Sanchez, Lindgren, Rumbelow among prospects who could most help the Yankees in 2016

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

The days of the Yankees signing free agents to plug their roster holes are over, at least temporarily. The team is focused on getting younger at the moment, and it’s not just talk. Last season they dipped into their farm system whenever a need arose, either short or long-term. It was pretty exciting. It’s been a while since the Yankees have been run this way.

The focus on youth will continue this season. The Yankees did not sign a single Major League free agent this offseason, which is weird as hell, and they have several prospects on the cusp of helping at the big league level. Prospects are suspects until proven otherwise, but the Yankees seem committed to giving these guys a chance. Using my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List as a guide, here’s a look at the prospects who could help at some point in 2016.

OF Aaron Judge (RAB Top 30 Rank: 1)
2016 ZiPS Projection: .226/.287/.464 (105 OPS+), 30 HR, +1.5 WAR
How Does He Fit? Developmentally, the Yankees are in a pretty good place with Judge. He is their top prospect, but he could use some more Triple-A time to adjust to advanced pitching, and the team has the outfield depth to give him that Triple-A time. Judge will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so the Yankees could add him to the 40-man roster a few weeks early and give him a September call-up. Otherwise I get the sense the only way he helps the 2016 Yankees involves mashing in Triple-A for a few weeks and injuries to a few guys ahead of him on the outfield depth chart. The primary goal this summer is getting Judge ready to replace Carlos Beltran in 2017.

C Gary Sanchez (2)
2016 ZiPS Projection: .240/.291/.434 (99 OPS+), 20 HR, +1.9 WAR
How Does He Fit? Sanchez has a clear path to big league playing time as Brian McCann‘s backup. The Yankees could — and absolutely should, in my opinion — send him to Triple-A for the requisite five weeks to delay his free agency another year, and once that happens, the MLB backup job is all his. Sanchez took some pretty big steps forward last season. He’s not a finished product — no 23-year-old catcher is — but he is ready to help right now with his bat while continuing to work on his defense.

SS Jorge Mateo (3)
2016 ZiPS Projection: none
How Does He Fit? Realistically, there are only two ways Mateo helps the 2016 Yankees: 1) as trade bait, 2) as the designated pinch-runner in September. Mateo has only played 21 games above Low-A ball, so he is at least one and more likely two years away from an MLB job. He will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next winter though, meaning the Yankees could add him to the 40-man roster early and bring him up to run in September. They’ll have a hard time finding a better option given his speed and base-running aggressiveness. Aside from coming up to run once rosters expand, I would be stunned if Mateo saw big league time in 2016.

RHP James Kaprielian (4)
2016 ZiPS Projection: none
How Does He Fit? The Yankees invited last year’s first round pick to big league Spring Training this year and that’s pretty significant. It’s been a long time since they’ve invited a first rounder to camp the year after he was drafted. Not even Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain were invited to camp in 2007. Kaprielian comes billed as a quick moving college starter and he’s capable of following the 2007 Kennedy path this season, meaning some time in High-A, some time in Double-A, some time in Triple-A, then MLB debut. I doubt the Yankees would call Kaprielian up and rely on him a la Luis Severino last year, but he could come up to make some spot starts in September, for sure.

Refsnyder. (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

2B Rob Refsnyder (6)
2016 ZiPS Projection: .248/.318/.395 (98 OPS+), 13 HR, +1.9 WAR
How Does He Fit? At one point this offseason it looked like the Yankees were ready to hand the second base job over to Refsnyder, or at least have him platoon with Dustin Ackley, but now he’s stuck behind Starlin Castro on the depth chart. For now Refsnyder is infield depth the Yankees are going to stash in Triple-A. If Castro gets hurt, Refsnyder will come up to play second base. If Didi Gregorius or Chase Headley get hurt, Castro will slide over to the left side of the infield and Refsnyder will come up to play second. I know it seems like he is buried right now, but my guess is we’ll see more of Refsnyder in 2016 than you may expect. Something like 200-300 plate appearances wouldn’t surprise me. That’s just the way this stuff goes. It looks like a player is buried and before you know it he’s taking regular at-bats and the team is scrambling for help.

RHP Bryan Mitchell (7)
2016 ZiPS Projection: 5.48 ERA (5.15 FIP), -0.6 WAR
How Does He Fit? Mitchell is a starter by trade and the case can be made he is as high as seventh on the rotation depth chart. The Yankees do have three open bullpen spots — it’s more than likely four since Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension is looming — and they’ve shown they will take whoever they think is the best man for the job. I can’t help but think back to 2014, when they took Vidal Nuno north rather than leave him in Triple-A as rotation depth despite already having two long men in David Phelps and Adam Warren. Mitchell did look pretty darn good in short relief last summer before taking that line drive to the face. Either way, starter or reliever, we figure to see plenty of Mitchell this year. The Warren void is waiting to be filled.

LHP Jacob Lindgren (11)
2016 ZiPS Projection: 3.76 ERA (3.73 FIP), +0.3 WAR
How Does He Fit? Again, the Yankees have three if not four open bullpen spots, and Lindgren will get a chance to win a job in Spring Training. And even if he doesn’t land a spot on the Opening Day roster, he’ll be up at some point this season as part of the bullpen shuttle. Lindgren’s season ended in June last year due to surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, but he’s reportedly 100% now, and is already in Tampa preparing for the season. I think Lindgren has by far the highest upside of the team’s bullpen prospects and can envision a scenario in which he establishes himself as Joe Girardi‘s No. 4 reliever by the end of the season.

OF Mason Williams (14), OF Ben Gamel (20) & OF Slade Heathcott (28)
2016 ZiPS Projection, Williams: .230/.283/.320 (68 OPS+), 4 HR, +0.1 WAR
2016 ZiPS Projection, Gamel: .243/.292/.377 (85 OPS+), 10 HR, +0.9 WAR
2016 ZiPS Projection, Heathcott: .231/.274/.350 (73 OPS+), 5 HR, +0.4 WAR
How Do They Fit? It make sense to lump these three together since they’re all Triple-A bound left-handed hitters who can play all three outfield spots. Williams is the best defender of the three, Gamel is the best hitter of the three, and Heathcott is probably the best two-way player of the three. His injury history though … yeesh. The Yankees have three starting outfielders at the MLB level plus a quality fourth outfielder in Aaron Hicks plus a fifth outfield option in Ackley. It’ll probably take two injuries for one these youngsters to see meaningful MLB playing time this year. They’re available as depth though, and if they aren’t traded themselves, they make it easier for the Yankees to part with Brett Gardner at some point.

RHP Brady Lail (22)
2016 ZiPS Projection: 5.52 ERA (5.12 FIP), -0.7 WAR
How Does He Fit? Like Mitchell, the case can be made Lail is as high as seventh on the rotation depth chart. Unlike Mitchell, Lail hasn’t had a whole lot of Triple-A experience or success to this point. He got hammered in his seven starts with the RailRiders last year — 4.62 ERA (5.32 FIP) with more walks (17) than strikeouts (13) in 37 Triple-A innings — and the Yankees probably want to see Lail have some success at that level before calling him up. Add in the fact he is not yet on the 40-man roster and we might not see Lail until late in the season. The fact he is in Triple-A makes him a bullpen shuttle candidate though. That much is clear.

RHP Chance Adams (24)
2016 ZiPS Projection: none
How Does He Fit? This is probably a stretch because the Yankees are going to give Adams a chance to start this year, which makes sense. He has two quality pitches (fastball, slider) and an improving third pitch (changeup), plus the team has all that upper level bullpen depth, so now’s the time to let Adams try to hack it in the rotation. Should the Yankees abandon the starter plan at some point, Adams could shoot up the ladder in short order and become part of the bullpen shuttle. I will admit that is unlikely, however. Out of everyone in this post, I’d say Adams has the lowest odds of seeing MLB time in 2016. Even lower than Mateo.

Cessa. (Toledo Blade)
Cessa. (Toledo Blade)

RHP Luis Cessa (26)
2016 ZiPS Projection: 5.41 ERA (4.80 FIP), -0.4 WAR
How Does He Fit? Once again, we have a guy who could be as high as seventh on the rotation depth chart. Cessa came over in the Justin Wilson trade — the Mets traded him to the Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes last year — and like Lail, he got knocked around a bit in Triple-A (6.97 ERA and 3.57 FIP in 62 innings), but the underlying performance was pretty good (20.1 K%, 6.6 BB%, 52.1 GB%), and that’s what matters. Cessa is yet another bullpen shuttle candidate, but I think he has the best chance of making multiple starts for the Yankees in 2016 of anyone in this post, including Mitchell. Not sure why. Call it a hunch.

RHP Nick Rumbelow (27)
2016 ZiPS Projection: 4.39 ERA (3.99 FIP), -0.1 WAR
How Does He Fit? We saw Rumbelow on the shuttle last season and I’m sure we’ll see him on the shuttle again this season, even if he makes the Opening Day roster. He does have quality stuff and a history of missing bats, so I think Rumbelow has a good chance to carve out a full-time role for himself this summer. The Yankees just need to give him an opportunity. There were too many times last season where a young pitcher was sent down simply because he had just worked and wouldn’t be available for a day or two. The team has to give a few of these guys an extended audition in 2016, starting with Lindgren and Rumbelow.

* * *

Among those who did not make my Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, we could see RHP Nick Goody (ZiPS: +0.4 WAR), LHP James Pazos (+0.0 WAR), RHP Johnny Barbato (-0.2 WAR), RHP Branden Pinder (-0.4 WAR), RHP Vicente Campos (-1.1 WAR), RHP Chad Green (none), and LHP Tyler Webb (none) at the MLB level this summer. All seven of those guys are in the same position: they’re relievers who figure to ride the bullpen shuttle. Well, Green is a starter, so I suppose he could make a spot start at some point. Either way, expect to see many more young players come up to help the Yankees this season, even if their big league stint is only temporary.

Aaron Judge tops Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects list

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last week Keith Law published his annual top 100 prospects list, which included four Yankees: OF Aaron Judge (No. 36), SS Jorge Mateo (No. 55), C Gary Sanchez (No. 57), and RHP James Kaprielian (No. 87). Earlier today Law took an in-depth look at New York’s farm system (subs. req’d), examining their top ten prospects and beyond.

“The Yankees’ system is trending back upward, despite some trades and disappointing performances from upper-level prospects, thanks to a couple productive drafts that have helped restock the lower levels,” wrote Law. Here is his top ten:

  1. Judge
  2. Mateo
  3. Sanchez
  4. Kaprielian
  5. LHP Ian Clarkin
  6. OF Dustin Fowler
  7. SS Wilkerman Garcia
  8. RHP Drew Finley
  9. SS Kyle Holder
  10. SS Tyler Wade

Law has long been a Clarkin fan and he’s higher on both Finley and Holder than most. Finley is a “super-polished high-school arm with a plus curveball and outstanding command and feel for pitching” while the divisive Holder is “a plus-plus defender at short with mixed reviews on the bat, though he doesn’t have to hit that much to be a big leaguer, thanks to his defense.” Law also notes there “could be more growth here than with a normal college product,” referring to Holder, who split time between baseball and basketball for most of his life.

Within the write-up, Law dives deeper into the system and looks beyond the top ten. He ranks RHP Brady Lail as the 11th best prospect in the system, and Lail is followed by OF Ben Gamel (12th), LHP Jacob Lindgren (13th), RHP Luis Cessa (14th), C Luis Torrens (15th), OF Mason Williams (16th), RHP Trey Amburgey (17th), 2B Rob Refsnyder (18th), 3B Miguel Andujar (19th), and RHP Chance Adams (20th). 3B Dermis Garcia, RHP Domingo Acevedo, IF Abi Avelino, RHP Ty Hensley, RHP Austin DeCarr, OF Bryan Emery, SS Diego Castillo, C Miguel Flames, 3B Nelson Gomez, C Jason Lopez, and RHP Johnny Barbato all get mentions as well, though they’re unranked.

Law listed Lindgren and Barbato as the prospects most likely to have an impact in 2016, which is sorta cheating because they’re both bat-missing upper level relievers, but I’ll allow it. Fowler and Torrens are his sleepers. “Fowler has top-100-prospect tools and has performed rather well to date, despite aggressive promotions. He and Torrens are the best bets to make the leap in 2016,” he wrote. Torrens is coming off major shoulder surgery, so his road to top 100 prospectdom is a bit rockier than Fowler’s.

Based on the write-up, it’s pretty clear Law is high on the Yankees’ farm system, particularly their lower level guys like Wilkerman, Amburgey, and all the 2014-15 international signees. He ranked the Yankees as having the 13th best farm system in the game and that’s with Luis Severino and Greg Bird having graduated to MLB. That’s is pretty darn cool.

Starlin Castro’s Next New Position [2016 Spring Training Preview]

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

The Yankees are not shy about moving players to new positions and letting them learn on the fly. Two years ago they acquired shortstop Stephen Drew at the trade deadline and immediately moved him to second base, a position he’d never played before. They also acquired Martin Prado at the deadline that year and shifted him to right field, where he had two innings worth of MLB experience.

At the trade deadline last year, the Yankees attempted to acquire then Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro with the intention of moving him to second base. “We have been on Castro for a while, not just this winter. We tried to get him at the deadline,” said Brian Cashman after trading for Castro in December. A deal didn’t happen in July, then a few weeks later the Cubs moved Starlin to second base themselves. “We felt in our evaluations that he could be a pretty interesting player at second. When the Cubs made the switch we got confirmation of that,” added Cashman.

The Yankees intend to use Castro primarily at second base this coming season, and surely he’ll see some time at short when Didi Gregorius needs a day to rest, but that’s not all. The team is also hoping to use Starlin at third base, a position he has not played since rookie ball almost a decade ago. That was only a handful of games too. Unlike Prado and Drew in 2014, Castro has the benefit of Spring Training. The Yankees can have him work at the hot corner in meaningless games this spring, and they intend to do just that.

“It’s too early to tell (if he can handle third), so we’ll take the time in Spring Training,” said Cashman last week. “If (he) can swing over and play some third for us and spell Chase (Headley), that’s a huge benefit for roster flexibility, but if he can’t, we’re not going to force it … If it’s something he’s not comfortable with we’re certainly not going to force that either. But we’ll certainly find out when we get to know him a little better and see how he looks.”

It goes without saying you never really know how a player will handle a new position until he actually plays it, but there are some reasons to think Castro will be able to hold his own at the hot corner. Remember, the Yankees aren’t basing the decision to try Castro at third on blind faith. Their scouting reports suggest he has the athleticism and defensive tools for third base. Here are three quick reasons why it might work.

He’ll Be On The Left Side Of The Infield

First and foremost, Starlin is familiar with the left side of the infield, which is a pretty big deal. Moving from short to second is much tougher than it seems because you’re on the other side of the infield. In an interview with the YES Network (video link) a few weeks ago Castro said everything felt “backwards” when he first moved to second. All the angles are different on the other side of the second base bag. At third base, Castro will at least be on the familiar side of the infield. That’s a plus and could help ease the transition.

He Has Plenty of Arm Strength & Range

Arm strength is very important at third base and Starlin has a plenty enough arm for the position. Arm strength was always one of his best tools back during his prospect days, and as recently as last season he was doing stuff like this:

So yeah, Castro was making on-line throws from his knees from the shortstop hole as recently as last July, so his arm is still crazy strong. If you can make that throw, you can make the vast majority of the throws from third base.

The various defensive stats have hated Starlin’s work at shortstop over the years — he was worth -30 DRS and -13.6 UZR from 2010-15 at short — but looking at the individual defensive components, Castro had good range and was adept at turning the double play. He was simply error prone.

Starlin Castro defense

There’s no specific reason 2013 is highlighted. I just happened to have my cursor on that line when I made the screen grab and I didn’t feel like making another one. My bad.

Anyway, let’s look at the components of UZR. Castro’s double play runs (DPR) has hovered right around average throughout his career while his range runs (RngR) has typically been well north of average. Error runs (ErrR) has been quick a bit below average, however. That’s the problem. Castro’s been average or better at turning the double play and ranging to make plays. The errors, that third component of UZR, have been his undoing.

Watch enough baseball and you’ll know errors can happen in many different ways. They even happen on good plays. How many times have you seen an infielder range far to get a ground ball only to bobble the transfer or have it clank off his glove, then get charged with an error? More times than I care to count. Fielders get charged with an error despite getting to a batted ball most other players couldn’t dream of getting to every single day in MLB.

Thanks to the magic of Baseball Reference, here is a breakdown of Castro’s errors at shortstop over the years:

Errors
Year Age Total Catching Fielding Throwing
2010 20 27 0 16 11
2011 21 29 2 11 16
2012 22 27 2 17 8
2013 23 22 2 12 8
2014 24 15 0 8 7
2015 25 18 0 12 6
6 Seasons 138 6 76 56

The majority of Castro’s errors have been regular ol’ fielding errors, and that is especially true since 2012. He’s missed six catches in six seasons — that’s catches on pop-ups — and Starlin has made single digit throwing errors in each of the last four seasons. That’s normal. Even all-world shortstop Andrelton Simmons has averaged six throwing errors in his three full MLB seasons.

Most of Castro’s errors are fielding errors, which are booted ground balls and things of that nature. Everyone boots a ground ball now and then, that’s baseball, but also rangy guys like Castro tend to get dinged with errors when they’re unable to complete a difficult play. Official scoring is weird like that. That isn’t to say Castro’s defense is great. We’re just adding context. His arm is good, his range is good, and he turns the double play adequately, but he’s error prone. A strong arm and good range — range indicates good reflexes and first step quickness — projects well for his future at third base.

He Adjusted To Second Quickly

I can not stress this enough: Major League Baseball is very hard. Television is great, I love the slow-mo replays and various camera angles, but you really need to be at the ballpark to fully appreciate just how quickly the game moves. It’s incredible. All this fancy StatCast stuff tells us the average batted ball travels approximately 88 mph. That’s really fast!

Last year the Cubs shifted Castro to second base in the middle of the season and he had to learn the position on the fly. The game was moving as stupid fast as always and he had to figure it out as he went. Ridiculous. And you know what? He did it! Starlin’s first few games at second were shaky but that’s to be expected. By time October rolled around, he looked pretty comfortable at second.

Castro was able to make the adjustment to second base pretty quickly. Remember when the Yankees moved Kelly Johnson to third base a few years ago? He never picked it up. He was a career second baseman who looked totally lost on the other side of the infield. Castro moved to the other side of the bag and settled in within a matter of weeks. That speaks to his baseball aptitude and instincts. He picked up second quickly and that bodes well for the move to third.

(Jon Durr/Getty)
(Jon Durr/Getty)

“One of the exciting upsides to the Castro acquisition would be that he played shortstop. He was athletic enough to play shortstop,” said Cashman during a recent YES Network interview (video link). “That’s the left side of the infield. He’s got the arm, he’s got the athleticism, that a transition to third should be in the cards. It doesn’t guarantee it, but we saw him play second and play second so well down the stretch there with the Cubs … We will definitely take a look at him at third.”

Here is the maybe most important aspect of Castro’s transition to third: he doesn’t have to be great. He only needs to be adequate. Even below-average is acceptable since he’s only going to play the position what, once a week? Once every ten days? That’s the plan. Chase Headley is the starting third baseman. Castro just needs to give him a rest once in a while. If Headley gets hurt … well that’s a bridge the Yankees will cross when the time comes. They only need Starlin to hold his own at third. That’s all. Anything else is a bonus.

Castro’s ability to play third base will have major impact on roster construction. The Yankees don’t have another obvious backup third baseman — Gregorius has ten career innings at third base and Dustin Ackley doesn’t have the arm for the left side of the infield — so if Starlin can’t play third, the team will have to carry someone like Pete Kozma or Donovan Solano to back up Headley. That’s not ideal. Castro being able to play third creates a lot of roster flexibility, and his acclimation to the position this spring will be a not insignificant storyline.

Monday Night Open Thread

Pretty interesting anecdote from John Harper over the weekend: Brian Cashman recently spent two days with the San Antonio Spurs, observing the way they run their organization. “I’m always looking to learn about the way other organizations do things. The Spurs were on my bucket list because they’ve been so successful,” said Cashman, who has also visited the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Red Bulls, and even the New Zealand national rugby team over the years. The sports are different, but some of the concepts are the same (analytics, performance science, medicals, etc.), so it’s a learning experience. Neat stuff.

Anywho, here is tonight’s open thread. None of the hockey locals are playing this evening and the NBA is still in their All-Star break, so you’ve got college basketball and nothing else tonight. Talk about those games, Cashman visiting the Spurs, being only a few days away from pitchers and catchers reporting, or anything else right here.

Guest Post: A Positive (But Plausible!) Career Path for Didi Gregorius

The following is a guest post from Carlo Macomber, who goes by CoryWadeDavis in the comments. Carlo is a freshman at Colby College in Waterville, ME. He’s previous written a guest post about Masahiro Tanaka.

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

Baseball executives, analysts, and fans alike have always attempted to make comparisons between young, up-and-coming players and current or former MLB players. In recent years, as more and more information has become available on amateur players, these comps have started earlier than ever. If you watch the MLB First-Year Player Draft on MLB Network, you’ll hear the analysts comparing college and even high school players to established MLB regulars. Almost all of the time, this is completely unfair. Many of the early draft picks get completely unrealistic comps to perennial All-Star or even Hall of Fame caliber players. As a result, I usually end up feeling really bad for the mid first round pick that for some reason only draws a Larry Bigbie or Tony Graffanino comp (or someone along those lines).

Some comps are just plain lazy. Carlos Martinez has been compared to Pedro Martinez because they’re both small RHPs from the Dominican Republic with the last name Martinez. Similarly, #1 Yankees prospect Aaron Judge has drawn lazy comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton. These are based completely on size and position. Stanton had hit 117 MLB home runs through his age 23 season, while Judge is about to open his age 24 season in AAA. There is really no comparison here, especially not one fair to Judge.

Anyway, all of this leads me to the main point here: a fair and plausible comp for Didi Gregorius. After his early season struggles in 2015, Gregorius put together a solid 3.1 fWAR season. While the vast majority of Yankees fans were more than content with Didi’s first season in the Bronx, we all hope to get even more production out of him in the future, especially offensively.

As a result, Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford is a player with a career path that Gregorius could (and should) look to follow. Before this year, Crawford was known as a solid defensive shortstop with a below average overall bat but a slightly above average one for the position. This is similar to how Gregorius is viewed now. In 2015, Crawford broke out offensively. He hit .256/.321/.462/.783 (117 wRC+) with 21 home runs. All of those numbers are by far career bests. Crawford’s breakout offensive campaign coupled with what has become excellent defense led to him producing a 4.7 fWAR season.

The comparison of Crawford and Gregorius is not directly related to Crawford’s 2015 season, however. It starts by comparing Didi’s 2015 season (age 25) and Crawford’s 2013 season (age 26). Here is some key offensive data:

Player Year PA AVG OBP SLG HR wOBA wRC+ fWAR
Crawford 2013 550 .248 .311 .363 9 .296 93 2.3
Gregorius 2015 578 .265 .318 .370 9 .303 89 3.1

Looks pretty similar, doesn’t it? Gregorius was ever so slightly better in 2015 by wOBA but 2013 Crawford looked better by wRC+. Gregorius had a better batting average — both players had similar and close to league average BABIPs in the respective seasons, by the way – and Crawford showed slightly better power potential (.114 ISO to .105). Overall, though, the offensive numbers are very similar.

The difference in WAR, as you could assume, is actually a result of defense. In 2013, Crawford posted +2 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and had a +4.2 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games played (UZR/150). He had yet to emerge as a truly excellent defender. On the other hand, 2015 Gregorius posted +5 DRS and +7.9 UZR/150. Gregorius proved last year that he is capable of putting together a 3 WAR season mostly because of his defense. If he wants to take the next step like Crawford and become a 4.5-5 win player, he should look to make similar offensive improvements, while always trying to incrementally improve his defense.

So, what noticeable offensive differences are there between 2013 and 2015 Brandon Crawford? There are some important changes in batted ball data:

Year Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard% HR/FB
2013 35.9% 38.8% 25.3% 17.9% 57% 25.1% 7.0%
2015 39.8% 37.5% 22.7% 15.6% 51.5% 32.9% 16.2%

It’s easy to look at the table above and notice that Crawford’s hard contact percentage jumped almost 8% during the two-year period, and that this obviously led to his breakout offensive season. However, it also appears that Crawford tried to pull the ball more last season than in the past. Pulling the ball has gotten a bad reputation in recent years because of defensive shifts, but just about all players hit the ball harder to their pull side. Crawford took advantage of this fact by pulling the ball nearly 4% more often last year and hitting to the opposite field 2.6% less often. Because Crawford was able to pull the ball with authority more often, his HR/FB spiked up in 2015. His 21 home runs last season were more than double his previous career high (10).

While Crawford provides an example of one way a previously below-average hitter can break out offensively, his offensive trends don’t mean that Didi should try to copy him completely. Gregorius doesn’t strike me as someone who will hit 20 home runs in a season. Maybe he develops into a 15 homers per season guy, but I don’t see him as having quite the same power potential as Crawford. Hopefully now that I said that he proves me wrong. Anyway, Didi’s 2015 batted ball data does show that he could work on improving his ability to pull the ball with authority.

Year PA GB% FB% Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
2014 299 37.4% 42.9% 32.9% 42.8% 24.3% 17.6% 54.5% 27.9%
2015 578 44.7% 34.1% 38.5% 35.0% 26.5% 21.6% 55.9% 22.5 %

The first thing to note here is Gregorius only had about half a season’s worth of PA in 2014 with the Diamondbacks. 299 PA isn’t nothing, though. The numbers show that Didi did start to pull the ball considerably more often last year. Crawford noticed significant offensive gains when he pulled the ball more often, and that hasn’t really happened yet for Didi. However, when Gregorius started to pull the ball more often, he actually made hard contact 5.4% less often, and soft contact 4% more often. The problem here appears to be his spike in GB% and drop in FB%. Didi moved to Yankee Stadium last year, and, as a left-handed hitter, he naturally started to pull the ball more to take advantage of the famous short porch in right field. Unfortunately, Gregorius hit considerably more grounders and considerably fewer fly balls, which completely ruins the point of pulling the ball at Yankee Stadium.

This strikes me as a pitch selection issue. Didi has the right idea of trying to pull the ball more often (like Crawford), but he has to try to pull the right pitches. Trying to pull outside pitches will cause weak ground balls to first and second base, something Didi did too often last year (and that’s backed up by the data!). In order to follow Crawford’s career path “model,” Gregorius should look to follow a teammate’s lead. Brett Gardner has improved his ability to pull the ball with authority (and subsequently raise his power numbers) by jumping on middle and inside fastballs. While it is always important to be patient, Didi should try and get the bat head out to the ball quickly on any middle-in fastballs. In order to do this, Didi will have to improve his overall pitch recognition, which, as a 26-year-old entering just his second full season, he still has time to do. If Gregorius can improve his pitch recognition and pull the ball with authority more often, the Yankees could have an elite two-way shortstop entering his prime years. The Giants are in a similar situation with Crawford, and there’s reason to believe Sir Didi could follow suit!

Rules, CBA News: Take-Out Slides, Qualifying Offer, Draft Lottery, Luxury Tax, Sept. Call-Ups

Clark. (Patrick McDermott/Getty)
Clark. (Patrick McDermott/Getty)

At some point very soon MLB and the MLBPA will get together to begin crafting the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, assuming they haven’t done so already. The current CBA expires December 1st and the two sides have an awful lot to work through these next few weeks. Here are some MLB big picture updates from Buster Olney and Ronald Blum.

Take-out slide rule change coming

In the wake of the broken legs suffered by Jung-Ho Kang and Ruben Tejada last year, MLB and the MLBPA are moving closer to changing the take-out slide rules. An agreement has not been reached just yet but the two sides “will get there,” and the new rule is expected to be in place for the start of the 2016 season.

The new rule will be designed to prevent runners from going beyond the base path to break up the double play. They want the runner to slide directly into second base, basically. Both Chase Utley and Chris Coghlan were able to touch second base when they slid into Tejada and Kang, respectively, but they were outside the base path. The new rule would eliminate stuff like this:

Chris Coghlan Jung-Ho Kang

The MLBPA has reportedly indicated they want to make the game safer for middle infielders without completely eliminating the runner’s ability to slide in aggressively to break up the double play. Players have been taught to play the game one way their entire lives and they don’t want to change too much.

Players are so big and so fast these days that catastrophic injuries like the ones suffered by Kang and Tejada will become more and more common in the coming years. I’m all in favor of making the game safer, so if the upcoming rule change can reduce the risk of injury without totally eliminating take-out slides, great. Seems like everyone will be happy.

Qualifying offer to be “reviewed” during CBA talks

Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to Spring Training this week and three qualified free agents still remain unsigned: Yovani Gallardo, Ian Desmond, and Dexter Fowler. (Gallardo is said to be nearing a deal with the Orioles.) Howie Kendrick, another qualified free agent, recently signed a contract that appeared to be well-below market value. Needless to say, this is a concern for the MLBPA.

“I think it’s disappointing when there are as many talented players still without a home,” said union chief Tony Clark. “I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to be in a world where very talented players are at home for whatever reason they are there. It will likely be a part of the conversation in bargaining. If there are considerations in areas that appear to be damaging the concept of competitive balance, then they should be reviewed and looked at, and this would appear to be one of them.”

I few weeks back I wrote a post at CBS looking at possible ways to improve the qualifying offer system. I don’t think there is a perfect fix as long as the draft and free agency are tied together, but after a few years of the current system, it’s obvious it’s not working as intending. The elite free agents are in good shape. The mid-range guys like Gallardo and Fowler and Desmond and Kendrick are having their markets severely limited, and that’s bad for the MLBPA.

MLBPA thinks it would be “beneficial” to explore a draft lottery

Tanking has become a pretty hot topic in recent weeks, and while you could argue tanking is just a scary word for rebuilding, there are folks within the game concerned about the increasing number of teams willing to be bad on purpose. Being bad is very rewarding nowadays. You can protected first round draft picks, large bonus pools, potentially more revenue sharing dollars, etc. If you’re bad, be really bad. The system works in your favor.

In an effort to reduce the incentive to be bad, Clark suggested it would be beneficial for MLB and the MLBPA to explore a draft lottery during CBA discussions. “It will be beneficial to look at that, and not look at it in a vacuum but appreciate whatever it is that we attempt to negotiate there or propose there, that it ties into the other moving pieces and doesn’t create an imbalance,” he said.

Both the NHL and NBA have had draft lotteries for decades now. In the NHL, each of the 14 teams that miss the postseason gets a shot at the first overall pick, with the very worst teams having the best odds. The No. 1 pick is determined via lottery, then the remaining 13 teams are slotted in reverse order of the standings. The NBA has a similar system, except the top three picks are selected via lottery, then the remaining are set in reverse order of the standings. (I think. Someone tell me if I’m wrong.)

A similar system in MLB would involve a 20-team lottery. There are many other possible ways to do it, of course. Either way, the point would be ensuring teams wouldn’t automatically receive the tippy top draft picks as a result of being awful. It would reduce the reward for being bad, albeit slightly. I personally would like to see a rule preventing teams from getting the No. 1 pick in back-to-back years, or even multiple times in a span of several years, say three or four.

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

“Significant issues” with an international draft

It has long been management’s goal to implement an international draft, mostly because it would be another way to keep costs down for owners. MLB is so ready to do this that the international bonus pools are already broke down into slots so they could be easily transferred over to a draft format. Needless to say, “significant issues” still exist with an international lottery format.

“While conceptually it sounds nice to think of everyone entering the game in same fashion, the truth is there are significant issues,” said Clark. “It will undoubtedly be part of the negotiation in ’16, and it will be very interesting to see how that discussion manifests itself.”

I’m curious to know how the international draft order would be determined. Would MLB and MLBPA really give the worst teams the top picks in both the domestic and international drafts? That’s just another reward for being bad. An international draft would really hurt the Yankees, who never have high amateur draft picks and instead use the international open market to bolster their farm system.

MLBPA wants the luxury tax threshold to increase

This is not surprising at all: Clark says the luxury tax threshold should increase with the next CBA. “We were coming out of a very difficult time with the recession (when the last CBA was negotiated). As the industry continues to grow, considerations made to the competitive balance tax should grow as well,” said the MLBPA chief.

When the current CBA was ratified in 2012, the average payroll was $98.02M and the luxury tax threshold was $178M. Heading into 2016, the average payroll is $112.96M and the luxury tax threshold is $189M. So the average payroll has climbed 15.2% while the threshold has climbed 6.2%. That’s a problem! The threshold should really climb up to $200M next year, if not $210M. Obviously the new tax threshold will be very pertinent to the Yankees.

September call-ups rules will be revisited

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in the world in favor of September call-ups. Every September the same arguments take place and it does feel like only a matter of time until some kind of change is made. Maybe teams will be allowed to call up their 40-man roster but must declare a 25-man active roster for each series. Something like that. Anyway, the September call-up rules will be revisited as part of CBA talks.

“We discussed as recently as 2011 formally what may make the most sense. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find common ground at that time,” said Clark. “I’m sure we’ll have the conversation. Perhaps this go-around we can find some common ground on considerations in September or any other month that may make sense.”

I like September roster expansion for a few reasons. First and foremost, it rewards teams with depth. If one club has a better third catcher or extra lefty specialist, let them take advantage. Secondly, expanded rosters allow teams to better manage workloads. Innings limits are a big deal nowadays and those extra arms come in handy. Expanded rosters also allow teams to audition young players and reward those who had strong seasons in the minors. Eh, whatever. We’ll see what happens. I know I’ll lose this fight eventually.

Position Battles of Note [2016 Spring Training Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The long marathon that is the 2016 season will begin Thursday, when Yankees pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for Spring Training. Position players will follow next Wednesday. The first Grapefruit League game will be played March 2nd, two weeks from Wednesday. Real live baseball is coming soon.

This spring the Yankees will not have many position battles to follow. Their nine starting position player spots are set, the five rotation spots are pretty much set, the back-end of the bullpen is set, and two of four bench spots are set. It might even be three of four. You could argue as many as seven roster spots are up for grabs. In reality it’s probably more like four. Here are the three battles to watch.

The Backup Catcher

The Yankees have had some pretty good backup catchers in recent years, from the defensive-minded Jose Molina to the occasionally great Frankie Cervelli to the solid all-around John Ryan Murphy. Murphy is now a Minnesota Twin, meaning the backup job will go to Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, or non-roster invitee Carlos Corporan. Sebastian Valle, another non-roster player, is the deep sleeper. He’s an outstanding defender and the Yankees value catcher defense highly.

Sanchez had a strong 2015 season in terms of production, development, and maturity, which helped make Murphy expendable. Brian Cashman said he would “like to unleash the Kraken” this year, referring to Sanchez, but there are big picture aspects to consider. Is Sanchez the best backup catcher candidate? The answer is almost certainly yes. Is sending Sanchez to Triple-A for a few weeks a good idea? That answer is almost certainly yes as well.

A total of 35 days in the minors this season will delay Sanchez’s free agency another year. Thirty-five days in 2016 equals control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022. That’s a long time away and who knows whether Sanchez will be worth keeping around in 2022, but 35 days? That’s it? Sending him down for five weeks to gain control of his age 29 season is a no-brainer in my opinion. It’s a little 2016 pain for potentially a lot of 2022 gain.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Keep in mind five weeks for a backup catcher equals maybe six or seven starts. The Yankees have a ton of April off-days like they do every year — five in first four weeks! — so keeping Brian McCann in the lineup will be rather easy. Those six or seven starts might actually be more like four or five starts. Is sacrificing four or five Sanchez games in 2016 worth it to gain control of his age 29 season? Hell yes. The system makes this an obvious move.

Romine and Corporan, Sanchez’s two chief competitors, are in different situations. Corporan is on a minor league contract and can be easily stashed in Triple-A for depth this season. Romine is on the 40-man roster and out of options, meaning he can’t go to the minors without being exposed to waivers. That was the case last year, when Romine did slip through waivers unclaimed, but since this would be his second outright assignment, he could elect free agency.

If he doesn’t make the team, Romine in all likelihood would elect free agency and look to join a team that offers a greater big league opportunity. With McCann and Sanchez in tow, it’s hard to see how any upper level catcher gets MLB time in the Bronx without an injury. The position is locked down for at least three more seasons (the duration of McCann’s contract). I see four possible outcomes for the spring backup catcher competition:

  • The Best Team: Sanchez in MLB with Corporan in Triple-A and Romine out of the organization.
  • The Most Depth: Romine in MLB with Sanchez and Corporan in Triple-A.
  • The Eh I Get It Plan: Corporan in MLB with Sanchez in Triple-A and Romine out of the org.
  • The WTF Plan: Valle in MLB with Sanchez and Corporan in Triple-A and Romine out of the org.

As best I can tell Corporan does actually have a minor league option remaining, so the Yankees could carry him as the backup catcher for some period of time, then send him down once Sanchez’s service time is in a good place. They would still presumably lose Romine, but at least they’d keep Corporan.

Now, if Corporan does not have an option left — that’s possible, this stuff can be difficult to pin down — then the Yankees would need to drop him from the 40-man roster when the time comes to promote Sanchez. Going with the Eh I Get It Plan means the team could be faced with the possibility of losing Romine and Corporan once Sanchez is called up.

Maybe that’s no big deal. Romine and Corporan aren’t great by any means, but I do think you need an extra catcher or two in the organization. The Yankees got really lucky with McCann and Murphy last season — those two combined to catch every inning of every game in 2015 — and I wouldn’t count on that kind of health again. It just doesn’t happen at catcher. It’s a brutal position.

Carrying Sanchez as McCann’s backup likely gives the Yankees the best possible team to start the season. The benefit of manipulating his service time — especially since we’re only talking about losing him for a handful of actual starts — means sending him to Triple-A to start the season is the best thing for the organization long-term. Rolling with Romine or Corporan for five weeks is the price to pay for Sanchez’s age 29 season, and that’s not bad at all.

(Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

At Least Three, Likely Four, Maybe Five Bullpen Spots

At some point soon we’re going to hear something about Aroldis Chapman‘s seemingly inevitable suspension. Rumor has it commissioner Rob Manfred will hand down the suspension before Spring Training, meaning it could be any day now. Chapman will not be charged with a crime stemming from his October domestic dispute incident but that’s irrelevant. The collectively bargained Domestic Violence Policy explicitly says no arrests or charges are necessary for a suspension.

It seems very likely Chapman will be suspended for some length of time. How long? Your guess is as good as mine. (I’ve seen a few reporters suggest a 15-game ban is coming.) Either way, any sort of suspension opens a bullpen spot come Opening Day. Right now the Yankees have Chapman, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Ivan Nova locked into spots, leaving three open three bullpen spots. Chapman’s suspension would make it four open spots and an injury to a starter would make it five since Nova would have to jump into the rotation.

For the purposes of this post, let’s just assume the rotation stays healthy and Nova is indeed the long man come Opening Day. A reach? Eh, maybe. We’ll deal with the injuries as they come. Regardless of the number of open bullpen spots, the Yankees have no shortage of relief options this year. Check out the list of bullpen candidates coming to camp this spring:

Some of those guys are more likely to land a big league job than others — Kaprielian won’t be breaking camp with the Yankees, for example — but they’ll all be in Spring Training and therefore theoretically capable of winning a roster spot.

The Yankees have relievers of all shapes and sizes. Righties, lefties, strikeout guys, ground ball guys, guys with big league experience, guys who has yet to pitch above Single-A … you name it and the Yankees will have it in camp this year. And here’s the thing: aside from Shreve, who was so excellent the first four and a half months last season, I’m not sure anyone has a leg up on a spot.

It’s great the Yankees have so many bullpen options, because they’re inevitably going to need them. This is a position battle that won’t ever end. The Yankees once again figure to employ a bullpen shuttle this year to ensure Joe Girardi always has a fresh arm or two available, meaning whoever wins a spot on the Opening Day roster may only be there short-term. I can’t imagine that’s comfortable for the players, but that’s life. That’s the way the roster is built.

My guess is Shreve will get one of the open bullpen spots barring a catastrophic showing in camp. The other open spots could be decided by Spring Training performance (as silly as that may be) and roster considerations. The Yankees may not want to free up 40-man space just yet, for example. They open the season against the Astros and could opt to carry an extra lefty (for Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, Jason Castro, etc.) before going with an extra righty for the second series of the season against the Tigers (almost their entire lineup is right-handed). We’ll see.

Spring Training will be an audition for all of those pitchers. Even Kaprielian, who wants to make a strong impression as he prepares for his first full pro season. If you don’t win a bullpen job in camp, you still want to put yourself in position for an early call-up. Make the Yankees remember you. That’s what Preston Claiborne did a few years ago. Someone like Campos could do the same this year.

Kozma. (Presswire)
Kozma. (Presswire)

The 25th Man

Cashman is on record saying the Yankees hope to use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door depending on their need at the time. If they need an extra reliever, they’ll use that spot for an extra reliever. If they need a position player, they’ll call up a position player. So on and so forth. Good idea in theory. How will it work in the real world? We’re going to find out soon enough.

The Yankees have three off-days within the first two full weeks of the season, so using that 25th roster spot on an eighth reliever out of Spring Training qualifies as overkill. I understand the starters are still getting stretched all the way out and whatnot, but eight relievers with all those off-days? Nah. Carrying an extra bench player early on makes the most sense, and the Yankees have plenty of infield (Jonathan Diaz, Donovan Solano, Pete Kozma, Ronald Torreyes, Rob Refsnyder) and outfield (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel) options.

The 25th man decision is going to depend entirely on Starlin Castro‘s ability to play third base, because if he can’t do it, the Yankees will need to carry a backup third baseman. So moreso than the backup catcher and bullpen battles, the 25th man competition is going to be influenced by outside factors. Castro’s the big one, but health with be a factor too, as will 40-man roster considerations. Is it worth designating someone for assignment to carry Kozma for two weeks? Maybe it is. That’s up to the Yankees.