Yanks add Severino, five others as first round of call-ups

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

The Yankees added six players to the active roster today as their first round of September call-ups, the team announced. The six players: Luis Severino, Nick Goody, Rob Refsnyder, Kirby Yates, Eric Young Jr., and Jonathan Holder. It’s safe to assume all six will be with the team and available for tonight’s series opener against the Orioles.

Severino, Goody, Refsnyder, and Yates were expected to come up. They’ve all gone up-and-down a few times this season and those guys are typically among the first ones called up when rosters expand. Severino is going to pitch in relief and chances are he’ll assume a prominent late-inning role right away. He was in the Triple-A Scranton rotation, so he’s good for three or four innings at a time, if necessary.

Holder is the most interesting call-up. Earlier this week it was reported the Yankees would not call anyone up before they are Rule 5 Draft eligible, which Holder is not. They have a massive 40-man roster crunch coming after the season, and adding Holder before it was necessary would further clog things up. Brian Cashman told Joel Sherman he decide to call Holder up because he gives the team the best chance to win.

“I changed my mind,” said the GM. “I wrestled back and forth with it, but the bottom line is we are 2.5 out with a month to go and (Holder) is better than some guys we have already promoted. He’s earned the right to be here. It was a roster issue that he wasn’t coming. But this will get his feet wet. He will get some exposure and we will find out what he is capable of.”

Young was acquired earlier this week to serve as the designated pinch-runner. The only time we’ll see Young play the field or hit is in the late innings of blowouts. Both Young and Holder had to be added to the 40-man roster. One takes Ben Gamel‘s spot, and to clear the other, Nick Rumbelow was recalled from Triple-A and placed on the 60-day DL. He’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Not sure why they didn’t just transfer Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL. Whatevs.

Right now the only healthy players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues are Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, J.R. Graham, Bryan Mitchell, James Pazos, and Mason Williams. Mitchell, Pazos, and Williams all missed significant time with injury this season, so they’ll remain in Triple-A and continue to get regular playing time. I’m sure most of these guys will be called up later this month.

Sherman: Yankees not planning to call up any prospects before they’re Rule 5 Draft eligible

Frazier. (@Kelsie_Heneghan)
Frazier. (@Kelsie_Heneghan)

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees are not planning to call up any prospects this week who are a year away from Rule 5 Draft eligibility. This applies mostly to two players: outfielder Clint Frazier and righty reliever Jonathan Holder. It also applies to guys like Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams.

Rosters expand tomorrow and right now we know with near certainty Luis Severino will be among the first wave of call-ups. I’d expect other prominent shuttle riders to come up this week as well, namely Nick Goody and Rob Refsnyder. There will be many more additions in September too. Don’t worry. Anyway, I have some quick thoughts on this.

1. The Yankees are facing a severe 40-man roster crunch this offseason. The Yankees got a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection by calling up Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, and Ben Heller earlier this month. Other notable prospects like Jorge Mateo and Miguel Andujar are Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter, ditto countless other second and third tier prospects.

When I wrote our September call-up preview, I said I think the Yankees will protect five more prospects after the season: Mateo, Andujar, Dietrich Enns, Tyler Webb, and Kyle Higashioka. On top of that, the Yankees will need to clear four 40-man spots for 60-day DL players the day after the World Series ends: Greg Bird, Branden Pinder, Conor Mullee, and Dustin Ackley. Chances are Nathan Eovaldi will land on the 60-day DL soon enough too.

Based on all of that, the Yankees will need to clear ten 40-man spots after the season, assuming Eovaldi finds himself on the 60-day DL. They only have one impending free agent too: Mark Teixeira. That’s it. Nine guys are losing their 40-man spots after the season. Nine! Some are obvious (Anthony Swarzak, J.R. Graham, Blake Parker, Richard Bleier, etc.) but many of them won’t be. The Yankees are going to have some tough decisions to make*.

* My guess is the Yankees will get a head start on non-tendering Eovaldi and Ackley by releasing them the day after the end of the World Series to clear 40-man space. They won’t have the luxury of waiting until the December 2nd tender deadline. That’s still only two extra spots.

Point is, the Yankees don’t have the luxury of adding players like Holder and Frazier to the 40-man early. Roster spots are going to be at a premium. (It would also unnecessarily burn an option, unless they both make the 2017 Opening Day roster.) I know we all want to see prospects in September. Who doesn’t? But the Yankees have to think big picture here. Roster spots are finite resource. They can’t call up the prospect flavor of the week just because.

2. The Holder hype is getting a little out of control. Earlier this week Holder turned in one of the most dominant pitching performances I’ve seen in all my time following the minors. He struck out 12 of 13 batters faced en route to a four-out postseason berth clinching save with Triple-A Scranton. It was incredible. Sheer dominance.

Holder has had a phenomenal season this year, pitching to a 1.65 ERA (1.30 FIP) in 65.1 innings while climbing from High-A to Triple-A. He’s struck out 101 and walked only seven. That works out to a 42.4 K% and 2.9 BB%. Insanity. Holder’s been as good as any reliever in the minors this season, and because of that, he’s viewed as a potential late-inning option in the near future.

While I’m certain Holder will get a big league opportunity soon, likely early next year, I think maybe he’s getting a little too much prospect love thanks to his minor league numbers. Holder’s a 92-94 mph fastball guy with a good but occasionally loopy curveball. He thrives by getting minor league batters to chase heaters up and out of the zone, as you can see in the video of his eleven straight strikeouts.

I’m not sure how well that strategy will work in the show, because big leaguers will do a better job laying off those pitches than minor leaguers. That said, Holder is still a quality relief prospect and the Yankees should be happy to have him. I just feel that, on the team’s righty relief prospect depth chart, Holder definitely falls behind Heller, and also Goody, Johnny Barbato, and even healthy Nick Rumbelow as well. Goody has a much better breaking ball and his minor league numbers are off the charts too (40.2 K% and 4.6 BB% in Triple-A in 2016).

It seems like every season we fall in love with a different minor league reliever who is carving up two or three levels. I could be completely wrong about Holder. Maybe he is a future relief ace. I was dead wrong about David Robertson, after all. (I thought his minor league control issues would keep him out of high-leverage work.) I’m just always skeptical of dominant minor league bullpeners. These guys are all over the place.

3. The Frazier hypothetical sure is fun. Frazier is currently on the Triple-A DL with a hamstring problem and isn’t a call-up candidate right now anyway. Also, he hasn’t exactly torn up Triple-A. He’s hitting only .229/.282/.375 (85 wRC+) since the trade and .231/.274/.368 (80 wRC+) in 29 Triple-A games overall. Frazier hasn’t forced the issue. He’s a top prospect because his tools are off the charts, not because his numbers are good.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the Yankees would have gone all-in on youth and called up Frazier in September had be been performing better in Triple-A. They could have stuck him in left field everyday and taken playing time away from Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury the same way they’ve taken playing time away from Teixeira and Brian McCann. Gary Sanchez has been a smashing success and Judge has had his moments too. Frazier is a potential impact bat who might have helped. Fun hypothetical, I think.

Sorting through the Yankees’ long list of September call-up candidates

No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)
No Al this September. Only Ref. (Greg Fiume/Getty)

One week from tomorrow all 30 clubs will be able to expand their active rosters and carry up to 40 players. Most clubs carry fewer than 40 players once rosters expand, and that’s their choice. Roster size is not an unfair advantage if one team calls up ten extra players and another only calls up three. That’s long been a pet peeve of mine, calling September call-ups unfair. As long as everyone plays by the same rules, it’s fair.

Anyway, the Yankees have been one of the most aggressive teams when it comes to expanding their roster in recent Septembers. Last season they called up eight players on September 1st. Eight! I’m not sure we’ll see a first wave of call-ups that large again, but you can be sure the Yankees will add some extra arms and position players on the first day possible. They always do and there’s no reason not to. Let’s run down this year’s September call-up candidates.

The Locks

Generally speaking, the first wave of call-ups are players who have been up-and-down a bunch of times throughout the season and are still on the 40-man roster. That means Nick Goody, Richard Bleier, Chasen Shreve, and Rob Refsnyder are safe bets to come up on September 1st. Ditto Ben Gamel, though he hasn’t spent as much time on the big league roster this year as those other guys.

The Yankees are already carrying three catchers, so those five guys above may be the only players called up right away on September 1st. That would give the Yankees three extra bullpen arms — Bleier is working out of the Triple-A Scranton rotation at the moment, so he’d give the club a long man, which they lack right now — plus an extra infielder and an extra outfielder. That covers all the bases on the first day of expanded rosters.

The Maybes

By maybes, I mean players who may not be called up right away on September 1st. They’ll have to wait a few extra days or weeks for whatever reason, usually because the Yankees want them to work on things in Triple-A. This group of players includes Johnny Barbato, Ben Heller, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Mason Williams. All five of those guys are on the 40-man roster. Here’s why they’re a maybe and not a lock for an instant September 1st call-up:

  • Barbato: Barbato started the season in the big league bullpen but has spent much of the year in Triple-A, where his control has been an issue. He was up briefly earlier this month and did not retire any of the four batters he faced. The Yankees could keep Barbato down a little longer so he can continue to working on his location.
  • Heller: Acquired in the Andrew Miller trade, Heller was actually up with the Yankees for a few days earlier this month, though he did not appear in a game. Heller has pitched well and is fairly new to Triple-A, though as a reliever, that’s not a big deal. I think the odds are better than 50/50 that he will be called up on September 1st, but it’s definitely not set in stone.
  • Mitchell: Blah. Mitchell pitched so well in Spring Training and looked poised to assume a big role in the bullpen, then he broke his toe covering first base and has missed pretty much the entire season. Mitchell is on a rehab assignment right now, and while that might be enough to get him ready for game action, the Yankees could send him to Triple-A for more consistent work rather than let him sit in the bullpen unused for long stretches of time.
  • Severino: No, I don’t think Severino is a lock for a September 1st call-up. The Yankees sent him to Triple-A with clear instructions to work on his changeup and so far he’s made one start since being sent down. He’ll make two more before September 1st. Hey, maybe that’s enough to make the team believe Severino trusts and will use his changeup, but I’m not sure I buy it. He might be down there a little while longer.
  • Williams: Williams missed most of the first half of the season following shoulder surgery, though he did return about a month ago and has been playing regularly. More time in Triple-A to make up for the lost at-bats seems like a smart move. Williams won’t get at-bats sitting on the MLB bench. Remember, the Yankees kept Slade Heathcott down much of September last year so he could play everyday following his quad injury. Doing the same with Williams makes sense.

Triple-A Scranton has the best record in all of Triple-A baseball and will clinch a postseason spot fairly soon. Likely before the end of the weekend. That means extra at-bats for Williams and extra starts for Severino and Mitchell. Those playoff games are valuable. They give Severino time to work on his changeup and Williams and Mitchell a chance to play following their injuries. Those guys don’t figure to play much in the big leagues if they get called up on September 1st. Keeping them down is an opportunity to continue their development.

The Rule 5 Draft Guys

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

The Yankees have already gotten a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection work by calling up Heller, Tyler Austin, and Aaron Judge. They still have many other players who need to be protected, but remember, those decisions don’t have to be finalized until late-November. Calling a player up in September isn’t necessary to avoid the Rule 5 Draft. Teams will sometimes call players up in September if they’re planning to add them to the 40-man after the season, just get their feet wet in the show.

We can drop the Rule 5 Draft eligible players into three buckets: definitely going to be protected, possibly going to be protected, and not going to be protected. Usually only the “definitely going to be protected” guys get the early September call-up, and even then it’s not a given. Space on the 40-man roster can get tight. Let’s go ahead and drop the Rule 5 eligible players into those three buckets:

* Higashioka and Culver are not only Rule 5 Draft eligible, they’ll become minor league free agents after the season if they aren’t added to the 40-man roster.

My hunch is the Yankees will protect Higashioka, Enns, and Webb in addition to Andujar and Mateo after the season. That means Cave, Gallegos, Lail, and everyone else will be left exposed. Cave was a Rule 5 Draft pick last year, and if he gets popped again, he’ll be able to elect free agency rather than come back to the Yankees if he doesn’t stick. I don’t think that’s reason enough to keep him. Not with Gamel and Williams already on the 40-man.

Okay, so with that in mind, the question now becomes: why should these players be called up in September? Mateo’s speed could allow him to be the pinch-runner specialist. Then again, he was suspended for violating team rules not that long ago, and would the Yankees really reward him with a September call-up after that? Eh. I see no reason whatsoever to call up Andujar or Higashioka. Fourth string catchers and third basemen are not necessary. Those guys can wait until the offseason to be added to the 40-man roster.

That leaves Enns and Webb, two lefty pitchers. There’s always room for more pitching in September, so call-ups are possible, and in fact I think they’ll happen. Maybe not until after the Triple-A postseason, but eventually. Webb’s a pure reliever who could audition for a 2017 bullpen spot a la Phil Coke in September 2008. Enns has starter stuff and it I’m interested to see whether the Yankees give him a start in September. (Probably not.) I’m sure they’re looking forward to using a sixth starter on occasion next month, though Severino may be next on the depth chart.

Webb. (Presswire)
Webb. (Presswire)

The Others

Who are the others? The non-40-man veterans in Triple-A. Chris Parmelee, for example. He was up earlier this season before getting hurt, and in fact he had a two-homer game with the Yankees. That was neat. Do the Yankees really need another first baseman with Austin, Refsnyder, and Mark Teixeira on the September roster? Not really. But maybe they’ll throw Parmelee a bone.

Other others include Donovan Solano, a utility infielder having a real nice season in Triple-A, and Cesar Puello, a former top Mets prospect who is having a productive season with the RailRiders after dealing with a back injury last year. Coke was up earlier this season and is still in Triple-A. Actual prospects like Clint Frazier, Jordan Montgomery, and Jonathan Holder are in Triple-A but are not yet Rule 5 Draft eligible, so don’t expect them to get called up in September. It’s one thing to call someone up a month before they need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. It another to do it a year early.

My guess is none of these others get called up September. The Yankees have more appealing options at their positions and there’s just not enough 40-man roster space to go around. Those guys will play in the Triple-A postseason and either go home once the playoffs are over, or head to Tampa to stay sharp in case there’s an injury and they’re needed at the MLB level. That’s pretty standard for these types of players in September.

The 40-Man Roster Situation

Alright, so after all of that, my sure to be wrong prediction is the Yankees will call up 12 extra players in September. The 12:

  • Up on September 1st (5): Bleier, Gamel, Goody, Refsnyder, Shreve.
  • Up later in September (7): Barbato, Enns, Heller, Mitchell, Severino, Williams, Webb.

All but Enns, Mitchell, and Webb are on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees will have to clear three spots. They can slide Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL to clear one 40-man spot. That’s easy. Righty J.R. Graham, who has amazingly managed to remain on the 40-man roster since coming over in a minor trade with the Twins in mid-May, is an obvious candidate to be designated for assignment. That’s the second 40-man spot.

The Yankees can go a few different ways for that final 40-man spot. They could designate someone else for assignment, maybe Anthony Swarzak or James Pazos. I don’t think that’ll happen though. In fact, Pazos is probably going to be called up in September, so it’s really 13 call-ups, not 12. I suppose someone like Bleier or Blake Parker could be cut loose next month, or even Tommy Layne. There is some dead weight here.

Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)
Swarzak. (Elsa/Getty)

The other option is to call up Jacob Lindgren or Nick Rumbelow and place them on the 60-day DL. Both are currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. It sounds easy enough, though there are some complications with this. Both Lindgren and Rumbelow got hurt while in the minors, and calling them up to place them on the 60-day DL means they can not be optioned down again next year. They’d accrue service time on MLB DL instead.

Maybe that’s not such a big deal, especially in Rumbelow’s case. He had his surgery in April and may only spend only a month or two on the DL next year. Lindgren just had his surgery and would spent the entire 2017 season on the DL. Calling them up and placing him on the 60-day DL to clear up a 40-man roster spot is doable, but it throws a wrench into next year’s plans. Me? I’d just cut ties with Swarzak. I do wonder if the Yankees would drop Pazos from the 40-man roster given his control and injury issues this year though.

* * *

The Yankees are committed to their “play the kids” plan right now, so much so that Alex Rodriguez has been released and others like Teixeira and Brian McCann have had their playing time reduced. There’s no reason to think that won’t continue in September, and if anything, more kids may get chances next month. Expanded rosters will give the team extra arms and whatnot, and it’s an opportunity to give these youngsters even more of a chance to show whether they belong in the team’s long-term plans.

(Update: Heller was called up yesterday. Adjust accordingly.)

Next wave of pitching prospects emerging in the minors

(Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

Coming into the season, the Yankees had a very position player heavy farm system, with only two of their top ten prospects doing their work on the mound. One was Luis Severino, who is currently in the big league rotation, and the other was Ian Clarkin, who has not pitched in an official minor league game this season due to an ongoing elbow problem. Clarkin is currently on a throwing program, supposedly.

Beyond Severino and Clarkin, the Yankees had a lot of interesting arms in the lower levels of the minors but not much else. The kind of pitching prospects every team has, really. It didn’t help that Domingo German, the team’s third best pitching prospect coming into 2015, blew out his elbow in Spring Training and needed Tommy John surgery. That’s two of their three best pitching prospects down for the season. Yikes.

Thankfully, a new wave of pitching prospects has emerged this summer, giving the Yankees more potential rotation help in the near future. First and foremost, the Yankees added to their pitching inventory by selecting UCLA righty James Kaprielian in the first round of June’s draft. He has yet to pitch in a game since turning pro but was scheduled to do so this week. (That didn’t happen for some reason, I think because the team didn’t want him pitching with the threat of rain in Tampa.)

Assuming Severino throws more than 50 innings with the Yankees down the stretch, Kaprielian takes over as New York’s top pitching prospect, and he could be big league ready next August or September a la Ian Kennedy in 2007. Kaprielian is not quite as refined as Kennedy but he has better pure stuff and the Yankees were very aggressive with Severino, so I assume they will be with Kaprielian as well. There’s no reason to select a pitcher like this only to take it slow as he climbs the ladder.

Behind Kaprielian, both Brady Lail and Rookie Davis have stepped forward this summer to establish themselves as no doubt rotation prospects, albeit with different styles. Lail is closer to the big leagues — he was promoted to Triple-A not too long ago — and is more of a command and control guy than a big stuff guy. The Yankees did a great job developing him into a legitimate prospect after drafting him as a raw Utah high schooler.

Davis is a classic fastball/curveball power pitcher whose control has improved tremendously as a pro. He spent most of the year at High-A Tampa and was recently moved up to Double-A Trenton, replacing Lail in the rotation. Lail could help as soon as next season in a David Phelps/Adam Warren role, assuming the Yankees are willing to put him on the 40-man roster at some point. He is not Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter. Davis is.

While Davis and to a slightly lesser extent Lail are the Yankees’ top two pitching development successes this year, they aren’t the only ones. Jordan Montgomery and Jonathan Holder, two mid-round draft picks last year, have handled Single-A ball well. That’s not surprising for Montgomery after he spent three years in an SEC rotation. Holder is a reliever turned starter however, and he’s had success in his new role. Both guys figure to join Davis in the Double-A rotation to open 2016.

For the most part the Yankees have had their starters stay healthy this year. Masahiro Tanaka spent a month on the DL and Michael Pineda is expected to miss about a month as well, but that’s it. In the grand scheme of things, two starters missing a month each is nothing. Last year almost the entire rotation was on the DL with long-ish term injuries by May, remember. That led to Shane Greene getting a chance as well as the Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano pickups.

The Yankees could have used another starter at the deadline but they weren’t desperate like last year, when he were out of viable rotation arms. That’s a good thing because outside of Severino and Warren, the Yankees didn’t have much upper level rotation depth in the minors. That does not figure to be the case next year, with Lail set for Triple-A and the trio of Davis, Holder, and Montgomery set for Double-A. Kaprielian is on the way too.

Do the Yankees have a bunch of budding aces in the minors? No, of course not. No team does. (Except the Mets the last few years, I guess.) What the Yankees do have now is a collection of competent pitching prospects reaching the upper levels of the minors, putting them in position to step in and help very soon. They didn’t have those guys coming into 2015. It was Severino and that’s it. A new batch of arms emerged this year and the Yankees will surely need ’em going forward.

Yankees sign 4th rounder Jordan Montgomery, 6th rounder Jonathan Holder

The Yankees have signed fourth round pick LHP Jordan Montgomery, according to Jim Callis. The southpaw from South Carolina received the full $424,000 slot bonus for the 122nd overall pick. Montgomery is a classic pitchability lefty who complements his low-90s fastball with a curveball, a cutter, and a very good changeup. He is cut from the David Phelps/Adam Warren cloth and should carve up the low minors after three years in an SEC rotation.

In other news, the Yankees announced the signing of sixth round pick RHP Jonathan Holder. MLB.com says he received a $170,000 bonus, below the $237,600 slot value for the 182nd overall pick. Holder, who was second round pick LHP Jacob Lindgren‘s teammate at Mississippi State, is a pure reliever with a low-90s fastball and big breaking curveball in the low-70s. Lots of separation between his two pitches. Like Montgomery, he’s an SEC tested guy who should climb to Double-A fairly quickly, likely in the middle of next season.

You can see all of the team’s draft picks at Baseball America and keep tabs on the draft pool situation with our 2014 Draft Pool Tracker. The Yankees’ only unsigned picks in the top ten rounds are Texas OF Mark Payton (7th round), UC Irvine 1B Connor Spencer (8th), and Vanderbilt SS Vince Conde (8th). All three are still playing in the College World Series and can’t sign just yet. They also figure to receive a below-slot bonuses and it appears the Yankees will some extra pool money left over for an above-slot payout for a player(s) taken after the tenth round.