O’Brien leads Staten Island to first win of 2010

Triple-A Scranton (4-1 loss to Lehigh Valley)
Reid Gorecki, LF, Eduardo Nunez, SS, Colin Curtis, RF & P.J. Pilittere, DH: all 1 for 4 – Gorecki doubled & K’ed
Eric Bruntlett, 3B & Jesus Montero, C: both 0 for 4 – Montero K’ed, but he’s still 14 for his last 38 (.368) with six doubles, two triples & a homer
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K
Reegie Corona, 2B: 2 for 31 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI – he’s already up to four homers after hitting just six last year
Greg Golson, CF: 0 for 2
Romulo Sanchez: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 5-5 GB/FB – 58 of 103 pitches were strikes (56.3%) … always good when a pitcher eclipses the 100 pitch plateau in the 4th inning
Jason Hirsh: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 30 of his45 pitches were strikes … he’s enrolled in the Romulo Sanchez School of Pitch Efficiency
Eric Wordekemper: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3-0 GB/FB – 14 of his 20 pitches were strikes

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Low-A prospects: a status report

Charleston lacks the pitching prowess of Tampa’s sparkling rotation, but they certainly have quite a few promising players in their own right. Charleston features the top draft picks of ’09 — center fielder Slade Heathcott and catcher J.R. Murphy — and arguably the top pitching prospect in the organization, right-handed Jose Ramirez. As we’ve done for AAA, AA and Hi-A, let’s take a longer look at some of the top players’ overall seasons and how they’ve performed of late.

Pitchers:

Jose Ramirez, SP:

Jose Ramirez.

Low-A Season: 33.0 IP, 4.36 ERA, 37 hits, 21 runs, 8 BB, 26 K, 1.38 GO/AO

Last three starts: 14.2 IP, 6.75 ERA, 14 hits, 11 runs, 10 BB, 10 K

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, Ramirez made his professional debut in 2009, where all he did was earn Pitcher of the Year honors out of the GCL. Yeah, his stock definitely rose. Armed with a fastball known to hit 96 and a very developed changeup, Ramirez has again largely impressed, if a bit inconsistent. The one thing that jumps out at you is that he has yet to give up a home run this year. Like, not even one. His K/BB rate is quite nice at 2.83 and the K/9 is close to 9. As I mentioned, consistency is key. He’s really struggled in June, posting an ERA of 6.75 with 14 hits and 10 walks in a shade under 15 innings. I’m not all that concerned, but it sure would be nice to see him hit his early season performance and possibly hit Tampa later in the year.

Jairo Heredia, SP

Low-A Season: 70.2 IP, 3.44 ERA, 61 hits, 33 runs, 23 BB, 65 K, 0.86 GO/AO

Last three starts: 16.1 IP, 2.44 ERA, 10 hits, 4 runs, 3 BB, 16 K

Heredia has the talent. There’s no doubt about that. The question is his durability and how he progresses given his setbacks. He probably hung out a lot with Christian Garcia in the Yankee Minor League Infirmary over the past few years. He’s had shoulder injuries galore, losing large chunks of the 2007 and 2009 season. But when healthy he suffocates hitters with a heavy fastball, a very good curveball and a pretty decent changeup as a third offering. Development of the changeup stalled with 2009’s dead year and he struggled at Tampa in his brief time there. 2010 again was looking bleak. He’d been brutalized in Tampa, getting lit up for an ERA of 6.93 and 37 hits in 24 innings with only 14 strikeouts. Ouch.

He was demoted to Charleston again in May and he’s looked better, though he hasn’t wowed. There may be some light at the end of the tunnel for Jairo. His GB rate is almost 50% in Charleston, he’s giving up less line drives and walking half as many batters. He’s still fairly young at just 20 years of age, has an advanced feel and despite his obstacles, has shut out the opposition in his last two starts.

Hitters:

Slade Heathcott, CF

Slade Heathcott.

Low-A Season: .313/.384/.391

Last ten games: .275/.348/.325, 2 XBH, 5 steals

Heathcott oozes tools. While his power isn’t developed per se, he has a muscular frame (look at his ams!) and surprising agility with a plus-arm in center field. Few have such raw athleticism. Heathcott spent three games in the GCL last year and was given the green light to jump to Charleston in 2010. Outside of Jesus Montero, this is the most exciting prospect in the system, so expectations are high.

How’s he done so far? Well, good and bad. Hard not to get excited about a guy who’s gotten a hit in all but one of his 15 games on the season. On the other hand, 15 strikeouts in 64 appearances is a bit much, though six walks isn’t too bad. Slade’s been largely –at least according to MiL Splits– hitting ground balls, at clip of 49%. His line drives are a bit low at 9.8%. Still, I’m not going to complain about an 19-year-old in A-ball hitting .313/.384/.391. Hopefully he’ll show some signs of better discipline and a flash of power, but there’s no reason to rush it. It’s only been 15 games. He’s also added six steals to the pot of goodies.

J.R. Murphy, C

Low-A Season: .242/.296/.309

Last ten games: .275/.348/.300, 1 XBH, 1:1 BB/SO rate

The other of the toolsy top picks of 2009, Murphy was touted as a a pure hitter with the athleticism and feel to be a catcher down the road. I haven’t seen reports on how his defense has progressed, but his bat was slow in May down in historic Charleston. The catcher from Florida hit .222/.259/.315 that month. The beginning of June wasn’t terribly peachy either, but he’s turned it on of late, hitting a nicer .275 with a 1:1 SO/BB ratio. He’s really struggled against southpaws, hitting .231/.244/.308 against them. Again, as with Slade, there’s no concern at this point in the year. Neither were considered super-polished players that would jump the levels. It’s going to require patience but both are players with nice potential.

Zoilo Almonte, OF

Zoilo Almonte.

Low-A season: .278/.343/.491

Last ten games: .333/.415/.722 with 4 home runs and a 1:1 SO/BB rate.

You don’t hear much talk about Zoilo on the Yankee prospect chatter, but he’s quietly putting up a really nice season in South Carolina. Maybe people are jaded that he’s underperformed until last year, despite being a switch-hitter with seemingly good tools. I figured it was a fluke myself, but he might be putting himself in the picture as a legit prospect. He might be partially aided by a BABip of .351, but it’s hard to argue with the power emerging (10 home runs in 57 games). So while his batting average is likely inflated, the parks have bellied a bit of his power (neutralizing park and luck factors show a line of .260/.327/.507 with 13 home runs). The strikeouts are still concerning (65 in 224 AB’s – a 29% rate) and his overall on-base skills seem worse than last year, but there’s a lot to like about Zolio’s season. A guy with power/speed tools are worth watching. Hopefully he doesn’t hang out with Melky Mesa during his time in the Yankee farm system. Don’t want that rubbing off on you.

Kyle Higashioka, C

Low-A season: .192/.277/.291

Last ten games: .179/.256/.231, 2 XBH

Often thought of a Japanese import (at least to me anyway, due to the name), the man known as “Higgy” is actually a young catcher drafted by the Yankees for an over-the-slot bonus in 2008 out of California. Supposedly, he’s American and a solid defensive catcher. Anyway, he disappointed a bit with the bat in 2009, hitting .253/.333/.332 in Staten Island. On the other hand, he had a pretty good batting eye, striking out 31 times and walking 26 times in 217 PA’s. It’s rare to see such a young player with such a good approach. Still, it didn’t translate into results in 2009 and it hasn’t yet in 2010. He’s hitting below the Mendoza line, getting on base less than 28% of the time and hitting for Ramiro Pena-like power. With a glut of catchers up and down the ladder – from Montero to Romine to Murphy to Sanchez – Higgy may get lost in the shuffle pretty quickly if he can’t show some measure of progress. Worse yet, he’s striking out more and walking less. It may be he just hasn’t gotten into a rhythm yet.

Carmen Angelini, SS

Low-A season: N/A

Carmen Angelini is currently hitting .354/.442/.549 for my team in MLB The Show 2010, largely because deluding myself into thinking that is better than the outrageously high expectations I had for him, only to see him mimic my baseball aptitude as a Little Leaguer. Anyway, Angelini is on the DL roster of the Charleston Riverdogs. Hitting a cool .200 with trouble in the field will sour pretty much anyone on you, especially if you do it for a few years consecutive (don’t tell the Royals – they seem to actively seek players like that) so the expectations for Angelini are at an all-time low. I, for one, am really, really excited to see him. Please succeed, Carmen!

Other guys of note:

Rob Lyerly, 3B is hitting .314/.367/.411 with 1 home run. The errors are high, as are the strikeouts. The power, on the other hand, is low.

Luke Murton, 1B is hitting .291/.375/.498 with 8 homers. Murton is a bit old for the level (he’s 24), but he’s throwing together a nice season.

Taylor Grote, OF has posted a line of .242/.342/.387. His batting eye seems to have improved, but he’s still struggling in his third professional season. His power has improved, though.

DeAngelo Mack, OF has some good tools, but is like an NBA tweener. Probably not athletic enough to play CF, but lacks the strength and bat to play the corners. He’s disappointed this year, hitting .243/.340/.390 with four home runs, mostly playing right field.

Sean Black, SP likely a relief pitcher, Black, out of Seton Hall, has power stuff but erratic results. Not much has changed, as on the year he’s actually limited walks (good) but been hit around the park (not good), especially by right-handers, who have torched him for an ERA over 6.00. On the other hand, he’s kept lefties in check for the most part.

A-Rod, Posada will be day-to-day next week

Both Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are still slowly coming back from hip and foot injuries, respectively, so Joe Girardi has tentatively declared both players to be day-to-day next week. The Yankees will be playing the Diamondbacks and Dodgers on the road, so they can’t hide either player as the designated hitter. I suspect we’ll see Jorge Posada catch every other game, which means he could start the first and last game of each series because of Thursday’s off day. I’m not so sure about A-Rod, maybe he’ll do that same thing.

Game 69: Ace vs. ace, redux

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

CC vs. Johan. Lefty vs. lefty. YES vs. SNY. Big brother vs. little brother. Bronx vs. Queens. Good vs. evil. North vs. South. Humanity vs. vuvuzelas. It’s all on the line today … well, maybe not. Should be a fun game though. Here’s the lineup…

1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robbie Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, DH
7. Curtis Granderson, CF
8. Frankie Cervelli, C
9. Brett Gardner, LF

And on the mound, the best pitcher in New York, CC Sabathia.

First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET, and can be seen on either YES or WPIX locally, or TBS nationally. Enjoy.

A modest proposal

With legitimate concerns regarding Teix (is he possibly turning the corner or just showing a “hot flash”?), the health of A-Rod and Posada, and the volatility of the bullpen, it seems silly to harp on an under-performing bench. Make no mistake, like all teams, the 2010 New York Yankees aren’t going to be sending up world-beaters off the bench. They’re bench players for a reason. Any tinkering will ultimately have minimal impact on the team and its win-loss record.

Nevertheless, a few changes to bring in some fresh blood may yield some positive dividends for the team. This doesn’t mean promoting Jesus Montero or Austin Romine to the big leagues – that would be foolish. It means taking a hard look at Kevin Russo, Chad Huffman, Ramiro Pena and some of the weaker links in the bullpen. In short, the guys that haven’t “earned the right” to keep their spot when they aren’t performing and better options may be looming. On this beautiful morning, we’ll focus on the hitters.

I’ll admit I’ve never been a true believer of AAA SS Eduardo Nunez. He walked less than Stephen Hawking, was reported to have poor defense, had a BABip 60 points higher than anything he’d been at in his previous two levels (Charleston, Tampa) and I wasn’t sold on his power being more than a fluke. Yet he still threw up a combined line of .313/.343/.421 in just under 500 PA’s between Trenton and Scranton in 2009, so he couldn’t be entirely ignored, either. This year he’s largely shut me up. Offensively, at least. On the year in Scranton he’s posting a line of .320/.359/.410. That’s damn good. He’s hitting more line drives this year (up six percentage points to 17.6%) and his HR/FB rate is crazy low at roughly 2.5%, suggesting power should rebound a bit. (Last year’s rate was 8/150 – around 5%.) While I don’t know much about his defense, Nunez, 23, might just be ready for a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

As of now Ramiro Pena is the backup shortstop and the team (appropriately) seems to value his glove’s versatility. He can capably man all of the infield positions and can also play the outfield in a pinch. Herein lies the problem – for a guy hitting .190/.235/.210 (and little indication he’ll ever be even an average hitter), he really hasn’t been very good with the glove this year. Granted, it’s an extremely small sample, but even the eye test seems to indicate Pena’s been fairly pedestrian with the leather. Per UZR at Fangraphs, he’s negative at all positions thus far. Using B-Ref’s metrics, he’s also been underwhelming. On the year, Pena’s RAR is -4.8, his WAR -0.5 and he’s had a negative WPA in almost half of his games (12 out of 30).

Do I think he’s a poor fielder? No, not at all. But when as a player you’re all-glove, no bat, playing in limited bench time, it’s important that you reach defensive expectations. That hasn’t happened and given that he has options, I can’t think of many reasons to keep him around. Yes, he’s been victimized by an extremely low BABip of .220 and his defense should be better, but how much can he reasonably contribute? Nunez contributing average offense and below-average defense in limited time would be more valuable to the team than above-average defense and well below-average offense from Pena.

You’ll probably get poor defense with Nunez. I’ve heard a few Nunez fans say he’s much improved with his glove this year. He has good tools (and a great arm) but it’s never quite come together. Maybe he has; I’ve yet to hear anything myself, but it’s totally possible. He does, however, lead SWB with 7 errors. Even if his defense is poor, I think it’s reasonable to expect he could give you .270/.300/.350 in the big leagues. Of course, I also thought that Russo would provide that, so perhaps that expectation is unreasonable. Still, if nothing else, with Russo and Cervelli often in the lineup due to apprehension to push Posada and A-Rod (justifiably so), having a Nunez at least provides a better shot that there won’t have a complete black hole when an infielder needs a rest. Because I have no doubt Pena will always be a black hole in the lineup.

While Kevin Russo was a fan favorite early on for his “clutch hits,” he’s been dreadful offensively for the team. For the Bombers Russo is “hitting” .196/.260/.239 and even worse in June, checking in at a paltry .136/.240/.136. The good news is he’s been really hurt (like Pena) by a BABip of .225, has what appears to be solid hitting skills (if the minors are any indication), has been good with the glove and there’s really no one in the high minors that can play a utility role like he. There aren’t better options available in house. With Pena, I think there are.

As I’ve said, the difference between Pena and Nunez in the grand scheme of things –as a backup infielder getting spot duty– is likely to be small. This doesn’t mean you stand pat. If the move is made and Nunez is the inverse of Pena (average hitting, unbelievably poor defense), you probably end the experiment and return to the previous set-up. There’s really not much downside to a switch. With both players having options, the bottom of the lineup very often being an automatic out with injuries and necessary rest for starters, and Nunez potentially having some value to the Yankees (or another team via trade) in the future,it’s a move I think needs investigating.

Teixeira, Granderson back Hughes in 5-3 win

Runs have been at a premium for the Yankees over the last three games, and things didn’t figure to get any easier with Mike Pelfrey scheduled to be on the mound Saturday afternoon. To make matters worse, leadoff hitter Derek Jeter was out of the lineup with a bum heel, forcing Brett Gardner to serve as the table settler. The offense finally started to show some signs of life, and Phil Hughes settled down after a rocky start to earn his American League leading tenth win.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Two Run Jack, Jack It Up

Although a first inning run to answer Jose Reyes’ leadoff homer gave us all some hope that offense would start producing like they were capable of, the Yanks started the 3rd inning down a pair of runs thanks to another Reyes shot. Much like the first inning, Gardner started things off a solid single back up the middle, putting instant pressure on Pelfrey with his speed.

Mark Teixeira, the embodiment of the Yanks’ offensive struggles, came to plate with Gardner on second following a Nick Swisher ground out. He worked a 2-1 count on three consecutive fastballs, then jumped all over a hanging changeup for a two-run homer, his first in what feels like an eternity. The ball clanked off the chain-link fence separating the rightfield stands from the Yankee bullpen, and for the second time in the game the Yanks came right back and answered a Mets’ run(s) the next half inning.

Not to be outdone, Curtis Granderson stepped up to the plate with Jorge Posada on second an inning later, hitting a two run shot of his own after fouling off three straight offerings as part of a seven pitch at-bat. Technically, that was a biggest Yankee hit of the game at 17.3 WPA, but for all intents and purposes Tex’s shot was just as important. His checked in at 17.2 WPA.

A Yankee Killer Does Them A Favor

Even though he only spent a year and a half with the Red Sox, Jason Bay has turned into a guy that Yankee fans never want to see at the plate with men on base. The Yanks were still clinging to the two run lead Granderson spotted them, but Phil Hughes put himself in a little bit of a jam by walking Ike Davis to put men on first and second with one out in the 6th.

Bay came to the plate with the chance to give the Mets the lead with one swing of the bat, but he did the exact opposite of what we’ve become used to him doing. He hooked a first pitch cutter on the outer half to the left side of the infield, right at third baseman of the day Kevin Russo. Russo fired to second for one out, and Robbie Cano turned the pivot to complete the double play and get out of the inning. The double play benefited the Yanks almost as much as the two run homers.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

A Hughes Turn Around

Phil Hughes’ overall body of work has been stellar this year, though his previous six starts have been rather mediocre. He pitched to a 4.95 ERA in 36.1 innings, allowing 41 hits and 13 extra base hits, though the team still managed to win five of those six starts.

Saturday’s game started out in inauspicious fashion, with Reyes sending Hughes’ second pitch of the day into the right fielder corner for a leadoff homer. Hughes pitched around a leadoff single in the 2nd, but Reyes touched him up another homer, this one a two runner, in the 3rd inning. That would be all the Mets would get, as the Yanks’ young starter retired eight of the next ten batters he faced, escaping the only other jam he’d face all day thanks to Bay’s double play.

Overall, Hughes allowed five hits and walked three, but he carried the Yanks through the 7th inning on an economical 99 pitches. His troubles finishing off batters weren’t much an issue, with the Mets fouling off only 15 of those 99 pitches this afternoon. Five of those fouls came in one 6th inning Angel Pagan at-bat. That’s a great improvement from the last few weeks, when the opposition was spoiling 40 or so pitches in a given start.

If you’re reading this site, you know that pitcher wins don’t mean much of anything. I have to admit though, seeing that 10-1 next to Hughes’ name is pretty damn cool.

The Goodness

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Big ups to Gardner for the job he did leading off today. Started off two innings with singles, and the Yanks went on to score both times. Can’t say their usual leadoff hitter has been that productive lately.

It won’t show up on the box score, but Nick Swisher hit three balls right on the screws, with just one single to show for it. Dems the breaks.

Mike Pelfrey had not blown a single lead handed to him by the Mets this season coming into today, but the Yanks got him to cough up two leads in the first three innings.

Meanwhile, Hughes came back to strikeout Reyes his third time up following the two homers. Good job of showing him who’s boss.

Ramiro Pena even picked up a single. When that happens, they have to win. Can’t waste that kind of production.

Photo Credit: Bill Kostroun, AP

Solid job by Joba Chamberlain in the 8th while wearing Boone Logan’s pants. Four straight sliders to strike out the amazing David Wright to end the inning, none hangers, all biting. Great stuff.

The Badness

The Yankees aren’t out of the woods offensively just yet. They squandered an opportunity with runners on second and third and no outs in the 8th with a chance to blow things open. I don’t blame Pena for making the final out of the inning, but Jorge Posada and Granderson have to at the very least get that run in from third. All they needed was deep fly ball to anyone but Jeff Francoeur, but they couldn’t come through. For shame.

WPA Graph & Box Score

This would look a lot more pleasant without Reyes. Here’s the box score, here’s the nerd score.

Up Next

The 2010 edition of the Subway Series concludes tomorrow afternoon with CC Sabathia taking on Johan Santana for the second time this season. Hopefully the bats continue to wake up a little.

Montero goes deep, but Scranton loses anyway

Bad news about Gavin Brooks. He hurt his labrum is Spring Training and needed surgery to repair it. He’s likely out until next year. In much happier news, the rookie level GCL Yankees kick off their season on Monday.

Triple-A Scranton (5-4 loss to Lehigh Valley)
Reid Gorecki, LF, Eric Bruntlett, 3B & Reegie Corona, 2B: all 0 for 4 – Gorecki K’ed twice, Bruntlett & Corona once each
Colin Curtis, RF: 0 for 3, 1 BB
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 1 for 4, 1 R, 2 K – hitting just .182 with SWB … what gives?
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K – 15 for his last 29 (.517) with five doubles, two triples & a homer … I guess we shoulda taken the Montero Watch down sooner, right? … wait, what?
P.J. Pilittere, DH: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Greg Golson, CF: 1 for 3, 1 R, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 E (fielding)
Tim Redding: 5 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 7-3 GB/FB – 57 of 94 pitches were strikes (60.6%) … I usually don’t care about who the crappy veteran AAA innings guy is, but seeing Redding in the organization bothers me
Mark Melancon: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2-1 GB/FB – 22 of his 33 pitches were strikes … good to see him getting back on track
Royce Ring: 1 IP, zeroes, 2-1 GB/FB – six of his nine pitches were strikes

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