Mailbag: Harper, Iwakuma, Davis, Draft, Holland, Fister

Pretty big mailbag this week. Twelve questions and some of the answers are longer than usual too. You can email us questions, comments, links, guest post pitches, or anything else at RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

Harper. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Harper. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Many asked: What would it take to acquire Bryce Harper?

I had a feeling this was coming after the Harper-Jonathan Papelbon spat. The Nationals are a total mess right now and I can’t imagine Harper’s recent comments are sitting well with the brain trust — “I’ve got three more years to play at Nationals Park,” he said to Chase Hughes before saving himself with “and hopefully many more” — but they’d be stupid to trade him. Harper can’t request a trade either. He has no recourse.

Anyway, let’s answer this as a hypothetical. Harper will turn 23 later this month and he’s wrapping up one of the best offensive seasons in history. The kid went into last night’s game hitting .331/.463/.649 (197 wRC+) with 41 home runs. I mean, good grief. Harper also grades out as a strong defender, and although the Nationals have done their best to sully his reputation, Harper plays extremely hard. (Jeff Passan recently dug into Statcast data to show Harper has one of the fastest average times to first base, so yes, he does hustle.) He plays too hard, if anything. He’s hurt himself with aggressive slides and crashing into walls.

Even though he’s only 23, Harper is wrapping up his fourth MLB season and will be a free agent after 2018. You’re acquiring three years of him. Agent Scott Boras surely wants to get Harper out onto the open market at age 26 so he can smash contract records. What are three years of a soon-to-be 23-year-old megastar worth? There actually is a trade we can reference: Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera was about to turn 25 and also three years from free agency when he was traded from the Marlins to the Tigers. Not an exact comparison but close enough.

To get Cabrera, the Tigers gave up two top ten prospects in Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin — that’s top ten in all of baseball, not just the organization — and four other prospects, plus they took on the expensive years of declining Dontrelle Willis. There is some precedent for a young player this good being traded, but the key difference between Harper and Miggy is their team. The Nationals are not looking to shed money like the Marlins were. There’s no urgency to move him.

I’m not sure the Yankees can out together a package good enough to get Harper. Luis Severino plus Aaron Judge plus Dellin Betances ain’t gonna get it done. Who else can they add to sweeten that pot? Didi Gregorius? Michael Pineda? If the Nationals put Harper out there, they’d get better offers, I’m sure. Would the Dodgers say no to Corey Seager and Julio Urias plus other stuff? I doubt it. Harper is truly a once in a generation talent.

Jonathan asks: Assuming the Yankees at the very least have a second wildcard spot, do you think we should consider this an extremely successful year? Considering the age of the team, the injury risks, I did not think this was a potential playoff team. Do you think the Yankees fan base, at the end of the year, can finally be happy about a team that didn’t win the World Series?

Nah, Yankees fans are never happy unless they win the World Series. Fans of every team are like that, really. I didn’t expect the Yankees to contend coming into the season — I thought they were more likely to devolve into major ugliness on the field than contend — yet here they are. So yes, they have exceeded expectations. At the same time, blowing a seven-game lead in the AL East is very disappointing. Success is relative. I’d consider this season a success based on preseason expectations but I can also see the other side of the argument too.

Iwakuma. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Iwakuma. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Dean asks: Aside from Davis Price, how about other free agent options, like Jordan Zimmerman (likely gets qualifying offer) or Hisashi Iwakuma? Less cash outlay, but less pitcher.

Zimmermann’s definitely getting a qualifying offer but that’s no big deal. He’s very good — a 3.66 ERA (3.76 FIP) in 201.2 innings this season is considered a down year for Zimmermann — and giving up a first round pick for a pitcher of his caliber is no problem. Zimmermann seems headed for five years and $100M+. For some reason I think he winds up somewhere unexpected, with the Brewers or Mariners or something. No idea why, just a hunch. Either way, I don’t expect the Yankees to shell out $20M+ annually for a pitcher on a long-term deal this winter.

Iwakuma is a different story and I think the Yankees could make a serious run at him. He turns 35 in April, so he won’t require a long-term deal, and he has a 3.22 ERA (3.54 FIP) in 106.1 innings since coming back from his lat strain. That’s right in line with last year (3.52 ERA and 3.25 FIP). Iwakuma has three things the Yankees love: a swing-and-miss pitch (splitter), a super low walk rate (career 4.9%), and Grade-A competitiveness. The scouting reports on Iwakuma coming out of Japan said he was a total bulldog, and we’ve seen that in his time here.

Convincing Iwakuma to come to the East Coast might not be easy — those trips home to Japan are much quicker from Seattle than they would be from New York — especially since new Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said keeping Iwakuma is a top priority. I could see the Yankees going after Iwakuma and looking to overpay on a one or two-year deal. Say $18M annually or so. That’s basically what they did with Hiroki Kuroda. That’s the kind of pitching deal I think they’re pursue this winter.

Mark asks: Do you think the Yankees will erect a monument to Yogi Berra next season? Seems like a fitting tribute to an American icon who transcended baseball with his heroic service in WWII and countless charitable acts. I know he already has a plaque in Monument Park, but it seems to me he deserves special recognition as a legend among legends.

Yes, I believe it’s very possible. There are six monuments in Monument Park: Miller Huggins, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and George Steinbrenner. All of them were decided posthumously within a year of their death except for Huggins, the first monument. His came three years later. Yogi is one of the best players in franchise history, one of the best catchers in baseball history, and someone who used his fame for the betterment of others. That’s monument worthy for me. Berra is an all-time great both on and off the field. Those guys gets monuments.

Joe asks: Would you pitch CC Sabathia who has been pitching great since coming off the DL in the one game wild card game so that you have Masahiro Tanaka for two games in the ALDS?

Sabathia is forever cool with me but no way. I know Tanaka had a rough first inning the other night, but I chalk that up to rust. He’s the guy I want on the mound in the winner-take-all game. It has nothing to do with his contract at all. I trust Tanaka more than anyone on the staff. Severino’s been great! But he’s also 21 years old with ten starts under his belt. I know Sabathia pitched well last night and since coming off the DL, but I don’t want him on the mound in a must win game if Tanaka is available.

Brandon asks: Do you ever see the MLB changing their trading of all draft picks policy, and if so do you think the Yankees would be one of the teams more willing to move draft picks or less willing? For example would they have considered trading their first round pick this year instead of a Severino or Bird?

I do see it changing eventually. I’m not sure if they’ll allow pick trading in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (expires after 2016), but I think it’ll happen at some point. Right now only the Competitive Balance Lottery picks can be traded. I think eventually MLB will realize pick trading will create more interest in the draft and come up with a system. Make only the top two or three rounds tradeable. Something like that.

The Competitive Balance picks seem to have little trade value. They’ve been dealt for middle relievers or kicked in as the third piece in a multi-player package. I absolutely think the Yankees would have been more willing to trade their first rounder than a prospect like Severino or Greg Bird, who were close to MLB at the time of the trade deadline. The pick is effectively a low level prospect still several years away from the show, and a lot can go wrong between now and then. Severino and Bird have way more trade value given their proximity to MLB. My guess is a bunch of first round picks would be traded each year. Actual players already in your system are more valuable.

Davis. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Davis. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Nathan asks: Would you try and sign Chris Davis this offseason? I know there is no position for him and he may not age well, but isn’t the possibility of 40-50 HRs worth a possible 3-4 deal?

The no position thing is kind of a big deal, right? Davis couldn’t play first (Mark Teixeira and Bird), couldn’t DH (Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Teixeira, Bird), and couldn’t even play right field (Beltran). I guess the Yankees could stick him at third base — Davis has started 85 career games at the hot corner — but that seems … unwise. Davis can hit 40+ homers anywhere with his power. Yankee Stadium might not help him much because most of his homers are bombs. Davis is going to get paid. He’s another $20M+ a year guy. I think people are going to end up shocked at Davis’ contract come this winter. Power pays. I just can’t see the Yankees spending big for another first base/DH type.

Owen asks: Given Aaron Judge’s struggles at AAA, would it be more realistic to see him called up around July rather than April next year?

Yes, definitely. Had Judge mashed at Triple-A this year, we’d be wondering how they get him in the lineup next year. That didn’t happen though, so another couple hundred at-bats in Triple-A are in the cards. No big deal. Development isn’t linear. Let him go back to Triple-A, make some adjustments, and if he earns a midseason call-up, great. That plan works for me.

Jacob asks: Should the Yanks go after Greg Holland if the Royals non tender him? What kind of contract would he get?

In a weird way the Royals are probably slightly relieved Holland got hurt. They can’t afford two $8M+ relievers given their modest payroll, so chances are they were going to have move either Holland or Wade Davis this winter. Holland’s injury makes it an easy call. Don’t get me wrong, they’d rather have Holland healthy for the postseason, but that’s not possible.

Anyway, the Royals will non-tender Holland this winter and I think he’ll re-sign with the team on a small-ish two-year deal. He’s having his Tommy John surgery today, so even if Holland comes back ahead of schedule next year, you’re still only getting a handful of innings. You have to lock him up for 2017 as well to get some kind of return. (Holland will qualify for free agency after 2016, so a one-year deal means he’s gone next winter.)

I could see something like two years and $8M working for Holland. Give him $2M next season while he rehabs, then $6M in 2017. Throw in a bunch of incentives too. If the Yankees can get Holland on a deal like that this offseason, great, go for it. Relatively low-risk move. Holland probably ends up staying with the Royals if he agrees to a deal like that though. That’s the only organization he’s ever known.

Holland. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Holland. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Dana asks: What do you think about the Yankees signing Doug Fister in the offseason? His price will be reasonable after a down year, and he has a history of success. I trust him more than I do Ivan Nova.

Coming into the season, I thought the Yankees were going to be all over Fister this offseason. He’s been really good over the years, he’s super tall (6-foot-8), and the Yankees drafted him once upon a time (sixth round in 2005), so he might still has some fans in the organization. Fister was so bad this year he had to be moved to the bullpen (4.60 ERA and 4.64 FIP in 15 starts), and there’s also this:

Doug Fister VelocityFister was never a big stuff guy, he succeeded with location and a deep arsenal, but he’s now living in the 86-88 mph range with his heater. That’s not good. Velocity isn’t everything but it’s not nothing either. It’s not a coincidence Fister’s gotten smacked around this year. He has less margin for error.

Whether it’s age-related decline (he’ll be 32 in February) or something else (injury?), that’s a worrisome trend, and I don’t think it’s a guarantee Fister returns to being even league average without finding some more velocity. He seems to be headed for the Justin Masterson contract. A one-year, $9M-ish he can’t possibly be that bad again deal. Fister is worth a longer post in the offseason. My abbreviated mailbag answer is stay away.

Bill asks: Say in the wildcard game the yanks face a tough lefty like Keuchel, you think Joe Girardi goes with Young over Ellsbury or Gardner? Young hasn’t hit lefties much lately and can’t imagine sitting either one of Brett or Jacoby in a winner take all.

No. I think Girardi will go with his best lineup in the wildcard game regardless of who is on the mound. That means both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, Brian McCann instead of John Ryan Murphy, and Dustin Ackley over Rob Refsnyder. All things considered, Chris Young did a great job as the fourth outfielder this year. Murphy and Refsnyder have fared well while getting the platoon advantage all the damn time. I just think in a winner-take-all game, you have to go with your best players, and I think Girardi feels the same way as well.

Travis asks: Could a case be made to protect Dietrich Enns (a LHP with good MiLB numbers who could possibly stick as a LOOGY in MLB), Chaz Hebert (a LHP who had success in a SSS of 3 starts at AAA, but otherwise hasnt pitched above A+) and Rookie Davis (a hard throwing RHP who ended in AA).

All three players are Rule 5 Draft eligible and Davis will definitely be added to the 40-man roster. He’s one of the organization’s top pitching prospects, and his fastball/curveball/improved command combo gives him a chance to stick in MLB as a reliever in 2016 should the Yankees leave him unprotected. Enns and Hebert are probably going to get lost in the numbers crunch. (Hebert is going to the Arizona Fall League, so maybe the Yankees are considering adding him to the 40-man and want a longer look. Or maybe they’re auditioning him for a trade.) Spots on the 40-man will be at a premium this year and I think those two are on the outside looking in. The Yankees figure to lose a decent player or two in the Rule 5 Draft this winter. So it goes. You can’t keep everyone.

Scenes from a Celebration: Yankees clinch wildcard spot

I love this photo so much. (@Yankees)
I love this photo so much. (@Yankees)

The Yankees are going back to the postseason. The team clinched a wildcard spot Thursday night and they celebrated. Boy did they celebrate. The season is a long, difficult grind, and whenever you clinch a spot in the playoffs, a celebration is in order. Here are some photos and videos from the celebration, starting with the final out.

Bae-Rod. (Al Bello/Getty)
Bae-Rod. (Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)
The Big Man. (Al Bello/Getty)
The Big Man. (Al Bello/Getty)

But that's none of Tanaka's business. (Al Bello/Getty)
But that’s none of Tanaka’s business. (Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Meredith does not approve. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Meredith does not approve. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Yep. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Yep. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

John Ryan Murphy will definitely be stopping at a Taco Bell at 4am this morning. He stole the show postgame. Anyway, here is the annual rookie hazing photo. This year’s theme: old school rappers:


Rob Refsnyder definitely lifts. Also, Luis Severino as Flava Flav? Incredible. Masahiro Tanaka and his translator Shingo Horie as Run DMC? Yes. Yes yes yes. Love this team.

Postseason Bound! Yankees clinch wildcard spot with 4-1 win over Red Sox

Postseason baseball, I’ve missed you so much. The Yankees clinched a wildcard spot with Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Red Sox. The job ain’t done though. This was step one. The hard part starts now.


Two Runs Equal One Good Start
Former Yankee Rich Hill came into this game with some unbelievable numbers in his brief return to a big league rotation. He’d made three starts with the Red Sox coming into Thursday, allowing three runs on ten hits and two walks in 23 innings. He struck out 30. That’s pretty nuts. The Yankees have struggled mightily against left-handers of late, and with Hill throwing like that, it was easy to think runs would be at a premium.

Runs were at a premium, but the Yankees were able to strike first, scoring two in the second inning. The first came on a Carlos Beltran solo home run — his fifth homer against a lefty this season — to the opposite field. Beltran really reached out and drove this pitch to right:

Carlos Beltran-001

That’s nothing but raw strength right there. You can’t reach a pitch that far up and away and drive it out of the ballpark without some brute strength. Was it a cheap Yankee Stadium homer? Oh sure. But it was still an impressive blast. You don’t see too many pitches like that get driven out of the ballpark.

Beltran’s homer was the first run of the inning. Following the leadoff homer, John Ryan Murphy worked a one-out walk and Didi Gregorius worked a two-out walk to put runners at first and second. Brendan Ryan, who missed a meatball of a 2-0 fastball, managed to slap a single through the left side of the infield later in the at-bat to score Murphy, who slid in ahead of the throw.

I didn’t think Murphy had a chance to score when the ball left the bat, especially since Jackie Bradley Jr. was going to make the throw, but it appeared the wet grass slowed the ground ball down. It took Bradley that much longer to get the ball and gave Murphy a little more time to score. He slid in safely and boom, a 2-0 lead in the second. They needed that. I needed that.


Big Game For The Big Man
After everything that happened the last two years and his poor first four months this season, I couldn’t be any happier CC Sabathia got the win in the postseason clinching game. He’s pitched and won a lot of big games for the Yankees over the years — he tossed a complete game for their last postseason win remember, Game Five of the 2012 ALDS — and this game was Sabathia turning back a clock, putting the team on his back and carrying them to a win.

The pitching line isn’t anything special — 5 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K — but throw that out the window. Sabathia made some big pitches, his defense turned some huge double plays, and he handed the bullpen a lead. This was straight up gutty effort by the big man. No other way to describe it. Sabathia had to grind, he made pitches when he had to — getting Travis Shaw to fly out to strand the bases loaded in the fifth stands out — and helped the Yankees to a win. Bravo, CC. You’re still a BAMF.


Close Your Eyes, The Bullpen’s Coming
After using the big relievers for extended outings Wednesday night, seeing Sabathia’s pitch count sitting near 80 after four innings was, uh, worrisome. How in the world were they going to navigate the next few innings? Adam friggin’ Warren, that’s how. Warren, Friday’s scheduled starter, warmed up in the fifth in case he needed to bail out Sabathia. He wasn’t needed, so he had to wait for the sixth to enter the game.

Warren walked No. 7 Deven Marrero with two outs — it looked like he got squeezed pretty good by home plate ump Todd Tichenor — but otherwise escaped the sixth inning unscathed thanks in part to a behind-the-back grab …

… to end the inning. I’m pretty sure Gregorius would have had that grounder anyway — it looked like he was ready to made the play behind second base — but the behind-the-back grab is so much cooler.

In the seventh, No. 9 hitter Josh Rutledge poked an annoying two-strike single to right to start the inning. That was ominous. Mookie Betts followed with what looked like a go-ahead two-run homer. I don’t know if the rain knocked it down or if he just missed it, but boy, that was scary. Chris Young camped under it at the warning track. Phew. Warren handled the sixth and seventh innings with a one-run lead, and took care of the top of the order too.

The RailRiders Shall Lead Them
A one-run lead in the late innings is hardly comfortable. Not with the bullpen being so shaky of late, Yankee Stadium being so hitter friendly, and the Red Sox offense roughing the Yankees up the last two days. Thankfully, the Yankees tacked on some insurance runs.

Greg Bird plated the team’s third run of the night with a solo home run into the bullpen in the seventh inning. He made a really impressive mid-at-bat adjustment to time Jean Machi’s splitter. Bird took some ugly hacks at splitters earlier in the at-bat, but then waited back, dropped the bat head, and smashed the ball out of the park. Impressive.

One inning later, Rob Refsnyder absolutely crushed a solo home run off something called Heath Hembree. Absolutely demolished. I didn’t think Refsnyder had that kind of power. The ball cut through the rain drops and hit the back wall of the visitor’s bullpen to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead. Pretty good game for the kids, eh? Go RailRiders.


The Late Innings
Turns out Warren’s night was not over after completing the seventh inning. I figured Joe Girardi would go to Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller — even after pitching last night — because a postseason spot was on the line. No, he instead sent Warren back out for the eighth with a 3-1 lead. Warren needed a dozen pitches to get a strikeout, a ground out, and a line out to Gregorius. That’s three scoreless innings on 51 pitches for Warren. Can’t say enough about the job he did both in this game and this season.

After Refsnyder drove in that fourth run, Girardi went to Betances for the final three outs in the ninth inning. Two strikeouts and a pop-up later, the Yankees were postseason bound. The were led by the young (Bird and Refsnyder) and the old (Sabathia and Beltran) on Thursday. Postseason baseball returns to the Boogie Down.

The Yankees had eight hits and everyone in the starting lineup had exactly one hit except Murphy, who drew two walks. Young, Gregorius, and Alex Rodriguez drew walks as well. Rico Noel pinch-ran for A-Rod after his walk and was actually thrown out stealing for the first time. Looked like the wet infield slowed him down.

Dellin’s game-ending strikeout was the team’s 589th bullpen strikeout of the season, tying the 2012 Rockies for the MLB record. The Yankees have three games to break that one. Something tells me it’ll happen.

Just to be clear: the Yankees clinched a wildcard spot with this win. They still need either another win or an Astros loss to clinch the top wildcard spot.

And finally, this was the 10,000th win in franchise history. Clinch a postseason berth with your 10,000th win? Pretty cool.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for the game, and updated standings and postseason odds for the season. I guess we don’t need the standings and postseason odds anymore, huh? Anyway, here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, and here’s the win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The final series of the regular season. The Yankees are off to Baltimore for a three-game series with the already eliminated Orioles. Wei-Yin Chen will start for the O’s. I guess Luis Severino will start for the Yankees will Warren coming out of the bullpen in this game. Love this team, you guys.

Game 159: The Home Finale


So here we are. The final home game of the regular season. What better way to celebrate the occasion than by clinching a postseason berth? The Yankees can clinch a wildcard spot tonight with a win. That’s all it takes. One stupid little win to secure a spot in the postseason. Glorious, October baseball with a chance to win the World Series. It’s wonderful. I miss it so much.

The clincher scenarios are getting a little less complicated, thankfully. The Yankees will clinch a playoff spot with a win at any point (preferably tonight). They can not clinch tonight with a loss, however. No other combination of losses around the league can clinch a spot for New York tonight. To clinch the first wildcard spot, the Yankees need either two wins or one win plus one Astros loss at some point before the end of the season. Nice and easy, right? Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ home finale lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. RF Carlos Beltran
  5. LF Chris Young
  6. C John Ryan Murphy
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Brendan Ryan
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is cloudy and there has been a raining on and off for a few hours now, but the forecast says it’ll clear up later tonight. The internet makes it appear a delay is a possibility. Hope we avoid it. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN2 nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley are out of the lineup with back soreness. Ellsbury hurt himself crashing into the wall last night. Joe Girardi made it sound like both are available in an emergency … Masahiro Tanaka (hamstring) came through last night’s start just fine. No problems at all … Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is still playing catch but there is no firm timetable for his return.

Award Update: A-Rod was named one of three finalists for the MLBPA’s Comeback Player of the Year Award, the union announced. Prince Fielder and Kendrys Morales are the other finalists. This is not MLB’s official Comeback Player of the Year award. The union has their own set of awards. Still cool though. The players nominated A-Rod.

Jorge Mateo near top of Baseball America’s top 20 South Atlantic League prospects


Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued today with the Low-A South Atlantic League. The list is free but the scouting reports are not, as always. Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada predictably claims the top prospect and is followed by SS Jorge Mateo. He ranks second and is the only Yankees farmhand on the list.

“Mateo has tools to rival the league’s No. 1 prospect Yoan Moncada,” said the write-up. “Mateo is just as fast, just as prolific at stealing bases, has similar power potential and a better arm. Plus, he is a potentially above-average defender at shortstop … Mateo is a well-rounded prospect who could end up making an impact both offensively and defensively.”

Mateo, 20, hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with two homers, a 19.6% strikeout rate, and an 8.6% walk rate overall this season, including .268/.338/.378 (106 wRC+) in 96 games with Low-A Charleston before being promoted to High-A Tampa. Mateo led the minors with 82 steals this season — no one else had more than 71 and only one other player had more than 65 — and was only caught 17 times for an 83% success rate.

The most common comp for Mateo is Jose Reyes because they’re speedy shortstops, but that’s optimistic. Mateo is a righty hitter, not a switch-hitter, and Reyes had a 102 wRC+ in the big leagues when he was Mateo’s age. That’s not a fair comparison. That said, with RHP Luis Severino having graduated to MLB and OF Aaron Judge struggling in Triple-A, you could argue Mateo is the Yankees’ top prospect right now.

The next list relevant to Yankees fans is the Double-A Eastern League, and boy, the Yankees should be well-represented. Severino, Judge, 1B Greg Bird, C Gary Sanchez, and 3B Eric Jagielo are the big names with OF Jake Cave and RHP Brady Lail other possibilities. Severino and Judge may rank one-two in some order. That’d be neat. That list is due out next week.

Other league top 20s: Rookie Gulf Coast League, Rookie Appalachian League, Short Season NY-Penn League, High-A Florida State League

Kaprielian, Degano among Baseball America’s standout top 20 non-qualifiers

(John Corneau Photos)
Grandmaster Kap. (John Corneau Photos)

Baseball America is still in the middle of their series looking at the top 20 prospects in each minor league. Inevitability, playing time criteria has left a lot of prospects on the outside looking in. They have to draw the qualifying line somewhere, and some talented players simply fall short of the top 20 list due to playing time. Recent draftees fall short more than anyone.

Earlier today, J.J. Cooper posted a look at the top prospects who failed to qualify for one of their league top 20 lists. It’s not a ranking, just a list of 13 players who stood out to scouts in limited playing time. Among the 13 are two of the Yankees top 2015 draft picks: rapper/RHP James Kaprielian (first round) and LHP Jeff Degano (second round). Neither made a top 20 list because they only threw a handful of innings after turning pro.

Kaprielian, 21, threw 23.2 innings with the Rookie GCL Yanks and Short Season Staten Island — 11.1 innings in the regular season and another 12.1 innings in the postseason — and finished with a 2.28 ERA (2.23 FIP). He struck out 24, walked six, and had a 56.5% ground ball rate. Cooper’s write-up is free, you don’t need a subscription, so here’s part of the blurb on Kaprielian:

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound righthander commands a four-seamer at 92-93 mph and touched 95 for Staten Island. Kaprielian’s plus 12-to-6 curveball was his go-to pitch with UCLA, but he mainly threw it early in counts with Staten Island, focusing instead on his changeup and slider. Both pitches generated swings and misses. His circle-change had firm, split-like downward action at 82-83 mph with good finish at the bottom of the strike zone, while the slider showed hard, late break … With his deep arsenal, above-average command and maturity, the righthander could be a quick mover in the Yankees system.

For what it’s worth, Michael Lananna heard Kaprielian’s changeup has progressed nicely in his short time as a pro. Kaprielian’s scouting report is damn impressive. Four pitches, command, and poise? It’s easy to understand why he was the fifth pitcher selected in the 2015 draft. The only reason the Yankees didn’t turn him loose this summer was his workload at UCLA — he threw 106.2 innings for the Bruins before the draft.

Degano, meanwhile, had a 3.80 ERA (3.72 FIP) with 24 strikeouts, eleven walks, and a 50.0% ground ball rate in 23.2 innings for the GCL Yanks and Staten Island. That’s regular season and postseason. The 22-year-old southpaw actually piggybacked with Kaprielian for a while at Staten Island to keep their workloads down after heavy springs in college. (Degano threw 99 innings for Indiana State.) Here’s part of the Degano blurb:

Degano did show excellent command of his 90-94 mph fastball inside to righthanded hitters, and his plus 78-82 mph breaking ball neutralized lefties. The development of Degano’s fringy changeup, however, will be crucial if he’s going to make it as a starter. It showed flashes of being an effective pitch, but Degano threw the change sparingly with Indiana State and still needs to gain a consistent feel for it.

Degano turns 23 later this month and is older than your typical college pitcher, but his development was delayed by Tommy John surgery. He made only three starts in 2013 before blowing out his elbow and then didn’t pitch at all in 2014 either. This spring was the only opportunity for scouts to get a look at Degano before he was draft-eligible, and he was working his way back from elbow reconstruction. The Yankees liked him enough to take him in the second round.

The Yankees have a very position player heavy farm system, especially now that Luis Severino has graduated to the big leagues, so Kaprielian and Degano help replenish the pitching pipeline a bit. The Yankees didn’t draft them for need, things just worked out that way. Kaprielian could help very soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was in the big leagues next August or September a la 2007 Ian Kennedy.

Yankees limping to the finish line, but a fresh start is right around the corner


The Yankees are somehow pulling off the ultra-rare combination of exceeding expectations and being a huge disappointment this season. Not many people thought this team would contend coming into the season, yet here they are, on the verge of clinching a postseason spot. A win and they’re in. Nice and simple, right?

At the same time, expectations recalibrate, and the Yankees were seven games up in the AL East just two short months ago. That lead vanished in a matter of days, it seemed. The Yankees were eliminated from the division race yesterday and will have to settle for a wildcard spot. I think many of us would have taken a wildcard spot before the season. But in late July? Nah.

The Yankees are playing an awful brand of baseball right now. The rotation is shaky, the offense can never seem to get The Big Hit, and the bullpen has become such a liability that even Dellin Betances blew a lead last night. Nothing is going right at the moment. Nothing other than the new Dustin Ackley/Rob Refsnyder second base platoon, I guess. These last few games have not been inspiring.

The good news is the Yankees have a clean slate coming. The regular season ends Sunday and the postseason starts Tuesday. That’s a fresh start. A new beginning. I’m not sure how many years have to pass before it doesn’t have to be pointed out that being hot or cold heading into the postseason doesn’t matter one bit. Hot and cold streaks are not predictive. Hitting .400 over the last two weeks doesn’t mean you’ll get a hit tomorrow. (Tom Verducci wrote more on the myth of momentum.)

“We never want to lose,” said Andrew Miller to Chad Jennings following yesterday’s game. “We don’t want to lose one game, let alone two, three in a row, or whatever it is. At the same time, if we take care of business, we get a chance to start anew, and I think that’s what we look forward to. Anything can happen once you get there. I’ve seen it first hand multiple times. I think once you get into it, we’ve got the team to win games and get hot and take off and play as a unit, and I think that’s what’s important.”

Do I want the Yankees to turn things around and finish the regular season strong heading into the wildcard game? Of course. When you watch them play, there are times you wonder how they’re ever going to win again. But look at last night’s game — they had 21 (!) base-runners in the first nine innings. That’s really good. It didn’t lead to a win, but it’s a sign of good play. Leaving all the runners on base was ugly, sure, but those base-runners are a huge positive. That’s a good sign and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Yankees are backing into the postseason but hey, that’s still the postseason. It’s tough to watch and feel good about their postseason chances, that’s human nature, but the wildcard game is five days away. Five days is an eternity in baseball. We see it every year — every single year without fail — that the postseason is a clean slate and performance can change in a hurry, for better or worse. The Yankees desperately need that fresh start, and thankfully it is right around the corner.