Yankees Trimester Grades Are In

Greetings! When last we met, I was whining about the opulence and inaccessibility of [new] Yankee Stadium, and though it has pained me to be missing-in-action since January, I have been a bit busy with this and that. But enough about me! Let’s get right down to it, shall we?

Amazingly, we have already reached the one-third mark of the 2012 season – it seems like just yesterday that Michael Pineda was being touted as an ace-in-waiting – and your New York Yankees (30-24) are just 1/2 game back of the AL East Division leading Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays. Wait a second, it is June and the O’s are in first place? Yup, that Showalter-remakes-franchise-gets-fired-and-team-wins-World-Series-in-subsequent-season plan is right on track!

Despite an uneven start to the ’12 campaign, at best, things are certainly looking up of late for the Bombers, who are 7-3 over their last ten games. The Yankees are also an encouraging (and division-leading) +30 in run differential and their offense, though clearly not yet firing on all cylinders, has improved to 8th in Major League Baseball in runs scored (256), 4th in OBP (.338) and 3rd in SLG (.456). The Yankee pitching staff has also failed to meet expectations, but the degree of disappointment is markedly greater. New York pitching ranks 25th of 30 in batting average allowed and quality starts, 28th in home runs and total bases allowed and their team ERA (3.99) is good for just 16th in all of baseball.

All in all, things could be a lot worse for New York given the club’s proclivity for ineptitude when hitting with runners in scoring position (.220, 27th-worst in the Majors). They have also sustained numerous injuries to key personnel, but simply put, when a franchise has as much depth and as many resources as do the Yankees, they need their best players – their most well-compensated, too – to produce with greater consistency.

And now, the grades:

THE BATS

MARK TEIXEIRA:

(.247 AVG | 9 HR | 32 RBI | .313 OBP | 25 SO | 1.000 FPCT)

When it comes to the 32-year-old Teixeira, the legacy of his Yankee tenure will always be colored by the 2009 World Championship. He remains a premier defender, a tireless worker and a clubhouse leader, but there is no denying that the progression, or lack thereof, of his offense is alarming, to say the least. Mark’s OBP has declined steady since his 2009 Bronx-arrival, and this season he’s getting on base almost 18% less often than he has during his career. Sure, he’s striking out less (he’s on pace for just 78 whiffs, which would be his lowest full season total ever), but he simply just doesn’t take walks anymore. His .762 OPS is anemic. And when it comes to hitting away from the defensive shift deployed by every opposing manager, Teixeira is positively maddening in his approach. Yes, the Yankees can live with a 1B giving them league-average offensive production – and stellar glove-work; he hasn’t made an error this season – but that is not what Teix was brought here for. He was brought here to be a run-producer and middle-of-the-order cog.

ROBINSON CANO:

(.290 AVG | 60 H | 8 HR | 24 RBI | 19 2B | .840 OPS )

Apparently Cano really likes him some month of May. The Yankee second baseman certainly flowered (.312, 7HR, 19 RBI, .970 OPS) after a lackluster April that had some wondering if he’d found a replacement for Melky Cabrera to join him in da club. Look, what can you really say about Robbie that isn’t obvious to anyone who watches him with regularity? The man is a singular talent, capable of greatness in every fielding opportunity and during every at-bat. What remains lacking in his game, however, is that degree of absolute care and focus throughout all 9 innings. There are ABs that make you scratch your head – especially the situational ones, or ones where he bails a pitcher out – and call into question whether Cano’s ceiling will ultimately be limited by what resides between his ears. Still, if you’re biggest problem is being better than 99% of your contemporaries while seemingly exerting just 75% of your effort, I guess you’re doing okay in life.

DEREK JETER:

(52 GS | .336 AVG | 75 H | 6 HR | 5 SB | 19 2B | .846 OPS)

“I’ll have what he’s having!” Admittedly, during the first half of last season, I thought Derek Jeter was done. I thought that the Yankees had foolishly negotiated against themselves during that acrimonious contract squabble and that both sides would regret the deal. I thought that to give a 96-year-old shortstop with diminishing skills a three year contract (with a player option for a fourth) was borderline insane and mostly unjustifiable from a baseball standpoint. Well, I guess I was wrong. Quite simply, the man is cyborg, living tissue over metal endoskeleton. He is on pace for 225 hits this season, which would set a new career-high, and though he doesn’t get to as many balls at SS as he used to, you just feel secure knowing he’s out there. Sure, there may still be some that are opposed to men wearing a Jeter jersey on account of all that matinee idol business, but whatever, I just ordered mine. In pink.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ:

(.279 AVG | 9 HR | 22 RBI | 6 SB, 0 CS | 46 SO | .806 OPS)

If I would have told you that ARod would hit .314 for a month and only tally 8 RBI over the same stretch, you would have told me that I was crazy, right? Well, that was the new Mr. May’s recent production, and as we watch this once epic talent slide further and further into an abyss of mediocrity, I can’t help but wonder if he might retire (2015?) before his ridiculous contract ends in order to save himself the embarrassment of lacing ’em up for a fan base that won’t hesitate to let him know how overpaid he is. His OPS has been falling steadily for years, but nowadays there is but an occasional display of the ability that propelled him to GOAT-debate-status. And yes, I get that he’s an above average defender and a student of the game who virtually always makes the right decisions on the field, but he’s on pace for a career-high 144 SOs, and it won’t be long before the “he has to cheat now to make up for lost bat speed” talks becomes pervasive. The Yankees don’t need Alex to be what he was – lord knows they can absorb his meager salary-to-production ratio – but they do need him to be more than marginally better than average.

NICK SWISHER:

(.249 AVG | 8 HR | 34 RBI | .310 OBP | 16 BB | 42 SO)

Swisher has been close to a true-three-outcome player (HR, BB or SO) for most of his career, but this season has been an extremely odd one for the Yankee right fielder in that his ability or willingness to take a walk has seemingly evaporated overnight. On pace for just 48 bases-on-balls, Swish’s OPS is suffering mightily as a result (.759 in 2012 versus .824 for his career). As a right-handed hitter, Nick has been positively dreadful, hitting just .191 over 47 ABs, which is surprising when you consider that he had produced a .288/.417/.888 triple slash rate from the right side from 2099-2011. This is the final year of Swisher’s contract – the Yankees exercised their club option for $10.25M for 2012 – and it is anyone’s guess whether he will be back next season, but he will be 32-years-old this November and surely will seek that last big money contract. The stats tell me that Swisher is not a top-50 Major League outfielder (at least thus far this season), but perhaps brighter days lie ahead.

CURTIS GRANDERSON:

(.259 AVG | 17 HR | 39 R | 33 RBI | .542 SLG | 62 SO)

There was a once a time when a great many baseball writers – some of whom are my colleagues here at RAB – said that the Yankees erred by acquiring Granderson. They said he couldn’t hit lefty-pitching (he can, he’s actually been better against lefties this year), they said he struck out too much (he does, but his power makes up for it) and they said he wasn’t patient enough (he is, he’s on pace for a career-best 90 walks). Seriously, has Yankee GM Brian Cashman made a better trade during his Bronx-tenure than the one he made for Granderson? In fact, where would the Yankees be without their reliable center fielder? They’d be trailing the Red Sox in the AL East cellar, that’s where.

BRETT GARDNER:

(28 AB)

That damned Gardner! If only he would have taken better care of his elbow. (In fairness, I am unable to chose INC as part of this ultra-sophisticated grading system.) Okay, okay, so Brett has been injured all season, having played in just nine games and amassing just 28 at-bats. Word on the street is that he is close to returning to the club – he went 0-for-5 in an extended spring training game yesterday. The Yankee left fielder’s return will be a welcome one for the Bombers, who never expected to have to rely so heavily on on their bench players to fill the void. One can only assume that Gardner’s presence, particularly his disruptive presence on the base paths, will be beneficial to the lineup’s ability to produce with RISP.

RAÚL IBAÑEZ:

(43 GP | .252 AVG | 9 HR | 33 RBI | .510 SLG | 1.000 FPCT)

Much like Jerry Seinfield once posited on salsa, I think people just like to say Ibañez. In fact, The Most Interesting Man in the World’s first word was Ibañez (he was 4-minutes-old, true story). When the Yankees signed Ibañez, I really wondered what they were thinking given that the journeyman outfielder/DH would not be allowed to sport his trademark soul patch, which everyone knew had been the source of his power. Facial hair aside, he has been a revelation for New York, especially in light of Gardner’s injury and the need for him to play virtually everyday. Originally brought in to platoon with Andruw Jones at the DH-slot, Ibañez has been one of the rare bright spots on a roster mostly devoid of big hits thus far this season, as evidenced by those 9 HR in 149 ABs.

RUSSELL MARTIN:

(.211 AVG | 5 HR | 16 RBI | 28:25 K:H | 22 SBA, 7 CS | 4 PB)

Meh.

THE STARTERS

C.C. SABATHIA:

(7-2 | 78.1 IP | 3.68 ERA | 1.24 WHIP | 74 K | .246 BAA)

Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel like I am wanting more from Sabathia. Even when he’s winning 20 games a season, you rarely get the sense that he is dominating out there. Yes, he’s undoubtedly a top-20 starter in terms of production, and he always keeps the Yankees in games, even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, but Sabathia largely mirrors the Yankees as a whole in that he dominates the teams he is supposed to, but is fairly inconsistent against top-notch opposition. From 2009 to 2011, Sabathia’s ERA versus Boston (4.27), Texas (4.26) and DET (3.95) contrast unfavorably with his work against BAL (2.99), KC (2.38) and SEA (1.75). Look, no one wouldn’t be happy to have the Big Fella leading their staff, but for what New York is paying him – and what he pulled with the opt-out – more is expected.

HIROKI KURODA:

(4-6 | 68.1 IP | 3.82 ERA | 1.35 WHIP | 41 K | 22 BB | .269 BAA)

Hiroki Kuroda can be a really good pitcher sometimes. Hiroki Kuroda can also be a really bad pitcher sometimes, too. And therein lies the problem. Over his last ten starts, he has held the opposition to 3 runs or less eight times, which is pretty remarkable for a guy who is pitching in the American League for the first time in his career. Then again, in those other two starts, he gave up 13 runs and looked fairly over-matched in the process. Kuroda can definitely win 15 games for the Yankees, and it is obvious watching him that he has a mastery over a veritable arsenal of weapons at his disposal. What we don’t know is how a guy like Kuroda will fare during the playoffs – should the Yankees qualify for the postseason – since he has only three career postseason starts.

ANDY PETTITTE:

(3-2 | 2.78 ERA | 1.01 WHIP | .225 BAA | 7:32 BB:K)

I don’t know if Pettitte “misremembered” how old he is, but oh, my! Not only is Andy pitching like he never took a year off, somehow, inexplicably, he is pitching better than he has at any point since his 2005 campaign in Houston when he put up a 2.39 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Sure, he was snorting human growth hormone off Roger Clemens’ butt cheeks back then, but still, this is unprecedented stuff from #46 right now. It is highly unlikely that Pettitte can maintain this degree of excellence all season, but even with a regression, his steady presence and veteran leadership cannot be diminished. It would be wise for Girardi to monitor Pettitte’s innings so that the lefty remains healthy, but if Andy can keep mixing up his pitches as effectively as he has thus far, there is no reason why he cannot win more often that he loses as well as maintain solid peripherals along the way.

PHIL HUGHES:

(5-5 | 61.2 IP | 4.96 ERA | 1.35 WHIP | 57 K | .268 BAA)

Back when Hughes was rumored to be the centerpiece of a proposed deal with Twins in exchange for Johan Santana, I swore to anyone who would listen that I was prepared to renounce my loyalty to the franchise if the deal was consummated. Never in my lifetime had a [potential] homegrown-ace actually been on the cusp of promotion to the Majors – O Brien Taylor, Where Art Thou – and I was steadfast, having seen Hughes pitch in the minors, that he must be deemed untouchable. And when his 2007 no-hit bid against the Rangers at Arlington was broken up by a pulled hamstring, I felt vindicated by my feelings about the then can’t miss prospect. But oh, how times have changed. While Phil has been better of late, he has given up 13 HRs already this season and he doesn’t miss many bats when he has two strikes on hitters. Hughes will never be the guy I thought he was, but if he can keep the ball in the park, he has a decent chance to help fulfill to the Yankees’ playoff aspirations.

IVAN NOVA:

(6-2 | 62.2 IP | 5.60 ERA | 1.58 WHIP | 79 H | 13 HR | .313 BAA)

What a weird season “Supernova” is having. On one hand, he’s striking guys out with greater frequency than he did during his rookie season, but he also allowing an inordinate number of hits (many of them of the long-ball-variety), especially in crucial game situations. Sophomore slumps are one thing, and it certainly doesn’t appear to be the stuff, but perhaps this is a case of early career success breeding complacency and a lack of focus. The Yankees rarely suffer fools for any length of time, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nova sent down to AAA if he doesn’t quickly show signs of improvement. The tools are there, the moxie is there, but unless something is going on off the field that we don’t know about, there is simply no justification for his performance other than growing pains.

THE PEN

RAFAEL SORIANO:

(7 S | 1.89 ERA |1.89 WHIP)

When the Yankees Randy Levine signed Soriano to that outrageous contract to be a setup man, who woulda thunk we would later see the great Mariano Rivera sidelined by a wrecked knee and his protege, David Robertson, disabled by a sore ribcage? So now Soriano, previously a very accomplished closer in his own right, has been thrust back into the stopper role, and despite far too many walks per inning pitched, and he’s done a fine job for the Bombers. It is fair to wonder why Soriano couldn’t be this effective as a setup man, but in fairness to him, he did say all along that he was much more comfortable closing. Don’t be surprised if Soriano parlays a solid 2012 closing gig into a new contract, too; hopefully with another club as D-Rob is Mo’s organizational heir-apparent, anyway.

DAVID ROBERTSON:

(14.1 IP |2.51 ERA | 1.19 ERA| 24 K)

Anointed by Joe Girardi as Mariano’s successor following the latter’s season-ending injury, Robertson was enjoying a fine start to the 2012 season before being sidelined by a nagging injury of his own. There is no doubt that he can handle the closing role, but I would have preferred to see Soriano get first crack at the job, mostly because following in Rivera’s footsteps is something of a can’t-win proposition. D-Rob is expected back from the disabled list in just over a week, and the formidable Yankee bullpen will become that much more difficult for the opposition to contend with. One thing to keep an eye on: Robertson (sample size notwithstanding) had seemed to improve on keeping men from reaching base against him in the early going, which was really his only bugaboo in 2011.

THE REST:

The Yankees’ bullpen-ERA is 2.78, 5th-best in the Majors. Sweet! Also, the law firm Logan, Wade, Phelps and Rapada, LLC has hired Moshe Mandel as a litigation associate, so there’s that.

THE BENCH

ANDRUW JONES:

(.230 AVG | 5 HR in 73 ABs | 11 RBI)

Remember those California Raisin claymation commercials back in the eighties? Yeah, that’s what I think of every time I see Andruw’s permi-smile saunter to the plate, too.

THE REST:

Is it wrong of me to hope that ARod decides to go backpacking in Europe for a month or two so that Eric Chavez can play everyday? Yeah, his body probably wouldn’t hold up, but whatever, man-crush or not, I just like watching him hit.

MANAGEMENT

JOE GIRARDI:

If we are to judge Joltin’ Joe Girardio solely on the team’s record, he’d probably be in danger of flunking given the team’s payroll. But the standings don’t tell the whole story, as Girardi has steered the ship through injury-plagued waters in spite of a lineup that has largely failed to play to the back of its collective baseball cards. With Joe, what you see is what you get: a mind-numbing reliance on the numbers and an uncanny feel for how to manage a bullpen. That Girardi seems to have taken a page out of Tom Coughlin’s chill-the-f*ck-out book in recent years speaks volumes about his adaptability and his understanding of what a manager in this town must do to avoid being caught in the media’s or the fans’ cross-hairs. It’s all about the pitching, stupid; we know this, but if the lineup does it part – and recent signs suggest they will – Girardi will once again lead the Pinstripes to the postseason, and his job will remain secure.

BRIAN CASHMAN:

In truth, C.R.E.A.M.’s off-season blueprint didn’t go exactly according to plan, now did it? What with the loss of Mariano to KC’s warning track lip, the loss of Joba Chamberlain to Tampa’s finest tramps (the jumping kind, not the Daryl Strawberry late-night kind) and the aforementioned Pineda’s wrecked pitching shoulder, most other GMs would have closed up shop already. Obviously Ibañez has been a coup, but the jury is still out on Kuroda and it is fair to question why Cashman did not pursue Carlos Beltran, who (again) wanted to be a Yankee in the off-season. Many have also lamented the incredible success of Melky Cabrera for the San Francisco Giants, but the Yankees had determined that they were committed to Gardner well before Melky was traded to Atlanta for Javier Vazquez 2.0.

This Yankee team has some legitimate questions – namely the depth of its starting pitching and outfield – so it will be interesting to see what Mr. Stealthmode himself pursues on the trade market as July rapidly approaches. One thing is for certain: never assume anything with Cashman. He has proven time and time again that he will not hesitate to make the moves that no one saw coming, and generally, he has hit more than he has missed.

Agree? Disagree? That’s what the comments section is for. Have at it, Hosses and Hossettes!

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All-Star Game Links: Voting & Homerun Derby

The Yankees hit the one-third point of their season last night, which means we’re not far off from the halfway point. The All-Star Game is actually like, the 52.4% mark of the season, but who’s counting. Here’s some Yankees-related news on the Midsummer Classic, the glorified exhibition that determines home field advantage in the World Series. Boo that.

Jeter, Granderson among early vote leaders

Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson are currently among the top vote-getters at their respective positions for next month’s All-Star Game in Kansas City. Jeter leads all shortstops with 1,698,777 votes, more than 600,000 more than second place Elvis Andrus. Granderson (1,406,128 votes) is second among AL outfielders behind leading vote-getter Josh Hamilton (2,587,991). Nelson Cruz (992,992) is also in line to start in the outfield. Jose Bautista is a close fourth, Adam Jones a close fifth.

Robinson Cano (1,164,448) ranks second among AL second baseman behind Ian Kinsler (1,447,171) while Mark Teixeira (697,602) is second to Prince Fielder (1,027,070) among first baseman. I’m surprise Albert Pujols isn’t leading at first despite his early-season slump. Alex Rodriguez lags at third base behind Adrian Beltre (1,179,864) and Miguel Cabrera (886,365). Here’s the ballot, you can vote up to 25 times per email address until Thursday, June 28th. The leading vote-getters at each position start the game, as you know.

Cano to captain AL Homerun Derby squad

Thanks to his winning performance last year, Cano will serve as captain for this year’s AL Homerun Derby team. Matt Kemp will do the honors for the so-called Senior Circuit. Cano said he will again take his father Jose to pitch to him, and that he also plans to ask Granderson to participate. In addition to selecting the participants, Robbie and Kemp will also choose the charities they’ll be backing.

David Ortiz was the AL captain last year and I suspect Cano will invite him as a way to return the favor, so to speak. Assuming those two headline the squad, I’m hoping Yoenis Cespedes and Adam Dunn join them. It’s time to start bringing homerun hitters to the Homerun Derby, we want moonshots. Kemp said he’ll consider extending an invitation to Giancarlo Stanton, which is a no-brainer in my opinion. The Derby has gotten a little stale over the years, but it would be interesting to see guys like Cespedes and Stanton taking their hacks.

2012 Draft: Day Three LiveBlog

There’s only one day and 25 rounds left to go in the 2012 amateur. Thankfully today will just be an old school rapid fire conference call, not the long drawn out pick-by-pick analysis stuff we sat through yesterday. The Yankees added a diverse group of players to first rounder Ty Hensley on Day Two, leaving themselves plenty of draft pool money for potential upside picks on Day Three by grabbing five college seniors in the first ten rounds. All of the team’s picks can be seen at Baseball America and the best remaining available players are right here. Here are the MLB.com links to Draft Tracker and the audio feed.

Use this thread and liveblog to talk about all things draft today. Please keep the draft talk in the draft threads and be mindful of our Commenting Guidelines. Thanks in advance.

2012 Draft: Reviewing Day Two

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has changed the draft. A few weeks ago we had a pretty good idea that the Yankees would take some college seniors in the top ten rounds in order to save draft pool money and reallocate it elsewhere, but they took it to the extreme and so did a number of other clubs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the four teams who took the most college seniors in the top ten rounds — Yankees (five), Rangers (five), Red Sox (five), and Blue Jays (seven) — are four of the smartest run organizations in baseball.

By saving all that draft pool money, the Yankees are in a position to take some serious high-upside plays on Day Three. Since we’re beyond the tenth round — the draft resumes with the 16th round at noon ET — there is no penalty for failing to sign a player. If you don’t sign a player in the top ten rounds, you lose the draft pool money. Any money spent in excess of $100k on a post-tenth rounder counts towards the draft pool, so think of any player taken from the 11th round on down as coming with a $100k draft pool discount. It’s a pretty smart strategy and I kinda feel stupid for not realizing it earlier.

The Yankees have selected 16 players through 15 rounds so far, highlighted of course by first rounder Ty Hensley. It sounds like he’s going to sign very soon, so that’s pretty cool. You can see all of New York’s selections at Baseball America, and as expected, they’re a diverse group.

Aune. (David Minton/Denton Record-Chronicle)

High School Upside
Although they went college senior heavy on Day Two, the Yankees still picked a number of prep players with big tools. The headliner is outfielder Austin Aune (2nd rounder), who has actually already agreed to sign. Hailing from Texas with a dual-sport (baseball and football) scholarship to TCU in place, Aune is said to offer big raw power from the left side with arm strength and speed in center field. Like most Yankees’ draftees, his makeup is considered a plus as well. The team acted so quickly to sign him that I have to think a pre-draft agreement was in place, or least the two sides were on the same page.

First baseman Nathan Mikolas (3) is another left-handed hitter with big raw power and an above average hit tool. He has consistently produced with wood bats against top competition in showcase events, though it remains to be seen if he can stick in an outfield corner or has to be relegated to first base. Canadian right-hander Dayton Dawe (15) is a projectable 6-foot-2, 180 lb. hurler with the ability to command two low-90s fastballs (two and four-seamer). His soft curveball and changeup need work, as does his delivery. Because he hasn’t played as much baseball as his peers, Dawe needs quite a bit of refinement. The present package is intriguing though, especially in round 15.

The Yankees value depth behind the plate and added to it with Chris Breen (12) out of Florida. He’s a pure hitter from the right side, having shown the ability to hit breaking balls and with wood in showcase events. Breen, like most of New York’s selections, is lauded for his makeup and leadership skills. He’s athletic but at 6-foot-3 and 215 lbs., remaining behind the plate long-term is far from guaranteed.

O'Brien. (Photo via InsideTheU.com)

Cheap Value
College seniors may come with small price tags due to a lack of leverage, but that doesn’t mean they’re short on ability. Miami catcher Peter O’Brien (2) was one of the best seniors in the draft, a right-handed hitter with power to all fields and strong knowledge of the strike zone. Because he stands 6-foot-5 and 225 lbs., it’s unclear if he can remain behind the plate long-term despite a strong throwing arm. O’Brien is bilingual and has been lauded for his leadership skills all throughout his time with the Hurricanes. It’s worth noting that he’s currently out with hairline fracture in his left wrist.

Right-hander Taylor Garrison (7) is an accomplished college closer at Fresno State thanks to his low-to-mid-90s fastball and above average cutter. He also mixes in a curveball and changeup, but expect him to focus on his two best pitches as a pro. Ole Miss first baseman Matt Snyder (10) is just a masher, a brute strength hitter from the left side. He has raw power, hitting smarts, no defensive value, no speed, and big league bloodlines — his brother Brandon was a long-time Orioles’ prospect and is currently coming off the Rangers’ bench. Power is hard to find, but Snyder has a ton of it.

Power Arms
In addition to Garrison, the Yankees added a pair of hard-throwing right-handers in Faulkner University’s Corey Black (4) and LSU’s Nick Goody (6). Black, a redshirt junior, missed most of last season with Tommy John surgery but returned to throw 88 innings this spring. His long-term future may be in the bullpen but he at least has a chance to start with a legit mid-90s fastball and a reliable changeup. Black’s ability to remain in the rotation depends on the development of his inconsistent breaking ball. He told A. Stacy Long that he intends to sign quickly.

The Yankees like Goody so much they drafted him twice, in the sixth round this year and in the 11th round last year. He’s strictly a bullpen guy with two power offerings — a fastball in the 90-94 range with a sharp slider in the low-80s. Goody is an extreme strike-thrower evidenced by his 45/3 K/BB in 32.2 IP for the Tigers this spring. He’s not Mark Montgomery, but he has a chance to climb the minor league ladder quickly as a strikeout reliever.

Left-hander James Pazos (13) is one of only two southpaws the Yankees have drafted in the first 15 rounds. The San Diego junior is big — listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 lbs. — and aggressive with a low-90s fastball. His slider has improved greatly this spring, though he’ll probably scrap his nascent changeup as a pro and focus on his two best pitches as a reliever. Pazos has been a workhorse for the Toreros, showing the ability to work consecutive days and multiple innings. The Yankees have a lot of interesting power bullpen arms in their farm system, but most of them are right-handed. Pazos adds some much needed left-handedness.

Refsnyder. (Kim Hartman/TucsonSentinel.com)

The Conversion Candidate
New York selected Rob Refsnyder (5) as a second baseman out of Arizona even though he’s been an outfielder for the Wildcats. Born in South Korea before being adopted by an American family as an infant, Refsnyder has the compact frame (6-foot-0 and 200 lbs.) and first step quickness to handle the middle infield, where he played in high school. His bat is his calling card, with a level right-handed swing geared for hard contact to all fields. If the conversion takes, the Yankees will have nabbed an offense-first second baseman in the middle rounds of the draft.

The Long-Term Project
Almost no one is a finished project at the time of the draft but some need more development time than others. Lots more. Prep left-hander Caleb Frare (11) is as raw as it gets, hailing from Montana where they don’t even play high school baseball. He’s been pitching for an independent travel team, sitting in the mid-80s with his fastball and in the low-70s/sometimes mid-60s with his curveball. The hope is that pro instruction and training programs will add some strength to his 6-foot-2, 195 lb. frame and turn an athletic kid with an idea of how to pitch in a bonafide pitching prospect with good stuff.

Organizational Depth
Outfielder Taylor Dugas (8) is a speedy leadoff type out of Alabama, and in fact I wrote him up as a potential cost-saving senior sign option back in March. That’s exactly the reason why New York took him, to save some draft pool space for other players. Right-handers Derek Varnadore (7) and Andrew Benak (14) are classic college pitchers with nondescript stuff who have shown the ability to handle big workloads at major college programs, Auburn and Rice respectively. None of the three are strong prospects, but they add depth to soak up the leftover at-bats and innings in the minors. Organizational players are important but not necessarily exciting.

Day Two Overview
Thanks to the new CBA, we’ve reached a point where rounds 11+ are more interesting than 6-10. The Yankees added a few interesting prospects in Aune, O’Brien, Black, Goody, Pazos, Refsnyder, Dawe, and Breen on Day Two but their draft is obviously incomplete. How they use the savings from the five college seniors — total of $1.031M worth of draft pool money is tied up in those five picks — in Day Three today will really shape the draft overall. Expect to see them take a number of higher upside players late in hopes of signing one or two or three of them with that excess draft pool money. Day Two was the inside fastball to Day Three’s outside slider, it was a setup pitch.

2012 Draft: Best Available on Day Three

Although 15 of 40 rounds are in the bag, there are still plenty of talented players left on the board for Day Three of the amateur draft. Three of Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects are still available and although their rankings aren’t the be-all end-all, they’re a pretty great reference. The Yankees selected five low-cost college seniors in the top ten rounds by design, leaving plenty of draft pool roof for late round rolls of the dice.

Yanks pummel Rays to take series opener

There’s nothing quite like beating the tar out of the first place team in the division, is there? It’s games like this that make me appreciate how fans of other teams feel when they whoop the Yankees. Despite their sometimes sluggish play during the first third of the season, the Yanks are just a half game back of first place and not that far back (either 1 or 1.5 games, depending on the outcome of the Texas-Oakland game) of the best record in the AL. Good times are ahead.

Age don’t mean a thing

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Ten days from his 40th birthday, Andy Pettitte threw was what debatably his best start of the season. He used 103 pitches to retire 22 Rays, striking out 10 of them and allowing just two hits. Of those two hits, only one reached the outfield. At no point during the game did Pettitte make us feel uncomfortable. In fact, there were times when I’d glance down to read a paragraph or two, and look up to see he’d retired a batter and was two strikes deep on the next one.

There was certainly an uneasy feeling surrounding Pettitte’s return in May. I was excited as anyone — it’s Andy freaking Pettitte, after all, my absolute favorite Yankee of my lifetime — but there were legitimate questions about his ability to succeed at age 40 after a year away from the game. Add to that the Yankees’ absolute need for starting pitching at the time, and it seemed like a tall task. Yet Pettitte has shown he’s up to it. Even his rough starts haven’t seemed all that bad.

RISP when they need it

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

With eight hits and four walks, the Yankees inevitably saw plenty of situations with runners in scoring position. While they did manage to raise their season average, they did so only slightly, going 3 for 12. Yet they got the one hit they needed, exactly when they needed it. With one out in the fourth they loaded the bases off James Shields, bringing Russell Martin to the plate. And oh boy did Russell deliver.

He went up there looking for a pitch to hit, taking aggressive swings at the first two pitches and pulling them foul. After going inside with the first two pitches Shields worked away from Martin on the 0-2 pitch, but it got enough of the plate that Martin put the fat part of the bat on it. Away it went, clearing the fence in right for a much-needed grand slam. Believe it or not, despite their horrific overall results with the bases loaded, the Yankees are tied for the league lead in grand slams.

Finally figuring out Shields

For the past two seasons, James Shields has gotten the best of the Yankees. Sure, he’s 4-4, but many of those losses came on the strength of the Yankees pitching staff. In 76.1 innings from 2010 to 2011 Shields pitched to a 2.83 ERA, striking out 71 and walking just 22. This year, though, it seems they have him figured out.

Even with the two unearned runs in the first inning, Shields still yielded five runs in five innings, bringing his total to 14 earned runs in 16 innings this season (7.88 ERA). He has struck out just nine while walking 10 and surrendering four homers. Shields hasn’t been performing well overall this year, but he’s been at his worst when facing the Yankees. Given his previous results, it’s quite satisfying.

Leftovers

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Russell Martin raised his average 17 points with his 3 for 4 performance, taking the exit off the interstate and landing at .211.

After terrorizing the Yankees in the season opening series (6 for 12 with two homers and a double), Carlos Pena has gone 2 for 15 with no extra base hits against them.

Raul Ibanez drew two walks, after having not drawn one since May 17th in Toronto, a 51-PA walkless stretch. (Yet he managed seven extra base hits in that span.)

Freddy Garcia lives! He got into his first game since May 21st, when he gave up two runs in 2.1 innings against Kansas City. Last night he allowed two hits but allowed no runs in 1.2 innings of relief. Since his ouster from the rotation he has allowed two earned runs in 9.1 innings, though he has struck out four and walked three. That’s mop-up duty for you.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

You know the drill: MLB.com for basic box score and video highlights, FanGraphs for all the nerdery you can handle, and Mike likes ESPN for the standings and I’m not going to interrupt his usual thing.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Game 2 of this three-game set pits Ivan Nova against Alex Cobb. Maybe the ball stays inside the ballpark this time, hmmmm, Ivan?

X-rays negative after Cano gets hit by pitch

Via Meredith Marakovits, second baseman Robinson Cano is sore but hopes to play on Wednesday after getting hit by a pitch in what looked like his left forearm by Cesar Ramos in the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game. X-rays were negative. Cano remained in the game for another inning before being lifted in the ninth with a big lead. A day off wouldn’t be the end of the world, no reason not to play it safe.