2011 Draft Review: Part One

It was a tale of two drafts for the Yankees. They started it off with a curious pick, taking Dante Bichette Jr. with the 51st overall selection after rumors swirled about their interest in several high-priced players that were still on the board at the time. What happened after that was a bit out of the norm. Day Two (rounds 2-30) and Day Three (31-50) had entirely different feels and apparent philosophies, so it doesn’t make sense to lump them into one recap. This is the first of two parts, the second will be along a little later.

Fourth round pick Matt Duran. (Photo Credit: Vincent DiSalvio, The Journal News)

Day Two: Power & Size

Let’s rewind to early-March, when John Sickels of Minor League Ball interviewed Yankees’ VP of baseball ops Mark Newman…

SICKELS: What about your weaknesses?

NEWMAN: Corner players with power. We have (Brandon) Laird who is a solid prospect, but we are thin for corner bats otherwise in the system. We always try to take the best players available in the draft and on the international market, and doing that can result in positional imbalance. We’re aware of it, but we would rather get as many high-end athletes as we can and worry about the rest of it later. In a perfect world you get both, of course, high-end guys who fill up the slots you need to fill.

It was pretty obvious during the first 30 rounds of the draft that the Yankees were trying to address that lack of corner power bats, just like they tried to address the lack of up-the-middle athletes in 2010. In addition to Bichette, the Yankees also took high school power hitters in first/third baseman (and local kid!) Matt Duran (4th round) and catcher/first baseman Greg Bird (5). Both are bat first players that can hit and hit with authority, but they aren’t expected to provide much value elsewhere. Prep first baseman Austin Jones (7) and Arizona State first baseman Zach Wilson (21) also fit that mold. JuCo outfielder Tyler Molinaro (15) offers pop from the left side, but he also has some athleticism and can contribute with the glove.

The two big position player prizes from Day Two are high school outfielder Jake Cave (6) and JuCo outfielder Justin James (13), son of Dion. The Yankees were connected to Cave pretty much all spring, opting to take him as a hitter rather than as a left-handed pitcher, where he’s also a quality prospect. He has some bat speed but also some swing question marks, projecting as more of a doubles guy. James shows huge power in batting practice and high-end foot speed, but he’s raw because he quit baseball to focus on basketball late in his high school career. Cave has to be bought away from LSU and James is just risky, but both offer upside and the ability to provide value on both sides of the ball.

When they weren’t taking power hitting players at corner positions, the Yankees were selecting pitchers, and big ones. Lefty Sam Stafford (2) joins righties Jordan Cote (3), Phil Wetherell (8), Jonathan Gray (10), Hayden Sharp (18), Jordan Foley (26), and Scott Hoffman (29) as hurlers that stand 6-foot-4 or taller, with Sharp topping the group at 6-foot-6. Four others check in at 6-foot-3. In addition to size they all share velocity, all capable of throwing in the low-90’s. Sharp again tops the group in this category; he’s run it up as high as 98 this spring.

However, despite all of these big pitching prospects, many of them are just relievers. Zach Arneson (9), Ben Paullus (19), Nik Goody (22), Brooks Belter (25), John Brebbia (30), and Wetherell were all relievers in college while Gray and Brandon Pinder (16) project to be the same in pro ball. That’s eight of the 21 pitchers they selected on Day Two. The best of the bunch is Wetherell, who sits 92-95 with a legitimate swing-and-miss splitter. Arneson sports a big time fastball (up to 96) but little in the way of secondary pitches, while the others are generic high-80’s/low-90’s guys trying to figure out a second pitch.

Second round pick Sam Stafford. (Photo Credit: Bill Calzada, The San Antonio Express-News)

Now that I’ve had some time to look things over, I consider Stafford the best pitching prospect the Yankees selected in the entire draft. Southpaws that have shown 95-96 mph velocity with a curveball that can be unhittable at times are a rare breed, he just has to figure out a way to have both at the same time and work on his overall consistency. Starter Corey Maines (23) is a garden variety sinker-slider guy and Matt Tracy (24) was a two-way player at Mississippi, so his mound experience is limited.

The starting pitchers are going to have to come from the high schoolers, a group led by Cote, Sharp, Mark Montgomery (11), Rookie Davis (14), Matt Troupe (17), Dan Camarena (20), and Chaz Hebert (27). Cote is the best prospect of the group in terms of projection and upside, but it’ll take an above-slot bonus to pry him away from Coastal Carolina. He’ll sit in the low-90’s and show two distinct breaking balls, though finding consistent mechanics and turning some raw tools into baseball skills is the challenge that lies ahead. Camarena is the best prospect of the bunch in terms of present day ability; he’s a legitimate three pitch left-hander with command of a low-90’s fastball and an advanced changeup. A San Diego commitment must be bought out to get him to turn pro. Davis has garnered some attention as a low-90’s fastball/developing slider righty, but there’s some Melky Cabrera Syndrome going on here. He’s getting hyped up because he has a cool name.

From here, it appears that the Yankees went into Day Two with an agenda to find power hitters and power relievers, and that’s exactly what they did. Most of the big bat guys figure to wind up at first base though, which could lead to a logjam, but we’re a long way from worrying about that. Cote, Sharp, and Camarena are three very interesting arms that may or may not sign (I’m guessing they get Cote and at least one of the other two), but they’re all several years off. The college relief crop is deep enough that one or two of those guys will end up viable big league options down the road. The glaring weakness here is the overall lack of significant upside outside of James, Stafford, Cote, and Sharp.

Day Two of the draft wasn’t great for New York but by no means was it a total loss or anything like that. I don’t necessarily agree with hoarding useful pieces that appear to fit an organizational need more than anything else instead of gunning for players with star potential, but that’s what they did. As always, we can begin to really evaluate the talent influx once we see who actually signs, but the early returns from Day Two are somewhere between “okay” and “decent.”

The Alfredo Aceves Mistake

(Photo Credit: Flickr user tedkerwin via Creative Commons license)

Last night’s loss to the Red Sox sucked for a million different reasons, and Al Aceves recording the final eleven outs was just salt on the wounds. He wasn’t great by any means, serving up singles to the first two men he faced before Derek Jeter* took the wind out of the Yankees’ sails with the bases loaded double play to end the sixth inning, but he was effective. We’re used to seeing that from Aceves following his stint in New York, and now ten weeks into the 2011 season, it’s pretty obvious the Yankees completely screwed up by letting him walk.

As you probably remember, Aceves’ final game as a Yankee came against the team he pitches for now, the Red Sox. The Yankees were in Fenway Park when he threw both a pitch and his back out all in one motion last May, an injury that kept him on the shelf the rest of the season. It was eventually diagnosed as a herniated disc, and two different attempts at rest and rehab resulted in setbacks. Then after the season, Aceves fractured his clavicle when he fell off his bike, an activity that may or may not have been against his back rehab regime. We have no idea and it’s unfair to speculate one way or the other.

That broken clavicle was supposed to keep Aceves on the sidelines for three months, meaning he would be a few weeks behind the other pitchers in Spring Training. The right-hander was non-tendered the very next day (relative to when we found out about the injury, not when it actually happened), and Brian Cashman explained the decision like so…

“Because of the back issue, we could not give him [a major league contract]. He was throwing off the mound for us and he always hit a wall,” Cashman said. “So we ultimately continued to fail throughout the entire process to get him off the DL and active. He had a lot of success for a period of time, but then ultimately we’d had to take steps back and we’d have to shut him down and re-do the treatment.

“We decided to non-tender him and offer him a non-guaranteed deal. But obviously when healthy you certainly know what he can do.”

Aceves sat in the free agent pool for a while, reportedly drawing interest from the Rockies, but it wasn’t until early-February that he signed a big league deal with Boston worth $650,000. He reportedly to camp completely healthy on the first day, showing that he was well ahead of schedule with the clavicle rehab, and he’s been healthy ever since. In 41 big league innings this year, he owns a 3.29 ERA and a 4.25 FIP. He also threw another eight innings in Triple-A.

I don’t know who it was and we probably won’t ever know for sure, but someone on the Yankees’ made a big mistake here. Maybe it was the medical staff that evaluated Aceves, maybe it was Cashman, maybe it was someone else we don’t even know exists or maybe it was all of them. Whoever it was, Aceves’ condition was misevaluated and the Yankees foolishly let an asset walk away. That he joined their biggest rival, both historically and with regards to the 2011 AL East title, just adds insult to injury.

The facts of the matter are this: Aceves was still in his pre-arbitration years (so the Yankees could have renewed his salary for something close to the league minimum), he had four years of team control left, he had two minor league options remaining, and he also had (has, really) a history of back trouble. Remember it kept him on the shelf a few times in both 2008 and 2009 as well. At that point of the non-tendering, the Yankees were still unsure about Andy Pettitte‘s status for 2011 and they still appeared to be the front-runner for Cliff Lee. But still, Aceves’ experience working both as a starter and as a reliever is nothing but a plus. I don’t put much stock into the whole “he can pitch in New York” thing, but we all knew he could do that as well.

The risk was minimal. We’re talking about a 40-man roster spot (and there were seven or eight open at the time of the non-tendering) and a six-figure salary, which is peanuts to pretty much every club, especially the Yankees. It’s not like they had to keep him in the show no matter either; he has options and could go down if he was performing poorly or something. That flexibility is something you usually something you don’t get from free agents. Instead of assuming that little bit of risk, they got cute and tried to bring him back on a minor league deal when they would have been able to sent him to the minor leagues anyway. It essentially boils down to the 40-man spot and the salary, which is a little ridiculous.

It’s not a massive, franchise crippling blunder or anything like that, but the Yankees absolutely screwed up by non-tendering Aceves. That he went to the Red Sox only makes it worse, but it would have been bad even if he joined those Rockies or another team. Even if he blows his back out tomorrow, the evaluation of his condition was obviously wrong and a potentially valuable piece was let go for nothing. With $19.15M worth of relievers on the disabled list and the likes of Amaury Sanit, Jeff Marquez, and Lance Pendleton in the bullpen, the Yankees really could use a multi-inning option with experience in the late-innings right now.  There’s no other way to put it, they straight up screwed the pooch by non-tendering Aceves.

* Brett Gardner gets an assist.

Trenton hits too many homers in win

Remember David Adams? He’s still out with a leg issue that can be traced back to the broke ankle he suffered last May, but apparently the plan is to have him back with Double-A Trenton by the All-Star break. So figure he’ll be back within a month or so. Austin Romine, meanwhile, has a “mild concussion” and will be out a minimum of seven days. Don’t screw around with head injuries, give the kid as much time as he needs.

As for the good news, Tim Norton has been deservedly promoted to Triple-A Scranton. He’s taking the place of the injured Kanekoa Texeira, who left last night’s game some kind of injury. I wonder if the injury contributed to his awfulness, can’t rule it out. Anyway, the draft is over, so this is the last night of bullet points…

  • Triple-A Scranton won. They had four hits total on offense, two by my man Gus Molina. David Phelps struck out eight in seven scoreless innings, Norton struck out two in his Triple-A debut, and Kevin Whelan nailed it down for his 18th save. Jesus Montero did not play, he’s still battling that eye infection.
  • Double-A Trenton won. Cody Johnson hit another homer, his second in as many days and eleventh in the last month. Jose Pirela, of all people, went deep twice, which is crazy because he came into the year with five homers in the first three years of his career. Nothing too exciting on the pitching side, Shaeffer Hall gave up five runs in five innings and Naoya Okamoto tossed two scoreless.
  • Both High-A Tampa and Low-A Charleston had scheduled off days.

Game 59: Shorthanded

The hits just keep on coming.

Injuries have a way of piling up, and they sure did for the Yankees today. Mark Teixeira feels well enough to start tonight despite suffering a contusion when he was hit by a pitch yesterday, but that’s the good news. Joba Chamberlain was placed on the disabled list with a strained elbow flexor and Russell Martin is day-to-day because his back locked up on his last night. Jorge Posada isn’t hurt, but he’s away from the team to be with his family while his son has surgery. The bench tonight: Chris Dickerson and Andruw Jones. Adversity, they has it. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Brett Gardner, LF
Eduardo Nunez, 3B
Frankie Cervelli, C

A.J. Burnett, SP

Tonight’s game will be broadcast on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Sorry for you out-of-towners. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET, so try to enjoy.

Chavez still not close to returning

Via Bryan Hoch, Eric Chavez‘s bone-bruised left foot is getting better, but the infielder is still no closer to returning to the team. “He’s still not where he needs to be to run,” said Joe Girardi yesterday. “He is getting better, though, but he’s still not there yet.” According to the official site, Chavez is now on the 60-day disabled list, presumably to make room on the roster for recently claimed Jeff Marquez. That means he’s not eligible to be activated until July 5th at the earliest. Le sigh.

Joba to the DL with strained elbow flexor

Joba Chamberlain landed on the DL with a strained flexor muscle in his right elbow, the club announced a few minutes ago. The Yanks’ set-up man had been feeling soreness for weeks, according to manager Joe Girardi, and will miss at least three weeks. Joba himself doesn’t believe the injury is too serious, but he won’t throw for at least ten days. I’d be surprised if he’s back before the end of June.

In the meantime, Amaury Sanit will take his place on the roster, but that’s probably temporary. The Yanks need some late-inning depth, and this injury is clearly a big blow for the Yanks’ endgame plans as they now have three key relievers on the shelf. David Robertson will slide into the set-up role while Luis Ayala and Boone Logan will be called upon to get outs in higher leverage situations. Hold onto you hats, folks.

In other injury news, Russell Martin‘s back “locked up” on him last night, Girardi says. With Jorge Posada away from the club due to another surgery for his son, the Yanks’ bench tonight will consist of Chris Dickerson and Andruw Jones. Confirming what we knew already, Jeff Marquez will be activated for the bullpen, and Hector Noesi has been sent down.