Two years ago, 3B Dante Bichette Jr. was one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system. They selected him with the 51st overall pick in the 2011 draft (the compensation pick for Javier Vazquez) and he hit .335/.440/.507 with 17 doubles and four homers in 54 games with the Rookie GCL Yankees after turning pro, a performance that earned him the league MVP award. The Yankees were widely panned for the pick but the early returns were great.
The last two seasons have not gone as well, however. Bichette, now 21, hit .248/.322/.331 with only three homers in 122 games for Low-A Charleston in 2012, then followed it up with a .214/.292/.331 batting line in 114 games for the River Dogs last year. Repeating a level and performing worse in the second year is as bad as it gets. Bichette dropped off prospect lists this spring and understandable so.
In a free article at Baseball Prospectus — all of their content is free today, by the way — the staff compiled some miscellaneous scouting notes from the Spring Training backfields. Here’s the write-up on Bichette, from Steffan Segui:
Bichette looks like he might be turning the corner this spring. While still rotational, everything in his swing has been simplified, and his good natural power hasn’t been depleted. His swing is now rock, identify pitch, and roll. Short and quick, don’t ask questions, just hit the ball. Previously, he was doing too much: It used to be huge rock, never identify pitch, enormous Javier Baez-type leg lift, front shoulder bails, hands drop and then roll. This new approach should definitely help Bichette and might allow him to recapture the prospect status he once had, assuming his issues with off-speed stuff stemmed from his swing rather than his approach. At third, he isn’t very good, his hands lack softness and he really doesn’t have any fluidity. He might make strides there at some point, but if not the arm is good enough for right field.
The knock on Bichette was always his complicated setup and hitch-y swing. The Yankees actually did a good job of quieting him soon after the draft in 2011, but it didn’t stick and Bichette has been his old self these last two years. Those numbers aren’t an accident.
A simplified swing and a new approach could help Bichette regain some prospect luster, but I want to see some improvement before I believe it. Baseball Prospectus has been bullish on Bichette over the years and so far he has yet to reward their faith. Maybe this is the start of him turning his career around. I hope it is. I don’t think Bichette has earned the benefit of the doubt though. Let’s see the new swing and approach produce some results first.
There’s also a write-up on Aaron Judge in the BP article, though there isn’t any new information in there.
The more deeply you examine the 2013 New York Yankees, the more unbelievable their win total seems. On the whole they did nothing well. The putrid offense, which ranked 28th in wRC+, was on display daily. Pitching? They ranked 18th in the league in ERA.
You’d think that if they couldn’t put together a decent offense that they’d compensate with a solid defense. You’d be wrong. They ranked 24th in team defensive efficiency. The guys who couldn’t hit apparently also couldn’t field well.
The 2014 Yankees figure to perform a bit better on defense. They not only brought in an upgrade in Jacoby Ellsbury, but they get back Mark Teixeira. There are a couple of other subtle upgrades, too, that could add up to at least an average defense.
Derek Jeter as a defensive upgrade? Surely I’m just pulling your chain. Sadly, I’m not. Jeter did improve his defense for a few years starting in 2008, but by 2012 it had again declined. How can we expect he’ll provide any value in 2014, at age 40?
Defensive statistics have enough shortcomings that they’re hardly worth bringing into serious discussions. In fact, once the new fielding system becomes public, I think we’ll look back at UZR and laugh. Yet it’s troubling when not just UZR, but essentially every publicly available defensive metric says that Eduardo Nunez absolutely killed the Yankees at SS.
UZR: -20.6 (-40.7/150!)
* This includes all defense, while the others are at SS only
Given Nunez’s deficiencies, Jeter could actually be an upgrade. Furthering the upgrade is a full year of Brendan Ryan on the bench. He’ll provide value as a late-inning defensive replacement and as an occasional starter when Jeter needs a day off. His high level of play could even offset Jeter’s to an extent, even in a fraction of the time.
There is little doubt that the 2014 Yankees will provide better defense at short than the 2013 Yankees. It’s no wonder the Yankees moved quickly to get Ryan into the fold.
To be fair, the Yankees did find an adequate defensive first baseman in Lyle Overbay. He came nowhere near Teixeira’s offensive production, even if you erase his late-season slump. But on defense he held his own.
At the same time, Mark Teixeira is on another level. If we could precisely quantify everything a first baseman does on defense, I have to imagine Teixeira would consistently rank among the league’s top five. He might not be the quickest or most athletic guy on the diamond, but his instincts and reflexes at first more than compensate.
Just because first base is all the way at the end of the defensive spectrum does not mean it lacks importance. Sure, plenty of big lumbering power hitters can stand at first base, but few play the position well. As Ron Washington so aptly put it, “It’s incredibly hard.”
Teixeira handles it with agility and grace. It’s easy to forget the days of Jason Giambi playing first.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner
In the last few years Ellsbury has improved his game in center field. A few years ago the Red Sox signed Mike Cameron and moved Ellsbury to left. Perhaps that was the kick in the ass he needed. Whatever the case, he tracks balls well and has plenty of speed, making him a high quality center fielder.
The Yankees had a very good center fielder last year in Brett Gardner. Speed takes center stage in Gardner’s game. He doesn’t always get the best read, nor does he always take the best route. But he makes a lot of plays, because he can compensate with his legs. This year he’ll play center a bit, but not on a day-to-day basis. This helps the Yankees outfield tremendously.
Again taking defensive metrics with a grain of salt (to the point where I won’t quote actual numbers), Gardner produced insane numbers playing left field in 2010 and 2011. Yes, he’s good, but multiple wins good? Here’s the thing with defensive numbers: they compare players at the same position. Since left field is reserved for those lumbering sluggers who don’t have much of an arm, they typically don’t play high-caliber defense. Gardner runs laps around them.
So the Yankees marginally upgrade in center, going from Gardner to Ellsbury. But they upgrade insanely in left field, relative to the league, because Gardner will track down so many more fly balls than his peers.
His bat might not have much left in it, but Ichiro can still run down balls in the outfield. This will come in handy at various points during the 2014 season. He’s the obvious defensive replacement on the bench, giving the Yankees a lockdown outfield in later innings. But that’s not his only role.
If everyone stays healthy – and given Ellsbury’s current injury that’s far from a given – Ichiro wouldn’t get many starts. But guys get bumps and bruises. Carlos Beltran could need days off to rest his knees. Ellsbury and Gardner will need days off here and there even if they do stay healthy. In each instance, playing Ichiro in right makes a degree of sense.
In the the case of longer-term injuries I’d like to see them call up Zoilo Almonte to take more reps, since he still has at least a modicum of big league potential. Ichiro is almost certainly gone after this season, and could be gone before that under the right circumstances. But as long as he’s on the roster, he’ll provide a good defensive option in right field when the Yankees need it.
Huge mailbag this week. Nine questions and nearly 2,000 words. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.
Terry asks: With Jimmy Rollins seeming fallen out of favor with Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies, do you think it would make sense to see if the Yankees to put together some sort of trade package together with Ichiro Suzuki being the centerpiece? Do you think he would be open to playing 2B? He’d have to be an upgrade over Brian Roberts and would allow him to become a role player. They could be held relatively healthy by splitting 2B and now there is a SS back up that can hit.
Rollins and Sandberg had a bit of a falling out earlier this spring — Sandberg benched him for four straight Spring Training games to send a message, believe it or not — and there has been some talk that the team may try to trade him. Rollins told Todd Zolecki the rumors don’t bother him though; he has 10-and-5 rights and can veto any trade. Maybe he’d be willing to accept a trade to join the veteran-laden Yankees, who knows. He wouldn’t be the first long-term someotherteam to do it (Ichiro and Lance Berkman).
There are four problems with the 35-year-old Rollins. One, he just isn’t that good of a hitter anymore, putting up a .252/.318/.348 (84 wRC+) line last season. Two, he has 0.1 career innings at second base (in 2002) and would have to learn the position on the fly. Three, he’s owed $11M this year and his $11M option for 2015 vests with only 434 plate appearances this season. Four, he’s kind of a jerk with a tendency to run his mouth (remember this?). The Yankees seem to actively avoid those players. Would he be an upgrade over Roberts? Probably. Is he worth the headache? Probably not.
Dan asks: What does the Glen Perkins extension mean for David Robertson? Also, why would the Twins sign him to that? They already had him for this season, next season, and a team option for 2016. Now they not only raised his salaries for the next three years, they guaranteed the team option and one additional year for $6.5m each.
That Perkins contract (four years, $22.175M with a club option) is a freakin’ steal. He’s a local guy from just outside the Twin Cities, so it definitely seems like he took a hometown discount. Perkins is an elite reliever and probably the second best lefty bullpener in the game behind Aroldis Chapman. Even if he slips and he becomes just a lefty specialist down the line, his highest annual salary during the life of this deal is $6.5M in both 2017 and 2018. That’s just about Boone Logan money.
Because he took such a big discount, Perkins’ extension doesn’t mean anything for Robertson. Robertson will make more this season ($5.125M) as a third year arbitration-eligible setup man than Perkins will as an All-Star closer both this year ($4.025M) and next ($4.65M). Perkins would have been a free agent this past offseason had he not signed his previous extension, and I’m guessing he would have gotten three or four years at $10-12M annually on the open market, even at age 31. Basically double his extension. The Twins did it because it was simply too good to pass up.
Chris asks: When will we know if the Yankees are going to get Tommy Kahnle back via the Rule 5 Draft process? I am hopeful that we will get him back, as he would seem to be a strong asset to have.
There is no set date for Rule 5 Draft players, they can be returned at any point between now (really the first day of Spring Training) and the final game of the regular season. I wrote our Rockies season preview at CBS (shameless plug) and their bullpen is pretty stacked. There’s no room for Kahnle unless someone else gets hurt or traded. He’s thrown 6.1 good innings this spring but nothing that leads you to believe he’s forcing his way into the team’s plans. If Kahnle doesn’t make the Rockies, he’ll have to clear waivers before being offered back to the Yankees. I’m not sure he’ll ever be anything more than an up-and-down arm without a big improvement in his command.
Mickey asks: Assuming things play out with Michael Pineda in the fifth spot and Vidal Nuno stretched out in AAA as the sixth starter, how many times could he be called up without passing through waivers this season and who would/could be sent down to accommodate such a move?
As many times as the team wants. Minor league options really refer to option years. Players get three of them (sometimes four for weird reasons), meaning they go back and forth between MLB and the minors in three different seasons without having to pass through waivers. The Yankees burned one of Nuno’s options last season but can still send him (or any of the other fifth starter candidates for that matter, they have at least one option left) up and down as much as they want in 2014. I suspect that last open bullpen spot will be a revolving door this year. It always is.
Bill asks: Is Francisco Cervelli more valuable to the team being their backup catcher to start the season, or as trade-bait for an upgrade elsewhere?
I think he’s more valuable to the Yankees. A week or two ago when we heard teams are scouting him, we also heard the likely return would be another out of options player. Nothing great. They won’t be able to flip him for Derek Jeter‘s long-term replacement at shortstop or anything. Cervelli has hit this spring and he hit last year before getting hurt. With his trade value down, I think you take him into the season and see what happens. His trade value couldn’t drop much further, but if the bat is legit, it could go up quite a bit. Unless someone blows the team away with an offer (Chris Owings? Please? Maybe?), I’d hang onto Frankie.
Stephen asks: I noticed in your latest post on Jorge Mateo you mentioned he is an 80 runner on the 20-80 scale (that dude must be fast!). Is this common? Are there any (recent or not) Yankee prospects that rank 80 out of 80 on any tools? Was Randy Johnson’s slider an 80? Pedro Martinez’s change up? Etc?
There are a bunch of good primers on the 20-80 scouting scale out there, but here’s a good one from Prospect Insider. Long story short: 20 is terrible, 80 is elite, and 50 is average. Sometimes you’ll see half-grades like a 55 or 75 of whatever. 80s are very rare though and are not thrown around all that often.
Baseball America started including 20-80 grades for individual tools in their Prospect Handbook back in 2011, but for each organization’s top prospect only. Here are all the 80s:
- 2014: Rockies RHP Jonathan Gray’s fastball, Twins OF Byron Buxton’s speed and defense, Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito’s fastball
- 2013: Reds OF Billy Hamilton’s speed, Twins 3B Miguel Sano’s power, Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole’s fastball
- 2012: Angels OF Mike Trout’s speed, Giants OF Gary Brown’s speed, Cole’s fastball
- 2011: Reds LHP Aroldis Chapman’s fastball, Nationals OF Bryce Harper’s power and arm, Trout’s speed
The Yankees drafted both Gray (2011 tenth round) and Cole (2008 first round) but did not sign them, in case you forgot. /sobs
Anyway, that’s it. Fourteen 80 tools in four years worth of top prospects. Five tools per prospect and 30 prospects per year gives us 600 tools total, meaning 2.3% graded out at 80s. Sounds about right. Like I said, 80s are rare and saved for the truly elite. Also, I think it’s interesting that ten of those 14 tools above are speed or fastball, things that can be quantified with a stop watch and radar gun. Saying someone has an 80 hit tool or 80 changeup is much more subjective.
I can’t think of any recent Yankees farmhand with an 80 tool, except for Mateo, I guess. Baseball America had Jesus Montero with both 70 power and 70 hit in 2011, which is pretty close. Brett Gardner is much closer to 65-70 speed than 80. As for big leaguers, I think both Mariano Rivera and Greg Maddux had 80 command, though I am no scout. Barry Bonds had 80 power, Tony Gwynn had an 80 hit tool, Pedro’s changeup was probably an 80, ditto Randy Johnson’s slider. I remember reading a Keith Law post (or maybe it was one of his chats, I forget) saying Justin Verlander had an 80 fastball and 80 curveball during his peak.
I don’t believe there’s an 80 tool on the Yankees right now. Ichiro Suzuki used to be an 80 hitter, no doubt about that. Jacoby Ellsbury is more of a 70 runner than a true 80. Maybe Brian McCann‘s pitch-framing is an 80? He’s excellent at it according to the various metrics, but those are still works in progress.
Frank asks: I see Bryan Mitchell is on the Scranton AAA roster. Seems somewhat surprising, so is he closer to the show than we were led to believe? Is it true that his “new” cutter has possibly propelled him to the top of the pitching prospect class?
I gotten a few questions like this. Don’t read anything into the level a player is assigned when he’s cut from big league camp. That’s only their Spring Training work group. They can be assigned to different levels before the start of the season and most of them well. Mitchell pitched well in camp and he does indeed have a new cutter, but he made only three starts at Double-A Trenton last season. That’s where he’ll head for the start of 2014.
Eric asks: Mason Williams for Wilmer Flores?
I think both teams would say no, actually. The Mets need infielders and Flores is their top MLB-ready youngster — they have him working out at short this spring, something he hasn’t done since 2011 — so I’m not sure they would give him up for a Double-A outfielder coming off a bad season, even if said outfielder’s ceiling is high. I think the Yankees would say no because it’s an underwhelming return for a guy who was arguably their top prospect 12 months ago. I’m skeptical of Flores because he spent parts of six seasons trying to get out of Single-A, and it wasn’t until he got to ultra-hitter friendly Triple-A Last Vegas last summer that he re-established himself as a prospect. Trading an outfield prospect for a young infielder makes sense, but I don’t think Flores would be the guy to target.
Jack asks: I don’t understand why Pineda is considered to have more “upside” than David Phelps inasmuch as at this point Phelps’ fastball is probably a couple ticks higher and his control is markedly better. While Pineda supposed has a better breaking pitch does that one factor offset Phelps’ advantages in velocity and control? At best/worst, their upsides are probably similar.
I disagree that Phelps’ fastball is a couple ticks higher — it definitely isn’t based on this spring alone — and that his control is better. What separated Pineda from most young pitchers was his ability to pound the zone and his throw strikes, something he’s done this spring following shoulder surgery. Their minor league walk rates are identical (2.1 vs. 2.2 BB/9) and Pineda has the advantage at the MLB level (2.9 vs. 3.5 BB/9), for what it’s worth. Pineda has more upside because he’s 28 months younger and because his slider is far better than anything Phelps throws. The shoulder injury might have knocked Pineda’s ultimate ceiling down a notch or three, but Phelps pretty much is what he is. That’s not to say he’s bad, just that he might not be anything more than a back-end arm. Just watch the two, the difference in upside is obvious. You can really dream on Pineda.
The Yankees won their fifth straight Grapefruit League game on Thursday night, beating the Red Sox 3-2 in Fort Myers. They’ve outscored their opponents 25-7 during the five wins. Frankie Cervelli hit another homer, this one a solo shot. The other two runs came after the team had two outs and the bases empty thanks to a walk (Zoilo Almonte), a bloop double (Zelous Wheeler), and a two-run single (Ichiro Suzuki). Ichiro, Dean Anna, and Eduardo Nunez all went 1-for-4 while Mark Teixeira went 0-for-3 with a walk.
David Phelps continued to make his case for the fifth starter’s spot with a strong outing, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks in six innings. He struck out three. The two runs came across as he approached his pitch limit in his final inning of work. Chris Leroux retired all four men he faced, Fred Lewis retired two of three batters faced, and Matt Daley retired all three he faced for the all-important Spring Training save. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from a slow day in Tampa.
- Joe Girardi indicated the Yankees could make a decision about the fifth starter’s spot as soon as this weekend. “We have a night game (Friday), so we could have some discussions. And we have a home game Sunday, we could have some discussions. And maybe we’ll make the decision by then,” he said. Have to think it’s Michael Pineda‘s job at this point. [Brendan Kuty]
- Brendan Ryan was scratched from tonight’s lineup with upper back spasms unrelated to his previous oblique injury, and after the game both he and Girardi said they are concerned he won’t be healthy in time for Opening Day. Ryan has only played in four games this spring and the start of the season if only eleven days away. [Sweeny Murti, Dan Barbarisi]
- If Ryan is not ready for Opening Day, the Yankees will carry two of Nunez, Anna, and Yangervis Solarte. Sounds like Scott Sizemore, who hasn’t played much and is nursing a quad injury, is out of the running for a bench spot. Nunez and Anna are both on the 40-man roster, which could give them a leg up. [Bryan Hoch]
- In case you missed it earlier, a precautionary MRI on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s calf came back negative and he is still day-to-day.
The Yankees will play another night game on Friday, this one against the Pirates in Tampa. CC Sabathia will be making his fourth Spring Training start (well, fifth counting his simulated game a few weeks ago) and I assume most of the regulars will play. Not sure who will be on the bump for Pittsburgh. Doesn’t matter, really.
For the second time in three days, the Yankees are playing the Red Sox in a Spring Training game that more than a few people will try to pass off as meaningful. Gotta shove the rivalry down everyone’s throat. David Phelps is making his fifth start of the spring as he looks to edge out Michael Pineda for the final rotation spot, though that might be a lost cause at this point. Boston is playing most of their regulars, so it’ll be a good tune-up for Phelps, who is probably scheduled for something like six innings or 90 pitches.
Because it’s a night game and the Yankees had to travel two hours south to Fort Myers, they sent a skeleton crew roster. Whoever drew the short straw, basically. The biggest name to make the trip is Mark Teixeira, who still needs a lot of at-bats after missing all but 15 games last season due to his wrist injury. Otherwise it’s a bunch of bench players and non-roster invitees. Star and scrubs as the title says, only the star really isn’t a star anymore. Here’s the starting nine:
- CF Ichiro Suzuki
SS Brendan RyanSS Dean Anna – Ryan was a late scratch with upper back spasms unrelated to his previous oblique problem
- 3B Eduardo Nunez
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- C Frankie Cervelli
- 2B Scott Sizemore
- LF Yangervis Solarte
- RF Zoilo Almonte
- DH Zelous Wheeler
SP David Phelps
Available Pitchers: RHP Matt Daley, RHP Chris Leroux, RHP Yoshinori Tateyama, and LHP Fred Lewis are all scheduled to pitch. RHP Branden Pinder, LHP James Pazos, RHP Manny Barreda, and RHP Caleb Cotham are the extra arms.
Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Jose Gil, 2B Jose Pirela, SS Carmen Angelini,
3B Dean Anna, LF Ben Gamel, CF Antoan Richardson, RF Adonis Garcia, and DH John Ryan Murphy will be the second string off the bench. C/1B Tyson Blaser and UTIL Ali Castillo are also available.
The weather in Fort Myers is quite lovely this evening, with no clouds and temperatures in the upper-60s/low-70s. Not bad. Not bad at all. You can watch the game live on YES locally and both ESPN and MLB.tv nationally. Enjoy.
The Yankees sent Jacoby Ellsbury for a precautionary MRI on his tight calf after he was scratched from his scheduled batting practice session earlier today, Joe Girardi told reporters. The tests came back negative and the team is hopeful he’ll play this weekend. Ellsbury has continued to say the calf is a non-issue and he could play if needed, but it’s clearly more serious that he’s letting on. He’s got 12 days to heal up before the start of the season. · (70) ·
Over the last few years, as sabermetrics and all that stuff has become more popular, batting average has become underrated. It used to be overrated — not making outs and having a high on-base percentage is still the single most important aspect of hitting — but the art of getting a base hit is definitely underappreciated these days. There is more to life than that of course, but getting a hit is a big piece of the offensive pie.
Last season, the Yankees hit a collective .242 with a team .285 BABIP, rates that ranked 24th and 26th among the 30 teams, respectively. Injuries have a little something to do with the team’s low average, but remember, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira aren’t exactly high-average hitters. Derek Jeter and the out of sight, out of mind Alex Rodriguez are, however. Well, kinda. A perfectly healthy Yankees squad might have hit a few points higher as a team, but not much. The team’s .307 OBP (23rd overall) would have quite a bit higher with good health, I’m sure of that.
The Yankees rebuilt their offense over the winter and back in January I explained how the new-look lineup will bring more a patient approach and, theoretically, a higher team OBP. That’s pretty important. The Yankees didn’t just make too many outs last season, they made too many quick outs. It’s not much of a coincidence that two pitchers (Derek Holland and Chris Archer) threw sub-100 pitch nine-inning complete games against New York last season after only one pitcher (Roy Halladay, surprise surprise) did in the previous ten seasons. The makeshift offense was an impatient lot last summer.
Along with a more patient and disciplined offense should come a group that hits for a higher average. How much higher? I don’t think we could say with any degree of certainty. As underrated as batting average has become, it is still tough to predict because it fluctuates so much from year to year. Robinson Cano is my go-to example: he’s a career .309 hitter who hit .342 in 2006 and .271 in 2008. Did his talent level change in those years? No, it’s just baseball. Weird stuff happens in a game built around hitting a round ball with a cylindrical bat onto a 2+ acre swath of grass. Here’s a look at the Yankees’ lineup and its batting average potential.
Likely to hit .290+
With Cano gone, I don’t think the Yankees have a single player you can comfortably expect to hit .300 or better in 2014. I mean, how many players around the entire league would you safely expect to hit .300+ this year? Cano, Joe Mauer, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, Joey Votto … that’s probably it. Hitting .300 is hard and few guys can do it year after year, especially in age of declining offense. That’s not to say others won’t hit .300, we all know those guys won’t be alone. Like I said before, weird stuff happens.
The Yankees have two players who are safe bets for a .290+ average this summer and both were acquired in the offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury hit .298 last season (.341 BABIP) and is a career .297 hitter (.326 BABIP) , so he seems to be the team’s best hope for a .300+ hitter. I do think Yankee Stadium will work against him though. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great place to hit, but Yankee Stadium is a homerun park. Fenway Park is more conducive to a high batting average with the Green Monster and weird angles. The park factors at FanGraphs bear that out.
Carlos Beltran hit .296 (.314 BABIP) last season and .288 (.313 BABIP) over the last three years, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he hit .300 or better this summer. Derek Jeter hit .316 (.347 BABIP) in his last healthy season and the guy used to fall out of bed and hit .300, but he’s coming off a series of leg injuries and a lost season at age 40. He hasn’t looked particularly good in camp either, though I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt after missing almost all of last season. So much rust to shake off. Tough to know what to expect from him, but I don’t think many would be surprised if the Cap’n had a big going away year.
As for an out of nowhere .290+ hitter, I’d put my money on Eduardo Nunez, who seems like a lock to make the roster and play more than expected at this point. Nunez makes a ton of contact (career 92.8% contact rate) and he’s fast, two skills that lend themselves to hitting for average, especially in small-ish (~300 plate appearances) samples. I’m not saying he’ll do it, but if you’re looking for a Yankee to come out of nowhere to hit for a high average, Nunez is a good guess. For now, I’ll take Ellsbury and Beltran as the team’s best chances for a .290+ hitter with Jeter an honorable mention.
Likely to hit sub-.250
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a few Yankees we can count on for a low-ish batting average. Kelly Johnson hit .235 (.276 BABIP) last season and .226 (.284 BABIP) over the last three seasons. He’s the safe bet to finish with the lowest average among the regulars. Johnson’s offensive game is built around hitting for power, stealing bases, and drawing walks. I have no reason to believe 2014 will be any different.
Alfonso Soriano hit .255 (.289 BABIP) last season, including .256 (.286 BABIP) with the Yankees. Over the last three seasons it’s a .254 average (.289 BABIP). He’s right on that .250 bubble at age 38. Brian McCann (.256 AVG/.251 BABIP in 2013 and .252/.263 from 2011-12) and Mark Teixeira (.251/.250 in 2012 and .252/.258 from 2010-12) are right there with Soriano. Brian Roberts managed to hit .249 (.267 BABIP) in 296 plate appearances last season and has a .246 average (.275 BABIP) while batting injuries over the last four years. He’s probably the second safest bet for a sub-.250 average this season behind Johnson.
Likely to hit somewhere in the middle
This is a bit of a cop-out, because the vast majority of players hit somewhere in that .251-.289 range. Or at least most regulars do. Bench players and pitchers are another matter entirely. Soriano, McCann, and Teixeira will probably be on the low-end of this range, Ellsbury and Beltran will probably be at the high-end (if not over), and Brett Gardner (.273/.342 in 2013 and .268/.325 career) will be right smack in the middle somewhere. There’s really nothing sexy about hitting somewhere in the .251-.289 neighborhood. The extremes are far more interesting.
* * *
Last season, American League non-pitchers hit .256 with a .298 BABIP as the league average continues to drop. It was as high as .275 (.305 BABIP) as recently as 2006 and .267 (.300 BABIP) as recently as 2009, but down it goes. Ellsbury, Beltran, and Gardner give the team three regulars who you can pencil in for a better than average batting average with Jeter a possibility for a fourth. Others like McCann, Teixeira, and Soriano will be right around the average. Batting average is tough to predict, but based on their current talent levels and the last few seasons, the Yankees have six and possibly seven regulars likely to match or exceed the league average. Compared to last year, that’s pretty darn good.
The Yankees have swung a trade late in Spring Training in each of the last three seasons, and if they’re going to do the same this spring, they’ll have to do it soon. Opening Day in Houston is only 12 days away. Infield help figures to be the top priority at this point but adding another arm, specifically for the bullpen, wouldn’t be a bad idea. It’s not like you can have too many relievers.
This time of year, most trades involve players who are out of options and can’t go to the minors without passing through waivers. Teams don’t want to lose them for nothing, so they’re traded if don’t make the roster. That’s how the Yankees wound up with Chris Stewart in Spring Training 2012 and why they traded away Sergio Mitre in Spring Training 2011. MLBTR has this year’s list of out of options players and one of the most well-stocked teams is the Pirates, who have four out of options pitchers for three bullpen spots. Both Travis Sawchik and Tim Williams expect a trade before Opening Day, not someone to be placed on waivers. Is there a trade match with the Yankees? Let’s look.
If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because Gomez threw a perfect game against Double-A Trenton back in May 2009. The 26-year-old right-hander was the Pirates swingman last summer, pitching to a 3.35 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 80.2 innings across eight starts and 26 relief appearances. Gomez is a classic low-90s sinker, low-80s slider, low-80s changeup guy who gets grounders (55.4%) but doesn’t miss bats (15.9 K%) or really limit walks (8.4 BB%). On the bright side, he did not have much of a platoon split last year, holding righties to a .269 wOBA and lefties to a .278 wOBA. Not the sexiest pitcher in the world, but for a swingman, you could do worse.
Mazzaro, 27, is local guy from Hackensack who really blossomed after moving in the bullpen full time last year, posting a 2.81 ERA (3.31 FIP) in 73.2 innings. He’s a low strikeout (15.1 K%), low walk (6.9 BB%), high ground ball (52.2%) pitcher despite a mid-90s two-seamer and upper-80s slider. Mazzaro had a small reverse platoon split in 2013, holding righties to .286 wOBA and lefties to a .269 wOBA. Given his two power pitches, there’s a chance the Yankees and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would be able to really unlock his strikeout potential, something they’ve done with guys like Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan in recent years.
Morris came over from the Dodgers in the Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez trade way back in the day, but it wasn’t until last season that he got extended time in the big leagues. The 26-year-old had a 3.46 ERA (4.89 FIP) in 65 innings, getting … wait for it … lots of grounders (57.5%) but few strikeouts (13.7 K%). His walk rate (10.4 BB%) was really high and lefties gave him a bit of a hard time (.320 wOBA) as well (.295 for RHB).
The numbers aren’t anything special but what makes Morris interesting is that he’s shown increased velocity and a new pitch in camp. Sawchik says scouts have clocked Morris’ four-seamer at 97 mph and his cutter at 91 mph this spring, both up 2-3 from last season. He’s also added a two-seamer in the mid-90s. A hard low-90s slider is his breaking ball. Morris has battled elbow and shoulder problems over the years and once upon a time Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he had “a 92-94 mph fastball that has hit 96 mph” and “the stuff of a frontline starter.” It could simply be that his old velocity has just started to fully return now that he’s a few years away from his last arm injury.
Pimentel, 24, was part of last winter’s Mark Melancon-Joel Hanrahan trade. He made his big league debut last September (1.93 ERA and 1.76 FIP in 9.1 innings) after pitching to a 3.35 ERA (~3.96 FIP) in 169.1 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A. His minor league strikeout (17.3 K%) and walk (7.9 BB%) weren’t anything to write home about. In their 2014 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America said Pimentel “sits at 92-94 mph … topping out at 95″ and has an “excellent, mid-80s split-changeup,” though they caution “he’s probably not quite ready for prime time” and will “have to earn his stripes in low-leverage work.”
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The Yankees have several guys just like Gomez in David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno, and as interesting as his two-pitch mix may be, Pimentel wouldn’t really move the bullpen needle all that much this year. Mazzaro and Morris are decent middle relievers with the type of power stuff the Yankees love, though the strikeout numbers don’t back it up. It’s obvious New York values having strikeout pitchers in their bullpen for what I think are obvious reasons. For what it’s worth, Rob Biertempfel and Ken Davidoff say everyone but Pimentel is available.
What would the Pirates want in exchange for Mazzaro or Morris? How do you value an out of options middle reliever? Stewart had knee surgery and will likely miss 4-6 weeks according to Sawchik, but would the Yankees really deal a spare catcher for a middle reliever who might not last the season? Maybe Austin Romine, but even then that feels like a stretch. Remember, the Yankees have a full 40-man roster, so they’d not only have to give up something in a trade for these guys, but they’d have to clear a 40-man spot as well (which they could do in the trade, obviously). Pittsburgh has some extra interesting arms, but I have a hard time seeing a trade fit here. Then again, the Yankees and Pirates get together for a trade every other week it seems, so who knows what’s cooking now.
I know it’s only Spring Training, but man oh man has Michael Pineda looked good. He looks healthy, his delivery is free and easy, his slider is still vicious, and his fastball gone from topping out at 92 mph in his first outing to topping out at 94 mph in his third. It has only been three games and a total of nine innings, but it’s hard not to be encouraged and excited by what Pineda’s done these last few weeks. He looks as good as we could have possibly hoped.
And yet, despite Pineda’s strong showing, he isn’t the big pitching story of the spring. Masahiro Tanaka has come over from the Rakuten Golden Eagles and after only a few weeks of camp, it feels like he’s been here for years. The transition has appeared to be seamless — I’m sure it’s been difficult for him, how could it not? — and his outings have matched the scouting reports. He throws strikes, has a wipeout splitter, and an underrated slider. When he’s gotten in jams, he’s cranked it up a notch, something we heard he’ll do long before he signed on the dotted line. As with Pineda, Tanaka has looked as good as we could have possibly hoped.
Flying under the radar this spring has been Ivan Nova, at least to some extent. Following yesterday’s outing he now has 21 strikeouts and two walks in 19.2 Grapefruit League innings, and I think the most impressive thing was the way he made adjustments mid-start and rebounded from a terrible first inning against the Astros a week or two ago. It was the kind of bad inning that used to spiral out of control, but instead Nova righted the ship and put together a good start. He’s been healthy and he’s been throwing the ball well. It’s been a strong spring for Ivan.
“I’ve seen a guy that’s come into spring training that, it seems like he realizes how good he can be,” Girardi said. “And I think that’s important. I think for all young players, there’s that doubt always a little bit, can I do this on a consistent basis? Can I do it start after start, or game after game if you’re a position player? Do I need to look over my starter? Is there someone always doubting what I can do? I think he’s realized that, you know what, I can be pretty good.”
Joe Girardi said that to Chad Jennings yesterday and was referring to Nova, but he could have easily been talking about Pineda or Tanaka. All three came to camp with something to prove and they’ve answered every question along the way. Just about everything has gone according to plan with these three and that’s pretty great. Usually when you’re talking about three pitchers — I guess this applies to any type of player, really — one will slip up somewhere along the lines. Two out of three is a pretty good success rate in baseball.
But all three guys have done everything they’ve needed to do in Spring Training and it’s really exciting. It’s really exciting for 2014 and for the Yankees going forward, because all three of these guys are young. Nova is the oldest and he just turned 27 in January. Pineda turned 25 that same month and Tanaka turned 25 back in November. The Yankees have an older roster in general and the other two members of the rotation are up there in age — Hiroki Kuroda just turned 39 and CC Sabathia is about 75 in pitching years given all the mileage on his arm — but these three fellas are all right smack in their prime or about the enter the prime of their careers. I’m going to use the word again: exciting.
This is Spring Training and the time of the year for overwhelming and occasionally irrational optimism. I don’t know how any Yankees fan could look at Pineda, Tanaka, and Nova these last few weeks and not start dreaming about a rotation built around their young power arms for the next few years. We know there are going to be bumps in the road, they’re inevitable, but right now everything is going right and that’s something the club needed in Spring Training. The pieces of the next great Yankees rotation are in place. We’ve know that because seen ‘em with our own eyes these last few weeks.
In a rare non-televised Spring Training game, the Yankees beat the Braves by the score of 7-0 this afternoon. Ivan Nova was dynamite, allowing just two hits and no walks in 6.1 innings. He struck out five and got seven outs on the ground compared to three in the air. That’s Nova at his best. Danny Burawa, Shane Greene, Cesar Cabral, and Dellin Betances got two outs apiece to close out the game.
Carlos Beltran was the star at the plate, going 3-for-4 and driving in a pair of runs. Brett Gardner went 0-for-1 with three walks and both Alfonso Soriano and Brian Roberts had a single. Derek Jeter‘s rough spring continued with an 0-for-4. He surely came to camp rusty after missing just about all of last season, and he has another eleven days to get ready for Opening Day. The Yankees drew eleven walks as a team while striking out only eight times. No television means no video highlights, but here’s the box score and the rest from camp.
- Jeter said his twice-fractured ankle feels great and has been a non-factor in camp. He has been moving well all spring. “I haven’t worried about that for a while. I haven’t worried since I got here,” he said. “If you’re comparing the two years, it’s completely different. Just walking around last year was a struggle. This year, I haven’t thought about it at all.” [Dan Martin]
- Jacoby Ellsbury (calf) feels “substantially better” and did some running and outfield work today. He still is unlikely to play before Friday. Brendan Ryan (oblique) and Scott Sizemore (calf) are both expected to play tomorrow. Russ Canzler, who recently missed time with a hip problem, now has a back issue and was scratched from today’s lineup. [Andrew Marchand, Jose Castillo]
- Vidal Nuno and Adam Warren will pitch in relief Friday and Saturday, respectively. Sure seems like they’ve been ruled out as fifth starter candidates. Warren and Hiroki Kuroda threw their scheduled bullpen sessions when Preston Claiborne pitched in a minor league game. [Chad Jennings]
- Also from Jennings: Alfonso Soriano is not longer taking ground balls at first base. They tried it and will now they’ll focus on more important stuff.
This is your open thread for the evening. MLB Network will show the Cubs and Rockies live later tonight, plus both the Knicks and Nets are playing. Talk about Nova, the games, or anything else right here.