Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 26-31

Over these next two weeks, we’re going to rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 32-40.

Ramirez. (Presswire)
Ramirez. (Presswire)

Like every other team, the Yankees have several spots on their 40-man roster dedicated to prospects who may or may not provide immediate help. Those are the players who have been protected from the Rule 5 Draft despite not yet being MLB ready. Not all of them are top prospects, mind you, but they are young players with some projected future utility the club didn’t want to risk losing.

Our 40-man roster ranking series continues today with Nos. 26-31, spots that feature a collection of those young prospects who might be able to help the Yankees in some capacity this coming season. But, more than anything, they’re looked at as potential future pieces down the road. Guys who can help more in 2016 or 2017 than 2015. To the next set of rankings …

No. 31: Danny Burawa

2015 Role: An up-and-down bullpen arm who is behind several others on the call-up depth chart. Burawa was passed over in last year’s Rule 5 Draft and actually had to be briefly demoted to Double-A Trenton last year after a rough start to the season with Triple-A Scranton (5.95 ERA and 3.52 FIP). He’s ticketed for a return to the RailRiders to start 2015.

Long-Term Role: Burawa, 26, has some of the nastiest stuff in the organization. His fastball regularly sits in the upper-90s with run in on righties, and his hard mid-to-upper-80s slider is a swing-and-miss pitch at its best. He’ll also throw a changeup but it isn’t a key pitch for him out of the bullpen. Burawa is held back by his below-average control — 5.17 BB/9 and 13.2 BB% in Double-A and Triple-A from 2013-14 — and may never be a late-inning reliever because of that, though he has vicious stuff and can be a factor in middle relief for multiple years down the road.

No. 30: Branden Pinder

2015 Role: Another up-and-down bullpen arm who I think is ahead of Burawa on the depth chart. The soon-to-be 26-year-old Pinder was added to the 40-man this offseason, his first year of Rule 5 Draft eligibility, and took a nice step forward with his control last summer, going from a 9.0 BB% from 2012-13 to a 5.9 BB% in 2014. He’s another guy who will return to Triple-A Scranton to start the year, though I expect to see him in MLB at some point in 2015. Before September call-ups, I mean.

Long-Term Role: Pinder doesn’t have the same overwhelming stuff as Burawa but he isn’t going out there with a fastball you can catch with your teeth either. He sits 93-95 mph with his four-seamer and is able to vary the break on his low-80s slider, sometimes throwing a short slider (almost like a cutter) and other times throwing a sweepy slider that frisbees out of the zone. It’s a classic boring middle relief profile but Pinder is a very high-probability future big leaguer.

No. 29: Jose Ramirez

2015 Role: Yet another up-and-down bullpen arm, though this one has MLB experience. Ramirez made his big league debut last season (5.40 ERA and 6.43 FIP in ten whole innings) before going back to Triple-A and, unfortunately, getting hurt. The getting hurt part has become an annual thing for him. Ramirez will compete for the last bullpen spot in camp, and if he doesn’t win it, he’ll return to Triple-A and be among the first called up when a fresh arm is inevitably needed.

Long-Term Role: Ramirez is two years younger than Burawa, one year younger than Pinder, and out-stuffs both of them. He has a mid-to-upper-90s fastball with movement, a sharp slider, and a knockout changeup he uses against both lefties and righties. On his absolute best days, Ramirez goes to the mound with three swing-and-miss pitches. The stuff is there for future late-inning work.

The only question is whether Ramirez will stay healthy enough to reach that ceiling. The Yankees moved him to the bullpen full-time last year because he kept getting hurt as a starter — arm injuries too, shoulder and elbow — and he still got hurt as a reliever. Ramirez seems very much like a “let’s get something out of him before his arm gives out completely” type of pitcher, and whatever they get out of him could be very good based on the quality of his stuff.

No. 28: Jose Pirela

Pirela. (Presswire)
Pirela. (Presswire)

2015 Role: Versatile utility player who will be first in line for a bench spot if someone gets hurt in Spring Training. (As I said yesterday, I don’t think the Yankees are going to cut Brendan Ryan just because.) Pirela is the very poor man’s Martin Prado — he has a contact-oriented swing and can play second base and left field. (Prado was already a fourth year big leaguer by time he was Pirela’s age (25), hence the very poor man’s part.)

Pirela has torn up Double-A and Triple-A the last three seasons — .290/.353/.432 (118 wRC+) with a 7.9% walk rate and a 12.5% strikeout rate — and his versatility gives the Yankees some options. He can step in to help out in case of injury, back up multiple positions, or be the light half of a platoon. It’s the kind of player just about every manager loves to have … and fans tend to overrate. I don’t know why, but versatility has that effect.

Long-Term Role: Despite the minor league numbers, I’m not sold on Pirela as an everyday player at the big league level — I think he’s more likely to be another Eduardo Nunez than Prado lite — but he’s useful and flexible. There is plenty of room for a guy like that on the bench and in the organization in both 2015 and for years to come. In the best case scenario, Pirela becomes the player many people believed Chone Figgins was, the guy who plays a different position everyday (to rest everyone else) and produces. More than likely though, he’ll be a bench guy while in his cheap pre-arbitration years.

No. 27: Ramon Flores

2015 Role: With Eury Perez now gone, Flores is the de facto fifth outfielder who will be called up in case of injury. Well, I guess sixth outfielder when you include Pirela. The 22-year-old Flores had a .247/.339/.443 (116 wRC+) line with seven homers in 63 games with the RailRiders last season — he hit eight homers in 141 games in 2013 — before a freak ankle injury effectively ended his season on the first day of June. Chances are he would have been a September call-up had he stayed healthy.

Long-Term Role: Carlos Beltran is perpetually on the verge of injury and/or a permanent shift to DH, and, as a left-handed hitter, Flores has a clear path to getting regular at-bats as at least a platoon right fielder in the near future. The Yankees never did give Zoilo Almonte — a switch-hitter who was better against righties with more raw power and more stolen base ability than Flores — a shot in a similar role whenever the opportunity arose these last few seasons, so there’s no guarantee Flores will get a look. That is more or less his long-term outlook: lefty platoon bat in a corner outfield spot.

Williams. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
Williams. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

No. 26: Mason Williams

2015 Role: For the big league team, none. Williams has close to zero chance of helping the MLB team this coming season as anything more than a defensive replacement when rosters expand in September. He was added to the 40-man roster this offseason only because he is a former top prospect who was Rule 5 Draft eligible. Williams has hit .236/.298/.319 (74 wRC+) in over 1,200 plate appearances at High-A and Double-A the last two years. He has no business being considered for a 2015 role at the big league level.

Long-Term Role: Once upon a time, Williams had the potential to be a Jacoby Ellsbury type of player. A leadoff hitter with on-base ability, speed, and elite center field defense. That long-term outlook has changed considerably the last two years and a lot of has to do with makeup. Multiple reports say Williams has been insubordinate and plays with an utter lack of energy. He’s failing as a prospect, and it is definitely not due to a lack of physical talent.

Williams right now has no long-term role with the team. The Yankees are hoping he will get his career on track and improve going forward — perhaps the 40-man spot will serve as motivation — and if that happens, their intention may be to flip him in a trade as soon as possible. The club has been emphasizing strong makeup and work ethic for years and Williams has shown zero of that so far, leading me to believe he’s more likely to be dealt as soon as he rebuilds a modicum of trade value rather than be given a real big league opportunity.

Coming Wednesday: Nos. 20-25. Three veteran(-ish) big leaguers and three youngsters more important for the future than the present.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 32-40

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

Outside of some minor tinkering here and there, it appears the Yankees are done with their major offseason moves and are basically set heading into Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report in a little less than five weeks now. Barring a surprise big move, there’s not much left on the agenda other than adding pitching depth. Someone like Johan Santana, maybe.

Anyway, with Spring Training on the horizon, we’re going to rank and analyze the roles of everyone on the 40-man roster these next two weeks. The rankings are based on the player’s importance to the 2015 Yankees as well as their importance to the team long-term, and we’ve lumped the players into ten easy to post tiers. Needless to say, these rankings are completely subjective (and more difficult than you think) and you’re going to disagree with them at some point. Something like this has no right answer.

The series starts today with the bottom of the list, Nos. 32-40. Tier ten. These are the spare part players. Up-and-down bullpen arms, bench players on one-year contracts, guys like that. The fringe players who will inevitably see time with the big league team this year but aren’t expected to play a major role, either in 2015 or down the line. Let’s get to it.

No. 40: Chris Martin

2015 Role: Up-and-down arm. The Yankees acquired Martin from the Rockies for cash last week because they felt he was a minor upgrade over Gonzalez Germen, who they felt was a minor upgrade over Preston Claiborne earlier this offseason. Martin will get a look in Spring Training and, if he impresses, he’ll put himself in position for a call-up later this year.

Long-Term Role: Really doesn’t have one. Martin is a big dude — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 215 lbs. — with a mid-90s fastball, a low-80s curve, and a history of missing bats in Triple-A (9.6 K/9 and 24.9 K% in 77 innings), so he could always have instant success and carve out a place in middle relief. If that happens, Martin could stick around all year and be part of the bullpen mix in 2016, but that’s the best case scenario.

No. 39: Chase Whitley

Whitley. (Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

2015 Role: Another up-and-down arm, except Whitley at least has the ability to contribute as an emergency rotation option if necessary. He’s not strictly a bullpen arm like Martin. The Yankees more or less know what they have in Whitley and he’ll head to Triple-A Scranton when the season begins, biding his time until reinforcements are inevitably needed.

Long-Term Role: A spare arm until he runs out of minor league options or an upgrade comes along, whichever comes first. Whitley did not use an option last season — he was only sent down for ten days in late-August and it takes 20 days to burn an option — so he has all three remaining, meaning he can go up and down in 2015, 2016, and 2017. If he shows the ability to contribute as a spot starter, Whitley will stick around.

No. 38: Jose DePaula

2015 Role: Again, up-and-down arm. DePaula is a legitimate starter, not a pure reliever like Martin or a career reliever recently converted into a starter like Whitley, and he gets bonus points for being left-handed. The Yankees like DePaula enough that they gave him a big league contract as a minor league free agent this offseason even though he’s yet to reach MLB.

Long-Term Role: DePaula only has one minor league option remaining, which means his time in the organization might not extend beyond the 2015 season. A trip to Triple-A Scranton is in the cards to start the year, and if DePaula gets called up at some point, he’ll have to impress enough to stick around next year, even if it’s as nothing more than a long man. In a nutshell, DePaula has replaced Vidal Nuno on the 40-man roster. Similar pitchers, same sort of role.

No. 37: Austin Romine

2015 Role: Considering he is out of minor league options and can not go to Triple-A without first passing through waivers, there’s a good chance Romine will no longer be with the organization come Opening Day. Catchers are hard to find, so the Yankees figure to keep Romine through Spring Training in case Brian McCann or John Ryan Murphy gets hurt. His 2015 role is emergency extra catcher.

Long-Term Role: Nothing more than being the emergency catcher at this point. Romine’s career stalled out the last few seasons and being out of options means decision time has come. If the Yankees don’t need him to start the season as an injury replacement, Romine will probably be traded — in a small trade for a small return — to a catcher-needy team rather than go on waivers. It would be a surprise if he clears waivers and is able to go to Triple-A to back up Gary Sanchez.

No. 36: Chris Young

2015 Role: Fourth outfielder who will see most of his time against left-handed pitchers. Young might also replace Carlos Beltran for defense in the late innings of close games. He had a strong September cameo in pinstripes and returned to the team on a one-year, $2.5M contract with nearly $4M in incentives.

Long-Term Role: Young’s days as an everyday player are over, and since he’s on a one-year contract, the Yankees have no real ties to him. They can cut him loose if he doesn’t produce during the season or walk away if a better option comes along next offseason. And, of course, they’ll always have the option of re-signing Young if he excels in his part-time role this summer.

No. 35: Brendan Ryan

2015 Role: It appears Ryan will again be on the bench as New York’s extra infielder this coming season, though I suppose there’s a chance he could get pushed out by someone like Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder in Spring Training. There’s definite value in Ryan’s ability to play above-average defense at shortstop and that will keep him in the organization and on the roster, in my opinion.

Long-Term Role: Ryan is entering the second year of his two-year contract, though the deal includes a $2M club option and a $1M player option for 2016. (If the Yankees decline the club option, Ryan can still exercise the player option.) The Yankees don’t have any upper level shortstop prospects capable of replacing Ryan next year, so right now it looks like he has a decent chance to stick around as a bench player beyond the 2015 season.

No. 34: Stephen Drew

2015 Role: Everyday second baseman or close to it — Drew could sit against tough lefties or be pushed into a straight platoon role if, say, Refsnyder forces the issue in camp. I do expect him to at least start the season as the regular second baseman though. Drew will hit in the bottom third of the lineup and hopefully produce like he did in 2013, not 2014. His left-handed swing fits well in Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Drew doesn’t have a long-term spot with the team. He’s on a one-year contract worth $5M with some incentives, but Refsnyder is coming and the Yankees seem to be making a concerted effort to get younger. Bringing Drew back was about adding depth, not blocking Refsnyder. It’s always possible the Yankees will bring Drew back after the season if he plays well, but it’s hard to think he’ll be penciled in as a regular again. He’s a stopgap, plain and simple.

Hooray for a lefty throwing first baseman. (Presswire)
Hooray for a lefty throwing first baseman. (Presswire)

No. 33: Garrett Jones

2015 Role: Oft-used bench player who will provide backup at first base, right field, and DH, three positions where the Yankees have major injury risks in Mark Teixeira, Beltran, and Alex Rodriguez. I think the health concerns of those three guys give Jones a clear path to 400 or so plate appearances in 2015, which might be just enough to expose his weaknesses. That said, his left-handed power is a great fit for Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Jones, who came over from the Marlins in the five-player Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade a few weeks ago, will earn $5M in 2015 before becoming a free agent. Given his lefty pop and ability to positions where the Yankees need depth, the team could look to bring Jones back in 2016 if he contributes as hoped this summer. He fits the roster very well.

No. 32: Esmil Rogers

2015 Role: Swingman. Rogers has worked as both a starter and reliever in his career — including last season, when he made eight starts and 38 relief appearances between Triple-A/MLB and Yankees/Blue Jays — and he steps right into David Phelps‘ old role. He actual made three starts in winter ball this offseason and will presumably come to camp stretched out just so the team has options to cover for the risky rotation.

Long-Term Role: The Yankees somewhat surprisingly kept Rogers this offseason. He was a prime non-tender candidate, but they instead cut his salary the maximum allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and kept him around as depth. Rogers will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well and could definitely return to the team, especially if he fills that swingman role as well as Phelps did.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 26-31. A collection of prospects who could help in limited roles in 2015.

Thanks to Bobby Valentine, Andrew Miller now set to play a big role for the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With David Robertson now a White Sox (Sock?), the Yankees bullpen will be anchored by Dellin Betances and the newly signed Andrew Miller not just this coming season, but hopefully the next four years as well. Miller was signed to replace Robertson — the Yankees actually signed Miller first then let Robertson walk — and gives the team an elite lefty to pair with their elite righty.

Betances, as you know, transformed himself from a starter with major command issues into a dominant reliever two years ago. Miller went through the same exact thing, except he did it all in MLB, not hidden away in the minors where no one could see. Miller’s shortcomings as a starter were on full display as a high draft pick (sixth overall in 2006) who was traded for Miguel Cabrera and later pitched with the Red Sox.

During his time with the Marlins, the 29-year-old Miller had a 5.89 ERA (4.49 FIP) with an ugly walk rate (5.1 BB/9 and 12.1 BB%) and an unimpressive strikeout rate (7.2 K/9 and 17.1 K%) in 220 innings. “I struggled. I didn’t play very well (with the Marlins) — kind of went backwards, developed some bad habits,” said Miller in a recent YES feature (video link). “Still, at the same time, in the long run I feel I’m better for it. I think maybe those struggles make me a better pitcher now.”

The Red Sox acquired Miller in a minor trade during the 2010-11 offseason and tried to make it work as a starter, but it wasn’t happening. Miller had a 5.54 ERA (5.12 FIP) in 65 innings during the 2011 season, most working out of the rotation. He was out of minor league options heading into the 2012 season, so the Red Sox were going to have to make a decision about his future with the team, but a Spring Training injury bought them some time.

“I got hurt in Spring Training. I pulled my hamstring — just a minor, fluky ‘what are you gonna do?’ thing,” said Miller to YES. “It put me behind (the other pitchers in camp) and they moved me to the bullpen. I think that was a real blessing in disguise. Ever since that happened, I’ve continually gotten better and better pitching out of the bullpen.”

Miller returned from the hamstring injury in May and, for the first time in his career, he was working out of the bullpen full-time. Then-manager Bobby Valentine urged him to pitch exclusively out of the stretch — “It was like watching two different guys out there. One look was when he came out of the windup. The other was out of the stretch, where he looked terrific, crisp and nearly unhittable,” said Valentine to Ron Chimelis in March 2012 — and pitching coach Bob McClure got Miller to realign his feet and stay more in-line towards the plate.

Moving to the bullpen and ditching the windup is hardly unique. Hundreds if not thousands of other pitchers have made the same transition at some point in their careers, including Betances two years ago. The transition doesn’t always work but for Miller it absolutely did. I guess it helps being a lanky 6-foot-7 with a fastball/slider combination that ranks as top 1% in baseball type of stuff, especially by lefty standards.

“In a lot of sense, my attitude changed from trying to hit the corners and inducing this kind of contact to do this or that to kind of ‘I’m going to come at you as hard as I can as quick as I can,'” said Miller while explaining the difference between starting and relieving to YES. “And whatever you had working that day, make it happen for you. You didn’t have to time to fiddle around and figure it out.”

Miller had an incredible 2014 season and that’s why the Yankees signed him, but it’s incorrect to say he’s only had one good year. From 2012-13, his first two years as a full-time reliever, Miller had a 3.04 ERA (3.12 FIP) with an excellent strikeout rate (12.5 K/9 and 32.6 K%) but a still too high walk rate (4.7 BB/9 and 12.2 BB%) in 71 innings. He made the jump from very good to elite in 2014 when he cut his walk rate to 2.5 BB/9 (7.0 BB%), much the same way Robertson cut his walk rate in half in the middle of 2012.

The best thing Bobby Valentine did for the Red Sox was save Miller’s career by sticking him in the bullpen full-time and getting him to ditch his windup. McClure, his pitching coach, helped as well. They helped Miller go from this guy with complicated mechanics in 2011 …

Andrew Miller 2011

… to this guy with a much simpler, less arm-and-leggy delivery in 2014 …

Andrew Miller 2014

… and the results have been pretty staggering. Like Betances, Miller went from a guy who appeared to have no big league future as a starter to a dominant, lights out reliever in a relatively short period of time. Like most others, Miller moved to the bullpen as a last resort to try to hang on. And, because he always had Grade-A stuff, he’s thrived in his new role and is set to play a big role for the Yankees going forward.

“I know I’m not going to be perfect. I know I’m going to walk somebody this year,” said Miller to Gordon Edes in February 2012, a statement that holds true in 2015. “It’s a matter of getting ahead in counts and putting myself in position to limit base-runners, but I’ll take my chances with my stuff if I throw the ball in the zone.”

Looking at Justin Wilson, the other lefty reliever the Yanks added this offseason

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As part of their bullpen overhaul this offseason, the Yankees sent Frankie Cervelli to the Pirates for lefty Justin Wilson, clearing the way for John Ryan Murphy to take over as Brian McCann‘s backup. Wilson is one of three lefties New York has acquired this winter, joining Andrew Miller and Chasen Shreve. Miller is going to be a big part of the late innings next year while Shreve will probably be an up-and-down arm, at least at first.

Wilson’s role seems to be something in between Miller and Shreve. Not an automatic high-leverage option but probably not someone who has to fight his way onto the roster in Spring Training either. Wilson does have two minor league options remaining but I don’t get the sense he’s in danger of starting the year in Triple-A either, at least not unless he has a miserable showing in camp. For now, he’s part of the bullpen picture.

Brian Cashman told reporters at the GM Meetings he’s been trying to acquire Wilson for years — “As a matter of fact, I had this discussion with Pittsburgh two years ago. This exact proposal,” said the GM to Brendan Kuty in November — so the Yankees obviously like something about him. He is a hard-throwing lefty and teams love hard-throwing lefties, even if they have control problems. It’s no surprise Cashman had long-standing interest.

The thing is, I don’t know a whole lot about Wilson. A quick glance at the internet tells me he’s 27 and has a 2.99 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 138.1 career big league innings, but there’s more to the story. What does he throw besides a big fastball? Can he get lefties and righties out, or is he strictly a matchup guy? That sort of stuff. So consider this an introduction to the Yankees’ newest lefty reliever. Well, second newest.

The Performance

Wilson, who was drafted out of Fresno State in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, has been in the big leagues for two full years plus one September. He was a starter throughout his minor league career and has been nothing but a reliever in MLB. Through the years, Baseball America (subs. req’d) noted Wilson’s spotty command was likely to land him in the bullpen long-term, and here we are.

During his two full years in MLB, Wilson has improved his strikeout rate while actually performing a tiny bit better against righties than lefties, at when it comes to strikeouts and ground balls. Here’s what he’s done against lefties and righties the last two years (I’m ignoring his September call-up in 2012 because he threw only 4.1 innings):

LHB wOBA LHB K% LHB uBB% LHB GB% RHB wOBA RHB K% RHB uBB% RHB GB%
2013 .233 17.9% 7.4% 50.7% .258 21.0% 10.1% 54.1%
2014 .306 22.1% 8.1% 49.2% .279 24.7% 11.0% 52.5%
Total .268 19.9% 7.7% 50.0% .268 22.7% 10.4% 53.4%

Note: I removed intentional walks from the walk rate, hence uBB%. Wilson walked five batters intentionally last year, 23rd most in all of baseball, and all five were right-handed hitters. It was skewing the data.

Okay then, so Wilson’s not just a left-handed specialist. His numbers against righties and lefties have been pretty similar these last two years, though it’s worth noting he faced 181 lefties and 370 righties, so there’s quite the sample size difference. That said, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle clearly didn’t have any reservations about using Wilson against right-handed hitters. Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why.

Consistently throwing strikes has always been Wilson’s bugaboo and he hasn’t shown any improvement throughout his career. He walked 10.7% of the batters he faced in Single-A, 11.8% in Double-A, 11.9% in Triple-A, and 10.6% in MLB. Wilson’s not a huge guy, he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs., so it’s not like he’s got a Randy Johnson thing going on where he just has to learn how to control his body. Throwing strikes is hard. That’s all it is.

The good news is that even with those control problems, Wilson is an effective Major League pitcher against both righties and lefties. That’s a pretty valuable skill out of the bullpen. Like fellow offseason pickup Andrew Miller, Wilson is a true one-inning reliever who just so happens to be left-handed. (Jacob Lindgren, last year’s top draft pick, projects to be the same type of pitcher.) That is pretty darn cool. LOOGYs have their place, but lefties who can get anyone out are better.

The Stuff

As mentioned, Wilson throws pretty hard, sitting in the mid-90s regularly with his four-seam fastball. As a matter of fact, 38 left-handed relievers threw at least 40 innings last season, and only Aroldis Chapman (101.2 … lol) had a higher average four-seam fastball than Wilson (96.4). (Jake McGee was also at 96.4 mph.) Wilson throws very hard by southpaw standards.

The four-seamer isn’t Wilson’s only fastball though. He also throws a sinker and a cutter, which averaged 95.9 mph and 90.1 mph, respectively. So he has three fastballs — one that cuts away from lefties/in to righties, one that goes down, and one that stays true. Wilson also throws an upper-70s curveball and an upper-80s changeup, but rarely. PitchFX recorded 1,019 of his pitches last year and 67 were curveballs. Only eight were changeups. That’s less than 8% of his total pitches combined.

Wilson is basically a four-seamer/sinker/cutter pitcher with a show-me curveball. Here’s how the three fastballs have done at getting swings and misses as well as ground balls these last two years:

FF Whiff% FF GB% SNK Whiff% SNK GB% CT Whiff% CT GB%
2013 11.3% 41.7% 9.3% 65.2% 12.0% 66.7%
2014 12.3% 44.6% 3.5% 48.8% 14.4% 71.1%
MLB AVG 6.9% 37.9% 5.4% 49.5% 9.7% 43.0%

Based on the swing-and-miss and ground ball rates, the sinker is the worst of Wilson’s three fastballs. Or at least it was last year. Back in 2013 it was really good. These things can fluctuate from year to year because relievers inherently work in small samples. That’s part of the reason why they’re so volatile from year to year.

Wilson’s four-seamer and cutter are both above-average pitches based on the swing-and-miss and grounder rates. Comfortably above-average too. Here’s a good look at Wilson’s four-seamer (first and third strikeouts) and his cutter (second and fourth strikeouts) in action:

Wilson was a starter throughout his minor league career, but he was only a middling starter who projected to slot into the back of a rotation. Not someone a team plans a future around. Some guys are just better built for the bullpen, and Wilson’s strike-throwing issues are more manageable in relief, where he can rely on his high-velocity four-seamer/sinker/cutter combination. It just works.

Wrapping Up

I wasn’t quite sure what the Yankees got for Cervelli other than a reliever with decent numbers in his two MLB seasons. Wilson clearly has pretty good stuff, namely some lively fastballs that miss bats and get grounders, though his shaky control probably means he’ll never be regular in high-leverage spots. Most importantly, he’s not a specialist. He’s shown the ability to get both righties and lefties out.

Wilson has a little Boone Logan in him in that he’s a lefty with velocity held back by shaky command. (Wilson definitely doesn’t have Logan’s slider though.) The Yankees were able to straighten Logan out in his late-20s and get some nice years out of him, which is what they’re surely hoping to do with Wilson. He figures to slot into a middle relief role alongside Adam Warren and David Carpenter, setting up Miller and Dellin Betances, so we should see quite a bit of him in 2015.

Thanks to new hard-throwing approach, Chasen Shreve a promising addition to Yankees’ bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last week, in their first transaction of the new year, the Yankees traded longtime prospect Manny Banuelos to the Braves for a pair of relievers, righty David Carpenter and lefty Chasen Shreve. Carpenter has been in the league for a little while now and will step right into Shawn Kelley‘s old setup role. Shreve, on the other hand, is a relative unknown with only 12.1 MLB innings to his credit.

The 24-year-old Shreve is from Las Vegas and he attended the College of Southern Nevada, where he was Bryce Harper’s teammate in 2010. Harper hit 31 homers (with wood bats!) in 66 games as a 17-year-old against college kids and was drafted first overall that year. Shreve had a 5.57 ERA in 42 innings and was picked in the 11th round by Atlanta. Like a few other players on the team, Shreve benefited from the extra exposure as scouts flocked to see Harper.

Prior to the 2010 draft, Baseball America (subs. req’d) gave Shreve a one-sentence scouting report, saying he “was in the mid-80s last year and up to 91 this year, but he also battled arm injuries.” Whatever those arm injuries were, they haven’t hindered him as a pro. The Braves moved Shreve into the bullpen full-time immediately after signing and he averaged 68.1 innings from 2011-14, a full workload for a reliever. Here are his minor league stats, via Baseball Reference:

Year Age AgeDif Tm Lg Lev ERA G IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2010 19 -1.9 Danville APPY Rk 2.25 8 16.0 16 5 4 1 3 0 20 1.188 9.0 0.6 1.7 11.2 6.67
2011 20 -1.8 Rome SALL A 3.86 34 70.0 77 33 30 3 26 4 68 1.471 9.9 0.4 3.3 8.7 2.62
2012 21 -2.1 2 Teams 2 Lgs A+-AA 2.66 43 64.1 61 24 19 3 33 2 57 1.461 8.5 0.4 4.6 8.0 1.73
2013 22 -1.8 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-A+ 3.90 50 62.1 58 32 27 2 30 4 43 1.412 8.4 0.3 4.3 6.2 1.43
2014 23 -1.8 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-AAA 2.67 46 64.0 51 20 19 4 12 1 87 0.984 7.2 0.6 1.7 12.2 7.25
5 Seasons 3.22 181 276.2 263 114 99 13 104 11 275 1.327 8.6 0.4 3.4 8.9 2.64

Baseball America never ranked Shreve among Atlanta’s top 30 prospects in their Prospect Handbook and it’s easy to understand why — he has been young for his level every year of his career, yes, but he had a 3.48 ERA with forgettable strikeout (7.68 K/9 and 19.5 K%) and walk (4.07 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%) rates from 2011-13. Pair that with the “he was in the mid-80s last year and up to 91 this year” scouting report and he just wasn’t all that interesting, even as a lefty.

That all changed during the 2014 season, when Shreve posted his best minor league strikeout (10.24 K/9 and 29.0 K%) and walk (2.79 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%) numbers. He was briefly called up to MLB in July and returned when rosters expanded in September. During his short MLB cameo, Shreve struck out 15 and walked three in his 12.1 innings while averaging 92.5 mph and topping out at 95.2 mph with his fastball according to Brooks Baseball. That’s not the same “he was in the mid-80s last year and up to 91 this year” guy that was in the scouting report back in 2010.

Obviously there’s the physical maturity factor — Shreve was a 19-year-old kid when Baseball America wrote his pre-draft scouting report back in 2010 and now he’s a 24-year-old man who has been under the watch of professional coaches and instructors. He also changed roles and became a full-time reliever. Adding velocity during this phase of a career isn’t exactly unheard of. There is a little more to the story, however. Jake Seiner explains:

Determined to start moving the other direction, he made a conscious decision to change who he was as a pitcher. In Spring Training (of 2014), he mentioned to M-Braves pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn that he was capable of throwing harder but had held back in past years to gain better control, like childhood heroes Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Lewallyn instructed him to rear back and fire more often, and a few months later Shreve was a Major League reliever. In the Minors, the 24-year-old left-hander posted a 2.67 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 64 innings.

“He was a guy that, the last two years, he was a crafty type guy who would move in and out,” Holbert said. “He went from 88-89 to 93-94 or whatever it was, and it stayed.

“It was very strange, if you ask me. It was a different approach and a different way, but it worked out for him. I wish all those other years, we would’ve seen that same Chasen. Maybe he would’ve been in the Majors even sooner.”

Shreve made a conscious decision to change who he was as a pitcher last year in an effort to advance his career, and it worked. Most guys have to learn to scale it back and not throw as hard as possible every pitch so they can improve their command. Shreve did it the other way. He started throwing harder and the result was more strikeouts, fewer walks, and a better pitcher.

There was a tangible reason for Shreve’s improvement last year and that’s exciting. Lefties who sit 92+ and touch 95 aren’t all that common, even in relief. A total of 366 pitchers threw at least 40 innings last year, and of those 366, 172 averaged 92+ mph with their fastball. Of those 172, only 33 were left-handed. Shreve didn’t come close to throwing 40 innings, but he did show that kind of velocity, and his change in approach gives us a reason to believe it’s real.

In addition to his new fastball, Shreve also threw a mid-80s slider and a low-80s changeup during his MLB debut last year. (I’ve seen the changeup called a splitter in some places, but same difference. Both pitches accomplish the same thing.) Here’s a look at that slider, courtesy of Shreve’s only pitching highlight video at MLB.com:

Striking out Ryan Howard — especially as a left-hander — isn’t exactly a tremendous accomplish, but that doesn’t really matter. The slider looks like a decent offering based on that one-pitch sample, and since hitters swung and missed at it 16.7% of the time last year (MLB average for a slider is 15.2%), there’s reason to believe it’s a quality second pitch. The changeup had an even better whiff rate (18.8%), but he rarely threw it, so I’m just going to ignore it for now. Shreve has the requisite two-pitch mix to be a quality big league bullpener.

As for Banuelos, he was once the Yankees’ top prospect — I ranked him number one in 2012 and number two behind Jesus Montero in 2011 — but has been derailed by elbow problems the last few years, including Tommy John surgery. He returned from elbow reconstruction last season and didn’t look much like the pre-injury version of himself, though that wasn’t entirely unexpected after missing nearly two full years. The Yankees talked Banuelos up all summer because that’s what teams do, talk up their prospects, but other reports indicated he didn’t look all that hot. Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrote there was “a big gap between his old 92-95 mph fastball with a little pop and the current 90-92 version” after seeing Manny in June, for example.

Clearly Banuelos’ stock has dropped a bit because of the injuries, and, had he repeated his 2014 showing in 2015, his trade value next offseason would have been tiny. The Yankees used him to get a no doubt big league reliever in Carpenter and an interesting, suddenly hard-throwing southpaw in Shreve, who at this point in time appears to have more actual MLB value than Banuelos despite having a fraction of the name value. In fact, I would say Shreve definitely has more MLB value than Banuelos right now, not “appears to.” If Shreve’s velocity spike is real — and the conscious decision to simply air it out suggests it is — the Yankees may have landed themselves a quietly promising lefty bullpen piece with last week’s trade.

Hiroki Kuroda returning to Japan in 2015

(Sturgeon General)
(Sturgeon General)

According to reports from various media outlets in both Japan and the United States, Hiroki Kuroda will return to his old team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp for the 2015 season. Hiroshima has since announced the news. There are no other details at the moment.

Kuroda, who turns 40 in February, contemplated retirement the last few offseasons, though returning to the Carp for one final season was always said to be an option as well. Kuroda pitched for the Carp from 1997-2007 before coming to MLB. He went 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA during his eleven seasons with Hiroshima.

After a four-year stint with the Dodgers, Kuroda joined the Yankees for the 2012 season and spent the last three seasons in New York. His 38-33 record doesn’t do his time in pinstripes justice (because the Yankees never seemed to give him any damn run support) — Kuroda had a 3.44 ERA (3.68 FIP) in 620 innings for the Yankees and has been their best and most reliable starting pitcher since joining the team.

The Yankees seemed to move forward with their offseason under the assumption Kuroda would not return. They re-signed Chris Capuano and traded for Nathan Eovaldi, and there’s still eight weeks before Spring Training begins, so they could always add more pitching. I think they would have re-signed Kuroda to another one-year contract in a heartbeat had he decided to remain in MLB for another year.

I’m really going to miss Kuroda. I was a fan (this is Axisa, by the way) dating back to his time with the Dodgers and he exceeded even my expectations these last three seasons. He joined the Yankees and fit in wonderfully. Like he’d been here for years. So long, #Hirok. It was a great honor.

2014 Season Review: Importing a Rival

Jacoby Ellsbury
(AP Photo)

The Yankees absolutely needed to add at least one outfielder last offseason, but Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t seem to fit the bill. Brett Gardner had just finished his first full season as center fielder, and it was the best of his career. Why add a player with a similar skill set when other players could have added a different dynamic?

Specifically, Shin-Soo Choo made the most sense. While he and Ellsbury were both atop the outfielder free agent market, Choo hit for power. Outside of 2011, Ellsbury never had. Since the 2013 Yankees hit the second fewest home runs in the AL, 101 fewer than they hit in 2012, it seemed as though they’d have benefited from a player with a career .177 ISO over one with a .142 ISO (and much lower outside of 2011’s fluke .231 ISO).

While the Yankees did consider both players, they preferred Ellsbury and landed him with an aggressive offer. That didn’t end their pursuit of Choo, though, as they did make him a seven-year, $140 million offer. But he rebuffed them. And that was a good thing.

After signing with the Rangers, Choo got off to a scorching start, producing a 1.054 OPS in his first 120 PA. Way to go, Yanks, right? But then he started to experience ankle problems. From that 1.054 apex he fell precipitously, producing a .621 OPS in his next 409 PA, his season ultimately ending because of bone spurs in his elbow. He had surgery to remove them, and then surgery to repair his ankle.

It almost seems as though the Yankees dodged a bullet. In his very first season after signing a huge contract, Choo produced the worst full season of his career.

Ellsbury, for his part, produced decently in line with expectations. What he lacked in batting average he made up for with power. Everything else, from walks to stolen bases, is pretty much what we expected from him given his career numbers. It’s difficult to find someone disappointed with Ellsbury’s first season in pinstripes.

At the same time, he certainly didn’t produce to the level you expect from a guy who signs that big a contract. According to FanGraphs’s offensive runs above average, Ellsbury produced 10.6 runs, which ranked 60th in the majors — right next to Marcell Ozuna, if you’re among the 10 percent of our readership who even recognizes the name. Only 4.9 of those runs came from the plate (the other 5.7 were on the bases). Those 4.9 batting runs above average ranked 77th in MLB.

Ellsbury does provide value on defense, and I’m not sure any reasonable eyeball test could have rated him negatively in 2014. The fielding stats with bias* were a bit scattered on his performance. Total Zone credited him with 5 runs above average, 15th in MLB (4th in the AL) among center fielders. Defensive Runs Saved goes in the opposite direction, -5 runs, 12th in MLB. UZR credits him with a half run above average, 9th in the majors. Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average, which does not use biased data, credited him with 12 runs above average (though I’m not sure where that ranks).

*Fielding stats with bias, meaning that they are influenced by a human stringer. These stringers judge the type of batted ball, among other factors. Colin Wyers wrote a neat little article explaining the flaws with current metrics.

If you give Ellsbury the benefit of the best defensive statistic, his season does look a bit better, about 4.6 WAR. With average defense he had 3.6 WAR. The difference is pretty stark: 3.6 WAR ranked 48th, while 4.6 would have ranked in the top 30.

So depending on how you view defense, Ellsbury had anywhere from a pretty good season to a damn fine one. Yet his shortcomings on offense, even compared to last year, were certainly disappointing. The hope was that he’d maintain his ~.350 OBP while adding a bit of power thanks to Yankee Stadium. While the latter happened, the former didn’t. Had they come together with elite defense, Ellsbury at $21.1 million would have been a steal.

I have to admit, when starting this I expected to describe a damn good season, a success in the first year of a long-term deal. Yet when looking a bit more closely at Ellsbury’s production, it really wasn’t up to expectations. Perhaps the common view of Ellsbury’s season has more to do with the failings of everyone else on offense rather than the expectations for him heading into this season and contract.