Spring Training Game Thread: Refsnyder at Third, Again

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the seventh time in his 12 Grapefruit League games, Rob Refsnyder is playing third base tonight. He’s played more innings at third (29) than second (22) so far, and everything seems to be going well. About as well as the Yankees could have hoped, really. Things can change in an instant, but right now Refsnyder seems like a safe bet for a bench spot.

In other news, both Aaron Hicks (stye) and Brett Gardner (wrist) are back in the lineup tonight, so they’re doing well. CC Sabathia is also on the mound looking to shake off the rough outing he had last time out. His first two spring starts were fine though. The Orioles made the trip up from Sarasota for tonight’s game. Here is the O’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. 2B Dustin Ackley
  7. RF Aaron Hicks
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Rob Refsnyder
    LHP CC Sabathia

Available Pitchers & Position Players: Not sure, sorry. Seems like Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are lined up to pitch tonight though.

It is cloudy in Tampa tonight, but there’s no rain in the forecast, so that’s good. Tonight’s game will begin a bit after 6:30pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB.tv anywhere. MLB Network will show the game on tape delay beginning at 7pm ET. Enjoy the game, y’all.

Braves return Rule 5 Draft pick Evan Rutckyj to Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Braves have returned left-hander and Rule 5 Draft pick Evan Rutckyj to the Yankees, the team announced. Rutckyj (pronounced rut-ski) has cleared waivers and been assigned to Triple-A Scranton, so he is in minor league camp. He is no longer on the 40-man roster.

Rutckyj, 24, was New York’s 16th round pick in the 2010 draft. He moved to the bullpen full-time two years ago, and last season he had a 2.63 ERA (2.59 FIP) with a 31.5% strikeout rate and an 8.1% walk rate in 61.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Despite the numbers, he was definitely a surprise Rule 5 pick. This spring he walked five and struck out two in three Grapefruit League innings.

Interestingly enough, Rutckyj told Dave O’Brien he enjoyed being with the Braves more than the Yankees earlier this week. “I feel like we can talk to anybody here. It’s kind of different from the Yankees, where if one of the coordinators or somebody walks by you, like, put your head down and mind your own business. But here everybody wants you to talk to them,” he said. So that’ll be awkward.

The Yankees’ other Rule 5 Draft loss, outfielder Jake Cave, is a safe bet to make the Reds. They’re short on outfielders as it is and now Billy Hamilton’s nursing a shoulder issue. Cave has to remain on Cincinnati’s active 25-man big league roster all season, or be passed through waivers and offered back to the Yankees.

Turning Mark Montgomery into the next Sergio Romo

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Four years ago right-hander Mark Montgomery looked like a future relief ace the Yankees would one day pair with David Robertson. The team’s 11th round pick in the 2011 draft struck out 41.0% of batters faced with a 1.56 ERA (1.62 FIP) in 80.2 innings at High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2012. He was dominant thanks to his filthy slider.

The 2013 season brought a series of shoulder injuries that limited the now 25-year-old Montgomery to only 45.1 innings with mostly Triple-A Scranton. He never did require surgery, but the injuries sapped Montgomery’s velocity and left him sitting in the upper-80s instead of the low-to-mid-90s. His strikeout rate plummeted to 25.4% in 2014-15 because hitters didn’t have to respect the slider.

Montgomery became an afterthought in a farm system that has since become overloaded with power relievers. Others like Branden Pinder and Nick Goody and Nick Rumbelow offer mid-90s gas and passed Montgomery on the bullpen depth chart. The Yankees haven’t given up on him though. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Brendan Kuty he wants to get Montgomery to start leaning on his slider as much as possible.

“He needs to clean up a little bit, but he’s got a pitch that’s highly efficient, his slider,” Rothschild said. “It works really well.”

“I’m talking about him becoming a slider ball pitcher,” the pitching coach said. “Obviously, you always want to locate your fastball, but his slider is so good that you need to take advantage of it and use it.”

Montgomery has appeared in three games this spring and all three were broadcast somewhere. In those three games, he threw 23 fastballs (two swings and misses) and 26 sliders (eight swings and misses), though it wasn’t until his most recent outing that he really emphasized the slider. Last time out Montgomery threw four fastballs and ten sliders. For what it’s worth, the various television guns had his fastball mostly 88-90 mph with one or two 92s.

With the fastball more or less gone at this point, Rothschild wants Montgomery to emphasize his slider and that makes sense. It might be his only ticket to the big leagues at this point. Here’s the slidepiece in action:

Mark Montgomery slider2

That’s pretty dastardly. That pitch is why Montgomery is still around and in big league camp even after back-to-back subpar seasons in 2014 and 2015. If Montgomery manages to reach the big leagues and lock in that affordable health care for life, it’ll be because his slider is still so good.

The upper-80s fastball/filthy slider profile is rare but not unprecedented. That’s the profile Sergio Romo has used to bank nearly $18M in his career after being a 28th round pick. Last season Romo averaged 87.4 mph with his fastball and threw it only 35.9% of the time. Everything else was sliders. And he had a 30.9% strikeout rate with a 2.98 ERA (1.91 FIP) in 2015, so yeah, it’s possible to be successful like that. (Luke Gregerson’s another guy with the upper-80s heater/lots of sliders approach.)

That said, there’s a big difference between Romo and Montgomery, and that’s their control. Romo walked 4.4% of batters faced last season and 5.1% in his MLB career. Montgomery had an 8.4% walk rate last year and a 10.6% walk rate in his minor league career. If you’re going to live with a fastball that hardly breaks 90 mph, you’ve got to throw strikes to make sure hitters respect the slider. Hitters need to think that slider is a fastball in the zone, and they’ll never do that if you don’t throw the fastball for strikes.

Romo is a dynamite end-game reliever and he represents the very best case scenario for not only Montgomery, but most relief pitcher prospects. He is the model of what the Yankees want Montgomery to become. The fastball doesn’t work anymore, so emphasize that killer slider, and use the fastball almost as a show-me pitch. What Montgomery is doing now isn’t working. The slider heavy approach may be his best (only?) chance at salvaging his career.

The Three Questions Facing Brett Gardner [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The last 12 months have been pretty eventful for Brett Gardner. He had a phenomenal first half last season, good enough to get him to his first All-Star Game. He then struggled big time in the second half, so much so that he (and the rest of the Yankees) were booed in the wildcard game. Then, after the season, Gardner’s name was floated in constant trade rumors over the winter.

The Yankees never did trade Gardner though, so he again reported to Spring Training as the starting left fielder and a key offensive table-setter. Even with that disastrous second half, Gardner hit .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015, plus he played strong defense. He’s no longer a Gold Glove caliber defender, but he is an asset in the field. Gardner’s two-way play is pretty darn valuable. There are still some questions heading into 2016. Big questions.

Is His Wrist Okay?

Little did we know, Gardner suffered a bone bruise in his left wrist making a catch during the wildcard game last fall. Here’s the video if you can’t remember the play:

The bone bruise lingered all through the offseason — perhaps that’s why the Yankees were unable to make a trade? — and was still an issue when Gardner reported to Spring Training. “We’ll start him out of the gate slow. Just more of a safe route,” said Brian Cashman earlier this spring. He added recent tests had shown “significant” improvement.

So the Yankees took it slow with Gardner, and it wasn’t until this Wednesday that he played in a Grapefruit League game. Gardner went 0-for-2 and, most importantly, he felt fine afterwards. He did have his wrist wrapped in ice after the game according to Brendan Kuty, but that’s not really surprising. Gardner’s still receiving treatment. They call it “prehab.” Many players literally sit in a tub of ice water after games to help their bodies recover.

Last season Gardner battled wrist trouble after being hit with two pitches in a short period of time, thought that was the other wrist. He took the two pitches to the right wrist. Now the left is acting up. So far he seems to be doing well in camp — Gardner progressed from hitting off a tee to hitting in a cage to batting practice to live batting practice to a game — and that’s good news. Wrist injuries are always scary though, and if this thing lingers into the season, it could really impact Brett’s production.

Is He Going To Steal More Bases?

Back in 2010, his first full season as a big league player, Gardner stole 47 bases and finished third in the AL behind Juan Pierre (68) and Rajai Davis (50). The next year he stole 49 bases and tied with Coco Crisp for the league lead. Gardner lost almost the entire 2012 season to injury, but from 2013-15, he stole only 24, 21, and 20 bases. That’s still a healthy amount. It’s just not an eye-popping number.

Gardner attempted a stolen base in 24.6% of his opportunities — a stolen base opportunity is define as being on first or second base with the next base unoccupied — from 2010-11, well above the 5.6% league average. From 2013-15, his attempt rate dropped to 10.9%, which is still above the 6.7% league average, but not by much. (Teams are attempting more steals as offense declines.) Gardner’s success rate is still fantastic (78% from 2013-15), he just doesn’t run as often.

“I can’t necessarily pinpoint what it is, but obviously I was a little less aggressive,” said Gardner to Mark Feinsand. “You can’t steal 40-something bases if you don’t try to steal 40-something bases. I think all that starts with getting on base more often, trying to get my OBP north of .350 and doing a good job of being consistent and setting the table for these guys at the heart of the order … I think for the most part I’ve done a good job of trying to do that and being smart about when we run but we’re always looking for ways to improve.”

The general lack of steals and Gardner’s hesitation when stealing bases has earned him the “bad base-runner” label, which is a load of crap. Brett takes the extra base (first-to-third on a single, move up on a wild pitch, etc.) at a rate far better than the league average (48% from 2013-15; average is 39%), and his +14.9 base-running runs are the 13th most in baseball since 2013. Gardner’s a very good base-runner. The lack of steals doesn’t make him bad.

Stealing bases is a young man’s game. The 2016 season will be Gardner’s age 33 season, and only seven players have stolen 30+ bases in their age 33 season since 2000. (Only one has stolen 40+ bases.) Expecting Brett to get back to stealing 40+ bases like he did from 2010-11 is unrealistic. Players his age rarely do it. The stolen base aging curve (via Mike Podhorzer) doesn’t lie:

Stolen Base Aging Curve

The blue line represents all players. The red line represents players who had at least one season with 20+ steals in their career, like Gardner. Historically the peak ages for steals are 23-27. After that, it’s a steady decline. Or in the case of former speedsters, a rather steep decline. The speed just isn’t there any more and all those years of stealing bases and diving back into first base on pickoff throws take a toll.

Remember, Gardner has had injuries to both wrists in the last 12 months, and stealing bases is dangerous. It’s a good way to get stepped on or jam your fingers or whatever. I can’t imagine the Yankees are eager to have Gardner attempt a bunch of stolen bases after nursing a bone bruise in his wrist for the last five months. Gardner says he wants to be a little more aggressive this year and that’s fine. At this point of his career he’s a 20-25 stolen base guy though. Nothing more.

How Does He Avoid Another Bad Second Half?

There’s no sugarcoating it: Gardner’s second half slump last season was brutal. He hit .206/.300/.292 (66 wRC+) after the All-Star break, which ranked 146th out of 156 qualified hitters in terms of wRC+. Wrist problems or not, Gardner was awful in the second half, and it has become a bit of a pattern.

First Half Second Half
2013 .272/.338/.422 (109 wRC+) .274/.354/.403 (110 wRC+)
2014 .279/.353/.424 (122 wRC+) .218./286/.417 (95 wRC+)
2015 .302/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) .206/.300/.292 (66 wRC+)
Career .283/.360/.421 (115 wRC+) .236/.326/.351 (88 wRC+)

Gardner had no dip in performance in the second half of 2013. In 2014 he had a pretty substantial dip, and in 2015 it was even bigger. He lost 71 points of wRC+ between the first and second halves this year. Sheesh. Gardner has been hurt the last two second halves — he had the wrist problem after the hit-by-pitches in 2015, and in 2014 he played through an abdominal injury so severe it required offseason surgery — but no one wants to hear that because it sounds like an excuse.

Regardless of what happened from 2014-15, the Yankees and Joe Girardi have said they want to find a way to keep Gardner (and everyone else) productive all season, and they hope to do that with extra rest. Aaron Hicks was brought in to be the fourth outfielder, and since he’s a switch-hitter, Girardi can play him against both righties and lefties. Chris Young was awesome last season, but you did not want him at the plate against a right-handed pitcher.

Gardner has played at least 1,150 innings in the outfield in five of the last six seasons, and the only time he didn’t was 2012, the year he barely played due to an elbow injury. That’s a lot of running around and fatigue is a very real factor, especially now that he’s approaching his mid-30s. I don’t know if there’s a magic number. Gardner has played 145+ games in five of the last six seasons, so maybe now he’s more of a 130 games a year player. That sound okay?

The key to avoiding another second half slump is health, first and foremost. Bad wrists or bad abdomens or whatever are no good for baseball playing. Managing fatigue is also important, and it’s up to Girardi to do that, because Gardner’s is not the kind of guy who will ask for a day off or give something less than his all on the field.

“I’m going to continue to play hard, but I am going to try to play smart. If it’s 13-2, don’t dive into first or run into a wall,” said Gardner to Kevin Kernan. “(Playing hard) got me to where I am today. I’m not going to turn the volume down.”

Mailbag: Hitter/Pitcher Combos, Gossage, Ackley, Olson

Got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything. Questions, comments, links, money, whatever.

... okay. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
… okay. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

J.J. asks: Which team has the best pitcher/hitter combo? I’m talking one pitcher and one hitter. Am I crazy to think Chicago might dominate, with both the White Sox, with Abreu and Sale, and the Cubs, with Arrieta and Bryant, as frontrunners? Maybe Keuchel/Correa? King Felix/Cano? What do you think? Also, what is the answer for the Yankees – Chapman/Teixeira?

The first pairing that jumped to my mind was Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. I’d probably go with Anthony Rizzo over Kris Bryant with Jake Arrieta, but Bryant works too. Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel’s another good one. How does this look for a top ten ranking?

  1. Bryce Harper and Max Scherzer
  2. Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke
  3. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner
  4. Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole
  5. Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta
  6. Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel
  7. Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez
  8. Mike Trout and Garrett Richards
  9. Jose Abreu and Chris Sale
  10. Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber

I’m not missing anyone obvious, am I? I also considered Yoenis Cespedes/Matt Harvey and Robinson Cano/Felix Hernandez. A year ago Cano/Felix would have been right near the top, but both showed signs of slowing down last year, enough to scare me away long-term. For what it’s worth, ZiPS has Harper/Scherzer as the best at +12.9 WAR in 2016. Corey Seager/Clayton Kershaw is a distant second at +11.4 WAR. (ZiPS loves Seager.)

Who would the Yankees submit for this list? I can’t in good conscience put a reliever in a best hitter/best pitcher combination. That’s just sad. Mark Teixeira and Masahiro Tanaka? Jacoby Ellsbury and Luis Severino? I’d go with Teixeira/Tanaka.

Sal asks: Mike, Regarding a question you answered today about Aaron Judge (and Swisher) and possible move to 1B due to Bird Injury, you mentioned moving to a more or less valuable position. Could you rank the 8 defense positions from Most Value to Least Value?

Bill James did a ton of work on the defensive spectrum back in the 1980s. The general consensus is the positions are ranked like so, from most valuable to least valuable:

  1. Catcher
  2. Shortstop
  3. Second Base
  4. Center Field
  5. Third Base
  6. Right Field
  7. Left Field
  8. First Base

There’s room for debate here. I tend to think first base is more important than left field, for example. Historically, the first baseman handles the ball approximately six times more often than the left fielder over the course of the season. Catcher is kind of in its own little world too. It’s not like the other positions where you wait for the ball to be hit to you. Otherwise it’s pretty straight forward, right? Up the middle positions first, corner positions with long throws next, corner positions with short throws after that.

Chris asks: What are your thoughts on Harper’s comment baseball is ‘Tired’? And shouldn’t Gossage go play golf instead of judging today’s players?

I thought Harper’s comments were on point. The game is evolving, and these days MLB is filled by young players and players from all around the globe. Expecting them to act the way players acted 30, 40, 50 years ago is not realistic. MLB wants to grow the game among younger fans and the way to do that is by letting players be themselves. Let them bat flip, let them pump their first. This is baseball and it should be fun.

As for Gossage, his rant(s) came straight out of the “the game was so much better when I played” textbook. Nerds? Check. Bat flips? Check. Instant replay? Check. He hit on all of it. Gossage was teammates with Reggie Jackson. Did he have a problem with his showmanship? He was teammates with Rickey Henderson too.

Rickey Henderson

Gossage is entitled to his opinion and we all know he’s not the only ex-player who hates bat flips and stats and all that other stuff. He’s from a different generation and this is what Harper was talking about when he said the game is tired. That way of thinking is outdated. Baseball can either continue to embrace the old school mentality and lose younger fans to other sports, or they can get with the times. No sport clutches its pearls quite like baseball.

Matt asks: What is your reaction to Chris Sale apparently “ripping into” Ken Williams over the LaRoche debacle?

That seems very bad. First and foremost, a player shouldn’t be chewing out the team president. That shows a lack of control on the team’s part. Secondly, Sale is the most irreplaceable player in the White Sox organization, even morso than Williams, so when he’s this upset about something, it’s a problem. I do wonder if some players privately complained to Williams about Adam LaRoche’s kid and that’s what brought this all about, because otherwise it makes no sense.

Does the team change their policy if LaRoche hits 30 homers last year? Why change the policy in the middle of March? Players consider the clubhouse their space. They don’t like others getting involved in what happens there, so the Sale incident is a symptom of a larger problem. The White Sox have a very unhappy clubhouse right now — by all accounts LaRoche was super popular and a beloved teammate — and it’s up to manager Robin Ventura to smooth things over.

Brian asks (short version): I appreciated your lineup analysis piece and I don’t understand Girardi’s fascination with platooning Gardner. Hicks should absolutely play against every lefty, but shouldn’t it be at the expense of either Beltran (wRC+ (2015-2012): 99, 51, 100, 129)) or Ellsbury (83, 131, 77, 75) over Gardner (112, 97, 102, 446(SSA!))?

There’s more to this than the platoon splits. Ellsbury is on a huge contract and Carlos Beltran‘s a borderline Hall of Famer, so they’ve received the benefit of the doubt when it comes to playing time against left-handed pitchers. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. I also think Joe Girardi likes to give Brett Gardner regular rest because he always seems to be banged up. That’s just his style of play.

Benching Ellsbury in the wildcard game could be a sign Girardi will be more open to sitting him against lefties, but remember, that came after three terrible months, and even then Girardi said he had to think hard about it. I’m not going to hold my breath. I expect Aaron Hicks to play a lot this year. This could be a situation where Ellsbury and Gardner each start only three out of every four games, with Hicks picking up the slack. Gardner shouldn’t automatically sit against lefties, though Girardi has leaned that way over the last few years.

Keith asks: Are you aware of any scientific or enlightened approach by front offices or players to figure out what size/weight bat should be used? Obviously the goal is to maximize bat speed and bat weight but of course the the two don’t go hand in hand.

I am not but that sounds pretty interesting. That would be highly specialized — each player is different, you can’t have a one size fits all approach with something as important as the bat — and require a lot of research. Players are very particular about their bats too. They find a model they like and stick with it pretty much their entire career. Convincing them to change would be tough. I suspect it would be like most new ideas. Some players would be interested while others wouldn’t want to hear it.

Anonymous asks: I know it would never happen because you have to appease your stars, but would Baltimore be better off with Trumbo at first and Chris Davis in RF? After all, he played 30 games there last year, and Boras DID market him as a ‘potential corner outfielder’. (wink, wink)

Yes, I do think so. I even mentioned that when I whipped up our CBS post on the Alvarez signing. Davis has been stereotyped as a lumbering one-dimensional slugger, but that’s not the case. He’s a surprisingly good athlete for his size and he’s a very good defender at first base. Over the last few years he’s shown he can handle right field with no problem. Is Davis the rangiest outfielder? No. But he can make all the routine plays. Mark Trumbo can’t do that. Trumbo at first with Davis in right and Alvarez at DH is the best defensive alignment for the O’s. Instead, they’re going to play Trumbo in right and Davis at first, and that’s good for the Yankees given their lefty pull hitters and Baltimore’s all-righty rotation.

Rich asks (short version): With the recent talks about the DH being implemented in both leagues, and the absurd uproar about losing the double switch as a strategic tactic, why can’t MLB just amend the double switch rule to incorporate the DH?

I like it. The idea would be to treat the DH spot as the pitcher’s spot, so the Yankees could start Alex Rodriguez at DH and Beltran in right field, then double switch Hicks into A-Rod‘s lineup spot as the right fielder and slide Beltran to DH. I like the idea. It would maintain some of the “strategy” old school folks love — hopefully my simple DH loving brain will be able to grasp the immense complexity of the double switch — and give managers another tool. I’ve never really understand why the DH isn’t treated like every other position, allowing managers to move players in and out throughout the game. I would be surprised if MLB went for something like this. It just seems like someone would fight it for some reason.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Bart asks: If CC Sabathia continues with the same poor results, shouldn’t the Yankees propose a buy-out of his current contract with possibly a deferral of some of the salary to future years? Would CC consider this rather than continuing to perform poorly for another year (or 2)?

They could try, but why would Sabathia agree? Unless you think Sabathia is willing to just walk away from baseball — Michael Cuddyer and LaRoche just did it, so it’s not impossible — there’s no reason for him to agree to a buyout. Sabathia is a top notch competitor and baseball is the only thing he’s known his entire adult life. I have a hard time thinking he’ll just walk away. He’s going to do whatever he can to help his team even though he’s a shell of his former self.

Mike asks: Why does Ackley’s name never seem to come up in conversations about backup third basemen? Does he not have the arm for it?

Right. Dustin Ackley does not have the arm for third base. He barely has the arm for second base at this point. Ackley never had a strong arm to start with, but he had Tommy John surgery in college, and since then it’s been lob city. Considering the Yankees were willing to try both Starlin Castro and Rob Refsnyder at third base this spring, I’m guessing they would have given Ackley a shot there as well if they thought it was possible. The arm strength just isn’t there. That’s too bad. Ackley would be really useful if he could play the right side of the infield.

Julian asks: Does Tyler Olsen have a legit chance to make the Opening Day bullpen?

I’m starting to think he might. Olson has allowed two hits and three walks in 5.2 scoreless innings this spring, and two of the three walks were in his first outing. He’s struck out four overall and lefties are 0-for-8 against him. Olson is a pure lefty specialist with an upper-80s heater and a sweepy slider, so his usefulness is limited. Also, he had a phenomenal spring for the Mariners last year (12.2 IP, 8 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 15 K) then got destroyed in the regular season after making the Opening Day roster (5.40 ERA and 6.36 FIP), so beware Grapefruit League numbers. Right now I think Olson is on the outside looking in, but if he pitches well these next two weeks, he might just sneak onto the roster.

Open Thread: March 17th Camp Notes

The Yankees won their third straight Grapefruit League game this afternoon, beating the Pirates 7-2. Masahiro Tanaka really labored in his two innings, allowing two runs on four hits. He also threw over 50 pitches. Yikes. After the game Tanaka told Bryan Hoch his fastball command stunk. Luis Severino came out of the bullpen and allowed two hits in four scoreless innings. He fanned five.

Starlin Castro and Rob Refsnyder both clubbed two-run home runs (hooray second base depth!) with Castro’s clearing the batter’s eye in center field. How about that? Dustin Ackley had a pair of knocks — he’s yet to strike out in 25 plate appearances this spring — while Brian McCann and Chase Headley had one each. Nice day for the offense. Here is the box score, here are the video highlights, and here are the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • The upcoming rotation: CC Sabathia (Friday on TV), Michael Pineda (Saturday), and Ivan Nova (Sunday on TV). Pretty soon the guys will be going four or five innings. [Hoch]
  • Girardi is not yet ready to name Tanaka his Opening Day starter. “My thought process now is I don’t anticipate it being a problem, but let’s just wait,” said the skipper. [Hoch]
  • Aaron Hicks was scratched from today’s lineup with a stye. He went to see the eye doctor. I’ve never had a stye, but I know they’re annoying as hell and kinda gross. Hopefully this clears up in a few days. [Hoch]
  • Slade Heathcott, meanwhile, did not play today because he missed the bus to Bradenton. Not ideal, Slade. [Anthony Rieber]

This is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s game will be shown on tape delay on MLB Network at 6am ET tomorrow morning, if you’re going to be awake. ESPN is showing the Diamondbacks and Cubs right now, MLB Network will show the Giants and Padres live later tonight, all of the local hockey and basketball teams are in action except the Knicks, plus there’s a bunch of college hoops on as well. Feel free to talk about your bracket being busted.

Yankees have no plans to put Cito Culver on the mound

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It has been six years since the Yankees selected shortstop and Rochester native Cito Culver with their first round pick in the 2010 draft (32nd overall), and since then he’s lost his prospect status because he’s been unable to develop offensively. Culver is a career .228/.306/.313 (80 wRC+) hitter in over 2,600 minor league plate appearances. Baseball is hard.

There has been some speculation — from fans, mostly — the Yankees may soon try Culver on the mound since his has a strong arm and the bat isn’t developing. The team has no plans to do so, however. Here’s what farm system head Gary Denbo told Chad Jennings earlier this week:

“No,” Denbo said (when asked about moving Culver to the mound), without hesitation. “No, he’s a valuable guy. It’s difficult to find guys with his defensive abilities, so he’s got value as a player that can move around the field and play defense for us. Overall, his value eventually will be determined by how well he makes these offensive adjustments.”

Culver, now 23, did pitch back in high school. In fact, I remember when the Yankees drafted him, his MLB.com draft video was him pitching, not playing shortstop. I can’t find the video now, unfortunately. (UPDATE: Commenter ZachA found the video. Here it is.) Here’s a snippet of Baseball America’s pre-draft scouting report (subs. req’d):

Culver’s best tool is his arm, which rates as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Some scouts report seeing him up to 94 mph off the mound, but he has no interest in pitching.

The hitter-to-pitcher conversion is fairly common — current Yankees farmhand Luis Cessa and ex-Yankee Esmil Rogers are converted shortstops — and it’s really never too late to make the transition. Former outfielder Jason Lane made the transition at 35 and actually reached the big leagues as a pitcher, so there’s no such thing as too late.

The Yankees have a full infield at Triple-A Scranton, so it seems like the best case scenario for Culver this year is being Tyler Wade’s double play partner at Double-A Trenton. That will only happen if the team decides to give Abi Avelino more time in High-A, however. Denbo called Culver an “Infield 5 player,” which sounds like a nice way to say utility infielder.

Culver will be a minor league free agent after the season, and middle infielders are always in demand, so I’m sure he’ll find another job somewhere around the league next winter. Can he reach the show as an infielder? It seems unlikely. I wonder if Cito will decide at some point to give pitching a try in hopes of reaching the show. Right now though, that is not the plan, so another year on the infield it is.