Mailbag: A-Rod, Protected Pick, Pineda, Homers

I’ve got seven questions for you this week. If you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or comments or links or whatever, just use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar at any time.

Many asked: What about playing Alex Rodriguez at shortstop next season?

We get asked this question a shocking number of times each week and I guess we can’t ignore them any longer. Alex can not play shortstop anymore. He hasn’t had the mobility for the position for about five years now based on his play at third. His arm is fine and his baseball instincts are literally the best I’ve ever seen, so I’m sure he knows what to do and all that, but physically he doesn’t move like he once did. Remember, we’re talking about a 39-year-old with two bad hips who has played 44 games total from 2013-14. By time Opening Day rolls around, it will have been 12 years since Alex played short. I’m am confident saying there is zero chance of this happening.

Assuming the Yankees don’t release A-Rod once his suspension is over — earlier this year I thought they would for sure, I think I wrote that somewhere, but now I don’t think that’s likely because he’s such a rating and ticket sale powerhouse — I’m sure they’ll try him at third base next year but wind up playing him at DH most of the time. I guess that would mean Martin Prado at third? Maybe they can teach Rodriguez to play some first base as well. But anything that requires actual mobility? I can’t see it. He’ll have to overcome a lot of physical obstacles to play the field regularly next season. Part-time third base, part-time first base, part-time DH seems like the best we could hope for going forward.

Justin asks: How does Jon Lester compare in age, innings pitched and injury history to CC Sabathia prior to his signing with the Yanks? Am I wrong to think off the top of my head that he would be well under CC’s innings total?

Sabathia was only 28 years old when he signed with the Yankees, remember. At the time of his free agency he had thrown 1,684.1 big league innings between the regular season and postseason, and his only notable injury was a torn meniscus following the 2006 season. Lester will turn 31 this offseason and he’s at 1,623.2 big league innings, so he’ll finish the year in the 1,650-1,700 range. He missed two weeks with a lat strain in 2011 and went through the cancer stuff back in the day. When Sabathia was Lester’s age, he had thrown 2,450.1 total innings. He started breaking down the next season (2012). (I’m not saying Lester will break down at the same age.) Lester’s arm is much fresher than Sabathia’s at the same point of his career, theoretically.

Paul asks: Approximately how bad would the Yankees have to be the rest of the way to get a protected draft pick? Where do you think they’ll end up picking (or which pick will they be losing to sign a qualified free agent if that’s what you think will happen)?

Because the Astros did not sign first overall pick Brady Aiken, they will receive the second overall pick as compensation next year. That pick as well as the first ten “natural” first round picks are protected from draft pick compensation. The Yankees currently have the 13th best record in baseball at 64-61, putting them in line for the 18th overall pick. The Mets have the tenth worst record at 60-68, a .469 winning percentage. Let’s say the Yankees would need to finish with a .460 winning percentage to secure a protected first round pick. That would mean a 74-88 overall record, or 10-27 in the final 37 games. The Yankees stink, but I can’t imagine they’ll play the .270-ish ball they would need to play the rest of the season to get a protected first rounder. In all likelihood they’ll end up picking in the 15-20 range.

Charlie asks: Just curious, how much longer is Big Mike under team control for? Does all of his injury time delay his arbitration? Thanks.

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

The Yankees did delay Michael Pineda‘s free agency and arbitration one year by activating him off the disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A last July. He should have been in his first arbitration year right now and scheduled to become a free agent after the 2016 season. Instead, Pineda will be arbitration eligible for the first time next year and hit free agency after the 2017 season, when he’ll still only be 28. Time spent on the DL is the same as the active roster for service time purposes.

Mark asks: It seems to me that as bad as the Yankees power output has been this year, a larger percentage of the few HRs that they hit have been solo HRs. Is that true?

The Yankees have hit 112 homers this season, which are broken down into 75 solo homers (67%), 27 two-run homers (24%), eight three-run homers (7%), and two grand slams (2%). Two grand slams! Remember when they hit three grand slams in one game a few years ago (video)? Good times. Good times. Anyway, the AL averages this year are 57% solo homers, 29% two-run homers, 11% three-run homers, and 2% ground slams. So yes, the Yankees have hit far more solo homers than a) any other type of homer, and b) the league average this year.

Drew asks: I know no prospect is perfect but which Yankee hitting prospect has the most complete tool set? My first initial thought was Aaron Judge, or am I missing someone? Does most complete tools equal best prospect? I’m not too sure, and it depends on how high you value a particular skill set and ceiling.

I would say Judge has the most complete set of tools in the system right now. In fact, I think he does easily. I’m not even sure who’s close at this point. Tyler Austin lacks speed and a strong arm, Greg Bird has all the hitting tools but not much else, and Jake Cave lacks power. Slade Heathcott probably has the second most complete set of tools in the system but he’s never healthy. I wouldn’t say the most complete tools automatically equals the best prospect, the quality of the tools matter as well. I would rather have a guy with 80 power, 20 speed, and 40 everything else (to use the 20-80 scouting scale for a second) than someone with 50s across the board, for example. Having a well-rounded game is good! It’s not everything though.

Drew asks: Is Mark Montgomery really having that bad of a season? Yes the walks have been an issue but overall it looks like his numbers have been pretty good. I don’t think he is a realistic option for the pen in September but more like the middle of next year after starting the year in AAA. Yes we thought it was going to happen this year but, hey things happen.

It’s about more than just the numbers, remember. Here’s what Brian Cashman told Nick Peruffo just the other day:

He used to have much bigger velocity, and now its settling at a lower level. He still has the performance behind it, its just not the power stuff it was before. He’s still someone that’s on our radar.

Montgomery has a 2.30 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 47 innings with a 24.1% strikeout rate and a 12.8% walk rate between Double-A and Triple-A this year. During this sicko 2012 season at High-A and Double-A, he had a 1.54 ERA (1.62 FIP) with a 39.4% strikeout rate and an 8.8% walk rate in 64.1 innings. Montgomery’s stuff hasn’t been the same since he hurt his shoulder last year and it shows in the numbers. He’s still a good relief prospect, just not the potential shutdown late-inning force we all thought he would be two years ago.

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Minor League Injury Updates: Bailey, Jagielo, Flores, Avelino, Montgomery

Jagielo. (MiLB.com)
Jagielo. (MiLB.com)

Chad Jennings spoke to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman about a variety of minor league topics this week. The entire post is worth a read, but here are the important injury updates (obligatory reminder that Newman’s timetables have a tendency to be … optimistic):

  • RHP Andrew Bailey (shoulder) is throwing bullpen sessions in Tampa, fastballs and changeups only. No breaking balls just yet. He is coming back from a torn capsule and, if he does become an MLB option at some point this year, it won’t be until very late in the season.
  • 3B Eric Jagielo (ribcage) is currently rehabbing at the complex in Tampa and is expected to return to the High-A Tampa lineup within ten days or so. He’s been out since late-May and had a 144 wRC+ before suffering the injury.
  • OF Ramon Flores (ankle) is still “a ways away,” said Newman. He has not yet resumed baseball activities and it will be a while before he does. Flores was having a real nice year (122 wRC+) for Triple-A Scranton before getting hurt.
  • RHP Mark Montgomery (shin) is currently in Tampa working out after being hit in the shin by a comebacker. Seems like they’re taking the injury as an opportunity to work on some mechanical stuff as well.
  • SS Abi Avelino (quad), RHP Branden Pinder (groin), and OF Adonis Garcia (hamstring) are all 10-14 days away from returning to their respective teams.

2014 Season Preview: Help From Within

It's Dellin's time to shine. (Presswire)
It’s Dellin’s time to shine. (Presswire)

Last year, the Yankees got close to zero help from their farm system. The only player to come up from the minors and establish himself as a big leaguer was Adam Warren, who spent the year as the swingman. Guys like David Adams, Preston Claiborne, and Zoilo Almonte got off to hot starts, but they all tailed off once they were pressed into regular playing time. Austin Romine also failed to impress as the backup catcher. The system offered close to no help as the injuries mounted and the poor stretches turned into poor seasons.

The Yankees were not oblivious to this — Hal Steinbrenner called a staff meeting and essentially had the scouting and player development staff audited to figure out why there were no internal solution. No major personnel changes were made, but some procedural changes were implemented and the minor league complex in Tampa was renovated. Turning around the system probably won’t happen overnight, but the team did take some steps in the right direction these last few months.

At some point this season, the Yankees will have to dip into their farm system for help. It’s inevitable. Injuries will strike and fringe players will play their way off the roster. When that happens, the first attempt at fixing the problem will come from within. The Yankees have shown they will be patient and not jump right into the trade market when they need help these last few years and I have no reason to think that will change in 2014. Here are the prospects who could come up and help the MLB team this summer.

Catcher: John Ryan Murphy
Murphy, 22, got his first taste of the big leagues late last year, but that was nothing more than a September cup of coffee following a breakout season in Double-A and Triple-A. He hit .269/.347/.426 with 29 doubles and 12 homers between the two levels and has improved so much defensively that he is now viewed as a no doubt catcher long-term. Had the Yankees not signed Brian McCann, the temptation to start Murphy in 2014 would have been be great. Instead, he figures to bide his time in Triple-A and await an injury after jumping Romine on the depth chart. Of course, he might be nothing more than trade bait. Sleeper: Eh, there really isn’t a sleeper behind the plate for 2014.

Anna. (Getty)
Anna. (Getty)

Infield: Dean Anna
Similar to Murphy, Anna figures to be the first called up whenever injury strikes the infield. The Yankees acquired the 27-year-old from the Padres in a minor offseason deal and he can do a little of everything except hit for power. He can get on base and play both second and short, where the offensive bar is pretty low. I’d say the chances of Anna coming up and being an impact player  this summer are remote, but he does enough to potentially help the team both at the plate and in the field if pressed into duty. Sleeper: Jose Pirela, who’s hit .264/.334/.401 and played four positions (second, short, third, left) at Double-A the last three years.

Outfield: Zoilo Almonte
Technically, Almonte had his chance to help the MLB team last year. He came up in mid-June and had five pretty great games to start his career, but it went downhill fast and he finished the year with a .236/.274/.302 batting line in 113 big league plate appearances around an ankle injury. Almonte, 24, offers sound corner outfield defense and a switch-hitting bat, and there’s a case to be made that he’s a better fit for the bench than Ichiro Suzuki right now. Instead of making the Opening Day roster, Zoilo will have to settle for a trip to Triple-A, where he will be the first called up whenever an extra outfield body is needed. He’s the clear first in line. Sleeper: Ronnie Mustelier, who didn’t get a shot last year but could hit his way into the conversation again.

Right-handers: Dellin Betances, Mark Montgomery, Jose Ramirez
Of everyone in this post, the 25-year-old Betances probably has the best chance to crack the Opening Day roster. He finally found something resembling sustained success in the bullpen last year, pitching to a 2.06 ERA with a 93/28 K/BB in 65.2 innings after shifting into a relief role. It feels like a foregone conclusion that Betances will get a chance to not only stick in the big leagues this year, but also assume a high-profile, late-inning role. The time is now for Dellin.

Had Montgomery not gotten hurt last year, he probably would have been called up instead of Claiborne. Instead, the 23-year-old struggled to throw strikes while missing time with shoulder problems. Montgomery will likely have to show he’s back to being the guy he was from 2011-12 before getting a chance to help the MLB team with his wipeout slider. Ramirez, 24, has had trouble staying healthy over the years and sure enough, he’s already been sidelined with an oblique problem in camp. When right, his fastball-changeup combination is electric and could have a huge impact out of the bullpen, assuming the Yankees are ready to give up on him as a starter given his career-long lack of durability. Sleeper: Danny Burawa, assuming he can figure out how consistently throw strikes.

Cabral. (Getty)
Cabral. (Getty)

Left-handers: Cesar Cabral, Vidal Nuno
I wouldn’t be a complete shock if either Cabral or Nuno made the Opening Day roster, but, more likely, they figure to serve as up and down arms this season. The 25-year-old Cabral is a pure lefty specialist with a low-90s fastball and a sweepy slider, and his late-season cameo was impressive (nine lefties faced, six strikeouts). Nuno, 26, has a deep enough repertoire to start and we saw him do that last summer before his groin injury. In a perfect world, he’d turn into a left-handed 2009 Al Aceves, a rubber-armed swingman who could come in for one batter or four innings without much of a problem. Sleeper: Fred Lewis, who lacks sexy numbers but has the fastball-slider combination to help as a specialist.

* * *

The Yankees do not have a Xander Bogaerts or a Gregory Polanco in their farm system, that super high upside MLB ready prospect with a clear path to big league playing time in 2014. Any help they get from within this summer figures to come in small doses, from bench players or relievers. Sure, Murphy could take over as the starter if McCann gets hurt or Nuno could grab the fifth starter’s spot and run with it, but that would be a surprise. The system is not a position to provide an immediate impact right now unless it involves trading prospects for a big leaguer.

Minors Notes: Hensley, Katoh, Montgomery

Montgomery. (Presswire)
Montgomery. (Presswire)

The Arizona Fall League season begins next Tuesday while the various Caribbean winter leagues start a few weeks later. Until then, here are some minor league notes:

  • Chad Jennings reports RHP Dellin Betances has asked the Yankees for permission to pitch in winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He wants to stay sharp and continue throwing following a very successful transition to the bullpen. Betances will be out of minor league options next season and is a super-early favorite for the Opening Day bullpen, so his workload is worth monitoring. You don’t want the kid pitching ten months out of the year.
  • RHP Ty Hensley is done with physical therapy, according to his Twitter feed. He started a throwing program last month but probably hasn’t progressed to the point of throwing off a mound yet. I imagine the Yankees are taking it slow with last summer’s first rounder. Hensley missed the entire season after having surgery to correct an impingement in his right hip.
  • According to Sanspo (translate article), 2B Gosuke Katoh recently tore a finger ligament during Instructional League in Tampa. He saw a specialist in New York and the recovery time is four weeks, but he can continue taking batting practice with his finger taped. The article says Katoh may head to Instructional League at the Dominican Republic complex later this month if the finger is healed.
  • RHP Mark Montgomery has recently started throwing off a mound, according to his Twitter feed. His season ended in mid-August due to continued shoulder problems. The team’s top relief prospect coming into the season had a 3.38 ERA (4.00 FIP) with a lot of strikeouts (11.03 K/9 and 28.0 K%) and a lot of walks (5.63 BB/9 and 14.3 BB%) in 40 innings for Triple-A Scranton this summer. I wonder if Montgomery will play winter ball.
  • Ben Badler (subs. req’d) named Cuban LHP Omar Luis one of ten sleepers from the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League. “Luis didn’t pick up a baseball for eight months in Haiti [because of visa problems], which led to considerable rust … He showed swing-and-miss stuff with his 89-95 mph fastball, slider and changeup,” wrote Badler of the $4M southpaw. Luis had a 5.68 ERA (~3.08 FIP) with a good strikeout rate (12.22 K/9 and 26.2 K%) and an awful lot of walks (8.24 BB/9 and 17.7 BB%) in 31.2 innings.

Heathcott and Montgomery placed on minor league DL

6:05pm: Nick Peruffo reports Heathcott is heading to the team’s complex in Tampa and will have an MRI. He says it sounds like the outfielder is done for the year. The minor league season ends in less than three weeks anyway.

5:00pm: Via Mike Ashmore: OF Slade Heathcott has been placed on the Double-A Trenton DL with with right knee tendinopathy, which, from what I understand, is damage to the tendon without the typical inflammation that comes with tendinitis. No word on how long the team’s third best prospect will be sidelined. The 22-year-old Heathcott has a long injury history, mostly involving his twice surgically repaired left shoulder. He’s hit .261/.327/.411 (103 wRC+) with eight homers and 15 steals in a career-high (by far) 444 plate appearances for the Thunder, including a .283/.355/.448 line over his last 60 games.

In other minor league injury news, RHP Mark Montgomery has been placed on the Triple-A Scranton DL according to Donnie Collins. He left Saturday’s game with a shoulder issue and I assume the DL stint is related. If so, this is his third shoulder-related DL trip of the season. Montgomery, 22, has a 3.38 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 40 Triple-A innings with an excellent strikeout rate (11.03 K/9 and 28.0 K%) that is actually well below what he had done in previous years (14.56 K/9 and 40.0 K% from 2011-12). His control has completely deteriorated this summer (5.63 BB/9 and 14.3 BB%). I ranked Montgomery as the the team’s 17th best prospect in my latest update. Had he been healthy and productive this year, chances are he would have been in the big leagues already.

2013 Season Preview: The Relievers

Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.

(J. Meric/Getty)
(J. Meric/Getty)

Mariano Rivera is worthy of his own post, but he is just one of many when it comes to the bullpen. The Yankees used 17 different relievers last season, including ten for at least ten appearances. That is pretty much par for the course these days — they used 26 (!) different relievers in 2011 and 18 in 2010 — since no team ever makes it through the season without injuries or underperformance. In fact, the Yankees have already lost one reliever (Clay Rapada) to the DL and the season hasn’t even started yet. He is the first injured bullpener, but he won’t be the last.

The Setup Man
Over the last two seasons, soon-to-be 28-year-old David Robertson has emerged as one of the very best relievers in all of baseball. He’s pitched to a 1.84 ERA (2.15 FIP) with a 12.79 K/9 (34.8 K%) since 2011, all of which are top five marks among big league relievers. Robertson managed to curtail his career-long walk issue last season — career-best 2.82 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%, including just five walks in his last 33 innings — but I’m going to need to see him do it again before I buy that as real improvement. His track record of iffy command is too long to be washed away in one (half) season.

With Rivera back and Rafael Soriano gone, Robertson is the unquestioned Eighth Inning Guy™ and backup closer whenever Mo needs a day to rest. That means we’re unlikely to see him brought into mid-to-late-inning jams to clean up the mess, which is where he and his strikeout-heavy ways are best deployed. Regardless, Robertson is an extremely valuable reliever who will see a ton of high-leverage work. Outside of Rivera, he’s the most important pitcher in the bullpen.

The Lefty Specialist
The Yankees have had enough injury problems this spring, but one player who seems to have survived the bug is Boone Logan. The 28-year-old dealt with a barking elbow for a few weeks and didn’t get into a game until last week, but he appears to be on track for Opening Day. Logan threw a career-high 55.1 innings in a league-leading 80 appearances last summer, which may or may not have contributed to the elbow issue. Given his extremely slider usage — 51.4% (!) last year, the third straight year his usage increased — it would be foolish to think the workload didn’t contribute to the elbow problem somewhat.

Anyway, Logan has quietly emerged as a high strikeout left-hander these last two years, posting a 10.58 K/9 and 26.9 K% since the start of 2011. Despite the strikeouts, he hasn’t been especially effective against same-side hitters, limiting them to a .240/.309/.413 (.314 wOBA) line over the last two years. That’s nothing special for a primary lefty specialist — Rapada has been far more effective against left-handers — but he redeems himself (somewhat) by being more than a true specialist. Righties have hit just .243/.355/.386 (.315 wOBA) against him these last two years, so Girardi can run Logan out there for a full inning if need be. He’s definitely useful, though perhaps miscast as a late-inning guy.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Middle Men
It has been two years since either Joba Chamberlain or David Aardsma has had a full, healthy season. Both had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and both had another major injury as well — Joba his ankle and Aardsma his hip —  and both were pretty darn effective before the injuries. The Yankees will count on both as their pre-eighth inning righties this year, mixing and matching with Logan and Rapada (when healthy).

All of the team’s relievers are cut from a similar cloth and these two are no different. Both Joba and Aardsma are high strikeout guys with swing-and-miss offspeed pitches, the question is just how effective they will be following the injuries. Chamberlain, 27, was pretty bad in the second half last year before finishing strong while the 31-year-old Aardsma made one late-September appearance and nothing more. They could be awesome, they could be awful, they could be something in-between. I’m guessing we’ll see a bit of all three at times this summer.

Rapada, 32, will start the season on the DL due to shoulder bursitis and there is no timetable for his return. He’s been crazy effective against lefties in his relatively short big league career (.231 wOBA against), though righties have hit him hard (.453 wOBA). As a soft-tossing, low-arm slot guy with a funky delivery, he’s a true specialist. But damn is he good at what he does.

The Long Man
When Spring Training started, it was assumed the loser of the Ivan Nova/David Phelps fifth starter competition would move to the bullpen and serve as the long man. Phil Hughes‘ back injury is likely to land him on the DL coming Opening Day, meaning both Nova and Phelps will be in the rotation to start the year. Long man replacements include 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren and 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno, the latter of whom has gotten talked up as a potential Rapada placement. He’s been, by far, the more impressive pitcher in Grapefruit League play. Either way, the long reliever job will go to Nova or Phelps whenever Hughes returns, which could be as soon as the second turn through the rotation.

Knocking on the Door
Beyond Warren and Nuno — starters by trade who are relief candidates by default — the Yankees have a number of legit bullpen backup plans slated for Triple-A. The two most obvious candidates are right-handers Shawn Kelley, 28, and Cody Eppley, 27, both of whom are on the 40-man roster, have big league experience, and have minor league options. Kelley is a traditional fastball/slider/strikeout guy while Eppley is low-slot sinker/slider/ground ball righty specialist. There’s a good chance one of these two — likely Kelley because Eppley was been terrible in camp — will crack the Opening Day roster as a Hughes/Rapada replacement. Right-hander David Herndon, 27, will be in the big league mix once he finishes rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at midseason.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Among the bullpen prospects scheduled to open the season with Triple-A Scranton are 22-year-old slider machine Mark Montgomery, the team’s top relief prospect. He ranked tenth on my preseason top 30 prospects list and should make his big league debut at some point this season. Montgomery gets compared to Robertson but that isn’t particularly fair even though he’s also an undersized strikeout fiend with a trademark breaking ball. No need to set yourself up for disappointment like that. Remember, it took Robertson two years before he finally stuck in the show and three before he became truly dominant.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 23, and left-hander Francisco Rondon, 24, will both be in the Triple-A bullpen and one phone call away as well. Whitley is a three-pitch guy who projects more as a middle reliever than a late-inning arm, but he’s a very high probability guy. Rondon opened some eyes in camp by flashing a knockout slider after being added to the 40-man roster in November. He needs to work on his command and get some Triple-A experience before being a big league option, however. Whitley is pretty much ready to go.

The Top Prospects
Montgomery is New York’s top relief prospect at the moment, but right-handers Nick Goody and Corey Black deserve a mention as well. The 21-year-old Goody posted a 1.12 ERA (~0.89 FIP) with 52 strikeouts and just nine walks in 32 innings after signing as the team’s sixth round pick last year. The 21-year-old Black pitched to a 3.08 ERA (~2.70 FIP) in 52.2 innings after being the team’s fourth rounder last summer, but the Yankees have him working as a starter at the moment. He is expected to move into a relief role in due time if he doesn’t firm up his offspeed pitches. Both Goody (#21) and Black (#24) cracked my preseason top 30 and both are expected to open the year with High-A Tampa.

* * *

The Yankees have had consistently strong bullpens during the Girardi era, due in part to his willingness to spread the workload around rather than overwork one or two guys. The front office has (mostly) gotten away from big money relievers and focused on adding depth and power arms. Girardi got away from his strength last year because of injury (Rivera, Joba, Robertson for a month) and ineffectiveness (Cory Wade), instead relying heavily on his primary late-inning guys. That will hopefully change this year and the team will get back to having a deep and diverse bullpen, something they’ll need given the diminished offense.