2011 Draft: Catching up with Gerrit Cole

The Yankees knew they had landed themselves a gem in 2004 when they selected a high school kid by the name of Phil Hughes out of Southern California in the first round of the amateur draft. Four years later, they thought they had done it again. Baseball America called Gerrit Cole, a right-hander who could throw in the high 90s, the best high school pitcher since Hughes, and the Yanks picked him 28th in 2008. We knew the signing would go down to the wire, but Cole, a lifelong Yankee who went to the 2001 World Series as an 11-year-old, seemed likely to land in the Bronx.

On August 14, 2008, the bottom fell out. Word broke that Cole had opted for UCLA over the Yanks, and a three year mourning period began. In the intervening years, I’ve followed Cole closely.

For a young arm to opt for college over a lucrative deal from his favorite team is nearly unprecedented. First, it’s a very risky move. College coaches don’t pretend to care as much about their top pitchers’ arms as Major League organizations do, and they are more willing to overwork their youngsters to win now. If Cole got hurt at UCLA, his earnings potential would drop precipitously. Second, by eschewing the Yanks, odds were good that Cole wouldn’t have a chance to return to his favorite team until he’s a Major League free agent. If he becomes truly as good as advertised, he would become a top-five draft pick, and if he were to collapse, the Yanks would be entirely out of the picture all together. No small amount of emotion enters the picture.

Of course, in those intervening years, Cole has indeed been as good as advertised, and it stings. At UCLA, Cole, now a junior, has made a total of 41 appearances — 40 of those starts — and has been absolutely stellar. He has a 3.16 ERA in 256 IP and has given up 100 walks and 17 home runs while striking out 313. Barring an injury between now and June, either the Pirates or Mariners will take Cole as one of the first two picks of the draft. It stings.

In The Times today, Tyler Kepner profiled Cole, and it’s a fantastic read once Yankee fans get past the punch to the gut. “He’s a big C. C. Sabathia guy,” UCLA catcher and Cole’s former roommate Steve Rodriguez said. “He still is a huge Yankee fan. He gets intense when he watches their games.”

Kepner rehashes the negotiations:

Knowing they would exceed the recommended bonus for that slot, the Yankees waited until August to open negotiations with Cole’s adviser, Scott Boras. But by then, Cole and his family had decided that he would enroll at U.C.L.A. They told the Yankees not to make an offer, so the Yankees never did. Cole became the first high school pitcher in seven years to be drafted in the first round but choose college instead.

“The interesting thing is, everybody says he’s going to come out this year and make more money,” said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ amateur scouting director. “How does anybody know what we would have gone to?”

…In 2009, Cole told The Los Angeles Times that he and his family had done “just an absurd amount of thinking” about the decision, comparing future earnings of players who sign out of high school to those who choose college. Cole’s father, Mark, has two graduate degrees and a successful consulting business. Unlike most families of drafted players, financial considerations were a lower priority. The Cole could afford to take a long-term view.

To me, it’s still a strange equation. The Cole family never, as Oppenheimer notes, heard an offer from the Yanks because they didn’t want to. Furthermore, had baseball not worked out, Cole could have gone back to college. Thousands of players have gotten their degrees after or even during their careers. Instead, the family gambled and, depending upon what happens in June, just might come out ahead.

It’s clear that the Yanks still regret missing out on Cole and still feel misled. “We knew it was going to be a tough sign, but we also were told in predraft meetings with the family that he was willing to play pro ball and forgo college,” Brian Cashman said to The Times. “We rolled the dice and took our chances. Everybody has a right to change their mind.”

I’ve long wondered where Cole would fit in with the Yanks’ plans, and I asked Keith Law that question a few months ago. He believed Cole would be ready for the Major League pen right now and would be the organization’s second best pitching prospect behind Manny Banuelos. Instead, Cole, who thinks he could pitch in the majors by September, will wind up as the key piece to a club hoping to rebuild.

No matter where he goes, though, the Yankees expect to see big things. “At some point in his life, maybe he wants to become a Yankee again,” Oppenheimer said to Kepner. “I don’t want to ruin that by having some bitter attitude toward the guy. I do think he really likes playing baseball, and genuinely he’s a good kid.”

Link Dump: Sabathia, Triple-A Scranton Rotation, Three True Outcomes, Contraction

Random Moose sighting. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Some afternoon news, notes, links, minutiae…

Yankees line up Sabathia for Red Sox

The Yankees have manipulated their rotation ever so slightly to allow CC Sabathia to start against the Red Sox next weekend. Ivan Nova will start tonight as scheduled, then CC will go tomorrow instead of Freddy Garcia. Don’t worry, he’ll be on regular rest. Garcia will then pitch on Wednesday and A.J. Burnett will follow on Thursday. The Yankees will roll into Boston next weekend with Phil Hughes (Friday), Nova (Saturday), and Sabathia (Sunday, regular rest). Not ideal, but whatever. It’s April.

The Twins are throwing Scott Baker, Brian Duensing, Carl Pavano, and Francisco Liriano this series, in that order. You have to figure that Andruw Jones will make his season debut against Duensing on Tuesday, and also play against Liriano on Thursday. Given the way Brett Gardner swung the bat over the weekend, two days off this week won’t kill him.

Triple-A Scranton Rotation Set

Speaking of lining up rotations, Donnie Collins spoke to Triple-A Scranton manager Dave Miley, who confirmed that his starting rotation is set. David Phelps will start the opener on Thursday, and will be followed by Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, and Andrew Brackman, in that order. Hooray for an all-prospect rotation. Kevin Millwood will presumably remain in Extended Spring Training for a while to build up arm strength and get stretched out, you know, Spring Training kind of stuff.

Manny Banuelos and Brett Marshall are on track to start Opening Day for Double-A Trenton and High-A Tampa, respectively, according to Josh Norris. Those are unconfirmed though, the days just happen to line up.

Three True Outcomes Weekend

I was screwed around with some data at B-Ref and came across something only the nerdy will love. The Yankees came to plate exactly 100 times against right-handed pitching in the Tigers’ series, and in those 100 PA they hit seven homers, walked a dozen times, and struck out 20. Thirty-nine of their 100 PA vs. RHP ended in a walk, strikeout, or homer, otherwise know as the three true outcomes. For perspective: Mark Reynolds saw 41.9% of his plate appearances end in the three true outcomes last season, by far the most in the bigs. The second most was Adam Dunn at 38.1%, and third was Colby Rasmus at 33.7%. So yeah, that’s quite a gap.  The Yankees really brought the power and patience (and whiffs) against the righties this weekend, eh?

MLB making a push to contract the Rays?

From the I don’t believe it for a second department, Mike Ozanian of Forbes reports that Major League Baseball is making a “strong push” to the contract the Rays. If true, that would be a major leak and one hell of a scoop, but it doesn’t add up. Does it suck that the Rays have such a crappy stadium (in an even crappier location) and low revenue? Of course, but baseball as a whole is incredibly profitably and Tampa is one of the best teams in the game. And besides, they couldn’t contract just one franchise (unless they plan to have one team be idle every day of the season, something the owners would hate), it would have to be two. The union would also put up a major, major fight if MLB tried to eliminate 50 jobs like that (really 80 when you count 40-man rosters). So yeah, cool story bro, I just don’t buy it.

The RAB Radio Show: April 4, 2011

The Yankees offense went nuts this weekend, scoring 17 runs on Saturday and Sunday. Unfortunately, the Tigers scored 16. Mike and I talk about the offensive victories and the pitching failures.

Podcast run time 24:21

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
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Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

Should the Yankees be more aggressive on the bases?

I prefer slow trots around the bases. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Whenever you think of the Yankees, stolen bases aren’t exactly something that jumps to mind. They’re a power and patience club build around extra base hits and working counts, and they’ve been immensely successful with that approach. And yet, you might be surprised to learn that they’ve stolen at least 100 bases as a team every year dating back to 2005. They’ve swiped 594 bags during the last five full seasons, the third most in the AL and the fifth most in baseball overall. For a team that often gets criticized for being one-dimensional, they really aren’t.

The 2011 Yankees have a number of stolen base threats, led by Brett Gardner. His 47 SB last year were the most by a Yankee since Rickey Henderson stole 93 bags way back in 1988. That’s his game, that’s what he’s supposed to do. Derek Jeter has stolen double-digit bases in every full season of his career while Curtis Granderson has done it every year since 2007. Alex Rodriguez is usually good for double-digit steals as well, though last year he fell well short of that mark (just four). Russell Martin showed off his skills by stealing third in the first game of the season, and his 57 SB from 2007-2010 are 27 more than any other catcher. They certainly have enough players capable of wreaking havoc on the basepaths, and now Joe Girardi wants them to really force the issue.

“That was one of the things we talked about during Spring Training that one of the things we wanted to focus on was base-running and being more aggressive, [getting] better secondary [leads] and going first-to-third,” said Girardi before Sunday’s game. “Those type of things, putting pressure on the opposing club. I know that [Gardner] and [Granderson] talked a lot about stealing bases. I think that is a healthy competition.”

We’ve already discussed the stolen base things, but it’s worth mentioning that the Yankees were one of the league’s worst teams in terms of going first-to-third on a single last year, at least in terms of percentages. Just 87 Yankee baserunners went first-to-third on a single in 328 chances in 2010, or 26.5%. The league average was 28.7%, and the only teams worse than the Yankees were Indians (22.4%), Blue Jays (25%), Orioles (25.2%), and Red Sox (25.7%). So at least there was a decent-sized gap between them and the teams below them.

However, when you consider the type of lineup the Yankees have, stealing bags and/or taking the extra base isn’t a crucial component of their offense. They simply don’t need to do that kind of stuff to score runs, as we saw this weekend. That’s not to say taking the extra base and whatnot is a bad strategy, it obviously isn’t, but the number one priority has to be getting men on base and keeping them there. In plain English, the Yankees shouldn’t take unnecessary risks on the bases. Knowing when to just stay put and not force the issue is just as important as knowing when to put your foot on the gas.

On the other hand, you could argue that the Yankees have a higher margin for error. Their offense is so good that a runner getting thrown out trying to steal or go first-to-third won’t kill them since they could easily get that run back (in theory). I can see both sides of the argument, but I tend to fall on the conservative side. Sometimes the threat of a stolen base creates more havoc than the stolen base itself. If Girardi wants his team to be more aggressive on the bases, that’s fine. I just hope they’re smart about it.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 4th, 2011

Record Last Week: 2-1 (23 RS, 19 RA)
Season Record: 2-1 (23 RS, 19 RA, 2-1 pythag. record), 1.0 game back
Opponents This Week: vs. Twins (four games, Mon. to Thurs.), @ Red Sox (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

{democracy:148}

Hughes ineffective, Yanks drop first of season, 10-7

Back and forth, and back and forth. The Yanks and Tigers exchanged shots on Sunday, but the Tigers landed more of them. The teams combined for 26 hits, 11 of them for extra bases, and five of them for home runs. That made for an eventful game, but it seemed that the Yankees could never fully recover from the Tigers’ strikes. It was a valiant performance on offense, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Tigers’ onslaught of extra base hits. The Yankees found themselves losers for the first time in 2011, 10-7 in the series finale.

Let’s talk about Hughes

(Kathy Willens/AP)

There was no mitigating factor to Phil Hughes‘s start. Plenty went wrong, as his pitching line — 4 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 HR — indicates. Sometimes we can find a few aspects of the game that make a line like that look a bit better. Maybe one of the homers just barely landed over the wall. Maybe a few bloops dropped in. Maybe it was just one pitch that was giving him trouble. But for Hughes there were no positives to take.

We had heard late in spring training that scouts were shocked at Hughes’s lack of velocity. That seemed like an odd concern, since we hadn’t heard anything about it previously. Yesterday he showed that the reports were real. Last year he averaged 92.5 mph with the fastball. Even in his first start it was at 92. Yesterday he maxed out at 91.1 mph, and averaged 89.25 mph. There’s clearly time for him to amp up the velocity, but for now it remains a concern going forward.

A diminished fastball is a problem for Hughes, because it was one of two pitches on which he generated swings and misses in 2010. He had a 9.3 percent whiff rate on the four-seamer last year, but generated no swings and misses yesterday. In fact, of his 90 pitches, he got a swing and miss on just two — both cutters. The cutter was really the only pitch he had working. That’s the only thing resembling a positive we can take from this.

Yet the most frustrating, and probably most concerning, aspect of the game was Hughes’s inability to do anything once he got two strikes on a hitter. This is a problem that played a large role in his 2010 season, and it reared its head in a major way yesterday. Of the 19 batters Hughes faced, 12 faced two-strike counts. It took him 34 pitches to get to a two-strike count on those 12 hitters. Once he got a two-strike count, he threw 36 pitches. Ten of the hitters he faced saw five or more pitches in a plate appearance.

This isn’t to say that Hughes needs to strike out all these guys. Far from it. It might be that he needs to stop trying to strike them out. We know that Hughes can throw strikes. Thirteen of nineteen batters saw first-pitch strikes, and only two saw a 2-0 count. But once he gets two strikes he seems to go into a different mode, where he nibbles and nibbles, and it leads to a deluge of fouls and taken pitches. This wouldn’t have been as frustrating if we hadn’t seen it all last season. It is probably Hughes’s No. 1 area of concern in terms of having a successful career.

My hypothesis is that Hughes needs to start working backwards. Last year he didn’t get many swings and misses with the curveball or the changeup. Perhaps if he starts throwing those pitches earlier in counts he can generate some more poor contact and retire hitters with fewer pitches. That would also set up his two swing-and-miss pitches better. That’s not to say he always has to work this way, but it might be worth changing things up and holding his putaway pitches for putaway situations, rather than setting guys up with them and then having nothing different to show them.

Gardner adjusting to a new role

The Yanks have put plenty of runs on the board in the early going — 23 in three games — so there’s not much to complain about on offense. Yet after this game it’s tough to avoid noting Brett Gardner‘s rough start. We’re dealing with just a handful of plate appearances, so drawing conclusions is foolish. But he hasn’t exactly looked good at the plate.

Yesterday’s first at-bat was a portend for the rest of the game. Max Scherzer dealt him three pitches, all strikes. Gardner didn’t remove the bat from his shoulder. In his second at-bat he grounded out weakly on the second pitch. In the fourth he struck out swinging, and it didn’t really look like he knew what he wanted to do with the pitch. The same goes for his last-at bat. In total he saw 17 pitches in 5 PA, which is hardly what we saw from him last year.

It does appear that he’s working on something with Kevin Long, because he’s swinging — harder, I guess is the easiest way to describe it. On outside pitches last year he basically stuck out his bat and hoped to slap it past or over an infielder. Yesterday it looked like he was trying to drive more pitches. It might be good for the long run, but in the short run he looks kind of lost. No, it’s not time to pull the plug on the leadoff experiment, but he’s certainly looked worse than any of his teammates at the plate.

The Swisher of old, the Swisher of new

Last year we saw a bit different look from Nick Swisher. In 2009 we saw the guy who had established himself in Oakland as a low-average, high-OBP, good power guy. Last year things changed a bit. He got more aggressive earlier in counts. It led to a slightly lower OBP, but a much higher batting average. Those added hits where he previously walked led to a higher total output (as measured by wOBA). Yesterday we saw a mix of the two.

Swisher came to the plate five times and failed to make an out. That includes two walks, two singles, and a double. That included a first-pitch single, a second-pitch single, a six-pitch walk, a six-pitch double, and a five-pitch walk. He did everything he could to help the Yankees win, scoring two runs and driving in another. Unfortunately, he was left stranded in three of the five times he reached.

Leftovers

(Kathy Willens/AP)

Colon seemed to go hot and cold with each new batter. Sometimes, as with Brennan Boesch, he put the ball on a tee. Other times he gassed guys with some 94 mph heat, leading to five strikeouts. If he stays healthy I think he can be a solid contributor. Let’s just chalk this one up to the haven’t-pitched-in-a-while jitters.

Can’t do a recap and not note Posada’s two-homer, four RBI day. When the Yanks were down he tried to bring them back. I am kinda ticked, though, that he swung 3-1 in the 9th, when it was clear that Valverde had no control.

How ’bout that Russ Martin? His contributions yesterday went largely unrewarded, in that his three hits, including a double, didn’t drive in a run, nor did they lead to him scoring. But he’s looked like the Martin of old on opening weekend.

RISP fail alert: Yanks were just 1 for 8 in those situations yesterday. And yet they still scored seven runs.

Stats and such

Here’s the box score and the nerd score

Up Next

Ivan Nova makes his 2010 debut against Scott Baker and the Twins tomorrow night. Hey, first 7 p.m. game of the season.

Open Thread: First series in the books

Hip hip. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The first series of the year is officially in the books, and the Yankees did all you could ask them to do: they won it. Win a lot of series, and you’re going to enjoy a very successful season. The pitching hasn’t been very good, but that appears to be an epidemic around the league at the moment. I blame El Niño. The offense is kicking ass and taking names, except for the the two guys batting first and second, ironically enough. The Twins are coming into town next, and we all know how those series tend to play out. Just keeping winning series, that’s all we ask.

Anywho, here is tonight’s open thread. The ESPN Sunday Night game has the Giants at the Dodgers (Zito vs. Kuroda), plus the Knicks and Nets are in action. Talk about whatever you want, go nuts.

Site Update: Just so you don’t miss it, The Banuelos Watch is now up in the far right sidebar, right underneath our names and email addresses. The four full-season minor league affiliates kick of their seasons on Thursday.