The Yankees shutout the Cardinals this afternoon, with Hiroki Kuroda looking very sharp across four scoreless (and walkless) innings. He struck out six. David Robertson returned to game action with a scoreless inning, and afterwards he told Erik Boland his shoulder “felt great.” That’s pretty much the only real newsworthy item from the game.
Kevin Youkilis started the scoring with the solo homer and then a sacrifice fly, then Zoilo Almonte and Matt Diaz plated runs with a bases loaded walk and hit-by-pitch, respectively. Ichiro Suzuki doubled while Brett Gardner, Corban Joseph (two), and Chris Stewart all singled. Solid game all around. Here’s the box score and here’s the latest from Tampa…
- No surprise here, but the three-man catching competition is officially over: the Yankees announced Austin Romine was sent to minor league camp. It’ll be Stewart and Frankie Cervelli come Opening Day. RHP Dellin Betances, RHP Brett Marshall, LHP Manny Banuelos, LHP Francisco Rondon, LHP Nik Turley, RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Chase Whitley, OF Ramon Flores, 1B Luke Murton, and C J.R. Murphy were also cut. The Yankees still have 54 players in big league camp by my unofficial count.
- Phil Hughes (bulging disk) threw a 26-pitch bullpen session this morning and said it felt “just like a normal bullpen.” He will throw live batting practice on Thursday, but it is still unclear if he’ll be ready for the start of the regular season. [Jayson Stark & Jack Curry]
- David Aardsma (groin) threw another bullpen session today and everything is fine. Have to think he’ll return to game action relatively soon. Boone Logan (elbow) is scheduled to throw in the bullpen tomorrow. [Andy McCullough & Chad Jennings]
- Infielders Gil Velazquez and Walt Ibarra returned to camp now that Mexico has been eliminated from the World Baseball Classic. Robinson Cano won’t be back anytime soon — the Dominican Republic advanced to the second round, which begins tomorrow. [George King]
- The Yankees will travel 100 miles south tomorrow afternoon to play the Rays in Port Charlotte. Ivan Nova gets the start and Cervelli, Travis Hafner, Dan Johnson, Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix, and Juan Rivera are the projected big leaguers making the trip. That game will not be broadcast on television.
Here is your open thread for the evening. The Knicks and Nets are both playing tonight, plus MLB Network will air a Spring Training game later tonight. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.
Via Chad Jennings: Michael Pineda is scheduled to throw a full 35-pitch bullpen session tomorrow, during which he will throw sliders for the first time since having shoulder surgery last May. The 24-year-old right-hander has been gradually stretching out his bullpen work and started incorporating changeups about three weeks ago. Throwing breaking balls is a pretty huge rehab milestone because of the stress they put on the arm, so this isn’t a negligible bit of news. If Pineda comes through tomorrow’s bullpen fine and can continue throwing sliders as he builds up arm strength and stretches out, it will be an overwhelming positive development for his rehab. · (50) ·
Add another body to the right-handed hitting outfield bat competition. The Yankees have signed Ben Francisco to a minor league contract, Brian Cashman confirmed to reporters in Tampa. The Indians released him earlier this morning despite an 8-for-20 showing in camp that included six doubles, five walks, and four strikeouts.
Francisco, 31, actually scored the first run in New Yankee Stadium history with the Indians back in 2009. He hit .240/.285/.385 (82 wRC+) with four homers in 207 plate appearances for the Blue Jays, Astros, and Rays last season, and over the last three years he’s shown basically no platoon split: .247/.315/.408 (97 wRC+) against lefties and .252/.324/.380 (94 wRC+) against righties. Francisco is average at best in the outfield, though he has experience in all three spots. He’s not much of a stolen base threat anymore either.
The Yankees had some interest in Francisco back in January, before he hooked on with Cleveland, and he’ll now compete with veterans Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera for roster spot. In the wake of Curtis Granderson‘s forearm injury, I have to think at least one of those guys will make the team. Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte, Thomas Neal, and Ronnie Mustelier are also candidates. Considering the injuries and lost offense, there’s no harm whatsoever in adding players on minor league pacts to compete for spots. The more the merrier.
As recently as 15 days ago, the Yankees were planning to improve their defense by moving Curtis Granderson to left field with Brett Gardner taking over in center. Then J.A. Happ broke Granderson’s forearm with an errant pitch and the experiment was over. The team’s incumbent center fielder will be out until early-May, and the Yankees decided he wasn’t going to have enough time to learn the new position while on his rehab assignment. The priority will be getting Granderson’s bat back in the lineup as soon as possible, understandably.
With the outfield plan abandoned, Gardner will return to left field after filling in at center for the first few weeks of the campaign. A collection of cast-offs and kinda sorta prospects are battling it out for reserve roles with no candidate standing out from the pack, either on paper or on the field in Spring Training.
The 29-year-old Gardner is returning from a lost season, as an elbow injury and numerous setbacks (and eventually surgery) kept him on the shelf from early-April through late-September. The Yankees lacked speed without him and it was painfully obvious at times. Their outfield defense also took a major hit, although Raul Ibanez‘s effort was admirable. Admirable, but often ugly.
Replacing Ibanez and miscellaneous other fill-in left fielders with Gardner figures to be the biggest upgrade the club made in the offseason. Last year’s left fielders gave the team a power-heavy 92 OPS+ with no speed and poor defense, but that has been traded for Gardner’s on-base heavy career 93 OPS+ with high-end speed and defense. The Yankees will get fewer homers but much better all-around production. It’s a big upgrade even though he doesn’t fit the typical profile for the position.
The most important thing will be actually keeping Gardner on the field this year. He’s battled numerous injuries in recent years and nearly all of them can be considered flukes — fractured thumb on a stolen base (2009), wrist surgery following a hit-by-pitch (2010), elbow surgery following a sliding catch (2012) — but injuries are injuries and they’ve added up. Gardner will be an upgrade over Ibanez & Co. only if he stays healthy, which has been a challenge. Given the injuries to Granderson and Teixeira, it’s not a stretch to call him the team’s second most important player for the early-season.
This was an unanswered question even before Granderson got hurt — the Yankees were going to sort through the likes of Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, Melky Mesa and others for the right-handed hitting outfielder’s role. Now those guys are competing for a starting job and as of today, there is no obvious favorite. Mesa has been solid in camp and so has Zoilo Almonte, but they are hardly guaranteed the job. Diaz and Rivera have been fine at the plate (considering it’s early-March) but less so in the field (particularly Rivera). Two of these guys — we shouldn’t forget Thomas Neal and Ronnie Mustelier either — are going to make the team and play regularly while Granderson is shelved. Ichiro Suzuki is always an option to fill-in at left as well.
Knocking on the Door
This ties in with the previous section, but the Yankees are expected to have an all-prospect outfield at Triple-A Scranton this summer. Mesa, Almonte, and Mustelier are the obvious candidates, but one or more could wind up making the big league team. It’s a very fluid situation at the moment. Regardless of what happens, a few of these outfield candidates will inevitably wind up in Northeast Pennsylvania and wait their turn in the Bronx.
The Top Prospect
Left field isn’t a true prospect position, it’s a last report position. Guys wind up there if they can’t cut it in center or right, or even third or first bases at times. With Tyler Austin projected as right fielder and both Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott looking like no-doubt center fielders, the team’s most obvious future left fielder is Ramon Flores. I aggressively ranked him fifth in my preseason top 30 prospects list. The soon-to-be 21-year-old hit .302/.370/.420 (126 wRC+) with six homers and 24 steals in 583 plate appearances for High-A Tampa this season, and he owns arguably the best plate discipline and approach in the organization. The Yankees added Flores to the 40-man roster after the season to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft and will start him at Double-A Trenton, but he’s not going to be a big league factor in 2013. The 2014 season could be another matter entirely.
The Deep Sleeper
We have to reach a little because there aren’t many prospects in the lower minors who project as long-term left fielders — kids that far down usually haven’t grown out of center field yet — but Nathan Mikolas makes sense year. Last summer’s third rounder didn’t hit a lick after signing for $400k, producing a .149/.295/.184 (62 wRC+) line with 35 strikeouts in 105 plate appearances (33.3 K%) for the rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate. He didn’t make my preseason top 30 list. The 19-year-old has a “balanced left-handed swing and quality bat speed that give him the potential to become a plus hitter with average power” according to Baseball America (subs. req’d), who also notes “his athleticism, speed, arm and defensive ability are all below-average.” That’s where the whole left field thing comes into play. Mikolas will be held back in Extended Spring Training to open the season before re-joining one of the two GCL squads at midseason. If he shakes off the rough pro debut and starts showing off some of those hitting skills, he’ll quickly become an interesting prospect to follow.
* * *
The Yankees dominated the late-1990s despite a revolving door in left field, but that position is much more important to the current team. New York’s best player at something — speed and defense (Gardner) or power (Granderson) — was going to hold down the position one way or the other, whether they went through with the position switch or not. Someone like Mesa or Rivera or Diaz will have to hold down the left field fort for at least 4-5 weeks while Granderson is on the shelf, which is not exactly ideal.
This afternoon’s Grapefruit League game against the Cardinals is notable for two reasons. First, Derek Jeter is back in the lineup as the DH just two days after making his Spring Training. I wondered if the Yankees would give him two or three days between games — even just as the DH — following his late-October ankle surgery, so I suppose playing again so soon is an indication he and his ankle are feeling well.
Secondly, Ronnie Mustelier is at third base again. It will be his fourth game at the hot corner since Mark Teixeira‘s wrist injury, and the Yankees have admitted they are giving him a look at the position prior to Opening Day. Will it work? Who the hell knows. It is certainly worth a shot though. Here’s the starting lineup…
- LF Brett Gardner
- DH Derek Jeter
- RF Ichiro Suzuki
- 1B Kevin Youkilis
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- C Chris Stewart
- 2B Corban Joseph
- 3B Ronnie Mustelier
- CF Slade Heathcott
Available Pitchers: RHP David Robertson, RHP Joba Chamberlain, RHP Shawn Kelley, RHP Cody Eppley, RHP Dellin Betances, and LHP Francisco Rondon will all come out of the bullpen. Robertson is notable given his recent shoulder scare.
Available Position Players: C J.R. Murphy, 1B Luke Murton, SS Addison Maruszak, 3B Jose Pirela, LF Matt Diaz, CF Ramon Flores, RF Zoilo Almonte, and DH Travis Hafner are all scheduled to come off the bench.
This afternoon’s game is scheduled to start a little after 1pm ET and can be seen on YES, ESPN, and MLB.tv (no local blackout). Lots of viewing options today. Enjoy the game.
11:36am: Cashman also said he looked into signing Scott Rolen, but didn’t elaborate. Unlike Chipper, the 37-year-old Rolen looked pretty cooked last season (93 wRC+).
11:22am: Cashman said he is “not optimistic” about signing Lee, and said he would also be interested in Chipper Jones if he wants to come out of retirement. He wasn’t joking either; he said he plans to talk to his agent. Chipper would be pretty awesome, but I highly doubt it happens.
11:00am: Via David Waldstein: The Yankees have asked Derrek Lee to come out of retirement in the wake of Mark Teixeira’s wrist injury. The long-time Marlin and Cub is interested, though no deal is imminent. Brian Cashman confirmed the report this morning — “I made a call, I liked him as a player,” he said — and it’s worth noting Lee played for former Cubs GM and current Yankees executive Jim Hendry in Chicago.
Lee, 37, hit .267/.325/.446 (109 wRC+) with 19 homers in 447 plate appearances for the Orioles and Pirates while battling an oblique strain and a broken wrist (suffered on a hit-by-pitch) back in 2011, his final year as a player. He was a very good defensive first baseman with a great clubhouse reputation, so he fits the current Yankees mold. I wrote about Lee as a possible DH target in a mailbag last January, and pretty much all of that stuff still holds true. Coming back after a season away is much tougher to do as a hitter than pitcher just because hitting is such a rhythm and timing thing. A minor league contract would be fine, but expecting him to contribute on an everyday basis is a stretch. · (165) ·
Spring Training Record: 4-11 (56 RS, 64 RA)
Spring Training Schedule This Week: vs. Cardinals (Mon. on YES/ESPN), @ Rays (Tues.), vs. Phillies (Weds. on YES), @ Blue Jays (Thurs.), vs. Marlins (Fri. on YES), vs. Phillies (Sat., split squad on YES), @ Braves (Sat., split squad on MLB.tv), @ Pirates (Sun.)
Top stories from last week:
- The day we all knew was eventually coming finally arrived: Mariano Rivera announced the 2013 season will be his last as a player. He said “the tank is almost empty. The little gas that I have left is everything for this year. After this year I am empty.”
- Both Rivera (knee) and Derek Jeter (ankle) returned to game action over the weekend following their season-ending surgeries. Everything went fine and both are on track to play again this week.
- Injury News: Mark Teixeira (wrist) will miss 8-10 weeks after hurting himself during batting practice with Team USA. Phil Hughes (back) has started throwing bullpen sessions. Boone Logan (elbow) was pain-free following his latest bullpen session. Clay Rapada (shoulder) has been shutdown for 7-10 days. David Robertson (shoulder) will return to game action “shortly.” David Aardsma (groin) has already resumed throwing bullpens. Slade Heathcott (thumb) has returned to game action. Adonis Garcia (wrist) will be out 6-8 weeks. Brian Cashman (leg and ankle) did some major damage to himself while skydiving to raise awareness for charity.
- In the wake of Teixeira’s injury, the Yankees are looking at first and third basemen and have inquired about the availability of Chase Headley. They will also give Ronnie Mustelier a look at third base in camp.
- The Yankees signed right-hander reliever Chris Bootcheck to a minor league contract.
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The Yankees beat the Blue Jays on the road this afternoon, with the big hit being Juan Rivera’s bases loaded double into the right-center field gap (off a lefty). Kevin Youkilis managed to chug all the way around from first to score on the play. That hit accounted for all three runs of the game. David Phelps was dynamite yet again, allowing three hits in five scoreless innings. He’s allowed one run in 14 total innings this spring and is the clear leader for the fifth starter’s job at the moment, assuming it’s an actual competition. Still three weeks to go before Opening Day, however. Here’s the box score and here’s the rest from Tampa…
- CC Sabathia threw a 40-50 pitches in a simulated game this morning and is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut on Friday. “(He’s) ahead of where he’s been the last two springs (in terms of) arm strength, pitch-wise, and delivery-wise” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte is likely to make his Spring Training debut on Wednesday. [Jayson Stark & Erik Boland]
- Derek Jeter is likely to play again tomorrow after making his Grapefruit League debut yesterday. He’ll DH again but could play shortstop as soon as Wednesday. That would be something. [Adam Berry]
- Mariano Rivera is likely to make his next appearance on Wednesday. The Yankees presumably want to give him more than one day off between appearances at this point, and he sure as heck isn’t traveling for the road game on Tuesday. [George King]
- David Robertson (shoulder) will pitch in a game a “shortly.” He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session tomorrow along with Rivera, Phil Hughes (back), and David Aardsma (groin). [Chad Jennings]
- The Cardinals are coming to Tampa tomorrow afternoon, a game that will be broadcast on ESPN in addition to YES and MLB.tv. Hiroki Kuroda gets that start.
Here is your open thread for the evening. Both the Devils and Islanders are in action, plus Team USA is playing Canada in the World Baseball Classic. That game is on MLB Network right now and the winner advances to the second round with the loser being eliminated. Talk about any of that stuff and more. Go nuts.
Via Chad Jennings: The Yankees are indeed giving Ronnie Mustelier a look at third base in the wake of Mark Teixeira’s wrist injury. “We’re going to look at him,” said Joe Girardi, in case you didn’t believe me.
Mustelier, 28, is 6-for 16 (.375) with a triple, a homer, two walks, and four strikeouts in camp so far. B-Ref’s OppoQual stat indicates he’s faced mostly Triple-A caliber pitching so far this spring, which isn’t a surprise since most of his work has come off the bench. Because Kevin Youkilis can play either corner infield spot, the Yankees are free to seek a first or third baseman as they look to replace Teixeira’s production. There’s no harm in giving Mustelier a look, but his bat is going to have to carry him because the defense is lacking. · (30) ·
Finally, some good injury news. Lefty reliever threw his first bullpen session in about two weeks this morning, and afterwards he told Mark Feinsand he was pain-free. “I’ve never been so excited to throw a bullpen,” said the southpaw, who insisted he will be ready for Opening Day.
Logan, 28, was sidelined by a barking elbow a little more than a week ago, but an MRI did come back clean. The Yankees had been taking it easy on him early in camp following last year’s career-high workload, which included 55.1 innings spread across a league-leading 80 appearances. Second lefty reliever Clay Rapada has been shut down for 7-10 days with shoulder bursitis, so the Yankees are currently without a healthy southpaw for the bullpen. Good thing the season doesn’t start for another three weeks. · (7) ·