Minor League ST Notes: Video, DePaula, Adams

We had the big league notes earlier today, now let’s round up some of the more interesting minor league news from today…

  • Josh Norris posted a ton of video of yesterday’s workout. We’re talking Gary Sanchez, Ravel Santana, Dante Bichette Jr., Tyler Austin, and more. Make sure you check that out.
  • Rafael DePaula worked out with the Low-A Charleston group today. That doesn’t mean he’ll join the River Dogs when they break camp next week, but it’s an indication that he passed his physical and is officially a Yankee. Hooray for that. [Norris]
  • David Adams has been told that he will start the year with Double-A Trenton. That’s not terribly surprising, but it goes to show how much time he lost due to the ankle injury. He’s basically in the same place he was in March 2010. [Norris]
  • The Dellin Betances Experience was in full effect in his minor league start. He walked in a run before striking out the side. Good times. [Conor Foley]
  • The Joses — Campos and Ramirez — threw in minor league games today. Ramirez ran his fastball as high as 96. [Kiley McDaniel]

ST Game Thread: A Rare Sight

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

We haven’t seen much of CC Sabathia this spring. The big guy has only thrown eight official innings in camp, though he did also start a minor league game last week. Eight innings, four runs, that’s it. No one cares though, because he’s CC Sabathia and represents all that is right in the Yankees universe. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
1B Mark Teixeira
2B Robinson Cano
3B Alex Rodriguez
DH Raul Ibanez
C Russell Martin
LF Andruw Jones
CF Brett Gardner
RF Justin Maxwell

LHP CC Sabathia – scheduled for 85-100 pitches

Available Pitchers: RHP David Robertson, LHP Cesar Cabral, LHP Clay Rapada, RHP George Kontos, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Ryan Pope, RHP Preston Claiborne, RHP Sean Black

Available Position Players: C Gus Molina, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Bill Hall, SS Eduardo Nunez, 3B Jayson Nix, CF Dewayne Wise, and RF Chris Dickerson will replace the starters. C Jeff Farnham, IF Addison Maruszak, and OF Abe Almonte are up from minor league camp and available if needed.

Tonight’s game starts at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

3/27 Camp Notes: Swisher, Pettitte, Mo, Joba

The Yankees are playing the Blue Jays in a nationally televised game a little later tonight, so we’ll have a regular game thread along shortly. Here is the day’s news from Tampa…

  • Nick Swisher (groin) is not in tonight’s lineup, though he did face Andy Pettitte during the lefty’s live batting practice session this afternoon. He will take his hacks in minor league games the next two days and hopefully return to the lineup on Friday. [Erik Boland & Sweeny Murti]
  • Pettitte threw 35 pitches in that live BP session this afternoon, and Swisher said his changeup was “dropping off the table.” Pettitte was pleased with his ability to locate the fastball away but thought his cutter was flat. He’s also not yet comfortable pitching out of the stretch. [Marc Carig, Jack Curry & Murti]
  • Mariano Rivera and Boone Logan both pitched in a minor league game this afternoon. Rivera struck out two and broke a bat in a perfect inning, though Logan apparently gave up a hit or two. [Josh Norris]
  • Joba Chamberlain will talk to the media at 5:45pm ET. He’s expected to say that, contrary to reports, he did not lose a life-threatening amount of blood when he dislocated ankle and that his career is not in jeopardy barring something unforeseen (like infection). [Buster Olney]
  • Unsurprisingly, Hiroki Kuroda will start the second game of the season. The rotation has been lined up for weeks, but these things are always subject to change until the club makes it official. [David Waldstein]

Early season trade candidates: hold or deal?

The Yankees might be forced to trade Maxwell soon (via Reuters Pictures)

As March wears on, different needs arise for different teams. Some suffer injuries and need to trade for additional help. Others make it through the spring in relatively healthy shape and have surpluses from which they can trade. The Yankees, to this point, fall into the latter category. They not only have six starters for five rotation spots, but they also have an out of options player with some value along with a marginal player generating a little interest. That puts them in a position of strength. How far should they go in taking advantage of it?

In theory, the Yankees could trade all three players in question: Freddy Garcia, Justin Maxwell, and Ramiro Pena. But trading from a surplus isn’t always the right answer. As the Yankees experienced this spring, plans can change in an instant. Holding onto those players in some way or another can work out for the better. So how should the Yankees approach the situations for Garcia, Maxwell, and Pena?

Freddy Garcia

After Garcia helped patch up the 2011 rotation, the Yankees were apparently eager to bring him back into the fold. Shortly after they offered him arbitration, they signed him to a one-year, $4 million contract. But he wasn’t exactly their Plan A. After the Yankees acquired both Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, Garcia was seemingly squeezed out of a rotation spot. That appears to still be the case, despite his strong spring performances.

The Yankees reportedly offered Garcia to the Marlins, but were rebuffed. It’s not clear whether the Marlins weren’t interested at all, or whether the Yankees asked for too much in return. Whatever the case, it does appear that the Yankees are willing to deal Garcia to help clear up their pitching situation. If that is the case, I hope that they didn’t work out a deal with the Marlins because they were asking for too much in return. Garcia can be greatly valuable to the 2012 team.

While he’ll likely start in the bullpen, Garcia could very well end up in the starting rotation before long. Ivan Nova, who suffered an elbow injury in the Yankees’ final game of 2011, has experienced a rough spring. He has by far the worst numbers of any Yankees starter. He does have a track record, and there appears to be little chance he’ll start the season anywhere but in the rotation. But if he falters in April, the Yankees could move quickly and push Garcia into the rotation.

The problem with trading Garcia is that he’s relatively valuable to both the Yankees and other teams. A No. 4 or No. 5 starter who can consume 150 to 170 innings per season is nothing to scoff at, even for a middling team. After all, those innings have to come from somewhere. While the Yankees appear to have a surplus now, and another reinforcement on the way in May, that might not always be the case. Few teams go through the season with even six starters, so the Yankees can definitely use Garcia.

On the other hand, what can they get in return for him? The 2012 team is pretty set. Maybe they could acquire a bullpen arm, but rare is that team that has a glaring need in the rotation while also having a spare, useful bullpen arm. Any bench upgrade would be marginal at best. It seems unlikely that a team would trade a legit B prospect for Garcia. That is, the Yankees probably aren’t going to get back as much value for Garcia as they can potentially realize from him themselves. He might not be an ideal fit in the bullpen, but his capacity to jump into the rotation is probably more valuable than anything they’d get in return.

Justin Maxwell

Mike wrote about Maxwell yesterday, so there’s no need to dig too deeply into his case. It all boils down to a lack of viable options for him. The Yankees can’t send him down to AAA without first passing him through waivers, and as Mike noted it’s unlikely that he’ll pass through. Their only other options are to carry him on the 25- man roster or to trade him. Since they don’t have room on the 25-man, a trade seems the most likely route.

When it comes to trading a player like Maxwell, urgency is the key. How badly does a team need outfield help, and where are they in the waivers order? Finding a relatively desperate team far down on the waivers list is the key. Otherwise, teams might hold onto their trade chips and simply wait for the Yankees to waive him. They can play one team off another, but for a player of Maxwell’s caliber that might not be very effective. Odds are that Maxwell joins another organization and the Yankees get little to no return for him.

Ramiro Pena

Believe it or not, there is a team potentially interested in Pena’s services. The Phillies will start the season without Chase Utley and Michael Martinez. With Placido Polanco also dealing with an injury, the Phillies could certainly use some infield help. We learned over the weekend that they have some interest in Pena. Unfortunately, as Mike said, he’s not going to fetch much in return.

Pena does have some value to the Yankees. He’s already on the 40-man roster, and can play high-quality defense. Since he’s one of three players on the 40-man roster who can play shortstop, he’s probably more valuable to the organization than the couple hundred thousand dollars or D-prospect he’d fetch in a trade.

Having a surplus is always a nice thing. It leaves a team with options that its competitors do not have. The Yankees could try to cash in its trade chips for prospects or other useful parts, but that just doesn’t appear likely in this case. They might be forced into that position with the out-of-options Maxwell, but in the cases of Garcia and Pena they have players who provide value in their depth. That value is, in all likelihood, greater than what they’d receive in return from another trade. If the Yankees can get back a decent prospect in a Maxwell/Garcia package, so be it. But unless they find something that will significantly improve their farm system, they should hold onto their surplus. They never know when they might need it.

Second Lefty Poll: Rapada or Cabral?

Hooray for funky lefties. (Paul Sancya/AP)

It as appears as though the Yankees only have one open relief spot at the moment, assuming the loser of the Phil Hughes/Freddy Garcia fifth starter competition heads to the bullpen. With three rounds of roster cuts already in the books, the number of realistic candidates for that last spot is down to just two: left-handers Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral.

The Yankees have been looking for a second left-handed reliever for a few too many years, but now they appear to have a pair of qualified candidates. Rapada and Cabral share handedness but not much else. They’re different pitchers with different styles at different points of their careers. Which one is a better fit for the Yankees?

The Case for Rapada
A 31-year-old journeyman, Rapada has impressed by retiring all but one of the 12 left-handed batters he’s faced this spring. The one exception is a walk (after getting ahead in the count 0-2, no less), but he’s atoned by striking out seven of the remaining 11 batters. Rapada’s big league track record is limited, though he has held the 136 lefties he’s faced to a .153/.252/.200 batting line with a 26.5% strikeout rate. His Triple-A track record is more of the same.

Rapada has been groomed as a lefty specialist since the day he signed with the Cubs as an undrafted free agent in 2002. They dropped his arm angle almost immediately, and now he relies of the deception of his sidearm motion more than sheer stuff — mid-80s heat with a mid-70s slider — to get same-side hitters out. He’s a true LOOGY and has excelled in the role over the last few years. There should be no growing pains.

The Case for Cabral
Cabral, a 23-year-old taken from the Red Sox (via the Royals) in this past offseason’s Rule 5 Draft has impressed as well this spring. He hasn’t been as good as Rapada, but he’s struck out eight of the 20 left-handers he’s faced while allowing six hits and walking zero. One of those hits was a homer. Cabral moved to the bullpen full time to start the 2010 season, and since then he’s held same-side hitters to a .202/.263/.294 batting line with a 35.4% strikeout rate in 133 PA. That’s mostly at High-A with a little Low-A and Double-A mixed in.

The Yankees obviously like Cabral, otherwise they wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of trading up in the Rule 5 Draft to get him. He’s more of a power pitcher than Rapada, sitting in the low-90s with a changeup and a slurvy slider. The changeup is his best secondary pitch, which theoretically means Cabral could face some right-handed batters and at least hold his own. He has all three minor league options remaining and is under team control through at least 2017. With zero Triple-A or MLB experience, there figures to be more than the usual ups and downs associated with young pitchers.

* * *

Unless something unexpected happens, the Yankees can only break camp with one of the two. Rapada can opt out of his minor league deal at the end of Spring Training, and he’ll surely get a job elsewhere given his spring performance. Because he is out of minor league options, the Yankees won’t be able to add Rapada to the 40-man roster and send him to Triple-A. Cabral simply won’t clear waivers as a Rule 5 Draft pick, he’s been too impressive as well.

The last bullpen spot won’t sink the season, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s really no wrong answer here. Both Rapada and Cabral are worthy of being the second left-handed reliever on a contending team.

Who should the Yankees take as the second lefty?
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2012 Season Preview: The Closer

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

By now, as he enters his 18th season, Mariano Rivera has had nearly every sports accolade showered upon him. Considered the greatest reliever of all time, Rivera has been a constant for the Yanks in the ninth inning since 1997, and he was a force the season before. Now, five World Series and five Presidential elections later, Rivera is just as good as ever. He just allowed his first Spring Training hit on Sunday.

Rivera’s career has been, by any stretch, an odd one for baseball analysts to comprehend. For years, they’ve predicted a decline. He threw 80 innings as a 31-year-old in 2001 and appeared in only 45 games the next season. Joe Girardi has limited Rivera’s innings over the last few years, but even while throwing around only 60 innings, Rivera is still at the top of his game.

Last year, at age 41, Rivera with his cutter managed to strike out nearly a batter an inning while issuing just eight walks all season — two of those intentionally. He gave up just three home runs all season and made his fourth straight All-Star team en route to a season with 44 saves and a 1.91 ERA.

So what can we expect from Rivera? Over the past few years, his velocity has dipped to the low-90s, but his pinpoint control and the movement he gets out of his pitches has allowed him to excel. As analysts see his pitches grow less fine and slow down, the end is always near for Rivera, but the end has never arrived.

We could then worry about what a 42-year-old closer may bring to the Yanks, but that’s not the storyline that will surround Rivera this year. Earlier this spring, with rumors of an impending final season and subsequent retirement swirling, Rivera announced, well, nothing. He knows what he’s going to do, but he’s keeping it to himself. We’ll just have to wait it out until Rivera is good and ready to announce his plans for 2013.

Of course, by saying nothing, Rivera seemingly speaks volumes about his future. Observers in Tampa feel he is savoring Spring Training more so this year than ever before. He has his family in tow, and he’s treating it like a year to remember. These are signs that scream “the end is near.”

If it’s the end, Rivera will earn his toasts. He’ll take his farewell tour through the league, and the calm professionalism with which he does his job will be long remembered. The Yanks will try to find another closer, something they haven’t had to do since the mid-1990s, but as life moves forward, so too will baseball. Rivera will become part of the Yanks’ rich history.

Maybe Rivera will surprise us all. Maybe he’ll announce that he’s never going to quit. But with Andy Pettitte set to return, the Yanks could be set up for a literal storybook ending. No closer has saved more games for a starter in baseball history than Rivera has for Pettitte. So the season — and Rivera’s career — could very well end with Number 42 nailing down a save for Number 46 one more time. What Yankee fan would have it any other way?

Reviewing the Yankees 2011 int’l signings

Unheralded international signing turned superstar. (J. Meric/Getty)

Baseball’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement is going to put a serious damper on international spending, capping teams at $2.9M this year before shifting to a sliding scale in the future. To more you win, the less you get to spend. The Yankees have traditionally been one of baseball’s powerhouses in Latin America, and last year they dropped close to $3M on international prospects. Baseball America’s Ben Badler published his AL East spending review yesterday, looking at the players the Yankees and their division rivals signed in 2011. You do need a subscription to read the article.

The Yankees largest international signing last year was 17-year-old Dominican third baseman Miguel Andujar, who received $750k. “Andujar doesn’t have one huge carrying tool or do anything flashy, but he doesn’t have a glaring weakness either,” wrote Badler. “He’s a right-handed hitter with good bat speed, a sound swing and a good approach to hitting for his age. His hands are quick and he could hit for average and power. Andujar is an average runner and a solid defensive third baseman.” Expect him to spend this year in the Dominican Summer League before making his stateside debut in 2013.

Andujar headlines the position player crop, which also includes a trio of Dominican prospects — shortstop Abi Avelino ($175k), outfielder Wascar Rodriguez ($150k), infielder Victor Rey $135k) — and one Colombian catcher (Alvaro Noriega at $175k). Rodriguez offers big raw power while the others do their best work on the defensive side of the ball. Noriega does enough things well that he should remain behind the plate long-term and is likely the best all-around prospect of the bunch. Interestingly enough, the Yankees also signed catcher Dan Vavrusa for $10k out of the Czech Republic. He appears to be the team’s first real foray into Europe.

Right-handers Moises Cedeno (Panama), Luis Severino (DR) and Giovanny Gallegos (Mexico) highlight the pitching crop. Cedeno didn’t turn 16 until late-August, making him the youngest player to sign with any of the 30 clubs last year. He signed for just under $355k and already shows three pitches. The 16-year-old Severino signed for $225k and has touched 95 with a power slider. Gallegos, 20, was part of a package deal similar to one that brought Al Aceves and Manny Banuelos to the Yankees in 2007. He is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but when healthy he’s sat in the low-90s with two breaking balls. Gallegos signed for an even $100k.

Of course, the Yankees just landed what figures to be their most significant international prospect before the new spending restrictions kick in this July. That would be 21-year-old right-hander Rafael DePaula, who was finally able to secure a visa last week. DePaula still has to pass a physical before his long-awaited $500k deal is official, but he’ll instantly become one of the team’s better pitching prospects despite missing so much development time due to a suspension and his visa delay. He and his mid-90s gas could see time with a full season affiliate this summer.

Four of the Yankees top ten prospects originally signed as international free agents, not including trade import Jose Campos. The new spending limitations will impact the Yankees more than most clubs because they’ve relied on the international market to land elite talents like Jesus Montero, which usually aren’t available to them late in the draft. The worldwide appeal of the Yankee brand works in their favor, but there will be a much greater emphasis on pure scouting now.