The Only Trade of the 2015 Season [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Thanks to a great June and July, the Yankees surged to the top of the AL East standings this summer. At one point their lead was as big as seven games. Several strong bounceback performances from key veteran players fueled that hot start.

And yet, the Yankees had some clear needs at the trade deadline. I thought they would aggressively look for upgrades considering they were in first place and hadn’t been to the postseason since 2012, but instead they made just one minor move, acquiring Dustin Ackley from the Mariners. Ackley had more impact than I ever expected.

They Finally Got Their Man

The Yankees had been after Ackley for a long time. We first heard they were after him back during the 2013 Winter Meetings, and they tried again to get him at the trade deadline last year. The Mariners wanted Bryan Mitchell in return and the Yankees said no thanks. They finally got their man at the trade deadline this year, after a few weeks of rumors.

The three-player trade sent outfielder Ramon Flores and right-hander Jose Ramirez to Seattle for Ackley. The Yankees dealt from positions of depth — Flores was one of many upper level left-handed hitting outfielders (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, etc.) in the organization and the Yankees have more right-handed relievers for the Scranton shuttle than you can count.

It’s worth noting both Flores and Ramirez will be out of minor league options next season, meaning they will have to stick on the big league roster or be exposed to waivers. The Yankees don’t have an obvious role for either next season and surely that factored into the decision to trade them. They acquired Ackley and managed to clear the 40-man roster logjam a bit. It was a fine baseball trade. It was also the only trade the Yankees made at the Major League level this season.

Not The Best First Impression

Ackley replaced Garrett Jones in the “bench guy who rarely plays” role. Ackley is six years younger, a bit more versatile, and the Yankees controlled him beyond 2015, so it’s easy to understand why they made the move. Plus there’s always a chance Ackley figures things out. He is still only 27, after all.

Ackley joined the Yankees after the trade deadline, and appeared in two of the first three games with the team. He came off the bench to spell Carlos Beltran late in a blowout win on July 31st, then did the same for Alex Rodriguez late in a blowout win on August 2nd. Remember blowout wins? Those were fun. Ackley went 0-for-3 in those two games.

Two days later, Ackley landed on the 15-day with a right lumbar strain. An MRI showed a herniated disc in his back, so they gave him an epidural, though there was a chance he would ultimately need season-ending surgery. Ackley was going to miss a month at the very least. Yuck. The Yankees ended up bringing Jones back while Ackley was out.

SMACKLEY

The epidural worked. Ackley did not need surgery, was able to play in some minor league rehab games at the end of August, then was activated off the DL when rosters expanded on September 1st. I gotta say, I was not expecting that. Back problems usually don’t go away that easily. Ackley had no issues whatsoever after coming off the DL, however, so hooray for that.

After returning, Ackley again slid into that “bench guy who rarely plays” role. He didn’t appear in his first game after coming off the DL until September 9th, when he went 1-for-3 with a double and a strikeout in a spot start in left field. Ackley came off the bench in a blowout loss on September 11th, then again in the first game of the September 12th doubleheader.

Joe Girardi started Ackley at first base in the second game of the doubleheader to give Greg Bird a rest, then he started him at first base the next day because Ackley had great career numbers against R.A. Dickey. He was 4-for-11 (.364) with a home run against the knuckleballer. Sure enough, Ackley had a big game, going 2-for-2 with a home run and a sac fly in the win.

The big game against Dickey did not earn Ackley more time in the starting lineup. He instead came off the bench the next day and picked up a pinch-hit single in the ninth against the Rays, which sparked a four-run rally for the win. (That was the Slade Heathcott home run game.) Ackley came off the bench with a pinch-hit single the next day as well, giving him hits in four straight at-bats.

Girardi decided to play Ackley at second base on September 16th, in the series finale against the Rays. It was only his second game at second base of the season — he didn’t appear at second at all in 2014 either — and while Ackley went 0-for-2 and was lifted late for defense, he showed he could handle the position. It wasn’t an entirely new experience for him — Ackley played 281 games at second from 2011-13 — but he did have to get reacquainted to the position.

The Yankees traveled to Citi Field for a series with the Mets next. Ackley had a pinch-hit double in the first game, a pinch-hit triple in the second game, then started the third game at second base and went 1-for-3 with a three-run home run.

Ackley started six of the next eight games — five at second base and one at first base — and hit two more home runs. He had unofficially taken over as the everyday second baseman, though at the time we didn’t know Stephen Drew had been dealing with concussion symptoms. It appeared the Yankees had simply benched Drew in favor of Ackley.

The Bombers faced a string of lefties at the end of the season and Rob Refsnyder cut into Ackley’s playing time, but he had made his presence felt. In 23 games and 57 plate appearances with the Yankees, Ackley hit .288/.333/.654 (161 wRC+) with four home runs. He hit .215/.270/.366 (75 wRC+) with six homers in 85 games and 205 plate appearances for the Mariners before the trade. Small sample size, absolutely, but Ackley did produce in that sample. The hits and homers counted.

More Contact, More Hard Contact

Remember, Ackley is not just some guy. It wasn’t too long ago that he was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft (2009) and a top 10-15 prospect in all of baseball (2010-11 according to Baseball America). The Yankees rolled the dice on a very talented player who failed to develop as expected for whatever reason. It was a change of scenery move.

The short porch seemed to agree with Ackley — three of his four home runs in pinstripes came at home — but let’s look a little deeper to see if anything else changed under the hood after the trade.

K% GB% FB% LD% Pull% Middle% Oppo% Soft% Hard%
SEA 18.4% 45.3% 41.3% 13.3% 44.2% 32.5% 23.4% 16.9% 30.5%
NYY 12.3% 39.1% 37.0% 23.9% 41.3% 37.0% 21.7% 13.0% 43.5%

I wouldn’t read too much into this stuff because the sample is so small — Ackley put only 46 balls in play during his brief time with the Yankees. This is not meant to be definitive proof of a new approach or swing changes or anything like that. I was just curious to see the numbers.

Ackley didn’t strike out as often with the Yankees and he did produce more hard contact — especially line drives — so that’s promising. Whether it’s the result of dumb luck or some sort of tangible change in his approach or swing, we don’t know. I’m sure the Yankees acquired Ackley with the idea of tinkering a bit and trying to change some things. We’ll have to wait until next season to see whether Ackley is truly producing more hard contact in pinstripes.

Looking Ahead to 2016

The Yankees didn’t acquire Ackley in July only to non-tender him in November. He is projected to earn $3.1M through arbitration next year, which is nothing. There’s no reason to think the Yankees will non-tender him. At worst, he will return in that “bench guys who rarely plays” role. But, after his late season surge, Ackley could see more playing time next year. We’ve already seen reports indicating the Yankees are “leaning towards” using Ackley and Refsnyder at second base next season, for example. Barring a surprise trade, Ackley will be on the roster next year. I suppose his exact role depends on how well he plays.

Mailbag: Puig, McCann, Teixeira, Didi, Murphy, Davis, Niese

Got eleven questions in the mailbag for you this week. You can email us any questions or links or comments or whatever at RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Griffin asks: Do you think it could be realistic for the Yankees to acquire Yasiel Puig this offseason?

I don’t think so. I do believe Puig will be traded this offseason, or at least we’re going to hear a lot of rumors about him possibly being traded, but the Yankees care too much about clubhouse chemistry and makeup to go after Puig. (I don’t mean “too much” in a bad way. I’m just saying it’s a priority for the.) He is insanely talented and a really great player when healthy, but he’s a headache and has reportedly had some run-ins with teammates, like this one. Puig is an electrifying player and the Yankees would be a better team on the field with him. They’d likely be a worse team in the clubhouse though, and the Yankees value that cohesiveness very highly. I can’t see it happening for that reason.

Matty asks: What do you see more likely to happen: the Wild Card game becoming a 3 game series or the Division series becoming a best of 7?

The LDS becoming a best-of-seven. A best-of-three wildcard round would be a real headache. After the end of the regular season, MLB needs to leave a day free for potential tiebreaker games, then squeeze in a best-of-three series without forcing the division winners to sit around waiting too long. So the regular season ends Sunday, tiebreaker day is Monday, the best-of-three wildcard round runs Tuesday through Thursday, then the LDS begins Friday?

Maybe that works — Game One of the NLDS was Friday this year, after all — but there’s all that travel and stuff to sort out. It’s a logistical nightmare. I suppose they could play Game Two and a potential Game Three of the wildcard round as part of a doubleheader, but again, that’s not really fair. It would be fun as a fan, don’t get me wrong, but you’d be pushing the players a little too hard late in the season. I don’t like the winner-take-all wildcard game format and would prefer a best-of-three. I just don’t see how they can pull it off in a way that is fair to everyone.

Chris asks: I love the idea of pursuing Heyward this offseason. Clearly, the increase to the overall payroll is a huge barrier here. Perhaps the Yanks could move Gardner and McCann to create payroll space. Gardy is pretty easily moved and I wonder if McCann is not at all overpriced with 3/$51M left on the contract. Murphy starting at C serves the youth movement as well. Perhaps the question is only academic given that McCann has a full no-trade clause.

Yeah, moving Brian McCann would be tough because of his salary — $17M per year for a catcher is a ton — and no-trade clause. It’s a good idea in theory. A John Ryan Murphy/Gary Sanchez tandem at catcher could be surprisingly productive, plus it would add some right-handed balance to the lefty heavy lineup, but getting rid of McCann seems very hard to do. Which teams would even be interested? Tigers, Angels, Mariners, Rangers, maybe the Nationals? Not too many contending teams — there’s no reason to think McCann would waive his no-trade clause to go to a rebuilding club — are in position to take on a high-priced catcher, even if the Yankees eat some money to facilitate a deal.

James asks: Can you see Teixeira spending the offseason working on learning how to play third base?

No, definitely not. Mark Teixeira did come up through the minors as a third baseman — he originally moved to first base with the Rangers to make room for Hank Blalock (!) — but that was a very long time ago. He hasn’t played third base since 2003 and even now he’s at the age when most third baseman move across the diamond to first base, not vice versa. (He turns 36 in April.) There was some chatter about moving Teixeira to third base back in 2009 when Alex Rodriguez started the season on the DL, but the Yankees quickly shot that down. If I’m remembering correctly, Teixeira said something like “there’s a reason I don’t play third base anymore.” So yeah. Can’t see it happened.

Davis. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Davis. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Sal asks: How about Rajai Davis joining the Yanks this year? He’s hit lefties very well over the course of his career. I know he’s never been raved about defensively, but he could be used to spell Gardner/Ellsbury against southpaws: he does have a .798 career OPS against them. At 35, he won’t be fetching a big multi-year deal, and definitely won’t get the QO.

Remember how Davis used to torment the Yankees when he was with the Blue Jays? He was such a pain in the ass. Davis is an excellent righty platoon outfielder, hitting .302/.341/.510 (135 wRC+) against lefties with the Tigers the last two years. He crushed southpaws with Toronto too. Davis isn’t a 40+ steal guy anymore and his defense is just okay, less than what you’d expect from a speed guy, but he’s still a quality platoon option.

I still think Davis could pull in a two-year contract this offseason even at age 35 (he just turned 35 last week). Maybe something like two years and $12M? (He just completed a two-year, $10M contract.) I like Davis and think he’d be a really great Chris Young replacement. The only question is whether the Yankees want to commit that much money to an extra outfielder. (And whether Davis feels he can get a better opportunity for playing time elsewhere.)

Mark asks: I was wondering if you could break down 2015 Didi stats vs 2014 Jeter stats and explain why Didi gets praised and Jeter gets bashed.

Sure thing. Here are Derek Jeter‘s 2014 season and Didi Gregorius‘ 2015 season side-by-side:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG HR wRC+ SB-CS DRS UZR fWAR bWAR
2014 Jeter 634 .256/.304/.313 4 74 10-2 -12 -8.3 -0.1 +0.2
2015 Didi 578 .265/.318/.370 9 89 5-2 +5 +7.4 +3.1 +3.3

Gregorius will never in a million years have Jeter’s career, but the 2015 version of Didi was much better than the 2014 version of Jeter. He out-hit him in every way — more power, more average, more on-base ability — and was a far superior defender. You don’t even need to look at the defensive stats. Your eyes should have told you Gregorius was a way better gloveman than Jeter this summer.

Jeter was an all-time great Yankee. Yet, at the end of his career, he was a drain on the Yankees. Going from Jeter in 2014 to Didi in 2015 was a substantial upgrade even though Gregorius had plenty of rough patches himself.

Greg asks: Now that 20, 42, 46, and 51 have been retired by the Yankees, what happens to number 21?

I have no idea what the Yankees are planning to do with No. 21. They dedicated a plaque in Monument Park in Paul O’Neill’s honor, so now what? Are they going to not retire the number but keep it out of circulation? The plaque in Monument Park is pretty cool and that seems like enough to me. I say give No. 21 to someone like Greg Bird or Luis Severino, a young homegrown guy who impressed and already won over fans this year. O’Neill hasn’t played in 14 years now. Let’s get the number back on the field.

T.J. asks: With Alex Gordon likely opting for free agency, what about a bundle deal of Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran to the Royals? Beltran might waive his no-trade to go back to a proven winner and his original team. This would open up all sorts of possibilities in free agency.

That’s pretty interesting, I hadn’t though about that. Beltran has a full no-trade clause and has wanted to play for the Yankees forever, so I don’t think he’d waive his no-trade clause at this point, even to go to a contender like the Royals. (Boy, that is a weird sentence, huh?) Gardner would make a lot of sense as Gordon’s replacement because he fits their speed and defense mold — he probably strikes out a little too much for Kansas City’s liking though — and is relatively affordable. Gardner with three years and $39.5M guaranteed left on his contract is a really great deal. The Royals aren’t going to be in any of the big free agent outfielders (Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, etc.) and Gordon is heading for $100M or so himself, so Gardner might make a lot of sense for them. Interesting.

Mike asks: What is more likely (even if it’s 0.002 to 0.001% chance) – the Yankees and Mariners make a Ellsbury/Cano deal, or the Yankees sign Daniel Murphy?

The Yankees sign Murphy, by a mile. There is no reason think the Mariners would be open to a Robinson Cano-for-Jacoby Ellsbury swap, even with other stuff thrown in. Cano is the substantially better player, so much so that shedding the extra three years and $70M isn’t worth it. They’re both terrible, awful, no good contracts. But at least Cano is still a great player. (He finished the season at .287/.334/.446, 116 wRC+ after the dreadful start, so yeah.) I Don’t think the Yankees will sign Murphy either, but gosh, I can see that happened long before I could see a Cano-for-Ellsbury swap.

Niese. (Getty)
Niese. (Getty)

Matt asks: Given the Yankees presumed reluctance to add another “big name/contract” starter this offseason, with the exception of maybe Jeff Samardzija, what do you think it might take to acquire Jonathan Niese? His name has been brought up in previous mailbags, going back sometime now, and I’m sure there will be more than a couple clubs inquiring about his availability during the off-season.

Niese turned 29 earlier this week and he didn’t have a good regular season, pitching to a 4.13 ERA (4.41 FIP) in 176.2 innings. He sat in the 3.50 ERA/3.70 FIP range the last few years while dealing with on and off elbow and shoulder problems. Niese’s contract is affordable — he’s owed $9M next season with club options for 2017 ($10M) and 2018 ($10.5M) — and I don’t think the Mets will be desperate to move that money, especially with Bartolo Colon coming off the books this winter.

Going forward, I think you have to treat Niese as more of a 4.00 ERA guy than a 3.50 ERA guy — maybe even a little higher than that in the AL — because his strikeouts are way down (14.7% in 2015) and he doesn’t crack 90 mph often these days. This might just be who he is at this point of his career. Who in recent years fits as a comparable trade we can reference? Mat Latos? Ian Kennedy? Those seem like the best fits, which means we’re probably talking about two good but not great prospects.

The Yankees have a lot warm bodies for the rotation and while adding depth isn’t a bad thing, I think they should look for an impact starter this winter. Not another depth guy like Niese. He doesn’t move the needle a whole lot. Also, I think the Mets will keep Niese as rotation insurance. Their young starters sure are throwing a lot of stressful innings this postseason. They have to be mindful of any carryover effect next year.

James asks: Tino Martinez is listed as a special assistant to the General Manager. What are the responsibilities of that position? The list I saw on Wikipedia also shows Reggie Jackson & Stump Merrill as holding the same position.

Tino and Reggie do a lot of work on the minor league side, from what I understand. They’re roamers, basically. They travel to the various affiliates and work with the team’s prospects during the season. I believe Tino also helped do some trade deadline prep work, going out and scouting players and whatnot. I have no idea what Merrill does but I think he’s based in Tampa. George Steinbrenner handed out a lot of these “special assistant” jobs — George was generous if nothing else, he made sure guys had jobs for life — and a lot of them were do-nothing gigs. That’s not the case with Tino and Reggie though. They’re constantly going around and working with minor leaguers.

Thursday Night Open Thread

There is no baseball on this Thursday night. Today is a travel day for the World Series, and the Mets and Royals will resume the series with Game Three at Citi Field tomorrow night. Kansas City leads the series two games to none, but it’s far from over. The Mets have too much great pitching to get swept. I think they’ll win two of three at Citi Field this weekend.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Dolphins and Patriots are the Thursday NFL game, plus the Devils, Islanders, and Knicks are all playing as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Teixeira, Gregorius, Gardner among Gold Glove finalists

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today, Rawlings announced the finalists for the 2015 Gold Glove Awards at each position. Three Yankees are among the finalists for AL Gold Gloves: Mark Teixeira at first base, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Brett Gardner in left field. All of the finalists can be seen right here.

Teixeira is up against Eric Hosmer, who won the last two AL Gold Gloves at first base, and Mike Napoli. Last year Teixeira’s defense slipped a bit — he looked rusty after missing most of 2013 due to wrist surgery — but he rebounded this year and was stellar. Hosmer figures to win based on reputation and stuff, but Teixeira has a legitimate chance to take home the Gold Glove.

As for Gregorius, he is up against Xander Bogaerts and Alcides Escobar, so a first timer is guaranteed to win the AL Gold Glove at short this year. Gregorius had a real shaky start to the season, both at the plate and in the field, but he turned things around in May and was outstanding the last few months. His defense was really excellent at times. Here’s a totally necessary highlight reel:

Gregorius actually ranked second among full-time AL shortstops in DRS (+5) and UZR (+7.4), behind only Francisco Lindor (+10 and +10.5, respectively), who is apparently ineligible for the Gold Gloves because he didn’t play enough innings at the position this year. Didi might actually win the Gold Glove. How about that?

Yoenis Cespedes, who only played half the season in the AL, and Alex Gordon are Gardner’s competition in left field. Gardner had a strong season in left but not as good as previous years, I thought. The defensive stats say he’s closer to average these days rather than far above. Gordon has won the last four AL Gold Gloves in left and will probably win again, not that it’s undeserved. He’s outstanding in the field.

The Yankees haven’t had a Gold Glove winner since Teixeira and Robinson Cano in 2012. Teixeira has five career Gold Gloves, including three with the Yankees (2009, 2010, 2012). The Yankees haven’t had an outfielder win a Gold Glove since Bernie Williams way back in 2000. Seems unlikely Gardner will get it this year, but you never know. Teixeira and Gregorius appear to have legitimate chances to win.

The Gold Glove winners will be announced in two weeks, on November 10th. Here is the selection and voting criteria, if you’re interested. Managers and coaches vote for Gold Gloves but there is also a statistical component, which is relatively new.

Reports: Cuban RHP Yasiel Sierra impresses in showcase, will begin visiting interesting teams

Cuban right-hander Yasiel Sierra shined during a recent showcase event in front of approximately 350 scouts and executives, reports Jesse Sanchez. It’s unclear which teams attended the workout in Jupiter, Florida, but if there were 350 of them there, I’m guessing the Yankees had eyeballs on him.

Sierra, 24, has been throwing for scouts for weeks, but this was his first time facing hitters — he retired all nine batters he faced during the showcase, but it was a bunch of high school kids — and pitching in front of a very large crowd. He must still wait for MLB’s clearance before he can actually sign, but Sanchez says Sierra will begin visiting the cities of interested teams soon.

Prior to defecting, Sierra spent parts of four seasons pitching in Cuba and participated in a bunch of international tournaments as well. He’s not a total unknown to scouts but they haven’t had a ton of looks at him at him either. Here are Sierra’s stats from Cuba, via Baseball Reference:

Year Age AgeDif Tm ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO BF WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2010 19 -5.7 Holguin 12.00 4 0 3.0 5 4 4 1 4 0 19 3.000 15.0 3.0 12.0 0.0 0.00
2011 20 -4.9 Holguin 5.33 25 3 52.1 58 34 31 5 26 30 231 1.605 10.0 0.9 4.5 5.2 1.15
2012 21 2 Teams 2.20 41 4 81.2 69 22 20 1 41 57 350 1.347 7.6 0.1 4.5 6.3 1.39
2013 22 -3.5 Holguin 3.92 25 18 101.0 79 47 44 3 64 79 448 1.416 7.0 0.3 5.7 7.0 1.23
All Levels (4 Seasons) 3.74 95 25 238.0 211 107 99 10 135 166 1048 1.454 8.0 0.4 5.1 6.3 1.23

Much more important than the stats is the scouting report. Teddy Cahill says Sierra sat in the mid-90s with his heater and around 87 mph with his slider during the showcase. He also threw a changeup. Here’s more from Cahill:

Thursday was Sierra’s first game action in a couple of months, but he overmatched the Chilidogs. While wearing a Cuban national team jersey, he threw three perfect innings, striking out four batters. His fastball sat in the mid 90s, peaking at 96 mph. He used his slider as his out pitch. All four of his strikeouts came on his slider, and a particularly tough 87 mph slider led to a broken bat groundout to end the second inning. He also showed one changeup.

Sierra said he is particularly pleased with the progress of his secondary pitches over the last few months.

“I worked 24/7 for my slider and changeup,” he said through translator and former big leaguer Alex Sanchez. “I was very excited to throw my slider and changeup because they don’t throw that kind of pitch in Cuba.”

Ben Badler (subs. req’d) ranked Sanchez as the 13th best prospect in Cuba before he defected earlier this year. “When Sierra is at his best, he has the look of a mid-rotation starter,” wrote Badler. “Like a lot of Cuban pitchers, Sierra intentionally throws from multiple arm slots, usually throwing from a three-quarters angle but frequently dropping down to a lower slot and at times going up to high three-quarters.”

Because of his age, Sierra is not subject to the international spending restrictions and can sign a big league contract worth any amount. That means the Yankees can sign him — they are limited to bonuses of $300,000 or less for international amateurs as a result of last year’s spending spree, but Sierra is exempt from those restrictions. The $300,000 limit doesn’t apply to him.

Sanchez says scouts believe Sierra can help at the Major League level next season and says the seven-year, $27M contract the Reds gave Cuban righty Raisel Iglesias last winter is comparable to what Sierra can expect. Iglesias spent part of 2015 in the minors but was serviceable in the big leagues, pitching to a 4.15 ERA (3.55 FIP) in 95.1 innings spread across 16 starts and two relief appearances.

The Yankees seem to scout every Cuban player these days — as they should, if only for due diligence — but they haven’t signed a big money Cuban player since Jose Contreras more than a decade ago. Sierra doesn’t seem like a budding star or anything, but pitching is pitching, and the Yankees could decide he’s worth an investment.

The Young Stud Starter We’ve All Been Waiting For [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Early last offseason the Yankees spent a lot of time talking about the need to get younger and get more results from the farm system. They were right, they definitely needed more youth and help from within, but would they actually follow through? Or was it just lip service? We’ve heard the “we need to get younger” spiel before.

The Yankees walked the walk last winter after talking the talk. The got younger through trades, most notably acquiring Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi, and once the season started, they dipped into their farm system for help whenever a need arose. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams were both called up when Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt, and more relievers got an opportunity than I care to count.

No call-up had a greater impact in 2015 than right-hander Luis Severino, who came into the season as New York’s second best prospect. Coming into the season, I thought it was possible we’d see Severino this year, though likely as a reliever in the second half. The Yankees had other plans.

A Brief Look in Spring

The Yankees invited Severino to Spring Training and that was totally expected. They moved him very aggressively through the system last year and he finished the season with Double-A Trenton, so a Spring Training invite made sense. Severino, who turned 21 right as camp opened, made just two Grapefruit League appearances, allowing three runs (two earned) in 2.2 innings. He struck out five.

That was the first time many of us were able to see Severino pitch. It was only Spring Training, yeah, but getting a glimpse of rarely seen prospects is what makes all those meaningless games in March pretty fun in their own way.

Severino was sent to minor league camp on March 15th, as part of the first round of roster cuts. The Yankees didn’t keep him around for a longer look in Spring Training. They sent him to minor league camp so he could focus on getting ready for the regular season. The team wanted Severino to be ready to help whenever he was needed during the regular season.

Preparation in the Minors

The minor leagues are about development, first and foremost. And even though he was a consensus top 100 prospect coming into the season, Severino did have some things to work on this year. He needed to improve the consistency of his slider and changeup more than anything. There’s also the usual stuff every 21-year-old needs to work on: holding runners, fielding his position, repeating mechanics, that sorta stuff.

The Yankees also used Severino’s time in the minors to prepare him to join their rotation in the second half. He was there to learn, sure, but the Yankees also wanted to make sure his workload would not be an issue down the stretch in case they needed him. After going through the messy Joba Rules and seeing the Stephen Strasburg shutdown a few years ago, the Yankees wanted to limit Severino’s innings in an under-the-radar way.

Severino returned to Double-A Trenton to start 2015 and the Yankees didn’t let him throw more than five innings in a start, regardless of his effectiveness. He allowed one hit, struck out eight, and threw 53 pitches in five scoreless innings in his first start, but that was it, Severino was out of the game after five innings. Severino made eight starts with the Thunder and only once did he throw more than five innings: he completed six innings on 97 pitches on May 5th.

The reins were loosened a bit after Severino was promoted to Triple-A Scranton. He made eleven starts with the RailRiders, averaged 5.2 innings per start, and three times completed seven full innings. Severino only averaged 88.3 pitches per start, however. He was throwing more innings but not necessarily more pitches.

In his 19 minor league starts this summer, Severino had a 2.45 ERA (2.45 FIP!) in 99.1 innings across the two levels. The Yankees deemed him ready for the big leagues.

Welcome to the Show

The Yankees called Severino up after failing to land a starter at the trade deadline. They kicked the tires on various pitchers but never did get close to anything. Severino was their solution. They said they were going to emphasize youth this year and this was by far the biggest sign they were committed to that plan. Remember, the Yankees were in first place and trying to hold off the Blue Jays when Severino was called up. Winning was the priority.

Severino made his MLB debut on August 5th against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. They didn’t exactly ease him into it, huh? Severino allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits and no walks in five innings. He struck out seven. It was a rather impressive debut for the kid.

When it was announced Severino was going to be called up, Brian Cashman made two things clear. One, it was not an audition. Severino was joining the rotation and he was going to start every fifth day, good or bad. Two, Severino had no workload restrictions. I don’t believe that was 100% true — were they going to let him throw 230 innings? probably not — but the team had put him in position to pitch without an innings number hanging over his head.

The workload was not a concern and neither was Severino’s performance. He allowed two runs in six innings against the Indians in his second career start. His third start was easily the worst of his first six career starts, and it wasn’t even all that bad: three runs in six innings against the powerhouse Blue Jays in Toronto. Carlos Beltran lost a ball in the sun that opened the floodgates, as you may recall (video).

Though his first six starts, Severino pitched to a 2.04 ERA (3.95 FIP) in 35.1 innings. He had a strong strikeout rate (23.5%) but walked a few too many (9.7%) and served up dingers (1.02 HR/9). That’s pretty common for a young pitcher. They walk people because they nibble, and they tend to be a little too cocky with their fastball and think they can get simply throw the ball by hitters at times, hence the homers.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As good as Severino was, the Yankees only went 3-3 in his first six starts because they never scored any damn runs for him. Twenty runs total in those six starts and only eleven when Severino was actually on the mound. In his seventh start, Severino finally had a clunker. The Blue Jays punished him for six runs on six hits and three walks in only 2.1 innings. It was ugly.

Severino shook off the bad start and dominated next time out, holding the Rays to one run in 5.2 innings. He struck out seven. That was good to see. Pitchers have disaster starts, it happens to everyone over the course of the season, but with a young kid like Severino, you want to see how he responds, and he responded very positively.

The Yankees slipped out of first place and limped to the finish line this past season, though it was not Severino’s fault. He pitched to 2.19 ERA (3.99 FIP) in his final four starts and 24 innings. Severino was available out of the bullpen for the wildcard game and if the Yankees had advanced to the ALDS, he likely would have started Game One.

In his first taste of the big leagues, Severino finished with a 2.89 ERA (4.37 FIP) in eleven starts and 62.1 innings. He had a good strikeout rate (22.0%), but again, a few too many walks (8.6%) and homers (1.30 HR/9). That’s not uncommon for rookie pitchers. Severino got a ton of ground balls (50.9%) and didn’t have a huge platoon split, holding righties to a .213/.267/.435 (.303 wOBA) batting line and lefties to .244/.331/.374 (.314 wOBA).

I’m not sure you could have asked for more from Severino. The Yankees moved him up the minor league ladder very aggressively — he ended the 2013 season with four starts with Low-A Charleston after making six appearances with the Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees, so yeah — and Severino answered the bell every time. He pitched well in pinstripes, handled a little adversity, and seemed very poised. Severino was damn impressive. We’ve waited a long time to see a Yankees develop someone like this.

Room for Improvement

Coming into the season, the scouting report on Severino said he had a big fastball and promising secondary stuff. The fastball sat mid-90s and touched 100 on occasion in the past, though we never did see him hit triple digits with the Yankees. (PitchFX says his fastest pitch as a big leaguer was 98.94 mph.) Both Severino’s slider and changeup were impressive yet inconsistent. That’s too be expected.

Now that he has spent some time in the big leagues, we have PitchFX data for Severino, so let’s look at how his stuff grades out. (MLB averages for starting pitchers in parentheses.)

% Thrown Avg. Velocity Whiff% GB%
Fastball 51.4% (56.6%) 95.8 (91.9) 8.2% (6.9%) 45.3% (37.9%)
Slider 34.1% (12.5%) 89.6 (84.5) 8.9% (15.2%) 58.1% (43.9%)
Changeup 14.6% (11.6%) 88.6 (83.3) 19.3% (14.9%) 63.2% (47.8%)

Captain Obvious: Severino throws everything way harder than the average big league starter. We’re talking an average of 5 mph or so harder. That 12.5% MLB average slider usage is a little misleading because not every pitcher throws a slider, so that skews the numbers. Still, throwing 34.1% sliders like Severino did is on the high end. You won’t see many starters throw more sliders than that.

Also, Severino’s slider got way fewer swings and misses than the average slider. He got ground balls with the pitch, but the whiffs were few and far between. There’s clearly some room for improvement there, and it could be something as simple as pitch selection. Throwing a slider in some unconventional counts — pitching backwards, as they say — could lead to more swings and misses.

The PitchFX data more or less matches the scouting reports coming into the season. Severino has a big fastball and inconsistent secondary stuff, especially the slider. He’s only 21 though. This is par for the course. Severino still has some learning to do and the learning will take place the MLB level. The stuff he showed this summer was plenty good enough to succeed.

Looking Ahead to 2016

The Yankees have seven starters either under contract (Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia) or team control (Severino, Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, Ivan Nova) for next season, which means there will some number crunching this offseason and/or in Spring Training. Severino should be a lock for the rotation though. In fact, Joe Girardi pretty much confirmed it when he said the team is planning to “have Severino for a full year (in 2016)” during his end-of-season press conference.

Severino might not throw 200+ innings next year — he threw 161.2 total innings this year, up from 113 last year — but he will be counted on for high quality innings every fifth day in 2016. The Yankees have been trying to develop an young, impact starter like this for a long time. It appears they’ve finally succeeded with Severino.

After a strong 2015 season, Gary Sanchez is back in the Yankees’ long-term plans

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At this time last year, Gary Sanchez‘s prospect stock was down. He had just wrapped up a good but not great season with Double-A Trenton — Sanchez hit .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) with 13 homers in 110 games for the Thunder in 2014 — which left people still waiting for that huge breakout season. A 2009 Jesus Montero season, basically.

I argued prospect fatigue was setting in. Although he was still only 21 at the time, it felt like Sanchez had been around forever. We’ve been hearing about him since 2009 and looking at his stats since 2010. Prospects are like toys. We love them, then toss them aside when the next flashy one arrives. Sanchez fell behind others like Aaron Judge and Greg Bird.

This year though, Sanchez finally had a dominant year at the plate, hitting .287/.340/.516 (140 wRC+) with 18 home runs in 93 games split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. He made his MLB debut in September and went 0-for-2 in two garbage time at-bats, and actually made the wildcard game roster as the third catcher and extra righty bat.

Sanchez, now 22, is currently annihilating the Arizona Fall League. He has gone 17-for-40 (.429) with five home runs and 36 total bases (and 15 RBI, if that’s your thing) in nine games for the Surprise Saguaros. Bird was named AzFL MVP last year after going 31-for-99 (.313) with six homers and 55 total bases in 26 games. Sanchez was recently named AzFL Player of the Week, because duh.

The numbers are nice, but, more importantly, Sanchez grew as a person and matured this year. He’s had some attitude issues over the years, most notably getting suspended a few years ago because he refused to catch a bullpen session. “Everything has improved all around. I don’t care where you come from. When you are 21 or 22, everyone grows,” said departed assistant GM Billy Eppler to George King (subs. req’d) in September.

Sanchez did a little growing up, his defense continues to make incremental progress — a scout recently told Therron Brockish Sanchez has “soft hands and showed good blocking skills,” and rated his future defense a 50 on the 20-80 scouting scale, meaning MLB average — and he had a big year at the plate. Plus he made his MLB debut. The 2015 season was a smashing success for Sanchez.

So now what? Where do the Yankees and Sanchez go from here? Sanchez is saying all the right things — “As a kid, you always dream to have that call, and I thank God that it happened this year. But I feel that it is not over yet. I want to continue to improve to where one day, I can play in the big leagues every single day,” he said to Antonio Cannavaro earlier this week — and the Yankees haven’t said anything, which isn’t surprising. The way I see it, the Yankees have three options with Sanchez this offseason.

Option 1: Trade Him!

Over the last few years the Yankees have prioritized catcher defense. The only bad defensive catcher they’ve had since 2007 or so was Jorge Posada. Sanchez has definitely improved behind the plate, but even if he lives up to that scout’s projection and becomes a 50 defender, is that good enough for the Yankees? Maybe! But they seem to look for elite glovemen, not average defenders. Sanchez’s trade value might not get any higher than it is right now, with him destroying the AzFL.

Option 2: Keep Him You Idiot!

Sanchez has played only 35 games at Triple-A, so hanging on to him and sending him back to the RailRiders to start next season is perfectly reasonable. In fact, I’d say it’s the most likely outcome. Sanchez still has work to do behind the plate and at this point of his career, he’s better off playing everyday in the minors than sitting on the big league bench as a backup. John Ryan Murphy was big league ready defensively last year. Using him as the backup made sense. Sanchez? Nah, he needs more reps and lots of them. Triple-A is always an option.

Option 3: Trade Someone Else

This seems unlikely, but it is possible, I guess. The Yankees could move Murphy to fill another position — plenty of teams needing catching help and the dirt cheap Murphy would be quite attractive — and go with Sanchez as Brian McCann‘s backup. Or they could try to move McCann and accelerate the youth movement with a Murphy/Sanchez catching tandem. That would be something else. Of course, McCann’s contract and no-trade clause would be quite the obstacle.

A few months ago I would have expected Sanchez to be traded this offseason because his defense isn’t up to the team’s apparent standards. Right now I think they’re likely to hold onto him, see what steps forward he takes next season, then make a decision. The bat is too promising to move right now. Next season will be Sanchez’s last minor league option year — he could qualify for a fourth option I suppose, that stuff always confuses me — which means it’s big leagues or bust come 2017.

That’s not necessarily a problem. If Sanchez continues to hit well — 22-year-old catchers who hit 18 home runs in the upper minors are exceedingly rare, you know — the Yankees can make room for him, even if they have to shoehorn him into the lineup at DH or even first base. Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran will be gone after 2016, after all. The roster logjam will clear up a bit.

A year ago at this time Sanchez appeared to be fading as a prospect, a guy who was more hype than tools and production. That wasn’t completely undeserved. Either way, it’s no longer the case now. Sanchez made big strikes this year, especially with his maturity, and he put himself in position to help the Yankees as soon as next year. Surely he noticed the team turned to Bird and Luis Severino when they needed help this summer. That’s some nice motivation.

I would never rule out a trade. Can’t do it. At this point though, I think the Yankees will keep Sanchez and he’ll head into next season as the third catcher on the depth chart. It’s not often a team goes through an entire season with their top two catchers staying healthy — the Yankees got lucky and did that this past season — so Sanchez figures to start in Triple-A and come up whenever help is needed.

Development rarely goes smoothly and according to plan. Sanchez hit some bumps in the road, overcame them, and put himself in position to be discussed as a serious part of the Yankees’ future. Where does he fit exactly? That remains to be seen.