2015 Draft: Chris Betts

Chris Betts | C

Background
The 18-year-old Betts attends Wilson High School in Long Beach, which has long been a baseball hotbed, producing 14 big leaguers including one Hall of Famer (Bob Lemon) and one borderline Hall of Famer (Bobby Grich). Betts has consistently excelled against top prep competition on the showcase circuit. He’s committed to Tennessee.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 lbs., Betts is a bat-first catcher with a ton of left-handed power, arguably the most in the draft. Certainly the most among high schoolers. His setup at the plate is a little unorthodox — he brings his back elbow up pretty high before swinging — but the bat speed and plate coverage are there. Betts knows the strike zone and is an all-around solid hitter. His defense behind the plate lags but isn’t disastrous. His arm is above-average and he moves around well behind the plate. Betts is not a lock to stick at catcher long-term but it’s not out of the question either. He has some tools and needs reps more than anything. If he has to move to first, the bat will play.

Miscellany
Keith Law (subs. req’d), MLB.com, and Baseball America ranked Betts as the 21st, 21st, and 28th best prospect in the draft class in their most recent rankings, respectively. Baseball America said the Yankees were in on Betts in their latest mock draft, for what it’s worth. The Yankees like to hoard catchers as much as any team and they also have a thing for lefty power hitters, so Betts is right in their wheelhouse. They select 16th and 30th this year, and since Betts is one of the two or three best catcher prospects in the draft class, they’d probably have to grab him 16th. Catchers who look like they will hit are hot commodities come draft day.

Lack of production from up-the-middle positions holding the Yankees back

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Back in the day, the late-1990s dynasty was built on excellent production from the up-the-middle positions. The Yankees were getting high-end production from Jorge Posada at catcher, Derek Jeter at short, and Bernie Williams in center. Chuck Knoblauch never did put up huge numbers with the Yankees like he did with the Twins, but he still had a .377 OBP as the starting second baseman from 1998-99.

Those four positions are the hardest to fill in baseball, historically. Third base is tough too, but not as tough. Quality first basemen and corner outfielders are plentiful. Catchers, middle infielders, and center fielders are not, which is why teams are more willing to sacrifice offense for defense at those positions. It’s really hard to find someone who can hit there, so at least get someone who will catch the ball.

Right now, the Yankees have too many defense-first — in some cases, defense-only — players at the four up-the-middle positions. Jacoby Ellsbury in center field is the team’s only up-the-middle player who has been solidly above-average on both sides of the ball so far this season. Brian McCann, Stephen Drew, and Didi Gregorius are providing defense but very little offense, especially the last two.

Position NYY Player NYY AVG/OBP/SLG Average MLB AVG/OBP/SLG
C McCann  .228/.279/.382 (78 wRC+) .235/.302/.363 (83 wRC+)
2B Drew  .188/.271/.350 (70 wRC+)  .262/.321/.391 (96 wRC+)
SS Gregorius  .204/.269/.241 (42 wRC+)  .248/.304/.361 (83 wRC+)
CF Ellsbury .324/.412/.372 (126 wRC+) .257/.319/.391 (96 wRC+)

Those are some really low bars and yet the Yankees are falling short at three of the four positions. Ellsbury’s been awesome at the plate, McCann’s hovering close to average for a catcher thanks to his power, and both Drew and Gregorius have been well-below-average. Those two haven’t hit at all. Like, not even a little. There’s not much of a reason to expect either guy to hit much going forward either, but at least Gregorius has youth on his side.

There’s no good way to measure defense this early in the season. You have to take any stats with a huge grain of salt because the sample is too small. Based on the eye test, all four players have been above-average defenders in my opinion, even considering McCann’s passed ball/wild pitch issues. Didi’s looked much more comfortable at short in recent weeks yet his early season brain farts are still hurting his reputation. He’s been really good in the field of late.

Overall though, the Yankees aren’t getting enough production from these four positions. It’s really just three positions because Ellsbury’s been great. It’s a bit unfair to lump him in here. The other three guys has been far from great though. McCann’s been okay but hardly what the Yankees thought they were getting. Drew and Gregorius have been miserable at the plate, bad enough that their defense probably doesn’t make up for it.

The Yankees have limited options to replace these guys, and the one guy they didn’t want to replace (Ellsbury) just landed on the DL. McCann’s contract ensures he will remain the starting catcher, and besides, finding a better catcher would be damn near impossible anyway. Quality catchers almost never hit the trade or free agent markets. Drew, on the other hand, is totally replaceable and the Yankees do have some internal second base candidates, namely Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder.

The best internal candidate to replace Gregorius is, well, Drew. Besides, given Didi’s age and ability, he’s someone the Yankees should stick with this year and ride out every growing pain. Give him a chance to play everyday and see what happens. The first 40 games of 2015 aren’t going to write the story of his time in pinstripes. The Yankees just got done playing a Royals team littered with players who struggled early in their careers before figuring it out, after all. Sometimes it takes time.

The Yankees have gotten great production from first base, left field, and DH this season, which has helped cover for the underwhelming non-Ellsbury up-the-middle numbers. Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley are kinda sorta starting to hit too, which will help even more, though the Ellsbury injury hurts. One step forward, one step back. It wasn’t long ago that the Yankees were getting top of the line production from the up-the-middle positions. Now they’re barely getting average production and it’s one of the reason they haven’t been able to get out in front of a wide open AL East.

Examining Chase Headley’s defensive ‘slump’

(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Heading into the season, there was probably no major-league team that had more question marks than the Yankees. Can the starting rotation remain healthy and be effective? Can A-Rod be an everyday player after being out of baseball for a year? How will Didi Gregorius handle the pressure of replacing Derek Jeter? Can the middle-of-the-order bats (Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann) bounce back? Who will be the closer? And the list goes on and on and on …

If there was one thing that Yankees fans did not have to worry about – and a reason to be optimistic about the team’s chances to be a playoff contender – it was the expectation that the Yankees would have one of the league’s best defensive lineups in 2015. One of the key factors in that projection was that they’d get a full season of Chase Headley at third base. No player accumulated more defensive value at the hot corner last year than Headley, who also seemingly passed the eye test as one of the league’s best-fielding third baseman.

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Six weeks into the season, the consensus is that Yankees defense has failed to live up to those lofty preseason expectations. Whether you prefer the traditional stats or the advanced metrics, the Yankees are one of the worst defensive teams in baseball, and their sloppy play has probably cost them at least a few wins already. They rank 24th in both Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), 22nd in fielding percentage and 19th in defensive efficiency.

While he’s not the only Yankee underperforming on defense, Headley’s poor stats so far are perhaps the most surprising. His struggles in the field are puzzling given his stellar defensive reputation, and history would suggest that this stretch of poor defense is just a short-term slump rather than a real decline in skill. Although defensive stats can be unreliable in small samples, they are still hard to ignore right now when all of them are in agreement that Headley has performed well below average this season.

The advanced metrics have not been kind to Headley this season. He’s already cost the team five runs with his glove, according to DRS, and UZR has him as the third-worst defensive player at the hot corner. Both of those numbers are also the worst among all Yankees at any position (min. 40 innings played).

Looking at the traditional fielding stats, Headley already has as many errors this season (8) in 39 games as he did all of last year in 127 games at third base, and six of those have been throwing errors – twice as many as he made in 2014.

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It’s not just the errors that have been piling up. Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) tracks every batted ball fielded by a defender, and flags certain ones as “Defensive Misplays” — plays that were not scored an error but where the fielder clearly squandered the opportunity to make an out or allowed a baserunner to advance. Headley has seven Defensive Misplays this season, putting him on pace for nearly 30, which would be more than double his total from last year (13).

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Digging deeper into the numbers, we can see the types of plays that have been the most troublesome for Headley. One of the reasons that Headley was so good at the hot corner was his ability to make a lot more plays down the line than the average player. Balls hit to that location are typically more damaging than others if they get past the defender, because they often scoot into the outfield corners or reach the wall and likely end up as extra-base hits. According to BIS, Headley made 13 more plays to his right than the average third baseman last season. That’s good! This year, he’s been essentially an average fielder on those same balls hit down the third-base line. Uh, not as good.

As we know, defensive stats are not perfect, and there a couple possible explanations for the regression in these numbers. It could be due to a change in positioning (though they do not include any balls in play where the infield is shifted); or Headley could be struggling to make plays because the balls he’s fielded have been hit really hard towards him (the average velocity of ground balls fielded by Yankee third baseman ranks fourth-highest in the majors this season).

So what does all this mean going forward? Given Headley’s excellent defensive reputation, the fact that he’s historically rated above-average in the advanced metrics, and the unreliability of defensive stats over a short time period, we can’t make any definitive statements about his defense right now. It’s hard to believe that his true defensive talent has declined in a sample of fewer than 40 games, so you have to expect that his numbers will eventually normalize over an entire season.

Headley himself said that he’s not worried about his defense. “I’ll get it cleaned up,” he told the media on Sunday. Let’s hope he’s right.

Thoughts following Jacoby Ellsbury’s injury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees lost more than a game last night. They also lost Jacoby Ellsbury to what is being called a right knee sprain, though we haven’t heard anything about the severity of the injury or a timetable for his return. It goes without saying the Yankees can not afford to lose Ellsbury for anything longer than the minimum 15-day DL stint. He’s way too important on both sides of the ball. Here are some thoughts in the wake of the injury.

1. Ellsbury is a speed player, so any sort of injury to his lower half is a concern, and those lower half injuries have started to pile up the last few years. He broke his foot in September 2013, missed time in Spring Training with a calf issue in both 2014 and 2015, had an ankle issue at the end of last season, and now he has this knee sprain. It’s not uncommon for speed players to start suffering these nagging leg issues in the second half of their careers — their legs take such a pounding and eventually it catches up to them — and you just have to hope they don’t rob Ellsbury of his speed or first step quickness. Without his legs, he’s a pretty average player, both at the plate and in the field. Hopefully this knee issue is nothing serious and the Yankees are just being cautious. A diminished Ellsbury going forward would be very bad.

2. I was a little surprised the Yankees opted to call-up Slade Heathcott over Ramon Flores, but with Ellsbury going down, they needed another player capable of playing center field, so Slade’s the guy. I’m not sure how Joe Girardi will use Heathcott but I hope it’s in a straight platoon with Chris Young, at least at first. Young has been pretty great this year — he’s slowed down of late, which was to be expected — but I don’t want to see him in the lineup every single day. That’s a good way to overexpose him real quick. He’s a part-timer at this point of his career and Ellsbury’s injury shouldn’t change that. Heathcott has been stuck in a slump with Triple-A Scranton the last two weeks or so (.163/.196/.184 in his last 12 games) but I wouldn’t hold that against him. Stick him in the lineup against righties and let’s see what he can do. What’s the point of calling him up otherwise?

3. Personally, I’m really happy for Slade, who’s been through hell in his pro career. He battled alcoholism early in his career and of course has had all those injuries. Every year it was another injury. Heathcott worked very hard to get back from his two knee surgeries last season and supposedly he’s done a lot of growing up — he got married recently and I’m sure that helped him — over the last few years. Yeah, he’s a former first round pick, but Slade is also an underdog at this point. Lots of people wrote him off entirely — how could you not after all those injuries? — but now he’s finally made it MLB and has a chance to help the Yankees. I’ll be rooting like hell for him.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. So, as far as the lineup goes, I assume Brett Gardner will now take over as the leadoff hitter. That’s the easy part. But who bats second now? Both Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley have started to hit recently, and they could be options, especially since they’re switch-hitters who create matchup headaches. Young has batted second against left-handers a few times already this year and I suppose that could continue going forward. Heathcott will probably get the rookie treatment and bat eighth or ninth until he shows he deserves a higher lineup spot. That’s just the way it goes. Gardner and Robinson Cano batted ninth when they first came up too. Either way, the Ellsbury/Gardner dynamic atop the lineup made the offense go, and now that dynamic is gone. It’s a huge blow to a team that has had trouble scoring runs of late.

5. Obviously this is a huge opportunity for Heathcott to show he’s a big league caliber player. This is a guy who was non-tendered this past offseason, remember, he knows what’s in front of him. The sucky part is that even if Heathcott plays very well while Ellsbury is out, the Yankees aren’t scheduled to have an outfield spot open up anytime soon. Ellsbury, Gardner, and Beltran are all signed through next year, ditto Alex Rodriguez, so Beltran can’t even slide to DH. This is similar to the Melky Cabrera situation in 2006 — Melky came up as an injury replacement, but once Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui got healthy, there was no spot for him. (The Bobby Abreu trade didn’t help either.) The Yankees traded Sheffield that offseason to clear the logjam and maybe Heathcott plays so well they’ll look trade an outfield this winter — it would have to be Gardner, right? he’s the only one without a no-trade clause or an onerous contract — otherwise he’ll be stuck going up and down as injury replacement. I’m getting ahead of myself though. The Yankees will be lucky if Slade plays as well as 2006 Melky this year.

D.C. chilled: Yankees suffer first walk-off loss of the season, 8-6

Well, eventually one of those guys was going to give up a run. Ryan Zimmerman hit an opposite-field walk-off homer against Andrew Miller in the 10th inning to deliver a crushing 8-6 loss to New York. What’s even worse is that the Yankees had a 6-2 lead going into bottom of the fifth and they failed to hold it. A win against one of the hottest teams in baseball would have been huge for the Yankees. Instead, they now have dropped six of the last seven.

Please don’t be Nathan Burnett (Source: Getty)

Nate “Eh”valdi

He’s a young guy and he has makings of being a better pitcher. Tonight, he once proved again that he can please and be infuriating in a same outing.

In the first inning, Nathan Eovaldi allowed two bombs – one to Ian Desmond and another to Bryce “overrated” Harper. For both pitches, however, it wasn’t like Eovaldi served up an absolute meatball – Desmond’s homer came from a veering fastball on the lower outside corner and Harper lifted a low slider that somehow carried out of the right center wall. What power that 22-year old has.

But after that, Eovaldi seemed to have settled in. From second to fourth inning, the righty allowed only one baserunner – a walk to Harper – and struck out four. That was probably three of the best innings from Eovaldi we’ve seen this season.

In the fifth inning, however, the Nats’ bat barraged Eovaldi with four consecutive hits that scored three runs. The 6-2 Yankee lead became a 6-5 lead, and Joe Girardi pulled him out as Harper came up to bat. See, this was just like watching the eighth inning Nate’s previous start – cruising along only to allow baserunners bit by bit. It’s annoying, especially considering the velocity he has.

Same (Source: Getty)

All good things must end
We are definitely used to seeing Miller and Dellin Betances throw scoreless frames. In fact, that’s literally all they had done so far this season. With the game tied at 6 in the eighth inning, Betances came in and threw two scoreless innings – striking out three, walking one and allowing zero hits.

Girardi turned to Miller to pitch the tenth inning. When he came in, a lot of eyes turned to the eventual Miller vs. Harper battle, a matchup of two of the hottest performers in baseball. With runner on first, Miller struck out Harper after going into a full count. Because Miller was being Miller and the biggest offensive threat was out of the way, I assumed that Yankees would get out of the inning unscathed…

…then Ryan Zimmerman happened. The Nats first baseman hit the outside fastball on the screws and the flyball hit the right field foul pole for a walk-off homer. Miller finally has an ERA – 0.98 – and quite frankly, it’s a bit disheartening to see that. Let’s hope Dellin’s stretch goes quite further.

Let’s talk about Carpenter

I was quite excited when Yankees turned Manny Banuelos into David Carpenter in the offseason. The righty was one of the best eighth inning guys for the playoff-bound Braves in 2013 and had a good 2014 season. In 2015, as a Yankee, Carpenter has just not been good. After allowing a game-tying homer to Wilson Ramos tonight in the sixth inning, he has a 5.28 ERA with a 5.56 FIP. That’s pretty bad, especially for someone who was seen as the seventh inning guy in the offseason. That was probably the spot Chris Martin would have pitched had he not gone down with an injury. Martin is by no means a thoroughly reliable reliever but he does have a 3.55 ERA and a stellar 2.04 FIP.

But then again, I was hoping that Carpenter would figure things out sooner or later – and I still do feel that. But with the team in a 1-6 funk, the last thing the Yanks needed was blowing a close lead against a very good and hot team. Urgh.

Leftovers

Mark Teixeira is one of the players that shaved off the mustache prior to tonight’s game but that did not affect his bat at all. He went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and two walks. His line has bumped up to .258/.380/.602, good for a 161 wRC+. Hoo man. Imagine if his wrist still hasn’t healed.

Losing Jacoby Ellsbury hurts. He had a 126 wRC+ coming into tonight’s game with the team-best 1.3 fWAR. The team is not doing well and one of the last things Yankees needed was losing their speedy leadoff man. Here’s to hoping that Heathcott can do a decent job patching up the lost production. That would be awesome. Get well soon, Jacoby.

Stephen Drew had a rare multi-hit game. He went 2-for-4 and hit a go-ahead 2-run single in the fourth inning. I feel like every time Drew has a performance like this, Rob Refsnyder’s ML debut gets delayed by… I dunno, two or three weeks or so.

Box Score, WPA, Standing

As always, here’s the box score, WPA and updated standings. Yankees are still in the first place but they share the spot with the Rays now.


Source: FanGraphs


Tomorrow, the Yankees will face off the Nationals again in Washington. RHP Adam Parish Warren will be on the hill. If he can repeat the 7-inning 3ER performance from the previous start against the Rays, that would be dandy – provided that the offense can score more than three, of course. Also, I will be at the game. It will be my last night as a college student. Time to live it up.

DotF: Sanchez homers again in Trenton’s loss

Got some news and notes to pass along.

  • RHP Luis Severino is expected to come off the DL and start for Double-A Trenton on Thursday, according to Nick Peruffo. Severino missed a week and a half with a blister. It’ll be Severino vs. Orioles RHP Dylan Bundy on Thursday.
  • OF Aaron Judge is day-to-day with upper leg tightness, says Peruffo. Judge didn’t play Sunday, Double-A Trenton was off Monday, and he was out of the lineup again today. Peruffo says he is with the team and did take batting practice today, so it can’t be that big a deal. Blame the Prospect Watch curse.
  • 3B Eric Jagielo was scratched from tonight’s Double-a Trenton lineup just a few minutes before first pitch for an unknown reason, according to Matt Kardos. Weird. He wasn’t even on the field for the National Anthem before the game. Blame last year’s Prospect Watch curse. Update: Jagielo was scratched because his blood-sugar level was high, says Kardos.

Triple-A Scranton (5-4 loss to Charlotte)

  • LF Ramon Flores: 0-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — threw a runner out at the plate
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — on-base streak is up to 21 games
  • DH Kyle Roller: 0-4, 1 BB, 3 K
  • RF Tyler Austin: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 K — second homer of the year and his first since the fourth game of the year
  • C Austin Romine: 2-4, 1 K
  • LHP Matt Tracy: 4.1 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 3/4 GB/FB — 53 of 94 pitches were strikes (56%)
  • RHP Danny Burawa: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 16 of 29 pitches were strikes (55%)
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 27 of 39 pitches were strikes (69%)

[Read more…]

Update: Yankees place Jacoby Ellsbury on 15-day DL with knee sprain, call up Slade Heathcott

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

11:27pm: It’s official, Ellsbury has been placed on the 15-day DL with what they’re calling a right knee sprain, the Yankees announced. Heathcott will indeed be called up.

11:00pm: Ellsbury will be placed on the 15-day DL, reports Jack Curry. Slade Heathcott will be called up to fill the roster spot. Heathcott is not on the 40-man roster but either Brendan Ryan or Chase Whitley can be slid to the 60-day DL.

10:40pm: Ellsbury is going for an MRI, Joe Girardi told reporters after the game. He said expects Ellsbury to miss some time but not much. Ellsbury has a history of getting injured and staying injured longer than expected, so we’ll see. Obviously a leg injury for a speed guy is bad news.

8:14pm: Jacoby Ellsbury exited tonight’s game against the Nationals in the fourth inning with a right knee injury, the team announced. Ellsbury appeared to hurt himself on a swing, but he stayed in to run the bases. Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donahue came out to check on him, but Ellsbury remained in the game, scored from second on a single, and was then taken out of the game.

Replays showed Ellsbury pointing to his right leg — near his knee but it was tough to tell on television — while talking to Girardi and Donahue. He took a swing and his knee appeared to buckle a little bit. I didn’t even notice it at first. Ellsbury has had minor leg injuries during his time with the Yankees, including an ankle issue last year and calf problem this spring.

Needless to say, the Yankees can not afford to lose Ellsbury for any length of time. Brett Gardner is more than qualified to step in as the leadoff hitter, but Ellsbury is one of the team’s best hitters, and there’s no replacing that, regardless of lineup spot. His defense and base-running ability can’t be replaced either. Hopefully it’s nothing major.