Yanks draft Cito Culver in the first round

Surprising just about everyone, the Yankees selected Cito Culver, a high schooler out of the Rochester, New York, area, with their first round draft pick tonight. While Bud Selig announced Culver as a short stop, the Yankees’ PR team initially called him a right-handed pitcher but later clarified Culver as a short stop. Scouts believe Culver’s value lies at short.

Interestingly, Culver was projected to go in the fourth-to-sixth round range, and his choice is certainly raising some eyebrows among Yankee-watchers. Here’s MLB.com’s draft profile:

Culver is a switch-hitter who’s better from the left side of the plate, showing more bat speed from that side. He has some gap-to-gap power right now. He looks like he should have above-average speed, but his run times haven’t been great and he’s better underway. At times, scouts have questions [sic] his effort level on the field, though they don’t question his natural gifts. He has the tools, especially his arm strength, to perhaps stay at shortstop, though a move to center field would make some sense. He has a Maryland commitment, but there was some buzz that he’d be willing to forego that for the right price.

Mike will have a full player profile ready to go shortly, and I’m left wondering if the Yanks aimed low in the first round to go after a few signability guys in the later rounds. Remember, though, that Culver was born on August 26, 1992. He won’t turn 18 until after the signing date, and it’s nearly impossible to know now what he ceiling will be.

It’s An Off Day Open Thread

Of course the big story of the night is MLB’s annual amateur draft, and I recommend scrolling down and joining in on my liveblog if you have any interest. If you don’t care about the draft, join in anyway. I guarantee you’ll love it.

For those of you that want to talk about something else, use this open thread. It’s a really sad night for sports, the only you’ve got is the Padres at the Phillies on ESPN. Talk about whatever you want here, just be cool.

2010 Draft: Day One LiveBlog

Tonight’s draft broadcast will begin at 7pm ET on MLB Network (simulcast on MLB.com), and from the looks of things, it’ll last about three hours. It’ll be preceded by an hour long preview show featuring all of MLB.com’s head honchos and Jim Callis of Baseball America. A total of 50 picks will be made today, covering the first and supplemental first rounds. The Yankees will be making just one pick (32nd overall) tonight while the Angels lead the way with five.

Use this as your open thread to talk about all things draft. We’ll have a open thread along a little bit later on for you to talk whatever else your heart desires. Please follow our ground rules and keep your conversations in the appropriate places. Thanks in advance.

2010 Draft: Baseball Prospectus’ Mock Draft v2.0

Okay, let’s squeeze one more mock in before the draft begins. Kevin Goldstein has the Yankees’ taking West Virginia infielder Jedd Gyorko (sub. req’d) in the first round, who’s done nothing but hit since stepping on campus (.404-.471-.674 with a 75-92 K/BB ratio during his college career). While the bat is legit, the downside is that Gyorko doesn’t really have a position. He played short for the Mountaineers, but at best he’ll be a slow second baseman, more likely a fringy third baseman or leftfielder in the big leagues.

It would be a pretty conservative first round pick, something that reeks of the Yanks’ 1999-2003 draft strategy.

The five ahead of No. 2 in 1992

Photo credit: Kevork Djansezian/AP

The 1991 New York Yankees went 71-91, finished 5th in the American League East and earned themselves the sixth pick of the 1992 Amateur Draft. With that pick, they took a high school short stop out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, named Derek Jeter. From the first round of that draft, only Jeter, Jason Kendall and supplemental round pick Johnny Damon are still active, and Jeter’s five World Series rings are tops among his peers.

This weekend, on the eve of the 2010 draft in which the Yanks, World Series champs with the best 2009 record in baseball, have the 32nd pick, Tyler Kepner took a look back at 1992, and his piece is an excellent work of long-form sports reporting. Kepner used his own Wayback Machine — in this case the cachet of The Times — to track down those participants in the draft who let Jeter slip through their fingers. Who were those five men picked ahead of Jeter?

The first choice that year was Phil Nevin out of Cal State-Fullerton by the Astros. The Indians took Paul Shuey, a reliever, with the second pick while the Expos selected B.J. Wallace due to the cost. Wallace signed for nearly $250,000 less than Jeter. Jeffrey Hammonds landed in Baltimore, and Chad Mottola went to the Reds. Mottola would play 59 games in the Majors while Jeter is at 2194 and counting.

In his piece, Kepner gets in touch with everyone involved in those first five picks. He quizzes then-Expos GM Dan Duquette for his draft pick motivation and talks to Shuey about his current fishing hobbies. Both Hammon and Nevin, sluggers during the height of a home run-happy era, defend their careers. Derek Jeter they were not, but the two both bummed around the Bigs for a combined 2100 games.

“Every time I’m approached about the draft, they talk to me like I was a flop because I wasn’t as successful as Derek Jeter,” Nevin said to Kepner. “But I’d hardly call my career a flop. I’m very proud of what I was able to do. I had a heck of a lot of fun and did a lot of good things in my life because of baseball. The draft just meant I got to go play.”

The interesting — if obvious — story comes from Mottola, the flameout of the bunch. Drafted out of the University of Central Florida, Mottola signed for $400,000 as the Guy Before Derek Jeter. He now coaches at AAA and rues the way he approached the game but for all the wrong reasons. “The only thing I regret is not taking steroids, as bad as it sounds,” he said. “I’m not mad at them. I’m more mad at the system that allowed it to happen. Maybe if I had done it, I’d be living the way they’re living. But I know the way I played, and I’m not bitter at all.”

As Kepner concludes, these five players were from five teams who thought they had found someone better than Derek Jeter. As Derek keeps marching toward 3000 hits, toward Cooperstown, toward perhaps another World Series ring or two, those five teams are still looking for their first World Series win since that 1992 draft. This year, Bryce Harper is the clear-cut number one talent, but the risk of another Derek Jeter waiting in the wings always looms large. In a risk-averse sport, the draft is a crapshoot. Just ask Dan Duquette and B.J. Wallace about that.

Trusting Joba in critical spots

Photo credit: Andy King/AP

The Yankees apparently had this all planned from the beginning. Though they feigned a competition for the fifth starter spot in spring training, by most accounts they had already chosen Phil Hughes for the role. That meant Joba Chamberlain, who occupied that spot in 2009, would head back to the bullpen. His home, according to some. The Yankees then claimed that Joba would not be handed the eighth inning role, that he’d have to earn it. Yet that seemed to be just another line to calm the public. Of course Chamberlain would occupy the eighth inning. It’s what he was born to do.

In the first game of the season, with the Yankees down by one, Joba took the ball in the eighth. Things did not go according to the Joba plan, at least the one he authored in 2007. A single, a walk, and then a two-out single gave the Red Sox a two-run lead that Jonathan Papelbon would protect in the ninth. Yet in the next game, with the Yankees leading by a run in the bottom of the eighth, Girardi did not hand the ball to Joba. Instead he went to David Robertson. The plan, apparently, was to use Robertson against Youkilis, Damaso Marte against David Ortiz, and then bring in Joba to finish the inning.

That’s exactly how it happened, though Youkilis put a snag in the plan, singling off Robertson and taking second when Marte threw away a pickoff attempt. He did retire Ortiz, so Girardi handed the ball to Chamberlain with one out and a man in scoring position. Joba basked in the situation and then unleashed his best stuff on Adrian Beltre and J.D. Drew, striking them both out. Ball safely in Mo’s hands, Joba sat down a happy man after that game.

He continued strong from there. He allowed a run in his next appearance against the Rays, but the Yanks already had a lead. He gave up a big home run against Anaheim, but those will happen. Those were the only two instances, from April 6 through May 15th, during which he surrendered a run. For the most part Joba was busy striking out opposing hitters and keeping them off base. But then came hard times. He loaded the bases against the Twins and handed Mariano a tough situation. Then he blew a 5-1 lead against Boston. Against Cleveland last weekend he was the largest culprit in the bullpen meltdown.

This asks the question of whether the Yankees can trust Joba.

His recent performances and 5.26 season ERA might say no, but despite the recent blips Joba has put together a quality season. His strikeout rate is at 10.52 per nine and his walk rate is the lowest it has been since 2007. The home run against the Angels is the only one he’s surrendered this season. He’s even getting more ground balls, which is an excellent weapon with men on base. These factors just haven’t come together yet for Chamberlain. He’s the victim of some bad luck, and hasn’t done himself any favors with men on base.

The first number that stands out is Joba’s BABIP, .380. His mark has always trended high, .332 in 2008 and .320 in 2009. Yet even those numbers are far below his current .380 mark. It’s not like hitters are making considerably better contact, as his line drive rate is 19.4 percent, about two percentage points lower than last year, while his groundball rate is 48.6 percent, almost six points better than last season. Maybe hitters are making better contact on the ground and finding the hole more easily. Other than that, the only better explanation for his BABIP is bad luck.

His strand rate also sticks out. At 56.6 percent, he’s among the league trailers. As expected, this comes from poor numbers with men on base. With the bases empty Joba has struck out 14 of the 48 batters he’s faced, 29 percent, while striking out just 16 of the 62 batters he has faced with men on, 26 percent. He has also walked a few more with men on base. What also stands out is his groundball rate with men on . That’s just 39 percent, against 61.3 percent with no one on. Unsurprisingly this has led to more extra base hits with men on base, five, than with the bases empty, one.

It also seems like May was an aberration of sorts for Chamberlain. His strand rate that month was 38.9 percent, against 77.6 percent from April and 75 percent during his brief stint in June. His BABIP in May was also .465, owing much to a 12.5 percent infield hit rate. In other words, it seems like, maybe, Joba’s poor overall numbers draw from one poor month. He still has plenty to prove, but for right now it’s just one bad month. Every pitcher has those.

I don’t want to do a paragraph on each of the next three points, but I think they’re important enough to at least bulletize.

  • Part of the fan reaction to Joba might come from a home bias. Chamberlain has produced his worst results at Yankee Stadium, an 8.18 ERA. Might the fans be a bit more peeved at Chamberlain for blowing games while they are in attendance?
  • Last year a common complaint was that the Yankees messed with Chamberlain’s rhythm. They pushed his starts back, and then had him throw short stints. But isn’t that exactly what he does in the bullpen? There is no bullpen rhythm. You might warm up for three straight games and never pitch. You might sit for a week. Then you might pitch in three straight games. It’s the way things work. Yet people criticized the Yankees for essentially emulating that last year.
  • Joba’s highest strikeout rate comes in high leverage situations, 12.15 per nine. His walk rate is also low, 2.70 per nine. Yet his BABIP is .449. That should come down a bit. The high strikeouts and low walks is rather encouraging.

After observing Joba’s performances and then reflecting on them, I come to the same conclusion I did on May 19th. Joba’s struggles are in no way extraordinary. He’s struggled at times, which is normal for a young pitcher. He’s had highs and lows, which is normal for a relief pitcher. Yes, the Yankees are looking for more from him. He’s the most talented pitcher in their bullpen behind Mo, and they need him to get from where the starter left off to where Mo begins. Given the course of a full season and not just one third of a season, I think he can prove more than capable of doing just that.

Unfortunately, that requires patience. We haven’t seen much of that from anyone, not the front office, not the fans, when it comes to Joba Chamberlain.

RAB’s Ground Rules for the 2010 MLB Draft

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, MLB Draft Day. D-Day has historically been one of the busiest and most trafficked days of the year for us at RAB, so we need to take a moment and lay down some ground rules and explain how this thing is going to go down.

First and foremost, please take a second to review our Commenting Guidelines. Even if you’ve been with us since day one, give them another look as a refresher.

Secondly, the draft is three days long this year, and I’ll be liveblogging all three days. The liveblog will mostly be me relaying news, sharing thoughts, taking questions, etc., but the liveblog posts will also serve as a draft open thread. Please keep your draft related comments there. We’ll obviously have plenty of non-draft content on the site as well, so keeping your discussions in the appropriate threads will make everyone’s life easier.

I will also be posting short capsules on select players after the Yanks pick them. I won’t write up a capsule for every player the Yanks pick, just the notable ones. For example, here’s Slade Heathcott’s capsule from last year. Use these posts to discuss that player and that pick only, any other draft talk should go back in the draft open threads. No one likes to repeat themselves in a bunch of different spots, so this is to everyone’s benefit.

It’s unlikely to happen because we’ve since upgraded to a dedicated server, but we have experienced technical difficulties on draft day before, and I suppose there’s still a chance the site may crash at some point. I’m hopeful the liveblog will help alleviate the load on the servers, but who knows. The important thing to know is that if the site does crash, you have to please be patient. Hitting refresh a million times a minute will only make it worse. Wait a minute or two before you try to reload the site. We’re fully aware of it whenever the site goes down, and trust us, we’re doing all we can to get it back up and running.

Finally, the best way to follow along with all of the draft content we’ll have over the next three days (and beyond) is to subscribe to our draft feed. You should also subscribe to our regular RSS feed so you don’t miss anything else. If you’re not familiar with RSS feeds, check this site out. Basically, an RSS reader like Google Reader will bring the information right to you, so you won’t have to check your favorite sites multiple times per day. Once you start using one, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. Other than RSS, you can also follow RAB on Twitter @RiverAveBlues or @RABFeed. We use the former for random thoughts or to discuss stuff things with you guys, while the latter just automatically tweets a link to each new post. You can also follow the three of us individually @mikeaxisa, @bkabak, and @joepawl. And finally, there’s also our Facebook page.

Draft day is without a doubt one of the most exciting days of the year, and we ask that you follow along with our ground rules to make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Thanks in advance.