The back of the bench [2017 Season Review]

Higgy looking for hits (Al Bello/Getty Images)
Higgy looking for hits (Al Bello/Getty Images)

We’ve gone through just about every player who made an appearance for the Yankees this year. The good ones. The bad ones. Now let’s get to some of the players in between, the players who are easy to forget. These are the players that you miss on the 2017 New York Yankees Sporcle quiz.

First, let’s go a little more in-depth on a few players I went over in the miscellaneous first basemen review and then touch on the true bottom of the roster.

Rob Refsnyder

While Refsnyder had a five-game stint at first base, the Yankees didn’t use him primarily at first this year. He was called up on May 2 to replace an injured Greg Bird on the roster. Six days later, he was sent down for Chad Green.

In all, Refsnyder was up-and-down three times in May, once for the single-admission Derek Jeter/Mother’s Day doubleheader and another time to take the spot of Jacoby Ellsbury post-concussion.

I’ve already gone into his inability to hit this year. It was painful. But his fielding also reared its ugly head. The moment that sticks out was when he replaced Dustin Fowler after the rookie’s devastating knee injury. Refsnyder almost immediately misplayed a ball in right field during a game the Yankees lost by one run.

The dream was that Refsnyder could be a Zobrist-type, but he could neither hit nor field particularly well and it’s why he’s currently on his third organization in the last year (Yankees to Blue Jays to Indians). He played six games against the Yankees with the Blue Jays in the final two months of the year and went 2-for-12.

Tyler Austin

With 40 more at-bats in 2017, Austin is six at-bats shy of no longer being a rookie. And after a sub-par season due to injuries, it’s worth wondering where he fits in New York.

Two separate DL stints this season really set him back from a chance to prove himself as at least a bench bat, if not the righty side of a platoon. Now, he’ll likely start 2018 in Triple A if he makes it through the offseason on the 40-man roster.

Fun note: He is Pikachu in Didi’s postgame tweets. I don’t think any of these other players got an emoji.

Kyle Higashioka

Higashioka had an impressive 2016 in the minors, earning himself the opportunity as the No. 3 catcher out of spring. His calling card in 2016 was his power, although we didn’t get a chance to see it in the majors.

In his age-27 season, he walked twice and picked up no hits in 20 plate appearances while playing nine games in April. He got the chance after Gary Sanchez went down with a forearm injury, but Higgy couldn’t hack it in an extremely short sample size after debuting in the Yankees’ home opener.

As he did for much of his minor league career, Higashioka dealt with injuries for much of the season. The team had to have hoped he’d turned the corner health-wise in his breakout 2016, but alas, he was unable to do so.

The team had to seek out a new third catcher for September after he couldn’t make make it back from his back injury. Now he’ll have to prove himself again to make it through 2018 on the 40-man.

Mason Williams

The former top prospect spent his final games in pinstripes this season. Sad to see his time as a Yankee come to an end, but he became expendable this season with the team’s glut of young outfielders.

He made five starts in June and picked up four hits, stealing two bases. No extra-base hits though, which has been part of his issues. He just couldn’t hit for much pop, nor could he work many walks.

He was designated for assignment on June 29 to make room for Dustin Fowler. He spent the rest of the year in Scranton where he continued to show very little power but still produced with his legs (19 steals in 24 attempts).

Williams is now with the Cincinnati Reds, having signed with the club as a minor league free agent after the season.

Williams steals a base on Kozma! (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Williams steals a base on Kozma! (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Pete Kozma

Kozma may be the easiest 2017 Yankee to forget. He wouldn’t have made the roster at all if it wasn’t for Didi’s injury during the World Baseball Classic/Spring Training.

He played just 11 games in pinstripes and made just 10 plate appearances. He had just one hit and one walk. Didn’t do anything remarkable. He was DFA’d to make room for Didi on April 28 and spent the next 3.5 months with the Rangers. He was cut from their Triple A squad in mid-August.

Erik Kratz

The Yankees needed a third catcher down the stretch, so Kratz was acquired at the waiver deadline. He played in just four games and had just two at-bats. He delivered in both of them with a single and a double, finishing the season with a sterling 2.500 OPS. That’s good for a 600 wRC+. Oh snap!

He hung around the team during the postseason and stood up for Aaron Judge in a postgame interview after ALDS Game 5. That’s about it for his brief Yankees career.

Saturday Links: Otani, Minor League Free Agents, 2018 ZiPS

(Getty)
(Getty)

The offseason has been slow-moving so far, so here are some bits of news and notes to help you pass the time. Hopefully something exciting happens soon.

Otani will be posted this offseason

Yesterday the Nippon Ham Fighters announced they will indeed post Shohei Otani for MLB teams this offseason, according to the Japan Times and the Kyodo News. It’s important to note the (Ham) Fighters have only announced their intention to post Otani. He hasn’t actually been posted yet. MLB, MLBPA, and NPB are still haggling over the posting agreement. From the Kyodo News:

“Everyone in our ballclub accepts his thoughts,” said Hideki Kuriyama, manager of the (Ham) Fighters, at a press conference yesterday. “It’s not just me, but everyone in the ballclub believed in what he can do. I never lost doubt and I was sure he can do it. I spent the past five years just believing in that.”

Otani recently hired Nez Balelo of CAA, an MLBPA certified agent, which could help settle the posting squabble between MLB, MLBPA, and NPB. The union knows Otani is in good hands now — Balelo is a veteran agent who has experience representing Japanese players (Nori Aoki, Junichi Tazawa) as well as big name players (Ryan Braun, Adam Jones) — and can be sure he is completely aware of the situation. Once the posting stuff if sorted out, Otani will be posted. Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.

16 Yankees become minor league free agents

Earlier this week a whopping 572 players became minor league free agents across baseball, according to Matt Eddy. Sixteen of those 572 players are Yankees. Or were Yankees, anyway. Here are the 16.

  • Pitchers (8): RHP Colten Brewer, LHP Daniel Camarena, RHP Juan Jimenez, RHP Tyler Jones, LHP Joe Mantiply, RHP Jose Pena, RHP Eduardo Rivera, LHP Eric Wooten
  • Catchers (4): Wilkin Castillo, Kellin Deglan, Eddy Rodriguez, Wes Wilson
  • Infielders (3): 3B Dante Bichette Jr., IF Cito Culver, IF Donovan Solano
  • Outfielders (1): Mason Williams

Bichette and Culver are the most notable names here as former high draft picks, and Williams was once among the organization’s very best prospects. Brewer and Camarena are the best prospects right now, though neither comes particularly close to cracking the organization’s top 30 prospects list. Or even the top 40 list. Solano and Williams are the only two of those 16 players who played in the big leagues with the Yankees.

Also, according to Eddy, the Yankees have re-signed LHP Chaz Hebert, who was due to become a minor league free agent this winter. The 25-year-old southpaw had a breakout 2015 season, throwing 134 innings with a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) at three levels. Then he blew out his elbow and missed the entire 2016 season and the first half of 2017 with Tommy John surgery. Hebert got back on the mound late this year and will back in the fold next year.

Yankees top 2018 AL ZiPS projections

A few days ago Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to put together way-too-early 2018 projected standings. ZiPS right now pegs the Yankees for 92 wins and first place in the AL East next year. In fact, those 92 wins are the most among all AL teams — the 90-win Astros are second — and second most in MLB overall behind the 96-win Dodgers.

New York of course had a gigantic payroll in 2017 as it typically does, but what people haven’t completely noticed about this team is that it got far more of its wins from inexpensive, young talent than the good Yankees teams typically do. The last time the team won a World Series, it got 9.7 WAR (17 percent) from players making less than a million bucks. In 2017, that number was 25.9 WAR (49 percent).

Of course, there is still an entire offseason to go, so every team’s roster can and will change before Opening Day. As things stand right now though, the Yankees are set up well going into next year thanks to their young core and some nice veteran complementary players. It’s entirely possible they could go into next season even bigger favorites to win the AL East depending how the offseason plays out.

DotF: Scranton walks off with a win behind Andujar, McKinney

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the standings, so let’s do that today. Here are the day’s notes first:

  • LHP Justus Sheffield was placed on the Double-A Trenton disabled list with a right oblique strain, the team announced. Manager Bobby Mitchell admitted to Kyle Franko it is a pretty significant strain. Sucks. There is no timetable for Sheffield’s return. At least it’s not his arm, I guess.
  • Baseball Prospectus released their midseason top 50 prospects list, which includes three Yankees: SS Gleyber Torres (7th), RHP Chance Adams (37th), and Sheffield (47th). Prospect eligible players in the big leagues (so OF Clint Frazier, OF Dustin Fowler, and IF Tyler Wade) were not included, ditto 2017 draftees.
  • OF Zack Zehner and LHP Nestor Cortes have been added the Double-A Eastern League All-Star Game, it was announced. Zehner is replacing 1B Mike Ford (promoted) on the roster and Cortes is replacing Sheffield.
  • Welcome back, Mason Williams. He cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. That’s good. Never hurts to have a spare center fielder lying around.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Buffalo in eleven innings, walk-off style) they are 54-32 and have a one-game lead in the North Division

  • DH Jake Cave: 2-6, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 K
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-6, 2 RBI — two-run walk-off single in the 11th
  • 1B Mike Ford: 3-4, 1 R — Conor Foley says Ford left the game with hamstring soreness and he’ll be reevaluated tomorrow … the first base depth chart is really, really thin right now
  • RF Billy McKinney: 3-5
  • 2B Jonathan Diaz: 3-5, 1 R, 1 K — first game back with the RailRiders after yesterday’s minor trade
  • LHP Dietrich Enns: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 7/3 GB/FB — 67 of 92 pitches were strikes (73%) … 28/5 K/BB in 28 innings around the shoulder injury
  • RHP Jonathan Holder: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 13 of 24 pitches were strikes (54%) … he’s going to have to do better than that to get back to the big leagues
  • RHP Ben Heller: 2 IP, zeroes, 3 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 18 of 28 pitches were strikes (64%)

[Read more…]

Game 74: Split vs. Reverse Split

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Tonight the Yankees open a four-game series with the White Sox in Chicago, where they are undefeated so far this season. They swept three games from the Cubs back in May. Remember that? It was awesome. Brett Gardner hit that insanely clutch ninth inning home run in the first game and the Yankees outlasted the defending World Series champs during the 18-inning game on ESPN in the last game. Good times.

Tonight left-hander Jordan Montgomery will face baseball’s very best hitting team against left-handed pitchers. Their combined batting line: .307/.370/.474 (125 wRC+). Big right-handed power bats like Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Matt Davidson, and Avisail Garcia explain that. Montgomery, however, has a reverse split. He has a 3.43 FIP against righties and a 6.72 FIP against lefties. The best lefty hitting team in baseball against a lefty who gets righties out. Intrigue! Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. 1B Tyler Austin
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is cloudy and cool in Chicago this evening, and, of course, windy. Lots of wind. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 8:10pm ET and WPIX will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: As you can see, Ellsbury is back. He was activated off the disabled list earlier today. The Yankees also officially placed Aaron Hicks on the 10-day DL with an oblique strain and sent down both Mason Williams and Tyler Webb. Ronald Herrera and Rob Refsnyder were called up. So that’s Hicks, Williams, and Webb out, Ellsbury, Herrera, and Refsnyder in.

Injury Update: Matt Holliday (allergic reaction) was sent to see a doctor and is not available tonight … Greg Bird (ankle) is with Triple-A Scranton. He’s going to take batting practice with them the next few days. I imagine he’ll begin another minor league rehab assignment with the RailRiders if things go well … Castro (wrist) is feeling better after his cortisone shot. He said he originally hurt the wrist on multiple check swings … Adam Warren (shoulder) played catch over the weekend and is tentatively scheduled to throw a bullpen later this week. He hopes to be back in time for the homestand next week.

All-Star Voting Update: MLB released their final fan voting update earlier today and Judge remains the leading vote-getter in the AL. His 3,442,597 votes are second only to Bryce Harper’s 3,617,444 among all players. Pretty cool. Sanchez (second), Castro (second), Didi Gregorius (third), Matt Holliday (fourth), and Gardner (ninth) are also getting votes at their positions. Here’s the ballot. Voting ends Thursday and the All-Star rosters will be announced Sunday. Also, Judge said he still hasn’t decided whether to participate in the Home Run Derby. (It’s an easy yes, dude.)

The Yankees and the 2017 All-Star Game

Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)
Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)

Despite recent events, the Yankees have the second best record (39-30) and the second best run differential (+107) in the American League. Many expected this to be something of a rebuilding year, one of those “step back and regroup for next season” years. Instead, the Yankees got off to a great start and remain in the thick of the division race as we approach the season’s midway point.

The All-Star Game is less than three weeks away now — it snuck up this year, didn’t it? — and given their play to date, the Yankees will undoubtedly have multiple representatives in Miami next month. They won’t be one of those “one token All-Star” teams. The internet tells me the Yankees have sent multiple players to the All-Star Game every year since 1992, when Roberto Kelly was their lone representative.

The 2017 All-Star Game rosters will be announced either later next week or next weekend. That makes this as good a time as any to look at which Yankees could be selected to the Midsummer Classic. In fact, let’s rank the 25 players on the active roster in terms of their All-Star eligibility. Shall we? We shall. Let’s get to it.

1. Aaron Judge

Judge is a lock for the All-Star Game. He’s received more fan votes than any other AL player this far — his lead over second place Jose Altuve is roughly 500,000 votes — and is on track to start the game in right field. The Yankees have not had an All-Star Game starter since Derek Jeter got the farewell vote in 2014. Even if Judge were to fall out of the top three outfielders in fan voting, he would still be selected to the game. His AL ranks:

  • AVG: .331 (second)
  • OBP: .438 (first)
  • SLG: .694 (first)
  • wRC+: 195 (first)
  • HR: 24 (first)
  • RBI: 54 (second)
  • fWAR: +4.4 (first)
  • bWAR: +4.1 WAR (first)

Flawless victory. Fatality. See you in Miami, Aaron.

2. Dellin Betances

Remember Dellin? He’s this really great reliever who used to pitch for the Yankees once upon a time. Betances did actually pitch last night. It was his fifth appearance in the last 24 days. True story! Can you believe that? It’s friggin’ insane. Anyway, Dellin has allowed one earned run — on April 8th — in 22.2 innings this season. He’s struck out 43 and opponents are hitting .117/.261/.117 against him. I think Betances is going to his fourth straight All-Star Game. I do wonder whether the relatively light workload — Dellin ranks 162nd among all relievers in innings (!) — will work against him. I don’t think so though. Betances should be an All-Star again.

3. Luis Severino

This is awesome. Severino was so bad as a starter last season. So, so bad. And now he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate. He has a 2.99 ERA (3.23 FIP) through 13 starts and 81.1 innings, and he is among the AL top ten in WHIP (fifth), strikeouts (fifth), ERA+ (fifth), K/BB ratio (fifth), fWAR (fifth), ERA (sixth), FIP (seventh), and bWAR (eighth). Last season eight starters made the AL All-Star team and so far this season Severino has been one of the seven or eight best starting pitchers in the league. He’s not a lock, I don’t think. But he should receive strong consideration.

4. Aaron Hicks

Hicks should be an All-Star this year. The guy is hitting .301/.414/.543 (155 wRC+) overall and he’s fourth in the league in fWAR. I mean:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +4.5
  2. Mike Trout, Angels: +3.3
  3. Jose Altuve, Astros: +3.1
  4. Aaron Hicks, Yankees: +2.9

He’s also seventh among all AL players in bWAR. Hicks wasn’t even an everyday player to start the season! He’s been awesome and he should be an All-Star. My guess is Hicks gets snubbed and instead lands on the Final Vote ballot. Maybe he’ll make the roster outright with Trout injured. There are only six outfield spots on the roster though, and squeezing two Yankees into those six spots seems like a thing that won’t happen. Fingers crossed.

5. Matt Holliday

Man, how awesome has Holliday been this season? He’s hitting .275/.379/.536 (142 wRC+) with 15 home runs and it’s thanks to him that the Yankees lead all AL teams with a 138 wRC+ from their DHs. Nelson Cruz is currently leading the fan voting at DH with Holliday roughly 300,000 votes back in second place. Making up that gap seems unlkely with one week to go in the voting.

In recent years there have been two designated hitter spots on the All-Star Game roster, so it stands to reason that even if Cruz wins the fan voting, Holliday could still make it. It’ll be either him or Edwin Encarnacion, who has been insane the last six weeks or so. Now, that said, the All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 this year. With two fewer spots, will they not take a second DH? Hmmm.

6. Gary Sanchez

If Sanchez didn’t miss that month with that biceps injury, he’d be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. The guy is hitting .296/.376/.554 (147 wRC+) with 12 home runs. Only Salvador Perez has gone deep more times among all catchers. He has 15 homers in 257 plate appearances. Gary has 12 in 178 plate appearances. Brian McCann and Alex Avila (?!?) are also having All-Star caliber seasons and neither missed a month with an injury. I think it’s down to Sanchez and Avila for the third spot. Perez is going to win the fan voting and McCann belongs too. He’s been great. A few more Sanchez dingers over the next week could decide this thing.

7. Starlin Castro

Altuve is going to start the All-Star Game at second base, as he should. Dustin Pedroia’s injury issues mean the backup spot could come down to Castro (128 wRC+), Jed Lowrie (126 wRC), or Robinson Cano (111 wRC+). I suppose Brian Dozier (106 wRC+) is in that mix too. Name value matters in the All-Star Game. Here’s an important factor: will Yonder Alonso make the All-Star team? If not, Lowrie figures to end up the A’s token All-Star, which will hurt Starlin’s chances of making the roster.

8. Didi Gregorius

Can you quietly hit .321/.342/.500 (120 wRC+)? Because Gregorius is doing it. He’s been so good since coming back from the disabled list. And that’s the problem. The disabled list. Gregorius missed a month with a shoulder issue. He was already facing an uphill battle with Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor in the AL. Those three dudes are going to the All-Star Game and they might be the three AL All-Star shortstops for the next ten years. Didi has been great. He’s almost certainly going to get squeezed off the All-Star roster though.

9. Brett Gardner

Gardner has had a slow June, but he’s still hitting .259/.341/.471 (115 wRC+) overall, and his 13 home runs are eighth among AL outfielders. The problem is Gardner is only the third best Yankees outfielder this season, and there are only six outfield spots on the All-Star roster. Judge is getting one of them. And if they pick a second Yankees outfielder, it’ll be Hicks. No chance for Gardner, unless he’s an injury replacement or something, and even then it’s a long shot.

10-11. Michael Pineda, Jordan Montgomery

A good but not great season for Michael Pineda, this is. He has a 3.56 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 14 starts and 83.1 innings — hey wait a minute isn’t Pineda supposed to be a ERA > FIP guy? — which is solid, but not All-Star worthy. Montgomery is right there with him with a 3.74 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings. Imagine where the Yankees would be without these two. Nice seasons, not All-Stars.

12. Aroldis Chapman

Last season Chapman did not make the All-Star team because he missed a month serving his suspension. This season he will not make the All-Star team because he missed more than a month with a shoulder injury. Also, Chapman wasn’t exactly lights out before going on the disabled list. He allowed five runs and 18 baserunners in 12.2 innings before getting hurt. Aroldis has thrown 14.2 innings this season. 14.2! No All-Star Game for him.

13. Chase Headley

Great start! Okay-ish June. Terrible May. Headley is hitting .245/.335/.362 (87 wRC+) overall, and by wRC+, he ranks 21st among the 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Better luck next year, Chase.

14-17. Tyler Clippard, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve

Non-Betances middle relievers have a really hard time making the All-Star Game. Green and Shreve have been the best of this foursome and they’ve thrown 23.1 and 19.2 innings, respectively.

18. Masahiro Tanaka

Woof. Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season. There are 81 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and Tanaka ranks 69th in fWAR (+0.1), 74th in FIP (5.64), 79th in ERA (3.34), and 79th in bWAR (-0.8). Please be better, Masahiro.

19. Chris Carter

At least he kinda plays everyday? That counts for … something. Carter is hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) overall and probably wouldn’t make a Triple-A All-Star Game at this point.

20-21. Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes

Remember April? These guys were so great filling in for Sanchez and Torreyes. Romine is hitting .237/.258/.325 (50 wRC+) even after last night’s big game while Torreyes is at .296/.319/.374 (84 wRC+). The next backup catcher and utility infielder I see make the All-Star Game will be the first.

22-25. Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams

If you had to bet a paycheck on one of these four guys making an All-Star Game at some point in their careers, who would you pick? I feel like German is the obvious choice here, though I remain a Cessa fan. Maybe Refsnyder will have a late career Jose Bautista breakout?

Others of Note

The Yankees have four regulars on the disabled list right now: Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia, and Adam Warren. There is no firm timetable for any of them to return to the Yankees, as far as we know. Warren seems closest since he’s scheduled to resume throwing Friday.

Ellsbury was playing well before his concussion. Not All-Star well — he was still the team’s fourth most productive outfielder behind Judge, Hicks, and Gardner — but well. Sabathia was pretty awesome after his four-start disaster stretch in May. Good enough to be an All-Star? Maybe! He allowed six runs (four earned) in his six starts and 36.1 innings before the injury. Imagine he keept that up until the All-Star break. Alas.

* * *

I think the Yankees will have at least two All-Stars this year (Judge and Betances) and possibly as many as seven (Judge, Betances, Severino, Hicks, Holliday, Sanchez, Castro). Seven’s not going to happen though. Seven All-Stars is reserved for super teams. The Cubs had seven All-Stars last season and that’s only because the fans stuffed the ballot and voted in five starters. So yeah, seven isn’t happening.

My official guess is four Yankees make the All-Star team: Judge, Betances, Severino, and Sanchez. Hicks gets hosed, Holliday loses out because they won’t carry two DHs with the smaller roster, and Castro gets squeezed out by other second basemen. The Yankees haven’t had four All-Stars since 2012, when Jeter, Sabathia, Cano, and Curtis Granderson made it. (Jeter, Cano, and Granderson were all voted in as starters.) Four All-Stars would be cool. Two seems like the absolute minimum for the 2017 Yankees.

Game 65: Make it out in one piece

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Unfortunately, there are still three games to play on the road trip. It’s been a disaster. Losing games is one thing. That happens. Losing games and losing players — key players — to injury? No. No no no. Enough of that. Hopefully the Yankees can get through this game in one piece. That would be nice.

Anyway, the Yankees are trying to avoid their first four-game losing streak of the season tonight. The Yankees, Red Sox, Indians, Astros, Dodgers, Rockies, and Diamondbacks. The only teams in baseball who have yet to lose four straight at some point this year. That’s a good list. I want the Yankees to stay on that list. Here is the A’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. LF Rob Refsnyder
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. 1B Chris Carter
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C Austin Romine
  8. SS Ronald Torreyes
  9. CF Mason Williams
    RHP Luis Severino

The rest of the Yankees are in Clearwater for today’s other split squad game. As for the weather, it’s clear and windy again in Oakland. Same weather as last night, basically. Tonight’s game will start at 9:35pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Adam Warren has been placed on the 10-day DL with right shoulder inflammation, the Yankees announced. Brian Cashman said it’s not serious, though Warren needs a break … Aaron Hicks (Achilles) and Gary Sanchez (abductor) are day-to-day, which is good news … Greg Bird (ankle) is going to see a specialist. His knee is fine. They shut down his rehab because of the ankle. An MRI and a CT scan came back negative … Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius are fine. Just an off-day against a tough lefty.

Roster Moves: Obviously Williams is with the Yankees now. He and Kyle Higashioka were called up. Gio Gallegos was sent down to clear a roster spot. Seems like the Yankees are just trying to get through the weekend, then they’ll get everything straightened out after the off-day Monday.

The Year Ahead in the Farm System [2017 Season Preview]

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

This is still a weird and awesome and completely true statement: the Yankees are loaded with exciting up-and-coming young talent. Last year’s trade deadline activity combined with breakouts from incumbent prospects give New York the game’s consensus No. 2 farm system behind the Braves. The 2016 draft helped too. That was cool.

The Yankees are, in their words, a team in transition. They’re trying to get younger while remaining competitive, which is both an excellent goal and difficult to do. Young players tend to come with growing pains. Even the most talented ones. Not everyone hits the ground running like Gary Sanchez. Usually they hit some bumps in the road, like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino.

The “remaining competitive” stuff is a topic for another time. This entry into our season preview series is dedicated to all the ladies out there the great farm system the Yankees have built. Let’s preview the upcoming season in the minors. Here is my top 30 prospects list, if you’ve somehow missed it.

Top Prospects Who Could Help In 2017

Depending on the scouting publication, the Yankees have anywhere between six (Keith Law) and nine (Baseball Prospectus) top 100 caliber prospects in the farm system. One of those players is Judge, who we previewed two weeks ago. As always, top 100 prospects are not all created equal. Some are much closer to the big leagues than others. The Yankees have a little of everything with their top 100 guys.

The best prospect in the farm system and one of the very best in all of baseball is, as you know, SS Gleyber Torres. He came over in last summer’s Aroldis Chapman trade and blew everyone away in Spring Training. Torres hit .448/.469/.931 with six doubles and two homers in 32 Grapefruit League plate appearances, which was enough for folks to want him to replace the injured Didi Gregorius. That won’t happen. The Yankees have already sent Gleyber to minor league camp and he’ll open the season in Double-A.

That said, I definitely believe the 20-year-old Torres has a chance to help the Yankees later this year, likely in the second half. Similar prospects have made their MLB debuts at age 20 after starting the season in Double-A. Some things will have to happen first — Torres has to hit, the Yankees have to need him, etc. — but there’s a chance Gleyber will force the issue at some point and make the team think about calling him up. Special talents have accelerated timetables.

OF Clint Frazier, who would be the No. 1 prospect for many other teams, is the No. 2 prospect in the farm system. He came over in the Andrew Miller trade. Frazier, 22, reached Triple-A last season and will return there to start this season. (He hit .308/.300/.487 in camp. I do love silly AVG > OBP lines.) Given his proximity to MLB, Frazier is much more likely to reach the show this season than Torres. The Yankees will have to make room for him somehow, but they’ll figure it out. Frazier is a potential impact bat and lineup cornerstone, and we’ll see him in the Bronx at some point this summer. I’m sure of it.

Among New York’s other top 100 prospects, the only other one I could see reaching the big leagues this season is RHP James Kaprielian, and that’s a long shot. Kaprielian is healthy after missing nearly the entire 2016 regular season with a flexor strain, though the Yankees are going to take it slow with him early in the season. He threw nothing but simulated games the first few weeks of Spring Training before finally getting into a Grapefruit League two weeks ago. Kaprielian threw two innings and was sent to minor league camp the same day.

What needs to happen for Kaprielian to reach MLB in 2017? He has to stay healthy, for starters. Secondly, he’s going to have to pitch well enough to climb from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A to MLB. Climbing three levels in one year isn’t easy, but it has been done before. Both Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain did it in 2007. And third, the Yankees have to believe Kaprielian is one of their best rotation options. They won’t call him up for the hell of it. There are 40-man and service time considerations in play.

My guess right now is no, Kaprielian will not make his MLB debut this season. Sorry to be a buzzkill. As long as he stays healthy, I expect Kaprielian to pitch very well — he should carve up High-A hitters — and reach Triple-A late in the season. We’ll then complain the Yankees aren’t calling him because he is clearly better than one of the starters the Yankees are running out there every five days, right? That’s usually how it goes.

Top Prospects Who Probably Won’t Help In 2017

Sheffield. (Presswire)
Sheffield. (Presswire)

The Yankees have three consensus top 100 prospects who are unlikely to play in the big leagues this year, at least not in a meaningful way. LHP Justus Sheffield, another part of the Miller trade, is a three-pitch southpaw with good velocity. He is still only 20 and is ticketed for Double-A. I expect him to spend just about the entire season there. He might make a late-season Triple-A cameo, but that’s about it. Besides being so young, Sheffield needs to improve his command before being an MLB option.

SS Jorge Mateo might soon be CF Jorge Mateo. The Yankees have been moving their shortstop prospects around — Torres has played second base and has worked out at third, for example — in an effort to increase their versatility. Mateo is a good defender at short, though center field would better allow him to use his elite speed on the defensive side of the ball. Either way, shortstop or center field, Mateo has to do more with the bat. He didn’t hit much last season and hitting coach Alan Cockrell is working with him to widen his stance this spring.

Now, that all said, I do think Mateo has a chance to make his MLB debut in 2017. He was added to the 40-man roster over the winter to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure, which means the Yankees could turn to him as their annual September designated pinch-runner. They very much believe in that role — they picked up Eric Young Jr. and Rico Noel at midseason to fill that role the last two years — and Mateo is an 80 runner, so it’s hard to think they’ll drum up a better option at some point.

There are two things to keep in mind though. One, Mateo wasn’t a great basestealer last season — he went 36-for-51 (71%) in steal attempts in 2016 — and the Yankees are said to be working with him to improve his reads and things like that. And two, being in the big leagues is a privilege and something a player has to earn. If Mateo has another disappointing season, the Yankees could very well turn to another pinch-runner option rather than reward Mateo will a month in MLB. I think it’s possible we’ll see him as the September pinch-runner, but it’s far from certain.

The best top 100 caliber prospect in farm system we 100% will not see in the big leagues this coming season is OF Blake Rutherford, last year’s first round pick. Rutherford was a consensus top ten talent in the draft class — Keith Law (6th), MLB.com (8th), and Baseball America (9th) all ranked him highly among draft prospects — who slipped to the Yankees with the 18th pick for kinda dopey reasons. One, he turned 19 in May and was a few months older than most high school draftees. And two, he wanted a large bonus. Those seem like not great reasons to pass on him, but whatever.

Rutherford projects as a classic No. 3 hitter who can hit for average and power, and also draw a healthy amount of walks. His placement in the various top 100 lists tells you how highly he’s regarded. He didn’t just sneak onto the back of those lists. He was in the top half. At the same time, Rutherford will spent most of the season at age 20 and he’s going to start at Low-A. Not a big league option. A very talented prospect? Hell yes. But not a big league option in 2017. Not close.

Two consensus non-top 100 prospects who I consider among New York’s better prospects are RHP Albert Abreu and 3B Miguel Andujar. Abreu came over in the Brian McCann deal and he might have the highest upside of any pitcher in the farm system. He’s got mid-90s gas and both his slider and changeup look like out pitches on their best days. At the same time, Abreu is a 21-year-old with only 11.2 High-A innings under his belt. He’s going to spend the majority of this season at that level. An MLB call-up ain’t happening. Not this year.

Andujar is a personal fave and I feel like he gets lost in the depth of the farm system. His best tools are his raw power and throwing arm, and last year he started to make some real strides with his approach at the plate. Andujar wasn’t a big time hacker or anything, but he makes easy contact and had a tendency to swing at anything in the zone. He did a better job recognizing which pitches he could hammer and which he should let go last year. I’m expecting big things in 2017. A September call-up isn’t out of the question because Andujar is on the 40-man roster, though I would be surprised if helped the Yankees in a more substantial way this summer.

The Secondary Prospects Likely To Help In 2017

Montgomery. (Presswire)
Montgomery. (Presswire)

The depth of the farm system is on display when you look at the second and third tier prospects who figure to help the Yankees in 2017. LHP Jordan Montgomery has already put himself in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot with a strong spring. SS Tyler Wade added the outfield to his skill set in the Arizona Fall League and he’s now being considered as Gregorius’ replacement at short. I’m not sure that’ll happen, but the fact he’s being considered shows the Yankees think he’s at least close to MLB.

OF Dustin Fowler and RHP Chance Adams are both slated to open the season in Triple-A — Wade and Montgomery will be there as well if they don’t make the Opening Day roster — and are coming off very strong 2016 seasons. Breakout seasons, really. (Definitely in Adams’ case.) The odds of the Yankees needing a pitcher are much greater than the odds of them needing an outfielder for obvious reasons — besides, Frazier and OF Mason Williams figure to be ahead of Fowler on the call-up depth chart — but the fact these two are starting in Triple-A makes them big league possibilities. Once you get to that level, everyone is a call-up candidate.

Other prospects we could see in the Bronx this year include Williams, C Kyle Higashioka, RHP Ben Heller, RHP Jonathan Holder, LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP Ronald Herrera, RHP Gio Gallegos, and RHP J.P. Feyereisen. All except Feyereisen are on the 40-man roster. Heller is the best bullpen prospect in the farm system in my opinion, though Holder, Enns, and Gallegos all have great minor league numbers. Those dudes will all be part of the bullpen shuttle this summer. No doubt about it. Higashioka will, at worst, be a September call-up. He’s the third catcher.

Breakout Candidates

Abreu has already been mentioned and he’s the biggest breakout candidate in the farm system, I think, at least among pitchers. He’s already got four pitches — well, the makings of four pitches, I should say — and is in need of more refinement than anything. Better command, get more consistently with the delivery, things like that. Abreu doesn’t have to learn a changeup or anything like that. The pieces are there for him to become no-doubt top 100 prospect next spring.

On the position player side, 3B Dermis Garcia is a dude I’m very excited to follow this summer. He has 80 raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale — 80 raw power and 80 game power are different things! — and is a better pure hitter than his .206/.326/.454 (114 wRC+) batting line and 34.3% strikeout rate with rookie Pulaski last year would lead you believe. Garcia turned only 19 in January and it’s looking like he’ll spend the season at Low-A. Some progress with his approach, meaning not swinging out of his shoes each time he deems a pitch hittable, could turn Dermis into a top 100 guy. That’s a lot to ask, but the talent is there.

Other recent international signees like SS Hoy Jun Park, RHP Domingo Acevedo, SS Wilkerman Garcia, SS Diego Castillo, OF Leonardo Molina, and especially OF Estevan Florial are potential breakout candidates this year. Acevedo needs to continue to improve his breaking ball if he wants to remain in the rotation long-term. Florial has outrageous tools. His power, speed, and throwing arm all rate near the top of he scale. He just needs to tone down his ultra aggressive approach. Florial can swing-and-miss with the best of ’em.

It’s odd to consider a former fourth overall pick a breakout candidate, but RHP Dillon Tate qualifies. He came over from the Rangers in the Carlos Beltran trade after Texas soured on him. Tate, who was drafted in 2015, hurt his hamstring early last season and had difficulty adjusting to some mechanical changes the Rangers asked him to incorporate. The Yankees told him to forget about that and go back to his old mechanics, and by time the AzFL rolled around, his fastball was averaging 98.0 mph and topping out at 99.6 mph, per PitchFX. Yeah.

Of course, that 98.0 mph average heater came in a short burst and no one expects him to sit there as a starter. The Yankees will return Tate to the rotation this year — he worked multi-inning stints out of the bullpen after the trade last year so they could work on his mechanics — though it should be noted that even at his best, there was some thought Tate would wind up in the bullpen long-term because his fastball is straight and his changeup is still a work in progress. Point is, the Yankees bought low on Tate and are working to get him back to his fourth overall pick form, and he looked better in the AzFL than he did at any point with the Rangers before the trade.

If you’re looking for an Adams caliber breakout candidate, that reliever-turned-starter prospect, don’t. Seriously. What Adams did last year was best case scenario stuff. Hard to expect that again, though I’d happily welcome it. The best reliever-turned-starter prospect candidate in the system is Tate, though that’s not a true reliever-to-starter conversion. In that case, RHP Taylor Widener is the best bet. He was the team’s 12th round pick in last year’s draft.

Widener is the latest in a string of Yankees prospects to gain velocity in pro ball — Kaprielian, Montgomery, and Adams all did that — and he has a good slider, albeit an inconsistent one. His changeup has been a point of emphasis since the draft. I’m not sure Widener can make the transition to the rotation as seamlessly as Adams, though then again I never thought Adams would take to the role as easily as he did. Widener is more of a sleeper than a true breakout prospect.

Bounceback Candidates

McKinney. (Presswire)
McKinney. (Presswire)

Last year was a great year for the farm system, though it wasn’t perfect. A few players had disappointing seasons, most notably Mateo. The Yankees are hoping he bounces back in a big way this summer. Kaprielian too following the elbow injury. Tate is another bounceback candidate. Can a player be a bounceback candidate and a breakout candidate in the same season? I guess so. Garcia (Wilkerman, not Dermis) is a bounceback candidate despite being 18. He was great in 2015 and looked like a potential top 100 guy. He then battled through a shoulder issue and had a poor statistical season in 2016.

Aside from Mateo, I think the biggest bounceback candidate in the farm system on the position player side is OF Billy McKinney, who put together an impressive Grapefruit League showing (.417/.517/.917 with four walks and one strikeout in 29 plate appearances) before being reassigned to minor league camp. McKinney came over in the Chapman trade and was better with the Yankees than the Cubs, though his overall 2016 season was underwhelming. The former first rounder hit .256/.349/.363 (107 wRC+) at Double-A. Meh.

The spring performance was nice, though that’s not the reason McKinney is a bounceback candidate. He hit .300/.371/.454 (135 wRC+) between High-A and Double-A two years ago, and was ranked as a top 100 prospect prior to both 2015 (Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus) and 2016 (MLB.com, Keith Law, BP). McKinney’s 2015 season ended early because he fouled a pitch into his knee and suffered a hairline fracture, and there’s some belief it took him longer to get over the injury than expected, hence last year’s performance. With his sweet lefty swing and innate hitting ability, a healthy McKinney could regain significant prospect stock in 2017.

LHP Ian Clarkin was not bad by any means last season — he threw 98 innings with a 3.31 ERA (3.26 FIP) in High-A — though he finished the season hurt (knee) after missing the entire 2015 regular season (elbow). Reports on his stuff were mixed last season, so the Yankees haven’t really seen the supplemental first round pick version of Clarkin since 2014. This isn’t a make or break year for Clarkin (he just turned 22!) though the Yankees very much want him to stay healthy and regain his former top prospect status in 2017.

Prospects I Am Irrationally Excited About

I was originally planning to call this section sleepers or something, but I figured I might as well be straightforward about it. I’ve been waxing poetic about IF Thairo Estrada for two years now, and the just turned 21-year-old could reach Double-A in the second half of the season. RHP Zack Littell is kind of the anti-Yankees pitching prospect. He’s not physically huge with a big fastball. He’s a pitchability guy with three pitches who puts in an insane amount of work studying opposing hitters.

The Yankees are short on catching prospects at the moment — I still expect C Luis Torrens to be returned from the Padres as a Rule 5 Draft pick at some point soon — and their best backstop prospect is C Donny Sands, a converted third baseman. He’s a great bat-to-ball hitter with some power potential. Sands is still new to catching and is rough around the edges, but he’s attacked the transition and has already made some big strides defensively. He should be a top 30 organizational prospect at this time next year. (Some say he is right now.)

IF Oswaldo Cabrera had a ridiculous statistical season last summer — he hit .345/.396/.523 (163 wRC+) in 52 rookie ball games as a 17-year-old — and comes with interesting offensive upside. It seems likely he’s destined for second base rather than shortstop though. That’s okay. OF Rashad Crawford was the fourth piece in the Chapman trade and he’s loaded with tools and athletic ability, and is just now starting to figure out how to translate those tools into baseball skills. OF Isiah Gilliam is a switch-hitter with pop from both sides of the plate. He quietly finished fourth in the rookie Appalachian League with ten homers as a 19-year-old in 2016.

On the mound, I’m really looking forward to a full, healthy season of RHP Domingo German. He’s kind of a forgotten prospect given the Tommy John surgery. German is basically an older, shorter version of Acevedo in that he’s a righty with a big fastball and a very good changeup. Unlike Acevedo, German is on the 40-man roster. The Yankees will have him work as a starter this season, though I think we might see him pitch out of the big league bullpen at some point, likely as a September call-up. German can still bring it.

LHP Daniel Camarena has long been a personal favorite, and he bounced back well from elbow surgery last season. Because he’s left-handed and breathing, and also likely to open the season in Triple-A, he has to be considered a potential call-up candidate. RHP Jorge Guzman came over in the McCann trade and will live in the 98-100 mph range as a starter. He’ll be a Big Deal in a few months. RHP Drew Finley and RHP Nolan Martinez are lower level pitchability guys I am excited about. Also, RHP Nick Nelson. The post-draft scouting reports last year were almost too good to be true. Plus fastball, plus curveball, potentially plus command? Sign me up.

Will They Trade Any Of These Guys?

Yeah, probably. The question is who and for what? The Yankees have a lot of quality prospects coming up on Rule 5 Draft eligibility after the season. A lot. They can either try to keep everyone by adding the guys they really like to the 40-man roster and hoping everyone else gets passed over in the Rule 5 Draft, or trade a few of them to ensure some kind of return. You don’t want to lose someone like, say, Estrada or Littell for nothing more than the $100,000 Rule 5 Draft fee.

Aside from the Rule 5 Draft concerns, I have to imagine the Yankees are at least tempted to dip into their prospect base to land a pitcher with long-term control. They could really use one of those. Jose Quintana is the big name right now, though who knows who will be available at the trade deadline? Maybe the Phillies will put Jerad Eickoff or Vince Velasquez on the market, or the Diamondbacks will float Robbie Ray and Archie Bradley in trade talks. I get the Yankees want to build from within, but they’d be foolish to not consider available trades.

Either way, the Yankees figure to do some farm system shuffling this year. Not necessarily blockbuster trades, but asset management. Last year the Yankees traded Ben Gamel and James Pazos, two fringe big league players, for lower level prospects to make the 40-man situation a little better. I think we’ll see some deals like that this year, perhaps involving Rule 5 Draft eligible prospects not yet on the 40-man. Trades are coming. They’re inevitable. And given the depth of the farm system, I don’t think we can rule out a blockbuster, however unlikely it may seem right now.

Where Does The System Go From Here?

I believe the likelihood of the following two statements being true in eight months is quite high:

  1. The Yankees will have a worse farm system than they do right now.
  2. The Yankees will still have one of the game’s best farm systems.

As it stands, the Yankees are likely to graduate two of my top 30 prospects to the big leagues (Judge, Chad Green) and potentially a handful of others as well (Frazier, Wade, Montgomery,  Williams, Tyler Austin). Inevitably a few pitchers will get hurt and other players will stall out. That’s baseball and that’s why you want as many prospects as possible. It’s hard to see how, after this season, the farm system can be even better than it right now.

That said, the chances New York will still have one of the game’s better farm systems are pretty darn good. They’ll still have Torres and Rutherford (and Sheffield and Mateo), hopefully a healthy Kaprielian, plus whoever the 2017 draft brings in. Others like Andujar, Adams, and Acevedo all have the potential to be top 100 caliber prospects. Unless the Yankees gut the system to make some trades or they experience a catastrophically bad season in the minors, the club will still be loaded with prospects year from now.

The farm system right now is the focal point of the organization. We’re used to looking at a star-laden big league roster around these parts, and while the Yankees figure to be an entertaining team this season (if nothing else), everyone is talking about the farm system. Even the Yankees themselves. Their Winter Warm-Up event was built around prospects and the commercials feature kids, not veterans. This is a new era for the Yankees and that’s pretty exciting.