DotF: Torres closing in on Arizona Fall League MVP honors

SS Gleyber Torres has a new fan: Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Reggie told William Boor he loves Gleyber’s “personality and character and presentation as a person,” among other things. Pretty neat. Here are some notes before we get to the weekly updates:

  • Matt Eddy has the full list of 534 minor league free agents. Here are the ten Yankees: RHP Tyler Cloyd, IF Cito Culver, RHP Claudio Custodio, IF Jonathan Diaz, RHP Gabe Encinas, C Santiago Nessy, OF Cesar Puello, C Eddy Rodriguez, UTIL Jose Rosario, and C Sebastian Valle. Culver and Puello are the most notable.
  • The Yankees have re-signed LHP Evan Rutckyj, according to Eddy. Kinda funny after he talked some trash about the Yankees while with the Braves as a Rule 5 Draft pick in Spring Training. Here’s what he said, in case you missed it.
  • Brian Cashman confirmed Torres will start next season with Double-A Trenton and “we’ll see where it goes from there,” reports Erik Boland. Reaching Triple-A as a 20-year-old would be pretty crazy. By the way, according to Cashman, the Yankees have not yet decided where SS Jorge Mateo will start 2017.
  • Cashman told Brendan Kuty the Yankees will continue to have Mateo work in center field in Spring Training. “He’s athletic as hell. In the Instructional League, it was very easy for him. So, if that’s a direction that we choose to go, it’s something he’ll be very good at,” said the GM.
  • For the second straight offseason, OF Aaron Judge will work with the team’s hitting gurus in Tampa, reports Kuty. “Got a couple of games (in MLB), saw what it’s like and now just get ready to prepare and come into next year not as an unknown. I’ll know what’s going on and what the league is and I’ll be prepared,” said Judge.
  • OF Edel Luaces and OF Erick Mendez were each suspended 50 games after failing performance-enhancing drug tests, MLB announced. Luaces tested positive for an amphetamine while with the rookie GCL Yankees. Mendez test positive for Propylhexedrine while with rookie Pulaski.
  • And finally, Torres claimed the top spot in this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. He currently leads the Arizona Fall League in batting average as a 19-year-old. No one under 21 has ever won the league’s batting title.

Arizona Fall League

  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 16 G, 17-55, 9 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 9 BB, 7 K (.309/.400/.382) — Cashman said teams are asking for Andujar in trades
  • 1B Greg Bird: 16 G, 13-62, 8 R, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 11 BB, 16 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.210/.338/.355) — started out well but has slowed down of late … as long as the shoulder is healthy, I don’t care what the numbers are
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 15 G, 20-51, 13 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 13 BB, 6 K, 3 SB, 2 CS (.392/.516/.667) — leads the league in AVG, OBP, and OPS, and is second in SLG … Gleyber’s got a pretty good chance at being AzFL MVP, I’d say
  • UTIL Tyler Wade: 13 G, 8-40, 12 R, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 9 BB, 10 K, 6 SB (.200/.347/.250) — he’s played one game at second, one at third, two in left, five in center, and four in right
  • LHP Nestor Cortes: 4 G, 5 IP, 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 K (7.20 ERA and 2.00 WHIP)
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 8 G, 10 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 13 K, 1 WP (3.60 ERA and 1.80 WHIP) — last five outings: 6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 K
  • RHP James Kaprielian: 6 G, 6 GS, 22.2 IP, 21 H, 16 R, 13 ER, 6 BB, 22 K, 4 HR (5.16 ERA and 1.19 WHIP) — Kyle Glaser says Kaprielian was 95-96 mph with his fastball, 85-87 mph with his slider, and 82-83 mph with his changeup in his last start, and he missed bats in the strike zone with all three
  • RHP Brody Koerner: 5 G, 3 GS, 16 IP, 19 H, 13 R, 11 ER, 9 BB, 10 K, 1 HR, 1 WP (6.19 ERA and 1.75 WHIP) — returning in the AzFL after missing a bunch of time with an injury usually equals a rude awakening
  • RHP Dillon Tate: 6 G, 9.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 2 HR 2 HB (3.86 ERA and 1.07 WHIP) — hasn’t appeared in a game since October 29th, so that’s not good

Dominican Winter League

  • IF Abi Avelino: 8 G, 3-13, 2 R, 2 K (.231/.231/.231) — he’s a bench player and pinch-runner here
  • IF Jorge Mateo: 12 G, 6-41, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.146/.205/.220) — still playing shortstop exclusively
  • RHP Anyelo Gomez: 1 G, 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
  • RHP Adonis Rosa: 2 G, 1 GS, 5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA and 0.40 WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League

  • OF Tito Polo: 16 G, 14-58, 11 R, 4 2B, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 17 K, 8 SB, 1 CS, 3 HBP (.241/.323/.310) — left a game with an injury last week, but he returned to action this week, so it was nothing serious

The Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) started its season last week. IF Vince Conde and OF Aaron Judge are both listed on rosters, though they haven’t played yet. Considering Judge ended the season hurt (oblique) and is slated to work in Tampa this offseason, I’m guessing he won’t play either.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • IF Angel Aguilar: 8 G, 2-8, 4 R, 4 K, 1 SB (.250/.250/.250)
  • C Francisco Diaz: 22 G, 15-63, 5 R, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 13 K, 1 SB (.238/.294/.349) — with C Kyle Higashioka ticketed for Triple-A Scranton, the soon-to-be 27-year-old Diaz figures to be the regular catcher at Double-A Trenton next year
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 3 G, 1 GS, 8.1 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 1 GB, 2 WP (5.40 ERA and 1.56 WHIP)
  • RHP David Kubiak: 7 G, 2 GS, 17 IP, 18 H, 15 R, 13 ER, 7 BB, 14 K, 1 HR, 2 HBP, 3 WP (6.88 ERA and 1.47 WHIP)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 5 G, 3.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K (7.36 ERA and 1.91 WHIP)
  • LHP Miguel Sulbaran, RHP Daniel Alvarez, 3B Daniel Barrios, RHP Alex Mejias, 3B Andres Chaparro, OF Andres Fernandez, and C David Vergel are all listed on rosters as well.

Sorting through the Yankees’ long list of September call-up candidates

No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)
No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)

One week from tomorrow all 30 clubs will be able to expand their active rosters and carry up to 40 players. Most clubs carry fewer than 40 players once rosters expand, and that’s their choice. Roster size is not an unfair advantage if one team calls up ten extra players and another only calls up three. That’s long been a pet peeve of mine, calling September call-ups unfair. As long as everyone plays by the same rules, it’s fair.

Anyway, the Yankees have been one of the most aggressive teams when it comes to expanding their roster in recent Septembers. Last season they called up eight players on September 1st. Eight! I’m not sure we’ll see a first wave of call-ups that large again, but you can be sure the Yankees will add some extra arms and position players on the first day possible. They always do and there’s no reason not to. Let’s run down this year’s September call-up candidates.

The Locks

Generally speaking, the first wave of call-ups are players who have been up-and-down a bunch of times throughout the season and are still on the 40-man roster. That means Nick Goody, Richard Bleier, Chasen Shreve, and Rob Refsnyder are safe bets to come up on September 1st. Ditto Ben Gamel, though he hasn’t spent as much time on the big league roster this year as those other guys.

The Yankees are already carrying three catchers, so those five guys above may be the only players called up right away on September 1st. That would give the Yankees three extra bullpen arms — Bleier is working out of the Triple-A Scranton rotation at the moment, so he’d give the club a long man, which they lack right now — plus an extra infielder and an extra outfielder. That covers all the bases on the first day of expanded rosters.

The Maybes

By maybes, I mean players who may not be called up right away on September 1st. They’ll have to wait a few extra days or weeks for whatever reason, usually because the Yankees want them to work on things in Triple-A. This group of players includes Johnny Barbato, Ben Heller, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Mason Williams. All five of those guys are on the 40-man roster. Here’s why they’re a maybe and not a lock for an instant September 1st call-up:

  • Barbato: Barbato started the season in the big league bullpen but has spent much of the year in Triple-A, where his control has been an issue. He was up briefly earlier this month and did not retire any of the four batters he faced. The Yankees could keep Barbato down a little longer so he can continue to working on his location.
  • Heller: Acquired in the Andrew Miller trade, Heller was actually up with the Yankees for a few days earlier this month, though he did not appear in a game. Heller has pitched well and is fairly new to Triple-A, though as a reliever, that’s not a big deal. I think the odds are better than 50/50 that he will be called up on September 1st, but it’s definitely not set in stone.
  • Mitchell: Blah. Mitchell pitched so well in Spring Training and looked poised to assume a big role in the bullpen, then he broke his toe covering first base and has missed pretty much the entire season. Mitchell is on a rehab assignment right now, and while that might be enough to get him ready for game action, the Yankees could send him to Triple-A for more consistent work rather than let him sit in the bullpen unused for long stretches of time.
  • Severino: No, I don’t think Severino is a lock for a September 1st call-up. The Yankees sent him to Triple-A with clear instructions to work on his changeup and so far he’s made one start since being sent down. He’ll make two more before September 1st. Hey, maybe that’s enough to make the team believe Severino trusts and will use his changeup, but I’m not sure I buy it. He might be down there a little while longer.
  • Williams: Williams missed most of the first half of the season following shoulder surgery, though he did return about a month ago and has been playing regularly. More time in Triple-A to make up for the lost at-bats seems like a smart move. Williams won’t get at-bats sitting on the MLB bench. Remember, the Yankees kept Slade Heathcott down much of September last year so he could play everyday following his quad injury. Doing the same with Williams makes sense.

Triple-A Scranton has the best record in all of Triple-A baseball and will clinch a postseason spot fairly soon. Likely before the end of the weekend. That means extra at-bats for Williams and extra starts for Severino and Mitchell. Those playoff games are valuable. They give Severino time to work on his changeup and Williams and Mitchell a chance to play following their injuries. Those guys don’t figure to play much in the big leagues if they get called up on September 1st. Keeping them down is an opportunity to continue their development.

The Rule 5 Draft Guys

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

The Yankees have already gotten a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection work by calling up Heller, Tyler Austin, and Aaron Judge. They still have many other players who need to be protected, but remember, those decisions don’t have to be finalized until late-November. Calling a player up in September isn’t necessary to avoid the Rule 5 Draft. Teams will sometimes call players up in September if they’re planning to add them to the 40-man after the season, just get their feet wet in the show.

We can drop the Rule 5 Draft eligible players into three buckets: definitely going to be protected, possibly going to be protected, and not going to be protected. Usually only the “definitely going to be protected” guys get the early September call-up, and even then it’s not a given. Space on the 40-man roster can get tight. Let’s go ahead and drop the Rule 5 eligible players into those three buckets:

* Higashioka and Culver are not only Rule 5 Draft eligible, they’ll become minor league free agents after the season if they aren’t added to the 40-man roster.

My hunch is the Yankees will protect Higashioka, Enns, and Webb in addition to Andujar and Mateo after the season. That means Cave, Gallegos, Lail, and everyone else will be left exposed. Cave was a Rule 5 Draft pick last year, and if he gets popped again, he’ll be able to elect free agency rather than come back to the Yankees if he doesn’t stick. I don’t think that’s reason enough to keep him. Not with Gamel and Williams already on the 40-man.

Okay, so with that in mind, the question now becomes: why should these players be called up in September? Mateo’s speed could allow him to be the pinch-runner specialist. Then again, he was suspended for violating team rules not that long ago, and would the Yankees really reward him with a September call-up after that? Eh. I see no reason whatsoever to call up Andujar or Higashioka. Fourth string catchers and third basemen are not necessary. Those guys can wait until the offseason to be added to the 40-man roster.

That leaves Enns and Webb, two lefty pitchers. There’s always room for more pitching in September, so call-ups are possible, and in fact I think they’ll happen. Maybe not until after the Triple-A postseason, but eventually. Webb’s a pure reliever who could audition for a 2017 bullpen spot a la Phil Coke in September 2008. Enns has starter stuff and it I’m interested to see whether the Yankees give him a start in September. (Probably not.) I’m sure they’re looking forward to using a sixth starter on occasion next month, though Severino may be next on the depth chart.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

The Others

Who are the others? The non-40-man veterans in Triple-A. Chris Parmelee, for example. He was up earlier this season before getting hurt, and in fact he had a two-homer game with the Yankees. That was neat. Do the Yankees really need another first baseman with Austin, Refsnyder, and Mark Teixeira on the September roster? Not really. But maybe they’ll throw Parmelee a bone.

Other others include Donovan Solano, a utility infielder having a real nice season in Triple-A, and Cesar Puello, a former top Mets prospect who is having a productive season with the RailRiders after dealing with a back injury last year. Coke was up earlier this season and is still in Triple-A. Actual prospects like Clint Frazier, Jordan Montgomery, and Jonathan Holder are in Triple-A but are not yet Rule 5 Draft eligible, so don’t expect them to get called up in September. It’s one thing to call someone up a month before they need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. It another to do it a year early.

My guess is none of these others get called up September. The Yankees have more appealing options at their positions and there’s just not enough 40-man roster space to go around. Those guys will play in the Triple-A postseason and either go home once the playoffs are over, or head to Tampa to stay sharp in case there’s an injury and they’re needed at the MLB level. That’s pretty standard for these types of players in September.

The 40-Man Roster Situation

Alright, so after all of that, my sure to be wrong prediction is the Yankees will call up 12 extra players in September. The 12:

  • Up on September 1st (5): Bleier, Gamel, Goody, Refsnyder, Shreve.
  • Up later in September (7): Barbato, Enns, Heller, Mitchell, Severino, Williams, Webb.

All but Enns, Mitchell, and Webb are on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees will have to clear three spots. They can slide Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL to clear one 40-man spot. That’s easy. Righty J.R. Graham, who has amazingly managed to remain on the 40-man roster since coming over in a minor trade with the Twins in mid-May, is an obvious candidate to be designated for assignment. That’s the second 40-man spot.

The Yankees can go a few different ways for that final 40-man spot. They could designate someone else for assignment, maybe Anthony Swarzak or James Pazos. I don’t think that’ll happen though. In fact, Pazos is probably going to be called up in September, so it’s really 13 call-ups, not 12. I suppose someone like Bleier or Blake Parker could be cut loose next month, or even Tommy Layne. There is some dead weight here.

Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)
Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)

The other option is to call up Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow and place them on the 60-day DL. Both are currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. It sounds easy enough, though there are some complications with this. Both Lindgren and Rumbelow got hurt while in the minors, and calling them up to place them on the 60-day DL means they can not be optioned down again next year. They’d accrue service time on MLB DL instead.

Maybe that’s not such a big deal, especially in Rumbelow’s case. He had his surgery in April and may only spend only a month or two on the DL next year. Lindgren just had his surgery and would spent the entire 2017 season on the DL. Calling them up and placing him on the 60-day DL to clear up a 40-man roster spot is doable, but it throws a wrench into next year’s plans. Me? I’d just cut ties with Swarzak. I do wonder if the Yankees would drop Pazos from the 40-man roster given his control and injury issues this year though.

* * *

The Yankees are committed to their “play the kids” plan right now, so much so that Alex Rodriguez has been released and others like Teixeira and Brian McCann have had their playing time reduced. There’s no reason to think that won’t continue in September, and if anything, more kids may get chances next month. Expanded rosters will give the team extra arms and whatnot, and it’s an opportunity to give these youngsters even more of a chance to show whether they belong in the team’s long-term plans.

(Update: Heller was called up yesterday. Adjust accordingly.)

Yankees have no plans to put Cito Culver on the mound

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It has been six years since the Yankees selected shortstop and Rochester native Cito Culver with their first round pick in the 2010 draft (32nd overall), and since then he’s lost his prospect status because he’s been unable to develop offensively. Culver is a career .228/.306/.313 (80 wRC+) hitter in over 2,600 minor league plate appearances. Baseball is hard.

There has been some speculation — from fans, mostly — the Yankees may soon try Culver on the mound since his has a strong arm and the bat isn’t developing. The team has no plans to do so, however. Here’s what farm system head Gary Denbo told Chad Jennings earlier this week:

“No,” Denbo said (when asked about moving Culver to the mound), without hesitation. “No, he’s a valuable guy. It’s difficult to find guys with his defensive abilities, so he’s got value as a player that can move around the field and play defense for us. Overall, his value eventually will be determined by how well he makes these offensive adjustments.”

Culver, now 23, did pitch back in high school. In fact, I remember when the Yankees drafted him, his MLB.com draft video was him pitching, not playing shortstop. I can’t find the video now, unfortunately. (UPDATE: Commenter ZachA found the video. Here it is.) Here’s a snippet of Baseball America’s pre-draft scouting report (subs. req’d):

Culver’s best tool is his arm, which rates as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Some scouts report seeing him up to 94 mph off the mound, but he has no interest in pitching.

The hitter-to-pitcher conversion is fairly common — current Yankees farmhand Luis Cessa and ex-Yankee Esmil Rogers are converted shortstops — and it’s really never too late to make the transition. Former outfielder Jason Lane made the transition at 35 and actually reached the big leagues as a pitcher, so there’s no such thing as too late.

The Yankees have a full infield at Triple-A Scranton, so it seems like the best case scenario for Culver this year is being Tyler Wade‘s double play partner at Double-A Trenton. That will only happen if the team decides to give Abi Avelino more time in High-A, however. Denbo called Culver an “Infield 5 player,” which sounds like a nice way to say utility infielder.

Culver will be a minor league free agent after the season, and middle infielders are always in demand, so I’m sure he’ll find another job somewhere around the league next winter. Can he reach the show as an infielder? It seems unlikely. I wonder if Cito will decide at some point to give pitching a try in hopes of reaching the show. Right now though, that is not the plan, so another year on the infield it is.

Sorting out the projected 2016 Triple-A Scranton roster

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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.

Judge, Severino, Bird, Lindgren, Refsnyder headline Spring Training invitees list

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

Two weeks from tomorrow, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa for the start of Spring Training 2015. Baseball’s getting closer, folks. On Thursday, the Yankees officially announced their list of Spring Training invitees, a list that runs 66 (!) players deep.

As a reminder, everyone on the 40-man roster automatically goes to big league Spring Training, because duh. Here’s the 40-man roster and here are the 26 non-40-man roster players who have been invited to big league camp, which include some of the Yankees’ top prospects:

POSITION PLAYERS
C Francisco Arcia
C Trent Garrison
C Juan Graterol
C Kyle Higashioka
C Eddy Rodriguez
1B Greg Bird
1B Kyle Roller
IF Cito Culver
IF Cole Figueroa
IF Jonathan Galvez
IF Nick Noonan
IF Rob Refsnyder
OF Jake Cave
OF Slade Heathcott
OF Aaron Judge

PITCHERS
RHP Andrew Bailey
RHP Scott Baker
RHP Jose Campos
RHP Nick Goody
LHP Jacob Lindgren
RHP Diego Moreno
LHP James Pazos
RHP Wilking Rodriguez
RHP Nick Rumbelow
RHP Luis Severino
LHP Tyler Webb

Obviously the biggest names here are Judge, Bird, Severino, Refsnyder, and Lindgren, five of the team’s very best prospects. Lindgren, the Yankees’ top pick in last year’s draft, has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster. So does Refsnyder, but he has more bodies ahead of him on the depth chart. I can’t see any scenario in which Judge, Severino, or Bird make the roster out of camp.

Bailey has been rehabbing from shoulder capsule surgery for nearly two years now and appears to finally be healthy. Could he step in and close with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller working as setup men? Bailey has closer experience, you know. Graterol, Figueroa, Galvez, Noonan, Baker, and the two Rodriguezes were added a minor league free agents for depth this winter. The rest are farm system products. Guys looking to put themselves on the map for a midseason call-up.

Teams always need extra catchers to help catch all those early-Spring Training bullpen sessions, which is why the Yankees are bringing five non-roster backstops to camp in addition to the four catchers already on the 40-man roster. The last bullpen spot is up for grabs — it could be more than one if Adam Warren and/or Esmil Rogers are needed to help the rotation — so camp is a big opportunity for these pitchers, especially guys like Rumbelow, Webb, Goody, and Pazos, who aren’t top prospects.

2014 Season Preview: Breakout Prospect Candidates

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Last season was not a good one for the Yankees’ farm system, and the team has admitted as much in recent weeks. That doesn’t happen often. Usually clubs will say their system is underrated and all that stuff. The Yankees made some non-personnel changes to their player development system over the winter in an effort to get things back on track, though we’re going to have to wait to if those changes actually work.

That said, the Yankees’ system is unique because it has the potential to get a lot better in 2014. The team is adding what amounts to five first round talents to the organization in 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, LHP Ian Clarkin (2013’s three first rounders), RHP Ty Hensley (2012’s first rounder), and LHP Manny Banuelos. The first three guys are entering their first full year of professional baseball while Hensley (hip) and Banuelos (elbow) are returning from injury. That’s a lot of talent that was not available for most of last summer.

I think we all know who the obvious breakout prospects are. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Judge or OF Mason Williams or C Gary Sanchez took big steps forward and became top 100 type of prospects. The smaller, unexpected breakouts are the ones that will really help the farm system going forward. Think RHP Shane Greene and C John Ryan Murphy, for example. They were interesting guys who improved and took that big step forward last summer. Who will be this year’s Greene or Murphy? Here are some candidates.

OF Jake Cave
Cave, 21, was the team’s sixth round pick in the 2011 draft, though he missed all of 2012 with a fractured kneecap. He joined Low-A Charleston in mid-April last year and was the team’s best non-1B Greg Bird player, hitting .282/.347/.401 (117 wRC+) with two homers, 18 steals, and a whopping 37 doubles in a tough hitter’s park. The knee, obviously, is fine.

Cave’s breakout potential is built on his all-around game and innate ability to barrel up the ball with his left-handed swing. He’s cut from the OF Slade Heathcott cloth in that he plays very hard — he hurt his knee in a home plate collision — though he is not out of control, and his makeup and work ethic are considered pluses. Cave is really starting to fill out his 6-foot-0 and 180 lb. frame, so some of those doubles could start clearing the fence for homers. I wouldn’t necessarily say he has a chance to become a top prospect, but a strong year at High-A and continued improvement will definitely get him a prominent place on the map.

SS Cito Culver
The Yankees caught a lot of heat for making Culver their first round pick in 2010 and he really hasn’t done anything to justify the selection yet. He struggled so much with the River Dogs in 2012 (75 wRC+) that he decided to stop switch-hitting — Culver made the decision himself and the team went along — sticking to the right side of the plate even though his numbers were better as a left-handed hitter (.642 OPS vs. .508 OPS in 2012). The result: an improved though still not great .248/.322/.362 (100 wRC+) batting line split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 2013.

Cito. (Andy in Sunny Daytona)
Cito. (Andy in Sunny Daytona)

So why is Culver a breakout candidate despite three years of impressive performance? Two reasons. One, he now has a full year of being a right-handed hitter exclusively under his belt. Dropping switch-hitting is easier said than done. Remember, he’d never seen a breaking ball that moves away from him until last season. Two, his age. Culver was drafted at 17 and he will spend almost the entire 2014 minor league season at age 21. He’s several months younger than Jagielo and Judge even though he’s about to entire his fifth pro season and fourth full season.

Is Culver ever going to live up being the 32nd overall pick in the country? Almost certainly not. Is there some hope he may not be a total lost cause? Yes. His defense at shortstop is still solid and that’s pretty big. Scrapping switch-hitting and focusing on the stronger side has already helped his offense and could help even more as he gets comfortable. The bar at shortstop is so impossibly low these days that, even with an 80-85 wRC+, Culver can be league average at the position because of his defense. The decision to stop switch-hitting has kept his career alive.

RHP Brady Lail
I did not rank Lail as one of the organization’s top 30 prospects last month, but he was among the final cuts. I think he might be the most unheralded potentially great prospect in the system. The 20-year-old from Utah was the team’s 18th round pick in 2012, and last year he pitched to a 2.33 ERA (1.64 FIP) with 51 strikeouts, five walks, and zero homers allowed in 54 innings down in the Rookie Gulf Coast League. He was even trusted to make two emergency appearances for High-A Tampa (that were disasters).

Lail’s fastball sat in the upper-80s when he was drafted but that has ticked up into the low-90s thanks to pro instruction and workouts, and his changeup is improved as well. The pitch was already advanced for a high schooler when he was drafted. His go-to pitch is bat-missing curveball with big break. At 6-foot-2 and 175 lbs., Lail was a classic projection pick who the team hopes will get better and better and he fills out and gains more experience. What sets him apart is his three-pitch mix and his ability to throw strikes, a combination that a) overwhelmed rookie ball hitters, and b) isn’t all that common among pitchers from cold weather states.

RHP Bryan Mitchell
I’m pretty sure I’m going to continue listing Mitchell as a possible breakout prospect every year until he either breaks out or flames out. It feels like the 22-year-old has had the same statistical season every year since being drafted in 16th round of the 2009 draft, but he did cut his walk rate from 13.6% in 2012 to 9.0% in 2013. It’s a sign of progress and I’ll take it.

Mitchell’s breakout potential stems from his fastball-curveball combination, which might be the best two-pitch mix in the organization. His heater sits in the mid-90s and will touch 97 while the curveball is a low-80s hammer, rivaled only by David Robertson‘s in the entire organization. Can he ever put it all together by throwing strikes with his fastball and getting the curveball down and out of the zone for consistent swings and misses? I hope so. As I said earlier, Mitchell is a breakout candidate until either breaks out of flames out. The stuff is simply too good.

* * *

More than anything, the Yankees need their current top prospects to perform like top prospects. Heathcott, Banuelos, Hensley, and OF Tyler Austin have to stay healthy. Jagielo, Clarkin, Judge, 2B Gosuke Katoh, SS Abi Avelino, RHP Luis Severino, and 3B Miguel Andujar have to have strong years in their first full pro season this summer. Will all of that happen? No, of course not. Most of those guys will flame out. But if a few of them can make some progress in 2014 while someone like Cave and/or Lail breaks out, the system will be much better off next spring than it is right now.