Open Thread: Juan Espino

(Photo via BaseballBirthdays.com)

This week will be a slow one as front offices around the league try to take a step back and enjoy the holidays, so don’t expect to see many transactions. In fact, the Yankees have made just one noteworthy move on December 26th throughout their history. On this date in 1974, they signed 18-year-old catcher Juan Espino out of the Dominican Republic as an amateur free agent.

Espino made a slow and deliberate climb up the minor league ladder, spending two years with High-A Fort Lauderdale (1976-1977), two and a half years with Double-A West Haven (1978-1980), and two and a half years with Triple-A Columbus (1980-1982) before making his big league debut in June of 1982. He appeared in just three games that month, all off the bench, then was sent back to Triple-A. Espino resurfaced in 1983, reaching base seven times (one walk, five singles, one homer) in 25 plate appearances spread across ten games.

The Yankees sold Espino to the Indians just before the 1984 season, then purchased his rights back from Cleveland a year later. All told, he played in 49 big league games — all with the Yankees — hitting .219/.244/.238 with that one homer in 78 plate appearances. Espino spent the last few years of his career in Triple-A with the Yankees and Cardinals, retiring after the 1988 season as a .256/.335/.374 career hitter in more than 2,000 plate appearances at the minors’ highest level. Christmas week transactions, changing the baseball landscape forever.

* * *

Here is your open thread for the night. The Falcons and Saints are your Monday Night Football Game, the Nets open their season against the Wizards, and all three hockey locals are in action. Lots to relax with tonight. Talk about whatever you like here, enjoy.

Winter leagues coming to a close

A whole bunch of former Yankees farmhands landed with new teams over the last few weeks, including Greg Golson (Royals), Jon Albaladejo (Diamondbacks), Eric Hacker (Giants), and Kanekoa Texeira (Reds). Mitch Hilligoss was released by the Rangers, and the Hanshin Tigers released Marcos Vechionacci after he hit .255/.359/.436 in 128 plate appearances in their farm system last year. The Yankees could use an extra corner infielder at Double/Triple-A next year, maybe he’ll come back for an encore.

Anyway, the various winter leagues in Latin America are starting to wrap-up their seasons, so you’re probably only going to get one more update after this one. Then it’ll be about three months of silence before the regular season gets underway.

Dominican Winter League (final stats)
Abe Almonte, OF: 31 G, 6 for 39, 3 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K, 2 SB, 2 CS (.154/.195/.154)
Zoilo Almonte, OF: 11 G, 6 for 35, 4 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 1 CS (.171/.216/.200)
Melky Mesa, OF: 20 G, 10 for 48, 6 R, 3 2B, 3 3B, 4 RBI, 4 BB, 10 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.208/.283/.396)
Gary Sanchez, C/DH: 8 G, 6 for 20, 3 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K (.300/.364/.300)
Cesar Cabral, LHP: 20 G, 0 GS, 12.2 IP,7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 13 K, 1 WP (0.71 ERA, 0.79 WHIP) – Rule 5 Pick better hope he pitches like this in Spring Training if he wants to make the team
Juan Cedeno, LHP: 15 G, 0 GS, 8.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K (1.04 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)
Ronny Marte, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 0 IP, 1 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB
Hector Noesi, RHP: 10 G, 10 GS, 46.2 IP, 45 H, 22 R, 14 ER, 10 BB, 27 K, 1 HR, 2 HB (2.70 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) – finishes the year at 127.2 IP, still a good bit behind the 160.1 IP he threw in 2010
Francisco Rondon, LHP: 1 G, 1 GS, 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA, 0.00 WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League
Jose Figueroa, OF: 7 G, 2 for 7, 3 K (.286/.286/.286) – 19-year-old spend last season in the Dominican Summer League, where he hit .200/.337/.343
Walt Ibarra, IF: 44 G, 20 for 132, 14 R, 3 2B, 3 RBI, 8 BB, 32 K, 2SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.152/.206/.174)
Ramiro Pena, IF: 32 G, 31 for 118, 12 R, 4 2B, 4 HR, 4 BB, 10 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.263/.336/.368)
Jorge Vazquez, 1B/DH: 54 G, 70 for 205, 34 R, 7 2B, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 21 BB, 62 K, 3 HBP (.341/.409/.639)
Felipe Gonzalez, RHP: 2 G, 0 GS, 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HB (20.25 ERA, 3.00 WHIP) – 20-year-old spent the season in the Dominican Summer League, striking out 43 in 57.1 IP
Cesar Vargas, RHP: 2 G, 0 GS, 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HB (4.50 ERA, 2.50 WHIP) – soon-to-be 20-year-old struck out 85 in 71.2 IP in the Dominican Summer League this year
Pat Venditte, SwP: 30 G, 0 GS, 29 IP, 27 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 6 BB, 41 K, 6 HR, 1 WP (2.54 ERA, 0.85 WHIP)

Puerto Rican League
Ray Kruml, OF: 20 G, 13 for 59, 5 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 6 SB, 2 CS (.220/.242/.305)

Venezuelan Winter League
Dan Brewer, OF: 6 G, 1 for 19, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K, 1 HBP (.053/.174/.053)
Colin Curtis, OF: 32 G, 29 for 111, 17 R, 6 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 16 BB, 21 K, 3 SB, 1 CS, 3 HBP (.261/.369/.369)
Jose Gil, C/1B: 31 G, 22 for 80, 16 R, 8 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 7 BB, 16 K, 1 SB (.275/.330/.438)
Gus Molina, C: 40 G, 29 for 113, 10 R, 6 2B, 5 RBI, 9 BB, 22 RBI, 2 HBP (.257/.317/.310)
Jose Pirela, IF: 55 G, 67 for 220, 24 R, 7 2B, 4 3B, 3 HR, 35 RBI, 11 BB, 25 K, 4 SB, 1 CS, 4 HBP (.305/.345/.414) – nice winter
Rich Martinez, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA, 2.50 WHIP)

Scout’s Notes via Josh Norris

You may have missed them over the holiday weekend, but Josh Norris published a series of short posts with quotes from scouts about various Yankees’ prospects. Among the players covered are system headliners Jesus Montero (“He might be Miguel Cabrera”), Manny Banuelos (“I think he’s the real deal”), Mason Williams (“an above-average major league center field profile”), and Dellin Betances (“he’s going to be a bullpen guy”). Corban Joseph, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver, Branden Pinder, and personal fave Bryan Mitchell were covered as well, and Norris also posted an interview with Adam Warren. They’re all quick reads and get RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check ’em out.

Scouting The Waiver Market: Jai Miller

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

I gotta say, I was surprised by how many people sent in mailbag questions about Jai Miller over the weekend. You folks really don’t miss a thing. Anyway, Miller is a soon-to-be 27-year-old right-handed hitting outfielder that the Athletics designated for assignment on Friday after acquiring three 40-man roster players from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade. He had a huge year for their Triple-A squad, hitting .276/.368/.588 with 32 homers and 16 steals (in 16 attempts!) in 475 plate appearances before getting a late season cup of coffee, but now he’s waiver fodder.

The Yankees are lacking upper level outfield depth, so players like Miller will surely pop up on their radar whenever they become available. Does he made sense for them though? That’s what we’re here to find out. Let’s start with his negatives…

The Cons

  • As good as Miller was in Triple-A this past season, it was his fourth straight full season at the level. He posted a .357 wOBA in 2008, a .375 wOBA in 2009, a .351 wOBA in 2010, and then a .410 wOBA this past year. You have to wonder if his huge year is the result of tangible improvement (more on that later), or just repeating the level yet again.
  • No stranger to strike three, Miller struck out 179 times this season, or 37.7% of his plate appearances. In 1,750 career plate appearances at the Triple-A level, he’s struck out 550 times, or 31.4%. For comparison’s sake, Mark Reynolds struck out in 31.6% of his plate appearances this year, the worst rate in the majors. Putting the ball in play is not his forte.
  • Miller appears to be out of options, meaning he must clear waivers to be sent to the minors next season. These things are tough to know for certain unless you’ve followed the guy’s entire career closely, so don’t hold me to that.

The Pros

  • Miller has definite power in his 6-foot-3 and 205 lb. frame, though his 32 homers and .312 ISO this season are career highs by far. During his three previous Triple-A stints, he hit 19, 16, and 18 homers with .205, .224, and .264 ISOs, respectively. As you can see here, he’s able to drive the ball out of the park the other way, at least on occasion.
  • All those strikeouts are due in part to his propensity to work deep counts. Miller walked in 11.4% of his plate appearances this season and 10.4% of the time during his Triple-A career. It’s not a mind-blowing walk rate, but it’s absolutely above average.
  • The 16-for-16 thing this year might be an aberration, but Miller had stolen 31 bases in 43 chances (72.1% success rate) in his prior Triple-A seasons. He wasn’t the highest percentage base stealer prior to 2011, but he is capable of swiping the occasional bag.
  • Miller can man all three outfield spots and is a fantastic defender, with Baseball America even calling him a potential Mike Cameron clone in their 2010 Prospect Handbook, the last time he was prospect eligible.

Interestingly enough, Miller showed almost no platoon split in 2011 and hasn’t throughout his minor league career, so he’s not necessarily a platoon candidate. Given the considerable increases in his strikeout rate and power production this year, there’s a chance he altered his swing or approach in some way. We won’t know that for sure unless we talk to the guy (or his hitting coach) because minor league data is so limited. The power spike in 2011 could be a fluke, but he could be pulling a Nelson Cruz circa 2008 for all we know.

Based on what we know, we can’t definitively say that Miller would be better use of a 40-man roster spot than Justin Maxwell, another right-handed hitting outfielder that is out of options. Miller is 13 months younger than Maxwell though, and he also isn’t coming off major shoulder surgery. If nothing else, he’s the healthier choice. Because he’s been designated for assignment and outrighted off the 40-man roster before, Miller can elect free agency if he clears waivers this week. It would make more sense for the Yankees to wait the process out to see if he becomes a free agent, then pursue him on a minor league deal if he does. I wouldn’t call Miller a priority on the waiver wire, but he would be an interesting pickup for the Triple-A outfield if everything falls into place.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 26th, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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 nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:196}

Christmas Day Open Thread

Saturday: Happy Holidays from all of us at RAB to you and yours. Rather than leave you with a generic photo of a Yankees ornament, I’ll leave you with the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises. The first two movies kicked ass, and it sure looks like the third one will as well.

Once you finish watching that three or four times, use this as your open thread throughout the day. The Jets and Giants are playing at 1pm ET on FOX, and there’s plenty more NFL games to watch today well. Talk about whatever you like, and enjoy the holiday.

Sunday: Why yes, I am just going to recycle this thread. I hope all of you are having a very merry Christmas, and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then happy Sunday. The NBA season starts today, and the Knicks-Celtics are on TNT right now. Enjoy.

Joba Update: Two weeks of rest following bullpens

Via the man himself, Joba Chamberlain has been throwing bullpen sessions for a few weeks now and his arm is feeling great following Tommy John surgery. The plan now is to rest for two weeks, then resume throwing after the new year. Joba seems to be just a bit ahead of schedule based on Mike Dodd’s classic TJS article, and he’ll likely start throwing breaking balls very soon. Maybe the Yankees will get him back in late-May rather than mid-June, but I’d rather get him back in mid-August if meant moving him back into the rotation…