MRI reveals A-Rod has low grade strain of left calf

After leaving last night’s game with a tight left calf, Alex Rodriguez underwent an MRI today that revealed a “low grade strain” of the muscle. He’s still day-to-day, but it’s good that they got it checked out to make sure it was nothing more serious. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got another day off tomorrow, and I can’t say I’d be opposed to it either. He’s one guy they absolutely need to be healthy down the stretch.

Pettitte MRI reveals small strain in groin

Update (8:43pm): The MRI revealed a “small persistent strain” of the left groin, and Andy will not throw off a mound for another week. He will continue to throw off flat ground, however.

6:17pm: Via Marc Carig, Andy Pettitte is going for an MRI on his injured groin, saying he still feels a “pull” when he tries to pitch at game intensity. Even if the MRI comes back clean, I can’t say I’m optimistic that he’ll be back before mid-September. Perhaps his rehab was too aggressive, too early, but we can’t say for sure.

Game 119: Ace vs. Ace

No CC, you're the man. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

With a struggling offense, it would stand to reason that the last thing the Yankees want to see tonight is a pitcher as great as Justin Verlander. Guys like that, guys who throw absurdly hard all game long with a breaking ball that starts at your head and ends up at the knees in the zone are never fun to face, but if nothing else, at least take solace in the fact that the Yanks have faced him before. They’ve run into a few pitchers they had never seen before in the last few games, so it’ll be nice to break up that monotony.

It’s a good thing the Yanks are countering with CC Sabathia, because they really need someone to go out and put an end to this losing streak. There’s few better at that than Sabathia. Here’s tonight’s starting nine, which is missing a few key players due to nagging injuries …

Brett Gardner, LF
Derek Jeter, SS
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Robbie Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, C – happy 39th birthday to Georgie
Marcus Thames, DH
Curtis Granderson, CF
Ramiro Pena, 3B

And on the bump, CC Sabathia.

First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET tonight and the game can be seen on My9. Try and enjoy it.

The greatness of Rivera, the greatness of Jeter

It is no secret that Mariano Rivera is the best at what he does. We’ve watched him ply his craft with precision for the past 15 years, and it has been nothing short of a revelation. Closers come and closers go, but Mo has outlasted almost all of them. This morning at Baseball Prospectus, Tommy Bennett wrote about Mo’s greatness. He not only has the rare ability to consistently prevent hits on balls in play, but he also keeps baseballs in the park at a better rate than his peers. The takeaway line: “A pitcher like Rivera, who is extreme in almost every way possible, simply doesn’t rate properly if you use the same metrics used to measure other guys.”

Yesterday Joe Posnanski wrote about Mo, but pitted him against Jeter as the most important Yankee since 1996. You might get frustrated while reading — the post really does ramble a bit — but the conclusion comes down to heart vs. head. Well, for some at least. It’s Jeter for me without question. Mo is Mo and is the greatest ever at what he did. But I think what Jeter has done is more important overall.

Yankees sign Dominican shortstop Christopher Tamarez

Via Ben Badler, the Yankees have signed 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Christopher Tamarez for $650,000. Ranked the 29th best prospect on the market by Baseball America, Tamarez stands 6-foot-1, 175 lbs., and is said to be one of the better athletes available this season with a chance to remain at shortstop long-term. A righthanded hitter, he projects to have average pop down the road. Click the link for video.

This is the Yanks first significant international signing of the year, though the entire market is developing slowly. MLB’s age and identify verification process, as well as PED testing, is slowing things down.

Consider Craig Counsell

(AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

While the Yankees boasted baseball’s best record in late July, we all knew they had a few flaws. The bench looked a bit out of order, with players like Ramiro Pena and Colin Curtis taking up roster spots. The bullpen was also in need of a reinforcement or two. Brian Cashman acted at the deadline, acquiring Lance Berkman to be the DH, Kerry Wood to shore up the pen, and Austin Kearns to fortify the bench. Still, that left a few positions as a weakness, most notably utility infielder.

Ramiro Pena is a good story. Throughout his pro career he made a name with his glove, but wasn’t able to hit a lick. Then, one spring, he demonstrated some bat skills and ended up breaking camp with the team, because the regular utility infielder was pressed into regular duty. Pena provided some highlight moments early in the season, including a game-changing double that led a comeback against Anaheim. Later in the season he returned as the utility infielder, and heading into spring training it was assumed that he’d again fill that role in 2010.

This year hasn’t gone nearly as well as his rookie campaign, in which he produced a .312 wOBA in 121 PA. This year he has 112 PA already and has a puny .219 wOBA. The problem isn’t the production, in that this is probably more in line with what the Yankees can expect from Pena. He still has the glove, but his bat just isn’t going to play at the major league level. If the Yankees had an infield composed of young, healthy players this might not be a problem. But with the left side aging and, in A-Rod‘s case, not completely healthy, the Yanks could use a better utility infielder.

A few such players are likely to pass through waivers this month, whether because of contract size or general disinterest. There probably won’t be a stellar multi-position player available, but there will be options that will produce better than Pena. Two have reportedly cleared waivers already. While neither Geoff Blum nor Craig Counsell will change the Yankees’ season, either could step right in and fill Pena’s shoes while providing at least some semblance of offensive value. The best part is that neither will likely cost much in a trade.

Counsell, who will turn 40 later this month, has seen his numbers drop off a bit this year. That could be a combination of his age and his reduced playing time, neither of which will get better with a move to New York. But even in a down year he has produced a .284 wOBA. He can play anywhere in the infield, and has even played 185 innings at shortstop this year. As far as the currently available options go he’s among the best.

Astros utility man Geoff Blum, 37, has also cleared waivers. While he has played all infield positions this year he has spent the most time at SS and 3B, which fits the Yankees’ needs well. Looking at the past few years of his defensive data he’s been about average at third and below average at shortstop, which doesn’t bode well for a utility player. His bat this year is also about equal to Counsell’s, though he has a far worse career track record. In other words, if you’re going to gamble on a currently available veteran, Counsell is your guy. Taking defense into account, Blum might not even be that big an upgrade.

Two more weeks remain in the waiver trade period, so acquiring a player like Counsell is probably not high on the team’s priority list at the moment. But if the opportunity arises to add him on the cheap, I don’t see why the Yankees would pass. It would be one thing of A-Rod and Jeter were healthy and productive. With A-Rod’s health a lingering question, the Yanks could use an upgrade on the bench. If he’s the best available, so be it. He’ll at least be more productive than Pena.

2010 Post-Draft Top 30 Prospects

2010 1st round pick Cito Culver. (Photo Credit: Andy in Sunny Daytona)

With the August 16th signing deadline now a thing of the past, we can begin to assess how the most recent amateur draft has impacted the Yankees’ farm system. Although they didn’t land a consensus elite talent, they more than made up for it in volume, signing basically all of their mid-to-late round gambles while filling out with polished college players to strike a nice balance. The Yanks were in a position to gamble some on long-term projects, which is exactly with they did. They could end up with nothing, or they could end up with something really special.

In addition to the new influx of talent, the Yanks have also benefited from a staggering number of breakout performances and strong returns from injury this year, transforming the system from one short on the “wow factor” before the season to one with waves with talent right now. The talent on the mound is both plentiful and diverse, with a mix of high-upside arms and safer, higher probability pitchers starting in Triple-A Scranton and going all the way down to High-A Tampa. And yet the Yanks’ top three prospects (four of the top five) are position players, showing the depth of the system.

Here are my preseason and pre-draft lists, for comparison’s sake. The only player on the pre-draft list that is ineligible for this one is Mark Melancon, who was shipped to the Astros in the Lance Berkman deal. Everyone else is fair game, and several players have dropped out as you can see. Some didn’t perform, others just got leapfrogged by other players. It’s not a bad thing when a live arm like Dan Burawa, a MLB-ready reserve outfielder like Colin Curtis, and a tooled up teenager with supreme plate discipline like Ramon Flores don’t make your top 30. It’s definitely an upgrade over where they were just twelve months ago.

Anyway, on to the list. The level listed is where the player is currently playing, but the new draftees get a “none” because I’m not sure exactly where they’ve been assigned, although I do have a pretty good idea. Let’s start with a completely unsurprising name at the top…

  1. Jesus Montero, C, AAA: took some time to adjust to AAA (.293 wOBA on the day on my pre-draft list), but he’s been on an absolute tear for about two months now (.368 wOBA at the moment) that has reaffirmed his position as one of the very best hitters in all of minor league baseball
  2. Austin Romine, C, AA: he’s certainly slowed down after a hot start (wOBA by month: .395, .365, .318, .276, .199), but that’s not unsurprising for a guy in his first season as a full-time catcher
  3. Slade Heathcott, CF, A-: the power component of his power-speed combination isn’t there yet (.071 ISO), but he’s shown a tremendous eye at the plate (12.4 BB%) and the strikeouts should come down as he continues to refine his swing and make more contact
  4. Andrew Brackman, RHSP, AA: he’s cut his walk rate from 6.28 BB/9 last year to 2.61 this year while maintaining a strong strikeout rate (8.47 K/9) and better than a 50% ground ball rate, plus the scouting reports have been very good
  5. Gary Sanchez, C, Rk: the 17-year-old is annihilating rookie ball (.459 wOBA), but he’s got a long way to go defensively behind the plate, more than Montero did
  6. Manny Banuelos, LHSP, A+: an appendectomy delayed the start of his season, but he’s been simply fantastic since returning (1.79 FIP) and reports indicate a welcome uptick in velocity
  7. Hector Noesi, RHSP, AA: aggressive in the zone with four pitches that are good enough to get swings and misses … he won’t be a star, but he’ll be a very nice fill-in option by this time next year
  8. Dellin Betances, RHSP, A+: I don’t think anyone expected him to be this good (1.84 FIP), this fast after elbow surgery, and the even better news is that reports indicate his stuff is all the way back as well … now it’s just a matter of staying healthy (believe it or not, but his 67 IP this season are the second most he’s ever thrown in a single year)
  9. J.R. Murphy, C, A-: he’s gotten better as the season has gone on (wOBA by month: .253, .293, .323, .389) while showing power and he ability to make hard, consistent contact … seems somewhat underappreciated to me
  10. Ivan Nova, RHSP, AAA: it’s not the highest ceiling in the world, but there’s something to be said for MLB-ready back-end arms that can miss some bats and keep the ball in the park
  11. Graham Stoneburner, RHSP, A+: his .212 AVG against is one of the very best in the minors, and he’s demonstrated the ability to miss a ton of bats and limit walks … won’t be challenged until he gets to AA
  12. Jose Ramirez, RHSP, A-: almost a forgotten man with all the pitching talent ahead of him, but Ramirez has put up a very strong year (3.04 FIP) as a 20-year-old in his first taste of a full season league
  13. David Adams, 2B, injured: crushed AA with a .403 wOBA before a broken ankle ended his season in May … you’re looking at a rock solid everyday second baseman in the bigs
  14. Cito Culver, SS, Rk: holding his own after stepping out of his graduation ceremony and into the batter’s box against the best pitching he’s ever faced in his life … the power has started to come as the season has progressed (ISO by month: .050, .094, .106)
  15. Brandon Laird, 3B/1B, AAA: breakout performer of the year (.384 wOBA in AA) has enough power and just enough defense to fake it as an every day third baseman in the show, but it’s unlikely to be his long-term position
  16. David Phelps, RHSP, AAA: arguably the best pure performance among Yankee pitching farmhands this year, but his lack of a bonafide put-away pitch is what limits his ceiling … doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective big leaguer
  17. Corban Joseph, 2B, AA: hitting machine wOBA’d .352 as a 21-year-old in pitcher friendly Florida State League, now he’s just got to improve on the defensive side of the ball
  18. Zach McAllister, RHSP, AAA: advanced hitters have not been kind of Z-Mac, who has seemingly lost the ability to miss bats, generate ground balls, and avoid the long-ball … very disappointing year
  19. Rob Segedin, 3B/OF, Rk: big time on-base ability with a great swing and moderate power potential, just need to figure out his long-term position
  20. Angelo Gumbs, CF, none: true five tool potential here, but he’s extremely raw … going to be a project
  21. Adam Warren, RHSP, AA: cruised right through A-ball with 7.44 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, and 57% ground balls before moving up, and he’s got enough stuff and command to be a back-end starter or valuable middle reliever
  22. Bryan Mitchell, RHSP, Rk: arguably the best pure arm in the system with a knockout curveball, Mitchell has only been so-so in 33.1 IP this year, but the upside is exciting
  23. Mason Williams, CF, none: received more money than another other Yankee draftee this year despite being the fourth best prospect they drafted … exciting tools, but raw and with questionable long-term power potential
  24. Brett Marshall, RHSP, A-: electric arm just back from Tommy John surgery, his ranking is based on pure stuff and potential because the performance (understandably) hasn’t been there yet
  25. Gabe Encinas, RHSP, none: very diverse arsenal and a whole lot of pitching know-how, he should carve up the low minors thanks to his ability to setup hitters and mix pitches alone
  26. Taylor Morton, RHSP, none: inconsistent spring hurt his draft stock, but he’s been up to 96 in the past with both a changeup and a curve
  27. Melky Mesa, OF, A+: old for his level but he finally seems to be putting it together … the other Melky is a tool shed, with the only knock being his ability to make consistent contact, something he’s done this year
  28. Eduardo Sosa, CF, SS: big time defensive outfielder with great speed and surprisingly good plate discipline, he’s a pretty exciting player to watch live
  29. Kelvin DeLeon, RF, SS: the 2007 bonus baby has two standout tools in his power and throwing arm, but his utter lack of plate discipline will keep from being elite
  30. Evan Rutckyj, LHSP, none: a surprise signing, the big (6-foot-5, 210 lb.) lefty has flashed promising stuff with a surprising good feel for his craft … he’s a long-term project, but there’s a lot to work with here.

Kevin Russo and Burawa were squeezed out last night when Williams and Rutckyj signed. One thing to keep in mind is that I (and we) don’t know nearly as much about this year’s draftees as we do about the guys who have been in the system for years, so it’s tough to pinpoint exactly where they belong. Don’t like having Culver below Adams? Fine, I could easily be convinced otherwise.

Also, remember the fudge factor. There’s so little difference between say, the fourth best prospect and the ninth best prospect, or the 22nd best prospect and the 30th best prospect that it’s a waste of time to get worked up over individual rankings. Think Betances should rank higher than Noesi? Fine, who cares. They’re basically on par with each other. Think of it as tiers. Jesus Montero is all by himself. Romine and Heathcott are behind him. Brackman through Betances is the next tier, and so on. The important thing is the cache of talent, which is the deepest it’s been in at least two years.