Last year's Prospect Watch. (Presswire)

Last year’s Prospect Watch. (Presswire)

Everyone is focused on Opening Day tomorrow and rightfully so, but let’s not forget the minor league season is right around the corner as well. The four full season affiliates open their seasons this coming Thursday, and obviously this is a huge year for the farm system. The Yankees need some prospects to take steps forward with their development and stay healthy following last summer’s injury and disappointment filled nightmare.

If you’re new to RAB, one of our regular features is the Prospect Watch. Every year we pick a prospect and track his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Past Prospect Watches include Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Jesus Montero, Andrew Brackman, and Mason Williams, among others. Last season we tracked Tyler Austin, who put up a disappointing .257/.344/.373 (103 wRC+) batting line with six homers in 366 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton while batting a wrist problem. Hopefully 2014 will go better, both for Austin and the Prospect Watch.

As we’ve done the last two years, we’re going to open up the Prospect Watch decision to the readers. I used to just pick a top prospect — it was pretty easy in the cases of Hughes, Joba, and Montero back in the day — but this is better. I don’t think there’s an obvious choice this year. In fact, I think there are too many good candidates. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. Here are my eight hand-picked nominees (listed alphabetically) with their rank in my Preseason Top 30 List in parentheses. Vote at the bottom of the post.

OF Tyler Austin (4)
We’ve had the same player be the Prospect Watch in back-to-back years before (Montero) and I’m certainly not opposed to doing it again. Austin, 22, is only a year removed from his monster .322/.400/.559 (~163 wRC+) campaign, during which he hit 17 homers and stole 23 bases. It’s important to keep in mind that his wrist gave him a problem early in camp, so he will be held back in Extended Spring Training as he prepares for the season. He won’t be ready to go on Thursday.

LHP Manny Banuelos (10)
Banuelos, 23, was our Prospect Watch back in 2011, a year before his elbow starting barking. He eventually had Tommy John surgery and he has not pitched in a regular season game since May 2012. Banuelos is healthy now and will start the season on time. The injury makes it easy to forget how good he was back in the day, like when he had a 2.51 ERA (~2.18 FIP) back in 2010. Banuelos is the only pitcher nominee for the Prospect Watch, not surprising given the state of the system.

1B Greg Bird (11)
No one in the farm system had a better statistical season in 2013. The 21-year-old Bird hit .288/.428/.511 (170 wRC+) with 20 homers and 107 walks for Low-A Charleston last season, a year that bests Austin’s 2012 effort. Bird, however, dealt with a back issue in camp and he will not start the season on time. Like Austin, he will open the year in Extended Spring Training making up for all the time he lost this spring.

OF Slade Heathcott (3)
Armed with a brand new 40-man roster spot, Heathcott is coming off a .261/.327/.411 (104 wRC+) season with Double-A Trenton, hitting 22 doubles, seven triples, and eight homers while stealing 15 bases. The 23-year-old has the loudest tools in the organization and could put it all together at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, like Austin and Bird, Heathcott will start the season in Extended Spring Training. He’s working his way back from offseason knee surgery.

3B Eric Jagielo (5)
Jagielo, 21, was the first of last summer’s three first round picks. His pro debut was a smashing success: .264/.376/.451 (152 wRC+) with six homeruns in 229 plate appearances. Jagielo is slated to open the season with High-A Tampa and as a polished college bat, he should have a field day with Single-A pitching.

OF Aaron Judge (7)
The 21-year-old Judge was the second of the team’s three first rounders last year. He did not play at all after signing due to a minor quad injury, but he is healthy now and will open 2014 with Low-A Charleston. Judge is physically huge (listed at 6-foot-7 and 255 lbs.) and he has huge raw power, enough that he could become the organization’s first true prospect to hit 25+ homers since Brandon Laird in 2010.

C Gary Sanchez (1)
The system’s top prospect for two years running has not yet been featured in our Prospect Watch. Sanchez, 21, hit .253/.324/.412 (~109 wRC+) with 27 doubles and 15 homers split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last year, and he will return to the Thunder to start 2014. Sanchez has the best combination of power, hitting skills, and overall approach in the organization, hence his status as the top prospect.

OF Mason Williams (6)
Two years ago we following the 22-year-old Williams and he had a marvelous season, hitting .298/.346/.474 (~125 wRC+) with 11 homers and 20 steals in only 397 plate appearances. His follow-up performance wasn’t nearly as good, just a .245/.304/.337 (83 wRC+) batting line with four homeruns and 15 steals in 537 plate appearances. The raw talent is there though, Williams’ tools are right up there with Heathcott. Remember, he’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter and a 40-man roster spot is a great motivator.

* * *

I opted not to include C John Ryan Murphy, my number two prospect, because there’s a decent chance he’ll wind up in the big leagues as a backup, sitting around for days on end. Don’t want the Prospect Watch to go unused. I was planning to include RHP Ty Hensley in this post, but his recent hernia injury will keep him out for a few weeks. Others like 2B Gosuke Katoh and RHP Luis Severino fell victim to the numbers crunch. They’ll have more chances in the future.

The poll will remain open until 10am-ish ET on Wednesday, so you have plenty of time to vote if you’re unable to make up your mind right now. I know I can’t, so you’re not alone. Here’s the poll:

Update: Poll’s closed! Thanks for voting!

Categories : Minors, Polls
Comments (133)
(Presswire)

(Presswire)

The Yankees finalized their Opening Day roster over the weekend and made somewhat surprising choices to round out the bullpen and bench. Vidal Nuno won the final bullpen spot while Yangervis Solarte beat out Eduardo Nunez for the final bench spot. I say somewhat surprising because neither of those moves felt impossible, just unlikely. At least they did to me.

The rationale behind the moves is simple. Joe Girardi insisted they would take the best pitchers for the bullpen and that’s what they did by choosing Nuno over guys like Matt Daley and Cesar Cabral. Having three stretched out relievers (Nuno, David Phelps, Adam Warren) allows them to take it easy on Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda early in the season. Solarte flat out outplayed Nunez in camp, plus he’s a switch-hitter, more versatile (can play left field), and more reliable defensively. See? Simple.

So now rather than opening the season on the big league bench, Nunez will start with Triple-A Scranton, presumably playing shortstop everyday. Maybe he’ll move around the infield a bit. With Nuno in the show, the Yankees brought back Al Aceves to fill out the Triple-A pitching staff. He’ll join prospect Shane Greene and veterans Brian Gordon, Chris Leroux, and Bruce Billings in the rotation, though it’s been reported Chase Whitley will also get a rotation spot. We’ll see.

With the rosters set at both the big league and Triple-A level, we finally have a clear picture of the team’s depth. It takes a lot more than 25 players to get through a 162-game season, so the extra 15 guys on the 40-man roster are really important. You know that. Nunez may be gone now, but there’s a pretty good chance he will resurface at some point in 2014. Here is the position player depth chart:

MLB Starter MLB Backup AAA Depth
Catcher McCann Cervelli Murphy/Romine
First Base Teixeira Johnson Canzler
Second Base Roberts Johnson/Solarte/Anna Nunez/Sizemore
Shortstop Jeter Anna/Solarte Nunez
Third Base Johnson Solarte/Anna Nunez/Sizemore/Wheeler
Left Field Gardner Soriano/Solarte Almonte
Center Field Ellsbury Gardner/Ichiro Richardson
Right Field Beltran Soriano/Ichiro Almonte

Eventually Brendan Ryan will join the infield mix. He’ll start the season on the DL with a back problem, and Brian Cashman recently said he will miss more than the minimum 15 days. How much longer? Who knows. Backs have a way of staying hurt. Whenever he does get healthy, Ryan figures to replace either Dean Anna or Solarte on the bench. Those two won jobs in spring, but they have to continue playing well to keep them.

Anyway, compared to last season, the Yankees have much more position player depth. Obviously that has to do with all the injuries they dealt with in 2013. Guys like Nunez and Ichiro Suzuki were playing everyday last year. This season they are, at best, the third option at their positions. Austin Romine went from MLB backup to Triple-A backup. Scott Sizemore is an almost identical player to Jayson Nix, who played damn near everyday last season. Those types of players are Plan C now, not Plan A.

The pitching staff is a little more straight forward, especially the bullpen. Daley and Leroux pitched well enough in camp to put themselves near the front of the call-up line while Aceves has a track record with the organization. Given his, um, unpredictable personality, that is not necessarily a good thing for him. Greene and when healthy Jose Ramirez are younger options. Cabral is the obvious choice whenever a left-hander is needed. The Yankees didn’t have many bullpen problems last year, though with Mariano Rivera, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain gone, they’ll need their depth a bit more this season.

The rotation depth is a little more unclear. Nuno seemed likely to go to Triple-A to be the sixth starter, but instead he’ll be with the big league squad. In a perfect world, the Yankees would keep him, Phelps, and Warren all stretched out, but that’s not practical. If all of those guys manage to stay stretched out to 80+ pitches, that means the rotation has been a mess and the bullpen is being called on often. Keeping one stretched out is doable, they did it with Warren last year. But two or three guys? That’s not going to happen.

Aceves might be the sixth starter now, but I think the Yankees are taking a simple “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” approach to their rotation depth. They’ll worry about it when the time comes and see what the available options are. Maybe they can pull Nuno or Phelps out of the bullpen, maybe Greene forces the issue, maybe they grab someone off the scrap heap like they did with Gordon three years ago. They might not need a sixth starter until May or June. No sense in worrying about it now.

Don’t get me wrong, we all wish the starting infield was better, but the combination of good health and offseason additions have given the Yankees much more depth for the start of 2014, especially on the positive player side. They’re going to need it too, it’s inevitable. The rotation picture is a little unclear beyond the top five but that’s okay. It’s not like the team doesn’t have options, it’s just that those options are being used in bullpen roles right now so the best possible combination of 25 players are on the Opening Day roster.

Categories : Bench, Minors, Pitching
Comments (83)

Spring Training Record: 17-12-2 (128 RS, 106 RA)
Regular Season Games This Week: Mon. OFF, @ Astros (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), @ Blue Jays (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?

Categories : Polls
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Spring Training is technically over, but Michael Pineda did not join the rest of the Yankees on their trip to Houston last night, instead staying behind in Tampa so he could throw in a minor league game this morning. According to Erik Boland, Pineda struck out eight and allowed one run on three hits and three walks in six innings. It was his final tune-up before his first start of the regular season next Saturday, his first MLB start in more than two years.

Here is your open thread for the night. The regular season (re)starts tonight with the Dodgers and Padres on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball at 8pm ET. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy is your pitching matchup. The (hockey) Rangers, Knicks, and Nets are also playing. Talk about anything you like right here. Enjoy.

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2014 Travel Map

Daren Willman at Baseball Savant put together a neat collection of maps looking at how far each team will travel in 2014. The Yankees, who only have two straight shot coast-to-coast flights this season (one is followed by an off-day), will travel 28,001 miles this year, the tenth fewest in baseball. The Orioles (24,177) and Blue Jays (27,739) have easier travel, the Red Sox (32,919) and Rays (33,856) slightly tougher travel.

Which team will travel the most this season? Robinson Cano‘s isolated Mariners, of course. They’re 700+ miles from the closest MLB club. Cano and his teammates will travel 51,540 (!) miles this year, almost double the Yankees. The conveniently located Cubs will only travel 22,969 miles this summer, the fewest in baseball. The average distance traveled will be 33,141 miles. Good to be on the East Coast, eh?

Categories : Videos/Photos/GIFs
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Sanchez is heading back to Double-A in 2014. (Presswire)

Sanchez is heading back to Double-A in 2014. (Presswire)

It’s easy to overlook, but Opening Day for the minor leagues is this coming Thursday, just two days after the Yankees open their season. Here are some minor league notes leading up to the start of the year, including some unofficial but well-sourced roster assignments from Josh Norris and Nicholas Flammia:

  • Starting at Triple-A Scranton: OF Zoilo Almonte, RHP Danny Burawa, OF Ramon Flores, IF Corban Joseph, C J.R. Murphy, and C Austin Romine. The rotation will reportedly be RHP Al Aceves, RHP Bruce Billings, RHP Brian Gordon, RHP Shane Greene, and RHP Chris Leroux, though not necessarily in that order. RHP Chase Whitley is said to be in the rotation mix as well.
  • Starting at Double-A Trenton: RHP Bryan Mitchell, 2B Rob Refsnyder, C Gary Sanchez, and OF Mason Williams. No real surprises here. Despite having some of the best prospects in the system, Trenton won’t be very interesting this year.
  • Starting at High-A Tampa: LHP Manny Banuelos, OF Jake Cave, SS Cito Culver, RHP Rafael DePaula, 2B Angelo Gumbs, 3B Eric Jagielo, and C Peter O’Brien. 3B Dante Bichette Jr. will reportedly be here as well. I’m sure Jagielo will get the playing time priority at third.
  • Starting at Low-A Charleston: 3B Miguel Andujar, SS Abi Avelino, RHP Rookie Davis, OF Aaron Judge, RHP Brady Lail, RHP Luis Severino, C Luis Torrens, and SS Tyler Wade. Based on his Twitter feed, RHP Jordan Cote will also be there. Pretty aggressive assignments for Andujar, Avelino, Torrens, and Wade. Also, if Wade is there, I wonder what that means for 2B Gosuke Katoh.
  • Starting in Extended Spring Training: RHP Domingo Acevedo, RHP Manolo Reyes, RHP Simon De La Rosa, LHP Ian Clarkin, OF Alex Palma, and OF Leonardo Molina. Reyes is an older (24) but interesting guy. Acevedo is someone to watch too. OF Tyler Austin (wrist), OF Slade Heathcott (knee), 1B Greg Bird (back), and RHP Jose Campos (being cautious) will all be here after being slowed in spring.
  • The Yankees have released OF Kelvin De Leon according to Matt Eddy. They signed him for $1.1M back in 2007, but he only hit .236/.304/.371 with a 27.1% strikeout rate in nearly 2,000 plate appearances across parts of six minor league seasons, never getting out of Single-A.
  • According to his Twitter feed, UTIL Kevin Mahoney has been released as well. He was the team’s 23rd round pick back in 2009, and he hit .252/.344/.404 with 34 homers in 381 games in parts of five seasons.

Based on these Opening Day assignments — reminder: these are not yet official — it looks like Low-A Charleston will be the affiliate to watch this summer. That’s an awful lot of young talent. High-A Tampa is really promising as well, but man that’s a ton of high-end prospects heading for Chucktown. The River Dogs will be fun this year.

Update: Katoh is also heading to Low-A Charleston, according to Norris. Seems like he will split second base, shortstop, and DH duties with Avelino and Wade.

Update Part Two: OF Michael O’Neill will also be at Low-A Charleston to start the season based on his Twitter feed.

Categories : Minors
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Spring Training is over. The Yankees’ final Grapefruit League game was rained out this afternoon, and the team is leaving for Houston this evening. Well, some of the team. A bunch of guys are staying behind for the night and will fly out on their own tomorrow. Veterans have it good like that.

The Yankees finished the spring 17-12-2 with 128 runs scored and 106 runs allowed. They hit .250/.314/.359 with 20 homers as a team, the seventh fewest in baseball. Oh well. Those stats are all washed away when the regular season begins against the Astros on Tuesday. The Yankees will have a workout at Minute Maid Park on Monday. Here is 2014′s last round of camp notes:

Here is your open thread for the evening. MLB Network is showing a few live Spring Training games throughout the night, plus both the Devils and Islanders are playing. There’s also college basketball on somewhere. Talk about whatever you like here.

Comments (96)
Anna and Solarte, half the new bench. (Presswire)

Anna and Solarte, half the new bench. (Presswire)

The Yankees have finalized their bench for the start of the 2014 season and it does not include Eduardo Nunez. Joe Girardi announced on Saturday that utility man Yangervis Solarte has won the final open roster spot. The team will need to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate him sometime before Tuesday’s season opener. Nunez will go to Triple-A Scranton.

Solarte, 26, could have opted out of his minor league contract if he did not make the team. He hit .429/.489/.571 with two homeruns in 47 plate appearances this spring while playing second base, shortstop, third base, and left field. Solarte hit .282/.332/.404 in 263 games in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League over the last two seasons while in the Rangers organization.

Nunez, 26, hit .265/.280/.388 with one homer in 50 plate appearances this spring. He blew a golden opportunity last season, hitting only .260/.307/.372 in 336 plate appearances while Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez were on the DL. As you know, his defense has long been an issue. The Yankees seemed to grow tired on Nunez over the winter, signing players like Solarte, Dean Anna, and Scott Sizemore to directly compete with him.

Solarte will join Anna, Frankie Cervelli, and Ichiro Suzuki on the bench. There isn’t much (any?) offensive firepower there but Cervelli’s bat has been promising between injuries the last two years and, if nothing else, Anna knows how to work a walk and put together good at-bats. I thought the Yankees would take Nunez for a few reasons, mostly because he’s already on the 40-man roster and would be the easy move. I also didn’t think they’d buy into Solarte’s spring, but here we are.

Brendan Ryan will open the season on the DL with a back problem and earlier this week Brian Cashman confirmed he will miss more than the minimum 15 days. Anna and Solarte had to compete for a bench spot this spring, and now they have to continue competing to stay on the team once Ryan returns. Getting the big leagues is the easy part. Staying there is much harder.

Categories : Bench
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  • Castillo: Solarte can opt-out if he doesn’t make Opening Day roster
    By

    Via Jorge Castillo: If he does not make the Opening Day roster, Spring Training standout Yangervis Solarte can opt-out of his minor league contract for a spot on another team’s 25-man roster. Chad Jennings says he has shown a willingness to go to Triple-A, for what it’s worth.

    Solarte, 26, is a candidate for the final bench spot along with Eduardo Nunez. He hit .429/.489/.571 with two homers in 47 plate appearances this spring, and while it’s always possible something has clicked, there is nothing in his track record suggesting he’ll hit much during the regular season. Solarte is versatile though, regularly playing the three non-first base infield positions as well as left field. The deadline to set the Opening Day roster is 3pm ET tomorrow.
    · (13) ·

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

At long last, Spring Training is finally over. The Yankees will play their final Grapefruit League game this afternoon after six successful weeks, successful in the sense that they suffered no major injuries or controversies. Part of that is Alex Rodriguez being away, obviously. Masahiro Tanaka has acclimated well, Michael Pineda looks healthy, Dellin Betances and some other youngsters were impressive … yeah, pretty good six weeks.

Jacoby Ellsbury returns to the lineup for the first time in 15 days, though he has been playing in minor league games all week. By all accounts his tight calf is a non-issue at this point and he will be ready for Opening Day. Starting the first year of a seven-year contract on the DL wouldn’t have been the best first impression. Ivan Nova will make his final spring tune-up appearance before getting the ball in the third game of the regular season on Thursday.

The Marlins are back in Tampa following last night’s game — they probably never left, their Spring Training home is four hours away in Jupiter — and they’ve got a representative lineup. Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton, and former Yankee Casey McGehee are all playing. Right-hander Tom Koehler is on the mound. Here is Joe Girardi‘s final starting lineup of the spring:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. RF Alfonso Soriano
  7. LF Brett Gardner
  8. 2B Brian Roberts
  9. 3B Kelly Johnson
    RHP Ivan Nova

Available Pitchers: RHP David Robertson, RHP Shawn Kelley, LHP Matt Thornton, RHP David Phelps, RHP Adam Warren, and RHP Matt Daley are all scheduled to pitch. RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa, and LHP Fred Lewis are the extra arms.

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Jose Gil, 2B Yangervis Solarte, SS Dean Anna, 3B Eduardo Nunez, LF Zelous Wheeler, and RF Adonis Garcia will be the second string off the bench. C Roybell Herrera, SS Carmen Angelini, OF Ichiro Suzuki, and OF Antoan Richardson are also available.

Now, the bad news: it’s supposed to rain in Tampa this afternoon and continue pretty much all night. There’s a good chance the game will be cancelled because no one is sitting through a postponement for the final spring game. What that means for Ellsbury and Nova, I have no idea. I’m guessing Nova will throw inside in the batting cage. If they do play, and I hope they do, you can watch live on YES and MLB.tv. Enjoy what is hopefully the last meaningless Yankees game of 2014.

Update (1:05pm): First pitch has been pushed back to 1:15pm ET.

Update (1:13pm): The game has been cancelled. Spring Training is over.

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