Denbo confirms Jorge Mateo will begin playing center field this season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Jorge Mateo, the No. 7 prospect in the farm system, will begin playing center field a few days a week this coming season, farm system head Gary Denbo told Brendan Kuty. He’ll also see time at shortstop, his natural position, as well as second base, another position he’s played in the past. Center field is brand new though.

Denbo also confirmed Mateo will begin the regular season back at High-A Tampa, which doesn’t surprise me. He hit .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) there last season, including .210/.255/.283 (56 wRC+) from June 1st through the end of the season. Yuck. The Yankees have held guys back for less. Here’s more from Denbo, via Kuty:

“We feel like he still has adjustments to make offensively that we would like for him to start in the Florida State League this year and get off to a good start and see what happens, whether he’s able to make it to the next level or higher,” Denbo said. “But from all indications that we’ve got this spring, he’s already in the process of making those adjustments.”

“We don’t take a lot of stock in Spring Training statistics. But what we do put stock in is when we see a player come back in better shape, bigger, stronger, his mindset is better, he’s working harder and he’s making adjustments offensively. The statistics don’t always bear out how successful you are in Spring Training,” Denbo said.

The center field move has been in the works for a while now. The Yankees had Mateo work out in center during Instructional League last fall as well as in Spring Training, though he’s yet to play an actual game out there. Right now he’s limited to taking fly balls and whatever else they do. Mateo is a good defensive shortstop, but with his speed, he might be a top of the line defensive center fielder.

I’m more interested in the offensive adjustments Denbo is talking about than the center field stuff. Mateo’s position isn’t going to matter much unless he starts bringing more to the table offensively. His biggest issue is a lack of plate discipline, which leads to a lot of chasing out of the zone and soft contact. Mateo’s fast, but he’s not going to make a career out of swinging at bad pitches and beating out infield singles.

The good news is the offensive ability is in there. Mateo is a freak athlete who showed more power last season than ever before — he went from two homers in 2015, one of which was an inside-the-parker, to eight homers in 2016 — plus his .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) line as a 20-year-old in Low-A and High-A in 2015 is pretty impressive. Mateo is not lacking physical ability. Not at all. He just needs to refine his game a bit.

This is a what have you done for me lately world, and when you have a poor season and get suspended like Mateo did last year, folks are going to be down on you. That’s the way it goes. It’s important to remember this is a 21-year-old kid though. A 21-year-old kid with an 80 tool (speed) and the athleticism to be a two-way threat regardless of whether he’s at shortstop or center field. With any luck, Mateo will learn from last season and break out this year.

The Four Young Rotation Candidates [2017 Season Preview]

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

Anyone with doubts about the Yankees and their commitment to the youth movement need not look beyond the rotation. Rather than bring in outside help over the winter, even a innings eating veteran on a one-year contract, the Yankees are planning to go with their young starting pitchers in 2017. They’re taking a leap of faith.

Four young starters are vying for two rotation spots this spring: Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Severino. We still don’t know which way the team is leaning — “I would say (no one is ahead). I think we’re going to have some long meetings about this,” said Joe Girardi over the weekend — though I get the feeling Severino came into Spring Training as a favorite for one spot.

Regardless of who gets the two rotation spots on Opening Day, history suggests the Yankees will need all four of these guys to make starts at some point. The Yankees haven’t used fewer than eight starters in a season since the strike-shortened 1994 season, when they used seven. They’ve averaged slightly more than ten starters per season the last three years. So yeah, the depth is good. Let’s preview these four young arms.

Luis Cessa

What does he have the others don’t? A fourth pitch and a ton of athleticism. Cessa, 25 in April, is a former shortstop and his athleticism is evident in his easy, repeatable delivery. More importantly, Cessa throws four distinct pitches. We saw all of them last season during his big league debut. Setting aside his eight relief outings last season, here are the numbers from Cessa’s nine starts (MLB averages in parentheses):

% Thrown Avg Velo Whiff% GB%
Fastball 48.6% 95.0 (92.1) 5.7% (6.9%) 35.0% (37.9%)
Slider 30.3% 85.4 (84.3) 21.8% (15.2%) 66.0% (43.9%)
Curveball 11.1% 80.2 (77.1) 4.8% (11.1%) 50.0% (48.7%)
Changeup 9.9% 85.0 (93.7) 13.3% (14.9%) 40.0% (47.8%)

The slider was Cessa’s go-to secondary pitch, but he also threw his curveball and changeup roughly 10% of the time each, so the four-pitch mix is there. As a result, his platoon split was relatively small: lefty batters had a .324 wOBA against him while righties had a .311 wOBA. None of the other rotation candidates threw four pitches as often as Cessa, and I don’t think any of them are as consistently in sync with their delivery as well.

Also, in the age of pitch counts, I should note Cessa was incredibly pitch efficient last year. He averaged only 14.7 pitches per inning and 3.69 pitches per plate appearance as a starter in 2016. The MLB averages are 16.8 and 3.95, respectively. Cessa managed to complete at least five innings in all nine of his starts while throwing 85+ pitches only three times.

What’s holding him back? A lack of strikeouts and #toomanyhomers, more than anything. Even with a slider that rated as well-above-average in swing-and-miss rate and ground ball rate, Cessa had a mere 17.1% strikeout rate and a 45.0% ground ball rate in his 51.2 innings as a starter last year. Hitters tagged him for a 1.92 HR/9 (19.3 HR/FB%) and that’s way too high. Can’t do that and stay in the rotation.

Cessa has long had a reputation for being a strike-thrower and we saw it last season. He had a 3.9% walk rate in his nine starts. I wonder whether he’s someone who could benefit from throwing a few more pitches out of the zone, especially in two-strike counts. Not everything needs to be over the plate, you know. That could lead to more strikeouts and fewer homers allowed. Just an idea. But yeah, too few strikeouts and too many homers. Those are the two things Cessa will look to improve this summer.

Chad Green

Green. (Presswire)
Green. (Presswire)

What does he have the others don’t? Good question! I’m not sure, exactly. Possibly an overpowering fastball? Green, who turns 26 in May, is one of several pitchers who added velocity after joining the Yankees within the last few years, and last season his heater averaged 95.4 mph and topped out at 99.2 mph. His four-seamer generated a swing and a miss a whopping 16.2% of the time, which is nearly triple the league average rate. Green’s fastball: it’s good. (Bet you didn’t realize he had a 26.3% strikeout rate last season, did you? )

I’d also argue that among the four pitchers in this post, no one improved their stock more over the last 12 months than Green. He’s trending in the right direction. He added some oomph to his fastball, improved the quality of his slider with help from pitching coach Larry Rothschild last spring, and he added a cutter while down in Triple-A. Green came to New York with a fastball and an okay slider. Now he has a bigger fastball, a better slider, and a brand new cutter. Neat.

What’s holding him back? The complete lack of a changeup. Green has tried both splitter and changeup grips and so far he’s been unable to find something that works. Because of that, he has nothing to combat left-handers aside from cutters in on the hands. Last summer lefties hit .287/.351/.663 (.421 wOBA) with nine homers in 95 plate appearances again Green. Yikes. That’s a 3.74 HR/9 (34.6 HR/FB%). Yikes.

Clearly, the goal for Green this season will be improving his changeup. Or his splitter. Either one works. He needs something to keep left-handed hitters off balance, because busting them inside with cutters only works so much. Green needs that soft offspeed pitch to keep them guessing. I’m not sure he has much of a chance to be a big league starter without one. His fastball and slider are good enough that, at worse, Green should be a pretty nice reliever. Obviously the Yankees hope he can be something more than that.

Bryan Mitchell

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

What does he have the others don’t? The potential for a truly dominant pitch. Mitchell’s curveball is arguably the best curveball in the organization. It’s a power bender that averaged 81.9 mph last season with a well-above-average spin rate, which points to the potential for swings and misses and grounders. Don’t sleep on Mitchell’s mid-90s four-seamer and low-90s cutter either. His raw stuff is very impressive.

Also, the soon-to-be 26-year-old Mitchell has performed the best among the rotation candidates, both this spring and last season. I get the sense that’s going to factor into the team’s decision. So far this spring Mitchell has struck out 12 and walked three in 14.1 innings. He’s allowed no more than one run in three of his four appearances. Last year Mitchell threw 25 innings across five starts with the Yankees, during which he had a 3.24 ERA (4.23 FIP). I don’t think the Yankees will base their decision on those numbers, but I do think they’ll be considered.

Of course, Mitchell walked more batters (12) than he struck out (11) during his relatively brief big league cameo last year, so perhaps don’t read too much into the shiny ERA. Point is, Mitchell performed well from a “didn’t allow many runs” perspective, and it sure is easy to dream on his fastball/cutter/curveball combination.

What’s holding him back? Both command and a changeup, or the lack thereof. Mitchell doesn’t miss as many bats as you’d expect and he’s more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe because his command is so poor. Throwing in the mid-90s is great! But if it’s over the plate, it’s going to get hit. And as pretty as his curveball is, it’s had a below-average swing and miss rate in all three of his MLB seasons. There’s a big disconnect between Mitchell’s stuff and his results, and that disconnect is due to poor command.

The changeup, I’d argue, is a bigger issue. You can carve out a successful career with below-average command, even as a starter. It’s doable. A.J. Burnett spent 17 years in the big leagues, won a pair of World Series rings, and banked over $140M with below-average command. Mitchell doesn’t have Burnett stuff, but he has pretty darn good stuff, and that should be enough to enjoy a big league career even without improving his command.

Without a changeup, however, Mitchell has to rely on his cutter to neutralize lefties, and his command isn’t good enough to rely on that one pitch consistently. Lefties hit .270/.372/.378 (.334 wOBA) against Mitchell last year and .274/.379/.415 (.350 wOBA) in his big league career overall. A right-hander who can’t get lefties out doesn’t have much of a chance to be a starter in Yankee Stadium. Mitchell has been working on his changeup for years — he’s tried a splitter as well — and so far nothing has taken. I wonder how much longer the Yankees will keep waiting before sticking him in the bullpen for good.

Luis Severino

Severino. (Presswire)
Severino. (Presswire)

What does he have the others don’t? Former top prospect status and, in theory, the most upside. That’s going to buy the just turned 23-year-old Severino plenty of opportunities and that’s why I think he’s favored to land a rotation spot right now. Now, to be fair, that’s not the only thing Severino has going for him. He’s got the big fastball, he’s got the wipeout slider, and at one point in time he had a very nice changeup as well. There was a reason Severino was a top prospect.

There’s also this: Severino has had, by far, the best stretch in the big leagues among these four players. Back in 2015 the Yankees called Severino up in the second half, and he had a 2.89 ERA (4.37 FIP) in eleven starts and 62.1 innings for a team in a postseason race. He had his issues with walks (8.6%) and strikeouts (1.30 HR/9), but what rookie pitcher doesn’t? Besides, Severino’s strikeout (22.0%) and grounder (50.3%) rates were impressive. Remember this guy?

That guy is really good! The Yankees remember that guy. They want him back. Severino, unlike Cessa and Mitchell and Green, has shown the ability to dominate big league hitters as a starting pitcher, albeit in 60-something innings two years ago. It’s more than the other guys have shown, however, and that’s going to work in Severino’s favor come decision time. He’s a former top prospect who gave everyone a taste of his upside in 2015. That can’t be ignored.

What’s holding him back? Once again, it’s command and a changeup, though unlike Green and Mitchell, Severino does actually have a changeup. Watch that video. There are more than a few in there. Severino lost confidence and/or feel for his changeup last season — he threw 12 changeups total in his final four starts after averaging 12 changeups per start in 2015 — and he’s working to get it back this spring. Not enough of his starts have been televised for us to get an idea of how he’s progressing, unfortunately.

As for the command, Severino’s location with his secondary stuff last year was a bigger issue than with his fastball. His fastball is so overpowering that he doesn’t need to be precise with it. He just needs to be close enough. With his slider, however, Severino left too may up in the zone and out over the plate early last season, which earned him a demotion back to Triple-A. The same was true with his changeup before he stopped throwing it all together.

This spring Severino made some slight changes to his mechanics — he’s breaking his hands closer to his body (GIF) — in an effort to improve his command and changeup. His issues aren’t a mystery. The Yankees and Rothschild have been working to get Severino back on track, and heck, he even spent some time with Pedro Martinez in the offseason. With the changeup, it’s about getting Severino back to where he was two years ago. Concerns about his command have existed for a while though, and ultimately his ability to improve that will determine whether he stays in the rotation long-term or winds up back in the bullpen, where he dominated last season.

* * *

We have to acknowledge these four pitchers are not necessarily in a rotation competition this spring. They’re in a pitching staff competition. It’s entirely possible one or more of them will wind up in the bullpen should they fail to secure a rotation spot. Like I said earlier though, I’d bet on all four guys making starts at some point during the summer. That’s usually how these things play out.

Assuming Masahiro Tanaka stays healthy and opts out, the Yankees have no established pitching under control beyond 2017. The hope is one or two or all four of these young starters emerge as viable long-term big league rotation options this coming season. They don’t need to become aces to have value. (Have you seen what average-ish mid-rotation guys are getting in free agency?) These four pitchers could help solve a lot of problems this season, though each of them has to figure some things out to make it happen.

Spring Training Game Thread: Big Mike’s Fourth Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are still on the other side of Florida today, and they have another game at the brand new Ballpark at the Palm Beaches. They beat the Astros there yesterday, and this afternoon they’ll look to beat the Nationals there as well. Houston and Washington share the massive Spring Training complex. The new park looks pretty nice based on the nine innings I kinda sorta watched yesterday.

Anyway, Michael Pineda is on the mound making his fourth start of the spring today. The first went well, the second not so much, and the third was magnificent. Which Big Mike will show up today? Who knows. He’s unpredictable. I guess that’s part of the fun. Consistency is boring. Also, rotation candidate Chad Green is scheduled to pitch today as well. The Yankees have 13 days to finalize their roster. Here is the Nationals’ lineup and here are the players the Yankees will use today:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. C Austin Romine
  8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Michael Pineda

Available Pitchers: RHP Chad Green, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Jonathan Holder, RHP J.R. Graham, and LHP Jason Gurka are all expected to pitch today. That’s a lot of relievers. Not sure there will be enough innings to get them all in the game. We’ll see. RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Matt Marsh, RHP Travis Hissong, RHP Andrew Schwaab, RHP Cale Coshow, and LHP Nestor Cortes are the extra arms. Marsh, Hissong, Schwaab, Coshow, and Cortes are all up from minor league camp.

Available Position Players: C Kyle Higashioka, 1B Donovan Solano, 2B Ruben Tejada, SS Gleyber Torres, 3B Pete Kozma, LF Tyler Wade, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Billy McKinney will be the second string off the bench. C Radley Haddad, 1B Ji-Man Choi, IF Thairo Estrada, OF Clint Frazier, and UTIL Wilkin Castillo are the extra players.

It is cloudy and on the cool side in West Palm Beach. There’s no rain in the forecast, so hooray for that. There is no YES broadcast for today’s game, which will begin a little after 1pm ET. If you’re in the Washington market, you can watch on MASN. If not, you can watch on MLB Network and MLB.tv, even in the New York market. Enjoy the game.

Didi Gregorius leaves WBC with right shoulder injury

(AP Photo/Toru Takahashi)
(AP Photo/Toru Takahashi)

Welp, this isn’t good: Didi Gregorius has left Team Netherlands and is returning to Tampa with a right shoulder injury, according to Bryan Hoch and Kevin Kernan. It’s a “hematoma of the subcapsular muscle,” whatever that means, according to Anthony Rieber. Gregorius had a preliminary MRI yesterday and will go for more tests tomorrow.

“The doctor was really encouraged by his strength and felt good about it, but we thought we’re going to cover ourselves,” said Joe Girardi to Randy Miller. “It’s obviously not what you want to hear, but hopefully it’s something short. But again, we have not seen him. The evaluation from the doctor was his strength was really good. But we’ve got to see him.”

Gregorius played six games in the World Baseball Classic — one at shortstop and five at designated hitter in deference to Andrelton Simmons. The Netherlands clinched a spot in the semifinals last week and they’ve spent the last few days in Arizona working out and playing exhibition games while waiting for the semifinals to start tonight.

It’s unclear how exactly Gregorius got hurt, but it could simply be one of those wear and tear baseball injuries. I know everyone will freak out and blame the WBC, but Gregorius could have just as easily gotten hurt with the Yankees. It doesn’t really matter though. He’s hurt and that’s that.

Hopefully tomorrow’s tests bring good news because the shortstop depth chart is not pretty. Ronald Torreyes, Ruben Tejada, Donovan Solano, and Pete Kozma are the best in-house options. I don’t think the Yankees would be foolish enough to accelerate their timetable with Gleyber Torres because of the injury. Didi getting hurt doesn’t make Torres more MLB ready.

Gregorius, 27, hit .276/.304/.447 (98 wRC+) with 20 home runs last season. He went 8-for-23 (.385) with four doubles and a home run in his six WBC games. Opening Day is only 13 days away, so unless this is a really minor injury, Didi’s chances of being ready to start the season aren’t good.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 20th, 2017

Spring Record: 17-6 (134 RS, 98 RA)
Spring Opponents This Week: Mon. @ WAS (MLBN, MLB.tv), Tues. vs. BOS (MLB.tv), Weds. @ PHI (MLBN, MLB.tv), Thurs. @ TB (ESPN, MLB.tv), Fri. vs. PHI (YES, MLB.tv), Sat. vs. TOR (YES, MLB.tv), Sun. vs. TB (no TV)

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 tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

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Open Thread: March 19th Camp Notes

Fighting Spirit! The Yankees put together a two-run rally in the top of the ninth to beat the Astros today. The tying and go-ahead runs scored on the same wild pitch because the pitcher never bothered to cover the plate. Good times. Chase Headley drove in two runs with a double while Clint Frazier had two singles. Brett Gardner, Gleyber Torres, and Aaron Judge each had a hit as well. Headley also stole home on the front end of a double steal.

Both Adam Warren (3.2 IP, 1 R) and Luis Severino (3.1 IP, 3 R) pitched and neither looked particularly sharp with their location. Severino’s line would have been much worse if not for two great defensive plays by Aaron Hicks. He made a leaping catch at the wall and also threw a runner out at the plate. No one wants to win those final two rotation spots, it seems. Here are the box score and video highlights, and here is the rest of the news from Spring Training:

  • Brendan Kuty has the complete minor league workout groups. These do not necessarily indicate the player will start the season at that level, remember. Example: Miguel Flames will not be in Triple-A. Jake Cave, Erik Swanson, Stephen Tarpley, Austin DeCarr, and Jordan Foley are all listed in the rehab group. Hmmm. Also, the Yankees have apparently hired Dan Fiorito as an instructor. Neat. He spent the last few years as a utility man in the farm system.
  • Jordan Montgomery will start Thursday’s game, Joe Girardi announced. A few days ago Girardi seemed to indicate the big left-hander may be pitching his way into an Opening Day roster spot. Montgomery threw four perfect innings last time out and has allowed four earned runs in 10.1 total innings this spring. [Bryan Hoch]
  • The Yankees will still be on the road in West Palm Beach tomorrow afternoon. I believe Michael Pineda is pitching. That game will be on MLB Network and MLB.tv.

Here is the open thread for the rest of the weekend. There are no World Baseball Classic games on today, unfortunately. That USA vs. Dominican Republic game last night was intense. MLB Network will show Spring Training games on tape delay all night instead. None of the local hockey or basketball teams are playing tonight, but there’s all the March Madness madness. Talk about that stuff or anything else here, as long as it’s not religion or politics. Thanks in advance.

Spring Training Game Thread: A Two-Day Road Trip

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time this spring, the Yankees are on the east coast of Florida. They made the long trek across the state to West Palm Beach for this afternoon’s game against the Astros. And because they have to play the Nationals at West Palm Beach tomorrow — the Astros and Nationals share the Ballpark at the Palm Beaches, which just opened this year — they’re going to stay in town tonight rather than go all the way back to Tampa.

Anyway, this afternoon both Adam Warren and Luis Severino will make their latest Grapefruit League appearances as they hope to secure Opening Day rotation spots. I still think Warren will end up in the bullpen, but we’ll see. Also, Ben Heller has quietly had a nice spring and he’ll pitch today as well. Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, I’m certain we’ll see Heller at some point this summer. Here is the Astros’ lineup and here are the players the Yankees sent across the state:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. C Kyle Higashioka
  9. SS Tyler Wade
    RHP Adam Warren

Available Pitchers: RHP Luis Severino, RHP Ben Heller, and RHP Gio Gallegos are all expected to pitch after Warren. RHP J.R. Graham, LHP Jason Gurka, RHP Jonathon Holder, RHP Travis Hissong, RHP Matt Marsh, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Andrew Schwaab, and LHP Nestor Cortes are the extra arms. Hissong, Marsh, Coshow, Schwaab, and Cortes are all up from minor league camp for the two-day road trip.

Available Position Players: C Wilkin Castillo, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Gleyber Torres, SS Pete Kozma, 3B Donovan Solano, LF Clint Frazier, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Billy McKinney will be the second string off the bench. C Austin Romine, C Radley Haddad, IF Thairo Estrada, IF Ruben Tejada, and UTIL Rob Refsnyder are the extra players. Haddad and Estrada are up from minor league camp.

It is nice and sunny in West Palm Beach today. Good baseball weather. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET, and if you’re in the Houston market, you can watch on ROOT Sports. If not, MLB.tv is your only option. MLB Network is not showing the game live. Enjoy the game.