Archive for Shawn Kelley
As we spend far too much time trying to figure out how the Yankees will rebuild themselves into a contender while staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold next season, there has always been one great big unknown throwing a wrench into things: arbitration salaries. These go to players with more than three years but fewer than six years of service time; the guys who have been in the league long enough to earn a decent salary but not long enough to qualify for free agency.
Arbitration salaries are very tough to pin down (or estimate, for that matter) but can be substantial in some cases, especially as the player moves closer to free agency. Thankfully, Matt Swartz developed an insanely accurate model — it’s been within 5% or so overall — for projecting arbitration salaries, and the information has been available at MLBTR these last three years. Projections for the Yankees’ seven arbitration-eligible players were released over the weekend:
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)
Update: Here are the updated projections. Only Robertson’s changed.
Nova ($2.22M raise), Robertson ($2.4M), and Gardner ($1.15M) are all projected to receive healthy raises from last season. The other four guys are projected to receive $640k salary increases or less. Nova is arbitration-eligible for the very first time, meaning he’s coming off what amounts to a league minimum salary in 2013. I have to think that’s a pretty great moment for a young-ish player — that first year of arbitration, when your annual salary goes from mid-six-figures to several million bucks.
Anyway, at the projected salaries, I think both Nix and Stewart are obvious non-tender candidates, meaning the Yankees should cut them loose and allow them to become free agents rather than pay that salary. Nix is a perfectly fine utility infielder who played way too much this past season, when he earned $900k. The projected $1.4M is a real stretch for me. If he’s willing to re-sign with the team for $1M or so, great. If not, move on. There are better ways to spend $1.4M, especially considering the team’s self-imposed budget constraints. Same goes for Stewart. No way should the Yankees pay him a seven-figure salary in 2014. That’s madness.
So, assuming the Yankees non-tender Nix and Stewart but keep everyone else, their arbitration class projects to cost $14.8M next season. They currently have six players under contract with a combined $84.9M “tax hit” for 2014 and that includes Alex Rodriguez, who may or may not be suspended. It doesn’t include Derek Jeter, who figures to pick up his player option. So, between the guys under contract and the arbitration-eligible players, the Yankees have eleven players slated to earn $99.7M in 2014, pending decisions by Jeter and the arbitrator overseeing A-Rod‘s appeal.
That leaves the team with roughly $77.3M to spend on the 29 remaining 40-man roster spots (plus leaving space for midseason additions) when you factor in ~$12M or so for player benefits, which count against the tax. If A-Rod is suspended for the entire season, it’ll be $104.8M for 30 remaining roster spots. That sounds like a lot, but remember, Jeter and the inevitable Robinson Cano contract will soak up about $35M of that leftover money all by themselves. Without A-Rod but with Cano and Jeter, it’s more like $70M for 28 roster spots plus midseason additions. Doable, certainly, but that $300M spending spree might be more myth that reality.
The 2013 season is over and we’ve had a week to catch our breath. It’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a shrewd bullpen pickup.
Over the last few years, the Yankees have shown a knack for plucking useful relievers off the scrap heap. Guys like Brian Bruney, Cory Wade, Clay Rapada, Luis Ayala, Edwar Ramirez, and Cody Eppley have contributed to the team’s bullpen in recent years. They usually don’t stick around that long and their tenures tend to end uglily, but being able to consistently grab a guy off waivers or as a minor league free agent and squeeze 50 good innings out of him is a nice skill to have.
The Yankees landed this summer’s bargain bullpen pickup in a mid-February trade, on the very day pitchers and catchers officially reported for duty in Tampa. They shipped minor league outfielder Abe Almonte to the Mariners for right-hander Shawn Kelley, who Seattle had designated for assignment after signing Joe Saunders a week earlier. Given his resume — 3.52 ERA (4.12 FIP) with an 8.58 K/9 (22.6 K% and 2.74 BB/9 (7.4 BB%) in 128 career big league innings — it was unlikely the 29-year-old Kelley would have made it to the Yankees on waivers, hence the trade.
Now, believe it or not, New York actually had a surplus of relievers in camp. David Robertson and Boone Logan were returning, Mariano Rivera was back after his knee injury, and there were a bunch of people (myself included) who expected Joba Chamberlain to be a solid option for the middle innings as he got further away from elbow reconstruction. Both Rapada and Eppley were still around, as where David Phelps and Adam Warren. David Aardsma was with the team as well. Kelley looked like a guy who would be stashed in Triple-A Scranton — had a minor league option remaining — and await the inevitable call-up.
Instead, Kelley grabbed a bullpen spot and made the Opening Day roster because, as it tends to do, the pitching depth disappeared in a hurry. Rapada hurt his shoulder in camp and was eventually released, plus Phelps had to start the year in the rotation because Phil Hughes hurt his back and opened the year on the DL. That made Warren the long man by default. Kelley won the last bullpen spot over Aardsma because he was physically able to throw two innings at a time — Aardsma was a pure one-inning guy after missing what amounts to two full years following hip and Tommy John surgery. The Yankees wanted the flexibility.
Early in the season, it looked like the team kept the wrong guy. Kelley was a low-leverage reliever who had yet to gain Joe Girardi‘s trust, which is why only two of his eight April appearances came with the score separated by fewer than three runs. One of those two was in extra innings of a tie game, a last reliever standing kind of thing. Kelley was awful in the season’s first month, allowing nine runs on 12 hits (four homers!) and four walks in 10.1 innings (7.84 ERA and 6.34 FIP). Needless to say, he did not gain Girardi’s trust in April.
Thanks to a few strong outings in early-May and Joba’s oblique injury, Kelley slowly began to climb the bullpen pecking order. It helped that he suddenly started striking pretty much everyone out too. By relying on his sharp low-80s slider, Kelley allowed one run on three hits and a walk while striking out 18 of 28 batters faced (!) during a six-appearance, eight-inning stretch in the middle of May. Striking out 18 of 28 batters faced across however many appearances is off the charts good. Like, literally off the chart.
All of those strikeouts and a strong month of May landed Kelley regular seventh inning work — the setup man for the setup man, basically — even after Chamberlain returned from the DL. From May 1st through August 31st, a span of 105 team games, Kelley pitched to a 2.50 ERA (2.42 FIP) with 51 strikeouts (11.57 K/9 and 31.5 K%) while stranding 32 of 34 (!) inherited runners (94%) in 39.2 innings. That inherited runner strand rate is ridiculous. Kelley held batters to a .194/.278/.285 batting line during that stretch, more or less what David Adams hit for the big league team in 2013 (.193/.252/.286).
Like most of the pitching staff, Kelley fell apart in September (six runs in 3.1 innings), in part because of a bout with triceps inflammation. He is a two-time Tommy John surgery survivor, so arm trouble wasn’t the most surprising thing in the world. The poor final month left Kelley with an ordinary 4.39 ERA and 3.63 FIP in 53.1 innings, numbers that sell short how effective and important he was for much of the summer. An ugly April and an ugly September mask four months of excellence.
Kelley ended the year with an 11.98 K/9 (31.3 K%) and 3.88 BB/9 (10.1 BB%), so plenty of whiffs but more walks than you’d like to see. Not a back-breaking amount though. He is homer prone — 1.35 HR/9 and 13.1% HR/FB this year, right in line with his career 1.34 HR/9 and 10.5% HR/FB — and that’s what keeps him from being a true eighth or ninth inning option going forward in my opinion. Kelley was a big part of Girardi’s bullpen for a big chunk of the summer and the Yankees got him on the cheap. Could ask for more from a guy who was cut from another team’s roster right as Spring Training opened.
Well, this is awkward. The Yankees were eliminated from playoff contention last night but there are still four days and four games left in the regular season. They’ve broken up with the postseason, but they’re stuck living with each other until the lease runs out, or something. That was a bad analogy.
Anyway, these next four days are meaningless — unless you’re overly concerned about moving up or down one draft slot — but they do have some value to the Yankees. They have a chance to attend to some serious and not-so-serious business. Here are the three most important items on the agenda:
Start serious contract talks with Robinson Cano
Cano’s impending free agency is, by far, the biggest issue facing the Yankees these next few weeks. The five-day exclusive negotiating period expires five days after the end of the World Series, so the team has about a month to hammer out a deal and keep him off the open market. Obviously doing that would be preferable. The last thing the Yankees want is a bidding war.
“If we don’t make it to the playoffs, I want to take my time, go on vacation and relax. Then I want to sit down with my family and decide what we gonna do,” said Cano to Wally Matthews yesterday. “I haven’t decided anything yet, but don’t get me wrong. I love this team, you know? … I understand it’s a business. They have to decide what is the best for them, and I have to decide what is best for me and my family. I’m just waiting for the day.”
The Yankees made Cano a “significant offer” during Spring Training — before he changed agents — and just this morning we heard the team offered seven years and $161M. (Let’s ignore Robbie’s demand of $305M for the moment, that’s just AgentSpeak.) Now that they’ve been eliminated, the team needs to sit down with Cano’s camp and get serious about a new contract. The idea of talks being a “distraction” during the season is a non-issue now — no one would care if he went 0-for-20 in the final four games. It changes nothing other than his stat line*. This is the single most important piece of offseason business. Get it done as soon as possible.
* Just for the record, an 0-for-20 would drop Cano from .315/.384/.519 to .305/.374/.503 on the year. No one would notice the difference.
Shut down David Robertson, David Phelps, and Shawn Kelley (and Boone Logan)
A bunch of the team’s relievers have been banged up of late, and since these last four games are meaningless, the Yankees should just shut them all down and look toward next season. Robertson (shoulder), Phelps (forearm), and Kelley (triceps) have all missed time with arm problems in recent weeks — and not coincidentally, they’ve kinda stunk — so just shut them down and focus on getting them healthy for their offseason workouts and whatnot. All three figure to be not just part of the pitching staff next season and beyond, but rather important pieces of the pitching staff. No need to push it.
As for Logan, he needs offseason surgery to clean a bone spur out of his elbow after missing a few weeks with soreness. He’s available to pitch now but there’s no reason to run him out there. Logan will be a free agent this winter and there’s no real indication the Yankees will try to re-sign him, so this is more of a “thanks for the last four years, we’re not going to risk further injury by running you out there on the verge of free agency” thing rather than a “get healthy, we need you next year” thing. Just do the guy a solid.
Let Mariano Rivera play center field
This has gotta happen. Tonight too, not in Houston. Rivera has been shagging fly balls before batting practice for over two decades now for this very situation. I say regardless of the actual score, let him pitch the eighth inning and then play the ninth in center field in tonight’s series finale against the Rays. The other way around would be ideal since the ninth inning is Mo’s inning, but I’m not sure he could play the field in the eighth and warm up for the ninth. I don’t think warming up in the bullpen before the eighth and “sitting” for an inning would work either.
Following last night’s loss, Joe Girardi said he will continue to play his regulars out of respect for the game, which makes me think he won’t play Rivera in center field tonight since Tampa is still fighting for a playoff spot (and seeding). This weekend against the Astros will be a different matter. There’s literally nothing on the line other than the Yankees’ draft slot — the Astros have already clinched the first overall pick for the third straight years — which means Mo might have to wait for the weekend. That would be really unfortunate. If he does play an inning in center, it should be in front of the hometown crowd. Let’s hope for a huge lead (or a huge deficit, who really cares at this point) in the late innings so Rivera could play some outfield in his final game in the Bronx. It would make this whole mess of a season totally worth it.
Boone Logan and his barking biceps — he described it as tightness in the back of his elbow — went for an MRI this morning but the results were not yet available when Joe Girardi spoke to the media before this afternoon’s game. As we wait for the update, here are some other injury info courtesy of Chad Jennings, Joel Sherman, and Andy McCullough:
- Shawn Kelley (triceps) threw in the bullpen with no pain this morning. “Felt real good. Felt better than it has in a few months, actually,” he said. He could be available tomorrow.
- David Robertson (shoulder) feels better, but he’s still going to rest for another 3-4 days before playing catch. He’ll then throw a bullpen session before rejoining the bullpen.
- Kevin Youkilis (back) is hitting off a tee and soft toss. He’s heading to Tampa on Monday to play in simulated games and is shooting to rejoin the team in the final week of the season.
Shawn Kelley was unavailable tonight and the last few days with a triceps inflammation, Joe Girardi announced. Tests showed no structural damage and they hope he’ll be available again sometime next week. This might explain why he’s been so shaky in his last few outings.
No, it’s not the literal midway point of the season, but we’re going to use the four-day All-Star break to review the Yankees’ performance to date. We’re handing out letter grades this year, A through F. Yesterday we tackled the A’s, today we continue with the B’s.
The Yankees remain just three games out of a playoff spot despite their plethora of injuries, and the reason they remain so relatively close is a number of unexpectedly strong performances. Some new faces — I mean really new faces, as in guys acquired during Spring Training — have stepped up and assumed larger than expected roles, taking pressure off stalwarts like Robinson Cano in the lineup and David Robertson in the bullpen.
The Grade B’s are not the team’s elite players. They are the guys who have performed well, better than average really, and served as consistent complimentary pieces. One of these guys is actually a disappointment relative to his typical production, but his standard is so high that a disappointing year is actually pretty good. Without further ado, here are the Grade B’s.
Outside of Cano, Gardner has been the team’s only other consistently above-average offensive player. He missed basically all of last season with an elbow injury and has emerged as a legitimate leadoff hitter, putting up a .272/.338/422 (107 wRC+) line with a career-high tying seven homers. Gardner has only stolen 13 bases (in 19 attempts), which is surprising and a letdown, but he has made up for the lack of speed by hitting for power. He has also continued to play his typically elite defense while replacing Curtis Granderson in center field — Gardner was slated to play center even before Granderson’s injury. He can be streaky, but Gardner has been very good for the Yankees this year.
Acquired from the Mariners early in Spring Training, Kelley shook off a horrid April to emerge as Joe Girardi‘s trusted seventh inning guy. His 3.67 ERA and 3.12 FIP are built on a dynamite strikeout rate (13.37 K/9 and 36.2 K%), which has allowed him to strand 21 of 22 inherited runners. Kelley has essentially been a second Robertson with the way he can come out of the bullpen and snuff out rallies without the ball being put in play. What looked like a depth pickup in camp has turned into something much more. Kelley is a key part of the bullpen.
The theme of New York’s bullpen is strikeouts, and none of their relievers — not even Mariano Rivera — can match Logan’s ability to miss bats (12.60 K/9 and 34.7 K%) and limit walks (1.80 BB/9 and 5.0 BB%). His 7.00 K/BB is the eighth best in baseball among relievers who have thrown at least 20 innings. Logan has excellent strikeout (42.4%) and walk (3.4%) rates against lefties, but he’s run into a little bad luck (.429 BABIP) and they’ve put up a decent .246/.271/.404 line against him. That’s not good for a primary lefty specialist, but it has improved of late and Logan remains an effective cog in Girardi’s bullpen. He’s been the team’s best left-handed reliever since Mike Stanton way back in the day and it’s not all that close either.
The Yankees signed Overbay with just three days left in camp and he was only supposed to hang around until Mark Teixeira returned, but Teixeira’s season-ending wrist surgery has made him the everyday first baseman. Overbay has responded by hitting an ever-so-slightly above-average .252/.308/.437 (101 wRC+) with more than a few clutch, late-inning hits, plus he plays very good defense at first. He’s a platoon bat — 121 wRC+ vs. RHP but only 46 vs. LHP — but the Yankees have had to play him everyday, so the fact that his overall season line is a bit better than average is a testament to how productive he’s been against righties. Overbay has exceeded even the highest of expectations and has probably been the team’s third best everyday position player. No, really.
Sunday’s disaster start makes this seem silly, but even the diminished version of CC Sabathia is a reliable innings eating workhorse. As I’ve been saying the last five years now, even bad Sabathia is still pretty good. He’s got a 4.07 ERA and 4.05 FIP in 137 innings, the fifth most in all of baseball. His biggest problem this season has been the long ball — CC has already surrendered 21 homers, just one fewer than his career-high set last year. Learning to live with reduced fastball velocity is not an easy thing to do, but Sabathia has worked through it and typically gives the team a chance to win. Well, at least gives a team with an average offense to win. He’s not an ace right now and he may never be again, but the sheer volume of innings he provides makes him a better than average hurler despite the an ERA and FIP that are worse than his career norms.
For the first few weeks of the season, the Yankees bullpen was a bit of a mess. Specifically, the non-David Robertson and Mariano Rivera part of the bullpen was a mess. The trio of Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, and Shawn Kelley combined to allow 31 base-runners and 13 runs in 17.1 innings during the first 15 games of the season, so the bridge from starter to Robertson was rather adventurous for a while. It was also a problem given the team’s low-caliber offense.
The middle relief issues lasted until mid-to-late-April, when Joba hit the DL and some of his bullpeners improved their performance. Over the last 30 days, the Yankees have the best bullpen ERA (2.49) and second best bullpen FIP (3.35) in the league. Their season ERA is down to 3.32 (3.47 FIP), the fifth best mark the AL. Any conversation about New York’s bullpen starts with Robertson and Rivera, but the other guys have really picked up the slack of late.
One of those other guys is a new face who wasn’t around for the early season struggles, right-hander Preston Claiborne. The 25-year-old was called up when Joba was placed on the DL, and he’s since struck out five while walking zero in eight scoreless innings across six appearances. Joe Girardi apparently has enough faith in him that he used him in the seventh inning or later of a two or fewer run game three times in those six appearances, including three of the first four. Talk about being thrown into the fire.
“We were impressed with him in Spring Training, and we left thinking he could help us at some point this year, and he’s doing that right now,” said Brian Cashman about Claiborne recently. “You never know how a guy is going to act when he gets here, but he’s the same guy he was in Spring Training, and he’s probably gaining confidence every day.”
In addition to adding Claiborne, the Yankees have benefited from Kelley settling down after a nightmarish first few weeks in pinstripes. Over his last ten appearances, the 29-year-old owns a 3.18 ERA (~0.90 FIP) (!)) and has struck out exactly half of the 44 batters he faced. He’s struck out 15 of the last 21 (!) men he’s faced across his last four appearances. Kelley leads all of baseball with a 43.4% strikeout rate (min. 10 IP) after coming into the year with a career 22.6% strikeout rate. He’s throwing his low-80s slider more than ever before, basically half the time these days, which is the likely explanation for all the whiffs.
Thanks to all of those strikeouts, Kelley is pitching like the best-case Mark Montgomery scenario right now. We all expected Montgomery to bring his vicious slider to the show and pile up the strikeouts at some point, yet Kelley is the one doing that job right now. He isn’t walking anyone either (just four unintentional walks). Kelley’s homer-prone ways — five homers in 18.1 innings (2.45 HR/9 and 27.8% HR/FB) — will hold him back from being a true high-leverage option, but a reliever who can miss bats like that is a very valuable weapon in the middle innings. The ability to snuff out a rally without having to rely on the defense is huge, we’ve seen that from Robertson in recent years.
“I’ve never been on a team that has the expectations of just winning and thinking World Series as their only goal,” said Kelley to Chad Jennings recently. “To have that feeling every night, even if I go in and just get some outs in a win, it feels really good to just help the club win. I’m having a lot of fun on this team … It’s a fun way to win.”
With Adam Warren emerging as a long-man extraordinaire, Claiborne and Kelley have stepped up to solidify the middle relief ahead of Robertson and Rivera. Logan needs to settle down and start getting lefties out — they’re hitting .296/.296/.444 (.320 wOBA) against him so far — but otherwise the bullpen has fallen into place. The Yankees play an awful lot of close games these days, so having a bullpen that can consistently shut the other team down and preserve leads/keep the deficit small is a big reason why they sit atop the AL East at the moment.
Our season preview series wraps up this week with a look at the bullpen, the bench, and miscellaneous leftovers. Opening Day is one week from today.
Mariano Rivera is worthy of his own post, but he is just one of many when it comes to the bullpen. The Yankees used 17 different relievers last season, including ten for at least ten appearances. That is pretty much par for the course these days — they used 26 (!) different relievers in 2011 and 18 in 2010 — since no team ever makes it through the season without injuries or underperformance. In fact, the Yankees have already lost one reliever (Clay Rapada) to the DL and the season hasn’t even started yet. He is the first injured bullpener, but he won’t be the last.
The Setup Man
Over the last two seasons, soon-to-be 28-year-old David Robertson has emerged as one of the very best relievers in all of baseball. He’s pitched to a 1.84 ERA (2.15 FIP) with a 12.79 K/9 (34.8 K%) since 2011, all of which are top five marks among big league relievers. Robertson managed to curtail his career-long walk issue last season — career-best 2.82 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%, including just five walks in his last 33 innings — but I’m going to need to see him do it again before I buy that as real improvement. His track record of iffy command is too long to be washed away in one (half) season.
With Rivera back and Rafael Soriano gone, Robertson is the unquestioned Eighth Inning Guy™ and backup closer whenever Mo needs a day to rest. That means we’re unlikely to see him brought into mid-to-late-inning jams to clean up the mess, which is where he and his strikeout-heavy ways are best deployed. Regardless, Robertson is an extremely valuable reliever who will see a ton of high-leverage work. Outside of Rivera, he’s the most important pitcher in the bullpen.
The Lefty Specialist
The Yankees have had enough injury problems this spring, but one player who seems to have survived the bug is Boone Logan. The 28-year-old dealt with a barking elbow for a few weeks and didn’t get into a game until last week, but he appears to be on track for Opening Day. Logan threw a career-high 55.1 innings in a league-leading 80 appearances last summer, which may or may not have contributed to the elbow issue. Given his extremely slider usage — 51.4% (!) last year, the third straight year his usage increased — it would be foolish to think the workload didn’t contribute to the elbow problem somewhat.
Anyway, Logan has quietly emerged as a high strikeout left-hander these last two years, posting a 10.58 K/9 and 26.9 K% since the start of 2011. Despite the strikeouts, he hasn’t been especially effective against same-side hitters, limiting them to a .240/.309/.413 (.314 wOBA) line over the last two years. That’s nothing special for a primary lefty specialist — Rapada has been far more effective against left-handers — but he redeems himself (somewhat) by being more than a true specialist. Righties have hit just .243/.355/.386 (.315 wOBA) against him these last two years, so Girardi can run Logan out there for a full inning if need be. He’s definitely useful, though perhaps miscast as a late-inning guy.
The Middle Men
It has been two years since either Joba Chamberlain or David Aardsma has had a full, healthy season. Both had Tommy John surgery in 2011 and both had another major injury as well — Joba his ankle and Aardsma his hip – and both were pretty darn effective before the injuries. The Yankees will count on both as their pre-eighth inning righties this year, mixing and matching with Logan and Rapada (when healthy).
All of the team’s relievers are cut from a similar cloth and these two are no different. Both Joba and Aardsma are high strikeout guys with swing-and-miss offspeed pitches, the question is just how effective they will be following the injuries. Chamberlain, 27, was pretty bad in the second half last year before finishing strong while the 31-year-old Aardsma made one late-September appearance and nothing more. They could be awesome, they could be awful, they could be something in-between. I’m guessing we’ll see a bit of all three at times this summer.
Rapada, 32, will start the season on the DL due to shoulder bursitis and there is no timetable for his return. He’s been crazy effective against lefties in his relatively short big league career (.231 wOBA against), though righties have hit him hard (.453 wOBA). As a soft-tossing, low-arm slot guy with a funky delivery, he’s a true specialist. But damn is he good at what he does.
The Long Man
When Spring Training started, it was assumed the loser of the Ivan Nova/David Phelps fifth starter competition would move to the bullpen and serve as the long man. Phil Hughes‘ back injury is likely to land him on the DL coming Opening Day, meaning both Nova and Phelps will be in the rotation to start the year. Long man replacements include 25-year-old right-hander Adam Warren and 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno, the latter of whom has gotten talked up as a potential Rapada placement. He’s been, by far, the more impressive pitcher in Grapefruit League play. Either way, the long reliever job will go to Nova or Phelps whenever Hughes returns, which could be as soon as the second turn through the rotation.
Knocking on the Door
Beyond Warren and Nuno — starters by trade who are relief candidates by default — the Yankees have a number of legit bullpen backup plans slated for Triple-A. The two most obvious candidates are right-handers Shawn Kelley, 28, and Cody Eppley, 27, both of whom are on the 40-man roster, have big league experience, and have minor league options. Kelley is a traditional fastball/slider/strikeout guy while Eppley is low-slot sinker/slider/ground ball righty specialist. There’s a good chance one of these two — likely Kelley because Eppley was been terrible in camp — will crack the Opening Day roster as a Hughes/Rapada replacement. Right-hander David Herndon, 27, will be in the big league mix once he finishes rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at midseason.
Among the bullpen prospects scheduled to open the season with Triple-A Scranton are 22-year-old slider machine Mark Montgomery, the team’s top relief prospect. He ranked tenth on my preseason top 30 prospects list and should make his big league debut at some point this season. Montgomery gets compared to Robertson but that isn’t particularly fair even though he’s also an undersized strikeout fiend with a trademark breaking ball. No need to set yourself up for disappointment like that. Remember, it took Robertson two years before he finally stuck in the show and three before he became truly dominant.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 23, and left-hander Francisco Rondon, 24, will both be in the Triple-A bullpen and one phone call away as well. Whitley is a three-pitch guy who projects more as a middle reliever than a late-inning arm, but he’s a very high probability guy. Rondon opened some eyes in camp by flashing a knockout slider after being added to the 40-man roster in November. He needs to work on his command and get some Triple-A experience before being a big league option, however. Whitley is pretty much ready to go.
The Top Prospects
Montgomery is New York’s top relief prospect at the moment, but right-handers Nick Goody and Corey Black deserve a mention as well. The 21-year-old Goody posted a 1.12 ERA (~0.89 FIP) with 52 strikeouts and just nine walks in 32 innings after signing as the team’s sixth round pick last year. The 21-year-old Black pitched to a 3.08 ERA (~2.70 FIP) in 52.2 innings after being the team’s fourth rounder last summer, but the Yankees have him working as a starter at the moment. He is expected to move into a relief role in due time if he doesn’t firm up his offspeed pitches. Both Goody (#21) and Black (#24) cracked my preseason top 30 and both are expected to open the year with High-A Tampa.
* * *
The Yankees have had consistently strong bullpens during the Girardi era, due in part to his willingness to spread the workload around rather than overwork one or two guys. The front office has (mostly) gotten away from big money relievers and focused on adding depth and power arms. Girardi got away from his strength last year because of injury (Rivera, Joba, Robertson for a month) and ineffectiveness (Cory Wade), instead relying heavily on his primary late-inning guys. That will hopefully change this year and the team will get back to having a deep and diverse bullpen, something they’ll need given the diminished offense.
The Yankees had a surplus of Double-A and Triple-A outfielders, so they turned one of them into a serviceable big league reliever. New York traded Abe Almonte to the Mariners for right-hander Shawn Kelley, the team announced. Alex Rodriguez was placed on the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot.
Kelley, 29 in April, was designated for assignment by the Mariners when they signed Joe Saunders six days ago. Buster Olney confirmed Kelley has a minor league option remaining, meaning he’s likely ticketed for the Triple-A bullpen to start the season. He and Cody Eppley figure to ride the Scranton-Bronx express this summer. Kelley will earn $935k in 2013 following his second trip through arbitration as a Super Two. He can’t become a free agent until the 2015-2016 offseason at the earliest.
A two-time Tommy John surgery survivor, Kelley owns a 3.52 ERA (4.12 FIP) in 128 big league innings spread across the last four seasons. He misses bats (career 8.58 K/9 and 22.6 K%) with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a power mid-80s slider, and his walk rate (2.74 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%) is strong as well. Ten of his 39 walks as a big leaguer were intentional, so that walk rate is inflated a little bit. Kelley is a fly ball pitcher (29.5% grounders) and homer prone (1.34 HR/9 and 9.7% HR/FB), which is not ideal. As long as he’s working low-to-mid-leverage innings, it won’t be the end of the world.
Almonte, 23, did not make my annual Top 30 Prospects List. He hit .276/.350/.392 (106 wRC+) with 30 steals in 359 plate appearances for Double-A Trenton last summer. Once an infielder, Almonte moved to the outfield full-time in 2008 and has experience in all three spots. He re-signed with the team after becoming a minor league free agent in October, then went unclaimed in December’s Rule 5 Draft. With Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin, and Ramon Flores ticketed for Double-A and Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, and Ronnie Mustelier in line for Triple-A — don’t forget about Adonis Garcia and Thomas Neal either — Almonte was completely expendable.
The big league bullpen is pretty much set at this point, but extra arms are always going to be needed. The Yankees used 17 different relievers just last season, for example. Kelley adds some depth and they traded a player they won’t even notice is gone thanks to all the outfielders at the upper levels. I wouldn’t say it’s something-for-nothing, but they definitely used their minor league surplus to help the big league club.