Poll: The 2017 RAB Prospect Watch

From left to right: Jorge Mateo, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar. (Presswire)
From left to right: Mateo, Torres, Andujar. (Presswire)

One of our longest running features — I hesitate to call it a feature, but whatever — here at RAB is our annual Prospect Watch. We pick a prospect and track his progress throughout the season in the sidebar. Simple, right? Also kinda silly, but hey, people seem to like it, so it continues. Think of it as the player’s FanGraphs page in the sidebar.

Once upon a time I would make an executive decision and pick the Prospect Watch player myself, then a few years ago I decided to open it up to you folks, the readers, and that works well. This is a good year for a poll too. The Yankees are loaded with prospects. I had a hard time limiting myself to only eight Prospect Watch candidates for this year’s poll. I could have easily listed several more.

I don’t believe the Prospect Watch Curse is a thing so, once again, this year’s poll features top prospects. Shall we get to the candidates? We shall. They’re listed alphabetically and the number next to their name is where they ranked in my top 30 prospects list.

RHP Chance Adams (No. 11)

The Case For Adams: Few pitchers in all of minor league baseball had a better statistical season in 2016 than the 22-year-old Adams, who threw 127.1 innings with a 2.33 ERA (2.96 FIP) and 29.1% strikeouts between Double-A and Triple-A. He showed he can handle the rigors of starting after being drafted as a reliever in 2015, most notably holding his mid-90s velocity deep into starts. Adams also improved his curveball and changeup. He’ll begin 2017 in Triple-A, which means he’s knocking on the door of the big leagues.

The Case Against Adams: As we learned last year, pitchers have a tendency to get hurt, which means the Prospect Watch could potentially go dormant for weeks at a time. Also, Adams has spent only one year as a starter, and it’s possible his body won’t be too happy about going through a big workload for the second straight season. He also isn’t shy about walking hitters (7.9% in 2016) and that has a tendency to ugly up stat lines. And there’s the possibility the Yankees will call Adams up to work in relief at some point, and given Joe Girardi‘s tendency to ease young relievers into things, the Prospect Watch could morph into a Mop Up Reliever Watch.

3B Miguel Andujar (No. 8)

The Case For Andujar: Very quietly, the just turned 22-year-old Andujar broke out with a career year in 2016, setting a new career high with 12 home runs. He also struck out only 12.9% of the time against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Andujar has made some nice progress with his pitch recognition, so he’s doing a better job attacking hittable pitches and letting the less hittable ones go by. Making easy contact can be a curse. Last year felt like the start of something big for Andujar.

The Case Against Andujar: Andujar’s career season last year featured only a .271/.331/.403 (108 wRC+) batting line in nearly 700 total plate appearances between High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and the Arizona Fall League. That’s good, but it’s not “hey let’s get this guy in the sidebar so I can see his stats everyday” good. Keep in mind a big chunk of Andujar’s prospect stock is tied up in his defense as well, specifically his cannon arm at third. That won’t show up in the Prospect Watch.

OF Clint Frazier (No. 2)

The Case For Frazier: Frazier, 22, ranked no lower than 39th on the four major top 100 prospect lists released this spring (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, MLB.com), so he has considerable upside. Even last season, before he hit some bumps in the road in Triple-A, he hit .276/.356/.469 (129 wRC+) with 13 home runs in 89 Double-A games despite being more than three years younger than the average Eastern League player. Frazier has the tools to hit for both average and power, and he’ll steal a few bases too.

The Case Against Frazier: Unfortunately, those Triple-A struggles did happen, and we can’t ignore them. He hit .229/.285/.359 (83 wRC+) with a 27.9% strikeout rate in 38 Triple-A games with the Indians and Yankees, and Frazier is going to return to that level to start the season. That doesn’t mean he’ll definitely struggle again. Frazier wasn’t the first player to have a hard time in his first trip through Triple-A and he won’t be the last. It’s just something we have to be aware of. Frazier struggled really for the first time in his life late last season.

RHP James Kaprielian (No. 5)

The Case For Kaprielian: With a healthy elbow, the just turned 23-year-old Kaprielian is poised to carve up hitters in the low minors this season. PitchFX data from the Arizona Fall League last year had his fastball averaging 95.7 mph and topping out at 99.1 mph. Add in three quality secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) and good enough command, plus a ton of competitiveness, and you’ve got a recipe for a top pitching prospect. The four scouting publications ranked Kaprielian as the 58th best prospect in baseball, on average.

The Case Against Kaprielian: As you know, Kaprielian was our Prospect Watch player last season, and he hurt his elbow and missed most of the regular season. Three starts with High-A Tampa and that was it. The Prospect Watch went unused from late April through the start of the AzFL season in October. That was so incredibly lame. Kaprielian is said to be healthy right now, but the best predictor of future injury is still past injury, and Grandmaster Kap is coming back from a fairly significant arm issue.

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

SS/CF Jorge Mateo (No. 7)

The Case For Mateo: I’m not sure any prospect in the farm system is better at filling up every column in the box score than Mateo. Doubles, triples, homers, steals, the whole nine. Mateo, 21, remains an excellent athlete with a true 80 tool (speed) and developing power — he set a career high with eight home runs last season after hitting one outside-the-park homer in 2015. The ongoing transition to center field means nothing for Prospect Watch purposes, though there is reason to believe Mateo will be playing with a big chip on his shoulder.

The Cast Against Mateo: There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: Mateo had a very disappointing 2016 season. He hit .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) with 36 steals in 51 attempts (71% success rate) in 507 plate appearances at High-A Tampa, and he was suspended two weeks for an undisclosed violation of team rules in July. Not great! The last thing we all want, aside from an injury, is to vote a prospect into the Prospect Watch and see him have a year like Mateo did in 2016.

OF Blake Rutherford (No. 4)

The Case For Rutherford: Rutherford, 19, was the Yankees’ first round pick last season, and he authored a .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) batting line with three homers and a 10.0% walk rate in 130 rookie ball plate appearances in his pro debut last year. He was a consensus top ten draft talent who slipped to the Yankees mostly for bonus reasons, and this spring the various scouting publications have ranked him as 38th best prospect in baseball, on average. Meet the Next Big Thing.

The Case Against Rutherford: I don’t think this will happen, but it is entirely possible the Yankees will hold Rutherford back in Extended Spring Training to start the season, which would mean the Prospect Watch sits unused for a few weeks, possibly until the short season leagues open in late-June. Again, I don’t think that will happen, but it is a possibility. Also, even if the Yankees do send Rutherford to Low-A Charleston, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the 19-year-old has some ups and down during his first full pro season.

LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 6)

The Case For Sheffield: Sheffield is the team’s best pitching prospect with no sort of injury history. The 20-year-old reached Double-A last season and he threw 134 total innings with a 3.36 ERA (3.61 FIP) in 2016. He also struck out 24.2% of the batters he faced, which is pretty darn good for a kid this age. Sheffield has good velocity despite being on the short side, plus both his slider and changeup are put-away pitches on their best days. It can be easy to forget how good Sheffield is given the depth of this farm system.

The Case Against Sheffield: Again, there’s the whole “pitchers break” thing that has to be considered. Sheffield hasn’t had any injury problems in his career thus far, but then again neither did Kaprielian until last year. Such is life. It’s also worth noting Sheffield walked 10.4% of the batters he faced last season, which is pretty high. The weird thing is he’s a great athlete who repeats his delivery well, so it’s hard to explain why he’s had problems throwing strikes.

SS Gleyber Torres (No. 1)

The Case For Torres: Torres, 20, is the best prospect in the farm system and one of the very best in baseball. Baseball Prospectus was the low site on him, ranking him 15th in their top 101 list, while the other three scouting publications (Baseball America, Keith Law, MLB.com) all had Torres among the top five prospects in the game. Gleyber hit .283/.368/.438 (128 wRC+) with 14 homers and 25 stolen bases last season, plus his walk (11.1%) and strikeout (19.3%) rates were strong for a teenager who spent the entire season in High-A. Torres has star caliber tools and his placement in the various top 100 lists tells you everyone expects big things.

The Case Against Torres: I’m having a tough time coming up with one, to be honest. There’s the obvious “being a 20-year-old in Double-A is hard” caveat, and I suppose we should keep in mind the Yankees figure to move Torres around the infield a bit, and all the position changing could drag down his offense. Hopefully not, but it is possible. Every prospect carries some level of risk. That’s the way it is. Gleyber is so insanely talented that he carries less risk than most.

* * *

I ranked Aaron Judge as the third best prospect in the farm system, but I’m leaving him out of the Prospect Watch poll because he’s expected to spend most of the season in the big leagues. We’re going to see him nearly every day. I originally started the Prospect Watch as a way to keep tabs on the guys in the minors, who we don’t get to see play.

Anyway, with all due respect to guys like Albert Abreu and Dustin Fowler and Dillon Tate, those are the eight players eligible for this year’s Prospect Watch. The poll is open right now and will remain open until 12pm ET this Friday, so you’ve got a little less than 48 hours to vote. I’ll reveal the winner Friday afternoon. Now … go vote!

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Brian Cashman and the 2017 trade deadline [2017 Season Preview]

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Welcome to another contract year for Brian Cashman.

Don’t worry: Cashman has enough job security that he isn’t about to trade the farm for some short-sighted fix that harms the Yankees’ future. He’s acquitted himself quite well over the last two decades and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the job right now. It doesn’t hurt that he has a healthy relationship with the Steinbrenner family and Hal in particular.

But this season won’t be without some drama for the 49-year-old general manager. There are two scenarios: the good and the bad, both coming with certain pitfalls and questions with which to deal come the trade deadline. Let’s dive in.

If the Yankees are winning…

This situation doesn’t pose problems so much as it forces choices. If the Yankees are middling at the deadline (near .500 like last year), then the Yankees may make a few minor moves, but they wouldn’t be about to trade away a boatload of prospects, particularly for a short-term asset. However, if the Yankees are able to get off to a positive start and build momentum towards the All-Star break, Cashman will be in a strong position to be a buyer.

It’s been a minute since the Yankees were really significant buyers at the break, but it’s been even longer since the team has had such a strong prospect core. The last time the Yankees’ farm system was booming like the present came before Cashman was in charge. Ideally, you want to see this group of prospects come to the majors and be the foundation for future success. But many prospects fail and sometimes you’re better off trading them before they’re exposed to the majors.

Mike brought up the upcoming 40-man roster crunch and that incentivizes a significant buying effort if the team’s major league success calls for it. What better way to solve the 40-man roster crunch than trade players on the 40-man or who need to be added after the season for 1-2 marquee players?

Identifying and prying those players in the right deal will be tough, but man, wouldn’t trading some prospects for Jose Quintana be a pretty sweet boost for the pennant race? Quintana may be an Astro by then, but that won’t limit the Yankees from being players in the trade market. The team could stand to upgrade multiple rotation spots mid-season, maybe even add a reliever. Plus there are always injuries that come up and force a creative solution to an unforeseen problem. No one thought the Yankees would have needed Bobby Abreu at the start of 2006, but Gary Sheffield was hurt and Cashman pounced at adding the high-OBP right fielder with multiple years of control. The Yankees could have a position of weakness pop up that we don’t expect.

The team has to balance the option to buy at the deadline with the plan to get under the luxury tax after next season in preparation for the robust free agent winter of 2018-19. The luxury tax for the 2018 season will be $197 million, but there is also a 50 percent tax for repeat offenders, which the Yankees certainly are until they can get under. Cashman utilized what was left in ownership’s budget for this season on Chris Carter‘s deal, so anything adding money would receive extra scrutiny from ownership. This will need special consideration if there is significant money added to the payroll beyond this season.

If the Yankees are losing…

This is what selling did to Cashman last time. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
This is what selling did to Cashman last time. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

This is where there are going to be some potential problems. If the Yankees are under .500 and hovering near the cellar of the AL East in July, the most obvious solution would be to sell. Give up on expiring assets that you don’t want to potentially retain and add to an already substantial farm system. It worked pretty darn well last season.

However, it’s not that simple. The team is not giving up on this season easily and refusing to call it’s current situation a rebuild: It’s a transition and one in which the team wants to be competitive. It’s understandable, too: The team wants to win games to keep fans in the seats.

So convincing ownership to sell for a second consecutive season is tough. On top of that, Cashman made two pretty remarkable deals for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but unless the team wants to trade Dellin Betances, it’s harder to see any one player getting that large a return. Matt Holliday could fetch a minor piece or two. Michael Pineda could be dealt for a return similar to Ivan Nova. Brett Gardner could be attractive. Masahiro Tanaka is where it gets interesting, but his buy-out and elbow create complications.

All of this is to say another sell-it-all summer is unlikely. The team has enough expiring contracts (CC Sabathia, A-Rod, Holliday and possibly Tanaka) to get the payroll underneath the tax next season, but that would also involve relying even further on the young core or bringing in cheap replacements in free agency.

It’s pretty obvious that one hopes for the first scenario. It’s a lot cleaner and likely portends for future success as well, something Cashman has built towards with a tear down in 2016. It’s unlikely we see a repeat of that but ninja Cashman could come out and surprise. The Yankees’ front office often strikes when least expected. Expectations may be slightly less for the Yankees this season, but the job ahead is the same: Look for potential trades, scout for next season’s free agency and prepare for June’s draft.

Ten bold predictions for the 2017 Yankees season

lol (Presswire)
lol (Presswire)

This coming Sunday the Yankees will open the 2017 regular season with the first of three games against the Rays in Tampa. I can’t wait. They’re going to play literally the first game of the entire season, you know. The season opener is a 1:10pm ET start on Sunday. There are two other games later that day before the traditional Opening Day around the league Monday.

So, with Spring Training nearing an end and the regular season only four days away, I figured I’d come up with some bold and completely unnecessary predictions for the 2017 season, because why not? I came up with ten because ten is a nice round number, and if three are correct, I’ll be pretty pleased. Four would be cool. Anyway, here are my ten stupidly bold predictions for the 2017 season, in no particular order.

1. Pitchers not currently on the 40-man roster combine for 30+ starts.

Some of these predictions are more bold than others, and this one is lacking in the boldness, I’d say. Even if the Yankees don’t carry Jordan Montgomery on the Opening Day roster, he’s put himself in position for an early call-up. It’s not at all difficult to imagine him making, say, 20 starts for the Yankees this season. Chance Adams and the lesser hyped Daniel Camarena will be looming in Triple-A Scranton too, and I get the feeling the Yankees will wind up bringing in a little outside help at some point as well.

2. Judge finishes in the top three of the Rookie of the Year voting.

Many folks have jumped off the bandwagon, scared away by those 42 strikeouts in 95 plate appearances last season. Me? I am still very much on board because Aaron Judge is a better pure hitter than he gets credit for, because he’s shown the willingness and ability to make adjustments throughout his career, and because few make as much loud contact. My prediction is the very idea Judge had to compete with Aaron Hicks for the right field job this spring is going to look silly in a few weeks, and big power numbers will have Judge firmly in the Rookie of the Year conversation come September.

3. A pitcher other than Tanaka, Betances, and Chapman makes the All-Star Team.

Along with Gary Sanchez, the pitching trio of Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman are the super early candidates to represent the Yankees at the All-Star Game. I think they’ll send a pitcher other than those three to the Midsummer Classic as well. Who? Well that’s the mystery. My guess right now would be Michael Pineda. He certainly has the stuff and swing-and-miss ability. It’s just a matter of better location and perhaps a little more luck on balls in play. Pineda was an All-Star with the Mariners back in 2011, remember. I think this guy was lost forever following the shoulder surgery:

(Fun Fact: Betances is one of only five pitchers to go to the All-Star Game in each of the last three seasons along with Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Madison Bumgarner. The four best starters and the best reliever on the planet, basically.)

4. Green emerges as the next great Yankees reliever.

I like Chad Green. The Yankees did a nice job identifying an unheralded pitching prospect in another organization who had room for growth, and they helped him take that next step last season. Green improved the quality of his slider in Spring Training thanks to pitching coach Larry Rothschild, then, while in Triple-A, he learned a cutter as well. His MLB debut last season wasn’t great (4.73 ERA and 5.34 FIP in 45.2 innings) though he has some tools on the mound.

One of those tools is not a changeup. Green has been working to add either a changeup or splitter to his arsenal over the years and it just isn’t working. At some point this year he will inevitably find himself working out of the bullpen, and I think once that happens, Green will be so dominant the Yankees will just leave him there. His fastball averaged 95.4 mph as a starter last season with a 26.3% strikeout rate. Let him air it out as a fastball/slider pitcher for one inning at a time in relief, and Green will join Betances and Chapman to form a three-headed bullpen monster.

5. Neither Sanchez nor Bird will lead the Yankees in home runs.

These two are the obvious candidates to lead the Yankees in home runs this season, right? Sanchez socked 20 homers in 53 games last year, and while I don’t think anyone expects him to repeat that pace, Sanchez clearly has a ton of power and knows how to hit. Greg Bird has a tremendous approach and the kind of left-handed pop that plays very well in Yankee Stadium. Those two should sock a lot of dingers this summer. Can’t wait.

That said, I’m boldly predicting Sanchez and Bird will finish second and third on the Yankees in home runs, in either order. Judge could sock 25+ dingers, which would probably be enough to lead all rookies, though I don’t think he’ll lead the Yankees either. Not Matt Holliday or Chris Carter either. My pick? Starlin Castro. Boom. Castro turned 27 last week and is at the age where maximum power output could be reasonably expected. He set a career high with 21 dingers last year, and now that he’s entering his second year with the Yankees and is presumably more comfortable with things, I’m saying he’ll get to 30 this year.

6. The Yankees do more buying than selling at the trade deadline.

The Yankees sold at the trade deadline last season and I’m glad they did. It was time. The trades netted them an incredible farm system and have set the team up for success in the coming years. It’s exciting. I don’t expect that to happen again though, and for a few reasons.

  1. Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t want to sell. Remember, Brian Cashman spent weeks trying to convince Hal to sell before he agreed to it last year. The only reason Chapman was traded was because he rejected a contract extension first. I don’t think Steinbrenner wants to go down that road again.
  2. I think the Yankees will be in the race. They’re not front-runners or a no-doubt postseason team by any means, but I think they’ll get much more out of the young players this year than the veterans last year, putting them in the thick of the race come late-July. If they’re in the race, they won’t sell.
  3. The stars won’t line up again. The Chapman and Andrew Miller trades were a perfect storm last year. Everything came together at the right time for the Yankees. They do have some quality trade chips to peddle at the deadline (Tanaka and Betances, most notably), but I don’t think anyone will blow them away with an offer.

Rather than sell, I expect the Yankees to buy. Not necessarily in a huge way though. I don’t think they’re going to make a deal for Jose Quintana, for example. I do think they’re going to end up acquiring a starting pitcher though — keep in mind I said the same thing at the outset of the offseason and was dead wrong — and also package some prospects together for other pieces, similar to last year’s Tyler Clippard trade. The 40-man roster and upcoming Rule 5 Draft situation tell us something is very likely to happen here.

7. Ellsbury, not Gardner, is the outfielder traded away.

I am going to predict one big trade and it will be Jacoby Ellsbury who gets dealt away, not Brett Gardner. Ellsbury’s contract is a sunk cost. The Yankees owe him that money no matter what. With outfield prospects like Clint Frazier and Dustin Fowler knocking on the door, I think Cashman will be able to convince Steinbrenner salary dumping Ellsbury and saving, say, $7M a year over the four years left on his contract to open a spot for a prospect is the better big picture move than keeping Ellsbury at full price and trading the $25M owed to Gardner the next two years. Now, will Cashman be able to convince Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause? I think so. I just don’t expect them to get much in return.

8. Rutherford will take over as the No. 1 prospect in the organization.

Rutherford. (@MLBPipeline)
Rutherford. (@MLBPipeline)

I love Gleyber Torres. He’s awesome. He hits, he defends, he runs the bases well, and he manages to play the game with both a lot of energy and a quiet confidence. You couldn’t create a better shortstop prospect in a video game. I also love Blake Rutherford. He doesn’t have Gleyber’s defensive chops at a premium position, but he’s an excellent offensive prospect thanks to his potential to hit for average and power, as well as his ability to draw walks, and I think that’ll vault him over Torres in the prospect rankings this summer. I’m not saying Torres will be bad! I expect them to both be top 15-ish prospects come the midseason rankings, with Rutherford a few spots higher than Gleyber.

9. The Yankees will have the most productive DH spot in baseball.

Alex Rodriguez was so bad last season it might come as a surprise Yankees’ designated hitters hit .261/.312/.450 with 28 home runs last year. You can thank Carlos Beltran for that. He spent a lot of time at DH. Of course, that slash line works out to a 96 OPS+, which ranked ninth among the 15 AL teams. Not good. The Yankees didn’t get enough offense from a position that exists solely to provide offense.

This year I expect the Yankees will not only get more production from the DH spot, I think it’ll be the most productive DH position in baseball. David Ortiz is retired and Edwin Encarnacion is moving into a less hitter friendly ballpark in a division without nearly as many hitter’s parks as the AL East. Nelson Cruz will give Holliday a run for his money, but don’t forget, it won’t just be Holliday at DH. Sanchez will surely get a few at-bats there, as will Carter, who led the NL in homers a year ago. Holliday will get most DH at-bats and he’ll pepper the short porch with opposite field homers. The other guys will chip in some as well.

10. The Yankees will spend more days in first place than last year.

Okay, I’m cheating, because the Yankees didn’t spend any time in first place last season. Literally zero days. That’s what happens when you lose Opening Day, drop six of your first ten games, and don’t get over .500 for good until August. In all seriousness though, I think the 2017 Yankees will spend more days in first place than the 2013 Yankees (17 days) and possibly the 2014 Yankees (24 days), though I don’t think they’ll win the AL East. Even with the questions at the back of the rotation, I believe this team is better than last year, and it’ll show when they get off to a better start in April. They’ve had some trouble keeping their head above water early on the last few seasons.

March 28th Camp Notes: Lineup, Ellsbury, Warren, Torreyes

The Yankees lost tonight, in their final home game of the Grapefruit League season. Aaron Judge clocked a solo home run as he continues to battle for the right field job. Tyler Wade also had a single, though his chances of making the Opening Day roster aren’t nearly as good as Judge’s. Gary Sanchez had a hit and a walk, and he also made an error. So did Greg Bird.

Earlier tonight I noted Masahiro Tanaka was four outs away from tying 2014 Justin Verlander for the most innings thrown in a scoreless spring since at least 2006, and it took exactly two batters for him to allow a run tonight. Single, double, run. That’s how the game started. My bad, yo. Tanaka finished the night with two runs allowed (one earned) in five innings. He struck out six. Dellin Betances came out of the bullpen and allowed a two-run homer. Here is the box score for tonight’s game. It wasn’t televised, so there are no video highlights. Here are the rest of the day’s notes from Spring Training:

  • Interestingly enough, Joe Girardi said tonight’s lineup could “very well could be similar” to the Opening Day lineup. The top of the lineup was, in order, Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Matt Holliday, Jacoby Ellsbury. Girardi said he likes Ellsbury in the fifth spot because he’s done well in RBI situations — he hit .298/.372/.442 (117 wRC+) with runners in scoring position last year — and has some pop. [Erik Boland, Brendan Kuty]
  • Girardi also said Adam Warren will begin the season in the bullpen (surprise surprise) and that they still haven’t made a decision about right field. The Yankees are learning toward Ronald Torreyes at shortstop though. I’d bet on Pete Kozma being the utility infielder in that case. I doubt they would let Wade sit on the bench like that. [Boland, Bryan Hoch]
  • Welcome back Jon Niese and Caleb Smith. Niese has signed a new minor league contract with the Yankees after being released a few days ago. It was reported the plan is to send Niese to Extended Spring Training to build arm strength. Smith, meanwhile, was returned by the Cubs as a Rule 5 Draft pick. [George King]
  • The starting pitchers the rest of the week: Jordan Montgomery (Wednesday), Luis Severino (Thursday), and Michael Pineda (Friday). I imagine that means CC Sabathia is throwing a simulated game either Wednesday or Thursday. He’s starting the second game of the regular season and Pineda is starting the third. [Hoch]
  • Shane Hennigan has the day’s minor league lineups, if you’re interested in such things. The minor league regular season will begin next Thursday, April 6th. Can’t wait.

Only three games left this spring! The Yankees will be on the road to take on the Blue Jays tomorrow afternoon. There’s no broadcast for that one, but, on the bright side, it will be the final Yankees game you can’t watch this year. Thursday’s and Friday’s game will be available either online or on television.

Cubs return Rule 5 Draft pick Caleb Smith to Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have welcomed back another one of their lost Rule 5 Draft players. Left-hander Caleb Smith has been returned by the Cubs, both teams announced. Smith was reassigned to minor league camp as a non-40-man roster player. He had to remain on Chicago’s big league roster all season, or be passed through waivers and offered back to the Yankees, which is exactly what happened.

Smith, 24, was New York’s 14th round pick in the 2013 draft. He had a 3.96 ERA (3.15 FIP) with 25.1% strikeouts in 63.2 innings with Double-A Trenton last season, his second straight year at the level. Smith is a lefty and he has good velocity on his fastball, so it’s no surprise a team took a chance on him in the Rule 5 Draft. He figures to be part of the Triple-A Scranton bullpen mix.

The Cubs acquired Smith from the Brewers following the Rule 5 Draft. Milwaukee selected him then traded him to Chicago for cash. The Rule 5 Draft rules still apply following the trade though. There seemed to be very little chance Smith, who struck out seven and allowed three runs (including three homers) in 6.1 innings this spring, would stick with the Cubs given their bullpen depth.

Last week the Yankees received Tyler Jones, another Rule 5 Draft pick, back from the Diamondbacks. Lefty Tyler Webb (Pirates) and catcher Luis Torrens (Padres) are still out there. Webb has a pretty good chance to stick. I still expect Torrens to be offered back sooner rather than later. A 20-year-old catcher jumping from Low-A to MLB is so very unlikely to stick, even with a bad rebuilding team.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

The Yankees are playing the Tigers this evening and unfortunately the game will not be televised. Blah. At least Spring Training is almost over. Masahiro Tanaka is starting tonight and he has yet to allow a run this spring through 18.2 innings. Justin Verlander is the only pitcher to throw more innings in a scoreless spring since at least 2006. He threw 20 scoreless innings in 2014. Tanaka could pass him tonight. Here is the Gameday link for tonight’s game.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the time being. I’ll post the daily camp notes following the game. MLB Network is showing spring games on tape delay all night, plus the (hockey) Rangers, Devils, and Nets are all playing. Talk about those games or anything else here.

The cases for and against Tyler Wade at shortstop

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At some point in the coming days the Yankees will decide how they’re going to replace the injured Didi Gregorius at shortstop for what everyone hopes is only a few weeks. Gregorius suffered a shoulder strain earlier this month and the talk right now is he could return in early-May. Missing April stinks, but at least it wasn’t something more serious.

The Yankees have three shortstop candidates remaining in camp following their latest round of roster cuts: Pete Kozma, Ronald Torreyes, and Tyler Wade. Torreyes is a lock to be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity. At worst, he’ll be the utility infielder again. There’s also a definite chance Torreyes will start at short while Gregorius is sidelined.

Who do fans want to replace Gregorius? Wade, of course. Bring me the young exciting prospect over the veteran retread any day of the week. Unfortunately things like development plans and the 40-man roster get in the way of such moves. Blah. In all seriousness though, is now the right time for Wade? Let’s make the cases for and against.

The Case Against Wade

It’s much easier to build a case against Wade than for Wade — that is true of most prospects — so I might as well start here. Wade, who turned 22 in November, has never played above Double-A. Not one single game. He hit .259/.352/.349 (101 wRC+) at the level last year, which is good but not blow you away great. The various projection systems don’t see Wade having much of an immediate impact:

  • PECOTA: .233/.299/.353 (.227 TAv)
  • Steamer: .224/.284/.315 (61 wRC+)
  • ZiPS: .234/.299/.316 (67 wRC+)

Those projections are both terrible and better than Kozma’s — PECOTA is the high man on Kozma at .218/.283/.333 (.214 TAv) — though I’m not sure being slightly less awful than Kozma is enough of a reason to call Wade up right now. The Yankees have a development plan in place for Wade, which involves turning him into a super utility guy, and deviating from that plan for what might be a one month stopgap role doesn’t seem like a great idea.

The 40-man roster situation can’t big ignored either. Once Wade is added to the 40-man, he’s on for good. Kozma can be cut easily because no one really cares if he gets claimed on waivers. Also, by calling Wade up, the Yankees would then burn one of his three option years sending him down to Triple-A whenever Gregorius returns. You’d rather not burn a young player’s option so he can be a short-term injury fill-in, you know?

For what it’s worth, the projection systems tells us Wade isn’t ready to help the Yankees all the much at the plate, so using him to replace Gregorius would mean altering his development plan and complicating the roster situation for someone who doesn’t figure to much of a short-term upgrade over Kozma. Neither guy is expected to hit much, and at best, Wade is Kozma’s equal in the field. I’d bet on Kozma being better defensively right now. The last thing the Yankees want to do is rush Wade and hurt his development, especially when there’s a viable alternative.

The Case For Wade

Kozma is really bad. He’s a career .222/.288/.293 (58 wRC+) hitter in the big leagues and last season he managed a .209/.268/.265 (52 wRC+) batting line in nearly 500 plate appearances with Triple-A Scranton. There is a minimum acceptable standard for offense and Kozma isn’t going to meet it. Not without a little BABIP luck, which, you know, could happen in a month of playing time.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The projection systems aren’t too enthused about Wade this year, though there are a few things to keep in mind about that. One, projections are not predictions. They’re an attempt to estimate the player’s true talent level, and weird things can happen in one month samples. Who’s to say Wade, who is hitting .341/.372/.439 during Grapefruit League play, won’t slash-and-dash his way to a respectable batting line in April? (Kozma is hitting a Kozmanian .206/.289/.265 this spring.)

PECOTA’s 70th percentile projection for Wade calls for a .251/.321/.382 (.244 TAv) batting line, which would essentially make him the 2016 version of Chase Headley (.253/.331/.385). The 70th percentile projection is the slightly optimistic projection, and hey, what’s wrong with being optimistic about a good looking prospect who has played well in camp and plays all out all the time? (PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection, the really optimistic one, is .279/.352/.424.)

There’s also this: the 40-man roster situation isn’t that dire. Tyler Austin is a 60-day disabled list candidate. I doubt others like Johnny Barbato, Dietrich Enns, Gio Gallegos, Ronald Herrera, Chasen Shreve, and Mason Williams will stand in the way of the Yankees making a roster move. Fringe roster players, which all of those guys are for the Yankees, are a renewable resource. There will be other Barbatos and Ennses and Gallegi somewhere along the line, especially given New York’s farm system.

As for Wade’s development plan, I do think that should be a serious consideration, but we’re only talking about a month here. If one month in the big leagues is enough to derail Wade’s entire career path, he probably wasn’t going to make it anyway. Keep in mind being in the big leagues is a learning experience. Wade would get to work with the big league coaches and learn from guys like Headley and Matt Holliday and CC Sabathia. There’s value in that.

* * *

There is no denying Wade would be the most fun and exciting shortstop option while Gregorius is out. Well, no, Gleyber Torres would be the most fun and exciting option, but that ain’t happening. You know what I meant. The fact the Yankees have played Torreyes at short more than anyone since Gregorius got hurt leads to me to believe they’re leaning towards using him at shortstop. In that case, Kozma would make the most sense as the backup. I think we can all agree calling Wade up only to have him sit on the bench would be a waste.