DotF: Solano and Higashioka have big games in AAA win

Got some notes to pass long, as usual:

  • In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees are sending SS Gleyber Torres, SS Tyler Wade, 3B Miguel Andujar, 1B Greg Bird, and RHP Brody Koerner to the Arizona Fall League. They still have three pitching spots to fill. Farm system head Gary Denbo told Chad Jennings that Torres will play some second base and Wade will play some outfield in the desert. Intrigue!
  • Another in case you missed it earlier: OF Ben Gamel was traded for the Mariners for teenage pitching prospects RHP Juan DePaula and RHP Jio Orozco. Gamel was named MVP of the Triple-A International League just yesterday. It was only a matter of time until the Yankees traded one of their upper level lefty hitting outfielders.
  • Some injury updates from Randy Miller: RHP James Kaprielian (flexor) is still on his throwing program and will get back on a mound soon. The Yankees want to send him to the AzFL but won’t push it. Also, RHP Drew Finley is out with elbow fatigue, but tests showed no structural damage.
  • LHP Justus Sheffield and LHP James Reeves have been promoted from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton, report Matt Kardos and Nick Flammia. Nice little late season promotions for those two. LHP Nestor Cortes, meanwhile, was sent from Triple-A to High-A, the team announced. He threw 5.2 hitless innings in his spot start with the RailRiders.
  • RHP Dillon Tate has been hitting 96 mph out of the bullpen with Low-A Charleston, reports Brendan Kuty. Tate’s velocity had been fluctuating all year with the Rangers, and it looks like it’s starting to come back. The next step is seeing whether he can hold that velocity as a starter.

Triple-A Scranton (14-2 win over Buffalo)

  • CF Mason Williams: 2-6, 1 R, 4 RBI, 1 K — hitting .330/.333/.418 in his last 23 games … you’d like to see more walks, but the shoulder seems a-okay
  • LF Cesar Puello: 1-4, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP, 1 E (fielding) — that’s his 16th hit-by-pitch of the season and it’s not even close to a career high … he has seasons with 20, 21, and 22 hit-by-pitches, plus two others 16 … dude’s a pitch magnet
  • 3B Rob Refsnyder: 1-6, 2 RBI, 3 K
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 1-6, 1 R, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
  • DH Donovan Solano: 4-5, 5 R, 3 2B — hitting .317/.345/.434 on the season
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 3-4, 4 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB — that’s his 21st homer of the season … his previous career high was eight back in 2011
  • RF Jake Cave: 3-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • LHP Jordan Montgomery: 6 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 6/4 GB/FB — 62 of 86 pitches were strikes (72%) … set a franchise record with a 29.2 innings scoreless streak
  • LHP Richard Bleier: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 17 of 20 pitches were strikes (85%) … 20 pitches in three innings? huh … guessing this was a tune-up appearance ahead of a call-up Friday

[Read more…]

Game 132: An Important Rubber Game

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

As soon as the Royals tied last night’s game, it felt like a loss was inevitable. It was only a matter of time until they completely blew it, right? Rather than suffer the inevitable loss, the Yankees rallied for an improbable tenth inning win to keep pace in the wildcard race. That was a character building game. Going to need to win some ugly ones like that throughout the season.

Tonight’s game is a chance for the Yankees to win this series against the Royals, after winning series against the Mariners and Orioles, two other wildcard competitors. Sweeps would have been nice, but winning the series is step one, and the Yankees accomplished that against Seattle and Baltimore. Time to do it against Kansas City. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. DH Brian McCann
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Luis Cessa

It rained in Kansas City for much of the day but the forecast is clear tonight. Should be no win-sabotaging rain delay in this one. Tonight’s game will begin at 8:15pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Yankees acquire Eric Young Jr. from Brewers for cash

EYJ several teams ago. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
EYJ several teams ago. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

The Yankees have acquired outfielder Eric Young Jr. from the Brewers for cash, the team announced. There’s your September pinch-runner specialist. Young is not on the 40-man roster and will report to Triple-A until rosters expand tomorrow.

The 31-year-old Young is a career .247/.314/.328 (74 wRC+) hitter with 114 steals in 149 attempts (77%) in nearly 1,700 big league plate appearances. This year he owns a .263/.338/.339 (83 wRC+) batting line and 23 steals in 116 games with Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate.

None of the offense matters. Young was acquired to run and nothing else. Not hit, not field, nothing. Just run. He is this year’s version of Rico Noel, except we won’t have to pull for him to get his first career MLB hit. Young figures to be called up as soon as rosters expand.

Ben Gamel traded to Mariners for two pitching prospects

(Photo via @SWBRailRiders)
(Photo via @SWBRailRiders)

The Yankees have started to clear up their outfield logjam. Ben Gamel has been traded to the Mariners for right-handed pitching prospects Juan DePaula and Jio Orozco, both teams have announced. Gamel either cleared trade waivers at some point this month, or was claimed by the Mariners this week.

Just yesterday Gamel was named International League MVP after hitting .308/.365/.420 (125 wRC+) with six home runs and 19 steals in 116 games for Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees have a ton of left-handed hitting outfielders and something had to give. Mason Williams and Jake Cave are at Triple-A too, and Dustin Fowler and Billy McKinney are next in line at Double-A.

Orozco, 19, is the better of the two prospects coming to the Yankees. Seattle was able to buy him away from Arizona as their 14th round pick in the 2015 draft. Orozco has a 4.07 ERA (3.51 FIP) with a 29.3% strikeout rate and a 7.4% walk rate in 48.2 rookie ball innings this year. MLB.com ranked him as the 19th best prospect in the Mariners’ system. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

His fluid arm action and clean delivery allow him to pitch to both sides of the plate with his 91-94 mph fastball, while his extension through the ball gives it some sinking action. Orozco’s curveball has above-average potential, thrown from an over-the-top slot with good arm speed, creating a 12-to-6 shape with depth, and he also shows good feel for a changeup, giving him the chance for three average-or-better offerings … Beyond the stuff, Orozco’s overall feel for pitching sets him apart from most pitchers his age.

The 18-year-old DePaula has a 3.07 ERA (2.98 FIP) with a 30.6% strikeout rate and a 6.4% walk rate in 41 rookie ball innings this season. He did not rank among MLB.com’s top 30 Mariners prospects, though Baseball America did have him 29th in Seattle’s system in their 2016 Prospect Handbook. Here’s what Baseball America had to say about DePaula:

De Paula was throwing in the mid-80s when he signed, peaking at 87 mph, but in his complete game he was still throwing 93 mph in the ninth inning. De Paula is a strike thrower even with his extra velocity, and he’s starting to grow into his lanky frame. He has a solid feel for his age with his ability to mix his fastball, curveball and changeup, and the Mariners are impressed by his early velocity gains. He has a clean arm, and aside from his youth, his biggest issue appears to be the development of his curveball.

For all his Triple-A success, Gamel’s trade value was limited. You needn’t look beyond last year’s Ramon Flores trade for evidence. Flores, a very similar lefty hitting Triple-A outfielder, landed the Yankees half a Dustin Ackley at last year’s trade deadline. They had to send another prospect (Jose Ramirez) to the Mariners to complete that trade.

The Yankees have a ton of depth at Gamel’s position and they still do, really. Rather than sit on the depth and do nothing with it, they sold high on Gamel — how much higher can you get than the day after he wins IL MVP? — and turned him into two interesting lower level pitching prospects. The move also clears a 40-man roster spot, which is kind of a big deal. The Yankees have a big crunch coming.

The schedule is about to get a lot tougher as the Yankees prepare for last gasp run at a postseason spot

More unexpected contributions required. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
More unexpected contributions required. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Thanks to last night’s improbable extra innings win over the red hot Royals, the Yankees remain 3.5 games back of the second wildcard spot with 31 games to play. Their postseason odds are long — FanGraphs has them at 4.2%, Baseball Prospectus at 6.5% — but you know what? They’re in the damn race. The Yankees are playing meaningful baseball.

Tonight’s series finale against the Royals closes out the AL Central portion of the Yankees’ schedule this year. They’re already done with the AL West too. From here on out, the Yankees play nothing but AL East teams and one interleague series, at home against the Dodgers. Here’s a quick breakdown of the remaining schedule:

  • vs. Royals: one game (on the road)
  • vs. Dodgers: three games (at home)
  • vs. Orioles: six games (three at home, three on the road)
  • vs. Rays: seven games (four at home, three on the road)
  • vs. Red Sox: seven games (three at home, four on the road)
  • vs. Blue Jays: seven games (three at home, four on the road)

The seven games against the last place Rays are the only remaining games that can be considered “easy,” and playing the Rays is never easy. There’s no such thing as an “easy” game within the AL East, which is, yet again, the toughest division in baseball. It’s the only division with four teams over .500 and the only division with four 68+ win teams.

The September schedule is always heavy on AL East games. MLB likes to schedule intradivision games in the final month to spice up the postseason races, and also to make travel a little easier at the end of the season. At this point the division title isn’t happening for the Yankees. It’s not realistic at all. The AL East heavy September schedule will at least allow them to keep pace with the Orioles for the second wildcard spot. And the Red Sox too. Boston is only one game up on the O’s.

At the same time, the Yankees haven’t played all that well against the AL East this season. They’re 21-28 against division rivals this season, including 3-9 against the Blue Jays. Toronto has been pushing the Yankees around since late last season. The Yankees have no answer for them. I suppose the good news is New York is 11-11 against the AL East in the second half, which is way better than their 10-18 mark in the first half.

Right now, I think the Yankees are a better team than they were for the first four months of the season. Gary Sanchez has helped the offense, and others like Mark Teixeira and Starlin Castro are contributing more as well. The bullpen is weaker, no doubt about it, but Luis Severino may solve that problem. If nothing else, the Yankees are more fun to watch now. I’ll take it. That’s cool.

The path to the postseason is going to be difficult because the Yankees only have 31 more games to make up 3.5 games and pass four other teams in the standings (O’s, Tigers, Astros, Royals). The fact 27 of their 31 games are against AL East rivals only makes things more difficult. The Yankees have a very tough remaining schedule, so if they’re going to stay in the race until the final week, they’ll have to overcome a brutal month of games.

Update: Yankees sending Andujar, Bird, Torres, Wade, and Koerner to the Arizona Fall League

Bird is the word. (Presswire)
Bird is the word. (Presswire)

4:28pm: The rosters have been officially announced. The Yankees are sending RHP Brody Koerner to the AzFL in addition to Bird, Torres, Andujar, and Wade. They have three pitching spots listed as TBA. Wade is listed as an outfielder, so that’s interesting.

2:30pm: According to Josh Norris, the Yankees are sending first baseman Greg Bird to the Arizona Fall League this season. I imagine this is still a tentative assignment, but it does suggest Bird’s rehab from shoulder surgery is going well. The Yankees wouldn’t plan on sending him to the AzFL if there was serious concern he wouldn’t be ready in time.

Bird, 23, has missed the entire season after having shoulder surgery in February. He had a shoulder injury in the minors last year, raked during his second half cameo with the Yankees, then re-injured the shoulder during an offseason workout. Given how poorly Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez hit this year, the Yankees really missed Bird this summer.

This will be Bird’s second AzFL stint, though the circumstances are very different. He’s a rehabbing player now. Two years ago he was a prospect getting extra at-bats. Bird hit .313/.391/.556 (176 wRC+) with six homers in 26 games during his first AzFL stint. He was named the league’s 2014 Most Valuable Player, then made his MLB debut a few months later.

Norris says the Yankees are also sending third baseman Miguel Andujar and shortstops Gleyber Torres and Tyler Wade to the desert as well. All three are among the clubs better prospects and the Yankees are sending them to the desert for extra at-bats. Andujar is Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and I imagine the team will use the AzFL stint to further evaluate him and make their 40-man roster decision.

The Yankees still have 3-4 pitching spots to fill and it could be a while before those are announced. James Kaprielian would be an ideal candidate if he gets healthy in time, though I doubt the Yankees will rush him back from a flexor injury. AzFL pitching assignments tend to be boring. Most top pitching prospects are already bumping up against their innings limit, so there are a lot of third and four tier pitching prospects in the league.

The AzFL season begins on Tuesday, October 11th, and runs through Thursday, November 17th. Yankees prospects will suit up for the Scottsdale Scorpions this year. They’ll be on a team with Phillies, Angels, Giants, and Mets prospects. There will be days Scottsdale has an all-Yankees infield. Pretty cool.

Sherman: Yankees not planning to call up any prospects before they’re Rule 5 Draft eligible

Frazier. (@Kelsie_Heneghan)
Frazier. (@Kelsie_Heneghan)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees are not planning to call up any prospects this week who are a year away from Rule 5 Draft eligibility. This applies mostly to two players: outfielder Clint Frazier and righty reliever Jonathan Holder. It also applies to guys like Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams.

Rosters expand tomorrow and right now we know with near certainty Luis Severino will be among the first wave of call-ups. I’d expect other prominent shuttle riders to come up this week as well, namely Nick Goody and Rob Refsnyder. There will be many more additions in September too. Don’t worry. Anyway, I have some quick thoughts on this.

1. The Yankees are facing a severe 40-man roster crunch this offseason. The Yankees got a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection by calling up Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and Ben Heller earlier this month. Other notable prospects like Jorge Mateo and Miguel Andujar are Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter, ditto countless other second and third tier prospects.

When I wrote our September call-up preview, I said I think the Yankees will protect five more prospects after the season: Mateo, Andujar, Dietrich Enns, Tyler Webb, and Kyle Higashioka. On top of that, the Yankees will need to clear four 40-man spots for 60-day DL players the day after the World Series ends: Greg Bird, Branden Pinder, Conor Mullee, and Dustin Ackley. Chances are Nathan Eovaldi will land on the 60-day DL soon enough too.

Based on all of that, the Yankees will need to clear ten 40-man spots after the season, assuming Eovaldi finds himself on the 60-day DL. They only have one impending free agent too: Mark Teixeira. That’s it. Nine guys are losing their 40-man spots after the season. Nine! Some are obvious (Anthony Swarzak, J.R. Graham, Blake Parker, Richard Bleier, etc.) but many of them won’t be. The Yankees are going to have some tough decisions to make*.

* My guess is the Yankees will get a head start on non-tendering Eovaldi and Ackley by releasing them the day after the end of the World Series to clear 40-man space. They won’t have the luxury of waiting until the December 2nd tender deadline. That’s still only two extra spots.

Point is, the Yankees don’t have the luxury of adding players like Holder and Frazier to the 40-man early. Roster spots are going to be at a premium. (It would also unnecessarily burn an option, unless they both make the 2017 Opening Day roster.) I know we all want to see prospects in September. Who doesn’t? But the Yankees have to think big picture here. Roster spots are finite resource. They can’t call up the prospect flavor of the week just because.

2. The Holder hype is getting a little out of control. Earlier this week Holder turned in one of the most dominant pitching performances I’ve seen in all my time following the minors. He struck out 12 of 13 batters faced en route to a four-out postseason berth clinching save with Triple-A Scranton. It was incredible. Sheer dominance.

Holder has had a phenomenal season this year, pitching to a 1.65 ERA (1.30 FIP) in 65.1 innings while climbing from High-A to Triple-A. He’s struck out 101 and walked only seven. That works out to a 42.4 K% and 2.9 BB%. Insanity. Holder’s been as good as any reliever in the minors this season, and because of that, he’s viewed as a potential late-inning option in the near future.

While I’m certain Holder will get a big league opportunity soon, likely early next year, I think maybe he’s getting a little too much prospect love thanks to his minor league numbers. Holder’s a 92-94 mph fastball guy with a good but occasionally loopy curveball. He thrives by getting minor league batters to chase heaters up and out of the zone, as you can see in the video of his eleven straight strikeouts.

I’m not sure how well that strategy will work in the show, because big leaguers will do a better job laying off those pitches than minor leaguers. That said, Holder is still a quality relief prospect and the Yankees should be happy to have him. I just feel that, on the team’s righty relief prospect depth chart, Holder definitely falls behind Heller, and also Goody, Johnny Barbato, and even healthy Nick Rumbelow as well. Goody has a much better breaking ball and his minor league numbers are off the charts too (40.2 K% and 4.6 BB% in Triple-A in 2016).

It seems like every season we fall in love with a different minor league reliever who is carving up two or three levels. I could be completely wrong about Holder. Maybe he is a future relief ace. I was dead wrong about David Robertson, after all. (I thought his minor league control issues would keep him out of high-leverage work.) I’m just always skeptical of dominant minor league bullpeners. These guys are all over the place.

3. The Frazier hypothetical sure is fun. Frazier is currently on the Triple-A DL with a hamstring problem and isn’t a call-up candidate right now anyway. Also, he hasn’t exactly torn up Triple-A. He’s hitting only .229/.282/.375 (85 wRC+) since the trade and .231/.274/.368 (80 wRC+) in 29 Triple-A games overall. Frazier hasn’t forced the issue. He’s a top prospect because his tools are off the charts, not because his numbers are good.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the Yankees would have gone all-in on youth and called up Frazier in September had be been performing better in Triple-A. They could have stuck him in left field everyday and taken playing time away from Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury the same way they’ve taken playing time away from Teixeira and Brian McCann. Gary Sanchez has been a smashing success and Judge has had his moments too. Frazier is a potential impact bat who might have helped. Fun hypothetical, I think.