Minor League Notes: Assignments, Spring Reports, Judge, International Spending

Pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)
The new pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)

The Yankees open the 2015 regular season tomorrow, and a few days later the minor league season will get underway as well. Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all begin their seasons this coming Thursday. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then.

Opening Day assignments for top prospects

The full minor league rosters have not yet been released and won’t be a few days, though Josh Norris was able to get his hands on Opening Day assignments for most of the Yankees’ top prospects. The list:

Norris says the assignments could change slightly before the start of the season, but for the most part they’re set. Sanchez is going back to the Thunder to continue working on his defense with coaches and ex-catchers Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere, which I don’t love, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I assume Avelino, Katoh, and Mateo will rotate between second, short, and DH like Avelino, Katoh, and Wade did last year before Avelino got hurt. I’m little surprised Mateo is going to Charleston — he’s played only games in 15 rookie ball, that’s it — but the Yankees have never been shy about aggressively promoting their best teenage players. Otherwise these assignments are fairly straight forward. No major surprises.

Notes from the backfields in Tampa

Both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Jeff Moore (no subs. req’d) recently posted a collection of notes after watching minor league games on the backfields all around Florida. Law got a look at Mateo, saying he likes “how well he keeps his hands inside the ball” and added he “liked the potential of the hit tool but was hoping to see more polish on both sides of the ball.” The polish will come. It’s only Spring Training and Mateo is still just a 19-year-old kid.

Meanwhile, Moore saw Judge, Bird, and RHP Bryan Mitchell. “What’s impressive is (Judge) seems to get a little better each time I see him. The at-bats have gotten tougher and more advanced, with a better plan each time out,” wrote Moore. He also said he sees Bird as “a potential regular first baseman” and his “power is very real, more real than he gets credit for.” As for Mitchell, Moore says his fastball/curveball combination “screams reliever, and possibly a darn good one.”

Law still ranks Judge 23rd in latest Top 50 Prospects list

Last week, Law released an updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball (subs. req’d). There are only very minor changes from his top 100 list in February, with the most notable being the addition of Red Sox IF Yoan Moncada, who slots in at No. 16. Even with Moncada joining the list, Judge stays in the same No. 23 spot because he jumped over Rockies RHP Jon Gray, who hasn’t looked like himself this spring. Judge remains the third outfielder on the list behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law is the high man on Judge based on all this spring’s other top 100 lists. That’s cool with me.

Yankees spent $17.83M on international players in 2014

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees spent a ridiculous $17.83M on international prospects last year, easily the most in baseball. They spent more than the number two (Rays, $6.11M), three (Red Sox, $5.63M), and four (Astros, $5.42M) teams combined and more than the bottom ten teams combined ($16.9575M). Just to be clear, this is for the 2014 calendar year, not the 2014-15 signing period.

The Yankees handed out three of the five largest, six of the 14 largest, and 12 of the 40 largest signing bonuses to international prospects during the 2014 calendar year, according to Badler. We still don’t have a final number for the total bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period, but the total investment is clearly going to be north of $30M between bonuses and penalties. Most of that $17.83M last year was spent on July 2nd, the first day of the 2014-15 signing period. Now the Yankees just have to turn these kids into big leaguers and tradeable prospects.

Yankees release nine more minor leaguers

The Yankees have released seven more minor leaguers according to Matt Eddy: OF Yeicok Calderon, RHP Tim Giel, OF Robert Hernandez, RHP Stefan Lopez, RHP Matt Noteware, 1B Dalton Smith, and IF Graham Ramos. Dan Pfeiffer says OF Adonis Garcia was released as well, and OF Adam Silva announced on Facebook he was also released.

First things first: no more Yeicokshots!, sadly. Hernandez was signed in January, so his stint with the organization didn’t last long. Lopez led NCAA in saves in 2012 and had some potential, but he fell in love with his fastball so much in college that he lost all feel for his slider and became a one-pitch guy. The Yankees signed Giel, Noteware, and Ramos as undrafted free agents within the last two years to help fill out minor league rosters. That’s about it.

Old Timers’ Game coming to Triple-A Scranton

And finally, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre franchise is holding an Old Timers’ Game on June 21st, reports Donnie Collins. The event will raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. “I expect the ballpark to be sold out — and standing room only. That’s the goal,” said RailRiders’ co-managing partner to Grant Cagle to Collins. A bunch of ex-Yankees will be in attendance — not sure who, exactly — to play in the Old Timers’ Game and/or mingle with fans during a meet-and-greet and autograph session. That should be fun.

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Minor League Injury Updates: Bailey, Jagielo, Flores, Avelino, Montgomery

Jagielo. (MiLB.com)
Jagielo. (MiLB.com)

Chad Jennings spoke to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman about a variety of minor league topics this week. The entire post is worth a read, but here are the important injury updates (obligatory reminder that Newman’s timetables have a tendency to be … optimistic):

  • RHP Andrew Bailey (shoulder) is throwing bullpen sessions in Tampa, fastballs and changeups only. No breaking balls just yet. He is coming back from a torn capsule and, if he does become an MLB option at some point this year, it won’t be until very late in the season.
  • 3B Eric Jagielo (ribcage) is currently rehabbing at the complex in Tampa and is expected to return to the High-A Tampa lineup within ten days or so. He’s been out since late-May and had a 144 wRC+ before suffering the injury.
  • OF Ramon Flores (ankle) is still “a ways away,” said Newman. He has not yet resumed baseball activities and it will be a while before he does. Flores was having a real nice year (122 wRC+) for Triple-A Scranton before getting hurt.
  • RHP Mark Montgomery (shin) is currently in Tampa working out after being hit in the shin by a comebacker. Seems like they’re taking the injury as an opportunity to work on some mechanical stuff as well.
  • SS Abi Avelino (quad), RHP Branden Pinder (groin), and OF Adonis Garcia (hamstring) are all 10-14 days away from returning to their respective teams.

Prospect Injury Updates: Gumbs, Whitley, Ravel

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today we learned RHP Ty Hensley is likely to miss the rest of the season following hip surgery, and now it’s time to get caught up on some other injured minor leaguers. Chad Jennings has all the updates…

  • RHP Angelo Gumbs (finger) is a couple of weeks away from return to High-A Tampa. He’s playing in Extended Spring Training games now. Whenever he is ready, I have to think Rob Refsnyder will get bumped up to Double-A Trenton to make room.
  • RHP Jose Ramirez started the season on the DL with fatigue, there was no injury. He pitched in winter ball and overextended himself a bit in big league camp, so they held him back. Ramirez has since rejoined the Double-A rotation.
  • RHP Jose Campos (elbow) had a bone bruise last year according to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman. Campos said himself it was a small fracture. I don’t know who to believe, but I suppose something could have been lost in translation.
  • RHP Chase Whitley (oblique) is about ten days away from being activated and returning to game action. He might have been called up instead of Preston Claiborne last week had he been healthy.
  • LHP Manny Banuelos (elbow) is on schedule as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. He’s expected to miss the rest of the year.
  • OF Adonis Garcia (wrist) is taking batting practice while OF Ravel Santana (ankle) is playing in ExST. The ankle injury has completed derailed his career.

Adonis Garcia to have surgery on broken hamate bone

We can eliminate one player from outfield competition. Adonis Garcia broke the hamate bone in his left wrist during batting practice on Sunday and will have surgery on Thursday, the Yankees announced. He’ll miss 6-8 weeks according to Chad Jennings. Hamate injuries are notorious for sapping power and that figures to be the case for Garcia since the left hand is his bottom hand as a right-handed hitter. The Yankees still have plenty of outfield candidates, so it’s not a huge loss in that sense.

Poll: Replacing Curtis Granderson

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The dust has settled a little bit following the news of Curtis Granderson‘s fractured forearm on Sunday. The Yankees will be without their 40-homer center left fielder for the next ten weeks, meaning he will miss the first month of the season. It’s a big loss, no doubt about it, but they are lucky it happened so early in Spring Training. Things would have been a lot worse had he gotten hurt on March 24th instead of February 24th.

As expected, the Yankees insist they will plug their new outfield hole from within. The Johnny Damon talk has already fizzled out while the Alfonso Soriano talk never really got going. The only unsigned free agent outfielder who is both healthy and actually capable of playing the outfield everyday is Scott Podsednik. Thanks, but no thanks. The Yankees will stick with their internal options and see if (hope?) a better alternative pops up next month as camp winds down and roster spots are finalized. Here is a quick look at those internal options, listed alphabetically.

Zoilo Almonte
Almonte, 23, is a switch-hitter who managed a power-heavy 120 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton last year. He hit a career-high 21 homers and also stole 15 bases, though his miniscule walk rate (5.6%) and strikeout concerns (22.7%) seem to make skipping over Triple-A a risky proposition. Zoilo’s pop is legit, but the rest of the package is lacking.

Matt Diaz
Diaz was in the running for the right-handed outfield platoon bat role before Granderson’s injury, so it seems natural that he would be among the favorites for the job now. The soon-to-be 35-year-old hasn’t hit in three years (80 wRC+), due to in part to various injuries — getting stabbed in the hand by a palm tree and dealing with the subsequent infections chief among them. Diaz is on a minor league contract and was a total shot in the dark by the front office, who hopes he can recapture his 2006-2009 form (117 wRC+).

Adonis Garcia
Here’s the darkhorse. The 27-year-old Garcia signed for $400k last summer and has impressed with his bat ever since, especially in winter ball (.292/.319/.481 with six homers in 39 games). As Baseball America wrote earlier this month, the right-handed hitter “is a better fit on a corner outfield spot and doesn’t have an impact bat, but he’s shown a knack for hitting and surprising pop for his 5-foot-9 stature.” Garcia is not on the 40-man roster, which could hurt his chances.

Melky Mesa
Mesa, 26, is the best all-around player of the bunch. He can swing-and-miss from the right side with the best of ’em (career-low 23.5 K% in 2012), but he’s hit at a better than average rate at each rung of the minor league ladder, including a ~125 wRC+ split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. Mesa has power and speed — at least 19 homers and 19 steals in three of the last four years — to go along with standout defense and a strong arm. Among players in the organization who could legitimately see big league time this summer, Melky2.0 is probably the second best defender behind Brett Gardner. He got his first taste of the show last September.

Ronnie Mustelier
Everyone loves the right-handed hitting Mustelier, the 28-year-old Cuban defector who has managed a ~144 wRC+ since signing for a measly $50k two years ago. His strikeout rate (13.0%) is strong, his walk rate (6.7%) slightly less so. The concern with Mustelier is his defense, which is poor and has gotten him moved down the defensive spectrum form second base to third to left over the last 20 months or so. He can hit a fastball though.

Thomas Neal
Neal, 25, seems to be the afterthought in all this. The righty swinger managed a 144 wRC+ with 12 homers and 11 stolen bases in Double-A last year, making his big league debut with the Indians in September. He has some Triple-A time under his belt (277 plate appearances) and is solid defensively. Neal is a long shot, but he shouldn’t be written off completely. Like Garcia and Mustelier, he is not on the 40-man roster.

Juan Rivera
Like Diaz, the Yankees inked the 34-year-old Rivera to a minor league deal so he could complete for the right-handed bench bat role. The former Yankee is, by far, the most experienced and accomplished player in this post. He’s hit to the tune of a 92 wRC+ over the last three seasons and despite being a strong defensive player once upon a time, he’s now comfortably below-average. Rivera’s best attribute is his ability to put the ball in play (12.9 K% since 2010).

* * *

Ramon Flores is on the 40-man roster, but I have no reason to think the Yankees will jump him from High-A to MLB just to plug a one-month hole. Same goes with top prospects/non-40-man players Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and Tyler Austin. If you want some projections for the players mentioned in this post, SG has you covered. Otherwise, time to vote…

Who should be the regular left fielder while Granderson is on the DL?
Total Votes: 2301 Started: February 27, 2013 Back to Vote Screen

Baseball America on Adonis Garcia

(Photo via MayaguezIndios.blogspot.com)
(Photo via MayaguezIndios.blogspot.com)

The Yankees have passed on big money Cuban players like Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman in recent years, but they have signed several lower profile players from the island as well. The most notable is Ronnie Mustelier, the 28-year-old outfielder/utility man who’s hit .324/.378/.497 in 150minor league games since signing with New York. He’s expected to get a long look in camp and has an outside chance of winning a bench spot.

The team’s most recent low-profile Cuban addition is 27-year-old right-handed hitting outfielder Adonis Garcia, who received a $400k bonus last year and hit .263/.311/.424 in 57 games after signing. Reliable information about these players is usually scarce, but Ben Badler of Baseball America (subs. req’d) recently listed Garcia as one of ten players who improved their stock in winter ball. Here’s the important stuff…

… there’s a good chance he’s going to reach the big leagues. Garcia played center field and hit .292/.319/.481 playing for Mayaguez in Puerto Rico, where he outshined his teammate, $42 million Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig. Garcia is a better fit on a corner outfield spot and doesn’t have an impact bat, but he’s shown a knack for hitting and surprising pop for his 5-foot-9 stature, as his six home runs were tied for second in the league.

Garcia ranked third on the ten-player list behind Cardinals mega-prospect Oscar Taveras and infielder Eddie Rosario of the Twins. Bigger name prospects like Jean Segura (Brewers) and Starling Marte (Pirates are further down the list.

Thirty-nine winter ball games isn’t definitive proof of anything, but it is worth nothing Garcia drew just four unintentional walks (2.4 BB%) against 24 strikeouts (14.5 K%) in 39 games down in Puerto Rico. His walk rate (5.8%) in the minors last year wasn’t anything special, but like Mustelier he was able to avoid strikeouts (14.9%). It’s good that he has shown the ability to make contact, but I always worry about guys with low walk rates because it could mean they’re a hacker or just unable to work deep counts. The number of talented hitters who flamed out because they couldn’t control the strike zone is very, very high.

The bigger concern for Garcia next year will be playing time, because the Yankees do have a bunch of outfield prospects at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. Barring injury, the everyday outfield in Trenton is expected to feature Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott, and Tyler Austin, and those guys have to play everyday. That is non-negotiable. Scranton will have guys like Mustelier, Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte, and Abe Almonte vying for playing time, and it’s possible either Matt Diaz or Juan Rivera (maybe even Russ Canzler if he clears waivers) will be in Triple-A as well depending how the bench shakes out in camp. With all due respect, Garcia is the odd man out for me right now. No question.

Update: Yankees sign Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia

Update (6:08pm): Via Marc Carig, Garcia signed a one-year minor league deal worth $400k. So the report of six years and $16M was just slightly off the mark, eh?

5:00pm: Via Ben Badler, the Yankees have signed 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia. The terms of the contract are unknown, but Brian Cashman shot down reports of a six-year, $16M offer back in March. I would be stunned if the deal came even remotely close to that number.

The 5-foot-7, 180 lb. right-handed hitter put up a .270/.313/.461 batting line during winter ball, though Badler says Garcia “doesn’t have any standout tools, so it’s hard for scouts to see him fitting in as a big league regular.” Whatever the signing bonus is, it will not count towards this year’s international spending limit. That doesn’t kick in until July 2nd.