The Young Shuttle Relievers [2016 Season Review]

Barbato. (Presswire)
Barbato. (Presswire)

Like always, the Yankees spent a good portion of the 2016 season cycling through assorting homegrown relievers as their bullpen needs changed. They swapped guys out when a fresh arm was needed, or when someone wasn’t performing well, or when there was an injury. Whatever. Every team does it. The Yankees aren’t special or creative.

New York’s bullpen shuttle was not quite as extreme this year as last year. Last season is felt like the Yankees were making a roster move every other day, usually because they were. Some injuries thinned out the shuttle relief crew this year, which meant other players got a chance to strut their stuff in the big leagues. Time to review the 2016 shuttle arms.

Johnny Barbato

I thought Barbato had a chance to be the rare shuttle reliever with staying power. He dominated in Spring Training, made the Opening Day roster, and put together a few good weeks before things came apart. The 24-year-old allowed one run and struck out ten in his first eight innings. He then allowed seven runs and struck out two in his next five innings. Yeah.

Barbato was sent down to Triple-A Scranton in mid-May and he spent almost the entire rest of the season there. His only other big league cameo came in early August, when the Yankees needed a fresh reliever. Barbato appeared in one game, faced four batters, didn’t retire any of them, then was sent down. The Yankees didn’t even give him a courtesy September call-up. Ouch.

Overall, Barbato had a 7.62 ERA (4.45 FIP) with a 26.4% strikeout rate in 13 big league innings and a 2.61 ERA (3.44 FIP) with a 24.1% strikeout rate in 48.1 Triple-A innings. General command was his issue. Barbato has a big fastball and two different breaking balls, but he left too many pitches over the middle. Not getting a September call-up suggests he may not be on the 40-man roster much longer.

Nick Goody

Goody was the primary shuttle reliever this past season, meaning he was the one who was called up most often and spent the most time in the big leagues. Four times he was called up. Once in April, once in July, once in August, and then once rosters expanded in September. He threw 29 innings for the Yankees overall.

Goody’s best outing of the season came on May 13th in relief of an ineffective Luis Severino. The White Sox hammered Severino and he eventually left the game after 2.2 innings with a triceps issue. The 25-year-old Goody fired 3.1 scoreless innings in relief to spare the bullpen. Needed only 37 pitches too.

In those four big league stints Goody had a 4.66 ERA (5.28 FIP) with a 26.6% strikeout rate in 29 innings. He also allowed seven homers, which works out to 2.17 HR/9, so yeah. The long ball was a problem. Goody had a 1.93 ERA (2.91 FIP) with a ridiculous 34/4 K/BB in 23.1 Triple-A innings as well, and one one of those walks was intentional too. Hot damn.

The Yankees still have a minor league option for Goody next season, meaning they’ll be able to send him up and down as many times as they want in 2017. It’s possible he could be a 40-man roster casualty in the offseason, though I think there’s enough guys below him on the depth chart for now. I like Goody the most among the shuttle arms, but until he can keep the ball in the park, his bat-missing slider won’t be of much use.

Ben Heller

The Yankees added Heller to the shuttle relief crew at midseason. He was the third piece in the Andrew Miller trade with the Indians. Heller, 25, had a 1.73 ERA (2.86 FIP) with 29.3% strikeouts and 7.3% walks in 41.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A before the trade. A few tune-up appearances with Triple-A Scranton were made before the Yankees called Heller up in August.

Heller. (Presswire)
Heller. (Presswire)

Unlike most other shuttle relievers, Joe Girardi and the Yankees have Heller a real shot at important innings. It didn’t go so well, but they tried. He entered with the Yankees either tied or leading by one run in three of his first six appearances, and in those three appearances, he put four of nine batters on base. Heller completed a full inning once. The other two times he got one out and zero outs.

Force-feeding Heller high-leverage innings right away didn’t work so well, so Girardi scaled back. His final four outings all came with the Yankees trailing by at least five. All told, Heller had a 6.43 ERA (9.57 FIP) in seven innings. He struck out six, walked four (one intentionally), and allowed three dingers. Also hit two batters and gave up eleven hits. It was a rude introduction to the big leagues.

Unlike a few others in this post, Heller’s spot on the 40-man roster is safe this offseason — the Yankees might trade him, but he won’t be dropped from the roster — and he’ll come to Spring Training with a chance to win a bullpen job. Heller’s fastball averaged 96.0 mph and topped out at 97.9 mph during his brief cameo, plus he showed a workable slider, so the tools are there. He’s not the first reliever to struggle in his first seven MLB innings and he won’t be the last.

Jonathan Holder

No reliever in minor league baseball had a better season than Holder in 2016. He shifted back to the bullpen after spending last season as a starter, and in 65.1 innings at three levels this year, the 23-year-old righty had a 1.65 ERA (1.30 ERA) with 101 strikeouts (42.4%) and seven walks (2.9%). Holder capped off his minor league season by striking out eleven in a row as part of a four-inning save to clinch a postseason berth for Triple-A Scranton.

That performance earned Holder a September call-up. It was a total knee-jerk reaction by the Yankees, who were hanging around the wildcard race. Brian Cashman said they made the move because Holder gave the Yankees the best chance to win, but Girardi’s history suggested he was going to lean on his veteran relievers down the stretch, not the kids.

Sure enough, Holder’s appearances were sporadic. He made eight appearances and only three times was the score separated by fewer than three runs. Holder entered one of those three games in the second inning, after Severino had been ejected for throwing at Justin Smoak, so it was hardly a high-leverage appearance. He allowed runs in four of his eight outings and was working mop-up duty by the end of the season. Womp womp.

Overall, the 2016 season was a phenomenal success for Holder, who climbed from High-A to the big leagues. Was the call-up a little shortsighted? Sure. The Yankees tied up a 40-man roster spot with a low-leverage reliever who was a year away from Rule 5 Draft eligibility. What’s done is done though. Holder had a 5.40 ERA (4.95 FIP) in 8.1 big league innings, during which he struck out five and walked four. Like Heller, he’ll come to camp with a chance to win an Opening Day bullpen job.

Conor Mullee

After three elbow surgeries and six and a half seasons in the minors, the 28-year-old Mullee finally reached the big leagues in 2016. He had a 1.42 ERA (2.02 FIP) in 19 minor league innings when the Yankees called him up for the first time. Mullee appeared in one game, walked three Diamondbacks and hit another while allowing a run in an inning on May 16th. Not the greatest debut. It happens.

Mullee went back to Triple-A and waited another month before getting his next call-up. This time he appeared in two games, striking out three and walking one in two scoreless and hitless innings. Much better. Unfortunately, his elbow started acting up again. Mullee felt some numbness in his fingers and was placed on the DL. He actually started a minor league rehab assignment in late July when the numbness returned.

Tests revealed a nerve issue near Mullee’s elbow, and he soon underwent season-ending surgery. That bites. At least there was no structural damage this time. Mullee remained on the disabled list until November 2nd, when the Yankees tried to slip him through waivers and remove him from the 40-man roster. The Cubs claimed him instead. Mullee had been with New York since being their 24th round pick in 2010.

James Pazos

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

Pazos, 25, is the hardest throwing left-hander in the organization now that Miller and Aroldis Chapman have been traded away. His heater averaged 95.5 mph during his September call-up this year, which was actually up from 94.1 mph last year. That kind of velocity is hard to find on a lefty, even these days where every team seems to have guys who throw 95+ out of the bullpen.

An unknown injury sidelined Pazos from early June until late August in the minors, and around the injury he had a 2.32 ERA (2.50 FIP) with a 35.6% strikeout rate and a 15.2% walk rate in 31 minor league innings. The Yankees did not call him up right away once rosters expanded; Pazos had to wait until September 6th to join the MLB team. He appeared in eleven games with the Yankees and faced no more than two batters in eight of them. The Yankees were leading in three of his eleven appearances, twice by five runs.

Pazos had a 13.50 ERA (10.05 FIP) in his 3.1 innings with New York and lefties went 4-for-8 against him with one strikeout. That seems bad. The Yankees seem to like Pazos — I get it, he throws hard from the left side — and he has two option years remaining, so he figures to stick around for a little while as an up-and-down southpaw. I wouldn’t rule him out coming to Spring Training with a chance to win a bullpen job.

Branden Pinder

Pinder. (Elsa/Getty)
Pinder. (Elsa/Getty)

A year ago Pinder was the primary shuttle reliever, getting called up six (!) times throughout the season. At least once in every month. Wild. This year, his season lasted three appearances. Pinder didn’t win a bullpen job in camp, so he went to Triple-A, appeared in two games, then got called up in mid-April. He pitched in one game with the Yankees and blew out his elbow. Pinder had Tommy John surgery on April 26th.

On the bright side, Pinder spent nearly the entire season on the Major League disabled list and collected big league salary and service time. Good for him. Poor Nick Rumbelow blew out his elbow in Triple-A and didn’t have the same luxury. The Yankees designated Pinder — who is still in the middle of his rehab — for assignment when they claimed Joe Mantiply last week. Injured fringe relievers who are weeks away from their 28th birthday aren’t exactly a hot commodity on waivers, so there’s a pretty good chance Pinder will remain in the organization as a non-40-man roster player.

September is a chance for Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller to carve out roles with the 2017 Yankees

Heller. (Presswire)
Heller. (Presswire)

Both Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder had their lives change quite a bit over the last six weeks. Holder got off relatively easy. He was promoted to Triple-A in late-July and called up to the big leagues in September. Heller? He went from Double-A to Triple-A, then was traded, then got called up to the show for the first time. That’s a lot to process in a short period of time.

Heller and Holder are with the Yankees right now and they didn’t receive courtesy call-ups. Both were added to the 40-man roster earlier than necessary — Holder was added a year prior to Rule 5 Draft eligibility, Heller only a few weeks early — and Joe Girardi has used both to get some pretty important outs in their early days as Yankees. Look at the situations they’ve been brought into so far:

Heller
Start the eighth up eleven (MLB debut)
Start the eighth down three against Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, and Chris Davis
Start the tenth up one against Raul Mondesi, Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer
Start the 12th tied against Mondesi, Dyson, Cain
Inherit bases loaded with two outs against Edwin Encarnacion, up four

Holder
Start the sixth down eight (MLB debut)
Inherit man on first with one out against Devon Travis, Jose Bautista, and Josh Donaldson, up four

Both Heller and Holder were able to make their big league debuts in low-leverage spots. Ask any manager and I’m sure they’d tell they prefer to have a rookie reliever make his debut in a stress-free blowout. These days the late-innings have been so hyped up that they seem to have a mind of their own.

Since their debuts though, Holder and especially Heller have been thrown into the fire. Holder was asked to go through the top of the one of the best lineups in baseball with a man on base in a four-run game yesterday. Heller was given a save opportunity on the road against the defending World Series champs in his third career appearance. Yesterday he had to face Encarnacion with the bases loaded. I mean, geez. Talk about baptism by fire.

That stuff was all born out of necessity. The Yankees were essentially out of relievers when Heller came in for the save opportunity against the Royals. Yesterday the regular end-game relievers were a bit taxed. Girardi used Heller and Holder in those spots because he had no other choice, really. Going forward I’m sure he’d like to be able to pick his spots a little better and make life easy on the kids.

Regardless of their usage, this month represents a huge opportunity for both Heller and Holder, who have a chance to solidify spots in the 2017 bullpen. Well, maybe we shouldn’t go that far. No one is going to win a 2017 roster spot in September 2016. These two have a chance to move to the front of the line, I should say. That’s better. Holder and Heller want to make a positive impression on the coaching staff and front office this month.

Would it be easier to do that in lower leverage innings? Ostensibly yes. But pitching well in higher leverage spots would help even more. Neither has done that yet, though it’s still early. Also, the results don’t even have to be great. The Yankees are going to evaluate players based on their raw stuff, their composure, and their aggressiveness. A few singles falling in shouldn’t change any opinions.

The Yankees have had some major middle innings problems this season, and the Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman trades haven’t helped. On days Luis Severino isn’t available, Heller and Holder figure to be Girardi’s go-to bridge relievers, so they’re going to pitch. These two aren’t going to sit in the bullpen and throw, like, two innings in September. They were brought up to help, and if they do that, they’ll set themselves up for more prominent roles next year.

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.