Sanchez: Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez free to sign, Yanks among teams interested

Ibanez at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Ibanez at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

The alternative to Yoan Moncada is now free to sign. According to Jesse Sanchez, Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez has been declared a free agent by MLB and unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, so can now officially sign with a team. Infielder Hector Olivera has still not been cleared to sign, by the way.

Ibanez, who turns 22 in April, left Cuba last fall and held open showcases for teams in December and January with a few private workouts mixed in, according to Ben Badler. No word on which teams brought him in for a private workout, however. Here are Ibanez’s stats from the Cuban league before defecting, courtesy of Baseball Reference:

Year Age AgeDif Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2011 18 -8.7 Isla de la Juventud 88 321 36 82 18 2 3 36 2 4 11 53 .278 .309 .383 .692
2012 19 -8.7 Isla de la Juventud 80 330 37 87 29 0 4 29 6 5 27 38 .300 .361 .441 .802
2013 20 -8.6 Isla de la Juventud 74 280 33 62 13 4 6 32 6 5 33 28 .267 .377 .435 .812
3 Seasons 242 931 106 231 60 6 13 97 14 14 71 119 .283 .348 .419 .767

Ibanez, a right-handed hitter, was the youngest player on Cuba’s roster for the 2013 World Baseball Classic but he only received one at-bat during the tournament because the club had veterans all around the infield. Here’s a quick little scouting report from Badler:

At 5-foot-11, 183 pounds, Ibanez has a thicker build for a middle infielder but he’s athletic and has good body control. With fringy speed and an average arm at best, Ibanez isn’t flashy, but he has a good internal clock and a high baseball IQ, fitting best at second base. Ibanez’s power is mostly to the gaps, projecting as a doubles hitters rather than a big home run threat, but what’s sold some scouts on him is his bat.

“He’s a strong guy who doesn’t have your prototype, ideal body for a second baseman, but he moves around well for his stature,” said another scout. “And he performs. He’s a good hitter. I liked his swing and the way he manipulated the bat.”

Sanchez says the Yankees are one of seven teams with interest in Ibanez. “Ibanez is ready to sign and he could come to terms with a team once Moncada is off the board,” wrote Sanchez. “There’s the notion he could sign before Moncada because some teams consider him a less expensive alternative and want to get him into camp for Spring Training.”

Because of his age and general lack of experience in Cuba, Ibanez is subject to the international spending restrictions like Moncada. No word on what it’ll take to sign him, but the Angels gave infielder Roberto Baldoquin, who is considered a lesser prospect than Ibanez, an $8M bonus a few weeks ago. Maybe that means Ibanez will end up with $10M to $15M. Who knows. Either way, it’ll be taxed at 100%.

It goes without saying Moncada should continue to be the Yankees’ top priority based on everything we know. Ibanez is a secondary target who seems like a potential everyday second baseman, not a star, and that’s something the Yankees could use long-term. Badler says Ibanez is likely to begin his pro career in either High Class-A or Double-A, so he’s not an immediate impact guy. He’s not the sexiest target, but he’s a young player who fits.

Yankees rank 21st in Baseball Prospectus’ farm system rankings

Greg Bird is the word. (Presswire)
Greg Bird is the word. (Presswire)

Last week Baseball Prospectus posted their list of the top 101 prospects in baseball, and this week they followed with their annual farm system rankings. The Cubs predictably claim the top spot and are followed by the Twins and Dodgers. The Tigers bring up the rear and rank 30th.

The Yankees have the 21st ranked farm system in the game according to Baseball Prospectus, up two spots from last year. The rankings are free this year, so here’s the blurb on New York’s system:

State of the System: A spending spree last summer in the international market, the depths of which might force a change in the international spending structure, has turned the Yankees system into one of the most balanced in the game. There isn’t a ton of impact talent near the majors, though Aaron Judge is emerging as a key piece of the future, and Luis Severino is going to make an impact soon, though 10 different scouts will give you 10 different answers on how. Then there’s the youth movement from last summer, most of whom are still teenagers and won’t be seen in the big leagues for a half-decade, if at all, but could make for some of the most intriguing GCL teams in the league’s history.

Keith Law ranked the Yankees’ system 20th in the game, and in their 2015 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America ranked them 18th. The book went to press before the Domingo German trade, however, so that might change slightly when Baseball America posts their final rankings at some point in the coming weeks.

Either way, the consensus is the Yankees have a system right on the border of middle third and bottom third in the game. That’s because most of their top talent is still in Single-A and not close to big league ready. Close to MLB talent is the name of the game in farm system rankings. With Judge, Severino, Eric Jagielo and others set to move up a level this year, plus last summer’s international haul set to hit the system, the Yankees will inevitably move up in the organizational rankings next year.

Video: Actual game footage of Yoan Moncada

According to representative David Hastings, Cuban wunderkind Yoan Moncada could sign with a team within the next week or so. The Yankees have had the 19-year-old Moncada in for a private workout and speculation is he could receive a bonus upwards of $40M, which would be taxed at 100% due to the international spending rules. By all accounts, Moncada is a budding superstar.

Until now, the only real footage we’ve seen of Moncada is short highlight clips and token workout shots, which look great but only tell us so much. Thankfully, Ted Berg recently stumbled across some actual game footage of Moncada against Team USA during the 18U World Championship in Taiwan in September 2013. The video is embedded above. Ben Badler has some details:

In Moncada’s first at-bat, he shows off his speed with an infield single from the right side of the plate against against lefthander Justus Sheffield, who was a first-round pick (No. 31 overall) of the Indians in 2014. Moncada flipped around to bat lefthanded the rest of the game. After an intentional walk, Moncada lined an opposite-field single against righthander Jacob Nix, the Astros’ 2014 fifth-rounder who agreed to terms but never signed in the debacle involving Brady Aiken. Nix erased Moncada in their next matchup, getting Moncada to chase a 1-2 fastball above the strike zone for a swinging strikeout. In his final plate appearance, Moncada shows off his speed again with a bunt single down the third-base line against righthander Luis Ortiz, the Rangers’ 2014 first-round pick.

Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently saw Nix and said he has a “good chance to go in the back of the first round” this summer, so the video shows Moncada against three first round talents. That’s pretty good. Better than the short, grainy clips we usually have to settle for with Cuban players.

Moncada hit .375/.483/.542 in 29 plate appearances during the 2013 tournament according to Badler. Here’s more video of him facing Colombia (1-for-2 with a double and two walks) and Taiwan (1-for-4 with an infield single). Moncada definitely looks the part of a future star. Those are four (well, three) quality at-bats against three premium arms from his age group and physically, he looks like he was chiseled out of marble. Moncada looks like he was put on this Earth to play baseball.

Links: Tickets, Pace of Play, Trades, Travel, Hensley, Ichiro

I'm sick of the offseason too, Brett. (Presswire)
I’m sick of the offseason too, Brett. (Presswire)

Got a whole bunch of random links and notes to pass along, some more important than others. Here’s the latest:

Single game tickets on sale February 24th

Individual game tickets for the 2015 regular season go on sale online on Tuesday, February 24th at 10am ET, the Yankees announced. The Mastercard pre-sale runs from February 18th through the 23rd. You can walk up to the ticket window to purchase tickets starting February 25th. All the details are right here.

MLB, MLBPA making progress on pace of play changes

According to Jon Morosi, MLB and MLBPA are making progress towards rule modifications to speed up the pace of play, and they should have an agreement in place before Spring Training. Teams and players are going to want any changes in place relatively soon so they have all spring to adjust.

It’s unlikely a pitch clock will be added or hitters will be forced to keep at least one foot in the box, says Morosi. It’s more likely both sides will be required to begin play as soon as the television broadcast returns from commercial breaks. That’ll shave, what, a minute or two off each game? It’s something. MLB and MLBPA are expected to continue to look into speeding up games going forward.

Yankees settle all outstanding trades with cash

This stuff is easy to forget about, but the Yankees had several outstanding “player to be named or cash” trades to finalize this offseason. Specifically, they owed a player or cash to the Diamondbacks for Martin Prado, the Athletics for Jeff Francis, and the Indians for Josh Outman. Chad Jennings confirmed all of those trades were settled with cash this offseason, not a player. So there you have it.

2015 travel map

Yankees to travel 29,137 miles in 2015

Over at the indispensable Baseball Savant, Daren Willman posted travel maps for all 30 clubs for the upcoming 2015 season. The Yankees are set to travel 29,137 miles this summer, which is exactly middle of the road — 15th most out of the 30 teams. That is up slightly from 28,001 miles last year. The isolated Mariners will again travel the most miles this year (43,281) while the Reds will travel the fewest (20,612). Usually a more centrally located team like the Royals or Cardinals travels the fewest miles. Lucky for the Reds, I guess.

Preliminary hearing for Hensley attacker set for May

A preliminary hearing for Anthony Morales, the man who allegedly attacked RHP Ty Hensley over the holidays, has been set for May according to Brendan Kuty. Morales has been charged with felony aggravated assault and battery after attacking Hensley following an argument about signing bonuses. Hensley reportedly wouldn’t tell Morales, an ex-college football player who was in training camp with the Carolina Panthers last year, the size of his signing bonus, which is easily Googleable. Hensley suffered multiple facial fractures and lost a tooth in the attack but did not suffer a concussion or other neurological damage. He has resumed throwing bullpens even though his jaw had to be wired shut.

Minor League Ball’s top 20 Yankees prospects

Over at Minor League Ball, John Sickels posted his annual top 20 Yankees prospects list. RHP Luis Severino and OF Aaron Judge predictably claim the top two spots and both received “B+/Borderline A-” grades. “While the Yankees farm system is not at the very top of the organization rankings, it has improved over the last couple of years, should continue to improve, and certainly rates as an upper-tier system,” wrote Sickels. “The large amount of Grade C+ talent gives depth and since much of that talent is quite young and projectable with potentially higher grades to come, there is a lot to look forward to.”

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

Ichiro‘s been looking for “enthusiasm” the last two years

A few weeks ago Ichiro Suzuki joined the Marlins on a one-year contract worth $2M. He’ll serve as the fourth outfielder behind a young group that includes Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna in addition to Giancarlo Stanton. At his introductory press conference, Ichiro told Jim Armstrong he felt “incredible enthusiasm” when meeting with the team, “so I wanted to respond to their enthusiasm and I believe that is something I have been looking for the last two years.”

So there’s a very subtle little jab at the Yankees there. Remember, at the end of last season, Ichiro cryptically told reporters that “obviously there’s a lot of things that go on that the fans and the media can’t see, that goes on inside (the clubhouse), but what I can say is that the experiences I had this year, those experiences are going to help me in the future.” Eh, whatever. Seems like Ichiro holds a bit of a grudge against the Yankees for whatever reason — dropping him into a fourth outfielder role last year? — but that’s in the past now. Onwards and upwards.

Gary Sanchez fatigue and the prospect of a make or break year

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

With Spring Training right around the corner, prospect season is in full swing around baseball, as new team top ten and global top 100 lists are posted just about everyday. (My annual top 30 Yankees prospects list will be going live next Friday, by the way.) The lists ultimately don’t mean anything, they’re just someone’s opinion, but they are fun to discuss and debate. Prospects can be very polarizing.

Prior to both the 2013 and 2014 seasons, I ranked C Gary Sanchez as the Yankees’ top prospect. So did Keith Law. Baseball America had Sanchez third prior to 2013 and first prior to 2014. Sanchez was also a staple on top 100 lists those two years, ranking as the 57th and 35th best prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to 2013 and 2014, respectively. Law him 18th and 68th those two years. Baseball Prospectus had him 47th and 85th, and MLB.com had him 36th and 47th. On and on it goes.

This year though, Sanchez has slid down the rankings. Both Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the third best prospect in the system a few weeks ago while Baseball America had him fifth. That is partly due to other players in the organization (specifically OF Aaron Judge and RHP Luis Severino) breaking out, but people have also soured on Sanchez. He had not appeared on any top 100 lists this year. Not Law’s, not Prospectus’, not MLB.com’s, and almost certainly not Baseball America’s when it is released next week.

I’m not going to call Sanchez’s absence on the various top 100 lists crazy — they’re all excellent and well-informed lists, every one of ‘em — but I guess I do find it surprising. Well, I do and I don’t. It isn’t surprising because people are clearly down on him. It is surprising because Sanchez is still a pretty damn good prospect. I mean, look at this snippet from Baseball America’s recent scouting report:

If everything clicks, he’s a frontline catcher with the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually. His throwing arm remains an impressive tool as well, one that ranks between 70-80 on the scouting scale, and he threw out 39 percent of basestealers.

That’s pretty awesome. Sanchez isn’t that guy yet, obviously, if he was he’d be in the big leagues, but that’s the kind of talent he has. “Sanchez will show you flashes of the ability that once made him a top-25 prospect in all of baseball,” wrote Law in his top ten post before getting to the caveat, “but he’ll also take whole pitches or innings off mentally, and catching isn’t a position you can play half-fast.”

That last part is Sanchez’s biggest issue. He’s had some work ethic related mishaps — Sanchez infamously refused to catch a bullpen session with Low-A Charleston a few years ago and was sent back to Extended Spring Training for disciplinary reasons — and his defense hasn’t improved as hoped, and that’s the scouting reason why he’s tumbling down the prospect rankings.

I also think there’s another factor: prospect fatigue. It happens all the time. Sanchez signed with the Yankees as a 16-year-old in 2009, so he’s been in the system for five full seasons now. That’s a lot. People are getting sick of his seeing his name on prospect lists. Following prospects is not about instant gratification but people always love their new toys more than their old ones. Sanchez has been around a long time and people are getting tired of him.

And yet, Sanchez just turned 22 last month. He’s only four months older than LHP Jacob Lindgren, who the Yankees just drafted last summer. Sanchez hit .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) with 13 homers as a full-time catcher in Double-A last year at age 21, making him 3.7 years younger than the average Eastern League player according to Baseball Reference. Heck, he’s been three years younger than the competition every season of his career.

(Star-Ledger)
(Star-Ledger)

If the Yankees signed some college catcher out of the draft, sent him right to Double-A, and he did what Sanchez did age 21 last year, we’d all think it was pretty awesome. But instead everyone has been pretty underwhelming by Sanchez. Everyone’s waiting for the big breakout year — a Jesus Montero year, if you will — that still hasn’t come even though Sanchez hasn’t ever actually been bad.

This brings us to another point I want to discuss: 2015 being a make or break year for Sanchez. I mean, no. The idea that a 22-year-old kid is facing a make or break year that will determine if he’s a prospect going forward or someone to forget about is silly. No one with half a brain would write off a 22-year-old with Sanchez’s ability. That said, I do think it is a make or break year for Sanchez with the Yankees’ organization.

The Yankees clearly prioritize catcher defense and have for years — the only bad defensive catcher they’ve had since 2007 is Jorge Posada. They called Montero a future big league catcher as long as possible until finally trading him away because no, they really didn’t think he was a catcher. Peter O’Brien was traded for the very same reason last summer. Sanchez has better defensive tools and a much better chance of sticking behind the plate than either Montero or O’Brien, but he’s still rough at the position and the improvement hasn’t come as quickly as hoped.

If that defensive improvement doesn’t come this year, a year in which Sanchez is slated to head to Triple-A Scranton, then his days with the organization are probably over. The Yankees will cut bait like they did with Montero and O’Brien and cash Sanchez in as a trade chip even though he has a chance to be an impact bat. So it’s not a make or break year for Sanchez’s career overall, but I do think it’s a make or break year for him with the Yankees. That makes sense, right?

Because Sanchez was a huge money international signing ($3M!) and has been one of the top rated prospects in the system for years, people have been watching and waiting for that mammoth season that validates all the time we’ve put into following him. It hasn’t happened and people are getting tired of waiting — I think the same thing happened with Dellin Betances two or three years ago too — but that doesn’t make him any less of a prospect. Sanchez is still really good and has loads of ability. But, unless he improves his defense this year, chances are he’s going to find himself in another organization.

Agent confirms Yoan Moncada hoping to sign “around the 23rd of this month”

We need to talk about that shirt, Yoan. (MLB.com)
We need to talk about that shirt, Yoan. (MLB.com)

Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada has officially been a free agent for about a week now, and it appears he is relatively close to making a decision. David Hastings, Moncada’s representative, told Jayson Stark and Dylan Hernandez his client hopes to pick a new team by February 23rd, ten days from today.

“I’m hoping, certainly, that by the end of next week, we’ll have a much clearer picture of where he will sign,” said Hastings to Hernandez. “I’m kind of hoping we’re at the final end of the process. I hope I will be able to get Yoan into a team’s Spring Training practice as soon as possible.”

The Yankees were one of several teams to have Moncada in for a private workout, and Hastings confirmed several clubs have requested “look-backs,” or a second private workout. Those “look-backs” are scheduled for next week and it’s unclear which teams asked for the second look. Maybe the Yankees, maybe not. We don’t know.

“If a team is going to put this much money on the table, I can’t imagine they can see the kid one time and say, ‘He’s worth millions of dollars.’ So they might want to come back and take a look at a second little aspect [of his game],” said Hastings to Stark. “I don’t have any more plans [for workouts] after next week. I’m looking at around the 23rd of this month to have all the input we need to make a decision on where he’ll start — and hopefully end — his professional career.

“I’ve had to become his nutritionist, his [medical adviser], his baseball trainer and his legal and financial adviser,” Hastings added. “I’m not an expert in nutrition for a 19-year-old potential superstar. I want a team that has all these professionals and experts to take over and say, ‘OK, this is what we need to do with this kid.’ The sooner the better.”

Hastings said he has one offer in hand but declined to identify the team. Most expect Moncada to wind up with a bonus in the $30M to $40M range, which would smash the record ($8.27M by Yoan Lopez) for a player under the current international spending rules. Moncada’s bonus will be taxed at 100% because whichever team signs him will exceed their international bonus pool, meaning he’s a $60M to $80M investment. All up front too.

By all accounts, the 19-year-old Moncada is a potential superstar. He’s a switch-hitter with power and speed who most expect to wind up at second or third base long-term. Jim Callis put together a fun post comparing Moncada’s tools to those of the game’s top shortstop prospects and, in a nutshell, Moncada is as good as anyone. His worst tool is his fielding skill and Callis rated that as average. Everything else is above-average or better.

At this point everything we’ve seen has said Moncada was a budding star. There hasn’t even been the token “he’s overrated” quote from an anonymous scout that usually pops up when discussing top prospects. Based on that, it’s tough to believe any team will pass on Moncada for talent-related reasons. I get the sense this is going to come down to the owner most willing to stomach a massive up front payout to get the guy his baseball people love.

Prospect Profile: Tyler Wade

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Tyler Wade | SS

Background
Wade is a Southern California kid from Murrieta, roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. He played baseball at Murrieta Valley High School and was a pop-up guy, meaning he didn’t jump onto the radar as a draft prospect until the spring of his draft year. (Wade hit .524 as a senior after hitting .328 as a sophomore and junior.)

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Wade as the 34th best prospect in California and the 169th best prospect overall for the 2013 draft. The Yankees selected him in the fourth round with the 134th overall pick. Wade signed about a week later for $371,300, exactly slot money for his draft spot.

Pro Career
Wade was assigned to one of the team’s two rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliates after signing and he had an excellent pro debut, hitting .309/.429/.370 (146 wRC+) with a 16.2% walk rate, a 21.2% strikeout rate, and 11 steals in 12 attempts in 46 games. He played so well the Yankees bumped him up to Short Season Staten Island for a few games at the end of the GCL season. Wade went 1-for-13 (.077) in four games with Staten Island.

The Yankees aggressively assigned Wade to Low-A Charleston to start the 2014 season, where he was slated to split time at shortstop, second base, and DH with Gosuke Katoh and Abi Avelino. Avelino suffered a quad injury a month into the season and that pushed Wade into regular shortstop duty. He handled the workload well, hitting .272/.350/.349 (100 wRC+) with a 9.9% walk rate, a 20.5% strikeout rate, and 22 steals in 35 attempts during his age 19 season.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 lbs., Wade is a true shortstop with good athleticism, quick feet, and sure hands. His weakest defensive tool is his arm, which is juuust strong enough for short. Wade has a quick and compact left-handed swing that sprays line drives all over the field, and he knows the strike zone well. Here’s some video (there’s more at MiLB.com):

Wade is a pure slash hitter with zero power. He hit one homer total in his last three years of high school and has one homer in 179 games as a pro. Power’s not his game. Even if he packs on some muscle as he matures, Wade is expected to be a single digit home run guy who hits near the bottom of the order with okay batting averages and respectable on-base percentages. His speed is good, but, as going 22-for-35 (63%) in stolen base attempts last year suggests, he needs to improve his base-running instincts and pick his spots better. Wade’s a classic scrappy middle infield type. Prepare for the inevitable David Eckstein comparisons.

2015 Outlook
After a strong full season debut with the River Dogs, Wade will move up to High-A Tampa for the 2015 season and again serve as the everyday shortstop. He just turned 20 in November and there’s no reason to think he’ll get a midseason promotion to Double-A Trenton, even if he breaks out and has a huge year. Wade’s a one level at a time guy and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My Take
I like Wade, he’s been a pleasant surprise despite being a relatively high draft pick. Most pop-up guys never amount to anything — they usually just have the best few weeks of their lives at exactly the right time — but Wade has the athleticism for shortstop and isn’t a zero at the plate. There’s always a chance upper level pitchers will knock the bat right out of his hands, but I think there’s a good chance he’ll get stronger as he fills out and turn into a doubles machine. The Yankees have a surprising amount of quality shortstop prospects in the low minors and Wade is the highest on the minor league ladder.