Mike Newman on Cito Culver

The Yankees made Cito Culver a surprise first round pick in 2010, and the 19-year-old shortstop hasn’t exactly justified their faith in him yet. He does lead the farm system in walks (60), but otherwise he’s hit just .222/.330/.297 (80 wRC+) in 444 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston this season. Over at FanGraphs, Mike Newman provided a scouting report after seeing Cito recently and as you probably suspect, it’s not all that positive. He notes that Culver is solid on defense but can’t really hit, particularly from the left side of the plate.

Newman does make a case for converting the Rochester native into a pitcher — he was 92-93 off the mound in high school — but I’m not sure I’m on board with that. Culver can still play shortstop and there’s value in that, plus he shows plate discipline and a solid approach at the plate. Perhaps some more physical development leads to more production at the plate. Hitter-to-pitcher conversions aren’t the most uncommon thing in the world, even after long layoffs. Another year like this and I’ll probably be singing a different tune. Here are Newman’s scouting reports on Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Gary Sanchez, and Angelo Gumbs.

Game 108: Can they make it seven straight?

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

I’m going to set you up for disappointment here, but did you know the Yankees have scored a first inning run off Justin Verlander each of the last six times and in seven of the last eight times they’ve faced him, playoffs included? That seems kinda crazy and frankly I would be stunned if they made it seven straight and eight of nine tonight. Just seems unsustainable against a pitcher of that caliber, but I’m welcome to being surprised. Here’s the starting nine…

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

RHP Ivan Nova

Tonight’s episode of “All the Extra-Base Hits” starring Ivan Nova game is scheduled to start a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

X-ray shows A-Rod’s hand healing properly

Via Dan Martin and Larry Brooks, x-rays taken late last week on Alex Rodriguez‘s fractured left hand showed that everything is healing properly. Yesterday we heard that Andy Pettitte‘s ankle is doing well, but this is the first update on A-Rod. I do worry about the lingering effects though, hand and wrist injuries tend to nag for a while even after the break heals. If he doesn’t have enough strength in his hand he won’t be able to swing the bat effectively, it’s pretty simple.

On flipping Granderson and Jeter

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Yankees have dealt with a number of significant injuries this season, including recent issues with Alex Rodriguez (hand), Mark Teixeira (wrist), and Nick Swisher (hip). A-Rod is on the DL and out until at least early-September, but the other two only missed a handful of games and have since returned to the lineup. Joe Girardi had to do some lineup shuffling in the meantime to get by.

One minor change that has stuck involves the top two hitters in the batting order — Curtis Granderson has batted leadoff for the last three games while Derek Jeter has hit second. It had been the other way around for the first hundred or so games of the season. Here is the skipper’s semi-explanation for the switch, courtesy of Brian Heyman

“Grandy falls in the category of he’s one of our higher (on-base) guys, so that’s why he goes there,” Girardi said. “Well, you could say, ‘Grandy is a power hitter.’ Well, so is (Robinson Cano). So is Tex. So is Swish. So is (Raul Ibanez). So you say, ‘Why don’t you move him back?’ Well, then who do I move up to the front with speed? You might say, ‘OK, why don’t you move (Ichiro Suzuki) up?’ Well, his on-base is not as high as it’s been in the past. So then you try to break up your left-handers with your switch-hitters and your right-handers, so it’s not easy for them to get through the lineup.

“If we had all of our hitters present, Granderson wouldn’t lead off. But with the injury to Alex, you have to make some adjustments.”

The whole left/right thing seems to be a major factor factor here. Leaving Granderson in the two-hole means he and Cano would be hitting back-to-back, inviting other managers to bring in their top lefty specialist in the late-innings. That might not be a huge deal given how well Granderson has hit lefties since being #cured and how Cano has handled lefties historically, though Robbie has struggled against southpaws in 2012.

Anyway, Girardi actually broached the idea of flipping Jeter and Granderson way back at the start of Spring Training. I looked at it a little more in-depth then and said I was intrigued and that it was probably worth a shot, though that analysis is a bit outdated now given Brett Gardner‘s injury and some other factors. Grandy isn’t the prototypical leadoff guy because of his mid-.200s batting average and strikeouts, but he draws a ton of walks (12.2%) and maintains a solid OBP (.342). Jeter has actually gotten on-base more often this season (.358) but he is a double play machine (16 GIDP already), so he’s not an ideal number two hitter either.

Despite all that, I still think it’s worth trying just because it could potentially get you that one extra plate appearance from Curtis in any given game, and that could be mean a run(s) with one swing. I do dislike the bunting potential though, Jeter does it on his own all the time. It’s not even the giving up outs thing, bunting a runner over in front of Cano means he might get intentionally walked or just see fewer pitches to hit in general. Perhaps the answer is to have Granderson steal some more bases (just eight steals in eleven attempts this year) just to avoid the bunts and double plays.

Batting order is easiest thing to quibble with but for the most part the impact is small, at least minor moves like this one. If Granderson was batting ninth all of a sudden, that would be a problem. The Yankees have a decent-sized lead in the standings and will need to figure things out with A-Rod, who despite his diminished production was still was a threat in the middle third of the lineup. I don’t think moving Granderson down into the middle of the order (and thus giving him fewer at-bats) is the best solution, but moving him up that one spot might be. If it turns out to be a problem because Jeter is hitting into double plays or something, then they can just go back to the way they had it before. It’s a small tinker worth trying.

Yankees shutting Banuelos down for rest of season

Via Andrew Marchand, the Yankees have decided to shut top pitching prospect Manny Banuelos down for the rest of the season in hopes of getting him healthy in time for winter ball. The 21-year-old southpaw has thrown just 24 innings this year due to a minor back problem and a non-structural elbow injury that VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman described as a bone bruise.

“He’ll recover from this,” said Newman. “That’s what our doctors say. We have no doubt about it. At this point, there is no reason to push it. We are trying to be as prepared as we can for next season.” The Yankees could sent Banuelos to the Arizona Fall League, but that’s a rough environment for a young pitcher. A trip home to Mexico or one of the other Latin American winter leagues could be in order, assuming the elbow actually heals up at some point. A few weeks ago we heard that Banuelos was on a throwing program.

8/6-8/9 Series Preview: Detroit Tigers

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Tigers knocked the Yankees out of the ALDS last season, though the Bombers have taken care of business against Detroit this year by winning four of six games. They’re headed back to MoTown for four games this week, the last time they’ll see the Tigers in 2012 barring another potential postseason matchup.

What Have They Done Lately?

Detroit just took three straight from the hard-falling Indians, scoring five runs in the bottom of the tenth for the walk-off win yesterday. They’ve won four straight overall, but prior to that they’d lost five of six. At 58-50 with a +24 run differential, the Tigers just can’t seem to get over the AL Central hump and currently sit two back of the White Sox in the loss column.


(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Any team with both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder is going to score a boatload of runs, and sure enough the Tigers have averaged 4.6 runs per game this year. Miggy (157 wRC+) and Prince (141 wRC+) have been hitting the snot out of the ball as usual, but former Yankees farmhand Austin Jackson (153 wRC+) should not be lost in the mix. He’s having a breakout season and is easily the best leadoff hitter in the game not named Mike Trout.

The rest of the offense after those three can be a little sketchy, though Andy Dirks (148 wRC+) and Quintin Berry (120 wRC+) have performed very well in limited time — Dirks just came off the DL and Berry started the year in the minors. Alex Avila (101 wRC+) and Jhonny Peralta (101 wRC+) have both been league average with the stick, ditto the recently acquired Omar Infante (104 wRC+) for all intents and purposes. Delmon Young (83 wRC+), Brennan Boesch (79 wRC+), Ramon Santiago (63 wRC+), Danny Worth (63 wRC+), and backup catcher Gerald Laird (104 wRC+ in limited time) are slightly less intimidating. The one thing the Tigers will not do offensively is steal bases — Jackson and Berry are the only guys on the team with more than four steals and they’re at 10 and 15, respectively.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Justin Verlander
The Tigers have won 13 of Verlander’s 22 starts this season, but two of the losses have come at the hands of the Yankees. They tagged him for five runs in six innings in the walk-off passed ball game, then for five runs in 6.1 innings in the Phil Hughes complete game. Other than that, Verlander is pretty awesome. He’s pitched to a 2.63 ERA (3.11 FIP) with dynamite strikeout (8.51 K/9 and 24.2 K%) and walk (2.24 BB/9 and 6.4 BB%) rates to go along with a mediocre ground ball rate (40.5%). It’s a lot of weak pop-ups though, don’t get too excited. Verlander averages 94.5 mph with the fastball but will start the game in the low-90s and ramp it up to the high-90s and triple-digits in the late innings. His mid-80s slider, mid-80s changeup, and upper-70s curve are among the very best offspeed pitches in the world. The Yankees have beaten him twice this year, a third time would be very cool.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Rick Porcello
It’s easy to forget that Porcello is only 23 years old despite several disappointing years in the big leagues. He owns a 4.65 ERA (3.62 FIP) with a career-high strikeout rate (5.39 K/9 and 13.5 K%) to go with solid walk (2.29 BB/9 and 5.8 BB%) and ground ball (52.9%) numbers. The Jersey kid relies heavily on his low-90s two-seamer but will also use a low-90s four-seamer to setup a mid-80s slider and a low-80s changeup. He’ll break out an upper-70s curveball on the rarest of occasions. Porcello held the Yankees to one run in six innings in his only start against them earlier this year, but they’ve seen him enough times through the years.

Wednesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez
Acquired from the Marlins prior to the trade deadline, Sanchez has thrown one dud (five runs in six innings) and one strong start (two runs in six innings) since joining the Tigers. The 28-year-old free agent-to-be has posted a 3.99 ERA (3.68 FIP) overall this season with rock solid peripherals — 7.98 K/9 (21.1 K%), 2.57 BB/9 (6.8 BB%), and 47.3% grounders. Sanchez is very offspeed heavy, using his low-90s two and four-seamers a touch more than 40% of the time. Sliders and changeups in the mid-80s are his offspeed weapons of choice, and he’ll occasionally mix in an upper-70s curveball. It’s worth noting that Sanchez has a substantial reverse split this season (.359 wOBA for RHB, .285 for LHB), something that has held true in recent years but not quite his significantly.

Thursday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Doug Fister
Fister missed a bunch of time in the first half with an oblique strain and a subsequent setback, though he’s allowed no more than one earned run in four of his last five starts. His 3.52 ERA is backed up by a 3.21 FIP, and he does it mostly by limiting walks (1.81 BB/9 and 4.9 BB%) and getting grounders (50.5%). The 7.68 K/9 (20.8 K%) is a career-high but strikeouts usually aren’t his thing. Let’s see if it lasts. Fister is a true five-pitch pitcher, using two and four-seamers in the upper-80s as well as a mid-80s slider, a low-80s changeup, and a mid-70s curveball. He uses all five pitches at least 15% of the time, so a big part of his success comes from keeping hitters guessing. The Yankees haven’t seen Fister since the ALDS.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
The Indians did the Yankees a solid yesterday, pushing Tigers manager Jim Leyland to use his bullpen heavily in the extra-innings win. Setup man Joaquin Benoit (4.12 FIP) gave up two homers in 1.1 IP (22 pitches) and lefty specialist/former Yankee Phil Coke (3.51 FIP) threw 30 pitches across 1.1 IP. The recently recalled Darin Downs (2.99 FIP in limited time) needed 20 pitches to record two outs. Right-handers Brayan Villarreal (2.25 FIP) and Octavio Dotel (1.78 FIP) also pitched yesterday, though closer Jose Valverde (3.98 FIP) and lefty long man Duane Below (3.66 FIP) did not. I suppose it’s not out of the question that they’ll send down Downs in favor of a fresh arm today, but who knows.

The Yankees are in decent bullpen shape even though Freddy Garcia only went five innings yesterday. Both Boone Logan and David Robertson have pitched in two straight days and could be unavailable tonight, potentially leaving setup duties in the hands of David Phelps and I suppose Joba Chamberlain. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the full details, and check out Tiger Tales and Bless You Boys for the latest and greatest on the Tigers.

Fan Confidence Poll: August 6th, 2012

Record Last Week: 3-3 (33 RS, 25 RA)
Season Record: 63-44 (521 RS, 429 RA, 64-43 pythag. record), 6.5 games up in AL East
Opponents This Week: @ Tigers (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), @ Blue Jays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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