Scouting Tyler Austin

Outfielder Tyler Austin came into the season as my 15th ranked prospect in the organization and he currently owns a .451 wOBA in 40 games with Low-A Charleston. He’s also tied for fifth in homers (13) in all of minor league baseball. Mike Newman of FanGraphs recently got a chance to see Austin in person and called it “the best offensive display of any player [I’ve] seen in person at the minor league level.”

The 20-year-old former 13th round pick is not without his warts, however. Austin’s power all-fields power and ability to murder fastballs is very real, but Newman notes there is some concern about his swing — which is the same no matter where the pitch is located (high, low, belt-high, etc.) — and his strikeout rate, which sits at 23.1%. That’s not outrageous, but a little higher than you’d like to see at this point of his career. Newman still heaps a ton of praise on Austin, calling him a future above average regular. Make sure you check it out, it’s a quality read.

2012 Draft: Duane Underwood

The 2012 amateur draft is exactly two weeks away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some prospects individually rather than lump them together into larger posts.

Duane Underwood | RHP

Hailing from Marietta, Georgia and Pope High School, Underwood is committed to the University of Georgia and would get a chance to contribute both as a pitcher and position player for the Bulldogs. He’s been dogged by inconsistency this spring, putting his draft stock in a state of flux.

Scouting Report
Standing 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs., Underwood has shown first round potential with a big fastball that has touched 97-98 but usually sits 92-94. His mid-70s curveball is a work in progress but he’s shown a feel for making the ball spin, so it’s just a matter of refinement. A fading low-80s changeup is his best secondary offering and is quite advanced for a high school arm. Underwood’s command can come and go because he throws across his body a bit and tends to rush his delivery, but the athleticism is there for him for repeat his motion. He’s drawn praise for his competitiveness and baseball aptitude as well, which is always a plus. It’s worth noting that Underwood will graduate at 17 and is young for his draft class.

As expected with the inconsistent spring, the consensus is very split on Underwood. ranks him as the 34th best prospect in the draft, Keith Law ranks him 52nd, and Baseball America ranks him 104th. Depending on when you see him, you could see a first round arm for a third or fourth round type. Talent is talent though, and Underwood clearly has plenty of it. I like him best for either of New York’s two second rounders (#89 and #94 overall) but he might not last that long. The Yankees have drafted just two high school pitchers in the first (not sandwich) round in the last 20 years — Phil Hughes and Gerrit Cole — and they were instances of players who were expected to go top 15 but fell into their laps. Not guys who were inconsistent and fringe first rounders. Underwood does offer the size, power stuff, and makeup the Yankees like though, so they could buck the trend.

5/21-5/23 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Expectations were high for the Royals coming into the season, or at least higher than they had been in the past. Instead, injuries and ineffectiveness have them anchored to the bottom of the AL yet again.

What Have They Done Lately?

Since these two teams met in Kansas City two weeks ago, the Royals have won seven of 12 games. They just lost two of three to the Diamondbacks and four of five overall, however. KC is 16-24 overall with a -22 run differential, both representing the second worst marks in the AL. They should send the Twins a gift basket.


(REUTERS/Dave Kaup)

Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas (138 wRC+ for both) have been carrying a lineup with a number of under-performers. Eric Hosmer (48 wRC+) was benched late last week in an effort to clear his head, but he’ll be back tonight (he played yesterday). Both Alex Gordon (87 wRC+) and Jeff Francoeur (74 wRC+) are playing like past versions of themselves, not the guys they were last season. That’s three players who were supposed to be key pieces of the offense who haven’t done much so far. Sound familiar?

Chris Getz (99 wRC+) and Jarrod Dyson (81 wRC+) haven’t been great but Alcides Escobar (113 wRC+) has, and all three are doing more than expected. The catcher platoon of Brayan Pena (70 wRC+) and Humberto Quintero (82 wRC+) has been unproductive, though Quintero’s always been a defense-first guy. Role players like Johnny Giavotella (44 wRC+), Mitch Maier (75 wRC+), and Irving Falu (177 wRC+) have been hit or miss in limited playing time. Overall, the Royals average 4.0 runs per game with a 93 wRC+, both middle of the pack.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Felipe Paulino
Paulino came off the DL to throw six shutout innings against the Yankees a few weeks ago and he’s since gone on to have an okay start against the White Sox (four runs in 5.2 IP) and a great one against the Orioles (seven scoreless). The 28-year-old right-hander has a 1.93 ERA (2.22 FIP) with great peripherals: 10.13 K/9 (28.0 K%), 2.41 BB/9 (6.7 BB%), and 43.8% grounders. Paulino uses both a four-seamer and two-seamer in the mid-90s with a mid-80s slider and a high-80s changeup. The slider is his top secondary offering in both effectiveness and usage.

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. RHP Luke Hochevar
The Yankees pounded Hochevar two weeks ago — seven runs in 2.1 IP — and are part of the reason why he owns a 7.02 ERA despite a 3.68 FIP. His strikeout (6.37 K/9 and 16.3 K%), walk (3.07 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%), and ground ball (42.7%) rates are generally underwhelming. The 28-year-old legitimately throws six pitches: low-90s four-seamer, low-90s sinker, high-80s cutter, mid-80s changeup, mid-80s slider, and upper-70s curveball. That’s too many pitches and Hochevar often gets beat on his fourth, fifth, and sixth best offering.

Wednesday: LHP Andy Pettitte vs. RHP Luis Mendoza
Mendoza came out of the bullpen two weeks ago to hold the Yankees to two runs in 4.2 IP following Hochevar’s disaster. The 28-year-old swingman is back in the rotation after a stint in relief because Danny Duffy will miss the season due to Tommy John surgery. His 5.03 ERA and 4.59 FIP probably undersell how ineffective he’s been, specifically posting more walks (21) than strikeouts (17) in 34 IP. Mendoza relies heavily on a low-90s two-seamer, mixing in the occasional low-90s slider and changeup. The right-hander is a classic Quad-A pitcher, has been his entire career.

Technically, this spot is actually listed as TBA by Kansas City, but all signs point to Mendoza getting the ball. A minor league call-up is always possible, however.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
Injuries have done a number on the Royals’ pitching staff this year. Duffy and Joakim Soria are both out with elbow surgery, Jonathan Sanchez is on the DL with a biceps problem, and Everett Teaford is out with an abdominal injury. Long reliever Nathan Adcock (4.85 FIP) has taken Sanchez’s spot in the rotation, though taking his bullpen spot is uber-setup man Greg Holland (1.81 FIP). He was on the DL with a ribcage issue the last time these two clubs met.

Closer Jonathan Broxton (3.86 FIP) did not pitch yesterday but Holland has appeared in two straight. Aaron Crow (3.33 FIP) is more than qualified for eighth inning work in Holland’s stead and like Broxton, he did not pitch on Sunday. Hard-throwing right-hander Kelvin Herrera (4.32 FIP) threw two innings and 28 pitches yesterday, so we might not see him tonight. Lefties Jose Mijares (3.78 FIP) and Tim Collins (2.82 FIP) both had yesterday off and are good to go today. Right-hander Louis Coleman (4.73 FIP) pitched yesterday and in three of the last four games. Overall, the Royals’ bullpen owns a 3.90 FIP, which is actually a bottom ten mark in baseball. They’re better than that, or at least they have the potential to be.

Joe Girardi‘s bullpen is fresh, with no one who’s appeared in two straight games or threw more than 18 pitches on Sunday. David Phelps did throw 40 pitches on Saturday, so he might be off limits tonight. Otherwise, check out our Bullpen Workload page for an update on everyone’s workload. For the latest and great on the Royals, we recommend Royals Review and Royals Authority.

The increasingly impatient offense

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Power and patience. Those two traits have defined the Yankees’ offense for more than two decades now. They work deep counts and force pitchers to throw a ton of pitches, then take advantage by driving the ball all over the field and homers over the fence. It’s brutally effective, but lately the Yankees seem to have gotten away from the patience part. They’re still hitting for a ton of power — second in baseball in homers (61) and fifth in extra-base hits (135) — but the at-bats don’t seem to be as long as usual.

Anecdotally, we’ve seen a whole lotta first pitch swinging of late. Heck, Alex Rodriguez saw a total of six pitches (!) in four trips to the plate just yesterday, so this isn’t completely a case of my mind playing tricks on me. Bronson Arroyo started the eighth inning with a pitch count of just 83 on Friday and a day later Homey Bailey needed 97 pitches to navigate seven innings. When right, the Yankees have the opponent’s pitch count up in the 80s by the fourth or fifth inning, so clearly something has been amiss during this recent offensive slide.

At the moment, the Yankees average 3.83 pitches per plate appearances and that is actually below the league average. Granted, it’s below average by one-hundredth of a pitch per plate appearance, but below average is below average. The Yankees as currently constructed should be far above the league average in terms of seeing pitches. I was floored when I dug this up. It just doesn’t make sense. Worst of all, they’ve been hovering right around the league average all season…

(click to embiggen)

Other than a short climb in late-April and early-May, the Yankees have sat right around the league average in pitches per plate appearance since things stabilized about ten games into the season. That coincides with Brett Gardner‘s injury and he’s obviously a guy that will work counts and see a ton of pitches each time up. One guy isn’t enough to explain the huge difference from what the Yankees have established as the norm. They saw 3.92 pitches per plate appearance in each of the last two seasons and that’s right around where they should be in 2012 even though Jorge Posada has been replaced by Raul Ibanez.

It stands to reason that fewer pitches seen would result in a decline in walk rate, and sure enough…

(click to embiggen)

The Yankees have walked in 9.0% of their plate appearances this season, above the 8.4% league average. That walk rate has steadily declined as the season has progressed, particularly in the last 15-20 games. Last season they had a 9.9% walk rate and the year before it was 10.4%, and that’s right around where they were sitting this year until this ridiculous offensive slump set in about three weeks ago. Obviously hits are better than walks but this isn’t an either/or situation, the Yankees have dominated offensively for years because they’ve done both, hit and walked. Lately they haven’t done much of either.

The run production has been dreadful of late, like throw your remote at the television awful. The Yankees have scored two runs or less in half of their last 20 games and it’s no surprise given some of the at-bats. Maybe they’re pressing, maybe it’s irreversible decline, maybe it’s bad coaching, maybe it’s just small sample size noise, maybe it’s all of that and more. The Yankees have gotten away from being patient and waiting for the pitcher to make mistakes, and although we can’t definitively say it’s the root cause of their offensive problems, it sure seems to be a contributing factor. The sooner they get back to grinding out at-bats (in all situations!), the better.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 21st, 2012

Record Last Week: 2-5 (23 RS, 33 RA)
Season Record: 21-20 (189 RS, 182 RA, 21-20 pythag. record), 5.5 games back in AL East
Opponents This Week: vs. Royals (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Athletics (three games, Thurs. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

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Lead gets away from Sabathia, Yanks lose again

Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees just plain old suck right now. There’s really no other way to put it and there’s no sense in sugar-coating it. They suck and it’s rather annoying to walk. I suppose it’s a good thing they’re headed to the West Coast in a few days so most of the fanbase will be asleep while they’re busy sucking on Pacific Standard Time. Let’s recap…

  • Better Than Johnny: The Yankees are struggling so much offensively that their only hope for scoring multiple runs is getting guys on base in front of Raul Ibanez and hoping he runs into one. Kinda like the 2008 Mariners. Ibanez hit a mammoth two-run homer in the sixth to give his team a two-run lead on Sunday afternoon, his latest timely hit in a season full of them.
  • Better Than This: After six really strong innings to open the game, CC Sabathia let things get away in the seventh. Ryan “65 OPS+” Ludwick homered on the first pitch of the inning, then Ryan Hanigan homered in an 0-2 count a few batters later to tie the game. Things really fell apart after that, and CC eventually walked Brandon Phillips with the bases loaded to give the Reds the lead. It was his third consecutive walk and frankly he should have been out of the game after walking Joey Votto one batter earlier. Sabathia had walked two straight to load the bases and was over 100 pitches on the afternoon and over 30 in the inning. Still, a two-run lead with your ace on the mound in the seventh? The lead should last more than two outs.
  • Insurance Runs: A one-run deficit isn’t the end of the world, but it became a three-run deficit when Rafael Soriano allowed a bullet into the corner by that Ludwick guy with two men on in the ninth. Dewayne Wise made a valiant diving attempt but came up empty. Boone Logan allowed the two baserunners on a legit single and an infield single that probably should have been an error — it was hard-hit but a big league shortstop should make that play. Wise’s diving attempt will have people pining for Brett Gardner, but how about not letting Ryan freakin’ Ludwick hit two balls hard in the span of two at-bats? He’s terrible.
  • Leftovers: The homer to Hanigan was the first 0-2 homer Sabathia has allowed since 2007 and the bases loaded walk was his first since 2010 … it looked like Alex Rodriguez hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the eighth, but the wind knocked the ball down* and it was caught at the track … A-Rod went 0-for-4 and saw a total of six pitches … Robinson Cano, Ibanez, and Chris Stewart each had two hits while Curtis Granderson and Eric Chavez had one … Grandy and Cano had the two walks. has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated the standing. The Royals are coming to town for a three-game series, and I look forward to watching the Yankees make Felipe Paulino look like a Cy Young contender on Monday night. Hiroki Kuroda gets the ball for the good guys.

* A-Rod’s not hitting for power these days anyway, but it was windy as hell at the park and that sucker looked long gone off bat.

Injury Updates: Gardner, Robertson, Jeter

Got some injury updates on a pair of Yankees who are sorely missed these days, courtesy of Dan Martin and Chad Jennings

  • Brett Gardner (right elbow strain) will be re-evaluated today and if all goes well, he could pick up a bat as soon as tomorrow. “It feels close,” said Gardner, who suffered the setback ten days ago. “There’s no way to tell until I swing.”
  • David Robertson (left oblique strain) still has some pain in his side and hasn’t performed any baseball activities since being placed on the DL five days ago. The plan called for him to be shut him down for 7-10 days anyway, so he’s not behind schedule or anything.

Update: Err, scratch that Gardner note. He has not yet seen the doctor today but Joe Girardi said he won’t pick up a bat until Thursday at the earliest. That will be exactly two weeks after he suffered the setback. They’re playing it safe, it seems.

Update Part Deux: Gardner went to the doctor today and will have an MRI in two or three days just to make sure everything’s okay. He’s headed to Tampa later in the week and will start swinging a bat soon thereafter if this latest round of tests comes back clean.

Meanwhile, Derek Jeter took a hot shot ground ball off his left wrist in the ninth inning this afternoon and was in obvious discomfort, but he downplayed the injury and is expected to play tomorrow.