Spring Training Dual Game Thread: Tanaka & Sabathia

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

If you believe everything the Yankees have been saying about their rotation, today is the single most important day of Spring Training. CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka are starting a pair of split squad games. The former is trying to win a rotation spot, the latter is trying to show enough to earn the Opening Day start. That’s what the Yankees say, anyway. Consider me skeptical.

Both of today’s games will be televised, meaning we’ll get to watch two games at the same time. That’s always a treat. Sabathia and most of the regulars will be at home in Tampa to play the Pirates, who made the trip down from Bradenton. The other half of the team — Tanaka and a bunch of minor leaguers, basically — will be on the other side of the causeway playing the Phillies in Clearwater. Here is the Pirates’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup for the home game:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP CC Sabathia

Available Pitchers: RHP Nick Goody, RHP Branden Pinder, RHP Johnny Barbato, RHP Vinnie Pestano, and RHP Jonathan Holder are all available, but I’m not sure who’s actually going to pitch. Today would be back-to-back days for Goody and Barbato.

Available Position Players: C Gary Sanchez, 1B Billy Fleming, 2B Jonathan Diaz, SS Tyler Wade, 3B Vicente Conde, LF Trey Amburgey, CF Jake Skole, RF Juan Silva, and DH Dan Fiorito will be the second string off the bench.

Sabathia is the most important storyline to watch in the home game. He had a good start last time out — I can’t believe we’re so focused on Spring Training performance, good grief — but the few before that were rough. Ivan Nova‘s tough start last time out all but clinched the last rotation spot for Sabathia, though you still want to see the big man pitch well today, in his last start before the regular season. This start is important enough that Joe Girardi stayed behind to watch. Now here is the Phillies’ lineup and the Yankees’ lineup for the road game:

  1. CF Aaron Hicks
  2. SS Ronald Torreyes
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Carlos Corporan
  5. 1B Dustin Ackley
  6. 2B Pete Kozma
  7. RF Cesar Puello
  8. 3B Miguel Andujar
  9. LF Ben Gamel
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Available Pitchers: RHP Anthony Swarzak and RH Kirby Yates are also scheduled to pitch. LHP Caleb Frare, RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Connor Mullee, LHP Caleb Smith, LHP Matt Tracy, and RHP Matt Wotherspoon are up from minor league camp and on the trip as well.

Available Position Players: C Eddy Rodriguez, C Francisco Diaz, 1B/OF Tyler Austin, IF Cito Culver, IF Jose Rosario, OF Dustin Fowler, OF Michael O’Neill, and OF Mark Payton are on the bench. Not sure who is scheduled to play though.

Again, the starting pitcher is the key here. Tanaka has not pitched well the last few times out and the Yankees have put some pressure on him to increase his intensity. It’s kinda funny the Yankees go to such great lengths to rest Tanaka and keep him healthy, but now they’re worried about his intensity during Grapefruit League games. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild will be on the road with Tanaka, and will surely report what he sees back to Girardi and the front office.

Both of today’s games will begin around 1pm ET, and the weather in Tampa and Clearwater is basically the same. It’s cloudy and cool, and the internet tells me there will be on and off rain all afternoon. (The chance of rain is higher in Tampa than Clearwater.) Hopefully nothing forces a delay or cancellation. The home game will be on YES and MLB.tv. The road game will be MLB Network and MLB.tv. There is no MLB Network blackout in the Tri-State Area for this one. Enjoy the games.

Update (1:28pm ET): The game is Tampa is underway, but the game in Clearwater is in a rain delay. The Phillies say the game is scheduled to begin at 1:40pm ET.

Mark Teixeira working to correct timing issue at the plate before Opening Day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This has been a good Spring Training for Mark Teixeira. He missed the end of last season with a small fracture in his shin, and the rehab was pretty lengthy. Teixeira fouled the pitch into his shin in August, the fracture wasn’t found until September, and it wasn’t until January that he was cleared to run. So far this spring the shin has been a total non-issue and that’s pretty damn important.

This has not been a good Spring Training for Teixeira statistically. The shin is healthy, but he’s gone 5-for-39 (.128) at the plate with only two extra-base hits — he hit his first homer last night — and Opening Day is now less than a week away. At some point he would like to get going, even if for no other reason than to build confidence. Spring Training stats are ultimately meaningless, but that doesn’t mean players are happy hitting .128, especially when they’re a pending free agent like Teixeira.

“My timing has been off all spring and we found something (Friday) in the video. The first couple of weeks you are trying to knock off some rust. I keep grounding out and I did it twice today,” said Teixeira to George King over the weekend. Teixeira has 22 ground outs and only eight fly outs this spring, a 2.75 GO/FO ratio. He had a 0.92 GO/FO ratio last year, so he’s way off in limited time this spring. Then again, he had a 2.25 GB/FO last spring and mashed during the regular season, so who knows.

“There is a little thing in my swing that is making my timing off,” added Teixeira while talking to King. “We have another week to fix it and I feel really good we will do that. I am not getting into my legs on my timing mechanism. My whole timing is sinking back and getting under my back leg. Because of that I am jumping at the ball a little bit. I am swinging at good pitches and I should be getting better results.”

Here are the obligatory before and after GIFs. The GIF on the left is from earlier in Spring Training (April 19th, to be exact), and the GIF on the right is from this past Saturday, after Teixeira told reporters about his video work and mechanical flaw discovery.

Mark Teixeira before and after

The GIFs are synced up at the point when Teixeira picks up his foot to begin his little leg kick. You can see that in the GIF on the right, the one from this past Saturday, he begins to lean back a little earlier than he does in the GIF on the left. To use Teixeira’s words, he was “sinking back and getting under my back leg” a split second earlier Saturday.

I am no hitting coach or hitting guru, so what follows is speculation: by “sinking back and getting under my back leg” a bit earlier, Teixeira is putting himself in a better position to hit. He transfers his weight to his back leg, then can explode forward with his swing. When he’s “sinking back and getting under my back leg” a tad late, he has to rush into his swing. Teixeira’s timing is off, basically. That make sense? Am I in the ballpark you think?

Getting at-bats won’t be an issue even though Opening Day is only six days away. The Yankees could always send Teixeira over to minor league camp and let him get, like, ten at-bats a day. I don’t think that will happen though, not unless Teixeira feels he really, really needs the extra work. The team has five exhibition games remaining — well, they have seven games left, but he can’t play in both split squad games today and Thursday — and that might be enough.

Teixeira has started pretty well the last few seasons — remember when he was a slow starter? nowadays we’re happy when he’s healthy in April — even though his Spring Trainings haven’t been great. He didn’t hit his first homer until his very last Grapefruit League game last year, if I’m remembering correctly. Teixeira is obviously extremely important to both the offense and defense, so another hot start is more necessity than luxury. He’s identified some sort of mechanical flaw and is working to fix, and if last night’s homer is any indication, the results are already starting to come.

Open Thread: March 28th Camp Notes

The Yankees continue their Grapefruit League season tonight with a home game against the Tigers. Luis Cessa will be on the mound because the Yankees don’t want the Tigers to see one of their regular starters so close to the regular season. The Yankees will be in Detroit for the second series of the regular season next weekend. Anyway, there is no television broadcast of the game, so here is the Gameday link. Here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Masahiro Tanaka is indeed scheduled to pitch tomorrow, not Wednesday. That’s what I figured yesterday. It’s his normal turn and it lines him up to start Opening Day with an extra day of rest. “Our hope is that he’s really good tomorrow and it’s a non-issue,” said Joe Girardi when asked about the Opening Day start if Tanaka doesn’t pitch well tomorrow. [George King, Bryan Hoch]
  • Luis Severino struck out 12 in six innings in a minor league game this afternoon. He threw 91 pitches, so he’s pretty well stretched out. Austin Romine was behind the plate. That Severino pitched in a minor league game today instead of facing the Tigers tonight indicates he’ll start either the fourth or fifth game of the regular season. [Shane Hennigan, Chad Jennings]
  • Jacoby Ellsbury played yesterday and is in the lineup tonight, but he admitted he still has some lingering soreness in his wrist after being hit by a pitch last week. “There’s still bruising and a little swelling in there but I feel like I can do everything I need to,” he said. [Brendan Kuty]
  • In an effort to stay healthy, Nathan Eovaldi has cut back on his throwing between starts. “Last year, I feel like I threw a lot between starts. Been trying to cut back on that and trying to focus on my bullpens in between games,” he said. “I just felt like that was one part of my game where I could do better at really, with my routine and shoulder programs.” [Kuty]
  • Tomorrow is Carlos Corporan’s opt-out date. All signs point to Romine being the backup catcher, so the best case for Corporan with the Yankees is backing up Gary Sanchez in Triple-A. [Hoch]

This is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network will show the Rangers and Dodgers live later tonight, plus both the Knicks and Nets are playing. Talk about those games, the unwatchable Yankees game, or anything else right here.

Heyman: Yanks may look to add veteran middle relief help

"Joe, we need to talk about your nicknaming style." (Presswire)
“Joe, we need to talk about your nicknaming style.” (Presswire)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees may look to add a veteran reliever or two before Opening Day to improve their middle relief situation. The club has no shortage of bullpen candidates but very few have actually pitched well in Grapefruit League play. This spring was a chance for some of those shuttle relievers to stand out, though none of them really did it.

The out of options market doesn’t have much to offer. The Yankees could wait to see what Article XX(B) free agents become available in the the coming days. Article XX(B) free agents are players with at least six years of service time signed to minor league contracts. They get a $100,000 bonus if they’re sent to Triple-A and an automatic June 1st opt-out. Those who don’t make the team are usually released in the spring though, like Chris Denorfia.

Among this year’s Article XX(B) relievers are Burke Badenhop, Matt Belisle, Craig Breslow, Chris Capuano, Brian Duensing, Casey Janssen, Franklin Morales, Peter Moylan, Edward Mujica, Bobby Parnell, Manny Parra, and Jamey Wright. Quite a group there. Some have already been released (Janssen, Parnell) and some are actually going to make their team’s Opening Day roster (Mujica), so the availability varies.

Do any of those guys seem worth the trouble? Badenhop and Belisle could be serviceable, and Parnell could be interesting now that he’s further away from Tommy John surgery, otherwise I’m not sure I’d give any of those guys a big league roster spot over the shuttle relievers. There’s always something to be said for accumulating depth. I just see these Article XX(B) guys as warm bodies to soak up innings, not have a real impact.

The trade market is always pretty active at the end of Spring Training, though I wonder how many teams legitimately have an extra reliever to spare. Very few, I’m sure. In fact, the Yankees might have the most bullpen depth to offer in trades than any other team in baseball given all the shuttle relievers. I’m guessing Brian Cashman will get some calls about the team’s Triple-A bullpeners, if he hasn’t already.

Right now I don’t expect the Yankees to make a move for bullpen help. It’s not a huge priority. If anything, I could see Cashman & Co. trading a reliever, perhaps for a new utility infielder. The bullpen is certainly a position of depth, and hey, you can’t keep everyone, so trading an extra arm to fill a need elsewhere only makes sense.

The Bullpen Shuttle [2016 Season Preview]

Shreve. (Presswire)
Shreve. (Presswire)

Over the last few years the Yankees have done a good job finding interesting bullpen prospects in different places. The late rounds of the draft, waivers, minor league free agency, whatever. These guys are not future ace closers or anything like that, but they look like serviceable bullpen options, so the Yankees put them to work last year. They cycled relievers in and out as part of their bullpen shuttle. They called someone up, got a few innings out of him, then sent him down for a fresh arm. Over and over again.

The Yankees will again employ a bullpen shuttle in 2016, perhaps even moreso than last year. They have multiple open bullpen spots and a small army of relievers with options, so they can send these guys up and down as much as they want this summer. And they will. We’re going to see pitchers come up, throw in a game or two, then get sent down. Big league stints will be measured in days, not weeks. Here are the main bullpen shuttle candidates for the coming season, presented alphabetically.

The Spring Standout

An offseason ago the Yankees flipped Shawn Kelley to the Padres in what was widely believed to be a cost-cutting move. Kelley was solid, not great, and he figured to be a key piece of the 2015 bullpen. Instead, the Yankees traded him for a Double-A relief prospect with a balky elbow. That prospect: Johnny Barbato. And one year after the trade, Barbato is in position to make the bullpen.

“Definitely came in trying to open some eyes,” said Barbato to Chad Jennings over the weekend. “Just worked my butt off this offseason to get ready, and I think I did. I think coming in here feeling confident, feeling comfortable — I lost a bunch of weight — just came in feeling good, and I think I’ve done well enough to open some eyes.”

Barbato, 23, had a 3.19 ERA (3.45 FIP) with a 24.8% strikeout rate and a 9.2% walk rate in 67.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. The concerns about his elbow blew over. He’s been healthy since the trade. This spring he’s allowed two runs (both in the same game) in 8.2 innings with an 11/1 K/BB. Barbato’s done it with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, his trademark curveball …

Johnny Barbato curveball

… and a little slider/cutter thing. The Yankees added Barbato to the 40-man roster over the winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and while taking Grapefruit League numbers to heart is a fool’s errand, Barbato has clearly opened some eyes in camp. With most of the other shuttle relievers struggling, he has put himself in very good position to be on the Opening Day roster. Either way, Opening Day roster or not, we’ll see Barbato in the big leagues this summer.

The Offseason Pickup

It’s funny how history repeats itself, isn’t it? Last offseason this Yankees traded someone we all thought would be a big part of their 2015 bullpen (Kelley) for a prospect, and everyone said they were doing it to save money. Now that prospect looks pretty good. They did the same thing this past offseason, sending Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two Triple-A starting pitcher prospects, one of which is righty Luis Cessa.

Cessa, a former shortstop, has been traded twice in the past eight months. The Mets sent him to the Tigers in the Yoenis Cespedes deal, then the Tigers sent to the Yankees for Wilson. The 23-year-old Cessa has been solid in limited action this spring (7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) and Brian Cashman has praised his work thus far. The GM could just be pumping up a recent addition, though ultimately the words do not matter. What matters is what happens on the mound.

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

In all likelihood Cessa, who is starting tonight’s game against the Tigers, will open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation. Don’t think that’s significant? Four of the five pitchers who opened last season in the Triple-A rotation ended up in the big leagues at some point. (Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, Kyle Davies, Danny Burawa. Jaron Long was the exception.) Cessa, who is on the 40-man roster, is a fastball/slider/changeup pitcher with surprisingly good command for a converted position player, though he still needs some fine-tuning.

After Ivan Nova, Cessa could very well be the first pitcher to brought up from the minors to make a spot start in 2016. Mitchell started last season in the Triple-A rotation before getting some extended time in the MLB bullpen, and a similar path is a definite possibility for Cessa, though I think the Yankees really believe in him as a future starter. I’m sure he’ll reach the show at some point this year anyway. Similar to Barbato at the time of his trade, Cessa’s true coming out party may be a year away.

The Minor League Stats Guy

You’re not going to find a shuttle reliever with better minor league numbers than Nick Goody. The 24-year-old righty missed most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, then, in his first full season with his rebuilt elbow, Goody had a 1.59 ERA (2.06 FIP) with a 33.2% strikeout rate and an 8.3% walk rate in 62.1 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015. He also threw 5.2 innings in the show.

Goody was on the shuttle last year and he’ll be on the it again this year. He hasn’t had a great Spring Training (8.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) but the Yankees have not yet reassigned him to minor league camp, so his Opening Day roster hopes are still alive. Goody is a low-90s fastball/low-80s slider guy, so since he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, his presently shaky command probably isn’t good enough for high-leverage work. Perhaps his command can improve the way David Robertson‘s did. For the timing being, he’s the quintessential up-and-down middle reliever.

The Former Top Pick

Less than a year after being the Yankees’ top selection (second round) in the 2014 draft, left-hander Jacob Lindgren was in the big leagues, getting a chance to show he belonged long-term. (When they needed a roster spot, the Yankees cut the veteran David Carpenter and kept Lindgren.) Lindgren struggled in his seven MLB innings and eventually had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, ending his season.

Lindgren, 23, was the very first 40-man roster player and Opening Day bullpen hopeful reassigned to minor league camp this spring. His numbers were not great, though it was basically one disaster outing in three appearances:

Jacob Lindgren stats

Joe Girardi said the Yankees felt Lindgren was pressing because he was trying to make the team, so they sent him down to clear his head and get regular work. Lindgren’s calling card is his wipeout slider, though he lacks command, lacks a big fastball (mostly 89-91 in pro ball), and has just good enough control to make it work. That’s the recipe for a frustrating reliever.

That slider gives Lindgren the best chance to be a late-inning reliever among the shuttle guys, though he’s going to have to throw more strikes going forward. That’s the goal this season with elbow surgery in the rear-view mirror: more strikes. A wipeout breaking ball is no good if you’re behind in the count. Lindgren is definitely a shuttle candidate, but I wonder if the Yankees will leave him in Triple-A for an extended period of time to iron out that control.

The Starter Turned Reliever

Real Talk: If the fifth starter competition was a real thing, Bryan Mitchell would be winning in a landslide. He’s been fantastic this spring (14.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K) and he was very good out of the bullpen for the Yankees last year before taking a line drive to the nose. At this point it’s hard to believe Mitchell won’t be on the Opening Day roster. How could he not be?

The stuff as never been in question. Mitchell, who will turn 25 next month, has a mid-90s heater and a knockout curveball, and his third pitch is a cutter. He’s never been able to pick up a changeup, so he has to use the cutter against lefties. That lack of a changeup and career long command issues are Mitchell’s biggest flaws. One of those will have to improve — ideally both — for Mitchell to hack it as a starter at the next level.

For now, Mitchell is certain to open the season in the bullpen, and Girardi has talked about using him in the Adam Warren role. That versatile reliever who can go multiple innings and even pitch in the late innings on occasion. The Yankees shouldn’t close the door on Mitchell as a starter and I don’t think they will. For now, they need him in the bullpen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the big leagues for good. Mitchell may be too good to shuttle up and down.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

The Lefty Specialist

Every year the Yankees (and every other team) make a series of small pickups in the offseason, and those small pickups can be easy to overlook. Left-hander Tyler Olson, who came over in a minor trade with the Dodgers, was one of those easy to overlook pickups this winter. He’s a pure left-on-left matchup guy with a funky delivery, a mid-to-upper-80s heater, and a loopy breaking ball, so his usefulness is limited.

Olson, 26, has had a pretty strong spring up until his last appearance or two. Having a spare lefty specialist you can bring up whenever you’re getting set to face a lefty heavy lineup is nice, but of all the shuttle relievers, I think Olson is most in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot. The Yankees have other lefties and they have other relievers who can throw full innings. Chances are we’ll see Olson at some point this summer. I would be surprised if he carved out a role and stuck around long-term, however.

The Other Lefty Specialist

The Yankees really seem to like James Pazos. He was reportedly on their list of untouchable prospects at the trade deadline — I refuse to believe that. It can’t possibly be true, can it? — and the club called him up last September before he had to be added to the 40-man roster. Pazos is a hard-thrower — PitchFX clocked his average fastball at 94.5 mph last September — though he lacks consistency with his slider and seems to be prone to bouncing pitches in the dirt.

Pazos was sent to minor league camp this past weekend, taking him out of the running for an Opening Day bullpen spot. But, like I said, the Yankees really seem to like him, and I have little doubt we’ll see him this season. Improving that slider will be his focus in Triple-A for the time being. Pazos seems to be the middle man between Olson (short-term fill-in) and Lindgren (potential long-term solution) among the shuttle lefties. Regardless, he’s going to get an awful lot of chances in this game because he’s a lefty and he throws hard.

The Shuttle Veteran

None of the shuttle relievers threw more big league innings (27.2) or made more up-and-down trips (six!) than 27-year-old Branden Pinder last season. The fastball-slider right-hander was called up at least once each month last season, so he’s a pro at this by now. He is well-versed in this shuttle reliever thing after only one year and that’s good, because he’ll be riding that shuttle again in 2016.

Pinder has had an steady but unspectacular spring (6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) and he remains in big league camp, giving him a chance to make the Opening Day roster. That said, even if he makes the Opening Day roster, he’s a candidate to be sent to Triple-A whenever a fresh arm is needed. Pinder lacks a reliable weapon against lefties and he’s prone to missing over the plate, limiting his ceiling. Still, his stuff is good, and I feel like he’s going to carve out a lengthy career as a journeyman middle reliever. A Chad Qualls/Jason Frasor type.

Rumblin’ Rumbelow

Aside from Lindgren, no minor league reliever climbed the ladder as quickly as Nick Rumbelow in recent seasons. Rumbelow went from Low-A Charleston to Triple-A Scranton in 2014, then he made his big league debut in 2015. He threw 15.2 mostly forgettable innings with the Yankees a year ago, and over the weekend he was reassigned to minor league camp, meaning he’s not going to be on the MLB roster to start the new season next week.

Rumbelow, 24, has three pitches, unlike most of the other shuttle bullpeners. PitchFX had his average fastball at 93.3 mph last year, and he also throws a low-80s curveball and a mid-80s changeup. The curveball was Rumbelow’s go-to secondary pitch when he first signed as the team’s seventh round pick in 2013, but nowadays he prefers the changeup. He’ll double up on the change and throw it to righties.

Three pitches, a funky delivery, and good enough control are a nice recipe for a big league career. Rumbelow has fine-tuning to do before he sticks long-term — anecdotally, he seems prone to overthrowing and leaving pitches up in the zone — but the tools are there, and he’ll surely get plenty of chances to show what he can do this year. Rumbelow figures to see lots and lots of shuttle time this year. He might supplant Pinder and be the top shuttle guy in 2016.

The (Temporary) Seventh Inning Guy

I’m not sure anyone in camp needed a good spring more than Chasen Shreve. Shreve, who is still only 25, was very good for the first four and a half months of 2015, but he crashed hard down the stretch, and no one really knew why. There was talk he was tipping his pitches, talk the league figured him out, stuff like that. Most with the Yankees said they believe it was fatigue, which sounds like a cop-out, but it was a plausible explanation.

So far this spring Shreve has been untouchable: 8 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K. The only base-runner against him came on an error. The numbers are great, but, more importantly, Shreve looks comfortable on the mound and he’s throwing with conviction. His body language wasn’t so great late last year and that was understandable. Opponents made him pay for every mistake. Shreve looks rested and he’s been aggressive. It’s been a good spring.

At the outset of camp, Girardi talked about Shreve like one of his regular relievers, as if he had a bullpen spot locked up. Fans were understandably skeptical given his finish last season, but if the Yankees felt the same way, they weren’t showing it. Shreve is not only a lock for the Opening Day bullpen at this point, it seems likely he will assume seventh inning work while Aroldis Chapman serves his suspension. Shreve held that role last when Andrew Miller was on the DL.

It’s probably unfair to lump Shreve in with the other shuttle relievers at this point given what he did last year. He wasn’t just pretty good, remember. He was dominant from April through mid-August, using his low-90s fastball/low-80s splitter combination to neutralize both righties and lefties. If the Yankees have to send Shreve down to Triple-A at some point in 2016, something went wrong. I think he’s up for good.

The Darkhorse

Similar to Olson, right-hander Kirby Yates was a nondescript offseason pickup who was easy to overlook coming into camp. Now, with Opening Day a week away, the 29-year-old Yates appears to have a legitimate chance to make the team, especially since so many of the other shuttle guys haven’t had good Grapefruit League seasons. He’s been very good in camp (6.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) and he has big league experience, throwing 56.1 innings with the Rays the last two seasons.

Yates is a generic low-to-mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider guy, so lefties give him a problem, which limits his ceiling. That fine though. We’re talking about a possible low-leverage middle reliever who gets shipped in and out whenever the team needs a fresh arm. If nothing else, Yates opened some eyes this spring and cemented himself as a shuttle candidate. Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’s put himself in position to be among the first called up.

Yates. (Presswire)
Yates. (Presswire)

The Non-40-Man Roster Options

In addition to all the 40-man guys, the Yankees have several non-40-man roster pitchers who could see time on the shuttle this season. Remember, guys like Kyle Davies and Matt Tracy and Joel De La Cruz went from afterthoughts to big leaguers a year ago, simply because they were available. Journeymen like lefty Richard Bleier and righties Anthony Swarzak, Vinnie Pestano, Tyler Cloyd, and Diego Moreno could all be temporary call-ups in 2016.

As for actual prospects, lefty Tyler Webb and righties Chad Green and Brady Lail seem most likely to be called up this summer. Maybe Mark Montgomery too. Green, the other prospect acquired in the Wilson/Cessa trade, and Lail are ticketed for the Triple-A rotation. Webb is going to return to the RailRiders’ bullpen. Depending on their Triple-A performance and the big league team’s needs, those guys could see the show this year.

Calling up someone like Bleier or Pestano is no big deal because the Yankees could drop them from the roster no questions asked. Call him up, get whatever innings you need, then move on. You can’t really do that with someone like Green or Lail because they’re actual prospects and you can’t simply drop them from the 40-man roster when a spot is needed. That’s a serious roster consideration. Is it worth clogging up a 40-man spot (and burning an option year) to get, say, two innings from Lail on a random June afternoon because you played 15 innings the night before? Probably not.

For now the Yankees appear to have plenty of bullpen shuttle candidates on the 40-man roster. I have ten 40-man relievers listed in this post even without counting Shreve. The Yankees are going to cycle through those pitchers all year, and with any luck, one or two will stand out from the pack and earn extended opportunities in the big leagues. With the Yankees unlikely to get much length from their starters, the extra bullpen arms will again be very important in 2016.

Thoughts one week before Opening Day

Kozma. (Presswire)
Kozma. (Presswire)

One week from today, the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season at home against the Astros. They have to squeeze in eight exhibition games and an off-day between now and then — hooray split squad games! — so this last week of Spring Training will be pretty busy. Soon though. Soon meaningful baseball will arrive. Anyway, I have thoughts.

1. For whatever reason there seems to be a ton of attention being paid to Spring Training stats and performance this year. Not just by Yankee fans and media folks, but all around the league. I guess it’s a function of not having anything else to talk about it. It just seems like the microanalysis of Spring Training numbers has been kicked up a notch this year. I’m guilty of it, no doubt. Just last week I said I was irrationally excited about Dustin Ackley. March is the very worst month to evaluate a baseball player (September is the second worst) and yet it’s still so easy to read too much into every little thing. Bryan Mitchell has walked one batter in 14.2 innings; does that mean he’s over his career long command issues? Didi Gregorius is hitting .417 against lefties; is he starting to learn how to hit southpaws? Spring Training is a dangerous time of year, man. Baseball will play tricks on you in March. This year spring stats seems to be getting more attention than ever and that’s bad news overall.

2. I was already planning to mention this, but Ken Davidoff beat me to it: no one is talking about Dellin Betances this spring, and that’s a good thing. Last spring everyone was focusing on his reduced velocity and non-existent control and for good reason. Betances was a huge part of the bullpen and he endured a huge workload in 2014. The missing mph and bad control couldn’t be ignored. This spring there are no concerns at all. Dellin looks like Dellin. He’s shown an overpowering fastball, a knee-buckling breaking ball, and just enough wildness to make hitters uncomfortable in the box. I forget where I saw it, but I remember reading Betances changed his routine this offseason and gave himself a few extra weeks of rest, so I wonder how much that has helped him. Either way, at this time last year Dellin was a legitimate source of concern. He looked nothing like the guy who carved up the league the year before. This spring, it’s business as usual, and that’s great news.

3. Once again, I have to revise my Opening Day bullpen prediction. Last time I had Betances, Mitchell, Andrew Miller, Ivan Nova, Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow going north. I’m going to swap out Pinder and Rumbelow for Kirby Yates and Johnny Barbato this time. The other five guys are pretty set in stone at this point, so really it’s only those last two spots that are up for grabs. Rumbelow was sent to minor league camp over the weekend, which takes him out of the running. Yates and Barbato have simply pitched better than Pinder in camp, and this feels very much like a “whoever pitches the best this spring will get the job” situation. Remember, this is the bullpen shuttle. Just because Yates and Barbato start the season on the roster doesn’t mean they’ll stay there all year. In fact, I would be surprised if they remained on the roster the entire month of April. So yeah, I have Yates and Barbato getting the last two spots right now.

4. The more time Rob Refsnyder spent at third base, the worse he looked. The last few days were really rough in particular. Earlier in camp he looked fine at third, mostly because balls were being hit right at him, but lately we’ve seen the ugly side of Refsnyder’s defense. He didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball this spring either, going 8-for-33 (.242) with a .649 OPS in 35 plate appearances. Refsnyder was going to have to do two things to make the team this spring: hit and show he can handle third base defensively. He obviously did neither of those things to the team’s liking, hence yesterday’s demotion. Some Triple-A time to rebuild confidence might not be such a bad thing for Refsnyder. The likelihood of Pete Kozma making the Yankees as the safe veteran utility man — “You look at Kozma, he’s going to battle through his at-bats. He’s swung the bat better lately,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings over the weekend — is annoyingly high at the moment. The unpopular but probably true opinion says Kozma is the most useful player among the team’s backup infielder options, but I am still curious to see what Ronald Torreyes has to offer. I liked the pickup from the start.

Ryan. (Presswire)
Ryan. (Presswire)

5. That said, I would not at all be surprised if the Yankees went outside the organization to acquire a backup third baseman at some point in the next few days. (For what it’s worth, George King says they’re “likely” to look for infield help before Opening Day.) The out of options market doesn’t offer much help. Perhaps the Yankees can find a backup infielder among the Article XX(B) free agents. Those are the players with at least six years of service time who signed a minor league contract, like Chris Denorfia. Article XX(B) free agents get a $100,000 bonus if they’re sent to Triple-A and an automatic opt-out on June 1st. Most of those players end up getting released in the final week of Spring Training once teams decide they won’t make their Opening Day roster, again like Denorfia. Casey McGehee, Clint Barmes, Joaquin Arias, and Brendan Ryan are among the Article XX(B) infielders this spring. Who’s ready for the Brendan Ryan reunion?

6. I’ve said this before and it’s worth saying again with Opening Day only a week away: I’m really excited about this coming season. I haven’t been this excited about an upcoming season since at least 2012. The Yankees have a nice blend of exciting young players and productive veterans, not to mention a bullpen that is must-see television. And they’re fun. Even the old guys are fun. The team isn’t as bland and business-like as they were for so many years. Will the Yankees win the AL East or even get a wildcard spot? Who knows. Baseball would be boring if it were predictable. I do think the Yankees have as good a chance of winning the AL East as any other team in the division. They’ll need some people to stay healthy and some others to break out, just like everyone else. I’m really looking forward to this season. I like the roster and I like where the Yankees are heading long-term, even if I nitpick and complain about the Pete Kozmas of the world.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 28th, 2016

Spring Record: 10-13-2 (95 RS, 126 RA)
Spring Opponents This Week: vs. Tigers (Mon.), vs. Pirates (split squad Tues. on YES, MLB.tv), @ Phillies (split squad Tues. on MLBN, MLB.tv), @ Braves (Weds.), vs. Cardinals (split squad Thurs. on YES, MLBN, MLB.tv), @ Tigers (split squad Thurs. on MLB.tv), @ Marlins (Fri.), @ Marlins (Sat.), Sun. OFF

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