March 19th Camp Notes: Eovaldi, Ryan, Burton, DePaula

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Phillies are traveling over from Clearwater to play the Yankees in Tampa tonight. The game is scheduled to begin a bit after 7pm ET, so the regular game thread will be along a little closer to game time. Until then, here is a recap of the day’s news and notes from Spring Training.

  • Nathan Eovaldi threw a simulated game afternoon. I’m not sure how many innings or anything like that, though I would guess it was four or five innings or so. Esmil Rogers is starting tonight and he’s competing for a rotation spot. Eovaldi isn’t, hence the simulated game to get work in. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, and Bryan Mitchell were among those to throw bullpen sessions. [Chad Jennings, Brendan Kuty]
  • Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) is on the travel roster for tomorrow afternoon’s game against the Tigers in Lakeland. He’ll be making his Grapefruit League debut after dealing with that back problem the last few weeks. Girardi made it clear Ryan will be the team’s backup infield if healthy, unsurprisingly. [Hoch, Jennings]
  • Jared Burton has a strained lat and is heading for an MRI. He’s in camp on a minor league contract and the Yankees have to pay him a $100,000 bonus to send him to the minors. If the injury is serious and a long-term thing, they might release him rather than pay the bonus. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Jose DePaula got good news from today’s MRI on his left shoulder. I have no idea what exactly that news is, but he feels good and the tests showed no significant injury. [Kuty]

Also, tonight’s game is your last chance to see the Yankees for a while. There will be no video broadcast for either Friday’s game or Saturday’s game. No YES, no MLB.tv, nothing. Next time we’ll see the Yankees after tonight is Sunday, when CC Sabathia faces Matt Harvey in Port St. Lucie.

The quietly important David Carpenter is opening eyes this spring, apparently

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As the Yankees overhauled their bullpen this past offseason, they focused on adding power left-handed relievers, specifically guys who can get both righties and lefties out. Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson have both done that at the MLB level and Chasen Shreve projects to be that type of pitcher as well. Handedness doesn’t really matter if you have no platoon split, but quality lefties are harder to find than quality righties, so they’re good to have.

In addition to those lefties, the Yankees added one bonafide big league right-handed reliever in David Carpenter, who came over from the Braves with Shreve in the Manny Banuelos trade. Carpenter spent the last two years setting up Craig Kimbrel and he’ll slot into a similar setup role with the Yankees, basically replacing Shawn Kelley. That’s fitting because they’re both fastball/slider pitchers with fly ball tendencies, though Carpenter is slightly younger and cheaper (and under control two extra years).

According to Buster Olney, scouts have been impressed by the 29-year-old Carpenter in the early going this spring. He expanded on that ever so slightly in his Insider-only blog yesterday:

Evaluators have been greatly impressed with the spring showing of Yankees reliever David Carpenter, who has been working to add a splitter to his power stuff in his first season with New York. Carpenter mentioned in conversation how good it is to be teaming up again with catcher Brian McCann, who caught Carpenter when both were with the Braves during Carpenter’s impressive 2013 season.

Carpenter has only made four appearances this spring, allowing three runs on five hits and two walks in four innings, striking out three. His first two outings were very good, the last two were kinda duds. Whatever. Results don’t really mean much in March. Someone, somewhere was impressed by Carpenter according to Olney. That’s sort of cool but spring is always full of “this random guy looks great” stories.

Regardless of how he’s looked this spring, Carpenter is filling an important role with the Yankees as the No. 2 right-handed reliever behind Dellin Betances. Pretty quietly too. Carpenter hasn’t gotten as much press as Miller, Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, or pretty much every reliever in camp so far this spring. I guess that makes sense — Miller was a big free agent pickup, Shreve is trying to make the team, and Lindgren was the team’s top draft pick this year.

Carpenter had a 1.78 ERA in 2013 and a 3.54 ERA in 2014, but his peripherals were very close those two seasons: 28.9 and 25.9 K%, 7.8 and 6.2 BB%, 38.2 and 37.6 GB%, 0.69 and 0.74 HR/9, and 2.83 and 2.94 FIP. There’s a little of the normal year to year fluctuation in there but for the most part his 2013 performance was in line with his 2014 performance aside from the whole runs allowed thing. More importantly, look at Carpenter’s platoon splits across 2013-14.

IP wOBA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
vs. RHP 72.1 .265 2.52 28.0% 5.4% 37.7% 7.2%
vs. LHP 54.1 .284 3.37 26.6% 9.2% 38.2% 8.8%

Like most relievers, especially fastball/slider guys, Carpenter is less effective against hitters of the opposite hand. It’s not a huge platoon split, but it’s enough of a split that Joe Girardi will probably opt for Miller or Wilson against a tough lefty in a big situation in the late innings of a close games.

The new splitter could be a difference-maker for Carpenter, however. It could better allow him to combat left-handed hitters and become an even greater weapon late in the ballgame. And maybe the pitch is something McCann can help him develop. Carpenter has said he greatly enjoyed throwing to McCann while with the Braves and perhaps he’s more comfortable using the splitter in meaningful games with his old friend behind the plate. It’s one thing to toy with it in Spring Training, it’s another to use it in the seventh inning of a one-run game in the regular season.

Either way, splitter or no splitter, Carpenter has the tools to be an effective late-inning reliever. He’s done it the last two years and he’ll be expected to do it again in 2015. If he can develop that splitter a little bit — it doesn’t need to be a great pitch, just something to put in the back of a left-handed hitter’s mind to keep him off the fastball and slider — Carpenter would become even more of a weapon for Girardi. For now, he’s the No. 2 righty behind Betances, and that itself is a pretty significant role.

Nathan Eovaldi and Trying to Go from Good to Great [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Despite all the health concerns in the rotation, the Yankees acquired only two bonafide Major League starting pitchers this offseason. One was veteran Chris Capuano, who returned on a low-cost one-year contract to add depth, and the other was youngster Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi came over from the Marlins with Garrett Jones and prospect Domingo German in exchange for Martin Prado and David Phelps in mid-December.

Even though he has a touch more than three years of service time and 460 career big league innings to his credit, Eovaldi just turned 25 last month. He’s younger than both 2014 Rookies of the Year and is the third youngest pitcher (behind Bryan Mitchell and German) and the eighth youngest player overall on New York’s 40-man roster. Eovaldi zoomed through the minors in three years as a high school draft pick and has plenty of MLB experience despite being so young. Needless to say, he’s an important piece of the 2015 Yankees.

Yankees Need: Innings

This is priority number one. With so many question marks surrounding the other starters on the roster — Capuano suffered a quad strain a few days ago and will be out the first few weeks of the season — the Yankees need Eovaldi to be the staff workhorse. The guy who won’t make them hold their breath and hope he doesn’t blow out with each individual pitch. Well, I’m sure they do that with every pitcher no matter what, but you know what I mean. Eovaldi fell one stupid little out shy of 200 innings last year and the club is hoping he gets up over that level this summer.

Eovaldi Can: Take The Ball Every Fifth Day

Eovaldi has had two arm injuries in his life. He had Tommy John surgery way back in 2007, during his junior year of high school, and he missed the first three months of the 2013 season with shoulder inflammation. Considering how hard he throws and the fact he’s stayed healthy since the shoulder issue, I’d say it’s in the past. Same with the Tommy John surgery. Eovaldi’s thrown over 800 total innings since having his elbow rebuilt, so he’s well beyond the “honeymoon” period*.

* Long story short, Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs found most pitchers who continue to have ligament trouble after Tommy John surgery do so within 400 innings of going under the knife. I don’t know if he’s written that anywhere but I’ve spoken to him about it in the past.

Both the Dodgers and Marlins did a good job controlling Eovaldi’s workload, so his innings jumps from year to year have been reasonable. Here’s a quick rundown:

2008 – 10.2 innings after the draft plus whatever he threw in high school
2009 – 96.1 innings in the minors
2010 – 98.1 innings in the minors (missed a month with an oblique strain)
2011 – 137.2 innings between MLB and the minors
2012 – 154.1 innings between MLB and the minors
2013 – 127 innings between MLB and the minors around the shoulder injury
2014 – 199.2 innings in MLB

The shoulder injury threw a wrench into things two seasons ago but that seems to have been a blip on the radar. Eovaldi’s workload has grown incrementally through the years and it appears he is ready to become a consistent 200 innings a year starter. He’s a big, physical guy at 6-foot-2 and 215 lbs., and there are no lingering health concerns. The Yankees can pencil him in for 32 starts this year and feel pretty comfortable with it.

Yankees Need: Unlock Those Strikeouts

Although he sports a high-octane fastball and a promising slider, Eovaldi has only struck out 16.2% of batters faced in his career (16.6% in 2014), well below the continually climbing league average (20.4% in 2014). The Yankees love strikeouts. Love ‘em love ‘em love ‘em. They want to see Eovaldi turn his impressive stuff into more swings and misses so he can record more outs all by himself. He’s a good pitcher now. More strike threes will help him take that next step towards becoming an elite pitcher.

Eovaldi Can: Bring Great Stuff To The Table

As I said, Eovaldi’s raw stuff is among the best in the game. His four-seam fastball averaged 95.5 mph last season and 95.2 mph from 2012-14, the fourth and third highest average velocities in baseball among qualified starters, respectively. Baseball America (subs. req’d) called his slider “a plus pitch with tilt and late movement at its best” back before the 2011 season, the last time Eovaldi was prospect eligible, so that’s a solid two-pitch mix. It still hasn’t added up to strikeouts, however.

Personally, I see three reasons to believe Eovaldi may boost his strikeout this summer despite moving from the NL to the AL this season.

  1. Brian McCann: Simply put, McCann is one of the best pitch-framers in baseball and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Eovaldi’s catcher with the Marlins, is one of the worst. McCann’s going to get Eovaldi a lot more called strikes than Salty ever did.
  2. New Splitter: Eovaldi said he started tinkering with a splitter late last year (PitchFX classified it as a changeup) and he’s continued to work on it in Spring Training. He’s thrown a few nice ones during Grapefruit League play but the pitch is still very much a work in progress.
  3. Elevated Fastballs: At the behest of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Eovaldi has been working on elevating his fastball in two-strike counts this spring. High fastballs at the top of the zone or even above the zone are a great way to get swings and misses, especially when you throw as hard as Eovaldi. High fastballs are tough to lay off.

Rothschild has a long history of helping pitchers improve strikeout rates and Eovaldi seems like the perfect project for him. They aren’t trying to squeeze water from a rock here. Eovaldi has the kind of high-end stuff that should be allergic to bats, he just needs to better learn how to use it, especially in two-strike situations.

Yankees Need: Improve Against Lefties

Like most pitchers, Eovaldi spent the first two seasons of his career going back and forth between Triple-A and MLB. He moved into the big league rotation full-time after being traded from the Dodgers to the Marlins for Hanley Ramirez at the 2012 trade deadline, and since the trade, these are his platoon splits:

IP wOBA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
vs. RHB 181.0 .308 3.32 16.3% 7.3% 47.7% 7.5%
vs. LHB 188.0 .328 3.73 15.2% 7.5% 41.3% 6.0%

It’s not a huge split, but it’s enough of a split that the Yankees would like to see Eovaldi improve against lefty hitters. After all, Yankee Stadium is a great place to hit if you swing from the left side.

Eovaldi Can: Maybe Improve Against Lefties

It’s no surprise Eovaldi’s been more effective against righties than lefties in his career as a fastball/slider pitcher. Those guys typically have decent (to significant) platoon splits. The splitter will be crucial to Eovaldi’s potential improvement against lefties, not just an improved strikeout rate. His changeup stinks but the splitter would be a fine substitute as an offspeed pitch that moves down and away from lefties. There’s really not much more to say than that. If Eovaldi can develop his splitter into a reliable third pitch, he should see improvement against batters of the opposite hand.

Yankees Need: Adapt To A New Environment

Eovaldi is going from one end of the figurative baseball map to the other. These last few years the Marlins have played in front of tiny crowds in a big ballpark with four regular beat writers and basically no expectations. The Yankees play in front of much bigger crowds in a much smaller ballpark with eleven beat writers and a ton of expectations (regardless how good they actually project to be). Oh, and there’s a whole NL to AL thing too. Eovaldi’s about to enter a very different situation and he needs to adapt.

Eovaldi Can: Maybe Adapt?

There’s no way to know how some will react to a new environment until he’s actually there. The Yankees had some firsthand knowledge of Eovaldi from current third base coach Joe Espada — Espada, who spent last year as a special assistant to Brian Cashman, was the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13 and presumably got to know Eovaldi then — and I’m sure they did their homework before acquiring him. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into evaluating makeup (or attempting to evaluate makeup) in recent years. I have no reason to think Eovaldi won’t be fine in his new situation, but again, there’s no way to know for sure until he gets there.

Learning curve, hard-hit ball tendencies point to offensive upswing for Didi Gregorius

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the winter the Yankees were tasked with finding a replacement at shortstop for Derek Jeter. Well, replacement isn’t really the right word. It’s not like they chose to move on from Jeter, he retired. Successor might be a better term here than replacement. Anyway, the search for a new shortstop led them to Didi Gregorius, who came over from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade in early-December.

The Yankees had been trying to acquire Gregorius since at least the 2013 Winter Meetings, though they needed to wait until after his disappointing 2014 campaign for the price to drop low enough. Simply put, the Yankees bought low on Gregorius, at least relative to what they think he can become. They’re banking on a just turned 25-year-old improving in the coming years and becoming a no doubt starting shortstop down the road.

Gregorius was born in Amsterdam but grew up in Curacao, which has produced a bevy of talented young middle infielders in recent years. A bevy of talented young middle infielders who all initially struggled at the MLB level. Jurickson Profar started slow before his recent shoulder woes, and others like Gregorius, Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons, and Jonathan Schoop have been below-average hitters early in their careers. They all have that in common.

“(Players from Curacao) are all highly educated, all speak four to seven languages,” said Rangers GM Jon Daniels to Peter Gammons in December. “They almost all come from very strong family backgrounds. So they have little issues adapting to the American society in the minor leagues, and are able to blow through on their natural skills. But in the Majors, when they have to make adjustments for the first time, they haven’t got the baseball backgrounds to make those adjustments. And because we have gotten so intrigued by them, we tend to be disappointed. It’s not fair.”

Current Giants hitting coach and ex-Yankees infield prospect Hensley Meulens, who grew up Curacao, agrees with Daniels. “It doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Meulens to Gammons. “The kids on Aruba and Curacao don’t play a lot of baseball when they are young, and the level is very crude. They play like eleven games in a Little League season. If you’re a kid in the Dominican or Venezuela, you’re playing year round. Don’t lose patience.”

Gregorius doesn’t have the offensive potential of Profar or Bogaerts and he isn’t as gifted in the field as Simmons, but he was considered a potential two-way player coming up through the minors, someone with above-average defense and the ability to be a league average-ish or better hitter. Baseball America (subs. req’d) consistently lauded Didi’s glove during his prospect days and a few years ago noted his “combination of solid bat control, good pitch recognition and plus speed lead some scouts to project him as an above-average hitter.” That sounds promising.

Now, here’s the catch: we don’t know if Gregorius, Profar, Bogaerts, Schoop, and Simmons will be able to make the adjustments Daniels spoke about. Meulens sure didn’t during his days as a player. Others from Curacao like Wladimir Balentien and Roger Bernandina didn’t make the adjustments either. Andruw Jones is the best position player (and best player overall) to come from Curacao by a mile. The second best hitter is probably Randall Simon. It’s not a great collection of names.

That doesn’t mean Gregorius and those other guys won’t the make adjustments though. They haven’t had enough playing time in MLB to show us whether they can. What the Yankees do know about Gregorius is that he consistently hits the ball hard. Subjectively speaking, of course. ESPN stats guru Mark Simon detailed Didi’s tendency to sting the baseball back in December:

Inside Edge, a video-scouting service used by major league teams (including the Yankees) rates every at-bat by a stat known as “hard-hit rate.” The service employs video trackers who chart every batted ball as either hard-hit, medium-hit or soft-hit based on velocity and barrel contact (former Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long used to track this on his own).

Gregorius had a hard-hit rate of 20.4 percent. He was one of 34 players to have at least 250 plate appearances this past season and a 20 percent hard-hit rate.

Gregorius registered 56 hard-hit balls this past season, 30 of which went for base hits, so he hit .536 when hitting the ball hard.

That’s an unusually low number. The average major leaguer hits around .700 on his hard-hit balls. And Gregorius has hit that mark before. In fact, in 2013, he recorded the same number of hard-hit balls. They resulted in 39 base hits.

Inside Edge’s hard-hit ball data is recorded by human stringers, so there will inevitably be some scorer bias, though until HitFX becomes public (which may never happen), this is the best data we have for measuring quality of contact. Three hundred and eleven players had at least 250 plate appearances last season, and Gregorius being one of 34 with a 20%+ hard-hit ball rate means he was in the 90th percentile, give or take. That’s encouraging.

The Yankees have their own internal measure of quality of contact called exit velocity, according to Mark Feinsand. Brian Cashman mentioned the improvement of Chase Headley‘s “hit velo” after the trade last summer and assistant GM Billy Eppler told Feinsand their metric places Aaron Judge in the 90th percentile of MLB hitters when it comes to hitting the ball hard. The Yankees use Inside Edge data and have their own internal exit velocity metric, and I’m certain both were consulted before the Gregorius trade.

Beyond the stats, the Yankees also had a firsthand scouting perspective on Didi from Eric Chavez. Chavez played with Gregorius in Arizona from 2013-14 and now works in New York’s front office as a special assignment scout. “I was really high on him,” said Chavez to Bryan Hoch in December. “His defense is unbelievable, and hitting-wise, he has the potential to be a good hitter — a good .275, .280 hitter, 12 to 15 home runs. His swing plays perfect for Yankee Stadium, he’s kind of got that pull swing. Most of his home runs he hit, where he likes to hit them, I think he’ll be pretty successful there.”

I am generally a scouting report over stats guy when it comes to young players, but in this case I’m more inclined to believe the stats than the scouting report. For starters, I wouldn’t expect Chavez to say anything bad about Gregorius. Even if doesn’t like him all that much, he wouldn’t trash him while talking to the media. Secondly, the Inside Edge data is specifically measuring the quality of Gregorius’ contact, which ostensibly tells us more about his offensive potential going forward than, say, his batting average or wRC+ in 2014. Either way, both the stats and scouting report are positive, but I’m trusting the numbers over Chavez here.

The Yankees didn’t acquire a finished player in Gregorius, which is why he came so relatively cheap. Starting shortstops are really hard to find and the team believes Didi is an MLB caliber defender right now — based on what we’ve seen this spring, uh, yeah, he’s a good fielder — and has the potential to improve at the plate. Players from Curacao are slow-starters in general, and the hard-hit ball data suggests Gregorius got some unfortunate results at the plate in 2014. I am skeptical of Didi’s bat long-term, but there is reason to believe his offense will soon be on the upswing.

March 18th Camp Notes: Ellsbury, Cuts, Rotation, Ryan

The Yankees pummeled the Braves 12-5 on Wednesday night. Masahiro Tanaka made his second start of the spring and was fantastic, allowing two hits in 3.2 scoreless innings, striking out three. He looked as strong as ever. Andrew Bailey made his spring debut — it was his first game action since July 2013 — and allowed an unearned run on two hits in an inning of work. The television gun had him at 92-93, which would be amazing after a torn shoulder capsule if true. His curveball was all over the place though. “Rusty” is the word I would use to describe how Bailey looked.

Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann led the way offensively. Didi went 3-for-3 with a triple and McCann went 2-for-2 with two walks and a two-run homer. Stephen Drew also mashed a two-run tater. Brett Gardner went 1-for-3 with a walk, Chase Headley went 1-for-2 with a walk, both Mark Teixeira and Garrett Jones went 1-for-3 with a double, and Chris Young went 1-for-3. Also, the Braves are going to be bad this year. Very, very bad. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here are the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury went for an MRI and has been diagnosed with a low grade oblique strain, the Yankees announced. He’ll be shut down for the next seven days. Opening Day is 18 days away now, so there’s still time for Ellsbury to rest, heal up, and get ready for the start of the season. Any sort of setback might force him to start the regular season on the DL, however.
  • The Yankees announced another round of roster cuts following last night’s game. Branden Pinder was optioned to Triple-A Scranton, Gary Sanchez was optioned to Double-A Trenton, and Domingo German was optioned to High-A Tampa. Don’t ready anything into the level assignments, those are just the player’s workout group for the rest of spring. Greg Bird and Kyle Roller was both reassigned to minor league camp as well. I unofficially count 53 players still in big league camp.
  • The upcoming rotation: Esmil Rogers (Thursday), Adam Warren (Friday), Michael Pineda (Saturday), and CC Sabathia (Sunday). I assume Nathan Eovaldi will either throw a simulated game or pitch out of the bullpen one of those days. Also, Joe Girardi said Bryan Mitchell will make at least one more start this spring. One of the split squad games on April 2nd seems like a good guess. [Chad Jennings]
  • Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) is on track to return to game action on Friday. Some of the position players who didn’t make the trip for tonight’s game took batting practice back in Tampa, but there were no bullpens or throwing sessions scheduled. [Jennings, Brendan Kuty]
  • Lefty Jose DePaula is heading for an MRI on his shoulder after dealing with continued soreness. He’s had a ton of arm problems over the years, including shoulder tendinitis in 2013. DePaula has only thrown two innings during Grapefruit League play but had been throwing regular bullpen sessions. [Jennings, Kuty]

In case you missed it earlier, tonight’s game against the Braves will be replayed on MLB Network at 11pm ET. Tune in for Tanaka, if nothing else.

Spring Training Game Thread: Tanaka, Take Two

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Another day, another Grapefruit League night game. The Yankees have another one tomorrow too. Spring Training night games are somehow even worse than regular season weekend night games in my opinion. I dunno, just seems like Spring Training baseball and weekend baseball belong under the sun and blue skies. Eh, whatever.

The Yankees are in Orlando to play the Braves tonight and they brought a fair amount of regulars on the trip. Guys are starting to play a little more — three or four at-bats instead of two or three, back-to-back days, that sort of stuff — in preparation for the regular season, which is now two weeks and five days away. But who’s counting?

Tonight’s reason to watch: Masahiro Tanaka is making his second Grapefruit League start this evening. His first went splendid. I tell myself worrying about his elbow accomplishes nothing, though I still find myself thinking about it. Can’t help it. Anyway, Tanaka is probably scheduled for something like three innings or 45 pitches. That’s pretty standard for the second spring outing. Also, Andrew Bailey is scheduled to make his spring debut tonight. He hasn’t pitched in a game since July 2013 due to shoulder surgery. I’m curious to see how he looks tonight. Torn capsules are usually the kiss of death for a veteran pitcher.

Here is the starting lineup for tonight’s game:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Mark Teixeira
  5. 1B Garrett Jones
  6. 2B Stephen Drew
  7. RF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. LF Jose Pirela
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Available Position Players: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Cole Figueroa, 3B Jonathan Galvez, LF Ramon Flores, CF Mason Williams, and RF Slade Heathcott will be the second string off the bench. C Kyle Higashioka, C Eddy Rodriguez, IF Nick Noonan, and OF Tyler Austin are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Andrew Bailey, LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Danny Burawa, and RHP Nick Rumbelow are scheduled to pitch after Tanaka. RHP Diego Moreno, LHP James Pazos, and LHP Tyler Webb are the extra arms.

It’s cool and a little cloudy at Disney this evening. For whatever reason tonight’s game starts at 6pm ET, not 7pm ET. You can only watch live on MLB.tv. That’s it. There’s no YES broadcast and no television broadcast in the Atlanta area either. There are no MLB.tv blackouts in either team’s home market and the game will be replayed on MLB Network at 11pm ET. Enjoy the game.

With help from A-Rod, Greg Bird has made himself part of the Yankees’ long-term picture

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Opinions will vary, but I think most would agree first baseman Greg Bird has been the most impressive young hitter in Yankees camp this year. Jose Pirela has better stats but Bird looks the part of a big leaguer at the plate. He knows the strike zone and he hasn’t looked overwhelmed either by pitchers or the environment. Bird just looks like a hitter. I don’t know how else to explain it. Look at how quick his hands are:

It seems like Bird he was born to hit. He went 5-for-14 (.357) with three doubles and a home run during Grapefruit League play before being reassigned to minor league camp yesterday. Aside from being late to lunch, Bird was extremely impressive in Spring Training. Brian Cashman called him “by far the best hitter in the (farm system)” a few weeks go and Alex Rodriguez has sung his praises as well. From John Harper:

“I mean, when you’ve been around for 20 years, you know who can play and who can’t. You see the way the ball comes off his bat. Then you see his work ethic, and how he watches and asks smart questions, and you know he’s got a great makeup. He’s going to be around for a long time.”

This isn’t Jorge Posada or Jason Giambi calling Phil Hughes the next Roger Clemens or something silly like that. It’s just A-Rod praising Bird for being an intelligent player and a good hitter. There’s no hyperbole. A-Rod is just repeating what a lot of other people have already said about Bird, that’s all.

As it turns out, A-Rod had a small hand in Bird’s development as a hitter. The two first met back in 2013, when Alex spent a few days with Low-A Charleston working his way back from his surgery. A-Rod has always been great with young players and Bird credits him for some advice, not just as a hitter but about being a pro baseball player in general. From Andrew Marchand:

“Some of the things that he told us still is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten as a hitter, just as far as professional baseball went,” Bird, now in his first big-league camp, said the other day.

A-Rod told Bird and the rest of the Single-A Charleston River Dogs that the higher the level you go, the easier the game becomes — the stadiums are nicer, the lights are better, the umpires are more precise, on and on. A-Rod also gave practical advice on hitting, making it simple.

“He is not even worried about (looking for pitches in specific spots),” said Bird, a 22-year-old, 6-foot-3, 215-pound, left-handed first baseman. “You can’t worry about the inner half of the plate because if you do, you give up the outer half. You give up off-speed pitches. Just hearing that out of his mouth that first full season was big. It stuck with me ever since.”

Bird, who turned 22 in November, obviously has a boatload of talent and it all starts there. His talent got him drafted — the Yankees selected Bird in the fifth round of the 2010 draft but paid him first round money ($1.1M bonus) — and is the main reason he’s torn up the minors, but taking advice and using it make the necessary adjustments is often what separates the guys who make it and the guys who don’t. It seems Bird has been able to do that after talking to A-Rod.

The Yankees have made it clear in recent years they have a “type.” They prefer certain kinds of players over others and I’m guessing every organization does as well. The Yankees like pitchers who throw hard but don’t walk everyone in the park — you didn’t think they pulled Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi out of a hat, did you? — and the taller they are, the better. They also like great defensive catchers. And, of course, they like left-handed hitters with power and patience. Guys like Bird. He’s right in their wheelhouse.

This offseason the Yankees shifted gears and focused on getting younger, most notably by trading for Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius. Comments made by Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner this past offseason also make it seem like they will be more willing to give prospects an opportunity going forward, and there’s a clear path to MLB for Bird. Spend this year in Double-A and Triple-A, next year going up and down based on Mark Teixeira‘s health in the final season of his contract, then step into the lineup full-time in 2017. A-Rod helped Bird get here, now Bird has to take the next step and give the Yankees a reason to give him a chance.