2011 Draft: Nick Ahmed

The draft is just 13 days away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some players individually rather than lump a few together in one post.

Batting gloves in the pocket and on the hands? You know he

Nick Ahmed | SS

Background
After a decorated high school career at East Longmeadow High School just north of the Connecticut-Massachusetts border, Ahmed has been a three-year starter at UConn, one the country’s rising baseball programs. He doesn’t get the attention that teammates Matt Barnes and George Springer (two projected first rounders) get, but Ahmed put himself on the map this spring after packing some muscle onto his now 6-foot-2, 205 lb. frame over the winter. After hitting just .295/.350/.371 in his first two years at school, he is hitting .322/.422/.450 as a junior.

Scouting Report
Ahmed’s total package is greater than the sum of the parts. His best tools are his legs and arm, as he has very good running speed and a strong, accurate, and reliable throwing arm at short. Ahmed isn’t a textbook defender and won’t wow you with the glove, but he has solid range and turns everything he gets to into outs. He has little power and knows it, so his offensive game relies on bat control, getting on base, and stealing bags. Everything plays up because Ahmed plays very hard, almost to a fault. He suffered a collapsed lung in a collision at first base late last month, but the injury is not a long-term concern. Here’s some video.

Miscellany
Players that figure to stick at shortstop and be at least average there have big time value, even if the offensive package is nothing to write home about. There are definite concerns about Ahmed’s ability to handle upper level pitching, especially since a 2010 stint in the wood bat Cape Cod League did not go well (.212/.308/.253 in 161 PA), but it’s risk worth taking in the middle rounds. He did not crack the latest prospect rankings from either Baseball America or Keith Law and is expected to go somewhere in the third or fourth round. Some think he’s a utility player down the road.

Game 47: Ace vs. Ace

A win would be pretty cool. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

This is the kind of game that makes baseball fun. We’ve got two of the game’s top pitchers facing off in CC Sabathia and Ricky Romero. The two lefties are near equal in terms of ERA (CC: 3.08, Romero: 3.10), but the Yankees’ ace has a big edge in FIP (2.80 vs. 3.59) thanks to his homerun rate (0.40 HR/9 vs. 1.09), and on average he faces about three more batters per start. That’s big when it comes to keeping the ball out of the hands of crummy middle relievers. Romero has already flustered New York once this season (six innings, two runs last month), but the Blue Jays have only seen Sabathia twice in the last two years (8 IP, 2 R in 2009 then 8.1 IP, 1 R in 2010) and never at Yankee Stadium. Weird, huh? Anyway, here’s tonight’s lineup…

Derek Jeter, DH
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Nick Swisher, RF
Brett Gardner, LF
Eduardo Nunez, SS

CC Sabathia, SP

The game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on My9 locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Shameless Plug: Need to rant after the game? Listen, or better yet, call into Take On Russ at myfoxny.com (201-330-3466) after the final out is recorded. Salzberg’s a friend of Ben’s family, so we’re just helping spread the word.

Soriano shut down with more elbow soreness

Update (6:08pm): Via Mark Feinsand, Soriano is going to see Dr. James Andrews tomorrow. The Yankees won’t release the MRI results until then, but the team acknowledged that they “showed enough for him to see Andrews.”

Original Post (4:45pm): Via Jerome Preisler, Rafael Soriano has been shut down indefinitely after feeling more soreness/stiffness in his elbow following a throwing session today. He was sent to have his third MRI shortly thereafter, and the results are not yet known. Joe Girardi told reporters that he is concerned about the setup man’s elbow, and there’s obviously no chance Soriano will be coming off the disabled list when eligible (a week from tomorrow). Given the workloads on their current setup crew, it would probably behoove the Yankees to try some of their in-house relief options in something more than mop up duty.

Sabathia primed for his best year in pinstripes

Amid the turmoil surrounding the Yankees’ starting rotation this winter, one constant remained. CC Sabathia still stood at the helm, ready for his third season as the Yankees ace. It figured to be his most important. Behind him was A.J. Burnett, who had an up-and-down, but mostly down, 2010; Phil Hughes, whose performance slipped considerably after a phenomenal start to the 2010 season; and a smattering of fourth and fifth starter candidates that included Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, and, if in name only, Sergio Mitre. Without an ace, the Yanks would have been sunk before they started.

In the aggregate, CC has done his job. Through 10 starts he’s averaging 6.2 innings per outing and has a 3.06 ERA and 2.80 FIP. He’s kept the ball in th epark a bit more frequently than in recent years, but even if we adjust his HR/FB ratio it still works out to a 3.24 xFIP. That is, he’s doing quite an excellent job all around, even if some of his starts have been less than ideal. The Yanks could use him pitching deeper into games, of course, but that will come with time. In fact, a better performance altogether could be in the cards.

During Sabathia’s first two seasons in pinstripes, we’ve grown used to decent starts followed by downright domination. Here are his numbers through his first 10 starts in each of his seasons with the Yankees.

There seems to be an early season problem in each year, whether it be inordinately low strikeouts (09) or high home runs (10). This year he has a hit rate higher than normal. Now, here’s how Sabathia has fared from start No. 11 through the end of the last two seasons.

In each instance his walk rate has slightly improved, while his strikeout rate has jumped at least one per nine. His home run rate jumped a bit in 2009, but, as in 2011, it’s not at a sustainable level. This isn’t too uncommon for Sabathia. In his career he has a 3.75 first half ERA, which slides to 3.31 in the second half. This includes a jump in strikeouts, by, yes, about a batter per nine innings. Things seem to get better for Sabathia. If that happens in 2011, he could finally find himself atop that Cy Young ballot.

This isn’t to say that Sabathia will necessarily improve. It’s tough to ask for much more than he’s given through his first 10 starts this year. But to see his hit rate improve wouldn’t come as much of a surprise. He’s had one small problem area during his first 10 starts in the past two years, and has improved them in both instances. Just imagine, though, if, as was the case in the last two years, he starts striking out an additional batter per nine innings. That would put him right around where he was at during 2008, the best season of his career.

In a season when the Yankees have needed Sabathia to step up, he’s done so. While some of his starts haven’t inspired praise, in the aggregate he’s been a bit better than in his first 10 starts in the past two years. If, as has been the case in nearly every season of his career, he gets into a groove this summer, we could be in for something special. We know that Sabathia is capable of it.

Scouting The Trade Market: Hiroki Kuroda

(AP Photo/Charles Cherney)

There were not many viable free agent alternatives to Cliff Lee this past offseason, so when Hiroki Kuroda took himself off the market in November, arguably the second best free agent pitcher was no longer an option for the Yankees. The Dodgers currently sport the third worst record in the National League, and their -43 run differential says they’ve been the third worst team in baseball overall. Owner Frank McCourt is in the process of being phased out by MLB whether he likes it or not, and there are legitimate concerns about his ability to make payroll within the next week or two.

Just because McCourt might not make payroll doesn’t mean Dodgers’ players will be up for grabs. MLB will foot the bill and further push McCourt out, but they showed last year with the Rangers that they’re willing to be flexible with payroll in situations like this. That’s not to say they’ll be buyers at the deadline, but they won’t necessarily have to sell off everything not nailed to the stadium concrete. The Dodgers have some strong starting pitchers they could shop, but Clayton Kershaw is as untouchable is gets and I doubt they’re looking to move Chad Billingsley just weeks after signing him to an extension.

The trade deadline is just over two months away, so let’s get a jump on things by looking at Hiroki Kuroda, one of those pitchers that might actually be up for grabs…

The Pros

  • Kuroda has been consistently excellent since coming over from Japan. His 3.94 FIP this year is the worst of his career, but that’s still a fine mark. His unintentional walk rate has hovered right around two men per nine over the last few years while batters have swung and missed at his offerings at least nine percent of the time in all four seasons of his MLB career.
  • He also generates a healthy amount of ground balls, 50.4% for his career and 47.3% in 2011. Unsurprisingly, that’s helped keep his homerun rate to a manageable 0.78 per nine.
  • Kuroda throws pretty hard, with both his four-seamer and two-seamer sitting sitting comfortably in the low-90’s. The former tends to creep up into the mid-90’s as the season goes along. A mid-80’s slider is his primary secondary offering, and he’ll use a mid-to-high 80’s splitter as a changeup. He also started mixing in some upper-70’s curveballs this year after learning a grip from YouTube.
  • It’s a short commitment at a reasonable salary, the definition of a rental. Kuroda signed a one-year deal worth $12M this past winter, but his salary is only $8M. The other $4M is a signing bonus that will be paid out from 2012-2013. He can earn another $500,000 in incentives, but that’s no big deal.

The Cons

  • Kuroda is not young; he turned 36 in February and he does have a bit of injury history. He spent two weeks on the DL with shoulder tendinitis in June 2008 and then missed ~100 total days of the 2009 season with an oblique strain (two weeks), a concussion (two months), and a neck sprain (two weeks). The concussion was the result a line drive to the head, so that’s a fluke thing we shouldn’t count against him. An ugly start over the weekend (5.2 IP, 6 R) apparently had to do with a cut on his finger.
  • Despite some gaudy swing-and-miss rates (10.0% career), Kuroda has only struck out 6.59 men per nine innings in his career (6.89 K/9 this year). Left-handed batters have also been a little tough on him, though it’s not a crazy split.
  • Kuroda has a full no-trade clause, and the fact that he agreed to re-sign with the Dodgers during the exclusive negotiating period this past offseason suggests that he’s not in a rush to leave town.

There’s no indication that the (soon to be) MLB-operated Dodgers are looking to sell of any players right now, but Kuroda is probably their only big money piece with trade value. He’s pitched just as well on the road as he has at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, and for what it’s worth his peripherals stats in eight interleague starts have been strong. Kuroda’s a power pitcher with playoff experience, and he’s been amazingly consistent in his three-plus years in the States. The Yankees haven’t had the best luck when it comes to Japanese starting pitchers, but Kuroda doesn’t carry the same risk as Hideki Irabu or Kei Igawa because he’s already made the transition to MLB and has proven himself to be an above-average starter. Now it’s just up to the Dodgers to put him on the market.