The Rest of the AL East [2016 Season Preview]

Over the last six seasons, each of the five AL East teams has won at least one division title. The Yankees (2011, 2012) are the only club with multiple division titles in the last six years. The days of the AL East being dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox are long gone. The other three teams are no longer pushovers.

For what it’s worth, the projections at FanGraphs have the five AL East teams all winning between 79-88 games in 2016, a gap of only nine wins. Baseball Prospectus has them all in the 75-87 win range. If nothing else, the objective computers think the five clubs are pretty close in terms of talent level. You’re welcome to disagree, of course.

Because knowing your enemy is just as important as knowing yourself, let’s take some time to preview the upcoming season for the four non-Yankees teams in the AL East. This is nothing too in-depth. It’s just enough to give you an idea what the Yankees are up against in 2016.

Is the Showalter honeymoon over? (Presswire)
(Presswire)

Baltimore Orioles

Notable Additions: Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez, Yovani Gallardo
Notable Losses: Wei-Yin Chen, Steve Pearce, Gerardo Parra

The Orioles went 81-81 last season, and they had to commit $207.8M to Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, and Matt Wieters this offseason just to keep their core intact. Also, Kevin Gausman is dealing with a shoulder issue and Miguel Gonzalez was released yesterday, so their rotation right now is:

  1. Chris Tillman
  2. Yovani Gallardo
  3. Ubaldo Jimenez
  4. ???
  5. ???

That seems less than ideal. O’Day and Zach Britton are a dynamite end-game tandem, but I’m not sure how manager Buck Showalter expects to get the ball to them. They’re counting on a big time bounceback from Tillman and consistency from Jimenez (lol), and for Gallardo to chew up innings better than he did last year. He completed six innings just twice in his final 16 starts of 2015.

The O’s are going to have to win a lot of 7-6 games to contend and they have the firepower to do so. Davis, Trumbo, Alvarez, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado are all legitimate 30 homer threats. Watch out for Jonathan Schoop too. He hit 15 homers in only 321 plate appearances last year. The Trumbo and Alvarez pickups don’t do anything to help the club’s OBP problem — the O’s were 26th in baseball with a .307 OBP in 2015 — so while they might hit 250 home runs this season, most of them will be solo shots.

Baltimore is the only AL East team that would really surprise me by winning the division. They’re going to hit a ton of homers, there’s no doubt about that, but they don’t get on base and the pitching staff is thin. I mean really, really thin. The O’s will be a headache to play this season. Over the course of 162 games though, I feel it’s only a matter of time until they fall behind the rest of the AL East.

A worthy foe. (Presswire)
A worthy foe. (Presswire)

Boston Red Sox

Notable Additions: David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Chris Young
Notable Losses: Wade Miley

For the third or fourth year in a row, the Red Sox changed philosophies this offseason, deciding to spend big after former GM Ben Cherington spent a few years preaching restraint and flexibility. New baseball operations chief Dave Dombrowski is all about big names, has been for years, hence the Price signing and Kimbrel trade. Those moves were right in his wheelhouse.

Price gives the BoSox the ace they so clearly lacked, but I think the bullpen additions are going to help them more than Price. Kimbrel and Smith are replacing Alexei Ogando and Craig Breslow, who combined to allow 62 runs in 130.1 innings in 2015. Those two will join Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in the late innings. (Smith’s dealing with a flexor injury and will miss the start of the regular season.)

Offensively, the Red Sox have sneaky big questions in five spots: catcher (Blake Swihart), first base (Hanley Ramirez), third base (Pablo Sandoval), left field (Rusney Castillo), and center field (Jackie Bradley Jr.). They’re already talking about sending Castillo to Triple-A and playing a Young/Brock Holt platoon in left, and apparently now Travis Shaw is the starting third baseman. Everyone seems to be assuming Hanley and Bradley will have above-average seasons because … I don’t know why. At least Hanley has his track record to fall back on.

The Red Sox get the benefit of the doubt more than any chronically underachieving team deserves. They have talent, that much is clear, but they’ve had talent the last two years too, and they still finished in last place. The Red Sox are going to be tough to play against because they’re always tough to play against. Bet on them at your own risk though. No club has done less with more the last two seasons.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tampa Bay Rays

Notable Additions: Logan Morrison, Brad Miller, Hank Conger, Steve Pearce, Corey Dickerson
Notable Losses: Asdrubal Cabrera, John Jaso, Nate Karns, Jake McGee, James Loney

Only the White Sox scored fewer runs than the Rays among AL teams a year ago, so Tampa Bay set out to improve their offense by acquiring a bunch of guys who can be good if used in very specific ways. Dickerson is good as long as he never faces lefties and is your DH. Miller is good as long as he never faces lefties and the ball is never hit to him. That kinda thing. That’s what the Rays do. They find imperfect players and try to use them perfectly.

The Rays did sacrifice some defense for offense this winter. Morrison is unquestionably worse at first base than Loney. (Loney was told he won’t make the team yesterday.) Remember how shaky and goof prone Didi Gregorius was early last year? That’s Miller all the time. Asdrubal is no great shakes in the field, but he is sure-handed. Conger, meanwhile, is the worst throwing catcher in baseball. He went 1-for-43 throwing out base-stealers last year. That is not a typo. 1-for-43. o n e f o r f o r t y t h r e e

To their credit, the Rays ostensibly improved their weaknesses without sacrificing too much from their strengths. They still have a solid rotation even without Karns and their defense is not atrocious. The bullpen is a little up in the air because McGee is gone and Brad Boxberger will miss a few weeks following core muscle surgery, so that’s their big question right now. Manager Kevin Cash usually doesn’t let his non-Chris Archer starters go through the lineup a third time, and those middle innings are rather treacherous.

For Tampa Bay to contend this year, they’ll need Evan Longoria to get back to where he was earlier in his career, and I’m not sure how possible that is. He’s now 30 and his power is starting to vanish; he went from being a consistent .230+ ISO guy to a .150 ISO guy the last two seasons. That’s bad news for the Rays, especially since his six-year, $100M extension kicks in next year. The Rays will be in the hunt this year, but, as always, they’ll need a lot to go right to beat out division rivals with more resources.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Toronto Blue Jays

Notable Additions: Jesse Chavez, J.A. Happ, Drew Storen, Gavin Floyd
Notable Losses: David Price, Mark Buehrle, Mark Lowe, Liam Hendriks, Ben Revere

You’d think going to the postseason for the first time in two decades would be enough to keep the GM around, but apparently not. The Blue Jays named former Indians president Mark Shapiro their new president last year, replacing the retired Paul Beeston, and GM Alex Anthopoulos felt his authority would be undermined, so he rejected an extension offer and walked away over the winter. Crazy, huh?

The Blue Jays have never been huge spenders and Shapiro himself has a history of steering clear of big free agents, so the team never made much of an effort to keep Price. They instead opted to replace him (and Buehrle) with Happ, Chavez, and a full year of Marcus Stroman. It … might work? They only had Price for eleven starts in 2015, after all. Buehrle was close to toast by the end of the season too.

Toronto still has their powerhouse lineup — they scored 891 runs last season, 127 more than the second highest scoring team (Yankees!) and the most by any team since the 2009 Yankees (915) — and now they’ll have a full year of Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop. Even if he spends time on the DL, 100 games of Tulo and 62 games of a replacement level player is still one of the best shortstops in the game.

As I said this morning, I am of the belief the Blue Jays will outscore any pitching problems. The Yankees did that for years in the mid-2000s. I’m an offense first guy. I’ll always bet on the team with a juggernaut offense coming out ahead over the course of a 162-game season. The Blue Jays may not be quite as imposing as they were in the second half last season, but they’re still very good. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will be free agents next offseason, so this might be the club’s last chance to win with this core.

Spring Training Dual Game Thread: So Long, Tampa

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees play their final games of the Grapefruit League season this afternoon, and you know, everything was going well until yesterday, when Andrew Miller took a line drive to the wrist and Bryan Mitchell managed to break his toe covering first. Just like that, the Yankees are down two of their seven projected Opening Day relievers. Miller says he plans to pitch through the injury, but we’ll see.

What are you going to do? That’s baseball. The goal today is to get through the split squad games healthy and make it to Miami for the upcoming exhibition games at Marlins Park without the bus bursting into flames. You know, those two games in Marlins Park will not be televised. How do two Major League teams play two games in a Major League ballpark with no cameras in the year 2016?

Ron Swanson

Anyway, the stupid Cardinals are in stupid Tampa to play half the Yankees this afternoon while the other half of the Yankees are in stupid Lakeland to play the stupid Tigers. Here is the Cardinals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup for the home game:

  1. CF Aaron Hicks
  2. RF Carlos Beltran
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Dustin Ackley
  8. SS Ronald Torreyes
  9. LF Cesar Puello
    RHP Michael Pineda

Available Pitchers: LHP Aroldis Chapman, RHP Anthony Swarzak, and RHP Branden Pinder are all scheduled to pitch. LHP Matt Tracy, LHP James Reeves, and RHP Vinnie Pestano are also available.

Available Position Players: C Eddy Rodriguez, 1B Chris Gittens, 2B Donovan Solano, SS Jonathan Diaz, 3B Billy Fleming, LF Lane Adams, CF Ben Gamel, RF Mark Payton, and DH Carlos Corporan will replace the regulars off the bench. C Sebastian Valle, IF Vicente Conde, and OF Carlos Vidal are the extra players.

I imagine Joe Girardi is hanging back in Tampa to keep tabs on the all the regulars. Now here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup for the road game:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Didi Gregorius
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. C Austin Romine
  5. 3B Pete Kozma
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 1B Chris Parmelee
  8. LF Tyler Austin
  9. DH Trey Amburgey
    RHP Chad Green

Available Pitchers: LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Conor Mullee, LHP James Pazos, and RHP Diego Moreno are all going to pitch after Green. RHP Dillon McNamara and RHP Mark Montgomery are the extra arms.

Available Position Players: C Gary Sanchez, 2B Jose Rosario, SS Jorge Mateo, 3B Rob Refsnyder, and CF Dustin Fowler will be the second string. C Francisco Diaz, C Radley Haddad, IF Dan Fiorito, OF Jake Skole, and OF Juan Silva drew the short straws and had to make the trip even though they aren’t scheduled to play.

Both games today will begin a little after 1pm ET. The weather in Tampa is a little better than the weather in Lakeland — cloudy with temperatures in the mid-80s — but there’s no rain in the forecast in either city, and that’s all that matters. You can watch the home game on YES, MLB Network, and MLB.tv. You can watch the road game on FOX Sports Detroit if you live in the Tigers’ home market, otherwise your only option is MLB.tv. Enjoy the last Grapefruit League games of the year.

Thoughts on the final day of the Grapefruit League season

Adios, Tampa. (Presswire)
Adios, Tampa. (Presswire)

Today is the final day of the Grapefruit League season for the Yankees. They’ll play a pair of split squad games this afternoon, then shuttle off to Miami for two exhibition games at Marlins Park on Friday and Saturday. After that, it’s back to New York for an off-day Sunday and Opening Day Monday. Hooray for that. Here are some thoughts.

1. Well, I was planning to start this by saying the Yankees made it through Spring Training healthy, but then Andrew Miller had to go and take a line drive to the wrist yesterday. The CT scan showed a chip fracture, whatever that means, so no, the Yankees didn’t make it though camp healthy. Alas. (Also, Bryan Mitchell managed to sprain his toe covering first base yesterday. We’re still waiting to hear the MRI results.) Aside from Miller, the biggest injury the Yankees suffered this spring was Jacoby Ellsbury taking that pitch to the wrist a few weeks ago, and he managed to escape without any major damage. The team is mostly healthy. That’s good news. The Yankees will go into the regular season at something very close to full strength, and the longer they’re at full strength, the better their chances to win the division. It looks like the AL East race will be pretty tight this year. It could very easily come down to which team stays the healthiest.

2. Joe Girardi may announce the rest of the roster later today. That was the original plan, but Girardi said Ivan Nova‘s strong start yesterday may force the team to think a little longer. The Miller injury may change things too. We’ll see. Anyway, Austin Romine will be the backup catcher — the Yankees triggered Carlos Corporan’s opt-out clause yesterday by emailing the other 29 teams about his availability — so the only open spots are in the bullpen. I still think Johnny Barbato and Kirby Yates will get them, though I’ve been wrong about this literally every step of the way, so what do I know. Either way, the point is Barbato and Yates are still in the mix for bullpen spots this late in camp, and I did not expect that coming into the spring. I mean, I knew it was always possible, but they were behind pretty much everyone else on the depth chart in my opinion. They pitched well this spring and no one else did, so here they are. Pretty crazy how that works out. Bullpens, man. (Barbato pretty much confirmed he’s made the team on Twitter last night, by the way.)

3. Whenever Girardi announces his regular season rotation, I expect it to line up like so: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino. Same as last year, except with Severino instead of Adam Warren. Tanaka and Pineda are lined up to start the first two games of the season, so that’s the easy part. I think Sabathia will start the third game because the Yankees would rather let him face the Astros, who have a balanced lineup with some lefties, than the Tigers, who are so very righty heavy. Don’t get me wrong, Houston has some big righty bats themselves, but they also have some important lefties in Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, and Jason Castro. Detroit’s best only lefty hitter is Anthony Gose. Righties crushed Sabathia last season (.370 wOBA!), so I assume the Yankees will want to limit his exposure to them whenever possible. Make sense? Eovaldi and Severino then fall into place as the fourth and fifth starters. (Eovaldi pitches tomorrow, Severino Saturday.)

Hicks. (Presswire)
Hicks. (Presswire)

4. Speaking of the Astros, Girardi’s going to have to figure out what to do with his lineup against Dallas Keuchel on Opening Day. He sat Ellsbury and played Chris Young against Keuchel in the wildcard game last fall. Would he sit Ellsbury in favor of Aaron Hicks on Opening Day? Would he sit Brett Gardner or Carlos Beltran instead? Hicks had great numbers against southpaws last season (139 wRC+), so it makes sense to play him, but Opening Day has kind of a special connotation. Sitting an established veteran like Ellsbury or Gardner on Opening Day could be seen as disrespectful. It sounds silly, but stuff like that happens. I would be in favor of sitting Ellsbury for Hicks against Keuchel, especially if Ellsbury’s wrist is still sore. The Yankees have an off-day Tuesday, so if he sits Monday, he’ll have three straight off-days to rest the wrist. My hunch is the starting outfield plays Monday with Hicks on the bench.

5. Now that we know Ronald Torreyes has beaten out Pete Kozma, the bench to open the season will be Romine, Hicks, Torreyes, and Dustin Ackley. That bench is … young and kinda has upside? How about that. And it’s only a matter of time until Gary Sanchez replaces Romine too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with carrying veteran players on the bench like the Yankees have done over the years, but wow, the Yankees have a nice collection of young and interesting reserves this season. That’s pretty fun. The Yankees have only so much flexibility with the starting lineup because of big contracts and all that, but there are no such concerns on the bench, so they’ve gone young. Times have definitely changed, huh? I never thought I’d see a bench full of 20-somethings whose best years figure to be ahead of them. Now watch them sign Rene Rivera to be the backup catcher.

6. Our season predictions at CBS will be posted at some point later today, but I’ll spoil them here. (Update: Here’s the link.) I have the Blue Jays, Royals, Astros, Mets, Cubs, and Dodgers winning the divisions, with the Yankees, Rangers, Nationals, and Cardinals as my wildcard teams. I went Mets over Astros Rangers for my World Series pick but wish I would have changed it to Mets over Blue Jays before the damn thing was put together. Too late for that. I think Toronto’s going to out-hit any pitching problems they have this year, and the Mets are built to dominate a short postseason series. I went boring with my MVP and Cy Young picks (Mike Trout/Chris Sale and Bryce Harper/Clayton Kershaw) but did pick Hicks as my surprise player in the AL. I buy him being on the verge of a breakout, and I think he’ll end up with close to 500 plate appearances in 2016. So anyway, those are my picks. Point and laugh as you see fit.

Update: CT scan shows chip fracture after Andrew Miller takes line drive to the right wrist

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

8:04pm ET: The CT scan showed a chip fracture in Miller’s wrist, according to Curry. He’ll visit a specialist to determine the next step. No word on a timetable for his return or anything like that.

6:17pm ET: NBC 11 managed to get video of the play. I can’t get it to embed properly, so you’ll have to click the link.

5:29pm ET: The x-rays came back negative, according to Jack Curry. The team has since confirmed the news. Hooray for that. The Yankees are still going to send Miller for a CT scan. That should happen soon.

3:34pm ET: The Yankees are calling it a bruised right wrist for now, says Bryan Hoch. Miller is heading for x-rays and a CT scan, because duh.

2:52pm ET: Andrew Miller left this afternoon’s game after taking a line drive to the right wrist, according to the reporters in Florida. He slammed either his hat or glove down and walked right to the clubhouse. Yikes. The game is not being broadcast anywhere, so there’s no video available.

This all just happened a few minutes ago, so the Yankees have not yet released any kind of update. I assume Miller’s headed for x-rays and other tests as deemed necessary. He was hit in his non-throwing wrist, so I guess that’s the silver lining. Hopefully his glove absorbed some of the blow.

The Yankees will be without Aroldis Chapman for the first 30 games of the season, so, needless to say, losing Miller for any length of time would be really bad. Dellin Betances could step in as closer, but who sets up? Suddenly the Yankees would be looking at Chasen Shreve and Bryan Mitchell in the eighth.

Anyway, stay tuned for updates, whenever they come. Hopefully Miller walks away with nothing more than a nasty bruise. Fingers crossed.

Open Thread: March 30th Camp Notes

Earlier today the Yankees beat the Braves by the score of 2-0. Ivan Nova had what was probably the best start by a Yankee this spring, holding Atlanta to two hits and one walk in six scoreless innings. He struck out two. Chances this performance won Nova the fifth starter spot? Small, I’d say.

Aaron Hicks went 3-for-3 with a double to pace the offense. Austin Romine, Dustin Ackley, and Ronald Torreyes had base hits as well. Dellin Betances (three strikeouts) and Kirby Yates (two strikeouts) tossed perfect frames out of the bullpen. Today’s game was not broadcast anywhere, so there are no highlights. Here’s the box score and here are the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Some news from earlier, if you missed it: Andrew Miller (wrist) and Bryan Mitchell (leg) left today’s game with injuries. Miller was hit by a line drive. X-rays came back negative, and he’ll soon have a CT scan. Mitchell managed to sprain his big toe covering first base and will go for an MRI.
  • More news from earlier: Torreyes has beat out Pete Kozma for the final bench spot, plus three more relievers (Branden Pinder, Nick Goody, Tyler Olson) were optioned out. The Opening Day roster must be submitted to the league by 12pm ET Sunday. [Sweeny Murti]
  • Masahiro Tanaka still has not been told whether he will start Opening Day. Joe Girardi said he was planning to announce the rotation and the last two bullpen spots tomorrow, but said Nova’s start today may push things back. [Brendan Kuty, Mark Feinsand, Bryan Hoch]
  • Carlos Corporan does not have a standard opt-out in his contract. If the Yankees don’t add him to their 40-man roster, they have to email the other 29 teams to let them know he’s available. Other teams have 24 hours to respond and add Corporan to the 40-man. The email went out today, Brian Cashman said. [Chad Jennings]

Here is the nightly open thread. MLB Network is showing a bunch of games on tape delay throughout the night, plus the Knicks are playing too. Talk about those games or any of the day’s news right here. Have at it.

The Farm System [2016 Season Preview]

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

The Yankees ignored their farm system for a number of years in the early and mid-2000s. They forfeited first round picks left and right to sign free agents, and they traded the few prospects they had for big leaguers every chance they got. I don’t think that’s automatically a bad thing! There’s a time and a place to go for it, and when you’re winning 90+ games every year, you go for it.

Things changed not too long ago. The Yankees decided to scale back the “go for it” mentality and instead focus on getting younger and building from within. Draft picks are precious, especially now that it’s harder to get extra ones, and top prospects are off limits in trades. Or at least the team says they are. Last summer the Yankees dipped into their farm system to fill a number of holes, most notably by sticking Luis Severino in the second half rotation.

The Yankees doubled down on their farm system this offseason. They signed zero Major League free agents for the first time in franchise history (as far as I can tell), and they didn’t go bonkers with trades either. They added a new second baseman, a new fourth outfielder, and a new closer. That’s about it. Any additional help is going to come from within in 2016. Let’s preview the farm system.

The Top Prospects

The Yankees have four prospects who are clearly a notch above everyone else in the system: OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, SS Jorge Mateo, and RHP James Kaprielian. Put them in any order you want. I won’t argue (much). Those are the four guys though. They’re the cream of the farm system crop. And cool part is all four could play in MLB in 2016. I wouldn’t call it likely, but it’s not completely impossible.

Judge is a behemoth — he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 lbs. — with the kind of raw power you’d expect from that frame, though he doesn’t fit the one-dimensional slugger stereotype because he has a good hit tool and can play quality right field defense. Triple-A pitchers beat him with soft stuff away last year, so he’ll focus on the outer half this year. He’s already made some adjustments. Judge is not on the 40-man roster and the Yankees do have a lot of Triple-A outfield depth, but he will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so the team could add him to the 40-man ahead of time and bring him up in September. Perhaps even sooner.

As soon as John Ryan Murphy was traded, Sanchez became the favorite for the backup catcher’s job. Over time it became clear sending him down was the right move, and not only because he went 1-for-21 (.048) in Spring Training. Five weeks in the minors equals an extra year of team control down the line and that is too good to pass up. Sanchez will continue to work on his defense in Triple-A for the time being. It’s only a matter of time until he takes over as Brian McCann‘s backup.

Mateo and Kaprielian are both going to start the season in High-A and they could conceivably reach MLB late in the season. Kaprielian, a polished college arm, could follow the Ian Kennedy path and zoom up the ladder, capping off his season with a few big league starts. Mateo, a speedster who can do a little of everything, could be the team’s designated pinch-runner in September. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so the Yankees could add him to the 40-man roster a few weeks early and put those legs to good use.

Judge, Sanchez, Mateo, and Kaprielian are the club’s tippy top prospects, and even if they don’t help at the MLB level this season, they’re all big parts of the future. Judge is the obvious long-term replacement for Carlos Beltran. Sanchez is McCann’s long-term replacement. The Yankees have one big league starter under team control beyond 2017 (Severino), so Kaprielian’s place is obvious. Mateo? They’ll figure that out when the time comes. For now, these four will continue to hone their skills and inch closer to an MLB job.

Ready To Help

In addition to the four top prospects, the Yankees have a few minor leaguers on the cusp of helping at the MLB level right now. First and foremost, they have about a dozen arms for the bullpen shuttle, and frankly I’m kinda sick of talking about them. We know the names, right? LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Nick Goody, RHP Branden Pinder, LHP James Pazos, on and on the list goes. We’re going to see them all at some point in 2016. I’m sure of it.

Gamel. (Presswire)
Gamel. (Presswire)

Beyond the bullpen shuttle, the Yankees have a small army of Triple-A outfielders who can help at a moment’s notice. Need a bat? OF Ben Gamel is there. Need defense? OF Mason Williams is the best bet once he fully recovers from shoulder surgery. Need a little of both? There’s OF Slade Heathcott. 2B Rob Refsnyder provides infield depth, or at least he will once he spends more time at third base. IF Ronald Torreyes, who will open the season in the show, is another infield candidate.

RHP Bryan Mitchell is also going to open to season in MLB, though he’s still a piece of rotation depth. If he’s the best man for the job, the Yankees will pull him out of the bullpen and stick him in the rotation whenever a starter is needed. RHP Luis Cessa, who came over in the Justin Wilson trade, looked very good this spring and is probably next in line for a call-up. RHP Brady Lail and RHP Chad Green are behind him. Cessa is on the 40-man. Lail and Green are not.

Unlike last season, the Yankees don’t have a Severino waiting in the wings. They don’t have that prospect who can come up and provide immediate impact. Well, I should rephrase that. They don’t have a prospect you would reasonably project to come up and have an impact right away. Cessa could come up and throw 60 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA, but no one expects that. Either way, the Yankees have depth pieces in Triple-A. Expect them to dip into their farm system for short-term help again this year, regardless of what they need at the MLB level.

The Next Top Prospects

A year ago at this time Mateo looked like a prospect who was ready to explode onto the scene and become a top tier prospect. Two years ago it was Severino. This summer, the best candidate for such a breakout is SS Wilkerman Garcia, who was part of that massive international spending spree two years ago. He’s a switch-hitter with good defense and I swear, every scouting report I read about him is better than the last. I’m excited to see what Wilkerman does this year.

Beyond Wilkerman, OF Dustin Fowler and C Luis Torrens have a chance to become top prospects this year. Fowler is a do-it-all outfielder and Torrens is a defense-first catcher with a promising bat. He’s coming back from shoulder surgery though, so maybe expecting a breakout after missing the entire 2015 season is too much to ask. 3B Miguel Andujar has high-end tools. We’re just waiting for the performance to match. SS Hoy Jun Park is another toolsy shortstop like Garcia.

The Yankees have a very position player heavy farm system, though they do have some pitching prospects poised to break out this summer. RHP Drew Finley is the No. 1 guy. He’s got three pitches and he locates. I feel like he’s going to sneak up on people this year. RHP Domingo Acevedo is the quintessential huge fastball guy. He just has to figure everything else out. LHP Jeff Degano needs to develop a changeup but already has the fastball and breaking ball.

Then, of course, there’s whoever the Yankees take with their first round pick (18th overall) in this June’s amateur draft. That player — the smart money is on a college player based on the team’s recent draft tendencies — figures to be one of their better prospects a year from now. Wilkerman, Fowler, and Finley are my picks. Those are the guys I see having big 2016 seasons developmentally and becoming true top prospects year from now.

Returning From Injury

Torrens missed all of last season with his injury, but man, he’s not the only one. LHP Ian Clarkin missed the regular season with elbow inflammation, which stinks. The good news is he did not need surgery and was able to throw some innings in the Arizona Fall League. RHP Ty Hensley, RHP Austin DeCarr, and RHP Domingo German all had Tommy John surgery last spring and are still working their way back. Lindgren (elbow), Heathcott (quad), and Williams (shoulder) all missed big chunks of the season too. That’s a lot of talent coming back. Hopefully all of them come back at full strength, or at least something close to it.

Sladerunner. (Presswire)
Sladerunner. (Presswire)

Last Chance?

Prospects are fun and everyone loves them, but they will break your heart. Over and over again. Some players are entering make or break years, and I don’t mean 2015 Gary Sanchez make or break years. I mean real make or break years. 1B/OF Tyler Austin is the most obvious last chance guy. He’s battled injuries and ineffectiveness the last few years, and he lost his 40-man roster spot in September. The 2016 season is his last chance to show the Yankees he’s worth keeping around.

Heathcott’s another make or break player for me. The Yankees gave him a second chance last year and he rewarded them with his big September home run against the Rays. That said, he again missed a bunch of time due to injury, and when healthy he didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball in Triple-A. Another year like that might spell the end of Slade’s time in the organization, especially since he will be out of options following the season.

I’m also inclined to include RHP Vicente Campos in the make or break category. He’s had a lot of injuries over the years, most notably missing the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, which has really cut into his development time. This is his final minor league option year, and if he doesn’t show the Yankees he can help as soon next year, it may be time to move on. Baseball is cruel, man.

The Deep Sleepers

Remember that “The Next Top Prospects” section? Consider this the Next Next Top Prospects section. These are the deepest sleepers in the farm system. They’re way off the beaten path. The new hotness right now is OF Estevan Florial, an ulta-tooled up 18-year-old the Yankees got on the cheap because identity issues — he used a relative’s identity to enroll in school in the Dominican Republic — put him in purgatory before signing. He’s going to make his stateside debut this year and jump onto the prospect map in a big way.

SS Diego Castillo and OF Brayan Emery were part of the 2014-15 international spending spree, and both possess tools that far exceed their six-figure bonuses. Castillo in particular already looks like a steal at $750,000. He should come to the U.S. this year and is in line to follow Mateo and Wilkerman as the next great Yankees shortstop prospect. RHP Luis Medina, who signed last July, is already running his fastball up to 98-100 mph. And then there’s OF Leonardo Molina, who is still only 18. It feels like he’s been around forever. Florial is the big name to know here, but Castillo’s not far behind. Expect to hear a lot about those two in 2016 and beyond.

The Best of the Rest

There is nothing sexy about being a mid-range prospect, but you know what? Mid-range prospects are often the difference between good teams and great teams. They provide depth and they’re valuable trade chips. Guys like Adam Warren and Brett Gardner don’t grow on trees, you know. You’d rather draft and develop them yourself than have to go out and buy them from someone else.

SS Tyler Wade, SS Kyle Holder, LHP Jordan Montgomery, IF Thairo Estrada, IF Abi Avelino, OF Carlos Vidal, 1B Chris Gittens, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Chance Adams, OF Trey Amburgey, and OF Jhalan Jackson all fit into this group. They’re good prospects, not great prospects, and they all project to be big leaguers of varying usefulness. I’m not sure if we’ll see any of these players in the show this year, but I bet several pop-up in trade rumors, and one or two could be moved for help at the MLB level. That’s what the farm system is for, after all. Call-ups and trades.

Bryan Mitchell heading for MRI on big toe

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One day after being named to the Opening Day roster, Bryan Mitchell is heading for an MRI on his left big toe, Brian Cashman told reporters in Florida this afternoon. Mitchell’s toe “locked up” as he was covering first base in today’s game. Weird. It’s being called a sprain for now.

Mitchell, 24, has had a fantastic spring this year, which earned him that Opening Day roster spot. He was pretty good out of the bullpen last year, at least before taking a line drive to the nose, and this year he has a chance to solidify his place in the team’s long-term plans.

A toe injury sounds innocent enough, but it could be a pretty big deal. The last thing the Yankees want Mitchell to do is change his mechanics to protect the toe (even subconsciously) and then hurt his arm. Straining a toe covering first base is a weird baseball injury for sure. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.