Ranking the Yankees’ shortstop options in the wake of Didi Gregorius’ shoulder injury

Torreyes. (Presswire)
Torreyes. (Presswire)

Later today, the Yankees hope to get good news about starting shortstop Didi Gregorius, who left the World Baseball Classic and returned to Tampa yesterday with a “hematoma of the subcapsular muscle.” This a shoulder injury. Otherwise I have no idea what that means. I googled it and only made myself more confused. We should get some clarification soon.

“The doctor was really encouraged by his strength and felt good about it, but we thought we’re going to cover ourselves,” said Joe Girardi to Randy Miller. “It’s obviously not what you want to hear, but hopefully it’s something short. But again, we have not seen him. The evaluation from the doctor was his strength was really good. But we’ve got to see him.”

The bottom line is Gregorius now has some kind of shoulder injury, and unless it’s a really minor injury — the fact he’s already had a preliminary MRI and is going for more tests suggests he’s going to miss at least a few days with this — it’s hard to think he’ll be ready for the start of the regular season. Opening Day is only 12 days away now, you know. Practically right around the corner.

Compared to most teams, the Yankees do have a pretty decent collection of shortstop options. Not too many clubs can replace their starting shortstop with another starting caliber shortstop, you know? The Yankees have a nice mix of shortstop prospects and veterans with big league shortstop experience, some as an everyday player. It could be worse.

So, with that in mind, I’m going to attempt to lay out what I think is the shortstop pecking order. This isn’t necessarily how I’d rank these players. It’s how I think the Yankees rank them internally. Depth charts change as the season progresses, so this is nothing more than a snapshot in time. Let’s get to it.

1. Ronald Torreyes

Why is he ranked here? Torreyes managed to spend the entire 2016 season in the big leagues as the utility infielder, and when you do that, there’s a pretty good chance you’re at the front of the line to replace an injured infielder. The Yankees know he can handle shortstop defensively and know his contact skills allow him to go on some insane BABIP fueled hot streaks. Simply put, among the reserve infielder options, Torreyes had the best 2016 season, and that tends to be a factor in decisions like this.

Why could he be ranked lower? I’m of the belief that Torreyes would get exposed pretty quickly as an everyday player, and the Yankees could feel the same way. Given his complete lack of power and general lack of walks, playing Torreyes everyday could very easily result in a slash line that starts with .2s across the board. The man they call Toe has a nice utility infielder’s skill set given his defensive versatility and ability to get the bat on the ball. I’m not sure that’s enough to hold down an everyday shortstop job though, even for a few weeks.

2. Ruben Tejada

Tejada. (Presswire)
Tejada. (Presswire)

Why is he ranked here? Prior to last season, Tejada spent most of the previous five seasons as the starting shortstop with the Mets. From 2011-15 he hit .261/.333/.328 (88 wRC+) overall, including .261/.338/.350 (94 wRC+) in 2015, which works out to +1.4 bWAR and +1.8 fWAR per 162 games. Not great! But the league average shortstop hit .262/.319/.407 (92 wRC+) last season, so Tejada isn’t that far below the positional standard. He’s long been a solid defender, so, in that sense, Tejada might be the best bet for competence on both sides of the ball.

Why could he be ranked lower? There’s a reason the Yankees were able to scoop Tejada up on a minor league contract over the winter. He was pretty terrible in 2016. Tejada played 36 games with the Giants and hit .167/.247/.242 (34 wRC+) in 78 plate appearances, though his .303/.337/.414 (101 wRC+) batting line in 43 Triple-A games with the Giants and Cardinals is easier to swallow. It should be noted Tejada missed time with a quad strain last year, and he was also coming back from having his leg broken by Chase Utley’s vicious takeout slide in the 2015 NLDS. Either way, healthy or not, Tejada was pretty bad in 2016.

3. Donovan Solano

Why is he ranked here? Familiarity more than anything. Solano has plenty of big league time — he played 361 games with the Marlins as a reserve player from 2012-15 — and he spent just about the entire 2016 season with Triple-A Scranton, where he hit .319/.349/.436 (124 wRC+) and led the league in hits. The Yankees called Solano up late in the season when Starlin Castro‘s hamstring acted up, and they liked what they saw from him enough to sign him to a new minor league deal over the winter. Solano is an okay defender who had a nice year in Triple-A and seems to have some fans in the organization.

Why could he be ranked lower? Unlike Tejada, Solano has not been a full-time shortstop in several years. Not since he was in Single-A ball back in 2009. He has played the position before, though most of his experience is at second base. Even last season Solano was primarily a third baseman with the RailRiders. Solano has big league time and he performed well in Triple-A last summer. Still, his ability to handle shortstop on a full-time basis, even for a few weeks, is in question.

4. Tyler Wade

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Why is he ranked here? The first actual prospect on our list. Wade played shortstop everyday with Double-A Trenton last summer and hit .259/.352/.349 (101 wRC+) overall. He’s now having a strong Grapefruit League season (.394/.430/.484) while playing multiple positions as the Yankees try to turn him into a super utility player. It’s not often the Yankees skip prospects over Triple-A, but they have done it before, and they sure seem committed to this youth movement. Wade has open some eyes this spring — the Yankees knew he was good, though I’ve seen more than a few fans say he’s growing on them — and we know he can play shortstop. The Yankees may decide to continue trekking forward with the youth movement and go with Wade.

Why could he be ranked lower? A few reasons. One, zero Triple-A games. That’s kind of a big one. The Double-A to MLB jump isn’t an easy one. Two, he’s not on the 40-man roster, and the Yankees might not want to add him yet. Adding Wade ties up a 40-man spot for good. Tejada and Solano are guys they could easily add to the 40-man then designate for assignment when a spot is needed. Can’t do that with Wade. And three, the Yankees do want to turn him into a super utility guy, and perhaps they’d prefer to continue that process in Triple-A. That last one doesn’t seem like a good reason to me, but who knows why teams do what they do.

5. Starlin Castro

Why is he ranked here? No one in this post has as much experience as a big league shortstop as Castro. He played the position everyday all those years with the Cubs before sliding over to second base in the second half of the 2015 season. Because he’s played the position before and will without a doubt be part of the Opening Day roster, I don’t think we can completely rule out the Yankees sliding him over to shortstop, even for a short period of time. I don’t think that’ll happen, which is why he’s ranked so low in our half-baked attempted as a shortstop depth chart, though I’d never say never. (Not surprisingly, Castro told George King he’s willing to play short while Didi is out.)

Why could he be ranked lower? The Yankees have given us no reason to believe they consider Castro a shortstop option. He played only three games at the position last year — when Gregorius sat, it was Torreyes at short — and he hasn’t played the position at all in Spring Training. Not one inning. I assume that will change at some point given the Gregorius injury, just to keep Castro acquainted with the position in case he’s needed there. Starlin seems to be a shortstop option the same way Matt Holliday is a left field option. Yeah, he can do it if needed, but they’d prefer not to. Also, moving Castro to shortstop doesn’t solve the problem. It just shifts the opening from short to second.

6. Pete Kozma

Kozma. (Presswire)
Kozma. (Presswire)

Why is he ranked here? Kozma has some time as a big league shortstop — he started at short for the pennant winning 2013 Cardinals — and, if nothing else, he’s a good defensive player. The man can’t hit at all — he’s a career .222/.288/.293 (58 wRC+) hitter in MLB, and last summer he managed a .209/.268/.265 (52 wRC+) line in 130 games with Triple-A Scranton — but he can catch the ball, and that’s not nothing. If the Yankees say “screw it, no one can hit so let’s focus on defense,” Kozma could be the guy.

Why could he be ranked lower? He really can’t hit. I don’t think anyone would expect Torreyes or Tejada or even Wade to come out and knock the ball all around the park, but the book is out on Kozma. He’ll turn 29 shortly after Opening Day and there’s no reason to think his offense is about to take a step forward. It seems the Yankees re-signed Kozma to a minor league deal because a) shortstop depth is never a bad thing, and b) he’s long had a reputation for being a hard worker and great clubhouse dude, and I think they consider him a good example for the kids in Triple-A.

7. Outside Help

Why is this ranked here? Going outside the organization for help can never be ruled out. Depending on the severity of Didi’s injury and how the Yankees feel about their internal options, they could look to make a minor trade or free agent signing to plug the shortstop hole for the time being. There are always a rash of transactions near the end of camp, and the Gregorius injury could push the Yankees to make one.

Why could this be ranked lower? Because, right now, there’s basically no one available. The only available free agent shortstop is Alexei Ramirez, who can no longer hit or defend, and the out of options market doesn’t offer any help either. There aren’t many teams with spare shortstops lying around, and those that do tend to want to hang on to them. Anyone who becomes available figures to be a Tejada/Solano type. Not surprisingly, Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty the Yankees will stick with their internal options at shortstop for now.

8. Gleyber Torres

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Why is he ranked here? Torres has not played a single game above High Class-A. Not one. Making the jump from High-A to MLB is not unprecedented — the late Jose Fernandez made that jump and had a Cy Young caliber rookie season — but there’s a reason it rarely happens. It’s very, very, very difficult. Also, spoiler alert: Cashman already told Andrew Marchand that Gleyber won’t be on the Opening Day roster. I know folks are thinking about a Tony Fernandez/Derek Jeter situation here, but Jeter had some MLB time and was making the jump from Triple-A in 1996, not High-A.

Why could he be ranked higher? Because he’s the best prospect in the organization and on the very short list of the best prospects in baseball. Oh, and Torres is hitting .464/.484/.964 this spring, and his 51.1 innings at shortstop are by far the most among all players in camp. (Jorge Mateo is second with 35. Obviously Gregorius being away at the WBC has opened up playing time.) Torres looks like he belongs and special talents have a way of forcing an accelerated timetable.

* * *

For now the Yankees will hope the second round of tests today bring good news about Didi’s shoulder. And if not, they’ll change gears and adapt. Nothing else you can do. Torreyes seems to be at the top of the replacement shortstop depth chart given the fact he was on the MLB roster all year last season, though others like Tejada and Solano are viable fill-in utility infielders.

Wade is the wildcard to me. My hunch is his chances of being the fill-in shortstop are better than the above rankings would lead you to believe. I think he’s right there with Tejada and Solano. I really do. (Things drop off a bit after him.) It boils down to how willing the Yankees are to tie up a 40-man roster spot, and how ready they think Wade is for the big leagues. Again, zero Triple-A experience. My guess is that should Gregorius miss time during the regular season, they’ll look to get by with a combination of two of the top four players on this list.

Gleyber Torres could help the Yankees in 2017, but a few things need to happen first

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

All things considered, this has been one of the most exciting Spring Trainings I can remember. The Yankees are winning and leading the league in home runs, and that’s always fun even if we are talking about meaningless Grapefruit League games. Most of the young prospects are thriving too. Seriously, we haven’t seen anyone looked overmatched this month. It’s been fun.

Gleyber Torres, the just turned 20-year-old wunderkind who came over in the Aroldis Chapman trade, has authored a .478/.480/1.043 batting line with five doubles, one triple, and two home runs in 25 Grapefruit League plate appearances this far. Both home runs were hit to the opposite field, and the first was pretty ridiculous. Torres reached out and poked a two-strike fastball off the plate from actual big leaguer Justin Wilson into the right field stands:

Impressive. Gleyber’s physical gifts are obvious and he looks like a big leaguer given his quiet confidence and the way he carries himself. Sometimes when you see a young kid in big league camp for the first time, he’s got that deer in the headlights look. Not Torres. He’s good and he knows it. He carried himself like he belongs because guess what? He does. Fewer minor leaguers offer as much promise.

“He’s mature for his age,” said Joe Girardi to Dan Martin earlier this week. “He puts good at-bats up one after another. And he uses the whole field. He’s a good-looking young hitter … I don’t think he’s fazed by the situation. He’s just here to play. He’s definitely showing people what he can do.”

At some point fairly soon, the Yankees will send Torres to minor league camp and he’ll begin the season with Double-A Trenton. Gleyber was the youngest player in the Low-A Midwest League on Opening Day 2015 and he was the second youngest player in the High-A Carolina League on Opening Day 2016. When Opening Day 2017 rolls around, he’ll be one of the two or three youngest players in the Double-A Eastern League as well.

As I noted a few weeks ago, prospects similar to Torres tend to shoot up the minor league ladder. Both Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts started their age 20 season in Double-A and ended it in the big leagues. Addison Russell and Javier Baez were in the big leagues very early in their age 21 season after starting the previous season at Double-A. It’s hard to hold down an insanely talented young player like this. They force the issue.

Is it possible for Torres to reach the big leagues and help the Yankees in 2017? Yes, I think it is, and I tend to err on the side of “be patient with the kids.” Special talents comes with special timetables. A few things need to happen before Gleyber can help the Yankees this coming season, of course.

1. Torres has to perform. Duh. Torres is not going to put himself in position to get called up by going out and hitting .250/.320/.375 at Double-A for two months. He’ll be facing the best minor league pitching he’s ever faced, and he’ll spend the first few months playing in the cold. Torres has played in cold weather before — the Cubs’ Low-A affiliate plays in South Bend, so yeah — but it doesn’t mean it won’t be a challenge in 2017. Bottom line, this is the single most important piece of the puzzle. Gleyber has to make the Yankees want to call him up with his performance.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

2. Torres will have to learn second base, and possibly third too. It’s difficult to see how Gleyber could unseat Didi Gregorius at shortstop, especially right now, this year. Injuries happen, they always do, but in a perfect world everyone is healthy. The Yankees had Torres play some second base last year and in the Arizona Fall League, and again this spring, and he’ll have to continue to learn the position in the minors this year. This isn’t rocket science. The more positions he can play, the easier it’ll be for the Yankees to get Torres into the lineup.

3. The Yankees must have an opening. This is important, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a full-time opening either. The Yankees just need to have a plan for Gleyber when they do call him up, and that plan could be four starts a week instead of six. Remember, when they called up Greg Bird in 2015, the plan was to spell Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez a few times a week. That’s it. Teixeira’s injury forced Bird into regular playing time.

Now that I think about it, Gleyber’s path to MLB could resemble Bird’s pretty closely. Bird went to the Arizona Fall League in 2014 and was named MVP. He started 2015 in Double-A, earned a midseason promotion to Triple-A, then a few weeks later he was in the big leagues to lighten the load on Teixeira and A-Rod. Torres was named AzFL MVP last fall and he’s going to start this season in Double-A. A midseason promotion to Triple-A and a bump to MLB a few weeks later could be in the cards as well.

The Yankees could call Torres up with the intention of letting him spell Gregorius at short and Starlin Castro at second, and maybe even Chase Headley at third, though to this point Gleyber has not manned the hot corner in game. (He recently started working out there though.) There’s also the designated hitter spot as well. It sure seems like there’s a path to playing Torres four or five times a week at second (and third?) base, shortstop, and designated hitter in the second half of the season.

“I don’t really think about (making it to MLB),” said Torres to Martin. “I’m taking it a day at a time, trying to enjoy the moment. This is my first (big league) Spring Training. It’s a lot of fun, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself … This is the first time I’ve faced big league pitching. I’m surprised. I’m happy to be having really good results.”

I suppose the big variable in all this is the team’s performance. If the Yankees are a surprise contender, they might stick with what’s working for them. It’s not like Gregorius and Castro are older players who need regular rest, a la Teixeira and Rodriguez in 2015. But if the Yankees are out of it, or not close enough to the race to be a real threat, they could opt to bring Torres up to get his feet wet. That’s what they did with Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin last year.

For now, let’s remember Torres turned 20 three months ago and he’s yet to play above High Class-A. He’s having a marvelous Spring Training, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Gleyber has a chance to help the Yankees this season because he’s an extremely talented player with the skills to take his game to another level this summer. There are a few conditions that will have to be satisfied before the Yankees call Torres up, but it’s not out of the question that he could make his MLB debut in 2017.

Wednesday Notes: Astros, Nats, Quintana, Prospects, A-Rod

Musgrove. (Presswire)
Musgrove. (Presswire)

The Yankees return to television tonight with a home game against the Phillies, thankfully. We haven’t seen them play since Saturday. Tonight’s game will start at 6:35pm ET and we’ll have a regular game thread at that time. Here are some bits of news to check out in the meantime.

Yankees scouted Astros, Nationals

According to Brendan Kuty, the Yankees had scout (Matt Daley!) in Port St. Lucie over the weekend when the Astros and Nationals visited the Mets. Righty Joe Musgrove started for Houston on Friday while righty Erick Fedde was on the mound for Washington on Saturday. Both pitchers allowed one hit and one walk in three scoreless innings in their outings. Musgrove struck out four. Fedde fanned one.

The Yankees have been connected to both Musgrove and Fedde over the last year or so, but only through speculation. Not hard “they want this guy” rumors. Musgrove was mentioned as a possible target during Brian McCann trade talks (I even wrote a Scouting The Market post) while Fedde’s name came up as a potential piece in an Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman trade at least year’s deadline. Obviously neither deal came to fruition.

We could connect some serious dots here. The Astros are said to want another high-end starting pitcher, and with Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out looming, could the Yankees move him? The Nationals don’t have a closer right now and gosh, Dellin Betances sure makes sense for them, no? That said, teams scout either other all the time, and this could be nothing. Still, with the Yankees perpetually seeking young controllable pitching, this report sure is interesting.

Nothing happening with Quintana

According to Jack Curry (video link), the Yankees have “nothing simmering, nothing very hot going on right now” with regards to trade talks with the White Sox about Jose Quintana. Quintana is very much available and last week we heard the White Sox have been scouting the Yankees this spring. See? Teams scout each other all the time. Anyway, point is there’s nothing imminent here, which isn’t surprising.

Quintana started against Team USA in the World Baseball Classic last week and was masterful, taking a no-hitter into the sixth before allowing a two-out single and hitting his pitch count. (The bullpen then blew it.) That said, Quintana’s stock didn’t go up or anything. Teams know he’s good. The only way one game can change a veteran pitcher’s trade stock is if he gets hurt. My guess is the White Sox will ramp up their efforts to trade Quintana pretty soon, before he goes all Tyson Ross on them or something.

FanGraphs releases top Yankees prospects, top 100 prospects lists

Over at FanGraphs, Eric Longenhagen recently released his top 33 Yankees prospects list as well as his top 100 prospects list for all of baseball. White Sox IF Yoan Moncada claims the top spot on the top 100. Here are the eight Yankees in the top 100:

7. SS Gleyber Torres
34. OF Clint Frazier
40. OF Blake Rutherford
53. RHP James Kaprielian
61. OF Aaron Judge
87. OF Dustin Fowler
91. SS Jorge Mateo
97. LHP Justus Sheffield

This is the only top 100 list Fowler has made this year. Interesting. As for the top 33 Yankees prospects list, gosh, it’s massive. I still haven’t finished reading the entire thing. I’m doing it bit by bit. The write-up covers 68 players total. 68!

“Fawning over the system’s obvious talent ignores its most fascinating aspect: the bizarre collection of pop-up arms. New York appears to be in possession of a player-development machine that has conjured several interesting pitching prospects seemingly out of thin air,” says the write-up, referring to guys like Jordan Montgomery, Chance Adams, and Chad Green, all of whom came to the Yankees as okay prospects and have since seen their stock rise considerably. Now hopefully some of these guys will turn into productive big leaguers.

Man of the people. (Chicago Tribune)
Man of the people. (Chicago Tribune)

A-Rod joins FOX full-time

Alex Rodriguez is officially a full-time broadcaster. Last week FOX announced A-Rod has joined the network and will “serve as a game analyst for select FOX MLB SATURDAY telecasts as well as feature reporter for FOX’s MLB pregame coverage and FS1 studio show MLB WHIPAROUND,” according to the press release. It doesn’t sound like he will be in the broadcast booth, does it? Sounds like a studio gig.

FOX owns a big chunk of the YES Network following the News Corp. deal a few years back, though it doesn’t sound like there will be any crossover work here. A-Rod will be on FOX and FOX Sports 1. Not YES. Lame. I assume Alex will continue his special advisor duties with the Yankees in the meantime. His agreement with the club called for him to remain in that role through the end of this year. Either way, A-Rod was really good on television the last two postseasons, and it was only a matter of time until some network scooped him up.

MLB approves wearable biometric device

For the first time MLB has approved a wearable on-field biometric device for players, reports Darren Rovell. The device, which is made by a company called WHOOP, is meant to be worn all day and night, and will record data on sleep, heart rate, recovery, strain, etc. It is not a mandated piece of equipment and teams can’t force their players to wear the WHOOP device. It is the player’s decision given the private data involved.

Clubs have been studying pitcher deliveries using biometrics for years now, though the WHOOP device extends beyond that. Teams are focusing more and more on rest and recovery, because nowadays having the most talent isn’t enough. You need the most talented players performing at their best as often as possible. Rest and recovery are part of that. The Yankees start their Spring Training workouts later in the morning to give players time to sleep in, plus they’ve looked for ways to improve travel in recent years too. I wonder how many players will wear the WHOOP device. It seems like the data could be really useful.

Shortstop depth gives the Yankees a chance to develop the super utility player they’ve been seeking

Jorge & Gleyber. (Presswire)
Jorge & Gleyber. (Presswire)

Everything in baseball is trending toward using pitchers less and less. Starters don’t throw nearly as many innings as they once did — only 15 pitchers reached 200 innings in 2016, ten years ago 38 guys did it — and relievers are becoming increasingly specialized. Every team has a one-inning setup man, a left-on-left matchup guy, players like that. Individual workloads are declining even though the season is still 162 games long.

It feels like only a matter of time until six-man rotations or eight-man bullpens (or both?) become the norm, so much so that MLB and the MLBPA reportedly considered expanding rosters to 26 players during the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. I’d bet on it happening during the next round of CBA talks. Point is, teams are using more pitchers than ever before, and there’s no reason to think that trend will reverse anytime soon.

As a result, benches are getting shorter and super utility players, guys who can play three or four positions rather than one or two, are increasingly more valuable. Ben Zobrist is the poster boy for the super utility movement. Others like Brock Holt and Sean Rodriguez fit the mold as well. The Yankees, like everyone else, have been looking for such a player. That’s one reason Rob Refsnyder has moved around so much, and why Ronald Torreyes has seen time in the outfield this spring.

I thought the Yankees would try to turn Dustin Ackley into a super utility player when they acquired him two years ago, but alas. It didn’t work out. Why? Because he couldn’t hit. That’s what makes this super utility business so tough. You’re asking a player to be competent defensively at several positions and hit well enough to deserve a lineup spot. That’s hard! Playing one position is difficult. So it hitting.

Now though, the Yankees have a chance to develop a super utility player like Zobrist (or, to a lesser extent, Holt or Rodriguez) because of their shortstop depth. Seven of my top 30 prospects are shortstops …

1. Gleyber Torres
7. Jorge Mateo
10. Tyler Wade
17. Hoy Jun Park
18. Wilkerman Garcia
26. Kyle Holder
27. Thairo Estrada

… and that doesn’t include other shortstop prospects like Abi Avelino, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Diego Castillo, all of whom would have made my top 30 list in a “normal” year. Shortstops are typically the best athletes and thus the best candidates to move to other positions. Zobrist was a natural shortstop. So were Holt and Rodriguez. And Torreyes. And other internal utility candidates like Pete Kozma and Ruben Tejada.

Sure enough, the Yankees are already making sure their shortstop prospects spend time at other positions to increase their versatility. Torres has seen time at second. Mateo has played second in addition to short, plus he’s working out at third base and in center field. Wade was introduced to the outfield in the Arizona Fall League and he’s played short, third, left, and center already this spring. Park, Garcia, Holder, and Estrada have seen time all around the infield in the minors.

The other component here, as I mentioned earlier, is the offense. A super utility player is only super if he can hit. Otherwise he’s just a bench guy you’re looking to replace. Torres projects as an impact middle of the order hitter. Mateo has the tools to be a dynamic offensive player at well, thanks largely to his speed. Wade has no power, but he makes the contact and will draw walks, which is essentially the Holt skill set. There are varying levels of offensive upside here.

We’re used to seeing the Yankees give their veteran players extra rest whenever possible, creating a need for a strong bench and a super utility type. Now, even with the youth movement in full swing, having a super utility guy to give the regulars rest is still useful. The more you can help your players stay fresh and avoid fatigue, the more productive they’ll be. If that means 550 plate appearances across the 162-game season rather than 650, so be it. That means your players will be that much closer to midseason form in the postseason.

Of course, one reason the Yankees have the luxury of moving their young shortstop prospects around is Didi Gregorius. He’s established himself as a starting caliber big league shortstop these last two seasons. If that weren’t the case and the Yankees were still looking for Derek Jeter‘s long-term replacement, they might not be soon keen on moving their young shortstops around. Gregorius helps makes this super utility talk possible.

Given the way pitching staffs are used these days, super utility players are becoming a necessity, not a luxury. The Yankees have been hoarding shortstop prospects because they’re the best athletes and often have the broadest skill sets. So, in addition to being good shortstop prospects, they’re also candidates for a super utility role. There’s no stigma to being a utility guy now. They’re highly sought after and quite valuable.

Recent reliever trades show the Yankees hit the jackpot with the Chapman and Miller deals

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In the early days of Spring Training, we’ve gotten a nice little peek at some of the best young players the Yankees have in their much ballyhooed farm system. Aaron Judge socked what will probably go down as the longest home run of the spring, Gleyber Torres doubled to left and right fields the next day, and Clint Frazier has been wearing out the opposite field with extra-base hits. It’s been fun!

Judge was one of New York’s three first round picks back in 2013, and, as you know, Torres and Frazier both came over at last year’s trade deadline. So did outfielder Billy McKinney, who hit a home run Sunday, as well as Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. We didn’t get to see Justus Sheffield make his spring debut Tuesday because the game wasn’t televised, but he was another trade deadline pickup as well.

Last summer the Yankees were uniquely positioned heading into the trade deadline and Brian Cashman & Co. took advantage in a big way. They turned Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, two relievers (great relievers, but relievers nonetheless), into three top 100 prospects, plus several others. The reliever trade market had really taken off in previous months and both the Cubs and Indians were pretty desperate despite sitting in first place. They had baseball’s two longest World Series droughts and wanted to get over the hump. Sure enough, the trades helped both get to the World Series.

Whenever we see trades, especially blockbuster trades that go beyond anything we expected, our first inclination is to think the market has changed. The Yankees got massive hauls for Chapman and Miller, which means every great reliever is going to require a massive Torres/Frazier caliber package going forward. It hasn’t worked out that way. Two other great relievers have been traded since those deals:

  • Pirates trade Mark Melancon to the Nationals for reliever Felipe Rivera and minor leaguer Taylor Hearn, whom Baseball America ranked as the 14th best prospect in Pittsburgh’s system in their 2017 Prospect Handbook.
  • Royals trade Wade Davis to the Cubs for Jorge Soler, a 25-year-old former top prospect who is still trying to find his way at the big league level. He came with four years of team control.

The Melancon trade was made one week after the Chapman trade and one day after the Miller trade. The Davis trade went down over the winter. Melancon was a rental like Chapman, and while he’s not as good as Chapman, he’s not that much worse either. And yet, the Pirates turned him into a good reliever and an okay prospect. The Yankees turned rental Chapman into arguably the best prospect in baseball in Torres, plus three others.

The Davis trade really drives home how well the Yankees did with the Miller and Chapman trades. From 2014-15, Davis was the best reliever on the planet, throwing 139.1 innings with a 0.97 ERA (1.72 FIP). He also excelled in the postseason (one earned run in 25 innings), closed out a World Series, and has an affordable contract ($10M in 2017). Somehow the Yankees got more for rental Chapman than the Royals did for a full year of Davis.

We can go back even further to show how much the Chapman and Miller trade look like outliers. Last offseason the Padres acquired four prospects for Craig Kimbrel, including two who landed on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list soon after the trade: Javier Guerra (No. 52) and Manuel Margot (No. 56). Kimbrel had three seasons left on his contract at the time of the trade. Well, two seasons and a club option. There’s an escape there in case things go wrong.

When the Yankees traded Miller, he had two and a half years remaining on his contract. They traded him for four prospects, including two who appeared on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 list a few weeks earlier: Frazier (No. 21) and Sheffield (No. 69). Would you rather have the Nos. 21 and 69 prospects, or the No. 52 and 56 prospects? I’d take Nos. 21 and 69. Prospect rankings are not linear. There’s not a significant difference between Nos. 52, 56, and 69. The difference between Nos. 21 and 52 is pretty huge though.

(For what it’s worth, the prospect valuations at Point of Pittsburgh indicate Frazier and Sheffield were worth a combined $78.5M in surplus value at the time of the trade. Guerra and Margot combined for $44.8M. Top 20-ish position player prospects like Frazier are insanely valuable.)

The Phillies didn’t got a single top 100 prospect in the Ken Giles trade, and he came with five years of team control. They just got a bunch of players with performance and/or health issues. Two years of Jake McGee was traded for a designated hitter (Corey Dickerson) who hasn’t hit outside Coors Field. Three years of Justin Wilson fetched two okay but not great pitching prospects. Four and a half years of Sam Dyson was given away for two non-prospects. Giles, McGee, Wilson, and Dyson have all been among the game’s top relievers the last few seasons, and look at those trades packages.

Point is, compared to some other top reliever trades, specifically the Melancon and Davis deals, the Chapman and Miller hauls look like a minor miracle. It was a perfect storm for the Yankees. They had an elite reliever on a contract that wasn’t burdensome, and the team that wanted him was not only very desperate to get over the hump and win their first World Series in a lifetime, they also had the tippy top prospects to trade. And then it all happened again.

I don’t want to call the Miller and Chapman trades once in a lifetime events, that’s a wee bit over the top, but given everything that happened leading up to and since the deals, it sure looks like everything came together at exactly the right time for the Yankees. They had the right players to offer very motivated buyers. And maybe it won’t work out and all the prospects will bust. Baseball can be a jerk like that. Right now, at this very moment, the Miller and Chapman deals look like franchise-altering trades. You dream of your favorite team making trades like this.

Assorted Baseball Thoughts

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Hey, baseball! You’re unofficially back and that’s all sorts of awesome. It’s still a while before things really count, but it’s nice to have the game back in our lives on a daily basis, even if it’s just in the form of players doing workouts or taking batting practice or throwing bullpens. Dinner, so to speak, is finally on the stove and we’re beginning to smell it as its scent wafts up to us, enticing us to walk down into the kitchen (even if it won’t really open until April). So, in celebration of the season, here are some assorted thoughts about baseball goings on and whatnot.

How about that Aaron Judge homer? Or Gleyber Torres knocking two doubles and scoring from second (!) on a wild pitch? Or Clint Frazier going oppo on a triple? In the long run, these things mean absolutely nothing. I know it; you know it; the players themselves (probably) know it. But, regardless, it’s nice to see. Spring Training already gives us that nebulously fuzzy feeling of optimism and that only gets heightened when prospects and young players perform well.

While on the topic of young players, whom do you guys think is more likely to start the year in AAA: Judge or Greg Bird? There are cases for both players needing more work. Judge still swings and misses a lot and Bird will need to find his power stroke after missing an entire year; it’s plan to see why those two things could/should be worked out in Scranton rather than the Bronx. Both have nominally capable “replacements” in Aaron Hicks and Chris Carter, though Carter is much more a sure thing than Hicks at this point. I don’t think either of them ends up in AAA to start the year, though, and despite arguments for it, in a year in which the Yankees are transitioning, it’s okay to see some growing pains at the highest level.

The World Baseball Classic is back this year and it’s still something that I like but don’t love at this point. I get why it exists and I think the commissioner and his office genuinely do want to grow the game internationally–as they well should from a business point of view–but the whole thing still feels a bit stilted and awkward and I can’t place why. As a fan of soccer, I enjoy tournaments that the WBC tries to mimic–the World Cup, the European/Copa America tournaments, the Champions League, the FA Cup, etc.–but I just can’t fully buy into the WBC. I think I’d like it a lot more if it were styled after the Champions League with club teams rather than international teams. The only problem there is lack of competition. Only teams from the US, Japan, Cuba, and Korea would really be able to hack it in such a tournament, as teams from the other leagues in the world aren’t anywhere near good enough to hang with the best of the best from those leagues. I suppose, then, that there really isn’t much to do about changing it. Eventually–when no Yankees play in the damn thing–I’ll learn to love it.

Intentional walks as we know them may soon be a thing of the past. (Getty)
Intentional walks as we know them may soon be a thing of the past. (Getty)

Speaking of changes, MLB is doing away with the intentional walk process and I feel very…ambivalent about it. I don’t necessarily like it, but I don’t feel nearly strong enough about it to make a stink. At the end of the day, it’s a fairly meaningless change that won’t do much to take away from the game and won’t do much to improve it. It’s a fairly transparent move, in fact, so MLB can say ‘Look! See? We’re making changes!’ without having to do anything radical or spend any money. Regardless of my personal feelings, pace of play is a concern of MLB’s and they’re going to do what they can to speed up play, though I’m not sure how much it’ll help. Will casual fans become die hards or will new fans be born because games go from three hours to two hour and forty five minutes? Eh.

To grow the game, MLB needs to think outside just the field of play. I love baseball not just because it was introduced to me by my family, but because I played it growing up. For many kids in this country–especially kids of color and those in urban environments–the cost of playing baseball is prohibitive. Pumping money into youth leagues of all shapes and sizes–even subsidizing some of them–is one way for MLB to grow both with young people and people of color, demographics the sport has lacked recently.

Additionally, MLB needs to tap into why young people like certain sports. Over the last five years or so, I’ve taught every grade from 7-12 (though only as a day sub for 8th grade) and kids like players more than they like teams. I was the same way when I was younger–I had basketball and football jerseys from a dozen different teams and kids today are no different. They talk about players and stars more than they talk about teams. MLB hasn’t done the greatest job of promoting its new crop of stars and that’s going to hurt them as they compete against star-driven leagues like the NBA and the NFL. Allow player personalities to shine on the field and give them exposure off the field. It’s 2017; act like it, MLB.

Finding players similar to Gleyber Torres using MLB.com’s scouting grades

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the last seven months or so, Gleyber Torres has gone from being relatively unknown to Yankees fans to their latest prospect crush. Torres came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade, and while he was an excellent prospect to start with, he’s since improved his stock with a dominant Arizona Fall League showing. He became the youngest batting champ and MVP in league history.

In recent weeks Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law and MLB.com ranked Torres as one of the very best prospects in baseball. All except Baseball Prospectus ranked Gleyber as one of the five best prospects in the game. (Baseball Prospectus had him 15th.) Clearly, the scouting community believes Torres is a budding star and potential franchise cornerstone type of player. The Yankees haven’t had one of those since Robinson Cano.

As part of their prospect coverage, MLB.com provides scouting grades for individual tools on the 20-80 scouting scale. A quick 20-80 scale primer: 20 is terrible, 80 is outstanding, and 50 is average. There are few 20 tools out there and even fewer 80 tools. Brian McCann is a 20 runner, for example. Chapman has an 80 fastball. I’m not sure there are any other 80 tools on the Yankees right now. Maybe Aaron Hicks‘ arm?

Anyway, the scouting grades allow us to compare prospects on a deeper level than “here’s where they ranked on a top 100 list.” I used them to compare Blake Rutherford to other top high school bats following the draft last year. Now I want to do something similar with Torres. Before we go any further, I should note two things:

  1. MLB.com’s scouting grades are future grades. They’re what that specific tool projects to be down the line, not necessarily how that tool plays right now. MLB.com says Mickey Moniak, the first overall pick in last year’s draft, has 60 hit and 45 power. If those were present tools, that would mean he’s ready to hit .280 with 15 homers in the big leagues right now. No. Just … no.
  2. The grades tend to be conservative. Scouts and writers don’t take these things lightly. Very few prospects are given future 70s because 70 tools in the show are quite uncommon. If a scout is going to slap a 70 hit on a 20-year-old kid in Single-A, that person better be damn sure he’s going to rake.

For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to compared Torres to players just like him, which means 20-year-old right-handed hitting middle infielders. Age and position are obviously important criteria. Don’t overlook handedness. The vast majority of pitchers are right-handed — 74% of all innings were thrown by righties in 2016 — so a right-handed hitter doesn’t have the platoon advantage as often.

MLB.com has listed scouting grades every year since 2014, and based on our criteria, there have been ten comparable prospects to Torres over the last three years:

gleyber-torres-comps

That is some list of names, huh? A few of those guys have gone on to become some of the best players in baseball, regardless of position. The green cells indicate tools that match or exceed Gleyber’s grades, and as you can see, the only prospect since 2014 to at least match Torres in all five tools is Correa, one of the best young hitters on the planet. Russell, a +4 WAR player in 2016, matched or bettered Torres in four of the five tools. A few observations.

1. Correa, Russell, and Torres are in a class of their own, sorta. Those three guys all had a future 65 overall value (or better in Correa’s case) while no one else on the list cleared 60. Not even Bogaerts and Baez, and Baez would go on to hit 37 home runs in his age 20 season. Correa received a future 70 because his bat is so special. He’s been dubbed “the next A-Rod,” which I think is a tad unrealistic, but you can understand where it comes from.

Russell and Torres earned their 65s with all-around play. Russell has a half-grade edge in power and running while Torres makes it up with his hit tool. Bogaerts lagged behind the two in power, the most high-profile tool, which is why he came in at 60 future value heading into the 2013 season. Point is, the scouting grades put Torres right alongside some of the games great young players when they were the same age. Very few righty hitting shortstops looked this promising at age 20.

2. Only four of the ten players started their age 20 season at Double-A. Torres will be the fifth, joining Correa, Bogaerts, Arcia, and Adames. Russell, Baez, Rosario, and Peraza all reached Double-A during their age 20 seasons as well, but only after a midseason promotion. They started their age 20 seasons in High Class-A. The difference of a few months isn’t much in a grand scheme of things, but it is important to note it’s not often a 20-year-old kid starts a season in Double-A.

Of those ten non-Torres players in the table, two (Correa and Bogaerts) reached the big leagues in their age 20 season. Correa was called up at midseason and went on to hit 22 homers in 90 games en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year. Bogaerts only received a September call-up in 2013, though he played well enough to take over as the Red Sox’s starting third baseman in the postseason.

Four other players from the table (Russell, Baez, Arcia, Peraza) reached the big leagues one year later, in their age 21 season. It’s entirely possible Rosario and Adames will make their debuts this coming season, which would make it six reaching the show no later than their age 21 season. Torres absolutely has a chance to do that as well. It’s uncommon to reach MLB that young, yet this demographic has produced several such players.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

3. These guys tend to become cornerstones, not role players. Correa, Russell, and Bogaerts are bonafide stars in my opinion. (Russell would get more attention if he weren’t the third best player on his own infield.) Baez looks poised to break out as one in 2017. Peraza, who wasn’t ranked as high as those guys on MLB.com’s annual top 100 list, looks like a potentially useful player. Arcia struggled during his brief MLB debut in 2016 but has high-end tools.

The jury is still out on Robertson, Mateo, Rosario, and Adames. Robertson’s prospect stock has tumbled since landing on MLB.com’s top 100 list in 2014. He hasn’t hit outside the hitter friendly California League and has had to move to second base full-time due to his defensive shortcomings. Keith Law (subs. req’d) recent ranked him as the 14th best prospect in Tampa’s system and said he “looks like a quality utility infielder.”

Rosario is an elite prospect like Torres while Adames ranks a tick below those two. Mateo, who went from 87th on MLB.com’s top 100 list prior to 2015 (his age 20 season) to 30th prior to 2016, had a disappointing season a year ago and slipped to 47th on MLB.com’s list prior to 2017. So, out of those ten players, we have three stars (Correa, Russell, Bogaerts), one budding star (Baez), one useful player (Peraza), four with the jury still out (Arcia, Mateo, Rosario, Adames), and one whose stock has fallen considerably (Robertson).

The success rate of these prospects is quite high, relatively speaking. Getting three legitimate big league stars (and possibly more!) out of ten highly ranked players from any prospect demographic is pretty incredible. Shortstops are traditionally the best athletes and most tooled up players on the field though, so if you were going to bet on a certain type of prospect becoming a top notch big leaguer, chances are it would be a shortstop, even if he ends up changing positions, which Torres very well might in deference to the defensive superior Didi Gregorius.

* * *

Comparing the MLB.com scouting grades is far from a perfect science. We all know that. All this does for us is put in perspective exactly how talented and highly regarded Torres is at the moment. His peers are guys like Correa and Russell and Bogaerts. Does this guarantee big league success? Of course not. Nothing does. Generally speaking, players similar to Torres at age 20 have gone on to be productive big leaguers, often within 12-18 months. With any luck, Gleyber will do the same for the Yankees in the near future.