Minors Notes: Top Triple-A & Breakout Prospects, Rodriguez

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The 2017 minor league season is officially over. Durham beat Memphis in the Triple-A Championship Game at PNC Field in Scranton last night. The Triple-A Championship Game rotates sites each year like an All-Star Game, and it just so happened to be played in Scranton this year. Too bad the RailRiders didn’t make it. Anyway, here are some minor league notes to check out.

Three Yankees among top International League prospects

Earlier this week Baseball America started their annual series looking at the top 20 prospects in each minor league. They covered the Triple-A International League (subs. req’d) yesterday, with Braves OF Ronald Acuna claiming the top spot. Three Yankees made the list (four if you count OF Dustin Fowler, who was traded away but makes the list at No. 17 due to his time with Scranton):

  • 9) RHP Chance Adams: “One evaluator said that between Adams’ four offerings, he has a chance for three above-average pitches with above-average control … He drew comparisons with Bud Norris and Jordan Zimmermann.”
  • 15) 3B Miguel Andujar: “Andujar drew rave reviews from managers and scouts for his uncanny ability to barrel baseballs with authority as well as his energetic nature on the field … He has a plus arm, quick-twitch actions and a strong work ethic at third base, but below-average footwork and hard hands could be too much to overcome.”
  • 16) OF Clint Frazier: “(Some) evaluators think he always will pair home runs with strikeouts and low batting averages because of a limiting, rigid swing. With sufficient pitch recognition, though, he can be an impact power hitter.”

Hmmm. I’m pretty sure I’m the biggest Andujar fan out there, but even I wouldn’t rank him above Frazier on a prospect list. Frazier seems like one of those prospects people look for reasons not to like. The kid has insane bat speed, the ball explodes off his bat, he works the count well, and he’s fine in either corner outfield spot. What’s the problem here? Anyway, in the chat Carlos Collazo said SS Gleyber Torres would’ve ranked in the top three had he not gotten hurt and fallen short of the playing time minimum. SS Tyler Wade was a consideration for the list as well.

McKinney to begin working out at first base

OF Billy McKinney, who will be added to the 40-man roster after the season, is going to begin working out at first base in Instructional League, reports Robert Pimpsner. Sounds like an assignment to the Arizona Fall League in possible as well, though the Yankees already have a first baseman going to the desert (1B Chris Gittens) and their position player spots are full. Someone could get be getting pulled though. We’ll see.

McKinney, 23, came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade and hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with a career high 16 home runs in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A this summer. He’s a bat first prospect — his defense in the corner outfield is not great — so it makes sense to increase his versatility and get him time at first base. We still don’t know whether Greg Bird can stay healthy and/or produce consistently. Given the team’s outfield glut, getting McKinney familiar with first base seems like a no-brainer.

Loaisiga, Widener among top 2018 breakout candidates


The crew at Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) posted a list of ten breakout candidates for the 2018 season, and two of the ten are Yankees: RHP Jonathan Loaisiga and RHP Taylor Widener. Keith Law had good things to say about Loaisiga last week. Widener was a reliever in the college before the Yankees moved him into the rotation, Chance Adams style. A quick recap of the write-ups:

  • Loaisiga: “(He) features a potentially plus fastball-curveball combination with the ability to throw either pitch for strikes in any count. The fastball consistently hovers around 95 (t97) with late movement … expect him to start shooting up prospect lists.”
  • Widener: “Widener was in the low-to-mid-90s with the fastball, topping out at 96, and it was moving around pretty good … Widener commanded it like a good Double-A starting prospect, not a guy making his first Double-A appearance … Widener projects as an interesting mid-rotation prospect at the upside, with a more likely outcome as a good reliever.”

So I guess Johnny Lasagna being a prospect is a thing now? He originally signed with the Giants out of Nicaragua back in 2013, but they released him a year later after some injury issues. The Yankees picked him up, he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery last year, and came back looking good this year. Loaisiga turns 23 in November, and he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 lbs., plus he has an injury history, so there are some things working against him. Still, the Yankees picked him up off the scrap heap, and now he’s being written up as a breakout prospect. Pretty cool.

Rodriguez is “99%” sure he’s retiring

C Eddy Rodriguez, who spent the last three seasons with Triple-A Scranton (and part of one season with Double-A Trenton) is “99%” sure he’s retiring, reports D.J. Eberle. For much of this year Rodriguez was third on the catcher depth chart while C Kyle Higashioka was hurt, though he never did get a call-up. His one MLB cameo came with the Padres in 2012. He took Johnny Cueto deep in his first at-bat.

Rodriguez, who defected from Cuba with his family when he was a kid, is still only 31 years old. He’s not much of a hitter — he hit .189/.240/.308 (51 wRC+) in 446 plate appearances with the RailRiders the last two years — but he’s long been regarded as a great defender and clubhouse guy. Rodriguez wouldn’t reveal his post-playing days plan to Eberle, but he seems like the kind of guy we’ll see on a Yankees minor league coaching staff/instructor list in the near future. Either way, the Yankees need a new veteran good guy backup catcher for Scranton next year.

Game 148: Beat up on the O’s (again)

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Two games, two comfortable wins so far this series. The Yankees have crushed the Orioles at Yankee Stadium all year. They’re 7-1 against the O’s at home this season and they’ve outscored them 88-37 in the eight games. The Yankees have scored 141 runs against the Orioles this year overall. 141 runs! No team has scored more runs against any other team in 2017.

Anyway, those last two wins tonight were nice, but they don’t mean anything today. Gotta go out and score a boatload more runs this afternoon. The lead for the top wildcard spot is four games and the lead for a wildcard spot in general in six games. Would be nice to gain ground on the Red Sox one of these days, but for now, keep creating separation with the other wildcard hopefuls. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. DH Chase Headley
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is a bit cloudy and humid in New York today, and there’s some rain in the forecast later on. Nothing heavy and nothing that should interrupt the game. Today’s game will start a little after 4pm ET. YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: Both Jonathan Holder and Miguel Andujar were called up from Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. There are now 35 players on the active roster.

Injury Updates: Adam Warren (back) threw on flat ground this afternoon. The hope is he’ll be back within a week to a week and a half.

Putting Miguel Andujar’s breakout season into context

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The minor league regular season wrapped up Monday and boy, it was a successful season for the Yankees’ affiliates. The eight domestic affiliates went a combined 489-325 (.601), and seven of the eight qualified for the postseason. Two tied their franchise record in wins. It was a great season in the minor league standings and a great season for many individual prospects too.

One of those prospects, 22-year-old third baseman Miguel Andujar, had a breakout season in which he hit .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) with system leading 36 doubles and a career high 16 home runs in 125 games split almost evenly between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. He struck out 71 times in 522 plate appearances, or 13.6% against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Heck, Andujar even went 3-for-4 with a double in his one-game MLB cameo in June.

Andujar is not new to the organization. The Yankees signed him as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic for $750,000 back in July 2011, and he’s gradually worked his way up the minor league ladder since. For the first few seasons of his career Andujar would have a slow first half and a great second half. The last two years he’s been able to put together strong seasons from start to finish, and he’s continued to get better:

  • 2015: .243/.288/.363 (98 wRC+) at High-A
  • 2016: .273/.332/.410 (111 wRC+) at High-A and Double-A
  • 2017: .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) at Double-A and Triple-A

Andujar’s breakout season landed him in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list recently — he slid in at No. 100 once Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers graduated to the big leagues — and I’m hopeful he’ll pop up on a few more top 100 lists next spring. I’ve been an Andujar fan for a while now. I figured he’d be one of those “how was this guy never on a top 100 list?” players, except now he’s on a top 100 list.

Anyway, I like Andujar because he has power and because he doesn’t swing and miss often. He doesn’t walk much either (5.6% this year), so he is a free swinger, but he gets the bat on the ball consistently and makes it work. It’s a low walk/low strikeout profile rather than the always scary low walk/high strikeout profile. Martin Prado and Pablo Sandoval are good examples of low walk/low strikeout players, at least when they were in their primes.

To help put Andujar’s skill set — lots of contact and above-average power — into context, I decided to plot 2017 minor league K% and ISO rates. I set the minimum at 400 plate appearances to exclude the short season leagues, weeded out the stat-skewing Mexican League players, and wound up with 707 players. Their strikeout and isolated power rates:

2017-milb-k-vs-iso

There aren’t many dots around Andujar at all. The combination of contact and power is unusual. In fact, only two minors leaguers had a lower strikeout rate and a higher ISO than Andujar this year. One was Rangers prospect Willie Calhoun. He went from the Dodgers to the Rangers in the Yu Darvish trade and posted an 11.4% strikeout rate and a .272 ISO while spending the entire season in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.

The other prospect? Yankees first baseman Mike Ford. Ford had a 13.5% strikeout rate and a .201 ISO. Maybe we should talk about Mike Ford more? Then again, he’s three years older than Andujar and played most of the season in Double-A, and like Calhoun, he’s a bat-only guy. Ford and Calhoun are essentially positionless. Andujar has a rocket arm and the tools to be a good defensive third baseman, even if the Yankees don’t consider him one yet.

(A third prospect, Dodgers outfielder Matt Beaty, put up a .179 ISO with an 11.2% strikeout rate this year, so he came close to the Andujar benchmark. Beaty is also two years older and spent the entire season in Double-A, so yeah.)

Going back through previous years, the number of prospects who did what Andujar did this year (13.6 K% and .182 ISO) at the same age (22) and at the same levels (Double-A and above) is quite small. The previous five seasons:

  • 2016: Willie Calhoun (11.6 K% and .215 ISO at Double-A)
  • 2015: Max Kepler (13.1 K% and .209 ISO at Double-A)
  • 2014: Mookie Betts (10.8 K% and .183 ISO at Double-A and Triple-A) and Giovanny Urshela (12.7 K% and .210 ISO at Double-A and Triple-A)
  • 2013: Maikel Franco (10.6 K% and .224 ISO at Double-A)
  • 2012: Oscar Taveras (10.5 K% and .252 ISO at Double-A)

That is quite a list of names. Kepler, Betts, and Franco are all big leaguers who have, at one time or another, looked like absolute stars. Taveras was baseball’s top prospect and next superstar when he was tragically killed in a car accident. Calhoun has not yet played in the big leagues but should soon — I’m guessing he’ll get a September call-up any day now — and Urshela basically stopped hitting after that big 2014 season. He’s the cautionary tale.

This isn’t to say Andujar is the next Mookie Betts or the next Giovanny Urshela or the next anyone. He’s not. He’s the next Miguel Andujar. It’s just meant to show how difficult it is to do what Andujar did this year, to hit for that much power while making that much contact at that age at those levels. One or two guys a year do it, and the guys who have done this sorta thing before were all considered among the game’s best up-and-comers at one point.

Andujar is, of course, a flawed prospect. Most are. He is still an impatient hitter, and when you swing so freely, you’re inevitably going to chase out of the zone and hit into some weak outs. Andujar also has to improve his defense. It’s more about breaking bad habits than refining skills or even a lack of skills. And there’s time to do that. Andujar is only 22 and he has two minor league option years, if necessary. His offense has really come together. Now he needs to do the same defensively.

At some point the Yankees will give Andujar a September call-up — “I think at some point he will be (up). As of right now, we have not made that decision to bring him up,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty earlier this week — and I don’t expect him to play a whole lot down the stretch. The Yankees are in the postseason race and they’re going to lean on their regulars. Where Andujar fits in the long-term is another question. For now, he’s raised his prospect stock quite a bit the last two years, and this year he showed a rare combination of power and contact.

Previewing the Yankees’ upcoming September call-ups

Matty H. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Matty H. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

This coming Friday, on September 1st, all 30 big league teams will be allowed to expand their active rosters from 25 players up to 40 players. Most teams end up going with 30-35 players in September. Maybe two or three clubs a year actually go with the maximum 40 players. Either way, rosters are going to expand in a few days and every club has reinforcements coming.

The Yankees have been fairly aggressive with September call-ups in recent years. Aggressive in the sense that they call up a lot of extra players in general, especially on September 1st. Last year they called up six players on September 1st. The year before it was seven players. The year before that it was nine players. Nine call-ups on September 1st! Good gravy. The Yankees tend to call up plenty of help the first day possible. I’m surprised more teams don’t do the same.

So, with September call-ups only a few days away, there’s no better time to look ahead at who the Yankees could bring to the big leagues once rosters expand. Let’s take a trip through the organizational depth chart. Come with me, won’t you?

The Injured Guys

Might as well start here. The Yankees currently have five players on the MLB disabled list: Luis Cessa, Garrett Cooper, Clint Frazier, Matt Holliday, and Michael Pineda. Pineda’s done for the season following Tommy John surgery. I’m not really sure what’s up with Cessa. We haven’t heard any updates on him since he was sidelined by rib cage issue on August 15th. Should Cessa get healthy before the end of the season, he’ll join the Yankees, I’m sure.

Both Holliday and Cooper are on minor league rehab assignments right now and in all likelihood both will be activated Friday, the first day rosters expand. Frazier recently started taking swings and going through some other baseball activities, so he’s a little further behind Cooper and Holliday. Once he gets healthy and goes through the requisite minor league rehab assignment — assuming there are still minor league games being played at that time — Frazier will be activated and join the Yankees for the rest of the season. Pretty straightforward here.

The September Locks

Monty. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Monty. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

As always, the safest bets for September call-ups are guys who were up earlier this season. There are eleven such players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ben Heller, Ronald Herrera, Kyle Higashioka, Jonathan Holder, Bryan Mitchell, Jordan Montgomery, and Tyler Wade. All eleven of those guys have seen big league time this year. Some more than others.

Like I said, the Yankees have been fairly aggressive with their September 1st call-ups in recent years, so I expect several of these players to join the Yankees on Friday. Montgomery is an absolutely lock. He’s going to get a September call-up and step right back into the rotation, I suspect. Mitchell, Holder, and Gallegos have been the primary up-and-down relievers this season, and since the Yankees like to load up on pitching reinforcements whenever possible, my money is on all three guys showing up to Yankee Stadium this Friday.

Austin and Wade are all obvious September call-ups candidates as well, though there is a catch here. They were both sent down recently and need to wait out the ten-day rule first. Wade was sent down Friday, when Starlin Castro was activated, so he can’t come back up until Monday. Austin was sent down Saturday to make room for Greg Bird. He can’t come back until Tuesday. The ten-day rule is a bit of a hassle. It is what it is.

The Guys Who Might Have To Wait

As noted, there are eleven players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now. I expect four to be called up on September 1st: Mitchell, Montgomery, Gallegos, and Holder. That’s all. The other seven will have to wait a little bit for different reasons. Austin and Wade have to wait because of the ten-day rule. Here’s my thinking on the remaining five guys.

1. Higashioka and Herrera are both hurt. Pretty good reason for not calling them upright away, I’d say. Herrera is currently pitching in rookie ball rehab games and is expected to join the Double-A Trenton rotation (or maybe Triple-A Scranton rotation) for the postseason next week. Herrera was called up twice this year as an emergency fill-in. It was one of those “crap we need a long man and he’s the only guy lined up” situations. Well, two of those.

Higashioka, meanwhile, is currently out with a shoulder injury that is not believed to be serious. There’s even some talk he could be ready to go by time rosters expand Friday. That would be cool. A third catcher is a September staple, and keep in mind Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine have suspensions pending. They’re appealing, though at some point they’re going to have serve at least part of their suspensions, and having Higashioka on the active roster will make it much easier to get by without those guys. He has to get healthy first though.

2. The Yankees have mostly avoided Andujar and Heller. There have been plenty of opportunities to call up both guys this year, and they have seen big league time. Andujar had the one great game against the White Sox. Heller has made two appearances with the Yankees this season, most notably throwing two scoreless innings in the 16-inning win at Fenway Park right after the All-Star break.

Andujar. (Times Leader)
Andujar. (Times Leader)

The Yankees could have easily — and justifiably — called up Andujar and/or Heller on several other occasions this season, but choose to go in another direction. With Andujar, he’s a bonafide prospect who needs to improve his defense, so keeping him in Triple-A to work at the hot corner rather than play sporadically at the MLB is understandable. Heller? I’m not sure. The Yankees seem to prefer Gallegos and Holder for whatever reason. I’m a Heller guy. The Yankees aren’t.

Point is, because these two have been passed over for call-ups these last few weeks, I don’t think they will be September 1st call-ups when rosters expand. Both will likely have to wait until the Triple-A postseason ends, which could be as early as next weekend or as late as September 19th. There aren’t going to be many at-bats available for Andujar, and with Heller, how many mop-up relievers does a team need? I think both will have to wait until the RailRiders are done playing.

3. German needs to pitch. From June 6th through July 28th, a span of 52 days, German made eight appearances and threw 350 total pitches. That’s all. This kid’s a starter! But he spent so much time with the Yankees as their seldom used eighth reliever that it took a few Triple-A outings to get stretched all the way back out. German has thrown 115 total innings this season and that’s not much at all. This is his first full season since Tommy John surgery, so I imagine the Yankees are monitoring his workload closely. I still think they want German to log more innings this season. That’s why I think he’ll stay with Scranton, start every fifth day through the end of their season, then come up to sit in the bullpen.

Non-40-Man Roster Guys

Every once in a while the Yankees will take a player who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, add him to the 40-man roster, and call him up September. Rather than wait to add the player to the 40-man at the November deadline, they get a head start on things and call him up in September. Romine received his first taste of the big leagues that way in September 2011. The Yankees did the same thing with James Pazos in 2015.

That does not happen often, however, and I do not think the Yankees will do it this September. Gleyber Torres is hurt, Domingo Acevedo has been shut down due to his workload, and Albert Abreu missed a big chunk of the season with injuries and has yet to pitch above High-A. They’ll all be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and the Yankees will add them to the 40-man roster prior to the November deadline, no doubt. Not a second earlier, however. Torres and Acevedo are unavailable and Abreu is a Single-A kid. Calling them up would be pointless.

Other 40-man roster hopefuls like Jake Cave and Billy McKinney wouldn’t have a defined role in September. Romine was the third catcher. Pazos was the third lefty. Cave and McKinney would be … the seventh and eighth outfielders? Not exactly a big priority. I suppose the Yankees could add Cave to the 40-man roster — he’s going to be a minor league free agent this winter, so the Yankees will have to add him to the 40-man pretty much right after the World Series to avoid losing him — as a reward for his great season, but nah. Roster space is at a premium.

E-Rod. (Scranton Times Tribune)
E-Rod. (Scranton Times Tribune)

Now, that all said, there are two non-40-man players who I think could get a September call-up. One is Eddy Rodriguez, and he will only get called up if a) Higashioka doesn’t get healthy reasonably soon, and b) both Sanchez and Romine have their appeals heard and must serve their suspensions. So basically only if the Yankees run out of eligible catchers. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. If it does, the Yankees will have no choice but to clear a 40-man roster spot to call up Rodriguez.

The other non-40-man call-up candidate? I don’t know. It’ll be the designated September pinch-runner, whoever that ends up being. Last year it was Eric Young Jr., the year before it was Rico Noel, and the year before that it was Antoan Richardson. Back in 2009 it was Freddy Guzman. Guzman was on the postseason roster all three rounds that year. True story. The Yankees have made it clear they value the designated September pinch-runner.

Jorge Mateo has been traded and I don’t think the Yankees would use Jacoby Ellsbury as their designated pinch-runner — besides, he’s starting to hit a little bit now, so I imagine he’ll find himself in the starting lineup a little more often going forward — so they don’t have an obvious in-house candidate for that role. If the Yankees are willing to open a 40-man roster spot, they’ll likely go out and get someone to come off the bench and run in September. Not a big trade — they got Young for cash last year — but a trade nonetheless.

* * *

As is often the case, this year’s batch of September call-ups is fairly straightforward. Holliday and Cooper will return from the disabled list Friday while Montgomery, Mitchell, Holder, and Gallegos figure to came up from Scranton, giving the Yankees six extra players on the first day rosters expand. Others like Andujar, Austin, German, Heller, and Wade are likely to come up shortly thereafter. Cessa, Frazier, and Higashioka will join the Yankees once they’re healthy, and if Higashioka doesn’t get healthy soon, Rodriguez figures to come up instead. Herrera and a pinch-runner are other possibilities.

I am pro-September call-ups — there are a lot of weirdos out there who don’t like expanded rosters — and it’s always fun to see the young guys come up, but here’s something to keep in mind: the Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot. They’re not going to play Andujar (or Cave) for the heck of it. Joe Girardi is going to stick with his regulars because the Yankees need to win, and the regulars give them the best chance to do that. The call-ups are around for blowouts and emergencies. That’s about it.

The short and long-term future of Miguel Andujar

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

For the first time in a few years the future of the Yankees looks overwhelmingly positive. The roster is not bogged down by aging players on big money contracts. Instead, the roster is now loaded with high-end young talent. Aaron Judge, even with his second half slump, has performed at an MVP caliber pace so far. Luis Severino is a Cy Young candidate. Then there’s Gary Sanchez, Clint Frazier, Chad Green, Jordan Montgomery, and more.

The Yankees have more young talent on the way too. Gleyber Torres likely would have been in the big leagues right now had he not blown out his non-throwing elbow sliding into home plate a few weeks back. He’d probably be playing second base while Starlin Castro is on the disabled list. Heck, maybe Torres would be playing third base and the Yankees would have never made the Todd Frazier trade. Either way, Gleyber is the crown jewel of the farm system.

There’s also third base prospect Miguel Andujar, who played one big league game earlier this season. The Yankees called him up for one day because they needed a short-term fill-in and he’s already on the 40-man roster, and in that one game he went 3-for-4 with a double. Andujar became the first Yankee in history to drive in four runs in his MLB debut.

The 22-year-old Andujar went into last night’s game with a .320/.352/.518 (136 wRC+) batting line in 101 total games this season, including a .333/.370/.563 (158 wRC+) line in 34 Triple-A games. His 14 home runs are already a career high, and he’s paired it with a 13.6% strikeout rate. Andujar has always been able to get the bat on the ball, and his offense has been trending up for a few years now.

  • 2015: .243/.288/.363 (98 wRC+) with 17.3% strikeouts at High-A.
  • 2016: .273/.332/.410 (111 wRC+) with 12.6% strikeouts at High-A and Double-A.
  • 2017: .320/.352/518 (136 wRC+) with 13.6% strikeouts at Double-A and Triple-A.

Andujar’s been a personal fave for a while now and this year he’s having the kind of breakout season that makes everyone take notice. Hit like that — again, we’re talking career best power output with a very low strikeout rate — at the upper levels of the minors and you’re going to force your way into the team’s plans. Andujar went from maybe part of the future last year to a serious factor this year.

The question now is where does Andujar fit, both short-term and long-term? The easy answer: this’ll work itself out. It always does. That’s the boring answer, so let’s talk this out.

The Short-Term

The Yankees have an opening at DH! Matt Holliday is on the disabled list and the Yankees could’ve easily called up Andujar and plugged him into the everyday lineup at DH. Instead, they called up Garrett Cooper for a platoon bat — Cooper is a righty hitter like Andujar — so Andujar could remain in Triple-A to work on his third base defense. It’s rough around the edges, though it’s more about bad habits than a lack of tools. Point is, he needs work in the field.

The Holliday injury means the Yankees could call Andujar up at any time and get him into the lineup without worrying about his defense. Do the Yankees want him to work on his defense in Triple-A? Yes. Do the Yankees want to win the AL East for the first time since 2012? Also yes. They want that more than anything. At some point soon they could decide Andujar is their best DH option, put his defensive work on hold, and call him up because he’ll (maybe) help them win games. Winning at the MLB level is the top priority.

If the Yankees don’t call up Andujar while Holliday is on the disabled list, a September call-up is all but a guarantee. He’s on the 40-man roster and he’s earned it. Andujar might not be a September 1st call-up, he might have to wait until the end of the Triple-A postseason to ensure he gets as much third base time as possible, but he’ll be up once rosters expand. How the Yankees use him is another matter. DH? Third base only in blowouts? We’ll see.

The Long-Term

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Third base is wide open going forward. Chase Headley has another year on his contract, though I’m pretty sure the Yankees would jettison him in the offseason if the opportunity presents itself. Also, they recently moved Headley to first base full-time, so they’re not going to let him block Andujar or Torres or whoever they want to put at third base. So even though he’s under contract for next season, Headley’s not an obstacle.

The problem the Yankees hope they have is too many infielders. Didi Gregorius and Castro are locked in on the middle infield and Torres and Andujar are coming. The Yankees would love love love to have to figure out how to make Torres and Andujar, two young up-and-comers, co-exist with the established veterans Gregorius and Castro. Too many players is a good thing, and trying to squeeze all these guys into the lineup is something the Yankees could face as soon as next April.

Having all these options — the Yankees could put Torres at third, or Castro at third and Torres at second, or stick with Headley, etc. — puts pressure on Andujar to improve his defense. He doesn’t want to have to move to first base and the Yankees don’t want that either. Rotating the four infielders at the three positions (second, third, short) and DH sounds great until you realize the Yankees are probably going to need that DH spot for an outfielder.

I don’t think Gregorius is going anywhere because he’s pretty awesome all around, on and off the field. I could see the Yankees being open to moving Castro, however, but only if Torres and Andujar prove capable. Gleyber is the priority here. He’s a special player and the Yankees will make room for him. It’s up to Andujar to displace Castro or possibly even Gregorius. Probably Castro. First base is the fallback option should Greg Bird never get healthy.

* * *

In a weird way, there’s a greater opportunity for Andujar in the short-term than there appears to be long-term. Usually a prospect is blocked and has to wait for some veteran to go away to get playing time. The Yankees could plug Andujar in at DH tomorrow to fill in for Holliday. Where does he fit beyond this season? Eh, that’s difficult to answer given his defense and the team’s other infielders.

As always, Andujar himself could be trade bait. You sign and develop prospects for two reasons. To plug into your MLB roster and to trade. When you have as many close to MLB ready prospects as the Yankees, inevitably some guys get squeezed out. That’s why Dustin Fowler and Jorge Mateo are now Athletics, and why Blake Rutherford is a White Sox. The Yankees have depth at their positions.

Andujar made the leap from talented and interesting prospect to bonafide big league option this season. He’s forced his way into the conversation long-term. Maybe his defense never improves to the point where the Yankees are comfortable running him out there at third base regularly and this is all moot. I don’t think that’ll be the case though. He’s got the skills, he just needs refinement. And when he’s ready, the Yankees will have to figure out how to get him into the lineup on a daily basis.

2017 Midseason Review: Holliday and the Rest of the Roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So far this season the Yankees have used 43 different players — 23 position players and 20 pitchers — which is the seventh most in baseball. The Mariners lead the way with 47 players and both the Indians and Diamondbacks have been lucky enough to use only 35 players. The Yankees used their fair share of shuttle arms in the first half, though position player injuries also forced them to dip into their farm system more than expected.

We’ve already covered most of those 43 players as part of our Midseason Review. Now it’s time to wrap things up and cover whoever has been left behind. Among them is one regular because I am bad at scheduling. Time to finish off the Midseason Review.

Matt Holliday: As Advertised

When the Yankees signed Holliday in November, he came billed as a good clubhouse guy and a professional hitter with some bounceback potential given his exit velocities and things like that. Nothing was guaranteed, of course. Holliday did turn 37 in January and he very easily could have been at the end of the line. The Yankees bet $13M on a rebound and so far he’s been worth every penny.

Holliday, as the team’s regular DH and occasional first baseman, is hitting .262/.366/.511 (132 wRC+) with 15 homers in 68 games so far, and he’s the No. 1 reason the Yankees have the most productive DH spot in the baseball.

  1. Yankees: 137 wRC+
  2. Mariners: 129 wRC+
  3. Indians: 127 wRC+

Oddly enough, Holliday’s strikeouts are way up this year. His 25.7% strikeout rate is on pace to shatter his previous career high (19.6% as a rookie in 2004). I think there’s a chance Holliday is selling out for power, which might partially explain the strikeouts. Holliday has also been pretty streaky. That’s alright though. He’s been productive more often than not, and day-to-day consistency in baseball is a myth anyway.

Beyond the on-field production, Holliday has also been a positive on all the young players the Yankees are incorporating into their lineup. Aaron Judge went out of his way to praise Holliday at the All-Star Game media day Monday. Here’s what Judge told Brendan Kuty about Holliday earlier this month:

“I just pick his brain on what he does,” Judge said he often asks Holliday. “‘What are you doing in a situation, with a certain pitcher? What are you doing with this guy? He’s a sinkerball pitcher, what do you try to do with those guys?’ I’ve picked up a couple little things.”

“He’s just really committed to his plan,” Judge said. “That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ll talk to him (in the early afternoon) and I’ll say, ‘Hey, what are you doing this game? What are you trying to do against this guy?’ Every single time I ask him, ‘What are you working on?’ He’ll say he’s trying to stick to his plan and drive the ball to right field. That’s why he’s so successful. He just sticks to it, no matter the situation.”

An illness, which was recently confirmed as Epstein-Barr, has had Holliday on the shelf since June 24th and holy cow did the Yankees miss his bat these last few weeks. He did play a pair of rehab games last weekend and is tentatively scheduled to rejoin the Yankees for the second half opener tomorrow. That’s huge. Holliday has been everything the Yankees could have expected and more.

The Extra Position Players

Among all the random position player call-ups the Yankees have made this year, whether it was an injury fill-in or a one-day audition, the leader in plate appearances is … catcher Kyle Higashioka. He served as the backup catcher in April when an injury forced Gary Sanchez to the 10-day DL and Austin Romine into the starter’s role. Higashioka went 0-for-18 and started only five games. If that changed your opinion of him, you’re thinking too hard.

Another April injury fill-in was veteran Pete Kozma, who served as the backup while Didi Gregorius was hurt and Ronald Torreyes started at shortstop. Kozma went 1-for-9 with the Yankees and had nothing resembling a signature moment. The Yankees lost him to the Rangers on waivers when Gregorius returned and Kozma is still on their bench because Jurickson Profar played his way down to Triple-A.

Last month the Yankees finally got sick of Chris Carter and finally called up Tyler Austin, who missed the start of the season after fracturing his ankle with a foul ball early in Spring Training. Austin mashed with Triple-A Scranton before the call-up, hitting .300/.366/.560 (151 wRC+). He came up, went 2-for-13 with a home run and six strikeouts at the plate, then landed on the 10-day DL with a fairly significant hamstring strain. The Yankees can’t have nice things at first base.

The final two position players both played only one game in the big leagues this year, for very different reasons. After Holliday landed on the disabled list, the Yankees called up third base prospect Miguel Andujar for a day, and he went 3-for-4 with a double in his MLB debut. He became the first player in franchise history to drive in four runs in his big league debut.

The Yankees sent Andujar down to the minors the next day because they didn’t have regular at-bats to give him and there’s no point in making the kid sit on the bench. Andujar is really breaking out in the minors this year — he’s hitting .302/.336/.476 (121 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A — but he needs to work on his third base defense, so that’s what he’s doing. I’m glad the Yankees have resisted the temptation to move him to first to plug a short-term hole.

The other one-game position player in the first half was outfielder Dustin Fowler who gave us, hands down, the saddest moment of the season. In the first inning of his first big league game, Fowler crashed into the side wall in foul territory chasing a pop-up, which ruptured his right patella. It was an open rupture, meaning it broke through the skin. Yikes. Fowler had emergency surgery that night and is done for the season.

Fowler came up to replace Andujar after hitting .293/.329/.542 (137 wRC+) down in Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees called him up before Clint Frazier. They like him that much. Fowler’s injury is so sad. I feel terrible for the kid. The good news is he is expected to make a full recovery in time for Spring Training. Plus he’s on the big league disabled list collecting service time and big league pay, so his bank account is doing better. But still, you know Fowler wants to play. What a terrible and sad moment.

The Extra Pitchers

For the first two months or so of the season, the Yankees did away with the bullpen shuttle. The days of calling up a new reliever every day to make sure Joe Girardi had a fresh arm in the bullpen were over. The Yankees stuck with their guys. Then the bullpen melted down and started blowing leads left and right, and the Yankees started shuttling guys in and out regularly. Such is life. The shuttle returned last month.

The one shuttle reliever who made the Opening Day roster is Bryan Mitchell. Back-to-back rough outings (seven runs in 2.2 innings) earned him a demotion to Triple-A at the end of April. He came back up briefly at the end of May and again at the end of June. So far this season Mitchell has a 5.06 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 16 big leagues innings and a 3.60 ERA (2.27 FIP) in 35 Triple-A innings. He’ll be back at some point in the second half, I’m sure of it. Mitchell’s time to carve out a long-term role with the Yankees is running out though.

Luis Cessa, who was in the running for an Opening Day rotation spot, has made three starts and three relief appearances for the Yankees this year. The three starts came when CC Sabathia was on the disabled list and they did not go well (eleven runs in 13.2 innings). The three relief appearances were better (two runs in eleven innings). The end result is a 4.18 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 23.2 innings. I like Cessa — I seem to the be the only one who likes Cessa — and hope we see more of him going forward.

Four shuttle relievers have made their MLB debut this season: Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, and Tyler Webb. They’ve combined for the the following line: 31 IP, 32 H, 20 R, 18 ER, 16 BB, 30 K. Replacement Level ‘R Us. German showed the most potential among those four. By far, I think. He also returned from Tommy John surgery a little more than a year ago and needs to pitch, not sit in the big league bullpen as the eight reliever. He’s in Triple-A where he belongs. Also, Ben Heller spent a day with the Yankees. He faced three batters: grounder, walk, walk-off single off his butt. He does have a 2.68 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 37 Triple-A innings though.

* * *

The Yankees have used 43 players this season and over the last four years they’ve averaged 56 players per season, so recent history suggests we’re going to see several new faces in the second half. New faces from outside the organization or the farm system. Probably a little of both.

Thoughts on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 prospects

(Al Bello/Getty)
Frazier. (Al Bello/Getty)

Late last week, Baseball America released their updated list of the top 100 prospects in baseball. White Sox 3B Yoan Moncada remains in the top spot, which isn’t too surprising. The Moncada hype train still has a full head of steam.

Seven Yankees made the updated top 100 list, the same number that made the preseason list. A few of the names have changed, however. Here’s where the Yankees rank:

3. SS Gleyber Torres (Preseason: 5th)
36. OF Blake Rutherford (Preseason: 45th)
48. OF Clint Frazier (Preseason: 39th)
55. RHP Chance Adams (Preseason: Not ranked)
70. OF Estevan Florial (Preseason: Not ranked)
72. LHP Justus Sheffield (Preseason: 91st)
88. OF Dustin Fowler (Preseason: Not ranked)

Adams, Florial, and Fowler jump into the top 100 while preseason No. 85 Jorge Mateo (poor performance), No. 87 RHP James Kaprielian (injury), and No. 90 OF Aaron Judge (graduated to MLB) fell out of the top 100. Looking back, it’s pretty funny Judge slipped from 53th to 76th to 90th on Baseball America’s preseason top 100 lists the last three years, and now he’s an AL MVP candidate (favorite?) as a rookie. Good times. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the latest top 100, so let’s get to them.

1. Gleyber’s injury hasn’t changed his prospect status. Despite undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago, Torres remains on the very short list of the best prospects in baseball. That indicates the injury to his non-throwing arm hasn’t soured anyone on his long-term outlook. The lost development time stinks, no doubt about that, but it’s a correctable injury to his least important limb. (That sounds bad. You know what I mean.) It was a freak injury and a pretty rare injury, but there is some precedent here. Reds shortstop Zack Cozart needed Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow in August 2011. He tore his ligament in a collision at second base. Cozart had surgery in August and was ready for Spring Training. He was in Cincinnati’s lineup on Opening Day 2012. Torres had his surgery in June, two months earlier in the season than Cozart. And Cozart has had no trouble with the elbow since. Tommy John surgery is really bad and always risky. In Gleyber’s case, it’s not as bad as it would be with his throwing arm, and because of that, he remains a tippy top prospect.

2. Why did Rutherford and Frazier switch spots? For all intents and purposes, Rutherford and Frazier have switched spots since the preseason list. They’re still pretty close together — they’re separated by 12 spots on the midseason top 100 — but they did flip. For some reason Baseball America now prefers Rutherford whereas four months ago they preferred Frazier. Hmmm. What changed? Frazier, 22, hit .257/.345/.474 (123 wRC+) with 12 homers, 21.3% strikeouts, and 11.6% walks in 73 Triple-A games before getting called up. Rutherford, 19, is hitting .278/.343/.384 (111 wRC+) with one homers, 19.3% strikeouts, and 8.8% walks in 64 Low-A games. Which performance is more impressive? It’s Frazier for me. Pretty clearly too. But it’s not just about numbers though. The scouting report will forever be more important than the stats. I’m curious to know why Rutherford climbed (slightly) and Frazier fell (slightly). If anything, Frazier’s stock is up in my eyes, and not only because he’s now socking dingers in the big leagues. Forget about all that for a second. Frazier is better commanding the strike zone this year and he’s tapping into his power more often. He hit 12 homers in 73 Triple-A games. His previous career high was 16 homers in 119 games last year. I dunno. Feels like ever since the trade, people have been looking for reasons to dog Frazier, whether it’s silly stories about his attitude or nitpicking his game and dropping him in prospect rankings. Dropping him below Rutherford (who is awesome!) seems like more of the same.

3. I am still the low man on Adams. Adams keeps climbing prospect rankings and that’s pretty cool to see. The reliever-to-start conversion couldn’t be going any better. I ranked Adams as the tenth best prospect in the system in my most recent top 30 list, behind three players who did not make Baseball America’s midseason top 100. That isn’t to say I think he’s a bad prospect. He’s not! He’s really good. But ranking Adams in the middle of a top 50 list suggests you think he can be an impact pitcher soon, or that he’s very likely to remain a starter long-term, and I’m not sure I buy either right now. I have some reservations about his overall command, about the life and plane on his fastball, and about his complete inability to keep Double-A and Triple-A hitters on the ground this year. A 42.7% ground ball rate at those levels is pretty darn scary. Just about every pitching prospect worth a damn puts up good grounder numbers in the minors simply by overwhelming all the low quality hitters you inevitably find at every level. Adams hasn’t been able to do that. Hopefully I’m wrong and he’ll soon be an impact pitcher for the Yankees. The fact the Yankees haven’t called him up despite their pitching needs — even as a reliever at this point — is a pretty good indication the team doesn’t consider Adams ready to help, however. I feel like a spot in the middle of the top 100 is a bit aggressive, but to each his own.

Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)

4. Florial has a really unique profile and I don’t know how to rank him. So far this season the 19-year-old Florial is hitting .300/.383/.502 (152 wRC+) with eleven homers, 15 steals in 21 attempts, and an 11.4% walks in 74 Low-A games. That is across the board excellence for a kid who is more than two years younger than the average South Atlantic League player. At the same time, Florial has a 30.2% strikeout rate, which is awfully high. You don’t often see a player pair that strikeout rate with the kind of overall success at the plate Florial is having. It’s very unique, though we are watching Judge do the same thing in the big leagues, so it’s not unprecedented. Does the strikeout rate mean Florial will fail against more advanced pitchers as he climbs the ladder? Or does the strong overall numbers indicate he will make the adjustment and cut down on the whiffs as he moves forward? This much is clear: Florial’s tools are off the charts. He’s got power from the left side of the plate, he runs well, he’s a very good center fielder, and he has a rocket arm. Based on the natural talent and overall production, Florial is a top 100 caliber prospect. I’m just not sure what that strikeout rate means. I’m more fascinated than alarmed.

5. Mateo could wind up back on the top 100 soon. Mateo has been tearing the cover off the ball since being bumped up to Double-A Trenton. He hit .240/.288/.400 (97 wRC+) in 69 games while repeating High-A and is at .417/.533/.750 (249 wRC+) in 13 games since being promoted. I mean, 13 games is 13 games, we probably shouldn’t read too much into them, but it sure is nice to see Mateo raking for the first time in more than a year. I don’t think Baseball America was wrong to drop him out of their midseason top 100. Not at all. That said, Mateo certainly has the tools to climb back into the top 100 in the future, and his Double-A performance is going to make people take notice. The Yankees have plenty of top 100 caliber prospects and I feel like they’re most willing to part with Mateo in a trade despite his upside. His success in Double-A is perhaps rebuilding some trade value leading up to the deadline and the offseason. It can’t hurt. That’s for sure.

6. Andujar keeps getting snubbed. I am the low man on Adams and the high man on Miguel Andujar, it seems. I’m not saying Andujar is a no doubt top 100 prospect, but I do think he deserves serious consideration, and he’s yet to sneak into any top 100 list. For shame. Andujar is hitting .302/.336/.479 (121 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A this year and he’s gone from a 98 wRC+ in 2015 to a 111 wRC+ in 2016 to a 121 wRC+ in 2017, so he’s trending in the right direction. That said, Andujar has to improve his defense, and I guess that’s why he’s not making any top 100 lists. Not everyone is sold on him remaining at third. Defense is the No. 1 priority right now and I’m glad the Yankees are letting him work on it in Triple-A. I don’t want Andujar playing first base and I don’t want him learning the hot corner on the fly in the big leagues. Third base in Triple-A is the appropriate spot for him. Robinson Cano never made a top 100 list, you know. Not once with any publication. I’m not saying Andujar will be the next Cano — Robbie is about 90% of the way to the Hall of Fame at this point, it’s not pair to compare any prospect to him — but in a few years, I definitely think he’s the type of player who will have people saying “how was this guy never on a top 100 list?”