Open Thread: It is … off the pole! See ya!

I was putting the Athletics Series Preview together last night and writing about Grant Balfour reminded me of that shot from last September. That bat speed is just ridiculous, it’s a fastball up around his eyes and Curtis Granderson still got so far out in front of it that it nearly went foul. Don’t ever change, Curtis.

Anyway, here’s your open thread for the night as you wind down from the long Memorial Day weekend. The Mets are playing the Pirates (Gee vs. Morton), and that’s pretty much it. Talk about whatever you want, go nuts.

2011 Draft: Dillon Howard

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

Dillon Howard | RHP

The best draft prospect in Arkansas, Howard has been on the radar for a long time thanks to his consistently impressive performances at showcase events and with summer traveling teams. He hasn’t had a great senior year at Searcy High School, but no one gets drafted based on high school stats. He’s committed to Arkansas.

Scouting Report
A 6-foot-3, 200 lb. right-hander, Howard has pitched consistently at 91-94 with a fastball that runs in on righties, and he’s gotten it up as high as 96 in the past. He could legitimately sit in the mid-90’s once he’s done growing. Howard’s breaking ball is inconsistent, resembling a curveball on some days and a slider on others, but he’s certainly shown the ability to make the ball spin. His changeup is very much a work in progress, as is his overall command despite a sound delivery. Howard is an athletic kid that played all over the infield in high school, and his passion for the game shows in his play.

Last week we heard that the Yankees are “heavily in” on Howard, who is supposedly asking for big bucks to skip out on the Razorbacks. The kid has a chance for a big time fastball with a power breaking ball, which are instant tools for success. Howard has significant upside, and adding a changeup will give him true top of the rotation ability. The draft class is deep enough that teams unwilling to meet his asking price will have viable alternatives, so it’s not impossible that he could still be around when the Yankees pick at number 51.

Keith Law and Baseball America ranked Howard as the 18th and 31st best prospect in the draft in their latest rankings.

Game 52: Memorial Day

I dunno, what do you think? They’re certainly better than those bright red monstrosities from two years ago, thought I actually liked the all-white hats from last year. They had an old timey feel to them, I guess. These two-tone hats aren’t completely awful, but I won’t be rushing out to buy one anytime soon. Here’s the lineup…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Jorge Posada, DH
Nick Swisher, RF
Brett Gardner, LF
Frankie Cervelli, C – Russell Martin was scratched with a sore toe

Bartolo Colon, SP

This afternoon’s game can be seen at 4:05pm ET on YES. Enjoy and happy Memorial Day.

Yankees will stay on rotation despite off day

Via Marc Carig, the Yankees intend to stay on rotation this week and will use Thursday’s off day to give the five starters an extra day of rest. That means Ivan Nova will start Friday even though he could have easily been skipped since Thursday would have been his normal day to pitch. Following Saturday’s dismantling at the hands of the Mariners, Nova has now allowed 16 runs and 39 baserunners in 18.2 IP over his last four starts. He’s also dangerously close to a sub-1.00 K/BB ratio on the year (27 K, 24 BB), and his 3.9% swing-and-miss rate is dead last among qualified starters. Meh.

Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

Robbed. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

After having multiple run leads in all three games against the Mariners and losing two of them, the Yankees are heading down to the Bay Area for a three game set against the Oakland Athletics. These two teams have quite a bit of recent-ish history, like Jason Giambi, Scott Brosius, and the 2000 and 2001 ALDSes. The Yankees won nine of the ten games against the Athletics last year, including five of six in Oakland.

What Have The Athletics Done Lately?

The A’s are coming off a three game sweep of the Orioles, outscoring the orange birds 16-8 over the weekend. They had lost seven of nine before that, including six straight at one point. Overall, the Athletics are right at .500 with a 27-27 record, dead last in the division even though their +12 run differential is second best.

Athletics On Offense

He's the Hit-deki, you know. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Eh, they don’t really have much of an one. Despite several notable offseason additions, the A’s have the third worst team OBP (.307) in the AL and they average just 3.65 runs per game. The problems start right at the top, where leadoff man Coco Crisp gets on base just 30.7% of the time and number two hitter Daric Barton gets on base just 32.6% of the time (.393 OBP for Barton last year).

The remade middle of the order features David DeJesus (.247/.323/.385), Josh Willingham (.244/.328/.446), and True Yankee™ Hideki Matsui (.266/.282/.346), and those three aren’t exactly Gonzalez-Youkilis-Ortiz. Kurt Suzuki (.250/.314/.372), Mark Ellis (.213/.249/.295), Cliff Pennington (.259/.312/.341) and Kevin Kouzmanoff (.220/.262/.347) round out the rest of the lineup, though we might see lefty Ryan Sweeney (.320/.414/.413) and righty Conor Jackson (.264/.349/.345) is various matchup situations. With a team batting line of .241/.307/.351 on the season, facing the A’s is almost like facing a lineup of nine Derek Jeters. Think about that.

Athletics On The Mound

Monday, RHP Trevor Cahill: Last year looked like a fluke, given a .236 BABIP and a 56% ground ball rate. The extremes of those two stats usually don’t go together. The 23-year-old righty has shown that he’s legit by repeating his dominance this year, using a 7.07 K/9 and 57.2% ground balls to carve through lineups. Cahill’s approach is pretty simple; he pounds the zone with low-90’s sinkers pretty much all day long, though he’ll occasionally bust out a low-80’s changeup and an upper-70’s curveball to get swings and misses. The Yankees have roughly him up in the past, but that was before Cahill took a step forward and turned into one of the best pitchers in the AL. He’s everything we wish Ivan Nova could be.

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Tuesday, LHP Brett Anderson: A personal fave, Anderson employs the same strikeout (6.90 K/9) and ground ball (62.3%) heavy approach as Cahill, just with his other arm. He throws two fastballs in the low-90’s, using his sinking two-seamer a little more often than his four-seamer, but his money pitch is the slider. It’s absolute death on lefties and Anderson will throw the low-80’s offering more than 46% of the time, so he’ll go to it in any count. A curveball and changeup fill in the gaps, but he just uses them as show-me pitches more than anything. When healthy, which wasn’t often last year, Anderson’s the best pitcher on this staff, even better than Cahill.

Wednesday, LHP Gio Gonzalez: The Athletics have a pair of guys named Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso in their rotation, yet somehow the Yankees will run into their top three arms this series. Go figure. Gio’s the strikeout guy on the staff (9.10 K/9), though he also gets a decent amount of grounders as well (50.6%). The problem is that he’s shown a tendency to walk quite a few (4.04 BB/9), and we’ve seen the Yankees take advantage of that a few times over the last two seasons. Gonzalez goes to the mound with three true pitches that he uses almost equally: a low-to-mid 90’s four-seamer (30.0%), a low-90’s two-seamer (32.4%), and a big breaking curveball right around 80 mph (32.5%). About one in every 20 pitches will be a fosh changeup. Gio’s a bit of a wildcard, he’s the kind of guy that could walk six in five innings or whiff a dozen in nine. But again, the Yankees have had some success against him the last few times they’ve seen him.

Easy dude. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Bullpen: The A’s are a model pitching and defense team, so they unsurprisingly have a strong bullpen that got even stronger yesterday when they welcomed All-Star closer Andrew Bailey back from the disabled list. We’re all familiar with the hard throwing setup man Grant Balfour (10.22 K/9), who joins the slider happy Michael Wuertz (9.88 K/9) to give manager Bob Geren a pair of high strikeout options in the late innings. Craig Breslow has been even more anti-LOOGY than Boone Logan (LHB are hitting .400/.424/.533 off him), though Geren could always turn to fill-in closer Brian Fuentes (.250/.308/.333) in those spots. The rest of Oakland’s pen is occupied by Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler, a pair of low arm slot (in Ziegler’s case, submarine) righties that do their best work against batters of the same hand. It’s the kind of relief crew that can create matchup nightmares in the late innings, and just about all of them miss bats.

Recommended Athletics Reading: Athletics Nation and Beaneball

Hughes could face hitters this week

Phil Hughes threw a 30-pitch bullpen session before yesterday’s game against the Mariners, starting off with 20 fastballs before incorporating a handful of curveballs and changeups. Everything went well and Hughes felt fine, no pain or anything. He will take today and tomorrow off before throwing another bullpen on Wednesday, and if all goes well there’s a chance that he could throw live batting practice before the end of the week. That would be pretty amazing, but the real test won’t come until he makes a minor league rehab start.

Fan Confidence Poll: May 30th, 2011

Record Last Week: 3-3 (29 RS, 24 RA)
Season Record: 28-23 (264 RS, 209 RA, 31-20 pythag. record), tied in the loss column
Opponents This Week: @ Athletics (Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Angels (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

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