Spring Training Health Report: Johnson, Aceves, Catchers

Earlier today we found out that Damaso Marte has a cranky shoulder, but that’s not the extent of the Yankees’ injury woes. Nick Johnson left today’s game in the first inning after fouling a pitch of his right knee, and has been diagnosed with a bone bruise. He won’t do anything tomorrow, but is confident that he’ll be in the lineup Sunday night against the Red Sox. After battling a sore lower back, Al Aceves threw an inning in a minor league game today and felt fine, but the team is going to wait and see how he feels tomorrow before determining his status for the regular season opener.

Last but certainly not least, the Yankees’ top three catchers all appear to be on the mend. Jorge Posada‘s stiff neck is doing well and there’s a chance he’ll play tomorrow, while Frankie Cervelli‘s hamstring feels better. He won’t play tomorrow, but caught in the bullpen and took some swings in batting practice today. Third string Mike Rivera started today for the first time in two weeks after dealing with a hamstring of his own, and he even picked up a hit to raise his spring average to .167. Minor bumps and bruises all around, let’s just be thankful it’s nothing more serious.

The Montero Watch

All hail the Jesus. (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

Oh yes, we’re going big this year.

If you’re a new relatively new reader, then let me explain. Every season we select one prospect to follow as the season progresses, tracking their stats in the sidebar for all to revel in. Past “watch” subjects include players like Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Mark Melancon, and Andrew Brackman, but for the first time ever, this year’s subject will be a position player, and there really wasn’t much of a debate.

Catcher Jesus Montero is not just the Yanks’ top prospect, but he’s arguably the best prospect at the position in all of baseball. Last year he hit a studly .337-.389-.562 with 25 doubles and 17 homers in 92 games split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Now that he’s reached his 20th birthday, the Yankees will finally unleash his fury on the unsuspecting Triple-A International League.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees start their season next Thursday, April 8th, against the Buffalo Bisons at home. As if Montero needed any more help, he’ll get to kick off his season by pounding on some Mets’ minor leaguers. Hide the women and children folks, it might get ugly in a hurry if you live upstate.

Once the actual “watch” goes up on the sidebar, probably Sunday or Monday in place of the Opening Day Countdown, you’ll see two rows of stats. The top one will be Montero’s performance form his most recent game, and the bottom one will be his season performance. It’s pretty simple, but it’s always worth typing out.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this year’s choice. I suspect there won’t be any objections.

Spring Training Game Thread: Grapefruit League Finale

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

At long last, the Yankees wrap up their official Spring Training schedule today. Tomorrow they’ll play a friendly game against their top prospects before heading to Boston to kick off the 2010 regular season against those small market Red Sox.

Andy Pettitte takes the mound today with just four official innings to his name because he’s had to deal with an inordinate number of rainouts. Most of his work has come in simulated or minor league games. Don’t worry, it’s bright and sunny in Tampa today, so the game with definitely be played. There aren’t any position battles to decide or roster spots left to be won, so this game is all about getting some work in and not getting hurt. Here’s the starting nine…

Jeter, SS
Johnson, DH
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, 3B
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Granderson, CF
Gardner, LF
Mike Rivera, C

Scheduled Pitchers: Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Damaso Marte was supposed to go, but his shoulder is acting up. Boone Logan, Grant Duff, Amaury Sanit, and Josh Schmidt are also available.

Also scheduled to play: Francisco Arcia, Juan Miranda, Luis Nunez, Ramiro Pena, P.J. Pilittere, Austin Romine, Justin Snyder, Marcus Thames, Jon Weber, and Randy Winn.

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET and can be seen on both YES and ESPN. After the jump is today’s chat, so join in.

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Two openings in the fourth fifth RAB fantasy Baseball League

There are two spots open in one of our fantasy leagues, so this is probably your last chance to get in if you’ve missed it. Here’s the catch: the draft is this afternoon at 4:15pm ET, so it’s very short notice. If you want in, go to Yahoo and sign up using this info…

League ID: 423467 442039
Password: loubrown riveraveblues

Happy drafting. (Update: My bad, posted the wrong league info)

The 2010 RAB Pledge Drive

It’s that time again, time to announce our plan to use RAB’s popularity for the betterment of mankind. Last year we managed to raise $1,500 for Joe Torre’s Safe At Home Foundation, and the year before we were able to raise $1,050 for The Jorge Posada Foundation. This year’s charity of choice was founded by one of the newest Yankees, Curtis Granderson.

The Grand Kids Foundation was established in 2008 as an educational-based organization that helps purchase books and school supplies for needy families, and also provides equipment and facilities to baseball programs that help keep inner city kids off the street. You can learn much more about the foundation at it’s official website.

Last year we based the pledge drive on the number of runs scored by the team, and the year before it was the number of strikeouts by the trio of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. This year, I’m going to go with the number of times that the charity’s founder reaches base in 2010. The idea is simple, you guys pledge a certain amount of money for every time Curtis Granderson reaches base on a hit, a walk, or a hit by pitch, and at the end of the season we’ll collect it all and send it on in to Grand Kids.

Even in what was considered a down season, Granderson still managed to reach base 231 times last year. So, if you pledged just $0.05 for each time he reached base last year, your donation would have been just $11.55. A $0.10 pledge would’ve had you on the hook for just $23.10. Every little bit helps, and you can see how easy it is to help out without breaking the bank.

We collected the donations at the end of the year via PayPal, personal check or money order the last two times we did this, and we’ll do the same thing this year. If you wish to pledge – and we hope you do – just send an email to me at mike (at) riveraveblues (dot) com, letting me know how much you wish to pledge. Please put something like “Pledge Drive” in the subject line to make the admin work easier.

Thank you in advance, and let’s go Yankees!

Marte has a “cranky” left shoulder

Via Marc Carig, lefty setup man Damaso Marte what he called a “cranky” shoulder, though he thinks he’ll miss two or three days at the most. The problem, or course, is that Marte had a shoulder issue last year that he classified as minor, yet he ended up missing four months. If he has to hit the disabled list for any length of time, you can all but guarantee that Boone Logan will make the roster.

Scouts and talent evaluators discuss Jeter’s position

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

During the off-season we often worry not only about the current team, but also future teams. Hey, there’s plenty of space in our brains for baseball and only so many interesting items in the off-season. Derek Jeter‘s expiring contract fits this mold. He becomes eligible for free agency after this season, though there doesn’t appear to be any worry over his future as a Yankee. In fact, the biggest questions have not been of whether Jeter will sign, but of what position he will play during the later years of his new contract.

For now Jeter will stay at shortstop. A few years ago many considered Jeter a mediocre defender at best, someone who made flashy plays and solidly fielded balls he could reach, but who let too many fieldable balls slip into the outfield. Brian Cashman brought this to his attention after the 2007 season and ever since Jeter has made defensive work the focus of his off-seasons. He showed improvement in 2008 and 2009, and we can now call him at least average defensively. But how long will that last?

In a recent blog post Buster Olney lists responses from scouts, talent evaluators, and J.P. Ricciardi regarding Jeter’s future position. As expected, many answered left field. That has been the most frequently mentioned destination for Jeter as he approaches age 40. Any evaluator or scout who mentioned this noted that center field would not be a good destination for the same reason that Jeter likely won’t stay at shortstop into his 40s. His range likely wouldn’t be adequate for the position, though that’s somewhat less of an issue in left field. One talent evaluator called Jeter “a natural fit in right field” because of his “athleticism, instincts and strong throwing arm.”

If left field is indeed Jeter’s ultimate destination then the Yankees have to keep that in mind this off-season. All spring long we’ve heard that they’re hot on Carl Crawford, but would also consider signing Jayson Werth should Crawford find work elsewhere. It would be tough to move Jeter there if either is under contract long term. This is perhaps where right field comes into play. Nick Swisher is also under contract through 2011, though he has a more reasonable $10.25 million option for 2012. That might be the time the Yankees start thinking about moving Jeter, so they could sign Crawford or Werth this off-season and still have a spot for Jeter in the outfield.

Interestingly, a couple also suggested a move to second base. the Yankees have Robinson Cano under contract through 2011, with a pair of expensive options, $14 and $15 million, for 2012 and 2013. One talent evaluator suggests that the Yankees could trade Cano, but I just don’t see it with his current contract. I’m also not sure that moving from short to second would make much of a difference. As one scout noted, he might not transition well. Then again, he might not transition to the outfield well. I’m just skeptical that the answer to compensating for diminishing skills at short is a move to second. It has worked for others, though, so perhaps there’s merit in the idea.

Ricciardi suggests that Jeter stays at shortstop, saying that he “could see him playing shortstop another five years — ’til the end of his next contract.” If Jeter continues his focus on defense then maybe he can stick there for a few years. But through the end of his next contract, five years into the future? Ricciardi compares him to Omar Vizquel, which just isn’t fair. Vizquel has always been an elite defender at shortstop, one of the best among his peers. Jeter, though improved, doesn’t compare. It’s like comparing regular apples and apples that have moved very well laterally their entire lives.

At the end of the article Buster offered his own opinion, so I’ll do the same. I don’t think Jeter will move off short until 2012 at the earliest, and at that point I think he’s destined for an OF/DH role. Perhaps at that time the Yankees will give him a look at short, but if Robinson Cano continues hitting I don’t see why they’d get rid of him. There might be an opening in the outfield, though, either in left or in right, so that might be a natural fit at the time. I doubt the Yankees will give it too much thought upon re-signing him, though. The object is to keep Jeter. If he can play short for half of his next contract, I think the Yankees would be happy with that.