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4/17 to 4/19 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Can't sleep, mascot will eat me. (Presswire)
Can’t sleep, mascot will eat me. (Presswire)

The Yankees spent yesterday’s off-day at their second home in Tampa, and tonight they’ll open a three-game series with the Rays at Tropicana Field. The Trop used to be a house of horrors for New York — back in the day everything that could go wrong did go wrong there, it seemed — but the Yankees won five of ten games there last season. That’s … decent.

What Have The Rays Done Lately?

While the Yankees were in Tampa resting yesterday, the Rays were up in Toronto wrapping up a series with the Blue Jays with a 4-2 win. They took three of four in the series and probably didn’t get in until 3am or so this morning. Tampa and is 6-4 overall with a zero run differential. Exactly as many runs scored as allowed.

Offense & Defense

Believe it or not, the Rays are one of the better scoring teams in baseball so far this season, averaging 4.40 runs per game. (MLB average is 4.13 right now.) They are currently without 1B James Loney (oblique), DH John Jaso (wrist), and 2B Nick Franklin (oblique) though. Loney straight up destroys the Yankees. They’re catching a break that he’s out this series. Also, 3B Evan Longoria took a pitch to the hip last night and left the game. Not sure what his status is for tonight’s opener or the series in general.

Here is Tampa Bay’s regular lineup at the moment, their 2015 performance to date, and their 2015 ZiPS projections:

2015 Performance 2015 ZiPS Projection
DH David DeJesus
7-for-18 (.389), 1 HR .235/.321/.366 (95 OPS+)
RF Steven Souza
8-for-32 (.250), 2 HR .231/.309/.403 (107 OPS+)
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
8-for-42 (.190), 1 2B, 1 3B .260/.325/.411 (101 OPS+)
3B Evan Longoria
7-for-31 (.226), 1 HR .255/.330/.441 (117 OPS+)
LF Desmond Jennings
8-for-34 (.235), 4 SB .243/.320/.385 (100 OPS+)
1B Allan Dykstra
1-for-14 (.071) .193/.312/.398 (82 OPS9)
2B Logan Forsythe
2-for-33 (.242), 1 HR .224/.301/.341 (82 OPS+)
CF Kevin Kiermaier
11-for-32 (.344), 2 HR .253/.305/.392 (97 OPS+)
C Rene Rivera
4-for-34 (.118) .215/.269/.333 (73 OPS+)

New manager Kevin Cash is not quite as platoon happy as Joe Maddon but he does use UTIL Tim Beckham and OF Brandon Guyer against lefties, usually in favor of Forsythe and DeJesus, respectively. (Cash is also quite fond of the double steal, I’ve heard.) C Bobby Wilson and OF Mikie Mahtook are the other bench players. Fun fact: The Rays selected Mahtook with the Yankees’ first round pick in 2011, which they received as compensation for Rafael Soriano.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With Loney hurt, Longoria is the Rays’ only above-average defensive infielder. Cabrera has a knack for highlight reel plays but he’s a weak spot overall. His defense has really fallen off the last three or four years. Forsythe is just adequate at second and is better suited for third, really. Rivera is a stud behind the plate though. I guess he counts as an infielder.

The outfield is a much different story. Kiermaier is one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball — that’s why they moved Jennings to left — and the two guys flanking him are very good as well. Cash has used Kiermaier in right to shut down the running game on occasion because he has a very strong arm. If the Yankees hit the ball in the air, it’ll probably be caught. If they hit the ball on the ground … who knows.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: RHP Adam Warren (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Nate Karns (Career vs. NYY)
Karns, 27, came to Spring Training as a fifth starter candidate, and he wound up starting the second game of the season because Alex Cobb, Alex Colome, and Drew Smyly all got injured. Karns spent just about all of last season in Triple-A, where he had a 5.08 ERA (4.03 FIP) with a 24.5 K% and a 9.9 BB% in 145.1 innings. He owns a 5.65 ERA (6.02 FIP) in 36.2 career big league innings scattered across the last three years. Karns’ go-to pitch is a big breaking low-80s curveball, which he sets up with a straight low-to-mid-90s four-seamer. He also throws a mid-80s changeup, but that curve is his moneymaker. Karns has made two starts this season — one good (two runs in seven innings) and one not so good (six runs in 5.2 innings.)

Saturday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (Career vs. TB) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (Career vs. NYY)
Very quietly, the 25-year-old Odorizzi ranked ninth among 88 qualified starters last season with a 9.32 K/9. (That translated to a 24.2 K%.) Odorizzi had a 4.13 ERA (3.75 FIP) in 168 innings with an 8.2 BB% a year ago, and righties (.324 wOBA) actually hit him better than lefties (.294 wOBA). Thanks to low-90s two and four-seamers and a mid-80s cutter, Odorizzi is very fastball heavy, throwing those pitches a combined 65% of the time or so since the start of last season. A mid-80s splitter is his main offspeed pitch (hence the reverse split), and he’ll also throw a very low upper-60s curveball. It’s an extreme change of pace pitch. Odorizzi’s two starts have been excellent this year — 6.2 scoreless innings (two hits and seven strikeouts) and eight innings of one run ball.

Odorizzi. (Presswire)
Odorizzi. (Presswire)

Sunday: RHP Michael Pineda (Career vs. TB) vs. TBA
The Rays still have not announced their starter for Sunday but all indications are it will be right-hander Matt Andriese. He’s made one start and one relief appearance so far this year, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks in 4.2 total innings. He struck three. Last year in Triple-A the 25-year-old Andriese had a 3.77 ERA (4.24 FIP) with a 17.1 K% and a 4.9 BB%. He throws three fastballs (low-90s two and four-seamers and an upper-80s cutter) and a mid-80s slider. Andriese has thrown a handful of upper-80s changeups but it’s not a big weapon for him. If Andriese doesn’t start Sunday, I honestly have no idea who Tampa Bay would run out there. They have an off-day Monday and could decide to bite the bullet and go with a bullpen game Sunday.

Bullpen Status
Chris Archer gave the Rays seven excellent innings last night — the Yankees are pretty lucky to be missing him, it looks like he’s ready to take that next step towards true ace-hood — yet Cash still used three relievers, including closer RHP Brad Boxberger. He threw 24 pitches in an inning of work. RHP Steve Geltz and RHP Kevin Jepsen both pitched as well. They’ve both thrown in two of the last three games.

RHP Grant Balfour is currently filling a middle relief role and LHP Jeff Beliveau is their only southpaw reliever. The ultra-hard-throwing RHP Jose Dominguez and the not as hard-throwing RHP Kirby Yates round out the bullpen. Andriese is technically in the bullpen too, but he’s kinda in the rotation as well. The Yankees were off yesterday, so their bullpen’s fresh, but head over to our Bullpen Workload page anyway. Then check out DRays Bay for the latest on the southern-most AL East team.

Mailbag: Trades, Ellsbury, Beltran, Shreve, O’Brien, Bailey

Got nine questions for you in this week’s mailbag. I’m trying to shorten the mailbag up a bit because the season started and there’s so much other stuff going on, but I’m mostly failing. Anyway, use the For The Mailbag form in the sidebar to send us any questions.

The Yankee Clippard. (Presswire)
The Yankee Clippard. (Presswire)

Chris asks: I hear all the time “Yanks are trading their young guys” and they do … But to be fair, who was the last young player they traded that turned out to be better than the guy they got in the Brian Cashman era? Does the fact they CAN trade for people or buy players change how the Yankees view player development in general and thus didn’t take it as seriously as they should have?

Hmmm, Danny Farquhar? He wasn’t a homegrown guy or particularly young though. The Yankees plucked him off waivers then traded him for Ichiro Suzuki, who helped the team get to the 2012 postseason. Farquhar might not be the best example. Looking through MLBTR’s Transactions Tracker, I think the last trade involving a young player that the Yankees clearly lost was Mark Melancon (and Jimmy Paredes) for Lance Berkman back in 2010. Melancon’s become one of the best relievers in the game and while Berkman’s time in pinstripes was underrated (.359 OBP!), that’s one New York would like to do over. Tyler Clippard for Jonathan Albaladejo is the gold standard for awful Brian Cashman trades. That was a total dud. Young players and prospects don’t work out more often than not. Everyone seems so willing to overlook that. And nah, I wouldn’t change how I feel about the team’s player development in general. They always seem to have just enough trade chips to get what they need but not enough to be in the mix for any big names, like Cole Hamels or David Price.

Rob asks: With the emergence of Ramon Flores, Jake Cave, Tyler Austin and even Mark Payton, do you think the Yankees regret giving Jacoby Ellsbury a long term deal? Do you think at any point his contract becomes tradeable?

Teams come to regret the vast majority of long-term contracts within the first two or three years it seems, even if they won’t admit it. So yes, I think the Yankees either already regret signing Ellsbury or will in a year or two. I’ve been critical of the signing since the start because it was elite dollars for a non-elite player (Ellsbury’s good! just not a $153M player) so if the Yankees can trade him at some point, I absolutely think they should. When a top Scott Boras client signs the week before the Winter Meetings, it means you blew them away with the offer. It’s a bad sign when Boras is that quick to take a deal. Anyway, even if the Yankees do regret signing Ellsbury, I don’t expect them to be able to trade him anyway. He has a full no-trade clause because, you know, the $153M wasn’t enough to get it done.

Johnny asks: If any of the minor leaguers push for a place on the MLB team — example: Tyler Austin continues to rake at AAA — do you see the Yankees benching Carlos Beltran?

I really doubt it. They only kinda sorta benched Alfonso Soriano last year when it was clear he was cooked. They’re still batting Beltran third in the lineup and he’s signed for next year too. Beltran’s leash is going to be really, really long. Best case scenario if he doesn’t start hitting is he gets bumped lower in the order. For someone like Austin or Flores to get a chance, it’ll take a long-term injury to a starting outfielder. Maybe two long-term injuries given Chris Young‘s start to the season. Benching Beltran, Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, or whoever just isn’t something the Yankees have indicated they are willing to do. Their contracts keep their jobs safe.

(Presswire)
Chasin’ Shreve. (Presswire)

Dan asks: How much does it stink for Chasen Shreve that he won the job in Spring Training, and got sent to the minor leagues just because he had a long outing?

It stinks but that’s baseball. My guess is Shreve was happy to get the opportunity — he capitalized on that opportunity too, he showed the Yankees he’s a big leaguer — after spending so much time as an afterthought in the minors. Remember, Shreve was a non-prospect who had to reinvent himself last year to get on the radar. This is life for young relievers. They go up and down a bunch of times early in their careers and wait until they get enough innings to show what they can do. Shreve will be back and fairly soon, I suspect. (His ten days are up Tuesday.)

Tom asks: Obviously, very hypothetical, but say the Yankees made the Nathan Eovaldi trade before acquiring Didi Gregorius, do you think the Tigers would have accepted Eovaldi instead of Shane Greene? Who would you rather have?

I don’t think the Tigers  would have taken Eovaldi over Greene. GM Dave Dombrowski had reportedly been trying to get Greene for a while — Cashman told Chad Jennings that Dombrowski inquired about Greene multiple times — and it seems like he was their guy, not Eovaldi. Dombrowski’s been known to fall in love with certain player and go after them, hence the surprising Doug Fister for Robbie Ray trade. He just really liked Robbie Ray. I’d prefer Greene to Eovaldi mostly because he’s under control an extra three years. Eovaldi’s way ahead of where Greene was at his age though. Like, waaay ahead.

Steve asks: Is Peter O’Brien a successful draft pick? Including everything.

Oh yes, absolutely. The Yankees took O’Brien in the second round of the 2012 draft and used him to get Martin Prado, who they then flipped to the Marlins for Eovaldi & Co. They drafted him with the 94th overall pick and less than three years later they turned him into a young power arm like Eovaldi, who is only five months older than O’Brien. Regardless of what O’Brien does from here on out — he’s in a different organization now with different coaches and everything, the Yankees have no influence — the Yankees turned that pick into a quality young player on their MLB roster in less than three years. It would be nice if more picks in the second round were that productive.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Conor asks: Does CC Sabathia now have a problem pitching out of the stretch?

It’s too early to say. Believe it or not, Sabathia has actually been more effective with men on base in his two starts this season than with the bases empty. Here are the super duper small sample size numbers from Baseball-Reference:

Split G PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip OPS+
2 28 1 8 0 1 1 1 10 .296 .321 .481 .803 .438 138
Men On 2 25 8 7 0 0 0 0 5 .304 .280 .304 .584 .350 61

For what it’s worth, Sabathia was less effective with men on base than with the bases empty back in 2013, his last full and healthy-ish season. Most pitchers are less effective from the stretch — batters hit .245/.303/.379 with the bases empty and .259/.327/.397 with men on base last year — because they’re sacrificing some stuff in order to be quicker to the plate. I’m sure that will be true with Sabathia this year, but it’s too early to know how precisely much less effective he really is from the stretch.

Paul asks: Any news about Andrew Bailey?

Actually, yes. Bailey threw one inning and 13 pitches for High-A Tampa on Tuesday and George King says he followed that by throwing live batting practice Wednesday, so while he hasn’t pitched in back-to-back games yet, he has thrown on back-to-back days. He’s getting there. I think the earliest we’ll see Bailey — if we see him at all, he’s coming back from a major injury remember — is early-to-mid-May. Hopefully he can stay healthy and contribute. Another quality reliever is never a bad thing.

Mike asks: Heard John Kruk and Curt Schilling discussing the idea that rosters should be expanded in April, not September. I’ve never really considered this. What do you think of their idea of a 35-man roster in April and regular 25-man limit in September?

I’m not a fan of expanding rosters in April, I like the extra players in September. Players are most fatigued and in need of rest later in the season, so it’s good to have the extra bodies in September, plus it gives teams an opportunity to reward minor leaguers who had good seasons. Maybe there’s a compromise to be made and rosters can be expanded in both April and September. Keep the September rules as they are, but let teams carry 27-28 players instead of 25 in April, when pitchers are still getting stretched out and stuff. That work? If it’s either/or, give me expanded rosters in September over April, all day every day.

DotF: Judge leads Trenton to win with walk-off homer

Baseball America threw some love RHP Rookie Davis’ way in their Prospect Hot Sheet prequel. “He tops out near 96 mph and sits comfortably in the low 90s, while backing up his heater with a solid mid-70s curveball and ever-improving control … So far, so good for Davis, who has notched a 12-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 11 Florida State League innings in what will be a 40-man decision year for the Yankees,” they wrote.

Also, LHP Ian Clarkin was officially added to the High-A Tampa roster and placed on the 7-day DL, the team announced. I’m not sure if he’s actually hurt though. It might just be a procedural move. If he was really hurt, they’d probably just leave him in Extended Spring Training, right?

Triple-A Scranton (10-2 loss to Syracuse)

  • RF Slade Heathcott: 1-5, 1 RBI, 1 K – 5-for-26 (.192) since his two-hit night on Opening Day
  • CF Ramon Flores: 0-3, 1 BB
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) — that’s his fourth error in seven games
  • 1B Kyle Roller: 1-4, 1 K
  • C Austin Romine: 0-4, 1 PB, 1 E (throwing)
  • LHP Eric Wooten: 4 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2 HB, 3/2 GB/FB — 53 of 81 pitches were strikes (65%)
  • RHP Joel De La Cruz: 2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 5/0 GB/FB — 40 of 57 pitches were strikes (70%) … been a pretty busy last few days for him with the call-up and send down

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have been pretty terrible running the bases so far this season — three stolen bases, four caught stealings, three pickoffs, two other outs on the bases! — but nothing they’ve done compares to the blunder Robbie Cano made last night. He didn’t forget how many out there were, he forgot how many runners were on base! That’s bad. Watch the video above. Underrated part of the highlight: Nelson Cruz’s reaction at second base. Oh Robbie, that was not good.

Anyway, the Yankees are off tonight, so here’s your open thread. The Mets are playing and MLB Network will show a game as well. Who you see depends on where you live. The (hockey) Rangers kick off round one of the postseason with Game One against the Penguins tonight, and there is some other NHL playoff action as well. Talk about whatever you like here.

Brett Gardner remains day-to-day after MRI confirms bone bruise in wrist

Gardner with his wrist wrapped on Monday.
Gardner with his wrist wrapped on Monday.

Earlier today, the Yankees announced Brett Gardner underwent an MRI in Tampa, which confirmed he has a bone bruise in his right wrist. An x-ray showed the same thing on Monday, so the MRI confirmed the original diagnosis. The team says Gardner remains day-to-day, though he was available to pinch-run and play defense last night.

Gardner, 31, was hit by a pitch Monday night, a few days after taking a pitch to almost the exact same spot. He remained in Monday’s game for two more at-bats — during which he tried to bunt rather than swing — before being removed. Brett’s off to a 6-for-23 (.261) start with a double and a homer this year. He hasn’t stolen a base yet.

Prior to yesterday’s game Gardner told reporters he “feels much better” and expects to play in tomorrow’s series opener against the Rays. If he doesn’t come back until Saturday, fine, whatever. I just hope this doesn’t turn into a situation where it lingers, he never goes on the DL, and the team plays short-handed for ten days.

King: Yankees have interest in Braves infield prospect Jose Peraza

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

The Yankees have interest in top Braves infield prospect Jose Peraza, reports George King. King says they’ve already made contact with Atlanta and recently sent scout Dennis Twombley to watch Peraza with Triple-A Gwinnett. The two teams discussed an Andrelton Simmons/Jason Heyward trade over the winter (plus they made the Manny Banuelos trade), so some groundwork has been laid. The Yankees may already know which of their prospects the Braves like the most.

Peraza, who turns 21 two weeks from today, is off to a 6-for-28 (.214) start in Triple-A after hitting .339/.364/.441 (126 wRC+) with 20 doubles, eleven triples, two homers, and 60 steals in 75 attempts between High-A and Double-A last year. He’s a contact machine from the right side, posting a 9.4 K% and a 3.4 BB% in 2014. Peraza is a shortstop playing second base — Atlanta shifted him to the other side of the bag last year because of Simmons. Here is a snippet of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

Scouting Grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 30 | Run: 75 | Arm: 50 | Field: 60 | Overall: 55

Peraza has raced through the Minor Leagues thanks to his feel for the game and his top-of-the-scale speed. As a 20-year-old in 2014, he reached Double-A Mississippi and played in the All-Star Futures Game.

Peraza has a quick, short swing and excellent hand-eye coordination. His swing produces minimal power and he mostly tries to keep the ball on the ground to use his considerable speed to his advantage. He’s a threat to steal whenever he gets on base and has swiped at least 60 bases in each of his first two years of full-season ball.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) says the 6-foot-0, 190 lb. Peraza displayed “steady, soft hands with above-average range and solid arm strength” in the field while noting “scouts questioned Atlanta’s decision to shift Peraza off shortstop to the less-demanding job at second base.” They also say his “modest pop (and) his unwillingness to walk … may set him back as a future leadoff man.”

Peraza is not some random young infielder. He’s a significant prospect. Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Baseball America ranked him as the 24th and 54th best prospect in baseball coming into the season, respectively. Coincidentally, Peraza ranked one spot behind Aaron Judge on both lists, which gives you an idea of his status within the industry.

I wouldn’t take the interest in Peraza as some kind of indication the Yankees have little faith in Didi Gregorius and/or Rob Refsnyder going forward. Quality middle infielders are really hard to find and, aside from Refsnyder, the Yankees don’t have any good shortstop or second base prospects above Single-A. Peraza is a very promising young player who potentially fills an organizational need. It fits.

Prospect for prospect trades are rare but the Braves did make one over the winter — president of baseball operations John Hart sent Double-A third baseman Kyle Kubitza to the Angels for rookie ball lefty Ricardo Sanchez. (Fun Fact: The Braves don’t have a GM. Hart and assistant GM/ex-Yankee executive John Coppolella are sharing GM duties.) Hart took over as the decision-maker last late year and it’s not uncommon for a new exec to trade his team’s prospects. Look at GM A.J. Preller with the Padres. They didn’t draft or develop these players. They’re not “their guys,” there’s no connection.

Anyway, King says the Yankees probably wouldn’t give up Luis Severino for Peraza but could deal Gary Sanchez as part of a two-player package. That sounds like speculation more than actual reporting though. Personally, I’d trade any prospect in the system for Peraza, including Judge or Severino. A two-player package featuring Sanchez plus a spare outfielder, say Georgia boy Tyler Austin, would be ideal, but I’m not sure why the Braves would do that. The Yankees have lots of outfielders and catchers, and good middle infielders are rare. Peraza makes a ton of sense if Hart & Co. are willing to move him.