Starlin Castro leads Yankees to 16-6 win over Astros for first win of 2016

The first win of the season always feels good, doesn’t it? Especially when it’s a blowout. The Yankees walloped the Astros 16-6 on Wednesday night. Nice way to rebound from that yucky Opening Day loss.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

A Good Start
So hey, it turns out the Yankees are pretty good at scoring runs when the reigning Cy Young award winner is not on the mound. Twelve of the first 17 men they sent to the plate Wednesday night reached base. Is that good? That seems good. Let’s recap the six-run first inning with an annotated play-by-play. (Click the image for a larger view.)
NYYvsHOUpbp(1) The six-run rally started with a catcher’s interference call, something Jacoby Ellsbury is weirdly good at. Since the start of the 2008 season, Ellsbury’s first full season as a big leaguer, he has 15 catcher’s interference calls, most in MLB. Ryan Ludwick and Carl Crawford each have 13, and David Murphy has eleven. No one else has more than eight. Weird. For whatever reason, Ellsbury seems prone to catcher’s interference calls. Hey, can’t complain about it. You’ve got to do whatever you can to get on base.

(2) The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning without putting a ball in play. That Alex Rodriguez walk really seemed to set the tone for the rally too. Collin McHugh jumped ahead in the count 0-2, but A-Rod worked the count back full and eventually drew the walk. He laid off some tough pitches too. Rod is still such a great hitter. His at-bats are rarely non-competitive.

(3) Mark Teixeira‘s two-strike single started the scoring — he hit the ball so hard and George Springer threw it back in so quickly that Ellsbury, who was on third base, had barely crossed the plate when the throw was cut off near the pitcher’s mound — and Brian McCann‘s two-run single ensured the Yankees would not waste a golden opportunity. He was down 0-2 in the count, then went down and hooked a McHugh curveball into right field. Look where this pitch was:

Brian McCann

I know broadcasters usually reserve the “nice piece of hitting” line for singles filleted to the opposite field, but I’m using it here: that was a nice piece of hitting. McCann probably shouldn’t have swung at that pitch, but he had seen McHugh’s curveball earlier in the at-bat, so he made the adjustment and went down to get it. Just like that, the Yankees were up 3-1 and the line kept moving.

(4) The team’s first out of the game was a productive out: Carlos Beltran hit a hard-hit ground ball to first base that scored Teixeira from third. The Chase Headley at-bat after that was pretty big in my opinion. The Yankees had a runner at third with one out, and you definitely want to get that run. Headley could have gotten the job done with an out. Instead, he battled McHugh for an eleven pitch at-bat, the last pitch of which went for a run-scoring single. It’s still very early in the season. McHugh’s pitch count was over 40 in the inning, and I’m sure his legs were starting to get heavy. He seemed to have nothing to put Headley away. Ultimately, that was his final batter of the night.

(5) A-Rod stole the team’s first base of the new season Tuesday. Naturally, Headley stole the team’s second base of the season Wednesday. Go figure. Starlin Castro took advantage of the opportunity and drove in Headley with a single up the middle. I don’t really have much more to say about that. When Headley starts stealing bases, you know the inning is going well.

(6) Ellsbury, the tenth batter of the inning, made the second out on a line drive to short. Even the first two outs in the inning were hard-hit. Everything was going well for the Yankees. They worked the count and they made good contact against two pitchers presumably struggling in the cold. Textbook.

(7) I was really hoping Teixeira would get a chance to bat with the bases loaded twice in the first inning. Alas, Rodriguez popped out to end the inning. The total damage: six runs on four singles, one double, three walks, one stolen base, and one catcher’s interference. McHugh and reliever Michael Feliz combined to throw 65 (!) pitches. The Yankees led all of baseball with 125 first inning runs in 2015. They’re up to six in two games in 2016.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Oh, You Thought They Were Done?
The Yankees followed that six-run first inning with three runs in the second and another three runs in the third. Houston pitchers did not have a 1-2-3 inning until the eighth. Castro’s first home run as a Yankee, a three-run ding dong into the visitor’s bullpen, was the big blow in the second. McCann walked and Beltran singled earlier in the inning to set things up.

In the third, Teixeira’s first home run of the season drove in three runs to give New York a 12-5 lead. Up to that point, the Yankees had scored 13 runs in 4.1 innings against Not Dallas Keuchel in 2016. It was a classic Tex shot, pulled into the second deck in right field. We’ve seen him hit about a hundred of those these last seven years and two games. Three-run dingers are pretty cool, you guys.

Big Fly Mike
Not a good night for Michael Pineda, huh? He allowed six runs on eight hits and no walks in five innings, including three home runs. One was a grand slam by George Springer in the second inning, immediately after the Yankees’ six-run first, and two were solo shots by the very good at baseball Carlos Correa. Correa’s second blast hit halfway up the windows of the restaurant in center field. Look at this thing:

Statcast measured that homer at 462 feet. I’m not even mad. I’m impressed. The three home runs came on pitches very much like that one in the video, soft stuff Pineda left up in the zone. Really good hitters like Correa and Springer (and Correa again) don’t miss those.

As with McHugh, I’m sure the cold was a factor in Pineda’s rough start. It’s hard to grip a baseball when the temperatures are in the 40s, and let’s not forget Big Mike sat in the dugout for a long time between innings because the Yankees were scoring all those runs. I’m going to sound like a homer but whatever: I think Pineda (and McHugh) should get a mulligan for this game because of the cold. If he does it again in five days, it’s a problem.

Proven Closer
With a six-run lead and four innings to go, Joe Girardi turned the game over to new long man Ivan Nova. This was a real good opportunity to keep Ivan stretched out. Sometimes those can be hard to come by. Nova allowed four hits and a walk in four scoreless innings, striking out five. He threw 56 pitches. Ivan did a nice job closing this one without making it interesting. We all had Nova getting the team’s first save of the season, right? Right.

Leftovers
I feel bad for Feliz. He’s an actual prospect — MLB.com ranked him as Houston’s No. 10 prospect coming into the season — and manager A.J. Hinch hung the kid out to dry, leaving him in to allow six runs in 4.1 innings. Feliz threw 107 pitches (!) and was clearly out of gas near the end of his outing. I get it, the kid made the team as the long reliever and someone has to wear it in games like this, but man, that’s rough. His confidence must be shot, and I’m sure the ‘Stros are going to send him down for a fresh arm before Thursday’s game. Sucks.

Beltran hit a solo home run in the sixth inning to push the lead to 13-6. Lefty Tony Sipp, who I kinda sorta wanted the Yankees to sign this offseason, tried to climb the ladder, but Beltran just reached up and drove the pitch out left. Little Ronald Torreyes — I say that affectionately, the guy is listed at 5-foot-10 on the official roster but he’s really more like 5-foot-8 — came off the bench late in the blowout to hit a two-run triple.

Brett Gardner managed to draw four walks in six plate appearances. He saw 34 total pitches, by far the most of any player on either team. Believe it or not, the 1-2-3 hitters went a combined 1-for-11. They did draw six walks though, the four by Gardner and two by A-Rod. Ellsbury singled for that one hit. Dustin Ackley came off the bench to play the last few innings at first base. He flew out to right in his first at-bat of the campaign.

Castro and Gregorius, the Prestige Worldwideâ„¢ middle infield, combined to go 7-for-10. Castro had four hits and drove in five runs. He was a triple shy of the cycle. This middle infield is: cool. Teixeira, McCann, and Beltran had a pair of hits each.

And finally, the Yankees sent 49 batters to plate Wednesday, and 24 reached base. That’s a .490 OBP. Yay offense! Yay Yankees!

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to ESPN for the box score and MLB.com for the video highlights. Here are the up to the minute standings. It’s never too early to scoreboard watch, you know. (Yes, yes it is.) Now here is the WPA graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Astros will wrap up this three-game series Thursday afternoon, weather permitting. Right now the forecast is calling for rain pretty much all afternoon. Bummer. The game is scheduled to begin at 4pm ET. Nathan Eovaldi and Mike Fiers will be the starting pitchers, should the game be played. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to brave the coming storm.

Game Two: Big Mike and the Astros

BIG MIKE IS HERE

Now that the Yankees have gotten their annual Opening Day loss out of the way, I feel like the real season is about to begin. Michael Pineda is on the mound making his 2016 debut tonight, and I know I’m not the only one expecting big things from Big Mike. It’s time to take that next step towards the front of the rotation. The raw ability is there. It’s obvious. Some things need to be fine-tuned, however.

The Yankees scored three runs on Opening Day and really, that makes the offense seem better than it really was. They had one only base-runner following Brian McCann‘s leadoff single in the fourth inning, and that was Didi Gregorius‘ eighth inning homer. Homers are cool. I’d like to see more than one solo shot in the span of six innings, however. Here is the Astros’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Starlin Castro
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Michael Pineda

It is cold and windy in New York tonight. Not quite as cold as yesterday, but, you know, cold. There’s no rain in the forecast thankfully. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin a bit after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Those of you in-market can stream the game online with FOX Sports Go, assuming you subscribe to YES through your cable provider. Enjoy the game, everyone.

Protest Update: Joe Girardi said the Yankees never bothered to officially file a protest with the league following yesterday’s game. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The umpires weren’t wrong.

Slot bonus values for 2016 draft and 2016-17 international signing period

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are limited to a set bonus pool when acquiring amateur talent through the draft and international free agency each year. Teams can exceed their pools, but the penalties are harsh. Within those pools are slot values, which are important to the draft and international free agency for different reasons.

Hudson Belinsky and Ben Badler recently got their hands on the 2016 draft and 2016-17 international slot values, respectively. Both articles are free. They’re not behind the Baseball America paywall. Let’s dive in and see what the slot values mean for the Yankees.

2016 Draft Slot Values

The Yankees have a $5,768,400 bonus pool for the draft this year. That’s the eighth smallest bonus pool in baseball. The Yankees didn’t add (or subtract) and draft picks through free agency this past offseason, so all they have is their natural picks in rounds 1-40. Here are the slot values:

  • First Round (No. 18 overall): $2,441,600
  • Second Round (No. 62): $1,040,800
  • Third Round (No. 98): $608,200
  • Fourth Round (No. 128): $455,400
  • Fifth Round (No. 158): $341,000
  • Sixth Round (No. 188): $255,300
  • Seventh Round (No. 218): $191,500
  • Eighth Round (No. 248): $176,200
  • Ninth Round (No. 278): $164,600
  • Tenth Round (No. 308): $156,600

Slot value for every pick after the tenth round is $100,000. Any amount spent over $100,000 on one of those picks counts against the draft pool. If you sign a player for less than the slot value within the first ten rounds, you can redirect the pool savings to other picks. If you do not sign a player, you lose the slot money associated with that pick. Got it? It’s easy enough.

The Yankees — and all teams, really — have been gaming the system by taking cheap college seniors, usually in rounds 5-10, to save draft pool space so they can spend it on other players. College seniors have no leverage, so they usually sign for five figures. Sometimes even less. Do that a few times and you up with a nice chunk of leftover cash to use on other picks.

To me, it looks like the best place to really save pool space is with that second round pick. You don’t see many top prospects fall to the second round these days. Talent has come off the board more linearly since the spending pool system was put in place. The Yankees could take a good prospect with that second rounder, sign him below slot, and save hundreds of thousands of dollars in pool space.

This is exactly what the Yanks did last year. They took LHP Jeff Degano with their second round pick and signed him for $650,000. Slot for his pick was $1,074,400. The Yankees got a talented player and still saved over $400,000 with that pick, most of which went to third rounder RHP Drew Finley. Depending on what the draft board looks like in June, going this route with the second round pick could make an awful lot of sense.

2016-17 International Slot Values

The Yankees have a $2,177,100 bonus pool for the 2016-17 international signing period, which ninth lowest among the 30 clubs. The international pools are based on the reverse order of the standings. The Yankees are still subject to the penalties stemming from the 2014-15 international signing spree for one more year, so they can’t sign any player to a bonus of more than $300,000 in the coming signing period.

Here are the team’s 2016-17 international slot values. I’ll explain what these mean in a second.

  • Slot No. 22: $609,800
  • Slot No. 52: $411,800
  • Slot No. 82: $278,100
  • Slot No. 112: $177,400

Each team gets $700,000 in “base” money, so add that and the four slots together and you get the club’s total international bonus pool. Once upon a time teams also had six $50,000 bonus exemptions each year, both those are gone. Nowadays the only exemptions are players who sign for $10,000. Teams can hand out as many bonuses of $10,000 or less as they want, and they don’t count towards the bonus pool.

The international slot values are used for trading. You can sign a player to a bonus of any size, it doesn’t have to match a slot number. But, if you trade bonus pool money, you have to trade the specific slot. HOWEVA, teams are only allowed to acquire an additional 50% of their original draft pool. That’s an extra $1,088,500 for the Yankees. It doesn’t make any sense for the Yankees to acquire international bonus pool money because of the $300,000 penalty though. It makes more sense to trade away pool space.

Unfortunately, international bonus slots don’t seem to have much trade value. Last year Matt Eddy recapped trades involving bonus slots, and for the most part slots were traded for middling prospects or fringe MLB players. In some instances they were thrown in as the third or fourth piece in a trade package. Is it worth trading, say, that No. 22 slot for another up-and-down reliever or infielder? Maybe it is. Depends on what kind of talent is available internationally this summer.

Can Nick Rumbelow be the next Chase Whitley?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees opened their season yesterday, and tomorrow night, the team’s four full season minor league affiliates will begin their seasons. That includes Triple-A Scranton, which will be the primary feeder team for the Yankees this summer. That’s where all the depth players are stashed. Starters, relievers, position players, all of ’em.

Thanks to the Bryan Mitchell injury and Luis Cessa opening the season in the big league bullpen, the RailRiders are a bit short on starters this year. Shane Hennigan reports Chad Green, who came over from the Tigers with Cessa in the Justin Wilson trade, will be on the mound for Triple-A Opening Day tomorrow. Later in the week Nick Rumbelow will get a Triple-A start.

Rumbelow, 23, is a reliever by trade. He made one start in three years at LSU, and all 100 of his minor league appearances have come out of the bullpen. Only twice has he thrown as many as three innings in an outing. Only five times has he actually turned a lineup over and faced ten or more batters. This isn’t just a spot start though. RailRiders manager Al Pedrique told Donnie Collins the team thinks Rumbelow has a chance to start.

Generally speaking, the best reliever-to-starter conversion candidates are guys with three pitches and some semblance of control. Rumbelow has a career 6.6% walk rate in the minors, which is an indication he can throw strikes, and both the scouting reports and PitchFX data confirm he has three pitches. Here are the numbers really quick (MLB averages in parentheses):

% Thrown Avg. Velo. GB% Whiff%
Fastball 57.6% 93.8 40.7% (37.9%) 6.9% (6.9%)
Changeup 29.7% 86.9 52.4% (47.8%) 19.5% (14.9%)
Curveball 12.7% 81.0 0.0% (48.7%) 2.9% (11.1%)

Remember, Rumbelow threw only 15.2 big league innings last season, so we’re not talking about a big sample size at all. This is more of a “this is what he threw last year” look rather than a “this is what you could expect going forward” look. The scouting report on Rumbelow said he was a fastball/curveball guy with a show-me changeup out of college, but over the last few years, the changeup has taken over as his second best pitch.

This at-bat from last September is one of those at-bats that just stuck with me because it really showed how much Rumbelow trusts his changeup. The Yankees were up by one, but the Rays had runners at the corners with two outs, and Evan Longoria was at the plate. Rumbelow went changeup (called strike), changeup (swinging strike), changeup (swinging strike) for the three-pitch strikeout to escape the jam. You have to be pretty confident in your changeup to triple up on it in a big spot against a hitter like Longoria.

Nick Rumbelow changeup

So yeah, Rumbelow trusts his changeup. At one point he trusted his curveball and he still might for all we know. It has since become his third pitch for whatever reason. The stuff and the control are there though. That’s the most important thing.

Two years ago the Yankees took another three-pitch reliever with control and turned him into a starter: Chase Whitley. Whitley, like Rumbelow, was a career reliever. In fact, Whitley was a third baseman and pitcher in college, so he wasn’t even a full-time moundsman until pro ball. The Yankees attempted the conversion and it worked. Whitley wasn’t an ace or anything, but he gave the Yankees 16 starts in two years. That’s not nothing.

As with Whitley, the question will be whether Rumbelow’s stuff drops off as a starter. Well, it’s not a really a question of “if” it drops off, but “how much.” Whitley went from sitting 92-94 mph as a reliever to 89-91 mph as a starter. Rumbelow is a 93-95 mph guy out of the bullpen. What happens if he becomes a 90-92 mph starter? Does it hurt the effectiveness of his changeup? There’s only one way to find out. You’ve got to see him start for yourself.

The Yankees came into the spring without a ton of Triple-A pitching depth. The Mitchell injury hasn’t helped matters, and Cessa in the bullpen means the Yankees have one less option for emergency situations. They do have a ton of relievers though, and when you have as many relievers as New York, it only makes sense to see if one or two of them can start. The guy with three pitches and some control is the obvious choice, right?

(I should note Tyler Webb will also start for the RailRiders this year. He started some back in college but has been a full-time reliever the last four years. Webb is another guy with three pitches and control. I like Rumbelow quite a bit more as a prospect, however, plus he’s already on the 40-man roster, which I think gives him a leg up when call-up time comes.)

For now, Rumbelow as a starter is nothing more than an experiment. There’s no reason not to try it out at this point. There’s no downside since the conversion is taking place in Triple-A. The games are meaningless. That said, if he has to come up to join the rotation at some point this summer, chances are something either went very right or very wrong. (For what it’s worth, Whitley made only eleven Triple-A starts before being called up.)

If Rumbelow can hack as a starter, even as a replacement level sixth starter type like Whitley, it’ll be a nice little boost to the team’s rotation depth. And if it doesn’t work, Rumbelow can go right back to where he started in the bullpen. The Yankees have had some success with the reliever-to-starter conversion in the recent past, and they are lacking starters and loaded with relievers, so it only makes sense to try it with Rumbelow.

Minors Notes: Lindgren, Rosters, Garcia, Hebert, Sands

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

The Major League season opened earlier this week, and now it’s time for the minor league season to follow suit. The Yankees’ four full season affiliates open their regular seasons tomorrow night. Three of the four open at home. So, with that in mind, here are a bunch of minor league news and notes I had lying around.

Lindgren to begin in High-A Tampa

LHP Jacob Lindgren is going to begin the season with High-A Tampa, according to Josh Norris. Tampa, obviously, is a long way from Scranton. Brian Cashman confirmed to Chad Jennings that Lindgren is not hurt. Two things immediately jump to mind. One, the Yankees want Lindgren to stay away from the cold weather early in the season. It wouldn’t be the first time they or any other team has done that.

Two, and I think the more likely explanation, the Yankees think Lindgren needs mechanical work and they want him to put in that work close to the home base in Tampa. Lindgren is coming off elbow surgery and he wasn’t blessed with good control to start with, so it seems the Yankees are taking a step back and trying to get him right. What he’s doing right now isn’t working, so they’re not going force it. It’s not like they’re lacking bullpen depth at Triple-A. This is the time to do it.

Minor league rosters announced

Rosters for three of the four full season affiliates were announced earlier this week. We’re still waiting on High-A Tampa. Here are the links with some quick thoughts on the other three rosters:

  • Triple-A Scranton: C Eddy Rodriguez, not C Sebastian Valle, gets the job mentoring and backing C Gary Sanchez. The outfield is loaded (OF Ben Gamel, OF Slade Heathcott, OF Aaron Judge, OF Cesar Puello) and I expect all four to play pretty much every day, so the DH will be a rotation.
  • Double-A Trenton: RHP Brady Lail starting back with the Thunder is a bit surprising. Well, maybe not. He got roughed up in seven Triple-A starts last year. I bet he gets promoted before long. I’m a bit surprised to see OF Dustin Fowler here after only a half-season at High-A in 2015. Among the pitchers, I’m most looking forward to seeing what LHP Jordan Montgomery and RHP Ronald Herrera do this year.
  • Low-A Charleston: RHP Domingo Acevedo is the only must-watch guy on the pitching staff. IF Thairo Estrada, SS Kyle Holder, and SS Hoy Jun Park are probably going to share time at second, short, and third. OF Trey Amburgey and OF Jhalan Jackson in the outfield should be fun. No C Luis Torrens means he must still be in Extended Spring Training working his way back from shoulder surgery.

There is still one open spot on the Triple-A Scranton roster. They currently have 12 pitchers on the roster and I would not at all be surprised if they added for a 13th early in the season. They have to watch innings and make sure no one gets overworked early in the season, especially the actual prospects. Plus the extra arm will come in handy as relievers get shuttled in and out.

Based on the other rosters, we can deduce who is starting with High-A Tampa: RHP James Kaprielian, SS Jorge Mateo, 3B Miguel Andujar, IF Abi Avelino, RHP Jordan Foley, and OF Austin Aune are the notables. Hopefully LHP Ian Clarkin as well, assuming he’s healthy. There’s no reason to think he isn’t aside from the fact he missed the entire regular season last year. Tampa looks like the most exciting affiliate this year, but that could change quick if Kaprielian and Mateo get promoted at some point, which seems likely.

Garcia out with shoulder soreness

According to Brendan Kuty, SS Wilkerman Garcia dealt with a sore right shoulder throughout the spring, and there is no timetable for his return. Garcia was still listed in a rehab workout group two weeks ago per Shane Hennigan, so he has not been shut down completely. He’s been doing some kind of baseball work lately. Still though, you don’t want one of your best prospects to have a sore shoulder.

Garcia, 18, signed for $1.35M as part of the 2014-15 international spending spree. He hit .299/.414/.362 (140 RC+) with more walks (25) than strikeouts (19) in 39 rookie ball games last year. Wilkerman was expected to begin the 2016 season in Extended Spring Training before joining one of the short season affiliates (Staten Island, most likely) in late-June, so we’re not even going to notice he’s missing from DotF. Hopefully this shoulder soreness is only minor and he’s back to full strength soon.

Hebert undergoes Tommy John surgery

Hebert. (Presswire)
Hebert. (Presswire)

LHP Chaz Hebert, who really broke out with a strong 2015 season, recently had Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2016 season, farm system head Denbo confirmed to Chad Jennings. Hebert, 23, was a 27th round pick back in 2011. He bounced around the low minors for a while before pitching to a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 134 innings last season, including a few appearances at Triple-A.

PitchFX data from the Arizona Fall League shows Hebert throws four pitches: four-seamer (averaged 90.0 mph), cutter (85.9), changeup (78.4), and curveball (73.8). The Yankees opted not to add Hebert to the 40-man roster last November following his big year, and he went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft. By no means is he a great prospect, but he’s a lefty who can start, and those guys are always interesting.

Sands converting to catcher

In an interview with Mike Rosenbaum, 3B Donny Sands revealed he is moving behind the plate and converting to catcher. “I’ve bought into it, completely, which is the only way you really can get better regardless of the position you’re moving to,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity the Yankees are giving me, and I’ve very thankful for it … It’s a lot different than every other position; you get beat up and tired but still have to be the backbone out there and maintain focus. I like being mentally involved on every pitch.”

Sands, 19, was the team’s eighth round pick out of an Arizona high school last year, and he hit .309/.395/.361 (133 wRC+) in 55 rookie ball games as a third baseman after signing for $100,000. Pre-draft scouting reports lauded his strong arm, soft hands, and baseball instincts, all of which he’ll need behind the plate. Converting to catcher is not easy — not everyone takes to it as quickly as Torrens or John Ryan Murphy — so we’ll see how long it takes Sands’ defense to catch up to his bat. The move to catcher is a great opportunity for him to raise his stock.

Baseball America’s international review

The great Ben Badler posted his annual international reviews over the last ten days or so. The main Yankees review is behind the paywall, so I can’t share too much, but the team signed 57 (!) players last year. Ridiculous. That covers the 2015 calendar year, so the second half of the 2014-15 signing period and the first half of the 2015-16 signing period. Here are some associated links that are not behind the payroll:

  • Total Signings by Team: No other team signed more than 48 prospects last year. The average was 26 signings by the 29 non-Yankees teams. The Yankees more than doubled that.
  • Total Spending by Team: The Yankees handed out $3.42M in total bonuses last year, ranking 16th out of the 30 clubs. Remember, they were limited to bonuses of $300,000 or less after July 2nd last year as a result of the penalties from the 2014-15 signing period.
  • Top 40 Bonuses: The Yankees did not give out one of the 40 largest international bonuses last year because they couldn’t. They signed all their big money 2014-15 guys in July 2014. Last year they had to deal with the penalty.

The only player the Yankees signed for the maximum $300,000 bonus after July 2nd last year was Venezuelan SS Jesus Bastidas. Badler calls him “a sure-handed shortstop” with the tools to remain at the position, and added he has “quick, strong hands and the ball jumps off his bat well already for his size.” Dominican RHP Luis Medina ($280,000) is already touching 100 mph. The team also signed Dominican OF Estevan Florial ($200,000) last year. We’ve heard quite a bit about him recently.

The Yankees scout Latin America very well and they have a history of hitting home runs with lower bonus guys. Both Luis Severino ($225,000) and Mateo ($250,000) signed on the relative cheap, for example. I’m sure those 57 players are more quantity than quality because of the $300,000 limit, but still, the Yankees are really good at finding top shelf talent at bargain prices. I’m sure more than a few are good prospects.

Yankees sign one, release 17

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed one player and released 17 in recent weeks. Let’s start with the 17 who have been released:

Pitchers: RHP Andre Del Bosque, LHP Derek Callahan, LHP Ethan Carnes, LHP Andrew Chin, RHP Geoff DeGroot, RHP Cory Jordan, LHP Conner Kendrick, LHP Anthony Marzi
Position Players: 1B Matt Duran, OF Greidy Encarnacion, OF Joey Falcone, OF Dominic Jose, 3B Renzo Martini, IF Ty McFarland, C Alvaro Noriega, IF Junior Valera, C Matt Walsh

Duran and McFarland are the most notable of the bunch. Duran was the team’s fourth round pick in 2011, but he didn’t hit (88 wRC+) and only played 128 games in five seasons due to injuries. McFarland was a draft pool saving tenth round pick in 2014 and he had decent numbers (106 wRC+), but he was old for every level he played. Jose had some tools. It just didn’t come together.

The player the Yankees signed is 2B Chris Godinez, who was released by the Dodgers recently. The 22-year-old was an 18th round pick just last year, and he hit .226/.385/.301 (93 wRC+) in 30 rookie ball games after turning pro. He’s a speed guy with great college stats (.302/.505/.510 at Bradley last spring) but no real standout tool beyond his legs. Looks like a depth pickup for the low minors.

Thoughts following Opening Day

Fifth starter auditions now underway. (Presswire)
Fifth starter auditions now underway. (Presswire)

We had to wait one extra day, but the 2016 season has finally begun. The Yankees lost to the Astros yesterday for their fifth straight Opening Day loss. That’s annoying. The last time they won on Opening Day, Curtis Granderson hit a home run off Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain threw a perfect seventh inning. Here’s the box score. That feels like a lifetime ago. Anyway, I have thoughts.

1. This is bugging me so I might as well start with this: what was up with those baseline introductions yesterday? The Yankees introduced the starting lineup, then they had the rest of the team come out of the dugout together and join them for the National Anthem (video). Doesn’t everyone usually get introduced on Opening Day? I mean, the Marlins introduced the clubhouse attendants before their Opening Day game last night. I’m not joking. I dunno, just seemed weird to me. I was expecting a full set of introductions, the coaches and bench players and bullpeners and everything. I couldn’t have been the only one who wanted to see Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller and Luis Severino and CC Sabathia be introduced before the game, right? Maybe the postponement screwed this up somehow. Hopefully it’s a one-year blip.

UPDATE: The Yankees and Astros agreed to the abbreviated baseline introductions because of the cold, reports Jim Baumbach. Only the managers and starting lineups were introduced because they want everyone unnecessarily standing in the cold. Disregard thought No. 1!

2. Masahiro Tanaka‘s two-seam fastball was moving a ton yesterday. So much so that PitchFX appears to have misclassified a bunch of fastballs as splitters. I don’t remember Tanaka’s two-seamer ever moving that much. Here is the two-seamer he threw to Jose Altuve for the first out of the game. Altuve rolled over on the pitch and grounded out to short:

Masahiro Tanaka Two-Seamer

The location is not great, Tanaka did miss his spot up — he was doing that all spring, seems like his command has not come all the way back following his elbow surgery — but the point is that pitch really moved. I went back and watched some 2014 and 2015 highlights really quick and I didn’t see anything that moved that much. I wonder if Tanaka is using a new grip or something. Or maybe he’s just going with more two-seamers in an effort to get more quick outs because the Yankees don’t let him pitch deep into games. That really stood out to me yesterday. Tanaka’s heater was running all over the place.

3. Under-the-radar bright spot yesterday: Johnny Barbato. His first pitch as a big leaguer hit a dude in the wrist, so that sucked, but Barbato also struck out three of five batters faced. He threw 18 pitches and Astros batters swung and missed six times. That’s pretty great. Given the way the bullpen is constructed, it’s entirely possible there is nothing Barbato can do to avoid being sent down as part of the shuttle early in the season. He pitched very well in Spring Training though, and he’s got bat-missing stuff, so it looks like he has a chance to stick around long-term. With no Bryan Mitchell and no Aroldis Chapman, there’s an opportunity for Barbato to step up and assume some important innings. Assuming, of course, the Yankees don’t ship him to Triple-A for a fresh arm at some point.

4. Speaking of Mitchell, man does his injury suck. Both for the Yankees and Mitchell himself. The Yankees lost at worst a power-armed reliever and at best a piece of rotation depth. That hurts. The Yankees aren’t exactly loaded with rotation options at the moment. As for Mitchell, this season was a huge opportunity for him to establish himself at the big league level and in the team’s long-term plans. I really like him as a reliever — I’m not sure he can hack it as a starter without significantly improved command and/or changeup — and thought he had a chance to emerge as a trusted late-inning guy this summer. Replacing Adam Warren as the Swiss Army Reliever did not seem far-fetched at all. Injuries are part of baseball, but that’s too bad. Hopefully Mitchell can return in August and shove for eight weeks.

5. The Didi Gregorius home run got me irrationally excited. He hit it against a big time pitcher — that was only the fourth homer Ken Giles has allowed in 116.2 career innings — and it was the kind of pitch you expect hitters to punish. Look at the location:

Didi Gregorius home run

Every player sees a bunch of mistake pitches out over the plate like that each season. That’s baseball. Last year Gregorius was missing those pitches — maybe not missing, but he wasn’t doing major damage — and letting pitchers get away with mistakes. He didn’t hit his first home run of 2015 until his 61st game, remember. Didi hit .294/.345/.417 (109 wRC+) in the second half last season. He looked like a different hitter after the All-Star break and we’re all hoping it carries over to 2016. Gregorius is still only 26, you know. A young 26 too. (February birthday.) I think there’s still some untapped offensive potential in there.

6. I didn’t love the decision to sit Brett Gardner yesterday from a baseball perspective but I get it. Someone was going to sit in favor of Aaron Hicks — if it was Game 101 instead of Game 1, no one would think twice about it — and Gardner was the pick. It just seems like the decision was based 10% on what gave the team the best chance to win, and 90% on avoiding any sort of headache that would stem from sitting Jacoby Ellsbury again. That would be a big deal after the wildcard game. Sitting a high-profile player in a winner-take-all playoff game and then again on Opening Day would create a firestorm. That’s just the way the media is these days. I hate seeing stuff like that impact decisions, but it happens all the time, so the Yankees are hardly alone. Hopefully everyone hits this year and we can argue which outfielder should sit each game. You don’t want these decisions to be obvious.

7. Starlin Castro‘s movements and body language are very Robinson Cano like, are they not? Especially in the field. The way he scooped grounders and sidearmed the throw over to first base looked very much like Cano to me. Robbie had a smooth style of play and he made things look very easy on a baseball field. (As a result, lots of people called him lazy because he didn’t seem to be trying hard. Whatevs.) Castro is the same way. I’m not saying Starlin will be as good as Robbie one day, it’s unfair to hang that on the kid, but watching him at second base yesterday had a very familiar feel to it. It feel like Cano was back out there for a bit. I’m a weirdo, sorry.

Reds return Rule 5 Draft pick Jake Cave to Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Reds returned Rule 5 Draft pick and outfielder Jake Cave to the Yankees, the team announced. New York’s other Rule 5 Draft loss, lefty Evan Rutckyj, was returned by the Braves last month. So the Yankees got both their players back and picked up an extra $50,000 in the process. Not bad.

Cave, 23, hit .255/.349/.364 in Spring Training with the Reds this year. He started very well, going 8-for-23 (.347) in his first nine Cactus League games, before crashing and going 6-for-32 (.188) the rest of the way. I thought Cave had a pretty good chance to make the Reds anyway given their dearth of outfielders, but I guess not.

Last season Cave hit .276/.337/.356 (102 wRC+) with 25 doubles, two homers, and 17 steals in 134 games at mostly Double-A Trenton, but also some at Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees say they’ve assigned Cave to the Thunder. He’s already cleared waivers and all that, so he is no longer on the 40-man roster.

The Yankees have both Ben Gamel and Slade Heathcott at Triple-A Scranton, plus Mason Williams is on his way back from shoulder surgery, so their left-handed hitting outfielder depth chart is pretty stacked. It’s going to be tough — but not impossible — for Cave to break through and have an impact for the Yankees.