2015 Draft: Brady Aiken leaves start with injury, Yankees among teams in attendance

Last Thursday, left-hander and 2014 first overall pick Brady Aiken left his start for IMG Academy with an unconfirmed injury. The Astros did not sign Aiken as the top pick last year due to concerns about his elbow. Aiken opted to attend IMG for a post-graduate year so he could enter the 2015 draft rather than go to college and wait until the 2017 draft.

Aiken, 18, left Thursday’s start after only 12 pitches. The home plate umpire told Josh Norris it was an arm problem — “The last pitch was a curveball. I don’t know if that’s related … But that’s all I heard, that he had a little bit of tightness in his arm. That’s what he told his coaching staff,” said the ump — but nothing has been confirmed. In fact, Keith Law hears Aiken may make his next start, indicating the injury is not serious.

Yankees amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer was among the 75-100 scouts on hand for Aiken’s outing, reports Norris. New York holds the 16th overall pick this year and a healthy Aiken won’t make it that far. Here’s a snippet of MLB.com’s scouting report on Aiken, who they ranked as the third best prospect in the 2015 draft:

Aiken had no physical problems as a senior at San Diego’s Cathedral Catholic High, showing advanced command of a fastball that sat at 92-94 mph and reached 97. He added more power and depth to his curveball and displayed one of the best changeups in the 2014 Draft, featuring deception and tumbling action … Aiken also earned points for his makeup.

Healthy Aiken is, at worst, a top five pick in this year’s relatively thin draft class. Injured Aiken is another matter. His draft slot would depend on the severity of the injury. The Astros agreed to sign him for $6.5M last year but backed out after his physical due to a concern about his ulnar collateral ligament and the possibility of Tommy John surgery in the near future.

There is plenty of precedent for drafting a pitcher with a damaged UCL. The Yankees drafted Andrew Brackman in the first round of the 2007 draft knowing he’d need his elbow rebuild, for example. The Nationals selected Lucas Giolito with the 16th pick in 2012 knowing he’d need Tommy John surgery as well. Giolito was a first overall pick candidate before his elbow started barking, and he has since developed into the game’s top pitching prospect. Jeff Hoffman (ninth overall) and Erick Fedde (18th) were first rounders last year after having Tommy John surgery just weeks before the draft.

The Yankees were scouting Aiken because they scout everyone — even if they know they are unlikely to have a chance to draft him, they still want to they keep track of his development in case he becomes available in a trade or as a free agent down the road — and I think they would jump at the chance to draft him 16th overall, healthy elbow or not. They never get a chance to select the top draft talents and Aiken is right up their alley as big (6-foot-4, 205 lbs.) power lefty with command. The elbow would make him risky, no doubt, but the reward is potentially great.

Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and the Yankees’ Latest Pair of Elite Relievers [2015 Season Preview]

In each of the last four seasons and in five of the last six seasons overall, Joe Girardi had the luxury of having two top shelf relievers in his bullpen. The tandem has changed over the years — it was Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes in 2009, Rivera and David Robertson in 2011, Rafael Soriano and Robertson in 2012, Rivera and Robertson in 2013, and Robertson and Dellin Betances in 2014 — though there were always two high-end relievers for Girardi to turn to in the late innings.

The tandem has again changed heading into 2015. Robertson was allowed to leave as a free agent and the Yankees signed ex-Red Sox southpaw Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36M contract to replace him. New York saved $2.5M per season by replacing Robertson with Miller and gained a supplemental first round draft pick in the process. Losing a stud homegrown Yankees sucks, like really sucks, but it was an understandable set of baseball moves.

Miller joins Betances to again give Girardi a pair of elite relievers, this time one righty and one lefty. Girardi has yet to name a closer with Opening Day two weeks away — he’s hinted at using co-closers but I think that’s unlikely — and my hunch is Betances will get the job heading into the season. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Both Betances and Miller are capable of closing and both will be counted on in the late innings of close games.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dellin’s Dominance: So Good It’s Close To Impossible To Repeat

I’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating for no reason other than because it’s fun: Betances’ career path is eerily similar to Rivera’s. Both were good starting pitching prospects in the minors who shifted to the bullpen during their age 25 season, dominated as multi-inning setup men during their first full MLB season at age 26, then took over the ninth inning in their age 27 season after the Yankees let their veteran closer depart as a free agent. Well, we’re assuming Betances will take over as closer, but you catch my drift. Freakishly similar career paths.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Betances will be the next Rivera and we shouldn’t think about him that way either. It’s not fair to him. He’s not the next Rivera, he’s the first Betances. Dellin was by far the most exciting Yankees development last year, pitching to a 1.40 ERA (1.64 FIP) with an elite strikeout rate (13.5 K/9 and 39.6 K%) to go along with better than average walk (2.40 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) and ground ball (46.6%) rates in 90 innings. Ninety innings! Betances was the best reliever in baseball in terms of bWAR (3.7) and fWAR (3.2) in 2014.

Dellin set the bar impossibly high last year. So high that I find it hard to believe he could do it again in 2015. Does that mean I expect him to stink? No! I fully expect Betances to dominate and again be one of the top bullpeners in the game in 2015. It just means I don’t think he’ll be that good again. Only 27 relievers in history have had a season with a sub-2.00 ERA and a sub-2.00 FIP while throwing at least 50 innings in baseball history. Only six have done it twice. (Rivera was not one of those six!) It’s hard to do what Dellin did once. It’s even harder to repeat it.

Betances has been out of sorts in Spring Training — his first two outings were typical Dellin but he’s allowed one run on two hits in each of his last two times out — but I’m not particularly concerned with that. His fastball has been mostly mid-90s rather than high-90s like we saw at the end of last year, but he was sitting mid-90s at the outset of last season as well (via Brooks Baseball):

Dellin Betances 2014 velocityDellin’s curveball … or slurve … or slider … or whatever the hell we’re calling it these days seems to have been giving him the most trouble. He simply hasn’t had much control over it, so hopefully he irons that out before the season starts in two days. Betances’ history as a prospect with basically zero control in the minors is always going to be in the back of my mind, but two Grapefruit League outings aren’t enough of a cause for concern to me.

Regardless of whether he closes or sets up, Betances will be Girardi’s ace right-handed reliever this year and someone he relies on for huge outs. I don’t think we’ll see him make as many multi-inning appearances this summer simply because throwing 90 innings out of the bullpen year after year isn’t a thing that happens anymore, though Girardi can certainly use Dellin for six outs on occasion. Given the plan to win close games with pitching and defense, Betances is a crucial piece of the 2015 Yankees.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The New Guy: Not Just A Lefty Specialist

Aside from Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller was arguably the best left-handed reliever in baseball last season. He was outstanding, posting a 2.02 ERA (1.51 FIP) in 62.1 innings with a better strikeout rate than Betances (14.87 K/9 and 42.6 K%) and comparable walk (2.45 BB/9 and 7.0 BB%) and ground ball (46.9%) rates. It was the best season of Miller’s career but it would be a mistake to call it his only good year. To wit:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB%
2012 40.1 3.35 3.17 30.2% 11.8% 43.2%
2013 30.2 2.64 3.05 35.6% 12.6% 56.1%
2014 62.1 2.02 1.51 42.6% 7.0% 46.9%
2012-14 133.1 2.57 2.37 37.0% 9.9% 47.8%

Miller missed the start of the 2012 season with a hamstring injury and the end of the 2013 season with a ligament issue in his foot. (He didn’t pitch in the postseason that year.) He was healthy all of last year and those aren’t arm injuries, so they aren’t much of a concern going forward.

Anyway, Miller has consistently improved since moving into the bullpen full-time at Bobby Valentine’s behest in 2012. He was a high draft pick who never could get his mechanics right as a starter, but it’s clicked in the bullpen and his mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider combo is lethal. Robertson, by the way, had a 2.59 ERA (2.59 FIP!) in 191.1 innings from 2012-14, so Miller was on par with New York’s ex-relief ace on a rate basis.

Left-handers have a way of getting pigeonholed into small roles in the bullpen, specifically left-on-left matchup guys. Miller is way too good for that though and I’m certain Girardi knows it. Miller is a late-inning reliever who can face righties and lefties just like Betances. He just so happens to throw left-handed. Here are his splits since moving into the bullpen:

IP K% BB% GB% FIP wOBA
vs. LHP 66.0 40.1% 7.6% 40.9% 1.90 .236
vs. RHP 67.1 34.2% 12.0% 54.2% 2.82 .258

It’s no surprise Miller has been better against lefties than righties these last three years — between his stuff and low-ish arm angle, lefty hitters have basically no chance against this guy, he’s the bullpen version of Randy Johnson — though he’s been better than good against batters of the opposite hand. A few too many walks against righties, sure, but lots of strikeouts and lots of grounders too. This isn’t someone Girardi will have the shelter against righties late in a close game. Miller’s someone Girardi should want to use in those spots.

There’s really no wrong answer for the eighth and ninth innings in close games. The only wrong answer is one that doesn’t involve Betances or Miller. Both are capable late-inning relievers and I assume one will close and one will setup. Co-closers is nice in theory but I’m going to have to see that one before believing the Yankees would actually do it. Betances and Miller are the best righty-lefty bullpen combination in the game, and like Rivera/Robertson in the past or Robertson/Betances last year, these two are going to log a lot of important inning in close games. That’s the 2015 recipe.

Spring Training Game Thread: Mitchell’s Last Chance?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By all accounts, the competition for the fifth starter’s spot is a two-man race between Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers. This afternoon’s start against the Nationals might be Bryan Mitchell‘s last chance to make some sort of statement and force his way into the fifth starter conversation. Or maybe his last chance to remain in the conversation for a big league roster spot in general, rotation or bullpen.

Mitchell has allowed four runs on eighth hits in four innings so far this spring, striking out four and walking one. The 23-year-old could use some more Triple-A time to work on his command, though I doubt he sees it that way. He wants to earn a big league job this spring, or at least make a good enough impression that he’s the first one called up when an extra starter is needed. If someone in Mitchell’s position isn’t thinking like that, then what’s the point of showing up to camp?

Today’s reason to watch: Mitchell, mostly. He needs to have a great outing to push his way into the fifth starter’s race and I’m not even sure that will be enough. An okay outing definitely won’t cut it. There’s also a nice crop of prospect power relievers slated to come out of the bullpen this afternoon. Chasen Shreve is scheduled to pitch again after pitching yesterday, making this his first set of back-to-back games in camp. Also, Bryce Harper’s playing for the Nats. That’ll be fun.

The Yankees are all the way on the other side of Florida to play the Nationals in Viera. Many of the minor leaguers who played in yesterday afternoon’s game stayed in a hotel last night rather than bus all the way to Tampa last night and back to Florida’s east coast again this morning. Here is Washington’s lineup and here is Joe Girardi‘s starting nine:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Chris Young
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. 1B Garrett Jones
  5. DH John Ryan Murphy
  6. SS Brendan Ryan
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  9. 3B Nick Noonan
    RHP Bryan Mitchell

Available Position Players: C Austin Romine, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Dan Fiorito, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Tyler Austin, CF Ramon Flores, RF Slade Heathcott, and DH Eddy Rodriguez will be the second string off the bench. IF Ali Castillo and C Kyle Higashioka are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: RHP Kyle Davies, RHP Jose Ramirez, LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Nick Rumbelow, and LHP Chasen Shreve are all scheduled to pitch after Mitchell. RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Branden Pinder, RHP Kyle Haynes, RHP Cesar Vargas, and LHP Fred Lewis are the extra arms.

It’s pouring in Tampa, so it’s a good thing this game is on the other side of the state. There is a chance of rain in Viera though, meaning the game could be sloppy, delayed, or even cancelled. We’ll just have to wait and see. If they do play, this afternoon’s game is scheduled to begin 1:05pm ET and you can watch live on both MLB Network and MLB.tv. Neither will be blacked out in the team’s home market. Also, if you’re in the Nationals’ market, you can watch on MASN. Enjoy the game, y’all.

Padres have interest in Austin Romine, who hasn’t done enough to claim backup catcher spot

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Through the first three weeks of Grapefruit League play, Austin Romine has not forced the Yankees to consider using him as the backup catcher when the regular season begins in two weeks. Romine was going to have to have a huge spring for the team to take him north instead of John Ryan Murphy and it simply hasn’t happened.

Romine, 26, comes into today having gone 4-for-21 (.190) with one double this spring, and the Yankees have given him the opportunity to show what he could do. Romine has basically the same number of plate appearances as Murphy this spring (23 to 24) and he’s caught more innings (48 to 44). Only Brian McCann has seen more playing time among catchers.

All that playing time was both an opportunity and a showcase. Romine had a chance to show the Yankees he was a better option to back up McCann than Murphy as well as show other teams he was worth a spot on their roster. We heard the Phillies have interest in Romine ten days ago and now George King reports the Padres have interest as well.

San Diego’s interest in Romine makes sense — the Padres just lost backup catcher Tim Federowicz for the season with a knee injury that turned out to be more severe than expected. Derek Norris is the only healthy catcher on their 40-man roster, and while they do have ex-Yankee Wil Nieves in camp as a non-roster player (yes, Nieves is still playing), they surely want to add another backstop.

As I said when we learned about Philadelphia’s interest two weeks ago, the Yankees are unlikely to get much in return for Romine at this point. Fringe big leaguers who are out of minor league options don’t have much trade value. None of San Diego’s out of options players figure to be realistically available, so any trade sending Romine to San Diego would probably bring a marginal prospect or cash to the Bronx. Such is life.

Opening Day is still two weeks away, so there’s no rush to trade Romine. There’s plenty of time for a catching injury to strike and change the trade market. That includes the Yankees — McCann or Murphy could go down unexpectedly and clear a roster spot for Romine. For now, Romine hasn’t forced the Yankees to seriously consider him for the backup catcher job, making a trade before the start of the season likely.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 23rd, 2015

Record Last Week: 3-3 (31 RS, 26 RA)
Grapefruit League Record: 12-8-1 (82 RS, 70 RA)
Opponents This Week: @ Nationals (Mon. on MLBN, MLB.tv), vs. Tigers (Tues. on YES, MLBN, MLB.tv), vs. Mets (Weds. on YES, MLBN, MLB.tv), @ Rays (Thurs. on MLB.tv), @ Phillies (Fri. on MLB.tv), vs. Orioles (Sat. on YES, MLBN, MLB.tv), @ Astros (Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the “Features” menu in the nav bar above or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Open Thread: March 22nd Camp Notes

The Yankees were three-hit by Matt Harvey and the Mets this afternoon, losing 6-0. CC Sabathia allowed four runs on five hits in 2.2 innings, including three homers. One of the homers was an inside the park job when Jose Pirela crashed into the outfield wall. Sabathia struck out four and was again sitting in the low-90s, which was good to see. I’m not too worried he’s leaving fastballs up after a ten-month layoff. He needs to get that ironed out though, sooner rather than later.

Mark Teixeira, John Ryan Murphy, and Nick Noonan had the three hits, all singles. Chase Headley drew a walk. Teixeira also stole second base for some reason. That seems like an unnecessary risk on March 22nd given his injury issues. Scott Baker allowed one hit across 4.1 scoreless innings and Chasen Shreve allowed two runs on three hits in 0.2 innings. One of the two runs came on Eric Campbell’s solo homer. Campbell’s a righty hitter. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here’s the rest from Tampa:

  • While the Yankees were on Florida’s east coast, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran were back in Tampa getting at-bats in minor league camp. A-Rod went 2-for-5 and Beltran went 2-for-4 with a walk, if you’re interested. Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, and Chase Whitley were among the guys scheduled to throw bullpen sessions. [Bryan Hoch, Brendan Kuty]
  • Betances will pitch Tuesday and Wednesday, his first set of back-to-back games this spring. Joe Girardi continues to decline to name a closer, meanwhile. “It’s kind of on the backburner for us,” he when asked about a timetable to name a ninth inning guy. [Hoch, Chad Jennings]
  • And finally, Brett Gardner was offered Derek Jeter‘s old locker since he is the longest tenured homegrown Yankee. “I told (equipment manager Rob Cucuzza) I thought he should leave it vacant. But he said he can’t leave it vacant forever, obviously,” said Gardner. What does Girardi think about someone taking Jeter’s spot so soon? “It’s a locker.” Yup. [Ken Davidoff]

This is your open thread for the evening. If you want to see Sabathia’s outing for yourself, this afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET and both SNY and MLB Network at 8pm ET. The Knicks are playing right now, the (hockey) Rangers players play a little later tonight, and there’s a whole bunch of college hoops on as well. You folks know what to do with these threads by now, so have at it.

Update: Jose Pirela suffers concussion after colliding with outfield wall

7:21pm: The MRI showed no neck or spine injuries, according to Mark Feinsand. Pirela has been released from the hospital. All things considered, he escaped without major damage. Good news.

3:48pm: The CT scan came back normal and Pirela is now going for a cervical MRI, according to Marly Rivera.

2:37pm: The Yankees say Pirela has a concussion and is heading to the hospital for a CT scan to determine the severity, according to Jack Curry.

1:30pm: Utility man Jose Pirela left this afternoon’s game against the Mets after crashing hard into the center field wall. He landed hard on the ground as well. Here’s the play:

Pirela was on the ground for several minutes before being carted off the field. Given the way his head hit the warning track, it sure looks like a possible concussion. The Yankees have not yet made any sort of official announcement though. Stay tuned for any updates.

The Yankees are getting a look at Pirela’s versatility in camp by playing him in left and center fields. He’s an infielder by trade but has played the outfield in the minors, so it wasn’t an entirely new experience for him.

Pirela, 25, came into the day 10-for-27 (.370) with three doubles and two triples in Grapefruit League play. He’s making a push for a bench spot.