DotF: Adams finally allows a hit in Trenton’s win

In case you missed it earlier, RHP James Kaprielian will indeed undergo Tommy John surgery. That stinks. He’ll have the procedure next Tuesday. See you next summer, Kap.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Lehigh Valley, walk-off style)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 R
  • DH Clint Frazier: 0-4, 1 RBI
  • RF Rob Refsnyder: 2-3, 1 R, 2 RBI — had been 1-for-16 (.063) coming into this game
  • CF Mason Williams: 2-4, 1 2B — two two-hit games and four no-hit games on the young season
  • 1B Ji-Man Choi: 2-3, 1 RBI — walk-off sac fly
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 4/2 GB/FB — 44 of 64 pitches were strikes (69%) … second career Triple-A appearance … he’s making the spot start because Johnny Barbato was lined up to pitch today, but he’s currently in DFA limbo
  • LHP Joe Mantiply: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1/3 GB/FB — 23 of 33 pitches were strikes (70%) … the Yankees stretch just about everyone out to multiple innings in the minors, even the left-on-left matchup guys
  • LHP Chasen Shreve: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — ten of 16 pitches were strikes (63%)

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Game Nine: Sevy for the Sweep

Changeup! (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Changeup! (Patrick Smith/Getty)

For the first time this season, the Yankees are playing a night game at Yankee Stadium. I love day baseball as much as the next guy, but I’m looking forward to seeing a game under the lights in the Bronx for the first time this year. Now that all the home openers and early season off-days and all that are over, we’re getting into the daily grind of the 162-game series. A night game just feels … normal. I guess that’s the best word.

Anyway, the Yankees have won the first two games of this three-game series against the Rays, and tonight Luis Severino will take the mound with a chance to finish the sweep. Severino had his moments last time out and he seemed to throw a lot of changeups — I’d tell you how many exactly if, you know, Trackman had been working — so I’m curious to see if he does it again. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

The weather has been pretty much perfect in New York all day today, though it’s gotten cloudy tonight. There’s no rain in the forecast though. It’ll just be on the cool side. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Brett Gardner (neck, chin) is available tonight and is doing much better following yesterday’s collision. Joe Girardi said Gardner could have started today, but he decided to give him the extra day.

Hal says the Yankees are open to buying at the trade deadline if they’re in the postseason race

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

After last season, it’s easy to understand why so many folks wonder whether the Yankees will again sell at the trade deadline this year. They were out of the race last summer and Brian Cashman convinced Hal Steinbrenner to sell, which was absolutely the right thing to do. As a result, the Yankees are loaded with young talent. It’s exciting.

Despite their current three-game winning streak, most see the Yankees as wildcard contenders at best this season. (The various projection systems have a hard time overlooking the shaky rotation, for what it’s worth.) The offense should be better than it was a year ago and a couple of the kid pitchers could surprise. I don’t think it would take that much to push this team into the postseason, though they’re not clear cut favorites.

And if the Yankees are in the race at midseason, Steinbrenner is open to adding pieces at the deadline to get the team over the hump. He said as much during a radio interview with Mike Francesa two weeks ago. Here’s what Hal told Francesa:

“I think we’re ready to contend. Now, things have to go somewhat right, obviously as with any team. The players who did well last year have to do well again. The young players who haven’t proven themselves need to. And we’ve got to stay healthy … If my family feels that we’re close and Cash feels that we’re close and we need a piece, we’ve never been afraid to go out and get it, and that’s not going to change.”

I bring this up because the last time the Yankees were in the race, they did very little at the trade deadline. They had a six-game division lead on the day of the 2015 trade deadline, and they very clearly needed another starting pitcher, yet no deal was made. The Yankees decided to hold onto their prospects because that was the smart move at the time.

Will that be the smart move this summer? The Yankees are so very deep with prospects that they could trade a few of them for big league help and still have one of the game’s top farm systems. And, as I’ve already said a few times, they’re going to have to trade some prospects this year. Either that or the Yankees are going to lose them for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft in the offseason. There are only so many roster spots to go around.

The last time the Yankees bought at the deadline was 2014, when they were kinda sorta hanging around the postseason race and Cashman managed to acquire Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Martin Prado, and Stephen Drew without giving up anything significant. Those were band-aid moves, essentially. Cashman could take a similar approach this summer, or go big and acquire a more significant piece.

Because of their farm system, the Yankees are in position to make a big splash at the trade deadline, assuming that is something Cashman and Steinbrenner feel is appropriate. That will depend on how the next three months shake out. Hopefully the Yankees will be in the race come July and we can all argue about who they should keep, who they should trade, who they should go after, etc.

Is Jacoby Ellsbury’s early production for real?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Eight games into the season, you’re bound to see a few eye-popping stats. Aaron Judge‘s 1.072 OPS comes to mind. Adam Warren‘s six perfect innings or Chase Headley‘s .393 average also fit that description.

A little less eye-popping but nonetheless surprising has been the solid start for Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees’ starting center fielder has been beset with criticism over the last few seasons while he hasn’t lived up to the contract. Even stripping away the contract, Ellsbury hasn’t been quite up to expectations with league average (or worse) seasons as he approaches his mid-30s.

So his .321/.345/.500 (144 wRC+) batting line definitely stands out when it comes to the Yankees’ early producers. This, after all, comes after a .263/.330/.374 season and with many projection systems expecting more of the same. Quite simply, a guy entering his age 33 season isn’t supposed to have a resurgence like this.

Then there’s the obvious question: Is this a resurgence or simply a small sample? That’s the quandary I want to tackle.

There are some basic reasons to expect that it’s a small sample size lying to our faces. First, he has a 0.0% walk rate and a .333 BABIP. The walk rate isn’t going to stay that way, but it shows he may just be putting the ball in play more. It also underlines how early we are in the season. The BABIP, compared to .296 in 2014, .301 in 2015 and .295 and 2016, is a little high and may regress soon. His average is buoyed by a few infield hits and he has an infield hit percentage more than double his career rate. He has also seen a rise in his soft contact percentage.

But there has also been some improvement in there, whether or not it’s sustainable. In this small sample, his hard contact rate and line drive percentage both increased. At least one of those infield hits was a line drive off the pitcher and likely would have gotten through the infield without a deflection. Here’s a look at his spray chart. Most of his hard hit balls have been pulled, but there are a few liners elsewhere.

jacoby-ellsbury-1

Pitchers have pitched Ellsbury on the outside part of the plate more often than last year and the few times he’s gotten balls low and inside, he’s produced solid exit velocity. His exit velocity as a whole is essentially the same after 24 batted balls as it was after 415 such results in 2016.

But it’s extremely important to note that he hasn’t had a single catcher’s interference yet this season. This could actually be the most critical sign. Ellsbury worked with hitting coach Alan Cockrell to get more out in front with his swing after last season, moving his contact point forward as to avoid flirting with his own MLB record for CIs.

And therefore, we may have a tangible reason for this jump in performance.

The bulk of Ellsbury’s damage has come against Alex Cobb, the Rays righty who was much more effective against lefties when he wielded his changeup consistently pre-Tommy John surgery. Below are gifs of Ellsbury swings against Cobb, one last September that ended in a pop up to left field and one from opening day at Yankee Stadium this year which produced an RBI double.

2015
2016

2016
2017

These ABs take place against the same pitcher at the same stadium with approximately the same location on the final pitch. Ellsbury is in the same spot in the box with a similar set-up and stride in his lower half. The only thing that may be different, other than the result, is the swing path. It looks pretty similar, but I’m also not certain that Cockrell and Ellsbury’s adjustment is going to be that demonstrative. It may be quite subtle yet still still able to help Ellsbury pull the ball with a line drive rather than rather than being late to the ball and popping out.

And yes, I realize he popped out with the bases loaded yesterday. That was not a good at-bat, but it also came against a lefty and we haven’t yet seen whether Ellsbury has overcome his platoon struggles.

Still, his early performance lends credence to the idea that he may have found something with his swing. It’ll take a lot more data to see for sure, but if there is anything real in Ellsbury’s improvement, it could be a significant boost for the Yankees with his contract running through 2020, not to mention it would be a major feather in the cap of Cockrell. At the very least, his strong production displays that he can still be a productive player at times, even if 2011 near-MVP Ellsbury is long gone.

James Kaprielian to undergo Tommy John surgery

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2017 season will be another lost year for the Yankees’ top pitching prospect. Right-hander James Kaprielian will indeed undergo Tommy John surgery, the Yankees announced this morning. Dr. Neal ElAttrache will perform the surgery next Tuesday. Brian Cashman strongly indicated surgery was coming while speaking to reporters yesterday.

“We met last night,” said Scott Boras, Kaprielian’s agent, to Mike Mazzeo. “And it was something where, after the discussion with the doctors and compiling the proper information and having a history with pitchers, you don’t want to send a pitcher out to the mound where he’s going to have something in the back of his mind that’s troubling him from start to start. The surgery allows us to alleviate those concerns.”

Kaprielian, who turned 23 last month, missed nearly the entire 2016 regular season with a flexor tendon strain, and Cashman said the same injury resurfaced this spring. Last year’s rehab essentially failed. Here’s a quick recap of Kaprielian’s timeline:

  • April 25th, 2016: Placed on the minor league disabled list with elbow pain after three starts with High-A Tampa.
  • June 28th, 2016: Diagnosed with a flexor tendon strain after the elbow continued to be a problem and did not show improvement. ElAttrache examined Kaprielian at the time.
  • October and November, 2016: Makes seven starts in the Arizona Fall League. PitchFX says his fastball averaged 95.7 mph and the scouting reports were glowing.
  • March, 16th 2017: Throws two innings in his only Grapefruit League appearance. The Yankees took it slow with Kaprielian in camp and limited him to simulated games early on.
  • March 26th, 2017: Throws 4+ innings in a minor league spring game, according to Josh Norris. As far as we know, that’s the last time he pitched before this latest injury.
  • April 6th, 2017: Elbow begins acting up again.

These days Tommy John surgery comes with a 14-16 month rehab, sometimes even 18 months. The days of a 12-month rehab are all but over. A few years ago a rash of pitchers needed a second Tommy John surgery and the industry seems to have concluded the 12-month rehab was too aggressive. Kaprielian figures to be out until midseason 2018 at the very least.

Between the flexor injury last year and the Tommy John surgery now, Kaprielian is essentially going to miss two full seasons, likely more depending on the length of his rehab. Throwing 45 total innings, all in High-A and the AzFL, from Opening Day 2016 through midseason 2018 is, obviously, really bad. That’s an awful lot of development time Kaprielian won’t be able to make up. Sucks, but what can you do?

Despite last year’s injury, Kaprielian was very highly regarded coming into the season. I was surprised at how high he ranked on the various top 100 lists this spring, and I’m pretty sure I wrote that a few times. Look at his placement on the various top 100 lists:

2016 Rank 2017 Rank
Baseball America top 100 Not ranked 87th
Baseball Prospectus top 101 Not ranked 58th
Keith Law top 100 87th 28th
MLB.com top 100 Not ranked 55th

Kaprielian missed most of last year with a major elbow problem and he still climbed on every single list. That’s how impressive he looked during his admittedly brief AzFL stint last year. He was healthy and throwing well. The same was true in Spring Training. Then something gave. Pitchers, man.

The Yankees selected Kaprielian with their first round pick (16th overall) in the 2015 draft and paid him an above-slot $2.65M bonus. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Kaprielian’s velocity ticked up his draft year at UCLA, and again in pro ball both after the draft and early in 2016. Velocity spikes seem to have a way of leading to elbow woes.

I suppose the good news is Kaprielian is a top of the line makeup and work ethic guy who will attack his rehab. Tommy John surgery has a high success rate, but it’s not perfect. If it fails with Kaprielian, I don’t think it’ll be due to a lack of effort on his part. Kaprielian has been through worse in his life. Hopefully everything goes well and he comes back a better (and healthier) pitcher next season.

Montgomery showed the Yankees just about everything they wanted to see in MLB debut

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time this season, the Yankees used their fifth starter Wednesday afternoon. It happened a little ahead of schedule too. The Yankees planned to wait until April 16th to use their fifth starter, but with Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia having to work harder than usual over the weekend, they decided to give them extra rest. That’s how Jordan Montgomery wound up making yesterday’s start.

Montgomery beat out the other fifth starter candidates in Spring Training — Montgomery was more of a long shot for the job at the start of camp — and he pitched well in his MLB debut. Not great, not awful. Three runs allowed (two earned) on five hits and two walks in 4.2 innings before hitting his pitch count. The third run scored courtesy of a Starlin Castro error while Bryan Mitchell was on the mound.

“I thought he did a pretty good job,” said Joe Girardi following yesterday’s game. “I didn’t think he had great command of his fastball today, but I thought he did a really good job of pitching out of some jams. They had a number of opportunities to score, and they just scored really in that first inning, in a sense. Very pleased with what he did.”

Girardi confirmed Montgomery will get another start in five days — that lines him up to pitch Monday’s series opener against the rebuilding White Sox — which sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s really not. The Yankees could have easily sent Montgomery back to Triple-A following yesterday’s game, called up an extra reliever — or an extra outfielder with Brett Gardner banged up — for the time being, then gone with Chad Green next time the fifth starter is needed.

I’m always inclined to grade a pitcher on a curve when he makes his first big league start because inevitably there are nerves involved. That said, I thought Montgomery did some things yesterday that were very encouraging and bode well going forward. Four things, specifically.

1. He pitched inside. All throughout baseball, pitching inside is becoming something of a lost art. I’m not saying pitchers should bean batters or anything like that, but command the inside corner of the plate and get the hitter to move his feet a bit. Don’t let him look out over the plate all game.

Montgomery pitched inside an awful lot yesterday, especially to right-handed batters. The home run he gave up to Rickie Weeks was a fastball that was supposed to be inside, but leaked back out over the plate. It happens. The new Trackman system has been hit or miss so far this season — the system recorded only 57 of Montgomery’s 89 pitches, so hit or miss is putting it nicely — and here’s what we have on Montgomery’s pitch locations against righties, via Baseball Savant:

jordan-montgomery-vs-rhbThere are a bunch of pitches missing there due to Trackman’s wonkiness, but Montgomery got in on righties with his fastball and also what the system is calling a slider. A few of them looked like cutters to me. Who knows? Whatever it was, it had a little bite to it and Montgomery threw it in on righties. He used it to fan Evan Longoria in the fifth inning:

jordan-montgomery-slider

That’s a nasty little pitch under the hands. The hitter can’t do anything with that other than foul it off. Point is, Montgomery did not hesitate to pitch righties inside — probably because he knows he needs to do that to be successful — with both a fastball and some sort of slider/cutter thing (slutter?). For a young guy making his first start, that’s impressive. Lots of times young kids will shy away from the inner half.

2. He got swings and misses. Last season in the minors Montgomery struck out 22.7% of the batters he faced, which is solid and nothing more. The year before he had a 24.1% strikeout rate. Chance Adams, for comparison, had a 29.1% strikeout rate last year. That’s more in line with what you’d expect to see from a legitimate big league pitching prospect.

Montgomery had no trouble missing bats Wednesday. Trackman says he recorded eleven swings and misses among the 57 pitches recorded, and during the YES game broadcast and postgame, both David Cone and Jack Curry said they counted 17 swings and misses out of Montgomery’s 89 total pitches. Remember how good Michael Pineda was Monday? He had 15 swings and misses out of 93 total pitches.

I wouldn’t count on Montgomery sustaining a 19.1% swing and miss rate because no one does that — Max Scherzer led all starters with a 15.3% whiff rate last year — but I think the tools are there to get strikeouts, specifically his slider and changeup. He used both pitches to get outs yesterday. Montgomery doesn’t have to be Scherzer when it comes to missing bats, but he can’t be a strict pitch-to-contact guy like a Twins pitcher either. Not in Yankee Stadium.

3. He kept his release point tight. If nothing else, Montgomery gives the hitter a very different look. He’s 6-foot-6 and he throws the ball right over the top, so it’s coming from an extreme downhill angle. The 57 pitches worth of Trackman data we have say Montgomery released the ball from, on average, seven feet above the base of the mound, which is pretty crazy. More importantly, the data shows he had a nice tight release point for all his pitches. From Brooks Baseball:

jordan-montgomery-release-points

That’s a thing of beauty. A lot of times you’ll see a pitcher drop down ever so slightly for his slider, or maybe vary his arm speed so much between his fastball and changeup that they have different release points, but not Montgomery. Not yesterday, at least. All his pitches come together to form a blob on the chart because he released them from the same spot. That adds deception and helps his pitches play up.

4. He pitched out of jams. Montgomery pitched in five separate innings yesterday and in only one, the second, did he set the side down in the order. The third and fifth innings were the most impressive to me even though Montgomery didn’t get a chance to finish the fifth because of his pitch count.

In the third the Rays put runners on first and second with one out on a single (Peter Bourjos) and a hit batsman (Kevin Kiermaier). Montgomery then struck out Longoria and Weeks to escape the jam. Then, in the fifth, he allowed a leadoff double to Steven Souza before rebounding to strike out Kiermaier and Longoria to end his afternoon. He made some pretty big pitches in sticky situations.

Jams are inevitable and with a young pitcher, especially one making his first career start, you kinda worry things will unravel. Montgomery has a reputation for being tough and unflappable on the mound, which serves him well in those spots. We saw it in Spring Training and we saw it again yesterday. It doesn’t mean he’ll pitch out of every jam. But it does show he won’t be overwhelmed.

* * *

The Yankees have plenty of fifth starter candidates — Green and Luis Cessa are waiting in Triple-A, most notably — so Montgomery is going to have to pitch well to remain in the rotation. All things considered, his first start went well, and he’ll get another chance to show he can do in five days. The Yankees are looking for help both now and for the future, and while acknowledging one start is just one start, I saw some encouraging signs from Montgomery during his MLB debut yesterday.

DotF: Sheffield debuts, Abreu strikes out eleven in wins

Here are the day’s notes:

  • Brian Cashman discussed RHP James Kaprielian‘s injury following today’s game. The video is above. Cashman acknowledged surgery is on the table and Kaprielian will take a day or two to decide on the next step. It’s the same injury as last year, so the rehab essentially failed. Sucks.
  • Matt Eddy compiled a list of every player to begin the season on the minor league disabled list. There are no real surprises for the Yankees. RHP Austin DeCarr came back from Tommy John surgery last year, threw 39.1 innings, and is now hurt again. Not sure what’s wrong with him this time around, but a disabled list stint is ominous.

Triple-A Scranton (10-6 win over Lehigh Valley)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 4-5, 1 RBI, 1 K — off to an 11-for-20 (.550) start … he’s yet to play a position other than shortstop
  • LF Clint Frazier: 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 HBP
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 2 K
  • 1B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — oh Ref
  • RF Mark Payton: 3-5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
  • 2B Ruben Tejada: 1-2, 3 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 1 K — quietly off to a 5-for-12 (.417) start with six walks and one strikeout
  • RHP Brady Lail: 4.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 5/3 GB/FB — 53 of 83 pitches were strikes (64%) … Triple-A has never been kind to him
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 3.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 5/0 GB/FB — 28 of 39 pitches were strikes (72%) … nice bounceback outing after allowing six runs in one inning in his season debut
  • RHP Ernesto Frieri: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — six pitches, six strikes

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