Thoughts as pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Spring Training is here! Pitchers and catchers officially report to Tampa today — Joe Girardi is holding his annual start-of-spring press conference at 11am ET, which will air on YES — though many players have been in town for a few days already, if not weeks. The Yankees will spend the next nine days working out before playing their first Grapefruit League game next Friday. I’ve got some thoughts on this, the first day of the long 2017 season.

1. I haven’t been this excited going into a new season since 2012. Will the Yankees be any good this year? Who knows. I’m excited because the Yankees are emphasizing youth and are poised to have young players at several positions. We know Gary Sanchez will be behind the plate and two of the five rotation spots will go to young pitchers. There’s also the possibility of Greg Bird at first base and Aaron Judge in right field. And, of course, we’re going to see even more kids throughout the season. Clint Frazier, Jordan Montgomery, and Chance Adams should all make their big league debuts this summer. Maybe James Kaprielian too. I can’t wait. I’m excited the Yankees are heading in this direction, and while I know there will inevitably be bumps in the road, I’m looking forward to seeing where this leads.

2. Generally speaking, Spring Training performance means nothing. There is way, way, way too much noise. Pitchers often work on specific pitches, not getting outs, for example. Also, the level of competition varies because so many minor leaguers, many of whom won’t sniff the big leagues during the regular season, are involved in the games. For some players though, Spring Training matters because they’re trying to make the team. It’s dumb, but that’s how it goes. More than anyone, I think Judge needs to have a strong spring statistically to make the Opening Day roster. We know he dropped his leg kick, and if he doesn’t put up good numbers during Grapefruit League play, it’ll be really easy for the Yankees to send him to Triple-A for more work. Heck, even if he rakes in camp, they could send Judge down with the idea of giving him more time to continue to work on his lower half adjustments. Spring Training stats are stupid, yet I have a hard time believing Judge could make the team with a poor showing in March.

3. The Chris Carter signing will make it really easy for the Yankees to send Bird down to Triple-A to begin the season, which is notable because 65 days in the minors will delay his free agency a year. The Yankees lost a year of team control over Bird because of the injury last year. He spent the entire season on the Major League disabled list and accrued service time. Sending Bird down to Triple-A for two months to begin the season allows the team to “buy back” that year of control, and Carter is a more viable alternative at first base than Tyler Austin. Remember, Bird wasn’t great in the Arizona Fall League (102 wRC+) and he didn’t play the field at all. Designated hitter only. Sending him down for a few hundred at-bats in low-pressure games to get back to normal would be easy to justify, and as an added benefit, it would give the Yankees that extra year of control back.

Fister. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Fister. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

4. What do you think, do the Yankees have one more last minute signing in them? Not necessarily a guaranteed Major League deal like Carter. I’m talking about a minor league deal with an invite to camp, and perhaps with an opt-out at the end of March should the player not make the big league roster. Among the veteran free agent pitchers still available are Doug Fister, Jorge De La Rosa, Jon Niese, and Edwin Jackson. I like the idea of Niese, as long as he’s healthy, but the identity of the player doesn’t really matter. I just wonder whether the Yankees will bring in a veteran starter on a no risk deal to a) push the kids a bit in camp, and b) provide an extra layer of depth in case things go wrong. I have to imagine those veteran pitchers are getting pretty nervous right now. Passing on offers now could mean never getting offers again. Veteran guys have a way of being forced into retirement. They might jump at the chance to sign a minor league deal with the Yankees because you know what? Even if they don’t make the club, Spring Training would allow them to audition for other teams. Scouts are always watching. My guess right now is no, the Yankees don’t sign anyone else. Carter was the final move.

5. I’m really curious to see how Girardi manages this season. He’s going to have the youngest roster in his ten (!) seasons as Yankees manager, and last season he showed he’ll sit veterans in favor of young players. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez all lost playing time to young kids. At the same time, Girardi is entering the final year of his contract, and I’m sure he’ll feel some sort of pressure to win. It’s human nature. When the kids hit the inevitable rough patch, how quickly will he turn to the veterans? Does Carter’s playing time increase when Bird falls into a 2-for-25 slump? Does Judge ride the bench for a week in favor of Aaron Hicks after striking out eight times in a three-game series? The Yankees a) are trying to get younger, b) play in the intense New York market where winning is expected, and c) have a lame duck manager. I’m not sure that’s such a good combination.

Monday Night Open Thread

Some news on the eve of Spring Training: Derek Jeter is going to be a dad! Jeter’s wife Hannah Davis announced on the Players’ Tribune (of course) that she is pregnant with a baby girl. That kid is going to have some pretty good genes, eh? Congrats to the two of them. I fully expect that little girl to play shortstop for the Yankees from 2040 to 2060.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The (hockey) Rangers and Nets are playing, and there’s some college hoops on the schedule too. Talk about those games, baby Jeter, or anything else here as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Minor League Notes: Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian, DSL

(@swbrailriders)
(@swbrailriders)

That giant muscle-bound baby with a five o’clock shadow you see above, standing next to Tyler Austin, is the new alternate logo for Triple-A Scranton. It’s a Baby Bomber, basically. The team announced the logo last month. So that’s a thing now. Anyway, here are some other minor league notes to check out.

Mateo spends time at third base

According to Erik Boland, SS Jorge Mateo spent some time at third base during recent workouts in Tampa, a position he’s never played in an official game. He’s played short and second in his career, and the Yankees also had him work out in center field during Instructional League last year. I should note it’s not at all uncommon for players to see time at different positions during informal workouts. This doesn’t necessarily mean Mateo will man the hot corner going forward.

The Yankees have a ton of shortstop prospects at the moment. Seven of my top 30 prospects are shortstops. Seven. There are only so many minor league affiliates to play these guys. I am intrigued by the idea of Mateo in center. He’s a good defender at short, it’s not like he’s inadequate there, but he might be a great defender in center given his high-end speed and athleticism. Many shortstops have moved to the outfield over the years (Billy Hamilton, Odubel Herrera, Adam Jones, the Uptons, etc.) so it’s not unheard of. Moving to center could be the best thing for Mateo and the Yankees going forward.

Kaprielian could pitch in MLB “pretty soon”

During a recent radio interview, Brian Cashman said RHP James Kaprielian could be a big league option “pretty soon,” according to Brendan Kuty. “(He could) probably plug-and-play in the big league level pretty soon,” said the GM. “He’s kind of a wild card because he’s very exciting … You sit behind home plate, he looked like a big leaguer right now, but he hasn’t had a chance to show it and prove it in the big league level yet.”

Had Kaprielian stayed healthy last season, he very well might have made his big league debut in September, when the Yankees were auditioning young arms. That would have made him a rotation candidate in Spring Training. Alas. Kaprielian has to make up for some lost time in the minors this year, and the Yankees have enough upper level pitching depth that they’ll be able to allow him to progress at his own pace. Health is the most important thing this year. Hopefully Kaprielian stays healthy, because of it does, he’s shoot up the minor league ladder.

Yankees release nine minor leaguers

The Yankees have released nine minor leaguers, report Matt Eddy and Robert Pimpsner. The eight: RHP Moises Cedeno, RHP Icezak Flemming, RHP Leonardo Garcia, RHP Deshorn Lake, RHP Rafael Ordaz, RHP Brandon Stenhouse, RHP Artur Strzalka, C Ronaldo Suarez, and LHP Zak Wasserman. None of the eight were prospects, really. Stenhouse signed a six-figure deal out of Australia a few years back. Strzalka is notable because he was the first person born and raised in Poland to sign a pro baseball contract. Flemming was New York’s 26th round pick in 2015. Lake and Wasserman signed as undrafted free agents. That’s about it.

Yankees no longer fielding two DSL teams

According to Josh Norris, the Yankees are no longer fielding two Dominican Summer League teams. They’ve had two DSL teams for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure why they scaled it back to one, though it could be a result of the new international spending restrictions. Teams aren’t able to sign as many actual prospects as they once did, so there’s no need for a second team. The Yankees still have all eight of their domestic minor league affiliates, including both Gulf Coast League teams, so there’s no change there.

Miscellany

And finally, here are three miscellaneous minor league links to check out:

  • Jim Callis polled scouts and put together a minor league All-Defense Team, which includes SS Kyle Holder. “I haven’t had more people rave about a prospect’s defensive prowess to me since the days of Omar Vizquel coming up with Seattle,” said an executive to Callis. “I’ve had scouts say they look forward to watching Holder take pregame ground balls like they would watching a guy with 80 raw power take batting practice.”
  • Michael Leboff posted a Q&A with RHP Dillon Tate. “It’s definitely tough after having success and then you struggle,” he said. “One thing that helped me out was realizing that I had struggled before, so I didn’t let myself get down on myself when I know where I was four years ago and how my development took a few years to really turn the corner.”
  • Benjamin Hill writes ten minor league teams set a new attendance record last year, including two Yankees affiliates: Low-A Charleston and Rookie Pulaski. The Pulaski franchise was a total mess three years ago, before the Yankees got involved and new owners purchased the team. The new owners renovated the ballpark and made things much more fan friendly.

Minor league Spring Training begins March 3rd this year. If you’re interested, Shane Hennigan has the minor league camp schedule.

Yanks dominate Baseball America’s and Baseball Prospectus’ top prospects lists

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

The final preseason top 100 prospects lists have arrived. Baseball America released their annual top 100 prospects list last Friday, which is free to read. You do need a subscription to check out the scouting reports, however. Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi claims the top spot, with White Sox 2B Yoan Moncada and Braves SS Dansby Swanson rounding out the top three.

Seven Yankees farmhands made Baseball America’s top 100 list. Here are the seven:

5. SS Gleyber Torres
39. OF Clint Frazier
45. OF Blake Rutherford
85. SS Jorge Mateo
87. RHP James Kaprielian
90. OF Aaron Judge
91. LHP Justus Sheffield

Torres went from No. 41 last year to No. 5 this year. Kaprielian did not make the top 100 last year, missed most of the 2016 season with a flexor strain, and now ranks as the 87th best prospect in baseball. He must have been awfully impressive in his 45 innings.

Baseball America’s top 100 list came out last week. Then, earlier today, Baseball Prospectus published their annual top 101 prospects list. That one is free to read as well. Cardinals RHP Alex Reyes, not Benintendi sits in the top spot. Benintendi was No. 1 on every other top 100 list this year. Swanson and Benintendi are Nos. 2 and 3.

The Yankees had a whopping nine players make Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 list. The nine:

15. Torres
16. Frazier
43. Mateo
49. Rutherford
52. Sheffield
58. Kaprielian
63. Judge
82. RHP Albert Abreu
101. SS Tyler Wade

Neither Abreu nor Wade made any of the other top 100 lists this year. I didn’t expect Wade to come close to one of these lists, really. I thought I was the high man on him. Apparently not. Also, RHP Chance Adams did not make any of the top 100 lists this spring. I thought he’d sneak on to the back end of one. Alas.

Anyway, I said all I have to say about top 100 lists when Keith Law and MLB.com released theirs, so I don’t have anything to add now. Just pleasantly surprised to see Wade grab the last spot on the Baseball Prospectus list. Now that the four major publications have posted their lists, we can average out the rankings:

BA BP Law MLB Average Rank
Torres 5 15 4 3 6.8
Frazier 39 16 27 24 26.5
Rutherford 45 49 22 37 38.3
Kaprielian 87 58 28 58 57.8
Judge 90 63 44 45 60.5
Sheffield 91 52 88 79 77.5
Mateo 85 43 NR 47 81.3
Abreu NR 82 NR NR 133.0
Wade NR 101 NR NR 137.8

The guys who did not rank on a particular list (NR) went in to my quick little spreadsheet as a 150 for calculation purposes. So Mateo’s composite ranking of 81.3 is the result of averaging 85, 43, 47, and 150. Got it? Good. This applied to Mateo because he didn’t make Law’s list, and Abreu and Wade because they only made Baseball Prospectus’ list.

The top six guys in the table made all four top 100 lists. Based on the rankings, the Yankees have one bonafide top ten prospect in Torres — Baseball Prospectus is the low man on him and they’re dragging his composite ranking down — plus two other top 40 prospects (Frazier, Rutherford) and two other top 60-ish prospects (Kaprielian, Judge). That’s pretty great.

Among those top six guys, Judge is the only safe bet to graduate to the big leagues this year. Forty-six more at-bats and he’ll no longer be prospect eligible. Others like Frazier and Kaprielian could reach the big leagues this summer, though it seems unlikely either will spend enough time in New York to lose prospect eligibility. Moreso in Kaprielian’s case given last year’s injury.

Point is, most Yankees prospects who appeared in the various top 100 lists this year figure to remain prospect eligible next year, and again appear in the top 100 lists. That’s the hope, anyway. Hopefully no one’s stock drops. Add in a possible breakout from someone like, say, 3B Miguel Andujar or 3B Dermis Garcia, plus the team’s 2017 first round pick (16th overall), and the Yankees could have another eight or nine top 100 prospects next year, and by then most will be MLB ready. Fun fun fun.

Another Spring Training, another new leg kick for Aaron Judge

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last year Yankees fans got their first glimpse of Aaron Judge at the big league level, and it started out great with a home run off the top the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field. Things went downhill after that. Judge struck out 42 times in his 95 big league plate appearances before an oblique strain ended his season in September. The occasional dinger was nice. The strikeouts were not.

Earlier this offseason, Brian Cashman confirmed Judge was working with hitting coach Alan Cockrell on some adjustments, particularly with his lower half. “Alan Cockrell was working with him on his lower half, and continuing the efforts and adjustments they started last year,” said the GM. “The lower half is the final adjustment that they’re working through — his front side and staying calm and trying to stay balanced — and so I think that’ll help.”

Judge has made a lot of changes with his lower half over the last two years, specifically with his leg kick. He had a relatively small leg kick two years ago, then came to camp with a much bigger leg kick last spring, after working with the organization’s hitting coaches over the winter. Now Judge has no leg kick. Here’s a clip of Judge in the batting cage last week, via Bryan Hoch:

It’s only batting practice and we should be careful not to read too much into it, but there’s no leg kick there. None at all. Considering he’s been working on his lower half since at least last offseason, I don’t think Judge is just messing around there. It’s pretty safe to assume the lack of a leg kick is a result of whatever he and Cockrell (and others?) worked on earlier this offseason.

In theory, eliminating a leg kick increases contact and reduces power. Dumping the extra pre-swing movement makes it easier to get the bat on the ball. At the same time, the leg kick generates momentum. Fortunately, Judge is so damn big and strong he has power to spare. “I try not to think of myself as a power hitter. I try to be — honestly — a contact hitter. I feel like with my strength and size, it allows me to drive balls out of the park,” said Judge to Dan Martin last week.

If nothing else, all these lower half changes — small leg kick in 2015, big leg kick in 2016, no leg kick in 2017 — tell us Judge is willing and able to make adjustments. He struggled in his first taste of Triple-A in 2015, added the bigger leg kick over the winter, then had success in Triple-A in 2016. Judge then struggled in his first taste of MLB last year, and now he’s making another adjustment.

“I don’t want to strike out. Nobody does. It’s just something I’ve got to work at,” said Judge to Martin last week. “I went out there and a lot of times didn’t get the job done. You have to handle failure. I’ve got plenty of that. My first year at Fresno State, in freshman fall ball, I think I hit .190. It’s frustrating. You deal with it and make the right adjustment.”

I can understand why all the tinkering would make someone nervous about Judge going forward. He and the Yankees keep changing his swing mechanics — he also lowered his hands a bunch last year too — and at some point it might be too much. They risk breaking something that didn’t need to be fixed, you know? I don’t see it that way though. Judge has shown the ability to make adjustments in the past. He did it just last year to conquer Triple-A. This is a positive.

Now Judge is working to conquer big league pitching, and that’s a never-ending battle. He came up last year, pitchers took his lunch money, and now he’s working to fight back. Having the baseball aptitude and the willingness to made significant changes — what Judge has done with his leg kick the last two years qualifies as significant to me — is in no way a bad thing.

“Failure always gives you an opportunity to see something you need to improve on. It’s a learning experience,” added Judge while talking to Martin. “I got a chance in the Major Leagues. It was kind of like a practice test in school: You get a feel for it, so next year coming in I kind of know what to expect and prepare for.”

Will the no leg kick approach work? Who knows. The right field job is there for the taking this year and long-term, and you know the Yankees want Judge to hold the job for the next six years. If he needs more time to adjust to MLB pitching the way he needed time to adjust to Triple-A pitching, so be it. Judge is trying though, and that’s really all you could ask for.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 13th, 2017

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

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Reports: Rays sign Nathan Eovaldi to one-year deal plus option

(Tasos Katopodis/Getty)
(Tasos Katopodis/Getty)

According to multiple reports, the Rays and Nathan Eovaldi have agreed to a one-year contract worth $2M. It’s a big league deal, so he’s going on their 40-man roster. The contract includes a club option for 2018, and since Eovaldi won’t pitch at all in 2017, the option is key. Tampa Bay will rehab him and hope it pays off one year from now.

Eovaldi, who turns 27 tomorrow, underwent his second Tommy John surgery last August. He also had surgery to repair his flexor muscle, which he said was torn completely off the bone. Yikes. Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees discussed a reunion with Eovaldi earlier this winter. Apparently he had other ideas.

The Yankees released Eovaldi back in November to clear a 40-man roster spot. He was projected to earn roughly $7M through arbitration in 2017 before becoming a free agent next winter, so keeping him made no sense. Why pay the guy $7M to not pitch next year when he could leave as a free agent after the season? Exactly.

Eovaldi spent two seasons with the Yankees, throwing 279 innings with a 4.45 ERA (4.11 FIP). He had his moments, specifically in the second half of the 2015 season, otherwise Eovaldi remained an enigma. So long, Nasty Nate. Good luck when you’re not facing the Yankees.