Austin Romine headed to Futures Game for second straight year

Rosters for the 2011 Futures Game were released today (USA, World), and the only Yankees farmhand headed to the game is Austin Romine. He participated in last year’s game as well. The eligibility rules are weird and I can never seem to nail them down, but it’s something like a maximum of two players per club and no one can go more than twice (which disqualifies Jesus Montero). Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos simply haven’t pitched well enough to make the game, same deal with Gary Sanchez on the position player side.

Romine is currently on the disabled list with a concussion, but he has resumed baseball activities and is expected back within a week. He’ll be ready in plenty of time for the Futures Games, which will be played the Sunday before the All-Star Game (July 10th) in Arizona. Romine is hitting .298/.362/.421 with a .356 wOBA this year, and is on pace to finish with careers highs in many offensive categories.

Mailbag: Jurrjens, Catchers, Extensions, Shortstops

Hooray for mailbag day. Four questions, four topics, including one about contract extensions and two about the futures of two up-the-middle positions. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send your questions in.

That would be Mr. Gardner at the plate. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Daniel asks: So I’ve heard on the RAB Radio Show that you guys aren’t huge fans of Jair Jurrjens, personally I have been. He has shown some serious signs of life … what would it take to acquire him, and would it be worth it?

I always try to find comparable pitchers when dealing with questions like this. We’ve got a 25-year-old right-hander with a career 3.41 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 6.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 45.5% ground ball rate, and two-and-a-half years of team control left (assuming a midseason trade). Jurrjens also has an injury history (including offseason knee surgery and shoulder tightness three years ago), so we can’t forget that. So who’s the comparable?

Matt Garza doesn’t fit, he had better numbers and a better track record of health, so go adjust down from there. Brandon Morrow isn’t a great match, neither is Scott Kazmir or Dan Haren. Edwin Jackson? That might work, when he went to the Tigers for Matt Joyce. Joe Blanton to the Phillies also works well, and he cost them one really good prospect (Adrian Cardenas), a decent big league ready pitching prospect (Josh Outman), and another throw-in prospect (Matt Spencer). Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena happened so long ago, but it’s still along the lines of Jackson-for-Joyce. You know what might work best? Tom Gorzelanny to the Nationals for three good prospects (A.J. Morris, Michael Burgess, and Graham Hicks).

The Blanton and Gorzelanny blueprints say three good (but not any of them great) prospects is enough, though one above-average, young big leaguer could get it done. Atlanta reportedly had interest in Eduardo Nunez, so maybe you built a package around him and one of the Triple-A arms (preferably D.J. Mitchell) is a good starting point. Fill in from there. I’m not a Jurrjens fan, but I’d almost certainly pull the trigger if that’s the cost.

Romine's probably the Yankees best chance for a long-term, homegrown backstop. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Anonymous asks: People often mention Yankees as a team with great depth at catching prospects but do you think any of them can actually stick at catcher? Montero’s struggles at C has been chronicled extensively but KLaw reiterated in his chat last week that he doesn’t think Romine can stay at catcher. Sanchez supposedly has the tools to catch but is obviously struggling to field right now. J.R. Murphy‘s ability to handle catching is also doubtful from various scouting reports. So do you guys think any of them will catch in the big leagues? How would you rate each of their chances?

I don’t think Jesus Montero can catch long-term in the majors, but I think he could fake it for two or three years before he really fills out in his mid-20’s. Austin Romine is better, and Keith Law has always been the low man on his defense. Most other publications see him as average behind the dish, which is good enough. Gary Sanchez has been a defensive disaster early in his career (25 passed balls and 11 errors in 42 games behind the plate), and Murphy is spending more time in the outfield and at DH than at catcher. Those two have a long time to improve, but the early returns are not good.

Montero’s bat is so special that I’d make it work behind the plate for as long as possible, then figure things out once he’s completely unplayable. Romine almost certainly has the best chance to catch in the show when it comes to long-term staying power, though Kyle Higashioka is the best defender out of all of ’em. Too bad the kid can’t hit.

Paul asks: With the shift across the league towards locking up young players for the majority of their productive years, do you see the Yankees rethinking their strategy of not handing out extensions to their own guys? It seems with less premium players hitting free agency, this may be something to look at in the near future for the Yanks.

Yes and no. I don’t see any reason for the Yankees to take on that risk with pitchers since all we have to do is look at Chien-Ming Wang and Phil Hughes to see the potential downside. Position players are a different story since they’re generally safer bets to remain productive. They locked up Robinson Cano just as he entered his arbitration years and that contract (four years, $30M guaranteed) turned out to be a steal regardless of what happens from here on out. I don’t who would be a candidate for such a contract now, certainly not Brett Gardner or Frankie Cervelli. Maybe Montero if he comes up and kills it for two years or so. So yeah, they should at least consider such deals, but I don’t really blame them for not wanting to assume the risk when they can afford big arbitration raises.

Bill asks: What is the FA situation next year and the year after at SS? Jeter cannot be a realistic option for the next two years (hopefully) and after watch Nunez sail throw after throw against Detroit it’s safe to say he is out too.

After this season you have Jose Reyes, Yuniesky Betancourt (nope), Ronny Cedeno (also nope), and aging Jimmy Rollins (no way), and personal fave J.J. Hardy on the free agent market. The post-2012 class offers Erick Aybar and Stephen Drew, who are both legit options based on what we know right now. Jason Bartlett would be an okay stopgap at best. For better or worse, the Yankees are stuck with Jeter (or Eduardo Nunez) at short for the foreseeable future. Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez ain’t walking the door, sorry folks.

The Bench Takes Shape

Update (5:43pm): Lots and lots of updates via Bryan Hoch and Ben Shpigel. First of all, that Sanchez trade? Forget it. He’s being sold to a team in Japan, where I assume he’ll have a much greater opportunity. Good luck to him. Fat Sanchezes 4 life.

We also have ourselves a bench now. Jesus Montero, Ramiro Pena, Justin Maxwell, and Doug Bernier were all sent to Triple-A this afternoon while Austin Romine went back to Double-A Trenton. Ronnie Belliard was released (nice knowin’ ya), and Mark Prior is going to hang around in Tampa for a while, which I assume means Extended Spring Training. Based on all that, the big league bench will consist of Chavez, Andruw Jones, Eduardo Nunez, and Gustavo Molina. Curtis Granderson‘s replacement is still TBD, if one is even needed.

Original Post (4:30pm): As Spring Training nears an end, the Yanks’ Opening Day roster and 40-man are starting to take shape. We have a few afternoon updates including news of a new addition to the Yanks. As they announced in their game notes release this afternoon, the Yankees have signed Eric Chavez to a Major League contract and have added him to the 25-man roster. Chavez had been in camp on a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite, and he has impressed everyone this spring. He hit .405/.432/.571 in 42 at bats and will spell A-Rod and Mark Teixeira at the corners this year.

Via Mark Feinsand, we learn that Romulo Sanchez was seen shaking hands and saying his goodbyes in the clubhouse, indicating that the out-of-options right-hander has been traded or released. Problem is the Yankees haven’t announced where to or for what yet, so stay tuned. We first heard that something was up with Romulo yesterday.

Via Bryan Hoch and Ben Shpigel, lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano will stay behind in Tampa when the team heads north for Opening Day and begin the season on the disabled list. He expected to be there “for a few weeks,” which doesn’t sound good but could easily mean the 15-day minimum. Feliciano’s been dealing with a triceps issue and hasn’t appear in the game in about two weeks now. That’s a shame.

Open Thread: Good journalism vs. bad journalism

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

I tend to have very little interest in players’ personal lives. It adds zero value to my life, all I worry about is what happens on the field. So when Austin Romine left camp for a few days last week for a personal reason, I thought nothing of it. Stuff comes up, who cares, none of my business. Jack Curry wrote about Romine today, and it turns out the young backstop had to leave camp to attend the funeral of his younger cousin, who was killed while participating in a combat operation in Afghanistan. “At this point in time,” said Romine, who remained in camp for ten days after learning of his cousin’s death, “I have no more tears.” It’s a great and heartfelt article that gets RAB’s highest recommendation.

Unfortunately, that side of journalism, the good side, is generally overshadowed by garbage. Instead of more columns like Curry’s, we get stuff like this complete assassination of Marcus Thames by T.J. Simers of The LA Times, a hatchet job that went so far as to attack the pronunciation of the guy’s name. Based on what we read and saw last year, Marcus was as nice a guy as they come, and if you needed any reason to root harder for him, well Simers provided it. I’m glad Thames took the high road and refused to stoop to that level, a level unfit for the hackiest of hacks.

Anyways, here is your open thread for the night. YES is playing an encore of this afternoon’s Yankees-Orioles game, and MLB Network will be doing the same with Mets-Tigers. All three hockey locals are in action as well. Talk about whatever, go nuts.

Yanks land six prospects on BA’s Top 100

Baseball America released their annual list of the top 100 prospects in baseball today, which you can find here: 1-20, 21-40, 41-60, 61-80, 81-100. Jesus Montero was ranked as the third best prospect in the game, trailing only Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Domonic Brown and Julio Teheran round out the top five. Gary Sanchez came in at number 30, Manny Banuelos number 41, Dellin Betances number 43, and Andrew Brackman at number 78. Austin Romine snuck in as number 98. I’m pleasantly surprised that Romine made the cut, and that’s really quite a showing for the Yankees. Damn impressive.

This is only the second time in the 21-year history of BA’s top 100 that the Yankees have had six guys appear on the list. The other came back was 1999, with Nick Johnson (18), Ryan Bradley (25), Alfonso Soriano (39), Ricky Ledee (70), Jackson Melian (72), and Drew Henson (100). Only three of those guys made the top 50, though.

KLaw’s Top 100 Prospects

Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list came out today (1-25, 26-50, 51-75, 76-100), and unsurprisingly the Yankees are well represented (I believe all but the top 25 are Insider only). Jesus Montero comes in at number four, trailing only Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Domonic Brown. “[Montero’s] going to hit. And by that, I mean he’s going to hit for average, get on base and have huge power — the type of offensive profile that plays anywhere on the field and in the lineup,” said KLaw, though he adds the obvious caveat about his defense. “Montero could solve the Yankees’ DH problem for the next 10 years if they commit to it, a move they are unlikely to ever regret.”

Manny Banuelos wasn’t too far behind Montero at number 12, and according to KLaw he’s the fourth best pitching prospect in baseball behind Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller, and Zach Britton. “[He’s] a 19-year-old on the cusp of the majors with a three-pitch mix where all three pitches will at least flash above-average … he’s just a few refinements away from being able to help the big league club.” Law is probably the high man on Banuelos, I was surprised to see him ranked so far up there. Gary Sanchez is 68th (“youth and distance from the majors are the only things keeping him out of the top echelon of this list”), Dellin Betances is 73rd (“[there’s] No. 1 starter potential here, but the probability isn’t there yet”), and Andrew Brackman makes five Yankee farmhands at number 88 (“[he] may be a bullpen guy, but at least now that’s his floor”).

Austin Romine make Law’s list of ten prospects that just missed the top 100, and he notes that Romine “can throw and hit for power, but has struggled with basic receiving tasks every time I’ve seen him in the past six months.” His list of each organization’s top ten prospects came out as well, and the Yankee list is pretty standard with one exception: he’s got Graham Stoneburner all that way at number seven. Hooray for a strong farm system.

Mailbag: Romine, Bush, Gardner, Posada

Time for another edition of the RAB Mailbag, and this one is free of Rafael Soriano/Joba Chamberlain vitriol. We’ve got questions about Dave Bush as a rotation candidate, Austin Romine as the catcher of the future, Brett Gardner‘s long-term outlook, and what happens with Jorge Posada after the upcoming season. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

Arad asks: What about Dave Bush as a 4th or 5th starter?

Once upon a time, Bush was arguably the most dominant closer in college baseball history. The Blue Jays have done a great job in recent years of turning college relievers into starters (Shaun Marcum and Brett Cecil among them), which is what they did with Bush before trading him to the Brewers in the Lyle Overbay deal. But that is neither here nor there.

Bush’s last three seasons have been pretty damn awful. He had a 4.93 FIP in 2008, a 5.07 FIP in 2009, and a 5.13 FIP in 2010, so he’s bad and getting worse as he enters into his 30’s. Although his walk rate is solid (2.64 uIBB/9 in the last three years), his strikeout rate is below average (5.80 K/9) and so is his ground ball rate (38.9%). Oh, and he’s amazingly homer prone. Over the last three seasons he’s surrendered one homerun for fewer than every 6.1 IP. And this is in the NL Central, stick him in the AL East in Yankee Stadium and we could start taking bets on which sections of the bleachers will get souvenirs on the nights he pitches.

As I always say, there’s nothing wrong with a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training, but there are enough red flags here to keep me away.

Ashley asks: If the Yankees were to use Jesus Montero as trade bait sometime throughout the season, how much will the drop off be from Jesus to Austin Romine? Is there any benefit to having Romine as the “catcher of the future” or will we trade for a big name catcher (if he exist)? Basically, assess the Yanks catching situation.

Romine was always a much safer bet to remain at catcher long-term, but questions popped up about his catching ability last season. Keith Law didn’t like what he saw out of him blocking balls in the dirt and what not in the Arizona Fall League, though in fairness Romine was probably fatigued after his first full season as an everyday catcher. His bat also dropped off considerably in the second half. Romine is still a quality catching prospect though, a borderline top 100 guy with the tools to catch in the show. He just has to continue developing those tools into baseball skills. It’ll definitely be a big hit though, Montero is going to be a star because of his bat. Romine will just a solid backstop.

The wildcard here is Russell Martin. If he plays well and the Yankees like what they’re getting out of him over the next two years, there’s always a chance they’ll re-sign him when he’s due to become a free agent in two seasons. IF not, and they trade Montero for a starter, I suspect Romine will get the first crack at that vaunted “catcher of the future” job. If he can’t handle it, they’ll either have to go out and get someone or hope Gary Sanchez doesn’t flame out. This isn’t an immediate concern though, we’re at least two seasons away before we have to really worry about who will do the catching long-term.

Anonymous asks: Gardner. Lead off guy? Centerfielder? Big time contributor or eventual fourth outfielder/pinch runner?

That was a pretty awesome catch. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

If he continues to play like he did last year, he’s a legit leadoff hitter that can play center full-time. He’s just masquerading as a leftfielder now because of Curtis Granderson. The wrist injury and subsequent offseason surgery is a bit of a problem and we don’t know if or how it will effect Gardner in the long run, so that’s something we’re just going to have to wait and see about.

Remember, Gardner is already 27, so this is pretty much what he’s going to be going forward. He won’t suddenly develop power, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He absolutely needs to get better at bunting, but the overall skill set is there to be a legit big league leadoff man for a few seasons. I believe in his ability to be at least an average regular a whole lot more now than I did twelve months ago, and at the absolute worst he’s a good reserve outfielder.

Mark asks: How many games will Jorge Posada have to play and what offensive #’s will he have to put up in 2011 to obtain a contract for 2012? Or due to his age and inability to play defense are we simply counting down the time until we say goodbye to yet another of the all-time Yankee greats to wear the pinstripes later this fall?

I’m in the camp that thinks (hopes) Jorge will retire after the season. Even if he doesn’t, any contract he gets for 2012 would absolutely have to be a one-year deal. That’s imperative. But in order for him to get a new deal after the season, Posada would need to a) handle the move to DH with ease, and b) hit at an above average rate for the position. Offense around the league sucked last season, and AL DH’s (not counting NL DH’s in interleague play) hit just .252/.336/.426 in 2010. Posada easily cleared that playing mostly catcher (.248/.357/.454) and over the last three seasons he’s hit .267/.361/.474, so being an above average DH shouldn’t be much of an issue. Moving to the new position can be, since we’ve seen some playing in the past having trouble dealing with all the down time between at-bats. Becoming a full-time DH after playing the field for two decades isn’t as easy as it seems.

To be perfectly honest, I had never even considered the possibility that Posada could be back in 2012. I don’t think that either A-Rod or Jeter will erode so much next summer that they’ll be relegated to full-time DH duties in 2012, so it seems like the opportunity will be there if Jorge wants to come back for another season. But like I said, one-year contract, nothing more. They already gave him his legacy contract.