Saturday Links: Otani, Spring Training Caps, A-Rod, Fowler

For the first time I can remember, a Steinbrenner has backed off the “World Series or bust” mantra. While speaking to David Lennon earlier this week, Hal Steinbrenner said the Yankees have the potential to be a postseason team in 2017. Not exactly a glowing endorsement, but hey, give Hal points for honesty. Here’s some stuff to check out as we wait for Spring Training to begin.

Otani won’t play in Arizona, WBC

Shohei Otani, the best non-MLB player in the world, will not play in Arizona with the Nippon Ham Fighters this month or the World Baseball Classic next month, reports the Kyodo News. Otani is nursing a nagging ankle injury. There was some hope he would be able to DH in the WBC, but nope. He’s being removed from Japan’s 28-man roster entirely. They don’t want to push it.

The (Ham) Fighters are scheduled to hold Spring Training in Arizona at the Padres’ complex for the second straight year. It was going to be a great chance for MLB clubs to get their eyes on Otani, even the Spring Training version of him, right in their own backyards. Now they’ll have to wait for the regular season, and, to be fair, they were going to scout him during the regular season anyway. They just won’t get an early start in camp or the WBC.

The biggest question remains whether Otani will actually come over to MLB next season. Reports indicate he will, but the new international hard cap means his earning potential will be severely limited. He could wait three years until he turns 25, make good money in Japan in the meantime, then come over when he’s no longer subject to the hard cap. We’ll see.

MLB unveils new Spring Training caps

Last week we got a sneak peak at the Yankees’ new Spring Training caps, and yesterday morning, MLB made it official. The pinstriped brim is part of this year’s Grapefruit League ensemble. Thankfully the team’s road cap is much more … normal.

2017-spring-training-hats

Well, I don’t think I’ll be running out to buy either one of those. Whatever. The jerseys, thankfully, look like normal Spring Training jerseys. You win some and you lose some.

A-Rod‘s coming to camp … twice

Earlier this week Steinbrenner confirmed Alex Rodriguez will serve not one, but two stints this spring as a guest instructor, according to Lennon. They haven’t yet mapped out a plan for the regular season, however. A-Rod’s official title is special advisor, though he’s really more like a special instructor, going around and working with various prospects. What are the chances Gleyber Torres will be Rodriguez’s pet project this year, 90%? I’ll take the over.

Fowler is Law’s sleeper prospect

Yesterday Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrapped up his annual prospect rankings package by naming one sleeper prospect for each team. He defines a sleeper as a prospect “not in the current top 100, but I think they have a good chance to take a big leap forward during 2017, ending up not just in the top 100 but also somewhere in the middle to upper reaches of it.” Outfielder Dustin Fowler is his pick for the Yankees.

Fowler has the right mix of ability, some performance and youth to end up squarely in the top 100 next winter. Teenage prospects such outfielder Estevan Florial or shortstop Wilkerman Garcia are probably a year from that kind of status.

Pretty much the only thing Fowler doesn’t do is walk, and while minor league walk rates aren’t very predictive, the scouting report says he is a bit of a free swinger. With a little more patience, Fowler could develop into a 20-20 center fielder with solid on-base percentages. And it’s not even clear he is one of the ten best prospects in the organization right now. Wild.

Year Two of the 2014-15 International Free Agency Class [2016 Season Review]

Wilkerman. (@MLBPipeline)
Wilkerman. (@MLBPipeline)

Two and a half years ago the Yankees did something that sent shockwaves throughout baseball. On July 2nd, 2014, the first day of the 2014-15 international signing period, the Yankees committed more than $17M in bonuses to amateur players and completely blew their $2.2M bonus pool out of the water. Between bonuses and penalties, the team spend upwards of $30M on international free agents that signing period.

The Yankees were not the first team to exceed their international bonus pool but they were the first to do it in such an extreme way. Since then other clubs, including the Dodgers and Braves and Padres, have followed suit and spent huge on international free agents. The tax and other penalties, including a $300,000 limit on bonuses during both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 international signing periods, were a price worth paying for a one-year talent windfall.

As the owners continue to push for an international draft as part of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations — Ken Rosenthal says they’ve backed off that demand, for what it’s worth — the Yankees are in the process of developing and cultivating that 2014-15 international class. International free agency is not the thing for you if you’re looking for instant gratification. Turning 16-year-olds into big leaguers is a long and not always smooth process.

The 2016 season was the second full year in pro ball for players signed during the 2014-15 period — players sign contracts that begin the following season, so the kids who signed on July 2nd, 2014, signed 2015 contracts — and the Yankees are starting to see some exciting things happen in the lower minors. Here’s a progress report on that 2014-15 international signing class.

The Top Prospect

You know, it’s actually very up for debate who currently is the best prospect the Yankees signed as part of the spending spree. But, since this is my blog, I’m making an executive decision. SS Wilkerman Garcia ($1.35M bonus) burst onto the scene with a huge debut in 2015, hitting .299/.414/.362 (140 wRC+) with more walks (15.8%) than strikeouts (12.0%) in 39 rookie ball games. He’s the best prospect from the 2014-15 class. Unfortunately his 2016 follow-up didn’t go too well.

Garcia, who won’t turn 19 until April, suffered a shoulder injury in Spring Training this year, and while he didn’t need surgery or anything like that, he spent much of the first half rehabbing in Extended Spring Training. When he was ready to play, he went to rookie level Pulaski and put up a disappointing .198/.255/.284 (52 wRC+) batting line with 18.4% strikeouts and 6.3% walks in 54 games. Wilkerman was two and a half years younger than the average Appalachian League player.

The stat line is not pretty, but the most important thing is Garcia’s shoulder is now healthy and he didn’t lose any of the high-end athleticism that landed him such a large bonus. Wilkerman is a switch-hitter with bat control and strike zone knowledge, plus he runs very well and has a strong arm, which suit him well at shortstop. Hopefully 2016 was just a bump in the road. Garcia projects as an impact AVG/OBP/speed/defense leadoff type.

The New Hot Prospect

Florial. (@jarahwright)
Florial. (@jarahwright)

One of the best prospects the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period did not sign on July 2nd. He signed in March 2015. OF Estevan Florial ($200,000) was a highly regarded prospect heading into the signing period before being suspended by MLB for paperwork issues. Joel Sherman has a great story on Florial’s background. Apparently his mother used fraudulent paperwork to get him into school.

Florial, who turned 19 last week, annihilated the Dominican Summer League last season, hitting .313/.394/.527 (154 wRC+) with seven home runs and 15 steals in 57 games. His stateside debut in 2016 didn’t go quite as well. Florial put up a .228/.310/.370 (92 wRC+) line with eight homers and ten steals in 70 games at mostly Pulaski. (He also made brief cameos with Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa.) Florial struck out in 28.9% of his plate appearances.

The stat line is not what gets folks so excited about Florial. It’s the scouting report. During a recent Baseball America podcast, Josh Norris said scouts are giving Florial a 70 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) for three tools: power, running, throwing. That’s bonkers. Florial, a lefty hitter, has huge power and is a tremendous athlete. The only red flag in his game — and it’s a significant one — is his tendency to swing and miss.

More than a few tooled up players have been sabotaged by insufficient hitting ability, but that doesn’t mean you stop targeting those players. Every once in a while they turn into Kris Bryant. Florial is so well-regarded that teams are already asking for him in trades, according to Sherman. Given his natural ability, the Yankees scored a major win signing Florial for a mere $200,000 that late in the signing period.

The Power Threats

The two largest bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period went to 3B Dermis Garcia ($3.2M) and 3B Nelson Gomez ($2.25M). (Garcia signed as a shortstop and has since moved to third.) For both players, their calling card is their power. MLB.com ranked them as the top two international prospects in 2014 and they gave Dermis a 65 for his power. Gomez received a 60. Those are huge numbers for kids who were only 16 at the time.

Garcia, 19 in January, showed off that power during his 57-game stint with Pulaski this summer. He hit .206/.326/.454 (114 wRC+) overall and finished second in the league with 13 homers. The home run leader, Bradley Jones of the Blue Jays, hit 16. He’s three years older than Garcia. Dermis also struck out 34.3% of the time because he takes a big aggressive hack, which leads to a lot of whiffs. When he connects though, this happens:

At one point this summer Garcia went deep in four straight games — only 15 teenagers hit at least four home runs all season in the Appy League — and eight times in the span of 15 games. Eighteen-year-old kids in rookie ball just don’t do that. His power is truly special.

Garcia is not a mindless hacker. He knows the strike zone (13.9 BB%) and which pitches he can punish. His swing is just so aggressive — it’s basically a Javier Baez swing, that kind of aggressive — that he comes up empty a good amount of the time. Once Dermis realizes his power is so great that he can still hit the ball out of the park while taking a more controlled swing, he’s going to be a monster.

As for Gomez, the just turned 19-year-old made his stateside debut in 2016 and authored a .194/.249/.403 (92 wRC+) batting line in 54 games with one of the Yankees’ two rookie Gulf Coast League affiliates. The good news: Gomez was second in the league with nine homers. (The leader, Ignacio Valdez of the Tigers, had eleven and is two years older.) The bad news: Gomez struck out 25.8% of the time and walked 3.8% of the time.

Unlike Garcia, Gomez is a true hacker who will swing at pretty much everything and chase out of the zone. His plate discipline and approach are a very long way away from being competitive. Neither player offers a ton defensively, so their value is tied up heavily in their bats. Garcia is much more than a mistake hitter. He can hit. He just needs to tone things down a notch. Gomez has to figure out how to read spin and discern a ball from a strike.

The Sleeper

Unlike the players above, SS Diego Castillo ($750,000) does not come with loud tools. He’s not going to wow you with speed and his arm like Wilkerman, or hit the snot out of the ball like Dermis or Gomez, or grab your attention like Florial. Castillo, who turned 19 last month, is a bat-to-ball machine with a sweet swing and an opposite field approach. He can also play the hell out of shortstop thanks to good mobility and a strong arm.

This summer Castillo came to the U.S. and hit .267/.332/.327 (102 wRC+) with one home run and five steals in 44 GCL games. His strikeout rate (11.4%) is a result of his contact-focused approach, plus he drew a good amount of walks too (7.6%). Castillo is a boringly good prospect. He’s not flashy, but he’s very fundamentally sound and instinctive on the baseball field. Castillo has the ability to be a rock solid shortstop who helps on both sides of the ball at the next level.

The Advanced Prospect

Advanced is a relative term. We are talking about (mostly) teenagers here, after all. The oldest bonafide prospect the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period is SS Hoy Jun Park ($1.2M), who signed at 18 after graduating high school in South Korea. He spent this past season sharing second base and shortstop with Kyle Holder at Low-A Charleston, where he hit .225/.336/.329 (97 wRC+) with two homers, 32 steals, 23.2% strikeouts, and 13.0% walks in 116 games.

At this point Park’s offensive game lags behind his defense because he didn’t face the greatest competition growing up. He’s a left-handed hitter with a good swing and a plan at the plate, and once he adds some meat to his frame (6-foot-1 and 175 lbs.), the power should come. Park is a no-doubt shortstop with a quick first step and a strong arm. He’s prone to being a little too flashy and making mistakes, but that’s nothing a little experience can’t fix.

Park is older than most of his 2014-15 signing period brethren and he’s already spent a full season in Low-A, so he’s higher up the ladder as well. His offensive game has started to come around nicely since signing. Park’s easy to overlook in a farm system loaded with shortstops, but he has some really exciting skills. He has the potential to be a standout shortstop on both sides of the ball.

The Pop-Up Prospect

Freicer. (Robert Pimpsner)
Freicer. (Robert Pimpsner)

“Pop-up” prospects happen a lot with international free agents. Jorge Mateo and Luis Severino were pop-up prospects. Both were lower profile prospects signed to relatively small bonuses, their physical development was favorable — a lot kids go through growth spurts and lose the athleticism that get them signed in the first place — then bam, they were top prospects. Scouting kids who are 15 or 16 years old and projecting what they’ll be at 21 and 22 is awfully tough. The error bars are huge.

RHP Freicer Perez ($10,000) is the pop-up prospect from the 2014-15 signing period. The 20-year-old held his own with Short Season Staten Island in 2016, pitching to a 4.47 ERA (3.81 FIP) with 20.6% strikeouts and 10.5% walks in 13 starts and 52.1 innings. Perez is massive. He’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 190 lbs., which means he still hasn’t filled out and could add to a fastball that already sits 95-97 mph. His breaking ball and changeup need work, as does his overall command, but squint your eyes and you can see a Dellin Betances starter kit. Not too shabby for a $10,000 investment.

The Other Big Money Prospects

The Yankees gave out seven seven-figure bonuses during the 2014-15 international signing period. Stick to the spending pools and most teams would be able to afford two $1M+ bonuses, maybe three. The Yankees made a complete mockery of the system. No wonder the owners are pushing for an international draft now.

Anyway, four of those seven $1M+ bonuses went to Gomez, Park, and the two Garcias. One of the other three went to OF Jonathan Amundaray ($1.5M), an 18-year-old who hit .269/.321/.394 (112 wRC+) with two homers and an 18.8% strikeout rate in 29 games while repeating the Dominican Summer League in 2016. Amundaray has been billed as a good worker and very coachable, and the Yankees are waiting for his athletic ability to translate on the field.

OF Juan DeLeon ($2M) was arguably the most exciting prospect the Yankees signed two years ago thanks to his well-rounded game and true five-tool skill set. He appeared in only a dozen GCL games this summer due to an injury, hitting .212/.308/.364 (103 wRC+) in 39 plate appearances. Meh. I wouldn’t call this a lost year — DeLeon did get to work in Extended Spring Training before the GCL season — but not much happened for him in 2016.

The final seven-figure bonus went to C Miguel Flames ($1.1M), whose development behind the plate has been slow. Last year he caught nine games in the DSL (41 at first base) and this year he caught ten games in the GCL (36 at first). Many of them weren’t even full games. The Yankees had Flames catch five innings every few days for a while, and that was it. Not everyone takes to the position as quickly as Luis Torrens. The Yankees have had to ease Flames into it.

The Best of the Rest

Among the other notable 2014-15 international prospects are OF Brayan Emery ($500,000) and RHP Gilmael Troya ($10,000), both of whom played in the GCL in 2016. Emery, 18, hit .208/.328/.255 (88 wRC+) with one homer in 32 games and has insane tools. He was initially expected to sign for $1M+. Troya, 19, broke out last year after some mechanical tweaks, though he took a step back this summer and put up a 3.78 ERA (4.41 FIP) in 50 innings. He stands out for his fastball/curveball combo and pitching know-how.

Here are the rest of the notable prospects the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period, plus a note on their 2016 performance and current status:

  • OF Antonio Arias ($800,000): 18-year-old hit .239/.350/.266 (95 wRC+) in 51 games while repeating the DSL. He’s a great athlete and incredibly raw. A total lottery ticket.
  • OF Lisandro Blanco ($550,000): 19-year-old was overmatched in the GCL, hitting .111/.265/.185 (52 wRC+) in 26 games. Baseball is hard, even when you have premium bat speed like Blanco.
  • OF Leobaldo Cabrera ($250,000): 18-year-old hit .196/.261/.224 (53 wRC+) in 43 GCL games. He’s a raw athlete who stands out most for his throwing arm.
  • OF Frederick Cuevas ($300,000): 19-year-old playing sparingly in the GCL and hit .267/.302/.350 (96 wRC+) in 30 games. Cuevas is a lefty hitter with some pull power and approach issues.
  • IF Griffin Garabito ($225,000): 19-year-old followed up a solid 2015 debut by hitting .182/.238/.223 (44 wRC+) in 36 GCL games. He profiles best a contact heavy utility infielder.
  • C Jason Lopez ($100,000): 18-year-old hit .192/.267/.346 (85 wRC+) in only eleven GCL games. He’s a recently converted infielder with a rocket arm and some pop.
  • OF Erick Mendez ($250,000): 20-year-old put up a .243/.318/.393 (112 wRC+) line in 40 games between the GCL and Pulaski, then failed a performance-enhancing drug test after the season. He’ll serve a 50-game suspension at the outset of 2017.
  • OF Raymundo Moreno ($600,000): 18-year-old hit a fine .284/.381/.333 (119 wRC+) in 56 games while repeating the DSL. He’s got some loud tools and could make a name for himself in the GCL in 2017.
  • OF Pablo Olivares ($400,000): 18-year-old put up a .285/.378/.392 (135 wRC+) batting line in 47 GCL games. He a right-handed hitter who sprays the ball to all fields and is an excellent center field defender. The Yankees might have something here.
  • IF Danienger Perez ($300,000): 20-year-old hit .213/.248/.283 (60 wRC+) in 35 games between the GCL and Low-A. Perez is a speedy slap hitter who hasn’t hit much in pro ball.

These are not even all the prospects the Yankees signed during the 2014-15 signing period. These are just the most notable. All told, the Yankees brought in about four years worth of international talent two years ago. Most years you may get one or two premium prospects and two of three secondary guys of note. In 2014-15, the Yankees landed four headliners (Park, Florial, the Garcias) and a host of second tier prospects (Gomez, Perez, Castillo, DeLeon, Flames, Amundaray, Emery, Troya, Olivares).

I’m not sure how many of these players will play full season ball in 2017 — Park will for sure, and I could see the Yankees pushing Florial and Perez to Low-A — but the Yankees have more than enough short season league teams to house them all. No one has knocked your socks off statistically yet — hey, they can’t all dominate instantly like Jesus Montero — but Florial, Dermis, Park, and Perez have all made improvements while others are still showing the big tools that got them signed at 16. With kids this age, that’s not always a given two years later.

Baseball America ranks three Yankees among best short season league prospects for 2016

Rutherford. (@MiLB)
Rutherford. (@MiLB)

A few days ago the crew at Baseball America started their annual look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league for the 2016 season. So far they’ve made their way through the various short season leagues — at least the ones relevant to the Yankees — which include the Gulf Coast League, Appalachian League, and NY-Penn League. The Yankees have two GCL teams plus one each in the Appy League and NYPL.

Starting with the Appy League (subs. req’d), Blue Jays OF Vladimir Guerrero Jr. claimed the top spot and was followed by two Yankees farmhands: OF Blake Rutherford and OF Estevan Florial are Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. In the chat, Hudson Belinsky singled out 3B Dermis Garcia, SS Wilkerman Garcia, SS Oswaldo Cabrera, OF Leonardo Molina, OF Isiah Gilliam, and C Donny Sands as others who received consideration. RHP Rafael Lara was mentioned as a sleeper.

“Rutherford controls at-bats and has a sound understanding of which pitches he can drive. His swing is geared more for line drives than home runs, and he hits lots of hard doubles from gap to gap, projecting for more over-the-fence power as he matures,” said the write-up. They also note Rutherford has very good outfield instincts but may lack the straight line speed needed to remain in center field long-term.

As for Florial, the write-up says he “wowed evaluators with his raw tools this summer,” particularly his “plus bat speed … giving him plus-plus raw power in batting practice.” Florial also has true center field defensive skills. The biggest red flag is a very aggressive swing that led to a 29.1% strikeout rate. “When he does connect, however, the ball explodes off his bat,” added the scouting report.

The GCL prospects list (subs. req’d) was, predictably, lead by Phillies OF Mickey Moniak, the first overall pick in this summer’s draft. Tigers RHP Matt Manning and Nationals OF Juan Soto round out the top three. SS Diego Castillo is the only Yankees prospect on the list and he ranked 19th. Ben Badler said 3B Nelson Gomez has huge raw power in the chat, but also “the approach he showed this year is worrisome,” which is why he didn’t make the top 20.

“(Castillo) has great feel for the barrel with a short, simple stroke with good bat path. He is a high contact hitter with an inside-out approach, wearing out the opposite field,” said the write-up, which also noted Castillo doesn’t have much power. His defense at short is very good as well, enough that he projects to remain at the position long-term. “He’s a smart, instinctive player who has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.”

The Yankees did not have a single player on the NYPL prospects list (subs. req’d), which isn’t surprising. The Staten Island Yankees weren’t a particularly deep prospect team this year. 2B Nick Solak was by far the best healthy prospect on the team, and he’s didn’t make the cut in a league loaded with first round picks and high profile international signees. Athletics LHP A.J. Puk, the sixth pick in this year’s draft, was the league’s top prospect.

You can see the complete top 20 lists without a subscription right here. You just can’t read the scouting reports. I’m not sure what the posting schedule is, but the next list relevant to the Yankees is the Low-A South Atlantic League. SS Hoy Jun Park and RHP Dillon Tate are the Yankees prospects most likely to appear on the list. Others like C Luis Torrens and RHP Domingo Acevedo won’t meet the playing time criteria and aren’t eligible.

Saturday Links: All-Star Game, Ellsbury, Prospects, DL

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox continue their weekend series tonight at Fenway Park. Man, I hate Saturday night games. The game isn’t even on FOX but I blame them anyway. Blah. Anywho, here are some links to help you pass the time until first pitch.

2016 All-Star Game voting underway

It’s that time of the year again. Fan voting for the 2016 All-Star Game starters is underway and yes, it is ridiculously early. It is every year. Here’s the ballot. You’re allowed to vote up to 35 times per email address and the voting doesn’t end until June 30th, so you’ve got plenty of time to vote for Chase Headley over and over again.

Teams game-planning for Ellsbury’s catcher interferences

Already three times this season Jacoby Ellsbury has been awarded first base on a catcher’s interference. That’s unusual — there have been only three other catcher’s interference calls in all of baseball this season — but not for Ellsbury. Since 2008, his first full season, his 17 catcher’s interference calls are the most in baseball. No one else has more than 13.

Those 17 career catcher’s interference calls are fourth most in history, behind Pete Rose (29), Dale Berra (18), and Julian Javier (18). Ellsbury has proven to be so proficient at getting catcher’s interference calls that teams are now game-planning for it. From Jared Diamond:

It’s happened enough that Ellsbury has earned a reputation around the league. Hector Ortiz, the catching instructor for the Texas Rangers, said he normally teaches his catchers to set up at an arm’s length behind the batter. When the Yankees came to town this week, Ortiz took special care to warn his players about Ellsbury’s strange talent, and to prepare for it.

“If you’ve got a guy that is consistently dropping the head of the bat that way, then we want to be an arm and a half,” said Ortiz. “You talk about it, to get away. They move back and they stay away from that.”

I don’t think anyone is accusing Ellsbury of hitting the catcher’s mitt on purpose. That’s just his swing path and the way he lets the ball travel deep in the zone. Opponents are game-planning for it not only to keep Ellsbury off base, but also keep their catchers healthy. They don’t want anyone to reach out too far and wind up with broken fingers. What a weird skill.

Three Yankees among top 20 DSL/VSL prospects

Earlier this month the great Ben Badler posted his annual look at the top 20 prospects from the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer Leagues last season. It’s not a ranking, just an alphabetical list of 20 names. The Yankees have three of the top 20 thanks to the 2014-15 international spending spree. The article is behind the paywall, so I can’t give away too much. Here are the nuts and bolts:

  • SS Diego Castillo: “Castillo was one of the most polished, fundamentally sound players in the 2014 signing class, with excellent instincts in all phases of the game.”
  • OF Estevan Florial: “Florial has outstanding tools, with scouts hanging 70s on his speed and arm strength in center field. He has good bat speed and plus raw power, ranking second in the league in slugging.”
  • 3B Nelson Gomez: “Gomez (is) a physical righthanded hitter with huge raw power, though a lot of scouts were skeptical whether his swing-and-miss tendencies would allow his power to translate against live pitching.”

Castillo, 18, hit .331/.373/.444 (130 wRC+) in 56 DSL games last year. He signed for $750,000 and is a personal favorite as a deep sleeper. I’m a sucker for guys who are polished and instinctual at such a young age. Castillo should come stateside later this summer and play with one of the rookie Gulf Coast League affiliates, so prepare to hear much more about him in the coming weeks and years.

MLBPA pushing for 7-day DL

According to Joel Sherman, the MLBPA plans to push for a 7-day DL as part of the next round of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with MLB. Right now the league has 15-day and 60-day disabled lists, as well as a special 7-day DL for concussions only. That 7-day DL comes with all sorts of concussion protocol, including approval from MLB’s medical director before the player can be activated.

Sherman says the union has pushed for a 7-day DL in the past, though it never received approval from the owners. Apparently there’s concern teams would manipulate the system, perhaps by putting a starting pitcher on the 7-day DL to gain an extra roster spot when he isn’t scheduled to pitch for a few days. I could totally see the Yankees doing something like that with a sixth starter, couldn’t you?

There is a 7-day DL in the minors, and once upon a time MLB had 10-day and 21-day disabled lists. There’s nothing special about 15 days. It’s just a round number. I’m in favor of a shorter DL to give teams some more flexibility — the Yankees played with a 23-man roster for a few days this week because Alex Rodriguez and Aaron Hicks were banged up — though I understand there are some things to work out. It’s not quite as simple as it seems.

Minors Notes: Lindgren, Rosters, Garcia, Hebert, Sands

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

The Major League season opened earlier this week, and now it’s time for the minor league season to follow suit. The Yankees’ four full season affiliates open their regular seasons tomorrow night. Three of the four open at home. So, with that in mind, here are a bunch of minor league news and notes I had lying around.

Lindgren to begin in High-A Tampa

LHP Jacob Lindgren is going to begin the season with High-A Tampa, according to Josh Norris. Tampa, obviously, is a long way from Scranton. Brian Cashman confirmed to Chad Jennings that Lindgren is not hurt. Two things immediately jump to mind. One, the Yankees want Lindgren to stay away from the cold weather early in the season. It wouldn’t be the first time they or any other team has done that.

Two, and I think the more likely explanation, the Yankees think Lindgren needs mechanical work and they want him to put in that work close to the home base in Tampa. Lindgren is coming off elbow surgery and he wasn’t blessed with good control to start with, so it seems the Yankees are taking a step back and trying to get him right. What he’s doing right now isn’t working, so they’re not going force it. It’s not like they’re lacking bullpen depth at Triple-A. This is the time to do it.

Minor league rosters announced

Rosters for three of the four full season affiliates were announced earlier this week. We’re still waiting on High-A Tampa. Here are the links with some quick thoughts on the other three rosters:

  • Triple-A Scranton: C Eddy Rodriguez, not C Sebastian Valle, gets the job mentoring and backing C Gary Sanchez. The outfield is loaded (OF Ben Gamel, OF Slade Heathcott, OF Aaron Judge, OF Cesar Puello) and I expect all four to play pretty much every day, so the DH will be a rotation.
  • Double-A Trenton: RHP Brady Lail starting back with the Thunder is a bit surprising. Well, maybe not. He got roughed up in seven Triple-A starts last year. I bet he gets promoted before long. I’m a bit surprised to see OF Dustin Fowler here after only a half-season at High-A in 2015. Among the pitchers, I’m most looking forward to seeing what LHP Jordan Montgomery and RHP Ronald Herrera do this year.
  • Low-A Charleston: RHP Domingo Acevedo is the only must-watch guy on the pitching staff. IF Thairo Estrada, SS Kyle Holder, and SS Hoy Jun Park are probably going to share time at second, short, and third. OF Trey Amburgey and OF Jhalan Jackson in the outfield should be fun. No C Luis Torrens means he must still be in Extended Spring Training working his way back from shoulder surgery.

There is still one open spot on the Triple-A Scranton roster. They currently have 12 pitchers on the roster and I would not at all be surprised if they added for a 13th early in the season. They have to watch innings and make sure no one gets overworked early in the season, especially the actual prospects. Plus the extra arm will come in handy as relievers get shuttled in and out.

Based on the other rosters, we can deduce who is starting with High-A Tampa: RHP James Kaprielian, SS Jorge Mateo, 3B Miguel Andujar, IF Abi Avelino, RHP Jordan Foley, and OF Austin Aune are the notables. Hopefully LHP Ian Clarkin as well, assuming he’s healthy. There’s no reason to think he isn’t aside from the fact he missed the entire regular season last year. Tampa looks like the most exciting affiliate this year, but that could change quick if Kaprielian and Mateo get promoted at some point, which seems likely.

Garcia out with shoulder soreness

According to Brendan Kuty, SS Wilkerman Garcia dealt with a sore right shoulder throughout the spring, and there is no timetable for his return. Garcia was still listed in a rehab workout group two weeks ago per Shane Hennigan, so he has not been shut down completely. He’s been doing some kind of baseball work lately. Still though, you don’t want one of your best prospects to have a sore shoulder.

Garcia, 18, signed for $1.35M as part of the 2014-15 international spending spree. He hit .299/.414/.362 (140 RC+) with more walks (25) than strikeouts (19) in 39 rookie ball games last year. Wilkerman was expected to begin the 2016 season in Extended Spring Training before joining one of the short season affiliates (Staten Island, most likely) in late-June, so we’re not even going to notice he’s missing from DotF. Hopefully this shoulder soreness is only minor and he’s back to full strength soon.

Hebert undergoes Tommy John surgery

Hebert. (Presswire)
Hebert. (Presswire)

LHP Chaz Hebert, who really broke out with a strong 2015 season, recently had Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2016 season, farm system head Denbo confirmed to Chad Jennings. Hebert, 23, was a 27th round pick back in 2011. He bounced around the low minors for a while before pitching to a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 134 innings last season, including a few appearances at Triple-A.

PitchFX data from the Arizona Fall League shows Hebert throws four pitches: four-seamer (averaged 90.0 mph), cutter (85.9), changeup (78.4), and curveball (73.8). The Yankees opted not to add Hebert to the 40-man roster last November following his big year, and he went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft. By no means is he a great prospect, but he’s a lefty who can start, and those guys are always interesting.

Sands converting to catcher

In an interview with Mike Rosenbaum, 3B Donny Sands revealed he is moving behind the plate and converting to catcher. “I’ve bought into it, completely, which is the only way you really can get better regardless of the position you’re moving to,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity the Yankees are giving me, and I’ve very thankful for it … It’s a lot different than every other position; you get beat up and tired but still have to be the backbone out there and maintain focus. I like being mentally involved on every pitch.”

Sands, 19, was the team’s eighth round pick out of an Arizona high school last year, and he hit .309/.395/.361 (133 wRC+) in 55 rookie ball games as a third baseman after signing for $100,000. Pre-draft scouting reports lauded his strong arm, soft hands, and baseball instincts, all of which he’ll need behind the plate. Converting to catcher is not easy — not everyone takes to it as quickly as Torrens or John Ryan Murphy — so we’ll see how long it takes Sands’ defense to catch up to his bat. The move to catcher is a great opportunity for him to raise his stock.

Baseball America’s international review

The great Ben Badler posted his annual international reviews over the last ten days or so. The main Yankees review is behind the paywall, so I can’t share too much, but the team signed 57 (!) players last year. Ridiculous. That covers the 2015 calendar year, so the second half of the 2014-15 signing period and the first half of the 2015-16 signing period. Here are some associated links that are not behind the payroll:

  • Total Signings by Team: No other team signed more than 48 prospects last year. The average was 26 signings by the 29 non-Yankees teams. The Yankees more than doubled that.
  • Total Spending by Team: The Yankees handed out $3.42M in total bonuses last year, ranking 16th out of the 30 clubs. Remember, they were limited to bonuses of $300,000 or less after July 2nd last year as a result of the penalties from the 2014-15 signing period.
  • Top 40 Bonuses: The Yankees did not give out one of the 40 largest international bonuses last year because they couldn’t. They signed all their big money 2014-15 guys in July 2014. Last year they had to deal with the penalty.

The only player the Yankees signed for the maximum $300,000 bonus after July 2nd last year was Venezuelan SS Jesus Bastidas. Badler calls him “a sure-handed shortstop” with the tools to remain at the position, and added he has “quick, strong hands and the ball jumps off his bat well already for his size.” Dominican RHP Luis Medina ($280,000) is already touching 100 mph. The team also signed Dominican OF Estevan Florial ($200,000) last year. We’ve heard quite a bit about him recently.

The Yankees scout Latin America very well and they have a history of hitting home runs with lower bonus guys. Both Luis Severino ($225,000) and Mateo ($250,000) signed on the relative cheap, for example. I’m sure those 57 players are more quantity than quality because of the $300,000 limit, but still, the Yankees are really good at finding top shelf talent at bargain prices. I’m sure more than a few are good prospects.

Yankees sign one, release 17

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed one player and released 17 in recent weeks. Let’s start with the 17 who have been released:

Pitchers: RHP Andre Del Bosque, LHP Derek Callahan, LHP Ethan Carnes, LHP Andrew Chin, RHP Geoff DeGroot, RHP Cory Jordan, LHP Conner Kendrick, LHP Anthony Marzi
Position Players: 1B Matt Duran, OF Greidy Encarnacion, OF Joey Falcone, OF Dominic Jose, 3B Renzo Martini, IF Ty McFarland, C Alvaro Noriega, IF Junior Valera, C Matt Walsh

Duran and McFarland are the most notable of the bunch. Duran was the team’s fourth round pick in 2011, but he didn’t hit (88 wRC+) and only played 128 games in five seasons due to injuries. McFarland was a draft pool saving tenth round pick in 2014 and he had decent numbers (106 wRC+), but he was old for every level he played. Jose had some tools. It just didn’t come together.

The player the Yankees signed is 2B Chris Godinez, who was released by the Dodgers recently. The 22-year-old was an 18th round pick just last year, and he hit .226/.385/.301 (93 wRC+) in 30 rookie ball games after turning pro. He’s a speed guy with great college stats (.302/.505/.510 at Bradley last spring) but no real standout tool beyond his legs. Looks like a depth pickup for the low minors.

The Farm System [2016 Season Preview]

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

The Yankees ignored their farm system for a number of years in the early and mid-2000s. They forfeited first round picks left and right to sign free agents, and they traded the few prospects they had for big leaguers every chance they got. I don’t think that’s automatically a bad thing! There’s a time and a place to go for it, and when you’re winning 90+ games every year, you go for it.

Things changed not too long ago. The Yankees decided to scale back the “go for it” mentality and instead focus on getting younger and building from within. Draft picks are precious, especially now that it’s harder to get extra ones, and top prospects are off limits in trades. Or at least the team says they are. Last summer the Yankees dipped into their farm system to fill a number of holes, most notably by sticking Luis Severino in the second half rotation.

The Yankees doubled down on their farm system this offseason. They signed zero Major League free agents for the first time in franchise history (as far as I can tell), and they didn’t go bonkers with trades either. They added a new second baseman, a new fourth outfielder, and a new closer. That’s about it. Any additional help is going to come from within in 2016. Let’s preview the farm system.

The Top Prospects

The Yankees have four prospects who are clearly a notch above everyone else in the system: OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, SS Jorge Mateo, and RHP James Kaprielian. Put them in any order you want. I won’t argue (much). Those are the four guys though. They’re the cream of the farm system crop. And cool part is all four could play in MLB in 2016. I wouldn’t call it likely, but it’s not completely impossible.

Judge is a behemoth — he’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 lbs. — with the kind of raw power you’d expect from that frame, though he doesn’t fit the one-dimensional slugger stereotype because he has a good hit tool and can play quality right field defense. Triple-A pitchers beat him with soft stuff away last year, so he’ll focus on the outer half this year. He’s already made some adjustments. Judge is not on the 40-man roster and the Yankees do have a lot of Triple-A outfield depth, but he will be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so the team could add him to the 40-man ahead of time and bring him up in September. Perhaps even sooner.

As soon as John Ryan Murphy was traded, Sanchez became the favorite for the backup catcher’s job. Over time it became clear sending him down was the right move, and not only because he went 1-for-21 (.048) in Spring Training. Five weeks in the minors equals an extra year of team control down the line and that is too good to pass up. Sanchez will continue to work on his defense in Triple-A for the time being. It’s only a matter of time until he takes over as Brian McCann‘s backup.

Mateo and Kaprielian are both going to start the season in High-A and they could conceivably reach MLB late in the season. Kaprielian, a polished college arm, could follow the Ian Kennedy path and zoom up the ladder, capping off his season with a few big league starts. Mateo, a speedster who can do a little of everything, could be the team’s designated pinch-runner in September. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so the Yankees could add him to the 40-man roster a few weeks early and put those legs to good use.

Judge, Sanchez, Mateo, and Kaprielian are the club’s tippy top prospects, and even if they don’t help at the MLB level this season, they’re all big parts of the future. Judge is the obvious long-term replacement for Carlos Beltran. Sanchez is McCann’s long-term replacement. The Yankees have one big league starter under team control beyond 2017 (Severino), so Kaprielian’s place is obvious. Mateo? They’ll figure that out when the time comes. For now, these four will continue to hone their skills and inch closer to an MLB job.

Ready To Help

In addition to the four top prospects, the Yankees have a few minor leaguers on the cusp of helping at the MLB level right now. First and foremost, they have about a dozen arms for the bullpen shuttle, and frankly I’m kinda sick of talking about them. We know the names, right? LHP Jacob Lindgren, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Nick Goody, RHP Branden Pinder, LHP James Pazos, on and on the list goes. We’re going to see them all at some point in 2016. I’m sure of it.

Gamel. (Presswire)
Gamel. (Presswire)

Beyond the bullpen shuttle, the Yankees have a small army of Triple-A outfielders who can help at a moment’s notice. Need a bat? OF Ben Gamel is there. Need defense? OF Mason Williams is the best bet once he fully recovers from shoulder surgery. Need a little of both? There’s OF Slade Heathcott. 2B Rob Refsnyder provides infield depth, or at least he will once he spends more time at third base. IF Ronald Torreyes, who will open the season in the show, is another infield candidate.

RHP Bryan Mitchell is also going to open to season in MLB, though he’s still a piece of rotation depth. If he’s the best man for the job, the Yankees will pull him out of the bullpen and stick him in the rotation whenever a starter is needed. RHP Luis Cessa, who came over in the Justin Wilson trade, looked very good this spring and is probably next in line for a call-up. RHP Brady Lail and RHP Chad Green are behind him. Cessa is on the 40-man. Lail and Green are not.

Unlike last season, the Yankees don’t have a Severino waiting in the wings. They don’t have that prospect who can come up and provide immediate impact. Well, I should rephrase that. They don’t have a prospect you would reasonably project to come up and have an impact right away. Cessa could come up and throw 60 innings with a sub-2.00 ERA, but no one expects that. Either way, the Yankees have depth pieces in Triple-A. Expect them to dip into their farm system for short-term help again this year, regardless of what they need at the MLB level.

The Next Top Prospects

A year ago at this time Mateo looked like a prospect who was ready to explode onto the scene and become a top tier prospect. Two years ago it was Severino. This summer, the best candidate for such a breakout is SS Wilkerman Garcia, who was part of that massive international spending spree two years ago. He’s a switch-hitter with good defense and I swear, every scouting report I read about him is better than the last. I’m excited to see what Wilkerman does this year.

Beyond Wilkerman, OF Dustin Fowler and C Luis Torrens have a chance to become top prospects this year. Fowler is a do-it-all outfielder and Torrens is a defense-first catcher with a promising bat. He’s coming back from shoulder surgery though, so maybe expecting a breakout after missing the entire 2015 season is too much to ask. 3B Miguel Andujar has high-end tools. We’re just waiting for the performance to match. SS Hoy Jun Park is another toolsy shortstop like Garcia.

The Yankees have a very position player heavy farm system, though they do have some pitching prospects poised to break out this summer. RHP Drew Finley is the No. 1 guy. He’s got three pitches and he locates. I feel like he’s going to sneak up on people this year. RHP Domingo Acevedo is the quintessential huge fastball guy. He just has to figure everything else out. LHP Jeff Degano needs to develop a changeup but already has the fastball and breaking ball.

Then, of course, there’s whoever the Yankees take with their first round pick (18th overall) in this June’s amateur draft. That player — the smart money is on a college player based on the team’s recent draft tendencies — figures to be one of their better prospects a year from now. Wilkerman, Fowler, and Finley are my picks. Those are the guys I see having big 2016 seasons developmentally and becoming true top prospects year from now.

Returning From Injury

Torrens missed all of last season with his injury, but man, he’s not the only one. LHP Ian Clarkin missed the regular season with elbow inflammation, which stinks. The good news is he did not need surgery and was able to throw some innings in the Arizona Fall League. RHP Ty Hensley, RHP Austin DeCarr, and RHP Domingo German all had Tommy John surgery last spring and are still working their way back. Lindgren (elbow), Heathcott (quad), and Williams (shoulder) all missed big chunks of the season too. That’s a lot of talent coming back. Hopefully all of them come back at full strength, or at least something close to it.

Sladerunner. (Presswire)
Sladerunner. (Presswire)

Last Chance?

Prospects are fun and everyone loves them, but they will break your heart. Over and over again. Some players are entering make or break years, and I don’t mean 2015 Gary Sanchez make or break years. I mean real make or break years. 1B/OF Tyler Austin is the most obvious last chance guy. He’s battled injuries and ineffectiveness the last few years, and he lost his 40-man roster spot in September. The 2016 season is his last chance to show the Yankees he’s worth keeping around.

Heathcott’s another make or break player for me. The Yankees gave him a second chance last year and he rewarded them with his big September home run against the Rays. That said, he again missed a bunch of time due to injury, and when healthy he didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball in Triple-A. Another year like that might spell the end of Slade’s time in the organization, especially since he will be out of options following the season.

I’m also inclined to include RHP Vicente Campos in the make or break category. He’s had a lot of injuries over the years, most notably missing the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, which has really cut into his development time. This is his final minor league option year, and if he doesn’t show the Yankees he can help as soon next year, it may be time to move on. Baseball is cruel, man.

The Deep Sleepers

Remember that “The Next Top Prospects” section? Consider this the Next Next Top Prospects section. These are the deepest sleepers in the farm system. They’re way off the beaten path. The new hotness right now is OF Estevan Florial, an ulta-tooled up 18-year-old the Yankees got on the cheap because identity issues — he used a relative’s identity to enroll in school in the Dominican Republic — put him in purgatory before signing. He’s going to make his stateside debut this year and jump onto the prospect map in a big way.

SS Diego Castillo and OF Brayan Emery were part of the 2014-15 international spending spree, and both possess tools that far exceed their six-figure bonuses. Castillo in particular already looks like a steal at $750,000. He should come to the U.S. this year and is in line to follow Mateo and Wilkerman as the next great Yankees shortstop prospect. RHP Luis Medina, who signed last July, is already running his fastball up to 98-100 mph. And then there’s OF Leonardo Molina, who is still only 18. It feels like he’s been around forever. Florial is the big name to know here, but Castillo’s not far behind. Expect to hear a lot about those two in 2016 and beyond.

The Best of the Rest

There is nothing sexy about being a mid-range prospect, but you know what? Mid-range prospects are often the difference between good teams and great teams. They provide depth and they’re valuable trade chips. Guys like Adam Warren and Brett Gardner don’t grow on trees, you know. You’d rather draft and develop them yourself than have to go out and buy them from someone else.

SS Tyler Wade, SS Kyle Holder, LHP Jordan Montgomery, IF Thairo Estrada, IF Abi Avelino, OF Carlos Vidal, 1B Chris Gittens, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Chance Adams, OF Trey Amburgey, and OF Jhalan Jackson all fit into this group. They’re good prospects, not great prospects, and they all project to be big leaguers of varying usefulness. I’m not sure if we’ll see any of these players in the show this year, but I bet several pop-up in trade rumors, and one or two could be moved for help at the MLB level. That’s what the farm system is for, after all. Call-ups and trades.

Minor League Links: Campos, Heathcott, Impact Prospects

Campos. (Presswire)
Campos. (Presswire)

The Yankees continue the Grapefruit League season later today and there will be a television (and online) broadcast, so hooray for that. We’ll have a regular game thread when the time comes. Here are some miscellaneous minor league notes to hold you over until first pitch.

Campos to work as a starter in 2016

Earlier this week Brian Cashman told Chad Jennings that RHP Vicente Campos will indeed continue to work as a starting pitcher this season. Campos, who came over from the Mariners in the Jesus MonteroMichael Pineda trade, missed the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery. The 23-year-old had a 6.29 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 54.1 innings across 13 starts with mostly High-A Tampa after returning last year. The Yankees re-added him to the 40-man roster over the winter to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent.

The ERA was ugly but Campos showed good control following surgery last summer (18.9 K% and 4.2 BB%) and his stuff reportedly returned to its pre-surgery levels, meaning a mid-90s heater and a hard upper-70s curveball. Campos, who used to go by Jose, has thrown only 166 innings over the last three years due to injuries, so he hasn’t had much time to work on his changeup. I think he’s likely to end up in the bullpen long-term because of that, but it makes sense to keep him in the rotation for the time being, if only to build up innings. There are a ton of guys ahead of him on the bullpen depth chart, though I wouldn’t rule out Campos making his MLB debut at some point in 2016.

Heathcott studying the swings of MLB’s best

In an effort to fine tune his swing, OF Slade Heathcott told Ryan Hatch he has been studying video of the game’s best hitters, such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Josh Donaldson. “Just their approach, the load, the path to the ball,” he said. “Hitting the ball on a plane. That’s what works for me. Not trying to hit home runs, but get the ball in the air.”

Heathcott, now 25, had a 38.1% ground ball rate during his limited big league time last season. It was 51.6% in Triple-A last year and 51.5% with Double-A Trenton in 2013. (Injuries limited him to only nine games in 2014.) Heathcott has speed, so he can leg out some infield hits, but he’s going to have to get the ball in the air more often to really have an impact offensively. If watching videos of guys like Trout and Harper helps, great.

No Yankees among Law’s top 25 impact prospects for 2016

Keith Law (subs. req’d) recently put together a list of the top 25 impact prospects for the 2016 season, which is different than a general top 25 prospect list. Not everyone in a general top 25 list is big league ready. Dodgers SS Corey Seager predictably tops the top 25 impact prospects list, which features no Yankees. In his weekly chat, Law said C Gary Sanchez wasn’t really considered for the list because of a lack of playing time. Even if Sanchez makes the Opening Day roster, Brian McCann is going to get the lion’s share of the playing time behind the plate. Understandable.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Baseball America’s position rankings

The crew at Baseball America finished posting their prospect position rankings this week. They released the catcher, right-handed pitcher, and left-handed pitcher lists two weeks ago. Here’s a quick recap with all of the relevant Yankees:

Keep in mind the No. X prospect at one position is not necessarily of equal caliber to the No. X prospect at another position. Talent isn’t linear across positions. Baseball America’s top ten Yankees’ prospects list had Refsnyder one spot behind Wade, for example. Add in Sanchez, who ranked No. 1 on the catcher list, and the Yankees had a top ten prospect at five of the nine positions. That’s pretty good.

Misc. Links

Here are a bunch of miscellaneous links that are worth checking out and come with RAB’s highest level of recommendation.

  • Sweeny Murti has a must read interview with farm system head Gary Denbo (part one, part two). Denbo confirmed Judge made some adjustments with his lower half over the winter, which we noticed the other day.
  • Joel Sherman profiled OF Estevan Florial, who is the shiny new toy in the farm system. Florial, 18, signed for $200,000 last March after being suspended for a year by MLB for falsified documents, which he used to enroll in school a few years back. Lots of folks are talking about Florial as the next great Yankees prospect.
  • Mark Feinsand wrote about RHP James Kaprielian, who lost his mother to breast cancer two years ago. Kaprielian explained how the experience shaped him as a man and helps him deal with adversity on the field.

As a reminder, the four full season minor league affiliates begin their regular season on Thursday, April 7th this year. That’s three days after the big league Yankees behind their season.