Minor League Notes: Complex Upgrades, Spring Training Notes, Releases, Suspensions, Pace of Play

Yankees Player Development
(Photo via Brendan Kuty)

The Major League portion of Spring Training has been going on for weeks now, but things on the minor league side are just starting to ramp up. Chad Jennings has the Yankees’ minor league workout groups, if you’re interested. As a reminder, those are not regular season level assignments, only Spring Training workout groups. Many (most?) of the players will open the season at a different level than their workout group. Here are some more miscellaneous minor league notes.

Yankees made upgrades to Tampa complex

At the behest of new farm system head Gary Denbo, the Yankees have made a bunch of upgrades to their minor league complex in Tampa, according to Kevin Kernan. They’re mostly very small changes — new dugouts were built, speakers were installed to play music during workouts, players are no longer required to wear high socks, visitors can now walk freely around the complex — but they do all add up.

“Adding a simple thing like speakers and music for the players it makes things more relaxed for the players and we know players perform better when they are relaxed,” said Denbo to Kernan. “It’s time to put them in the position where they have everything they need to have success. That’s what we’re doing. We’re encouraging players families to come out and watch, too. It’s nice having your family around and we are just trying to make it more comfortable for them.”

The Yankees made more significant changes to the Tampa complex last year — the player development staff got its own dedicated statistical analyst and a new office building with a cafeteria for players was built — but these more recent changes are on a smaller scale designed to make players feel more comfortable and professional. Not coincidentally, Josh Norris says the atmosphere around minor league camp is greatly improved. Between these upgrades and Captain’s Camp, Denbo’s done a lot of good in his short time at the helm.

Notes from minor league camp

Minor league Spring Training games started not too long ago, and last week Norris roamed the back fields in Tampa and passed along some pitching notes. RHP Ty Hensley sat 89-92 and touched 93 in his outing with a hard curveball in the mid-to-upper-80s. The most important thing is he’s back pitching after his offseason ordeal. Meanwhile, RHP Gabe Encinas topped out at 95 mph as he continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery, RHP Domingo Acevedo was sitting 94-96 mph with a few 97s, and RHP Rookie Davis was 93-95 mph with some 97s and low-to-mid-70s curveball. Norris also posted video of Hensley, Acevedo, and Jorge Mateo. Acevedo is just massive. He’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 190 lbs. but that looks like it shorts him about 50 pounds.

Yankees release 16 minor leaguers

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees released 14 minor leaguers last week. Here’s the list: IF Jake Anderson, RHP Cristofer Cabrera, RHP Dayton Dawe, UTIL Anderson Feliz, 1B Mat Gamel, 1B R.J. Johnson, 1B Bubba Jones, OF Daniel Lopez, LHP Hector Martinez, LHP Abel Mora, RHP Alex Polanco, RHP David Rodriguez, RHP Hayden Sharp, and UTIL Casey Stevenson. Also, RHP Jordan Cote and RHP Brett Gerritse announced they have been released on Twitter, and C Trent Garrison announced his retirement on Twitter. Garrison was in big league camp this year and Gamel was signed earlier this month. Cote is probably the most notable prospect among the released minor leaguers — he was New York’s third round pick in 2011 and was a classic projectable high school pitcher who didn’t develop as hoped.

Two Dominican Summer League prospects suspended for PEDs

RHP Brayan Alcantara and RH Moises Cedeno have each been suspended 72 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, report Bob Nightengale and Brendan Kuty. Alcantara tested positive for Stanozolol, whatever the hell that is. Both Alcantara and Cedeno pitched in the Dominican Summer League last year. The 21-year-old Alcantara had a 4.21 ERA with 28 strikeouts and nine walks in 25.2 innings, and the 19-year-old Cedeno had a 3.23 ERA with 59 strikeouts and 20 walks in 53 innings.

New pace of play rules implemented

As expected, new pace of play rules have been officially implemented in the minor leagues, MiLB announced. They mirror the new MLB pace of play rules — batters have to keep one foot in the box, strict two minutes and 25 second breaks between half-innings — plus a new 20-second pitch clock being installed at Double-A and Triple-A. The pitcher has to begin his windup within 20 seconds or an automatic ball will be called.

“Minor League Baseball is excited to implement the pace of game initiatives at the Triple-A and Double-A levels of our organization,” said MiLB president Pat O’Conner in a statement. “We feel the emphasis on pace will lead to more fan enjoyment and better play on the field and is another example of the cooperative relationship between our leagues and Major League Baseball in the advancement of player development.”

April will be used a grace period so players can adjust. The penalties start in May. The pitch clock in Double-A and Triple-A does not necessarily mean a pitch clock is coming to MLB next year. The league is testing it out at the highest level of the minors though, and if it works as intended and the players don’t make too big of a stink, expect MLB to push to add them at the big league level. I’m not a fan of a big ugly clock on the field of play at all, but I guess it’s inevitable.

David Carpenter and Justin Wilson, the New Middle Relief Duo [2015 Season Preview]

The Yankees overhauled the middle of their bullpen with a series of small trades this offseason. Righty David Carpenter and lefty Justin Wilson were brought in at the expense of Manny Banuelos and Francisco Cervelli to help bridge the gap between starting pitcher and the Dellin Betances/Andrew Miller combination at the end of games. As with most Yankees relievers, Carpenter and Wilson are power arms with a history of striking guys out.

Joe Girardi has yet to name a closer but that doesn’t really matter for Carpenter and Wilson. I mean, yeah, there’s the off chance once of these two will be given the ninth inning, but that’s so very unlikely. Carpenter and Wilson were brought to the New York for the middle innings — the sixth and seventh, mostly — and with the Yankees figuring to be a low-scoring team, the duo will be asked to get plenty of important outs in 2015.


Carpenter: A Better Version Of Shawn Kelley

The Yankees acquired Carpenter (and Chasen Shreve) from the Braves only four days after sending Kelley to the Padres for minor league righty Johnny Barbato. The timing probably isn’t a coincidence. The Yankees likely had the Carpenter deal lined up before pulling the trigger on the Kelley trade. The four days between trades probably had more to do with the New Year’s holiday than anything. (Kelley was traded on December 29th, Carpenter on January 1st.)

Kelley gave the Yankees two serviceable years after being acquired from the Mariners for the negligible price of Abe Almonte right at the start of Spring Training 2013. Based on the last two years, the 29-year-old Carpenter is an upgrade over Kelley. Check it out:

Kelley 105.0 4.46 3.33 30.9% 9.6% 33.3% .310 .298
Carpenter 126.2 2.63 2.88 27.4% 7.0% 37.9% .265 .284

Kelley has the edge in strikeout rate but Carpenter has the edge everywhere else, and it’s not like his strikeout rate is bad either. It’s well above the league average for relievers (22.2% in 2014). They’re both fastball/slider pitchers, though Carpenter throws quite a bit harder. His four-seamer averaged 95.5 mph in 2014. Kelley’s averaged 92.1 mph. Carpenter is also learning a splitter this spring that has apparently impressed some scouts.

The on-field upgrade the Yankees made by going from Kelley to Carpenter to obvious. It doesn’t stop there though. Carpenter is ten months younger, will earn $1.335M less than Kelley in 2015, and is under team control through 2017 rather than only 2015 like Kelley. Carpenter’s been much healthier over the years too. His only career DL trip is 15 days for a biceps strain last June. Kelley is a two-time Tommy John surgery guy who missed a month with back trouble last year.

Carpenter is going to step right into Kelley’s old role this season, that versatile middle innings righty who can serve as a setup man or even close on occasion if necessary. Since it looks like Adam Warren is destined for the fifth starter’s spot, Carpenter will be Girardi’s number two righty reliever behind Betances to start the season, the same way Kelley was his number two righty reliever behind David Robertson at the start of last season.

Simply put, Carpenter is a high strikeout reliever with big velocity and a relatively small platoon split. He’s an upgrade over Kelley both on the field and contractually, and it’s easy to see how he fits in and helps the bullpen.

Wilson: Don’t Call Him A Specialist

Like most relievers before him, the 27-year-old Wilson was a middling starting pitching prospect in the minors who moved to the bullpen full-time in the big leagues. He had instant success with the Pirates two years ago, and while his 2014 season wasn’t as good as his 2013 season, Wilson still missed bats and kept the ball on the ground. Here are his two full MLB seasons:

2013 73.2 2.08 3.41 20.0% 9.5% 53.0% .258 .233
2014 60.0 4.20 3.62 23.8% 11.7% 51.3% .279 .306
2013-14 133.2 3.03 3.50 21.8% 10.5% 52.2% .268 .268

Wilson throws very hard, especially for a left-hander. His four-seamer averaged 96.4 mph last summer, second highest among the 38 southpaw relievers who threw at least 40 innings. Only the inhuman Aroldis Chapman had a higher average fastball velocity among lefties (101.2!). Wilson also throws cutters and sinkers as well as a few curveballs, but he tends to live off the four-seamer and cutter. When you throw that hard and only pitch one inning at a time, you can afford to throw almost nothing but heaters.

Wilson's good side. (Presswire)
Wilson’s good side. (Presswire)

The cutter allows Wilson to keep right-handed batters in check and he throws so hard that lefties have a hard time keeping up with him, hence the non-LOOGY-esque platoon split the last two seasons. Strikes are a bit of a problem though. Wilson has always had a higher walk rate than you’d like, even when he was a starter in the minors, and that’s his biggest drawback. He’s a middle reliever who walks people, which makes like him like countless others. He’s also a middle reliever who throws with his left arm and averages over 96 mph with his fastball, making him like very few others.

A few years ago the Yankees took a similarly live armed lefty with control problems in Boone Logan and turned him into a reliable, over-hated middle innings lefty. The control problems never really went away, but the Yankees maximized his strikeout ability — Logan’s strikeout rate from 2010-13: 22.5%, 24.9%, 28.5%, 31.5% — to help compensate. I’m guessing that’s what they’re hoping to do with Wilson, who throws harder than Logan but doesn’t have his wipeout slider.

Wilson is not someone Girardi will have to shelter from right-handed hitters in the middle innings, though his walk issues make him a less than desirable option for consistent high-leverage work. That won’t be his role though. Betances and Miller will handle those spots, Carpenter too. Wilson is a pure sixth and seventh inning type who can miss bats and throw full innings. He’s the pitcher Matt Thornton was expected to be last year, only eleven years younger. Heck, maybe he’s Matt Thornton circa 2006 and about to hit his peak.

Spring Training Game Thread: Tanaka, Take Three


The Yankees have not officially announced anything yet, but all signs point to Masahiro Tanaka being this year’s Opening Day starter. CC Sabathia is starting Saturday, so he wouldn’t be able to start Game 1 without pitching on short rest at some point, either in his final Grapefruit League start or Opening Day. That ain’t happening. Tanaka will get an extra day of rest before his final spring and then another extra day of rest before Opening Day.

Anyway, Tanaka will be on the mound this afternoon for his second to last Spring Training start. He’s looked excellent in his previous two starts, allowing just two hits in 5.2 scoreless innings, striking out five and getting eleven ground ball outs compared to just one in the air. His fastball has shown its usual velocity, his splitter is falling off the table, and his slider is breaking like it did last year. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think his elbow is 100% healthy. Kinda like the doctors said it was last September. Amazing!

Today’s reason to watch: Tanaka, obviously. Also Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Justin Wilson are all scheduled to pitch for the second straight day, the first time each guy is pitching back-to-back days in camp. They’re only going to face a batter or two each though, not throw a full inning. Andrew Bailey is also scheduled to make his third spring appearance. I don’t think he’s an Opening Day roster candidate, but if he’s healthy, we’ll see him in the bullpen at some point during the regular season.

The Mets took the long cross-state bus ride from Port St. Lucie to Tampa this afternoon. They sent a decent number of regulars — here’s their lineup — but not ex-Yankee Curtis Granderson. For shame. I’ve still got nothing but love for the Grandyman. Here is Joe Girardi‘s starting lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. LF Garrett Jones
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. C John Ryan Murphy
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Available Position Players: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Greg Bird, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Brendan Ryan, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Jonathan Galvez, CF Slade Heathcott, and RF Ramon Flores will be the second string off the bench. C/1B Francisco Arcia, C Kyle Higashioka, and IF Nick Noonan are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: RHP Chase Whitley, LHP Justin Wilson, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Dellin Betances, RHP David Carpenter, and RHP Andrew Bailey are all scheduled to pitch. My guess is Wilson, Miller, Betances, Carpenter, and Bailey face their hitters, then Whitley pitches the rest of the game to stay stretched out. Just a guess though. RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Alex Smith, RHP Chris Smith, and RHP Nick Goody are the extra arms.

It’s cloudy in Tampa this afternoon but there’s no rain in the forecast. Temperatures in the mid-80s with just enough humidity to make your legs stick to the stadium seats. This afternoon’s game is scheduled to begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and both MLB Network and MLB.tv nationally. There is no SNY broadcast and the MLB Network broadcast will be blacked out in both teams’ home market. MLB.tv won’t be blacked out though. Enjoy the game.

Yankees’ strongest Opening Day bullpen includes Jacob Lindgren


At some point in the next ten days or so, Joe Girardi and his staff are going to finalize their pitching staff by selecting a fifth starter and the last two relievers. They might also pick a closer but that’s not the most important thing in the world since they have multiple candidates for the job. Adam Warren is the heavy favorite to be the fifth starter yet there hasn’t been any hint as to who might be selected to fill out the bullpen.

The Yankees have plenty of relievers in camp, both 40-man roster and non-40-man roster players, and they’ve already eliminated some players from the bullpen competition by sending them down to minor league camp. Jose Ramirez, Branden Pinder, Jose DePaula, and Danny Burawa were among the bullpen candidates sent down already. Jared Burton is hurt (lat strain) and out of the running as well. Here’s how the remaining bullpen candidates have performed this spring:

  • RHP Andrew Bailey: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K in only two games as he works his way back from major shoulder surgery.
  • RHP Scott Baker: 8.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K in three games.
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 7 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 2 K in five games.
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K in seven games.
  • RHP Chris Martin: 6.1 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 8 K in seven games.
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 7.1 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 6 K in three games.
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 12 K in six games.
  • LHP Chasen Shreve: 8 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 10 K in eight games.
  • RHP Chase Whitley: 10 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K in four games.

The Yankees have taken a long look at Shreve this spring and have been using him against right-handed hitters to see if he can get them out — 26 of the 37 batters he’s faced during Grapefruit League play have been righties. Seven of the 26 have reached base. Shreve’s last few outings have been rough though, and while making a roster decision based on Spring Training performance is sorta foolish, teams still do it and Shreve potentially pitched his way to Triple-A.

Davies was never a serious MLB roster candidate and the Yankees have indicated they would like Mitchell to open the year in Triple-A to continue working on things, specifically his command. Same with Rumbelow. Bailey has a lot of rust to shake off and not much Spring Training time left to shake it off. Martin started out well — Girardi mentioned him by name a week or two ago when asked who had impressed him — but he’s allowed at least one hit in each Grapefruit League outing and always seems to be in trouble.

That leaves three bullpen candidates: Baker, Lindgren, and Whitley. Whitley has been fantastic in camp with the caveat that Baseball Reference’s opponent quality stat says he’s been facing Triple-A caliber hitters. Still, when you toss up that many zeros in camp, people notice. And the fact Whitley was in the big leagues last year helps his case.  Baker got destroyed in his first spring outing (three runs on six hits in one inning) but has been excellent since. He’s been facing better than Triple-A caliber competition. The Yankees are likely to use one of last two bullpen spots on a long man (maybe two!) and right now I think we have to say Whitley has a leg up on Baker.

The last remaining name is the most interesting one. Lindgren has dominated in camp — his 19 outs are broken into nine strikeouts, eight ground outs, and two fly outs — yet he’s faced Double-A caliber competition. Lindgren manhandled Single-A and Double-A hitters during his pro debut last summer and it’s no surprise he’s doing it again this spring. His slider is lethal. He’s basically Andrew Miller minus about nine inches of height. The dominant showing this month has only reinforced what many felt coming into Spring Training: Lindgren is one of the seven best relievers in the organization right now.

The Yankees drafted Lindgren, who was a reliever at Mississippi State, with their top pick (55th overall) last year because they expected him to get to MLB in a hurry. There was talk they were going to call him up last year until they decided 79.2 high leverage innings were enough. Teams don’t draft college relievers in the first or second round only to leave them in the minors for two or three years. They pick them high because they can get to the big leagues quickly, and by all accounts Lindgren is as MLB ready as a one-inning reliever can be.

There are no roster space issues — the Yankees have 39 players on the 40-man roster right now and can clear another spot by placing Ivan Nova on the 60-day DL and potentially another when Austin Romine is moved — and manipulating service time with a reliever shouldn’t be a high priority. And let’s be real here, there’s also a “there are only so many bullets in that arm” factor too. Lindgren is a slider heavy reliever and may eventually blow out his arm because that’s what slider heavy relievers do. The Yankees should want to get as much as possible out of him before that happens.

At this point in time, I think the best Opening Day roster is one with Lindgren in the bullpen, even if he’s only working low-leverage middle innings at first to gain experience. This isn’t based on his spring performance either, I felt he could get MLB hitters out last summer. The Yankees have the luxury of a great bullpen, allowing Girardi to break Lindgren in slowly, like he did with Dellin Betances early last year and David Robertson years ago. And if Lindgren doesn’t perform well, so be it, they can send him down. That’s part of the development process. Robertson went up and down a whole bunch of times early in his career too.

No bullpen candidate other than Whitley has really stood out in Spring Training, making Lindgren impossible to ignore. If the Yankees had a bunch of guys performing great in camp, this would be a much more difficult decision. That is not the case though. Lindgren was basically MLB ready at the time of the draft last year and he’s done nothing to dispute that since turning pro. He’s one of the seven best relievers in the organization, so if the Yankees want to field the strongest possible bullpen heading into the season, Lindgren belongs on the Opening Day roster.

Spring Training Game Thread: Esmil’s Last Chance, Maybe


The fifth starter competition continues tonight as Esmil Rogers gets what might be his last chance to convince the Yankees he deserves the job. Joe Girardi said yesterday he hopes to pick a fifth starter by the end of the week, and with Adam Warren lined up to pitch Thursday, Rogers is going to have to pitch well to force the issue. Of course, it seems like the job has been Warren’s all along, so maybe tonight doesn’t really matter.

Tonight’s reason to watch: The team’s three most interesting big league relievers (in my opinion) are scheduled to pitch after Rogers. That is Justin Wilson, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances. Betances’ last two outings were a little shaky, so let’s see if he’s gotten over whatever was troubling him. Dellin is scheduled to pitch tonight and tomorrow as he works back-to-back days for the first time in camp.

The Tigers made the short trip down from Lakeland to Tampa for tonight’s game. Here is their starting lineup and here is Girardi’s starting lineup:

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

Available Position Players: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Ali Castillo, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Ramon Flores, CF Slade Heathcott, RF Aaron Judge, and DH Kyle Higashioka will be the second string off the bench. C Eddy Rodriguez, IF Cole Figueroa, and 2B Rob Refsnyder are the extra players on the bench.

Available Pitchers: LHP Justin Wilson, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Dellin Betances, and RHP Nick Rumbelow are all scheduled to pitch. RHP Diego Moreno, LHP James Pazos, and RHP Chris Smith are the extra arms.

It’s cool and clear in Tampa tonight. Temperatures in the low-to-mid-70s and not a cloud in the sky. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch live on YES locally and both MLB Network and MLB.tv nationally. MLB Network will be blacked out in the Yankees’ home market but MLB.tv will not. Enjoy the game.

March 24th Camp Notes: Rotation, Eovaldi, Ellsbury, Pirela

The Yankees are playing the Tigers at home later tonight, so the regular game thread will be along a little closer to game time. For now, make sure you check out the above video of the Yankees recreating a scene from the Sandlot. Brian McCann steals the show, but man, they really dropped the ball by not having Alex Rodriguez play Smalls. Anyway, here are the day’s notes from Spring Training:

  • The upcoming rotation: Masahiro Tanaka (Wednesday), Adam Warren (Thursday), Michael Pineda (Friday), CC Sabathia (Saturday), Nathan Eovaldi (Sunday). Unless the team does something silly like start him on short rest, that schedule rules Sabathia out for Opening Day. It’ll be Tanaka, like I figured. [Erik Boland]
  • Eovaldi threw 75 pitches across 4.2 innings in a minor league game this afternoon, and everything went well. “I felt good overall. I was just excited to get out there,” he said. Sabathia, Warren, and Ivan Nova all threw bullpen sessions. [Brendan Kuty]
  • Jacoby Ellsbury (oblique) is “progressing great” and ran some sprints today. Joe Girardi said as long as Ellsbury is playing in games one week from today, he’ll be ready for Opening Day. Jose Pirela (concussion) is feeling better but there’s still no timetable for his return. [Bryan Hoch, Ryan Hatch, Marly Rivera]
  • A-Rod put some time in at first base today, working specifically on cutoffs and relay plays. Mark Teixeira gave him a crash course on positioning. [Sweeny Murti]

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Report: Dodgers agree to six-year deal with Hector Olivera

(Kevork Djansezian/Getty)
(Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

According to Jesse Sanchez, the Dodgers have agreed to sign Cuban infielder Hector Olivera to a six-year contract worth $62.5M. The deal includes a $28M signing bonus and is pending a physical, which is not insignificant. There are concerns about Olivera’s elbow ligament and he may need Tommy John surgery.

The Yankees scouted Olivera like everyone, and while we heard they had “strong interest” back in January, it had been quiet since. The Dodgers and Padres were considered Olivera’s most serious suitors with the Braves and Marlins also in on the bidding. Here’s a quick scouting report from Ben Badler:

At around 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Olivera is a physical righthanded hitter with a loose, quick swing and a good hitting approach. He showed good power for a middle infielder, and given that several Cuban players have transformed their bodies and increased their power since leaving the island, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Olivera did the same. His size, athleticism and plus speed (at least at his peak) made him one of the most well-rounded players in Cuba.

Olivera, who turns 30 next month, missed the entire 2012-13 season in Cuba with a blood disorder and hasn’t participated in many international tournaments since then. Although he has participated in showcase events in recent weeks, scouts haven’t been able to see much of Olivera in game action the last few years.

I’m not surprised the Yankees passed on Olivera and not because they are seemingly terrified of pricy Cuban players. A six-year contract for a 30-year-old is the kind of contract they avoided all winter. Add in that Olivera might have a bad elbow, Chase Headley just re-signed for four years, and Rob Refsnyder is knocking on the door at second base, and Olivera wasn’t a great fit for the Yankees and vice versa.