The Suddenly Productive Farm System [2015 Season Review]

Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)

This past season the Yankees received more production from their farm system than they did in any year since Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang arrived in 2005. And because of that, they’ll take a hit in the various farm system rankings next spring. Top prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird graduated to MLB, as did the since traded John Ryan Murphy.

When you lose two high-end talents like Severino and Bird to the big leagues, your system is going to take a hit. That’s life. You’d rather the system take a hit because of graduations than failing prospects, and in recent years the Yankees were dealing with too much of the latter. With new farm system head Gary Denbo in charge, the system took a step forward this summer and gave the MLB team help, the kind of help that wasn’t always available in recent years. Let’s review the season on the farm.

The Top Prospect

Coming into the season it was debatable whether Severino or OF Aaron Judge was the Yankees’ top prospect. I went with Judge for a number of reasons, including the inherent injury risk with pitchers. Severino zoomed to the big leagues this summer while Judge split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, hitting .258/.332/.446 (124 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 127 total games.

Judge dominated the Double-A level (147 wRC+ with 12 HR in 63 games) but had a tougher time in Triple-A (98 wRC+ with 8 HR in 61 games), which isn’t all that uncommon. He was facing pitchers with big league experience for the first time and they picked him apart, mostly by taking advantage of his big strike zone — Judge is 6-foot-7, remember — with high fastballs and soft stuff away.

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, Judge’s strikeout rate did not spike in Triple-A, at least not insanely so. He had a 25.3% strikeout rate at High-A, a 25.0% strikeout rate in Double-A, and a 28.5% strikeout rate in Triple-A. That’s three extra strikeouts per 100 plate appearances. Judge did have some ugly strikeout heavy slumps with the RailRiders, but overall the strikeout increase was not alarming.

That isn’t to say Judge’s strikeouts aren’t an issue. He’s always going to strike out a lot, he’s a huge guy with a big zone, but you’d rather see him hover around 25.0 K% rather than 28.0+ K% long-term. The power is there though. Judge hit three more homers and two more doubles in 2015 than 2014 despite getting 23 fewer plate appearances, playing against better competition, and playing in worse hitters parks.

The less than stellar showing at Triple-A ensures Judge will return to the RailRiders to start 2016 so he can work on controlling the strike zone a little better (his 9.8% walk rate was above-average, for what it’s worth) and laying off soft stuff off the plate. Judge has big power and his right field defense is easy to overlook. He’s a really good athlete with a strong arm who’s an asset in the field. Hiccup in Triple-A notwithstanding, Judge remains New York’s top prospect in my book.

Mateo. (Jerry Coli)
Mateo. (Jerry Coli)

The Big Name Breakout Prospects

It’s weird to consider C Gary Sanchez a breakout prospect because he’s been one of the best prospects in the organization for a few years now, but a few things finally clicked this year, mostly in terms of his maturity. It helped him reach the big leagues in September. Sanchez is now a candidate — if not the favorite — to replace Murphy as the Brian McCann‘s backup next summer.

SS Jorge Mateo, another one of the team’s top prospects, also broke out this past season in the sense that he played his first full season. The 20-year-old speedster hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with a minor league leading 82 steals in 99 attempts (83% success rate) in 117 games with (mostly) Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. No other player stole more than 75 bases this year. If you want to argue Mateo (or Sanchez) is the Yankees’ top prospect and not Judge, I’d disagree, but I’d understand.

A few years ago RHP Rookie Davis was an interesting name literally because of his name. His real name is William but a nickname like Rookie gets you noticed. Davis took a big step forward this year, especially with the command of his mid-90s heater/curveball combination. Walk rate is a control stat, not a command stat, though it is notable he cut his walk rate from 7.6% last year to 4.7% his year. Davis had a 3.86 ERA (2.47 FIP) in 130.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

OF Dustin Fowler, 20, also made the jump from sleeper to bonafide prospect this summer by hitting .298/.334/.394 (113 wRC+) with 20 doubles, five homers, and 30 stolen bases in 123 games at Low-A and High-A. He then had a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Fowler has been playing baseball full-time for only two years now — he was also a top football recruit in high school — and he’s starting to turn his power/speed/defense tool package into baseball ability.

And finally, the biggest breakout prospect of the summer was OF Ben Gamel, who’s spent the last few years as a depth player and not an actual prospect. Thee 23-year-old hit .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) with 28 doubles, 14 triples, ten homers, and 13 steals in 129 games, all at Triple-A. Gamel’s power finally started to blossom and he’s now a legitimate big league candidate. He and Davis were added to the 40-man roster last month.

The Emerging Depth

Farm systems will always be defined by their star power, that’s just the way it goes, though depth is important as well. The Yankees had several lower profile prospects — guys who don’t necessarily project to be stars but do have a chance to contribute at the big league level in a meaningful way — emerge this summer, including SS Tyler Wade, RHP Brady Lail, LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Cale Coshow, and RHP Domingo Acevedo.

Wade. (The Times of Trenton)
Wade. (The Times of Trenton)

Wade, 21, had an ugly 21-game cameo with Double-A Trenton (37 wRC+) late in the season after a strong showing with High-A Tampa (117 wRC+). He hit .262/.321/.333 (99 wRC+) in 127 total games overall in 2015 and is a contact-oriented left-handed hitting middle infielder with the defensive chops for either side of the second base bag. At the very least, Wade is in position to have a long career as a backup infielder.

The 22-year-old Lail is a major player development success for the Yankees. He was the team’s 18th round pick in the 2012 draft as an extremely raw high schooler from Utah. The Yankees have helped mold him into a four-pitch righty who is in position to give the team serviceable innings soon. Lail had a 2.91 ERA (3.51 FIP) in 148.1 innings for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2015, though he didn’t miss any bats (13.8 K%). He offers a fastball, curveball, cutter, and changeup. The ceiling is not all that high here, but Lail can help.

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old Montgomery was one of the best pitchers in the system this season, posting a 2.95 ERA (2.61 FIP) with very good strikeout (24.1%) and walk (6.6%) rates in 134 innings at Low-A and High-A. Montgomery spent three years in South Carolina’s rotation facing tough SEC lineups, so Single-A lineups were no challenge. He’s another four-pitch guy (fastball, cutter, curve, change) and we’ll find out if Montgomery is for real next season, when he heads to Double-A Trenton.

Coshow is an interesting prospect. For starters, the guy is listed at 6-foot-5 and 260 lbs., so he’s an intimidating presence on the mound. Secondly, he had a 2.45 ERA (2.80 FIP) with good strikeout (21.5%) and walk (6.2%) numbers in 114 innings at three levels in 2015. He topped out at Double-A. Coshow, 23, performed so well the Yankees moved him from a relief role into a starting role at midseason. He’s got a huge fastball, sitting 95-97 and hitting 100 mph in relief, and he backs it up with a wipeout slider. I don’t think Coshow’s a starter long-term, but gosh, that’s a nice looking relief prospect.

And finally, the 21-year-old Acevedo is either one of the best prospects in the organization or just an interesting arm with a long way to go, depending who you ask. Acevedo had a 1.81 ERA (2.89 FIP) with a lot of strikeouts (26.6%) and an average number of walks (7.9%) in 49.2 innings with mostly Short Season Staten Island this summer. He’s another huge guy (6-foot-7) who has touched triple digits, and his changeup is pretty good too. Acevedo needs to figure out a breaking ball at some point to avoid a future in the bullpen.

The Reclamation Prospects

At this time last year both OF Mason Williams and OF Slade Heathcott were afterthoughts. Williams didn’t hit at all from 2013-14 and he was dogged by maturity issues. Heathcott simply couldn’t stay healthy. The two came to Spring Training healthy this year and with positive attitudes, and they put themselves back on the prospect map. Both made their MLB debuts in the first half. It might not sound like much, but Williams and Heathcott went from non-factors to the show in about six months. That’s pretty darn cool.

The Best of the Rest

The Yankees had to be pleased with what they saw from 3B Eric Jagielo (141 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton) before he jammed his knee sliding into home plate in June and had to have it scoped, ending his season. Jagielo’s defense is still a huge question, but the guy can hit, especially for power. IF Abi Avelino and IF Thairo Estrada both had nice seasons in the low minors — Avelino stole 54 bases and Estrada had a 108 wRC+ with Short Season Staten Island.

OF Rob Refsnyder, LHP Jacob Lindgren, and RHP Bryan Mitchell gave the Yankees some mileage at the big league level, and the team turned OF Ramon Flores and RHP Jose Ramirez into Dustin Ackley. The 2014-15 international spending spree added a bevy of prospects to the system and the 2015 draft added even more talent, with RHP James Kaprielian, SS Wilkerman Garcia, RHP Drew Finley, SS Hoy Jun Park, 3B Dermis Garcia, and RHP Chance Adams among the most notable new additions. Also, 2B Tony Renda came over in the David Carpenter trade.

The Disappointing Prospects

It’s not all good news, of course. Several prospects had disappointing seasons, most notably OF Tyler Austin. He hit .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) in 94 regular season games and was demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason. The Yankees dropped Austin from the 40-man roster in September and he slipped through waivers unclaimed.

3B Miguel Andujar did the bad first half/good second half thing again, though the end result was a .243/.288/.363 (98 wRC+) line in 130 High-A Tampa games. At some point Andujar has to put together a full productive season. Bonus baby OF Leonardo Molina hit .247/.290/.364 (96 wRC+) while repeating the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Age is on his side though — Molina turned 18 in July. Yes, he’s still only 18. Austin, Andujar, and Molina were the biggest disappointments among the team’s top 30 prospects.

Clarkin. (MLB.com screen grab)
Clarkin. (MLB.com screen grab)

The Inevitable Injures

Injuries are part of baseball. That’s just the way it is. The Yankees had several high-profile prospects suffer significant injuries in 2015. LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow inflammation), C Luis Torrens (shoulder surgery), RHP Domingo German (Tommy John surgery), RHP Austin DeCarr (Tommy John surgery), and RHP Ty Hensley (Tommy John surgery) combined for zero regular season games played this year. Zero.

That is two of the top six, three of the top eleven, and five of the top 18 prospects in the organization according to my preseason rankings. (Four of the top seven pitching prospects!) Ouch. Literally and figuratively. On the bright side, Clarkin did avoid the zipper and was able to throw 24.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League. But still, that’s a lot of really good prospects going down with major injuries. The Clarkin and Torrens injuries really took a bite out of the system. They have the most upside.

* * *

Overall, the 2015 season was a big success for the Yankees’ farm system because they graduated some impact talent to the big leagues. Severino and Bird look like keepers and future core players. Murphy had a very good season before being traded a few weeks ago. Sanchez and Mateo emerged, Kaprielian was drafted, and Judge reached Triple-A.

The Yankees dipped into their farm system for help whenever possible this season, and I have to think that serves as motivation for the guys still in the minors. They see that if they stay healthy and produce, they’ll get a chance too. Calling up guys like LHP Matt Tracy and OF Taylor Dugas shows the Yankees will now give anyone and everyone an opportunity if they’re the right man for the job.

The 2015 Draft and the Next Wave of Arms [2015 Season Review]

Kaprielian. (John Corneau Photos)
Kaprielian. (John Corneau Photos)

Coming into the season the Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but their position player depth did far exceed their mound depth. You’d like more balance, ideally. Once LHP Ian Clarkin got hurt and it became obvious RHP Luis Severino would soon arrive in MLB, the farm system pitching picture looked even bleaker. The Yankees were light on arms.

The 2015 amateur draft didn’t erase that lack of pitching depth completely, but it did start to the move the team in the right direction. The Yankees selected pitchers with three of their first four picks, four of their first six picks, and 24 of their 41 total picks. Twenty-three of the 35 draft picks they signed were pitchers. Whether the emphasis on arms was intentional or just a coincidence, the Yankees added some much-needing pitching depth to the organization in the draft. Let’s review the class.

The Top Pick

The Yankees did not forfeit their first round pick to sign a free agent last offseason, so they held the 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft. They hadn’t picked that high since taking Florida HS RHP Matt Drews with the 13th pick way back in 1993. Years of good records and forfeiting high picks to sign free agents kept the Yankees away from top 16 picks for more than two decades.

“It did feel a little bit more like that,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer to reporters in June when asked if picking so high came with extra pressure. “It felt like you owe it to the Yankees and you owe it to the organization to get somebody with this pick who’s going to produce and be a quality Major League player. You feel like that about most of them, but when it comes to picking higher than we have since Matt Drews, before I was even here, it does feel that way. I’m not going to lie about it.”

The Yankees used that 16th overall pick to select UCLA RHP James Kaprielian, the fifth pitcher taken in the 2015 draft. Interestingly, a few reports — speculation more than factual reports, I’d say — indicated the Yankees were planning to take a high school bat with their top pick, but the guys they were targeting had already come off the board, namely Florida HS OF Kyle Tucker, George HS SS Cornelius Randolph, New York HS OF Garrett Whitley, and Texas HS OF Trent Clark.

Anyway, Kaprielian landed a slightly above-slot $2.65M bonus a few days before the signing deadline. He allowed six runs (five earned) in 11.1 regular season innings for the Rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate and Short Season Staten Island after turning pro, then he dominated in two postseason starts with the Baby Bombers: 12.1 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 K combined. The Yankees then sent him to Instructional League after the season.

“We do think this guy is at least a No. 3 starter and above” added Oppenheimer. “His stuff definitely is now stuff, and it’s now quality stuff. He has control to go along with mental maturity. It seems it could be (a guy who climbs the ladder quickly), but I don’t know the timetables on these guys. It’s too hard to tell. But he shouldn’t have to spend too much time at the lower levels.”

I think there’s a real chance we’ll see Kaprielian in the big leagues in the second half next season. He could follow something along the lines of Ian Kennedy’s path, meaning ten starts with High-A Tampa, eight with Double-A Trenton, six with Triple-A Scranton, then the big leagues in August and September. Obviously he has to perform and show big league stuff, but Kaprielian should move very quickly.

I normally like to be conservative with young pitchers, but Kaprielian’s an exception. There’s no reason to hold a polished college guy with command of multiple offspeed pitches back. Being ready soon is part of his appeal.

The Other Quick Moving Guy

Kaprielian has a chance to reach the show in the second half of next season and it’s entirely possible he will be only the second 2015 Yankees draftee to reach MLB. Dallas Baptist RHP Chance Adams (fifth round) reached High-A Tampa in his pro debut and had a 1.78 ERA (1.75 FIP) in 35.1 innings at three levels. He struck out 31.7% of batters faced and walked only 6.3%. Adams was overwhelming.

Obviously the numbers are great, but Adams also saw his stuff jump a notch in pro ball. He went from sitting low-to-mid-90s in college this spring to sitting mid-90s and touching as high as 99 after signing, and his already good slider gained consistency with pro instruction. Adams is a pure reliever and I think he’ll start next season with Double-A Trenton. If starts 2016 with the same stuff he had at the end of 2015, the only question about Adams’ readiness will be how soon the Yankees want to clear a 40-man roster spot for him.

The Bonus Baby Arms

In addition to Kaprielian, the Yankees signed two other pitchers to well-above-slot bonuses using the savings from the late-round draft pool manipulating picks. (They took cheaper prospects in rounds 7-10 to save pool space.) First they gave California HS RHP Drew Finley (third round) a $950,000 bonus, about 50% over slot. Then they gave Louisville LHP Josh Rogers (11th) a $485,000 bonus, nearly five times slot.

Finley was a potential late-first round pick who slipped into the third round. He allowed a shocking number of walks (12.6%) and homers (2.53 HR/9!) in his 32-inning pro debut with the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate, but he still missed bats (27.2%) and showed a bat-missing curveball. Finley’s not a hard-thrower — he was mostly 89-91 mph this summer — but he has a pretty good plan on the mound and is already making strides with his changeup.

The Yankees were able to lure Rogers, a draft-eligible sophomore, away from school following his strong showing in the Cape Cod League. He allowed six runs in 13.1 innings for Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston, striking out 16 and walking three. Rogers is a three-pitch southpaw — low-90s gas, good slider, improving changeup — who can locate well, so he has a chance to remain a starter.

Degano. (Robert Pimpsner)
Degano. (Robert Pimpsner)

The Other Top Picks

The Yankees picked up a supplemental first round pick when David Robertson signed with the White Sox, and they used that pick (30th overall) on San Diego SS Kyle Holder. Holder didn’t hit in his pro debut — .213/.273/.253 (57 wRC+) around a nagging thumb injury with Short Season Staten Island — but his bat is not his calling card anyway. He’s an elite defender at shortstop, and that’s one heck of a carrying tool.

Indiana State LHP Jeff Degano was New York’s second round pick and third selection overall. He spent some time piggybacking with Kaprielian for Short Season Staten Island and allowed eleven runs in 21.1 pro innings, striking out 22 and walking nine. Degano missed the entire 2014 college season following Tommy John surgery, though he worked off the rust in the spring, and showed a low-90s heater with a sharper low-80s breaking ball. He’s not as polished as Rogers but offers more upside as a high strikeout lefty.

Late-Round Pitching Depth

In Alabama RHP Will Carter (14th) and BYU RHP Kolton Mahoney (16th), the Yankees added two promising depth arms who could follow in the footsteps of guys like Chase Whitley (15th round in 2010) and David Phelps (14th round in 2018) to give the Yankees serviceable innings. Is that exciting? No, but we’re talking about the double-digit rounds here.

Carter has maybe the best fastball the Yankees drafted this year — he sat 96-97 mph with his sinker for Short Season Staten Island. I saw him pitch a few times this summer and couldn’t believe a guy with that kind of fastball lasted until the 14th round. Carter had a 2.04 ERA (3.91 FIP) in 17.2 innings for the Baby Bombers and, not surprisingly, he generated 5.4 ground balls for every fly ball. He’s a reliever.

Mahoney has an interesting backstory. He didn’t pitch at all from 2012-13 because he was on a Mormon mission, so his arm is relatively fresh. Mahoney had a 2.29 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 55 innings for Short Season Staten Island and is a four-pitch starter: low-90s fastball plus a curveball, slider, and changeup. His command is good considering his relative inexperience and he has the stuff to stay in the rotation.

Position Player Prospects

The 2015 draft wasn’t all pitchers, just mostly pitchers. In addition to Holder, the best position player prospects the Yankees drafted this summer are Florida Southern OF Jhalan Jackson (seventh) and Florida JuCo OF Isiah Gilliam (20th). Florida JuCo OF Trey Amburgey (13th) had an incredible pro debut — he hit .335/.388/.502 (161 wRC+) in 62 games split between the GCL and Short Season Staten Island — and has tools, but is more interesting sleeper than bonafide prospect.

Jackson hit .266/.338/.452 (133 wRC+) with Short Season Staten Island and showed off both his raw power (five homers and .186 ISO) and swing-and-missability (29.8 K%). He has classic right field tools, meaning power, a strong arm, and some speed. Jackson can hit a mistake a mile but must improve against breaking balls and with pitch recognition in general to succeed at the upper levels.

The Yankees gave Gilliam a well-above slot $450,000 bonus and he showed a more advanced approach than expected in pro ball, hitting .296/.359/.415 (132 wRC+) with a 15.0% strikeout rate and a 9.8% walk rate in 42 GCL games. He hit only one homer, but power remains his calling card. Gilliam’s a switch-hitter with thump from both sides, and his athleticism allowed him to move to the outfield after being drafted as a first baseman.

Oregon State OF Jeff Hendrix (fourth), Texas JuCo IF Brandon Wagner (sixth), and Arizona HS 3B Donny Sands (eighth) are other position player draftees worth keeping an eye on. Wagner has the most power, Sands the most two-way ability, and Hendrix the highest probability. He could help as a speedy fourth outfielder down the line.

* * *

The draft is always a lot of fun and super exciting … then the novelty quickly wears off. It usually doesn’t take long for the prospects to separate themselves from the suspects. Even the lowest levels of professional baseball are hard. Almost every pro player was the best player on his college or high school team, after all.

The Yankees landed themselves a very good starter pitching prospect (Kaprielian) and a very good bullpen prospect (Adams) in the 2015 draft. They added three more solid arms (Degano, Finley, Rogers), several position players with carrying tools (Holder, Jackson, Gilliam), and a few promising late-rounders (Carter, Mahoney). There’s still plenty of time for others to emerge, but right now, six months after the draft, those guys are the keys to the 2015 draft for the Yankees.

The Early Returns from the 2014-15 International Spending Spree [2015 Season Review]

Wilkerman. (MLB.com)
Wilkerman. (MLB.com)

Four years ago, the MLBPA collectively bargained away the earning potential of amateur players. Spending restrictions were put in place for both the draft and international free agency, and while the spending limits are a soft cap, they do come with harsh penalties. Teams are given a bonus pool for the draft and international free agency, and exceeding the bonus pool comes with a hefty price.

Two summers ago, the Yankees decided to flex their financial muscle and go on a massive international spending spree. Their bonus pool was only $2.2M, but they spent upwards of $16M on bonuses during the 2014-15 signing period. As a result, they were taxed 100% on the overage — that’s another $14M or so in tax, mean the total cost was $30M+ — and are unable to hand out a bonus larger than $300,000 during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods.

The Yankees were willing to pay the penalties to haul in the vast majority of the top talent available. They signed about four years worth of high-end international prospects in one signing period. Other teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Royals followed suit this past summer and blew their bonus pools out of the water. I’m guessing MLB and the MLBPA will look to change the system when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires next offseason.

Anyway, the 2014-15 signing period was very heavy on position player prospects. There weren’t a ton of high quality arms to go around, so almost all the prospects the Yankees landed are hitters. Yeah, some balance would have been nice, but more pitching prospects weren’t going to pop out of thin air. The Yankees hoarded position player talent and those players made their pro debuts during the 2015 season. Let’s look at the early returns.

Stellar Debuts in the States

Rather than be held back in the Dominican Summer League, a few of the international signees were brought to the U.S. to begin their pro careers this season. The best of the bunch was Venezuelan SS Wilkerman Garcia ($1.35M bonus), a 17-year-old switch-hitter who hit .299/.414/.362 (140 wRC+) with 25 walks and 19 strikeouts in 39 Rookie Gulf Coast League games. He’s a solid defender and may wind up at second base long-term, but he offers high-end bat-to-ball skills.

Hoy Jun Park
Park. (@myKBO)

Korean SS Hoy Jun Park ($1.16M) also had a strong debut. Park signed out of high school and is already 19, so it’s no surprise the Yankees brought him stateside for his first pro season. He hit .239/.351/.383 (109 wRC+) with five homers, 12 steals, a 19.1% strikeout rate, and a 13.0% walk rate in 56 games for the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate. Park is a legitimate shortstop with strong defensive tools, and the left-handed batter showed this summer he can handle pro pitching, especially big fastballs. His pro debut was rather impressive considering he did not face great competition growing up.

Venezuelan RHP Gilmael Troya ($10,000) is an interesting case because, as his bonus suggests, he was not a high profile prospect at all. The 18-year-old saw his velocity tick up in pro ball, and he now sits in the low-90s consistently. He also has a plan on the mound and the makings of an out-pitch curveball. Troya had a 1.80 ERA (2.97 FIP) with a 27.4% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate in 60 GCL innings this summer. He, Garcia, and Park were the standouts who debuted in the U.S. in 2015.

The Big Money Prospects

When it comes to international free agency, bonuses can tell you quite a bit. The larger the bonus, the more the team likes the player. The bonus doesn’t necessarily reflect the market — you had to offer this much to get him because another team was offering a comparable bonus, for example — because teams zero in on these kids when they’re 14 or 15 years old. They agree to bonuses months or even years in advance, before other teams get a chance to scout them. I’m not joking when I say they hide these kids at their complexes so other scouts don’t see them.

The Yankees gave out seven seven-figure bonuses during the 2014-15 signing period: Dominican SS Dermis Garcia ($3.2M), Dominican 3B Nelson Gomez ($2.25M), Dominican OF Juan DeLeon ($2M), Venezuelan OF Jonathan Amundaray ($1.5M), Venezuelan C Miguel Flames ($1M), Wilkerman, and Park. Like Wilkerman and Park, Dermis Garcia made his pro debut in the U.S. this summer, hitting .159/.256/.188 (46 wRC+) with 25 strikeouts and nine walks in 23 scattered GCL games. (There was a ton of rain in Tampa this year. They went two or three days between games for a few weeks there.)

Garcia, 17, signed as a shortstop but has already moved to third base because he’s a big dude (6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.) and lacks the defensive chops for short. He has huge right-handed raw power and a very strong arm, though he needs refinement at the plate and is very much a long-term project. The unteachable skills are there (power, arm, etc.). Now Garcia just needs to work on his approach and things like that.

The other four seven-figure bonus guys debuted in the Dominican Summer League this year. Gomez, 18, put up a .243/.350/.435 (123 wRC+) line with eleven homers, a 24.3% strikeout rate, and a 12.4% walk rate in 58 DSL games. Similar to Dermis Garcia, Gomez is a big bodied (6-foot-1 and 220 lbs.) masher with righty raw power and a strong arm. He might have more power, actually. His defense is fine and his approach is much more advanced than Garcia’s.

DeLeon, 18, had a statistically underwhelming season, hitting .226/.344/.336 (108 wRC+) with three homers and a 66/25 K/BB in 53 DSL games, but he might be the most tooled up player from the international class. He has high-end bat speed from the right side and strong center field skills, including a very good arm that would be more than fine in right. Don’t read too much into DSL numbers. DeLeon is arguably the best prospect the Yankees signed as part of their spending spree.

The 17-year-old Amundaray was limited to 13 games in the DSL this summer, hitting .111/.346/.167 (72 wRC+) with 12 walks and 12 strikeouts. He’s another guy who is more athletic tools than baseball skills, if you catch my drift. Amundaray has good bat speed and he’s a good runner, but he’s very raw at the plate with less than stellar bat-to-ball ability. He has power from the right side but sells out for it even though he doesn’t need to.

Flames, 18, had the best statistical debut of the big bonus guys, hitting .317/.398/.454 (142 wRC+) with three homers, an 18.5% strikeout rate, and a 9.2% walk rate in 54 DSL games. He did spend most of his time at first base though (only nine games behind the plate) because he’s not a great defender, so he did most of his defensive work behind the scenes. Flames has a pro body (6-foot-2 and 210 lbs.) and his right-handed hit tool/raw power combo is awfully impressive. He was a third baseman who converted to catching shortly before signing.

The international market is not the place for instant gratification. These kids sign at 16 and begin playing at 17, so they’re extremely raw and underdeveloped. The tools are far, far, far more important than the performance. Wilkerman and Park are more advanced than the rest, though Dermis, Gomez, and DeLeon have loud tools and star upside. There’s just a lot of work to be done to reach that ceiling.

Low Cost Prospects

The Yankees have excelled at finding low cost Latin American prospects over the years. You can go back to Robinson Cano, who signed for a $150,000 bonus back in 2001. More recently, the Yankees landed Luis Severino ($225,000) and Jorge Mateo ($250,000) on relatively small bonuses. The million dollar guys get the most attention, understandably, but the mid-range market is where organizational depth is built.

The best six-figure bonus prospect is arguably Venezuelan SS Diego Castillo ($750,000), who put up a .331/.373/.444 (130 wRC+) line with five steals, an 11.6% strikeout rate, and a 6.1% walk rate in 56 DSL games. He’s similar to current Yankees farmhand IF Abi Avelino in that he has no standout tool, but is solid across the board with great instincts that allow everything to play up. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Venezuelan OF Antonio Arias ($800,000) hit .235/.316/.316 (87 wRC+) in 39 DSL games. The 17-year-old is a pure projection play: he’s a high-end athlete with bat speed who is still working to turn those natural gifts into baseball skills. Dominican OF Frederick Cuevas ($300,000), 18, put up a .256/.376/.365 (117 wRC+) line in 57 DSL games. The lefty swinger doesn’t have exciting tools but does know his game as a lefty gap hitter.

The international period begins on July 2nd each year, but it wasn’t until November that the Yankees snagged Colombian OF Brayan Emery ($500,000). He was originally expected to land a $1M+ bonus, but that didn’t happen. The 17-year-old Emery hit .192/.330/.308 (92 wRC+) with three homers, a 29.7% strikeout rate, and a 14.7% walk rate in 61 DSL games this summer. He’s a very exciting prospect, with a smooth left-handed swing and power potential to go with right field defensive tools. Emery needs experience more than anything.

Here are some of the other smaller bonus guys the Yankees landed during the 2014-15 international signing period. Again, “smaller bonus” is a relative term.

  • Dominican OF Lisandro Blanco ($550,000), 18: .291/.391/.355 (122 wRC+) in 41 DSL games. Top notch tools, including great bat speed and high-end athleticism.
  • Venezuelan OF Leobaldo Cabrera ($250,000), 17: .298/.367/.382 (116 wRC+) in 59 DSL games. His best tools are top of the line arm strength and an advanced approach at the plate.
  • Dominican IF Griffin Garabito ($225,000), 18: .256/.328/.312 (94 wRC+) in 62 GCL games. Versatile infielder who is known for his bat-to-ball ability. The Yankees liked him enough to bring him stateside in 2015.
  • Venezuelan C Jason Lopez ($100,000), 17: .240/.337/.301 (91 wRC+) in 42 DSL games. Recently converted third baseman with a very strong arm and some power potential.
  • Dominican OF Erick Mendez ($250,000), 19: .281/.381/.465 (140 wRC+) in 51 DSL games. Good all-around ability — bat speed, power potential, arm, speed — but needs to face age appropriate competition to really develop.
  • Venezuelan OF Raymundo Moreno ($600,000), 17: .067/.125/.067 (-33 wRC) in six DSL games. Standout defensive center fielder with bat speed and a knack for trying to muscle up for power at the plate.
  • Venezuelan OF Pablo Olivares ($400,000), 17: .267/.370/.359 (116 wRC+) in 32 DSL games. Another great defender in center with excellent athleticism. His line drive approach doesn’t project to produce much power down the road.
  • Venezuelan IF Danienger Perez ($300,000), 19: .245/.311/.382 (104 wRC+) in 69 games between the DSL, GCL, and Short Season Staten Island. Perez is a slap-hitting defense first prospect.

The Yankees also signed Venezuelan RHP Servando Hernandez ($200,000), Venezuelan IF Wander Hernandez (unknown), and Dominican LHP Luis Pache (unknown) during the 2014-15 international signing period, but I can’t find any information on them. They didn’t play at all in 2015. It’s possible their contract agreements hit a snag, maybe due to age and identity issues. That stuff still happens on occasion even though MLB enlisted Sandy Alderson to crack down a few years back.

* * *

International free agency is a much different animal than the amateur draft. International prospects usually sign at 16 years old, so we’re talking sophomore in high school age. They’re very raw, and while recent pop-up leagues have helped, there’s not much high-caliber competition in Latin America. These kids aren’t on the high school showcase circuit strutting their stuff against other top high school talent from around the country, you know?

All the players the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period are just starting their pro careers. One season — it’s not even a full season, these guys played in short season leagues this year and are lucky to have 60 games under their belt — doesn’t tell us a whole lot. You’ve got to start somewhere though. That no one suffered a catastrophic injury or went through a growth spurt that sapped their athleticism makes year one a success.

Dingers, Inherited Runners & Challenges [2015 Season Review]

Gardner hit seven three-run homers in 2015. (Presswire)
Gardner hit seven three-run homers in 2015. (Presswire)

Every year when I plan out the Season Review series, I always end up with more topics than posts. I start out rather ambitiously, then I run out of gas a few weeks later. We’re all sick of discussing 2015, right? The offseason is in full swing and we’re all looking ahead to 2016.

Anyway, there are a few weird statistical quirks I want to look at as part of the Season Review. They’re not worth their own individual posts so I’m going to just lump them together. We’ll look at these now, then next week we’ll wrap the whole Season Review thing up with some minor league reviews and that’ll be that. Away we go.

Three-Run Dingers

It was fun to get back to calling the Yankees the Bronx Bombers unironically this season. The Yankees hit only 144 home runs in 2013, 101 fewer than they hit in 2012. That’s the largest year-to-year decline in baseball history. The Yankees improved in 2013 and hit … 147 home runs. The team rebounded to hit 212 homers in 2015, the fourth most in baseball. Only the Blue Jays (232), Astros (230), and Orioles (217) hit more.

While watching the season play out, it felt like the Yankees hit an inordinate number of three-run home runs. Especially Brian McCann. Is it just me, or does it seem like the guy hits nothing but three-run homers? (He hit a team high seven this year.) The Yankees led baseball with 40 three-run dingers in 2015. Forty! Know who was second? The Rockies, Phillies, Astros, and Blue Jays. They each hit 23. The Yankees hit 17 more three-run homers than any other team this summer. They nearly doubled the second place teams.

The last team to hit 40+ three-run home runs was the 1996 Mariners (42). Heck, the last team to hit 30+ three-run homers was the 2007 Indians (30). Hitting three-run home runs is not a skill. Hitting home runs is a skill, but coming to the plate with two guys on base is not. This is just one of those weird things. The Yankees hit a lot of home runs this year in general, and they just so happened to hit a bunch with two men on base.

By the way, the Yankees ranked sixth in solo homers (115), eighth in two-run homers (50), and second in grand slams (seven) in 2015. The Giants hit nine grand slams and eight three-run homers this season. Weird.

Inherited Runners

The Yankees had a really good bullpen this past season, though they only stranded 29% of inherited runners, which is basically league average (30%). Here are the team’s relievers who inherited at least ten base-runners this season, via Baseball Reference:

Name IP G IR IS IS%
Justin Wilson* 61.0 74 44 7 16%
Chasen Shreve* 58.1 59 43 15 35%
Dellin Betances 84.0 74 41 11 27%
Adam Warren 131.1 43 17 4 24%
Chris Martin 20.2 24 15 7 47%
Esmil Rogers 33.0 18 15 7 47%
Nick Rumbelow 15.2 17 13 3 23%
Andrew Miller* 61.2 60 12 2 17%
Branden Pinder 27.2 25 10 5 50%

No real surprise here. Justin Wilson, Chasen Shreve, and Dellin Betances were Joe Girardi‘s firemen this year. Andrew Miller was married to the ninth inning, so those three were the guys Girardi turned to when he need an out(s) with men on base. They all inherited way more runners than the team’s other relievers. Wilson did a fantastic job stranding runners. Betances was slightly better than average and Shreve slightly worse.

What about the other side of the inherited runners coin? Which starters received the most help from the bullpen and which the least? Here’s the bequeathed runner data, again via Baseball Reference:

Name IP G GS BQR BQS BQS%
Nathan Eovaldi 154.1 27 27 31 8 26%
Adam Warren 131.1 43 17 27 5 19%
CC Sabathia* 167.1 29 29 22 7 32%
Michael Pineda 160.2 27 27 18 5 28%
Bryan Mitchell 29.2 20 2 16 6 38%
Chris Capuano* 40.2 22 4 14 5 36%
Ivan Nova 94.0 17 17 9 4 44%
Luis Severino 62.1 11 11 4 0 0%
Masahiro Tanaka 154.0 24 24 4 2 50%
Chase Whitley 19.1 4 4 3 2 66%

Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda all hovered right around the team/MLB average. Believe it or not, Masahiro Tanaka was taken out of a game in the middle of an inning only six times in 24 starts this year, hence the low number of bequeathed runners.

Adam Warren, on the other hand, got a lot of help from the bullpen. They did a real nice job stranding runners for him. If they’d allowed inherited runners to scored at the team average 29% rate, Warren’s ERA would go from 3.29 to 3.84. Ivan Nova, Chris Capuano, and Bryan Mitchell didn’t get much help from the bullpen either, but they didn’t leave a ton of men on base in their limited innings.

Not all inherited runners are the same — inheriting a man on first with two outs is much different than inheriting a runner on third with no outs, for example — and as far as I know, there’s no place that breaks down all the separate inherited runner situations. That would really tell use who did the best job stranding runners. Overall, the Yankees were a league average club when it came to leaving dudes on base this year.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Replay Challenges

Once again, the Yankees had an extremely high success rate with replay challenges in 2015. The Yankees had 24 of 32 calls overturned on replay this year, or 75%. That was easily the best success rate in the game. The Mariners were a distant second at 71.8%. No other team was over 70%. Credit goes to baseball operations assistant Brett Weber, the guy in the clubhouse watching the video and telling the coaching staff whether to challenge.

Those 32 challenges were the ninth fewest in baseball. (The Rays and Tigers had the fewest challenges with 27 each while the Rangers had the most with 54.) That’s a lot of unused challenges. I wouldn’t be opposed to Girardi being a little more liberal with them going forward. Yeah, the success rate might drop, but it might help you win another game or two. Say a bang-bang play in the late innings of a close game. Weber might give you a thumbs down, but if it’s a really close play in an important spot, roll the dice and maybe the MLB folks in midtown see it differently.

Either way, the Yankees have been extremely successful with their challenges in the two years the system has been in place. (Last year they went 23-for-28, or 82.1%.) I’m not sure I’d call this a skill. I’d rather just say Weber is really good at his job, looking over the replays in a timely fashioning and advising the staff whether they should challenge. A few more Hail Mary challenges might not be a bad idea though. It’s okay to shoot from the hip once in a while.

The Big Ballpark in the Bronx [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2015 season was the Yankees’ seventh in the new Yankee Stadium. The new park has already been home to one World Series champ, and it has seen its fair share of historic moments too. Just this summer Alex Rodriguez recorded his 3,000th hit in the Bronx. He also took over sole possession of fourth place on the all-time home run list with a Yankee Stadium blast.

The new Stadium is unequal parts beautiful and excess. The new place doesn’t have the charm of the old Yankee Stadium and it never will, partly because the old ballpark has been romanticized into something it never truly was. I enjoy the nice wide concourses and adequately sized bathrooms of the new place. I also miss the upper deck overhang and a Monument Park I can actually see. Oh well. Anyway, let’s review the 2015 season at Yankee Stadium.

Big Attendance Drop

According to the attendance numbers at Baseball Reference, attendance dropped big time in 2015. In fact, the Yankees had their worst attendance since moving into the new Stadium. Here’s the numbers:

Year W L Finish Playoffs Attendance Attend/G Rank
2015 87 75 2 Lost ALWC (1-0) 3,193,795 39,430 1st of 15
2014 84 78 2 3,401,624 41,995 1st of 15
2013 85 77 3 3,279,589 40,489 1st of 15
2012 95 67 1 Lost ALCS (4-0) 3,542,406 43,733 1st of 14
2011 97 65 1 Lost LDS (3-2) 3,653,680 45,107 1st of 14
2010 95 67 2 Lost ALCS (4-2) 3,765,807 46,491 1st of 14
2009 103 59 1 Won WS (4-2) 3,719,358 45,918 1st of 14

Attendance dropped roughly 2,500 fans per game this summer. Of course, the Yankees still led the league in attendance, so it’s not like they fell back to middle of the pack or something. They just didn’t draw as many fans as they did in previous years. The new Stadium honeymoon period is coming to an end.

The Yankees did not have a farewell tour this year, which hurt attendance. Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter helped put some butts in the seats down the stretch the last two years, even without serious postseason drives. Attendance was always going to decline somewhat for that reason. And after back-to-back postseason-less years, of course fewer fans were going to come to the park. That’s how this pro sports thing works.

I have zero answers for the attendance situation. I have no idea how the Yankees can fill the Legends Seats — lower the prices? fine, but everyone still goes inside to hang out — or get more fans to the ballpark on weeknights. All I know is attendance declined this summer, and, frankly, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it went down again next year.

Metal Detectors & Long Lines

This season MLB required all 30 clubs to have metal detectors at their entrances, and man, it was a pain. The lines got to be pretty long at times — the wildcard game was a total nightmare — and folks coming from the city after work would often miss the first inning or two because it took so long to get into the damn building.

The metal detectors are here to stay. There’s nothing the Yankees can do about that. The team can do something about the process of going through the metal detectors though. The lines themselves were often run poorly with unclear directions and no actual lines, just a blob of people standing together. The process can be streamlined, no doubt. Hopefully this is something the Yankees improve next season. No one goes to the ballpark looking for the airport experience.

Three New Retired Numbers

The Yankees held four special ceremonies his summer to honor former players. Willie Randolph was given a plaque in Monument Park while Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams had their numbers retired. The Yankees also dedicated a plaque in Mel Stottlemyre’s honor as part of a very touching surprise ceremony.

That was really sweet and well done. Mel’s been battling cancer and it wasn’t clear he would even be able to travel from his home in Washington to the Bronx for Old Timers’ Day. He made it though, and the Yankees surprised him. That was a season highlight for sure.

Anyway, the three new numbers were retired, and they all look great. I think. The lack of space means the new numbers had to be hung at the front of Monument Park, on the opposite side of the outfield wall. So they’re all facing the other numbers, not included with them.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

That’s … weird. I mean, I get it, they ran out of space, but leaving those three numbers by themselves on the other side of Monument Park would be pretty lame. Hopefully the Yankees can squeeze some space alongside the other numbers this offseason. It’s bad enough Monument Park is hiding under the restaurant. Can they at least put all the retired numbers together? Pretty please?

NYCFC

The Yankees had a roommate this year. The New York City Football Club, a Major League Soccer expansion franchise, called Yankee Stadium home in 2015 as they worked to land a facility of their own.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As far as I know, the field itself was kept in good shape. I was worried it would get torn up but that wasn’t the case. Later in the season we could see lines in the outfield, though it wasn’t that noticeable. The soccer pitch spanned left field to right field and covered only part of the infield, so the mound was fine — it wasn’t torn down and rebuilt every time NYCFC played a game — and the infield grass was nearly untouched.

Nothing has been made official yet, but NYCFC is expected to call Yankee Stadium their home again next season. And maybe the season after that too. The grounds crew did a great job this year. The field was really no issue whatsoever. Based on this season, there’s no reason to think sharing the park will be an issue going forward.

The Good & Bad of the Trade Deadline [2015 Season Review]

Price. (Presswire)
Price. (Presswire)

On July 24th, one week before the trade deadline, the Yankees were 53-42 and 5.5 games up in the AL East. They had scored the second most runs in baseball (435) but also allowed the 12th most (409) at the time. They were pretty healthy too. Andrew Miller and Jacoby Ellsbury had both returned from their injuries, and Ivan Nova had returned from Tommy John surgery.

Things were going pretty darn well for the Yankees in late-July. There were also some clear needs, particularly at second base and in the rotation. Getting another starter was going to take some creativity because the Yankees had five starters (six if you count Adam Warren), though they sorely lacked an innings eater and, frankly, a dominator. Masahiro Tanaka had his moments but there was a little too much mediocrity mixed in to call him a true ace.

Given those needs, the nice but not entirely comfortable lead in the division, and the fact they hadn’t been to the postseason in either of the last two years, I thought the Yankees would be aggressive at the trade deadline. Instead, they walked away with Dustin Ackley and nothing else. That doesn’t mean they didn’t try to get help, it just means they didn’t pull the trigger on anything. In the end, the results were both good and bad.

The Good: Keep the Kids

Scroll back through our various Trade Deadline Open Threads and you’ll see the Yankees were connected to a whole bunch of players before the deadline, some more than others. They were in on guys like Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija, Yovani Gallardo, Carter Capps, Tyler Clippard, and Mat Latos, among others. I don’t even remember half of that.

When it was all said and one, we only heard about three serious offers. Well, four if you count the completed Ackley trade. Here are the three deals that didn’t get done:

The Maybin-for-Sanchez offer makes no sense. The Yankees already had a great right-handed hitting outfielder in Chris Young and literally no roster space for Maybin. I guess they could have acquired Maybin instead of Ackley, but why? That was the Braves trying to get a talented young catcher. Didn’t make sense for New York.

Zobrist, on the other hand, would have fit the Yankees perfectly because he fits every team perfectly. He would have stepped in at second base, an area of great need for New York, and provided them with another switch-hitting bat for the lineup. The Kimbrel stuff came after the Yankees decided the price of rotation help was too high, so they were going to beef up the bullpen instead. Gyorko would have platooned with Stephen Drew at second.

Look at the names involved in those trades. Refsnyder, Sanchez, Mateo. Warren’s not really a kid but he was under control for a few more years and was a really valuable piece of the pitching staff in 2015. Luis Severino and Greg Bird were also mentioned in rumors at the trade deadline. So was Aaron Judge. These guys are all among the top young players in the organization and all except Mateo were knocking on the door of MLB at the trade deadline.

The Yankees kept these players and now most of them are in position to help next season. Heck, Severino and Bird helped almost immediately after the trade deadline. Refsnyder helped later in the year. Judge isn’t far off either. There is a clear path for these players to take on significant roles with the Yankees in the extremely near future. Severino has a rotation spot locked up. Refsnyder was going to at least compete for the second base job until the Starlin Castro trade. Bird and Judge are stuck behind Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, though those two will be free agents next winter.

It would have been very easy — and I would have considered it totally justifiable — to trade any of those young players for a rental player at the deadline. Instead, the Yankees stuck to their guns, continued what qualifies as a Yankees youth movement, and kept their top youngsters. Now those players are in line to help and the Yankees will potentially reap the rewards going forward. They held on to their MLB ready guys. We’re not going to wait another two years to see them in pinstripes.

The Bad: Second Half Collapse

The Yankees were 5.5 games up a week before the deadline, seven games up two days before the deadline, and yet they finished six games back in the division. They lost 13 games in the standings to the Blue Jays in the final two months of the season. The Yankees finished one game better than the Astros for the top wildcard spot and two games better than the Angels for a wildcard spot in general.

Zobrist. (Presswire)
Zobrist. (Presswire)

That’s quite a collapse. The Yankees really could have used some help in the second half! Zobrist and even Gyorko would have (potentially) helped the offense, and if nothing else, Kimbrel would have meant fewer innings for the shuttle guys down the stretch in September. There’s also David Price. The Yankees made a run at Price before the deadline but fell short, reportedly because the Tigers really wanted Daniel Norris.

I have a hard time believing it would have been impossible to bridge the gap between Severino and Norris, but it doesn’t really matter now. Price is a balance of power guy. He changes the entire complexion of a division race and we saw that down the stretch. Price dominated (2.30 ERA and 2.22 FIP) for the Blue Jays and they won nine of his eleven starts. He helped them win other games by saving the bullpen too (averaged 6.2 innings per start).

Who knows what would have happened had the Yankees been more willing to trade young players at the deadline. The offense crashed so hard those last few weeks that adding Zobrist or Gyorko or whoever else might not have mattered. The Blue Jays may have beat up on Price and mashed their way to first place anyway had New York landed the left-hander.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say the second half fade could have been slowed somewhat with some deadline help. Enough to win the division? Probably enough. Enough to win the wildcard game? Well that’s a much different story. Price starting that game instead of Tanaka and/or Zobrist/Gyorko instead of Refsnyder at second could have made all the difference in the world.

* * *

Believe me, I’m happy the Yankees kept Severino and Bird and those others guys. I look forward to watching them play next season and beyond. I also appreciate a team that goes for it. Too many clubs are content to sit back and wait for the future. At the time, I wanted the Yankees to go for it at the deadline, especially Price and Zobrist. Not doing so looks smart in hindsight, but only in hindsight in my opinion.

The Sorta New Look Coaching Staff [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
Pena. (Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon we reviewed Joe Girardi’s season while acknowledging how difficult it can be to evaluate a manager. We only see the on-field stuff, which is a very small part of the manager’s job. Evaluating coaches is even more difficult. Outside of the pitching coach making a mound visit or the third base coach waving someone in, all of their work happens behind the scenes.

The Yankees reshuffled their coaching staff last offseason. Hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Mick Kelleher were both let go, bench coach Tony Pena shifted to first base coach, third base coach Rob Thomson shifted to bench coach, and new hires Jeff Pentland (hitting coach), Alan Cockrell (assistant hitting coach), and Joe Espada (third base coach) were brought in. Well, Espada was working in the pro scouting department. He just shifted back on to the field in a coaching capacity. How did the new-look coaching staff perform in 2015? Let’s try to figure that out.

Bench Coach: Rob Thomson

Thomson left a lot to be desired as the third base coach, especially in 2014, when the Yankees had the fourth most runners thrown out at the plate in baseball (21). The shift to bench coach means we have basically no way to evaluate him. The Yankees outperformed their run differential by a combined 13 wins from 2013-14. This past season they underperformed by one win. Want to blame that on Thomson taking over as Girardi’s second in command? Go ahead. Just understand we have no idea if that is actually the case. Girardi managed like Girardi, so I’m inclined to say Thomson didn’t put any crazy ideas in his head. Thomson’s been in the organization a long time and is highly respected around the game. I’ll defer to those folks. Thomson’s a-okay with me.

Hitting Coaches: Jeff Pentland & Alan Cockrell

Let’s call a spade a spade: Long was scapegoated for the Yankees failing to make the postseason from 2013-14. The offense was terrible those years, mostly because the roster left a lot to be desired, so the hitting coach took the fall. Stuff like this has been happening since hitting coaches became a thing. When the GM says he’s one the best hitting coaches in the game on his way out the door, you know he was scapegoated.

Anyway, the Yankees fired Long soon after the season in October, and it wasn’t until January that they hired Pentland and Cockrell, adopting the two hitting coach system that is taking over MLB. Both men brought big league hitting coach experience to the table. The result? The Yankees finished second in baseball with 764 runs scored in 2015, an improvement of 131 runs from 2014. Almost a run a game.

Of course, crediting Pentland and Cockrell for all the improvement would be like assigning all the blame to the Long. In my opinion, the biggest reason the offense improved was health. Carlos Beltran was relatively healthy all year. Mark Teixeira was healthy until the fluke foul pitch off his shin. Alex Rodriguez returned. Brian McCann was more comfortable in year two. Good players have a way of making a hitting coach look smart.

Here’s a quick side-by-side look at the 2014 and 2015 offenses, specifically their batted ball and plate discipline numbers:

2014 Yankees vs 2015 Yankees

The overarching numbers show the team’s plate discipline didn’t change much if at all, so there wasn’t any kind of significant change in approach. The 2015 Yankees did, however, hit more fly balls (slightly) and pull the ball more often. The big knock on Long was the offense turning into a bunch of pull hitters. Well, the Yankees pulled the ball even more under Pentland and they scored 131 additional runs.

One thing I think we can credit to Cockrell in particular is Didi Gregorius‘ midseason improvement. Gregorius told Brendan Kuty he used to have a long loop in his swing, but Cockrell worked with him to cut it down. “It can be mechanical. It can be thought. It can be fatigue,” said Cockrell. “There’s a lot of contributing factors. But I think once you’ve ID’ed that it is a little bit long, let’s work to shorten it. Let’s work to stay above the ball a little bit more. He’s (done) that.”

Hitting coaches are obviously important, though I also subscribe to the theory that they don’t have nearly as much on-field impact as it may seem. The offense was demonstrably better this past season than it had been from 2013-14, either because they had better players or better coaches (or both). Inevitably the coaches will get credit for that, especially after a change was made in the offseason.

However, the Yankees indicated they don’t believe Pentland was the reason for the offensive resurgence because he was let go after the season. After a relatively brief search, Cockrell was elevated to main hitting coach and Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Marcus Thames takes over as Cockrell’s assistant. Another year, another new hitting coach to blame for every slump.

Pitching Coach: Larry Rothschild

Rothschild has been New York’s pitching coach since 2011 and it’s become clear they have a lot of faith in him. For starters, he has a multi-year contract while most other coaches work on year-to-year deals. Secondly, the Yankees have acquired several young pitchers in need of refinement in recent years with the idea of turning them over to Rothschild for fine-tuning.

Rothschild. (Presswire)
Rothschild. (Presswire)

This past season’s project: Nathan Eovaldi. The Yankees acquired Eovaldi’s big but hittable fastball from the Marlins, then let Rothschild go to work. After a few weeks (months), Rothschild helped Eovaldi develop a legitimate out-pitch splitter that was the key to his midsummer run of dominance. Once he gained feel and really showed confidence in the split, Eovaldi was a much different pitcher. That’s something tangible we can credit to Rothschild.

The Yankees as a team had a 4.05 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 2015, ranking 16th and 13th in baseball, respectively. The rotation in particular had a 4.25 ERA (18th) and a 4.04 FIP (14th), yet I feel like it’s hard to blame Rothschild for the rotation being middle of the pack. The team gave way too many innings to CC Sabathia because of his contract and way too many innings to Ivan Nova following Tommy John surgery.

The only pitcher on the staff who I think really underperformed expectations was Michael Pineda, and I’m not sure he’s ever going to have an ERA (4.37 in 2015) that matches his FIP (3.34 FIP) because he’s around the plate so much — Pineda might throw too many strikes — and Yankee Stadium is not pitcher friendly. Rothschild’s done some really good things as pitching coach, including Eovaldi in 2015. I truly believe he’s one of the best pitching coaches in the game.

First Base Coach: Tony Pena

During games, the first base coach’s primary job involves timing the opposing battery to determine stolen base possibilities. He scouts the pitcher’s pickoff move and literally has a stopwatch to time the pitcher’s delivery and the catcher’s pop time. I’m not joking. The Yankees stole only 63 bases in 2015, their lowest total in a non-strike season since stealing 39 bases (!) in 1993. They averaged 118 steals from 2003-14.

Of course, the Yankees didn’t have the personnel to steal more bases. Jacoby Ellsbury hurt his knee in May and pretty much stopped running after that. Brett Gardner‘s days of 40+ steals are over. Those two stole 21 and 20 bases, respectively. Know who was third on the Yankees in steals? Rico Noel with five. The Yankees were never going to be a big stolen base team this summer, though their 72% success rate was tenth best in the game. They had nine runners picked off, seventh fewest in MLB.

Pena’s value to the Yankees isn’t necessarily his work as a first base coach, it’s his work with the catchers. He’s been handed young guys like Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy over the years, and tasked with improving their defense. Cervelli’s defense improved tremendously over the years. Murphy’s was very good this past season. As a first base coach, who in the world knows how Pena performed. His best and most important work is with the catchers, and the Yankees continue to have strong glove guys behind the plate.

Third Base Coach: Joe Espada

Finally, a coach we can really evaluate. The Yankees had only 14 runners thrown out at the plate this summer, fifth fewest in the baseball, but that’s because Espada seems to employ an ultra-conservative approach. He waved a runner home from second on a single just 59.3% of the time, the lowest in baseball. The MLB average is 69.8%. Espada waved a runner home from first on a double just 51.1% of the time, second lowest in baseball and well below the 65.4% league average.

Of course, the Yankees are not a fast team, so the conservative approach isn’t all on Espada. Sometimes he just has to hold up slow runners because they had no chance to score. There were definitely times when Espada seemed to either misread plays or not know the outfielder’s arm though, leading to curious holds or bad sends. The most obvious example came on July 27th, when Teixeira was thrown out at home trying to score from second because Espada told him he could go “easy.”

After the game, the normal reserved Teixeira was upset because he could have gotten hurt. “There was no miscommunication. Joe just told me, ‘Easy, easy,’ which means there’s going to be no play at the plate. It’s just a mistake … That can’t happen. I’m sure it won’t ever happen again,” he said. Teixeira, Espada, and Girardi later met to talk it all out.

Espada’s conservative approach is part necessity (the Yankees lack speed in general), part sensible (no reason to risk it all the time given how the Yankees were scoring runs in the first half), and part his poor reads. Third base coach is a thankless job. They never get credit for a good job and are only noticed for mistakes. Espada’s conservative, and I also think there is room for improvement going forward.

Bullpen Coach: Gary Tuck

The bullpen coach typically acts as a second pitching coach, but Tuck’s specialty is catching. He’s regarded as a catching guru and McCann credited him for improving his throwing. McCann threw out only 23.1% of base-runners in his last three years with the Braves, but, under Tuck, that number has jumped to 36.5% with the Yankees the last two seasons. It was 35.9% in 2015.

Outside of that, we really don’t have any way to evaluate Tuck. The Yankees did deem him expendable, however. He was let go following the season, reportedly due to a disagreement with the front office over the use of statistics. A few weeks later former bullpen coach Mike Harkey returned to the team as Tuck’s replacement. McCann’s improved throwing, which he sustained in 2015, is enough for me to say Tuck did some mighty fine work in pinstripes. That level of improvement is significant.