Update: Brett Gardner could return to lineup by Friday

Gardner with his wrist wrapped.
Gardner with his wrist wrapped.

Tuesday, 5:01pm: Gardner may be available to pinch-run or play defense tonight, Joe Girardi told reporters. He is still sore and not available to hit. Girardi said he hopes Gardner will be able to return to the lineup Friday, following the off-day.

Monday, 10:11pm: X-rays on Gardner’s wrist came back negative, the Yankees announced. Phew. No word on how long he will sidelined, however.

9:55pm: Brett Gardner left tonight’s game against the Orioles in the seventh inning with a stiff right wrist, the Yankees announced. He is going for an x-ray. Stephen Drew pinch-hit for Gardner and hit a go-ahead grand slam.

Gardner, 31, was hit by a pitch around the wrist area earlier in the game — he was hit in a similar spot over the weekend too, if I’m remembering correctly — but it’s unclear if that’s related. Gardner had debridement surgery on the wrist in July 2012 and hasn’t had any issues since.

Needless to say, losing Gardner for any length of time would be pretty bad. He’s no worse than their third best player right now. I imagine a Garrett Jones/Chris Young platoon would replace him if necessary. Let’s hope if doesn’t come to that. Stay tuned for any updates.

Slot bonus values for 2015 draft and 2015-16 international signing period

This year it'll be Rob Manfred at the podium. (Getty)
Rob Manfred will be at the podium this year. (Getty)

Last summer the Yankees made up for their lack of high draft picks with an unprecedented international spending spree that saw them hand out more than $17M in bonuses along, according to Ben Badler. This summer they will have to do the opposite and make up for a lack of international spending ability with their two first round draft picks, Nos. 16 and 30 overall. (No. 30 is the compensation pick for David Robertson.)

So, with both the draft and the 2015-16 international signing period slowly but steadily approaching, let’s look at the team’s draft pool situations for both. Here is a breakdown of the overall pool situations and all important slot values.

2015 Amateur Draft

A few weeks ago we heard the Yankees will have a $7.885M bonus pool for the top ten rounds of the 2015 draft. That’s the sixth largest pool in baseball thanks to Robertson pick. Four of the five teams with larger bonus pools are the teams with the top four picks (Astros, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Rockies) and the fifth is the Braves, who have an extra pick for Ervin Santana plus two Competitive Balance Picks.

The bonus pool applies to the top ten rounds — any money over $100,000 given to a player drafted after the tenth round counts against the pool as well — and teams can pay one pick an overslot bonus and save money by paying another underslot. If a team fails to sign a player, they lose the bonus money associated with that pick, which is pretty significant. Here are New York’s slot values according to Baseball America:

2015 Draft Slots

The bonus pools have gone up considerably this year, roughly 9%, so New York has three seven-figure slots. That’s pretty cool. That 16th overall pick is the Yankees’ highest pick since they selected RHP Matt Drews out of a Florida high school in 1993. This will also be the first time the team has two of the top 30 picks since 1978, when they had three of the top 30 picks.

The Yankees will have the option this year of going big and signing one top talent to a huge overslot bonus (Brady Aiken? Mike Matuella?) and signing cheaper players elsewhere, or they could spread the money around and select several solid but not top prospects. Both are viable strategies and it depends on how the draft shakes out as much as anything. There might not be an Aiken or Matuella available for that 16th pick.

Last year scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told Chad Jennings the Yankees lean towards college players these days because “we’re getting some college guys up there a little quicker and through the system a little quicker,” and this draft is loaded with college pitching. Really pitching in general, high school and college. The consensus is there is a lack of quality bats this year. But it’s only April. A lot will change between now and June.

2015-2016 International Signing Period

Because of the penalties associated with last summer’s spending spree, the Yankees can not sign an international amateur to a bonus larger than $300,000 during the 2015-16 signing period. (And 2016-17 as well.) They do still have a regular sized bonus pool, however. Back in February we heard New York has a $2.2628M pool for the upcoming signing period.

Each team gets a $700,000 bonus base plus four slot values for international free agency. Those four slots are tradeable — clubs can’t just trade X amount of international dollars, they have to trade the individual slots — however a team can only acquire 50% of its original draft pool. So the Yankees could only acquire another $1.1314M, for example. Here are New York’s individual international bonus slots, via Baseball America:

  • Slot No.18: $687,300
  • Slot No. 48: $414,700
  • Slot No. 78: $218,100
  • Slot No. 108: $180,700

Because the Yankees are limited to $300,000 bonuses, it would make sense to trade one or two of those bonus slots this year. Then again, that money doesn’t have a ton of value. The Marlins acquired a 25-year-old bullpen prospect (Matt Ramsey) for over $1M in international money over the winter, for example. Think of it as trading bonus slots Nos. 18 and 48 for another Branden Pinder.

The Yankees have done an excellent job of finding quality international prospects on the cheap over the last few years. Jorge Mateo ($250,000) and Luis Severino ($220,000) both signed for $300,000 or less in recent years, as did fellow top 30 prospects Abi Avelino ($300,000), Angel Aguilar ($60,000), and Thairo Estrada ($49,000). That $2.2628M bonus pool equals seven full $300,000 bonuses. The Yankees have shown they can turn relative small bonuses into quality prospects.

Re-inventing CC Sabathia as a ground ball pitcher

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

CC Sabathia did pretty much everything that you’d expect from a frontline starting pitcher in his season debut last Thursday against Toronto. He struck out a third of the batters he faced, walked nobody, didn’t allow a homer, and induced ground balls or popups on nearly every ball that was put into play. Sabathia also got batters to chase almost half of the pitches he threw out of the zone, and the Blue Jays whiffed on nearly 15 percent of the pitches he threw. Sounds like an ace!

In fact, if you look at the outcomes that a pitcher has control over, Sabathia produced one of the best games of his 16-season career. His FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching) for the game was 0.18, the second-best mark out of the 424 games he’s pitched with the Indians, Brewers and Yankees.

Despite those impressive results, he ultimately ended up with a crooked pitching line (5 R, 8 H, 5 2/3 IP) because of two issues that have plagued him over the last two seasons – a high BABIP and inability to pitch out of trouble. Half of the 16 balls put into play went for hits, and he stranded just three of the players that reached base against him. There is little doubt that Sabathia stills needs to iron out those problems if he’s going to bounce back from the worst two-year stretch of his career.

However, there was one very encouraging trend from his season debut that is worth watching for tonight when the large lefty takes the mound against the Orioles in his second start of 2015.

Even during the low points of Sabathia’s struggles in 2013-14, he still maintained strong strikeout and walk rates. So the fact that he had eight strikeouts and no walks last Thursday was not surprising.

Rather, the most impressive number from his outing against the Blue Jays was 75.0 – the percentage of balls in play that were grounders. That was the third-highest groundball rate he’s induced in any game of his career, and his best mark since joining the Yankees. As you can see in the heat map below, he was really effective in pounding the bottom of the strike zone with his sinker.

Sabathia vs Blue Jays pitch location

Perhaps realizing that he can no longer dominate hitters with a blazing four-seamer, Sabathia relied on his two-seam fastball more than ever before against the Blue Jays. Forty-five percent of the pitches he threw were sinkers, his highest two-seam usage rate in a game since Pitch F/X tracking began in 2007. He also threw just six four-seamers, his fewest in any game over that same time period.

Although the sinker averaged only 89 mph, it had impressive horizontal movement (11 inches) and he located it well (53 percent below the knees). The pitch was just not a ground ball machine either; he got three strikeouts with the sinking fastball and batters whiffed on more than 20 percent of their swings against it.

One key result of his increased sinker usage was the weak contact that he induced throughout his outing. According to ESPN Stats & Information’s Mark Simon, he gave up only one hard-hit ball (as classified by video review) to the 24 batters he faced last Thursday. Just two of the 16 balls in play were line drives, and in addition to his 12 ground balls, Sabathia also generated an infield popup.

By keeping the ball down and getting grounders, Sabathia successfully avoided one of his biggest problems over the past two seasons – the home run ball. From 2013-14, he allowed 1.33 homers per nine innings, the sixth-highest rate among pitchers with at least 250 innings in that span.

Was this a deliberate strategy by Sabathia? Will he continue to ditch his four-seam fastball and instead go to his sinker to generate quick outs? Perhaps the most intriguing question is this one: Can Sabathia re-invent himself as a ground ball pitcher as he ages and enters the twilight of his career? If the answer is yes, the Yankees may have found themselves a solid mid-rotation pitcher for the next few years.

Despite brutal first week, Yankees have to remain patient with Didi Gregorius


To say the first seven games of the Didi Gregorius era haven’t gone well would be a pretty big understatement. Didi is only 3-for-23 (.119) at the plate and he’s been an adventure both in the field and on the bases, particularly the latter. He’s made some straight up boneheaded plays, like trying to steal third on Opening Day or getting caught making too wide a turn at first base on a single in the middle of last week.

Gregorius has not yet been charged with an error this season but he’s had some issues defensively. He didn’t throw home on Daniel Nava’s bases clearing double Saturday — no, it wouldn’t have made a difference in the game, but still — and he botched a potential double play Sunday because he couldn’t get the ball out of his glove. Yeah, that stuff happens, but when you’re already in the crosshairs because of your bat and base-running, you better at least make the plays you’re supposed to make.

Soon after that botched double play, some in the Yankees Stadium crowd started chanting “Der-ek Je-ter!” as if that was going to change anything. Gregorius heard them — “I just laugh, there’s nothing I can do. Just got to play the game. That’s all I can do. I want to do better, like (Jeter),” he said to Zack Braziller after the game — and it reminded me of the last time a new player was brought in from outside the organization to replace a retired icon.

Two decades ago the Yankees replaced Don Mattingly with Tino Martinez, and, like Gregorius, Tino got off to a brutal start in pinstripes. Especially at the plate, which is kind of a big deal since first basemen are in the lineup to provide offense first and foremost. Martinez started the 1996 season in a 3-for-34 (.088) slump, including 0-for-16 at Yankee Stadium, and was booed like he was wearing a Red Sox jersey. It wasn’t just because he was not hitting, it was also because he had the audacity to be picked to replace a legend*.

* I definitely remember Joe Girardi catching a lot of hell early that season as well. Fans were chanting “Stan-ley! Stan-ley!” after his at-bats because they wanted Mike Stanley back.

Gregorius is sorta going through what Martinez went through in 1996, though the circumstances are different. Tino was a veteran player who hit .293/.369/.551 (135 OPS+) with 31 homers in his final season with the Mariners. Didi is a young player not yet established at the MLB level who has struggled in all phases of the game. It would be one thing if he simply wasn’t hitting. I don’t think many people were expecting big offensive numbers from Gregorius this year. It’s become a bigger issue because of the base-running and defensive brain farts.

As painful as Didi’s struggles have been this first week, the single most important thing the Yankees can do is have patience with him, and I expect them to just that. They need to help Gregorius get through this — and by they I mean everyone, the coaches, his teammates, the whole nine — and get comfortable on the field. Maybe getting away from Yankee Stadium during this ten-game road trip will help. I’m sure that first week replacing Jeter at home was a bit overwhelming. How could it not be?

Everyone wants young players but no one wants the growing pains. Gregorius is a young player still trying to find his way in the big leagues, and now he has to do it in New York while replacing an icon. Comparatively, Tino had it easy in 1996. He was a veteran player who could point to the back of his baseball card when he stumbled out of the gate. Gregorius can’t do that. New York is a great place to play if you thrive, but man, if you struggle early in your first season with the Yankees, it can be very tough to win people over.

“He’s struggling, but I’m not worried about him. The concern I have is if he starts worrying about himself. He’s in a new city and he has to impress. There’s nothing much you can do for him except keep encouraging him and talking to him,” said the manager about his new player to Claire Smith, except that wasn’t Girardi talking about Gregorius. That was Joe Torre talking about Tino in 1996 and it applies to Gregorius today. The Yankees have to keep encouraging him and help him through this tough start. To change the way they feel about him or treat him after seven games, not matter how bad, would be a big mistake. As ugly as it has been, this is part of Didi’s development.

Drew’s Clutch Grand Slam Rallies Yanks Past O’s 6-5

Sources: Rob Carr/Getty Images America
Stephen Drew! Don’t you… knew??? (Getty)

Boy, how’s this to get a road trip started? Yankees had a subpar home stretch and they went into the enemy territory with a 2-4 record. However, they grinded out a 6-5 win thanks to a very-unprecedented Stephen Drew grand slam in the seventh inning.

#BIGMIKE fun to watch but imperfect:

I personally feel that Michael Pineda’s stuff looked better today than in his first start. His changeup was on point today – generated a good amount of swing-and-misses and had a nice, deceiving fade to it. His fastball sat around 90~93 mph but, as the MASN broadcasters frequently pointed it, they had a lot of movement. His slider also looked good – it had a very sharp and big break. One thing that didn’t go 100% for Big Mike was his command. Okay, it’s not really easy to say that when he has 9 strikeouts and 0 walk but he also allowed 9 hits – one of them an elevated 91 mph fastball that Adam Jones smashed out of park – and 5 earned runs.

I think, overall, it was a positive outing.  The Orioles aren’t a light-hitting team and with one or two less mistake pitches, his line would’ve looked at least noticeably better. If I had to choose one moment that stood out, on the first inning, Pineda whiffed Chris Davis with this pitch sequence: 1) a fastball strike on the outside corner 2) a diving 88 mph changeup for a swing-and-miss 3) slider down and in for a swing-and-miss. Can’t think of any at-bats that showcases the best of #BigMike.

His line: 6.1 IP, 9 H, 5 ER, 0 BB, 9 K. How is this for #FIPFriendly?

Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America
What a #pitchface (Getty)

A Stephen grand slam? Just like how they Drew it up!:

Yankees tagged the O’s starter Wei-Yin Chen with two homers but 1) they were both solo HR’s and 2) that was all the run damage they did against the lefty. In the seventh inning, with the Orioles leading 4-2, Buck Showalter brought out Tommy Hunter to relieve Chen.

Yankees had a chance with runners on first and second with no out after a Chris Young single and a John Ryan Murphy walk. Didi Gregorius and Garrett Jones followed that chance up by flying out and runners stayed put. Ugh. New York caught a break when Jacoby Ellsbury reached on an infield single to make it two outs and bases loaded. Instead of Brett Gardner, who was penciled as the #2 hitter in the starting lineup, Stephen Drew stepped in as a pinch-hitter.

The infielder, who was hitting an abysmal .150/.182/.300 line before the game… hit a grand slam. Not just a grand slam, it’s a pinch-hit grand slam and boy, those are RARE . With two outs, bases loaded and on a 3-1 count, I guess Hunter wanted to throw a strike. Drew just turned around on a 95 mph fastball to give the Yanks a 6-4 lead. A few more of these and he’ll reach to a #TrueYankee status. Maybe.

Dellin forgot how to deal:

Joe Girardi brought in Dellin Betances to relieve Pineda in the seventh inning. As it was the theme from the Spring Training, Dellin didn’t look… good. Hitters weren’t biting on his curve and he seemed to have no idea where the ball is going. He did get lucky in two instances. With bases loaded with two outs, Betances struck out Chris Davis to get out of the jam. And in the eighth inning, Adam Jones, who got on the first base with a single, got thrown out trying to steal second by Murphy. Betances proceeded to walk Travis Snider and Girardi pulled him out. Ugh. He now has 3 strikeouts and 6 walks in 3 IP this season. That’s not a big sample but it’s not pretty. It’s also apparent that Dellin’s command is pretty derailed. Hope he figures things out pretty soon.

Andrew Miller still deals:

After watching  the Dellin Betances theater, Girardi put in Andrew Miller to close out the eighth and the game. And boy, Miller looked good. The lanky lefty struck out Machado and Schoop swinging to get out of the inning and shut the O’s down in the ninth as well to earn his second save. Nasty.

Extra Notes:

Source: Rob Carr/Getty Images North America
The 1.295 OPS man. (Getty)

Yankees had two other homers besides the big Drew GS – Young hit an absolute meatball/hanging curve from Chen into the left field seats to give Yanks a 1-0 lead. Few innings later, Tex hit a fastball right down the middle to tie it up 2-2. It’s nice to see guys with home run power to actually hit one out of the park and I hope this trend continues. Also, good to see Teixeira hit for some power! He did not reach his third homer of the season in 2014 until April 29. After tonight’s game, the Severna Park, Md. native has a 1.107 OPS. I went to a same high school as Tex and I’m a Yankees watcher – I’d love for him to excel.

Gardner left the game in the seventh inning after being hit by a Chen fastball in the first inning on the right arm. Fortunately for the Yanks,  the X-ray revealed he’s fine and will be day-to-day. Whew.

This was an intriguing game to watch and we can only say that it was “fun” because the Yankees won. Here’s the box score from ESPN and a win probability chart from Fangraphs. Tomorrow, CC Sabathia is going to try to bounce from a mediocre first start last week. Let’s hope the warmer weather treats the big man well.

DotF: Austin’s hot start continues in Scranton’s loss

With RHP Joel De La Cruz called up to MLB, RHP Brady Lail has been temporarily bumped up from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton to take De La Cruz’s spot in the rotation, says Josh Norris.

Triple-A Scranton (6-4 loss to Rochester)

  • CF Slade Heathcott: 2-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 BB, 2 K — 5-for-18 (.278) so far
  • RF Ramon Flores: 0-5, 2 K — 1-for-16 (.053) since the Opening Day cycle
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 R, 1 K
  • 1B Kyle Roller: 0-2, 1 R, 3 BB
  • LF Tyler Austin: 3-4, 2 RBI, 1 K — off to a real nice 8-for-19 (.421) start this year
  • C Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB
  • LHP Conner Kendrick: 3 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 5/1 GB/FB — 42 of 72 pitches were strikes (58%) … just up from Extended Spring Training to help fill in after LHP Matt Tracy and RHP Kyle Davies were called up
  • RHP Danny Burawa: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 20 of 27 pitches were strikes (74%)
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 20 of 28 pitches were strikes (71%)

[Read more…]

Ivan Nova set to face hitters in live batting practice for first time on Tuesday


According to Marly Rivera (translated article), right-hander Ivan Nova is set to face hitters during a session of live batting practice at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa tomorrow. Nova is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and this will be his first time facing hitters as part of his rehab.

“It feels good, already going to be a year since I’ve faced hitters and I feel a little nervous. I feel great physically. I have thrown all my pitches without any hassle and I am confident that everything will be fine,” said Nova to Rivera. Right now I do not know how long I’ll keep throwing batting practice. I have to follow the (process laid out) by my coaches … Do not try to do more than necessary. The important thing is to consider the process.”

Nova, 29, had his elbow rebuild late last April and the Yankees have proceeded very slowly with his rehab. Pitchers usually begin facing hitters 8-10 months after surgery and Nova’s at 12 months now. After however many sessions of batting practice, Nova will return to game action, likely Extended Spring Training at first because the conditions are controlled. The Yankees have been saying they expect Nova back in June all along.

The typical Tommy John surgery rehab schedule has been called into question by some — including Dr. James Andrews — within the last few months because it maybe be too aggressive, which could explain why so many players are now having second Tommy John surgeries. Jeremy Hefner, Cory Luebke, Jonny Venters, and Daniel Hudson all needed a second procedure while still rehabbing from the first. Others like Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, and Jarrod Parker needed a second Tommy John surgery with a few years of their first.

Clearly the Yankees are being cautious with Nova and I can’t say I blame them one bit. He could be a significant rotation boost at midseason and also figures to be an important part of the rotation next year, his last season before free agency.