Introducing the Yankees’ All-Revenge team

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Plenty of players throughout baseball, but particularly in the American League East, develop the reputation as Yankee killers. Certain guys just play especially well when opposite the pinstripes. Howie Kendrick with the Angels comes to mind. So does the mysterious contributions of Pedro Ciriaco with the Red Sox.

But there is a special breed of Yankee killer: The former Yankee turned Yankee killer. The group I call the All-Revenge team. The guys who the Yankees let go, trade or otherwise give up on and have turned into a thorn in their sides, a few meetings a year.

So I unveil the All-Revenge lineup, former Yankees who have turned their former employers into a most despised adversary. (Note: I chose to use only active players and focused on players who have performed well vs. NYY since leaving the team).

C: Russell Martin

Why does Martin make the team? Martin is perhaps the most obvious thanks to the 2015 division race. He left the Yankees after the team chose to let him walk and instead go with Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli as his immediate replacements. When Martin came back to the AL in 2015 and was in a race with the Yankees, he was ready to pounce.

Over the course of 16 games (13 starts) in 2015, he hit .300/.362/.660 vs. NYY, hitting five home runs with a whopping 18 RBI. Particularly stinging was a two-homer game in September followed up by a go-ahead walk in the 11th inning the next day. He followed that up with four homers, nine RBI and a much more modest .207/.319/.431 line in 2016. He also tried to fight Gary Sanchez last September and extract his pound of flesh from the Yankees. The Bombers held him in check this series, but he’s been a menace in the past.

Signature game: The two-home run game vs. the Yankees on Sept. 11, 2015 was a masterpiece for Martin. He singled home a run to knock Luis Severino out of the game, hit a solo home run off Andrew Bailey and then hit a two-run shot off Chasen Shreve that all but finished off the Yankees. Honorable mention goes to his two-homer game last Aug. 16, which included a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning off Adam Warren. I’ll take the first one because of the division race implications.

1B: Steve Pearce

Why does Pearce make the team? Pearce has played for every team in the AL East except the Red Sox and he has more home runs against the Yankees (10) than any other team except the Rays (10). Pearce has a solid .293/.397/.579 line vs. the Yankees, a tOPS+ of 152, which indicates he’s much better against the Yankees than vs. other teams.

The Yankees gave Pearce just 30 PA in 2012, and he’s had 148 PA to pay them back over the last four years, picking up 34 hits, 14 of which have gone for extra bases. Five of his 25 career HBP are from Yankees pitching. He does special damage at Yankee Stadium with seven home runs with a .338/.419/.692 mark.

Signature game: Pearce has a plentiful number of performances for this list. He had a go-ahead homer off Adam Warren in an Orioles win on Sept. 9, 2015. He almost single-handedly beat the Yankees with a three-hit game last Aug. 28 with a home run and two-run single off CC Sabathia and Warren, respectively. (Man, Warren’s getting beat down in these games). His four-hit, two-homer game Tuesday would be a surefire winner if the Jays had won.

But his most clutch anti-Yankee moment came Sept. 14, 2014, again with the Orioles. With the O’s trailing 2-1 in the ninth inning at Camden Yards on Sunday Night Baseball, Pearce lined a game-tying double off David Robertson. He’d come home to score on a walk-off double from All-Revenge team honorable mention Kelly Johnson.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

2B: Robinson Cano

Why does Cano make the team? Cano leads the rest of the All-Revenge team infield, which has had less experience facing the Yankees, having done so only in the last three seasons. However, Cano did quick work to get onto this list. He’s batting .324/.377/.479 vs. his former squad and has three home runs. His batting average jumps up to .363 when you take out his 3-for-16 struggles against Masahiro Tanaka

Signature game: His highest Win Probability Added in his first two seasons with the Mariners came against the Yankees. He had two two-run homers against Michael Pineda on July 18, 2015, knocking in all four runs during the Mariners’ 4-3 win over the Yankees. Both home runs came with the game tied and one-upped his former squad.

3B: Yangervis Solarte

Why does Solarte make the team? The No. 1 reason Solarte is here? There aren’t many third basemen to work with. Thanks to Alex Rodriguez for holding down the position for so long. Solarte still made a big impact in his three games vs. the Yankees last July. Six hits in 10 at-bats with two walks, a home run and two doubles. Batting .600 with a 1.767 OPS against a team, even in one series, still has merit.

Signature game: Even though the Padres lost, 6-3, Solarte had one of his four career four-hit games last July 3, scoring two runs and hitting a solo shot. Solarte turns 30 this July, so there’s a solid chance he gets more games to get further revenge for the Yankees trading him.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

SS: Eduardo Nunez

Why does Nunez make the team? Again, a lack of shortstops. But Nunez has still performed well. 15 hits in 48 at-bats vs. the Yankees. Only two extra-base hits, but one went for a home run. All of his 14 games against the Yankees were with the Twins, and now he’s playing a bevy of positions for the Giants.

Signature game: Nunez had a clutch double off the bench in 2014 but it came with the Twins already leading and Matt Daley in the game. He also had a two-hit game with a home run last June. But his top anti-Yankee moment came in a game where he went 1 for 4 with a walk in 2015. On Aug. 17, his one hit was lined off Bryan Mitchell‘s face, ending the rookie’s night early and turning the game into a bullpen affair. I get wanting revenge, but that was ugly!

Getting reacquainted (Getty Images)
Getting reacquainted (Getty Images)

OF: Melky Cabrera

Why does Cabrera make the team? If Martin isn’t the captain of the All-Revenge squad, Melky would do just fine in the role. He’s batting .302/.350/.527 in 198 plate appearances against his former club. He’s actually played more seasons out of NY (8) than with the Yankees (5) at this point. In 2014 alone, he faced the Yankees 15 times, had hits in all but two games and racked up six multi-hit games.

Signature game: Cabrera’s first ever series against the Yankees came in 2011 with the Royals and he helped KC win the series in the clincher on May 12 with a two-hit night. Both his hits went for extra bases, including an RBI double (before getting picked off second) and a home run off Ivan Nova in a 11-5 Royals win.

OF: Curtis Granderson

Why does Granderson make the team? Granderson is the one player on this list with experience playing vs. the Yankees both before and after coming to the Bronx. He had four HR and 15 extra-base hits vs. the Yankees during his Tigers days (not including the ’06 playoffs). He’s 12 for 46 with four home runs and eight walks since joining the Mets.

Signature game: In his second game vs. the Yankees since moving crosstown, Granderson came through big time. He went 2 for 3 with two walks, a home run, three RBI and two runs scored. This game (May 13, 2014) was highlighted by both Vidal Nuno and Zack Wheeler exiting early and Daisuke Matsuzaka outdueling Alfredo Aceves in the battle of the bullpens. 2014 was a weird time.

P.S. If I was willing to include pre-Yankee days, this is the obvious winner.

OF: Austin Jackson

Why does Jackson make the team? Capping off the list is a player who never actually played for the Yankees. Jackson was a top prospect but was traded for the man above him on this team, never giving him a chance to don the pinstripes. In 158 plate appearances over 37 games against his ex-organization, he has a respectable .289/.361/.444 batting line with nine doubles, two triples and three home runs. Not to mention five stolen bases. In classic Jackson fashion though, he does have 48 strikeouts.

Signature game: Flash back to mid-August 2013, when Jackson was center fielder for the AL Central-winning Tigers. He led off an Aug. 10 game vs. Phil Hughes with a triple and scored, then later hit a solo dinger in the top of the fifth, helping knock Hughes out of the game. The Tigers would go on to win 9-3 after Jackson drew a walk and scored later in the game.

Disagree with a player making the team? Have someone else in mind? Or suggestions about current pitchers who have made good on their sweet sweet revenge against the Yankees? Let me know. The All-Revenge team can change series to series with one or two standout performances or with a trade. But for now, this is the lineup that prevails.

Reviewing the farm system’s lean years from 2003-06

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Wanger. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Over the last … I don’t know … five or ten years, the Yankees have been criticized quite heavily for their player development failures and deservedly so. They haven’t developed many useful homegrown pieces of late, and I don’t just mean stars. They’ve struggled to produce even average players who could fill in on the cheap. Things have been a little better recently but for a long time there the system was barren.

At the turn of the century, the Yankees had a great farm system headlined by Alfonso Soriano and Nick Johnson. Things really started to thin out by 2003, however, mostly because the team was trading away all their good young players and forfeiting first round draft picks to sign free agents. In 2002, Baseball America ranked New York’s farm system as the 5th best in baseball. Then, from 2003 through 2006, they ranked 17th, 27th, 24th, and 17th. That’s bad. The Yankees shot back up to 7th in 2007 thanks to their outstanding 2006 draft class, which produced ten big leaguers overall and five regulars.

So, since we are now nearly a full decade removed from that 2003-06 farm system dry spell, let’s go back and see who the Yankees had in the system back then, and what happened to those players. Because they’re the best in the business, let’s use Baseball America’s annual top ten prospects lists as the basis of our little trip back in time. I’ve cherry-picked a quote from the scouting reports for each player as well. Some are funny, some are serious. Away we go…

Pre-2003

No. 1: OF Juan Rivera
Select Quote: “On his way to his first game at Yankee Stadium, he got lost on the subway. Then he broke his right kneecap when he ran into a golf cart during pregame drills, which knocked him out for two months.”
What Happened: In 2002, a then-23-year-old Rivera hit .325/.355/.502 with 21 doubles and eight homers in only 65 games with Triple-A Columbus before playing almost everyday in the Bronx as a September call-up. Rivera went up and down a bunch of times in 2003 and was then traded to the Expos in the Javy Vazquez deal after the season. He spent one year in Montreal before being traded to the Angels. Rivera played in parts of 12 MLB seasons and hit .274/.323/.443 (102 OPS+) with 132 homers and 9.5 bWAR. Not a bad outcome at all.

No. 2: OF Bronson Sardinha
Select Quote: “Bronson was named for his mother’s favorite actor, Charles Bronson. His brothers Dane (named after a famous Hawaiian surfer) and Duke (named for John Wayne) play in the minors for the Reds and Rockies.”
What Happened: The Yankees bought Sardinha away from Pepperdine with a $1M bonus as the 34th pick in the 2001 draft. He hit .279/.362/.427 with 16 homers and 19 steals in 129 games spit between Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Greensboro in 2002, then he sorta stopped hitting. Sardinha put up a .239/.333/.353 batting line between Low-A Battle Creek and High-A Tampa in 2003 before stagnating in the minors for a few years. He did reach the big leagues though, going 3-for-9 in ten games with the 2007 Yankees. Sardinha has been out of baseball since 2011. Fun fact: His middle name is Kiheimahanaomauiakeo. Seriously.

Claussen. (Getty)
Claussen. (Getty)

No. 3: LHP Brandon Claussen
Select Quote: “Claussen emerged as one of the game’s top lefthanded pitching prospects by leading the minors with 220 strikeouts in 2001. He also topped the organization with 187 innings, and the workload took a toll on his arm in 2002, as he had Tommy John surgery in June.”
What Happened: Ah the good ol’ draft-and-follow system. Back in the day, teams could draft a player, keep tabs on his progress in junior college the following spring, then decide whether to sign him. Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada were both draft-and-follows. The draft-and-follow system died when MLB implemented the signing deadline a few years ago. It was a good run.

Anyway, Claussen returned from Tommy John surgery at midseason in 2003 and was never quite the same, showing less stuff and not missing nearly as many bats (65 strikeouts in 95.2 innings in 2003). The Yankees called him up for a spot start against the Mets in late-June (two runs in 6.1 innings) then traded him to the Reds for Aaron Boone at the deadline the following month. Claussen spent three seasons in Cincinnati (86 ERA+ in 309.2 innings) and bounced around the minors until 2007. Tommy John surgery: not without risk!

No. 4: 3B Drew Henson
Select Quote: “Few prospects can match Henson’s size, strength and athleticism. He can mash fastballs down in the zone and hit mistakes a long way … His take-charge mentality makes him a favorite of Yankees brass.”
What Happened: Henson was my first real head over heels prospect crush. I thought he would be a megastar. He hit .240/.301/.435 with 18 homers in 128 games for Triple-A Columbus in 2002 — the Yankees traded Henson to the Reds for Denny Neagle in July 2000 and reacquired him for Wily Mo Pena in March 2001 — and then hit .234/.291/.412 with 14 homers in 133 games for Columbus in 2003. He went 1-for-9 in two MLB cups of coffee. After the 2003 season, Henson announced his retirement from baseball and decided to go play football, quarterbacking for the Cowboys, Vikings, and Lions from 2004-08. He’s now a hitting coach for one of the Yankees’ two rookie level Gulf Coast League minor league affiliates.

No. 5: RHP Chien-Ming Wang
Select Quote: “There hasn’t been a Taiwanese pitcher who has come to the States and avoided major injury, so his durability remains a question.”
What Happened: Wang missed the entire 2000 season due to a shoulder injury, which prompted that quote in Baseball America’s write-up. He stayed healthy in the minors from 2003-05 and was just okay (4.00 ERA in 308.1 inning) before getting called up to MLB in May 2005. Wang pitched to a 3.79 ERA (117 ERA+) with 15.4 bWAR from 2005-08 for the Yankees. Then he hurt his foot running the bases. Then he blew out his shoulder. CMW is still kicking around in the minors — he signed a minor league deal with the Braves a few weeks ago — but he hasn’t been effective at all since hurting his foot in 2008. For shame.

No. 6: IF Robinson Cano
Select Quote: “He generates plus bat speed and has a knack for making adjustments with his hands to put the barrel of the bat on balls in different zones. He covers the plate well with a good idea of the strike zone, makes consistent hard contact and projects to hit for power.”
What Happened: Cano hit .276/.319/.437 with 15 homers between Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Greensboro in 2002. Then he hit .277/.322/.374 with six homers between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2003. That’s not very good! Cano improved a bit with Trenton and Triple-A Columbus in 2004 (.283/.339/.457 with 13 homers) and, before you knew it, he was hitting .342 in the big leagues by 2006. Robbie was an MVP candidate with the Yankees from 2010-13 before signing a ten-year, $240M contract with the Mariners last offseason. We know nothing about prospects.

No. 7: LHP Danny Borrell
Select Quote: “His arm has relatively low mileage, and Borrell could throw harder with more innings.”
What Happened: Despite that low mileage, Borrell blew out his shoulder in 2003 and continued to battle injuries until he retired following the 2008 season. He threw only 282.1 ineffective minor league innings (4.53 ERA) the rest of his career after being dubbed the team’s seventh best prospect by Baseball America. Borrell has been working as a pitching coach and pitching coordinator in New York’s farm system for several years now.

No. 8: RHP Jorge DePaula
Select Quote: “DePaula was able to channel his intensity to become more efficient on the mound. He must continue to keep his emotions in check to avoid losing control of the game.”
What Happened: The Yankees acquired DePaula from the Rockies for Craig Dingman (Craig Dingman!) back in 2001 and he developed into a quality pitching prospect from 2001-03. He spent most of the 2013 season in Triple-A (4.35 ERA in 167.2 inning) and got a September call-up, allowing one run on three hits and one walk in 11.1 innings. DePaula made the Opening Day roster in 2004 but blew out his elbow that April and needed Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2005 and just kind of sputtered. The Yankees cut him loose after 2006 and he bounced around the minors until 2009. (DePaula pitched in Mexico as recently as 2012.) DePaula retired with a 4.00 ERA (114 ERA+) in 27 big league innings, all with New York from 2003-05.

No. 9: OF Rudy Guillen
Select Quote: “Guillen might have the highest ceiling in the organization … While Guillen has five-tool potential, his ability to hit for average will be tested against more advanced competition.”
What Happened: After hitting .306/.351/.397 with three homers in 59 games for the rookie GCL Yanks in 2002, Guillen hit .260/.311/.414 with 13 homers in 133 games with Low-A Battle Creek in 2003, which was pretty good for a 19-year-old in full season ball. After that though, Guillen hit .259/.302/.359 with 20 homers from 2004-07 and simply didn’t develop. He played a total of 49 games above Single-A ball, all with Double-A Trenton. Guillen has been out of baseball since 2007. Yet another reminder to not get worked up over rookie ball stats.

No. 10: LHP Sean Henn
Select Quote: “The Yankees drafted Henn twice, but it wasn’t until his velocity jumped two grades that they signed him to a $1.701 million bonus, a record for a draft-and-follow. Henn went down with a sore elbow nine games into his pro debut and needed Tommy John surgery that wiped out his entire 2002 season.”
What Happened: Henn returned from elbow reconstruction in 2003 and was pretty rough, striking out 62 and walking 40 in 80.1 innings. The next season he had a 4.41 ERA with 118 strikeouts and 63 walks in 163.1 innings with Double-A Trenton. Henn got to MLB for the first time in 2005 and allowed 16 runs in 11.1 innings. He walked eleven and struck out three. Three! Henn went up and down in both 2006 and 2007 and wasn’t any good — 37 runs allowed with 35 strikeouts and 32 walks in 46 innings. Eventually the Yankees gave up and put Henn on waivers. The Padres claimed him and he’s been bouncing around since. Henn last played with the Mets in 2013. Like, the big league Mets, not their Triple-A team. Classic case of a guy with a big arm who never figured it out but kept getting chances because he’s a lefty.

Pre-2004

Navarro in Trenton. (Mike Ashmore)
Navarro in Trenton. (Mike Ashmore)

No. 1: C Dioner Navarro
Select Quote: “Nagging injuries — including an inner-thigh infection that led to a sty in his eye, and a hand injury from a home-plate collision — weren’t enough to stop him from raking. His combined .321 average ranked fourth among minor league catchers.”
What Happened: After hitting .321/.376/.469 with seven homers in 110 games as a 19-year-old for High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2003, Navarro slipped down to .263/.341/.366 with four homers in 110 games for Trenton and Triple-A Columbus in 2004. The Yankees called him up in September then traded him to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson after the season. Arizona flipped him to the Dodgers for Shawn Green and the Dodgers flipped him to the (Devil) Rays for Toby Hall and Mark Hendrickson. Navarro’s been in the show on and off since 2004 and is a career .255/.313/.375 (85 OPS+) hitter with 7.4 bWAR.

No. 2: 3B Eric Duncan
Select Quote: “Some teams compared Duncan’s lefthanded power potential to Jim Thome’s. As with Thome, Duncan’s defense at third base may force him to move across the diamond to first.”
What Happened: Duncan had a really good year in 2004, hitting .258/.357/.473 with 16 homers in 123 games while climbing from Low-A Battle Creek to Double-A Trenton. He was only 19 too. Duncan hit 19 homers in 2005 but his slash line (.235/.326/.408) was pretty ugly. The Yankees had him in Triple-A by age 21 and he just stopped hitting, putting up a .226/.290/.343 line with in parts of four seasons at the level. Duncan had serious power but not much else. It didn’t help that the team rushed him up the ladder in an effort to boost his trade value.

No. 3: Guillen

No. 4: SS Joaquin Arias
Select Quote: “Nicknamed ‘Spiderman’ because his arms and legs appear to be going in every direction at once, Arias displays good body control in the field.”
What Happened: As you may know, Arias was traded to the Rangers along with Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez in February 2004. Texas selected him from a pool of prospects that also included Cano. Yankees got lucky there, eh? Arias had some nice upside but didn’t develop as hoped. He bounced from the Rangers to the Mets to the Giants, where he’s been since 2012. Arias is a career .269/.298/.354 (82 OPS+) hitter with 0.9 bWAR. Two World Series rings though.

No. 5: RHP Ramon Ramirez
Select Quote: “Ramirez had Japanese-style mechanics with a hip-turn and hesitations, but pitching instructors Billy Connors and Greg Pavlick converted him to a more conventional over-the-top delivery.”
What Happened: Ramirez has a weird back story. He was originally outfielder but converted to pitcher after signing with the Hiroshima Carp in 2002. The Carp posted him in March 2003 after a strong winter ball showing and the Yankees won his rights with a $350,000 bid. They signed him for $175,000 and he pitched to a 4.83 ERA in 284.2 innings at three minor league levels from 2003-04, then was traded to the Rockies for Shawn Chacon in 2005. Ramirez is still active — he pitched in one game for the Orioles last season but spent most of the summer in the minors — and has a 3.42 ERA (125 ERA+) with 6.9 bWAR in 434.2 career innings, all in relief. Not a bad little career.

No. 6: Cano

No. 7: SS Ferdin Tejeda
Select Quote: “A switch-hitter, Tejeda handles the bat well from both sides and uses quick hands and an efficient line-drive swing. He puts the ball in play, though not with the same authority as Joaquin Arias.”
What Happened: So Arias with less bat, got it? Tejeda had some nice defensive skills but man he didn’t hit at all — .220/.288/.247 in 94 games at High-A and Double-A in 2004 — so much so that the Yankees stuck him on the mound in 2005. He had a 1.80 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 15 innings for the GCL Yankees in 2005 and was lost on waivers to the Padres that summer. Tejeda’s been out of baseball since 2008 and only played 30 games above Single-A ball.

N0. 8: DePaula

No. 9: OF Estee Harris
Select Quote: “The Yankees went against the consensus to snag Harris in the second round, but they love his bat … Harris has drawn comparisons to a young Garret Anderson and could produce 30 home runs annually once he matures.”
What Happened: Shockingly, the Yankees went against the grain in the draft and it didn’t work. Harris hit .221/.306/.368 with ten homers and 153 strikeouts in 113 games split between three levels of Single-A in 2004 and was playing in an independent league by 2007. He’s been out of baseball since 2011 and hit .218/.296/.365 with a 30.7% strikeout rate in 327 games with the Yankees, none above Low Class-A.

No. 10: Sardinha

Pre-2005

No. 1: Duncan
No. 2: Cano

Hughes. (Post and Courier)
Hughes. (Post and Courier)

No. 3: RHP Phil Hughes
Select Quote: “The Angels strongly considered him at No. 12 before deciding to take top-rated pitcher Jered Weaver.”
What Happened: We all know what happened, but man, Hughes was the bomb back in the day. He had a 2.19 ERA with 93 strikeouts and 20 walks in 86.1 innings for Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa as a 19-year-old in 2005 then had a 2.16 ERA with 168 walks and 34 strikeouts in 146 innings for Tampa and Double-A Trenton in 2006. Baseball America ranked him the top pitching prospect in the game before the 2007 season. Well, top non-Daisuke Matsuzaka pitching prospect. Hughes had a (very) up and down tenure in New York but seems to have found himself with the Twins after leaving as a free agent last winter.

No. 4: RHP Steven White
Select Quote: “White’s development was an important step for the Yankees, who could use an innings-eater as soon as possible. He fits that profile, but needs at least a year to hone his secondary stuff.”
What Happened: White was a four-year college guy with okay stuff who got overrated as a prospect pretty quickly because he dominated Low-A Battle Creek and High-A Tampa as a 23-year-old (!) in 2004 — 2.61 ERA in 117.1 innings. He had a 4.45 ERA with a weak 16.9% strikeout rate from 2005-08, though he did at least reach Triple-A. White’s been out of baseball since 2008. The lesson here: age relative to level is important!

No. 5: Navarro (hadn’t yet been traded when Baseball America released their Yankees top ten)

No. 6: RHP Christian Garcia
Select Quote: “He has easy velocity on his fastball, working at 93-94 mph and topping out at 96 … His curveball, at times a true power hammer, could be a better pitch.”
What Happened: Man, Garcia had nasty, nasty stuff. He just couldn’t stay healthy. Two Tommy John surgeries, an oblique strain, and some other stuff limited him to only 258.1 innings — none above Double-A — from 2005-10 before the Yankees gave up and released him. The Nationals picked him up and he actually made it to the big leagues with them in 2012, allowing three runs with 15 strikeouts in 12.2 relief innings in September 2012. Here’s that “true power hammer” curveball:

Christian Garcia

Garcia got hurt again in 2013 and has thrown only 27.2 innings the last two seasons. Washington released him last June and from what I can tell, he’s still a free agent. Great, great arm. Just couldn’t stay healthy. Pitching prospects, man.

No. 7: 3B Marcos Vechionacci
Select Quote: “Vechionacci can hit. His advanced approach includes plate discipline, smooth swing mechanics and the ability to use the whole field. He shows developing power as well.”
What Happened: Well, no, Vechionacci couldn’t hit. Or at least he didn’t. He followed up his strong 2004 season (.319/.390/.454) with a .252/.314/.348 line and two homers in 128 games for Low-A Charleston in 2005. From 2005-09, Vechionacci put up a .245/.314/.345 batting line before having a nice dead cat bounce season with Double-A Trenton in 2010, hitting .283/.350/.421 with eleven homers in 114 games. People asked if he was regaining prospect status. I said no. They mocked at me. Vechionacci became a minor league free agent after that season, no team bothered to sign him, and he’s been out of baseball since. So no, he didn’t regain prospect status. Jerks.

No. 8: OF Melky Cabrera
Select Quote: “One club official compared his offensive game to Jose Vidro’s.”
What Happened: Melky has turned into a nice little player. His cup of coffee in 2005 was a total disaster, he looked like a deer in the headlights, but in 2006 he hit .280/.360/.391 (95 OPS+) while filling in for the injured Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. Cabrera hit .267/.323/.385 (84 OPS+) from 2007-09, got traded to the Braves for Javy Vazquez, got fat, got released by Atlanta, signed with the Royals, got less fat, and has hit .309/.351/.458 (124 OPS+) since. Melky is a career .286/.339/.415 (103 OPS+) hitter with 17.7 WAR and just signed a three-year, $42M deal with the White Sox. Too bad he didn’t figure it out while in pinstripes. By the way, when he was Melky’s age, Vidro had 17.0 WAR. Freaky.

No. 9: Sardinha
No. 10: Wang

Pre-2006

No. 1: Hughes
No. 2: Duncan

No. 3: OF Jose Tabata
Select Quote: “His ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor leaguer since Alfonso Soriano.
What Happened: Tabata was peak Yankees Hype Machine. There were Manny Ramirez comps flying around and they were ridiculous. Tabata did hit though, at least at first. He authored a .298/.377/.420 line in 86 games with Low-A Charleston in 2006, his age 17 season, and Baseball America ranked him as the 27th best prospect in the game after the season. Then he hit .307/.371/.392 in 103 games with High-A Tampa the next season.

Tabata was not without his issues, however. He had been insubordinate — he literally left the stadium in the middle of a game while with Double-A Trenton in 2008 because he didn’t like a strike three call — and there were always whispers he was older than believed. Those whispers still exist too. Anyway, the Yankees got fed up with Tabata’s act and traded him to the Pirates in the Damaso Marte/Xavier Nady deal in 2008. He’s a career .275/.336/.379 (99 OPS+) hitter with 2.5 bWAR in part of five seasons. Tabata never developed any power and the off-the-field issues persist. The Yankees did well to cash him in as a trade chip when they did.

No. 4: SS C.J. Henry
Select Quote: “Henry is a premier athlete, already the best in the system. He has well-above-average raw power and is a plus runner.”
What Happened: Henry was a great athlete who split his time between baseball and basketball in high school, and the lack of experience showed in pro ball. He didn’t hit at all. Henry had a .240/.330/.353 line with a 27.2% strikeout rate in 77 games with Low-A Charleston when the Yankees cut bait and sent him to the Phillies as part of the package for Bobby Abreu in 2006, one year after drafting him. Henry briefly returned to the organization in 2008 but never made it out of Single-A ball. He played college hoops from 2009-11 at Kansas and Southern Nazarene University, tried independent ball in 2003 (.332/.410/.523!) and has been out of sight since. I thought Henry was a great pick at the time (17th overall), he was loaded with tools, it’s just didn’t work out.

No. 5: OF Austin Jackson
Select Quote: “Jackson’s basketball jones threw off many area scouts, who doubted his desire to play baseball. But Mark Batchko realized Jackson wanted to be a Yankee, having written his first scouting report on him when Jackson was 12.
What Happened: The 2006 season at Low-A Charleston was a little rough (.260/.340/.346 with 151 strikeouts) but Jackson broke out in 2007 and was one of the team’s very best prospects before being traded to the Tigers for Curtis Granderson during the 2009-10 offseason. Jackson is a career .274/.336/.402 (101 OPS+) hitter with 19.9 bWAR in five MLB seasons. He’s turned into exactly the player he was projected to be. Sometimes it all makes sense.

No. 6: SS Eduardo Nunez
Select Quote: “Nunez had a 70 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale and good hands defensively … Nunez has shaky footwork at shortstop, and some question whether he’ll have the range or mobility to stay there.”
What Happened: Oh Nunie. He didn’t hit at all from 2006-08 (.243/.312/.329), broke out with Double-A Trenton in 2009 (.322/.349/.433), held his own with Triple-A Scranton in 2010 (.289/.340/.381), and saw way too much playing time with the Yankees from 2010-13. With New York, Nunez hit .267/.313/.379 (88 OPS+) with -1.8 bWAR and plenty of hilaribad defense:

Eduardo Nunez

Nunez was traded to the Twins last year and did more of the same in Minnesota (82 OPS+ and 0.3 bWAR) while also playing some outfield. If nothing else, he was a goofy guy good for some comic relief. But geez, Nunie’s defense was gross.

No. 7: Vechionacci
No. 8: Garcia

No. 9 : RHP Jeff Marquez
Select Quote: “Marquez shows three pitches that could be 55 or 60 offerings on the 20-80 scouting scale … If his control and command improve to be major league average, Marquez could top out as a No. 2 or 3 starter.”
What Happened: Marquez was a pretty good pitching prospect who had solid yet unspectacular years in 2006 (3.58 ERA in 98 innings) and 2007 (3.65 ERA in 155.1 innings) while climbing from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton. He struggled in 2008 (4.47 ERA in 102.2 innings) and the team sent him to the White Sox as part of the package for Nick Swisher after the season. Marquez returned to New York on waivers in 2011 and allowed one run in five innings for the team that summer. He’s been out of baseball since 2012.

No. 10: RHP Tyler Clippard
Select Quote: “Clippard combines a knack for pitching with solid-average stuff and a strikeout pitch. He profiles as a No. 3 starter and could move quickly.”
What Happened: Clippard was a pretty polarizing prospect back in the day because he had gaudy minor league numbers but the scouting report was just meh. He manhandled Double-A in 2006, posting a 3.35 ERA with 175 strikeouts in 166.1 innings, and although he sorta stunk with Trenton and Triple-A Scranton the following year (4.50 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 96 innings), the Yankees called Clippard up and he beat the Mets in his MLB debut.

Yankee Clippard

The Yankees traded Clippard to the Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo after the season and that trade has been a disaster. Albaladejo mostly stunk in pinstripes and Clippard took off when Washington moved him into the bullpen full-time in 2009. He’s been one of baseball’s elite relievers ever since, pitching to a 2.64 ERA (150 ERA+) with 10.1 bWAR in an absurd 453.2 innings from 2009-14. Quite the blunder by the Yankees. Oh well. You win some and you lose some.

* * *

Baseball America ranked 27 different players among New York’s top ten prospects from 2003-06, and, of those 27, there is one superstar (Cano), two above-average players (Wang and Clippard), five solid big leaguers (Jackson, Melky, Rivera, Navarro, Hughes), four spare part big leaguers (Arias, Ramirez, Nunez, Tabata), and 15 others who either flamed out or got hurt or turned into up-and-down guys. Other players ranked among the team’s top 30 prospects in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook from 2003-06 were IF Andy Phillips, OF Marcus Thames, RHP Scott Proctor, OF Brett Gardner, RHP Jeff Karstens, and the late LHP Brad Halsey. Gardner’s the prize there.

More than anything, I think this little exercise shows just how ridiculously difficult it is to project future MLB success. Ranking prospects is a fool’s errand but hey, it’s fun and people love rankings, so everyone does it anyway. Quality MLB players come in all shapes and sizes and have all sorts of different backgrounds. Jackson was a basketball prospect who became a big league center fielder. Arias was a stud shortstop prospect who now can’t hit his weight. Navarro looked like a monster who turned into a fringe regular. Cano was an okay prospect before turning into a star. Go back and look through the worst ranked farm systems in history and, inevitably, they produced some decent big league ballplayers.

Can there by any truth to the Brett Gardner – Austin Jackson rumor?

(Leon Halip/Getty Images)
(Leon Halip/Getty Images)

When Peter Gammons mentioned talk about a swap of Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson, it seemed appalling for two reasons. First, why would Detroit entertain such an idea? Second, why did Gammons claim it “makes sense for both teams”? If this is indeed on the table, shouldn’t the Yankees take it?

In the Tigers, the Yankees might have found a team that doesn’t undervalue Brett Gardner. Swapping him for Jackson, who is three and a half years younger and has two more years of team control, would indicate that the Tigers do value Gardner*. It might also indicate that, as they did when they traded Curtis Granderson to the Yankees in exchange for Jackson, that they’re looking to get rid of a player before he becomes too expensive.

*Of course, that statement could look a whole lot different if the Yankees are supposed to send additional players to Detroit.

A year ago it might have seemed insane to even entertain the idea of trading Jackson. In his age-25 season he broke out to hit .300/.377/.479, upping his power while cutting down on his strikeouts significantly. A year later he looks slightly less impressive, having hit .272/.337/.417 in roughly the same number of PA. A hamstring injury did hamper him earlier in the season. Perhaps the Tigers saw something they didn’t like and now think that perhaps Jackson’s 2012 was a standout he’s not likely to repeat.

In Gardner the Tigers would lose a year of control, but they’d gain a valuable player who slots well into their lineup and helps balance their righty-heavy approach. This goes especially after they signed Rajai Davis to a two-year deal. Instead of having the first four hitters in their lineup bat righty — Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Ian Kinsler, in some order — they can lead off with the lefty Gardner. They might also think it more possible to sign him to an extension at a far more affordable rate than Jackson.

Jackson would better balance the Yankees’ lineup as well. Instead of leading off with the lefties Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner, they could go with Ellsbury and Jackson, followed by Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano, giving Joe Girardi his desired lefty-righty split (with interspersed switch hitters). Jackson, who by the eye and generally by the numbers, plays good defense, could show similar value to Gardner in left, since few left fielders can cover as much ground as those two.

The trade, then, makes a little more sense from each team’s perspective. The Tigers get a player they can perhaps sign to a reasonable extension (which is probably not possible with Jackson, a Scott Boras client). The Yankees get a young player who gives them an extra year of team control. Both teams gain balance. Yet this move can’t be high on the Yankees’ priority list currently. They have areas of need, and if they’re going to trade Gardner now it would have to help cover one of them.

There is no reason, currently, to trade Gardner for anything other than a mid-rotation starting pitcher or a decent second baseman. The latter seems pretty out of the question. The former becomes a difficult proposition if teams don’t value Gardner as the Yankees do. Still, they’ll almost certainly wait out the market, seeing what they can get in exchange for Gardner on that front.

If the Yankees sign Omar Infante and Masahiro Tanaka, the situation might change. But even then, I’d rather see the Yankees explore an extension with Gardner than trade him. Given his value, and the reality that he’ll probably get a reasonable contract, it would seem a better idea to keep Gardner for four or five years rather than trade him. If, on the other hand, Gardner isn’t open to an extension, if he would rather play center and lead off for another team, then it’s easy to see why the Yankees would pull the trigger. They get two years of a player with similar current value and a higher upside, at a slightly more expensive rate.

The rumor surfaced this week, because this is the week that rumors surface. But at this point, it doesn’t make much sense for the Yankees. Swapping a good outfielder for another good outfielder in order to gain a year of control and balance the lineup is nice, but it can’t be near the top of the priority list. The Yanks have other moves to make right now, and Gardner is valuable to them. If a move like this is to occur, and there is certainly some sense in it, chances are it would come far, far closer to spring training.

2013 Winter Meetings Day Three Open Thread

Could Ackley be less awful outside of Seattle? (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Ack. (ley) (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

The Yankees did most of their heavy offseason lifting over the last few weeks, so the first two days of the Winter Meetings have been a bit of a bore. That’s been the case around the entire league, really. Hopefully things pick up over the next 36 hours — the Winter Meetings unofficially end following the Rule 5 Draft tomorrow morning — just to add some excitement to the week. This is supposed to be the most fun time of the offseason.

Anyway, here are Monday’s and Tuesday’s Yankees-related rumors. The most important thing we’ve learned so far this week is that the club is getting a ton of calls on Brett Gardner but they’re likely to keep him. They’re pushing Ichiro Suzuki in trades instead. Good luck with that. Guys like Joaquin Benoit, Mark Reynolds, Dustin Ackley, Danny Espinosa, and Michael Young are on their radar as well. We’ll keep track of the Wednesday’s rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All times are ET.

  • 10:15pm: The Yankees rejected a Gardner-for-Phillips offer from the Reds. Happy to see the team values Gardner so highly, it would have been very easy to say yes to that offer following Robinson Cano‘s defection. [Heyman]
  • 6:47pm: The Reds are indeed interested in Gardner right now. The Yankees do not have interest in lefty reliever Sean Marshall, however. He was almost traded to the Rockies earlier this week before something popped up in his medicals. [Sherman]
  • 5:23pm: If you were hoping the Yankees would sign Bartolo Colon, forget it. He agreed to a two-year, $20M contract (!) with the Mets. That’s a lot. [Rosenthal]
  • 5:04pm: The Yankees were interested in Jason Vargas before he took a four-year, $32M deal from the Royals a few weeks ago. Weird. The soft-tossing, pitch-to-contact types are not usually the guys they target. [Nightengale]
  • 4:59pm: Freddy Garcia’s agent reached out to the Yankees, but they said they weren’t interested. With all due respect to Sweaty Freddy, there’s no need for a reunion. [Marchand]
  • 4:05pm: Brian Cashman told reported the Yankees are “ready to rock ‘n roll” when asked if they are holding back money for Masahiro Tanaka. He also indicated they may fill out their rotation and bench with low cost pickups later in the offseason, similar to 2011. [Sherman & Andy McCullough]
  • 2:27pm: The Yankees have no intention of giving Infante a four-year contract, and rightfully so. He’s sticking to that demand though. [Feinsand]
  • 2:25pm: The Reds have “little interest” in Gardner, surprisingly. They need a leadoff man and center fielder. [Sherman]
  • 12:24pm: The Yankees like Diamondbacks shortstop Didi Gregorius. He could play second this year before taking over as the long-term Derek Jeter replacement, at least in theory. Whether he’s attainable is another matter. [Joel Sherman]
  • 10:34am: There are “no active talks” between the Yankees and Reds about Brandon Phillips at the moment. They can do better. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 10:22am: The Yankees are one of eight teams with interest in Johan Santana. All talks are in the preliminary stages and it would be a minor league contract. Johan is returning from his second torn shoulder capsule. [Andrew Marchand]
  • 10:03am: Apparently the Yankees and Tigers are discussing a deal involving Gardner and Austin Jackson. That seems … weird. I wonder if Detroit thinks it’ll be easier to sign Gardner long-term or something. [Peter Gammons]
  • 9:52am: There “are no legs” to any talks about Masterson between the Yankees and Indians. They only need his arm anyway, amirite? [Buster Olney]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees would like to get their hands on the available Justin Masterson. The Indians want young, controllable pitching in return, and since they already have three center fielders on their roster, a trade involving Gardner would require a third team. [Bob Nightengale]
  • No surprise here, but the Yankees are no longer in on Nelson Cruz or Shin-Soo Choo after signing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. They remain engaged with free agent infielder Omar Infante. [Mark Feinsand]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Mailbag: Killer B’s, Igawa, A-Jax, Culver

I’ve got four questions this week, three of which deal with a current or former Yankees prospect. The other has to do with a guy taking up space in the minors. Remember to send in your questions via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Boom or bust? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Joe asks: Do you think there is any chance the Yanks keep and develop all of the Killer B’s?  I know the odds of all three reaching their ceiling and staying healthy are long, and as you or Joe or Ben said last week don’t fall in love with your prospects, but it be nice to see them all on the big club.  What % do you think it will occur?

If you’ve got three pitching prospects of that caliber, my general (and completely amateur) rule of thumb is that one will reach (or at least approach) his ceiling, one will fall short of his ceiling but still be a productive big leaguer, and the third will be a complete bust. The Yankees exceeded that with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, turning them into two viable big league starters and a reliever. Look back at the Red Sox five years ago; they got an ace, a reliever, and a bust out of Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, and Craig Hansen.

I’d expect Manny Banuelos to approach his ceiling, Andrew Brackman to fall short of his ceiling but be a useful player, and Dellin Betances to be the complete bust out of the Killer B’s. Nothing personal, it’s just that Dellin’s health record scares me. That said, I fully expect them to trade one of those guys, probably sometime this year. The big league team needs pitching right now, and the Yankees have some high end pitching depth and can afford to move one of those guys.

Of course I’d love to see all three of them stay with the team and flourish in the big leagues, but the odds are so stacked against it. I’d give it less than a 50-50 chance that all three will stay with the Yankees for the next few years, and less than a 5% chance that all three turn into productive players. Prospects will break your heart, the Killer B’s are no different than the hundreds that came before them.

Nicolai asks: If Kei Igawa was blocking somebody from being promoted to Scranton, could the Yankees just send him down to Trenton, Tampa or Charleston?

Yep, absolutely. The Yankees actually sent him all the way down to High-A Tampa for two starts in 2007. Igawa’s not blocking anyone from anything.

A different Joe asks: I was listening to the Yankees game and it was the Tigers radio crew. They claimed A-Jax would be a 15 homer and 40 SB guy this season. I personally don’t see this happening at all. Any thoughts on it?

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

This year? No way, not in Comerica. Austin Jackson has 17 homers total in his last 1,816 plate appearances dating back to 2007, so I don’t see a sudden spike happening. I could definitely see 15 homers at his peak, maybe even 20, but 2011 is too soon for that. If Jackson did pop double-digit homers this year, that would mean everything went right for him and he even squeezed in an inside-the-parker or three. Of all the projection systems out there, only CAIRO and ZiPS have him hitting more than six homers, and both forecast seven.

I like Jackson and there’s no doubt that he’s an above-average player, but expecting 15 homers out of him this year is a bit much. Even the 40 steals is a bit of a question mark (27 last year), but it’s not as unbelievable as the power numbers. Just for some perspective, only three different players have had a 15-40 season in the last three years, and Carl Crawford was the only one to do it twice.

Anthony asks: What’s the projection for 2010 first rounder Cito Culver as a major leaguer? Does he have the potential to be a solid starter on a high caliber team?

Culver’s long-term value is going to lie mostly in his glovework, which, luckily, is really really good. Is he going to be Derek Jeter? Absolutely not. Is he going to be Cesar Izturis? Eh, maybe. It’s always possible. I think the best case scenario for the Yankees’ 2010 first round pick is an above-average defensive shortstop (probably not Gold Glove caliber though) that hits for average, draws some walks, and steals some bases. Culver doesn’t have much power and doesn’t project to down the road, but he’s switch-hitter with some contact skills, and he did manage to a walk in nearly ten percent of his plate appearances in his pro debut last summer.

If I had to put numbers on it, which I hate doing, I think his offensive ceiling is something like .300/.360/.400, right around a .350 wOBA. Culver also has the speed and skills to steal a healthy amount of bags, maybe even 40+ in his basestealing prime. Stick that at shortstop over 600 plate appearances with say, +4 or +5 run defense, and you’ve got a four win player. Again, that’s not Derek Jeter, but that’s a player good enough to start on a championship team. Of course, Culver has a long, looong way to go to live up to that potential.

Mailbag: Traded Prospects

Here’s a special one-question edition of the RAB Mailbag, but don’t worry, we’ll definitely get to some more throughout the course of the week.

Hey! Since many, many moves were made both prior to the season and during the season concerning movement of prospects, it doesn’t seem to have affected the farm system too much. Contrary to this, the farm system as a whole seems to have taken a giant leap forward, especially with the development of our young pitching corps. But I still wonder, how much better (in terms of subjective quality or actual ‘ranking’) would our farm system be if we still had all the players pre Javy-trade.

The Yankees have made several trades involving prospects over the last twelve months, most notably for Curtis Granderson, Javy Vazquez, Boone Logan, Lance Berkman, and Austin Kearns. As far as we know right now, the Kerry Wood trade only involves money. Here are the prospects that were dealt away in those moves, in no particular order: Austin Jackson, Arodys Vizcaino, Mike Dunn, Mark Melancon, Jimmy Paredes, and Zach McAllister. Ian Kennedy surpassed the rookie limit of 50 big league innings back in 2008, so technically he wasn’t a prospect at the time of the trade.

The best overall prospect with the highest long-term value traded away is Vizcaino, who posted a 2.22 FIP (2.74 ERA) in 85.1 innings split between Low-A and High-A this season before being shut down with a small ligament tear in his elbow that did not require Tommy John surgery. During one stretch from early-May to mid-June, he went 44 innings between issuing a walk. Baseball America ranked him the sixth best prospect in the South Atlantic League two weeks ago, saying he “shows a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96, a hammer curveball and excellent control … [h]is changeup continues to improve and could give him a third plus pitch.” It’s a frontline starter package, for sure. If he was still with the Yanks, he’d almost certainly be their top pitching prospect if healthy, but I’d probably dock him a bit for the injury and the uncertainty it brings. For sure, The Killer B’s (Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman) would have another running mate, so perhaps we’d be calling them The Killer B’s Plus V.

The best immediate impact guy they traded was Jackson by far. He had a 3.6 fWAR season for the Tigers thanks to a slightly above average .333 wOBA combined with a strong +4.2 UZR in center. I have a hard time believing that Jackson would have made the Yanks out of Spring Training had the trade never gone down, simply because a starting outfield of Jackson, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher would have been very questionable back in April. He likely would have returned to Triple-A for at least a few weeks, and the Yanks would have brought in another outfielder, probably Johnny Damon now that I think about it. If he was still a Yankee prospect, he’d be their second best position player prospect behind Jesus Montero, but he’d only be in the middle of their top ten prospects behind Montero and The Killer B’s.

The other four guys were all second tier prospects with similar value. Melancon is  the best of the bunch as an MLB-ready strikeout reliever, and sure enough he pitched to a 3.19 FIP (3.12 ERA) with 9.87 K/9 and 4.15 BB/9 in 17.1 innings for Houston after the trade, good for 0.3 fWAR. Dunn spent most of the season in Triple-A but came up late in the year to post a 3.60 FIP (1.89 ERA) in 19 innings for the Braves, though his impressive 12.79 K/9 came with a hideous 8.05 BB/9. Paredes was one of the system’s better sleepers, a slick fielding middle infielder with some pop (.130 ISO this year) and lots of speed (50 steals, 82.0% success rate).

McAllister took a big step back before the trade, getting surpassed by several of the higher upside arms in the system throughout the summer. Before the trade he posted a 4.73 FIP (5.03) in 132.1 Triple-A innings after never having an FIP higher than 3.26 at any level in any season of his career. He also become exceptionally homer prone, giving up 19 in 24 starts after surrendering just 17 in the first 74 outings of his career. The numbers after the trade are from too small a sample to draw any conclusions from (4.08 FIP, 6.88 ERA, 17 IP).

There’s no question that the Yanks’ system would be considerably stronger had all of those trades never gone down, and that’s mostly thanks to Jackson and Vizcaino. Melancon and Dunn are solid depth pieces, Paredes and interesting low-level guy, but frankly McAllister had no place on a team like the Yankees and trade bait was almost certainly his ultimate future one way or the other. The Yanks certainly have a top ten system right now, but if you add a high upside arm like Arodys and a solid everyday centerfielder in Jackson (thanks to the benefit of hindsight, of course), it jumps into the top five, maybe even top three. Their depth would be improved greatly, and the cache of arms would be even deeper. For fun, here’s a rough top list of the ten best Yankee prospects had those trades never gone down…

  1. Jesus Montero
  2. Arodys Vizcaino
  3. Manny Banuelos
  4. Andrew Brackman
  5. Dellin Betances
  6. Austin Jackson
  7. Gary Sanchez
  8. Austin Romine
  9. Slade Heathcott
  10. Hector Noesi

Quibble about the order if you want, but the names are generally correct. No matter how you slice it, that’s a monster top ten.

Remember, prospects serve two purposes: the plug into the big league roster and trades. They were able to trade Vizcaino because of all the other high-upside arms they had in-house, and the reason they were able to acquire a power hitting centerfield with top notch defense like Granderson is because they had someone like Jackson to deal away. The other guys are just the cost of doing business, potentially useful pieces for almost certainly useful pieces. The farm system would be stronger with them, no doubt, but the big league team is stronger because they traded away, and that’s what matters.

Photo Credits: Jackson with the Honolulu Sharks of Hawaii Winter Baseball in 2007 via Kyle Galdeira, Jackson with the Tigers in 2010 via Mark Duncan, AP.

Checking in on Austin Jackson

Photo Credit: Duane Burleson, AP

Twelve months ago, outfielder Austin Jackson was the lone impact position player prospect the Yankees had above A-ball. Jesus Montero and Austin Romine had about 200 plate appearances combined above the Low-A level, and Eduardo Nunez was coming off a three year stretch in which he hit .243-.286-.329. Now, Jackson is starring for the Detroit Tigers following the offseason trade for Curtis Granderson. Granderson was off to a .314 wOBA start in 91 plate appearances before landing on the disabled list with Grade II groin strain over the weekend while the player they gave up was busy wOBA’ing .411 in 119 plate appearances for Tigers, so we’ve already seen plenty of second guessing about the trade. It’s only natural, but one month is hardly any kind of sample from which to draw conclusions from.

Jackson, still just 23-years-old despite being around for what feels like forever, is second in the American League with a .367 batting average which you no doubt already know is fueled by the mother of all BABIP’s: .527. For comparison’s sake, Robbie Cano‘s league leading .387 batting average is backed by a .365 BABIP, which is high for him considering his .322 career BABIP, but it’s not completely insane at this time of year. Ichiro had a .399 BABIP the year he broke the all-time single season hit record with 262. That gives you can idea of how absurd Jackson’s luck has been. Outside of Little League, there’s just no way a player can sustain having more than 50% of the balls he hits between the lines drop in for a hit. There’s just no way.

Using Derek Carty’s expected BABIP calculator (xBABIP), we find that Jackson would be expected to have a .350 BABIP based on the kind of balls he’s put in play (line drives, ground balls, etc). So we’re talking a 177 point difference here, which translates into 19 13 (!!!) extra hits that the former Yanks’ farmhand has already picked up this season that he normally wouldn’t have been expected to. Assuming those 19 13 extra hits were all singles, he would be hitting just .190-.258-.318 (.257 wOBA) .248-.311-.367 (.305 wOBA) if lady luck weren’t on his side. Jackson’s minor league BABIP is .366 in close to 2,500 plate appearances, so that’s essentially his baseline. The .350 xBABIP is reasonable considering that he’s now in the big boy’s league.

All those extra hits are one piece of the puzzle, there’s also all those strikeouts as well. Jackson leads the league with 34 strikeouts, or 31.2% of his at-bats. Just eight players struck out in at least three out of every ten at-bats last season, and they were all three true outcome sluggers (Mark Reynolds, Jack Cust, Carlos Pena, Russell Branyan, etc), not gap-to-gap hitters like A-Jax. As you would expect, the root of those strikeouts stems from Jackson’s plate discipline, which has never been his strong suit.

So far this season, he’s offered at 27.4% of pitches out of the strike zone, a touch more than the league average of 26.9%. Jackson isn’t just swinging at more pitches out of the zone than the rest of the league, he’s also making contact on fewer, just 60.3% (64.6% lg avg). that’s no doubt due to a 9.7% swinging strike rate (8.3% lg avg), which is pretty high. Swinging and missing at pitches out of the strike zone is a deadly combination. The strikeouts also impact BABIP, since fewer balls are in play. Jackson was always able to swing and miss with the best of them, but his immense production has masked this deficiency so far.

At the moment, pitchers are throwing Jackson a fastball 67.5% of the time, which is partly due to the league making the rookie prove he can hit the cheese before adjusting. Just nine batters has seen a higher percentage of fastballs this year, and they’re all basically no-power slap hitters (David Eckstein, Juan Pierre, Scott Podsednik, Luis Castillo, and of course Brett Gardner). As the season progresses and the league gets two or three or more looks at Jackson, he’ll start getting fed more and more offspeed stuff, which was always his weakness in the bush leagues.

The Tigers are getting a tremendous amount of production out of their new centerfielder so far this season, which is great for both the team and Jackson. I hope Detroit uses the hot start to jump in and sign him to an eight year deal and sets him up for life, I really do. However, it’s still far too early to accept this as Jackson’s true talent level, and it’s definitely way too early to start second guessing the deal. We’ve been preaching patience since the first day of RAB’s existence, and there’s no reason we would change that approach now.