Must-Click Link: Mark Prior’s quest to get back to MLB

Mark Prior wasn’t a Yankee very long. More than a decade after drafting him with the 43rd pick in 1998 and failing to sign him, the Yankees inked the right-hander to a minor league contract prior to 2011. He pitched well in Spring Training and was sent to Triple-A for more work, but oblique and groin strains limited him to just eleven appearances. New York let him go after the season.

In a feature for MLB.com, Doug Miller profiled Prior and his quest to get back to the big leagues. Injuries continue to hamper his comeback attempts, but he keeps trying because his three young children all want to see him pitch. It’s a long read but a very good one, perfect for a lazy Sunday morning. Check it out.

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Injury Updates: Jeter, Colon, Soriano, Prior

Time for your daily dose of injury news, courtesy of George King and Joe Auriemma

  • Derek Jeter ran the bases today for the first time since suffering his calf strain. He went from home to first (four times), first to second (three times), and first to third (once). “Running is probably the most important,” said the Cap’n. “It feels good. I’m sure we will pick it up in the next couple of days. It’s a step in the right direction.” Jeter also fielding about three dozen ground balls and took 50 or so swings in batting practice. There’s no set timetable for his return.
  • Bartolo Colon did some sprints and agility drills following Monday’s 60-pitch simulated game, but the most interesting news from Tampa is that he practiced some bunting. Colon lines up to pitch the same day as Brian Gordon, and the bunting could mean that they’re ready to give Bartolo that start against the Mets in CitiField. He is on his way to New York for “evaluation.”
  • Rafael Soriano is throwing long toss and so far everything feels good.
  • Mark Prior threw a bullpen session, his second in four days. If he feels fine tomorrow, there’s a chance he’ll throw to live hitters in batting practice later this week.

Injury Updates: Jeter, Colon, Feliciano, Chavez

The latest from the infirmary…

  • Derek Jeter‘s rehab from a calf strain was interrupted by rain and wet grounds both yesterday and today. He did manage to take full batting practice (30 swings), field a few ground balls, and begin a running program once the weather cooperated this morning/afternoon. “Everything‚Äôs good,” said the Cap’n. “Steps in the right direction.”
  • Bartolo Colon threw 60 pitches in a simulated game against minor leaguers (including the injured Slade Heathcott), broken down into four “innings” of 15 pitches. It’s unclear if he’ll make a minor league rehab start to jump right back to the bigs and face the Mets this weekend.
  • Pedro Feliciano made 15 minimum effort throws off a mound, the first time he’s done that.
  • Eric Chavez also took batting practice and played long toss with Jeter.
  • Mark Prior will throw off a mound tomorrow, the second time he’ll do that in the span of four days as he works his way back from the groin strain from hell.

The Yankees also confirmed that Phil Hughes‘ next rehab start will come with Double-A Trenton this Wednesday. After throwing 71 pitches last time out, I suspect he’ll be scheduled for 85-90 pitches. Trenton will be at home against New Hampshire, but it’s a day game (12:05pm ET start). You can get tickets here.

Minors Notes: Anderson, Sanchez, Injuries, More

Got a bunch of minor league notes today, so let’s round them all up in one post. Everything comes from Mike Ashmore or Chad Jennings

  • Right-hander Brian Anderson has been released. He had been on the Double-A Trenton disabled list with a biceps issue, though his performance when he did pitch was pretty good: nine strikeouts and just one walk in 7.1 IP.
  • Mark Newman again said that Gary Sanchez is out with a “stiff lower back,” though he’s playing in Extended Spring Training. He is on the Low-A Charleston disabled list at the moment, and he’ll return there when healthy.
  • Both Slade Heathcott (.376 wOBA) and J.R. Murphy (.385) will “probably” move up to High-A Tampa this summer. That’s a yes, though I was wondering if Heathcott’s brawl would slow down his schedule somewhat.
  • Mark Prior is not throwing off a mound and is dealing with some kind of oblique/hip issue. Alan Horne (remember him?) is throwing in ExST, as is Brad Halsey. Graham Stoneburner, Jeremy Bleich, and Steve Garrison aren’t close to returning yet.
  • David Adams is still having leg issues. It might be related to last year’s broken ankle, but the leg started bothering him after his one game played this year.
  • When asked about who’s impressed in ExST, Newman responded with personal fave Bryan Mitchell. “He’s got electric stuff,” said Newman. “He’s got the stuff to be the next Banuelos, Betances. The high-end guy. That’s Mitchell.”
  • Carlos Silva can opt out of his minor league deal in mid-June, so he could probably make another two or three or maybe even four starts for Triple-A Scranton before the Yankees have to make a decision about whether or not to call him up.

Prior placed on the 7-day DL with groin injury

Updated (Wed., 2 p.m.): One day after making his first appearance with AAA Scranton, Mark Prior has landed on the seven-day disabled list, MiLB.com reported last night via Twitter. Times beat reporter Ben Shpigel followed up this afternoon: Prior has been sidelined by a groin injury, but Mark Newman, the club’s senior vice president of baseball operations, says the injury is “not serious.” Based on Prior’s injury history, I was concerned this trip to the DL was shoulder-related, but it sounds as though Prior could be back on the mound in a week or two.

Link Dump: Prior, Obliques, Projected Standings

Some random linkage on a rainy afternoon in the Tri-State…

Prior's still in Tampa, working his way back. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A brief Mark Prior scouting report

Right-hander Mark Prior was the feel good story of Spring Training this year, striking out a dozen batters and allowing just one run in 8.2 innings. He was clearly a shell of his former self, but his stuff was good enough to get guys out. Baseball America’s Jim Callis passed along an updated scouting report on the former phenom in this week’s Ask BA: “Prior’s fastball usually ran from 87-91 mph, his breaking ball and changeup were nothing special, and neither was his control (five walks) … Prior will need more fastball and a quality second pitch if he’s going to help New York in a relief role later in the year. I’m rooting for him, but I’ll believe it when I see it.”

The Yankees have until mid-June before Prior’s opt-out clause becomes an issue, so there’s no rush to make a decision. He recently appeared in back-to-back games for High-A Tampa and came out of that okay, but he’s obviously got a long, long way to go.

Even more on oblique issues

We’ve heard quite a bit about oblique injuries early in the season, as a number of Yankees missed time in Spring Training because of them. They’re not alone though, oblique issues have become an epidemic around the league. Fourteen players have already hit the disabled list with oblique injuries this season, and Michael Schmidt of The New York Times is trying to figure out why. We’ve heard about imbalanced training already, and another theory is that players are going from offseason training to game conditions too quickly. The Yankees were playing Grapefruit League games less than a week after position players reported. It could also be a classification issue since a lot of these injuries were just called abdominal or ribcage strains in the past. Whatever it is, there’s a lot of money being wasted on the disabled list, and you can be sure teams will get to the bottom of it.

Update projected standings

Before the season, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system projected the Yankees to finish third in the AL East with an 87-75 record. The Red Sox occupied the top spot at 93-69 while the Rays trailed at 88-74, but because of their 2-8 starts, the playoff odds for Boston and Tampa Bay have taken a significant hit. In an ESPN Insider piece, Szymborski shows that updated ZiPS projections call for the Sox to finish 86-76 now, one game back of the Yankees in the division. The Rays are now projected to finish third at 85-77. A 2-8 start certainly isn’t the end of the world, but that’s ten games each team won’t get back, and that absolutely takes a bite out of their playoff hopes.

If nothing else, look at it this way: the Sox came into the season as the favorite in the division and understandably so, but the tangible benefit of being four wins better than New York in terms of roster construction is gone, if it ever existed in the first place.

The wannabe lefty

Earlier today we learned what makes David Robertson so effective: his extension. But did you know he’s ambidextrous? No, he’s not Pat Venditte, who will throw with both hands in game, but as Dan Barbarisi explains, Robertson shags fly balls every day using a glove on his right hand, firing balls back to the infield with his left. He’s even worked out an arrangement with Brett Gardner, who gives D-Rob his gloves to break in during batting practice. No, Robertson isn’t close to throwing left-handed in a game, he’s just working on it as a hobby. “If I can do it with my right hand, I can do it with my left hand. Why not?” said David. “I’m pretty ambidextrous. I just can’t write left-handed. That’s my only problem.”

About that 2003 stuff…

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Once the Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee, they shifted into salvage mode and grabbed what they deemed to be useful players on the cheap. Among that group was fifth starter Freddy Garcia, long man Bartolo Colon, bench players Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez, and reliever Mark Prior. As each signing trickled in, a familiar wisecrack was bestowed from the masses: “they’d win if it was 2003!” The joke came in various forms, but the one constant was 2003 for whatever reason. People were fixated on that year. So, naturally, the question becomes: what’s so special about 2003 anyway?

2002
This is a convenient place to start since it’s Prior’s first (half) year in the bigs. He came up in late May and pitched to a 3.16 FIP in 116.2 IP, striking out 11.3 batters per nine. Colon was in the middle of a six-year stretch of 4-5 fWAR seasons, splitting a 3.73 FIP in 233.1 IP between the Indians and Expos. Sweaty Freddy was already a vet at age 25, with 87 big league starts to his credit. His second straight Opening Day assignment was followed by 223.2 IP of 4.01 FIP pitching. That’s a fine three-man pitching staff right there.

Jones’ .377 wOBA was the second highest of his career at the time, and the 15.6 runs he saved on defense (!) was then the lowest full season total of his career (!!) by eight runs (!!!). Chavez was a young buck just coming into his own at the time (24 years old), but his .364 wOBA was his third straight year in the .360’s. He also saved nine runs with the glove, down four from the year before.

(AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)

2003
Prior zoomed right past Beast Mode and went straight into F*ck Sh*t Up Mode this season, giving the Cubbies 211.1 IP with a 2.47 FIP. Over the last eight years, there have been only five instances in which a pitcher has posted a FIP that low in a single season (min. 180 IP). He was, as they say, redonkulous. Garcia had one of the worst full seasons of his career with a 4.82 FIP in 201.1 IP, and Colon was rather ordinary with a 4.11 IP in a crazy 242 IP. That’s the sixth most innings thrown in a single season by a non-Roy Halladay pitcher over the last eight years. Jones had another phenomenal year (.361 wOBA, 18.4 runs saved) but Chavez slumped with the glove, costing his team 5.2 runs defensively. He did provide another .360-ish wOBA (.365 to be exact), the fourth straight year. This is the year everyone keeps referring too, though Prior and Jones were the only real standouts.

2004
Things started to go south for Prior in ’04, but he still managed a 3.53 FIP in 118.2 IP. Colon had the worst full season of his career (4.97 FIP in 208.1 IP), but Garcia had the second best of his career (3.67 FIP in 210 IP). Once again, Andruw was a monster, saving 24.3 runs defensively with a .351 wOBA. That’s his worst offensive performance in this here “study.” Chavez, meanwhile, had the best offensive season of his career thanks to a .383 wOBA, and he also saved eight-and-a-half runs at the hot corner. The Prior injury and Colon’s poor season really drag this group down.

Fatty vs. fatty. Fatty wins. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

2005
Jones stole the show this season, clubbing 51 homers and registered a .382 wOBA at age 28. He also saved 24.3 runs in center, resulting in an 8.3 fWAR effort that was second only to some guy named Alex among all position players. Colon won the Cy Young this year, but a 3.75 FIP in 222.2 IP is more really good than Cy worthy. Garcia (4.05 FIP in 228 IP) and Chavez (.342 wOBA, 7.1 runs saved) were solid but not brilliant. The ’05 season was Prior’s last hurrah, a 3.85 FIP in 166.2 IP. He made nine appearances in 2006 and hasn’t been back to the show since.

* * *

Now that we have an idea of what each player did during this completely arbitrary four year stretch, let’s recap it all using everyone’s favorite catch-all stat, fWAR…

While this fivesome did some fine work in 2003, the 2005 season is where it’s really at. Each player was worth at least three wins, and four topped at least 4.3 wins. The star-level performances aren’t there after Jones, but one star and four other above-average contributors is a recipe for success. So the next time someone says the Yankees would be doing great if it was 2003, make sure you point out that they’d be doing even better if it was 2005.