Calm Down, It’s Only Spring Training

Prior, you stay safe inside that go-cart and don't hurt yourself, so you can pitch during the season, all right? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In a few hours, we will be all be watching real, live baseball. We will be watching New York Yankees (some more questionable than others) play major league baseball. Some of them – 24, 42, 30, 2, 13 – will be wearing numbers that we recognize. Most of them will be wearing weird numbers we don’t know. We will judge them by a tiny selection of at-bats off pitchers, many of which are struggling for major league jobs. We will wonder what this means for the rest of the season.

Now, I’m as guilty as anyone at this. I’m going to try my Mo-damned best not to yell at my computer during Spring Training. I will try my best not to moan in anguish when Gardner lays down a sacrifice bunt or get too excited watching Austin Romine hit home runs. Because, let’s be honest, it’s Spring Training. The stats don’t matter. Okay, maybe they matter a little. No, wait, they really, really don’t. Try your absolute hardest to pay no attention to anything that happens. Just soak it in. It’s been a long offseason.

The 2009 season was a particularly good example of how Spring Training stats mean absolutely nothing. Angel Berroa hit .377 with seven doubles and two home runs in 61 plate appearances, but couldn’t even manage to stay on the team the whole season and the Yankees released him in July to have the Mets sign him. Through the entire regular season, he only managed to hit .143/.208/.184 in six less PA. Another stunning example of this is the notorious Kei Igawa, who posted an impressive 0.73 ERA in 12.1 IP. Luckily, he had absolutely no major league innings that year. Chien-Ming Wang (4.15 ERA in  21 IP) had a better ERA than CC Sabathia (4.26). Brett Gardner hit three home runs in 64 PA in Spring Training and 3 home runs in 248 PA during the regular season.

Things didn’t change in 2010, as far as random statistics went. Colin Curtis, who hit that hit that memorable pinch-hit home run, had two home runs in ’10 Spring Training and went 6-for-12. Mark Teixeira, king of glacial Aprils, went .362 in 47 PAs with three home runs. Francisco Cervelli hit .344 with two doubles. Sabathia, again, didn’t do so hot: he picked up an impressive 7.23 ERA with 15 ER. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that guy pitching on my Opening Day.

The Yankees as a team went 9-20 in Spring Training 2001 and, if my memory serves, they did pretty decent when it mattered.

So, here’s the end to a short post: don’t worry about Spring Training. Stay away from the bridges. Try not to accuse Cano (who, by the way, posted a .377 with two home runs and four doubles in Spring Training ’10) of being lazy, and don’t get on Sabathia for his bad Marches. Try to enjoy watching Bartolo Colon either a) pitch decently or b) make a fool out of himself. Either way, it’ll be entertaining. The games don’t count. Baseball’s been gone for a really, really long time. Let’s try to enjoy at least one game before we start filling up the game threads with doom proclamations and death threats. Just one. That’s not too much to ask, right?

(Just a warning: if you do start with the doom proclamations, I (and many other people) am going to make fun of you.)

Open Thread: February 25th Camp Notes

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The latest on the last day without Yankees baseball until (hopefully) November…

I’m not sure if you’ve seen it already, but is having this Dream Job contest where all the winner does for a year is watch baseball and blog about it, basically. I applied, and I don’t think you should. My odds will be better that way. Anywho, here’s the open thread. The Rangers, Devils, Knicks, and Nets are all playing, so there’s enough going on to keep you entertained through this yucky weather. Smile, there’s a baseball game on tomorrow.

The Banuelos Watch

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

If you’re a new reader, let me explain what all this about. Every season we select one prospect to follow as the season progresses, tracking their stats in the sidebar for all to see and celebrate. Last year we watched Jesus Montero, but it’s time to get back to our starting pitcher roots.

Pint-sized (5-foot-10) lefty Manny Banuelos is the best pitching prospect in the Yankees system, owner of a 2.59 ERA in 215.2 career innings. He’s struck out 228 (9.5 K/9) in that time and walked just 66 (2.8 BB/9), surrendering just ten homers (0.4 HR/9). Banuelos reached Double-A at age 19 last season, just months after having an emergency appendectomy. He’ll return there this year, but there’s a good chance he won’t stay there for long.

Past watches have highlighted guys like Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, so Banuelos has a tough act to follow. Once the actual watch goes up on the sidebar (later tonight or tomorrow, it’ll be below the Opening Day Countdown), you’ll see two rows of stats. The top one will be Banuelos’ most recent start, and the bottom will be his season performance. It’s pretty simple, but it’s always worth explaining.

The minor league season doesn’t begin until the first full week of April, but I plan on keeping track of everything this year, including the appearances Banuelos makes in the Grapefruit League. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy following along this year.

Yankees scouts bearing down on clubs with excess pitching

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees have their scouts bearing down on teams that they believe will have pitching available during the summer. Those teams: the Cardinals, White Sox, Braves, Athletics, and Angels. We’ve covered every one of those teams at some point this winter except for the Braves, and there’s still plenty of time to do that.

This isn’t a surprise, of course the Yanks were going to have their scouts looking at teams with pitching. It’s good to see exactly what teams they’re focusing on though, and as long as it’s not Kyle Lohse, I’m cool with it.

The RAB Radio Show: February 25, 2011

With Mike out again, I’m bringing in the heavy artillery. Today’s co-host is Jay Gordon, whom you might know better as @jaydestro on Twitter. We talk some Andrew Brackman, some young arms vying for roster spots later this year, and, really, young talent in general.

Then we move onto the CC Sabathia opt-out issue, but in a way we haven’t done on RAB. Basically, the idea is to look into the future and see what the free agent market could potentially bear. Jay reads down the names from the 2012-2013 free agent class, and we try to decide if any of these guys is going to hit the market in the first place.

Podcast run time 52:57

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

25th Spot Candidates: Brandon Laird

(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

The focus this spring is on the final two rotation spots, but that’s not the only position battle in Yankees camp. There is also a competition for the final spot on the bench. The main contestants, it seems, are Eric Chavez, Ronnie Belliard, Brandon Laird, Justin Maxwell, and Greg Golson. Each player brings something different to the table, so the Yankees will have options. In fact, it is exactly that — options, but in a different sense — that might keep the best of the lot in AAA to start the season.

Usually when a player is drafted twice, his position improves the second time around. Not so with Laird. The Indians took him in the 27th round of the 2005 draft. Then, when he entered two years later, the Yankees took him in the same round. He signed the second time and played the rest of the season in the rookie Gulf Coast League, where he produced unsurprisingly solid numbers. But it wasn’t until 2010 that he’d really break out.

Despite playing in a home park that hitters typically hate, Laird produced incredible power numbers in AA Trenton, slugging 23 homers to go along with his 22 doubles. The end result was a .291/.355/.523 line and a late-season promotion to AAA. It also opened the Yankees’ eyes a bit. Knowing that he probably wouldn’t fit at third base — the team is set there for a number of years, after all — they decided to have him try the outfield in the Arizona Fall League. He enters camp this year as a guy who can play first, third, and the corner outfield positions. That makes him more versatile than a number of other 25th spot contestants.

When you see Laird’s breakout and then read stories like the one Marc Carig published this morning, it’s tough not to root for Laird. He is much improved on defense, and he could very well have the best bat of the guys competing for that spot. The problem, of course, is that the Yankees don’t necessarily want to pigeonhole him as a utility guy just yet. That’s probably the only role he can fill on this team, unless his bat takes another big step forward this year. The best option, then, is to send him down to AAA and let him get regular reps. He can provide depth in case of injury or ineffectiveness, and he might be a useful chip at the trade deadline.

If the Yankees were picking the 25th roster spot based on versatility and production potential, I’d have to think Laird would get the nod. He can play more positions than Eric Chavez, and he has a better bat than Belliard and Golson, and probably Maxwell, too. But since the Yankees have options, and since he’s young and potentially valuable down the road, they’ll most likely preserve their depth and go with someone else in the 25th spot. Meanwhile, Laird can get more reps, especially in the outfield, which will go towards building his value as a bench player or a trade chip.

Make no mistake: the Yankees have a valuable player in Laird. It just doesn’t seem as though this is his year to break camp with the team. If he continues hitting like he did last year, he’ll get his share of shots. But this year the Yankees will be better served by letting Laird play every day and taking someone else in a spot that might account for 150 PA during the course of a season.