Coming into the season, the Royals and the Yankees were viewed as polar opposites. One has been in a cellar for the better part of two decades, the other has been at the top of the game. One made a huge blockbuster trade this past offseason, the other kinda sat around and did nothing. One has a roster full of young talent, the other has lots of old guys. One team is viewed as an up and comer, the other a … down and goer?
They both, however, currently sit right near the top of their respective divisions. The Yankees actually lead the AL East by percentage points over the Orioles and Red Sox despite lagging in the run differential department. Now that they can again use their DH and won’t have to worry about any left-handed starters, let’s hope they can beef up that record and increase that division lead this weekend. Here is the lineup that will face right-hander Wade Davis…
- CF Brett Gardner
- 2B Robinson Cano
- LF Vernon Wells
- DH Travis Hafner
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- SS Jayson Nix
- 1B Lyle Overbay
- 3B Chris Nelson
- C Chris Stewart
And on the mound is the 2004 First Team High School All-American, Phil Hughes.
Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 8pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.
Eduardo Nunez Update: Nunez (ribcage) took some swings in the batting cage and felt fine, but he won’t hit on the field until tomorrow. I assume he’s available in an emergency like yesterday.
Joba Chamberlain Update: Joba (oblique) threw a 27-pitch bullpen session and came through with no issues. He’ll do the same on Sunday, and if that goes well, he’ll head out on a minor league rehab assignment.
The 2013 amateur draft will be held from June 6-8 this year, and between now and then I’m going to highlight some prospects individually rather than lump them together into larger posts.
Phil Ervin | OF
Ervin was a three-sport athlete who played for state championship football and baseball teams at Leroy High School in rural Alabama, about an hour north of Mobile. He went undrafted in 2010 because he tore a knee ligament his senior year and didn’t play much, which landed him at Samford. Ervin has hit .339/.456/.637 with eleven homers and 13 stolen bases this spring after putting up a .347/.421/.518 line with 14 homers and 23 steals during his first two years on campus.
Listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 lbs., Ervin is more of a safe college bat than a toolsy upside type. He has a real quick and compact right-handed swing that allows him to get the fat part of the bat on the ball and make hard contact consistently. Some excess pre-swing movement has hindered his ability to catch up to good fastballs. Ervin is just an okay runner who is likely to wind up moving to corner outfield spot down the line. He does some pitching for the Bulldogs and has a strong arm, and he fared well against high-end pitching in the Cape Cod League last summer. There are some more videos on YouTube.
Baseball America (subs. req’d) and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Ervin as the 19th and 50th best draft prospect in their latest rankings, respectively, so there’s a definite split of opinions. Kiley McDaniel recently reported the Yankees are “heavy” on Ervin late in the first round, when they have three picks (26th, 32nd, 33rd). Premium college performance guys are always highly valued but there isn’t a ton of upside here. Ervin is a righty hitting corner outfielder without any projection left in his small frame, and frankly that does not jibe with what Damon Oppenheimer has done with his early draft picks over the years.
4:58pm: Cano confirmed he didn’t have the x-ray yesterday, he had it in New York during the A’s series. Either way, he’s fine.
3:30pm: Well this kinda came out of nowhere. George King reports that x-rays on Robinson Cano’s right foot came back negative yesterday. He fouled a ball off the foot during the Athletics series, then re-aggravated the injury when he slipped covering first base against the Rockies. “The tests were negative,” he said. “Everything is good.”
Cano, 30, is hitting .311/.359/.585 (150 wRC+) with nine homers in 145 plate appearances this year, and so far he’s played every inning of every game in the field save for two innings at the end of one of those blowout wins over the Indians. Eduardo Nunez’s injury means the team can’t give Cano even a half-day off at DH right now. It goes without saying that losing Robbie for any length of time would have been very bad even if the rest of the team was perfectly healthy. · (12) ·
Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees are permanently shifting Dellin Betances to the bullpen. “This is the problem with the development clock,” said Brian Cashman. “If he had two or three more (minor league) options, we would keep working with him as a starter. But with him being out of options after this year, it is becoming more obvious that if he is going to help us, it is going to be out of the pen.”
Betances, 25, has pitched to a 6.00 ERA (3.91 FIP) with 9.38 K/9 (23.4 K%) and 6.00 BB/9 (15.0 BB%) in 24 innings for Triple-A Scranton this year. He still throws hard and his curveball gets swings and misses, but he’s made zero progress refining and repeating his delivery since signing for $1M as the team’s eighth round pick in 2006. Relievers have a much better chance of surviving with bad command than starters, so hopefully something clicks. Moving Betances to the bullpen is both completely unsurprising and probably a few weeks overdue. · (94) ·
Kauffman Stadium hasn’t been very kind to the Yankees over the last 12 months or so. Mariano Rivera suffered his season-ending knee injury in Kansas City last May, then Robinson Cano was booed basically off the field during the Homerun Derby in July. New York is 6-5 at Kauffman Stadium over the last three years.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Royals made some significant moves this past winter, and so far they are paying some very real dividends. Kansas City is 18-13 with a +18 run differential, landing them right behind the Tigers in the AL Central standings. They won last night to halt a three-game losing streak, and they’re just 5-5 in their last ten games.
At 4.3 runs per game with a team 93 wRC+, the Royals are above-average in terms of runs per game but below average in terms of results at the plate. That means they’ve either been good or lucky (or both) with their timing and sequencing. Manager Ned Yost’s team is perfectly healthy, at least on the position player side.
LF Alex Gordon (134 wRC+) has batted leadoff every game this year except for one, yesterday’s win over the Orioles. He batted third in that game, and I don’t know if that will be a regular thing going forward. Either way, he is their best hitter and all-around player. DH Billy Butler (109 wRC+) provides plenty of support, as has the surprisingly productive CF Lorenzo Cain (125 wRC+). 1B Eric Hosmer (95 wRC+) and 3B Mike Moustakas (81 wRC+) continue to be various levels of disappointing.
C Salvador Perez (81 wRC+) is off to a slow start, ditto SS Alcides Escobar (80 wRC+) and RF Jeff Francoeur (61 wRC+). 2B Chris Getz (42 wRC+) gets most of the playing time at second, though IF Miguel Tejada (128 wRC+ in limited time) and IF Elliott Johnson (91 wRC+) will see time at the position as well. The backup catcher is C George Kottaras (153 wRC+ in limited time), the backup outfielder OF Jarrod Dyson (84 wRC+). The Royals have hit the second fewest homers (22) but stolen the sixth most bases (24) in baseball this year, so they’re a speed team.
Starting Pitching Matchups
Friday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Wade Davis
The Yankees are going to face three pitchers they are pretty familiar with this series. Davis, 27, spent the last four years with the division rival Rays, but he was sent to Kansas City in this winter’s blockbuster trade. They moved him back to the rotation, and he’s pitching almost exactly like he did as a starter from 2010-2011 (4.75 ERA and 4.43 FIP) rather than as a reliever last year. The peripheral stats — 7.42 K/9 (17.9 K%), 3.86 BB/9 (9.3 BB%), and 39.8% grounders — are solid but not spectacular. Davis is a different animal as a starter, sitting in the upper-80s/low-90s with his three fastballs (two-seamer, four-seamer, cutter) rather than the mid-90s he averaged out of the bullpen. A mid-80s changeup and low-80s curveballs are his top offspeed offerings. The Yankees have seen Davis a few times over the years, and for the most part they’ve handled him well when he’s been in the rotation.
Saturday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Jamie Shields
After spending parts of seven years in Tampa Bay, the 31-year-old Shields took his workhorse act to the Royals in an offseason trade. He’s pitched very well so far (2.52 ERA and 2.62 FIP), with excellent strikeout (8.64 K/9 and 24.9 K%), walk (2.16 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%), and ground ball (47.3%) numbers. Shields remains a master at pitching backwards, using a low-80s curveball and upper-70s slider to set up three upper-80s/low-90s fastballs: two-seamer, four-seamer, and cutter. His put away pitch is that all-world changeup, which sits in the mid-80s and both drops off the table and fades away from lefties. The Yankees and Shields have plenty of history, so there are no surprises here. It’ll be just like old times.
Sunday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Ervin Santana
Santana, 30, went from leading the league in homers in 2012 to pitching like an ace in 2013. He owns a 2.36 ERA (3.06 FIP) with career-best walk (1.29 BB/9 and 3.6 BB%) and ground ball (44.8%) rates. His strikeout (7.50 K/9 and 20.8 K%) rate is his best in about five years as well. Santana hasn’t changed his pitch selection or added velocity, so he still sits in the low-90s with his four-seamer while relying on a low-80s slider much more than a mid-80s changeup. He has made some minor adjustments to his delivery though, which has supposedly boosted his command. We’ll get a look at it this weekend. Santana and the Yankees certainly know each other from those Yankees-Angels battles, so again, no surprise here.
The bullpen was expected to be the strength of Yost’s club, and sure enough they rank fifth in the game with a 3.33 reliever ERA (3.68 FIP). Closer RHP Greg Holland (1.57 FIP) has been awesome despite one or two rather spectacular meltdowns. Setup man RHP Kelvin Herrera (6.31 FIP) is killing my fantasy team by giving up homers left and right, so RHP Luke Hochevar (2.66 FIP) has been seeing some eight inning time.
Kansas City has two southpaws in specialist LHP Tim Collins (2.08 FIP) and multi-inning guy LHP Bruce Chen (1.61 FIP). Given how much the Yankees struggle against southpaws, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chen comes in and dominates for three or four innings at some point this series. RHP Aaron Crow (3.84 FIP) and RHP J.C. Gutierrez (4.48 FIP) fill the final two bullpen spots. The common theme here is power — outside of Chen, all of these guys live in the mid-to-high-90s with their fastballs. They all should be fresh for today, they haven’t work much recently.
The Yankees, meanwhile, are in a bit of a bullpen bind. Joe Girardi acknowledged yesterday that Mariano Rivera and David Robertson and both unlikely to be available today after throwing back-to-back days, and I assume the same is true for Preston Claiborne. That leaves Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan for the late innings tonight. Yikes. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for recent reliever usage details. As for a Royals blog worth your time, check out Royals Review.
Only three questions this week, but the answers are kinda long. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
John asks: With all the talk of the Phillies trading people like Cliff Lee at the deadline, do you think the Yankees would be interested? Right now next year’s rotation is CC Sabathia and every one else is a question mark.
I think that depends entirely on whether the team tries to go through with the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax limit in 2014 in beyond. If they want to give it a shot, forget about Lee. If they scrap the whole plan — as has been rumored already — then yeah, I do think they would be interested. Brian Cashman & Co. seem to be enamored with the lefty, first trying to trade for him then trying to sign him as a free agent.
Lee, 34, is not the same pitcher he was a few years ago, but he’s still outstanding. Easily one of the top 15-20 starters in the game. His strikeout (7.25 K/9 and 20.1 K%) and ground ball (39.3%) rates have both been trending downward since he rejoined the Phillies, though he still doesn’t walk anyone (1.27 BB/9 and 3.5 BB%). Lee will earn $25M this year and in each of the next two years, plus his $27.5M vesting option for 2016 includes a $12.5M (!) buyout. Since we’re roughly one-fifth of the way through this year, that’s approximately $82.5M left on his contract if the option doesn’t vest.
If the Phillies eat say, $20-30M of that $82.5M, I think it would take a three- or four-player package to acquire Lee, and at least two of those players would have to be studs. He may be expensive, but he’s also really good. You won’t get him for free just because. Would Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Brett Marshall, and a fourth guy be enough? Maybe. Would I do it? Sure, especially if the Yankees plan on scrapping the 2014 payroll plan. The upgrade from Ivan Nova/David Phelps to Lee is legitimately four or five wins over a full season, and that’s the difference between baseball and golf and October given the rest of the AL East.
Mike asks: What would it take to acquire Nick Hundley? Seems to be Joe Girardi type of catcher, someone who does everything okay but nothing great.
I’m not sure if the Girardi comparison is accurate, but Hundley is a solid all-around catcher. He’s rebounded well this year (109 wRC+) after hitting miserably a year ago (29 wRC+), and he’s been close to a league average hitter overall (95 wRC+) since getting the job full-time in 2009. His defensive reputation is strong and he’s thrown out close to 32% of attempted base-stealers the last three years.
Hundley, 29, is under contract for just $7M between this year and next, which works out pretty well for the Yankees. Yasmani Grandal is the catcher of the future in San Diego, which could land Hundley on the trade block. Interestingly enough, Hundley recently called out Grandal — “You want to talk about a guy who is unproven and had a good couple months on steroids, go ahead,” he said — which is kind of a jerk thing to do. Quality catchers are very hard to find, so two quality (but not elite) prospects seems like a reasonable asking price. Marshall and Ramon Flores for Hundley? I’d think hard about it.
Andrew asks: Can I get a scouting report (and your personal opinion) on Rob Refsnyder? The kid is absolutely mashing, and it’s been long enough this season to call it more than a fluke.
The Yankees gave Refsnyder a little less than $206k as their fifth round pick last summer, and all he’s done this year is mash. I’m talking .391/.490/.523 (~184 wRC+) in 153 plate appearances between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa prior to last night’s game. Here’s a snippet of what Baseball America (subs. req’d) had to say before the draft:
Scouts like his bat and think he could be an average hitter. He’s always hitting — he holds his high school record for the highest career batting average and is a career .341 hitter over his three years with the Wildcats. The problem scouts have is that Refsnyder just doesn’t profile as a corner outfielder in pro ball because he has a flat swing that’s geared more for doubles than home runs. He’s an average runner with an average arm, so scouts who like the bat are interested in getting Refsnyder to move back to second base, a position he played in high school.
After playing the outfield during his pro debut last year, Refsnyder has played second base this year and he’s very much a work in progress at the position. He committed 12 errors in 29 games prior to last night, and although errors are hardly the best way to measure defensive competence, it’s an indication he’s a little rough around the edges. That’s not surprising, he didn’t play the position at all in college. He’ll need some time to adjust.
I see Refsnyder as a (very) rich man’s Mitch Hilligoss. He can hit and he knows what he’s doing at the plate, but he doesn’t offer a ton of power and doesn’t have a set position. Maybe that means he winds up a very good utility man who can play second, third, and both corner outfield spots, who knows. Obviously they should give him to time to work on things at second. Refsnyder is mashing so far, but he also came from a big-time college program and should mash Single-A pitchers. I’ll get more excited about the performance if he maintains it at the Double-A level. His season to date has been very exciting though.
The Yankees have acquired infielder Alberto Gonzalez from the Cubs for cash or a player to be named later, the team announced. Yes, this is the same Alberto Gonzalez who spent some time with New York from 2007-2008. They originally acquired him in the Randy Johnson trade, then traded him to the Nationals for reliever Jhonny Nunez. Nunez then went to the White Sox as part of the package for Nick Swisher.
Anyway, the 30-year-old Gonzalez is not on the 40-man roster and will report to Triple-A Scranton. He’s a right-handed bat and a career .241/.279/.319 (59 wRC+) hitter in 989 big league plate appearances, but he also plays average or better defense at the three non-first base infield positions. In 873 career plate appearances at the Triple-A level, Gonzalez has hit .263/.312/.369. He isn’t much of a threat to steal bases either.
The Yankees need infield help following Derek Jeter‘s setback and Eduardo Nunez sudden proclivity for day-to-day injuries, plus there’s a chance David Adams will be called up to replace Ben Francisco when eligible next week. Gonzalez is nothing special, pretty much replacement level, but adding another legitimate middle infield to the Triple-A team was something the Yankees needed to do.
- RHP Charlie Short and RHP Taylor Garrison were promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa. RHP Adam Smith was called up from Extended Spring Training to fill one roster spot for the River Dogs.
- RHP Matt Daley and LHP Fred Lewis were promoted for High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton. To make room on the roster, LHP Josh Romanski was placed on the DL and LHP Shaeffer Hall was released.
- RHP Caleb Cotham was (finally) bumped up to Triple-A Scranton from Double-A Trenton. LHP Juan Cedeno was released to clear a roster spot.
Triple-A Scranton (2-1 loss to Indianapolis in 11 innings) they faced former Yankees first rounder Gerrit Cole
- 2B Corban Joseph: 1-4, 1 BB, 1 K
- RF Curtis Granderson: 1-3 — had a little more on him earlier
- CF-LF Zoilo Almonte: 0-5, 1 K
- LF-RF Ronnie Mustelier: 1-5, 1 R, 2 K, 1 SB
- 3B David Adams: 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K — only six more days until he can be officially recalled, which will hopefully mark the end of the Ben Francisco era
- RHP Caleb Cotham: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 43 of 79 pitches were strikes (54%) … solid Triple-A debut
- RHP Mark Montgomery: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 13 of 19 pitches were strikes (68%) … he was 89-90 with the fastball
- RHP Cody Eppley: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2/0 GB/FB – 16 of 26 pitches were strikes (62%), but the walk was intentional
The two hour and seven minute rain delay didn’t exactly mix well with my schedule, so I was only able to watch the first four innings of the Yankees 3-1 win over the Rockies on Thursday afternoon. CC Sabathia allowed just one hit in the four innings before the rain, striking out a pair and throwing a first pitch strike to 12 of 14 batters faced. He allowed a run in the first inning but retired the final 11 men he faced.
The Yankees scored a run in the first when Vernon Wells singled in Jayson Nix, and three innings later Chris Stewart plated Chris Nelson with a sacrifice fly. Robinson Cano hit a solo homer for the third run, which was also his 1,501st career hit — an infield single in the third inning was career knock number 1,500th hit of his career. He is one of five Yankees — Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, Lou Gehrig, and Don Mattingly are the others — who recorded his 1,500th career hit before their 31st birthday according to Katie Sharp. That’s some company.
Five relievers combined to pitch five shutout innings following the rain. The tying run seemed to be on-base at all times in those five innings, but Adam Warren (1.2 innings), Boone Logan (0.1 innings), Preston Claiborne (0.2 innings), David Robertson (1.1 innings), and Mariano Rivera (one inning) closed it out. Cano and Wells had two hits apiece, the rest of the team two hits total. This was the first time a visiting team scored six total runs in a series at Coors Field and took two of three. It was the fourth time the Rockies were held to two runs or fewer in all three games of a home series. There definitely was a lot less offense than I expected this week.
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some other stats, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees are off to Kansas City for a three-game weekend set against the Royals. Phil Hughes and Wade Davis will open the series on Friday night, which is fitting since both right-handers are former top prospects who have failed to live up to their full potential despite being competent big leaguers.