2015 Preseason Not Top 30 Prospects

Palma. (MiLB.com)
Palma. (MiLB.com)

Tomorrow is a pretty big day in Yankeeland. Pitchers and catchers are set to officially report to Spring Training, that’s always fun, plus Joe Girardi will hold his annual start of camp press conference. He’s got a new look roster and a returning Alex Rodriguez to discuss. Tomorrow is also RAB’s eighth birthday, and that’s sorta neat.

But, most importantly, tomorrow I will post my annual Top 30 Prospects List, which is both an awful lot of work and something I enjoy compiling each year. Before we get to the Top 30 though, we have to look at the Not Top 30 Prospects. These are five players on the outside of this year’s Top 30 who I think have a chance to make the jump into next year’s Top 30.

Only one of last year’s Not Top 30 Prospects climbed into the actual Top 30 this year, and I’ve learned over the years that one out of five ain’t all that bad when it comes to this stuff. As a reminder, these are not prospects 31-35. They’re just five guys listed alphabetically who I think could be Top 30 caliber prospects after another season of development. Got it? Good. Let’s get to it.

RHP Simon De La Rosa
Signed out the Dominican Republic for only $50,000 back in October 2012, De La Rosa spent 2013 in the Dominican Summer League and last year in the rookie Gulf Coast League, where he had a 4.43 ERA (3.81 FIP) with 28.0 K% and 13.2 BB% in 42.2 innings. De La Rosa is a big and lanky kid at 6-foot-3 and 185 lbs., and he already sports three pitches in his low-to-mid-90s heater, tight curveball, and promising changeup. The curveball is his money pitch. As the walk rate suggests, he needs to work on his location. De La Rosa is older than the typical international prospect in rookie ball — he turns 22 in mid-May — but he has bat-missing stuff and just needs to improve his control more than anything. Obviously that’s easier said than done. I think De La Rosa could make the jump to start 2015 with Low-A Charleston. If not, Extended Spring Training and Short Season Staten Island await.

Foley. (Robert Pimpsner)
Foley. (Robert Pimpsner)

RHP Jordan Foley
Foley, 21, was New York’s fifth round pick out of Central Michigan in last summer’s draft ($317,500 bonus). He pitched to a 4.10 ERA (3.26 FIP) with 23.1 K% and 9.4 BB% in 37.1 innings after turning pro last summer, most with Staten Island. Foley is an arm strength guy, sitting in the low-90s and touching 96-97 as a starter. He’ll sit closer to that 96-97 mph range when working out of the bullpen. His second pitch is a low-80s splitter, and he also throws an okay mid-80s slider. Foley, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs., has a pretty substantial head whack in his follow through (video) and it hurts his command. Between the spotty command and the head violence, many expect Foley to wind up in the bullpen long-term. I like him better there too. The Yankees will probably give him a chance to start this coming season if only to accumulate innings. If they stick him in the bullpen full-time, he could be an MLB option as soon as the second half of 2016. Low-A Charleston is in the cards this coming season.

OF Dustin Fowler
The Yankees grabbed Fowler in the 18th round of the 2013 draft and got him to turn pro with an above-slot $278,000 bonus. He was a multi-sport guy in high school, playing football and wrestling in addition to playing baseball. Fowler is a pure tools guy who has shown quite a bit of improvement since signing, and his .257/.292/.459 (104 wRC+) batting line with nine homers, 19.5 K%, and 4.8 BB% in 66 games with the River Dogs last year sums up his game well. He has power — Fowler is a lefty swinger listed at 6-foot-0 and 185 lbs. — but doesn’t know the strike zone well and can be over-aggressive. His above-average speed doesn’t show up in the stolen base total (three in five attempts) but he can run. Fowler’s a project. He has a lot of physical ability and just needs to learn how to turn it into baseball tools. Chances are he will return to Low-A Charleston to begin the 2015 season.

Montgomery. (Post and Courier)
Montgomery. (Post and Courier)

LHP Jordan Montgomery
The 22-year-old Montgomery spent three years in South Carolina’s rotation and has a track record of performing well against high-caliber college competition. The Yankees signed him for $424,000 as their fourth round pick last season and Montgomery put up a 3.79 ERA (2.30 FIP) with 25.3 K% and 7.6 BB% in only 19 innings after turning pro. Montgomery has the prototypical workhorse frame at 6-foot-4 and 225 lbs., and he’s a four-pitch guy with an 89-92 mph fastball, a low-80s changeup, a slow upper-70s curveball, and a show-me cutter I’m sure the Yankees will work to improve. They love their cutters. Montgomery’s stuff all plays up because he locates well and has very good feel for his craft. It’s a boring profile but there’s potential here. He’s cut from the David Phelps/Adam Warren cloth. After three years in the SEC, Montgomery figures to start next year with High-A Tampa.

OF Alex Palma
Palma signed out of Venezuela for $800,000 in July 2012 and played in the GCL last year after spending 2013 in the Dominican Summer League. He performed very well last summer, hitting .305/.318/.451 (118 wRC+) with four homers, nine steals, 6.8 K%, and 1.4 BB% in 220 plate appearances. The strikeout and walk rates are evidence of how easily he makes contact, but he’s not a slash hitter. Palma is listed at 6-foot-0 and 201 lbs. and he has raw power, mostly to the pull side as a right-handed hitter. He’s a good athlete and a sound defensive outfielder with a strong arm who fits best in right field. Palma is close to maxed out physically even though he is only 19, but his raw tools right now are plenty good enough. As soon as he learns he doesn’t have to swing at a pitch just because he can reach it, Palma should rocket up prospects lists. I expect him to start the season in Extended Spring Training before joining either Staten Island or the organization’s new rookie ball affiliate in Pulaski.

King: Yankees held second private workout for Yoan Moncada yesterday

(Bay Area Sports Guy)
(Bay Area Sports Guy)

1:01pm: Jon Heyman says Moncada is done with his private workouts and Hastings has begun fielding contract offers. “Dynamic, electric, explosive, robust talent. All thirty teams will have some degree of interest. The competition will be fierce for his services, no doubt,” said one scout to Heyman while cautioning “there are just enough holes to keep him in the .260 range.”

12:00pm: According to George King, the Yankees had Cuban wunderkind Yoan Moncada in Tampa for a second private workout late yesterday. Their first private workout was a month ago. King says the Yankees are leery of the money it’ll take to sign Moncada, but I think that’s just posturing. You don’t bring a guy back for a second workout if you’re not interested.

Last week David Hastings, Moncada’s representative, said he and his client hope to pick a new team relatively soon so Moncada can get to Spring Training. Hastings mentioned next Monday as a target date but it didn’t sound like a firm deadline. Moncada has already been declared a free agent by MLB and unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control. He can sign at any moment.

By now you know the 19-year-old Moncada is considered a budding superstar, a switch-hitter with power and speed to go with strong defensive chops. King says the Yankees see Moncada as a second baseman long-term though there’s really no consensus about his future position. The consensus is basically “anywhere but pitcher, catcher, and shortstop.” Here’s some game footage of Moncada from an under-18 tournament in 2013.

“He would have to start at Single-A and that is a lot of money for somebody to begin at that level,’’ said an international scout to King. “If he was in the draft, he would be a first-round pick, but that’s a long way from that type of money for a 19-year-old.’’

Moncada’s bonus is expected to be in the $30M to $40M range — King says the Dodgers are willing to go to $40M, but I’ll believe it when I see it — and that will be taxed at 100% regardless of who signs him due to the international spending rules. Moncada’s a $60M to $80M investment, all up front. The Yankees are unable to sign an international player for more than $300,000 the next two signing periods due to last summer’s spending spree, so Moncada is their last chance to get a top talent for a while.

Six-man rotation is a conversation worth having for the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Today is the final day of the offseason. Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to officially report to Spring Training tomorrow, though more than a few Yankees are already in Tampa working out at the team’s complex. Tomorrow it’ll be official though. Like officially official. Spring Training is about to begin, folks.

Down in Tampa yesterday, pitching coaching Larry Rothschild told Bryan Hoch the Yankees plan to discuss using six starters early in the season, in April and possibly May. They briefly used a six-man rotation at the end of last season — obviously it’s easier to pull off with expanded rosters — and as early as last August we heard it was something the team was considering for 2015.

“It’s a result of some of the stuff that’s gone on over the last few years, not just here, but everywhere,” said Rothschild to Hoch. “We’re aware of situations here and early in the season, we need to get these guys through these stretches. Being that possibly early in the spring, some of them aren’t going to be able to throw a lot, we’re going to need to build them up too and give them the extra days when we can.”

A six-man rotation seems ambitious — the Yankees might have a hard time cobbling together five starters by the end of Spring Training based on the injury risk in the current rotation — though there’s no harm in discussing it. It might be unconventional, but baseball has been trending towards using pitchers less and less over the last, I dunno, 30-40 years or so. This is the logical next step. Let’s look at this a little deeper.

What Are The Benefits?

In the most basic terms, the less a pitcher pitches, the less likely he is to get hurt. The Yankees have two major injury risks in the rotation in Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) and CC Sabathia (knee), and pitching every sixth day instead of every fifth could help keep them on the field. I’m certain that’s what the Yankees are thinking. They want these guys to get through the entire season in one piece.

Pitchers in Japan work just about once a week and, according to Eno Sarris, they’ve undergone Tommy John surgery less than half as often as their MLB counterparts. Eno also spoke to Brian Bannister, a former big leaguer who spent time in Japan, and he said the extra time off does help while also noting NPB training methods are much different. “The recovery process in Japan is very deliberate with massage and soaking in alternating hot/cold water common,” he said. This isn’t as simple as “six-man rotation = less elbow injuries because look at NPB.” The preparation is different too.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Okay, now here is the important part: reducing the risk of injury is not guaranteed. Tanaka’s elbow has already been compromised and it could be that there’s nothing that can be done to improve his chances of staying on the field. The doctors have already given him the okay to pitch in games. If his elbow’s going to give, it’s probably going to give regardless of whether he’s starting every fifth day or every sixth day. Same with Sabathia’s knee. The Yankees could go through all the trouble of using a six-man rotation and these guys could still get hurt again.

Using a six-man rotation will ostensibly help the Yankees keep their starters healthy, and that’s a good thing. Their starters are actually pretty good when they’re healthy and they want those guys to make as many starts as possible. At this point a six-man rotation would be reactive instead of proactive — Tanaka and Sabathia (and Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova) have already suffered their major injuries. They’d just be trying to stop them from getting worse.

What About The Rest Of The Roster?

A six-man rotation means either a three-man bench or a six-man bullpen. The extra roster spot has to come from somewhere. If the Yankees go with a three-man bench, it means one of Chris Young, Garrett Jones, or Brendan Ryan won’t make the roster because one spot needs to go to a backup catcher, and I find cutting one of those guys unlikely. They all make seven figures. Maybe someone gets hurt in camp — Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, for example — opening a spot and making a three-man bench doable.

More than likely though, the Yankees would use a six-man bullpen based on their current roster. Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers — one of whom could end up the sixth starter — are both capable of throwing multiple innings, as is Dellin Betances. Justin Wilson isn’t a lefty specialist, he can throw a full inning. (A LOOGY has no place in a six-man bullpen.) The Yankees have the personnel to swing a six-man bullpen, especially since Joe Girardi is so meticulous about rest and keeping his relievers fresh. Plus they have the bullpen depth in the minors to make call-ups when necessary.

A Chance To Get Creative

That last part about call-ups is where it gets interesting. The sixth starter doesn’t have to be one starter, it could be a collection of starters. For example, Bryan Mitchell could make the start, then be sent down to Triple-A for an extra reliever, say Chris Martin. Then, when that rotation spot comes up again, Martin goes down and Chase Whitley comes up. (Mitchell couldn’t come up because of the ten-day rule.) Then after Whitley’s start, he goes back down in favor of a reliever, say Jacob Lindgren this time. When the rotation spot comes up again, Lindgren goes down and Mitchell comes up. Rinse, repeat. Make sense?

If the Yankees want to keep both Warren and Rogers in the bullpen so they can be used for multiple innings — a good idea with a six-man bullpen — Mitchell and Whitley could work in tandem as the sixth starter, pitching on the same schedule and alternating starts in MLB and Triple-A. Jose DePaula could be part of this arrangement too. He’s got an option left. It sounds great in theory because it allows the Yankees to keep a full seven-man bullpen most of the time with the sixth starter only on the roster the days he’s needed. These are people though, remember. Imagine being Mitchell or Whitley and having to do all that traveling from Triple-A to MLB for a day or two every other week. It would really suck and could impact performance.

How’s The Schedule Look?

Usually the month of April is cluttered with off-days because of weather concerns, enough that teams can often avoid using their fifth starter for a rotation turn or two. Off-days allowed the Yankees to avoid using their fifth starter (Freddy Garcia) until the 13th game of the season in 2011, after three full turns through the rotation. The Yankees won’t have that luxury this year. Here’s the April schedule from the official site:

April 2015 Schedule-001

The regular season starts on April 6th, the Yankees have the token “in case it rains on Opening Day off-day” on the 7th, then they play eight games in eight days. So right off the bat they need their fifth and potentially sixth starter. Following the off-day on the 16th, they play 13 games in 13 games, so again, there’s no chance to hide the fifth and sixth starter. After that off-day on the 30th, they play 17 games in 17 days.

Point is, there is no chance to skip the fifth and/or sixth starter early this season, and that might be part of the reason why the Yankees are considering a six-man rotation. The scheduled off-days don’t really allow for much extra rest early in the season and they want to make sure Tanaka, Sabathia, and everyone else gets a little breather in April. A six-man rotation is the only way to do it.

Okay, So What’s The Downside?

A six-man rotation does sound wonderful. As I mentioned though, it messes with the rest of the roster by taking a spot from the bench or bullpen. It also means fewer starts from your top starters. Starters average 32.4 starts in a five-man rotation and only 27 starts in a six-man rotation across a 162-game system. For the Yankees, that means five or so fewer starts each from Tanaka and Pineda, their best pitchers. Of course, without a six-man rotation, those two could end up making way fewer starts due to injury.

The idea of using a six-man rotation is more complicated than it seems. First of all, the Yankees would have to find six starters worthy of being in a big league rotation, which isn’t all that easy. It also screws with the rest of the roster and any health benefits aren’t guaranteed. It is a conversation worth having though. The Yankees have undoubtedly done more research on six-man rotations that us, and if they have reason to believe it will reap real benefits, then it’s a plan worth putting into place.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Chance are you’ve seen it already, but, if not, ESPN published a really great article on Alex Rodriguez by J.R. Moehringer. It’s brilliantly written and looks at A-Rod‘s time away from baseball last year, humanizing him more than anything. The guy’s been banking $20M+ a year for a decade and a half now and he still shops at Target with his kids for school supplies. There’s no real information in there about his performance-enhancing drug usage, if you’re looking for that sort of thing. It’s just a really great story. Check it out.

Here is your open thread for the evening. The NBA is somehow still in the middle of the All-Star break, and none of the three local hockey clubs are in action. It’s college hoops or bust tonight. Use this thread to talk about whatever you like.

Yankees land seven players on FanGraphs’ top 200 prospects list

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Over at FanGraphs yesterday, Kiley McDaniel posted his list of the top 200 — not the top 100, the top 200 (!) — prospects in baseball heading into the 2015 season. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant claims the top spot and is followed by Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs SS Addison Russell in the top three. At this point, it’s clear Bryant is the consensus top prospect in baseball with Buxton, last year’s No. 1, right behind him.

The Yankees landed seven players in the top 200. Here’s the list with a short quote from McDaniel’s write-up:

  • RHP Luis Severino (No. 26): “He’s quickly improved and developed starter traits, but on certain days the stuff, command and delivery may all look more like a reliever.”
  • OF Aaron Judge (No. 58): “He’ll be 23 in Double-A next year and that will give us a better idea of if he’s a solid everyday guy or a potential star, but there’s clearly more here than people were expecting.”
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren (No. 100): “(He’s) now knocking on the door of the big leagues with closer level stuff and just enough of the feel from his starter days to spot his hellacious slider where he wants it.”
  • SS Jorge Mateo (No. 102): “(He) has top-of-the-scale 80 speed, has the tools to stick at shortstop, has surprising pop and was hanging with pitches three or four years older than him.”
  • 1B Greg Bird (No. 120): “Bird has plus power and good plate discipline, with some comparing him to a non-injury-prone Nick Johnson.”
  • LHP Ian Clarkin (No. 137): “His velocity has settled near the high end of where it was pre-draft and his above average to plus curveball is still the separator, with his changeup and command making good progress.”

2B Rob Refsnyder is the seventh prospect, but the bottom 58 players of the top 200 are not ranked and are instead listed as honorable mentions, basically. It’s kinda interesting McDaniel ranked Bird as the team’s third best prospect behind Severino and Lindgren last month, but now he’s fifth behind Severino, Judge, Lindgren, and Mateo. Eh, whatever.

I’m biased, so what the hell do I know, but I find it very hard to believe there are 200 prospects in the minors right now better than C Gary Sanchez. I get people are down on him, but a catcher with his arm and that much offensive upside is a pretty valuable prospect. Especially when they’ve had success at Double-A before their 22nd birthday. Not top 100? Okay. But not top 200? C’mon now.

Tanaka arrives in Tampa, long-tosses for 34 minutes

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

Pitchers and catchers aren’t scheduled to report for Spring Training until Friday, but several players are already in Tampa working out at the Yankees’ minor league complex. One of those players is Masahiro Tanaka, who arrived in town earlier this week and worked out at the complex for the first time yesterday.

According to the Associated Press, Tanaka played catch for 34 minutes yesterday, making throws as far as 200 feet. He wrapped up his throwing session with 16 throws from flat ground using his normal delivery. Tanaka, as you know, missed about three months with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow last year. He had no issues with the elbow during offseason workouts and apparently everything went fine yesterday.

“So far everything is good,” said pitching Larry Rothschild to the Associated Press earlier this week when asked about Tanaka’s offseason work. “That doesn’t mean it will be going forward, but we’re going to do everything we can. We’ll put schedules together and things like that to try to keep him healthy.”

Tanaka did not talk to reporters after throwing yesterday — “He looked like the same guy, smiling all the time. When I saw his throwing program, he looked good,” said Ivan Nova, who was also at the complex — but is scheduled to talk to the media on Friday. Needless to say, his elbow is going to be a focal point this spring. Tanaka might be the biggest x-factor for the team’s success in 2015 and every day he goes without an issue is a good day.

Time to discuss the potential on-field impact of A-Rod’s return

Oh yeah, he plays baseball too. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Oh yeah, he plays baseball too. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The circus has arrived. Alex Rodriguez is set to rejoin the Yankees this season after serving his 162-game suspension last year, and he’s already made the rounds. He apologized to new commish Rob Manfred. He apologized to the Yankees. He apologized to everyone — including the fans! — in a handwritten statement. That was all necessary in my opinion and it’s done now. Good. Let’s move on.

For the purposes of this post, moving on means talking about actual baseball, not discussing how the Yankees can get out of A-Rod‘s contract or anything like that. Like it or not, Alex is back and the Yankees seem committed to seeing if he has anything left. Considering there are three years and over $60M left on his contract, they have to at least see what he can do, right? He was a pretty good player once upon a time, remember. Maybe the year away did his body good.

Let’s start by laying out some facts:

  • A-Rod is 39 and will turn 40 in late-July.
  • A-Rod has played zero MLB games in the last 16 months and only 44 games in the last 28 months.
  • A-Rod has had surgery on both hips as well as his right knee within the last six years.

That’s all pretty bad as far as on-field production goes. Old players usually don’t perform well. Old players with a recent history of serious injuries perform even worse. Old players with a recent history of serious injuries who haven’t played at all in a year and not that much in two years perform even worse than that. A-Rod hits the trifecta.

Since the turn of the century, there have been 104 instances of a position player age 39 or older appearing in at least 54 games (one-third of a season), and 78 of the 104 finished the year with 1.0 WAR or less. Barry Bonds, Chipper Jones, and Edgar Martinez account for seven of the 26 1.0+ WAR seasons. Sixty-two of the 104 were at 0.5 WAR or less. Forty-two of the 104, or 40.4%, were replacement level or worse. That’s really bad.

Normally, this is where I’d point out A-Rod is much more like Bonds or Chipper or Edgar than he is, say, Omar Vizquel or Todd Pratt or Jeff Conine. Rodriguez was a friggin’ star, man. He put up huge numbers and is simply one of the best right-handed hitters ever. Great players age differently than everyone else, but Bonds, Chipper, and Edger were not coming back from any major lower body injuries nor had they missed close to two full seasons before their age 39 season.

Forget about WAR for guys in their age 39 season. This is more important: over the last 25 years, 50 players had fewer than 200 plate appearances during their age 37-38 seasons combined, including A-Rod. Of the 49 non-Alex players, only four managed to play even one game in their age 39 season: outfielder Trent Hubbard (ten games) and backup catchers Lance Parrish (70 games), Pat Borders (93 games through age 42), and Mike Difelice (seven games). That’s it. Players who are damn near out of the league at 37-38 usually don’t come back to play at age 39, nevermind 39-41, the ages covered by the remainder of Rodriguez’s contract. He’s trying to do something no has done in the last quarter-century.

Want to look at some projections? Fine. PECOTA pegs A-Rod as a .247/.324/.409 true talent hitter going into 2015 and holy crap that would be amazing. ZiPS has him at .229/.312/.399, which is basically 2014 Mark Teixeira (.216/.313/.398). Steamer has him at .233/.310/.372 and is the least optimistic. But the computers don’t know about A-Rod’s injury history and they don’t know how to account for all his time away from the game the last two years, so they basically ignore them. Projections are mostly useless in general and they’re even more useless for A-Rod.

This is all a roundabout way of saying we have no idea what to expect from Alex this coming season. His injures and time away complicate things way too much. Old players are tough to figure out because they could fall off a cliff at any moment. A-Rod’s an old guy with an injury history who hasn’t played a whole lot. The smart money is on him contributing very little — like, very very like — in 2015 and that’s why the Yankees flat out replaced him at third base (Chase Headley) and brought in protection for the DH spot (Garrett Jones). They’re expecting nothing and prepared for it.

No matter what, A-Rod is going to be a distraction in Spring Training and early in the regular season. (Actually, probably all season.) Cameras are going to be all over him, the media’s going to write all about him, and the broadcasters won’t shut up about him. That’s inevitable and it’ll all be much more tolerable if he contributes in some way on the field. Even league average production would be welcome. There’s no way to realistically expect that though. We know the off-the-field stuff will be ridiculous. The on-field stuff is a total mystery.