Thursday Night Open Thread

Got some site news to share: next week will be Retro Week here at RAB. There’s a whole bunch of nothing going on at this point of the offseason, so why not look back at the good ol’ days? This year is the 20th anniversary of the 1996 team, and that was the first championship club many Yankees fans witnessed, myself included. We’re going to focus on that 1996 team on their 20th anniversary. Retro Week always seem to go over well. Should be a blast.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The NHL is in its All-Star break, but the Knicks are playing tonight, and there’s some college hoops on the schedule too. Talk about anything and everything here, except religion and politics. Thanks.

Jorge Mateo gets honorable mention among MLB.com’s top ten shortstop prospects

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

MLB.com’s look at the top ten prospects at each position continued yesterday with shortstop, a position that is always loaded with talent. Dodgers SS Corey Seager and Phillies SS J.P. Crawford claim the top two spots. You could easily argue they are the two best prospects in baseball right now, regardless of position.

Yankees SS Jorge Mateo did not make the top ten list, but he did earn an honorable mention. Like I said, shortstop is always crazy stacked, and the 20-year-old Mateo is not quite in the top tier after just one year in full season ball. Here’s MLB.com’s blurb. As always, their scouting reports are free:

Jorge Mateo began earning Jose Reyes comparisons as soon as he made his U.S. debut in 2014, and he lived up to them by leading the Minors with 82 steals in his first taste of full-season ball last year. His top-of-the-line speed, offensive upside and defensive chops make him the Yankees’ shortstop of the future.

The Reyes comp doesn’t bug me as much as the Aaron Judge-Giancarlo Stanton comp, but it’s still crazy unfair to Mateo. For starters, Reyes hit .307/.334/.434 (102 wRC+) in the big leagues when he was Mateo’s age. The Mets called him up at 19 and he played 69 games in his age 20 season. Also, Reyes is a switch-hitter and Mateo is a right-handed hitter, and that’s a huge difference for speed guys. Lefty hitters can jailbreak out of the batter’s box.

Anyway, Mateo will open this coming season with High-A Tampa and figures to reach Double-A Trenton in the second half, as long as everything goes well. He hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with a pro ball leading 82 stolen bases last year, and if he does something like that again next year, Mateo will definitely be a top ten shortstop prospect. No doubt about it.

Gary Sanchez ranked second on the catcher list and Rob Refsnyder ranked ninth on the second base list. The Yankees didn’t have anyone on the righty pitcher, lefty pitcher, first base, or third base lists. The outfield list will be released later today and Judge is a safe bet to make an appearance, likely somewhere in the 6-10 range.

Sorting out the projected 2016 Triple-A Scranton roster

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Over the last few seasons Triple-A rosters have become extensions of the 25-man big league roster. There is no better example of this than last year’s bullpen shuttle. Teams use their Triple-A rosters not only to develop prospects, but also to stash depth players at each position should they be needed due to injury or poor performance. And they will be needed. Baseball always makes sure of it.

Brian Cashman has already said the Yankees hope to use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door based on their needs at the time. If they need an extra bullpen arm, they’ll call up a pitcher. If they need an extra outfielder because someone is banged up, then they’ll call up an extra outfielder. It sounds like a great plan. Will it work as well in reality as it does on paper? We’ll see.

So, with that in mind, let’s sort out the projected Triple-A Scranton roster as it sits right now. After all, these guys are the backup plans for the big league team. I have zero doubt we’ll see several of these players in the Bronx this coming summer, including guys none of us would ever expect. Remember Kyle Davies? Matt Tracy? Yeah. Let’s start with the position players. Asterisks (*) denotes players on the 40-man roster.

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Utility
Gary Sanchez* Greg Bird* Slade Heathcott* Tyler Austin
Carlos Corporan Rob Refsnyder* Mason Williams*
Eddy Rodriguez Pete Kozma Ben Gamel*
Sebastian Valle Donovan Solano Lane Adams*
Jonathan Diaz Aaron Judge
Cesar Puello

There are 25 roster spots in Triple-A and, believe it or not, that is relatively new. Triple-A and Double-A teams had 24-man rosters as recently as 2011. It’s pretty common for Triple-A teams to carry three-man benches and eight-man bullpens because of workload limits and whatnot, especially early in the season before guys are fully stretched out. I’ve got 16 position players in the table there, so three or four won’t make the cut one way or another.

Catchers: All signs point to Sanchez being the big league backup catcher, though that’s not set in stone just yet. The Yankees could send him to Triple-A for regular playing time and to work on his defense. As an added bonus, sending Sanchez down for 35 days or so will delay his free agency another year. Assuming Sanchez makes the MLB team, Triple-A catching duties will belong to Corporan and either Rodriguez and Valle. They’re all defense-first guys who can’t hit.

Austin Romine, Sanchez’s primary competition for the backup job, is out of minor league options and has been outrighted before, meaning if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he has to go through waivers and can elect free agency if he clears, which I imagine he would do in an effort to find a better opportunity. There appear to be only two ways for Romine to remain in the organization beyond Spring Training: he gets the backup catcher’s job, or he gets hurt in camp and is placed on the MLB DL.

If Sanchez doesn’t make the big league roster, he’ll be the starting catcher in Triple-A with either Romine or Corporan backing up Brian McCann. If Romine backs up McCann, Corporan will be in Triple-A. If Corporan backs up McCann, Romine will be gone and either Valle or Rodriguez will be with Sanchez in Triple-A. For now, I’ll say Sanchez makes the big league roster. The Yankees leaned on their prospects a lot in 2015 and I think that’ll continue in 2016.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Infielders: Barring injury, Bird and Refsnyder will start the season with the RailRiders. “That’s the optimal” according to Cashman, at least when it comes to Bird. The Yankees lost Ronald Torreyes on waivers earlier this week but still have Kozma, Solano, and Diaz on minor league contracts. I expect them to compete for a big league bench job in camp, and hey, one of them might win a spot.

In that case, Bird and Refsnyder will hold down the right side of the infield while the other two guys handle the left side. That means the RailRiders still need a utility infielder. There are going to be five infielders on the roster no matter what. Cito Culver and Dan Fiorito are the best candidates for that job right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees brought in one more minor league infielder these next few weeks. A minor league contract or waiver claim, something like that. One pulled hamstring in camp and the Yankees could be real short on upper level infield depth.

Outfield: The Triple-A outfield picture is crowded and yet crystal clear. Judge, Slade, Williams, and Gamel will be the four regular outfielders. They’ll rotate around the outfield and at DH. Simple, right? Puello, who played exactly one game in 2015 due to a back injury, is an obvious candidate for Double-A. Between the two catchers, the five infielders, and the four outfielders, we’re already at eleven position player spots.

So right now there is room for only one more position player since an eight-man bullpen is rather common in April. That last spot comes down to Adams and Austin. Both stunk in Triple-A last season and had to be demoted to Double-A in the second half. Adams is two years older and a better defender, but Austin has the advantage of being able to play a little first base as well. Plus he has seniority in the organization. That can’t hurt.

My guess — and this is nothing more than a guess — is Adams will get the Triple-A spot over Austin. Adams is older and on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees probably want to figure out what they have in him as soon as possible. If he can’t hack in Triple-A, they’ll cut him and move on. In that case Austin would anchor a Double-A Trenton lineup that is a little light on prospect power. He, Puello, Taylor Dugas, and Mark Payton would be the Thunder outfield.

After all of that, the Triple-A roster looks like this on the position player side:

Catchers (2): Two of Sanchez, Corporan, Rodriguez, and Valle.
Infielders (5): Bird and Refsnyder, Kozma, Diaz, and Solano. If one of them lands a big league job, Culver or Fiorito are candidates to fill the spot in Triple-A.
Outfielders (5): Judge, Heathcott, Gamel, Williams, Adams.

Position battles in Spring Training will determine the exact roster, as will injuries and things like that. The last big league bench spot is wide open, and the backup catcher’s job is not Sanchez’s just yet. Now let’s move on to the pitchers.

Starters Righty Relievers Lefty Relievers
Bryan Mitchell* Nick Rumbelow* Chasen Shreve*
Luis Cessa* Branden Pinder* Jacob Lindgren*
Anthony Swarzak Nick Goody* James Pazos*
Brady Lail Kirby Yates* Tyler Olson*
Chad Green Johnny Barbato* Tyler Webb
Jaron Long Vinnie Pestano
Eric Ruth Tyler Jones
Ronald Herrera Mark Montgomery
Caleb Smith

Lots and lots of pitchers. I have 22 names in the table for 12-13 Triple-A spots and three big league bullpen spots, so 6-7 of those guys are going to get stuck in Double-A. Of course, not everyone will get through Spring Training healthy. A handful of pitchers always get hurt in March. (There always seems to be a rash of Tommy John surgeries in Spring Training as pitchers ramp up their throwing.) It’s a vicious part of the baseball calendar.

I honestly think the Yankees will use those final three MLB bullpen spots to take the players they believe give them the best chance to win, regardless of previous role or handedness. If it’s three lefties, so be it. If it’s three guys who are starters by trade, fine. Remember, the Yankees took David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno north as relievers back in 2013 because they were the best options. The team didn’t worry about leaving one or two stretched out in Triple-A.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Trying to predict who will make the bullpen right now is impossible and a waste of time. No one expected Preston Claiborne to come to camp throwing fire three years ago, putting him in position for a big league call-up. Shreve might have a leg up on everyone else because he was so good for the first four and a half months last season. Aside from that, good luck figuring out who starts in MLB and Triple-A. And besides, the shuttle ensures these guys will be rotating in and out all year anyway.

I will say that of those 22 pitchers listed, I believe Ruth, Herrera, Smith, Jones, and Montgomery are mostly likely to be squeezed down to Double-A due to a roster crunch. (Herrera’s the guy who came over in the Jose Pirela trade.) I wouldn’t necessarily call them non-prospects. They’re just low priority prospects in the grand scheme of things. They lack the upside of the other pitchers in the table, relatively speaking.

Among the deep depth arms are lefty Chaz Hebert and righty Kyle Haynes. They’re among the starters who will open the season in Double-A and jump to Triple-A whenever a spot start is needed because of call-ups and whatnot. Ruth, Herrera, and Smith are in that group. There’s no doubt the Yankees have a ton of upper level pitchers, particularly in the bullpen. Now they just have to figure out which of these guys can stick in the big leagues.

Judge, Mateo, Sanchez all make Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 prospects list

Judge ... and Sanchez! (Rob Carr/Getty)
Judge and Sanchez at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)

We are now firmly in preseason prospect ranking season, and earlier this week Baseball Prospectus teased their annual by posting their top 101 prospects list. You can see the PDF right here. The whole thing is free. No subscription required. Dodgers SS Corey Seager claims the top spot and is followed by Twins OF Byron Buxton and Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito in the top three.

The Yankees have three players on the top 101: OF Aaron Judge (No. 18), SS Jorge Mateo (No. 65) and C Gary Sanchez (No. 92). Judge is the fifth outfielder on the list, behind Buxton, Rangers OF Nomar Mazara, Padres OF Manuel Margot, and Rangers OF Lewis Brinson. Sanchez is the fifth catcher behind Cubs C Willson Contreras, Athletics C Jacob Nottingham, Phillies C Jorge Alfaro, and Pirates C Reese McGuire.

“Judge should make his debut in the Bronx sometime in 2016, but it feels like a man of his proportions and potential needs a nickname. For opposing pitchers he might very well be ‘Judge Dredd,’ or when he fires one back up the box, ‘Judge Holden,'” said the write-up. I agree, Judge needs a good nickname. Judge Dredd is a little too obvious though. Nicknames have to come organically. You can’t force ’em. We’ll come up with a good one in due time.

As for Mateo, the write-up says he is “an 80 runner fully capable of stolen-base titles” while adding he “offers a potentially solid glove at shortstop as well.” As with any 20-year-old speedster in Single-A, the question is whether his bat will play and allow him to reach base often enough to raise hell. “The bat is still quite raw,” said the report. “But he can challenge the old adage that ‘you can’t steal first.’ Every ball in play is a potential single, and every ball up the alleys a potential triple.”

Sanchez “took steps forward on both sides of the ball in 2015, and the plus power and plus-plus arm that have kept him on every new iteration of this list are still very much present,” according to the BP crew, who noted this was Sanchez’s sixth year on the BP 101. Geez. It figures to be his last, however. Sanchez has the inside track on the backup catcher’s job, and even if he doesn’t find himself on the Opening Day roster, a midseason call-up feels inevitable.

Judge, Mateo, and Sanchez represent the crown jewels of the Yankees’ farm system along with RHP James Kaprielian. Those four are clearly the top prospects in the system. There’s a pretty significant gap between them and everyone else. Judge, Mateo, and Sanchez should appear on all top 100 lists this spring and Kaprielian might sneak one on or two as well.

Thoughts three weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three weeks from today Yankees pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training. Three weeks isn’t so bad, is it? I’m totally over the offseason. Bring me some real baseball. Even wire photos of players standing around in Tampa will hold me over. (The photo above is from last year.) Anyway, here are some assorted thoughts.

1. I think Gary Sanchez should open the season in Triple-A. My feelings on this seem to change by the day, but the service time benefits are becoming way too good to ignore. Only 35 days in the minors this year — 35 days that would be completely justifiable given his defense — equals team control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022. That 2022 season is a really long way off, yeah, but we’re talking about 35 days in 2016. That’s nothing. And given all the early-season off-days — the Yankees have four off-days in April and five off-days in the first four weeks of the season — the backup catcher only figures to start five or six times during those 35 days. The service time rules are so borked that trading those five or six games early in 2016 to gain control of Sanchez’s age 29 season is a no-brainer. Letting Austin Romine or the recently signed Carlos Corporan serve as Brian McCann‘s backup for five or six weeks is the best big picture move for the Yankees.

2. The only notable free agent outfielder still on the market is Dexter Fowler, and if he goes to the Angels, there will be close to zero trade suitors for Brett Gardner. I do still think the Yankees will end up keeping Gardner and going into the season with him, but as long as the Halos have that gaping left field hole and some young pitching to spare, we can’t close the door on a trade entirely. I still think Fowler is in good shape at this point of the offseason even though he’s tied to draft pick compensation and several big market teams signed outfield free agents. Off the top of my head, the Orioles, White Sox, Royals, Indians, Angels, Athletics, Cubs, Cardinals, and Nationals all could use one more outfielder. Among those nine teams, only the Angels and Indians a) don’t have a protected pick, or b) haven’t already forfeited their top pick to sign another qualified free agent, or c) haven’t picked up an extra pick(s) for losing a qualified free agent, and the Indians pretty clearly aren’t going to spend the kind of money it’ll take to get Fowler. The other seven clubs can more easily surrender a draft pick to sign a free agent. Fowler’s going to get paid. As long as it isn’t by the Angels, there’s still a chance Gardner will be traded.

3. This has been a pretty slow offseason for trades, don’t you think? The biggest names traded this winter are Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Shelby Miller, Todd Frazier, and Andrelton Simmons, I’d say. That’s about it. The two true superstars are relievers. The slow free agent market certainly played a role in that. There were plenty of quality players available for just money in January. Now that most of those free agents are off the board, I wonder if we’ll see a quick rush of trades involving biggish name players these next few weeks. Gardner could be in that group, and looking around the league, guys like Jonathan Lucroy, Marcell Ozuna, Ender Inciarte, Jay Bruce, Andre Ethier, the Rockies outfielders (Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Carlos Gonzalez), and the Padres starters (Tyson Ross, James Shields, Andrew Cashner) all seem like candidates to go. Trades are so much more exciting to me than free agent signings. Hopefully we see a few these next three weeks to spice up the offseason.

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

4. I enjoyed Dave Cameron’s recent post on tanking. I agree MLB teams don’t lose on purpose — this isn’t the NBA or NHL, where you pick high in the draft and get a potential superstar who impacts your team the very next season — but there are absolutely instances of teams not doing all they can to win. There’s no greater example of that than the 2011-13 Astros. They made no effort to be competitive. Anyway, what I want to say is I think there are too many incentives to be bad in baseball right now. Being bad not only means a high draft pick, it means large draft and international spending pools, it means having a protected first round pick, and it could mean extra draft picks (those 12 Competitive Balance Lottery picks the league hands out each year) and revenue sharing dollars depending on the market size. Teams are rewarded handsomely for being bad. I hope the next Collective Bargaining Agreement changes some of that, preferably eliminate the draft and international pools. How about giving the five best teams in the league a protected first round pick? Winning should be rewarded too. The bad teams gets all the perks.

5. This trade deadline is going to be really interesting. I want the Yankees to contend, but if they’re not, they need to sell off some pieces at midseason. The decided not to move Robinson Cano and David Robertson a few years back, but at least then they knew they were getting a draft pick for those guys should they leave as free agents. It’s unlikely the team will make a qualifying offer to either Mark Teixeira or Carlos Beltran after the season. The Yankees have to be honest with themselves. If they’re not in the race, they should look around to see what the market is for rental Teixeira and Beltran. Their no-trade clauses may be an obstacle, but they have to at least try to get something for them rather than nothing. The same goes for Chapman, though he’s a qualifying offer candidate. The Yankees are emphasizing youth now. Dealing Teixeira and Beltran brings back a young piece or two and opens up playing time for Greg Bird and either Aaron Hicks or Aaron Judge. Hopefully the Yankees are in contention and this is all moot. If they’re not though, holding onto Teixeira and Beltran for appearances would be a mistake.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Spring Training is getting closer by the day. There are players in Tampa already working out, you know. Erik Boland says Greg Bird, Rob Refsnyder, Ben Gamel, Jacob Lindgren, and Mason Williams are among the players already at the minor league complex preparing for the season. All of those guys will be competing for roster spots in camp, though some have a better chance to make the team than others. Nice to see either way.

Here is the nightly open thread. None of the local hockey and basketball teams are in action, but there is some college hoops on the schedule. Talk about whatever here.

(Here’s the link in case the video doesn’t work. It was giving me a hard time before.)

2016 Minor League Coaching Staffs Announced

Pedrique. (Martin Griff/Times of Trenton)
Pedrique. (Martin Griff/Times of Trenton)

With Spring Training inching closer and closer, the Yankees have announced the field staffs for their various minor league affiliates. Minor league coaches are important! They’re the ones working most closely with the team’s prospects on a day-to-day basis. Here are the 2016 coaching staffs.

Triple-A Scranton

Manager: Al Pedrique
Hitting Coach: Tom Wilson
Pitching Coach: Tommy Phelps
Bullpen Coach: Jason Brown
Trainer: Darren London
Strength Coordinator: Brad Hyde
Video Coordinator: Tyler DeClerck

Almost the entire Triple-A coaching staff is new. Longtime manager Dave Miley was let go earlier this offseason, hitting coach Marcus Thames was promoted to the big league assistant hitting coach job, and pitching coach Scott Aldred was moved into a roving pitching coordinator role to replace the departed Gil Patterson.

Pedrique has climbed the ladder the last few seasons, going from High-A manager in 2014 to Double-A manager in 2015 to Triple-A manager in 2016. Phelps was the pitching coach at High-A last season after serving as the Double-A pitching coach from 2009-14. Wilson, the former MLB catcher, is moving into a coaching role after spending the last few seasons in the organization as a scout. Hyde was actually with the big league team last year as the assistant strength and conditioning director. He gets the head job in Triple-A.

Double-A Trenton

Manager: Bobby Mitchell
Hitting Coach: P.J. Pilittere
Pitching Coach: Jose Rosado
Defense Coach: Justin Tordi
Bullpen Coach: J.D. Closser
Trainer: Lee Meyer

Mitchell replaces Pedrique and is a new hire. He has big league coaching experience — he previously worked as an outfield and base-running coach with the Braves, Angels, Red Sox, Padres, and Expos — and has spent the last few years managing in Angels and Cubs minor league systems. Mitchell played 202 MLB games as an outfielder with the Dodgers and Twins from 1980-83.

Pilittere and Rosado return as hitting and pitching coach, respectively. Pilittere has long been an organizational favorite, dating back to his playing days as a catcher. Tordi moves down a level after serving as a defense coach with the RailRiders last year. Closser, the former big league catcher, moves up a level. He was the defense coach with High-A Tampa last summer.

High-A Tampa

Manager: Patrick Osborne
Hitting Coach: Tom Slater
Pitching Coach: Tim Norton
Defense Coach: Anthony Pacheco
Trainer: Michael Becker
Strength Coordinator: Jose Siara

It appears Osborne is a rising managerial star in the system. He joined the organization back in 2014 after managing in independent leagues, and he’s since climbed the managerial ranks from the Rookie Gulf Coast League (2014) to Short Season Staten Island (2015) to High-A Tampa (2016.) Norton, the former bullpen prospect, was the Low-A Charleston pitching coach last year. Slater rejoins the organization after holding various hitting coach/instructor positions from 2012-14. Pacheco has been promoted after working in the GCL last year.

Low-A Charleston

Manager: Luis Dorante
Hitting Coach: Greg Colbrunn
Pitching Coach: Justin Pope
Defense Coach: Travis Chapman
Catching Coach: Michel Hernandez
Trainer: Jimmy Downam
Strength Coordinator: Anthony Velazquez
Video Coordinator: Cody Cockrum

This will be Dorante’s third season as RiverDogs manager. Pope has been promoted after spending last year with the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate. Colbrunn returns to the RiverDogs — he was with the club from 2007-12 as their hitting coach and manager — after spending the 2013-15 seasons with the Red Sox. He was their big league hitting coach from 2013-14 and held another job in the organization in 2015. Colbrunn suffered a brain hemorrhage late in 2014 and stepped down as hitting coach so he could be closer to his family in Charleston, where he lives year round.

Hernandez seems to be the organization’s minor league catching guru. He signed with the Yankees as a player in 1998 after defecting from Cuba, and he appeared in five games with the 2003 Yankees before moving on to other organizations. Hernandez has been a coaching coordinator in the system for years and last season the club named him Double-A Trenton defense coach specifically to work with Gary Sanchez. Hernandez’s assignment to the RiverDogs may indicate the now healthy Luis Torrens will spend next season with Low-A Charleston.

Short Season Staten Island

Manager: Dave Bialas
Hitting Coach: Eric Duncan
Defense Coach: Teuris Oliveras

The SI Yanks didn’t announce their entire coaching staff, just those three names. Bialas managed High-A Tampa last season, so he and Osborne switched jobs. Duncan, the Yankees first round pick back in 2003, will be in his second season as Baby Bombers hitting coach. Farm system head Gary Denbo told Brendan Kuty he hopes Duncan will join the organization in a full-time capacity at some point. Right now he wants to stick with the short season leagues. Oliveras, like Duncan, is returning in the same role.

Rookie Pulaski

Manager: Tony Franklin
Hitting Coach: Edwar Gonzalez
Pitching Coach: Butch Henry
Defense Coach: Hector Rabago
Trainer: Josh DiLoreto
Strength Coordinator: Danny Russo
Video Coordinator: Nick Avanzato

Everyone on the staff was with Pulaski last season except Henry, who was the pitching coach with Short Season Staten Island. Longtime DotF readers will recognize Gonzalez and Rabago from their playing days in the system. Franklin, who managed Double-A Trenton from 2007-14, was moved down to Pulaski last year because Denbo wanted him working with the organization’s youngest prospects. During the first half of the season Franklin is something of a roving coach who travels to the different affiliates to work with players. He then joins Pulaski when the season starts in June.

Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees

Up-to-date information on GCL coaching staffs is always tough to find — last year’s coaching staffs are still listed on MiLB.com — though Josh Norris did mention former big leaguer Armando Galarraga has joined the organization and will serve as pitching coach with one of the two GCL affiliates. You remember him from the botched perfect game. Galarraga retired as a player last year and was at the Winter Meetings looking for a coaching job in December, and apparently the Yankees hired him. He’s never been in the organization as a player to anything, so he must have impressed during the interview. Cool.