Mailbag: D-Rob, Jeter, Oppenheimer, RoY, More

I managed to keep the answers short-ish this week, so I squeezed in a few more questions than usual. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Tony asks: How much longer do the Yankees have team control over Robertson?

David Robertson rode the Bronx-Scranton bus in 2008 and finally stuck for good in May 2009. He’s in his final pre-arbitration year right now, and is under team control through 2014 as an arbitration-eligible player. So long story short, three more seasons after this one. That was easy enough.

Dan asks: So, this kills me to ask, but seeing as how I don’t think he’s been hit by one pie since the thing started, and I’ve pretty consistently watched him ground out late in games for the last few years, when was the last time Cap’n Clutch was really clutch?

There’s two ways we can quickly look at this. Just looking at Derek Jeter‘s “Clutch” score, he hasn’t been positive since 2006 (+2.33). He’s hovered between -0.11 and -0.85 over the last few seasons. I prefer WPA/LI, which uses win probability and leverage index to tell us how much the player contributed in the context of the game situations. Jeter last had a positive WPA/LI in 2009 (+1.41). Subjectively, I’ll say 2009. That’s the last time I was confident in Jeter getting the job done, so to speak, whenever he came to the plate in a “big” spot.

J.R. asks: Couldn’t Damon Oppenheimer be a great in house option to replace Cashman? I remember that another team wanted to interview him for a GM spot but that the Yankees wouldn’t grant him permission. (I’m not advocating it, just pointing out that the Yankees have an in house option).

This was sent in following yesterday’s post about contract non-news. Oppenheimer’s the best in-house candidate, and the Yankees actually blocked him from talking to the Diamondbacks about their GM opening over the winter. They had the right to do that, but I still thinking blocking a potential upward move is a dick move. Anyway, it’s either Oppenheimer or pro scouting director Billy Eppler, but neither has even assistant GM experience. Yeah, they’re candidates to replace Cashman, but they’re hardly ideal options.

Jonathan asks: What are the chances the Yanks have three guys play for ROY next year? Assuming those three are Montero, Banuelos and Betances.

I’m comfortable giving this one a big fat 0% chance. There’s a far better chance that one of those guys is playing elsewhere at this time next year, but even if they all are in the organization it’s unlikely all three will be up. Frankly if both Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are in the rotation all year in 2012 (which they would basically have to be to get Rookie of the Year consideration), then something has gone horribly wrong. There’s also a non-zero chance that Jesus Montero will cross the 130 at-bat rookie threshold this year. It would be pretty cool if all three guys were that good that soon, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Ryan asks: What do you think of Grady Sizemore as a replacement in RF for Swisher after this year. He looks healthy, and as long as he remains healthy and productive, CLE will not be able to sign him long term after next year’s option. That would be a fun defensive outfield with Gardner, Granderson, and Sizemore, if not just a little too left handed.

I’ve written quite a bit about Sizemore already this spring, and my stance remains unchanged: he has to show he can produce and stay healthy. He’s been pretty good since coming off the disabled list (power heavy .413 wOBA), but it’s been 18 games and 84 at-bats. Let’s see him make it the rest of the season before we start thinking about acquiring him. The other question is how do you acquire him? His club option for 2012 turns into a player option if traded, so you can’t trade for him and expect him to stick around next year. If he’s worth trading for, then he’ll be good enough for a nice contract and will presumably opt for the open market. His bad start notwithstanding, right now I’d just pick up Nick Swisher‘s option and and go from there.

Rich asks: I was hoping you could shed some light on something different I’ve noticed about A.J. this year. Not only has his curveball lost some of it’s bite, but his fastball seems almost straight compared to the movement it’s had in years past. I know he’s made some obvious (and less obvious) changes to his mechanics and I’m sure Rothschild has had an influence, but what happened to all that movement?

Really? I think his curveball has regained some bite after it disappeared last season. PitchFX says the pitch had 5.7 inches of drop last year and 6.3 inches of drop this year. Just over half-an-inch, so it’s not a huge change, but a change nonetheless. Burnett got a swing-and-miss on the curve 14.1% of the time last year, and it’s up to 17.7% this year. A little more vertical movement and substantially more whiffs leads me to believe the bite is back, and even if it’s not, the pitch has been more effective this year based on the run values.

Anyway, PitchFX says he’s lost an inch of horizontal movement off his fastball, down from 5.1 to 4.1 inches. Perhaps it’s the result of the revamped mechanics, or maybe it’s a conscience decision to try to help him improve command. There were times over the last two seasons that it seemed like Burnett’s fastball was moving too much for his own good. It could also just be normal decline, pitches tend to flatten out as the guy gets older. Either way, A.J.’s been good so far this year, so I hope he just keeps doing whatever he’s been doing.

Betances to miss a start due to blister

Via Mike Ashmore and Josh Norris, Double-A Trenton has placed right-hander Dellin Betances on the disabled list with a blister on his pitching hand. VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman confirmed the injury and said he expects him to miss “a start.” Betances is no stranger to the DL of course; he’s missed time in all four of his full professional seasons with injuries, sometimes an elbow, sometimes a shoulder, but in this case it was just a blister. I guess he’s just got to break out the pickle juice a little more often.

Link Dump: Betances Edition

Aside from the whole fifth starter competition, the storyline of the spring has been the Yankees’ young arms. You can’t find anyone that doesn’t love Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances has wowed everyone with a high-octane fastball and a knee-buckling curveball. Danny Wild of MLB.com caught up with the right-hander, asking him about his elbow surgery, whether he prefers starting or relieving, his upbringing, the whole nine.

Meanwhile, Aris Sakellaridis spoke to two of Dellin’s brothers, who recapped their meetings with Yankees adviser Ray Negron and chairman Hal Steinbrenner. As you can imagine, reaching the big leagues is a dream that Betances shares with his entire New York born and raised family. Make sure you check both pieces out, some great stuff in there.

Mailbag: Killer B’s, Igawa, A-Jax, Culver

I’ve got four questions this week, three of which deal with a current or former Yankees prospect. The other has to do with a guy taking up space in the minors. Remember to send in your questions via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Boom or bust? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Joe asks: Do you think there is any chance the Yanks keep and develop all of the Killer B’s?  I know the odds of all three reaching their ceiling and staying healthy are long, and as you or Joe or Ben said last week don’t fall in love with your prospects, but it be nice to see them all on the big club.  What % do you think it will occur?

If you’ve got three pitching prospects of that caliber, my general (and completely amateur) rule of thumb is that one will reach (or at least approach) his ceiling, one will fall short of his ceiling but still be a productive big leaguer, and the third will be a complete bust. The Yankees exceeded that with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, turning them into two viable big league starters and a reliever. Look back at the Red Sox five years ago; they got an ace, a reliever, and a bust out of Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, and Craig Hansen.

I’d expect Manny Banuelos to approach his ceiling, Andrew Brackman to fall short of his ceiling but be a useful player, and Dellin Betances to be the complete bust out of the Killer B’s. Nothing personal, it’s just that Dellin’s health record scares me. That said, I fully expect them to trade one of those guys, probably sometime this year. The big league team needs pitching right now, and the Yankees have some high end pitching depth and can afford to move one of those guys.

Of course I’d love to see all three of them stay with the team and flourish in the big leagues, but the odds are so stacked against it. I’d give it less than a 50-50 chance that all three will stay with the Yankees for the next few years, and less than a 5% chance that all three turn into productive players. Prospects will break your heart, the Killer B’s are no different than the hundreds that came before them.

Nicolai asks: If Kei Igawa was blocking somebody from being promoted to Scranton, could the Yankees just send him down to Trenton, Tampa or Charleston?

Yep, absolutely. The Yankees actually sent him all the way down to High-A Tampa for two starts in 2007. Igawa’s not blocking anyone from anything.

A different Joe asks: I was listening to the Yankees game and it was the Tigers radio crew. They claimed A-Jax would be a 15 homer and 40 SB guy this season. I personally don’t see this happening at all. Any thoughts on it?

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

This year? No way, not in Comerica. Austin Jackson has 17 homers total in his last 1,816 plate appearances dating back to 2007, so I don’t see a sudden spike happening. I could definitely see 15 homers at his peak, maybe even 20, but 2011 is too soon for that. If Jackson did pop double-digit homers this year, that would mean everything went right for him and he even squeezed in an inside-the-parker or three. Of all the projection systems out there, only CAIRO and ZiPS have him hitting more than six homers, and both forecast seven.

I like Jackson and there’s no doubt that he’s an above-average player, but expecting 15 homers out of him this year is a bit much. Even the 40 steals is a bit of a question mark (27 last year), but it’s not as unbelievable as the power numbers. Just for some perspective, only three different players have had a 15-40 season in the last three years, and Carl Crawford was the only one to do it twice.

Anthony asks: What’s the projection for 2010 first rounder Cito Culver as a major leaguer? Does he have the potential to be a solid starter on a high caliber team?

Culver’s long-term value is going to lie mostly in his glovework, which, luckily, is really really good. Is he going to be Derek Jeter? Absolutely not. Is he going to be Cesar Izturis? Eh, maybe. It’s always possible. I think the best case scenario for the Yankees’ 2010 first round pick is an above-average defensive shortstop (probably not Gold Glove caliber though) that hits for average, draws some walks, and steals some bases. Culver doesn’t have much power and doesn’t project to down the road, but he’s switch-hitter with some contact skills, and he did manage to a walk in nearly ten percent of his plate appearances in his pro debut last summer.

If I had to put numbers on it, which I hate doing, I think his offensive ceiling is something like .300/.360/.400, right around a .350 wOBA. Culver also has the speed and skills to steal a healthy amount of bags, maybe even 40+ in his basestealing prime. Stick that at shortstop over 600 plate appearances with say, +4 or +5 run defense, and you’ve got a four win player. Again, that’s not Derek Jeter, but that’s a player good enough to start on a championship team. Of course, Culver has a long, looong way to go to live up to that potential.

Yanks land six prospects on BA’s Top 100

Baseball America released their annual list of the top 100 prospects in baseball today, which you can find here: 1-20, 21-40, 41-60, 61-80, 81-100. Jesus Montero was ranked as the third best prospect in the game, trailing only Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Domonic Brown and Julio Teheran round out the top five. Gary Sanchez came in at number 30, Manny Banuelos number 41, Dellin Betances number 43, and Andrew Brackman at number 78. Austin Romine snuck in as number 98. I’m pleasantly surprised that Romine made the cut, and that’s really quite a showing for the Yankees. Damn impressive.

This is only the second time in the 21-year history of BA’s top 100 that the Yankees have had six guys appear on the list. The other came back was 1999, with Nick Johnson (18), Ryan Bradley (25), Alfonso Soriano (39), Ricky Ledee (70), Jackson Melian (72), and Drew Henson (100). Only three of those guys made the top 50, though.

From Boomer to Betances

If you’re reading this site, then you’re well aware that Dellin Betances is a local kid, born and raised in Manhattan and drafted out of high school in Brooklyn. It wasn’t until age ten that he turned to baseball, when a little encouragement from David Wells pushed him in the right direction. As Andrew Marchand explains, Betances was in the bleachers for Boomer’s perfect game in 1998, which motivated him to abandon basketball for the mound. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Yankees drafted Betances in the eighth round back in 2006, buying him away from a powerhouse program at Vanderbilt with a cool million bucks. Brian Cashman wanted to take him in the third round, but scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told him to wait and their patience paid off. Make sure you give Marchand’s article a click, it’s a great read.

Kevin Goldstein’s Top 11 Yankees Prospects

Kevin Goldstein posted his list of the top eleven Yankees prospects today (BP subs. req’d), ranking the quartet of Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Gary Sanchez, and Dellin Betances as five star prospects. That comes at the cost of zero four star prospects, but who cares. Eduardo Nunez, Austin Romine, and Andrew Brackman are among those that check in at three stars. “[No] system in baseball took a bigger step forward last year,” said KG. “The Yankees system had [has?] plenty of talent that can help soon, plenty of talent to dream on at the lower levels, and plenty of pitching that will serve them well in the trade market. This is easily one of the better farm systems in the game.”

The post also includes the team’s top ten talents under the age of 25, and Montero tops that list as will. Phil Hughes is right behind him at number two, and Joba Chamberlain is sixth. David Robertson barely made the age cut-off (by eight days), but fell just short of the list. Goldstein said Joba was tough to rank, unsurprisingly, and would accept an argument for placing anywhere from third throughout ninth. When two established big leaguers and four five star prospects fill the top six spots of your 25-and-under list, you’ve got something good going on.

As for the sleeper KG’s been teasing on Twitter the last few days, that would be Steve Evarts, who the Yankees signed as a minor league free agent earlier this offseason. “A supplemental first-round pick in 2006, Evarts hasn’t played organized ball since 2008 due to injuries and off-field issues,” added Goldstein. “For all that, he’s still just 23, and has the kind of fastball command that the Yankees look for. Again, this is crazy deep as selections go, but there just might be something there.”