Could the Yankees again turn to Abreu at DH?

(Via Reuters Photos)

Before the Yankees agreed to terms with Raul Ibanez, they explored the trade market for DH options. The thinking was that they might be able to offload A.J. Burnett in exchange for a left-handed hitter, fulfilling two organizational needs at once. While that never materialized, there were a few whispers about possible targets. Among them was former Yankee right fielder Bobby Abreu, who seemingly has been squeezed out of Anaheim’s lineup. But since Burnett could and did refuse a trade to the Angels, the situation never developed.

A month later, the situation has changed. While Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia spoke of giving Abreu 400 at-bats, that might no longer be the case. Kendrys Morales has come back strong, and the indication is that he’ll be the regular DH. With all three outfield spots spoken for, and with Mike Trout looming, there doesn’t appear to be any regular at-bats for Abreu. The Angels will almost certainly look to trade him before the start of the season. Might the Yankees match up?

The Yankees signed Ibanez to fill the DH spot against right-handed pitching, but the 39-year-old has done little to impress this spring. He has gone 3 for 40 with just two walks, though he did homer on Saturday. His bat looks slow, and there appear to be few redeeming qualities in his spring. We’ve received many emails to RAB lamenting Ibanez’s struggles and suggesting alternatives should he continue to flail. Since he earns just $1 million, he is expendable under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, Abreu’s situation is quite similar to Ibanez’s.

Abreu has 37 at-bats this spring and has just four hits. He has walked just three times, though chances are he’s not honing his discipline. Instead, according to Scioscia, he’s just working on his timing. Abreu, too, is writing off his poor spring performance, saying that he’s focused on getting himself ready for the season and not with his actual production. Still, it’s difficult to see how he’s in a better position than Ibanez. In fact, he might be in a worse position.

After a terrible season in 2011, Ibanez has worked to get himself back into playing shape. There have been no concerns about his weight, his preparedness, or his work ethic this spring. Abreu, on the other hand, has constantly chirped about his dissatisfaction with his role. He also gained weight, another concern for a player his age. Essentially, his words this spring have brought into question his attitude. Ibanez has never come under fire for such character issues. In fact, he is often lauded for his clubhouse personality.

Abreu can turn to his recent performances, but even those fall short. For the last two years he’s seen his average drop to .250, which has in turn dropped his OBP into the .350 range. His power dropped off considerably last year as well, further damning his case. Indeed, he might have a point about his treatment by the Angels; there’s little doubt that Abreu is a better offensive player than Vernon Wells, who will continue to start in left field. But his diminishing performance, combined with his spring numbers and his combative attitude, all work against him.

Perhaps a change of scenery would brighten things for Abreu. Maybe that would spur him to a season that resembles his 2009 and 2010 campaigns. Unfortunately, a match just doesn’t seem to be there with the Yankees. They already have someone like that in camp, and he didn’t show up overweight while throwing jabs at the organization. If Abreu were performing well this spring, maybe the Yankees would consider it. Even then, the Angels would probably have to release Abreu, since the Yankees won’t want to trade useful players for him or pay part of his $9 million salary. But with Abreu struggling similarly to Ibanez, there seems to be no point. The Yanks will just stuck with who they have and monitor the market for upgrades if they feel they need one.

Justin Maxwell’s Big & Meaningless Spring

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Late-March is a cruel time of year for baseball fans. Spring Training games have become dull and monotonous while regular season games are still two weeks away. It’s a horrible limbo of meaningless baseball, and we often wind up spending too much time trying to find meaning in games that don’t count. We know we shouldn’t do it, but subconsciously it’s unavoidable. We want to believe the big breakout is coming or that so-and-so really did develop another pitch. It’s just a natural part of Spring Training.

Yankees camp is no different this year. Career journeyman Clay Rapada looks like the answer to our LOOGY prayers, Phil Hughes has been throwing the best changeups of his life, and both Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nunez look like the best hitting shortstop in the American League. Perhaps the most impressive player in camp has been career up-and-down guy Justin Maxwell. He’s hit .414/.485/.586 in camp after putting together a .418 wOBA with 16 homers in 204 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton in 2011. His performance has been so impressive that some are wondering if he should break camp with the team rather than someone like Raul Ibanez.

I think there is some merit to that line of thinking, especially since Maxwell is just 28 years old and has significant tools. He passes the eye test at 6-foot-5 and 235 lbs., and all throughout his lengthy Triple-A career (924 PA) he’s shown power (.192 ISO), patience (12.4 BB%), and speed (62-for-79 in stolen base attempts, 78.5%). Maxwell is also capable of playing all three outfield spots, though his throwing arm isn’t anything to write home about. His biggest drawback is his complete inability to make consistent contact. Maxwell has struck out in 30.6% of his Triple-A plate appearances, and that big Triple-A performance last year came with a 35.3 K%. That’s unfathomable. It’s a Mark Reynolds strikeout rate against minor league pitchers.

Back in December I wrote about the possibility of Maxwell serving as the Yankees fourth outfielder/lefty masher should Andruw Jones sign elsewhere, and my opinion of him hasn’t really changed. Thirty-three plate appearances in Spring Training shouldn’t sway your opinion about any player. Hell, 33 regular season plate appearances shouldn’t change your opinion. It’s a week’s worth of playing time, that’s it. Maxwell has done the majority of his work off the bench this spring, which means a lot of that damage has come against the opponent’s second string, minor league pitchers we already know he can mash. The only thing we’ve learned about Maxwell this month is that his shoulder is healthy after he tore his labrum making a catch at the wall last May.

If nothing else, Maxwell has been an interesting story this spring. I have a hard time seeing him as anything more than a backup plan at the moment, and the Yankees are going to be forced to make a decision about his future pretty soon because he’s out of minor league options. With so many teams looking for outfield help — Braves, Mets, Nationals, Marlins, and Indians, among others — there’s bound to be a trade match somewhere. Out of options players usually don’t command much in a trade, but maybe Maxwell’s big spring means the Yankees can get a Grade-C prospect in return rather than a Grade-D prospect. It is Spring Training after all, a man can dream.

I think last year’s shoulder injury really derailed whatever Yankees career Maxwell may have had. Had he stayed healthy all year, we certainly would have seen him with the big league team last summer, perhaps instead of Dickerson for all that time. We never got a look at him as a September call-up and never got to see what could come from extended work with Kevin Long. There’s a non-zero chance the Spring Training performance is a sign of things to come, but I wouldn’t put money on it. The Yankees don’t have much time left to evaluate him, but a decision about his future is due soon.

2012 Season Preview: Farm System

The farm system will be a little less exciting this season because of the departure of Jesus Montero, but that was going to be the case anyway. Had he not been traded to the Mariners, he would have been in the big leagues as the regular DH. It’s been six years since the Yankees had a Montero-less minor league system, so a new era begins in 2012. A new era with a ton of familiar names.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Triple-A Empire State
The Yankees top farm system will be noteworthy for two very different reasons this season. The goods news is that they’ll boast a five-prospect rotation that will arguably be the best in minor league baseball. Triple-A vets David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell will join newcomers Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, at least until they’re called up to help the big league team. Catcher Austin Romine and infielders Corban Joseph and Brandon Laird figure to be the only prospects on the position player side, however. I wrote up this preview of the team’s roster back in January, so I’ll just refer you to that rather than regurgitate it all here.

The bad news is that the team doesn’t have a permanent home this year, prompting the name change from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to Empire State. The Triple-A squad will play their home games in six different cities as PNC Field undergoes extensive renovations this year, which is brutal. They’ll travel from Lehigh Valley to Syracuse (200 miles), Syracuse to Buffalo (149 mi.), Buffalo back to Syracuse (149 mi.), Syracuse to Rochester (87 mi.), Rochester to Batavia (34 mi.), Batavia to Pawtucket (410 mi.), and then Pawtucket to Lehigh Valley (305 mi.) in April alone. That’s over 1,300 miles and 20 total hours (assuming no traffic!) of travel time. Is it the best thing for the team’s prospects? No, of course not. But it’s unavoidable.

Double-A Trenton
Pretty much every farm system has a talent gap somewhere, and last year that gap was in High-A Tampa. It’s moving up to Double-A this season. Right-hander Brett Marshall will be, by far, the best prospect on the team, fronting a rotation that should also include Double-A repeaters Shaeffer Hall, Craig Heyer, and Graham Stoneburner. Josh Romanski figures to fill a rotation spot as well after making a few relief appearances for Trenton last summer. The bullpen is slate to include a few interesting arms, specifically Chase Whitley and Dan Burawa. The latter is currently recovering from a torn oblique, so his season debut will be delayed a bit.

A two-Almonte outfield — Zoilo and Abe — will headline the offense, which will also feature repeater Melky Mesa. Fringe prospects Rob Lyerly, Jose Pirela, and (non-prospect) Luke Murton should round out the infield while organizational soldiers Jose Gil and Mitch Abeita handle catching duties. David Adams will attempt to come back from his ankle injury to play second base. It’s not the most interesting group of players, but Marshall gives you a reason to check the box score every five days.

(Photo via SI Advance

High-A Tampa
Unlike last year, the Tampa squad will actually be interesting this summer, primarily because of the bullpen and not the rotation. Strikeout machine Mark Montgomery will headline a relief corps that will include fellow power arms Phil Wetherell, Zach Arneson, Caleb Cotham, Branden Pinder, and Tommy Kahnle. There’s a chance one of those guys (likely Arneson) will be held back in Low-A just to make sure there’s enough innings to go around. All of those relievers are candidates for midseason promotions to the Trenton bullpen.

Southpaw Nik Turley had his breakout season interrupted by a broken hand last season, which hopefully taught him not to reach for line drives with the bare hand. Mikey O’Brien and the physically massive Zach Nuding will join him in the rotation, and the disappointing but still prospect shiny Jose Ramirez figures to get another crack at the level. Right-hander Jairo Heredia put together a dozen dominant starts for Tampa before getting hurt last year, and he’s likely to fill the final rotation spot.

The position player crop could either be really exciting or just interested depending on one guy: Gary Sanchez. He mashed in 343 Low-A plate appearances last season and could get the bump to Tampa, but a return to Charleston for a few months is possible if not likely. If he’s not with the High-A squad, the offensive draw will be backstop J.R. Murphy, outfielder Ramon Flores, and first baseman/DH Kyle Roller. Slade Heathcott‘s return is tentatively scheduled for June, so until then Eduardo Sosa will have to hold down the center field position.

Low-A Charleston
With all due respect to the Triple-A rotation, this is where the prospect fun will be in 2012. If Sanchez returns for a few weeks/months, the River Dog faithful will enjoy a lineup that includes the three best position player prospects in the organization: center fielder Mason Williams, third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., and Sanchez. Former first round pick Cito Culver will man shortstop with former second rounder Angelo Gumbs again serving as his double player partner. Tyler Austin is a third baseman by trade but will shift to right field in deference to Bichette. Sleeper Ben Gamel figures to get the nod in left. Counting Sanchez, that’s six of the organization’s nine best position player prospects in one lineup.

The pitching won’t carry quite as much star power as the lineup, but it’s certainly not lacking intrigue. Newcomer Jose Campos comes over from the Mariners to headline a starting staff that will also include the full season debuts of Bryan Mitchell and Evan DeLuca. Sleeper extraordinaire Matt Tracy is likely to be in the rotation as well, as he continues his conversion from two-way player to full-time pitcher. The bullpen won’t be as interesting as the High-A staff, but Arneson, Vidal Nuno, Ben Paullus, and Brett Gerritse are all somewhat attention-worthy.

Short Season Staten Island
Bichette may be moving up to a full season league in his first full pro season, but not every 2011 draftee will be so lucky. Mashers Matt Duran (3B), Bubba Jones (1B), and Greg Bird (C) will join burners Claudio Custodio (2B/SS) and Jose Rosario (2B/SS) in Shaolin later this season, though the best prospect on the team will be center fielder Ravel Santana. The 19-year-old five-tooler is on target to return to the field in June following the devastating ankle injury that ended his season a year ago. Eight-rounder Jake Cave figures to flank Santana in one of the corner outfield spots while Isaias Tejeda dons the tools of ignorance.

The SI pitching staff should be built around a trio of 2010 draftees: righties Taylor Morton and Gabe Encinas plus lefty Evan Rutckyj. Mariel Checo will likely get the call in the bullpen while the rest of the roster will come predominately from the upcoming draft class.

Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees
The majority of the GCL Yanks roster will come from the 2012 draft, though arms like Jordan Cote, Reynaldo Polanco, Joey Maher, Chaz Hebert, and Hayden Sharp all figure to spend the summer on the back fields in Tampa. Big money international signees like outfielder Wilmer Romero ($656,500), infielder Chris Tamarez ($650,000), and right-hander Cris Cabrera could make their U.S. debut after cutting their teeth in the Dominican Summer League last year.

To me, the single most interesting prospect to watch this year isn’t even officially in the organization yet. That would be right-hander Rafael DePaula, who finally got his work visa last week and just needs to pass a physical before he can get his $500k bonus and start showing off that power arm in the low minors. I expect the 21-year-old to be held back in Extended Spring Training at first, but he could be bumped up to Low-A Charleston as early as May. If they play it a little more conservatively, he could wind up with SI or the GCL. Either way, he’ll be one of the top minor league storylines this season in addition to the Triple-A rotation and the entire Low-A squad.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 26th, 2012

Record Last Week: 5-0-2 (35 RS, 19 RA)
Spring Training Record: 13-9-2 (102 RS, 91 RA)
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Blue Jays (Tues. on YES/MLBN), @ Braves (Weds. on ESPN), vs. Orioles (Thurs. on YES), vs. Phillies (Fri. on YES/MLBN), @ Astros (Sat.), @ Marlins (Sun. on YES/MLBN)

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Open Thread: 3/25 Camp Notes

Not the Yankees, but this happened.

The Yankees and Tigers played to a one-all tie today. Michael Pineda allowed one run in five innings of work and anywhere from 89-94 on the YES gun. Mariano Rivera allowed his first hit of Spring Training and Rafael Soriano threw a perfect inning as well. David Robertson (foot) and Manny Delcarmen (lat) both returned to game action with uneventful innings. Derek Jeter scored the only run when he hit the first pitch of the first inning over the right field wall for a solo homer. He later doubled, as did Mark Teixeira and Eduardo Nunez. Curtis Granderson drew a pair of walks and that was pretty much the day for the offense. Here’s the box score and here’s the latest from Tampa…

  • Andy Pettitte threw a “light” bullpen session today, part of his normal between-start routine. “Still feels good,” he said. [Erik Boland]
  • Adam Warren, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda all threw sides today as well. Brad Meyers and Cory Wade each threw live batting practice. [Chad Jennings]
  • “Sometime in the next two or three days,’’ said Nick Swisher (groin) when asked when he’ll return to the field. “We don’t want to push it. I am doing all the other things, running and working out.’’ [George King]
  • The Yankees are off tomorrow, but Phil Hughes will remain on schedule and throw six innings in a minor league game. [King]

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Devils and Islanders are playing tonight and right now, respectively. MLB Network will be showing a game later on as well. Talk about whatever your heart desires, enjoy.

[Photo via @bubbaprog]

Pena optioned to Triple-A among flurry of roster moves

Via Anthony McCarron, the Yankees have optioned Ramiro Pena to Triple-A and reassigned the following players to minor league camp: RHP Manny Delcarmen, RHP Kevin Whelan, C Jose Gil, OF Colin Curtis, and OF Cole Garner. None of these folks had a realistic chance to make the team has everyone stayed healthy. The roster continues to shrink, and before you know it we’ll be at 25.

Report: Phillies have interest in Ramiro Pena

Via George King, the Phillies have some interest in infielder Ramiro Pena. Chase Utley (knee) and Michael Martinez (foot) are going to start the season on the DL, and Ryan Howard’s injury means Ty Wigginton will have to spend most of his time at first. Long story short, the Phillies need infielders. Pena doesn’t have a ton of value so it’s unlikely the Yankees would get anything noteworthy should they make a deal. Maybe cash or a Grade-D prospect.