Game 14: Bounce Back

Some guy did a back flip before the first pitch last night. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Some guy did a back flip before the first pitch last night. (Leon Halip/Getty)

The Yankees dropped a very winnable game in last night’s series opener against the Tigers. Winnable because of CC Sabathia, mostly. You’re not going to beat this Detroit team scoring just one run most nights. Oh well, nothing they can do about it now. The Yankees just have to turn the page and try to get back on track tonight. They have won five of their last eight games, after all. Things are going okay.

Nathan Eovaldi is making his third start in pinstripes tonight and he’s looking to build on his last start, when he fanned nine in only five innings. Of course, three runs and eleven base-runners in five innings kinda stinks, so he needs to improve on that too. If Eovaldi keeps missing bats, the number of runs and base-runners should eventually come down. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Chris Young
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Stephen Drew
  9. 2B Gregorio PetitKyle Lobstein is pretty much exactly the kind of lefty I think Didi Gregorius should be left in the lineup to face, but I guess Joe Girardi disagrees

    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

The weather in Detroit tonight is a lot like last night: rainy, cold, and windy. It rained earlier this afternoon but is supposed to stop before game time. There might be some drizzle during the game though. First pitch is scheduled for 7:08pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: The Yankees have recalled Chasen Shreve and optioned Branden Pinder to Triple-A, the team announced. Shreve was sent down following the 19-inning game and his ten days in the minors are up. Welcome back, Chasen.

Game Five: The Day After

Last night's game in picture form. (Presswire)
Last night’s game in picture form. (Presswire)

Last night’s 19-inning marathon gave me a hangover. That game was all sorts of awful. If you want to blame the offense, you can do that. If you want to blame the pitching, you can do that too. Defense? Base-running? Blame worthy as well. If you’re the type that needs to assign blame to everything, last night was the perfect game for you. Lots of options.

Anyway, none of that matters now. It’s a new day and a new game and boy would it be nice to see the Yankees pick up a win on Saturday afternoon. Or even just hold a lead. They’ve had the lead for exactly one half-inning out of the 45.5 innings they’ve played in 2015. As best I can tell, no team has had a lead for less time this year. Even the 0-4 White Sox held a lead for one full inning at one point the other day. Here’s the lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Chris Young
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Alex Rodriguezyup
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Garrett Jones
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Gregorio Petit
    RHP Adam Warren

As expected, the Red Sox activated Joe Kelly (biceps) off the DL so he could make this afternoon’s start. He’ll be on a 90-pitch limit. Knuckleballer Steven Wright was send down to make room on the roster. Here is Boston’s lineup.

It’s a nice clear day in New York but windy as hell. Nearly lost my hat when I went out to get breakfast this morning. This afternoon’s game will begin just after 1pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and Fox Sports 1 nationally. Enjoy.

Roster Move: The Yankees have called up lefty Matt Tracy to bolster their worn out bullpen, the team announced. Tracy was scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton today, so he’s good for 80+ pitches if needed. I hope they aren’t. Ivan Nova was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot and Chasen Shreve was optioned to Triple-A to clear a 25-man roster spot. Shreve was awesome last night. Unfair game, this baseball.

Latest roster cuts clarify Opening Day bullpen and bench pictures

(Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

The Yankees announced their latest round of roster cuts earlier today, optioning Chase Whitley to Triple-A Scranton and reassigning non-roster invitees Rob Refsnyder, Nick Noonan, and Eddy Rodriguez to minor league camp. By my count there are still 32 players in big league camp, four of whom are injured (Brendan Ryan, Chris Capuano, Ivan Nova, Vicente Campos).

Today’s roster cuts clarify if not finalize the Opening Day bullpen and bench pictures. Whitley was one of four candidates left for the final two bullpen spots along with Andrew Bailey, Chasen Shreve, and Chris Martin. Bailey told Mark Feinsand today he will stay behind when the team heads north tomorrow and continue working his way back from shoulder surgery with High-A Tampa when the minor league season begins. That leaves Shreve and Martin for the last two bullpen spots.

Ryan’s calf injury opened up the backup infielder’s spot, and while Joe Girardi hinted at Refsnyder being a candidate for the job, his reassignment to minor league camp today confirms he won’t make the team. Same with Noonan. Fellow reserve infielder candidate Cole Figueroa was sent to minor league camp last week, leaving the recently acquired Gregorio Petit as the front-runner for the backup infielder’s job. That makes sense, he can play defense all around the infield (unlike Refsnyder) and is right-handed hitter (unlike Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, Noonan, and Figueroa).

I’m very surprised Whitley was sent down. He’s pitched very well in camp. I guess the Yankees feel Whitley is more valuable as the sixth starter in Triple-A than as the second long man in MLB. The backup infielder situation is whatever. As I said this morning, sitting on bench does Refsnyder no good, and picking between Petit, Noonan, and Figueroa is a toss-up. There’s no right or wrong answer. There’s just an answer, and it appears the answer is Petit.

Adam Warren has officially been named the fifth starter, and with Shreve, Martin, and Petit now looking like safe bets for the Opening Day roster, the only position battle left in camp is for the backup catcher’s job. All signs from the last 12 months point to John Ryan Murphy being the guy, but Austin Romine is out of minor league options and Brian Cashman admitted that will play a role in the decision. We’ll see.

With four candidates left in camp, Shreve and Whitley are good bets for last two bullpen spots

Chase and Chasen. (Presswire)
Chase and Chasen. (Presswire)

The Yankees open the 2015 regular season in just six days now. And, at this very moment, it’s still not clear who will fill the last two bullpen spots. We know Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances will work the late innings — assuming Betances straightens himself out — and Justin Wilson and David Carpenter will get the middle innings. Esmil Rogers will be in the bullpen in some capacity too, like it or not.

Those last two spots are still unaccounted for. In fact, the Yankees haven’t even dropped any hints about which way they may be leaning. Another long man? Two more short relievers with Rogers being the long man? A third lefty? Nothing. The only hints we’ve gotten have come via roster cuts — players optioned or reassigned to minor league camp are out of the running for the Opening Day roster. I mean, yeah, one of those players could always make the roster, but that’s a rarity. Guys are sent out because they’re no longer considered MLB options.

By my count, the Yankees have 36 players remaining in big league camp, 17 of whom are pitchers. Three of those 17 are injured — Vicente Campos (Tommy John surgery), Chris Capuano (quad), Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — so it’s really 14 healthy pitchers. Ten of those 14 are locks for the Opening Day roster (the five relievers I mentioned earlier and the five starters), meaning the last two bullpen spots are down to a four-man race. And when you look at them individually, it’s easy to see who the two favorites are.

RHP Andrew Bailey

Bailey, 30, has throw four one-inning appearances this spring as he works his way back from a torn shoulder capsule, and he’s had at least two days off between each of those appearances. He hasn’t even worked with one day of rest between appearances, nevermind back-to-back days, which most relievers both in Yankees camp and around the league have already done at this point of spring. After spending nearly 20 months rehabbing from major shoulder surgery, four innings plus whatever Bailey throws this week doesn’t figure to be enough to land him on the Opening Day roster. Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi have continually downplayed Bailey’s chances of making the team and it makes total sense. He’s simply not ready yet.

RHP Chris Martin

Martin’s spring has been better than his 5.63 ERA would lead you to believe. He’s made nine appearances and five of the six runs he’s allowed have come in two of them, plus he has 13 strikeouts and one walk in eight innings. More importantly, the 28-year-old Martin’s stuff has looked good — hittable, but good — which might be enough to convince the Yankees they could hide him as the seventh reliever for a few weeks until Capuano returns or a Triple-A reliever forces the issue.

LHP Chasen Shreve

Not counting the guys who were competing for a rotation spot, the 24-year-old Shreve leads all relievers in camp with 10.1 innings pitched. The Yankees have given him plenty of exposure against righties — 29 of 43 batters faced have been righties — and he’s held his own, with seven strikeouts and one walk in 7.2 innings against hitters of the opposite hand. The overall Grapefruit League numbers are not good (5.23 ERA), but I don’t think the club will ding Shreve too hard given how much they’ve pushed him against righties. The Yankees are not a team that tends to dwell on spring performance. The way they’ve used him makes it seem like they want him to make the roster, or at least considered him a serious Opening Day roster candidate at one point. They might like Shreve’s split-changeup hybrid enough to carry him on the roster to open the regular season.

RHP Chase Whitley

Whitley was a fifth starter candidate but not really. He did get stretched out but only made one start, and he never did throw more than three innings in an appearance. Whitley has helped himself with a strong spring (0.79 ERA), which is better than getting hit around, especially since the Yankees know him from his time with the team last year. It’s hard to say no to a guy who was with you last year and has pitched well in camp, know what I mean? For example, in one hand the Yankees have Martin, who is new to the organization and requires you to squint your eyes to see the positive in his spring performance. In the other is Whitley, who’s three years younger than Martin, has been in the organization for years, and has pitched well in recent weeks. Seems like an obvious call to me.

* * *

The process of elimination leads me to believe Whitley and Shreve are likely to get those last two bullpen spots. Bailey simply isn’t physically ready for the big leagues yet. He hasn’t shown he can handle the workload. Whitley has pitched well and is an incumbent, and Shreve has been used in a way that suggests he is ahead of Martin on the depth chart. The signs point to Shreve and Whitley.

Of course, the bullpen is a very fluid part of the roster, and the Yankees have built enough depth that making the team on Opening Day isn’t a guarantee Shreve and Whitley won’t be in Triple-A come, say, April 20th, two weeks after Opening Day. Winning a roster spot is one thing. Keeping it is another. The Yankees have the ability to swap out relievers as needed and I expect that happen. Being on the Opening Day roster just means Shreve and Whitley (or whoever) will get the first shot at sticking all year.

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.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 20-25

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

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
Capuano. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

After spending the last two days looking at the 40-man roster players who might help the Yankees in some sort of limited capacity this coming season, we’re now getting to players expected to have regular roles during the 2015 season. We aren’t at the core of the roster yet, but some of these folks are more than fringe players.

Our 40-man roster ranking series continues today with Nos. 20-25, six spots split eventually between big league pitchers and prospects. There’s not much of a common theme in this group, that’s just the way the rankings fell. Boring, I know, but that’s the way it goes. Alright, let’s continue marching on …

No. 25: Chris Capuano

2015 Role: Fifth starter, maybe a swingman if a better rotation option comes along at some point. The Yankees re-signed Capuano to a little one-year contract worth $5M to add pitching depth and add some stability to the back of the rotation. Capuano did an alright job in pinstripes last year (4.25 ERA and 3.85 FIP in 12 starts) and the team will ask him to do more of the same in 2015.

Long-Term Role: Doesn’t really have one. I mean, yeah, the Yankees could always bring Capuano back in 2016, but he is very much a year to year guy at age 36. Maybe it’s more appropriate to call him a month to month guy instead. Capuano is nothing more than a stopgap rotation option. The Yankees just want him to soak up innings every fifth day and be a mentor to some of the younger pitchers on the staff. Capuano is important in 2015 because the rotation is full of injury concerns, though there’s no long-term plan here.

No. 24: Chasen Shreve

2015 Role: At worst, an up-and-down bullpen arm. At best, a bullpen fixture who serves as a reliable matchup lefty for Joe Girardi in the middle innings. The Yankees acquired the 24-year-old Shreve from the Braves in the Manny Banuelos trade a few weeks ago and while he isn’t guaranteed a roster spot come Opening Day, I think he is the leading candidate for the final bullpen spot. Either way, he’ll get a long look in Spring Training.

Long-Term Role: A bullpen regular. Shreve reinvented himself last season by simply airing it out — he stopped holding back velocity in an attempt to improve location, and the result was across the board improvement. Even to his walk rate. I don’t know if he has the pure stuff to be a late-inning reliever who can face both lefties and righties, but if the results stemming from the new approach are legit, Shreve is a guy who can hang around and contribute out of the bullpen for the next several years. I’m very intrigued by the pickup and am looking forward to seeing him this summer.

German. (Presswire)
German. (Presswire)

No. 23: Domingo German

2015 Role: Nothing at the MLB level. German came over from the Marlins in the five-player Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade after spending all of last season in Low Class-A. He’s on the 40-man roster because the Marlins opted to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft earlier this offseason. German will head to High-A Tampa this coming year and maybe, just maybe, he’ll earn a call-up to Double-A Trenton at midseason. I wouldn’t expect anything more than that.

Long-Term Role: German is one of the best pitching prospects in the organization — you could easily argue he’s the team’s second best pitching prospect behind non-40-man-roster guy Luis Severino — and that alone makes him an important part of the team’s future even if he won’t realistically make his MLB debut until 2016, if not later.

The Yankees want German to do one of two things: either become a long-term fixture in their rotation or continue improving his prospect stock so they can use him as the centerpiece in a trade. He’s much closer to the latter than he is the former right now. At 22, German is the youngest pitcher on the 40-man roster by 16 months and the second youngest player on the 40-man roster overall (behind Gary Sanchez), and that alone makes him an important part of the organization. He’s a key piece moving forward.

No. 22: David Carpenter

2015 Role: Setup man, replacing Shawn Kelley. Carpenter has been setting up Craig Kimbrel these last two years — he came over with Shreve in the Banuelos trade — and he’ll continue to work important innings in New York. It remains to be seen how the ninth inning will shake out, but if Dellin Betances gets the closer’s job, Carpenter is the leading candidate to be Joe Girardi’s right-handed complement to Andrew Miller.

Long-Term Role: Still setup man. Carpenter is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through the 2017 season, so he’s not going anywhere unless he’s just so terrible the team dumps him. The Yankees basically reacquired Kelley. He and Carpenter are very similar pitchers — fastball, slider, lots of strikeouts, lots of fly balls — and they’ll wind up filling the same role in pinstripes.

No. 21: Justin Wilson

2015 Role: Middle reliever but not just as a left-handed specialist. Wilson, who came over from the Pirates in the Frankie Cervelli swap, has a big fastball and a history of striking batters out and neutralizing both lefties and righties. The shaky control means he might never be a regular high-leverage option, but Wilson is a solid reliever who won’t have to be hidden from righties.

Long-Term Role: Wilson won’t qualify for free agency until after the 2018 season, so he’s expected to be a staple in the bullpen for the next several years. If the Carpenter is the next Kelley, Wilson is the next Boone Logan, a lefty with power stuff but questionable strike-throwing ability. Even with Miller on board, Wilson has a chance to grow into a traditional setup role if his control improves a la Logan because he isn’t held back by platoon splits.

Austin. (Star-Ledger)
Austin. (Star-Ledger)

No. 20: Tyler Austin

2015 Role: These last two seasons have been physically tough for Austin, who suffered a bone bruise in his wrist in April 2013 and had it linger all the way into the middle of the 2014 season. (It didn’t help that he played through it for most of 2013). He also missed several weeks with a hamstring strain last year.

Austin mashed before and after the wrist issues — he put up a .302/.355/.487 (133 wRC+) line in the final two months of the 2014 regular season and did more of the same in the Arizona Fall League (135 wRC+) — and he was added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He’s headed to Triple-A Scranton to start the year and could bypass Ramon Flores as the first outfielder to get called up when help is needed. So I guess that means his immediate role is up-and-down outfielder.

Long-Term Role: He’s not expected to be a star, but Austin has legitimate upside as an everyday MLB player, most likely in right field. He has also seen time at first and third bases in his career, but the hot corner ain’t happening. The Yankees have a full outfield at the moment, though Carlos Beltran will be an injury risk from now through the end of his contract. Among players on the 40-man, Austin has by far the best chance to come up, replace an injured outfielder, and make the team keep him in the lineup with his play.

The Yankees have a small wave of promising position player prospects at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, and Austin is in position to be among the first to get an opportunity in an everyday role. He could replace Garrett Jones as the part-time right fielder, part-time first baseman, part-time DH as soon as 2016 — Austin is a righty while Jones is a lefty, but that’s not a huge deal — before settling into a full-time role. Offense is at a premium and Austin has never not hit when healthy. If he contributes at the plate at the MLB level, he’ll stick around.

Coming Thursday: Nos. 17-19. Two pitchers at different points of their careers and a potential impact position player prospect.

Thanks to new hard-throwing approach, Chasen Shreve a promising addition to Yankees’ bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last week, in their first transaction of the new year, the Yankees traded longtime prospect Manny Banuelos to the Braves for a pair of relievers, righty David Carpenter and lefty Chasen Shreve. Carpenter has been in the league for a little while now and will step right into Shawn Kelley’s old setup role. Shreve, on the other hand, is a relative unknown with only 12.1 MLB innings to his credit.

The 24-year-old Shreve is from Las Vegas and he attended the College of Southern Nevada, where he was Bryce Harper’s teammate in 2010. Harper hit 31 homers (with wood bats!) in 66 games as a 17-year-old against college kids and was drafted first overall that year. Shreve had a 5.57 ERA in 42 innings and was picked in the 11th round by Atlanta. Like a few other players on the team, Shreve benefited from the extra exposure as scouts flocked to see Harper.

Prior to the 2010 draft, Baseball America (subs. req’d) gave Shreve a one-sentence scouting report, saying he “was in the mid-80s last year and up to 91 this year, but he also battled arm injuries.” Whatever those arm injuries were, they haven’t hindered him as a pro. The Braves moved Shreve into the bullpen full-time immediately after signing and he averaged 68.1 innings from 2011-14, a full workload for a reliever. Here are his minor league stats, via Baseball Reference:

Year Age AgeDif Tm Lg Lev ERA G IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2010 19 -1.9 Danville APPY Rk 2.25 8 16.0 16 5 4 1 3 0 20 1.188 9.0 0.6 1.7 11.2 6.67
2011 20 -1.8 Rome SALL A 3.86 34 70.0 77 33 30 3 26 4 68 1.471 9.9 0.4 3.3 8.7 2.62
2012 21 -2.1 2 Teams 2 Lgs A+-AA 2.66 43 64.1 61 24 19 3 33 2 57 1.461 8.5 0.4 4.6 8.0 1.73
2013 22 -1.8 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-A+ 3.90 50 62.1 58 32 27 2 30 4 43 1.412 8.4 0.3 4.3 6.2 1.43
2014 23 -1.8 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-AAA 2.67 46 64.0 51 20 19 4 12 1 87 0.984 7.2 0.6 1.7 12.2 7.25
5 Seasons 3.22 181 276.2 263 114 99 13 104 11 275 1.327 8.6 0.4 3.4 8.9 2.64

Baseball America never ranked Shreve among Atlanta’s top 30 prospects in their Prospect Handbook and it’s easy to understand why — he has been young for his level every year of his career, yes, but he had a 3.48 ERA with forgettable strikeout (7.68 K/9 and 19.5 K%) and walk (4.07 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%) rates from 2011-13. Pair that with the “he was in the mid-80s last year and up to 91 this year” scouting report and he just wasn’t all that interesting, even as a lefty.

That all changed during the 2014 season, when Shreve posted his best minor league strikeout (10.24 K/9 and 29.0 K%) and walk (2.79 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%) numbers. He was briefly called up to MLB in July and returned when rosters expanded in September. During his short MLB cameo, Shreve struck out 15 and walked three in his 12.1 innings while averaging 92.5 mph and topping out at 95.2 mph with his fastball according to Brooks Baseball. That’s not the same “he was in the mid-80s last year and up to 91 this year” guy that was in the scouting report back in 2010.

Obviously there’s the physical maturity factor — Shreve was a 19-year-old kid when Baseball America wrote his pre-draft scouting report back in 2010 and now he’s a 24-year-old man who has been under the watch of professional coaches and instructors. He also changed roles and became a full-time reliever. Adding velocity during this phase of a career isn’t exactly unheard of. There is a little more to the story, however. Jake Seiner explains:

Determined to start moving the other direction, he made a conscious decision to change who he was as a pitcher. In Spring Training (of 2014), he mentioned to M-Braves pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn that he was capable of throwing harder but had held back in past years to gain better control, like childhood heroes Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Lewallyn instructed him to rear back and fire more often, and a few months later Shreve was a Major League reliever. In the Minors, the 24-year-old left-hander posted a 2.67 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 64 innings.

“He was a guy that, the last two years, he was a crafty type guy who would move in and out,” Holbert said. “He went from 88-89 to 93-94 or whatever it was, and it stayed.

“It was very strange, if you ask me. It was a different approach and a different way, but it worked out for him. I wish all those other years, we would’ve seen that same Chasen. Maybe he would’ve been in the Majors even sooner.”

Shreve made a conscious decision to change who he was as a pitcher last year in an effort to advance his career, and it worked. Most guys have to learn to scale it back and not throw as hard as possible every pitch so they can improve their command. Shreve did it the other way. He started throwing harder and the result was more strikeouts, fewer walks, and a better pitcher.

There was a tangible reason for Shreve’s improvement last year and that’s exciting. Lefties who sit 92+ and touch 95 aren’t all that common, even in relief. A total of 366 pitchers threw at least 40 innings last year, and of those 366, 172 averaged 92+ mph with their fastball. Of those 172, only 33 were left-handed. Shreve didn’t come close to throwing 40 innings, but he did show that kind of velocity, and his change in approach gives us a reason to believe it’s real.

In addition to his new fastball, Shreve also threw a mid-80s slider and a low-80s changeup during his MLB debut last year. (I’ve seen the changeup called a splitter in some places, but same difference. Both pitches accomplish the same thing.) Here’s a look at that slider, courtesy of Shreve’s only pitching highlight video at MLB.com:

Striking out Ryan Howard — especially as a left-hander — isn’t exactly a tremendous accomplish, but that doesn’t really matter. The slider looks like a decent offering based on that one-pitch sample, and since hitters swung and missed at it 16.7% of the time last year (MLB average for a slider is 15.2%), there’s reason to believe it’s a quality second pitch. The changeup had an even better whiff rate (18.8%), but he rarely threw it, so I’m just going to ignore it for now. Shreve has the requisite two-pitch mix to be a quality big league bullpener.

As for Banuelos, he was once the Yankees’ top prospect — I ranked him number one in 2012 and number two behind Jesus Montero in 2011 — but has been derailed by elbow problems the last few years, including Tommy John surgery. He returned from elbow reconstruction last season and didn’t look much like the pre-injury version of himself, though that wasn’t entirely unexpected after missing nearly two full years. The Yankees talked Banuelos up all summer because that’s what teams do, talk up their prospects, but other reports indicated he didn’t look all that hot. Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrote there was “a big gap between his old 92-95 mph fastball with a little pop and the current 90-92 version” after seeing Manny in June, for example.

Clearly Banuelos’ stock has dropped a bit because of the injuries, and, had he repeated his 2014 showing in 2015, his trade value next offseason would have been tiny. The Yankees used him to get a no doubt big league reliever in Carpenter and an interesting, suddenly hard-throwing southpaw in Shreve, who at this point in time appears to have more actual MLB value than Banuelos despite having a fraction of the name value. In fact, I would say Shreve definitely has more MLB value than Banuelos right now, not “appears to.” If Shreve’s velocity spike is real — and the conscious decision to simply air it out suggests it is — the Yankees may have landed themselves a quietly promising lefty bullpen piece with last week’s trade.