Archive for Francisco Cervelli
Via Joel Sherman & Ken Davidoff: Frankie Cervelli is among the nine players who are “leaning strongly” towards taking a plea deal from MLB following the Biogenesis investigation. MLB has told the union which players will be suspended, and Ronald Blum says the announcements could be pushed back to Friday as the various parties work out the deals. That would allow first time offenders like Cervelli to serve their 50-game suspensions this year before starting 2014 with a proverbial clean slate.
MLB is still trying to get Alex Rodriguez to accept a similar plea agreement, though his suspension is expected to be much longer than 50 games because the league claims he tried to impede the investigation. The two sides have been playing what amounts to a game of chicken in recent days —
MLB officials have leaked reports indicate MLB will seek a lifetime ban for A-Rod if he doesn’t settle, and supposedly Bud Selig is prepared to bypass the Joint Drug Agreement and use the power of the commissioner’s office to ban him from baseball citing the integrity of the game. Alex’s camp has remained defiant and insists no settlement will be made. This will all end at some point, right?
- Derek Jeter (quad) fielded ground balls hit right at him and made throws to first base yesterday, his first time doing any real baseball activity since getting hurt. He also hit off a tee and soft toss. The Cap’n is expected to take regular batting practice and run today.
- Alex Rodriguez (quad) is down in Tampa but will have to rest for a few days before resuming any kind of baseball activity.
- David Phelps (forearm) will make his first rehab start for Double-A Trenton tonight. Brian Cashman has already confirmed Phelps won’t automatically re-enter the rotation when he’s ready to come off the DL.
- Curtis Granderson (hand) took three at-bats in a simulated game yesterday. “I’m getting there. I definitely need some [at-bats],” he said. Granderson will be re-evaluated after getting more simulate game at-bats today and tomorrow.
- Kevin Youkilis (back) started rehab work about two weeks ago following his surgery. His agent said it is “early in the process,” but Youkilis said he expects to return to the team this year. The original 10-12 week timetable put him on track to return in September.
- Jayson Nix (hamstring) had six at-bats in a simulated game yesterday. He is expected to go out on a minor league rehab assignment at some point soon.
- Austin Romine (neck) has been limited by some stiffness. “I planned on catching him [Sunday], but he got to the ballpark and couldn’t turn to his left,’’ said Joe Girardi, who added Romine is getting better by the day.
- Frankie Cervelli (hand, elbow) has been participating in catching drills but has yet to do anything more than take dry swings. He said batting practice is “coming soon.”
Frankie Cervelli has been shut down for at least two weeks with a stress reaction in his right elbow. The team thinks he reaggravated an old injury by changing his throwing motion to compensate for the broken hand that has had him on the DL since April. He had just started taking being practice and was expected back shortly after the All-Star break, but now Cervelli is looking at sometime in August.
That part is not new; we’ve known MLB wants to hand out suspensions the whole time. The new information is that Biogenesis chief Anthony Bosch has agreed to cooperate with the investigation and will sign an affidavit saying he provided performance-enhancing drugs to various big leaguers. Obviously, all hell is about to break loose between MLB and the union.
Via Anthony McCarron: Frankie Cervelli said he is still five weeks away from resuming baseball activities due to his broken right hand. He’ll begin hand strengthening exercises in three weeks and is not eligible to come off the DL until early-July. Basically the All-Star break.
Cervelli, 27, was expected to miss at least six weeks when he suffered the injury 11 days ago, but the Yankees acknowledged that timetable wasn’t going to happen when they placed him on the 60-day DL last week. That whole “at least” part was pretty important. Chris Stewart hasn’t hit a lick since being thrust into a full-time role and it’s clear Joe Girardi has little trust in Austin Romine right now, so losing Cervelli for two months is a pretty big deal. I doubt they look to make a trade for a backstop, but they should.
The Yankees are in desperate need of infield help these days due to injury problems (and bad timing), so on Wednesday they added some depth by acquiring Chris Nelson from the Rockies for cash or a player to be named later. Frankie Cervelli has been transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot, and I assume Corban Joseph will be sent back to Triple-A to clear a 25-man roster spot.
Nelson, 27, was designated for assignment by Colorado last weekend. The Yankees had interest in him both at that time and during the Winter Meetings in December. He hit .242/.282/.318 (51 wRC+) in 71 plate appearances before the Rockies took him off the roster, but just last year he hit .301/.352/.458 (105 wRC+) in 377 plate appearances. Nelson is a career .279/.322/.416 (86 wRC+) hitter in parts of four big league seasons, and the right-handed bat doesn’t have a massive left/road (84/87 wRC+) or home/road (97/72) split.
Although Baseball America ranked him as the 26th best prospect in the game as a shortstop in 2005, Nelson is mostly a second and third baseman these days. He can fill-in at short in a real pinch, but otherwise the defensive metrics rate him as average or a tick below. He doesn’t steal or run the bases particularly well either. Nelson is out of minor league options — he can’t be sent to Triple-A without first passing through waivers — and there really isn’t anything about his game that stands out.
The Yankees just need a warm body on the infield for the time being, and Nelson is exactly that. He fits the roster better than Joseph because he’s a righty bat and can actually play third base. More than likely, he’s just a two-week stopgap until Kevin Youkilis is ready to be activated off the DL. It might even be shorter than that if the team is planning to give Ronnie Mustelier a shot as soon as he finished rehabbing from his bone bruise. New York needed infield depth and that’s what they got, nothing more. Nelson’s a band-aid.
Another one bites the dust. Frankie Cervelli will miss a minimum of six weeks after suffering a fractured right hand on a foul tip in the very first inning of tonight’s game, the Yankees announced. He will have surgery tomorrow and Austin Romine has already been pulled from the Triple-A Scranton game according to Donnie Collins, so it’s very safe to assume he will join the team tomorrow. No 40-man roster move will be required.
Cervelli, 27, was hitting .269/.377/.500 (144 wRC+) with three homers in 61 plate appearances on the young season. He also threw out two of four attempted base-stealers and had played reasonably well defensively. Cervelli pushed himself ahead of Chris Stewart on the depth chart and had unofficially taken over as the everyday catcher about two weeks ago. Even though he spent basically all of last season in the minors, this is a pretty significant loss for a team that didn’t have much offensive wiggle room to start with.
It goes without saying that I hope Stewart doesn’t take over as the starting catcher by default. Romine should play regularly and get a chance to play everyday if he shows up and hits. He came into today with a .341/.400/.415 (134 wRC+) batting line in 45 plate appearances for Triple-A Scranton. Considering that hand injuries can linger, the Yankees should be scouring the waiver and trade markets for catching help as well. The problem is that quality backstops are hard to find, so I wouldn’t expect any luck there.
After the Yankees allowed Russell Martin to leave as a free agent this winter, they made it clear they would go with internal options behind the plate. The free agent and trade markets didn’t offer a ton of catching solutions anyway, but going with some combination of Chris Stewart, Frankie Cervelli, and Austin Romine behind the plate was a very sketchy proposition. It became obvious Romine would open the season in Triple-A as Spring Training progressed while the other two shared catching duties in the Bronx.
“For the first month it will be somewhat of a process figuring out how you are going to do it,” said Joe Girardi to George King on Opening Day when asked about how he would handle his catching situation. “It’s something I thought about the last three or four days and talked to my coaches about it. Right now it’s going to be a fairly even split and go from there.”
That “fairly even split” has already disappeared two weeks into the regular season. The 27-year-old Cervelli has started nine of the team’s eleven games so far, including all three against the division rival Orioles this weekend. That includes a day game after a night game on Saturday. Stewart, 31, was scheduled to start one of the postponed games against the Indians last week, but the Yankees used the rainout as an opportunity to essentially skip his spot and continue to keep him on the bench.
Of course, the reason Cervelli has seized the starting catching job so early in the season is his bat. He’s mashed in those nine starts, going 9-for-25 (.360) with seven walks (.500 OBP) and one strikeout (!) while averaging 4.13 pitches per plate appearance. It’s tough to take that kind of production out of the lineup given how poorly the bottom of the batting order has performed in general — the seven through nine spots combined for a weak .261/.314/.378 line heading into yesterday’s game, and that’s including Frankie.
Cervelli (and Stewart for that matter) hasn’t really stood out defensively in the early going, but it has only been nine games. He hasn’t had to use his much-improved throwing arm because opponents have only attempted one stolen base in his nine games — Cervelli threw out Prince Fielder of all people last week — though I guess that could be a reputation thing. Opponents know his throwing has improved and aren’t even bothering to attempt a stolen base, something like that. Who knows. Frankie has allowed three balls to get by him in 72 innings behind the plate, but all three are wild pitches.
“Right now I feel I can catch every day in the Major Leagues,’’ said Cervelli to King at the end of Spring Training. “It’s not in my mind, but I’ll let them decide. I have to talk with my actions and my game. That’s my dream, catch 150 games.’’
Well, catching 150 games isn’t going to happen no matter what Cervelli hits or however many would-be base-stealers he throws out. He’s not a true talent 185 wRC+ hitter and at some point his offense will return to Earth, but Frankie has already managed to play his way into a clearly defined clearly starting catcher role. That is exactly what the Yankees needed to see early in the season not just given all their injuries, but also for their future behind the plate. One year after being demoted to Triple-A, Cervelli has a golden opportunity to make himself a fixture behind the plate going forward, and he’s already starting to take advantage.
Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.
Previewing the bench will not be easy because we still — four days before Opening Day — have basically no idea who will fill these four spots. Sure, either Frankie Cervelli or Chris Stewart will be the backup catcher, but we don’t know which one yet. I’m guessing Joe Girardi has some kind of convoluted personal catcher situation planned; I feel like having two backup catchers on the roster is his managerial dream.
As for the backup outfield and infield spots … who knows right now? There are a lot of candidates for a few spots and the Yankees continue to look outside the organization for help. Given their massive 40-man roster logjam, a multi-player trade shouldn’t be ruled out at this point either.
It’ll be either Stewart or Cervelli and the Yankees have indicated a pretty even playing time split (maybe more like 60/40), I think it’ll only be a matter of time before Frankie grabs the job outright. His throwing has been greatly improved and he’s a far better hitter (but still nothing special), the two things that stand out most about a catcher. If they start the year with a 55/45 or 60/40 split, I think sometime in mid-May it’ll be slanted about 75/25 in favor of Cervelli. The Yankees love Stewart but they love winning more, and playing a guy with a legit chance to post a .200s across the board slash line will only last so long given how much offense they lost elsewhere.
Derek Jeter‘s nagging ankle issues cleared up the backup infield situation quite a bit. Eduardo Nunez will open the season as the starter and that paves the way for Jayson Nix to make the team as his backup. There really isn’t much competition for this spot — veteran Gil Velazquez is the only other guy in camp who could play a passable shortstop at the big league level. Again, we shouldn’t rule out a trade, but Nix seems like a lock for a bench spot right now.
The real question is whether the Yankees want to carry two backup infielders like they have the last two years, Nix and a corner infield guy like Eric Chavez. The only real candidates for that Chavez role are Dan Johnson — who seems to have little chance of making the team at this point — and Ronnie Mustelier. The 28-year-old Cuban defector has had a good spring — mostly against Triple-A caliber pitching according to B-Ref’s OppQual stat — and has seen a bunch of time at third base lately, so he’s at least earning consideration from the team. I guess we shouldn’t rule about a two-headed first base platoon with Juan Rivera and Lyle Overbay, which would soak up that second infielder’s spot.
Assuming Vernon Wells is penciled in as the everyday left fielder, the fourth outfielder’s spot is down to Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Melky Mesa, Thomas Neal, and I guess Mustelier. Depending on whether they take a second backup infielder, it’s possible two of these guys will make the team. Mustelier makes the most sense really, since he could backup both the corner infield and corner outfield spots.
Boesch and Francisco presumably have a leg up on Mesa and Neal given their big league experience, and again, both could make the team. The Yankees were planning to open the season with three left-handed outfielders and a right-handed backup, and Boesch would give them that third lefty. He also has minor league options remaining and could be stashed in Triple-A. I’m not sure if Francisco has an out clause in his contract before the end of Spring Training, so sending him to the minors might not be an option. The Yankees will want to retain as much depth as possible given their rash of injuries.
Knocking on the Door
In addition to the guys mentioned above — Velazquez, Johnson, Mesa, Neal, etc. — the Yankees will have a handful of other bench options waiting in Triple-A Scranton. That is what the level is there for, after all. Austin Romine is the clear third catcher but would probably need an injury to earn a shot in the big leagues. He’s missed a lot of time these last two years with back problems and needs to play everyday.
Corban Joseph gives the team depth at second and third bases, though they had more before releasing David Adams yesterday. Zoilo Almonte is another warm body for the outfield mix, but he has never played above Double-A and will need some Triple-A time before coming to the show. He’s pretty much at the bottom of the outfield depth chart at the moment. Pretty much anyone who doesn’t win a bench spot will open the year in Triple-A as a backup plan. That’s who’s knocking on the door.
* * *
My opinion changes by the day/hour, but if the season started today I believe the Yankees would go with a four-man bench of Stewvelli, Nix, Mustelier, and Boesch with Francisco & Co. heading to Triple-A for the time being. The club could play finagle Phil Hughes‘ expected DL stint into a fifth bench player — Francisco would be the guy for that one, I assume — for the first few games of the season, but I don’t see that happening.
That four-man bench pretty much stinks. There is no speed to pinch-run — that would have been Nunez’s job before he forced into playing short everyday — and basically no versatility outside of Nix. Carrying Mesa over Boesch would address the speed issue while Mustelier is the only one who could offer real versatility. Barring an unexpected trade(s) these next few days, the bench figures to be a work in progress pretty much all season.
The Yankees have a history of fake Spring Training competitions — the 2010 fifth starter’s competition stands out the most — though this spring’s catching competition both is and isn’t legit. Austin Romine has almost no chance of making the team because both Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli are out of options, so in that sense the competition is fraudulent. Neither Stewart nor Cervelli has a first grasp on the starting job though, and those two are in a real competition for playing time.
We don’t learn much after just ten Grapefruit League games, but one thing is very obvious so far this year: Cervelli’s throwing has been demonstrably better than it was from 2010-2011. He threw out 36.4% of attempted base-stealers as a minor leaguer from 2005-2008, then he threw out 43.5% of attempted base-stealers during his big league time in 2009. Something changed though, and that number dropped to just 14.1% in the show from 2010-2011. That defensive decline is a big reason why the Yankees traded for Stewart at the end of camp last year and surprisingly demoted Cervelli to Triple-A.
“It made my mind stronger,” said Cervelli to Mark Feinsand about the demotion. “I kept learning that nothing comes easy … Right now, I look at the past and I think it was the best. Maybe last year, the first two months in Triple-A was bad. The frustration, you don’t understand it in the moment, but when you have a little time and you think a little fresh, you realize things happen for a reason – and always a positive reason.”
Cervelli credited his parents — who spent a lot of time with him last summer — for helping him get over the disappointment of being demoted and focusing on the things the Yankees wanted to improve, including his throwing*. Frankie has thrown out five of six (!) attempted base-stealers during his five games behind the plate so far this spring. Obviously that is an unsustainable pace, but his throws have been strong and right on the bag at second as opposed to short-hopping the infielder or winding up in center field as they had in recent years. The improvement is noticeable.
“Rushing,” said Cervelli to Chad Jennings when asked what he was doing wrong before. “I tried to throw the ball too hard and I tried to get the ball before it was in my glove. Now I work relaxed behind the plate. Same energy, but I just try to be more relaxed and let my body go … The past few years in the big leagues, I had bad habits. Maybe frustration, or if you don’t play every day, you want to do things perfect. I was a little young, too. You’re a little desperate sometimes. When you get more mature and have more experience, play every day like last year, you start to get that feeling.”
Cervelli threw out 30.0% of attempted base-stealers with Triple-A last year — on par with his 2005-2008 performance — then went to winter ball and threw out nine of 14 attempted base-stealers (64.3%) in his 21 games. No one will ever confuse him with Yadier Molina, but Cervelli had a track record of throwing runners out at a better than average rate before falling to some bad habits (to use his words) in recent years. His performance these last ten months or so suggest he’s back to where he needs to be.
“I just think he worked hard at it,” said Girardi to Feinsand about Cervelli’s throwing. “He had a chance last year to catch every day. He also went to winter ball, and I think he worked really hard at it. As I said, I think he got a little out of whack from maybe rushing or trying to do too much, and he was able to go down there and really get it back together like he had when he first came up for us throwing the baseball. It’s shown up.”
Cervelli will turn 27 later this week, and among the team’s catching options, he has (by far) the best chance to contribute offensively this summer. That doesn’t mean he’ll be above-average or anything, just less below-average than Stewart or Romine. If his throwing and defensive improvements are real and not just a small sample/early-Spring Training fluke, his value to the team could be much greater than anticipated. We need to see more before we can say he’s over those bad habits for certain, but the early returns are very encouraging.
* Brian Cashman spoke more about the things the Yankees wanted Cervelli to improve during an on-air interview this weekend, which you can watch here. Apparently Frankie will no longer go into a Tony Pena-esque crouch as he had in the past. I thought that was interesting.