Fan Confidence Poll: January 30th, 2017

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

Top stories from last week:

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

Last June, Phillies pitching prospect Matt Imhof, who I once profiled as a possible draft target, lost his right eye in a freak accident at the ballpark. He was working out with resistance bands mounted to the wall when the base broke loose and hit him in the face. It was a tragic, freak accident.

Thankfully, Imhof has recovered and is thriving. In a must-read piece at ESPN, he announced his retirement from baseball as a player not because of the injury, but because “I need a change of pace after 20 years of doing the same thing.” Imhof has since gone back to college and is currently an undergraduate assistant pitching coach with the Cal Poly baseball team.

I have no connection to Imhof and all I know about him is what I wrote in that draft profile four years ago. I was still devastated by the news of his accident last summer — how could you not feel terrible for the guy? — and I’m glad to hear he’s now doing well. That was a traumatic, life-changing day, but Imhof has refused to let him drag it down.

“My identity used to be wrapped around baseball, it was who I was. This injury allowed me to see past that,” he wrote. “I might not want the same things as I used to, but that’s only because I have learned more about myself than I ever thought I would … I’m a firm believer that baseball, through all my struggles on and off the field, prepared me for this moment. But the greatest thing baseball ever did for me was teach me who I could be without it.”

* * *

Friday: Here is the open thread for the night. The NHL is in their All-Star break this weekend, so there’s nothing going around the league tonight. The Knicks and Nets are both playing though, and there’s a ton of college hoops on the schedule too. You folks know how these work by now, so have at it.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. MLB.com is releasing their top 100 prospects list tonight during a live broadcast on MLB Network. It begins at 8pm ET and you can stream it on MLB.com as well. Also, the NHL All-Star Skills Challenge is on tonight (7pm ET on NBCSN), plus the Nets are playing and there’s a ton of college basketball on too.

Sunday: For the final time, this is the open thread. Both the NHL All-Star Game (3:30pm ET on NBC) and the Pro Bowl (8pm ET on ESPN) are on today. The Knicks are playing too, and there’s some college basketball on as well. Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Judge a Key to Lengthening Lineup

(AP)
(AP)

It’s pretty damn difficult for a guy who’s over six and a half feet tall to get lost in the proverbial shuffle, but it seems that’s what’s happened to Aaron Judge during this offseason. Most of the focus has been on just about anyone and anything but him. Even guys yet to make their Major League debuts, like Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres, have gotten more attention than Judge has during this Hot Stove season. Despite the relative lack of chatter about the big outfielder, his role in 2017 is nonetheless strikingly important.

On a macro level, Judge, along with the other young players on the team, represents the future, the success or failure of this recent rebuild. Fairly or unfairly, he and Gary Sanchez will be under a lot of pressure to perform; and if they don’t, I foresee a lot of fans (though not necessarily those reading this site, who tend to be a bit more even tempered about these things) questioning the wisdom of abandoning ‘SPEND SPEND SPEND’ as a team building strategy in favor of rebuild/reload.

On a micro level, Judge’s presence in the lineup, even if he’s at a lower position in the batting order, will go along way in determining how strong the Yankees are at the plate. The top of the order seems fairly predictable, reliable, even; we pretty much know what we’re going to see from Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, as well as Matt Holliday. Sanchez’s bat is also a question, but not in terms of talent; we just need to see if he can keep up the power. In the middle and bottom of the order, Greg Bird‘s shoulder health is a question, as are the statuses of Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius; they both had great years (relatively speaking) in 2016 and repeating those isn’t a guarantee. Which Chase Headley will show up? With improvement from last year, Judge can be a steadying presence in the bottom of the lineup, adding value with power and patience.

Both of those things were on display last year. Judge socked four homers in his 95 plate appearances and posted a .167 ISO. Those aren’t horribly impressive numbers, but they’re not close to what his true talent level is. With adjustments, we’re likely to see those numbers climb. Additionally, he walked 9.5% of the time in 2016, a solid mark for anyone, let alone a rookie with a big strikeout problem.

Aside from those whiffs, Judge will need to improve against lefties, who exploited him big time last year. He hit just .067/.222/.067 against them last year with a 55.6% (!!!!) strikeout rate. The 16.7% walk rate is all well and good, but when it comes with nearly 60% strikeouts and literally zero power, it doesn’t mean too much. And how did they do it? Changeups.

Against that pitch, Judge whiffed on 81.82% (!!!!!) of the swings he took. Unsurprisingly, he hit .000 with a .000 slugging against left-handed changeups. If we take a look at this image from Mike’s post reviewing Judge’s year, we can see a pictorial representation of Judge’s struggles when pitchers pulled the string.

Aaron Judge whiffs

Improvement in general and improvement against lefties are the goals for Judge in 2017. Any progress on those fronts obviously means something good for him, but it also lends credence to a lineup with a lot of questions. Even if he’s in the seven, eight, or nine spot, a big year from Judge can make a big difference in the Yankees’ offensive production.

Saturday Links: Lefty Reliever, Top 100, Captain’s Camp

Soon. (Presswire)
Soon. (Presswire)

Only three more weekends without baseball after this one. Spring Training games aren’t that far away! Thank goodness. I am so ready for this offseason to be over. Here are some links to check out today:

Yankees still looking for a cheap lefty reliever

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees remain in the hunt for a left-handed reliever, but only want a player who will take a low base salary or minor league deal. Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins, the two best free agent southpaws, are seeking two-year deals worth at least $12M, says Rosenthal. If they stick to that demand, the Yankees won’t get either. I assume Travis Wood is a non-option too given the low base salary thing.

The Yankees have Tommy Layne, Chasen Shreve, and Richard Bleier as their top middle innings lefty reliever candidates at the moment, and Brian Cashman talked up Joe Mantiply at the town hall last week. “He’s a soft-tossing situational lefty that I know that people were coming up to me saying, you snookered us when you claimed him off waivers,” he said. Would Charlie Furbush take a minor league deal after a shoulder injury sidelined him all of 2016? He might be the best available cheap southpaw.

Five Yankees on ZiPS top 100 prospects

In a companion piece to Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list, Dan Szymborski put together a list of the top 100 prospects according to his ZiPS projection system (sub. req’d). ZiPS is entirely data-driven, so you’ve got to take the projections with a big grain of salt, though I still always like seeing where the scouting reports and stats disagree.

The best prospect in baseball per ZiPS is Braves SS Dansby Swanson, who Law ranked second. Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi is first on Law’s list and seventh on the ZiPS list. The Yankees had five ZiPS top 100 prospects:

8. SS Gleyber Torres (Law’s rank: 4th)
9. OF Clint Frazier (Law’s rank: 27th)
34. OF Aaron Judge (Law’s rank: 44th)
44. OF Blake Rutherford (Law’s rank: 22nd)
65. 3B Miguel Andujar (Law’s rank: DNR)

RHP James Kaprielian and LHP Justus Sheffield made Law’s list but not the ZiPS list, though ZiPS tends to skew towards position players because they don’t carry as much injury risk. The top nine and 21 of the top 25 prospects in baseball are position players according to ZiPS, so yeah. Interesting to see Andujar a middle of the top 100 guy according to ZiPS. The system likes his low strikeout rate and developing power, it seems.

New Spring Training hats leaked

For the umpteenth straight spring, teams will wear different hats for Spring Training this season. A photo of the new Yankees hat was leaked over at SportsLogos.net and my goodness, it’s hideous:

spring-training-hat

It should be noted MLB and the Yankees have not officially revealed their new Spring Training hats, so it’s entirely possible that hat is a rejected design or something like that. I can’t. I just can’t anymore. Stop messing with the classic interlocking NY, yo.

Captain’s Camp now underway

Remember yesterday’s mailbag question about Captain’s Camp? Well now we have an update, courtesy of Brendan Kuty. Farm system head Gary Denbo said Captain’s Camp is currently underway and will run from January 18th to February 24th this year. Andy Pettitte, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rodriguez, and Tino Martinez are among the scheduled guest instructors. Several current Yankees will help out as well once Spring Training beings. Derek Jeter has taken the prospects out to a surprise dinner the last two years and Denbo hopes he does the same this year.

Denbo came up with the idea for Captain’s Camp a few years ago and says the goal is to “develop championship-type complete players for our Major League club.” The Yankees bring in a bunch of prospects for Captain’s Camp and basically teach them how to be professionals, how to be accountable, and help them become the best player they can be. Workouts and drills are part of Captain’s Camp, no doubt, but most of it is geared towards the off-the-field aspects of being a Yankee. They’re the most recognizable brand in sports, which creates unique demands.

Prospect Profile: Dustin Fowler

(The Times-Tribune)
(The Times-Tribune)

Dustin Fowler | OF

Background

The 22-year-old Fowler was born and raised in Cadwell, Georgia, a town with a population of under 500 during his formative years. He attended West Laurens High School a few miles down the road, where he split his time between baseball, wrestling, and football through his junior season. His high school career took off once he focused on the best sport of the three, and he won the All-Middle Georgia GHSA Baseball Player of the Year Award in his senior season. He batted .598 that year, with 8 home runs and 39 RBI.

Baseball America ranked Fowler as the 22nd best prospect from Georgia heading into the 2013 draft (a class headlined by Clint Frazier), though he did not crack the BA 500. The Yankees took him in the 18th round (554th overall), and gave him a well over-slot $278,000 signing bonus to buy him out of a commitment to Georgia State University.

Pro Career

Fowler kicked-off his professional career in the GCL, where he hit just .241/.274/.384 with zero homers and three steals in 117 PA (89 wRC+). He would then spend the entirety of an injury-abbreviated 2014 at Charleston, where he hit .257/.292/.459 with 9 HR and 3 SB in 272 PA (104 wRC+). The uptick power jumps off the page, as does the modest bump in OBP, thanks to Fowler’s walk rate jumping from 3.4% in 2013 to 4.8% in 2014.

Fowler broke out in 2015, batting .307/.340/.419 (114 wRC+ with 4 HR and 18 SB in 256 PA) in a return engagement with Charleston, and earning a promotion to High-A Tampa on June 22. His power sagged a bit in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, but he still batted .289/.328/.370 with a home run and 12 steals (111 wRC+) in 262 PA. His walk rate ticked up once at High-A, from 4.3% to 5.7%, which helped to mask the slip in power.

He earned a ticket to the Arizona Fall League after the 2015 season, and it was more of the same in the desert, as he slashed .279/.313/.410 with 2 HR and 7 SB in 65 PA. It’s an offense-happy environment, so his 96 wRC+ was actually a bit below-average, but he impressed nevertheless.

The 22-year-old’s ascent up the Yankees prospect list continued in 2016, as he performed admirably in a full season at Double-A. Fowler batted .281/.311/.458 for Trenton, with 12 HR and 25 SB (109 wRC+) in 574 PA, and drew praise for his continued refinement. His walk rate sagged dramatically, dipping to 3.8%, but it was mitigated a bit by his career-best 15.0% strikeout rate and well above-average .177 ISO.

All told, Fowler is a .279/.313/.429 hitter in 1,546 professional plate appearances.

Scouting Report

Most any report that you read on Fowler revolves around two things: his rawness, and his athleticism. The former is largely a product of his amateur career, as he was a three sport athlete for a few years, and played for a small school in a small division. And the latter is simply something that he oozes, with his 6’0″, 185-pound frame (he’s added about 15 pounds of muscle since signing with the Yankees) and well above-average to plus speed.

It isn’t just about athleticism for Fowler, though. He’s a left-handed hitter and thrower, with above-average to plus bat speed and the ability to barrel the ball anywhere in the strike zone. He also has average to above-average raw power, particularly to the pull side (hello, short porch), and he has been able to actualize that power in-game more often than many expected. Fowler’s approach at the plate may be best described as controlled aggression, and his ability to work the count remains his most glaring flaw as a prospect.

Defense is where Fowler truly shines, owing to his aforementioned speed and athleticism. He takes good routes in the outfield, accelerates quickly, and has the arm strength to stay in center long-term.

That speed and acceleration should make him an asset on the basepaths, as well. It has not as of yet, though, as he has been successful on just over 71% of his 95 career attempts, or right around the break-even mark. Fowler’s still just 22 (and a young 22, as his birthday was on December 29), so there is reason to hope that he’ll figure it out.

Baseball America ranked him ninth on the Yankees’ top-ten back in October, which says quite a bit given the team’s extraordinary farm system.

2017 Outlook

Fowler is set to open this coming season at Triple-A, where he’ll bounce between left and center. He’s not on the 40-man roster at this point, but he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next off-season, so this is an important year in his development. I expect to see him in Spring Training this season, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he spent a significant amount of time in the Majors this season (perhaps in some sort of carousel with Mason Williams and Jake Cave).

My Take

The walk rates are a red flag, as I worry that Fowler will be too easily exploited by pitchers who are more capable of painting the corners (as well as umpires who call more consistent strike zones). His tools are so obvious, though, and the praise is so universal that I hold out hope that he could be a league-average regular in center. There’s a great deal of work to be done, but he’s already at Triple-A, and it’s clear that the Yankees believe in him.

Thoughts on Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list

Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)
Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)

All throughout the week, ESPN has been publishing Keith Law’s annual top 100 prospects list bit by bit. Here are Nos. 1-20, 21-40, 41-60, 61-80, and 81-100. It’s all behind the Insider wall. You should buy it. It’s worth it for Law’s stuff alone. Anyway, Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi sits in the top spot. Braves SS Dansby Swanson and Mets SS Amed Rosario round out the top three. Six Yankees made the top 100:

4. SS Gleyber Torres
22. OF Blake Rutherford
27. OF Clint Frazier
28. RHP James Kaprielian
44. OF Aaron Judge
88. LHP Justus Sheffield

Last week Law ranked New York’s farm system as the second best in baseball, behind only the hard-tanking Braves. SS Jorge Mateo went from No. 55 on Law’s list last year to out of the top 100 this year, which isn’t a total shock following his poor statistical season and suspension. It’s possible Mateo will make an appearance on Law’s list of prospects who just missed the top 100 when it’s released tomorrow. Until then, here are some thoughts on the top 100.

1. Law is a big Rutherford fan. Such a big fan that Rutherford ranks ahead of Phillies OF Mickey Moniak, the first overall pick in last year’s draft. The Yankees got Rutherford with the 18th pick. Only Reds 3B Nick Senzel (second overall pick) and Red Sox LHP Jason Groome (12th overall pick) rank higher among 2016 draftees. This isn’t a complete surprise, of course. Law ranked Rutherford as the sixth best prospect in last year’s draft (subs. req’d), and that was before he went out and wrecked rookie ball competition in his pro debut. Still, going from high schooler to the 22nd best prospect in baseball in the span of eight months is a hell of a thing. Baseball America recently ranked Rutherford third in the system behind Torres and Frazier and I was surprised to see him that high. Now Law has him second behind only Torres? I guess I’m underrating the kid.

2. The Frazier scouting report might not match your preconceived notions. Following the trade last year Frazier struggled with Triple-A Scranton, hitting .228/.278/.396 (90 wRC+) with three home runs and a 27.8% strikeout rate in 25 games. As a result, many folks seem to have assumed Frazier’s a bit of a hacker who is going to hit for middling averages and sock some massive dingers. Law’s scouting report is almost the exact opposite. A snippet:

He has absolutely electric bat speed that produces above-average power, probably never in the 30-homer range but certainly 15-20 on a consistent basis with high batting averages and a lot of doubles … Given how he’s hit to date, with consistently high BABIPs because he makes hard contact, he’s one of the best bets in the minors to hit .300+, and with moderate power and 50-60 walks a year that would make him at least an above-average regular.

Did Frazier struggle at Triple-A? Of course he did. But he’s not the first prospect to do that and he won’t be the last. Frazier will be under the microscope after being the headliner in a major trade, so the scrutiny is inevitable, but objectively speaking, the kid is incredibly talented and he has a chance to be an impact two-way player for the Yankees. Oh, and by the way, Frazier jumped from No. 72 on Law’s list last year to No. 27 this year. That is: cool.

3. Kaprielian climbs big time despite injury. In most cases, when a pitcher misses close to an entire season with an arm injury, he drops in the rankings. Kaprielian instead climbed from No. 87 on Law’s list last year to No. 28 this year. A 59-point jump despite a flexor strain! Incredible. As always, Law’s ranking considers everything, from present stuff to upside to injury risk, and the fact Kaprielian returned from his injury and looked like his normal self in the Arizona Fall League was encouraging. Encouraging and enough for Law to run Kaprielian way up the rankings. “I’ve got him ranked here to reflect the greater risk of a catastrophic injury that I think he has compared to pitchers who have never missed this kind of time,” said the write-up. “But do not mistake the ranking for a lack of faith in Kaprielian the pitcher, who has ace probability commensurate with those near the top of the 100.”

4. Judge slips, but not by much. Even though he remains a no-doubt top 100 caliber prospect, Judge has slipped in the various rankings this winter. That’s not a complete shock given his strikeout heavy big league debut in the second half a year ago. Last year Law ranked Judge as the No. 36 prospect in the game. This year he’s No. 44. Eight spots isn’t much of a drop at all, especially once you get this deep in the rankings. The difference between, say, No. 42 and 44 is nothing. The difference between No. 36 and No. 44 really isn’t all that significant either. “He has real 30-homer power, even at that contact rate, and he has shown enough patience that I think he’ll walk 60-plus times a year. With his athleticism — he’s an average runner — and plus arm, he’d be an asset in right field, all of which adds up to more than just an everyday player,” wrote Law. Judge is a big time post-hype sleeper. Folks are down on him but his talent level is unchanged.