The Bullpen Shuttle [2016 Season Preview]

Shreve. (Presswire)
Shreve. (Presswire)

Over the last few years the Yankees have done a good job finding interesting bullpen prospects in different places. The late rounds of the draft, waivers, minor league free agency, whatever. These guys are not future ace closers or anything like that, but they look like serviceable bullpen options, so the Yankees put them to work last year. They cycled relievers in and out as part of their bullpen shuttle. They called someone up, got a few innings out of him, then sent him down for a fresh arm. Over and over again.

The Yankees will again employ a bullpen shuttle in 2016, perhaps even moreso than last year. They have multiple open bullpen spots and a small army of relievers with options, so they can send these guys up and down as much as they want this summer. And they will. We’re going to see pitchers come up, throw in a game or two, then get sent down. Big league stints will be measured in days, not weeks. Here are the main bullpen shuttle candidates for the coming season, presented alphabetically.

The Spring Standout

An offseason ago the Yankees flipped Shawn Kelley to the Padres in what was widely believed to be a cost-cutting move. Kelley was solid, not great, and he figured to be a key piece of the 2015 bullpen. Instead, the Yankees traded him for a Double-A relief prospect with a balky elbow. That prospect: Johnny Barbato. And one year after the trade, Barbato is in position to make the bullpen.

“Definitely came in trying to open some eyes,” said Barbato to Chad Jennings over the weekend. “Just worked my butt off this offseason to get ready, and I think I did. I think coming in here feeling confident, feeling comfortable — I lost a bunch of weight — just came in feeling good, and I think I’ve done well enough to open some eyes.”

Barbato, 23, had a 3.19 ERA (3.45 FIP) with a 24.8% strikeout rate and a 9.2% walk rate in 67.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. The concerns about his elbow blew over. He’s been healthy since the trade. This spring he’s allowed two runs (both in the same game) in 8.2 innings with an 11/1 K/BB. Barbato’s done it with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, his trademark curveball …

Johnny Barbato curveball

… and a little slider/cutter thing. The Yankees added Barbato to the 40-man roster over the winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and while taking Grapefruit League numbers to heart is a fool’s errand, Barbato has clearly opened some eyes in camp. With most of the other shuttle relievers struggling, he has put himself in very good position to be on the Opening Day roster. Either way, Opening Day roster or not, we’ll see Barbato in the big leagues this summer.

The Offseason Pickup

It’s funny how history repeats itself, isn’t it? Last offseason this Yankees traded someone we all thought would be a big part of their 2015 bullpen (Kelley) for a prospect, and everyone said they were doing it to save money. Now that prospect looks pretty good. They did the same thing this past offseason, sending Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two Triple-A starting pitcher prospects, one of which is righty Luis Cessa.

Cessa, a former shortstop, has been traded twice in the past eight months. The Mets sent him to the Tigers in the Yoenis Cespedes deal, then the Tigers sent to the Yankees for Wilson. The 23-year-old Cessa has been solid in limited action this spring (7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) and Brian Cashman has praised his work thus far. The GM could just be pumping up a recent addition, though ultimately the words do not matter. What matters is what happens on the mound.

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

In all likelihood Cessa, who is starting tonight’s game against the Tigers, will open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation. Don’t think that’s significant? Four of the five pitchers who opened last season in the Triple-A rotation ended up in the big leagues at some point. (Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, Kyle Davies, Danny Burawa. Jaron Long was the exception.) Cessa, who is on the 40-man roster, is a fastball/slider/changeup pitcher with surprisingly good command for a converted position player, though he still needs some fine-tuning.

After Ivan Nova, Cessa could very well be the first pitcher to brought up from the minors to make a spot start in 2016. Mitchell started last season in the Triple-A rotation before getting some extended time in the MLB bullpen, and a similar path is a definite possibility for Cessa, though I think the Yankees really believe in him as a future starter. I’m sure he’ll reach the show at some point this year anyway. Similar to Barbato at the time of his trade, Cessa’s true coming out party may be a year away.

The Minor League Stats Guy

You’re not going to find a shuttle reliever with better minor league numbers than Nick Goody. The 24-year-old righty missed most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, then, in his first full season with his rebuilt elbow, Goody had a 1.59 ERA (2.06 FIP) with a 33.2% strikeout rate and an 8.3% walk rate in 62.1 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015. He also threw 5.2 innings in the show.

Goody was on the shuttle last year and he’ll be on the it again this year. He hasn’t had a great Spring Training (8.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) but the Yankees have not yet reassigned him to minor league camp, so his Opening Day roster hopes are still alive. Goody is a low-90s fastball/low-80s slider guy, so since he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, his presently shaky command probably isn’t good enough for high-leverage work. Perhaps his command can improve the way David Robertson‘s did. For the timing being, he’s the quintessential up-and-down middle reliever.

The Former Top Pick

Less than a year after being the Yankees’ top selection (second round) in the 2014 draft, left-hander Jacob Lindgren was in the big leagues, getting a chance to show he belonged long-term. (When they needed a roster spot, the Yankees cut the veteran David Carpenter and kept Lindgren.) Lindgren struggled in his seven MLB innings and eventually had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, ending his season.

Lindgren, 23, was the very first 40-man roster player and Opening Day bullpen hopeful reassigned to minor league camp this spring. His numbers were not great, though it was basically one disaster outing in three appearances:

Jacob Lindgren stats

Joe Girardi said the Yankees felt Lindgren was pressing because he was trying to make the team, so they sent him down to clear his head and get regular work. Lindgren’s calling card is his wipeout slider, though he lacks command, lacks a big fastball (mostly 89-91 in pro ball), and has just good enough control to make it work. That’s the recipe for a frustrating reliever.

That slider gives Lindgren the best chance to be a late-inning reliever among the shuttle guys, though he’s going to have to throw more strikes going forward. That’s the goal this season with elbow surgery in the rear-view mirror: more strikes. A wipeout breaking ball is no good if you’re behind in the count. Lindgren is definitely a shuttle candidate, but I wonder if the Yankees will leave him in Triple-A for an extended period of time to iron out that control.

The Starter Turned Reliever

Real Talk: If the fifth starter competition was a real thing, Bryan Mitchell would be winning in a landslide. He’s been fantastic this spring (14.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K) and he was very good out of the bullpen for the Yankees last year before taking a line drive to the nose. At this point it’s hard to believe Mitchell won’t be on the Opening Day roster. How could he not be?

The stuff as never been in question. Mitchell, who will turn 25 next month, has a mid-90s heater and a knockout curveball, and his third pitch is a cutter. He’s never been able to pick up a changeup, so he has to use the cutter against lefties. That lack of a changeup and career long command issues are Mitchell’s biggest flaws. One of those will have to improve — ideally both — for Mitchell to hack it as a starter at the next level.

For now, Mitchell is certain to open the season in the bullpen, and Girardi has talked about using him in the Adam Warren role. That versatile reliever who can go multiple innings and even pitch in the late innings on occasion. The Yankees shouldn’t close the door on Mitchell as a starter and I don’t think they will. For now, they need him in the bullpen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the big leagues for good. Mitchell may be too good to shuttle up and down.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

The Lefty Specialist

Every year the Yankees (and every other team) make a series of small pickups in the offseason, and those small pickups can be easy to overlook. Left-hander Tyler Olson, who came over in a minor trade with the Dodgers, was one of those easy to overlook pickups this winter. He’s a pure left-on-left matchup guy with a funky delivery, a mid-to-upper-80s heater, and a loopy breaking ball, so his usefulness is limited.

Olson, 26, has had a pretty strong spring up until his last appearance or two. Having a spare lefty specialist you can bring up whenever you’re getting set to face a lefty heavy lineup is nice, but of all the shuttle relievers, I think Olson is most in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot. The Yankees have other lefties and they have other relievers who can throw full innings. Chances are we’ll see Olson at some point this summer. I would be surprised if he carved out a role and stuck around long-term, however.

The Other Lefty Specialist

The Yankees really seem to like James Pazos. He was reportedly on their list of untouchable prospects at the trade deadline — I refuse to believe that. It can’t possibly be true, can it? — and the club called him up last September before he had to be added to the 40-man roster. Pazos is a hard-thrower — PitchFX clocked his average fastball at 94.5 mph last September — though he lacks consistency with his slider and seems to be prone to bouncing pitches in the dirt.

Pazos was sent to minor league camp this past weekend, taking him out of the running for an Opening Day bullpen spot. But, like I said, the Yankees really seem to like him, and I have little doubt we’ll see him this season. Improving that slider will be his focus in Triple-A for the time being. Pazos seems to be the middle man between Olson (short-term fill-in) and Lindgren (potential long-term solution) among the shuttle lefties. Regardless, he’s going to get an awful lot of chances in this game because he’s a lefty and he throws hard.

The Shuttle Veteran

None of the shuttle relievers threw more big league innings (27.2) or made more up-and-down trips (six!) than 27-year-old Branden Pinder last season. The fastball-slider right-hander was called up at least once each month last season, so he’s a pro at this by now. He is well-versed in this shuttle reliever thing after only one year and that’s good, because he’ll be riding that shuttle again in 2016.

Pinder has had an steady but unspectacular spring (6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) and he remains in big league camp, giving him a chance to make the Opening Day roster. That said, even if he makes the Opening Day roster, he’s a candidate to be sent to Triple-A whenever a fresh arm is needed. Pinder lacks a reliable weapon against lefties and he’s prone to missing over the plate, limiting his ceiling. Still, his stuff is good, and I feel like he’s going to carve out a lengthy career as a journeyman middle reliever. A Chad Qualls/Jason Frasor type.

Rumblin’ Rumbelow

Aside from Lindgren, no minor league reliever climbed the ladder as quickly as Nick Rumbelow in recent seasons. Rumbelow went from Low-A Charleston to Triple-A Scranton in 2014, then he made his big league debut in 2015. He threw 15.2 mostly forgettable innings with the Yankees a year ago, and over the weekend he was reassigned to minor league camp, meaning he’s not going to be on the MLB roster to start the new season next week.

Rumbelow, 24, has three pitches, unlike most of the other shuttle bullpeners. PitchFX had his average fastball at 93.3 mph last year, and he also throws a low-80s curveball and a mid-80s changeup. The curveball was Rumbelow’s go-to secondary pitch when he first signed as the team’s seventh round pick in 2013, but nowadays he prefers the changeup. He’ll double up on the change and throw it to righties.

Three pitches, a funky delivery, and good enough control are a nice recipe for a big league career. Rumbelow has fine-tuning to do before he sticks long-term — anecdotally, he seems prone to overthrowing and leaving pitches up in the zone — but the tools are there, and he’ll surely get plenty of chances to show what he can do this year. Rumbelow figures to see lots and lots of shuttle time this year. He might supplant Pinder and be the top shuttle guy in 2016.

The (Temporary) Seventh Inning Guy

I’m not sure anyone in camp needed a good spring more than Chasen Shreve. Shreve, who is still only 25, was very good for the first four and a half months of 2015, but he crashed hard down the stretch, and no one really knew why. There was talk he was tipping his pitches, talk the league figured him out, stuff like that. Most with the Yankees said they believe it was fatigue, which sounds like a cop-out, but it was a plausible explanation.

So far this spring Shreve has been untouchable: 8 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K. The only base-runner against him came on an error. The numbers are great, but, more importantly, Shreve looks comfortable on the mound and he’s throwing with conviction. His body language wasn’t so great late last year and that was understandable. Opponents made him pay for every mistake. Shreve looks rested and he’s been aggressive. It’s been a good spring.

At the outset of camp, Girardi talked about Shreve like one of his regular relievers, as if he had a bullpen spot locked up. Fans were understandably skeptical given his finish last season, but if the Yankees felt the same way, they weren’t showing it. Shreve is not only a lock for the Opening Day bullpen at this point, it seems likely he will assume seventh inning work while Aroldis Chapman serves his suspension. Shreve held that role last when Andrew Miller was on the DL.

It’s probably unfair to lump Shreve in with the other shuttle relievers at this point given what he did last year. He wasn’t just pretty good, remember. He was dominant from April through mid-August, using his low-90s fastball/low-80s splitter combination to neutralize both righties and lefties. If the Yankees have to send Shreve down to Triple-A at some point in 2016, something went wrong. I think he’s up for good.

The Darkhorse

Similar to Olson, right-hander Kirby Yates was a nondescript offseason pickup who was easy to overlook coming into camp. Now, with Opening Day a week away, the 29-year-old Yates appears to have a legitimate chance to make the team, especially since so many of the other shuttle guys haven’t had good Grapefruit League seasons. He’s been very good in camp (6.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) and he has big league experience, throwing 56.1 innings with the Rays the last two seasons.

Yates is a generic low-to-mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider guy, so lefties give him a problem, which limits his ceiling. That fine though. We’re talking about a possible low-leverage middle reliever who gets shipped in and out whenever the team needs a fresh arm. If nothing else, Yates opened some eyes this spring and cemented himself as a shuttle candidate. Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’s put himself in position to be among the first called up.

Yates. (Presswire)
Yates. (Presswire)

The Non-40-Man Roster Options

In addition to all the 40-man guys, the Yankees have several non-40-man roster pitchers who could see time on the shuttle this season. Remember, guys like Kyle Davies and Matt Tracy and Joel De La Cruz went from afterthoughts to big leaguers a year ago, simply because they were available. Journeymen like lefty Richard Bleier and righties Anthony Swarzak, Vinnie Pestano, Tyler Cloyd, and Diego Moreno could all be temporary call-ups in 2016.

As for actual prospects, lefty Tyler Webb and righties Chad Green and Brady Lail seem most likely to be called up this summer. Maybe Mark Montgomery too. Green, the other prospect acquired in the Wilson/Cessa trade, and Lail are ticketed for the Triple-A rotation. Webb is going to return to the RailRiders’ bullpen. Depending on their Triple-A performance and the big league team’s needs, those guys could see the show this year.

Calling up someone like Bleier or Pestano is no big deal because the Yankees could drop them from the roster no questions asked. Call him up, get whatever innings you need, then move on. You can’t really do that with someone like Green or Lail because they’re actual prospects and you can’t simply drop them from the 40-man roster when a spot is needed. That’s a serious roster consideration. Is it worth clogging up a 40-man spot (and burning an option year) to get, say, two innings from Lail on a random June afternoon because you played 15 innings the night before? Probably not.

For now the Yankees appear to have plenty of bullpen shuttle candidates on the 40-man roster. I have ten 40-man relievers listed in this post even without counting Shreve. The Yankees are going to cycle through those pitchers all year, and with any luck, one or two will stand out from the pack and earn extended opportunities in the big leagues. With the Yankees unlikely to get much length from their starters, the extra bullpen arms will again be very important in 2016.

Sorting through the 45 players the Yankees still have on their Spring Training roster

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Two weeks from today, the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season at home against the Astros. There are a 14 exhibition games to be played between now and then, and several roster decisions have to be made as well. The Yankees have made two rounds of roster cuts so far, paring the number of players in big league camp from 70 down to 45. Another 20 still must go.

It goes without saying some of those 45 players have a much better chance to make the Opening Day roster than others. You’d be surprised to see how few have close to no chance to make the team though. The Yankees have only a few open roster spots but an awful lot of candidates to fill them. Let’s look over the 45 players still in big league camp and figure out where they fit going forward.

Definitely Making The Team (20)

These are the easiest calls, so we might as well start here. These 20 players will definitely be on the Opening Day roster:

Coming into the spring I would not have considered Shreve a lock for the bullpen, but it’s pretty safe to say he’s in right now. He’s been phenomenal in camp, he was awesome most of last year, and Joe Girardi is talking about him like one of his regular relievers. Shreve’s going to break camp with the Yankees.

The Yankees insist they are having a true competition for the fifth starter’s spot, though sending Sabathia to the bullpen so Nova can start is one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it” things. Maybe the Yankees will figure out a way to stick Sabathia on the DL rather than send him to the bullpen, though that would surprise me. I’m sticking with what I said last week: I don’t believe Sabathia is truly competing for a rotation spot. He’s in.

Very Likely To Make The Team (2)

In Bryan Mitchell and Rob Refsnyder, the Yankees have two young players who are forcing the issue with their Spring Training performances. Both saw time in the show last year and both came to camp on the roster bubble. Mitchell keeps throwing fire and getting outs while Refsnyder has shown he can actually handle third base, a position he never played prior to this spring.

“(Refsnyder at third base) been better than I expected, to be honest. He’s never been over to that side of the infield. His reactions are really good. His arm’s good,” said Brian Cashman to Meredith Marakovits recently (video link). The Yankees need a backup third baseman now that Castro will stick to second, and Refsnyder has taken to the position quickly. He hit in his limited time last year and he adds some balance as a righty hitter.

As for Mitchell, the Yankees do have three open bullpens, and none of the shuttle relievers have impressed this spring. He’s been by far the best of the team’s bullpen candidates, and Girardi has mentioned him as a potential Adam Warren replacement, meaning a multi-inning reliever. Mitchell pitched pretty well in relief last year before taking that line drive to the nose. I wouldn’t call him or Refsnyder locks for the Opening Day roster, but they sure look like strong candidates right now.

Hurt Or Suspended (3)

Three of the 45 players still in camp will not be on the active 25-man roster when the season begins. Aroldis Chapman has to serve his 30-game suspension, and both Greg Bird and Mason Williams will start the season on the DL following shoulder surgery. Bird’s going to be out for the year. We know that already. Williams is doing pretty much everything — throwing, hitting, etc. — but still needs more time to finish up his rehab.

There are some 40-man roster implications here. Chapman will be on the restricted list and will not count towards the 40-man roster while suspended. Bird can also be placed on the 60-day DL whenever a 40-man spot is needed. The 60-day DL is kinda weird though. Teams can only use it when they need it, meaning another player has to placed on the 40-man right away. Bird will likely start the season on the 15-day DL, then be transferred over whenever a 40-man spot is inevitably needed.

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

This might as well be the shuttle reliever category. Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow are all still in camp and they’re all on the 40-man roster. All but Barbato pitched in the big leagues last year too. Barbato has pitched the best during Grapefruit League play so far, which won’t hurt his case for the Opening Day roster. Then again, none of these guys have thrown more than seven innings this spring.

Based on everything I have above, five of the seven bullpen spots are claimed: Miller, Betances, Shreve, Mitchell, and Nova (or Sabathia). I honestly have no idea how those last two spots will shake out. I don’t even have an inkling which way the Yankees are leaning. Barbato has pitched well so far, though that doesn’t mean much. He’s got two weeks to make some mistakes. At the same time, the other guys have a chance to step up their game. The best way to describe the bullpen situation right now is: developing.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are also in the mix for a roster spot. They’re competing for the backup catcher’s job, and right now I’d say it’s advantage Romine. Sanchez has not had a good spring (1-for-17) and over the weekend Girardi said he seems to be pressing. There’s also the service time issue (35 days in the minors delays Sanchez’s free agency a year) and the fact that Sanchez probably could use some more Triple-A time to work on his defense.

Out of these seven players, all but Romine will go to Triple-A if they don’t make the team. Romine’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll go on waivers. And even if he clears, he can elect free agency. The Yankees can’t expect to keep him based on those conditions. That’s probably another reason Romine seems to be the favorite to back up McCann right now.

Oh Gosh, They Might Actually Make The Team (5)

Remember Chris Martin? He was that random offseason pickup no one really paid attention to last year, then bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. The five guys in this group are candidates to be this year’s Chris Martin. Here’s how they can make the team out of camp:

  • Chris Denorfia: Unlike most of the team’s depth outfielders, Denorfia hits right-handed and he has a lot of MLB experience. He strikes me as the top bench candidate should Ellsbury’s wrist injury linger.
  • Pete Kozma: What if the Yankees want to give Refsnyder some more Triple-A time to continue working at third? Kozma, a veteran utility man, is the annoyingly obvious alternative.
  • Tyler Olson: Having a very good spring and could fill one of the open bullpen spots. Olson is a true lefty specialist and Girardi sure does love his matchups.
  • Anthony Swarzak: Swarzak has been solid overall, and he’s another guy with MLB experience. The fact he can throw multiple innings may land him in the bullpen.
  • Kirby Yates: Quietly shoving this spring (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and he has big league time under his belt. With none of the shuttle guys standing put, Yates could grab a bullpen spot.

Yeah, you don’t have to try real hard to see one or two (or three) of these guys making the team, do you? It’s surprisingly easy, in fact. I swear, these guys just sneak up on you. You overlook them as cast-offs when they’re acquired, and before you know, they’re standing on the foul line and being introduced on Opening Day. Baseball, man.

Long Shots To Make The Team (8)

Never say never, but I am comfortable saying these last eight players are very unlikely to make the Opening Day roster. Catchers Carlos Corporan and Eddy Rodriguez remain in camp, though Girardi has dismissed them as backup catcher candidates. They’re still around so McCann, Romine, and Sanchez don’t have to catch every inning of every spring game. That’s all.

Chris Parmelee was signed to replace Bird as the Triple-A first baseman, so he’s going to Triple-A. The only way he makes the Opening Day roster is if Teixeira gets hurt. (I don’t think he’d make it if A-Rod got hurt. They’d use Beltran at DH in that case.) Ronald Torreyes had gotten a look at third base this spring and he’s been fine overall. At this point I think he’s behind Refsnyder and Kozma on the backup infield depth chart.

Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)
Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)

In addition to Denorfia, Slade Heathcott and Cesar Puello are the last remaining spare outfielders in camp. Heathcott has been brutal during Grapefruit League play (1-for-22!), and while that isn’t everything, I think it puts him behind Denorfia on the depth chart should Ellsbury stay hurt. Puello’s been great in camp, but this is a guy who played one game last season due to a back injury. I can’t see him sticking even if Ellsbury’s wrist problem lingers.

The last two arms in camp are Diego Moreno and Luis Cessa. The Yankees really like Cessa — Cashman in particular has talked him up — and he’s looked pretty good in his limited action. Those are the key words there, limited action. He’s appeared in only three Spring Training games, and if the Yankees were seriously considering Cessa for the roster, he’d get more looks. Pitching two innings once a week suggests he’s on the outside looking in. That’s fine. He could use more Triple-A time anyway.

The Yankees seem to like Moreno more than we realize — he’s been mentioned as a call-up candidate for two or three years now — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him again this summer. He is not on the 40-man roster right now, and he hasn’t pitched well in camp (six runs in 5.1 innings), so it seems safe to say Diego is way down on the Opening Day bullpen depth chart at the moment. The Yankees have too many other candidates.

* * *

With Opening Day two weeks away, it appears the Yankees have 22 of their 25 roster spots figured out. They need to pick a backup catcher and decide who will hold down the last two bullpen spots on a temporary basis. I assume those will be shuttle spots, with new guys cycling in and out as necessary, especially early in the season. The next round of roster cuts should be coming next weekend, and that may lend some clarity to the bullpen situation.

Position Battles of Note [2016 Spring Training Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The long marathon that is the 2016 season will begin Thursday, when Yankees pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for Spring Training. Position players will follow next Wednesday. The first Grapefruit League game will be played March 2nd, two weeks from Wednesday. Real live baseball is coming soon.

This spring the Yankees will not have many position battles to follow. Their nine starting position player spots are set, the five rotation spots are pretty much set, the back-end of the bullpen is set, and two of four bench spots are set. It might even be three of four. You could argue as many as seven roster spots are up for grabs. In reality it’s probably more like four. Here are the three battles to watch.

The Backup Catcher

The Yankees have had some pretty good backup catchers in recent years, from the defensive-minded Jose Molina to the occasionally great Frankie Cervelli to the solid all-around John Ryan Murphy. Murphy is now a Minnesota Twin, meaning the backup job will go to Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, or non-roster invitee Carlos Corporan. Sebastian Valle, another non-roster player, is the deep sleeper. He’s an outstanding defender and the Yankees value catcher defense highly.

Sanchez had a strong 2015 season in terms of production, development, and maturity, which helped make Murphy expendable. Brian Cashman said he would “like to unleash the Kraken” this year, referring to Sanchez, but there are big picture aspects to consider. Is Sanchez the best backup catcher candidate? The answer is almost certainly yes. Is sending Sanchez to Triple-A for a few weeks a good idea? That answer is almost certainly yes as well.

A total of 35 days in the minors this season will delay Sanchez’s free agency another year. Thirty-five days in 2016 equals control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022. That’s a long time away and who knows whether Sanchez will be worth keeping around in 2022, but 35 days? That’s it? Sending him down for five weeks to gain control of his age 29 season is a no-brainer in my opinion. It’s a little 2016 pain for potentially a lot of 2022 gain.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Keep in mind five weeks for a backup catcher equals maybe six or seven starts. The Yankees have a ton of April off-days like they do every year — five in first four weeks! — so keeping Brian McCann in the lineup will be rather easy. Those six or seven starts might actually be more like four or five starts. Is sacrificing four or five Sanchez games in 2016 worth it to gain control of his age 29 season? Hell yes. The system makes this an obvious move.

Romine and Corporan, Sanchez’s two chief competitors, are in different situations. Corporan is on a minor league contract and can be easily stashed in Triple-A for depth this season. Romine is on the 40-man roster and out of options, meaning he can’t go to the minors without being exposed to waivers. That was the case last year, when Romine did slip through waivers unclaimed, but since this would be his second outright assignment, he could elect free agency.

If he doesn’t make the team, Romine in all likelihood would elect free agency and look to join a team that offers a greater big league opportunity. With McCann and Sanchez in tow, it’s hard to see how any upper level catcher gets MLB time in the Bronx without an injury. The position is locked down for at least three more seasons (the duration of McCann’s contract). I see four possible outcomes for the spring backup catcher competition:

  • The Best Team: Sanchez in MLB with Corporan in Triple-A and Romine out of the organization.
  • The Most Depth: Romine in MLB with Sanchez and Corporan in Triple-A.
  • The Eh I Get It Plan: Corporan in MLB with Sanchez in Triple-A and Romine out of the org.
  • The WTF Plan: Valle in MLB with Sanchez and Corporan in Triple-A and Romine out of the org.

As best I can tell Corporan does actually have a minor league option remaining, so the Yankees could carry him as the backup catcher for some period of time, then send him down once Sanchez’s service time is in a good place. They would still presumably lose Romine, but at least they’d keep Corporan.

Now, if Corporan does not have an option left — that’s possible, this stuff can be difficult to pin down — then the Yankees would need to drop him from the 40-man roster when the time comes to promote Sanchez. Going with the Eh I Get It Plan means the team could be faced with the possibility of losing Romine and Corporan once Sanchez is called up.

Maybe that’s no big deal. Romine and Corporan aren’t great by any means, but I do think you need an extra catcher or two in the organization. The Yankees got really lucky with McCann and Murphy last season — those two combined to catch every inning of every game in 2015 — and I wouldn’t count on that kind of health again. It just doesn’t happen at catcher. It’s a brutal position.

Carrying Sanchez as McCann’s backup likely gives the Yankees the best possible team to start the season. The benefit of manipulating his service time — especially since we’re only talking about losing him for a handful of actual starts — means sending him to Triple-A to start the season is the best thing for the organization long-term. Rolling with Romine or Corporan for five weeks is the price to pay for Sanchez’s age 29 season, and that’s not bad at all.

(Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

At Least Three, Likely Four, Maybe Five Bullpen Spots

At some point soon we’re going to hear something about Aroldis Chapman‘s seemingly inevitable suspension. Rumor has it commissioner Rob Manfred will hand down the suspension before Spring Training, meaning it could be any day now. Chapman will not be charged with a crime stemming from his October domestic dispute incident but that’s irrelevant. The collectively bargained Domestic Violence Policy explicitly says no arrests or charges are necessary for a suspension.

It seems very likely Chapman will be suspended for some length of time. How long? Your guess is as good as mine. (I’ve seen a few reporters suggest a 15-game ban is coming.) Either way, any sort of suspension opens a bullpen spot come Opening Day. Right now the Yankees have Chapman, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Ivan Nova locked into spots, leaving three open three bullpen spots. Chapman’s suspension would make it four open spots and an injury to a starter would make it five since Nova would have to jump into the rotation.

For the purposes of this post, let’s just assume the rotation stays healthy and Nova is indeed the long man come Opening Day. A reach? Eh, maybe. We’ll deal with the injuries as they come. Regardless of the number of open bullpen spots, the Yankees have no shortage of relief options this year. Check out the list of bullpen candidates coming to camp this spring:

Some of those guys are more likely to land a big league job than others — Kaprielian won’t be breaking camp with the Yankees, for example — but they’ll all be in Spring Training and therefore theoretically capable of winning a roster spot.

The Yankees have relievers of all shapes and sizes. Righties, lefties, strikeout guys, ground ball guys, guys with big league experience, guys who has yet to pitch above Single-A … you name it and the Yankees will have it in camp this year. And here’s the thing: aside from Shreve, who was so excellent the first four and a half months last season, I’m not sure anyone has a leg up on a spot.

It’s great the Yankees have so many bullpen options, because they’re inevitably going to need them. This is a position battle that won’t ever end. The Yankees once again figure to employ a bullpen shuttle this year to ensure Joe Girardi always has a fresh arm or two available, meaning whoever wins a spot on the Opening Day roster may only be there short-term. I can’t imagine that’s comfortable for the players, but that’s life. That’s the way the roster is built.

My guess is Shreve will get one of the open bullpen spots barring a catastrophic showing in camp. The other open spots could be decided by Spring Training performance (as silly as that may be) and roster considerations. The Yankees may not want to free up 40-man space just yet, for example. They open the season against the Astros and could opt to carry an extra lefty (for Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, Jason Castro, etc.) before going with an extra righty for the second series of the season against the Tigers (almost their entire lineup is right-handed). We’ll see.

Spring Training will be an audition for all of those pitchers. Even Kaprielian, who wants to make a strong impression as he prepares for his first full pro season. If you don’t win a bullpen job in camp, you still want to put yourself in position for an early call-up. Make the Yankees remember you. That’s what Preston Claiborne did a few years ago. Someone like Campos could do the same this year.

Kozma. (Presswire)
Kozma. (Presswire)

The 25th Man

Cashman is on record saying the Yankees hope to use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door depending on their need at the time. If they need an extra reliever, they’ll use that spot for an extra reliever. If they need a position player, they’ll call up a position player. So on and so forth. Good idea in theory. How will it work in the real world? We’re going to find out soon enough.

The Yankees have three off-days within the first two full weeks of the season, so using that 25th roster spot on an eighth reliever out of Spring Training qualifies as overkill. I understand the starters are still getting stretched all the way out and whatnot, but eight relievers with all those off-days? Nah. Carrying an extra bench player early on makes the most sense, and the Yankees have plenty of infield (Jonathan Diaz, Donovan Solano, Pete Kozma, Ronald Torreyes, Rob Refsnyder) and outfield (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel) options.

The 25th man decision is going to depend entirely on Starlin Castro‘s ability to play third base, because if he can’t do it, the Yankees will need to carry a backup third baseman. So moreso than the backup catcher and bullpen battles, the 25th man competition is going to be influenced by outside factors. Castro’s the big one, but health with be a factor too, as will 40-man roster considerations. Is it worth designating someone for assignment to carry Kozma for two weeks? Maybe it is. That’s up to the Yankees.

Judge, Mateo, Kaprielian headline 2016 Spring Training invitees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees announced their list of non-roster Spring Training invitees for the 2016 season. A total of 25 non-roster players were invited, so add in the guys on the 40-man roster, and the Yankees will have a total of 65 players in Spring Training this year. Last season they had 68.

Here are the 25 non-roster players who will be in Tampa this spring. As always, everyone on the 40-man roster will be there as well.

CATCHERS (6)
Carlos Corporan
Francisco Diaz
Kyle Higashioka
Eddy Rodriguez
Sebastian Valle
Santiago Nessy

INFIELDERS (6)
Jonathan Diaz
Pete Kozma
Jorge Mateo
Deibinson Romero (recently signed as a minor league free agent)
Donovan Solano
Tyler Wade

OUTFIELDERS (3)
Dustin Fowler
Aaron Judge
Cesar Puello

PITCHERS (10)
LHP Richard Bleier
RHP Tyler Cloyd (recently signed as a minor league free agent)
RHP Domingo German (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery)
RHP Chad Green
RHP James Kaprielian
RHP Brady Lail
RHP Diego Moreno
RHP Vinnie Pestano
RHP Anthony Swarzak
LHP Tyler Webb

Obviously some players have a much better chance of making the Yankees than others. Mateo, for example, has close to zero chance of making the Opening Day roster. He’ll be in camp so the big league coaching staff can get a firsthand look at arguably the top prospect in the organization. The same applies to Kaprielian, last summer’s first round pick, and Judge.

Right now the Yankees have five open big league roster spots: three in the bullpen, the backup catcher, and the final bench spot. Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine are the main candidates for the backup backstop job along with Corporan. It seems like the Yankees want Sanchez to be the guy, but there are service time reasons to send him to Triple-A for a few weeks (35 days in Triple-A equals an extra year of team control). All those extra catchers will be in camp to help catch bullpens and stuff.

Brian Cashman has confirmed the Yankees intendt the use their final bench spot as something of revolving door. They want to rotate players in and out based on their needs at the time, and that includes adding an eighth reliever on occasion. Remember, position battles do not end when Spring Training is over. Whoever gets those three bullpen spots and the two bench spots will have to produce during the regular season to keep the job.

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Tampa on Thursday, February 18th. That’s two weeks from yesterday. Position players will report on Wednesday, February 24th, and the first full squad workout will follow on February 25th.

Yankees re-sign Domingo German, Diego Moreno to minor league deals

Moreno. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Moreno. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

The Yankees have re-signed right-handers Domingo German and Diego Moreno to minor league contracts. The team announced the German signing while Chad Jennings reported the Moreno deal. German was non-tendered last week and Moreno became a minor league free agent after being dropped from the 40-man roster in October.

German, 23, did not pitch at all this season after blowing out his elbow and having Tommy John surgery in Spring Training. He came over from the Marlins last winter in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi deal. By non-tendering German, the Yankees were able to remove him from the 40-man roster without exposing him to waivers. They did the non-tender/re-sign trick with Slade Heathcott and Vicente Campos last year.

I ranked German as the No. 11 prospect in the system coming into the season. The right-hander broke out with the Marlins in 2014, pitching to a 2.48 ERA (3.26 FIP) in 123.1 innings for Miami’s Low Class-A affiliate. He’s a sinker/slider guy and represented the Marlins in the 2014 Futures Game. My guess is he heads to High-A Tampa once he’s done rehabbing next year.

Moreno, 29, split last season between Triple-A Scranton and the Yankees. He had a 2.18 ERA (2.73 FIP) in 53.2 innings for the RailRiders and a 5.23 ERA (4.30 FIP) in 10.1 innings for the big league team. Moreno’s season ended in August due to surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow. He’s a Triple-A depth arm heading into 2016. Nothing more.

The Up & Down Arms [2015 Season Review]

Davies. (Presswire)
Davies. (Presswire)

The big league roster portion of our 2015 Season Review series comes to an end today. All that’s left are the spare pitchers who made cameos with the Yankees this summer. These guys were on the bullpen shuttle but weren’t regulars, if you know what I mean. They came up to the big leagues once or maybe twice in 2015 and that was it. The average number of big league innings thrown by the players in this post this season: four. Let’s get to it.

Danny Burawa

The Yankees selected Burawa, a Long Island kid, out of St. John’s in the 12th round of the 2010 draft. He went unselected in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft, but the Yankees didn’t want to risk it again last offseason, so he was added to the 40-man roster. The Yankees saw him as part of that pipeline of power arms they stashed in Triple-A.

Burawa, 26, started the season in the Triple-A Scranton bullpen. He was called up to MLB for the first time in late-June and appeared in one game, allowing four runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Tigers. Burawa was sent back to Triple-A the next day, demoted to Double-A a month later, then in mid-August he was claimed off waivers by the Braves after being designated for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Garrett Jones, who re-signed with the Yankees following Dustin Ackley‘s injury.

All told, Burawa had a 2.55 ERA (3.56 FIP) in 49.1 Triple-A innings with the Yankees this year. He was called up by the Braves in September and saw a fair amount of work, allowing five runs in 12.1 innings. Burawa has nasty raw stuff — PitchFX says his fastball averaged 94.9 mph and his slider 85.4 mph — but his lack of control always held him back.

Kyle Davies

The 32-year-old Davies was signed last offseason to be the designated Triple-A veteran innings eater. He spent the entire season in the RailRiders rotation aside from one MLB appearance, when he gave the Yankees 2.1 scoreless innings of long relief on April 12th. That was the ESPN Sunday Night Game when the Bombers scored seven runs against Clay Buchholz in the first inning. You remember that.

That was actually Davies’ first appearance of the season. (The Triple-A season started April 9th.) The Yankees designated him for assignment the next day, he accepted the outright assignment, and he spent the rest of the season soaking up innings for the RailRiders. Davies had a 3.30 ERA (3.35 FIP) in 152.2 innings for Triple-A Scranton. He was the first pitcher to throw 140+ innings for the RailRiders since Ramon Ortiz (169.1) and Adam Warren (152.2) in 2012. Davies is now a free agent.

Jose DePaula

Last winter the Yankees signed DePaula to a Major League contract, which was curious because he had been hampered by injuries in recent years and didn’t have a whole lot of experience above Single-A. They saw something they liked though, so they gave him a split contract worth $510,000 in the big leagues and $175,000 in the minors.

DePaula, 27, came down with a shoulder problem in Spring Training and did not make his regular season debut until early-June. He made three starts with Triple-A Scranton, then was called up in mid-June for long relief work. On June 21st, the same day Burawa made his debut, DePaula made his big league debut and allowed one run in 3.1 mop-up innings against the Tigers.

Back to Triple-A went DePaula (and Burawa) the next day. DePaula made three more starts with Triple-A Scranton before coming down with another shoulder problem, one that ended his season. He finished the year with 5.20 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 27.2 Triple-A innings plus the one MLB appearance. The Yankees designated DePaula for assignment in late-June to clear a 40-man spot for Ivan Nova. He became a minor league free agent after the season.

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

Jacob Lindgren

Unlike most of the other players in this post, Lindgren came into the season as a well-regarded prospect. He was New York’s top draft pick (55th overall) in the 2014 draft and he zoomed through the system as a college reliever. Lindgren pitched at four levels in 2014 and nearly made the Yankees out of Spring Training this season. They instead sent him to Triple-A for more fine tuning.

After 15 appearances with the RailRiders, the Yankees called Lindgren up in late-May and showed they were planning to stick with him. When they needed to clear a roster spot a few days later, they designated David Carpenter for assignment when they could have easily sent Lindgren back to Triple-A. I guess that was part of the team’s sudden youth movement this past season.

Lindgren, 22, appeared in seven games with the Yankees and allowed four runs on five hits and four walks, including three homers. He struck out eight. The team sent him back to Triple-A in mid-June because they desperately needed a fresh long reliever, and soon thereafter Lindgren told the trainers he’d been pitching with some elbow pain. He had season-ending surgery a few days later to remove a bone spur from his elbow.

All told, Lindgren had a 1.23 ERA (1.88 FIP) in 22 Triple-A innings plus a 5.14 ERA (8.13 FIP) in seven MLB innings this past season. He’s expected to be ready in time for Spring Training — there was some thought he’d be ready to pitch in September, but the team decided not to rush it — and again figures to compete for a bullpen spot. Even if Lindgren doesn’t win a big league job in camp, I’m sure we’ll see him at some point in 2016.

Diego Moreno

The Yankees originally acquired the 28-year-old Moreno from the Pirates in the A.J. Burnett trade a few years ago. He’s spent the last few seasons in the farm system either pitching or going through the Tommy John surgery ordeal. Moreno started 2015 in the Triple-A bullpen and stayed there until late-June, when he was called up to MLB for the first time. He appeared in two games (two runs in two innings) before being sent back down.

Moreno returned to the RailRiders soon thereafter but did get a second call up in late-July. The Rangers knocked Chris Capuano out of the game in the first inning on July 28th, then Moreno came in and chucked 5.1 scoreless and hitless innings to earn his first MLB win.

Rather than be sent right back to Triple-A for a fresh arm, the performance earned Moreno some more time with the big league team. He allowed four runs in three innings against the White Sox four days later, and a few days after that he landed on the 15-day DL. Moreno later had season-ending surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.

In 53.2 innings with the RailRiders, Moreno had a 2.18 ERA (2.73 FIP) this year. He also allowed six runs in 10.1 big league innings. The Yankees dropped Moreno from the 40-man roster after the season and he became a minor league free agent.

James Pazos

People can’t help but overreact to Spring Training stats, I’m guilty of it too, so when Pazos allowed two hits in 4.1 innings during Grapefruit League play, there was some thought he could crack the Opening Day roster. That didn’t happen. He actually suffered an undisclosed injury at the end of camp and started the season on the shelf.

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

Pazos, 24, was the team’s 13th round pick in the 2012 draft. Once healthy, he joined Double-A Trenton in late-May, stayed there for a six-game tune-up, then was promoted to Triple-A Scranton. He remained there until being called up to the big leagues for the first time on September 1st. Pazos was Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason, so the Yankees got a head start on things and added him to the 40-man roster in September.

Joe Girardi used Pazos fairly regularly in September — he appeared in eleven of the team’s final 28 games — but he was limited almost exclusively to left-on-left matchup work. Pazos threw five scoreless innings in pinstripes and stranded four of five inherited runners. Left-handed batters did go 3-for-11 (.273) with one walk and one strikeout against him though. Not too great.

Pazos finished the season with a 1.09 ERA (2.46 FIP) in 33 Triple-A innings plus those five MLB innings. He was on the wildcard game roster but didn’t pitch in the game. As a hard-throwing lefty — PitchFX says his fastball averaged a healthy 93.2 mph in September — it’s easy to understand why the Yankees added Pazos to the 40-man roster. We’ll see him plenty next summer, I reckon.

Jose Ramirez

The 25-year-old Ramirez has been on the prospect radar an awfully long time. He’s always had explosive stuff but injury problems and generally unreliable command never allowed him to really break through. I thought there was a chance Ramirez would make the team out of Spring Training, but that didn’t happen (seven runs in 8.2 Grapefruit League innings didn’t help his case) and he started the season in Triple-A.

Ramirez spent some time as the RailRiders’ closer and was called up to the big leagues for the first time this year in mid-May. He got hammered by the Royals on May 15th (four runs in one inning) and was sent right back down. Ramirez was called up again in mid-June, allowed one run in two innings across two appearances, then was sent back down once again. The Yankees traded him to the Mariners with Ramon Flores for Ackley at the deadline.

Seattle called Ramirez up when rosters expanded in September and he got hammered again (nine runs in 4.2 innings). The stuff is electric, though in an admittedly small sample size (17.2 innings), he hasn’t come close to positive results (20 runs!). Ramirez had a 2.90 ERA (2.67 FIP) in 49.2 innings for the RailRiders this summer. He’ll be out of minor league options next year and the Yankees simply wouldn’t have a spot for him in the bullpen. I’m sure that factored into the decision to trade him.

Sergio Santos

Santos, 32, has had a pretty long and interesting career. He was a first round pick (27th overall in 2002) as a shortstop, developed into a very good prospect (Baseball America ranked him No. 37 on their 2004 top 100 list), was traded in a deal that involved Troy Glaus and Orlando Hudson in 2005, converted to pitching when he stopped hitting in 2009, then became a 30-save guy with the White Sox. How about that?

The Yankees picked Santos up off the scrap heap in mid-June after the Dodgers cut him loose and he never went to Triple-A. He immediately joined the big league team. Santos pitched in two games with the Yankees: he allowed two runs in two innings against the Orioles on June 13th, then he inherited a bases loaded, no outs jam against the Marlins on June 15th and escaped without allowing a run.

Four days later Santos was placed on the 15-day DL with right elbow inflammation. A few days after that he underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his season. Santos remained on the MLB DL the rest of the season and collected a big league paycheck, so good for him. He elected free agency after being dropped from the 40-man roster after the season.

Matt Tracy

The Yankees drafted Tracy in the 24th round of the 2011 draft and he was a sleeper prospect for a little while there, but he never did take that next step forward in his development. He still reached the big leagues though. On April 11th, the day after the 19-inning marathon loss to the Red Sox, Tracy was called up to the show for the first time to give the Yankees a fresh long arm.

Tracy, 27, allowed three unearned runs in two innings against Boston that afternoon. The Yankees designated him for assignment the next day — clearing a 40-man spot for Davies — and the Marlins claimed him off waivers. Four days later, the Yankees re-claimed him on waivers when Miami tried to drop him from the 40-man roster. Tracy was then optioned to Triple-A Scranton.

On April 26th, after the call-up and waivers shenanigans, Tracy finally made his season debut with Triple-A Scranton. He spent the summer bouncing back and forth between Triple-A and Double-A — he went wherever an extra arm was needed, basically — and was unceremoniously outrighted off the 40-man roster in mid-June. No one claimed him on waivers that time.

Tracy finished the 2015 season with a 3.79 ERA (3.77 FIP) in 90.1 minor league innings. He had just the one brief stint in the big leagues. As far as I know Tracy remains in the organization, and if so, he figures to again do the Double-A and Triple-A shuttle thing in 2016.

* * *

And finally, a special shout-out goes out to right-hander Joel De La Cruz, who was called up in April but didn’t appear in a game. He was called up on April 13th to replace Davies, sat in the bullpen for two days before being optioned back to Triple-A, then was outrighted off the 40-man roster a few days after that. That is the extent of his big league service.

De La Cruz, 26, is most notable for being the guy Brian Cashman tried to trade for Alfonso Soriano two years ago before ownership jumped in and dealt Corey Black. De La Cruz had a 3.31 ERA (4.04 FIP) in 84.1 innings split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this summer. He became a minor league free agent after the season and recently signed a minor league deal with the Braves. De La Cruz didn’t get to pitch during his time with the Yankees, but hey, two days of big league pay plus health care for life is pretty cool.

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.