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:

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]


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.


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


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.

Andrew Miller wins 2015 Mariano Rivera Award as best AL reliever


Prior to Game Two of the World Series tonight, Andrew Miller was named the winner of the 2015 Mariano Rivera Award as the best reliever in the AL this past season. Pirates closer and former Yankees farmhand Mark Melancon won the Trevor Hoffman Award as the NL’s top reliever. Rivera presented Miller with the award at Kauffman Stadium.

“I’ve been lucky. The Yankees are about as good an organization as you can find. Their reputation is impeccable. Having the opportunity to play there is better than I ever dreamed of. On that front, no complaints,” said Miller at the press conference. “This is an incredible honor, something I never dreamed of. To be associated with anything with Mariano’s name on it, probably more than I deserve. Nobody has a better reputation, and especially off the field, than him. It’s something I’ll cherish it.”

Miller, 30, had 1.90 ERA (2.16 FIP) in 61.2 innings spread across 60 appearances this season despite missing a month with a forearm issue. He went 36-for-38 in save chances and struck out 40.7% of batters faced, the second highest strikeout rate among qualified relievers. Only Aroldis Chapman (41.7%) was better.

This is the second year of the Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman Awards. Greg Holland and Craig Kimbrel won it last year. The awards are voted on by a panel of former relievers: Rivera, Hoffman, Billy Wagner, Lee Smith, John Franco, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, Goose Gossage, and Rollie Fingers.

Given the panel of ex-closers, it’s not surprising the awards went to two closers rather than a deserving setup man like Wade Davis or Dellin Betances, but whatever. Congrats to Miller. Being selected as the top performer at your position is pretty damn cool.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Guess what? Derek Jeter is getting married! Both the NY Post and NY Daily News are reporting Jeter proposed to girlfriend Hannah Davis over the weekend on their three-year anniversary. That’s sweet. No wedding date has been set as far as we know. Jeter talked about wanting to settle down and start a family soon after retirement. Gosh, Derek Jeter is getting married. Wild.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets and Royals are playing Game Two of the World Series (deGrom vs. Cueto at 8pm ET on FOX), plus both the Knicks and Nets are playing their first game of the season tonight. Talk about those games, Jeter’s engagement, or anything else right here.

Front Office & Coaching Staff Notes: Hendry, Chavez, Mattingly, Magadan, Baylor, Tuck

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Both the Yankees’ front office and the coaching staff have been shaken up a bit in recent weeks. Assistant GM Billy Eppler left to take over as Angels GM, and trusted scout Tim Naehring was promoted to take his place. Hitting coach Jeff Pentland and bullpen coach Gary Tuck were let go as well. Here are some front office and coaching staff notes via Nick Cafardo, Joel Sherman, Jerry Crasnick, George King, Ryan Hatch, and Jon Heyman.

  • Special advisor Jim Hendry interviewed with the Phillies for their since filled GM position. They named Angels assistant GM Matt Klentak their new GM over the weekend. Although he didn’t get the GM job, it’s still possible Hendry will join the Phillies as an advisor.
  • Special assignment scout Eric Chavez has left the Yankees to join Eppler with the Angels. His contract was up, so he was free to leave on his own. The Yankees hired Chavez last offseason and he had input into the Didi Gregorius trade since he played with Gregorius with the D’Backs.
  • Don Mattingly is not currently interested in the Yankees hitting coach position. He’s been there, done that. Mattingly wants to continue managing and right now there are four open managerial jobs: Dodgers, Padres, Nationals, and Marlins. Obviously he’s not going back to the Dodgers after leaving last week. The Marlins’ job is reportedly Mattingly’s to lose.
  • Dave Magadan will not be a candidate for the hitting coach job, apparently. He was let go as Rangers hitting coach about a week ago. The Yankees interviewed Magadan for their hitting coach position last offseason before hiring Pentland.
  • Don Baylor could be a hitting coach candidate. He held the position with the Angels the last two seasons before Eppler let him go a few days ago. Baylor, a former Yankees player, managed Joe Girardi with both the Rockies and Cubs, so there’s a connection.
  • Gary Tuck was apparently let go as bullpen coach last week because he and the analytic heavy front office didn’t mesh too well. I’m not sure what a bullpen coach does that involves analytics, but whatever.
  • In case you missed it yesterday, the Yankees reached out to former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington about joining the front office, but he declined.

A Bad Beginning, a Bad Ending, but Three Good Months in the Middle [2015 Season Review]


Thanks to free agency and Derek Jeter‘s retirement, the Yankees were faced with replacing three-fourths of their starting infield last offseason. Mark Teixeira was the only holdover. The Yankees traded for Didi Gregorius to replace Jeter, and they wound up re-signing Stephen Drew and Chase Headley to play second and third bases, respectively.

Headley has a history of being an above-average player, so he received a multi-year contract. Drew? He was coming off a miserable 2014 season in which he hit .162/.237/.299 (45 wRC+) in exactly 300 plate appearances after sitting out the first few weeks because no team wanted to forfeit a first round pick to sign him. The Yankees felt Drew was a better player than what he showed and gambled he wouldn’t be that bad again in 2015. Technically, they were right.

The Return

Around this time last year, we were all looking forward to a free agent class loaded with shortstops. It never materialized. J.J. Hardy re-signed with the Orioles before free agency opened and no one loved the idea of giving Hanley Ramirez or Jed Lowrie multiple years to play shortstop because they’re no good defensively. Asdrubal Cabrera’s offense and defense had both been declining as well.

A very good case can be made Drew was the best shortstop on the market last year. I mean actual shortstop. Capable of playing the position defensively. And yet, he was unable to find work until the Yankees re-signed him in mid-January, after they traded for Gregorius to play shortstop. Drew had to settle for a second base job. The cost: one year and $5M. That’s nothing in baseball dollars these days. It was a low cost flier.

The Importance of Spring

One of the reasons the Yankees hoped Drew would bounce back in 2015 was Spring Training. He would have a normal Spring Training for the first time in three years — he missed Spring Training in 2012 with a fractured ankle, missed a big chunk of Spring Training in 2013 with a concussion, and missed all of Spring Training in 2014 because no one signed him. Drew would finally get a proper spring to prepare himself.

Drew, who turned 32 in mid-March, played in 22 Grapefruit League games, the most of any regular. He played well too, hitting .256/.310/.481 with three home runs in those 22 games. Also, the Yankees kept Drew at second base so he could continue to learn the position after making the switch at midseason last year. He played only one game (six innings) at short. That’s all. Everything else was at second base. All things considered, Drew had a solid spring, which he needed.

Home Runs … And Nothing Else

When the season started, it quickly became apparent a full Spring Training hadn’t helped Drew a whole lot. He went 2-for-17 (.118) in his first four games, then hit a solo home run off Clay Buchholz to cap off a seven-run first inning in his fifth game of the season. The next night, Drew had what was legitimately one of the biggest hits of the season, a go-ahead pinch-hit grand slam against the Orioles:

That was incredible. Even that early in the season, it felt like a huge hit because the Yankees — and Drew, for that matter — stumbled out of the gate. That was as big a win as you’ll see in April.

In the following days Drew continued to hit the ball out of the park and do little else. He went 8-for-42 (.190) with four home runs in his first 13 games and 31-for-177 (.175) with nine home runs in his first 53 games (58 team games). That’s 25-homer pace across 162 games, but he was also hitting .175 with a .237 OBP, so yeah. The homers were nice, but Drew was a black hole through the first third of the season.

Sneaky Good Production

From June 2nd through September 2nd, a totally arbitration three-month stretch of season, Drew quietly hit .250/.320/.485 (117 wRC+) with 12 home runs in 68 games and 225 plate appearances. That’s really good! Especially for a second baseman. I mean geez. Middle infielders who can put up league average offense are hard to find these days. Drew was quite a bit better than average during those 68 games.

And yet, because he started the season so terribly, his average remained under the Mendoza Line and everyone wanted Drew out of the lineup. It wasn’t entirely undeserved either. Drew was awful last year and awful for the first two months this season. We’re talking close to 500 plate appearances. And with Rob Refsnyder sitting in Triple-A, it was not at all unreasonable to want the Yankees to make a change. Aside from Refsnyder’s four-game cameo around the All-Star break, they never did.

It was not until August 30th in Atlanta that Drew finally (finally!) saw his average creep over .200. All it took was a 4-for-4 day. He homered and also drew two walks that day. Drew went into the game hitting .192/.262/.369 (69 wRC+) on the season and left hitting .201/.274/.385 (77 wRC+). I can’t imagine many everyday players raise their wRC+ eight points in a single game in late-August.

The grand slam against the Orioles was certainly important, though Drew’s biggest hit as a Yankee came on September 1st against the Red Sox, his former team. The Yankees had slipped behind the Blue Jays in the AL East but were still within striking distance (only 1.5 games back), so they needed every win possible. Drew went 1-for-3 on the night, and the one was a go-ahead two-run double in the fifth inning.

The Yankees held on for the 3-1 win and kept pace with the Blue Jays. That was part of a ridiculous four-game surge for Drew, during which he went 9-for-12 (.750!) with two doubles and two home runs. That raised his season batting line to .211/.281/.404 (84 wRC+) in 399 plate appearances, which is still comfortably below-average, but it was much better than what the Yankees got out of Drew in April and May.

The Premature End

Drew limped to the finish line the last few weeks of the season. He went 2-for-27 (.074) to close out the season and seemingly lost his starting second base job to Dustin Ackley. It wasn’t entirely performance related, however. Drew took a bad hop ground ball to the face on September 12th and suffered what was eventually diagnosed as a vestibular concussion. It was the same thing that cause him to miss most of Spring Training in 2013.

Drew played again on September 13th and that was essentially his final game of the season. He never played a full nine innings after that, instead coming off the bench for defense and occasionally to pinch-hit. Drew didn’t play at all after September 22nd, the 150th game of the season. He missed the team’s postseason berth clinching celebration because he was seeing a specialist in Pittsburgh, which sucks. Drew was there all season and deserved to celebrate with his teammates.

When it was all said and done, Drew hit .201/.271/.381 (76 wRC+) with 17 home runs in 131 games and 428 plate appearances this season. (His average was over .200 for only 20 of those 131 games.) He actually finished with the fifth most homers on the team, behind Alex Rodriguez (33), Teixeira (31), Brian McCann (26), and Carlos Beltran (19).

Normally when a player has better than average strikeout (16.6%), walk (8.6%), and ISO (.80) rates, he has a good offensive season. Not Drew. The first few weeks and the last few weeks were a mess, among the worst hitting performances I’ve ever seen, but those three months in the middle were really good too. The overall numbers were very bad, but, for those three months there, Drew was an asset at the plate.

The Other Side of the Bag

The Yankees moved Drew to second base in the middle of the season in 2014. He had never played a position other than shortstop (and DH) in his entire career, Majors or minors, but they felt Drew had the athleticism and instincts to handle the move, so they took a shot. Drew went through some growing pains last year before settling in.


This season Drew looked much more comfortable on the other side of the second base bag. It’s a bigger adjustment than you may realize! Turning a double play is completely different for a second baseman, mostly because you have to make the blind pivot with the runner bearing down on you. It’s not as easy as Robinson Cano made it look. There are also cutoff assignments and whatnot.

The one-year sample of defensive stats — not even a full season at that — say Drew was right in the vicinity of average in the field. Total Zone liked him the most (+3 runs) and DRS liked him the least (-3). UZR was in the middle (-0.2). I thought Drew was solid, not way better than average and not below-average either. He made all the routine plays and occasionally spectacular ones, especially going to his right.

When the ball was hit to Drew, I didn’t freak out. I guess that’s the best way to evaluate defense across one season. I felt comfortable with Drew handling the baseball even in big situations — if the Yankees needed a double play to escape a jam, cool, hit it to Drew. I was confident he’d make the play. He is as sure-handed as you could want.

Between solid defense and his three strong months at the plate, Drew had a nice stretch of production this year. The middle of the season was good! The beginning and end? Eh. Drew finished with +0.2 fWAR and +0.4 bWAR, though the defensive stats might be underselling his glove a bit. Normally when a player sits below the Mendoza Line most of the season, he’s sub-replacement level. Drew’s power and glove helped him contribute in a positive way, albeit slightly.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Drew is once again a free agent this coming offseason. Gregorius is entrenched at short and the Yankees are “leaning towards” using Ackley and Refsnyder at second base next year, meaning there’s no room for Drew unless he’s willing to be a backup infielder. I’d rather have Drew on the bench than Brendan Ryan, but, given the dearth of middle infielders, my guess is Drew will find a greater opportunity for playing time elsewhere. (Plus it would be nice to have a righty bat on the bench.) Bringing Drew back at a low cost this year was a fine move. It was a risk worth taking. It just didn’t work out too well.