Baseball America’s Top 20 South Atlantic League Prospects

Chugging along with their annual prospect ranking series, Baseball America posted their list of the top 20 prospects in the Low-A South Atlantic League today. Just one Yankee farmhand made the cut, 2009 first rounder Slade Heathcott at #18. Former Yankee prospect Arodys Vizcaino came it at number six. I’m kinda disappointed that Jose Ramirez didn’t make it, but that’s life.

In the subscriber only scouting report, BA raved about Heathcott’s raw ability, noting his impressive speed, fast-twitch athleticism, patience at the plate, and “unrealized power potential.” They mentioned that his swing needs refinement to help him make more contact (duh), and that he could stand to improve his instincts to take advantage of his speed in center and on the bases. Slade was also compared to Lenny Dykstra for his all-out style of play. “I think he learned what kind of player he is this year,” said a rival league manager. “He needs a lot of polish, but there’s a lot to work with there.”

The next list that Yankee fans have to worry about involves the High-A Florida State League, but that won’t come out until next Wednesday. Dellin Betances is a lock for that one, while Bradley Suttle, Melky Mesa, Adam Warren, and Graham Stoneburner should garner consideration as well. Andrew Brackman might not have thrown innings with Tampa to qualify for the list.

The Unexpected Heroes

It happens every year. Injuries and/or ineffectiveness force each and every team to call up players from the minors, sometimes minor league lifers and other times rookies. Inevitably one of two or those players comes up big in some way, whether it be in one at-bat or over a prolonged stretch of time. The Yankees have enjoyed quite  bit of success from unexpected sources this season, and they ultimately needed every little bit of it en route to clinching a playoff spot.

Some call-ups obviously did more than others, but these five moments really stand out from the pack. Presented in chronological order, let’s relieve the magic by the unexpected heroes…

May 21st: Kevin Russo buries the Mets (video)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Yankees were dealing with a plethora of injury issues in May, with everyone from Curtis Granderson (hamstring) to Nick Swisher (biceps) to Robbie Cano (knee) to Jorge Posada (foot) battling ailments and needing various degrees of rest. Russo was recalled because he provided enough versatility to sub for any of the walking wounded, but even the staunchest of Russo backers expected little with the bat.

With the Yanks coming off three straight losses and heading across town to take on the Mets, Russo drew his first career start, an assignment in leftfield. The two New York clubs played to a scoreless tie through six, but the Yanks threatened to break things open when Elmer Dessens relieved Hisanori Takahashi. Nick Swisher led the seventh inning off with a solid single to center, though Frankie Cervelli tried to kill the rally with a tailor made double play to ball to second. Unfortunately for the Mets, it was not meant to be. Alex Cora airmailed the flip to Jose Reyes, throwing the ball into leftfield and allowing Swish to move to third and Cervelli to second, all with no outs.

That brought Russo to the plate with a chance to give the Yanks a lead even if he made an out. He had picked up his first career hit in his first at-bat, but on Dessens’ second offering he picked up his first career extra base hit, poking a double down the rightfield line and into the corner. Both Swisher and Cervelli came around the score, and those two runs were all the Yanks needed on the day. Mariano Rivera nailed things down in the ninth, and the losing streak was kaput.

June 27th: Chad Huffman & Colin Curtis break Jonathan Broxton (video and video)

When Granderson and Marcus Thames hit the disabled list earlier in the season, the Yankees were stretched a little thin in the outfield. Huffman did a poor but still admirable job filling in, and during interleague play he found himself substituting for another injured outfielder: Brett Gardner, who left this game against the Dodgers after Clayton Kershaw hit him on the wrist with a fastball in the third inning. Huffman singled in his first at-bat, but his moment to shine didn’t come until the ninth inning.

Down four runs coming into the frame, the Yankees were already mounting a rally off Broxton when Huffman came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Broxton challenged the rookie, giving him three straight fastballs at 96. After taking the first two for a ball and a strike, Huffman lined a single to the opposite field to drive in a pair of runs and bring the Yanks to within one. The next batter was Curtis, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the previous inning and remained in to play defense. Again, Broxton came right at him, and the kid who made his big league debut less than a week earlier in his home state of Arizona fouled off the first two pitches for a quick 0-2 count.

At this point, against a reliever of Broxton’s caliber, most kids with six big league plate appearances to their credit are toast. But not Curtis, he hung in there and then some. The third pitch was a fastball down for a ball, the fourth was a slider in the dirt for a ball, and the fifth a fastball well of the plate for another ball and a foul count. Just working the count back full was impressive, but then Lil’ CC went ahead and fouled off the next four pitches. The tenth pitch of the confrontation was Broxton’s 40th of the inning, a fastball at the knees that Curtis grounded sharply to first. James Loney fielded it cleanly and stepped on first for the force, but Grandy slid in safely and beat the throw home to tie the game.

The Yankees, as you know, went on to win the game in extras, thanks in large part to the efforts of these two young outfielders. Too date, those are Huffman’s only two big league RBI and his last hit before being sent back down. Curtis eventually went back to Scranton but has since resurfaced as a September call-up. Before this game, Broxton had a 0.83 ERA with a 48-5 K/BB ratio in 32.2 innings. Since then though, he’s got a 6.59 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 21 walks in 28.2 innings. The Yanks straight up broke him that night.

August 8th: Dustin Moseley tames the Red Sox (video)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The common themes in this post seem to be injuries and losing streaks, and sure enough this moment features a little of both. Moseley was starting every fifth day in place of the injured Andy Pettitte, and made his third start of the season against the Red Sox on a nationally televised Sunday night game. It was a recipe for disaster, something the Yanks could ill afford after losing five of their previous eight games.

Instead of wilting, Moseley thrived. One-two-three went the Sox in the first, then again in the second. They didn’t put a runner on base until Bill Hall singled on a ground ball through the left side with one out in the third, but Moseley quickly recovered. He sat the next two men down without incident, and then worked himself out of a bases loaded, two out jam in the next frame with yet another groundout. Hall led off the fifth inning with a solo homer, but Moseley sat five of the next six men down in order (with a 3-6-1 double play mixed in) and took the ball into the seventh.

That’s when things got a little dicey thanks to an Adrian Beltre double and a single by (of course) Hall, putting runners on the corners with one out. Joe Girardi pulled the righthander from the game after that even though he had thrown just 87 pitches, but Joba Chamberlain allowed Beltre to score and hang another run on Moseley. His final line couldn’t have been much better considering the circumstances: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 13 GB, 6 FB. The Yanks took the screws to Josh Beckett a few innings earlier to take the pressure off, but Moseley came up big in a spot where his team really needed a win. He’s not a traditional prospect like the other guys in this post, but he certainly wasn’t someone that the Bombers expected to rely on this season. For at least this one night, he justified their faith in him.

Sept. 14th: Greg Golson is unimpressed by Carl Crawford (video)

With the Yankees in the middle of a four game losing streak and in Tampa to take on the division rival Rays earlier this month, Jorge Posada hit a go-ahead homerun in the top of the tenth inning that had the potential to made things all right in Yankeeland, at least for one night. Mariano Rivera came in for the save opportunity in the bottom half, and Golson had already taken over in rightfield after Juan Miranda pinch hit for Curtis in the eighth inning.

Mo was in the middle of his recent rough patch, and things looked ominous when Crawford led off the frame with a single. He eventually stole second with one out, and all it would take was a single to knot things up. Matt Joyce, with a hit and a run driven in already to his name on the evening, came to the plate and managed to work the count full. He lifted the seventh pitch of the at-bat moderately deep to right, deep enough to move Crawford over to third on a sacrifice. Or at least he thought it was.

Golson settled in under the fly ball close to the line and caught it flat-footed when Crawford broke for third. It wasn’t until he heard Granderson yelling from center that he realized the Rays’ leftfielder was going, and that’s when he he uncorked an absolutely beauty of the throw. It reached A-Rod at third on a single bounce and in plenty of time for him to apply the tag for the rarely seen 9-5 game ending double play. For at least one night, the win and the throw put the Yanks back on top in the AL East.

Sept. 26th: Juan Miranda takes a walk (video)

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Just a dozen days after Golson’s throw ended a four game losing streak, Miranda’s batting eye did the same. The Yanks and Red Sox played to a rather suspenseful two-all tie through nine innings and headed to extras. Miranda entered the game in the top of the tenth as a defensive replacement for Mark Teixeira, who had to be pinch run for in the ninth. Hideki Okajima made things very interesting in the bottom half of the tenth, loaded the bases on two singles and an intentional walk with none out. Thames nearly ended things when he hit a screamer to third, but Beltre made a play on it and got the force at the plate for first out.

A career .237/.313/.393 hitter against southpaws in the minors, Miranda stepped to the plate with a chance to give the Yanks arguably their most important win of the season. Okajima fed him nothing but soft stuff, feeding him a curveball off the plate for a ball before getting a swing-and-miss on a changeup in the dirt. The third and fourth pitches of the at-bat were more curveballs off the outer half, and Miranda laid off both to work himself into a favorable 3-1 count. It’s a big time hitter’s count, one where the batter looks to do some serious damage, but the fill-in first baseball remained disciplined. Victor Martinez called for a changeup down in the zone to try to induce the inning ending double play, but Okajima missed inside and Miranda simply took the pitch for ball four and the walk-off walk. The losing streak was over, and more importantly the win reduced the Yanks’ magic number for a playoff spot to just one.

Pettitte dealing with ‘stiff’ back problems

As the Yankees gear up for another October run, they’re doing so with major question marks surrounding their pitching staff. A.J. Burnett has lost the ability to pitch consistently or effectively, Javier Vazquez is a nonentity at this point and Phil Hughes is bumping up against an innings limit of sorts. So it is with more than a bit of dismay that we learn about an new injury: Andy Pettitte, reports Mark Feinsand, is battling through a minor back injury the team believes to be muscular.

According to the Daily News scribe, Pettitte felt his back stiffen up during his 3.1-inning start against the Red Sox on Friday, and he attributed this injury to his inability to command his pitches. When the Yanks clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday, the team immediately postponed Pettitte’s outing to give his back a few days of rest. “The next day, I knew I was going to be fine,” Pettitte. “But you don’t want to have anything going on, especially after what I’ve been through with my groin.”

Yanks’ skipper Joe Girardi downplayed the injury. “It’s always a concern whenever a guy is dealing with something,” Girardi said to Feinsand. “But it was muscular, so you have to believe he’ll bounce back. It’s a little concern.” Pettitte is still slated to start on Friday, and Yankees fans will be holding their collective breaths in the meantime. It’s not a stretch to say that the Yanks’ championship hopes rest on Pettitte’s back holding up for four or five more starts.

Vazquez gets bombed as Yanks drop finale to Blue Jays

A few people will miss Javy Vazquez, but I’m sure the overwhelming majority were glad to see Joe Girardi come out of the dugout and remove him from the game for the final time in his Yankee career. Vazquez gave up hard-hit ball after hard-hit ball in his 4.2 innings of work, which resulted in seven Blue Jays runs. The bullpen would hold them down, but the offense couldn’t capitalize on a rally and ended up dropping their 10th game of the season against the Blue Jays 8-4.

Biggest hit: All those homers

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

Entering the game Vazquez had allowed 29 home runs, giving him the highest HR/9 rate in the league among pitchers with 150 IP. That went up in a hurry. A night after he recorded the Blue Jays only run on a homer off CC Sabathia, Travis Snider took Vazquez deep in the Jays’ first at-bat. Vazquez gave up a number of hard-hit balls that inning, but did manage to escape without allowing another run. That would have to wait until the second.

With none on and two outs in the second John Buck whaled a low, outside pitch over the wall in right-center, giving the Jays a 2-0 lead. Then in the fifth, this time with two men on, Vazquez gave up another long fly, this one to Aaron Hill. That made the game 7-0. That is almost certainly the last pitch he’ll throw as a Yankee.

I know there are plenty of fans who revel in Javy’s failures in pinstripes, but I’m as saddened by the end of his second stint as I was at the first. After 2004 I was sure that he would bounce back with a solid 2005. Trading him for Randy Johnson, I thought, was not such a great idea. This time around I realize that he has to go. He’ll sign for cheap somewhere, and while in a way I’d like that to be with the Yankees, I realize the impossibility of the idea.

Biggest bummer: Swish kills the rally

The Yanks actually fought their way back into the game in the sixth inning, right after Royce Ring came in and ended the game-killing fifth. A-Rod led things off with his 30th homer of the season, which gave him his 14th 30 HR, 100 RBI season, and his 13th straight. After Brett Cecil plunked Robinson Cano and walked Austin Kearns the Yanks had a shot. Cervelli started the carousel, singling in Cano and moving Kearns to third.

The mighty Greg Golson followed with his own single, which set up the Yanks with first and second with one out and drove Cecil from the game. In came Jason Frasor, who gave up a single to Derek Jeter. Nick Swisher came to the plate as the tying run, and he was backed by Teixeira and Rodriguez. But Swisher swung at the first pitch and grounded it to Aaron Hill, who started an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

This, that, and the other

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

Andrew Brackman? Anyone? Bueller?

Francisco Cervelli in September: .367/.512/.433 in 43 PA. BABIP: .440. Hot and cold, hot and cold.

Alex Rodriguez has 40 fewer PA than Miguel Cabrera but has driven in just three fewer runs. A-Rod might be having a sub-par season by his standards, but he’s still coming up with men on base (.300/.372/.571).

If Mark Teixeira catches A-Rod’s throw Joba’s appearance looks a lot better.

At this point, is Sergio Mitre a better option than Chad Gaudin for the postseason roster? Ideally they’d carry neither — in fact, I submit that Royce Ring is a better choice then both.

Box and graph

I coulda done without this one.

More at FanGraphs. Boxy thing here.

Up next

It’s an off-day as the team heads back stateside and into Boston. Andy Pettitte and Daisuke Matsuzaka do battle on Friday.

2011 Draft: Pirates clinch first overall pick

With last night’s Mariners win, the Pirates have officially clinched the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. Pittsburgh and Seattle could still finish with identical records, but the Bucs would be awarded the top pick in that case because they had a worse record last season. Next year’s draft class is absurdly deep with high-end elite talent, offering no fewer than five players that would be legitimate first overall talents in a normal draft class and about 15 or 20 that would be top ten picks (at this point, these things always change in the spring).

As for the Yankees, they are currently unable to pick any higher than 27th overall and no lower than 33rd overall. Of course everyone and their mother expects them to sign some kind of Type-A free agent this winter, so that first round pick is probably moot anyway. It’s not an ideal class to forfeit a high pick, but you always take Cliff Lee over the prospect. Always.

Game 159: Where are the scrubs?

The day after clinching it’s expected that we’ll see the AAA lineup. After last year’s clincher Girardi penciled these names into the lineup:

1. Brett Gardner, CF
2. Melky Cabrera, LF
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Jorge Posada, DH
5. Eric Hinske, 3B
6. Shelley Duncan, RF
7. Juan Miranda, 1B
8. Francisco Cervelli, C
9. Ramiro Pena, SS

Today’s lineup has far more regulars. I guess there’s good reason for that. Unlike last year, the Yanks aren’t quite done. They’re in the playoffs, yes, but they’re still in a battle of sorts for the AL East crown. Before the game Joe Girardi said that the team is still “playing to win this division,” so he’s not going to rest everyone at once. The off-day, he said, will give him a chance to get guys two days off. Some get today, some get Friday. If they stick to this, Matsuzaka will face quite a scrubby lineup.

Javier Vazquez gets the ball tonight in what could be his final audition for the postseason roster. I think he makes it regardless, but if he bombs there has to be a chance that they leave him off in favor of a more effective pitcher. He did settle down after plunking three straight batters last time out, so maybe he’s onto something. If he pitches well, look for the inevitable article asking whether he pitched his way into the ALDS rotation.

(There is no way this can happen if the Yankees are sane, so I suggest ignoring these.)

Anyway, here’s the lineup. I guess Jeter, Swisher, Tex, A-Rod, and Cano will sit on Friday in Boston.

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Marcus Thames, DH
7. Austin Kearns, LF
8. Francisco Cervelli, C
9. Greg Golson, CF

And on the mound, number thirty-one, Javier Vazquez.

A rotation for the next few days but not yet the ALDS

Yankee manager Joe Girardi has unveiled his rotation for the first two weekend games against the Red Sox, but while we know that CC Sabathia is starting Game 1 of the ALDS, the Yanks’ skipper stopped short of revealing the Games 2 and 3 hurlers. As Marc Carig reported, Andy Pettitte will draw the start on Friday night, and A.J. Burnett will mercifully make his last regular season start of the year. Sunday’s starter remains to be announced.

I wouldn’t read into this announcement at all as far as a playoff rotation is concerned. Any of the Yanks’ starters could pitch Game 2 of the ALDS, and I’m reluctant to believe the Yanks would opt with A.J. over Phil Hughes, innings limit and all. For his sake and ours, I hope A.J. has a solid outing on Sunday, but when the games count again, Phil should get the ball.