Mitchell strikes out ten in Charleston win

Eduardo Nunez left yesterday’s game with a sore thumb and Brian Cashman confirmed that he’s going to miss three or four days. That’s good, I don’t want him sitting out and dwelling on his defensive problems for two weeks or something. Right-hander Jose Ramirez was placed on the DL for the an unknown reason and that sucks. He’s been pitching quite well of late.

Anyway, based on his Twitter feed, left-hander Evan Rutckyj has been promoted to Low-A Charleston and will presumably join their rotation.

Update: Caleb Cotham is on his way to join High-A Tampa according to his Twitter feed. Yep, it’s officially promotion season.

Triple-A Empire State (4-1 win over Toledo)
2B Kevin Russo: 1-5, 1 K
CF Colin Curtis: 3-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 CS — had been in a nasty 3-for-34 slump (.088)
1B Steve Pearce: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI
DH Jack Cust: 0-2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K
LF Ronnie Mustelier: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI — seventh homer in 37 games this year after hitting just three in 36 games last year
3B Brandon Laird, C Frankie Cervelli, RF Cole Garner & SS Ramiro Pena: all 0-4 — Laird and Cervelli each struck out twice, Gardner and Pena once each
RHP Ramon Ortiz: 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 5/5 GB/FB — 62 of 90 pitches were strikes (68.9%) … look at the old man doin’ work
RHP Chase Whitley: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 1/1 GB/FB — 13 of 22 pitches were strikes (59.1%)
RHP Manny Delcarmen: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — just 11 of 23 pitches were strikes (47.8% … filling in at closer after Kevin Whelan had pitched in each of the last two games

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Game 38: How about some runs?

Brett Lawrie dropped his appeal and will not play tonight. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

The Yankees have had some trouble scoring runs these last few days and really for the last two weeks or so, and I think we all need an offensive explosion for sanity’s sake. The Blue Jays are running rookie right-hander Drew Hutchinson out there, a mostly two-pitch guy with good command. Please hit him hard. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
LF Raul Ibanez
DH Nick Swisher
3B Eric Chavez
RF Andruw Jones
C  Russell Martin

RHP Phil Hughes

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy.

Nova expected to start Saturday after bullpen session

Via Mark Feinsand, right-hander Ivan Nova is expected to make his next start Saturday after throwing this regular side session today. Nova suffered a right foot contusion and a sprained right ankle against the Orioles on Monday after getting hit by a comebacker and then taking an awkward step fielding a chopper. Glad he’s okay, now he just needs to work on keeping the ball down.

Yankees claim Matt Antonelli off waivers from Orioles

Via Eddie Encina, the Yankees have claimed infielder Matt Antonelli off waivers from the Orioles. Mark Feinsand confirms that he’ll head to Triple-A, and that Cesar Cabral was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot.

Antonelli, 27, was once a top prospect with the Padres and even cracked Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list back in 2008. He owns a .261 wOBA in 65 career big league plate appearances, all coming with San Diego a few years ago. Antonelli is a .234/.347/.361 career hitter in over 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances and posted a .308 wOBA at the level this year. He’s primarily a second baseman so I highly doubt he replaces Jayson Nix or anything. This seems like a move intended to replace depth in the minors for whenever Nix is cut loose, frankly.

Mason Williams and the next level

(Photo via The Post and Courier)

The minor league season is roughly six weeks old, about a quarter of the way through the 140-game schedule for the four full season leagues. Almost every high-upside position player prospect in the Yankees’ system is playing for Low-A Charleston at the moment, and they’re all raking. Tyler Austin has more homers (12) than any non-Curtis Granderson player in the organization, Gary Sanchez owns a .333/.380/.483 batting line as a 19-year-old, and Dante Bichette Jr. is in the middle of a hot streak (hitting .367 in his last eight games) after a slow start.

Then there’s Mason Williams, the team’s top position player prospect coming into the season in my opinion. As you can see in the sidebar, he’s produced a .366 wOBA in 141 plate appearances this year, flashing both power (14 extra-base hits) and speed (12 steals). As impressive as those numbers are, his strikeout and walk rates are eye-popping. Williams has only struck out six times in those 141 plate appearances, a hilariously low 4.3 K%*. His eight walks result in a 5.7 BB%, meaning he’s put the ball in play in nine out of ten plate appearances this year. That’s just out of this world.

* Furthermore, two of those strikeouts came in consecutive plate appearances against Dylan Bundy a few weeks ago, arguably the best pitching prospect in the world right now. Against mere mortals, his strikeout rate is 2.9%. Ridiculous.

I bring this up because sometime in the near future, we’re going to see some prospects get midseason promotions to the next level. Some promotions are more exciting than others but they all indicate some kind of progress. Sanchez will surely get bumped to High-A Tampa because he’s repeating Low-A, just as an example.

Most players drafted out of high school will spend a full year at each level, at least in the lower minors when they’re first cutting their teeth. Obviously there is the occasional Justin Upton-esque exception, but a full year at each level is a decent rule of thumb. Williams came into this season with 317 short season plate appearances and added those 141 plate appearances this year, which amount to 458 career plate appearances. About a hundred short of a full season’s worth. That said, I think Mason’s absurd strikeout and walk rates are an indication that he’s ready for the next level.

Simply put, Williams is not having trouble getting the bat on the ball. Keith Law confirmed Mason’s more aggressive approach (compared to last season) when he saw him last month, and those low strikeout and walk rates indicate that he’s putting the ball in play early in the count. The lack of walks isn’t the result of an inability to recognize balls and strikes, Williams is just putting the ball in play before he sees four balls. Based on the results, it’s hard to complain. That’s why I think a promotion to High-A is worthwhile this summer; he’ll have a chance to face better pitching and continue developing his approach at the plate. It’s tough to get comfortable in deep counts or work on a two-strike approach if you can put the ball in play at will.

Development is not usually something we can accurately measure with statistics, but we rely on them because as outsiders, that’s all we have. We don’t get to see how these kids react to breaking balls or use their changeup in a fastball counts on an everyday basis, so there’s always going to be an element of the unknown for us. Frankly, it’s a pretty significantly sized element of unknown. From here though, it looks like Williams could benefit from a promotion to High-A despite his relatively short stint with the River Dogs.

Using Freddy Garcia

Freddy's just been chilling lately. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Freddy Garcia would probably like a mulligan on 2012. Things started to look down for him as early as January, when the Yankees traded for Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda on the same night. With those two added to the rotation, it appeared that Garcia might have been the odd man out. In fact, throughout spring training it appeared that he’d end up in the bullpen, giving chances to Pineda and Phil Hughes.

Pineda’s injury opened up that rotation spot for Garcia, and given his spring performance he seemed to deserve it. But the season has been anything but kind to him. It started with an outing against Baltimore in which he uncorked five wild pitches while allowing four runs in 4.2 innings. After allowing at least five run in each of his next three outings, the Yankees removed him from the rotation. Now he languishes in the bullpen, reserved for true mop-up situations.

Yet in his three relief appearances, all consisting of two innings, he has pitched very well. All in all he has allowed one unearned run on three hits and two walks. He has struck out four, though three of them came in his last outing. Oddly enough, though, he’s generated just one swing and miss during that period. But even without the whiffs he’s still thrown strikes, 64 percent of his 88 pitches. He’s also seen an uptick in his velocity, averaging just under 90 mph with his sinker — about 2 mph faster than it was in April while in the rotation.

With the bullpen injuries, many players will see their roles change. Boone Logan could see some higher leverage spots. As Dan Barbarisi writes in the Wall Street Journal, Cory Wade has become more vital. Yet as with the previous setup corps of Robertson and Soriano, these guys can’t take all of the setup innings. The Yanks will need others to step up. While se might see potential in the young Phelps, there is still Garcia to consider. The Yanks are paying him and apparently aren’t going to cut him. So why not see what he can deliver out of the pen? The results so far have been encouraging, at least.

Early thoughts on the trade deadline

Best deadline pickup ever. (SI.com)

It’s the middle of May and the season is barely six weeks old, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead to the trade deadline. The Yankees didn’t make a single trade at least year’s deadline despite the assumption that they’d acquire a starting pitcher, but that was the exception and not the rule. They’re always good for a deal or two come late-July and this year figures to be no different.

I don’t think the Yankees have one obvious part of the team in desperate need of an upgrade, but there’s always room for improvement. The recent rash of injuries has potentially¬† created some openings as well. The new playoff system may or may not ramp up activity at the trade deadline; we’re going to have to wait to see just how many teams are legitimately in the race before we know who may be looking to sell and and who’s looking to buy. The smart money is on the Yankees looking to buy, as always.

Let’s run down the parts of the roster that look primed for a potential upgrade via trade, at least at this very moment…

Starting Rotation
The Yankees do still have some rotation depth despite Michael Pineda‘s injury and Freddy Garcia’s awfulness, but the starting staff remains questionable. Phil Hughes has a long way to go before proving reliable and Andy Pettitte is going to be an unknown for at least the next few times out given his age and year-long hiatus. Ivan Nova‘s extra-base hit-prone ways could factor into the decision to add a starter at the deadline as well.

It’s been eight years since the Yankees last traded for a starting pitcher with multiple guaranteed years left on his contract — Kevin Brown was the last — and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. A rental pitcher is likely to be the target if they do look to add a starter, though I suppose a younger guy with several years of team control left is possible as well. I just find that unlikely at this point. Free agents to be like Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Jake Peavy, and Ryan Dempster could all be available and would make sense for any team in need of an arm.

Outfield
A trade for outfield help is dependent entirely on Brett Gardner‘s elbow injury. He recently suffered a setback and could be out anywhere from two-to-four weeks, which will bring us into mid-June. If Gardner gets healthy and comes back like his old self, the Yankees are fine don’t need any outfield help. If this elbow problem lingers, then an outfield upgrade could suddenly become priority number one come July.

Unlike the other positions in this post, outfield figures to be the one area where the Yankees could look to make a long-term addition and not just a rental for the second half. We know all about the 2014 payroll plan and impending free agencies of Nick Swisher (after 2012) and Curtis Granderson (after 2013), which create a need for a cheap, young outfielder. Gardner’s injury could push them into action sooner than expected, but ultimately I think the search for a long-term outfield piece would wait until the offseason.

(AP)

Bullpen
Mariano Rivera‘s injury is the big loss here and it’s created an opening for another late-game reliever. Until we hear otherwise, I think it’s reasonable to expect David Robertson back from his oblique strain relatively soon, but it’s hard (if not foolish) to count on Joba Chamberlain and/or David Aardsma to contribute something in the second half. Those were serious injuries that usually require more than just the 12 months worth of rehab for a pitcher to get back to being himself.

Trading for relievers is as sketchy as it gets because sometimes these guys just suck for no apparent reason and without warning. If the Yankees do make a deal for a reliever at the deadline, I think it would be something along the lines of the 2010 Kerry Wood trade. A salary dump move with mostly insignificant prospects involved.

Bench
Eduardo Nunez‘s defensive problems have landed him back in Triple-A and I don’t think anyone really expects Jayson Nix to be a weapon off the bench. He’s more of a stopgap option. A utility infielder could be high on the trade deadline priority list if Nunez doesn’t show improvement in Triple-A and there figures to be no shortage of candidates. This is just my speculation, but the Rockies are fading fast and Marco Scutaro would make a ton of sense for New York. Again, there’s no evidence that the Yankees are interested in him or that he’s even available, but he would fit perfectly as a utility infielder capable of playing regularly while Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez rest.

Barring injury, Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez provide enough outfield depth. Doesn’t seem like the Yankees will look to add a fourth or fifth outfielder, but again this is contingent on Gardner’s elbow.

* * *

We’ll look at potential trade targets in the coming weeks and I plan to break down the Yankees’ top trade chips at some point, which believe it or not is actually easier said than done. Things are different when Jesus Montero is no longer around and most of the club’s high-upside prospects are in the low minors. Anyway, at this point of the season it appears as though the Yankees’ trade deadline activity will be heavily influenced by the players currently on the DL and how well/quickly they return.