Open Thread: The Giambino Returns

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

It’s been three years since the Yankees parted ways with Jason Giambi, but he’s coming back to the Bronx this weekend as a visiting player with the Rockies. Yeah, he came to Yankee Stadium with the A’s in 2009, but I think it’ll be little different now since some time has passed. Giambi hit .260/.404/.521 as a Yankee and is hitting .262/.361/.639 this year, and he’ll be Colorado’s designated hitter during the three game series. He was a big time personal fave, so I’m looking forward to seeing him one last time. I miss the taters.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. Very light baseball schedule today, though MLB Network is carrying a game (teams depend on where you live). That’s pretty much it, but use this thread to talk about whatever you want. Go nuts.

Jeter, Colon, Chavez continue rehab in Tampa

Derek Jeter, Bartolo Colon, and Eric Chavez are continuing to progress in the rehab for their various injuries down in Tampa. Jeter threw for the third straight day but has not been cleared to start running, which is what really matters when it comes to his calf issue. He’s expected to increase his workouts in the coming days. Colon was able to run sprints in the outfield for the first time since injuring his hamstring, and he has continued to play long toss as well. He’s scheduled for a bullpen session tomorrow. Chavez ran the bases for the first time today, going from home to first about a half-dozen times today. He’s been hitting for a while now, but this is the first time he’s run on anything more than a treadmill. Great news for all three but especially for Colon and Chavez, who have started testing their leg/foot injuries.

Montero’s early-June benching due to lack of “energy”

Jesus Montero‘s two game hiatus earlier this month came because the organization felt his play lacked “energy,” says Andrew Marchand. “It is all in becoming a first-rate professional and he is still in the middle of that process,” said Mark Newman, who basically runs the farm system. Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Butch Wynegar added that he thinks Montero “is almost bored here in Triple-A.” My opinion is well known: get the kid the big leagues, like yesterday. Forcing someone to change their behavior almost never works, and there’s a very simple solution here. Just do it.

Austin Romine headed to Futures Game for second straight year

Rosters for the 2011 Futures Game were released today (USA, World), and the only Yankees farmhand headed to the game is Austin Romine. He participated in last year’s game as well. The eligibility rules are weird and I can never seem to nail them down, but it’s something like a maximum of two players per club and no one can go more than twice (which disqualifies Jesus Montero). Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos simply haven’t pitched well enough to make the game, same deal with Gary Sanchez on the position player side.

Romine is currently on the disabled list with a concussion, but he has resumed baseball activities and is expected back within a week. He’ll be ready in plenty of time for the Futures Games, which will be played the Sunday before the All-Star Game (July 10th) in Arizona. Romine is hitting .298/.362/.421 with a .356 wOBA this year, and is on pace to finish with careers highs in many offensive categories.

A portrait of Russell Martin’s season

(From Flickr user spablab via Creative Commons license.)

It’s been a while since we said, “Thanks Ned!” with any real enthusiasm. We, at least most of us, still appreciate Russell Martin‘s contributions t the team, but once he tapered off after a hot start we slowed our thanks to the GM who let Martin walk. Even with his performance for the past five or six weeks he ranks sixth among catchers with a .344 wOBA, and fifth with 1.8 WAR. But some of that luster has worn off, and it’s easy to see why when we look at how his numbers have trended.

There’s a noticeable drop-off in the past month, thanks to Martin going 9 for 60 with just one extra base hit, a homer (.150/.278/.200). This is also right around the time that Martin started getting a bit banged up. Since then — June 8th was the first day he sat out with the back injury — he’s gone 5 for 25 with no extra base hits and five walks. While can’t necessarily connect the injury and the performance, it does seem to have affected his numbers. This is both good and bad. Good, in that if he recovers physically so should his numbers. Bad, because back injuries are no joke and we’re not sure if he will make a full recovery this season.

Really, this post should have come first, followed by Mike’s Jesus Montero post. Montero can benefit the Yankees in a number of ways right this moment. He can take on the right-side DH duties (when Girardi doesn’t feel that A-Rod needs a half day) and he can take over Cervelli’s spot as the backup catcher. More importantly, he can play more often than Cervelli, both to the effect of getting his bat in the lineup and spelling Martin a bit more frequently. He might not get the at-bats of a full-time player, but it will be somewhere close. And those at-bats at the majors could aid his development more than continuing to spin his wheels in AAA.

Even with his recent slump, Martin has been an excellent addition to the Yankees. He produced early in the season with some unexpected power, and even after that dropped off he’s helped at the plate by taking tons of pitches and drawing more than his share of walks (14.9 percent walk rate since his two-homer game in Baltimore). He figures to help the Yankees the rest of the way, and perhaps into next season. If he’s hurt then Montero can come up and help keep him rested, and if he’s just regressed then Montero can help increase production from the catcher spot. Either way, we can still appreciate Martin while appreciating the team’s top prospect at the same time.

The Jesus Montero SNAFU

Let’s start with something Kevin Goldstein wrote for ESPN today (Insider req’d)…

“[The Yankees] just don’t seem to trust their young players,” said one big league executive. “Look at what the Braves did. When they needed a warm body, they had no issue with calling on [Julio] Teheran or [Randall] Delgado, even though those guys weren’t fully big-league-ready.”

Nobody is saying to call up one of the new killer Bs for good, but to go through all of the machinations for [Brian Gordon] instead of leaning on what you already have for a handful of outings shows either a lack of confidence in their own prospects, or maybe more telling, an almost perverse fear of failure.

The same applies to position players, as the Jesus Montero situation showcases some of the unique variables that the Yankees are dealing with.

In nearly any other system, Montero would be a big leaguer and multiple scouts who have seen Montero play during his disappointing .291/.336/.414 showing at Triple-A say that there is a frustration and lack of effort to his game this year, with one talent evaluator just coming out and saying, “He looks like a player who knows he’s stuck in Pennsylvania.”

Do the Braves deserve credit for going with Teheran and Delgado in those starts? Sure, those were some ballsy moves. It’s also worth noting that they lost all three of those games and neither of the kids lasted more than 4.2 innings in any of the starts. I get why the Yankees signed Brian Gordon and I have no issue with it whatsoever, I explained that this morning. This has more to do with Montero, who is stuck in the minors because they want him to play everyday.

I mean … that’s fine, I get it, but I also don’t agree with it. The kid has 756 plate appearances at Triple-A to his credit and he’s a .290/.348/.480 hitter at the level. Robinson Cano didn’t hit that well in Triple-A, neither did Melky Cabrera or Bernie Williams or Jorge Posada or pretty much any position player the Yankees have called up in the last 20 years. Montero’s batting line this year is just a convenient excuse to leave him down more than anything else. If he’s doing that as a frustrated 21-year-old against Triple-A competition, what is he capable of after a deserved promotion?

All this stuff about him being frustrated and lacking effort isn’t a sign of some greater problem either, even though it will be spun that way. Have you ever been stuck at a job when you know there’s no promotion to be had? It freaking sucks, and situations like that often lead to people looking for employment elsewhere. It’s completely normal, and Montero’s frustration just shows he’s human, that’s it. He did what he had to do in Triple-A, let’s stop pretending he hasn’t and should instead be some kind of model person incapable of frustration and disappointment.

The Yankees are tilting at some serious windmills here. Whatever move they make will be scrutinized, whether they call Montero up or keep him down or trade him. That’s life. There’s an obvious path for him to get playing time in the big leagues which involves getting Frankie Cervelli‘s complete lack of positive impact off the roster and letting Montero serve as the backup catcher and part-time designated hitter. He could get four starts a week that way (two at catcher, two at DH), which is what the Yankees did with Posada a decade ago and how teams regularly broke in young players back in the day. There’s nothing unconventional here, the kid is so obviously ready and able to help. Stop fearing failure and let him do it.

Is it time for Suttle to stop switch-hitting?

(Photo Credit: Flickr user lakelandlocal via Creative Commons license)

It’s been four years since the Yankees gave Bradley Suttle what was then a fourth round record $1.3M signing bonus in 2007. He hit a solid .271/.348/.456 (.361 wOBA) with Low-A Charleston in 2008, but missed all of 2009 with major shoulder issues. Suttle returned in 2010 and was decent with High-A Tampa (.272/.340/.411 with a .348 wOBA). This year has disappointing, a .216/.302/.405 batting line with a .321 wOBA for Double-A Trenton. His strikeout (34.1%) and walk (8.4%) rates are career worsts as is his BABIP (.298), though a .198 ISO is his best ever.

Here’s what Baseball America had to say about Suttle’s offense right before the 2007 draft (subs. req’d)…

There’s a debate among scouts about who’s better, Suttle or his Longhorns teammate, Kyle Russell. Suttle doesn’t have Russell’s power ceiling, but he’s a better bet to hit in the major leagues. He’s a pure hitter and switch-hitter to boot, with scouts preferring his stroke from the left side. He has a strong 6-foot-2, 213-pound frame, though his inside-out swing doesn’t have much lift and somewhat limits his power. He drives more balls into the gaps than over the fence.

They also ranked him as the best pure college hitter heading into the draft (subs. req’d), ahead of top ten picks like Matt Wieters and Matt LaPorta. We’re four years and more than 1,300 plate appearances into Suttle’s pro career now, and a .258/.333/.422 batting line (~.345 wOBA) hardly resembles what you’d expect from such a highly touted college hitter. However, let’s focus on one piece of that scouting report, the “with scouts preferring his stroke from the left side” part. Here are Suttle’s career splits…

Pretty consistent with the scouting report, because he’s done absolutely nothing from the right side of the plate as a pro. The strikeout and walk rates are better, sure, but not nearly enough to make up for the utter lack of hitting ability. Also, before we go too much further: yes, it’s a small sample size. I don’t think I had to say that, but I did anyway.

So after looking at all this, the question is should Suttle stop switch-hitting and focus on his left-handed swing only? The Yankees have had success getting switch-hitters to abandon their weaker sides in the recent past, namely Eduardo Nunez and Frankie Cervelli, and Suttle seems like a prime candidate for the move. It’s a drastic change, no doubt about it, because he’s had the platoon advantage his entire life and all of a sudden it will be gone against lefties. Heck, there’s a legitimate chance he’ll be worse against lefties as a left-handed batter than he has been as a righty.

If they do decide to make a switch, I think it might be best to let him ride this season out and then drop the right-handed swing over the winter. That way he can ease into it rather than jump right into something he’s never done before against Double-A caliber pitching. Right now Suttle looks like little more than a platoon bat at the corner infield spots, one with some power and one base skills and enough defense to have value. If he learned to play left field he could be a mini-version of Eric Hinske, or at least be closer to that than Brandon Laird, who hits from the other side of the plate and has drawn just 13 more walks than Suttle in 726 more plate appearances since 2007.

The Yankees have gotten very little return so far from their 2007 draft, none in terms of big leaguers. Chase Weems has contributed the most of the lot by being traded for Jerry Hairston Jr. at the deadline in 2009. Austin Romine has the best shot at being an above average everyday player from that haul, but Suttle, Laird, Ryan Pope, and Andrew Brackman might still be able to contribute in lesser roles. Perhaps having Suttle focus on hitting from the left side exclusively is a way to extract more value from him long-term.