Sorting out the projected 2016 Triple-A Scranton roster

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Over the last few seasons Triple-A rosters have become extensions of the 25-man big league roster. There is no better example of this than last year’s bullpen shuttle. Teams use their Triple-A rosters not only to develop prospects, but also to stash depth players at each position should they be needed due to injury or poor performance. And they will be needed. Baseball always makes sure of it.

Brian Cashman has already said the Yankees hope to use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door based on their needs at the time. If they need an extra bullpen arm, they’ll call up a pitcher. If they need an extra outfielder because someone is banged up, then they’ll call up an extra outfielder. It sounds like a great plan. Will it work as well in reality as it does on paper? We’ll see.

So, with that in mind, let’s sort out the projected Triple-A Scranton roster as it sits right now. After all, these guys are the backup plans for the big league team. I have zero doubt we’ll see several of these players in the Bronx this coming summer, including guys none of us would ever expect. Remember Kyle Davies? Matt Tracy? Yeah. Let’s start with the position players. Asterisks (*) denotes players on the 40-man roster.

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Utility
Gary Sanchez* Greg Bird* Slade Heathcott* Tyler Austin
Carlos Corporan Rob Refsnyder* Mason Williams*
Eddy Rodriguez Pete Kozma Ben Gamel*
Sebastian Valle Donovan Solano Lane Adams*
Jonathan Diaz Aaron Judge
Cesar Puello

There are 25 roster spots in Triple-A and, believe it or not, that is relatively new. Triple-A and Double-A teams had 24-man rosters as recently as 2011. It’s pretty common for Triple-A teams to carry three-man benches and eight-man bullpens because of workload limits and whatnot, especially early in the season before guys are fully stretched out. I’ve got 16 position players in the table there, so three or four won’t make the cut one way or another.

Catchers: All signs point to Sanchez being the big league backup catcher, though that’s not set in stone just yet. The Yankees could send him to Triple-A for regular playing time and to work on his defense. As an added bonus, sending Sanchez down for 35 days or so will delay his free agency another year. Assuming Sanchez makes the MLB team, Triple-A catching duties will belong to Corporan and either Rodriguez and Valle. They’re all defense-first guys who can’t hit.

Austin Romine, Sanchez’s primary competition for the backup job, is out of minor league options and has been outrighted before, meaning if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he has to go through waivers and can elect free agency if he clears, which I imagine he would do in an effort to find a better opportunity. There appear to be only two ways for Romine to remain in the organization beyond Spring Training: he gets the backup catcher’s job, or he gets hurt in camp and is placed on the MLB DL.

If Sanchez doesn’t make the big league roster, he’ll be the starting catcher in Triple-A with either Romine or Corporan backing up Brian McCann. If Romine backs up McCann, Corporan will be in Triple-A. If Corporan backs up McCann, Romine will be gone and either Valle or Rodriguez will be with Sanchez in Triple-A. For now, I’ll say Sanchez makes the big league roster. The Yankees leaned on their prospects a lot in 2015 and I think that’ll continue in 2016.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Infielders: Barring injury, Bird and Refsnyder will start the season with the RailRiders. “That’s the optimal” according to Cashman, at least when it comes to Bird. The Yankees lost Ronald Torreyes on waivers earlier this week but still have Kozma, Solano, and Diaz on minor league contracts. I expect them to compete for a big league bench job in camp, and hey, one of them might win a spot.

In that case, Bird and Refsnyder will hold down the right side of the infield while the other two guys handle the left side. That means the RailRiders still need a utility infielder. There are going to be five infielders on the roster no matter what. Cito Culver and Dan Fiorito are the best candidates for that job right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees brought in one more minor league infielder these next few weeks. A minor league contract or waiver claim, something like that. One pulled hamstring in camp and the Yankees could be real short on upper level infield depth.

Outfield: The Triple-A outfield picture is crowded and yet crystal clear. Judge, Slade, Williams, and Gamel will be the four regular outfielders. They’ll rotate around the outfield and at DH. Simple, right? Puello, who played exactly one game in 2015 due to a back injury, is an obvious candidate for Double-A. Between the two catchers, the five infielders, and the four outfielders, we’re already at eleven position player spots.

So right now there is room for only one more position player since an eight-man bullpen is rather common in April. That last spot comes down to Adams and Austin. Both stunk in Triple-A last season and had to be demoted to Double-A in the second half. Adams is two years older and a better defender, but Austin has the advantage of being able to play a little first base as well. Plus he has seniority in the organization. That can’t hurt.

My guess — and this is nothing more than a guess — is Adams will get the Triple-A spot over Austin. Adams is older and on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees probably want to figure out what they have in him as soon as possible. If he can’t hack in Triple-A, they’ll cut him and move on. In that case Austin would anchor a Double-A Trenton lineup that is a little light on prospect power. He, Puello, Taylor Dugas, and Mark Payton would be the Thunder outfield.

After all of that, the Triple-A roster looks like this on the position player side:

Catchers (2): Two of Sanchez, Corporan, Rodriguez, and Valle.
Infielders (5): Bird and Refsnyder, Kozma, Diaz, and Solano. If one of them lands a big league job, Culver or Fiorito are candidates to fill the spot in Triple-A.
Outfielders (5): Judge, Heathcott, Gamel, Williams, Adams.

Position battles in Spring Training will determine the exact roster, as will injuries and things like that. The last big league bench spot is wide open, and the backup catcher’s job is not Sanchez’s just yet. Now let’s move on to the pitchers.

Starters Righty Relievers Lefty Relievers
Bryan Mitchell* Nick Rumbelow* Chasen Shreve*
Luis Cessa* Branden Pinder* Jacob Lindgren*
Anthony Swarzak Nick Goody* James Pazos*
Brady Lail Kirby Yates* Tyler Olson*
Chad Green Johnny Barbato* Tyler Webb
Jaron Long Vinnie Pestano
Eric Ruth Tyler Jones
Ronald Herrera Mark Montgomery
Caleb Smith

Lots and lots of pitchers. I have 22 names in the table for 12-13 Triple-A spots and three big league bullpen spots, so 6-7 of those guys are going to get stuck in Double-A. Of course, not everyone will get through Spring Training healthy. A handful of pitchers always get hurt in March. (There always seems to be a rash of Tommy John surgeries in Spring Training as pitchers ramp up their throwing.) It’s a vicious part of the baseball calendar.

I honestly think the Yankees will use those final three MLB bullpen spots to take the players they believe give them the best chance to win, regardless of previous role or handedness. If it’s three lefties, so be it. If it’s three guys who are starters by trade, fine. Remember, the Yankees took David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno north as relievers back in 2013 because they were the best options. The team didn’t worry about leaving one or two stretched out in Triple-A.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Trying to predict who will make the bullpen right now is impossible and a waste of time. No one expected Preston Claiborne to come to camp throwing fire three years ago, putting him in position for a big league call-up. Shreve might have a leg up on everyone else because he was so good for the first four and a half months last season. Aside from that, good luck figuring out who starts in MLB and Triple-A. And besides, the shuttle ensures these guys will be rotating in and out all year anyway.

I will say that of those 22 pitchers listed, I believe Ruth, Herrera, Smith, Jones, and Montgomery are mostly likely to be squeezed down to Double-A due to a roster crunch. (Herrera’s the guy who came over in the Jose Pirela trade.) I wouldn’t necessarily call them non-prospects. They’re just low priority prospects in the grand scheme of things. They lack the upside of the other pitchers in the table, relatively speaking.

Among the deep depth arms are lefty Chaz Hebert and righty Kyle Haynes. They’re among the starters who will open the season in Double-A and jump to Triple-A whenever a spot start is needed because of call-ups and whatnot. Ruth, Herrera, and Smith are in that group. There’s no doubt the Yankees have a ton of upper level pitchers, particularly in the bullpen. Now they just have to figure out which of these guys can stick in the big leagues.

Adam Warren trade creates a big opportunity for Bryan Mitchell

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

In each of the last two offseasons, the Yankees traded away a relatively young and cheap pitcher who could have been considered rotation depth. Last year it was David Phelps, who went to the Marlins in the Nathan Eovaldi trade, and this offseason it was Adam Warren. Warren will now ply his trade with the Cubs on Chicago’s north side after being swapped for Starlin Castro.

Replacing Warren won’t be easy. He gave the Yankees a 3.23 ERA (3.59 FIP) in 287 innings from 2013-15 and pitched in a variety of roles. Long man, middle reliever, setup man, spot starter, you name it. The guy was really valuable, though, as the trade indicates, the Yankees believe it’ll be easier to find another Warren than it will be to find another Castro.

Among those who will get a chance to fill Warren’s role is fellow righty Bryan Mitchell, who has been up and down a bunch of times the last two years but has not yet had the opportunity to settle into a defined role at the big league level. Mitchell struggled down the stretch big time last season, though that was after he took a line drive to the face, so I’m inclined to cut him some slack.

Mitchell, now 24, showed what we all knew last season: he has really good stuff. PitchFX clocked his average fastball at 96.7 mph — he topped out at 99.3 mph in relief — and when hitters swung at this trademark curveball, they missed 24.0% of the time and put it on the ground 62.9% of the time. The raw tools are there, no doubt about it. Mitchell lacks command and consistency, which were Warren’s strengths.

Right now, Mitchell is seventh on the rotation depth chart, though he’ll also have a chance to win a bullpen job in Spring Training. Remember 2013? The Yankees had Warren, Phelps, and Vidal Nuno in camp as depth starters, and instead of sending one or two to Triple-A to stay stretched out, all three made the Opening Day roster because the Yankees felt they were the best men for the job.

Mitchell is in a similar situation right now as Phelps, Warren, and Nuno were back in 2013. I don’t think it would surprise anyone if he made the bullpen out of Spring Training or was sent to Triple-A. The Yankees have a lot of candidates for the three open bullpen spots, more than I care to count, and I don’t necessarily think Mitchell has a leg up on any of them simply because he’s been in the organization longer.

Mitchell and the rest of the bullpen candidates will get a chance to strut their stuff in Spring Training and I think the competition is a good thing. It’s healthy. Everyone will try their best to win a job knowing that even if they don’t make the Opening Day roster, there’s a good chance they’ll be called up at some point. At the very least, those guys will want to put themselves in position to be the first guy called up.

The Warren trade doesn’t necessarily mean the Yankees have faith in Mitchell replacing him. I just think it means they have faith in their ability to cobble together a reliable middle relief crew out of their internal options, which includes Mitchell. Mitchell just so happens to be a starter by trade, like Warren. Most of the bullpen candidates are relievers. Like, actual relievers. Guys who came up in the minors working out of the bullpen.

Mitchell’s 2016 season is more important to him personally than it is the Yankees. He’s not expected to be a core player going forward. He’s a depth player. Mitchell wants to establish himself as a potential core piece and the best way to do that is by replacing Warren, by taking advantage of what looks like a great opportunity and turning his potential into production.

Rookie Davis trade, injuries leave Yankees thin on starting pitching prospects

Kaprielian. (Staten Island Advance)
Kaprielian. (Staten Island Advance)

Heading into the 2015 season, the Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system. Only two of their top ten, three of their top 14, and seven of their top 30 prospects were starting pitchers in my opinion. Being heavy on position players is not necessarily a bad thing, but in a perfect world you’d like to have a little more balance in the farm system.

The Yankees did graduate Luis Severino to the big leagues last season, which is a major positive, but most of the rest of their top rotation prospects battled adversity. Check out what those seven starting pitching prospects in my top 30 did last year:

2. Severino: Graduated to MLB wooo!
4. Ian Clarkin: Missed regular season with an elbow injury.
11. Domingo German: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
15. Bryan Mitchell: Spent regular season going up and down an extra arm.
16. Austin DeCarr: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
18. Ty Hensley: Missed regular season following Tommy John surgery.
25. Brady Lail: Had a strong season at Double-A and Triple-A.

Not great! Four of the seven didn’t pitch at all during the regular season season. (Clarkin did pitch some in the Arizona Fall League.) Severino was great, Mitchell was useful, and Lail took steps forward. I guess that’s pretty good, all things considered. The attrition rates for pitching prospects is rather high.

Several lower level pitchers had solid seasons and improved their prospect stock, most notably Rookie Davis and Jordan Montgomery. Davis was traded for Aroldis Chapman last week and Montgomery has yet to pitch above High Class-A. The Yankees did add one significant (James Kaprielian) and one solid (Drew Finley) rotation prospect in the 2015 draft. They also flipped Justin Wilson for two depth arms (Luis Cessa and Chad Green) last month.

So, after all of that, the Yankees’ starting pitching prospect depth chart looks something like this:

Kaprielian
Clarkin
Mitchell
Finley
Lail
Montgomery
Cessa
Green
Other injured guys

We can debate the exact order all day but those are the names and that’s the general order. The Yankees have a true stud in Kaprielian, a potential stud in Clarkin if he’s healthy, then a bunch of depth guys. Mitchell has nasty stuff but still seems to be a ways away from fully harnessing it. Finley is both similar and much further from the show. Lail, Montgomery, Cessa, and Green all have limited upside. The injured guys like German and DeCarr? Who knows.

When it’s laid out like this, it’s easy to understand why the Yankees have focused on adding a young controllable starter this offseason. Severino is their only big league starter under control beyond 2017, and while Kaprielian looks like he could fly through the minors, he has to actually do it before you can count on him as a long-term rotation piece. Clarkin’s injury really stunk. He had a chance to emerge as a top rotation prospect last year if healthy.

Mitchell, Lail, Cessa, and Green give the Yankees some immediate upper level pitching depth heading into the 2016 season, which is good. They might need it given the health concerns in the MLB rotation. Mitchell may crack the Opening Day big league roster as a reliever while the other guys are ticketed for Triple-A Scranton. That’s good. The Yankees have depth arms for whenever a need arises, and it will inevitably arise.

The Yankees again have a position player heavy farm system, and that’s one of the reasons they’re said to be looking for a young controllable starter in a trade. They have Severino and they might have Kaprielian soon, but that’s about it at the moment. Davis could have potentially fit into that long-term rotation equation, ditto guys like Clarkin and German had they not gotten hurt. Instead, a system already thin on starters has gotten a wee bit thinner over the last 12 months.

The Suddenly Productive Farm System [2015 Season Review]

Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)

This past season the Yankees received more production from their farm system than they did in any year since Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang arrived in 2005. And because of that, they’ll take a hit in the various farm system rankings next spring. Top prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird graduated to MLB, as did the since traded John Ryan Murphy.

When you lose two high-end talents like Severino and Bird to the big leagues, your system is going to take a hit. That’s life. You’d rather the system take a hit because of graduations than failing prospects, and in recent years the Yankees were dealing with too much of the latter. With new farm system head Gary Denbo in charge, the system took a step forward this summer and gave the MLB team help, the kind of help that wasn’t always available in recent years. Let’s review the season on the farm.

The Top Prospect

Coming into the season it was debatable whether Severino or OF Aaron Judge was the Yankees’ top prospect. I went with Judge for a number of reasons, including the inherent injury risk with pitchers. Severino zoomed to the big leagues this summer while Judge split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, hitting .258/.332/.446 (124 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 127 total games.

Judge dominated the Double-A level (147 wRC+ with 12 HR in 63 games) but had a tougher time in Triple-A (98 wRC+ with 8 HR in 61 games), which isn’t all that uncommon. He was facing pitchers with big league experience for the first time and they picked him apart, mostly by taking advantage of his big strike zone — Judge is 6-foot-7, remember — with high fastballs and soft stuff away.

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, Judge’s strikeout rate did not spike in Triple-A, at least not insanely so. He had a 25.3% strikeout rate at High-A, a 25.0% strikeout rate in Double-A, and a 28.5% strikeout rate in Triple-A. That’s three extra strikeouts per 100 plate appearances. Judge did have some ugly strikeout heavy slumps with the RailRiders, but overall the strikeout increase was not alarming.

That isn’t to say Judge’s strikeouts aren’t an issue. He’s always going to strike out a lot, he’s a huge guy with a big zone, but you’d rather see him hover around 25.0 K% rather than 28.0+ K% long-term. The power is there though. Judge hit three more homers and two more doubles in 2015 than 2014 despite getting 23 fewer plate appearances, playing against better competition, and playing in worse hitters parks.

The less than stellar showing at Triple-A ensures Judge will return to the RailRiders to start 2016 so he can work on controlling the strike zone a little better (his 9.8% walk rate was above-average, for what it’s worth) and laying off soft stuff off the plate. Judge has big power and his right field defense is easy to overlook. He’s a really good athlete with a strong arm who’s an asset in the field. Hiccup in Triple-A notwithstanding, Judge remains New York’s top prospect in my book.

Mateo. (Jerry Coli)
Mateo. (Jerry Coli)

The Big Name Breakout Prospects

It’s weird to consider C Gary Sanchez a breakout prospect because he’s been one of the best prospects in the organization for a few years now, but a few things finally clicked this year, mostly in terms of his maturity. It helped him reach the big leagues in September. Sanchez is now a candidate — if not the favorite — to replace Murphy as the Brian McCann‘s backup next summer.

SS Jorge Mateo, another one of the team’s top prospects, also broke out this past season in the sense that he played his first full season. The 20-year-old speedster hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with a minor league leading 82 steals in 99 attempts (83% success rate) in 117 games with (mostly) Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. No other player stole more than 75 bases this year. If you want to argue Mateo (or Sanchez) is the Yankees’ top prospect and not Judge, I’d disagree, but I’d understand.

A few years ago RHP Rookie Davis was an interesting name literally because of his name. His real name is William but a nickname like Rookie gets you noticed. Davis took a big step forward this year, especially with the command of his mid-90s heater/curveball combination. Walk rate is a control stat, not a command stat, though it is notable he cut his walk rate from 7.6% last year to 4.7% his year. Davis had a 3.86 ERA (2.47 FIP) in 130.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

OF Dustin Fowler, 20, also made the jump from sleeper to bonafide prospect this summer by hitting .298/.334/.394 (113 wRC+) with 20 doubles, five homers, and 30 stolen bases in 123 games at Low-A and High-A. He then had a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Fowler has been playing baseball full-time for only two years now — he was also a top football recruit in high school — and he’s starting to turn his power/speed/defense tool package into baseball ability.

And finally, the biggest breakout prospect of the summer was OF Ben Gamel, who’s spent the last few years as a depth player and not an actual prospect. Thee 23-year-old hit .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) with 28 doubles, 14 triples, ten homers, and 13 steals in 129 games, all at Triple-A. Gamel’s power finally started to blossom and he’s now a legitimate big league candidate. He and Davis were added to the 40-man roster last month.

The Emerging Depth

Farm systems will always be defined by their star power, that’s just the way it goes, though depth is important as well. The Yankees had several lower profile prospects — guys who don’t necessarily project to be stars but do have a chance to contribute at the big league level in a meaningful way — emerge this summer, including SS Tyler Wade, RHP Brady Lail, LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Cale Coshow, and RHP Domingo Acevedo.

Wade. (The Times of Trenton)
Wade. (The Times of Trenton)

Wade, 21, had an ugly 21-game cameo with Double-A Trenton (37 wRC+) late in the season after a strong showing with High-A Tampa (117 wRC+). He hit .262/.321/.333 (99 wRC+) in 127 total games overall in 2015 and is a contact-oriented left-handed hitting middle infielder with the defensive chops for either side of the second base bag. At the very least, Wade is in position to have a long career as a backup infielder.

The 22-year-old Lail is a major player development success for the Yankees. He was the team’s 18th round pick in the 2012 draft as an extremely raw high schooler from Utah. The Yankees have helped mold him into a four-pitch righty who is in position to give the team serviceable innings soon. Lail had a 2.91 ERA (3.51 FIP) in 148.1 innings for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2015, though he didn’t miss any bats (13.8 K%). He offers a fastball, curveball, cutter, and changeup. The ceiling is not all that high here, but Lail can help.

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old Montgomery was one of the best pitchers in the system this season, posting a 2.95 ERA (2.61 FIP) with very good strikeout (24.1%) and walk (6.6%) rates in 134 innings at Low-A and High-A. Montgomery spent three years in South Carolina’s rotation facing tough SEC lineups, so Single-A lineups were no challenge. He’s another four-pitch guy (fastball, cutter, curve, change) and we’ll find out if Montgomery is for real next season, when he heads to Double-A Trenton.

Coshow is an interesting prospect. For starters, the guy is listed at 6-foot-5 and 260 lbs., so he’s an intimidating presence on the mound. Secondly, he had a 2.45 ERA (2.80 FIP) with good strikeout (21.5%) and walk (6.2%) numbers in 114 innings at three levels in 2015. He topped out at Double-A. Coshow, 23, performed so well the Yankees moved him from a relief role into a starting role at midseason. He’s got a huge fastball, sitting 95-97 and hitting 100 mph in relief, and he backs it up with a wipeout slider. I don’t think Coshow’s a starter long-term, but gosh, that’s a nice looking relief prospect.

And finally, the 21-year-old Acevedo is either one of the best prospects in the organization or just an interesting arm with a long way to go, depending who you ask. Acevedo had a 1.81 ERA (2.89 FIP) with a lot of strikeouts (26.6%) and an average number of walks (7.9%) in 49.2 innings with mostly Short Season Staten Island this summer. He’s another huge guy (6-foot-7) who has touched triple digits, and his changeup is pretty good too. Acevedo needs to figure out a breaking ball at some point to avoid a future in the bullpen.

The Reclamation Prospects

At this time last year both OF Mason Williams and OF Slade Heathcott were afterthoughts. Williams didn’t hit at all from 2013-14 and he was dogged by maturity issues. Heathcott simply couldn’t stay healthy. The two came to Spring Training healthy this year and with positive attitudes, and they put themselves back on the prospect map. Both made their MLB debuts in the first half. It might not sound like much, but Williams and Heathcott went from non-factors to the show in about six months. That’s pretty darn cool.

The Best of the Rest

The Yankees had to be pleased with what they saw from 3B Eric Jagielo (141 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton) before he jammed his knee sliding into home plate in June and had to have it scoped, ending his season. Jagielo’s defense is still a huge question, but the guy can hit, especially for power. IF Abi Avelino and IF Thairo Estrada both had nice seasons in the low minors — Avelino stole 54 bases and Estrada had a 108 wRC+ with Short Season Staten Island.

OF Rob Refsnyder, LHP Jacob Lindgren, and RHP Bryan Mitchell gave the Yankees some mileage at the big league level, and the team turned OF Ramon Flores and RHP Jose Ramirez into Dustin Ackley. The 2014-15 international spending spree added a bevy of prospects to the system and the 2015 draft added even more talent, with RHP James Kaprielian, SS Wilkerman Garcia, RHP Drew Finley, SS Hoy Jun Park, 3B Dermis Garcia, and RHP Chance Adams among the most notable new additions. Also, 2B Tony Renda came over in the David Carpenter trade.

The Disappointing Prospects

It’s not all good news, of course. Several prospects had disappointing seasons, most notably OF Tyler Austin. He hit .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) in 94 regular season games and was demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason. The Yankees dropped Austin from the 40-man roster in September and he slipped through waivers unclaimed.

3B Miguel Andujar did the bad first half/good second half thing again, though the end result was a .243/.288/.363 (98 wRC+) line in 130 High-A Tampa games. At some point Andujar has to put together a full productive season. Bonus baby OF Leonardo Molina hit .247/.290/.364 (96 wRC+) while repeating the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Age is on his side though — Molina turned 18 in July. Yes, he’s still only 18. Austin, Andujar, and Molina were the biggest disappointments among the team’s top 30 prospects.

Clarkin. (MLB.com screen grab)
Clarkin. (MLB.com screen grab)

The Inevitable Injures

Injuries are part of baseball. That’s just the way it is. The Yankees had several high-profile prospects suffer significant injuries in 2015. LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow inflammation), C Luis Torrens (shoulder surgery), RHP Domingo German (Tommy John surgery), RHP Austin DeCarr (Tommy John surgery), and RHP Ty Hensley (Tommy John surgery) combined for zero regular season games played this year. Zero.

That is two of the top six, three of the top eleven, and five of the top 18 prospects in the organization according to my preseason rankings. (Four of the top seven pitching prospects!) Ouch. Literally and figuratively. On the bright side, Clarkin did avoid the zipper and was able to throw 24.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League. But still, that’s a lot of really good prospects going down with major injuries. The Clarkin and Torrens injuries really took a bite out of the system. They have the most upside.

* * *

Overall, the 2015 season was a big success for the Yankees’ farm system because they graduated some impact talent to the big leagues. Severino and Bird look like keepers and future core players. Murphy had a very good season before being traded a few weeks ago. Sanchez and Mateo emerged, Kaprielian was drafted, and Judge reached Triple-A.

The Yankees dipped into their farm system for help whenever possible this season, and I have to think that serves as motivation for the guys still in the minors. They see that if they stay healthy and produce, they’ll get a chance too. Calling up guys like LHP Matt Tracy and OF Taylor Dugas shows the Yankees will now give anyone and everyone an opportunity if they’re the right man for the job.

Warren and Wilson trades mean Yankees are now short on options for important innings

Will Mitchell be the new Warren? (David Banks/Getty)
Will Mitchell be the new Warren? (David Banks/Getty)

Somewhat surprisingly, the Yankees traded away both Adam Warren and Justin Wilson on back-to-back days last week. I say somewhat surprisingly because although Warren and Wilson never felt untouchable, at least not to me, it didn’t seem like they would be moved given their effectiveness and years of cheap control. Both were valuable members of the staff in 2015.

The Yankees did trade both though, and regardless of how you feel about the trades, you don’t have to try too hard to understand them. Warren was traded for 25-year-old middle infielder who has already gone to three All-Star Games and is signed affordably for another four years. Wilson was dealt for two Triple-A starting pitcher prospects to rebuild depth.

I understand the trades, though that doesn’t change the fact the Yankees traded away two pretty good pitchers who were expected to throw important innings next season. There was always a chance Warren could have ended up in the rotation, but, at the very least, he and Wilson were two of the team’s four best relievers. They’d be two of the three best on many teams.

“You lost two really important pieces,” said Joe Girardi to Ryan Hatch. “Wilson did a tremendous job in the seventh inning and Adam went between starter and bullpen, and was the guy that we could turn to in the bullpen and either be a seventh, eighth, or ninth if we didn’t have that guy … Obviously I’m going to miss Adam. There’s a relationship there. But to get something good we had to give up something good.”

Soon after the trades, Nick Ashbourne pointed out Warren and Wilson combined to be Francisco Liriano this past season, and that kind of production is not easy to replace. Are the Yankees good at building bullpens? Oh yes, absolutely. They’ve been very good at it in recent years. I’m pretty confident they can adequately replace Warren and Wilson. I’m just really curious to see how they do it.

Internal options are plentiful and lately Plan A has been trying to find help from within. To me, the trades represent big opportunities for Bryan Mitchell and Jacob Lindgren. Mitchell will have a chance to step right into that swingman role Warren filled so capably. Lindgren is the obvious candidate to replace Wilson as the lefty setup guy who can throw full innings. The Warren and Wilson trades can be viewed as votes of confidence for Mitchell and Lindgren.

At the same time, it is only December 15th, so the Yankees still have several weeks to look outside the organization for help, and I’m sure they will. At this time last year I don’t think any Yankees fans even knew Chasen Shreve existed. I know I didn’t. The Yankees picked him up in early-January and he had five really good months in pinstripes. I would honestly be stunned if they don’t bring in some sort of big league pitching help between now and Spring Training.

Will that soon-to-be-acquired pitching depth plus internal options like Mitchell, Lindgren, and all the other relievers on the 40-man roster adequately replace Warren and Wilson? Maybe! Who knows though. Heck, 2016 Warren and Wilson might not replace 2015 Warren and Wilson. Relievers are notoriously unpredictable. The Yankees believe they can replace those two though. The trades wouldn’t have been made otherwise.

Losing Warren and Wilson is pretty scary, especially since none of the shuttle relievers impressed this summer and no one in the rotation seems capable of going 6+ innings consistently. I’d be lying if I said I was comfortable with the bullpen as is, even with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller holding down the late innings. Lots of games are lost in the middle innings. We’re not going to know whether the Yankees adequately replaced Warren and Wilson until the season starts, but, right now, it’s clear there’s work that needs to be done to replace two high-leverage arms.

“Are those guys in place yet? No,” said Girardi when asked about replacing Warren and Wilson, “but I think they will be by the time we start the season.”

2015 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Tuesday

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Fernandez. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

As far as the Yankees are concerned, yesterday was the slowest Winter Meetings day I can remember. Very few rumors came out of Nashville and those that did mostly involved stuff we’ve already heard, like Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller being available. It was a boring day, to say the least.

“Clearly, I’m not comfortable with recommending anything that’s come my way, despite a lot of dialogue, and my opponents are not comfortable with the things I’m suggesting at this time,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. With a reportedly tight payroll, the Yankees continue to focus on trades, not free agents.

Here are Monday’s rumors if you missed any of the little bit that happened. Once again, we’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here in this open thread, so make sure you check back often. All time stamps are ET.

  • 10:30am: The Yankees are among the teams “digging” on Jose Fernandez, meaning they’re asking around about his health, makeup, and work ethic. The Marlins understandably want five or six young players for their ace. Why ask for anything less? For what it’s worth, president of baseball operations Michael Hill said flatly “He’s not available.” [Jayson Stark, Jon Heyman, Clark Spencer]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees have interest in Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Miami has liked Bryan Mitchell as a starter and Adam Warren as a reliever in the past, which seems backwards, but whatever. It’s the Marlins. [George King]
  • 10:38am: The Yankees have reached out to free agent catcher Tyler Flowers, who was non-tendered by the White Sox last week. He’s deciding between the Yankees, Rays, and Braves. I wrote about Flowers in last week’s mailbag. He seems like a Yankees type because he rated as an elite pitch-framer in 2015. Flowers is from Georgia and the Braves offer way more playing time potential, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he lands in Atlanta. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 12:03pm: Five teams, including the Reds, Orioles, and Angels, have their eye on Jake Cave for Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. Cave seems like a goner. Whether he sticks on the 25-man roster all year is another matter. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 1:00pm: The Yankees are willing to include Luis Severino in a package for Jose Fernandez. The belief is the Yankees do not have enough to land Fernandez though, even if they include Greg Bird in the deal. [Joe Frisaro]
  • 1:32pm: The Yankees say Luis Severino is not going anywhere. He wasn’t in their offer for Jose Fernandez and there are no ongoing talks. Sounds like the Marlins are trying to get the Yankees to blink and include Severino in the package, more than anything. [Joel Sherman]
  • 5:50pm: The Yankees and Cubs have talked about a trade that would bring Starlin Castro to New York. No word on any other pieces that would be involved. Castro’s young and I guess that means he offers upside, but he’s also been among the worst players in baseball two of the last three years. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 6:08pm: Brett Gardner is not part of the current Starlin Castro talks with the Cubs. The Cubbies don’t want Jacoby Ellsbury either. Chicago is said to be working on all sorts of stuff — they’re after Ben Zobrist, discussing Javier Baez with the Braves and Rays, etc. — so this is part of some master plan for them. [Joel Sherman]
  • 6:14pm: Talks with the Cubs about Starlin Castro are in the early stages. The Yankees tend to keep things very close to the vest, annoyingly so at times (it’s boring!), so chances are this is coming from the Cubs’ side. [Jon Heyman]
  • 6:37pm: The Cubs have “been curious” about Adam Warren, whatever that means. Warren’s not a sexy name but he’s become incredibly valuable to the Yankees. I’m not sure Castro is enough of an upgrade at second base to move him. [Joel Sherman]
  • 7:51pm: The Yankees and Cubs are moving closer to a Starlin Castro trade. The Cubs just agreed to sign Ben Zobrist so it’s only a matter of time until Castro goes. [Buster Olney]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

Whitley & Mitchell: Spot Starters [2015 Season Review]

Because of the health concerns in their rotation, the Yankees planned to give their starters an extra day of rest whenever possible this season. Off-days helped but that wasn’t enough. The team would have to insert a spot sixth starter on occasion to make it work, which they did quite often this summer.

Following his hit or miss debut last season, Chase Whitley was dubbed the de facto sixth starter in camp, little did we know at the time. Later in the season Bryan Mitchell held that role. Both spent time both with the Yankees and in Triple-A Scranton as depth arms in 2015, and both missed time with injuries. Whitley’s was more serious and Mitchell’s was much scarier.

Whitley. (Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

Ace Whitley

Had the Yankees held any kind of true roster competition in Spring Training, I’m pretty sure Whitley would have won a job on the pitching staff. The 26-year-old allowed two runs in 15.1 innings in camp, striking out 12 and walking only three. He made two starts and five relief appearances. Whitley was awesome during Grapefruit League play and it looked like he was going to be part of the Opening Day roster.

That wasn’t the case. The Yankees were planning to use him as their sixth starter, someone who would come up to make spot starts whenever the team needed an extra arm. That was his role. Sit and wait in Triple-A until everyone else needed a breather. Whitley made three effective starts with the RailRiders in April — he allowed four runs in 17 innings (2.12 ERA and 2.69 FIP) — before getting called up to make his first spot start.

On April 28th, Whitley held the Rays to one run in five innings. Unspectacular, but effective. What was supposed to be a one-start cameo turned into a regular rotation spot, however. Masahiro Tanaka was placed on the DL with a forearm issue the same day Whitley made his spot start, so the Yankees had to keep him in the rotation. Six days later, Whitley shut out the Blue Jays across seven masterful innings.

Whitley’s next start didn’t go so well — the Orioles scored five runs in 5.2 innings and took him deep three times — and the one after that was his final start of the season. In Tampa Bay on May 14th, after getting charged with three runs in 1.2 innings, Whitley walked off the mound with what proved to be a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Five days later, he had season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Whitley’s control disappeared in that final inning — he walked the final batter on four pitches and missed wide with several other pitches earlier in the inning, including one that went over everyone’s head to the backstop. Whitley later acknowledged his elbow had been bugging him for a few weeks, but he didn’t tell anyone and tried to pitch through it. At some point that night the ligament had had enough and snapped. So it goes.

In those four starts with the Yankees, Whitley had a 4.19 ERA (4.58 FIP) and soaked up 19.1 innings. By all accounts his rehab has gone well. The Yankees tried to sneak Whitley through waivers to remove him from the 40-man roster last week, but the Rays claimed him, so he’s no longer in the organization. The team has a bunch of these spare right-handers on the 40-man, so when time came to make space, the injured guy lost out.

The Yankees selected Whitley in the 15th round of the 2010 draft — he was a third baseman and pitcher in college, then the Yankees converted him to the mound full-time in pro ball — and got 95 innings of 5.02 ERA (4.23 FIP) ball out of him, which is essentially replacement level. Considering the expected return on a 15th round pick is basically nothing, Whitley was a nice little get for New York. So long, Ace. It’s been real.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Good Arm & Bad Results

When the season started, Mitchell was something like the seventh or eighth pitcher on the rotation depth chart. Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training, pushing Adam Warren into the rotation. Whitley was the sixth guy, and he got hurt almost exactly when Capuano returned. The question for Mitchell was whether the Yankees would go to him or Esmil Rogers whenever they needed a starter.

The Yankees never did need Mitchell to come up to make a start. At least not early in the season. He had a rough spring (nine runs in 12.1 innings) and started the season with Triple-A Scranton. Mitchell made 13 starts with the RailRiders and, predictably, was anywhere between very good and very bad. That’s his thing. He had a 2.79 ERA (3.07 FIP) in 67.2 innings in those 13 starts.

The Yankees called Mitchell up for the first time this season as part of the bullpen shuttle in late-June, when they needed a fresh long man. He made his first appearance with New York on June 20th and recorded one of those fancy three-inning saves in a blowout win. Mitchell stuck around for a bit after that, allowing two earned runs in 6.1 innings in his next four appearances, all in short-ish relief.

Following a brief return to Triple-A Scranton around the All-Star break — the Yankees wanted Mitchell to stay stretched out, so he was send down to make two starts — Mitchell was called back up to join the Yankees in early-August. He made a spot start against the White Sox on August 1st and allowed four runs in four innings on a limited pitch count. The Yankees then moved him back into long relief.

Mitchell’s best outing of the season came against the Indians on August 11th, when he threw three scoreless innings in extra innings, striking out five. In his next appearance, another spot start, Mitchell took a line drive to the face in what was a really scary scene.

Mitchell escaped with only a small nasal fracture, which was actually good news, all things considered. He didn’t have a concussion or any other neurological damage, and the ball managed to avoid his eyes and jaw. It hit the bill of his cap before deflecting into his nose.

Amazingly, Mitchell returned to the mound only eleven days later. He spent some time on the 7-day concussion DL while going through tests, but otherwise he was back on the mound in short order. Mitchell wasn’t any good after that, but at least he was healthy and back on the mound.

In ten appearances after the line drive, Mitchell allowed 12 runs on 13 hits and ten walks in 8.2 innings. He struck out only seven and opponents hit .333/.480/.513 against him. Yikes. Mitchell was not included on the wildcard game roster, because duh, and he finished the regular season with a 6.37 ERA (4.75 FIP) in 29.2 big league innings spread across two starts and 18 relief appearances.

It’s definitely possible the whole line drive to the face thing affected Mitchell’s performance down the stretch. If not physically then mentally. He could have been pitching tentatively because he feared getting hit again, something like that. Although he escaped with a relatively minor injury, that’s a really scary incident and it could have shaken him up. The fact he was able to physically pitch eleven days later was impressive, but that doesn’t mean he was ready to go mentally.

Anyway, the Yankees sent Mitchell to Puerto Rico to play winter ball this offseason, to make up some innings after spending so much time in the bullpen this summer. He’s thrown 21.2 innings in five starts (4.15 ERA) in winter ball so far but is struggling with control (14/12 K/BB), though that isn’t uncommon. Mitchell’s got a great arm but location continues to be an issue.

Next season will be Mitchell’s final minor league option year, so he has to stick in MLB for good in 2017 to be exposed to waivers. I expect the Yankees to bring him a camp as a starter and then send him to Triple-A Scranton to continue working as a starter next season, but a full-time move to the bullpen may be in the cards at some point. We’ll see.