Following Monday’s off-day, the Yankees lost 3-2 to the Nationals this afternoon. CC Sabathia looked pretty bad, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks in three innings. He struck out three, threw his new cutter a handful of times out of 61 total pitches, and sat 86-87 mph while touching 89 with his fastball according to Adam Kilgore. That’s not exactly encouraging.
“I sucked. We can leave it here in Vero or Viera or wherever we are and just go on to the next one,” said Sabathia to Wally Matthews. “I was kind of erratic, like all over the place. I couldn’t get my delivery down, and try to push off, try to get some leverage throwing downhill, it was just hard for me. I don’t know if I was just jumping off the mound, leaving too early. From my point of view, I just felt like I was rushing.”
In other news, Eduardo Nunez tripled for the team’s first base-runner of the game with two outs in the fifth. Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Scott Sizemore went a combined 0-for-16. Dean Anna drove in a run with a single, Gardner plated the other with a sac fly. Five relievers combined to allow one hit in five innings. Here’s the box score and video highlights, and here’s the rest of the day’s news.
- Masahiro Tanaka made his simulated start as scheduled in Tampa while the team was on the road. He allowed three hits, including a solo homer to Jake Cave and two singles by Cito Culver, with nine strikeouts in four simulated innings. Forty-nine of his 63 pitches were strikes. Tanaka’s next start will be Sunday in Florida while most of the team is in Panama. [AP]
- Lots of pitchers needed to get work in following the off-day. David Robertson and Matt Thornton threw simulated games while David Phelps, Adam Warren, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda were among those to throw bullpen sessions. Tyler Austin (wrist) hit again as he works his way back. [Chad Jennings]
- Brendan Ryan (oblique) swung a broomstick today. Insert joke about how you wouldn’t be able to the tell the difference between a broomstick and his bat. Ryan is still a day or two away from getting back in a game. [Matthews]
- Mark Teixeira will not make the trip to Panama. He’s staying behind so he can get extra work in as he returns from wrist surgery. Yangervis Solarte, John Ryan Murphy, Jose Gil, Zelous Wheeler, and Gary Sanchez will all be making the trip. [Jennings, Jorge Castillo]
Here is your open thread for the evening. MLB Network will re-air today’s game at 9pm ET, if you’re interested. The Rangers and Devils are both playing as well. Talk about another of those games or anything else right here. Enjoy.
Via Jon Heyman: There is currently “nothing doing” on the trade market for Ichiro Suzuki and it’s likely he will start the season with the Yankees. They’ve been shopping him pretty much all winter, but haven’t gotten any bites.
Ichiro, 40, hit .262/.297/.342 (71 wRC+) last season and has been pushed into a fifth outfielder’s role. He’ll be counted on to pinch-run and play late-inning defense in right, two things he should be quite good at if he adjusts to the reducing playing time. Zoilo Almonte could do the same job and maybe even do it better though, so if the Yankees find a way to unload some of Ichiro’s contract, they should jump on it. · (37) ·
For most of these season preview posts, we’ve been lumping players together based on similar skills or roles or whatever. I was planning to do the same for the breakout candidates as well, but looking over the projected big league roster, not many guys fall into the category. David Phelps and Adam Warren? Yeah, maybe. But how high are their ceilings, really? Michael Pineda and Dellin Betances? They haven’t had an extended stint on the Yankees’ roster yet.
When I think about players who could be in store for a breakout season, I think about guys who have been in the show for a year or three and appear to be ready to take that next step. David Robertson broke out in 2011. Brett Gardner broke out in 2010. Robinson Cano broke out in 2009. Those are breakouts to me. Not someone who is getting their first taste of the big leagues. As far as I’m concerned, there is only one true breakout candidate on the Yankees’ roster this year.
These last three years have been really up and down for Ivan Nova. He has alternated being excellent and awful, which, really, isn’t all that different from most young pitchers. We’ve seen enough flashes of dominance to think Nova can pitch near the front of a rotation down the road, assuming he puts it all together at some point. Does that mean he’ll be Max Scherzer or Felix Hernandez? No, of course not. Those guys are very rare. Can he be as valuable as Anibal Sanchez for a few years though? I think we’d all take that. I know I would.
Unfortunately, taking that step forward to become a consistent, top flight starter is really tough. Many have tried, most have failed. Nova does two things that make you think he can one of the few to take that step forward: he misses bats and he gets ground balls. Or at least he’s shown the ability to do those things at various points over the last three years. After striking out 13.9% of batters faced with a 6.6% swing and miss rate in 2011, Nova has bumped it up to 20.2% and 9.1%, respectively, the last two seasons. He also sandwiched an okay 45.2% ground ball rate in 2012 around 52.7% and 53.5% ground ball rates in 2011 and 2013, again respectively.
The ability is there, we’ve seen it every so often. Nova needs to find a way to marry that 2012-13 strikeout rate with the 2011 and 2013 ground ball rates to be the best possible pitcher he can be. He did that last summer, at least for a little while. He was pretty terrible before going on the DL with a triceps problem, but he resurfaced in late-June and pitched well through the end of the season. That’s the guy the Yankees want to see all the time, the late-June through September version of Nova. That guy racked up both strikeouts and ground balls*.
* Nova’s walk rate (2.97 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%) has been pretty consistent over the last three seasons, in case you’re wondering. If he and the Yankees want to try to cut down on the free passes, great. He’s fine right where he is right now though.
I think that, in general, Nova is a tough pitcher to wrap your head around. He looks like he should be one of the best pitchers in baseball because he’s got some really good stuff, the big frame scouts love, and confidence that borders on arrogance, but there’s a disconnect between what he looks like and what he actually is. I think part of the reason why he’s so difficult to understand is the way he’s changed just over the the last three seasons. Look at his pitch usage, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:
Look at how much it changes from year to year. When Nova dominated in the second half of 2011, it was because he emphasized his slider. Less than two full seasons later, the slider was a non-factor and the curveball became his go-to secondary pitch. The red and yellow lines head in completely opposite directions. It’s also worth noting Nova doesn’t use his fastball as much as he once did these days, and in fact for most of the last year he threw his curve more than his heater. That’s … uncommon.
The pitch usage suggests Nova is still looking for what works for for him. That’s a guy making adjustment after adjustment, not for the sake of fine tuning his game or perfecting his craft, but out of necessity. If Nova didn’t start throwing his curveball so much last year, he might have been stuck in Triple-A. Maybe the new fastball-curveball approach is the one that leads to the breakout and long-term success. We did wonder the same thing about his fastball-slider approach after 2011, remember. I don’t think we can say anything definitive about what pitch mix works before for Nova. The guy’s a mystery.
And yet, the flashes are there. The strikeouts, the ground balls, the fastball-breaking ball combination … we’ve seen it all over the last few years, just not all at the same time. Not often enough anyway. Last season was a step in the right direction but now another step forward is needed. Nova needs to put together a full, productive season from start to finish. No more wake-up call demotions to Triple-A (he’s out of options anyway), no half season of awfulness followed by a half season of excellence, just a full year from start to finish.
I think Nova is capable of having that kind of season in 2014. It’s about time he does, really. He’s making some decent money ($3.3M during his first trip through arbitration) and he turned 27 back in January, so Nova is entering what should be the best years of his career. If he doesn’t break out this summer, you have to wonder if he ever will. I wouldn’t go as far as calling this a make or break year for Nova, it’s not like he’ll never pitch in the big leagues again if he doesn’t perform well, but this is the time for him to advance his career and cement himself as a cornerstone piece for the Yankees going forward.
The Yankees made the cross-state trip to Viera to play the Nationals this afternoon, though the game will not be on television anywhere in New York. It will be on MASN for those of you near the beltway, otherwise it’s MLB.tv or nothing. Here are the Yankees and Nationals lineups. CC Sabathia is starting and, if I’m not mistaken, this will be the first time Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner play the outfield together. Time to develop some communication. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 1pm ET. Talk about the game here if you’re watching. · (56) ·
Via Chad Jennings: Left-handed pitching prospect Nik Turley expects to be shut down for another two weeks or so with arm tightness. He has been sidelined since camp started and has not thrown at all. Tests showed no structural damage, the team is just being cautious.
Turley, 24, had a 3.88 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 139 innings with Double-A Trenton last season, making one spot start with Triple-A Scranton. I ranked him as the team’s 23rd best prospect last month. With both Turley and Jose Ramirez (oblique) unlikely to start the season on time, the Triple-A rotation is suddenly short an arm or two. Manny Banuelos and Bruce Billings seem to be the only locks with Vidal Nuno a strong possibility. Might have to grab a straggler free agent to eat some innings for a few weeks. · (8) ·
Early on in Spring Training, it was obvious the Yankees were showcasing their young catchers for trades. Gary Sanchez, John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine were (and still are) playing just about every game, either behind the plate, at DH, or off the bench. It’s no secret the Yankees need infield and bullpen help, and when you sign Brian McCann to an $85M contract, trading a spare backstop for help elsewhere makes sense.
We know at least two teams (Brewers and White Sox), have been scouting the Yankees’ catchers, so all that showcasing is not going to naught. Someone is out there watching and that’s exactly what the Yankees want. They can force anyone to make a trade. The young catchers are not the only guys out there being put on display though. The Yankees are also showcasing their extra outfielders this spring after signing both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner long-term, as well as sinking big money into Carlos Beltran on a shorter term deal.
Both Ramon Flores and Mason Williams have played in nine of the team’s first dozen Grapefruit League games so far, more than every outfielder in camp other than Adonis Garcia and Antoan Richardson, who have played in ten games each. Flores is second to Ellsbury in plate appearances among outfielders, and he’s played all three outfield spots as well. Williams has played both his usual center field as well as right, where he has zero career games in the minors. Even Ichiro Suzuki, who was shopped all winter, has started a game at each of the three outfield spots this spring as the Yankees continue to look for a taker.
Now, part of the reason why Flores and Williams are playing so much is injury. Had Slade Heathcott (knee) and Tyler Austin (wrist) been healthy this spring, they surely would have grabbed some at-bats and games in the outfield. For the purposes of showcasing their young outfielders — Flores and Williams are the team’s most tradeable outfield prospects in my opinion, though none of these guys are close to untouchable — the injuries allow the Yankees to give Flores and Williams (and even Ichiro) all that playing time. No team will trade for a player based on how he looks in Spring Training, but the extended looks give them a chance to update their internal evaluations. That can be a bad thing in some cases.
As with the catchers, the Yankees have a decent amount of outfield depth in the minors. They have a better (but more injury prone) version of Williams in Heathcott, who is also one level closer to the big leagues. Flores had an okay year in Double-A last season but he and Austin are similar players, though they bat from different sides of the plate. Holding onto every prospect isn’t a good idea no matter how badly you need homegrown players. Not at all. Some of them are going to flame out through normal attrition and knowing when to cut bait is just as important as knowing who the keep*.
* The Cardinals are great player development organization and it’s not just because of the guys they produce. When a Brett Wallace (2008 first round) or Zach Cox (2010 first round) goes bad, they get rid of them quickly (for Matt Holliday in 2009 and Edward Mujica in 2012, respectively). The Yankees did this with C.J. Henry (2005 first rounder, for Bobby Abreu in 2006) back in the day. Knowing your own players and being honest about their ability is super important.
What could the Yankees get for Flores or Williams? Who knows. A scout recently told Peter Gammons the Yankees “could be a player” for Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez, who fits their need for a young infielder. The 24-year-old Dominguez is a top notch defender with some power (21 homers in 2013) but a questionable bat in general. Would I trade Williams for five years of Dominguez? Yeah, I probably would. Double-A prospect for a young guy who can step right into the MLB lineup to fill a position of need? What else should are they supposed to trade him for? That’s just one example of a potential trade match that, as far as we know, isn’t actually on the table.
Anyway, the point is that the Yankees have some extra young outfielders and are giving teams an opportunity to scout them this spring. They’re doing the same for their extra young catchers. Given the obvious needs on the infield (and also in the bullpen, but less so) and the team’s depth in the outfield and behind the plate, showcasing these guys makes all the sense in the world. It’s due diligence, only the other way around. Instead of asking about guys, they’re letting other teams see their players. This is the time of year to showcase people, and so far the Yankees have done a lot of it.
The crew at MLB.com published their list of the top 20 Yankees prospects today, a list that is topped by C Gary Sanchez. No surprise there. OF Mason Williams and OF Slade Heathcott round out the top three. Jim Callis published his list of prospects 21-25 as well.
MLB.com’s lists are always great because they include full (and free) scouting reports, 20-80 scouting scale grades for individual tools, and video for many prospects. The rankings can be a little unique from time to time — this year’s list looks pretty reasonable to me, perhaps because Callis took it over — but that’s okay. Different perspectives are a good thing.
Other Yankees prospects lists: RAB, Baseball America, Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus. · (19) ·
Guess what? There are no camp notes. The Yankees were off today for the first time since Grapefruit League games started, and it was a full day off. There were no workouts scheduled or anything. Just a day to recharge the batteries. With the Panama trip coming up and the next off-day two weeks away, a day of rest is a good thing. No news is good news and that’s exactly what we have today.
There is one thing I do want to take a second to point out: RAB turned seven years old on
January February 20th. I am terrible at dates and I completely forgot. Just realized it today. Thanks for reading and making RAB part of your day. The site has grown far more than Ben, Joe, or myself ever expected when we launched, and I think I speak for everyone here when I say the best parts of RAB are the friends I’ve made and all the great people I’ve met these last seven years. It’s been pretty awesome.
Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. MLB Network will replay a game later tonight and SNY will re-air this afternoon’s Mets game as well, if you’re really desperate for some baseball. Old pals Bartolo Colon and Curtis Granderson both played. This happened too. The Islanders, Knicks, and Nets are all playing as well. Talk about whatever you like here. Enjoy.
(I’m re-posting that video because it was easy to overlook last Friday night. I enjoyed it.)
Via Chad Jennings: Several clubs are specifically scouting Frankie Cervelli this spring as they look for catching help. We’ve heard that the Brewers and White Sox are scouting the team’s spare backstops, and the Diamondbacks are said to be looking for an MLB ready catcher as well.
Cervelli, 28, is out of options and can not go to the minors without first passing through waivers. He’s slated to start the season as Brian McCann’s backup. Jennings hears that Cervelli’s value isn’t all that high, and that a trade would likely involve another team’s out of options player. Spare part for spare part, basically. Here are the Brewers, White Sox, and D’Backs out of options guys, if you’re interested. None of the players who figure to actually be available are all that appealing. · (66) ·
Mariano Rivera has retired and he’s not coming back. After 16 years of enjoying eight inning games thanks to the best reliever in baseball history, the Yankees are beginning an era in which the ninth inning isn’t such a lock anymore. The bullpen anchor is gone, and even though we got a glimpse of what life without Mo was like when he hurt his knee in 2012, this is still going to be a new experience.
The Yankees have stopped short of officially naming David Robertson their new closer, but that is a mere formality at this point. Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, and even Hal Steinbrenner have indicated Robertson will assume ninth inning duties this spring. That’s no surprise. Robertson has been excellent these last three years and has pretty much every quality you’d want in a future closer. He strikes guys out, he gets ground balls, and he has experience working high-leverage innings for a (mostly) contending team in a tough division in a huge market. All the boxes are checked.
At this point, I think we all know what Robertson is and what he can do. He’s primarily a cutter pitcher at this point, mixing in the occasional curveball when ahead in the count. He’s also cut down on his walk rate drastically these last two years, going from 4.7 BB/9 (12.2 BB%) from 2008-11 to a 2.6 BB/9 (7.3 BB%) from 2012-13. Robertson is not the most efficient pitcher in the world, but he has said this spring that he is making an effort to throw fewer pitches and get quicker outs this season. Maybe that leads to him striking out fewer batters but being available three days in a row instead of just two. We’ll see.
There seem to be two opposing schools of thought when it comes to the closer’s role: anyone can do it and not everyone can do it. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Not everyone likes pitching at the end of games — Jeremy Affeldt and LaTroy Hawkins are two notable players who have admitted as much — but way more guys can close than most people initially thought. The fact of the matter is we don’t know how Robertson will react to closing until he does it. I think he’ll be more than fine but what do I know? All we can do is wait a few weeks and see.
Instead of focusing just on Robertson, I want to spend some time exploring what the Yankees are looking at in the post-Rivera years. How the other half lives. That is, basically, a revolving door at closer. Sure, Robertson might be the guy for the next half-decade, but he has not been a closer yet and he’s due to become a free agent after the season. It’s not crazy to think he might not be the team’s closer long-term. Closers like Rivera, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Billy Wagner, and Trevor Hoffman are very rare. Not many guys do the job for ten years or more. There is generally a lot of turnover in the ninth inning.
As of right now, only three teams project to have the same closer on Opening Day 2014 as they did on Opening Day 2012: the Phillies (Papelbon), Braves (Craig Kimbrel), and Padres (Huston Street). (Aroldis Chapman and Glen Perkins took over as their club’s closer a few weeks into the 2012 season, but were not the guys on Opening Day.) Three teams, that’s it. You can go back and check if you want. Furthermore, all four LCS teams last year (Dodgers, Cardinals, Red Sox, Tigers) changed closers at midseason. World Series closers Koji Uehara and Trevor Rosenthal weren’t even their team’s Plan B. Uehara got the job after Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey got hurt, and Rosenthal got it after Jason Motte got hurt, Mitchell Boggs flopped, and Edward Mujica crashed late in the season.
That is the norm. Most teams wind up making changes at closer if not in season, than at some point in the span of two seasons. The Yankees are very fortunate to have Robertson, who is more Rosenthal than Mujica, but in a world without Rivera, they could be looking at a new closer every year or two. Remember what it was like before Mo? John Wetteland for two years, Steve Howe for a year, Steve Farr for three years … on and on. Let’s not forget the postseason either, Rivera was beyond brilliant in October and that is irreplaceable. That revolving door is what the next few years of the ninth inning could look like, especially if Robertson proves to be not up to the task or bolts as a free agent next winter.
For this coming season, the Yankees appear to have a more than capable ninth inning man in Robertson. If he can’t hack it, then whichever reliever happens to be pitching the best at the time figures to get a crack at the ninth inning. Maybe that’s Shawn Kelley or Dellin Betances or Adam Warren. Who knows? We’ll worry about that when the time comes. Robertson is as good as any prospective closer in the game, but because of his impending free agency, the ninth inning is still a question long-term. That’s the case for almost every team in baseball and new experience for the Yankees as we know them.