Game 38: Which Pineda Shows Up?

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Last night’s series opening loss to the Diamondbacks was ugly but not necessarily unexpected. The Yankees started a kid making his big league debut, and that’s always unpredictable, plus their best relievers were all unavailable due to their recent workloads. You’d still like to be able to steal a game under those circumstances, though more often than not you’re on the wrong end of the final score.

Tonight the Yankees are at full strength — or at least something approximating full strength — with Michael Pineda on the mound. Which Pineda will show up, the guy who gets hammered in the first inning or the guy with a knack for settling down and chucking scoreless innings? It would be nice to see the second guy without the first guy for once, you know? Here is the D’Backs’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. RF Aaron Hicks
  9. RHP Michael Pineda

It’s a bit cooler in Phoenix today than it was yesterday, meaning the temperature is in the mid-80s rather than the low-90s. The Chase Field roof will be open. Tonight’s game is going to start at 9:40pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) has yet to run the bases at full speed, so it’s possible he won’t be ready to come off the DL when eligible Thursday.

Roster Moves: The Yankees called up three players from Triple-A, they announced: Luis Cessa, James Pazos, and Rob Refsnyder. Chad Green and Conor Mullee were optioned down while Phil Coke was designated for assignment. The Yankees are back to a seven-man bullpen and a four-man bench, and they have an open 40-man roster spot now.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the Pirates signed ex-Yankee Francisco Cervelli to a three-year contract extension that runs from 2017-19. The deal is worth $31M. Good for Frankie. He wrote about his decision to sign with Pittsburgh at the Players’ Tribune, and the post includes anecdotes about how the Yankees signed him and the time they wanted to turn him into a coach. Neat stuff. Check it out.

Here is the open thread until the regular game thread for tonight’s game comes along. The Mets are playing, MLB Network is showing a regional game, and there are also NBA and NHL playoff games on as well. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.

(By the way, David Well’s perfect game was 18 years ago today, hence the video choice.)

2016 Draft: Mock Drafts, Gowdy, Jones

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

The 2016 amateur draft begins in only three weeks and two days. It seems like it’s sneaking up this year, huh? Anyway, I have some miscellaneous draft links to pass along.

Baseball America Mock Draft v3.0

Hudson Belinsky of Baseball America posted his third mock draft of the season on Friday, and he has the Phillies taking Florida LHP A.J. Puk with the top pick. That seems to be consensus right now. Belinsky has the Yankees taking Vanderbilt RHP Jordan Sheffield with their first round selection, the 18th overall pick. Here is MLB.com’s free scouting report on Sheffield, who is Gary’s nephew:

Of all the pitching prospects in the 2016 Draft, Sheffield may have the best chance to develop three plus offerings. His fastball can sit at 94-96 mph and reach 98, and he has maintained his velocity in the late innings of his starts. Both Sheffield’s hard three-quarters breaking ball (which is more likely to become a slider than a curveball) and his circle changeup can be out pitches at times.

The knocks on Sheffield are his injury history — he had Tommy John surgery in high school — and generally poor command. He’s on my list of draft prospects to write up, so look for that at some point soon. Sheffield has a 2.34 ERA with 97 strikeouts and 29 walks in 84.2 innings this spring.

MLB.com Mock Draft v1.0

MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo posted his first mock draft of the spring on Friday as well. He has the Phillies taking Mercer OF Kyle Lewis with the top pick, so I guess Puk really isn’t the consensus pick right now. Nevermind. Mayo has the Yankees taking Kansas HS LHP Joey Wentz with that 18th pick. Here is MLB.com’s free scouting report:

Wentz’s fastball topped out around 90 mph before his hiatus from the mound, but after getting on a throwing program and nursing his arm back to health he has operated at 90-95 mph this spring. There could be more velocity to come from his projectable frame, and his fastball already plays up because it has armside run and his size creates difficult angle. He has a pair of solid secondary pitches in a curveball with depth and a changeup with fade, and he could have three plus offerings when fully developed.

The arm issue referenced in the scouting report has been called a “dead arm” and nothing more. Wentz didn’t have surgery or anything like that. He’s also a legitimate prospect as a power hitting first baseman, though most see him as a pitcher long-term. Wentz is one of the very few pitchers in this draft believed to have true No. 1 starter upside. I’ve just kinda assumed he’d be off the board by time the Yankees pick.

Yankees in on Gowdy, Jones

In his most recent draft rankings (subs. req’d), Keith Law noted the Yankees are “supposedly heavily” on California HS RHP Kevin Gowdy for their first round pick. Here’s my write-up on Gowdy. The Yankees being in on an advanced prep arm from Southern California is no surprise at all. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has been all over the demographic for years.

Also, within his mock draft, Belinsky says the Yankees are also in on Pennsylvania HS 3B Nolan Jones with their top selection. Here’s my write-up on him. Jones is definitely one of my favorite prospects in this year’s draft class, though that doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Still, the Yankees are said to be in on him, so I feel validated.

Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel would be “super happy” to join the Yankees

Yulieski. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Yulieski. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Back in February, infielder Yulieski Gurriel and his younger brother Lourdes Jr. defected from Cuba while in the Dominican Republic for the Caribbean Series. Along with Japanese righty Shohei Otani, the Gurriels are widely considered two of the best players in the world not under contract with an MLB team.

The Gurriels are still going through the process of being declared free agents by MLB, and that can take an awfully long time. They have to first establish residency outside Cuba, then get cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and then be given the thumbs up by MLB. That process can take months and months.

Aroldis Chapman, who played with Yulieski on the Cuban National Team back in the today, recently told Brendan Kuty that Gurriel would be “super happy” to play for the Yankees. Yulieski has said in the past his favorite player in Alex Rodriguez, which is pretty cool. Here’s what Chapman told Kuty:

“He has asked me many questions,” Chapman said. “But that’s normal because, Cuban people, they always want to ask you how’s the baseball at this level, what’s the organization and all that. It’s typical for Cuban people to ask questions about the Yankees.”

“He was a good teammate,” Chapman said. “Besides being a good player, he’s a good person. He would share moments with us. He would hang out outside of baseball and he was just a good teammate.”

The two Gurriels are at very different points in their career. Yulieki, the older brother, will turn 32 in three weeks and is ready to jump right into a big league lineup. He’s been a star in Cuba for more than a decade — the Cuban government allowed him to play in Japan in 2014, and he raked there too — and most believe Gurriel could be an impact hitter in MLB right now.

Lourdes is only 22, however. His career is just getting started. In fact, once he is declared a free agent, he will still be subject to the international spending rules. He’s not going to sign this summer though. Lourdes will wait until he turns 23 in October so he will be exempt from the spending restrictions and free to sign a contract of any size. Waiting a few extra weeks means millions and millions more.

The Yankees haven’t been connected to the Gurriels at all, but no team has at this point, so that doesn’t mean much. Every team has a place in their organization for Lourdes given his age and what is considered high-end upside on the middle infield. Yulieski is a bit trickier because he’s a second and third baseman who is MLB ready. The Yankees are contractually locked into Starlin Castro at second and Chase Headley at third.

Castro has been more than fine in his first few weeks as a Yankee. Headley has been mostly awful despite his recent extra-base hits. I’ve been wondering if the Yankees will move Headley in an A.J. Burnett style salary dump after the season even though they lack a ready made replacement. (Sorry, I’m not buying Rob Refsnyder at third.) Dumping Headley would clear a spot for Yulieski.

Of course, it’s all going to come down to money. Hector Olivera signed six-year deal worth $62.5M with the Dodgers last year. He was 30 and two years younger than Yulieski, but also a much inferior player with a much scarier injury history. It’s not unreasonable to think Gurriel will command more. Lourdes is tougher to pin down. Yasmany Tomas got six years and $68.5M at age 24 a year ago.

I wonder if Lourdes, who is expected to need time in the minors, will end up getting offers like the deal Jorge Soler signed with the Cubs years ago. Soler received a nine-year deal worth $30M at age 20 — this was before the spending restrictions became a thing — though the contract allows him to void his salaries and opt into arbitration. So if he becomes a star, Soler has the ability to go through arbitration to make more money.

Perhaps the younger Gurriel brother will go for something like eight years and $40M with a similar arbitration opt-in clause. Chances are he will take the largest guarantee offered, so if someone puts Tomas money on the table, they’ll probably get him. But if not, a structure like Soler’s could work. And yes, such a deal would count against the luxury tax. That’s not insignificant for the Yankees and Hal Steinbrenner even with all the money they have coming off the books the next two years.

The idea of a package deal is very intriguing and I feel like a rebuilding team like the Braves or Phillies should be all over the Gurriels. It’s a great opportunity to get two talented players. It really seems like Yulieski wants to play for the Yankees though, so maybe that gives New York an edge come free agency time. Remember though, A-Rod will be gone after next season and chances are Chapman will be gone after this season. Gurriel may not be too keen on coming to the Yankees if his favorite player and long-time friend won’t be around for the long haul.

Chad Green’s need for a third pitch is obvious after his first big league start

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

Thanks to Luis Severino‘s triceps injury, rookie right-hander Chad Green made his MLB debut last night, allowing six runs (four earned) on eight hits and a walk in four-plus innings against the Diamondbacks. He struck out five and allowed two homers. It wasn’t the worst first career start by a Yankee, but it wasn’t great either.

Despite the numbers, I thought Green’s raw stuff looked pretty good most of the game. His fastball was consistently in the mid-90s and he showed a sharp — albeit inconsistent — mid-80s slider at times as well. Here’s the PitchFX info for his outing, via Brooks Baseball:

Chad Green pitch selection

Getting six whiffs on 30 total swings against the fastball is really good! The slider … not so much. Green threw 19 sliders and only eight were strikes, though, to be fair, home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor seemed to have a tight zone all night. Both teams had some borderline calls not go their way.

What we don’t see in the PitchFX data is a third pitch, or more precisely a second offspeed pitch. The scouting report on Green says he started throwing a splitter last season but we sure didn’t see it last night. Arizona’s left-handed batters went 4-for-10 with only one strikeout and three swings and misses against Green. The lack of a second secondary pitch was a clear weakness.

This was never more obvious than during Jake Lamb’s fifth inning at-bat with runners on first and second. Green got ahead in the count 0-2 against the left-handed batter, but he had nothing to put Lamb away, so eventually the count ran full, then bam. Homer.

Chad Green Jake Lamb

(PitchFX classified a slider as a curveball for whatever reason. The manually classified data at Brooks Baseball corrected it.)

If there was ever a time to show the splitter, that was it. Green was facing Lamb for the third time — Lamb had a hit in each of his first two at-bats — and he had him in an 0-2 count with two runners on base in a tie game. It didn’t even need to be a good splitter. It only needed to be something different to keep the hitter guessing.

Green’s slider has reportedly improved over the last few weeks thanks to some tinkering by Triple-A Scranton pitching coach Tommy Phelps — “It seems to have some more depth, which is important. Obviously he’s got a very good fastball, and it’s got some sink to it,” said Joe Girardi to Wally Matthews — and that’s good. Improving a breaking ball is a positive. He’s going to need more than that slider to remain in the rotation long-term though.

Left-handed batters have punished Green in the minors — they hit .299/.355/.451 against him in a full season at Double-A last year — so this is an ongoing problem. The scouting report says he has a splitter, and I’m sure he does somewhere, but we didn’t see it last night and it hasn’t kept even minor league lefties at bay. I was impressed by Green’s fastball/slider combination overall against the D’Backs. That won’t be enough though. He’ll need to show a third pitch more often to have success as a starter going forward.

Rotation and middle relief remain problems as the offense starts to turn things around

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

For the first four or five weeks of the season, the Yankees sank like a stone in the standings because the offense was unable to get much of anything going. The struggled to score night after night and it wasn’t one or two guys who were short-circuiting the offense. Everyone except Starlin Castro was a problem for a few weeks there.

Thankfully the offense has started to right the ship, even considering the two runs scored in last night’s loss. The Yankees have won eight of their last 13 games and they’ve scored five runs or more six times in those 13 games. They did it only five times in the first 24 games of the season. It’s not much, but it’s progress. The offense is trending in the right direction, by and large.

The pitching, on the other hand, has been an issue pretty much all season. Masahiro Tanaka has been very good overall and the back end of the bullpen has been ridiculous, but that’s about it. The CC Sabathia/Ivan Nova rotation spot has been fine too I guess, and while Nathan Eovaldi has had his moments, he’s still super unpredictable from start to start. He’s great one night and he can’t get out of the fifth inning five days later.

Last night’s 12-2 loss was the fourth time in the last seven games the Yankees have allowed at least seven runs. They rank 20th among all teams in ERA (4.48) and 18th in FIP (4.12). The rotation is 24th in ERA (5.01) and 19th in FIP (4.44). That’s bad. Legit bad. Not “bad but you can squint your eyes and it’s okay” bad. I mean bad bad. The middle innings are a question and rotation is a straight up liability.

The offense was always going to improve at some point because the Yankees are not nearly as bad as they looked. They weren’t going to hit .100-something with runners in scoring position all year and guys like Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Chase Headley weren’t going to slump forever. Is the offense a powerhouse? Of course not. But April was just an awful slump. It wasn’t representative of the team’s true ability.

I’m not so sure about the rotation though. We’ve been talking about Eovaldi’s and Michael Pineda‘s potential for weeks and months — we’ve been talking about it since last year, basically — and yeah, that potential exists, but the only thing those two have proven at this point is the ability to be consistently inconsistent. You go into each start hoping for a strong outing and are completely unsure if you’ll get it.

Sabathia has probably been the Yankees’ second best starter this year, which is as much praise for Sabathia as it is a knock against the rest of the rotation. Luis Severino was a total disaster before getting hurt. Severino’s awfulness has been the real rotation killer. Everyone expected him to take a step forward this year and emerge as a rock for the rotation. The opposite has happened. Now guys like Nova and Chad Green are being forced into action.

The Yankees, as it stands right now, do not have the pitching to be a legitimate contender. Tanaka is awesome and the back of the bullpen is as good as it gets. The other eight pitching roster spots leave an awful lot to be desired. And there’s not much the Yankees can do about it right now either. They can swap out some relievers, but, at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to Pineda and Eovaldi being difference makers. Severino righting the ship as well.

We’re approaching the quarter point of the season and the sample size ain’t so small anymore. The rotation has been one of the ten worst in baseball overall and the pitching staff as a whole isn’t much better. It shows in their record in blowouts: the Yankees are 5-11 in games decided by four or more runs. They seem to win close games by turning things over to the end-game relievers and lose blowouts because the rest of the staff is so shaky.

The offense is the main reason the Yankees are 16-21, their worst record through 37 games since starting 15-22 in 1995. They were unable to put runs on the board for far too long. The pitching might be what prevents the Yankees from climbing out of this early season hole though. They’re allowing 4.62 runs per game on average, and that is simply too much to overcome on a consistent basis.

D’Backs hammer Yankees 12-2 in series opener


Source: FanGraphs

That was not a fun way to start the road trip. A bunch of pitchers who started the season in Triple-A — well, three of the four started the season in Triple-A, the other was in an independent league — let the Diamondbacks pull away in the middle innings of Monday’s series opener. The final score was 12-2 Arizona. West Coast night games get bullet point recaps, so let’s get to it:

  • Bad Start, Bad Finish: In his MLB debut, Chad Green looked pretty good in the second, third, and fourth innings. The first and fifth innings were the problem. Green gave up a solo homer to Paul Goldschmidt in the first (it happens) and then had to strand runners on second and third. In the fifth, Mark Teixeira dropped a throw on a bunt, then Green gave up a walk, a three-run homer, and a double to end his night. He finished the game having allowed six runs (four earned) on eight hits and a walk in four innings. Get ’em next time, Chad.
  • Two Token Runs: The Yankees did rally to tie the game 2-2 after the D’Backs jumped out to an early lead. A double (Teixeira), a single (Carlos Beltran), and another single (Chase Headley) scored a run in the third, though the Yankees were unable to scratch across any more because Green came up with the bases loaded and two outs. Lame. Then, in the fifth, Jacoby Ellsbury smashed a triple off the wall and scored when the throw to third hit him in the helmet and deflected into the stands. That’s all for the offense.
  • Leftovers: Conor Mullee made his MLB debut in the sixth inning. He walked three and hit a batter. After all he went through in the minors (three elbow surgeries), tonight had to be pretty special for Mullee, regardless of the results … Teixeira went 3-for-4 with a double and seems to be starting to come around with the bat … Aaron Hicks had a loud 1-for-4. He hit four balls on the screws, including one to the deepest part of the park for a fly out … 14 of the final 16 Yankees to bat made outs.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Don’t miss our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. The Yankees and D’Backs continue this series with the middle game Tuesday night. Michael Pineda and Zack Greinke is the scheduled pitching matchup.