Winter leagues wrap up in Latin America

The Yankees have re-signed infielder Doug Bernier to presumably again serve as Triple-A Scranton’s backup infielder according to Matt Eddy. They also released a ton of players…

Released: RHP Jim Blueberg, RHP Francisco Cruceta, RHP Nathan Forer, RHP Mike Gipson, RHP Dustin Hobbs, RHP Corey Maines, RHP Mike Recchia, RHP Michael Solbach, LHP Trevor Johnson, C Jon Hurst, 2B Emerson Landoni, OF Mike Ferraro, OF Taylor Grote, OF Bobby Rinard

Maines officially won the “first 2011 draftee to be released” race, and Landoni has already hooked on with the Braves. Grote was probably the best prospect of the bunch, though he hit just .221/.309/.311 in nearly 1,200 plate appearances after signing for $250k as the team’s eighth round pick in 2007.

The regular seasons for the four major Latin America winter leagues are officially over, so this will be the final minor league update of the 2011 baseball season. The minor league regular seasons actually starts before the MLB regular season this year, as all four full season officiates open their season on Thursday, April 5th. The big league team plays its first game the next day. How about that?

Arizona Fall League – see Nov. 27th update for final stats

Dominican Winter League – see Dec. 26th update for final stats

Mexican Pacific League
Jose Figueroa, OF: 9 G, 3 for 10, 4 K (.300/.300/.300) – 19-year-old spend last season in the Dominican Summer League
Walt Ibarra, IF: 48 G, 25 for 151, 15 R, 5 2B, 1 3B, 5 RBI, 8 BB, 34 K, 2 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.166/.213/.212)
Ramiro Pena, IF: 36 G, 32 for 130, 12 R, 4 2B, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 14 BB, 15 K, 1 SB, 1 CS (.246/.317/.369)
Jorge Vazquez, 1B/DH: 56 G, 70 for 212, 34 R, 7 2B, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 21 BB, 66 K, 3 HBP (.330/.397/.618) – finishes the year with 50 homers, 49 unintentional walks, and 232 strikeouts in 737 plate appearances
Felipe Gonzalez, RHP: 2 G, 0 GS, 1.1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HB (20.25 ERA, 3.00 WHIP) – 20-year-old spent the season in the Dominican Summer League
Cesar Vargas, RHP: 2 G, 0 GS, 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HB (4.50 ERA, 2.50 WHIP) – soon-to-be 20-year-old struck out 85 in 71.2 IP in the Dominican Summer League this year
Pat Venditte, SwP: 32 G, 42.1 IP, 30 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 7 BB, 46 K, 6 HR, 1 WP (2.34 ERA, 0.86 WHIP)

Puerto Rican League
Ray Kruml, OF: 20 G, 13 for 59, 5 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 9 K, 6 SB, 2 CS (.220/.242/.305)

Venezuelan Winter League
Dan Brewer, OF: 6 G, 1 for 19, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K, 1 HBP (.053/.174/.053)
Colin Curtis, OF: 32 G, 29 for 111, 17 R, 6 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 16 BB, 21 K, 3 SB, 1 CS, 3 HBP (.261/.369/.369)
Jose Gil, 1B/C: 32 G, 22 for 81, 16 R, 8 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 10 RIB, 7 BB, 16 K, 1 SB (.272/.326/.432)
Gus Molina, C: 42 G, 31 for 121, 11 R, 7 2B, 5 RBI, 9 BB, 26 K, 2 HBP (.256/.313/.314)
Jose Pirela, IF: 60 G, 71 for 236, 25 R, 8 2B, 4 3B, 3 HR, 36 RBI, 13 BB, 29 K, 4 SB, 2 CS, 4 HBP (.301/.344/.407) – nice winter for him
Rich Martinez, RHP: 1 G, 0 GS, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA, 2.50 WHIP)

Open Thread: Alfonso Soriano

(AP Photo/Ron Frehm)

I think it’s fair to say that Jesus Montero will be the Yankees’ most anticipated rookie in quite some time next year, probably since Alfonso Soriano in 2001. Soriano, who thrice ranked as one of the 40 best prospects in the game by Baseball America (peaked at #16 in 2000), took over at second base that year once Chuck Knoblauch’s throwing problems relegated him to left field. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting (behind Ichiro and CC Sabathia) with a .268/.304/.432 batting line (18 homers and 43 steals), then he went on to hit .295/.335/.536 with 77 homers and 76 steals from 2002-2003 before being traded for Alex Rodriguez.

It’s kinda hard to believe, but Soriano turned 36 years old yesterday. He was never exactly an OBP threat, but from 2002-2006 he was the best power-speed player in the game. Only four players hit 100 homers with 100 steals during that time, and Soriano is the easy leader with 187 homers (37 more than Carlos Beltran) and 165 steals (11 more than Bobby Abreu). If it wasn’t for Mariano Rivera‘s blown save, Soriano’s go-ahead eighth inning homer off Curt Schilling in Game Seven of the 2001 World Series would have cemented his place in Yankees lore forever.

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Like yesterday, I’m posting a little earlier than usual because of the NFL playoff action. The Giants and Falcons kick off at 1pm ET (on FOX), then the Steelers and Broncos play at 4:30pm ET (on CBS). None of the hockey and basketball locals are playing, however. Talk about whatever you like here, go nuts.

Report: Yankees offered Nakajima $1M

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees offered Hiroyuki Nakajima approximately $1M, but the more serious issue was his role. When the announcement was made that the two sides couldn’t reach a deal, we learned that they only offered him a one-year contract. A statement issued by Nakajima’s agent makes it sound like they believe he should be a starter, but apparently no MLB club agrees with that given the lack of bids.

A report from Sponichi (translated) reiterates that Nakajima was okay with the money, but he wanted to become a free agent after the one-year deal while the Yankees wanted to retain his rights for six years like every other player. As a courtesy, MLB typically allows foreign veteran players to be treated as true free agents rather than players with zero service time. Either way, what’s done is done. Nakajima will go back to Japan and the Yankees will look for another bench player elsewhere.

Scouting Phil Hughes

When long-heralded prospects make it to the major leagues, the exciting scouting reports on them tend to stick around long past their expiration dates. We hear about potential based on a perception of the player that is no longer reasonable or based on existing attributes. We cling to those old scouting reports, hoping that the player will eventually reach the level of performance that they promised, not willing to accept that circumstance and lack of development have altered the player’s ceiling.

Phil Hughes provides a good example of this phenomenon. While many of us have moved on and have lowered their expectations when it comes to Phil, we still cling to him as a guy who has long had potential and could eventually capitalize on it. However, his myriad injuries and the stunted development associated with them have altered Hughes such that the previous scouting reports no longer apply. He was a guy with a fastball at 91-94 that he had stellar command of, an excellent curveball that he could finish hitters with, and a changeup that always seemed to be on the cusp of being a usable pitch. However, the updated scouting report reads differently:

Hughes, turning 26 in June, has a classic power pitcher’s build, coming in at a solid 6’5″ and a listed 240 pounds. However, he seems to have put on a bit of weight in recent years, and the Yankees sent him to their fat camp last spring to try and shed those extra pounds. The Yankees have long liked his makeup and believe he has the mental ability to be a successful pitcher in this league, but his conditioning is something worth keeping an eye on.

As for his stuff, he is primarily a two pitch pitcher, featuring a fastball and a curveball. While he has used a cutter fairly often in recent years, he seemed to have slowly removed in from his repertoire over the course of 2011, a smart decision considering its ineffectiveness throughout the season. He occasionally mixes in a changeup, but it is not much of a pitch and is unlikely to become a major part of his arsenal.

His fastball sits at 89-92, and is pretty straight. However, he does have very good command of the pitch in the zone, and he uses that ability to draw plenty of foul balls and get ahead in counts. His curveball, once a pitch that he could throw for strikes and use to finish hitters off, has become adequate at best. It was always a bit loopy, but it had a lot of depth and hitters would swing over it. It has lost some of that depth and just tumbles up to hitters, who can usually catch up to it and foul it off or drive it somewhere. He has also struggled to throw it for strikes in recent seasons. Hughes tinkered some with a spike curve last season, but did not see great results and is unlikely to lean on it in the future.

This two pitch combination allows him to get to two strikes by way of his fastball, but once he is there he has nothing to finish hitters off with. He cannot throw the fastball by them, and they are not swinging at the curveball out of the zone. Eventually, Hughes makes a mistake and hitters are ready to pounce.

Outlook: Hughes did have a major jump in innings from 2009 to 2010, so it is possible that some of his 2011 struggles could be attributed to overuse. But unless he recovers some of his velocity, has his command go from good back to great, or recaptures his old curveball, Hughes profiles as a #4 starter or possibly a good reliever. His fastball command is still good enough to keep him in a MLB rotation, but he needs to find another positive attribute in his arsenal to surpass his current back-of-the-rotation ceiling. As he nears his age 26 season, the likelihood that he does that grows ever more slim.

That is my scouting report on Hughes at this point. I’ve discarded the one that marked him as the next Yankees ace, as those expectations simply do not match the skills that Hughes currently brings to the table. I hope to be forced to pull that old one out of the trash, dust it off, and use it once again, but I do not expect that to happen. It is time to stop judging Phil Hughes on what he could have been, and start addressing what he is.

Rivera expects to be ready for Spring Training after surgery…

… on his vocal cords. Third time with that joke is a charm, no? Anyway, Marc Carig spoke to the greatest reliever of all-time today, and Mariano Rivera said he expects to be ready for Spring Training when camp opens in about five weeks. Carig says Mo sounds like his normal self following surgery on vocal cords, but frankly I don’t think it was his voice that many of us were worried about. Glad everything’s okay.

Open Thread: Jorge

Earlier today we learned that Jorge Posada will announce his retirement in the near future, a bittersweet moment for me. This wasn’t necessarily a surprise and I think we all knew his time had come, but it’s still sad anytime an all-time great calls it a career. Based on bWAR, Posada is the third greatest catcher in Yankees history behind only Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey. Thurman Munson is right behind him, but then it’s a huge gap between those four and everyone else.

I don’t necessarily agree with the list or the order, but the video above is a compilation of the nine greatest moments of Jorge Posada’s career. Game Three of the 2001 ALDS is known for Derek Jeter‘s flip play, but Posada accounted for the only run of the game with his solo homer while catching seven shutout innings from Mike Mussina and another two from Mariano Rivera. Of course I’m certain that “double” in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS made me jump and shout more than any other Jorge hit. I’m happy Posada was able to leave the game on his own terms, because not many players get to do that. He will be missed.

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Here is your open thread for the day. I’m posting this earlier than usual because of the two NFL playoff games, the first of which starts at 4:30pm ET. That’s the Bengals at the Texans on NBC. The late game (8pm ET on NBC) is the Lions at the Saints, and I’m setting the over/under on points scored at 80.5. Other than foobaw, the Knicks, Nets, Islanders, and Devils are all playing. Don’t forget though, no MSG for you Time Warner folks! Anyway, talk about anything you like here. Go nuts.

Report: Jorge to announce his retirement

It looks like Yankees fans won’t have to worry about seeing Jorge Posasda in a different uniform this season. WFAN’s Sweeny Murti reports that Jorge will announce his retirement within the next two weeks. We’ll surely have a riveting tribute to Jorge once he does make the announcement. For now we can reminisce about our favorite Jorge memories — I’m sure his double off Pedro Martinez ranks highest for many. We can also get a head start on making arguments for his Hall of Fame candidacy. Remember, he still has the highest WAR of any catcher since 2000.