Banuelos rocked in Double-A debut

Some notes…

  • Kevin Goldstein reports that the Yankees have signed 16-year-old shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin out of Taiwan for $350,000. That’s $200,000 more than they gave Fu-Lin Kuo back in December, which I suppose gives us an idea of how much they like him. Goldstein’s mini-scouting report says he’s 5-foot-11 and 150 lbs. with a good bat and good glove. Who the hell knows though.
  • Both Hector Noesi and D.J. Mitchell have been promoted to Triple-A Scranton. Those moves come in the wake of not just the Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos promotions, but also the Zach McAllister trade and Ivan Nova‘s call up. Lots of movement in the last week or so.
  • The Yankees spent 188% more ($5,126,500 total) than their established slot amount ($2,722,800) in the first ten rounds this year according to Baseball America. Only the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Tigers went more over slot.
  • Adam Warren‘s 15 strikeout game earned him Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honors. Michael Solbach took home the same award in the Low-A South Atlantic League.

And on to the actual games…

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off day.

Double-A Trenton (6-0 loss to New Hampshire) faced the centerpiece of the Roy Halladay trade
Justin Christian, LF & Austin Krum, CF: both 1 for 4, 1 K
Everyone Else: combined 0 for 19, 4 BB, 8 K – a pair of those walks went to Dan Brewer, as did a pair of strikeouts
Manny Banuelos: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 7-3 GB/FB – turns out AA is tougher than A+ … allowed a pair of homers in this one after surrendering just one to this point all season
Josh Schmidt: 2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K – no contact outing
Wilkin DeLaRosa: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 0-2 GB/FB

[Read more…]

Game 125: SuperNova

You're not in Trenton anymore, Ivan. (Photo Credit: Flickr user Russ Glasson)

Hopefully the Yankees enjoy the Blue Jays’ company, because tonight marks the first of nine games the two will play during the final 38 games of the Yanks’ season. That’s a touch less than one out of every four games going forward. The Jays come into this one losers in four of their last five even though they outscored their opponents 26-23 during that stretch. That’s what a 16-2 win will do for you.

On the bump for the Yanks will be Ivan Nova, who is making his first career big league start as you already know. With any luck, the Jays will experience the same “helpless against a pitcher they’ve never seen before” phenomenon that plagues the Yanks. Toronto will counter with Brandon Morrow, who hopefully will be in 5.1 IP, 5 R mode and not 7 IP, 2 R mode. At least he doesn’t feature a great changeup, like basically everyone else on their staff.

Here’s the starting nine…

Gardner, LF
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
Cano, 2B
Posada, DH
Granderson, CF
Nunez, SS – why is he at short and Pena at third? that’s backwards, defensively
Pena, 3B
Cervelli, C

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET tonight, and it can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Aceves, Pettitte to throw this week

Via Marc Carig, Al Aceves will make another rehab start tomorrow, his fourth so far. Joe Girardi has indicated in the past that they want to get Ace on a normal reliever’s schedule – working every other day, etc. – before they activate him from the disabled list, so it could be another week or so before he’s ready to join the team.

Andy Pettitte, meanwhile, will throw a bullpen session this Friday, his first since suffering a setback with his groin injury a week or so ago. There’s no timetable for his return nor should there be at this point. Let’s see him get that first mound session out of the way before we start planning ahead. Hopefully Ivan Nova pitches well tonight and alleviates some of the urgency surrounding Andy’s return. As long as he’s healthy for October, that’s what really matters.

Albaladejo, Sanchez, Miranda due for Sept. 1st call-ups

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees plan to recall Jon Albaladejo, Romulo Sanchez, and Juan Miranda when rosters expand on September 1st, with Colin Curtis a strong possibility as well. Wilkins DeLaRosa is barely holding onto his job in Double-A Trenton, so I wouldn’t expect to see him called up to give Joe Girardi a second lefty out of the pen. Hopefully Damaso Marte is healthy by then, because they don’t have any other southpaws on the 40-man roster.

The interesting situation involves the third catcher. Jorge Posada and Frankie Cervelli are the only two catchers on the 40-man at the moment, but a third catcher is a September call-up staple, especially for playoff teams that want to rest their primary backstop. Chad Moeller is the obvious candidate, but Sherman predictably opines about the possibility of calling up Jesus Montero. Personally, I don’t see it. The Yanks have plenty of options at designated hitter already, and I think the 20-year-old is better served playing every day in Triple-A Scranton during their playoff run than getting six or eight plate appearances a week with the big league team.

I want to see him in the show as much as an anyone, but I don’t think the time is now.

Not always a Yankee, Rocket now a Yankee problem

Clemens testifies in front of Congress on February 13, 2008. The indictment stems from his testimony that day. Credit: AP Photo, Pablo Martinez

Roger Clemens’ six season with the Yankees were, in the annals of his career, mostly unspectacular. He stole a Cy Young from his teammate Mike Mussina in 2001 and captured two World Series rings, but his numbers — a 4.01 ERA/114 ERA+ with strike out rates below his career norm and walk rates higher — show that the Roger who was in the Bronx was more hype than substance. He was, after all, pitching in his age 36-40 seasons and made his Yankee encore at age 44.

Still, the post-baseball Roger Clemens — the one embroiled in a PED scandal and facing an indictment for perjury — will forever be linked to the Yankees. Unfairly or not, Roger Clemens’ problems will cast a shadow over Yankee past and could impact Yankee present and Yankee future too. This nagging issue comes about because Andy Pettitte, it seems, is key to the Justice Department’s case against Clemens.

Once upon a time, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte were very close friends. They wintered together in Houston; their kids grew up together; they trained together; and they, according to Pettitte, shot human growth hormone together. Clemens said that Pettitte “misremembered,” but in the he said-he said war, Congress and the Justice Department have seemingly sided with the current Yankee southpaw.

As former House Representative Tom Davis said late last week, Pettitte was the House’s key witness. In a phone call with ESPN New York’s Ian O’Connor, Davis spelled out the Congressional case against Clemens and highlighted Pettitte’s importance. “If it was just Roger versus McNamee, it’s a different matchup,” he said. “We didn’t call Andy Pettitte, we deposed him, and he supported McNamee and that was a problem for [Clemens]. Without Pettitte, neither McNamee nor Clemens was that articulate or credible.”

Pettitte has yet to address Clemens’ situation and, if the case goes to trial in three or four years, Andy will likely be called as a witness. It will create an uncomfortable situation for the two men and for a Yankee organization trying to live down the Mitchell Report accusations. “Andy Petttitte didn’t want to testify against his friend,” Davis said to ESPN. “But when he raised his right hand, he told the truth. It would’ve been different without him. Roger was a great pitcher who’s done a lot for the community, and McNamee’s had other issues.”

Today, Clemens and Pettitte seem cordial at best, but their intense friendship has long since cooled. In an interview with Boston’s WEEI last week, the Rocket commented on Pettitte. Clemens, who must repeatedly deny any PED use, said he and Andy no longer speak. “My boys went out to a game quite a bit,” he said, but we don’t.”

While the perjury case may rest in part on Pettitte’s shoulders, Clemens’ lawyer is being aggressive — some would say overly so — in his case. He rejected a plea deal that would have required Roger to admit PED use in exchange for no jail sentence, and Rusty Hardin seems willing to let this drama play out in an open court room. “The government made a recommendation [for a plea agreement] and we declined,” Hardin said to ESPN. “I will tell you the recommendation they made was a very good one if he was guilty. And if he was guilty we would have jumped on it.”

Hardin too is engaged in his own he said-he said debate with Representative Davis. The former House member claims they gave Clemens ample opportunity to avoid testifying for Congress but that Clemens wanted to clear his name. “We’re sitting around, and they were deciding whether to go through with the hearing or not,” Davis, who insists that Congressional representatives urged Clemens to be as forthcoming with the truth as possible, said. “This wasn’t a mandatory hearing. We weren’t hanging [him] out to dry. We were only giving him an opportunity to refute the Mitchell report and to tell his side of the story.”

Hardin refuted that take. “So Tom Davis,” Clemens’ attorney said, “who I saw on TV last night, comes down to us, calls us aside and urges us to have Roger testify. And now that son of a bitch is on TV saying that Roger insisted upon it.”

It’s a nasty, nasty business, and Clemens has found himself embroiled in a royal mess. By the time this case goes to trial, Andy Pettitte will have likely retired. He’ll be called upon to rehash his own PED testimony, and he’ll have to again talk, under oath, about the conversations he had with Roger Clemens while both were on the Yankees. The era may be in the past, but the legal percussions will echo into the future. As Joe Torre, the man who managed a team hiding some steroid users, said, “It’s sad.”

Ivan Nova’s Big Day

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

About 20 months ago, then 21-year-old Ivan Nova wasn’t much more than an afterthought in the Yankees’ farm system. His performance was solid yet unspectacular (6.6 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 52% grounders) in 22 starts (and two relief appearances) with High-A Tampa in 2008, not enough to earn him a 40-man roster spot after the season. The Padres, then in search of anyone young and able to throw remotely close to 90 mph, gobbled him up in the Rule 5 Draft but were so unimpressed in Spring Training that they sent him right back to the Yanks at the end of camp.

So Nova went about his way last year and had what was arguably his worst season as a professional. He struck out just 5.8 batters per nine innings and walked a career high 3.8 per nine, avoiding total destruction by generating 54% ground balls. It was his first taste of both the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Knowing that Nova not only had a much better chance of sticking with a big league team in 2010 if taken in the Rule 5 again, but also that they’d likely lose him to free agency if he didn’t stick (since it would have been his second time on outright waivers), the Yanks added him to the 40-man roster last December and penciled him in as a 7th or 8th starter type to stash away in Scranton.

Following a three inning relief cameo in mid-May, Nova returns to the big leagues tonight to make his first career start, an exciting moment in every player’s career. It’s all part of the team’s plan to keep their regular starters rested down the stretch and in September. He made this opportunity possible by having the best season of his career with Triple-A Scranton, striking out a career high 7.1 batters per nine, walking three per nine, and getting his usual helping of ground balls (54%). Even more encouraging is Nova’s continued trend of becoming less and less hittable; he allowed a whopping 11.0 hits per nine innings during his first full season back in 2007 (.337 BABIP), but has gradually whittled that down to 8.4 this season (.303 BABIP). Certainly not great, but pitchers that rely on the ground ball will always give up their fair share of base knocks.

In the 2008 Prospect Handbook, the first time Nova was considered one of the Yanks’ top 30 prospects according to Baseball America, he was said to have a fastball that “sits 90-94 mph” with “a solid-average curveball and changeup” as the team’s 18th best prospect. The scouting report improved a bit next year, when he was San Diego’s 30th best prospect. Those same pitches – fastball, curve, change – were now said to grade out as “above-average when they’re on.” As the Yanks’ 16th best prospect before this season, Nova had the same basic scouting report and was dubbed a number four starter in the big leagues if his command and secondary pitches improved, which is still his ultimate ceiling. Modest, but useful to a team set at the front of the rotation for the foreseeable future.

The biggest knock against Nova is his delivery, which I explained last winter in his prospect profile. It’s too smooth and effortless. There’s very little deception and hitters haven’t had too much trouble picking the ball up against him, hence the inflated hit totals earlier in this career. Here’s video of his big league debut and a minor league clip so you can see what I’m talking about. A nice and easy motion, for sure, but it doesn’t take much effort to find the ball before it comes out of his hand. If Nova could find a way to hide the ball a bit better, his stuff probably plays up a touch and improves not only the results, but his long-term outlook.

As for tonight, the Blue Jays actually present a nice matchup for the now 23-year-old. They’re an extremely impatient team, swinging at an American League worst 31.6% of the pitches they see outside of the strike zone. As you probably deduced given their homer happy ways, the Jays also hit a frickin’ ton of balls in the air, a MLB high 43.5% to be exact. Nova, a groundball fiend that is stingy with walks, plays right into Toronto’s weaknesses as long as he doesn’t catch too much of the plate. As long as he doesn’t get the jitters and elevate his pitches, he should be fine. The Jays will chase when he nibbles and the ground balls, which infrequently go for extra bases, will come. Tonight would actually be a good night to give Derek Jeter a break and let Ramiro Pena handle short on the turf, as well.

Nova’s not going to come up and give the Yanks a late-season kick in the rear by firing off dominant start after dominant start, he’s just not that kind of pitcher. What he should do is provide bulk innings and hopefully keep the game close enough that two of the Yanks’ biggest strengths – the offense and bullpen – can nail down the win. Then again, I welcome surprises.

Robbie Cano’s case for MVP

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The end of season awards are finicky little things. Major League Baseball sets forth criteria for them while leaving plenty of room for interpretation. This often leads, in the name of originality, to a few head-smacking votes. For instance, Jason Bartlett in 2008, a year during which he had just 494 PA and accumulated 1.7 WAR, received an MVP vote. In 1996 the BBWAA voted Juan Gonzalez, 2.8 WAR, the AL MVP*. In 2003 they gave Jim Edmonds, 7.3 WAR, just 1 percent of the vote while giving Juan Pierre, 1.6 WAR, 9 percent. This means, in essence, that the voters can interpret the term “value” in any number of ways. In many ways they mold it to fit their preformed opinions. This makes it difficult to predict who will win the award.

*To me, 1996 was the worst example of MVP voting in recent memory. You cannot making a convincing case for Juan Gone. You just can’t. A-Rod produced 9.4 WAR that year. He hit .358/.414/.631 in 60 more PA than Gonzalez, and while his HR and RBI numbers weren’t as large he did hit 36 and 123 of them. That’s also because he had this other guy in the lineup with him, a guy named Ken Griffey, who hit 49 homers and drove in 140. He also produced 9.7 WAR that season. Hell, even Albert Belle had a better season than Gonzalez. He hit 48 homers and drove in 148, both more than Gonzalez, and he had a better OBP (also 4.9 WAR). In fact, every single player who received an MVP vote that year had a higher WAR than Juan Gone. I can understand writers interpreting “value” differently, but in 1996 it was just out of control.

By the numbers, the AL MVP race comes down to two candidates: Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera. Both are producing ridiculous numbers and stand above the pack in most major statistical categories. Barring injury or major slump they’ll probably end the season with the most impressive statistics. One of them will likely deserve the award of best AL player. But, since that pesky word value gets slipped in we’re going to see plenty of different interpretations. Cabrera could get a demerit for playing on a non-contender, for instance.

In his column today, Joel Sherman raises Robinson Cano’s interpretive MVP case. Cano clearly doesn’t have the best numbers, but we know that voters go on more than the numbers. Sherman’s case involves Cano filling in for the injured Alex Rodriguez and carrying the team in his absence. As Sherman says, “At the moment his team needs him most, Cano not only has avoided wearing down, but is also cleaning up.” This is essentially the same case as Sabathia’s for Cy Young. Cano is not the best hitter in the league, but he is the best hitter on the best team in the league. That will certainly garner him at least a few first place votes.

At this point Hamilton has the best case for AL MVP. He leads the league in BA, is second in OBP, SLG, and wOBA (all to Cabrera), and has the highest WAR. That WAR, 7.0, leads the second place hitter by a full win. That second place hitter: Robinson Cano. Even considering Cano’s votes for being the best hitter on the league’s best team, Hamilton should still finish ahead at this point. He is, after all, the best hitter on the AL West leader. He also stands out more among teammates. While the Yankees have Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter among the top 35 in WAR, the Rangers have just Michael Young. Hamilton has been doing it all.

Plenty can change between now and October 4, and that’s precisely Sherman’s point. If Cano does continue producing in A-Rod’s absence, he’ll curry much more favor with the voters. Sherman brings up last year’s AL MVP award, where (he claims) Joe Mauer won it in the final weeks by carrying his team in Justin Morneau’s absence. But that ignores the overriding sentiment that Mauer had the award locked up by mid-August. The best example I can recall is in 2004, when there was no clear-cut MVP heading into September. Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz were all producing excellent numbers, and even lighter hitting guys like Ichiro and Miguel Tejada were making cases. But in September Vlad went on a tear, putting up a .482 wOBA and leading his team to the playoffs. That was the tipping point in the voting. (Even though Ichiro had the best WAR in the league.)

We could certainly see a similar case this year. A-Rod won’t be back for almost two weeks, so Cano has plenty of time to make his case. If he hits anything near what he has in the six games A-Rod has missed — 9 for 24 (.375) with four walks (.464 OBP) and five extra base hits (.917 SLG) — he could certainly gain status in voters’ eyes. If the Yankees stay in first place during that stretch, all the better. And then there’s the rest of September, during which the Yankees will likely fight closely with Tampa Bay for first place in the East. Cano’s continued production combined with Yankees’ success could go a long way.

At this point, with 124 games in the books, Robinson Cano is not the AL’s most valuable player. Josh Hamilton owns that distinction. That leaves 38 games for Cano to make his case. He has and advantage now, since his production is magnified because of his team’s situation. A strong, April-like run could vault him from also-ran to MVP favorite. Sherman is right. Yankees fans should start breaking out the M-V-P chant. He might not be leading now, but Cano certainly has an opportunity to bring home the hardware.