Thursday Night Open Thread

Here’s a pretty article from Bryan Hoch on Chase Whitley, who spends his offseasons working as a baseball instructor for kids back home in Alabama. Whitley started doing it as a way to make extra money during the winter, but he continues to do it today because of the relationships he’s built with the kids and families. He even converted his family’s barn into a full-fledged baseball training facility. Pretty neat story.

This is your open thread for the night. Both the Rangers and Islanders are playing and there’s some college hoops on as well. Talk about those games, Whitley’s offseason work, or anything else right here.

Gary Sanchez fatigue and the prospect of a make or break year

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

With Spring Training right around the corner, prospect season is in full swing around baseball, as new team top ten and global top 100 lists are posted just about everyday. (My annual top 30 Yankees prospects list will be going live next Friday, by the way.) The lists ultimately don’t mean anything, they’re just someone’s opinion, but they are fun to discuss and debate. Prospects can be very polarizing.

Prior to both the 2013 and 2014 seasons, I ranked C Gary Sanchez as the Yankees’ top prospect. So did Keith Law. Baseball America had Sanchez third prior to 2013 and first prior to 2014. Sanchez was also a staple on top 100 lists those two years, ranking as the 57th and 35th best prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to 2013 and 2014, respectively. Law him 18th and 68th those two years. Baseball Prospectus had him 47th and 85th, and MLB.com had him 36th and 47th. On and on it goes.

This year though, Sanchez has slid down the rankings. Both Keith Law and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the third best prospect in the system a few weeks ago while Baseball America had him fifth. That is partly due to other players in the organization (specifically OF Aaron Judge and RHP Luis Severino) breaking out, but people have also soured on Sanchez. He had not appeared on any top 100 lists this year. Not Law’s, not Prospectus’, not MLB.com’s, and almost certainly not Baseball America’s when it is released next week.

I’m not going to call Sanchez’s absence on the various top 100 lists crazy — they’re all excellent and well-informed lists, every one of ‘em — but I guess I do find it surprising. Well, I do and I don’t. It isn’t surprising because people are clearly down on him. It is surprising because Sanchez is still a pretty damn good prospect. I mean, look at this snippet from Baseball America’s recent scouting report:

If everything clicks, he’s a frontline catcher with the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually. His throwing arm remains an impressive tool as well, one that ranks between 70-80 on the scouting scale, and he threw out 39 percent of basestealers.

That’s pretty awesome. Sanchez isn’t that guy yet, obviously, if he was he’d be in the big leagues, but that’s the kind of talent he has. “Sanchez will show you flashes of the ability that once made him a top-25 prospect in all of baseball,” wrote Law in his top ten post before getting to the caveat, “but he’ll also take whole pitches or innings off mentally, and catching isn’t a position you can play half-fast.”

That last part is Sanchez’s biggest issue. He’s had some work ethic related mishaps — Sanchez infamously refused to catch a bullpen session with Low-A Charleston a few years ago and was sent back to Extended Spring Training for disciplinary reasons — and his defense hasn’t improved as hoped, and that’s the scouting reason why he’s tumbling down the prospect rankings.

I also think there’s another factor: prospect fatigue. It happens all the time. Sanchez signed with the Yankees as a 16-year-old in 2009, so he’s been in the system for five full seasons now. That’s a lot. People are getting sick of his seeing his name on prospect lists. Following prospects is not about instant gratification but people always love their new toys more than their old ones. Sanchez has been around a long time and people are getting tired of him.

And yet, Sanchez just turned 22 last month. He’s only four months older than LHP Jacob Lindgren, who the Yankees just drafted last summer. Sanchez hit .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) with 13 homers as a full-time catcher in Double-A last year at age 21, making him 3.7 years younger than the average Eastern League player according to Baseball Reference. Heck, he’s been three years younger than the competition every season of his career.

(Star-Ledger)
(Star-Ledger)

If the Yankees signed some college catcher out of the draft, sent him right to Double-A, and he did what Sanchez did age 21 last year, we’d all think it was pretty awesome. But instead everyone has been pretty underwhelming by Sanchez. Everyone’s waiting for the big breakout year — a Jesus Montero year, if you will — that still hasn’t come even though Sanchez hasn’t ever actually been bad.

This brings us to another point I want to discuss: 2015 being a make or break year for Sanchez. I mean, no. The idea that a 22-year-old kid is facing a make or break year that will determine if he’s a prospect going forward or someone to forget about is silly. No one with half a brain would write off a 22-year-old with Sanchez’s ability. That said, I do think it is a make or break year for Sanchez with the Yankees’ organization.

The Yankees clearly prioritize catcher defense and have for years — the only bad defensive catcher they’ve had since 2007 is Jorge Posada. They called Montero a future big league catcher as long as possible until finally trading him away because no, they really didn’t think he was a catcher. Peter O’Brien was traded for the very same reason last summer. Sanchez has better defensive tools and a much better chance of sticking behind the plate than either Montero or O’Brien, but he’s still rough at the position and the improvement hasn’t come as quickly as hoped.

If that defensive improvement doesn’t come this year, a year in which Sanchez is slated to head to Triple-A Scranton, then his days with the organization are probably over. The Yankees will cut bait like they did with Montero and O’Brien and cash Sanchez in as a trade chip even though he has a chance to be an impact bat. So it’s not a make or break year for Sanchez’s career overall, but I do think it’s a make or break year for him with the Yankees. That makes sense, right?

Because Sanchez was a huge money international signing ($3M!) and has been one of the top rated prospects in the system for years, people have been watching and waiting for that mammoth season that validates all the time we’ve put into following him. It hasn’t happened and people are getting tired of waiting — I think the same thing happened with Dellin Betances two or three years ago too — but that doesn’t make him any less of a prospect. Sanchez is still really good and has loads of ability. But, unless he improves his defense this year, chances are he’s going to find himself in another organization.

Agent confirms Yoan Moncada hoping to sign “around the 23rd of this month”

We need to talk about that shirt, Yoan. (MLB.com)
We need to talk about that shirt, Yoan. (MLB.com)

Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada has officially been a free agent for about a week now, and it appears he is relatively close to making a decision. David Hastings, Moncada’s representative, told Jayson Stark and Dylan Hernandez his client hopes to pick a new team by February 23rd, ten days from today.

“I’m hoping, certainly, that by the end of next week, we’ll have a much clearer picture of where he will sign,” said Hastings to Hernandez. “I’m kind of hoping we’re at the final end of the process. I hope I will be able to get Yoan into a team’s Spring Training practice as soon as possible.”

The Yankees were one of several teams to have Moncada in for a private workout, and Hastings confirmed several clubs have requested “look-backs,” or a second private workout. Those “look-backs” are scheduled for next week and it’s unclear which teams asked for the second look. Maybe the Yankees, maybe not. We don’t know.

“If a team is going to put this much money on the table, I can’t imagine they can see the kid one time and say, ‘He’s worth millions of dollars.’ So they might want to come back and take a look at a second little aspect [of his game],” said Hastings to Stark. “I don’t have any more plans [for workouts] after next week. I’m looking at around the 23rd of this month to have all the input we need to make a decision on where he’ll start — and hopefully end — his professional career.

“I’ve had to become his nutritionist, his [medical adviser], his baseball trainer and his legal and financial adviser,” Hastings added. “I’m not an expert in nutrition for a 19-year-old potential superstar. I want a team that has all these professionals and experts to take over and say, ‘OK, this is what we need to do with this kid.’ The sooner the better.”

Hastings said he has one offer in hand but declined to identify the team. Most expect Moncada to wind up with a bonus in the $30M to $40M range, which would smash the record ($8.27M by Yoan Lopez) for a player under the current international spending rules. Moncada’s bonus will be taxed at 100% because whichever team signs him will exceed their international bonus pool, meaning he’s a $60M to $80M investment. All up front too.

By all accounts, the 19-year-old Moncada is a potential superstar. He’s a switch-hitter with power and speed who most expect to wind up at second or third base long-term. Jim Callis put together a fun post comparing Moncada’s tools to those of the game’s top shortstop prospects and, in a nutshell, Moncada is as good as anyone. His worst tool is his fielding skill and Callis rated that as average. Everything else is above-average or better.

At this point everything we’ve seen has said Moncada was a budding star. There hasn’t even been the token “he’s overrated” quote from an anonymous scout that usually pops up when discussing top prospects. Based on that, it’s tough to believe any team will pass on Moncada for talent-related reasons. I get the sense this is going to come down to the owner most willing to stomach a massive up front payout to get the guy his baseball people love.

The Plan B’s: Sorting through the Yankees’ backup options at each position

A wild backup first baseman has appeared. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
A wild backup first baseman has appeared. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

We’ve spent, well, just about the entire offseason discussing rotation options should Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (shoulder), or whoever else get hurt during the 2015 season, but the pitching staff is only one piece of the team. The Yankees suffered several position player injuries last summer and didn’t always have an appropriate backup. Remember Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson at first? Zelous Wheeler at third? Martin Prado in right? It wasn’t pretty.

Thanks to their offseason machinations and improved farm system, the Yankees appear to be better prepared to handle the inevitable position player injury(ies) this coming season. And they are inevitable. Someone’s going to pull a hamstring, take a pitch to the hand, something like that. It takes way more than 25 players to win, remember. Teams put the entire 40-man roster to work each season and the Yankees have more position appropriate backup plans in place for 2015. Let’s run them down.

Catcher
Starter: Brian McCann
Backup Plan: John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine?, Eddy Rodriguez?

You’re not going to find a bigger SKJRM (Serial Killer John Ryan Murphy because his name sounds like a serial killer, for you newbies) fan than me, but even I am a little nervous about the idea of Murphy taking over as the everyday catcher if McCann gets hurt at some point this year. McCann’s a pretty damn important player to the Yankees* and losing him to injury would be a big blow. Romine is out of options and will probably be in a different organization come Opening Day, either via waivers or a minor trade, leaving Rodriguez as the likely third string catcher. He has two MLB games to his credit. In the worst case scenario, I think the Yankees would make a trade for a veteran stopgap backstop rather than call up Gary Sanchez for an extended period of time.

* The starting catcher is an important player for every team, this isn’t unique to New York.

First Base
Starter: Mark Teixeira
Backup Plan: Garrett Jones

Finally, a real live backup first baseman. Nine players played at least one game at first base for the Yankees last summer, including McCann, Johnson, Carlos Beltran, Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, and Francisco Cervelli. The team’s approach to backing up Teixeira last year was basically “we’ll put anyone there,” but now they have Jones, a true first baseman with over 400 games of experience at the position in MLB and another 800 or so in the minors. He played 129 games at first for the Marlins just last year. Phew. When Teixeira needs a day off or gets hurt this coming season, the Yankees can stick Jones there and we all won’t have to hope for the best on ground balls to first or slightly off-line throws from other infielders. If both Teixeira and Jones get hurt at some point, I guess McCann would see time at first, or Kyle Roller could get the call from Triple-A if he mashes again.

Second Base
Starter: Stephen Drew
Backup Plan: Rob Refsnyder, Brendan Ryan

Shortstop
Starter: Didi Gregorius
Backup Plan: Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan

Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

I’m going to lump the two middle infield spots together because I think if either Drew or Gregorius misses time this year, Refsnyder is going to step into the lineup as the replacement. He’ll take over second if Drew gets hurt, and if Gregorius gets hurt, Drew will slide over to short and Refsnyder will take over at second. Ryan is there for the day-to-day stuff. Gregorius sitting against a tough lefty or Drew needing a day off after starting 15 straight, something like that. If there’s an extended absence though, I believe Refsnyder’s the guy. Ahead of Ryan and ahead of Jose Pirela.

Third Base
Starter: Chase Headley
Backup Plan: Alex Rodriguez?, Brendan Ryan?

Third base is a potential problem area should injury strike. There is no obvious fill-in candidate until A-Rod shows he can handle the position at least somewhat regularly, say two or three times a week, and that might not ever happen. Ryan’s played a handful of games at the hot corner in his career, Gregorius has ten career innings at third, and Drew has never played there as a pro. Even Pirela just has a handful of games at third in his career.

The Yankees did add some minor league infield depth in Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, and Cole Figueroa, none of whom we want to see in the Bronx playing regularly next year. They’re emergency options, and if A-Rod can’t play third, it might be an emergency the instant Headley gets hurt. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.

This all depends on Alex. If he can play third base some, they’ll have an okay backup plan. If he can’t, the Yankees will probably have to go outside the organization should Headley go down for an extended period of time.

Left Field
Starter: Brett Gardner
Backup Plan: Chris Young, Jones?

Center Field
Starter: Jacoby Ellsbury
Backup Plan: Gardner, Young

Right Field
Starter: Carlos Beltran
Backup Plan: Young and Jones

The outfield is pretty straight forward so I’m going to lump the three positions together. The backup plan should any of the starters go down is a Young/Jones platoon. (Jones has some left field experience but not much, though I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to throw him out there if necessary.) If either Gardner or Beltran gets hurt, the Young/Jones platoon takes over in either left or right. If Ellsbury gets hurt, Gardner takes over in center and the Young/Jones platoon steps into left. Simple, right?

Young has been a center fielder his entire career and is still a quality defender, so he’s the third option there. Pirela logged a decent amount of time in left in the minors and is probably the sixth outfielder — behind the starting three, Young, and Jones — by default. Ramon Flores had a nice run in Triple-A last summer (116 wRC+) before hurting his ankle and is next in line behind Pirela. As of this very moment, I think Flores would get the call over Tyler Austin, who is also on the 40-man roster and slated to open the year with the RailRiders. That could change if Austin straight up mashes.

* * *

Aside from third base and the always vulnerable catcher position, the Yankee have clearly defined backup plans all over the field. Young and Jones have the outfield covered, Refsnyder is backing up the middle infield in case of a long-term absence, and Jones is a true backup first baseman behind Teixeira. The Yankees had to scramble for help whenever a position player got hurt the last few years, particularly on the infield, but they have more protection now. Hopefully they won’t need to use these backup plans, but you know as well as I do that it’s inevitable. The 162-game schedule is cruel like that.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Guess what folks: the roster on the official site has been updated with uniform numbers. The new guys have numbers! Didi Gregorius and Andrew Miller will wear Nos. 18 and 48, we knew that already, and now we know David Carpenter will wear Frankie Cervelli‘s No. 29, Nathan Eovaldi will wear David Robertson‘s No. 30, Justin Wilson will wear No. 41, and Chasen Shreve will wear No. 64. Garrett Jones will wear No. 33 with Stephen Drew switching to No. 14. Spring Training is so close guys are being assigned uniform numbers. Hooray.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks are playing and there’s a bunch of college basketball on the schedule, but that’s pretty much it. Talk about those games, the new uniform numbers, or anything else on your mind right here.

Baseball’s newest trend could benefit Yankees after last summer’s international spending spree

Dermis Garcia, one of the Yankees' top international signings last year. (MLB.com)
Dermis Garcia, one of the Yankees’ top international signings last year. (MLB.com)

Last summer the Yankees sent shockwaves through the industry with their massive international spending spree, which netting the team most of the top amateur talent available in Latin America. New York signed the No. 1, 2, 5, 7, and 9 prospects on the market according to MLB.com, plus several others. All told, the team spent upwards of $30M on international amateurs between bonuses and penalty taxes.

Obviously the Yankees are hoping this influx of high-end talent will result in the core of the next great Yankees dynasty, either by developing into big league players they can stick on the roster or promising prospects they can use in trades. That’s what prospects are for, after all. But, because we’re talking about 16-year-old kids, the Yankees will have to wait several years for these prospects to develop into usable pieces. International free agency is not a place for instant gratification.

MLB-ready and close to MLB-ready prospects have more trade value than a bunch low level minor leaguers for obvious reasons, but over the last year or so we’ve seen more low level prospects included in trades for real live big leaguers. I’m talking about guys down in rookie ball, not even if a full season league yet. Here’s the list of very low level minor leaguers traded for actual MLB players within the last year:

  • RHP Marcos Diplan: 64 career innings, all in the Dominican Summer League. Traded from Rangers to Brewers as part of the Yovani Gallardo deal. Diplan hasn’t even pitched in the U.S. yet!
  • IF Domingo Leyba: 124 career games, including 30 at Low Class-A and the rest in rookie ball. Leyba went from the Tigers to the D’Backs in the Shane Greene/Didi Gregorius three-team trade.
  • RHP Jeferson Mejia: 49 career innings, all in rookie ball. One of two players traded from the Cubs to the Diamondbacks for Miguel Montero.
  • LHP Gabe Speier: 33 career innings, all in rookie ball. Traded from the Red Sox to the Tigers as part of the Yoenis Cespedes/Rick Porcello trade.
  • RHP Stephen Tarpley: 87 career innings, all in rookie ball and the short season NY-Penn League. Traded from the Orioles to the Pirates for Travis Snider.

That list doesn’t include LHP Ricardo Sanchez, who was traded from the Angels to the Braves for Double-A third base prospect Kyle Kubitza despite having 38.2 pro innings under his belt, all in rookie ball. That was a rare prospect for prospect trade, and the principle piece going from Anaheim to Atlanta was a rookie ball pitcher. It’s also worth noting IF Willy Adames had 158 career games (60 in rookie ball, 98 in Low Class-A) when he was dealt from the Tigers to the Rays for David Price.

Not including Sanchez and Adames, that’s five trades within the last eight months in which one piece was a highly touted prospect in the lowest levels of the minors. In this age when young players are so highly valued, it appears clubs are looking to add talented low level prospects before they have a chance to blossom into top shelf guys. Instead of paying full price to get a top prospect, they’re getting them super young as the second or third piece in a trade and hoping they develop under their watch. It’s a smart move. Super risky because these guys are so far away from MLB and so much can still go wrong, but there’s some serious potential reward.

In his top ten Yankees prospects write-up, Keith Law noted shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo is “so well-regarded in the industry that other teams have already targeted him in trade talks.” Mateo is one of New York’s better prospects but he is still only a 19-year-old kid with 93 pro games under his belt, 15 in the rookie Gulf Coast League and the rest in the Dominican Summer League. He’s a good prospect now and teams are trying to get him before he turns into a great prospect, like the Brewers did with Diplan or the Pirates did with Tarpley.

Thanks to last summer’s spending spree, the Yankees have more of these high upside rookie ball prospects than any other team in baseball. If this recent trend of targeting low minors prospects in trades continues, they’ll have plenty of ammunition to make deals work. These low level prospects are not going to be headliners, but they can be — and have been based on recent transactions — second and third pieces in a trade. The Yankees wouldn’t necessarily have to wait to use some of their new prospects as trade bait. They might be able to get an MLB level return from them as soon as this year.

Prospect Profile: Tyler Wade

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Tyler Wade | SS

Background
Wade is a Southern California kid from Murrieta, roughly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. He played baseball at Murrieta Valley High School and was a pop-up guy, meaning he didn’t jump onto the radar as a draft prospect until the spring of his draft year. (Wade hit .524 as a senior after hitting .328 as a sophomore and junior.)

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Wade as the 34th best prospect in California and the 169th best prospect overall for the 2013 draft. The Yankees selected him in the fourth round with the 134th overall pick. Wade signed about a week later for $371,300, exactly slot money for his draft spot.

Pro Career
Wade was assigned to one of the team’s two rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliates after signing and he had an excellent pro debut, hitting .309/.429/.370 (146 wRC+) with a 16.2% walk rate, a 21.2% strikeout rate, and 11 steals in 12 attempts in 46 games. He played so well the Yankees bumped him up to Short Season Staten Island for a few games at the end of the GCL season. Wade went 1-for-13 (.077) in four games with Staten Island.

The Yankees aggressively assigned Wade to Low-A Charleston to start the 2014 season, where he was slated to split time at shortstop, second base, and DH with Gosuke Katoh and Abi Avelino. Avelino suffered a quad injury a month into the season and that pushed Wade into regular shortstop duty. He handled the workload well, hitting .272/.350/.349 (100 wRC+) with a 9.9% walk rate, a 20.5% strikeout rate, and 22 steals in 35 attempts during his age 19 season.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 lbs., Wade is a true shortstop with good athleticism, quick feet, and sure hands. His weakest defensive tool is his arm, which is juuust strong enough for short. Wade has a quick and compact left-handed swing that sprays line drives all over the field, and he knows the strike zone well. Here’s some video (there’s more at MiLB.com):

Wade is a pure slash hitter with zero power. He hit one homer total in his last three years of high school and has one homer in 179 games as a pro. Power’s not his game. Even if he packs on some muscle as he matures, Wade is expected to be a single digit home run guy who hits near the bottom of the order with okay batting averages and respectable on-base percentages. His speed is good, but, as going 22-for-35 (63%) in stolen base attempts last year suggests, he needs to improve his base-running instincts and pick his spots better. Wade’s a classic scrappy middle infield type. Prepare for the inevitable David Eckstein comparisons.

2015 Outlook
After a strong full season debut with the River Dogs, Wade will move up to High-A Tampa for the 2015 season and again serve as the everyday shortstop. He just turned 20 in November and there’s no reason to think he’ll get a midseason promotion to Double-A Trenton, even if he breaks out and has a huge year. Wade’s a one level at a time guy and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My Take
I like Wade, he’s been a pleasant surprise despite being a relatively high draft pick. Most pop-up guys never amount to anything — they usually just have the best few weeks of their lives at exactly the right time — but Wade has the athleticism for shortstop and isn’t a zero at the plate. There’s always a chance upper level pitchers will knock the bat right out of his hands, but I think there’s a good chance he’ll get stronger as he fills out and turn into a doubles machine. The Yankees have a surprising amount of quality shortstop prospects in the low minors and Wade is the highest on the minor league ladder.