Open Thread: Higashioka gets the call

Well, kinda. Robert Pimpsner of Baseball Digest tweets that the Yankees have invited 19-year-old catching prospect Kyle Higashioka to Major League Spring Training. I’m sure the Yanks’ 7th round pick in the 2008 Draft is excited for the opportunity, but this isn’t a sign that the organization has big expectations or anything like that. I’m sure they do, but this move is more along the lines of “we have more than a dozen mounds in the Tampa complex, and we need people to catch.” No shame in that.

Higashioka hit .253-.333-.332 in 247 plate appearances for the Short Season Staten Island Yanks last season, but he’s got some killer bat skills (only 31 strikeouts). He’ll get an invite with the intent of giving him a chance to show off his skills soon enough. For now, he should just soak it all up.

Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Devils, Rangers, and Knicks are all in action, plus the Pro Bowl is on ESPN. Nothing like watching the 6th or 7th best QB in the league get some playing time. Enjoy the thread.

Report: Joba’s going to show up early to camp

Via Mike Puma, fifth starter candidate Joba Chamberlain will show up to Tampa to begin workouts next week, about two weeks before pitchers and catchers are required to show up. Joe Girardi indicated that Joba, as well as Phil Hughes, Al Aceves, Chad Gaudin, and Sergio Mitre will compete for the fifth starter’s spot in Spring Training (though I suspect Mitre was lumped in as a courtesy), so it’s good to see Joba put the extra work in.

“I’m going to go in and understand a lot of guys are fighting for that spot,” said the righty. “Nothing is guaranteed.” That’s certainly nice to hear, at times Joba seemed a little too comfortable with his spot on the team last year.

Spring Training tickets on sale Friday morning

The Yankees announced this afternoon that Spring Training tickets will go on sale on Friday morning at 10 a.m. The Yanks play just 17 home games during the Grapefruit League action, and as always, tickets are sure to go fast. I’m a veteran of the Florida Spring Training scene, and this year, the prices seem a bit steep. The most expensive tickets are $31 and even the cheap seats are going for $17. That’s not an insignificant chunk of change to watch Colin Curtis roam the outfield for five innings. Anyway, the official site has all of the details. If you have the chance to go to Tampa, grab some tickets. It’s always fun to watch camp in action.

Joba dominant in final spring outing

Pitching for Double-A Trenton against Triple-A Scranton, Joba Chamberlain allowed two runs on two hits and a walk over five and a third innings earlier today. He struck out five, and after allowing the hits and walk to start he game, he retired the final sixteen batters he faced. He was removed after reaching his scheduled limit of 75 pitches. “It took me just a little bit to get going,” said Joba. “I wanted to work on fastball command and my changeup, and I think I did a great job with those two. I think it was one of my most productive days as far as consistency. It was good.” His first regular start is scheduled for Sunday at Kansas City.

Always optimism for the home team

What is our fascination with predictions? Why do sportswriters specifically feel the need to guess how a season will end on the day before it begins? The only three answer I can think of: 1) they want to sound smart, 2) their editors told them to, 3) everyone else is doing it. It’s still a fool’s game, so I’m going to refrain — though I will make a bold prediction, because no one expect that to happen.

The newspaper masses have assembled, and they’ve made their predictions for the 2009 AL East. Joy of Sox, one of the better Sox blogs, shares the Boston writers’ picks and the New York writers’ picks. You’ll never guess how each side picked.

Of the six writers from the Boston Globe, only two picked the Yankees to even make the playoffs, and none of them think the Yanks will take the division. Both of them, by the way, picked the Sox to win the World Series. On the New York end, we see that the Times loves the Yanks: both Jack Curry and Tyler Kepner picked them to win the division, though both had the Sox second and taking the Wild Card. Yet while every Red Sox writer had the Sox in the playoffs, one Yanks writer has excluded the hometown team. You can guess if you want, but I’m going to give it away: Bill Madden. He has the Rays winning 101 games. If there’s a 100-win team in the division, I certainly wouldn’t peg the Rays for the honor.

The lesson: don’t listen to the predictions. They mean nothing, and even that gives “nothing” a bad name. Just look at ESPN’s staff predictions. Ridiculous, right? Twins win the WC? Not that it can’t happen, but given what we know right now how could you possibly predict that?* Just stay away from what the “experts” say and enjoy the start of the season. It’s certainly one to get excited about.

* Answer: Matthew Berry knows that no one will remember his prediction when it doesn’t happen, but on the off-chance it does he’s going to reference it constantly in a reminder of just how smart he is.

Peña makes the cut

The Yankees have selected their 25th man. Ramiro Peña, 23 and with no experience above AA, has earned the back-up infielder spot while Angel Berroa has been reassigned to the Minor League camp. To make room for Peña on the 40-man roster, the Yankees DFA’d Dan Giese. There’s a very good chance he will be claimed by the Padres. Peña will back up Cody Ransom, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano for the next few weeks while A-Rod is on the DL. While Peña has never been much of a hitter, he has flashed some serious leather throughout his career and will be used for this defense.

As I said on Thursday, this is a move that doesn’t really matter, but it is marginally interesting that the Yanks went with Peña. Had they opted for Berroa, they would have just DFA’d him when A-Rod is activated, but Peña will stick on the 40-man and thus limit the Yanks’ roster flexibility. Peña will wear 19 on his jersey even though that number should have been retired in honor of Luis Sojo years ago.

Exhibition Game Thread: One Final Tune-Up

New Stadium at nightAh finally, the last day of meaningless baseball. The only thing on the line today is the utility infielder job, but I think that’s already been decided and just hasn’t been announced. After the game the team will get ready for their season opener on Monday afternoon, when they’ll be in Camden to take on the improving Orioles.

The New Stadium looked amazing last night, now we get to see how she looks during the day. As Ben mentioned this morning, the two of us will be there to soak it all in. Well, hopefully the weather cooperates and we won’t have to soak anything in, literally. I’ll be wandering around beforehand, but I’ll settle in to my seat (Section 420B, Row 5, Seat 9) about a half-hour before first pitch. Stop by and say hi.

AJ Burnett is starting and will be relieved by Andy Pettitte. I’m guessing we’ll see Phil Coke and Damaso Marte if any extra arms are needed since they didn’t throw yesterday. Head on over to LoHud for the lineup. Enjoy the game folks.

Photo Credit: Eric Thayer, Reuters