Next wave of pitching prospects emerging in the minors

(Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

Coming into the season, the Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system, with only two of their top ten prospects doing their work on the mound. One was Luis Severino, who is currently in the big league rotation, and the other was Ian Clarkin, who has not pitched in an official minor league game this season due to an ongoing elbow problem. Clarkin is currently on a throwing program, supposedly.

Beyond Severino and Clarkin, the Yankees had a lot of interesting arms in the lower levels of the minors but not much else. The kind of pitching prospects every team has, really. It didn’t help that Domingo German, the team’s third best pitching prospect coming into 2015, blew out his elbow in Spring Training and needed Tommy John surgery. That’s two of their three best pitching prospects down for the season. Yikes.

Thankfully, a new wave of pitching prospects has emerged this summer, giving the Yankees more potential rotation help in the near future. First and foremost, the Yankees added to their pitching inventory by selecting UCLA righty James Kaprielian in the first round of June’s draft. He has yet to pitch in a game since turning pro but was scheduled to do so this week. (That didn’t happen for some reason, I think because the team didn’t want him pitching with the threat of rain in Tampa.)

Assuming Severino throws more than 50 innings with the Yankees down the stretch, Kaprielian takes over as New York’s top pitching prospect, and he could be big league ready next August or September a la Ian Kennedy in 2007. Kaprielian is not quite as refined as Kennedy but he has better pure stuff and the Yankees were very aggressive with Severino, so I assume they will be with Kaprielian as well. There’s no reason to select a pitcher like this only to take it slow as he climbs the ladder.

Behind Kaprielian, both Brady Lail and Rookie Davis have stepped forward this summer to establish themselves as no doubt rotation prospects, albeit with different styles. Lail is closer to the big leagues — he was promoted to Triple-A not too long ago — and is more of a command and control guy than a big stuff guy. The Yankees did a great job developing him into a legitimate prospect after drafting him as a raw Utah high schooler.

Davis is a classic fastball/curveball power pitcher whose control has improved tremendously as a pro. He spent most of the year at High-A Tampa and was recently moved up to Double-A Trenton, replacing Lail in the rotation. Lail could help as soon as next season in a David Phelps/Adam Warren role, assuming the Yankees are willing to put him on the 40-man roster at some point. He is not Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter. Davis is.

While Davis and to a slightly lesser extent Lail are the Yankees’ top two pitching development successes this year, they aren’t the only ones. Jordan Montgomery and Jonathan Holder, two mid-round draft picks last year, have handled Single-A ball well. That’s not surprising for Montgomery after he spent three years in an SEC rotation. Holder is a reliever turned starter however, and he’s had success in his new role. Both guys figure to join Davis in the Double-A rotation to open 2016.

For the most part the Yankees have had their starters stay healthy this year. Masahiro Tanaka spent a month on the DL and Michael Pineda is expected to miss about a month as well, but that’s it. In the grand scheme of things, two starters missing a month each is nothing. Last year almost the entire rotation was on the DL with long-ish term injuries by May, remember. That led to Shane Greene getting a chance as well as the Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano pickups.

The Yankees could have used another starter at the deadline but they weren’t desperate like last year, when he were out of viable rotation arms. That’s a good thing because outside of Severino and Warren, the Yankees didn’t have much upper level rotation depth in the minors. That does not figure to be the case next year, with Lail set for Triple-A and the trio of Davis, Holder, and Montgomery set for Double-A. Kaprielian is on the way too.

Do the Yankees have a bunch of budding aces in the minors? No, of course not. No team does. (Except the Mets the last few years, I guess.) What the Yankees do have now is a collection of competent pitching prospects reaching the upper levels of the minors, putting them in position to step in and help very soon. They didn’t have those guys coming into 2015. It was Severino and that’s it. A new batch of arms emerged this year and the Yankees will surely need ’em going forward.

Curry: Yankees calling up Greg Bird

Sorry, Greg, can't wear No. 20 in the show. (Presswire)
Sorry, Greg, can’t wear No. 20 in the show. (Presswire)

According to Jack Curry, the Yankees are calling up first base prospect Greg Bird. He’ll join the team tonight in Cleveland. The Yankees have not yet officially announced anything but there’s no reason to doubt Curry. The team will have to make both a 25-man and 40-man roster move to accommodate Bird.

Bird, 22, is hitting .277/.356/.469 (138 wRC+) with 23 doubles and 12 home runs in 318 plate appearances split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this year. I consider him the sixth best prospect in the system but prospect rankings are subjective as hell, and it wouldn’t be insane to say he’s the team’s second best prospect in the minors now that Luis Severino is in the big leagues. Here’s a snippet of Baseball America’s scouting report:

Scouts and evaluators rave about Bird’s approach as well as his bat. He’s a line-to-line hitter with the willingness to work deep counts and take walks if necessary … Overall, the people who saw him play this year picture Bird, at his peak, as a truly balanced hitter capable of hitting for average and with power enough for 20 or more home runs annually while not doing any damage in the field. His home run power is mostly to the pull side (all but one has gone to right field), but he can push doubles to all fields.

Curry says Bird will serve as a backup at first base and DH during this stretch of 16 games in 16 days. Bird is a first baseman and a first baseman only, so there’s really no way to get him into the lineup without sitting either Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira. He’ll be a lefty bat off the bench, something the Yankees could have used last night when Chris Young faced a righty with runners on second and third and two outs, for example.

I’m not sure there’s much upside to calling Bird up only to sit on the bench, but it’s not a bad move, just kind of a weird one. Had Andrew Miller not blown the save Tuesday and forced the bullpen to throw all those innings in the 16-inning game, chances are Garrett Jones would have remained with the team and Bird would still be in Triple-A. Jones was cut yesterday to get a fresh arm on the roster. Hopefully Bird can have an impact as a pinch-hitter and spot starter at first and DH.

The Yankees currently have an eight-man bullpen and a three-man bench, so I assume they’ll send down a pitcher to make room for Bird. I’m guessing Nick Goody will be demoted since he’s pitched each of the last two days and is unlikely to be available tonight. As for the 40-man roster move … I’m not sure. Cole Figueroa and Chris Martin stand out as players who could be outrighted. We’ll see.

With AL East cushion gone, Yankees face an uphill battle the rest of the way

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Just about two weeks ago, the Yankees were sitting pretty atop the AL East with a season-high seven-game lead. They just scored 21 runs in Texas (in one game!) and had won for the eighth time in their last nine games. Remember that? It was so awesome. Everything was going right and it looked like that seven-game lead was only going to grow larger and larger.

Now that lead is completely gone. Gone and then some, really. The Yankees lost their fifth straight game last night and also lost for the ninth time in their last 13 games. Rough. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, loaded up at the trade deadline and have won ten straight games — they outscored their opponents 55-20 in the ten games — catching and passing the Yankees for the top spot in the division. Toronto is now a half-game up.

I didn’t think the Yankees would cruise the rest of the season and win the AL East with ease, but I did think that seven-game lead would last longer than two weeks. I mean, what the hell. The Yankees have played miserable baseball for almost two weeks and their margin for error is gone. They’re essentially tied with the Blue Jays in the standings and now begin a new 50-ish game season to decide the AL East.

That’s both good and bad. It’s good because hey, meaningful baseball down the stretch! We really haven’t experienced that around these parts the last two years. You had to squint your eyes and try real hard to see the 2013-14 Yankees as contenders even though they did hang around the wildcard races far longer than they should have. It’ll be fun to see the Yankees back in the thick of a division race, you know? That’s the entire point of being a fan.

At the same time, it’s bad because the Blue Jays are better than the Yankees. At least on paper, I guess. They have a better offense — that is not an overreaction to the Yankees not scoring the last week, Toronto’s had an insane offense all season — as well as a better rotation and team defense. Both Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey have pitched exceptionally well the last few weeks, and, of course, they added David Price. That is … substantial.

The Yankees do have a better bullpen than the Blue Jays — Toronto’s bullpen is much improved since the trade deadline though — but the bullpen is dependent on the rest of the team. Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller only become a factor if the offense and rotation put them in position to be a factor. So that’s a problem. Both the eye test and projection systems agree: the Blue Jays have a better roster and therefore a better shot to win the division going forward. That’s life.

It’s silly to call the Yankees an underdog given their payroll, but, based on the talent on their roster, they’re looking up at the Blue Jays. They’re the team playing catch up and the team that will have to outperform expectations to win the division. The Yankees did that for the first four months of the season! They exceeded expectations and took control of the division … then the lead evaporated in two weeks.

Can they get back into that mode of exceeding expectations? Gosh, who knows. Can Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira hit like MVP candidates again? Can Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury dominate atop the lineup? Can the bullpen stay on track and avoid burnout despite being asked to get like 12 outs a night? That’s a lot of questions — a lot of big questions — the Yankees need to answer in a positive way to win the division.

Simply put, the Yankees need to catch some breaks now, the same way they were going to need to catch breaks if they wanted to contend coming into the season. Not too many people expected them to sit in first place so long and I’m certain not many expect them to hold off the Blue Jays and win the AL East at this point. The two teams have ten head-to-head games remaining — including three this weekend! — and that’s an opportunity to bury or be buried.

I wish the Yankees would have done more at the trade deadline and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned older players like A-Rod and Teixeira are hitting a wall, or that Ellsbury and Miller haven’t been right since coming off the DL. The pitching has been pretty great of late but otherwise there’s not a whole lot to feel optimistic about right now. That’s only natural. The Yankees have looked really crummy the last few days.

That said, teams are never as bad as they look when they’re playing their worst and they’re never as good as they look when they’re playing their best. The Yankees are in the middle of their worst stretch of the season while the Blue Jays are in the middle of their best. That’s what it took for Toronto to make up all that ground in the standings. At some point they’ll lose and yes, at some point the Yankees will actually score a few runs. The last two weeks aren’t necessarily indicative of who these clubs will be going forward.

Let’s not mince words: the Yankees have made things very difficult on themselves with this recent stretch of poor play. That wonderful seven-game lead is gone and now they basically have to go toe-to-toe with a better team the rest of the season if they want to win the division. At the same time, no one is underestimating the Yankees more right now than Yankees fans. The AL East race isn’t over. It’s just getting started again.

Yankees lose 2-1 to Indians, drop fifth straight and fall into second place in the AL East

Remember when we all laughed at the Mets for blowing a seven-game lead in 18 days at the end of the 2007 season? Well the Yankees just blew a seven-game lead in 15 days. At least they still have another 50 games to play. Wednesday night’s 2-1 loss to the Indians was New York’s fifth straight loss and ninth in their last 13 games. The Blue Jays won yet again, so Toronto now leads the AL East by a half-game. The Yankees do have a one-game lead in the loss column, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Bend, Sorta Break
Looking at the box score, this seems like a perfectly acceptable start for CC Sabathia. Two runs on nine hits and two walks in six innings? Not great but that works. Sabathia has not been good this year and that’s a winnable start. Of course, if you watched the game, you know it was maybe the ugliest six innings of two-run ball you will ever see. Sabathia was in bend but don’t mode all night. Basically from the very first batter he faced.

Sabathia put the leadoff man on base is five of six innings including the first, when Jose Ramirez sliced a 2-2 single to left field. CC was able to strand that runner, as well as the leadoff base-runners he allowed in the third and fourth innings, but Sabathia wasn’t as lucky after that. Three singles and a bunt tied the game 1-1 in the fifth and then the Indians took a 2-1 lead on three singles and a ground out in the sixth. At one point six of nine Indians had hits against Sabathia and one of the three who didn’t laid down a sac bunt.

The defense gave Sabathia a big lift and helped him navigate those six innings with only two runs allowed. They turned two double plays behind him and Didi Gregorius turned in a pair of gems, one in the second and one with runners at first and second to end the sixth. Gold star kinda plays. Two runs in six innings from Sabathia is fine, you’ll take that result every time at this point of his career, but it was not pretty. He’s lucky the damage wasn’t worse.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Missed Opportunities
Early on, it looked like the offense was on the verge of breaking out. Chase Headley drew a one-out walk in the first and the Indians turned a gorgeous double play on Alex Rodriguez to bail out Danny Salazar. Brian McCann smashed a long solo home run in the second, it was a no-doubter off the bat, and two batters later Gregorius crushed a ball to the warning track that looked long gone. The acoustics at Progressive Field are deceiving. It sounded like Didi really laid into that one.

The Yankees had just the one run but there were some encouraging signs in the early innings. Salazar needed the great double play in the first and Gregorius nearly hit a ball out in the second. Offense was coming … then it didn’t. Salazar settled in, retired 13 of the next 15 batters faced — one of the base-runners was erased on a botched hit and run! — and pitched into the eighth inning. More of the same. Lots of weak contact and easy outs. Nothing we haven’t seen the last week or so.

Salazar did give the Yankees some hope in both the seventh and eighth innings but of course they didn’t capitalize. A Mark Teixeira single and a Carlos Beltran double put runners at second and third with one out in the seventh, then Gregorius popped up on the infield and Chris Young struck out. Inning over. In the eighth, Brett Gardner and Headley drew back-to-back walks with one out, then Indians closer Cody Allen got A-Rod to bang in a 6-4-3 double play. He couldn’t have rolled it any better. Tailor made.

Earlier this year, a one or two run deficit felt like nothing because the Yankees were consistently putting together rallies. Now I’m at the point where I’m wondering how they’ll blow whatever opportunities they do get, which feels a little too much like the 2013-14 seasons to me. It hits a little too close to home, ya know? The offense has rendered me speechless. I am without speech. Aarglebargle.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Chasen Shreve and the just called up Nick Goody tossed scoreless seventh and eighth innings, respectively, to spare the rest of the overworked bullpen. Shreve took a line drive to the pitching shoulder and the trainer didn’t even come out to check on him. Yes, Shreve waved them off, but still. Right in the shoulder! Gotta get out there and check on him. Geez.

Four hits: McCann’s homer, Beltran’s double, and singles by Gardner and Teixeira. Gardner, Beltran, Young, and Headley (two) drew the five walks. Gardner was thrown out trying to steal in the sixth inning but it wasn’t really a steal attempt. It was a hit and run, Headley swung through the pitch, and Gardner was out by a mile. Brett has one attempted one real steal in almost two months.

Gregorius made a spectacular diving stop to rob Giovanny Urshela of a hit in the second inning (video). Urshela was originally called safe but it was overturned on replay. The Yankees are 15-for-21 (!) on replays this year. That 71% success rate is the best in baseball. (The Mariners and Diamondbacks are the only other teams over 66%.) Bret Weber, whose official title is Baseball Operations Assistant, is the club’s behind the scenes video replay guy. He deserves a full World Series share after the season.

And finally, we reached peak crazy in the ninth inning, when John Ryan Murphy pinch-ran for McCann with one out, not Jacoby Ellsbury. (McCann reached on a wild pitch after striking out.) Ellsbury instead stood on deck when Gregorius struck out out to end the game, waiting to pinch-hit for Young. Amazing.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights, and here are the updated standings and postseason odds. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Now here’s the LPA graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees will look to avoid their sixth straight loss Thursday night when they wrap up this three-game series against the Indians. The pitching matchup will be Nathan Eovaldi and Trevor Bauer.

DotF: Scranton walks off with a win thanks to Gamel and Judge

According to George King, RHP James Kaprielian was supposed to make his pro debut with one of the two Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliates today, but that didn’t happen for whatever reason. Kaprielian indicated on Twitter he was scheduled to pitch today as well. It rained a bunch in Tampa today, so maybe he was scratched and instead threw inside or something. Chances are we’ll never know.

Also, LHP Jeff Degano is apparently on his way to join Short Season Staten Island, according to his Twitter feed. He’d been in the GCL the last few weeks. Degano was this year’s second rounder. Kaprielian, of course, was the team’s first rounder.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Pawtucket in 12 innings, walk-off style)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB — 29-for-51 (57%) with four doubles, five triples, and four homers in his last 18 games
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB — if they’re not calling him up right now, when will they?
  • 1B Greg Bird: 2-6
  • C Gary Sanchez: 0-5, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Aaron Judge: 3-5, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — walk-off single … Donnie Collins says he made a diving catch in right as well
  • LF Jose Pirela: 1-4, 1 BB
  • DH Austin Romine: 0-5
  • RHP Eric Ruth: 6 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 10/4 GB/FB — 55 of 84 pitches were strikes (65%) … up from Double-A to start in place of Chris Capuano, who was called up to the bigs
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2/1 GB/FB — only four of his 17 pitches were balls (76% strikes)
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — ten of 14 pitches were strikes (71%)
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 29 of 46 pitches were strikes (63%)

[Read more…]

Game 112: Cling to First

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Remember that seven-game lead in the AL East? It’s gone. In 15 days no less. The lead is down to a half-game and the Yankees’ odds of winning the division are down to 46.8%, according to FanGraphs. They were 78.0% the day of the trade deadline. The Blue Jays have increased their AL East odds from 16.3% to 48.1% during that same time. (The Jays have better division odds than the Yankees because the projection systems like their roster more.)

But the Yankees can’t worry about the Blue Jays right now. They’ll be time for that this weekend. Right now the Yankees just need to figure out how to score some runs and get basically every hitter on the team other than Carlos Beltran and Didi Gregorius back on track. The bullpen is spent — it’s almost like they could have used an innings eating starter at the deadline, right? weird — and their margin of error figures to be tiny. Not a good combination. Here is the Indians’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. LF Chris Young
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is cloudy and cool in Cleveland today, and there is no rain in the forecast either. Hooray for that. Tonight’s game will begin a bit after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Try to enjoy.

Roster Moves: In case you missed it earlier, Chris Capuano and Nick Goody have been called up to give the team some fresh arms. Garrett Jones and Branden Pinder were dropped from the roster in the corresponding moves.

Yankees call up Capuano and Goody, send down Pinder, designate Jones for assignment

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees have made some moves to beef up their bullpen following last night’s 16-inning marathon loss. Both Chris Capuano and Nick Goody have been called up from Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. Branden Pinder was sent down and Garrett Jones was designated for assignment to clear roster spots. The Jones move also clears a 40-man spot for Capuano.

Pinder threw two innings and 20 pitches last night, taking the loss. Joe Girardi has thrown Pinder into some tight spots the last few days and he wound up with two losses on his record. Sucks. Jones re-signed with the team last week following Dustin Ackley‘s injury and did not get into a game. Bryan Mitchell, who threw 60 pitches last night and won’t be able available for a few days, is still with the team.

Capuano was scheduled to start for the RailRiders today, so he’ll be available for multiple innings tonight if necessary, which I really hope is not the case. He was able to get stretched out to 65 pitches in Triple-A after being designated for assignment two weeks ago. Capuano had a 6.97 ERA (5.00 FIP) in 31 innings for the Yankees before being cut and accepting his assignment to Triple-A.

Goody threw 16 pitches in Triple-A last night and was called up simply because there weren’t any other options. Caleb Cotham and Nick Rumbelow were both sent down last week and were unable to be recalled due to the ten-day rule. Goody was the only healthy call-up-able pitcher on the 40-man roster. He allowed one run in 1.1 innings with the Yankees earlier this year.

The Yankees have been talking about using a spot sixth starter at some point during this road trip and keeping Mitchell around will allow them to do that at some point. Had he been sent down, they wouldn’t have been able to call him up for ten days. Cutting Jones means the Yankees are down to a three-man bench, however. That will change once rosters expand in three weeks.