Mailbag: Killer B’s, Igawa, A-Jax, Culver

I’ve got four questions this week, three of which deal with a current or former Yankees prospect. The other has to do with a guy taking up space in the minors. Remember to send in your questions via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Boom or bust? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Joe asks: Do you think there is any chance the Yanks keep and develop all of the Killer B’s?  I know the odds of all three reaching their ceiling and staying healthy are long, and as you or Joe or Ben said last week don’t fall in love with your prospects, but it be nice to see them all on the big club.  What % do you think it will occur?

If you’ve got three pitching prospects of that caliber, my general (and completely amateur) rule of thumb is that one will reach (or at least approach) his ceiling, one will fall short of his ceiling but still be a productive big leaguer, and the third will be a complete bust. The Yankees exceeded that with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, turning them into two viable big league starters and a reliever. Look back at the Red Sox five years ago; they got an ace, a reliever, and a bust out of Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, and Craig Hansen.

I’d expect Manny Banuelos to approach his ceiling, Andrew Brackman to fall short of his ceiling but be a useful player, and Dellin Betances to be the complete bust out of the Killer B’s. Nothing personal, it’s just that Dellin’s health record scares me. That said, I fully expect them to trade one of those guys, probably sometime this year. The big league team needs pitching right now, and the Yankees have some high end pitching depth and can afford to move one of those guys.

Of course I’d love to see all three of them stay with the team and flourish in the big leagues, but the odds are so stacked against it. I’d give it less than a 50-50 chance that all three will stay with the Yankees for the next few years, and less than a 5% chance that all three turn into productive players. Prospects will break your heart, the Killer B’s are no different than the hundreds that came before them.

Nicolai asks: If Kei Igawa was blocking somebody from being promoted to Scranton, could the Yankees just send him down to Trenton, Tampa or Charleston?

Yep, absolutely. The Yankees actually sent him all the way down to High-A Tampa for two starts in 2007. Igawa’s not blocking anyone from anything.

A different Joe asks: I was listening to the Yankees game and it was the Tigers radio crew. They claimed A-Jax would be a 15 homer and 40 SB guy this season. I personally don’t see this happening at all. Any thoughts on it?

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

This year? No way, not in Comerica. Austin Jackson has 17 homers total in his last 1,816 plate appearances dating back to 2007, so I don’t see a sudden spike happening. I could definitely see 15 homers at his peak, maybe even 20, but 2011 is too soon for that. If Jackson did pop double-digit homers this year, that would mean everything went right for him and he even squeezed in an inside-the-parker or three. Of all the projection systems out there, only CAIRO and ZiPS have him hitting more than six homers, and both forecast seven.

I like Jackson and there’s no doubt that he’s an above-average player, but expecting 15 homers out of him this year is a bit much. Even the 40 steals is a bit of a question mark (27 last year), but it’s not as unbelievable as the power numbers. Just for some perspective, only three different players have had a 15-40 season in the last three years, and Carl Crawford was the only one to do it twice.

Anthony asks: What’s the projection for 2010 first rounder Cito Culver as a major leaguer? Does he have the potential to be a solid starter on a high caliber team?

Culver’s long-term value is going to lie mostly in his glovework, which, luckily, is really really good. Is he going to be Derek Jeter? Absolutely not. Is he going to be Cesar Izturis? Eh, maybe. It’s always possible. I think the best case scenario for the Yankees’ 2010 first round pick is an above-average defensive shortstop (probably not Gold Glove caliber though) that hits for average, draws some walks, and steals some bases. Culver doesn’t have much power and doesn’t project to down the road, but he’s switch-hitter with some contact skills, and he did manage to a walk in nearly ten percent of his plate appearances in his pro debut last summer.

If I had to put numbers on it, which I hate doing, I think his offensive ceiling is something like .300/.360/.400, right around a .350 wOBA. Culver also has the speed and skills to steal a healthy amount of bags, maybe even 40+ in his basestealing prime. Stick that at shortstop over 600 plate appearances with say, +4 or +5 run defense, and you’ve got a four win player. Again, that’s not Derek Jeter, but that’s a player good enough to start on a championship team. Of course, Culver has a long, looong way to go to live up to that potential.

Who’s got two thumbs and is excited for the next Colon start?

Why, this guy, of course.

When I wrote last night about the inaccuracies of the Yankee stadium subway race, a few readers questioned the post. Although it was labeled whimsy and although it’s the slow days of mid-Spring Training, how dare we have fun. Instead, because the Internet is Serious Business™, we should only focus on serious things such as the Yanks’ dearth of pitchers. In reply, I promised a post with just this title, so here we go.

Later tonight, for the second time this spring Bartolo Colon, all 265 pounds of him, will take the mound for his second attempt at impressing the Yanks. And honestly, I’m legitimately excited. It’s not that Colon is that compelling a storyline by itself, but the game is a Friday night affair against the Red Sox. It’s on the YES Network and the MLB Network, and both Mark Prior and Manny Banuelos will get innings as well. That’s reason to sit through some Colon pitches.

So far, it’s early. We can’t say for sure which Yankee pitchers are getting rotation spots, but we can handicap the race. Through six games, Colon is the only guy competing for a starting rotation job to give up any runs. Yet, outside of two Ivan Nova appearances, no pitcher has more than a pair of innings under his belt. It’s tough to draw any conclusions from the early goings. That said, it certainly seems as though a race is taking shape, and it will inform the way we view Spring Training over the next few weeks.

On Thursday, Freddy Garcia took the hill for his first outing of the spring. As the Yanks had run through their rotation candidates, it seemed as though Garcia was playing the part of the forgotten man. What is happening though is that he’s playing the part of the almost sure thing. The Yankees are going to give Garcia every opportunity to lose a rotation spot, and as long as he’s serviceable, he’ll be the club’s fourth starter.

Garcia knows that too. While speaking with reporters after the game, the right-hander put the onus on him to pitch as though he belongs. “I’m watching,” he said of the rotation race, “but I don’t really think about it because if I lose that spot, that’s my fault. I wish them good luck; hopefully everybody pitches good. But at the end of the day I’ll be the one [to blame] if I lose that spot.”

Ivan Nova to the rescue.

Meanwhile, as Marc Carig noted, Nova drew some raves as well. He relieved Garcia and threw three scoreless frames. Of his 35 pitches, 22 went for strikes, and although he gave up a hit per inning, he kept Tampa Bay off the board. The Yankees like his composure and like his stuff. Right now, he’s edging ahead of Bartolo Colon for that fifth spot.

Of course, Colon could turn that around tonight with a strong outing. He’ll get three or even four innings to show something, and the Yanks will begin to see what his fastball and stamina looks like as he works deeper into a game. Colon, as we know, hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2009, and he remains a long shot to make the team.

Ultimately, though, for the Yanks, the decision will have to be one of depth. If the Yanks jettison Colon before Opening Day, he won’t be around to spell anyone in the rotation should someone get hurt or should Nova fail to make it through the lineup three times. After Nova, the depth turns into Sergio Mitre and a bunch of kids with limited AAA experience. If the Yanks tab Colon for the rotation and he falters, all that’s lost is a few games, and then Nova gets his shot. The Yanks have to make their pick their poison before the month is out, and as the innings mount, Colon might have to play catch up to keep himself in the race.

Single-game tix on sale next Friday

The Yankees announced this evening that single-game tickets for the 2011 season will go on sale next week. At 10 a.m. on Friday, March 11, 2011, fans purchase any single-game tickets available via this page on the team’s official site. Considering how many tickets are sold as a part of the club’s various season ticket packages, it’s tough to say how many single-game seats are left, but those who act fast can usually find a few good games for sale. If not, there’s always RAB Tickets for all of your secondary market needs.

Open Thread: March 3rd Camp Notes

The latest from Tampa…

  • The Yankees and Rays played to a one-all tie this afternoon. Freddy Garcia threw two scoreless innings and Ivan Nova followed him up with three of his own, but Dellin Betances lost control and walked in a run in his second inning of work. Eric Chavez doubled and Curtis Granderson singled, but the run scored late in the game thanks to some funny defense by the Tampa B-team. Here’s the box score.
  • “If I lose this [rotation] spot, it’s my fault,” said Garcia afterwards, who acknowledged that he’ll have to shake his history of poor springs to keep that job. He was clocked at 88-89 mph with the fastball, surprisingly good (for him). (Erik Boland & George King)
  • Phil Hughes, David Robertson, and Steve Garrison all threw side sessions today. Andrew Brackman tossed his bullpen session as scheduled, and will get into a simulated game on this weekend. (Chad Jennings)

Here’s your open thread for the evening. The Rangers are the only local team in action tonight, though both SNY and MLB Network are showing replays of today’s Mets-Cardinals game if you’re so inclined. You all know what to do, so have at it.

Food For Thought: A.J. Burnett

Over the last three years, A.J. Burnett has hit 38 batters with pitches, the most in baseball. Twenty-one of those 38 batters were left-handed, or 55.3%. Right-handed pitchers around the league have about a 68%/32% split (RHB/LHB) on hit-by-pitches during that time, so Burnett’s clearly an outlier in that regard.

Those two heat maps above come courtesy of David Pinto at Baseball Analysts, and they show the general location of the pitches that have hit left-handed batters over those last three seasons. The graph on the left is the league average, the one on the right is Burnett. He’s not hitting these batters up high (around the shoulders, arms, and hands) like everyone else, he’s catching them down around the feet and ankles. Why? It’s the curveball, as Pinto shows in his post.

Thirteen of those 21 hit-by-pitches came with two strikes, which is why A.J. really goes to the hook. Hitting a batter is bad enough, but doing so in a two strike count is as infuriating as it gets. Hopefully those new mechanics get help straighten Burnett out, because free baserunners are a bad, bad thing.

The RAB Radio Show: March 3, 2011

There was plenty to like from today’s game against the Rays, not least of which was Ivan Nova going three innings. This might not be noteworthy by itself, but it does signal that they pitchers are increasing their workload. Hey, we’ll take anything that makes Opening Day feel closer.

Somehow, as we discussed the game and the guys involved, Mike and I got sidetracked on the Angels. They seem to attract bad contracts, and they didn’t help that reputation this winter. It’s nice that they’re no longer a perpetual thorn in the Yanks’s side.

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Who exactly is Steve Garrison?

It was a relatively minor move, a forgettable waiver claim last September. The Yankees, surely on the recommendation of then-special adviser and former Padres GM Kevin Towers, claimed left-hander Steve Garrison off waivers from San Diego, and he remains on the 40-man roster to this day. The team has cut six players off the 40-man since claiming Garrison (four pitchers), so clearly they like him at least a little. But what’s his story? He seems like the forgotten man around these parts.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Garrison, who turned 24 a few days after being claimed, was originally a tenth round pick of the Brewers back in 2005. He’s a local kid that grew up just outside of Trenton and was drafted out of the prestigious Hun School of Princeton, and was the fourth best draft prospect in the state according to Baseball America. Garrison fell because of bonus concerns, but Milwaukee managed to buy him away from his commitment to North Carolina with a $160,000 bonus, which was fifth round money at the time.

The Brewers sent him to Low-A ball the year after being drafted, and Garrison performed pretty well (3.45 ERA, 3.78 FIP in 88.2 IP), prompting Baseball America to rank him the 27th best prospect in what was then the fifth best farm system in the game. He moved up to High-A the next season, pitching to a 3.44 ERA (3.36 FIP) in 104.2 IP before being traded to the Padres as part of a three-prospect package for Scott Linebrink. Three prospects for a reliever, imagine that.

Anyway, Garrison finished the year well in San Diego’s system (2.79 ERA, 2.99 FIP in 42 IP) and was ranked the sixth best prospect in the game’s twelfth best farm system by Baseball America. Bumped up to Double-A next year, the lefty was again solid (3.82 ERA, 3.74 FIP in 129.2 IP) but tumbled down the prospect lists and was considered the Padres’ 22nd best prospect, when they had the second to worst farm system in the game. Why the fall? Because Garrison had surgery to clean up the labrum and rotator cuff of his throwing shoulder after the season.

The surgery kept him out for most of 2009, and Garrison posted a 5.56 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 34 IP after coming back late in the season. San Diego liked him enough that they added him to their 40-man roster after the season to keep him from being exposed in the Rule 5 Draft. Garrison missed the majority of the 2010 season with another injury, this time a knee. It limited him to just 57 IP (5.37 ERA, 4.29 FIP), and San Diego designated him for assignment to free up a 40-man spot last September. That’s when the Yankees pounced.

Mr. Garrison throws the fastball and curveball, Mr. Hat the slider and changeup.

Garrison did not throw a pitch for the Yankees last year, but he did make an appearance in a Spring Training game earlier this week, allowing a pair of hits in two scoreless frames. The team apparently hasn’t told him if he will be a starter or reliever this season, but the two inning stint seems to indicate that they’re stretching him out, if for no other reason than to accumulate innings. Garrison has been a starter his entire career, save for a handful of relief appearances when he was coming back from the various injuries.

The equipment is certainly there for him to start. Garrison offers three pitches and was never a hard-thrower; his 88-90 mph fastball post-surgery matches his pre-surgery velocity. He also throws a big, over-the-top curveball and a changeup, both of which Baseball America described as plus at times when he last made their Prospect Handbook (before the 2009 season). He also throws a slider, but no word on its effectiveness. BA has also lauded his command (just 2.2 uIBB/9 in his career), polish, pickoff move, athleticism, and defense throughout the years. Garrison’s an interesting guy, but hardly a top prospect.

The Yankees currently have six left-handed pitchers on their 40-man roster: CC Sabathia and Pedro Feliciano (who are going nowhere), Robert Fish (a Rule 5 pick who is going back to the Angels soon), Damaso Marte (going to the disabled list and will never be heard from again), Boone Logan, and Garrison. Although they seem to be stretching him out to start, the team is likely looking at Garrison as a reliever long-term. In fact, Mark Newman told Chad Jennings that if “Kevin Towers likes a pitcher, especially a bullpen guy, you have to listen” when discussing Garrison not too long ago.

I’m guessing that the Yankees will have Garrison start back at Double-A because a) there’s no room in the Triple-A rotation, and b) he only has 135.2 IP at the level, most of which were split up by the injuries. I don’t think there’s room for him in that rotation either, but he’s a prime candidate for the “two innings every three days” relief program the Yankees employ, which will allow him to focus on refining his two best pitches to hasten the conversion to reliever. Remember, Logan’s track record of success is like, 20 innings long, which is why Feliciano was brought in. Perhaps Garrison could offer an alternative later this season, though with two options remaining, there’s no rush.