Archive for Kevin Youkilis
The MRI on Kevin Youkilis‘ stiff back was clean — no structural damage, that means — but he will receive an epidural tomorrow. The team is discussing a DL stint and frankly that seems incredibly likely. Too bad he played on Saturday, otherwise they could have backdated the DL trip and been half done with it already.
This isn’t surprising, but Kevin Youkilis will go for an MRI on his back tomorrow. He missed about a week with a stiff back before returning the lineup yesterday, but the problem popped up again and he was unable to play this afternoon. If he needs to go on the DL — they can’t backdate it to last weekend because he played yesterday — I would think David Adams or Corban Joseph are the call-up candidates. Joseph is on the 40-man and that could give him a leg up. Let’s see how the MRI goes before worrying about that.
Following tonight’s loss to the Rays, Joe Girardi said Kevin Youkilis could be out “a couple more days” with the back tightness that forced him from Saturday’s game and has kept him on the bench ever since. Obviously they should play it safe so it doesn’t turn into something more serious, but the Yankees are in a real bat spot without his bat in the lineup.
Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco has been suspended eight games and fined an undisclosed amount for intentionally throwing at Kevin Youkilis earlier this week, MLB has announced. He was making his first start after serving a six-game suspension for throwing at Billy Butler. That incident happened back in 2011, but Carrasco’s Tommy John surgery got in the way.
In case you forgot, Carrasco threw at Youkilis on Tuesday after Robinson Cano had taken him deep one batter earlier. Given his history of throwing at people, the suspension isn’t surprising. Just glad Youkilis wasn’t hurt more than anything.
We all knew the Yankees’ lineup would look a little different coming into the year, but an injury-filled Spring Training meant the offense looked even more different than expected when the regular season opened last week. Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner were the only players in the lineup for both Opening Day 2012 and Opening Day 2013, and a whopping six players made their debut for the team last Monday. That’s the first time that’s happened in over 100 years, since before the Yankees were the Yankees (they were the Highlanders at the time).
Two series and six games into the season, it’s the new-look middle of the order that has carried the club offensively. The players who were with the team last year — specifically talking about Cano and Ichiro Suzuki here — have mostly been a drain on the offense. I’m talking about a combined .631 OPS for those two. No, seriously. If you add Cano’s (.330) and Ichiro‘s (.301) OPS together, that’s what you get. Good grief. Thank goodness it’s only been six games.
Anyway, here are some happier numbers…
- Kevin Youkilis: 9-for-22 (.409), two walks, one hit-by-pitch (.480 OBP), four doubles, one homer (.727 SLG)
- Travis Hafner: 7-for-20 (.350), two walks (.409 OBP), one homer (.500 SLG)
- Vernon Wells: 5-for-17 (.294), four walks (.429), one double, two homers (.706 SLG)
The Yankees have scored 24 total runs this year and those three guys have scored (11) and driven-in (11) basically half of them (46% to be exact). New York is hitting .272/.323/.399 as a team but without those three it drops down to .194/.273/.295. Youkilis, Hafner, and Wells have really carried the load in the first six games. They’re driving the offense.
Now, here’s the bad news: these guys aren’t going to keep hitting like this forever. Youkilis seems like the best bet to continue providing big production, but he’s still going to come back to Earth at some point. The good news is that some other players in the lineup — specifically Cano, Ichiro, and Gardner — will improve going forward to help balance things out. That’s usually how things go, some players are slumping while others are hot and it evens out. When it happens during the first week of the season, we tend to notice. When it happens in the middle of the dog days, no one really cares.
Despite yesterday’s seven-run outburst, the Yankees have struggled offensively in their six games this year. Those struggles pale in comparison to the pitching problems, but they exist nonetheless. They need (especially) Cano and some others to start hitting as much as they need the middle of the bullpen to straighten itself out because Youkilis, Hafner, and Wells won’t be able to carry the offense all year as they have so far. That trio has been awesome, but they still need some help sooner rather than later.
Barring some kind of unexpected trade, the Yankees are not going to be able to replace Mark Teixeira‘s production while he is out with his wrist injury. Say what you want about his declining performance — you’re kidding yourself if you think he’ll be easy to replace because of his typically slow starts — he was far better than anyone reasonably available as an alternative. The Yankees will simply have to weather the storm and hope they don’t fall too far out of the AL East race while their first baseman (and center fielder) are on the shelf in April.
Given the in-house options, it seems like the best way to replace Teixeira is with a three-headed platoon. Kevin Youkilis is the common player here thanks to his ability to play either corner infield spot. Against righties, the Yankees could run with Youkilis at third and Dan Johnson at first. Against lefties, they could go with Youkilis at first and say, Ronnie Mustelier at third. Here are the numbers (from 2011-2012) for a real quick comparison:
- Johnson vs. RHP: .291/.409/.549 in 678 PA
- Youkilis vs. RHP: .227/.332/.395 in 719 PA
- Mustelier vs. LHP: .305/.357/.506 in 183 PA
- Youkilis vs. LHP: .294/.407/.528 in 307 PA
Johnson’s and Mustelier’s stats come from Minor League Central because they simply haven’t played much (or, in Ronnie’s case, at all) in the big leagues. That’s going to be a problem pretty much no matter who the Yankees choose to replace Teixeira — they won’t have much of a big league track record. Obviously Youkilis is a concern against right-handers, but we knew that at the time of his signing. Maybe his work with Kevin Long will improve that production, but I’m not counting on it.
Like it or not, Johnson’s and Mustelier’s performances will take a step back from those numbers with regular playing time in the show. If they could manage league average performances against pitchers of the opposite hand while Teixeira is on the shelf, I’d be thrilled. The Yankees would be getting approximately a league average performance from the two corners against righties and much better than that against lefties (thanks to Youkili)s. This is just offensively, remember. There’s no way to replace Tex’s defense.
Now that I think about it, it would probably be easier just to keep Youkilis at third the whole time and stick the defensively challenged Mustelier at first, but the Yankees like to make things unnecessarily complicated and this way they wouldn’t have to worry about teaching him a new position. If they want to keep Youkilis at third, they could use Juan Rivera at first against lefties. He has seen more time at first in camp lately and actually played more games there (54) than in the outfield last year (46). Jayson Nix is another right-handed option, but he’s a third baseman and more of a last resort than anything. Nice fill-in player but not someone worthy of a regular lineup spot, even against lefties.
The season starts in two weeks and two days, and right now I have absolutely no idea what the Yankees will do until Teixeira returns to the lineup. I’m guessing they don’t have a firm plan in place either, but are probably leaning one way or the other. That kinda scares me. First base is one of the most important (arguably the most important) position in terms of expected offensive production, and right now the Yankees are holding auditions for an injury fill-in(s). It seems like an easy spot to fill, but no obvious solution stands out right now.
Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
For the first time since 2003, the Yankees figure to have someone other than Alex Rodriguez play the majority of their games at third base this season. A-Rod is recovering from a(nother) hip surgery and will be out until midseason, leaving the team without one of its most potent right-handed hitters following an offseason that saw a few too many power bats depart via free agency.
It was supposed to be A-Rod, but the surgery will keep him on the sidelines until the All-Star break if not longer. The Yankees replaced him by signed Kevin Youkilis to a one-year deal worth $12M, and suddenly he’s become a very important part of the offense now that Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will open the year on the DL.
Youkilis, who turns 34 one week from today, put up a .235/.336/.409 (102 wRC+) batting line in 509 plate appearances for the Red Sox and White Sox last summer. He did go deep 19 times and drew his usually high amount of walks (10.0%), but his game has been on a steady decline for years now. Just look at his graphs page on FanGraphs, everything is heading in the wrong direction. Youkilis is hitting more and more ground balls with each passing year, which is a classic symptom of an older player losing bat speed. To his credit, he worked with hitting coach Kevin Long in the offseason to shorten his stride and compensate.
Despite that decline, Youkilis is still a useful player. He absolutely annihilates left-handers, tagging them for a .275/.386/.492 (135 wRC+) line last year and a .323/.436/.598 (174 wRC+) line over the last three seasons. No hitter in baseball has been more productive (by wRC+) against southpaws since 2010. His defense at the hot corner is below-average but not a disaster, plus he can slide over to first base without a problem. Youkilis is injury prone, having visited the DL in each of the last three seasons (thumb, back, hernia). The Yankees need him to stay on the field in 2013, especially early in the season.
Of course, Youkilis is only the third baseman because A-Rod will miss the first half of the season. He’s visited the DL every year since signing his $275M scarlet letter prior to the 2008 season, but this injury is the most serious: a torn left hip labrum, a bone impingement, and a cyst. The doctors say he will make a full recovery but the Alex of old is long gone. His .272/.353/.430 (114 wRC+) performance in 2012 was solidly above-average but far below his career norms. Like Youkilis, almost everything on A-Rod’s graphs page is going in the wrong direction.
For all intents and purposes, the Yankees have to proceed under the assumption that Rodriguez will not be back this season. They can’t count on him for anything, let alone to ride in on a white horse to save the offense in the second half. It’s unclear how the new hip procedure will impact his swing — he was unable to use his lower half as much following the right hip surgery in 2009, and that injury was less severe — or his defense or his mobility. Anything the club gets out of Alex in 2013 is total gravy. Youkilis will be counted on as the starter until his contract expires as far as I’m concerned.
With the Yankees continuing to groom Eduardo Nunez as a shortstop and Dan Johnson both failing his Spring Training hot corner audition and being needed at first base in the wake of Teixeira’s injury, the backup third baseman is Jayson Nix. The 30-year-old is a versatile little player who does almost all of his offensive damage against lefties (97 wRC+ in 2012 and 94 career) and has surprising pop (career .157 ISO). Unless the Yankees swing an unexpected trade before the season begins, Nix will be Youkilis’ primary backup at the hot corner and he could play pretty much full-time against southpaws if Johnson takes over at first.
Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do have some third base depth in Triple-A Scranton. David Adams and Corban Joseph are both second basemen by trade, but the 25-year-old Adams shifted over to third late last year while the 24-year-old Joseph has played the position quite a bit in the spring. Outside of one being a right-handed hitter (Adams) and the other being a lefty (Joseph), the two players are very similar. They are both willing to take a walk and can hit for doubles power, though their glovework leaves something to be desired. Joseph in general has trouble making the long throw across the diamond. He’s expected to open the year at second base in Triple-A while Adams mans third, but both will surely get reps at each position to stay fresh.
It’s worth mentioning 28-year-old Ronnie Mustelier here, who played third base in yesterday’s Grapefruit League game — Joe Girardi said that was planned before Teixeira’s injury — and has played 26 games at the position in the minors since signing two years ago. The Yankees have moved him down the defensive spectrum from second to third to left in the last 20 months or so, but it’s fair to wonder if they’ll give him a longer look at third in the coming weeks. Mustelier can hit a fastball and put the ball in play, but the defense is a question. I don’t think he’s a legitimate third base candidate at the big league level but we shouldn’t rule it out.
The Top Prospect
There’s a pretty strong case to be made that the team’s best third base prospect is an outfielder. Tyler Austin — who ranked third on my preseason top 30 prospects list — moved off the hot corner last year in deference to 2011 first rounder Dante Bichette Jr., and he mashed (.322/.400/.559 and ~163 wRC+) his way up to Double-A Trenton while settling into right field. The Yankees have considered moving him back to third base, but as far as we know that won’t happen. It’s not like the club has a long-term right fielder in place, so no big deal. He’ll open the year back with Trenton and we shouldn’t rule him out as a big league factor for 2013, but it’s unlikely. Boy can he hit though.
Outside of Austin and multi-position infielders Adams and Joseph, the Yankees’ top true third base prospect is Bichette. I ranked him 27th on my preseason top 30 for a few reasons, most notably because he fell back into some bad swing habits and had a miserable season with Low-A Charleston (.248/.322/.331 and 85 wRC+). Bichette was named the MVP of the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees after signing in 2011 because he made some adjustments at the plate, but he has to get back to being that guy if he wants to avoid becoming a non-prospect less than three years after being drafted. The Yankees will return him to the River Dogs this year and he’s a long way from being a big league factor.
The Deep Sleeper
New York spent $750k to sign 18-year-old Miguel Andujar out of the Dominican Republic back in 2011, then he hit .232/.288/.299 (80 wRC+) in 191 plate appearances for the rookie level GCL club in his pro debut last summer. Disappointing performance aside, Andujar is the team’s best lower level third base prospect because he’s a solid all-around player with no carrying tool but no real weakness. He has good pop and hitting ability from the right side to go along with strong defense at the position. If he grows into some more power or suddenly becomes a much more adept defender, Andujar will raise his profile quite a bit. He’ll open the year back in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island in June, though he doesn’t have a ton of breakout potential.
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The Yankees have a decent amount of third base depth at the upper levels, but they lack a true impact player at the position. I suppose Youkilis could surprise and revert to his 2008-2010 ways, but he’s a deal pull right-handed hitter who will no longer have the advantage of the Green Monster. Despite its general hitter friendliness, Yankee Stadium is not kind to pull-happy righties. Nix, Adams, Joseph and even Mustelier are decent alternatives and emergency options, but the front office should keep their eyes peeled for corner infield help while Teixeira is out, even if it means acquiring a new starting third baseman with Youkilis sliding over to first.
Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
The Yankees have only had four regular first baseman over the last 20 years, so the position has become pretty low-maintenance in the Bronx. That doesn’t make it any less important though, and this summer the club will have to rely on the most recent of those four first baseman to anchor their offense and be a steadying presence in the lineup. Robinson Cano is clearly the team’s best hitter, but he can’t do it all himself.
There’s no doubt Mark Teixeira is one of the most important Yankees heading into the 2013 season. The club lost quite a bit of offense this winter and will be without Curtis Granderson for the month of April, meaning they can’t afford another one of Teixeira’s customary slow starts — during his four years in the Bronx, Tex has hit .209/.336/.386 in April and .271/.361/.525 in the other five months of the season. Perhaps playing in the World Baseball Classic this spring will break that trend, but I’m not counting on it.
Teixeira, who will turn 33 a few days into the season, has all but abandoned any hope of getting back to being the all-fields hitter he was prior to the 2010 season. The short porch in right field was too enticing and he completely changed his approach as a left-handed hitter, opting to pull the ball in the air rather than just drive it wherever it was pitched. That approach is great for power but lousy for everything else, as the shift and routine fly balls have sapped his batting average and by extension, his on-base percentage. Teixeira tried to get back to hitting to all-fields last year and the result was a lot of weak fly balls the other way, so the damage to his left-handed swing is been done. He remains an above-average hitter (116 wRC+ in 2012) but is now just a one-dimensional one.
On the other side of the ball, Teixeira has few peers in the field and is one of baseball’s best defensive first baseman. His range actually kinda stinks thanks to his thick lower half and utter lack of foot speed, but he sucks up every ball he can reach and is as good a thrower as you’ll find at the position. The total package is an above-average player but not an elite one despite his salary, and Teixeira is aware of that. The Yankees desperately need him to stay healthy and be productive this summer.
With the bench still unsettled, Teixeira’s backup right now is third baseman Kevin Youkilis. Given the team’s lack of hot corner alternatives, I’m guessing the bench will feature a more clearly defined backup first baseman such as 33-year-old Dan Johnson or even 34-year-old Juan Rivera, who played more games at first (54) than in the outfield last year (46). Either way, Teixeira has been a lock for 155+ games played for most of his career and will be counted on for that many in 2013. There will be no platoons or experiments here, Teixeira is the guy. If he gets hurt and misses a few weeks, the drop-off between him and his replacement — or the replacement third baseman with Youkilis sliding over to first — is considerable.
Knocking on the Door
Johnson could either make the team or open the season in Triple-A — I don’t think either would be much of a surprise. If he does open the year on the bench in New York, 26-year-old Luke Murton would get the call as the regular first baseman for Triple-A Scranton. Matt’s little brother hit .249/.327/.464 (117 wRC+) with 25 homers in 526 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton last year, though he isn’t much of a prospect because he struggles against breaking balls and isn’t much of a defender. The righty hitting/righty throwing first baseman is one of baseball’s weakest historical profiles, so Murton is at an even greater disadvantage. He is technically knocking on the door of the big leagues since he’ll be with the Triple-A squad, but I wouldn’t expect to see him wearing pinstripes this year or any other year for that matter.
The Top Prospect
I didn’t rank a single first base prospect in my preseason top 30 list and that’s no accident. It’s a low priority position and very few players are actually drafted and developed as first baseman. Most move there from other more high-profile positions as a last resort. Prince Fielder is the most notable exception.
Anyway, New York’s best first base prospect — 20-year-old Greg Bird — has indeed moved to the position because he couldn’t handle catching full-time due to a back injury. The left-handed hitter owns a .307/.418/.446 (~159 wRC+) career batting line since signing for $1.1M as the team’s fifth round pick in 2011, but unfortunately that performance has come in only 122 plate appearances. Bird offers power and patience and he can really hit, but he’s going to have to keep producing since he’s already relegated to the lowest priority position before his 21st birthday.
The Deep Sleeper
As I said, there aren’t many first base prospects worth knowing throughout the game in general, nevermind in Yankees’ system. Bird is their best prospect at the position by a big margin, but last summer’s tenth round pick Matt Snyder could be a breakout candidate this summer. The 22-year-old hit .299/.397/.428 (147 wRC+) with more walks (26) than strikeouts (19) in 219 plate appearances for Short Season Staten Island last year, but therein lies the rub: his season ended prematurely because of a broke wrist. Wrist injuries tend to linger and impact power output for a year or so, meaning Snyder’s breakout potential is limited.
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The Yankees are setup well at first base with Teixeira, though his production has slipped and he’s no longer the two-way force he was earlier in his career. He’s more of a great complementary player than a cornerstone, which kinda sucks because there is still four years left on his contract. The team lacks first base prospects — specifically at the upper levels of the minor leagues — but that’s not really a big deal at this point. They are going to live and die with Teixeira for the foreseeable future thanks to his contract anyway.
Other Previews: Catchers
9:15am: The Yankees are officially calling it a “sore left oblique,” but Youkilis told reporters it was just a stitch in his side — near the top of his hip and not so much his oblique — yesterday and he’s totally fine today. “No concerns,” he said. We’ll see.
8:51am: Joe Girardi told reporters this morning that Kevin Youkilis will be shut down for a few days with some kind of left oblique issue. Apparently it was described as a “cramp” and Girardi said they’re just being cautious. The Yankees will re-evaluate their third baseman in a few days before sending him back out on the field. For what it’s worth, a left oblique strain sent Youkilis to the DL for two weeks back in 2009.
Earlier this offseason we heard that new third baseman Kevin Youkilis was hard at work with hitting coach Kevin Long in an effort to improve his declining offensive production. His overall output dropped down to a 102 wRC+ last season, basically league average, after sitting at 126 wRC+ in 2011 and 159 wRC+ in 2010. Considering he’s going to turn 34 next month, Youkilis was wise to get together with Long and make some adjustments before the season.
Youkilis met up with Jack Curry recently and discussed the changes he’s been working on, specifically setting up with a wider base and lowering his hands. Both are pretty common “old player” adjustments that try to eliminate wasted movement and get the hitter into a hitting position sooner. Youkilis is a dead-pull hitter and as he gets older and his bat slows down, he’ll need to shorten his swing up somewhere to avoid popping up the other way or getting jammed inside. I’m not terribly optimistic, but I’m glad they’re making an effort to improve now rather than midseason.