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.

The Disappearing Pitching Depth

Things aren't going so well for the Brackmonster down in the minors. (Photo Credit: Flickr user john.murden via Creative Commons license)

It’s been about a week since the Yankees officially signed Brian Gordon, a move that caused many to scratch their heads. He’s just a minor league journeyman and they have options in Triple-A, so why not give them a chance first? The kids in the minors have more upside in the sense that their best days are (theoretically) still to come, plus no one wants to see some 30-something-year-old try to hack it in the AL East when we all know he has no long-term place here. But the Yankees signed Gordon and have let him make two decent at best starts, and here’s why…

Andrew Brackman
Dellin Betances
Lance Pendleton

That is the extent of the Yankees’ pitching depth right now. Those three guys are the only pitchers on the 40-man roster in the minor leagues that are not on the disabled list. That’s it. Ryan Pope, Kevin Whelan, Steve Garrison, Kanekoa Texeira … all hurt in some way. That’s pretty scary. That’s why they signed Gordon, because he added some protection and depth.

David Phelps was a candidate to start last week and was clearly the team’s best in-house option had they needed a starter. I say “was” because he’s now on the disabled list with a shoulder issue, a move that was made yesterday. Adam Warren is next line now, and he had been just okay in Triple-A before a recent run of three solid starts. D.J. Mitchell has been no better than decent since the start of last season, and he’s behind Warren in the pecking order. Hector Noesi could be an option, but he’s thrown more than 42 pitches exactly once in the last 28 days. Safe to say he won’t be able to give them six innings anytime soon, should they need it.

Bartolo Colon played catch the other day for the first time since being placed on the disabled list, so maybe he comes back on Monday when eligible. In reality, it’ll probably take a little longer than that. Phil Hughes has no fewer than two minor league rehab starts ahead of him before he rejoins the rotation, most likely three. In all likelihood we’re talking about after the All-Star break for his return. Maybe Phelps’ injury is not serious and he misses one start, maybe Whelan and Pope come back next week, who knows. For better or worse though, the Yankees’ pitching staff is what it is right now.

After last night’s game, Joe Girardi indicated to reporters that they may use the upcoming off days to shuffle the rotation somewhat, which is code for “we might skip Gordon next time around.” Today’s off day and Monday’s off day means the Yankees could avoid using their fifth starter until next Saturday. I’m almost certain that’s what they’ll do, but of course things can change over the next few days. Like it or not, Gordon isn’t going away anytime soon and until some people get healthy, he’s actually a pretty important part of the team.

Yanks get blown out in nightcap to end NL trip

Well, it’s always tough to sweep a doubleheader, but we all wanted the Yankees to get greedy on Wednesday night after taking the afternoon game. It was a game for about six and a half innings, but then the Reds blew it open late and that was that. Ugly end to an otherwise great road trip.

I recommend not throwing anymore slow curveballs there.

Homerun Gordon

It was ominous right from the start. Chris Heisey worked the count full before launching a leadoff homerun in the very first winning, then Jonny Gomes welcomed Joe Brian Gordon to the big leagues with a homer to leadoff the second. Three innings later, Heisey hit another homerun, this one a two-run shot to give the Reds a three run lead. It was obvious Gordon wasn’t fooling anyone because even the outs were hard hit. He had nothing to put batters away with two strikes, which is why he only struck out one of the 20 men he faced. The end result: five hits, no walks, and four runs in five innings on just 74 pitches (49 strikes). Reds’ batters swung and missed just twice.

I’ll stick with what I said after Gordon’s first start: he’s got middle reliever written all over him as a fastball-curveball guy. Yeah, he throws a cutter and a changeup and whatever else as well, but the heater and curve seem to be his only two big league caliber pitches, if you can call them that. He’s got to locate perfectly to be effective, otherwise games like this happen.

Their Last Chance

Johnny Cueto was absolutely cruising when the seventh inning started; he had retired a dozen men in a row coming into the inning and had struck out the last four he faced. Alex Rodriguez broke the streak with a leadoff single, and before you knew it they had first and second with none out following a Nick Swisher walk. Russell Martin struck out after a seven pitch at-bat for the first out, leaving the rally in the hands of Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena.

But Joe Girardi wasn’t having any of that, so he sent up Robinson Cano to pinch-hit for Nunez. I loved the move, that was the biggest at-bat of the game and leaving it in the hands of Nunez’s .290 OBP is asking for trouble. Cano reached on an error, loading the bases. The problem was that Pena grounded out on the first pitch (Joey Votto got the force out at home), then pinch-hitter Jorge Posada did the same thing. Bases loaded man, force the pitcher to throw a strike there. That was the end of the rally, which resulted in zero runs. Not like it would have mattered anyway.

Hector Nopesi.

Hector Bleeds

It took a while, but Hector Noesi finally had his first real disaster inning as a big leaguer. He gave up five hits and hit a batter with the bases loaded in the seventh, allowing the Reds to score three insurance runs while throwing 21 pitches. It happens and it will happen against at some point, but it’s good to get that first one out of the way in a game like this. Welcome to the club, kid.

OH BUT WAIT!

For some reason, Noesi was sent back out for the eighth. Maybe Buddy Carlyle hadn’t gotten to the park yet. He gave up three more hits (including Heisey’s third homer of the game) and a walk while recording just two outs, putting his pitching line at 1.2 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. Ug-ly. That second inning of work was really unnecessary. Oh well, hopefully he shakes it off, learns something from this outing, and moves on. All you can do.

Love me some oppo bombs.

Leftovers

Nick Swisher got the Yankees on the board in the second inning with a solo homer, a shot to left that hit the fan in the front row in a bad spot (right in the hands) and bounced back into the field of play. Those are my favorite kind of homers, opposite field jobs on pitches away. Takes a combination of strength and a good approach, plus they’re fun to watch. The Yankees scored their other run in garbage time, when Alex Rodriguez doubled in Curtis Granderson. Looked gone off the bat, but it hit off the base off the wall instead. Oh well.

Boone Logan retired both Joey Votto and Jay Bruce and the Yankees lost?!? What a waste. He lives to pitch another day, I suppose. Cory Wade finally allowed a baserunner, a ground ball with eyes just beyond Nunez’s reach. I was truly expecting him to be perfect forever.

The Yankees ended with a winning road trip, sandwiching four wins between two losses. They’re now 10-3 in their last 13 games, which works for me. They’re also done traveling to NL parks in the sense that the remaining series at CitiField isn’t really travel. Hooray for only three more DH-less games.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the other stuff.

Up Next

The Yankees will take Thursday off then reconvene at Yankee Stadium on Friday night to play the Rockies. A.J. Burnett will kick that series off against Ubaldo Jimenez in a matchup that almost guarantees both teams will finish the game with 10+ walks and 10+ strikeouts. If you want to go to the game, RAB Tickets can get you there dirt cheap.

Horne gets rocked in return to Double-A

Another day, another set of bullet points…

  • David Phelps is on the disabled list with a shoulder issue. He got smacked around pretty hard last night, so hopefully this is just something minor.
  • Wilkins Arias was also placed on the disabled list for an unknown reason, though it’s a legit injury since Double-A Trenton was already playing with a 23-man roster. No phantom DL this time.
  • The Yankees signed veteran infielders Mike Lamb and Terry Tiffee to minor league contracts for depth reasons. Triple-A Scranton is pretty beat up and could use some warm bodies.
  • Keith Law was at last night’s Short Season Staten Island game and spoke about it in today’s Baseball Today Podcast (listen here). It’s safe to say he isn’t a Cito Culver fan; he said Culver can’t hit from the left side of the plate and struggled in the field, enough so that he might be a second baseman long-term. The prospect stuff starts around the 22:00 mark, the Culver stuff around 25:30.

Now to the games…

Triple-A Scranton (5-3 loss to Norfolk)
Doug Bernier, SS: 1 for 4, 1 R
Luis Nunez, 2B & Austin Krum, CF: both 0 for 4, 1 K
Jordan Parraz, RF: 0 for 4, 1 R
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 K, 1 HBP – that’s only his second strikeout in his last 30 plate appearances
Brandon Laird, 1B: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI – he’s making a run at a .700 OPS, he’s about 30 points shy at the moment
Greg Golson, LF & P.J. Pilittere, DH: both 1 for 4 – Golson threw a runner out at second
Kevin Russo, 3B: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K
D.J. Mitchell, RHP: 6 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 7-5 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) – 60 of 100 pitches were strikes
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0-2 GB/FB – 22 of 33 pitches were strikes (66.7%)
Josh Schmidt, RHP: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 3-0 GB/FB – half of his 18 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]