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.

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.

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.