DotF: Greg Bird named Arizona Fall League MVP

1B Greg Bird was named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League earlier this week. He hit with .313/.391/.556 (156 wRC+) and led the league in homers (six, tied), finished second in RBI (21), total bases (55), and wRC+, third in SLG, sixth in AVG, seventh in OPS (.947), eighth in walks (13), and 12th in OBP. They’ve been handing out the AzFL MVP since 2002 and Bird is the second Yankees prospect to win it, joining Eric Duncan in 2005. Here are the rest of the week’s minor league notes:

  • OF Tyler Austin suffered a bone bruise in his left knee after an outfield collision last week, reports Josh Norris. “He has been diagnosed with a bone bruise. There is no damage to his meniscus or any ligament issues. He will rest for the next 2-3 weeks,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to Chad Jennings.
  • Jonathan Mayo polled scouts and players about the best tools in the AzFL. OF Aaron Judge was voted as having the best outfield arm — “One scout said it’s a true 70 arm,” wrote Mayo — while Judge and Bird drew votes for best power and best hitter, respectively.
  • Ken Davidoff wrote profiles about both Judge and Bird. “I’m still on the fence with his bat,” said one scout about Judge. “Plus-plus power, but has some good at-bats here and then will chase off-speed. That worries me – at higher levels, that is what he will see.”
  • Baseball America compiled a list of all minor leaguers suspended in 2014. Yankees farmhands RHP Andy Beresford and 1B Bo Thompson were hit with 50-game suspensions after testing positive for a banned substance in August.
  • The Yankees have re-signed UTIL Ali Castillo after he became a minor league free agent, according to Matt Eddy. Also, OF Antoan Richardson elected free agency after being outrighted off the 40-man roster last week.
  • Both OF Zoilo Almonte and LHP Francisco Rondon have signed the Braves after becoming minor league free agents, says Eddy. Almonte managed to get a big league contract. Good for him.

[Read more…]

Sherman: Yankees not interested in Japanese free agent shortstop Takashi Toritani

Toritani at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Toritani at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

The Yankees do not have interest in free agent Japanese shortstop Takashi Toritani, according to Joel Sherman. Toritani is a true free agent who does not have to be posted, and he’s made it clear he wants to come over to MLB. He is a Scott Boras client.

Toritani, 33, is a table-setter at the plate and he’s most notable for his durability, having played every inning of every game at shortstop for the Hanshin Tigers since the start of the 2005 season. Here are his career stats:

Year Age AgeDif Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2004 23 -6.9 Hanshin 101 261 28 59 13 0 3 17 2 2 21 66 .251 .320 .345 .665
2005 24 -6.1 Hanshin 146 645 82 159 27 1 9 52 5 5 53 115 .278 .343 .376 .719
2006 25 -4.6 Hanshin 146 609 65 157 28 2 15 58 5 3 60 111 .289 .362 .431 .793
2007 26 -4.2 Hanshin 144 642 67 154 19 4 10 43 7 4 63 106 .273 .350 .373 .724
2008 27 -3.0 Hanshin 144 605 66 147 17 6 13 80 4 7 68 85 .281 .365 .411 .776
2009 28 -1.6 Hanshin 144 617 84 155 31 2 20 75 7 7 65 83 .288 .368 .465 .832
2010 29 -0.5 Hanshin 144 651 98 173 31 6 19 104 13 3 66 93 .301 .373 .475 .848
2011 30 0.3 Hanshin 144 590 71 150 28 7 5 51 16 3 78 72 .300 .395 .414 .809
2012 31 1.1 Hanshin 144 624 62 135 22 6 8 59 15 4 94 91 .262 .373 .375 .748
2013 32 2.4 Hanshin 144 643 74 150 30 4 10 65 15 7 104 65 .282 .402 .410 .812
2014 33 Hanshin 155 644 96 172 28 2 8 73 10 6 87 80 .313 .406 .415 .820
11 Seasons 1556 6531 793 1611 274 40 120 677 99 51 759 967 .285 .372 .412 .783
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/15/2014.

Daniel Brim recently put together a great in-depth look at Toritani that I recommend checking out. He is billed as a strong defensive shortstop who draws a lot of walks and plays the small ball game well. Brim ran some numbers and came away with Marco Scutaro as a comparison for what he did in Japan, for what it’s worth.

The history of Asian infielders in MLB is pretty terrible — some feel the game is simply too quick here and it’s too big of an adjustment — though that doesn’t guarantee Toritani will be a flop. He’s not particularly young and shouldn’t cost much to acquire. Hiroyuki Nakajima and Tsuyoshi Nishioka were star infielders in Japan who recently signed two and three-year contracts worth approximately $3M annually with the Athletics and Twins, respectively. Both flopped and spent the majority of their contracts in Triple-A.

The Yankees need to replace Derek Jeter at shortstop this offseason — Brian Cashman called it the team’s top priority at the GM Meetings last week — but they don’t have interest in Toritani and appear to be focused on known quantities. That’s more than fine with me. Cashman called the shortstop market “limited” the other day though there is still a lot of offseason left. I’m hopeful some surprise trade candidates hit the market in a few weeks and the Yankees are able to snag a young shortstop who can anchor the position for several years.

Update: Yoan Moncada declared free agent by MLB

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

Update (12:23pm): Moncada has been declared a free agent by MLB, according to Jesse Sanchez. He must still be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign, however. No word on when that may happen. The important thing is that it appears Moncada will be cleared to sign well before June 15th and count towards the 2014-15 international signing period, putting the Yankees in great position to sign him, as explained below.

10:00am: Highly touted Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada held a showcase event for scouts in Guatemala on Wednesday, and the Yankees had a “significant” presence of at least four scouts in attendance, according to Ben Badler and Jonathan Mayo. Every club was there but apparently some were are serious than others. Badler says Moncada took several rounds of batting practice and fielded balls at different positions. “After a long day and a lot of swings so scouts could see him from both sides of the plate, he did seem to wear down,” added Badler.

Moncada still has to be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and declared a free agent by MLB before he is eligible to sign, which could still be months away. Because he is only 19 and has limited experience in the Cuban leagues, Moncada will be subject to the international spending restrictions. The Yankees exceeded their 2014-15 spending pool and will not be able to sign a player for more than $300k during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods, but if Moncada is declared a free agent by June 15th, he would count towards the 2014-15 signing period and the Yankees would be able to sign him for any amount. Here are some more notes:

  • “Moncada had a great workout, showing his five-tool potential. He is in great shape. Unfortunately, he was not able to hit off live game pitching. We will need to see him off of live pitching to command the top dollars they are looking for,” said one scout to Mayo. On the 20-80 scouting scale, Moncada received 60s for his hit, power, and arm tools, a 70 for speed, and 50 for fielding. That’s five average or better tools.
  • Moncada is expected to receive a bonus in the $30M to $40M range, according to Jeff Passan. Badler notes Moncada can only sign a minor league contract. Every team would exceed their spending pool with a bonus that size, so when you add in the 100% tax, it’s really a $60M to $80M total investment.
  • In another piece, Badler says the Yankees have an advantage over other clubs because they’ve already exceeded their pool and are subject to bonus restrictions in the future. Other clubs have verbal agreements in place for the 2015-16 signing period worth seven figures, but if they sign Moncada, they would have to renege on those deals because they wouldn’t be allowed to hand out bonuses of more than $300k. Make sense?
  • And finally, Kiley McDaniel has some more information on the showcase and Moncada’s background. Apparently the Cuban government gave him a visa and a passport and allowed him to leave the island, so there’s no crazy defection story. Also, Moncada’s agent is just some random public accountant from Florida, not one of the usual suspects. Make sure you check it out.

Moncada will hold more showcase events in the coming weeks and months — teams want to see him face live pitching — and I’m sure the Yankees will continue to have a “significant” presence at these events. The 100% tax is tough to swallow, but every team is facing that. The playing field in level in that regard. The Yankees are at an advantage because this is a simply bidding war — whoever is willing to spend the most will win, and the Bombers have more money than everyone.

Obviously Moncada presents a very special case, both in terms of his talent and signing situation. This isn’t someone like, say, Rusney Castillo or Yasmany Tomas, a toolsy player who is expected to be more of a solid regular than anything. Moncada is incredibly young and everyone agrees he has star potential. If you’re going to step out of your comfort zone and spend huge money on a Cuban player — something the Yankees have been very hesitant to do since Jose Contreras flopped — this is the type of player you do it for. Everything is lined up for the Yankees to spend big for Moncada and land a potential star. If they’re not going to do it now, then when?

Teixeira’s injuries, eventually expiring contract create clear path for Greg Bird

No. 20? That's messed up dude. (Presswire)
No. 20? That’s messed up dude. (Presswire)

Three years ago, the Yankee caught some grief for selecting Florida high school third baseman Dante Bichette Jr. with their top pick in the draft, the 51st overall selection. There were concerns about his swing and ability to hit pro pitching (not to mention his defense), and those concerns still exist today. Bichette is a career .255/.337/.373 (106 wRC+) hitter in nearly 1,800 minor league plate appearances, which is fine but not anything that will turn people in believers.

Bichette did not receive the largest bonus among New York’s draftees in 2011, however. They gave Colorado high school catcher Greg Bird a $1.1M bonus in the fifth round to buy him out of a commitment to Arkansas, and he has since zoomed by Bichette in the prospect rankings. That happened even though he moved out from behind the plate and over to the less glamorous first base, partially due to back problems and partially as a way to get him up the ladder quicker.

“We just agreed (first base) was going to be the best thing going forward. I think it was more about my tools than anything. It was basically, ‘Why spend time catching when we could progress forward faster playing first base?’” said Bird to David Laurila last week. “People ask that a lot – does (not catching) help me as a hitter? – and I think maybe it does, but I’m more of a cerebral hitter anyway. As far as, ‘Is he going to throw this or is he going to throw that,’ I was that way growing up, so I’ve kind of always had that mindset. I don’t really sit on pitches, but if you’re not thinking along with what’s going on, you’re not playing the game.”

Bird, who turned 22 yesterday, is a career .283/.407/.488 (141 wRC+) hitter in a bit more than 1,100 minor league plate appearances, and he’s currently hitting .318/.392/.568 (159 wRC+) in 23 games with the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. (Bichette has a 65 wRC+ as his teammate.) That performance, as well as his massive dead center homer in the AzFL Fall Stars Game, has put Bird in the spotlight, especially with the big league Yankees in need of offense.

“I think he is a legit middle-of-the-order bat. He has lift and really drives the ball with big-time power,” said one scout to Joel Sherman. “If you go middle out on him, he will go the other way with power. He still had some problems with off-speed pitches, but you cannot throw a fastball by this guy. I see him in the majors hitting .260-to-.280 with 20-homer-plus power.”

The Yankees could obviously use a hitter like that, even at first base, where Mark Teixeira is signed for another two years. It’s not hard to connect the dots and see Bird’s timetable lines up pretty well with the expiration of Teixeira’s contract. Bird figures to open the 2015 season back at Double-A, and since he’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible next winter, the Yankees could get a head start on things by adding him to the 40-man roster and calling him up in September.

With Teixeira getting more and more injury prone each year, Bird could be his up-and-down replacement in 2016 while getting regular at-bats in Triple-A. That doesn’t sound all that exciting, but the Yankees got 678 plate appearances from their first baseman this past season, and only 487 of them went to Teixeira (72%). There were 200 or so plate appearances for someone like Bird in 2014. It might be 300-400 in two years, when Teixeira is 36.

Most young players get their first extended big league opportunity thanks to an injury. That’s what happened with Melky Cabrera back in 2006, remember. He helped fill in for Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. Brett Gardner got his first chance when Johnny Damon got hurt in 2008. Heck, Derek Jeter was the shortstop in 1996 because Tony Fernandez got hurt. That’s just how it works in baseball and especially with the Yankees, who are hesitant to hand starting jobs over to young players. Teixeira’s injuries work in Bird’s favor.

The 2015 season is going to be very important for Bird. He’s created some hype with his performance these last two years and especially in Arizona these last few weeks, but next year will be his first extended stint at Double-A, a level that is usually a separator between prospects and suspects. If he continues to hit there, being the long-term replacement for Teixeira will go from nice idea to real possibility. Huge free agent first base contracts are among the worst investments in the game (Teixeira, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, etc.) and it’s something New York may be able to avoid thanks to Bird in two years.

The Yankees have only had four regular first baseman dating back to 1984 and it’s both unrealistic and incredibly unfair to expect Bird to continue that run. For now, let’s just hope his success continues in 2015 and he puts himself in position to be a big league option in 2016. That alone would be a big help to the Yankees, who seem to an employ a “we’ll play anyone at first” approach to backing up Teixeira. Bird is not the team’s best prospect but he is one of their most important prospects because he has a clear path to MLB playing time, both in the short and long-term.

DotF: Austin carted off the field following outfield collision in Arizona Fall League

In case you missed it Friday, 13 players became minor league free agents, including SwP Pat Venditte, LHP Jeremy Bleich, LHP Nik Turley, 3B Scott Sizemore, SS Carmen Angelini, and OF Zoilo Almonte.

AzFL Scottsdale (6-5 loss to Peoria) Monday’s game

AzFL Scottsdale (5-2 loss to Peoria) Tuesday’s game

  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-5, 1 K
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 1 IP, zeroes, 2/1 GB/FB — ten pitches, nine strikes

AzFL Scottsdale (8-4 loss to Salt River) Wednesday’s game

  • RF Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 R
  • 1B Greg Bird: 0-2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 1 IP, zeroes, 2/0 GB/FB — eleven of 19 pitches were strikes (58%)
  • RHP Alex Smith: 1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — ten of 18 pitches were strikes (56%)

AzFL Scottsdale (5-3 loss to Peoria) Thursday’s game

  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 2 K
  • DH Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K

AzFL Scottsdale (1-0 win over Glendale) Friday’s game

  • LF Tyler Austin: 0-2, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 CS – threw a runner out at the plate … hitting .304/.392/.449 in 19 games
  • RF Aaron Judge: 2-4, 1 K — threw a runner out at third
  • 1B Greg Bird: 0-4, 2 K
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: 1-3

AzFL Scottsdale (5-1 loss to Glendale) Saturday’s game

  • DH Aaron Judge: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — he’s hitting .297/.404/.500 with four homers in 20 games
  • 1B Greg Bird: 0-2, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 SB — hitting .318/.392/.568 in 23 games, and he still leads the league with six homers
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-1 — had to be carted off the field after colliding the wall trying to catch a fly ball according to Dennis Waters … no update on his status, hopefully the cart was just a precaution
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: 0-3, 2 K — hitting .250/.315/.266 in 18 games
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-3, 1 2B — hitting .421/.476/.684 in only five games
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2/0 GB/FB — ten of 17 pitches were strikes (59%)

Dominican Winter League

  • OF Eury Perez: 8 G, 9-37, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 8 K, 2 CS (.243/.243/.378)
  • RHP Joel De La Cruz: 2 G, 1.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR (0.00 ERA, 1.80 WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League

  • OF Jose Figueroa: 16 G, 5-15, 5 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 BB, 5 K, 1 SB (.333/.412/.600)
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 9 G, 8.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 1 HB (1.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP)
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 5 G, 5 GS, 18.2 IP, 17 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 8 BB, 16 K, 1 HR, 1 HB (4.34 ERA, 1.34 WHIP)

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) started play last week. SS Vince Conde, 2B Angelo Gumbs, and OF Carlos Beltran are all listed on rosters but have not yet played. Beltran hasn’t played winter ball in years and won’t this year because of his recent elbow surgery.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • C Francisco Arcia: 14 G, 12-57, 3 R, 3 2B, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 14 K (.211/.237/.263)
  • UTIL Ali Castillo: 24 G, 34-103, 24 R, 5 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 3 BB, 17 K, 10 SB, 3 CS, 2 HBP (.330/.358/.447) — nice winter for him
  • OF Ramon Flores: 19 G, 24-63, 9 R, 2 2B, 2 3B, 4 RBI, 7 BB, 9 K, 1 CS (.381/.443/.476) – he went 6-for-6 with a double on Wednesday
  • OF Adonis Garcia: 21 G, 26-88, 9 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 4 BB, 11 K, 3 SB, 1 CS, 3 HBP (.295/.344/.352)
  • OF Ericson Leonora: 5 G, 3-11, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 5 K (.273/.273/.545)
  • UTIL Jose Pirela: 12 G, 16-50, 13 R, 2 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 9 RBI, 4 BB, 7 K, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.320/.382/.660) — have to think he’ll come to camp next year with a legit chance to win a bench job, assuming the second base gig isn’t up for grabs
  • C Jackson Valera: 1 G, 0-0
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 11 G, 9.1 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 1 HB (4.82 ERA, 1.39 WHIP)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Wilking Rodriguez, SS Angel Aguilar, and C Frankie Cervelli are all listed on rosters but have not yet played. They probably won’t at this point.