Thoughts two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

We are now a fortnight away from the first steps of the long journey that will be the 2017 baseball season. This has been a really boring offseason. Not just with the Yankees, all around the league. I’m ready for it to be over. Here are some thoughts for the meantime.

1. Know who I keep forgetting? Tyler Clippard. It keeps slipping my mind he’s on the roster for some reason. When I think about the bullpen, I think Dellin Betances in the eighth and Aroldis Chapman in the ninth, Tommy Layne getting matchup work against lefties, and Adam Warren doing Adam Warren things. Really though, it’s going to be Clippard in the seventh with Betances in the eighth and Chapman in the ninth. That’s how Joe Girardi runs his bullpens. He assigns guys specific innings and rarely deviates. Clippard is a Proven Veteran™ who was quite good with the Yankees a year ago, so it make sense that he’ll take over as the seventh inning guy. I don’t love Clippard as a high-leverage reliever at this point of his career given his extreme fly ball tendencies and how much fastball he’s lost since his prime, but he’ll work fine as a seventh inning guy. The Yankees have a solid great back three in their bullpen plus the versatile Warren, and still two open spots for young pitchers. They won’t have to push young kids into important roles right away. That’s cool.

2. My bold bullpen prediction for 2017: Bryan Mitchell emerges as a trusted high-leverage option. I thought it would happen last year before the the toe injury. Alas. Mitchell will have a chance to win a rotation spot in Spring Training and he very well might win one, though at this point, I think he’s better suited for the bullpen. He doesn’t have a changeup — he’s been working on it for years and years, and it’s just not happening — and his control is just okay. That’s why he had more walks (12) than strikeouts (11) in his limited big league stint a year ago. And he’s sneaky not all that young anymore. Mitchell will be 26 in April. He worked out of the bullpen briefly in 2015 and during that time his fastball averaged nearly 97 mph. He topped out at over 99 mph, per PitchFX. My guess is Mitchell competes for a rotation spot in camp, doesn’t get one, starts the season in the big league bullpen, and becomes a strikeout heavy reliever by airing it out and focusing only on his fastball/curveball combination. It could have happened last season if not for that stupid fluke toe injury.

3. Who’s going to be the random “has a great Spring Training and everyone wants him on the Opening Day roster” guy this year? I guess we need to see the list of non-roster invitees first. I don’t remember who it was last year (Kirby Yates, maybe?) but it happens every year. Jon Weber was the big name a few years back. Yangervis Solarte was the guy in 2014 and the fact he went on to have big league success added legitimacy to the whole “OMG this guy is having a big spring and needs to make the team!” phenomenon, which stunk for a while. Anyway, I’m going to go with … Ruben Tejada. He’s going to get a good amount of playing time at short while Didi Gregorius is away at the World Baseball Classic, and I think he’ll do enough at the plate in that time to convince folks he belongs on the roster and is better than Chase Headley. That seems completely possible.

4. I find it interesting teams are hiring recently retired pitchers as pitching analysts nowadays. Not pitching coaches, pitching analysts. They work with the stat guys and take that information to the pitching staff. As far as I know, the Red Sox started this trend when they hired Brian Bannister a few years ago. This offseason the Diamondbacks, who brought in several former Red Sox folks (Mike Hazen and Amiel Sawdaye) to run the front office, hired both Dan Haren and Burke Badenhop in pitching analyst roles. (Haren’s official title is pitching strategist.) I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before more teams hire these pitching analysts. That’s usually how this works. I’m not sure who the Yankees could bring in for this role. David Cone? He’s into stats. Mike Mussina? Eh, Mussina seems perfectly happily living out his days away from baseball. It doesn’t have to be a big name, remember. (Bannister and Badenhop sure aren’t big names.) Maybe the answer is someone like Dustin Moseley. The Yankees hire a lot of ex-players as scouts and minor league coaches. How long until one of them becomes one of these pitching analysts?

5. The Cardinals escaped the hacking scandal with a relative slap of the wrist, I think. Per MLB, they have to pay the Astros $2M and send them their top two draft picks, which are their second (56th) and competitive balance (75th) round picks. (St. Louis gave up their first rounder to sign Dexter Fowler.) Two million bucks and two non-first round picks? That’s nothing. Chris Correa, the former Cardinals front office employee who did the actual hacking, is currently serving 46 months in prison for what amounts to corporate espionage stemming from the scandal. MLB seems to be counting on the prison sentence acting as a deterrent, not the penalties they handed down on the Cardinals. I thought commissioner Rob Manfred was going to come down on St. Louis harder. I really did. He could have taken away future first round picks — they don’t have to go to the Astros like the other picks, just take them away — and/or levied an even larger fine. This isn’t like stealing signs on the field. The guy broke into another team’s private database for a two and a half years, according to the court documents. Two little draft picks and a $2M fine? I’d feel pretty relieved if I were the Cardinals.

Monday Night Open Thread

Important baseball news: several Yankees prospects are already in Tampa working out and preparing for the season. Erik Boland says Luis Severino, Justus Sheffield, James Kaprielian, Tyler Wade, and Kyle Holder were all at the complex today. Luis Cessa was there too. They’re all there for Captain’s Camp, I assume. Actual baseball is starting to happen. Thank goodness for that.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The NHL is still in their All-Star break, though the Nets are playing and there’s one college basketball game on the schedule. Not a whole lot going on tonight. Good night to watch Netflix, I suppose. Talk about anything here except religion or politics. Thanks in advance.

2017 Draft: Yankees expected to have $6.583M bonus pool

(Matthew Ziegler/Getty)
(Matthew Ziegler/Getty)

According to Hudson Belinsky, the Yankees will have a $6.583M bonus pool for the 2017 amateur draft based on the league’s proposed numbers. Those figures are not final, though if they do change, it shouldn’t be substantially. A few bucks here and there, basically.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has changed the way draft bonus pool money is distributed. The picks at the very top of the draft are closer together — the first and second picks had $9.015M and $7.76M slot values last year, this year it’s $7.4M and $6.85M — and that’s to discourage tanking. Also, more bonus pool money is tied up in the first and second round.

MLB’s thinking is shifting more money to the top two rounds gives teams less flexibility to sign players to overslot bonuses later in the draft. So I guess that’s another concession MLBPA made during CBA talks. This could push some pretty good athletes to college, or even other sports. MLB should be trying to bring them in, not push them out.

Anyway, the overall bonus pool doesn’t mean much in and of itself. The individual slot values are most important. Here is the breakdown for the Yankees, per Belinsky:

  • First Round (16th overall): $3,293,600
  • Second Round (54th overall): $1,177,000
  • Third Round (92nd overall): $560,600
  • Fourth Round (122nd overall): $412,400
  • Fifth Round (152nd overall): $308,000
  • Sixth Round (182nd overall): $235,800
  • Seventh Round (212th overall): $184,500
  • Eighth Round (242nd overall): $149,700
  • Ninth Round (272nd overall): $134,500
  • Tenth Round (302nd overall): $126,900

Last year the Yankees used their seventh through tenth round picks on college seniors and signed them for $10,000 each. They saved $648,900 in bonus pool space by doing that, which was redirected to Blake Rutherford. Based on this year’s proposed slot values, doing the same thing would save the team only $555,600. Like I said, the money has been pushed to the top of the draft.

The 16th overall pick came with a $2,660,800 slot last summer — it was $2,543,300 in 2015, when the Yankees took James Kaprielian with the 16th pick — so this year’s slot is an increase of more than $630,000 from last year’s draft. But again, that’s not because the team has more money to spend. That money was taken from the later rounds. Sucks for the late rounders.

One bit of good news: slot value for every pick after the tenth round is now $125,000, up from $100,000. Anything over $125,000 given to one of those players counts against the bonus pool. Two years ago the Yankees gave 11th rounder Josh Rogers a $485,000 bonus, so $385,000 counted against the bonus pool.

The redistribution of money means the Yankees and every other team will have to be a little more creative when it comes to saving bonus pool space for overslot bonuses. The owners keep trying to push bonuses down and they have more and more success with each new CBA, it seems.

The Yankees have quietly built an impressive collection of starting pitching prospects

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

A year ago at this time, the Yankees had a farm system that ranked middle of the pack and was heavy on position player prospects. Only four of my top 16 prospects a year ago were starting pitchers. That’s not automatically a bad thing. It just means there was some imbalance in the system. Given the contractual status of the big league starters, that lack of starting pitching prospects was ominous.

Now, a mere 12 months later, the Yankees boast one of the game’s best farm systems, and one of the reasons is their much improved pitching depth. Obviously last summer’s trade deadline activity has a lot to do with that. It’s not the only reason though. Several pitchers broke out last season, none moreso than Chance Adams. Others like Jordan Montgomery and Josh Rogers took steps forward in their development.

The other day I sat down and quickly sketched out the Opening Day rotation for the four full season minor league affiliates, and I was surprised at the pitching depth. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Triple-A Scranton: Adams, Montgomery, Dietrich Enns, Ronald Herrera, Daniel Camarena (?)
  • Double-A Trenton: Rogers, Ian Clarkin, Brady Lail, Yefrey Ramirez, Justus Sheffield
  • High-A Tampa: Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Domingo German, James Kaprielian, Dillon Tate
  • Low-A Charleston: Simon De La Rosa, Nick Green, Freicer Perez, Adonis Rosa, Erik Swanson

(Update: I forgot about Zack Littell and Stephen Tarpley, both of whom figure to be Double-A rotation candidates.)

It goes without saying this is all very subject to change. Guys are going to get hurt in Spring Training, it’s inevitable, and there will be surprise assignments. Perhaps Acevedo starts in Trenton after throwing 50.1 innings with Tampa last year. Maybe Tate begins back with Charleston. This is nothing more than semi-informed speculation.

Point is, that’s a heck of a lot of good young pitchers! You don’t have to squint your eyes to see actual prospects. That High-A rotation? Straight fire. Keep in mind I couldn’t find a spot for Nestor Cortes, who had the fourth lowest ERA in the minors in 2016, and there’s a good chance one or several of the big league rotation candidates (Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino) lands back in Triple-A to begin the season.

The caveat here is pitchers break and other things don’t go according to plan, so we can’t pencil the Yankees in for a rotation logjam in two or three years, you know? The majority of those pitchers won’t contribute to the big league team in any way. That’s baseball. The attrition rate of even the very best pitching prospects is sky high. I wish it weren’t, but it is. C’est la vie.

The only thing teams can do to compensate for the attrition rate is have as many quality pitching prospects as possible, and right now, the Yankees sure do have a bunch of them. And it happened so quick too. Abreu, Green, Sheffield, Swanson, and Tate came over at the deadline. Adams was a reliever a year ago. Montgomery and Rogers were little more than interesting arms prior to 2016. It all came together fast.

It’s no secret the Yankees haven’t had much recent success getting their pitching prospects to reach their ceilings, especially their top pitching prospects, but that doesn’t mean they should stop trying. Hardly. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have no affect on Kaprielian and Sheffield. They’re all their own players, and three years ago the Yankees changed player development regimes by replacing Mark Newman with Gary Denbo. That’s kinda big.

The Yankees could lose their three veteran starters after the 2017 season, which would throw the rotation into a state of flux, but the fact of the matter is every big league rotation has long-term questions. Remember what everyone was saying about the Mets rotation last year? What about the Nationals rotation two years ago? The best laid plans often go awry, especially with pitchers. The Yankees have an impressive stable of pitching prospects, and while that doesn’t guarantee success, it sure does bode well for the future.

Thoughts on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects

Frazier. (Presswire)
Frazier. (Presswire)

Last week, Keith Law released his annual top 100 prospects list, which included six Yankees. Then, on Saturday, the crew at MLB.com released their top 100 list as well. Law and MLB.com agree on one thing: Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi is the best prospect in baseball. The lists diverge after that.

A total of seven Yankees made MLB.com’s top 100 list, which is pretty awesome. As always, MLB.com’s list and scouting reports are completely free. It’s a fantastic resource. Here are the seven Yankees on the list:

3. SS Gleyber Torres
24. OF Clint Frazier
37. OF Blake Rutherford
45. OF Aaron Judge
47. SS Jorge Mateo
58. RHP James Kaprielian
79. LHP Justus Sheffield

Five top 50 prospects and six top 60 prospects is pretty great. No other team can make that claim. The White Sox and Pirates are the only other teams with as many as four top 50 prospects, and Pittsburgh is the only other team with five top 60 prospects. The Yankees and Braves lead the way with seven top 100 prospects apiece. Some quick thoughts:

1. Torres could be the No. 1 prospect very soon. The only reason Benintendi is still prospect-eligible is a minor knee injury that sidelined him three weeks in August and September. He finished the season with 105 at-bats, only 25 away from the rookie limit of 130. Once Benintendi clears 130 at-bats, he’ll drop off the list, and it’s not crazy to think Torres could surpass Moncada in prospect status in the first half of this season. Also, Braves SS Dansby Swanson, MLB.com’s No. 4 prospect, is literally one at-bat away from losing prospect status, so one of Gleyber’s primary competitors for the top spot will drop off the list on Opening Day. The Yankees have never had the No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com, though, to be fair, MLB.com hasn’t been producing top 100 lists all that long. According to Baseball America, the last time the Yankees had the No. 1 prospect in baseball was way back in 1992, when LHP Brien Taylor sat in the top spot.

2. Mateo is still highly regarded. Despite a poor statistical season and a two-week suspension for violating team rules, MLB.com still considers Mateo one of the best prospects in the game. (Law dropped Mateo out of the top 100 entirely.) He did slip in the rankings — last year Mateo was No. 30 on MLB.com’s original top 100 list — which is understandable, but the MLB.com folks still believe in the tools. And that’s most important. Not the numbers. Mateo won’t turn 22 until the end of June and he still has the incredible quick twitch athleticism that landed him on top 100 lists last year. Remember, Baseball Prospectus ranked Mateo as the third best prospect in the system behind Torres and Frazier. Law may have cut bait, but others still clearly believe in the kid.

3. Yet again, Kaprielian climbed big time. I’m still amazed at where Kaprielian is landing on these top 100 lists given his relatively serious arm injury last season. (Miss as much time as he did and it qualifies as a serious injury in my book.) He jumped 59 spots on Law’s top 100. Kaprielian didn’t even make MLB.com’s top 100 list last year and now he’s 58th. How impressive must he have been before and especially after the injury to earn so much support on the various prospects lists? Also, how much higher would he have ranked had he stayed completely healthy last season? Are we talking about a potential top five pitching prospect? As it stands, Kaprielian is already the 21st ranked pitcher on the top 100. A full season of healthy Kaprielian in 2017 could mean a) reaching the big leagues in September, and b) being ranked as a tippy top prospect next spring. Exciting!

4. Adams was really close to the top 100 too. On Twitter, Jim Callis said RHP Chance Adams very nearly made the top 100 as well. He fell in the 101-115 range. So, for all intents and purposes, the Yankees currently have five top 50 and eight top 115 prospects in all of baseball according to MLB.com. That’s pretty great. I don’t think Adams is a top 100 caliber prospect myself, but I understand why some think and hope he’ll slip into the back half. Just the fact he’s even in the conversation is great. I’m guessing others like RHP Albert Abreu and 3B Miguel Andujar were in the top 100 conversation too. Know what I’d really love to see? A top 500 prospect list. That’s the best way to measure the depth and strength of the farm system. We all focus on the top five or ten prospects and I get it. But compare each team’s 30th best prospect. That’s a better indicator of farm system depth.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 30th, 2017

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

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 tab in the nav bar 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?
View Results

Weekend Open Thread

Last June, Phillies pitching prospect Matt Imhof, who I once profiled as a possible draft target, lost his right eye in a freak accident at the ballpark. He was working out with resistance bands mounted to the wall when the base broke loose and hit him in the face. It was a tragic, freak accident.

Thankfully, Imhof has recovered and is thriving. In a must-read piece at ESPN, he announced his retirement from baseball as a player not because of the injury, but because “I need a change of pace after 20 years of doing the same thing.” Imhof has since gone back to college and is currently an undergraduate assistant pitching coach with the Cal Poly baseball team.

I have no connection to Imhof and all I know about him is what I wrote in that draft profile four years ago. I was still devastated by the news of his accident last summer — how could you not feel terrible for the guy? — and I’m glad to hear he’s now doing well. That was a traumatic, life-changing day, but Imhof has refused to let him drag it down.

“My identity used to be wrapped around baseball, it was who I was. This injury allowed me to see past that,” he wrote. “I might not want the same things as I used to, but that’s only because I have learned more about myself than I ever thought I would … I’m a firm believer that baseball, through all my struggles on and off the field, prepared me for this moment. But the greatest thing baseball ever did for me was teach me who I could be without it.”

* * *

Friday: Here is the open thread for the night. The NHL is in their All-Star break this weekend, so there’s nothing going around the league tonight. The Knicks and Nets are both playing though, and there’s a ton of college hoops on the schedule too. You folks know how these work by now, so have at it.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. MLB.com is releasing their top 100 prospects list tonight during a live broadcast on MLB Network. It begins at 8pm ET and you can stream it on MLB.com as well. Also, the NHL All-Star Skills Challenge is on tonight (7pm ET on NBCSN), plus the Nets are playing and there’s a ton of college basketball on too.

Sunday: For the final time, this is the open thread. Both the NHL All-Star Game (3:30pm ET on NBC) and the Pro Bowl (8pm ET on ESPN) are on today. The Knicks are playing too, and there’s some college basketball on as well. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.