Minor League Notes: Assignments, Spring Reports, Judge, International Spending

Pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)
The new pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)

The Yankees open the 2015 regular season tomorrow, and a few days later the minor league season will get underway as well. Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all begin their seasons this coming Thursday. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then.

Opening Day assignments for top prospects

The full minor league rosters have not yet been released and won’t be a few days, though Josh Norris was able to get his hands on Opening Day assignments for most of the Yankees’ top prospects. The list:

Norris says the assignments could change slightly before the start of the season, but for the most part they’re set. Sanchez is going back to the Thunder to continue working on his defense with coaches and ex-catchers Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere, which I don’t love, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I assume Avelino, Katoh, and Mateo will rotate between second, short, and DH like Avelino, Katoh, and Wade did last year before Avelino got hurt. I’m little surprised Mateo is going to Charleston — he’s played only games in 15 rookie ball, that’s it — but the Yankees have never been shy about aggressively promoting their best teenage players. Otherwise these assignments are fairly straight forward. No major surprises.

Notes from the backfields in Tampa

Both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Jeff Moore (no subs. req’d) recently posted a collection of notes after watching minor league games on the backfields all around Florida. Law got a look at Mateo, saying he likes “how well he keeps his hands inside the ball” and added he “liked the potential of the hit tool but was hoping to see more polish on both sides of the ball.” The polish will come. It’s only Spring Training and Mateo is still just a 19-year-old kid.

Meanwhile, Moore saw Judge, Bird, and RHP Bryan Mitchell. “What’s impressive is (Judge) seems to get a little better each time I see him. The at-bats have gotten tougher and more advanced, with a better plan each time out,” wrote Moore. He also said he sees Bird as “a potential regular first baseman” and his “power is very real, more real than he gets credit for.” As for Mitchell, Moore says his fastball/curveball combination “screams reliever, and possibly a darn good one.”

Law still ranks Judge 23rd in latest Top 50 Prospects list

Last week, Law released an updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball (subs. req’d). There are only very minor changes from his top 100 list in February, with the most notable being the addition of Red Sox IF Yoan Moncada, who slots in at No. 16. Even with Moncada joining the list, Judge stays in the same No. 23 spot because he jumped over Rockies RHP Jon Gray, who hasn’t looked like himself this spring. Judge remains the third outfielder on the list behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law is the high man on Judge based on all this spring’s other top 100 lists. That’s cool with me.

Yankees spent $17.83M on international players in 2014

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees spent a ridiculous $17.83M on international prospects last year, easily the most in baseball. They spent more than the number two (Rays, $6.11M), three (Red Sox, $5.63M), and four (Astros, $5.42M) teams combined and more than the bottom ten teams combined ($16.9575M). Just to be clear, this is for the 2014 calendar year, not the 2014-15 signing period.

The Yankees handed out three of the five largest, six of the 14 largest, and 12 of the 40 largest signing bonuses to international prospects during the 2014 calendar year, according to Badler. We still don’t have a final number for the total bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period, but the total investment is clearly going to be north of $30M between bonuses and penalties. Most of that $17.83M last year was spent on July 2nd, the first day of the 2014-15 signing period. Now the Yankees just have to turn these kids into big leaguers and tradeable prospects.

Yankees release nine more minor leaguers

The Yankees have released seven more minor leaguers according to Matt Eddy: OF Yeicok Calderon, RHP Tim Giel, OF Robert Hernandez, RHP Stefan Lopez, RHP Matt Noteware, 1B Dalton Smith, and IF Graham Ramos. Dan Pfeiffer says OF Adonis Garcia was released as well, and OF Adam Silva announced on Facebook he was also released.

First things first: no more Yeicokshots!, sadly. Hernandez was signed in January, so his stint with the organization didn’t last long. Lopez led NCAA in saves in 2012 and had some potential, but he fell in love with his fastball so much in college that he lost all feel for his slider and became a one-pitch guy. The Yankees signed Giel, Noteware, and Ramos as undrafted free agents within the last two years to help fill out minor league rosters. That’s about it.

Old Timers’ Game coming to Triple-A Scranton

And finally, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre franchise is holding an Old Timers’ Game on June 21st, reports Donnie Collins. The event will raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. “I expect the ballpark to be sold out — and standing room only. That’s the goal,” said RailRiders’ co-managing partner to Grant Cagle to Collins. A bunch of ex-Yankees will be in attendance — not sure who, exactly — to play in the Old Timers’ Game and/or mingle with fans during a meet-and-greet and autograph session. That should be fun.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves


3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.

10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:

Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st

Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.

Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.

As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.

Open Thread: April 4th Camp Notes

The Yankees wrapped up the fake baseball portion of the 2015 season this afternoon with a 4-3 win over the Nationals at Nationals Park. Stephen Drew and Chris Young each hit a two-run homer, driving the offense. Brett Gardner had a pair of singles while Brian McCann and Didi Gregorius each doubled. It was really windy and Didi’s double was wind-aided, as in it was a standard fly ball the wind carried away from the center fielder.

Nathan Eovaldi started, allowed three runs in a rough first, then cruised for the next four innings. He struck out six. I’m pretty excited about him, this afternoon’s first inning notwithstanding. Dellin Betances allowed a bloop single and a walk in his scoreless inning, striking out the side. PitchFX says he averaged 95.3 mph and topped out at 96.4 mph, which is good. He still seemed to be fighting his mechanics a bit but otherwise looked much better than he has in recent weeks. Dellin’s not all the way back yet but this afternoon was definitely a step forward. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest of the day’s news:

  • If you missed it earlier, Austin Romine has been designated for assignment. John Ryan Murphy will be the backup catcher, which is what was expected basically the entire offseason. The Opening Day roster is pretty much set now. The Yankees just have to officially announce it. That’ll happen tomorrow probably.
  • Masahiro Tanaka said he’s not expecting to throw as hard this year because he’s changing his approach and focusing on sinkers, basically. “I’m trying to establish a certain pitching style for me this year, so maybe it’s not the wisest to ask for velocity from me this year. I think it will be a little bit, as far as miles per hour go, lower than last year.” [Dan Martin]
  • And that’s pretty much it for camp notes for the spring. The Yankees are off tomorrow then play Opening Day on Monday, at home in Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET. Hooray for that.

This is your open thread for the night. This afternoon’s game against the Nats will be replayed on MLB Network at 3am ET tomorrow morning, if 3am baseball is your thing. MLB Network is showing the Dodgers and Angels live later tonight plus you’ve got college hoops and all the local hockey and basketball teams in action aside from the Knicks. Talk about whatever you like here.

Yankees designate Austin Romine for assignment, John Ryan Murphy wins backup catcher job


The backup catcher competition is over. The Yankees have designated Austin Romine for assignment, the team announced following this afternoon’s game. “He had a tough spring. You wish the best for the kid,” said Joe Girardi according to Ryan Hatch.

Romine, 26, is out of minor league options, meaning he couldn’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers. The DFA gives the Yankees more time to figure things out — they now have ten days to trade, release, or waive Romine. If he clears waivers, he can go to Triple-A as a non-40-man roster player.

The move means John Ryan Murphy will be Brian McCann‘s backup to start the season, as expected. The writing has been on the wall since last season. Although Romine spent most of 2013 with the Yankees, Murphy got called up last year when Frankie Cervelli got hurt and then again as the third catcher in September.

The 25-man Opening Day roster is set, for all intents and purposes. The Yankees just have to make it official. Murphy will be the backup catcher, Gregorio Petit the backup infielder, and Chasen Shreve and Chris Martin the sixth and seventh relievers in the bullpen.

2015 Draft: Mike Matuella to undergo Tommy John surgery

According to Keith Law, Duke RHP Mike Matuella suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament recently and will undergo Tommy John surgery. Matuella was a candidate to go first overall in this June’s amateur draft. He’s the second top draft prospect to need his elbow rebuilt within the last two weeks, joining Brady Aiken.

Matuella, 20, had a 1.08 ERA with 24 strikeouts and eleven walks in 25 innings across six starts this spring. He had a limited pitch count in several games due to forearm tightness and a back issue that was eventually diagnosed as spondylolysis, a manageable vertebra defect. MLB.com ranked Matuella as the second best prospect available in this year’s draft before his elbow gave out. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Undrafted as a Maryland high schooler in 2012, Matuella since has emerged as the player with the highest upside in the current college crop. He can overpower hitters with his 93-97 mph fastball and make them look bad with his curveball and slider. If that’s not enough, he also demonstrates feel for his changeup and throwing strikes. His 6-foot-7 frame creates difficult plane and angle for his pitches, making him that much tougher.

As I mentioned in the Aiken post, there is plenty of recent precedent for a player with elbow ligament issues to be selected high in the draft. Just last season ECU RHP Jeff Hoffman and UNLV RHP Erick Fedde had Tommy John surgery in May only to be drafted ninth and 18th overall in June, respectively. The Yankees also selected Andrew Brackman with the 30th pick in 2007 knowing he’d likely need his elbow rebuilt shortly after the draft, which he eventually did.

Matuella seems to be exactly the type of pitcher the Yankees tend to target these days. He’s physically huge (listed at 6-foot-7 and 220 lbs.), he throws hard, and he has a history of throwing strikes (career 6.8 BB% at Duke). Unlike Brackman, Matuella isn’t splitting time between two sports and his mechanics aren’t in need of major refinement. The Yankees have the 16th overall pick and plenty of draft pool space. I prefer Aiken over Matuella as a prospect, and while Matuella’s back issue is not insignificant, rolling the dice on either would be a worthy gamble worth for the Bombers, in my opinion.

Spring Training Game Thread: The Last Fake Game


The Yankees are in Washington this afternoon for one last spring tune-up game against the Nationals. They’re off tomorrow then will open the 2015 regular season at home against the Blue Jays on Monday afternoon. I’m so ready for the season. Let’s get these last nine innings over with and get the regular season started already.

Today’s reason to watch: Nate Eovaldi! We haven’t seen a whole lot of Eovaldi this spring. He started a bunch of minor league games last month and some of his Grapefruit League starts weren’t televised. Eovaldi threw something like 20 innings last month but only four of five innings were actually watchable, that’s it. Also, Dellin Betances is scheduled to pitch today. It’ll be his last chance to get his mechanics straightened out before the games count for real.

As I said, the Yankees are in Washington to play the Nationals at Nationals Park. A real live Major League stadium with three decks. It’s been too long. Here is the Nats’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup, which is the same lineup I expect to see on Opening Day aside from the starting pitcher:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. DH Alex Rodriguez
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Available Position Players: C John Ryan Murphy, C Austin Romine, IF Gregorio Petit, 1B/OF Garrett Jones, OF Chris Young, C Eddy Rodriguez, 2B Rob Refsnyder, IF Nick Noonan, OF Ramon Flores, OF Ben Gamel, OF Slade Heathcott, and UTIL Jonathan Galvez are all on the lineup card. I’m not sure who’s coming off the bench to play though.

Available Pitchers: RHP Esmil Rogers, RHP Chris Martin, RHP David Carpenter, RHP Dellin Betances, LHP Justin Wilson, LHP Chasen Shreve, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Jose Ramirez, and LHP Tyler Webb are all on the lineup card. Again, not sure who’s scheduled to pitch aside from Dellin.

It’s sunny but chilly and windy in Washington. Temperatures are only in the mid-50s. There is no YES broadcast for this afternoon’s game but you can watch live on MLB.tv anywhere or MASN in the Nats’ home market. There is no MLB.tv blackout and this is the MLB.tv Free Game of the Day, so you won’t need a subscription to watch either. First pitch is scheduled for just after 1pm ET. Enjoy.

Girardi confirms Yanks will head into 2015 with co-closers


When the 2015 season begins on Monday, the Yankees won’t have a closer. They’ll have two closers. Or they’ll have two half-closers. Something like that. Yesterday, Joe Girardi confirmed the Yankees will start the season with lefty Andrew Miller and righty Dellin Betances as co-closers, something he’s been hinting at since even before Spring Training. The eighth and ninth innings will be based on matchups.

“I really think that if you do it that way, and as long as you’re prepared, it has a chance to be advantageous to you,” said Girardi to Chad Jennings yesterday. “My thought has been more like with a power lefty who strikes out a lot of guys and a power righty, the lineups just might match up where one day he’s the eighth inning guy and then one day he’s the ninth inning guy a little bit better. I think you start managing who you’re going to use (in the ninth) in about the sixth inning, because you try to prepare them.”

This isn’t a situation where the Yankees don’t have a viable closer on the roster. They have two very qualified closer candidates in Miller and Betances — two qualified candidates when Betances is right, that is, and he hasn’t been right this spring — and selecting either one as the traditional closer would have been easy and completely justifiable. Instead, Miller will face the tough lefties regardless of whether they’re due to bat in the eighth or ninth while Betances gets the tough righties.

For what it’s worth, both Miller and Betances have being saying all the right things about the possibility of being used as co-closers since the idea was first broached before Spring Training. Both guys say they don’t care about closing, they just want to win, sometimes the eighth inning can be just as important as the ninth, all that good stuff. Girardi ran the idea by them again earlier this week and both guys are still all for it.

“I’ve talked to both. They’re concerned about winning more than (roles), in the sense of I’m this guy, I’m this guy. That’s the sense I’ve got from them,” added Girardi. “Now, could it iron itself out and you start to do it one way? Yes. But we talked a little bit about it yesterday. I’ll continue to talk about it with my coaches and (pitching coach Larry Rothschild) and his feelings about it as they get a feel, and (bullpen coach) Gary Tuck who’s in the bullpen, what do you think the importance of it is that we actually set a role? But as of right now, we haven’t felt that we have to.”

In theory, co-closers is a great idea. Girardi is meticulous with his bullpen usage, both matchups and workloads, so I have no reason to think he couldn’t pull this off. It’s been done before, most notably by the 2009 Braves with Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, but it certainly is unconventional and ripe for second guessing. Optimizing reliever usage by putting them in situations where they are most likely to help the team is much better than marrying them to specific innings.

Now, that said, Dellin’s spring performance is a problem we can’t ignore. It doesn’t look like he’s hurt, it looks like his problems are purely mechanical, but Betances has a long history of mechanical issues and he’s yet to sort them out. The Yankees open the season against the Blue Jays and Red Sox, two teams will a ton of very good right-handed hitters, so tossing Dellin out there in the ninth inning with a one-run lead against a bunch of righties isn’t so comforting at this very moment.

Until Betances gets sorted out, David Carpenter might be a safer bet for high-leverage work against right-handed hitters. Girardi told Bryan Hoch he doesn’t consider Chasen Shreve or Justin Wilson to be lefty specialists, though those guys figure to handle the middle innings, not the eighth and ninth. Maybe the co-closer system should be Miller and Carpenter for a little while until Betances is back to where he needs to be. My guess is Dellin will be used alongside Miller as the co-closer until he pitches his way out of the job though.