2012 Draft: Erlin Santos

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

(www.woscbaseball.com)

Erlin Santos | RHP

Background
Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Santos actually signed with the Royals as an international free agent a few years ago but was released after pitching to an 8.10 ERA in 13.1 innings for their Dominican Summer League affiliate in 2010. He enrolled at Western Oklahoma State, which recruits the Caribbean Islands heavily, and is draft-eligible this summer.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 190 lbs., Santos is a two-pitch guy with a low-90s fastball and a sharp mid-80s slider. He misses bats but is also prone to missing the strike zone despite a simple and compact delivery. Santos is an ace in Division II but profiles best as a reliever in pro ball because he lacks a third pitch and is unable to consistently throw strikes. He’s made it no secret that he wants to get back into professional baseball and should be an easy sign.

Miscellany
Santos is a late-round guy, currently projected to go somewhere in the 8th-12th round. I like him because his present stuff is pretty good and there’s a chance it’ll jump a notch with a move to the bullpen. His control problems aren’t extreme (4.23 BB/9 this spring), so it’s not like it’ll take a miracle for him to pan out. Santos has pretty good stuff and in the late rounds of the draft, there’s not much more you can do than gamble on stuff.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Good to know I'm not the only one who wants to strangle him. (REUTERS/Alex Gallardo)

Just one more night of West Coast baseball, at least until the Yankees come back for seven games in late-July. Don’t worry, they don’t have to play in Anaheim any more after tonight. They can pack up after the game and not worry about this place for a long time.

Here’s your open thread for the night. We’ve got a Lee vs. Gee matchup in Flushing (Cliff vs. Dillon), plus there’s some great NHL and NBA playoff action going on as well. Talk about whatever you like here.

Russell Martin and pitches down

The Yankees have gotten a 78 wRC+ out of their catching duo this season, the fifth worst mark in the American League. Russell Martin has gotten warm of late — six hits and three walks in his last six games — but he’s still sporting a .190/.333/.339 batting line (91 wRC+) nearly two months into the season. The post-Jorge Posada era is off to an ugly start.

As Jonathan Scippa explained yesterday, Martin’s biggest problem is his complete inability to hit balls down in the strike zone. In fact, he has exactly one hit this season on a pitch down in the zone, everything else has come on pitches up around his waist and above. Make sure you click the link for a heat map that really drives the point home. Scippa notes that Russ has always had trouble with pitches down, but this season it’s been taken to an extreme. There’s an adjustment that has to be made on Martin’s part, but I’m not sure how easy it will be.

Nick Swisher swinging at everything

Yep. He really just caught that. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Nick Swisher hasn’t been very Swisher-like at the plate this season. Sure, he’s hitting with his typical power, slugging 13 doubles and eight homers. He’s also seemingly been robbed more frequently than usual. There have been at least a few games where he’s hit three or four rockets, only to have fielders snag them — sometimes in spectacular fashion. But there has been something about Swisher’s game that just doesn’t add up, given his history.

When the Yankees acquired Swisher before the 2009 season they pretty much knew what they were getting: a low-average, high OBP player with some power. In his first season he met expectations almost precisely, hitting .249/.371/.498, slugging 29 homers and 35 doubles while walking 97 times. They got much of the same in 2011 as well: .260/.374/.449 with 23 homers, 30 doubles, and 95 walks. Maybe it has become an odd-year thing with Swisher, because in 2010, and now in 2012, he’s been a bit different.

In 2010 Swisher talked about becoming more aggressive at the plate. That worked out for him well. While his walk rate dropped to 9.1 percent, the lowest of his career by more than a full point, he made up for it by hitting .288, by leaps and bounds the highest of his career. He still added the power, with 29 homers and 33 doubles. Replacing the walks with hits worked out well for him, as he produced the highest OPS+ of his career.

This year Swisher has again shown a free-swinging tendency. The difference is that it’s not quite working to his advantage. We can start with his tendency to swing at pitches out of the zone — 27.2 percent, which is higher than even his then-career-high of 25.4 percent in 2010. Even worse, he’s actually swinging at pitches out of the zone at a rate higher than the league average; he’s never done that previously. In general he’s swinging more, with the highest rate of his career at this point. That’s just not what we’ve come to expect from Swisher.

Even more concerning is his swinging strike rate: 12.5 percent, which is far, far above his 8.9 percent career rate, and even more alarmingly above his average as a Yankee. While it’s difficult to make definitive conclusions from batted ball data, we can combine this with the eye test to make the following assertion: Swisher has been taking some terrible hacks this year, and his overall game is suffering from it.

While we can examine the problem, the solution is completely out of our grasp. Is Swisher swinging more often due to frustration over having his hard-hit balls land in fielders’ gloves? Is he trying to be more aggressive, as in 2010, but failing to recognize pitches? The most important question, though, is of whether he’ll eventually round into form. Given his history of only one below-average season, and his increasing production into his prime years, it seems as though he will.

In an offense riddled with problems, Swisher has at times seemed a savior. He’s had plenty of big hits. At the same time, he’s been floundering in many spots where his team needs him to be patient and wait for his pitch. Getting him back to his normal production levels will provide another boost to an offense that needs all the help it can get right now.

HOPE Week expanding to minor league affiliates this year

The Yankees have announced that for the first time, HOPE Week will expand to their minor league affiliates this season. The Triple-A Empire State, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston, and Short Season Staten Island clubs will host events “designed to bring to light remarkable stories intended to inspire individuals into action in their own communities” throughout the summer.

“As an organization, we have seen firsthand the positive impact HOPE Week has made in our community,” said Brian Cashman.  “We’ve found that giving back is contagious.  One of the goals of the initiative has been to inspire others to follow in our footsteps, and I’m proud that our affiliates are expanding this tradition by joining our efforts.”

The High-A Tampa club will host HOPE Week from June 4-8th and will be the first affiliate to do so this year. Click here for a look back at past HOPE Week stories. Great job on the part of the Yankees, hopefully we see some more expansion in the future.

2012 Draft: J.O. Berrios

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

Jose Orlando (J.O.) Berrios | RHP

Background
It’s a strong year for Puerto Rico, with infielder Carlos Correa in the mix to go first overall. Berrios attends Papa Juan XXIII High School and is expected to be the first pitcher from the island selected next week. He’s committed to Miami Dade College, a two-year school.

Scouting Report
Standing 6-foot-1 and 180 lbs. after spending the last few months working with a trainer, Berrios sits anywhere from 90-95 with his fastball and has legitimately run it up to 98 at times this spring. A power low-80s slider is his top secondary offering and he’s made progress with a fading changeup. Berrios throws strikes because he’s athletic and has a smooth and repeatable delivery. It’s worth noting that he just turned 18 last weekend and is young for the draft class.

Miscellany
MLB.com (#45), Baseball America (#49), and Keith Law (#79) all ranked Berrios as a sandwich/second round talent recently. The present stuff is among the best in the draft class but he doesn’t offer a ton of projection given his size. Law mentioned that the Yankees were focusing on arms yesterday, specifically Berrios and some other high schoolers. They’d likely have to grab him with their first rounder (#30 overall) rather than wait for their two second rounders (#89 and #94 overall), meaning Berrios would only be the second prep pitcher taken with the top pick under scouting director Damon Oppenheimer (Gerrit Cole in 2008). I’m a fan.

MLBTR: 2013 Yankees Contract Issues

As part of their contract issues series, MLBTR reviewed the Yankees’ roster and the players scheduled to become free agents or arbitration-eligible after the season. It’s not a small group, we’re talking ten impending free agents, nine arbitration-eligibles, and five with contract options. Obviously the 2014 payroll plan is still a ways off, but if the Yankees are serious about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold that season, they have to start planning for it right now and some of these contract issues are not insignificant. Check it out, it’s a quick but comprehensive overview.