Joba Update: Three surgeries and weight loss

Via Erik Boland & Marc Carig: Joba Chamberlain has “clearly lost weight” and is ahead of scheduled as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. He’ll resume throwing in a few weeks, and a mid-April return is possible. That would be ten months out of the surgery, which is pretty aggressive. Joba’s with the team in Minnesota this week(end), but just for a visit.

Aside from the elbow surgery, Chamberlain also had his appendix taken out and had to spend another two weeks in the hospital due to infection. “I had three surgeries in 25 days,” he said. I’ll be surprised if he comes back in April, but it’s good hear he’s recovering well.

Minor Notes: Montero, Quintana, Affiliates

Got some interesting minor league stuff to pass along, so check it out while you wait for tonight’s game…

A-Rod on Montero

“We came in here and had a good session, talked a little bit about the mental side of hitting, the little bit about the mechanics,” said Alex Rodriguez to Kristie Ackert yesterday, referring to the time he’s spent with Jesus Montero this week. “We talked about hopefully getting together this winter in Miami, working out with Kevin Long and [Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Butch Wynegar] and whoever wants to come down to Miami and  have a little bit of a winter hitting camp. Obviously he’s a guy we expect big things from and what  saw tonight and the past few nights, he’s not going to disappoint.”

A-Rod spent time with all the players in Scranton, but Wynegar says he really took Montero under his wing. “He is trying to show him the work it takes at the major league level. And Monty is just absorbing it all … I hate to say this, but I think Monty’s getting a little bored in the minor leagues, he’s ready for that next challenge. I told Brian Cashman I think he needs that next challenge, and I hope he gets it next month.”

Who is Jose Quintana?

High-A Tampa left-baller Jose Quintana has opened some eyes in DotF this year, pitching to a 3.08 FIP with 8.26 K/9 and 2.75 BB/9 in 85 IP. He was an unknown coming into 2011, just making a handful of appearances in rookie ball last season. In a piece for Baseball America (subs. req’d), George King digs into the 22-year-old’s story. Apparently the Yankees signed him three years ago after the Mets cut him loose with just three career appearances to his credit.

“We gave him a second opportunity,” said VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman. “Pat McMahon, who leads our Latin America player development, had him in the program and he liked him. He kept telling us there was more there.” Newman adds that Quintana sits 89-91 mph with his fastball and also throws a curveball and changeup. “There is some deception and a lot of swings and misses.”

Ranking The Minor League Markets

The Sports Business Journal (no subs. req’d, I believe) published a final ranking of minor league markets today. Charleston, home of the Yankees Low-A affiliate, placed seventh behind Hershey/Harrisburg, San Bernardino, Providence/Pawtucket, Reading, Portland (Maine, not Oregon), and Syracuse. Trenton ranks 42nd (between Kingsport, TN and Roanoke/Salem, VA), Staten Island ranks 56th (between Durham and Hagerstown), and Scranton/Wilkes-Barres ranks 139th (between Williamsport and Greeneville, TN). The ranks are based on more sports than just baseball, and factors include team attendance, the local economy, venues, etc. The Yankee brand is very important to the various minor league affiliates, that alone draws significant attendance.

Did the 2007 draft (and Gerrit Cole) scare the Yankees?

Did Brackman screw things up for future drafts? (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

This past Monday was the signing deadline for 2011 draft picks, and according to Baseball America‘s free database, the Yankees signed 23 of their 50 picks. That’s a little light compared to a typical year, in which a team will usually sign around 30 draftees. No big deal, just a bit of an anomaly. What isn’t an anomaly is the amount of money the Yankees are spending to sign these players. As Jim Callis noted in his chat earlier this week, the Yankees spent just $6.3M on this year’s draft, just about 80% of the $7.6M league average. It’s the second straight year they’ve come in under $7M spent and third time in the last four years.

Just to provide some context before we go any further, here’s the signing bonus info for the last few years (source, source)…

That’s as far back as I can find the league info, and I can’t find a simple break down of the team-by-team spending this year. Just knowing that the Yankees spent below the average is enough anyway, their actual rank among the 30 teams isn’t of dire importance.

The Yankees went big in 2007. Andrew Brackman was ranked as the 7th and 21st best prospect available right before the draft by Baseball America and Keith Law, respectively (subs. req’d for both), and New York was able to grab him with the 30th overall pick. The Yankees gave him a four-year Major League contract worth at least $4.55M ($3.35M signing bonus spread out over six years) and potentially worth $13M, which at the time would have been the richest deal in draft history. They did this knowing that Brackman would need Tommy John surgery, which he had a week after signing.

They didn’t stop there though. The Yankees gave fourth rounder Bradley Suttle (billed as the top pure college hitter by Baseball America before the draft) a $1.7M bonus, at the time a record for the round. They also handed tenth rounder Carmen Angelini a $1M bonus, which was a then-record for a non-draft-and-follow player taken in that round. Those three plus more (other notable 2007 draftees include Austin Romine and Brandon Laird) resulted in that $7.43M spending spree, topped only by the Orioles ($7.67M thanks to the $6M they gave Matt Wieters) and Nationals ($7.62M).

Less than three full years later, the start of the 2010 season, all three of those guys looked like duds. Brackman missed 2008 with his elbow surgery then was a disaster in 2009 (5.91 ERA and 4.66 FIP in 106.2 IP in Low-A). Suttle had a fine year in Low-A in 2008 (.361 wOBA), but he missed the entire 2009 season due to a pair of shoulder surgeries. Angelini was a complete disaster, posting just a .271 wOBA in 888 plate appearances between 2008 and 2009. That doesn’t mean they were bad picks at the time of the draft, they just weren’t working out.

The 2008 draft was a special case for the Yankees, who obviously shot for the moon with Gerrit Cole but failed to sign him. They would have been one of the top spenders had he agreed to turn pro. Second rounder Scott Bittle didn’t sign because the Yankees didn’t like the medicals, so that contributed to the relatively small amount of spending they did. The two compensation picks in the 2009 draft turned into Slade Heathcott and J.R. Murphy, who received over-slot bonuses in part because the Yankees had little leverage. Had they not signed those two, they wouldn’t have gotten another compensation pick the next year. Their hands were tied, they had to sign those guys otherwise it would have been two straight drafts without two top picks.

In each of the last two years, once the futures of Brackman, Suttle, and Angelini became a bit more clear and the Cole/Bittle stuff had fully run its course, the Yankees have signed their first round pick for slot money*. Last year it was Cito Culver and this year it was Dante Bichette Jr, both of whom were drafted ahead of where the consensus thought they’d go. The Yankees dropped seven-figures on just one player in each year (Mason Williams in 2010 and Greg Bird in 2011), compared to 2006 and 2007 when they handed out three $1M+ bonuses each year.

Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told K. Levine-Flandrup that the team’s draft budget is flexible and they can drop big money on a kid if they believe he’s worth it, but we just haven’t seen those kinds of deals handed out the last two years. I honestly don’t think it’s a coincidence that the draft spending has gone down since it became apparent that Brackman, Suttle, and Angelini were starting to look like flops after the 2009 season. I can’t tell you who made the decision to scale back on the spending (Oppenheimer? Brian Cashman? ownership? all of the above?), but their recent drafting a spending habits certainly suggest that someone put the clamps down.

The Yankees have more money than every other team and haven’t been using it to their advantage in the draft these last two years. They still clean up on the Latin American market, which has been and always will be the backbone of their farm system (hooray for free agency!), but the draft is the most efficient way to add high-end talent to the organization. I think the Yankees have done a fantastic job in the middle and late rounds of the draft in recent years (where they consistently spend over-slot), but the effort with top picks, when the top talent is available, is clearly lacking. I think that 2007 draft scared them away from huge bonuses, as did Cole’s rejection in 2008. They won’t feel the impact of skimping out on top draft talent for another two years or so, but they’re going to feel it eventually.

* Bichette was over-slot technically, but only by $55,200. That’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, it might as well be slot money.

Noesi’s long-term value

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Hector Noesi is not long for the Yankees roster. As we discussed yesterday, the Yankees will have to demote a pitcher when Alex Rodriguez returns this weekend, and considering Joe Girardi‘s bullpen usage and the available options, Noesi is a near lock to ride the shuttle to Scranton. It won’t be a long stay; if he’s demoted on Friday he’ll be eligible to return when rosters expand on September 1. Even if he stays through the end of Scranton’s season, it won’t keep him down for much longer than that. He figures to play a role in the bullpen for the stretch run, but more importantly, he could be setting himself up for a long run with the Yankees.

Noesi came up this season in something of an emergency situation. The Yankees needed another pitcher when Luis Ayala went on the DL, and Noesi was the easiest to recall, since he was already on the 40-man roster. That happened on April 13th, but Noesi didn’t make his major league debut until May 18th (he was demoted before making an appearance). When he finally got his shot he shined, allowing just three runs in his first 18 innings, including six innings of two-run ball against the Red Sox. Outside of his drubbing against the Reds he’s been excellent this season, and has certainly opened some eyes.

One of the biggest remaining questions with Noesi is whether he’ll land in the rotation or the bullpen. It’s a familiar question, since we hear it asked of almost every Yankees back-end starting prospect. They have a handful of pitchers comparable to Noesi, including the major-league-ready Adam Warren and the already-doing-it Ivan Nova. Since they don’t have room for multiple No. 4 starters, they have to pare down the list and either ship the surplus elsewhere or else move them to the bullpen. Where does Noesi stand in that process?

In his limited time this year he’s certainly proven a lot to the Yankees. He’s made some longer appearances, seven times going at least three innings in an appearance. He’s also come in for a number of shorter appearances, and has excelled in those, too. Really, the only blemishes on his record are the 1.2-inning, six-run performance against the Reds and a one-inning, three-run affair against the Sox on a day that they rocked CC Sabathia for seven runs. In other words, he could probably hack it in either the rotation or the bullpen. That leaves the Yankees in a favorable position, whatever way they decide to play this.

His presence should leave the Yankees in a flexible position this winter. They’ll return three starters and five relievers (with Joba’s return looming), so they could have an opening in either place for Noesi. In fact, with these openings, combined with the weak market, it appears fairly certain that Noesi will start the season on the major league roster. Given his performance this year, the Yankees should feel comfortable putting him in whatever role remains free.

The only thing that could prevent Noesi from playing a prominent role on the 2012 team is a trade. But, because he has experienced success in multiple roles already this year, chances are the Yankees would hold off on trading him, just as they’ve held off on trading Nova. It’s doubtful that Noesi would get in the way of a significant trade, but they’re not going to flip him for a bench player or a back-end starter. They likely already have a back-end starter in him, as well as a decent reliever who could move into a more prominent bullpen role next year. I imagine the Yankees would much refer to trade a guy like Warren, who might be as good but hasn’t yet pitched in the majors.

He might have appeared sporadically, and he might not have filled a designated role during his time with the club, but Hector Noesi has certainly opened eyes this year. It’s tough to prove anything substantial in 40 innings, but Noesi has at least shown that he can handle major league hitters. His versatility will make the Yanks’ winter a bit easier, since they can slot him into one of many roles for 2012, when he should remain with the big league club full-time. He might never be an ace or a dominant reliever, but the Yankees have certainly found a useful pitcher in Noesi. May his stay in Scranton be short and his time in New York last for years.

Series Preview: Minnesota Twins

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

As a Yankees fan, is there anything you’d rather see more than a four-game series against the Twins? I suppose it would be better if they were in the Bronx, but that’s just nitpicking at this point. The Yankees have won two of the three games they played against the Twinkies this season, and the one loss was that Rafael Soriano, four-run eighth inning gem way back in April. You remember, this game. Anyway, the Yankees are 59-19 against the Twins in the Ron Gardenhire era (including playoffs), and they’re 7-1 in new Target Field.

What Have The Twins Done Lately?

Minnesota just took two of three from the Tigers, but before that they had lost eight of nine and 11 of 13. Their 54-68 record is the third worst in the AL, besting only the Orioles (47-74) and Royals (51-73), but their -113 run differential is second worst to the O’s (-138). It’s been a pretty rough year for the Twins, who usually do a fine job of fielding competitive teams.

Twins On Offense

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

The Yankees are likely to welcome Alex Rodriguez back to the lineup at some point in this series, and the Twins have been getting some important pieces back as well. Justin Morneau returned from his latest round of concussion problems five games ago, and is hitting just .226/.281/.338 in 253 sporadic plate appearances this year. Jason Kubel (.294/.344/.460) missed nearly two months with a foot sprain before returning earlier this month. Rhett Bollinger reports that Kubel will be out for at least tonight’s game due to family reasons, however.

Bollinger also reports that either Michael Cuddyer (.295/.360/.485) or Denard Span (.263/.331/.342) will be placed on the DL before tonight’s game. The former has a neck strain that has kept him on the shelf for the past six games, the latter concussion-like symptoms. Losing Cuddyer would be a huge blow since he’s been their best hitter all season long; he leads the team in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, ISO, wOBA, wRC+, HR, RBI, R … basically every significant offensive category whether you’re a stathead or a traditionalist (min. 250 PA).

Despite all those injury problems, the Twins still have Joe Mauer, who has hit .325/.395/.390 over his last 36 games to bring his season line to .281/.346/.340. It has not been a banner year for Mr. Mauer, who missed time with injury as well. Jim Thome is still mashing taters, with a .259/.365/.513 batting line in limited playing time. With Kubel and possibly Cuddyer out tonight, there’s a chance he’ll play even against the lefty CC Sabathia. Danny Valencia (.244/.288/.381) crashed back to Earth after last year’s stellar rookie campaign, and the rest of the lineup is filled out by guys like Ben Revere (.253/.301/.298), Trevor Plouffe (.206/.289/.373), Rene Tosoni (.215/.279/.342), and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.214/.256/.240). Luke Hughes (.233/.296/.317) will be called up to take Cuddyer’s/Span’s spot, and the backup catcher is Drew Butera (.167/.208/.256. Yeah, they’re offensively challenged up in Minnesota.

Twins On The Mound

Thursday, LHP Brian Duensing (vs. CC Sabathia): A rematch of Game One of the 2009 ALDS, the Yankees typically hit Duensing very hard whether it’s the playoffs or regular season. His FIP (4.00) looks a lot better than his ERA (4.53), and his strikeout rate (6.54 K/9) is surprisingly good this year. Duensing will give up some homeruns though (1.04 HR/9), in part because he’s just not much of a ground baller (42.8%). The 28-year-old southpaw lives off his low-90’s two-seamer, throwing it just about half the time. He’ll also mix in a straight, low-90’s four-seamer, a low-80’s changeup, a low-80’s slider, and a low-70’s curveball. Duensing has a huge platoon split both this year and for his career, so it’s a good night to stack the lineup with righties.

Friday, RHP Kevin Slowey (vs. Phil Hughes): Slowey will be making his first start of the season after being banished to the minors in part because the team doesn’t seem like him all that much. He made six relief appearances earlier this year, got hurt, came back and was immediately sent to Triple-A where he’s started for the last two months or so. Slowey’s calling card has always been his control. His career unintentional walk rate is just 1.44 uIBB/9, and he misses enough bats to post respectable strikeout numbers (career 6.79 K/9). He’s a huge fly ball guy though (just 32% grounders for his career), so he’s definitely prone to the homerun (career 1.41 HR/9). Slowey will throw a low-90’s two-seamer, a high-80’s slider, a mid-70’s curveball, and the occasional low-80’s changeup.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Saturday, LHP Francisco Liriano (vs. A.J. Burnett/Freddy Garcia): Liriano could have won the Cy Young Award last year, but his numbers are down across the board this season, whether you want to look at ERA (5.12), FIP (4.63), xFIP (4.45), tERA (4.47), SIERA (4.39), K/9 (7.39), BB/9 (4.90), HR/9 (1.02), ground ball rate (47.9%), whatever your heart desires. He’s throwing more low-90’s four-seamers (33.2%) than last year (just 6.6%), and has scaled back the usage on his low-90’s two-seamer (18.1% after 42.7%). Liriano still has that big wipeout slider, and he’ll also throw a power changeup. It’s a roll of the dice every time out these days, he could be dominant or a disaster.

Sunday, RHP Nick Blackburn (vs. Burnett/Garcia/Ivan Nova): Blackburn is the quintessential Twins pitcher. He doesn’t strike anyone out (4.65 K/9), keeps the walks in check (2.76 uIBB/9), and gets a ton of ground balls (53.2%). They like him so much, they threw $14M at him last year by way of a four-year contract. Crazy. Blackburn doesn’t miss bats with his high-80’s sinker or his high-80’s cutter or his low-80’s curveball or his mid-80’s changeup. Pitching to contact works great in theory, but not so much when you’re facing a powerhouse offense like the Yankees (especially with men on base).

The Yankees’ rotation is a little up in the air for Saturday and Sunday. It all depends on Garcia’s finger, if it’s healed and allows him to throw his splitter, then he’s likely to start Sunday with Burnett going the day before. If not, then Freddy might hit the DL with Nova filling in. No one will be on short rest regardless of what happens, so don’t worry about that.

Bullpen: It took more than half-a-season, but Matt Capps (4.78 FIP) finally lost the closer’s job. Joe Nathan (4.70 FIP but much better of late) gets his old gig back, and his primary setup man is left-hander Glen Perkins, who’s been one of the very best relievers in baseball this year (9.92 K/9, 2.94 BB/9, 0.18 HR/9, 50.9% GB, 2.39 ERA, 2.11 FIP, 2.81 xFIP). The only other non-Perkins reliever in Minnesota’s bullpen that has been above replacement level this year is Anthony Swarzak, who’s pitching to a 4.00 FIP in 29.1 IP. The rest of the crew is filled with guys like Jose Mijares (4.80 FIP), Alex Burnett (4.52), and Phil Dumatrait (5.80). Yeah.

Recommended Twins Reading: Twinkie Town, Aaron Gleeman, and Nick’s Twins Blog