- Right-hander Brian Anderson has been released. He had been on the Double-A Trenton disabled list with a biceps issue, though his performance when he did pitch was pretty good: nine strikeouts and just one walk in 7.1 IP.
- Mark Newman again said that Gary Sanchez is out with a “stiff lower back,” though he’s playing in Extended Spring Training. He is on the Low-A Charleston disabled list at the moment, and he’ll return there when healthy.
- Both Slade Heathcott (.376 wOBA) and J.R. Murphy (.385) will “probably” move up to High-A Tampa this summer. That’s a yes, though I was wondering if Heathcott’s brawl would slow down his schedule somewhat.
- Mark Prior is not throwing off a mound and is dealing with some kind of oblique/hip issue. Alan Horne (remember him?) is throwing in ExST, as is Brad Halsey. Graham Stoneburner, Jeremy Bleich, and Steve Garrison aren’t close to returning yet.
- David Adams is still having leg issues. It might be related to last year’s broken ankle, but the leg started bothering him after his one game played this year.
- When asked about who’s impressed in ExST, Newman responded with personal fave Bryan Mitchell. “He’s got electric stuff,” said Newman. “He’s got the stuff to be the next Banuelos, Betances. The high-end guy. That’s Mitchell.”
- Carlos Silva can opt out of his minor league deal in mid-June, so he could probably make another two or three or maybe even four starts for Triple-A Scranton before the Yankees have to make a decision about whether or not to call him up.
The draft is just ten days away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some players individually rather than lump a few together in one post.
Blake Swihart | C
After helping Rio Rancho High School to the New Mexico state championship as a sophomore, Swihart transferred to the nearby and brand-new Cleveland High School, where he supposedly has a 4.0 GPA. His showcase performances with Team USA, the Area Code Games, and the AFLAC All-American Game are the stuff of legend, as he’s routinely wowed onlookers over the last few summers. He is committed to Texas.
Swihart is a rare breed. He’s a true switch-hitter with the potential to have power and be above-average from both sides of the plate. He spent the spring focusing on his development by alternating sides of the plate from at-bat to at-bat regardless of the pitcher’s handedness. The 6-foot-0, 170 lb. Swihart is a very good athlete that spent most of his high school career bouncing around the infield before moving behind the plate in earnest just last year. His arm is strong and his footwork is good, but he’s raw defensively and just needs more experience. If catching doesn’t work out for whatever reason, third base and right field are legitimate fallback options. Here’s some video.
In yesterday’s chat, Keith Law said that Swihart “keeps telling teams he has no interest in signing this year,” which is probably just a way of manufacturing leverage as one of the draft’s best high school prospects. KLaw and Baseball America rated him as the 17th and 19th best draft prospect in their latest rankings, respectively. Swihart has significant upside but still has a lot of work to do, and some team will surely offer him life changing money to see that he does that work under professional instruction and not some college coaching staff. The Yankees would have to hope that those bonus demands scare some teams into looking elsewhere if they hope to land Swihart with the 51st overall pick.
I figured I’d grab the reins from Mike this week and answer a few reader questions.
Mark asks: Given Swisher’s morbid .170 avg and .578 OPS against righties through yesterday, how much longer before we start talking about a platoon of Swisher and Dickerson in RF? Swish’s .302 avg & .714 OPS against lefties combined with Dickerson’s .273 avg & .697 OPS against righties sure looks better than Swish’s combined stats!
Given Swisher’s performances during his first two years as a Yankee (.270/.365/.505), I have to believe that they’ll give him more time, perhaps until the All-Star Break, to turn things around. If this is just a prolonged slump, then the Yanks will reap the benefits when he comes out of it — much more so than they would from a Dickerson/Swisher platoon.
If Swisher continues to struggle, we could certainly see more of Dickerson. In 461 career PA he is .273/.362/.419 against right-handed pitching. That’s more ideal for center field platoon, but it’s better than what Swisher is currently producing. Again, I think he’ll break out of this and have a fine second half. But if he’s not hitting when the second half starts, I’m sure we’ll see more Dickerson with perhaps an eye on a trade.
Nick asks: Hey I was wondering what your thoughts on this Buster Posey injury are? I mean them calling for a rule change and whining about it is a joke. It was a clean play. I liken it to Jeter getting hurt in 2003, it was a clean heads up play. What do you want runners to stop before home plate if the catcher has the ball? What a farce.
Your definition of clean play is different than others’. It was clean, in that no umpire would do anything about it. It’s an accepted play and has been for decades upon decades. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right, though. Baseball is decidedly not a contact sport, and Cousins went into Posey in the same way a safety would go into a wide receiver (except, of course, the wide receiver would be standing).
That said, no, I don’t think there should be a rule change. Do I think that runners should try to find a clear path to the plate, rather than just gunning for the catcher, wherever he may be in relation to the plate? Yes. Do I think that catchers should get the hell out of the way until they get the ball ? Yes. Do I think that catchers shouldn’t go to their knees when receiving a throw? Again, yes. That sounds more like a training issue than a rules issue to me.
To the last question, “do you want runners to stop before home plate,” obviously that’s a red herring. If there were to be a no collisions rule, catchers would be barred from blocking the plate.
In essence, I think that properly training players will go further than a rules change. If it’s a runner barreling down the line at a guy covered in the equipment, and holding the ball, I can see why a collision works. But the Posey play had more to do with him being on the ground without the ball. Of course, training only goes so far when you’re in the heat of the moment.
Jeff asks: With the way that Russell Martin is playing and now that Buster Posey is out for the season do the Yankees match up with the Giants for a Jesus Montero trade for one of Sanchez/Bumgarner/Cain? Would you be open to trading Montero for one of their young pitchers? The Giant’s can catch Montero this year and then shift him to first base next year.
The Giants certainly aren’t shifting him to first base next year, since 1) they have Aubrey Huff under contract for another year, and 2) their top prospect, Brandon Belt, is a first baseman. Without a DH spot, and with their top two young players covering first and catcher, the Giants have no real use for Montero. It’s a nice idea to consider, especially since the Yanks need pitching and the Giants have plenty of it. But this is an unfortunate instance where the Yanks just don’t have much to give in return.
Joe asks: Jose Veras is in Japan? How is he doing??
Jose Veras actually caught on with the Pirates, and he’s pitching fairly well. He has thrown 20.2 innings in 22 appearances, striking out 30 to just nine walks (one intentional). His 2.61 ERA is all nice and sparkly. Of course, we’ve seen this from Veras before. In 2008 he had some stellar stretches. From June 5 through July 9, a span of 17.1 innings, he allowed just one run, striking out 18 while walking eight. Then he allowed just four runs in 16.1 innings from July 12 through August 24. That is to say, we know he’s capable of this. I’m just keeping my mouth shut so that Pirates fans can appreciate him while he lasts.
Everyone loves David Cone, at least I think everyone does. I’ve made it very well known that he’s my favorite YES announcer because of his affection for advanced stats, his candid stories, and because he occasionally talks before he thinks. He’s great. Cone sat down for an interview with Joe DeLessio of New York Magazine, and it truly is a must read. He discusses those advanced stats and his favorite sites, but also the Jorge Posada situation, the end of his own career, his involvement with the Stars and Stripes cap program, and much more. It gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check it out.
The first of two west coast trips in 2011 starts in Seattle, which is universally considered one of the best road cities with a fantastic ballpark. I’ve never been there but I’ve heard it from plenty of people, so I’ll take their word for it. The Yankees won three of four in Safeco Field last season, losing only to the eventual Cy Young Award winner.
What Have The Mariners Done Lately
The Mariners come into this game having won eight of their last ten, though six of those wins came against the punchless Twins and Padres. They allowed just 17 runs in those ten games, and seven of them came in an extra innings win this past Monday. The latest hot stretch has Seattle’s season record at 24-25 with a -7 run differential.
Mariners On Offense
Last year, the Mariners featured the worst offense in the DH era, scoring only 513 runs in 162 games. They’re better than that this year, pushing 176 runs across the plate in 49 games, putting them on pace for 581 runs this season. Their best hitter this year, by far, has been Justin Smoak, the guy Jack Zduriencik wanted instead of Jesus Montero in the Cliff Lee trade. The switch-hitting first baseman leads the team in homers (six), OBP (.365), SLG (.461), ISO (.197), and wOBA (.363), and he recently graduated to the team’s full-time number three hitter.
The rest of the lineup just isn’t any good. Ichiro! sports a .281/.338/.320 line in his age 37 season, and chances are he’s declining instead of just slumping. Jack Cust still draws enough walks to post a good OBP (.364), but his power is gone (.091), he doesn’t hit for average (.231), and he strikes out at ton (35.7% of his at-bats). Chone Figgins has been the worst (qualified) hitter in baseball this season thanks to a .227 wOBA, though he’ll still steal on the rare occasions when he does get on base. Adam Kennedy (.332 wOBA) has been a nice surprise, but Miguel Olivo (.275 wOBA), Jack Wilson (.259 wOBA), Brendan Ryan (.296 wOBA), and Michael Saunders (.223 wOBA) have been predictably terrible. Franklin Gutierrez returned from a prolonged stomach issue not too long ago and has really to really settle in. The left field platoon of career minor leaguer Mike Wilson and prospect Carlos Peguero has yet to impress following Milton Bradley’s release.
Overall, it’s decidedly below-average offense with the second worst team wOBA (.286) and fourth worst OBP (.302) in all of baseball. Smoak is their one serious threat, but with all due respect, he’s not a Jose Bautista/Miguel Cabrera/Josh Hamilton kind of threat. There’s no reason to give him anything to hit in a big spot given his eight lineup-mates.
Mariners On The Mound
Friday, RHP Michael Pineda: They can’t hit, but they can certainly pitch. The 22-year-old Pineda is third in all of baseball (!!!) with a 2.25 FIP (only Roy Halladay and Matt Garza have been better) thanks to his 9.41 K/9 and 2.16 BB/9. The rookie right-hander is a big time fly ball pitcher though (just 34.7% grounders), and lefties give him a harder time than righties because he doesn’t have a changeup. Well, that’s a lie, he has one, but he only uses it 1.2% of the time. Pineda throws three different mid-90’s fastballs, though he uses the four-seamer (50.6% of the time) far more often than the two-seamer (10.8%) or changeup (5.6%). When he gets ahead, he’ll go to town with a mid-80’s slider in search of the strikeout. Being a fly ball pitcher plays into the Yankees’ hands and they can hit the fastball, but Pineda’s is so good that it might not matter.
Saturday, RHP Felix Hernandez: We all know about King Felix, who is probably the best right-handed pitcher in the world aside from Halladay. He’s actually been better this year than last (2.32 FIP vs. 3.04) even if he had a 4.33 ERA after four starts (he’s whittled that down to 3.01 in his seven starts since). The guy’s stuff is so good it’s scary. Felix throws two low-to-mid 90’s fastballs (four and two-seamer), a mid-80’s slider, a low-80’s curveball, and an upper-80’s changeup that is his favorite toy. Hernandez will throw anything in any count, so we just have to hope he has an off night, which is extremely unlikely.
Sunday, LHP Jason Vargas: The least known of the three, Vargas has gone from Marlins’ and Mets’ castoff to a rock solid starter. His 3.86 ERA is right in line with his 3.69 FIP, though he’s not a big strikeout (6.14 K/9) or ground ball (39.1%) guy. Vargas is a legit six pitch pitcher, throwing an upper-80’s two-seamer (30.1% of the time), low-80’s changeup (30.0%), mid-to-upper 80’s four-seamer (15.6%), mid-80’s cutter (11.2%), mid-70’s curveball (7.4%), and mid-80’s slider (5.7%). That unpredictability is why he succeeds with unspectacular stuff. Vargas has been very hit or miss this year, he’s allowed either five-plus runs or two or fewer runs in nine of his ten starts, so there really hasn’t been a middle ground.
Bullpen: As a whole, the Mariners’ relief corps is an unimpressive yet effective group. They don’t strike many batters out (6.09 K/9) or do a great job of limiting walks (3.60 BB/9), instead relying on a stout 50.4% ground ball rate to get outs. Closer and Michael Kay favorite Brandon League sports a 3.06 FIP and has fired off four scoreless appearances after allowing ten runs in three innings across four outings earlier this month. Eighth inning guy Jamey Wright (yes, that Jamey Wright) is striking out more than six men per nine while getting a ground ball on more than six out of every ten balls in play. Go figure.
Middle man David Pauley has a shiny 2.27 FIP, but that will change once his 0.00% HR/FB rate returns to Earth (48.6% grounders). Lefty Aaron Laffey isn’t a traditional specialist, instead working multiple innings to the tune of a 3.69 FIP. Jeff Gray was just claimed off waivers, and the final man in Seattle’s six pitcher bullpen is Yankees’ punching bag Chris Ray. Ah, we sure have some good memories of Chris Ray pitching against the Yankees, don’t we?
There is a book waiting to be written about the life and times of Derek Jeter. This book will explore what motivates him to excel on the field and how he behaves off the field where he was – and maybe still is – a king of New York’s social scene. In other words, it should delve into every aspect of Derek Jeter that makes him Derek Jeter. That book is not, however, Ian O’Connor’s highly anticipated biography The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter.
From the start, I knew that O’Connor’s book, at nearly 380 pages, would be a slog. The first sentence of chapter one read, “Like all good stories about a prince, this one starts in a castle.” That’s the way O’Connor has chosen to frame his biography. It’s not a critical look at Jeter; it’s not one with inside information about his social life; it excuses any short-comings; it is about a player O’Connor views as a prince.
After that, though, the book takes a turn for the better. The first 200 pages focus on Jeter’s background and early years with the Yankees. We learn about his grandfather’s youth in New Jersey as a foster child and how his work ethic shaped Jeter’s devotion to his eventual craft. We hear about the racial challenges Jeter’s parents faced as a mixed marriage at a time of less tolerance even in New Jersey and Michigan. We read about his youth as a start baseball and basketball player. As a scrawny teenager in the late 1980s, even then, Derek Jeter was destined for great things. He told his friends he would both be on the Yankees and date Mariah Carey, and everyone who knew him believed him.
As the tale progresses, O’Connor offers a glimpse back at the fateful draft of 1992. Somehow, Jeter, far and way the most productive player from that draft, fell all the way to the sixth pick. The Astros wanted Phil Nevin’s power while the Indians wanted Paul Shuey’s arm. The Reds’ advanced scouts and a young Jim Bowden urged the club to take Jeter with the fifth pick, but Julian Mock went the cheaper route. They picked Chad Mottola who appeared in just 59 games for the Reds, Blue Jays, Orioles and Marlins.
That draft was, of course, the first major turning point in Jeter’s life. He was expected to become the next great Yankee and had a signing bonus to match. He and Brien Taylor were due to lead the club into another era of greatness, but the game that came so easily to Jeter in Michigan proved challenging. At the age of 18, he hit .210/.311/.314 with 21 errors and would call home in tears every night. At age 19, his hitting improved, but he made 56 errors for Single A Greensboro. Already, Yankee officials were talking about moving Jeter out of short stop.
But as O’Connor notes, intangibles carried the day. Jeter, work ethic intact, turned himself into the sixth best prospect in baseball, and despite pressure from the front office to go with a more experienced short stop, he emerged as the team’s young spark plug in 1996. For his first five seasons, Jeter led a golden life. He won four World Series and dated Mariah Carey. After the 2000 World Series, Jeter was on top of the world, but even then, O’Connor had to position the second half of his book. “Derek Jeter, four-time champ,” he writes, “was the undisputed lord of the rings. He had no idea how much suffering he would endure in pursuit of his one for the thumb.”
The suffering, of course, came in the form of Those Other Guys. Once the synergistic energies of Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius departed, the Yankees, says O’Connor, became a Me-First team. Jason Giambi, for instance, asked out of the 2003 World Series, much to Jeter’s chagrin. And then A-Rod arrives.
If this book has a villain, it is Alex Rodriguez. He’s the guy who kisses himself in the mirror, who slaps at baseballs, who cares too much about his image and manages to put his foot in his mouth. He’s the guy who dissed Jeter in an Esquire interview and who bears the full weight of the Yanks’ post-season failures from 2004-2007. He is the anti-Jeter, and this goes on for nearly 150 pages as O’Connor defines Jeter for what A-Rod isn’t as much as he does what the Yankees’ Captain is.
Using stories from Selena Roberts’ A-Rod expose and the Joe Torre/Tom Verducci memoir, O’Connor paints a familiar picture of A-Rod as a selfish guy. Perhaps that’s not an inaccurate picture of A-Rod, but he’s also a player who hit .303/.403/.573 with 173 home runs over his first four seasons in the Bronx. He certainly wasn’t embraced by Jeter who comes across as vindicative toward those who double-cross him, but he was a big part of the Yanks’ regular season success.
Eventually, Jeter and A-Rod reconcile as the Yanks’ Captain brings Alex “back into the fold.” He is embraced, and the Yankees win the 2009 World Series. It was Jeter’s crowning moment. “Jeter did not just embody the pride of the Yankees as much as any mythic figure before him,” O’Connor writes, returning to his favorite metaphor. “He proved a prince can become a king without lusting after the throne.” Mostly, the book is as saccharine and sterilized as it sounds.
Yet, buried within this tale of the prince of New York is something more interesting, and now and then, it shines through. While Jeter didn’t fully cooperate with O’Connor, he clearly gave his blessing for some of his closest friends — including Tino Martinez, David Cone and one-time Yankee farmhand R.D. Long — to sit with O’Connor. When they talk, Derek becomes more human and less princely. It slams the Mets for allowing the Baha Men to perform “Who Let the Dogs Out” before the 2000 World Series at Shea Stadium. He is absolutely frigid toward those who slight him or friends who do him wrong. He dumps Mariah Carey and kicks her to the curb with a brutal efficiency. He yells at Bernie Williams and Jay Witasick behind closed doors and is a far more vocal captain than many fans think. He parties as a youngster during Spring Training and courts starlets for decades.
To me, that’s what would make a Derek Jeter biography more interesting. It doesn’t have to be all wine and roses. We know about his on-field accomplishments; we have seen them day in and day out. But O’Connor’s book leaves Jeter’s private life well enough alone. The book rehashes the 2003 dispute with George Steinbrenner that eventually lead to an amusing VISA commercial and mentions Jeter’s extreme secrecy concerning the women he has dated. But Minka Kelly, for instance, is mentioned on a whopping six pages, and Joe Torre’s reluctance to push his favorite pupil to improve his defense gets very short shrift.
As an epilogue to the 2009 World Series, O’Connor provides some behind-the-scenes glimpses at Jeter’s contract negotiations, and here, the book does what I want to do. Jeter, painted as proud and not always receptive to criticism, did not take kindly to the Yanks’ suggestion that he wasn’t worth a nine-figure deal or $20 million a year. This is the excerpt that ESPN New York ran a few weeks ago as a teaser for the book. The Yanks pushed hard, and Jeter got upset. Eventually, Randy Levine settled the dispute by offering Jeter more money than he otherwise would have gotten and a player option, and everyone became friends — or at least frenemies — again.
Yet, even here, the book seems incomplete, and that’s because it is. Derek Jeter’s story is far from over. We have yet to see how Jeter, long accustomed to exploiting his natural talents to win World Series titles and not receptive to moving position, will respond to the inevitable and ongoing aging process. We don’t know what’s going to happen when he does have to move from short stop, and we haven’t seen how the Yankees and their fading star will address his anemic bat. That isn’t just an epilogue to the softcover edition of O’Connor’s book; it’s an entirely new section that can’t be written for years. We might know Jeter a little better after reading O’Connor’s biography, but Jeter might not know himself until he faces the adversity on the baseball field that inevitably comes with age.