Pinstripe Alley interviews Austin Romine

Travis G. at Pinstripe Alley recently sat down with Yankees’ prospect Austin Romine (part one, part two) for a quick and informative interview. They discussed a whole bunch of stuff, including the generic questions about what a typical day is like, what he does in the offseason, stuff like that, but I most enjoyed the questions about how he’s changed his approached his plate this year, and what he has to work on defensively. It’s a great a relatively quick lead despite being a two-parter, and I highly recommend it.

RAB on The Shore Sports Report

Had some scheduling conflicts last week, but my weekly appearance on The Shore Sports Report with Mike Krenek and Joe Giglio is coming up at 5:30pm ET today. You can listen in on either FOX Sports 1030 AM or WOBM 1160 AM, and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be able to stream it online via one of those links as well.

2010 Draft: Sickels analyzes the Yanks’ haul

John Sickels at Minor League Ball reviewed the Yankees’ 2010 draft haul today, saying that everything looks good except for the Cito Culver pick, which he describes as an oddity. “Many Yankee fans are upset by this pick,” he says of Culver, “but I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude at this point … I’ve been doing this kind of work long enough to know that the ‘sure’ picks often don’t work out and the weird ones sometimes do.” That’s what the draft is all about, waiting and seeing.

Aside from Culver, Sickels’ lauded the Angelo Gumbs (2nd round), Rob Segedin (3rd), and Gabe Encinas (6th) selections, though he’s not to fond of Tommy Kahnle (5th). Check it out, it’s a short and quick read that gives you a good overview of the top of the Yanks’ draft.

Bold prediction: Jeter will finish 2010 as AL’s top shortstop

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

I’m not sure when it happened. Looking at the game logs it was probably around May 9, when his average dropped below .300 for the first time this season. In any case, there has been some — concern might be a light word, but I’ll use it — over Derek Jeter‘s struggles. He started off the season strong despite his refusal to work a count, but things started to turn south in May. Particularly around that May 9 data, the start of a four-game hitless streak, Jeter looked particularly weak. His average dropped from .330 at the start of May all the way to .266 on May 19. Was Jeter washed up?

Clearly he was not. His bat didn’t appear any slower. He just wasn’t making the kind of contact we’ve grown used to in the past 15 years. A few folks pointed to his low walk rate as an indicator, but I don’t think that’s particularly troubling. Clearly Jeter was comfortable jumping on first pitch fastballs, and while it hurt him for a while it appears he’s adapted. And that bad stretch turned out to be just that. Jeter made a complete recovery and is currently hitting very well. Just as we should have expected.

As it currently stands Jeter is hitting .293/.345/.440, a .347 wOBA. That puts him second in the AL among shortstops. The only player ahead of him is Toronto’s Alex Gonzalez. Despite a paltry .303 OBP, Gonzalez has hit for plenty of power this season, a .248 ISO. Considering how far out of line that is with his career numbers I suspect that it will continue to drop as the summer wears on. That opens up the top spot for Jeter. I will boldly predict that he ends the season as the AL’s leader in shortstop wOBA.

Really, though, there aren’t many, if any, strong alternatives. Only six AL shortstops currently sport a wOBA over .300, and one of them is Yuniesky Betancourt, who isn’t a serious contender by any stretch. It will ultimately come down to Gonzalez (if his power remotely holds up), Marco Scutaro, and Elvis Andrus. Even then, I think that if Jeter stays healthy and on track it will be a two-way battle between him and Andrus. Even then, I’d give Jeter the advantage. Andrus looked like the toast of the town in mid-May, when he was hitting .331/.431/.382, but since then he’s come back down to earth. He’ll still be good, but I think that Jeter has the clear advantage, at least on offense.

Even on defense Jeter ranks right around Andrus. While the latter mopped the floor with the AL competition last year he’s been a bit more human this year with seven defensive runs saved and a 2.2 UZR (6.1 per 150). Jeter has been a bit far behind in DRS, saving four runs this season, but has a UZR equal to Andrus, though his per-150 mark is just a tick behind. If Jeter keeps up his hitting and continues playing defense like this we should see him, for the second straight season, be the AL’s most valuable shortstop.

Not that this should come as much of a surprise. It is Derek Jeter, after all.

Tickets available for Wednesday’s game

A reader has a pair of tickets available for Wednesday night’s A.J. Burnett-Kyle Kendrick matchup. The seats are located in Section 136, Row 17, which is the section right next to the opponent’s bullpen and in front of the bleachers. Face value is $85 each, so $170 for the pair. Email me if interested, and I’ll put you in contact with the seller.

2010 Draft: Priority Signs

Now that the actual draft is over, all of our attention turns to the August 16th signing deadline (the 15th falls on a Sunday this year, so the league pushed the deadline back a day). As we already know, the Yankees selected several “signability” types in the later rounds of the draft, players that fell not because of talent, but because their willingness to sign came into question. The team drafted some of these players with every intention of paying of them, others were chosen as backup plays should the higher picks reverse course and decide not to sign, Gerrit Cole style.

It’s hard to say which of these players are the most important signs, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway. I’m leaving first rounder Cito Culver and second rounder Angelo Gumbs out for three reasons. One, and probably most importantly, they’re not big overslot guys. Two, I assume the Yanks have the intention of paying them if they were willing to use such I high draft pick on them. Three, those picks are protected, so if even if they don’t sign, the Yanks will receive the same pick plus one next year. Granted, the player now is worth more than the pick next year, but at least there’s some kind of fallback option.

Teams typically sign 30-35 of the 50 or so players they draft each year, so it’s inevitable that some talent will walk away. Knowing which ones to let what is what’s important. You’re inevitably going to disagree with me on this list, and I encourage that. I’ve never tried to do anything like this, and frankly rating players based on how important it is to sign them is a bit … odd. On to the list…

1. Kevin Jordan, OF, 19th round
Perhaps the best prospect the Yankees drafted this year, Jordan is a special athlete with good bloodlines and the raw tools to be an above average player on both sides of the ball. He fell in the draft for a few reasons, but mostly because he battled a flu-like illness in the spring that cost him some weight off his already lanky 6-foot-0, 190 lb. frame and prevented him from played at 100% in front of scouts. Jordan has a strong commitment to Wake Forest, where he’d play centerfield every day as a freshman.

It may not been a matter of simple money here, because Jordan’s father Brian had a long and productive big league career that netted him more than $51M in earnings (according to B-Ref). The Yanks are not only going to have to pay him handsomely, but also sell him on the idea of being a Yankee. Not always as easy as it sounds.

2. Tayler Morton, RHP, 9th round
The Yankees shoot for the moon with high upside athletes in this draft, but they also backed that strategy up by grabbing power arms in the later rounds. Morton has a big and projectable frame at 6-foot-3, 190 lbs., and he’s already shown flashes of sitting at 93-95 mph with his fastball in the past. He also throws a very good changeup and a developing curveball, so the tools are there for him to become a big league starter. Committed to Tennessee, there’s a chance Morton could instead opt for the JuCo ranks and re-enter the draft next year after dominating the circuit.

3. Rob Segedin, 3B/OF, 3rd round
One of the very few established college bats the Yankees drafted, Segedin has a low maintainence swing geared for hard contact  from the right side. His position is a little up in the air, though he has the tools to stay at the hot corner but may profile better in a corner outfield spot. Segedin’s draft stock dropped because of an old back injury and his added leverage as a draft eligible sophomore. The Yankees lack polished, impact bats in the low minors, so the current Tulane Wave would be a welcome addition to the farm system.

If the Yankees are unable to sign Segedin, they would receive a supplemental third round pick as compensation, which would come between the third and fourth rounds.

4. Gabe Encinas, RHP, 6th round
Like Morton, Encinas is a classic projectable high schooler at 6-foot-4, 190 lbs. with a low-90’s heater, but he has a feel for changing speeds and setting hitters up. His appeal lies in his simple delivery and clean mechanics, plus his polish and advanced feel for his craft. Encinas is committed to Loyola Marymount, which has proven to be a tough school to buy kids away from in the past. He’s better than a sixth round talent, so it would be a nice coup if the Yanks were able to add an arm like Encinas to the system.

5. Mason Williams, OF, 4th round
The Yankees drafted many raw, toolsy athletic types this year, and Williams embodies that demographic. He’s a 6-foot-1, 160 lb. fast-twitch athlete with a sound swing and top of the line defensive abilities in center. Power will never be part of his game, so he’s more of a four-tool guy than a true five-tooler. Williams is committed to South Carolina and is reportedly seeking $2M to skip out on school, which is top ten money. Williams isn’t a top ten talent, but he is a damn good one. The Yankees have overpaid for a fourth rounder before, and I’m sure they’d be willing to do it again if they like the player enough.

My gut feeling is that the Yankees will sign one of Williams or Jordan, but not both.

6. Evan Rutckyj, LHP, 16th round
Big lefthanders are always a hot commodity, especially when they’re young and have started to refine their mechanics and smooth out their delivery. Rutckyj (pronounced root-ski) stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 210 lbs., and he already sits in the low-90’s with a fringy breaking ball. He’s a project, no doubt about it, but a project with enormous upside if it all comes together. He recently signed on with St. Petersburg College in Florida, a junior college that will allow him to re-enter the draft in each of the next two years. Reports indicate that Rutckyj is seeking first round money to sign despite being a consensus fourth or so round talent this spring.

7. Martin Viramontes, RHP, 27th round
An all talent, no results pick, Viramontes flashes premium arm strength (peaking at 96 mph) with a power curveball and a split-change hybrid, but he’s inconsistent with his mechanics and often doesn’t achieve the desired result. A Scott Boras client, Viramontes is a little old for a project, but it’s worth a shot with this kind of electric arm.

8. Kevin Jacob, RHP, 18th round
Another Boras client, Jacob is more refined than Viramontes but still has work to do. His delivery is unorthodox but extremely deceptive, as he leans all the way back and nearly touches the ground with the ball before moving his 6-foot-6, 225 lb. body towards the plate. Jacob’s fastball sits in the mid-90’s and has touched 98 in the past, and his slider is a legit put away pitch in the upper-80’s. A college reliever at a big time program in Georgia Tech, he’d fill the same role as a pro and be expected to move quickly.

9. Dan Burawa, RHP, 12th round
Similar to Jacob, Burawa is a power college reliever with unorthodox mechanics. He’s not quite as big at 6-foot-3, 190 lbs., but he’ll sit in the mid-90’s with an average breaking ball and the makings of a changeup. Burawa has a limited track record at St. John’s and teams will always be cautious of a guy with a nontraditional delivery, but different doesn’t always mean bad. Another long-term reliever, Burawa should move quickly.

10. Tommy Kahnle, RHP, 5th round
I feel like I should have just lumped Jacob, Burawa, and Kahnle all together as one player, Jacurawahnle, or something like that. Kahnle is another power armed reliever that sits in the mid-90’s and has flirted with 97, also offering a changeup and a slurvy breaking ball. Command and keeping his big and intimidating 6-foot-0, 220 lb. body in check isn’t always easy, but Kahnle has a track record of chewing up wood bats. He’s at Division II Lynn University, and will be the easiest sign of the four college arms at the back of my list.

One other player to keep in mind is tenth rounder Ben Gamel, the younger brother of Brewers’ prospect Mat Gamel. Like his brother, Ben is all bat, with a pure swing that gets some loft on the ball, but his fringy tools limit his value outside of the batter’s box. If you can hit you can hit, there will always be a place for you somewhere, but the game is rapidly gravitating away from the one-dimensional slugger in favor of player who can contribute more than just offensive. Mat was a good but not great prospect out of high school, but went to college and saw his stock soar. Ben could do the exact same thing in Florida State’s hitter friend park, which might be too good of an opportunity to pass up.

As The Rotation Turns: Leveraging the situation

Throughout most of the mid- to late-00s we grew used to the Yankees having mediocre pitching staffs. Some of those staffs had promise — 2007 comes to mind, when we dreamed of a rotation that included Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Phil Hughes. That year, as was the case for all years from 2004 through 2008, the hopes never manifested. Something always went wrong, as we should have expected given the pitchers on the staff. That changed in 2009 with the additions of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. The Yankees ranked third in the AL in ERA and fourth in FIP. Finally, a pitching staff we could be proud of.

The rotation seems to be even better this year. The Yanks are still third in ERA (though they are sixth in FIP), but this time it feels different. It feels like that one poor stretch in mid-May has put a dent in the record. Outside that blip, the staff has kept the score close for an offense that has, at times, sputtered. That’s the biggest difference, at least as I can remember, between this year and last. The staff seems a bit more dominant, and I think that will really show up in the numbers once we get closer to season’s end.

The last two turns through the rotation have put this on display. The Yankees are 7-3 in that stretch and the rotation, outside a couple of iffy starts from A.J. Burnett, has been stellar. One particular aspect I noticed these times around: the offense and the starters have kept the high-leverage situations away from the middle relievers. In fact, during this stretch only Joba, Mo, and the starter has faced a Leverage Index of above 2.00 — in regulation, that is. That’s not good bullpen management. That’s the starter pitching deep into games and the offense keeping the pressure off.

6/3 vs. Baltimore: CC Sabathia – 7 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 7 K

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

The Leverage Index got above 2.00 just twice. Both came in the ninth inning when Mo allowed the first two batters to reach safely. The Orioles then got three chances with the tying run at the plate, but couldn’t bring anyone home.

Credit this one to the offense, which scored five runs by the third. Combined with a solid effort from Sabathia, the Yanks never let this turn into a high-leverage affair.

6/4 @ Toronto: A.J. Burnett – 6 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 2 K

Burnett got off to a poor start, surrendering a pair of homers to Jose Bautista and one to Edwin Encarnacion. The Jays were up 3-0 in the fourth and 4-0 in the fifth, so we didn’t see many high leverage situations. The only one above 2.00 came during A-Rod‘s at-bat in the fourth. The Jays were up only 1-0, and the Yanks had first and second with none out. A-Rod grounded into a double play, which was the illustrative moment of this game.

6/5 @ Toronto: Andy Pettitte – 7.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 10 K

Credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press,Darren Calabrese

Andy was great, the offense was not. They somehow gave him a 2-1 lead, but he allowed a home run late which put the game into extra innings. That meant there were plenty of high-leverage situations. This is the only time during this stretch in which a middle reliever pitched in a high leverage situation. During regulation, however, the only pitchers who faced situations with a LI over 2.00 were Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain. Chan Ho Park faced the highest leverage situation overall. That came in the 13th, when the Jays had runners on first and second with two outs. He got John Buck to ground out to shortstop.

6/6 @ Toronto: Javy Vazquez – 7 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 9 K

As we knew he could do, Javy carved up the Jays’ heavy swinging offense, using a mix of breaking and off-speed pitches to keep them from turning on an inside fastball. The game was close, thanks to another poor offensive performance, so we saw a few LI situations above 2.00. The only Yankees pitchers to face these situations were Joba and Mo. Joba allowed the only run there, but on the next hitter he induced a double play. That brought the LI down to 1.27, which made Tony Pena’s decision to go with Damaso Marte over Mo a bit more justifiable.

6/8 @ Baltimore: Phil Hughes – 6 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 K

Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

Hughes had a bit of trouble facing the Orioles for the third time this season, though it came mostly on dinks and dunks that found holes. The Yanks offense came alive for this one, scoring 12 runs. There were only two situations where the LI rose above 2.00. The first came in the second inning, when the Orioles were down 2-0 but had runners on first and second with one out. Phil Hughes induced an inning-ending double play. All those singles came when there wasn’t much at stake. The zero walks was also encouraging.

The other? That came in the third, when Curtis Granderson came up with the bases loaded and two outs. That situation ended just a bit differently than Hughes’s just a half inning before.

6/9 @ Baltimore: CC Sabathia – 7 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 8 K

Once again the Orioles got hits, but they didn’t hit for many extra bases and they didn’t bring around many to score. The offense wasn’t quite as good in this one, scoring just four runs, which means a few higher leverage situations. Sabathia himself faced five batters with the LI above 2.00, but he allowed no runs in those situations. In the highest leverage situation, when the Orioles had bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, Sabathia delivered by striking out Luke Scott. Joba and Mo each faced LI situations above 2.00 as well.

6/10 @ Baltimore: A.J. Burnett – 6.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

A decent but not great, or even really good, start by A.J. Burnett, in which he was wild early, settled down, but couldn’t finish the job in the seventh. He faced just one situation with the LI over 2.00, and that came in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled to put the O’s ahead.

Orioles pitchers faced nine situations with the LI above 2.00 and three with it above 3.00. They recorded seven outs and two walks, one intentional.

6/11 vs. Houston: Andy Pettitte – 7.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K

It is unbelievable how good Pettitte has been this year. The Yanks needed him in this one, as the offense scored just four runs. He faced two situations with the LI above 2.00 and pretty much succeeded both times. With a runner on first and no outs in the eighth he induced a double play ball that Derek Jeter botched. The next hitter, Michael Bourn, sacrificed, which Pettitte couldn’t do much about. Joba came in and faced two high leverage situations, above 3.00, and recorded outs in both. Mo also faced two high leverage situations in the ninth, retiring the hitter both times.

6/12 vs. Houston: Javy Vazquez – 7 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 6 K

Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

Other than a couple of home runs, both solo shots, this was an excellent outing for Javy. He’s really come around lately. He pitched so well, and the offense picked up so many runs so early, that there were no situations where the LI crept above 2.00. There was one situation where it hit 1.99. Jorge Posada, however, is a high-leverage kinda guy.

6/13 vs. Houston: Phil Hughes – 5.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

Maybe he tired down the stretch — he was over the 100 pitch mark and he’s been at or above that for plenty of starts this season. Remember, too, that in 2006 Hughes rarely pitched more than five innings, and he didn’t throw too many innings in any of the following years. So fatigue is a concern. That’s a topic for another post, though.

Hughes faced two situations where the LI got above 2.00, and he recorded outs in both, a strikeout and a fielder’s choice groundout. Again, score this one for the offense, which scored enough runs to cover for almost anything, including Hughes’s sixth-inning meltdown.