Next stop on The Phil Hughes Rehab Tour: New Britain

Via Josh Norris, Brian Cashman confirmed that Phil Hughes‘ next rehab start will come with Double-A Trenton this Friday. He’s likely to throw 75 pitches or so. Hughes struck out seven and ran his fastball up to 95 in his first rehab start yesterday, which is great news, but he’s still got a long way to go. Trenton will be in New Britain for that game, in case you’re thinking about heading over to check it out. Here’s the link to get tickets.

Game 71: Switched

Uh oh, a lefty they haven't seen before. (Photo Credit: Flickr user brianbaute via Creative Commons license)

When Joe previewed this upcoming series against the Reds, he listed Johnny Cueto as tonight’s starter and Travis Wood as tomorrow’s. He was right (at the time), but Cincy decided to switch things up and start Wood tonight and Cueto tomorrow. Why? Who knows A stiff neck, apparently. All I know is that for some reason, Brett Gardner is sitting against the lefty. I do not approve. Here’s the lineup…

Nick Swisher, RF
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Andruw Jones, LF – I look you Andruw, but you should be platooning with Jorge Posada
Eduardo Nunez, SS
Ivan Nova, SP

Tonight’s game will start at 7:10pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

A Little LOOGY Depth

(Photo Credit: The Cincinnati Enquirer)

We’ve been looking at available left-handed relievers pretty much all season and have already covered guys like David Purcey, Randy Flores, Jerry Blevins, and J.C. Romero, so let’s look at another that hit the market this weekend: Danny Ray Herrera. The former 45th round pick of the Rangers (2006) is the forgotten piece of the Josh Hamilton-Edinson Volquez trade (he went to Cincy as well), and he made his debut later that season. He’s ridden the bus between the bigs and Triple-A ever since. The Brewers claimed him off waivers last month, then designated him for assignment over the weekend because they needed a fresh arm after their pitching took a beating on Friday night. Pros and cons, here we come….

The Pros

  • It’s a relatively small sample (183 plate appearances), but Herrera has held left-handed batters to a .213/.278/.306 batting line with a 6.95 K/9 and 50.8% ground ball rate in his big league career. His minor league numbers against same side batters (in a larger sample) are similar as well.
  • Herrera has done most of his pitching in big time hitter friendly environments, so at least he’s been through that before. The vast majority of his big league career with spent with the Reds and Great American Ballpark, and he spent his college career pitching at altitude for New Mexico. It’s like Coors Field without the humidor.
  • Herrera is in his last option year, so he can be stashed in the minors and/or called up and down as much as needed the rest of the season. He’s also under team control for the next four years, if it comes to that.

The Cons

  • Herrera’s stuff is as unspectacular as his 5-foot-6, 165 lb. frame. His out pitch is a Bugs Bunny changeup (he calls it a screwball) that sits in the high-60’s and has gotten a swing and miss 15.4% of the time in his big league career. You can see two of them at the 0:25 mark of this video. The changeup/screwball makes his low-80’s fastball look fastball than it really is, and he also throws a low-70’s slider. That won’t get the job done on paper.
  • As LOOGY’s tend to be, Herrera is unusable against righties. They’ve tagged him for a .373/.428/.549 batting line in 231 plate appearances

I’m an unabashed Herrera fan, so I would love to see the Yankees grab him. In reality, he’s very flawed and certainly not the kind of guy they need to rush out and acquire. If he slips to them on waivers, then sure, place a claim and stick him in the Triple-A bullpen for depth purposes. If not, well no big deal. Herrera has not been used optimally so far in his big league career (almost 60% of all the batters he’s faced have been righties), which is part of the reason why his overall numbers have been so ugly. Perhaps it’s my bias, but I think Herrera’s a better use of a 40-man roster spot than the Jeff Marquezes and Buddy Carlyles of the world.

Series Preview: Cincinnati Reds

(From Flickr user Sideonecincy via a Creative Commons license.)

While the Cubs are more renown for their long and rich history, the Cincinnati Reds have been around for just about as long. During that long span they have one fewer World Series appearance and three more World Series victories. But they have neither the ages-old ballpark nor the infamous curse, and so they’re not paid as much attention as their fellow National League founders. But they’ve had a good deal more success than the Cubs lately, which leaves the Yankees a tougher challenge in their second (third, if we count rivalry weekend) interleague series.

What Have the Reds Done Lately?

Just a week ago the Reds were busy trouncing the Dodgers in a three-game series, outscoring them 16-8. But once interleague started back up the run scoring halted. They scored only four runs this weekend against the Blue Jays, salvaging just one win in the series. They’re now 1-5 during interleague play, losing by a collective score of 27-13.

Reds on Offense

Like a Bruce. (From Flickr user Trev Stair via a Creative Commons license.)

Despite the poor scoring in interleague affairs, the Reds lead the NL in scoring, at 4.78 runs per game. That could make for a high-scoring series, since the Yankees have scored 5.31 runs per game. Despite their NL-leading run scoring, they have produced to the level of an average offense — 100 wRC+ and 100 OPS+. That might be one reason why they’ve struggled during interleague play: of the 10 teams with a wRC+ of 100 or greater, seven are in the AL.

Leading the way on offense is one of the best 3-4 combinations in the game, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Votto is having a spectacular season that seems a bit underreported. That’s probably because he won the MVP award, but it’s not as though his numbers this season are that far off. In fact, his OBP is even higher, though his power is a bit down. But, since power is down across the league it’s not that big a difference (173 wRC+ last year, 162 this year). He already has seven intentional walks this year, after receiving just eight last year. Yet this year they hurt a lot more, because Jay Bruce has broken out in a big way. After a slow April he has put a hurting on baseballs, producing a .379 wOBA (137 wRC+) on the season. The big difference for him has been power. After 21, 22, and 25 homers in his first three seasons, he’s at 17 already in 2011.

The Reds are even more dangerous on offense because of the producers they have elsewhere in the order. Drew Stubbs’s .335 OBP might not look pristine for a leadoff hitter, but he brings some pop (10 HR) and speed (20 SB, 2 CS). If he gets on, chances are he’s headed for second base. That could become a problem when Cervelli is behind the plate. Ramon Hernandez has also put up some quality numbers, a .372 wOBA in part-time duty.

Keeping the Reds afloat is a cadre of players who hit right around league average. Scott Rolen, Miguel Cairo, Jonny Gomes, Chris Heisey, Fred Lewis, Brandon Phillips, and Ryan Hanigan all have more than 120 PA and a wRC+ with 10 of the league average. That covers all but one starting position and some bench spots. Their only weakness comes at shortstop, though it is a glaring hole. Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria have spent time there, and have wRC+ numbers of 41 and 56. That does leave them with two black holes at the bottom of the order, but it also does give them averagish or better production everywhere else.

Reds on the Mound

(From Flickr user crymzn via a Creative Commons license.)

Monday: RHP Johnny Cueto. The Reds came into the season with more starters than rotation spots, but that strength quickly turned into a weakness after many of them pitched poorly. Cueto actually didn’t start the season in the rotation; he spent the first month on the DL. But since his return he’s been a bright spot for the Reds. In eight starts he’s produced a 1.68 ERA, though he’s not going to keep that up all year. In fact, his numbers closely resemble his career marks, with the exception of his home run rate. He’s getting more grounders, which might play into that. But as we know, when ground ball guys miss they often give up the long ball. His 6.7% home run to fly ball rate is due for a correction, and the Yankees are just the team to do that. Then again, it’s hard to bet against someone who is going so well. He’s gone at least seven innings in each of his last four starts, allowing two runs at most.

Tuesday: LHP Travis Wood. While Cueto has outperformed his peripherals this season, Wood has underperformed his. That’s not to say he’s pitched particularly well: he has a 4.30 FIP against a 3.84 league average, and has a 5.11 ERA overall. Above average walk and home run rates have hurt him, which seemingly plays into the Yankees hands. That goes even more so, because the start is at home. Of the 10 homers Wood has surrendered this year, eight have come at home. But it seems as though every time the Yankees come up against someone like that, he holds them homerless.

Wednesday: RHP Mike Leake. The year did not start off well for Leake, but after being sent down to the minors in May — which is odd, considering his two AAA starts this year are the only minor league innings he’s ever pitched — he’s been on something of a tear. In his five starts back he’s gone 35 IP, 33 H, 9 R, 5 BB, 19 K, including three straight starts in which he has pitched seven or more innings. He’s also allowed just two homers in that span, meaning he’s essentially the anti-Travis Wood.

Bullpen: The Reds bullpen has been pretty middle of the road, with a 3.46 ERA and 4.05 FIP. They do have a number of quality contributors, including lefty, and former first round pick Bill Bray, Logan Ondrusek, and closer Francisco Cordero. Nick Masset can also be a weapon, though his propensity to walk batters has haunted him at times this season. But with those four they can handle most leads, so it would benefit the Yankees greatly to work up Cueto’s pitch count tonight and get into that bullpen early. A wild card here is Aroldis Chapman, whose rehab clock has expired. The Reds could bring him up, but will more likely let him work on his control issues in AAA for a bit.

Recommended Reds Reading: Redleg Nation and Red Reporter.

RAB Radio Show going to weekly format

Since December Mike and I have tried something new in podcasting. Instead of running the normal weekly segment, we went with a daily format. The thought was that there’s so much to talk about with the Yankees that we could easily record a 20-minute episode every day and still have plenty of leftover content. For six months we made that work. Unfortunately, the experiment ends here.

It takes time every morning to record and produce the show, and unfortunately we’ve gotten to the point where we can’t justify using that time on the podcast. We have plenty of other responsibilities, both to RAB and elsewhere, and the podcast cuts into those. It’s really a matter of prioritization, and we think that the podcast shouldn’t get the priority it has received in the last six months, given what we’ve been able to estimate from our listenership.

The podcast isn’t completely going in the toilet, though. We’re still going to produce a traditional podcast every Thursday. It will run a bit longer, but I’ll make sure to create an alternate version that will include a bookmarkable file (so that your iPod will remember where you left off). It also figures to be more organized and feature more guests.

We now send you back to your normal content. For Mike, I’m Joe, and we’ll talk to you on Thursday.

Mailbag: Cantu, Gordon, Gil, Wilson, Promotions

I skipped out on the mailbag last Friday because it was a day game, so let’s make up for it today. I’ve got a total of nine questions, so I tried to keep the answers brief. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar anytime you want to ask something.

(Photo Credit: LSUsports.net)

Tucker asks: Just curious, if the Yankees hadn’t signed Rafael Soriano, which pick would they hold and who was taken then?

The Yankees gave the Rays the 31st overall pick, which Tampa used to take LSU center fielder Mikie Mahtook. Keith Law and Baseball America ranked him as the 15th and 21st best prospect before the draft, and he figured to come off the board relatively early as one of the top college hitters available. Mahtook is likely to be a right fielder down the line, but he’s a righty hitter that offers good speed and should hit for averae and decent power. I’m not a huge Mahtook fan, but if the Yankees kept that pick and took him, I’d be thrilled. Huge value.

Bart asks: Do you think the Yankees take a chance on either Kazmir or Cantu now that they’re available?

Kazmir’s unquestionably a minor league contract only guy, no doubt about it, but I’m fairly certain Cantu is completely useless. He’s hit just .212/.287/.367 in his last 670 plate appearances, his defense at first and third is awful, and he’s swinging at more and more pitches out of the strike zone despite seeing fewer and fewer pitches in the zone. I’m surprised to see that he’s still 29, but I’d don’t see anyone on the bench I’d take Cantu over. I’d give anyone a minor league deal, and hey, Triple-A Scranton could use a backup first baseman/third baseman/designated hitter, so he makes sense in that regard. For the big league team though? Not right now.

Ben asks: I was wondering how the Yankees could have had a deal in place with Brian Gordon while he was still property of the Phillies organization. Is this not considered tampering? Is this type of thing okay with minor league free agents that have out-clauses? Just hoping for a clarification.

It’s a permission thing. The Phillies sent a memo to the other 29 teams last week indicating that Gordon had an opt-out and they were not planning to promote him to the bigs, which essentially gives teams permission to negotiate a deal with him and his agent.

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

Ryan asks: Would there be any merit to switching Granderson and Gardner in the OF? Other than having a “conventional” power hitting LF and a speedy, OBP oriented CF, would there be any defensive difference with Gardner in CF and Granderson in LF?

Certainly, I think there’s some merit to it. Brett Gardner appears to be the superior defender in terms of jumps and read and pure range based on the eye test, though Curtis Granderson is no slouch in that department. I like how the Yankees have brought Granderson in and have him playing a little shallower this year since his strength is going back on the ball. It’s impossible to trust Gardner’s defensive numbers in center only because his playing time has been sporadic out there, but I think the difference over the course of the season would be five or so runs saved by flip-flopping the two. Not negligible, but not a massive upgrade.

J.R. asks: Now that the season is more than 1/3 over, how would you rate Betances and Banuelos? Both seem to be doing well but walking a ton of guys.

They’ve both been fine, certainly not great but also far from terrible. We’ve know that Dellin Betances‘ control and command were question marks, they always has been, so his hit or miss starts (no walks in one, five in the next) were expected. Command was Manny Banuelos‘ calling card though, and he’s already walked ten more this year than last in 5.1 fewer innings pitched (five fewer batters faced). That’s fine though, remember he just turned 20 in Spring Training and is in Double-A. His age-appropriate level in Low-A right now. They both just need to keep working at it, but remember that Banuelos is still way ahead of the curve.

Conny asks: What’s the scouting report on Jose Gil? He’s having a fine season at Trenton as Romine’s caddy. He looks like he could be a good backup catcher. He seems to have a good throwing arm. He also looks like a capable offensive player, he has a little pop, can steal an occasional base. Is his hitting this season an aberration or has he turned a corner in his development?

It’s more small sample size than anything. He’s hitting .274/.368/.487 in 133 Double-A plate appearances, but it’s also his third straight year spending time at the level. Gil’s always done a good job of throwing attempted basestealers out (34% success rate in his career, which is fantastic), and that’s really I know about his defense right now. The Yankees clearly don’t think he’s going to become anything great because he’s just been a backup catcher that bounces between levels the last few years, filling in whereever a backstop was needed. I want to see more before saying his turned a corner, and a lot more at that.

Sam asks: If you need a stolen base, who would rather be on first? Nunez, Gardner, Martin, Granderson, or Cervelli (he’s veeeeery fast for a catcher, Suzyn)?

Eduardo Nunez and it’s not particularly close right now. For whatever reason Gardner just can’t steal bases anymore, at least not as well as someone with his skill set is supposed to. Granderson’s success rate isn’t all that great this year either, and I’m not going to ask a catcher to steal a base for me. Nunez has stolen eight bags in nine chances this year, and over the last two years his success rate in the minor is 78%. He’s the lesser of several evils right now.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user mjl816 via Creative Commons license)

Justin asks: I’ve heard rumors that C.J. Wilson is looking for A.J. Burnett money, obviously that’s a little steep but if he fell into the Jorge De La Rosa/Ted Lilly range do you think he fits this offseason since there is almost no other decent SP available?

If he falls into that range, which is three years and $35M or so, then I’d certainly want the Yankees to be all over him. I just can’t see it though. Wilson is a) the same age A.J. Burnett and John Lackey where when they hit the market, and b) he’s flat out better now than they were when they were free agents. There’s also the left-handedness to consider and the fact that he’s succeeded in a hitter friendly park. I won’t do it, but I think you can also make a case that Wilson will age better than those two since his arm doesn’t have nearly as many miles on it after spending all those years as a reliever. If he continues to pitch like he is now the rest of the season, I think that five-year, $82.5M contract is a starting point for he and his agent, not a settling point.

Zach asks: At what point in the season can we expect minor league promotions to begin? Who are likely candidates to move up for each level?

Very, very soon, as in this week. The High-A Florida State League played its All-Star Game over the weekend and the Low-A South Atlantic League will get its out of the way early this week, and that’s usually when these things start to happen. As for actual promotions, here’s what I’m guessing will happen…

  • 3B/OF Rob Segedin from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa
  • 3B Rob Lyerly from Tampa to Double-A Trenton
  • LHSP Josh Romanski from Tampa to Trenton
  • RHRP Chase Whitley from Tampa to Trenton

There will be several more promotions, but those are the only moves I see as absolute no-brainers. Calling up Jesus Montero and promoting Austin Romine from Trenton to Triple-A Scranton would make sense as well, but Romine’s injury threw a big wrench into that. Both J.R. Murphy and Slade Heathcott (currently on the DL) have cooled off after hot starts, but they’ve been in Low-A since for more than a full year now following last season’s early-June promotion. I say promote Murphy but not Heathcott. Slade has really, really cooled off (.209/.261/.287 since May 1st).

Banuelos and Betances are still walking guys and need to work on fastball command, and I don’t see any reason to rush them. Promoting them now just makes the command stuff more difficult since they’ll have to figure it out against tougher competition. And besides, the SWB rotation is pretty full at the moment. Shane Greene (currently at Charleston) and Kyle Roller (Charleston but currently injured) could be in line for promotions as well.