Fan Confidence Poll: March 7th, 2011

Record Last Week: 2-4-1 (30 RS, 37 RA)
Spring Training Record: 3-5-1 (31 RS, 45 RA)
Schedule This Week: vs. Phillies (Mon. on YES, split squad), @ Orioles (Mon., split squad), @ Braves (Tues. on  YES/MLBN), vs. Pirates (Weds.), @ Phillies (Thurs.), vs. Braves (Fri. on YES/MLBN, split squad), @ Blue Jays (Fri., split squad), @ Nationals (Sat. on MLBN), vs. Twins (Sun. on YES)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Checking in on Kevin Slowey

While most of the attention has been paid to Francisco Liriano, it turns out another Twins starter might be on the trading block. In yesterday’s (Insider only) column, Buster Olney says that the Twinkies are “very much willing to talk” about dealing right-hander Kevin Slowey. Minnesota has excess starting pitching (if such a thing exists) and the Yankees are in need of some, so it’s a match made in baseball rumor heaven. Let’s explore…

Changeup! (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Slowey, 27 in May, is the epitome of a homegrown Twins pitcher. In parts of four big league seasons since being drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft, he’s unintentionally walked just 77 batters in 473.1 IP, good for a 1.46 uIBB/9. Add in all two of the intentional walks he’s issued, and it’s still a 1.50 BB/9. Among pitchers with at least 400 IP since 2007, only Roy Halladay (1.42 BB/9) is a better control artist. That’s what Minnesota preaches, pound the zone and limit walks.

If a pitcher is around the zone that much, he’s bound to give up a fair amount of hits, and Slowey is no different. Opponents have hit .276 with a .307 BABIP against him in his career, and his strikeout rate is pretty unspectacular at 6.86 K/9. Slowey’s swing-and-miss rate is consistently below average and declining, from 8.7% in 2008 to 7.7% in 2009 to 6.2% in 2010. He doesn’t make up for the lack of strikeouts with ground balls either, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Slowey’s career ground ball rate is just 31.6%, the lowest of any pitcher in the game since he debuted. Worst of all, his ability to get grounders is trending in the wrong direction…

Green is grounders, blue is fly balls, red is line drives.

That’s a bit of a problem. A mediocre strikeout rate and basically no ground balls is a recipe for disaster in Yankee Stadium, though at least Slowey mitigates the damage somewhat by limiting walks. Left-handed batters have also given him trouble (.354 wOBA against), though he doesn’t exactly shut down righties either (.330 wOBA against). On the contract front, Slowey was arbitration-eligible for the first time heading in the 2011 season, during which he’ll earn $2.7M. Slowey is also be under team control in 2012 and 2013, a nice little perk.

While he may not have the sexy peripheral stats that Liriano does, Slowey does offer the same questionable health track record. He’s been on the disabled list in each of the last three years, each time with an arm issue. Last year it was a triceps strain (15 days missed), the year before it was surgery to remove bone chips from his wrist (101 days missed), and the year before that it was a biceps strain (34 days missed). Slowey’s also missed a total of 38 days with a sore elbow, an ankle contusion, a tight oblique, a wrist contusion, and an infected hangnail over the last three years, though none required a DL stint. Clearly, the guy is a risky proposition.

As much as I love the low walk rate, it’s basically Slowey’s only redeeming quality. I loathe the whole “pitch to contact” approach, especially when we’re talking about an extreme fly ball pitcher. If the guy is a ground ball machine like say, Sergio Mitre, then I can deal. But fly balls? No way, that’s asking for trouble. Add in the injury history, and there’s enough red flags here for me to say the Yankees should steer clear of Slowey. I’d rather see them roll the Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia dice than give away a prospect(s) for the Twins’ right-hander.

Open Thread: March 6th Camp Notes

Awesome. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

News of the day…

Here’s your open thread for the night. The Knicks are the only local team playing a meaningful game, but SNY is showing a replay to today’s Mets-Red Sox game while MLB Network will carry a replay of the Angels-Diamondbacks game. You all know what to do, so fire away.

Major League ManBan?

I wonder if Manny Banuelos will be in pinstripes before a September call-up.

Also winner of the 'Best Photo Day Picture' contest without question. (Getty Images/Al Bello)

Calm down, I’m not saying it’s a good idea. But I also don’t think it’s impossible. Let’s review what we know and see how likely it is.

First: he’s rocked Spring Training with five strikeouts (including Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Inge looking) and a walk in 3 IP. He went from scraping prospect lists (in 2010, he was 96 on Keith Law’s and didn’t show up on Baseball America) to being in the top 20. Michael Kay and John Sterling are singing his praises in between being in awe of Ryan Pope’s college (Savannah College of Art and Design) and confusing Brandon Laird with his brother, Gerald. Keith Law thinks he could pitch in the majors now. Frankie Piliere loves his three plus pitches. He’ll be only 20 next week. Life is good.

We also know he’s not going to break camp in the Bronx. He’s been penned to start with the Trenton Thunder, which is exactly where he belongs. He has a whopping 15 IP above A-ball and last year threw only 65 IP due to an appendectomy in the beginning of the season. It was an impressive 65 IP with a 2.58 ERA and an 11.8 k/9, but a small sample nonetheless. Though we’ve yet to see how well he can perform over a full season facing batters above A-level, it’s obvious that Banuelos has something going. The peripherals are there.

Make no mistake, it’s not a good idea to have ManBan pitching August games in the Bronx. If Banuelos is putting on pinstripes, the fifth starter problem hasn’t been solved. Someone is probably injured. The AAA kids aren’t doing well enough to get the call themselves. If Banuelos blows through a few months of AA, puts on his Scranton Yankee outfit and absolutely dominates, I think he’s just as likely to be promoted. Is there a chance that he is chosen to pick up that fifth starter spot over some of the older kids? I think so, especially if the numbers are there. If Warren, Noesi and Phelps are struggling (or simply not as good), it doesn’t seem sensible to use them over a surging Banuelos.

It’s also not unfeasible to bring Banuelos up straight from AA, which is the more likely possibility than a short stint in Scranton. Taking a pitcher straight from AA and plopping him into a major league rotation might seem like a big jump, but it’s been done before with plenty of success: CC Sabathia, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett, and Cole Hamels all never sniffed AAA before they played with a big club. Rick Porcello played only one year in High A before the Tigers stuck him in their rotation to post a 3.96 ERA the next year. Interestingly enough, Mark Prior threw only 90 innings of minor league ball (though this included seven AAA games) before he was called up by none other than Larry Rothschild.

If Banuelos comes up for an extended period of time – perhaps filling in for a June injury and a Mitre failure to perform – the Yankees would have to put him on a pretty strict innings limit. The most innings Banuelos has ever thrown was 109 back in 2009. We know enough about Joba’s rules that I don’t have to get into it, and Hughes was skipped several times in 2010 but still threw almost 80 more innings than his previous year. We all watched Hughes’ second half taper off as he climbed over that limit, and the last thing we want is to watch Banuelos have several brilliant starts and hit a wall. If all of ManBan’s starts go six innings, that’s just about eleven starts before he’s pitching over his 2010 IP. Hopefully, he’s not needed for that long.

While I don’t think it’s the best idea to put Banuelos in pinstripes this year, I can certainly see it happening. It wouldn’t be too bad, either, as long as the Yankees are careful with his innings and don’t throw him to the wolves the way the Tigers did to Jeremy Bonderman the year they lost 119 games. I think we’re safe from a losing season of that caliber, but the fact is that Banuelos’ arm seems pretty damn nice and it shouldn’t be thrown about willy-nilly. From what it’s worth, I think the Yankees can figure out how to turn him from prospect to number-one starter and I am personally super excited to see him in the rotation. While I don’t think he’s definitely going to show up this year, I wouldn’t put it past the Yankees to bypass Warren or Noesi and see what Banuelos can do.

Link Dump: K-Long, Banuelos, NY-Penn League

Some spare links for a rainy Sunday in the Tri-State Area…

Q&A with Kevin Long

Hitting coach Kevin Long gets a lot of rave reviews around these parts, in part because of his work with guys like Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, and more recently Derek Jeter. Marc Carig sat down for a chat with Long, who spoke about how and why he decided to get into coaching, the toughest part of his job, his book, and whether or not he wants to someday manage a team. Check it out, it’s a great read.

Banuelos vs. Perez

Manny Banuelos has been the talk of spring so far and why not? He’s been extremely impressive in a pair of two-inning outings despite being a 19-year-old in big league camp, but this isn’t anything new. At this time last year, Rangers’ lefty pitching prospect Martin Perez was doing the same thing, but he went from a 2.71 FIP in Single-A (with a brief, late season call-up to Double-A) in 2009 to a 4.24 FIP in Double-A in 2010, seeing his prospect stock take a hit. John Sickels compared the two, concluding that they are “different but even.” Banuelos has the higher floor and the edge in intangibles and performance, but Perez offers more projection and upside.

Penn League Report

Just wanted to take a second and point you in the direction of a new site called Penn League Report, which will be providing news, updates, and more from the short season NY-Penn League, which houses the Staten Island Yankees. It’s run by Dave Gershman of Beyond The Box Score fame, and you can follow along on Twitter at @NYPL_Report. Today he offered up a brief scouting report on Yankees farmhand Tommy Kahnle. We need more information about the lowest levels of the minor leagues, so this is a welcome addition to the blogosphere. Add to your bookmarks, RSS feeds, etcetera, etcetera.