Let’s have the innings limit conversation the Yankees say they haven’t had yet

Sevy. (Presswire)
Sevy. (Presswire)

Two nights ago Luis Severino chucked seven innings of one-run ball against the White Sox, striking out a career high 12 in the process. He was awesome. (The bullpen less so.) Severino has been New York’s best starting pitcher all year — that includes the Mets! — and after his rough 2016 season, this is the guy everyone hoped to see. The top of the rotation ability is there and we’re seeing it consistently.

Severino, who is the youngest pitcher on the roster at 23 years and 129 days old, leads the Yankees with 94.1 innings pitched this season. He threw 151.1 innings last year between Triple-A and MLB, down slightly from the 161.2 innings he threw in 2015. Severino is on pace to blow by that number and set a new career high in innings this year, and that’s good! You want to keep building him up.

It has to be done carefully, however. Severino is still a young man and he’s a very important part of the Yankees’ long-term future. He could be fronting the rotation as soon as next season. Heck, he’s doing it right now. The Yankees will be careful with Severino and their other young pitchers because it’s the smart thing to do. And yet, earlier this week Joe Girardi told Brendan Kuty the Yankees have not yet discussed innings limits. Why don’t we do that now?

This is not just about Severino, remember. Jordan Montgomery is in the big league rotation as well, and the Yankees have a few other young pitchers in Triple-A who need to have their workloads monitored. The Verducci Rule, which says no pitcher under 25 should increase his workload more than 30 innings from one year to the next, is outdated. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every pitcher is different and their workload limits should be tailored to their specific needs.

Last week I wrote about both Domingo Acevedo and Chance Adams as bullpen options, and in that post I looked at their workload situations. I guesstimated Adams could throw 160 innings this year while Acevedo is a tick behind at 140 innings or so. Here are the innings totals for the team’s other young arms over the years:

Cessa German Green Mitchell Montgomery Severino
2014 118.1 123.1 130.1 114 107.2 113
2015 139.1 0 148.2 126.2 134.1 161.2
2016 147.2 49.2 140.1 45 152 151.1
2017 so far 77.1 68.0 58 41 86.2 94.1
2017 pace 164.2 145 123.2 87.1 184.2 201

The Yankees have other young pitchers who could be call-up candidates, like Caleb Smith and Brady Lail, but those six in the table plus Adams and Acevedo seem to be the go-to options in whatever order. Heck, the six guys in the table are all in the big leagues right now. Anyway, let’s talk these workload situations out, shall we?

1. Are the Yankees really going to let Severino throw 200 innings? My guess is no. They might let him throw 180 innings, though pushing him up over 200 regular season innings doesn’t seem all that smart. (All bets are off in the postseason. It’s pedal to the metal in October.) Severino is too young and too important to the franchise long-term to put his health at risk. My guess is the Yankees have a soft innings cap in mind and will monitor Severino in the second half. They’ll work in extra rest days whenever possible and watch for signs of fatigue. And if he keeps throwing well, great. Getting to 200 innings is difficult to do anyway.

2. Cessa and Montgomery are in great shape. Both pitchers have been built up quite well over the years. Montgomery hasn’t missed a start since high school, and he’s got that big frame (6-foot-6 and 225 lbs.) that makes you think he’ll be able to chew up innings year after year. He’s on pace for 185-ish innings and that in no way seems to be a problem. That is the next step for Montgomery given his workloads the last few years.

As for Luis Cessa, he approached 150 innings last season, which in theory puts him in line for 180-ish innings this year. The thing is he spent some time in the bullpen earlier this year, and also as part of a six-man rotation with Triple-A Scranton, so his current innings total isn’t has high as you’d expect in late June. Most pitchers have about 17 starts left this season, and if Cessa averages six innings per start, that’ll get him to 180 innings almost on the nose. What are the chances of him making 17 starts and averaging six innings per start? Seems small.

Montgomery’s workload is in good shape because he’s been built up well the last few years. Cessa’s workload is in good shape because he’s been built up well and because his current innings total isn’t as high as most other full-time starters at this point of the season. He’s starting at a lower baseline from here on out.

3. Green might never start a game again. Chad Green is similar to Montgomery and Cessa in that he’s been built up well the last few years. He threw between 130-150 innings each year from 2014-16. Green would have thrown more last year and finished closer to 160 innings had he not come down with a season-ending elbow issue in September. The Yankees could probably ask him for 170 or so innings this year without a problem.

Here’s the thing though: Green is working as a reliever and has been for a while, and he’s really starting to find a home in the bullpen. His fastball plays up and he’s able to hide the fact he doesn’t have much of a changeup. I know Green made that one spot start a few weeks ago, but I don’t see that happening again. He’s been too good in relief and the bullpen has been too crummy overall to take him away. The Yankees surely sketched out some sort of workload limit for Green coming into this season. Now that he’s in the bullpen, he won’t come close to hitting it (whatever it is), and that’s okay.

Green. (Getty)
Green. (Getty)

4. Injuries complicate things. Both Domingo German and Bryan Mitchell had pretty serious injuries in recent seasons, which complicates their workload situations. German missed all of 2015 and the first half of 2016 with Tommy John surgery. This is his first full season with his new elbow ligament and I doubt the Yankees are going to push him all that hard. His previous career high are those 123.1 innings in 2013. That number, or something close to it, might be his limit this season. German is on pace for 145 innings right now, though the longer he stays in the bullpen, the less likely he is reach to that number.

Mitchell, meanwhile, broke his toe covering first base in Spring Training last year. It was a dumb, fluke injury that sidelined him for four months and cost him plenty of innings. He’ll exceed last year’s innings total within the next week. That said, Mitchell is 26 and this is his final minor league option year. It’s put up or shut up time, you know? That plus the fact he’s been over 100 innings several times in the past leads me to believe the Yankees are just going to let him keep throwing. They won’t be reckless about it, of course, but they’ll let him pitch. Also, remember, Mitchell has been in the bullpen for much of the season, so his current innings total is lower than it would be had he been starting.

* * *

Girardi said the Yankees have not discussed a workload limit for Montgomery and Severino, though I don’t buy that. Of course the team kick things around before the season. They do it with everyone. The Yankees and Girardi just don’t want to tell us what those limits are because there’s nothing to be gained from it. We’ve seen some ugly workload situations the last few years. Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey, etc. The Yankees want to avoid a situation like that, so they’re not going to tell us the workload limits. I don’t blame them.

Severino is going to be the young pitcher to watch going forward, for more reason than one. For starters, he’s awesome! Secondly, he’s on pace to top 200 innings as a 23-year-old, and the list of 23-year-olds to throw 200+ innings in recent years is a mixed bag:

  • Julio Teheran (221 innings in 2014)
  • Madison Bumgarner (201.1 innings in 2013)
  • Patrick Corbin (208.1 innings in 2013)
  • Clayton Kershaw (233.1 innings in 2011)
  • Trevor Cahill (207.2 innings in 2011)
  • Felix Hernandez (238.2 innings in 2009)
  • Jair Jurrjens (215 innings in 2009)
  • Chad Billingsley (200.2 innings in 2008)

Bumgarner, Kershaw, and Felix are great! Both Corbin and Jurrjens broke down almost immediately after their age 23 seasons, however. Billingsley and Cahill stayed productive a few more years before falling apart. Teheran endured a down age 24 season before getting things straightened out at age 25. Perhaps Severino will be the next Bumgarner or Kershaw or Felix. But do the Yankee want to risk him becoming Corbin or Jurrjens?

Severino threw enough innings the last two seasons that stretching him to 180 or so innings this year is not outrageous. And my guess is he has more of a soft cap. Like I said, the Yankees will watch him and look for signs of fatigue, and scale back when appropriate. The good news is both Montgomery and Cessa are in great shape with their workloads, ditto Mitchell to some degree, so if the Yankees do need to scale back on Severino at some point, they have the arms to cover those starts and innings.

The biggest workload limits are probably attached to German (Tommy John surgery in the not-too-distant past), Adams (converted reliever), and Acevedo (had some injuries last year). If we do see the Yankees shut someone down because they’ve thrown enough this year, it’s probably going to be one (or more) of those three. The guys on the big league roster are in good shape. That doesn’t mean the Yankees can throw caution to the win and let them pitch forever. It just means the chances of an innings cap related headache in September are relatively small.

The Yankees and the 2017 All-Star Game

Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)
Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)

Despite recent events, the Yankees have the second best record (39-30) and the second best run differential (+107) in the American League. Many expected this to be something of a rebuilding year, one of those “step back and regroup for next season” years. Instead, the Yankees got off to a great start and remain in the thick of the division race as we approach the season’s midway point.

The All-Star Game is less than three weeks away now — it snuck up this year, didn’t it? — and given their play to date, the Yankees will undoubtedly have multiple representatives in Miami next month. They won’t be one of those “one token All-Star” teams. The internet tells me the Yankees have sent multiple players to the All-Star Game every year since 1992, when Roberto Kelly was their lone representative.

The 2017 All-Star Game rosters will be announced either later next week or next weekend. That makes this as good a time as any to look at which Yankees could be selected to the Midsummer Classic. In fact, let’s rank the 25 players on the active roster in terms of their All-Star eligibility. Shall we? We shall. Let’s get to it.

1. Aaron Judge

Judge is a lock for the All-Star Game. He’s received more fan votes than any other AL player this far — his lead over second place Jose Altuve is roughly 500,000 votes — and is on track to start the game in right field. The Yankees have not had an All-Star Game starter since Derek Jeter got the farewell vote in 2014. Even if Judge were to fall out of the top three outfielders in fan voting, he would still be selected to the game. His AL ranks:

  • AVG: .331 (second)
  • OBP: .438 (first)
  • SLG: .694 (first)
  • wRC+: 195 (first)
  • HR: 24 (first)
  • RBI: 54 (second)
  • fWAR: +4.4 (first)
  • bWAR: +4.1 WAR (first)

Flawless victory. Fatality. See you in Miami, Aaron.

2. Dellin Betances

Remember Dellin? He’s this really great reliever who used to pitch for the Yankees once upon a time. Betances did actually pitch last night. It was his fifth appearance in the last 24 days. True story! Can you believe that? It’s friggin’ insane. Anyway, Dellin has allowed one earned run — on April 8th — in 22.2 innings this season. He’s struck out 43 and opponents are hitting .117/.261/.117 against him. I think Betances is going to his fourth straight All-Star Game. I do wonder whether the relatively light workload — Dellin ranks 162nd among all relievers in innings (!) — will work against him. I don’t think so though. Betances should be an All-Star again.

3. Luis Severino

This is awesome. Severino was so bad as a starter last season. So, so bad. And now he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate. He has a 2.99 ERA (3.23 FIP) through 13 starts and 81.1 innings, and he is among the AL top ten in WHIP (fifth), strikeouts (fifth), ERA+ (fifth), K/BB ratio (fifth), fWAR (fifth), ERA (sixth), FIP (seventh), and bWAR (eighth). Last season eight starters made the AL All-Star team and so far this season Severino has been one of the seven or eight best starting pitchers in the league. He’s not a lock, I don’t think. But he should receive strong consideration.

4. Aaron Hicks

Hicks should be an All-Star this year. The guy is hitting .301/.414/.543 (155 wRC+) overall and he’s fourth in the league in fWAR. I mean:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +4.5
  2. Mike Trout, Angels: +3.3
  3. Jose Altuve, Astros: +3.1
  4. Aaron Hicks, Yankees: +2.9

He’s also seventh among all AL players in bWAR. Hicks wasn’t even an everyday player to start the season! He’s been awesome and he should be an All-Star. My guess is Hicks gets snubbed and instead lands on the Final Vote ballot. Maybe he’ll make the roster outright with Trout injured. There are only six outfield spots on the roster though, and squeezing two Yankees into those six spots seems like a thing that won’t happen. Fingers crossed.

5. Matt Holliday

Man, how awesome has Holliday been this season? He’s hitting .275/.379/.536 (142 wRC+) with 15 home runs and it’s thanks to him that the Yankees lead all AL teams with a 138 wRC+ from their DHs. Nelson Cruz is currently leading the fan voting at DH with Holliday roughly 300,000 votes back in second place. Making up that gap seems unlkely with one week to go in the voting.

In recent years there have been two designated hitter spots on the All-Star Game roster, so it stands to reason that even if Cruz wins the fan voting, Holliday could still make it. It’ll be either him or Edwin Encarnacion, who has been insane the last six weeks or so. Now, that said, the All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 this year. With two fewer spots, will they not take a second DH? Hmmm.

6. Gary Sanchez

If Sanchez didn’t miss that month with that biceps injury, he’d be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. The guy is hitting .296/.376/.554 (147 wRC+) with 12 home runs. Only Salvador Perez has gone deep more times among all catchers. He has 15 homers in 257 plate appearances. Gary has 12 in 178 plate appearances. Brian McCann and Alex Avila (?!?) are also having All-Star caliber seasons and neither missed a month with an injury. I think it’s down to Sanchez and Avila for the third spot. Perez is going to win the fan voting and McCann belongs too. He’s been great. A few more Sanchez dingers over the next week could decide this thing.

7. Starlin Castro

Altuve is going to start the All-Star Game at second base, as he should. Dustin Pedroia’s injury issues mean the backup spot could come down to Castro (128 wRC+), Jed Lowrie (126 wRC), or Robinson Cano (111 wRC+). I suppose Brian Dozier (106 wRC+) is in that mix too. Name value matters in the All-Star Game. Here’s an important factor: will Yonder Alonso make the All-Star team? If not, Lowrie figures to end up the A’s token All-Star, which will hurt Starlin’s chances of making the roster.

8. Didi Gregorius

Can you quietly hit .321/.342/.500 (120 wRC+)? Because Gregorius is doing it. He’s been so good since coming back from the disabled list. And that’s the problem. The disabled list. Gregorius missed a month with a shoulder issue. He was already facing an uphill battle with Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor in the AL. Those three dudes are going to the All-Star Game and they might be the three AL All-Star shortstops for the next ten years. Didi has been great. He’s almost certainly going to get squeezed off the All-Star roster though.

9. Brett Gardner

Gardner has had a slow June, but he’s still hitting .259/.341/.471 (115 wRC+) overall, and his 13 home runs are eighth among AL outfielders. The problem is Gardner is only the third best Yankees outfielder this season, and there are only six outfield spots on the All-Star roster. Judge is getting one of them. And if they pick a second Yankees outfielder, it’ll be Hicks. No chance for Gardner, unless he’s an injury replacement or something, and even then it’s a long shot.

10-11. Michael Pineda, Jordan Montgomery

A good but not great season for Michael Pineda, this is. He has a 3.56 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 14 starts and 83.1 innings — hey wait a minute isn’t Pineda supposed to be a ERA > FIP guy? — which is solid, but not All-Star worthy. Montgomery is right there with him with a 3.74 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings. Imagine where the Yankees would be without these two. Nice seasons, not All-Stars.

12. Aroldis Chapman

Last season Chapman did not make the All-Star team because he missed a month serving his suspension. This season he will not make the All-Star team because he missed more than a month with a shoulder injury. Also, Chapman wasn’t exactly lights out before going on the disabled list. He allowed five runs and 18 baserunners in 12.2 innings before getting hurt. Aroldis has thrown 14.2 innings this season. 14.2! No All-Star Game for him.

13. Chase Headley

Great start! Okay-ish June. Terrible May. Headley is hitting .245/.335/.362 (87 wRC+) overall, and by wRC+, he ranks 21st among the 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Better luck next year, Chase.

14-17. Tyler Clippard, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve

Non-Betances middle relievers have a really hard time making the All-Star Game. Green and Shreve have been the best of this foursome and they’ve thrown 23.1 and 19.2 innings, respectively.

18. Masahiro Tanaka

Woof. Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season. There are 81 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and Tanaka ranks 69th in fWAR (+0.1), 74th in FIP (5.64), 79th in ERA (3.34), and 79th in bWAR (-0.8). Please be better, Masahiro.

19. Chris Carter

At least he kinda plays everyday? That counts for … something. Carter is hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) overall and probably wouldn’t make a Triple-A All-Star Game at this point.

20-21. Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes

Remember April? These guys were so great filling in for Sanchez and Torreyes. Romine is hitting .237/.258/.325 (50 wRC+) even after last night’s big game while Torreyes is at .296/.319/.374 (84 wRC+). The next backup catcher and utility infielder I see make the All-Star Game will be the first.

22-25. Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams

If you had to bet a paycheck on one of these four guys making an All-Star Game at some point in their careers, who would you pick? I feel like German is the obvious choice here, though I remain a Cessa fan. Maybe Refsnyder will have a late career Jose Bautista breakout?

Others of Note

The Yankees have four regulars on the disabled list right now: Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia, and Adam Warren. There is no firm timetable for any of them to return to the Yankees, as far as we know. Warren seems closest since he’s scheduled to resume throwing Friday.

Ellsbury was playing well before his concussion. Not All-Star well — he was still the team’s fourth most productive outfielder behind Judge, Hicks, and Gardner — but well. Sabathia was pretty awesome after his four-start disaster stretch in May. Good enough to be an All-Star? Maybe! He allowed six runs (four earned) in his six starts and 36.1 innings before the injury. Imagine he keept that up until the All-Star break. Alas.

* * *

I think the Yankees will have at least two All-Stars this year (Judge and Betances) and possibly as many as seven (Judge, Betances, Severino, Hicks, Holliday, Sanchez, Castro). Seven’s not going to happen though. Seven All-Stars is reserved for super teams. The Cubs had seven All-Stars last season and that’s only because the fans stuffed the ballot and voted in five starters. So yeah, seven isn’t happening.

My official guess is four Yankees make the All-Star team: Judge, Betances, Severino, and Sanchez. Hicks gets hosed, Holliday loses out because they won’t carry two DHs with the smaller roster, and Castro gets squeezed out by other second basemen. The Yankees haven’t had four All-Stars since 2012, when Jeter, Sabathia, Cano, and Curtis Granderson made it. (Jeter, Cano, and Granderson were all voted in as starters.) Four All-Stars would be cool. Two seems like the absolute minimum for the 2017 Yankees.

Yankees place CC Sabathia on DL, send down Herrera, call up German and Cessa

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, CC Sabathia is heading to the disabled list. Joe Girardi confirmed the move while speaking to reporters this afternoon. It’s a Grade II left hamstring strain. Yuck. Domingo German has been called back up to replace Sabathia on the roster. The ten-day rule doesn’t apply to him since he’s replaceing a player on the disabled list.

The Yankees did not provide a timetable for Sabathia’s return, but the Grade II strain ensures he will be out a while. We’re not going to see him until after the All-Star break. That really bites. Sabathia, who has a 3.46 ERA (4.11 FIP) this season, suffered the injury throwing a pitch earlier this week. The same injury, a Grade II left hamstring strain, ended his season early in September 2013.

German made his big league debut Sunday afternoon and tossed 2.2 scoreless innings to close out the blowout win. Trackman clocked his average sinker at 98.2 mph. Yowza. I’m sure there’s some “first MLB appearance” adrenaline in there, but 98 mph isn’t uncharted territory for German. He can really bring it. German came over in the Nathan EovaldiMartin Prado trade.

In addition to the Sabathia and German moves, the Yankees have also optioned Ronald Herrera and called up Luis Cessa. Girardi told Erik Boland that Cessa is going to replace Sabathia in the rotation, though they haven’t decided whether he’ll start Saturday or Sunday. Sunday is Sabathia’s turn, though starting him Saturday would give Masahiro Tanaka an extra day. I’m a Cessa fan. I’m happy.

In the short-term, man, the Yankees are really going to miss Sabathia. He had an ugly four-start stretch back in May, but otherwise he’s been rock solid all season, and especially of late. Four earned runs allowed in his last six starts and 36.1 innings! With Tanaka doing his best Javy Vazquez impression, Sabathia steadiness was much appreciated.

Game 61: So which Tanaka will show up?

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

A few days ago the Yankees made the decision to push Masahiro Tanaka‘s next start back a day, allowing him to face the Mike Trout-less Angels in Anaheim tonight rather than the homer happy Orioles in Yankee Stadium yesterday. Smart move! Especially since the Yankees won Chad Green‘s spot start yesterday.

Now it’s up to Tanaka to hold up his end of the bargain. He’s in a pitcher’s park and he’ll face a team that isn’t very good even when the best player on the planet is healthy. The Yankees are winning and Tanaka is their biggest problem right now, which is both cool and annoying. They’re winning even though their best pitcher stinks! Dammit they could be winning even more if their best pitcher didn’t stink! Whatever. Just win the series. Here is the Angels’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 1B Chris Carter
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

I’m not even going to bother to look up the weather report. It’s probably sunny with temperatures in the 70s in Anaheim. No rain in the forecast either. The chances of that being correct are, like, 95%. Tonight’s game will begin at 10:07pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: Following yesterday’s game, the Yankees sent Domingo German back to Triple-A and called up Ben Heller, the team announced. I’m looking forward to seeing Heller again.

Awards!: Judge was named AL Player of the Week, MLB announced. He went 12-for-21 with about four miles worth of home runs last week. He’s the first Yankee to be named Player of the Week since Gary Sanchez last August.

Game 60: Sixth Starter for the Sweep

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time this season, the Yankees are using a sixth starting pitcher. That will leave the Cardinals as the last remaining team to use only five starters this season. I suppose the good news is the Yankees are choosing to use a sixth starter today. Their hand isn’t being forced by injury. The Yankees are (wisely) pushing the struggling Masahiro Tanaka back a day so he can face the Mike Trout-less Angels tomorrow rather than the powerful Orioles today.

Today’s sixth starter: Chad Green. Last time out he struck out five and retired all ten Red Sox batters he faced in relief of, well, Tanaka. He threw 45 pitches and Joe Girardi said today Green can throw about 50 pitches. Hopefully he can get through four innings. That’d be cool. Sure seems like we’re looking at a lot of bullpen today. We’ll see. Just sweep the damn series. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. C Gary Sanchez
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 1B Chris Carter
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Chad Green

Another very nice day in New York. It’s sunny and hot. Temperatures are up in the low-90s. This afternoon’s homestand finale will begin at 1:05pm ET. YES (local) and MLB Network (national) will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: In case you missed it last night, the Yankees have designated Tommy Layne for assignment. Domingo German was called up to serve as a long man behind Green. German came over in the Nathan EovaldiMartin Prado trade. He had never pitched above High-A ball prior to this season, and now he’s a big leaguer. Helluva ride.

Game 59: Severino Saturday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have won their last three games and they’re 6-5 in the first eleven games of this 13-game stretch against AL East opponents. Yeah, it would have been nice to grab a few more wins this last week and a half, but today’s game is a chance to clinch a winning record during his 13-game streak, and that’s pretty cool. Win the series. Keep winning series and things will be a-okay, especially since the Yankees are already in first place.

This afternoon the Yankees will have their best starting pitcher on the mound, or, at the very least, their best in the first two months of the season. Luis Severino owns a 2.90 ERA (3.16 FIP) in eleven starts and he looks basically nothing like the pitcher we saw last year. It’s awesome. Severino has not just reverted back to his 2015 form. He’s gotten better. Go Sevy. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. C Gary Sanchez
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. 1B Chris Carter
    RHP Luis Severino

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. It’s been sunny and warm all day and the sky will be clear tonight. Nice night for a ballgame. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:15pm ET and FOX will have the broadcast. Not YES. Enjoy the game.

Rotation Update: The Yankees still have not named a starting pitcher for tomorrow’s series finale, though Brendan Kuty reports it will be Domingo German. That’s pretty cool. He’s already on the the 40-man roster, and prior to this season, he’d ever pitched above High-A.

Injury Update: Aroldis Chapman (shoulder) threw 18 pitches in a simulated inning against minor leaguers at the complex in Tampa today. He struck out three and walked one. It was his first time facing hitters since going on the disabled list. He will pitch Tuesday for High-A Tampa and Friday for Double-A Trenton, then rejoin the Yankees in Oakland … Jacoby Ellsbury (concussion) won’t travel with the Yankees to the West Coast. He’s going to work out with Double-A Trenton, though he is not yet scheduled to play in any rehab games … There is still no firm timetable for Greg Bird (ankle) to rejoin the Yankees. They want him to continue getting at-bats.

The Year Ahead in the Farm System [2017 Season Preview]

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

This is still a weird and awesome and completely true statement: the Yankees are loaded with exciting up-and-coming young talent. Last year’s trade deadline activity combined with breakouts from incumbent prospects give New York the game’s consensus No. 2 farm system behind the Braves. The 2016 draft helped too. That was cool.

The Yankees are, in their words, a team in transition. They’re trying to get younger while remaining competitive, which is both an excellent goal and difficult to do. Young players tend to come with growing pains. Even the most talented ones. Not everyone hits the ground running like Gary Sanchez. Usually they hit some bumps in the road, like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino.

The “remaining competitive” stuff is a topic for another time. This entry into our season preview series is dedicated to all the ladies out there the great farm system the Yankees have built. Let’s preview the upcoming season in the minors. Here is my top 30 prospects list, if you’ve somehow missed it.

Top Prospects Who Could Help In 2017

Depending on the scouting publication, the Yankees have anywhere between six (Keith Law) and nine (Baseball Prospectus) top 100 caliber prospects in the farm system. One of those players is Judge, who we previewed two weeks ago. As always, top 100 prospects are not all created equal. Some are much closer to the big leagues than others. The Yankees have a little of everything with their top 100 guys.

The best prospect in the farm system and one of the very best in all of baseball is, as you know, SS Gleyber Torres. He came over in last summer’s Aroldis Chapman trade and blew everyone away in Spring Training. Torres hit .448/.469/.931 with six doubles and two homers in 32 Grapefruit League plate appearances, which was enough for folks to want him to replace the injured Didi Gregorius. That won’t happen. The Yankees have already sent Gleyber to minor league camp and he’ll open the season in Double-A.

That said, I definitely believe the 20-year-old Torres has a chance to help the Yankees later this year, likely in the second half. Similar prospects have made their MLB debuts at age 20 after starting the season in Double-A. Some things will have to happen first — Torres has to hit, the Yankees have to need him, etc. — but there’s a chance Gleyber will force the issue at some point and make the team think about calling him up. Special talents have accelerated timetables.

OF Clint Frazier, who would be the No. 1 prospect for many other teams, is the No. 2 prospect in the farm system. He came over in the Andrew Miller trade. Frazier, 22, reached Triple-A last season and will return there to start this season. (He hit .308/.300/.487 in camp. I do love silly AVG > OBP lines.) Given his proximity to MLB, Frazier is much more likely to reach the show this season than Torres. The Yankees will have to make room for him somehow, but they’ll figure it out. Frazier is a potential impact bat and lineup cornerstone, and we’ll see him in the Bronx at some point this summer. I’m sure of it.

Among New York’s other top 100 prospects, the only other one I could see reaching the big leagues this season is RHP James Kaprielian, and that’s a long shot. Kaprielian is healthy after missing nearly the entire 2016 regular season with a flexor strain, though the Yankees are going to take it slow with him early in the season. He threw nothing but simulated games the first few weeks of Spring Training before finally getting into a Grapefruit League two weeks ago. Kaprielian threw two innings and was sent to minor league camp the same day.

What needs to happen for Kaprielian to reach MLB in 2017? He has to stay healthy, for starters. Secondly, he’s going to have to pitch well enough to climb from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A to MLB. Climbing three levels in one year isn’t easy, but it has been done before. Both Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain did it in 2007. And third, the Yankees have to believe Kaprielian is one of their best rotation options. They won’t call him up for the hell of it. There are 40-man and service time considerations in play.

My guess right now is no, Kaprielian will not make his MLB debut this season. Sorry to be a buzzkill. As long as he stays healthy, I expect Kaprielian to pitch very well — he should carve up High-A hitters — and reach Triple-A late in the season. We’ll then complain the Yankees aren’t calling him because he is clearly better than one of the starters the Yankees are running out there every five days, right? That’s usually how it goes.

Top Prospects Who Probably Won’t Help In 2017

Sheffield. (Presswire)
Sheffield. (Presswire)

The Yankees have three consensus top 100 prospects who are unlikely to play in the big leagues this year, at least not in a meaningful way. LHP Justus Sheffield, another part of the Miller trade, is a three-pitch southpaw with good velocity. He is still only 20 and is ticketed for Double-A. I expect him to spend just about the entire season there. He might make a late-season Triple-A cameo, but that’s about it. Besides being so young, Sheffield needs to improve his command before being an MLB option.

SS Jorge Mateo might soon be CF Jorge Mateo. The Yankees have been moving their shortstop prospects around — Torres has played second base and has worked out at third, for example — in an effort to increase their versatility. Mateo is a good defender at short, though center field would better allow him to use his elite speed on the defensive side of the ball. Either way, shortstop or center field, Mateo has to do more with the bat. He didn’t hit much last season and hitting coach Alan Cockrell is working with him to widen his stance this spring.

Now, that all said, I do think Mateo has a chance to make his MLB debut in 2017. He was added to the 40-man roster over the winter to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure, which means the Yankees could turn to him as their annual September designated pinch-runner. They very much believe in that role — they picked up Eric Young Jr. and Rico Noel at midseason to fill that role the last two years — and Mateo is an 80 runner, so it’s hard to think they’ll drum up a better option at some point.

There are two things to keep in mind though. One, Mateo wasn’t a great basestealer last season — he went 36-for-51 (71%) in steal attempts in 2016 — and the Yankees are said to be working with him to improve his reads and things like that. And two, being in the big leagues is a privilege and something a player has to earn. If Mateo has another disappointing season, the Yankees could very well turn to another pinch-runner option rather than reward Mateo will a month in MLB. I think it’s possible we’ll see him as the September pinch-runner, but it’s far from certain.

The best top 100 caliber prospect in farm system we 100% will not see in the big leagues this coming season is OF Blake Rutherford, last year’s first round pick. Rutherford was a consensus top ten talent in the draft class — Keith Law (6th), MLB.com (8th), and Baseball America (9th) all ranked him highly among draft prospects — who slipped to the Yankees with the 18th pick for kinda dopey reasons. One, he turned 19 in May and was a few months older than most high school draftees. And two, he wanted a large bonus. Those seem like not great reasons to pass on him, but whatever.

Rutherford projects as a classic No. 3 hitter who can hit for average and power, and also draw a healthy amount of walks. His placement in the various top 100 lists tells you how highly he’s regarded. He didn’t just sneak onto the back of those lists. He was in the top half. At the same time, Rutherford will spent most of the season at age 20 and he’s going to start at Low-A. Not a big league option. A very talented prospect? Hell yes. But not a big league option in 2017. Not close.

Two consensus non-top 100 prospects who I consider among New York’s better prospects are RHP Albert Abreu and 3B Miguel Andujar. Abreu came over in the Brian McCann deal and he might have the highest upside of any pitcher in the farm system. He’s got mid-90s gas and both his slider and changeup look like out pitches on their best days. At the same time, Abreu is a 21-year-old with only 11.2 High-A innings under his belt. He’s going to spend the majority of this season at that level. An MLB call-up ain’t happening. Not this year.

Andujar is a personal fave and I feel like he gets lost in the depth of the farm system. His best tools are his raw power and throwing arm, and last year he started to make some real strides with his approach at the plate. Andujar wasn’t a big time hacker or anything, but he makes easy contact and had a tendency to swing at anything in the zone. He did a better job recognizing which pitches he could hammer and which he should let go last year. I’m expecting big things in 2017. A September call-up isn’t out of the question because Andujar is on the 40-man roster, though I would be surprised if helped the Yankees in a more substantial way this summer.

The Secondary Prospects Likely To Help In 2017

Montgomery. (Presswire)
Montgomery. (Presswire)

The depth of the farm system is on display when you look at the second and third tier prospects who figure to help the Yankees in 2017. LHP Jordan Montgomery has already put himself in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot with a strong spring. SS Tyler Wade added the outfield to his skill set in the Arizona Fall League and he’s now being considered as Gregorius’ replacement at short. I’m not sure that’ll happen, but the fact he’s being considered shows the Yankees think he’s at least close to MLB.

OF Dustin Fowler and RHP Chance Adams are both slated to open the season in Triple-A — Wade and Montgomery will be there as well if they don’t make the Opening Day roster — and are coming off very strong 2016 seasons. Breakout seasons, really. (Definitely in Adams’ case.) The odds of the Yankees needing a pitcher are much greater than the odds of them needing an outfielder for obvious reasons — besides, Frazier and OF Mason Williams figure to be ahead of Fowler on the call-up depth chart — but the fact these two are starting in Triple-A makes them big league possibilities. Once you get to that level, everyone is a call-up candidate.

Other prospects we could see in the Bronx this year include Williams, C Kyle Higashioka, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Jonathan Holder, LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP Ronald Herrera, RHP Gio Gallegos, and RHP J.P. Feyereisen. All except Feyereisen are on the 40-man roster. Heller is the best bullpen prospect in the farm system in my opinion, though Holder, Enns, and Gallegos all have great minor league numbers. Those dudes will all be part of the bullpen shuttle this summer. No doubt about it. Higashioka will, at worst, be a September call-up. He’s the third catcher.

Breakout Candidates

Abreu has already been mentioned and he’s the biggest breakout candidate in the farm system, I think, at least among pitchers. He’s already got four pitches — well, the makings of four pitches, I should say — and is in need of more refinement than anything. Better command, get more consistently with the delivery, things like that. Abreu doesn’t have to learn a changeup or anything like that. The pieces are there for him to become no-doubt top 100 prospect next spring.

On the position player side, 3B Dermis Garcia is a dude I’m very excited to follow this summer. He has 80 raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale — 80 raw power and 80 game power are different things! — and is a better pure hitter than his .206/.326/.454 (114 wRC+) batting line and 34.3% strikeout rate with rookie Pulaski last year would lead you believe. Garcia turned only 19 in January and it’s looking like he’ll spend the season at Low-A. Some progress with his approach, meaning not swinging out of his shoes each time he deems a pitch hittable, could turn Dermis into a top 100 guy. That’s a lot to ask, but the talent is there.

Other recent international signees like SS Hoy Jun Park, RHP Domingo Acevedo, SS Wilkerman Garcia, SS Diego Castillo, OF Leonardo Molina, and especially OF Estevan Florial are potential breakout candidates this year. Acevedo needs to continue to improve his breaking ball if he wants to remain in the rotation long-term. Florial has outrageous tools. His power, speed, and throwing arm all rate near the top of he scale. He just needs to tone down his ultra aggressive approach. Florial can swing-and-miss with the best of ’em.

It’s odd to consider a former fourth overall pick a breakout candidate, but RHP Dillon Tate qualifies. He came over from the Rangers in the Carlos Beltran trade after Texas soured on him. Tate, who was drafted in 2015, hurt his hamstring early last season and had difficulty adjusting to some mechanical changes the Rangers asked him to incorporate. The Yankees told him to forget about that and go back to his old mechanics, and by time the AzFL rolled around, his fastball was averaging 98.0 mph and topping out at 99.6 mph, per PitchFX. Yeah.

Of course, that 98.0 mph average heater came in a short burst and no one expects him to sit there as a starter. The Yankees will return Tate to the rotation this year — he worked multi-inning stints out of the bullpen after the trade last year so they could work on his mechanics — though it should be noted that even at his best, there was some thought Tate would wind up in the bullpen long-term because his fastball is straight and his changeup is still a work in progress. Point is, the Yankees bought low on Tate and are working to get him back to his fourth overall pick form, and he looked better in the AzFL than he did at any point with the Rangers before the trade.

If you’re looking for an Adams caliber breakout candidate, that reliever-turned-starter prospect, don’t. Seriously. What Adams did last year was best case scenario stuff. Hard to expect that again, though I’d happily welcome it. The best reliever-turned-starter prospect candidate in the system is Tate, though that’s not a true reliever-to-starter conversion. In that case, RHP Taylor Widener is the best bet. He was the team’s 12th round pick in last year’s draft.

Widener is the latest in a string of Yankees prospects to gain velocity in pro ball — Kaprielian, Montgomery, and Adams all did that — and he has a good slider, albeit an inconsistent one. His changeup has been a point of emphasis since the draft. I’m not sure Widener can make the transition to the rotation as seamlessly as Adams, though then again I never thought Adams would take to the role as easily as he did. Widener is more of a sleeper than a true breakout prospect.

Bounceback Candidates

McKinney. (Presswire)
McKinney. (Presswire)

Last year was a great year for the farm system, though it wasn’t perfect. A few players had disappointing seasons, most notably Mateo. The Yankees are hoping he bounces back in a big way this summer. Kaprielian too following the elbow injury. Tate is another bounceback candidate. Can a player be a bounceback candidate and a breakout candidate in the same season? I guess so. Garcia (Wilkerman, not Dermis) is a bounceback candidate despite being 18. He was great in 2015 and looked like a potential top 100 guy. He then battled through a shoulder issue and had a poor statistical season in 2016.

Aside from Mateo, I think the biggest bounceback candidate in the farm system on the position player side is OF Billy McKinney, who put together an impressive Grapefruit League showing (.417/.517/.917 with four walks and one strikeout in 29 plate appearances) before being reassigned to minor league camp. McKinney came over in the Chapman trade and was better with the Yankees than the Cubs, though his overall 2016 season was underwhelming. The former first rounder hit .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) at Double-A. Meh.

The spring performance was nice, though that’s not the reason McKinney is a bounceback candidate. He hit .300/.371/.454 (135 wRC+) between High-A and Double-A two years ago, and was ranked as a top 100 prospect prior to both 2015 (Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus) and 2016 (MLB.com, Keith Law, BP). McKinney’s 2015 season ended early because he fouled a pitch into his knee and suffered a hairline fracture, and there’s some belief it took him longer to get over the injury than expected, hence last year’s performance. With his sweet lefty swing and innate hitting ability, a healthy McKinney could regain significant prospect stock in 2017.

LHP Ian Clarkin was not bad by any means last season — he threw 98 innings with a 3.31 ERA (3.26 FIP) in High-A — though he finished the season hurt (knee) after missing the entire 2015 regular season (elbow). Reports on his stuff were mixed last season, so the Yankees haven’t really seen the supplemental first round pick version of Clarkin since 2014. This isn’t a make or break year for Clarkin (he just turned 22!) though the Yankees very much want him to stay healthy and regain his former top prospect status in 2017.

Prospects I Am Irrationally Excited About

I was originally planning to call this section sleepers or something, but I figured I might as well be straightforward about it. I’ve been waxing poetic about IF Thairo Estrada for two years now, and the just turned 21-year-old could reach Double-A in the second half of the season. RHP Zack Littell is kind of the anti-Yankees pitching prospect. He’s not physically huge with a big fastball. He’s a pitchability guy with three pitches who puts in an insane amount of work studying opposing hitters.

The Yankees are short on catching prospects at the moment — I still expect C Luis Torrens to be returned from the Padres as a Rule 5 Draft pick at some point soon — and their best backstop prospect is C Donny Sands, a converted third baseman. He’s a great bat-to-ball hitter with some power potential. Sands is still new to catching and is rough around the edges, but he’s attacked the transition and has already made some big strides defensively. He should be a top 30 organizational prospect at this time next year. (Some say he is right now.)

IF Oswaldo Cabrera had a ridiculous statistical season last summer — he hit .345/.396/.523 (163 wRC+) in 52 rookie ball games as a 17-year-old — and comes with interesting offensive upside. It seems likely he’s destined for second base rather than shortstop though. That’s okay. OF Rashad Crawford was the fourth piece in the Chapman trade and he’s loaded with tools and athletic ability, and is just now starting to figure out how to translate those tools into baseball skills. OF Isiah Gilliam is a switch-hitter with pop from both sides of the plate. He quietly finished fourth in the rookie Appalachian League with ten homers as a 19-year-old in 2016.

On the mound, I’m really looking forward to a full, healthy season of RHP Domingo German. He’s kind of a forgotten prospect given the Tommy John surgery. German is basically an older, shorter version of Acevedo in that he’s a righty with a big fastball and a very good changeup. Unlike Acevedo, German is on the 40-man roster. The Yankees will have him work as a starter this season, though I think we might see him pitch out of the big league bullpen at some point, likely as a September call-up. German can still bring it.

LHP Daniel Camarena has long been a personal favorite, and he bounced back well from elbow surgery last season. Because he’s left-handed and breathing, and also likely to open the season in Triple-A, he has to be considered a potential call-up candidate. RHP Jorge Guzman came over in the McCann trade and will live in the 98-100 mph range as a starter. He’ll be a Big Deal in a few months. RHP Drew Finley and RHP Nolan Martinez are lower level pitchability guys I am excited about. Also, RHP Nick Nelson. The post-draft scouting reports last year were almost too good to be true. Plus fastball, plus curveball, potentially plus command? Sign me up.

Will They Trade Any Of These Guys?

Yeah, probably. The question is who and for what? The Yankees have a lot of quality prospects coming up on Rule 5 Draft eligibility after the season. A lot. They can either try to keep everyone by adding the guys they really like to the 40-man roster and hoping everyone else gets passed over in the Rule 5 Draft, or trade a few of them to ensure some kind of return. You don’t want to lose someone like, say, Estrada or Littell for nothing more than the $100,000 Rule 5 Draft fee.

Aside from the Rule 5 Draft concerns, I have to imagine the Yankees are at least tempted to dip into their prospect base to land a pitcher with long-term control. They could really use one of those. Jose Quintana is the big name right now, though who knows who will be available at the trade deadline? Maybe the Phillies will put Jerad Eickoff or Vince Velasquez on the market, or the Diamondbacks will float Robbie Ray and Archie Bradley in trade talks. I get the Yankees want to build from within, but they’d be foolish to not consider available trades.

Either way, the Yankees figure to do some farm system shuffling this year. Not necessarily blockbuster trades, but asset management. Last year the Yankees traded Ben Gamel and James Pazos, two fringe big league players, for lower level prospects to make the 40-man situation a little better. I think we’ll see some deals like that this year, perhaps involving Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects not yet on the 40-man. Trades are coming. They’re inevitable. And given the depth of the farm system, I don’t think we can rule out a blockbuster, however unlikely it may seem right now.

Where Does The System Go From Here?

I believe the likelihood of the following two statements being true in eight months is quite high:

  1. The Yankees will have a worse farm system than they do right now.
  2. The Yankees will still have one of the game’s best farm systems.

As it stands, the Yankees are likely to graduate two of my top 30 prospects to the big leagues (Judge, Chad Green) and potentially a handful of others as well (Frazier, Wade, Montgomery,  Williams, Tyler Austin). Inevitably a few pitchers will get hurt and other players will stall out. That’s baseball and that’s why you want as many prospects as possible. It’s hard to see how, after this season, the farm system can be even better than it right now.

That said, the chances New York will still have one of the game’s better farm systems are pretty darn good. They’ll still have Torres and Rutherford (and Sheffield and Mateo), hopefully a healthy Kaprielian, plus whoever the 2017 draft brings in. Others like Andujar, Adams, and Acevedo all have the potential to be top 100 caliber prospects. Unless the Yankees gut the system to make some trades or they experience a catastrophically bad season in the minors, the club will still be loaded with prospects year from now.

The farm system right now is the focal point of the organization. We’re used to looking at a star-laden big league roster around these parts, and while the Yankees figure to be an entertaining team this season (if nothing else), everyone is talking about the farm system. Even the Yankees themselves. Their Winter Warm-Up event was built around prospects and the commercials feature kids, not veterans. This is a new era for the Yankees and that’s pretty exciting.