Baseball America’s 2010 Draft Report Cards

The gang at Baseball America is in the process of posting their draft report cards for each of the 30 teams, and yesterday they hit the Yankees. It’s a subscriber only piece, but I can tell you that they do say scouting director Damon Oppenheimer’s latest effort is a “high-risk/high-reward class with up-the-middle athletes such as [Cito] Culver, [Angelo] Gumbs and [Mason] Williams. With strong pitching at the top of the farm system, the Yankees gambled on prep talent, so it will take time to see if it pans out.”

As for some of the individual categories, Ben Gamel (10th rounder) was dubbed the best pure hitter, Williams (4th) the fastest runner, Gumbs (2nd) the best athlete, and Culver (1st) the best defensive player. Tommy Kahnle (5th) and Conor Mullee (24th) are each said to have the best fastball at 93-95 and touching 98. Chase Whitley‘s (15th) changeup is the best offspeed offering, and both he and Kahnle are the closest to having an impact in the big leagues. Unsigned righty Josh Dezse (25th) was hitting 95 this summer, but he’s heading to Ohio State and was best prospect the Yankees failed to sign. It’s a class heavy on potential and risk, but the Yanks needed this kind of infusion of upside and power arms. Hopefully a few of these guys pan out.

Feeding Josh Hamilton

Please don't let this happen again (Mark Humphrey/AP)

In the ALDS the Rays made the Rangers look like a beatable team. Sure, they had Cliff Lee ready to go twice in a series, but on offense the team didn’t look like much of a powerhouse. The main reason was that the Rays held down Josh Hamilton. The MLB WAR and wOBA leader went just 2 for 20 with two walks and no extra base hits in the series. This was cause for concern, because Hamilton was coming off a fairly serious rib injury. If the Yankees could similarly reduce Hamilton’s impact, they would have a much greater chance of winning the series.

It didn’t take more than one at-bat for Hamilton to show that his ALDS slump was nothing more than that. He took CC Sabathia deep to establish a 3-0 lead. For the series he is now 6 for 19 with four homers, a double, and five walks. That has helped his team claim a 3-2 edge in the series. While much of Hamilton’s turnaround is simply regression, there does seem to be another factor at play.

At ESPN 1040, Tommy Rancel, also of Rays blog The Process Report, explains the differences in how the Rays and the Yankees have approached Hamilton. During the regular season Hamilton fared best against fastballs and changeups. Throughout the ALDS the Rays attacked him with mostly curveballs. Of the 75 pitches he saw in those five games, 24 were curveballs — more than any other pitch. They threw him just 17 four-seamers and 13 two-seamers, while mixing in 15 changes. That seemed to work well, as not only did Hamilton not get on base, but he also struck out plenty.

The Yankees have apparently not learned from the Rays success. They have thrown Hamilton a four-seamer in 44 of 92 pitches. Almost all of these fastballs have come over the outer half of the plate, if they cross the plate at all. They have worked in plenty of curveballs and have had considerably success — Hamilton has swung and missed at 4 of 19 curves. But they haven’t worked in nearly enough other pitches. Instead they’re buttering Hamilton’s bread with fastballs.

This is Phil Hughes‘s most difficult task in Game 6. The season is in his hands. If he is to succeed he must hold Hamilton in check. That means breaking out the curveball often. There’s a chance that won’t work, but it’s better than continuing to go back with what we know doesn’t work. Josh Hamilton destroys fastballs. Stop throwing them to him so often.

Yankee pitchers performing well in the AzFL

Yeah yeah yeah, I know I’ve been slacking off big time with DotF lately. So sue me, playoff baseball is more important (and exciting). Anyway, let’s get you caught up on what’s been happening in the Arizona Fall League over the last few days…

Phoenix Desert Dogs (6-3 loss to Peoria on Monday)
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 PB – they stole three bases in three tries off him
Brandon Laird, LF: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 E (fielding) – first error in the outfield
Jose Pirela, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 K, 2 E (fielding, throwing)
Manny Banuelos: 4 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 6-5 GB/FB – 36 of 59 pitches were strikes (61.0%) … PitchFX had him topping out right around 94
Craig Heyer: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 6-0 GB/FB – 15 of 25 pitches were strikes (60%) … love the grounders

Phoenix Desert Dogs (7-3 win over Peoria on Tuesday)
Austin Romine, C: 1 for 4, 3 RBI – no one attempted to steal off him in this game
Brandon Laird, LF: 0 for 4 – threw a runner out at third
Ryan Pope: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 19 of 29 pitches were strikes (65.5%)
George Kontos: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 15 of 22 pitches were strikes (68.2%)

Phoenix Desert Dogs (9-5 loss to Peoria on Wednesday)
Brandon Laird, LF: 1 for 5, 2 RBI, 2 K
Jose Pirela, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 K, 1 SB

Also, just so you don’t miss it, Jim Callis fielded a question about the best offensive prospect left in the minors in this week’s Ask BA. Callis went with Jesus Montero over guys like Mike Trout (Angels), Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Will Myers (all three Royals), saying there “isn’t a minor leaguer who can match [Montero’s] ability to hit for average and power.” He added that Bryce Harper, the first overall pick in this last year’s draft, has more power than Montero, but “but isn’t as polished or pure a hitter.” Sounds pretty good, eh?

Yanks send Shive, Cusick to Indians to complete Kerry Wood trade

Via Marc Carig, the Yankees have sent minor leaguers Andy Shive and Matt Cusick to Cleveland as players to be named later in the Kerry Wood trade. Shive had some sleeper potential as a relief potential, but he hasn’t really pitched much since having Tommy John surgery and will be 25-years-old in a few weeks without ever getting out of A-ball. Cusick, a 24-year-old utility infielder was the guy the Yanks got from Houston for LaTroy Hawkins a few years ago, and his best asset is probably his versatility. The Indians might have some use for him, but the Yanks definitely didn’t. No big loss at all.

ALCS Game Five Chat

Spare parts, but now so much more

When the Yankees extended their season by taking Game Five yesterday, they did so thanks to the performances of their star players. Robbie Cano hit his fourth homer of the ALCS, Alex Rodriguez doubled to set-up a rally and drew two walks, Jorge Posada drove in the first run of the game and then came around to score, CC Sabathia provided six hard-fought innings, and Mariano Rivera was there to close things out in the ninth. The team’s best players were their best players in the most important game of the season, but let’s not understate the contributions they received from their deadline pickups.

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Mark Teixeira‘s season came to an abrupt end in Game Four when his right hamstring popped running down to first, so Lance Berkman is now stepping in as the Yanks’ full-time first baseman. I don’t know about you, but I’d have called you crazy if you woulda told me in April that Berkman would be the team’s everyday first baseman in the ALCS. Does not compute.

Anyway, Fat Elvis dusted off his first baseman’s mitt and took to the field for just the eighth time in forty games as a Yankee. I know he had some adventurous plays down in Tampa early on and even had that nasty spill yesterday, but overall Berkman is a solid defensive first baseman (his +13.1 UZR over the last three years is basically identical to Tex’s, for what it’s worth) capable of making all the routine plays plus a little more. He won’t make the flashy plays or the throws that Teixeira can, but it’s not like the Yankees had to resort to trotting Jason Giambi out there in the postseason.

Despite batting righthanded, by far his weaker side this season (.236 wOBA), Puma managed to contribute some offensively in Game Five, drawing a walk and driving in a run with a well-struck sac fly. His approach was rather simple; he just took everything not in his happy zone, which resulted in 22 pitches seen in just four plate appearances. The potential was there for zero offensive contribution, but Berkman’s been a great hitter for a long time and he found a way to chip in anything he could from his weak side. That’s all you could ask for from your backup first baseman.

After the Yanks had built up their lead and gotten all they could out of Sabathia, they handed the ball over to another July 31st pickup in Kerry Wood. The Yankee bullpen, a strength the entire second half, had faltered in a big way during Games Three and Four, allowing 11 runs and 16 baserunners in just five innings of work, but Wood was not involved in that disaster. The first batter he faced, the pesky Elvis Andrus, reached base on his eleventyith infield hit of the series, but some pitches and pickoff throws later, Wood caught him straying too far off second. Kerry had one pickoff since the 2006 season, but Andrus was his second of the ALCS. Lucky? Yes. Do you need luck to dig out of the three games to one hole? Also yes.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Wood went to work against the heart of Texas’ order with the Andrus pickoff mixed in. He struck out both Michael Young and Josh Hamilton to end the seventh, and then came out to retire Vlad Guerrero, David Murphy, and Ian Kinsler in order in the eighth. David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan were horrifically ineffective during the past two games, but Wood stepped up in the must-win situation and give his club two big innings to bridge the gap between Sabathia and Mariano Rivera.

Berkman and Wood were ideal deadline pickups for many reasons off-the-field, such as low cost to acquire and short commitment, but on-the-field they made perfect sense. Both are veteran players with playoff (and in Berkman’s case, World Series) experience, but more importantly they bought into their role. Berkman’s a hero in Houston, where he played every single day and hit in the middle of the order for the last decade or so. With the Yankees, he was just a platoon designated hitter now pressed into a more important role. Wood was saving games for a last place team in Cleveland, and saves equal money on the free agent market. He joined the Yanks as just another cog in their deep bullpen, but emerged as someone much more important than that.

When the Yanks acquired these two guys at the deadline, none of us expected them to be this important with the season on the line. If you’re going to lose a player of Mark Teixeira’s caliber to injury, Lance Berkman’s a pretty damn good replacement to have. Should the regular relievers falter, having a hard-throwing strikeout machine like Kerry Wood to back them up is more than you could ask for. Neither player will be with the Yanks next season, but right now they’re doing everything asked of them and then some to help this team try to win a World Championship, and we appreciate that.

Feeling confident about the Yanks’ chances

In describing yesterday’s Game 5 victory, Cliff Corcoran of Pinstriped Bible makes a connection to the past:

Perhaps its because, after being dominated by the Rangers for four games, a single win, even a lop-sided one such as the 7-2 Game Five, doesn’t carry enough weight to restore balance to the series. Whatever it is, Game Five felt like a repeat of Game Three of the 2007 Division Series against the Indians, a face-saving but empty victory that did little other than postpone the inevitable series loss suffered in the following game.

That someone would compare this situation to 2007 was inevitable; it was not only the last time the Yankees lost a playoff series, but it’s the last time they faced an elimination game in the playoffs before yesterday. It’s the freshest, most vivid instance that we can recall, and so it weighs on our minds more heavily than instances from the more distant past. Not that there are many better comparable situations in the recent past. The last time the Yankees were down 3-1 or worse in a seven-game series was in 1976.

That’s not to say that we can’t find certain parallels to the 2007 team. Both squads had question marks on the pitching staff. The 2007 team had Chien-Ming Wang as its ace, and while he had a good regular season he bombed in the playoffs. CC Sabathia wasn’t quite that bad in the ALCS, and he actually overcame some control and stuff issues in Game 5, whereas Wang couldn’t find himself at all in 2007’s elimination game. Sabathia also performed far better than Roger Clemens, who pitched the first elimination game of 2007. You might remember that as the day Phil Hughes became a man.

Speaking of Hughes, he takes Wang’s part in this parallel story, since he pitches the second elimination game. It’s tough to make a comparison, because it’s impossible to eliminate hindsight from the equation. Did I feel confident in Wang coming back on three days’ rest to pitch Game 4 in that series? I believe I did at the time. And I believe that the confidence didn’t so much wane in the early goings as it did completely die. With Hughes the situation is a bit different. He’s not coming back on short rest because the Yankees have no one else; rather, he’s coming back on an extra day’s rest.

Still, I’m not convinced of the parallels between the 2007 Yankees and the 2010 Yankees. As I wrote yesterday, I see more parallels between the 2007 Red Sox and the 2010 Yankees. The 07 Sox, you’ll remember, were on top of the division all season. On September 3 they were 83-55, seven games up on the Yanks. They ended 96-66, just two games up on the Yanks after letting them get to within a game and a half. They then swept Anaheim in the ALDS before going down 3-1, in the same manner as the 2010 Yanks, in the ALCS. They brought in their ace, Josh Beckett, for Game 5, and ended up winning the next three games.

When making comparisons, it’s easy to look to the team’s own past. But the 2010 Yankees are as different from the 2007 Yankees as they are from the 2007 Red Sox. There might be some familiar names, but their games have changed since then. Given that the 2010 Yankees romped through the first round, where the 2007 Yankees faltered, I’m more drawn to the 2007 Sox comparison. It doesn’t hurt that the ending was a bit happier.