Opening Day and the traditional post-Opening Day off-day are in the rear-view mirror. The grind begins for real tonight, when the Yankees resume their series with the Blue Jays and play five games in the next five days. That’s both the best and worst thing about baseball. They play every damn day. Here are some thoughts prior to tonight’s game.
1. I was pretty pleased with the reception for Alex Rodriguez on Monday. Some boos, sure, but mostly cheers — he got the loudest ovation during the baseline introductions by a not small margin (video) — all throughout the game. Both before and after his at-bats. It helped that he was the team’s most productive non-Brett Gardner hitter, so let’s see what happens when he goes 0-for-4 with three strikeouts for the first time before saying the fans are on his side. Alex is going to get booed unmercifully on the road this year. It’s unavoidable. A little fan support at home would be nice to see this summer. Let’s face it, this Yankees team isn’t particularly fun to watch aside from a handful of individual players, so a productive A-Rod will make the season more enjoyable. To me, anyway.
2. On that note: how long until A-Rod is hitting third, fourth, or fifth? I have close to zero confidence in Carlos Beltran rebounding, only slightly more confidence in Mark Teixeira rebounding, and only slightly more confidence than that in Brian McCann rebounding. Alex had the best at-bats on the team Monday, which, while just a one game sample, was a continuation of what we saw in Spring Training. Even if Alex is a 10-15 home run guy across a full season at this point of his career, he still looks like he might be able to hit .280 with enough walks to get his on-base percentage up to .340 or .350. I’m not sure I can say the same for Beltran, Teixeira, or McCann. I think A-Rod is hitting in the middle third of the order by May 1st. If Rodriguez shows he can still handle low-90s fastballs and work a walk, it’ll make him one of the better offensive threats on the roster.
3. Remember a few years ago — gosh, it’s been about eight or nine years now — when A-Rod dropped two foul pop-ups in one game? I’m pretty sure it was in Anaheim. Alex was slapped with the “he struggles with pop-ups” tag after that and it’s stuck even though he’s never really had any other problems since. Just the random dropped pop-up once or twice a year like every other player. I get the feeling that’s what’s going to happen with Didi Gregorius after his foolish attempted steal of third base on Monday. It was a terrible play, those extra 90-feet aren’t worth the risk down five runs, and Didi admitted as much after the game. “It was a bad mistake by me, I’ll admit it. I’ll admit that it was my mistake and it won’t happen again,” he said to Chad Jennings. And yet, I think that’s going to stick with him. He’s trying to do too much because he’s replacing Derek Jeter, he’s not a smart base-runners, he’s too aggressive, yadda yadda yadda. We’ll hear it all in the coming days and weeks. And, you know what, that might be true! If he does it again and again, then it’ll be a problem. Sometimes things are just an isolated incidence and a baseball play though. A young player making a mistake. Not everything is a referendum on a player’s style or mentality. Gregorius made a really bad play and it’s okay to leave it at that.
4. Man, the latest news on Ty Hensley is just awful. That poor kid can’t catch a break. He had no arm problems up until this recent Tommy John surgery — the shoulder “abnormality” the team found in his physical didn’t affect him on the mound — it was just a lot of unfortunate injuries. Hensley’s going to go into 2016 having thrown roughly 42.1 innings from 2012-15. That’s development time he simply can’t get back. He’s been dealt a crappy hand by the pitching gods and yet I have no reason to believe Hensley will do anything other than work his tail off to get healthy and get to MLB. If you follow him on Twitter, you know Ty has been relentlessly upbeat through all of this and he’s incredibly easy to root for. As a fan I so very much want to see him on the mound at Yankee Stadium one day. I’m rooting like hell for the kid.
5. Unfortunately, Hensley’s injury is just another reminder of how awful the Yankees’ first round picks have been the last, like, 15 years now. We can spend all day arguing whether someone was the right pick at the time. What we can’t argue is how few of them have worked out. Here are New York’s first and supplemental first round picks this century, via Baseball Reference:
Hughes was a disappointment relative to expectations but he still managed to turn into a serviceable big leaguer — he had a 95 ERA+ in 780.2 innings with the Yankees, including one electric season in relief (2009) and two solid seasons as a starter (2010 and 2012). Joba was the poor man’s version of Hughes, basically. Kennedy and Cole have had all their success with other teams. (Kennedy signed with the Yankees and was traded for Curtis Granderson, Cole didn’t sign and went to college.)
It’s still too early to judge the 2013 class and I like Ty so I’m going to say it’s too early to judge 2012 as well, but from 2000-11, the Yankees got Hughes, Joba, and a trade chip (Kennedy) out of 17 first and supplemental first round picks. That is flat out terrible. Yes, I know the Yankees never get to pick high and I know they forfeited all sorts of high picks to sign free agents, but that excuse doesn’t last forever. We’re talking about a 12-year period with little impact produced. The non-Hughes, Joba, Kennedy, and Cole guys combined for 30 games in MLB. A team can’t go that long with that many unproductive top draft picks, no matter how large their payroll.