2017 Minor League Coaching Staffs Announced

Pedrique. (Aimee Dilger/Times Leader)
Pedrique. (Aimee Dilger/Times Leader)

Over the last several weeks, the Yankees have announced the coaching staffs for their various minor league affiliates. Minor league coaches are the unsung heroes of any organization. These are the folks who work directly with the top prospects, and right now the Yankees sure do have an awful lot of top prospects. Here’s a quick rundown of minor league coaching staffs for the upcoming season.

Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Manager: Al Pedrique
Pitching Coach: Tommy Phelps
Hitting Coach: P.J. Pilittere
Defensive Coach: Doug Davis
Athletic Trainer: Darren London
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Brad Hyde

Pedrique is returning to the RailRiders after being named International League Manager of the Year last season. Scranton won the division title, the IL championship, and the Triple-A Championship Game. The RailRiders went 91-52 last year, becoming the first IL team to win 90+ games since 2002. Pedrique has climbed the managerial ladder from Low-A Charleston (2013) to High-A Tampa (2014) to Double-A Trenton (2015) to Triple-A Scranton (2016-17). He served as Astros bench coach from 2010-11 and was briefly the Diamondbacks interim manager in 2004.

Pilittere is a new addition to the Triple-A staff. He was the Double-A hitting coach the last two years after holding the same role with Tampa (2014) and Charleston (2013). I’m sure many longtime RAB readers remember Pilittere from his stint in the organization as a player. This is already his sixth year in the system as a coach. Crazy. He was always considered a future coach during his playing career because of his leadership skills. Pilittere will be in charge of Clint Frazier‘s development this summer.

Also new to the staff is Davis, who is not to be confused with former big league lefty Doug Davis. This is a different Doug Davis. This Doug Davis was the Blue Jays minor league catching coordinator from 2010-16. He’s been coaching or managing in the minors since 1995, and spent the 2003-04 seasons as the Marlins bench coach. Slater, London, and Hyde are all holdovers from last year.

Double-A Trenton Thunder

Manager: Bobby Mitchell
Pitching Coach: Jose Rosado
Hitting Coach: Tom Slater
Bullpen Coach: JD Closser
Defensive Coach: Lino Diaz
Athletic Trainer: Jimmy Downam
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Anthony Velasquez

This will be Mitchell’s second season in the organization and second as manager of the Thunder. Trenton went 87-55 last season before losing the Eastern League Championship Series. Mitchell has big league coaching experience with several teams as an outfield and baserunning coach, and prior to joining the Yankees, he managed in the Cubs and Angels systems. Rosado (third year) and Closser (second year) are also returning to Trenton.

It’s worth noting Rosado’s work hasn’t received enough attention. Prior to joining Trenton, he spent four years as pitching coach in the rookie Gulf Coast League, and in recent years he’s had a big hand in getting pitchers like Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns, Ronald Herrera, and Daniel Camarena to take their games to another level. Rosado himself was a good young pitcher who made two All-Star Games with the Royals before his 25th birthday. (A major shoulder injury ended his career at 25.)

Slater replaces Pilittere after spending the last two seasons as hitting coach with High-A Tampa. This will be his ninth season in the organization. He’s held all sorts of coaching and managerial positions over the years. Slater will be the guy overseeing Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar this year, among others. Diaz is being promoted from the rookie Gulf Coast League while both Downam and Velasquez were with Low-A Charleston from 2014-16.

High-A Tampa Yankees

Manager: Jay Bell
Pitching Coach: Tim Norton
Hitting Coach: Eric Duncan
Defensive Coach: Raul Dominguez
Catching Coach: Michel Hernandez
Athletic Trainer: Michael Becker
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Jacob Dunning

Welcome to the Yankees, Jay Bell. The former two-time All-Star joins the organization after spending the last 12 years or so holding all sorts of jobs, including big league bench coach (Diamondbacks from 2005-06, Reds from 2014-15), big league hitting coach (Pirates in 2013), and special advisor (D’Backs from 2007-09). Perhaps Jorge Mateo will one day have an out-of-nowhere 38-homer season like Bell after having him as a manager.

Norton is back with Tampa for the second straight season. This will be his fifth season coaching in the organization after injuries sabotaged his promising playing career. Duncan, New York’s first round pick in 2003, joins the Tampa staff from Staten Island. This is his first full season coaching gig and third season coaching with the Yankees. Last year it was reported farm system head Gary Denbo wanted Duncan to coach full-time, but he wasn’t willing to commit to it yet. Apparently now he is.

Over the last few years Hernandez has emerged as the Yankees minor league catching guru. Last year he worked with Luis Torrens in Charleston, and the year before he was with Gary Sanchez in Trenton. The Yankees don’t have a notable catching prospect ticketed for Tampa, though I suppose Torrens could wind up there if (when?) the Padres return him as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Dominguez is coming up from the rookie Gulf Coast League and is one of the longest tenured instructors in the organization. He’s been around since 2006. Becker is entering his fourth year with Tampa while Dunning is coming up from Staten Island.

Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

Manager: Patrick Osborn
Pitching Coach: Justin Pope
Hitting Coach: Ken Joyce
Defensive Coach: Jose Javier
Catching Coach: Hector Rabago
Athletic Trainer: Michael Sole
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Jeff Dolan

By all accounts Osborn is a rising managerial star in the farm system, which is kinda funny because he’s being moved down from Tampa to Charleston this year. He’s going to have a fun roster. Blake Rutherford, Dermis Garcia, Estevan Florial, Isiah Gilliam, Leonardo Molina, and Hoy Jun Park could all be with the RiverDogs in 2017. It’s not a coincidence the Yankees chose Osborn to work with those prospects. Osborn joined the organization in 2014 after spending several years managing the independent Southern Maryland Blue Crabs.

Joyce is a new addition to the organization. This will be his 21st season coaching in the minors, so he’s been around. Joyce spent the last five years with the Giants. Prior to that he was with the Marlins and Blue Jays. Pope, yet another former Yankees minor leaguer turned coach, returns for a second season as Charleston’s pitching coach. Rabago was a 2009 draft pick by the Yankees and is already in his fourth season as a coach. He’s joining Charleston after spending the last two seasons with rookie Pulaski. Javier, Sole, and Dolan are all new hires.

Short Season Staten Island Yankees

Manager: Julio Mosquera
Pitching Coach: Travis Phelps
Hitting Coach: Kevin Mahoney
Defensive Coach: Teuris Olivares

This will be Mosquera’s third season as a manager and 12th as an instructor with the Yankees. He spent the last two years in the rookie Gulf Coast League, and prior to that, he was the club’s longtime catching coordinator. Mosquera worked with every catching prospect from Frankie Cervelli to Jesus Montero to John Ryan Murphy to Gary Sanchez over the years. Phelps is returning as pitching coach and Mahoney, a former organizational infielder, is moving up from Pulaski. This will be Olivares’ third season in this role.

Rookie Pulaski Yankees

Manager: Luis Dorante
Pitching Coach: Gerardo Casadiego
Hitting Coach: Scott Seabol
Athletic Trainer: Manny Ozoa
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Danny Russo

After spend the last three seasons managing the RiverDogs, Dorante will now lead all the young kids in Pulaski. This is his sixth season in the organization and fourth as a manager. Prior to joining the Yankees, Dorante was the Pirates big league bullpen coach from 2008-10. I know going from Charleston to Pulaski seems like a demotion, but minor league coaches don’t get demoted. They get replaced if they don’t do a good job. Dorante is most likely here because the Yankees want him working with specific players.

Both Casadiego and Seabol are new to Pulaski. Casadiego is making the jump up from the Dominican Summer League, where he was a pitching coach last summer. This is Seabol’s first coaching job. He’s a rookie. You might remember him from that one game he played with the 2001 Yankees. Fun Fact: At the time of his MLB debut, Seabol was the lowest drafted player ever to reach the big leagues*. The Yankees drafted him in the 88th round (!) of the 1996 draft. He was the 1,718th player chosen. Wild. Ozoa is returning to Pulaski and Russo spent last season with Staten Island.

* The lowest drafted player ever to reach the show? That would be Travis Phelps, Staten Island’s pitching coach. Phelps was an 89th round pick in 1996, taken 1,721st overall by the Devil Rays. Three picks after Seabol. Phelps made his MLB debut eleven days after Seabol. The 1996 draft went 100 rounds, though every team other than the Yankees and expansion Devil Rays dropped out by the 84th round. Tampa Bay dropped out after the 97th round, yet the Yankees kept going. Don’t ask me why.

Gulf Coast League Yankees East & West

Managers: Luis Sojo and Nick Ortiz

It is damn near impossible to find information about GCL coaching staffs, but those are the managers this year, according to George King (subs. req’d). Ortiz played a very long time (1991-2012) and all over the world without ever reaching the big leagues. He had been working as a scout with the Yankees, and is now getting into managing.

You know Sojo. He’s had on and off coaching stints in the farm system over the years, including managing High-A Tampa (2006-09, 2011-12) and serving as third base coach with Triple-A Scranton (2014). Sojo was an assistant field coordinator with the big league Yankees in 2015, whatever that means. Also, he managed Double-A Norwich in 2002 before coming out of retirement in 2003 to play with the Yankees after hitting a home run at Old Timers’ Day. Yup.

Miscellaneous

One name you may notice is missing: Tony Franklin. Franklin has spent the last ten seasons managing Trenton (2007-14) and Pulaski (2015-16), and according to Jed Weisberger, he will now be in Tampa full-time as the organization’s position player rehab coach. He’ll work with everyone from rookie ball kids to big leaguers. If a position player is rehabbing in Tampa, Franklin will oversee him.

Also moving into a new role is Greg Colbrunn, who sandwiched two stints as Charleston’s hitting coach (2007-12, 2016) around a three-year stretch as the Red Sox’s big league hitting coach (2013-15). Colbrunn suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2014 and left the Red Sox a year later to be closer to his family, who live in Charleston full-time. The Yankees announced Colbrunn will now be a roving hitting instructor, so he’ll travel from affiliate to affiliate to work with all the top prospects in the system.

Saturday Links: Otani, Spring Training Caps, A-Rod, Fowler

For the first time I can remember, a Steinbrenner has backed off the “World Series or bust” mantra. While speaking to David Lennon earlier this week, Hal Steinbrenner said the Yankees have the potential to be a postseason team in 2017. Not exactly a glowing endorsement, but hey, give Hal points for honesty. Here’s some stuff to check out as we wait for Spring Training to begin.

Otani won’t play in Arizona, WBC

Shohei Otani, the best non-MLB player in the world, will not play in Arizona with the Nippon Ham Fighters this month or the World Baseball Classic next month, reports the Kyodo News. Otani is nursing a nagging ankle injury. There was some hope he would be able to DH in the WBC, but nope. He’s being removed from Japan’s 28-man roster entirely. They don’t want to push it.

The (Ham) Fighters are scheduled to hold Spring Training in Arizona at the Padres’ complex for the second straight year. It was going to be a great chance for MLB clubs to get their eyes on Otani, even the Spring Training version of him, right in their own backyards. Now they’ll have to wait for the regular season, and, to be fair, they were going to scout him during the regular season anyway. They just won’t get an early start in camp or the WBC.

The biggest question remains whether Otani will actually come over to MLB next season. Reports indicate he will, but the new international hard cap means his earning potential will be severely limited. He could wait three years until he turns 25, make good money in Japan in the meantime, then come over when he’s no longer subject to the hard cap. We’ll see.

MLB unveils new Spring Training caps

Last week we got a sneak peak at the Yankees’ new Spring Training caps, and yesterday morning, MLB made it official. The pinstriped brim is part of this year’s Grapefruit League ensemble. Thankfully the team’s road cap is much more … normal.

2017-spring-training-hats

Well, I don’t think I’ll be running out to buy either one of those. Whatever. The jerseys, thankfully, look like normal Spring Training jerseys. You win some and you lose some.

A-Rod‘s coming to camp … twice

Earlier this week Steinbrenner confirmed Alex Rodriguez will serve not one, but two stints this spring as a guest instructor, according to Lennon. They haven’t yet mapped out a plan for the regular season, however. A-Rod’s official title is special advisor, though he’s really more like a special instructor, going around and working with various prospects. What are the chances Gleyber Torres will be Rodriguez’s pet project this year, 90%? I’ll take the over.

Fowler is Law’s sleeper prospect

Yesterday Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrapped up his annual prospect rankings package by naming one sleeper prospect for each team. He defines a sleeper as a prospect “not in the current top 100, but I think they have a good chance to take a big leap forward during 2017, ending up not just in the top 100 but also somewhere in the middle to upper reaches of it.” Outfielder Dustin Fowler is his pick for the Yankees.

Fowler has the right mix of ability, some performance and youth to end up squarely in the top 100 next winter. Teenage prospects such outfielder Estevan Florial or shortstop Wilkerman Garcia are probably a year from that kind of status.

Pretty much the only thing Fowler doesn’t do is walk, and while minor league walk rates aren’t very predictive, the scouting report says he is a bit of a free swinger. With a little more patience, Fowler could develop into a 20-20 center fielder with solid on-base percentages. And it’s not even clear he is one of the ten best prospects in the organization right now. Wild.

Sorting out the projected 2017 Triple-A Scranton roster

Home of the RailRiders. (EwingCole.com)
Home of the RailRiders. (EwingCole.com)

Over the last few seasons the Yankees and every other team in baseball have begun to use their Triple-A affiliate as an extension of their big league roster. They not only send relievers up and down whenever a fresh arm is needed, they’ll also shuttle platoon players in and out based on upcoming pitching matchups. Clubs look for every advantage possible, and these days that means having MLB and Triple-A roster flexibility.

The Yankees have built an exceptional farm system with many high-caliber prospects ticketed for Triple-A. They also have several big league roster openings with young players slated to compete in Spring Training. The refreshing emphasis on youth means projecting the 2017 Triple-A Scranton roster is damn near impossible, but that won’t stop me from trying. I do this every winter and I ain’t stoppin’ now.

Now that the non-roster invitees have been announced, let’s try to figure out what the RailRiders’ roster will look like on Opening Day. After all, these players are depth players for the Yankees, and inevitably we’re going to see many of them in MLB at some point. The top prospects get all the attention, understandably, but don’t sleep on the Chris Parmelees and Anthony Swarzaks of the world either. Those guys have a way of finding themselves in the Bronx.

Let’s begin by looking at position player candidates for the Triple-A Scranton roster. An asterisk (*) denotes the player is on the 40-man roster, which, in this situation, is kind of a big deal.

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Utility
Kyle Higashioka* Greg Bird* Aaron Judge* Tyler Austin*
Wilkin Castillo Ronald Torreyes* Mason Williams* Rob Refsnyder*
Francisco Diaz Ji-Man Choi Jake Cave Tyler Wade
Kellin Deglan Cito Culver Dustin Fowler
Mike Ford Clint Frazier
Pete Kozma
Donovan Solano
Ruben Tejada

I have 20 position players in the table and these days Triple-A rosters run 25 players deep. As recent as 2011, Triple-A and Double-A teams fielded only 24-man rosters. For real. It is not at all uncommon for Triple-A clubs to carry eight-man bullpens, especially early in the season when pitchers are still getting in the swing of things and also having their workloads monitored. We need to pare that list of 20 players down to 13 or even 12.

Catchers: Barring injury, the Yankees are set with Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine behind the plate at the big league level. Romine did an okay job as the full-time backup last year, and while I wouldn’t completely rule out Higashioka winning the job in camp, it would surprise me. Remember, Romine is out of minor league options, which means if he’s not the backup catcher, he’s out of the organization. (Even if he clears waivers, he’d likely elect free agency and look for a big league opportunity elsewhere.)

The odds are strongly in favor of Romine backing up Sanchez with Higashioka biding his time as the third string catcher in Triple-A. The real question is who will back up Higashioka? Castillo seems like the safe bet considering he’s a 32-year-old journeyman with (a little) big league experience and a ton of Triple-A experience. Diaz has two games of Triple-A experience and that’s it. Deglan has barely played above Single-A. Those two figure to be the Double-A Trenton catching tandem with Higashioka and Castillo in Scranton. That’s two of our 12 position player roster spots.

Infielders: Austin, Bird, and Refsnyder are essentially competing for two big league roster spots: the first base job and a bench job. Everyone wants Bird to win the first base job, including the Yankees themselves. But, if he needs more time to shake off the rust following shoulder surgery, a return trip to Scranton could very well be in the cards. Either way, one of these three players figures to start the season with the RailRiders while the other two are with the Yankees. My guess is Refsnyder winds up in Triple-A, but who knows. Three of our 12 Triple-A roster spots are now taken.

Back to Triple-A for Mr. Refsnyder? (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

Solano, Tejada, and Torreyes will all compete for the big league reserve infielder’s job in Spring Training, or at least appear to compete for the job. Maybe even Kozma too. Torreyes not only filled the role admirably last season, he’s also on the 40-man roster and the other three are not. That’s one heck of a tiebreaker. Torreyes can be sent to Triple-A, he has options remaining, it’s just hard to think he could lose the bench job in Spring Training. Lil’ Ronnie in the show with the other three in Scranton seems to be the most likely outcome here. That’s six Triple-A roster spots accounted for now.

Choi has big league time and while I suppose it’s not completely impossible he wins the big league first base job should Bird need more time in Triple-A, I’d bet against it. The big league service time all but ensures Choi will start the season in Scranton, not Double-A Trenton. That figures to spell bad news for Ford, who has played only 42 career games at the Double-A level. Hard to think the Yankees would send two pure first basemen to Scranton. Choi is position player number seven.

Before we found out the Yankees re-signed Kozma, the final Triple-A infield spot came down to Culver or Ford. Now neither of them figures to get a Triple-A roster spot. They’ll likely have to go back to Double-A to begin the season. Either that, or the RailRiders will carry a six-man bullpen, and there’s no chance of that happening.

Outfield: In a roundabout way, Judge and Williams are competing for one big league roster spot. Judge will be given every opportunity to win the starting right field job, but if the Yankees determine he’s not ready for it, he could wind up back in Triple-A. In that case, Aaron Hicks would presumably take over in right field and Williams would get the fourth outfielder’s job. I suppose it could go to Refsnyder or Austin, but I think the Yankees would want an actual outfielder on the bench. There’s the eighth position player. (Hicks, by the way, is out of options and can’t be sent to Triple-A.)

Frazier is a Triple-A lock because he reached the level last season and is a priority guy as a top prospect. The Yankees aren’t going to send him to Double-A to clear a roster spot because Culver has tenure in the organization or anything like that. Fowler is another high-end prospect who had a successful season at Double-A in 2016, so an assignment to Triple-A is the natural order of things. Cave is a Triple-A veteran and the logical candidate for the fourth outfield spot. Frazier, Fowler, and Cave are position players nine, ten, and eleven.

Utility: I listed Austin and Refsnyder as utility players only because they can play the infield and outfield. They were already covered in the infield section. Wade, who is primarily an infielder but started working out in the outfield in the Arizona Fall League, had a solid Double-A season a year ago, so, like Fowler, an assignment to Triple-A makes sense. Wade is out 12th and final Triple-A position player.

Let’s quickly recap everything we just went through:

  • Catchers (2): Higashioka and Castillo
  • Infielders (4): Choi, Kozma, Solano, and Tejada
  • Outfielders (4): Cave, Fowler, Frazier, and either Judge or Williams
  • Utility (2): Wade, and one of Bird, Austin, or Refsnyder

That’s a dozen position players right there, and I suppose if the RailRiders open the season with a normal seven-man bullpen, either Culver or Ford would make the team as the 13th position player. Probably Culver. I still expect an eight-man bullpen, at least initially.

The perfect world scenario for the Yankees is Bird and Judge winning the first base and right field jobs, respectively, and Austin beating out Refsnyder for a bench spot. So, assuming that happens, here are the projected Triple-A position players, with a batting order written out because why not?

1. SS Tyler Wade
2. CF Dustin Fowler
3. LF Clint Frazier
4. DH Rob Refsnyder
5. C Kyle Higashioka
6. 3B Donovan Solano
7. 1B Ji-Man Choi
8. 2B Ruben Tejada
9. RF Mason Williams

Bench: C Wilkin Castillo, IF Pete Kozma, OF Jake Cave

The batting order is just for fun. Don’t take it to heart. Remember, players are going move around. Refsnyder won’t always DH. Wade will undoubtedly see some time in the outfield. Frazier and Williams will probably see time in all three outfield spots. Heck, Solano and Tejada will probably roam around the infield too. These things are very fluid. That, however, is the projected Triple-A Scranton group of position players based on everything we know at the moment. Now let’s get to the pitchers.

Starters Righty Relievers Lefty Relievers
Luis Cessa* Johnny Barbato* Richard Bleier*
Dietrich Enns* Gio Gallegos* Chasen Shreve*
Chad Green* Ben Heller* Joe Mantiply
Ronald Herrera* Jonathan Holder* Jason Gurka
Bryan Mitchell* J.P. Feyereisen Evan Rutckyj
Luis Severino* Mark Montgomery
Chance Adams Matt Wotherspoon
Daniel Camarena
Kyle Haynes
Brady Lail
Jordan Montgomery

Lots of pitchers. Lots and lots of pitchers. There are 23 of ’em in the table, and if that sounds like a lot, consider the RailRiders used 37 different pitchers last season, including 22 different starters. They used 45 pitchers and 24 different starters in 2015. So yeah, 23 pitches in the table seems like a lot, but it’s maybe half as many as Scranton will need to get through the season. Before you know it they’ll be signing Phil Coke out of an independent league again. That’s baseball, yo.

Rotation: At the moment, the Yankees have to two open big league rotation spots, which Brian Cashman & Co. insist will go to two young pitchers. Cashman has specifically singled out Cessa, Green, Mitchell, and Severino as the candidates for those jobs. (Adam Warren too, but I don’t think he’ll actually open the season in the rotation unless all hell breaks loose in camp.) My money is on Severino and Cessa getting the rotation spots. We’ll see.

In theory, the Yankees would send the two losers of the rotation competition to Triple-A, where they would bide their time until they need another starter in the Bronx. Sounds simple enough. That’s not necessarily how it will work though. In 2014 the Yankees held a three-way competition for the long reliever job — not even a rotation spot, the long reliever spot — between Warren, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno. The Yankees ended up carrying all three on the Opening Day roster because they were the best men for the job.

Who’s to say that, if Cessa and Severino were to win the two rotation spots, that Green and Mitchell wouldn’t be in the bullpen? That really complicates things and is why I included guys like Haynes and Lail in this exercise. More than a few of those 40-man roster Triple-A rotation candidates could wind up in the big league bullpen, creating a need for starters in Scranton. Geez, that’s a mouthful.

Severino. (Danna Stevens/Times Tribune)
Severino. (Danna Stevens/Times Tribune)

Anyway, this is what I think will happen: two of the Cessa/Green/Mitchell/Severino quartet get big league rotation spots and a third winds up in the bullpen as the long man. The fourth goes to Scranton as the de facto sixth starter. That means, based our table, we’re left with seven candidates for the four remaining Triple-A rotation spots: Adams, Camarena, Enns, Haynes, Herrera, Lail, and Montgomery.

Two of the four spots are easy. They’ll go to Adams and Montgomery, two of the better pitching prospects in the organization, both of whom are ready for Triple-A. (Montgomery thrived there in his brief stint last year.) Enns and Herrera are on the 40-man roster, which could give them a leg up for the final two Triple-A rotation spots. I do wonder whether the Yankees will move Enns to the bullpen since that’s likely his ultimate destination.

For now, I’m guessing Enns remains a starter, meaning Scranton’s five-man rotation to start the season will be, in whatever order, Adams, Enns, Herrera, Montgomery, and one of Cessa, Green Mitchell, or Severino. That leaves Camarena, Haynes, and Lail out in the cold. The projected Double-A rotation is pretty stacked (Ian Clarkin, Josh Rogers, Justus Sheffield, etc.) so it’s not as simple as bumping them down a level. Hmmm.

Bullpen: Right now, the Yankees have five big league bullpen spots accounted for: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, Tommy Layne, and Warren. Layne is out of options, so if he doesn’t make the big league bullpen, he’s probably out of the organization. No Triple-A for him. I assumed in the previous section one of the four young starters winds up in the bullpen, which means six of seven big league bullpen spots are accounted for in this little exercise.

I have 12 relievers in the table plus Camarena, Haynes, and Lail to consider, so that’s 15 pitchers total. One of those 15 is going to get the final big league bullpen spot, so it’s really 14 pitchers for eight Triple-A bullpen spots. In all likelihood one of the 40-man roster guys will get that last bullpen job with the Yankees. It doesn’t really matter which one, specifically. My money is on Bleier because the Yankees really seem to like him, but ultimately the name doesn’t matter.

Why doesn’t it matter? Because there are six 40-man relievers in that table, and whichever ones don’t get that final MLB bullpen spot will wind up in Triple-A, no questions asked. None of ’em are going to Double-A. That’s five Triple-A bullpen spots accounted for already, which leaves us nine pitchers for the final two or three bullpen spots (depending whether they carry a seven or eight-man bullpen): Camarena, Feyereisen, Gurka, Haynes, Lail, Mantiply, Montgomery, Rutckyj, and Wotherspoon.

The Yankees signed Gurka as a minor league free agent earlier this offseason and he has some big league bullpen time with the Rockies, so I think he gets a Triple-A bullpen spot. Cashman talked up Mantiply at the town hall two weeks ago and he has a tiny little bit of big league time too, so I think he gets a Triple-A bullpen spot as well. If the RailRiders employ an eight-man bullpen — and to be clear, the Yankees make that decision, not the RailRiders — I think it would be Feyereisen. Just a hunch. Camarena, Haynes, Lail, Montgomery, Rutckyj, and Wotherspoon end up in Double-A for the time being. (One or two might even get released.)

Alright, so after all of that, my projected 13-man Triple-A Scranton pitching staff shakes out like this:

  • Rotation (5): Adams, Enns, Herrera, Montgomery, and one of Cessa, Green, Mitchell, or Severino.
  • Bullpen (8): Feyereisen, Gurka, Mantiply, and five of Barbato, Bleier, Gallegos, Heller, Holder, or Shreve.

After going through all of that, I must point out the odds are strongly in favor of this post being a complete waste of time. Guys are going to get hurt in Spring Training, released before the end of camp, whatever. These things change and they change a lot. Trying to project the Triple-A Opening Day roster in late January is a fool’s errand, so I guess that makes me a fool.

I still think it can be instructive to go through this exercise each year, even though it’s prone to blowing up in my face. It’s good to get an idea of how the Triple-A roster will shake out, see where the Yankees have depth, and who the call-up candidates are at any given moment. I have a tendency to forget about Herrera, personally. Laying this all out is a good reminder that hey, he’s probably going to be in the Scranton rotation. So even though this is all very subject to change, I think we get a good grasp of what the Triple-A roster may look like come April.

Prospect Profile: Nestor Cortes

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Nestor Cortes | LHP

Background

Cortes (22-years-old as of December 10) was born and raised in Hialeah, the sixth-largest city in the state of Florida. He attended Hialeah High School, which is at least semi-well-known for winning back-to-back state titles in baseball in 2001 and 2002, and for being the alma mater of former Yankee Bucky Dent, the knuckleballing Charlie Hough, and Gio Gonzalez (who transferred after his junior season). Cortes was no slouch in high school, and was named a Louisville Slugger Pre-Season High School All-American and a Florida All-Region 1st Teamer by Perfect Game USA heading into his senior year, and winning the Most Outstanding Player award in the prestigious Sunshine Classic a few months later.

The Yankees drafted Cortes in the 36th round (1094th overall) in the 2013 draft, and bought him out of a commitment to Florida International. The best player drafted at that position is probably Mark Johnson, who batted .232/.338/.402 (95 wRC+) over parts of seven seasons, amassing 1.4 fWAR along the way.

Pro Career

Cortes made his professional debut at the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League, and performed fairly well. He pitched to a 4.42 ERA (2.26 FIP) in 18.1 IP, allowing 22 hits and 5 walks while striking out 20. Cortes returned to the GCL in 2014, and improved across the board to the tune of 31.2 IP, 35 H, 5 BB, 38 K, and a 2.27 ERA (2.09 FIP). He appeared in just 21 games (five of which were starts) over those first two years, as the Yankees brought him along slowly.

It was in 2015 that Cortes first sprung into the consciousness of the more prospect-inclined Yankees fans, as he was borderline dominant in the Appalachian League. His 2.26 ERA was fourth among pitchers who tossed at least 30 IP, and his 63.2 IP were third in the league. He also racked up 9.3 K/9 against just 1.4 BB/9 and 6.8 H/9. As a result of his strong production, Cortes was named an Appalachian League All-Star after the season.

Cortes had what some would call a breakout season in 2016, splitting his season between Low-A and High-A, and making cameo appearances at Double-A and Triple-A. He made short work of the South Atlantic League, posting a 0.79 ERA (2.48 FIP) and 5.00 K/BB in 68.1 IP. The brilliance continued at High-A (albeit in just 28.0 IP), as he managed a 3.21 ERA (2.25 FIP) and 7.75 K/BB. All told, Cortes threw 108.1 innings of 1.53 ERA ball, with 4.79 K/BB.

Cortes also spent time in the Arizona Fall League in 2016, appearing in 6 games and throwing 7.2 IP. His 4.70 ERA and 7.04 BB/9 were ugly, but he struck out 10 batters in those innings, and didn’t allow a home run in the bandboxes and dryness of the desert.

Scouting Report

I won’t bury the lede here: Cortes is optimistically listed at 5’11” and 190 pounds. He is a solid, strong, and athletic 5’11” and 190 pounds – but it’s difficult for many to overlook his comparatively slight build.

Cortes works with a four-pitch arsenal, and is generally described as a ‘pitchability’ or ‘finesse’ southpaw as a result. His fastball sits in the upper-80s to low-90s range (reaching 93 at its best), and he has strong command of the offering. The difference between his fastball and his mid-70s change-up helps him pick up whiffs, as he does a good job of repeating his delivery and release point on both pitches. He also throws a low-to-mid 70s curve and a slider in the upper-70s.

It’s largely a command and control profile, but his fastball and change-up play up a bit due to the natural deception in his delivery. Cortes hides the ball well in his wind-up, which helps to alleviate the issues presented by his shorter frame. Preventing batters from picking up the ball for an additional split second or two mitigates the extra distance between his release point and home plate when compared to the average 6’2″ or 6’3″ starting pitcher.

2017 Outlook

Cortes will probably open the season back at High-A Tampa, though I wouldn’t be shocked if he was give a shot at Double-A; it may well depend on how he performs in the Spring. The Yankees willingness to bounce him to Double-A and Triple-A in times of need and his time in the Arizona Fall League may indicate that they’re going to be aggressive. Barring an injury or poor performance, he’ll end up at Double-A by the time the Summer roles around.

My Take

There have been some strange comparisons made with Cortes already, ranging from Manny Banuelos (both are short lefties, get it?) to Ramiro Mendoza (as he, too, bounced between starting and relieving – though Mendoza was a sinkerballer, and Cortes … isn’t). The truth is that Cortes is going to face an uphill battle finding success in the Majors, if only because the track record of success for pitchers of his build and stuff is minimal.

That being said, the Yankees are always in need of left-handed specialists, and prefer those that could handle righties in a pinch. Cortes’s deception should make him a nightmare to face for lefties, and his command and fringe-average stuff could help him be competent against opposite-handed hitters. The bullpen feels like his ultimate role, in short – but they should give him a chance to ply his trade against upper-level hitters nonetheless.

Thoughts on Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Last Friday, Keith Law released his annual top 100 prospects list, which included six Yankees. This week ESPN is publishing Law’s individual team reports, and those include not only the top ten prospects in each organization, but guys beyond that as well. It’s a crazy deep dive for each club.

Here is Law’s organizational report for the Yankees. This is all behind the Insider paywall, so I can’t give away too much. These are the top ten prospects, which are the six top 100 prospects plus four new names (duh):

  1. SS Gleyber Torres (No. 4 on top 100)
  2. OF Blake Rutherford (No. 22)
  3. OF Clint Frazier (No. 27)
  4. RHP James Kaprielian (No. 28)
  5. OF Aaron Judge (No. 44)
  6. LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 88)
  7. SS Jorge Mateo
  8. SS Tyler Wade
  9. RHP Chance Adams
  10. 3B Miguel Andujar

In all, Law goes through and lists his top 24 Yankees prospects. I won’t list all 24, but Brendan Kuty has you covered. I have some thoughts on the non-top 100 guys.

1. The gap between Mateo and Wade is small. It’s no secret Mateo had a disappointing 2016 season. He didn’t just perform poorly, he also got himself suspended for two weeks for violating an unknown team policy. It was a tough year for Jorge. No doubt. In the write-up, Law calls Wade a superior shortstop and hitter, though there is still “enough industry faith in Mateo’s speed and body” that he gets the higher ranking. We know Law’s rankings do not reflect the consensus — Baseball Prospectus ranked Mateo third and Wade ninth in the system while Baseball America had Mateo fourth and Wade outside the top ten, so those sites had a much larger gap between the two — and the story here should be the positive report on Wade, not Mateo’s tumble down Law’s rankings. The Yankees had Wade play the outfield in the Arizona Fall League because they’re clearing a path for him to get to the big leagues. He may not offer the upside of Mateo (or Torres), but Wade is a damn good prospect himself.

2. Law has the good Clarkin scouting report. Scouting reports on LHP Ian Clarkin were all over the place last season. On his best days, he’d sit in the low-90s with a hammer curveball and a quality changeup. On his worst days, he was in the upper-80s with a loopy breaking ball. Law gives the positive scouting report on Clarkin, saying he spent last season “pitching in the low 90s with a good curveball.” Now that he’s a full year removed from the elbow injury that sidelined him for all of 2016, I’m hopeful we’ll see more of the good version of Clarkin this year. He’s going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, remember. This is a big year for him. “Double-A will be a good test of his ability to use his two above-average pitches to get guys on both sides of the plate, as hitters there will lay off the curveball if he can’t locate it,” added Law’s write-up.

3. McKinney’s stock is tumbling. Last season was a tough one for OF Billy McKinney, who came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade. He was a first round pick back in 2013, though the combination of a knee injury and poor performance have him slipping down the rankings. Law says McKinney, who he dubbed the system’s falling prospect, has a sound swing and a plan at the plate, but the “projections from high school that had him getting to average power aren’t coming to fruition.” The Yankees got McKinney as the third piece in the Chapman trade — Torres was the headliner (duh) and Adam Warren was the second piece, right? that how I’ve always seen it — and it was only a year ago that Law ranked him 69th on his top 100 list, so the kid has talent. As Brian Cashman likes to say, McKinney is an asset in distress. The Yankees have to build him back up.

4. The 2016 draft gets some love. The Yankees had a very good 2016 draft thanks to Rutherford all by himself. He was one of the best prospects in the draft class. Unfortunately, the current draft pool system doesn’t allow teams to spend freely, so the Yankees had to skimp elsewhere to pay Rutherford. Eight of their top ten picks received below-slot bonuses. The team’s draft haul was top heavy, but two other 2016 draftees still made Law’s top 24 Yankees prospects. RHP Nolan Martinez placed 21st because he “throws 88-93 mph with a huge spin rate on his fastball and good depth on his curve,” though he’s still working to develop his changeup. RHP Nick Nelson, who Law seems to love based on what he’s written dating back to the draft, ranked 22nd after “pumping 96-97 mph in instructional league with a big curveball.” Hmmm. Anyway, point is, the Yankees landed some other nice prospects in last summer’s draft. It wasn’t only Rutherford.

5. A few lesser known prospects make the top 24. Lesser known probably isn’t the correct term. Less thought about? Maybe that’s better. Anyway, among the players to pop up on Law’s farm system deep dive are SS Kyle Holder (“at least a 70 defender”), RHP Freicer Perez (“6-foot-8 and throws up to 98 mph already with good angle”), SS Oswaldo Cabrera (“an average defender with a promising hit tool”), and RHP Jorge Guzman (“has hit 103 mph and will sit at 99-100”). Guzman is the other guy the Yankees got from the Astros in the Brian McCann trade. We all focus on the top prospects and understandably so. They’re the headliners, and there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to see several of them in the big leagues this summer. Further down in the minors, it’s guys like Cabrera and Guzman that separate New York’s farm system from the rest of the pack. Talented players like those two don’t even crack the top 20 prospects in the farm system — Cabrera ranks 23rd and Guzman ranked 24th in the system, per Law — yet they’d be top ten in more than a few other organizations.

Prospect Profile: Jonathan Holder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Jonathan Holder | RHP

Background
Holder, now 23, is from Gulfport, Mississippi, where he earned several All-State Team selections at Gulfport High School as a two-way player. He hit .383/.455/.723 with eight home runs in 30 games as a senior while going 8-1 with a 1.36 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. Despite that performance, Baseball America did not rank Holder among the top 40 prospects from Mississippi or the top 200 prospects overall for the 2011 draft, and he went undrafted out of high school.

Holder instead followed through on his commitment to Mississippi State, where he took over as closer for the Bulldogs almost immediately. He started his college career with a 27.1-inning scoreless streak, longest in school history, and he finished the season with a 0.32 ERA in 28.1 innings. Holder struck out 30, walked five, and saved nine games. Not surprisingly, he was a Freshman All-American.

After the season, Holder suited up for the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod League. He had a 1.99 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 22.2 innings against basically the best college players in the country. The Cape is for the cream of the crop. The best of the best. Wareham won the league championship that year.

With Mississippi State the following year, his sophomore season, Holder threw 54.2 innings with a 1.65 ERA. He struck out 90, walked 17, and tied the SEC single-season record with 21 saves. Holder was a First Team All-American and a finalist for the Stopper of the Year award, which goes to the best reliever in college baseball each year. He struck out a dozen in 9.2 innings with Wareham after the season.

During his junior season Holder saved seven games with a 2.22 ERA in 52.2 innings. He struck out 71 and walked nine. All told, Holder had a 1.59 ERA with 191 strikeouts and 31 walks in 136 innings at Mississippi State. He and Jacob Lindgren formed the best setup man-closer tandem in college baseball in 2014. (Lindgren was the setup man, Holder the closer.)

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Holder as the 11th best prospect in Mississippi and the 286th best prospect overall for the 2014 draft. The Yankees selected him in the sixth round (182nd overall) and signed him quickly for a $170,000 bonus, below the $237,600 slot value.

Pro Career
Following the draft, Holder made a pair of quick tune-up appearances with the rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees before being moved up to Short Season Staten Island. All told, he had a 3.96 ERA (3.01 FIP) with 22.1% strikeouts and 8.4% walk in 36.1 total innings. Holder threw 89 innings between college and pro ball in 2014.

The Yankees, as they’ve been known to do with relief prospects, moved Holder into the rotation in 2015, his first full pro season. And he pitched really well too. In 118 total innings, almost all with High-A Tampa, Holder had a 2.52 ERA (2.85 FIP) with 18.7% strikeouts and 5.2% walks. It seemed like the conversion took, but alas.

Last season the Yankees moved Holder back to the bullpen full-time, and good golly, he destroyed the minors. He threw 65.1 innings while climbing from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton, and in those 65.1 innings he had a 1.65 ERA (1.30 FIP) with 42.4% strikeouts and 2.9% walks. In his final Triple-A outing, Holder struck out 12 of 13 batters faced as part of a four-inning save that clinched a postseason berth for the RailRiders.

That performance — not just the four-inning save with Triple-A Scranton, the entire season — earned Holder a September call-up. He allowed five runs in 8.1 innings with the Yankees, striking out five and walking four. Not the best big league debut, but that’s okay. Last season was an overwhelming success for Holder overall. No doubt about it.

Scouting Report
Big and physical at 6-foot-2 and 235 lbs., Holder is a three-pitch reliever. He sits 92-94 mph with his fastball and will touch 96 mph, and the pitch has a little sink too. His cutter typically hovers around 90 mph. Holder’s put-away pitch is a big breaking mid-to-upper-70s curveball. The separation between his fastball and curveball is pretty substantial. Here’s some video:

Holder also has a changeup left over from his days as a starter, though he doesn’t use it much in relief at all. He’s a fastball/cutter/curveball guy nowadays. Holder is a classic bulldog on the mound and an extreme strike-thrower. His fastball command is quite good as well. He likes to pitch up in the zone with his heater to get swings and misses.

The Yankees pulled the plug on Holder as a starter not because of the results, those were excellent, but because his stuff backed up big time. His fastball sat closer to 90 mph as a starter and he couldn’t hold that velocity into the middle innings. Some guys are just made for the bullpen. That’s Holder.

2017 Outlook
It’s not often I write a prospect profile about a guy who has already played in the big leagues. Holder debuted last September and he’ll come to Spring Training with a chance to win an Opening Day bullpen spot. In all likelihood, he’ll ride the shuttle all season and go back and forth between Scranton and the Bronx. That’s how pretty much every reliever breaks into the show.

My Take
I love Holder relative to his draft slot, though I’m not sold on him as a high-leverage reliever at the big league level. These days 92-94 mph is not overpowering velocity, and he’s a max effort guy who puts just about everything he has into his fastball to get to that velocity. Also, the curveball is good but not great. It’s not a David Robertson curveball, for example. That’s okay! Holder is a big league caliber reliever and hey, once upon a time I didn’t think Robertson could be a high-leverage guy, so don’t listen to me. Either way, we’re about to see a whole lot of Holder going forward.

2017 Draft: Yankees expected to have $6.583M bonus pool

(Matthew Ziegler/Getty)
(Matthew Ziegler/Getty)

According to Hudson Belinsky, the Yankees will have a $6.583M bonus pool for the 2017 amateur draft based on the league’s proposed numbers. Those figures are not final, though if they do change, it shouldn’t be substantially. A few bucks here and there, basically.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has changed the way draft bonus pool money is distributed. The picks at the very top of the draft are closer together — the first and second picks had $9.015M and $7.76M slot values last year, this year it’s $7.4M and $6.85M — and that’s to discourage tanking. Also, more bonus pool money is tied up in the first and second round.

MLB’s thinking is shifting more money to the top two rounds gives teams less flexibility to sign players to overslot bonuses later in the draft. So I guess that’s another concession MLBPA made during CBA talks. This could push some pretty good athletes to college, or even other sports. MLB should be trying to bring them in, not push them out.

Anyway, the overall bonus pool doesn’t mean much in and of itself. The individual slot values are most important. Here is the breakdown for the Yankees, per Belinsky:

  • First Round (16th overall): $3,293,600
  • Second Round (54th overall): $1,177,000
  • Third Round (92nd overall): $560,600
  • Fourth Round (122nd overall): $412,400
  • Fifth Round (152nd overall): $308,000
  • Sixth Round (182nd overall): $235,800
  • Seventh Round (212th overall): $184,500
  • Eighth Round (242nd overall): $149,700
  • Ninth Round (272nd overall): $134,500
  • Tenth Round (302nd overall): $126,900

Last year the Yankees used their seventh through tenth round picks on college seniors and signed them for $10,000 each. They saved $648,900 in bonus pool space by doing that, which was redirected to Blake Rutherford. Based on this year’s proposed slot values, doing the same thing would save the team only $555,600. Like I said, the money has been pushed to the top of the draft.

The 16th overall pick came with a $2,660,800 slot last summer — it was $2,543,300 in 2015, when the Yankees took James Kaprielian with the 16th pick — so this year’s slot is an increase of more than $630,000 from last year’s draft. But again, that’s not because the team has more money to spend. That money was taken from the later rounds. Sucks for the late rounders.

One bit of good news: slot value for every pick after the tenth round is now $125,000, up from $100,000. Anything over $125,000 given to one of those players counts against the bonus pool. Two years ago the Yankees gave 11th rounder Josh Rogers a $485,000 bonus, so $385,000 counted against the bonus pool.

The redistribution of money means the Yankees and every other team will have to be a little more creative when it comes to saving bonus pool space for overslot bonuses. The owners keep trying to push bonuses down and they have more and more success with each new CBA, it seems.