2011 Draft: Baseball America’s Post-Draft Analysis

We’ve been recapping the Yankees’ 2011 draft haul all day (part one, part two), but now let’s get the experts’ opinions. Baseball America posted their recaps today (subs. req’d), and here’s a snippet of what they have to say about the Yankees: “[Dante Bichette Jr.] was a defensible choice at 51, but after that the Yankees seemed to reach for a lot of players and a team with the Yankees’ resources should be doing the exact opposite … The team did get some interesting upside later in the draft with Sacramento CC outfielder Justin James (13th round) and North Carolina high school righthander Rookie Davis (14th) and the team will likely need some late-round surprises to make up for uninspiring single-digit selections.”

That seems to be the general consensus, and pretty much the same conclusion I came to earlier today. Also make sure you check out LoHud for a recap of scouting director Damon Oppenheimer’s conference call this morning. Apparently the Yankees were still trying to get a look at third rounder Jordan Cote as recently as this past Saturday. Blame the weather.

Game 60: Just win

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Jay?? via Creative Commons license)

The Yankees can’t keep losing to the Red Sox, not if they plan on making some noise this season. CC Sabathia is on the mound, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera are rested … no excuses tonight. Show up and do this thing. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Brett Gardner, LF
Frankie Cervelli, C

CC Sabathia, SP

The game will start in a delay because it’s raining, but they’re expected to get this one in. Tonight’s game can be seen on My9 locally or MLB Network nationally. Enjoy, if you can.

Good News, For Once: Russell Martin had an MRI on his back, and it came back clean. He’s just day-to-day for the time being … Pedro Feliciano has starting throwing, but there’s still no timetable for his return.

Joba diagnosed with torn ligament, TJS likely

Joba Chamberlain has a torn ligament in his throwing elbow, Yankee manager Joe Girardi just announced in his pre-game press conference. While the Yankee pitcher hasn’t shown any symptoms of a serious injury or pain, the MRI, Girardi said, showed a tear that will “likely” require Tommy John surgery. It is unclear how much time he will miss, but it seems as though we’ve seen the last of Joba for 2011.

Joba, according to Peter Botte, is “sending [his] MRI results to [Dr. James] Andrews but not visiting him yet.” The right-handed who, said he “shed a few tears,” repeatedly said that he had no pain. “I’m not giving up,” he said.

With $17.75 million worth of relievers already on the disabled list, this news is a huge blow to the Yankees’ bullpen depth. They have posted the best bullpen in the American League so far this year, but the club will be stretched to the max as Brian Cashman works to fill some holes. Joba, 2-0 with a 2.83 ERA, had seemingly embraced his relief role this year. He had struck out 24 while walking just seven and was powering fastballs past hitters with a confidence not seen since mid-2009.

With Rafael Soriano out for a while, Joba had emerged as the club’s primary set-up role. That job will now be handed to David Robertson, and in the short term, Luis Ayala and Boone Logan will be expected to pick up the slack. The club still has Mariano and a potential ace in the hole.

Along with the Joba news, the Yanks announced that Phil Hughes was consistently hitting 92 on the radar gun and will begin his arduous Spring Training-like rehab process. He’ll start next week for the Gulf Coast League Yankees and will likely need most of the 30-day rehab clock to get his arm strength and stamina back up. While the Yankees’ starting rotation is skating on thin ice these days, the Yankees may decide to keep Hughes in the bullpen for depth. I believe that decision will depend upon whether Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman can more easily procure a starting pitcher or a reliever on the trade market.

For the Yankees and their fans, this news will inevitably be viewed through the lens of Joba’s ever-changing roles. He was a starter, a reliever, a starter, a reliever and a starter again before moving into a relief spot seemingly permanently. He suffered a mysterious shoulder injury in 2008 and was an injury risk when he was drafted in 2006. The Yanks say they kept him as a reliever to better manage the load on his shoulder, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Joba’s, and I’m more saddened by this news than I thought. While this development represents a blow to the Yanks’ bullpen, the Yanks can weather another bullpen injury far better than they can ineffective pitching from A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia or Ivan Nova. I will still trot out the 62 t-shirt this year and know that Brian Cashman has a tough task ahead of him.

All those extra swings not helping Cano

It’s something we all noticed at the start of the season, but Mike laid out the numbers last month: Robinson Cano is swinging at a ton of pitches this year. Yes, he’s always swung a lot, and has never been one to take many walks. Even his career high mark in 2011 was at least in part due to the 11 intentional walks pitchers issued him. But since then it seems as though, at least sometimes, he’s taking more pitches. Maybe that heart to hear with Kevin Long did pay dividends. Alas, checking back in on the data, nothing much has changed. Cano is still swinging at more pitches than ever, and it’s affecting his game in nearly every way.

Cano’s greatest asset has always been his ability to hit the ball hard. Pitchers can throw him anything they want, but eventually he’s going to hit it on the nose, and that’s going to make things happen. This year, however, he’s been swinging so frequently that pitchers have been able to exploit this tendency. His swinging strike rate of 7.3% is the highest of his career, and is higher than his 2010 mark by more than a half point. The rate is understandable, because he’s swinging in general more than ever: 56.7% of the 772 pitches thrown to him. That has led to the additional swinging strikes, which leads to his career high 15.4% strikeout rate. It also leads to shorter at-bats. Cano has seen just 3.15 pitches per PA this year, the same rate he had when Mike wrote about the issue last month.

The extra swings have also had a seeming effect on his BABIP. His balls in play rate is exactly on par with last year, 75 percent, but far fewer of them are dropping in for hits. That is, his .273 BABIP is miles off his .319 career mark, and even further off his 2009-2010 average of .325. The automatic reaction here is normally bad luck, and to an extend that’s true. The league average BABIP on line drives is .713, while Cano’s is .649. Of course, the difference there isn’t even a matter of a single hit; one more line drive dropping in would have raised Cano’s BABIP on liners to .737, or above the league average. The difference has been on flies and grounders, which makes it tougher to remove the luck factor. That is, weak grounders are necessarily going to produce a lower BABIP. Last year Cano had a .269 BABIP on grounders, while this year that’s just .186. They might be hard shots that found fielders, but the eyeball test sees more weak ones that make for easy outs. That would signal poor contact, more than poor luck, depressing Cano’s numbers.

That’s not to say Cano always makes poor contact. In fact, his ISO is up a bit this year thanks to a greater percentage of his hits going for extra bases. Clearly, a hitter with his skill is going to run into a few. In fact, Cano’s extra base hits to hits percentage — that is, the percentage of his hits that have gone for extra bases — is 42 percent this year, which is seven points higher than his career total and five points higher than his averages from 2009 to 2010. Could Cano actually be getting lucky in this regard? I’m not sure how much luck and how much skill goes into that, but given his swing profiles this year, it has to be at least somewhat lucky that the balls he is hitting well he’s hitting really well. That’s just spitballing, though, to be clear. The overall point is that Robbie has hit some balls tremendously hard this year, and yet his overall numbers are still down.

If Cano’s swing numbers all lined up and his BABIP were way down, I’d be inclined to write it off as luck and move onto the next topic. But it’s tough to ignore how much more frequently he’s swinging at pitches. It is leading to poorer at-bats and deflated numbers. I’m not sure there’s much of a cure; for some guys it’s tough to consciously change when you’re standing at the plate and a 95 mph fastball is headed in your direction. But if the process doesn’t change, it’s hard to see the results changing. We’re past the 1/3 point in the season, and there has been little positive movement in this regard for Cano. There’s still a chance for a turnaround, but it’s becoming less likely with each day. That doesn’t make Cano an unproductive hitter — he is tied for 3rd in wOBA among second basemen — but does mean he’s not producing to his potential.

2011 Draft Review: Part Two

Earlier today we looked at Day Two of the draft, which featured a lot of power hitters and (physically) big pitchers. Now let’s focus on Day Three, which followed a completely different theme entirely.

Rathjen's the big dude with the bat. (Photo Credit: The Houston Chronicle)

Day Three: Signability

Signability is a great little catch-all term that definitely has some connotations to it. It typically refers to a player that falls in the draft because of a strong college commitment and the likelihood that it’ll take an above-slot bonus to get them to turn pro, so guys like Dellin Betances and Austin Jackson and Bryan Mitchell are perfect examples. The primary connotation stuck to it is that the player also has high upside, which is not always the case. The Yankees loaded up on signability types on the final day of the draft, some of whom legitimately own big time potential.

The best of the bunch is high school hurler Adam Ravenelle (44th round), a 6-foot-3, 185 lb. right-hander touted as one of the best prep arms in New England. His fastball consistently sits in the low-90’s despite the need for sharper mechanics, and he’s shown the ability to spin a tight breaking ball and also fire off a quality changeup. It’s the kind of package you can dream on. Ravenelle is very raw and also very committed to Vanderbilt, so much so that Conor Glassey said (rather matter-of-factly) he will attend college in the fall in Baseball America’s review of Day Three.

The Yankees also landed a non-traditional signability guy in Jeremy Rathjen (41). The Rice center fielder took a medical redshirt this spring after tearing his ACL, and he has the added negotiating leverage of being able to go back to school as a fourth-year junior and re-enter the draft in each of the next two years, when he’d be coming off a (presumably) healthy year. Rathjen is a physical specimen at 6-foot-6 and 190 lbs., offering bat speed and plenty of power potential to go along with above-average foot speed and defense in center. A monster performer in wood bat summer leagues, he was expected to be a fourth or fifth rounder before the injury, though I’m guessing it’ll take more than a fifth round bonus ($200,000 or so) to get him to sign on the dotted line.

Another New England high schooler, right-hander Joey Maher (38), sports a heavy upper-80’s sinker that figures to add a tick or two as he fills out his 6-foot-5, 200 lb. frame. The secondary pitchers are still a work in progress, but you can’t teach that kind of natural movement on the fastball. Illinois righty Tyler Farrell (43) owns a 6-foot-2, 190 lb. frame that delivers fastballs up to 93 with a power curveball from a refined, old school drop-and-drive delivery. It was arguably the best two-pitch combo available out of the state this year. Chris McCue (35) has already figured out a changeup, a huge step in any pitcher’s development, and the right-hander also throws low-90’s gas and a downer curveball while standing just 6-foot-0 and 170 lbs. Commitments to Northeastern, Western Illinois, and North Carolina stand in the way of these three, respectively.

Outfielder Spencer O’Neil (33) apparently wants $1M to sign, which probably means the Yankees will wish him luck during his career at Oregon. He fills out a uniform well (6-foot-4, 185 lbs.) but still needs plenty of development on both sides of the ball. Righty Skylar Janisse (34) works in the 80’s with his fastball and is mostly a projection pick (6-foot-4, 200 lbs.). He’s committed to Oakland and isn’t a priority sign. Lefty Wes Benjamin (48), outfielder Ethan Springston (47), and shortstop Kevin Cornelius (42) are more lottery ticket types; the Yankees will follow their progress in the various summer showcase events before deciding on their true worth.

36th rounder Ryan Thompson. (Photo Credit: The Nashua Telegraph)

The Yankees also did a fine job grabbed some small/junior college players. Franklin Pierce righty Ryan Thompson (36) was born in Canada, grew up in the Bahamas, and spent two years at UConn before transferring this spring, a good move since his goal was to gain more exposure rather than be buried on a deep pitching staff. The 6-foot-3, 190 pounder throws a two-seamer fastball anywhere from 88-92 and also offers a slider and changeup. Thompson still has room to fill out and already has a reputation as being a guy that hold his velocity deep into games. He was expected to be more of a early-double digit rounds pick, so the Yankees got good value with the pick and will get better value if they sign him. Navarro Junior College righty Tyler Maples (49) has run his fastball up as high as 93. And as usual, the Yankees did select some college players to fill out rosters in the lower levels of the minors, namely LSU shortstop Tyler Hanover (40) and Missouri third baseman Connor Mach (46).

Following what seemed like a concerted effort to address the organization’s lack of power in Day Two, the Yankees followed a more traditional path and went for more upside in the final 20 rounds on Day Three. Aside from Ravenelle and Rathjen, the two real standouts of Day Three, Farrell and McCue are the two big upside picks. Farrell has a knockout two-pitch combo already in his back pocket and McCue has already shown three legitimate pitches with potential (rare for high schoolers) even if his size isn’t ideal. UNC doesn’t screw around either, that’s a powerhouse baseball program that only goes after the best, so that’s another feature in McCue’s cap.

The draft is like the regular season in that it’s a marathon and not a sprint. There are fifty rounds, fifty names, and fifty door number threes. One player or bad pick can’t sink a draft class, but one player sure can make it. The Yankees did a fine job of targeting upside yesterday while other clubs were filling out minor league rosters, but they lost out on the consensus best of the best by waiting until Day Three to go for that upside. Some of their early picks were reaches, so they’re going to need to sign some of these late guys to have a chance at some real impact players.