DotF: Bird continues rehab assignment in Tampa’s blowout win

Two quick roster notes:

  • At long last, RHP Ernesto Frieri is finally a free agent. The Yankees declined to call him up, Triple-A Scranton announced, which allows him to become a free agent. They had two days to add Frieri to the big league roster after he triggered his opt-out, and today was the deadline to do so.
  • In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees have traded IF Ruben Tejada to the Orioles for cash considerations. Chances Tejada gets a big hit against the Yankees at some point later this season? Annoyingly high.

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. The game has been canceled and will not be made up. I wonder what that means for 1B Tyler Austin‘s rehab. Will they keep him down an extra game to make sure he gets however many at-bats? We’ll see.

Double-A Trenton (5-4 loss to Richmond in 12 innings, walk-off style)

  • SS Thairo Estrada: 0-5, 1 HBP, 1 K, 1 CS
  • LF Jake Cave: 0-6, 1 K
  • 1B Mike Ford: 2-5, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Billy McKinney: 3-5, 1 2B, 1 BB — had been in a 2-for-17 (.117) rut
  • CF Rashad Crawford: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K, 1 SB — 15-for-51 (.294) in his last 16 games
  • 2B Abi Avelino: 1-4, 1 BB, 2 K
  • RHP Domingo Acevedo: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 6/4 GB/FB — 60 of 83 pitches were strikes (72%) … he’s allowed five runs total in four starts and 25.1 innings since the promotion … 78/11 K/BB in 67.2 innings overall this season

[Read more…]

DotF: Estrada and Andujar lead Trenton to a win

A few notes to pass along:

  • RHP Ernesto Frieri is still with Triple-A Scranton. He has used his opt-out, but according to D.J. Eberle, the Yankees have two days to add him to the roster before he becomes a free agent. Frieri can pitch for the RailRiders in the meantime.
  • OF Jake Cave (concussion) was activated off he Double-A Trenton disabled list while RHP Yefry Ramirez was placed on it, reports Matt Kardos. Ramirez has a relatively minor fingernail issue and the Yankees are playing it safe. There was some thought he’d made his next start.
  • RHP Erik Swanson was placed on the High-A Tampa disabled list, the team announced. Not sure what’s wrong with him. Swanson left last night’s start after only 2.1 innings and 46 pitches. He missed most of the 2015 season with a flexor strain.

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 loss to Toledo)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 1-2, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 SB, 1 CS — hitting .297/.372/.446 on the season
  • RF Dustin Fowler & DH Tyler Austin: both 0-4, 2 K
  • 3B Gleyber Torres: 0-3, 1 BB, 2 K — now 7-for-36 (.194) with 13 strikeouts in eleven Triple-A games, though he also has eight walks, which works out to a .356 OBP
  • LF Clint Frazier: 0-2, 1 BB, 2 K
  • CF Mason Williams: 0-3, 1 K
  • RHP Luis Cessa: 8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 9/3 GB/FB — 62 of 99 pitches were strikes … no more than two earned runs in seven of his ten Triple-A games this year

[Read more…]

DotF: Andujar extends hitting streak, Sheffield takes tough luck loss for Trenton

Here are the day’s notes:

  • So long, RHP Ernesto Frieri. He has indeed opted out of his contract. There was some confusion about that. Frieri told D.J. Eberle he’s opting out because the Yankees have too much young pitching, and he thinks he has a better chance to get back to MLB with another team.
  • Another goodbye: LHP Jason Gurka has been released, the team announced. The Yankees signed him to a minor league contract over the winter, and with all the young arms moving up, they need the roster spots. The journeyman gets the axe.
  • RHP Yefry Ramirez left last night’s start after throwing his warm-up pitches in the fourth inning, and Matt Kardos says he had a problem with his thumbnail. It’s not a big concern and he’s expected to make his next start.
  • RHP Chance Adams (fourth) and 3B Miguel Andujar (ninth) both made this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. Adams struck out a career-high 12 the other day. Andujar has an 11-game hitting streak.

Triple-A Scranton (7-5 win over Toledo)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — leadoff home run against the formerly good at baseball Anibal Sanchez
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
  • 3B Gleyber Torres: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 E (fielding) — now 8-for-33 (.242) in ten Triple-A games … he also has four errors in those ten games
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 1-4 — this is day 15 of his 20-day rehab assignment … I assume he’ll be activated off the disabled list for the start of the homestand Monday
  • RF Clint Frazier: 1-4, 1 R, 1 RBI
  • LF Mason Williams: 2-3, 1 R, 1 RBI,  SB
  • RHP Brady Lail: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 7/6 GB/FB — 59 of 100 pitches were strikes
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 21 of 36 pitches were strikes (58%) … first walk of the season! … now has a 39/1 K/BB in 27.1 innings
  • RHP Ben Heller: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 22 of 39 pitches were strikes (56%)

[Read more…]

Guest Post: Can Ernesto Frieri return to prominence in the Yankees’ bullpen?

The following is a guest post from Steven Simineri, who has previously written guest posts on Austin Romine, Chris Capuano, Ike Davis, the bullpen, and a pair of former Yankees.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When Ernesto Frieri was last seen in the big leagues, the once-dominant Angels closer was serving up meatballs for the Tampa Bay Rays during a 22 game stint in 2015. Frieri didn’t even play affiliated baseball last year and the 31-year old hasn’t posted a positive fWAR since 2013.

Frieri pitched in this year’s World Baseball Classic for his native Colombia, where he threw two scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic. PitchFX clocked his fastball average at 95.0 mph and Yankees scouts decided that he was worth a minor-league contract, which included an invitation to major league camp.

The move came out of nowhere, but it’s an example of how participating in the WBC can help out of sight free agents looking for jobs catch the eyes of major league clubs. In four spring innings, Frieri allowed four runs, including two homers. But he struck out nine and walked only one batter. He was assigned to Scranton and seemed set on proving himself once again.

“I just want to come here and throw in front of big-league hitters,” he said when he signed in March. “First, prove to myself that I’m ready and that my stuff is back and prove to the Yankees that I can get big-league hitters out. I know a lot of guys have been here longer than me.”

Frieri, who signed as a free agent with the San Diego Padres as a 17-year-old in 2003, made his debut in 2009 and pitched for the team until he was traded in May of 2012 to Anaheim. After taking over as the Angels’ closer following the trade, Frieri converted 60 of 67 save opportunities over two seasons and established himself as one of the best closers in baseball. But then 2014 happened.

After recording an unsightly 6.39 ERA in 34 games with the Angels, Frieri was shipped off to the Pirates in June. The struggles continued and he was demoted to the minors, eventually being released in September. In total, the right-hander recorded a 7.34 ERA in 48 games.

He surfaced with Tampa Bay the following season, cobbling together a 4.63 ERA in 23 1/3 innings. The Rays designated him for assignment in June and he cleared waivers. He was then sent down to Triple-A Durham, where he recorded a 2.40 ERA in 15 appearances. Frieri attended Spring Training with the Phillies last year but didn’t make the roster after allowing nine earned runs in seven innings.

No other major league team called and he was limited to a cameo in winter ball in Venezuela. With his delivery in need of repair, Frieri traveled home to Columbia during his time away from the game and went back to the basics with Manuel Ezquivia, who is now a Cubs scout and has known the right-hander for twenty years.

“I got my delivery back. I got my deception back,” Frieri told reporters during the spring. “I proved myself in the WBC; good hitters couldn’t hit the fastball. They didn’t look that good. Even they talked to me after and they said, ‘Dude, man, you’re back. I can’t pick the ball up. ‘ That’s the old Ernie, like three years ago, so I’m really happy about that.”

This isn’t the first time that he’s claimed to be ready for a career “revival.” Back in 2015, Frieri was convinced that Tampa’s famed pitching coach Jim Hickey would get him straightened out. Even during his heyday with Anaheim, he walked plenty of hitters – career 10.9% walk rate. But Frieri, who has a June 1 opt out in his deal, has been nasty of late.

Dating back to April 19, he’s allowed just 2 earned runs in 17 innings. During that span he has walked just 6 batters and recorded 20 punchouts. In 16 games for Scranton, Frieri has a 2.25 ERA and he has yet to allow a homer. He’s also converted six of seven save opportunities.

With his reputation as a quality late-inning reliever long gone, its no guarantee that Frieri will help the Yankees. But New York has a long history of making use of retreads and he’s worth a shot while Aroldis Chapman continues to heal up.

Sorting out the 35 players the Yankees still have in big league camp

Bird and Judge. (Presswire)
Bird and Judge. (Presswire)

Opening Day is now only six days away, and at this point the Yankees still have nearly a full 40-man roster worth of players in big league camp. They have 35 players in camp and the World Baseball Classic is part of the reason. Some players, like Donovan Solano, have been in camp without actually being in camp these last few weeks. The Yankees and every other team needed the extra bodies while players were away at the WBC.

All throughout this week the Yankees will cut down their roster as they prepare for Opening Day on Sunday. It’s late in camp, so not only will the big league players start playing a full nine innings and back-to-back days, the minor leagues need to do that too. There’s only so much playing time to go around, and at this point of the spring, it’s time for clubs to emphasize their MLB roster players.

Earlier today the Yankees reassigned Solano, Wilkin Castillo, and Ruben Tejada to minor league camp, meaning there are now 35 players remaining in the big league Spring Training. Let’s take stock of those 35 players and figure out where they fit into the Opening Day roster equation. Some will definitely make it, some definitely won’t, and a whole bunch of guys are on the bubble. Let’s get to it.

Definitely Making The Team (19)

Might as well start here since this is our easiest and largest roster group. These are the players we know will be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity.

Any doubt about Bird making the Opening Day roster was erased when he was named the starting first baseman last week. It was plenty fair to wonder whether he’d need some time to Triple-A to regain his strength and/or timing after missing the entire 2016 season with shoulder surgery, but he’s crushing the ball this spring. No doubts about him now. Everyone else is pretty straightforward, right? Right.

Very Likely To Make The Team (3)

This group includes three players who are not a lock to make the Opening Day roster, but are in prime position to make the club out of Spring Training. The three players: Aaron Judge, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Severino. Judge has had a strong camp to date. I’m not sure what else the Yankees could want to see from him, though I still don’t think the right field job is 100% his right now. Hicks has played well this spring. (Like he does every spring. Career .303/.365/.521 hitter in Spring Training!)

Mitchell and Severino are both competing for a rotation spot, though I think they’re on the roster either way, starter or reliever. Mitchell won a bullpen spot in camp last year and he hasn’t really done anything to not deserve a roster spot since. I still think Severino is the odds on favorite to get one of the open rotation spots. I’m also not convinced he’ll go to Triple-A should he not get a starting spot. The chances of Severino making the Opening Day roster in some capacity sure seem pretty darn high to me. He’s not a lock, but the odds are in his favor.

Injured (2)

Baseball can be cruel. The Yankees lost both Didi Gregorius and Tyler Austin to injury this spring, and while neither suffered a severe long-term injury, they are going to miss the first several weeks of the regular season. Austin fouled a pitch off his foot and broke a bone. He could return to game action in mid-April. Gregorius strained his shoulder making a throw and could be out until May. Yuck. Both Austin and Didi are disabled list bound to begin the regular season.

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Most players in this group will be shuttle pitchers. Chad Green is competing with Severino and Mitchell (and Warren, I guess) for the two open rotation spots, and I feel the Yankees are much more willing to send him to Triple-A rather than stash him in the bullpen. Jordan Montgomery has impressed in camp, so much so that Joe Girardi is talking about him as a possible Opening Day roster option. Can’t say I expected to have him in this group at the outset of Spring Training.

Aside from Green and Montgomery, the other three pitchers in this group are all relievers: Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve. We will inevitably see those guys in the Bronx at some point this season, though I’d say it’s less than 50/50 they’re on the Opening Day roster. Heller probably has the best chance to win a job out of camp. He’s had a fine spring and is, in my opinion, the best bullpen prospect in the organization.

Rob Refsnyder, who has been mentioned as a trade candidate at times this spring, didn’t have much of a chance to make the Opening Day roster at coming into the spring. Then Austin and Gregorius got hurt which, if nothing else, opened the door for Refsnyder a little bit. His inability to play shortstop hurts him, obviously. The Yankees would have to be comfortable using Castro at shortstop.

An unexpected Opening Day roster candidate is Tyler Wade, who has played well this spring and could get a look at shortstop while Gregorius is sidelined. The question is whether the Yankees want to tie up a long-term 40-man roster spot — the veteran non-roster infielders in camp can be dropped off the 40-man roster as soon as Gregorius returns, but Wade will be on the 40-man for good — so Wade can fill-in for a month. I have him in this group for a reason though. I think it’s possible the Yankees go with him at short while Didi is out.

Oh Geez, They Might Actually Make The Team (3)

It happens every year, doesn’t it? Some random player you forgot the Yankees acquired shows up to camp, performs well, and before you know it, he’s on the Opening Day roster. Kirby Yates did it last year. Chris Martin the year before. Cody Eppley a few years before that. You never see it coming with these guys. Here are this year’s candidates, listed alphabetically:

  • Ernesto Frieri: The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal two weeks ago, which suggests they were impressed by the way he threw with Colombia during the WBC.
  • J.R. Graham: Graham recently had a three-run disaster outing, but eight of his ten Grapefruit League appearances have been scoreless. Ten strikeouts and two walks in 9.1 innings too.
  • Pete Kozma: Kozma’s chances of making the Opening Day roster improved with the news of the Gregorius injury as well as the Solano and Tejada demotions. He’s a candidate to help fill in either at shortstop or as the utility infielder.

With Gregorius hurt and two open bullpen spots, I’d put the chances of at least one of these five players making the Opening Day roster at: annoyingly high. My money is on Frieri making it. He’s looked pretty darn during the World Baseball Classic and with the Yankees, plus his experience as a Proven Closer™ will work in his favor.

Esmil Rog ... I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)
Esmil Rog … I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)

Long Shot To Make The Team (1)

The Yankees reassigned their very best prospects to minor league camp last week, which took some of the excitement out of the remaining Grapefruit League games. It was that time of the spring though. The kids have to go get ready for their seasons. The at-bats aren’t there any more in the big league camp. The regulars are going to play and play a lot this week.

The final player still in big league camp is catcher Kyle Higashioka. He is No. 3 on the catcher depth chart, which means he is heading to Triple-A Scranton until someone gets hurts or rosters expand in September, whichever comes first. Higashioka’s only chance to make the big league roster out of Spring Training involved and injury to Sanchez or Romine, and, thankfully, the Yankees have stayed healthy behind the plate.

Going beyond the top relievers [2017 Season Preview]

(Gett Images)
Layne. (Getty Images)

Over the last few days, we’ve covered the four key cogs in the Yankees’ bullpen machine: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Tyler Clippard. If healthy, each will take up the main roles in Joe Girardi‘s ‘pen and be called upon for the most important innings this season.

But the bullpen features far more than four guys. There will be at least seven on opening day. The Yankees had 20 different relievers pitch in at least one game last season. They had 26 the year before (24 if you take out position players).

So let’s take a look at the rest of the bullpen. Chances are, far more than the guys listed below will log time in relief, but these are the ones that jump out with a chance right now.

The veteran pick-up

Frieri circa 2014. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Frieri. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Last week, the Yankees added Ernesto Frieri on a minor league deal. Frieri didn’t pitch at all in 2016 after an awful spring with the Phillies, but he played for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. While there, he tossed two shutout innings against the Dominican Republic, even striking out Nelson Cruz.

Frieri, just 31 years old, was a pretty solid reliever from 2010-13, highlighted by a 2.32 ERA and 23 saves with the Padres and Angels in 2012. However, he was barely usable in 2014-15 with the Angels, Pirates and Rays with his ERA ballooning as high as 7.34 in 2014. At his best, he utilizes his mid-90s fastball to get hitters out, mixing in a slider and the occasional change or curve.

He’s a real wild card for the Yankees’ pen. There’s a solid chance he’ll make the team (seven batters into spring, he has six strikeouts and one HR allowed) but what he does from there is anyone’s guess. His velocity seems to have returned after falling a bit in 2014-15 and could be the secret to an improved Frieri.

The lefties

Girardi loves his southpaws, so one has to figure there will be at least one on the roster at all times, if not two. That’s not including Chapman, who won’t be used as a matchup lefty and is the definitive closer.

First up is Tommy Layne. Layne, 32, is a classic LOOGY, much better against lefties than righties. He tosses a lot variations of fastballs alongside a slider and curveball to produce some strikeouts. He was perfectly fine in 29 games for the Yankees in 2016 and it’s not outlandish to expect him to have another mid-3.00 ERA with a few too many walks and struggles against righties. Again, classic LOOGY.

Behind him lie a few different options, namely Chasen Shreve and Jon Niese. Niese, 30, has started most of his career and has succeeded at primarily keeping the ball on the ground. He’d provide a solid option as both another lefty and as a long man, two roles Girardi has said he sees Niese filling. He is coming back from a knee injury that he struggled with last season, so a healthy Niese would be an interesting piece.

We all know about Shreve. He was dominant for a couple months in 2015 with his low-90s fastball and changeup before becoming a liability late in ’15 and shuffling between the bullpen and the minors in 2016. The 26-year-old southpaw isn’t a LOOGY with the changeup as an out-pitch, but hitters appeared to figure out his off-speed offerings over the last couple seasons.

Two pitchers who reached Triple A last season are also in the mix for roles this summer, if not earlier. Jordan Montgomery and Dietrich Enns each played roles in Scranton’s success last fall and looked solid in Double A Trenton before that. Enns was added to the 40-man roster this winter. Lefties hit Enns slightly better than righties last season and the soft-tossing southpaw may not be best suited for a role as a LOOGY.

Montgomery — who is potentially in play for a spot in the rotation on opening day, let alone a relief spot — isn’t on the 40-man roster yet. Similar to Enns, Montgomery had a reverse split last year, although neither lefties or righties hit him well. He throws from a high arm slot and has a solid change-up and would be a solid long reliever if he isn’t a starter.

Righties with a taste

Heller (Getty Images)
Heller. (Getty Images)

Both Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder got chances last September to help the Yankees bullpen and neither particularly impressed. Heller, a 25 year old who came over in the Andrew Miller trade, throws in the upper 90s with his fastball and mixes in an effective slider. Despite his 6.43 ERA in seven big league innings, he’s certainly someone to keep an eye on because he has the stuff to be effective. He’s posted strong strikeout numbers everywhere in the minors, solid enough to mask occasional issues with walks. I’d expect him to be one of the first relievers called up this spring, if not someone on the roster opening day after a lights-out spring (one run, 8 ks in 9 2/3 innings with 6 BB).

Like Heller, Holder couldn’t seem to have his strikeout numbers translate in his short big league stint (8 1/3 innings). He also uncharacteristically struggled with control. Still, his fantastic strikeout rates (101 Ks in 65 1/3 innings last year over three levels) are the reason he was added to the 40-man roster early at 23 years old. He’s likely behind Heller but still a solid option this spring/summer.

Long man

The Yankees’ have a series of young pitchers competing for the final rotation spots right now and only two will walk away with said spots. Therefore, the rest will be relegated to Triple A or to spots in the bullpen. Frieri’s addition to the team makes it less likely the team brings two of those losing out north — or actually south 20 miles from Steinbrenner Field to Tropicana Field — for opening day.

Still, there is likely one spot, if not two, for those who lose out. Let’s say Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell get the rotation spots. It’s easy to see Luis Cessa take the long-man role while Chad Green and Montgomery go to Triple A. The latter two would still be likely to see time in the majors and could be see it quickly considering the bullpen shuttle of recent years.

40-man roster and beyond

Barbato (Getty Images)
Barbato. (Getty Images)

There is a gaggle of relievers that got opportunities to show off their stuff this spring with the Yankees, way too many to go through in detail. Johnny Barbato and Gio Gallegos are both on the 40-man and closest to the majors.

Further down the 40-man, Yefrey Ramirez and Domingo German both have strikeout worthy stuff, but they’re starters at the moment and haven’t pitched above Single A. Ronald Herrera, acquired for Jose Pirela a couple years ago, has all of five innings above Double A.

Off the 40-man roster, it’s worth paying attention to a few names. Nick Rumbelow, outrighted off the 40, is coming off Tommy John surgery and once showed promise for a middle relief role. Joe Mantiply — a southpaw who was claimed off waivers, DFA’d and then re-signed to a minor league deal this winter — has solid strikeout rates in the minors but hasn’t thrown much above Double A. Finally, J.P Feyereisen was acquired in the Miller deal with Heller and co. and was solid as a fireman for Double A Trenton in the MiLB playoffs last year. Could be something down the road and I wouldn’t be shocked if he is seen in the majors for a stint this summer.

Yankees sign Ernesto Frieri to minor league contract

Frieri circa 2014. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Frieri circa 2014. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

6:14pm ET: Jon Heyman says Frieri will make $800,000 at the big league level. The contract also includes incentives based on appearances and games finished in case, you know, he becomes the closer or something.

6:00pm ET: As expected, the Yankees announced today they have signed veteran right-hander Ernesto Frieri to a minor league contract. He’ll be in big league camp as a non-roster player. Frieri worked out for the team recently and was in the clubhouse yesterday, at which point it was pretty obvious a deal was in the works.

Frieri, 31, did not pitch in 2016. He was in camp with the Phillies, got released, remained unemployed all summer, then threw in winter ball in Venezuela. Frieri struck out one in two scoreless innings with Colombia during the World Baseball Classic, and PitchFX says his fastball averaged 95.0 mph.

Once upon a time Frieri was a quality late-inning reliever with the Padres and Angels, throwing 229.1 innings with a 2.79 ERA (3.45 FIP) and 32.4% strikeouts from 2010-13. He wasn’t very good with the Angels, Pirates, and Rays from 2014-15 though (6.37 ERA and 5.76 FIP). Even at his best, Frieri walked a lot of batters (career 10.9% walk rate).

Joe Girardi told Dan Martin that Frieri is “going to get an opportunity here,” and as a non-roster invitee, he carries no risk. He’ll throw a few innings in Grapefruit League games, and if he looks good, the Yankees will keep him. If not, they’ll move on. I’m not too optimistic Frieri will help the Yankees, but there’s no such thing as too much pitching.