4/6 to 4/9 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays


The 2015 season is finally upon us. The Yankees open the new season at home at Yankee Stadium this afternoon against the Blue Jays. These two clubs were separated by one game in the standings last season and then had busy offseasons — the Yankees made a series of smaller moves while the Jays made two really big moves. Now they’re both in that cluster of mediocrity vying for the AL East title, so head-to-head meetings are important. New York and Toronto open a four-day, three-game series this afternoon.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

Well, nothing important since this is the first series of the year. I’m not even going to bother to look up Toronto’s record during Grapefruit League play because it’s so meaningless. Way too many innings and at-bats go to players who won’t sniff the MLB roster this summer. If you’re curious, the projecting standings at FanGraphs have these two clubs finishing with identical 82-80 records. So the season has been decided. Fast forward to 2016!

Offense & Defense

The Blue Jays figure to be scary good offensively thanks to the 3-4-5 combination of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson. There is no 3-4-5 combo in the game that I’d rather have over that group right now. Here’s a quick run down of Toronto’s started lineup with their 2014 stats and 2015 ZiPS projections, just for reference:

2014 Performance 2015 ZiPS Projection
SS Jose Reyes .287/.328/.398 (102 wRC+), 30 SB .285/.333/.412 (107 wRC+)
C Russell Martin .290/.402/.430 (140 wRC+), 11 HR .237/.337/.407 (110 wRC+)
RF Jose Bautista .286/.403/.524 (159 wRC+), 35 HR .267/.384/.515 (151 wRC+)
1B Edwin Encarnacion .268/.354/.547 (150 wRC+), 34 HR .270/.358/.514 (142 wRC+)
3B Josh Donaldson .255/.342/.456 (129 wRC+), 29 HR .265/.338/.468 (125 wRC+)
DH Dioner Navarro .274/.317/.395 (98 wRC+), 12 HR .266/.314/.395 (96 wRC+)
LF Kevin Pillar .323/.359/.509 (136 wRC+) in AAA .266/.297/.398 (91 wRC+)
2B Devon Travis .298/.358/.460 (126 wRC+) in AA .244/.290/.392 (85 wRC+)
CF Dalton Pompey .309/.387/.456 (140 wRC+) in MiLB .239/.298/.348 (81 wRC+)

Like I said, the 3-4-5 guys are terrifying and the top five of the lineup in general is very dangerous even considering the likelihood Martin won’t be a .400+ OBP guy again. The bottom third of the lineup is … untested. Travis, who is skipping right over Triple-A following a strong spring, and Pompey are being thrown into the fire as rookies at up-the-middle positions. Pillar is filling in for OF Michael Saunders, who is working his way back from a spring knee injury.

Donaldson. (Presswire)
Donaldson. (Presswire)

The Jays are carrying eight relievers, so they only have three players on the bench: 1B Justin Smoak, UTIL Steve Tolleson, and UTIL Danny Valencia. Navarro is the backup catcher and I’m sure Smoak will see plenty of at-bats at DH (or first base with Encarnacion at DH) on the days Martin sits. It’s not the most usable bench in the world. Manager John Gibbons is going to ride or die with his nine starters. Those are the guys who will lead the Blue Jays.

Defensively, Toronto upgraded at third base and behind the plate with Donaldson and Martin, moreso by going from Navarro to Martin. Reyes remains a good defender and Travis was described as a “steady” defender capable of “making the routine play” at second base by Baseball America (subs. req’d) this winter., when they ranked him as the Tigers’ top prospect. The Jays got him from Detroit straight up for Anthony Gose.

Pompey and Bautista are above-average in center and right — Bautista’s defensive value comes more from his rocket arm than his range — and Pillar is sound in left. All told, this is a sneaky good defensive club. Encarnacion at first base is the only unquestionably below-average gloveman. And if you fully buy into the numbers, going from Navarro to Martin at catcher is a multi-win upgrade on pitch-framing alone.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (Career vs. TOR) vs. RHP Drew Hutchison (Career vs. NYY)
Hutchison will be Toronto’s youngest Opening Day starter since Todd Stottlemyre got the ball on Opening Day in 1990. (Tanaka, by the way, will be New York’s youngest Opening Starter since Andy Pettitte in 1998). The 24-year-old Hutchison had a 4.48 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 32 starts and 184.2 innings last season with nice strikeout (23.4 K%) and walk (7.6 BB%) rates. He didn’t get many ground balls (36.1%) and was a bit homer prone (1.12 HR/9). ZiPS sees a slight step back (4.22 ERA and 4.17 FIP), for what it’s worth. Hutchison is a three-pitch pitcher, using a low-to-mid-90s heater to set up mid-80s sliders and changeups. He uses the slider twice as often as the changeup. The Yankees saw a whole bunch of Hutchison last season — he threw 31 innings across six starts in 2014 and had a 5.17 ERA.

It's a fingertip ball, not a knuckleball. (Presswire)
It’s a fingertip ball, not a knuckleball. (Presswire)

Wednesday: RHP Michael Pineda (Career vs. TOR) vs. RHP. R.A. Dickey (Career vs. NYY)
It’s not surprising Dickey has failed to repeat his out of nowhere 2012 Cy Young Award winning season, though he has settled in a slightly better than average innings eater. Last season he put up a 3.71 ERA (4.32 FIP) with an 18.9 K% and an 8.1 BB% in 34 starts and 215.2 innings. His ground ball rate was basically average (42.0%) and his home run rate (1.09 HR/9) a bit worse than average. ZiPS sees more of the same from the 40-year-old in 2015 (4.04 ERA and 4.43 FIP). Dickey is still a knuckleballer, but unlike when he used two distinct knuckleballs with the Mets, he has just one basic mid-70s floater at this point. He throws the knuckler 85% of the time, give or take. The other 15% is low-80s show-me fastballs and low-70s changeups. The Yankees saw Dickey just twice last year, scoring two runs in a dozen innings. And that means nothing for Wednesday.

Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia (Career vs. TOR) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (Career vs. NYY)
Norris, 21, had one of the best seasons in all of minor league baseball a year ago, pitching to a 2.53 ERA (2.57 FIP) with 32.5 K% and 8.6 BB% in 124.2 innings while climbing from High-A to Triple-A before making his big league debut as a September call-up. His 11.77 K/9 was the very best out of the 551 minor league pitchers to throw 100 innings in 2014, and Baseball America ranked him as the sixth best pitching prospect in baseball (18th best prospect overall) coming into the spring. Norris was used mostly as a reliever with the Jays in September (5.40 ERA and 6.13 FIP in 6.2 innings) but will be a starter this year. ZiPS thinks he’ll be serviceable but not dominant (4.35 ERA and 4.46 FIP). Norris has a very deep repertoire, sitting in the low-90s and touching 97 with his fastball while throwing three average or better offspeed pitches: low-80s changeup, low-80s slider, and low-70s curveball. The slider is his best strikeout pitch, but, on his very best days, Norris brings three swing-and-miss secondary pitches out to he mound. The eccentric southpaw (read this) did throw an inning against the Yankees last September, when this happened:

Bullpen Status
Like I said earlier, the Blue Jays are going into the season with an eight-man bullpen partly because they have two rookie starters (Norris and Aaron Sanchez) and want some extra arms in case things go south in April. Long-time end-game reliever Casey Janssen was allowed to leave as a free agent and the bespectacled southpaw Brett Cecil will be the team’s new closer. Two of those eight relievers are rookies with zero MLB experience. Here’s the ‘pen:

2014 Performance 2015 ZiPS Projection
RHP Miguel Castro 2.84 (3.80 FIP), 25.2 K%, 9.2 BB% in MiLB N/A
LHP Brett Cecil 2.70 ERA (2.34 FIP), 32.5 K%, 11.5 BB% 3.48 ERA (3.41 FIP), 27.1 K%, 9.7 BB%
RHP Marco Estrada 4.36 ERA (4.88 FIP), 20.4 K%, 7.1 BB% 4.44 ERA (4.57 FIP), 21.6 K%, 6.3 BB%
RHP Liam Hendriks 5.23 ERA (3.84 FIP), 16.1 K%, 4.9 BB% 4.69 ERA (4.47 FIP), 16.0 K%, 4.9 BB%
LHP Colt Hynes 3.65 ERA (3.99 FIP), 21.0 K%, 4.4 BB% in AAA 3.98 ERA (3.85 FIP), 21.1 K%, 4.9 BB%
LHP Aaron Loup 3.15 ERA (3.83 FIP), 19.8 K%, 10.6 BB% 3.62 ERA (3.93 FIP), 19.4 K%, 8.1 BB%
RHP Roberto Osuna 7.39 ERA (4.05 FIP), 28.5 K%, 7.9 BB% in MiLB N/A
RHP Todd Redmond 3.24 ERA (3.56 FIP), 19.1 K%, 8.6 BB% 3.91 ERA (3.75 FIP), 19.4 K%, 8.1 BB%

Castro and Osuna spend last year at multiple levels of Single-A and are both skipping over Double-A and Triple-A. They made the team thanks to great Spring Training performances, which, uh, might not be the best way to make roster decisions, but to each his own. Osuna turned 20 in February and will probably be the youngest player in MLB this season. ZiPS didn’t even bother to spit out a projection for either guy this offseason because they weren’t expected to sniff the big league level.

Cecil’s going to close and Loup will face a bunch of lefties in setup situations, as he has been for several years now. Other than that, I’m not really sure how Gibbons will use his relievers. Will he throw Castro and Osuna to the wolves right away and give them high-leverage work? Or will Redmond go from multi-inning middle reliever last year to setup man this year? We’ll find out soon enough. For the best Jays coverage, head over to Andrew Stoeten’s site.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 6th, 2015

Grapefruit League Record: 17-16-1 (138 RS, 130 RA)
Regular Season Record: 0-0 (0 RS, 0 RA, 0-0 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: vs. Blue Jays (three games, Mon. to Thurs.), vs. Red Sox (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the “Features” pull down menu above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Soccer and metal detectors for the Stadium’s seventh season [2015 Season Preview]

Although Mike promised an end to the season preview series with his excellent haikus, I’m here to break that promise. Mike’s and Joe’s exhaustive previews touched on everything but the stadium, and while Yankee Stadium in its seventh season isn’t undergoing major changes, there are a few additions — not all welcome — to the House That George Built. So as fans start to line up in a few hours for another season of Yankee baseball in the Bronx, what changes can they expect to see this year?

Another summer at the Ballpark in the Bronx looms. (Via River Ave. Blues on Instagram)
Another summer at the Ballpark in the Bronx looms. (Via River Ave. Blues on Instagram)

All fans screened via metal detectors

It’s been a long time coming, but 2015 marks a turning point for security at Yankee Stadium. Under pressure from outside security consultants, every MLB fan will be screened as they enter the Stadium, and the screening won’t just involve a cursory glance through the contents of a bag. This year, the Stadium will feature metal detectors and wanding at every entrance.

According to an email the Yankees sent out this weekend to their fans, the new screening procedures are part of an effort, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, to “elevate and standardize security practices across the game.” The Yankees are warning fans to arrive early and budget extra time for security, but for many trying to catch first pitch of a 7:05 game after a day in the office, this suggestion ranges from impractical to infeasible. I know plenty of fans who have a tough time arriving for first pitch without added security, and I fear this move will simply push fans to watch more games from one. I know one season ticket holder willing to give up her package if the security lines take too long.

The Yankees recognize the challenges, but the early indications are that this screening will lead to long lines. The Barclays Center has struggled to move fans through metal detectors, and even in the Bronx, NYCFC fans faced disorganized and slow screening procedures in March. The utility of this move — which sounds more akin to security theater than actual security — is up for debate as well.

“We will do everything we can to minimize the entry time to Yankee Stadium,” team COO Lonn Trost said in a statement. “However, proper screening as mandated by Major League Baseball requires a longer and more elaborate entry process than fans may be accustomed to. We urge fans to arrive as early as possible, and we appreciate their understanding as we try to ensure their security.”

Soccer in the Stadium

Speaking of NYCFC, 2015 marks a milestone in the Steinbrenner family initiative to bring more than just baseball to Yankee Stadium. We’ve seen a few soccer friendlies in the past and some off-season football games, but this year — and until their stadium scenario is clarified — New York City FC and the New York Yankees will be sharing the Stadium.

Throughout the baseball season, NYCFC will play 17 home games in the Bronx, and as Dan Barbarisi explored a few weeks ago, Yankee fielders are expecting the worst for their playing surface. “It’ll definitely cause an issue, but it’s nothing that we can control, so we can’t worry about it,” Mark Teixeira said to The Wall Street Journal reporter. “It’s terrible for a field.”

Barbarisi detailed the initiatives in place to guard against field damage. The grounds crew will have a few days to restore the grass following soccer games, and the pitcher’s mound isn’t in the field of play on the soccer pitch. Still, the players recognize that they need to watch the new grass; Brett Gardner speaks to The Journal knowingly about root systems and turf patches. The Front Office though maintains the grass will be fine, but they have much to lose.

Hopefully, sharing the field won’t put the Yankee defenders at risk of injury or error, but they know it’s going to be a concern this season. “I’m going to fall on the side of erring aggressively,” Brendan Ryan said, “much, much more so than staying back and trying to read some hop that’s unpredictable.”

A very slightly improved Stadium beer scene

As those who follow me on Twitter know, I’m a big fan of craft beer (Untappd!), but I’m not a big fan of the Yankee Stadium beer situation. While Stone has set up shop in Petco Stadium, Boulevard fills cups in Kauffman Stadiu, and the Mariners are known for their beer selections, due to the demands of the dollar, Yankee Stadium is exclusively the home of InBev-Anheuser Busch products. Thanks to recent acquisitions by InBev, Yankee fans can now find Blue Point beers, and a recent photo from an NYCFC game shows Long Trail available too (though the Vermont brewery is not connected to InBev). It’s a step in the right direction, albeit a small one, and I yearn for the day when we can find a Bronx Brewery beer at the Stadium or even a SingleCut, Finback or Other Half brew.

Sunday Night Open Thread

Well folks, this is the last Yankees-less baseball night for at least the next six months. It feels good, doesn’t it? To help hold you over until Opening Day tomorrow, I recommend this Stephen Nesbitt article on ex-Yank Francisco Cervelli, who discussed how the Yankees discovered him and how difficult it is to be a catcher in the minors. The Yankees pulled Cervelli out of the stands during a workout, watched him make one throw from behind the plate to second base, then signed him. Neat story.

This is your open thread for the night. The 2015 season starts tonight with the Cardinals at the Cubs (Wainwright vs. Lester, 8pm ET on ESPN2), so hooray for that. The Knicks are playing tonight as well. Talk about the Cervelli article, Opening Night, or anything else right here. Have at it.

Minor League Notes: Assignments, Spring Reports, Judge, International Spending

Pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)
The new pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)

The Yankees open the 2015 regular season tomorrow, and a few days later the minor league season will get underway as well. Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all begin their seasons this coming Thursday. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then.

Opening Day assignments for top prospects

The full minor league rosters have not yet been released and won’t be a few days, though Josh Norris was able to get his hands on Opening Day assignments for most of the Yankees’ top prospects. The list:

Norris says the assignments could change slightly before the start of the season, but for the most part they’re set. Sanchez is going back to the Thunder to continue working on his defense with coaches and ex-catchers Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere, which I don’t love, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I assume Avelino, Katoh, and Mateo will rotate between second, short, and DH like Avelino, Katoh, and Wade did last year before Avelino got hurt. I’m little surprised Mateo is going to Charleston — he’s played only games in 15 rookie ball, that’s it — but the Yankees have never been shy about aggressively promoting their best teenage players. Otherwise these assignments are fairly straight forward. No major surprises.

Notes from the backfields in Tampa

Both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Jeff Moore (no subs. req’d) recently posted a collection of notes after watching minor league games on the backfields all around Florida. Law got a look at Mateo, saying he likes “how well he keeps his hands inside the ball” and added he “liked the potential of the hit tool but was hoping to see more polish on both sides of the ball.” The polish will come. It’s only Spring Training and Mateo is still just a 19-year-old kid.

Meanwhile, Moore saw Judge, Bird, and RHP Bryan Mitchell. “What’s impressive is (Judge) seems to get a little better each time I see him. The at-bats have gotten tougher and more advanced, with a better plan each time out,” wrote Moore. He also said he sees Bird as “a potential regular first baseman” and his “power is very real, more real than he gets credit for.” As for Mitchell, Moore says his fastball/curveball combination “screams reliever, and possibly a darn good one.”

Law still ranks Judge 23rd in latest Top 50 Prospects list

Last week, Law released an updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball (subs. req’d). There are only very minor changes from his top 100 list in February, with the most notable being the addition of Red Sox IF Yoan Moncada, who slots in at No. 16. Even with Moncada joining the list, Judge stays in the same No. 23 spot because he jumped over Rockies RHP Jon Gray, who hasn’t looked like himself this spring. Judge remains the third outfielder on the list behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law is the high man on Judge based on all this spring’s other top 100 lists. That’s cool with me.

Yankees spent $17.83M on international players in 2014

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees spent a ridiculous $17.83M on international prospects last year, easily the most in baseball. They spent more than the number two (Rays, $6.11M), three (Red Sox, $5.63M), and four (Astros, $5.42M) teams combined and more than the bottom ten teams combined ($16.9575M). Just to be clear, this is for the 2014 calendar year, not the 2014-15 signing period.

The Yankees handed out three of the five largest, six of the 14 largest, and 12 of the 40 largest signing bonuses to international prospects during the 2014 calendar year, according to Badler. We still don’t have a final number for the total bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period, but the total investment is clearly going to be north of $30M between bonuses and penalties. Most of that $17.83M last year was spent on July 2nd, the first day of the 2014-15 signing period. Now the Yankees just have to turn these kids into big leaguers and tradeable prospects.

Yankees release nine more minor leaguers

The Yankees have released seven more minor leaguers according to Matt Eddy: OF Yeicok Calderon, RHP Tim Giel, OF Robert Hernandez, RHP Stefan Lopez, RHP Matt Noteware, 1B Dalton Smith, and IF Graham Ramos. Dan Pfeiffer says OF Adonis Garcia was released as well, and OF Adam Silva announced on Facebook he was also released.

First things first: no more Yeicokshots!, sadly. Hernandez was signed in January, so his stint with the organization didn’t last long. Lopez led NCAA in saves in 2012 and had some potential, but he fell in love with his fastball so much in college that he lost all feel for his slider and became a one-pitch guy. The Yankees signed Giel, Noteware, and Ramos as undrafted free agents within the last two years to help fill out minor league rosters. That’s about it.

Old Timers’ Game coming to Triple-A Scranton

And finally, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre franchise is holding an Old Timers’ Game on June 21st, reports Donnie Collins. The event will raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. “I expect the ballpark to be sold out — and standing room only. That’s the goal,” said RailRiders’ co-managing partner to Grant Cagle to Collins. A bunch of ex-Yankees will be in attendance — not sure who, exactly — to play in the Old Timers’ Game and/or mingle with fans during a meet-and-greet and autograph session. That should be fun.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves


3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.

10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:

Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st

Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.

Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.

As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.

Open Thread: April 4th Camp Notes

The Yankees wrapped up the fake baseball portion of the 2015 season this afternoon with a 4-3 win over the Nationals at Nationals Park. Stephen Drew and Chris Young each hit a two-run homer, driving the offense. Brett Gardner had a pair of singles while Brian McCann and Didi Gregorius each doubled. It was really windy and Didi’s double was wind-aided, as in it was a standard fly ball the wind carried away from the center fielder.

Nathan Eovaldi started, allowed three runs in a rough first, then cruised for the next four innings. He struck out six. I’m pretty excited about him, this afternoon’s first inning notwithstanding. Dellin Betances allowed a bloop single and a walk in his scoreless inning, striking out the side. PitchFX says he averaged 95.3 mph and topped out at 96.4 mph, which is good. He still seemed to be fighting his mechanics a bit but otherwise looked much better than he has in recent weeks. Dellin’s not all the way back yet but this afternoon was definitely a step forward. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest of the day’s news:

  • If you missed it earlier, Austin Romine has been designated for assignment. John Ryan Murphy will be the backup catcher, which is what was expected basically the entire offseason. The Opening Day roster is pretty much set now. The Yankees just have to officially announce it. That’ll happen tomorrow probably.
  • Masahiro Tanaka said he’s not expecting to throw as hard this year because he’s changing his approach and focusing on sinkers, basically. “I’m trying to establish a certain pitching style for me this year, so maybe it’s not the wisest to ask for velocity from me this year. I think it will be a little bit, as far as miles per hour go, lower than last year.” [Dan Martin]
  • And that’s pretty much it for camp notes for the spring. The Yankees are off tomorrow then play Opening Day on Monday, at home in Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET. Hooray for that.

This is your open thread for the night. This afternoon’s game against the Nats will be replayed on MLB Network at 3am ET tomorrow morning, if 3am baseball is your thing. MLB Network is showing the Dodgers and Angels live later tonight plus you’ve got college hoops and all the local hockey and basketball teams in action aside from the Knicks. Talk about whatever you like here.