Archive for Minors

During a recent interview (video link), Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees are moving Jose Ramirez to the bullpen full-time. “Jose Ramirez is a power right-hander that’s been a starter throughout his minor league career, but because of injuries we’re going to stick him in the bullpen,” said the GM. “He has a chance to move very fast.”

Ramirez, 24, has not pitched this spring due to a lingering oblique injury. He has thrown 100+ innings only twice in his career (2010-11) because of elbow, shoulder, lat, and oblique problems. Ramirez pitched to a 3.67 ERA (4.62 FIP) with a 78/36 K/BB in 73.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season. I think his mid-90s fastball/changeup/slider combo could be devastating in relief, and I’m glad to see they’ve pulled the plug on him as a starter due to the continued injuries. I ranked Ramirez as the team’s 12th best prospect last month and we could see him at some point this summer, health permitting.

Categories : Asides, Minors
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(Charleston River Dogs)

(Charleston River Dogs)

Two years ago, 3B Dante Bichette Jr. was one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system. They selected him with the 51st overall pick in the 2011 draft (the compensation pick for Javier Vazquez) and he hit .335/.440/.507 with 17 doubles and four homers in 54 games with the Rookie GCL Yankees after turning pro, a performance that earned him the league MVP award. The Yankees were widely panned for the pick but the early returns were great.

The last two seasons have not gone as well, however. Bichette, now 21, hit .248/.322/.331 with only three homers in 122 games for Low-A Charleston in 2012, then followed it up with a .214/.292/.331 batting line in 114 games for the River Dogs last year. Repeating a level and performing worse in the second year is as bad as it gets. Bichette dropped off prospect lists this spring and understandable so.

In a free article at Baseball Prospectus — all of their content is free today, by the way — the staff compiled some miscellaneous scouting notes from the Spring Training backfields. Here’s the write-up on Bichette, from Steffan Segui:

Bichette looks like he might be turning the corner this spring. While still rotational, everything in his swing has been simplified, and his good natural power hasn’t been depleted. His swing is now rock, identify pitch, and roll. Short and quick, don’t ask questions, just hit the ball. Previously, he was doing too much: It used to be huge rock, never identify pitch, enormous Javier Baez-type leg lift, front shoulder bails, hands drop and then roll. This new approach should definitely help Bichette and might allow him to recapture the prospect status he once had, assuming his issues with off-speed stuff stemmed from his swing rather than his approach. At third, he isn’t very good, his hands lack softness and he really doesn’t have any fluidity. He might make strides there at some point, but if not the arm is good enough for right field.

The knock on Bichette was always his complicated setup and hitch-y swing. The Yankees actually did a good job of quieting him soon after the draft in 2011, but it didn’t stick and Bichette has been his old self these last two years. Those numbers aren’t an accident.

A simplified swing and a new approach could help Bichette regain some prospect luster, but I want to see some improvement before I believe it. Baseball Prospectus has been bullish on Bichette over the years and so far he has yet to reward their faith. Maybe this is the start of him turning his career around. I hope it is. I don’t think Bichette has earned the benefit of the doubt though. Let’s see the new swing and approach produce some results first.

There’s also a write-up on Aaron Judge in the BP article, though there isn’t any new information in there.

Categories : Minors
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In a subscriber-only piece, Ben Badler of Baseball America put together a list of the top 20 prospects from the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues. It’s not a ranking, just 20 names listed alphabetically. Yankees shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo makes the cut after hitting .287/.378/.450 (145 wRC+) with a team-leading seven homers and a league-leading 49 steals in 64 games last season. The 18-year-old signed for $250k back in January 2012.

“He’s a premium athlete who should be able to stay at shortstop, where he shows very good range, quick feet and a plus arm … He should have good power for a shortstop, with 15-20 home runs a very realistic possibility. Mateo uses the whole field and did a solid job of managing the strike-zone in his debut, though he will have to make adjustments as he moves up the ladder and starts to see better breaking pitches,” wrote Badler while noting Mateo is an 80 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale. The right-handed hitter figures to come stateside and play in the Rookie Gulf Coast League this summer.

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Mitchell. (Presswire)

Mitchell. (Presswire)

Last season was not a good one for the Yankees’ farm system, and the team has admitted as much in recent weeks. That doesn’t happen often. Usually clubs will say their system is underrated and all that stuff. The Yankees made some non-personnel changes to their player development system over the winter in an effort to get things back on track, though we’re going to have to wait to if those changes actually work.

That said, the Yankees’ system is unique because it has the potential to get a lot better in 2014. The team is adding what amounts to five first round talents to the organization in 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, LHP Ian Clarkin (2013′s three first rounders), RHP Ty Hensley (2012′s first rounder), and LHP Manny Banuelos. The first three guys are entering their first full year of professional baseball while Hensley (hip) and Banuelos (elbow) are returning from injury. That’s a lot of talent that was not available for most of last summer.

I think we all know who the obvious breakout prospects are. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Judge or OF Mason Williams or C Gary Sanchez took big steps forward and became top 100 type of prospects. The smaller, unexpected breakouts are the ones that will really help the farm system going forward. Think RHP Shane Greene and C John Ryan Murphy, for example. They were interesting guys who improved and took that big step forward last summer. Who will be this year’s Greene or Murphy? Here are some candidates.

OF Jake Cave
Cave, 21, was the team’s sixth round pick in the 2011 draft, though he missed all of 2012 with a fractured kneecap. He joined Low-A Charleston in mid-April last year and was the team’s best non-1B Greg Bird player, hitting .282/.347/.401 (117 wRC+) with two homers, 18 steals, and a whopping 37 doubles in a tough hitter’s park. The knee, obviously, is fine.

Cave’s breakout potential is built on his all-around game and innate ability to barrel up the ball with his left-handed swing. He’s cut from the OF Slade Heathcott cloth in that he plays very hard — he hurt his knee in a home plate collision — though he is not out of control, and his makeup and work ethic are considered pluses. Cave is really starting to fill out his 6-foot-0 and 180 lb. frame, so some of those doubles could start clearing the fence for homers. I wouldn’t necessarily say he has a chance to become a top prospect, but a strong year at High-A and continued improvement will definitely get him a prominent place on the map.

SS Cito Culver
The Yankees caught a lot of heat for making Culver their first round pick in 2010 and he really hasn’t done anything to justify the selection yet. He struggled so much with the River Dogs in 2012 (75 wRC+) that he decided to stop switch-hitting — Culver made the decision himself and the team went along — sticking to the right side of the plate even though his numbers were better as a left-handed hitter (.642 OPS vs. .508 OPS in 2012). The result: an improved though still not great .248/.322/.362 (100 wRC+) batting line split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 2013.

Cito. (Andy in Sunny Daytona)

Cito. (Andy in Sunny Daytona)

So why is Culver a breakout candidate despite three years of impressive performance? Two reasons. One, he now has a full year of being a right-handed hitter exclusively under his belt. Dropping switch-hitting is easier said than done. Remember, he’d never seen a breaking ball that moves away from him until last season. Two, his age. Culver was drafted at 17 and he will spend almost the entire 2014 minor league season at age 21. He’s several months younger than Jagielo and Judge even though he’s about to entire his fifth pro season and fourth full season.

Is Culver ever going to live up being the 32nd overall pick in the country? Almost certainly not. Is there some hope he may not be a total lost cause? Yes. His defense at shortstop is still solid and that’s pretty big. Scrapping switch-hitting and focusing on the stronger side has already helped his offense and could help even more as he gets comfortable. The bar at shortstop is so impossibly low these days that, even with an 80-85 wRC+, Culver can be league average at the position because of his defense. The decision to stop switch-hitting has kept his career alive.

RHP Brady Lail
I did not rank Lail as one of the organization’s top 30 prospects last month, but he was among the final cuts. I think he might be the most unheralded potentially great prospect in the system. The 20-year-old from Utah was the team’s 18th round pick in 2012, and last year he pitched to a 2.33 ERA (1.64 FIP) with 51 strikeouts, five walks, and zero homers allowed in 54 innings down in the Rookie Gulf Coast League. He was even trusted to make two emergency appearances for High-A Tampa (that were disasters).

Lail’s fastball sat in the upper-80s when he was drafted but that has ticked up into the low-90s thanks to pro instruction and workouts, and his changeup is improved as well. The pitch was already advanced for a high schooler when he was drafted. His go-to pitch is bat-missing curveball with big break. At 6-foot-2 and 175 lbs., Lail was a classic projection pick who the team hopes will get better and better and he fills out and gains more experience. What sets him apart is his three-pitch mix and his ability to throw strikes, a combination that a) overwhelmed rookie ball hitters, and b) isn’t all that common among pitchers from cold weather states.

RHP Bryan Mitchell
I’m pretty sure I’m going to continue listing Mitchell as a possible breakout prospect every year until he either breaks out or flames out. It feels like the 22-year-old has had the same statistical season every year since being drafted in 16th round of the 2009 draft, but he did cut his walk rate from 13.6% in 2012 to 9.0% in 2013. It’s a sign of progress and I’ll take it.

Mitchell’s breakout potential stems from his fastball-curveball combination, which might be the best two-pitch mix in the organization. His heater sits in the mid-90s and will touch 97 while the curveball is a low-80s hammer, rivaled only by David Robertson‘s in the entire organization. Can he ever put it all together by throwing strikes with his fastball and getting the curveball down and out of the zone for consistent swings and misses? I hope so. As I said earlier, Mitchell is a breakout candidate until either breaks out of flames out. The stuff is simply too good.

* * *

More than anything, the Yankees need their current top prospects to perform like top prospects. Heathcott, Banuelos, Hensley, and OF Tyler Austin have to stay healthy. Jagielo, Clarkin, Judge, 2B Gosuke Katoh, SS Abi Avelino, RHP Luis Severino, and 3B Miguel Andujar have to have strong years in their first full pro season this summer. Will all of that happen? No, of course not. Most of those guys will flame out. But if a few of them can make some progress in 2014 while someone like Cave and/or Lail breaks out, the system will be much better off next spring than it is right now.

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The crew at MLB.com published their list of the top 20 Yankees prospects today, a list that is topped by C Gary Sanchez. No surprise there. OF Mason Williams and OF Slade Heathcott round out the top three. Jim Callis published his list of prospects 21-25 as well.

MLB.com’s lists are always great because they include full (and free) scouting reports, 20-80 scouting scale grades for individual tools, and video for many prospects. The rankings can be a little unique from time to time — this year’s list looks pretty reasonable to me, perhaps because Callis took it over — but that’s okay. Different perspectives are a good thing.

Other Yankees prospects lists: RAB, Baseball America, Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus.

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According to multiple reports, the Cardinals have agreed to a four-year contract with Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz. The deal is reportedly worth a little less than $20M. The Yankees had interest in Diaz and even had him in camp for a private workout a few weeks ago, but they ultimately decided not to make a contract offer. Oh well.

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It's Dellin's time to shine. (Presswire)

It’s Dellin’s time to shine. (Presswire)

Last year, the Yankees got close to zero help from their farm system. The only player to come up from the minors and establish himself as a big leaguer was Adam Warren, who spent the year as the swingman. Guys like David Adams, Preston Claiborne, and Zoilo Almonte got off to hot starts, but they all tailed off once they were pressed into regular playing time. Austin Romine also failed to impress as the backup catcher. The system offered close to no help as the injuries mounted and the poor stretches turned into poor seasons.

The Yankees were not oblivious to this — Hal Steinbrenner called a staff meeting and essentially had the scouting and player development staff audited to figure out why there were no internal solution. No major personnel changes were made, but some procedural changes were implemented and the minor league complex in Tampa was renovated. Turning around the system probably won’t happen overnight, but the team did take some steps in the right direction these last few months.

At some point this season, the Yankees will have to dip into their farm system for help. It’s inevitable. Injuries will strike and fringe players will play their way off the roster. When that happens, the first attempt at fixing the problem will come from within. The Yankees have shown they will be patient and not jump right into the trade market when they need help these last few years and I have no reason to think that will change in 2014. Here are the prospects who could come up and help the MLB team this summer.

Catcher: John Ryan Murphy
Murphy, 22, got his first taste of the big leagues late last year, but that was nothing more than a September cup of coffee following a breakout season in Double-A and Triple-A. He hit .269/.347/.426 with 29 doubles and 12 homers between the two levels and has improved so much defensively that he is now viewed as a no doubt catcher long-term. Had the Yankees not signed Brian McCann, the temptation to start Murphy in 2014 would have been be great. Instead, he figures to bide his time in Triple-A and await an injury after jumping Romine on the depth chart. Of course, he might be nothing more than trade bait. Sleeper: Eh, there really isn’t a sleeper behind the plate for 2014.

Anna. (Getty)

Anna. (Getty)

Infield: Dean Anna
Similar to Murphy, Anna figures to be the first called up whenever injury strikes the infield. The Yankees acquired the 27-year-old from the Padres in a minor offseason deal and he can do a little of everything except hit for power. He can get on base and play both second and short, where the offensive bar is pretty low. I’d say the chances of Anna coming up and being an impact player  this summer are remote, but he does enough to potentially help the team both at the plate and in the field if pressed into duty. Sleeper: Jose Pirela, who’s hit .264/.334/.401 and played four positions (second, short, third, left) at Double-A the last three years.

Outfield: Zoilo Almonte
Technically, Almonte had his chance to help the MLB team last year. He came up in mid-June and had five pretty great games to start his career, but it went downhill fast and he finished the year with a .236/.274/.302 batting line in 113 big league plate appearances around an ankle injury. Almonte, 24, offers sound corner outfield defense and a switch-hitting bat, and there’s a case to be made that he’s a better fit for the bench than Ichiro Suzuki right now. Instead of making the Opening Day roster, Zoilo will have to settle for a trip to Triple-A, where he will be the first called up whenever an extra outfield body is needed. He’s the clear first in line. Sleeper: Ronnie Mustelier, who didn’t get a shot last year but could hit his way into the conversation again.

Right-handers: Dellin Betances, Mark Montgomery, Jose Ramirez
Of everyone in this post, the 25-year-old Betances probably has the best chance to crack the Opening Day roster. He finally found something resembling sustained success in the bullpen last year, pitching to a 2.06 ERA with a 93/28 K/BB in 65.2 innings after shifting into a relief role. It feels like a foregone conclusion that Betances will get a chance to not only stick in the big leagues this year, but also assume a high-profile, late-inning role. The time is now for Dellin.

Had Montgomery not gotten hurt last year, he probably would have been called up instead of Claiborne. Instead, the 23-year-old struggled to throw strikes while missing time with shoulder problems. Montgomery will likely have to show he’s back to being the guy he was from 2011-12 before getting a chance to help the MLB team with his wipeout slider. Ramirez, 24, has had trouble staying healthy over the years and sure enough, he’s already been sidelined with an oblique problem in camp. When right, his fastball-changeup combination is electric and could have a huge impact out of the bullpen, assuming the Yankees are ready to give up on him as a starter given his career-long lack of durability. Sleeper: Danny Burawa, assuming he can figure out how consistently throw strikes.

Cabral. (Getty)

Cabral. (Getty)

Left-handers: Cesar Cabral, Vidal Nuno
I wouldn’t be a complete shock if either Cabral or Nuno made the Opening Day roster, but, more likely, they figure to serve as up and down arms this season. The 25-year-old Cabral is a pure lefty specialist with a low-90s fastball and a sweepy slider, and his late-season cameo was impressive (nine lefties faced, six strikeouts). Nuno, 26, has a deep enough repertoire to start and we saw him do that last summer before his groin injury. In a perfect world, he’d turn into a left-handed 2009 Al Aceves, a rubber-armed swingman who could come in for one batter or four innings without much of a problem. Sleeper: Fred Lewis, who lacks sexy numbers but has the fastball-slider combination to help as a specialist.

* * *

The Yankees do not have a Xander Bogaerts or a Gregory Polanco in their farm system, that super high upside MLB ready prospect with a clear path to big league playing time in 2014. Any help they get from within this summer figures to come in small doses, from bench players or relievers. Sure, Murphy could take over as the starter if McCann gets hurt or Nuno could grab the fifth starter’s spot and run with it, but that would be a surprise. The system is not a position to provide an immediate impact right now unless it involves trading prospects for a big leaguer.

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The Yankees relied on international free agents as the backbone of their farm system for years and years, but the new spending restrictions severely limit the team’s ability to build through Latin America. Two years ago they were capped at $2.9M — a touch less than they gave C Gary Sanchez alone back in 2009 — and last summer it was only $1.88M, the third smallest bonus pool in the game. Tough to stick to that number and add impact players.

According to Ben Badler (subs. req’d), the Yankees used that $1.88M pool to sign 45 (!) players last year. Well, kinda. All of that money and then some went to Dominican OF Leonardo Molina ($1.4M) and Dominican SS Yonauris Rodriguez ($570k). The Yankees exceeded their pool by roughly $93k on those two players alone, almost exactly a 5% overage. That results in a $70k tax, or 75% of the overage. Four other players signed for the $50k exemption (each team gets six) and the other 39 signed for no more than the $7,500 exemption (unlimited). Most of those guys are roster fillers and not serious prospects.

The 16-year-old Molina (no relation to the catching brothers) is now listed at 6-foot-2 and 180 lbs. and was one of the top available players on the international market. “Molina set himself apart with some of the best raw tools and athleticism in Latin America last year,” wrote Badler while noting Molina’s strong arm and defensive skills. “He has plus bat speed and a level stroke with good swing path, but he has an unorthodox load that causes his hands to get started a little early. Molina showed the ability to backspin a ball with gap power when he signed, but with added weight and strength since then, his power has already started to tick up significantly, taking balls over the center-field batter’s eye in batting practice.”

Rodriguez, 16, is considered a no doubt shortstop who has some work to be before becoming a real threat at the plate. “With a wiry 6-foot-1, 155-pound frame, Rodriguez projects to stay at the position with good hands and an above-average arm … (his) defense is ahead of his righthanded bat. He will hit some doubles but doesn’t have much power, so he’ll have to focus on line drives and getting on base,” wrote Badler. Here’s video. Both Rodriguez and Molina have a chance to make their pro debuts with one of the team’s two Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliates later this year.

In addition to their two big money signings, the Yankees also landed 19-year-old Dominican LHP Orby Taveras, who signed for one of the $50k exemptions. He already stands 6-foot-4 and 225 lbs. and “throws 88-91 mph, scrapes 92 and complements it with feel for a changeup that’s ahead of his three-quarters breaking ball,” according to Balder, who says Taveras also has a good plan on the mound despite his lack of experience. Dominican OF Frank Frias ($7,500) and Dominican RHP Jhon Morban ($3,000) both stood out for their performances in the Dominican Summer League after signing.

The Yankees are said to be planning a huge international spending spree this year, one that may reportedly cost upwards of $30M between signing bonuses and the taxes excised for exceeding their spending pool. That would help cover for the three top draft picks the team surrendered as free agent compensation this winter. The Yankees will face spending restrictions in future years if they go on such a spree, but the general belief is that an international draft is on the horizon. If so, this summer may be New York’s last chance to target and sign any available international player.

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Via the AP: Orlando Hernandez has joined the Yankees as a Spring Training minor league pitching instructor. The 48-year-old retired in 2011 and last pitched in the big leagues in 2007. This will be El Duque’s first coaching gig as far as I can tell and he’s slated to remain in Tampa for several weeks. Since he’s working with minor leaguers, I wonder if Hernandez will stick around for all or part of Extended Spring Training as well.

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Baseball Prospectus published their annual organizational rankings today and, best of all, you don’t need a subscription to read the piece. The entire thing is free. The Twins, led by elite prospects OF Byron Buxton and 3B Miguel Sano, sit at the top of the list and are followed by the Cubs and Pirates. The Angels predictably sit in the basement.

The Yankees rank 23rd and the write-up says they “have talent in the minors—which helps separate them from the poorer systems in baseball—but down years from key prospects caused the system to yo-yo from middle of the pack to the bottom third … In a talented yet schizophrenic system, all it takes is a return to form from some of the more heralded names on the farm and the Yankees will shoot back up the org rankings.” That sums it up pretty well, no?

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