Via Chad Jennings, the Yankees have released Triple-A masher Jorge Vazquez. They prefer the recently signed Steve Pearce at first base for their top minor league affiliate. Of course, JoVa’s days in the organization were numbered after word got out that he was fed up with being stuck in Triple-A and wanted to play in the big leagues. That just wasn’t going to happen with the Yankees.
The Yankees reassigned Jorge Vazquez to minor league camp following tonight’s game. He never had much of a chance to make the team, so this isn’t a surprise. As you probably remember, JoVa came out last week and said he’s getting fed up with Triple-A and wants to play in the big leagues. I don’t blame him, but he’s unlikely to get his shot with the Yankees.
Life as a 30-year-old Triple-A slugger can be tough, especially when you’re with the Yankees and there’s no clear path to the big leagues. That’s the life of Jorge Vazquez, who hit .262/.314/.516 with 32 homers in Triple-A last year but has received close to zero consideration for the DH spot or even a bench job in the Bronx. Unsurprisingly, he’s getting kinda fed up and looking for a change.
“If they don’t give him an opportunity this year, he wants them to trade him, or to go to [play] baseball in the East,” said the president of JoVa’s former Mexican League team recently (via MLBTR). “He doesn’t want to continue on in Triple-A anymore, not just with the Yankees, but with any other organization as well.”
We’ve heard rumors of Vazquez pursuing opportunities in Japan before, and yet he’s in camp with the Yankees right now. The guy has serious power but he’s a total hacker, striking out 314 times (28.6%) and unintentionally walking just 47 times (4.3%) since signing with New York midway through the 2009 season. He gets himself out too much and that power won’t show up consistently against big league hurlers because of it. I understand being frustrated, but if he wants to go, the Yankees shouldn’t stand in his way.
With the rotation questions answered (pending physicals), the attention has shifted to the Yankees’ now vacant DH position. It didn’t take the team long to get in touch with Johnny Damon, Carlos Pena, and Hideki Matsui, but with limited room in the budget they might look for an even cheaper solution. Buster Olney, Bryan Hoch, and Andy Martino each reported over the weekend that the Yankees consider Triple-A masher Jorge Vazquez a potential DH option heading into the season.
As Marc Carig recently explained, the Yankees found Vazquez when Michael Fishman, their in-house stats guru, got a whiff of his impressive stats in the Mexican League. From 2005-2008, the man they call Chato — Spanish for “short and chunky,” according to Carig — hit .352/.405/.698 with an average of 25 homers per year in a league where the season is less than 110 games long. Lee Sigman is the team’s top scout in Mexico, and he swooped in to sign Vazquez after he popped up on the team’s radar.
Unsurprisingly, Vazquez has done nothing but mash during his two and a half years in the organization. He owns a .284/.327/.555 batting line with 63 homers in 261 games between Double and Triple-A, and he goes back to Mexico for winter ball every year and does more of the same. This winter he put up a .330/.397/.618 line with 18 homers in 56 games. In 174 games between the regular season and winter ball, he hit 50 balls out of the park.
“He can hit homers everywhere,” said Ramiro Pena to Carig after playing with Vazquez for a number of years in Mexico. “Everybody down there in Mexico knows Chato … Tremendous power. He makes it look so easy.”
Yankees fans caught a glimpse of Vazquez last Spring Training, when he hit .412/.444/.765 with three homers in 35 plate appearances, including this mammoth blast over the batter’s eye in dead center. He few months prior to that he was named MVP of the Caribbean Series.
“He’s a major-league bat,” said Brian Cashman to Carig. “But he’s blocked more than anything else.”
Being blocked is just a small problem because Vazquez is a true DH without any defensive value, and now that job is wide open. He can stand at first base and receive throws from other infielders as well as fake third base in the way Eric Hinske can, but that’s about the extent of his defensive skills. Playing him in the field is a non-option for a contending team. But like I said, that’s just a small problem. There’s a much bigger one.
As great as Chato’s minor league and winter ball performance has been, and he has really been superb, his plate discipline numbers are a major cause for concern. In his 1,096 plate appearances since signing with the Yankees, Vazquez has struck out 314 times and unintentionally walked just 47 times. That’s a 28.6% strikeout rate and a 4.3% walk rate. The only big leaguer with a 25%+ strikeout rate and a sub-5% walk rate in single season over the last three years was Miguel Olivo (27.6 K% and 3.6 BB%) in 2011, who has the advantage of being a pretty good defensive catcher. JoVa put up those rates in the minors as a defensively challenged first baseman approaching his 30th birthday (he’ll be 30 in March).
The strikeout and walk rates indicate some kind of problem, but we don’t know exactly what it is from here. It could be breaking balls, inside fastballs, first pitch changeups, who knows. Whatever the problem is, it’s resulted in extreme strikeout issues and plate indiscipline. For what it’s worth, ZiPS projects a .235/.275/.449 batting line with 23 homers, 20 walks, and 138 strikeouts given 400+ at-bats next season while CAIRO v0.2 pegs him for a .231/.281/.439 line with 28 homers, 33 walks, and 177 strikeouts in 500+ at-bats. Remember, projections are not predictions, just a reasonable estimate of talent level.
In a recent ESPN Insider-only piece, Kevin Goldstein looked at the concept of Quad-A players like Vazquez, the guys that are too good for Triple-A but not good enough for MLB. He notes that one of the main reasons why these guys are limited is because of an inability to make adjustments, especially when advanced scouts start picking the guy’s game apart. Some players shed the label like Nelson Cruz did, but most aren’t so lucky. Vazquez has very real power, but given that his strikeout rate has gotten worse every year since signing with the Yankees, we have reason to believe he can’t make those necessary adjustments and contribute to the big league team.
Barring something unexpected, we’ll see Chato in Spring Training one way or another. He might be a replacement in the second half of games like last year, or he might be competing for the team’s DH job. Hey, maybe there’s value in having a guy who will sabotage a first pitch fastball hidden in a lineup of patient hitters, but I have a hard time buying that argument. Vazquez has significant flaws both at the plate and in the field, and on top of that he’s not a great fit as a right-handed hitter, assuming they’re looking for someone to split time with Andruw Jones. There’s always a chance something will click and JoVa will figure it out, but I’m not counting on it and neither should the Yankees.
Seven questions this week, but the answers are pretty short so it’s kinda like a rapid fire mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.
Larry asks: If the plan is to use the Montero as a DH a good amount of the time, should/will the Yankees carry three catchers? If they do, do they carry Cervelli or Romine? Does it make more sense to carry Cervelli since he can play second or third in an emergency?
This situation really is no different that last year, when Jorge Posada was the regular DH. Russell Martin is the starting catcher, Montero is the starting DH, Frankie Cervelli is the backup catcher, and Austin Romine is in Triple-A. They can still let Montero catch say, 25-30 games with that roster, they’ll just have two catcher on the bench that day. Not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world if they do it once or twice a week.
Tucker asks: What’s the real danger in locking up Martin for a 2 or 3-year deal? If one of their catching prospects develops, couldn’t they always just trade him?
There is no real risk, at least not in terms of additional risk compared to the usual risk associated with multi-year contracts. Yeah, he is a catcher, so he is theoretically more of an injury risk than other position players, but nothing insane. It should be relatively ease to move him unless he completely craters, and even if he does, Martin’s unlikely to get paid so much that eating the contract (by designated him for assignment) is out of the question. I wouldn’t go anymore than three years though, his offense is still a question even if his defense is as good as advertised.
Patrick asks: Rich Hill. Second lefty and possibly the long man out of the pen?
Yes as a second lefty but no as a long man. Hill remade himself as a sidearmer this past season in hopes of becoming an effectively left specialist, and he was pretty good for the Red Sox until he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery last summer. He was non-tendered and will be out until sometime midseason. He’s a minor league contract guy, obviously, but not the worst candidate for a roll of the dice.
Arad asks: If baseball were to have an amnesty clause where each team could get rid of one player without paying the contract, like basketball has, who would you do it to? I can’t see myself getting rid of Arod. I guess Burnett would be my choice.
Easily Alex Rodriguez, it’s not even a question in my mind. The final two years of A.J. Burnett’s contract will be a walk in the park compared to the final six of A-Rod’s deal. Alex is one of my all-time favorite players, but good gravy is that contract ugly. Amnesty the hell out of thing and never look back.
Daniel asks: If the Marlins have a hypothetical fire sale at this time next year, and gave each team the opportunity to make ONE offer for Mike Stanton, what would you offer?
Man, I’d offer pretty much everything. Jesus Montero, Brett Gardner, and Ivan Nova? Maybe substitute in Manny Banuelos for Nova, but the point is I’d offer a lot. The kid’s a star, a homer mashing star. Dude just turned 22 years old, and he’s got 56 homers and a .264 ISO in 250 games while playing half his games in a huge park in Florida. We can only dream that Montero turns into that guy that quickly.
Travis asks: Is there any chance Jorge Vazquez gets a shot at being a righty off the bench for the Yankees or is he stuck in AAA until they trade him?
There was an unconfirmed rumor floating around a few days ago that JoVa was headed to Japan, which would be a good move for him. He’d definitely make more money there than he would sitting in Triple-A. And no, he won’t get a chance to be a bench player for the Yankees. The guy has big power but also big holes in his swing, hence the 220 strikeouts in 700 plate appearances between the regular season and winter ball this year. He also doesn’t offer much on defense. Don’t worry, someone else just like him will be along in a year or two.
Chip asks: In light of the Matt Moore contract, would you offer the same contract to Banuelos if he put up something like 9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9 in AAA and forces himself into the major league rotation? Maybe even Montero would take something like that.
I’d offer it to Montero before I offered it to Banuelos (position players are safer than pitchers, yadda yadda yadda), but the Yankees have no reason to rush into a long-term deal with either player. Tampa has to do it because they won’t be able to afford these guys in three or four years, but the Yankees don’t have that problem. They can be patient, see how these guys develop, then make an offer if one is warranted. Just imagine if they’d signed Phil Hughes long-term in 2007, or Nick Johnson in 2003. It’s very risky business when you’re talking about guy with less than two years of service time, just look back at how many Rookie of the Year Award winners were total duds a few seasons later.
Nico asks: OK, so I remember your piece from late February on Jorge Vasquez, and I just re-read it as a refresher. How can people be so sure his skills won’t translate to the bigs? He is absolutely raking in Scranton – is there some obvious sign that he will be useless against big-league stuff? I’ve just never heard of such abstract reasoning for why we shouldn’t see what a player can do at the big-league level. Thanks!
JoVa has been killing in Triple-A so far this year, currently ranking in the International League with eleven homers behind teammate Justin Maxwell, who has a dozen. His .389 wOBA is undeniably gaudy, but there are obvious flaws in his game. First and foremost, his plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired. Vazquez has drawn just five walks this season despite being one of the league’s preeminent power hitters, and in 730 plate appearances since signing with the Yankees back in 2009, he’s drawn just 23 unintentional walks. That 3.2% walk rate is on par with noted big league hackers like Orlando Cabrera, Alfonso Soriano, Juan Uribe, and (sadly) Robinson Cano. Except we’re talking about a guy in his late-20’s drawing so little walks against minor league competition.
With that low walk total comes a ton of strikeouts, we’re talking 235 in 686 at-bats in the system (34.3%). Vazquez has struck out 37 times in 127 at-bats this season (29.1%), and even in the Mexican League he was almost always over 30%. Strikeout rates that high by older players in the minors almost always stem from one of two things (often both): the guy just can’t recognize breaking balls, or he has a huge hole in his swing that pitchers exploit. Given the low walk totals, I’m guessing it’s more of the former in Vazquez’s case. The power is real, no doubt about it, but he’s a two-true outcomes guy at Triple-A, and that doesn’t really translate to the show.
Then there’s the defense, which he doesn’t really offer. JoVa’s should be viewed strictly as a first baseman if he has to actually wear a glove, though he’s played some third in the minors. He’s playable at the hot corner the same way Eric Hinske was, in an emergency or late in a blowout game when you want to rest the regular. Jorge’s a short (5-foot-11) and pudgy (225 lbs.) dude that just doesn’t move around well. I can relate. He’s really more of a DH than anything else.
Joe mentioned Mitch Jones in his February post, a guy that spent parts of seven seasons just annihilating the minor leagues (.249 ISO) in the Yankees’ system before bolting for Japan (and eventually coming back). It’s a good comparison in the sense that both Jones and Vazquez are classic AAAA-types, though the former’s career walk rate in the minors (9.9%) is more than double the latter’s. Jones was also athletic enough to play the outfield the entire time. Shelley Duncan is cut from a similar cloth, but he walked more than Jones and struck out way less than both guys (24.3% strikeout rate in the minors). And again, he could handle the outfield.
Vazquez opened some eyes with a great Spring Training and has carried that success over into the regular season, but you have to be careful with guys like this. He’s way old for the level at 29, he doesn’t lay off enough pitches out of the zone, and his defensive value is negligible. JoVa’s a great organization guy, and maybe he gets a cup of coffee with someone somewhere down the line, but he offers little to his Yankees team as presently constructed.
You might have noticed this weekend, while watching the first televised Yankee games of 2011, that some pudgy dude was busy socking dingers. That was Jorge Vazquez. Signed out of the Mexican League prior to the 2008 season, Vazquez is in camp with the Yankees for the second time. Despite the display he put on this weekend, he stands about as much a chance of making the team as he did last year.
If you look through Vazquez’s history, you might wonder why he’s not a consideration for that final bench spot. He raked his way through the Mexican League, finishing with an OPS below 1.000 just once in his final four seasons there (and it was .988 that year). Then, in his first stateside season, he put on something of a display at Trenton, hitting .329/.357/.578 in 238 PA. The only thing holding him back, it seemed, was the injury bug. He missed 86 days in 2009 due to various strains and bruises.
Last year he, along with fellow former Mexican Leaguer Manny Banuelos, underwent an appendectomy and missed the start of the season. He hit .390 during his brief return to Trenton before heading up to Scranton. There he hit .270/.313/.526 in 316 PA, mostly as the team’s first baseman and DH. His discipline might be lacking, as he has drawn just 26 walks in 596 minor league plate appearances (4.4%), but his power remains prodigious; in AAA he produced a .256 ISO.
If Vazquez has displayed high batting averages and considerable power, then why is he nowhere on the Yanks radar? Why isn’t he under consideration for a bench spot? Why didn’t Baseball America write his name a single time in its writeup for the 2011 Prospect Handbook? Vazquez, it appears, is a case of scouting over stats. His style of play apparently won’t play well in the majors. We’ve seen this before with plenty of other players, but it reminded me of one specific player formerly in the Yankees organization.
When I first started writing about the Yankees, during the 2004 season, they had a guy raking in AA. Mitch Jones finished the season with a .246/.334/.548 line. The next year, in 2005, he moved up to AAA and continued to rake, .268/.347/.507. During that year I wondered why Jones wasn’t coming up to help. In 2006 I wondered even more. The Yankees outfield had suffered two major injuries, and they could have used a power bat such as Jones. They actually did call him up in late May, but sent him down after just a day on the roster. By year’s end they had designated him for assignment.
For the next few years Jones ambled around the minors, and even spent some time in Japan. In 2009, amid a torrid season in the hitter-friendly PCL, the Dodgers finally gave him his first pro plate appearances. He made 15 that season, going 4 for 13 with a double and six strikeouts. He was also hit by two pitches. But that’s basically the book on Mitch Jones. Vazquez could be headed for the same fate.
Chances are Vazquez returns to AAA this year and continues to produce quality power numbers. He might even flirt with a .300 average. But chances are, barring a crippling rash of injuries, he won’t sniff the bigs. Despite the numbers, the scouting report just isn’t there. Joe Girardi might have said it all, by saying really nothing at all, in response to a question about Vazquez. “If he hits a home run every day, I’m sure he’ll get the Grapefruit (League) MVP.” But he probably wouldn’t make the Yanks.