Heyman: Yanks have interest in Ben Zobrist, Dustin Ackley

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

According to noted Arby’s lover Jon Heyman, the Yankees are among the teams with trade interest in Athletics do-everything-guy Ben Zobrist. “There will be many teams interested in Zobrist,” noted one A’s person while speaking to Heyman, and they’re correct. Zobrist’s ability to switch-hit and play almost anywhere makes him a hot rental commodity.

The 34-year-old Zobrist is hitting .207/.295/.359 (85 wRC+) in 105 plate appearances this year around a knee injury. As I noted last month, Zobrist has been trending downward in recent years, especially his power, but he still makes enough contact and draws enough walks to put up a decent AVG and OBP. Plus he’s a switch-hitter who plays strong defense at most positions. The fit for the Yankees is obvious as long as you’re willing to chalk up his 2015 performance to small sample size/injury noise.

Heyman also hears the Yankees maintain interest in Mariners utility man Dustin Ackley despite his dreadful season. He’s hitting a weak .197/.252/.331 (65 wRC+) in 142 plate appearances in 2015 and has been relegated to part-time duty. Ackley has experience at second base, first base, and all over the outfield. He’s still relatively young (27) and isn’t that far away from being a top draft pick (second overall in 2009) and top prospect (No. 11 and 12 on Baseball America’s top 100 lists in 2010 and 2011), so there’s some upside there if you really squint.

The Yankees have expressed interest in Ackley several times in the past, including as far back as the 2013 Winter Meetings. They reportedly tried to acquire Ackley at the trade deadline before acquiring Martin Prado last summer, but declined Seattle’s request of Bryan Mitchell in return. Mitchell’s a good pitching prospect, not a great one, but saying no was smart considering how far Ackley’s stock is fallen. He’s owed $2.6M this year and seems like a candidate to be non-tendered after the season.

Ackley. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Ackley. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

While both Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew have performed better of late — Gregorius is 11-for-35 (.314) since the start of the West Coast trip and Drew has four homers in his last four games — the Yankees should be on the lookout for middle infield help, especially at second base since Drew is on a one-year contract. Rob Refsnyder as a 117 wRC+ in Triple-A, but, for a bat only prospect, that’s not exactly enough to force the issue. Besides, Zobrist and Ackley are versatile enough to play elsewhere even if Refsnyder comes up. (Also, Ken Rosenthal argued a six-man rotation would be easier if the Yankees had someone that versatile.)

Ackley should come pretty cheap because he’s been terrible this year and has been trending downward in recent years, though figuring out what it would take to get Zobrist is a much more difficult. The Yankees gave up Yangervis Solarte and Rafael DePaula to get Chase Headley — a similar defense-first switch-hitter with an okay bat — as a rental last summer, but my guess is Zobrist will cost quite a bit more because his peak was (and name recognition is) greater than Headley’s. Does giving up, say, Eric Jagielo make sense? It might come late July.

Barring injury, second base is the only position the Yankees can really upgrade at the trade deadline, unless they unexpectedly give up on Gregorius, which I don’t see happening. They’re locked in to players with big multi-year contracts at literally every non-middle infield position. Zobrist is a fit for the Yankees the same way he’s a fit for basically every team. Ackley’s more of a pricey reclamation project, the type a contending team usually doesn’t take on.

Game 59: Take Two


The Yankees and Nationals are going to play their two game-series in the span of 24 hours or so. The Yankees won the opener last night and will try to get a little revenge for getting swept in that two-game series in Washington a few weeks ago. Sweeping a two-game series is always cool.

More importantly, the Yankees have won seven straight games — and 11 of their last 14! — for the first time since September 2012. The last time they won eight straight was June 2012, when they won ten straight. The Yankees are close to firing on all cylinders now that the bottom of the lineup has been something better than awful. Keep it going this afternoon. Here is Washington’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. 2B Jose Pirela
  9. SS Brendan Ryan
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s a very nice afternoon for baseball here in New York. Sunny, blue skies, and not unbearably humid. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: As you can tell by the lineup, Ryan (hamstring, calf) was activated off the 60-day DL today. Ramon Flores was optioned to Triple-A. The Yankees had an open 40-man spot, so no other move was needed to accommodate Ryan.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) ran the bases today and has been hitting off a tee. Running the bases is a pretty significant rehab milestone for a speed guy with a knee injury … Ivan Nova (elbow) threw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium today and will make another rehab start with Triple-A Scranton on Friday. Sounds like he could be activated after that.

2015 Draft: Day Three Open Thread

2015 Draft logoWith the first two days of the 2015 draft complete, we’re down to Day Three, the day teams take some risks and build organizational depth. Inevitably, several prospects who will develop into very good big league players will be drafted today. Baseball’s weird like that. So many guys fly under the radar and turn out better than expected.

The Yankees went college heavy on Day One and Day Two, which is their thing now. Fast-moving college players because they haven’t had a whole lot of success with riskier, long-term development prospects the last several years. The Yankees will definitely roll the dice on some prep players today — they have to use the bonus money they saved on Day Two somewhere — but won’t sign them all. Cast a wide net, hope to catch a few fish.

Here are the best available players according to Baseball America. The top 15 are all high school players and all 15 are still on the board because teams aren’t confident they can sign them. Day Three picks are not tied to draft pool space, so teams can select those players, see if they’ll change their mind about turning pro, and not lose anything if they go to college. The Yankees figure to make a few picks like that.

Day Three of the draft begins at 12pm ET and, thankfully, the picks are rapid fire now. One right after the other. How else are they supposed to cover rounds 11-40 in one day? The entire draft used to be like this. It was glorious. Here is the MLB.com audio feed and the MLB.com Draft Tracker. Use this thread to talk about the final day of the draft. We’ll have a regular game thread along for this afternoon’s game shortly.

A closer look at Nathan Eovaldi’s splitter

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Nathan Eovaldi’s most recent start last Friday night against the Angels was a game most Yankee fans would like to forget — that’s what happens when you nearly blow a seven-run lead in the ninth inning — but it’s one that could potentially be an important milestone in the development of the 25-year-old right-hander.

As Mike mentioned in his recap, the key takeaway from Eovaldi’s outing was his surprisingly heavy splitter usage. According to the (revised) numbers from Brooksbaseball.net, 18 of his 93 pitches were splitters, the most he’s ever thrown in a game and his highest percentage (19.4) as well.

Eovaldi had never before thrown more than 14 splitters in a game, so the question is whether this is a one-game blip or a new trend. Prior to his start on June 5, he told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch that he had “been working on” the splitter and that he’s “built up a lot more confidence in it, the last few outings.”

That last part of the quote is key — regardless of how nasty the pitch might be in terms of velocity or pure stuff, before a pitcher can really commit to using it, he has to be able to throw the offering with conviction. It’s a two-step process, really, where the mind and the arm have to be in sync before you are able execute the pitch successfully on a consistent basis.


During the first two months of the season, Eovaldi showed he can get the results he wants with the splitter, throwing it primarily when he’s ahead in the count. It has been a really strong pitch for him, generating whiffs, grounders and outs at a high rate.

Eovaldi has thrown 90 splitters this season and batters have whiffed on nearly four out of every 10 swings against the pitch. When they do manage to make contact, it’s usually been either a foul ball (13), grounder (13) or harmless pop-up (1). Eovaldi has yielded just three singles off his splitter, which has also netted him 25 outs, including 12 strikeouts.

As you can see in the chart below, it has been arguably his most effective out-pitch this season, albeit in a very limited sample size.


The key to the success he’s had with the pitch is two-fold. First, his location — he’s kept the splitter down and away to both righties and lefties — making it difficult for hitters to get solid wood on the ball.

image (6)

Second, his ability to get swings on the pitch, even though nearly three-quarters of his splitters have landed out of the strike zone. Batters have chased 40 percent of his out-of-zone splitters, indicating that the pitch has a ton of deception and good movement. More often than not, when a batter swings at a pitch off the plate, he’s going to either come up empty or make weak contact. Curtis Granderson took the swing-and-miss route on this filthy 2-2 splitter in late April:


So we’ve seen that Eovaldi’s splitter definitely has the “stuff” to get batters out and be an effective weapon for him in favorable counts. But, before this week, the missing ingredient was the confidence to be able to execute the pitch in a put-away count on a consistent basis.

While 43 of his 90 splitters have been thrown in two-strike counts, that still represents only 15 percent of his two-strike pitches this season. Instead, he’s been heavily relying on his four-seamer (42 percent) and slider (38 percent) when getting to two strikes. That makes sense for Eovaldi — since he is very comfortable throwing those pitches — but it really hurts him when he’s trying to finish off batters, because it makes him way too predictable in those situations.

If its true that he now has more trust in his splitter, he needs to also start throwing it more often — perhaps increasing its two-strike usage to 20 or 25 percent — and relying less on his fastball, which has been crushed this season. Batters have hit .375 and slugged .531 off his four-seamer, and the numbers are just as ugly in two-strike counts (.325/.550).

Armed with a blazing fastball and plus breaking ball, Eovaldi has often been labeled as a high-upside pitcher with limitless potential — if he could harness his raw talent and (among other things) add a third out-pitch.

That’s why the recent development of this much-needed confidence in his splitter is so important, and could be the difference-maker in whether remains a back-end starter or can grow into a top-of-the rotation guy.

2015 Draft: Yankees add upside among bonus pool saving picks on Day Two

Since the spending restrictions were put in place a few years ago, Day Two of the annual amateur draft has mostly been a bore. Teams are focused on maximizing their bonus pool, which often means drafting players earlier than their talent dictates simply because they’ll sign quickly and below slot. Many of the best available players heading into Day Two are still available on Day Three because teams don’t want to risk losing draft pool space if the player doesn’t sign. That’s the case every year.

The Yankees once again leaned toward college players on Day Two yesterday — only two of the eight players they selected were high schoolers — though they were still able to squeeze in a few upside picks. Not future stars or anything like that, but players with a chance to go grow into above-average big leaguers down the line. Here’s my review of Day One, now let’s review Day Two. You can see all of New York’s picks at Baseball America.

Finley. (San Diego Union Tribune)
Finley. (San Diego Union Tribune)

The Upside Play
After a bland, less than exciting Day One, the Yankees went for upside and projectability with their first selection on Day Two, grabbing California HS RHP Drew Finley with their third round pick (92nd overall). Here’s my profile. They reportedly coveted him with one of their two first round picks and were able to get him in the third round, so that’s a nice coup.

Finley has a low-90s fastball, a good curveball, and a good changeup, plus he throws strikes well enough. He also stands out for the PitchFX data he generated during showcase events last year. From Keith Law (subs. req’d):

Rancho Bernardo HS right-hander Drew Finley was one of the top-rated pitchers on the showcase circuit in the summer of 2014, according to the pitch-tracking data from Trackman, which ranked the extension on his fastball and the spin on his curveball as among the two best in the draft class.

As Jeff Passan and Mike Petriello explained a few weeks ago, spin rate is all the craze these days because it correlates to swing-and-miss rate better than pure velocity. It’s a relatively new but very valuable tool, and Finley scored well compared to his peers last summer. The Yankees rely on analytics as much as any team, so they no doubt took this data into consideration when drafting Finley.

As for the more traditional stuff, Finley’s father David is currently a scouting executive with the Dodgers who previously worked with the Red Sox and Marlins — Drew is a Red Sox fan! — so he’s grown up around the game, which could make the transition to pro ball easier. There’s no ace upside here, those guys are all off the board way before the third round, but Finley already throws strikes with three pitches, so he’s further along in his development than most prep arms.

I’m sure the Yankees are going to sign Finley — they probably hammered out terms overnight Monday — but, if they don’t, he’s the kind of pitcher who could come out of college as the top ten pick in three years. The changeup is already there, the location is already there, all that’s left is filling out that frame and gaining experience.

Adams. (Dallas Baptist)
Adams. (Dallas Baptist)

The Token Reliever
This is becoming routine for the Yankees. At some point in the first ten rounds of the draft, they select a bat-missing college reliever who projects to climb the minor league ladder in a hurry. Last year it was LHP Jacob Lindgren, the year before that it was RHP Nick Rumbelow, and the year before that it was RHP Nick Goody. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer has taken at least one college bullpen arm in the top ten rounds since the bonus pool system was implemented.

On Day Two, that college reliever was Dallas Baptist RHP Chance Adams (5th round). Adams was probably only the third best prospect in his own bullpen this spring — RHP Drew Smith and RHP Brandon Koch were drafted in the third and fourth rounds, respectively — but he has the best combination of present stuff, command, and results. The 6-foot-0, 205 lb. righty used a mid-90s fastball and a sharp slider to post an 83/13 K/BB in 59 innings this spring. Adams isn’t Lindgren, but there are similarities with Rumbelow as a short-ish bullpener.

Hendrix. (The Oregonian)
Hendrix. (The Oregonian)

All Bat Or All Defense
In the fourth and sixth rounds, the Yankees scooped up two players whose value comes primarily on one side of the ball. Oregon State OF Jeff Hendrix (4th) is a speed and defense type who steals bases and plays a quality center field. His left-handed bat is a question mark — Hendrix is said to have an exploitable hole on the inner half, though he covers the outer half well and slashes the ball all around the infield to use his speed. It’s a classic defense first fourth outfield profile.

Two rounds later, the Yankees drafted Howard College 2B Brandon Wagner (6th), a left-handed power hitter who slugging 22 home runs in 58 games this spring. He’s said to have power to all fields and good knowledge of the strike zone, allowing that power to play in games. Howard isn’t much of a defender though, and there’s some thought he’ll wind up at third base or left field. Either way, he’s a bat first prospect who stands out for his lefty pop, making him the polar opposite of Hendrix. (It’s worth noting Wagner is still only 19. He’s young even by junior college standards.)

Workout Stud
Arizona HS 3B Donny Sands (8th) was not a well-known prospect coming into the spring nor was he expected to be a high pick. The Yankees were impressed enough during his high school season that they invited Sands to Tampa for a private workout a week or two ago according to Chuck Constantino, where their scouts fell in love with “his mental approach to the game, his competitive streak and his relentless work ethic.” Sands played shortstop and pitched in high school — that’s fairly common, the best athlete plays short and if he has a strong arm, he winds up on the mound too — but the Yankees announced him as a third baseman. Either way, the private workout was an opportunity, and Sands took advantage.

Money-Saving Seniors
As usual, the Yankees took some college seniors on Day Two in an effort to save some draft pool space. Seniors have no leverage and tend to sign very cheap, usually in the low-to-mid-five figures, saving the club bonus pool space they can then use on other picks. Every team does it. That’s the most efficient way to game the system and not stick strictly to slot.

Anyway, the Yankees grabbed three college seniors on Day Two: Florida Southern OF Jhalan Jackson (7th), Michigan State 1B Ryan Krill (9th), and The Citadel LHP James Reeves (10th). Combined slot money for those three picks is $500,700 and the Yankees will spend maybe 25% of that to sign those three. Jackson (20 homers in 45 games) and Krill (13 homers in 56 games) are power hitters while Reeves uses a low arm slot to rack up strikeouts (115 in 95 innings). They’re fringe prospects who were drafted as high as they were for draft pool reasons.

Mo III. (Iona)
Mo III. (Iona)

Hands down, the most surprising selection of Day Two was Iona RHP Mariano Rivera III (my profile). Surprising because the Yankees didn’t take him! I was convinced it was only a matter of time until they grabbed Mo’s son — they drafted him in the 29th round last year but he opted to return to school — but instead the Nationals beat them to the punch, selecting him with their fourth round pick (134th overall). Jerks!

Mo III is a legitimate prospect who improved his stock tremendously this spring — Baseball America ranked him as the 142nd best prospect in the draft, for what it’s worth — and it just seemed inevitable the Yankees would take him again. The question was whether they would do it on Day Two and risk draft pool space should he decide to continue his education. The Nationals took the decision out of their hands.

It would have been fun to see the Yankees draft Mo III and track his progress in the minors, though it’s probably best for him to be in a different organization. He’s already facing big time expectations just because of his name. It’s unfair but it happens all the time. Those expectations would be even more unfair and unrealistic had Rivera been with the Yankees. Now he gets to go and create his own legacy with his own organization. Good for him.

* * *

Much of Day Two was focused on manipulating the draft pool and taking signable players, which is the case every year. The Yankees did get some upside in Finley, both according to traditional and analytical scouting measures, and they also landed a solid bullpen prospect in Adams. I find Wagner’s power to be very intriguing as well. It remains to be seen how much money the Yankees will save with these draft picks, though expect to see several big rolls of the dice on Day Three. There’s no risk taking a player and having him decline to sign now.

Tanaka outduels Scherzer in a Yankees 6-1 win over the Nationals

This game was an absolute nail-biter for the first six and a half innings. First off, the Max Scherzer vs. Masahiro Tanaka matchup lived up to its billing. Heck, even Bryce Harper’s home run power lived up to its billing. Tet Tanaka still threw a heck of an outing. Scherzer also lived up to his name value but unfortunately for him and the Nationals, a defensive miscue proved costly in the seventh inning as the game went from a 1-1 drama to a 5-1 laughter in few batters. The Yankees added another run in the 8th for a 6-1 victory. Oh yeah, also it’s their seventh straight victory.


Webster definition of “mid-delivery” (Source: Getty)

Man, isn’t it more fun when Tanaka is back and is actually really, really good? Tanaka went on mound, did what he does when healthy and effective, and earned a win. I could easily end this section that way but nah, I’ll get more into it.

The only real mistake the righty made was on that 93-mph fastball to Bryce Harper in the fourth inning. McCann wanted the pitch outside but it caught too much of the plate. And well, as you know, the 2015 version of Harper punishes mistakes. That mistake also has better chance to end up in seats in the Yankee Stadium than Nationals Park and that’s exactly what happened. Thankfully, that was the only run Tanaka allowed all night. I feel like there’s no shame allowing a dinger to a monster like Harper, but then again, that ball went pretty far.

Besides that, Tanaka only allowed four baserunners for the entire game. His stuff was the usual – fastball, slider and splitter all working and being spotted well. The former Rakuten Golden Eagle pitched seven complete innings, allowed five hits, no walks and struck out six. His ERA is down to 2.48 and FIP is at a rock-solid 2.63. I think he’s not afraid of his elbow compromising the effectiveness.

Oh yeah, also, on June 9, Tanaka earned the game score of 69. Nice. 

One big missed opportunity

This is still a bit of an infuriating inning to look back on. In the bottom sixth, Mark Teixeira hit a double with one out. The game was then tied 1-1 so it would have been quite golden to scratch out a run in any way possible, especially against an ace like Scherzer. After fouling off several pitches, Brian McCann managed a single to left and it became one out with runners on first and third.

Then came the weird game moment. Carlos Beltran hit a liner to center that Nats CF Michael Taylor seeeeemed to make a diving/sliding play for it but didn’t. Teixeira seemed like he had enough time to score, but, for whatever reason, he didn’t charge in and Taylor got the ball just in time to get McCann for a force out in second. That should have been a 2-1 lead right there. Teixeira has to tag up.

Open the floodgates

The embedded Yankee Matt Thornton (Source: Getty)

After missing out on a run in the sixth, Yankees almost missed out on another in seventh. With one out, Ramon Flores singled and Brett Gardner added another. Chase Headley then hit a bullet to right but it just went right to Harper. Welp, BABIP will do that for you some times. With two outs and two runners on, it was up to A-Rod to see if the Yankee offense could muster anything.

Yankees got way luckier this time. A-Rod grounded one to short. Ian Desmond got the ball and it looked like an easy force out to first at a glance but he went third to get Flores out … and it hit the Yankee outfielder and got past Anthony Rendon. That allowed the run to score. Oh my. 2-1 Yankees. If you are Scherzer and had a heck of a game like that and that’s how it ends … I wouldn’t feel great.

Nationals went to former Yankee LHP Matt Thornton to stop the bleeding. Oddly, the first thing Thornton and the Nats did was intentionally walk Teixeira. Okay. That loaded the bases with two outs and McCann was up. The Yankee catcher hit a high inside fastball for a two-run single and Beltran followed it up with another RBI-single. 5-1 Yankees. Thornton’s embedded Yankee status confirmed? Maybe. In a matter of few batters, a nailbiter became a laugher. Strange but I’ll take it. I definitely did not think the game would end 6-1.

Sluggin’ Stephen (Source: Getty)


How about Stephen Drew? The man now has four homers in last four Yankee Stadium games. Yeah his batting average is still really like, not good (.175) and his 2015 overall run production ain’t great either (66 wRC+). But I do have to admit – that .198 isolated power does pop out.

With nine home runs after today’s game, the man has a legitimate chance to reach 20 home runs for the season – provided he continues to get consistent playing time, of course. The past few games probably lengthened his leash for several more games but if his hitting continues to improve to help the club, it wouldn’t be horrible.

Box Score, Highlights, Standings, WPA:

Here’s tonight’s box score, highlights, updated standings and WPA.

Source: FanGraphs

Tomorrow, the Yankees take on the field against the Nats on 1:05 ET. “(Sometimes) Nasty” Nathan Eovaldi takes the mound and hopefully, he’ll help deliver a two-game sweep.

DotF: Williams keeps hitting in Scranton’s two wins

1B Connor Spencer was the lone River Dog selected to the Low-A South Athletic League All-Star Game, the team announced. Here are the full rosters. Kinda weird they had just one All-Star in a 14-team league and seven-team division. Usually they take big name prospects regardless of what kind of year they’re having. Oh well. Minor league All-Star Games are exactly indicative of the future anyway.

Triple-A Scranton Game One (2-1 win over Buffalo) completion of yesterday’s game, which was suspended due to rain in the fifth inning

  • CF Mason Williams: 2-4, 1 RBI 1 BB — got picked off first
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-3, 2 BB, 1 K
  • RF Ben Gamel: 0-3, 1 BB, 2 K — 11/14 K/BB in his last 20 games
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 4 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 41 of 72 pitches were strikes (57%) … he started yesterday before the rain
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 4/2 GB/FB — 20 of 35 pitches were strikes (57%)
  • RHP Chris Martin: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — eleven pitches, seven strikes
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0-1 GB/FB — nine pitches, five strikes … he’s allowed one earned run in his last 10.2 innings

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