Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks and Islanders are both playing, plus there’s a bunch of college basketball on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, the CBA, or anything else here.
At this very moment, with pitchers and catchers still eleven weeks away from reporting to Spring Training, the Yankees have three rotation spots accounted for. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda will occupy the top three spots in whatever order. The other two spots? Those are up in the air right now, and Hal Steinbrenner indicated both could go to young pitchers.
“There’s going to be competition in the starting rotation (in the spring), we know that,” said Hal during a recent YES Network interview (video link). “We’ve got (Adam) Warren. We’ve got (Chad) Green, (Luis) Cessa, (Luis) Severino, (Bryan) Mitchell. We’ve got good options for two spots. That’s going to be pretty fun to watch, I think.”
The Yankees are going young wherever possible, so much so that they’ve been trading productive veterans for prospects since the trade deadline. The Brian McCann trade is the most recent reminder. Going young in the rotation is slightly different than going young in the lineup because of innings limits and things like that, but it is doable. Anyway, I have a few thoughts on this.
1. Hal is probably just posturing. The Yankees would say they’re planning to go young in the rotation even if they were dead set on acquiring another starter. There’s nothing to be gained from broadcasting your free agent and trade intentions. The Yankees have been connected to a few free agent starters this year, most notably Rich Hill and Jason Hammel, and I don’t think Hal’s statement changes anything. The fact the team has gone young and put their money where their mouth is these last few months makes what Hal said even more believable, and that’s good. It’s never good to appear desperate during free and trade talks.
2. Severino isn’t locked into a spot. Steinbrenner mentioned Luis Severino among the pitchers set to compete for a rotation spot and that’s reassuring. I don’t think Severino should be considered a lock for the 2017 rotation by any means. Not after what happened this year. Let Severino come to Spring Training and earn a rotation spot by showing he has faith in his changeup and can consistently locate his secondary pitches. And if he does that, great. Put him in the rotation. If not, send him to Triple-A to keep working on things. Severino would be far more valuable to the Yankees in relief than in Triple-A, but this is about the big picture here, and the team shouldn’t give up on him as a starter yet. Patience, yo.
3. The competition isn’t limited to Spring Training. Spring Training competitions are overblown. They happen every year in every camp, so they are worth following, but the competition doesn’t end on Opening Day. Whoever wins the roster spot — in this case two rotation spots — has to perform well to keep the job, otherwise someone else will get a chance. The Yankees have some nice rotation depth at the moment — in addition to guys Hal listed, there will also be Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns, and Jordan Montgomery in Triple-A — so if they give someone a few starts and he’s not cutting it, they can make a change quickly. You don’t win a roster spot in Spring Training and automatically get to keep it all season. The competition never ends.
4. How will the 26th roster spot come into play? Reports indicate MLB will adopt the full-time 26th roster spot with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, which will change how teams build their roster at least somewhat. My guess is most teams, including the Yankees, will use that roster spot on an extra pitcher. Teams would much rather run out of position players than run out of pitchers.
The extra roster spot would give the Yankees the flexibility to do something unconventional like, say, a six-man rotation or tandem fifth starters. They could have their fifth starter go through the lineup twice, then the tandem reliever comes in to go through the lineup twice as well. That’s an entire post for another time, but the 26th roster spot could definitely impact the way the Yankees build their rotation. Heck, maybe Hal meant they’re going to use a six-man rotation, sign a starter, then let the kids compete for the fifth and sixth spots. Who knows?
Two and a half years ago the Yankees did something that sent shockwaves throughout baseball. On July 2nd, 2014, the first day of the 2014-15 international signing period, the Yankees committed more than $17M in bonuses to amateur players and completely blew their $2.2M bonus pool out of the water. Between bonuses and penalties, the team spend upwards of $30M on international free agents that signing period.
The Yankees were not the first team to exceed their international bonus pool but they were the first to do it in such an extreme way. Since then other clubs, including the Dodgers and Braves and Padres, have followed suit and spent huge on international free agents. The tax and other penalties, including a $300,000 limit on bonuses during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods, were a price worth paying for a one-year talent windfall.
As the owners continue to push for an international draft as part of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations — Ken Rosenthal says they’ve backed off that demand, for what it’s worth — the Yankees are in the process of developing and cultivating that 2014-15 international class. International free agency is not the thing for you if you’re looking for instant gratification. Turning 16-year-olds into big leaguers is a long and not always smooth process.
The 2016 season was the second full year in pro ball for players signed during the 2014-15 period — players sign contracts that begin the following season, so the kids who signed on July 2nd, 2014, signed 2015 contracts — and the Yankees are starting to see some exciting things happen in the lower minors. Here’s a progress report on that 2014-15 international signing class.
The Top Prospect
You know, it’s actually very up for debate who currently is the best prospect the Yankees signed as part of the spending spree. But, since this is my blog, I’m making an executive decision. SS Wilkerman Garcia ($1.35M bonus) burst onto the scene with a huge debut in 2015, hitting .299/.414/.362 (140 wRC+) with more walks (15.8%) than strikeouts (12.0%) in 39 rookie ball games. He’s the best prospect from the 2014-15 class. Unfortunately his 2016 follow-up didn’t go too well.
Garcia, who won’t turn 19 until April, suffered a shoulder injury in Spring Training this year, and while he didn’t need surgery or anything like that, he spent much of the first half rehabbing in Extended Spring Training. When he was ready to play, he went to rookie level Pulaski and put up a disappointing .198/.255/.284 (52 wRC+) batting line with 18.4% strikeouts and 6.3% walks in 54 games. Wilkerman was two and a half years younger than the average Appalachian League player.
The stat line is not pretty, but the most important thing is Garcia’s shoulder is now healthy and he didn’t lose any of the high-end athleticism that landed him such a large bonus. Wilkerman is a switch-hitter with bat control and strike zone knowledge, plus he runs very well and has a strong arm, which suit him well at shortstop. Hopefully 2016 was just a bump in the road. Garcia projects as an impact AVG/OBP/speed/defense leadoff type.
The New Hot Prospect
One of the best prospects the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period did not sign on July 2nd. He signed in March 2015. OF Estevan Florial ($200,000) was a highly regarded prospect heading into the signing period before being suspended by MLB for paperwork issues. Joel Sherman has a great story on Florial’s background. Apparently his mother used fraudulent paperwork to get him into school.
Florial, who turned 19 last week, annihilated the Dominican Summer League last season, hitting .313/.394/.527 (154 wRC+) with seven home runs and 15 steals in 57 games. His stateside debut in 2016 didn’t go quite as well. Florial put up a .228/.310/.370 (92 wRC+) line with eight homers and ten steals in 70 games at mostly Pulaski. (He also made brief cameos with Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa.) Florial struck out in 28.9% of his plate appearances.
The stat line is not what gets folks so excited about Florial. It’s the scouting report. During a recent Baseball America podcast, Josh Norris said scouts are giving Florial a 70 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) for three tools: power, running, throwing. That’s bonkers. Florial, a lefty hitter, has huge power and is a tremendous athlete. The only red flag in his game — and it’s a significant one — is his tendency to swing and miss.
More than a few tooled up players have been sabotaged by insufficient hitting ability, but that doesn’t mean you stop targeting those players. Every once in a while they turn into Kris Bryant. Florial is so well-regarded that teams are already asking for him in trades, according to Sherman. Given his natural ability, the Yankees scored a major win signing Florial for a mere $200,000 that late in the signing period.
The Power Threats
The two largest bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period went to 3B Dermis Garcia ($3.2M) and 3B Nelson Gomez ($2.25M). (Garcia signed as a shortstop and has since moved to third.) For both players, their calling card is their power. MLB.com ranked them as the top two international prospects in 2014 and they gave Dermis a 65 for his power. Gomez received a 60. Those are huge numbers for kids who were only 16 at the time.
Garcia, 19 in January, showed off that power during his 57-game stint with Pulaski this summer. He hit .206/.326/.454 (114 wRC+) overall and finished second in the league with 13 homers. The home run leader, Bradley Jones of the Blue Jays, hit 16. He’s three years older than Garcia. Dermis also struck out 34.3% of the time because he takes a big aggressive hack, which leads to a lot of whiffs. When he connects though, this happens:
Garcia is not a mindless hacker. He knows the strike zone (13.9 BB%) and which pitches he can punish. His swing is just so aggressive — it’s basically a Javier Baez swing, that kind of aggressive — that he comes up empty a good amount of the time. Once Dermis realizes his power is so great that he can still hit the ball out of the park while taking a more controlled swing, he’s going to be a monster.
As for Gomez, the just turned 19-year-old made his stateside debut in 2016 and authored a .194/.249/.403 (92 wRC+) batting line in 54 games with one of the Yankees’ two rookie Gulf Coast League affiliates. The good news: Gomez was second in the league with nine homers. (The leader, Ignacio Valdez of the Tigers, had eleven and is two years older.) The bad news: Gomez struck out 25.8% of the time and walked 3.8% of the time.
Unlike Garcia, Gomez is a true hacker who will swing at pretty much everything and chase out of the zone. His plate discipline and approach are a very long way away from being competitive. Neither player offers a ton defensively, so their value is tied up heavily in their bats. Garcia is much more than a mistake hitter. He can hit. He just needs to tone things down a notch. Gomez has to figure out how to read spin and discern a ball from a strike.
Unlike the players above, SS Diego Castillo ($750,000) does not come with loud tools. He’s not going to wow you with speed and his arm like Wilkerman, or hit the snot out of the ball like Dermis or Gomez, or grab your attention like Florial. Castillo, who turned 19 last month, is a bat-to-ball machine with a sweet swing and an opposite field approach. He can also play the hell out of shortstop thanks to good mobility and a strong arm.
This summer Castillo came to the U.S. and hit .267/.332/.327 (102 wRC+) with one home run and five steals in 44 GCL games. His strikeout rate (11.4%) is a result of his contact-focused approach, plus he drew a good amount of walks too (7.6%). Castillo is a boringly good prospect. He’s not flashy, but he’s very fundamentally sound and instinctive on the baseball field. Castillo has the ability to be a rock solid shortstop who helps on both sides of the ball at the next level.
The Advanced Prospect
Advanced is a relative term. We are talking about (mostly) teenagers here, after all. The oldest bonafide prospect the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period is SS Hoy Jun Park ($1.2M), who signed at 18 after graduating high school in South Korea. He spent this past season sharing second base and shortstop with Kyle Holder at Low-A Charleston, where he hit .225/.336/.329 (97 wRC+) with two homers, 32 steals, 23.2% strikeouts, and 13.0% walks in 116 games.
At this point Park’s offensive game lags behind his defense because he didn’t face the greatest competition growing up. He’s a left-handed hitter with a good swing and a plan at the plate, and once he adds some meat to his frame (6-foot-1 and 175 lbs.), the power should come. Park is a no-doubt shortstop with a quick first step and a strong arm. He’s prone to being a little too flashy and making mistakes, but that’s nothing a little experience can’t fix.
Park is older than most of his 2014-15 signing period brethren and he’s already spent a full season in Low-A, so he’s higher up the ladder as well. His offensive game has started to come around nicely since signing. Park’s easy to overlook in a farm system loaded with shortstops, but he has some really exciting skills. He has the potential to be a standout shortstop on both sides of the ball.
The Pop-Up Prospect
“Pop-up” prospects happen a lot with international free agents. Jorge Mateo and Luis Severino were pop-up prospects. Both were lower profile prospects signed to relatively small bonuses, their physical development was favorable — a lot kids go through growth spurts and lose the athleticism that get them signed in the first place — then bam, they were top prospects. Scouting kids who are 15 or 16 years old and projecting what they’ll be at 21 and 22 is awfully tough. The error bars are huge.
RHP Freicer Perez ($10,000) is the pop-up prospect from the 2014-15 signing period. The 20-year-old held his own with Short Season Staten Island in 2016, pitching to a 4.47 ERA (3.81 FIP) with 20.6% strikeouts and 10.5% walks in 13 starts and 52.1 innings. Perez is massive. He’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 190 lbs., which means he still hasn’t filled out and could add to a fastball that already sits 95-97 mph. His breaking ball and changeup need work, as does his overall command, but squint your eyes and you can see a Dellin Betances starter kit. Not too shabby for a $10,000 investment.
The Other Big Money Prospects
The Yankees gave out seven seven-figure bonuses during the 2014-15 international signing period. Stick to the spending pools and most teams would be able to afford two $1M+ bonuses, maybe three. The Yankees made a complete mockery of the system. No wonder the owners are pushing for an international draft now.
Anyway, four of those seven $1M+ bonuses went to Gomez, Park, and the two Garcias. One of the other three went to OF Jonathan Amundaray ($1.5M), an 18-year-old who hit .269/.321/.394 (112 wRC+) with two homers and an 18.8% strikeout rate in 29 games while repeating the Dominican Summer League in 2016. Amundaray has been billed as a good worker and very coachable, and the Yankees are waiting for his athletic ability to translate on the field.
OF Juan DeLeon ($2M) was arguably the most exciting prospect the Yankees signed two years ago thanks to his well-rounded game and true five-tool skill set. He appeared in only a dozen GCL games this summer due to an injury, hitting .212/.308/.364 (103 wRC+) in 39 plate appearances. Meh. I wouldn’t call this a lost year — DeLeon did get to work in Extended Spring Training before the GCL season — but not much happened for him in 2016.
The final seven-figure bonus went to C Miguel Flames ($1.1M), whose development behind the plate has been slow. Last year he caught nine games in the DSL (41 at first base) and this year he caught ten games in the GCL (36 at first). Many of them weren’t even full games. The Yankees had Flames catch five innings every few days for a while, and that was it. Not everyone takes to the position as quickly as Luis Torrens. The Yankees have had to ease Flames into it.
The Best of the Rest
Among the other notable 2014-15 international prospects are OF Brayan Emery ($500,000) and RHP Gilmael Troya ($10,000), both of whom played in the GCL in 2016. Emery, 18, hit .208/.328/.255 (88 wRC+) with one homer in 32 games and has insane tools. He was initially expected to sign for $1M+. Troya, 19, broke out last year after some mechanical tweaks, though he took a step back this summer and put up a 3.78 ERA (4.41 FIP) in 50 innings. He stands out for his fastball/curveball combo and pitching know-how.
Here are the rest of the notable prospects the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period, plus a note on their 2016 performance and current status:
- OF Antonio Arias ($800,000): 18-year-old hit .239/.350/.266 (95 wRC+) in 51 games while repeating the DSL. He’s a great athlete and incredibly raw. A total lottery ticket.
- OF Lisandro Blanco ($550,000): 19-year-old was overmatched in the GCL, hitting .111/.265/.185 (52 wRC+) in 26 games. Baseball is hard, even when you have premium bat speed like Blanco.
- OF Leobaldo Cabrera ($250,000): 18-year-old hit .196/.261/.224 (53 wRC+) in 43 GCL games. He’s a raw athlete who stands out most for his throwing arm.
- OF Frederick Cuevas ($300,000): 19-year-old playing sparingly in the GCL and hit .267/.302/.350 (96 wRC+) in 30 games. Cuevas is a lefty hitter with some pull power and approach issues.
- IF Griffin Garabito ($225,000): 19-year-old followed up a solid 2015 debut by hitting .182/.238/.223 (44 wRC+) in 36 GCL games. He profiles best a contact heavy utility infielder.
- C Jason Lopez ($100,000): 18-year-old hit .192/.267/.346 (85 wRC+) in only eleven GCL games. He’s a recently converted infielder with a rocket arm and some pop.
- OF Erick Mendez ($250,000): 20-year-old put up a .243/.318/.393 (112 wRC+) line in 40 games between the GCL and Pulaski, then failed a performance-enhancing drug test after the season. He’ll serve a 50-game suspension at the outset of 2017.
- OF Raymundo Moreno ($600,000): 18-year-old hit a fine .284/.381/.333 (119 wRC+) in 56 games while repeating the DSL. He’s got some loud tools and could make a name for himself in the GCL in 2017.
- OF Pablo Olivares ($400,000): 18-year-old put up a .285/.378/.392 (135 wRC+) batting line in 47 GCL games. He a right-handed hitter who sprays the ball to all fields and is an excellent center field defender. The Yankees might have something here.
- IF Danienger Perez ($300,000): 20-year-old hit .213/.248/.283 (60 wRC+) in 35 games between the GCL and Low-A. Perez is a speedy slap hitter who hasn’t hit much in pro ball.
These are not even all the prospects the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period. These are just the most notable. All told, the Yankees brought in about four years worth of international talent two years ago. Most years you may get one or two premium prospects and two of three secondary guys of note. In 2014-15, the Yankees landed four headliners (Park, Florial, the Garcias) and a host of second tier prospects (Gomez, Perez, Castillo, DeLeon, Flames, Amundaray, Emery, Troya, Olivares).
I’m not sure how many of these players will play full season ball in 2017 — Park will for sure, and I could see the Yankees pushing Florial and Perez to Low-A — but the Yankees have more than enough short season league teams to house them all. No one has knocked your socks off statistically yet — hey, they can’t all dominate instantly like Jesus Montero — but Florial, Dermis, Park, and Perez have all made improvements while others are still showing the big tools that got them signed at 16. With kids this age, that’s not always a given two years later.
After two pretty miserable years under Dave Stewart, the Diamondbacks cleaned out their front office at the end of the 2016 regular season and brought in longtime Red Sox executive Mike Hazen to run the show. Arizona went 69-93 this year, down from 79-83 in 2015 despite spending big to acquire Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller last offseason. Ouch.
The D-Backs are an interesting team because they do have some impressive talent. You can do a heck of a lot worse than building your lineup around Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, for example. The club also has some interesting young arms, and according to Ken Rosenthal, Hazen & Co. are expecting to field a lot of calls about those young pitchers this offseason.
The Yankees, like every other team, are perpetually in the market for rotation help. The younger the better. The three best starting pitchers in the organization at this very moment (Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda) can all become free agents after 2017. That’s sorta scary. Do any of Arizona’s young arms make sense for the Yankees? Let’s dive in.
RHP Archie Bradley
Background: Bradley, 24, was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, and prior to the 2014 season, Baseball America ranked him as the ninth best prospect in baseball. The right-hander has struggled in his fairly limited MLB time, pitching to a 5.18 ERA (4.27 FIP) with 20.8% strikeouts, 11.1% walks, 47.8% grounders, and 0.96 HR/9 in 177.1 total innings. That includes a 5.02 ERA (4.10 FIP) with similar peripherals in 141.2 innings in 2016.
Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Bradley is a pure power pitcher — his four-seamer averaged 93.4 mph and topped out at 97.0 mph in 2017 — and the Yankees love power pitchers. He can miss bats and get grounders, which is a darn good recipe for long-term success. Bradley have five years of team control remaining, though depending on the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, he could qualify as a Super Two if the cutoff drops a bit lower. Not a huge deal though.
Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? That 11.1% walk rate is no fluke. Bradley has a 12.3% walk rate in over 440 minor league innings, so throwing strikes is an issue. The kid averaged over 18 pitches per inning in 2016. That’s crazy high. Bradley’s changeup isn’t very effective either, which is why left-handed batters hit .315/.412/.523 (!) against him this year. Yikes. Also, he missed close to three months with shoulder tendinitis in 2015, but was fine in 2016. Strikeouts and grounders solve a lot of problems and Bradley can get them. The walks and inability to neutralize lefties are an ongoing concern though.
LHP Patrick Corbin
Background: The 27-year-old Corbin, a semi-local kid from up near Syracuse, was an All-Star with the D’Backs back in 2013 before blowing out his elbow in Spring Training 2014 and needing Tommy John surgery. His performance after returning last season was promising (3.60 ERA and 3.35 FIP in 85 innings), but the wheels came off this year, so much so that Arizona had to move him to the bullpen. Corbin had a 5.15 ERA (4.84 FIP) with 18.7% strikeouts, 9.4% walks, and 53.8% grounders in 155.2 innings covering 24 starts and 12 relief appearances in 2016.
Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The Yankees love buy low opportunities and Corbin is exactly that. He was a deserving All-Star three years ago and it’s worth noting his stuff has bounced back well following surgery. Corbin’s velocity has held steady and he’s getting similar movement on his secondary pitches. A true four-pitch lefty with a history of missing bats and getting grounders is a mighty fine rotation piece. There’s a chance Corbin’s numbers will bounce back simply by getting away from Arizona’s league worst defense too.
Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The Tommy John surgery is not nothing. Corbin had a major arm procedure two and a half years ago, and while he’s been healthy since, it is a red flag. Also, we can’t ignore the dreadful statistical performance too. The shoddy team defense didn’t cause his 1.39 HR/9 this year, for example. Corbin was an All-Star three years ago. Now he’s not close to that level. Is he fixable? Considering he’s only two years away from free agency, the Yankees might not have enough time to find out and reap the reward.
RHP Shelby Miller
Background: Gosh, Miller has been through an awful lot in his career so far. The 26-year-old was a top 2009 draft prospect who slipped to the 19th overall pick due to bonus demands, then went on to be ranked as a top 13 global prospect by Baseball America in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Miller’s rookie season in 2013 was good enough (3.06 ERA and 3.67 FIP) to earn a third place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. His sophomore season was bad enough (3.74 ERA and 4.54 FIP) that the Cardinals soured on him and traded him for one year of Jason Heyward.
Miller was an All-Star with the Braves in 2015 (3.02 ERA and 3.45 FIP) before being traded to the D’Backs in that insane deal last offseason. He had a 6.15 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 101 total innings this season. His strikeout (15.2%), walk (9.1%), grounder (41.9%), and homer (1.25 HR/9) rates were all … not good. It’s hard to imagine a pitcher this young and this talented going from All-Star one year to arguably the worst pitcher in baseball the next without a major arm injury, but Miller managed to pull it off.
Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Is there a bigger buy low candidate in baseball right now? Unless he hid an injury all season, Miller’s issues were all mechanical in 2016. And probably mental too. It’s hard to think his confidence didn’t take a hit while getting blasted every fifth day. Miller got into this weird mechanical funk in which he dropped so low in his delivery he would hit his hand on the mound during his follow through …
… which briefly sent him to the disabled list with a sprained finger. Miller legitimately throws five pitches, and at his best, he’s a weak contact guy who gets a lot of soft ground balls and lazy pop-ups. Fix the mechanics and rebuild his confidence — not easy to do in the offense happy AL East and Yankee Stadium — and you could have yourself a pretty good pitcher. As an added bonus, the D’Backs sent Miller to the minors juuust long enough this season to delay his free agency, so he comes with three years of control.
Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Obvious, right? Miller might not be fixable. His mechanics could be beyond repair and his confidence could be completely destroyed. I am no pitching coach, but what Shelby went through this season doesn’t strike me as a quick or easy fix. He’s a reclamation project now. No doubt about it. I’d dub this an “extremely high risk, kinda high reward” play.
LHP Robbie Ray
Background: Ray, 25, was a 12th round pick who developed into a solid pitching prospect. The Nationals traded him to the Tigers in the Doug Fister deal three years ago, then the Tigers traded him to Arizona as part of the three-team deal that brought Didi Gregorius to New York two years ago. In 2016, Ray had a 4.90 ERA (3.76 FIP) despite striking out 218 batters in 174.1 innings. His 28.1% strikeout rate is the 20th highest by a qualified left-handed starter in a single-season in MLB history. (Ten of the 19 ahead of him belong to Randy Johnson.) Sam Miller wrote about Ray’s statistically odd season (ton of strikeouts, ton of runs) not too long ago, and I recommend checking that out.
Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The appeal of an extremely hard-throwing lefty — Ray averaged 95.3 mph with his four-seamer and 94.5 mph with his sinker in 2016 — who can miss this many bats is pretty obvious, I’d say. Add in the fact he has quality secondary pitches in his slider and changeup and you’ve got a nice little rotation piece. Ray is four years away from free agency as well, so he’s a long-term buy. A southpaw who can miss bats is a welcome addition to a team that calls Yankee Stadium home.
Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There is more to life than throwing hard and striking out batters, as several members of the Yankees’ pitching staff have taught us (coughMichaelPinedacough). Ray’s walk (9.2%), grounder (45.2%), and homer (1.24 HR/9) rates left something to be desired this year, plus righties hit him pretty hard (.269/.350/.447). Ray fits the mold of a “great stuff, dubious command” pitcher, and the Yankees haven’t had a whole lot of success helping those guys figure out the command part.
RHP Taijuan Walker
Background: Walker, 24, still has some prospect shine remaining after be named a top 20 global prospect by Baseball America in 2012, 2013, and 2014. His MLB performance to date has been just okay overall (4.18 ERA and 4.30 FIP), and this past season he had a 4.22 ERA (4.99 FIP) with 20.8% strikeouts, 6.5% walks, 44.1% grounders, and 1.81 HR/9 in 134.1 innings. It seems the Mariners got sick of waiting for Walker to take the next step, so they sent him to Arizona in the Jean Segura deal last week.
Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Walker just turned 24 and it wasn’t that long ago that he was one of the top pitching prospects in the game, so there’s definitely still a chance things will click and he’ll reach his admittedly high ceiling. His value is down right now — example: he was just traded for Jean freaking Segura, who is only two years from free agency and has been terrible two of the last three years — so this is a chance to get a talented pitcher on the cheap. Walker misses bats and he uses three pitches regularly — the cutter is basically a show-me pitch — so the tools to remain in the rotation are there. He comes with four years of team control, all arbitration-eligible as a Super Two.
Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Two or three years ago Walker made a mechanical change and he hasn’t been the same guy since. I don’t know if he did it on his own or if the Mariners talked him into it, but he shortened his stride and finishes more upright now, which has taken some of the bite off his curveball and hinders his command. Walker has had some on-and-off shoulder injuries since the mechanical change as well — he’s actually coming off foot surgery at the moment, though that’s an unrelated injury — so that’s no good. This stride shortening thing isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw — Aaron Sanchez had the same issue, for example, and he got back on track last year — but it is something that needs fixing. Right now, Walker is a different pitcher than the guy who was atop all those prospect lists back in the day.
* * *
I really have no idea what to think about these young D’Backs pitchers. They all have talent, that much is obvious, and all but Corbin come with at least three years of control. These are, in theory, exactly the type of pitchers the Yankees are looking to acquire. At the same time, every single one is coming off a below-average season, even Ray with all his strikeouts. They all need to be fixed or helped in some way. They’re projects.
As always, it’s going to come down to the price. There’s always a point where it makes sense to roll the dice on a young project pitcher. Hazen has been at the helm for only a few weeks now, so he has no real attachment to these guys. Well, except maybe Walker because he traded for him, but otherwise these are not kids he drafted and developed. That connection is not there and it could make him more willing to trade them. We see that sort of thing all the time when a new GM takes over.
This free agent pitching class is so incredibly crummy that competition on the trade market figures to be fierce, so much so that even “broken” pitchers like Corbin and Miller will generate a ton of attention. The Yankees have plenty of prospects to trade. Finding a match won’t be hard. The real question is how much are they willing to give up, and how confident are they in their ability to fix one of these guys?
This is the open thread for the night. The (hockey) Rangers, Devils, and Nets are all in action, plus there’s college hoops as well. Talk about those games, the Cespedes deal, or anything else right here. Have at it.
In a few weeks baseball players all around the league will leave their teams in Spring Training to participate in the fourth edition of the World Baseball Classic. Pool play begins March 6th in South Korea, and the tournament will end with the Championship Game at Dodger Stadium on March 22nd. Here is the full 2017 WBC schedule.
The 16 countries do not have to finalize their WBC rosters until January, though we already know Dellin Betances will pitch for the Dominican Republic. He committed to them recently. Betances was on Team USA’s preliminary roster but instead choose to honor his family by pitching for the Dominican Republic squad. So far he’s the only Yankees player to commit to the WBC.
The Yankees are not as star-laden as they once were — a few years ago a case could have been made their entire starting infield belonged in the WBC — so they don’t figure to send a ton of players to the WBC next spring. Chances are Betances won’t be the only Yankee to participatein the event, however. In fact, farmhand Dante Bichette Jr. already played for Brazil in the qualifying round in September. Who knew? (Brazil did not advance.)
So, as we wait for the commitments to trickle in and the final rosters to be announced, lets look at the Yankees who could wind up joining Betances and participating in the WBC. Keep in mind the WBC is not limited to big league players — some countries can’t field an entire roster of MLB players, hence Bichette playing for Brazil — and the rosters are 28 players deep, not 25, so there are extra spots.
Canada: Evan Rutckyj
Rutckyj, who recently re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent, was the team’s 16th round pick back in 2010. The Braves took a look at him this past spring as a Rule 5 Draft pick, but Rutckyj failed to make the Opening Day roster and instead returned to the Yankees. He struck out 14 in 11.2 innings around a relatively minor elbow procedure during the 2016 regular season.
Only eleven pitchers born in Canada have appeared in the big leagues over the last three years — only seven did so in 2016 — and five of those eleven threw fewer than 20 innings. Three of the other six are now retired (Erik Bedard, Jeff Francis, Phillippe Aumont). Rutckyj, who grew up across the river from Detroit in Windsor, has had some Double-A success as a reliever and could make a Canada roster that has been heavy on minor league pitchers in previous WBCs.
Colombia: Tito Polo, Carlos Vidal
Colombia clinched their first ever WBC berth by winning their qualifying round back in March. They won a pool that included France, Spain, and Panama. Both Polo and Vidal were on Colombia’s roster for the qualifying round and chances are they will be on the actual WBC roster as well. Only six Colombian-born players appeared in MLB in 2016, one of whom was Donovan Solano and none of whom were an outfielder like Polo and Vidal.
Vidal, 20, has spent most of his career with the various short season league teams in New York’s farm system. He went 2-for-8 with a double and played in all three qualifying games in March. Polo, 22, came over from the Pirates in the Ivan Nova trade. He was Colombia’s extra outfielder in the qualifying round. He appeared in two games as a a pinch-runner and defensive replacement and did not get an at-bat. Both Vidal and Polo figure to play in the WBC in March.
Dominican Republic: Gary Sanchez (Starlin Castro?)
Over the last three seasons, the leader in bWAR among Dominican-born catchers is Welington Castillo. Sanchez is second. For all the great baseball players to come out of the Dominican Republic, the island hasn’t produced much catching talent in recent years. Their catching tandem in the 2013 WBC was Francisco Pena, Tony’s son, and Carlos Santana, who is no longer a catcher.
The Dominican Republic’s current catching pool includes Sanchez, Castillo, Pena, Pedro Severino of the Nationals, and Alberto Rosario of the Cardinals. I have to think they want Sanchez and Castillo there. Then again, Tony might want Francisco on the roster, and I’m sure the Yankees would rather Sanchez spend his first Spring Training as the No. 1 catcher learning the pitching staff.
The Yankees can’t stop Gary from going to the WBC if he’s invited though. They might need Pena to pull some strings, which would be kind of a dick move. I’m sure Sanchez would love to play. Bottom line: Sanchez is arguably the best Dominican catcher in baseball right now and inarguably one of the two best. In what is intended to be a best vs. best tournament, Gary belongs on the Dominican Republic roster.
(For what it’s worth, Victor Baez reports Pena promised Sanchez he would be considered for the WBC team, but acknowledged things may change before the final roster is submitted.)
As for Castro, he has an awful lot of competition on the Dominican Republic middle infield. Robinson Cano is the presumed starter at second with someone like Jose Reyes or Jean Segura at short. Jonathan Villar, Jose Ramirez, Eduardo Nunez, Jhonny Peralta, and some others are WBC candidates too. Castro’s a possibility for the tournament but probably isn’t part of the club’s Plan A infield.
Japan: Masahiro Tanaka
Interestingly enough, not a single MLB player was on Japan’s roster for the 2013 WBC. Not even Ichiro Suzuki. They filled their entire roster with NPB players. Japan has had big leaguers on their roster in previous WBCs, including Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka, just not in the last one. Will they invite big leaguers this time? I honestly have no idea. We’re going to have to wait and find out.
If Japan does want current MLB players, Tanaka figures to be near the top of their list. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball and on the very short list of the best Japanese-born pitchers on the planet. The Yankees can’t stop Tanaka from playing in the 2017 WBC. Brian Cashman confirmed it during his end-of-season press conference. Needless to say, the thought of Tanaka suffering an injury during the WBC is enough to make you squeamish. The Yankees have already been through that once before, with Mark Teixeira and his wrist in the 2013 WBC.
For what it’s worth, Tanaka has participated in the WBC twice before. He was on Japan’s roster in both 2009 and 2013, throwing 9.1 total innings across one start and seven relief appearances. Maybe that was enough for Tanaka? Maybe he’s had his fill of the WBC — Japan won the 2009, so he has a championship — and would rather focus on the Yankees in Spring Training and putting
himself in the best position to use his opt-out the team in the best position to win? Gosh, I hope so.
Mexico: Luis Cessa, Gio Gallegos
Fifteen pitchers born in Mexico have appeared in the big leagues over the last three seasons, and 13 of those 15 did so in 2016. The two exceptions are ex-Yankees: Manny Banuelos and Al Aceves. Banuelos is coming off another injury and Aceves spent the 2016 season in the Mexican League. Mexico figures to try to build their WBC rotation from a group that includes Marco Estrada, Julio Urias, Jorge De La Rosa, Yovani Gallardo, Jaime Garcia, and Miguel Gonzalez.
Cessa and Gallegos — fun fact: the Yankees signed Gallegos away from a Mexican League team as part of a package deal with Banuelos and Aceves in 2007 — could be candidates for Mexico’s bullpen. Especially Cessa since he has MLB experience. Gallegos might not get much consideration given the fact he has yet to pitch in the show. Roberto Osuna, Joakim Soria, and Oliver Perez are likely to be Mexico’s late-inning relievers, but they’re going to need other pitchers for middle relief, especially early in the tournament when starters have limited pitch counts.
Keep in mind both Cessa and Gallegos figure to come to Spring Training with a chance to win an Opening Day roster spot. Cessa will be among those competing for a rotation spot, which is kind of a big deal. Gallegos, who the Yankees added to the 40-man roster earlier this month to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, is trying to reach the show for the first time. As much as I’m sure both guys would love to represent their country in the WBC, they would be better off hanging around Spring Training and focusing on winning a roster spot with the Yankees at this point of their careers.
Netherlands: Didi Gregorius
The Dutch team has had to rely heavily on players from Honkbal Hoofdklasse, the highest level of pro ball in the Netherlands, to fill their WBC roster in the past. The same figures to be true this year. Only six Dutch players have played in MLB the last two years: Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Schoop, Jurickson Profar, and Kenley Jansen. So, if nothing else, the Netherlands doesn’t have to worry about their infield or closer. They’ll need Honkballers in the outfield and rotation.
It’s entirely possible the Netherlands will look to take all five of those infielders to the WBC because, well, they’re the best players the country has to offer. Profar has played first base and Bogaerts has played third, so the starting infield could very well be those two on the corners with the other three guys splitting time up the middle and at DH. Gregorius was not on the 2013 WBC roster, and with his Yankees roster spot secure, he could jump at the opportunity to play for the Netherlands.
Team USA: Tyler Clippard (Brett Gardner? Jacoby Ellsbury?)
Even with Betances committing to the Dominican Republic, Team USA’s potential bullpen is insane. Zach Britton closing with Andrew Miller and Craig Kimbrel setting up, Wade Davis as the fireman, Mark Melancon and Tony Watson as the middle relievers … goodness. What are the odds of that happening though? Extremely small. Some of those guys are going to pass on the tournament. Happens every WBC.
The Team USA bullpen in 2013 included Kimbrel and, uh, Luke Gregerson? Tim Collins? Mitchell Boggs? Vinnie Pestano? Yup. Yup yup yup. Team USA’s leader in relief innings in 2013 was Ross Detwiler. So yeah. The odds of a super-bullpen are so very small. Clippard could be among the club’s Plan B or C relievers. Team USA is going to miss out on a ton of the top guys, no doubt, so who’s next in line? Clippard could be one of them.
Along those same lines, I suppose Gardner and/or Ellsbury could receive outfield consideration if enough top guys drop out. We already know Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are passing on the tournament. Team USA would need to receive a lot of “nos” before considering Ellsbury and Gardner for their outfield — they ranked 12th and 20th in bWAR among American-born outfielders in 2016 — but hey, you never know.
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The Yankees are said to have interest in bringing Carlos Beltran back, and I have to think he will suit up for Puerto Rico in the WBC next spring. The next generation of Puerto Rican stars has arrived (Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez) but Beltran is still insanely popular in Puerto Rico, and he usually gives the people what they want. Aroldis Chapman, on the other hand, won’t pitch for Cuba regardless of whether he returns to the Yankees. No expatriates on the national team.
Thanks largely to the trade deadline, the Yankees improved the depth and quality of their farm system substantially over the last six months or so. They added a dozen prospects at the deadline and two more in the recent Brian McCann deal. It sure feels like another trade is inevitable (Brett Gardner?), so chances are more prospects are on the way.
The Yankees also added to their farm system this summer with the annual amateur draft. This year they held a top 20 pick for the second straight year after having only two top 20 picks total from 1994-2014. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement severely limits draft spending, and while it wouldn’t be fair to say the Yankees put all their eggs in one basket, their 2016 draft haul has a clear centerpiece who will essentially make or break this draft class.
The Top Pick
Following the end of the 2015 season, the Yankees held the 22nd overall pick in the 2016 draft. They moved up to 18th when the Diamondbacks (Zack Greinke), Orioles (Yovani Gallardo), Nationals (Daniel Murphy), and Giants (Jeff Samardzija) forfeited their first round picks to sign qualified free agents. That was pretty awesome. Moving up one or two spots happens each year. But four? That rarely happens.
Prior to the draft the Yankees were connected to high school pitchers and college bats, so, naturally, they used that 18th overall selection to take a high school position player. Go figure. That player: outfielder Blake Rutherford from Chaminade College Preparatory School in the Los Angeles suburbs. Rutherford was a consensus top ten draft pick who slipped to the Yankees for reasons we’ll get to in a minute. Here’s a sampling of his pre-draft rankings and write-ups:
- Baseball Prospectus (4th best draft prospect): “Every tool but the arm is above-average.”
- Keith Law (6th): “Rutherford has a unique combination of hit and power and has shown an ability to spray well-hit balls to all fields … he projects to be an average or above everyday player in a corner outfield who hits near the middle of a big league lineup.”
- MLB.com (8th): “Rutherford has the chance to be an above-average hitter with above-average raw power … Some evaluators wish they had seen more from him (before the draft).”
- Baseball America (9th): “Rutherford has size, strength, athleticism and power potential for scouts to dream on … Some scouts see him as a potential power-hitting center fielder in the Jim Edmonds mold.”
By all accounts, Rutherford was one of the ten best players available in the 2016 draft. The Yankees were able to get him with the 18th pick for two reasons:
1. He was already 19. Rutherford was old for a high school prospect. He turned 19 on May 2nd, a month before the draft, whereas most prep prospects are drafted at 18 or even 17 with their 18th birthday coming in the summer. Rutherford has always been slightly older than his competition, both in high school and in showcase events, which made it difficult to evaluate him. Was it really an above-average hit tool, or just an older kid beating up on younger competition? Based on the draft rankings above, everyone seems to believe it’s the former.
2. He wanted a lot of money. Aside from injury, nothing causes a draft pick to slip more than bonus demands. Rutherford was strongly committed to UCLA and he was expecting top ten money because, well, he was a top ten talent. The Yankees had a $5,831,200 bonus pool this year, so if they were going to pay Rutherford top ten money, they’d have to skim elsewhere. That’s exactly what they did. The Yankees signed Rutherford to a $3,282,000 bonus on June 29th, well above his $2,441,600 slot value. They essentially gave him 11th overall pick money ($3,286,700). When it was all said and done, New York was left with $177 in draft pool space. Not $177,000. $177. The Yankees were like two Xbox games away from forfeiting their 2017 first round pick. They maxed out their spending limit to sign Rutherford.
The Yankees rarely have access to top of the draft caliber talent and they were able to acquire three such players this year by selecting Rutherford and trading for Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier. Acquiring Torres and Frazier took some hard work. There was a lot of luck involved in getting Rutherford. The Yankees had zero control over the 17 selections made before their first round pick. It just so happened those 17 teams passed on Rutherford, giving the Yankees a premium draft talent at a non-premium pick.
Rutherford’s pro debut did nothing to dispel the notion he was a top ten draft talent. The kid hit .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) with eight doubles, four triples, and three home runs in 33 rookie ball games before a minor hamstring injury sidelined him for the final week of the regular season. He was healthy enough to participate in Instructional League a few weeks later. Here, via MLB Farm, is Rutherford’s spray chart:
Base hits to all fields and over-the-fence power to the pull side as a left-handed hitter. It’s a beautiful thing for a 19-year-old kid in his first few weeks in pro ball. Baseball America recently ranked Rutherford as third best prospect in the farm system behind Torres and Frazier, so all aboard the hype train.
When we look back at the 2016 season in a few years, it’ll be remembered as the year the Yankees traded veterans for prospects at the deadline and rightfully so. They’ve built up one heck of a farm system through those trades. The opportunity (and willingness) to draft Rutherford shouldn’t be overlooked though. The Yankees haven’t selected a draft talent this highly regarded since Gerrit Cole in 2008.
The Other Over-Slot Signee
Because the Yankees needed to rob Peter (other draftees) to pay Paul (Rutherford), they didn’t have much extra draft pool money to throw around. Their only other 2016 draftee to receive an over-slot bonus was third rounder Nolan Martinez, a right-hander from a Southern California high school. Martinez received a $1,150,000 bonus, nearly double his $608,200 slot value.
The Yankees selected Martinez with the 98th pick in the draft, which is essentially where the various scouting publications had him ranked. Baseball America was high on him (67th) while Keith Law (94th), MLB.com (99th), and Baseball America (108th) had Martinez right where New York selected him. He’s the second best prospect the Yankees drafted this year (in my opinion) as a three-pitch righty with some semblance of command. Underwhelmed? Well, that’s the system. The Yankees went with players they knew they could afford after rolling the dice with Rutherford.
The Numbers Prospect
There is more stat line scouting these days than I can ever remember. That isn’t to say stats aren’t important, because they are, but they only tell you so much of the story. And the further away from MLB you get, the less the stats mean. Nick Solak, a second baseman out of Louisville, figures to be one of those prospects who gets an inordinate amount of attention due to his stats, a la Rob Refsnyder.
Solak, who was selected in the second round by the Yankees, hit .321/.412/.421 (155 wRC+) with three homers, eight steals, and nearly as many walks (10.8%) as strikeouts (14.0%) in his 64-game pro debut with short season Staten Island after signing for a below-slow $950,000 bonus. Solak has contact skills and knows the strike zone, but he doesn’t have much power and his ability to stay at second is questionable at best.
After three excellent years at a major college program, we’re not going to be able to glean much from Solak’s performance until he gets to Double-A, and it’s entirely possible that will happen at some point in 2016. A guy like him should have no trouble with Single-A pitchers. Solak is a good prospect whose long-term outlook will improve drastically if he shows he can handle second full-time. His stats may cause him to get overrated though.
The Best of the Rest
Outside of the top three picks, the two best prospects the Yankees drafted this summer were fourth rounder (duh) Nick Nelson, a JuCo righty from Florida, and 12th rounder Taylor Widener, a righty out of Alabama. Keith Law‘s (subs. req’d) scouting report on Nelson sounds too good to be true — “(Nelson) works with a plus fastball up to 95 and a plus curveball, with good command for his age, and his arm action and delivery point to future plus command as well,” wrote Law — and while I’m not quite that optimistic, he has good velocity and can spin a breaking ball. That works for me.
Widener had an insane pro debut, pitching to a 0.42 ERA (1.41 FIP) with 65 strikeouts and seven walks in 42.2 innings. That’s a 43.9% strikeout rate and a 4.7% walk rate. Widener does it with a low-90s fastball and a wipeout slider out of the bullpen, and while the Yankees could be tempted to move him quickly as a bullpen arm, his changeup and control are good enough that giving him a try in the rotation might be worthwhile. The Yankees have a history of trying college relievers as starters in pro ball, most notably Chance Adams and Jonathan Holder, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Widener is next in line in 2017.
Other notables include 11th rounder Connor Jones, 17th rounder Mandy Alvarez, and 21st rounder Timmy Robinson. Jones is a hard-throwing southpaw likely destined for relief long-term because he lacks quality secondary pitches and command. Alvarez had a solid pro debut and can get the bat on the ball, but he’s short on power and might not remain at third base long-term. Robinson is a tool shed; the former USC standout has legitimate power and good athleticism, which serves him well in the outfield. The holes in his swing will likely limit him to reserve outfielder status.
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Needless to say, Rutherford is the centerpiece of the Yankees’ draft haul this summer. Solak and Martinez can do some things, and I’m interested to see what happens with Nelson and especially Widener from here on out, but Rutherford is the guy. He was a top draft prospect who fell into the team’s lap and prompted them to max out their bonus pool. The Yankees tend to do well in the late rounds of the draft, unearthing players who are used in trades or get a cup of coffee in the show, and hopefully that will happen again this year. Right now, this draft class is all Rutherford. He deserves all the attention.