News & Notes: Lopez, Sabathia, Sterling, Waldman, Franklin

(Wall Street Journal)
(Wall Street Journal)

Got a few smaller miscellaneous updates of various importance to pass along. Away we go …

Diamondbacks sign Yoan Lopez

According to multiple reports, the Diamondbacks have signed free agent Cuban right-hander Yoan Lopez. His $8.25M bonus is a record under the new international spending rules. Arizona will have to pay a 100% tax on the bonus. Jesse Sanchez says Lopez turned down more money to sign with the D-Backs because he feels it’ll be easiest to crack their rotation. I guess that’s a compliment?

The Yankees reportedly had “strong interest” in Lopez along with several other teams. Meanwhile, the baseball world continues to wait for infielder Yoan Moncada to be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control so he can sign. That needs to happen before June 15th for the Yankees to have a shot at signing him, and by all accounts Moncada is a potential star at age 19. Moncada is definitely the greater of the two Yoans.

Sabathia feels good, will begin throwing bullpens soon

For the third straight year, CC Sabathia has spent part of the offseason rehabbing. Two years ago it was the bone spur that had to be removed from his elbow. A year ago it was the Grade II hamstring strain he suffered late in September. This year it was the clean-out procedure on his balky right knee.

Sabathia started playing catch in September and, after deciding not to throw off a mound before Thanksgiving, he plans to start throwing bullpen sessions soon. “I’ve been good. I’ve been playing catch. I’ve been throwing. I’ll probably start throwing bullpens by the end of the month … I feel good, I don’t have any pain, no nothing. My arm feels good,” said Sabathia to Mitch Abramson over the weekend.

There’s no real way to know what Sabathia will give the Yankees next season. It could be the knee injury was the root cause of his problems from 2013-14, and this procedure will get him back to being an effective pitcher every fifth day. Or it could just be that he’s a 34-year-old with a ton of innings in his arm and he won’t be much of a help from here on out. Sabathia is going to be one of the most important players to watch in Spring Training.

Sterling and Waldman officially coming back in 2015

This isn’t much of a surprise: John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are officially returning as radio voices of the Yankees this coming season, according to Neil Best. WFAN operations manager Mark Chernoff confirmed the duo will return for their 11th season together. The Yankees don’t have hiring or firing power over the radio announcers, but they do have input.

Sterling hasn’t missed a game in 26 years, and, back in September, he said he is “never going to retire. I don’t understand why people would.” I seem to be in the minority that doesn’t mind Sterling and Waldman, though then again I don’t listen to more than a handful of games on the radio each year. Sterling is an icon at this point. I can’t imagine a Yankees radio broadcast without him.

Franklin set to take over as “roving evaluator”

Over the weekend, Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton announced their coaching staffs for the upcoming season, and a report said longtime Thunder manager Tony Franklin will be taking over manager of the team’s new rookie ball affiliate, the Pulaski Yankees. That isn’t the case though. Franklin told Nick Peruffo he is moving into a “roving evaluator” role.

“I’m extremely happy. It’s given me some renewed energy,” said the 64-year-old Franklin to Peruffo. “(New player development head Gary Denbo) asked me to do something for him. It was an honor for me that he asked … I’m very happy he thought enough of me to do that.”

According to Peruffo, Franklin is going to travel between the team’s minor league affiliates — with an emphasis on the lower level affiliates — and help the organization’s players, managers, and coaches. His official title has not been finalized but he’s basically going to be a roving baseball guru. Franklin had been Trenton’s manager since 2007. Now he’ll have an opportunity to impact more people. Neat.

New additions will help Yankees against pitches down in the zone

Jones is a weapon against low pitches. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)
Jones is a weapon against low pitches. (Scott Cunningham/Getty)

As first explained by Jon Roegele last January and revisited by Jeff Sullivan in September, the strike zone has been expanding in recent years. It is expanding downward, specifically. There are more called strikes at the knees and below nowadays than there were a few years ago for whatever reason. Pitchers have been taught to keep the ball down for decades, and now there is even more of an incentive to do so. It’s hard to do anything with pitches down in the zone.

As a result, some teams have started seeking out low-ball hitters to counter the expanding strike zone. Josh Donaldson, who went from the Athletics to the Blue Jays this offseason, is one of the best low-ball hitters in the game, putting up a .273 AVG and .180 ISO on pitches in the lower third of the zone and below the last two years. The MLB averages were .230 and .103, respectively. The best low-ball hitter in baseball the last three seasons has been (who else?) Mike Trout, with a .343 AVG and .229 ISO.

Last season, the Yankees as a team hit .229 with a .101 ISO on pitches in the lower third of the zone and below, the 17th and 15th best rates in baseball, respectively. The MLB averages in 2014 were a .232 AVG and .103 ISO. Keep in mind those are raw AVG and ISO numbers, unadjusted for ballpark or anything like that. The Yankees were a below-average hitting team on pitches down in the zone despite playing home games in hitter happy Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have remade their lineup a bit this offseason, at least compared to the Opening Day lineup a year ago. They have a new projected starters at the three non-first base infield positions plus a new primary DH regardless of whether Alex Rodriguez or Garrett Jones gets the majority of the at-bats. Let’s look at how the current roster has performed on pitches down in the zone the last three seasons, with an enormous thanks to the indispensable Baseball Savant.

The Infielders

AVG ISO BABIP K%
C Brian McCann .219 .148 .236 18.5%
1B Mark Teixeira .193 .147 .225 23.4%
2B Stephen Drew .179 .072 .276 33.7%
SS Didi Gregorius .245 .115 .286 17.5%
3B Chase Headley .225 .098 .318 28.5%
MLB AVG .230 .107 .300 25.3%

I was curious to see Teixeira’s down in the zone stats before looking them up because, anecdotally, it seems like he’s a high-ball hitter based on what I’ve seen during his first six years in pinstripes. Sure enough, the data backs it up. Teixeira hit .193 with a .147 ISO on pitches down in the zone these last three years while hitting .268 with a .266 ISO on all other pitches. The MLB averages for pitches not down in the zone since 2012 are .273 AVG and .175 ISO, for reference.

Both Teixeira and McCann are power-before-average hitters, which is why they have a better than league average ISO but a below-average batting average on pitches in the bottom third of the zone and below. Headley has been below-average on low pitches but not by much, just a few points in both AVG and ISO. Remember, AVG and ISO are unadjusted and Headley spent most of the last three years in cavernous Petco Park. I expect these numbers to come up going forward. Drew … yikes. Let’s leave it at that.

Gregorius is interesting because he has actually been slightly above-average on hitting pitches low in the strike zone, though only slightly. On the other hand, he has hit .244 with a .134 ISO on pitches not down in the zone, below those .273 AVG and .175 ISO league averages. Seven of his 13 big league homers have come on pitches in the lower third of the zone and below — one of those seven is his first career homer (video), which came at Yankee Stadium off Phil Hughes in April 2013 — so it seems like Gregorius has some golf in his swing. That’s useful.

The Outfielders

AVG ISO BABIP K%
LF Brett Gardner .229 .106 .306 25.6%
CF Jacoby Ellsbury .257 .108 .308 18.8%
RF Carlos Beltran .230 .121 .279 22.1%
MLB AVG .230 .107 .300 25.3%

Ellsbury is a high contact hitter who consistently gets the fat part of the bat on the ball, so it’s no surprise he’s fared well on pitches down in the zone. The power production is only league average, but that’s not really his game. Gardner has been so close to being perfectly average on low pitches these last three years that it’s kinda freaky. He’s off the MLB average by one point of AVG, one point of ISO, and three-tenths of a percentage point in strikeout rate.

Beltran has been above-average low-ball hitter by virtue of having an average AVG with better than average ISO and strikeout rates. That said, the Beltran we saw last year was not the same Beltran the Cardinals had from 2012-13. During his two years in St. Louis, Beltran hit .237 with a .133 ISO on low pitches. Last year it was a .211 AVG with a .092 ISO. Hopefully that is just a function of playing through an elbow injury for most of the summer rather than a decline in skills. If that is the case, healthy Beltran is a real weapon against pitches down in the zone.

The Bench

AVG ISO BABIP K%
DH Alex Rodriguez .263 .180 .321 24.8%
C John Ryan Murphy .256 .070 .367 28.3%
IF Brendan Ryan .160 .050 .231 30.0%
OF Chris Young .158 .131 .210 31.0%
UTIL Garrett Jones .244 .157 .290 22.2%
MLB AVG .230 .107 .300 25.3%

First things first, let’s just ignore Murphy’s numbers. He has only 112 plate appearances in the big leagues and fewer than 50 of them (46, to be exact) have ended on pitches down in the zone, so it’s a very small sample. Everyone else’s stats are based on a few hundred plate appearances that ended on low pitches.

Anyway, look at A-Rod! He flat out mashed low pitches from 2012-14, which really means he mashed low pitches from 2012-13 because he didn’t play last year. On the other side of the coin, he put up a .267 AVG with a .142 ISO against non-low pitches the last three seasons, both below-average rates. We have no idea what Alex can do next year at age 39 with two surgically repaired hips after missing all of 2014. If he puts up anything close to the 113 wRC+ he had from 2012-13, it would be a major win, low-ball hitter or not.

Jones has been a real threat against pitches down in the strike zone. His AVG, ISO and strikeout rate have been better than average the last three seasons. By comfortable margins too. I guess that’s not surprising — take a few minutes to watch this highlight video and it’s obvious Jones can go down to get a pitch and lift it a long way. Young has some pop on low pitches but is generally well-below-average. Ryan isn’t much of a hitter, low pitches or otherwise.

The additions of Gregorius and Jones figure to help the Yankees against pitches down in the zone in an age when more low strikes are being called and even more pitches are at the knees or below. Headley should also help now that he’s in a much more favorable park, and A-Rod is a wildcard. Maybe he’ll help but probably not. The Yankees weren’t a very good low-ball hitting team in 2014 and their additions this winter appear likely to help improve the situation this coming season.

Yankees acquire reliever Chris Martin from Rockies

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

1:35pm: The Yankees have announced the trade. It’s Martin for cash considerations, as reported. Gonzalez German has been designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot.

12:30pm: The Yankees have acquired right-handed reliever Chris Martin from the Rockies for cash, according to Jack Curry. Colorado designated Martin for assignment last week when they needed roster space after signing Nick Hundley. The Yankees have not announced the trade and will need to a clear a 40-man roster spot.

Martin, 28, made his MLB debut with the Rockies last season, allowing 12 runs on 22 hits and four walks (and two balks!) in 15.2 innings. He struck out 14. Martin spent most of the year in Triple-A, where he had a 4.39 ERA (3.21 FIP) in 26.2 innings with good strikeout (12.15 K/9 and 29.9 K%) and walk (3.04 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%) rates.

The Rockies originally acquired Martin from the Red Sox in the trade that sent Jonathan Herrera to Boston last winter. Boston signed him out of an independent league in 2011. Here’s a scouting report from Sox Prospects:

Throws from a 3/4 arm slot. Easy, balanced delivery with the ball loosely coming out of his hand. Fastball sits 93-95 mph. Creates sink by throwing downhill … Also features a solid-average 84-86 mph slider. At its best the pitch shows depth and bite, but he’s inconsistent with the offering and at times it rolls to the plate, allowing batters to get a piece of it. It generates swings and misses when its on. Also mixes in a below-average 83-84 mph changeup.

Martin is a tall drink of water — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 215 lbs. — so I guess it’s no surprise the Yankees pounced. They love their tall pitchers. Martin is just another bullpen depth arm who figures to head to Triple-A Scranton when the season begins. Small move designed to slightly upgrade literally the 40th spot on the 40-man roster.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Alexi Ogando

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

Aside from the still unsigned Max Scherzer and James Shields, the free agent pitching market is very thin. All that’s left is a bunch of reclamation project types — guys coming off injury or veteran pitchers nearing the end of the line. Guys like that. The Yankees could use another arm or two to protect against their risky rotation, though the current options aren’t all that appealing.

One of the many available reclamation project arms is ex-Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando, who was non-tendered back in November after throwing only 25 ineffective innings last season due to injury. Ogando held a showcase in Tampa last week and Peter Gammons said about two dozen clubs were expected to attend. Nick Cafardo heard teams are still concerned about his health, and then of course Ogando’s agent shot that down. From MLBTR:

Alexi Ogando was 92 to 93 and touched 94 at a bullpen session for numerous teams last week,” says (agent Larry) Reynolds. “After an earlier examination by Dr. [James] Andrews, coupled with his promising progression, we believe Alexi should have no problem securing a job and will be pitching on Day 1 of 2015 Spring Training.”

The 31-year-old Ogando has worked as both a starter and a reliever throughout his career, and his career numbers to date make him something of a rich man’s Esmil Rogers. For the Yankees, he could serve as rotation protection — perhaps only early in the season, until Ivan Nova returns or a better option becomes available via trade — and additional bullpen depth, at least if healthy. Let’s break Ogando down.

Injury History

Might as well start here and get it out of the way. Ogando missed most of last season with a ligament sprain in his elbow that did not require Tommy John surgery, but was serious enough to sideline him for an extended period of time. In 2013, Ogando landed on the DL three times with arm problems: he missed three weeks with a biceps strain, seven weeks with shoulder inflammation, and three weeks with a nerve issue in his shoulder. Aside from that, the only other time Ogando has been hurt in his career came back in 2012, when he missed a month with a groin strain.

The arm injuries are obviously a major concern. We’re talking about a recent history of both elbow and shoulder problems for a pitcher who is over 30. Barely over 30, but over 30 nonetheless. The teams telling Cafardo they are concerned about Ogando’s health and Ogando’s agent telling MLBTR his client is fine are both self-serving — teams are trying to depress his market and the agent wants to pump it up. Either way, it’s clear the physical will be a big part of the signing. Ogando has some name value and a history of strong performance, but he’s no help if he’s hurt or otherwise compromised on the mound due to injury.

Overall Performance

Did you know Ogando was once drafted in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft? Those guys almost never amount to anything, but the Rangers took him as an outfielder from the Athletics in 2005, converted him into a pitcher, and away he went. Neat story. Anyway, here is Ogando’s overall performance through the years, via Baseball-Reference:

Year Age Tm ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2010 26 TEX 1.30 44 0 41.2 31 6 6 2 16 39 348 3.06 1.128 6.7 0.4 3.5 8.4 2.44
2011 ? 27 TEX 3.51 31 29 169.0 149 73 66 16 43 126 126 3.65 1.136 7.9 0.9 2.3 6.7 2.93
2012 28 TEX 3.27 58 1 66.0 49 26 24 9 17 66 134 3.73 1.000 6.7 1.2 2.3 9.0 3.88
2013 29 TEX 3.11 23 18 104.1 87 38 36 11 41 72 133 4.36 1.227 7.5 0.9 3.5 6.2 1.76
2014 30 TEX 6.84 27 0 25.0 33 19 19 1 15 22 57 3.81 1.920 11.9 0.4 5.4 7.9 1.47
5 Yrs 3.35 183 48 406.0 349 162 151 39 132 325 129 3.80 1.185 7.7 0.9 2.9 7.2 2.46

Last season was a total disaster because of the injuries. Before that Ogando was a very good Major League pitcher, compiling a 3.12 ERA (3.79 FIP) in 381 innings from 2010-13. He is very much a fly ball pitcher — his career ground ball rate is 38.2% and his single-season best was only 43.8% in 2010 — but that isn’t automatically a bad thing. Ogando excels at getting infield pop-ups, which are very high percentage outs. His career fly ball rate is 40.8%, and of those fly balls, 12.8% have been pop-ups. Since 2010, only six pitchers have had a higher infield pop-up rate (min. 350 IP).

Infield pop-ups seem to be a common trait for pitchers who outperform their FIP — Jered Weaver, the poster boy for outperforming peripherals, has a 12.7% infield fly ball rate since 2010, essentially identical to Ogando’s — but there is a catch: Ogando’s infield pop-up rate has been consistently declining since his MLB debut. It was 18.6% during his debut in 2010, and it has since dropped to 14.7% in 2011, 13.7% in 2012, 9.5% in 2013, and 5.3% in 2014. That’s not good. Pop-ups aren’t the only reason Ogando has been successful, but they are a big part of who he is as a pitcher.

The league average pop-up rate has hovered right around 9.8% over the last five years, so Ogando still had an average rate two years ago. The big drop last season could be due to his elbow issue. At least that’s what whoever signs him will hope.

Rotation vs. Bullpen

Ogando has spent approximately one full season and one half season as a regular big league starter. He’s spent the rest of his career working out of the bullpen. Surprisingly, Ogando the starter and Ogando the reliever have been very similar statistically:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% IFFB% HR/FB% BABIP
as SP 267.2 3.40 3.95 17.6 7.4 38.1 12.7 8.3 .261
as RP 138.1 3.25 3.51 22.7 8.8 38.5 13.1 7.5 .278

Regardless of role, Ogando has always performed a bit better against righties (.283 wOBA and 3.02 FIP) than lefties (.296 wOBA and 4.02 FIP). The difference in strikeout rate between roles is fairly standard but otherwise Ogando managed to keep everything relatively close. If teams knew Ogando was 100% healthy, they’d be lining up to sign him thanks to his versatility. The injuries add a ton of risk and are why he remains unsigned in mid-January despite such a thin pitching market.

Stuff

For the first three years of his MLB career, Ogando was a pure fastball/slider pitcher who rarely threw a changeup. Even as a starter in 2011, he threw 67% fastballs, 29% sliders, and 4% changeups. Ogando has increased the usage of his changeup the last two years though, throwing it a bit more than 12% of the time from 2013-14. That’s nice, but the fastball and slider are still his bread and butter. The changeup is a distant third pitch.

Ogando had premium velocity early in his career, averaging 97.5 mph with his fastball as a reliever in 2010, 96.1 mph as a starter in 2011, and then 98.1 mph as a reliever in 2012. He’s sat a bit below that the last two years — 94.8 mph as mostly a starter in 2013 and 95.2 mph as a reliever in 2014 — but still offered above-average velocity in general. Obviously the injuries likely played a part in the velocity decline. For what it’s worth, Ogando’s slider has consistently sat in the 82-85 mph range over the years.

Here is how Ogando’s fastball/slider with a show-me changeup mix has fared at getting swings-and-misses and ground balls over the years, via Brooks Baseball:

FB Whiff% FB GB% SL Whiff% SL GB% CH Whiff% CH GB%
2010 (RP) 11.8% 35.4% 12.2% 51.2% 13.2% 60.0%
2011 (SP) 9.0% 39.2% 13.3% 36.3% 16.5% 41.2%
2012 (RP) 13.9% 27.9% 16.6% 52.5% 0.0% 75.0%
2013 (SP) 6.7% 32.5% 13.1% 48.7% 12.3% 59.7%
2014 (RP) 7.5% 28.4% 15.3% 54.6% 23.5% 63.6%
MLB AVG 6.9% 37.9% 15.2% 43.9% 14.9% 47.8%

Remember, Ogando barely threw his changeup from 2010-12, so only the 2013-14 numbers matter there. His fastball has never been much of a ground ball pitch but from 2010-12, it was a top notch swing-and-miss pitch. The last two years, thanks to the reduced velocity and injuries, it’s been closer to average. Ogando’s slider has actually been generally been below-average at getting empty swings through the years.

Ogando’s fastball is his money-maker based on how often he’s thrown it throughout his career, which has been north of 60%. At its best, it had upper-90s velocity, got a well-above-average amount of swings and misses, and helped get all those infield pop-ups. Ogando’s fastball has been compromised these last two years though, presumably due to his injuries, and that means he’s simply not the same pitcher.

Ogando’s agent told MLBTR his client was “92 to 93 and touched 94 at his workout last week, which is actually encouraging if true. Remember, it’s only mid-January and he’s not in midseason form. After a full Spring Training and all that he should add a tick or two of velocity, like just about all other pitchers. That’s not guaranteed though, and there’s no possible way to know what Ogando’s fastball will look like come the regular season. It’s all guesswork.

Contract Situation

The Rangers opted to non-tender Ogando rather than pay him a projected $2.6M in 2015, his second to last year of team control, which I think speaks volumes about his health. Texas’ pitching staff is pretty thin and you’d think they would take Ogando at that salary this coming year if they were at all confident he could stay healthy and/or be effective. Instead, they walked away. That’s a red flag. They know him better than anyone, remember.

Ogando’s agent said he is seeking a big league contract, and that could still happen, but I don’t think he’d make sense for the Yankees in that case. Remember, signing Ogando to a big league deal means someone has to be dropped from the 40-man roster, so it costs you a player. With Eury Perez likely to go for Stephen Drew, next in line to get the axe is probably Gonzalez Germen. Either him, Chase Whitley, or Jose DePaula. Ogando might be worth the roll of the dice in that case, but the Yankees would be letting go of a healthy, MLB ready and able body for a pitcher who might not be what he once was.

As for a minor league contract, of course, go for it. If he does have to settle for a minor league deal, Ogando and his agent are going to be looking for the best opportunity, a team with a rotation opening or a thin bullpen. The Yankees have an open bullpen spot but a lot of internal candidates. Their rotation looks like it will need help, but right now that isn’t set in stone. Ogando could opt to go to a team with a more obvious rotation need, like, say, the Diamondbacks or White Sox.

Bottom line, Ogando will be a big risk next year given his recent injuries. He could be throwing well in showcases this winter and that’s fine, but pitchers who have had arm injuries two years running tend to continue getting hurt going forward. The Yankees need to add more certainty to their rotation somehow and Ogando would be doubling down on risk. And at this point of the offseason, that might be the only way to help the rotation without breaking the bank for Scherzer or Shields.

Monday Night Open Thread

Got some good news. On Instagram yesterday, Ty Hensley posted a video of himself throwing, just two weeks after he was viciously attacked during the holidays. It’s not much, but it shows Ty is no longer stuck in bed recovering. I have no idea if he will ready to start the season in time — his jaw is wired shut, which means he’s probably going to lose some weight the next few weeks and then need time to rebuild strength — but it’s good to see Hensley’s already back up on the horse and throwing. I’m rooting for him so much.

Here is your nightly open thread. Oregon and Ohio State are playing the college football national championship game (8:30pm ET on ESPN), plus the Nets are in action as well. That’s it for local spots. Use this thread to talk about anything on your mind, Yankees or otherwise.

Yankees announce new hires and changes to coaching staff for 2015

Pena has a new role for 2015. (Presswire)
Pena has a new role for 2015. (Presswire)

The Yankees have finalized and announced their 2015 coaching staff. As expected, Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell have been hired as the hitting coach and assistant hitting coach, respectively, and Joe Espada joins the team as infield coach. We heard those moves were coming yesterday.

There are other changes, however. Espada is taking over as third base coach with Rob Thomson shifting to bench coach. Tony Pena is now the first base coach. Bullpen coach Gary Tuck and pitching coach Larry Rothschild remain in their roles. Back when former hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher were let go, we heard the Yankees could rearrange their staff a bit, and that’s exactly what happened.

Espada, 39, was the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13, so he has experience in that role. Thomson had been the team’s third base coach since 2009. He served as Joe Girardi‘s bench coach in 2008 and before that was the first base coach. Pena had been the bench coach since 2009 and prior to that he spent the 2005-08 seasons as the club’s first base coach, so he’s returning to a familiar role.

Thomson caught a lot of grief last year because the Yankees had 21 runners thrown out at the plate, the fourth most in baseball, and some were due to aggressive sends that were obviously bad. The Yankees had among the fewest runners thrown out at the plate in baseball from 2010-13, however. The Marlins also had a relatively small number of runners thrown out at home during Espada’s tenure, but that doesn’t tell us too much about him as a third base coach.

Either way, the most significant moves are the additions of Pentland and Cockrell. The rest is just rearranging furniture, really. The Yankees, like several other teams, have decided hitting coach is a two-man job and will count on the new voices of Pentland and Cockrell to turn around an offense that has been below-average the last two years. It seems like an impossible task to me, but that’s the job.

Bullpen overhaul doesn’t change Jacob Lindgren’s timetable

(Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)
(Martin Griff/The Times of Trenton)

The Yankees have been very active this offseason, eschewing big money long-term deals in favor of lower profile transactions, often with more players coming in than going out. The bullpen in particular has been overhauled this winter. In fact, the only two members of the 2014 Opening Day bullpen still with the organization are Dellin Betances and Adam Warren. David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno are all gone. How about that?

Betances will again anchor the late innings this coming season, and while Warren could join him, there’s a chance he could up in the rotation to start the season. More than a small chance, I’d say. Robertson has been replaced by Andrew Miller, Kelley by David Carpenter, Thornton by Justin Wilson, and Phelps by Esmil Rogers. The Yankees still need to figure out who will take Nuno’s spot (and potentially Warren’s) but have no shortage of candidates. Chasen Shreve, Chase Whitley, Danny Burawa, Jose Ramirez, Branden Pinder, and Gonzalez Germen are all 40-man roster options.

Among the non-40-man options is left-hander Jacob Lindgren, the Yankees’ top pick in last year’s amateur draft. The 21-year-old Lindgren is a pure reliever out of Mississippi State who was widely expected to be the first player from the 2014 draft class to reach MLB, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Brandon Finnegan of the Royals beat him to the show. Lindgren did reach Double-A Trenton in his pro debut before being shutdown due to his workload, however.

Between college and pro ball, Lindgren threw 80.1 innings in 2014, allowing eleven earned runs (1.23 ERA) on 35 hits and 38 walks (0.91 WHIP) while striking out 148. That’s a 16.6 K/9 and 45.1 K%. Lindgren also had a 71.0% or so ground ball rate at Mississippi State and an 81.0 % ground ball rate in pro ball. If you’re going to select a college reliever early in the draft — Lindgren was a second rounder (55th overall) after the Yankees forfeited some picks to sign free agents — he needs to really dominate, and dominate he did.

You can learn more about Lindgren in our Prospect Profile, but, to use a Brian Cashman phrase, the short version is that he checks every box. Misses bats, gets grounders, deception in his delivery, two excellent pitches in his fastball and slider … the works. Lindgren is about eight inches shorter than Miller and that’s not insignificant, though they have similar styles as southpaws with a knockout slider who can get both righties and lefties out. Between Miller, Wilson, and Lindgren, the Yankees have three lefty relievers at the upper levels who are more than matchup specialists. That’s pretty cool.

This winter’s bullpen overhaul means Lindgren’s chances of making the Opening Day roster have taken a hit. There are still some open spots, but the team already has several 40-man roster options ahead of Lindgren on the depth chart. Depth is never a bad thing, but in this case is works against him. That’s life. He will likely have to start the season with Triple-A Scranton and wait for a call-up. Make no mistake though, Lindgren is still very much part of the team’s 2015 plans.

“We saw a guy with above-average tools — an above-average fastball, a well above-average slider and he has some deception,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to George King (subs. req’d) recently. “He has the ingredients to move quickly, especially the role he is in … Either way (Opening Day roster or not), he has made an impact.”

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Simply put, the Yankees didn’t select a college reliever with their top draft pick and pay him a seven-figure signing bonus to not get him to the big leagues in a hurry. Lindgren was on the fast track last year and that track will continue into 2015. Yeah, the bullpen turnover means his chances of making the roster out of Spring Training have gone down, but I still expect Lindgren to be one of the first bullpen arms called up when reinforcements are inevitably needed.

Part of my thinking — and I’m guessing part of the team’s thinking as well — is the whole “there are so many bullets in that arm” thing, and there’s no sense wasting those bullets in the minors. Relievers generally have a short shelf life and the best way to maximize Lindgren’s value is to get him to MLB soon, not let him sit in the minors and waste time tinkering with a changeup or something like that. He’s a finished product for his role. The only development left for him is the learning and development that takes place in the big leagues.

Even before the bullpen was overhauled, I thought Lindgren’s first year in the big leagues could look like Robertson’s, meaning a few rides on the bus between Triple-A Scranton and the Bronx. (Robertson went up and down five different times from 2008-09 before sticking for good in late-May 2009). That’s how most relievers break in, and given all the team’s bullpen arms, it seems even more likely now. That’s fine as long as Lindgren gets chances. He doesn’t have to step right into high-leverage work, doesn’t need to immediately enter Joe Girardi‘s Circle of Trust™, just get opportunities to contribute. Given Girardi’s track record with relievers, I have no doubt it’ll happen.

The Yankees will benefit if and when Lindgren spends time in the minors by delaying his free agency one year — he only has to spend about eleven days in the minors for that to happen — but beyond that there isn’t much to be gained. Lindgren is ready to contribute right now and the Yankees know this. He wasn’t pushed aside by all the relievers brought in this winter, he’s part of the depth the team has been building. The bullpen at the end of the season is always different than the bullpen on Opening Day, and even though Lindgren is unlikely to be part of the picture in April, expect him to be there by September.