September is a chance for Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller to carve out roles with the 2017 Yankees

Heller. (Presswire)
Heller. (Presswire)

Both Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder had their lives change quite a bit over the last six weeks. Holder got off relatively easy. He was promoted to Triple-A in late-July and called up to the big leagues in September. Heller? He went from Double-A to Triple-A, then was traded, then got called up to the show for the first time. That’s a lot to process in a short period of time.

Heller and Holder are with the Yankees right now and they didn’t receive courtesy call-ups. Both were added to the 40-man roster earlier than necessary — Holder was added a year prior to Rule 5 Draft eligibility, Heller only a few weeks early — and Joe Girardi has used both to get some pretty important outs in their early days as Yankees. Look at the situations they’ve been brought into so far:

Heller
Start the eighth up eleven (MLB debut)
Start the eighth down three against Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, and Chris Davis
Start the tenth up one against Raul Mondesi, Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer
Start the 12th tied against Mondesi, Dyson, Cain
Inherit bases loaded with two outs against Edwin Encarnacion, up four

Holder
Start the sixth down eight (MLB debut)
Inherit man on first with one out against Devon Travis, Jose Bautista, and Josh Donaldson, up four

Both Heller and Holder were able to make their big league debuts in low-leverage spots. Ask any manager and I’m sure they’d tell they prefer to have a rookie reliever make his debut in a stress-free blowout. These days the late-innings have been so hyped up that they seem to have a mind of their own.

Since their debuts though, Holder and especially Heller have been thrown into the fire. Holder was asked to go through the top of the one of the best lineups in baseball with a man on base in a four-run game yesterday. Heller was given a save opportunity on the road against the defending World Series champs in his third career appearance. Yesterday he had to face Encarnacion with the bases loaded. I mean, geez. Talk about baptism by fire.

That stuff was all born out of necessity. The Yankees were essentially out of relievers when Heller came in for the save opportunity against the Royals. Yesterday the regular end-game relievers were a bit taxed. Girardi used Heller and Holder in those spots because he had no other choice, really. Going forward I’m sure he’d like to be able to pick his spots a little better and make life easy on the kids.

Regardless of their usage, this month represents a huge opportunity for both Heller and Holder, who have a chance to solidify spots in the 2017 bullpen. Well, maybe we shouldn’t go that far. No one is going to win a 2017 roster spot in September 2016. These two have a chance to move to the front of the line, I should say. That’s better. Holder and Heller want to make a positive impression on the coaching staff and front office this month.

Would it be easier to do that in lower leverage innings? Ostensibly yes. But pitching well in higher leverage spots would help even more. Neither has done that yet, though it’s still early. Also, the results don’t even have to be great. The Yankees are going to evaluate players based on their raw stuff, their composure, and their aggressiveness. A few singles falling in shouldn’t change any opinions.

The Yankees have had some major middle innings problems this season, and the Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman trades haven’t helped. On days Luis Severino isn’t available, Heller and Holder figure to be Girardi’s go-to bridge relievers, so they’re going to pitch. These two aren’t going to sit in the bullpen and throw, like, two innings in September. They were brought up to help, and if they do that, they’ll set themselves up for more prominent roles next year.

The Yankees have moved on from some veterans, and now they’re way more fun and interesting

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night’s 1-0 win over the Blue Jays was very much a nail-biter. The Yankees have 61 wins this season and not too many of them have been stress-free. This team doesn’t do blowouts. Not this year. So of course the Blue Jays were able to put the tying run on third base in the ninth inning. The Yankees had to sweat right up until the final out, and when it was all said and done, they won for the ninth time in 14 games since the trade deadline.

That trade deadline was a momentous day (or series of days) for the Yankees. They sold for the first time in nearly three decades, sending away three productive veterans (and Ivan Nova) for 12 total prospects (and Adam Warren). I don’t think many folks thought the Yankees would actually go through with the sell-off even though it was clearly in the best interests of the franchise long-term. It had to be done.

In many cases, once a team trades away productive veterans for prospects at the deadline, they slip back in the standings and really wear it the rest of the season. Not many teams sell and improve in the second half. Those seem like conflicting ideas. Usually it’s one or the other. Not both. It’s a little early to say the Yankees have improved since the trade deadline, but you know what? They are way more fun and interesting. I have zero doubts about that.

It’s all because of the young players. The Carlos Beltran trade has cleared the way for Aaron Judge, who is the first Yankee ever to record an extra-base hit in his first three career games. The first guy to do that in franchise history. Insane. Gary Sanchez has been up for close to two weeks and he’s been mashing. Judge and Sanchez recently hit balls a combined 900 feet or so for their first career home runs. It was incredible.


There’s also Tyler Austin and Chad Green, who have had their moments as well. Austin homered in his first MLB at-bat and Green shoved against the Blue Jays last night. Eleven strikeouts in six scoreless innings against that lineup? Amazing. Warren is back and that’s fun too. So is Aaron Hicks performing well since the deadline. About the only negative lately has been Luis Severino‘s two bad starts.

The Yankees had to make some tough decisions these last few weeks to make this all possible. Selling at the deadline was no doubt a difficult call for ownership. The team also pushed Alex Rodriguez out the door and ate the $25M or so left on his contract to get these young guys in the lineup. Brian McCann has not been completely benched, but his playing time has been reduced. Mark Teixeira‘s too. You think Joe Girardi wants to do that to those guys? Of course not. But it’s for the best.

Right now the Yankees are 4.5 games back of the second wildcard spot and FanGraphs has their postseason odds at 4.1% as of this writing. I have no idea whether this team can rally and get back in the thick of the playoff race. Probably not. The odds are stacked against them. I do know the Yankees have made smart moves designed to improve the franchise long-term, and I do know they’ve called up several exciting young players recently.

Judge’s and Sanchez’s at-bats are must see television right now. Same with Austin. As great as Beltran was this season, watching Judge is far more enjoyable, at least to me. Watching Sanchez and Austin is infinitely more exciting than watching A-Rod and Teixeira, and that’s coming from a huge A-Rod fan. It’s certainly helped that the Yankees have been winning and the young guys have produced right away. No doubt about it.

Now, that said, this would all still be really fun even if the Yankees were losing and the young guys were struggling because of what we hope this represents: the next great era of Yankees baseball. Judge and Sanchez are potential cornerstone pieces. They might hit third and fourth for the next decade. Or third and fifth with Greg Bird fourth. Austin, Green, and Severino are trying to force their way into the long-term mix too. There’s others like Ben Heller and Luis Cessa as well, and even more in Triple-A.

It has been a very, very long time since the Yankees last had this much young talent on their big league roster. Not since the mid-1990s, really. That’s not a Core Five comparison. That’s just a statement of fact. The Yankees have spent the last few years toeing the line between contention and mediocrity, and they’ve finally made moves geared towards improving the future. This is all new to a lot of us, and gosh, is it fun or what?

Game 116: A Fun Day in the Bronx

Aug 12, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA;  New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (13) reacts from the dugout as shortstop Didi Gregorius (18) and first baseman Mark Teixeira (not pictured) score during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
(Presswire)

Holy cow is today a busy day in Yankeeland. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s going on today:

  1. Both Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin were called up and are making their MLB debuts.
  2. The Yankees are playing their first game in the post-Alex Rodriguez era.
  3. The Yankees are holding their 1996 World Series team reunion ceremony.

I am sad to see A-Rod go. I really am. At least he got a nice send-off last night. It was better and warmer than I thought it would be. The Yankees turned the page fairly quickly though, and are going all-in on this youth movement. Judge and Austin join Gary Sanchez in today’s lineup. That’s fun.

As for the 1996 World Series reunion, well that’s really awesome too. That was my first championship team as a fan and they’ll always be special to me. Pretty cool that Judge and Austin get the experience that during their first day in the big leagues. The Yankees are showing these kids what it’s all about in the Bronx.

The 1996 Yankees ceremony is going to begin around 12pm ET or so. YES will carry the whole thing, I’m certain. Today’s game will then begin a little after 1pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Here’s the Rays’ lineup and here’s the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. 3B Chase Headley
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Gary Sanchez
  7. 1B Tyler Austin
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s about a billion degrees outside with 5,000% percent humidity, according to my rough estimates. It is not a pleasant day to be outside. Hooray for air conditioning. If you’re going to sweat it out at the ballpark, at least it promises to be a fun day to be a Yankee fan. Enjoy the day, folks.

Roster Moves: To get Judge and Austin on the roster, A-Rod was unconditionally released (sad face) and Ben Heller was optioned to Triple-A Scranton. He’ll be back soon. Conor Mullee (elbow surgery) was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear the other 40-man roster spot.

Update: Yankees place Eovaldi on DL, call up Cessa, Heller, Severino

(Getty)
(Getty)

Friday: The Yankees have placed Eovaldi on the 15-day DL with a “right elbow tendon injury,” the team announced today. A tendon injury isn’t exactly good news, but it’s better than a ligament injury. Luis Severino has been called to fill the roster spot. It’s like Severino never left.

Thursday: As expected, the Yankees made a series of roster moves this afternoon. One of them was not placing Nathan Eovaldi on the DL, however. His elbow was examined in New York today, and team doctor Dr. Ahmad “recommended Eovaldi receive further evaluation and consultation, which he will do in the coming days.” That doesn’t sound good, though the fact Eovaldi was not immediately placed on the DL could mean they didn’t find anything. Who knows.

As for the roster moves, both Luis Cessa and Ben Heller were called up while Nick Goody and Rob Refsnyder were sent down. The Yankees burned through their bullpen last night after Eovaldi’s elbow injury forced him out of action after one inning. They desperately needed fresh arms. Cessa was scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton today, so he’s available for super long relief, if necessary.

Heller, 25, is one of the prospects who came over from the Indians in the Andrew Miller trade. He has a 1.60 ERA (2.73 FIP) with a 29.6% strikeout rate and a 7.4% walk rate in 45 total innings this year. That’s split between Double-A and Triple-A, Indians and Yankees. Heller has a big mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a slider. He’s a pure reliever and was expected to come up reasonably soon.

It’s safe to say Eovaldi will not make his scheduled start next Monday. The Yankees did just send Luis Severino down yesterday, but once Eovaldi is placed on the DL, they’ll be able to bring Severino right back up. The ten-day rule no longer applies. My guess is that’s exactly what will happen. Chad Green is lined up to start Sunday. He’s taking Severino’s spot and Severino is taking Eovaldi’s spot. Got it?

The Yankees had one open 40-man roster spot and that is going to Heller. Cessa was already on the 40-man, so no other move is required. Heller was going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so he was going to get added to the 40-man soon anyway. He’s been mentioned as a call-up candidate since the day the Yankees acquired him.

Yankees trade Andrew Miller to Indians for four prospects

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

It turns out the Aroldis Chapman trade was only the beginning. The Yankees announced Sunday morning that they have traded ace reliever Andrew Miller to the Indians for four prospects: outfielder Clint Frazier, left-hander Justus Sheffield, and righties Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. It’s a 4-for-1 swap. Coincidentally enough, Miller and the Indians will be at Yankee Stadium for a series next weekend.

“I enjoyed my time here. I loved playing in New York, living in New York, and I enjoyed my teammates,” said Miller to Meredith Marakovits after the trade. Miller was absolutely not part of the team’s problem. He’s arguably the best reliever in baseball and he’s a Grade-A teammate. The Yankees need young talent and Miller was their top trade chip, so off he went. Sucks. That’s the business.

Brian Cashman told reporters on a conference call that Hal Steinbrenner gave him the green light to trade Miller following Saturday night’s loss, their second straight loss to the last place Rays and third straight loss overall. Joel Sherman says Steinbrenner was very involved in the process. He read scouting reports and watched video on Frazier and Sheffield, the key pieces in the return.

Frazier, 21, was the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft and he’s since blossomed into one of the game’s top prospects. Baseball America ranked him as the 21st best prospect in baseball in their midseason top 100 update. MLB.com had him a touch lower at 24th and Keith Law (subs. req’d) even lower than that at 34th. Here’s a snippet of MLB.com’s free scouting report on Frazier, a righty hitter and thrower.

Frazier’s bat speed and raw power are among the best in the Minor Leagues and suggest the ceiling of an All-Star. Though he struggled to harness his aggressive approach and recognize spin early in his career, Frazier has developed into a more complete hitter as he’s climbed the Minor League ladder, with strikeout and walk rates that continue to trend in a positive direction … Frazier has above-average speed and will continue to develop in center field, though he may eventually have to slide over to right field in deference to the some of the Tribe’s other center-field prospects in the high Minors.

Those plate discipline improvements have been pretty substantial. Frazier had a 29.7% strikeout rate and a 10.3% walk rate in Low-A ball back in 2014. So far this year he has a 22.3% strikeout rate and a 10.0% walk rate at Double-A and Triple-A. That’s a big drop in strikeout rate while climbing the ladder, and it’s good to see it’s coupled with no change in walk rate.

Frazier, who Cleveland promoted to Triple-A just a week ago, is hitting .275/.351/.465 (128 wRC+) with 25 doubles, 13 homers, and 13 steals in 93 total games this year. He started the season at Double-A. Remember, this kid is only 21. Frazier was more than three years younger than the average Eastern League player and he more than held his own. He excelled. This is the kind of prospect you have to get in a Miller trade.

Cut that hair, Frazier. (Harry How/Getty)
Cut that hair, Frazier. (Harry How/Getty)

Having followed Frazier these last few years, I’m comfortable saying right now that he immediately takes over as the Yankees’ top prospect. He has premium bat speed and power from the right side to go along with center field caliber defensive tools. Frazier has the kind of talent that could potentially make him the offensive cornerstone the Yankees have been lacking since Robinson Cano left.

Sheffield, 20, was the 31st pick in the 2014 draft and I wrote about him in our Scouting The Market: Indians post. He was the guy the Indians took with the compensation pick for losing Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency. It’s worth noting Justus is not related to Gary Sheffield. There’s been some confusion about that and I know I’ve said he (and his brother Jordan) is Gary’s nephew. That is not the case. There’s no relation at all.

Anyway, Baseball America and MLB.com ranked Sheffield at the 69th and 95th best prospect in baseball in their midseason top 100 updates, respectively. He did not make Keith Law’s updated top 50. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s free scouting report:

Sheffield shows the makings of an above-average three-pitch mix. He’s hit 96 mph with his fastball but usually sits in the 92-93 mph range with late, arm-side life and some sink. His curveball flashes plus and projects as a swing-and-miss offering at the highest level, and he made strides developing his changeup in 2015 … Both his secondary pitches and his command require further refinement, but the southpaw has all the tools necessary to develop into a quality mid-rotation starting pitcher.

So far this season Sheffield has a 3.59 ERA (3.79 FIP) with a 22.8% strikeout rate and a 9.8% walk rate in 95.1 High-A innings. He’s roughly three years younger than the average Carolina League player. Sheffield is a tiny little guy at 5-foot-10 and 195 lbs., so the concern is his ability to get enough downward plane on his fastball to avoid being fly ball and homer prone. He’s a great athlete with a repeatable delivery though, plus he has the three pitches needed to start.

Both Heller and Feyereisen are pure relievers. Heller, 24, was a 22nd round pick in 2013. He has a 1.73 ERA (2.83 FIP) with 29.3% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate in 41.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Baseball America (subs. req’d) identified Heller has a prospect on the rise in their recent Indians’ top ten prospect update, saying his “fastball can reach 100 mph, and it typically sits 96-98.” He also throws a quality slider.

The 23-year-old Feyereisen is the clear fourth piece in the trade. He has a 2.23 ERA (3.06 FIP) with a 33.1% strikeout rate and an 11.8% walk rate in 40.1 innings. Feyereisen has a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a slurvy breaking ball. He throws across his body quite a bit, so he chews up righties but tends to get hammered by lefties. We could definitely see Heller in MLB at some point this season. Feyereisen’s a little further away.

None of the four guys the Yankees acquired are on the 40-man roster. Frazier won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible until after next season. Chances are he’ll be added to the 40-man and called up before then. Sheffield and Feyereisen won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible until after 2017. Heller will have to be added to the 40-man this offseason. This trade doesn’t create any immediate roster headaches.

This is one of those trades that I think no one wanted to happen but everyone understands. It was impossible not to love Miller. He was not just dominant. He’s also a Grade-A dude who did whatever the Yankees needed without complaint. There should be more ballplayers like him. At the same time, the Yankees had a chance to land a big haul, and getting both Frazier and Sheffield and two others qualifies as a big haul.

In other news, the Yankees added Tyler Clippard in a trade with the Diamondbacks, so he’ll essentially step into Miller’s bullpen spot. Joe Girardi confirmed Dellin Betances will now take over as closer with Clippard and others in the setup mix. Losing Miller really stinks. It does. He’s great. But considering where the Yankees are at this point in time, getting a package of prospects of this caliber was too good to pass up.