Brian Cashman on starting Greg Bird in Triple-A: “That’s the optimal”

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

I wouldn’t call it a problem, but one of the biggest questions heading into the 2016 season is how Greg Bird fits the roster. The Yankees have Mark Teixeira at first base, Alex Rodriguez at DH, and another DH candidate in Carlos Beltran. Bird is a first baseman (and DH) only, and his lack of versatility doesn’t fit the bench.

“That’s the optimal,” said Brian Cashman to Ken Davidoff and Bryan Hoch when asked about Bird starting next season in Triple-A. “Not for Bird, but optimally period, that would be the best. Currently, Tex is the better player … If Alex went down, we could swing Carlos over from right field to DH … Currently (Bird is) blocked by some pretty significant players. It creates a great dynamic.”

That is basically CashmanSpeak for “we just have to wait for Teixeira or A-Rod to get hurt.” He can’t come out and say it, but I’m sure that’s what the Yankees are thinking. Stash Bird in Triple-A for a few weeks, let him work mostly on his defense, then call him up when the need inevitably rises. Teixeira and Rodriguez aren’t all that durable these days, after all.

Bird, 23, hit .291/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) with eleven home runs in 46 games with the Yankees this past season after taking over at first base following Teixeira injury. He really struggled against lefties in September and was passable at first base, but not an asset. Bird is very clearly the heir apparent to Teixeira, whose eight-year contract expires next winter.

Like I said, this isn’t a problem. Have too many good players is a good thing. Stashing Bird in Triple-A is a short-term measure, that’s all. It’s temporary. We’ll see him again at some point next year. It’s inevitable.

Reports: Yanks are “shopping everyone,” including Miller

(Tim Bradbury/Getty)
(Tim Bradbury/Getty)

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are very active on the trade market early this offseason. At the very least, it appears they are gauging interest in all their players. “Sounds like the Yankees are shopping everyone,” said one executive to Rosenthal, “with the exception of (Luis) Severino.”

Jon Heyman hears Andrew Miller‘s name is being circulated, though it’s unclear how serious the Yankees are about moving him. Heyman says the asking price would be a pretty high as well. A top of the rotation starter or a significant package of players. Miller doesn’t have a no-trade clause and had forearm problems this year, remember.

“We’re open to all ideas — as always,” said Cashman to Heyman when asked about Miller’s availability. “It doesn’t mean I’d do anything but if the Dutch never asked the Indians for Manhattan you’d be living in New Jersey.”

I can’t help but imagine a scenario in which the Yankees trade Miller for a stud pitcher — Heyman speculates the potentially available Stephen Strasburg might be a match — then flip some prospects for Craig Kimbrel to take over as closer. That would be pretty damn sweet. Too good to be true, really.

On paper, this is one of the best free agent markets in years, though the Yankees seem likely to be more active on the trade market due to limited roster and financial maneuverability. They don’t have a ton of open roster spots and they didn’t shed any big contracts after the season. It’ll take a payroll bump to add a significant free agent.

Last offseason the Yankees surprisingly traded Shane Greene and Martin Prado in separate trades. I mean, we all know pretty much anyone can be traded at any time, but I can’t imagine many folks expected Greene and Prado would be moved. The Yankees needed rotation help and they need infield help, yet they still dealt away a starter and an infielder.

“I’m open to anything. I’m always open to anything. I’m not afraid,” said Cashman to Rosenthal. “You have to be pretty aggressive and open to trade a good young pitcher under team control (Greene), a left-handed prospect (Manny Banuelos), or a guy like Prado who fits you like a glove.”

Cashman acknowledged he doesn’t “anticipate Severino, (Greg) Bird, and (Aaron) Judge being traded,” but again, he wouldn’t rule anything out. I wouldn’t either. The Yankees tend to run a very tight ship too. Moves often come out of nowhere. “I’m open to having dialogue, no matter what. Dialogue is a good thing,” added the GM.

The GM Meetings take place this week in Boca Raton, and while some deals may go down, historically this week has been more about laying groundwork and having preliminary talks. The idea of the three-team Curtis Granderson trade was first broached at the GM Meetings back in November 2010, but the deal itself wasn’t completed until a few weeks later at the Winter Meetings, for example.

I looked at the Yankees’ trade chips last week. An extra starter like Michael Pineda or Ivan Nova seems like a candidate to be traded, though who knows. The Yankees have pitching depth but they could use more quality pitching, if that makes sense. Also, second base and bench help figures to be on the agenda. We’ll see.

Yankees well-stocked with trade chips heading into the offseason

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Over the last 12 months the Yankees have changed the way they do business. We’re used to seeing them throw money at their problems. They’ve been doing that for decades. Trades were the focus last offseason though, and whenever a need arose during the season, the Yankees called someone up from the minors. It was … different.

The Yankees have limited flexibility this winter. The roster is pretty full thanks to guaranteed contracts and whatnot, and with so little money coming off the books, there’s probably not much payroll space to work with either. Not unless Hal Steinbrenner approves a payroll increase, which he’s been hesitant to do over the years.

Trades again figure to be the focus this offseason. That allows the Yankees to both navigate their roster and payroll limitations while attempting to improve the team at the same time. They don’t all have to be blockbuster trades, of course. Shane Greene for Didi Gregorius was a low-key move that paid big dividends for the Yankees in 2015.

So, with trades again likely to dominate the winter months, let’s sort through the team’s trade chips and figure out who may be on a move.

The (Almost) Untouchables

As far as I’m concerned, the Yankees do not have any untouchable players. They have some players I wouldn’t trade unless the return is significant, but that doesn’t make them truly untouchable. Wouldn’t you trade, say, Luis Severino for Jose Fernandez? I know I would. The group of almost untouchables includes Severino, Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Aaron Judge, and Andrew Miller. That’s all of ’em in my book.

The Untradeables

The Yankees have several players who they couldn’t trade even if they wanted to due to performance or contract or something else, or in some cases all of the above. Jacoby Ellsbury, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia headline this group. None of them are worth the money they’re owed and they all have full no-trade protection as well, so the Yankees would have to get their permission to move them.

There’s a second tier of big contract players who are not necessarily untradeable, but who would be difficult to move for various reasons. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, and Masahiro Tanaka fit here. Teixeira and Beltran are entering the final year of their contracts, so they’d be short-term pickups, but they both have no-trade protection and have indicated a desire to stay in New York.

McCann, even while in decline, is still one of the better catchers in baseball. Maybe not top five anymore, but certainly top seven or eight. He’s got another three years and $51M left on his contract, and paying a catcher $17M per season is not something most teams can afford. Headley’s contract isn’t bad — three years and $39M is nothing — but he was below-average on both sides of the ball this season.

Tanaka is an interesting case. It seems like he’s neither as good nor as bad as many people think. Is he an ace? On his best days, yeah. But a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings this year suggests he is more above-average than elite. Tanaka is also owed $22M in both 2016 and 2017 before his opt-out comes into play. He just had elbow surgery and teams are well aware his UCL is a grenade with the pin pulled. How in the world do you value him?

The Yankees could try to move any and all of these players. It’ll be tough though, either because their performance is down, their contracts are exorbitant, or they have no-trade protection. They’re untouchable, but in a different and bad way.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Top Chip

Among the established players on the roster, Brett Gardner has by far the most trade value. It also helps that he doesn’t have a no-trade clause. (Gardner gets a $1M bonus if traded.) Gardner is owed only $39.5M over the next three years and he remains above-average on both sides of the ball. Even with his second half slump, he still put up a .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and 20 steals in 2015.

The Yankees can market Gardner as a two-way leadoff hitting center fielder to teams looking for outfield help but unable to afford top free agents like Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes. He’s affordable, he’s productive, and he’s a high-character guy who’s shown he can play and win in New York. Teams absolutely value that stuff. Getting a player of Gardner’s caliber on a three-year contract would be a major coup.

The real question is why would the Yankees trade Gardner? He’s arguably their best all-around player. They could move him to free up an outfield spot for, say, Heyward, but I think that’s unlikely. I also don’t think anyone in the minors is ready to step in and play left field regularly. Gardner is the only veteran on the team with actual trade value though. That’s why we’ll hear his name a lot this offseason.

The Top-ish Prospects

Beyond Judge, the Yankees have a few other high-end prospects they could trade for big league help, most notably Gary Sanchez, Jorge Mateo, and Rob Refsnyder. Greg Bird is technically no longer a prospect — he lost his rookie eligibility late in the season — but we can lump him in here too because he’s not exactly an established big leaguer yet. The elimination of the Pete Incaviglia Rule means the Yankees could trade James Kaprielian and any other 2015 draftees this winter, if they choose.

Sanchez and Mateo are the team’s best young trade chips among players who could actually be made available. (I don’t think the Yankees would trade Bird but I would in the right deal.) Sanchez is stuck behind McCann and John Ryan Murphy, and his defense probably isn’t up to the team’s standards. Mateo is an excellent prospect, but Gregorius is entrenched at the MLB level, and the Yankees are loaded with lower level shortstop prospects. They already offered Mateo in a trade once, remember. (For Craig Kimbrel at the deadline.)

The Yankees refused the trade Refsnyder this summer — the Athletics wanted him for Ben Zobrist — but they also refused to call him up for much of the year. It wasn’t until very late in the season that he got an opportunity. Refsnyder’s defense is improving but it is still an issue, and the truth is it may never be good enough for the Yankees. That doesn’t mean they’ll give him away though.

Second tier prospects like Eric Jagielo, Tyler Wade, Rookie Davis, and Jordan Montgomery could all be trade bait, though that’s true every offseason. The second tier prospects usually don’t bring back a whole lot unless there’s a salary dump involved. Either way, we can’t rule them out as trade chips.

The Outfielders & Relievers

The Yankees are very deep in Triple-A left-handed hitting outfielders and relievers. Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave make up the crop of lefty hitting outfielders. Relievers? Gosh. There’s Chasen Shreve, Branden Pinder, Caleb Cotham, Nick Rumbelow, Nick Goody, James Pazos, healthy Jacob Lindgren, and I guess even Bryan Mitchell. He’s part of this group too, although he can start.

These are obvious positions of depth and the Yankees can and should use them in trades this offseason, if possible. The problem is they don’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees already traded a lefty hitting outfielder (Ramon Flores) and a Triple-A reliever (Jose Ramirez) this year. The return was busted Dustin Ackley. So yeah. Heathcott and Williams have been both hurt and ineffective in recent years while Gamel lacks a track record of top end production. They have trade value, no doubt, but don’t expect them to headline any blockbusters.

The Spare Arms

The Yankees have a lot of pitchers but not a whole lot of pitching, if you catch my drift. The rotation ranked 19th with a 4.25 ERA and 15th with a 4.04 FIP this past season. Right smack in the middle of the pack. The Yankees have seven potential starters in place next year: Sabathia, Tanaka, Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren. That group is a mixed bad of upside and mediocrity, I’d say.

Of the final four pitchers on that list, I’d say Nova has the least trade value because he was both hurt and terrible last year. Also, next season is his final year of team control before free agency. Eovaldi and Pineda are the embodiment of that “upside and mediocrity” group. They’re so obviously talented. But the results? Eh. Not great this year. Both are under team control for another two seasons, which is a plus.

Warren has proven himself as a very valuable member of the pitching staff. He’s basically a high-end version of Ramiro Mendoza. He can start or relieve and is very good in both roles, and he’s durable with a resilient arm. No injury problems at all since being drafted. Warren is under control another three years and the Yankees rejected the trade that would have sent him to the A’s with Refsnyder for Zobrist.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are in position to deal away pitching depth given some of the injury concerns in the rotation, but I thought that last year and they traded Greene anyway. As it turned out, they were planning to trade for another pitcher (Eovaldi) and bring in a low cost veteran for depth (Chris Capuano). They also had Warren waiting. The same could happen this year.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Best of the Rest

There’s three players on the roster we haven’t covered. The best of the bunch is Murphy, a young and cheap catcher with defensive chops, a promising bat, and five years of team control remaining. I can’t imagine how many calls Brian Cashman has fielded about Murphy over the last 18 months or so. He’s really valuable and not just in a trade. To the Yankees too.

Justin Wilson is what every team looks for in a reliever: he throws hard and he misses bats. Being left-handed is a bonus. He struggles with control sometimes, and that’s why he’s only a reliever and not a starter or something more. Wilson has three years of control remaining, so his trade value is less than last offseason, when all it took to get him was an injury plagued backup catcher two years away from free agency. (What Francisco Cervelli did after the trade doesn’t change anything.)

Ackley is the third player and he doesn’t have much value. Flores and Ramirez. There’s his trade value, even after a strong finish to the season. Those 57 plate appearances with the Yankees didn’t erase his 2,200 plate appearances of awful with the Mariners. Given his versatility, Ackley is more valuable to the Yankees as a player than as a trade chip. I think the same is true of Wilson as well.

* * *

Last offseason taught me that pretty much no one is safe from trades other than the guys with no-trade clauses. I did not at all expect the Yankees to trade Greene or Martin Prado or even Manny Banuelos. Those were surprises. I would be surprised if the Yankees traded guys like Severino and Gregorius and Gardner this winter, but hey, anything can happen. Surprises are fun. The Yankees are well-armed with trade chips this winter. All shapes and sizes.

The First Baseman of the Future [2015 Season Review]


For the first time in a long time, the Yankees came into the season with some high-end prospects close to the big league level. We’ve spent the last few years talking about how the farm system was on the rise due to the team’s lower level talent, but geez, that’s lame as hell. Every team has talented players at the lower levels. That didn’t make the Yankees special as much as we wanted it to.

This year was different because of that upper level talent. And, given the club’s newfound commitment to young players, many of those players got an opportunity to help at the big league level this summer. Greg Bird, who I ranked as the fifth best prospect in the organization coming into the season, was one of those players even though he was what you could have considered a “blocked” prospect because of his position. Nevertheless, Bird got a chance late in the season and had an impact.

The Joys of Spring

The Yankees invited the 22-year-old Bird to Spring Training and he was arguably the most impressive young hitter during Grapefruit League play. It was either Bird or the resurgent Slade Heathcott. (Heathcott received a James P. Dawson Award as the best rookie in camp, for what it’s worth.)

Either way, Bird appeared in 13 spring games and went 6-for-17 (.353) with three doubles and a home run. He stood out most for his ultra-refined approach and insanely quick hands.

Bird had almost zero chance to make the Yankees out of Spring Training. He just wasn’t at the point in his career where that was a possibility. That said, young players like Bird still have a chance to make a strong impression on the front office and coaching staff in Spring Training. You might not make the team, but you can put yourself in position to be considered for a call-up during the season, and that’s exactly what Bird did it in camp. He was dynamite.

Back to the Minors

The Yankees assigned Bird to Double-A Trenton to start the season — he ended last year with 27-game cameo for the Thunder — and he started slowly, going 7-for-39 (.179) with only three extra-base hits in the first eleven games of the season. Bird eventually got hot, raked for a few weeks, then landed on the DL with a right shoulder injury. He was sidelined a month.

Bird returned in early-June, crushed the ball for a month (143 wRC+ in 24 games), then was promoted to Triple-A Scranton as part of the team’s mass midseason promotions. He hit .258/.358/.445 (133 wRC+) with six homers, a 14.2% strikeout rate, and an 11.3% walk rate in 49 Double-A games this year. Bird shook off the slow start and showed no ill-effects following the shoulder injury.

After the promotion to Triple-A, Bird hit .301/.353/.500 (146 wRC+) with six homers in only 34 games with the RailRiders, with an 18.0% strikeout rate and a 7.3% walk rate. It was his first taste of the level and, like pretty much every other stop in his career, Bird put up big numbers. He hit .277/.356/.469 (139 wRC+) with 12 home runs, a 15.7% strikeout rate, and a 9.7% walk rate in 83 minor games split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015.

A Surprise Promotion

On August 13th, a little more than one week after calling up Luis Severino, the Yankees surprisingly called up Bird to bolster the bench. Trade deadline pickup Dustin Ackley was hurt and Garrett Jones hadn’t been all that productive, so the Yankees saw it as an opportunity for an upgrade. A marginal upgrade — the plan was to use Bird to rest Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez on occasion, that’s it — but an upgrade nonetheless.

Bird made his Major League debut in Cleveland on August 13th, the day he was called up. They put him right in the lineup. Bird went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts as the seventh place hitter and first baseman. He started again two days later at first base — Teixeira sat on the 13th then served as the DH on the 15th with A-Rod resting — and went 1-for-4 with a strikeout in Toronto.

Bird’s first career hit came in his ninth plate appearance. He had been making solid contact but had a knack for finding gloves early on. That’s baseball. So, naturally, his first career hit was a little ground ball through the left side side of the infield.

Two days after Bird picked up his first career hit, Teixeira fouled a ball off his shin and suffered what proved to be a season-ending fracture. Bird’s stint as a bench player or spot starter or whatever you want to call it lasted five days. Bird replaced Teixeira off the bench that game, then, in the tenth inning, he sparked the team’s game-winning rally with a leadoff double against Glen Perkins.

That was Bird’s first career extra-base hit. Later in the inning he scored his first career run to win the game. He drew his first career walk in the seventh inning, in his first at-bat after coming in for Teixeira. Bird got a lot of “firsts” out of that way that night.

We didn’t know Teixeira’s injury was season-ending at the time, but it looked like he was going to miss at least a few days, so Bird was going to get an opportunity to play a few games in a row. It was an unfortunate way to get him in the lineup. That’s usually what it takes for a young player to get a chance though, an injury.

An Everyday Player, Suddenly

Teixeira started just one game the rest of the season. About a week later, with his shin feeling only slightly better, he started and played six innings against the Astros in a blowout loss. He pinch-hit in the ninth inning the next night. Teixeira did not play again the rest of the season.

In his first game as the starting first baseman, Bird went 2-for-4 and drove in a run. In his second, he went 2-for-4 with a pair of two-run home runs in the Yankees’ 4-2 win over the Twins. He provided all of the offense with his first and second big league dingers.

Bird was, like most players, consistently inconsistent the rest of the season. He went 3-for-23 (.130) with nine strikeouts in the nine games immediately following the two-homer game. Then he went 11-for-35 (.314) with three home runs in the next ten games. A 2-for-19 (.105) stretch followed that. On and on it goes. That’s pretty normal. Day-to-day consistency is a myth in baseball. The season is just a bunch of hot and cold streaks.

Bird’s most dominant stretch of the season was a seven-game span from September 15th to the 22nd, when he went 9-for-26 (.346) with three doubles and five home runs, including a homer in three consecutive games at one point. The third of those three was a go-ahead three-run shot in the tenth inning in Toronto, with the Yankees desperately trying to keep pace with the Blue Jays in the AL East.

The Yankees struggled big time in the final week of the season but not because of Bird. He was one of their few reliable bats down the stretch. Bird went 7-for-21 (.333) in his final seven games of the season and finished the year with an overall .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) batting line in 178 plate appearances across 46 games. He hit eleven home runs and drew a lot of walks (10.7%), but also struck out quite a bit (29.8%). Pitchers attacked him relentlessly with high fastballs. Here is the pitch type and location of his 53 strike threes.

Greg Bird strike threes

The high fastball is definitely a vulnerability for Bird right now. It is for a lot of hitters — fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone and above have a 9.1% whiff rate compared to 6.9% for all fastballs overall — so this isn’t unique to Bird. Opposing teams identified it as a weakness — they were throwing Bird high fastballs in strikeout situations the day of his debut, scouting reports are crazy good these days — and now it’s up to Bird to adjust.

The Yankees had only three hits against Dallas Keuchel and the Astros in the wildcard game and Bird had one of them, a solid line drive single to right in the second inning. Bird hit an acceptable .238/.347/.405 (110 wRC+) against southpaws like Keuchel overall this season — he hit .270/.341/.574 (147 wRC+) against righties — though it’s both a small sample (49 plate appearances) and quite misleading. Bird crushed lefties early and then went 5-for-31 (.161) against them in the final month.

Even with those late-season struggles against lefties, Bird was an excellent fill-in for Teixeira. The original plan was the play him two or three times a week to rest Teixeira and A-Rod, but the injury forced him into everyday duty, and Bird excelled. I didn’t think he would get called up at all this year coming into the season, the call-up was a total surprise to me, but Bird handled the promotion well. At least offensively. His defense remains rough around the edges.

Fly Balls & Hard Contact

Three things about Bird stood out to me during his relatively brief time as a big leaguer this season. One, he’s very calm at the plate. Joe Girardi called it a “slow heartbeat.” Bird seems very controlled with a bat in his hands. Two, he rarely hits the ball on the ground. And three, he hits the ball very hard. Combine two and three and you get a lot of hard hit balls in the air.

Here are Bird’s batted ball rates compared to the MLB average, just to give you an idea of how extreme his fly ball/hard hit tendencies really are:

GB% LD% FB% Soft% Medium% Hard%
Bird 26.7% 21.9% 51.4% 14.3% 41.0% 44.8%
MLB Avg 45.3% 20.9% 33.8% 18.6% 52.7% 28.6%

Among the 389 batters with at least 150 plate appearances this season, Bird had the lowest ground ball rate and the second highest hard contact rate. Only Giancarlo Stanton hit the ball harder, on average (49.7% … lol). Very, very few batters matched Bird’s combination of hitting the ball hard and hitting the ball in the air.

Actually, a graph probably works best here. Here are those 389 batters with 150 plate appearances, with ground ball rate on the x-axis and hard contact rate on the y-axis:

2015 Hard vs. GB

So yeah, when it came to hitting the ball hard and in the air this season, Bird was truly elite. Obviously small sample caveats apply, but I do think Bird’s batted ball tendencies are notable because they match the scouting report coming into the season. Here’s a piece of what Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrote in his preseason top 100 prospects list, in which he ranked Bird the 81st best prospect in the game:

Bird’s swing is very short to the ball, and he accelerates his hands quickly for hard contact to all fields, rarely putting the ball on the ground because he squares it up so frequently.

Consistently hitting the ball hard and in the air is a wonderful recipe for extra-base hits. I don’t know if Bird is a true talent sub-30% ground ball rate hitter, that seems very extreme — batted ball data has been recorded since 2002, and during that time only four of 729 hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances have a sub-30% ground ball rate (Frank Thomas, Rod Barajas, Chris Carter, Jason Lane) — but the data matched the scouting report this year.

We’ll find out next season whether Bird can sustain his unique hard hit fly ball profile. What we saw out of him was pretty exciting though. He has a plan at the plate, he has power, and he seems to do a lot of damage when he makes contact. The strikeouts are the only significant red flag at this point.

(I suspect Bird will always be prone to strikeouts because he works so many deep counts. It just comes with the territory. You can’t drew a lot of walks and run 5+ pitch at-bats consistently without getting rung up a few times.)

Looking Ahead to 2016

Bird’s role next season is TBD at this point. He played more than well enough to be in the team’s future plans — he is clearly the first baseman of the future, there is little doubt about that — but Teixeira is under contract for another season, and he’ll be at first base in 2016. Teixeira had a pretty awesome year, remember. The Yankees are better with him at first than Bird.

This is a problem that isn’t a problem. Too many good players is a good thing. The Yankees could carry Bird as a bench bat again or they could send him to Triple-A for the time being. Teixeira, A-Rod, and Bird himself have not been the most durable players in recent years — Bird has had on and off back problems the last few seasons in addition to his shoulder injury this year — so my guess is there will be plenty of playing time for all three next year.

Severino, Bird, Judge, and Sanchez rank among Baseball America’s top 20 International League prospects

(Tony Dejak/Associated Press)
(Tony Dejak/Associated Press)

Baseball America wrapped up their look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league with the Triple-A International League today. As always, the list is free but the scouting reports are not. Indians SS Francisco Lindor sits in the top spot. The Yankees have four players on the list: RHP Luis Severino (No. 2), 1B Greg Bird (No. 6), OF Aaron Judge (No. 10), and C Gary Sanchez (No. 18).

“While opposing managers lauded Severino’s stuff—a 92-97 mph fastball that typically sits at 95 and is complemented by a solid low-80s changeup and solid-average slider—many were equally impressed with his command, composure and athleticism on the mound,” said the write-up. The 21-year-old Severino had a 1.91 ERA (2.50 FIP) in eleven starts and 62.1 innings with Triple-A Scranton before being called up to the big leagues.

Bird, 22, hit .301/.353/.500 (146 wRC+) with six homers in 34 games with the RailRiders before being called up. “He combines a disciplined approach at the plate with a balanced swing and quick hands to drive the ball to all parts of the ballpark,” said the scouring report. “Bird made significant strides at first base this season: His footwork around the bag is serviceable and he has improved at picking balls in the dirt.”

Judge, 23, put up a .224/.308/.373 (98 wRC+) line with eight homers and a 28.5% strikeout rate in 61 games for Scranton this summer. “(Judge) struggled for stretches against experienced pitchers who found holes in his swing with breaking and offspeed pitches,” said the write-up. “He did show the ability to make adjustments and punish mistakes. Judge uses a gap-to-gap approach with bat speed and natural strength to drive the ball.”

As for Sanchez, the scouting report says he was “more mature off the field” and “in noticeably better shape this season.” The write-up also noted his “improved plate discipline” allowed him to better tap into his power in games. “He has double-plus arm strength behind the plate, and though he worked hard at improving his receiving, it remains the biggest hurdle for him to clear at catcher.” Sanchez, 22, hit .295/.349/.500 (145 wRC+) with six homers in 35 games for the RailRiders.

I was a bit surprised 2B Rob Refsnyder didn’t make the top 20, especially since Baseball America’s prospect rankings tend to be performance driven. Then again, I guess that could be why Refsnyder didn’t make the International League list. He had a good (123 wRC+) but not truly great year with the RailRiders. Others like RHP Bryan Mitchell, OF Slade Heathcott, and OF Ben Gamel are fine prospects, but not top 20 in the league caliber prospects.

Other league top 20s: Rookie Gulf Coast League, Rookie Appalachian League, Short Season NY-Penn League, Low-A South Atlantic League, High-A Florida State League, Double-A Eastern League

Refsnyder, Heathcott, Sanchez all make Wildcard Game roster

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rosters for the 2015 AL wildcard game were due at 10am ET this morning, and shortly thereafter the Yankees officially announced their 25-man squad for their first postseason game in three years. Here is the Astros’ roster and here is the Yankees’ roster for tonight’s winner-take-all game at Yankee Stadium:

RHP Dellin Betances
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP James Pazos
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
RHP Adam Warren
LHP Justin Wilson

Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy
Gary Sanchez

2B/OF Dustin Ackley
1B Greg Bird
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
2B Rob Refsnyder
DH Alex Rodriguez
IF Brendan Ryan

RF Carlos Beltran
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
OF Slade Heathcott
PR Rico Noel
OF Chris Young

I’m glad the Yankees took only nine pitchers. There’s really no need for more than that. Plus it’s not like the Yankees are swimming with options right now. CC Sabathia is unavailable after checking into rehab and next in line is probably Andrew Bailey, who wasn’t too good during his September cameo.

Both Severino and Nova started Saturday, so they aren’t fully available tonight. Today is their usual between-starts throw day, so they can probably give an inning or two, maybe three if they’re really efficient, but I doubt it would be much more than that. Obviously the plan is Tanaka to Wilson to Betances to Miller. Anything other than that is probably bad news.

Sanchez had only two garbage time at-bats at the end of the regular season, and the fact he is on the roster suggests the Yankees may start Murphy against the left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Murphy starts, McCann takes over once Keuchel is out of the game, and Sanchez is the emergency catcher. Sanchez could also be a pinch-hitter or DH option if A-Rod gets lifted for Noel at some point.

The rest of the roster is pretty self-explanatory. As I said this morning, I think Young will start tonight’s game, likely in place of Gardner. Young has good career numbers against Keuchel and Joe Girardi loves his head-to-head matchups. Gardner figures to come off the bench as soon as Keuchel is out of the game though. With any luck, no one outside the starting lineup and big three relievers will be used.

Judge, Bird among top Baseball America’s top 20 Eastern League prospects

Judge and Bird in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)
Judge and Bird in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)

Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued earlier today with the Double-A Eastern League. As always, the list is free but the scouting reports are not. Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito claims the top spot and is followed by Phillies SS J.P. Crawford and Mets OF Michael Conforto.

The Yankees have two players on the stacked — seriously, Giolito and Crawford are the two best prospects in the minors right now — Eastern League list: OF Aaron Judge ranks 15th while 1B Greg Bird ranks 16th. RHP Luis Severino only threw 38 innings with Double-A Trenton and did not qualify for the list. Josh Norris did not take any Yankees questions in the subscriber-only chat, so there’s no other information there.

“Having such a big body means Judge has a big area for pitchers to attack, with a greater probability of finding holes to exploit. The book on Judge this year read: work him hard inside before finishing him off with soft stuff away,” said the write-up. “Even so, Judge’s power is undeniable, and he has the potential to make an impact in the near future … Nearly all who watch him say he’s more athletic than they’d estimate simply by looking at his body, and all praise his throwing arm as plus.”

Judge, 23, hit .284/.350/.516 (147 wRC+) with 12 homers, an 8.6% walk rate, and a 25.0% strikeout rate in 63 games with the Thunder before being promoted to Triple-A Scranton. The relatively low ranking seems like an overreaction to Judge’s strikeout issues in Triple-A more than anything, especially since the guy ranked one spot ahead of him (Phillies C Andrew Knapp) is older and had a similar strikeout rate (22.4%) while slugging .356. (Oops, read the wrong stat line.) Whatevs.

As for the 22-year-old Bird, the scouting report says he has “shown an approach at the plate advanced beyond his years, as well as enough power to stick as an everyday player at a corner position.” He also received credit for showing “smoother actions around the bag at first base” this summer, although his defense is still not considered a plus. We’ve seen it firsthand the last few weeks.

Bird put up a .258/.358/.445 (133 wRC+) line with six homers in 49 Double-A games before being promoted to Triple-A. He struck out in 14.2% of his plate appearances and walked 11.3% of the time. 3B Eric Jagielo and C Gary Sanchez both qualified for the top 20 — at least based on their playing time compared to Bird’s — but simply fell short of the list. OF Jake Cave and RHP Brady Lail were long shots for the top 20.

The next and final list of interest to Yankees fans it the Triple-A International League. That will be released later this week. Judge and Severino are right on the playing time bubble and might not qualify for the list. Bird and Sanchez will almost certainly fall short of qualifying. 2B Rob Refsnyder had plenty of playing time with the RailRiders and could be the only Yankees farmhand on the top 20. OF Ben Gamel and RHP Bryan Mitchell are long shot candidates.

Other league top 20s: Rookie Gulf Coast League, Rookie Appalachian League, Short Season NY-Penn League, Low-A South Atlantic League, High-A Florida State League