2014 Season Review: The Disappointing Brian McCann

Wasn't much to clap about this year, Brian. (Al Bello/Getty)
Wasn’t much to clap about this year, Brian. (Al Bello/Getty)

The post-Jorge Posada years have been a shock to the system for a generation of Yankees fans. For more than a decade we watched Posada compensate for his poor defense with huge offensive numbers, including a ridiculous .283/.386/.492 (131 wRC+) batting line from 2000-09. As a catcher! Jorge will one day have his number retired and get more than a few Hall of Fame votes, yet I still feel he is somehow underrated by the masses.

Anyway, the Yankees transitioned into the post-Posada years with Russell Martin, who was excellent defensively and slightly better than the league average catcher offensively (97 vs. 94 wRC+) from 2011-12. Martin was no Posada, but he was a perfectly capable starting catcher. When he jumped shipped and joined the Pirates prior to the 2013 season, the Yankees tricked themselves into thinking Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart could hold down the fort. Cervelli got hurt less than a month into the season and Stewart had a 57 wRC+ in way too many plate appearances (340).

The Yankees weren’t going to make that mistake again. Stewart was traded a few hours before last winter’s non-tender deadline to, coincidentally, the Pirates to serve as Martin’s backup. Austin Romine was still around following his disappointing year as Stewart’s backup, and John Ryan Murphy wasn’t quite ready for full-time duty after his breakout 2013 season, so the Yankees plugged their catching hole the way they plug most roster holes: they threw money at it.

On November 23rd of last year, the team agreed to a five-year contract worth $85M with free agent Brian McCann. The contract was the largest ever given to a free agent catcher and fourth largest for a catcher overall, behind Joe Mauer ($184M), Buster Posey ($164M), and Mike Piazza ($91M). It was a touch more than the five-year, $75M extension the Cardinals gave Yadier Molina two years ago. McCann’s contract also includes a sixth year vesting option with surprisingly favorable terms — he basically has to be a starting catcher from 2017-18 for the option to kick in.

McCann was a known commodity heading into free agency. He made seven All-Star teams during his nine years with the Braves — Posada only made five All-Star teams in his career — and was widely regarded as the best power-hitting catcher in the game. McCann hit 20+ homers every year from 2008-13 and seven times in his eight years as Atlanta’s starting catcher. He was also very durable, starting at least 110 games behind the plate in seven of those eight years. The only exception was 2013, when he started 91 games because he didn’t make his season debut until May following offseason shoulder surgery.

The right shoulder injury — he had a torn labrum and some cartilage damage — bothered McCann throughout the 2012 season, when he hit a career-worst .230/.300/.399 (87 wRC+) with 20 homers in 121 games. He showed the injury was behind him by hitting .256/.336/.461 (121 wRC+) with 20 homers in only 102 games in 2013, which was identical to the 121 wRC+ he put up from 2009-11, the three years before the shoulder injury. The Yankees looked McCann over during his pre-signing physical, talked up his toughness and leadership, and the deal was done.

As you know, McCann was a massive disappointment his first season in New York. He hit .232/.286/.406 (92 wRC+) with 23 homers — McCann led the team in dingers, though that’s more of an indictment of the rest of the roster than a credit to him — and it took a huge September (121 wRC+ and eight homers) to get his season numbers up even that high. Given the injuries to Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, McCann’s was the team’s only regular middle of the order presence this summer and he didn’t produce as expected. At all.

We all know what happened with McCann and the Yankees this season, so there’s no sense in reliving it all step by step. Instead, let’s look at some specific parts of his game to see where things went wrong as well as the little bit that went right.

The Shift

Because he’s a left-handed pull hitter, opposing teams shifted against McCann all summer long. Certainly every time he was at the plate with the bases empty, and also sometimes with men on base. I remember seeing a graphic on a late-season broadcast (I think it was an ESPN Sunday Night Game, I forget exactly) that said McCann was one of the two or three most shifted against hitters in the game. I believe it.

Naturally, the shift was blamed for McCann’s poor offensive year by lots and lots of people. Lots. It was too easy. Too convenient. Except, you know, teams have been shifting against McCann for years and years. Don’t believe me? Here’s video of McCann beating the shift way back in May 2009:

Teams have been shifting against McCann for at least five seasons now and it obviously didn’t prevent him from putting up big numbers while with the Braves. He hit .281/.349/.486 (119 wRC+) during that 2009 season, for example.

Now, here’s another thing about the shift: McCann went the other way in 2014 far more than he had at any point in the last five years. Again, it’s easy to pin his struggles on his inability to adjust and go the other way, but McCann did adjust. Or at least he tried to adjust. Look at his ball in play numbers:

% Pull % Center % Opposite
2008 46.4% 31.3% 22.3%
2009 48.6% 30.7% 20.8%
2010 46.2% 33.2% 20.6%
2011 45.1% 35.1% 19.8%
2012 47.5% 33.9% 18.6%
2013 48.6% 31.5% 19.9%
2014 44.1% 33.4% 22.5%

McCann put more balls in play (95) and had more hits (30) to the opposite field in 2014 than he had in any season since 2008 (100 and 30). He averaged only 73 balls in play and 18 hits to the opposite field from 2009-13. His .316 BABIP the other way was his highest since 2006 (.378). McCann even laid down a few bunts — he bunted three balls in play and had one hit — and I couldn’t tell you how many times he tried to bunt only to have the ball go foul. More than I care to count.

Did the shift hurt McCann this season? Of course it did. Among the 132 batters who pulled at least 150 balls in play this year, McCann ranked 132nd with a .194 BABIP. Dead last. (Pablo Sandoval was second worst with a .206 BABIP.) Was the shift the reason he had such a poor debut season with the Yankees? Not entirely. He attempted to go the other way and the result was a lot of weak contact, especially pop-ups. McCann hit more lazy fly balls this year, especially to left and center fields, than I can ever remember seeing a left-handed batter hit. It reminded me of Teixeira in 2012, when he focused on going the other way and the result was a bunch of weak fly balls, so he abandoned the approach midseason.

Joe Girardi said the Yankees will emphasize beating the shift in Spring Training — good luck with that, still unnamed new hitting coach — but McCann is a 30-year-old veteran with almost 5,000 plate appearances in the big leagues. Maybe they can teach this old dog a new trick and get him to consistently beat the shift without turning him into a singles hitter. I’ll believe it when I see it. I think McCann simply needs to go back to doing what made him so successful with the Braves and pull the ball even more. He spent 2014 trying to go the other way and he result was the worst non-injury season of his career.

The Plate Discipline

Along with blaming the shift, I think my favorite generic baseball complaint is “he strikes out too much.” It’s so predictable too. Power hitter like McCann is struggling? He strikes out too much. Except McCann didn’t strike out much this year. His 14.3% strikeout rate was both right in line with his 14.5% career average and well-below the 20.4% league average. Fifty-seven players hit 20+ homers this year and four had a lower strikeout rate than McCann: Posey (11.3%), Albert Pujols (10.2%), Michael Brantley (8.3%) and Victor Martinez (6.6%). That’s it.

Just because McCann didn’t strike out much does not mean his plate discipline was an issue, however. His 5.9% walk rate was a career-low — his previous career-low was 6.3% way back in 2007, his second full year in the league — and way down from the 9.9% walk rate he posted from 2011-13. The weird thing is that McCann’s swing numbers were not out of line with the last few years:

Brian McCann plate discipline

Nothing unusual there. Typical year-to-year fluctuations but otherwise McCann’s in and out of the zone swing rates this season were right in line with the last few years and his career averages. It would have been a red flag if he had suddenly swung at 33% of the pitches he’d seen out of the zone (O-Swing%) or something, but that’s not the case.

McCann did not swing more this summer, but he did swing more often. His pitches per plate appearance average dropped to 3.83 this year, down from 4.06 last year and 3.99 from 2011-13. McCann simply swung a bit earlier in the count, and when you swing earlier in the count, you’re not going to draw many walks. In fact, he saw only 110 three ball counts in 538 plate appearances this year (20.4%), down from 25.4% last year and 23.1% from 2011-13. Explaining why McCann put the ball in plate earlier in the count this season is a fool’s errand. It could simply be an anomaly, or could be the result of moving into a new league with a new team and a new hitting coach. Whatever the reason, it led to fewer walks and fewer times on base given what was happening when he did put the ball in play.

The Splits

One of the many reasons the Yankees pursued McCann was his left-handed power, which fit perfectly in Yankee Stadium. There was talk of him hitting 40+ homers in Yankee Stadium, though I always though that was far-fetched. Thirty dingers did seem doable, and the fact that he still managed to swat 23 homers while having such an overall poor year supports that.

McCann’s 23 homeruns came with a .174 ISO, which was down a bit from the .189 ISO he posted from 2011-13. (It’s worth noting Yankee Stadium isn’t a good doubles park, which dragged down his ISO a tad.) His 12.2% HR/FB rate was right in line with his career average (12.7%) but way down from his 2011-13 numbers (14.3%). That’s after moving from spacious Turner Field into cozy Yankee Stadium too. McCann hit .242/.288/.496 (115 wRC+) with 19 (!) of his 23 homers at home, so he was particularly awful on the road (.221/.285/.306, 67 wRC+ and four homers).

The weird and kinda scary thing is McCann also didn’t hit right-handed pitchers at all this year. He put up a .256/.349/.452 (118 wRC+) line against righties from 2011-13, but this it was only .209/.272/.360 (76 wRC+) this summer. I mean, holy cow. His .292/.324/.526 (137 wRC+) batting line against southpaws was far better than his .245/.286/.417 (92 wRC+) performance the last three years. McCann’s been vulnerable to a quality lefty specialist throughout his career, but not in 2014. (I remember writing back in Spring Training that starting Cervelli against guys like David Price and Jon Lester was a good way to get McCann regular rest this summer.)

When the Yankees signed McCann, it seemed like a safe bet that he’d rake at Yankee Stadium and against right-handed pitchers just given his career to date and how well his swing fit the ballpark. He did mash in the Bronx, but he was dreadful on the road and shockingly bad against righties. I suspect his success against lefties is small sample size noise (145 plate appearances) and not some kind of revelation at age 30. Improving against righties is a must next season because chances are McCann won’t repeat that performance against same-side pitchers. We have all winter to discuss that though.

Catchers, man. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Catchers, man. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Defense

For all the offensive struggles, McCann was a rock behind the plate and an exceptional defender. He threw out 29 of 78 attempted base-stealers, a 37.2% success rate that was by far a career-high. McCann threw out a miserable 23.1% of attempted base-stealers from 2011-13, well-below the 28% league average. Only Yadier Molina (47.8%) and Martin (38.5%) had a better throw-out rate among the 22 catchers who caught at least 800 innings in 2014.

While this sudden ability to throw out base-runners could be nothing more than a one-year fluke, it’s worth noting McCann would not be the first catcher to improve his throwing under Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena. Cervelli in particular improved his throwing greatly under their tutelage. Romine and Murphy improved as well. There’s also the health factor — he was now a full year away from shoulder surgery and his strength may have full returned. Who knows how long the shoulder was bothering him while in Atlanta? McCann did throw out 30.0% of attempted base-stealers back in 2010, after all.

Behind the plate, Bojan Koprivica’s work says McCann should have allowed 62 passed pitches (passed balls plus wild pitches) based on his workload this year, but he only allowed 39. Koprivica’s stats put McCann at +4.0 runs saved by blocking pitches, fourth best in baseball. Pitch framing data at StatCorner has McCann at +11.4 runs saved through framing, 11th best in baseball and sixth best among regular catchers. Catcher defense is a very difficult thing to quantify and I don’t love these stats yet, so I won’t make too big a deal about them. McCann scored well and my eyes told me was a pretty damn good behind the plate. That about sums it up.

McCann did more than catch though. He also played first base for the first time in his career. It wasn’t a one or two-game emergency stint either. It was supposed to be when Teixeira when on the disabled in April, but McCann wound up playing 16 games at first this year, including eleven starts. He came into 2014 with literally zero innings at first base in his career, Majors or minors. His inexperience was very evident at times — McCann’s biggest blunders came when it was unclear if he should play a weak ground ball or retreat to the bag and let either the pitcher or second baseman field it — and that’s to be expected. McCann was a decidedly below-average first baseman but I’m not going to hold that against him. The team put him in an uncomfortable situation and he did what he could.

* * *

There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: McCann’s first season in pinstripes was a major disappointment. The most memorable moment of his year was pinch-running for Derek Jeter in Game 162 after the Cap’n singled in his final career at-bat. Yeah. The Yankees expected McCann to be a middle of the order force in addition to providing top notch defense behind the plate, but instead he was a highly paid defensive specialist who rarely had an impact at the plate.

McCann’s late-season homer binge was encouraging heading into the offseason, though it wasn’t nearly enough to salvage his season. With another four years and $68M left on his contract, as well as the team’s continued need for more offense, the Yankees have to hope McCann’s first season in pinstripes was the result of changing leagues and having to learn a new pitching staff. Not some sort of irreversible decline.

Sanchez: Yankees to attend showcase for Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada

(ObstructedView.net)
(ObstructedView.net)

According to Jesse Sanchez, 19-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada has established residency in Guatemala and has a showcase for MLB teams tentatively scheduled for next Wednesday. He must still be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and declared a free agent by MLB before he can sign. That is still a few weeks away at this point.

Moncada doesn’t have a crazy defection story — Sanchez says he was granted his release from his team in Cuba, and the government gave him a visa and a passport so he can go to Central America. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that one before. Sanchez adds that the Yankees and all 29 other teams are expected to be at Moncada’s showcase because, unlike recent defectors Jose Fernandez and Andy Ibanez, he’s considered a potential star. Here’s some more from  Sanchez:

Scouts have called Moncada the next Jorge Soler and his skills have been matched up against Yasiel Puig’s at the same age. He once beat new Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo in a base running competition during the Serie Nacional all-star festivities in Cuba and his power has been compared to Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas.

Moncada, who also plays shortstop and third base, starred for Cuba’s top team of 15- and 16-year-olds and made a name for himself at the U-16 IBAF World Baseball Championships in Mexico.

Back in August, Ben Badler said “there’s no player in Cuba with Moncada’s combination of youth, tools and hitting ability.” He hit .273/.365/.406 in 195 plate appearances in the Cuban league as an 18-year-old this past season after hitting .283/.414/.348 in 172 plate appearances as a 17-year-old last year. Moncada also tore up international tournaments these last few summers as well.

Because of his age and limited experience in Cuba, Moncada is subject to MLB’s international spending restrictions. That’s actually a good thing for the Yankees even though this summer’s spending spree means they will be unable to sign a player for more than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. Since he has already established residency, Moncada will likely be a declared a free agent before the end of the 2014-15 signing period on June 15th. The Yankees are well over their 2014-15 spending pool and can offer Moncada whatever they want, as long as they’re willing to pay the associated 100% tax.

Soler signed a nine-year contract worth $30M with the Cubs two years ago, though Moncada will likely sign for more due to inflation. (I’m not sure how the 100% tax works with multi-year contracts. It might only apply to the signing bonus.) I think any time a player this young is talked about as a future star — Keith Law also said he’s heard raves about Moncada, so that’s three sources hearing nothing but praise — the Yankees have to get involved, especially since the only cost is money. I can understand passing on 27-year-old Castillo or 24-year-old Tomas due to his swing-and-miss issues. But a 19-year-old potential star infielder? Moncada is the type of talent that is too rare to ignore.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 3rd, 2014

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Weekend Open Thread

Sunday: On this date five years ago, the Yankees dropped Game Five of the 2009 World Series by the score of 8-6. A.J. Burnett got clobbered for six runs in only two innings on three days’ rest. Chase Utley hit two more homers, his fourth and fifth of the World Series. The Yankees actually rallied for four runs against Cliff Lee and Ryan Madson in the eighth and ninth innings to make things interesting, but the hole was simply too deep. The Yankees still led the series three games to two after the loss. Here’s the box score.

Here’s your open thread for the last few hours of the weekend. The Knicks are playing and Ravens-Steelers is the late NFL game. You know what to do by now, so have at it.

Quiz!: The 2014 Yankees roster Sporcle quiz is out. It’s a good way to drive yourself nuts for ten minutes. I got 53 out of 58 and didn’t miss anyone obvious.

[Read more…]

Update: Yankees expected to make qualifying offer to Robertson, still undecided about Kuroda

Sunday: Jon Heyman says the Yankees are still undecided about making Kuroda the qualifying offer. RAB readers said they would make him the offer, for what it’s worth (nothing!). Heyman says giving Kuroda the qualifying offer would effectively limit his options to the Yankees and retirement for next season since teams are unlikely to give up a first round pick for a soon-to-be 40-year-old starter.

Saturday: Via Jack Curry: The Yankees are expected to make David Robertson the $15.3M qualifying offer by Monday’s deadline and they are hopeful of retaining him. There’s no word on whether the team will make the offer to Hiroki Kuroda. Players will have one week from Monday to accept or reject the offer. If Robertson rejects the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, the Yankees will get a supplemental first round pick.

Robertson, 29, went 39-for-44 in save chances with a 3.08 ERA (2.68 FIP) and a 37.1% strikeout rate in 64.1 innings this summer, his first as the team’s closer. It’s no surprise the Yankees are making the qualifying offer — it would have been way more surprising if they didn’t — and I fully expect Robertson to decline the offer and test the market. He’s a soon-to-be 30-year-old reliever coming off four straight elite seasons. This is his best and probably only chance to get a huge contract.

DotF: Bird named AzFL Fall Star Game MVP after mammoth homer

The video above is 1B Greg Bird‘s monster homerun off Reds RHP Nick Howard (19th overall pick in 2014) in the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game last night. Bird was named the game’s MVP. You’ve got to be mighty strong to hit a ball that far on a pitch on the outer half of the plate. Baseball America recently published articles on Bird (free), the Yankees’ players development changes (free), and RHP Jaron Long (subs. only), so check those out.

AzFL Scottsdale (6-2 loss to Peoria) Monday’s game

  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-2, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 E (fielding)
  • DH Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI
  • RHP Alex Smith: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K — nine of 14 pitches were strikes (64%)

AzFL Scottsdale (4-3 loss to Surprise) Tuesday’s game

  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-3, 1 BB
  • LF Tyler Austin: 0-4, 2 K
  • DH Dante Bichette Jr.: 1-2, 1 R, 2 BB
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/1 GB/FB — five of eight pitches were strikes
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 0/1 GB/FB - seven of 12 pitches were strikes (58%)

AzFL Scottsdale (7-5 loss to Mesa) Wednesday’s game

  • DH Aaron Judge: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB
  • 1B Greg Bird: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E (throwing)
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB – he’s hitting .438/.500/.688 in only four games played
  • RF Tyler Austin: 3-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI – got picked off first
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: 1-4, 1 K, 1 E (throwing)

AzFL Scottsdale (7-5 win over Mesa) Thursday’s game

  • RF Aaron Judge: 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — also threw a runner out at the plate
  • DH Greg Bird: 2-2, 2 BB
  • 1B Dante Bichette Jr.: 0-0 — took over as an injury replacement in the eighth but did not bat
  • LF Tyler Austin: 3-4, 1 R — he threw a runner out at the plate as well … hitting .322/.394/.492 with two homers in 15 games
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 17 of 25 pitches were strikes (68%)

AzFL Scottsdale (8-6 loss to Salt River) Friday’s game

  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 HBP — hitting .296/.418/.574 in 15 games and is tied for second in the league with four homers
  • 1B Greg Bird: 1-4, 2 RBI, 1 BB — hitting .342/.400/.632 with a league-leading six homers in 19 games
  • DH Dante Bichette Jr.: 1-4, 3 RBI — hitting .240/.310/.240 in 14 games
  • RHP Alex Smith: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3/0 GB/FB — eight of 12 pitches were strikes (67%)
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — half of his 28 pitches were strikes

AzFL Fall Stars Game (East wins 6-2) Saturday’s game

  • 1B Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — batting cleanup and played the entire game
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-2 – entered the game in the fifth inning

Dominican Winter League

  • OF Zoilo Almonte: 4 G, 5-14, 4 R, 1 2B,  RBI, 2 BB, 3 K (.333/.412/.400) — I believe he’s about to become a six-year minor league free agent
  • OF Eury Perez: 3 G, 3-14, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K (.214/.214/.268) – likely to replace Zoilo as the up-and-down outfielder next year
  • LHP Ramon Benjamin: 2 G, 0.1 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K (27.00 ERA, 6.00 WHIP)
  • RHP Joel De La Cruz: 2 G, 1.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR (0.00 ERA, 1.80 WHIP) — I can’t help but laugh whenever a homer counts as an unearned run
  • LHP Francisco Rondon: 3 G, 1.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K (6.75 ERA, 3.75 WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League

  • OF Jose Figueroa: 13 G, 3-10, 4 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 SB (.300/.364/.600)
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 8 G, 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 1 HB (1.23 ERA, 0.95 WHIP)
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 4 G, 4 GS, 16 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 14 K, 1 HB, 1 HR (2.81 ERA, 1.00 WHIP)

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) started play on Thursday. SS Vince Conde, 2B Angelo Gumbs, and OF Carlos Beltran are all listed on rosters but have not yet played. Beltran hasn’t played winter ball in years and won’t this year because of his recent elbow surgery. He’s only listed on the roster because the team still controls his winter ball rights.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • C Francisco Arcia: 13 G, 10-52, 2 R, 3 2B, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 14 K (.192/.222/.250)
  • UTIL Ali Castillo: 19 G, 29-79, 17 R, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 2 BB, 11 K, 9 SB, 2 CS, 2 HBP (.367/.393/.494)
  • OF Ramon Flores: 13 G, 12-37, 5 R, 1 2B, 2 3B, 2 RBI, 6 BB, 7 K (.324/.419/.459)
  • UTIL Adonis Garcia: 18 G, 21-77, 7 R, 2 2B, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 8 K, 2 SB, 1 HBP (.273/.317/.299)
  • C Jose Gil: 11 G, 11-39, 9 R, 4 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.344/.400/.563)
  • OF Ericson Leonora: 4 G, 3-11, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 5 K (.273/.273/.545)
  • UTIL Jose Pirela: 7 G, 10-28, 8 R, 1 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K (.357/.400/.857)
  • C Jackson Valera: 1 G, 0-0
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 9 G, 8 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 HB, 1 HR (5.68 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) — allowed four runs in an inning of work in his only appearance this week
  • RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Wilking Rodriguez, SS Angel Aguilar, and C Frankie Cervelli are all listed on rosters but have not yet played. They probably won’t at this point.

Badler: Second baseman Andy Ibanez leaves Cuba

Ibanez at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)
Ibanez at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. (Koji Watanabe/Getty)

According to Ben Badler, second baseman Andy Ibanez has left Cuba and will pursue a contract with a big league team. He still needs to establish residency in a foreign country, be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and officially be declared a free agent by MLB before he can sign. That process will take several weeks and months.

Ibanez, 21, was the youngest player on Cuba’s roster during the World Baseball Classic last year, though he only received one at-bat in the tournament. He hit .267/.377/.435 with more walks (33) than strikeouts (28) in 280 plate appearances this past season after winning the Cuban league’s equivalent of the Gold Glove as a rookie two years ago.

Balder (subs. req’d) ranked Ibanez as the eighth best prospect left in Cuba last month — recently defected second baseman Jose Fernandez ranked third — and said he “doesn’t have any premium tools or star upside” while noting his value is in his athleticism and all-around game. He’s said to be a very good fielder and able to get the bat on the ball consistently.

It’s worth noting that because of his age and limited experience in Cuba, Ibanez will be subject to MLB’s international spending restrictions. The Yankees went bonkers this summer and way overspent their bonus pool, so they will not be allowed to sign a player to a bonus larger than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. Something tells me $300,000 won’t cut it.

However, if Ibanez goes is declared a free agent before June 15th, he’d count against the current signing period. The Yankees are already way over their pool and would be able to offer him whatever they want without worrying about some spending cap. It took Rusney Castillo six months to be declared a free agent after defecting and Yasmany Tomas only four months. That doesn’t necessarily mean Ibanez will be eligible to sign before June 15th, but it looks like it has a good chance of happening.

Anyway, Ibanez is more like Jose Iglesias and Jorge Soler than Castillo and Jose Abreu because he’s so young. He’s not someone the Yankees could stick right into the lineup next year — Badler says Ibanez would likely have to start his career in High-A or Double-A. There’s no word if the Yankees or any other team have interest in him, but we’re still a few weeks away from that. Needless to say, teams are always looking for young and athletic middle infielders.