Here is tonight’s open thread. There’s no baseball or football tonight, but the NHL season starts, and that’s pretty cool. Good night to catch up on some Netflix if hockey isn’t your thing, I suppose. Talk about whatever here.
With the regular season over, the 2017 amateur draft order is now finalized. The Twins, for the third time in their history, hold the top overall pick. They lost 103 games this year. No other team lost more than 94. Yikes. This is the third time Minnesota has the first overall selection, joining 1983 (Tim Belcher) and 2001 (Joe Mauer).
The Yankees hold the 17th overall pick in next June’s draft. They finished the season with an 84-78 record, same as the Astros, but because the Yankees had the better record in 2015 (87-75 vs. 86-76), the Astros get the 16th pick and the Yankees get the 17th pick. Houston holds the tiebreaker. Womp womp. I guess homefield advantage in the AL Wildcard Game wasn’t worth it after all.
Anyway, this is the third straight year the Yankees hold a pick in the teens; they picked 16th in 2015 (James Kaprielian) and 18th in 2016 (Blake Rutherford). This is the second time in franchise history the Yankees have held the 17th pick. They used that pick to take C.J. Henry back in 2005. That one didn’t work out. At least they turned Henry into Bobby Abreu.
Last year the 17th overall pick came with a $2,504,500 slot value, though that figures to go up. The bonus pool numbers have increased each of the last four years. Of course, that 17th pick is tentative. The draft order will change as qualified free agents change teams. Heck, the Yankees could even give up that pick to sign someone. We’ll see.
Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued earlier this week with the Double-A Eastern League (subs. req’d). Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada and OF Andrew Benintendi claimed the top two spots. Pirates OF Austin Meadows is third. Three Yankees farmhands made the top 20: OF Clint Frazier (No. 8), RHP Chance Adams (No. 18), and OF Dustin Fowler (No. 20).
“(Frazier’s) swing is short, compact and features some of the best bat speed in the minors, thanks to exceptionally strong forearms, hands and wrists. He’s also a baseball rat who zealously studies opposing hitters and pitchers,” said the write-up, which also praised him for his center field speed and right field arm. It’s worth noting Frazier did not play in Double-A with the Yankees. He was in Triple-A. His spot on this list stems from his time with the Indians.
Adams, who was also on the High-A Florida State League list, is said to attack hitters with a “heavy, mid-90s fastball, then finishes them off with a sharp-diving slider in the mid-80s and a changeup with fade in the high 80s that he developed over the course of the season with Trenton pitching coach Jose Rosado.” He’s also working on a curveball and now has mid-rotation ceiling after being drafted in the fifth round as a reliever last year. Quite a find, Adams was.
Fowler was called one of the league’s “best-kept secrets” because he’s a no-doubt long-term center fielder with a chance for a leadoff hitter profile if he can improve his on-base skills. “He has the speed to bunt for hits if necessary … One manager noted Fowler had a vulnerability on the inside part of the plate, and he hardly ever walks,” said the scouting report. Fowler was an 18th round pick back in 2013, by the way.
In the chat, Josh Norris said 3B Miguel Andujar has “the marks of a player who can stick at third base,” though he “needs to control the strike zone better at the plate” to fully tap into his power. Also, SS Tyler Wade is lauded for being a “player who does a little bit of everything but not a lot of any one tool.” Wade and LHP Jordan Montgomery were “both in consideration (for the to 20), but the league’s extreme depth didn’t help their cases.”
You can see all of the league top 20 lists without a subscription right here. The last list of interest to Yankees fans is the Triple-A International League, which could be great or boring. I’m not sure whether guys like Frazier, OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, 1B Tyler Austin, RHP Chad Green, RHP Luis Cessa, and RHP Ben Heller got enough plate appearances/innings to quality for the list. We’ll see.
Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.
A year ago the Yankees started their rebuild with an unusual strategy. With only a few big league ready prospects of their own, the team went out and acquired out-of-favor young players with other organizations. The hope was they could buy low on talented players and unlock their potential. So far it’s worked with Didi Gregorius. He’s been pretty awesome as Derek Jeter‘s replacement.
The Yankees imported Nathan Eovaldi from the Marlins as part of this on-the-fly rebuild, and his first season in pinstripes was eventful. He struggled early in the season, dominated after picking up a splitter with an assist from pitching coach Larry Rothschild, then finished the season on the shelf with elbow inflammation. This season followed a similar script, albeit at the extremes.
The No. 3 Starter
In hindsight, Spring Training should have been a red flag. Eovaldi struck out ten and walked eight in 14.2 Grapefruit League innings during the spring — he had a 20/3 K/BB in 18.2 innings last spring — after missing time with a groin problem. The vast majority of Spring Training stats mean absolutely nothing. This year, Eovaldi’s inability to locate in March was a harbinger of things to come during the regular season.
The Yankees slotted Eovaldi in as their No. 3 starter to start the regular season because that’s the kind of production they hoped to receive. He had a 3.43 ERA (2.86 FIP) in his final 14 starts and 84 innings of the 2015 season, and the new splitter was a tangible reason for the improvement. The Yankees were hoping to get that guy full-time this season. That didn’t happen. Not even close.
Eovaldi allowed five runs in five innings to the Astros in his first start of the season, and also gave up two home runs. That was ominous. Eovaldi allowed ten home runs total last season. Right out of the gate he gave up two this year. Four runs in 6.2 innings against the Blue Jays followed seven days later, including two more home runs. That’s four home runs in his first 11.2 innings of the season. It took Eovaldi 28.2 innings to allow four homers last year.
Following those two tough starts to the season, Eovaldi did settle down and pitch well through the end of May. His best start of the season came on April 25th in Texas, when he allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings. Eovaldi lost the no-hit bid in the seventh inning.
Now, the bad news: those ten starts included seven home runs, which worked out to a 1.04 HR/9 (13.7 HR/FB%). That’s not Eovaldi. He had a 0.58 ERA (7.8 HR/FB%) last season and a 0.63 HR/9 (6.6 HR/9) the year before. Eovaldi came into the 2016 season with a career 0.63 HR/9 (7.1 HR/FB%) in 614.1 innings. That’s not a small sample. He’d displayed a legitimate skill for suppressing home runs. That skill disappeared in 2016.
The Well-Earned Demotion
Things went south for Eovaldi as soon as the calendar flipped to June. He allowed at least four runs in each of his next six starts, including at least five runs in five of those six starts. His pitching line in those six starts: 30.1 IP, 45 H, 31 R, 31 ER, 12 BB, 19 K, 12 HR. Ouch! That 3.71 ERA (3.56 FIP) on June 1st turned into a 5.54 ERA (5.11 FIP) on July 1st. It went downhill and fast.
At that point the Yankees did the only thing they could do: they moved Eovaldi to the bullpen. It had to be done. He went to the bullpen and Chad Green took his spot in the rotation. Eovaldi made three relief appearances prior to the All-Star break, the best of which came in Cleveland on the final day of the first half. He allowed just one hit in 4.1 scoreless innings in relief of an ineffective Masahiro Tanaka.
The Yankees insisted they still believed in Eovaldi as a starter, and they put their money were their mouth is in the second half. Green was sent to Triple-A and Eovaldi returned to the rotation after the All-Star break, and the early returns were promising. He allowed ten runs total in 25 innings in his first four starts back. Opponents hit .204/.267/.387 against him. That’ll play. Eovaldi looked good.
An Abrupt End to 2016
Eovaldi’s first four starts back in the rotation were promising. He was missing bats again, and while the ball was still flying out of the park, Nate was doing enough of everything else to remain effective. It was a difficult season up to that point, and it looked like it might have a happy ending. Alas.
On August 10th at Fenway Park, Eovaldi retired all three batters he faced in the first inning on a ground ball and two fly balls. He did not pitch again the rest of the season. His velocity was down that inning — he averaged 93.7 mph with his fastball, well below his 98.0 mph season average — but otherwise there was no indication Eovaldi was hurt as he walked off the mound. It was a surprise when he wasn’t in the game to start the second inning.
The Yankees initially called the injury right elbow discomfort, and a battery of tests eventually revealed the full extent of the damage: a torn flexor tendon and a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. Eovaldi told reporters the MRI showed the flexor tendon was torn right off the bone. Ouch. Soon thereafter he had surgery to repair all the damage, which involved his second career Tommy John surgery. Eovaldi is out until 2018.
So, after all of that, Eovaldi finished the regular season with a 4.76 ERA (4.98 FIP) in 124.2 innings spread across 21 starts and three relief appearances. His walk (7.6%) and ground ball (49.6%) rates were fine, though his strikeout rate (18.5%) was a tad low, plus there were all the homers (1.66 HR/9 and 18.7 HR/FB%). Gosh, the homers. So many homers. Twenty-three total. That’s after allowing 24 total from 2014-15.
Another New Pitch
Yet again, Eovaldi adopted a new pitch at midseason and it helped him have some success. Last year the split-finger fastball emerged and allowed Eovaldi to pitch effectively for two months or so. This year Eovaldi added a cutter at midseason, after being demoted to the bullpen. Check it out (via Brooks Baseball):
The splitter came out of nowhere last year and the cutter came out of nowhere this year. Did the cutter cause the elbow injury? It’s certainly possible, though I feel like we hear that about with every new pitch. Who knows? Something as severe as a flexor tendon tearing off the bone and a partially torn UCL was probably the result of wear and tear building up over a long period of time, not a guy throwing a handful of new pitches. (Eovaldi threw 148 cutters in 2016. That’s not that many.)
If nothing else, the splitter and cutter tell us Eovaldi is a tinkerer. He’s trying to get better and he takes to instruction. The splitter helped him have success for a while and the cutter kinda did too. Did they contribute to his elbow exploding? Like I said, it’s possible. I just don’t think we can say that with any certainty, especially since Eovaldi already had Tommy John surgery once before. At this point Eovaldi is a fastball/splitter/slider/cutter pitcher. It’ll be interesting to see if he comes back with that repertoire in 2018.
Outlook for 2017
Next season was supposed to be Eovaldi’s contract year. Instead, the injury ensures he will be non-tendered this offseason, when his stock is at an all-time low. MLBTR projects a $7.5M salary in 2017 and there’s just no way you can pay that to a guy who won’t pitch and will become a free agent after the season. It’s a total waste of money. The Yankees will cut Eovaldi loose at some point. Cruel game, this baseball.
The Yankees have not yet spoken to Eovaldi about their plans going forward, though that’ll happen soon. The club has a history of signing injured pitchers to two-year contracts (Jon Lieber, David Aardsma, Andrew Bailey, etc.) and nursing them back to health in year one with an eye on the reward in year two. Eovaldi seems like a candidate for such a deal. Kris Medlen and Mike Minor recently signed two-year contracts worth $8M or so under similar circumstances, so I guess that’s the starting point.
Either way, Eovaldi will not be a factor for the Yankees next season, even if they re-sign him. He’ll be rehabbing from a very serious injury — the second Tommy John surgery rehab takes much longer than the first — and getting him back at the start of 2018 would be the best case scenario. It might take even longer. That bites. A year ago the splitter had Eovaldi looking like a possible long-term rotation piece. Now his future in MLB is very much up in the air.
It has now been ten days since the Yankees played their final regular season game. The postseason has kept me from missing the Yankees so far, though that’ll change eventually. Probably after the playoffs. Anyway, I have some thoughts about the 2016 season and the offseason ahead.
1. This is a very important Arizona Fall League season for the Yankees. Usually it’s just a bunch of guys getting extra at-bats. This year the Yankees have one rehabbing big leaguer (Greg Bird), one rehabbing prospect (James Kaprielian), and one reclamation project (Dillon Tate) in the desert. Bird will hopefully be the full-time first baseman next season, and he’s finally getting at-bats in the AzFL after missing the season due to shoulder surgery. Kaprielian, arguably the most talented pitcher in the system, will get a chance to make up for lost time after missing close to the entire season with an elbow problem. Tate’s stock took a hit this summer as his velocity and stuff wavered. The Yankees want to get all three back on track, especially Bird and Kaprielian. They’re important to the future of the franchise.
2. I’m usually paranoid about pitching depth. I’m always in favor of signing that one extra veteran to be the fifth starter and push the kids down to Triple-A. I’d rather have the arms and not need them then need them and not have them, you know? Despite that, I’m weirdly comfortable with the pitching depth the Yankees have at the moment. Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Luis Severino, and Bryan Mitchell all logged big league time this year, and then there’s Jordan Montgomery and presumably Chance Adams in Triple-A. Severino is the only one of those pitchers with a really high ceiling, but I think they’re all big leaguers, and I think the odds are pretty good we’ll see each of them next season. Definitely the first four, assuming Green is healthy. Is a rotation featuring four of those guys going to win a championship in 2017? Nah. But I like all the live arms that are big league ready or close to it. It’s been a while since the Yankees were this deep in potential starters.
3. Now, even with that pitching depth in mind, I do think the Yankees need to add a starter this offseason. A young controllable guy with high upside would be ideal. Someone like, say, Carlos Rodon or Jon Gray would be the dream scenario, just to throw some names out there. I’m not sure if that’ll happen though. Plan B might be some riskier pitchers either due to injury or poor performance. Rich Hill will be the big free agent name this offseason, and I suspect he’s going to get himself a nice contract. When I say riskier pitchers, I’m thinking more along the lines of Brett Anderson and Jaime Garcia (assuming his option is declined), or a trade for Tyson Ross. There’s a chance they’ll come reasonably cheap, and if healthy, they’ll be pretty good. If not, then the Yankees can turn it over to the kids. Maybe I’m being too optimistic about the young starters. I’m known to do that in the offseason. It just seems like there are zero sure things in free agency. Not even a reliable veteran innings guy to be your fourth starter. So if no trade can be worked out, then taking shots on risky pitchers with upside and using the kids as a backup plan seems like a fine idea.
4. I’m not sure how this can be fixed aside from getting an entirely new offense, but the Yankees really need to improve their on-base ability going forward. They had a team .314 OBP (25th in MLB) and a 7.8% walk rate (19th). They also averaged only 3.83 pitches per plate appearance, which ranked 22nd in baseball. Their 77 games with no more than two walks were ninth most in baseball. That’s a problem. The best thing a hitter can do in any given plate appearance is not make an out, and the Yankees were among the worst teams at not making outs this past season. Furthermore, one of their best count-workers (Mark Teixeira) is retiring and two others (Brett Gardner and Brian McCann) might get traded. Hopefully Bird’s return and a full season of Aaron Judge will help correct this somewhat. With others like Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, this is just who they are. They’re going up there swinging. Want the Yankees to score more runs? Then adding some more on-base guys to the lineup would be a good start. Gardner and McCann were the only full season regulars with a .331+ OBP in 2016. That ain’t enough.
5. The Yankees re-signed pitching coach Larry Rothschild to a one-year contract last week, which means Rothschild, Joe Girardi, and Brian Cashman will be all be free agents next offseason. Probably the other coaches too, though I don’t know their contract statuses. Point is, things are set up well for the Yankees to wipe the slate clean after next season should ownership decide to go in that direction. No one has to be fired. They can all be let go. I don’t expect that to happen, at least not right now, but if the Yankees miss the postseason for the fourth time in five years, who knows. It would be easy to justify making sweeping changes. Either way, Cashman’s contract and Girardi’s contract are up after the season, and that’s going to be a pretty huge story, especially if the club doesn’t play in October again.
The 2016 Arizona Fall League season started this afternoon, which means 1B Greg Bird returned to the field for the first time since having shoulder surgery in February. That’s grounds for a special edition of DotF, right? Right. In other AzFL news, RHP James Kaprielian will start for the Scottsdale Scorpions tomorrow. Hooray for that.
AzFL Scottsdale (9-6 win over Glendale)
- DH Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB — pretty standard Greg Bird game in his first day back
- 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-2, 2 R, 1 3B, 1 BB — nice AzFL debut for him
- RHP Dillon Tate: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 17 of 30 pitches were strikes (57%) … Josh Norris says Tate sat 94-96 and topped out 97, and got swings and misses on both his slider and changeup, so that’s promising
- RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K — 12 pitches, seven strikes
SS Gleyber Torres, SS Tyler Wade, RHP Josh Roeder, and Kaprielian are all at the AzFL as well, though they didn’t play today. Torres is going to see time at second and Wade is going to play some outfield.
- NLDS Game Four: Nationals at Dodgers (Ross vs. Kershaw), 5pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Nats up 2-1)
- NLDS Game Four: Cubs at Giants (Lackey vs. Moore), 8:30pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Cubs up 2-1)
Wins today by the Nationals and Cubs would mean no baseball until Friday. No. Just, no. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. A pair of Game Fives on Thursday sounds great to me.
Here is tonight’s open thread. There’s some preseason NBA action on tonight in addition to the two postseason games. Talk about that stuff and more right here. Have at it.