With help from A-Rod, Greg Bird has made himself part of the Yankees’ long-term picture

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Opinions will vary, but I think most would agree first baseman Greg Bird has been the most impressive young hitter in Yankees camp this year. Jose Pirela has better stats but Bird looks the part of a big leaguer at the plate. He knows the strike zone and he hasn’t looked overwhelmed either by pitchers or the environment. Bird just looks like a hitter. I don’t know how else to explain it. Look at how quick his hands are:

It seems like Bird he was born to hit. He went 5-for-14 (.357) with three doubles and a home run during Grapefruit League play before being reassigned to minor league camp yesterday. Aside from being late to lunch, Bird was extremely impressive in Spring Training. Brian Cashman called him “by far the best hitter in the (farm system)” a few weeks go and Alex Rodriguez has sung his praises as well. From John Harper:

“I mean, when you’ve been around for 20 years, you know who can play and who can’t. You see the way the ball comes off his bat. Then you see his work ethic, and how he watches and asks smart questions, and you know he’s got a great makeup. He’s going to be around for a long time.”

This isn’t Jorge Posada or Jason Giambi calling Phil Hughes the next Roger Clemens or something silly like that. It’s just A-Rod praising Bird for being an intelligent player and a good hitter. There’s no hyperbole. A-Rod is just repeating what a lot of other people have already said about Bird, that’s all.

As it turns out, A-Rod had a small hand in Bird’s development as a hitter. The two first met back in 2013, when Alex spent a few days with Low-A Charleston working his way back from his surgery. A-Rod has always been great with young players and Bird credits him for some advice, not just as a hitter but about being a pro baseball player in general. From Andrew Marchand:

“Some of the things that he told us still is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten as a hitter, just as far as professional baseball went,” Bird, now in his first big-league camp, said the other day.

A-Rod told Bird and the rest of the Single-A Charleston River Dogs that the higher the level you go, the easier the game becomes — the stadiums are nicer, the lights are better, the umpires are more precise, on and on. A-Rod also gave practical advice on hitting, making it simple.

“He is not even worried about (looking for pitches in specific spots),” said Bird, a 22-year-old, 6-foot-3, 215-pound, left-handed first baseman. “You can’t worry about the inner half of the plate because if you do, you give up the outer half. You give up off-speed pitches. Just hearing that out of his mouth that first full season was big. It stuck with me ever since.”

Bird, who turned 22 in November, obviously has a boatload of talent and it all starts there. His talent got him drafted — the Yankees selected Bird in the fifth round of the 2010 draft but paid him first round money ($1.1M bonus) — and is the main reason he’s torn up the minors, but taking advice and using it make the necessary adjustments is often what separates the guys who make it and the guys who don’t. It seems Bird has been able to do that after talking to A-Rod.

The Yankees have made it clear in recent years they have a “type.” They prefer certain kinds of players over others and I’m guessing every organization does as well. The Yankees like pitchers who throw hard but don’t walk everyone in the park — you didn’t think they pulled Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi out of a hat, did you? — and the taller they are, the better. They also like great defensive catchers. And, of course, they like left-handed hitters with power and patience. Guys like Bird. He’s right in their wheelhouse.

This offseason the Yankees shifted gears and focused on getting younger, most notably by trading for Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius. Comments made by Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner this past offseason also make it seem like they will be more willing to give prospects an opportunity going forward, and there’s a clear path to MLB for Bird. Spend this year in Double-A and Triple-A, next year going up and down based on Mark Teixeira‘s health in the final season of his contract, then step into the lineup full-time in 2017. A-Rod helped Bird get here, now Bird has to take the next step and give the Yankees a reason to give him a chance.

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Luis Severino, Aaron Judge top MLB.com’s top 30 Yankees prospects list

Severino and Judge, yet again. (Presswire)
Severino and Judge, yet again. (Presswire)

As part of their look at the best minor league prospects in each organization, the crew at MLB.com published their list of the top 30 Yankees prospects earlier this week. Jim Callis also compiled some notes and scouting grades in a supplemental piece. As always, MLB.com’s info — the list, scouting reports, video, etc. — is all free. It’s great.

Predictably, RHP Luis Severino and OF Aaron Judge claim the top two spots, in that order. Severino is No. 1 on MLB.com’s and Baseball America’s lists while Judge is atop Keith Law’s, Baseball Prospectus’, and my top Yankees prospects lists. I guess Judge wins. SS Jorge Mateo, 1B Greg Bird, and 2B Rob Refsnyder round out the top five on MLB.com’s list.

You can click through to see the full top 30 for yourself. MLB.com included two of last year’s international signings and ranked them pretty highly as well — OF Juan DeLeon and SS Dermis Garcia ranks 15th and 16th, respectively. They also ranked four other players who didn’t make my top 30: RHP Rookie Davis (No. 24), UTIL Jose Pirela (No. 25), 2B Gosuke Katoh (No. 28), and RHP Domingo Acevedo (No. 30).

The 21-year-old Acevedo was one of my five prospects to watch heading into the 2014 season and the MLB.com scouting report is pretty glowing:

In his limited game action, Acevedo hit 100 mph and worked at 95-97 mph. He also has an advanced changeup and some feel for spinning the ball, though he’s still trying to find a comfortable grip for his slider. His command is work in progress, though he does a decent job of throwing strikes.

Between his velocity and his size — he’s 6-foot-7 and carries maybe 50 pounds more than his listed 190 — Acevedo presents an extremely intimidating figure on the mound. He’ll have frontline starter stuff if he can develop a good breaking ball, and he’s still a potential closer if he doesn’t.

Acevedo is older than most international prospects — he signed as an 18-year-old in October 2012 — but they don’t check IDs on the mound. If he continues to show big stuff and gets people out, the Yankees won’t care if he makes his MLB debut at 23 or 26. The 2015 season will be an important one when it comes to determining if Acevedo is one of the team’s top prospects going forward or just a tease.

MLB.com’s list essentially wraps up prospect ranking season. The Yankees have a middle of the road farm system that is on the rise thanks mostly to last summer’s international spending spree. Severino and Judge are high-end prospects while others like Bird and Jacob Lindgren look like high-probability big leaguers. The Yankees focused on youth this winter and that means we should expect to see a few of these guys get an opportunity at the MLB level in the next year or two. That’s exciting.

Yankees land seven players on FanGraphs’ top 200 prospects list

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Over at FanGraphs yesterday, Kiley McDaniel posted his list of the top 200 — not the top 100, the top 200 (!) — prospects in baseball heading into the 2015 season. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant claims the top spot and is followed by Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs SS Addison Russell in the top three. At this point, it’s clear Bryant is the consensus top prospect in baseball with Buxton, last year’s No. 1, right behind him.

The Yankees landed seven players in the top 200. Here’s the list with a short quote from McDaniel’s write-up:

  • RHP Luis Severino (No. 26): “He’s quickly improved and developed starter traits, but on certain days the stuff, command and delivery may all look more like a reliever.”
  • OF Aaron Judge (No. 58): “He’ll be 23 in Double-A next year and that will give us a better idea of if he’s a solid everyday guy or a potential star, but there’s clearly more here than people were expecting.”
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren (No. 100): “(He’s) now knocking on the door of the big leagues with closer level stuff and just enough of the feel from his starter days to spot his hellacious slider where he wants it.”
  • SS Jorge Mateo (No. 102): “(He) has top-of-the-scale 80 speed, has the tools to stick at shortstop, has surprising pop and was hanging with pitches three or four years older than him.”
  • 1B Greg Bird (No. 120): “Bird has plus power and good plate discipline, with some comparing him to a non-injury-prone Nick Johnson.”
  • LHP Ian Clarkin (No. 137): “His velocity has settled near the high end of where it was pre-draft and his above average to plus curveball is still the separator, with his changeup and command making good progress.”

2B Rob Refsnyder is the seventh prospect, but the bottom 58 players of the top 200 are not ranked and are instead listed as honorable mentions, basically. It’s kinda interesting McDaniel ranked Bird as the team’s third best prospect behind Severino and Lindgren last month, but now he’s fifth behind Severino, Judge, Lindgren, and Mateo. Eh, whatever.

I’m biased, so what the hell do I know, but I find it very hard to believe there are 200 prospects in the minors right now better than C Gary Sanchez. I get people are down on him, but a catcher with his arm and that much offensive upside is a pretty valuable prospect. Especially when they’ve had success at Double-A before their 22nd birthday. Not top 100? Okay. But not top 200? C’mon now.

Minor League Notes: Prospect Lists, Just Misses, Palmer

German. (Presswire)
German. (Presswire)

Got a whole bunch of miscellaneous minor league notes and links to pass along, most involving some sort of prospect ranking. Let’s get to it …

Baseball America’s updated top ten lists

Baseball America finished their annual series looking at the top ten prospects in each organization a week or two ago, but, as usual, there were several trades that threw a wrench in the rankings. Earlier this week they released updated top ten lists to reflect all the transactions that went down this offseason. The Yankees’ list is unchanged one through nine, but the recently acquired RHP Domingo German jumps into the tenth spot, bumping 3B Miguel Andujar down. German ranked sixth in the Marlins’ system before the trade, for what it’s worth.

Keith Law’s top ten prospects by position

Two weeks ago, Keith Law released his team top ten prospect lists and overall top 100 list. Last week he posted his top ten prospects by position (subs. req’d) and only two Yankees’ farmhands made the cut: 1B Greg Bird and OF Aaron Judge rank third among first baseman and outfielders, respectively. Bird is behind Mariners 1B D.J. Peterson and Mets 1B Dominic Smith, Judge is behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law’s really high on Judge, obviously. The most notable omissions are RHP Luis Severino, 2B Rob Refsnyder, and C Gary Sanchez, but I don’t think it is at all unreasonable to say those three are not among the ten best prospects at their positions right now.

MLB.com’s just missed prospects

MLB.com published their top 100 list and top ten prospects by position a few weeks ago, and both Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo followed by writing up their “just misses.” The guys who, well, just missed the top 100 and top ten by position lists. C Gary Sanchez just missed the top 100 (“Though he hasn’t lived up to his $3 million bonus yet, he still has big raw power and a bazooka arm and is only 22.”) and OF Aaron Judge just fell short of the outfield top ten (“There’s a lot more power in his 6-7 frame, too, though I like how he focused on just hitting. The power’s going to come and he fits the RF profile perfectly.”) So Law has Judge as the third best outfield prospect in the game and MLB.com has him outside the top ten. That’s ranking prospects for ya.

Top 100 prospects by ZiPS projections

This is sort of a goofy exercise but I found it interesting. Dan Szymborski ranked the top 100 prospects in baseball using his ZiPS system and their projected mean career WAR (subs. req’d). Needless to say, there are caveats abound with something like this. It’s not meant to be a hardcore analysis. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant sits in the top spot and is followed by Dodgers OF Joc Pederson and Indians SS Francisco Lindor. OF Aaron Judge (48th) and 1B Greg Bird (60th) both make the top 100. No Sanchez or Severino. Ex-Yankees farmhand C/1B Peter O’Brien ranks 99th, interestingly enough.

Palmer suspended 50 games

SS Tyler Palmer, who signed with the Yankees as an undrafted free agent last June, has been suspended 50 games after testing positive for amphetamines and a drug of abuse (second offense). The 22-year-old hit .255/.350/.431 (125 wRC+) in 52 games for the rookie GCL Yanks last year. Palmer was the No. 1 NAIA prospect heading into the draft, according to Baseball America. His back story is pretty interesting: Palmer was the Marlins’ fourth rounder out of high school in 2011 and was set to sign with the team for $600,000, but he suffered severe nerve damage to his throwing arm in a freak broken window accident days before signing the contract, so the Marlins withdrew the offer. Palmer rehabbed, mashed for a season in junior college even though he still hadn’t regained full use of his thumb, then needed another surgery that kept him out of baseball until the spring of 2013.

Yankees sign undrafted free agent Marzi

The Yankees have signed undrafted free agent left-hander Anthony Marzi, according to Dom Amore. Marzi pitched at UConn and had a 3.13 ERA in 299.1 innings across four years. His 217/96 K/BB doesn’t exactly stand out, however. “I couldn’t be happier with the way things worked out, and the organization I’m getting a chance with. I’ve been a Yankees fan all my life. My whole family are Yankees fans, and they’re seriously pumped up,” said Marzi to Amore. He figures to start the season as an extra arm with either Low-A Charleston or High-A Tampa.

Judge, Severino, Bird, Lindgren, Refsnyder headline Spring Training invitees list

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

Two weeks from tomorrow, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa for the start of Spring Training 2015. Baseball’s getting closer, folks. On Thursday, the Yankees officially announced their list of Spring Training invitees, a list that runs 66 (!) players deep.

As a reminder, everyone on the 40-man roster automatically goes to big league Spring Training, because duh. Here’s the 40-man roster and here are the 26 non-40-man roster players who have been invited to big league camp, which include some of the Yankees’ top prospects:

POSITION PLAYERS
C Francisco Arcia
C Trent Garrison
C Juan Graterol
C Kyle Higashioka
C Eddy Rodriguez
1B Greg Bird
1B Kyle Roller
IF Cito Culver
IF Cole Figueroa
IF Jonathan Galvez
IF Nick Noonan
IF Rob Refsnyder
OF Jake Cave
OF Slade Heathcott
OF Aaron Judge

PITCHERS
RHP Andrew Bailey
RHP Scott Baker
RHP Jose Campos
RHP Nick Goody
LHP Jacob Lindgren
RHP Diego Moreno
LHP James Pazos
RHP Wilking Rodriguez
RHP Nick Rumbelow
RHP Luis Severino
LHP Tyler Webb

Obviously the biggest names here are Judge, Bird, Severino, Refsnyder, and Lindgren, five of the team’s very best prospects. Lindgren, the Yankees’ top pick in last year’s draft, has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster. So does Refsnyder, but he has more bodies ahead of him on the depth chart. I can’t see any scenario in which Judge, Severino, or Bird make the roster out of camp.

Bailey has been rehabbing from shoulder capsule surgery for nearly two years now and appears to finally be healthy. Could he step in and close with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller working as setup men? Bailey has closer experience, you know. Graterol, Figueroa, Galvez, Noonan, Baker, and the two Rodriguezes were added a minor league free agents for depth this winter. The rest are farm system products. Guys looking to put themselves on the map for a midseason call-up.

Teams always need extra catchers to help catch all those early-Spring Training bullpen sessions, which is why the Yankees are bringing five non-roster backstops to camp in addition to the four catchers already on the 40-man roster. The last bullpen spot is up for grabs — it could be more than one if Adam Warren and/or Esmil Rogers are needed to help the rotation — so camp is a big opportunity for these pitchers, especially guys like Rumbelow, Webb, Goody, and Pazos, who aren’t top prospects.

Severino, Judge make MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s prospect season, and on Friday night, the gang at MLB.com released their top 100 prospects list for the 2015 season. Twins OF Byron Buxton sits in the top spot despite his injury plagued 2014 campaign, and is followed by Cubs 3B Kris Bryant and Astros SS Carlos Correa in the top three. The Yankees had two players in the top 100: RHP Luis Severino (No. 23) and OF Aaron Judge (No. 68).

“Severino has a loose, quick arm that makes up for his lack of physicality. It allows him to maintain a mid-90s fastball throughout his starts and reach a peak velocity of 99 mph,” said the write-up. “Severino’s fading changeup gives him a second plus pitch, and he’s not afraid to throw it. His slider is more of a work in progress but should become at least an average third offering.” The MLB.com crew says they believe Severino can remain a starter long-term, for what it’s worth. There’s a healthy debate about that.

MLB.com calls Judge “one of the most physically imposing prospects in baseball” thanks to his 6-foot-7, 230 lb. frame. “He has huge raw power, though he’s content for now to use a shorter stroke and the entire field, working counts and producing line drives,” says the write-up. “A more advanced hitter than expected, he currently projects to bat .275 with 20-25 homers per season but could produce more power (and hit for less average) if he becomes more aggressive and turns on more pitches.” Again, Judge’s biggest flaw is that he hasn’t yet learned how to fully tap into his power potential.

In addition to the top 100, MLB.com also released top ten prospects lists for each position. Severino ranks seventh among right-handed pitchers, 1B Greg Bird ranks third among first basemen, and 2B Rob Refsnyder ranks seventh among second basemen. Judge didn’t make the deep outfield group and C Gary Sanchez fell short on the catcher’s list. Others like C Luis Torrens, 3B Miguel Andujar, 3B Eric Jagielo, RHP Domingo German, and LHP Ian Clarkin are good prospects, but not yet top ten at their position.

As always, MLB.com’s rankings are free, and they include full scouting reports and tools grades on the 20-80 scale. Their rankings are always a little off the beaten path — they seem to be more performance-based than anything — but it’s a great resource either way. Everything’s free and all in one place. In the coming weeks MLB.com will release top 30 prospects lists for each team — their lists used to only run 20 players deep, so they added an extra ten this year — though specific dates are not set yet.

Aaron Judge tops Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects

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

One day after releasing his top 100 prospects list, Keith Law published his top ten prospects for each team on Friday. Here is the index and here is the Yankees list. The individual team lists are Insider only. Here is New York’s top ten:

  1. OF Aaron Judge (No. 23 on the top 100)
  2. 1B Greg Bird (No. 80 on the top 100)
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. RHP Luis Severino
  5. OF Tyler Austin
  6. SS Jorge Mateo
  7. RHP Domingo German
  8. LHP Ian Clarkin
  9. C Luis Torrens
  10. 3B Eric Jagielo

Also, based on the write-up, we know 2B Rob Refsnyder, 3B Miguel Andujar, LHP Jacob Lindgren, SS Tyler Wade, RHP Brady Lail, and RHP Ty Hensley are prospects 11-16. Law is lower on Severino and higher on Austin than most, but otherwise the top ten (top 16, really) seems pretty straight forward. No major surprises. You could argue someone should be a spot higher or whatever, but it’s not worth it.

With Stephen Drew in Refsnyder’s way at second base, Law lists Lindgren as the mostly likely prospect to have an impact in 2015. OF Mason Williams is the “fallen” prospect, the guy who was once one of the best in the game but is now an afterthought. Law’s sleeper for the Yankees is Mateo, who he says is “so well-regarded in the industry that other teams have already targeted him in trade talks.” He adds that Mateo has “tremendous tools, is an 80 runner and plus fielder who shows above-average raw power in BP.”

The Yankees have a very position player heavy farm system right now — seven of Law’s top ten and nine of his top 12 are position players — and that’s a good thing because quality position players are hard to find these days. Even better, several of those position players will be at Double-A or higher this coming season, including Judge, Bird, Sanchez, Austin, Jagielo, and Refsnyder. There’s a clear path for some of those guys to get MLB at-bats in the next year or two, and the team’s apparent commitment to getting younger means they’re going to get a chance. That’s exciting.