Spring Training Game Thread: Skeleton Crew

(Presswire_
(Presswire)

The Yankees took the two-hour bus trip down to Fort Myers to play the Red Sox tonight, so, as you might expect, not many regulars are in the lineup. Two hours there and two hours back for a Spring Training night game? Nope. The guys on this trip drew the short straws, basically. This is one of those Spring Training games that will make you wonder why you’re watching.

Tonight’s reason to watch: Prospects, basically. All the big prospect names are scheduled to play tonight and a few big arms will be coming out of the bullpen as well. Also, infielder Tyler Wade is up from minor league camp for the night, so we’ll get to see him in action too.

Here is the starting lineup for the evening:

  1. RF Ramon Flores
  2. CF Chris Young
  3. 1B Garrett Jones
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. C John Ryan Murphy
  6. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  7. LF Slade Heathcott
  8. 3B Jonathan Galvez
  9. SS Nick Noonan
    RHP Adam Warren

Available Position Players: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Tyler Wade, SS Cito Culver, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Jake Cave, CF Mason Williams, and RF Aaron Judge will be the second string off the bench. C Francisco Arcia, C Trent Garrison, C Kyle Higashioka, and IF Dan Fiorito are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: LHP Chasen Shreve, RHP Jose Ramirez, LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Branden Pinder, and RHP Nick Goody are all scheduled to pitch. LHP Tyler Webb, LHP James Pazos, and RHP Nick Rumbelow are the extra arms.

It’s cloudy in Fort Myers and there is some rain in the forecast, but not much. Might be a quick drizzle or two during the game. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch nationally on MLB Network and MLB.tv. The game won’t be blacked out on either in the New York area. Also, if you’re in the Red Sox market, you can watch on NESN as well. Enjoy the game.

March 13th Camp Notes: Tanaka, Sabathia, Gregorius, Ryan

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are traveling down to Fort Myers to play the Red Sox tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and the regular game thread will be along a little closer to game time. Until then, here are the day’s notes from Spring Training:

Luis Severino, Aaron Judge top MLB.com’s top 30 Yankees prospects list

Severino and Judge, yet again. (Presswire)
Severino and Judge, yet again. (Presswire)

As part of their look at the best minor league prospects in each organization, the crew at MLB.com published their list of the top 30 Yankees prospects earlier this week. Jim Callis also compiled some notes and scouting grades in a supplemental piece. As always, MLB.com’s info — the list, scouting reports, video, etc. — is all free. It’s great.

Predictably, RHP Luis Severino and OF Aaron Judge claim the top two spots, in that order. Severino is No. 1 on MLB.com’s and Baseball America’s lists while Judge is atop Keith Law’s, Baseball Prospectus’, and my top Yankees prospects lists. I guess Judge wins. SS Jorge Mateo, 1B Greg Bird, and 2B Rob Refsnyder round out the top five on MLB.com’s list.

You can click through to see the full top 30 for yourself. MLB.com included two of last year’s international signings and ranked them pretty highly as well — OF Juan DeLeon and SS Dermis Garcia ranks 15th and 16th, respectively. They also ranked four other players who didn’t make my top 30: RHP Rookie Davis (No. 24), UTIL Jose Pirela (No. 25), 2B Gosuke Katoh (No. 28), and RHP Domingo Acevedo (No. 30).

The 21-year-old Acevedo was one of my five prospects to watch heading into the 2014 season and the MLB.com scouting report is pretty glowing:

In his limited game action, Acevedo hit 100 mph and worked at 95-97 mph. He also has an advanced changeup and some feel for spinning the ball, though he’s still trying to find a comfortable grip for his slider. His command is work in progress, though he does a decent job of throwing strikes.

Between his velocity and his size — he’s 6-foot-7 and carries maybe 50 pounds more than his listed 190 — Acevedo presents an extremely intimidating figure on the mound. He’ll have frontline starter stuff if he can develop a good breaking ball, and he’s still a potential closer if he doesn’t.

Acevedo is older than most international prospects — he signed as an 18-year-old in October 2012 — but they don’t check IDs on the mound. If he continues to show big stuff and gets people out, the Yankees won’t care if he makes his MLB debut at 23 or 26. The 2015 season will be an important one when it comes to determining if Acevedo is one of the team’s top prospects going forward or just a tease.

MLB.com’s list essentially wraps up prospect ranking season. The Yankees have a middle of the road farm system that is on the rise thanks mostly to last summer’s international spending spree. Severino and Judge are high-end prospects while others like Bird and Jacob Lindgren look like high-probability big leaguers. The Yankees focused on youth this winter and that means we should expect to see a few of these guys get an opportunity at the MLB level in the next year or two. That’s exciting.

The Defense First, Power Second Bench [2015 Season Preview]

Murphy and the skipper. (Presswire)
Murphy and the skipper. (Presswire)

From 2009-12, the Yankees did a good job of having a functional bench, giving Joe Girardi options to pinch-hit or rest players without the lineup taking a huge hit. That hasn’t been the case the last two years due mostly to injuries — many projected bench guys were pushed into everyday roles. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

The importance of the bench in today’s game is obvious, especially for the Yankees, who have an older roster and plenty of players who need regular time off. Three of the four bench spots were filled with new players this winter, and every member of last season’s Opening Day bench has since been jettisoned. It’s an entirely new crop of players. Let’s look at the reserves and where these guys fit in the big picture.

Catcher: John Ryan Murphy

Alternative: Austin Romine

Long-time backup Francisco Cervelli was traded away this winter for two (maybe three) reasons. One, the Yankees wanted to clear a spot for Murphy, who was impressive filling in during Cervelli’s hamstring injury last year. Two, they wanted to bolster their bullpen with Justin Wilson. (Three, they wanted to save a little cash.) The job is not Murphy’s just yet — he is competing with Romine in camp — but all signs point to him being the guy.

Murphy, 23, put up a .284/.318/.370 (93 wRC+) batting line in 32 big league games last year but his defense is his calling card. Anything he can do with the bat — he’s a year removed from a 117 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, for what it’s worth — is a bonus. Murphy has ranked as a top shelf pitch-framer in his brief big league career and he’s considered a strong receiver who handles pitches in the dirt well.

The Yankees value catcher defense greatly. They wouldn’t clear the spot for Murphy if they didn’t believe he could excel defensively. Brian McCann is the clear cut number one catcher and will be asked to carry the majority of the workload behind the plate this year, so Murphy’s job is to get the pitching staff through the game whenever McCann needs a day off. That’s it. If he hits, wonderful. But that is secondary as far as the Yankees are concerned.

Infielder: Brendan Ryan

Alternative: Jose Pirela

Pirela. (Presswire)
Pirela. (Presswire)

Once again, the 32-year-old Ryan is dealing with a back injury in Spring Training. He started light workouts earlier this week but there’s no firm timetable for him to return to game action. That is opening the door for Pirela, just like last year’s back injury opened the door for Dean Anna. If Ryan has another setback — he’s already had one this spring — it’s hard to see how he’ll ready for Opening Day.

If healthy though, the backup infielder’s job is Ryan’s. The team owes him $2M this year and he’s still an above-average fielder at the hard to fill shortstop position. He can’t hit a lick — .167/.211/.202 (12 wRC+) in 124 plate appearances last year and that’s pretty much what you should expect going forward — but the Yankees are now a run prevention team and he fits the mold. Ryan is a guy who plays when someone else gets hurt or needs a day off, that’s it. He’s not a pinch-hitting option or even a pinch-running option.

Pirela is pretty much the exact opposite of Ryan. He can hit — or at least we think he can hit — but his glovework is very shaky. The 25-year-old hit .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with Triple-A Scranton last season and is off to an 8-for-15 (.533) start to Grapefruit League play, and that’s his calling card. Pirela’s a hitter. He’s not much of a defender but he can play just about every position other than pitcher or catcher. If Ryan can’t start the season on time, Pirela is the odds on favorite to start the year as the backup infielder.

Outfielder: Chris Young

Alternative: Pirela? Ramon Flores?

New York’s very first move of the offseason was re-signing Young to a one-year deal worth $2.5M. They grabbed him off the scrap heap last summer and he had a nice month of September in pinstripes (146 wRC+ with three homers), which earned him a new contract. Overall, the 31-year-old young hit .222/.299/.385 (95 wRC+) with the Mets and Yankees in 2014.

Young’s days as an everyday player are pretty much over. He’s a right-handed platoon bat because of his power, not his ability to hit for average, that’s what the Yankees need with two left-handed starting outfielders and a third who is a switch-hitter whose weak side is the right side. Young’s defense remains above-average — he can play all three outfield spots in a pinch — and he can even steal a base off the bench. He figures to be used most often as Carlos Beltran‘s defensive replacement in right field, though I’m sure he’ll get plenty of starts against southpaws as well.

The Yankees don’t have an obvious alternative to Young. Pirela is probably the best option and Flores is the most MLB ready of their upper level outfield prospects. Pirela is right-handed and Flores is left-handed, and that’s not insignificant given the makeup of the roster. Others like Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin need more minor league time before realistically being considered MLB options. If Young gets hurt, Pirela’s probably the guy. Assuming he isn’t filling in for Ryan, of course.

G.I. Jones. (Presswire)
G.I. Jones. (Presswire)

Utility: Garrett Jones

Alternative: Pirela? Austin?

The Yankees have been after Jones for years — they first tried to acquire him from the Pirates in the A.J. Burnett trade — and they finally landed him in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade this offseason. He gives them a backup plan at three positions where they have players who have battled injuries in recent years: first base (Mark Teixeira), right field (Beltran), and DH (Alex Rodriguez).

Jones, 33, hit .246/.309/.411 (99 wRC+) with 15 homers last year, though Miami used him as their everyday first baseman, and he’s not an everyday player. He’s a left-handed platoon hitter, one who’s hit .260/.314/.475 (116 wRC+) against right-handed pitchers over the last three years with this spray chart:


Source: FanGraphs
Yeah, Jones is going to enjoy hitting in Yankee Stadium. And that’s going to be his job. Come off the bench and try to yank something over the wall. Jones has made a nice little career of doing just that and that’s all the Yankees want him to do in 2015. Play some right field, play some first base, see a few starts at DH, mash some taters. Very straight forward.

As with Young, there is no obvious alternative to Jones, so I guess Pirela is the guy by default. Austin can also play first base, right field, and DH, but he has yet to play above Double-A, so he needs to spend some time in Triple-A before helping the big league Yankees. Jones will likely see the most playing time of the projected four bench players and that makes him the most difficult to replace.

Mailbag: Erasmo, A-Rod, Judge, Spring Training, Payroll

Ten questions in this week’s mailbag. Send us anything — mailbag questions, complaints, links, whatever — at any time using the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar.

Erasmo. (Presswire)
Erasmo. (Presswire)

Dan asks: You recently made a post about out of options potential targets for the Yankees, but did not mention Erasmo Ramirez. Could he fit as a depth acquisition?

Erasmo is younger than I realized — he doesn’t turn 25 until early-May. He’s out of minor league options and the Mariners don’t really have any room for him either in the rotation or bullpen, so chances are he will be moved at the end of camp. Ramirez has a 4.62 ERA (4.66 FIP) in 206.2 career MLB innings with okay strikeout (7.19 K/9 and 18.4 K%) and walk (3.14 BB/9 and 8.0 BB%) rates. He isn’t much of a ground ball guy (40.2%).

Despite playing his home games in Safeco Field, Ramirez has an alarming home run rate (1.35 HR/9 and 12.6 HR/FB%) in his career. It’s even higher the last two years (1.52 HR/9 and 13.4 HR/FB%). Erasmo is a changeup pitcher, that’s his money pitch, and it seems like changeup pitchers are the most homer prone. I guess when you throw that many changeups, you occasionally leave one up in the zone, and a high changeup is a batting practice fastball. I don’t really have anything to prove that though. Just seems like that is the case.

Ramirez sits in the low-90s with his fastball and the swing-and-miss rate on his changeup (~19.5%) is well-above the league average (14.5%), but he doesn’t have a reliable breaking ball. He’s also listed at 5-foot-11, which further explains the homer issues. Short pitchers can’t get good downhill plane on their fastballs. I know he’s only 24 and that’s exciting, but age isn’t a get out of jail free card. Erasmo is very homer prone and he’s basically a one-trick pony with the changeup. If the Yankees are really desperate for pitching, Ramirez is probably the best they can get at the end of camp. I’m just not sure he’s someone an AL team wants to run out there every fifth day though.

Ethan asks: It’s obviously still very early but who has impressed you so far in Spring Training? What are your thoughts on A-Rod so far?

I think Alex Rodriguez has looked pretty good considering he didn’t play at all last year and is pushing 40. He still knows the strike zone, that seems obvious, and the homer the other day shows that, if nothing else, he can still put a charge into the meatball pitches a hitter is expected to crush. A-Rod also poked an outer half breaking to right field for a single to beat the shift a few days ago and that was pretty neat (video). He hasn’t forgotten how to hit.

As for the other guys, it’s still pretty early in camp, so the minor league position players have stood out the most. The veterans are still going through the motions and getting ready while the young guys are playing out of their minds trying to impress people. Slade Heathcott looks healthy and seems to be running well after two knee surgeries in the last 18 months or so. Jose Pirela‘s driving everything, even his outs. It’s hard to not be impressed by Greg Bird too. He’s got this Joey Votto-esque calmness at the plate, like he’s the one in control of the at-bat, not the pitcher. (Note: I am not saying Bird will be Votto.)

Eric asks: We have seen a lot of Aaron Judge during Spring Training. What is the soonest Judge will be a contributor to the Major League club?

I’d say the first half of next season if his time with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this year goes as well as his time with Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa did last year. Judge would probably be the first in line for a call-up when an outfielder is needed next year in that case, and that could be pretty early given Carlos Beltran‘s (and A-Rod’s) age and frailty. There is a clear path for Judge and Bird to join the MLB team in 2016, assuming they take care of business in 2015. That’s exciting.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Vinny asks: The Post’s Kevin Kernan’s article reveals that Aaron Judge is adopted. Not that it matters, but has this come out before? I think it would be pretty neat that the Yankees could have two adopted players in Judge and Rob Refsnyder.

No, that’s new information as far I know. I certainly hadn’t heard that before. It was no secret Refsnyder was adopted — he was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Southern California when he was three months old, and he used to get heckled about his nationality and upbringing during his college days — but I had no idea Judge was as well. It doesn’t change anything of course. He’s still Aaron Judge. The internet tells me about 2% of the population is adopted, so I’m sure there are several MLB players out there who were adopted that we don’t know about.

Ariel asks: Hey guys, a few weeks ago Mike had mentioned that the young guys on the team, such as Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi, would get to their peak performances at the same time that the top minor league prospects were coming up to the ML roster. What year do you think this will happen?

Well, that’s the plan, for Gregorius and Eovaldi to hit their peak and have their best seasons in pinstripes while others like Judge and Bird and Luis Severino come up from the farm system to bolster the roster. This is baseball though. At least one of those guys is going to fall well short of expectations. Heck, just one will fall short if the Yankees are lucky. But, if things do break New York’s way, I would expect all this to happen sometime in 2017 or so. Judge and Bird might reach MLB in 2016, but chances are it’ll be a year or two before they become impact players.

Tom asks: How secure is Chris Young‘s roster spot? Is it possible for a young outfielder to Solarte him?

I don’t see it. The only real threat to that roster spot in camp is Pirela, and right now Brendan Ryan is the one who has to worry about losing his roster spot to Pirela, not Young. The Yankees aren’t going to carry Judge or Tyler Austin on the bench to start the season and Heathcott needs to play everyday to make up for all the at-bats he’s lost to injury. That’s really it. Ramon Flores hasn’t forced the issue and neither Jake Cave nor Mason Williams is MLB ready. Young’s spot is safe and he fills an important role as the primary right-handed pinch-hitter and late-innings defensive replacement for Beltran.

Kevin asks: What direction do you see the Yankees going when the albatross contracts come off the books? Mix/match like always or will they lean heavily toward their minor league system or the FA class at the time. Way too early to tell, I know, but can’t help but look to the future.

The Yankees are going to have to lean more on their farm system going forward because it’s much harder to build a team through free agency these days. There aren’t nearly as many top players on the market each winter because teams are locking up their young stars to extensions. The Yankees are still the Yankees and I definitely expect them to get back into the huge free agent market once some of the dead payroll clears up, though free agency is now a way to build a supporting cast, not the core of a team.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Steve asks: What do you think Adam Warren could hypothetically do over 30 starts in 2015?

Gosh, I don’t know. David Phelps has a 4.34 ERA (4.16 FIP) in his career as a starter and I would like to think Warren could match that while taking a regular turn in the rotation. Warren does throw five different pitches — he did even last year in relief — but I’m not sure how much different it’ll be when he’s throwing 90-92 as a starter instead of 93-95 out of the bullpen. There’s also the fatigue factor too. What happens when he gets over, say, 150 innings after throwing 158.2 innings total the last few years? He might simply run out of gas. I’d be happy with a 4.34 ERA (4.16 FIP) out of Warren as a starter, though I suspect he’d perform a bit worse than that.

Williams asks: I know this would/could/should never happen but what would stop the Yankees from moving Spring Training from Florida to Arizona? I know the stadium is there, the minor league facilities are there, but look at the maps of the locations of the teams and it would make much more sense to move to Arizona where all the teams are in fairly close proximity as opposed to Florida where the teams are spread and the travel prevents some of the older players from going on road games.

As best I can tell, the Yankees’ lease with the Tampa Sports Authority for George M. Steinbrenner Field doesn’t expire for another 12 years, so that’s the main reason they can’t move to Arizona. There’s no reason they can’t move once the lease is expired though. No reason other than the fan base they’ve built in Florida. (Tons of New Yorkers retire to Florida. Tons.) Both the Reds and Dodgers moved to Arizona in recent years after extended stays in Florida, so the Yankees wouldn’t be the first team to make the move. The travel in Arizona is much easier and the weather is generally better (less rain). It’s just more convenient. The Yankees are stuck in Tampa for now. We’ll see what happens when their lease gets closer to expiring.

Dan asks: I’ve generally thought that all of the comments this offseason that the Yankees are “cheap” are pretty ridiculous, but Craig Edwards of FanGraphs just released an article calculating each team’s “expected payroll” based on attendance and team valuation, and found that the Yankees are actually spending significantly less than expected based on their market. Should this effect the way we view the front office?

Edwards had the team’s payroll at $37M-ish less than expected, but even he says that is “somewhat of an overstatement.” He doesn’t include the $20-something million the Yankees are going to end up paying in luxury tax. Also, his estimates are based in part on Forbes’ franchise valuations, which are also estimates. It’s an estimate based off an estimate, which is far from exact. The gap between actual payroll — the dollars the Yankees will actually pay this year — and the expected payroll is $17M or so when you factor in the luxury tax, and that’s not much at all considering how inexact this analysis is. I’m certain the Yankees (and the other 29 teams) could support a larger payroll. Baseball teams definitely have payroll limits, they just like to act that they are a lot lower than they really are.

Masahiro Tanaka stays in one piece, throws two perfect innings in spring debut

After an offseason of waiting, Masahiro Tanaka returned to game action and made his Grapefruit League debut on Thursday night. He threw two perfect innings against the Braves, striking out a pair and getting four weak ground balls. Tanaka threw only 19 pitches and had to go to the bullpen afterwards to get up to his pitch count for the night.

Here’s video of Tanaka’s outing:

Tanaka looked very sharp in his two innings. He located well, his splitter was diving out of the zone, and he even threw some of those slow curveballs in for strikes. Erik Boland spoke to one scout who had Tanaka at 88-91 mph and said “he looked fine … still has excellent command of split.” Another scout told Boland that Tanaka “is not far off. Just a matter of how he bounces back when he does reach for a little more with (his) fastball … no signs of rust.”

After the game, Tanaka told reporters what he’s been telling them all spring: he feels great and has no concerns about the elbow. He also said he was pleased he was able to get ahead in the count early. I know it’s in the back of our minds — how could it not? — but it truly doesn’t seem like Tanaka is worried about his elbow following the partially torn ligament. He just wants to get ready for the season.

All things considered, Thursday night’s debut went as well as we could have possibly hoped. Granted, he was faced a weak Braves lineup, but Tanaka looked like the pre-injury version we saw early last year. It was very encouraging.

Update: Didi Gregorius okay after taking pitch to right leg

9:33pm: Gregorius told Erik Boland he’s fine. He was scheduled to come out of the game in the next half-inning anyway and they decided to play it safe. Exhale.

8:33pm: Didi Gregorius exited tonight’s Spring Training game after taking a pitch to the back of his right leg, right to the hamstring. Here’s the play:

Gregorius tried to walk it off and stay in the game before exiting. This is Spring Training so the Yankees didn’t take any chances. He was removed as a precaution so they could ice his hamstring down and get it taken care of. Hopefully it’s nothing more than a welt and Gregorius is back on the field in a day or two.

Didi legged out a triple in his first at-bat of the night but is otherwise off to a pretty slow start this spring, coming into tonight’s game 1-for-12 (.083). That’s no big deal though.

We’ll update this post if the Yankees pass any information about Gregorius along. I’m pretty sure this isn’t anything serious though. They’re just playing it safe.