Another Spring Training, another new leg kick for Aaron Judge

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last year Yankees fans got their first glimpse of Aaron Judge at the big league level, and it started out great with a home run off the top the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field. Things went downhill after that. Judge struck out 42 times in his 95 big league plate appearances before an oblique strain ended his season in September. The occasional dinger was nice. The strikeouts were not.

Earlier this offseason, Brian Cashman confirmed Judge was working with hitting coach Alan Cockrell on some adjustments, particularly with his lower half. “Alan Cockrell was working with him on his lower half, and continuing the efforts and adjustments they started last year,” said the GM. “The lower half is the final adjustment that they’re working through — his front side and staying calm and trying to stay balanced — and so I think that’ll help.”

Judge has made a lot of changes with his lower half over the last two years, specifically with his leg kick. He had a relatively small leg kick two years ago, then came to camp with a much bigger leg kick last spring, after working with the organization’s hitting coaches over the winter. Now Judge has no leg kick. Here’s a clip of Judge in the batting cage last week, via Bryan Hoch:

It’s only batting practice and we should be careful not to read too much into it, but there’s no leg kick there. None at all. Considering he’s been working on his lower half since at least last offseason, I don’t think Judge is just messing around there. It’s pretty safe to assume the lack of a leg kick is a result of whatever he and Cockrell (and others?) worked on earlier this offseason.

In theory, eliminating a leg kick increases contact and reduces power. Dumping the extra pre-swing movement makes it easier to get the bat on the ball. At the same time, the leg kick generates momentum. Fortunately, Judge is so damn big and strong he has power to spare. “I try not to think of myself as a power hitter. I try to be — honestly — a contact hitter. I feel like with my strength and size, it allows me to drive balls out of the park,” said Judge to Dan Martin last week.

If nothing else, all these lower half changes — small leg kick in 2015, big leg kick in 2016, no leg kick in 2017 — tell us Judge is willing and able to make adjustments. He struggled in his first taste of Triple-A in 2015, added the bigger leg kick over the winter, then had success in Triple-A in 2016. Judge then struggled in his first taste of MLB last year, and now he’s making another adjustment.

“I don’t want to strike out. Nobody does. It’s just something I’ve got to work at,” said Judge to Martin last week. “I went out there and a lot of times didn’t get the job done. You have to handle failure. I’ve got plenty of that. My first year at Fresno State, in freshman fall ball, I think I hit .190. It’s frustrating. You deal with it and make the right adjustment.”

I can understand why all the tinkering would make someone nervous about Judge going forward. He and the Yankees keep changing his swing mechanics — he also lowered his hands a bunch last year too — and at some point it might be too much. They risk breaking something that didn’t need to be fixed, you know? I don’t see it that way though. Judge has shown the ability to make adjustments in the past. He did it just last year to conquer Triple-A. This is a positive.

Now Judge is working to conquer big league pitching, and that’s a never-ending battle. He came up last year, pitchers took his lunch money, and now he’s working to fight back. Having the baseball aptitude and the willingness to made significant changes — what Judge has done with his leg kick the last two years qualifies as significant to me — is in no way a bad thing.

“Failure always gives you an opportunity to see something you need to improve on. It’s a learning experience,” added Judge while talking to Martin. “I got a chance in the Major Leagues. It was kind of like a practice test in school: You get a feel for it, so next year coming in I kind of know what to expect and prepare for.”

Will the no leg kick approach work? Who knows. The right field job is there for the taking this year and long-term, and you know the Yankees want Judge to hold the job for the next six years. If he needs more time to adjust to MLB pitching the way he needed time to adjust to Triple-A pitching, so be it. Judge is trying though, and that’s really all you could ask for.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 13th, 2017

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

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Reports: Rays sign Nathan Eovaldi to one-year deal plus option

(Tasos Katopodis/Getty)
(Tasos Katopodis/Getty)

According to multiple reports, the Rays and Nathan Eovaldi have agreed to a one-year contract worth $2M. It’s a big league deal, so he’s going on their 40-man roster. The contract includes a club option for 2018, and since Eovaldi won’t pitch at all in 2017, the option is key. Tampa Bay will rehab him and hope it pays off one year from now.

Eovaldi, who turns 27 tomorrow, underwent his second Tommy John surgery last August. He also had surgery to repair his flexor muscle, which he said was torn completely off the bone. Yikes. Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees discussed a reunion with Eovaldi earlier this winter. Apparently he had other ideas.

The Yankees released Eovaldi back in November to clear a 40-man roster spot. He was projected to earn roughly $7M through arbitration in 2017 before becoming a free agent next winter, so keeping him made no sense. Why pay the guy $7M to not pitch next year when he could leave as a free agent after the season? Exactly.

Eovaldi spent two seasons with the Yankees, throwing 279 innings with a 4.45 ERA (4.11 FIP). He had his moments, specifically in the second half of the 2015 season, otherwise Eovaldi remained an enigma. So long, Nasty Nate. Good luck when you’re not facing the Yankees.

Weekend Open Thread

PSA: The Yankees are holding a series of youth baseball camps this summer across New York and New Jersey. It’s not free (nor cheap), but it sure sounds like one heck of a four-day experience. All the information, including how to enroll, is right here. Check it out, moms and dads.

* * *

It’s the final weekend of the offseason. Thank goodness for that. Pitchers and catchers report Tuesday, and two weeks from today, the Yankees will play their first Grapefruit League game. Two weeks until glorious baseball. Here are a few baseball and non-baseball links to check out this weekend:

Friday: This is tonight’s open thread. Baseball America’s annual top 100 prospects list will be unveiled during a live MLB Network broadcast at 9pm ET. Aside from that, the Knicks and Nets are both playing, and that’s it. Hopefully Charles Oakley gives James Dolan the business again. Talk about whatever here, just not religion or politics.

Saturday: Here’s the open thread again. The (hockey) Rangers are playing tonight and there’s a whole bunch of college basketball on the schedule too. Have at it.

Sunday: For the final time, this is the open thread. The Knicks are playing right now and the Islanders are playing later tonight. There’s also a few college basketball games on as well. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Fitting Chris Carter into the Lineup

(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)
(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)

If you’ve never experienced pure boredom and, for whatever reason, want to, I suggest you proctor a New York State Regents exam. It’s perfect if you love pacing around a room, unable to speak, sit, read, or write while students take a graduation-mandatory exam. Just as perfect is hall proctoring, in which you wait outside a room or pair of rooms for students to use the bathroom, where you must escort them–one by one–and wait outside. The highlight of this was flipping quarters that I happened to have in my pocket, marking down heads or tails on my finger; for the record, tails won in a relative landslide. I mention this not so that you pity me– please, though, feel free to do so–but because this is a near-perfect analogy for where we are in the baseball calendar. Like me waiting to be relieved by the next proctor or the kids who finished early waiting for the release time, we’re all at our ‘desks’ waiting for Spring Training to begin.

To their credit, the Yankees did add some fire to the hot stove when they signed Chris Carter to a one year contract last week. When I first heard that they were checking in on him, I wasn’t too jazzed about the idea. But once the signing was announced–especially for so cheap–I came around on it more and more; that could have had something to do with spending a bit of time watching highlight videos of Carter’s NL-leading 41 homers. Regardless of how I–or you–feel about the deal, it’s done and Carter will be part of the team and playing time for him needs to be found. He brings with him a ton of whiffs, but a ton of walks and the aforementioned homers, too, and the Yankees have been lacking those things of late. Though not necessarily an ideal candidate for this team, Carter can help and add value; the only issue is, as Mike mused, where the heck is he gonna play?

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

Against right handed pitchers, it’s pretty hard to find a spot for Carter, aside from a late-inning pinch hitter when a tough lefty reliever comes in. As a right handed batter, he obviously doesn’t give a platoon advantage over Greg Bird at first, and he’s not as complete a hitter as Matt Holliday. To be fair to Carter, though, he does have a career wOBA of .332 (109 wRC+) against righties, so he’s not helpless against them–far from it–which is comforting should Holliday go down or Bird’s shoulder not be fully recovered.

Against lefties, though, there will be ample opportunity for Carter to play. The simple answer is that he and Bird split the first base duties as a platoon. This serves a dual purpose as it gives Bird the lion’s share of the playing time and gives the Yankees another powerful right handed bat to deploy against lefties. However, as Bird is much longer for this team than Carter, it might make more sense to expose Bird to lefties as well. Where does that leave Carter? It depends on some other platoon variables.

If the Yanks really want to hammer lefties and eschew defense a bit in the process, they can. They can accomplish this dual ‘goal’ by being aggressive with their platooning in the outfield. Aaron Hicks can play center in place of Jacoby Ellsbury. Matt Holliday can “play” left field in place of Brett Gardner. The latter move would free up a spot for Carter to DH, giving the Yankees an all-right handed lineup against lefties, save for Didi Gregorius at short.

Chances are, this is all academic and this “problem” resolves itself through lack of performance or an injury. And, either way, the Yankees didn’t sign a 30+ homer guy–regardless of lack of cost–to have him ride the pine. He’ll get his playing time. And, as Mike noted, Carter has team control after this and 2017 could be a showcase for 2018. Hopefully, he makes the most of it.

Saturday Links: Betances, Tanaka, Proposed Rule Changes

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This is the penultimate weekend without baseball games until November. Pretty great, isn’t it? The Yankees will play their first Grapefruit League game two weeks from yesterday. Thank goodness. Anyway, here’s some news and notes to check out this weekend.

Yankees, Betances set for arbitration hearing Friday

According to George King, the Yankees and Dellin Betances are scheduled to have their arbitration hearing this coming Friday, February 17th, in St. Petersburg. “Nothing has changed, we haven’t talked. We have no intention of talking. It’s not close. Somebody else will make the decision,” said Brian Cashman. Betances is seeking $5M while the Yankees countered with $3M, which, as far as I can tell, would still be a record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible setup man.

Since the arbitration hearing is Friday, chances are the three-person panel will announce their ruling Saturday morning. That’s usually how it goes. The hearing is one day and the ruling is announced the next. Maybe they’ll wait until Monday because it’s the next business day. Eh, whatever. Each side will state their case at the hearing and the panel will pick either the $5M or $3M for Dellin’s salary in 2017. Nothing in-between. My guess is the Yankees win. (There have been six arbitration hearings around the league so far and each side has won three, for what it’s worth.)

Tanaka not thinking about opt-out

Earlier this week, Masahiro Tanaka told Dan Martin he hasn’t put much thought into whether he will use his opt-out clause after the season. “Obviously, I’m aware of what my contract says, but it’s something I put aside going into the season,” he said. “You can’t really be thinking about that while you go through the season. I’m really focused on this season. When the time comes after the season, then I’ll probably have a chance to think about that more.”

Back in 2012, we heard CC Sabathia say pretty much the exact same thing when his opt-out was looming. It’s the best possible answer, right? “I’m only focused on trying to win, not my contract.” That’s what everyone wants to hear. These guys are human beings though. Of course Tanaka is aware a big season would mean a shot at a(nother) monster contract. We’ve been through this before with Sabathia. The opt-out is going to be a thing all year.

MLB considering new extra innings rules

According to Jeff Passan, MLB will test new and impossibly stupid extra innings rules in rookie ball this season, assuming Joe Torre, the league’s chief baseball officer, signs off. Under the new rule, a runner would be placed at second base at the start of every inning after the ninth. The goal is, obviously, to cut down on extra innings and eliminate games that last long into the night.

“Let’s see what it looks like,” said Torre. “It’s not fun to watch when you go through your whole pitching staff and wind up bringing a utility infielder in to pitch. As much as it’s nice to talk about being at an 18-inning game, it takes time. It’s baseball. I’m just trying to get back to that, where this is the game that people come to watch. It doesn’t mean you’re going to score. You’re just trying to play baseball.”

One, position players pitching is fun! Two, it doesn’t happen all that often anyway. And three, they have this rule in many amateur leagues and international tournaments. Every inning plays out the same: they start with a runner at second, the first batter bunts him to third, and the second batter is intentionally walked to set up the double play. Every single time. It’s terrible and horrible and I hope this rule change never ever ever comes to MLB.

Now, that said, I could understand implementing this in the minors as a way to avoid overusing pitchers. Maybe make them play 12 innings, allowing each team to go through the lineup one more time, then put a runner at second? This should never come to MLB though. Forget that. I like that commissioner Rob Manfred is open to new ideas. That’s great. This one though? Bad. No thanks.

MLB proposed changes to intentional walks, strike zone

In addition to the stupid extra innings rule, MLB has formally proposed changes to intentional walks and the strike zone, reports Jayson Stark. The ball is now in the MLBPA’s court. Neither side can implement a rule change unilaterally. Both MLB and the MLBPA have to sign off. For what it’s worth, Passan hears there’s no chance the players will approve any changes to the strike zone.

MLB proposed raising the bottom of the zone approximately two inches, which would undoubtedly increase offense. Jon Roegele’s research has shown the strike zone has increased downward in recent years. So not only are more low pitches being called strikes, but now hitters have to protect against them too, and pitches down below the knees are hard to hit with authority. Raising the zone would mean more hitter’s counts and more pitches in hittable locations.

The intentional walk rule change is simple: rather than making the pitcher throw four pitches, they issue a signal and the runner is sent to first automatically. I hate it. Intentional walks are a competitive play. Make the pitcher and catcher complete it. Pitchers are prone to losing the zone after intentional walks, plus we see a handful of wild pitches each year. Gary Sanchez did this last year:

There were 932 intentional walks in 2,428 games last season. It works out to one every 46.1 innings or so. I get MLB is looking to improve the pace of play, but this won’t help much. Intentional walks are too infrequent to make a meaningful change to the time of game. Want to improve pace of play? Cut down on mound visits. The catcher gets one per inning, per pitcher. That’s my proposed solution.

Prospect Profile: Giovanny Gallegos

(Robert Pimpsner)
(Robert Pimpsner)

Giovanny Gallegos | RHP

Background

The 25-year-old Gallegos was signed by the Yankees for $100,000 in January of 2011. As per Baseball America, he was a part of a “package deal” with the Mexico City Red Devils, alongside Luis Niebla (now a member of the Rockies organization). The deal itself received little hype at the time, as is the case with most signings from the Mexican League. Gallegos underwent Tommy John Surgery before making his professional debut with the Yankees.

Pro Career

Gallegos finally made organizational debut in June of 2012, as a member of the GCL Yankees. He appeared in 12 games (four starts), and pitched to a 1.67 ERA in 27 IP. That ERA may sell his small sample size dominance a bit short, as he allowed just 22 base-runners and one home run in that time, while striking out 22. Gallegos followed that up by pitching for his hometown Yaquis de Obregon in the Mexican Pacific Winter League (LPW), where he struggled to the tune of an 8.44 ERA (albeit in just 5.1 IP).

He moved up to the short-season NYPL in 2013, where he spent the entirety of the regular season in the starting rotation. Gallegos made sixteen starts, and pitched to the following line: 65.1 IP, 71 H, 14 BB, 43 K, 4.27 ERA, 4.44 FIP. It was an uninspiring line, to say the least, but it was a full, healthy season that was once again followed by a stint in the LPW (he put up a 4.26 ERA in 6.1 IP).

The Yankees continued to move Gallegos up the ladder in 2014, and he spent the season with Low-A Charleston. The result was another middling season, as he posted a 4.57 ERA in 88.2 IP, spread over 29 appearances (six of which were starts). A silver lining was beginning to show, though, as Gallegos posted a 1.93 BB/9 for the second season in a row, which played a large role in his much better looking 3.45 FIP. He wrapped-up the 2014 calendar year pitching in the LPW, cruising to a 1.69 ERA in 16 IP.

Gallegos broke out in 2015, the majority of which he spent at High-A Tampa. In 53.1 IP at the level (all in relief), he had a 1.35 ERA, 26.9 K%, 3.5 BB%, and a 2.13 FIP. He ranked in the top-five in the Florida State League in ERA, FIP, K%, BB%, and K-BB%, and he didn’t allow an earned run in his last eleven appearances (or 17 IP). Gallegos floated between Double-A and Triple-A, too, posting a 3.72 ERA and 5.0 K/BB in 9.2 IP in the upper minors.

He struggled mightily in the LPW that winter, with an atrocious 10.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP in 9 IP. Thankfully, that did not carry over to 2016.

Last year saw Gallegos earn his place on the Yankees 40-man roster (thereby avoiding the Rule 5 draft), owing to his 1.27 ERA in 78.0 IP between Double-A and Triple-A. His overall numbers look somewhat video game-y, as he had more strikeouts (106) that hits, walks, and home runs combined (70). The lone blemish on his season was a 36.53% ground ball rate, which had precious little impact on the bottom line.

Scouting Report

Gallegos is a 6’2″, 210-pound right-handed batter and thrower, with a surprisingly well-rounded arsenal. His fastball sits in the 92-95 MPH range with a bit of run, and his above-average mid-70s curveball is his go-to secondary pitch. He’ll also throw a high-70s slider and low-80s change-up in longer outings, and both pitches can flash average when he’s on.

As one would suspect based upon his numbers, Gallegos has well above-average command and control. He attacks hitters within the zone, and does a fine job of painting the corners (particularly on the inner-half). That applies to all four of his offerings, as well, though upwards of ninety-percent of his pitch selection revolves around the fastball and curve.

Gallegos’ inability to find consistency with his slider and change-up led to the Yankees removing him from the rotation, and the results support that decision. And that doesn’t just apply to the numbers, either, as his velocity sat in the 87 to 89 MPH range as a starter, which simply isn’t enough without a ton of sink and a couple of plus off-speed pitches.

2017 Outlook

Gallegos is on the 40-man roster, and there’s every reason to believe that he will be afforded an opportunity to make the team’s roster in Spring Training. (He will play for Mexico in the WBC, however.) The bullpen may well have upwards of three slots open to competition, and I’d be shocked if he didn’t at least follow in the proud tradition of shuttle riders of Yankees past. I suspect that we’ll see a fair amount of Gallegos in the show this year.

My Take

If Gallegos ends up being a competent reliever, he may well represent a steal for $100,000 a half-dozen years ago. I don’t think that he has the profile of a light’s out reliever that could fill a set-up or closer role, but I do see him as more capable than the fungible sorts that the Yankees churn through with gusto. The fact that he has averaged better than one and two-thirds innings per outing as a reliever could prove immensely useful to this year’s team, too.