Severino, Bird, Judge, and Sanchez rank among Baseball America’s top 20 International League prospects

(Tony Dejak/Associated Press)
(Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

Baseball America wrapped up their look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league with the Triple-A International League today. As always, the list is free but the scouting reports are not. Indians SS Francisco Lindor sits in the top spot. The Yankees have four players on the list: RHP Luis Severino (No. 2), 1B Greg Bird (No. 6), OF Aaron Judge (No. 10), and C Gary Sanchez (No. 18).

“While opposing managers lauded Severino’s stuff—a 92-97 mph fastball that typically sits at 95 and is complemented by a solid low-80s changeup and solid-average slider—many were equally impressed with his command, composure and athleticism on the mound,” said the write-up. The 21-year-old Severino had a 1.91 ERA (2.50 FIP) in eleven starts and 62.1 innings with Triple-A Scranton before being called up to the big leagues.

Bird, 22, hit .301/.353/.500 (146 wRC+) with six homers in 34 games with the RailRiders before being called up. “He combines a disciplined approach at the plate with a balanced swing and quick hands to drive the ball to all parts of the ballpark,” said the scouring report. “Bird made significant strides at first base this season: His footwork around the bag is serviceable and he has improved at picking balls in the dirt.”

Judge, 23, put up a .224/.308/.373 (98 wRC+) line with eight homers and a 28.5% strikeout rate in 61 games for Scranton this summer. “(Judge) struggled for stretches against experienced pitchers who found holes in his swing with breaking and offspeed pitches,” said the write-up. “He did show the ability to make adjustments and punish mistakes. Judge uses a gap-to-gap approach with bat speed and natural strength to drive the ball.”

As for Sanchez, the scouting report says he was “more mature off the field” and “in noticeably better shape this season.” The write-up also noted his “improved plate discipline” allowed him to better tap into his power in games. “He has double-plus arm strength behind the plate, and though he worked hard at improving his receiving, it remains the biggest hurdle for him to clear at catcher.” Sanchez, 22, hit .295/.349/.500 (145 wRC+) with six homers in 35 games for the RailRiders.

I was a bit surprised 2B Rob Refsnyder didn’t make the top 20, especially since Baseball America’s prospect rankings tend to be performance driven. Then again, I guess that could be why Refsnyder didn’t make the International League list. He had a good (123 wRC+) but not truly great year with the RailRiders. Others like RHP Bryan Mitchell, OF Slade Heathcott, and OF Ben Gamel are fine prospects, but not top 20 in the league caliber prospects.

Other league top 20s: Rookie Gulf Coast League, Rookie Appalachian League, Short Season NY-Penn League, Low-A South Atlantic League, High-A Florida State League, Double-A Eastern League

Heyman: Yankees are “leaning toward” playing Ackley and Refsnyder at second base in 2016


Aside from second base, the Yankees are locked into their starters at every position heading into the offseason. I suppose they could always free up a spot with a trade, but that seems unlikely. Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner are their only position players with real trade value. And I guess Greg Bird too. He’s not penciled in as a starter right now though.

Anyway, according to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are “leaning toward” using Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder at second base next season. Both Ackley (161 wRC+) and Refsnyder (130 wRC+) impressed offensively in their late season cameos this year, but the sample sizes were extremely small. They combined for 104 plate appearances in pinstripes.

Two things immediately came to mind when I read this. One, it’s totally believable. The Yankees turned to their farm system whenever a need arose this past season — their only trade pickup was Ackley, and that was hardly a blockbuster — and by and large it worked really well. There’s no reason to think they won’t do it against next year.

Two, of course the Yankees are going to say Ackley and Refsnyder are their solution at second base. Coming out and saying they’re going to shop for a new second baseman — and there will be plenty on the free agent market this winter — hurts their leverage with free agents and other teams in trade talks. Of course they’re going to say they’re “leaning toward” going with Ackley and Refsnyder. Why wouldn’t they?

The list of free agent second base candidates is pretty long: Howie Kendrick, Ben Zobrist, Asdrubal Cabrera, Daniel Murphy, and Chase Utley are the most notable. Kendrick and probably Murphy are going to end up with a qualifying offer, and those two plus Zobrist are in line for substantial multi-year contracts. I have a hard time thinking any of those three will sign for less than $10M annually.

Second base is the Yankees’ only flexible position, so my guess is we’re going to hear a ton of second base free agent and trade rumors this winter. There’s nothing else to talk about other than the pitching staff. I don’t love the idea of an Ackley/Refsnyder platoon at second, but I can understand why the team may go that route. There’s a bit of upside there, especially if Ackley did really figure some things out.

The Summer of Al [2015 Season Review]


For the first time in ten seasons, the Yankees played without Alex Rodriguez last year. A-Rod was suspended the entire 2014 season due to his ties to Biogenesis, and for the most part he stayed out of the spotlight. Every few weeks some photos of him attending a college football game or something like that popped up, but that’s all. Last year was a quiet year for A-Rod.

The 2015 season was much different. Rodriguez returned to the Yankees and no one knew what to expect out of him, both on and off the field. Not only did he miss the entire 2014 season, he also played only 44 games in 2013 due to injury, plus Alex was closing in on his 40th birthday. Throw in his two surgically repaired hips — as well as one surgically repaired knee — and it was impossible to know what A-Rod could provide in 2015. As it turned out, Alex had a lot to offer.

Where Does He Fit?

Rodriguez’s suspension ended after the World Series last year. He was reinstated from the restricted list and reclaimed a spot on the 40-man roster. The usual chatter about releasing him or trying to void his contract came and went and of course nothing happened. Alex remained in the organization. The question was where did he fit?

The Yankees made it clear last offseason they were not counting on Rodriguez. They re-signed Chase Headley and declared him their starting third baseman. They acquired Garrett Jones and talked about using him as the DH against right-handed pitchers. The Yankees were proceeding as if Alex was an unproven commodity, which he was, for all intents and purposes. It was impossible to know whether he could still contribute. Where did he fit? No one knew. So the Yankees prepared almost as if A-Rod wasn’t around.

The Spring

As he has most years, Rodriguez reported to Spring Training early to get a head start on his preparation for the season. He worked out some during the suspension last year — more than some, really, A-Rod’s preparation and work ethic has never been an issue — but getting back up to speed for the MLB game was going to be a long process. Reporters were literally counting his batting practice home runs on the back fields in Tampa, as if the number was relevant.

Once Spring Training started, Alex worked out at third base, worked out a tiny bit at first base, and hit. He hit and hit and hit. Rodriguez played in 19 of 33 Grapefruit League games and rode the bus for road trips unlike other veterans of his stature. He played in minor league games, he took extra batting practice … he hit. Every day A-Rod was hitting to get his timing back. Alex singled in his first Spring Training at-bat and the tabloids went to town:

Alex Rodriguez NY Post

More than anything this spring, I remember A-Rod looking comfortable at the plate. He was swinging at strikes and laying off balls. The plate discipline was still there, and that was a good start. You can’t hit if you can’t tell a ball from a strike, and even after the long layoff, A-Rod’s batting eye was there. He also showed that if the pitcher made a mistake, he was still able to punish it:

Rodriguez finished the spring with a .267/.377/.489 batting line and three homers in 53 plate appearances. He drew eight walks and struck out 13 times. All things considered, A-Rod looked as good as anyone could have reasonably hoped. The batting eye was there, he showed some semblance of power, and his days in the field weren’t a total disaster either. Alex had to answer a lot of questions this spring, and he answered almost all of them in a positive way. The only thing he couldn’t do was run, understandably.

Earning More Playing Time

The strong spring was not enough to convince Joe Girardi that A-Rod was ready to be a big part of the offense, however. Rodriguez batted seventh on Opening Day and seventh the next day as well. Girardi moved him up to second against a lefty in the third game, but it was back down to sixth soon thereafter. The Yankees felt they had better options for the middle of the order. A-Rod’s track record didn’t earn him a premium lineup spot come the start of the season.

Rodriguez was quite productive early on, going 8-for-28 (.286) with two doubles and two home runs in his first nine games of the season. His big coming out party was April 17th in Tampa, in the Yankees’ tenth game of the season. A-Rod went 3-for-4 with two home runs — the first a moonshoot to dead center — and also drove in the game-winning run with an eighth inning single.

That was the game that convinced Girardi — that convinced everyone, really — Alex was back and ready to contribute in a big way. He was not a platoon DH, he was not a No. 7 hitter, he was a middle of the order thumper. Girardi batting A-Rod third the next game and he remained in the middle of the order the rest of the season. The Yankees were counting on nothing from A-Rod, everything they did last offseason showed it, but early on he proved he could help the team.

Vintage Al

The first half of the season was vintage Alex Rodriguez. Well, it was a close approximation of vintage A-Rod. In 82 first half games, Rodriguez hit .278/.382/.515 (144 wRC+) with 13 doubles and 18 home runs in 348 plate appearances. I spent the first half waiting for the other shoe to the drop, it was all too good to be true, but every time A-Rod slumped, he shook it off and started hitting again.

Among the 162 qualified hitters in the first half, Rodriguez ranked 12th in OBP, 19th in SLG, 14th in wRC+, and 18th in home runs. He was, legitimately, a top 20 hitter in baseball prior to the All-Star break. Alex was not selected to the All-Star Game — manager Ned Yost said he wanted versatility on his bench and there was no place for another DH — but the fact he was even in the discussion was a major win for the Yankees. A-Rod was a force at the plate.

History, With An Exclamation Point

A-Rod came into the season with several major milestones — historic milestones, stuff we won’t see happen again for a long time — within reach, and he got them all. The first came early in the season, when he tied Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time home run list with his 660th dinger. It was a meaningful home run too, a pinch-hit go-ahead blast in the eighth inning at Fenway Park.

A few days later A-Rod passed Mays with his 661st career blast to take sole possession of fourth place on the all-time list. The 660th home run triggered the first of five $6M home run milestone bonuses in his contract — the bonuses are actually not in A-Rod’s player contract, they’re part of a separate marketing agreement with the team — but the Yankees opted not to pay. They deemed the milestone “unmarketable” due to Rodriguez’s performance-enhancing drug ties, which was their right as part of the agreement.

The situation could have gotten messy. A-Rod could have filed a grievance immediately, but he opted to let the MLBPA handle it behind closed doors. (Even though Alex sued the union as part of his scorched Earth tour last year, they’re not going to let a team not pay a bonus without a fight. That’s not a precedent they want to set.) The two sides eventually reached a settlement in which a whole boatload of money was donated to charity. Not the full $6M, but several million. The process was relatively painless.

While all that was going on, A-Rod continued to climb the all-time hit leaderboard, and on June 19th, he became the 29th player in baseball history to record 3,000 hits. He did it in style too, joining former Yankees Derek Jeter and Wade Boggs as the only players in history to go deep for hit No. 3,000. Alex did it against Justin Verlander too, a brand name.

After the fight over the home run milestone bonus money, the Yankees actually held a small on-field ceremony for Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit prior to a game later in the season. The team didn’t acknowledge A-Rod’s pursuit of his 660th home run because it could have been used against them in a legal battle over the $6M bonus, but I guess there were no such issues for the 3,000th hit.

Later in the season, A-Rod also joined the 2,000 RBI and 2,000 runs scored clubs. He is now third all-time in RBI behind Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth, and eighth all-time in runs. These are major historic milestones. This isn’t the watered down 500 home run club. A-Rod ranks among the all-time greats in hits, homers, runs, and RBI. We saw him join some very exclusive clubs this summer.

The Second Half

Perhaps it was all too good to be true. Or perhaps a 40-year-old player was bound to wear down in the second half. Girardi and the Yankees went to great lengths to give A-Rod regular rest throughout the season, yet he still seemed to hit a wall down the stretch. After August 1st, Alex hit only .191/.300/.377 (83 wRC+) with nine home runs in 213 plate appearances. The walks (13.6%) were still there, but the power slipped (.186 ISO) and his strikeout rate jumped to 27.7%. It was 21.1% in the first half.

The drop-off in production in the second half was not a fluke. Rodriguez’s batted ball tendencies all moved in the wrong direction in the second half:

Alex Rodriguez batted ball

A-Rod hit more BABIP-killing infield pop-ups in the second half, he hit the ball on the ground more often, and he also made more weak contact and less hard contact. The pop-ups are indicative of a guy who is juuust missing pitches for whatever reason. With an older player like A-Rod, it’s easy to think his bat was slowed by fatigue, so he was getting beat by pitches he squared up earlier in the season.

When it was all said and done, Alex hit .250/.356/.486 (129 wRC+) with a team-leading 33 homers this season, which is really awesome. By all accounts he was a model teammate in the clubhouse too. I would have signed up for that in a heartbeat before the season. The production was uneven — A-Rod was great in the first half and a drag in the second half — but overall A-Rod was a big asset at the plate in 2015. The second half was not nearly as good as the first. But the Yankees don’t win a wildcard spot without Rodriguez this year. There is zero question about that.

No Defense, Literally

A-Rod’s bat was very valuable to the Yankees this year. His glove? He barely needed it. The Yankees did work Alex out at both third base and first base during the Spring Training, and he did actually play two of the first six games of the season in the field, including his first career appearance at first base. It was … awkward.

Rodriguez looked very much like a guy playing first base for the first time in the big leagues. Overall, A-Rod played only six games in the field this season. He started two at third base and one at first base. Everything else was off the bench. In fact, aside from that one start at first, the only other time he played the position came in a blowout, when A-Rod replaced Jones at first base so Jones could pitch.

Alex played only 27.1 innings in the field this year and none after May 23rd. The Yankees decided they were best leaving him at DH exclusively to avoid — or at least limit — wear and tear over the course of the season. As good as Rodriguez had been at the plate, the lack of flexibility really hurt, as others like Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann were unable to get half-days off at DH.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Whether they like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with Rodriguez next year. He is owed $21M both next year and the year after, and there’s no reason to think he’ll be traded or released or retire. The productive first half bought A-Rod some rope heading into next season, though I get the sense the Yankees will again make Rodriguez prove he deserves regular playing time, especially with Greg Bird available to steal at-bats. Even with the ugly second half, the Summer of Al sure was fun, wasn’t it?

Fan Confidence Poll: October 12th, 2015

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

Top stories from last week:

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

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

Sunday Night Open Thread

With any luck, tonight’s postseason games will be as exciting as that Mets-Dodgers game last night. Chase Utley’s slide was late and dangerous, but within MLB’s silly rules. Hopefully this leads to a rule change eliminating or reducing take-out slides. Buster Posey’s injury led to new home plate collision rules. Ruben Tejada’s not a star like Posey, but this play happened in prime time in a nationally televised postseason game featuring two huge moment. It was a big moment.

Anyway, here is tonight’s postseason schedule:

  • Royals at Astros (Volquez vs. Keuchel): 4pm ET on MLB Network
  • Blue Jays at Rangers (Estrada vs. Perez): 8pm ET on FOX Sports 1

Also, the Giants and 49ers are the late NFL game. Nice little sports Sunday night. Talk about those games or anything else right here. Have at it.

The Stories to Come

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Despite my background as an English teacher, something that I don’t usually care for in sports is the narrative thereof. As someone who deals with and has dealt with novels, short stories, and the like professionally for a while now, you’d think I’d dig stories and how they unfold over a long period of time, but as any of my students of recent vintage could tell you, plots are far less engaging and important than characters are. Still, they’re unavoidable and, without them, the other stuff can’t, won’t, and doesn’t happen. With the season (unfortunately) over for the Yankees, there won’t be the “characters” and their actions–their play on the field–to distract us from the storylines that will emerge over the next few baseball-less months. These, like all things baseball, will lead to copious (if not repetitive) arguments amongst fans, so let’s try to preview what they’ll be to better prepare ourselves.

The general flow of offseason narratives is obviously dictated by when your team is eliminated from the playoffs, and with that time upon the Yankees, we’ve already seen the first part of the narrative cycle. Joe Girardi had his end-of-season conference and discussed many things, among them, possible changes for next year. Given that the Yankees–or any team for that matter–can’t really get into actual changes with the playoffs still on-going, we have to speculate about what changes will come internally before any roster changes are made. That story starts with the departure of Billy Eppler, long-time Yankee assistant GM, who’ll be taking over GM duties for the Angels. Will he take any staffers with him? Will he try to trade for some pet-players in the farm system? How will this affect the Yankees’ general approach to free-agency? More broadly to that last point, who will or won’t the Yankees sign in the offseason?

The team we saw in 2015 was flawed, but good enough up until the last two months of the season. There is room for improvement, but where will the Yankees find that room? Second base is probably the only spot where an offseason upgrade can occur, given the blockages at just about every other position on the field. Will they roll with a Dustin Ackley/Rob Refsnyder platoon until one of them forces the other out? Will they make a run at Ben Zobrist since he won’t have draft pick compensation attached to him since he was traded mid-season? We know Brian Cashman tried to acquire Zobrist from the A’s before the A’s got him, but Cash didn’t like the cost. The outfield could use some improvement–as the second halves of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury could tell you–but where is that upgrade coming from? Both Gardner and Ellsbury are locked into contracts, and I’m not sure either is very tradeable right now. Ellsbury certainly isn’t because of his salary and the remaining years on his contract. And though Brett Gardner’s contract is reasonable, a team would really have to love him to make a trade for him. Gardner’s a good player, don’t get me wrong, but he’s probably more valuable to the Yankees now than whatever piece they’d get back in the present (this is mitigated if the Yankees sign a big OF like Justin Upton or Jayson Heyward and flip Gardner for pennies on the dollar).

Of course, there’s also the rotation. David Price is obviously the big target and in prior years, I don’t think there’d be any doubt about the Yankees blowing him out of the water with an offer. However, it’s very possible (even likely?) that the Yankees will view a Price contract as the second-coming of the CC Sabathia contract. Will they try for Jordan Zimmerman as a less flashy option? Will they try for Jeff Samardzija on a pillow contract? This will all go down between November and February before we get into the next phase of narratives: the Spring Training phase.

Who will be invited to Spring Training, both on the veteran side and on the prospect side? Are we going to get another Raul Ibanez or Marcus Thames? Who’s going to headline the new crop of prospects we all dream about? And once all that’s done, the “provisional” roster set, we’ll get to argue about Spring Training battles. This will depend on whom the Yankees sign, but the two biggest ones on the horizon are the aforementioned Ackely/Refsnyder and the rotation, particularly what will happen if Ivan Nova is tendered a contract, how the team plans on using Adam Warren, and what happens with (a hopefully healthy and recovering) CC Sabathia.

While we’re all staring out the window waiting for spring, we’ll definitely have plenty to talk about. What forms do you think the Yankee narratives will take? Who’ll be in or out? What will surprise us most? What will be so obvious we should’ve seen it coming?

Saturday Night Open Thread

After enjoying about 13 straight hours of postseason baseball yesterday, we’re stuck with only two games today. At least it was super nice out in New York today. Anyway, here is tonight’s postseason schedule:

  • Cubs at Cardinals (Hendricks vs. Garcia): 5:30pm ET on TBS
  • Mets at Dodgers (Syndergaard vs. Greinke): 9:00 ET on TBS

There’s a ton of college football on as well, plus the (hockey) Rangers, Devils, and Islanders are all in action. If you’re interested, I also wrote a post at CBS today looking ahead to qualifying offer candidates. Talk about that post, those games, or anything else right here.