The Suddenly Stellar Farm System [2016 Season Review]

Oh hell yes. (Presswire)
Oh hell yes. (Presswire)

What a difference ten months can make. Coming into the 2016 season the Yankees had a solid farm system that ranked in the middle of the pack among the 30 clubs. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked the system 13th in baseball during the spring. Baseball Prospectus had them 16th and Baseball America had them 17th. Hard to get more middle of the pack than that.

Now, after Spring Training and the regular season and postseason, the Yankees boast one of baseball’s very best farm systems. Jim Callis calls it the “deepest” system in the game. Along with the Brewers and Braves, two teams making little effort to be competitive so they can build a stockpile of young players, the Yankees have one of the three best farm systems in the game. Maybe the best.

That sudden and drastic improvement in the farm system is the result of many things, most notably the trade deadline. The Yankees traded proven veterans for prospects for the first time in decades. They added a dozen new prospects at the deadline. That’s nuts. Also, the Yankees imported new talent in the annual amateur draft, plus some guys already in the organization broke out.

I’m not going to lie, I was not looking forward to writing the farm system season review. Well, I was and I wasn’t. I was excited because there are so many good players to write about, and I was also dreading it because there are so many good players to write about. This assignment was … daunting. Anyway, let’s review the year that was in the farm system. ‘Twas a great year.

The Graduates

It seems appropriate to start with the guys who are no longer prospects. The Yankees graduated several prospects to the big leagues this summer — by graduate I mean exceed the rookie limits of 50 innings or 130 at-bats — including three of my top seven prospects coming into 2016. The most notable was, of course, C Gary Sanchez (season review), who hit 20 homers in 53 games as a full-time catcher (lol) and finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting to someone everyone will say “oh yeah, he was Rookie of the Year once” about in a few years.

UTIL Rob Refsnyder (season review), UTIL Ronald Torreyes (season review) RHP Bryan Mitchell (season review) all exceeded the rookie innings limit this summer, as did RHP Luis Cessa (season review). Sanchez is the catcher of the future present and is locked into a 2017 roster spot. The Brian McCann trade confirmed it. Torreyes is the odds-on favorite to hold the backup infielder’s job again. Refsnyder, Mitchell, and Cessa will all have to compete for a roster spot in Spring Training, and that’s fine. Competition is a good thing. Cessa and Mitchell had their moments as starters late in the season while Refsnyder did some solid platoon work.

The Erstwhile Top Prospects

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

Depending who you asked, New York’s top prospect coming into this season was either OF Aaron Judge (season review) or SS Jorge Mateo. Most folks jumped ship and went with Mateo. I stuck with Judge. To each his own. Judge made some adjustments and had a strong Triple-A stint before reaching the big leagues in the second half. He showed off some big power and some big swing-and-miss ability. Right now he’s the favorite to start in right field in 2017, though that’s not a lock. Judge will have to win the job in Spring Training.

Mateo’s season was disappointing by almost any measure. He stole the show during Grapefruit League play with his elite speed and high-end athleticism, and after a strong start to the High-A Tampa season, the 21-year-old basically stopped hitting in June. Mateo put up a .210/.255/.283 (56 wRC+) batting line in his final 72 games and 300 plate appearances of the season. He finished with a .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) line overall, and come playoff time, he was demoted to the bottom of the Tampa lineup. Yeesh.

The good news: Mateo set a new career high with eight homers, so he’s growing into some power. Last year he hit two homers, and one was an inside-the-parker. The bad news: Mateo went 36-for-51 (71%) in stolen base attempts one year after going 82-for-99 (83%). The other bad news: the Yankees suspended Mateo two weeks for an undisclosed violation of team rules in July. He did homer in his first game back, but alas, there is no redemption story here. Mateo didn’t play well the rest of the way.

The suspension and the disappointing season do no kill Mateo’s prospect value. Does it take a hit? Absolutely. But giving up on a 21-year-old kid with this kind of ability is foolish. Sanchez had his fair share of maturity issues in the minors too, remember. (He was once suspended for refusing to catch a bullpen session.) With any luck, the down season and suspension will be a learning experience for Mateo, who will come out of this year more focused and driven. That’d be cool.

The New Top Prospects

Judge and Mateo have been replaced as the top two position player prospects in the farm system. At the deadline the Yankees swung a pair of blockbuster trades that netted them new top prospects. Aroldis Chapman went to the Cubs for a package headlined by SS Gleyber Torres, and Andrew Miller went to the Indians for a package headlined by OF Clint Frazier. Torres and Frazier are the Yankees’ new top prospects, in whatever order.

Torres, who doesn’t turn 20 for two weeks, spent the entire 2016 season at the High-A level, where he was nearly four years younger than the average player. Despite the age disadvantage, Torres hit .268/.349/.413 (116 wRC+) overall with 31 doubles, eleven home runs, and 22 steals. After the season Gleyber went to the Arizona Fall League, hit .403/.513/.645 (218 wRC+) with nearly twice as many walks (14) as strikeouts (8), and became the youngest MVP and batting champion in league history.

There’s talk Torres may be one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball right now. It’s good to be a tooled up right-handed hitting shortstop with power potential, hitting know-how, and strong defense. Gleyber is not lacking ability, that’s for sure. The hype is starting to get a little out of control — the inevitable Derek Jeter comparisons have arrived — but there’s no doubt Torres is a special, special player. Heck of a return for a half-season of Chapman.

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

As for Frazier, who turned 22 in September, he split the season between Double-A and Triple-A, and played exclusively in Triple-A after the trade. He hit .276/.356/.469 (129 wRC+) with 13 homers and 13 steals in 89 Double-A games, then .229/.285/.359 (83 wRC+) with three homers and no steals in 38 Triple-A games. His strikeout rate jumped from 22.0% to 27.9% when he switched levels. That first exposure to Triple-A caliber pitching is not always pretty.

Frazier was nearly six years younger than the average International League player this summer, which is important context. The kid reached Triple-A at 21. Had he gone to college, he would have been draft eligible as a junior this year. Frazier is a righty hitter with big power potential and good hitting ability, plus he’s a good outfield defender who plays all out, all the time. He’ll be a fan favorite with his style of play. Frazier is likely to start 2017 in Triple-A and it would not be a surprise if he forces his way on to the big league roster in the first half. He has that type of ability.

Not to be overlooked here is LHP Justus Sheffield, who came over from the Indians with Frazier in the Miller trade. He’s a top 100 caliber prospect himself — Baseball America ranked Sheffield the 69th best prospect in baseball at midseason — who is arguably New York’s top pitching prospect right now. Sheffield spent almost the entire 2016 season as a 20-year-old in High-A — he did make one Double-A spot start — where he had a 3.19 ERA (3.48 FIP) with 23.7% strikeouts and 9.9% walks in 121.1 innings. Not bad for a kid three years younger than the competition.

Sheffield, who is not related to Gary, is a three-pitch southpaw with above-average velocity, which is the kinda guy the Yankees could use in the rotation long-term. Consistency with the curveball and changeup as well as general command will be the focal points going forward. Sheffield, like Torres, is ticketed for Double-A Trenton to start 2017. Because he’s still so young — Sheffield won’t turn 21 until May — I would bet on Sheffield spending almost the entire season in Trenton.

In Torres, Frazier, and Sheffield, the Yankees acquired three prospects at the deadline who would be a bonafide No. 1 prospect in an organization. Like, if Frazier was your favorite team’s top prospect, you’d be cool with it. Same with Torres and Sheffield. The Yankees made some difficult decisions at the deadline — no one actually wanted to see Miller go, right? — but they were necessary, and those decisions brought the team premium prospects. Turning two relievers into three top 100 prospects (and more!) at the deadline is a hell of a thing.

The Breakout Prospects

The farm system improved this summer and not only because of the trade deadline additions. Several incumbents took steps forward, and there was no bigger breakout prospect in the system this year than RHP Chance Adams, who went from promising bullpen prospect in 2015 to bonafide starting pitching prospect in 2016. The conversion couldn’t have gone any better. Adams, 22, had a 2.33 ERA (2.96 FIP) with 29.1% strikeouts and 7.9% walks in 127.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A. That’s best case scenario stuff right there.

Adams. (YouTube screen grab)
Adams. (YouTube screen grab)

Adams is still a fastball/slider pitcher at heart, though he made great strides with both his curveball and changeup this year, so much so that some scouting reports are calling him a true four-pitch pitcher. Also, Adams showed he can hold his mid-90s velocity deep into games, which is cool. That’s always a big question with reliever-to-starter conversions. At one point this year Adams allowed no more than one run 13 times in a 14-start span. Total domination. He’ll begin 2017 in Triple-A and could be a factor for the Yankees in the second half.

On the position player side, 3B Miguel Andujar finally put together the full consistent season we’ve been waiting to see. He has a history of starting slow and finishing strong. Andujar, who is still only 21, hit .270/.327/.407 (108 wRC+) with a career high 12 home runs in 137 games split between High-A and Double-A during the regular season before holding his own in the AzFL (109 wRC+). He did tire a bit late in the season, but by then he’d made his point.

Andujar is the closest thing the Yankees have to a third baseman of the future. His arm is true rocket — it’s a Gary Sanchez arm over at third base — and he has power potential, plus Andujar doesn’t get enough credit for his innate bat-to-ball ability. The kid struck out in only 12.7% of the time this season against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Andujar, who was added to the 40-man roster last month to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure, will start the season back at Double-A and could earn a promotion to Triple-A at midseason.

RHP Domingo Acevedo, the massive 6-foot-7 hurler, started to answer questions about his long-term viability as a starter this season by improving his breaking ball. The 22-year-old throws extremely hard — Acevedo was clocked at 103 mph in 2015 — and has a good changeup, but without a reliable breaking ball, it was unclear whether he’d be able to turn over a lineup multiple times. The improvement he showed with his slider this summer was encouraging. Acevedo had a 2.61 ERA (2.49 FIP) with 27.4% strikeouts and 5.9% walks in 93 innings at Low-A and High-A in 2016. I’m guessing a return to High-A is in the cards to begin 2017.

Another massive pitcher, 6-foot-6 LHP Jordan Montgomery, had a statistically excellent season, throwing 152 innings of 2.19 ERA (2.91 FIP) ball at Double-A and Triple-A. He struck out 22.7% of batters faced and walked 7.7%, and at one point he allowed seven earned runs total in the span of eleven starts. Montgomery, 23, has a low-90s heater and three secondary pitches (curveball, cutter, changeup), and he throws from an extreme over-the-top arm slot:

(YouTube screen grab)
Montgomery’s arm slot. (YouTube screen grab)

Montgomery is 6-foot-6, the mound is ten inches high, and he’s releasing the ball from way overhead. How high off the ground is the ball when he releases it, you think? Ten feet, maybe? Whatever the number, Montgomery throws with extreme downhill plane on his pitches. I do wonder if that arm slot will help righties get a better look at the ball, though to date his minor league splits aren’t extreme. Montgomery is heading back to Triple-A this season and looks very much like a potential back of the rotation option, and soon.

Behind the plate, C Kyle Higashioka broke out after battling injuries for years. The 26-year-old hit .272/.339/.496 (131 wRC+) with a farm system leading 21 home runs in 110 games between Double-A and Triple-A. That power potential along with reputedly excellent defense landed Higashioka on the 40-man roster after the season because the Yankees didn’t want to risk losing him to minor league free agency; they re-signed Higashioka last winter as a minor league free agent. A catcher who pops 21 homers at the upper levels is a no-doubt keeper.

The most interesting backstory among breakout prospects this year belongs to RHP Yefrey Ramirez, a former infielder the Yankees selected from the Diamondbacks in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft last winter. Yefrey, 23, had a 2.82 ERA (3.13 FIP) with 26.8% strikeouts and 6.5% walks in 124.1 innings between Low-A and High-A this summer, which prompted the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster after the season. They didn’t want someone to take him in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft this year. Ramirez is a low-90s fastball/slider/changeup pitcher and might fit best in relief long-term, but there’s no sense is moving him to the bullpen just yet.

LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP Gio Gallegos, RHP Jonathan Holder (season review), and RHP Chad Green (season review) all improved their stock this season. Enns, 25, continued the ridiculous run he’s been on since returning from Tommy John surgery last year, pitching to a 1.69 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 138.1 innings at Double-A and Triple-A. The 25-year-old Gallegos had a 1.17 ERA (1.97 FIP) in 84.2 relief innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He struck out 36.5% of batters faced and walked 5.7%. Both Enns and Gallegos landed on the 40-man roster earlier this month, and the odds are strongly in favor of them making their MLB debuts at some point in 2017.

If not for the trade deadline, Adams’ breakout would be the story of the season from the farm system. Andujar, Acevedo, and Montgomery emerging gives the Yankees that solid base of second tier prospects while guys like Enns, Gallegos, Holder, Green, Higashioka, and Ramirez give the team even more depth. That’s what stands out most about the system. The high-end prospects are great, but holy cow, the Yankees have a ton of prospects who project to be average big leaguers. Those are insanely valuable, both on the roster and in trades because it’s cheap production.

The Double-A Duo

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

I don’t know about you, but when I think about SS Tyler Wade, I can’t help but think about OF Dustin Fowler as well, and vice versa. The two spent the entire 2016 season hitting first and second for Double-A Trenton in whatever order, and I guess because of that it’s hard to think of them apart. It is for me, anyway. They should star in a buddy cop YouTube series or something.

Anyway, the 21-year-old Fowler had a strong season with the Thunder, hitting .281/.311/.458 (109 wRC+) with 30 doubles, 15 triples, 12 homers, and 25 steals in 132 games. Those 15 triples were second most in all of minor league baseball. Only Padres OF Franchy Cordero had more. He had 16. Fowler rarely walks (3.8%) but he doesn’t strike out a ton either (15.0%), plus he has a sweet lefty swing with gap power to go with great speed and athleticism. Not too bad for a kid picked in the 18th round pick.

Wade, 22, authored a .259/.352/.349 (101 wRC+) batting line with 16 doubles, seven triples, five homers, and 27 steals in 133 Double-A games. He hit four home runs total in the first three years and 306 games of his pro career. Wade’s skill set is not conducive to sexy stat lines. He’s a bat control guy who draws walks (11.3%), runs the bases well, and plays very good defense. It’s a really old school leadoff hitter profile. No power, good contact and OBP, and good baserunning.

Both Wade and Fowler figure to begin the 2017 season at Triple-A, which puts them on the doorstep of the big leagues. The Yankees had Wade get acquainted with the outfield in the AzFL, so they’re preparing him for a utility role. They’re creating a path to MLB for him. Wade and Fowler are still really young — neither guy is even Rule 5 Draft eligible yet — so they probably need a full season in Triple-A before helping the big league team, but they are bonafide prospects at Triple-A. That’s pretty cool.

The Rebound Players

Austin. (Presswire)
Austin. (Presswire)

Not everything is going to go well in the farm system each season. Players are going to hurt and players are going to disappoint. It happens. This season the Yankees had a few players bounce back from tough 2015 seasons to reestablish themselves as prospects in 2016.

1B/OF Tyler Austin (season review) is the best example. He was so bad last season that the Yankees dropped him from the 40-man roster and he went unclaimed him on waivers. This season Austin hit big at Triple-A and reached the show in August. OF Mason Williams (season review) rebounded well from his shoulder surgery and returned to MLB in September. He could get a pretty long look for a big league roster in Spring Training, especially if Brett Gardner gets traded.

LHP Ian Clarkin, who was one of the team’s three first round picks in 2013 along with Judge and the since traded 3B Eric Jagielo, missed the entire 2015 regular season with an elbow injury. The 21-year-old was able to accumulate some innings in the AzFL after the season, and this season he was able to throw 98 innings at High-A before catching a spike and tearing the meniscus in his knee. Blah. Clarkin needed season-ending surgery in July. At least it wasn’t his arm.

Before the injury Clarkin pitched to a 3.31 ERA (3.26 FIP) with 17.4% strikeouts and 7.3% walks in those 98 innings. I’ve seen mixed reports about his stuff. Some say it’s all the way back following the elbow injury, others say it’s down a tick. Both can be true — Clarkin was probably razor sharp some days and less than stellar on others. The fact he made it through the season with a healthy elbow is a big plus. Hopefully next season, which he should spend at Double-A, will give us some clarity about the quality of his stuff as he gets further away from the injury.

Further down in the minors is C Luis Torrens, 20, who missed the entire 2015 season following shoulder surgery. That was a brutal injury. He missed a year of development at a crucial age and shoulder injuries for catchers are significant because so much of their defensive value is tied up their arm. Torrens suffered a relatively minor setback in Spring Training, which was enough for the Yankees to really slow things down and take their time with him.

Torres made his season debut with Short Season Staten Island in mid-June, and he finished the year at Low-A. He hit .236/.336/.318 (97 wRC+) with two homers, 15.0% strikeouts, and 11.9% walks in 52 total games. There was some rust, for sure. Torrens has always stood out most for defense. He’s a converted infielder and he took to catching extremely quickly, so much so that he already projects to be above-average at the position. Offensively, contact and walks are his game, not power. I’m looking forward to seeing what Torrens does as he gets further away from shoulder surgery in 2017. He has the talent to be a top ten organizational prospect, even in a farm system this deep.

Both RHP Domingo German and RHP Austin DeCarr returned at midseason after missing 2015 with Tommy John surgery. German, 24, had a 3.29 ERA (3.82 FIP) with 19.6% strikeouts and 5.9% walks in 54.2 innings split between Low-A and High-A. Baseball America says he hit 100 mph with his fastball, so the Yankees added him to their 40-man roster after the season to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. DeCarr, 21, had a 4.12 ERA (4.14 FIP) with 17.4% strikeouts and 9.6% walks in 39.1 innings with Short Season Staten Island. He struggled with location, which isn’t unusual after elbow reconstruction.

The Inevitable Injuries

Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)
Grandmaster Kap. (Presswire)

Like I said, injuries happen. To every farm system every year. They’re unavoidable. Teams just hope to limit them. The biggest injury in the farm system this year was, by far, RHP James Kaprielian‘s flexor strain. He made only three starts with High-A Tampa before his elbow started barking. Kaprielian did not need surgery and he healed up in time to pitch in the AzFL, where he made seven starts. All told, the 22-year-old had a 3.20 ERA (3.61 FIP) with 27.3% strikeouts and 6.3% walks in 45 total innings.

The good news is every report from the AzFL said Kaprielian’s stuff had returned following the flexor injury. His fastball was still living in the mid-90s and all three secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) were there too. That’s great news. Losing all that time stunk — there’s a pretty good chance we’d be talking about Kaprielian as a 2017 Opening Day rotation candidate had he stayed healthy in 2016 — but at least Kaprielian finished the season strong and will go into next season with a healthy arm and feeling good about things.

Other pitchers weren’t so lucky. The Yankees lost three relievers, all of whom pitched in MLB in 2015, to Tommy John surgery this year: RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Jacob Lindgren, and RHP Branden Pinder (season review). Rumbelow, 25, started the season in Triple-A and the Yankees were actually planning to try him as a starter this season, but during warms-up for the second inning of his first appearance of the Triple-A season, he felt the pop in his elbow. Blah.

The warning signs with Lindgren were there in Spring Training. He walked seven and hit two batters in 9.2 Grapefruit League innings, then went to High-A and walked nine in seven innings before the elbow started to bark. (He also hit a batter and uncorked six wild pitches.) Location issues are a common symptom of elbow trouble. Lindgren landed on the DL in April but didn’t have his Tommy John surgery until August. He had been throwing bullpens as part of his rehab in Tampa when the elbow gave out. Lindgren will miss the entire 2017 season.

OF Carlos Vidal, 21, was a potential breakout prospect coming into the season, but a variety of injuries limited him to only 19 games, and in those 19 games he hit .194/.280/.239 (62 wRC+). LHP Chaz Hebert missed the entire season following Tommy John surgery. The 24-year-old broke out with a 2.73 ERA (3.19 FIP) with 20.0% strikeouts and 6.7% walks in 148.1 innings at four levels a year ago. He’ll try to build on that with a new elbow in 2017.

Among the other prospects to lose significant time to injury this past season were RHP Brody Koerner (elbow), RHP James Pazos (unknown), RHP Drew Finley (elbow), and OF Trey Amburgey (hamstring). Koerner got hurt early in the season but returned in the AzFL. Pazos and Amburgey missed a chunk of the time early in the year but returned at midseason. Finley got hurt late in the year and has since returned to the mound during offseason workouts. I like Finley an awful lot, but in this farm system, I’m not sure he cracks the top 30 prospects after a relatively minor injury.

The Fond Farewells

Gamel. (Presswire)
Gamel. (Presswire)

Inevitably, the Yankees said goodbye to several prospects this season. Former first round pick OF Slade Heathcott had a tough 23-game stint (58 wRC+) with Triple-A Scranton before hurting his knee again. The Yankees released him after that. Slade, now 26, hooked on with the White Sox and hit .258/.407/.366 (131 wRC+) in 34 Triple-A games. He became a minor league free agent after the season and remains unsigned.

RHP Vicente Campos, the second piece in the Jesus MonteroMichael Pineda trade back in the day, stayed healthy and pitched very well (3.20 ERA and 3.08 FIP) at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton before being traded for Tyler Clippard at the deadline. The Diamondbacks called the 24-year-old Campos up in September and he allowed three runs (two earned) in 5.2 innings. The poor kid broke his damn elbow throwing a pitch and will be out until midseason 2017. Arizona dropped Campos from the 40-man roster earlier this offseason and the Angels claimed him on waivers.

Both LHP James Pazos (season review) and RHP Conor Mullee (season review) spent the entire season in the Yankees organization. Mullee was lost on waivers to the Cubs last month — they claimed him a few hours before Game Seven of the World Series — and Pazos was traded to the Mariners in a minor deal to clear a 40-man roster spot for Rule 5 Draft eligible players a few weeks ago.

OF Ben Gamel (season review) spent most of the season with the Yankees and did make his Major League debut in May. He went up and down a few times before being traded to the Mariners for two pitching prospects on August 31st, the last day teams could acquire a player and have him be postseason eligible. Gamel had such a good season in Triple-A (126 wRC+) that he was named International League MVP. His few weeks in Seattle didn’t go as well (72 wRC+).

It’s worth noting the Yankees recently released Rumbelow, so he belongs in this group too, I suppose. He was designated for assignment to clear 40-man spot for Rule 5 Draft eligible guys last month. The Yankees will probably look to bring Rumbelow back on a minor league contract. Either that or his elbow rehab is not going well and they don’t think he’s worth bringing back. we’ll see.

The Other New Additions

All told, the Yankees acquired 12 new prospects at the trade deadline, including Torres, Frazier, and Sheffield. They then brought in five additional prospects with the Gamel, McCann, and Pazos trades. Here are the 14 non-Torres/Frazier/Sheffield prospects: RHP Albert AbreuOF Rashad Crawford, RHP Juan DePaula, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, RHP Nick Green, RHP Jorge Guzman, RHP Zack Littell, RHP Billy McKinney, RHP Jio Orozco, OF Tito Polo, LHP Stephen Tarpley, RHP Dillon Tate, RHP Erik Swanson, and RHP Ben Heller (season review). Got all that?

The best of those 14 prospects is Abreu, who came over in the McCann trade. He might pop up on some top 100 lists next spring, though it’ll probably be a year too soon. The 21-year-old had a 3.71 ERA (4.07 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 12.9% walks in 104.1 innings at mostly Low-A. Abreu throws really hard and flashes a dominant slider, plus his changeup is coming along. He needs to iron out his command more than anything. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the farm system right now. Abreu figures to open 2017 in High-A.

Tate. (Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

Tate (prospect profile), who was part of the Carlos Beltran trade, is probably the biggest “name” prospect among those 14. He was the fourth overall pick in the draft last year. Not three years ago. Last year. 2015. Tate, 22, had a hamstring injury this year and his stuff really backed up while with the Rangers. The Yankees put him in relief so he could work on his mechanics, his stuff reportedly ticked back up, and they’re going to put him back in the rotation in 2017. Probably in High-A, where he’ll presumably join Abreu, Kaprielian, and Acevedo in the rotation (/drools).

I have two personal favorites among these 14 trade pickups: McKinney (Chapman trade) and Littell (Pazos trade). McKinney was the 24th overall pick in the 2013 draft and the Athletics later traded him to the Cubs in the Addison Russell/Jeff Samardzija deal. This season the 22-year-old hit .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) with five homers in 130 total Double-A games. That’s down from his .300/.371/.454 (135 wRC+) line at High-A and Double-A last year.

McKinney’s 2015 season ended in August because he fouled a pitch off his knee and suffered a hairline fracture Mark Teixeira style, and he was coming back from the injury this season. McKinney’s pure hit tool is excellent and the reason he was drafted so high. Whether he can hit for enough power and play enough defense to avoid becoming a ‘tweener is another matter. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next year, as he gets further away from knee surgery. The Yankees might start McKinney back at Double-A for the time being.

Littell, 21, threw an insane 173 innings between Low-A and High-A this year — the last Yankees farmhand to throw 170+ innings in a minor league season was Steven White in 2006 (175.1) — during which he had a 2.60 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 24.0% strikeouts and 5.0% walks. Littell is a low-90s fastball/curveball pitcher with an okay changeup and a very aggressive approach. He’s a bulldog who goes right after hitters. That’s a pretty nice return for a guy like Pazos, who was arguably the 40th man on the 40-man roster.

Swanson (Beltran trade) is the sleeper here. The 23-year-old missed most of the 2015 season with a flexor injury, and when he came back this year, he had a 3.46 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 23.1% strikeouts and 7.5% walks in 96.1 innings, all at Low-A. Swanson’s velocity returned to the low-to-mid-90s this summer and he has three secondary pitches (slider, curveball, changeup) he can locate. With good health, he has a chance to climb the ladder quickly and be a swingman candidate in the David Phelps/Adam Warren mold.

Feyereisen (Miller trade) hit 100 mph with Double-A Trenton and could carve out a bullpen role long-term. Tarpley (Ivan Nova trade) has good stuff from the left side but needs to work on his location. Guzman (McCann trade) hit 103 mph this summer and is really raw. Domingo Acevedo two years ago raw. Crawford (Chapman trade) has crazy tools and is still working to put them together. Polo (Nova trade) has a fourth outfielder’s skill set. Green (Beltran trade) has a big fastball and iffy secondary stuff. Orozco and DePaula (both Gamel trade) are rookie ball kids.

The Step Back Prospects

It’s not all good news, of course. Some players had poor seasons overall and saw their prospect stock take a hit. RHP Brady Lail managed a 4.34 ERA (4.27 FIP) with 14.6% strikeouts and 7.5% walks in 137 innings at mostly Triple-A this season. The Yankees deserve a ton of credit for turning an 18th round pick out of a Utah high school into a legit prospect, but at this point Lail lacks the put-away pitch needed to be successful at the next level. Triple-A hitters have made it abundantly clear.

LHP Jeff Degano, the team’s second round pick last year, developed a case of the yips in 2016. It was a bit odd when he wasn’t assigned to Low-A Charleston to start the season despite being completely healthy, but when he showed up to rookie Pulaski in June and walked 25 batters with ten wild pitches in 5.2 innings, we knew why. Yeah. Degano throws hard and has a good breaking ball, at least when things are going right. The 24-year-old is dealing with extreme control issues right now though.

The Best of the Rest

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

But wait! We’re still not done. Callis wasn’t joking when he said the Yankees have the deepest system in the game. In addition to everyone above, the Yankees have several others who deserve at least an acknowledgement of their status as prospects. Top prospects? No. But potential big leaguers in some form. Here’s the best of the rest this season:

  • IF Abi Avelino, 21: Hit .252/.313/.352 (93 wRC+) with 21 steals between High-A and Low-A. Speedy middle infielder with maybe the best baseball instincts in the system. He’ll be someone’s utility infielder at some point. You watch.
  • RHP Will Carter, 23: Last year’s 14th rounder reached Double-A and had a 4.76 ERA (3.63 FIP) in 117.1 total innings. It was worth trying him as a starter, but I’m guessing Carter and his 97 mph sinker (65.4% grounders in 2016) find themselves back in the bullpen soon.
  • OF Jake Cave, 23: Managed a .274/.339/.435 (119 wRC+) batting line in 124 games at Double-A and Triple-A. Lefty swinger with a little pop and good defense. He’s Rule 5 Draft eligible again.
  • LHP Nestor Cortes, 21: A total of 553 pitchers threw 100+ innings in the minors in 2016. None had a lower ERA than Cortes (1.53). The finesse southpaw also had a 2.74 FIP and made it as high as Triple-A.
  • IF Thairo Estrada, 20: Personal fave hit .283/.338/.378 (110 wRC+) with eight homers and 18 steals at Low-A and High-A. Thairo makes consistent hard contact and has already shown he can play any non-first base infield position.
  • OF Isiah Gilliam, 20: Just a dude who hit ten homers in 57 rookie ball games. Gilliam hit .239/.301/.440 (102 wRC+) overall and has power from both sides of the plate. The Yankees moved him from first base to the outfield to get more value out of him.
  • 1B Chris Gittens, 22: Tied Higashioka for the system lead with 21 homers. Hit .253/.359/.478 (140 wRC+) overall, but also struck out 27.9% of the time against Low-A pitchers. Huge power, questionably hit tool.
  • OF Jeff Hendrix, 23: Streakiest player in the system hit .293/.380/.378 (125 wRC+) between Low-A and High-A. At one point he went 53-for-113 (.469) during a 29-game span. Hendrix is a bit of a ‘tweener. Not enough power for a corner and maybe not enough defense for center.
  • RHP Ronald Herrera, 21: Threw 132 innings with a 3.75 ERA (3.27 FIP) in Double-A. Finesse four-pitch pitcher with very good command. The Yankees got him in the Jose Pirela trade with the Padres and added him to the 40-man roster last month.
  • SS Kyle Holder, 22: Defensive whiz hit .290/.323/.347 (93 wRC+) in Low-A. Holder is a better prospect than he gets credit for. Dude can get the bat on the ball and save about 20 runs a year in the field.
  • OF Jhalan Jackson, 23: Muscled his way to a .236/.311/.415 (108 wRC+) line with eleven homers in Low-A. Jackson has power and a strong arm. It’s just a question of whether he can refine his approach and hone his hit tool.
  • OF Leonardo Molina, 19: One of the most tooled up players in the system hit .226/.290/.382 (87 wRC+) between Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston. A 19-year-old kid hitting nine homers in 85 games is no small feat.
  • OF Alex Palma, 21: Quietly hit .265/.292/.420 (102 wRC+) with six homers in 64 Low-A games. Also had ten outfield assists. Palma is a bit of a hacker, but he’s got some tools, most notably his power and defense.
  • OF Mark Payton, 24: The 5-foot-8 outfielder hit .280/.356/.424 (119 wRC+) with 20 doubles and ten homers at three levels in 2016. He’s a scrappy lefty hitter who does enough things to carve out a career as a fourth outfielder.
  • LHP Josh Rogers, 22: Had a 2.50 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 147 innings at Low-A and High-A. Low-90s heater from the left side with an okay slider and a much improved changeup. Definitely someone worth keeping an eye on.
  • C Donny Sands, 20: Hit .286/.328/.375 (102 wRC+) with only 10.7% strikeouts in 30 games with various rookie ball affiliates. The former third baseman converted to catching full-time this year. In most other systems, he’s probably a top 20 prospect.
  • LHP Tyler Webb, 26: Had a 3.59 ERA (2.76 FIP) in 72.2 innings while repeating Triple-A. As a lefty with some velocity and a history of missing bats, he’s as good as gone in the Rule 5 Draft.

Some players who had a strong statistical seasons and could be considered fringe prospects: LHP Daniel Camarena, RHP Simon De La Rosa, RHP Jordan Foley, RHP Mark Montgomery, LHP James Reeves, RHP Adonis Rosa, LHP Caleb Smith, RHP Daris Vargas, and OF Zack Zehner. Smith is probably a goner in the Rule 5 Draft as a hard-throwing southpaw who has had success at Double-A.

Keep in mind that even with all the players mentioned in this post — I unofficially count 83 of them, is that overkill? that seems like overkill — I didn’t mention 2016 draft picks or the 2014-15 international free agent class at all. Those players got their own season review posts and yes, they include more very good prospects, including 2016 first rounder Blake Rutherford, who Keith Law recently said he’d take over every other hitter in the 2016 draft.

The Yankees have build their strongest farm system in a very long time. Since the early-1990s when they had two future Hall of Famers (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera) and two borderline Hall of Famers (Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte) in the system, plus useful other dudes like Sterling Hitchcock, Carl Everett, Russ Springer, and Russ Davis. Does that mean the Yankees are going to pump out a few future Hall of Famers soon? Of course not. That’s an unrealistic expectation. But the Yankees do have an incredible farm system right now, one loaded with high-end talent and an unbelievable amount of depth.

Hal indicates two rotation spots will be up for grabs in Spring Training

Mitchell. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Mitchell. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

At this very moment, with pitchers and catchers still eleven weeks away from reporting to Spring Training, the Yankees have three rotation spots accounted for. Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda will occupy the top three spots in whatever order. The other two spots? Those are up in the air right now, and Hal Steinbrenner indicated both could go to young pitchers.

“There’s going to be competition in the starting rotation (in the spring), we know that,” said Hal during a recent YES Network interview (video link). “We’ve got (Adam) Warren. We’ve got (Chad) Green, (Luis) Cessa, (Luis) Severino, (Bryan) Mitchell. We’ve got good options for two spots. That’s going to be pretty fun to watch, I think.”

The Yankees are going young wherever possible, so much so that they’ve been trading productive veterans for prospects since the trade deadline. The Brian McCann trade is the most recent reminder. Going young in the rotation is slightly different than going young in the lineup because of innings limits and things like that, but it is doable. Anyway, I have a few thoughts on this.

1. Hal is probably just posturing. The Yankees would say they’re planning to go young in the rotation even if they were dead set on acquiring another starter. There’s nothing to be gained from broadcasting your free agent and trade intentions. The Yankees have been connected to a few free agent starters this year, most notably Rich Hill and Jason Hammel, and I don’t think Hal’s statement changes anything. The fact the team has gone young and put their money where their mouth is these last few months makes what Hal said even more believable, and that’s good. It’s never good to appear desperate during free and trade talks.

Severino. (Elsa/Getty)
Severino. (Elsa/Getty)

2. Severino isn’t locked into a spot. Steinbrenner mentioned Luis Severino among the pitchers set to compete for a rotation spot and that’s reassuring. I don’t think Severino should be considered a lock for the 2017 rotation by any means. Not after what happened this year. Let Severino come to Spring Training and earn a rotation spot by showing he has faith in his changeup and can consistently locate his secondary pitches. And if he does that, great. Put him in the rotation. If not, send him to Triple-A to keep working on things. Severino would be far more valuable to the Yankees in relief than in Triple-A, but this is about the big picture here, and the team shouldn’t give up on him as a starter yet. Patience, yo.

3. The competition isn’t limited to Spring Training. Spring Training competitions are overblown. They happen every year in every camp, so they are worth following, but the competition doesn’t end on Opening Day. Whoever wins the roster spot — in this case two rotation spots — has to perform well to keep the job, otherwise someone else will get a chance. The Yankees have some nice rotation depth at the moment — in addition to guys Hal listed, there will also be Chance Adams, Dietrich Enns, and Jordan Montgomery in Triple-A — so if they give someone a few starts and he’s not cutting it, they can make a change quickly. You don’t win a roster spot in Spring Training and automatically get to keep it all season. The competition never ends.

4. How will the 26th roster spot come into play? Reports indicate MLB will adopt the full-time 26th roster spot with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, which will change how teams build their roster at least somewhat. My guess is most teams, including the Yankees, will use that roster spot on an extra pitcher. Teams would much rather run out of position players than run out of pitchers.

The extra roster spot would give the Yankees the flexibility to do something unconventional like, say, a six-man rotation or tandem fifth starters. They could have their fifth starter go through the lineup twice, then the tandem reliever comes in to go through the lineup twice as well. That’s an entire post for another time, but the 26th roster spot could definitely impact the way the Yankees build their rotation. Heck, maybe Hal meant they’re going to use a six-man rotation, sign a starter, then let the kids compete for the fifth and sixth spots. Who knows?

The Fill-In Starters [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
Green. (Presswire)

For the 19th consecutive season, the Yankees used at least eight different starting pitchers in 2016. They actually used nine this year. All nine made at least five starts too, so that number isn’t skewed by some random September call-up who made a spot start in Game 162 or something like that. The Yankees used nine starters this year and they needed all of ’em.

Late in the season, after the rotation was thinned out by injuries (Nathan Eovaldi) and trades (Ivan Nova) and ineffectiveness (Luis Severino), the Yankees turned to a trio of young pitchers to shore things up: Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell. Cessa and Green both came over in the Justin Wilson trade last offseason. Mitchell? He’s been around for a while now. The Yankees drafted him in 2009. All three had their moments this year.

The Work In Progress

Lots of eyebrows were raised when the Yankees traded Wilson last offseason, especially since they sent Adam Warren to the Cubs for Starlin Castro literally one day earlier. Just like that, two of Joe Girardi‘s four most trusted relievers were gone. The Yankees felt they needed rotation depth though — were they right or what? geez — so Wilson was traded for two Triple-A starting pitching prospects.

The lower ranked of the two, at least according to various scouting publications, was Green, a former 11th round pick who had a 3.93 ERA (3.22 FIP) in Double-A last season. Not the sexiest prospect, you know? The Yankees sent the 25-year-old right-hander to Triple-A to start the year, as expected, and holy crap, he dominated. Green had a 1.52 ERA (2.17 FIP) in 94.2 innings for the RailRiders. A total of 649 pitchers threw at least 90 innings in the minors this summer. Green ranked third in ERA and second in FIP.

The Yankees called Green up in early-May to make a spot start not because someone was hurt. They just wanted to give the rest of the rotation an extra day to rest. It wasn’t a “we need someone and he’s available” call-up. Green pitched well and the Yankees gave him a chance. The spot start didn’t go well — six runs (four earned) in four innings against the Diamondbacks — and that’s usually what happens. Green wasn’t the first guy to get lit up in his debut and he won’t be the last.

After a return trip to Triple-A, the Yankees brought Green back in early-July to make another spot start, this time because they didn’t want CC Sabathia and his balky knee to hit and run the bases in San Diego. Green pitched very well, allowing one run on three hits in six innings against the Padres. He struck out eight and didn’t walk anyone. That earned him another start and … the Indians clobbered him for seven runs in 4.1 innings. Four homers too. Three in the first inning!

The Yankees could have easily — and justifiably — sent Green to Triple-A after that, but they didn’t. They kept him around as a long reliever and he pitched well, throwing 8.1 scoreless innings across three appearances following the All-Star break. The Eovaldi injury and Nova trade opened up rotation spots, so Green got another chance. His best start of the season, by far, came against the Blue Jays on August 15th. Eleven strikeouts in six innings of two-hit ball. How about that?

Green remained in the rotation really because the Yankees didn’t have any other options, but also because he earned it by pitching well through August. Unfortunately, his season came to a premature end on September 2nd, when Green left a start against the Orioles with pain in his elbow after only 1.2 innings.

The injury was later diagnosed as a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon. That sounds bad and it is, don’t get me wrong, but the sprain and strain were relatively minor. They ended Green’s season but he didn’t need surgery and is expected to be ready for Spring Training. He had resumed playing catch even before the end of the regular season. Sucks, but at least his rehab seems to be going well.

All told, Green had a 4.73 ERA (5.34 FIP) in 45.2 innings spread across eight starts and four relief appearances with the Yankees this season. He missed a lot of bats (26.3%) and did a good enough job limiting walks (7.6%), but Green didn’t get grounders (41.3%) and didn’t keep the ball in the park (2.36 HR/9). Yikes. Here are the all-important left/right splits:

BF AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
vs. RHB 103 .253/.311/.394 .306 25.2% 7.8% 47.1% 1.13
vs. LHB 95 .287/.351/.663 .421 27.4% 7.4% 34.5% 3.74

So yeah, Green really needs to figure out a changeup. I don’t think his true talent level is a 3.74 HR/9 (!) against lefties, but still, he needs something to combat them. He can bust them inside with cutters, but that only works so much. Green can get righties out. He has the slider for that. But he has nothing that moves away from lefties to stay off the barrel. Getting that changeup going is priority No. 1.

To Green’s credit, he came over from the Tigers as a work in progress and he did make strides this season. He added the cutter — “From my last outing, I added a cutter. I’ve been working on that the past couple of weeks. I think that made a big difference, being able to throw that for strikes,” said Green after his start in San Diego — and he’s also improved his slider since Spring Training.

“Everything’s gotten better,” said Girardi following the Blue Jays game when asked about Green’s slider. “We loved his arm, and that’s why we traded for him. Each time, he took his demotion the right way and said, this is what I need to work on and I’m going to get better. He never got down on himself, never hung his head and just went to work. And he works extremely hard.”

At this point, Green is a four-pitch pitcher with three fastballs (four-seam, two-seam, cutter) and a slider. He has velocity too. His four-seamer averaged 94.4 mph this year and topped out 98.7 mph. That’s a pretty great starting point. The changeup is the big question. Green does throw one — you can see it at the 1:04 mark of the video above — but it’s not consistent enough. It needs to improve.

Depending how the offseason shakes out, the Yankees figure to give Green the opportunity to compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training, assuming he’s healthy. And if that doesn’t work out, he could land in the bullpen. Triple-A is another option. Lots of possibilities here. Green has some lively stuff and he seems to be a quick learner and hard worker. Hopefully those traits mean more progress is coming.

The Ex-Shortstop (And Current TV Analyst)

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

The more well-known player of the two prospects the Yankees received in the Wilson trade was Cessa, not that he was a top prospect or anything. It was the second time Cessa had been traded in six months; he and AL Rookie of the Year candidate (favorite?) Michael Fulmer went from the Mets to the Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes at the deadline last summer. The Tigers then flipped Cessa for a bullpen arm, which they always seem to need.

Cessa, a former shortstop who converted to pitching in 2011, was impressive in Spring Training, allowing just three runs in ten innings across five outings. All the damage came in one game too. In the other four, he allowed two hits and a walk in eight scoreless innings while striking out eight. Cessa impressed enough with his stuff and results to land a spot on the Opening Day roster. He was in the bullpen to start the season.

The stint on the big league team didn’t last very long. Cessa made his MLB debut on April 8th, in the fourth game of the season, and allowed one run on a Miguel Cabrera homer in two innings. After that, the Yankees figured Cessa was better off in Triple-A, where he could start and pitch regularly, rather than sit in the big league bullpen and pitch sparingly. He’s a young man and he needed to pitch. Mop-up duty wasn’t a good role for him.

Cessa spent the next four months or so riding the Scranton shuttle. He returned to the big leagues briefly in May, and again in late-June and early-July when a fresh arm was needed. In the meantime, Cessa pitched to a 3.03 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 77.1 innings in 14 starts and one relief appearance with the RailRiders. He didn’t have the easiest schedule. Cessa bounced from Triple-A starter to MLB reliever several times in the first half. That was his role.

It wasn’t until late-August that Cessa got a chance to start with the big league team. Eovaldi was hurt, Nova was traded, and Severino pitched himself out of the rotation, so the Yankees gave Cessa an opportunity. He earned it by pitching well in Triple-A and in several short stints in the Bronx. His first start was his best. Cessa threw six shutout innings against the Angels on August 20th. He fanned five, walked one, and allowed three hits.

Cessa remained in the rotation the rest of the season and he pitched well. Better than I think many realize. He made nine starts for the Yankees, allowed more than three runs only twice, and four times he held the other team to two runs or less. Cessa also completed five innings in each of his nine starts, which doesn’t sound like anything special, but the Yankees didn’t get a whole lot of length from their other young starters in 2016.

All told, Cessa finished the season with a 4.35 ERA (5.52 FIP) in 70.1 innings spread across nine starts and six relief appearances. That includes 4.01 ERA (5.14 FIP) in 51.2 innings as a starting pitcher. Three things stood out to me about Cessa.

1. He throws four pitches. Unlike Green, who spent part of the season learning a cutter and still needs to work on his changeup, Cessa already has four pitches, and he threw all of them during his nine-start cameo. It’s the standard four-pitch mix. Here’s how often he threw each pitch as a starter, via Brooks Baseball:

  • Four-Seam Fastball: 48.6%
  • Slider: 30.3%
  • Curveball: 11.1%
  • Changeup: 9.9%

The slider is Cessa’s best secondary pitch and his go-to offering in big spots. He’s not shy about using his changeup or curveball though. He uses them regularly. Hitters are going to see four pitches from Cessa. They can’t sit fastball-slider or fastball-changeup or whatever. They have to be ready for everything else as well. Cessa had good velocity as a starter — his heater averaged 95.0 mph and topped out at 98.3 mph in his nine starts — and he definitely has a deep enough repertoire to remain in the rotation.

2. He can be really efficient. Girardi had a pretty quick hook with Cessa at times this year, rarely allowing him to face the middle of the lineup a third time, which I can understand with a young pitcher. Cessa still did a very nice job limiting his pitches and being efficient. He averaged only 14.7 pitches per inning and 3.69 pitches per plate appearance as a starter. The MLB averages are 16.8 and 3.95, respectively. Only three times in his nine starts did he throw more than 85 pitches, yet he still never once threw fewer than five full innings. Cessa was a breath of fresh air in a world of young pitchers on pitch counts.

3. He didn’t miss many bats or limit homers. It isn’t all good news, obviously. Four pitches and efficiency are nice, but they didn’t lead to strikeouts (16.1%) or grounders (43.2%). Cessa didn’t walk many (4.9%), so that’s cool, but he also had a hard time keeping the ball in the park (2.05 HR/9). He allowed homers in all but two of his nine starts. Eleven times he was taken deep in 51.2 innings as a starter, which works out to 1.92 HR/9.

Everyone gave up more home runs this year, balls were flying out of the ballpark, but a 2.05 HR/9 is rather extreme. Yankee Stadium plays a role in that, so it’s no surprise Cessa was more homer prone against left-handed batters, who can take aim at the short porch.

BF AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
vs. RHB 167 .242/.289/.439 .311 15.0% 4.2% 42.7% 1.77
vs. LHB 118 .234/.280/.486 .324 17.8% 5.9% 43.8% 2.43

Cessa’s platoon split is not nearly as drastic as Green’s. That’s what having four pitches does for you. A right-handed pitcher giving up a lot of homers to left-handed hitters in Yankee Stadium is not exactly uncommon, though Cessa also had his trouble with righties too. It seems like a simple location issue. Here are the pitch locations of the 16 home runs he allowed in the big leagues, via Baseball Savant.

Luis Cessa home runs

Yeah. Fastballs down the middle tend to get hit a long way. Can’t throw them there, Luis. Cessa has the tools to start. I really believe that. The guy has four pitches he throws regularly, he pitches inside, and he throws strikes. So he was homer prone and didn’t miss as many bats as you’d like in his first nine big league starts. Welcome to the club. Tons of guys have done the same. All things considered, I liked what I saw from him in those nine starts.

Cessa finished the season healthy — he started Game 162 and threw 147.2 total innings in 2016, a new career high but not by a lot (139.1 in 2015) — so the 24-year-old is in position to throw upwards of 180 innings next year. That’s pretty great. Cessa is actually doing television work at the moment, broadcasting the World Series for FOX Sports Latin America …

(Phot via Erik Boland)
(Photo via Erik Boland)

… and it’s safe to assume he’ll come to Spring Training with a chance to compete for a rotation spot. He might even be the favorite for a rotation spot over others like Green, Severino, and Mitchell. Cessa performed the best out of all of them this past season, and his present skill set suggests he’s most likely to have success as a starter in the immediate future.

The Broken Toe That Sabotaged A Season

The Spring Training competition for the fifth starter’s spot was a two-man race between Nova and Sabathia. Had it been a three-man competition, Bryan Mitchell would have won. Mitchell was marvelous in camp, allowing one run on seven hits and three walks in 15.2 innings. He fanned 12. Beyond the numbers, his stuff was crisp and he seemed to be locating better than he had at any point in the previous two years with the Yankees.

Mitchell made the Opening Day roster, which wasn’t a shock given his Grapefruit League performance. He was going to be in the bullpen and was the early favorite to assume Adam Warren’s super utility reliever role. Instead, Mitchell managed to break his left big toe covering first base in his final Grapefruit League outing. He took a misstep and the bone cracked. Total fluke injury. The fracture required surgery and sidelined Mitchell for four freakin’ months.

“I felt something, but I definitely didn’t think it was this severe, given that I could still get over to the base and all that,” said Mitchell after the injury. “I’m not trying to be too roller coaster right now. Just have to roll with it. It’s just a bump in the road and we’ll get past it, hopefully quicker than later … It really hasn’t sunk in yet. But it’s tough right now.”

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

It wasn’t until August 8th that Mitchell pitched in his first minor league rehab game. He kept his arm in shape by throwing while sitting in a chair before finally being cleared to play catch and throw off a mound. Mitchell made four minor league rehab starts, reportedly looked as rusty as you’d expect, then was activated off the 60-day DL and optioned to Triple-A Scranton on August 24th.

The Yankees originally planned to keep Mitchell down through the end of the Triple-A postseason so he could start every fifth day, but after Green hurt his elbow, they called him up and stuck him in the rotation. Because he did not spend 20 days in the minors on an optional assignment — most of it was injury rehab — Mitchell did not burn a minor league option this year. He still has one for next season.

Anyway, Mitchell’s first big league start came against the Blue Jays on September 7th, and it went about as well as you could have hoped: four hits and two walks in five scoreless innings. He struck out five. His next two starts were duds (six runs in 2.1 innings and four runs in 4.2 innings) and that wasn’t too surprising. The Dodgers and Red Sox loaded their lineups with lefties and Mitchell paid the price.

Mitchell’s most impressive outings were his final two. On September 23rd, at a raucous Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays worked Mitchell hard and scored three runs in the first two innings. He threw 46 pitches to get six outs. It was all set up to be a short night, but Mitchell settled down, retired ten of the final 13 batters he faced, and completed six full innings. He showed some gumption against a good team in a hostile environment.

Then, five days later, Mitchell had his best start as a big leaguer, when he held the Red Sox to two hits in seven scoreless innings. The Yankees almost wasted that effort, but thankfully Mark Teixeira came up with the walk-off grand slam. Here is the inexplicably unembeddable video of Mitchell’s night. This was a really tough season for Mitchell overall thanks to the toe injury, but at least he was able to end it on a really positive note. That start must have felt great.

Overall, Mitchell finished the season 3.24 ERA (4.23 FIP) in five starts and 25 innings. The good news: he got grounders (48.2%) and kept the ball in the park (0.36 HR/9). The bad news: he walked (11.2%) more batters than he struck out (10.3%). That’s a big problem. Can’t be successful walking more batters than you strike out. Mitchell has good stuff. Or, rather, he has two good pitches in his fastball and curveball. He should, in theory, be able to miss bats with those pitches.

The fastball and curveball are Mitchell’s only two reliable pitches, however. His third pitch is his cutter and that’s pretty much the only thing he has to attack left-handed batters because his changeup is not good. So not good he doesn’t even bother to throw it. Losing most of this season is pretty unfortunate. Mitchell would have had a chance to continue working on things. Instead, he lost all that development time.

As with Green and Cessa, I expect Mitchell to come to camp with a chance to win a rotation spot. If that doesn’t work, he could wind up in the bullpen, which was the plan this year before the injury. Of the three guys in this post, I have the most confidence in Cessa remaining a starter long-term and it’s not all that close. Green and Mitchell have more work to do, but I do think that if neither can hack it in the rotation, they can be quality short relievers.

DotF: Wade begins center field experiment in AzFL

(Clint Frazier on Twitter)
(Clint Frazier on Twitter)

Instructional League is over now, but as you can see in the photo above, the Yankees had their top prospects mingle with some big time guest instructors the last few weeks. That’s SS Jorge Mateo on the left, and OF Clint Frazier and OF Billy McKinney on the right. Tino Martinez, Reggie Jackson, Alfonso Soriano, Nick Swisher, Orlando Hernandez, and Alex Rodriguez were among the guest instructors to stop by. Jim Callis has a great article on Instructs up that I recommend checking out. Here are some other minor league notes.

  • Both Josh Norris and Eric Longenhagen have reports up on RHP James Kaprielian‘s first Arizona Fall League outing earlier this week. He struck out six in three scoreless innings. The links include video and some notes on other Yankees in the AzFL, including SS Gleyber Torres.
  • Following the regular season, the Yankees sent RHP Bryan Mitchell to Instructs to log more innings, according to Chad Jennings. He missed most of the season after breaking his toe covering first base in Spring Training. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild was in Tampa to work with Mitchell.
  • Brian Cashman told Dan Martin he’s glad Yankees prospects are getting to play with Tim Tebow in the AzFL. “I know he’s known for great leadership qualities and that’s a good thing for our guys to be around. And he’s gonna have a lot of media and fan attention and that will benefit the entire team,” said the GM.
  • Kaprielian and 1B Greg Bird both made the first Prospect Hot Sheet of the AzFL. Kaprielian was second and Bird was sixth. “(Bird is) back in the AFL rehabbing that injury, and so far has shown the same smooth, powerful stroke that has him firmly embedded in the Yankees’ long-term plans,” said the write-up.
  • Not surprisingly, C Gary Sanchez and RHP Chance Adams were named MLB.com’s Yankees Prospects of the Year. Sanchez was also the catcher for Baseball America’s All-Rookie Team. The write-up says Gary “looks like a perennial all-star catcher.” That’ll do.
  • 1B Chris Parmelee elected free agency after Triple-A season, according to Matt Eddy. No surprise. The Yankees signed Parmelee following Bird’s shoulder surgery and he ended up appearing in six games with New York. He went 4-for-8 with two dingers. Go figure.
  • Couple articles to check out: Brendan Kuty on Mateo, Kevin Kernan on Frazier, and Sam Dykstra on C Kyle Higashioka. Higashioka talked about changing his swing plane this year in an effort to hit more fly balls, leading to the power spike.
  • And finally, Amanda Farinacci writes Staten Island officials are worried about the potential new names for the Staten Island Yankees. They don’t like the idea of the “Pizza Rats” or “Rock Pigeons” representing Staten Island, apparently.

Arizona Fall League

  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 3 G, 4-10, 3 R, 1 3B, 1 BB, 1 K (.300/.455/.600)
  • 1B Greg Bird: 3 G, 4-13, 2 R, 4 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K (.308/.357/.615) — so far, so good following shoulder surgery … I wonder if he can become the first two-time MVP in AzFL history
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 2 G, 3-8, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K (.375/.444/.875) — played second base yesterday … he also had an opposite field double (video) and a walk-off single (video, video) … Keith Law, who hates every Yankees prospect, says Gleyber’s going to be a star, so that’s cool
  • SS/CF Tyler Wade: 2 G, 0-8, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 SB (.000/.111/.000) — played center field for the first time yesterday
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 K (9.00 ERA, 2.50 WHIP) — Josh Norris says he sat 94-96 mph in one of his appearances … I didn’t realize he threw that hard
  • RHP James Kaprielian: 1 G, 1 G, 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K (0.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP) — the results are nice but they don’t really matter … is he healthy? has his stuff returned following his injury? that’s most important
  • RHP Brody Koerner: 1 G, 1.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 0 K (6.20 ERA, 4.20 WHIP) — rough start to the AzFL season
  • RHP Dillon Tate: 2 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2 HR (12.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP) — Keith Law had him at 93-95 mph with a good slider and changeup, so that’s another report that his stuff is getting back to where it was last year, when he was the fourth overall pick in the country

The Dominican Winter League season begins today, though the rosters still have not been announced. A couple Yankee farmhands will play in the league this year, inevitably. There’s always a few.

The Mexican Pacific League season started last weekend. The only Yankee prospect on the rosters is C Sebastian Valle, who a) isn’t really a prospect, and b) will become a minor league free agent soon.

The Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) season starts in two weeks. The rosters have only been partially released, and there are no Yankees.

The Venezuelan Winter League season began last weekend. RHP Mark Montgomery, LHP Miguel Sulbaran, C Francisco Diaz, RHP Daniel Alvarez, 3B Daniel Barrios, RHP Luis Cedeno, RHP David Kubiak, RHP Alex Mejias, 3B Andres Chaparro, OF Andres Fernandez, and C David Vergel are all on rosters. Montgomery and Sulbaran are the big names there. Montgomery has allowed two runs in 1.1 innings so far. That’s about it.

Yankeemetrics: A bittersweet sweep [Sept. 27-29]

(AP)
(AP)

Still breathing
The Yankees staved off elimination on Tuesday night with a gutsy 6-4 win in the series opener, keeping their flickering postseason dreams alive, while snapping Boston’s 11-game win streak. This was the third time in the history of this rivalry that the Yankees beat a Red Sox team riding a win streak of more than 10 games; it also happened in 1909 and 1995.

The Baby Bombers carried the team from start to finish, delivering game-changing performances on the mound and at the plate. Luis Cessa pitched six strong innings of two-run ball, while Gary Sanchez opened the scoring with a first-inning two-run bomb and Tyler Austin capped it off with a tie-breaking two-run homer in the seventh.

Sanchez’s 407-foot shot was a historic one, the 20th time he went deep in just 51 MLB games. That matched the fewest career games needed to reach the 20-homer milestone by any major-league player, a mark he shares with outfielder Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves.

He is the 10th rookie catcher in major-league history to hit 20 homers, and is the only Yankee in that group. Each of the other nine players — Wilin Rosario (2012), J.P. Arencibia (2011), Geovany Soto (2008), Mike Piazza (1993), Matt Nokes (1987), Joe Ferguson (1973), Carlton Fisk (1972), Earl Williams (1971), Rudy York (1937) — played at least 100 games during their rookie campaign.

Austin’s power-hitting feats haven’t been as prolific as Sanchez’s, but it’s hard to argue that anyone else’s homers on this team have been as impactful as Austin’s.

Each of his first four homers in the big leagues have given the Yankees a lead, with three of them coming in the seventh inning or later. Through Tuesday, he had more go-ahead, late-inning homers than any other Yankee this season, despite logging time in just 27 games since his call-up in early August.

Didi Gregorius also joined the homer party, ripping his 20th homer of the season into the right field seats to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead in the sixth. He and Starlin Castro are the first middle infielder duo (i.e., primary position is either shortstop or second base) in franchise history to reach the 20-homer milestone in the same season.

David Ortiz, playing his final series at Yankee Stadium, was hitless in five at-bats and whiffed on a 3-2 splitter from Tyler Clippard to end the game, stranding two guys in the ninth inning. This was his 255th career game against the Yankees (including playoffs), but it was the first time that he ever struck out to end the game with the tying run on base.

(AP)
(AP)

Refuse to lose
Down to their final out and on the brink of being officially eliminated from the postseason race on Wednesday, the Yankees rose from the dead with a stunning rally in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Red Sox, keeping their microscopic October dreams alive for another 24 hours.

In a season filled with so many heart-pounding victories, the Yankees 82nd win of the season might top them all in terms of the do-or-die circumstances of the game and the sheer miraculous nature of their comeback.

Trailing 3-1 with two outs in the ninth and the bases full, the soon-to-be-retired Mark Teixeira came to the plate and drilled a 99-mph fastball over the fences in center field for a game-ending homer that was historic in so many ways:

  • It was the first regular-season walk-off home run by Teixeira; his 408 career regular season homers entering the game were the most of any player in baseball history who’d never hit a walk-off shot.
  • The pitch was clocked at 98.95 mph, the fastest pitch he’s hit for a home run since July 17, 2009 when he went deep off a 99.0 mph fastball from Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya.
  • It was the ninth walk-off grand slam in franchise history, and the first since A-Rod’s memorable blast against the Orioles on April 7, 2007.
  • Only two other Yankees have ever hit a walk-off homer with the bases loaded against the Red Sox: Charlie Keller on August 12, 1942 and pitcher Red Ruffing on April 14, 1933.
  • Teixeira is the fourth Yankee to hit a walk-off slam with his team trailing at the time. The others are A-Rod, Jason Giambi (May 17, 2002 vs. the Twins) and Babe Ruth (Sept. 24, 1925 vs. the White Sox).
  • Teixeira and A-Rod are the only players in franchise history to hit a two-out, come-from-behind walk-off grand slam.
tex champ belt
(Getty)

Forgotten amid the wild and crazy ending is the fact that this was a classic pitchers duel for much of the night. Bryan Mitchell and Clay Buchholz matched zeroes on the scoreboard, as Mitchell threw seven scoreless innings and allowed two hits while Buchholz gave up one hit over six shutout innings.

It was just the third time since at least 1913 where both starters in a Yankee game went six or more innings, didn’t allow a run and surrendered two or fewer hits. The other two instances were on June 18, 2003 against the Rays (Roger Clemens and Victor Zambrano), and Sept. 20, 1958 against the Orioles (Don Larsen and Hoyt Wilhelm).

Good news, bad news
It was a bittersweet win for the Yankees on Thursday, as they completed the sweep over the Red Sox, but saw their playoff dreams extinguished too thanks to the Orioles beating the Blue Jays earlier in the night. Baltimore’s victory also guaranteed that the Yankees will end the season in fourth place in the AL East, their lowest divisional finish since 1992.

David Ortiz said goodbye to the Yankees after going 0-for-1 with a walk in his two plate appearances in the series finale. His 53 home runs against the Yankees are tied with Hank Greenberg for the fourth-most all-time, and his 31 homers at Yankee Stadium are tied with Mickey Vernon for the second-most ever by a visiting player at the ballpark.

Although he’s tormented them over the past decade-plus, Ortiz went hitless in his final 14 at-bats against the Yankees, matching his longest stretch without a hit in this rivalry (also from Sept. 25, 2009 to April 7, 2010).

Making his 30th and final start of the season, CC Sabathia turned in a stellar performance, holding the Red Sox lineup to one run on four hits in seven-plus dominant innings. He earned his 223rd career win, passing former Mets southpaw Jerry Koosman for sole possession of 17th place among left-handed pitchers on MLB’s all-time wins leaderboard. Looking ahead to 2017, next up on the list of lefties is Whitey Ford, who won 236 games in his 16-season career.

Yankeemetrics: It’s getting late early [Sept. 12-14]

(AP)
(AP)

Growing pains
On Monday night, the Yankees hit another speed bump in their surprising three-week sprint to the playoffs, getting hammered by the Dodgers, 8-2. It was an all-around sloppy game, where — for the most part — their fielders didn’t field well, their pitchers didn’t pitch well and their hitters didn’t hit well. The Yankees hit the trifecta, I guess.

Bryan Mitchell was not nearly as effective as he was in his debut last week against the Rays when he tossed five scoreless innings, getting hit hard early before being pulled in the third inning after giving up six runs on eight hits. He did get burned by two costly errors from a couple of his fellow Baby Bombers (Judge and Sanchez), so only two of those six runs were earned.

It had been more than five years since a Yankee pitcher gave up at least four unearned runs in fewer than three innings pitched. The last guy to do it was Bartolo Colon on July 14, 2011 against the Blue Jays. Colon didn’t make it out of the first inning thanks to a two-out error by Eduardo Nunez (NunEEEEEEE!) that loaded the bases and ultimately resulted in an ugly eight-run frame.

Richard Bleier saved the bullpen and held the Dodgers scoreless through the seventh with four hitless innings. You have to go back more than 15 years to find the last Yankee reliever to pitch at least four innings without allowing a hit at Yankee Stadium, when Todd Erdos did so against the Mets on June 6, 1999. The starting pitchers in that game? Al Leiter and Roger Clemens.

Aaron Judge did his best to try to make up for his untimely error by crushing a monster 436-foot shot into the left-center bleachers in the fifth inning, a ball that left his bat at 115.2 mph. Judge the only Yankee over the last two seasons — since Statcast tracking began — to hit a fair ball that far (436 feet) and that hard (115.2 mph).

(NY Post)
(NY Post)

Bench mob leads the way
The $200 million Little Engine That Could kept its postseason dreams alive — for one day, at least — and snapped out of its mini two-game funk with a resounding 3-0 win over the Dodgers on Tuesday night.

CC Sabathia held LA’s lineup in check with a truly turn-back-the-clock effort. He threw 6 1/3 shutout innings and gave up just three hits while striking out seven. It was a stellar outing that might be surprising given Sabathia’s late-season fade, but less improbable when you consider the pre-game matchup numbers. The Dodgers are the worst-hitting team against left-handed pitchers in the majors this season, ranking last among all teams in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS versus southpaws.

The hero on the offensive side was Jacoby Ellsbury, who replaced an injured Aaron Judge in the fifth inning and then delivered the Yankees’ latest clutch hit two frames later. Ellsbury won a nine-pitch battle with Dodgers reliever Ross Stripling, pummeling a full-count breaking ball into the right field seats to break a scoreless tie in the seventh.

He is just the third Yankee over the last two decades to hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later in an at-bat of nine-or-more pitches; Curtis Granderson (Sept. 17, 2011 vs. Blue Jays) and Derek Jeter (June 9, 2004 vs. Rockies) are the others.

Didi Gregorius (pinch-hitting for Ronald Torreyes) followed up Ellsbury with his own solo homer on the very next pitch, completing a historic sequence of longballs in the Bronx. Gregorius and Ellsbury became the first set of Yankees in 60 years to come off the bench and hit back-to-back homers in a game.

Moose Skowron and Tommy Byrne (who also got the win with 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief) were the last pair to do it on July 14, 1957 against the White Sox. Byrne was one of the best power-hitting pitchers in franchise history, slugging .393 with 11 homers in 425 at-bats as a Yankee in the 1940s and ‘50s. Among Yankee pitchers with at least 60 at-bats for the team, he ranks second in slugging percentage behind Bullet Joe Bush (.449).

Looking just at position players going deep in consecutive at-bats after not starting the game, the last Yankees to do that were Bob Serv and Elston Howard on July 23, 1955 in a 8-7 loss against the Kansas City A’s.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Yankees get Kershaw’d
The Yankees stumbled again in their desperate push to make the playoffs, losing another mistake-filled game to the Dodgers on Wednesday.

Two errors in the ninth led to the only two runs of the game, both of them unearned, as the team from the west coast left the Bronx with a 2-0 victory. This was just the third time in the last 20 years that the Yankees lost a game in which they didn’t allow an earned run. The other two similarly ugly losses occurred in a three-day span in 2014, against the Royals on September 5 and 7.

Playing their final non-division game of the season, the Yankees wrapped up their Interleague schedule at 8-12, clinching their second-worst Interleague record in franchise history. The only year they had a worse mark against NL teams was 1997 when they went 5-10.

Led by an efficient and utterly dominant performance from Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers completely shut down the Yankee bats. The Best Pitcher on the Planet struck out five, walked none and allowed one hit, needing just 64 pitches to get through five scoreless innings.

In the 94-year history of Yankee Stadium, just two other starting pitchers have finished with a line of zero walks, at least five strikeouts and no more than one hit allowed in a game against the Yankees. The first was Hank Aguirre for the Tigers on August 3, 1960 and the second was Pedro Martinez in his epic 17-strikeout, 1-hitter on Sept. 10, 1999.

The Yankees are running out of starting pitching at the worst possible time

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the third time in the last five games, the Yankees’ starting pitcher failed to complete five innings last night. The Dodgers contact-bombed Bryan Mitchell — he got only three swings and misses out of 47 pitches — for eight hits and six runs (two earned) in only 2.1 innings. That came three days after Michael Pineda couldn’t finish five innings with a five-run lead and four days after CC Sabathia struggled to complete four innings.

The rotation outside Masahiro Tanaka has been a problem most of the season. The staff doesn’t have a 4.58 ERA (4.37 FIP) by accident. Not 143 games into the season. Remove Tanaka from the mix and all the other starters have a 5.04 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 626.1 innings. That’s 626.1 innings of meh. Sabathia and some others had their moments earlier this season, but, by and large, the rotation has been a liability, not a strength.

Rosters have expanded and the Yankees are carrying 13 relievers, so they have enough arms to soak up whatever innings need to be soaked up. Of course, no manager actually wants to use his September call-up relievers, at least not this often, including Joe Girardi. Every manager wants their starter to hand the ball off to their usual late-inning relievers. The Yankees haven’t been able to do that much lately, and there’s no help coming for two reasons.

1. There’s no one left to call up in Triple-A. The Yankees have more or less exhausted their rotation depth at this point. Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green getting hurt after Ivan Nova was traded really thinned out the team’s depth. Joe Girardi admitted yesterday they originally planned to give Bryan Mitchell more time in Triple-A in the wake of his toe injury, but there was a need in the rotation due to Green’s injury, so they called him up.

The next best rotation option at this point is probably Richard Bleier, or maybe Phil Coke, who has done a nice job in the Triple-A Scranton rotation of late. Dietrich Enns is bumping up against his innings limit and has already been moved to the bullpen. Adding Jordan Montgomery to the 40-man roster a year earlier than necessary so he can make something like three starts late in the season is crappy roster management. Bleier or Coke it is, and that’s not reassuring at all.

De La Rosa. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)
De La Rosa. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)

2. There’s not much of a trade market either. The Yankees and every other team can still make trades through the trade waivers process, though whoever they acquire won’t be eligible for the postseason roster. That’s fine. They goal right now is to get to the postseason, that’s it. Right now cobbling together a postseason rotation is a problem the Yankees would be happy to deal with.

What does the starting pitcher trade market look like in September? Bleak. I’m guessing the only pitchers available are impending free agents on bad teams. That means players like Jorge De La Rosa, Andrew Cashner, and Jhoulys Chacin. Normally I’d say just stick with Luis Cessa and Mitchell, but you know what? If all it costs is a fringe prospect or cash, give me one of those guys as an extra starter for the postseason push. I’d rather have him and not need him than need him and not have him, you know?

* * *

Point is, there are no impact pitchers to be found on the trade market. Not on the trade market and likely not in the farm system either. The Yankees’ very best arms are in the big leagues right now. That’s good from a “this is the best possible team they have” perspective and bad from a “this is the best possible team they have?” perspective. You know what I mean.

With less than three weeks left in the regular season, what you see if what you’re going to get with the Yankees. If they’re going to do the improbable a qualify for the playoffs, Cessa and Mitchell and late-career Sabathia and the mystery that is Pineda are going to be the guys who get them there. Like it or not, those four plus Tanaka are the five best starting pitchers in the organization at the moment.