Heathcott makes up for lost time

(Mark LoMoglio/Yankees)

2009 first-rounder Slade Heathcott has had to overcome a lot of adversity throughout his life, both on and off the baseball field.  A knee injury in high school and multiple shoulder surgeries have set back Heathcott’s on-field development, and may have robbed him of some of the explosiveness that made him such a tantalizing prospect in high school.  Then of course there are the personal issues, ranging from his unstable family life, his battle with alcoholism, and whatever it was that led him to start a brawl last year after being hit by a pitch.  Given everything he has faced, it would be easy to write Heathcott off as a bust, and assume that his injuries and personal life would prevent him from realizing his prodigious talents.

The second shoulder surgery had me fairly bearish on Heathcott coming into 2012.  I ranked him #12 in the system on my personal top prospects list prior to the season (around where my other Yankee Analysts colleagues had him), and Mike ranked him at #13.  It was kind of low for a prospect with Heathcott’s talent and draft pedigree who had held his own, but given all the risks involved, he could have easily been lower.  Heathcott has fallen behind prospects such as Mason Williams and Tyler Austin in the organizational depth chart, and needed to come back strong this year to stay on the radar.

And come back strong he has.  After a short rehab stint in the GCL, Slade was aggressively bumped up to high-A Tampa, where he had only played one game previously.  In 41 games in Tampa, Heathcott has raked, batting .306/.387/.517, and flashing both power (five homers) and speed (13 steals).  He started out primarily playing DH (most likely to protect his shoulder), but has been eased into outfield duty.  If there is a silver lining to the unfortunate shoulder injury suffered by Mason Williams, it is that it will give Slade the opportunity to get more reps in center field than he otherwise would.  While the numbers have been tremendous, Heathcott has also impressed scouts (or at least one scout).  ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel recently observed that Heathcott was flashing impressive power and speed, and that he still profiled as a center fielder in the future.

Despite everything that Heathcott has been through, he is not far off the normal development track.  He’ll be 22 in September, and is at a fairly appropriate age for his current level.  Obviously all the injuries have caused Slade to miss significant playing time, but the fact that he is looking so good so soon after returning from injury is encouraging.  If he stays healthy the rest of the season and finishes strong (which would be somewhat ironic given all the injuries facing other Yankee prospects), Heathcott should move up the organizational list.  Top 10 seems like a virtual certainty, and top five is not as far-fetched as it may have seemed previously.  As of now I’d have him jumping Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, J.R. Murphy, Austin Romine and Dante Bichette Jr., and possibly Ravel Santana and Ramon Flores.  This would get Slade up to #6 in the system (behind Banuelos, Williams, Sanchez, Austin, and Campos).  Sustaining this level of production could also get Slade some looks for the back end of a minors-wide top 100 list, provided the scouting reports continue to be positive.

In a year where so much has gone wrong for the Yankees’ farm system, Heathcott’s successful return to the minors stands out as a major bright spot.  I will definitely be following to see if he can sustain this production (and health) through the rest of the season, but it is hard to not be impressed with what he has done so far.  Slade has re-established himself as a potential impact player, and is a nice addition to the Yankees’ crop of position player talent that is moving up through the system.  With Slade, Mason Williams, and Ravel Santana, the Yankees have an exciting trio of toolsy center field prospects.  Assuming he finishes 2012 healthy, Heathcott could be the opening day center fielder in AA Trenton, which would put him just two steps away from the majors.  Considering all he has been through, it is remarkable that Heathcott has made it this far.  But if the season so far is any indicator, Slade is capable of even more.

It’s official: Derek Lowe’s a Yankee

The Yankees have officially signed Derek Lowe and will use him out of the bullpen, the team announced. They only owe the veteran right-hander the pro-rated portion of the league minimum with the Braves and Indians on the hook for the remainder of his $15M salary. Ryota Igarashi has unsurprisingly been optioned back to Triple-A to clear a room on the 25-man roster. The 40-man roster is now full.

8/13-8/16 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

And the Rangers win the Wor … oh. Right. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)

The Yankees and Rangers have quite a bit of recent history, most notably the 2010 ALCS. If you stretch the definition of recent — hey, the Rangers franchise has been around for 40 years now — you can go back to the the three ALDS matchups in the late-1990s. Texas took two of three from New York back in April, but now they’re in the Bronx.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rangers have won two in a row, four of five, and eight of eleven. At 67-46 with a +82 run differential, they’re in a dead heat with the Yankees for the title of Best Team In The American League. Texas has a comfy seven game lead in the AL West.

Offense

(Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

With an average of 5.1 runs per game, the Rangers are the highest scoring team in baseball. They’re a touch behind the Yankees with a team 107 wRC+, but they will not have Mike Napoli (105 wRC+) for the next two weeks because he was just placed on the DL. He hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire this year anyway.

The offense is led by Josh Hamilton (142 wRC+), who remains one of the most dangerous hitters in the game despite a prolonged slump. He’s going deep at some point this series, just accept it now and await the inevitable. Adrian Beltre (117 wRC+) and Nelson Cruz (111 wRC+) give them two more power bats while Ian Kinsler (110 wRC+) does a little bit of everything. Elvis Andrus (108 wRC+) is the speed guy, then you have some excellent platoon bats in David Murphy (122 wRC+ vs. RHP), Mitch Moreland (131 wRC+ vs. RHP), and the speedy Craig Gentry (149 wRC+ vs. LHP).

Franchise icon Michael Young (68 wRC+) is having the worst season of his career and appears to be at the point where Derek Jeter was last June — just not hitting anything with authority and looking pretty close to done. The Cap’n rebounded, but so far Young has not. The catching duo — Geovany Soto (67 wRC+) and Luis Martinez (one whole plate appearance) — is hardly a threat with Napoli on the shelf. The Rangers are carrying 13 pitches, so the only other guy on their bench is the recently-recalled super-prospect Mike Olt (79 wRC+ in limited time). Texas went through a pretty brutal RISPFAIL funk last month, but this team can score runs with the best of ’em.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP David Phelps vs. RHP Ryan Dempster
The Yankees looked into acquiring Dempster prior to the trade deadline, but the Rangers ended up swinging a deal for him with moments to spare. The 35-year-old right-hander has had one awful (eight runs in 4.2 IP) and one good (three runs in 6.2 IP) start with Texas, and overall he’s pitched to a 2.65 ERA (3.62 FIP). Obviously most of that came in the NL with the Cubs. Dempster currently owns his lowest strikeout rate since 2001 (7.41 K/9 and 20.3 K%) as well as his lowest walk rate ever (2.42 K/9 and 6.6 BB%). His 42.0% ground ball rate is a touch below his career average. An extreme slider pitcher, Dempster has thrown the mid-80s pitch more than 40% of the time this year. He’ll also feature two and four-seamers in the upper-80s as well as a low-80s split-finger. The Yankees faced Dempster in interleague play last season and he held them to three runs in 5.1 innings.

(Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Matt Harrison
A first-time All-Star this year, the 26-year-old Harrison was part of the Mark Teixeira trade and has pitched to a 3.31 ERA (3.84 FIP) this season. He’s a low-walk (2.58 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%), high-ground ball (51.2%) guy who won’t miss many bats (5.34 K/9 and 14.3 K%). Harrison relies heavily on a sinking low-90s two-seamer, but will also mix in a low-90s four-seamer and the occasional mid-80s cutter. His two offspeed offerings are a low-80s changeup and an upper-70s curve. Harrison has a huge split — righties have a .340 wOBA against him this season, lefties just .232 — so this is a good game to stack the lineup on that one side.

Wednesday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. RHP Scott Feldman
Feldman, 27, has had to step into the rotation due to injuries and has posted a 4.64 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 83.1 innings. He doesn’t strike hitters out (5.94 K/9 and 15.5 K%) or get ground balls (40.2%), but he won’t kill himself with walks (1.94 BB/9 and 5.1 BB%). Feldman is a sinker-cutter guy, and both pitches sit right around 90. He’ll also throw a mid-70s curveball and a mid-80s changeup. He’s been pretty good of late, allowing no more than two runs while throwing at least seven innings in three of his last four hitters.

Thursday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. LHP Derek Holland
It’s been an up and down season for the 25-year-old Holland, who spent some time on the DL with a shoulder issue and has otherwise pitched to a 4.92 ERA (4.91 FIP). His strikeout (7.41 K/9 and 19.9 K%), walk (2.89 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%), and ground ball (41.8%) numbers are solid, though he will give up plenty of long balls (1.72 HR/9). Holland does throw hard, sitting in the low-to-mid-90s with his sinker. He’ll back it up with a low-80s slider and a mid-70s curveball, though his mid-80s changeup is a seldom used fourth offering. The Yankees pounded Holland back in April (7 R in 6 IP), but the southpaw is just as capable of throwing a gem as he is a total stinker.

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Bullpen Status
Manager Ron Washington was able to give his core relievers a nice rest in yesterday’s semi-blowout win, so closer Joe Nathan (2.80 FIP) and setup men Mike Adams (2.76 FIP) and Alexi Ogando (3.04 FIP) come into the series fresh. Rookie left-hander Robbie Ross (3.69 FIP) has appeared in each of the last three games, so we’re unlikely to see him tonight. Fellow lefty Michael Kirkman (4.61 FIP) pitched yesterday and is more of a long man-type than a specialist. The rest of the bullpen includes right-handers Roy Oswalt (4.09 FIP), Mark Lowe (3.68 FIP), and Tanner Scheppers (5.21 FIP). Everyone in this bullpen throws hard and can miss bats, and frankly Oswalt is probably the weak link despite his reputation.

Joe Girardi had to use four relievers yesterday due to Phil Hughes‘ short start, and one of those four (Ryota Igarashi) is ticketed for a return to Triple-A today once the Derek Lowe signing in made official. The Yankees are in pretty good bullpen shape, but check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact reliever usage. For the latest and greatest on the two-time defending AL Champs, we recommend Baseball Time In Arlington and Lone Star Ball.

Ticket Info

By using this link, you can save up to 50% on tickets to the final three games of the Rangers series and 25% on tickets to the Red Sox series via ScoreBig. Just click the link, sign up, and find a seating section.

Fan Confidence Poll: August 13th, 2012

Record Last Week: 4-3 (45 RS, 40 RA)
Season Record: 67-47 (566 RS, 469 RA, 68-46 pythag. record), 5.0 games up in AL East
Opponents This Week: vs. Rangers (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), vs. Red Sox (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

Yanks unable to finish sweep, lose 10-7 to Jays

The Yankees are now 7-4 this season in games in which they have a chance to finish off a three-game sweep, and they still haven’t swept a three-game series against the Blue Jays in Toronto since the very first series of the 2003 season. A win would have been nice, but a 4-3 road trip after dropping the first two games isn’t all that bad.

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

Phil Abused, Again

For the second straight start, Phil Hughes could not complete five innings of work. It’s one thing to do that against the Tigers, it’s another to do it against Edwin Encarnacion and the Las Vegas 51s. Phil allowed seven runs — six with two outs — on nine hits in exactly four innings, walking one and striking out four. Four of the nine hits went for extra bases, including Encarnacion’s mammoth two-run blast in the fourth.

After allowing no more than three earned runs in 14 of his previous 16 starts, Hughes has surrendered at least four in his last two starts. Maybe it’s just the ebb and flow of the season, maybe he’s crashing back to Earth after three good months, maybe it’s something else. Either way, the Yankees are starting to run short on starting pitching and they need Phil to shake off these two duds. More than anything though, they need him to start soaking up some innings. Only three times since April has he failed to pitch into the sixth inning, and two of those three are these last two starts.

Late Life

(REUTERS/Fred Thornhill)

Derek Jeter led off the game with a single, but the next five innings had a “Derek made sure we won’t get no-hit, let’s just get out of here” feel to it. The underwhelming J.A. Happ overwhelmed the Yankees for the next four innings, retiring a dozen men in a row before surrendering a run in the fifth. By then Hughes had done his damage and the game was effectively out of the reach.

The Yankees did not continue to go quietly though, striking for three runs in the sixth and another three runs in the seventh. The sixth inning rally involved homers from Jeter (solo) and Robinson Cano (two run) while the seventh inning was all about two-out hits from Jayson Nix (double), Jeter (double), and Nick Swisher (single). It’s easy to gripe about third base coach Robbie Thomson holding up Swisher at third on Mark Teixeira‘s double, but I thought that was absolutely the right call. Cano was due up and he represented the tying run, and I feel like you have to let him bat in that situation. Swisher get thrown out at home would have been a disaster.

So, anyway, Cano came to the plate but Darren Oliver took the bat out of his hands by plunking him in the behind. Andruw Jones grounded out sharply with the bases loaded to end the inning, and the Yankees didn’t put another man on-base in the game. It was frustrating watching them get shut down by Happ for five innings, but the offense ultimately did its part. When your starter puts you in a seven-run hole after four innings, you’re usually going to lose.

(REUTERS/Fred Thornhill)

Leftovers

Rajai Davis was all over the place for the Blue Jays, doubling twice, stealing a base, and driving in five runs on the afternoon. That all happened before he robbed Casey McGehee of what would have likely been his second homer in pinstripes. Davis timed his jump very well, and caught the ball at the very top of the wall. If it wasn’t going out, it was going to be damn close. It was a legitimately great catch that completely changed the complexion of the game.

Yankee-for-a-day Ryota Igarashi soaking up two bullpen innings and ultimately it was the three runs he allowed in the fifth — all on a Davis bases-clearing double — that decided things. He threw 35 pitches and probably would have done back out for another inning had the Yankees not mounted a bit of a comeback. Cody Eppley (five outs), Clay Rapada (no outs), and Joba Chamberlain (one out) handled the last two innings without much of a problem.

Every starter had at least one hit other than Russell Martin, though Jeter (triple away from the cycle) and Nick Swisher (two singles) were the only guys with multiple hits. McGehee doubled and still has yet to hit a single since the trade — it’s been all extra-base hits. The Yankees didn’t draw a single walk for the fourth time in 29 games since the All-Star break. They went walk-less just four times in 85 first half games.

Overall, the Yankees went 4-for-7 with runners in scoring position. They’ve hit a combined .318/.382/.504 in those situations since the All-Star break, a span of nearly 300 plate appearances (274 to be exact). Are we still going to complain that they can’t hit with men in scoring position, or just reserve it for when they lose because they didn’t score enough runs like every other loss in the history of baseball?

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs some additional stats, and ESPN the updated standings. Both the Rays and Orioles won, so they’re now five and six games behind the Yankees in the AL East race, respectively. The magic number to clinch the division is 44.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are heading back to the Bronx for a seven-game homestand that starts with four against the Rangers. David Phelps and trade deadline pickup Ryan Dempster will square off in Monday night’s opener. Check out RAB Tickets for some last-minute deals if you want to catch the game.

CoJo homers in both ends of AAA doubleheader

After getting released by the Yankees last week, OF Colin Curtis has hooked on with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League. He told Mike Ashmore that he saw the release coming and wound up in indy ball because he didn’t want to take a Double-A job with another club.

Triple-A Empire State Game One (3-1 loss to Syracuse in seven innings) makeup of the July 13th rain out
DH Chris Dickerson & 1B Kosuke Fukudome: both 0-2 — Dickerson walked and whiffed
2B Corban Joseph: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K — that’s his 11th homer, nearly double his previous career high (six in 2010)
SS Eduardo Nunez, 3B Brandon Laird & CF Melky Mesa: all 0-3 — Mesa struck out
LF Ronnie Mustelier & C Frankie Cervelli: both 1-3
RF Darnell McDonald: 1-2
RHP Adam Warren: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 5/4 GB/FB — 58 of 91 pitches were strikes (64%)

[Read more…]

Sunday Night Open Thread

Creepy mascot is creepy. (REUTERS/Fred Thornhill)

The weekend is unfortunately coming to a close, but that’s life. Just five more days ’til the next one. Here is your open thread for the night. The ESPN Sunday Night Game is the Braves at the Mets (Sheets vs. Niese), plus you’ve also got the last little bit of the Olympics. It’s been a fun two weeks. Talk about that stuff or anything else here. Go nuts.