Thoughts on MLB.com’s farm system rankings and top 30 Yankees prospects

Tate. (Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

Last week the crew at MLB.com rolled out their annual team top 30 prospects lists. They also unveiled their farm system rankings, and again the Yankees came in at No. 2, behind the Braves. All four major scouting publications (MLB.com. Keith Law, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus) had the Braves and Yankees ranked first and second in their farm system rankings, respectively.

Anyway, I’m not going to list MLB.com’s entire top 30 Yankees prospect list here. Go click the link. As always, the whole thing is free. Scouting reports, videos, the whole nine. Here are the guys the Yankees had on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list instead:

3. SS Gleyber Torres
24. OF Clint Frazier
37. OF Blake Rutherford
45. OF Aaron Judge
47. SS Jorge Mateo
58. RHP James Kaprielian
79. LHP Justus Sheffield

Those seven are the top seven prospects in the top 30 list, in that order, because duh. I always think it’s kinda funny when the prospects are in a different order on the individual team list than the overall top 100 list. Anyway, here is my top 30 prospects list, and here are some thoughts on MLB.com’s top 30 list.

1. The Yankees will have the No. 1 system very soon. On day two of the regular season, basically. SS Dansby Swanson, Atlanta’s top prospect, is literally one at-bat short of exhausting his rookie status. So as soon as he plays on Opening Day, he’ll lose his prospect status, and the farm system rankings will be adjusted accordingly. I assume graduating Swanson, one of the two or three best prospects in the world, will be enough to knock the Braves under the Yankees on the farm system rankings. I mean, who cares, the rankings don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but it’s always cool to the see the Yankees at the top. That’ll happen very soon.

2. The Yankees let Tate be himself. Two years ago RHP Dillon Tate was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft. He then struggled so much in the first half of the 2016 season that the Rangers were willing to trade him (and two others!) for rental Carlos Beltran at the deadline. As it turns out, Texas tried to tweak Tate’s mechanics last year. “(Tate) had trouble incorporating some delivery changes the Rangers wanted him to make, with his fastball dropping into the upper 80s and his slider flattening out. After the trade, the Yankees told him to use whatever mechanics made him feel comfortable,” said the write-up. I’m not sure whether this is still the case under relatively new farm system head Gary Denbo, but once upon a time the Yankees had a policy where they’d give their top prospects a year in pro ball before making any major changes to their delivery, swing, whatever. They never would have changed Tate’s mechanics so soon after making him the fourth overall pick. The Rangers did and his stock dropped, and now the Yankees may benefit.

3. Refsnyder 2.0 is in the farm system. I had one 2016 draft pick in my top 30 list: first rounder OF Blake Rutherford. MLB.com has four in their top 30, including 2B Nick Solak. Last year’s second rounder hit .321/.412/.421 (155 wRC+) with nearly as many walks (10.8%) as strikeouts (14.0%) in 64 games with Short Season Staten Island following a productive three-year career at Louisville. MLB.com’s scouting report makes Solak sound like a Rob Refsnyder clone:

Solak has a long track record of hitting and getting on base. His right-handed swing is geared for stroking line drives from gap to gap, an approach that results in consistent contact but doesn’t provide much power … After DHing as a freshman and playing mostly the outfield corners as a sophomore, Solak shifted to second base last spring. He has the quickness and reliable hands for the position, though he doesn’t have the smoothest actions and some scouts believe he’s destined for center field.

Refsnyder played the outfield in college and moved to second base in pro ball. Solak made the transition to second during his junior year in college. Otherwise the two are pretty damn similar, and that’s not a bad thing, even with Refsnyder on the trade block. As a bat control guy with three years of experience at a major college program, Solak should rake in Single-A ball. He’s a good prospect, but I get the feeling he’s going to put up huge numbers this year and get overrated because of it, which is basically what happened with Refsnyder.

4. Widener is moving into the rotation. One of the four 2016 draftees to make the top 30 is RHP Taylor Widener, which surprised me. He was the club’s 12th round pick out of South Carolina, and his pro debut numbers were silly: 0.42 ERA (1.41 FIP) with 43.9% strikeouts and 4.7% walks in 42.2 innings. Widener was mostly a reliever in college, and the MLB.com’s scouting report says the Yankees are going to stick him in the rotation full-time. “Widener picked up velocity in his introduction to pro ball, as his fastball soared from 90-93 mph to 93-97. His mid-80s slider can be a wipeout pitch at times but lacks consistency. To prepare him for starting, the Yankees had him focus on refining his work-in-progress changeup during instructional league,” they wrote. (Widener is yet another pitching prospect who gained velocity in New York’s system.) The Yankees have a history of trying college relievers in the rotation, most notably Chance Adams, and it seems Widener is next. Turning Widener, a 12th round pick, into a legitimate starting pitcher prospect would be a hell of a thing.

5. McKinney didn’t make the top 30. OF Billy McKinney, who has impressed this spring, did not make MLB.com’s top 30 list. That’s a pretty good reminder how much his prospect stock dropped last year. McKinney’s .545/.643/1.371 batting line looks great, and gosh his swing sure is pretty, but eleven at-bats in Spring Training does erase his underwhelming .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) line in 130 Double-A games last year. Hopefully McKinney will regain some prospect stock this year. That would be cool. I ranked him as the No. 22 prospect in the system, but I don’t think it’s completely crazy to leave him out of the top 30. He needs to rebuild his value and this spring is a strong start, if nothing else.

6. The talent extends beyond the top 30. MLB.com prospect guru Jim Callis has maintained the Yankees have baseball’s deepest farm system since the trade deadline last year, and on Twitter he said he “easily could have written up 45 prospects” for the top 30. He also said 3B Dermis Garcia was in the 31-35 range and IF Thairo Estrada was among the final cuts too. “Type of guy to steal in trade,” said Callis about Estrada. Thairo is a personal fave — he smacked homers in back-to-back games earlier this spring when he was up from minor league camp — but it’s hard to see where he fits going forward because the Yankees are so loaded at shortstop. Estrada will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so decision time is coming. Trade? Add him to the 40-man roster? Roll the dice in the Rule 5 Draft? The Yankees are going to have to do something with Thairo (and several others) this year.

A Couple of Middle Infielders in Their Prime [2017 Season Preview]

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

There seems to be a strong consensus that 2016 was a breakout season for Didi Gregorius, and something between a disappointment and a shrug of the shoulders for Starlin Castro. This is unsurprising, considering that the former set career highs (nearly) across the board, whereas the latter failed to have the change of scenery bounceback that many expected – but is it fair? Consider their offensive production last year:

castro-gregorius-fg
(FanGraphs)

Their numbers were virtually indistinguishable. Gregorius struck out significantly less, to be sure, but it’d be difficult to find two more comparable players otherwise (much less a duo that mans the same middle infield). It feels like cognitive dissonance to an extent.

The comparison shouldn’t end there, of course, as Gregorius was the superior base-runner, adding between four and eight extra runs depending on your metric of choice, and he played the more difficult position (both were subpar defenders by most measures, though the eye and reputation tests tell another story entirely for Gregorius). As a result of these factors, Gregorius had a comfortable lead in both fWAR (2.7 to 1.1) and bWAR (2.2 to 1.2). He was undoubtedly the better player, but the similarities remain striking.

With Gleyber Torres setting the world ablaze, Tyler Wade in Triple-A, and Jorge Mateo still earning some prospect love, the Yankees are certain to be watching the performances of Castro and Gregorius closely. And if they see an opportunity to improve the team with a cheaper, internal option, they might just take it.

So what should be expected of the Yankees current double play combination in 2017?

Starlin Castro

The only real constant in Castro’s career to-date has been his inconsistency. Plotting his year-to-year wRC+ results in a fairly wicked looking roller coaster:

castro-wrc

Put that all together and you have a roughly league-average hitter, with a 162 game average of .280/.318/.408 (96 wRC+) and 13 HR. Both ZiPS (.272/.305/.419 with 18 HR) and PECOTA (.268/.308/.415 with 16 HR) project more of the same in 2017, which makes sense at this point in his career. Castro is still quite young, as he won’t be 27 until March 24, but he has 4374 Major League plate appearances under his belt, and he has regressed more so than anything else of late.

Just last week, however, Mike dug into a potential breakout season for Castro, discussing the reasons for optimism, which essentially boil down to past success, harder (and better) contact, greater comfort at the keystone, and his age. In the end, Mike thinks that a .300/.340/.475 line is within the realm of possibility; it’s tough to disagree, given that he hit .307/.341/.432 in 2011 and .292/.339/.438 in 2014, and just showcased the best power of his career last year. I wouldn’t expect that level of production – but it wouldn’t shock me, either.

This does feel like a big year for Castro, at least insofar as his pinstriped career is concerned. He’s no longer cheap, as he’ll earn an average of just under $11 MM over the next three years, but he’s far from untradeable, given his age and ability to play an up-the-middle position. Another middling season might result in him playing elsewhere in 2018, as it’s no secret that he is (or was) available in trade talks this off-season.

Didi Gregorius

Projecting Gregorius’ 2017 is an incredibly difficult task, as the shape of his production has changed dramatically over his four full-ish seasons. Keeping in mind that his 2012 season was a 21 PA cup of coffee, take a look at the following:

didi-plate-discipline

In 2013 – his first full-ish season – Gregorius walked in 9.2% of his plate appearances, which was comfortably above the league-average walk rate of 7.9%. He swung a bit more often than the average player by about 4 percentage points, but his strikeout rate was better than average and his 91 wRC+ as a 23-year-old shortstop was more than acceptable.

Fast forward to the end of 2016, and Gregorius looked like a completely different player. His 3.2% walk rate was 5 percentage points below average, his 13.7% strikeout rate was 7.4 percentage points above average, and he swung at 55.4% of pitches thrown his way (the highest among all qualified shortstops, and tied for 6th in the Majors). His gradually developed aggression resulted in the best season of his career.

Much of the discussion about Gregorius’ 2017 revolved around his 20 home runs, which nearly matched his total of 22 in 1302 PA from 2012 through 2015. The most glaring improvement last season, however, came against LHP. Heading into 2016, the Dutch shortstop was a career .214/.282/.272 hitter (52 wRC+) against southpaws, and it seemed as though he may have to be platooned. There were signs of life in 2015, as a 74 wRC+ might just be playable with his defense, but it was still far less than ideal.

And then he hit .324/.361/.473 (126 wRC+) against LHP last year, striking out in just 7.5% of those plate appearances. He also walked in just 2.5% of that 161 PA sample size, posting an uncharacteristic .331 BABIP along the way. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a player to solve same-handed pitchers as he enters his prime, but we need more evidence to prove that he did just that.

Neither ZiPS (.262/.308/.404, 15 HR) nor PECOTA (.259/.309/.400, 14 HR) sees Gregorius repeating his 2016, though both do see him sustaining a bit of his power surge. At the same time, though, projections do not always take into account tangibles changes in approach over a short-term, which may well be the case with the Yankees shortstop.

What about their defense?

In an ideal world, the Yankees middle infield defense would be an embarrassment of riches. Castro was somewhere between a below-average and fringe-average defensive shortstop, and one would expect his tools to play-up as he slides down the defensive spectrum. And Gregorius was a legitimate prospect largely due to his potential Gold Glove defense, and his reputation is still that of a plus defender. If only it were that simple.

By Defensive Runs Saved and UZR/150, 2016 was Castro’s worst defensive season. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as he had all of 258 innings at second prior to the 2016 calendar year, but there was some sense that his defense backslid as the year wore on. His acclimation to the Bronx and the position may well lead to a sizable step forward in defensive value this year, and that might just be the most important aspect in reviving his overall stock.

And, as I inferred earlier, the advanced metrics cast Gregorius as a middling, if inconsistent defender. He was worth 5 DRS and 7.9 UZR/150 in 2015, but was below-average in both in his other three full-ish seasons. DRS pegged Gregorius as a -9 defender last season, meaning he nearly cost the team a win relative to the position. The truth may well be that he’s merely average, with his smooth actions and strong arm masking his inadequacies to the naked eye. Given the Yankees dedication to defense, you can be sure that they’re watching him closely.


With the exception of the rookies and comparably inexperienced players, I’m not sure that there are two more difficult Yankees to project – and Castro and Gregorius feel somewhat less certain than a few of those guys, as well. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that Castro improves a bit overall (owing largely to improvements on defense), Gregorius produces a similar total package (perhaps with a bit less power and a bit more glove) … and we’re regularly reminded that Torres is tearing it up in the minors.

Thoughts two weeks into the Grapefruit League season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Okay, fine, the Grapefruit League season isn’t exactly two weeks old, but it’s close. Thirteen days. So sue me. The Yankees continue their exhibition schedule today with a World Baseball Classic tune-up game against Team Canada. Luis Severino lines up to start. That game, unfortunately, will not be televised. Lame! Anyway, I have a few thoughts on things and stuff, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Speaking of Severino, a few weeks ago we learned he’s changed his mechanics ever so slightly in an effort to improve the quality of his changeup. He now breaks his hands closer to his body. Nothing major. Severino says it helps with his changeup, and hey, whatever works, right? Anyway, let’s see what this actually looks like, shall we? Here is 2016 Severino on the left and 2017 Severino on the right:

2016-severino-vs-2017-severino

The GIF is synced up on the moment Severino begins his delivery, meaning when he moves his left foot. The difference with his hands is pretty easy to see. Last year Severino broke his hands out in front of his chest. This year they’re breaking down by his waist. How does that help his changeup? I have no idea. Interestingly enough, when he starts his delivery, Severino isn’t taking as big a step toward first base with his left foot, which is why he’s releasing the ball a split second earlier this year (GIF on the right) than last year (GIF on the left). His tempo this year looks better. That doesn’t mean he’ll perform better, of course, but one of the knocks on Severino throughout his career has been his less than picturesque delivery. Now it looks a little more streamlined and less herky jerky. Could be something, could be nothing.

2. Spring Training pitcher usage can give you a glimpse into the team’s internal depth chart, especially with prospects, and Jordan Montgomery has gotten much more run than fellow minor league starters Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, Daniel Camarena, Dietrich Enns, Brady Lail, and Yefrey Ramirez this spring. Montgomery has thrown multiple innings on an every fifth day schedule, and each time he’s been the first guy out of the bullpen following the projected big leaguers. From the outside looking in, Montgomery appeared to be the club’s most big league ready pitching prospect coming into the spring, and his usage during Grapefruit League play all but confirms the Yankees see him that way. That doesn’t mean he can sneak up and win the fifth starter’s job or anything, but he is at the front of the line for a call-up whenever another starter is inevitably needed. The Yankees don’t seem to consider Adams, Camarena, et al quite as ready to help at the MLB level based on their sporadic usage this spring. Montgomery has been more of a priority. (I wonder how often Ronald Herrera would have pitched this spring had he not come down with shoulder inflammation.)

3. I have to think Matt Holliday will play left field and first base in a game at some point. Even if the Yankees plan to use him as a designated hitter and a designated hitter only, it would be wise to give him some action at those positions this spring, just in case. Holliday has played both positions before — he played ten games at first last season, his only experience at the position — but if he’s needed in the field during the regular season, even in an emergency, you don’t want it to be the first time he sees a ball hit at him all year. A tune-up appearance or two at first and in left is in the cards, I imagine. The real question is whether the Yankees will play Chris Carter in left at some point this spring. He’s played 77 career games out there, most in 2013 and none since 2014. It would be another way to get him into the lineup though. I mean, it’s hard to think of a reason not to put Carter in left field for a Grapefruit League game or two. Might as well try it and see what happens. But, if the Yankees don’t do it, we’ll know they have zero plans to put him in the outfield this year. First base and designated hitter only.

4. I don’t remember where I heard this — it’s possible it was something discussed during a game broadcast and not written in an article — but Johnny Barbato is working on a splitter this spring. He used a splitter earlier in his career, before the Padres moved him to the bullpen full-time, and now he’s trying to get it back. Barbato has good velocity on his fastball and he throws both a slider and a curveball, which we saw last year. Now he’s working on a fourth pitch, the splitter. And he’s worked multiple innings in each of his Grapefruit League appearances. Hmmm. Spring Training is the time of year when pitchers work on random pitches, so chances are this splitter business goes nowhere. Still, the Yankees went into last year planning to try Nick Rumbelow and Tyler Webb as starters — Rumbelow blew out his elbow in April while Webb did make some starts and extended relief appearances with Triple-A Scranton — and I wonder if they might try to same with Barbato. What’s the worst that could happen? He gets smacked around as a starter with the RailRiders and they move him back into a short relief role? Kinda funny how Barbato went from “I wonder if they’ll drop him from the 40-man roster to make room for Carter” to “wait are they going to try him a starter?” in, like, two weeks.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

5. I’m one of those weirdos who enjoys the World Baseball Classic — it seems folks hate the WBC, then the games start and they love it — because the players are really into it and the games are often intense. The Israel vs. South Korea game Monday was as entertaining as any postseason game last year. The WBC is also a chance to watch players we normally don’t get to see, either because they play in the minors or overseas. (Israel’s starting shortstop, Rockies farmhand Scotty Burcham, spent all of last season in the Low-A South Atlantic League.) Pools A and B have started in South Korea and Japan, respectively, so the game times haven’t been viewer friendly, but Pools C (Miami) and D (Mexico) start later this week. (Here’s the full schedule.) Marlins Park is completely sold out for Saturday’s game between Team USA and the Dominican Republic. That’s going to be awesome. So I guess that was the long way of saying I am pro-WBC and am glad the tournament has started. Yay baseball.

6. Great work by MLB ensuring the topic of conversation will be “how do we fix baseball?” when the new season begins in a few weeks. All this talk about pace of play and weird extra innings rules and all that has everyone discussing ways to speed things up and make the game more enjoyable for casual fans. Now everyone thinks baseball is broken. It’s not! Baseball is great. Are there ways it could be better? Of course. There’s always room for improvement and baseball is no exception. It’s just that now, instead of talking about the excitement of a new season and baseball being loaded with all these insanely talented young players, everyone is talking about fixing the game. Not great, Bob. Going to be tough to cultivate new young fans, something MLB is desperately trying to do, when everyone is perpetuating the myth baseball is broken. And this is all on MLB and the MLBPA too. They’ve made all these rule changes front and center.

7. Have you noticed just about all the Yankees commercials this spring are focused on the kids? Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge have been getting the face time, not big name veterans like Aroldis Chapman, CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka. Even Clint Frazier has been in some promo videos. It’s neat to see and also a bit of a shock to the system. It’s been nothing but Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez and all those dudes the last two decades. The Yankees are all-in on this youth movement and that even extends to their advertising. They’re selling the kids, not the veterans. The times, they’re a changin’.

Open Thread: March 7th Camp Notes

The Yankees walked off with a win over the Rays today thanks to a three-run rally in the tenth inning. How about that? Tyler Wade drove in the winning run with a ground ball booted by the shortstop. Ah, Spring Training. Rashad Crawford would have walked it off as the previous batter had the ball not hopped over the wall for a ground rule double, forcing the runner from first to stop at third. Anyway, two hits for Dustin Fowler and one each for Gary Sanchez, Chris Carter, Kyle Higashioka, among others. Higgy went deep.

CC Sabathia made his first spring start and looked exactly how you’d expect a 17-year veteran to look in his first spring start. Just going through the motions and getting his work in. He tossed two scoreless. Adam Warren allowed a set of back-to-back homers in his three innings. Chasen Shreve allowed a dinger too. Not the most interesting day on the mound. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here’s the rest of the day’s news:

Here is the open thread for the evening. If you missed it earlier, this afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET. MLB Network is showing a different Spring Training game on tape delay at 7pm ET, then will have WBC games live at 10pm ET (Cuba vs. China) and 5am ET (Japan vs. Australia). All three local hockey teams are playing tonight as well. Talk about all that stuff and more right here, just not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.

Heyman: Yankees, Gary Sanchez agree to contract for 2017, avoid renewal

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Gary Sanchez have agreed to a contract for the 2017 season. Financial terms are unknown, though Heyman says the two sides agreed to a deal and the Yankees didn’t renew their budding star. As a pre-arbitration-eligible player, Sanchez’s salary will be something close to the $535,000 minimum salary.

As you may remember, the Yankees were unable to come to a contract agreement with Dellin Betances prior to the 2016 season, his final season as a pre-arbitration-eligible player, so they renewed him at the league minimum. Betances felt the team’s offer was too low, so they renewed him, which is their right. Dellin knew what would happen.

Who knows whether the contract renewal created bad blood between Betances and the Yankees, but the fact the two sides went to an arbitration hearing a few weeks ago sure makes it seem like that’s the case. (Randy Levine didn’t help matters either.) Thankfully, the Yankees were able to avoid similar animosity with Sanchez this year.

Sanchez, 24, hit .299/.376/.657 (171 wRC+) with 20 homers in 53 games last season (lol), his first extended taste of the big leagues. Many teams, including the Yankees, have a sliding salary scale for pre-arbitration-eligible players based on service time, with escalators for All-Star Games and major awards, things like that.

Because he will enter 2017 with only 86 days of service time, the Yankees still have all six years of contractual control over Sanchez. He won’t even qualify as a Super Two player. Sanchez will make something close to the league minimum from 2017-19 before making decent bucks through arbitration from 2020-22.

It’s unclear whether the Yankees have reached contract agreements with their other pre-arbitration-eligible players. That stuff usually isn’t widely reported. The Yankees have 22 pre-arbitration-eligible players on the 40-man roster, including Luis Severino, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge, and Ronald Torreyes.

The Start of a New Era at First Base [2017 Season Preview]

#GREGBIRD (Presswire)
#GREGBIRD (Presswire)

For the most part, the Yankees have had four primary first basemen over the last 33 years. Sure, there’s been an Andy Phillips here and a Lyle Overbay there, but generally speaking Don Mattingly (1983-95), Tino Martinez (1996-2001), Jason Giambi (2002-08), and Mark Teixeira (2009-16) have manned first base over the last three-plus decades. Not a bad foursome, eh?

Teixeira retired following last season — at this time last year we were talking about possibly bringing him back on the heels of his big 2015 season (oy) — and, with any luck, the Yankees already have their first baseman for the next six, seven, eight, however many years. Shoulder surgery sabotaged Greg Bird‘s first full big league season in 2016, but he’s healthy now and ready to take over the position. First base is going to be a fascinating position in 2017.

How is Bird’s shoulder?

Better than ever, by all accounts. Bird had surgery last February and he was healthy enough to play in the Arizona Fall League last year. Healthy enough to hit, anyway. He didn’t play first base because doctors hadn’t yet cleared him to throw.

This spring Bird is a full go. Hitting, throwing, the whole nine. And any concerns about the shoulder surgery sapping his power have been assuaged by some long home runs. Bird has already launched three homers in Grapefruit League play — he also hit a double off the wall in another game that would have left the park with a favorable wind gust — and they weren’t cheapies. He went the opposite way over the faux Green Monster once, plus he did this:

Forget about the stats for a moment. Hitting home runs against guys like Kyle Kendrick and Joe Gunkel in February and March doesn’t tell us Bird is ready to take on the AL East pitching titans like Chris Sale and Chris Archer. More important than the results are the swing. It’s free and easy, and the strength is there.

Players like Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp had the same surgery as Bird and it took months for them regain their old power stroke. One thing Bird and the Yankees had going for them is the timing. He had surgery in February and was going to miss the regular season no matter what, so he was able to rehab at his own pace. Gonzalez and Kemp had their surgeries in October, and raced against the clock to be ready for Opening Day.

“In early 2015, I was trying to hit the way I hit and I couldn’t. I’m a big feel guy and I couldn’t feel what I wanted to feel. I tried different bats and different things,” said Bird to Kevin Kernan over the weekend. “But four or five days ago, I got in the cage and got the work in that I wanted to get in and the feel was back. I found what I was looking for so long. The shoulder is stable and strong and the feel in my swing is back. It was just so cool to me, I don’t know what else to say, it’s really awesome to feel that way again.”

The early returns on the health and strength of Bird’s shoulder are overwhelmingly positive. He doesn’t look lost at the plate either. I thought maybe it would take him a few weeks to get back into the swing of things against live pitching, but nope. For Bird to replace Teixeira and take over as the next long-term first baseman, his shoulder needs to be sound, and by all accounts, it is right now. It’s been nothing but good news on that front.

Bird will bring a much needed element to the offense.

Even with a bum shoulder, Bird managed to hit .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven homers in 46 games against the best pitching he’d ever faced two years ago, in his big league debut. He was supposed to come up and spell Teixeira at first base and Alex Rodriguez at designated hitter a few times a week, but Teixeira’s fractured shin pushed Bird into everyday duty and he thrived. It was: fun.

The book on Bird coming up through the minors touted him as a smart and disciplined hitter with a knack for hard contact and fly balls, and an approach befitting of a ten-year veteran. Bird did exactly what you’d expect a hitter with that skill set to do in the minors: he punished all those unpolished pitchers. He walked in 14.9% of his career minor league plate appearances and his worst full season performance was a .277/.356/.469 (139 wRC+) batting line between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015, when his shoulder was achy.

Last season the Yankees ranked 19th among the 30 teams in walk rate (7.8%) and 25th in OBP (.314), and a big part of that was Teixeira falling off a cliff. He went from .255/.357/.548 (143 wRC+) in 2015 to .204/.292/.362 (76 wRC+) in 2016. Yeesh. Bird, if nothing else, has shown he will work deep counts and take his walks. Hits are better than walks, but walks are better than outs, and the Yankees didn’t draw enough of them last year. Bird will help change that.

Carter is going to play more than you may think.

Little CC. (Presswire)
The other CC. (Presswire)

Oh yeah, the Yankees have Chris Carter too. He was a late offseason signing and Tyler Austin‘s fluke foot injury has already solved the “but where does he fit???” question. Carter has some left field experience but eh, I’m not sure sticking him out in spacious left field at Yankee Stadium is a good idea, even for a few innings. The fact he hasn’t played left field at all in Spring Training suggests the Yankees see him as a first baseman and designated hitter only.

Even with Austin out, finding playing time for Carter seems like it might be difficult, but I don’t think it will be. He’s going to end up playing more than everyone expects, I think. Isn’t that usually how it works? I see three ways to get Carter into the lineup fairly regularly.

1. At first base against lefties. At least against the tough ones, and there are a few of them in the AL East. Sale, David Price, Francisco Liriano, Blake Snell, so on and so forth. Bird hit .238/.347/.405 (111 wRC+) in a limited sample against southpaws during his big league cameo in 2015, and from 2014-15 in the minors, he hit .228/.320/.397 against lefties. That’s not too good for a bat first player.

Carter, meanwhile, authored a .224/.338/.537 (126 wRC+) slash line against lefties last year. It’s .221/.337/.459 (118 wRC+) for his career. Yes, at some point the Yankees will have to let Bird sink or swim against lefties, but I’m not sure the first year following major shoulder is the time to do it. Bird against righties and Carter against lefties would make a fine first base platoon in 2017. Lots of dingers, lots of walks. (Carter had an 11.8% walk rate last year. It’s 11.6% in his career.)

2. Every so often against righties. Again, Bird is coming back from major shoulder surgery, and you can be sure the Yankees won’t push him too hard. They’ll give him regular rest to keep that shoulder healthy and strong, which means Carter will see occasional starts even against righties. The Yankees readily admit this is a transition year, and part of that is keeping the big picture in mind. Taking it easy on Bird following surgery will be a priority.

3. Every so often at DH too. Matt Holliday turned 37 in January, and when the Yankees signed him, part of the thinking was keeping him out of the outfield and off his feet will help him remain productive deeper into the season. Less wear and tear and all that. The Yankees gave A-Rod fairly regular days off at DH even when he was hitting in 2015. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them handle Holliday the same way. (Keep in mind this could mean Bird at DH and Carter at first some days.)

Carter led the National League with 41 homers last season. Yeah, he strikes out a bunch, but 40-homer pop doesn’t grow on trees. Carter is going to play and play somewhat frequently. Can he adjust to being a part-time guy? Hopefully. He’s done it before. (Carter and Brandon Moss platooned at first base with the A’s for a while.) Given all the AL East lefties and the fact Bird (shoulder) and Holliday (age) figure to get more rest than most players, there are some pretty clear ways to get Carter at-bats.

The defense is going to take a hit. A big one.

We’ve been spoiled these last eight years. Teixeira was as good as anyone defensively at first base, even later in his career after the injuries set in. Bird and Carter are … not as good Teixeira. Not close. Carter is pretty rough in the field and has been his entire career. His best position is batter’s box. Bird is okay around the bag. He’ll make a great scoop from time to time, but that’s about it.

With any luck, the offensive upgrade going from 2016 Teixeira to 2017 Bird/Carter should more than make up for the defensive downgrade. That’s the plan, anyway. First base defense is one of those things you never fully appreciate until you don’t have it. It was easy to take Teixeira for granted over there. Bird and Carter won’t save their fellow infielders as many errors, and that means more pitches for the pitching staff. Their bats have to make up for it.

* * *

The Yankees signed Carter because his market cratered and the price was too good to ignore. Getting a potential 40-homer bat for $3.5M (!) is tough to pass up, especially when you play in the DH league. Bird is still very clearly the first baseman of the future, and it’ll be important for the Yankees to manage him and his surgically repaired shoulder this year. Carter will help them do that. Most importantly, these two figure to sock a bunch of dingers, and gosh do I love dingers.

Spring Training Game Thread: Sabathia’s First Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

We’ve officially entered the dog days of Spring Training. Everyone is just kinda going through the motions and waiting for the regular season to begin. Don’t get me wrong, the games are still fun to watch — how could they not be with this farm system? — but I’m ready for some meaningful baseball. I guess I’ll enjoy the stress-free baseball while I can.

CC Sabathia is making his first Grapefruit League start this afternoon. The Yankees have been taking a bit slow with Sabathia this spring following his relatively minor knee surgery back in October. There’s no reason to push it this time of year. Did you know this will be Sabathia’s 17th big league season? Crazy. He made three starts against the dynasty era Yankees in the span of the month during his rookie season in 2001, and allowed 15 runs in 9.2 total innings. He’s come a long way, eh? Here is the lineup the Rays sent up from Port Charlotte, and here are the players the Yankees will use today:

  1. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 1B Chris Carter
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. SS Gleyber Torres
  7. LF Clint Frazier
  8. 3B Miguel Andujar
  9. CF Dustin Fowler
    LHP CC Sabathia

Available Pitchers: RHP Adam Warren, LHP Chasen Shreve, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Jonathan Holder, RHP Domingo German, and LHP Jason Gurka are all scheduled to pitch today. RHP Johnny Barbato, LHP Nestor Cortes, RHP Brady Lail, and RHP Eric Ruth are the extra arms. Cortes and Ruth are up from minor league camp for the day.

Available Positions: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Francisco Diaz, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Ruben Tejada, 3B Tyler Wade, LF Pete Kozma, CF Rashad Crawford, RF Billy McKinney, and DH Greg Bird are coming off the bench later in the game. C Jorge Saez, SS Jorge Mateo, OF Zack Zehner, and UTIL Wilkin Castillo are also available. Crawford and Zehner are up from minor league camp.

It is cloudy yet warm in Tampa today. Not picturesque baseball weather, but it’ll do. Today’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET and you can watch on YES. There’s also MLB.tv and the FOX Sports Go app. Enjoy the game.