DotF: Judge homers, Solak debuts, Pulaski rained out

Some notes:

  • Yankees on Demand posted a bunch of injury non-update videos: 1B Greg Bird (link), OF Mason Williams (link), RHP James Kaprielian (link), and RHP Austin DeCarr (link). Each video gives the same update. They’re progressing well and plan to return sooner rather than later.
  • The Yankees have signed a bunch of undrafted free agents, according to the team’s transactions page. The list: Villanova LHP Woody Bryson, Texas State RHP Chase Hodson, Purdue OF Kyle Johnston, Lipscomb C Charles Vazquez. The Yankees also signed RHP Tim Holmes out an independent league. (h/t longtime reader Travis Lincoln)
  • OF Leonardo Molina was sent from Low-A Charleston to Rookie Pulaski, reports Josh Norris. Molina played 36 games with the River Dogs and hit .198/.250/.302 (58 wRC+), so it’s no surprise he was bumped down. He’s still only 18.
  • Both RHP Chad Green and RHP Vicente Campos were included in today’s Prospect Report, so make sure you check that out. As always, it is free. You don’t need a subscription.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 loss to Toledo)

  • CF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 R, 1 K
  • RF Aaron Judge: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — sixth homer in his last eleven games … he’s gone 14-for-38 (.368) with those six homers and a 21.3% strikeout rate in his last eleven games
  • 1B Mark Teixeira: 0-4 — he went 1-for-9 (.111) in his three rehab games … the plan is for Teixeira to rest tomorrow, then rejoin the Yankees on Saturday
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-4, 1 E (throwing)
  • DH Nick Swisher: 0-3, 1 BB, 2 K
  • LF Tyler Austin: 0-3, 2 K
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 7/4 GB/FB — 51 of 88 pitches were strikes (58%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 18 of 27 pitches were strikes (67%)

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

Yet another night without Yankees baseball. Enjoy it, because this is the team’s last off-day until the All-Star break. They play 17 games in 17 days starting tomorrow, and that 17-game stretch includes a short West Coast trip. They’ll be in San Diego to play three games against the Padres next weekend.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing tonight and MLB Network will show a regional game as well. Apparently the NBA draft is on tonight too. You folks know how these open thread works by now, so have at it.

Yankees sign third round pick Nolan Martinez

6:21pm: Turns out Martinez received a well-over-slot bonus. Didn’t expect that. He signed for $1.15M, reports Jonathan Mayo. That leaves roughly $3.14M for Rutherford.

6:15pm: According to the transactions page on the official site, the Yankees have signed third round pick Nolan Martinez. The high school right-hander from Southern California was slotted for $608,200. There’s no word on his bonus yet. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.

Martinez, 18, was not a bonus pool saving pick on Day Two. He’s a legitimate prospect. Baseball America (No. 67), Keith Law (No. 93), and MLB.com (No. 99) all ranked him as one of the 100 best prospects in the draft, and the Yankees were able to get him with the 98th pick. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

He has seen his velocity spike this spring, firing his fastball up to 93 mph at times. He backs it up with a solid average curveball. Like with many high schoolers, Martinez’s changeup is his third pitch. He has shown some polish and a repeatable delivery, with the hope that his feel for pitching should allow him to develop that third pitch.

With Martinez done, the Yankees have now signed all of their picks in the top ten rounds except first rounder Blake Rutherford. Here’s our Draft Pool Tracker. If the Yankees gave Martinez slot, it’ll leave them with $3.74M or so to offer Rutherford. That’s seventh overall pick money and well above his $2.44M slot value.

The signed deadline is Friday, July 15th this year. Now that the Yankees have all the other picks are taken care of, hopefully they can get Rutherford signed soon so he can begin his pro career. It’s not uncommon for first rounders to wait until deadline day to sign though. James Kaprielian did it just last year. I guess we’ll see.

Badler: Yankees favored to sign Dominican righty Roancy Contreras

The Yankees' academy in the Dominican Republic. (Groundskeeper.MLBlogs.com)
The Yankees’ academy in the Dominican Republic. (Groundskeeper.MLBlogs.com)

Although the Yankees are still dealing with the penalties associated with their 2014-15 international spending spree, the team is still favored to land one of the top pitching prospects in Dominican Republic when the 2016-17 signing period opens on July 2nd. Ben Badler (subs. req’d) reports the Yankees “look like the favorites” to sign highly touted right-hander Roancy Contreras.

Contreras has “a fastball that has reached 92-93 mph, a sharp curveball with tight spin and a delivery that should allow him to be a starter,” writes Badler. He’s a little guy at 5-foot-10 and 180 lbs., so surely the Yankees are hoping Contreras grows a few inches at some point. Remember, we’re talking about a 16-year-old kid. Chances are an awkward growth spurt is coming at some point.

The Yankees can not hand out a bonus larger than $300,000 during the upcoming signing period, though apparently that won’t be a problem. I wonder if the Yankees were on to Contreras early — teams scout 14-year-olds in Latin America, if you can believe that — and locked him into a verbal agreement at some point, then bam, he showed up to the park one day with some extra velocity and improved his prospect stock. Something like that.

The 2016-17 signing period is the last signing period the Yankees will have to deal with the penalties from their 2014-15 spree. Chances are the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement will change the system — we might see an international draft going forward — so we’ll just have to see what happens in 2017-18, when the penalties are lifted. Either way, it sounds as though the Yankees are still going to be able to add a top pitching prospect in the upcoming signing period.

Hal and Cashman say the Yankees are not ready to sell because what else are they supposed to say?

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Even with yesterday’s dramatic win, the Yankees came into today with a 35-36 record and a 12.6% chance to make the postseason, per FanGraphs. They’re six games back in the AL East and 3.5 games back of a wildcard spot. Insurmountable deficits? Of course not. But the Yankees have their work cut out for them. No doubt.

Earlier this week both Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman were asked about the state of the Yankees, and whether the club is leaning towards selling at the trade deadline. Here are their responses. First Hal, via Zach Braziller:

“I believe we’re going to be right smack in the middle of it by the end of July,” he said Monday at Cipriani in Midtown Manhattan at the annual Harlem RBI “Bids for Kids” fundraising dinner. “We’ll have to see at the end of July, like we always do. We’ll take a look at everything.

Steinbrenner said something similar last month, when the Yankees looked way more helpless than they do right now. They’ve at least reached .500 a few times in recent weeks. Now here’s what Cashman had to say, via Chad Jennings:

“Listen, we’re not going to be a seller unless ownership green-lights that,” Cashman said. “So I don’t have any number in my head. I’ll have an honest dialogue with ownership every step of the way as I always do. If we feel at a date in the future that that’s a necessity, then trust me, I’ll recommend it, and they’ll make a decision based on their comfort level … I’m always a brutally honest person. If I see things, I’ll always communicate honestly with ownership to the best of my abilities. Again, we’re in June, so right now it’s not the conversation we’re having.”

Interestingly, Cashman also ducked questions about whether he’s ever recommended selling to ownership in previous years. It has long been rumored the baseball operations folks pushed to trade Robinson Cano once they realized re-signing him after the 2013 season was going to be impossible, but ownership wouldn’t give the thumbs up. Who knows whether that is true. Anyone, I have some things to say about Hal’s and Cashman’s comments.

1. What did you expect them to say? I mean, seriously. Even if the Yankees were 100% committed and ready to sell right now, Hal and Cashman would still tell reporters they’re not planning to sell. I don’t think the Yankees are ready to sell now, but what the hell do I know? Either way, there is nothing to be gaining by declaring yourself a seller. You end up killing your own leverage by making it known you’re ready to move players. The Yankees are going to insist they are not sellers right up until the second they actually sell.

2. Winning helps them as sellers, you know. Selling is a weird concept and frankly, most of us have never experienced it as Yankee fans. If you want the Yankees to sell, you want them to keep losing so they decide to take the plunge and actually sell. At the same time, winning and staying in the race does give the team some extra leverage.

If the Yankees are, say, two games out of a wildcard spot on July 31st, they could at least give off the impression that they’re willing to keep guys like Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran and have it be believable. That won’t happen if they’re something like seven games back and six teams ahead of them. Yes, losing a lot may convince the team to sell. That’s usually how it works. But if the Yankees do decide to move guys like Beltran and Chapman, winning a few games wouldn’t be the end of the world either.

3. It’s possible to both buy and sell. Cashman made an interesting comment the other day about the Yankees possibly being buyers and sellers. Those can be considered conflicting ideas, but they’re really not. At the end of the day the goal is to improve the team, and both buying and selling are steps toward achieving that goal.

It would be possible for the Yankees to move someone like Beltran for prospects at the deadline while also moving some young players for help elsewhere on the roster. Maybe a Triple-A outfielder and a lower level prospect for a young big league pitcher. See what I mean? They’d be selling Beltran and buying a young arm. It doesn’t have to be buy or sell. They can do both.

* * *

The buy or sell question is not going away, not unless the Yankees go on an insane run and find themselves firmly in the postseason picture come the end of July. That’s the only way they could ever become clear cut buyers this season, and let’s be honest, that’s just not going to happen. The Yankees haven’t given us any reason to think they’re capable of going on a run like that.

So Hal and Cashman can expect more questions about selling in the coming weeks and we should expect more of the same answers. We’ll look at everything at the end of July, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. The Yankees really have perfected the art of saying a lot of words while saying nothing at all. Ultimately, the decision rests with ownership. Cashman can recommend selling and I don’t think he’d have any problem doing so. The question is whether Hal & Co. will bite the bullet and give the okay if the team is still on the fringes of the postseason picture.

Yankeemetrics: Rocky Mtn. High and Low [June 21-22]

(USA TODAY Sports)
(USA TODAY Sports)

From Super-Nova to Black Hole
The Yankees returned to the Bronx for their final homestand before the All-Star break but gave their fans nothing to cheer about on Tuesday night against the Rockies. This was another sloppy performance with multiple baserunning blunders, two errors committed and poor clutch hitting (0-for-10 with runners in scoring position), resulting in an 8-4 loss.

Yankee pitchers flashed dominance with 13 strikeouts, but also were pounded by Colorado’s lineup, allowing 15 hits. It’s just the fourth time in the last 100 years that the Yankees have reached both of those thresholds in a nine-inning game; the most recent was a 12-8 loss to the Red Sox on Sept. 6, 2013.

The game couldn’t have started worse as Ivan Nova allowed a leadoff homer on the third pitch he threw to Charlie Blackmon. He’s now given up at least one homer in 12 straight starts dating back to last season, matching Phil Hughes (2012) for the second-longest streak in franchise history. The only longer one is a 14-start streak by Dennis Rasmussen in 1986.

Nova’s first couple weeks in the starting rotation looked promising, with a 1.65 ERA in his initial three turns. But he’s really struggled over the past month, posting a 6.88 ERA in his last six starts. The biggest culprit during this poor stretch has been an erratic sinker that’s not doing much sinking lately. Batters are slugging .606 against the pitch over his last six starts, compared to .324 in his first three starts.

Blackmon wasn’t the only Rockie who clobbered Nova; Carlos Gonzalez had a couple hits, including a bullet line-drive double to right field in the fifth inning that left his bat at 118 mph, per Statcast. That’s the fourth-highest exit velocity for any batted ball this season, and the highest mark given up by a Yankee pitcher in the last two seasons (since Statcast began recording exit velocity data).

(AP)
(AP)

A star is born
Welcome to the True Yankee® club, Mr. Castro. Starlin Castro saved the Yankees from another horrific loss on Wednesday afternoon, belting a no-doubt homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Yankees one of their wildest and most dramatic wins of the season.

It was a game that neither team seemingly wanted to win as both teams managed to blow four-run leads, with the Yankees delivering the final blow thanks to the clutch bat of Castro.

It was the 26-year-old infielder’s first career walk-off homer, as he became the fourth Yankee with a walk-off homer in Interleague play. The others are Russell Martin (2012 vs. Mets), Alex Rodriguez (2006 vs. Braves) and Jason Giambi (2005 vs. Pirates).

In the last 50 years, only one other Yankee second baseman has hit a walk-off shot: Robinson Cano did it on August 28, 2009 against the White Sox. Before that, you have to go all the way back to July 11, 1953 when Billy Martin beat the Senators with a solo homer to lead off the bottom of the 10th.

(AP)
(AP)

Chase Headley gave the Yankees a 4-0 lead when he crushed a 97 mph fastball dead-center into Monument Park in the second inning for his first grand slam in pinstripes (fourth in his career), and the first one by a Yankee this year.

The last time the Yankees went this deep into the season (by date) without a bases-loaded homer was 1991, when Matt Nokes hit the team’s only grand slam on September 23 against the Brewers.

CC Sabathia gave that lead right back to the Rockies with his worst performance of the year. He gave up a season-high six runs in 4 1/3 innings, matching the number of runs he allowed in his previous seven starts spanning 44 innings pitched.

Regression came swiftly for Sabathia, but it’s hardly surprising that he faltered against the Rockies. He now has a 6.08 ERA in eight career starts against them, his second-highest ERA versus any team in his career. The highest? A 6.16 ERA in nine starts versus the Yankees.

Despite the win, it is hard to ignore how historically inept the pitching staff was in their four games against the Rockies this year. The 8.74 ERA, .633 slugging percentage and 1.034 OPS allowed were each the highest marks by a Yankee team in a season series against any opponent over the last 100 years.

Thoughts on yet another Yankees’ off-day

Sticky. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Sticky. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

The Yankees are off yet again today. This is their third off-day since last Monday. I guess they need the break after playing 40 games in 41 days before this stretch of three off-days in eleven games. I know I appreciate off-days more and more with each passing year. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. If you would have come to me back in March and said that come mid-June, Carlos Beltran would be on pace to hit 40+ homers and CC Sabathia would have a sub-3.00 ERA while taking a regular rotation turn, I would have guessed the Yankees were on pace to win about 93 games. Instead they’re on pace to win 80, and man, things would be a heck of a lot worse without those two. I’m not sure even the most optimistic fans expected Beltran and Sabathia to play this well this season, Sabathia’s clunker yesterday notwithstanding. Those two have been the awesome and the rest of the team is letting their awesomeness go to waste.

2. I don’t really expect the Yankees to go through with it, but if they do trade Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, they’re going to be left with the worst bullpen ever. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But it would definitely be one of the worst in the game based on the way the non-big three relievers have pitched. Those guys have a 4.97 ERA in 128.2 innings. Dellin Betances would give the Yankees a top notch closer — unless they trade him too! — but the other six bullpen spots? Yeesh. Unless they trade Chapman and Miller for a bunch of relievers (no thanks), the bullpen the rest of the year is going to be a major eyesore. Then again, if the Yankees do decide to trade away pieces, protecting leads won’t be much of a concern.

3. Rob Refsnyder just started back-to-back games against right-handed pitchers, and that tells me he’s not going down to Triple-A when Mark Teixeira comes back this weekend. Joe Girardi started Ike Davis against righties twice last week, but it seems like he’s already abandoned that plan. Refsnyder has been pretty good so far, good enough to earn more playing time, so I’m curious to see how they get him into the lineup once Teixeira returns. Figure one game at first, the next at second, the next in right, the next at third, then the next on the bench? That sort of thing? It sounds easy, but man, moving a young player around that much can be tough, especially since Refsnyder is new to first and third bases. Still though, he’s giving the Yankees a reason to keep him around, and that was step one. He had to earn playing time and he’s done that. The Yankees owe it to themselves to keep running Refsnyder out there to see if he can be part of the solution going forward, even if he’s only a part-time player long-term.

4. I am pretty encouraged by what Aaron Judge has done in Triple-A the last few weeks. He started the season very well, then slipped into a prolonged slump that culminated with an 0-for-24 skid a few weeks back. Since the end of that 0-for-24, Judge has gone 19-for-59 (.322) with three homers, four steals, 14 walks, and 13 strikeouts in 17 games. His season strikeout rate (23.9%) is much better than it was at Triple-A last season (28.5%), and in fact it’s his lowest strikeout rate at any level since he was in Low-A two years ago (21.2%). Here is Judge’s rolling ten-game average strikeout rate at Triple-A:

Aaron Judge strikeout rate

Judge is definitely trending in the right direction when it comes to his strikeouts, and he has been since last year. I’m not saying the Yankees should call him up and trade Beltran — if they do trade Beltran, I’d play Aaron Hicks and Ben Gamel before Judge — I’m just saying he seems to be getting the hang of Triple-A pitching. Judge was a college draft pick but he was always going to be something of a project because he’s so damn big and has so much strike zone to cover. He seems to be getting the hang of it at the highest level of the minors now. That’s fun.

5. Is it just me, or has Brian McCann‘s defense slipped this year? He’s gone only 8-for-40 (20.0%) throwing out base-stealers this season after going 57-for-156 (36.5%) the last two years combined. It also seems like McCann is letting more balls trickle by for passed balls/wild pitches, though the numbers don’t really bear that out. The pitching staff deserves some blame for McCann’s poor throwing numbers — Betances and Michael Pineda in particular are slow to the plate; opponents are 19-for-22 (86.4%) stealing bases against those two — but not all of it. The Yankees fired bullpen coach Gary Tuck over the winter, reportedly because he disagree with some of the analytics they’re using, and McCann credited Tuck for improving his throwing. McCann is 32 and he’s caught over 11,000 innings in the show, so it would be understandable if he was defense is starting to decline. It just seems to me his defense has slipped noticeably so far this year. It hasn’t been a slight decline.

6. Longtime RAB readers (and I guess Twitter followers) know I’m a pretty big hockey fan. It’s my second favorite sport, and right now, I think I enjoy hockey more than I ever have before. Anyway, yesterday the NHL officially announced they are adding an expansion team in Las Vegas for the 2017-18 season. It was kind of an open secret, but yesterday it was made official. Two things about this. One, there’s going to be an expansion draft, and I think it would be fun as hell to cover an MLB expansion draft. I hope I get a chance to do so at some point. Two, I think the NHL will be a test case for pro sports in Las Vegas. There seems to be concern over the potential for gambling and things like that. If the NHL does well there, I suspect you’re going to see the other major sports show more interest in Sin City. MLB has some logistical issues to sort out before sending a team to Las Vegas — there’s already a Triple-A franchise there, the Dodgers hold broadcast territorial rights, etc. — but it seems possible. Baseball is incredibly healthy financially and I think expansion will happen again within the next 10-15 years. (Commissioner Rob Manfred has said he wants to get the Athletics and Rays new stadiums before okaying expansion.) Las Vegas is an obvious expansion possibility and the NHL is doing everyone else a favor by breaking the ice, pun intended.