul set to debut this summer, it’s all but guaranteed the Yankees will climb the system rankings this year.

Prospect Profile: Luis Torrens

(SI Advance)
(SI Advance)

Luis Torrens | C

Background
The Yankees scout Venezuela as well as anyone, and, on the first day of the 2012-13 international signing period, they plucked Torrens out of Valencia, the third largest city in the country. He had been working out with Carlos Rios, formerly the Yankees’ international scouting director. Torrens received a $1.3M signing bonus, the largest the club gave out in the first year of the new international spending restrictions. He was mostly an infielder at the time.

Pro Career
After signing, the Yankees moved Torrens behind the plate full-time and were so impressed with how quickly he took to the position that they sent him to the rookie Gulf Coast League as a 17-year-old in 2013. Torrens held his own at the plate — .241/.348/.299 (100 wRC+) with one homer, a 13.2% walk rate, and a 19.6% strikeout rate in 48 games — while throwing out 19 of 43 attempted base-stealers (45%). It was a nice debut for a kid would should have been a high school junior.

The Yankees aggressively sent Torrens to Low-A Charleston last year, where he was the second young player in the league. He went 4-for-26 (.154) at the plate in nine games before a shoulder strain sent him to the DL for two months. After a quick six-game tune-up with the GCL Yanks, Torrens joined the short season Staten Island Yankees in June and hit .270/.327/.405 (115 wRC+) with two homers in 48 games as the youngest player in the NY-Penn League. At one point he had a 21-game hitting streak. Torrens also threw out 23 of 55 attempted base-stealers (42%) with the Baby Bombers.

Scouting Report
Despite his relative inexperience behind the plate, Torrens draws raves for his defense, particularly his receiving and his mobility blocking pitches in the dirt. His strong arm plays up because of a quick and clean release. Torrens had no trouble catching any of the team’s high-velocity prospects like Luis Severino, David Palladino, and Jordan Foley last summer.

At the plate, Torrens stands out for his approach and ability to adjust to breaking pitches. Most of his power is into the gaps right now but he can pull the ball to left field with authority. Torrens is still only 18 and he’s listed at 6-foot-0 and 175 lbs., so he still has plenty of time to fill out his frame and get stronger, though right now he projects as more of a higher AVG, high OBP guy rather than a big power hitter. Here’s some video:

Torrens is a good athlete who was a legitimate prospect at third base before moving behind the plate. He’s not very fast, so, like most catchers, he won’t be a weapon on the bases. Torrens still has a lot of work ahead of him but he took to catching extremely well, so it’s no surprise he gets very high marks for his makeup, work ethic, and baseball aptitude.

2015 Outlook
The Yankees aggressively started Torrens with Low-A Charleston last season and he’s much more prepared for the level this season. He’s still be one of the youngest regulars in the league and likely the youngest starting catcher. Torrens won’t turn 19 until May and I expect him to remain with the River Dogs all season. No need to rush him.

My Take
I absolutely love Torrens as a prospect. I love that he took to catching so well and so quickly and I love that he has a plan at the plate and offensive potential. Torrens is the next great Yankees catching prospect, one with a chance to be an impact player on both sides of the ball. Don’t get me wrong, he has to go a long way to get from here to above-average two-way catcher in the big leagues, but Torrens has lots of upside and all the tools.

News & Notes: Shifts, Pirela, Prospects, YES Network

No more shifts? (Screen cap from April 2014)
No more shifts? (Screen cap from April 2014)

Time to “empty out the notebook,” so to speak. I have a whole bunch of miscellaneous links lying around that are worth passing along but aren’t necessarily worth their own individual post. So, here are some Yankees-related notes from around the web.

New commissioner will look to ban infield shifts

On Saturday, Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner officially ended and new commish Rob Manfred came into power. Manfred told Jerry Crasnick that youth outreach, pace of play, and improving labor relations are among the first items on his agenda. He also said he is open to banning infield shifts (video link). Here’s what he said about getting rid of infield shifts:

“I would be aggressive about using the (pitch clock) over the long haul. I think it’s a helpful thing in terms of moving the game along,” said Manfred to ESPN. “I think the second set of changes I would look at is related, and that related to injected additional offense into the game. For example, things like eliminating shifts. I would be open to those sorts of ideas.

“Look, we have really smart people working in the game, and they’re going to figure out ways to get a competitive advantage,” added Manfred. “I think it’s incumbent upon us in the commissioner’s office to look at the advantages that are produced and say ‘is this what we want to happen in the game.'”

Jeff Passan ran Manfred’s quote by “two sabermetrically inclined GMs” and both agreed with dumping shifts because “the game is better when the casual fans gets the product they want,” and there’s concern within the industry that baseball isn’t delivering. (That makes me wonder how many lefty pull hitters those GMs have on their rosters!)

I understand why many people want them gone but I am not a fan of eliminating shifts, personally. It’s basically a ban on creativity and that is bad regardless of industry. The MLB-wide batting average on balls in play has not changed at all over the last two decades even as shifts became popular, and I think teams with better information — or maybe I should say more willing to use that information to try something outside the box — should be allowed to use it.

If MLB wants to improve offense — and I am 100% all for that — I think they should start with fixing the strike zone and not having it depend on who’s catching and who the umpire is. Forcing relievers to face at least two batters and thus eliminating matchup specialists could be another idea. Telling players where to stand on the field is not something the commissioner’s office should control. Let teams position defenders where the hitter is likely to hit it. What’s wrong with that?

Pirela okay after taking pitch to hand in winter ball

During a recent winter ball postseason game in Venezuela, utility man Jose Pirela took a pitch off his right hand and had to exit the game. He went for x-rays after the soreness lingered and they showed no fracture, reports Chad Jennings. “He’s all good to go,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler. Pirela was shut down from winter ball play as a precaution but has already resumed working out.

Pirela, 25, hit .296/.394/.515 with 11 doubles, four triples, six homers, 26 walks, and 30 strikeouts in 47 winter ball games. He’ll come to Spring Training on the outside of the big league roster looking in — I still don’t expect the Yankees to cut Brendan Ryan, extra shortstops are useful — but with a chance to put himself in position to be the first position player called up. Pirela’s done nothing but hit these last few years and his versatility is a plus as well.

Kiley McDaniel’s massive farm system breakdown

Over at FanGraphs, Kiley McDaniel is in the middle of a series looking at each organization’s farm system from top to bottom. He covered the Yankees earlier this week and the write-up is massive, nearly 10,000 words. It runs 68 (!) players deep and McDaniel said it “may be the deepest system in the game.” Needless to say, the write-up comes with RAB’s highest level of recommendation.

Best of all, McDaniel also posted a ton of video at FG’s YouTube channel. He has clips of all the usual suspects there (OF Aaron Judge, RHP Luis Severino, C Gary Sanchez, etc.) and also some hard-to-find video of several of New York’s recent international signings, like OF Leonardo Molina, OF Jonathan Amundaray, and OF Juan DeLeon. (3B Dermis Garcia is embedded above.) Some of the videos span multiple years, so you can see how the players have changed over time. It’s a goldmine. Check it out.

YES ratings up 10% in 2014

For the 11th time in the last 12 years, the YES Network was the most-watched regional sports network in the country in 2014. Ratings were up 10% overall and 16% during primetime, the network announced. YES averaged 58,000 households during primetime in New York last season — game broadcasts averaged 223,000 households — blowing MSG (41,000) and SNY (30,000) out of the water. Pre- and post-game rated were up 25% and 23%, respectively.

Obviously some of that improvement is due to Derek Jeter‘s retirement tour, but not all of it. I’m sure Masahiro Tanaka‘s arrival boosted ratings a ton as well. Same with Carlos Beltran, who is more or less the most popular active player from Puerto Rico. Either way, lots of people were watching the Yankees last season. Lots more than 2013, that’s for sure.