2017 Midseason Review: The Starting Rotation

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Coming into Spring Training and the 2017 season, the starting rotation was pretty clearly the biggest concern for the Yankees. They had three veterans to anchor the rotation in Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia, yet all three came with some questions. Tanaka’s elbow hangs over every pitch he throws, Sabathia is nearing the end of his career, and Pineda is, well, Pineda.

The final two rotation spots were wide open going into camp. I always though Luis Severino had a leg up on a spot — I definitely wrote that a few times — and sure enough, he landed one in Spring Training. The Yankees had four candidates for the fifth starter’s spot (Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green, Luis Cessa) and none of them won it. Jordan Montgomery snuck up and beat everyone out. Time to review the rotation.

Masahiro Tanaka: The Return of the Dingers

Last season Tanaka was, legitimately, one of the best starters in the league. He threw 199.2 innings with a 3.07 ERA (3.51 FIP) and strong strikeout (20.5%) and walk (4.5%) numbers. If you’re into WHIP, his 1.077 WHIP was fifth lowest among AL qualified starters. Tanaka was excellent.

This season Tanaka has been one of the worst starters in the league. There are 74 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title and Tanaka ranks 69th in ERA (5.47) and 59th in FIP (5.03). He’s also 71st in home run rate (2.03 HR/9), which is his biggest problem. Tanaka has not been able to keep the ball in the park, especially of late. We’re talking 20 homers in his last 13 starts, and that includes a three-start stretch with no homers.

Why is Tanaka allowing so many more homers? Well, the answer is kinda obvious. He’s been leaving too many pitches out over the plate, and because he’s not overpowering (and because balls are flying out of every park this year), Tanaka has paid dearly for his mistakes. The question is why is he making more mistakes? Why have more fastballs run back over the plate, and why haven’t his splitter and slider had the same bite for long stretches of time?

The Yankees and Tanaka are still looking for that answer. It looked like he found something these last few weeks, in which he fired 31.2 innings with a 2.56 ERA (3.21 FIP) across five starts. Then Tanaka got bombed Sunday, in the final game before the All-Star break. One step forward, one step back. Hopefully that game was just a blip and Tanaka goes back to dominating again like he did in four of his previous five starts. That would be swell.

Whatever is wrong with Tanaka — injury, bad mechanics, lack of confidence, etc. — it is the single biggest problem for the Yankees right now. Even moreso than the bullpen, I think. I think Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman will figure it out and be fine. Given how long Tanaka has struggled — basically since Opening Day — his struggles concern me more. It’s hard to imagine the Yankees getting to the postseason if Tanaka continues pitching like this.

Luis Severino: The Emerging Ace

Aside from Aaron Judge, who is on a completely different level than everyone else right now, there has been no better short and long-term development for the Yankees this season than Severino. He came up and pitched very well in the second half of 2015, struggled mightily as a starter in 2016, and now he’s pitching at a near ace level (3.54 ERA and 3.16 FIP) through 17 starts and 106.2 innings. His ranks among the 74 qualified starters:

  • Strikeout Rate: 28.4% (8th)
  • Walk Rate: 6.2% (17th)
  • K/BB ratio: 4.59 (8th)
  • Ground Ball Rate: 52.4% (8th)

Severino and Lance McCullers Jr. are the only pitchers who rank in the top ten in both strikeout rate and ground ball rate, and they’re both deserving All-Stars. By Game Score, the 23-year-old Severino — he spent most of the season as the youngest player on the roster before the recent Tyler Wade and Clint Frazier call-ups — is responsible for four of the nine best and five of the eleven best games pitched by a Yankee this season.

What has been different about Severino this year? A few things. For starters, he seems to be much more aggressive with his fastball. I really believe the stint in the bullpen last season taught Severino that yes, he can throw his heater by big league hitters, and that gave him the confidence to do it this year. He’s no longer trying to paint the corner. He’s just letting it fly and letting the pitch’s natural life and velocity do the rest. (At 97.5 mph, Severino has the highest average fastball velocity among all starters in 2017. Carlos Martinez is second at 96.8 mph.)

Two, Severino seems to have much more confidence in his changeup. He’s not necessarily throwing it more often — he threw the pitch 14.1% of the time in 2015, 9.4% of the time in 2016, and 11.4% of the time in 2017 — but he is throwing better quality changeups and he’s throwing it with more conviction. Last year Severino admitted he lost confidence in his changeup and he basically stopped throwing it by the end of the season. The changeup is still his third pitch, but Severino uses it and he now seems to trust it again.

And three, he’s locating his slider so much better this year. So, so much better. Last season he left way too many sliders up in the zone and hitters either fouled it off or put it in play rather than swing and miss. This year’s he’s burying the pitch down and getting those whiffs. That impressive — and elite! — combination of strikeouts and ground balls is no accident. Severino pairs a big fastball with a better located wipeout slider and an improved changeup.

I’m curious to see how the Yankees will handle Severino’s workload in the second half because he is on pace to throw 201 innings, and I can’t imagine they’ll let a 23-year-old kid throw 200+ innings. Or maybe they will. Who knows? My guess is the Yankees find a way to give Severino some extra rest between starts down the stretch. We’ll see. Whatever they do, the most important thing is that Severino looks like a top of the rotation starter, and gosh do the Yankees need one of those going forward.

CC Sabathia: The Veteran Innings Guy

Aside from a rough four-start stretch spanning late-April and early-May in which he allowed 22 runs in 20.2 innings, Sabathia has been steady and reliable for the Yankees this year. He reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher last year and he’s stuck with that approach this year. Sabathia in 2016: 3.91 ERA and 4.28 FIP. Sabathia in 2017: 3.81 ERA and 4.19 FIP. Yup.

Sabathia did miss three weeks with a hamstring injury and his first start back was pretty bad (four runs in 2.2 innings), and, in hindsight, the Yankees shoulda sent him out on a minor league rehab assignment rather than have him make one start — one start on a 75-80 pitch count, no less — before the All-Star break. Either way, Sabathia’s days as an ace are over, but so are his days as a below-average pitcher, which he was from 2013-15. The big man made some adjustments last year, they worked, he’s stuck with them, and they’re still working. That’s pretty much all there is to say about him. Go CC.

Michael Pineda: Same Ol’ Michael Pineda

Groan. Do we really have to review Pineda’s season? He’s the same guy he was last year and the year before that. The difference this year is that Pineda started very well and had more than a few folks, myself included, thinking he had turned the corner. But no, it was just one of his patented “did he figure it out???” streaks at the start of the season. To the monthly splits:

  • April: 3.14 ERA (3.25 FIP)
  • May: 3.48 ERA (4.76 FIP)
  • June: 5.35 ERA (4.69 FIP)
  • July: 15.00 ERA (16.48 FIP) in one start

Overall, Pineda has a 4.39 ERA (4.64 FIP) in 96.1 innings this year. He had a 4.60 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 336.1 innings the last two seasons. The biggest difference this year is the home runs, though that’s not unique to Pineda. Almost every pitcher in the league is allowing more homers this year. Pineda had a 1.28 HR/9 from 2015-16. It’s 1.87 HR/9 this year, hence the massive spike in FIP.

One thing Pineda does deserve credit for is his improved performance with two strikes. Remember all those annoying two-strike hits last season? Check it out:

  • 2016 with two strikes: .187/.246/.286 (104 OPS+)
  • 2017 with two strikes: .162/.212/.242 (71 OPS+)

I know a .187/.246/.286 batting line against seems great, but in two-strike counts, it was actually 4% worse than average last year. That shouldn’t happen to a guy with Pineda’s slider. This year he’s been much better with two strikes. He’s gone from 4% below-average to 29% above-average. And, to be fair, last season is the outlier for Pineda. He has a career 42 OPS+ allowed in two-strike counts. Usually he excels in those spots. Last season he didn’t for whatever reason.

In all likelihood Pineda is entering his final few months as a Yankee, and maybe even his final few weeks. If the team continues to fall in the standings, they could ship Pineda to a pitching needy contender at the trade deadline. He’s a free agent after the season and he’s not a qualifying offer candidate. Not when the potential return is a pick after the fourth round. Not worth the risk. Pineda started this season pretty well. But with each passing start, it’s becoming more and more clear he’s the same guy he’s always been.

Jordan Montgomery: The Reliable Rookie

I thought it was inevitable we would see Montgomery in the big leagues at some point this season. He came into 2017 as New York’s best big league ready pitching prospect and by a pretty decent margin. I just didn’t think he’d win a rotation spot out of Spring Training. Montgomery outpitched everyone else in camp, the Yankees decided he was their best option, and he’s been a rotation mainstay ever since.

Through 16 big league starts the 24-year-old Montgomery has a 3.65 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 91.1 innings. He’s completed six innings in eight of those 16 starts and at least five innings in 13 of those 16 starts. Joe Girardi has had a quick hook with the rookie at times, which is fine. For the most part Montgomery has been a consistent source of quality innings. Three things stand out about his first half.

1. His lack of ground balls is starting to catch up to him. Montgomery is a big man (6-foot-6) with an extreme over-the-top arm angle, and because of that, he can have a tough time getting his pitches down at the knees and below the strike zone. The result has been a 41.6% ground ball rate, which ranks 50th among those 74 qualified starters. And lately, more and more of those fly balls are turning into home runs:

jordan-montgomery-home-run-rate

Home runs are being hit at a higher rate than at any other point in baseball history and Montgomery’s home ballpark is homer happy Yankee Stadium. Given how fly ball prone he’s been so far this season, it was only a matter of time until the home runs came. Hopefully more grounders will follow.

2. He’s great at getting hitters to chase out of the zone. Montgomery is a polished young pitcher with a five-pitch arsenal. He’s got both a straight four-seamer and a sinker, plus a slider, a changeup, and a curveball. His least used pitch is his slider. He’s thrown it 13.0% of the time this year, which is pretty darn often for a fifth pitch. Because of his deep arsenal, Montgomery has excelled at getting hitters to swing out of the zone. Here is the chase rate leaderboard:

  1. Masahiro Tanaka: 39.8%
  2. Zack Greinke: 38.6%
  3. Jordan Montgomery: 38.3%
  4. Chris Sale: 38.3%
  5. Clayton Kershaw: 37.6%

Max Scherzer (37.2%) is sixth. McCullers (36.9%) is seventh. Corey Kluber (36.8%) is eighth. The top of the chase rate leaderboard is basically the seven best pitchers in baseball and Jordan Montgomery. Getting hitters to expand the zone is a very valuable skill. Swings on pitches out of the strike zone often result in swings and misses or weak contact. You don’t see those pitches squared up very often. That chase rate ability is a big reason why Montgomery has had so much success early in his MLB career.

3. Montgomery is not afraid to pitch inside. Especially to righties, which he needs to do to have success. He’s not going to blow anyone away with the sheer quality of his stuff. Here’s a heat map of his fastball and slider locations against right-handed batters, via Baseball Savant:

jordan-montgomery-heat-mapYep. Montgomery lives on the inner half of the plate with those pitches against righties. He uses them to set up changeups and curveballs away, and he’s been successful doing that. Montgomery has held righties to a .249/.307/.403 (.306 wOBA) batting line. He’s not dominating them by any means, but he is holding his own, and that’s important as a starting pitcher. Pitching inside allows him to have that success.

Montgomery right now looks very much like a long-term keeper. He’s poised and he seems fearless on the mound, even when things are going haywire. Add in the fact he throws five pitches regularly and has pretty good command, and the ingredients are there to stick in the rotation going forward. The Yankees needed to find some starting pitchers this year and they’ve found one in Montgomery.

* * *

Tanaka, Severino, Sabathia, Pineda, and Montgomery have combined to start 82 of 86 games for the Yankees this season. Cessa started three and Green started one while Sabathia was sidelined with his hamstring injury. Otherwise the Yankees have been pretty fortunate injury-wise. That’s not to say the good health will continue all year, but it happened in the first half, and that’s all that matters right now.

Believe it or not, the rotation ranks tenth in ERA (4.26) and eighth in FIP (4.21) among the 30 teams, which surprised me. It still feels like there’s room for improvement, mostly with Tanaka but also with Pineda given his recent performance. The Yankees now have two rotation building blocks in Severino and Montgomery whereas four months ago they had none, and Sabathia sure looks like a new pitcher too. I still expect the Yankees to be in on just about every high-end starter at the trade deadline because hey, there’s no such thing as too much pitching. The current rotation has been good enough to get the Yankees to the All-Star break in postseason position.

Cano’s home run gives AL a 2-1 win in the 2017 All-Star Game

Those socks tho. (Presswire)
Those socks tho. (Presswire)

Once again, the American League has proven it is the superior and more enjoyable league. The AL won the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park on Tuesday night thanks to Robinson Cano‘s tenth inning home run against Wade Davis. The final score was 2-1. Cano hit the homer and was named MVP. Andrew Miller got the save. Ex-Yankees all over the place.

With the win, the AL has tied up the all-time All-Star Game series at 43-43-2. Both leagues have scored exactly 361 runs too. Freaky. The AL has won each of the last five All-Star Games and 17 of the last 21 overall. Total dominance. Here’s video of the Cano home run:

Man do I miss watching that guy’s swing on a daily basis. I still have nothing but love for Robbie.

As for the Yankees, Aaron Judge started the game in right field and went 0-for-3 before being removed. He struck out against Max Scherzer, grounded out again Carlos Martinez, and flew out against Alex Wood. Judge didn’t have to make any tough plays in the field. He made it out in one piece and that’s all that matters.

Dellin Betances threw the third inning for the AL and danced in and out of danger. His inning went single (Zack Cozart), strikeout (Charlie Blackmon), strikeout (Giancarlo Stanton), walk (Bryce Harper), walk (Buster Posey), ground out (Daniel Murphy). Luis Severino did not pitch in the game. He said he was slated to pitch the 11th had the game continued. Lame, but I guess he could use the rest.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning that Gary Sanchez came off the bench to replace Salvador Perez. He grounded out against Brad Hand and struck out against Kenley Jansen. (Future Yankee?) Yonder Alonso was on second base with one out in a 1-1 game that at-bat. Womp womp. Not a great day for the Yankees, but whatever. Who cares?

Here is the box score and video highlights. Now that the All-Star Game is over, every team in the league will have Wednesday and Thursday off. The Yankees begin the second half Friday night at Fenway Park for the first game of a four games in three days series with the Red Sox. Going right back into the fire, eh? Enjoy the rest of the All-Star break.

DotF: Stephan pitches well in Staten Island’s win

Let’s start with some notes:

  • So long, Chris Carter. He’s been released, the Yankees announced. I thought they would try to outright him to Triple-A Scranton again considering the first base depth chart is so thin, but I guess not.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrote about RHP Domingo Acevedo’s rough Futures Game performance. “His delivery is so uncoordinated and unrepeatable that I find it hard to believe he’ll ever see even fringe-average command,” write Law. Acevedo gave up three runs and rockets to the first five batters he faced Sunday.
  • Meanwhile, Ken Davidoff spoke to Acevedo about his Futures Game performance. “Today I wasn’t as sharp as I’ve been. You can learn from these experiences,” he said. Interestingly, Acevedo said he spoke to Aroldis Chapman about his mental approach to pitching back in Spring Training.
  • RHP Brody Koerner and RHP Gilmael Troya were named the Pitchers of the Week for the Double-A Eastern League and Rookie Appalachian League, respectively. Koerner threw 13.1 scoreless innings in two Double-A starts, his first two starts at the level. He has a heavy mid-90s sinker and iffy secondary stuff.

Both Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton are off until Thursday for the All-Star break. Their All-Star Games are tomorrow. LHP Caleb Smith will represent the RailRiders while LHP Nestor Cortes, LHP Nestor Cortes, SS Thairo Estrada, RHP Yefry Ramirez, and OF Zack Zehner will represent the Thunder. Dustin Fowler (injury), LHP Justus Sheffield (injury), and 1B Mike Ford (promotion) were all selected to the All-Star Game but won’t participate for various reasons.

High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston, and Rookie Pulaski all had scheduled off-days. Most minor league teams have an off-day today so they don’t interfere with the MLB All-Star Game.

Short Season Staten Island Game One (3-1 win over Vermont in seven innings) makeup of their June 29th rainout

  • 2B Oswaldo Cabrera: 2-3, 1 R
  • SS Wilkerman Garcia: 1-3 — got picked off first
  • CF Dom Thompson-Williams: 2-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 CS — 12-for-29 (.414) in his last nine games
  • 3B Nelson Gomez: 0-3 — the $2.25M bonus baby is down to .091/.226/.159 in 15 games
  • RHP Trevor Stephan: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 36 of 45 pitches were strikes (80%) … 7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K so far for this year’s third rounder

[Read more…]

2017 All-Star Game Thread

This is a good photo. (Presswire)
This is a good photo. (Presswire)

Tonight in Miami, the very best players in baseball will get together for the 88th annual All-Star Game at Marlins Park. Some non-Yankees will be there too. Aaron Judge won the Home Run Derby with hilarious ease last night — there was 1:53 still on the clock when he hit the winning home run in the finals — and now he’ll anchor the AL lineup tonight.

Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and Dellin Betances are all on the AL roster in addition to Judge, giving the Yankees four homegrown All-Stars this year. Three are no older than 25. Is that not cool? That is cool. Starlin Castro was selected to the All-Star Game as well this year, but he will not play because of his hamstring injury. Ex-Yankee Robinson Cano took his spot on the roster.

The All-Star Game is no longer tied to home field advantage in the World Series, thankfully, meaning tonight’s game is nothing more than a meaningless exhibition. The only thing on the line is bragging rights and, frankly, these guys don’t care nearly as much about bragging rights as players did way back in the day. The All-Star Game used to be super competitive. Not anymore.

Here are the All-Star Game starting lineups. Fans voted on the players, then managers lined them in the batting order and selected a starting pitcher:

American League
1. 2B Jose Altuve, Astros
2. 3B Jose Ramirez, Indians
3. RF Aaron Judge, Yankees
4. LF George Springer, Astros
5. SS Carlos Correa, Astros
6. 1B Justin Smoak, Blue Jays
7. DH Corey Dickerson, Rays
8. C Salvador Perez, Royals
9. CF Mookie Betts, Red Sox
LHP Chris Sale, Red Sox

National League
1. CF Charlie Blackmon, Rockies
2. DH Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
3. RF Bryce Harper, Nationals
4. C Buster Posey, Giants
5. 2B Daniel Murphy, Nationals
6. 3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies
7. 1B Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
8. LF Marcell Ozuna, Marlins
9. SS Zack Cozart, Reds
RHP Max Scherzer, Nationals

Acting AL manager Brad Mills — Terry Francona recently had a heart procedure, so his bench coach with the Indians is taking over All-Star managerial duty — was pretty adamant yesterday that his plan is to get all of his players into the game. Sanchez will play at some point and I guess chances are Severino will pitch too since this is his first All-Star Game. Betances is here for the fourth time, so he could be someone who gets the night off in deference to young players here for the first time. We’ll see. I’m cool with Dellin getting the night off anyway.

Tonight’s game will begin at 8pm ET and you can watch on FOX and also the FOX Sports Go app. The Marlins Park roof is going to be closed because it is approximately 110 degrees with 400% humidity in Miami today. Enjoy the game.

2017 Midseason Review: The Outfield

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Going into the spring, the Yankees had two spots claimed in the outfield and one up for grabs.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner were the veteran holdovers from last season while the pair of Aarons — Hicks and Judge — battled for right field. Both hit quite well in the spring, so the job went to the prospect with higher promise — and what promise it has been!

Perhaps the best way to look at this outfield is going month-to-month, as things changed … other than Aaron Judge‘s dominance.

April: Judge and Hicks emerge

As I’m sure everyone remembers, Judge was a monster in April. He smacked 10 home runs, batting .303/.411/.750 (198 wRC+) for the month. Somehow, that wasn’t his peak for the season. That slugging percentage should be a little higher because of that “triple” against the Cardinals. It actually took him five starts to hit a home run and he’s taken off from there.

Hicks, on the other hand, was the fourth outfielder, so he took a lot of pinch hitting duty early on. He hit two home runs vs. the Rays on Apr. 13 and proved effective in the 57 plate appearances he received. His .295/.429/614 (173 wRC+) slash line is his best for a month this year.

Gardner and Ellsbury each got off to slow starts, which allowed Hicks to get into the lineup more often. They combined for 11 stolen bases (and fielded their positions well, like both Aarons), but had 78 and 99 wRC+ respectively. Gardner was slowed by a collision at first base against Tampa Bay while Ellsbury met expectations while hitting a key grand slam against Baltimore.

Signature moments: I’ll nominate two: Judge’s birthday, when he homered and dove into the stands for a catch vs. Boston, and Hicks’ two-homer game against the Rays, when he provided all of the offense the Yanks needed.

May: Judge (and Gardner) surge

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The fair assumption was that Judge would cool off in May. His OPS did fall… but from 1.161 to 1.084. Another seven homers, just insane stuff. Hits first grand slam came late in the month and he followed with a Memorial Day homer next day. He actually hit for more average in May yet with a little less power.

Meanwhile, Gardner went on a power surge starting with a two-homer game vs. Toronto May 2, his first of two multi-homer games in the month. He had perhaps the most clutch homer of the season vs. the Cubs three days later. His nine homers for the month were more than he had all of 2016.

Hicks really hit his stride, earning some playing time over Ellsbury before Taco’s injury. Not quite as good as April overall, but he also proved his first month wasn’t a fluke. He had seven hits over the first two games of the Cubs series and 10 hits over a four-day span.

Even Taco hit better in May with a .288/.373/.442 (120 wRC+) line. Just one HR, but five doubles. Unfortunately, he got hurt catching a ball on May 24 and was out for over a month.

Signature moment: Easily Gardner vs. the Cubs. Down to the final strike, Gardner erased a 2-0 deficit with a game-winning three-run shot. That’s a very literal game changer.

June: How is Judge still doing this!?!

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Judge literally got on base every single game in June. That shouldn’t be possible. But it was. That 495-foot homer was absurd. He struck out 39 times, but walked 30(!). Another 10 home runs. Ho hum.

Like Ellsbury, Hicks got hurt making a catch and it threw a wrench into the outfield situation. He had slumped later in the month, but was still walking and getting on base. Ellsbury’s return was quickened by the loss of Hicks.

Gardner cooled off significantly (.239/.296/.389 for June). With his power falling off, he got back to stealing bases with five and continued to provide solid fielding in left and center.

Off the bench, the Yankees went to Mason Williams and Rob Refsnyder, the former who would be DFA’d. You surely remember the Dustin Fowler injury…

Signature moment: Is there any question? It’s Judge vs. the Orioles. A 495-foot homer is impressive in BP, let alone in game. And he followed it with a lightning fast shot to right-center.

July: Enter Clint Frazier

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Since returning at the end of June, Ellsbury is batting just .208/.321/.208. No power and a lot of weak grounders to second. Judge, of course, is still doing Judge things, though his on-base streak came to an end on July 1. He also won the Home Run Derby, which was cool. Gardner picked up just five hits (no HR) in 37 plate appearances.

The main bright spot in the eight games before the ASG was Clint Frazier. Frazier has been a revelation with his bat speed. He could force his way onto the roster post-Hicks return, although the outfield will be quite crowded if everyone stays healthy. Six of his seven hits have gone for extra bases and he’s slugging .875 through 24 at-bats. I like it!

Signature moment: Frazier’s walk-off vs. the Brewers. He fastball hunted against All-Star Corey Knebel and launched one to left for the win. Well done.

With Judge, Hicks, Ellsbury, Gardner and Frazier all starting quality outfielders, the Yankees have some of the most enviable outfield depth in baseball. That crew includes the MVP so far, a young player having a career year, a vet with a power resurgence and a 22-year-old just tapping into potential. It’s been a good 3 1/2 months for the Bombers OF and it should be a good overall season, too.

Thoughts on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 prospects

(Al Bello/Getty)
Frazier. (Al Bello/Getty)

Late last week, Baseball America released their updated list of the top 100 prospects in baseball. White Sox 3B Yoan Moncada remains in the top spot, which isn’t too surprising. The Moncada hype train still has a full head of steam.

Seven Yankees made the updated top 100 list, the same number that made the preseason list. A few of the names have changed, however. Here’s where the Yankees rank:

3. SS Gleyber Torres (Preseason: 5th)
36. OF Blake Rutherford (Preseason: 45th)
48. OF Clint Frazier (Preseason: 39th)
55. RHP Chance Adams (Preseason: Not ranked)
70. OF Estevan Florial (Preseason: Not ranked)
72. LHP Justus Sheffield (Preseason: 91st)
88. OF Dustin Fowler (Preseason: Not ranked)

Adams, Florial, and Fowler jump into the top 100 while preseason No. 85 Jorge Mateo (poor performance), No. 87 RHP James Kaprielian (injury), and No. 90 OF Aaron Judge (graduated to MLB) fell out of the top 100. Looking back, it’s pretty funny Judge slipped from 53th to 76th to 90th on Baseball America’s preseason top 100 lists the last three years, and now he’s an AL MVP candidate (favorite?) as a rookie. Good times. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the latest top 100, so let’s get to them.

1. Gleyber’s injury hasn’t changed his prospect status. Despite undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago, Torres remains on the very short list of the best prospects in baseball. That indicates the injury to his non-throwing arm hasn’t soured anyone on his long-term outlook. The lost development time stinks, no doubt about that, but it’s a correctable injury to his least important limb. (That sounds bad. You know what I mean.) It was a freak injury and a pretty rare injury, but there is some precedent here. Reds shortstop Zack Cozart needed Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow in August 2011. He tore his ligament in a collision at second base. Cozart had surgery in August and was ready for Spring Training. He was in Cincinnati’s lineup on Opening Day 2012. Torres had his surgery in June, two months earlier in the season than Cozart. And Cozart has had no trouble with the elbow since. Tommy John surgery is really bad and always risky. In Gleyber’s case, it’s not as bad as it would be with his throwing arm, and because of that, he remains a tippy top prospect.

2. Why did Rutherford and Frazier switch spots? For all intents and purposes, Rutherford and Frazier have switched spots since the preseason list. They’re still pretty close together — they’re separated by 12 spots on the midseason top 100 — but they did flip. For some reason Baseball America now prefers Rutherford whereas four months ago they preferred Frazier. Hmmm. What changed? Frazier, 22, hit .257/.345/.474 (123 wRC+) with 12 homers, 21.3% strikeouts, and 11.6% walks in 73 Triple-A games before getting called up. Rutherford, 19, is hitting .278/.343/.384 (111 wRC+) with one homers, 19.3% strikeouts, and 8.8% walks in 64 Low-A games. Which performance is more impressive? It’s Frazier for me. Pretty clearly too. But it’s not just about numbers though. The scouting report will forever be more important than the stats. I’m curious to know why Rutherford climbed (slightly) and Frazier fell (slightly). If anything, Frazier’s stock is up in my eyes, and not only because he’s now socking dingers in the big leagues. Forget about all that for a second. Frazier is better commanding the strike zone this year and he’s tapping into his power more often. He hit 12 homers in 73 Triple-A games. His previous career high was 16 homers in 119 games last year. I dunno. Feels like ever since the trade, people have been looking for reasons to dog Frazier, whether it’s silly stories about his attitude or nitpicking his game and dropping him in prospect rankings. Dropping him below Rutherford (who is awesome!) seems like more of the same.

3. I am still the low man on Adams. Adams keeps climbing prospect rankings and that’s pretty cool to see. The reliever-to-start conversion couldn’t be going any better. I ranked Adams as the tenth best prospect in the system in my most recent top 30 list, behind three players who did not make Baseball America’s midseason top 100. That isn’t to say I think he’s a bad prospect. He’s not! He’s really good. But ranking Adams in the middle of a top 50 list suggests you think he can be an impact pitcher soon, or that he’s very likely to remain a starter long-term, and I’m not sure I buy either right now. I have some reservations about his overall command, about the life and plane on his fastball, and about his complete inability to keep Double-A and Triple-A hitters on the ground this year. A 42.7% ground ball rate at those levels is pretty darn scary. Just about every pitching prospect worth a damn puts up good grounder numbers in the minors simply by overwhelming all the low quality hitters you inevitably find at every level. Adams hasn’t been able to do that. Hopefully I’m wrong and he’ll soon be an impact pitcher for the Yankees. The fact the Yankees haven’t called him up despite their pitching needs — even as a reliever at this point — is a pretty good indication the team doesn’t consider Adams ready to help, however. I feel like a spot in the middle of the top 100 is a bit aggressive, but to each his own.

Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)

4. Florial has a really unique profile and I don’t know how to rank him. So far this season the 19-year-old Florial is hitting .300/.383/.502 (152 wRC+) with eleven homers, 15 steals in 21 attempts, and an 11.4% walks in 74 Low-A games. That is across the board excellence for a kid who is more than two years younger than the average South Atlantic League player. At the same time, Florial has a 30.2% strikeout rate, which is awfully high. You don’t often see a player pair that strikeout rate with the kind of overall success at the plate Florial is having. It’s very unique, though we are watching Judge do the same thing in the big leagues, so it’s not unprecedented. Does the strikeout rate mean Florial will fail against more advanced pitchers as he climbs the ladder? Or does the strong overall numbers indicate he will make the adjustment and cut down on the whiffs as he moves forward? This much is clear: Florial’s tools are off the charts. He’s got power from the left side of the plate, he runs well, he’s a very good center fielder, and he has a rocket arm. Based on the natural talent and overall production, Florial is a top 100 caliber prospect. I’m just not sure what that strikeout rate means. I’m more fascinated than alarmed.

5. Mateo could wind up back on the top 100 soon. Mateo has been tearing the cover off the ball since being bumped up to Double-A Trenton. He hit .240/.288/.400 (97 wRC+) in 69 games while repeating High-A and is at .417/.533/.750 (249 wRC+) in 13 games since being promoted. I mean, 13 games is 13 games, we probably shouldn’t read too much into them, but it sure is nice to see Mateo raking for the first time in more than a year. I don’t think Baseball America was wrong to drop him out of their midseason top 100. Not at all. That said, Mateo certainly has the tools to climb back into the top 100 in the future, and his Double-A performance is going to make people take notice. The Yankees have plenty of top 100 caliber prospects and I feel like they’re most willing to part with Mateo in a trade despite his upside. His success in Double-A is perhaps rebuilding some trade value leading up to the deadline and the offseason. It can’t hurt. That’s for sure.

6. Andujar keeps getting snubbed. I am the low man on Adams and the high man on Miguel Andujar, it seems. I’m not saying Andujar is a no doubt top 100 prospect, but I do think he deserves serious consideration, and he’s yet to sneak into any top 100 list. For shame. Andujar is hitting .302/.336/.479 (121 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A this year and he’s gone from a 98 wRC+ in 2015 to a 111 wRC+ in 2016 to a 121 wRC+ in 2017, so he’s trending in the right direction. That said, Andujar has to improve his defense, and I guess that’s why he’s not making any top 100 lists. Not everyone is sold on him remaining at third. Defense is the No. 1 priority right now and I’m glad the Yankees are letting him work on it in Triple-A. I don’t want Andujar playing first base and I don’t want him learning the hot corner on the fly in the big leagues. Third base in Triple-A is the appropriate spot for him. Robinson Cano never made a top 100 list, you know. Not once with any publication. I’m not saying Andujar will be the next Cano — Robbie is about 90% of the way to the Hall of Fame at this point, it’s not pair to compare any prospect to him — but in a few years, I definitely think he’s the type of player who will have people saying “how was this guy never on a top 100 list?”

2017 Midseason Review: The Infielders

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

In the weeks leading up to Opening Day, our expectations surrounding the infield were fairly high. Greg Bird was raking in Spring Training, and it seemed as though he hadn’t missed a beat; and, in the event that he did, Chris Carter was around as an overqualified back-up. Starlin Castro had shown flashes of brilliance in 2016, and had been hyped-up by some as a potential breakout player. Chase Headley … well, his defense had improved, and he was better after a calamitous first month. And Didi Gregorius was coming off of a great all-around season. What could possibly go wrong?

The First Basemen

Expectation: Bird and Carter would form a more than competent platoon, of sorts, with Carter playing first against tougher LHP, and allowing Bird to rest a bit more often than a normal team composition would dictate. ZiPS projected a .234/.307/.449 line for Bird, and .223/.316/.509 for Carter.

Reality: Bird is on the disabled list for the second time in his career, as the result of an ankle injury. He’s played just 19 games, and is hitting on a .100/.250/.200 slash line. And Carter has earned himself two DFA’s by hitting .201/.284/.370 and absolutely brutal defense at first. The starter is currently Ji-Man Choi.

I almost don’t want to write more about first base, as it’s rather depressing. Bird’s injury (and the resulting fallout from the front office) has cast a shadow over the team’s season, and it has only grown darker as the team struggled over the last few weeks. His return is still up in the air, and surgery is a distinct possibility. And it is that uncertainty that is most frustrating.

And Carter – the should-have-been safety net – failed catastrophically. We always knew that he was a feast or famine hitter, but that had still resulted in a .221/.318/.474 slash line (116 wRC+) in five seasons as a regular. There was some sentiment that he was struggling as he adjusted to playing part time, but that excuse went out the window once he became the full-time first baseman. His 73 wRC+ ranks dead last among first basemen.

Choi is the starter for the time being, and he has made a decent impression in a four games. He’s hitting .182/.308/.727 in 13 PA, with 2 HR and 2 BB, and there’s no real challenger for his position in the organization right now. And, for what it’s worth, he does have a career .853 OPS in 851 PA at Triple-A.

Second-Half Forecast: The Yankees will acquire a first baseman via trade, and shut Bird down sooner rather than later.

The Second Basemen

Expectation: Castro would continue to be a competent yet frustrating presence at the keystone. ZiPS projected a .272/.305/.419 slash line, which isn’t too far off from his career norms (in 4000-plus PA).

Reality: Castro is currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, which was a major blow to the team’s lineup. He’s currently slashing .313/.348/.486 (121 wRC+) with 12 HR in 313 PA.

The 27-year-old Castro absolutely raked in April, batting .352/.362/.549 (154 wRC+) with 5 home runs. He also had a 7.1% walk rate, which is impressive for the free-swinger. His performance dipped in May (97 wRC+, 3.4 BB%), but he showed improvements in June (117 wRC+, 4.2 BB%) prior to hitting the DL. Castro earned an All-Star nod for his first-half, but had to be replaced due to that injury.

Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes have filled-in since the injury. I’ll have more on them in a bit.

Second-Half Forecast: Castro will be back soon, and his numbers will continue to fluctuate. With so much strong production in the bank, however, we may end up seeing a career year.

The Third Basemen

Expectation: Headley would be a warm body at the hot corner, with competent defense. And maybe, just maybe, he’d be a bit better with the bat. ZiPS had him at .247/.324/.376.

Reality: Headley has been a warm body at the hot corner, but his defense has regressed. His offense (91 wRC+) is right in-line with 2015 (92 wRC+) and 2016 (92 wRC+), even with a blistering hot start.

This is who Headley is at this point. He’s batting .254/.329/.373 (92 wRC+) since Opening Day of 2015, and his highs (142 wRC+ in April) are always met with ridiculous lows (15 wRC+ in May). That’s fine when he’s playing strong defense, as he did in 2016, but he has been a borderline disaster out there in 2017. DRS has him at -5 runs already, and he has already surpassed last year’s error total.

Second-Half Forecast: More of the same, unfortunately. Though, I could see a Miguel Andujar cup of coffee happening down the stretch.

The Shortstops

Expectation: Gregorius would continue to win our hearts with his surprising power, slick defense, and top-notch Twitter game. ZiPS was bearish on the power spike, projecting a .262/.308/.404 line.

Reality: Pretty darn close, albeit with nearly a month lost to a shoulder injury suffered at the World Baseball Classic. He’s hitting .291/.321/.458 with 10 HR (104 wRC+) on the year, and nearly made the All-Star team.

Gregorius is one of the most likable players in baseball, as evidenced by the fun he had trying to garner that final vote. The fact that he has proven that last season wasn’t a fluke helps, too, and he is currently a top-10 shortstop by both WAR (7th in MLB) and wRC+ (9th). And keep in mind that WAR is a counting stat, so the fact that he’s 26th among shortstop in PA helps to bring that number down. He may not be a Hall of Fame talent, but that’s perfectly acceptable – he’s still really, really good.

Second-Half Forecast: Gregorius will keep it up. He’s the safest bet among the infielders to be an above-average player for the remainder of the season, and I’m confident that he will.

The Reserves

Expectation: Ronald Torreyes and Co. would be perfectly adequate bench players.

Reality: Torreyes and Co. have been perfectly adequate – but they’ve had too play more often than anyone would have wanted.

Torreyes spent most of April as the team’s starting shortstop, and he was surprisingly competent. He posted a .313/.313/.433 slash line (95 wRC+) while Gregorius was on the mend, and his defense was more than passable. He has been overextended and a bit exposed since then, though, as he has already surpassed last year’s PA mark, and stands to play more as the season wears on. He’s another fun player, but he shouldn’t be counted on for much more than what he’s done already.

Wade was called upon to shore up the bench when Castro landed on the DL, and he has picked up five starts at second in those two weeks. He has yet to get on-track (.107/.219/.179 in 32 PA), but his versatility and speed should earn him more opportunities in the coming months. Wade hit .313/.390/.444 (134 wRC+) with 5 HR and 24 SB at Triple-A this year, and he might just be the best reserve the team has right now.

Rob Refsnyder is still around, too, but the Yankees seem to have decided that he’s a 1B/LF/RF. He’s batting .135/.200/.216 in 40 PA, and he hasn’t played since July 2.

Second-Half Forecast: This may be optimistic, but I’m hoping that we’ll see more of Wade, and less of Torreyes (and Refsnyder, if such a thing is even possible). The Yankees have been grooming him for this exact role for some time now; it’s his time to shine.