The Suddenly Productive Farm System [2015 Season Review]

Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Judge at the Futures Game. (Rob Carr/Getty)

This past season the Yankees received more production from their farm system than they did in any year since Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang arrived in 2005. And because of that, they’ll take a hit in the various farm system rankings next spring. Top prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird graduated to MLB, as did the since traded John Ryan Murphy.

When you lose two high-end talents like Severino and Bird to the big leagues, your system is going to take a hit. That’s life. You’d rather the system take a hit because of graduations than failing prospects, and in recent years the Yankees were dealing with too much of the latter. With new farm system head Gary Denbo in charge, the system took a step forward this summer and gave the MLB team help, the kind of help that wasn’t always available in recent years. Let’s review the season on the farm.

The Top Prospect

Coming into the season it was debatable whether Severino or OF Aaron Judge was the Yankees’ top prospect. I went with Judge for a number of reasons, including the inherent injury risk with pitchers. Severino zoomed to the big leagues this summer while Judge split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, hitting .258/.332/.446 (124 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 127 total games.

Judge dominated the Double-A level (147 wRC+ with 12 HR in 63 games) but had a tougher time in Triple-A (98 wRC+ with 8 HR in 61 games), which isn’t all that uncommon. He was facing pitchers with big league experience for the first time and they picked him apart, mostly by taking advantage of his big strike zone — Judge is 6-foot-7, remember — with high fastballs and soft stuff away.

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, Judge’s strikeout rate did not spike in Triple-A, at least not insanely so. He had a 25.3% strikeout rate at High-A, a 25.0% strikeout rate in Double-A, and a 28.5% strikeout rate in Triple-A. That’s three extra strikeouts per 100 plate appearances. Judge did have some ugly strikeout heavy slumps with the RailRiders, but overall the strikeout increase was not alarming.

That isn’t to say Judge’s strikeouts aren’t an issue. He’s always going to strike out a lot, he’s a huge guy with a big zone, but you’d rather see him hover around 25.0 K% rather than 28.0+ K% long-term. The power is there though. Judge hit three more homers and two more doubles in 2015 than 2014 despite getting 23 fewer plate appearances, playing against better competition, and playing in worse hitters parks.

The less than stellar showing at Triple-A ensures Judge will return to the RailRiders to start 2016 so he can work on controlling the strike zone a little better (his 9.8% walk rate was above-average, for what it’s worth) and laying off soft stuff off the plate. Judge has big power and his right field defense is easy to overlook. He’s a really good athlete with a strong arm who’s an asset in the field. Hiccup in Triple-A notwithstanding, Judge remains New York’s top prospect in my book.

Mateo. (Jerry Coli)
Mateo. (Jerry Coli)

The Big Name Breakout Prospects

It’s weird to consider C Gary Sanchez a breakout prospect because he’s been one of the best prospects in the organization for a few years now, but a few things finally clicked this year, mostly in terms of his maturity. It helped him reach the big leagues in September. Sanchez is now a candidate — if not the favorite — to replace Murphy as the Brian McCann‘s backup next summer.

SS Jorge Mateo, another one of the team’s top prospects, also broke out this past season in the sense that he played his first full season. The 20-year-old speedster hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with a minor league leading 82 steals in 99 attempts (83% success rate) in 117 games with (mostly) Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. No other player stole more than 75 bases this year. If you want to argue Mateo (or Sanchez) is the Yankees’ top prospect and not Judge, I’d disagree, but I’d understand.

A few years ago RHP Rookie Davis was an interesting name literally because of his name. His real name is William but a nickname like Rookie gets you noticed. Davis took a big step forward this year, especially with the command of his mid-90s heater/curveball combination. Walk rate is a control stat, not a command stat, though it is notable he cut his walk rate from 7.6% last year to 4.7% his year. Davis had a 3.86 ERA (2.47 FIP) in 130.2 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

OF Dustin Fowler, 20, also made the jump from sleeper to bonafide prospect this summer by hitting .298/.334/.394 (113 wRC+) with 20 doubles, five homers, and 30 stolen bases in 123 games at Low-A and High-A. He then had a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Fowler has been playing baseball full-time for only two years now — he was also a top football recruit in high school — and he’s starting to turn his power/speed/defense tool package into baseball ability.

And finally, the biggest breakout prospect of the summer was OF Ben Gamel, who’s spent the last few years as a depth player and not an actual prospect. Thee 23-year-old hit .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) with 28 doubles, 14 triples, ten homers, and 13 steals in 129 games, all at Triple-A. Gamel’s power finally started to blossom and he’s now a legitimate big league candidate. He and Davis were added to the 40-man roster last month.

The Emerging Depth

Farm systems will always be defined by their star power, that’s just the way it goes, though depth is important as well. The Yankees had several lower profile prospects — guys who don’t necessarily project to be stars but do have a chance to contribute at the big league level in a meaningful way — emerge this summer, including SS Tyler Wade, RHP Brady Lail, LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Cale Coshow, and RHP Domingo Acevedo.

Wade. (The Times of Trenton)
Wade. (The Times of Trenton)

Wade, 21, had an ugly 21-game cameo with Double-A Trenton (37 wRC+) late in the season after a strong showing with High-A Tampa (117 wRC+). He hit .262/.321/.333 (99 wRC+) in 127 total games overall in 2015 and is a contact-oriented left-handed hitting middle infielder with the defensive chops for either side of the second base bag. At the very least, Wade is in position to have a long career as a backup infielder.

The 22-year-old Lail is a major player development success for the Yankees. He was the team’s 18th round pick in the 2012 draft as an extremely raw high schooler from Utah. The Yankees have helped mold him into a four-pitch righty who is in position to give the team serviceable innings soon. Lail had a 2.91 ERA (3.51 FIP) in 148.1 innings for Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2015, though he didn’t miss any bats (13.8 K%). He offers a fastball, curveball, cutter, and changeup. The ceiling is not all that high here, but Lail can help.

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old Montgomery was one of the best pitchers in the system this season, posting a 2.95 ERA (2.61 FIP) with very good strikeout (24.1%) and walk (6.6%) rates in 134 innings at Low-A and High-A. Montgomery spent three years in South Carolina’s rotation facing tough SEC lineups, so Single-A lineups were no challenge. He’s another four-pitch guy (fastball, cutter, curve, change) and we’ll find out if Montgomery is for real next season, when he heads to Double-A Trenton.

Coshow is an interesting prospect. For starters, the guy is listed at 6-foot-5 and 260 lbs., so he’s an intimidating presence on the mound. Secondly, he had a 2.45 ERA (2.80 FIP) with good strikeout (21.5%) and walk (6.2%) numbers in 114 innings at three levels in 2015. He topped out at Double-A. Coshow, 23, performed so well the Yankees moved him from a relief role into a starting role at midseason. He’s got a huge fastball, sitting 95-97 and hitting 100 mph in relief, and he backs it up with a wipeout slider. I don’t think Coshow’s a starter long-term, but gosh, that’s a nice looking relief prospect.

And finally, the 21-year-old Acevedo is either one of the best prospects in the organization or just an interesting arm with a long way to go, depending who you ask. Acevedo had a 1.81 ERA (2.89 FIP) with a lot of strikeouts (26.6%) and an average number of walks (7.9%) in 49.2 innings with mostly Short Season Staten Island this summer. He’s another huge guy (6-foot-7) who has touched triple digits, and his changeup is pretty good too. Acevedo needs to figure out a breaking ball at some point to avoid a future in the bullpen.

The Reclamation Prospects

At this time last year both OF Mason Williams and OF Slade Heathcott were afterthoughts. Williams didn’t hit at all from 2013-14 and he was dogged by maturity issues. Heathcott simply couldn’t stay healthy. The two came to Spring Training healthy this year and with positive attitudes, and they put themselves back on the prospect map. Both made their MLB debuts in the first half. It might not sound like much, but Williams and Heathcott went from non-factors to the show in about six months. That’s pretty darn cool.

The Best of the Rest

The Yankees had to be pleased with what they saw from 3B Eric Jagielo (141 wRC+ with Double-A Trenton) before he jammed his knee sliding into home plate in June and had to have it scoped, ending his season. Jagielo’s defense is still a huge question, but the guy can hit, especially for power. IF Abi Avelino and IF Thairo Estrada both had nice seasons in the low minors — Avelino stole 54 bases and Estrada had a 108 wRC+ with Short Season Staten Island.

OF Rob Refsnyder, LHP Jacob Lindgren, and RHP Bryan Mitchell gave the Yankees some mileage at the big league level, and the team turned OF Ramon Flores and RHP Jose Ramirez into Dustin Ackley. The 2014-15 international spending spree added a bevy of prospects to the system and the 2015 draft added even more talent, with RHP James Kaprielian, SS Wilkerman Garcia, RHP Drew Finley, SS Hoy Jun Park, 3B Dermis Garcia, and RHP Chance Adams among the most notable new additions. Also, 2B Tony Renda came over in the David Carpenter trade.

The Disappointing Prospects

It’s not all good news, of course. Several prospects had disappointing seasons, most notably OF Tyler Austin. He hit .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) in 94 regular season games and was demoted from Triple-A Scranton to Double-A Trenton at midseason. The Yankees dropped Austin from the 40-man roster in September and he slipped through waivers unclaimed.

3B Miguel Andujar did the bad first half/good second half thing again, though the end result was a .243/.288/.363 (98 wRC+) line in 130 High-A Tampa games. At some point Andujar has to put together a full productive season. Bonus baby OF Leonardo Molina hit .247/.290/.364 (96 wRC+) while repeating the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Age is on his side though — Molina turned 18 in July. Yes, he’s still only 18. Austin, Andujar, and Molina were the biggest disappointments among the team’s top 30 prospects.

Clarkin. ( screen grab)
Clarkin. ( screen grab)

The Inevitable Injures

Injuries are part of baseball. That’s just the way it is. The Yankees had several high-profile prospects suffer significant injuries in 2015. LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow inflammation), C Luis Torrens (shoulder surgery), RHP Domingo German (Tommy John surgery), RHP Austin DeCarr (Tommy John surgery), and RHP Ty Hensley (Tommy John surgery) combined for zero regular season games played this year. Zero.

That is two of the top six, three of the top eleven, and five of the top 18 prospects in the organization according to my preseason rankings. (Four of the top seven pitching prospects!) Ouch. Literally and figuratively. On the bright side, Clarkin did avoid the zipper and was able to throw 24.2 innings in the Arizona Fall League. But still, that’s a lot of really good prospects going down with major injuries. The Clarkin and Torrens injuries really took a bite out of the system. They have the most upside.

* * *

Overall, the 2015 season was a big success for the Yankees’ farm system because they graduated some impact talent to the big leagues. Severino and Bird look like keepers and future core players. Murphy had a very good season before being traded a few weeks ago. Sanchez and Mateo emerged, Kaprielian was drafted, and Judge reached Triple-A.

The Yankees dipped into their farm system for help whenever possible this season, and I have to think that serves as motivation for the guys still in the minors. They see that if they stay healthy and produce, they’ll get a chance too. Calling up guys like LHP Matt Tracy and OF Taylor Dugas shows the Yankees will now give anyone and everyone an opportunity if they’re the right man for the job.

The Young Outfielders [2015 Season Review]

Slade & Co. (Presswire)
Slade & Co. (Presswire)

Thanks mostly to Jacoby Ellsbury‘s knee injury, the Yankees had an opportunity to audition several of their young outfielders this past season. Of course several of the young guys then got hurt as well. The center field position was cursed for a few weeks there. Whoever played the position kept getting hurt.

I’m not sure many folks expected Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams to make their MLB debuts this summer, but the Yankees dipped into their system for help time and time again, and both got the call. Both made solid impressions before the injuries too. Those two plus Ramon Flores spent time with the Yankees this summer and all three helped in their own way.

First Up: Heathcott

At this time last year, the Yankees were about to non-tender Heathcott and remove him from the 40-man roster. The plan was to non-tender him, re-sign him to a minor league contract, and keep him as a non-40-man player. Heathcott leveraged his sudden free agency into a pretty sweet deal and returned to the organization a few days later.

Injuries, specifically knee and shoulder surgeries, limited Heathcott to nine games in 2014 and 117 games total from 2012-14. It was a long shot he would be able to contribute, but Slade came to Spring Training healthy and in great shape, and he mashed. He hit .333/.450/.545 in 23 Grapefruit League games and received the James P. Dawson Award as the best rookie in camp.

The Yankees planned to sent Heathcott to Double-A Trenton to start the season, but his strong spring convinced them he was ready for Triple-A Scranton, so he instead opened the year with the RailRiders. He stayed healthy and continued to hit early in the regular season, putting up a .285/.335/.358 (102 wRC+) batting line in his first 37 Triple-A games. On May 19th, after Ellsbury hurt his knee, the Yankees called Slade to the show for the first time.

Heathcott did not start that first game on May 20th, instead making his MLB debut by coming off the bench in the late innings for defense. He started in center field the next day and went 2-for-3 with a double. The double was his first career hit in his first career at-bat. Three days later, Heathcott launched his first career big league home run.

The kid was on fire. Slade went 6-for-17 (.353) with a double and a home run in his first six big league games … and then he got hurt. All the air was let out of the balloon. A strained quad was the culprit this time, and I guess the good news is it was only a muscle pull, not serious structural damage that required surgery like the knee or shoulder.

The quad injury sidelined Heathcott for two months — he was actually placed on the 60-day DL at one point to clear 40-man roster space — and, once healthy, he returned to Triple-A Scranton. Slade hit a disappointing .257/.300/.336 (84 wRC+) in his final 30 Triple-A games of the season. The Yankees did not call him up on September 1st either. They wanted him to get regular at-bats and not sit on the big league bench.

Heathcott remained with the RailRiders through the end of the minor league season before being called up on September 12th. On September 14th, after entering a game against the Rays as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning, Heathcott hit a go-ahead three-run home run in the top of the ninth. It was, as Michael Kay would say, a UUUGE hit.

That was one of the coolest moments of the season, hands down. Forget the enormity of the hit — the Yankees were desperately trying to stay in the AL East race and needed every win possible — just think about everything Heathcott had gone through in his career up to that point. All the injuries, all the off-the-field problems. He had to overcome an awful lot to get to that point. It was so awesome.

The home run didn’t earn Heathcott more playing time — he received only eleven plate appearances the rest of the way — but he did see time as a defensive replacement and in the late innings of blowouts. The Yankees were in the postseason race and stuck with their regular veteran outfielders. I can’t fault Joe Girardi for that.

In 17 big league games this summer, Slade went 10-for-25 (.400) with two doubles, two home runs, and mean defense in right and center fields. He was also on the wildcard game roster but did not play. Heathcott hit .267/.315/.343 (90 wRC+) with two homers in 64 Triple-A games around the quad injury as well. All things considered, it was a successful bounceback from his injury plaque 2014 season.

Heathcott remains on the 40-man roster and he has a minor league option remaining for next season. If he stays healthy — that will always be a big if — Slade figures to again start the season with Triple-A Scranton, though a Brett Gardner trade could open up a big league roster spot. We’ll see how that works out. For now, he’s put himself in position to be a call-up candidate.

Flores. (Presswire)
Flores. (Presswire)

Next Up: Flores

Although he didn’t offer the same tools, Flores had been more productive than either Heathcott or Williams the last few years in the minors. He played well in Spring Training — he even hit a walk-off Grapefruit League homer (video) — and started the season with Triple-A Scranton. After Ellsbury and Heathcott got hurt, Flores was called up to the big leagues for the first time in late-May.

Flores made his MLB debut on May 30th in Oakland, and he stood out more for his glove than his bat at first. He made several stellar defensive plays in the spacious Coliseum, including throwing a runner out at the plate (video) and making a diving catch in foul territory (video). The Yankees traveled to Seattle next and Flores threw another runner out at the plate, coincidentally Dustin Ackley.

Flores recorded his first career big league hit on a ground ball single against Jesse Chavez, and in his first nine games with the team, he went 7-for-26 (.269) with a double. That includes a 3-for-4 game against the Nationals on June 9th. The Yankees eventually decided to bring up a center field capable defender and Flores was sent back to Triple-A for a few weeks. He rejoined the Yankees in early-July for a few games after Carlos Beltran landed on the DL with an oblique strain. On July 4th, Flores bunted into a walk-off error.

The Yankees sent Flores back to Triple-A shortly thereafter, where he stayed until being traded to the Mariners with Jose Ramirez for Ackley at the deadline. Flores went 7-for-32 (.219) in 12 games with the Yankees and hit .286/.377/.417 (133 wRC+) with seven home runs in 73 Triple-A games before the trade. He played 14 games with Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. The Mariners flipped him to the Brewers for infielder Luis Sardinas last week.

The Yankees have a lot of upper level outfield depth and something had to give. Flores was arguably the most productive of the group and I think he’s got a good chance to carve out a lengthy career as a platoon bat, but he’ll be out of minor league options next season and the Yankees don’t have a spot for him on the big league roster. Using him to get a piece who fits the roster better made perfect sense.

Williams. (Presswire)
Williams. (Presswire)

Third In Line: Williams

Like Heathcott, Williams is a tooled up outfielder whose stock had fallen big time in recent years. Slade’s stock fell because he kept getting hurt. Williams? His stock fell because he didn’t hit — .236/.298/.319 (74 wRC+) in over 1,200 minor league plate appearances from 2013-14 — and had attitude problems in the minors. The Yankees believed in the talent though and added him to the 40-man roster last offseason.

Williams did not play as much as Heathcott in Spring Training but he did play well, hitting .313/.400/.625 with three doubles and a triple in 15 Grapefruit League games. The Yankees assigned him to Double-A Trenton once again — Williams was there for part of 2013 and all of 2014 — and his hot spring carried over. Williams hit .317/.407/.375 (131 wRC+) with more walks (13.2%) than strikeouts (11.8%) in 34 games with the Thunder.

The Yankees bumped Williams up to Triple-A in mid-May to replace the called up Heathcott, then, after a few weeks with the RailRiders, Williams was called up to the big leagues, this time to replace Flores. He made his MLB debut as the starting center fielder on June 12th and hit a two-run home run for his first career hit in his second at-bat. Not a bad debut, eh?

Williams stayed in the lineup as the starting center fielder and, after a little three-game cold streak, he went 5-for-10 with three doubles, a walk, and no strikeouts during a four-game tear in mid-June. Through eight big league games, Williams had gone 6-for-21 (.286) with three doubles and a home run. He also made several spectacular catches in the outfield.

Unfortunately, Williams’ season came to a premature end on June 19th. He suffered a pretty fluke right (throwing) shoulder injury sliding back into first base on a pickoff throw. It was an innocent looking play. Williams just landed awkwardly and his shoulder popped in and out of the socket. He stayed in the game to run the bases but was lifted after the inning.

The Yankees placed Williams on the 15-day DL with inflammation and the injury wasn’t considered serious. The inflammation and discomfort never did go away though. On July 17th, almost exactly one month after getting hurt, the Yankees announced Williams needed season-ending surgery to clean up the shoulder. They slid him to the 60-day DL to clear 40-man space around that time as well.

Williams went 6-for-21 (.286) with those three doubles and that home run in eight MLB games before getting hurt. He hit .318/.397/.398 (133 wRC+) with 14 doubles, 13 steals, and more walks (11.5%) than strikeouts (9.8%) in 54 total minor league games. It’s a shame he got hurt because Williams was doing a really great job re-establishing himself as a prospect.

Front shoulder injuries are tricky for hitters and it may take Williams some time to get back to 100% next year. He’s expected to be ready to go for Spring Training, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be all the way back. Either way, Williams is still on the 40-man roster and he has two option years left. He’ll stick around for a while, even if Heathcott is ahead of him on the call-up depth chart.

Yankees acquire Dustin Ackley from Mariners from Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez

Beard's gotta go, Dustin. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Beard’s gotta go, Dustin. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

While we wait for pitching, the Yankees have made a move to possibly improve the bench. The club has acquired utility man Dustin Ackley from the Mariners for outfielder Ramon Flores and right-hander Jose Ramirez, both teams announced. Ackley is currently in Minnesota, so he won’t join the Yankees in time for tonight’s game. He’ll probably meet them in Chicago tomorrow.

Ackley, 27, was the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, taken right after Stephen Strasburg. He was teammates with Adam Warren at UNC. The Yankees have reportedly been after Ackley for quite a while now — they talked to the Mariners about him last year, but backed away when Seattle wanted Bryan Mitchell. Earlier today we heard the two sides were discussing Ackley, Flores, and Ben Gamel.

So far this season Ackley is hitting .215/.270/.366 (77 wRC+) in 207 plate appearances as a part-time player. He showed a lot of promise by hitting .273/.348/.417 (117 wRC+) during his 90-game MLB debut back in 2011, but owns a .236/.297/.356 (85 wRC+) batting line in over 1,800 plate appearances since. Ackley has played first and second bases and well as left field in the big leagues.

The immediate question is how does Ackley fit on the roster and how will he be used? He is out of minor league options, so someone is coming off the 25-man roster, and the Yankees could either slot him into the Garrett Jones role or make him the everyday second baseman. My guess? They’ll try to turn him into their version of Brock Holt, the supersub who can play anywhere. This blurb from Ken Rosenthal back in June sticks out to me:

One problem with a six-man rotation is that it all but forces a team to carry 13 pitchers. Alas, it’s difficult to construct a roster that way without a multi-position threat such as Ben Zobrist or Brock Holt on the bench.

Such players, of course, are rare, which is why Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he recently told the head of the team’s minor-league department, “We’ve got to create one.”

We’ll see how it goes. For what it’s worth, the team’s press release identified Ackley as an outfielder only, not as a second baseman or first baseman or infielder or anything like that. Just an outfielder. It seems likely Ackley will replace Jones on the roster, but who knows.

I ranked Flores and Ramirez as the 18th and 30th best prospect in the system last week, respectively. The Yankees have more upper level outfielders and relievers than they know what to do with, so it’s no surprise they used that surplus in a trade. They still have Gamel, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Aaron Judge, and Jake Cave in the outfield and a small army of righty relievers in Triple-A.

Flores, 23, made his MLB debut earlier this year and stood out more for his glove than his bat in 12 games. He is hitting .286/.377/.417 (113 wRC+) with seven homers in 73 Triple-A games this year. Flores has a classic left-handed platoon outfielder’s profile, a Seth Smith type, and he’ll have a much greater opportunity for playing time in Seattle. I would not at all be surprised to see him carve out a long career as a useful role player.

The 25-year-old Ramirez has been up and down a few times the last two years, allowing eleven runs on 17 hits and eleven walks in 13 big league innings. Yikes! He’s struck out a dozen. Ramirez has a 2.90 ERA (2.70 FIP) with 26.7 K% and 11.0 BB% in 49.2 Triple-A innings this year. He has superb stuff — at his best, Ramirez sits mid-90s and gets swings and miss with both his changeup and slider — but his command is spotty and his injury history is ugly.

Ackley will earn $2.6M this season and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in both 2016 and 2017. I figured he would be a non-tender candidate after the season, but I’m guessing the Yankees didn’t just trade Flores and Ramirez so they could non-tender Ackley in November. Flores and Ramirez both have all six years of team control remaining.

It remains to be seen how the Yankees will use Ackley going forward. This is a move designed to upgrade the margins of the roster, nothing else. They’re taking a shot on talent — Baseball America ranked Ackley as the 11th and 12th best prospect in all of baseball in 2010 and 2011, respectively — and hoping Ackley will thrive outside of cavernous Safeco Field and in lefty friendly Yankee Stadium.

2015 Trade Deadline Open Thread: Thursday

Price. (Harry How/Getty)
Price. (Harry How/Getty)

We are now just one day away from the 2015 non-waiver trade deadline. The Yankees have not yet made a move but I expect them to do something by 4pm ET tomorrow. They need pitching — I’m not sure how much more obvious it could be at this point — and a new second baseman sure would be cool too. Don’t be fooled by the six-game lead in the AL East, there are holes on the roster.

Late last night, Cole Hamels was traded to the Rangers in an eight-player deal, taking arguably the best available pitcher off the board. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday we learned the Tigers are making David Price and their other rental players available, which is significant because Price would look wonderful in pinstripes. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here. Talk about all of ’em in this open thread.

  • 2:50pm ET: Not only do the Yankees not want to trade top prospects, they are hesitant to trade guys like Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell as well. The sense is they will add a reliever to deepen the bullpen. Warren could then be a candidate to return to the rotation. [Joel Sherman]
  • 2:47pm ET: The Mariners plan to keep impending free agent Hisashi Iwakuma. He’s a favorite of ownership and they could always re-sign him in the offseason. The Yankees had not been connected to Iwakuma but he seemed like a logical fit. (Masahiro Tanaka‘s teammate in Japan!) [Jeff Passan]
  • 2:23pm ET: The Yankees are “poised to strike” and are in on all the available arms. That … really doesn’t tell us anything new. The Yankees are typically a club that waits until the last minute to make trades, however. The Martin Prado and Stephen Drew deals were announced after the deadline last year.[Ken Rosenthal]
  • 2:01pm ET: The Yankees are on the “periphery” of the Yovani Gallardo race. He is very available and a bunch of teams are in the mix. Gallardo is still scheduled to start against the Yankees tonight. [Heyman]
  • 12:50pm ET: David Price is heading to the Blue Jays for a package of top prospects, including Daniel Norris and Anthony Alford. So scratch him off the list.
  • 12:06pm ET: The Blue Jays appear to be “closing in” on a trade for David Price according to multiple reports. Toronto hasn’t been to the postseason since 1993 and they acquired Troy Tulowitzki a few days ago. The chips are firmly in the middle of the table.
  • 10:07am ET: The Yankees are considering among Mike Leake‘s most likely landing spots at this point. They’re also a candidate to acquire Jeff Samardzija should the surging White Sox decide to move him. Special assistant Jim Hendry drafted the righty when he was Cubs GM and Larry Rothschild was Samardzija’s pitching coach in Chicago for a few years. [Heyman]
  • 9:30am ET: The Yankees are one of four serious contenders for David Price, along with the Dodgers, Giants, and Blue Jays. All four clubs are in talks with the Tigers. [Jon Heyman]
  • The Yankees discussed Dustin Ackley with the Mariners. Ramon Flores and Ben Gamel came up but Seattle wanted more — I believe it was Flores or Gamel, not both — so talks stalled out. For whatever reason the Yankees have been after Ackley for years. [Mark Feinsand]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

2015 Midseason Review: Odds & Ends

Time to tie up some loose ends and conclude our Midseason Review series. The second half of the 2015 seasons starts tonight, thankfully. I’ve come to appreciate the All-Star break, but yeah, I am ready for more baseball.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

G.I. Jones and the Serial Killer

By bench player standards, Chris Young has been dynamite this season. He’s mashing lefties and playing strong defense, which are his two main job functions. Garrett Jones, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a set role. He’s the backup at first base, yeah, but otherwise he doesn’t play regularly against righties or anything. Jones has started just 28 of the team’s 88 games, for example. He batted 28 times in April. That’s it.

Playing that infrequently didn’t exactly help Jones remain productive. He went 6-for-40 (.150) before hitting his first home run on May 22nd, a pinch-hit three-run homer into the Yankee Stadium short porch. That seemed to get him going. Jones is 24-for-89 (.270) with four homers since then, including at least one big one …

… while continuing to play sporadically. Jones is hitting .233/.277/.395 (84 wRC+) with five homers overall — again, he’s been much better since that dreadful start — and all things considered, he’s been really good for his role. That backup first baseman/fifth outfielder/lefty power bat off the bench who rarely plays. This is exactly the kind of veteran dude you want in this role. Not some prospect with an actual future.

John Ryan Murphy, meanwhile, has a total of 85 plate appearances as Brian McCann‘s backup this year, and is hitting .247/.286/.325 (65 wRC+). That’s about on par with the league average for backup catchers. Murphy’s defense has been fine to the untrained eye — he’s thrown out six of 19 attempted base-stealers (32%), so teams have tried running on him in limited action — and for whatever reason the pitching staff has better strikeout (23.4%) and walk (5.6%) rates with him behind the plate than McCann (21.8% and 7.2%, respectively). Could easily be sample size noise.

The Yankees reached the point where something had to happen with their catching depth. Someone had to go, and it was Francisco Cervelli, who was two years from free agency. The Yankees turned him into Justin Wilson, gave Murphy the backup job, and managed to keep Austin Romine in Triple-A as a non-40-man roster player. As an unabashed JRM fan, I’m happy with the way things turned out and I look forward to seeing Murphy continue to develop on both sides of the ball.

Futility Infielders

Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Pirela. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

It feels like more, but the Yankees have had four differential utility infielders this season, not counting the just called up Rob Refsnyder. Gregorio Petit, Jose Pirela, Brendan Ryan, and Cole Figueroa have hit a combined .209/.243/.310 (~53 wRC+) in 140 plate appearances. Pirela (41 wRC+) has exactly half those plate appearances. There’s a decent chance the Yankees will stick with Refsnyder as the regular second baseman and push Stephen Drew in the backup infielder role going forward, which would still be a net upgrade even as bad as Drew has been. Young, Jones, and Murphy have been pretty good off the bench, all things considered. The infielders have … not.

Get Called Up, Get Injured

When Jacoby Ellsbury hit the DL, the Yankees first called up Slade Heathcott, and it was a great story. Slade has dealt with all sorts of on-the-field and off-the-field issues over the years, so much so that he was dropped off the 40-man roster in the offseason, but he came to Spring Training healthy and played well in Triple-A. He earned the call up, went 6-for-17 (.343) with a homer, then blew out his quad and landed on the DL for a few months. Brutal.

Heathcott’s injury opened the door for Mason Williams, who battled mostly work ethic and makeup problems the last few years, but had the proverbial light bulb go on this offseason. He played well in Double-A and Triple-A, got called up to replace Slade, went 6-for-21 (.286) with three doubles and a homer, then suffered a shoulder injury diving back into first base on a pickoff throw. The day-to-day injury turned into a 60-day DL stint. I repeat: brutal.

The only young fourth outfielder to escape the injury bug in the first half was Ramon Flores, who got called up to replace Williams and went 7-for-32 (.219) with a double. He’s been up and down a few times and hasn’t gotten the everyday opportunity like Heathcott and Williams did before getting hurt. Maybe that’s the team’s way of keeping him healthy. I’m glad the Yankees have given their young outfielders a chance. It sucks they keep getting hurt. Seriously hurt too.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

One Hundred Pitches Or Less

Through 88 games this season, the Yankees have had a starting pitcher throw 100+ pitches only 22 times, tied with the Rockies and Royals for the fewest in MLB. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have both thrown 100+ pitches seven times, Adam Warren did it four times before being put in the bullpen, CC Sabathia has done it three times, and Masahiro Tanaka has done it once. That’s it. The Yankees do have 38 starts of 90-99 pitches, for what it’s worth.

The lack of 100+ pitch starts is the result of many things, first and foremost ineffectiveness. Sabathia and Eovaldi have gotten knocked around a bit at times, Warren struggled in April, and even Tanaka and Pineda went through rough stretches. The Yankees also have a strong bullpen and Joe Girardi has not been shy about going to it early rather than letting his starter go through the lineup a third time. Can’t say I blame him.

That said, the Yankees rank 22nd in innings by starters (510) and eighth in innings by the bullpen (283.1), which is a bit unbalanced. Over the last five years the ratio of rotation innings to bullpen innings is almost exactly 2.0 (1.996, to be exact) in the AL. The Yankees are at 1.80 this year. I’m not saying it can’t work all year, but it would be nice to see Girardi let the starters go a little deeper into games to help avoid bullpen burnout, especially with multi-run leads. I’m not sure asking the relievers to get a dozen outs each night is a built to last strategy.

Game 84: The Return of Ellsbury and Miller

Yay good players. (Presswire)
Yay good players. (Presswire)

The Yankees made two big trades today! Well, no, not really. People just like to say getting someone back from the DL is like making a trade for whatever reason. Both Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) and Andrew Miller (forearm) have rejoined the team today, so they’re whole again. Or at least closer to being whole. They still have some dudes out with injury.

Miller and especially Ellsbury will be asked to contribute right away because the offense has had trouble scoring more than three runs a game lately and because CC Sabathia is back on the mound tonight. Sabathia has not pitched well at all this year — he’s made 16 starts and allowed fewer than four runs only six times — but he’s staying in the rotation, so the Yankees are hoping he turns in a surprisingly strong performance tonight. Hopefully Ellsbury and Miller can help pick up the slack. Here is the A’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Chris Young
  6. C John Ryan Murphy
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Jose Pirela
  9. 3B Gregorio Petit
    LHP CC Sabathia

Now, the bad news: It’s raining. Has been for most of the afternoon but it’s just light rain at the moment. There’s more rain in the forecast later tonight, though it appears there’s a big enough window to get the game in. We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose. First pitch is scheduled for a bit after 7pm ET. The game will be on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Moves: Both Ramon Flores and Nick Rumbelow were sent down to Triple-A Scranton to make room for Ellsbury and Miller, the Yankees announced. Not unexpected.

Injury Updates: Chase Headley is day-to-day with a sore calf … Brendan Ryan (back) has resumed baseball activities and could begin a minor league rehab assignment soon … Mason Williams (shoulder) has renewed soreness after throwing, so his rehab has been slowed down. Surgery is not being considered at this time … Slade Heathcott (quad) is still shut down. He’s not close to returning.

All-Star Update: According to MLB’s update, Brett Gardner is currently fourth in the AL Final Vote voting. There is basically no chance anyone other than Mike Moustakas wins based on the way Royals fans stuffed the ballots for the starters. Here’s the ballot anyway … No Yankees will be in the Home Run Derby, unsurprisingly. Here are the participants.

Yankees place Beltran on 15-day DL, recall Flores and Petit

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Yankees have placed Carlos Beltran on the 15-day DL with an oblique strain, the team announced. Ramon Flores and Gregorio Petit were both called up from Triple-A Scranton in corresponding moves. Taylor Dugas was optioned down to Triple-A to clear the other roster spot.

Beltran, 38, left Tuesday’s game in Anaheim after grabbing his side during an at-bat. He actually stayed in to finish the at-bat before being removed between innings. Beltran told reporters his oblique had been bothering him for a few days but the discomfort was manageable. Beltran went for tests yesterday that showed the strain.

Although he is hitting an average-ish .260/.309/.430 (102 wRC+) overall this season, Beltran has been much more productive since May 1st, hitting .299/.346/.494 (132 wRC+) in his last 188 plate appearances. The Yankees will miss his bat in the middle of the order for sure. His defense? Not so much. The lineup is a little shorter now though.

Flores wasn’t called up when Beltran initially got hurt because he couldn’t be recalled — he was still in his ten-day window after being sent down last week and the team wasn’t sure if Beltran needed to be placed on the DL yet. His ten days are up now. Beltran’s injury allowed Petit to come back before his ten days were up. He was sent down last weekend.

The Yankees are currently have Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury (knee), Slade Heathcott (quad), and Mason Williams (shoulder) on the DL, so they’re running out of outfielders. Their depth has been put to the test. Ellsbury might be back soon and Williams is eligible to come off the DL tomorrow, but there have been no updates on him. Heathcott will miss several more weeks.

Chris Young and Garrett Jones have both played well of late, though Girardi has given the majority of the playing time to Young, even against righties. My guess is Flores plays left, Young plays right, and Brett Gardner mans center for the time being. Once Ellsbury comes back, they can figure out a new alignment then.