Prospect Profile: Clint Frazier

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

Clint Frazier | OF

Background
Frazier, who turned 22 in September, attended Loganville High School in the Atlanta suburbs. He was named Perfect Game National Player of the Year as a junior after hitting .424 with 24 home runs, and playing in the Under Armour All-American Game. The next year Frazier hit .485 with 17 home runs as a senior, and was named Gatorade National Player of the Year and Baseball America High School Player of the Year.

Both Baseball America and MLB.com ranked Frazier as the fourth best prospect in the entire 2013 draft class — and the best high school prospect overall — behind Kris Bryant, Jon Gray, and Mark Appel. The Indians selected him with the fifth overall pick after Appel (Astros), Bryant (Cubs), Gray (Rockies), and Kohl Stewart (Twins) went with the top four picks, in that order. Cleveland bought Frazier away from the University of Georgia with a $3.5M bonus.

The Yankees acquired Frazier, along lefty Justus Sheffield and righties Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen, from the Indians in the Andrew Miller trade at the 2016 trade deadline. “There is excitement about coming to terms for a guy that we targeted. At the same time, there was a pit in your stomach because we knew we were trading really good players,” said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti to Andrew Marchand after the trade.

Pro Career
The Indians assigned Frazier to their Rookie Arizona League affiliate after signing, and he hit .297/.362/.506 (137 wRC+) with five home runs in 44 games in his pro debut. In 2014, the Tribe sent him to their Low-A Midwest League affiliate for his first full pro season, where he hit .266/.349/.411 (120 wRC+) with 13 home runs in 120 games as a 19-year-old. Frazier was 2.5 years younger than the average Midwest League player.

As expected, the Indians moved Frazier up to their High-A affiliate in the Carolina League in 2015. He hit .285/.377/.465 (147 wRC+) with 16 home runs in 133 games during the regular season — Frazier was 2.7 years younger than the average Carolina League player — then put up a .281/.347/.438 (115 wRC+) batting line with three homers in 22 games with the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League.

Frazier started the 2016 season with the Indians’ Double-A Eastern League affiliate, with whom he hit .276/.356/.469 (129 wRC+) with 13 homers in 89 game before being promoted to the Triple-A International League. He was promoted one week before the trade, after participating in the Futures Game. Frazier went 5-for-21 (.238) in five games with Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate before authoring a .228/.278/.396 (90 wRC+) line with three homers in 25 games with Triple-A Scranton.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘I’ve let other people make me feel pressure.’ And that’s never happened before, I’ve never felt pressure,” said Frazier to Kelsie Heneghan when asked about his mindset after the trade. “You go through that feeling of that you have weight on your shoulders the whole time. Every time I stepped into the box, I was trying to impress people.”

Frazier is a career .273/.353/.444 (128 wRC+) hitter with 54 home runs, a 25.8% strikeout rate, and a 10.0% walk rate in 2,027 minor league plate appearances and 457 games. He’s done that despite being at least 2.5 years younger than the average competition in each league. (He was almost four years younger than the competition for his levels in 2016.) Needless to say, Frazier has appeared on many top 100 prospect lists over the years.

Baseball America MLB.com ESPN Baseball Prospectus
Pre-2014 48th 48th 45th 36th
Pre-2015 DNR 53rd 92nd 89th
Pre-2016 44th 47th 72nd 53rd
Mid-2016 21st 15th 34th 26th

At this point Frazier is a lock for all pre-2017 top 100 prospect lists. Had he followed through on his commitment to Georgia out of high school, he would have been draft-eligible this summer. Instead, Frazier reached Triple-A at age 21, and is now only a phone call away from the show.

Scouting Report
Brian Cashman called Frazier’s bat speed “legendary” after the trade and that has long been the right-handed hitter’s calling card. Frazier has an insanely quick bat and strong hands that generate big raw power. That power doesn’t always show up in games though because he hits the ball on the ground too frequently. Frazier’s ground ball rates in his three full minor league seasons are 41.6%, 42.8%, and 45.0%. Those are a wee bit too high for a high-end prospect. He needs to generate more loft.

Over the years Frazier has worked to tone down his setup at the plate, which featured a lot of unnecessary movement back in the day. He used to waggle his bat, things like that. Frazier has good knowledge of the strike zone and recognizes spin, though he tends to get too swing happy at times and chase out of the zone. It’s not so much an approach problem as it is a “hey, calm the hell down” problem. Frazier plays very hard with an all-out style that will endear him to fans, but sometimes the aggressiveness carries over into his at-bats. Here’s some video from his stint with the RailRiders:

In addition to the bat speed, Frazier is an above-average runner and that allows him to be a weapon on the bases and track down balls in the outfield. He’s played all three outfield spots in his career and has the defensive prowess to remain in center for the foreseeable future. Frazier, who is listed at a stocky 6-foot-1 and 190 lbs., also has an above-average arm that would fit well in right field. Point is, he’s not a one-dimensional player. He contributes at the plate, in the field, and on the bases.

2017 Outlook
Frazier won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible until next offseason, so he’s not on the 40-man roster and won’t have to be added until after the 2017 season. The Yankees will surely bring him to Spring Training next year as a non-roster player though, and given his talent, Frazier is the kind of player who could force the issue quick and get called up next summer. My guess is he’ll be added to the 40-man and reach the show before being Rule 5 Draft eligible, which doesn’t happen often for high school draftees, even ones selected fifth overall.

My Take
I really like Frazier as prospect, have for a long time, and I was thrilled the Yankees were able to get him (and more!) for Miller. I didn’t think they would be able to pry a prospect of this caliber (and more!) loose for a reliever, even one as good as Miller. The bullpen market really blew up over the last 12 months or so.

Frazier is not without his flaws. He’s going to swing and miss some, and it’ll probably take him some time to get his footing in the big leagues, but the offensive potential is very high, and Frazier is going to play a well-rounded game too. With all due respect to guys like Aaron Judge and Austin Jackson, Frazier is probably New York’s best outfield prospect since Ruben Rivera was in his heyday in the late-1990s.

Thoughts on Baseball America’s top 10 Yankees prospects

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Last week, the crew at Baseball America began their annual offseason series breaking down the top ten prospects in each Major League organization. Their Yankees list, compiled by Josh Norris, went live last Friday. Here’s the list, the insider, and the chat. You need a subscription to read the scouting reports for prospects two through ten. Everything else is free. Here’s the top ten:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Clint Frazier
  3. OF Blake Rutherford
  4. SS Jorge Mateo
  5. RHP James Kaprielian
  6. OF Aaron Judge
  7. LHP Justus Sheffield
  8. RHP Chance Adams
  9. OF Dustin Fowler
  10. RHP Domingo Acevedo

“The Yankees took the unusual step of selling off their veterans to embark on a rebuilding phase, but the young players they brought up provided more immediate impact than expected and kept the team in playoff contention until the season’s final week,” wrote Kyle Glaser in the insider write-up. I have some amateur-ish thoughts on the top ten, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Holy crap the top ten is stacked. That’s the best Yankees top ten I can remember. You can even go all the way back to 1999 and 2000, when they had Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano at the top of the farm system, with Drew Henson, D’Angelo Jimenez, Wily Mo Pena, and Jake Westbrook behind them. Laugh at those names now if you want, but those dudes were a big deal back in the day. The Yankees have a ton of depth in their farm system. I’m talking players with a chance to be regular big leaguers, and that was true before the trade deadline. The deadline deals added star power like Frazier and Torres. You could put any one of the guys Baseball America ranked among the top seven in the top spot and he’d be a more than respectable No. 1 organizational prospect.

2. The Yankees have a shot at seven top 100 prospects. In the chat, Norris said he could “very easily see Nos. 1 through 8 in this system making the Top 100,” which would be amazing. I’m not quite as high on Adams as everyone else seems to be — he’s good! I’m just not sure he’s top 100 caliber good — so I see seven top 100 candidates, which is still incredible. Four top 100 prospects is pretty darn good. Seven is off-the-charts good. Prospects are suspects until proven otherwise, but generally speaking, that kind of top 100 prospect depth correlates well to future success. The Yankees have a lot of high-end talent and a lot of depth too. I can’t remember the last time the system was set up this well.

3. The top three weren’t in the organization five months ago. The Yankees’ top three prospects according to Baseball America are all new to the organization. Torres and Frazier came over in separate trades at the deadline, and Rutherford was the team’s first round pick in June. None of those three guys were in the system as recently as June 8th. Later than that, really, since Rutherford didn’t officially sign until June 29th. That’s an awful lot of top talent added to the system in a short period of time.

Frazier. (Presswire)
Frazier. (Presswire)

4. Frazier over Torres has become Torres over Frazier. At the trade deadline, just about every scouting publication had Frazier ranked ahead of Torres. In fact, Baseball America’s midseason top 100, which was published exactly three weeks prior to the deadline, had Frazier ranked 21st and Torres ranked 27th. That’s really close. Almost a negligible difference, really. Since the trade, Gleyber continued to mash in High-A and show the skills necessary to stay at shortstop. Frazier struggled in his few weeks at Triple-A. It’s not a surprise to see them flipped and it’s in no way unreasonable. This isn’t an overreaction or anything. Torres has star caliber tools and so does Frazier, but we saw them from Gleyber more than Frazier in the second half. Torres passing Frazier has more to do with Torres taking another step forward than Frazier taking a step back. I don’t have a strong opinion at the moment either way, Torres over Frazier or Frazier over Torres. The cool thing is the Yankees have both.

5. People sure do love Rutherford. I am surprised to see Rutherford ranked so high, but hey, I’m not complaining. Baseball America’s scouting report says he “projects as a four-tool player” with the only shortcoming being his arm, which isn’t a huge deal. If you’re going to miss a tool, that’s an okay one to miss. Also, in his most recent chat, Keith Law said he’d take Rutherford over every other hitter in the 2016 draft class. That is some serious praise. The Yankees have a stacked system right now and Rutherford still ranks near the top of their prospect list despite being a 19-year-old kid with 130 pro plate appearances. I am: excited.

6. Judge behind Mateo and Kaprielian is, uh, interesting. There is no right way to rank prospects. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. And really, the gap between many of these prospects is very small, so ranking one over the other is not a big deal. I’m still surprised to see Judge drop behind Mateo and especially Kaprielian. What was the goal for Judge coming into the season? To make the adjustment to Triple-A pitching, mash for a few weeks, then get to the show. He did exactly that. What was the goal for Mateo? To continue turning that high-end athleticism and those raw tools into baseball skills. Instead, he struggled most of the year and got suspended as well. The hope was Kaprielian would reach the show in September, or at least reach Triple-A. He made three High-A starts before getting hurt. Mateo and Kaprielian took steps back this year. They did! Don’t get mad at me for saying it. Judge made his adjustments and got to the big leagues, and now he has to make another adjustment. That is in no way unusual. Dropping him behind Mateo and Kaprielian strikes me as an overreaction to his swing-and-miss issues in August and September. The ranking indicates those strikeout woes are a bigger concern than Mateo not hitting in general and Kaprielian getting hurt. Eh.

7. Not a surprise to see no Tate. The Yankees made three big trades at the deadline and three of the prospects they acquired are in their top ten. Torres came over in the Aroldis Chapman deal and both Frazier and Sheffield came over in the Andrew Miller trade. Dillon Tate, the headliner in the Carlos Beltran trade, did not make the top ten and it’s not only because the Yankees have so many quality prospects. Tate took a step back this year, especially during his time with the Rangers. He had a hamstring injury, his velocity was down, and his command wavered. The Yankees bought low on him — Tate was the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft — and will try to build him back up. Reports from the Arizona Fall League indicate his stuff has returned, which is an important first step. Tate may not be a top ten organizational prospect right now, but he’s on his way to being one next year.

Frazier, Adams, and Fowler among Baseball America’s top Double-A prospects

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued earlier this week with the Double-A Eastern League (subs. req’d). Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada and OF Andrew Benintendi claimed the top two spots. Pirates OF Austin Meadows is third. Three Yankees farmhands made the top 20: OF Clint Frazier (No. 8), RHP Chance Adams (No. 18), and OF Dustin Fowler (No. 20).

“(Frazier’s) swing is short, compact and features some of the best bat speed in the minors, thanks to exceptionally strong forearms, hands and wrists. He’s also a baseball rat who zealously studies opposing hitters and pitchers,” said the write-up, which also praised him for his center field speed and right field arm. It’s worth noting Frazier did not play in Double-A with the Yankees. He was in Triple-A. His spot on this list stems from his time with the Indians.

Adams, who was also on the High-A Florida State League list, is said to attack hitters with a “heavy, mid-90s fastball, then finishes them off with a sharp-diving slider in the mid-80s and a changeup with fade in the high 80s that he developed over the course of the season with Trenton pitching coach Jose Rosado.” He’s also working on a curveball and now has mid-rotation ceiling after being drafted in the fifth round as a reliever last year. Quite a find, Adams was.

Fowler was called one of the league’s “best-kept secrets” because he’s a no-doubt long-term center fielder with a chance for a leadoff hitter profile if he can improve his on-base skills. “He has the speed to bunt for hits if necessary … One manager noted Fowler had a vulnerability on the inside part of the plate, and he hardly ever walks,” said the scouting report. Fowler was an 18th round pick back in 2013, by the way.

In the chat, Josh Norris said 3B Miguel Andujar has “the marks of a player who can stick at third base,” though he “needs to control the strike zone better at the plate” to fully tap into his power. Also, SS Tyler Wade is lauded for being a “player who does a little bit of everything but not a lot of any one tool.” Wade and LHP Jordan Montgomery were “both in consideration (for the to 20), but the league’s extreme depth didn’t help their cases.”

You can see all of the league top 20 lists without a subscription right here. The last list of interest to Yankees fans is the Triple-A International League, which could be great or boring. I’m not sure whether guys like Frazier, OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, 1B Tyler Austin, RHP Chad Green, RHP Luis Cessa, and RHP Ben Heller got enough plate appearances/innings to quality for the list. We’ll see.

Brian Cashman’s End-of-Season Press Conference Recap: Offense, Pitching, Youth Movement, More

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With the 2016 season now over, Brian Cashman held his annual State of the Yankees press conference at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon. Some actual news came out of it, though nothing major. You can watch the entire press conference in bits and pieces right here, if you’re interested. As we did with Joe Girardi’s end-of-season press conference the other day, here are the important points from Cashman’s presser as well as some thoughts.

The Offense

  • On the 2016 offense: “We weren’t very consistent with runs scored and (the offense was not) as dynamic as it was the previous year … I think a lot of the opportunities for better run production is going to come from improved results with runners in scoring position.”
  • On improvement going forward: “It’s going to be coming from improved play from the younger guys coming up through the system … Hopefully they solidify things moving forward and provide more consistent production than what we got in 2016. So lots of competitions taking place. Right field and first base.”
  • On considering right field and first base settled for 2017: “I think there will be some hesitancy (to bring in outside help) … I would say that that would be the way that we would like to approach Spring Training next year. The kids get a shot at it. That doesn’t (stop me from) being open-minded to the opportunities that present themselves.”
  • On signing a big bat: “I can’t really speak to the free agent market because some of these guys are still playing … My initial thought would be to allow us to go into the spring with competitions coming from the youth movement, which I admit is risky … I’m willing to be flexible, and those dialogues will be very important.”

Cashman is very candid and at one point he said flatly “our offense was bad.” No sugarcoating it. Now, that said, it doesn’t sound as though the Yankees are planning to jump into anything big in an effort to score more runs going forward. Plan A is to stick with the kids and hope guys like Aaron Judge and Greg Bird and others contribute more next season than they did this season. That seems to be their perfect world scenario.

Will the Yankees close the door on signing a big name free agent? Never. It just doesn’t seem like there’s anything that makes sense right now. They could spend a ton of money on a DH like Edwin Encarnacion, and where does that get them? Back to where they were with Alex Rodriguez four years ago, basically. Something might fall into their lap that makes sense, but based on everything Cashman said, if the offense improves next year, it’ll be because the young players come into their own.

The Pitching Staff

  • On trading for an ace (coughChrisSalecough): “I think that type of deal is a deal where you’re that final piece away. I think we have an exciting young nucleus that’s coming … But there are some flaws, honestly, in this roster still. That doesn’t mean you can’t compete for a postseason berth. That doesn’t mean you can’t play in October. But the type of concept that you’re speaking of — I’m sure that everybody knows who you’re talking about by asking that question — but that to me (is a trade you make if) you’re an organization that’s one piece away, you back up the truck (and trade) four and five players. You have to be one piece away, and I would not recommend that type of decision as we approach the 2017 season. I think that would be dangerous.”
  • On adding an elite reliever: “My job is to get as much as we can find. In the front end of the season last year 7-8-9 was special … So my job is just to find as much quality arms, whether they’re fireballers or sidewinders or soft-tossers. The only important thing is getting outs and we had trouble getting outs in the middle (innings) there and that’s unacceptable. Continue to try to fortify. The more the merrier.”
  • On non-tendering Nathan Eovaldi: “We’ll just wait for that process play out. Clearly this is a Tommy John situation, and I know it’s obvious (he’s going to be non-tendered), but I’d rather not speak to any of it until the process plays out.”
  • On pitching help from within: “We’re still young but we have other guys pushing their way into the mix, and we’ll see what they look like in Spring Training.”

As with the offense, Cashman doesn’t sound eager to spend huge dollars — there’s no one to spend it on anyway this offseason — or gut his prized farm system to add an impact pitcher. I’d argue Sale is a piece you go get no matter what because he’s so good, so young, and so cheap that he makes any team better. He could help get the Yankees over the hump and into the postseason next year, and still be ace caliber when the kids hit their primes.

Cashman mentioned the Justin Wilson trade as “Exhibit A” of how they’ll likely attack the rotation this offseason, meaning trade for youth and depth so they have as many options as possible. Given how hard it is to acquire even decent pitching this year — a team traded two real live prospects for two months of Ivan Nova, remember — acquiring as much cheap depth as possible seems like a smart move. I liked what I saw out of Chad Green and especially Luis Cessa this year. Another one of those deals would be sweet.

The Catching Situation

  • On Gary Sanchez‘s role in 2017: “Gary Sanchez is our starting catcher next year. That’s his position to lose. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose it. We saw Severino last year helping us get to the postseason. This year, he struggled. We’re very excited about Gary, who always projected to be (a middle of the order bat).”
  • On expectations for Sanchez after his huge season: “It’s hard to expect that and I wouldn’t expect that over the course of a six-month period next year. But I think we have an exciting everyday talent that is going to be one of the best catchers in our game as we move forward, if he stays healthy and stays committed as he’s done the last two seasons now.”
  • On Brian McCann‘s role going forward: “That’s a valuable combination — both (Sanchez and McCann) on the same roster — for us, both being excellent defenders and certainly strong leaders of staff … I didn’t waste my time to see if he would waive his no-trade (at the deadline) because I’ve got to be satisfied first.”
  • On Kyle Higashioka: “We have some young guys that kind of did a nice job for us this year. (Higashioka) has always been a tremendous defender and he’ll be added to our 40-man roster this winter … We’ve been very good here in the last five or so years at developing (young catchers).”

Cashman did not sound eager to move McCann, though I guess he would try to give off that impression even if he were ready to move him. There’s no sense in tipping your hand. He did talk about the value of McCann’s veteran leadership, how nice it is to have a power-hitting lefty/righty tandem behind the plate, and how there are DH at-bats available. Cashman said he’ll listen on McCann, but he values him highly, and he wants something significant in return.

As for Higashioka, adding him to the 40-man roster is a no-brainer. You don’t cut loose a good defensive catcher who hit 20 homers at the upper levels of the minors. At worst, you add him to the 40-man and trade him. Letting him go for nothing is a non-option. I don’t think Higashioka joining the 40-man means McCann or Austin Romine will be traded though. The Yankees could easily send Higashioka to Triple-A and stash him there next season. They don’t have to make a move.

The Coaching Staff & Front Office

  • On the job Joe Girardi did in 2017: “We the front office did what we felt was necessary (at the trade deadline), and his job description is do everything in his power to win with whenever you get … I appreciate his efforts and everything he did from start to finish.”
  • On Girardi favoring veterans over young players: “I don’t think that’s the case at all … I think it has more to do with just assessing the talent. Sometimes it plays into the decision and sometimes it doesn’t. I was really satisfied with the team’s competitive spirit from start to finish.”
  • On Girardi as a lame duck manager next year: “We will go through next year and ownership will decide what they want to do as we move forward. There is that built in assumption in the process, where we play our contracts out. My contract expires the next year too … We’re going to focus on the present, which is the cast of characters currently, and how we can maximize value out of all of this right now.”
  • On bringing the coaching staff back: “Everybody is signed except for Larry Rothchild. His contract expires and I will meet with Larry today … I don’t have interest in recommending changes.”

I both am and am not surprised the Yankees are not making any coaching changes. I didn’t think they’ve overhaul the staff, but when you miss the postseason three times in four years, someone usually takes the fall. That’s why hitting coach Kevin Long was let go two years ago. Cashman wants to bring everyone back though — I’m not thrilled with keeping Joe Espada as third base coach, but it is what it is — and I’m sure they’ll get a deal worked out with Rothschild soon.

As for Girardi, Cashman made it clear that he was speaking about both Girardi and himself when he said “ownership will decide what they want to do as we move forward.” In the past, both have played out their contracts and gone a year as a lame duck. Once their deals expired, they went to the negotiating table. There were no extensions and there was no reason to think this year would be any different. Business as usual.

Things could get interesting if the Yankees miss the postseason against next year. That’ll be four October-less years in five seasons. Girardi and/or Cashman might not survive that. Then again, I guess it depends how they miss the postseason. Did they crash and burn because all the kids flopped? Or did the fall a handful of games short while the young players established themselves as bonafide big leaguers? That’ll play a factor in Girardi’s and Cashman’s next contracts.

The Rebuild & Youth Movement

  • On the fan response to selling: “We have a worldwide network (of fans) that we’re proud to have … They’re very sophisticated. This was something that we think is something that they wanted to transpire, and they wanted us to press the reset button. And you know, in many cases I was tired of seeing what was transpiring in the first few months this year. Been there, done that, it’s time to do something that wasn’t part of the DNA … I think our fanbase recognizes what we did in July, and responded in kind with a lot of excitement.”
  • On Luis Severino‘s future: “(His performance in) the bullpen is not changing anything for me. That’s where guys go when they can’t be quality starters. I certainly hope that he can be a starter as we move forward. Certainly you’ve got to factor in and keep in mind his age. I think he’s 22, 23. But at the end of the day I have to have patience. I have to be objective that way. There’s a starter profile on him … He will get that opportunity (to start), whether it’s New York or it’s in Scranton next year remains to be seen.”
  • Can Clint Frazier make the Opening Day roster? “I don’t think so … But I remember when Robbie (Cano) — I know he was coming out of our system, the number one pitching prospect at that time was (Chien-Ming) Wang — we anticipated that at Double-A he would be being ready in two years, (but he arrived a) full year in advance after a good winter ball. (Alfonso) Soriano was the same way. It was just like, ‘how we get this guy on the roster?’ When you take the full package, once it all comes together — Gary Sanchez, I guess, is a more recent example too — it’s just like a flood.”
  • On Jorge Mateo playing center field: “We’re trying to diversify. We’ve got a lot of shortstops … It’s just to give us more flexibility. He’s played shortstop, second base, DH, and center in Instructs. We just gave him a crash course. It’s something that’s been part of the evaluation process from the beginning.”

No surprise Cashman isn’t giving up on Severino as a starter. That would be silly. He has the stuff to start, at least when he has a feel for and confidence in his changeup, and he’s so young that you give him a chance to figure things out in that role. I think at worst, Severino showed he can be a really great reliever. He still offers upside as a starter and the Yankees should without question allow him to continue developing in that role.

I thought the Cano and Soriano comparions for Frazier were interesting. They were all highly regarded prospects with high-end skills, and Cano and Soriano forced the issue. They were too good to keep down in the minors any longer. Frazier has the potential to do the same this year. The big difference here is position. The Yankees needed a new second baseman when Soriano and later Cano came up. They’re not desperate for outfielders right now. Still, once Frazier is ready, you make room for him. He’s a special talent.

Injured Players

  • On James Kaprielian and the Arizona Fall League: “(Instructional League is the) process to finish him off so he goes to the Fall League. That’s the plan. So the public has been alerted … He’s not on the official roster. The roster on the website is not the official roster. I know Twitter will look at it like ‘OMG what’s going on here?’ … He’s healthy and he’s throwing max potential.”
  • On CC Sabathia‘s knee: “I think CC is going to have a knee (procedure). He’s going next week … It’s just going to be a routine cleanup. It’s not something that is a concern or considered serious. It’s something that is expected and was expected the last two months.”

My audio was all garbled and I couldn’t get a clean transcription, but Cashman said that while Kaprielian is not on the AzFL roster, the league is aware the Yankees plan to send him as long as he comes through Instructs in one piece. He pitched in a game the other day and by all accounts everything went well. And yes, Cashman actually said OMG. Oh em gee.

Miscellany

  • On the disappointment of 2016: “It was a series of twists and turns of this year. We obviously had high hopes … It was a mixed bag. It was a very frustrating and difficult process in the first three months of the season, and I think it was a very exciting dynamic that transpired in the final three months this season. Ultimately, we know when the dust settled, when it’s all said and done, the 2016 season did not achieve the stated goal, which was the first get to the playoffs and try to compete for a championship in October. “
  • On the luxury tax: “Haven’t had any open discussions since no one has any idea what the CBA is going to be like … We’ll certainly be very interested in ‘resetting the clock’ and not being in position to lose more money than any other clubs because we’re penalized more than ever.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka and the World Baseball Classic: “I don’t think we have say in that … Even though he felt healthy and looked fine and all that stuff, we made the right choice in saying you know what, see you in the spring, whether it’s going to be in Tampa or in the WBC.”
  • On trying to win in 2017: “Every decision we have to make — whether it’s deciding support staff, coaches, the manager, anybody in the front office, and most importantly the players — every decision is designed to get us closer to being the last team standing, and that’s the approach that’s got to take place. And that can happen in 2017. That’s the goal, but every decision (has be made with a) World Championship in mind.”

If I recall correctly, teams can hold players out of the WBC if he finished the previous season injured. Did Tanaka finish the season hurt? Technically, yeah. He missed his last two starts with a forearm injury. But he was never placed on the DL though, and both the GM and manager admitted he would have made his final start had the team not already been eliminated. We’ll see. If Tanaka wants to go and the Yankees can’t stop him, what can you do other than help he doesn’t get hurt?

The luxury tax stuff is just the worst. Hate hearing about it. Every time we do it’s a remainder the Yankees are willfully throwing away their market advantage and scaling back payroll at a time every other team is raising payroll. The Yankees seem to have convinced a lot of fans that resetting the tax rate is good and necessary. Is the luxury tax saved enough to make up for the lost postseason and ticket revenue? I hope so. Otherwise this will all have been a giant waste of time.

Saturday Links: A-Rod, Kaprielian, Mateo, Adams, Torres

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Assuming the weather cooperates, the Yankees and Orioles will continue their three-game series with the middle game this afternoon. Here are a few links — with a heavy dose of minor league stuff — to help you pass the time before the penultimate game of the 2016 season.

A-Rod arrives at Instructs

Alex Rodriguez‘s post-playing career is officially underway. A-Rod made his debut as a guest instructor in Instructional League yesterday and will be there today as well, report Kevin Kernan and Mark Didtler. A-Rod worked specifically with Clint Frazier, Blake Rutherford, and Jorge Mateo, three of the Yankees’ very best prospects.

“It feels great to be back in pinstripes, to be with the young players. It’s our debt. We owe the game. In many ways it’s our responsibility to pay it forward,” said Alex. “There is as much good young talent that I’ve seen here in all my years with the Yankees … The talent jumps off the page. Right now I’m just collecting a lot of information, trying to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and try to understand their personalities.”

A-Rod, who will again be part of FOX’s postseason coverage, is expected to address the 55 players at Instructs today. It sounds as though he spent most of his time yesterday working with players in the batting cage, not out on the field defensively. I’ve seen rumors that A-Rod is going to stop by the Arizona Fall League at some point, though that’s unconfirmed. Either way, he’s at Instructs now. (Brendan Kuty has some photos of the minor league complex, if you’re interested.)

Kaprielian pitches, Mateo tries the outfield

Two other notes from Instructs: James Kaprielian, who missed most of the season with an elbow injury, threw two innings in an Instructional League game yesterday, Joe Girardi confirmed. The Yankees hope he’ll complete his rehab in Instructs and then pitch in the AzFL. Weirdly enough, he was re-added to the Scottsdale roster soon after being removed earlier this week. Point is, Kaprielian is on the mend and pitching. That’s good.

Also, the Yankees have had Mateo working out in center field in Instructional League, according to Kernan. That’s pretty interesting. It’s not necessarily a permanent move — it’s not uncommon for players to try new positions in Instructs (someone sent me a photo of Gary Sanchez playing third base once) — but it makes sense to try it out. With so many shortstops in the system, center field would make better use of Mateo’s speed and athleticism than second base.

Kaprielian among best unqualified prospects

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Baseball America is currently rolling out their top 20 prospects lists for each minor league, and in a companion piece (no subs. req’d), Kaprielian was listed as one of the best prospects who did not qualify for a top 20 list. He simply didn’t throw enough innings. Here’s a snippet of the write-up:

His fastball velocity, erratic in his junior college season and generally in the 89-92 mph range as an amateur, sat 92-96 mph and reached 97. His feel for his breaking balls was a key asset in his amateur days, and he was up to 87-89 mph with his slider on Opening Day, with a true power curve in the low 80s. All three pitches earned plus grades … Kaprielian has the highest ceiling of any Yankees pitcher and was the best pitcher in the Florida State League this season but essentially lost a year of development.

The lost season really stinks because it’s not out of the question that a healthy Kaprielian could have made his MLB debut in September. If nothing else, there was a good chance he could have finished the season in Triple-A and been a big league option early next year. The good news is he’s healthy now and pitching in Instructs. Hopefully Kaprielian gets some innings in the AzFL.

Adams among prospects to make most progress

With the minor league season now over, the folks at Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) broke down the prospects who made the most progress this season. The guys who developed best over the summer and finished the season as much better players than they started, basically. Chance Adams was included. Here’s a piece of his write-up:

While starting, he still showed off the two plus pitches that got him drafted, but showed more feel for his changeup and curveball as the season progressed. His command also improved as the season progressed, having a better idea of where to locate and execute his pitches in specific counts … While I don’t think durability will be an overall issue for him, it is just something to keep notice of for the following year.

I’ve yet to see a remotely negative scouting report about Adams this year. Usually you’ll come across one or two throughout the season, especially with pitchers who might wind up in the bullpen, but there’s nothing like that with Adams yet. He figures to start next season in Triple-A, which makes him a potential big league option. I’m looking forward to seeing how Adams’ second season as a starter goes.

Torres among potential top ten prospects for 2017

Soon after the end of the minor league season, Jim Callis looked at players who could emerge as one of the top ten prospects in baseball next season. Nationals outfielder Victor Robles sat in the top spot. Gleyber Torres, who came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade, was fifth. “Torres is a very advanced hitter and his defense keeps improving,” said the write-up.

On Twitter, Callis said he prefers Torres to Frazier because he believes in his bat more, plus he plays a more valuable position. I don’t necessarily agree, but preferring Torres to Frazier is not in any way unreasonable. Either way, the Yankees have both these guys. It’s not one or the other. They’re both in the organization. The fact both are among the best prospects in baseball is pretty awesome. The Yankees built quite the prospect base these last few months.

Refsnyder and Williams are the Yankees’ best options in the wake of the Judge injury

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Last night the Yankees won the second game of their three-game series with the Dodgers, but they also lost an everyday player to injury. Right fielder Aaron Judge tweaked his right oblique taking a swing, and although he stayed in to finish the at-bat, he was pulled from the game after the inning was over. Judge will go for an MRI today to determine the severity of the injury.

“It’s possible (he’s done for the season),” said Joe Girardi following last night’s game. “It’s his right rib cage. He’ll have an MRI. We won’t see him for a while … I just told him, ‘You’re out.’ I called him over and he didn’t really argue. We’ve got to get this checked out and see where you’re at.”

Judge’s first month or so in the big leagues has been a mixed bag. He’s hitting .179/.263/.345 (61 wRC+) overall with a 44.2% strikeout rate, so for the most part his at-bats have been unproductive. At the same time, every once in a while Judge will do this …

… and remind you exactly why he’s been so highly touted the last few seasons. That’s not even the longest home run Judge has hit in his short time as a big leaguer. He hit one over the windows of the restaurant in center field last month. Between the power and the strikeouts, it’s amazing Judge ever sees a fastball. It really is.

Anyway, the injury means the Yankees are down not only their starting right fielder in Judge, but also their backup right fielder. Aaron Hicks is still out of action with a Grade II hamstring, remember. At the moment the Yankees have only three healthy true outfielders on the active roster: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Eric Young Jr. That’s it. (I won’t blame you if you forgot about EYJ. I did too.)

Even if the MRI today reveals good news, chances are the Yankees will be without Judge for at least a few days. Oblique strains usually don’t heal overnight. Also, they’re very easy to reaggravate, and Judge isn’t a nobody. The Yankees are going to play it very safe with him. The last thing they want is him to suffer a setback that throws his offseason workouts out of whack. Here are the team’s options with Judge sidelined.

Short-Term Fix

Girardi all but confirmed Rob Refsnyder will step in as the every right fielder for the time being. They really have no other choice. “That’s what I’ll go with now and obviously I’ve got to talk to (Brian Cashman) to see if we’re going to make a move here,” said the manager last night. The only other option is Tyler Austin, who is the most-of-the-time first baseman, so Refsnyder it is.

In sporadic playing time this year Refsnyder has a .268/.342/.333 (81 wRC+) batting line in 159 plate appearances. That’s … unique. He’s drawing walks (10.1%) and making contact (13.2% strikeouts), but he’s also hit for zero power. Refsnyder’s yet to hit a home run and he has only nine doubles too. He works a quality at-bat almost every time up and that’s great. Some extra-base pop would be cool though.

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Hopefully the doubles and homers come now that Refsnyder will get a chance to play everyday. His defense is not great in right field — maybe this will press Young into defensive replacement duty in tight games? — but again, the Yankees are pretty much out of options. Based on the guys they have on the active roster, Refsnyder is the best right field solution.

Returning Soon?

Grade II hamstring strains can be pretty serious and they tend to lead to prolonged absences, but Hicks is already back performing baseball activities. He got hurt on August 31st and he’s already started running in the outfield and taking batting practice. Hicks is going to Tampa later today to ramp up his rehab, and it sounds as though the goal is to activate him off the DL when the Yankees arrive for their series with the Rays next week.

As crappy a year as he’s had, getting Hicks back as soon as next week would be pretty huge. At the very least, he could replace Refsnyder for defense in the late innings. Best case scenario is Hicks picks up where he left off in August — he hit .280/.330/.439 (106 wRC+) in fairly regular playing time last month — and takes over right field everyday. A little friendly competition between Refsnyder and Hicks would be good for both, I think. Either way, there’s a chance Hicks will return as soon as next week. That would be pretty awesome.

The Call-Up Candidate

The Yankees have one outfielder on the 40-man roster who is not in the big leagues right now: Mason Williams. Williams returned from shoulder surgery at midseason and hit .317/.335/.410 (112 wRC+) in 46 regular season minor league games, almost all at Triple-A. Typical Mason Williams, basically. At least when he’s going good. Williams has carried that performance over into the postseason with the RailRiders too.

Girardi acknowledged a Williams call-up was possible last night — “It’s going to be really difficult (with a short bench) … There’s outfielders down there that we’re going to have to talk about because we’re short,” he said — and given where the Yankees are in the postseason race, everything has to be on the table at this point. They surely want Williams to get as many at-bats as possible following shoulder surgery, but playing with a short bench in a postseason race makes no sense.

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

Remember, the Yankees originally planned to give Bryan Mitchell one more Triple-A start to iron things out earlier this month, but as soon as Chad Green got hurt, they called Mitchell up because he was the best option. The same applies to Williams. Would they like him to get more at-bats with the RailRiders? Surely. Judge’s injury has forced their hand though, and with a playoff spot within reach, having the best team possible has to be the priority.

Scranton’s season will end no later than Saturday — it can end as soon as tomorrow — and I’m guessing Williams won’t make it that far. He’ll be up before then, perhaps later today. The RailRiders would be pretty screwed during the International League Championship Series, but the big league team is the always the priority. Chances are we’ll see Mason very soon.

The Long Shots

The three other outfielders with Triple-A Scranton are not on the 40-man roster: Clint Frazier, Cesar Puello, and Jake Cave. I can’t see them calling Frazier up a year before he’s Rule 5 Draft eligible. That would be a big time panic move. Puello and Cave are a different story because cutting them loose in the offseason wouldn’t be a big deal. If the Yankees do decide to give Williams more at-bats in Triple-A following surgery, Puello or Cave could get the call instead. This section is called “The Long Shots” for a reason though. I don’t see this happening. Puello, Cave, and Frazier are all options available to the Yankees. They’re not that desperate yet though.

* * *

The Judge injury isn’t devastating — he wasn’t hitting much outside the occasional dinger — but it further thins out the Yankees’ outfield. Refsnyder is a short-term solution and Hicks might be back next week, which would be cool. My guess is we’ll see Williams sooner rather than later too. There’s a clear need and he can be useful, even if he’s only a defensive replacement for the time being. The Yankees may not want to use Refsnyder in right or call up Williams before the end of the Triple-A season, but they’re short on outfielders at the moment, and those two are their best immediate options with Judge and Hicks out.

Sherman: Yankees not planning to call up any prospects before they’re Rule 5 Draft eligible

Frazier. (@Kelsie_Heneghan)
Frazier. (@Kelsie_Heneghan)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees are not planning to call up any prospects this week who are a year away from Rule 5 Draft eligibility. This applies mostly to two players: outfielder Clint Frazier and righty reliever Jonathan Holder. It also applies to guys like Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams.

Rosters expand tomorrow and right now we know with near certainty Luis Severino will be among the first wave of call-ups. I’d expect other prominent shuttle riders to come up this week as well, namely Nick Goody and Rob Refsnyder. There will be many more additions in September too. Don’t worry. Anyway, I have some quick thoughts on this.

1. The Yankees are facing a severe 40-man roster crunch this offseason. The Yankees got a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection by calling up Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and Ben Heller earlier this month. Other notable prospects like Jorge Mateo and Miguel Andujar are Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter, ditto countless other second and third tier prospects.

When I wrote our September call-up preview, I said I think the Yankees will protect five more prospects after the season: Mateo, Andujar, Dietrich Enns, Tyler Webb, and Kyle Higashioka. On top of that, the Yankees will need to clear four 40-man spots for 60-day DL players the day after the World Series ends: Greg Bird, Branden Pinder, Conor Mullee, and Dustin Ackley. Chances are Nathan Eovaldi will land on the 60-day DL soon enough too.

Based on all of that, the Yankees will need to clear ten 40-man spots after the season, assuming Eovaldi finds himself on the 60-day DL. They only have one impending free agent too: Mark Teixeira. That’s it. Nine guys are losing their 40-man spots after the season. Nine! Some are obvious (Anthony Swarzak, J.R. Graham, Blake Parker, Richard Bleier, etc.) but many of them won’t be. The Yankees are going to have some tough decisions to make*.

* My guess is the Yankees will get a head start on non-tendering Eovaldi and Ackley by releasing them the day after the end of the World Series to clear 40-man space. They won’t have the luxury of waiting until the December 2nd tender deadline. That’s still only two extra spots.

Point is, the Yankees don’t have the luxury of adding players like Holder and Frazier to the 40-man early. Roster spots are going to be at a premium. (It would also unnecessarily burn an option, unless they both make the 2017 Opening Day roster.) I know we all want to see prospects in September. Who doesn’t? But the Yankees have to think big picture here. Roster spots are finite resource. They can’t call up the prospect flavor of the week just because.

2. The Holder hype is getting a little out of control. Earlier this week Holder turned in one of the most dominant pitching performances I’ve seen in all my time following the minors. He struck out 12 of 13 batters faced en route to a four-out postseason berth clinching save with Triple-A Scranton. It was incredible. Sheer dominance.

Holder has had a phenomenal season this year, pitching to a 1.65 ERA (1.30 FIP) in 65.1 innings while climbing from High-A to Triple-A. He’s struck out 101 and walked only seven. That works out to a 42.4 K% and 2.9 BB%. Insanity. Holder’s been as good as any reliever in the minors this season, and because of that, he’s viewed as a potential late-inning option in the near future.

While I’m certain Holder will get a big league opportunity soon, likely early next year, I think maybe he’s getting a little too much prospect love thanks to his minor league numbers. Holder’s a 92-94 mph fastball guy with a good but occasionally loopy curveball. He thrives by getting minor league batters to chase heaters up and out of the zone, as you can see in the video of his eleven straight strikeouts.

I’m not sure how well that strategy will work in the show, because big leaguers will do a better job laying off those pitches than minor leaguers. That said, Holder is still a quality relief prospect and the Yankees should be happy to have him. I just feel that, on the team’s righty relief prospect depth chart, Holder definitely falls behind Heller, and also Goody, Johnny Barbato, and even healthy Nick Rumbelow as well. Goody has a much better breaking ball and his minor league numbers are off the charts too (40.2 K% and 4.6 BB% in Triple-A in 2016).

It seems like every season we fall in love with a different minor league reliever who is carving up two or three levels. I could be completely wrong about Holder. Maybe he is a future relief ace. I was dead wrong about David Robertson, after all. (I thought his minor league control issues would keep him out of high-leverage work.) I’m just always skeptical of dominant minor league bullpeners. These guys are all over the place.

3. The Frazier hypothetical sure is fun. Frazier is currently on the Triple-A DL with a hamstring problem and isn’t a call-up candidate right now anyway. Also, he hasn’t exactly torn up Triple-A. He’s hitting only .229/.282/.375 (85 wRC+) since the trade and .231/.274/.368 (80 wRC+) in 29 Triple-A games overall. Frazier hasn’t forced the issue. He’s a top prospect because his tools are off the charts, not because his numbers are good.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the Yankees would have gone all-in on youth and called up Frazier in September had be been performing better in Triple-A. They could have stuck him in left field everyday and taken playing time away from Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury the same way they’ve taken playing time away from Teixeira and Brian McCann. Gary Sanchez has been a smashing success and Judge has had his moments too. Frazier is a potential impact bat who might have helped. Fun hypothetical, I think.