Cubs return Rule 5 Draft pick Caleb Smith to Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have welcomed back another one of their lost Rule 5 Draft players. Left-hander Caleb Smith has been returned by the Cubs, both teams announced. Smith was reassigned to minor league camp as a non-40-man roster player. He had to remain on Chicago’s big league roster all season, or be passed through waivers and offered back to the Yankees, which is exactly what happened.

Smith, 24, was New York’s 14th round pick in the 2013 draft. He had a 3.96 ERA (3.15 FIP) with 25.1% strikeouts in 63.2 innings with Double-A Trenton last season, his second straight year at the level. Smith is a lefty and he has good velocity on his fastball, so it’s no surprise a team took a chance on him in the Rule 5 Draft. He figures to be part of the Triple-A Scranton bullpen mix.

The Cubs acquired Smith from the Brewers following the Rule 5 Draft. Milwaukee selected him then traded him to Chicago for cash. The Rule 5 Draft rules still apply following the trade though. There seemed to be very little chance Smith, who struck out seven and allowed three runs (including three homers) in 6.1 innings this spring, would stick with the Cubs given their bullpen depth.

Last week the Yankees received Tyler Jones, another Rule 5 Draft pick, back from the Diamondbacks. Lefty Tyler Webb (Pirates) and catcher Luis Torrens (Padres) are still out there. Webb has a pretty good chance to stick. I still expect Torrens to be offered back sooner rather than later. A 20-year-old catcher jumping from Low-A to MLB is so very unlikely to stick, even with a bad rebuilding team.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

The Yankees are playing the Tigers this evening and unfortunately the game will not be televised. Blah. At least Spring Training is almost over. Masahiro Tanaka is starting tonight and he has yet to allow a run this spring through 18.2 innings. Justin Verlander is the only pitcher to throw more innings in a scoreless spring since at least 2006. He threw 20 scoreless innings in 2014. Tanaka could pass him tonight. Here is the Gameday link for tonight’s game.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the time being. I’ll post the daily camp notes following the game. MLB Network is showing spring games on tape delay all night, plus the (hockey) Rangers, Devils, and Nets are all playing. Talk about those games or anything else here.

The cases for and against Tyler Wade at shortstop

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At some point in the coming days the Yankees will decide how they’re going to replace the injured Didi Gregorius at shortstop for what everyone hopes is only a few weeks. Gregorius suffered a shoulder strain earlier this month and the talk right now is he could return in early-May. Missing April stinks, but at least it wasn’t something more serious.

The Yankees have three shortstop candidates remaining in camp following their latest round of roster cuts: Pete Kozma, Ronald Torreyes, and Tyler Wade. Torreyes is a lock to be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity. At worst, he’ll be the utility infielder again. There’s also a definite chance Torreyes will start at short while Gregorius is sidelined.

Who do fans want to replace Gregorius? Wade, of course. Bring me the young exciting prospect over the veteran retread any day of the week. Unfortunately things like development plans and the 40-man roster get in the way of such moves. Blah. In all seriousness though, is now the right time for Wade? Let’s make the cases for and against.

The Case Against Wade

It’s much easier to build a case against Wade than for Wade — that is true of most prospects — so I might as well start here. Wade, who turned 22 in November, has never played above Double-A. Not one single game. He hit .259/.352/.349 (101 wRC+) at the level last year, which is good but not blow you away great. The various projection systems don’t see Wade having much of an immediate impact:

  • PECOTA: .233/.299/.353 (.227 TAv)
  • Steamer: .224/.284/.315 (61 wRC+)
  • ZiPS: .234/.299/.316 (67 wRC+)

Those projections are both terrible and better than Kozma’s — PECOTA is the high man on Kozma at .218/.283/.333 (.214 TAv) — though I’m not sure being slightly less awful than Kozma is enough of a reason to call Wade up right now. The Yankees have a development plan in place for Wade, which involves turning him into a super utility guy, and deviating from that plan for what might be a one month stopgap role doesn’t seem like a great idea.

The 40-man roster situation can’t big ignored either. Once Wade is added to the 40-man, he’s on for good. Kozma can be cut easily because no one really cares if he gets claimed on waivers. Also, by calling Wade up, the Yankees would then burn one of his three option years sending him down to Triple-A whenever Gregorius returns. You’d rather not burn a young player’s option so he can be a short-term injury fill-in, you know?

For what it’s worth, the projection systems tells us Wade isn’t ready to help the Yankees all the much at the plate, so using him to replace Gregorius would mean altering his development plan and complicating the roster situation for someone who doesn’t figure to much of a short-term upgrade over Kozma. Neither guy is expected to hit much, and at best, Wade is Kozma’s equal in the field. I’d bet on Kozma being better defensively right now. The last thing the Yankees want to do is rush Wade and hurt his development, especially when there’s a viable alternative.

The Case For Wade

Kozma is really bad. He’s a career .222/.288/.293 (58 wRC+) hitter in the big leagues and last season he managed a .209/.268/.265 (52 wRC+) batting line in nearly 500 plate appearances with Triple-A Scranton. There is a minimum acceptable standard for offense and Kozma isn’t going to meet it. Not without a little BABIP luck, which, you know, could happen in a month of playing time.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The projection systems aren’t too enthused about Wade this year, though there are a few things to keep in mind about that. One, projections are not predictions. They’re an attempt to estimate the player’s true talent level, and weird things can happen in one month samples. Who’s to say Wade, who is hitting .341/.372/.439 during Grapefruit League play, won’t slash-and-dash his way to a respectable batting line in April? (Kozma is hitting a Kozmanian .206/.289/.265 this spring.)

PECOTA’s 70th percentile projection for Wade calls for a .251/.321/.382 (.244 TAv) batting line, which would essentially make him the 2016 version of Chase Headley (.253/.331/.385). The 70th percentile projection is the slightly optimistic projection, and hey, what’s wrong with being optimistic about a good looking prospect who has played well in camp and plays all out all the time? (PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection, the really optimistic one, is .279/.352/.424.)

There’s also this: the 40-man roster situation isn’t that dire. Tyler Austin is a 60-day disabled list candidate. I doubt others like Johnny Barbato, Dietrich Enns, Gio Gallegos, Ronald Herrera, Chasen Shreve, and Mason Williams will stand in the way of the Yankees making a roster move. Fringe roster players, which all of those guys are for the Yankees, are a renewable resource. There will be other Barbatos and Ennses and Gallegi somewhere along the line, especially given New York’s farm system.

As for Wade’s development plan, I do think that should be a serious consideration, but we’re only talking about a month here. If one month in the big leagues is enough to derail Wade’s entire career path, he probably wasn’t going to make it anyway. Keep in mind being in the big leagues is a learning experience. Wade would get to work with the big league coaches and learn from guys like Headley and Matt Holliday and CC Sabathia. There’s value in that.

* * *

There is no denying Wade would be the most fun and exciting shortstop option while Gregorius is out. Well, no, Gleyber Torres would be the most fun and exciting option, but that ain’t happening. You know what I meant. The fact the Yankees have played Torreyes at short more than anyone since Gregorius got hurt leads to me to believe they’re leaning towards using him at shortstop. In that case, Kozma would make the most sense as the backup. I think we can all agree calling Wade up only to have him sit on the bench would be a waste.

Joe Girardi and the coaching staff [2017 Season Preview]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

New year, same coaching staff. For the first time in a little while, the Yankees didn’t tinker with the staff surrounding Joe Girardi and will go into their second straight season with the same coaches.

That means Larry Rothschild is still the pitching coach, Alan Cockrell and Marcus Thames handle the hitters, Mike Harkey is the bullpen coach, Tony Pena and Joe Espada man the bases and Rob Thomson returns as the bench coach.

This doesn’t mean the job will be easy for these guys just because they remain in their roles. Each of them may have their most challenging job yet with the Yankees promoting their youth throughout the roster.

Joe Girardi

Girardi is entering his 10th season as the Yankees manager. Only two managers — Mike Scioscia with the Angels and Bruce Bochy of the Giants — have been in their current jobs longer than Girardi, who was hired in October of 2007. Stability hasn’t always been a trademark for Yankees’ coaches, but this is the second straight manager to last at least a decade. Not bad.

This is a contract year for Girardi: his four-year deal ends after the season. As in past years, the team isn’t going to extend him early, which will lead to plenty of speculation that the Yankees will move on at manager. That seems unlikely: the Steinbrenners appear to be happy with Girardi’s performance thus far and that’s for good reason. Girardi has been solid as manager. Still, that storyline will play out this season, especially if the team gets out of the gates slow.

In his 10th season, Girardi has perhaps his toughest days ahead of him. In the past, he’s been surrounded by veteran players who know the “Yankee way” and can indoctrinate the few young players moving onto the roster. But now Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann are all gone in one fell swoop. The Baby Bomber movement has taken over with plenty of rookies, or at least inexperienced, players taking key spots on the roster. Girardi’s main job is making sure that all gels in the clubhouse.

He has some veteran help with Matt Holliday‘s addition or the continued presence of guys like Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and co., but it’s still a challenge. For Girardi (and I guess Thomson), making sure inexperience doesn’t topple this team will be paramount to success. The one positive of having a younger roster is a lot less rest needed all around. Starlin Castro, for example, has played 151 games or more in five of the last six seasons. Fewer achy vets like A-Rod and Tex means more days with the team’s optimal lineup, whatever that may be.

Another change to the job will be instant replay. MLB has mandated that teams are quicker in requesting replays this season, so there will be less of the manager holding up play while the team’s replay people check it out. The Yankees’ guy, Brett Weber,  will have a tougher job this year (NY Times profiled him last year) and the team may need Girardi to go with his gut on challenges. The Yankees were the second-best team at getting calls overturned percentage-wise last year (Royals), but they also requested the fewest challenges (just 28). Maybe Girardi takes more chances with it and risks being quite as efficient in 2017.

Finally, Girardi’s job comes down to the bullpen. He once again has a strong back-end with Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. I expect Chapman will have the 9th, Betances usually just the 8th and Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren would then be dispensed for the middle innings along with maybe Ernesto Frieri? Don’t forget Tommy Layne as a LOOGY! Girardi loves to get the platoon advantage.

And that’s not a knock on Girardi. His bullpen management is his best trait and is likely why the Yankees consistently outperform their Pythagorean record. He both has strong relievers to utilize and then actually utilizes them well. I don’t expect anything different in 2017.

Hitting, hitting and more hitting

Cockrell and Thames return, but many of their disciples do not. The two have been handed some interesting projects this season. They won’t have to worry too much about the veterans like Matt Holliday. Instead, they’ll have to work with 6-foot-7 rookie Aaron Judge to keep his strikeouts down or with Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez to make sure their rookie performances aren’t just mirages.

It’s tough to ever pinpoint exactly where a hitting coach makes his mark — best example for the Yanks in recent memory is Kevin Long working to correct Curtis Granderson‘s swing in the summer of 2010 — but any breakouts this year could come from Cockrell and Thames’ tutelage. Let’s hope they can make plenty happen.

Handling the pitching

(Getty Images)
Rothschild and Tanaka (Getty Images)

This season will be Rothschild’s seventh with the Yankees. Wow, feels like it’s been fewer but then you remember him working with big Bart in 2011 and others in the early 2010s. For the most part, Rothschild doesn’t have a new pitcher to work with this season. There are three veterans returning to the rotation, most of the bullpen was there at some point last season and even the guys fighting for the last rotation spot have big league experience (except Jordan Montgomery).

Rothschild will be judged on his ability to coax some solid seasons out of those back-end starters. Whether it’s Bryan Mitchell and Luis Severino or Chad Green and Montgomery, there’s a lot of work ahead for the Yankees’ pitching guru. Rothschild has been known to get pitchers to increase strikeout totals, but getting a guy like Severino or Mitchell to improve their command will be much tougher. It isn’t even necessarily on Rothschild if they fail. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes with young pitchers.

And the rest

What can you really say about the rest of the staff? If you have a hard time accessing the performances of the hitting and pitching coaches, it’s even tougher with the bench or bullpen coach. Harkey begins the second season of his second stint with the Yankees. Seems like he never left for the desert, eh?

Meanwhile, Thomson has been with the Yankees since Girardi came aboard and has been the bench coach in two stints sandwiched around his time as the third-base coach. The bench coach seems like both another person for the manager to bounce ideas off of and another voice to work with the 25 personalities populating the Yankees’ clubhouse. Either way, Thomson has been solid enough in his role to stick around for 10 years.

Tony Pena has been here even longer. This will be his 12th season as a Yankees coach, now the first base coach after fulfilling other roles under Girardi and Joe Torre. Pena seemed to do a solid job as the Dominican Republic’s manager during the WBC and one has to wonder if he’ll be in consideration for another managerial gig (previously with the Royals) in the near future. Pena has a new full-time guy in Sanchez to work with behind the plate, which surely has him excited.

And then there’s Espada. He’s been perfectly fine as the third base coach. Like anyone in that position, he gets a ton of notice when he makes a bad send but otherwise has been left alone. He served a similar role for Puerto Rico at the WBC. If anything has changed for him, it’s that there are fewer base-clogging veterans like McCann or Teixeira and maybe a little more speed in the Yankees’ everyday lineup. Not much, but some. May be to Espada’s advantage in sending runners.

Thoughts five days prior to Opening Day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One week from right now, the Yankees will be either 1-0 or 0-1 one game into the 2017 regular season. Opening Day is only five days away. Can’t wait. Here are some random thoughts as Spring Training draws closer to an end.

1. At one point earlier this month three consecutive runners were thrown out trying to steal second base with Dellin Betances on the mound. The first was thrown out when he was still in Yankees camp, the other two were thrown out while he was away at the World Baseball Classic. That’s notable because, as I’m sure you know, runners were a perfect 21-for-21 stealing bases against Betances last season, including 6-for-6 with Gary Sanchez‘s rocket arm behind the plate. And yet three straight were thrown out a few weeks ago. Huh. Betances worked on his fielding over the winter — he’s also fielded several weak tappers back to the mound with no issue this spring — as well as his pickoff move and ability to hold runners, and perhaps that work led to the three straight caught stealings this spring. I don’t think anyone is expecting Betances to develop a Nathan Eovaldi caliber pickoff move, but he clearly has to be better, and he worked at it over the winter. Perhaps those three runners who were thrown out are an indication Dellin is doing a better job slowing guys down and making sure their lead and/or jump isn’t quite as great as they have been in the past. Or perhaps it’s just an anomaly and it doesn’t mean anything. That’d be lame.

2. Two years ago Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Greg Bird as the 81st best prospect in baseball, and in his scouting report, he noted Bird was “rarely putting the ball on the ground because he squares it up so frequently” during his minor league career. I wrote it about more in-depth that August. We didn’t get to see Bird last year because of his shoulder surgery, but he’s back now, and he’s torn the cover off the ball this spring. MLB.com has very basic batted ball data available for Spring Training games, and because I am a crazy person, I went through the game logs. Here are Bird’s batted ball rates for the 37 balls he’s put in play this spring:

  • Ground Balls: 8 (21.6% of all balls in play)
  • Fly Balls: 14 (37.8%)
  • Line Drives: 12 (32.4%)
  • Infield Pop-Ups: 3 (8.1%)

The limited sample size is an issue, so let’s not read too much into this, but once again Bird has an extremely low ground ball rate. He had a 26.7% ground ball rate during his 2015 cameo, which is tiny. The MLB average was a 44.7% ground ball rate last season. We don’t have any exit velocity or contact quality data for Spring Training games, but the batted ball data tells us Bird is still getting the ball in the air at an astronomical rate. Hitting the ball hard in the air is a wonderful recipe for doing serious damage, especially as a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium. We saw Bird do that back in 2015, and so far this spring, he’s getting the ball airborne again. It sure seems like he’s consistently hitting the ball hard too based on the eye test too. I am: overly excited.

3. I get the feeling Jordan Montgomery will be pitching for an Opening Day rotation spot tomorrow afternoon. He threw very well in his first Grapefruit League start last week, and in the outing prior to that he tossed four perfect innings to close out the no-hitter. (A Spring Training no-hitter! That still cracks me up.) We’ve been waiting for someone to separate themselves in this pitching staff competition and Montgomery has surprisingly done it, not Luis Severino or Luis Cessa or whoever. It would be awfully hard for the Yankees to keep Montgomery off the Opening Day roster with another strong outing tomorrow. This isn’t like skipping Tyler Wade over Triple-A to fill in for Didi Gregorius. Montgomery is a polished pitching prospect who has succeeded everywhere and has both the command and repertoire necessary to start. I don’t think he’ll be an ace or anything, but I think he’ll be a reliable back-end arm, and the Yankees could really use one of those right now. There’s not much work left to be done with Montgomery. If the Yankees deem him ready, he should be on the roster, not wasting bullets in Triple-A. Tomorrow’s start could very well determine one of those still open Opening Day roster spots.

Kozma. (Presswire)
Kozma. (Presswire)

4. As for shortstop, my guess is the Yankees will go with Pete Kozma over Wade or Rob Refsnyder for that last bench spot. Ronald Torreyes has played more short than anyone since the Gregorius injury, which gives you an idea which way the team is leaning. Kozma can play shortstop and Refsnyder can not, and I don’t think the Yankees want to lean on Starlin Castro as the backup at short. Castro still hasn’t played short this spring. He’s taken some ground balls during defensive drills and that’s it. The Yankees don’t seem all that eager to put him back on the other side of second base, which leads me to believe Kozma is ahead of Refsnyder on the depth chart. Wade, on the other hand, is a just turned 22-year-old prospect with a development plan I don’t think the Yankees want to alter, especially not with Gregorius due to back reasonably soon. There’s also the 40-man roster situation on top of that. Kozma, for lack of a better term, is easily disposable. When Gregorius is healthy the Yankees can designate Kozma for assignment and not think twice about it. Wade would be on the 40-man for good. And maybe that’s not a good enough reason to go with Kozma over Wade, but that’s what I think will happen. Teams sign dudes like Kozma for exactly this reason, to make sure they don’t have to rush prospects when the regular has to miss a few weeks.

5. The Yankees can open one 40-man roster spot by placing Tyler Austin on the 60-day disabled list. He got hurt so early in camp that backdating the disabled list stint would still allow him to be eligible to be activated in mid-April. Opening a second 40-man roster spot would take a little more work, and I wonder if the Yankees will swing one of those last minute Spring Training trades rather than expose someone to waivers. The Giants just lost ace lefty reliever Will Smith to Tommy John surgery, so maybe they’d be interested in Chase Shreve. The Rays and Braves could both use another utility guy, making them potential landing spots for Refsnyder. (George King says Tampa indeed has interest in Refsnyder.) Point is, if the Yankees do take Montgomery and Kozma north at the end of Spring Training (or even Wade instead of Kozma), they’re going to have to open another 40-man spot, and I think that’ll happen via trade, not waivers.

6. Weird complaint: I’m bummed we didn’t get to see Domingo German or Yefrey Ramirez pitch this spring. They did pitch in Grapefruit League games before being sent to minor league camp — they each made two appearances and threw three innings — but their outings were not televised. The top prospects are cool and everyone focused on them for obvious reasons, though the secondary guys intrigue me too. German pitched in the 2014 Futures Game (video) and came over from the Marlins in the Eovaldi-Martin Prado trade, then he blew out his elbow in Spring Training 2015 and kinda became a forgotten prospect. I was hoping to see what he looks like these days because the post-Tommy John surgery reports have been pretty excellent. Yefrey was a minor league Rule 5 Draft pick who pitched well enough last season that the Yankees added him to the 40-man roster. I woulda liked to have seen what he was all about, you know? Alas. The Yankees have had a phenomenal Spring Training and just about every prospect in camp was been outstanding, and here I am complaining about not getting to see two secondary pitching prospects. Go figure.

Open Thread: March 27th Camp Notes

The Yankees had an off-day today, their second and final off-day of the Grapefruit League season. The regular season is a little more than five days away now. Can’t wait. Here are the day’s notes:

Here is the open thread. MLB Network will show the Indians and Cubs live later tonight, plus the Knicks and Islanders are playing. Talk about those games or anything else here, just not religion or politics.

Yankees preparing Johnny Barbato for potential starting role with Triple-A Scranton

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ah ha! I knew I was on to something. Right-hander Johnny Barbato recently told DJ Eberle the Yankees are preparing him for a potential starting pitcher role with Triple-A Scranton this season. The decision to make him a starter isn’t final yet, but Barbato is getting stretched out and has thrown multiple innings in each appearance this spring.

The Yankees optioned Barbato out and sent him to minor league camp earlier this month, so he’s been working out across at the street the last week or two. Here’s what Barbato and Triple-A Scranton manager Al Pedrique told Eberle:

“I think my spring’s been really good,” Barbato said. “They’re going to try to put me into the rotation and all of that stuff, so I’m trying to make sure I command all of those pitches to try to get into the fifth (or) sixth instead of going just one inning.”

“If everything works out, I’m assuming that he’s going to be in the rotation to start the season and go from there,” the Triple-A manager said. “I think he’s such a strong guy. For me, if he can manage the changeup and the breaking ball with the velocity that he has, I don’t see why he cannot be solid starter.”

Barbato, who came over from the Padres in the Shawn Kelley trade two years ago, made the Opening Day roster last season and had a 7.62 ERA (4.45 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts in 13 relief innings with the Yankees. His first few outingz went well before the wheels came off. The 24-year-old had a 2.61 ERA (3.44 FIP) with 24.1% strikeouts in 48.1 innings with the RailRiders last year.

The Yankees didn’t give Barbato a September call-up last season, and that combined with the team’s depth and his good but not great Triple-A performance had me thinking Barbato was on the 40-man chopping block this offseason. Instead, the Yankees are looking at him as a possible starting pitcher. Go figure. Ken Davidoff spoke to farm system head Gary Denbo about Chance Adams recently and this quote stuck out to me:

“We got together as a group and decided that we’re going to take our best arms and put them in the starting rotation,” Denbo said. “We saw that Chance had three pitches that had a chance to be average or plus.”

That applies to Barbato as well, who has quality stuff and is held back by command more than anything. His fastball averaged 95.1 mph during his brief big league cameo last season, and he throws both a slider and a curveball. This spring Barbato has said he’s been working on a splitter, which would give him an offspeed pitch to combat left-handers.

Obviously Adams is the big success story, but he’s not the only reliever the Yankees have tried as a starter in recent years. Jonathan Holder started all season in 2015 before the team decided he was better suited for relief. Last year they intended to try both Nick Rumbelow and Tyler Webb as starters too. Rumbelow got hurt in his first outing of the season, but Webb made a handful of starts and extended relief outings in Triple-A.

Barbato’s command might not be good enough to start — his only real starting experience is a handful of starts in rookie ball and High-A back from 2011-13 — but there’s no real reason not to trying him in that role in Triple-A. If it works, great. If not, then they’ll put him back in the bullpen and try to get value out of him that way.