We have two guests this week, plus Mike returns to the podcast after a stint on the DL.

Mike and I discuss the state of the pitching staff, with Michael Pineda headed for the DL and Ivan Nova lost for the season. The Yankees do have a few holes on the roster, which leads to a very premature discussion of potential moves they can make.

Then Jay and I talk to ESPN’s Keith Law about some pine tar (and vaseline, and Crisco), Masahiro Tanaka, and of course plenty of Yanks minor league stuff.

Finally we have Tommy Rancel from The Process Report to talk about the upcoming Rays series. The season hasn’t gone quite as expected for the boys in Tampa, but as Tommy explains they do have some hope in the coming weeks. Thankfully, they still have Erik Bedard starting in this series.

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If you’re on Android, the feed should be updating in major podcast apps. (I know it has shown up in BeyondPod for me.)

As always, we appreciate any feedback you have.

Categories : Podcast
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According to the Twitter feed of OF Kendall Coleman, LHP Ian Clarkin is on his way to join Low-A Charleston. No word on when he will make his first start, but it should be within a day or two. Clarkin was the third of the Yankees’ three first rounders last year.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Norfolk)

  • LF Ramon Flores: 2-4, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K — 14 hits in his last 33 at-bats (.424), plus he’s doubled in four straight games
  • 3B Scott Sizemore: 2-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K – hard to think he’d be worse than Brian Roberts
  • SS Dean Anna: 1-5
  • DH Zoilo Almonte: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 SB
  • C Austin Romine: 1-4
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 39 of 68 pitches were strikes (57%) 23 of 35 pitches were strikes (66%)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB – ten of 19 pitches were strikes (53%)
  • RHP Matt Daley: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB – eight pitches, seven strikes

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Categories : Down on the Farm
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* Pending the outcome of the June 2nd make up of Wednesday’s rainout, of course.

Off-day, rainout, whatever. The Yankees’ offense continued to struggle on Thursday night and the result was a 4-2 loss to the Mariners. They have scored more than three runs once in their last five games. Not nearly enough to win in this ballpark with this pitching staff.

(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

No Felix? No Problem
It’s a good thing the rainout pushed Felix Hernandez out of the series, huh? Instead, the Yankees faced rookie lefty Roenis Elias, who pitched about as well as Felix as probably would have. Ten strikeouts and two runs (one earned) in seven innings, plus another seven outs on the ground. The only hard-hit ball I can remember was Jacoby Ellsbury‘s homer to leadoff the very first inning. Wasn’t much solid contact after that, if any.

The Yankees pushed their second run across in the sixth inning thanks to a weird two-out error by Robinson Cano, who flipped to second for the force out even though the shortstop wasn’t at the bag. Mark Teixeira beat out the relay to first to extend the inning, then Brian McCann beat the shift with a run-scoring single the other way. All of that happened with two outs. The Bombers left two runners on base in the second and that’s pretty much the only other time they threatened.

Through their first 14 home games this season, the Yankees have scored a total of 47 runs. That’s pretty awful. They’ve scored 65 runs in their 13 road games, for comparison. That just seems like a fluke/small sample size thing than something meaningful — especially since they have a higher AVG, OBP, and OPS+ at home than on the road disregard, I’m an idiot — but it’s still pretty annoying. This club should rake at home. Instead, they got manhandled by Elias and Chris Young. Yuck.

(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

Death by Defense
Hiroki Kuroda was far from great on Thursday night — four runs (three earned) in six innings pretty much defines mediocrity — but he was obviously way better than last time out, though that isn’t saying much. The defense behind him was particularly terrible, as the infield essentially gave the Mariners five outs in the second inning. First Derek Jeter booted a routine leadoff grounder, then they failed to turn a double play, which extended the inning and allowed a run to score.

Kuroda gave up a run in the first inning when Cano doubled on a pitch that was a good six inches off the plate inside (we’ve seen him drill that pitch into the corner for nine years now) and then things kinda came apart in the fourth inning when Brad Miller singled in front of Brett Gardner and Michael Saunders clubbed a ground rule double the other way. Kuroda allowed seven hits but he also struck out seven, including three of the final six batters he faced. His last two innings were awesome, but by then it was too late.

Joe Girardi pulled Kuroda after six innings and 94 pitches because they said they were going to take it easy on him this year. He’s essentially on the Andy Pettitte plan — rarely throwing more than 100 pitches or going out for that one extra batter or two — which is a smart move given his age. Kuroda’s offspeed stuff still isn’t cooperating but seven strikeouts and ten ground balls out of 26 batters faced is encouraging. The infield defense is just a nightmare. That said, results are all that matters and Kuroda isn’t getting them.

(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

Leftovers
Carlos Beltran and Brian Roberts were actually the only players who failed to reach base. Beltran is an 0-for-15 slump. Gardner didn’t have a hit but he did draw a walk. Everyone else in the lineup had exactly one hit and the only player to reach base twice was Teixeira. He singled and walked. Maybe it’s time to bat Gardner leadoff, Ellsbury third, Teixeira cleanup, and push everyone else down a notch? Could be cool. Also, there’s this guy named Kelly Johnson on the bench who might have something to offer.

The bullpen did a fine job in relief of Kuroda, as the trio of Matt Thornton, Adam Warren, and Shawn Kelley retired eight of nine batters faced. The only exception was a ground ball single through the shift off Thornton. Meh. It happens. The relievers gave the offense a chance to get back into the game. Can’t ask them for much more.

Ellsbury’s dinger was his first as a Yankee and his 11th career leadoff homer. It was the team’s first leadoff homer since August 2012. No, they didn’t hit one at all last season. Fun Fact: This year’s team is on pace to hit fewer homers (138) than last year’s (144). That’ll change once the weather warms up. I hope.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and video highlights, head over to MLB.com. You can find some more stats and the updated standings at FanGraphs and ESPN, respectively. The Yankee are 1-4 against the Astros and Mariners this year. Good job.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Rays are coming to town for a three-game series as the Yankees wrap-up their homestand. Lefties Vidal Nuno and David Price will be on the mound Friday night. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch that marquee pitching matchup in person.

Categories : Game Stories
Comments (70)
May
01

Game 27: No Felix

By in Game Threads. · Comments (384) ·
(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees caught a really big break yesterday. The rainout not only gave their key bullpen pieces another day of rest, but it also pushed Felix Hernandez out of the series. The Mariners opted to use the impromptu off-day to give their rotation extra rest, so Wednesday’s scheduled starter Roenis Elias will get the ball tonight while Felix pitches against whoever Seattle faces next tomorrow night. Now the Yankees just have to take advantage.

Hiroki Kuroda is on the bump for New York and his last start was a total disaster: eight runs on ten hits in only 4.2 innings. Ivan Nova is done for the year and Michael Pineda isn’t coming back for at least a month, so the team needs Kuroda to shake off his inconsistent start and get back to being the guy he was early last season. He doesn’t even need to be that good. He just needs to be better than he has been. I have faith in Kuroda and think he’ll turn it around soon enough. Preferably tonight. Here is the Mariners lineup and here is the Yankees lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsburyguess the sore left hand is fine
  2. SS Derek Jeter
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. DH Alfonso Soriano
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Yangervis Solarte
  8. LF Brett Gardner
  9. 2B Brian Roberts
    RHP Hiroki Kuroda

After a torrential downpour yesterday and into this morning, the sky is blue and there is no rain in sight. They won’t have any trouble getting the game in tonight. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally, depending on where you live. Enjoy.

Rotation Update: The rotation for this weekend’s series against the Rays will be Vidal Nuno (Friday), Masahiro Tanaka (Saturday), and CC Sabathia (Sunday), the Yankees announced. David Phelps threw an 80 or so pitch simulated game yesterday and will start on Monday.

Brendan Ryan Update: Ryan (back) has moved up to Double-A Trenton to continue his rehab. The team has said they want him to get 40-50 at-bats after missing Spring Training and right now he’s at 17 rehab plate appearances. Sure seems like he’s lined up to be activated off the DL on Tuesday, when Michael Pineda’s suspension expires and the Yankees get back to a normal 25-man roster.

Categories : Game Threads
Comments (384)
May
01

2014 Draft: Cameron Varga

By in Draft. Tags: · Comments (8) ·

Cameron Varga | RHP

Background
Varga is from Ohio and he attends Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. He is a recently converted shortstop who originally committed to Florida but has since changed his commitment to UNC. Varga was unable to pitch in showcase events last summer, first due to a minor biceps issue and later due to a cyst in his abdomen that had to be surgically removed.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-3 and 205 lbs., Varga is a big kid who will run his sinking two-seam fastball as high as the mid-90s. It usually sits in the low-90s. Both his curveball and changeup have shown the potential to be above-average pitches down the road, but right now they are both in need of refinement. Varga is a good athlete but there is a lot of effort in his delivery, which hinders command. Because of the biceps problem and the cyst, scouts went about nine months without seeing Varga until his senior season started a few weeks ago.

Miscellany
Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Varga as the 16th best prospect in the draft class while both MLB.com and Baseball America (no subs. req’d) ranked him as the 47th best prospect. Varga draws a lot of split opinions for two reasons: one, the injuries. Fair enough. Two, he will turn 20 in August and is one of the oldest high school prospects in the draft. No one checks IDs on the mound though, and if you catch him on the right day, Varga could look like a future ace with multiple out pitches. The Yankees don’t pick until the second round (55th overall) following their offseason signing spree.

Categories : Draft
Comments (8)
(Presswire)

(Presswire)

Robinson Cano returned to the Bronx as a visiting player for the first time Tuesday night. It was kinda weird. When he defected to the Mariners over the winter, it left the Yankees with a blank canvas at second base. I mean a really, really blank canvas. The team did not have a big league ready second base prospect to step into the lineup, hence the Brian Roberts, Scott Sizemore, and Dean Anna pickups. Those guys are the definition of stopgaps. They were added to play second base because the rules say someone has to do it.

True second base prospects are not all that common — most big league second basemen are failed shortstops. Cano is a failed shortstop, as are Roberts and Dustin Pedroia and Aaron Hill and pretty much every other second baseman. It’s the least-premium premium position, if that makes sense. The Yankees came into the season with two good but not great second base prospects, with the most notable being Gosuke Katoh following his huge pro debut last summer. This year has not been so kind to him, however.

The other good second base prospect is 23-year-old Rob Refsnyder, the team’s fifth round pick in 2012. I ranked him as their 27th best prospect back in February after he hit .293/.413/.413 (~143 wRC+) with 32 doubles, 23 steals, and more walks (84) than strikeouts (82) in 573 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last season. Refsnyder got off to a brutally slow start at Double-A Trenton this year (5-for-35 with 15 strikeouts), but he has gone 18-for-51 (.353) with seven walks and five strikeouts in 14 games since. His season batting line now sits at .267/.344/.384 (109 wRC+), and, according to Baseball Reference, he is 1.6 years younger than the average Double-A player.

Refsnyder’s backstory alone makes him pretty interesting. He was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Orange County when he was only three months old. He played second base in high school, moved to the outfield at the University of Arizona, and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series en route to helping the Wildcats win the 2012 National Championship. Pretty neat. Baseball America ranked Refsnyder as the 29th best prospect in New York’s system in their 2014 Prospect Handbook, and here is a snippet of their scouting report:

Refsnyder has enough athleticism to become an average defender at the position in time, but he needs plenty of repetitions. He’s a smart, above-average runner, but not a burner … He’s an extremely patient hitter (who) recognizes spin well and knows when and how to go with a pitch. Refsnyder sprays line drives all over the field and has the ability to keep the head of the bat in the zone for a long time. He doesn’t get much lift, so he’s not going to hit more than 10-12 home runs going forth.

We aren’t talking about the next Cano here. Cano was a second year big leaguer when he was Refsnyder’s age, not a first year Double-A player. Refsnyder’s strengths are a potentially solid glove, his knowledge of the strike zone, his ability to differentiate pitches, and his ability drive the ball to all fields. Here is his 2013-14 spray chart, if you need a visual. (MLB Farm is a truly excellent site, by the way.) That is a pretty promising skillset even if it doesn’t make for the sexiest prospect ever.

Any time a player gets to the Double-A level and has success, especially a player drafted out of a major college program, he puts himself on the map for a potential big league role. Obviously the season is very young and Refsnyder still has another 120-something games left in his season, but I’m encouraged he shook off the really poor start and has started to hit like he did last year. The Double-A level has always been something of a separator between actual potential big leaguers and regular ol’ prospects. You know what I mean. Refsnyder is starting to separate himself a bit.

The perfect world scenario would see Refsnyder dominate Double-A these next few weeks, earn a midseason promotion, dominate Triple-A, and open 2015 as the team’s regular second baseman, but I don’t know how realistic that is. It’s a tad aggressive. The Cardinals had a top notch second base prospect in Kolten Wong ready to take over this year and they still added a veteran backup plan in Mark Ellis over the winter. (Wong hasn’t hit a lick and was just demoted to Triple-A, but that’s besides the point.) Copying the Cardinals is not a bad idea. Signing another stopgap veteran and letting Refsnyder force his way into the lineup seems like reasonable 2015 plan to me.

Thanks to that blank canvas Cano left behind, the Yankees have a very clear opening for Refsnyder in the near future. The potential is there for him to be a solid and cheap bottom of the lineup option, something others like David Adams and Corban Joseph failed to become for different reasons. I hesitate to use Brett Gardner as a comparison for Refsnyder because Gardner turned into one hell of a player, but the idea is similar. An unheralded mid-round pick who comes up through the system and develops into a strong complementary player. I’d take that from Refsnyder in a heartbeat, and he isn’t all that far away from entering the big league second base picture.

Categories : Minors
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  • Heyman: Yankees among teams with “strong interest” in Hanrahan
    By

    Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are among at least five times with “strong interest” in free agent right-hander Joel Hanrahan. He is believed to have multiple offers on the table and is likely to sign rather than hold another showcase for teams. Hanrahan is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and two other elbow procedures (bone chips, flexor tendon).

    Hanrahan, 32, was said to be sitting in the low-90s during a workout for teams a few weeks ago. He is not quite a full year out from surgery, but as a reliever it won’t take him very long to get game ready. There is always room for a guy like Hanrahan in the bullpen, especially since the Yankees are in position to ease him back into things after surgery and not ask him to be a late-inning guy right away. With both Vidal Nuno and David Phelps in the rotation, adding a reliever like Hanrahan to replace the bullpen depth sure makes a lot of sense.
    · (39) ·

The mailbag is our Friday staple, but this week we received a question worth its own post.

(Elsa/Getty)

(Elsa/Getty)

Jonathan asks: Hey Mike, have you noticed any change in Mark Teixeira‘s stance so far? He’s standing up much more straight with less of a crouch and his hands are starting in a lower position.

I hadn’t noticed anything different until I read Jonathan’s question the other day, so I paid extra attention during Tuesday night’s game against the Mariners. Sure enough, it looks like Teixeira has changed his setup at the plate. To the action GIFs:


That is 2013 on the left and 2014 on the right, both homerun swings (not that the outcome matters much, but just in case) and both at Yankee Stadium so the camera angle is the same. I’m not much when it comes to media editing and all that, but I did my best to sync the two GIFs at the moment his front foot hits the ground.

There are definitely some differences between last year and this year, as Jonathan pointed out. Four that I see, in fact.

  1. Closed Stance: Teixeira’s front foot was further away from the plate than his back foot last season. He’d been like his entire career. The same is still true this year, but it isn’t nearly as exaggerated.
  2. More Upright: Look at his knees. He was in a bit more of a crouch last season. This year he’s standing close to straight up.
  3. Lower Hands: They wind up in the same place once he starts to load his swing, but Teixeira has brought his hands out in front of his body before the pitch is delivered. Before they were almost behind his head.
  4. Follow-Through: Last year Teixeira still had his big one-handed follow-through. This year it’s a more compact two-handed follow-through.

Do those adjustments sound familiar? They should. You’re a bad fan if they don’t. (Not really.) Those are the same exact adjustments Curtis Granderson made when he revamped his batting stance in August 2010 and turned into one of the game’s premier power hitters almost literally overnight. Here’s a pair of screen caps from a post I wrote about Granderson’s overhaul back in the day:

Granderson, April vs August

Granderson’s very first at-bat of the 2010 season is on the left (homer off Josh Beckett!) and an at-bat from August 2010 is on the right. It’s from the series immediately after he went through his crash course with hitting coach Kevin Long, so right after Curtis went through the overhaul.

The camera angle isn’t the same but you can see Granderson closed his stance and dropped his hands, pretty drastically too. Much more than Teixeira. (Lower hands is a classic adjustment players make in an effort to get their bat moving quicker.) He is not standing more upright, though he did replace his one-handed follow-through with a two-handed follow-through. I’m not going to make a GIF of that; I trust you remember Grandy following through with two hands these last few years.

Alright, back to Teixeira. Here’s a snippet of a relevant Mark Feinsand article from late in Spring Training, just before the Yankees traveled to Houston to open the season:

Kevin Long noticed that Teixeira had been letting the bat go early when he hit lefty, protecting his right wrist in the process. Teixeira said he fell into that habit last year when he tried to play through the injury, but until Long picked it up on video earlier in the week, he didn’t realize it was still happening.

“Lefthanded, mentally I have to continue to remember that it’s healthy now and even though it might be a little bit tight, and every now and then it’s a little bit sore, I can still take that full swing,” Teixeira said. “It was unbelievable how early I was letting go of my (left) hand to protect the (right) wrist. Just really a bad mechanical thing.”

Long and Teixeira worked on the adjustment in the cage and during batting practice, but it wasn’t until Thursday’s game against the Pirates in Bradenton that the first baseman truly felt he let loose during his lefthanded at-bats.

“It looked like a whole different animal,” Long said. “The problem is it wasn’t allowing him to drive the ball and he was cutting his swing off. I can’t tell you how positive the Bradenton game was for him and for us.

That’s the kinda thing I read in Spring Training and completely ignore. We hear that sorta stuff everyday and most of it means nothing, both short and long-term. Teixeira has noticeably revamped his stance though, and both he and the hitting coach talked about making adjustments back in camp. The early returns are positive too: .231/.375/.487 (140 wRC+) with three homers in 48 plate appearances this season, including two homers in his last two games. Suddenly that little blurb from March seems more meaningful.

Teixeira is a switch-hitter, but his left-handed swing has been the concern in recent years. I didn’t bother to look to see if he changed his righty stance as well. He never stopped mashing lefties (144 wRC+ from 2011-13), so there was never a reason to worry about him from that side of the plate. Teixeira’s production against righties took a hit though (104 wRC+ from 2011-13), plus a right wrist injury is more worrisome for a lefty hitter. The front arm is the power arm, so if any part of that is compromised, it’s tough to drive the ball. Teixeira has hit those two homers off righty pitchers the last two games, which is encouraging.

Will the adjustments Teixeira made this year be as effective as the ones Granderson made in 2010? Man that would be so cool. It is the same basic stuff, after all. Closed stance, lower hands, two-handed follow-through, etc. That said, no. Probably not. Granderson’s fix was 95th percentile stuff. Turning into a 40+ homer guy with a few mechanical tweaks is damn near the best case scenario. I wouldn’t expect the same results from Teixeira just because they made the same adjustments. They are two different players at two different points of their careers.

Still, can this new stance help Teixeira regain some of his lost production as a left-handed batter? It’s possible and I hope so. There’s really no way of knowing at this point though. Teixeira wasn’t bad in his last full, healthy season (116 wRC+), he just wasn’t as good as he had been during his prime. The easiest way for him to improve his overall production is to improve against righties, and these recent changes could help him do just that. Hopefully this recent power surge is a sign of things to come and an indication Teixeira’s new batting stance is paying real dividends.

Categories : Analysis, Mailbag
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RHP Luis Severino was included in today’s Prospect Watch at FanGraphs, so head on over for a few paragraphs on the 20-year-old right-hander. HE has a 1.89 ERA (2.39 FIP) with a 22/6 K/BB in 19 innings for Low-A Charleston this season. Baseball Reference says Severino is 1.8 years younger than the average player in the league.

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off-day.

Double-A Trenton was rained out. They’ll play a doubleheader tomorrow.

High-A Tampa (6-0 win over Dunedin)

  • CF Jake Cave: 0-4, 1 K
  • SS Brendan Ryan: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — 4-for-14 (.286) in his four rehab games
  • DH Eric Jagielo: 2-4, 1 R — had been in a 5-for-27 slump (.185)
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr.: 2-4, 1 R, 1 RBI — second straight two-hit game
  • C Peter O’Brien: 1-4, 3 K
  • 2B Angelo Gumbs: 1-3, 2 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
  • RHP Brett Gerritse: 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 HB, 10/3 GB/FB
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 2 IP, zeroes, 4/1 GB/FB — last year’s tenth rounder has a 65/9 K/BB in 48.1 pro innings

Low-A Charleston‘s game as suspended due to rain with two outs in the bottom of the first inning. Probably not the wisest decision to start the game, in hindsight. Anyway, they’ll complete the game as part of a doubleheader tomorrow. Here’s the box score if you can’t wait until then for the stats.

Categories : Down on the Farm
Comments (12)
  • Marchand: Yankees can’t place Pineda on DL until end of suspension
    By

    Via Andrew Marchand: The Yankees are not allowed to place Michael Pineda on the disabled list until his ten-game pine tar related suspension ends. Thanks to today’s rainout, the team is now stuck playing with a 24-man roster until Tuesday instead of Monday.

    Pineda, 25, will miss at least 3-4 weeks with a Grade I teres major strain, so they’ll stick him on the DL as soon as the suspension ends. Brendan Ryan is currently on a minor league rehab assignment and it seems likely he will be activated to fill the extra roster spot next week. The Yankees are currently carrying seven relievers and only a three-man bench.
    · (13) ·

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