6/5-6/7 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Separated by one game in the loss column in the AL East, the Yankees and Rays will meet for the third time this season over the next few days. Tampa swept the season opening series at Tropicana Field before New York took two of three in Yankee Stadium early last month. First place is on the line … but it’s only June so it’s not like this is a huge series. It is the biggest of the season to date, however.

What Have They Done Lately?

Despite sitting atop the AL East with a 31-23 record and a +18 run differential, the Rays have actually lost five of their last eight games. They did take two of three from the fading Orioles over the weekend, contributing to their league best 19-11 home record. Tampa’s 12-12 road record is another matter.

Offense

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Sitting just below the league average a 4.26 runs per game, the Rays own a perfectly average 100 wRC+ as a team and really miss the injured Evan Longoria (167 wRC+). The offense has instead been carried by Matt Joyce (162 wRC+), who has held his own against left-handers (133 wRC+) in the early going. Desmond Jennings (114 wRC+) is likely to return from the DL to reinforce the top of the order at some point this series if not tonight. He’s been out with a knee issue.

Staples like B.J. Upton (117 wRC+), Carlos Pena (108 wRC+), and Ben Zobrist (103 wRC+) have been no worse than average but have a tendency to perform better than that against the Yankees. Luke Scott (98 wRC+) has been in a prolonged slump (87 wRC+ in May) and is losing playing time to former Yankee Hideki Matsui (100 wRC+). Godzilla has three hits in his 16 plate appearances, including two homers. Miscellaneous annoying infielders like Drew Sutton (53 wRC+), Sean Rodriguez (80 wRC+), Will Rhymes (81 wRC+), and Elliot Johnson (104 wRC+) have been anywhere from bad to average while both catchers — Jose Lobaton (56 wRC+) and Jose Molina (57 wRC+) — have been awful. Rich Thompson (-27 wRC+) is basically a pinch-runner/defensive replacement in the outfield.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Jamie Shields
This will already be the third time the Yankees are facing Shields this season. The first go ’round (six runs in five innings) went much better than the second (three runs in six innings), but I think we all know how good he can be. Shields has pitched to a 3.95 ERA with a 3.59 FIP, with career bests in strikeout (9.12 K/9 and 23.8 K%) and ground ball (59.0%) rate. His walk rate (2.71 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%) is a career worst though, and his 1.11 HR/9 is up there. Shields is the master at pitching backwards, using his various offspeed pitches — low-80s curveball, upper-80s slider, and world-class mid-80s changeup — to setup his three upper-80s/low-90s fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter). He’s a tough assignment, no doubt about it.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Wednesday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Alex Cobb
Cobb has made three solid starts (3.71 ERA and 3.20 FIP) since replacing Jeff Niemann in the rotation; he had a comebacker fracture his leg. He’s primarily a ground ball guy (57.1%), not a strikeout (6.35 K/9 and 15.4 K%) or low-walk (3.71 BB/9 and 9.0 BB%) type. Cobb uses four pitches, including a pair of upper-80s fastballs in the four and two-seamer. He also throws a mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. The Yankees faced Cobb once last year, though he held them to two runs (one earned) in six innings. At least they’re not going in blind.

Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP David Price
My Cy Young pick has cooled off a bit after a roaring start, pitching to a 2.44 ERA and a 3.24 FIP in his eleven starts. His strikeout rate (7.57 K/9 and 20.7 K%) is his worst in three years and his walk rate (2.81 BB% and 7.7 BB%) jumped a bit after a career-low last season, but his ground ball rate (52.6%) is his best ever. Price is another three fastball — mid-90s two-seamer, mid-90s four-seamer, low-90s cutter — guy with three offspeed pitches — upper-80s slider, upper-70s curveball, low-80s changeup. The Yankees have seen him two already this season with good results (five runs in seven innings) and bad results (two runs in 6.1 innings). You know how good he is.

(J. Meric/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
Like the Yankees, the Rays had Monday off so their bullpen is rested. New York has the added advantage of getting a complete game from Phil Hughes on Sunday, so the bullpen has really had two full days off. Good stuff.

Anyway, Tampa’s bullpen is anchored by the reborn Fernando Rodney, who’s pitched to a 2.19 FIP thanks to his newfound ability to throw strikes (1.37 BB/9 and 4.0 BB%). Homer prone setup man Joel Peralta (4.10 FIP) has pitched better after a few rough weeks to start the season, and situational ground ball (55.0%) righty Burke Badenhop (4.25 FIP) lends a hand from time to time. Long man Wade Davis (3.48 FIP) is the only other right-hander in the bullpen.

The Rays have three left-handers to deploy in various situations. Jake McGee (1.35 FIP) is the hard-throwing guy that will pitch to both lefties and righties but J.P. Howell (4.77 FIP) is the soft-tossing specialist. Cesar Ramos (4.40 FIP) is a low-leverage mop-up type who is far from a roster lock. He could be sent down and replaced with another disposable arm at any time. Overall, the Tampa relief corps is in the middle of the pack with a 3.72 FIP. For the latest and greatest on the division rivals from Florida, check out DRays Bay.

2012 Draft: Day Two LiveBlog

After needing more than four hours for 60 selections last night, the amateur draft moves to a rapid fire conference call this afternoon (audio, Draft Tracker). Rounds 2-15 will take place via conference call today, and the Yankees have two picks right out of the chute at numbers 89 and 94 overall. The former is compensation for failing to sign second rounder Sam Stafford last year, the latter is their natural second rounder. The full draft order can be found here and the slot values for New York’s picks can be found here.

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: Preparing for Day Two

Oppenheimer. (Linda Cataffo/NYDN)

Now that the pomp and circumstance is over with, we can finally get down to the nuts and bolts of the draft. The best players tend to come from the first round but the vast majority of drafted big leaguers do not. The solid regulars, role players, and the like are usually drafted in the middle-to-late rounds and that’s how organizational depth is built. Turning a top ten selection into a star is one thing, turning a third rounder into Brett Gardner or a 17th rounder into David Robertson is another.

As we gear up for Day Two, let’s take a look ahead at what might be in store for one of the most unpredictable days on the baseball calendar.

The Basics
The draft resumes at noon ET today and will cover rounds 2-15. It’ll be conducted via conference call (available on MLB.com) and the picks will come rapid fire, none of this five (or even one) minutes between selections nonsense. The Yankees have two second rounders (#89 and 94 overall) and one pick in each subsequent round for a total of 15 choices this afternoon. Yes, there will be a liveblog.

Saving Draft Pool Space
A number of clubs with multiple Day One picks — specifically the Cardinals and Rangers — already grabbed low cost players in an effort to save draft pool space by eventually signing those players to below slot deals so they can redistribute the savings elsewhere. I expect the Yankees to do the same thing at some point today, perhaps even as soon as with one of their two second rounders. Both of those picks are valued at over $500k each, so going cheap with one could result in substantial savings.

The question is this: is it better to save say, $400k by going cheap on one of the two second rounders or by going cheap in the seventh, eight, ninth, and tenth rounds? Given the expected return on late picks, you can make a very strong case the latter is preferable. Then again, the board will play a factor. If there are two top talents sitting there in the second round, the Yankees could grab both and figure out the money thing later. If not, they could try to get the savings all at once. The point is, it’s better to have the extra cash and not need it than to need it and not have it. Expect a money-saving selection(s) at some point.

More Prep Players?
The Yankees were connected to high school arms quite heavily the last few weeks and that’s exactly what they took in first rounder Ty Hensley. The number of top prep players still on the board greatly outweighs the number of interesting college folk, so chances are the Yankees will lean towards high schoolers again today. I think a perfect world scenario would call for adding one of RHP Duane Underwood or RHP Ty Buttrey to Hensley in the second round, giving the Yankees two high-end arms at the core of their draft haul. That would be amazing. I would be surprised if either lasts that long, however.

At some point I would expect Damon Oppenheimer & Co. to start targeting polished college arms given their track record, more fodder for that bullpen pipeline. That usually happens in the later rounds though, plus the new spending restrictions could really throw a wrench into things. Then again, guys like Chase Whitley, Branden Pinder, and Mark Montgomery all signed for five figures. The Yankees have a knack for digging these guys up.

* * *

Other than RHP Mark Appel and RHP Lucas Giolito, we didn’t see any top talents slide on Day One and those two really didn’t fall that far at all. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement was designed to get the best talent to the worst teams and that’s what happened. It makes for a very straight forward draft with relatively few surprises. I think it’ll take the clubs another year or two before they really figure out the best way to operate under the new system and land the best talent despite the spending restrictions.

2012 Draft: Best Available on Day Two

The Yankees went big with their first round pick on Monday night, taking prep right-hander Ty Hensley with the 30th overall selection. Both Baseball America and Keith Law (subs. req’d) listed the ten best available players still available this morning, with no expected first rounders still on the board. I recommend checking out BA’s top 500 rankings; you can sort by drafted or undrafted with a lot more players listed. High school arms RHP Duane Underwood and RHP Trey Buttrey have been connected to the Yankees in recent weeks and remain available, though New York’s approach from here on out remains to be seen.

2012 First Round Draft Pick: Ty Hensley

With their first round selection (#30 overall) in the 2012 draft, the Yankees selected high school right-hander Ty Hensley. He’s only the third high school pitcher they’ve drafted in the true first round (not supplemental first round) over the last 18 years, joining Phil Hughes (2004) and Gerrit Cole (2008). Slot money for this pick is $1.6M.

Background
An Oklahoma kid from Santa Fe High School outside of Oklahoma City, Hensley’s father Mike pitched for three years in the minors after being selected in the second round of the 1988 draft by the Cardinals. Mike was also a long-time pitching coach at Kansas State, so Ty has grown up around the game. Hensley played quarterback for his high school before giving up football to focus on baseball as a senior. He’s committed to Mississippi.

Scouting Report
Oklahoma has a history of producing physically huge pitchers — Josh Johnson, Brad Penny, Braden Looper, and Jamey Wright most recently — and Hensley fits the bill at 6-foot-5 and 220 lbs. He sat in the 92-95 range with his fastball this spring and ran it as high as 97 at times, backing it up with a sharp overhand curve he throws in the upper-70s. His changeup shows promise but like most high schoolers, he hasn’t needed it and the pitch needs work. Hensley has a high leg kick and is deliberate with his delivery, which sometimes leads to command issues. As I mentioned when I first wrote him up as a potential target in March, his makeup and coachability are pluses. He also speaks Spanish, apparently.

It won’t matter as a pro, but I suppose it’s worth mentioning that Hensley is a switch-hitter with some pop in his bat. Ole Miss will allow him to both pitch and hit, but he’s a much better pro prospect on the mound. Here’s his MLB.com draft video.

Rankings
The various scouting publications all considered Hensley a back-half of the first round/early-sandwich round talent in their most recent rankings…

  • Kevin Goldstein: 19th best prospect overall and ninth best pitcher (subs. req’d)
  • Baseball America: 23rd best prospect overall and 11th best pitcher
  • MLB.com: 26th best prospect overall and 13th best pitcher
  • Keith Law: 36th best pitcher overall and 19th best pitcher (subs. req’d)

Damon Oppenheimer’s Take
Here’s what the Yankees’ scouting director said in a statement following the announcement of the pick, courtesy of Bryan Hoch

“We’re excited to get a guy with such a high ceiling. He has the ideal body for a high school pitcher, as well as power stuff, and has the ability to be a high-end starter. He’s demonstrated a quality makeup and has shown himself to be a hard worker, which makes him a quality pick for us.”

My Take
Over the last week or two we’ve heard that the Yankees were targeting various prep arms, but Hensley was one of the few names not said to be on their radar. That’s probably not an accident; he was likely high on their board and they didn’t want it to be known. Oppenheimer usually emphasizes polish when it comes to pitching prospects, but this time he leaned towards upside and got a guy with a big fastball and more importantly, an out-pitch breaking ball. The Yankees love their big pitchers and again, Hensley fits right in. There’s a lot to like about this pick and the biggest thing to watch going forward is his command. If Hensley cleans up his delivery and is able to throw strikes consistently, he has a chance to be an above-average workhorse starter who misses bats and eats innings.

R.J. Baker pulls a Chris Davis in Triple-A win

C Gary Sanchez was named the Low-A South Atlantic League Offensive Player of the Week. He hit five homers and three doubles in seven games.

Triple-A Empire State (5-4 win over Norfolk in 13 innings) brutal few days for these guys, they played doubleheaders on both Saturday and Sunday and then went long this afternoon
LF Kevin Russo: 1-6, 1 RBI, 1 K — threw a runner out at second
2B Corban Joseph: 2-5, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 E (fielding) — third homer in six games since the promotion
RF Ronnie Mustelier, CF Colin Curtis & 3B Ramiro Pena: all 0-5 — Mustelier got hit by a pitch … Curtis walked and whiffed … Pena struck out
DH Jack Cust: 2-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K, 1 HBP — solo homer gave them the lead in the top of the 13th … three homers in the last two games and five homers in the last eight games
1B Brandon Laird: 2-6, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 K
C Frankie Cervelli: 3-6, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 K — 12 hits in his last 36 at-bats (.333)
SS Yadil Mujica: 1-5, 1 BB
RHP Dellin Betances: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 6 BB, 6 K, 1 Balk, 7/1 GB/FB — 63 of 110 pitches were strikes (57.3%) … unraveled late, all the walks came in his last two innings
LHP Juan Cedeno: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/1 GB/FB — nine of ten pitches were strikes
RHP Manny Delcarmen: 1.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0/3 GB/FB — 28 of 45 pitches were strikes (62.2%)
LHP Justin Thomas: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — nine of 14 pitches were strikes
RHP Nelson Figueroa: 1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 13 of 21 pitches were strikes (61.9%) … came out of the bullpen on his throw day (threw 98 pitches on Saturday) to blow the save in the tenth
LHP Mike O’Connor: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 12 of 20 pitches were strikes … like Figueroa, he came out of the bullpen on his throw day (threw 69 pitches on Saturday)
RHP R.J. Baker: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 21 of 36 pitches were strikes (58.3%) … the third string catcher came out of the bullpen to get the win … this is his first appearance of the season, he hasn’t even gotten an at-bat yet!

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Yanks make RHP Ty Hensley their first-round pick

With the 30th pick of tonight’s amateur MLB draft, the Yanks went for the highest ranked player still on the board as they selected right-handed pitcher Ty Hensley in the first round. Hensley, 18, is a 6-foot, 5-inch, 220-pounder out of Santa Fe High School in Edmond, OK, and was 23rd on Baseball America’s top 500 list. In a capsule write-up a few months back, Mike noted Hensley’s mid-90s fastball, a change and a curve. He can push that fastball up to 97.

During his interview on MLB Network after the selection, Hensley spoke about his influences and cited both Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay. He also mentioned his pre-start Chipotle ritual. Kevin Goldstein called the pick “highway robbery,” and the Yanks are high on his future. As a high school senior, Hensley struck out 111 in 55.1 innings and went a perfect 10-0 with a 1.52 ERA. We’ll have much more shortly.