In my opinion, the 2013 draft was the Yankees’ strongest in several years. Obviously having three first round picks helped — their natural first rounder plus compensation picks for Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano — but they landed three legitimate first round talents with those picks, plus they unearthed some gems in the middle rounds. The farm system has been in need of impact talent, and they definitely added some last summer.
Thanks to their offseason spending spree, the Yankees forfeited their top three picks in this June’s draft. That means their first rounder is gone, ditto the compensation picks for Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. Their top selection right now comes in the second round, the 55th overall pick, but they could always surrender that to sign Stephen Drew or Kendrys Morales. Heck, they could sign both and forfeit their second and third round picks. I’d bet against that though. Here is the team’s draft pool situation, courtesy of Baseball America (no subs. req’d):
- Second round, 55th overall: $1,018,700
- Third round, 91st overall: $585,100
- Fourth round, 122nd overall: $424,000
- Fifth round, 152nd overall: $317,500
- Sixth round, 182nd overall: $232, 600
- Seventh round, 212nd overall: $178,300
- Eighth round, 242nd overall: $157,000
- Ninth round, 272nd overall: $146,500
- Tenth round, 302nd overall: $137,600
That all adds up to $3,202,300 for the top ten rounds, or $3,359,212 if you include the 4.9% each team is allowed to exceed their pool before getting slapped with the really harsh penalties, specifically forfeiting future first rounders. The Yankees did exceed their draft pool last year, but only by 1.4%. Exceeding by the pool by no more than 4.9% results in a tax of 75% on the overage, which is a pittance for most MLB clubs.
It’s easy to say the Yankees will grab whatever top talent falls into their lap for that 55th overall pick, and while that’s probably true, they have shown a tendency to take “their guy” in the early rounds. It’s not just SS Cito Culver and 3B Dante Bichette Jr., either. The Yankees took both OF Slade Heathcott and 2B Gosuke Katoh higher than projected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it tough to pin down the players they could be targeting.
In the past, the Yankees were all about high school position players and polished college pitchers. The gears have shifted the last two years, as they’ve taken high school arms (RHP Ty Hensley, LHP Ian Clarkin) and college bats (3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, C Peter O’Brien) in the early rounds. In fact, they took two college hitters (Jagielo and Judge) in the first round last summer after taking one college hitter (OF John-Ford Griffin) in the first round from 2001-12. Is this a new trend, or a blip in the radar? I think it’s the former, but again, this makes it tough to pin down who they are looking at.
The Yankees are reportedly planning a huge international spending spree, and that’s how they will add the bulk of their young talent in 2014. Draft talent has come off the board much more linearly — the best players go early and very few fall into the later rounds, and those that do usually end up not signing — since the spending limits were implemented, so club can only add so much talent this draft. This year’s class is very deep in college right-handed pitchers and I do think the Yankees will look to replenish the pitching pipeline this year, at least in the middle rounds, but that’s just a hunch.
As I’ve done the last two years, I’m going to put together short posts for individual prospects in the weeks leading up to the draft. Here’s the Jagielo post from last year, for example. I used to group players together based on similar traits (college bat, power arms, whatever) but I think the individual posts work better. Because the Yankees don’t have a first rounder this year, I won’t be focusing on the top talents. There are plenty of places you can read about those guys. I want to look at players who could still be around when the Yankees pick. It’ll be difficult this year, but I think that will make it more fun too.
Back in January, the Yankees signed a nondescript journeyman named Yangervis Solarte to a minor league contract. It was reported that he would compete with guys like Eduardo Nunez and Dean Anna for a bench spot in Spring Training, but come on. Yangervis Solarte? When I posted the news of the signing, I wrote “he’s likely at the very bottom of the infield depth chart.” You know why I wrote that? Because he was.
Then, in Spring Training, Solarte became that guy. The random player no one knew anything about who had a huge spring. Solarte hit .429/.489/.571 with two homers in 47 plate appearances during Grapefruit League play, and most years that would mean nothing. The Yankees tend to have very few roster spots up for grabs in camp. This year was different though, and Solarte played his way into consideration for a bench job –Brendan Ryan‘s injury certainly helped — a bench job he eventually won. He didn’t just take Nunez’s job, he took his 40-man roster spot and uniform number. Scorched earth.
Solarte made his Yankees debut as a pinch-hitter in the team’s second game of the season, banging into a rally killing double play in his first at-bat. He got the start the next day and went 3-for-3 with a double. He went 2-for-5 with two doubles the next day. Then 2-for-3 the next day. Then 1-for-3 with a double the next day and 1-for-3 with a walk the day after that. Yesterday, Solarte went 2-for-4 with two doubles. He got into the lineup and he hasn’t given Joe Girardi a reason to take him out.
So, now that the hot spring has turned into a hot start to the season, we’re sitting here wondering if Weird Al Yangervis (h/t @rxmeister28) is legit. And who knows, really? I don’t know, you don’t know, the Yankees don’t know, no one knows. I mean, obviously Solarte will not continue to hit .458/.519/.708 (248 wRC+) all season because no one does that. I’d be happy with literally half that production (124 wRC+). But, eventually balls like this …
… will not find a hole on the infield. Balls like this …
… will not drop in for a base hit. Balls like this …
… will not plop out of the outfielder’s glove. Let’s not kid ourselves here. Solarte has definitely been lucky these first eight games, and yes, it’s luck. That word is thrown around way too often to explain random events in baseball, but a pop-up falling between a bunch of infielders? Luck. A soft line drive clanking out of a Gold Glove right fielder’s mitt? Luck. Let’s call it what it is.
At the same time, Solarte’s MLB-leading (!) six doubles are not luck. Five of the six have either clanked off the wall or landed on the warning track. The other was a bloop that a diving outfielder just missed. Solarte has a little bit of pop in his bat — I’m not sure how much harder he can hit a ball than five doubles, it looked like he got a hold of each one — and he can turn on a mistake pitch. Some of the singles have been lucky. The doubles? Not so much.
Solarte, who is only 26 and had never played in the big leagues before this season, did not make the team just because of his hot spring. He made the team because he’s a switch-hitter who makes a lot of contact (one strikeout in 27 plate appearances so far) and can play reliable defense at second base, third base, and in left field. He can even fill in at shortstop in a pinch. Is he a great defender? No. But he is adequate, something you could not say about the man he replaced.
How long will Solarte’s hot start last? Who knows. It could end today, it could end next week, it could end in July. I’m not ready to declare him a long-term piece for the Yankees but he is playing very well right now and the production is in the bank. It happened and it helped the team win games while Mark Teixeira has been hurt and the middle of the order has gotten off to a slow start. He’s been just what the team needed.
Solarte should play everyday until he stops hitting, and moving him up a spot or three in the lineup isn’t a bad idea either. Even if he turns into a pumpkin tomorrow, the club has already gotten more out of him than they could have reasonably expected, and he’s been a huge boost early in the season.
Well, that wasn’t pretty. The Orioles pounded the Yankees on Tuesday afternoon, taking advantage of some shoddy defense and ineffective pitchers to grab a 14-5 win. Yes, 14-5. That’ll put a dent in the ol’ run differential.
Bad Defense, Bad Pitching, Bad Day
You’re not going to believe this, but a team playing a catcher at first base, a career minor league journeyman at third base, a 36-year-old with a long injury history at second base, and a 39-year-old coming off a major ankle injury at shortstop struggled defensively on Tuesday. Ivan Nova was terrible, giving up rockets all over the field, but his infield defense betrayed him badly against the Orioles. Really bad.
In the first inning, a potential Delmon Young double play ball got by a diving Derek Jeter, who showed off his fall-down range all day. Quite literally too. Chris Davis followed that with a sac fly, then Adam Jones crushed a two-run homer into Monument Park. If Jeter makes the play, does Nova throw a scoreless first inning? Eh, maybe. That’s a pretty big assumption based on how he was pitching.
In the second inning, Jonathan Schoop pulled a double down the left field line, right by Yangervis Solarte. It was hard hit but Solarte looked really awkward on the play. I’m pretty sure a full-time third baseman reels that ball in, or at least knocks it down and holds Schoop to a single. Ryan Flaherty came in to score on the play. That also wouldn’t have happened had Solarte kept it on the infield.
Jeter let another potential double play ball scoot by in the fourth inning, this one off Schoop’s bat. That loaded the bases with one out, and two runs came around to score on Nick Markakis’ sac fly and Young’s single. Later in the inning, Brian Roberts couldn’t make the play on a Davis ground ball because it was hit slowly and he was in shallow right field on the shift. A run scored on the play, making it 7-1 Orioles.
The infield defense sucked (no surprise), but that doesn’t absolve Nova of all the blame. He was up in the zone all afternoon and gave up plenty of hard-hit balls. Ten hits in 3.2 innings is not all on the infielders. Nova was charged with seven runs on the day (all earned), and he’s now allowed 23 base-runners in 9.1 innings this season. That’s … a lot. Nova has really labored in his two starts. No easy innings at all.
Too Far To Comeback
The Yankees scored a quick two-out run in the first inning (Jacoby Ellsbury single, Carlos Beltran double) to answer Baltimore’s three-run top of the first, but they didn’t score again until the fourth inning, when it was already 7-1. A six-run deficit is too much to overcome when you need three hits to score one run, as this offense does these days.
The team’s three-run fourth inning came on a leadoff homer (!) from Alfonso Soriano, a double off the left field wall by Solarte, and a ground out by Brett Gardner. First baseman Frankie Cervelli and Roberts also singled in the inning. The Yankees left a runner on third base in the third, fourth, and fifth innings, and two runners on base in the sixth. Some days, five runs just aren’t enough.
Once again, the two offensive stars were Ellsbury and Solarte. Ellsbury went 3-for-4 with a double and a stolen base — he stole third base three times in one inning, but the first two attempts were spoiled by foul balls — while Solarte went 2-for-4 with two doubles. He currently leads the league with six two-baggers, though that could change following tonight’s games. It feels like the only time the Yankees score is when these two do something.
Vidal Nuno really took one on the chin in long relief, allowing seven runs on eight hits in 3.1 innings. He threw 67 pitches and I think he’s going to find himself in Triple-A tomorrow, swapped for a fresh arm. Preston Claiborne and Shane Greene are the obvious 40-man roster call-up candidates. The just called up Cesar Cabral got one out and Dellin Betances recorded the final five outs.
The Yankees tripled their season homerun output in this game. Soriano hit the team’s second dinger of the season, a solo shot leading off the fourth, and he pimped it pretty good. Kelly Johnson swatted a garbage time solo homer in the eighth for New York’s third longball of 2014.
Nova did not walk anyone in his disaster start, meaning the Yankees have now gone a full turn through the rotation without any of their starters issuing a free pass. The last starter to walk someone was Nova, back against the Astros in Houston. Pretty awesome.
These teams will play the final game of this three-game series on Wednesday night. Yes, the run of day games is over. Masahiro Tanaka will make his first start at Yankee Stadium in the rubber game, matching up against the righty Miguel Gonzalez. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch the game.
Courtesy of Matt Eddy, here are all the players who opened the season on the minor league disabled list. Some of them are actually hurt, some are on the phantom DL as teams manipulate their rosters.
Triple-A Scranton Game One (5-0 loss to Rochester in seven innings)
- DH Jose Pirela, C John Ryan Murphy & 3B Zelous Wheeler: all 0-3 — Murphy and Wheeler struck out
- 2B Scott Sizemore: 1-3, 1 2B, 2 K — 6-for-12 with five strikeouts after this game, so it’s pretty much been either a hit or a strikeout so far
- RF Zoilo Almonte: 1-3
- CF Ramon Flores: 1-3, 1 2B
- RHP Bruce Billings: 4 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 54 of 85 pitches were strikes (64%)
- LHP Fred Lewis: 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 11 of 17 pitches were strikes (65%)
- RHP Danny Burawa: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 14 of 23 pitches were strikes (61%)
The Yankees had one of those rough blowout losses this afternoon, the kind of game that happens to every team a few times each season. They’re inevitable and I think they’re actually pretty easy to put in the rear-view mirror. Close losses always sting a little more than blowouts. What are you going to do? The Yankees will shake it off and come back looking for the series win tomorrow.
Here is your open thread for the night. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, if you want to live through that nightmare again. The Mets are playing the Braves, and later tonight MLB Network will air the Angels and Mariners. The Nets, Islanders, and (hockey) Rangers are all playing as well. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s loss, or anything else right here. Have at it.
Via George King: The Brewers have special assignment scout Dick Groch following the Yankees early in the season, leading to trade speculation. Milwaukee was scouting the team’s catchers in Spring Training and the Yankees were said to be monitoring Rickie Weeks. Groch worked for New York years ago and was the scout who originally signed a youngster named Derek Jeter.
Weeks, 31, lost his starting second base job to Scooter Gennett and is now just a bench player for the Brewers. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez could also make sense for New York, though he is owed a ton of money this season. The Brewers have gotten off to a nice little start this season — they swept the Red Sox in Fenway Park over the weekend — so I don’t think they’ll be selling anytime soon. Still, the fact that they have one of their top talent evaluators assigned specifically to the Yankees is a bit interesting. · (29) ·
The Yankees have won four of their last five games, including the first game of this three-game series against the Orioles. The pitching has been very good for the most part, and the offense has done just enough these last few days. I’m really disliking this “no homers” thing though. I’m ready for some dingers.
With left-baller Wei-Yin Chen on the mound for the Baltimore, Kelly Johnson is getting the day off. That means today’s first baseman is … Francisco Cervelli. It is his first professional game at the position, though he did say he played there a bit back when he was 15 or 16 years old. What could go wrong? Oh, and by the way, interim closer Shawn Kelley isn’t available today because of his recent workload. Here is the Orioles lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:
- LF Brett Gardner
- SS Derek Jeter
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- RF Carlos Beltran
- DH Alfonso Soriano
- C Brian McCann
- 1B Frankie Cervelli
- 2B Brian Roberts
- 3B Yangervis Solarte
RHP Ivan Nova
It was raining all night and for a good chunk of the morning, but it stopped a while ago and there shouldn’t be any trouble starting the game on time. The forecast for the rest of the afternoon says it’ll be cloudy but dry. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 1pm ET, and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.
Tuesday: Cabral has officially been called up, the Yankees announced. Lots and lots of lefties.
Monday: Via George King: The Yankees are planning to call up left-hander Cesar Cabral to replace David Robertson, who was placed on the 15-day DL with a Grade 1 groin strain earlier today. Three lefties in the bullpen is not ideal, especially since two of them (Cabral and Matt Thornton) are pure specialists, so Vidal Nuno is going to have to take on some more responsibility. He figures to be asked to get both righties and lefties out now. · (33) ·
Through the first seven games of 2014, the story of the Yankees’ season has been the offensive struggles of the new-look middle of the order. Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano have yet to produce with any kind of consistency, and as a result the team has had some problems scoring runs. Eventually those guys will come around and the Yankees will score more runs. At least I think they will. They’re not hitting early in the season and things tend to stand out during the first week of April.
Those offensive issues are overshadowing another early theme: the starting rotation has been commanding and dominating the strike zone. In the first seven games, the Yankees’ starters have a 35/7 K/BB in 43 innings, which works out to a 5.00 K/BB ratio. Only the Giants (5.14) have been better. Furthermore, Ivan Nova issued five of those seven walks in his lone start, during which he was very wild and had no feel for his curveball. Exclude him, and the other four starters have a 34/2 K/BB in 37.1 innings, or an absurd 17.00 K/BB ratio.
Obviously that’s a small sample and we’re cherry-picking by excluding Nova, yadda yadda yadda. Still, 34 strikeouts and two walks in 37.1 innings is pretty ridiculous. I mean, yeah, a 17.00 K/BB ratio is unsustainable over a full 162-game season, but I’m not looking to draw any conclusions from this. I just wanted to point out how stellar the starters have been at commanding the zone. It’s a real thing that happened and it’s pretty amazing. These guys aren’t giving out free passes at all.
Now, here’s the thing: this isn’t happening by accident. The Yankees have sought out strong K/BB pitchers in recent years. In the three years before coming to New York, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda had 4.51 and 3.36 K/BB ratios, respectively. Masahiro Tanaka had an absurd 7.06 K/BB ratio during his final three years with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Pineda had a 3.15 K/BB during his one season with the Mariners. Nova is the only real exception; he came into 2014 with a career 2.26 K/BB ratio. From 2011-13, the league average for starters was a 2.47 K/BB ratio, for reference.
I think pitching coach Larry Rothschild has something to do with this as well. He came to the Yankees with a reputation for improving strikeout and walk rates — I keep pointing back to these studies, which are definitely due for an update (that’s a post for the offseason, I think) — and he’s continued to do that in New York, for the most part. Sabathia is one example: he had a 20.6% strikeout rate and a 7.4% walk rate in the two years before Rothschild, and a 23.4% strikeout rate and 5.8% walk rate in the first two years with Rothschild. The Yankees target pitchers who command the strike zone well, then they turn them over to their pitching coach, who helps maximize that ability. It’s wonderful.
Two things the Yankees can not change are their ballpark and their division. They’re stuck with Yankee Stadium’s short porch, and they’re stuck playing in the hitter happy AL East. They can control their pitching staff though, at least to some extent, so they’ve targeted pitchers who don’t hurt themselves with walks and generally keep the ball on the ground. (Grounders are actually something of a problem considering the infield defense.) The rotation has taken the whole “no walks” thing to an extreme in these first seven games, and while they won’t keep up this pace all year, this group has pounded the zone early. It’s a big reason why the Yankees acquired these guys, and it’s a big reason why they’ve won four of their last five games.
Baseball returned to the Bronx on Monday, and the Yankees celebrated their home opener with a 4-2 win over the division rival Orioles. After dropping the first two games of season to the Astros, the Yankees have won four of their last five games. How about that?
Welcome To The AL East
The Yankees knocked Ubaldo Jimenez out of Monday’s game after only 4.2 innings, and I think they only had one really hard hit ball during those 4.2 innings. That was Derek Jeter‘s double off the left field wall in the fifth. He actually thought it was a homer (so did everyone else) and started to jog to first, but he hustled it into a two-bagger once he saw it clank off the wall. The Yankees forced Jimenez to throw 107 pitches to get 14 outs, slapping seven singles in addition to the double. They also worked him for five walks.
The Bombers scored their four runs off Ubaldo in four different ways. In the third, Jeter banged into a 1-6-3 double play that scored Yangervis Solarte, who drew a walk to leadoff the inning and moved to third on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s single. In the fourth, Solarte came up with a two-out, two-strike single to right to plate Alfonso Soriano, who singled earlier in the inning and moved to second on Kelly Johnson‘s walk. Nick Markakis came up just short on his diving catch attempt. In the fourth, Ellsbury singled in Jeter after the double. Johnson drew a bases loaded walk to force in a run later in the inning. Three of the four runs were helped by walks. Walks walks walks.
I want to single out Roberts, who neither scored nor drove in a run, but played a big role in the game nevertheless. He saw 19 pitches (!) in his three at-bats against Jimenez, drawing a walk to load the bases immediately prior to Johnson’s bases loaded walk in the fifth. Nineteen pitches in three trips to the plate! Roberts took a full inning off Ubaldo’s day all by himself. He isn’t hitting much (.150 AVG through the first seven games), but he’s drawing walks (.346 OBP) and is a pain in the ass at-bat in general. I’ve said this more than a few times already, but these are the types of at-bats the Yankees were not getting last year, especially from the bottom third of the order. Roberts did not do any damage directly on Monday, but he sure made life tough for Ubaldo.
Ho Hum, Kuroda Was Very Good Again
Like I’m sure many of you, I was a bit concerned about Hiroki Kuroda coming into the season because of his age and late-season fade last year, but after two starts, those concerns are pretty much gone. Kuroda has looked like the 2013 first half version of himself, showing good velocity and being unpredictable with his breaking pitches. He did allow eight hits in 6.1 innings of work, including three doubles, but they were mostly scattered. The bullpen picked him up when the first three hitters of the seventh inning recorded base hits.
Here is Kuroda’s pitch breakdown from Brooks Baseball:
- 47 sinkers, 32 strikes, four swings and misses, averaged 92.8 mph and topped out at 93.7
- 24 splitters, 13 strikes, five swings and misses, averaged 86.2 mph
- 16 sliders, nine strikes, five swings and misses, averaged 84.4 mph
- three curveballs and two four-seam fastballs as well
Kuroda’s final line was two runs allowed on those eight hits in those 6.1 innings. He struck out four, and like just about every Yankees’ starter these days, he did not walk anybody. Fifty-six of his 92 pitches were strikes (61%), and until those three batters reached to start the seventh inning, he was cruising right along without much an issue. Outside of CC Sabathia‘s disaster on Opening Day, the Yankees have gotten pretty strong work from their rotation this year.
No Robertson? No Problem
Following the game, we learned David Robertson had to be placed on the 15-day DL with a Grade I groin strain. That means everyone in the bullpen will move up a notch for at least two weeks. Injuries stink but they are a part of life. Joe Girardi excels at bullpen management and he pushed all the right buttons on Monday.
As I mentioned before, the bullpen picked up Kuroda in that seventh inning. Matt Thornton was brought in to face Ryan Flaherty with runners on first and second with one out, and he retired the lefty with a weak ground ball to second base. It’s clear Girardi is using Thornton as nothing but a matchup left-hander and that’s great. He has no business facing righties at this point of his career. David Phelps, who has really struggled so far this year, came in after Thornton and got a weak ground ball back to himself from the rookie Jonathan Schoop to end the threat. I still don’t want to see Phelps in big spots just yet, but he did the job on Monday.
with Robertson out, Shawn Kelley was the closer du jour, pushing Adam Warren into the eighth inning. Warren walked the first batter of the eighth — his first base-runner of the season — before escaping the jam with a fly ball (Nick Markakis) and two strikeouts (Adam Jones, Chris Davis). The recovery was impressive after the walk. Warren’s been pretty good as a short reliever so far (ahem). Kelley recorded with first career save with two easy fly balls and a ground out on nine total pitches. Piece of cake.
The Orioles helped the Yankees by making two outs on the bases: Nelson Cruz forget how many outs there were in the second inning and was doubled off first base on Steve Lombardozzi’s fly ball. It wasn’t even close, Cruz was still near second base by time the ball got back into the infield. Brian McCann then picked Schoop off at second base with a snap throw to end the top of the fifth.
Ellsbury was thrown out trying to steal second base in the fifth inning thanks to a fantastic throw by Matt Wieters, but the replay showed he slid in just under Flaherty’s tag. It was very close but it did look like Ellsbury was in there. Girardi did not challenge though, and four of the next five batters reached base (two singles, two walks). Fallacy of the predetermined outcome, yadda yadda yadda, but Girardi should have challenged in hindsight. Could have really blown the game open there.
Ellsbury had two hits to continue his little hot streak. Soriano also went 2-for-3 with a walk and appears to be coming out of his funk. Gardner and Jeter each had one hit, Beltran and Solarte both singled and walked, Johnson drew two walks, Roberts drew one walk, and McCann went 0-for-4. He was the only starter who failed to reach base. Solarte creamed a pitch in the eighth that looked gone off the bat, but Markakis caught it on the right field warning track. Almost his first career dinger. Almost.
Funny moment: the Bleacher Creatures were chanting “So-Lar-Te! So-Lar-Te!” as part of the roll call for about a minute before Jeter told Solarte to wave. Rookie mistake.
Same two teams tomorrow afternoon in the second game of this three-game series. I guess that’s the alternative to not having the day after the home opener off, playing a day game so scheduling a doubleheader is easier. Who knows. Ivan Nova and Wei-Yin Chen will both be making their second starts of the season in the matinee. If you want some last minute tickets, check out RAB Tickets.