AAA prospects: a status report

Photo Credit: Cataffo/ Ny Daily News

Mike does a great job compiling all of the stats and happenings across the Yankees’ minor league system in his nightly Down on the Farm series. From Staten Island to Scranton, we have a pretty good sense about how our players did, even if we mostly only care about Montero, Romine, ManBan, Ramirez, Warren, Z-Mac, Stoneburner and a handful of other players.

But after a while we sometimes get “stuck” in the numbers — we forget how the guy that’s just gone 0-5 with 4 K’s during last night’s game is very often the same guy that went 4-5 with two home runs the night before. So I’m going to be doing a recap of how some of the AAA farmhands have performed thus far, all of which came from milb.com or minorleaguesplits.com. Many of the players on this list are on Mike’s Preseason Prospect List, where you can get a better look at their long term prospects. In this AAA installment I chose to recap players that are actual prospects, most of which will likely (if they haven’t already) see major league action this year. Not too many are interested in seeing Amaury Sanit’s progress, though I’m betting we’d all love to find out if Kei Igawa sleeps with those awesome sunglasses on (I’ll do some digging and try to find out for you all).

Next week we’ll take a look at how some of the AA guys are looking. Also, because there’s a Montero Watch present in the sidebar and most DotF are comprised of MonteroTalk, we’re going to leave him out on this one.

AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre

Kevin Russo, 2B: With the big league club having apparently suffering a pandemic of Mets-itus, a few AAA players have seen some promotions. Chief among them, and for good reason, is utility player Kevin Russo. Russo, a former 20th round draft pick out of Baylor in 2006, had hit .302/.383/.425 as Scranton’s second basemen before jumping to Massachusetts after Robinson Cano was hit by a Josh Beckett fastball. He got only two plate appearances but Russo’s versatility – he can at least play three infield spots and man the corner outfield positions – defensively, his solid on-base skills, and good contact ability make him a good candidate to stick in the big leagues for a long time. With Ramiro Pena‘s mounting struggles with the bat (which was inevitable, really), Russo may take him over as a super-utility guy at some point. He’ll have to show he can at least play SS passably, though, and there’s no guarantee of that. Bonus: if there are minors fantasy leagues that exist (I’m hoping they do), he’ll soon have CF eligibility, too. He’s played there of late.

Season line in AAA: .301/.388/.416

Last ten games: .310/.383/.405

Time in New York: .000/.000/.000

Eduardo Nunez, SS: Most people saw this coming. Nunez got off to a torrid pace, as Greg Fertel and even RAB’s own Mike Axisa have noted in his DotF postings. Consequently, Nunez has really tailed off, displaying why we shouldn’t fall in love with early season small sample sizes. With a few middle infielders ahead of him in the pecking order and poor defensive skills (albeit with a great arm), Nunez is unlikely to see any big league action this year. If he does it will because of ghastly circumstances. Poor defense, weak power, unrefined on-base skills with very good contact ability, plus speed and a wonderful arm. That may translate to some modicum of minor league success, but I don’t see it happening on the major league level for a middle infielder (and really one in name only).

Season in AAA: .321/.371/.400

Last ten games: .244/.262/.268

Juan Miranda, 1B: Miranda was a big-money IFA signing of the Yanks from Cuba back in 2006. You may remember he was once considered the future first baseman of the Yanks. While that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, Miranda, in his final option year, is playing for a contract for a big league club next year. The book on him was that though he really nails right handers, he struggles with lefties and his defensive play is by no means great, even for a first baseman. Last year he took positive steps in correcting those problems, hitting lefties with a triple slash of .291/.367/.507. So far, in AAA, he’s continued that pace, hitting .313/.389/.563 in 33 plate appearances (note: this is according to minorleaguesplits.com, which is a bit behind in their stats). Oddly, he’s struggled against righties, hitting .222/.354/.364 in 66 plate appearances. He’s been in New York for a few games, and with Nick Johnson possibly out for a few months, Miranda may stay in New York as a DH. Considering Johnson’s injury history, the team couldn’t be caught too surprised by that. This may be make or break for Miranda.

Season line in AAA: .260/.371/.438

Last ten games in AAA:.250/.357/.417

Time in New York: .143/.250/.286

Photo Credit: Mike Ashmore

Ivan Nova, SP

Nova’s rocketed up Yankee top prospect lists over the last two years as he’s finally started to harness his very good stuff. He’s been up in New York after the injury bug hit and he’s largely impressed, though he’s probably the guy sent back down with Park coming back from the DL. In his first appearance, Nova, signed by the Yanks and returned after being selected as a Rule V from the Padres, came in and threw two scoreless innings and in today’s game he again looked fairly good. With a likely ceiling as a back-end starter in the AL East (which really isn’t all that bad when you think about it), Nova is very likely to be the first guy up again with another injury, first because he’s already on the 40-man roster, and second because a groundball pitcher with good stuff is always a valuable commodity. He also has an outside shot at a rotation spot next year depending on how things shake out.

AAA season: 37 IP, 2.43 ERA, 35 hits, 32 K, 12 BB, 1.78 GO/AA

Last two starts: 13 IP, 3.84 ERA, 17 hits, 7 K, 4 BB

Time in New York: 3 innings, 0.00 ERA, 4 hits, 1 K, 0 BB

Zack McAllister, SP

Z-Mac has had an up-and-down in his first run at AAA. Arguably the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, McAllister ran into some issues in late April, early May, giving up over 6 runs in two of three starts. Still, he’s sprinkled in some good games and has strung two consecutive 7-inning performances of good ball. A polished groundball pitcher, McAllister may wind up trade bait or perhaps in the rotation as early as next year. He, like Nova, has back rotation or possibly #3 starter potential, but he’s going to need to get that groundball rate up again. A 34% GB ratio is not going to work at the big league level for a guy with his skill set. It wouldn’t hurt to develop a true out pitch, either.

Season in AAA: 45 IP, 4.40 ERA, 52 hits, 32 K, 9 BB, 0.52 GO/AA

Last two starts: 14 IP, 2.14 ERA, 14 hits, 8K, 1 BB

Romulo Sanchez, SP/RP

The last of the famed “Fat Sanchezes,” Romulo has been very impressive in his time in Pennsylvania and also in New York. Sanchez has a great fastball, occasionally hitting the high 90’s with his 4-seamer, but he likely profiles best as a reliever in the future due to his erratic control and fringe-average off-speed pitches (a changeup and slider). If he can locate that big fastball and keep hitters off balance with one of the off speed offerings, he could definitely stick with the big club over the year. His numbers in Scranton are a bit misleading. In April he gave up 10 earned runs in only 2.1 innings. Otherwise, he’s been among the better pitchers in the upper minors.

AAA season: 32 IP, 5.34 ERA, 30 hits, 32 K, 16 BB, 1.22 GO/AA

Last 2 starts: 14 IP, 1.42 ERA, 9 hits, 17 K, 2 BB

In New York: 3.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1 hit, 3 K, 1 BB

Mark Melancon, RP

The final name on our list, Melancon entered last season with high expectations and didn’t live up to them in limited action. I recall his propensity for hitting opposing batters (along with old favorite Mike Dunn). It was probably just jitters because he returned to AAA and fell right back where he’d been before his callup. He came back up again briefly and showed signs of life, causing many of us to think he’d be up in the Bronx to start the year. Well, hasn’t happened yet but it seems like just a matter of time. Melancon has again been very good in Pennsylvania in 2010. A look at his splits reveals some quirks, though. You might look at his numbers against righties and say, “Wait a second, this doesn’t look right.” And to some extent, you’d be right. But aha! Along with a BABip against righties of .462, he’s also giving up a line drive rate of 26.2%, yet checking in with an FIP of 3.05. Look a bit further over and you see why. He’s striking out 16.55 righties per nine innings this year. Wow, that’s strange data. Against lefties he’s getting lots of groundouts, another promising sign. I’d be fairly shocked if we don’t see Melancon in the Bronx very soon.

AAA Season: 23 IP, 2.74 ERA, 21 hits, 31 K, 8 BB, 1.71 GO/AA

Last 4 appearances: 5.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4 hits, 13 K, 2 BB

Game 37: Playing with house money

Sergio Mitre reactions to another Sergio Mitre start. Photo Credit: AP Photo/Paul Sancya

July 4, 2007 was a rather unremarkable day for the Yankees. In an Independence Day afternoon affair at the Stadium, the Bombers had a scuffling Mike Mussina on the mound while the visiting Minnesota Twins countered with Johan Santana. Although the Yanks had an early 2-1 lead, Mussina and the bullpen couldn’t hold the game, and the Twins won 6-2. Nearly, three years later, the Twins are still searching for their next Yankee Stadium win.

With Sergio Mitre on the mound, we might think that today’s game would give the Twins their best shot at that elusive victory, but I think we’re in for a slugfest. Because of last week’s double-header, the Yankees need to start Mitre again. There is no reason to use Javier Vazquez or Phil Hughes on three days’ rest this early in May, and so The Experience will get the ball for the second time this season. The Twins will counter with Nick Blackburn (3-1, 4.76 ERA). Despite those three victories, Blackburn has a 9:11 K:BB ratio in 39.2 innings and has allowed seven home runs this year.

Against the Tigers, Mitre was serviceable. Limited to 75 pitches by the Yanks’ coaches, he lasted 4.1 innings and gave up four runs — three earned — on five hits and two walks while striking out four. I’d imagine he’ll be on an 80-85 pitch limit today, and the Yanks would take five innings of three-run ball again.

Offensively, the Yanks are putting a weaker product on the field. Since Nick Swisher can’t bat from the left side — did you notice his AB against Jesse Crain yesterday? — the Yanks’ right fielder will sit against Blackburn. I have no problem with this decision; I’d rather see Swisher healthy now. But his absence will mean an outfield with both Randy Winn and Marcus Thames. Meanwhile, to shore up the defense behind Mitre, a groundball specialist, Ramiro Peña will play short while Derek Jeter gets a half day off as the team’s DH.

Yet, the Yankees are playing with house money. They’ve won the series and are victorious in three of their last four contests. A win today would be icing on the cake. The game starts at 1:05, and My9 is carrying the broadcast on this sunny Sunday afternoon.

Jeter DH
Gardner CF
Teixeira 1B
Rodriguez 3B
Cano 2B
Posada C
Thames RF
Winn LF
Peña SS

Mitre P (0-1, 3.86)

Park not activated yet
According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees will not be activating Chan Ho Park today. This news is counter to what the beat writers originally reported, and Sherman says the Yanks want to keep Ivan Nova around as a long man with Mitre limited to 80 pitches. I’d rather see Boone Logan or David Robertson exiled to Scranton when Park is activated, but the team seems to be heading in different directions with that move.

In somewhat related news, Javier Vazquez, not scheduled to start until Friday, could be available in relief today, Andrew Marchand from ESPN New York reported this morning. If Mitre can’t get outs or is limited by his pitch count, Vazquez may be available to throw a pair of frames against the Twins, and he is, in my opinion, a better choice than Nova for that role today.

Where are they now? Yankees offseason targets part II

How are the offseason targets of the Yankees faring so far in 2010?  Every offseason all big name and big money free agents are tied to the Yankees.  Obviously this is often posturing by the agents to drive up the bidding elsewhere (if the Yankees truly have no interest).  I’m going to look at a few of the players they likely had at least a passing interest in and how they are faring so far in 2010.  It’s truly to early to judge any of these contracts any differently than I would have when they were first signed, but it’s interesting nonetheless to see how these players are faring so far.  Last weekend I touched on the hitters, today I will address the pitchers.

Ben Sheets

W/L ERA WHIP IP FIP K/9 BB/9 BABIP
2-3 5.70 1.66 42.4 4.96 6.8 4.60 0.327

Sheets missed all of 2009 with injury and was a big question mark heading into the offseason.  Would he return to greatness or was he too big of an injury risk.  Sheets ended up doing very well for himself getting a 1 year/$10 million contract from the A’s.  While the A’s likely overpaid, it’s only for 1 year.  If they are in contention and Sheets is pitching well it will look good, and if they aren’t in contention but Sheets is pitching well, he’s a prime trade candidate.  Sheets has struggled so far (and been a little unlucky) as you can see, but has shown signs of life lately.  There were reports that he was tipping his pitches and he was getting crushed early.  After combining for just 16 strikeouts in his first 6 starts, Sheets has 16 in the past two over 12.1 innings.  Sheets needs to cut down on the walks, as he walked just 2.1 batters per 9 innings in the NL and is more than double that so far this year. If it’s the beginning of his turnaround, and he stays healthy, Sheets should have a strong season going forward.

Justin Duchscherer

W/L ERA WHIP IP FIP K/9 BB/9 BABIP
2-1 2.89 1.36 28.0 4.59 5.8 3.90 0.274

The Duke got off to a good start, but is already on the DL.  While he is expected to come off this weekend and make a start, he would have been a risky signing to rely on in the rotation.  He also missed all of 2009 and coming into 2010 had made just 27 starts in his career.  He would have been a nice pickup for the pen in a long role similar to Aceves, but there was significant risk involved.  He resigned with the A’s for 1 year/$2 million, which could end up being a bargain.  If healthy, the Duke should provide a lot more value than that, and could also be trade bait at the deadline if the A’s are out of it.  While his BABIP against of  .274 is lower than the major league average, it is right in line with his career, so expect him to continue to outperform his FIP, though not as drastically as he is so far.

Joel Pineiro

W/L ERA WHIP IP FIP K/9 BB/9 BABIP
2-4 4.50 1.48 42.0 4.02 6.0 1.90 0.338

The Angels signed Pineiro to a 2 year/$16 million deal which isn’t bad from a long term perspective, but if they are expecting the 2009 Pineiro, I’m guessing they will be slightly disappointed.  Pineiro could succeed with his repertoire in the NL, but at best will be a league average pitcher in the AL.  If he can throw 200 innings at league average that provides value, but there isn’t a team in the AL that won’t be thrilled to see him take the bump in a playoff game if the Angels make it.  He’s been a little unlucky on balls in play so far, which has helped lead to his league leading hits allowed total.  Pineiro surprisingly is getting more strikeouts than normal (4.8/9 in 426.1 innings with St. Louis) and is keeping walks down. His strikeout rate will likely fall, but so will his BABIP against.  Again, not a star, but Pineiro figures to provide some value for the Angels this year.

John Lackey

W/L ERA WHIP IP FIP K/9 BB/9 BABIP
4-1 4.60 1.44 43.0 4.37 5.7 3.60 0.303

The best of the free agent pitchers available, Lackey got by far the highest contract of any free agent pitcher, more than doubling the next highest pitcher for total dollars.  Lackey signed with the mid-market Red Sox for a 5 year/$82.5 million deal, very similar to the deal the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett to after the 2008 season.  Lackey has struggled so far, but does have a long term track record of success in the AL.  The move to the AL East is bound to hurt his stats though, and he’s not quite the innings eater he used to be as he has missed time with injuries in the past 2 seasons.  So far Lackey has the lowest K rate of his career, and the highest BB rate.  Not a good trend, and if he wasn’t 4-1, the Boston media would be all over him.

Aroldis Chapman

W/L ERA WHIP IP FIP K/9 BB/9 BABIP
3-1 2.84 1.42 31.2 3.98 9.82 4.91 0.296

Chapman signed with the Reds for 6 years/$30.25 million.  While probably a little steep, if that was the cost to the Yankees, I would have been on board with the signing of Chapman as a lottery ticket.  The deal could be a steal if he lives up to his abilities, but he’s still a huge question mark.  It made more sense for Chapman to sign with a team like the Reds, so for the Yankees to have signed him I’m sure the cost would have been higher.  Chapman has pitched well so far in AAA, but there are certainly some red flags with the control. If he’s walking almost 5 batters per 9 in AAA, what’s he going to do at the major league level?  In an admittedly very small sample size, Chapman is having a lot more success against left handed batters, with a 16.2 K/9 vs. 8.2 vs. RHB.  That is something to watch going forward, as RHB have just a .246 BABIP against Chapman, so he is due for some regression there.

You can check out the rest of my work over at Mystique and Aura

Granderson runs pain-free

Yesterday we got injury updates on both Nick Johnson and Chan Ho Park. In today’s Daily News we get an update on Curtis Granderson. He ran pain-free, and could continue his rehab by taking batting practice and maybe even shagging fly balls today. We’re at the two-week mark for his injury — though it seems much longer — so we shouldn’t expect him to get into rehab games for another week, week and a half.

Pettitte returns as Yanks pound Twins 7-1

Much attention has been paid to the Yankees’ slumping bats of late, but it looks like a return to their home park has helped wake the offense. The next thing on the agenda is to get everyone healthy, and part one of that process started today when Andy Pettitte returned to the mound after missing a start.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Biggest Hit: Jeter Drives In Thames

The Yanks jumped on Francisco Liriano for a quick run in the first inning, but rarely is that enough to win. The frigid cold Marcus Thames (four for his last 24 coming into this game) reached base to lead off the second in pretty much the only way he gets on base these days: he got hit by a pitch. Looked painful too. Anyway, he trotted down to first only to find himself on second one pitch later courtesy of a Frankie Cervelli sacrifice bunt. Brett Gardner roped a ball into left for a well struck out, the second of inning.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Up stepped Derek Jeter, who like Thames has been down in the dumps for the last week or two (two for his last 25 coming into this game). Knowing that the Yankees’ captain has swung at the first pitch more this season than he has in the past (16.1% in 2010 vs. 12.7% in 2009), Liriano attempted to catch him out in front of a changeup, but Jeter didn’t bite. After spitting on another change, Jeter reached out and slapped a 93 mph fastball the other way (video). Thames hustled around third and slid in under the tag for the Yanks’ second run of the game.

It was the first of two hits on the day for Jeter, who has at least one knock in his last three games and is slowly starting to come out of his funk.

Biggest Out: Delmon Gets Doubled Up

After the Yanks took the early lead the 1st, Minnesota threatened to answer right back in the top of the 2nd. Justin Morneau slapped a single into right before Pettitte walked Michael Cuddyer on four pitches to put two men on with no outs. Luckily for Pettitte and the Yanks, Delmon Young was the next man to come to the plate, and that guy hasn’t met a pitch he didn’t like. He went way out the zone to hack at a slow breaking curveball, and the ball bounced harmlessly to Jeter, who initiated the 6-4-3 double play.

Morneau reached third on the play, but the Twins went from a situation where they’d be expected to score 1.53 runs to a situation where they’d be expected to score 0.37 runs. The next batter – Brendan Harris – squared a curveball up and smoked it back through the box, but it ended up in Pettitte’s glove in one of those “hey look what I found” grabs. The Twins exited the inning with zero runs to show for their efforts.

Dandy Andy’s Back

The classic Pettitte shot. (Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP)

After being skipped his last time through the rotation because of some mild elbow inflammation, Pettitte came out and looked like his usual self. He was throwing five pitches for strikes and held the Twins to just two singles over 6.1 innings, retiring all but three of the final 17 batters he faced. Andy’s day ended after 95 pitches, a little earlier than usual, but there was no need to push him coming off an elbow issue.

Pettitte finished the game with a 1.79 ERA, the lowest of his career after his first seven starts of the season. It’s the fourth best ERA in the league, yet just second best in the Yanks’ rotation.

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Piling On

I was talking to Joe during the game, and after Damaso Marte retired Jim Thome to end the 7th, we agreed on one thing: score more runs to give Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera a day off. Little did we know the Yankees were listening. They obliged with four runs in the bottom of the inning, coming on a pair of long, long two run homers by Mark Teixeira (video) and Jorge Posada (video).

Tex’s shot didn’t reach the upper deck in rightfield, but it came damn close. It plopping down into rich people sitting in the suite level. Posada’s blast hit the top of the wall that separates the home bullpen from Monument Park, bouncing up high enough for a fan seated above the restaurant to reach out and grab it. It was a nice barehanded play, if I say so myself. The four insurance runs kept the Yanks’ primary high leverage relievers on the bench out in the bullpen, which trickles down and improves the team’s chances of winning tomorrow.

Happy Things

There were a number of things that made me smile in this game. First, how about that defense? Brett Gardner made a diving grab to record the very first out of the game, then Nick Swisher matched him with a diving play of his own a little later. Robbie Cano snared two line drives from two consecutive batters in the 4th inning (Joe Mauer and Morneau, of all people), turning the second one into a 4-3 double play.

Swisher’s left biceps was still giving him trouble, so he batted from the right side exclusively in this game. It wasn’t a problem with the lefty Liriano on the mound, but you could tell he was uncomfortable against the righty Jesse Crain in the 7th. The guy has never faced a non-knuckleball big league pitcher throwing from the same side in his life, so who could blame him for being uncomfortable? Dude still managed to work a walk, after falling behind 0-2 no less. That’s fantastic.

(In case you’re wondering, Wilson Betemit drew a total of five walks after 0-2 counts during his big league career. Swisher’s done it seven times since becoming a Yankee.)

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II, AP

Alex Rodriguez continues to smoke the ball, going 2-for-4 with a double off the very top of the wall in right-center. It sounded gone off the bat, and with another half-second gust of wind, it would have been. The Yanks’ third baseman is hitting the quietest .354-.439-.542 over his last 57 plate appearances ever.

It was only one batter and even a broken clock is right twice a day, but Marte did a great job striking out Thome – who represented the tying run – to end the 7th. He got the future Hall of Famer to swing and miss at two fastballs before sweeping in a slider for a backwards K.

Boone Logan recorded the last six outs to end the game, and with Chan Ho Park set to come off the disabled list tomorrow, hopefully it’s the last we see of him for a while. Nothing personal Boone, but you gotta go.

Minnesota is now 3-25 in the Bronx during the Ron Gardenhire era. I love it.

Sad Things

David Robertson looked fantastic when he retired Cuddyer to get the second out of the 7th, but he followed that up by walking Young after getting ahead 0-2 and allowing a first pitch single to Harris. He’s still working throgh some things, but it’s pretty frustrating that he goes from dominant one batter to lost the next.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has your traditional box score, FanGraphs all that other stuff.

Up Next

The series is already in the bag, but these same two teams have to finish off the three game set tomorrow. Sergio Mitre spot starts against Nick Blackburn in another matinee.

Trenton makes it nine wins in a row

Former Yankee farmhand Ben Julianel called it a career. He’s probably best know as the guy they traded to Florida for Ron Villone before the 2006 season, but he had a pretty nice year out of the bullpen for Tampa & Trenton in 2004.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Charlotte)
Kevin Russo, CF: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 K – they’re going to really start to move him around to increase his already strong versatility
Reegie Corona, 2B: 1 for 4, 1 K, 1 SB
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K – obligatory link to this
David Winfree, 1B & Jon Weber, DH: both 0 for 4, 1 K
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 2 K – nice little four game hitting streak
Chad Huffman, LF, Reid Gorecki, RF & Matt Cusick, 3B: all 1 for 3 – Huffman hit a solo jack, K’ed & threw a runner out at second  … Gorecki K’ed … Cusick scored a run
Zach McAllister: 7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 8-7 GB/FB – 57 of 82 pitches were strikes (69.5%) … he had a six pitch inning … 52 hits allowed in 45 IP
Mark Melancon: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2-0 GB/FB – 11 of his 18 pitches were strikes
Jon Albaladejo: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1-1 GB/FB – eight of his 12 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Another series win

"Ladies." (Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP)

Another home game, another rock solid win for the Yankees. Whenever the Twins play in the Bronx, they must feel like the Yanks felt all those years playing in Anaheim. This series is already in the bag, so tomorrow’s house money day with The Sergio Mitre Experience on the mound.

I recommend going out and enjoying yourself on this gorgeous Saturday evening, but if you’re stuck in front of a computer, then use this as your open thread. The Mets-Marlins are on WPIX, plus the Cardinals-Reds (MLB Network) are on as well. Anything goes, so have at it.