Mateo tops MLB.com’s top 30 Yankees prospects list

(Main St. Rock)
Mateo. (Main St. Rock)

Yesterday afternoon the crew at MLB.com published their list of the top 30 Yankees prospects, which is topped by SS Jorge Mateo. That’s not surprising based on their annual top 100 list. OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, and RHP James Kaprielian round out the top four, because duh. Who else would it be?

Jim Callis wrote a real quick system overview that’s worth checking out. As always, MLB.com’s prospect information is completely free. You can see the list, read the scouting reports, and watch all the videos for zero American dollars. It’s pretty awesome. Click the link for the complete top 30. Here’s the top ten real quick:

  1. Mateo
  2. Judge
  3. Sanchez
  4. Kaprielian
  5. SS Wilkerman Garcia
  6. OF Dustin Fowler
  7. RHP Domingo Acevedo
  8. SS Tyler Wade
  9. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  10. LHP Ian Clarkin

Looks good to me. I’m not the biggest Acevedo fan in the world — I ranked him 19th in my top 30 list — but I am in the minority. Sticking him in the top ten is not unreasonable. A few things stuck out to me while reading through the list and scouting reports, so here are my thoughts.

1. There are seven 2015 draftees in the top 30: Kaprielian, RHP Drew Finely (No. 16), RHP Chance Adams (No. 21), SS Kyle Holder (No. 23), LHP Jeff Degano (No. 24), 3B Donny Sands (No. 29), and OF Trey Amburgey (No. 30). Seven! That’s an awful lot for a team that had a pretty good farm system to begin with. Usually when so many recent draftees populate your top 30 it’s because your system stunk and you had few prospects to being with. Either that or you had a killer draft. I’m always wary of small sample performances when ranking recent draftees — Sands and Amburgey in particularly were great after signing — but the reports indicate the rankings are more scouting based than performance based, which is the way it should be. The Yankees tend to do a very good job in the middle rounds of the draft and MLB.com’s top 30 indicates they found some nice talent last year.

2. Speaking of Amburgey, the scouting report notes he “generates some of the best exit velocities among New York farmhands,” which is fun to read. I remember reading something similar about Judge a year or two ago. Following last year’s draft we heard Finley ranked among the best in the draft class in fastball spin rate, fastball extension, and curveball spin rate as measured by Trackman (i.e. PitchFX) at the 2014 Area Code Games. As fans and analysts we’re just now starting to use information like this and we don’t even fully understand it yet. Teams are already tracking this stuff for their minor leaguers and potential draft targets. You’ll never be able to scout prospects with just numbers, but all of this information can help you confirm reports, raise some questions, identify a sleeper, stuff like that. The more information the better, and that definitely extends into the minors too.

3. OF Leonardo Molina fascinates me more than maybe any other prospect in the system. He hasn’t hit much in his two years in pro ball (75 wRC+ in 410 plate appearances) but MLB.com’s scouting report says “scouts remain dazzled by his potential.” Here’s a little more of the scouting report:

Molina’s quick right-handed bat and his projectable strength give him the potential for plus power. While he has yet to enjoy much success at the plate, he shows signs of pitch recognition and doesn’t swing and miss excessively. Add in his plus speed, and he could be a 20-20 player once he matures physically and as a hitter … Molina’s speed and well-above-average arm allow him to play any of the outfield positions. He’s still learning how to make proper reads and routes but should be able to stay in center field.

That’s the scouting report of a future star, but because he hasn’t hit yet and is still so far from MLB — Molina is still only 18 and he’s yet to play outside rookie ball — he’s not a top prospect. A year or two ago I read something that described Molina as the kind of prospect who could take small steps forward each year and develop incrementally, though in my non-expert opinion I feel the opposite may be true. He strikes me as the kind of prospect where it might just click all of a sudden and bam, he’s a top 100 caliber guy overnight. Either way, folks who glance at stat lines are missing what Molina (and 3B Miguel Andujar, for that matter) has the potential to be.

If you’re interested, Callis held a Twitter chat yesterday and took a bunch of Yankees prospects questions, so scroll through his feed for some more info. He mentioned OF Jhalan Jackson and 1B Chris Gittens as sleepers. Jackson seems a little too well known to be considered a sleeper at this point.

Thoughts as position players report to Spring Training

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Position players are scheduled to report to Tampa today for Spring Training, and tomorrow the Yankees will hold their first full squad workout. Many of the position players reported to camp early, but today it’s all official. And one week from today, the Yankees will play their first Grapefruit League game. Hooray for that. I have thoughts.

1. I’m not the only one sick of all this Aroldis Chapman stuff, right? Commissioner Rob Manfred is taking a very long time to hand out the suspension and I understand why. This is a sensitive subject and he has to toe the line between setting a harsh precedent and not going overboard so the league loses an appeal. I’m just a baseball fan who just wants to watch baseball and be a fan. Every day we get a non-update about the suspension or learn some mundane detail about how the domestic violence policy works. This is Biogenesis all over again, except with a much more serious offense. A suspension is inevitable — MLB is not going to let a player go unpunished after police were called to his home because of an argument in which he fired a gun in anger, this is exactly the sort of incident the domestic violence policy is intended to cover — and I really hope it is announced soon, however long it may be. This is distraction not only for the Yankees and Chapman, but the entire league.

2. Yesterday Cliff Lee’s agent told Ken Rosenthal his client is unlikely to pitch again after being unable to find a suitable offer this winter. Lee, now 37, has not pitched since the middle of the 2014 season due to a flexor injury, but he was open to pitching in 2016 if he could find a good situation. Apparently one never presented itself. The Yankees didn’t have any interest in the southpaw this offseason as far as we know. Anyway, over the last six or seven seasons Lee probably had the most impact on the Yankees among players who didn’t actually play for the Yankees. The Yankees beat Lee and the Phillies in the 2009 World Series. Then of course there was the failed trade in 2010. And then Lee and the Rangers beat the Yankees in the 2010 ALCS. And then the Yankees tried and failed to sign him during the 2010-11 offseason, which changed the team’s short and long-term outlook considerably. It’s impossible to say how different everything would be right now had the trade gone through in 2010, or if Lee ends up with a team other than Texas, or if he does agree to sign with the Yankees that offseason. He was an artist on the mound and a bonafide ace, and for the first time, Lee made many Yankees fans experience the team not getting a player they coveted.

3. Today is Starlin Castro‘s first day on the field as a Yankee and he’s an important part of the organization going forward as they try this rebuild on the fly thing. The team made a pretty significant investment in Castro and took on quite a bit of risk. They gave up a valuable player in Adam Warren and assumed roughly $40M in future salary. None of the other retooling trades required that kind of commitment. Starlin is still incredibly young — he’s a month younger than Didi Gregorius — and his potential is so very obvious. He’s had some really productive seasons in his career. That’s why the Yankees went out and got him. Two of his last three seasons have been bad though (legitimately bad), and that’s the risk. What if Castro is just a guy who peaked early? It’s possible. If this rebuild on the fly thing is going to work, the Yankees will need Starlin to get back to where he was a few years ago, because the 2013-15 version was thoroughly mediocre.

4. I’m curious to see how the Yankees dole out innings during exhibition games. Traditionally the relievers with the best chance to make the team pitch early in the game, mostly because the coaching staff and front office want to see them against big league players. All the regulars are out of the game by the fifth or sixth inning most days. The Yankees have a few open bullpen spots and a ton of bullpen candidates, yet there are only so many innings to go around. Early in camp, before the starters are really stretched out, it’ll be interesting to see which relievers are brought into the game first. That could be an indication of which way the Yankees are leaning with those open bullpen spots.

Olson. (Presswire)
Olson. (Presswire)

5. Random reliever who will have a big camp: Tyler Olson. Don’t ask me why. It’s just a hunch. Olson had a big camp with the Mariners last season — 15 strikeouts, no walks, no earned runs allowed in 12.2 innings — and made the team, then got hammered (5.40 ERA and 6.36 FIP in 13.1 innings) during the regular season and was demoted to Triple-A. So it goes. I could see him having a weirdly great Grapefruit League season and getting consideration for a bullpen spot. Olson is a pure lefty specialist with an upper-80s fastball, a sweepy breaking ball, and a funky low arm slot. The Yankees don’t really have a need for a lefty specialist — Andrew Miller figures to face the toughest lefties in the late-innings — but who knows. They like Olson enough to keep him on the 40-man roster, so he’ll get a chance to show he can contribute in camp. He fits the “I have no idea why he’s on the 40-man but wow is he having a great spring” mold perfectly.

6. These things are always tough to pin down, but based on his transaction history, it does appear Carlos Corporan has a minor league option remaining. If true, his late-March opt-out may not be that big of a deal. The Yankees would be able to add him to the 40-man roster and option him down to Triple-A — they can slide Greg Bird to the 60-day DL, so they wouldn’t have to cut ties with anyone to clear a 40-man spot — allowing them to carry Gary Sanchez as the backup catcher and keep Corporan in the organization as depth. It’s a different story if he’s out of options. I still think the Yankees should send Sanchez to Triple-A for a few weeks to delay his free agency, and if that allows them to keep Corporan for a few extra weeks, great. Holding on to catcher depth is never a bad move.

7. You may have seen it by now, but if not, David Ortiz told Kevin Kernan he “would love it if the fans at Yankee Stadium gave me a standing ovation” this season. Ortiz is retiring after the season and the Red Sox will be in the Bronx in late-September, for the second-to-last series of the season. I do expect the Yankees to do something to honor Ortiz — the Red Sox did something for Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, after all — but man, could you imagine Jeter or Mo saying they would love an ovation at Fenway Park? Not a chance. Like it not, Ortiz is a historically great player, and he’s earned whatever accolades he gets this season. Saying he’d love a standing ovation at Yankee Stadium is kinda small time though. Chances are he’s going to end up with the exact opposite now.

Open Thread: February 23rd Camp Notes

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Here’s a pretty fun story from Jared Diamond. The Yankees are starting their Spring Training workouts much later than usual this year, with players not getting on the field until 11:30am ET most days. Other clubs are close to wrapping up their workouts at that time. The goal is simply more sleep. The Yankees want their players to rest as much as possible and prepare for a season in which most games are played at night. Pretty cool stuff. Make sure you check it out. Here are today’s photos and here are today’s notes from camp:

  • Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. The big three relievers and CC Sabathia all threw bullpen sessions while non-roster guys Tyler Cloyd and Richard Bleier threw live batting practice. That’s about it. Seems like a light day in Tampa.
  • Aroldis Chapman returned to camp today after yesterday’s excused absence. He said he was “home taking care of personal things” in Miami and not meeting with MLB about his domestic violence incident. “I never hurt anybody. Never in my life. That’s not my character,” he said while reiterating he plans to appeal any punishment. [Marly Rivera, Diamond]
  • Greg Bird was in camp today and he recently got the okay to shed his sling following right shoulder surgery. He still has to shake hands left-handed though. [Billy Witz]
  • If you’re interested, David Dorsey has an update on former Yankee John Ryan Murphy, who is beginning his first camp with the Twins. “Initially, I was shocked. I didn’t know it was going to happen,” said Murphy when asked about the trade. Based on the video, JRM has not yet grown the traditional post-Yankees beard, though I’m not sure he’d able to if he tried.

Here is tonight’s open thread. Every local hockey and basketball team is in action except the Knicks, and there’s also some college hoops on the schedule as well. You know what to do.

Sherman: Yankees extensively renovating and upgrading minor league complex

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees are currently in the middle of extensive renovations to the Himes minor league complex in Tampa. It’s literally only a block or two away from George M. Steinbrenner Field. The Yankees moved into the Tampa complex in the early-1990s and these are by far the largest upgrades they’ve made, says Sherman.

Here are the details of the renovations and upgrades:

There are four indoor, air-conditioned batting cages already under construction at the complex – across the street from Steinbrenner Field. And groundbreaking begins Tuesday on an additional six indoor cages.

In addition, a weight room is scheduled to be built that will mirror the state-of-the-art qualities of the ones the major leaguers use at Steinbrenner Field. The main office structure is scheduled to have a second floor added to house offices, meeting rooms and a classroom for Latin players. The Yankees are among teams trying to better care for the young Latin players in the areas of education and life skills. The team hired a full-time teacher for its Dominican academy and has hired an education coordinator that will oversee the entire system.

Two years ago the Yankees made other renovations to the Tampa complex, including refurbishing all fields and adding a building to house offices and a cafeteria for players. This might all be one huge renovation plan that is being constructed in stages. Doesn’t really matter.

The Yankees have not added much Major League payroll in recent years and they are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold in the near future, but give them credit, they’ve spent a ton of money behind the scenes the last few years. They’re upgrading the minor league complex big time, they added two new minor league affiliates (GCL2 and Pulaski), and there was the massive international spending spree in 2014.

You’d be surprised how many teams keep things status quo in the minors. Improving player development conditions are a way to gain a competitive advantage. The Yankees treat their players well and give them access to state-of-the-art facilities. It helps their current prospects and it could even help them lure players in the future, particularly international free agents. This is good stuff. It’s a great way for the Yankees to use their financial might.

Healthy Ivan Nova could help the Yankees as a depth arm in his contract year

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By any objective measure, the last two seasons have been a disaster for Ivan Nova. He was limited to 21 starts and 114.2 innings from 2014-15, his age 27-28 seasons, because of Tommy John surgery, and during those 114.2 innings he had a 5.65 ERA (5.24 FIP). Obviously the surgery and performance are related to some degree. Nova wasn’t healthy in 2014 and he was shaking off the rust in 2015.

Nova, now 29, reported to Spring Training last week as the sixth starter on the depth chart. Brian Cashman all but confirmed whoever doesn’t win a rotation job in camp will be the long man to start the season, and right now Nova is that guy. Being the sixth starter stinks, but it’s not all bad. Inevitably the Yankees are going to need a sixth starter. Last season 25 of the 30 teams had six starters make at least ten starts.

Regardless of role, the 2016 season is huge for Nova on a personal level because it’s his contract year, and I’m sure he wants that Ian Kennedy money next winter. Baseball pays very well, but, relatively speaking, Nova has not yet cashed in big. He received an $80,000 bonus as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic, made next to nothing in minors, and will earn a total of $8.2M or so during his six years of team control.

“He’s getting ready for his free-agent walk year. If there’s going to be a time for him to put his best foot forward, if he’s on a salary drive, this would be the year for it. Hopefully we’ll benefit from it,” said Cashman to Brendan Kuty earlier this month. Money is a great motivator and baseball players are human. Of course they put forth their very best effort in their contract years. There’s no reason to think Nova will be any different.

Nova does not have a rotation spot at the moment, though I figure that opportunity will come in time. What he does have going for him is health, at least to the extent any pitcher can have health in their favor. Nova will open the season roughly 23 months out from Tommy John surgery, and typically it takes pitchers a few months to get all the way back from elbow reconstruction. Everyone is different of course, but many need a little time to get back to normal.

“We felt that we would see a different guy this year. I was impressed with his bullpen today. I saw an arm that was very quick, probably better than any point we saw last year. I think the time off really helped him and you will see a different guy,” said Joe Girardi to George King yesterday. The other day Nova himself told Chad Jennings his arm feels “lighter” this spring than it did last season.

Even before the Tommy John surgery, Nova was unpredictable and his career had a lot of ups and downs. He had a 3.70 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 165.1 innings in 2011. Then he had a 5.02 ERA (4.60 FIP) in 170.1 innings in 2012. And then he had a 3.10 ERA (3.47 FIP) in 139.1 innings in 2013. It was impossible to know which Nova would show up start to start, nevermind year to year. Like lots of other young pitchers, Nova’s performance was volatile.

The Yankees spent much of the offseason exploring trades for Nova despite their questionable rotation depth, and I don’t blame them. It’s hard to count on him to be reliable and it’s possible the team will lose him to free agency for nothing next offseason. That said, I do think keeping Nova was a smart move. No one blew the Yankees away with an offer and Ivan figures to be more valuable to the team as a depth arm than any middling prospect he’d return in a deal.

Given his history, it’s easy to be skeptical of Nova’s ability to help the Yankees in 2016. I’d be lying if I said I was confident he’ll be a valuable member of the staff. I do know the Yankees are almost certainly going to need him to step in to make some starts at some point, and that alone makes him pretty important. That he’s further removed from Tommy John surgery and presumably motivated by his upcoming free agency at least gives us some reason to think Nova will be able to perform much better this season than he did last.

Keeping the slider down can help Severino get to the next level in 2016

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees currently have six starters for five rotation spots, yet of the five, only Luis Severino did not miss time with an injury last season. The 22-year-old came up in August and made eleven mostly excellent starts, and now he’s slated to be a full-time member of the rotation in 2016. That’s exciting. The Yankees haven’t had a young MLB pitcher this promising in almost a decade.

Severino is still just a kid of course, and inevitably there will be growing pains at some point. That’s just the way it is. Hitters will adjust to him and he’ll have to adjust back, and then they’ll do it all over again, hopefully for years and years and years. Severino had a 2.89 ERA (137 ERA+) in his 62.1 innings last year, but his 1.3 HR/9 and 4.37 FIP show there is room for improvement.

“Oh, he could get better. The consistency of his pitches. The command of his fastball. And all of that will happen has he smooths out his delivery, which it seems like he has quite a bit,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to Brendan Kuty. Severino flew through the minors — he made 65 starts and threw 320.2 innings in the minors, which is nothing — so of course he’s going to have to work on consistency and things like that.

Severino came to the big leagues billed as a three-pitch pitcher and we saw exactly that last year. He’s got a lively fastball, a promising slider, and a changeup that fell off the table when he threw it properly. Looking over the PitchFX data, there are plenty of positives to take from last season (MLB averages in parentheses).

% Thrown Avg. Velo. Whiff% GB%
Fastball 51.4% 95.8 (92.4) 8.2% (6.9%) 45.3% (37.9%)
Slider 34.1% 89.6 (84.2) 8.9% (15.2%) 58.1% (43.9%)
Changeup 14.6% 88.6 (83.3) 19.3% (14.9%) 63.2% (47.8%)

Almost all of that looks good. Severino throws all three pitches regularly and they all have well-above-average velocity, and they all get a lot of ground balls too. The fastball and changeup generated swings and misses at an above-average rate as well. The slider? Not so much.

The swing-and-miss rate on Severino’s slider was a real eyesore last season. It was far below the league average, which seems impossible after watching him live, but the numbers don’t lie. “His third pitch is a mid-80s slider thrown with power, which still takes a back seat to his fastball and changeup but projects as solid average when he’s finished developing,” said Baseball America (subs. req’d) in their scouting report prior to 2015.

The slider — specifically the ability to get whiffs with the slider — is something Severino could really improve going forward. Don’t take that as a knock. Severino was pretty awesome last season. Imagine how much more awesome he can be if he can start generating some more empty swings with his slider. He knows it’s something that can be improved too.

“My breaking stuff (can improve). Pounding the zone, throwing strikes. Getting down in the zone, throwing my breaking ball down in the zone,” said Severino to Kuty when asked about how he can get better going forward. Getting the ball down is always a good idea, and Severino ostensibly did a good job of that considering his overall ground ball rate (50.9%), but take a look at his slider pitch locations specifically (click for a larger view):

Luis Severino slider locations

That’s an awful lot of sliders up and in the zone. Ideally Severino would bury the slider down and away to righties and down and in to lefties. Last summer David Laurila culled some quotes about backup sliders, which are surprisingly effectively because they’re hard to pick up and they don’t move the way the hitter expects …

Adam Warren backup slider

… but Severino wasn’t throwing backup sliders. He was simply missing his spot, especially when you consider how many sliders were up and away to lefties. (It took me way too long to find an example of an effective backup slider. Nothing from Severino, nothing from Michael Pineda, nothing from Masahiro Tanaka, so down the line I went until I got to the now departed Adam Warren.)

Give the effectiveness of his fastball and changeup, the slider figures to be a focal point for Severino going forward, both in Spring Training and continuing into the season. The pitch has pretty good action, we saw it last year, but right now Severino elevates it a little too often, which causes problems. Once he is able to consistently locate his slider down, he’ll get more swings and misses, and it could also improve the effectiveness of his fastball. Nathan Eovaldi’s fastball played up once he emphasized the splitter. Same could happen with Severino and an improved slidepiece.

The Yankees are going to need Severino to pitch effectively this season in order to contend, even though he just turned 22 and will have to endure the usual growing pains associated with young pitchers. His workload will be monitored, stuff like that. Severino’s stuff is very good as it is, but there is an obvious way he can improve the effectiveness of his slider, and that’s by keeping it down in the zone. If he can begin to do that consistently, he’ll inch closer to his ceiling as a frontline starter.

Jose Bautista’s free agency and the way the Yankees used to do business

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Position players have not even reported to camp yet and already Spring Training has become monotonous. We’re just kinda going through the motions and waiting for Grapefruit League games to begin next week. As far as the Yankees are concerned, things have been quiet. No news is good news in mid-February.

Things are not so quiet elsewhere in the AL East. Impending free agent Jose Bautista told reporters yesterday he recently met with the Blue Jays and laid out exactly what it will take to sign him to an extension. He also said he’s not giving them any sort of hometown discount. From Shi Davidi:

“I’m not willing to negotiate even right now,” he said. “I don’t think there should be any negotiation. I think I’ve proved myself and the question has been asked, what will it take, and I’ve given them an answer. It is what it is. I’m not going to sit here and try to bargain for a couple dollars.”

“I didn’t want to waste any time,” he said. “If this is going to happen, I think it should be natural, organic, quick and easy, it shouldn’t be a pull and tug about a few dollars here or there. I didn’t want to waste any time, I didn’t want to waste their time or their effort, so they can start planning ahead, and if it’s not going to happen they have plenty of time to do so … There’s no negotiation, I told them what I wanted. They either meet it or it is what it is.”

I’m sure the Blue Jays appreciate Bautista being up front, but that’s bad news for them. Unless Toronto ups payroll considerably — they certainly have the ability to do so, Rogers Communication is frickin’ massive — the team might not be able to sign their franchise cornerstone after the season.

A few years ago — perhaps even as recently as two or three years ago — Bautista’s comments would have been music to our ears. Bautista is the perfect Yankees free agent target. He hits dingers, he gets on base, he’s been through the AL East grind, he’d help balance the lineup as a right-handed hitter, and he’s step right into right field to replace Carlos Beltran. He’s perfect. Aaron Judge? Who needs Aaron Judge when you can have Jose Bautista. Sign Bautista and trade Judge for an arm. It’s a win-win.

That’s the way the Yankees used to do business. Sign the big name free agent who fits the roster so wonderfully and to hell with the prospect (who, by the way, also fits the roster wonderfully). The Yankees signed Jason Giambi when they had an elite first base prospect knocking on the door in Nick Johnson. Why? Because Giambi was a boss and Johnson was an unknown, and the Yankees weren’t in the business of the unknown. They wanted stars.

Of course, the Bautista contract would be a land mine. He turns 36 years old in October and it’s probably doing to take something like three years and $25M per season to sign him. Maybe even a fourth guaranteed year if he winds up on the open market. All the goodwill he built in Toronto would be useless to the Yankees. The Blue Jays got his best years and New York would get the ugly decline. The contract would be almost all downside.

That old way of thinking — sign the big free agent and who cares about everything else — is no more, at least for the time being. Maybe the Yankees will go back to doing business that way down the line. Right now the Yankees are skewing young whenever possible and trying to create financial flexibility. Financial flexibility for what? Who knows. Maybe Bryce Harper, maybe Manny Machado and Matt Harvey, maybe Hal Steinbrenner’s summer home. Either way, the Yankees are now avoiding the kind of big money deal it would take to acquire the last few seasons of Bautista’s career.

Remember when CC Sabathia was entering his walk year? We hung on every word about a possible extension. Yet when Bautista’s comments came out yesterday, it barely registered as a blip on the radar in Yankeeland. We’ve all grown accustomed to the way team does business now. On paper, Bautista fits the roster well, and yesterday’s news seems to make it more likely he will hit the open market next winter. Bautista’s free agency would of interest to the old Yankees. These new Yankees don’t build their roster that way and for good reason.