Open Thread: Puma

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

If you’d have told me at this time last year that Lance Berkman was going to be the Yankees starting first baseman in the ALCS, I’d have called you insane. And yet, there he was in October, manning first after Mark Teixeira blew out his hamstring in Game Four. Berkman had a full no-trade clause and didn’t have to come to New York at the trade deadline, especially since he was going to be little more than a platoon DH, but he did because he wanted to play for a contender. His tenure in pinstripes started out poorly (.091/.167/.091 in his first six games) but soon enough he started to deliver, hitting .298/.404/.417 in the final 31 games of the season and then .313/.368/.688 in the postseason. His homerun and double in Game Two of the ALDS almost single-handedly beat the Twins. Fat Elvis turns 35 years old today and I have no idea how the hell the Cardinals figure he can play the outfield everyday at this point of his career, but that’s not my problem. I appreciate his service to the Yankees cause last season no matter how brief.

Here’s the open thread for the evening. Both the Devils and Islanders are in action, so find your own entertainment. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

Talking Yankees with Keefe

I haven’t yet had a chance to make my much-anticipated — at least by this guy — debut on our own RAB Radio Show, but yesterday I had a chance to talk baseball on a different podcast. I joined WFAN’s Neil Keefe for 15 minutes of baseball chat, and the recording hit the web today. While I was standing outside in the freezing cold in Midtown, we talked about the upcoming baseball season. We ran down the starting pitcher competition, the situation at catcher and the projected lineup. Give it a listen right here, and soon I’ll join Joe and Mike on our own podcast as well.

Frankie Piliere’s Organizational Rankings

One day after posting his list of the top 100 prospects in the game, Frankie Piliere ranked each club’s farm system. The Yankees placed fourth, trailing only the Royals, Braves, and Rays, in that order. “It’s been awhile since the Yankees could legitimately claim to have one of baseball’s best farm systems,” said Piliere. “This year they are undoubtedly part of that group. Jesus Montero is the best catching prospect in the game, and their collection of young arms — headlined by Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman — stacks up with any in baseball. There is more coming from the lower levels.”

The general consensus is that the Yankees have at least a top ten farm system, though most publications have them in the top five or six. They’re going to need that young talent this year, either for help at the big league level or in trades, so it’s a good time to have a good farm system (is there ever a bad time?).

The RAB Radio Show: February 10, 2011

Last night we learned that the Twins might make Francisco Liriano available. He’s lefty, and he’s ace material. What their true intentions are we’re not sure, but we do know that the Yankees will be interested. Mike and I run down Liriano’s career, what he’d mean for the Yanks, and what it would take to get him.

Podcast run time 29:27

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
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Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

The real Francisco Cervelli

(Nam Y. Huh/AP)

For the past year and change we’ve gotten to know Francisco Cervelli, but we haven’t seen him in his proper role. In each of the last two seasons he has been miscast out of necessity. This year figures to unfold a bit differently. The Yankees have enough options at catcher that they can finally reserve Cervelli for the role he is meant to play: backup catcher.

In 2009 the Yankees needed his services early in the season when both Jorge Posada and Jose Molina hit the DL at the same time. For a few weeks in May he took over as the starter, with Kevin Cash serving as his backup. He stayed with the team through June, and then came back up when rosters expanded in September. Last season he went into the season as Posada’s backup, but the latter’s health did not comply. He ended the season with 317 plate appearances, about a hundred too many.

Still, he was far from the worst backup catcher in the league. In fact, his offensive numbers suggest that he could start for a number of teams. Among catchers with at least 200 PA, Cervelli’s .315 wOBA ranked 18th. His .359 OBP ranked eighth. He doesn’t hit for a lick of power, but a backup need not do everything. If he did, he’d be a starter. And yet, even absent extra base hit potential — only Jason Kendall produced a lower ISO among catchers with more than 200 PA — Cervelli would represent an upgrade over many of the league’s 30 starting catchers.

Wouldn’t the Dodgers rather have him than an aging and mostly ineffective Rod Barajas? The Royals could use him in place of whomever they’re trotting out there this year. The Mariners signed Miguel Olivo, but I’m fairly certain they’d rather have Cervelli as they wait for Adam Moore to mature. The Pirates could use them while Tony Sanchez gets more time in the minors. Wouldn’t the Angels love to get him as an upgrade over Jeff Mathis? There are definitely teams out there with starters inferior to Cervelli.

Looking around the league, I don’t see many backups I’d rather have than Cervelli. David Ross is the only one who stands out. Other than that, maybe Ramon Castro, though he is basically Cervelli’s opposite: all power, no on-base. Otherwise, teams either employ a catching tandem, or they have a backup catcher I wouldn’t take over Cervelli.

Yes, Cervelli displayed some defensive issues this past season. But to my eye, it was more about boneheaded plays than a lack of skill. He was just 24 last season, and he has only 1,251 plate appearances in his professional career. There’s room to grow. In all likelihood he won’t grow into a viable starter for a first division team. But he can settle in as a backup and rank among the league’s best at his job.

Thankfully, he will almost certainly stay in the backup role all season. If Russell Martin doesn’t work out, Jesus Montero will be the first replacement. Jorge Posada is still around, too, and he insists that he’ll catch this season. Then there’s Austin Romine, whose name has come up plenty this winter. The Yankees have plenty of catching options in 2011, and Cervelli need not be a major part of their plans. Finally he can sit back, play once a week, and fulfill the role for which he is ideal. He is the 2011 backup catcher.

2011 Preseason Not Top 30 Prospects

Guess who. (AP Photo/Karen Vibert-Kennedy)

As I put together my list of the top 30 prospects in the Yankees’ organization every winter, some tough choices inevitably have to be made and a few players end up on the outside looking in. That doesn’t mean I don’t like them as prospects, it just means I like some other players better. This post looks at five such players, the five that I think have the best chance of jumping into next year’s top 30 list. I wouldn’t call it a list of sleepers (some of these guys were pretty high-profile pick-ups), perhaps a list of potential breakout players would be more accurate. Does that make sense? Yeah I think so.

Two players from last year’s Not Top 30 List jumped into this year’s top 30: Melky Mesa and Gary Sanchez. Mesa punched his ticket by taking home High-A Florida State League MVP honors while all Sanchez had to do was show up camp ready to catch. Two other players, Jimmy Paredes and Jon Ortiz, are now with a different organization. Paredes went to the Astros in the Lance Berkman deal and was recently named Houston’s seventh best prospect by Baseball America, and Ortiz signed with the Athletics as a minor league free agent after the season. The fifth player, DeAngelo Mack, just didn’t do enough to make the top 30 this year.

An important thing to remember is that these are not prospects 31 through 35, it’s just a list of five players on the outside of this year’s top 30 with a chance to jump into next year’s by showing improvement. They’re listed alphabetically, so don’t bother reading into the order, and ages are as of Opening Day, or thereabouts. Fun starts after the jump.

[Read more…]

Estimating 2011 Innings Limits

Photo evidence that Phil threw at least one changeup in 2006. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Innings limits and pitch counts and all that stuff have become a part of baseball whether you like it or not. Young pitchers are becoming more and more important in the game today, and teams are doing their best to protect those players, nevermind financial investments that often climb into the eight-figures. Yankees fans are sick of the Joba Rules by now and it’s no fun to watch Sergio Mitre make a start in place of Phil Hughes in the middle of the season, but it’s part of life.

The Yanks are going to have to rely on their young arms more than they’ve had to at any point in the last 10, 15, maybe even 20 years in 2011, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be cognizant of workload limitations. Let’s take a look at some of the young hurlers that will/might see big league time next season and figure out how many innings the team can get out of them. I did my best to include everything, from regular season to playoffs to winter ball, but it’s easier said than done.

Phil Hughes
St. Phil threw a total of 192 innings last season, regular season and playoffs, 46 more than his previous career high of 146, which came way back in 2006. It’s probably more like an increase of 30-36 innings since Hughes did make a few starts in the playoffs for Double-A Trenton that year. The problem is that he threw just 111.2 IP in 2009 and 69.2 IP in 2008, so it was a huge jump when you look year-to-year. If Hughes threw that many innings last year, there’s really no reason he can’t throw 200-210 innings this summer, but the real question is how will all those extra innings in 2010 effect him in 2011.

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Ivan Nova
Like Hughes, Nova threw a career high number of innings last season, 187 in all. His innings total has climbed rather methodically over the last few seasons, going from 148.2 IP in 2008 to 165 IP in 2009 (regular season plus winter ball) and then to 187 IP last year. For all intents and purposes, Nova has no innings limit during the upcoming season. Two hundred innings should be no problem if needed.

David Phelps
He’s only been in the system for two full years, but Phelps has already proven himself to be a bonafide horse. He led the organization with 164.2 IP in 2010, which came a year after he threw 158.2 IP and two years after he threw 151 IP (college and pro). There are no concerns here whatsoever, Phelps is good for 180 innings next year at the very least.

Hector Noesi
Noesi’s gone from an injury prone guy to a workhorse starter over the last few seasons, finishing right behind Phelps with 163.2 IP last year. That comes after throwing 124 total innings in 2009, so it was a significant jump (39.2 IP). He did tire a bit late last season, putting 31 men on base and allowing 19 runs in his final 22 IP (four starts). He’s good for 175 IP next year, easy, maybe even as much as 190.

D.J. Mitchell
The Yankees had four minor leaguers throw at least 150 regular season innings last year, just the second time that’s happened since 2003. All four of them were actual prospects too, no filler. Mitchell was the low man on the totem pole at 155.2 IP, trailing Phelps, Noesi, and the since departed Lance Pendleton. That was a jump of just seven innings from his previous career high of 147.2 IP, set in 2009. He’s good for 175 innings next year, no problemo.

Lots of innings that year. (AP Photo/Eric Francis)

Adam Warren
As a four-year player at a major college program, Warren’s thrown plenty of innings in recent years. Last season he managed 146.1 between the regular season and playoffs, but that wasn’t even his career high. He set that the year before, when he threw 168 IP between the college regular season, the College World Series, and his pro debut. His 2008 season featured 122 total innings, so Warren is primed for a jump into the 160-170 range in 2011, if not more.

Andrew Brackman
The Brackmonster started his professional career my missing a full season due to Tommy John surgery, but he’s been healthy since (save for a cut on his hand in April 2010) and has thrown plenty of innings. He threw 106.2 IP in 2009 before jumping all the way up to 145.2 IP last season. Brackman’s (really) big and strong, he should be able to handle 160+ innings next year without an issue.

* * *

That pretty much sums it up, I’d be surprised if any other young hurlers from the system threw a significant amount of innings for the big league team next season. Heck, I’d be surprised if anyone above not named Phil or Ivan threw a significant amount of innings for the Yankees next season. Maybe Noesi, he’s the logical next-in-line since he’s on the 40-man and has Triple-A experience.

In case you’re wondering, both Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are probably targeted for 120-140 innings next season after their injury-shorted campaigns in 2010. Their real coming out party is set for 2012. Luckily there are plenty of guys capable of throwing a ton of innings ahead of them, so the Yankees will have no reason to rush them.