Reds sign Andrew Brackman

It seemed curious when, in early November, the Yankees declined their $2 million option on Andrew Brackman. That doesn’t seem too unreasonable for a former No. 1 pick, especially one who has, at times, shown promise. The reasons for the Yankees cutting bait weren’t immediately clear, so the possibility remained that he’d re-sign with the team on a minor league deal. That is no longer an option. According to Jon Heyman, the Reds have signed Brackman to a one-year deal at the major league minimum. He grew up in Cincinnati, so I’m sure that factored into his decision. While the Yankees optioned him three times — 2009, 2010, and 2011 — the Reds can apply for a fourth option since he used up his three original options within his first five pro seasons. Brackman was always a pipe dream of a prospect for the Yanks. Here’s hoping him the best in Cincy.

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Yankees release Andrew Brackman

On a conference call with reporters, Brian Cashman confirmed that the team did not exercise Andrew Brackman‘s option for 2012 and the right-hander is now a free agent. Had the Yankees picked up the option, they would have paid him a $1M salary in the big leagues and a $500k salary in the minors according to Keith Law.

Brackman should still be under team control as a pre-arbitration-eligible player since he has less than three years of service time, but a clause in his contract stipulated that the team must release him if they declined the option. Presumably, the Yankees could still re-sign their 2007 first round pick to a minor league deal or something. The 40-man roster now sits at 34, but Colin Curtis must still be activated off the 60-day DL.

Brackman joins the list of September call-ups, Pendleton DFA’d

In addition to George Kontos, Ramiro Pena, Hector Noesi, and Greg Golson, Andrew Brackman joined the Yankees as a September call-up today. This isn’t terribly surprising; he finished the Triple-A season well and is already on the 40-man roster, so there was little reason not to call him up. Remember, Brackman was on the roster last September, he just didn’t pitch at all. Still no update on Dellin Betances though, who apparently may also get the call this month.

In an unfortunate bit of news, Lance Pendleton was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Kontos. That’s a shame, a damn shame. I’ll miss you, Pants Lendleton.

Update: Via Marc Carig, Ryan Pope cleared waivers and was outrighted to the minors. He was designated for assignment last week to make room on the roster for either Jesus Montero or Scott Proctor, take your pick.

Brackman goes back to the basics

It’s been a disappointing season for 2007 first round pick Andrew Brackman to say the least, and he hit rock bottom in a nine walk, ten out start on July 29th. As Tim Bontemps writes, that outing caused Brackman to reevaluate things and get back to worked for him before. “You’re looking for help, and I guess the only person who can help you is yourself,” said Brackman, who decided to go back to his old college delivery. “It’s just feeling comfortable. I guess I just wasn’t comfortable with my mechanics at the beginning of the season, and now I am.”

The biggest difference between his current (college) motion and his old delivery from earlier in the season is the placement of his hands. Before they were right around his belt when he started his motion, now they’re up higher around his chest. “Even in my bullpen sessions, my command has been 100 times better,” added Brackman. “Even just tossing, I can hit the man in the chest. It’s so difficult when you’re out there and you’re throwing it over the guy’s head and into the stands when you’re playing catch.  It just feels natural now. I’m actually throwing the ball.” You can see the old delivery here, but unfortunately the MLB.com draft video of his college days appears to have been taken down. The (very) early returns are promising, but we’ve got a long, long way to go before seeing if any real improvement has been made.

Baseball America’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects

Baseball America posted a midseason (half) update to their preseason top 100 prospects list, and you can see the list for free. You’ll need a subscription to see the analysis, however. Jesus Montero fell from number three overall to number eight, though they caution everyone to not “be swayed by [his] so-so first half, his hit/power tools are still the same.” Manny Banuelos jumps from number 41 to number 13 (“Was dominating in spring training, but stuff isn’t as firm now as it was”) and Dellin Betances from 43 to 26 (“Impressive stuff, but Betances rarely makes it look easy”). Gary Sanchez (preseason #30), Andrew Brackman (#73), and Austin Romine (#98) did not figure into the updated top 50.

BA also put together a stock up/down report (subs. req’d), with J.R. Murphy making the Stock Up section. “[Scouts] report he’s improved significantly on defense, as he threw out 27 percent of opposing baserunners and polished up his receiving. He’s still an offensive catcher, but he’s more of a catcher than ever before.” We’ve heard about the improved defense before. Brackman made the Stock Down section: “His fastball velocity remains inconsistent but has more consistently dipped into the average range … Brackman’s confidence has taken a hit, and scouts report he throws his curve when he most needs a strike.” One good, one not so good.

Mailbag: Hanley, Arodys, Nova, Brackman, Ortiz

Six questions today, half of which have to do with players not even on the Yankees. Remember to the use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send in some questions.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user SD Dirk via Creative Commons license)

Keane asks: If Hanley went on the block would you be interested?

Of course, players like Hanley Ramirez are rare. He’s having an absolutely brutal year, coming into today at almost exactly replacement level (0.1 fWAR) thanks to a .280 wOBA and a -3.5 UZR, but that kind of talent at that age (28 after the season) are almost never available in trades. There’s something like three and a half years and $60M left on his contract, so he’s making big boy money and any teams that pursues him would have to really investigate him to figure out why he’s fallen off so much. He’s hitting a lot more ground balls than he used to, which explains the power drop off, and he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone as well.

Buster Olney talked to various executives about Ramirez and posted the results yesterday (Insider req’d), and it wasn’t pretty. MLBTR has a nice little recap, but the general idea is that Hanley needs an attitude adjustment and has to take his conditioning more seriously. It’s pretty generic and stereotypical stuff, the kind of stuff you don’t hear when a white player struggles. It’s just the way it is. Is anyone questioning Jason Bay’s attitude and work ethic? Adam Dunn? Dan Uggla? Nope, nope, and nope. Anyway, I would certainly be interested in Hanley even though I’m not 100% sure where he’d play (he’s never been much of a shortstop), but talent and production like that is hard to pass up. Obviously he requires a thorough evaluation first just to see if he’s fixable.

Ryan asks: The Vazquez/Logan for Vizcaino/Dunn trade we know is terrible (although defensible at the time), but I am curious how Vizcaino is doing? Where would he rank in the system had he not been traded. (Would be nice to have Dunn instead of Logan right now)

Arodys Vizcaino is having a very nice year in the Atlanta’s system, and in fact he was just named to the World Team for the Futures Game. He’s struck out 64 and walked just 18 in 66 innings mostly with their High-A affiliate, but he was recently promoted to Double-A. Vizcaino also missed some time in April with back trouble, which is not the first time he had that (back issues limited him to just ten starts for Short Season Staten Island in 2009). If he was still Yankees’ property and had progressed the same way, I probably would have had him third on my pre-draft top 30 prospects list.

Tommy asks: What ever happened with Juan Paniagua? News reports stated that the Yankees signed him to a $1.1 MM contract in the beginning of March, but I haven’t heard anything since.

He and Rafael DePaula are waiting on visas, that’s all. Both guys had been investigated and suspended for age and identify fraud reasons, and the people at immigration don’t appreciate that. It’s entirely possible they never actually get visas.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Marianee O'Leary via Creative Commons license)

Ryan asks: Seems like every time Nova’s rotation spot is in jeopardy, he runs off a few good starts in a row. I know a big problem coming into the year was turning a lineup over 2 and 3 times. He seems to be going deeper and deeper into games lately, so how is he faring against lineups the 2nd and 3rd time through?

From B-Ref

First Time: 1.45 K/BB, 96 sOPS+
Second Time: 1.44 K/BB, 112 sOPS+
Third Time: 1.09 K/BB, 88 sOPS+
Fourth Time: 3.00 K/BB, 120 sOPS (just eight batters faced)

sOPS+ is the opposing batters’ OPS relative to league average in that situation. Although his K/BB ratio is the same the first and second times through the order, opponents are hitting Nova more the second time around due in part to a .327 BABIP (.253 the first time through). The K/BB is the big number for me the third time around, and it’s worth noting that batters have drawn more more total walks against him the third time through in fewer plate appearances. Once they’ve seen him twice already, the element of surprise is gone.

Nova’s done a much, much better job of pitching deep into games this year (though we didn’t have a huge sample of starts last year), and last time out against the Reds we saw him complete eight full innings for the first time in his career. It’s not a coincidence that Ivan was mixing four pitches in that start compared to his usual fastball-curveball heavy approach. He’s not going to have all four pitches working every time out, but hopefully he continues with that approach just to keep hitters guessing.

Lou asks: In reading the DOTFs it appears that Brackman has been shifted to the bull pen. Is this the case? Have the Yankees decided he could possibly help the bull pen in 2011, or is this more of a change to try and get him back on track?

Yep, he’s in the bullpen, and at this point I’m pretty sure it’s just an attempt to get him back to pitching effectively. Andrew Brackman‘s been absolutely brutal this year and it hasn’t been much better since the demotion to the bullpen, almost like he’s back at square one. The control has completely deteriorated, back to 2009 levels. I can’t imagine his confidence is all that high, and they just had to try something to get him going. He still has one more minor league option for next season, but the clock is ticking.

John asks: David Ortiz is a free agent at the end of the year and the Yankees could use an upgrade at DH. His bat would look great in the middle of the Yankees order, especially in Yankee Stadium. Perhaps it’s an unlikely marriage, but do you think the Yankees may/should pursue Big Papi for 2012?

Man, I sure hope not. There’s no doubt he’s killing the ball this year (.421 wOBA), but he’s going to want a multi-year contract and he’ll be 36 this winter. That has bad news written all over it. Ortiz and his agent could point to Adam Dunn as a starting point for negotiations or perhaps Jorge Posada‘s contract, since he was the same age at the time of the signing and was coming off a similarly huge year. Signing him would strike me as a classic George Steinbrenner move, locking up an old, nonathletic player with no defensive value through his decline years just because he’s got a clutch reputation and is coming off a great year. Ortiz is having a huge dead cat bounce year, but I’d rather let the Red Sox be on the hook for his age 36, 37, and 38 seasons.

Lessons learned from pitching prospects

Billy Beane put it best when he said, paraphrased, that you need three pitching prospects in order to get one major league starter. One will get hurt, one will backslide, and one will succeed. This is precisely why, in RAB’s halcyon days, we so strongly argued that the Yankees should keep Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain. If they traded the wrong one, they could end up with nothing to show for their top three prospects. Keeping all three, however, gave them a good chance at having a young, cost-controlled pitcher in the rotation, which allows the further benefit of spending money elsewhere.

With the Yankees’ big three, it didn’t quite work out the way Beane described it. There were successes, injuries, and backslides, but those results were scattered among the three. Both Chamberlain and Hughes have gotten hurt, and, to a degree, have backslid — though, before news of Joba’s season-ending elbow injury, it was more that he backslid and that Hughes got hurt. Ian Kennedy backslid in ways, got hurt, and then succeeded, albeit in an environment dramatically different than that of the Yankees. There are still chances for Hughes, and even Joba, to succeed, but it’s still pretty clear that these guys followed Beane’s axiom.

At this point, the development of these three is behind us. Kennedy is finding success elsewhere, and while Hughes and Joba could still succeed to degrees, I’m not sure it’s particularly likely at this point. This shouldn’t be surprising, since it is the nature of pitchers. There’s a reason for TINSTAPP — there is no such thing as a pitching prospect. There are only pitchers. They all develop at different paces, and they’re all susceptible to the same pitfalls. WIth so much attrition among pitchers, teams absolutely need a block of high-end prospects if they’re going to get even one from the group.

This is relevant to the Yankees now, just as it was four years ago. They have a new trio of top pitching prospects in Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman. Right away, it appears that they’re going to take a different tack with this new group than they did with the Big Three. Brian Cashman made that relatively clear yesterday, when he said there were no plans to bring them up as relievers to help patch a spotty bullpen. Chances are, they also won’t call upon them to help in the rotation, either. That is, unless they display a certain degree of readiness.

The situation the Yankees face now is somewhat similar to the 2007 season. They were a bit more pitching starved then, as was evident when they called up Chase Wright to take a few starts. Eventually, though, they went to Hughes, despite him having made just a couple of starts at AAA, and despite him having pitched a career high 146 innings in 2006, after just 86.1 in 2005. His injury appeared to be a freak one, but he was never quite the same after that. He had a few good appearances, including a season-saving one in relief during the ALDS, but in 2008 he completely lost it. There might not be a causal link here, but I’m sure that the experience has the Yankees preferring to err on the side of caution nonetheless — especially when you consider the other two.

Both Chamberlain and Kennedy came up in the 2007 season as well. Chamberlain was so completely dominant as a starter in A and AA ball that the Yankees thought he could help save their spotty bullpen. He was nearing his innings limit anyway, so rather than have him make a few more starts in the minors and pack it up in September, the Yankees decided to have him finish his workload in relief. Of course, we know that a starter’s workload is different from a reliever’s, and perhaps bringing him to his innings limit in high-leverage situations in the majors wasn’t the best idea. It did help them make the playoffs in 2007, though. It also excited a fanbase, inciting the starter-reliever debate that still hasn’t died. (And will be reignited as Joba rehabs from surgery.) Kennedy’s debut was less of a big deal, but his good, if lucky, September performances gave him a rotation spot out of the chute in 2008, an experience from which the Yankees have clearly learned.

This time around, the Yankees are going to let the prospects speak for themselves, rather than let team necessity dictate their development paths. I’m certain that if the Yankees brought Dellin Betances into Joba’s old role that he’d succeed. He throws gas and has shown a propensity to miss bats. He might have control troubles, but as David Robertson has shown, if you can strike guys out you can often mask those troubles. And yes, many starters have come up as relievers before breaking into the rotation. At the same time, we can’t just use a blanket statement like that to make and examine decisions. If a pitcher isn’t developmentally ready to start in the bigs, will relieving in the bigs help excel that development? Or will it just prepare him for life in the bullpen? These are all questions that have to be asked of individual pitchers, and cannot be determined by a rule of thumb.

The good news is that the Yankees have three top-flight pitchers in their minor league system who, if developed fully, can help the team for years to come. Of course, chances are that only one will help. The others will make the bigs, maybe, and maybe even show signs of greatness. But the chances are great that one will backslide, one will get hurt, and one will succeed. The only way to find out which is which, though, is to let them continue developing their games. It will hurt the 2011 team for sure. But it stands to help the future Yankees to a greater degree.