2015 Draft: Cody Ponce

Cody Ponce | RHP

Background
The 21-year-old Ponce was not a big pro prospect out of high school and went undrafted in 2012. He wound up at Division II Cal State Pomona, where he spent his freshman year as a reliever (2.23 ERA in 48.1 IP) before moving into the rotation as a sophomore (2.48 ERA in 72.2 IP). Ponce has a 1.44 ERA with a 67/14 K/BB in 52.1 innings this year. He is likely to be the highest drafted player is school history, beating out Mark Wiley (46th overall in 1970).

Scouting Report
Ponce is a big kid — he’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 lbs. — and he has one of the deepest repertories in the draft. He generally sits 91-94 mph with his fastball and also throws a cutter, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. The cutter and slider are two versions of the same pitch — Ponce can vary the break to make it short like a cutter or sweepy like a slider. He uses his size well by pitching downhill. Ponce’s delivery isn’t textbook but he repeats it well enough and his strike-throwing ability has improved greatly in college, though he isn’t as refined as the typical college arm. There’s still some rawness in his game. Ponce missed a month with shoulder fatigue earlier this year but has had no trouble since and has been able to hold his velocity deep into games.

Miscellany
Ponce was ranked as the 26th, 34th, and 36th best prospect in the draft class by MLB.com, Baseball America, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) in their latest rankings, respectively. For what it’s worth, Ponce was connected to the Yankees in a recent Baseball America mock draft, and he fits scouting director Damon Oppenheimer’s preferred profile as a Southern California pitcher with a deep arsenal. The Yankees pick 16th and 30th this year and Ponce may still be on the board for the second of those two picks.

Aaron Judge ranks 16th on Keith Law’s updated top 25 prospects list

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today, Keith Law published his updated list of the 25 best prospects in the minors (subs. req’d). With Cubs 3B Kris Bryant now in MLB, Astros SS Carlos Correa takes over as the number one prospect in baseball. Dodgers SS Corey Seager, Twins OF Byron Buxton, Phillies SS J.P. Crawford, and Indians SS Francisco Lindor round out the top five.

The Yankees have one player in Law’s updated top 25: OF Aaron Judge ranked 16th, up from 23rd in Law’s preseason top 100. Here’s the blurb on Judge:

Judge is prone to strikeouts — he had 11 in a recent four-game stretch — but he also is doing so much damage when he does make contact that he projects as an average regular even if he doesn’t improve his contact rate. He’s also an above-average to plus defender in right. Most scouts I’ve talked to share my belief that he’ll continue to close some of the gaps in his plate coverage, especially if he backs off the plate a little.

The “especially if he backs off the plate a little” comment made me chuckle because here’s where Judge was standing in the batter’s box in Spring Training:

Aaron Judge

If he moves back any further he’ll be in the on-deck circle.

Anyway, Judge, who turned 23 late last month, is hitting .288/.356/.469 (134 wRC+) with nine doubles and six homers in 180 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton this year. He hit .283/.411/.442 (149 wRC+) with nine doubles and eight homers in 285 plate appearances for High-A Tampa in the second half last year, so his raw power is starting to show up in games.

Despite a recent slump — Judge is 2-for-20 (.100) with 14 strikeouts (!) in his last five games — Judge has a 26.1% strikeout rate this year, which isn’t too far off from the 23.3% strikeout rate he had with Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last year. (He had a 21.4 K% before this recent five-game slide.) Given his size and his long arms, Judge is always going to be prone to strikeouts, but when he makes contact, he does major damage.

The Yankees don’t have any other top 25 caliber prospects in the system right now. I’m not even sure they have another top 50 caliber prospect either. RHP Luis Severino didn’t make Law’s preseason top 100 but that was an outlier — Severino was on every other top 100 list out there. 1B Greg Bird was 86th on Law’s preseason list but he’s been just okay (122 wRC+) and hurt (shoulder) with Double-A Trenton this year. No surprise he didn’t shoot up the list.

Bullpen and defense, supposed strengths, must improve for Yankees going forward

Uh, guys? (Presswire)
Uh, guys? (Presswire)

Yesterday’s blowout win notwithstanding, the Yankees are in the middle of a really bad stretch, having lost ten of their last 12 games. A stretch that awful features bad everything — bad pitching, bad hitting, bad defense, bad base-running, bad everything. More than one-quarter of the way through the season, we’re still left wondering what exactly the Yankees do well other than hit homers.

During the offseason the Yankees focused on improving their team defense — specifically the infield — as well as the bullpen, essentially trying to copy the model the Royals used to surprise the world a year ago. On paper it all made sense. We saw firsthand how good Chase Headley and Stephen Drew are in the field last year, and Didi Gregorius came with a strong defensive reputation, plus the team brought in power relievers by the bushel. The pieces were there, in theory.

So far this season neither the bullpen nor the defense have been strengths. Far from it, really, and this latest stretch of awful play has made it plainly obvious. The bullpen as a whole has a 3.23 ERA (3.51 FIP) compared to the 3.54 ERA (3.71 FIP) league average, but the relief crew is top heavy — Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have been fantastic, combining for a 0.42 ERA (1.62 FIP) in 43.1 innings. The Yankees have a lot of problems. Those two aren’t among them.

The rest of the bullpen, however, has a combined 4.36 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 107.1 innings, which is just turrible. David Carpenter has been a massive disappointment and is beyond untrustworthy after allowing at least one run in six of his last eight appearances. I feel like Justin Wilson has been better than his 5.79 ERA (3.22 FIP), but what I feel doesn’t matter, those runs are scoring. Esmil Rogers leads all MLB relievers with 29 innings and has allowed 14 runs in his last 12.2 innings. Yikes.

The Yankees made minimal bullpen changes through the first 45 games, doing nothing more than shuffling fresh arms in and out of the last spot as necessary until calling up Jacob Lindgren on Sunday. Lindgren might actually be a solution to the middle relief problem, but that remains to be seen, and besides, he is just one reliever. Carpenter hasn’t given anyone a reason to think improvement is coming and Wilson’s career-long strike-throwing problem suggests he’ll never be truly reliable.

The non-Miller/Betances portion of the bullpen has been a major eyesore, though we all understood that was a possibility this year. Bullpens are like that. Relievers are so unpredictable. The defense though? Those issues were completely unexpected. Headley’s had trouble throwing and getting caught in between hops on more than a few occasions, so while he hasn’t been a total disaster, he hasn’t been as good as the Yankees have needed him to be defensively.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Gregorius’ defensive problems are almost entirely related to decision making. He clearly doesn’t lack physical tools — Didi has a quick first step, good range, and an effortless rocket of an arm — but he has a knack for really poor decisions, whether it’s trying to flip the ball behind his back the other day or taking his time underhanding the ball on that potential double play in Detroit. The bad decisions seem to come at inopportune times too. I suppose the good news is that this is ostensibly correctable, but it hasn’t been corrected yet.

Drew has been fine at second base — the other second basemen, Jose Pirela specifically, have not — and of course Carlos Beltran has been a total negative in right field. Beltran actively hurts the team with his defense. He’s worse than a zero in the field. Even Brian McCann has not been up to snuff, mostly because he’s struggled to keep balls in the dirt in front of him. Only the Blue Jays have allowed more passed pitches (wild pitches plus passed balls) than the Yankees this year and Toronto has a full-time knuckleballer on the staff.

Outside of benching Beltran (never gonna happen), the Yankees don’t have any ways to improve their defense. Even doing something drastic like, say, sending Gregorius to Triple-A, just shifts the defensive problem to second base, where Pirela or Rob Refsnyder would take over with Drew moving to short. The Yankees can’t do much more than wait for Headley and Didi to correct their issues. I’m far more confident in Headley doing it than Gregorius, but that’s just me.

The bullpen is another matter because the Yankees don’t have to wait for anything. Carpenter has been given time yet has shown no improvement, so we’re at the point were finding someone else has to be considered. Rogers is the very definition of replacement level but the long man isn’t really deciding games. He’s just soaking up outs. Still, it’s a sore spot and if a better option comes along, so be it. Maybe Chris Capuano is the answer when Ivan Nova or Masahiro Tanaka gets healthy. Who knows.

The Yankees have bullpen options in the minors. Lindgren was just one. Bryan Mitchell — another long man candidate — and Nick Rumbelow are two of the most notable, though Danny Burawa and Tyler Webb should be considered options as well. Chris Martin is inching closer to a return from his elbow issue and that may also solidify things. He showed flashes of being useful earlier in the season and didn’t lose effectiveness until his elbow started barking.

Right now, the middle of the bullpen and defense has been disappointments, massive ones compared to expectations coming into the season. They were supposed to be strengths and they’ve been anything but. This recent 2-10 strength is the result of the defense giving opponents extra outs and the middle relievers either blowing leads or failing to keep games close. Those are things that are not supposed to happen and yet it’s happened game after game.

The Yankees were going to have a hard enough time contending this season, even if the bullpen and defense were performing as advertised. Now that they’ve developed into a problem, well, something like ten losses in the span of a dozen games happens. This stuff is fixable, at least I think it is, and it’s not going to fix itself overnight. For now the Yankees just need to see things start to improve and move in the right direction to remain competitive.

Chris Young’s great April shouldn’t stand in the way of regular playing time for Slade Heathcott

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Back a few weeks ago, when the Yankees were winning on a consistent basis, they were doing so thanks in part to fourth outfielder Chris Young, who was providing power and strong overall play off the bench. His production was forcing Joe Girardi to pencil him into the lineup as often as possible, even at the expense of Brett Gardner at times. It appeared the Yankees had struck bench player gold.

The last few weeks have been much different, however. Both for the Yankees and Young. Since the calendar flipped to May, Young is gone a weak 6-for-42 (.143) overall, including his current 2-for-31 (.065) rut. And while that isn’t a ton of playing time, it is enough to know Young no longer belongs in the lineup as often a possible. His struggles seem to have flown under the radar a bit given everything else happening with the team, yet there they are.

Young’s hot start earned him some rope, and with Jacoby Ellsbury out hurt and Carlos Beltran always at risk of getting hurt, there are lots of reasons to keep him around. I don’t think anyone is lobbying to get rid of him anyway. What the Yankees should do though is reduce Young’s playing time, especially against righties, with those at-bats going to Slade Heathcott instead.

Heathcott was called up when Ellsbury got hurt and he’s gone 5-for-12 (.417) with a double and a homer in three starts so far, which tells us … nothing, really. Outside of a serious injury, there’s no way three games should change your opinion about any player. Heathcott should play more simply because he’s young player with two-way ability who — bear with me a second, it’s about to get a little crazy — might actually carve out a role with the team going forward because his best years are ahead of him.

The Yankees are being hush hush about Ellsbury’s timetable, though we do know he will spend more than the minimum 15 days on the DL. That could mean 16 days, 30 days, 60 days … who knows? Either way, Ellsbury is not returning anytime soon, so playing time is plentiful, and that’s an opportunity to evaluate Heathcott at the MLB level. The Yankees called Slade up over other deserving players (Ramon Flores, most notably), so it’s clear they like him. He’s not just a warm body.

Remember, Heathcott is a former first round pick and tools aren’t a question. He’s battled injuries and off-the-field demons over the years, not a lack of production, and we’ve seen just how dynamic he can be when healthy these last few days. Slade plays defense, seems to have a plan at the plate, has speed, and is sneaky strong. Plus he plays with the dial turned to eleven at all times. That doesn’t necessarily make him a better player, but it makes him fun to watch. Talent, effort, health. For years he only had two of the three. At this very moment he has all three.

Heathcott is someone who could have a future with the Yankees and force the team to clear a spot for him down the road. This call-up during Ellsbury’s injury may only be temporary, but that’s okay, it’s still an opportunity for Slade to get his foot in the door. Play well now and make a good first impression, and the next time an outfielder gets hurt, the club’s call-up decision won’t be tough. Keep playing well and suddenly a roster spot could be there come Spring Training 2016.

This isn’t Melky Cabrera circa 2005-06, when he fell on his face (almost literally too) during his 2005 cameo but got called up again in 2006 because he was the best option. Heathcott has competition and the Yankees have options. If he doesn’t play well now, Flores is waiting to get the next opportunity. If Flores doesn’t work, there’s Tyler Austin. Slade is the most well-rounded player though, one who can contribute on both sides of the ball, and he’s the kind of young player the Yankees should be embracing given their current roster.

Young did some fine work earlier this season. The Yankees benefited greatly and he remains a useful piece off the bench. He shouldn’t get playing time priority over Heathcott though, and, to be fair, Heathcott has started three of the last four games against right-handed starters, so Young isn’t stealing at-bats from him right now. Slade is an underdog with one heck of a story. He’s also a young player with talent who could help the Yankees short and long-term. The Yankees owe it to themselves to use Ellsbury’s injury as an opportunity to let Heathcott show what he can do. Otherwise I don’t see much point in calling him up.

DotF: Refsnyder’s on-base streak ends at 25 games

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 win over Pawtucket)

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 BB
  • RF Ramon Flores: 1-4, 1 BB, 2 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4 — the on-base streak ends at 25 games … he went 35-for-101 (.347) with 13 walks (.426) during the streak
  • C Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K — 11-for-38 (.289) in his last ten games
  • LF Tyler Austin: 1-2, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP
  • DH Ben Gamel: 2-4, 1 SB
  • RHP Jaron Long: 7.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 11/3 GB/FB — 63 of 97 pitches were strikes (65%) … his best start at this level by a mile
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K — four pitches, four strikes
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 12 of 19 pitches were strikes (63%)

[Read more…]

Memorial Day Open Thread

Gosh, what a perfect game this afternoon. Lots of runs, Slade Heathcott hit a homer, Jacob Lindgren made his MLB debut, a blowout win against the best team in baseball … what more could you have wanted? The six-game losing streak is over and it’ll take some work to erase that 1-10 stretch from memory, but you have to start somewhere. This afternoon was a pretty great start.

Here is your open thread for the evening. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET and MLB Network will show a regional game live a little later. Plus there’s NHL and NBA postseason action. Talk about all of that or anything else right here. And thank you to everyone who served in the armed forces and gave their lives so idiots like me can blog about baseball.

Yankees pile on for 14 runs in a Memorial Day matinee victory against the Royals

Remember the olden times when the Yankees got swept by the Rangers and saw their record fall to 22-22? That was actually last night. Maybe it’s just me, but after watching today’s game, that feels like quite awhile ago. The Yankee offense came alive and Nathan Eovaldi pitched quite alright to give the Yanks an easy 14-1 win over the Royals in a Memorial Day matchup.

(Source: Getty)

Too. Many. Homers.

The Yankees hit three homers in the first inning. Three! Two of them came before Jeremy Guthrie and the Royals could record an out. After Brett Gardner doubled to start it off, Chase Headley hit one towards the bleachers for a 2-0 lead. Headley added two more hits for the rest of the day and his line is up to .255/.309/.416, good for an even 100 wRC+. His bat seems to be coming around as of late.

A-Rod followed it up with a single and Guthrie walked Mark Teixeira. Brian McCann then hit a screaming line drive towards the right field seats that was *almost* caught by leaping Paulo Orlando. It would have been a very pretty-looking Sportscenter highlight had he caught it, but the ball was just over his glove and found the seats. 5-0 Yankees in the first inning, no outs.

Guthrie had better luck against Garrett Jones (flyout) and Stephen Drew (bunt ground out). The righty the plunked Didi Gregorius and allowed a single to Slade Heathcott. Gardner, on a 2-2 count, squared up against a hanging breaking ball into the right field seats for a 8-0 lead. Man, it just seemed like Yankees were incapable of scoring when they really needed it for the past week (well, hence, the losing streak). An inning like this really makes you feel good and wonder “where has this been?”

When a pitcher is off, he can be very off. Royals manager Ned Yost did not take Guthrie out of the game to start the second inning and unfortunately for him, things got even worse. Guthrie walked McCann and Jones followed it up with a single. Drew, on a 0-2 count, hit a 93 mph fastball up and inside into the second deck. That was crushed and just summarized Guthrie’s day: he just didn’t have it, even on a 0-2 count.

You always remember the first one (Source: Getty)

Oh, and the Yanks weren’t done with dingers just yet. In the bottom seventh, Slade Heathcott took Greg Holland deep for the first homer of his young career. Almost six years after being drafted in the first round, the outfielder overcame a lot to fulfill the major league dream and hit one off one of the best relievers in baseball (granted, Holland looked really off today, but still). Heathcott is a talented guy and I hope he can stay healthy and learn his way around the bigs to fulfill his potential. Oh, and after the homer, Yankees were up 14-1. The score did not change for the rest of the game.

(Source: Getty)

Acceptable Nate

I don’t know how to feel about the “Nasty Nate” moniker. Sure, he throws hard and can overpower hitters, but his results does not really match up to that kind of hype (yet).

Nonetheless, Eovaldi had one of the better outings of 2015 today. The righty went 7 innings, struck out four, allowed only an earned run while also allowing 8 hits. It’s not an eye-popping line but that’ll do well. He had control for sure – throwing 76 pitches out of 103 total for strike, good for a 73.8 % rate. At times, however, I felt that his fastball went way too much the middle and Royals hitters did not miss it. Sometimes the hitters punish it for a big hit, but today, there weren’t much damage, which is nice. But I do hope he shows improvement in command sooner or later. Today’s game showed what he can give to the Yankees despite the imperfections.

JaKKob Lindgren! (Source: Getty)

(A seemingly-long awaited) Lindgren debut

We got what some of us have been waiting for since the end of last season – 2014 second-rounder LHP Jacob Lindgren made his ML debut, relieving Eovaldi in the eighth inning. Lindgren showed what he was advertised for – a fastball in low-90’s, a nasty slider that gets hitters chasing, and well, not the best command (two walks) but overall, he made a solid impression. With his high-draft pick pedigree and a nice 2-inning, no-run performance to close out the game, he definitely earned at least several more ML looks.

The YES broadcast compared Lindgren to Sparky Lyle, which is a huge compliment and a hard ceiling to reach (if we are talking about 1977 Lyle, that is). If Lindgren turns out as a high-leverage lefty reliever with swing-and-a-miss breaking ball and a passable command – I’m thinking B.J. Ryan – I’d be really, really happy. Also B.J. Ryan in prime is also a very high ceiling to ask for. I’m probably being tad optimistic here. But let’s not forget that Lindgren is projected to be a valuable ML reliever so that’s that. We’ll see how far he can go.

Leftovers

A-Rod added two hits – he now has 2,977 total hits and 23 away from his 3,000th. He’s now hitting a healthy .262/.363/.545 for the season, good for a 148 wRC+.

Jeremy Guthrie’s start today was awful – 1 inning, 9 hits, 11 earned runs, 3 walks, 1 strikeout and 4 homers allowed. He didn’t look like the guy who was called to start the Game 7 of the World Series just this past October. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, he is the second SP ever to allow 11 earned runs in 1 inning or fewer. Good lord.


Source: FanGraphs

Here’s the box score, video highlights, win probability chart and updated standings. As of this moment, the Rays have yet to play the Mariners, but it’s kind of mind-boggling to think that the Yankees are only a game back from the first place. The AL East as a whole has been very meh this season. Tomorrow, Yankees are facing the Royals again. Adam Warren is up on the hill against Jason Vargas. Is today’s win a start of something? We shall see.