Yankees should give Bryan Mitchell an extended chance to fill righty relief void

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So far this month a total of 23 different pitchers have appeared in a game for the Yankees. Twenty-three! That’s a franchise record for a single month. Seventeen of those 23 are relievers. The bullpen revolving door, which has been necessitated by some short outings from the starters, has featured eleven different relievers in the last three weeks alone. It’s been quite a pain keeping our Depth Chart page up to date this month.

Anyway, the Yankees have needed to make all these roster moves because the bullpen is getting worn out and they’ve needed fresh arms. Only ten times in the last 18 games has the starter recorded more than 15 outs, and on five occasions the starter failed to complete five full innings. Nathan Eovaldi‘s disaster start in Miami and recent hiccups by Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have taxed the relief crew.

“We kind of rotate people in and out here a lot, and it doesn’t mean we don’t believe in them, we’re doing it to kind of protect the arms of everyone,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Barbarisi last week. “I think it speaks highly about our system, that the guys who are starting to rise through the ranks and are really close or, in some cases, some of them are pretty much ready, but there’s people in front of them, and it gives us depth.”

All these recent roster moves have led to several pitchers getting their first taste of the big leagues, but none have been able to stick around all that long. They were called up, soaked up some innings, then were sent down for someone else. It’s good they’re getting to experience the show! But it’s impossible to evaluate someone based on one or two appearances. The Yankees learned nothing about these guys during their brief call-ups.

The one recent call-up who appears to be getting a chance to stick around is right-hander Bryan Mitchell, who is a big league veteran compared to some of the other guys we’ve seen this month. Mitchell made his MLB debut last year and has been up a few times this season, but it wasn’t until ten days ago that he got into a game, when he threw three mop-up innings in a blowout win over the Tigers. (Mitchell got a save for that!)

The Yankees sent Mitchell down for a fresh arm the next day, but brought him back three days later — Stephen Drew‘s trip to the paternity list allowed them to bring Mitchell back before his ten days were up — and he’s been in the bullpen since. Mitchell got four outs in a blowout game last week them got another four outs in a tie game against the Astros over the weekend. His first inning of work in Houston was really impressive. He struck out two and got a weak ground ball out.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Mitchell has been a starter throughout his career, but, with David Carpenter not working out, the Yankees are looking for a right-handed reliever to pair with Dellin Betances. Branden Pinder hung around for a little while and was decent, but didn’t wow anyone. Mitchell had a wow outing in the tie game against the Astros on Saturday, plus he’s had two other strong appearances, which appears to have earned him a trial in an unfamiliar role as a short reliever.

“I’ve been called up several times as kind of a backup and not pitched. So I’m just happy to be getting some time out there on the mound,” said Mitchell to Chad Jennings. “I mean, at this point I’m kind of ready for whatever. Obviously I’d rather be here, so whatever they want me to do, I’m not against it. I’m just going to be ready for anything … There’s only so many spots. I mean there’s, what, seven starters as it is? You’ve got to take what you can get sometimes.”

The Yankees have a history of putting starting pitching prospects in the bullpen to solve their bullpen woes, most notably doing it with Joba Chamberlain in 2007. He’s not the only one though. Phil Hughes did it in 2009, David Phelps did it in 2012, and Adam Warren did it in 2013. The Yankees aren’t unique in this regard, lots of teams break young starters in as relievers, though Girardi hasn’t been shy about using these guys in big spots, like Mitchell on Saturday.

Mitchell’s stuff fits well in a short relief role — PitchFX has his fastball averaging 96 mph so far this year and his curveball is a hammer, plus he doesn’t have much of a changeup, instead using a cutter to combat lefties — and I think he could really excel as a one or two-inning reliever this summer. It’s a new role for him and that will be an adjustment, but, like every other young pitcher, Mitchell would rather reliever in the big leagues than a starter in Triple-A.

Andrew Miller figures to be back soon, and both Chasen Shreve and Justin Wilson have pitched well, so Mitchell doesn’t have to take on high-leverage innings right away. Girardi said he won’t use him back-to-back days — “I think we are a ways away from that. When a guy has been a starter his whole career and works out of the bullpen you take it kind of slow just because they are not used to doing it. I think you have to be careful,” said the skipper to George King — but otherwise it’s a great chance to both help the team and expose Mitchell to the big leagues.

The move to the bullpen doesn’t have to be permanent. Mitchell can go back to starting next year, and hey, if he has success in relief this year, it could open the door to a big league rotation spot next season. That’s what happened with Joba, Hughes, Phelps, and Warren in recent years. Success in relief then another shot at the rotation. For now, Mitchell can provide some stability and halt the bullpen revolving door, and perhaps be a solution to the righty relief problem. I think he has the tools. Now it’s just a matter of getting the opportunity.

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Game 71: Maybe Don’t Allow 10+ Runs Again?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees allowed 11 and 12 runs in their last two games, respectively, and not surprisingly both resulted in losses. In fact, they’ve allowed 11, 12, 12, 2, 9, and 11 runs in their last six losses, which is really bad. The last two losses came with Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka on the mound, which is even harder to swallow. Pineda got roughed up by literally the worst offense in baseball.

Tonight the Yankees turn to their former ace CC Sabathia to do something Pineda and Tanaka couldn’t the last two days — pitch a winnable game. They’re averaging over seven runs per game on the homestand. The offense is holding up its end of the bargain. The Phillies are really bad, worst offense in baseball in terms of runs per game (3.21), so everything is set up for Sabathia to have a good start. Now he just needs to actually do it. Here is Philadelphia’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Garrett Jones
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    LHP CC Sabathia

Really gross day in New York today. Hot and sticky, and there are thunderstorms in the forecast tonight. I’m not sure when they will start and stop — the rain was supposed to start this afternoon but that didn’t happen — so it’ll be a surprise. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start at 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira (neck) received a cortisone shot yesterday after an MRI showing nothing serious. He could return as soon as tomorrow … nothing new with Jacoby Ellsbury (knee), who is still taking batting practice and running the bases. No word on when he’ll take the next step in his rehab, which I assume involves some game action.

Roster Moves: Stephen Drew has been placed on the paternity list and Ramon Flores was sent to Triple-A, the Yankees announced. Bryan Mitchell was called back up — Drew going on the paternity list allowed the Yankees to bring him back before the ten days were up — as was Jose Pirela. The Yankees have a bunch of games against lefty starters coming up, so Pirela figures to play these next few days.

Start Time Update (6:51pm ET): The start of the game will be delayed, the Yankees announced. It is not raining right now but it is expected to start any minute. No word on a start time. “We will have one once the weather system moving thru the area works its way through,” said the team, according to Dan Barbarisi. First rain delay of the season!

Start Time Update (7:59pm ET): The Yankees say the game will begin at approximately 8:25pm ET. Baseball!

Game 69: Tanaka for the Sweep

No bat today, Masahiro. (Rob Foldy/Getty)
No bat today, Masahiro. (Rob Foldy/Getty)

This homestand is going really well so far. The Yankees have own all four games by the combined scored of 32-10. They’ve allowed three runs or fewer in five of their last seven games, which is sorta flying under the radar. In one of the other games they allowed just four runs. They’re pitching well and hitting well right. Times are good.

Masahiro Tanaka is on the mound with an extra day of rest this afternoon and he has been simply outstanding of late. Four runs in 21 innings since coming off the DL and five runs in his last 34.1 innings overall. Thirty-five strikeouts and two walks too. No better guy to have on the mound when you’re looking for a sweep. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. SS Didi Gregorius
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Garrett Jones
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. 3B Brendan Ryan
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s a lovely afternoon in New York. Great day for baseball. Today’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET and will air on YES locally and MLB Network regionally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Mason Williams (shoulder) has been placed on the 15-day DL. An MRI showed no structural damage, just inflammation. Joe Girardi said they don’t want to rush him … Sergio Santos (elbow) needs Tommy John surgery. Womp womp. Thanks for getting out of that bases loaded jam the other day, Serg.

Roster Moves: Bryan Mitchell was send down to Triple-A Scranton and both Danny Burawa and Ramon Flores were called up, the Yankees announced. Whenever he gets into a game, Burawa will be the seventh Yankee to make his MLB debut. It’s not even July yet!

Game 67: One Away

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Thanks in part to Sam Dyson, Alex Rodriguez comes into tonight’s series opener with the Tigers just one hit shy of 3,000 for his career. A-Rod has great numbers against Justin Verlander — .294/.415/.676 in 41 plate appearances — but I’m not sure if that means anything for tonight. Most of those numbers come from many years ago, when A-Rod was a different hitter and Verlander was a different pitcher.

More important than the 3,000th hit is the Yankees’ third straight win, or their pursuit of it. The offense finally broke out late in last night’s game — they scored six runs in the seventh and eighth innings after scoring eight runs in the first 32 innings of the series — and hopefully it will carry over into today. The AL East is annoyingly close. You’re gaining ground or losing ground on like three teams with every win or loss. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. CF Mason Williams
    RHP Adam Warren

It’s hot and humid and a little cloudy today, but there’s no rain in the forecast. Tonight’s game will begin a bit after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) took batting practice again and continues to progress in his rehab … Sergio Santos was placed on the 15-day DL with right elbow inflammation, the Yankees announced.

Roster Move: Bryan Mitchell and Branden Pinder were both called up, the team announced. Chris Martin was sent down and Santos was placed on the DL. Jose DePaula is still around as the long man, so I’m curious see if Mitchell gets some time in short relief. I like that idea.

Yankees should follow the Adam Warren blueprint with other pitching prospects this season

Severino. (MiLB.com)
Severino. (MiLB.com)

It’s easy to forget now, but Adam Warren only made the Opening Day roster in 2013 because Phil Hughes suffered a minor back injury late in Spring Training. Hughes went down, long man David Phelps had to step into the rotation, and Warren got the long relief job almost by default. Warren pitched well and stayed on the roster even after Hughes returned. (Cody Eppley went down instead.)

Since then, Warren has developed into a pretty important piece of the pitching staff. He was the long man back in 2013, a setup man in 2014, and now a starter early in 2015. Chances are Warren will lose his rotation spot when Ivan Nova returns in a week or so, though not because he’s pitched poorly. He’s just the low man on the rotation totem pole, and hey, the Yankees need another quality reliever with Andrew Miller hurt. Warren showed he can be that guy last season.

Warren’s path to the big leagues and into the team’s rotation is not uncommon — lots of pitchers have started their careers in the bullpen before graduating to the starting staff. Adam Wainwright and Chris Sale are probably the two most notable recent examples but it is a very long list. Warren did something many other pitchers have done and it’s something the Yankees should consider doing again with other pitching prospects, especially since the middle relief situation is … unsettled. Let’s put it that way.

The most obvious candidate for the Warren blueprint is Luis Severino, New York’s top pitching prospect and one of the best in minor league baseball. The Yankees have moved Severino through the system very aggressively — he threw 85.1 innings in Low-A, 20.1 in High-A, 63 in Double-A, and is at 21.2 in Triple-A and counting — and a second half call-up would hardly be surprising. Everything the Yankees have done with Severino the last two years suggests his MLB debut will come sooner rather than later.

“Can that happen? I wouldn’t rule it out,” Brian Cashman recently said to David Lennon when asked about using Severino in the bullpen later this year. “But it’s not something we’re talking about right now. I’m not opposed to it. It’s just right now, I think we have some other people legitimately before him for the bullpen category … If they’re the best option to help us, whether they’re a starter, and the best option for the pen, then I’m open to any of that stuff.”

Severino threw a career high 113 innings last season and he is still only 21, so he’s not going to throw 180+ innings this year or something like that. (He’s at 59.2 innings right now.) His innings limit might be in the 140-150 innings range this summer, 160 tops. Severino only has another month or so before workload limits starting taking over — capped at five innings per start, something along those lines — and if he’s dominating, why not let him throw his last 20 or so innings of the year out of the big league bullpen? I don’t see much downside.

Mitchell. (Scranton Times Tribune)
Mitchell. (Scranton Times Tribune)

The other bullpen candidate in the Triple-A Scranton rotation is Bryan Mitchell, who has a 2.79 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 67.2 innings despite mediocre strikeout (19.1%) and walk (12.0%) rates. Mitchell has a strong ground ball rate (53.5%) and has yet to allow a homer, but that doesn’t mean much. Any pitching prospect worth a damn should have a very good ground ball rate in the minors. There are a lot of bad hitters who are overwhelmed at the plate down there. A lot. Mitchell got his first taste of the show last year, for what it’s worth.

The Yankees initially worked Warren into the big leagues as a relief pitcher before reintroducing him to the rotation, which by and large has been a success. He helped the bullpen and is now helping the rotation. They could follow a similar path with Severino and Mitchell, getting them acclimated to MLB life as relievers this year — and potentially solidifying the middle innings later in the process — before moving them back into the rotation next year. Again, teams have been doing this with young pitchers for decades.

That last part is important though. The going back to the rotation part. Especially for Severino. It’s too early to shoehorn either guy into permanent relief roles, though that does happen often these days. The Yankees tried and mostly failed to put Joba Chamberlain back into the rotation years ago, and while that may make you skeptical about their ability to pull it off with Mitchell or Severino, I’d like to think it was a learning experience. They seem to have gotten it right with Warren, mostly because the bullpen-to-rotation transition didn’t happen at midseason.

Anyway, the imminent return of Ivan Nova gives the Yankees some more rotation depth, as does Esmil Rogers‘ decision to remain in the organization after being outrighted. (Don’t laugh, Rogers could stretch back out as a starter in Triple-A and be an emergency option if necessary.) Mitchell had been sitting around as the sixth starter by default the last few weeks but keeping him in that sixth starter role is no longer imperative. Moving him to the bullpen would be a relatively easy move. Same with Severino.

The Yankees do have some more bullpen options in Triple-A — Nick Rumbelow, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, etc. — they could try out before turning to a starter-to-bullpen candidate like Mitchell or Severino. Those two guys should not be off the table as bullpen options though, especially in the second half. The Warren blueprint — bullpen now, rotation later — is one that could really benefit the Yankees this season without sabotaging the future of their young hurlers.

Game 38: Win it for Ace Whitley

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have lost four straight games, and while the pitching staff got contact-bombed last night, the offense has been the biggest issue. They’ve scored six runs total in the four losses and have scored in just one inning in each game. It’s one thing to get shut down by someone like Chris Archer the other day, but Erasmo Ramirez? Chris Young? Blargh.

Anyway, losses happen, even four losses in a row, but no team in the AL East can afford an extended losing streak this season. The division is way too tight. The Yankees lost Chase Whitley to an elbow injury that will likely result in Tommy John surgery two days ago, so go out and win it for him. Ace Whitley did a nice job for the Yankees in a non-familiar role as a starting pitcher. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Jose Pirela
  8. SS Stephen Drew
  9. C John Ryan Murphy
    LHP CC Sabathia

It cloudy and sticky in Kansas City and it’s supposed to rain later tonight. It shouldn’t impact the game unless it goes to extra innings though. Tonight’s game will begin a bit after 7pm ET and will air on WPIX. Try to enjoy.

Injury Update: Masahiro Tanaka (wrist, forearm) will throw another bullpen session on Monday. He’ll then pitch in a minor league rehab game after that, likely on Thursday.

Roster Move: Bryan Mitchell has been called up and Jose Ramirez has been sent down, the Yankees announced. Mitchell was scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton today, so he can give the team lots of innings out of the bullpen. I really hope they don’t need them.

Minor League Notes: Assignments, Spring Reports, Judge, International Spending

Pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)
The new pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)

The Yankees open the 2015 regular season tomorrow, and a few days later the minor league season will get underway as well. Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all begin their seasons this coming Thursday. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then.

Opening Day assignments for top prospects

The full minor league rosters have not yet been released and won’t be a few days, though Josh Norris was able to get his hands on Opening Day assignments for most of the Yankees’ top prospects. The list:

Norris says the assignments could change slightly before the start of the season, but for the most part they’re set. Sanchez is going back to the Thunder to continue working on his defense with coaches and ex-catchers Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere, which I don’t love, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I assume Avelino, Katoh, and Mateo will rotate between second, short, and DH like Avelino, Katoh, and Wade did last year before Avelino got hurt. I’m little surprised Mateo is going to Charleston — he’s played only games in 15 rookie ball, that’s it — but the Yankees have never been shy about aggressively promoting their best teenage players. Otherwise these assignments are fairly straight forward. No major surprises.

Notes from the backfields in Tampa

Both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Jeff Moore (no subs. req’d) recently posted a collection of notes after watching minor league games on the backfields all around Florida. Law got a look at Mateo, saying he likes “how well he keeps his hands inside the ball” and added he “liked the potential of the hit tool but was hoping to see more polish on both sides of the ball.” The polish will come. It’s only Spring Training and Mateo is still just a 19-year-old kid.

Meanwhile, Moore saw Judge, Bird, and RHP Bryan Mitchell. “What’s impressive is (Judge) seems to get a little better each time I see him. The at-bats have gotten tougher and more advanced, with a better plan each time out,” wrote Moore. He also said he sees Bird as “a potential regular first baseman” and his “power is very real, more real than he gets credit for.” As for Mitchell, Moore says his fastball/curveball combination “screams reliever, and possibly a darn good one.”

Law still ranks Judge 23rd in latest Top 50 Prospects list

Last week, Law released an updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball (subs. req’d). There are only very minor changes from his top 100 list in February, with the most notable being the addition of Red Sox IF Yoan Moncada, who slots in at No. 16. Even with Moncada joining the list, Judge stays in the same No. 23 spot because he jumped over Rockies RHP Jon Gray, who hasn’t looked like himself this spring. Judge remains the third outfielder on the list behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law is the high man on Judge based on all this spring’s other top 100 lists. That’s cool with me.

Yankees spent $17.83M on international players in 2014

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees spent a ridiculous $17.83M on international prospects last year, easily the most in baseball. They spent more than the number two (Rays, $6.11M), three (Red Sox, $5.63M), and four (Astros, $5.42M) teams combined and more than the bottom ten teams combined ($16.9575M). Just to be clear, this is for the 2014 calendar year, not the 2014-15 signing period.

The Yankees handed out three of the five largest, six of the 14 largest, and 12 of the 40 largest signing bonuses to international prospects during the 2014 calendar year, according to Badler. We still don’t have a final number for the total bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period, but the total investment is clearly going to be north of $30M between bonuses and penalties. Most of that $17.83M last year was spent on July 2nd, the first day of the 2014-15 signing period. Now the Yankees just have to turn these kids into big leaguers and tradeable prospects.

Yankees release nine more minor leaguers

The Yankees have released seven more minor leaguers according to Matt Eddy: OF Yeicok Calderon, RHP Tim Giel, OF Robert Hernandez, RHP Stefan Lopez, RHP Matt Noteware, 1B Dalton Smith, and IF Graham Ramos. Dan Pfeiffer says OF Adonis Garcia was released as well, and OF Adam Silva announced on Facebook he was also released.

First things first: no more Yeicokshots!, sadly. Hernandez was signed in January, so his stint with the organization didn’t last long. Lopez led NCAA in saves in 2012 and had some potential, but he fell in love with his fastball so much in college that he lost all feel for his slider and became a one-pitch guy. The Yankees signed Giel, Noteware, and Ramos as undrafted free agents within the last two years to help fill out minor league rosters. That’s about it.

Old Timers’ Game coming to Triple-A Scranton

And finally, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre franchise is holding an Old Timers’ Game on June 21st, reports Donnie Collins. The event will raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. “I expect the ballpark to be sold out — and standing room only. That’s the goal,” said RailRiders’ co-managing partner to Grant Cagle to Collins. A bunch of ex-Yankees will be in attendance — not sure who, exactly — to play in the Old Timers’ Game and/or mingle with fans during a meet-and-greet and autograph session. That should be fun.