The Up & Down Position Players [2015 Season Review]

Run run Rico. (Presswire)
Run run Rico. (Presswire)

The big league roster portion of our 2015 Season Review series is winding down, and now it’s time to wrap-up the position players with the extras. The up-and-down guys who saw brief time in the Bronx this year. Every team goes through a few of these players each season and the Yankees are no different. Here are the final few position players who saw action in pinstripes in 2015.

Cole Figueroa

Last offseason the Yankees inked Figueroa to a minor league contract because they needed some infield depth in Triple-A. They didn’t have any obvious shortstop or third base options for the level, so Figueroa was brought in. He played a bunch in Spring Training — .269/.321/.308 in 23 Grapefruit League games — but never really had a chance to make the team, so off to Triple-A Scranton he went at the end of camp.

Figueroa, 28, started the season as the everyday third baseman for the RailRiders, and he had himself a nice little start to the season: .291/.357/.382 (118 wRC+) with two home runs in 68 games through June. He’s not a power hitter, he’s a contact guy — Figueroa had a 5.4% strikeout rate and an 8.6% walk rate in those 68 games — and he was holding up his end of the bargain.

In early July, when Chase Headley was dealing with a minor calf issue, the Yankees called up Figueroa because his left-handed bat and solid defense made him a capable stopgap. Figueroa started two games with New York, going 2-for-4 with two doubles on July 9th and 0-for-4 on July 10th. Those two doubles helped the Yankees take the lead then tack on some insurance runs in an eventual win over the Athletics.

The Yankees sent Figueroa back to Triple-A after those two games and he remained there the rest of the season, playing mostly shortstop. He was designated for assignment on September 1st to clear 40-man roster spot for other call-ups. Figueroa finished the year with a .292/.355/.359 (108 wRC+) batting line and more walks (8.7%) than strikeouts (5.3%) in 121 Triple-A games. He became a minor league free agent after the season. It wasn’t much, but Figueroa did help the Yankees win a game in 2015.

Rico Noel

Noel, who spent the 2010-15 seasons in the Padres’ farm system, asked San Diego for his release in June because he wanted to look for a better opportunity. According to Billy Witz, he approached the Yankees about a possible pinch-running role in September. The team agreed and signed him to a minor league deal even though it was the middle of the summer.

Noel, 26, spent a few weeks with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, rarely starting. He was instead getting accustomed to his September role. The Yankees used Noel as a pinch-runner and spot starter in the minors — Noel was an everyday guy for most of his career and they wanted him to get used to sitting on the bench all game before coming in to pinch-run — before calling him up on September 1st.  He went 5-for-50 (.100) with 13 steals in 17 attempts in the minors.

Noel made his big league debut on September 2nd, but not as a pinch-runner, as a defensive replacement in right field. His lineup spot came up with a runner on third and two outs in the eighth inning of a hectic back and forth game at Fenway Park, and with Noel literally standing in the batter’s box, Joe Girardi called him back to the dugout for a pinch-hitter. It worked, the run was driven in, but man, that’s harsh. Noel was in the batter’s box for his first MLB at-bat when he was lifted.

Over the next few weeks Rico was limited to pinch-running duty only. He pinch-ran 12 times in the final month of the season, going 5-for-7 in stolen base attempts and scoring five runs. Noel was successful in each of his first five attempts. He finally got his first big league at-bat on October 3rd, on the second to last day of the season. Rico beat out an infield single for his first career hit.

Noel batted again in Game 162, so he went 1-for-2 for the Yankees and stole five bases in a dozen pinch-running assignments. He was on the wildcard game roster but the team didn’t generate much offense against Dallas Keuchel and the Astros, so Rico didn’t get into the game. The Yankees dropped Noel from the 40-man roster after the season and he elected free agency. He remains unsigned.

Gregorio Petit

Thanks to a sudden rash of injuries, the Yankees were short a utility infielder at the end of Spring Training, so they made a cash trade with the Astros to get Petit on April 1st, five days before Opening Day. The 30-year-old Petit made the Opening Day roster and actually played. He started seven of the team’s first 15 games (!) and pinch-hit three other times. April was weird.

Girardi used Petit as a platoon partner for Stephen Drew and he didn’t hit (3-for-20 in those 15 games), which wasn’t unexpected. Petit’s a glove-first infielder who happened to hit right-handed. He did, however, come up with a rather big bases clearing double against David Price and the Tigers on April 22nd. Unexpected!

Petit was optioned to Triple-A Scranton on April 28th to make room for spot starter Chase Whitley, then he was called back the next day when Masahiro Tanaka landed on the DL. He hung around until early-May, when he himself was placed on the DL with a right hand contusion after being hit by a pitch. When Petit was activated almost six weeks later, the Yankees sent him to Triple-A.

Petit spent most of the rest of the season with the RailRiders but he did make another big league cameo in late-June and early-July. The Yankees eventually designated Petit for assignment on July 25th, clearing a 40-man roster spot for Nick Goody. Petit cleared waivers and accepted his outright assignment, then spent the rest of the summer with the RailRiders.

In 20 games with the Yankees, Petit went 7-for-42 (.167) with three doubles and 16 strikeouts while playing second and third bases. He also hit .230/.264/.322 (65 wRC+) in 46 Triple-A games. Petit became a minor league free agent after the season. Can’t imagine many have gone from a non-roster invitee with the Astros to the Yankees’ Opening Day roster in the span of five days like Petit.

Pirela. (Presswire)
Pirela. (Presswire)

Jose Pirela

When Brendan Ryan went down with a calf injury in Spring Training, it opened the door for the 26-year-old Pirela to make the Opening Day roster. He had a monster camp — .370/.433/.630 in 15 Grapefruit League games — before crashing into the center field wall and hitting his head on the warning track near the end of spring.

Pirela suffered a concussion and missed the first six weeks of the regular season. His injury plus Ryan’s injury led to the Petit pickup. Pirela, an infielder by trade, had plenty of outfield experience in the minors and winter ball, he just got turned around and landed hard. Sucks.

Once he returned to the team, Pirela more or less replaced Petit as Drew’s platoon partner, and he hit quite well in limited time. At least at first. He went 5-for-14 (.357) in his first four games before falling into a 6-for-29 (.207) slump. Pirela’s not a great defender anywhere on the field, so if he’s not hitting, he has no value to the Yankees. The team sent him to Triple-A in mid-June.

Pirela spent most of the rest of the summer in Triple-A, though he did get another chance in late-June/early-July, going 3-for-23 (.130) in eleven games. He was called up when rosters expanded in September and went 3-for-8 (.375) down the stretch. He was the pinch-hitter who replaced Noel in what would have been Rico’s first at-bat. On October 4th, Pirela grounded out to second base against Zach Britton for the final out of the 2015 regular season.

All told, Pirela hit .230/.247/.311 (47 wRC+) with one homer in 37 games and 78 plate appearances for the Yankees this summer. That includes a .302/.333/.419 (106 wRC+) batting line in 45 plate appearances against southpaws. Pirela played second base and the two corner outfield spots for New York, and also hit .325/.390/.433 (142 wRC+) in 60 Triple-A games.

The Yankees traded Pirela to the Padres for minor league righty Ronald Herrera early last month. Brian Cashman admitted the move was made to clear 40-man roster space. Rather than designate Pirela for assignment and potentially lose him for nothing, they flipped him for a non-40-man roster pitching prospect. If nothing else, the Pirela trade shows the Yankees are pretty confident in Rob Refsnyder as the primary right-handed hitting second base option.

* * *

Special shout-out goes to outfielder Taylor Dugas, who was called up to the big leagues for two days this summer but didn’t actually play. Carlos Beltran was nursing an oblique strain, and the Yankees didn’t want to place him on the 15-day DL just yet, but they couldn’t recall Ramon Flores because he’d just been sent down and the ten-day rule was still in effect. Dugas, who hit .235/.336/.279 (84 wRC+) in 82 minor league games in 2015, got the call instead.

The 25-year-old Dugas was added to the 40-man roster and called up on July 1st, optioned down on July 3rd, designated for assignment July 9th, and outrighted to Double-A Trenton on July 12nd. Sounds crummy, but two days in the bigs is a huge deal for a organizational player like Dugas. He got two days of big league pay (roughly $5,600!) and now has access to a great health care program for himself and his family for life. No, Dugas didn’t get to play, but those two days changed his life for the better.

DotF: Sanchez continues to put up big numbers in AzFL

C Gary Sanchez was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game last weekend, going 1-for-3 with a two-run home run off Rockies LHP Kyle Freeland, the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft. Sanchez also threw out a runner trying to steal second. Eric Longenhagen said he clocked his pop time at 1.82 seconds. That’s nuts. A 1.9-second pop time is great. The videos are above. Sanchez been a monster in the AzFL.

In other news, Matt Eddy has posted this year’s collection of six-year minor league free agents. Here are the Yankees farmhands now on the open market:

RHP: Andury Acevedo (AAA), Scottie Allen (AA), Joel de la Cruz (AAA), Diego Moreno (AAA), Wilking Rodriguez (AAA), Cesar Vargas (AAA)
LHP: Jose De Paula (AAA), Aaron Dott (AA)
C: Francisco Arcia (AA), Juan Graterol (AAA), Kyle Higashioka (AAA)
3B: Cole Figueroa (AAA)
SS: Ali Castillo (AAA), Jose Rosario (AA)
OF: Ericson Leonora (Hi A), Rico Noel (AAA)

1B Kyle Roller also became a free agent, says Eddy. Moreno, de la Cruz, DePaula, Figueroa, and Noel all spent time with the Yankees this past season. (De La Cruz was called up but didn’t pitch.) Allen was acquired from the Diamondbacks for Juan Miranda way back in the day. Castillo is probably the best prospect of the bunch but he’s a fringy light-hitting utility type at best. Good prospects don’t get to minor league free agency.

Thanks to the minor league free agents and the recent UTIL Jose Pirela trade, the crop of Yankees farmhands playing winter ball thinned out considerably this week. Here’s the weekly update.

Arizona Fall League

  • OF Tyler Austin: 18 G, 18-16 (.269), 11 R, 4 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 9 BB, 16 K, 7 SB, 2 K (.269/.355/.463) — very quietly tied for fourth in the AzFL in steals
  • OF Dustin Fowler: 12 G, 15-48 (.313), 11 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 7 K, 7 SB (.313/.340/.417) — tied with Austin for fourth in steals
  • C Gary Sanchez: 18 G, 23-77 (.299), 12 R, 4 2B, 1 3B, 7 HR, 19 RBI, 3 BB, 16 K, 4 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.299/.329/.619) — leads the league in homers and RBI by two each … last time someone hit 7+ homers in the AzFL was 2011, when Robbie Grossman (seven) and Mike Olt (13!) both did it … Sanchez has another week to pad his total
  • SS Tyler Wade: 14 G, 9-41 (.220), 6 R, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 6 BB, 7 K, 2 SB, 1 CS (.220/.313/.268) — life outside Single-A ball has been tough
  • RHP Domingo Acevedo: 6 G, 0 GS, 10 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 2 HB (2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP) — all three runs came in one outing, so his other five appearances have been scoreless
  • LHP Ian Clarkin: 5 G, 5 GS, 20.1 IP, 26 H, 13 R, 13 ER, 13 BB, 12 K, 2 HR, 1 HB, 1 WP (5.75 ERA and 1.92 WHIP) — looks like he has one start left in the AzFL season
  • LHP Chaz Hebert: 5 G, 0 GS, 11.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 9 BB, 9 K, 1 WP (2.38 ERA and 1.41 WHIP) — Eric Longenhagen said Hebert topped out at 91 mph with a low-80s slider, an upper-70s changeup, plus a cutter in the Fall Stars Game … on the 20-80 scouting scale, Longenhagen gave the changeup a 55, the slider a 50, and the cutter a 45 … 50 is MLB average so that’s three pitches right at average … that’s really good!
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 8 G, 0 GS, 10 IP, 12 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 1 WP (7.20 ERA and 1.50 WHIP) — he’s making up for lost time after missing the second half with a finger injury

Dominican Winter League

  • IF Abi Avelino: 1 G, 0-1, 1 K — appeared in one game two weeks ago and hasn’t played since … believe it or not, that’s pretty common in the Caribbean winter leagues … they’re very competitive and he may have been dropped from the active roster because the team didn’t think he could help them win
  • SS Jorge Mateo is listed on a roster but has not appeared in a game yet. At this point, I’m guessing he won’t play at all. He had a long season and he ended the year on the DL, remember, so the Yankees can hold him back from winter ball.

Mexican Pacific League

  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 12 G, 0 GS, 8 IP, 14 H, 11 R, 10 ER, 4 BB, 12 K, 2 HR, 1 WP (11.25 ERA and 2.25 WHIP) — woof
  • RHP Luis Niebla: 6 G, 6 GS, 30.2 IP, 24 H, 15 R, 14 ER, 17 BB, 20 K, 2 HR, 2 HB, 1 WP (4.11 ERA and 1.34 WHIP)

Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico)

  • IF Cito Culver: 6 G, 2-19 (.105), 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K (.105/.150/.105)
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 3 G, 3 GS, 13.1 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 11 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (2.70 ERA and 1.20 WHIP) — the season doesn’t end until early-January but I don’t think Mitchell will pitch that long … either way, there’s still time for him to make a few more starts and throw a few more innings after working out of the bullpen for much of the regular season
  • 2B Angelo Gumbs is listed on a roster but has not appeared in a game yet.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • OF Ben Gamel: 23 G, 22-82 (.268), 8 R, 4 2B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 10 BB, 17 K, 3 SB, 1 CS (.268/.337/.427) — between the regular season and winter ball, he’s up to 152 games played this year … long season
  • OF Teodoro Martinez: 28 G, 28-105 (.267), 14 R, 2 2B, 2 3B, 11 RBI, 4 BB, 12 K, 2 SB, 2 HBP (.267/.304/.324) — he’s still in the organization apparently … the Yankees signed him out of an independent league at midseason when they needed some healthy outfielders and that’s not usually a job with a lot of staying power
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 5 G, 0 GS, 5 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HB, 1 WP (5.40 ERA and 1.80 WHIP) — remember when he was nursing that sub-1.00 ERA early in the season?
  • RHP Jaron Long: 6 G, 6 GS, 33.2 IP, 36 H, 12 R, 11 ER, 7 BB, 15 K, 2 HR, 2 WP (2.94 ERA and 1.28 WHIP) — he’s up to 188.1 innings on the year
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 11 G, 0 GS, 9.2 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 5 BB, 13 K, 1 HR (6.52 ERA and 1.34 WHIP) — relief prospects will break your heart
  • IF Thairo Estrada is listed on a roster but has not yet played in a game.

DotF: Scranton clinches division title, Pulaski takes Game One

Got some links and notes to pass along:

  • LHP Ian Clarkin has faced hitters in live batting practice, assistant GM Billy Eppler told Chad Jennings. Clarkin has not pitched at all this year after suffering some kind of elbow injury in Spring Training. The minor league season ends early next week, so it’s unlikely he’ll get into a game.
  • IF Cole Figueroa has been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. He was designated for assignment earlier this week to make room for September call-ups. No word on OF Tyler Austin yet. I’m guessing they’re trying to trade him before putting him on waivers.
  • Chad Jennings put together a really great breakdown of how the various minor league lineups have evolved this season. There’s been a ton of turnover since Opening Day, which is normal, but most of it is positive turnover. Guys getting promoted, etc.
  • Low-A Charleston will have a slightly new logo and new uniforms beginning next season, reports Josh Leventhal. They added “wrought-iron accents native to the Charleston area” to their classic chomping dog logo. Pretty slick.
  • And finally, SS Tyler Wade was named to the High-A Florida State League end-of-season All-Star Team, so congrats to him.

Triple-A Scranton (12-2 win over Buffalo) they have officially clinched the division title for the first time since 2010

  • CF Slade Heathcott: 2-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 K — that’s his third homer of the season and his first since the one he hit in the big leagues before his injury
  • 2B Ali Castillo: 3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 SB
  • DH Ben Gamel: 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K — leads the system with 50 extra-base hits
  • RF Aaron Judge: 2-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB — 6-for-16 (.375) in his last four games … he’s second in the system with 49 extra-base hits
  • LF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HBP
  • 3B Cito Culver: 4-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K — you know the offense is clicking when Cito has four hits
  • LHP Eric Wooten: 4.2 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3/9 GB/FB — 60 of 88 pitches were strikes (68%)
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 12 of 18 pitches were strikes (67%)
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 0/1 GB/FB — ten of 15 pitches were strikes … 84/21 K/BB in 62.1 minor league innings

[Read more…]

Bailey, Refsnyder, Romine among first wave of September call-ups

Bailey. (MLB.com)
Bailey. (MLB.com)

11:45am ET: To clear the three 40-man roster spots, the Yankees transferred Domingo German to the 60-day DL and designated both Tyler Austin and Cole Figueroa for assignment, the team announced. German, who is out following Tommy John surgery, was technically called up to MLB for the first time and placed on the DL. He’ll get big league pay for a month. Good for him. Austin has had a poor year (92 wRC+) and the Yankees have a ton of upper level outfield depth. That made him expendable.

9:30am ET: Following last night’s loss, the Yankees announced their first wave of September call-ups, and the list runs eight players deep. They wasted no time beefing up the roster. The eight players: catcher Austin Romine, infielder Rob Refsnyder, outfielder Rico Noel, utility men Dustin Ackley and Jose Pirela, righties Andrew Bailey and Caleb Cotham, and lefty James Pazos. They’ll all be active tonight.

Technically, Ackley is being activated off the 15-day DL. He’s missed the last month or so with a back problem and had been rehabbing with Triple-A Scranton the last few days. Everyone else was simply called up. Refsnyder, Pirela, and Cotham were all up earlier this year while both Bailey and Romine have been up in previous years. Noel and Pazos are big leaguers for the first time.

Bailey, 31, has not pitched in MLB since July 2013 due to a biceps injury and shoulder capsule surgery. The Yankees signed him prior to last season knowing he was unlikely to pitch, rehabbed him, brought him back this year, and will now hopefully be rewarded for their patience. Bailey had a 1.80 ERA (2.87 FIP) with good strikeout (29.8%) and walk (7.8 BB%) numbers in 35 minor league innings this year.

It’ll be interesting to see how Joe Girardi uses Bailey this month. He’s not the typical September call-up fodder — this a former All-Star, remember. His minor league performance was good and I’m sure the team’s reports on his stuff were good too, otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten called up. Will Bailey step right in and assume a late-inning role or be eased back into things? We’ll see. He’ll remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016, by the way.

Pazos, 24, was the team’s 13th round pick in the 2012 draft. He would have been Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so the Yankees are getting a head start on things by adding him to the 40-man roster. Pazos had a 1.27 ERA (2.39 FIP) with a good strikeout rate (28.8%) and a perhaps too high walk rate (8.8%) in 42.2 minor league innings this year.

The southpaw is a hard-thrower — PitchFX data from the 2013 Arizona Fall League says Pazos averaged 94.3 mph and topped out at 96.4 mph — with a good slider, so he’s an actual prospect. A bullpen prospect, but a prospect nonetheless. Pazos has a little funk in his delivery too. Here’s some video:

With Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, and Chasen Shreve ahead of Pazos on the left-handed reliever depth chart, I expect Pazos to work in super low-leverage spots this months. This is just to get his feet wet at the big league level so he can prepare to ride the bullpen shuttle next season. Phil Coke turned a 2008 September call-up into a 2009 MLB roster spot. Pazos will try to do the same.

The 26-year-old Noel will be the team’s pinch-running specialist down the stretch. Maybe he’ll play some late-inning defense too, but nothing more. He is the 2015 version of 2009 Freddy Guzman. Pirela, Cotham, Romine, Ackley, and Refsnyder are all spare parts. Romine will be the barely used third catcher and Cotham will soak up garbage time innings. I suppose Pirela and/or Refsnyder could take second base platoon at-bats away from Brendan Ryan.

The eight call-ups require the Yankees to clear three 40-man roster spots. Refsnyder, Ackley, Pirela, and Cotham are all already on the 40-man, plus the team has one open spot after designating Chris Capuano for assignment the other day. The Capuano spot will go to one of Noel, Bailey, Romine, or Pazos. The Yankees need to clear 40-man spots for the other three. Those moves will be announced later today.

The fact Slade Heathcott, Chris Martin, and Cole Figueroa were not called up from Triple-A Scranton suggests they may be on the chopping block. Tyler Austin was not called up from Double-A Trenton, though that wasn’t surprising. Jacob Lindgren (elbow) and Domingo German (elbow) could be called up and placed on the 60-day DL, which would clear 40-man spots but also allow them to accrue service time.

Either way, the Yankees suddenly have a nine-man bench — well, eight-man bench with Mark Teixeira sidelined — and a ten-man bullpen. It’ll become a 12-man bullpen in a few days when Nick Goody and Nick Rumbelow are recalled. (They were sent down last week and can not be brought back for ten days.) The Yankees wasted no time making their call-ups. The regulars are still going to play everyday because the team is in a division race, but the extra bodies have arrived.

Yankees have no shortage of candidates for September call-ups this year

Didi and Slade. (Presswire)
Didi and Slade. (Presswire)

Twelve days from now, the Yankees and every other team in baseball will be able to expand their rosters and carry up to 40 active players. September call-ups are somewhat controversial, lots of people don’t like seeing the final month of the season played with different rules, but I’m a fan of expanded rosters. Players get worn down during the course of the season, so the extra bodies in September are welcome.

For the 2015 Yankees, expanded rosters will be about much more than adding a third catcher or some spare arms for blowouts. They will be in position to add some real weapons to the roster even though most call-ups will be used in limited roles. Still, adding the extra players will be very beneficial. The Yankees have used their depth quite a bit this season and next month they’ll be able to have everyone on the roster at once.

During an interview with YES over the weekend, Brian Cashman said the player development staff has been told to prepare for mass call-ups on September 1st, so the Yankees won’t waste any time. They’re not going to wait for the Triple-A postseason to end or anything like that. The big league team is the priority and the Yankees are going to call guys up as soon as possible. Here’s a breakdown of who we will and could see next month.

Locks To Be Called Up

During that YES interview, Cashman said “any and all” of the relievers who have been shuttled up and down this summer will return in September, and it’s a long list. Caleb Cotham, Nick Goody, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow are the notables. (Rumbelow is up right now but that could change in a day or two the way things have been going this year.) Those are four extra arms on the 40-man roster who will be able to soak up any miscellaneous innings.

On the position player side, Slade Heathcott and Jose Pirela are safe bets to be called up to serve as the extra outfielder and extra infielder, respectively. Both are still on the 40-man and were up earlier this year — Pirela was sent down due to performance, Heathcott got hurt — and both offer different things. Heathcott adds speed and defense, Pirela offers versatility and another right-handed bat. Heck, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if Heathcott snuck onto the potential postseason roster as a pinch-running specialist.

Called Up If Healthy

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

Bryan Mitchell was just placed on the 7-day concussion DL after taking a line drive to the face, though earlier this week Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings there’s a chance Mitchell will be back in the bullpen within a week. That sounds … optimistic. Either way, Mitchell will be on the roster in September if he’s healthy. No reason to expect otherwise. He’s been on the 25-man roster for a big chunk of the year already.

Righty Chris Martin and lefty Jacob Lindgren are both on the Triple-A DL with elbow problems and figure to return in September, if healthy. Lindgren had surgery to remove bone spurs and the Yankees have said they expect him to return this year, so it’s just a question of whether he gets through his rehab in one piece. The nature of Martin’s injury is unknown. We’re just going to have to wait and see whether he’s healthy and able to pitch in September.

The Obligatory Third Catcher

Cashman confirmed the Yankees will call-up a third catcher because duh. Every team brings up a third catcher. The only catcher on the 40-man roster aside from Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy is Gary Sanchez, who has hit a bit of a wall with Triple-A Scranton after crushing the level immediately after his promotion. Austin Romine has had a nice year too, but he’s not on the 40-man roster. My guess is Sanchez gets the call as the third catcher but rarely catches, sorta like Jesus Montero in 2011. (Also, Romine would require clearing a 40-man spot.) That is especially true if the race for a postseason spot goes right down to the wire, as expected. Sanchez might only catch in blowouts or after the team clinches all it can clinch.

Likely To Be Called Up, But Not Locks

There’s really only one player in this category: Rob Refsnyder. He’s had a good year in Triple-A, not a great year, and his brief four-game cameo in pinstripes earlier this year was a bit of a mixed bag. Some good, some not so good. There have been unconfirmed reports floating around that the Yankees were less than enthused with Refsnyder’s attitude during his call-up — not so much that he didn’t work hard, but that he was arrogant and acted entitled — and I suppose the club could keep him down in September as something of a wake-up call. My guess is Refsnyder comes up and takes second base platoon at-bats away from Brendan Ryan. I just wouldn’t put his chances at a call-up at 100%. Maybe it’s more like 95% or so.

Unlikely To Be Called Up

Among the healthy 40-man roster players, the only one who I think has less than a 50/50 chance of getting a September call-up is Tyler Austin. Another righty bat would be neat, but Austin’s had a very rough year and was recently demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton. Players who have struggled like Austin usually don’t get called up unless there’s no other option. There’s a “reward” aspect to being a September call-up, and he didn’t earn this year.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

The biggest name among non-40-man players is Aaron Judge, the team’s top prospect. The Yankees added both Refsnyder and Greg Bird to the 40-man early and called them up this year, but they were both performing in Triple-A. Judge has been striking out a ton of late and he won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible for another few years, not another few months. I would be surprised if the Yankees tied up another 40-man spot by adding Judge. His time will come eventually. Just probably not this September.

Other non-40-man players I don’t expect to be called up in September: Ben Gamel, Brady Lail, James Pazos, and Johnny Barbato. Lail and Barbato just reached Triple-A and there are too many arms ahead of them on the depth chart to add them to the 40-man roster early. Gamel’s had a breakout season and I wouldn’t necessarily put his call-up chances at 0%. Heathcott will fill the “extra lefty hitting outfielder” role though, and I’m not sure the Yankees should clear a roster spot to add another. Pazos could be a victim of the number’s crunch more than anything. There simply might not be any room for another lefty reliever.

The Non-40-Man Wildcard

The non-40-man player who I think has the best chance of being called up in September is Andrew Bailey. He’s working his way back from shoulder surgery and been able to stay healthy for a few weeks now, plus he’s pitched effectively in all sorts of situations (back-to-back days, multiple innings, etc.) in the minors. The Yankees have put a lot of time and effort into helping him rehab these last two years, remember.

Cashman admitted Bailey was recently held out of a Triple-A game in case he needed to be called up to help the tired bullpen, but that didn’t happen. Bailey wasn’t needed. That they’ve already come thisclose to calling Bailey up this month leads me to believe they will bring him to the show once rosters expand. Bailey hasn’t pitched in MLB since getting hurt in July 2013. It’s been a long and difficult road back. Hopefully he stays healthy these next two weeks and gets the call in September.

The 40-Man Situation

The 40-man roster is full right now. It’s actually extra full. The Yankees have four players on the 60-day DL (Sergio Santos, Diego Moreno, Mason Williams, Chase Whitley) and none of them will be ready to be activated in September following their season-ending surgeries. The Yankees will need to clear a spot to call up, say, Bailey or Romine, and there are a few ways to do that.

First and foremost, the Yankees could call up an injured 40-man roster player and place them on the 60-day DL. Martin (elbow) and Domingo German (Tommy John surgery) are two candidates for that move. The Yankees haven’t done the call-up/60-day DL thing often — they did it with Justin Maxwell and Heathcott a few years ago, that’s pretty much it — but it is an option. Not wanting German to accumulate service time is understandable. Martin though? Who cares. Of course, he’d have to actually be hurt to pull this move. Can’t 60-day DL a healthy player.

Figueroa. (Presswire)
Figueroa. (Presswire)

The Yankees could always outright or designate a player for assignment to clear 40-man space. There just aren’t many obvious candidates. Perhaps they’ll decide to cut Chris Capuano again in September since they’ll have all the extra relievers and won’t necessarily need a long man. Cole Figueroa could also get the axe, especially if Refsnyder does get called up and/or Dustin Ackley gets healthy. Martin? He could lose his 40-man spot if healthy as well.

Capuano, Figueroa, and Martin are the three main 40-man casualty candidates. It would be a surprise if the Yankees dropped someone like Austin, Pirela, or Cotham from the roster. Those guys are probably the next three in line, if anything. Aside from Bailey and maybe Romine, the Yankees don’t figure to need any 40-man spots this September, though they could clear two with the call-up/60-day DL move. We’ll see.

* * *

Once September rolls around, the Yankees will obviously add a bunch of pitchers and a third catcher, plus a few extra position players. The extra arms will be a huge help, the bullpen has worked a ton this year, and Refsnyder could really help if he gets those platoon at-bats instead of Ryan. If not him, then Pirela. Also, Heathcott could be a factor as a defensive replacement/pinch-runner.

No one in their right mind is an expecting major impact from a September call-up — guys who do what Francisco Rodriguez did in 2002 are extremely rare — but they can help in limited roles. Those extra pitchers and platoon bats and pinch-runners are valuable in their own way. Given how tight the AL East race is at the moment, every little upgrade helps. September call-ups this year will be about more than resting regulars in blowouts.

2015 Midseason Review: Odds & Ends

Time to tie up some loose ends and conclude our Midseason Review series. The second half of the 2015 seasons starts tonight, thankfully. I’ve come to appreciate the All-Star break, but yeah, I am ready for more baseball.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

G.I. Jones and the Serial Killer

By bench player standards, Chris Young has been dynamite this season. He’s mashing lefties and playing strong defense, which are his two main job functions. Garrett Jones, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a set role. He’s the backup at first base, yeah, but otherwise he doesn’t play regularly against righties or anything. Jones has started just 28 of the team’s 88 games, for example. He batted 28 times in April. That’s it.

Playing that infrequently didn’t exactly help Jones remain productive. He went 6-for-40 (.150) before hitting his first home run on May 22nd, a pinch-hit three-run homer into the Yankee Stadium short porch. That seemed to get him going. Jones is 24-for-89 (.270) with four homers since then, including at least one big one …

… while continuing to play sporadically. Jones is hitting .233/.277/.395 (84 wRC+) with five homers overall — again, he’s been much better since that dreadful start — and all things considered, he’s been really good for his role. That backup first baseman/fifth outfielder/lefty power bat off the bench who rarely plays. This is exactly the kind of veteran dude you want in this role. Not some prospect with an actual future.

John Ryan Murphy, meanwhile, has a total of 85 plate appearances as Brian McCann‘s backup this year, and is hitting .247/.286/.325 (65 wRC+). That’s about on par with the league average for backup catchers. Murphy’s defense has been fine to the untrained eye — he’s thrown out six of 19 attempted base-stealers (32%), so teams have tried running on him in limited action — and for whatever reason the pitching staff has better strikeout (23.4%) and walk (5.6%) rates with him behind the plate than McCann (21.8% and 7.2%, respectively). Could easily be sample size noise.

The Yankees reached the point where something had to happen with their catching depth. Someone had to go, and it was Francisco Cervelli, who was two years from free agency. The Yankees turned him into Justin Wilson, gave Murphy the backup job, and managed to keep Austin Romine in Triple-A as a non-40-man roster player. As an unabashed JRM fan, I’m happy with the way things turned out and I look forward to seeing Murphy continue to develop on both sides of the ball.

Futility Infielders

Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

It feels like more, but the Yankees have had four differential utility infielders this season, not counting the just called up Rob Refsnyder. Gregorio Petit, Jose Pirela, Brendan Ryan, and Cole Figueroa have hit a combined .209/.243/.310 (~53 wRC+) in 140 plate appearances. Pirela (41 wRC+) has exactly half those plate appearances. There’s a decent chance the Yankees will stick with Refsnyder as the regular second baseman and push Stephen Drew in the backup infielder role going forward, which would still be a net upgrade even as bad as Drew has been. Young, Jones, and Murphy have been pretty good off the bench, all things considered. The infielders have … not.

Get Called Up, Get Injured

When Jacoby Ellsbury hit the DL, the Yankees first called up Slade Heathcott, and it was a great story. Slade has dealt with all sorts of on-the-field and off-the-field issues over the years, so much so that he was dropped off the 40-man roster in the offseason, but he came to Spring Training healthy and played well in Triple-A. He earned the call up, went 6-for-17 (.343) with a homer, then blew out his quad and landed on the DL for a few months. Brutal.

Heathcott’s injury opened the door for Mason Williams, who battled mostly work ethic and makeup problems the last few years, but had the proverbial light bulb go on this offseason. He played well in Double-A and Triple-A, got called up to replace Slade, went 6-for-21 (.286) with three doubles and a homer, then suffered a shoulder injury diving back into first base on a pickoff throw. The day-to-day injury turned into a 60-day DL stint. I repeat: brutal.

The only young fourth outfielder to escape the injury bug in the first half was Ramon Flores, who got called up to replace Williams and went 7-for-32 (.219) with a double. He’s been up and down a few times and hasn’t gotten the everyday opportunity like Heathcott and Williams did before getting hurt. Maybe that’s the team’s way of keeping him healthy. I’m glad the Yankees have given their young outfielders a chance. It sucks they keep getting hurt. Seriously hurt too.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

One Hundred Pitches Or Less

Through 88 games this season, the Yankees have had a starting pitcher throw 100+ pitches only 22 times, tied with the Rockies and Royals for the fewest in MLB. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have both thrown 100+ pitches seven times, Adam Warren did it four times before being put in the bullpen, CC Sabathia has done it three times, and Masahiro Tanaka has done it once. That’s it. The Yankees do have 38 starts of 90-99 pitches, for what it’s worth.

The lack of 100+ pitch starts is the result of many things, first and foremost ineffectiveness. Sabathia and Eovaldi have gotten knocked around a bit at times, Warren struggled in April, and even Tanaka and Pineda went through rough stretches. The Yankees also have a strong bullpen and Joe Girardi has not been shy about going to it early rather than letting his starter go through the lineup a third time. Can’t say I blame him.

That said, the Yankees rank 22nd in innings by starters (510) and eighth in innings by the bullpen (283.1), which is a bit unbalanced. Over the last five years the ratio of rotation innings to bullpen innings is almost exactly 2.0 (1.996, to be exact) in the AL. The Yankees are at 1.80 this year. I’m not saying it can’t work all year, but it would be nice to see Girardi let the starters go a little deeper into games to help avoid bullpen burnout, especially with multi-run leads. I’m not sure asking the relievers to get a dozen outs each night is a built to last strategy.

Game 87: Refsnyder Arrives

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So far this season the Yankees have already had ten players make their MLB debuts, and that doesn’t count Joel De La Cruz or Taylor Dugas, both of whom were called up for the first time but didn’t get into a game. So it’s really 12 players who reached MLB for the first time while wearing pinstripes this year. That’s a ton. They had eight players make their MLB debut all of last season.

Tonight, Rob Refsnyder will be the 13th Yankee to reach the big leagues for the first time this season. Word got out last night the team was calling up their top second base prospect and the Yankees confirmed the news after the game, and today Refsnyder is in the lineup. It’s a good time to break him in too — they’re facing left-handed starters today and tomorrow, and the right-handed Refsnyder did face tonight’s Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez in Triple-A earlier this season. What happens after these two games … who knows? One step at a time. Here is the BoSox’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF All-Star Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Chris Young
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Rob Refsnyder
    RHP Ivan Nova

Pretty much a perfect night for baseball in Boston. Clear skies, not too hot, nothing wet in the forecast. Tonight’s game will begin just after 7pm ET and you can watch on FOX. Yeah, it’s going to be one of those games. Enjoy the broadcast!

Roster Move: The Yankees still haven’t announced a roster move to accommodate Refsnyder because they wanted to see how Headley (calf) got through batting practice and pregame work. Everything went well, by all accounts. The team needs to make both 25-man and 40-man moves. Designating Cole Figueroa or Gregorio Petit for assignment would accomplish both. We’ll see.

Roster Move Update (6:44pm): Figueroa has been optioned to Triple-A Scranton and Mason Williams has been transferred to the 60-day DL, the Yankees announced, clearing room for Refsnyder. So Mason’s shoulder injury went from nothing to something in a hurry, huh?