2017 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2017-winter-meetingsSo this offseason went from boring to crazy in a hurry, huh? After weeks of inactivity, Shohei Ohtani signed with the Angels and the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton (!!!) in the span of 48 hours. Just like that, the two most intriguing storylines of the offseason were resolved. Ohtani is an Angel and Stanton will be mashing dingers in the Bronx.

That doesn’t mean the Winter Meetings will be boring this week, of course. There are still plenty of quality free agents on the board — nearly every top free agent remains unsigned — plus surprise trade candidates always emerge. The Stanton trade is all but certain to be the Yankees’ biggest move of the offseason. They do still need some pitching though, and possibly a second baseman.

“I do think that the future is bright. We’ve got a lot of good stuff that is already in place, and we’ve got more good stuff coming. I thought everybody got a chance to see that on the baseball stage this year play out. It has a chance to play out that way even further in the future. I don’t think there is a lot for us to have to do. I think we’re going to be patient, and we’re going to be diligent,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch, barely three days before the Stanton trade.

Stanton will be introduced at a 2pm ET press conference this afternoon, which I assume will be on MLB Network and MLB.com. Now that the Winter Meetings are underway, we’re going to keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here. I honestly don’t know what to expect in the wake of the Stanton trade. The Yankees could very easily sit back and let the market come to them now. We’ll see. Make sure you check back often for updates throughout the day. All timestamps are ET.

  • 2:37pm: Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees talked to the Marlins about Stanton at the GM Meetings a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t until they lost out on Shohei Ohtani that they pursued him seriously. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 2:01pm: The Yankees are interested in Gerrit Cole, their 2008 first round pick. The “initial impression” is the Pirates are not trading him, however. [Heyman]
  • 10:57am: The Stanton trade is official. The Yankees made the announcement this morning. Here’s the press release. The trade is as reported: Stanton and cash for Starlin Castro, Jorge Guzman, and Jose Devers.
  • 10:30am: The Angels and CC Sabathia have had contract talks. Sabathia said many times he wants to remain with the Yankees, so maybe he’s using the Angels for leverage? [George King]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees are continuing to weigh Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley trade options. Ellsbury has a no-trade clause and apparently wants to stay in New York. The Yankees are said to be willing to eat half the $68M left on his contract to facilitate a deal. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:30am: The Marlins initially asked for Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, or Estevan Florial in Stanton trade talks. They settled for Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. [Heyman]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

Thoughts on Baseball America’s top ten Yankees prospects

Guzman. (MLB.com)
Guzman. (MLB.com)

Now that we’re a month into the offseason, Baseball America has started their annual look at the top ten prospects in each farm system. They hit on the Yankees yesterday. The list and system overview is free for all. The scouting reports and the chat are not, however. They’re behind the paywall.

There are no big surprises in the top ten. The top few spots are as expected — at least the names are as expected, we can quibble about the order until we’re blue in the face — before dipping into the plethora of power arms in the system. Here’s the top ten:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Estevan Florial
  3. LHP Justus Sheffield
  4. RHP Chance Adams
  5. 3B Miguel Andujar
  6. RHP Albert Abreu
  7. RHP Jorge Guzman
  8. RHP Luis Medina
  9. SS Thairo Estrada
  10. RHP Domingo Acevedo

Quick reminder: OF Clint Frazier is no longer prospect eligible. That’s why he’s not in the top ten. He exceeded the rookie limit by four at-bats this year. Anyway, nice to see my main man Thairo get some top ten love. It’s been fun to watch him climb from sleeper to 40-man roster player. I have some thoughts on the top ten, so let’s get to them.

1. This is a pitching system now. I mentioned this as part of the Baseball Prospectus top ten write-up and it is worth repeating. The Yankees are loaded with pitching now. A year ago at this time they were a position player heavy farm system and hey, that’s great. I’d rather build around bats long-term than arms. Now though, the farm system is full of power pitchers. Six of the top ten prospects are pitchers, and among the pitchers who didn’t make the top ten are RHP Domingo German, RHP Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP Freicer Perez, RHP Matt Sauer, RHP Clarke Schmidt, RHP Dillon Tate, and RHP Taylor Widener. When those dudes are not among the six best pitching prospects in your farm system, you are packed to the gills with pitching. Inevitably many of these guys will get hurt or flame out, but when you have as many quality arms as the Yankees, your chances of landing some long-term keepers is quite high.

2. Guzman’s velocity is super elite. It’ll be a year or two before the Yankees get some impact from the Brian McCann trade, but so far things are looking good. Both Abreu and Guzman are among their top ten prospects, and, according to the Baseball America scouting report, Guzman “averaged 99 mph with his four-seamer in 2017 and just a tick less with his two-seamer.” That is pretty insane. Among qualified pitchers, Luis Severino led MLB with a 97.8 mph average fastball velocity this year. Guzman averaged 99 mph, prompting J.J. Cooper to say he “has a strong argument that he’s the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in baseball.” There is more to pitching than fastball velocity, of course, but the various scouting reports say Guzman made big strides with his secondary stuff and his command this year, so he’s starting to figure some things out. He’s not going to average 99 mph forever because no one does, but he’s starting from such a high baseline that even after losing some velocity in the coming years, he’ll sit mid-90s no problem.

3. Spin rate is a thing in the minors now too. I wrote a little bit about spin rate last week, and while it is still a relatively new concept to fans and analysts, it’s been a thing within baseball for a while now. The Baseball America scouting report mentions Medina has a “high-spin curveball,” and in the chat, Josh Norris notes RHP Deivi Garcia has a “hook that measures at 3,000 RPMs.” Only three big leaguers topped 3,000 rpm with their curveballs this season, for reference (min. 100 curveballs). RHP Drew Finley (curveball) and RHP Nolan Martinez (fastball) both earned notoriety for their spin rates as draft prospects. As I’ve said, spin rate is like velocity in that it’s only one tool in the shed, it’s not everything, but clearly it is something teams — the Yankees, specifically — target nowadays. The general belief is that spin is not really teachable. It’s either in your wrist or it’s not. The Yankees aren’t just hoarding pitching prospects. They’re hoarding high-spin prospects, the guys who are now very in demand at the big league level.

4. Mechanical changes contributed to Gilliam’s breakout. OF Isiah Gilliam, the team’s 20th round pick in 2015 and the recipient of a well-above-slot $550,000 bonus, was one of the easiest to overlook breakout stars in the farm system this summer. The switch-hitter spent most of the season at age 20, and he hit .275/.356/.468 (137 wRC+) with 15 homers and 10.8% walks in 125 Low-A games. That’s a damn fine season. Norris notes in the chat that Gilliam “saw significant benefits to the changes he made with his stance and swing mechanics,” and that’s pretty interesting. Amateur and minor league video can be tough to come by, so here’s what I dug up on Gilliam’s right-handed swing:

isiah-gilliam

That’s Gilliam in high school in 2014 on the left (video) and Gilliam with Low-A Charleston in 2017 on the right (video). I did my best to grab each image at the moment Gilliam begins to lift his front foot as part of his leg kick. Two things stand out. One, Gilliam has a wider base underneath him now. His legs are further apart. I suppose that could just be a camera angle issue, however. And two, his hands are much lower now. There’s no funny camerawork there. His hands used to be way up near to head and now they’re down by his chest, so yes, he has made some adjustments, at least to his right-handed swing. (There isn’t much old video of his left-handed swing, weirdly.) Anyway, Gilliam had a real nice season, and is one of those quality under-the-radar prospects that makes the system so deep.

5. So apparently Wade’s stock has dropped. Although he did not eclipse the 130 at-bat rookie limit this year, SS Tyler Wade is no longer rookie eligible because he accrued too much service time this season. Baseball America does not, however, consider service time when ranking prospects, so Wade is still prospect eligible. And yet, he’s not in the top ten. In the chat, Norris said Wade “did not come close to (making) this list” even though “he still has a big league future … probably as a utility infielder.” I like Wade. Have for a long time. I like the athleticism, the speed, the defense, and the strike zone knowledge. He just hit .310/.382/.460 (136 wRC+) with seven homers and 26 steals (in 31 attempts) in 85 Triple-A games as a 22-year-old. That’s really good! I know Wade stunk in the big leagues, but he had 63 plate appearances in 81 days of service time. The kid never played. Last year Aaron Judge got called up, struggled in his brief MLB debut, then tumbled down the prospect rankings. Baseball America ranked Judge as the sixth best prospect in the system coming into this season, behind SS Jorge Mateo (who didn’t hit) and RHP James Kaprielian (who was hurt all last year). Now Wade rips up Triple-A, struggles in an insignificant amount of big league playing time, and now he “did not come close” to ranking in the top ten prospects. Eh. I know I’m the high man on Wade, but if he’s not close to the top ten prospects, the system is even deeper than I realized.

Thoughts on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects

Adams. (The Citizens' Voice)
Adams. (The Citizens’ Voice)

Now that the 2017season is over, the crew at Baseball Prospectus is storming through their annual look at the top ten prospects (plus more) in each farm system. Yesterday they hit the Yankees. From what I can tell, the entire article is free. You don’t need a subscription to read the commentary.

“A year after being deadline sellers, the Yankees thinned out their farm with graduations and a pair of July 31st buys. The system is down a little, but has an elite 1-2 punch at the top and a bonanza of high-upside teenagers further down the organizational totem pole,” said the write-up. Here’s the top ten:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Estevan Florial
  3. RHP Chance Adams
  4. LHP Justus Sheffield
  5. RHP Albert Abreu
  6. 3B Miguel Andujar
  7. RHP Domingo Acevedo
  8. RHP Domingo German
  9. RHP Matt Sauer
  10. RHP Luis Medina

Both OF Clint Frazier and UTIL Tyler Wade exhausted their rookie eligibility this season, which is why they’re not in the top ten. Frazier exceeded the 130 at-bat rookie limit (he finished with 134) while Wade accrued too much service time. The rookie limit is 45 days outside the September roster expansion period. Wade finished with 50 such days, by my unofficial count. Anyway, some thoughts.

1. A year ago at this time the farm system was very position player heavy. The top four and six of the top nine prospects in the system were position players, per Baseball Prospectus. Six of my top eight were position players. Now Baseball Prospectus has seven pitchers among the top ten prospects in the organization. Furthermore, six prospects in the 11-20 range are pitchers as well. That’s a lot of quality arms! And the Yankees are going to need them too. Pitchers break down, they fail to develop a third pitch, etc. There are so many things that can derail development. Plus young pitching is the best currency in baseball. It can get you almost anything you want at the trade deadline. We could start to see the system strength shift from position players to pitchers earlier this year. Now this is damn close to a pitcher first farm system.

2. Speaking of pitchers, where’s RHP Jorge Guzman? He’s not mentioned in the Baseball Prospectus write-up at all. Not in the top ten, not in the next ten, nothing. In the comments it was explained the Yankees have a deep system and Guzman essentially got squeezed out by the numbers crunch, though I’m not sure I agree with him not being a top 20 prospect in the system. Heck, he’s in my top ten right now. When you have Medina in the top ten and RHP Roansy Contreras in the next ten, it’s tough to understand why Guzman isn’t there. He’s a more polished version of those guys, relatively speaking. Perhaps his age is the problem? Guzman will turn 22 in January and he’s yet to pitch in a full season league. That happens when you don’t sign until 18. I dunno. They don’t check IDs on the mound. If you can get outs, it doesn’t matter if you’re 21 or 31 or 41. Guzman’s stuff is as good as anyone’s in the system and he made great strides with his command and secondary pitches in 2017. Seems like a top ten prospect to me.

3. OF Pablo Olivares got some love. He’s been a little sleeper favorite of mine the last two years. The 19-year-old struggled in his quick stint with Low-A Charleston last season, but he .311/.420/.424 (149 wRC+) with 10.7% walks and 13.4% strikeouts in complex ball from 2016-17. Olivares is one of those guys who does a little of everything but nothing exceptionally well. “I project him to at least average across the board, led by a future 55 hit tool … (When) patient, he took walks and drove pitches to center and oppo. He’s bigger than his listed 6-foot, 160 pounds (likely closer to 170), and while just an average runner, his reads and instincts in center are good enough to stick with an average arm. With maturity and some added strength, he at least has a chance to see 50 power,” said the write-up, which included Olivares as a prospect in the 11-20 range of the farm system. I like him. I think he’ll establish himself as a no-doubt top 15 prospect in the system in 2018. There’s a “Thairo Estrada but an outfielder” quality to Olivares.

4. My favorite feature of Baseball Prospectus’ annual prospect write-ups are the “top talents 25 and under” lists. The ten best players in the organization no older than 25, basically. Straightforward, right? New York’s list has Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino in the 1-2-3 spots in that order, then slide the top ten prospects behind them. Noticeably absent: Greg Bird. Hmmm. I assume the injuries are the reason Bird was omitted from the top 25 and under talents — “As per usual, his future outlook depends almost entirely on his health,” said the write-up — but even considering that, I still feel like he belongs in the top ten somewhere. Why would injuries knock Bird out of the top ten but not, say, Abreu? He had injury problems of his own this year and he’s never pitched above High-A. Bird is quite risky given his injury history. He’s also shown he can be a productive big leaguer when healthy. Not sure I agree with knocking him down the list below prospects, who themselves are inherently risky.

After deep playoff run, the Yankees will again have to monitor pitcher workloads in 2018

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

At some point in the coming days, we’ll find out whether the Yankees need to add one starting pitcher this offseason, or two. The deadline for Masahiro Tanaka to opt-out of his contract is Saturday, and if he opts out, the Yankees will need to replace Tanaka and CC Sabathia. If he doesn’t opt out, the Yankees will only have to replace Sabathia. And they very well could replace Sabathia with Sabathia. Re-signing him seems like a definite possibility.

As things stand right now, the only thing we know for sure about the 2018 rotation is that it will include Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery. My guess is both Chad Green and Adam Warren will come to Spring Training stretched out as starters, though the smart money is on both going back to the bullpen. Luis Cessa and Domingo German will be around as depth, plus Chance Adams and maybe Justus Sheffield will debut at some point in 2018 as well.

This year the Yankees had to monitor the workloads of all their starting pitchers for different reasons. Severino and Montgomery are young pitchers gradually increasing their workloads. The Yankees have handled Tanaka with kid gloves since his 2014 elbow injury. Sabathia’s knee is an ongoing concern. Gray has had some injury problems in recent years as well, so giving him extra rest from time to time was a priority.

And, as things stand now, the Yankees are again going to have to monitor the workloads of their starters next season thanks to their deep postseason run. Severino and Montgomery threw more innings this season than ever before. By a lot too.

  • Severino: 209.1 total innings (previous career high: 161.2 innings in 2015)
  • Montgomery: 163.1 total innings (previous career high: 139.1 innings in 2016)

The Yankees were so concerned about Montgomery’s workload — big league innings are not the same as minor league innings because there’s more stress and intensity involved — that they went out and added Jaime Garcia so they could send Montgomery to Triple-A to control his innings there. Severino seemed to tire out a bit in the postseason. I thought he was noticeably fatigued in the fourth inning of ALCS Game Six.

This isn’t just about raw innings totals though. Montgomery and especially Severino pitched deeper into the year than ever before. The Yankees were one game away from the World Series! That means a shorter offseason recover. And this applies to the veterans too. Tanaka and Sabathia, should they come back, as well as Gray will miss out on a few extra weeks to rest this winter because of the postseason run.

The whole World Series hangover phenomenon is not new. Pitchers who pitch deep into the postseason and have shorter offseasons than usual have been coming back the next year and struggling for a long time now. That’s part of what made Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera so great. Those guys played seven-month seasons, not six-month seasons, because the Yankees were always in the playoffs. Yet they never broke down physically.

As much as we’d like them to turn out that way, the Yankees can’t proceed under the assumption Severino and Montgomery are essentially unbreakable like Pettitte and Rivera. This year they had to be careful with their workloads eclipsing their previous career highs. Next year they’ll have to worry about any lingering effects from those big workloads this year, and well as the shorter offseason that comes with going to Game Seven of the ALCS.

The Yankees know this, of course. Remember the Javy Vazquez trade? The second one? The Yankees made that trade because Sabathia, Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett worked hard in 2009 and pitched into November en route to the World Series championship. The Yankees wanted an innings eater to help lighten the load on the other guys. So they went out and got Vazquez, who at the time had just thrown 190+ innings for the tenth straight season to bolster the back of the rotation.

Now, the Vazquez trade didn’t work out in 2010. He stunk. But the idea was sound. Get another innings eater for the back of the rotation so it’s easier to pull Sabathia, Pettitte, and Burnett a little earlier than usual without overtaxing the bullpen following their long 2009 seasons. That’s where the Yankees are now. Their starters just threw a ton of innings and pitched deep into October, and there might be a carryover effect in 2018.

Perhaps the need to add rotation depth this winter isn’t as great as it was following 2009. The farm system is much richer now. Cessa, German, Adams, and Caleb Smith are basically MLB ready. Back in 2009, their best MLB ready pitching prospects were, uh, Ivan Nova? Zach McAllister? Good big leaguers! But the farm system was much thinner, and the Yankees didn’t have an Adams waiting, that top pitching prospect, or a Sheffield not far behind.

I’ve always been a pitching depth guy. Bring in as many viable starters as possible and don’t worry about where they all fit, because odds are you’ll need all of them at some point anyway. If the Yankees re-sign Sabathia, retain Tanaka, and bring in a veterans innings dude who pushes Montgomery to Triple-A to start 2018, I wouldn’t lose any sleep. Montgomery would be back in MLB before you know it. The long season and big workloads are something the Yankees have to be cognizant of next year, and that could mean making another Vazquez-esque trade.

Minors Notes: Top Triple-A & Breakout Prospects, Rodriguez

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The 2017 minor league season is officially over. Durham beat Memphis in the Triple-A Championship Game at PNC Field in Scranton last night. The Triple-A Championship Game rotates sites each year like an All-Star Game, and it just so happened to be played in Scranton this year. Too bad the RailRiders didn’t make it. Anyway, here are some minor league notes to check out.

Three Yankees among top International League prospects

Earlier this week Baseball America started their annual series looking at the top 20 prospects in each minor league. They covered the Triple-A International League (subs. req’d) yesterday, with Braves OF Ronald Acuna claiming the top spot. Three Yankees made the list (four if you count OF Dustin Fowler, who was traded away but makes the list at No. 17 due to his time with Scranton):

  • 9) RHP Chance Adams: “One evaluator said that between Adams’ four offerings, he has a chance for three above-average pitches with above-average control … He drew comparisons with Bud Norris and Jordan Zimmermann.”
  • 15) 3B Miguel Andujar: “Andujar drew rave reviews from managers and scouts for his uncanny ability to barrel baseballs with authority as well as his energetic nature on the field … He has a plus arm, quick-twitch actions and a strong work ethic at third base, but below-average footwork and hard hands could be too much to overcome.”
  • 16) OF Clint Frazier: “(Some) evaluators think he always will pair home runs with strikeouts and low batting averages because of a limiting, rigid swing. With sufficient pitch recognition, though, he can be an impact power hitter.”

Hmmm. I’m pretty sure I’m the biggest Andujar fan out there, but even I wouldn’t rank him above Frazier on a prospect list. Frazier seems like one of those prospects people look for reasons not to like. The kid has insane bat speed, the ball explodes off his bat, he works the count well, and he’s fine in either corner outfield spot. What’s the problem here? Anyway, in the chat Carlos Collazo said SS Gleyber Torres would’ve ranked in the top three had he not gotten hurt and fallen short of the playing time minimum. SS Tyler Wade was a consideration for the list as well.

McKinney to begin working out at first base

OF Billy McKinney, who will be added to the 40-man roster after the season, is going to begin working out at first base in Instructional League, reports Robert Pimpsner. Sounds like an assignment to the Arizona Fall League in possible as well, though the Yankees already have a first baseman going to the desert (1B Chris Gittens) and their position player spots are full. Someone could get be getting pulled though. We’ll see.

McKinney, 23, came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade and hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with a career high 16 home runs in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A this summer. He’s a bat first prospect — his defense in the corner outfield is not great — so it makes sense to increase his versatility and get him time at first base. We still don’t know whether Greg Bird can stay healthy and/or produce consistently. Given the team’s outfield glut, getting McKinney familiar with first base seems like a no-brainer.

Loaisiga, Widener among top 2018 breakout candidates


The crew at Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) posted a list of ten breakout candidates for the 2018 season, and two of the ten are Yankees: RHP Jonathan Loaisiga and RHP Taylor Widener. Keith Law had good things to say about Loaisiga last week. Widener was a reliever in the college before the Yankees moved him into the rotation, Chance Adams style. A quick recap of the write-ups:

  • Loaisiga: “(He) features a potentially plus fastball-curveball combination with the ability to throw either pitch for strikes in any count. The fastball consistently hovers around 95 (t97) with late movement … expect him to start shooting up prospect lists.”
  • Widener: “Widener was in the low-to-mid-90s with the fastball, topping out at 96, and it was moving around pretty good … Widener commanded it like a good Double-A starting prospect, not a guy making his first Double-A appearance … Widener projects as an interesting mid-rotation prospect at the upside, with a more likely outcome as a good reliever.”

So I guess Johnny Lasagna being a prospect is a thing now? He originally signed with the Giants out of Nicaragua back in 2013, but they released him a year later after some injury issues. The Yankees picked him up, he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery last year, and came back looking good this year. Loaisiga turns 23 in November, and he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 lbs., plus he has an injury history, so there are some things working against him. Still, the Yankees picked him up off the scrap heap, and now he’s being written up as a breakout prospect. Pretty cool.

Rodriguez is “99%” sure he’s retiring

C Eddy Rodriguez, who spent the last three seasons with Triple-A Scranton (and part of one season with Double-A Trenton) is “99%” sure he’s retiring, reports D.J. Eberle. For much of this year Rodriguez was third on the catcher depth chart while C Kyle Higashioka was hurt, though he never did get a call-up. His one MLB cameo came with the Padres in 2012. He took Johnny Cueto deep in his first at-bat.

Rodriguez, who defected from Cuba with his family when he was a kid, is still only 31 years old. He’s not much of a hitter — he hit .189/.240/.308 (51 wRC+) in 446 plate appearances with the RailRiders the last two years — but he’s long been regarded as a great defender and clubhouse guy. Rodriguez wouldn’t reveal his post-playing days plan to Eberle, but he seems like the kind of guy we’ll see on a Yankees minor league coaching staff/instructor list in the near future. Either way, the Yankees need a new veteran good guy backup catcher for Scranton next year.

Saturday Links: Judge, Playoffs, Cave, Automatic Strike Zone

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox will continue their three-game weekend series later tonight at Fenway Park. That’s a 7pm ET start. Remember when they used to play baseball on Saturday afternoons? That was fun. Anyway, here are some links and notes to check out until first pitch.

Yankees not considering moving Judge to first base

According to David Lennon and Bob Klapisch, the Yankees have not considering moving Aaron Judge to first base to unclog the outfield logjam and potentially address first base long-term. Judge did play first base in high school, you know. He moved to the outfield in college because Fresno State already had a pretty good first baseman. Even if the Yankees were considering moving Judge, they wouldn’t do it midseason. They’d wait until Spring Training.

Two thoughts on this. One, Judge’s right field defense is way too good right now to move him. He’s an asset out there, particularly his throwing. Move him to first base and you’re wasting his arm. And two, I think it’s only a matter of time until Judge winds up at first base permanently. There’s a reason you don’t see many players that size running around the outfield. It’s tough on the knees and tough on the body. That doesn’t mean Judge will have to move to first base next year. But maybe in four or five years? Yeah, it’s possible. Right now though, it is not a consideration for the Yankees, and that is absolutely the right move in my opinion.

Hal says missing postseason would be a “failure”

It seems the Yankees have gone from “World Series or bust” to “transition year” to “postseason or bust” within the last 18 months or so. Earlier this week, Hal Steinbrenner said it would be a “failure” if the Yankees missed the playoffs this year. “If we don’t make the playoffs, it’s a failure … It’s been a tough last two months for the most part. But I think they’re coming out of it … (We’re) going to have a strong last five, six weeks,” said Hal to Anthony Castrovince.

The continued shift in expectations this year has been pretty fascinating. The Yankees sold at the trade deadline last year and, for the most part, I think people considered this a “step back before taking a step forward” year. Break in some young players, deal with the growing pains, then gear up for 2018. Instead, the young players hit the ground running and the Yankees got off to a great start. They’ve been a .500-ish team for three months now though. It went from “rebuilding year” to “let’s shock the world!” to “please just get a wildcard spot.” If the Yankees miss the postseason now, it’ll feel like a disappointment. Five months ago, it was kinda expected.

Four Yankees among most improved prospects

Cave. (AP)
Cave. (AP)

Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to find the position player and pitching prospects who have improved their stock the most this season. In a nutshell, he compared each player’s preseason projection to their current projection. He lists 18 prospects total and four are Yankees:

  • RHP Chance Adams: 5.32 ERA preseason to 4.35 ERA now
  • OF Jake Cave: .617 OPS preseason to .709 OPS now
  • 1B Garrett Cooper: .679 OPS preseason to .751 OPS now
  • RHP Domingo German: 5.70 ERA preseason to 4.88 ERA now

SS Gleyber Torres and OF Billy McKinney were among the honorable mentions. The Cave projection is most interesting to me because ZiPS basically says he made the jump from non-prospect to potential fourth outfielder this season. From the write-up:

Of the 1,400 projections for hitters run by ZiPS coming into 2017 (about 1,250 “official” ones and 150 for prospects at very low levels for which I have little confidence), only four players got a larger boost than Cave’s 92-point OPS boost: Ryan Zimmerman, Aaron Judge, Justin Smoak and Zack Cozart.

ZiPS still isn’t convinced Cave will be more than a fourth outfielder, but it’s damn hard to add 100 points of OPS to a projection in four months.

Huh. Cave will be a minor league free agent this offseason and I think it’s likely the Yankees will add him to the 40-man roster and make sure he doesn’t get away. He is going to be 25 in December, so he’s not super young, but hit .343/.387/.610 (176 wRC+) with 13 homers in 54 Triple-A games while playing center field, and you’re going to make yourself worth keeping around.

Electronic strike zone not on the horizon

No surprise here, but commissioner Rob Manfred told Anthony Castrovince the league is not close to implementing an electronic strike zone. The technology isn’t there yet, and even once it is available, Manfred is leery of moving away from human umpires. Balls and strikes are everything to umpires. I suspect they’ll fight an electronic strike zone tooth and nail when the time comes.

Personally, I don’t have much interest in an electronic strike zone. Yes, I would like the umpires to be better behind the plate, but I feel like an electronic zone would take more away from the game than it would provide. Consistency is boring. Also, I get the sense that shifting to an electronic strike zone would have some unintended consequences. We could see some pretty drastic shifts in pitcher (and therefore hitter) performance with an unambiguous zone.

Jeter becomes a dad

And finally, Derek Jeter is now officially a father. Derek and Hannah welcomed their daughter, Bella Raine Jeter, into the world on Thursday, it was announced on The Players’ Tribune (of course). Congrats to them. Not a bad gene pool to come from, huh?

Sunday Links: Walker, Best Tools, Bullpen, Food Safety

Random photo is random. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Random photo is random. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox will wrap up their three-game weekend series with the ESPN Sunday Night Game later today. The game should end sometime Monday morning. Anyway, here are some bits of news and notes to check out.

Yankees, Mets had Walker deal

More Yankees-Mets trade deadline drama. According to Mike Puma, the Yankees and Mets agreed to a Neil Walker trade prior to the trade deadline, but the Yankees backed out due to medical concerns. Puma says the Mets believe the Yankees used the medical concerns as an excuse to back out after finishing the Sonny Gray trade. Hmmm. Walker returned from a partially torn hamstring a few days before the trade deadline and had back surgery late last year.

Walker, 31, was traded to the Brewers last night and is hitting .264/.339/.442 (107 wRC+) with ten home runs in 299 plate appearances this season. Although he’s primarily a second baseman, the Mets also used Walker at first and third bases. He’s an impending free agent and the Yankees would have presumably used Walker at second base until Starlin Castro returned, then shifted him into a utility role. Eh, whatever. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little sick of this Yankees-Mets drama.

Baseball America’s best tools survey

One of my favorite features of the year is Baseball America’s annual best tools survey. They poll managers and coaches and scouts about the best tools and players in their leagues, from MLB all the way down to Low-A. Here’s where the various Yankees ranked:

Bell, the longtime big leaguer, is in his first season managing High-A Tampa after spending 2013 as the Pirates hitting coach and 2014-15 as the Reds bench coach. I’m curious to see what the Yankees do with him going forward. If Bell is a highly regarded managerial prospect as the survey suggests, either the Yankees are going to have to move him up the ladder, or they’ll lose him to an organization that will move him up.

Also, must be a down year for relievers in the Sally League, huh? Lane, who has since been promoted to High-A Tampa, is a 23-year-old former tenth round pick, and a sinker/slider lefty with middling velocity and a low arm slot. A classic left-on-left matchup profile. He’s got really good numbers this year, throwing 57 innings with a 1.26 ERA (2.26 FIP) and strong strikeout (27.1%) and walk (6.7%) rates. Not sure he’s much of a prospect though.

Yankees top ZiPS bullpen projections

Not surprisingly, the Yankees sit atop the ZiPS bullpen projections for the rest of the season, so says Dan Szymborski. Projections don’t really mean anything, of course. They’re not predictions. They’re more like an estimate of talent level. Anyway, here’s what ZiPS has to say about New York’s new-look bullpen:

Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman was already one of the best, if not THE best, one-two relief punch in baseball. Now you add in David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, the latter possibly the most underappreciated player acquired this deadline. Even Adam Warren has been lights-out, with a 1.97 ERA/2.69 FIP. Not to mention the team’s remaining big acquisition: Adding the complete absence of Tyler Clippard.

The bullpen before the Robertson/Kahnle trade: 3.39 ERA (3.33 FIP). The bullpen since the Robertson/Kahnle trade: 2.09 ERA (2.64 FIP). That 3.39 ERA (3.33 FIP) before the trade is a little deceiving too, because Jonathan Holder and especially Clippard had become wholly unreliable. They started the season well before crashing hard. The Yankees needed to fix their bullpen at the trade deadline, and they did exactly that. Too bad the starters are all getting hurt and the offense has since gone in the tank.

Yankees lagging in food safety rankings

Earlier this week Tanner Walters, using public inspection records, compiled ballpark food safety rankings. How clean are the facilities, is everything stored properly, so on and so forth. Yankee Stadium ranks 21st among the 28 parks in the rankings (data wasn’t available for Progressive Field or Comerica Park), and ranking 21st among 28 teams seems not good? From Walters:

Yankee Stadium led the league with critical violations (62% of its stands), and an infestation of flies highlighted the inspections from late July in the Bronx. Inspectors handed out citations at over a dozen food entities around the ballpark for observation of flies and improper vermin-proofing. The city doesn’t give detailed observations in its reports, but nearly a quarter of the stadium’s violations came from improper maintenance for non-food surfaces. Last year, even without a fly problem, Yankee Stadium would have finished in the same spot in our rankings. The ballpark had fewer overall violations but more that were critical, mostly from the restaurants and suites.

Kinda gross! Even with recent improvements, the concessions at Yankee Stadium lag big time in quality and selection behind the rest of the league — the concessions at Citi Field are so much better it’s not even funny, and it’s not just Shake Shack — and apparently they’re lacking in cleanliness and proper food safety too. Yuck.