Mailbag: Wood, Cano, Pena, Montero, Sanchez

It’s Friday morning, so that means it’s time for yet another edition of the RAB Mailbag. This week we field questions about setup relievers, second base prospects, Carlos Pena, and of course, Jesus Montero. You can send your questions in any time using the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

Dan asks: Has there been any information on negotiations with Kerry Wood? Assuming he decides to close for a mediocre team as opposed to setting up for the Yanks, who would be the best in-house and free agent options to take over as the bridge to Mo?

Nope, there hasn’t been any mention of Wood at all this offseason, other than a little blurb saying the Cubs would welcome him back. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the Yankees haven’t had any negotiations with him and his agent all. Hell, they haven’t even started really negotiating with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera yet.

Assuming he heads elsewhere for a higher profile job and/or more money, the in-house candidates to take over that all important eighth inning job are obvious: Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson, not necessarily in that order. Boone Logan will likely see some late inning action against left-handers as well. I think the Yanks want to see Joba grab a hold of that setup job and run with it, but I don’t think they’ll just give it him like they did last year. D-Rob’s a damn fine backup plan, so Joba’s going to have to earn it. I do love Robertson in that fireman role though, he’s much more valuable that way.

Arad asks: Two parter, 1) Do the Yanks have any good second basemen prospects in their minor leagues? 2) If so, what do you think of eventually, when Jeter retires to move Cano to short…I mean he has a great arm and is a very good fielder?

The two most notable second base prospects in the Yanks’ system are David Adams and Corban Joseph. I guess we could lump Eduardo Nunez in there as well, but meh. Adams is the best prospect of the bunch and is also the much safer bet to stick at second long-term because he’s considerably better defensively than CoJo, who is probably going to wind up at third base down the road. Most believe that Adams will develop into a rock solid everyday second baseman in the big leagues, though not necessarily a star. There’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact it’s tremendously valuable while he’s in his cost control years.

As for Cano, he played short in the minors until sliding over to second in Single-A because he couldn’t cut it defensively. He’s since improved and is obvious a very good defender now, and it certainly seems like he has the equipment – hands, arm, range – to be no worse than average at short. That said, I’m at the point where I wouldn’t screw with Cano at all. He’s peaking now and is one of the game’s truly elite players, so I wouldn’t mess around with that. Let him be himself and find a new shortstop. No need to fix what ain’t broke, especially with a guy as talented as Cano.

Kevin asks: Is Carlos Pena worth a look on a one year deal? He credited Kevin Long with his turnaround with the Rays so he could do well with a second go around. Also, I believe he is a Type B free agent (correct me if I’m wrong) so he wouldn’t cost a draft pick. His on base skills combined with the short porch would look good batting sixth.

Yep, Pena’s a Type-B. He’s also a Scott Boras client, so I would be stunned if he took just a one year deal even with his down 2010. A big chunk of his value stems from his defensive skills, and Boras knows that. So even if you plan on signing him to be the designated hitter, they’ll still want you to pay for his defense even if you aren’t using it. Pena could probably hit 40+ homers in Yankee Stadium, and he did credit Kevin Long with helping him fix his swing when he was with Triple-A Columbus in 2006, but chances are he’ll find a starting first baseman’s job elsewhere.

Remember, the Yankees have all but announced that Jorge Posada will be the full-time DH next season, so I don’t expect them to try to acquire another DH this offseason. Someone would have to fall into their laps dirt cheap in February, which of course is very possible.

Hmmm asks: Yankee fans are impatient. They want to win now. They want you to be an allstar now and aren’t in the business of re-building or waiting around for the next title. With that said, do you see Jesus Montero struggling in the majors and fan getting on his case? What can we realistically expect his numbers to be next year? I can all but see the know it all fans saying what a bum and bust he is if he struggles even a little bit. Your take?

Yankee fans as a group are impatient, probably to a ridiculous degree. Montero will get a chance to produce, but if the calendar flips to June and he’s barely able to crack a .300 wOBA, the natives will start to get restless. I can guarantee the bust label will be thrown around rather quickly, probably the first time he strikes out with men in scoring position, it’s just the nature of the beast. Thankfully the Yankees aren’t as impatient as the fans, and they’ll give Montero a chance to struggle and learn from those struggles and adjust. It’s what he did in Triple-A this season and the smart money is on him doing it again when he breaks into the bigs.

Since 1961, the expansion era, there have been just four players who have qualified for the batting title at age 21 (which Montero will be in 2011) while playing at least 50% of their games at catcher: Johnny Bench, Ted Simmons, Pudge Rodriguez, and Triple-A Scranton hitting coach Butch Wynegar. Wynegar was the worst of the bunch offensively, putting up a still rock solid 98 OPS+ in 1977. If we lessen our criteria to just 400 plate appearances, the list adds two players: Darrell Porter and none other than Tim McCarver. Again, Wynegar remains the low man on the offensive totem pole.

Montero is clearly venturing into some rarefied air next season. If he’s a league average offensive player and manages to whack a dozen or so homers, we have to consider that a major win. The kid is supremely talented, but adjusting to life in the AL East as a young backstop is a tough gig. Just ask Matt Wieters, who is every bit as talented as the Yanks’ top prospect, if not more.

Rebecca asks: What do you think about BA saying that Maquinito has a higher ceiling than Jesus Montero?

That struck me as a surprise, but then again they’re talking about pure ceiling. You can dream on almost anyone and project them to be a superstar, but I guess they feel Gary Sanchez has a higher ceiling than Montero because he’s a safer bet to remain behind the plate. Remember, higher ceiling does not equal better prospect. Montero is considerably closer to reaching his ceiling given where he is and what he’s accomplished already, Sanchez is just a pup with 196 professional plate appearances to his credit.

I thought ranking him the second best prospect in the system was a tad aggressive, especially considering some of arms the Yanks’ have in Doublee-A, but the Yankees didn’t give the kid $3M for nothing. They think he can be something special, and the ranking backs that up.

Baseball America’s Top 20 GCL Prospects

Baseball America started their annual look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league yesterday, and it continued today with the rookie level Gulf Coast League. Three Yankee farmhands made the cut (no subs. req’d), including Gary Sanchez who ranked as the circuit’s number one prospect. 2010 first rounder Cito Culver placed tenth and Ramon Flores 13th. If you’re a subscriber, you can read the scouting reports here.

Sanchez was noted as having “above-average power to all fields, and with a good approach for a young player, he projects to hit for average as well.” They also wrote the best report of his defense that I’ve seen, saying he “consistently generates 1.8-second pop times [that’s really good] and has the tools to be a solid receiver, but he’s still a work in progress defensively.” Culver projects asĀ  a shortstop long-term thanks to “good instincts, plus range to both sides and an above-average arm.” Offensively, they say “he does have a knack for squaring up balls from both sides of the plate” with speed and a little bit of power. Flores is lauded for his sweet lefty swing and his developing power. Despite playing both corner outfield spots and first base this year, they project him best in right because of his “average speed and range to go with a strong, accurate arm.”

The series continues tomorrow, but the next list you have to worry about is the Short Season New York-Penn League one that comes out next Tuesday. The only Yankee prospects with a chance to make that list are Eduardo Sosa, Kelvin DeLeon, and Mikey O’Brien, but don’t be shocked if they get shut out. That team was an uninteresting as it gets this season.

Quick Links: Matsui, Montero, Venditte, Sanchez

Some quick links for you to read as you get ready to fire up the grill, if you haven’t already.