Aaron Judge selected to AzFL’s Fall Star Game

Outfielder Aaron Judge has been selected to represent the Yankees in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Star Game, the league announced. Here are the East and West rosters. The Fall Star Game will be played this coming Saturday night at 8pm ET and will be broadcast on MLB Network.

Judge, 22, has hit .250/.311/.475 (106 wRC+) with two homers in ten games with the Scottsdale Scorpions after a monster regular season. The Fall Star Game is designed to highlight the game’s top prospects in the AzFL, not reward strong performance. That’s why Judge is representing the Yankees and not first baseman Greg Bird, who is hitting .349/.382/.651 (171 wRC+) with a league-leading five homers in 15 games for Scottsdale.

Reports: Korean left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim to be posted, Yankees have checked in

The following is a guest post from Sung-Min Kim, who has also written guest posts about Kei Igawa and Hyo-Jun Park.

Kim at the 2014 Asian Games last month. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)
Kim at the 2014 Asian Games last month. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty)

According to Eun-Byul Park of eDailyStar, left-handed pitcher Kwang-Hyun Kim of the SK Wyverns in Korea will have a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the “pursuit of going over to the Major Leagues.” The article also states that the Wyverns’ general manager and main representative will also be present. All signs point to the team posting their star pitcher.

Kim, 26, is one of the most popular players in the Korean Baseball Organization. He was drafted by the Wyverns in the first round in 2006. By the end of 2007, Kim had already posted 3.62 ERA in 77 IP as a 19-year old. His rise is very storied among Korean fans. The Wyverns were down 1-2 to the Doosan Bears in the Korean Series and the manager decided to start the teenager to save their season. The starter for the Bears was one-time Yankee Danny Rios, who later went on to win the league MVP after having a phenomenal season with 2.07 ERA in 234 IP and 22 wins. Undaunted by the task, Kim threw a 7.1 IP gem with only one hit allowed while striking out 9, earning the win for the Wyverns that later went on to win the Korean Series title. Here’s a Korean television segment about the fateful game.

From 2008 to 2010, his ages 20 to 22 seasons, Kim rivaled Hyun-Jin Ryu as the most talented young lefty in the nation. He went 16-4 with 2.39 ERA in 27 starts in 2008, winning the league MVP, the gold medal for Team Korea in the Beijing Olympics, and another Korean Series trophy as the Wyverns won consecutive titles. He went 12-2 with 2.80 ERA in 2009 and 17-7, 2.37 ERA in 193.2 IP in 2010 (and another Wyverns title). By the end of 2010, there wasn’t much doubt about his place as one of the best lefties in the history of Korean baseball. However, starting in 2011, Kim became plagued by slumps and injuries. From 2011 to 2013, he posted 4.84, 4.30 and 4.47 ERAs, respectively, with worse control (4.64 BB/9 from 2011-13 as opposed to 3.64 BB/9 in 2008-2010) and strikeout numbers (7.10 K/9 from 2011-13 as opposed to 8.11 K/9 from 2008-10).

The 2014 season was not his best year, however he came back as a healthy, full-time starter who finished second in the league in ERA (3.42) and home run rate (0.52 HR/9) and seventh in strikeout rate (7.51 K/9). His fastball hit as high as 96 mph, which is around where he topped when he was a younger ace. His 3.42 ERA in 173.2 IP may not be impressive for a pitcher that is pitching at a well-below NPB’s level, but KBO experienced a historical offensive explosion this summer.  The ex-San Francisco and Lotte Giant Ryan Sadowski describes it the best:

“As of September 10th, we have seen 5,762 runs scored over the course of 505 games. There have been about 11.4 runs scored per game or 5.7 runs scored per team. We have witnessed about a 40% increase in runs scored from the 2012 season. We have also seen 1,047 home runs during the 505 games that have been played.  In 2014, we have seen an 80% increase in homeruns produced in comparison to the 2012 season.”

That is insane. There were only SIX starters in KBO with ERA under 4.00 and Kim is the only Korean-born pitcher in that group. The other five: Rick VandenHurk (3.18), Andy Van Hekken (3.51 and the first 20-game winner in KBO since Rios), Charlie Shirek (3.81), Dustin Nippert (3.81) and Cory Riordan (3.96).

A huge knock on Kim’s 2014 numbers is that his walk rate remained mediocre at 4.20 BB/9. There have been Asian imports, or just pitchers in general, that had less-than-ideal control and pitched decently in Majors, but for every Kaz Ishii there are names like Kei Igawa and Ryota Igarashi — pitchers you did not want anywhere near the 40-man roster. The lefty was also one of the luckiest pitchers with runners on base: 74.6 LOB% is the second in league (though one can argue that Kim bumps up his velocity a notch in dicier situations). I would say this video summarizes Kim’s season in a nutshell: showing some control hiccups to get into trouble but using his upside to get outs and out of the trouble.

My assessment: I do not see Kim being a full-time starter in the Majors unless there is a major improvement in command. It would be a wishful thinking for him to be an “effectively wild” pitcher a la early-2002 Kaz Ishii. I don’t know if Kim would post walk rates as abysmal as Ishii’s (6.19 and 6.18 BB/9 in his first two seasons with the Dodgers) but what mattered was that he was a pitcher expected to start in every five games for three Major League seasons. I think a lot of Korean baseball fans would more than gladly take that for Kwang-Hyun Kim.

If Kim were to sign with an ML team, it’s because they would be sold by his stuff. His fastball usually plays around high-80’s-to-low-90’s. He is able to bump it up to mid-90’s but don’t expect a first-grade heat from the lefty. According to a big league scout quoted in Global Sports Integration, Kim has “big league stuff. Definitely a big league slider.” The scout adds “Kim’s raw stuff is electric. If he were a raw prospect with low mileage, he would be the best prospect in Asia. But he has injury history and isn’t 21 years old.”

Some fans may remember RHP Suk-Min Yoon, who signed a ML contract with the Baltimore Orioles in the previous winter. The deal, however, has not gone well at all for the Birds. Yoon, who was also one of the best young starters in KBO along with Kim and Ryu, was trending downwards with health and performance when he signed with Baltimore. Ryu, who had showed endurance in Korea, came off one of his best seasons in 2012 before he signed with the Dodgers. Kim, I would say, is somewhere in between those two. He has his share of injury history but he’s trending upwards in stock – definitely not at Ryu’s level but enough to maybe give some team to take a flier or two.

As for the Yankees, I doubt that they will look at Kim as a rotation option. First off, there are other names in the free agency that could possibly woo the team to spend bigger money on (Jon Lester, James Shields, Brandon McCarthy, etc.). The team also has in-house rotation candidates and pieces that delegitimize a need for a risky signing like Kim. There have been reports that Yankee scouts have checked on him and some think a posting fee between “$10 to 12 million” is “not a stretch.” But then again, I will believe what the ML teams actually think of his value when I see it. All indications say Kim will be posted and it will be interesting to see how a pitcher from Korea with less-than-optimal history would be seen among the teams.

DotF: Bird continues to rake in the Arizona Fall League

In the video above, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo chat about some of the Yankees prospects playing in the Arizona Fall League this month. Here is Callis’ companion piece with more on each prospect. Also, 1B Greg Bird was named the AzFL Player of the Week last week and Matt Eddy says LHP Cesar Cabral has elected free agency. He’s no longer with the organization.

AzFL Scottsdale (7-3 win over Glendale) Monday’s game

  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-5, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • DH Greg Bird: 1-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 0/1 GB/FB — 26 of 39 pitches were strikes (67%)

AzFL Scottsdale (7-6 win over Glendale) Tuesday’s game

AzFL Scottsdale (9-3 loss to Mesa) Wednesday’s game

  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 1 K
  • DH Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 R
  • RHP Alex Smith: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 11 of 21 pitches were strikes (52%) … nine runs and 4/6 K/BB in 5.1 innings so far

AzFL Scottsdale (7-3 loss to Mesa) Thursday’s game

  • LF Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 E (fielding)
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K
  • 1B Greg Bird: 2-4, 1 2B
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 0/1 GB/FB — 17 of 34 pitches were strikes (50%) … 7/5 K/BB in 6.2 innings
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — ten pitches, eight strikes … 11/2 K/BB in eight innings so far

AzFL Scottsdale (2-1 loss to Surprise) Friday’s game

  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K — threw a runner out at the plate
  • 1B Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • LF Tyler Austin: 0-2, 2 BB
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: 2-4

AzFL Scottsdale (12-3 win over Mesa) Saturday’s game

  • DH Aaron Judge: 1-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — hitting .250/.311/.475 with two homers and nine strikeouts in ten games
  • 1B Greg Bird: 2-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — leads the league with five homers … .349/.382/.651 with 16 strikeouts and three walks in 15 games
  • RF Tyler Austin: 2-5, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — hitting .277/.370/.468 with seven walks and eight strikeouts in 12 games
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: 0-5, 1 RBI, 3 K — he’s at .225/.289/.225 with eleven strikeouts in ten games
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 CS — 6-for-13 (.462) in his three games

Dominican Winter League

  • LHP Ramon Benjamin: 2 G, 0.1 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K (27.00 ERA, 6.00 WHIP)
  • RHP Joel De La Cruz: 1 G, 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K (0.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP)
  • LHP Francisco Rondon: 2 G, 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K (0.00 ERA, 3.00 WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League

  • OF Jose Figueroa: 10 G, 3-8, 4 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 SB (.375/.444/.750)
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 6 G, 5.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HB (0.00 ERA, 0.88 WHIP)
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 3 G, 3 GS, 11 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 10 K, 1 HB, 1 HR (4.09 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

The Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) doesn’t begin play until Thursday. No rosters yet.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • C Francisco Arcia: 12 G, 10-49, 2 R, 3 2B, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 13 K (.204/.235/.265)
  • UTIL Ali Castillo: 13 G, 19-51, 12 R, 4 2B, 5 RBI, 2 BB, 5 K, 6 SB, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.373/.400/.451)
  • OF Ramon Flores: 8 G, 6-22, 4 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 5 K (.273/.360/.409)
  • UTIL Adonis Garcia: 13 G, 17-56, 6 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 6 K, 2 SB, 1 HBP (.304/.350/.321)
  • C Jose Gil: 7 G, 6-18, 6 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HBP (.333/.400/.611)
  • UTIL Jose Pirela: 2 G, 4-7, 3 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB (.571/.667/1.429) — gotta think he’ll come to camp next year with a legit chance to win a bench job
  • C Jackson Valera: 1 G, 0-0
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 7 G, 6.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HB (1.42 ERA, 0.63 WHIP)
  • OF Ericson Leonora, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Wilking Rodriguez, SS Angel Aguilar, and C Frankie Cervelli are all listed on rosters but have not yet played.

Baseball America’s 2014 Draft Report Cards: Yankees edition

Baseball America published their 2014 Draft Report Card for the Yankees earlier this week, though it is behind the paywall. It’s fairly straight forward anyway. LHP Jacob Lindgren (2nd round) has the best secondary pitch (his slider) and is closest to the big leagues. RHP Austin DeCarr (3) has the best fastball, OF Mark Payton (7) is the best pure hitter, and 1B Chris Gittens (12) is the best power hitter. No real surprises there.

In a free companion piece, Clint Longenecker broke down some recent draft spending trends from around the league. The Yankees exceeded their $3.2M pool and were only $70k away from a 5% overage this summer, which would have forced them to forfeit their first round pick in 2015. Thankfully that didn’t happen. They were also one of three teams to sign just one high school player (DeCarr). The Astros and Phillies did it as well. You can see all of New York’s draft picks right here and their draft pool situation right here. (My numbers are approximate.)

Yankees could get more help from within in 2015

Severino. (Presswire)
Severino. (Presswire)

In yesterday’s Season Review post, I noted Shane Greene was a big player development success for the Yankees, who turned an under-scouted (due to Tommy John surgery) right-hander into a bonafide Major Leaguer with a 15th round pick, a $100k bonus, and patience. They haven’t had enough success stories like that, so much so that director of player development Pat Roessler was recently let go. I’m pretty sure VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman would have been cut loose as well if he wasn’t retiring.

The Yankees do, however, get just enough from their farm system each year to fill out their roster and make trades. This past season it was Greene in the rotation, Dellin Betances in the bullpen, and Vidal Nuno on the trade market. Last year it was Adam Warren and Preston Claiborne in the bullpen and Corey Black in a trade. They seem to crank out a few supporting players and trade chips every year despite the overall lack of production from the system. Spare parts aren’t a problem. Getting regulars and above-average contributors is.

Anyway, both Joe Girardi and Hal Steinbrenner recently indicated the Yankees will get younger going forward. “At times we ran out four guys, five guys over 35 years old. I don’t think that will happen next year,” said Girardi during his end-of-season press conference. Hal said “there’s no doubt, young players, player development, that’s going to play a big part (going forward)” during a radio interview. They could both be blowing smoke, but I do think they’re sincere.

Incorporating more young players into the roster going forward is a wonderful idea but it’s not easy to pull off. If it was, every team would be doing it. They try, but many fail. That’s baseball. The Yankees are also at a disadvantage because most of their top prospects are in the lower minors and aren’t big league ready, so they’re still a year or two away from the show. Which prospects could help next year, a la Greene or Betances or Black? Let’s look.

The Obvious Candidates
As always, the Yankees have some upper level relievers who are knocking on the door and figure to get an opportunity in 2015. Top 2014 draft pick LHP Jacob Lindgren is the most notable bullpener while others like RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Nick Goody, and LHP James Pazos could force the issue and get called up at some point. Every team winds up dipping into their farm system for bullpen help at some point and these guys are at the front of the line for the Yankees.

Elsewhere on the roster, both RHP Bryan Mitchell and C John Ryan Murphy have already gotten a taste of the show and are primed for bigger roles if the need arises. Same with RHP Jose Ramirez. I think we’ll finally get to see LHP Manny Banuelos next season as well. He missed just about all of 2012-13 with elbow problems and had an up-and-down 2014, which wasn’t entirely unexpected after the long layoff. With the rust shaken off, Banuelos is finally in position to help the Yankees next summer, either in the rotation or out of the bullpen.

Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

And then there’s 2B Rob Refsnyder, who is very likely to get an extended trial at second base in 2015. It might not happen right away, he might have to spend a few weeks in Triple-A, but I’m very confident it’ll happen at some point. Refsnyder has hit his way into big league consideration but his defense might be what keeps him in the minors a little longer. He’s still rough around the edges at second base after playing the outfield in college. Aside from the relievers, Refsnyder seems like the safest bet to be called up next year.

The Maybes
New York’s two best prospects are OF Aaron Judge and RHP Luis Severino. If you want to debate the order, fine. It doesn’t really matter though. Both are Yankees. Both are also likely to start next season with Double-A Trenton, and any time a top prospect starts a season in Double-A, he’s a candidate to be called up at midseason. The Yankees were very aggressive with the 20-year-old Severino this year in particular, so I’d be less surprised if he debuted in 2015 than I would with Judge.

Defensively-challenged C Gary Sanchez is expected to move up to Triple-A next season, so it’ll be interesting to see how the team distributes playing time between him, Murphy, and C Austin Romine. Sanchez’s climb up the ladder has been deliberate — he’s spent parts of two seasons in Low-A, High-A, and Double-A — and a full year at Scranton is probably in the cards next season. I do think he’ll end up getting a September callup since he’s already on the 40-man roster though.

Other possible call-ups include OF Ramon Flores and OF Taylor Dugas, both of whom spent part of last season with the RailRiders and will return there in 2015. 1B Kyle Roller is in the same boat. 1B/OF Tyler Austin is expected to join them next year and because he plays two positions where the Yankees will need backup (right field and first base), the chances of him making his debut next season are very good. Even if it’s only as a September call-up. Austin will be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

Among the pitchers who could pitch their way into a big league callup are RHP Jaron Long, RHP Zach Nuding, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa, and LHP Matt Tracy. Long is the son of recently dismissed hitting coach Kevin Long but I don’t think that will have any impact on his standing in the organization. This is a business. Jaron knows it, Kevin knows it, the Yankees know it. If he’s the best option to help the team at some point next year, Jaron will get a chance and both he and his father will be thrilled.

The Long Shots
In all likelihood 3B Eric Jagielo, 1B Greg Bird, and DH Dante Bichette Jr. will open next year with Double-A Trenton, though I think they’re further behind Judge and Severino. Jagielo probably has the best chance of debuting in 2015 among these three and that’s only because he plays third base (not well, apparently). If the team needs a first baseman or DH, Austin and/or Roller are head of Bird and Bichette on the depth chart.

OF Jake Cave is in the same situation as those guys — starting the year at Double-A but unlikely to see the show in 2015. If the Yankees need an outfielder, both Austin and Flores will already be on the 40-man roster and in Triple-A. We won’t see young guys like LHP Ian Clarkin, RHP Brady Lail, OF Miguel Andujar, and LHP Daniel Camarena next year. It’s too early for them. We can talk about them more seriously next offseason and even more seriously the offseason after that.

The Trade Chips
Everyone. Seriously. I don’t think the Yankees have any prospects worthy of being deemed untouchable. But, to use an old Brian Cashman phrase, some are more touchable than others. I mean, if the Marlins come calling and say they’re willing to deal Giancarlo Stanton as long as the package starts with Judge and Severino, how do the Yankees say no to that? They shouldn’t give anyone away but everyone should be available in the right situation. Cashman did a great job getting a lot for a little at the trade deadline this year and I’m sure that’s the approach he’ll take going forward.

* * *

The Yankees say they plan to incorporate more youth going forward, and for 2015 that means Refsnyder and a bunch of relievers. That’s really it. The 2016 season is when others like Judge, Severino, Jagielo, and Bird become realistic big league options. It will probably take them a year or three before they have a real impact, but that’s true of every prospect. The process has to start sometime though, and for the Yankees, next season means better late than never.