Severino, Judge, Clarkin rank among Baseball America’s top 20 Sally League prospects

Severino at the 2014 Futures Game. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Severino at the 2014 Futures Game. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Baseball America continuing breaking down the top 20 prospects in each minor league today with the Low-A South Atlantic League. The list is free but the scouting reports are not. Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito, Phillies SS J.P. Crawford, and Nationals RHP Reynaldo Lopez claim the top three spots. Three Yankees’ prospects made the list: RHP Luis Severino (No. 4), OF Aaron Judge (No. 8), and LHP Ian Clarkin (No. 15).

“In Severino’s case, he throws a 95-97 mph fastball that he locates to both sides of the plate with excellent life. His changeup is not always consistent, but it was average at least most of the time. His slider varied between well below-average to average depending on the outing,” said the scouting report, which also notes Severino is very quick to the plate and “nearly impossible” to run on. He is clearly the top pitching prospect in the organization after posting a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) in 113.1 innings at three levels this summer.

The write-up notes Judge is a complete hitter more than a brute masher, and he is viewed as a “capable defensive right fielder with a strong arm.” Clarkin “doesn’t necessarily have an above-average pitch, but he throws a solid-average three-pitch mix consisting of a fastball, curveball and changeup,” according to scouting report, which also called Clarkin one of the “safer bets” among league pitching prospects. “He already shows a feel for keeping hitters off-balance by pitching backwards at times.”

You could make the case Severino, Judge, and Clarkin are three of the organization’s top four prospects right now, along with C Gary Sanchez. The Yankees have Severino on the fast track and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw him in the big leagues in 2015. The next list of interest to Yankees’ fans is the High-A Florida State League, which will be released next week. Judge is a lock for that list and 3B Eric Jagielo, 1B Greg Bird, and OF Jake Cave are good bets to appear as well. Severino didn’t throw enough innings with High-A Tampa to qualify.

Other League Top 20s: Short Season NY-Penn League, Rookie Gulf Coast League.

Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas declared free agent by MLB

According to his agent, Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas has been declared a free agent by MLB. He already established residency in Haiti and has been unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, so this was the final step in the process. Tomas is free to sign with any team and he reportedly already has a $75M offer in hand.

Tomas, 23, held a showcase for scouts a week ago and is currently visiting teams for private workouts. It’s unclear if the Yankees have invited him for a private workout — they did have Aledmys Diaz and Rusney Castillo come to Tampa for firsthand looks earlier this year, for what it’s worth — and their level of interest is unknown at this point. Tomas is said to be a middle of the order right-handed hitter with power, and, if true, I think the Yankees should be all over him.

The simple yet daunting task of finding a new shortstop

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

For the last two decades, the Yankees had the luxury of knowing Derek Jeter would be their starting shortstop. It’s a tough position to fill and he was excellent. Jeter had an insane peak year in 1999 but his greatness was always built around his durability and consistency, the write it in pen year-after-year production. He didn’t have that crazy 7+ WAR per year for five years peak, but he was a 4+ WAR player for like 15 straight years. Every year, he produced.

The Yankees have to replace Jeter at shortstop this offseason and — let’s be honest here — replacing his 2014 production won’t be difficult. Out of 146 qualified batters he ranked 124th in OBP (.305), 145th in SLG (.313), and 140th in wRC+ (73). He was bad even by shortstop standards (league average at the position was an 87 wRC+). Add in the poor defense and Jeter’s on-field contribution was basically replacement level this year.

Replacing the 2014 version of Jeter on the field doesn’t figure to be particularly difficult. They’re not going to be able to replace him in the clubhouse — I don’t think the lost leadership will be a big issue but it’s not negligible either — and they definitely won’t be able to replace his marketability and drawing power. That’s impossible. All they can do is upgrade on the field at shortstop, which will be both relatively easy given Jeter’s performance and difficult at the same time.

The timing worked out well and Jeter’s retirement coincides with a free agent class heavy on quality shortstops. That’s good! The Yankees will have their pick of the litter, assuming they’re willing to pay the price. I don’t know if playing for the Yankees is as much of a draw as it once was (money still talks) and I’m sure some are put off by the idea of replacing Jeter and having to try to live up to an impossible standard.

We’ll inevitably take many, many looks at the various free agent shortstops this winter, but for now here’s a quick look at the group:

  • Asdrubal Cabrera: Average-ish hitter, bad overall defender but with a knack for highlight plays, generally healthy, won’t cost a draft pick.
  • Stephen Drew: Awful at the plate this year, pretty good last year, very good defender, injuries have been an issue, won’t cost a draft pick.
  • J.J. Hardy: Average-ish hitter whose power disappeared in 2014, very good defender, lingering back issues, will cost a draft pick.
  • Jed Lowrie: Above-average hitter from 2012-13, less than that in 2014, okay defender at best, healthier in recent years, might cost a draft pick.
  • Hanley Ramirez: Legitimate middle of the order masher, terrible defense, lots of injuries in recent years, will cost a draft pick.

Every so often a free agent comes along who fits a team perfectly. CC Sabathia fit the 2009 Yankees perfectly. Brian McCann fit the 2014 Yankees perfectly. Nelson Cruz fits the 2015 Mariners perfectly. None of these shortstops fit the 2015 (and beyond) Yankees perfectly though, and that’s the case with most free agents. They’re all good to great players with their own sets of pluses and minuses.

Any of these guys would represent an on-field upgrade over 2014 Jeter but the Yankees must determine who is the best fit. Do you want to go long-term with Hanley knowing he’ll possibly be a 120 games a year third baseman as soon as 2016? Is Hardy’s power and defense worth that risky back? Back problems never really do away, you know. They just get more manageable. The Yankees have enough dead weight on the payroll as it is and the free agent shortstop class looks like a minefield of potential bad contracts.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

There are always trades to consider — Jimmy Rollins, anyone? — but if no appealing long-term shortstop solutions exist, isn’t the best move finding a short-term stopgap and trying to figure it out again next winter? Drew, for example, is destined for a small one-year contract. There’s at least a chance he will hit next year following a normal offseason — “I haven’t had a regular Spring Training in three years. I had the ankle, the concussion and then all the stuff this past year. I haven’t had a normal routine in a while. I had to play the cards I got dealt and make the best of it. This offseason, I can take a step back and prepare for next season the right way. I’m healthy and looking forward to it,” he said to George King — which is more than you can say for Brendan Ryan.

I wouldn’t blame the Yankees at all if they walked away from Drew given how terrible he looked this year, both in pinstripes and with the Red Sox. His 44 wRC+ in 300 plate appearances happened. It can’t be ignored. But, if the Yankees don’t want to spend big on a shortstop, he’s probably the best one-year stopgap they’ll find. And that’s kinda scary. This isn’t like finding a left fielder or a DH for a year. Quality shortstops are rare and teams tend to jump on them given the chance. Ryan’s two-year contract (plus a player option!) looks silly but that’s what it takes to get someone to play the position competently.

The Yankees will not be able to replace Derek Jeter the person this winter but they have to replace Derek Jeter the shortstop and that shouldn’t be tough given the year he had. The question is how do they want to replace him? There are cases to be made for going long-term for one of the big name free agents — Hanley sure would look great hitting third behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, wouldn’t he? — or going short-term until a better fit comes along. Until they can pry one of the Cubs’ young shortstops loose, for example. Either way, the Yankees will upgrade at short this winter. It’s just a question of how.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Derek Jeter launched a new website today called The Players’ Tribune. It’s basically a place for athletes to write their own stories in their own words branded as an “innovative multimedia digital company where world-class athletes will share their unfiltered, honest and unique perspectives, bringing fans closer to the games they love.” I’m not sure how many players will write at midseason, but I guess we’ll find out. Chad Jennings has the press release, if you’re interested.

Here is your open thread for the night. The Pirates and Giants (Volquez vs. Bumgarner) are playing the NL Wildcard Game (8pm ET on ESPN) and we can only hope it will be as good as the AL game last night. That was something else. You folks know how these open threads work by now, so have at it.

Once again, Yankees led AL in attendance in 2014

For the 12th consecutive season, the Yankees led the American League in attendance in 2014, according to Maury Brown. The Yankees drew 3,401,624 fans this summer, third most in baseball behind the Dodgers (3,782,337) and Cardinals (3,540,649). The Giants (3,368,697) and Angels (3,095,935) were the only other teams to draw 3M+ fans. The Indians (1,437,393) had MLB’s worst attendance.

The Yankees averaged 41,995 fans per game this season, up from 40,489 last year but down from 43,733 from 2012. Brown says total MLB attendance has dropped 1.5% since 2012 and the Yankees are a bit higher than that (3.9%). They averaged 45,839 fans per game during the first three years of the new Yankee Stadium and 42,072 in the three years since. With no Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter farewell tour to prop up attendance, the Yankees could take a big hit next year if the team’s on-field performance doesn’t improve dramatically.

Jagielo out 4-6 weeks with broken bone in face following hit-by-pitch

3:44pm: Jagielo had to undergo surgery to repair the fracture, he announced on Instagram. (The picture isn’t gross.) Everything went well.

1:01pm: Third base prospect Eric Jagielo is out 4-6 weeks with a broken bone in his face, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed to Josh Norris. Jagielo took a fastball to the face during an Instructional League game over the weekend. He will be replaced on the Arizona Fall League roster, according to Newman.

Jagielo, 22, was the Yankees’ first round pick in the 2013 draft. He hit .259/.354/.460 (132 wRC+) with 16 homers in 85 games around an oblique injury with High-A Tampa this year. The broken bone stinks but that seems like the best case scenario whenever you talk about a pitch up around the head. Jagielo could have suffered a concussion or serious eye damage. All things considered, this is good news. Heal up and get ready for 2015.

MLB to test pace of game rule changes in Arizona Fall League

MLB announced it will test pace of game rule changes in the Arizona Fall League this year. The list of changes is right here. Here’s the short version: batters must keep one foot in the batter’s box at all times (unless there’s a wild pitch, passed ball, foul ball, etc.), intentional walks are automatic (manager signals, batter goes to first with no pitches thrown), pitcher-catcher conferences are limited, and a game clock will be installed. Pitchers will have 12 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 20 seconds with men on base.

There’s no doubt baseball has a pace of game problem and these days people have short attention spans with plenty of ways to distract themselves. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve looked down at my phone between pitches at a game, or at my computer while watching at home. MLB isn’t going to shorten up commercial breaks, so this is the next best thing. I do think the pace of play would be less of an issue if offense hadn’t disappeared — it’s one thing to watch a high-scoring game last three and a half hours, it’s another to watch three total runs score and batters ground into the shift for three and a half hours. We’ll see. The AzFL begins play next week.