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.

DotF: Holder fans 12 in relief as Scranton clinches playoff spot

The minor league season is winding down, so let’s update the standings. But first, some notes:

  • OF Blake Rutherford is done for the season with a minor hamstring injury, reports Bryan Hoch. He should be good to go for Instructional League next month though. Pulaski’s season ends Thursday and there’s no reason to push it. Seems like the Pulaski social media person was sick of being asked about Rutherford’s status though. Rutherford finishes his pro debut with a .351/.415/.570 (169 wRC+) batting line and three homers in 33 games.
  • OF Clint Frazier has been placed on the 7-day DL with a hamstring strain, reports Kelsie Heneghan. That explains why he was lifted for a pinch-hitter last night. Hopefully it’s minor and Frazier can come back after the seven days and play in the postseason.
  • RHP Chance Adams has been shut down for the season, Double-A Trenton manager Bobby Mitchell told Matt Kardos. He reached his innings limit. Adams finishes the year with a 2.33 ERA (2.96 FIP) and a 29.1% strikeout rate in 127.1 total innings. He was a reliever before this season, remember. They don’t want to push him too far. Big loss for Trenton’s playoff rotation.
  • And finally, OF Jhalan Jackson made an appearance in today’s Prospect Report following last night’s five-hit performance, so make sure you check that out.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 win over Rochester) the win clinches a postseason spot, which is cool … they’re 84-49 and have the best record in all of Triple-A … their regular season ends a week from tomorrow

  • LF Ben Gamel: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-3, 1 BB
  • DH Chris Parmelee: 2-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — tied the game with a solo homer, then gave them the lead with an RBI single
  • CF Mason Williams: 1-4
  • RF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 K
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 3.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 1/0 GB/FB, 1 E (pickoff) — 53 of 84 pitches were strikes (63%) … I suppose he could come up when rosters expand on Thursday, though I’m guessing he’ll stay in Triple-A and pitch through the postseason to make up for all those innings he missed with the toe injury
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 19 of 28 pitches were strikes (68%)
  • RHP Jonathan Holder: 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 12 K — 41 of 53 pitches were strikes (77%) … holy crap what a game … Holder struck out eleven straight batters at one point … the one hit was a pop-up that fell in because none of the infielders called for it too, so the one guy who did make contact (John Ryan Murphy!) didn’t square it up … the three pitchers combined for 22 strikeouts in nine innings

[Read more…]

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.)

Poll: Replacing Alex Rodriguez

Austin. (Presswire)
Austin. (Presswire)

Tomorrow night Alex Rodriguez will play the final game of his MLB career. That’s pretty wild, isn’t it? We all knew the end would come sooner rather than later, but this is all happening so fast. It’s for the best though. The Yankees are better off with someone else occupying A-Rod‘s roster spot, and come Saturday, someone else will indeed be occupying that roster spot.

The Yankees seem committing to giving their young players a chance down the stretch, and A-Rod’s exit gives them an opportunity to incorporate another kid into the lineup. Gary Sanchez has been up for a week already and he’s getting regular at-bats. It’s pretty cool. Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin seem to be the most likely candidates to replace A-Rod, but they’re not alone. Let’s break down their cases.

Tyler Austin

The Case For Austin: After a few seasons of injury and poor performance, Austin has put himself back on the prospect map this year by hitting .295/.394/.527 (161 wRC+) with 17 homers in 106 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s got opposite field pop and defensive versatility, at least somewhat. Austin can play first base and right field, as well as DH. He could also man third base in a real pinch, but not regularly.

Austin has to be added to the 40-man roster after the season and the Yankees figure to do exactly that rather than risk losing him for nothing. Greg Bird is rehabbing from shoulder surgery and first base is a little up in the air next season, and Austin could be an option there. Calling him up now and giving him regular at-bats would give the Yankees a chance to evaluate him against MLB caliber pitching. That’s the entire point of calling these guys up.

The Case Against Austin: Even with the bounceback year, Austin’s upside is not sky high, and he projects as maybe a solid regular at the MLB level if things break right. Historically, righty hitting and righty throwing first basemen have to hit and hit big to stick around long-term. Austin’s ability to play the outfield works in his favor, though we’re now talking about a right-handed Garrett Jones type. Rather than audition Austin this month, the Yankees could opt to play a higher upside prospect with a better chance to be a part of the next core.

Aaron Judge

The Case For Judge: Simply put, Judge came into the season as the team’s top prospect — he’d still be their top prospect if not for the Clint Frazier trade — and he’s done exactly what the Yankees wanted him to do this season. He’s putting up good numbers (.265/.359/.472 with 18 homers and a 141 wRC+) and he’s cut his strikeout rate down to 23.9%, lowest it’s been since he was in Low-A ball two years ago. The performance is there.

Judge. (Times Leader)
Judge. (Times Leader)

On top of that, the right field job is wide open going forward, and Judge is the obvious candidate to assume that position long-term. It’s not just about the bat. Judge is a surprisingly good runner for his size and he’s an asset on defense with a very strong arm. He’s going to surprise a lot of people with his athleticism when he first comes up. Guys listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 lbs. usually don’t move this well. Judge is the heir apparent in right field and his time is now.

The Case Against Judge: Judge did just return from a knee injury that forced him to miss close to a month, remember. He’s performed well since returning, going 10-for-29 (.345) in eight games, but that’s still a lot of time to miss. A few more Triple-A at-bats to make up for the lost time wouldn’t be the end of the world. Also, Judge doesn’t offer much versatility, so if the Yankees remain committed to giving Aaron Hicks a look, the everyday at-bats might not be there.

Other Candidates

Ben Gamel: Gamel is having another strong season in Triple-A (132 wRC+) around a few short call-ups to MLB. He’s a lefty hitting outfielder, which is something the Yankees don’t exactly lack right now. Finding playing time for Gamel, who might only be a fourth outfielder long-term, might not be all that easy. I — and I think the Yankees — would rather see Hicks out there everyday.

Clint Frazier: Overall, Frazier is hitting .273/.345/.463 (122 wRC+) this season, though most of that is at Double-A. He’s played 13 total games at Triple-A (73 wRC+), including eight since the trade. Frazier is ridiculously talented and a potential impact hitter, but there is still some development to be done. Calling him up would be a sexy, headline making move. It would also be extremely aggressive.

Chris Parmelee: Remember him? Parmelee is currently on a Triple-A rehab assignment and will have to be activated off the DL no later than Thursday, August 25th. He could be activated to replace A-Rod and get a bunch of first base and DH at-bats. Of course, the 28-year-old Parmelee has no long-term future in the organization, so he doesn’t exactly qualify as part of the youth movement.

Others like Jake Cave, Cesar Puello, and Mason Williams could be call-up candidates as well — Williams is actually on the Triple-A DL with a quad injury at the moment — though they seem to be further down the depth chart at the moment. It truly feels like it’s Austin and Judge against the field right now. Who’s the best option?

Who should be called up to replace A-Rod?