Depth Arms: Miscellaneous 40-Man Roster Pitchers [2015 Season Preview]

The Yankees remade their bullpen this offseason — assuming Adam Warren is the fifth starter, the only player in the 2014 Opening Day bullpen projected to be in the 2015 Opening Day bullpen is Dellin Betances — and five of the seven spots are pretty well set. Betances and Andrew Miller will be the late inning guys, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson will be the middle inning guys, and Esmil Rogers figures to be the swingman.

That leaves two spots open and thus far the Yankees have not tipped their hand in Spring Training. There are no obvious favorites for those spots. The club has a bunch of options, both 40-man roster guys and non-40-man roster guys, and they can go in any number of directions. Two long men, two one-inning guys, two lefties, two righties, one of each, whatever. The depth is there and the Yankees will use all of it this year. That’s baseball. The pitching staff has to be fluid. Here are the team’s 40-man depth arms heading into the regular season.

Burawa. (Presswire)
Burawa. (Presswire)

Danny Burawa: Stuff, Not Strikes

Last winter the 26-year-old Burawa went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees didn’t roll the dice again. They added Burawa, a Long Island kid, to the 40-man roster in November despite his control problems because his stuff is vicious. He sits mid-to-high-90s with his running fastball and mid-to-upper-80s with his slider, and his crossfire delivery adds deception. Burawa has a great, great arm.

The problem is strikes, as I mentioned. Burawa walked 11.3% of batters faced last year and had to be demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason. His career walk rate in the minors is 11.1%. The Yankees have three option years to help Burawa harness his stuff, and if that doesn’t happen, it’s hard to see him as anything more than an up-and-down arm. His stuff is so good the team will be patient though.

Jose DePaula: Lefty Long Man

The Yankees surprisingly signed DePaula to a one-year contract this offseason, adding him to the 40-man roster even though he has zero MLB experience and threw only 130 innings from 2012-14 due to oblique and shoulder issues. His shoulder started acting up again this spring — DePaula went for an MRI a week ago and everything came back clean, though it has limited him to mostly bullpens — which took him out of the running for a Opening Day roster spot. DePaula, 27, is a generic low-90s fastball, mid-80s changeup, mid-70s curveball strike-throwing lefty. He’ll work as a starter in Triple-A to start the year and could emerge as a spot starter or long relief option at some point this summer.

Chris Martin: Tall Up & Down Righty

Martin, 28, was the final link in a fringe reliever transaction chain. Preston Claiborne was designated for assignment to clear a spot for Gonzalez Germen, who was acquired from the Mets. Germen was then designated for assignment when the Yankees acquired Martin from the Rockies. New York acquired Germen because they felt he was better than Claiborne, and then they acquired Martin because they felt he was better than Germen.

Martin is basically the model Yankees reliever based on the team’s ostensible preferences. He’s super tall (listed at 6-foot-8), throws hard (PitchFX had him averaging 94.6 mph in 2014), and has a history of striking guys out (career 24.9 K% in Triple-A). His back story is pretty interesting too. Like Claiborne before him, Martin is slated to fill an up-and-down role this year, riding the bus back and forth between Triple-A and MLB whenever a fresh arm is needed. He’s not exactly a young prospect, so I’m not sure how much room for improvement there is.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Bryan Mitchell: Seventh Starter?

The fifth starter competition was basically a two-horse race between Warren and Rogers, with Mitchell as one of the guys on the periphery of the competition. The Yankees always seemed intent on sending him to Triple-A for more refinement, which makes sense at this point of his career. Mitchell has very good stuff, but he will turn only 24 next month and has only 51.2 career innings above Double-A. He’s also prone to bouts of wildness.

There’s a chance — albeit a small one — Mitchell can be the 2015 version of 2014 Shane Greene, coming up at midseason to solidify the rotation. He’s ahead of where Greene was at age 24 developmentally, though he still needs to iron out his control after walking 10% of batters faced between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014. The thin starting pitching depth chart means Mitchell may be pushed into MLB action this year, though if you gave the Yankees a truth serum, I think they’d admit they’d like him to get a full year in Triple-A before being a September call-up.

Branden Pinder: Bullpen Sleeper

The Yankees like Pinder enough to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft this past winter even though a groin injury limited him to 39.1 innings last year, mostly at Double-A and Triple-A. The 26-year-old Pinder is more of a high probability guy than a high upside guy despite sitting low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and low-80s with his slider. Pinder throws a ton of strikes (5.9 BB% in 2014) and that about sums him up. He’s a fastball/slider reliever who won’t walk the park. Pinder has already been optioned to Triple-A Scranton, though I definitely expect him to get called up at some point. He has sneaky staying power, the kind of guy who gets called up and before you know it, he’s making his 40th appearance of the season.

Jose Ramirez: The Perpetual Tease

So, will this be the year Ramirez stays healthy? The 25-year-old has tremendous stuff and has for years, but he’s can’t stay on the field and it’s been an issue his entire career. Last year a lat strain limited him to 22.1 innings between Triple-A and MLB. When he’s actually on the mound, Ramirez has filthy stuff, sitting mid-90s with his fastball and getting swings and misses with both his slider and changeup, so the potential to be an impact reliever exists. He just can’t stay healthy. Ramirez made his big league debut last summer and figures to see the Bronx again this year. Until he manages to get through a full season in one piece, he’s going to continue to be a tease.

(Presswire)
Shreve. (Presswire)

Chasen Shreve: The Third Lefty?

Out of all the players in this post, Shreve may have been given the biggest opportunity to win a bullpen job in Spring Training. He leads full-time Yankees’ relievers in Grapefruit League innings and has faced a ton of righties as the team gave him a chance to show he can be more than a lefty specialist. Camp hasn’t gone well (seven runs in eight innings) and that may earn Shreve a trip to Triple-A to start the year, but the Yankees have made it pretty clear they want him in MLB at some point.

Shreve, 24, had an excellent minor league season with the Braves last year, pitching to a 2.67 ERA (1.92 FIP) with 35.5 K% and 4.9 BB% in 64 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He changed his approach last year and decided to simply air it out each pitch, which led to all that success last year. Shreve now sits in the low-90s and has both a slider and a promising split-changeup hybrid, which suggests he can be more than a lefty specialist. There’s still a chance Shreve will make the Opening Day roster, but, even if he doesn’t, I’m certain we’ll see him in the Bronx this year, sooner rather than later.

Chase Whitley: Depth & Versatility

If the fifth starter’s race was purely Spring Training performance based, Whitley probably would be considered the frontrunner for the job. He’s allowed just one run in eleven innings and has been efficient, though he hasn’t faced the best competition either. Whitley had a nice little run as a starter last season before the wheels fell off, which wasn’t entirely unexpected since he is a career reliever who converted to a starter last season. He has three pitches though, so the Yankees are keeping him stretched out because why not?

Whitley, 25, might have the best chance to make the Opening Day roster out of anyone in this post. He could assume something similar to the old David Phelps role, working one inning or four innings at a time, depending what the team needs that night. Rogers could fill that role as well, though the Yankees have indicated they would like to take it easy on their starters early in the season, so carrying two multi-inning bullpeners could make sense. Either way, we’ll see Whitley in MLB this season at some point. I’m sure of it.

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Capuano injury, plan for Tanaka could change way Yanks build early-season bullpen

Whitley on the Opening Day roster might not be far-fetched. (Presswire)
Whitley on the Opening Day roster might not be so far-fetched. (Presswire)

Last week the Yankees lost projected fifth starter Chris Capuano for several weeks with a Grade II right quad strain. Capuano is the team’s most replaceable starter but that doesn’t mean the loss is insignificant. Someone else has to fill that rotation spot now and chances are it will be someone who was slated to open the year in the bullpen, either Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers, most likely. The loss will be felt somewhere.

The Yankees have also been discussing using a six-man rotation early in the season — not necessarily a strict six-man rotation, but rather strategically using a sixth starter on occasion to give the other guys rest. That makes sense considering Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda all have some kind of health concern. In fact, the team is planning to use Tanaka specifically every sixth day early in the season, according to Kevin Kernan.

The Yankees have a plan to keep Masahiro Tanaka as healthy as possible, and that means giving him an extra day of rest now and during the season so he pitches every sixth day.

“It’s something we’d like to do,’’ one Yankees official told The Post on Friday of keeping the rotation on a six-day spin.

Tanaka worked on a six-day schedule in Japan until signing with the Yankees last winter, and given his elbow situation, the extra day could be beneficial both short and long-term. April off-days and a strategic sixth starter will help the Yankees accomplish their goal of starting Tanaka every sixth day, though Capuano’s injury complicates things a little bit because it changes the bullpen construction.

Assuming Warren or Rogers replaces Capuano in the rotation — I think it’ll be Warren personally, but there are still three weeks of Spring Training to go — five of the seven bullpen spots are set:

  1. Dellin Betances
  2. Andrew Miller
  3. David Carpenter
  4. Justin Wilson
  5. Warren or Rogers
  6. ?
  7. ?

There are no shortage of candidates for those last two spots. Finding bodies won’t be difficult. The Yankees have the luxury of filling those spots any way they want because of all the available options. And with Capuano hurt and the Yankees wanting to start Tanaka every sixth day, the most practical way to fill both spots may be with long men. At least temporarily.

Baker. (Presswire)
Baker. (Presswire)

The thinking is one of those two long men — it would really be three long men in the bullpen when you include the Warren/Rogers spot — could step in as the sixth starter as needed to spell Tanaka (and the other starters) every so often. That would leave at least one more long man for other days, in case Warren/Rogers or any of the other starters go short. This isn’t rocket science, the more relievers in the bullpen who can throw multiple innings, the better.

Planning to carry multiple long men is one thing, but actually having multiple viable long men is another. The Yankees started last season with three relievers who could have been considered long relievers (Warren, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno), but that was a bit of an outlier. You don’t see many teams break camp with three guys like that. (I thought the Yankees would sent at least one to Triple-A to stay stretched out as the sixth starter, but nope.)

Here are the club’s long man candidates still in big league camp (listed alphabetically), assuming Warren and Rogers will be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity no matter what:

  • Scott Baker: Veteran guy who threw 80.2 generally ineffective innings (5.47 ERA and 4.78 FIP) for the Rangers last year. He’s thrown four innings across a pair of appearances this spring.
  • Kyle Davies: Threw 154.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year and hasn’t pitched in MLB since 2011. He’s thrown four innings in three appearances during Grapefruit League play.
  • Jose DePaula: DePaula has dealt with numerous injuries in recent years and was limited to 51.1 innings in Triple-A last year. He’s made just one appearance this spring, throwing two innings.
  • Bryan Mitchell: Eleven innings in MLB last year and another 103 in the minors. He threw 145.1 minor league innings back in 2013. Mitchell has thrown four innings in two appearances this spring.
  • Chase Whitley: Made the conversion from bullpen to rotation last year and threw a career high 107 innings, including 75.2 in MLB. He’s thrown seven innings this spring, appearing in three games.

We can group these five guys into three different … well, groups. The Yankees have nothing invested in Baker and Davies long-term. They’re older pitchers trying to hang on and the team will not hesitate to run them into the ground, then designate them for assignment. It sounds rough but that’s baseball. Baker and Davies aren’t stupid, they know where they are at this stage of their careers.

Mitchell is an actual prospect and the Yankees do have reason to protect him with an eye towards the future. Mitchell will turn 24 next month and he’s also the least MLB ready of the bunch despite making his debut last season. He could use some more Triple-A time for fine-tuning. DePaula and Whitley are somewhere in the middle. Not really potential pieces of the long-term puzzle like Mitchell but probably not guys the Yankees would abuse a la Baker and Davies either.

The Yankees don’t have to decide on those final bullpen spots for a few weeks and by then they should have a better idea of Capuano’s timetable. If he’s expected back relatively soon, within the first week or two of the regular season, they could opt to take a short reliever who can be optioned down when Capuano’s healthy to make life easy. If he’ll miss a few weeks and not return until closer May, carrying two long relievers like, say, Baker and Whitley early on could make sense if the Yankees intend to stick to their strategic sixth starter plan.

Chris Capuano’s injury complicates pitching situation and creates an opportunity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two batters into yesterday afternoon’s game, the Yankees lost left-hander Chris Capuano for what is expected to be several weeks with a Grade II right quad strain. It was a fluke injury — Capuano was covering first base on a ground ball and landed awkwardly on the bag. That’s all. Not exactly an uncommon baseball injury.

The big problem here is Capuano was supposed to be one of the starters who didn’t get hurt. We were all supposed to start the year waiting for Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow to give or CC Sabathia‘s knee to crumble while complaining about Capuano slopballing is way through five or six innings every fifth day. Capuano was supposed to be the guy who stayed healthy.

“We’ll look at everyone, that’s the bottom line. Because we need to fill a spot now,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings following yesterday’s game. The Yankees will now dip into their pitching reserves to bolster the rotation early in the season, something we expected to happen pretty much all winter. We just didn’t think they’d be replacing Capuano. Here’s a look at the team’s options at the moment.

Internal Options: Warren, Rogers, Mitchell, Whitley

Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell, and Chase Whitley are all working as starters in camp for this exact reason: to be ready to step into the rotation if needed. Others like Luis Severino, Jose DePaula, and Scott Baker are in camp as non-roster players and yeah, I guess that makes them rotation candidates, but I get the sense they are deep depth options, not guys being seriously considered for the Opening Day rotation.

Warren was mentioned as a rotation candidate every time a starter got hurt last season and for whatever reason I get the sense this spring he’s the guy the Yankees want to use as a starter if necessary, and it is necessary now thanks to Capuano’s quad. Warren’s been successful as a reliever these last two years but he has enough pitches to start, came up through the system as a starter, and it seems like the Yankees believe he can be an effective MLB starter.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At the same time, both Girardi and Brian Cashman recently went out of their way to praise Rogers, who spent a few years floundering as a starter with the Rockies earlier in his career. “(Rogers has) thrown the ball really well. Larry (Rothschild) worked with him long and hard last year during some bullpen sessions about changing a few things … He’s been really good this spring. He’ll be one of the guys we’re really looking at,” said Girardi to Jennings yesterday, for example.

Mitchell probably has the best raw arm of the group but is the most green of the bunch. He could use some more time in Triple-A to iron a few things out, particularly his fastball location. Whitley had a nice little run as a starter last year before the league figured him out, though he has three pitches, and as long as he has three pitches, the Yankees might as well keep working him as a starter.

The Yankees have only played a week’s worth of Grapefruit League games, so none of these guys have had a chance to jump to the front of the pack yet. Besides, Spring Training performance isn’t — or shouldn’t be, anyway — the only factor in this decision. My hunch is this four-man race is really a two-man race between Warren and Rogers. It’s their job to lose, not someone else’s to win.

External Options? Probably Not Happening

When Yu Darvish blew out his elbow a few days ago, Rangers GM Jon Daniels said they will fill his rotation spot internally. When Marcus Stroman tore his ACL earlier this week, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said they will replace him internally. That’s the standard operation procedure time of year. Everyone says they will replace injured players internally because saying “we’re going to make a trade” just isn’t smart business. It makes you look desperate.

Like it or not, the Yankees are not going to trade for Cole Hamels because Capuano got hurt. (Hamels is the kind of move that gets made regardless of the status of guys like Capuano.) They’re probably not going to take on $5.3M in salary and give up a prospect to get Dillon Gee either. The Yankees might scour the scrap heap for an out of options arm — Mariners changeup specialist Erasmo Ramirez is also out of minor league options and another name to keep in mind — these next few weeks, but I don’t expect a move to bring in a no-doubt big leaguer.

Remember, when starters were dropping like flies early last year, the Yankees cycled through their internal options to make sure they did need to go outside the organization for help before actually doing so. I expect the same this year. They might pluck someone off waivers or make a minor trade for depth, but a significant move isn’t happening. At least not right now. Their M.O. in recent years has been to try internal options first.

The Schedule

Thanks to the usual slate of early-season off-days, the Yankees only need their fifth starter three times in April. Opening Day is April 6th, so based on the above calendar they will need their fifth starter on April 12th, 21st, and 26th. They won’t need him again until May 5th either. So only three times in the first 26 games of the season. Capuano might be ready to return by then.

Now, that said, the Yankees have already been talking about occasionally using a sixth starter early in the season to give guys like Tanaka, Sabathia, and Michael Pineda extra rest. I’m guessing they aren’t too enthusiastic about the idea of riding their top four starters hard in April and skipping the fifth spot whenever possible. They could do it, sure, but they have to think big picture here. A few more starts by the fifth (and sixth?) starter in April could mean many more Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda starts in August and September.

So yes, the schedule does give the Yankees the flexibility to skip their fifth starter a few times in April. That doesn’t mean it would be a good idea, however. The Yankees have played it very cautiously with Tanaka and Sabathia so far this spring and I don’t expect them to change course just because Capuano got hurt. The fifth starter, whoever it ends up being, is probably going to end up taking a regular rotation turn early in the season.

What About The Bullpen?

If the Yankees do end up using Warren or Rogers to replace Capuano in the rotation, it opens up another spot in the bullpen. They already had one open coming into Spring Training. This is no big deal though. If there’s one thing the Yankees have in spades, it’s relievers. They have about a dozen candidates for those last bullpen spots: Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Andrew Bailey, Danny Burawa, Chris Martin, Chasen Shreve, Jose Ramirez, Jose DePaula, Jared Burton, Nick Rumbelow, Tyler Webb, Wilking Rodriguez … on and on it goes. They’ll find someone to fill the necessary bullpen spots. No worries here.

* * *

Capuano’s injury is unfortunate, though the silver lining is that he is the team’s most replaceable starter. The Yankees also don’t have to replace him today. Spring Training doesn’t end for another three and a half weeks. It’s not like they need to come up with his replacement in time for his start next week or something like that. They can take their time, see how every looks with some more innings under their belt, then make a decision.

The majority of RAB readers believe Warren will get the call to replace Capuano based on yesterday’s poll and I agree. I just feel like he’s the guy. I do expect the Yankees to keep an eye on any pitchers who may become available before Opening Day — they were going to do that anyway, Capuano injury or not — but I would be surprised if they made anything more than a minor move. That just hasn’t been the way they’ve operated in recent years. Capuano’s injury means someone who is already with the Yankees is about to get a big opportunity in the rotation.

Previewing the Yanks’ few Spring Training position battles

Sixth starter or setup man? (Presswire)
Sixth starter or setup man? (Presswire)

Pitchers and catchers are set to report to Spring Training this Friday, though several Yankees players are already in Tampa preparing for the season according to reporters on site. It’s the guys you’d expect to show up to camp early — rehabbing players (Ivan Nova), players new to the organization (Nathan Eovaldi), and players trying to win a job in camp.

The Yankees don’t have many open roster spots, at least not on paper, but that doesn’t mean jobs aren’t up for grabs in Spring Training. Sometimes the job on the line is being the first guy called up when the inevitable injury strikes. Just look at Preston Claiborne two years ago. He didn’t win a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he put himself on the call-up map with a strong showing in camp. So, with Spring Training set to start later this week, let’s preview New York’s position battles.

Sixth Starter
Candidates: Adam Warren, Esmil Rogers, Bryan Mitchell

Every team needs a sixth and seventh and occasionally even eighth starter during the season, and the Yankees are more likely to need spare starters than most teams because of the injury risk in the rotation. Warren and Rogers were both told to come to Spring Training ready to work as starting pitchers and Mitchell has been a starter his entire minor league career. You don’t have to try real hard to envision a scenario in which one of these guys is in the rotation come Opening Day.

Warren did very nice work as a short reliever last year but came up through the minors as a starter. Rogers has both started and relieved in the past, and he worked as a swingman last year. Mitchell is a rookie with just a big league cup of coffee under his belt. Warren and Rogers are all but certain to open the season on the 25-man roster in some capacity and I’m sure the Yankees want both to be relievers. That means everyone in the rotation is healthy. Mitchell would go back to Triple-A to bide his time in that scenario.

If someone does get hurt in Spring Training and the Yankees do need a replacement starter, I think it would come down to who has the best camp. Not necessarily statistically, but who shows the Yankees they have the best chance of turning over a lineup three times. My guess is Warren would get the first chance to start if necessary, but I’m not all that confident in that pick. I am confident these guys are ahead of scrap heap signings Scott Baker and Kyle Davies on the rotation depth chart, however.

Seventh Reliever
Candidates: Lots

Whitley. (Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

In a perfect world, Warren and Rogers would be in the Opening Day bullpen alongside Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, and Justin Wilson. (Rogers would presumably be the long man in that scenario.) The seventh bullpen spot is wide open and the Yankees have no shortage of candidates on the 40-man roster: Danny Burawa, Jose DePaula, Chris Martin, Branden Pinder, Jose Ramirez, Chasen Shreve, and Chase Whitley. We should probably include Mitchell in there as well. Non-40-man roster candidates include Jacob Lindgren and Andrew Bailey.

At least one of those extra guys is going to make the roster as the seventh reliever. If Warren and/or Rogers are needed in the rotation, several of the extra arms will make the Opening Day roster to fill out the bullpen. And since there are so many viable seventh reliever candidates, I think it will come down to Spring Training performance. I don’t think handedness will matter one bit. And remember, just because someone wins a job in Spring Training, it doesn’t mean they keep it forever. If, say, Martin wins the last bullpen spot but has a 6.00 ERA two weeks into the season, the Yankees will swap him out for someone else. The seventh bullpen spot is always a revolving door.

Backup Catcher
Candidates: Austin Romine, John Ryan Murphy

Technically, this is a competition since nothing is final, but it’s widely believed Murphy will be the backup catcher come Opening Day. Everything points in that direction. Romine wasn’t all that impressive during his extended stint as Chris Stewart’s backup in 2013, and when the team needed a long-term fill-in for Frankie Cervelli last summer, Murphy got the call ahead of Romine. And, when they needed a third catcher after rosters expanded it September, it was again Murphy over Romine. That doesn’t mean Romine has nothing to play for in camp, of course.

“I want it. I want to go out there and prove to them that I want it. That’s why I’m here early and I just want to hit the ground running and go after it and bust my ass to make the team,” said Romine to Mark Feinsand last week. “(There are) a little more doors opening up with Cervelli gone now. Whatever happens, happens. I’m going to show them I want this.”

Romine is out of options, meaning he can’t go to Triple-A without first passing through waivers. That could happen but the Yankees have to proceed as if it won’t. That’s why they signed Eddy Rodriguez to a minor league deal. Even if he can’t beat out Murphy for the backup job, Romine is auditioning himself for other teams this spring, teams that could claim him off waivers before the start of the season or look to acquire him in a minor trade. This is the definition of a healthy competition, even if the job is basically Murphy’s to lose.

Ryan. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Ryan. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Last Bench Player
Candidates: Brendan Ryan, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder

This is basically a “can either Pirela or Refsnyder convince the Yankees they’re better off paying Ryan his $2M salary to not play for them?” competition. I’m guessing no — Ryan’s ability to play shortstop is a hard to find skill with real value — but you know how it goes. Stranger things have happened. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman insists Refsnyder will get a chance to win a job in camp.

“I can’t tell you he’s not Major League ready just yet,” said Cashman in a radio interview earlier month, according to Brendan Kuty. “The bottom line is, he’ll go into camp, and he’ll compete, and he’ll have a chance to potentially earn a spot on the roster … We’re all going to see that develop in Spring Training.”

The Yankees could opt for Pirela’s versatility or Refsnyder’s bat over Ryan’s defense, especially since Stephen Drew can cover Didi Gregorius at shortstop. There is a legitimate baseball reason to keep Ryan though. We can’t forget that. Depth at shortstop is necessary. Either way, we’re talking about the 25th man on the roster. This isn’t a decision that will make or break the season.

The five most interesting Yankees ZiPS projections

2015 ZiPS

Early last week, as part of his annual series at FanGraphs, Dan Szymborski released his ZiPS projections for the 2015 Yankees. As always, projections don’t mean a whole lot of anything. They aren’t predictions — projections are an estimate of current talent level — and while ZiPS has historically been accurate on a macro level, there are always individual outliers. Projections are a completely objective look at a player and a conversation starter, that’s all.

The graphic above shows the rough WAR projections for the Yankees’ regulars. The team’s full ZiPS projections are right here, so check them out at your own convenience. I want to focus on five players with projections that stood out as interesting to me, either for good reasons or bad reasons. Let’s get to it …

Brian McCann: +3.0 WAR

Catcher defense is still very difficult to quantify and ZiPS doesn’t handle it well, so there’s no point in looking at McCann’s projected WAR. The most important thing is ZiPS sees him as a .249/.316/.431 (.325 wOBA) hitter this coming season, which is way better than the .232/.286/.406 (.306 wOBA) line he put up last year. It’s down slightly from his .252/.329/.441 (.332 wOBA) line with the Braves from 2011-13 but still in the same ballpark. That’s encouraging.

Remember, ZiPS knows all about McCann’s heavy career workload and catcher aging curves and all that. It knows that catchers McCann’s age tend to continue declining once they’ve started declining, yet it still expects him to bounce back in 2015. That’s because it sees his .231 BABIP last summer and knows it was out of line with his .283 career mark. That said, it only has him getting back to .260 BABIP. This 100% objective computer system doesn’t expect McCann to slide into uselessness just yet and for some reason I find that reassuring.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Didi Gregorius: +1.6 WAR

Defensive stats are sketchy and defensive projections are even sketchier. ZiPS pegs Gregorius as a +1 defender, which is actually better than his career UZR (-3.6) and DRS (0) numbers at short, but not in line with his reputation. Is it possible Didi’s defensive skills have been overstated? Oh hell yeah. It happens all the time, especially with players who can’t hit. But, as I explained a few weeks ago, the scouting reports and Inside Edge data make it seem Gregorius is a standout defender with a knack for the occasional mental mistake on routine plays. That is something that can be improved with experience, in theory.

Anyway, aside from the defense, ZiPS has Didi as a .251/.307/.369 (.295 wOBA) hitter and that sorta stinks. The league average shortstop put up a .251/.306/.363 (.297 wOBA) line last year though, so Gregorius is projected as almost a perfectly league average hitting shortstop. There’s nothing sexy about that, but Derek Jeter did hit .256/.304/.313 (.279 wOBA) last season, and that’s really really bad. Even at the league shortstop average, Didi will be a big upgrade at the plate. Add in even +1 defense, and he’s an even bigger upgrade. The Yankees got -2.3 WAR from their shortstops a year ago, easily the worst in baseball. Gregorius is looking very much like a multi-win upgrade even with the modest ZiPS projections.

Nathan Eovaldi: +1.1 WAR

To me, Eovaldi is the perfect example of a pitcher poised to exceed projections. ZiPS only knows the stats, remember. It doesn’t know Masahiro Tanaka has a tiny tear in his UCL, for example. It doesn’t know Chasen Shreve decided to throw harder last year. And it doesn’t know Eovaldi appeared to improve his changeup late last season or that he is going from an atrocious pitch-framer (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) to an elite one (McCann) or that pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a long history of improving strikeout rates. Those are three ZiPS ignored factors that could have a major impact going forward. Eovaldi is projected for a 4.51 ERA (4.16 FIP) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he outperforms that by a full run this coming season. Okay, fine, let’s say half-a-run instead. Either way, I like Eovaldi’s chances of exceeding ZiPS.

Justin Wilson: -0.1 WAR

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So ZiPS isn’t a fan of New York’s new lefty middle reliever. Wilson has a 2.99 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 138.1 career innings and the projection system has him as a true talent 4.31 ERA (4.54 FIP) pitcher in 2015. His strikeout and walk rate projections (23.6 K% and 12.8 K%) are right in line with his 2014 performance (23.8 K% and 11.7 BB%), so the difference is all in home run rate. After allowing eight homers in his first 138.1 big league innings, ZiPS sees Wilson as an eight homers in 64.2 innings guy right now. That … seems weird.

Yes, Wilson is moving into a much more hitter friendly ballpark. Yankee Stadium had a 111 HR Park Factor last summer — that means it inflated homer production to 11% more than the league average — while PNC Park had an 88 HR Park Factor, so that’s a big difference. Enough to go from a 0.52 HR/9 from 2012-14 to 1.11 HR/9 in 2015? Maybe! That just seems like an exorbitant spike in homer rate, especially for a pitcher with a career 50.9% ground ball rate.

Reliever homer rates can be pretty volatile year to year because they inherently work in small samples, maybe 60-70 innings per year. One single homer results in a pretty big change in a reliever’s homer rate. Five dingers in 50 innings is 0.90 HR/9. Four is 0.72. Six is 1.08. Those are pretty big swings that result from one swing of the bat, one gust of wind, a couple degrees of temperature, stuff like that. ZiPS sees Wilson being replacement level because it expects him to start serving up long balls, but reliever homer rates are really volatile. The computer is being pretty pessimistic.

Bryan Mitchell: -1.3 WAR

Yikes. ZiPS pegs Mitchell for a 5.92 ERA (5.68 FIP) with mediocre strikeout (15.0 K%) and walk (11.5 BB%) rates, which isn’t good at all but not completely unexpected for a non-elite 23-year-old pitching prospect. The problem is Mitchell is more or less the team’s sixth starter. Maybe he’s more like the eighth starter behind Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers, but the point is he’s not all that far down the depth chart. ZiPS won’t have any impact on Mitchell’s real life performance, but geez, it would have been nice to see the system be a little more optimistic heading into the season.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 17-19

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 20-25, 26-31, and 32-40.

Mitchell.. (Presswire)
Mitchell.. (Presswire)

As we jump into the top half of our 40-man roster rankings, we are now looking at players who are projected to have significant roles with the 2015 Yankees as well as the 2016 and beyond Yankees. At least most of the time. There is still one exception to the “significant role with the 2015 Yankees” thing and we’ll cover him today.

Today we’re going to cover spots 17 through 19, which include two starters who are not expected to start the year in rotation, but seem likely to wind up there come the second half. The other spot belongs to the team’s best prospect on the 40-man roster. All three are important pieces to the future of the franchise. To the next batch of rankings …

No. 19: Bryan Mitchell

2015 Role: I don’t want to say sixth starter, but it’s something close to that. Mitchell made his MLB debut last season, including a spot start against the Orioles during a doubleheader, and he handled himself well. That doesn’t guarantee success this coming season, of course, but it’s better than getting lit up and leaving everyone with a bad taste in their mouth.

Mitchell will presumably get regular work in Spring Training and could win the final bullpen spot as a long man, I suppose, but an assignment to Triple-A Scranton seems more likely. That way he could remain stretched out and available for whenever the Yankees inevitably need another starter. Given the state of the rotation, there’s a good chance Mitchell will make double-digit starts in the big leagues in 2015.

Long-Term Role: Middle to back of the rotation starter. The 23-year-old Mitchell is well ahead of where Shane Greene was in his development at the same age, and he has similarly nasty stuff in his mid-90s fastball and curveball, though he’s not a finished product. They sort of project to be the same type of pitcher though. Workhorse starters with A+ stuff but maybe not A+ results all the time.

Mitchell was drafted out of high school as a raw hard-thrower and has worked hard to improve his control over the years. He had a 13.6% walk rate in Low Class-A, a 9.3% walk rate in High Class-A, a 9.8% walk rate in Double-A, and an 8.9% walk rate in Triple-A, so he is moving in the right direction. There is more work to be done and it appears much of it will happen at the big league level. The Yankees need Mitchell to help both now and in the future.

No. 18: Gary Sanchez

Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)
Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)

2015 Role: Doesn’t really have one outside of being a September call-up and the emergency extra catcher. A lot would have to go wrong for Sanchez to get a chance behind the plate before rosters expand, I think. His defense, specifically his receiving — he has thrown out 42% of attempted base-stealers the last two seasons and that’s outstanding — is still a work in progress and so is his bat, really. Sanchez will spend the season as the regular catcher with the RailRiders.

Long-Term Role: Impact bat. Hopefully at catcher, but if not, at first base or even DH. Either way, Sanchez is a bat-first prospect and that’s why he is so highly regarded. When Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the team’s fifth best prospect a few weeks ago, they said he has “the potential for a .280 average and 20-25 home runs annually,” and that’s what the Yankees are hoping to see within a year or two.

Sanchez has shown quite a bit of improvement at making contact and controlling the strike zone as a pro — he had a 25.0% strikeout rate in Low Class-A, a 19.2% strikeout rate in High Class-A, and an 18.2% strikeout rate in Double-A. As with Mitchell, he’s trending in the right direction. Sanchez has power and a strong arm, so the physical tools are there. And he just turned 22 last month, making him the youngest player on the 40-man roster.

The Yankees very clearly value defense behind the plate. It all started years ago, really. They acquired Jose Molina from the Angels in the middle of the 2007 season and the only poor defensive catcher they’ve had since was Jorge Posada. Despite that gaudy caught stealing rate, Sanchez could find himself in another organization if the Yankees don’t like his defense enough. He could wind up being used as trade bait a la Jesus Montero.

Nova. (Presswire)
Nova and his braces. (Presswire)

No. 17: Ivan Nova

2015 Role: Rehabber, at least at first. Nova had Tommy John surgery in late-April and isn’t expected back until May or June of this year. He hasn’t had a setback or anything, the Yankees are just playing it a little safe. A lot of pitchers have recently needed a second Tommy John surgery soon after the first one — Kris Medlen, Jarrod Parker, Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson, and Brandon Beachy just to name a few — and a lot of people (including Dr. James Andrews) say it may be because they are pushing too hard during the rehab of the first procedure. That’s why the Yankees are taking their time with Nova.

Once healthy and rehabbed, Nova will be expected to jump right back in the starting rotation and contribute. Every team needs more than five starters in a given season and these Yankees figure to be no different considering the injury risks present in the current projected rotation. If Nova comes back in May or June and the team doesn’t have an obvious spot for him, that’s a good thing. Let him get healthy first, then worry about where he fits. My guess is it won’t be a problem.

Long-Term Role: Like I said, Nova will jump right back into the starting rotation once healthy and he’s expected to be in the rotation in 2016 as well. That’s the extent of Nova’s ties to the Yankees though. He will become a free agent after the 2016 season and either he could decide to go elsewhere or the team could decide to move on.

That decision is still a long ways away, of course. Nova has to finish rehabbing his rebuilt elbow, get over the initial strike-throwing issues that so commonly plague recent Tommy John patients, then show in 2016 he is back to where he was before surgery. Now that I think about it … what was Nova before his injury? There were times he looked like an ace and other times he was throwing batting practice. We still don’t really know who the real Nova is at the MLB level. Isn’t that weird?

Coming Friday: Nos. 15 and 16. A young player about to get his first extended taste of big league action and a versatile reliever.

Still plenty left for the Yankees to do in 2014

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Although they mathematically still have a chance, the Yankees are not going to the postseason this year. They’re six games back of the second wildcard spot with three teams ahead of them and only eleven games to play, so it would take a historic comeback to make the playoffs. I don’t see this team doing anything historic other than maybe getting no-hit. There will be no October baseball for a second straight year.

The Yankees do still have those eleven games to play though, and playing meaningless baseball for nearly two weeks is not something the Yankees or their fans are familiar with. There haven’t been a lot of truly meaningless games around these parts the last two decades. The focus has shifted to 2015 now and there are a few things the Yankees can do to take advantage of these final eleven games.

Shut Down Whoever Else Is Hurt
Brett Gardner just missed a few days with an abdomen strain — he’s has been awful since returning, in case you haven’t noticed — and Mark Teixeira‘s surgically repaired wrist has flared up again. There is no reason for the Yankees to push these two and have them try to play through injury. No one gets bonus points for being macho. Martin Prado and his hamstring would have fit here as well, but his recent appendectomy took care of that. I’m sure there are other players on the roster dealing with nagging injuries (Jacoby Ellsbury‘s ankle?), so any regulars with an injury that could somehow turn into something more severe shouldn’t be playing. The only exception to this should be Masahiro Tanaka, whose partially torn elbow ligament and progressing rehab is a very unique situation.

Shut Down Dellin Betances
It goes without saying that Betances has been the biggest bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season. He went from failed starting pitcher prospect to arguably the best reliever in baseball and an important part of the Yankees going forward, regardless of what happens with David Robertson‘s free agency after the season. The team is counting on Betances to be a core piece of their relief crew going forward and for good reason. He has two out pitches in his fastball and breaking ball and I’m pretty sure standing in the box against him is terrifying.

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

That said, Betances has thrown the most innings (87.2) and the most pitches (1,328) among full-time relievers this year, and most of those innings and pitches have been high-stress. The Yankees have clearly scaled back on his workload these last few weeks — “No, no. Absolutely not. Dellin has been used a lot too, so, no,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings following Sunday’s game when asked if he considered using Betances for multiple innings — and understandably so. I know he threw 120+ innings several times in the minors, but throwing 120+ innings every fifth day as a starter is much different from throwing 80+ innings as a high-leverage reliever.

Watching Betances has been literally the most enjoyable thing about the 2014 Yankees. His near-bust prospect to elite reliever story makes him easy to root for. But he’s also worked a lot this year. Betances also has a history of arm problems, both shoulder and elbow, so shutting him down now will allow him to get nice physical and mental break heading into the offseason. The Yankees have every reason to do whatever it takes to keep Betances healthy and effective both now and in the future. With the team out of the postseason, shutting him down before his workload grows even more makes sense.

Give Bryan Mitchell Another Start(s)
Mitchell’s first career start went pretty well on Friday as he limited the Orioles to two runs on six hits and two walks in five innings while being held to an 85-ish pitch count. Considering he had not pitched in a real game in two weeks — the Yankees did have him throw a 50-pitch simulated game at some point early last week to keep him stretched out and sharp — and surely had some first career start jitters to deal with, Mitchell did a fine job.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

There is not a whole lot of evaluating that can be done by giving Mitchell another start or two; teams and scouts won’t change their opinion of him based on those short looks (barring injury), but it is an opportunity to let him get more comfortable and gain some experience. Not much, but some, and every little bit helps. The Yankees need pitching help this winter and Mitchell is likely to in the sixth/seventh starter spot heading into the next season. Giving him a few more innings to get comfortable and build confidence is a no-brainer.

Let John Ryan Murphy Start Some Games
Murphy is a good young catching prospect and, like Mitchell, the Yankees should do whatever they can to help him get comfortable and gain experience these last two weeks. Start him seven or eight times in the final eleven games, something like that. Again, 25 at-bats or so won’t (or shouldn’t) change what we think about him, but they could help send him into the offseason feeling pretty good about where he stands in the organization. That’s not nothing.

This isn’t just about Murphy, either. Brian McCann is in the first year of his five-year contract and he’s been a starting big league catcher since he was 22 years old. That’s a lot of squatting behind the plate — most of it during hot Atlanta summers — and a lot of wear and tear. The Yankees would still be able to use McCann at DH, but the goal is to get him out from behind the plate to save him physically, even just a little bit. It would also reduce the risk of a foul tip to the face mask and other incidental injuries like that. Like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with McCann, so they should do whatever they can to protect their investment now that they’re out of the postseason mix.

Start Contract Talks With Robertson & Brandon McCarthy
The five days immediately following the World Series constitute the exclusive negotiating period for free agents, though the Yankees will get an extra month to talk with their impending free agents by virtue of not playing baseball in October. Their exclusive negotiating period is really one month plus the five days, and they should take advantage by starting talks with McCarthy and Robertson (and Chase Headley?), two players they should try to retain for obvious reasons. The sooner they start serious negotiations, the better their chances of keeping them off the open market and away from a potential bidding war. There are still eleven games to be played, but the 2014-15 offseason begins now for New York.