2017 Minor League Awards

The GCL Yanks East won their league title this year. (MiLB.com)
The GCL Yanks East won their league title this year. (MiLB.com)

The last 18 months or so have been a whirlwind down in the farm system. Last year the Yankees decided to sell at the trade deadline for the first time in nearly three decades, which gave them arguably the game’s best and deepest farm system coming into this season. All the scouting publications ranked New York’s system second best behind only the hard tanking Braves this spring.

This season, the Yankees started to turn that highly ranked farm system into MLB players. Aaron Judge graduated to the big leagues and broke the rookie home run record. Jordan Montgomery graduated to the big leagues and became a solid back-end starter. Chad Green graduated to big leagues and emerged as a lockdown reliever. Others like Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar, Tyler Wade, and Domingo German made their MLB debuts as well.

Then there are the trades. The purpose of a farm system is to produce MLB players and trade chips, and the Yankees did both this year. Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo went to the White Sox for David Robertson, Todd Frazier, and Tommy Kahnle. Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian, and Dustin Fowler went to the Athletics for Sonny Gray. Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns became Jaime Garcia. The farm system had a ton of big league impact in 2017.

Despite the graduations and trades, the Yankees still have a very strong farm system with one of the two or three best prospects in the game in Gleyber Torres. “(Farm system head) Gary Denbo has done a terrific job. They have the best minor league system, by far,” said one rival scout to Jon Heyman recently. The Yankees minor league affiliates went a combined 491-325 this year, far and away the best record among the 30 teams, and seven of their eight affiliates qualified for the postseason. Lots of prospects and lots of winning.

Now that the minor league postseason is over, it’s time to hand out some awards for the minor league season. As always, these awards are totally subjective and completely meaningless. I have no authority whatsoever. This is just my look back at the season and a recognition for those who played well. This isn’t any sort of top prospects list. It’s a best performers list regardless of prospect status. Got it? Good.

Here are my 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 awards posts. Ten years already. This is year eleven. Crazy. Time to dive into this season’s minor league awards.

Minor League Player of the Year: OF Estevan Florial
Not an easy call this year! Not at all. It came down to Florial and Andujar, both of whom had tremendous seasons. Ultimately, I went with Florial because while they had comparable offensive numbers, Florial did it as a 19-year-old in full season leagues. That to me is more impressive than a 22-year-old having a big season at Double-A and Triple-A. Andujar was essentially repeating Double-A for the first half of the season. Florial played a handful of Low-A (and High-A) games last year, but only a handful. Andujar was with Trenton for the second half last year. Again, both had amazing seasons! I think Florial’s was a little more impressive, despite the unsightly 31.1% strikeout rate. He hit .298/.372/.479 (145 wRC+) with 10.5% walks, 23 doubles, seven triples, 13 homers, and 23 steals in 31 attempts, which earned him a spot in the Futures Game and will land him in the various top 100 prospect lists next spring.

Florial. (Charleston RiverDogs)
Florial. (Charleston RiverDogs)

Minor League Pitcher of the Year: RHP Chance Adams
Adams was not quite as good this year as last year, though he was still the most consistently excellent pitcher in the farm system in 2017. He started the season back at Double-A before a quick promotion to Triple-A, and overall, he threw 150.1 innings with a 2.45 ERA (3.70 FIP) with 22.3% strikeouts and 9.6% walks. The walks are the only real negative. Adams led the farm system in innings and his 135 strikeouts were third most behind Brian Keller (157) and Domingo Acevedo (142). Among the 17 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings in the system this year, his 1.078 WHIP was second lowest behind Caleb Smith (1.063). I nearly went with Keller here, though a 23-year-old four-year college guy against Single-A kids isn’t really a fair fight. Adams would’ve carved up Low-A too.

Minor League Hitter of the Year: 3B Miguel Andujar
Florial is the Minor League Player of the Year and Andujar has to settle for being the Minor League Hitter of the Year. Not a bad consolation prize. Andujar authored a .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) batting line between Double-A and Triple-A and led the farm system in hits (151), doubles (36), and extra-base hits (54). He also struck out only 13.6% of the time against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Forty-seven players posted a 130 wRC+ or better in at least 500 minor league plate appearances this season, and among those 47, Andujar had the fifth lowest strikeout rate. And, as an added bonus, he went 3-for-4 with a double in his MLB debut. Quite a season for Andujar.

Breakout Player of the Year: OF Estevan Florial
Really easy call here. When you make the jump from interesting yet relatively unheralded short season prospect to the Futures Game and top 100 lists and my Minor League Player of the Year in the span of a season, you’re the obvious Breakout Player of the Year. Just an incredible all-around season for Florial. Jorge Guzman and Taylor Widener deserve an honorable mention here. Freicer Perez and Jonathan Loaisiga as well. The Yankees graduated several top prospects to the big leagues and traded away several others, yet they replenished the pipeline by helping more than a few guys take their game to the next level, none moreso than Florial

Comeback Player of the Year: RHP Domingo German
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, German threw 109.1 minor league innings around big league call-ups, during which he posted a 2.88 ERA (3.29 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 7.1% walks. He was at his best late in the season, as he got further away from elbow reconstruction and actually got a chance to pitch rather than sit in the big league bullpen as the little used eighth reliever. Little Sunday pitched to a 2.34 ERA (2.84 FIP) in his final ten Triple-A starters after being sent down for good. Jake Cave and Billy McKinney deserve a mention for their strong comebacks seasons. In my opinion, German coming back from major surgery to do what he did is more Comeback Player of the Year worthy than a couple bats bouncing back from down seasons.

Bounceback Player of the Year (started slow, finished strong): SS Kyle Holder
Second straight Bounceback Player of the Year award for Holder. The defensive wiz played 104 total games this season, all with High-A Tampa. His first 52 games: .187/.232/.242 (37 wRC+) with seven extra base hits (four doubles, two triples, one homer), 16.0% strikeouts and 4.7% walks. He started the season in a 1-for-34 (.029) slump. Yikes. His last 52 games though: .351/.396/.452 (151 wRC+) with 15 extra base hits (12 doubles, three homers), 12.2% strikeouts, and 7.0% walks. The end result is a .271/.317/.350 (95 wRC+) batting line. Would be nice to see Holder put together a full productive season at some point rather than continue the “bad first half, great second half” trend.

Best Pro Debut: OF Steven Sensley
Plucked from Louisiana-Lafayette in the 12th round of this year’s draft, Sensley received a straight slot $125,000 bonus, then went on to hit .292/.370/.584 (157 wRC+) with 15 doubles and 13 homers in only 50 pro games. Although his season didn’t start until late-June, Sensley finished ninth in the farm system in homers and 22nd in extra-base hits. The Yankees started him in the Rookie Gulf Coast League, then bumped him up to Rookie Pulaski, then again to Low-A Charleston. Sensley kept forcing the issue. Outfielder Canaan Smith (4th round) and right-handers Trevor Stephan (3rd) and Glenn Otto (5th) get the honorable mentions here.

Most Disappointing Player of the Year: SS Wilkerman Garcia
Not many candidates to choose from — that’s a good thing! — so Wilkerman gets the nod almost by default. A shoulder issue early last year slowed Garcia’s season, during which he hit .198/.255/.284 (52 wRC+) in 54 rookie ball games after getting back on the field. This year the hope was Garcia would bounce back with a healthy shoulder and continue his rise up the prospect rankings. Instead, Wilkerman hit .222/.256/.296 (64 wRC+) with 26.0% strikeouts and 4.3% walks in 67 games with Short Season Staten Island. His big breakout 2015 season — Garcia hit .299/.414/.362 (140 wRC+) with more walks (25) than strikeouts (19) in 39 rookie ball games that year — feels like so long ago.

All-Minor League Teams

First Team Second Team Third Team
Catcher Donny Sands Gustavo Campero Jorge Saez
First Base Mike Ford Brandon Wagner Ji-Man Choi
Second Base Nick Solak Donovan Solano Billy Fleming
Shortstop Tyler Wade Gleyber Torres Thairo Estrada
Third Base Miguel Andujar Dermis Garcia Gosuke Katoh
Outfield Estevan Florial Isiah Gilliam Alex Palma
Outfield Clint Frazier Billy McKinney Jhalan Jackson
Outfield Jake Cave Steven Sensley Zack Zehner
Starting Pitcher Chance Adams Domingo German Caleb Smith
Starting Pitcher Brian Keller Freicer Perez Justus Sheffield
Starting Pitcher Domingo Acevedo Taylor Widener Jorge Guzman
Relief Pitcher Nestor Cortes Jose Mesa Jr. Anyelo Gomez
Relief Pitcher Ben Heller Cody Carroll Nick Rumbelow

Lifetime Achievement Award: IF Cito Culver
The Cito Culver story is well known by now. The Yankees selected Culver with their first round pick, the 32nd overall selection in the 2010 draft, even though he was considered more of a third or fourth round talent. Baseball America ranked him 168th (!) among their top 200 draft prospects that year. Lists are just lists, they don’t mean anything, but the pick sure led to some head-scratching.

Cito. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Cito. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

Culver never did anything to justify his draft spot — he dropped out of my top 30 prospects list (and Baseball America’s as well) by the middle of 2013 — though he has remained in the organization and become a super utility player. “It was about the halfway point last year where we decided Cito was more of what we call an Infield 5 player, which means he can play shortstop, third base, second base,” said farm system head Gary Denbo to Chad Jennings last spring.

This season Culver, with Triple-A Scranton, played 46 games at shortstop, 25 at first base, 17 at third base, 12 at second base, and three in left field. Plus three others at designated hitter. Culver set a career high with 12 home runs this season, and while he faded in the second half, he did manage a .246/.317/.463 (114 wRC+) batting line before the All-Star break. In parts of eight pro seasons, Cito has played in 833 games and batted 3,453 times.

As best I can tell, Culver is the longest tenured player in the organization who has yet to play in the big leagues. He hasn’t even been added to the 40-man roster yet. Last winter Culver became a minor league free agent and decided to re-sign with the Yankees despite (likely) knowing they would continue to use him as a utility man. Cito never did reward the Yankees for the high draft slot and $954,000 bonus, though he has stuck around for the better part of the decade as an organizational role player, and those are the players the Lifetime Achievement Award is intended to honor.

The Yankees and 2017’s major awards

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

For the first time in a very long time, the Yankees have legitimate candidates for each of baseball’s major awards this season. Even in 2009, the Yankees did not have a Rookie of the Year candidate. They had MVP (Mark Teixeira) and Cy Young (CC Sabathia) candidates, but not a Rookie of the Year candidate. Their best rookie that year, by WAR, was Brett Gardner, and he had only 284 plate appearances as the fourth outfielder.

In recent years the voting body seems to be doing a better job handing out the awards, which really just means the voting results closely match my hypothetical ballot. There is no right or wrong with this stuff. The voting criteria is intentionally vague, so it’s up to the individual voter to decide. It is what it is. So anyway, with the regular season winding down, let’s take a look at where the various Yankees place in this year’s award races.

Most Valuable Player

The first six or seven weeks after the All-Star break were not pretty, but a ferocious September has Aaron Judge right back in the thick of the MVP race. I see six serious AL MVP candidates right now: Judge, Jose Altuve, Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez, Chris Sale, and Mike Trout. Trout missed too much time with his thumb injury to win. The voters are going to hold that against him. Kluber and Sale have to deal with the anti-pitcher bias the exists in MVP voting, and as good as Ramirez has been, Altuve and Judge have superior numbers. Considerably superior numbers, really.

MVP is not only a performance award. It’s a performance plus narrative award. Both the Astros and Yankees are going to the postseason, so that’s not going to sway the vote in Judge’s or Altuve’s favor. On one hand, you could argue the Yankees would’ve won the AL East if not for Judge’s slump. On the other, you could argue the Astros have such a huge lead in the AL West that they would’ve won even without Altuve. Hmmm.

Statistically, Judge has a slight edge overall, but obviously Altuve has been excellent as well. Let’s compare quickly:

  • AVG: Altuve (.347 to .284)
  • OBP: Judge (.421 to .413)
  • SLG: Judge (.622 to .552)
  • wRC+: Judge (171 to 161)
  • XBH: Judge (77 to 66)
  • HR: Judge (50 to 24)
  • SB: Altuve (32 to 9)
  • DRS: Judge (+10 to +3)
  • fWAR: Judge (+7.8 to +7.4)
  • bWAR: Altuve (+8.3 to +7.8)

Fun fact: that +7.8 fWAR leads all of baseball. Judge jumped over Sale (+7.7) this week. Altuve has hit for a much higher average — he’s only the fifth player in the last 70 years with 200+ hits in four straight seasons, joining Hall of Famers Kirby Puckett and Wade Boggs, future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, and, uh, Michael Young — and yet Judge still has him beat in on-base percentage. Judge strikes out a ton more (30.7% to 12.8%) but also walks a ton more too (18.6% to 9.0%). Altuve is a greater threat on the bases while Judge saves more runs in the field. Pretty amazing.

My favorite thing about this AL MVP debate is how it shows two very different players can be among the game’s best. Judge and Altuve couldn’t be any more different, both in terms of their physical size and the shape of their production. Judge is a monster power hitter while Altuve is a pint-sized contact machine. Will Altuve’s size give him an edge in the MVP race? Don’t doubt the voting body’s ability to come up with a “he overcame greater odds” narrative. There’s also the “Judge isn’t clutch!” storyline that has become a thing.

Judge with runners in scoring position: .255/.381/.621 (146 wRC+)
Altuve with runners in scoring position: .310/.400/.450 (129 wRC+)

Judge in high-leverage situations: .235/.345/.498 (95 wRC+)
Altuve in high-leverage situations: .318/.400/.477 (138 wRC+)

Ultimately, I do think Altuve is going to win MVP because he had a more consistent season from start to finish, which essentially means Judge’s second half slump will cost him, even with the big September. I suppose if the Yankees rally to steal the AL East these next few days, that could shift things in Judge’s favor, but nah. I think Altuve wins with Ramirez and Judge finishing second and third in either order.

Also, another fun fact: the Yankees have more than one player worthy of MVP votes. Gary Sanchez is hitting .280/.346/.537 (131 wRC+) with 33 homers despite missing a month, and he’s thrown out 38.3% batters of faced. There are ten spots on the MVP ballot and I expect Sanchez to get a handful of down ballot votes. Putting him in the top five would be tough, but the 5-10 range? Hell yeah he’ll get votes. Maybe Didi Gregorius too. And Luis Severino. There’s always some down ballot weirdness. Judge is a legitimate MVP candidate. Gary is going to get some votes too.

Cy Young

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

Pretty amazing that we’re talking about Severino as a Cy Young candidate, isn’t it? And not as a down ballot candidate who might get a few votes. A bonafide Cy Young candidate. Kluber and Sale are off in their own little stratosphere and they’re going to finish first and second in the Cy Young voting in either order. (Kluber’s probably going to win.) Severino is the best of the rest. Check out his ranks among the 57 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title:

  • IP: 193.1 (16th)
  • ERA: 2.98 (8th)
  • FIP: 3.07 (7th)
  • K%: 29.4% (6th)
  • BB%: 6.5% (16th)
  • K/BB: 4.51 (8th)
  • GB%: 50.6% (5th)
  • fWAR: +5.8 (4th)
  • bWAR: +5.5 (9th)

What a season for Sevy. He’s been so good overall. So, so good. The Cy Young ballot runs five players deep, not ten like the MVP, and I imagine Kluber and Sale will be first and second on every single ballot. That leaves the 3-5 spots for Severino, Justin Verlander, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, and Craig Kimbrel. Plus whoever else lands a stray vote (Jason Vargas has 17 wins!). My guess is Verlander sneaks ahead of Severino and finished third in the voting behind Kluber and Sale, and Severino finishes fourth.

Rookie of the Year

There is no mystery here. Judge is going to win Rookie of the Year and he should win unanimously. The whole “first ever rookie to hit 50 freaking home runs” thing clinched it, if there was any lingering doubt. There was that weird “Andrew Benintendi might steal Rookie of the Year!” narrative a few weeks back but lol to that. The AL rookie fWAR leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge: +7.8
  2. Jordan Montgomery: +2.6
  3. Matt Chapman: +2.3
  4. Mitch Haniger: +2.3
  5. Andrew Benintendi: +2.1

Yeah. Judge is going to win in a landslide. I fully expect Judge to get basically all the first place votes, Benintendi to get basically all the second place votes, then the third place votes — there are only three spots on the Rookie of the Year ballot — get split between Montgomery, Chapman, Haniger, Matt Olson, Bradley Zimmer, Scott Alexander, and a few others.

Chad Green, by the way, is not rookie eligible, otherwise it would’ve been interesting to see whether he grabbed some third place votes. Green threw only 45.2 innings last season — the rookie limit is 50 innings — but he does not qualify as a rookie this year due to service time. Womp womp.

Manager of the Year

Moreso than any other award, the Manager of the Year is a narrative award. How the heck do you evaluate a manager? They all make seemingly silly bullpen and lineup decisions. We don’t get to see their work behind the scenes in the clubhouse either. For all intents and purposes, the Manager of the Year is the “manager of the team that most exceeded expectations” award. That’s been the prevailing theme the last few seasons.

The Yankees, pretty clearly, have exceeded expectations this season. By a lot. Many pundits, myself included, as well as the various projection systems pegged the Yankees for something like 80-82 wins. Some a little higher, some a little lower. Basically no one had them winning 90-ish games with the second best run differential (+197) in baseball. By the “team that exceeded expectations” standard, Joe Girardi should get a ton of Manager of the Year votes.

Now, here’s the problem: the Twins exist. They lost 103 games last season! Now they’re going to the postseason as the second wildcard team. That’s an amazing turnaround. I fully expect Paul Molitor to win Manager of the Year because of that. I mean, how could you vote against him when the team accomplishes that? Girardi has received Manager of the Year votes every season since 2009 and I have no reason to believe that streak will end this year. I just think it’s unlikely he’ll beat out Molitor. Maybe Girardi will finish second in the voting?

Comeback Player of the Year

The Yankees do not have a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Their best comeback player is, uh, Adam Warren? It’s probably him. Severino is just a young kid breaking out. He’s not a comeback player. I imagine Mike Moustakas is the Comeback Player of the Year favorite. He went from playing only 27 games last season due to a torn ACL to setting the franchise single-season home run record this year.

Gold Gloves

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Sanchez won’t win the Gold Glove at catcher because of the passed balls, even with his above-average framing and throwing numbers. That means the Yankees only have three Gold Glove candidates: Judge, Gregorius, and Gardner. First base and third base turned over at midseason, and center field was a bit of a revolving door. Second base? No. Sorry, Starlin Castro. But no. Some numbers for the hell of it:

  • Gardner: +13 DRS (1st among all left fielders)
  • Gregorius: +0 DRS (39th among all shortstops, and lol)
  • Judge: +10 DRS (4th among all right fielders)

Gregorius won’t win the Gold Glove because Andrelton Simmons and Francisco Lindor exist. Judge won’t win the Gold Glove because Mookie Betts exists. Gardner might win the Gold Glove in left field though. He won it last year, and Alex Gordon, his longtime competition for the award, has faded big time the last two years. It’ll come down to Gardner, Benintendi, Eddie Rosario, and Justin Upton. Gardner’s got a good shot for his second straight Gold Glove, I think.

* * *

Keep in mind these are regular season awards. The ballots are due following the end of the regular season but before the start of the postseason. Judge is definitely going to become the first Yankee to win Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996. That much is obvious. He has a chance — I wouldn’t call it a great one, but a chance — to win MVP as well, which would be the first for the Yankees since Alex Rodriguez in 2007. Sabathia finished in the top four of the Cy Young voting three straight years from 2009-11, and Severino could finish that high in the voting this year.

Just the fact we’re talking about Judge as an MVP candidate — in addition to being the runaway Rookie of the Year favorite — and Severino as a Cy Young candidate is pretty awesome. Coming into the season, I think we were all hoping they’d shake off last season’s disappointing big league stints and begin to establish themselves as building blocks going forward. They did that and more. Best case scenario seasons for both of them. Really. Winning any kind of award, or just finishing high up in the voting, would be the cherry on top of an already amazing season.

Severino and the Aarons power Yankees to 6-1 win over Rays

Another day, another win. The Yankees are playing some pretty good baseball right now. They picked up a 6-1 win over the Rays on Wednesday night and have now won 18 of their last 24 games. The Yankees are a season high 20 games over .500 and their next win will be their 90th. That seems good. The Red Sox won, so their magic number to clinch the AL East is down to two. Not much the Yankees can do that about. Just keep winning and make the BoSox earn it.

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Sevy’s Final Tune-Up
In his final start of the regular season, Luis Severino looked very much like a pitcher going through the motions and getting his work in. It wasn’t a Spring Training outing, but I’d say Severino was throwing with maybe 80% intensity. He did ramp it up at times, most notably when he struck out Corey Dickerson to end the fourth with runners on second and third, but mostly he was on cruise control. Free and easy, just staying sharp in advance of the postseason.

Severino made one mistake Wednesday night. Well, no, two mistakes. He got away with a hanging slider to the formerly good at baseball Evan Longoria in the sixth inning (Longoria pulled it foul). The one big mistake was a hanging two-strike slider to Adeiny Hechavarria in the fifth inning, which Hechavarria parked in the left field seats for a solo home run. He’s pretty annoying, huh? Hechavarria did the number on the Yankees during the Citi Field series too.

The final regular season start for Severino: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K on 91 pitches. Considering this was a postseason tune-up start, that is the baseball equivalent of messing around and getting a triple double. Severino finishes the season with a 2.98 ERA and 230 strikeouts. He’s the first Yankee starter with a sub-3.00 ERA since Andy Pettitte (2.88 ERA) and David Cone (2.82 ERA) both did it in 1997. As for the strikeouts, here is the franchise’s single-season strikeout leaderboard:

  1. 1978 Ron Guidry: 248
  2. 1904 Jack Chesbro: 239 (in 454.2 innings!)
  3. 2011 CC Sabathia & 2017 Severino: 230

Yup. Our little baby pitching boy is all grown up. Heck of a season for Severino. With all due respect to what Masahiro Tanaka did last year, Severino had the best pitched season by a Yankees since Sabathia in 2011, and maybe even further back than that. In all likelihood, the season will be on the line in the Wild Card Game the next time Sevy toes the slab, and I couldn’t be more confident in him.

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Bombs Away
For the first four innings, the Yankees did a whole bunch of nothing against Matt Andriese. Brett Gardner started the game with a double and was stranded at second. Chase Headley beat out an infield single with two outs in the second and was stranded. Aaron Judge worked a two-out walk in the third and did not move. Starlin Castro was safe at first on a Longoria error with one out in the fourth and did not advance another base.

It wasn’t until the fifth inning, after Hechavarria’s home run, that the offense kicked it into gear. Jacoby Ellsbury worked a seven-pitch walk to start the inning and Aaron Hicks followed with a ground ball single to put runners on corners with no outs. Gardner hit a bad luck line drive at Hechavarria for the first out — Hechavarria is sooo annoying — which brought Judge to the plate. He’s unclutch, I hear.

The Yankees have already clinched home field advantage in the Wild Card Game, so the pressure is off and Judge lined an unclutch two-run double into the left field corner to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Can you believe this guy? So unclutch. Andriese got to two strikes on Judge, which is where you want to be, but his fifth breaking ball of the seven-pitch at-bat was up just enough for Judge to drive it down the line. So very unclutch.

That two-run double gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the fifth. They broke it open in the sixth. Back-to-back solo homers for Castro and Greg Bird, and two-run home run for Hicks. Just like that, a 2-1 lead became a 6-1 lead. The best part? The Yankees are now holding fake press conferences in the dugout whenever someone hits a home run. Here’s Castro being interviewed by his teammates:

They call it the Toe-night Show. For real. This team is really good and also really fun. There’s something to be said for being professional and acting like you’ve been there before and all that, but the Yankees took it to the extreme for a few years. It gets boring after a while. The Yankees finally have some personality, you know? They’re good, they’re young, and they’re very fun. Love this team, you guys. Love ’em more than you’ve ever loved another team. They’re special.

Chad Green had to bail Chasen Shreve out of a two on, two out jam in the sixth inning, otherwise it was a nice easy night for the bullpen. Dellin Betances went ground out, strikeout, pop out in the eighth. Nine of his 13 pitches were strikes. He’s looked much better his last few times out. I’m not saying Betances is fixed yet or even that he will be fixed soon, but at least he’s temporarily stopped walking everyone.

How about Hicksie? He went 2-for-3 with a home run before being removed from the game Wednesday night — that’s all part of the plan as he works his way back from the oblique injury — and is 2-for-4 with the homer, three walks, and one strikeout in two games back. And he robbed a grand slam. Not a bad two days for him. Gardner and Headley each had two hits in this game as well. The Yankees had nine hits total and six went for extra bases.

And finally, the strikeout was No. 100 on the season for Betances. He and Green are the sixth pair of teammates with 100+ strikeouts in relief in baseball history. Betances is now the ninth reliever in history with four 100+ strikeout seasons. Pretty cool.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, head over to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here is the win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Rays will wrap-up this three-game series Thursday night. Only four more games remaining this season. Regular season, anyway. Sonny Gray and Jacob Faria, not Alex Cobb, are the scheduled starters. The Rays decided to shut Cobb down for the season.

Game 158: Sevy’s final (regular season) start


Tonight, Luis Severino will make his final start in what has been an overwhelmingly successful season. He’s been one of the top starters in baseball and he’ll appear on plenty of Cy Young ballots. Severino’s final start of the regular season tonight. His next start will be either a Game 163 tiebreaker to decide the AL East, or the AL Wild Card Game next week (or Game One of the ALDS, I suppose). The pressure will ratchet up a notch or three.

Because of that, I wouldn’t be surprised if Joe Girardi and the Yankees approach this as a tune-up start for Severino. Five innings or 75 pitches, whatever comes first. That sort of thing. Enough work to stay sharp but not so much that it could carry over and have some sort of effect on his next start. We’ll see. The Yankees are still alive in the AL East race, so get another win and continue to make the Red Sox sweat. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. DH Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Luis Severino

It was uncomfortably hot most of the afternoon in New York. It has cooled down a bit since then, mostly because there’s a little rain in the forecast. Nothing heavy and hopefully nothing that will delay the game. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and WPIX will have the broadcast. Last WPIX game of the season! Enjoy the game.

The Yankees are built to survive a Wild Card Game disaster

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

With less than seven days to go, the Yankees will almost certainly be playing in the American League Wild Card Game against the Minnesota Twins.

And things could go really wrong.

You can picture it. Luis Severino gives up a quick home run to Brian Dozier and the Twins strike early. The Yankees go down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the first and then Byron Buxton and co. draw out Severino’s pitch count while adding a few more runs.

All of a sudden, the Yankees find themselves down four or more runs just a few innings into the game and Severino is out. Your offense isn’t even on the second time through the lineup and you’re already desperate for runs. At this point, you begin thinking about the unfairness of the Wild Card Game while realizing that 2018 could be a much better team.

Most teams can’t survive this scenario. The Twins and their patchwork bullpen can’t survive this scenario. But the Yankees aren’t the Twins and they aren’t most teams. They have all the tools to win even if the first few innings go haywire on Tuesday.

There are plenty of examples as to how the Yankees still win in this case but the epitome was when they did almost this exact thing last week. Facing the Twins, Severino threw 70 taxing pitches and allowed three runs in three innings. The Yankees were left knowing they needed to make up a 3-0 deficit while getting six innings out of their bullpen.

Four batters later, it was 3-3 and the Bombers blasted Minnesota for 11 unanswered runs en route to victory.

There are two primary ways that the Yankees are perfectly tailored to win this type of ballgame. The first way? Offense. There’s tremendous power throughout the lineup. They’ll be able to trot out a lineup with six 20-home run hitters, not to mention players like Matt Holliday, Starlin Castro and Greg Bird, who’ve each shown the ability to pop balls out of Yankee Stadium. It sometimes takes only one or two long balls to get back into a game and they can do that.

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

But it’s more than just power. It’s how this lineup grinds starters. They take pitches, draw walks and rack up baserunners, forcing stressful pitches by the handful even when they’re not converting with runners in scoring position. Let’s note some examples of opposing starters out before the end of the fifth inning this month.

Sept. 3: Chris Sale, 109 pitches over 4.1 IP
Sept. 4: Dylan Bundy, 98 pitches over 4+ IP
Sept. 5: Jeremy Hellickson, 64 pitches over 2.1 IP
Sept. 7: Kevin Gausman, 79 pitches over 3 IP
Sept. 10: A.J. Griffin, 59 pitches over 3+ IP
Sept. 11: Jake Odorizzi, 94 pitches over 3.2 IP
Sept. 13: Chris Archer, 92 pitches over 4+ IP
Sept. 16: Hellickson, 68 pitches over 3+ IP
Sept. 19: Jose Berrios, 90 pitches over 3.1 IP
Sept. 26: Blake Snell, 49 pitches over 1+ IP

There are a lot of Orioles on that list, but also some solid pitchers, notably Chris Sale and Jose Berrios. That doesn’t even include Wade Miley’s two-out, six-run disaster from two weeks ago.

In all, only eight of the 24 starters the Yankees have faced this month have gotten outs in the sixth inning. Only three completed the sixth. That’s a lot of outs for any bullpen to get, particularly one as weak as the Twins. There aren’t any arms out there that the Yankees should fear.

While the offense can grind pitchers into oblivion, the Yankees’ stellar bullpen will go to work. If Severino doesn’t make it through five, let alone three, on Tuesday, then Chad Green is likely the first arm out of the bullpen. It’s not hard to see him throwing three near-perfect innings and keeping the Twins off the board, riding his fastball and slider to plenty of strikeouts.

After him, you can get innings out of David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman, who have each been lights out this month. That’s before you get to Tommy Kahnle, who’s also been strong this month, or Dellin Betances, who’s in the midst of a slump. Heck, you could use Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia or Masahiro Tanaka out of the pen if needed.

Most teams don’t have more than one or two weapons like that. Normal playoff teams might have three-plus. The Twins might not have any outside of whomever they start on Tuesday (Ervin Santana?). The Yankees’ crew can keep the team in the game and wait for their potent offense to strike.

And this is before you even get to the bench. While the team hasn’t had much of a bench at times this year, they do now. One of Headley, Bird, Holliday and Todd Frazier will be on the bench and two of Hicks, Ellsbury and Clint Frazier will be too. You’ll have Tyler Wade available to pinch run if they need to go that route. That’s plenty of solid OBP and pop guys to produce should Joe Girardi want to push a few buttons.

The point to all of this is simple. The Wild Card Game is a crapshoot. Even though the Yankees will go in as the superior team, things rarely shake out as planned over nine innings and Girardi may need to call a few audibles. But even if the Twins get off to a hot start, the Yankees are built to come back and make their lives hell in the process. In other words, the Yankees can easily remind Minnesota that it ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Poll: The Wild Card Game pitching plan


In all likelihood the Yankees will host the Twins in the 2017 AL Wild Card Game next Tuesday. The Yankees are still alive in the AL East and the Angels are still alive in the wildcard race, sure, but everything is pointing toward Yankees vs. Twins at Yankee Stadium next week. It would be an upset if the Wild Card Game featured a different matchup.

Tonight Luis Severino will make his final regular season start in preparation for that Wild Card Game. The Yankees haven’t officially announced him as the starter yet — he could start a potential Game 163 should the Yankees and Red Sox tie for the division title — but again, everything points in that direction. Severino will start the Wild Card Game with Sonny Gray, tomorrow’s starter, the backup plan.

Severino has of course been brilliant this season, throwing 187.1 innings with a 3.03 ERA (3.08 FIP). His 29.0% strikeout rate and 4.42 K/BB ratio are both eighth best among the 57 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Severino is going to finish in the top five of the AL Cy Young voting. He might even finish third behind Corey Kluber and Chris Sale (in whatever order). He’s been outstanding all year.

In the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, of course you want your best starter on the mound, and when you have someone as good as Severino, it’s an easy call. With all due to respect to Gray and Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees are absolutely right to give the ball to Severino next Tuesday. There is, however, another line of thinking in the Wild Card Game. Instead of using a starter, just use relievers. Make it a bullpen game.

Dave Cameron first championed the idea back in 2012, when the Wild Card Game first became a thing, and since then more and more folks have mentioned it as a viable Wild Card Game plan. A few days ago Brian Kenny did a whole MLB Network segment on the Yankees going with a bullpen game in the Wild Card Game next week.

The idea, if you didn’t watch the video, is that relievers in short bursts are generally more effective than starters going through the lineup multiple times. The Yankees are loaded with power bullpen arms. Tommy Kahnle has been outrageously good all season and especially the last few weeks. He’s finally settled into a nice groove in pinstripes and is what, the fourth best reliever in the bullpen? Maybe the fifth best?

Come the Wild Card Game, Joe Girardi is going to be itching to go to the bullpen, especially if the Yankees take a lead early in the game. The Yankees are built to smother teams in the late innings with all those power relievers. So, rather than start Severino and hope he pitches well, why not just go straight to that bullpen? That’s the idea. Here’s what a bullpen game could look like for the Yankees:

  • First Inning: Chad Green
  • Second Inning: Green
  • Third Inning: Green or Dellin Betances if Green’s pitch count is elevated
  • Fourth Inning: Betances
  • Fifth Inning: Betances or Kahnle
  • Sixth Inning: Kahnle or David Robertson
  • Seventh Inning: Robertson
  • Eighth Inning: Robertson or Aroldis Chapman
  • Ninth Inning: Chapman

That would still leave a hopefully healthy Adam Warren in reserve. And, if the game goes to extra innings, the Yankees could always turn to Severino then. They’d let their top bullpen arms, all those strikeout heavy relievers, air it out for an inning or two in the must-win game. Then, if that works, Severino is available for Game One of the ALDS and he could potentially start two games that series rather than one.

It sounds like a wonderful and amazing plan that would increase New York’s chances of winning that Wild Card Game. It also sounds — to me at least — like one of those things that is great on paper but not quite as easy to put into practice. The more relievers you use, the more likely it is you run into someone who doesn’t have it working that day. And what happens when you ask two or three relievers to go two innings when they’re not used to doing it? What happens when you break their routine and ask them to warm up a few innings earlier than usual?

Severino, meanwhile, is really freaking good! It’s not like the Yankees are limping into the postseason and will have to start Jaret Wright in an elimination game. They clinched early and Severino has been one of the three best starters in the AL all season, and they were able to line him up for that game. That’s what every team wants to do going into the Wild Card Game, right? Line up your best starter and have the bullpen ready to go at the first sign of trouble. The Giants did it with Madison Bumgarner in 2014 and 2016, the Astros did it with Dallas Keuchel in 2015, and the Cubs did it with Jake Arrieta in 2015. Pretty solid plan, handing the ball to an ace.

For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi told Bryan Hoch he is not a fan of the bullpen game idea in the Wild Card Game. The Yankees are one of the most statistically inclined and forward-thinking teams in baseball. I’m certain they’ve at least entertained the idea of a bullpen game. I mean, how could you not at least kick the idea around when you have this bullpen? Like I said, Girardi is going to be itching to turn the game over to his bullpen. Green is going to be warming up at the first sign of trouble. I know it, you know it, Girardi knows it, everyone knows it.

No matter what you or I think, the Yankees are going to start Severino in the Wild Card Game, not roll with a bullpen game. I don’t think we’ll see any team go with the bullpen game idea anytime soon, to be honest. This hypothetical scenario is begging for a poll, however, so let’s get to it.

What should the Yankees do in the Wild Card Game?
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