Minors Notes: Top Ten, Murphy, DePaula, Jagielo

DePaula. (David Schofield/Lakewood Blue Claws)
DePaula. (David Schofield/Lakewood Blue Claws)

These last few years I’ve posted my annual Preseason Top 30 Prospects List the Friday before pitchers and catchers report, which would be this coming Friday. I’m going to be out of town these next few days though, so I’m going to push the Top 30 back to next Thursday, the day before pitchers and catchers are supposed to show up to Tampa. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then:

  • Marc Hulet at FanGraphs posted his list of the top ten Yankees prospects today. C Gary Sanchez sits in the top spot (duh) and then the usual suspects fill out the next nine slots. I really feel like you could put those nine guys in almost any order and it would be defensible. There isn’t much separation there.
  • Keith Law (Insider req’d) posted a list of ten players who just missed his top 100 list last week, and C J.R. Murphy is one of the ten. Law says he “looks like a solid-average everyday catcher, probably not more, but not a whole lot less. His game management skills are exceptional, from game-calling to reading hitters to understanding situations.”
  • MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, meanwhile, posted some players who missed their top 100 list this year but could make the jump in the future. RHP Rafael DePaula is one of those guys, and Mayo says he “has the chance to have three average or better pitches and could start moving fast.”
  • Baseball America’s Ben Balder reports that the Yankees spent $2.45M on international players during the 2013 calendar year, seventh lowest in baseball. That’s a function of the spending restrictions more than anything. Note that the $2.45M spans two signing periods (2012-13 and 2013-14), so it doesn’t tell us how close they are to their 2013-14 pool.
  • In another FanGraphs piece, David Laurila interviewed Murphy about his development as a catcher. “I was not very good when I was drafted. I’ve come a long way,” he said. Murphy also talked about learning to call a game and his approach as a hitter.
  • Danny Wild at MLB.com interviewed 3B Eric Jagielo, the first of the Yankees’ three first round picks in last summer’s draft. It’s a pretty generic Q&A, though Jagielo did talk about what he learned from a rehabbing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in Tampa last year.
  • Here’s a fun Sporcle quiz: name every Yankees prospect to make Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list over the years. I got 72 of 93 and didn’t miss anyone obvious. Not sure I would have gotten the last 21 with unlimited time.
  • And lastly, Triple-A Scranton is holding a fun promotion this summer. Donnie Collins says August 8th will be “What If Night,” when they will play as the Trolley Frogs instead of the RailRiders. Trolley Frogs inexcusably lost a fan vote to Railriders when the team was renamed prior to last season.
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Keith Law’s top 11 Yankees prospects

Clarkin and Judge. (AP)
Clarkin and Judge. (AP)

One day after posting his top 100 prospects list and two days after posting his organizational rankings, Keith Law released his top ten prospects lists for each of the 15 AL clubs today (East, Central, West, subs. req’d). The NL will be released tomorrow, if you care. Here are the Yankees’ top 11, according to KLaw:

  1. C Gary Sanchez (68th on the top 100)
  2. OF Tyler Austin (85th)
  3. OF Mason Williams (87th)
  4. C J.R. Murphy
  5. OF Slade Heathcott
  6. OF Aaron Judge
  7. LHP Ian Clarkin
  8. 3B Eric Jagielo
  9. RHP Luis Severino
  10. 1B Greg Bird
  11. RHP Jose Ramirez (Law said he is #11 in the write-up)

Judge is mentioned as a breakout candidate (video link) who could jump not just into the top 100 next year, but into the top 25 with a strong season.

In his write-up, Law says Murphy is “going to be an every-day catcher for somebody” while Bird’s “patience/power game could make him a second-division regular down the road.” Severino might not stick as a starter long-term but his “three-pitch mix might be three pluses out of the pen, and it’s a grade-65 or 70 fastball [on the 20-80 scale] even in the rotation.” Law also quotes a scout who said Heathcott is “legitimately a crazy person,” which is kinda funny. The kid always seems to have his dial set to 11.

“The Yankees have to be excited about Venezuelan catcher Luis Torrens, whom they signed for $1.3 million in July 2012,” added Law, picking Torrens as the organization’s sleeper prospect. “A new convert to catching, Torrens took to it extremely well, with plus hands and plus defense overall, with a good swing and feel at the plate, only lacking power but likely hitting for average with good OBP when he develops.”

Sanchez is the clear top prospect in the organization right now. I’m not sure anyone will disagree with that. After him though, there really isn’t much separation between the guys Law has ranked from two through about eight. You can rank those players in almost any order and it would be tough the argue. Either way, the Yankees need better results from their minor league system and that starts with rebound seasons from guys like Austin and Williams. Both will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter, so hopefully that 40-man roster spot serves as a nice carrot this summer.

Sherman: Yankees sign J.R. Murphy to one-year contract for 2014

Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees have signed catcher J.R. Murphy to a one-year contract worth $502,700 at the MLB level. I assume it’s a split contract that will pay him a lower salary in the minors, which is typical for players in their pre-arbitration years. The league minimum is an even $500,000 this coming season.

Murphy, 22, hit .269/.347/.426 (~117 wRC+) with 12 homers in 468 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A last season. He made his big league debut in September but is expected to return to Triple-A Scranton to open 2014. Murphy still has all six years of team control remaining and can not become a free agent until after the 2019 season at the earliest. The Yankees have 20 unsigned pre-arb players remaining, but they’ll all get done very soon and chances are most of those deals won’t even be made public.

Minors Notes: Heathcott, Hensley, Banuelos

Heathcott before he ran into something, I assume. (Presswire)
Heathcott before he ran into something, most likely. (Presswire)

Pitchers and catchers are not due to report for another 27 days, but pre-spring workouts are already underway at the team’s minor league complex in Tampa. Based on their Twitter feeds, a whole bunch of prospects are already in Florida preparing for the upcoming season. Here are some minor league notes courtesy of Chad Jennings. These are the major points, so make sure you click the link for all the info.

  • OF Slade Heathcott had minor knee surgery earlier this offseason and may not be ready for the start of Spring Training. It has not yet been decided if he will return to Double-A Trenton or move up to Triple-A Scranton this year.
  • Two of last year’s first rounders, 3B Eric Jagielo and OF Aaron Judge, could start the year with High-A Tampa or Low-A Charleston. No decision has been made yet. 2B Gosuke Katoh will be held back in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island in June.
  • RHP Ty Hensley (hips) and LHP Manny Banuelos (elbow) are both healthy and ready for Spring Training. They were on normal throwing programs this winter. It is undecided where Hensley and LHP Ian Clarkin will open the season.
  • C J.R. Murphy is staying behind the plate and will not see time at third base this year. “He’s a high caliber defender at a premium position … he’s turned out to be a very good catcher,” said VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman.
  • OF Tyler Austin, meanwhile, will spend time at both infield corners in addition to his usual right field this season. “We’re going to maintain some of that flexibility with him,” said Newman.
  • C/3B Peter O’Brien is considered a catcher and will remain there. He played third base quite a bit last year, but that was experiment that didn’t really work.
  • All of the minor league affiliates announced their coaching staffs in recent weeks. Rather than repeat them all here, I’ll just link you to the press releases: Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, Low-A. If you’ve been following the farm system long enough, some names will be familiar. Lots of ex-prospects are coaches now.

Mailbag: 2013 Luxury Tax, Prospects, Murphy

I’ve been milking the mailbag teet during the holidays, but posting will be back to normal next week. This week’s (final) mailbag is eight friggin’ questions long. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything and everything.

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

Shane asks: Recently, a report came out saying that the Yankees can dip under $189M midseason. It only matters where you finish. Would this method work in 2013? I know the luxury tax was in the $175M range but who could they have traded to dip below the $175M in 2013? Would this be at all possible by trading Curtis Granderson and Hiroki Kuroda and not trading for Alfonso Soriano? How close could they have gotten to that number?

Joel Sherman wrote an article earlier this week suggesting the Yankees could conduct a sell-off this summer if they’re not contending in an effort to get under $189M, but that would really surprise me. They didn’t spend $300M+ this winter (and counting) to hold a midseason fire sale. Sherman seems really hell-bent on the whole $189M idea.

Anyway, the Yankees finished last season with a $234,227,890 payroll for luxury tax purposes, so getting under the $178M threshold would have meant selling off at least $56,227,890 (!) worth of players in season. That seems damn near impossible, but let’s look anyway. To make the math easy, let’s assume the firesale happened at the exact midpoint of the season. Here’s what they would have had to do to get under the luxury tax threshold:

Add all of that up and they would have saved … $40.88M. Still another $16M or so to go, not counting the salaries they would have had to pay to replace all the players they traded, which would add up to a few million even if the replacements were earning the minimum. I guess they could have traded Andy Pettitte ($6M saved) and Mariano Rivera ($5M saved), but even that would have left them short. Same deal with trading CC Sabathia ($12.2M saved) or Mark Teixeira ($11.25M saved), but moving those two would have been very hard because they stunk and were hurt, respectively. Plus they have no-trade clauses. I don’t see any way the Yankees could have realistically gotten under the $178M luxury tax threshold in 2013 through a midseason firesale.

Cameron asks: Managers and coaches sign contracts like players, but when a coach underperforms we always see them get fired in the middle of a contract. However, when a player underperforms or becomes an issue (obviously the extreme example being Alex Rodriguez), they never get “fired” or let go. The team just has to deal with it or try to trade them. Is there a difference in the contracts that doesn’t allow that? Do teams still have to pay the remainder of a manager’s salary when they get fired?

Well, I suppose releasing or designating a player for assignment is like firing them, and that happens all the time. Obviously cutting ties with a lower salary player is easier to swallow, and the same is true of managers or coaches. And yes, teams absolutely still have to pay managers and coaches if they’re fired in the middle of the contract. The only real exception is if the guy leaves for a pormotion — the Yankees don’t have to pay ex-bullpen coach Mike Harkey after he left to become the Diamondbacks’ pitching coach, for example. That’s a mutually agreed upon thing.

Travis asks: Just thinking outside the box, I’m sure he has never played there before, but could Carlos Beltran be cross-trained at first base to help alleviate some position issues and create more roster flexibility?

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Sure, it’s possible, but I think first base is tougher than most people realize. Whenever I think about moving a player to first late in their career, I always remember Gary Sheffield looking like he had never played baseball in his life when the Yankees stuck him there in late 2006. Teixeira still has three years on his contract and I assume Brian McCann will put in some side work at first base, but if he’s up for it, there’s no reason not to have Beltran take ground balls and learn the position. I would be surprised if he was still an outfielder in the final year of his three year contract, so having first base as a possibility would unclog that seemingly inevitable DH logjam.

Jeff asks: Looking back on Cano’s time with the Yankees made me remember that he kind of came out of nowhere without a lot of hype. Do you see anyone in the Yankees system flying under the radar right now or could have a breakout year? Will we ever see anyone emerge and have success like Cano and Chien-Ming Wang did or do we know too much about the team’s system?

Nova fits into this category as well. Heck, I don’t think I ever ranked him on one of my Preseason Top 30 lists. As long as Major League Baseball is being played, there will be guys who come out of nowhere to be big contributors*. Some of them will even be Yankees. Baseball is weird like that.

* To be fair, Cano and Wang were well regarded prospects. The Yankees didn’t give Wang a $1.9M signing bonus back in the day out of the kindness of their hearts. Both guys simply became better big leaguers than expected, Cano especially.

Among the guys in the system now, I think Peter O’Brien and Rob Refnsyder have a good chance of exceeding expectations. O’Brien’s power is legit and Refsnyder is one of those major college program “he just knows how to hit” players. Guys with power and guys who consistently put up strong offensive numbers tends to get plenty of chances. Among the arms … maybe Daniel Camarena? I’ve always liked him and command lefties with a good changeup seem to stick around forever as long as they’re healthy.

Dave asks: There’s been a lot of talk of the Yankees’ lack of a third baseman. I feel like people seem to have forgotten that J.R. Murphy was once a catcher/third baseman a few years back. Do you think there’s a chance the Yanks move him back there now that McCann is the catcher going forward and hope that he (Murphy) can become an offensive-minded infielder?

There was talk about moving Tyler Austin from right field and back to third base at this time last year, but unlike Murphy, that was a move up a defensive spectrum that would have improved Austin’s value. Moving Murphy out from behind the plate fills a more pressing need but makes him less valuable overall. Murphy has reportedly made a lot of progress defensively and he’s now seen as a lock to remain at the position long-term. His bat really came around last year as well. There is always a need for quality catchers and I’d keep Murphy behind the plate. If nothing else, he’s more valuable in a trade that way.

Anthony asks: Even though he was offered less total money, Shin-Soo Choo will earn more in Texas than he would in New York because of the income tax. For the Yankees to guarantee him equivalent earnings, they would have had to raise the value of their initial offer, thus incurring a larger hit against the luxury tax/payroll cap if the contract was agreed upon. Doesn’t this seem a bit unfair for teams living in states with an income tax? Will MLB do anything about it?

Well, the team makes a conscious decision to be over the threshold and pay the luxury tax, so that’s not MLB’s problem. I don’t know if they still do it (I assume they do), but I know at one point MLB cut checks to the Blue Jays each year to make up for the difference in exchange rate. That’s a unique situation though.

I don’t think MLB will or should do anything about the income tax situation. It’s just one of those things that comes with having teams all around the country. Should MLB step in because the weather in San Diego has helped the Padres sign some players over the years? What about all the guys who come to New York because they think they can get better endorsement deals? The income tax situation is unfortunate for the Yankees but they have their own market advantages as well. MLB should stay the hell out of government matters, it’s not their place (cough cough).

Huff. (Presswire)
Huff. (Presswire)

Anonymous asks: Who has better chance being on big league roster come Opening Day, David Huff or Cesar Cabral?

This is weird, because I think Huff is both more in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot but also more likely to be on the Opening Day roster than Cabral. He’s out of minor league options and if he’s still around in camp, his September work last year could give him a leg up on the second lefty/swingman role. Cabral can go to Triple-A without a problem and sometimes that work against a guy. Make sense? Either way, I’m certain we’ll see Cabral on the team at some point in 2014.

Jamie asks: Asked a question about the differences in WAR on various sites two weeks ago. With that being said, if you had to pick two numbers for a position player (offense and defense — OPS+, WAR, UZR, etc.) and one for a pitcher (ERA+, WAR, etc) that best rated their value, which would it be and why?

WAR, particularly bWAR, is the easy answer for pitchers. It is based on actual runs allowed (not theoretical runs allowed/FIP like fWAR) with adjustments for ballpark, league, team defense, etc. If I can only pick one stat for hurlers, that would be it.

On the position player side, I’d go with wRC+ and DRS. I don’t love UZR and Total Zone, which basically eliminates fWAR and bWAR. I’d want an adjusted-for-pretty-much-everything offensive stat, hence wRC+, and I prefer DRS to the other defensive stats. In a perfect world, I’d have access to all of them. But since I’m limited to one, DRS it is. Ultimately, the best way to evaluate a player is to look at everything, every stat plus scouting reports plus the eye test. The more information, the better.

2013 Winter Meetings Day Two Open Thread

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By Winter Meetings standards, Monday was pretty slow. Most of the top free agents have signed already, and until we get some resolution regarding Masahiro Tanaka, the pitching market will remain relatively quiet. The Yankees are still looking for a starter even after re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, plus they need some bullpen help and either a second or third baseman. Oh, and general depth. That’s always necessary.

Here are yesterday’s Yankees-related rumors. The most notable thing we learned is that New York’s asking price for Brett Gardner is “through (the) roof” while rival executives think he’ll fetch a number three starter at best. His value is greater to the Yankees than it is anyone else, really. We’ll keep track of the day’s rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All times at ET.

  • 9:18am: The Yankees want to import two relievers and they’ve been discussing Joaquin Benoit internally. Matt looked at him earlier today. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 5:46pm: The Yankees have not yet shown much interest in left-hander Paul Maholm as a back of the rotation stopgap. [McCullough]
  • 5:39pm: Unsurprisingly, Ichiro has a “limited trade market, maybe very limited.” The Yankees want to move him and keep Gardner. [Heyman]
  • 3:00pm: The Yankees are one of three teams to inquire about Dustin Ackley. He’s a buy-low second base candidate. Like the idea but not sure how salvageable he is. [Jon Heyman]
  • 2:08pm: “Signing one might be easier than trading for one,” said Cashman, referring to the market for starting pitchers. Not surprising given the team’s trade chips. [Chad Jennings]
  • 1:57pm: Cashman confirmed other teams have inquired about Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy, and Ivan Nova in addition to Gardner and others. [Andy McCullough]
  • 1:49pm: “I have thrown a lot of trade proposals out there, as well as conversations with free agents,” said Cashman while adding he’s unsure if these talks will actually lead to anything. [Barbarisi]
  • 1:38pm: The Yankees have not had any trade talks about their spare outfielders (i.e. Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki) with the Giants. [John Shea]
  • 1:28pm: Brian Cashman called Kevin Youkilis‘ agent to gauge his interest in returning, but Youkilis wants to play closer to his home in California. Funny, I want him to do that too. [Jack Curry]
  • 12:17pm: The Yankees do have interest in re-signing Mark Reynolds. Alfonso Soriano is the team’s only right-handed power hitter, so Reynolds would fit in a limited role. [David Waldstein]
  • 11:52am: The Yankees and others have interest in Danny Espinosa, but the Nationals are balking at moving him right now. I looked at him as a buy-low target back in August. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 11:45am: There is nothing going on between the Yankees and Mets about Daniel Murphy at the moment. I looked at him as a potential trade target last month. [Andrew Marchand]
  • 8:24am: The Yankees are “very much interested” in Michael Young and have also checked in on Juan Uribe, Eric Chavez, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Talks with Garza and Ubaldo are not serious. [Erik Boland & Steven Marcus]
  • The Yankees did contact the Reds about Homer Bailey. It’s unclear what they were offering or what Cincinnati was seeking in return. Gardner makes an awful lot of sense here. Two underrated players both one year away from free agency and the Reds needs a leadoff man/center fielder. [Dan Barbarisi]
  • Other clubs do not think highly of New York’s outfield prospects and that limits their ability to make trades. “The Yankees have no upper-level talent,” said a Cubs official after the Yankees asked about Jeff Samardzija. [Joel Sherman]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Baseball America’s Top Ten Yankees Prospects

Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)
Sanchez. (Star-Ledger)

Baseball America published their list of the top ten Yankees prospects today, and the list is free for all. The scouting reports, however, are not. You’ll need a subscription to read them. The name atop the list won’t be a surprise, but things are pretty wide open after that. They could have gone in any number of directions. Here’s the top ten:

  1. C Gary Sanchez
  2. OF Slade Heathcott
  3. OF Mason Williams
  4. C J.R. Murphy
  5. 3B Eric Jagielo
  6. OF Aaron Judge
  7. LHP Ian Clarkin
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. RHP Luis Severino
  10. 2B Gosuke Katoh

The feature also includes a list of the organization’s top 15 players under the age of 25 and none of the 15 are big leaguers. Can’t say I’m surprised. Those ten guys up there are the top ten and are followed (in order) by LHP Manny Banuelos, SS Abi Avelino, RHP Jose Ramirez, RHP Jose Campos, and RHP Rafael DePaula. I suspect those guys will be prospects 11-15 when the Prospect Handbook comes out in a few weeks. The notable omission is OF Tyler Austin, who had an okay year but dealt with injury problems, specifically a bone bruise in his right wrist. It forced him from the Arizona Fall League after only four games. His stock took a hit this summer.

Heathcott. (Presswire)
Heathcott. (Presswire)

Sanchez, who has “effortless, well-above-average raw power and an above-average hit tool,” is an easy call for the top spot, especially now that his defense has improved. After him? I don’t see how there could be a consensus. I think it’s somewhat interesting that the top three prospects all have some kind of makeup concern — Sanchez was suspended for insubordination in 2011, Heathcott has had drug an alcohol problems, Williams was arrested for DUI earlier this year and has had run-ins with coaches — despite the team’s renewed emphasis on character. In the end, talent always reigns supreme. Can’t teach it.

A few things from the write-ups stand out. Williams “adopted an Ichiro-style slapping approach” this year and didn’t show the same tools as he had last year. Like Austin, he took a step back. The Yankees project Murphy as a “potential future .280 hitter with 10-12 homer power” while Sanchez is regarded as more of a “.260-.270 hitter with at least 20 home runs annually.” Both profiles fit just fine behind the plate. As for Bird, “some scouts and SAL managers questioned his future power” despite his awesome year. The plate discipline and everything else is fine, but low-power first baseman aren’t exactly a hot commodity. Severino is said to have “raw stuff that is as good as any Yankees farmhand” with a fastball that “sits between 93-95 mph and touches the upper 90s often.” His slider was his best secondary pitch when he signed but his changeup has since surpassed it. Neat.

Heathcott and Murphy are the only players in the top ten slated to open next season with Triple-A Scranton, and I suppose there’s a chance Heathcott will be sent back to Double-A Trenton to start the year. That’s unlikely though. The Yankees didn’t have any big league ready help this past season and for the most part, that will be the case again in 2014. Their farm system took a slight step back overall but not as big as it would have been without those three first rounders. The team needed to add some impact talent and it did with that draft. Most of their highest ceiling prospects are in the low minors — the short season leagues — and will need time to develop.