DotF: Andujar goes deep again in Tampa’s win

Double-A Trenton manager Al Pedrique told Nick Peruffo there is no real concern for RHP Luis Severino, who was placed on the 7-day DL yesterday with a blister. He’s expected to miss one start, that’s it. 1B Greg Bird, on the other hand, will miss “a few weeks” with a shoulder strain. Bird is not with the team, he’s in Tampa rehabbing.

Triple-A Scranton (10-2 win over Durham)

  • CF Slade Heathcott: 2-6, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K, 1 CS — had been in a little 5-for-24 (.208) slump
  • LF Ramon Flores: 0-3, 1 R, 3 BB, 1 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-5, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 E (throwing) — first error in several weeks after a rough defensive start to the year
  • C Austin Romine: 0-2, 1 RBI, 3 BB
  • RHP Jaron Long: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 7/6 GB/FB — 58 of 86 pitches were strikes (67%)
  • RHP Danny Burawa: 1 IP, zeroes, 3/0 GB/FB — nine of 14 pitches were strikes (64%)

[Read more…]

Update: Chase Whitley exits Thursday’s start with elbow injury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

10:05pm: Following the game, Joe Girardi told reporters Whitley has been dealing with an elbow issue for a while now. He didn’t tell anyone and tried to pitch through it. Ugh. Hate that. No shame in speaking up if you’re hurt, especially if you’re a pitcher and it’s your arm. That’s the moneymaker, man.

8:48pm: Whitley left the game with a right elbow injury, the Yankees announced. He’s being looked at by a doctor and will go for tests in the morning. YES showed Whitley winching in pain after throwing several pitches in that second inning. Ominous, this is.

8:03pm: Right-hander Chase Whitley left tonight’s start against the Rays in the second inning with an unknown injury. There was nothing obvious — Whitley didn’t appear to be favoring anything from what I saw — before Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue came out to the mound. Whitley exited the game without even attempting a test pitch. Here’s the video.

Whitley walked his final batter on four pitches, none of which were particularly close. He made several other pitches that were well off the mark as well, including one that went to the backstop, which was the only indication something was wrong. The Yankees have not yet given any sort of update on the injury, so stayed tuned.

Injuries are never good, especially to pitchers, but the timing isn’t disastrous for the Yankees. Chris Capuano threw six innings in his third minor league rehab start earlier this week and will presumably be able to step right into Whitley’s rotation spot, if necessary. These things always work themselves out, don’t they?

Game 36: Maybe Score After The First Inning?

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Those losses the last two nights were pretty annoying. Annoyingly similar too. Early offense, nothing thereafter, and a quality pitching performance squandered. Blah. The Yankees lost back-to-back games for the first time in nearly a month, and hey, it was bound to happen sometime.

The Yankees can earn a split of this seemingly never-ending four-game series with the Rays tonight. They’re 6-3 against Tampa Bay so far this season, including 4-2 in Tropicana Field despite these last two losses. They Yankees are playing well. This is just one of those inevitable blips. Right? Right. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Chris Young
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    RHP Chase Whitley

More rain in St. Petersburg tonight. Hooray for the dome and climate control. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET tonight and you’ll be able to watch live on YES locally and MLB Network nationally, depending on where you live. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Brendan Ryan (calf, hamstring) played in an Extended Spring Training game today but had to leave due to heat exhaustion. Seriously.

2015 Draft: Scott Kingery

Scott Kingery | 2B

Background
The 21-year-old Kingery went undrafted out of Phoenix high school three years ago but has done nothing but hit at Arizona. He put up a .319/.413/.426 line with 16 doubles, seven triples, one homer, 50 walks, and 47 strikeouts in 95 games his freshman and sophomore years, and is hitting .467/.500/.715 with 12 doubles, five triples, four homers, eight walks, and ten strikeouts in 31 games this spring. He’s been in the mix for the NCAA batting title all season.

Scouting Report
Kingery is a classic short, scrappy, middle infielder grinder. You know what I mean, right? He’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 lbs., and his offensive game is built on contact and using the entire field from the right side of the plate. Kingery has bat speed, top notch hand-eye coordination, and the innate ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball. He knows the strike zone and still draws plenty of walks despite being able to put the ball in play seemingly at will. Kingery has little power but has the speed to be a threat on the bases (34 steals in 47 attempts in college) and the athleticism to play up the middle. He was a center fielder years ago but has settled in at second base, though his reflexes and arm strength have some thinking he could handle shortstop. (Kingery is playing second for the Wildcats in deference to shortstop Kevin Newman, a possible top ten pick.)

Miscellany
Keith Law (subs. req’d), MLB.com, and Baseball America ranked Kingery as the 25th, 36th, and 39th best prospect in the draft class in their latest rankings, respectively. My guess is he would be considered a slam dunk first rounder if he was two or three inches taller. Teams are still biased against short players. They show it every year. Kingery had success against top competition in the wood bat Cape Code League last summer (.312/.331/.416 in 33 games) and that’s something the Yankees have valued in the past. They pick 16th and 30th overall next month, and while Kingery would be a more appropriate pick at No. 30, he might come off the board much earlier as one of the top college hitters in a draft seemingly devoid of them.

The case for giving Jacob Lindgren more time in Triple-A

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

A little more than one month into the regular season, lefty relief prospect Jacob Lindgren has dominated with Triple-A Scranton, pitching to a 1.65 ERA (1.60 FIP) in 16.1 innings. He’s struck out 31.4% of batters faced and gotten a ground ball on 75.6% of balls in play. His numbers since being the Yankees’ top draft pick (second round) last year are mind-boggling: 40.2 K% and 78.3 GB%.

The 22-year-old Lindgren has dominated minor league hitters the same way he dominated college hitters with Mississippi State. The Yankees selected him with the 55th overall pick last year, and when you select a reliever that high, you’re taking him because you expect him to have an impact and soon. I’m not sure Lindgren is another Andrew Miller, that’s a lofty comparison, but he’s not far off either. He’s a lefty with a great slider who can get both lefties and righties out.

And yet, despite his pro ball dominance, Lindgren remains in Triple-A while the big league team cycles through guys like Chris Martin, Chasen Shreve, Esmil Rogers, and Branden Pinder. I thought Lindgren belonged on the Opening Day roster and last month I said the Yankees are going to have to call him up soon just to challenge him so he can continue his development. That is still true now, I’m not backtracking, but I am going to play devil’s advocate and make a case for leaving Lindgren in Triple-A a little longer.

From 2004-08 — a five-year sample close to the present but far enough away that we know how these guys turned out — a total of ten college relievers were taken in the first, supplemental first, or second round. Like Lindgren, they were all expected to be fast-moving back-end of the bullpen guys. Future closers and setup men with the future coming very soon after the draft. Here’s the list:

Drafted MiLB IP before MLB debut MLB IP and WAR
Bill Bray 1st 2004 (MTL) 78.2 197.1 and 2.4 (retired)
Huston Street supp. 1st 2004 (OAK) 26 606 and 14.0 (and counting)
Craig Hansen 1st 2005 (BOS) 12.2 93.2 and -1.9 (out of baseball)
Joey Devine 1st 2005 (ATL) 26 88.1 and 2.0 (out of baseball)
J.B. Cox 2nd 2005 (NYY) 219 N/A (out of baseball)
Chris Perez 1st 2006 (STL) 85 379.1 and 4.4 (and counting)
Casey Weathers 1st 2007 (COL) 191 (and counting) N/A
Eddie Kunz 1st 2007 (NYM) 68.1 2.2 and -0.2 (out of baseball)
Josh Fields 1st 2008 (SEA) 176.2 98.2 and 0.0 (and counting)
Daniel Schlereth 1st 2008 (ARI) 31 93 and 0.0 (and counting)

This list doesn’t include Brett Cecil, a 2007 first rounder who was a reliever in college the Blue Jays tried to convert into a starter.

Two of those ten reached their ceilings as legitimate late-inning MLB relievers: Street and Perez, and Perez is already pretty close to washed up, so his success didn’t last very long. Eight of the ten got to MLB but most of them had little to no impact — only five of the ten are still active! — and that’s the risk with relievers. If they fall short of their ceilings, they have very little value.

Not counting Cox (got hurt in the minors) and Weathers (hurt and control issues), the average is 63 innings in the minors before their MLB debut for those college relievers, and that is skewed a bit by Fields, who had control issues for a few years before figuring it out. Four made it to MLB in fewer than 41 innings, Lindgren’s career total, but only Street had staying power among those four.

The common thread here: most of those relievers were called up within a year of being drafted and thrust into intense late-inning roles. Both Hansen and Devine were up with the big league team weeks after being drafted, Street made the team out of Spring Training the following year, and Schlereth was up the following May. They’re the most extreme examples.

Hansen was a September call-up but the other three were asked to be late-inning guys right away. Heck, Devine was the Braves postseason roster in 2005, a few weeks after being drafted. Perhaps it was too much, too soon? Making the jump and adjusting to the MLB level is really hard. Making that jump with the pressure of being a high draft pick and then being asked to pitch high-leverage innings right away is an awful lot to take in at once.

Street is one of the very few who was able to have all that dumped on his plate and still thrive. Chad Cordero did the same thing way back in 2003 before blowing out his arm. They’re the exception, not the rule, yet that’s what the expectation seems to be for relievers taken high in the draft. Get to MLB and dominate right away. It hasn’t worked all that often, however, and I’m sure the Yankees have this in mind with Lindgren. This quote from scouting director Damon Oppenheimer last summer sticks out (emphasis mine):

“I kind of leave those decisions for other people. My job’s just to bring the talent into the system. But we just think as a group that he does have the capability of moving through the system hopefully quickly. Whether he’s good enough to go pitch in the big leagues right away, somebody else will make that decision. But he’s obviously advanced. He’s obviously gotten out really good hitters. There’s some history with guys doing this, but there’s also some history with guys getting to the big leagues as relievers too quick and it doesn’t last. We’d like to get impact and longevity from him, not just something that’s real quick.”

Do the Yankees want Lindgren in the big leagues dominating right now? Of course. But they also want Lindgren to have a long career and that’s the priority. They want him to be the next Huston Street, not the next Craig Hansen or Daniel Schlereth. And if that means leaving him in the minors longer than fans originally expected to make the transition as painless as possible, then they seem willing to do that. It might not work! But they’re trying.

Like many of those 2004-08 college relievers, Lindgren has the stuff to get big league hitters out right now, less than one full year after being drafted. Pitchers can survive on stuff alone if necessary, but there’s more to being a successful long-term big leaguer than stuff. Kids making the transition from college to pro ball have to learn how to deal with the day in, day out grind, how to prepare to pitch every day and not just on the weekends, and learn how to cope with failure as much as anything.

Personally, I think relievers — especially slider happy relievers like Lindgren — are so unpredictable and tend to have such short shelf lives that I’d like to see the Yankees get as much out of Lindgren as possible before things go south, whenever that is. If the team feels the best way to maximize Lindgren’s career is to take it slow and keep him in Triple-A longer than his performance warrants, that’s fine too. The track record of college relievers being rushed to MLB is pretty terrible and the Yankees are trying to avoid adding another name to that list.

First inning dominance driving Yankees’ success early in 2015

Why are the Yankees so great in the first inning? These two. (Presswire)
Why are the Yankees so great in the first inning? These two. (Presswire)

Last night the Yankees did something for the ninth time in 13 games this month: they scored in the first inning. Nine times in 13 games! They’ve now scored in the first inning in 16 of their 35 games this year, with last night’s game breaking a tie with the Padres for the most in MLB. New York has scored 36 runs in the first inning in 2015, eight more than any other team.

On the other side of the coin, the Yankees allowed a run in the first inning last night for only the third time in 13 games this month. They’ve allowed a run in the first inning eleven times in 36 games this season, which ranks middle of the pack — 16th fewest in MLB and seventh fewest in the AL. Their 16 first inning runs allowed are the tenth fewest in baseball, so when they do allow the other team to score in the first, it’s usually just one run.

Between their first inning offensive dominance and their average first inning run prevention, the Yankees have the best first inning run differential in baseball at +20. The Orioles have the next best at +11. The Athletics and Pirates are the only other teams in double-digits. More often than not, the Yankees are getting off to a great start and playing from ahead. They’re forcing the other club to play catch-up right from the start.

Usually individual innings splits are pretty meaningless. No one says “this guy is a good fourth inning hitter.” That doesn’t exist. If anything, we’d look at performance the second and third time facing a pitcher. The individual innings mean very little. Now, that said, there’s a pretty obvious explanation for the Yankees’ first inning offensive excellence: Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

The first inning is the only inning in which Ellsbury and Gardner are guaranteed to bat. And not just bat either, they’re guaranteed to lead off. They aren’t coming up with two outs and the bases empty or something like that. They’re starting the inning and setting the table for everyone else. Ellsbury and Gardner have been dominant atop the lineup this year, total game-changers, and they’re always going to bat in the first inning.

The run prevention angle is a little different. As a whole, the Yankees have a league average rotation this year. The group has a 3.93 ERA (3.63 FIP) overall, a touch better than the 4.13 ERA (4.04 FIP) league average thanks mostly to Michael Pineda. Hitters have a 118 OPS+ the first time facing a Yankees starter this year, which applies to the first inning. The team’s average rotation is facing the other team’s best hitters (in theory) in the first inning, and the result is basically middle of the pack run prevention.

Last season the Yankees had -12 first inning run differential and the year before that it was a staggering -33 first inning run differential. The 2013-14 Yankees were constantly playing from behind, it seemed. This year’s squad is the exact opposite — they’re scoring in the first inning on the regular and taking the lead. They’re taking control of the game right from the start and that changes everything. Teams play a little differently when they’re behind. We see it every night.

With Ellsbury and Gardner atop the lineup, I don’t think the Yankees’ first inning offensive success is any sort of fluke. If they’re not the best one-two lineup punch in baseball, they’re on the very short list. It’s either them or Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout in Anaheim. Either way, those two generate so much offense for the Yankees, and it starts right in the first inning. The pitching has been solid as a whole, not great but not terrible, but average pitching plus Ellsbury and Gardner equals a major first inning advantage for the Yankees, and it’s a big reason why they’re off to such a strong start in 2015.

Stephen Drew quickly emerges as backup third baseman as Yankees look for ways to keep A-Rod in the lineup

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Even prior to last season’s suspension, staying on the field has been a bit of a problem for Alex Rodriguez later in his career. He played 664 of 972 possible games from 2008-13 — he hasn’t played more than 140 games in a season since 2007 — due to a variety of injuries, ranging from the very minor (pulled calf in 2010) to the very major (hip surgery in 2009 and 2013).

The Yankees and Joe Girardi have limited A-Rod to mostly DH duty this season — he’s started 27 games at DH, two at third base, and one at first — knowing his 40th birthday is two months away and those two hip surgeries are not far in the rear-view mirror. And yet, Rodriguez is still dealing with a minor hamstring issue, suffered when he legged out that triple over the weekend. His bat is too valuable and they have to do what they can to keep him healthy.

So, in an effort to keep A-Rod in the lineup, he is no longer being considered Chase Headley‘s backup at third base. Stephen Drew spent some time working out at the hot corner in recent days and was thrown into the fire last night, getting the start at the hot corner. Girardi confirmed this is all because they’re looking to scale back Rodriguez’s time in the field. “We’re just thinking of keeping him at DH mostly,” said the skipper to Mark Feinsand.

Drew had never played third base as a pro before last night but didn’t seem too concerned about manning the hot corner — “I’ll be fine. You’ve got to do it sometime, right?” he said to Feinsand — after all, he had never played second base until the Yankees ran him out there last summer. He spent a few days taking ground balls at third and wasn’t really tested last night. Had one kinda sorta tough play. That was it.

Didi Gregorius played ten innings at third base last year, his only time at the hot corner in his career, but I understand why the Yankees didn’t try him at third. He’s settled in nicely at shortstop after a rocky start and he could possibly be a long-term solution there. Drew’s the guy you move around, the guy on a one-year contract trying to hang on. Jose Pirela, the other third base candidate on the roster, has played only 14 career minor league games at third.

There’s nothing wrong with having Drew or anyone else take ground balls at third base before games — guys work out at other positions all the time — though it was a surprise to see him start a game at the position so soon. The real issue is A-Rod’s lack of flexibility. He’s hitting very well, so the Yankees want him in the lineup every day, but the only real way to do that is by keeping him at DH. That means fewer DH days for the defensively challenged and also old Carlos Beltran, for Brian McCann, for everyone.

Only a handful of teams have full-time DHs these days. It’s basically just the Yankees, Red Sox (David Ortiz), Tigers (Victor Martinez), Athletics (Billy Butler), and Royals (Kendrys Morales). Everyone else uses a rotating DH and MLB seems to be moving in that direction. The Yankees did it the last three or four years in fact. They can’t do it now because of A-Rod, and now his apparently inability to play third even part-time gives Girardi even less maneuverability.

That said, if eliminating Rodriguez’s time in the field is the best way to keep him in the lineup on a regular basis, then that’s what they have to do. A-Rod has very quickly re-established himself as a core piece of the offense. If using Drew at third base is the best way to keep Alex healthy and in the lineup, so be it.