Yanks working to improve Montero’s throwing

Early on in camp this year, the story to end all stories has been uber-prospect Jesus Montero. A career .700-.750-1.400 hitter in big league Spring Training, he has already made a big impression with his batting practice showings this year despite being in camp for just over a week. He’s going to begin the 2010 season as the everyday catcher for Triple-A Scranton, though it’s still hard to believe that through his age-19 season, Montero is a .325-.379-.509 hitter in 1,071 minor league plate appearances despite reaching Double-A.

PECOTA pegs Montero as a .299-.352-.498 hitter with 23 homers if given 528 plate appearances in the big leagues next year, which is obviously an extremely optimistic projection. For comparison’s sake, Jorge Posada has matched that OBP and SLG in a single season just three times in his career. “He’s going to hit,” said one evaluator that Buster Olney spoke to. “There’s no question about that. Some guys just know how to hit; he’s like that.” Yeah, he’s going to hit, but not like that this early in his career.

Of course, Montero’s bat was never the question, defense in. Olney discussed some of the things the Yankees are trying to help Montero become a passable catcher, including a unique set of throwing mechanics. Instead of popping up on both feet and firing to second, bench coach Tony Pena and the Yanks have him keeping his right foot in place while taking a short stride with his left foot. It sounds awkward, and I tried it a handful of times in my living room while writing this post, and it’s definitely not a natural feeling. (Disclaimer: I’m most likely less athletic than Montero). Basically, the only way someone could pull this off consistently is if they have a strong arm, which Montero does.

I’m not sure how long he’s been throwing like this, however he did thrown out 32% of attempted basestealers during his Double-A Trenton stint last season. Of course, he caught a grand total of 33 games for the Thunder, so this is statistically insignificant. Montero’s thrown out just 23% of all attempted basestealers during his career, but that number isn’t trustworthy at all because the Yanks don’t emphasize their pitchers holding baserunners at the A-ball level and below. Frankly, we just don’t know how well this has/will work.

The consensus is that Montero will not be a catcher moving forward. However, the Yankees are coming up with creative ways to make it work back there, even if it’s just for the time being. It’s not often catchers jump right into the big league lineup full-time as rookies, so all the Yanks will need Montero to do for the next few years is be able to fake it back there two or three times a week. The bat is so special, none of us will mind the defense.

Photo Credit: Bryan Hoch, MLB.com

Sit back and enjoy the Derek and Alex show

As the sports world has come to focus on the daily minutiae of baseball, we often forget to look at the big picture. We examine lineup configurations for the optimal daily performance. We look at whether or not star players will sign or resign for how much money they’re actually worth. We second-guess pitching moves and strategic plays. But now and then, it’s worth to let it all go for a little while and enjoy the history of it all.

Beyond the October run, the Yanks and their fans got a glimpse of history, appropriately enough, in a game the team lost. On a Friday night in September — the 11th, in fact — in a game in which the Yanks were beaten badly by the Orioles, Derek Jeter set the record for most career hits as a Yankee. Both teams came together to applaud Jeter’s feat, and the fans loved it even if Andy Pettitte and the bullpen couldn’t salvage a win on a rainy night.

It should be just the first of many milestones Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez reach over the next few years. Assuming that Jeter re-ups with the Yankees — and don’t worry, he will — the Yankees are in for years of milestones, says Times beat writer Ben Shpigel. He writes of the projections that predict record-setting careers for A-Rod and Jeter:

If he stays healthy, Rodriguez, who turns 35 in July, is the top candidate to shatter Barry Bonds’s career record of 762 home runs. Sometime near the 2011 All-Star Game break, Jeter, who currently has 2,747 hits, is projected to get his 3,000th.

It remains highly unlikely that he will break Pete Rose’s mark of 4,256 — he would have to average 216 hits over the next seven seasons — but there is a good chance that Jeter, who turns 36 in June, will end his career with at least 3,400 to 3,500 hits. Only eight players have amassed more than 3,400, and only five have reached the 3,500 mark, beginning with Tris Speaker at 3,514.

Shpigel talked to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus about PECOTA and Sean Smith about his CHONE projections. Both analysts believe A-Rod and Jeter to be prime candidates for history. Derek, they believe, will retire among the top hitters of all time, and A-Rod will be right there with him. As long as the two stay healthy, these milestones are well within reach.

For the rest of us — those of us who pay to watch the team play, those of us who are paid to cover the team — we can just sit back and watch history unfold. Maybe A-Rod will be overpaid over the next few seasons; maybe Jeter will get a contract extension that rewards him for being Derek Jeter and not for being a short stop approaching 40. But as history unfolds, we can forget those problems and appreciate the generational talent showing us their wares on the baseball field. It is, after all, what makes baseball great.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Design Commission approves Heritage Field Park plans sans Gate 2

The Save the Gate 2 movement may be running out of options. Earlier this week, the city’s Public Design Commission gave its preliminary approval to the Parks Department’s plans for Heritage Field Park, the park that will replace Yankee Stadium. These plans include, according to a statement from the Parks Department, “signage, benches, engraved plaques with historical narrative, viewfinders that allow participants to glimpse past events and an audio tour” but do not include any elements of Gate 2. For years, the advocacy group has pushed a $1 million, low-cost effort to include the part of the original 1923 stadium in the Heritage Park plans, but city officials have claimed that the real cost of the effort would be $15 million. City historians also question the authenticity of the gate and claim major elements were removed and altered during the 1970s renovation of Yankee Stadium, a charge Save the Gate 2 disputes.

The organization says it will attempt to secure an injunction in an effort to save some aspect of the historic Yankee Stadium, but because the stadium is not landmarked, convincing a judge to halt the project may take some legal maneuvering. Bronx residents, at this point, say they simply want their parks back. I’ve long believed that New York should incorporate some aspect of the stadium into the park. It is, after all, a building heavy with city history. But as with many historic buildings, the city is content to wreck and forget this one as well. The Yanks’ silence on the issue has been deafening as well.

Open Thread: BP Q&A at the Yogi Berra Museum

Just passing this along…

Steve Goldman and several others from Baseball Prospectus’ team of nerds analysts are holding a roundtable discussion about the upcoming 2010 season this Sunday at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University. Tickets are the regular price of admission ($6) or free if you buy a book. The talk will be held from 3-5pm, so if you’re in the area and want to hear some really smart people talk about baseball, make sure you check it out.

Here’s a little more from the museum’s site.

Now that that’s taken care of, here’s your open thread for the night. The Olympics are the only sports action on the tube, though the Canada-Russia hockey matchup should be a doozy. Loser goes home without a medal, which is kind of the big deal in those countries. Enjoy the thread.

Minor leaguers to be tested for HGH

Via The NY Times, Major League Baseball plans to start testing minor league players for human growth hormone later this year, which is the first step towards testing for HGH in the big leagues. Because most minor leaguers are not members of the MLBPA, the league is able to institute the blood testing without having to collectively bargain. It’s only a matter of time before they start invading privacy and poking guys in the show with needles.

Frankly, I have no interest in the whole steroid thing, and for what it’s worth, Will Carroll, in an interview with Maury Brown, doesn’t see much HGH use in baseball players. I just don’t care anymore. And besides, I liked it better when players did things like this.

Concerns with Yanks run up the middle

One reason I love the Curtis Granderson acquisition is the offense he provides at a premium position. As they currently stand, the Yankees have above average hitters at all four up the middle positions. It means they can afford to have average players at other positions. The Yankees have done this in the past, with tremendous results. Many of their championship teams and dynasties have been built around premium up the middle players. As Jay says:

Historically, the two most decorated positions on the Yankees are center field and catcher. With the exception of the 1920’s dynasty when they had both Ruth and Gehrig, when they were at their best, the Yankees have featured great players in both positions. Dickey and DiMaggio; Berra/Howard and Mantle; Munson and Murcer; Posada and Bernie. Add to that Rizzuto and Jeter at shortstop and the Yanks have a storied history of finding excellent talent at premium defensive positions.

He’s responding to an article wherein Rob Neyer claims that the Yankees might have a weakness growing forward. That weakness, strangely, is that Mark Teixeira might be their best player. He doesn’t play a premium position, so Neyer’s reasoning goes that the Yankees could be weaker because of it. I agree with Jay that I understand the point Neyer’s trying to make. I just don’t buy it.

The Yankees have put an emphasis on catcher recently, drafting and signing many young players in hopes that one or two pans out. They also have relatively young players at second base and center field. Neyer bases his case on 2011, when both Granderson and Robinson Cano will still be young and should still outproduce most of their peers. By that time we might see the first of Jesus Montero and perhaps Austin Romine. It appears shortstop is the only weakness in this equation, though it appears the Yankees are in no hurry to replace Derek Jeter.

Could the Yankees face issues in the future with up the middle talent? Sure. Any team can. But I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness that Teixeira might be their best player for the next few years. The talent is there, and as we’ve seen the team will do what it takes to reload.

In closing, I’d like to address one self-answered question in Neyer’s post:

Is there anyone now on the Yankees’ roster with a decent shot at being the best player in the American League in 2011? One of the five best players in the league? I don’t think so.

So Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira don’t have a decent shot at being a top five player in the AL in 2011? No, I think they very much could rank among the best five AL players next season, and I don’t see any reason right now to think why they wouldn’t.