Monday Night Open Thread

Important baseball news: several Yankees prospects are already in Tampa working out and preparing for the season. Erik Boland says Luis Severino, Justus Sheffield, James Kaprielian, Tyler Wade, and Kyle Holder were all at the complex today. Luis Cessa was there too. They’re all there for Captain’s Camp, I assume. Actual baseball is starting to happen. Thank goodness for that.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The NHL is still in their All-Star break, though the Nets are playing and there’s one college basketball game on the schedule. Not a whole lot going on tonight. Good night to watch Netflix, I suppose. Talk about anything here except religion or politics. Thanks in advance.

2017 Draft: Yankees expected to have $6.583M bonus pool

(Matthew Ziegler/Getty)
(Matthew Ziegler/Getty)

According to Hudson Belinsky, the Yankees will have a $6.583M bonus pool for the 2017 amateur draft based on the league’s proposed numbers. Those figures are not final, though if they do change, it shouldn’t be substantially. A few bucks here and there, basically.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has changed the way draft bonus pool money is distributed. The picks at the very top of the draft are closer together — the first and second picks had $9.015M and $7.76M slot values last year, this year it’s $7.4M and $6.85M — and that’s to discourage tanking. Also, more bonus pool money is tied up in the first and second round.

MLB’s thinking is shifting more money to the top two rounds gives teams less flexibility to sign players to overslot bonuses later in the draft. So I guess that’s another concession MLBPA made during CBA talks. This could push some pretty good athletes to college, or even other sports. MLB should be trying to bring them in, not push them out.

Anyway, the overall bonus pool doesn’t mean much in and of itself. The individual slot values are most important. Here is the breakdown for the Yankees, per Belinsky:

  • First Round (16th overall): $3,293,600
  • Second Round (54th overall): $1,177,000
  • Third Round (92nd overall): $560,600
  • Fourth Round (122nd overall): $412,400
  • Fifth Round (152nd overall): $308,000
  • Sixth Round (182nd overall): $235,800
  • Seventh Round (212th overall): $184,500
  • Eighth Round (242nd overall): $149,700
  • Ninth Round (272nd overall): $134,500
  • Tenth Round (302nd overall): $126,900

Last year the Yankees used their seventh through tenth round picks on college seniors and signed them for $10,000 each. They saved $648,900 in bonus pool space by doing that, which was redirected to Blake Rutherford. Based on this year’s proposed slot values, doing the same thing would save the team only $555,600. Like I said, the money has been pushed to the top of the draft.

The 16th overall pick came with a $2,660,800 slot last summer — it was $2,543,300 in 2015, when the Yankees took James Kaprielian with the 16th pick — so this year’s slot is an increase of more than $630,000 from last year’s draft. But again, that’s not because the team has more money to spend. That money was taken from the later rounds. Sucks for the late rounders.

One bit of good news: slot value for every pick after the tenth round is now $125,000, up from $100,000. Anything over $125,000 given to one of those players counts against the bonus pool. Two years ago the Yankees gave 11th rounder Josh Rogers a $485,000 bonus, so $385,000 counted against the bonus pool.

The redistribution of money means the Yankees and every other team will have to be a little more creative when it comes to saving bonus pool space for overslot bonuses. The owners keep trying to push bonuses down and they have more and more success with each new CBA, it seems.

The Yankees have quietly built an impressive collection of starting pitching prospects

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

A year ago at this time, the Yankees had a farm system that ranked middle of the pack and was heavy on position player prospects. Only four of my top 16 prospects a year ago were starting pitchers. That’s not automatically a bad thing. It just means there was some imbalance in the system. Given the contractual status of the big league starters, that lack of starting pitching prospects was ominous.

Now, a mere 12 months later, the Yankees boast one of the game’s best farm systems, and one of the reasons is their much improved pitching depth. Obviously last summer’s trade deadline activity has a lot to do with that. It’s not the only reason though. Several pitchers broke out last season, none moreso than Chance Adams. Others like Jordan Montgomery and Josh Rogers took steps forward in their development.

The other day I sat down and quickly sketched out the Opening Day rotation for the four full season minor league affiliates, and I was surprised at the pitching depth. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Triple-A Scranton: Adams, Montgomery, Dietrich Enns, Ronald Herrera, Daniel Camarena (?)
  • Double-A Trenton: Rogers, Ian Clarkin, Brady Lail, Yefrey Ramirez, Justus Sheffield
  • High-A Tampa: Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Domingo German, James Kaprielian, Dillon Tate
  • Low-A Charleston: Simon De La Rosa, Nick Green, Freicer Perez, Adonis Rosa, Erik Swanson

(Update: I forgot about Zack Littell and Stephen Tarpley, both of whom figure to be Double-A rotation candidates.)

It goes without saying this is all very subject to change. Guys are going to get hurt in Spring Training, it’s inevitable, and there will be surprise assignments. Perhaps Acevedo starts in Trenton after throwing 50.1 innings with Tampa last year. Maybe Tate begins back with Charleston. This is nothing more than semi-informed speculation.

Point is, that’s a heck of a lot of good young pitchers! You don’t have to squint your eyes to see actual prospects. That High-A rotation? Straight fire. Keep in mind I couldn’t find a spot for Nestor Cortes, who had the fourth lowest ERA in the minors in 2016, and there’s a good chance one or several of the big league rotation candidates (Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino) lands back in Triple-A to begin the season.

The caveat here is pitchers break and other things don’t go according to plan, so we can’t pencil the Yankees in for a rotation logjam in two or three years, you know? The majority of those pitchers won’t contribute to the big league team in any way. That’s baseball. The attrition rate of even the very best pitching prospects is sky high. I wish it weren’t, but it is. C’est la vie.

The only thing teams can do to compensate for the attrition rate is have as many quality pitching prospects as possible, and right now, the Yankees sure do have a bunch of them. And it happened so quick too. Abreu, Green, Sheffield, Swanson, and Tate came over at the deadline. Adams was a reliever a year ago. Montgomery and Rogers were little more than interesting arms prior to 2016. It all came together fast.

It’s no secret the Yankees haven’t had much recent success getting their pitching prospects to reach their ceilings, especially their top pitching prospects, but that doesn’t mean they should stop trying. Hardly. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have no affect on Kaprielian and Sheffield. They’re all their own players, and three years ago the Yankees changed player development regimes by replacing Mark Newman with Gary Denbo. That’s kinda big.

The Yankees could lose their three veteran starters after the 2017 season, which would throw the rotation into a state of flux, but the fact of the matter is every big league rotation has long-term questions. Remember what everyone was saying about the Mets rotation last year? What about the Nationals rotation two years ago? The best laid plans often go awry, especially with pitchers. The Yankees have an impressive stable of pitching prospects, and while that doesn’t guarantee success, it sure does bode well for the future.

Thoughts on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects

Frazier. (Presswire)
Frazier. (Presswire)

Last week, Keith Law released his annual top 100 prospects list, which included six Yankees. Then, on Saturday, the crew at MLB.com released their top 100 list as well. Law and MLB.com agree on one thing: Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi is the best prospect in baseball. The lists diverge after that.

A total of seven Yankees made MLB.com’s top 100 list, which is pretty awesome. As always, MLB.com’s list and scouting reports are completely free. It’s a fantastic resource. Here are the seven Yankees on the list:

3. SS Gleyber Torres
24. OF Clint Frazier
37. OF Blake Rutherford
45. OF Aaron Judge
47. SS Jorge Mateo
58. RHP James Kaprielian
79. LHP Justus Sheffield

Five top 50 prospects and six top 60 prospects is pretty great. No other team can make that claim. The White Sox and Pirates are the only other teams with as many as four top 50 prospects, and Pittsburgh is the only other team with five top 60 prospects. The Yankees and Braves lead the way with seven top 100 prospects apiece. Some quick thoughts:

1. Torres could be the No. 1 prospect very soon. The only reason Benintendi is still prospect-eligible is a minor knee injury that sidelined him three weeks in August and September. He finished the season with 105 at-bats, only 25 away from the rookie limit of 130. Once Benintendi clears 130 at-bats, he’ll drop off the list, and it’s not crazy to think Torres could surpass Moncada in prospect status in the first half of this season. Also, Braves SS Dansby Swanson, MLB.com’s No. 4 prospect, is literally one at-bat away from losing prospect status, so one of Gleyber’s primary competitors for the top spot will drop off the list on Opening Day. The Yankees have never had the No. 1 prospect according to MLB.com, though, to be fair, MLB.com hasn’t been producing top 100 lists all that long. According to Baseball America, the last time the Yankees had the No. 1 prospect in baseball was way back in 1992, when LHP Brien Taylor sat in the top spot.

2. Mateo is still highly regarded. Despite a poor statistical season and a two-week suspension for violating team rules, MLB.com still considers Mateo one of the best prospects in the game. (Law dropped Mateo out of the top 100 entirely.) He did slip in the rankings — last year Mateo was No. 30 on MLB.com’s original top 100 list — which is understandable, but the MLB.com folks still believe in the tools. And that’s most important. Not the numbers. Mateo won’t turn 22 until the end of June and he still has the incredible quick twitch athleticism that landed him on top 100 lists last year. Remember, Baseball Prospectus ranked Mateo as the third best prospect in the system behind Torres and Frazier. Law may have cut bait, but others still clearly believe in the kid.

3. Yet again, Kaprielian climbed big time. I’m still amazed at where Kaprielian is landing on these top 100 lists given his relatively serious arm injury last season. (Miss as much time as he did and it qualifies as a serious injury in my book.) He jumped 59 spots on Law’s top 100. Kaprielian didn’t even make MLB.com’s top 100 list last year and now he’s 58th. How impressive must he have been before and especially after the injury to earn so much support on the various prospects lists? Also, how much higher would he have ranked had he stayed completely healthy last season? Are we talking about a potential top five pitching prospect? As it stands, Kaprielian is already the 21st ranked pitcher on the top 100. A full season of healthy Kaprielian in 2017 could mean a) reaching the big leagues in September, and b) being ranked as a tippy top prospect next spring. Exciting!

4. Adams was really close to the top 100 too. On Twitter, Jim Callis said RHP Chance Adams very nearly made the top 100 as well. He fell in the 101-115 range. So, for all intents and purposes, the Yankees currently have five top 50 and eight top 115 prospects in all of baseball according to MLB.com. That’s pretty great. I don’t think Adams is a top 100 caliber prospect myself, but I understand why some think and hope he’ll slip into the back half. Just the fact he’s even in the conversation is great. I’m guessing others like RHP Albert Abreu and 3B Miguel Andujar were in the top 100 conversation too. Know what I’d really love to see? A top 500 prospect list. That’s the best way to measure the depth and strength of the farm system. We all focus on the top five or ten prospects and I get it. But compare each team’s 30th best prospect. That’s a better indicator of farm system depth.

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

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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.