Bryan Mitchell heading for MRI on big toe


One day after being named to the Opening Day roster, Bryan Mitchell is heading for an MRI on his left big toe, Brian Cashman told reporters in Florida this afternoon. Mitchell’s toe “locked up” as he was covering first base in today’s game. Weird. It’s being called a sprain for now.

Mitchell, 24, has had a fantastic spring this year, which earned him that Opening Day roster spot. He was pretty good out of the bullpen last year, at least before taking a line drive to the nose, and this year he has a chance to solidify his place in the team’s long-term plans.

A toe injury sounds innocent enough, but it could be a pretty big deal. The last thing the Yankees want Mitchell to do is change his mechanics to protect the toe (even subconsciously) and then hurt his arm. Straining a toe covering first base is a weird baseball injury for sure. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.

Latest roster cuts leave four pitchers for final two bullpen spots

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

Earlier this morning the Yankees announced they have optioned left-hander Tyler Olson and right-handers Branden Pinder and Nick Goody to Triple-A Scranton. Pinder is the only moderate surprise. Olson started camp well but scuffled of late, and Goody served up three homers in the span of 24 hours earlier this week, so yeah.

Today’s cuts leave four candidates for the Yankees’ final two bullpen spots: righties Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, Anthony Swarzak, and Kirby Yates. Two of them will join Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, Ivan Nova, and Bryan Mitchell in the Opening Day bullpen. (Mitchell was told he made the team yesterday.) Here’s a quick pros and cons list:

  • Barbato: Great camp (pro), out-pitch curveball (pro), zero MLB experience (con).
  • Cessa: Very good camp (pro), can go multiple innings (pro), zero MLB experience (con).
  • Swarzak: Mediocre camp (con), blah stuff (con), can go multiple innings (pro).
  • Yates: Very good camp (pro), big league experience (pro), historically homer prone (con).

That about covers it. Earlier this week I said I expected Barbato and Yates to get the final two bullpen spots and I’m sticking to that right now. I don’t think Swarzak has much of a chance to make the roster, though Cessa definitely does. The question is do the Yankees want him in their MLB bullpen, or stretched out in Triple-A ready to start?

Either way, these last two bullpen spots are shuttle spots, meaning fresh relievers will be cycled in and out as necessary all year. Barbato and Yates may start the season in the bullpen, but the odds of them sticking through the end of April are small, nevermind sticking through the end of the season. That’s the plan. That’s the way the roster has been built.

Yesterday afternoon Joe Girardi said he hopes all the final roster decisions are made by tomorrow, and at this point I have to think the Yankees know who they’re taking north in the bullpen. They have a game this afternoon and two split squad games tomorrow, but realistically, what could happen in those games to change their mind? Outside of injury, probably nothing. Not unless Swarzak shows up throwing 100 or something.

Following today’s moves, the Yankees are down to 34 players in big league camp. It’s really 31 players though because Mason Williams (shoulder), Greg Bird (shoulder), and Aroldis Chapman (suspension) aren’t Opening Day roster candidates. Earlier today Girardi announced Ronald Torreyes has won the final bench spot, so the backup catcher’s job — Austin Romine has that all but locked up — and the two bullpen spots are the only remaining unsettled roster spots.

Ronald Torreyes beats out Pete Kozma for final bench spot


At long last, the competition for the final bench spot is over. The Yankees will open the season with Ronald Torreyes on the bench, Joe Girardi announced this morning according to all the reporters in Tampa. Torreyes beat out Rob Refsnyder, who was sent down a few days ago, and the veteran Pete Kozma for the job.

Torreyes, 23, came over from the Dodgers in a very minor trade over the winter. The Yankees actually designated him for assignment a few days later, lost him on waivers to the Angels, then re-claimed him on waivers a few days later after the Angels designated him for assignment. Got all that? The poor guy has been with five teams (Astros, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Yankees, Angels) in the last 12 months. Now he’s a big leaguer. Good for him.

This spring Torreyes went 10-for-33 (.303) with two doubles while playing the three non-first base infield positions. He hit .262/.310/.348 (82 wRC+) in 464 plate appearances at Double-A and Triple-A last year and made his very brief MLB debut with Los Angeles is September. Torreyes did hit .298/.345/.376 (90 wRC+) in a full year at Triple-A in 2014, so he has shown offensive promise in the past.

Both the scouting reports and stats say Torreyes is a contact machine (6.5 K% from 2014-15) with little power (.082 ISO) and solid defense all around the infield. He’s a tiny little guy — Torreyes is listed at 5-foot-10 and 150 lbs., but everyone who has seen him says that’s generous — so small ball is the name of his game. He’ll make contact, bunt, play defense, all that stuff. Get ready for Suzyn Waldman to call him a baseball player.

The Yankees are set on the infield, so Torreyes will strictly be a backup player. He’s not going to platoon against lefties or anything like that. At least I don’t think he will. Because Torreyes can play shortstop, the Yankees can keep Starlin Castro at second base full-time whenever Didi Gregorius needs a rest this year. That’s a nice bonus. Castro is new to second base and still learning the nuances of the position.

As for Kozma, he’ll head to Triple-A Scranton and join Refsnyder, Jonathan Diaz, and Donovan Solano on the infield. Kozma will probably be the starting shortstop for the RailRiders. Refsnyder is going to see a lot of time at third base, Girardi said as much, so Diaz and Solano will bounce around to fill-in.

Poll: The 2016 Prospect Watch

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

One of our longest running quasi-features here at RAB is the annual Prospect Watch. It’s pretty simple. We pick a prospect each year, then track his performance in the sidebar with daily updates throughout the season. Think of it as the nuts and bolts of the player’s Baseball Reference page in our sidebar. Easy, right?

In the past I would make an executive decision and pick the prospect myself. It was pretty easy back in the days of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Andrew Brackman, and Jesus Montero. I can’t remember who else has been featured in the Prospect Watch over the years — definitely Mason Williams and Eric Jagielo, I’m pretty sure Manny Banuelos too — but it’s not really important now.

Rather than pick a prospect myself, these days I turn it over to you folks, the readers. Over the last few years I’ve picked a handful of prospects and let readers vote for the Prospect Watch prospect. Some say the Prospect Watch is cursed, you know. I only wish the pixels in our sidebar were so powerful. Anyway, here are the five candidates for the 2016 Prospect Watch, presented alphabetically.

OF Dustin Fowler

The Case For: Fowler, 21, was one of the breakout stars of the farm system last year, hitting .298/.334/.403 (114 wRC+) with 22 doubles, eight homers, and 37 steals in 587 plate appearances split between Low-A, High-A, and the Arizona Fall League. Didn’t realize he stole 37 bags, did you? He drew rave reviews for his tools in the AzFL as well. Fowler fills all the columns and stands to improve even more now that he has another year as a full-time baseball player under his felt. (He split his time between three sports in high school.)

The Case Against: At this point Fowler is not expected to put up big power numbers. In fact, it took a strong AzFL showing to get his season slugging percentage over .400. (He slugged .394 at the two Single-A levels.) He could very well be a single-digit home run guy in 2016. Fowler’s not a huge numbers prospect; a lot of his value is to tied to his defense and raw athleticism, which he’s still working to turn into baseball skills.

OF Aaron Judge

The Case For: Last year’s Prospect Watch prospect — we’ve had the same Prospect Watch prospect in consecutive years before, that’s no issue — is the best prospect in the farm system. The 23-year-old Judge managed a .258/.332/.446 (124 wRC+) batting line with 26 doubles, 20 homers, and seven steals in 552 total plate appearances last year despite his second half skid at Triple-A. He’s got power and he draws walks, and he’s scheduled to start the season back with the RailRiders. Repeating a level usually provides a nice boost to a player’s stats. Out of everyone in this post, I think Judge has the best chance to put up “holy crap” numbers in 2016.

The Case Against: Judge did scuffle at Triple-A last season, hitting .224/.308/.373 (98 wRC+) with eight home runs and an eyesore of a 28.5% strikeout rate in 260 plate appearances. Experienced pitchers took advantage of his massive frame and chewed him up with soft stuff away. Judge made some mechanical adjustments over the winter in an attempt to correct that flaw — he has a bigger leg kick and moved his hands slightly — and any time mechanical adjustments are made, there’s a chance for a slow start as the player gets used to his new setup. As talented as he is, Judge comes with quite a bit of risk.

RHP James Kaprielian

The Case For: The Yankees selected Kaprielian, 22, out of UCLA with their first round pick last summer. He’s an advanced college pitcher with four pitches (fastball, slider, curveball, changeup) and good control, and last summer he experienced a velocity uptick that has stuck this spring. Kaprielian went from sitting 88-91 mph for most of his career with the Bruins to 94-96 mph in pro ball last year. Scouts have reportedly had him up to 97 mph this spring. Kaprielian is probably the “safe” pick here. Guys with three years of experience at a major college program and good control of four pitches tend to carve hitters up in the low minors. Grandmaster Kap will start the season at High-A and there’s a chance he’ll reach Triple-A by the end of the season, if not MLB.

The Case Against: It’s tough to come up with a case against Kaprielian. There’s the standard “he’s a pitcher and pitchers tend to get hurt” disclaimer, which is always a bummer. Also, he’s a starting pitcher, which means the Prospect Watch will be updated only once every five days. And chances are the Yankees will have Kaprielian on some sort of workload limit too, so he might be limited to five innings per start or something like that. They might even shut him down at some point. There aren’t any real performance concerns with Kaprielian. It’s all stuff out of his control.

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

SS Jorge Mateo

The Case For: Mateo is the most exciting prospect in the farm system. He has electric tools, headlined by his top of the line speed, which allowed him to a steal a professional baseball leading 82 bases in 2015. Mateo, 20, hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with 23 doubles, eleven triples, and two homers in exactly 500 plate appearances last year, mostly at Low-A but also some at High-A. He’s going to steal an obscene number of bases, and based on our quick look in Spring Training, Mateo might be ready to turn his batting practice power into in-game power. Either way, he’ll do everything.

The Case Against: Mateo is a prospect you have to see with your own eyes to fully appreciate. The gaudy stolen base total will be fun, but otherwise this is a prospect likely to hit around .280 with a sub-.400 slugging percentage, and that’s not eye-popping Prospect Watch material. Mateo is a better real life prospect than a stats prospect. Does that make sense?

C Gary Sanchez

The Case For: The third time at Double-A was a charm for the 23-year-old Sanchez, who had a 127 wRC+ with 12 homers in 58 games with Trenton before a promotion to Triple-A, where he had a 145 wRC+ with six homers in 35 games. Throw in his outrageous AzFL showing and Sanchez hit .276/.336/.503 (137 wRC+) with 29 doubles and 25 home runs in 515 total plate appearances in 2015. He’s got big power and it seems Sanchez is just starting to put it all together. Good things are in his future.

The Case Against: Sanchez could very easily end up spending the majority of the upcoming season in the Bronx, meaning the Prospect Watch would really be a Backup Catcher Watch that gets updated once or twice a week. Where’s the fun in that? The performance isn’t much of a question here. Sanchez figures to mash this summer because he’s mashed pretty much everywhere he’s played. Will he play enough to justify a spot in the sidebar as the Prospect Watch prospect?

* * *

I also considered adding SS Wilkerman Garcia to the poll, but he’s almost certainly going to start the year in Extended Spring Training before shuttling off to one of the short season affiliates, meaning the Prospect Watch would be dormant until late June. That’s no fun. LHP Ian Clarkin also received consideration. There’s just way too much downside risk there after Clarkin missed the entire 2015 regular season with an elbow injury. Hopefully Clarkin and Garcia will be candidates for the 2017 Prospect Watch.

Anyway, it’s time for the poll. I’ll leave the poll open until 12pm ET this Friday, so you’ve got a little more than 48 hours to mull the options and vote. Should be plenty of time. I’ll reveal the winner Friday afternoon. Thanks in advance for voting.

Who should be the 2016 Prospect Watch?

Open Thread: March 29th Camp Notes

The Yankees played two split squad games this afternoon, but, thanks to rain, they only played nine total innings. They beat the Pirates 5-4 in five innings at home, and CC Sabathia allowed two runs on three hits and two walks in four innings. He fanned two. Carlos Beltran hit a two-run homer while Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley, and Starlin Castro had one hit each. Here’s the box score and video highlights for that game.

Meanwhile, in Clearwater, the other half of the Yankees beat the Phillies 7-1 in four innings. Masahiro Tanaka allowed one run on seven hits and a walk in his four innings, striking out five. Dustin Ackley (three-run) and Miguel Andujar (two-run) both cracked homers. Aaron Hicks and Brian McCann also had base hits. Here’s the box score and video highlights for that game. Hard to top two wins in nine innings, eh? Here’s the rest of the day’s news from Tampa:

  • Joe Girardi said he felt today was Sabathia’s best outing of the spring, but he stopped short of naming him the fifth starter, citing the fact there are still five exhibition games to play. “I hope we have them all by Thursday,” said the manager, referring to decisions about the open roster spots. [Erik Boland, Chad Jennings]
  • The rotation for the rest of camp: Ivan Nova (Wednesday), Michael Pineda and Chad Green (split squad games Thursday, both on TV), Nathan Eovaldi (Friday), and Luis Severino (Saturday). Looks to me the regular season rotation with be Tanaka/Pineda/Eovaldi/Severino/Sabathia in that order, though Sabathia could start the third or fourth game instead. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Following last night’s game the Yankees reassigned Diego Moreno to minor league camp. They’re down to 37 players in big league camp, though it’s really 34 because Greg Bird (shoulder), Mason Williams (shoulder), and Aroldis Chapman (suspension) aren’t Opening Day roster candidates.
  • In case you missed it earlier, Bryan Mitchell has been told he will be on the Opening Day roster. He’s scheduled to pitch on three day’s rest tomorrow, so it seems like the team is preparing him for a relief role. (Duh.) [Jennings]
  • Today is Carlos Corporan opt-out date, but there’s no word on whether he is actually opting out. I guess that means he’s sticking around? /shrugs

This is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s home game will be replayed on YES following the Nets game, so figure it will start somewhere around 10-10:30pm ET. The road game won’t be replayed anywhere. MLB Network will show the Giants and Royals live a little later, then a bunch of other games on tape delay throughout the night. The Islanders, Devils, and Nets are all playing as well talk. You folks know what to do here, so have it.

Girardi announces Bryan Mitchell will be on Opening Day roster


No surprise here: Joe Girardi officially announced this afternoon that Bryan Mitchell will be on the Opening Day roster, according to the various reporters in Tampa. He did not specify a role, but we all know Mitchell will be in the bullpen. Girardi has been talking about Mitchell as a potential Adam Warren replacement since Spring Training opened.

Mitchell, 24, has allowed one run on six hits and one walk in 14.2 innings so far this spring. He’s struck out eleven. The Yankees said they were holding a fifth starter competition, but apparently Mitchell was not included, because he would have won it with those numbers. He threw the ball very well in Grapefruit League play.

Last season Mitchell had a 6.37 ERA (4.75 FIP) in 29.2 big league innings spread across two starts and 18 relief appearances. It really was a tale of two seasons though. He was very good (3.86 ERA and 3.28 FIP) in 21 innings before being hit in the nose with a line drive, then terrible (12.46 ERA and 8.33 FIP) in 8.2 innings thereafter.

Mitchell is a fastball/curveball/cutter pitcher with shaky command. The lack of command and the lack of a changeup — he uses the cutter against lefties — holds him back from a no-doubt future as a starter. PitchFX clocked Mitchell’s fastball at 96.7 mph on average last year (99.3 mph max), and the curve is a hammer, so he could be a real weapon his short relief. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does.

Mitchell will join Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, and Ivan Nova in the bullpen, so two spots are still up for grabs. (One will eventually be filled by Aroldis Chapman.) My money is on Kirby Yates and Johnny Barbato getting those spots, but we’ll see. They’re going to be shuttle spots anyway.

The Coaching Staff [2016 Season Preview]


Once again, the Yankees made some changes to their coaching staff this past offseason. Not huge changes, but changes nonetheless. Two years ago Gary Tuck replaced Mike Harkey as bullpen coach. Last year the duo of Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell replaced Kevin Long at hitting coach, and Joe Espada took over as third base coach with Rob Thomson moving to bench coach and Tony Pena moving to first base coach.

This past offseason the Yankees replaced Tuck with Harkey — Tuck was reportedly let go due to a disagreement with the front office about the use of analytics — and promoted Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames to replace Pentland. Well, technically Cockrell was promoted to replace Pentland as the main hitting coach, with Thames replacing Cockrell as the assistant. Got all that?

It’s tough to preview or review the coaching staff because so much of what they do happens behind the scenes. Sometimes we can see the results of their work — Thames helped Ben Gamel add a leg kick last year, for example — but oftentimes we’re talking about adjustments the untrained eye won’t see. So rather than provide a rigorous analysis of the coaching staff, here is a more casual preview of the upcoming season.

The Manager

Can you believe this will be Joe Girardi‘s ninth season as manager? The Yankees have had two managers over the last two decades. They had eleven managers in the two decades before that, not counting the guys who were hired multiple times. I was still very young when George Steinbrenner was in his hiring and firing heyday, so I can’t really appreciate the continuity the Yankees have had the last 20 years.

Anyway, I have long believed the manager’s most important work takes place is in the clubhouse, where he has to manage 25 personalities (way more than that, really) day in and day out for eight months a year. That can’t be easy. The Yankees seem to have a very cohesive clubhouse — Alex Rodriguez referred to the veteran players as the “Board of Trustees” because of the way they oversee things — and that surely helps Girardi. Over the last few seasons the team has been largely distraction free and that’s a good thing. Girardi keeps the chaos to a minimum.

On the field, I think Girardi has two key responsibilities this year. One, don’t screw up the laughably great bullpen he’s been given. And he won’t. Girardi’s very good with his relievers. Yes, he makes moves that sometime backfire. That makes him like every other manager. We now have eight years worth of data telling us Girardi is good at a) turning marginal relievers into assets by putting them in good positions to succeed, and b) keeping his bullpeners fresh.

Managing this bullpen with the lead will be easy. Are the Yankees up in the late innings? Bring in Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, or Aroldis Chapman. Any of three will do. That’s the easy part of managing this bullpen. The tough part is all the other innings, when you’re trailing or deep into extra innings and the three big guys have been used. The Yankees are going to shuttle relievers in and out all year again, and it’ll be up to Girardi to get the most out of them.

The second key on-field responsibility this season is resting the regulars. Girardi and the Yankees seem to be all-in on this. They’ve been talking about it since the end of last season. They want to rest the veterans and try to avoid another second half offensive collapse. The versatile Aaron Hicks will make resting the outfielders easy. He can play any outfield position and he’s a switch-hitter. Hooray for that. The infield? Eh, things are a little up in the air there. Either way, keeping players fresh and productive will be very important in 2016.

Beyond all that, I’d like to see Girardi try a few more Hail Mary instant replay challenges this summer, which I discussed a few months ago. The team’s replay success rate may dip, but who cares? They don’t give out a prize for that. Girardi has to navigate this weird transition period as the “get younger and trim payroll but remain competitive” thing continues. I don’t think his job will be (or should be) in jeopardy if they miss the postseason, but who knows. After eight years, it’s pretty clear Girardi is an asset and one of the game’s better managers.

Cockrell and Thames (and Reggie). (Presswire)
Cockrell and Thames (and Reggie). (Presswire)

The Hitting Coaches

The Yankees are on their third hitting coach(es) in three years. They scored the second most runs in baseball last season, and outside of Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury, pretty much everyone in the lineup met or exceeded expectations. That seems to be the criteria by which fans judge hitting coaches. Did the team score a lot of runs? Did the players meet expectations? If the answers are yes, the hitting coach is doing a good job.

This summer the Cockrell/Thames tandem will be tasked not so much with keeping the veterans productive, though that’s obviously important. Given the team’s direction, the more important goal is helping the young players, specifically guys like Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro. We could also lump Hicks and Gary Sanchez in there as well. The Yankee have put aside the present for the future, that couldn’t be any more clear, which is why the young guys are the priority. That’s … pretty much all I have to say about the hitting coaches. Go team.

The Pitching Coach

This year the Yankees did not give Larry Rothschild a project. Last season they dropped a shiny new Nathan Eovaldi into his lap and told Rothschild to turn him into a better pitcher. And he did! Rothschild taught Eovaldi a splitter and he was way more effective with that pitch. Based on that, the project was successful in the short-term. We’ll see what happens in the long-term.

In 2016, Rothschild’s pet project will be Luis Severino and perhaps Bryan Mitchell, assuming he’s in the Opening Day bullpen. Severino is very refined for a kid his age, but the Yankees do need to monitor his workload, and Rothschild is in charge of mapping that out. Mitchell has to improve his control and command and gosh, that’s a tough one. Rothschild can only do so much there. Baseball history is full of live arms who washed out because they couldn’t locate.

Rothschild is about to begin his sixth season as pitching coach — how the hell did that happen? didn’t they just hire him? — and in those five years the Yankees have had plenty of pitchers exceed expectations, and I’m talking about both veterans (Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Hiroki Kuroda) and young pitchers (Betances, Adam Warren, even Ivan Nova). Most of their pitching failures have been injury related. How much credit does Rothschild deserve? We can’t say, exactly. After five years, I feel pretty good with him running the show.

The Other Coaches

Harkey left the Yankees two years ago to take over as the Diamondbacks pitching coach. Arizona canned him at the end of last season, which was inevitable. He was a holdover from the previous regime and it was only a matter of time until GM Dave Stewart and head baseball operations hocho Tony La Russa brought in their own guy. They gave Harkey a year, then moved on, so now he’s back with the Yankees as bullpen coach. It’s like he never left.

Thompson returns as bench coach and I have no opinion about that whatsoever. Pena returns as first base coach — his is Pena’s 11th season on the coaching staff, by the way — and I also have no opinion about that. Both guys have been around forever and they wouldn’t continue to be around if they weren’t quality baseball minds. All bench and first base coaches are cool with me because I’m don’t really know what they do or how much influence they have. Pena works with the catchers. I know that much.

Third base coaches generally get a bad rap. They’re either hated or unnoticed. Espada was conservative sending runners last year and at least part of that was out of necessity. The Yankees are not a fast team aside from Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Also, the Yankees scored a lot of runs last year, and when you can hit for power like they did, it makes sense to hold a runner if you think there may be a play at the plate. Teams that struggle to score runs have to really push it. The Yankees aren’t one of those teams.

That said, Espada did appear to be overly conservative at times, perhaps due to poor reads or not knowing the scouting reports on the outfielder’s arm. (Guessing it was the former, not the latter.) That’s something that has to be cleaned up. Espada’s not a rookie third base coach — he was the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13 — so he has experience. Hopefully his second year in New York goes a bit more smoothly now that he’s seen the league and is more familiar with his personnel.