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.)

Minor League Notes: Assignments, Spring Reports, Judge, International Spending

Pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)
The new pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)

The Yankees open the 2015 regular season tomorrow, and a few days later the minor league season will get underway as well. Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all begin their seasons this coming Thursday. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then.

Opening Day assignments for top prospects

The full minor league rosters have not yet been released and won’t be a few days, though Josh Norris was able to get his hands on Opening Day assignments for most of the Yankees’ top prospects. The list:

Norris says the assignments could change slightly before the start of the season, but for the most part they’re set. Sanchez is going back to the Thunder to continue working on his defense with coaches and ex-catchers Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere, which I don’t love, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I assume Avelino, Katoh, and Mateo will rotate between second, short, and DH like Avelino, Katoh, and Wade did last year before Avelino got hurt. I’m little surprised Mateo is going to Charleston — he’s played only games in 15 rookie ball, that’s it — but the Yankees have never been shy about aggressively promoting their best teenage players. Otherwise these assignments are fairly straight forward. No major surprises.

Notes from the backfields in Tampa

Both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Jeff Moore (no subs. req’d) recently posted a collection of notes after watching minor league games on the backfields all around Florida. Law got a look at Mateo, saying he likes “how well he keeps his hands inside the ball” and added he “liked the potential of the hit tool but was hoping to see more polish on both sides of the ball.” The polish will come. It’s only Spring Training and Mateo is still just a 19-year-old kid.

Meanwhile, Moore saw Judge, Bird, and RHP Bryan Mitchell. “What’s impressive is (Judge) seems to get a little better each time I see him. The at-bats have gotten tougher and more advanced, with a better plan each time out,” wrote Moore. He also said he sees Bird as “a potential regular first baseman” and his “power is very real, more real than he gets credit for.” As for Mitchell, Moore says his fastball/curveball combination “screams reliever, and possibly a darn good one.”

Law still ranks Judge 23rd in latest Top 50 Prospects list

Last week, Law released an updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball (subs. req’d). There are only very minor changes from his top 100 list in February, with the most notable being the addition of Red Sox IF Yoan Moncada, who slots in at No. 16. Even with Moncada joining the list, Judge stays in the same No. 23 spot because he jumped over Rockies RHP Jon Gray, who hasn’t looked like himself this spring. Judge remains the third outfielder on the list behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law is the high man on Judge based on all this spring’s other top 100 lists. That’s cool with me.

Yankees spent $17.83M on international players in 2014

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees spent a ridiculous $17.83M on international prospects last year, easily the most in baseball. They spent more than the number two (Rays, $6.11M), three (Red Sox, $5.63M), and four (Astros, $5.42M) teams combined and more than the bottom ten teams combined ($16.9575M). Just to be clear, this is for the 2014 calendar year, not the 2014-15 signing period.

The Yankees handed out three of the five largest, six of the 14 largest, and 12 of the 40 largest signing bonuses to international prospects during the 2014 calendar year, according to Badler. We still don’t have a final number for the total bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period, but the total investment is clearly going to be north of $30M between bonuses and penalties. Most of that $17.83M last year was spent on July 2nd, the first day of the 2014-15 signing period. Now the Yankees just have to turn these kids into big leaguers and tradeable prospects.

Yankees release nine more minor leaguers

The Yankees have released seven more minor leaguers according to Matt Eddy: OF Yeicok Calderon, RHP Tim Giel, OF Robert Hernandez, RHP Stefan Lopez, RHP Matt Noteware, 1B Dalton Smith, and IF Graham Ramos. Dan Pfeiffer says OF Adonis Garcia was released as well, and OF Adam Silva announced on Facebook he was also released.

First things first: no more Yeicokshots!, sadly. Hernandez was signed in January, so his stint with the organization didn’t last long. Lopez led NCAA in saves in 2012 and had some potential, but he fell in love with his fastball so much in college that he lost all feel for his slider and became a one-pitch guy. The Yankees signed Giel, Noteware, and Ramos as undrafted free agents within the last two years to help fill out minor league rosters. That’s about it.

Old Timers’ Game coming to Triple-A Scranton

And finally, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre franchise is holding an Old Timers’ Game on June 21st, reports Donnie Collins. The event will raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. “I expect the ballpark to be sold out — and standing room only. That’s the goal,” said RailRiders’ co-managing partner to Grant Cagle to Collins. A bunch of ex-Yankees will be in attendance — not sure who, exactly — to play in the Old Timers’ Game and/or mingle with fans during a meet-and-greet and autograph session. That should be fun.

Minor League Notes: Bichette, Campos, Hensley

In case you missed it, 3B Eric Jagielo will miss the Arizona Fall League after taking a fastball to the face in Instructional League over the weekend. He will be out 4-6 weeks after having surgery. Jim Callis confirmed Jagielo suffered slight fracture in his zygomatic arch near his left eye. “He should be fine. His vision is A-OK and we don’t anticipate any lingering issues. He’ll be back for Spring Training,” said director of player personnel John Kremer to Callis. Scary. Here are some more minor league notes.

  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr. has replaced Jagielo on the Scottsdale Scorpions roster in the AzFL, according to Chad Jennings. Bichette rebuilt his prospect value some this year by hitting .264/.345/.397 (~113 wRC+) with nine homers between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this year. The AzFL is a great place to hit, so Bichette could put up some nice numbers there.
  • RHP Jose Campos is currently throwing from 90 feet as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery, VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman confirmed to Josh Norris. That puts him right on schedule with the usual rehab timetable. It’ll be interesting to see what the Yankees do with Campos once healthy. Bullpen time after two serious elbow injuries in three years?
  • C Luis Torrens was recently named the fourth best prospect in the short season NY-Penn League. In the chat, Aaron Fitt (subs. req’d) said RHP Ty Hensley was “up to 96 at Staten Island, pitched at 90-93, and showed a plus curveball. When he had his fastball command, he looked very good, from what I heard.” Hensley, who was coming off surgery on both hips and a hernia this year, didn’t throw enough innings to qualify for the top 20 list.
  • Jagielo was named one of the most disappointing prospects of the season by Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d). “He has a gaping hole on the outer half of the plate … His plate coverage was quite poor and will be exposed at higher levels unless he makes a major adjustment,” said the write-up. “Because of his size and strength, he’s still going to run into his share of home runs and should hit for moderate power …. Jagielo profiles as a second-division regular at best.”
  • The Yankees have re-signed RHP Joel De La Cruz and RHP Wilking Rodriguez, according to Matt Eddy. De La Cruz, 25, had a 4.44 ERA (4.09 FIP) in 121.2 innings split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this year. He’s the guy Brian Cashman tried to send to the Cubs for Alfonso Soriano instead of Corey Black. The Yankees signed the 24-year-old Rodriguez a few weeks ago, released him a few days later, and now have brought him back.
  • Also according to Eddy, the Yankees have also signed RHP Yoel Espinal. The 21-year-old has not pitched since 2012 due to injury and was released by the Tigers in May. He had a 6.89 ERA (6.18 FIP) with nearly as many walks (24) as strikeouts (26) in the rookie Gulf Coast League back in 2012. Doesn’t sound like much, but every so often someone like this turns into Jose Quintana.
  • J.J. Cooper compiled a verified list of pitching prospects who have hit 100+ mph in the minor leagues this year. The only Yankees’ farmhand listed is 20-year-old RHP Domingo Acevedo. The 6-foot-7, 242-pounder had a 4.11 ERA (2.42 FIP) in 15.1 rookie ball innings this year. I wrote him up as a prospect to watch back in February.

And finally, in honor of his final season, Baseball America re-published their story naming Derek Jeter their 1994 Minor League Player of the Year. It’s free, you don’t need a subscription. “He’s a level-headed kid who would be able to handle the bad with the good. Being under the microscope in New York, I think with his makeup he would be able to handle that. He seems unflappable as far as what surrounds him,” said then Double-A Albany manager Bill Evers. Yup.

Mailbag: Framing, Defense, Bichette, Jagielo, CC

Got seven questions in this week’s mailbag. A few other really good ones came in too, but I’m holding those back because I need more time to think about them. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us questions, links, comments, whatever.

Paul asks: Am I reading this FanGraphs article correctly? Yankees have gotten +25 strikes (from pitch-framing), a strike is worth .14 runs, 10 runs = 1 win, so the Yankees have gotten about 1/3 WAR from pitch-framing in the first week of the season? Or are these wins different from wins above replacement?

According to the article, the Yankees have gotten 25 extra strikes than expected due to pitch-framing so far this year, the most in baseball. That’s seems … reasonable, I guess? I don’t really know. Brian McCann is an elite pitch-framer and Frankie Cervelli has graded out well in his sporadic playing time over the years, so it stands to reason they would be near the top. That +25 strikes number is just an estimate in that post, remember.

Here is an older list of the run value of events, like singles and homers and sacrifice flies and a bunch of other stuff. It does not include called strikes though, so I’m not sure where that 0.14 runs per called strike number came from. I know Jeff Sullivan though and I trust he got it from somewhere reliable. So anyway, 25 extra strikes at 0.14 runs per strike works out to +3.5 runs total. FanGraphs says 9.386 runs equals one win these days, so the Yankees have “earned” 0.37th of a win through framing alone in 2014. That’s the straight forward math. A win is a win regardless of whether your starting point is replacement level or league average. In this case, the 25 extra strikes was compared to the league average.

There are two issues here, in my opinion. One, pitch-framing analysis still has a long way to go. I think it needs to be adjusted for umpire and for the pitcher, for starters. Maybe even treat it like a pitching stat and consider leverage. Two, that 0.14 runs per called strike number is an average for all situations, but not all called strikes are created equally. Turning a borderline pitch into a strike in a 3-2 count is more valuable than doing the same in a 3-0 count, for example. These win values we’re seeing from pitch-framing seem way too high to me — it’s basically the single most valuable thing in baseball, if you believe the numbers — but for a quick and dirty analysis, the FanGraphs stuff is fine. It’s interesting but I don’t think we can take these at face value yet.

JK5 asks: Do defensive metrics take ‘shifts’ into consideration? There was a play Jonathan Schoop (officially playing 3rd) made on a ball hit by McCann into shallow RF. Just reading the box score play-by-play would make one thing this play was a normal 5-3 putout, which it absolutely wasn’t. So Schoop’s range factor at 3b is helped by a ball hit nowhere near his normal position. So going forward, with increased ‘shifts’, are we gonna see sort of a manufactured rating for 3b (who are most often used as the primary ‘shifted’ fielder)?

Yes and no. Some defensive stats do recognize shifts, others don’t. As far as I know, UZR basically has an on/off switch. If there is no shift, the play is recorded the same way it always is. If the shift is on, the play is not recorded and ignored. DRS does not consider shifts and assumes the defender starts every the play wherever the league usually sets up at that position. That’s why Brett Lawrie had a good +4.5 UZR but an elite +20 DRS in 2012. UZR ignored all the times he was standing in shallow right on the shift while DRS thought he started all those plays at third base. I don’t know how (or if) Total Zone and FRAA handle shifts.

The problems are obvious here. With shifts becoming more prevalent, UZR is reducing its own sample size by ignoring plays with the shift. DRS is assuming third basemen have superman range, which is worse. That only adds to the uncertainty of defensive stats. I think they are best used directionally with a multi-year sample. They can give us an idea of who is good, who is bad, and who is average. The exact values though? I don’t think we can take them seriously. There’s no way you can say Shortstop A is a better defender than Shortstop B because he had a +5.7 UZR/+9 DRS from 2010-13 while the other guy was at +5.3 UZR/+7 DRS. They’re both good. Leave it at that.

Huh, third basemen don't stand there. (AP)
Huh, third basemen don’t stand there. (AP)

Dan asks: If the Yankees even had an average infield in terms of range, do you think Joe would be employing the shift as much? Now that they are flipping the third baseman and Derek Jeter during the shift, if Jeter makes a play when he’s the only one on the left side of the infield would he be the third baseman for purposes of scoring the game? He is the player furthest to the left side of the infield. Finally, how do the advanced stats take shifts into account? Thanks.

Just answered that last part, conveniently. As for the other questions, yes, I absolutely think the Yankees would still be shifting as much if they have rangier infielders. Heck, they might shift more if they had more mobile defenders. Like I said yesterday, the shift is here to stay. You’re playing Super Nintendo while everyone else is on Playstation 4 if you’re not shifting.

As for the position stuff, the defensive stats recognize everyone as whatever position they are playing. Jeter would still be a shortstop in the example Dan gave in his question. That’s why Lawrie’s DRS was so high a few years ago. He was still considered a third baseman while standing in shallow right, not a second baseman.

Ben asks: Seems like early scouting reports on Dante Bichette Jr. suggested he would need to move to the OF at some point in his MiLB career. Seeing as how he is DH’ing so much due to the presence of Eric Jagielo, don’t you think now would be a good time to make the move? They’re not doing him any favors DH’ing him this regularly.

I think the bat is the most important thing for Bichette. He always was and always will be a bat-first prospect, and they have to get him to start hitting more than anything. (He went into last night’s game hitting .235/.458/.353 in six games.) They can stick him in left field or at first base a little later down the line. Right now, the most important thing is for Bichette to get his swing, his timing, his balance, his whatever else on track so he can produce at the plate. He is a huge reclamation project and they need to focus all their time and energy on his bat. It’s the most important thing for him.

Nick asks: If Aaron Judge and Jagielo tear it up do you think the Yankees should keep moving them up or let them finish the year at the level they are at?

Definitely move them up. They are two college hitters who spent three years as starters at major college programs. Those aren’t the guys you hold back. I fully expect Jagielo to end the year with Double-A Trenton and Judge to earn a promotion to at least High-A Tampa at some point. I think it’s possible he’ll go from Low-A Charleston to Tampa to Trenton this summer. I think the Yankees generally move their prospects a little too fast — ever notice how their prospects come to the big leagues still in need of refinement while the Cardinals and Rays call up guys who are so polished? Compare how much time they’ve spent in the minors — but these are two guys who should move up the ladder quick. Especially Jagielo.

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)
(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

Jeff asks: Would the Yankees be better served to have a quicker hook with CC Sabathia on the mound? I understand a lot of the value he has is as an innings eater, but it comes down to which would be better: ~200 league average or slightly below league average innings, or ~170-180 slightly above league average innings.

You know, I’m not sure. Is Sabathia at 90-100 pitches worse than, say, a fresh Dellin Betances or Vidal Nuno? I guess that depends on the day and how Sabathia has fared during those first 90 pitches. There is an obvious benefit to limiting his workload at this point, saving bullets and all that stuff, but an individual game is a different animal than the big picture. Even during his awful 2013 season, Sabathia really wasn’t less effective from pitches 76+ than he was from pitches 1-75. I know he got knocked around in the final inning of his start last week, but that’s one game. If the Yankees had a deeper and higher quality bullpen, I think the answer would be closer to yes. Since they don’t, I’m not sure.

Bill asks: The Yanks had three different players steal a base on Sunday, none of whom was Jacoby Ellsbury. When was the last time the Yanks had steals from four different players in the same game?

It’s actually not that uncommon and I didn’t think it would be. We’ve seen quite a few games in recent years where the Yankees just had the opponent’s battery down pat. They knew the pitcher’s move, knew the catcher’s arm, and were running wild. We saw it last Friday, when they stole four bases off Dustin McGowan in his 2.2 innings of work (and didn’t attempt another steal after he left the game).

Anyway, the Yankees have had at least four different players steal a base in a game 15 times this century, including six times in the last three years. They had six (!) different players steal a base in one game against the Red Sox just last September. Here’s the box score. Pretty clear they knew they could run on Ryan Lavarnway. Here is the list of all 15 games with at least four players stealing a base since 2000 for you to dig through.

BP: Dante Bichette Jr. “might be turning the corner this spring”

(Charleston River Dogs)
(Charleston River Dogs)

Two years ago, 3B Dante Bichette Jr. was one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system. They selected him with the 51st overall pick in the 2011 draft (the compensation pick for Javier Vazquez) and he hit .335/.440/.507 with 17 doubles and four homers in 54 games with the Rookie GCL Yankees after turning pro, a performance that earned him the league MVP award. The Yankees were widely panned for the pick but the early returns were great.

The last two seasons have not gone as well, however. Bichette, now 21, hit .248/.322/.331 with only three homers in 122 games for Low-A Charleston in 2012, then followed it up with a .214/.292/.331 batting line in 114 games for the River Dogs last year. Repeating a level and performing worse in the second year is as bad as it gets. Bichette dropped off prospect lists this spring and understandable so.

In a free article at Baseball Prospectus — all of their content is free today, by the way — the staff compiled some miscellaneous scouting notes from the Spring Training backfields. Here’s the write-up on Bichette, from Steffan Segui:

Bichette looks like he might be turning the corner this spring. While still rotational, everything in his swing has been simplified, and his good natural power hasn’t been depleted. His swing is now rock, identify pitch, and roll. Short and quick, don’t ask questions, just hit the ball. Previously, he was doing too much: It used to be huge rock, never identify pitch, enormous Javier Baez-type leg lift, front shoulder bails, hands drop and then roll. This new approach should definitely help Bichette and might allow him to recapture the prospect status he once had, assuming his issues with off-speed stuff stemmed from his swing rather than his approach. At third, he isn’t very good, his hands lack softness and he really doesn’t have any fluidity. He might make strides there at some point, but if not the arm is good enough for right field.

The knock on Bichette was always his complicated setup and hitch-y swing. The Yankees actually did a good job of quieting him soon after the draft in 2011, but it didn’t stick and Bichette has been his old self these last two years. Those numbers aren’t an accident.

A simplified swing and a new approach could help Bichette regain some prospect luster, but I want to see some improvement before I believe it. Baseball Prospectus has been bullish on Bichette over the years and so far he has yet to reward their faith. Maybe this is the start of him turning his career around. I hope it is. I don’t think Bichette has earned the benefit of the doubt though. Let’s see the new swing and approach produce some results first.

There’s also a write-up on Aaron Judge in the BP article, though there isn’t any new information in there.

Mailbag: Kazmir, Johnson, Bichette, Soriano

Just four questions this week but they’re really good ones. The best way to send us anything is through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Travis asks: Should the Yankees look to sign Scott Kazmir for 2014?

It’s hard to believe Kazmir is still only 29 years old. He won’t even turn 30 until January. Kazmir missed essentially all of 2011 and 2012 due to shoulder and back injuries before showcasing himself in an independent league. He turned a non-roster invite from the Indians into a rotation spot in Spring Training, beating out Daisuke Matsuzaka. Kazmir has pitched to a 4.25 ERA and 4.00 FIP in 125 innings across 23 starts this year, his best season since 2009 and a very impressive comeback. He deserves some major props for sticking with it.

Kazmir hasn’t gotten many ground balls (40.3%) and he has been homer prone (1.22 HR/9 and 12.2% HR/FB) this summer, but his strikeout (8.28 K/9 and 21.6 K%) and walk (2.95 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%) rates are really good. He’s handled left-handed batters very well (.242 wOBA and 2.22 FIP), righties not so much (.361 wOBA and 4.80 FIP). After all the injuries, the thing you worry about most is the quality of his stuff. He uses his two-seam fastball far more than four-seamer at this point and the velocity has been fine all year:

Kazmir Two-Seamer

It’s not the blazing upper-90s heat he had back in the (Devil) Rays days, but that will work. His trademark slider averages 82.8 mph and more importantly, PitchFX says it’s averaging 4.6 inches of movement overall. That’s in line with 2007-2009 (the first years of PitchFX) and better than what he showed in 2010. Having seen him pitch a few times this year, I’m comfortable saying it isn’t the same wipeout slider that helped him lead the AL in strikeouts at age 23. The pitch is more effective than it has been in years, however. Kazmir also works with an upper-70s/low-80s changeup.

When I first read the question, my initial reaction was “no way.” I mean, c’mon. It’s Scott Kazmir. He hasn’t been effective in like forever. But, when I saw that he was missing bats, limiting walks, sustaining his fastball velocity, and getting more break on his slider, I have to say that I’m intrigued. I would be very skeptical about giving him a multi-year contract though. Yes, he is only 29, but he’s got an ugly (arm) injury history and he is still a homer/fly ball prone lefty with a massive platoon split. Lots of red flags. There’s a non-zero chance he could turn back into a top shelf starter, but I think you have to consider him more of a back-end guy at this point. The Yankees will need starters this winter and while Kazmir might not be the most ideal solution, he’s someone worth considering.

Damix asks: Josh Johnson was both terrible and injured this year, but given the budget and rotation uncertainty, is he worth a shot for next year?

Johnson, who turns 30 in January like Kazmir, was indeed awful (6.20 ERA and 4.61 FIP) in 81.1 innings across 16 starts for the Blue Jays this year. He missed a little more than a month with a triceps issue earlier this season and is now done for the year with a forearm strain. Johnson had Tommy John surgery way back in 2007 (has it really been that long already? geez) and missed most of 2011 with shoulder inflammation. He had a 3.81 ERA and 3.41 FIP in 191.1 innings with the Marlins last summer, and that’s the guy Toronto was hoping they’d get in 2013.

Unlike Kazmir, Johnson is injured right now and will head into the free agent market as an unknown. There’s still time for Kazmir to break down, but that’s besides the point. It’s been three years since Johnson was truly dominant in a full season of work, but he did miss bats (9.18 K/9 and 21.6 K%) and get ground balls (45.1%) for the Blue Jays this year. He also gave up a ton of homers (1.66 HR/9 and 18.5% HR/FB) and got slaughtered by right-handed batters (.441 wOBA). If they could get him on a one-year contract with a low base salary and bunch of incentives, great. The Yankees won’t have a ton of money to spend under the $189M luxury tax threshold and they can’t afford to spend $10M or so on a reclamation project pitcher. They need some more certainty.

(The Orlando Sentinel)
(The Orlando Sentinel)

Michael asks: Please give me a statistical reason to think that Dante Bichette Jr. is not done as a prospect.

First things first: statistics are just a small part of the prospect pie. The further you get away from the big leagues, the less meaningful the stats become. The scouting report should always come first in my opinion.

That said, it’s tough to defend DBJ at this point. He hit .248/.322/.331 (84 wRC+) with three homers in 522 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston last season, was sent back there this year, and responded by hitting .210/.291/.322 (80 wRC+) with ten homers in 470 plate appearances. The increase in power (.083 vs. .112 ISO) comes with an increase in strikeouts (18.0 vs. 24.0 K%). Bichette, a righty bat who turns 21 next month, managed a .250/.319/.440 line in 94 plate appearances against lefties this year, so I guess that’s the reason to think he’s still a prospect.  He was productive against southpaws. Things are looking grim, but I wouldn’t write him off yet at this age.

Stephen asks: Half-embarrassed to admit this, but I had no idea Alfonso Soriano was close to 400 homeruns. I figured at the end of his career he may be closing in on that, but at this point, he is close to making 500 a real possibility. Is Soriano a Hall of Famer? I have honestly never even considered the possibility because he has only had two really good years, but his career numbers are pretty solid. He’ll also probably get his 300th stolen base in the next year or two as well.

Soriano hit his 400th career homer on Tuesday night, making him only the 43rd player in history with 2,000 career hits and 400 homers. He’s only the sixth with those two milestones plus 250 career steals. Only 24 of those 43 players are in the Hall of Fame, but I count ten more who will be or should be enshrined at some point: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr., Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and Mike Piazza. A few others are on the bubble. Obviously guys like Bonds, A-Rod, and Manny have no prayer of getting into the Hall at this point, but their bodies of work are Hall of Fame worthy.

Anyway, out of those 43 players in the 2,000-hit/400-homer club, Soriano’s career 28.2 WAR ranks … 43rd. I guess that makes sense since he just joined the club, but it goes to show how much of his offensive value was squandered on defense over the year. Soriano should zoom passed Paul Konerko (28.7 WAR) at some point, but the next guy on the list is Carlos Delgado (44.4 WAR). That would be very hard to do at age 37 (38 in January). He hasn’t hit fewer than 20 homers since his rookie year in 2001 and even though he’s about to have his second consecutive 30+ homer season, it will probably take him at least four and possibly five seasons to get to 500 career. Even if he does, I don’t think 500 homers is an automatic ticket into the Hall of Fame anymore.

I remember being so enthralled by Soriano when he first broke into the league because he was this rail-thin guy who huge power and big speed. He was so exciting. It’s hard to believe his career is coming to an end now and even harder to believe how much he’s accomplished. Four-hundred homers? Two-thousand hits? Almost 300 steals? Did anyone realistically think that was possible when he was a rookie? Crazy. Soriano is a career .272/.321/.504 (113 OPS+) hitter who’s had a brilliant career. A brilliant career at is just short of Cooperstown worthy in my eyes.

Keith Law scouts Low-A Charleston

Campos. (Photo via Charleston River Dogs)
Campos. (Photo via Charleston River Dogs)

As I mentioned last night, Keith Law was in attendance for Low-A Charleston’s loss to Augusta on Saturday. He posted his scouting notes today (subs. req’d), so here’s a quick recap…

  • RHP Jose Campos showed “reduced stuff and an arm action that seems destined for further injuries or a role in the bullpen.” He settled at 89-92 with below-average command, pretty much the opposite of what made his such an exciting prospect a year ago. His breaking ball and changeup are still works in progress. “This was far from an ideal look,” said Law, acknowledging Campos missed basically all of last year due to injury, “but what I saw didn’t give me a ton of hope.”
  • 3B Dante Bichette Jr. is “a mess on both sides of the ball,” and Law said SS Cito Culver was “running worse than I’ve ever seen from him.” 1B Greg Bird “didn’t seem to be able to pick up anything” at the plate.
  • OF Yeicok Calderon has “bat speed and a strong arm, but his hands are all over the place at the plate and the Augusta pitchers blew him up with velocity.”
  • LHP Evan Rutckyj sat in the 89-91 range with a “fringy changeup and a slider at 80-82 that might give him a chance in middle relief.”