Once upon a time bench players only played when someone got hurt. They were the “we don’t want to actually play these guys, but we need backups for emergencies” players. Now teams build their benches strategically and look to maximize roster spots. Roster spots are a finite resource. The more production you can squeeze out of them, the better.
The Yankees’ bench was a bit unsettled coming into the spring, though things have been sorted out these last few weeks, and now it is pretty obvious who the reserve players will be come Opening Day. Tyler Wade (season preview) has made the team and there’s a chance he’ll actually start at second rather than be a bench player. Jacoby Ellsbury (season preview) will also be on the bench once he returns from his oblique injury. Let’s preview the rest of the bench.
The Late Roster Addition
On March 12th the Yankees took advantage of the slow free agent market and signed Neil Walker to a one-year contract worth only $4M guaranteed. He can earn another $500,000 in plate appearance based incentives, which isn’t much at all. Walker is not a $4M (or $4.5M) player. He’s coming off a .265/.362/.439 (114 wRC+) batting line with the Mets and Brewers last year and he’s been no worse than a +2 WAR players in each of the last seven seasons.
Aaron Boone has not committed to a full-time second baseman, instead indicating it could be matchup based. Wade is a left-handed hitter and Walker is a switch-hitter who has been quite a bit better against righties than lefties in recent years, so a straight platoon wouldn’t make much sense. I reckon this will be one of those “this will sort itself out” situations. Soon enough either Wade or Walker will emerge as the full-time second baseman with their play.
“Look, his track record speaks for itself, but I wouldn’t say he’s coming in here as (the starter at second base),” said Boone to Randy Miller after the Walker signing. “You’re going to see him in some games there obviously, but we feel like we have other good options as well. We just feel like he adds to our versatility and our matchup capabilities. We got better.”
Walker has played some first and third bases this spring — he did that last year as well — and signs point to him doing the same during the regular season. “I’d love him to see him be that guy if we want to give (Greg) Bird a day. Especially with Wade’s ability to move around, it will be interesting to see the moving parts. It should give us versatility and keep us fresh,” said Boone to Dan Martin. Walker has said he’s willing to play wherever, so that’s good. Buy-in from the player is important.
Although there is no defined path to playing time for Walker, it seems clear to me he’s going to play quite a bit. Walker has had some injury trouble in recent years, most notably with his back, and the Yankees may be looking at him as more of a 120-game player than a 150-game player. Even without that defined role, there should be a way to get him 400-something at-bats this year. Maybe Brandon Drury sits against a tough righty and Walker mans the hot corner?
Ultimately, the Yankees signed Walker because the deal was simply too good to pass up. Wade has had a great spring and we’re all excited for Gleyber Torres, but the fact of the matter is neither is proven at the MLB level yet, and the Yankees want to win the World Series this year. Walker is second base insurance in case the kids flame out and a high-end part-time player if the kids do pan out. I think he’s going to play and play a lot, and based on his track record, Walker is going to be a solid contributor for a bargain price this year.
Between Wade’s big spring and the Walker signing, there’s been a “Ronald Torreyes might not make the team” narrative floating around our comments and on social media, and I don’t get it at all. I get that carrying Wade makes Torreyes a bit redundant, but the infield is far from settled, and his main competition for a roster spot is … Tyler Austin? Billy McKinney? Not the stiffest competition, you know?
It seems to me the Yankees like Torreyes and value him for exactly what he is: A good utility infielder. Not a potential starter. He’s a good utility guy. Torreyes is a high-energy player who makes lots of contact, can play all over the infield and handle himself defensively, doesn’t need regular at-bats to produce, and won’t kill you if an injury presses him into everyday duty. And his teammates love him. That’s a nice little bonus. Almost all utility infielders stink. Torreyes is better than most of them.
Last year injuries to Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro — as well as seemingly being a Joe Girardi favorite — meant Torreyes appeared in 108 games and received 336 plate appearances. I don’t think he’ll play that much again. I hope he doesn’t play that much again. Whenever a starting infielder sits, either Wade or Walker figures to be first in line to start, but there are still going to be opportunities for Torreyes to play. He’s the bench guy who might go two weeks between starts and I am totally cool with Torreyes being that guy and not, say, Wade or Torres or McKinney.
I do agree the writing is on the wall for Torreyes. He may not be long for the organization with Wade and Torres and Miguel Andujar (and Thairo Estrada) on the way. But their time is not now. Wade’s had a great spring but who cares. We’ve seen plenty of guys have great springs and do nothing in the regular season. Torres (coming back from injury) and Andujar (defense) are in Triple-A for specific reasons. Torreyes might be a better MLB player than all of them at this very moment in time. And until the kids prove to the be better options, Torreyes will stay on the roster.
The Yankees opted not to find a new backup catcher this offseason, meaning Austin Romine will once again back up Gary Sanchez this season. On paper, it’s hard to find something Romine does well. He hit .218/.272/.293 (49 wRC+) last season and he threw out only three of 29 basestealers. His pitch-framing numbers are below-average. He’s better at blocking balls in the dirt than Sanchez, but that doesn’t mean much.
And yet, Romine remains, essentially unchallenged for the job as well. Kyle Higashioka and Erik Kratz are the backup catcher alternatives and neither seemed to be given much of a chance at the job this spring. The Yankees aren’t stupid. They have their reasons for sticking with Romine, and given the eye test and the numbers you and I can look up, those reasons are based on things that happen behind the scenes and/or are immeasurable.
Four things come to mind. One, the Yankees have much better internal catcher defense stats than we do, and they say Romine is a quality defender. Two, the pitching staff likes throwing to him. CC Sabathia has praised Romine for his game-calling over the years and Sabathia presumably carries a lot of clout in the organization. Three, his teammates like him and he’s good in the clubhouse. And four, he’s tough as nails. Romine seems to take a beating every time he catches, and of course he stood up to Miguel Cabrera during the brawl in Detroit last year. I know his teammates appreciated that.
By and large, backup catchers are terrible. The league average catcher hit .245/.315/.406 (89 wRC+) last year, which means backups were way under that. Romine’s offensive numbers are terrible and he can’t throw at all. But he’s still on the roster. Whatever it is he brings to the table behind the scenes — the way he works with the pitching staff, his toughness, his clubhouse chops, whatever — the Yankees have determined it more than makes up for the bat and throwing. Like it or not, Romine remains the backup backstop.
Spring Training is the time to try new and weird things, and this afternoon, Aaron Boone has decided to bat Aaron Judge leadoff against left-hander Brian Johnson. This isn’t one of those “bat him leadoff so he gets his at-bats quickly and we can get him out of the game” spring situations either. Judge may bat leadoff against lefties during the regular season.
“Boone was obviously open-minded and asking a lot of questions,” said Brian Cashman to Erik Boland, adding it was Boone who “initiated” the conversation about hitting Judge leadoff. “He’s going to take advantage of seeing what it looks like.”
I’ve said this before, but I don’t love the idea of hitting Judge leadoff, mostly because he’ll bat with the bases empty more often. Doing it full-time is a no-go for me. But against lefties? Given Brett Gardner’s splits, that’s at least worth discussing. Today the Yankees are doing to put it into practice. We’ll see how it goes. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:
- RF Aaron Judge
- DH Giancarlo Stanton
- 1B Greg Bird
- C Gary Sanchez
- CF Aaron Hicks
- SS Didi Gregorius
- 3B Brandon Drury
- 2B Neil Walker
- LF Brett Gardner
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
Available Pitchers: RHP Dellin Betances, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Matt Frawley, RHP Tommy Kahnle, LHP Wade LeBlanc, RHP Andrew Schwaab, LHP Chasen Shreve, and RHP Andrew Sosebee.
Available Position Players: C Erik Kratz, C Jorge Saez, 1B Chris Gittens, IF Angel Aguilar, IF Abi Avelino, IF Diego Castillo, OF Rashad Crawford, OF Jeff Hendrix, OF Billy McKinney, and OF Zach Zehner.
Another lovely day down in Tampa. Couldn’t’ve asked for better weather this spring. Today’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch live on YES, ESPN, and MLB.tv. Enjoy the game.
We’ve got eleven questions in this, the final mailbag before Opening Day. Been waiting a long time to type that. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the mailbag email address.
Bill asks: The Dodgers wanted Stanton but couldn’t afford him until they cleared salary, so the Yankees scooped him up. Right after that my first thought was they trade Stanton to the Dodgers for prospects and sign Harper/Machado after this season. Your thoughts?
It sounds a little far-fetched. Do you trade Giancarlo Stanton before signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, or after? Has to be after, right? Can’t get stuck with none of these guys. And once you sign Harper or Machado, your leverage in Stanton trade talks goes down because teams know you have to move the salary. That’s what happened with the Marlins! They got nothing significant for the reigning NL MVP because everyone knew they couldn’t afford him.
Also, Stanton with a $22M luxury tax hit is an incredibly good value for a Yankees team trying to limit their luxury tax penalty. Harper and Machado are going to end up with $30M+ per year as free agents — Harper might end up approaching $40M a year if he repeats 2015 — and I’m not sure the difference in on-field production is worth the uptick in payroll, especially if the Yankees a) won’t get a huge return in the Stanton trade, and b) aren’t going to spend like crazy again. I think the Yankees acquired Stanton with the idea of keeping him for long haul, and that is a-okay with me.
Todd asks: With the new extra inning rule set for the minors, is it now possible for a team to throw a perfect game and lose?
Yep! Scoreless tie into extra innings, start with a runner on second, grounder to second moves him over and a sac fly gets him in, and the run scores without the pitcher allowing anyone to reach base. I don’t know what the Minor League rulebook says about perfect games, but here’s what the Major League rulebook says:
An official perfect game occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) retires each batter on the opposing team during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings. In a perfect game, no batter reaches any base during the course of the game.
If the pitching staff retires every batter but allows a run on outs due to the extra innings rule, it sure seems to me it should go down as a perfect game. You can allow runs and take a loss in a no-hitter and it’s still a no-hitter. If this quirky tiebreaker rule results in a run despite batters being retired, I think it should go into the history books as a perfect game. A dumb rule, but it is what it is. I’m okay with the tiebreaker in the minors. Never in MLB though.
Mike asks: AL East question. Its been reported that the Rays are going to start the season Archer, Snell, bullpen day, Eovaldi. Do they really not have a fifth starter? Why not sign Cobb? The season didn’t yet and it already sounds like the Rays gave up.
This question was sent in before Alex Cobb signed with the Orioles. The Rays didn’t re-sign him because they can’t afford him, or chose not to afford him. Tampa has confirmed they will use a four-man rotation (Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jake Faria, Nathan Eovaldi) this season, with a bullpen game essentially serving as the fifth starter. Matt Andriese, last year’s fifth starter, will be in the bullpen. Prospects Anthony Banda, Ryan Yarbrough, and Yonny Chirinos will be the shuttle arms in Triple-A.
Maybe I’m just not smart enough, but I don’t see the upside to this four-man rotation plan. Both Craig Edwards and DRays Bay looked at it and concluded the upside is giving a few more starts to Archer (and Snell). That’s basically it. Archer could make as many as 37 starts rather than 32 by sticking to an every five days schedule. I guess that’s it? We’re just going to assume Archer can handle the added workload with no issues? I’m curious to see how long the Rays stick with it. Demolishing your bullpen every fifth day seems like a bad idea. A tanking team found a new way to tank and keep costs down.
Gregg asks: Once upon a time NYY had McCann, Cervelli, Murphy, Sanchez and Romine all in their system. How would you grade where they stand currently? I am giving them an A+. They now sport a young potential superstar, a homegrown backup, starting CF (Hicks), dominant bullpen piece (Green), SP depth (Cessa) and a top young arm in their farm system (Abreu). Impressive!
I’m not sure I would go as high as an A+ — and A+ basically means best case scenario all around, right? — but you know what? I am cool with an A-, and I am typically a tough grader. The 2014 season was the only year the Yankees had all five of those catchers in the organization. Here’s what the Yankees have turned those five into since then:
- Three above-average seasons from Brian McCann.
- One good backup season each from Frankie Cervelli (2014) and John Ryan Murphy (2015).
- Two below-average backup seasons from Austin Romine (2016-17).
- A year-and-a-half of superstar production from Gary Sanchez.
- One very good year from Justin Wilson.
- One below-average partial year and one great year from Chad Green.
- Two below-average partial seasons from Luis Cessa.
- One bad season and one good season from Aaron Hicks.
- Two good prospects (Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman), one of whom was part of the Stanton deal.
The Yankees still have five more years of control over Sanchez and Green (and Cessa) and two more years of Hicks, plus whatever Abreu gives them, and whatever portion of Stanton’s production you want to attribute to Guzman. That all worked out pretty great, I’d say. If things click for Cessa and Abreu turns into an impact big leaguer — or is used as a trade chip for an impact big leaguer — then I’d bump this up to an A+. Right now I’ll stick with an A-, which is really great.
Sandy asks: Do you think MLB should structure the schedule so that every team visits every city at least once? The NHL implemented this years ago and it’s been very successful, particularly for smaller market teams.
Should they? Yeah, I think so. I think it would be good for baseball overall. Getting the Yankees and Red Sox to cities like Miami and Cincinnati and Denver every season would be a positive for baseball. The Dodgers coming to Yankee Stadium every year would be cool as well. MLB surely wants to do this but I don’t think the players are up for it. It’s a lot of extra travel. West Coast teams would have to make sooo many more long road trips east. Interleague play seems like a good compromise. You play each division and travel to those cities once every three years.
Brian asks: Has the extensive use of the shift elevated the requirements for third base defense for teams like the Yankees (making a guy like Drury with 2B experience even more attractive)? It seems that an “iffy” defensive third baseman becomes even more of a liability if you’re asking him to shift a lot and (if I’m correct) handle double plays while in the shift. Does this impact Andujar or are his “footwork” issues more related to 3B?
Interesting! I hadn’t thought about that. The Yankees use the shift as much as any team and they like to leave Didi Gregorius as the lone defender on the left side of the infield because he has the most range, meaning the third baseman ends up playing second base. Brandon Drury played second base all last season, so playing there during the shift should feel natural to him. Todd Frazier had some second base experience and he handled the shift well. So did Chase Headley even though he never played second at the MLB level.
I’m not sure playing second base during the shift raises the bar for third base defense. The shift stacks defenders where the batter is most likely to hit the ball and that means each individual defender has less ground to cover. There’s three defenders on the right side of the infield rather than two, right? The double play pivot could be a problem but, generally speaking, teams don’t use the shift in double play situations. Double plays could definitely create some headaches though, for sure.
The Yankees do use the shift in the minors. I don’t know if they use it as extensively as they do at the big league level, but they definitely use it in the minors. How else are the kids down there supposed to learn it? I imagine Miguel Andujar has played the right side of the infield during the shift at some point in his career. His footwork issues are tied to third base, as far as I know. More time in the minors to get familiar to the shift wouldn’t be a bad thing though. These days playing second base during the shift comes with being a third baseman for the Yankees.
Michael asks: With teams seemingly unwilling to invest in over 30 veteran free agents, what are the chances the DH is adopted in the National League with the next CBA (or sooner!)? This would open up 15 more roster spots for veterans to continue their careers and get compensated at something close to market value.
The MLBPA should really be pushing this. Those 15 roster spots right now are going to bench guys and eighth relievers, who don’t make much money. The DH will create better paying roster spots, in theory. Adam Lind and Matt Holliday might have jobs right now. Mike Moustakas might not have had to settle for $6.5M.
There is no good argument against the DH. Sorry, NL lifers, but “that’s the way it’s always been” and “there’s more strategy” are weak at best arguments. Seeing the occasional pitcher home run isn’t worth sitting through all those empty at-bats. Pitchers hit .125/.157/.163 (-20 wRC+) with 27 home runs in 5,277 plate appearances last season. Who wants to watch that? I think the NL will add the DH at some point. I don’t think it’ll happen with the next Collective Bargaining Agreement though. This might be 10-15 years away still.
Alessandro asks: More likely for Chance Adams this season: 5+ starts in the bigs or traded at the deadline?
It could be both! Five-plus starts for the Yankees before getting traded at the deadline. Since I have to pick one, I’ll go with traded at the deadline. The Yankees are poised for a huge deadline — they have luxury tax payroll space and gobs of prospects to trade — and Adams is a rung below their elite prospects (Andujar, Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, Estevan Florial), so I think they’re open to trading him. Heck, Adams might be the best prospect the Yankees are willing to trade. I’m thinking we’ll see Adams make starts for the Yankees before getting traded at the deadline this year.
Daniel asks: With the depth the Yankees currently have in the bullpen, could you see a scenario where they look to trade Robertson during the season in order to address other needs (i.e. injuries to the rotation)? Also, what sort of return would they expect to get (assuming they are in contention and looking for players to contribute this year)?
Never say never, but this one is hard to see. The Yankees are a World Series contender and David Robertson figures to play a very big role in making that happen. There is still so much depth and so many quality prospects in the farm system that the Yankees should be able to address any needs at the deadline without subtracting from their MLB roster. There’s also enough breathing room under the luxury tax threshold that subtracting a significant salary like Robertson’s shouldn’t be necessary to add an impact piece(s) at the deadline.
Also, what teams would want Robertson? Contenders only. He’s going to be a free agent after the season and no rebuilding team will trade for a pricey reliever. For this to make sense for the Yankees, they’d have to find another contender who needs a reliever and is willing to trade someone(s) off their Major League roster. I have no interest in trading Robertson for prospects, not with the Yankees appearing to have a good chance to make noise in the postseason. Can’t see Robertson going. He’s too important and he plays a crucial role, and the Yankees have plenty of other trade chips.
Justin asks: For the final time, can you please list the amount of minor league service time that both Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar need for the organization to gain the extra year of contractual control?
I’m pretty sure Justin has asked this question for like five weeks straight, so I guess I’ll answer it even though I’m pretty sure I’ve answered it before. Sixteen days for Torres and 36 days for Andujar. That’ll push their free agency back from the 2023-24 offseason to the 2024-25 offseason. Count on both spending enough time in Triple-A this season to push back their free agency. Just a hunch.
Mike asks: I know there’s the Rule 5 draft and I’ve heard the regular draft is the Rule 4 draft. Is there a Rule 1, 2, and 3 drafts?
The Rule 4 Draft is the amateur draft that takes place each June and the Rule 5 Draft for buried minor leaguers takes place each December. There are no other drafts. MLB’s official rulebook runs 60 rules deep — plus there are tons of subsections and sub-subsections, etc. — and it covers basically everything about baseball. Here are Rules 1-10:
- Circuits (number of teams, territorial rights, etc.)
- Player Limits and Reserve Lists (roster sizes, disabled list, restricted list, etc.)
- Eligibility to Sign Contract, Contract Terms, and Contract Tenders (includes tampering rules)
- First Year Player Draft (amateur draft)
- Annual Selection of Players (Rule 5 Draft)
- Selected Players (rules for returning Rule 5 Draft players)
- Termination of Player-Club Relation (allows teams to release players before their contract expires)
- Major League Unconditional Release (rules for releasing players)
- Assignment of Player Contracts (trades, minor league demotions, etc.)
- Major League Waivers (covers all the different waiver types)
There are rules on player salaries (Rule 17), hiring and firing umpires and official scorers (Rule 19), and conflicts of interest (Rule 20), among other things. There is also a disaster plan (Rule 29) in case a team loses multiple players to death or dismemberment, which is kinda dark, but it something the league has to be prepared for. Here is the official MLB rulebook (PDF link), if you’re interested.
Jordan Montgomery started and allowed one run in six workmanlike innings. He wiggled out of a bases loaded, no outs jam while allowing just one run. Ten up, nine down for Domingo German, whose only baserunner allowed came on an Abi Avelino error. Little Sunday looked pretty good. Montgomery and German were the only pitchers used today. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here’s the rest of the day’s news from Tampa:
- Ronald Torreyes is the emergency third catcher, and to help prepare him for the role, the Yankees had him catch a Wade LeBlanc bullpen session earlier this week. “He’s a natural,” Aaron Boone joked. “I’ll be ready, but hopefully I don’t have to play there. If I go back there and catch, something not good is happening,” said Torreyes. [Randy Miller]
- Boone said he is not a fan of personal catchers, which is music to my ears. “We’ll always evaluate but bottom line is we’ve got an elite-level catcher we’re not going to sit down and get into that personal (catcher) stuff too much. It’s not even on my board right now,” he said. [Erik Boland]
- Here are the day’s minor league lineups. Miguel Andujar played first base. He’s played first at least one other time in a minor league game this spring. Triple-A Scranton manager Bobby Mitchell said Andujar will play first “a little bit” during the season. [Conor Foley]
- The Yankees have a home game against the Red Sox tomorrow afternoon. That game will be televised. Masahiro Tanaka is the scheduled starter.
This is the nightly open thread. MLB Network is replaying spring games throughout the evening, the (hockey) Rangers and Islanders are playing, and March Madness resumes tonight. Talk about those games or anything else here, as long as it’s not religion or politics. Get that outta here.
March 21st: Coaching staffs for the short season affiliates have finally been announced. I’ve added them to the bottom of the post.
February 12th: Over the last several weeks the Yankees have announced their 2018 minor league coaching staffs under new farm system head Kevin Reese. Reese replaces Gary Denbo, who left to join Derek Jeter with the Marlins. There is nothing sexy about minor league coaching staffs, but these guys are important. They help mold the next wave of prospects and Baby Bombers. Here are this year’s coaching staffs.
Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
Manager: Bobby Mitchell
Pitching Coach: Tommy Phelps
Hitting Coach: Phil Plantier
Bullpen Coach: Doug Davis
Defensive Coach: Travis Chapman
Athletic Trainer: Darren London
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Brad Hyde
Al Pedrique, who’d managed in the farm system since 2013 and was Triple-A Scranton’s manager from 2016-17, left the Yankees this offseason to become the Athletics’ first base coach. He has been very open about wanting to manage in the big leagues again, but the Yankees didn’t interview him for their managerial opening, and I assume that contributed to his decision to join the A’s. So it goes.
Mitchell joined the organization in 2016 and managed Double-A Trenton the last two seasons. Now he’s moving up to replace Pedrique. Mitchell played briefly in the big leagues (1980-83) and has extensive coaching and managerial experience in the minors. This will be his second Triple-A managerial gig after managing Triple-A Salt Lake (Angels) from 2008-10.
“From top to bottom, the Yankees have a lot of young talent moving up the ladder,” said Mitchell in a statement. “The whole system is packed with prospects and that is a really good thing. Honestly, the most satisfying part of the job is seeing guys make that jump to the big leagues. Knowing our guys are driven and are going to work hard for that goal makes us all excited to get this season going.”
Plantier is new to the organization and is replacing P.J. Pilittere as Scranton’s hitting coach. Pilittere is now the Yankees’ assistant hitting coach. Plantier played eight seasons in the show (1990-97) and, fun fact, he is the all-time home run leader among players born in New Hampshire. Since retiring as a player, Plantier has held several coaching and managerial jobs in the minors, and was the Padres’ hitting coach from 2012-14.
Phelps, Davis, London, and Hyde are all returning to the RailRiders. Phelps is entering his third season as the team’s pitching coach. Davis is not that Doug Davis, the former big league lefty. It’s a different Doug Davis. This will be his second year in the organization.
Double-A Trenton Thunder
Manager: Jay Bell
Pitching Coach: Tim Norton
Hitting Coach: Ty Hawkins
Bullpen Coach: Luis Dorante
Defensive Coach: Raul Dominguez
Athletic Trainer: Jimmy Downam
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Anthony Velasquez
With Mitchell going to Triple-A Scranton, Bell comes up from High-A Tampa to take over as Double-A Trenton manager. Last season was his first season in the farm system, and he has lots of coaching experience, including at the big league level with the Diamondbacks (bench coach from 2005-06), Pirates (hitting coach in 2013), and Reds (bench coach from 2014-15). He also worked in Arizona’s front office from 2007-09. Last year Baseball America named Bell the top managerial prospect in the High-A Florida State League.
Downam and Velasquez are returning, otherwise the rest of the coaching staff is new. Norton spent the last two seasons as pitching coach with High-A Tampa and this will be his seventh season coaching in the system overall. He pitched in the organization from 2006-11 and, as rumor has it, the Yankees were planning to call him up in 2011, but Norton came down with an injury. The Yankees then picked up Cory Wade as a replacement.
Hawkins is a Yankees lifer. This will be his 20th year coaching in the organization. He’s worked at every level at some point — Hawkins was Double-A Trenton’s hitting coach in 2005 — and most recently was a hitting coach in the rookie Gulf Coast League. Dorante has been in the system since 2011 and was rookie Pulaski’s manager last year. Dominguez was Bell’s defensive coach with High-A Tampa.
High-A Tampa Tarpons
Manager: Pat Osborn
Pitching Coach: Jose Rosado
Hitting Coach: Eric Duncan
Defensive Coach: Jose Javier
Catching Coach: Michel Hernandez
Athletic Trainer: Michael Becker
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Jacob Dunning
Yes, the Tarpons. Anyway, Tampa probably has the most interesting coaching staff in the organization, not that minor league coaching staffs are the most exciting things in the world. Osborn, who has been considered a rising managerial star the last few years, managed Low-A Charleston last season and returns to Tampa after managing the club in 2016. Javier was on Osborn’s staff as defensive coach last season, and he’s moving up as well. Becker and Dunning are returning.
Duncan is entering his fourth season coaching in the system and it’ll be his second straight season with Tampa. His mission this year: Help Estevan Florial make more consistent contact. Hernandez is the organizational catching guru. The Yankees move him from level-to-level each year to put him with a specific catching prospect. This year it’ll be Donny Sands, apparently. Hernandez has worked with Gary Sanchez and Luis Torrens in the past.
Rosado has, very quietly, played a big role in the Yankees turning around their player development system in recent years. He spent the last three seasons with Double-A Trenton and had a hand in getting pitching prospects like Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, and Dietrich Enns to take a step forward in their development. This year he’ll work with a talented Tampa staff that figures to include Freicer Perez, Trevor Stephan, and Albert Abreu.
Low-A Charleston RiverDogs
Manager: Julio Mosquera
Pitching Coach: Justin Pope
Hitting Coach: Scott Seabol
Defensive Coach: Dan Fiorito
Athletic Trainer: Michael Sole
Strength & Conditioning Coach: Danny Russo
This will be Mosquera’s 13th season in the organization and his fourth as a manager. He managed Short Season Staten Island last year. Pope and Sole are returning to the RiverDogs, and Seabol was on the rookie Pulaski staff last season. It was his first year in the organization as a coach. He’s making the jump to full season ball this year. Fiorito, a Yonkers native, was an ultra-popular organizational player from 2013-16. He was released last season and is a rookie coach this year. Pretty cool. Can’t say I’m surprised the Yankees brought Fiorito back as a coach after reading this.
* * *
The Yankees have not yet announced their coaching staffs for Staten Island, Pulaski, or the two GCL affiliates. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been finalized. It just means they haven’t been announced yet. (The GCL staffs are never announced anyway.) The Yankees had six minor league instructors take big league jobs this offseason:
- Al Pedrique: Triple-A Scranton manager to A’s first base coach.
- P.J. Pilittere: Triple-A Scranton hitting coach to Yankees’ assistant hitting coach.
- Carlos Mendoza: Infielder coordinator to Yankees’ quality control coach.
- Josh Paul: Catching coordinator to Angels’ bench coach.
- Tom Slater: Double-A Trenton hitting coach to Mets’ assistant hitting coach.
- Reggie Willits: Outfield and baserunning coordinator to Yankees’ first base coach.
The Yankees have a strong player development system now, and when you have a good player development system, your instructors tend to get poached. The Yankees were able to keep Pilittere, Willits, and Mendoza in the organization, albeit with promotions to the big league staff. They weren’t as lucky with Pedrique, Slater, and Paul.
* * *
Short Season Staten Island Yankees
Manager: Lino Diaz
Hitting Coach: Ken Joyce
Pitching Coach: Travis Phelps
Athletic Trainer: Jon Becker
Strength Coach: Daniel Smith
Video Manager: Joe Wielbruda
Diaz has been coaching in the minors a very long time — this is his fourth season with the Yankees — though this is only his second managerial gig. He managed a rookie ball affiliate with the Royals back in 2001. Diaz spent last season as Double-A Trenton’s defensive coach, and prior to that he was working at the complex in Tampa. This is Joyce’s second season in the organization. He was Low-A Charleston’s hitting coach last year. Phelps is entering his third season as pitching coach with Staten Island.
Rookie Pulaski Yankees
Manager: Nick Ortiz
Hitting Coach: Francisco Leandro
Pitching Coach: Gerardo Casadiego
Defensive Coach: Teuris Olivares
Athletic Trainer: Manny Ozoa
Strength Coach: Larry Adegoke
Ortiz returns to Pulaski after managing in the Gulf Coast League last year. The longtime minor league pitcher joined the Yankees as a scout in 2016 and later that year he served as kind of a jack of all trades coach with Pulaski. Leandro comes up from the Gulf Coast League with Ortiz. This will be Casadiego’s second season as Pulaski’s pitching coach. Longtime RAB readers will remember him from DotFs back in the day. Olivares has been with the Yankees for eight years now in a variety of lower level coaching positions. This is his first season with Pulaski.
Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees East
Manager: Edgar Gonzalez
Pitching Coach: Elvys Quezada
Defensive Coaches: Kevin Mahoney and Tyson Blaser
These assignments are as reported by Robert Pimpsner. I’m not sure who the hitting coach will be for GCL East, but it might be Mahoney. He’s spent the last three years as the hitting coach in the GCL (2015), Pulaski (2016), and Staten Island (2017). Quezada is back for his fourth season as a GCL pitching coach. He, Mahoney, and Blaser are all former Yankees minor leaguers. Blaser was Triple-A Scranton’s bullpen catcher last year.
Gonzalez is new to the organization. He is Adrian Gonzalez’s older brother — Edgar did not have nearly as much big league success as his brother, though he did play in parts of two seasons with the Padres (2008-09) — and he’s spent the last few years managing in Mexico. Gonzalez also managed in the World Baseball Classic last year. I’m curious to see if this is a stopgap situation, or if the Yankees consider Gonzalez a long-term coaching keeper.
Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees West
Manager: David Adams
Hitting Coach: Rich Arena
Pitching Coach: Gabe Luckert
Defensive Coaches: Hector Rabago and Antonio Pacheco
David Adams! This is actually his second season back with the organization. He was the defensive coach for the GCL East team last season. Adams was once one of the better prospects in the organization, though things didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. Both Luckert and Pacheco are back with GCL West after holding the same roles last year. Arena is coming up from the Dominican Summer League — this is his 12th season coaching in the system — and Rabago is coming from Low-A Charleston, where he was a defensive coach last season. This is his fifth season coaching in the system already. Feels like just yesterday the Yankees drafted him as a player. Again, these assignments come from Pimpsner.
Going into this season, the Yankees are projected to have one of the best bullpens of all-time. Of all-time! That’s what happens when you put together three veteran All-Stars, someone who pitched like an All-Star last year (Tommy Kahnle), a unique multi-inning reliever (Chad Green) and a top-tier long-man with Adam Warren.
There are question marks with any pitcher every year unless you’re a Mariano Rivera-esque automaton. Guys get hurt. Guys lose control or just have worse luck. Relievers especially are fungible and can fall apart at a moment’s notice.
But even with those question marks, you can guess pretty clearly what you’re getting from Chapman, Robertson, Green and Warren. Even though Chapman struggled last year and Green was essentially a rookie, their talent is pretty easy to see shine through.
So let’s get to the two pitchers I’d consider wild cards, the duo among the Yankees’ top six that have the highest variance (in my opinion) in potential outcomes: Dellin Betances and Tommy Kahnle. Let’s break it down to the positives and negatives for each pitcher.
The positives for Betances
Let’s begin with the good stuff. Check out that strikeout rate up top and the MLB average way down below.
Oh man, that’s some sort of beautiful. Here might be the best part: Betances was sixth in all of baseball with a 38.3 percent K% in 2017 and it was the lowest of his career. He was one of four Yankees in the top 10 in K rate (and five in the top 20).
For the last four seasons, Betances has been a strikeout machine. He’s struck out no fewer than 100 batters each season and has struck out north of 15 per nine each of last two seasons. There’s a reason this guy has been an All-Star every season.
Even in what was a definite down year, Dellin still posted a 65 ERA-, meaning he was 35 percent better than league average. Because he throws from a unique height/arm slot, regularly hits 98-100+ mph and has a curveball fresh out a video game, he’s not as homer-prone as some other relievers. Opponents batted just .141 against him last season with a .252 BABIP.
And he’s worked on correcting his delivery issues this spring. “This was the first spring I actually tried to work on correcting stuff,” he told the New York Post. “I have the confidence.” That’s definitely what you like to hear.
The last positive is more low-key: Betances improved his fielding last year. He recorded five putouts, had four assists and made no errors. Throwing to bases still doesn’t look natural for him, but with a combination of practice and some underhand throws, he’s getting the job done.
Negatives for Betances
The negatives are obvious: Dellin’s control was out of whack last year. He’d had a game or two here or there in his first three seasons where his command looked like it didn’t in the minor leagues, but he simply lost it completely for long stretches on 2017. It’s insane he still produced a 2.87 ERA.
The control issues manifested itself in the numbers, too. 6.6 walks per nine innings. An MLB-worst 16.9 percent walk rate. He even hit 11 batters, which was more than he had combined in his career to that point.
He was so unreliable down the stretch that he was removed from his eighth-inning role (helped that the Yankees had acquired other options) and was mostly a non-factor in the postseason. He looked good in his last postseason game and has been mostly solid this spring, but it’s tough to forget Game 4 of the ALDS when he came in, walked two batters and was promptly removed.
Perhaps this was positive in the long-run, but he had fewer innings last year mostly due to his inconsistency. His confidence will need to come back along with the delivery and that could take time.
Lastly, the baserunning. The book is out on runners knowing they can take off against him, even with Gary Sanchez behind the plate. This seems like it will just be a thing. Betances is 6-foot-8 and takes a while to get to the plate. It’s less of an issue when he isn’t giving up as many free passes, but if he’s walking north of a batter every other inning, the stolen bases can become a real nuisance.
Positives for Kahnle
Remember how Betances was sixth in K rate? Kahnle was eighth with 37.5 percent, a spot ahead of David Robertson. He posted the fifth-best K-BB rate in baseball, one spot below Chris Sale and a spot ahead of Andrew Miller. Not bad company!
It was a real career-year for Kahnle as his numbers and stuff really took off. His changeup improved while in Chicago and his slider became more of a weapon in New York. Overall, he learned how to better harness his fastball.
Once he got to New York, he utilized his fastball less and went to his offspeed stuff more. It worked well! Batters swung at his pitches more often in 2017, but contact went way down. He increased his swinging strike rate by nearly six percent and it stayed steady after the trade from Chicago.
Part of his success may have been because his velocity peaked with his fastball going from 97 to 98.1 and his changeup averaging 90.7 mph. He won’t be relied upon to dominate in the same way assuming at least one of Betances and Chapman rebound and he can settle into a middle relief role. It’s a true embarrassment of riches in that bullpen right now.
Negatives for Kahnle
The potential downside of Kahnle more has to do with sample size. Last year was his first year that he avoided spending significant time in the minors and was his first time worth more than 0.1 fWAR or 0.7 bWAR. How many times have you seen relievers have one or two great years and fall apart? Too many to count. Kahnle needs to prove that’s not him.
His track record for limiting free passes is actually worse than Betances, even though he walked just 2.4 per nine last year and cut his walk rate to 6.6 percent. An alarming sign is how his walk rate went up in the second half.
It’s still not nearly as bad as it was in 2015-16, but there’s concern nonetheless. His K rate and swinging strike rates were still solid with Yankees; It’s more a question of sustainability. Can he really avoid bats that well this year? It’s his chance to show last year wasn’t a small sample size mirage.
I’m not sure we’ll see 2017 first-half Kahnle or 2014-15 Betances again, but I firmly believe these two will be highly effective relievers next year. What’s crazy is to think that they’ll be filling a lot of innings that went to Tyler Clippard and Jonathan Holder in the first half last year.
Even a lesser scenario for each guy still should be good, but there has to be some fear that each guy may struggle for a solid stretch of 2018.