Snowy Saturday Open Thread

(click to embiggen)

A couple inches of snow isn’t bad, and in fact I actually heard the plow drive by a few times today. That’s a rarity here. The snow is a big slap in the face though, reminding us baseball fans that we’re still weeks away from anything remotely resembling meaningful baseball. On the other hand, it sure is bright and sunny down in Tampa. Pitchers and catchers are 29 days away…

(Photo via @Julie_Stone)

Guest Post: Mason Williams Scouting Report

The following a guest post from David Gershman, better know as The Gersh around the Twitterverse. He spent last summer covering the NY-Penn League, and today gives us a firsthand scouting report on Mason Williams, the Yankees top position player prospect now that Jesus Montero is headed to Seattle. You can follow Gersh on Twitter at @Dave_Gershman.

(Photo via MiLB.com)

Of all the talent I was able to spectate in 2011, hardly anyone caught my eye to the extent of Mason Williams, Staten Island’s everyday center-fielder. The New York-Penn League technically ranks as the third lowest developmental level in baseball, ahead of the Pioneer and Appy Leagues and the Gulf Coast League. Therefore, finding talent to keep an eye on is somewhat rare. As a matter of fact, on a good year there might only be one elite-level talent worth watching in the Penn League. While I’m not claiming Williams to be an elite-level prospect, his upside and advanced skill-set are through the roof, clearly making him a must-see talent.

A scout once requested my opinion on Williams and my reasoning for touting him as much as I did last season. I replied, “After months of Extended Spring Training work, Williams began to hit the cover off of the ball right out of the gate and continued doing so even after the first week of the season. There wasn’t any point throughout the year in which he cooled off, and it was rather astonishing.” I labeled his everlasting performance as astonishing simply because inconsistency is so common amongst prospects at the short-season level. And it’s especially colloquial for those playing their first season as a professional. On to the report.

Williams is a terrific athlete with assets and upside that could make him an above-average major leaguer in the not-too-distant future. Quick hands, loads of bat speed and a smooth bat plain make him an advanced hitter, one that hits both lefties and righties without much problem for someone of his age and level. Williams is prone to making bad contact at times, given his high tendency to swing early in the count and, more importantly, at lousy pitches, but plate discipline is an aspect of his game I imagine he’ll be working to ameliorate until he reaches the majors.

While his approach needs some tuning, he has the right idea. As one professional scout noted, “a hitter constantly swinging at pitches early in the count would generally warrant some concern, but if the hitter is either making good contact with pitches in the zone or swinging at hittable pitches than there isn’t much of a problem, and Mason Williams often overdoes it, he customarily accounts for both.”

Williams has a thin and wiry frame, but contains tons of physicality and, in correspondence, some of the most physical upside the Yankees system. He isn’t expected to possess too much power down the road, but certainly enough to avoid being considered a “slap-hitter” of any sort. Remaining a center fielder isn’t a question, but the role system (at least according to two scouts), suggests that Angelo Gumbs might be a more adequate center-field option than Williams should both progress at a similar rate. Williams’ plus range and baseball instincts, at least for me, make him a more-than-viable candidate to be an every day center-fielder for the Yanks down the road.  Williams seemed to have developed refined accuracy as last season progressed. Accuracy sure is expected to develop accordingly, but arm strength is slightly different. As players fill out and develop more fortitude and muscle, they improve the distance and accuracy on their throws. Being that his arm is currently below average unquestionably is a non-issue.

Williams’ current and future tool grades are to the right and up a bit. If you need an explanation as to how these grades work, you can read my primer on how professional scouting reports are compiled.

The reason I gave Williams such a low power projection is mostly due to lack of leverage and loft in his swing. Although it’s quick and stays through the zone, it’s choppy and rather flat. That doesn’t make him a bad hitter by any means; it just decreases his power projection. That said, he’s shown the ability to hit to all fields and, in doing so, drive the ball. Additionally, I upgraded his overall future potential (OFP) because his range and speed suggest such an adjustment.

All professional scouts have a specific computer program that automatically adjusts OFP based on the weight of the prospect and his positional grade requirements. Meaning, center fielders are supposed to have plus range and speed, even if they aren’t that good of hitters. However, what if a first-baseman grades out to have 30 power but 70 speed and defense? His adjusted OFP would lower significantly since first base is a power position. Thus, center field is a speed and defense position.

The Yankees have a rare commodity in Williams, a clear center-fielder with the ability to hit. He’s only 20-years of age, so the Yankees obviously won’t be rushing him at any point. That said, if he shows he can hit in Charleston I’d expect him to finish the season off in Tampa and eventually head to Trenton sometime in 2013. Unlike his time spent in Staten Island, Williams won’t be hitting .349 in Charleston this season, but you can unequivocally expect a to see improvements and maturity in Mason Williams’ game. He’s a bright player with a bright future.

Vetting out some thoughts on ‘the big trade’

Farewell Jesus, greetings Michael (Yahoo.com)

Like some of you (and some of us here at RAB), my head is still swirling from last Friday’s trade escapades. Cashman, in vintage ninja-like fashion, redefined the Yankees landscape in what seemed like a matter of hours when he elected to ship Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi off to Seattle in return for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.  Not only could the trade drastically influence the 2012 season, but it may reverberate for years to come on a number of different levels.

Frankly, I have not completely sorted out my thoughts on the trade yet; although, my initial response was some combination of bewilderment and panic. On the surface, the deal seems to make a great deal of sense for both teams though – the Mariners obtained a potential middle-of-the-lineup threat to aid their otherwise meager offense, while the Yankees theoretically acquired another potent arm to complement a rotation comprised of CC Sabathia and a bunch of question marks. Incidentally, both organizations received players that are very young and cost-controlled to boot.

While Hector Noesi and Jose Campos are certainly not the feature pieces of the deal, both offer some honest upside as well. Noesi will probably slot into the Mariners rotation and should deliver some decent production, especially in spacious Safeco Field. Similarly, Campos, a 19-year-old right-handed pitcher with a dazzling fastball, will likely qualify as a top ten prospect within the Yankees organization upon arrival. High-end bullpen pitching depth is never a bad thing, right?

Yet, general consensus here in Yankeeland seems to be that the deal was “good but not great” despite the fact that it clearly addressed some of the franchise’s obvious concerns. Some of the luster of the move was certainly dulled by the fact that we, as fans, have been captivated by Montero for quite some time now. He was supposed to be the next homegrown superstar after all, who would grow up donning pinstripes and ultimately retire to the Hall of Fame as a True Yankee™.  So as great as Pineda could potentially be, the loss of Montero is still bittersweet.

As if sentiments weren’t hazy enough already, Brian Cashman did his part to complicate the discussion further as he went on the record stating, “I gave up a ton [for Pineda]. To me, Montero is Mike Piazza. He’s Miguel Cabrera.”  Assuming for a moment that Montero does have that kind of ceiling at the MLB level (and boy that is a lofty assumption), what’s that worth to a team exactly?  I suppose it depends on the team’s needs first and foremost.  For what it’s worth, WAR tells us that Miggy has been been an outstanding player (only once in the past seven seasons has he delivered a fWAR value below five).   There’s only a handful of players in all of baseball who can deliver similar production consistently.

Even if Montero was relegated to designated hitter role early on in his career, at that level of production, he’d still contribute some serious value going forward. Consider David Ortiz; in 2011, he was valued at 4.2 WAR according to FanGraphs.  Also keep in mind that in 2011, there were only 24 pitchers total who could claim a WAR above four, and only 16 topped five.  Last season, Cabrera eclipsed the seven fWAR plateau —  a feat only pitchers Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander could claim.  So in the spirit of gross over-simplification, our hearts and eyes told us Montero carried huge clout, a point which Cashman reiterated right after trading him to the Mariners for some kid not named Felix.

Now, I generally tend to value very good pitching beyond very good hitting simply because of supply and demand, a philosophy which makes it easier for me to accept Cashman’s decision to pull the trigger (not that he needs my official endorsement). However, I also contend that elite talent (regardless of the role) should hold trump. The reason why elite talent is so tantalizing is because, by very definition, it’s a rarity.  If Cashman was serious about Montero becoming a generational talent, I sure hope he has similar aplomb in Pineda’s future as well.  Trading future Miguel Cabrera away for, say, Ricky Romero just doesn’t satisfy me.*

Realistically speaking, at this point, Montero’s a highly touted prospect who is still in the process of transitioning into the bigs. Although he had an exciting September, it’s probably unfair to label him the next big deal until he showcases some consistency. As for Pineda, his strengths are obvious but he’s also not without his flaws. We’ve all heard by now about his gaudy strikeout ratio.  We’ve also heard about his fly ball tendencies and the changeup that needs to develop. Nevertheless, he is definitely a very talented kid, and the Yankees were not likely to obtain that caliber of a player without giving up something comparable in return. Considering the value of other young cost-controlled quality arms, it would appear Cashman gave up a reasonable amount relative to the haul.

Cashman said that the trade will likely be a bust for the Yankees if Pineda doesn’t develop a viable changeup and become a number one starter. Those are some hefty expectations (that we all probably feel in the pit of our stomach to some extent or another). Then again, I’m sure Seattle is saying the same thing. Montero needs to live up to the hype in order to justify the loss of a pitcher who could become a bonafide ace; moreover, he’ll likely need to do it behind the plate for some folks to be truly content.  The uncertainty is the rub.  It’s the reason I flinched at the trade initially, and it’s also the reason I completely support the reasoning behind it now.

I know I wasn’t alone in wondering whether the Yanks could have had the proverbial cake and been able to eat it too. It’s plausible that the Yankees would still be dubbed the AL East favorite at this juncture if they had just signed Hiroki Kuroda and not made the trade additionally. Although the rotation would not have been as appealing in 2012 without Pineda’s services, perhaps the differential in run support would have made up for it.  I think we were all prepared to face that reality with open arms.

In the long run, hopefully we’ll wind up thanking Cashman for his foresight. Unfortunately, because baseball isn’t played in a vacuum, such hypotheticals are not only abstract but at times haunting. Only Cashman truly knows the true game plan, and he gets to make the tough decisions while only we get the benefit of being able to scrutinize his moves without the torments of accountability.

In any event, the wheels are in motion and there is no real option other than to embrace the future. Hopefully, the team does not lose interest in some of the other quality arms on the free agent market come next season **. There’s nothing more we can do but wait and see how this will pan out for the Yankees. For now, I’ll trust in Cashman’s judgment with optimism, say a fond farewell to the superstar-in-the-making we barely knew, and welcome with open arms the future face of the rotation.

* Please know that I’m not comparing Michael Pineda to Ricky Romero here.  The example was simply the first name that popped into mind for the sake of discussion.

** Just for the record, I do not expect the Yankees to skip out on elite pitchers next offseason should they be made available.

*** Apologies for my hiatus the past two months. Between work and wedding planning, my life has been rather chaotic. That said, I hope to regain normalcy in my daily routine soon and get back to posting at my typical frequency.  Cheers!

Open Thread: This place is HUGE!

I know these “Shit [insert demographic here] Says” videos are played out, but this one actually made me laugh. I guess it’s because I can actually relate to this one. Anyway, there’s your Friday night comic relief, and here’s your open thread. The Knicks are the only local team in action, but it’s Friday. Go hang out and do something you’ll regret in the morning.

Yankees avoid arbitration with Brett Gardner

The Yankees announced that they have avoided arbitration with Brett Gardner. Jon Heyman says it’s a one-year deal worth $2.8M, exactly the midpoint of their filing numbers ($3.2M and $2.4M). I had a feeling Gardner would settle at some point; he doesn’t have a great arbitration case because defense doesn’t pay, so the only thing he has going for him are the steals. Russell Martin and Boone Logan are the team’s only remaining unsigned arbitration-eligible players.

A DH Option Off The Board: Pena Signs With Tampa

Via MLBTR, the Rays have signed Carlos Pena to a one-year contract worth just $7.25M. I would have loved it if the Yankees had brought him in to DH at that price, but I’m guessing he wanted more playing time (both at-bats and in the field) and took a bit of a hometown discount (so to speak) to go back to Tampa. That’s life. The Rays, meanwhile, now have a sneaky good offense. Life in he AL East is never easy.

The RAB Radio Show: January 20th, 2012

Well, at least no one has to guess what we talked about on this show.

  • Mike and I talk the Pineda trade, and what it means for the Yankees in 2012 and in the future.
  • Surprise: we discover that Pineda is really frickin’ good.
  • The lost guy in the fray, Hiroki Kuroda, gets broken down.
  • And, of course, we spend some time on the DH situation.

Podcast run time 44:47

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.