Yankeemetrics: Frozen in Motown (April 8-9)

No. 688 (Rick Osentoski | USA Today Sports)
No. 688 (Rick Osentoski|USA Today Sports)

Chill out
The Yankees’ first road trip of the season got off to a historically terrible start, as their bats were put on ice in a 4-0 loss to the Tigers on Friday afternoon at Comerica Park. They were held to just three singles and got only one runner in scoring position against starter Jordan Zimmermann and the Detroit bullpen.

THE GOOD: The game lasted just 2 hours and 44 minutes!
THE BAD: It was the first time since 1980 that the Yankees were shut out in their road opener.
THE UGLY: The last time they were held scoreless and had three hits or fewer in their first road game of the season was 1915 against the Senators. Walter Johnson tossed a two-hit shutout in Washington’s 7-0 win; the lone Yankee hits were by Wally Pipp and Jeff Sweeney.

Zimmermann, who gave up two of the three hits, joined Mike Maroth (2004) as the only Tigers pitchers in the last 25 years to allow two hits or fewer in an outing of at least seven innings against the Yankees.

Luis Severino, the youngest pitcher to start a game in the majors this season, got tagged for a career-high 10 hits and allowed three runs in five innings. He really struggled to command his slider and the Tigers took advantage of those hanging pitches in the zone. Severino threw 28 sliders, Detroit batters swung at 13 of them, put six in play and all six went for hits.

Luis Severino2

Return of the Bats
Playing in even colder temps on Saturday, the Yankee bats warmed up quickly and delivered a nice bounceback win over the Tigers. With a game time temperature of 31 degrees, it was the coldest game the Yankees have played in baseball-reference.com’s database (which has near-100 percent weather data coverage since 1988).

The three veterans that sat out Friday’s game shined on this frigid afternoon: Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran both homered, while Brian McCann went 2-for-4 with a walk and scored three runs in the Yankees 8-4 victory.

A-Rod‘s homer gave them a 1-0 lead in the first inning; it was his team-leading 15th go-ahead home run since the start of last season, four more than any other Yankee. Beltran’s blast was his 394th career homer, breaking a tie with Jim Edmonds for sole possession of 59th place on the all-time list. McCann’s second-inning single made him 20-of-43 (.465) in his career vs. Tigers starter Mike Pelfrey, his highest batting average against any pitcher he’s faced at least 25 times.

CC Sabathia, the first Yankee with a quality start this season, threw six innings of three-run ball as he improved to 5-1 with a 2.74 ERA versus the Tigers since the start of 2012. That’s the sixth-best ERA and third-best record by any pitcher with at least five starts against Detroit over the last five seasons.

Starlin Castro made sure the young guys also got some headlines. He notched another multi-hit game to give him 1,000 career hits at the age of 26 years and 16 days. Derek Jeter, who reached that milestone on Sept. 25, 2000, joined the 1,000th hit club at the age of 26 years and 94 days.

He’s also in select company with his ability to hit for average and extra bases as a young up-the-middle infielder. He’s just the seventh second baseman and/or shortstop to compile at least 1,000 hits, 175 doubles, 30 triples and 60 homers through his age-26 season. The others: Roberto Alomar, Robin Yount, Bobby Doerr, Arky Vaughan, Travis Jackson and Rogers Hornsby.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome back, baseball (April 5-7)

(AP Photo)
Just call me Starsky. (AP Photo)

Deja Boooooo
After nearly five months of waiting for meaningful baseball games, the Yankees’ 2016 season started in familiar fashion with a loss to the Astros and Dallas Keuchel at Yankee Stadium, the same way the 2015 campaign ended.

The good news is that they managed to score against Keuchel, who entered the game with a 1.12 regular-season career ERA against the Yankees — the third-lowest by any pitcher in the last 100 seasons (min. three starts) — and riding a 28-inning scoreless streak versus the team. The bad news is that the end result was the same: another frustrating loss to open the season.

For the fifth year in a row and the seventh time in eight tries, the Yankees dropped game No. 1 on the schedule, matching the franchise record for most consecutive losses in season openers. The mark was set nearly eight decades ago, when they lost five straight Opening Day games from 1934-38.

Still, there were some notable highlights midst the carnage. Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius made history when they took the field as the first Yankee middle infield duo to start on Opening Day at age 26 or younger since Willie Randolph and Bucky Dent in 1978.

Castro then doubled in the first two Yankee runs of the season, becoming the first Yankee second baseman with a multi-RBI game on Opening Day since Alfonso Soriano in 2003 (Robinson who?). Gregorius completed the scoring with an eighth-inning homer. The only other shortstops in franchise history to homer on Opening Day were Derek Jeter (three times) and Bucky Dent (1981).

This is the first time in the last 100 seasons of Yankee baseball that both of the team’s middle infielders each had an extra base hit and an RBI in a season opener.

Sweet Sixteen
The temps were still chilly on Wednesday night but the Yankee bats heated up as they crushed the Astros, 16-6, in the middle game of this series.

Castro stole the show for the second straight day, delivering four hits while driving in five runs. The only other Yankees with at least four hits and five RBI in a game this early into the season were Bill Dickey (1934), Yogi Berra (1956) and Tino Martinez (1997).

His seven RBI in the first two games are the most by any Yankee in his first two contests with the team, and matched the franchise record for most RBI in the team’s first two games of the season. The three other guys to do that each have a plaque in Monument Park: Babe Ruth (1932), Berra and Martinez.

Mark Teixeira chipped in another two hits and four RBI, giving the team a rare offensive explosion from the right side of the infield. The last time the Yankees had their first baseman and second baseman each record at least two hits and drive in four or more runs in the same game was July 7, 1935. A couple Hall of Famers, Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri, combined for six hits and 11 RBI against the Senators.

The other dugout featured a young slugging phenom, too, as 21-year-old Astros shortstop Carlos Correa went 4-for-5 with two homers in the losing effort. Correa became the youngest player with four-plus hits, including at least two homers, in a game against the Yankees over the last 100 years.

Eight is enough
The Yankees took the opening series of the season after beating Houston, 8-5, in the rubber game on Thursday.

The offense has stolen the headlines in the first week of the season. This is now the seventh time the Yankees have scored at least 27 runs in the first three games combined. They won the AL pennant in five of the six previous seasons it happened, and the World Series three times.

The team’s seven homers are tied for the fourth-most through three games in franchise history, while their .962 OPS is the second-best by a Yankee team in the Wild Card Era this early into the season.

The pitching, on the other hand, has been less than good (mild understatement, yes!). They’ve allowed at least five runs in each of the first three games, making their 2-1 start even more impressive. The last time the Yankees gave up five-plus runs in three straight games to begin the season — yet still emerged with a winning record — was 1962.

Teixeira had the biggest hit of the game, a tie-breaking three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning that gave the Yankees a 8-5 lead. It was his 396th career home run, tying Joe Carter for 57th place on the all-time MLB list, and it was his 193rd with the Yankees, passing Tino Martinez for 17th on the Yankees leaderboard.

Castro, too, continued his scorching-hot start with another multi-hit game and a homer. His 1.250 slugging percentage and 1.833 OPS are both the best marks by any Yankee middle infielder with at least 10 plate appearances in the team’s first three games.

Hot start by Starlin Castro exactly what the Yankees need to open 2016

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two games into the 2016 season, we’ve seen the very best of what Starlin Castro has to offer. We know all about his credentials by now, the three All-Star Game selections and the 991 hits before his 26th birthday, but Castro still had to come in and produce. What he did with the Cubs the last six years doesn’t have any value to the Yankees.

So far this year Starlin has gone 5-for-8 (.625) with three doubles and a home run, driving in seven of the team’s 19 runs. Castro drove in two runs with a double against the excellent Dallas Keuchel on Opening Day, and last night he punished all the mediocre pitching the Astros ran out there. In the seventh inning, after being buzzed up high by Josh Fields, he responded by stroking an RBI single to right. It was perfect.

“Starlin Castro is playing tee ball right now. He’s just seeing the ball good and hitting the ball where it’s pitched,” said Carlos Beltran after last night’s game. Starlin joins Babe Ruth, Tino Martinez, and Yogi Berra as the only Yankees to drive in seven runs in the first two games of the season. “It means a lot, especially because those guys have been unbelievable in baseball,” said Castro. “I feel really good about that.”

In addition to his production at the plate, Castro has played a fine second base, most notably ranging to his left to make some stops before turning and firing to second to get the lead runner. Those are tough plays, especially for a guy whose experience at second base is limited. The season is very young, we all know that, but the early returns have been very positive.

The Yankees need a hot start from Castro, maybe more than they’re willing to admit. First and foremost, they want him to come out of the gate strong just so he feels good about himself. Players are human and they want to impress their new employers and their new fans. Confidence can be a very powerful thing for a baseball player, and I can’t imagine Castro is short on it right now.

Furthermore, a lot of nonsense happens when a big new addition comes to New York and struggles right away. Remember Didi Gregorius last year? There was talk of sending him to Triple-A and playing Stephen Drew at short. That was a real thing that happened. No. Just … no. The Yankees have shown they will be patient. They were last year with Gregorius, but fans? Not so much. The sooner Castro got on their good side, the better.

Starlin has batted eighth these first two games, and the Yankees are counting on him to lengthen the lineup and provide offense behind the veterans. The Yankees talked all offseason about resting their regular players. Castro, however, won’t get as much rest as the veterans because he’s so young. (Ditto Didi, the other member of the Prestige Worldwide™ middle infield.) Girardi said so in Spring Training. Starlin’s going to be a consistent presence in the lineup.

And let’s face it, the Yankees don’t really know what to expect from some of their veterans. Alex Rodriguez is 40 and Carlos Beltran is 38. Mark Teixeira hasn’t played more than 123 games since 2011. Brian McCann is mighty old in catcher years, and who knows what Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner will do following their finishes to last season. There’s a lot of unknowns there. Starlin has to be a known, both right now and going forward.

Even with the Opening Day loss, Castro’s first two games in pinstripes couldn’t have gone any better. He had a fantastic spring and it has carried over into the regular season. He’s been the Yankees’ best player these first two games by no small margin. An adjustment period would have been understandable, but give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m sure they’d tell you they wanted Castro to come out of gate hot by having an impact on both sides of the ball. He’s done exactly that.

“We thought that he would be big in our lineup,” said Girardi. “He gave us a lot better balance than we’ve had the last couple of years, and that he would do a really good job at second base. All that is so far, so good.”

The Milestone Watch [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With another Yankee season underway, let’s take a look at some statistical milestones that a few of our boys in pinstripes can reach this summer.

Alex Rodriguez
A-Rod, of course, is on the verge of becoming the fourth player in major-league history with 700 homers. His pursuit of the home run record is well-documented, as he is 28 homers shy of passing Babe Ruth for third place all-time.

He is at 342 homers with the Yankees, just 16 shy of tying Yogi Berra for fifth-most in franchise history. He has a good chance to move into the top-10 of a couple more lists in the Yankee record books, too. With 14 runs scored, he’ll pass Don Mattingly for 10th place there, and with 35 more RBI, he’ll also jump ahead of Mattingly and into 10th place on that leaderboard.

Carlos Beltran

Beltran is approaching a few nice round numbers this season. With eight more home runs, he’ll be the fourth switch hitter to reach the 400-homer milestone. Beltran can join an even more exclusive club, too, when he hits No. 400. He’d be just the fifth player in MLB history with at least 400 homers and 300 stolen bases in a career, joining A-Rod, Andre Dawson, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays.

If he stays healthy, he should also reach two more benchmarks: 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBI. He is at 2,454 hits and 1,443 RBI entering Tuesday’s season opener. The only switch hitters in baseball with 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBI are Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira is also nearing membership in the 400-homer club, and is just six away as he begins his 14th major-league season. The only other switch hitter to hit 400 homers that early into his career was Mickey Mantle. Eight other first baseman totaled 400 homers in their first 14 career seasons: Carlos Delgado, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Jeff Bagwell, Albert Pujols and Mark McGwire.

Starlin Castro
The 26-year-old enters 2016 needing nine hits to reach the 1,000-hit mark. His gap-to-gap power and ability to hit for average is underrated and rare for a player at his age and position. He would be just the seventh middle infielder to compile 1,000 hits, 175 doubles, 30 triples and 60 homers through his age-26 season. The others: Roberto Alomar, Robin Yount, Bobby Doerr, Arky Vaughan, Travis Jackson and Rogers Hornsby.

CC Sabathia
If Sabathia can hold onto his rotation spot, he can enjoy a few round-number milestones. First, he is just 11 1/3 innings pitched shy of 3,000 for his career. Only 10 other left-handers have gotten to that mark in their age-35 season or younger, as CC is about to do. And of that group of 10, only Steve Carlton and Mickey Lolich also had at least 2,500 strikeouts on their resume like Sabathia.

He’s also moving up the Yankee pitching lists. With two more starts, he’ll be the 17th guy to start 200 games for the Yankees, and he needs three wins to become the 17th pitcher with 100 wins for the franchise.

Yankees officially set 2016 Opening Day roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon — weather permitting — the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season against the same team and in the same place their 2015 season ended: at Yankee Stadium against the Astros. Opening Day is just another game in the grand scheme of things, but it absolutely has symbolic value, and besides, everyone wants to start the new year with a win.

Earlier today the Yankees officially announced their Opening Day roster. The deadline to file the roster with MLB was 12pm ET this afternoon. The Opening Day roster offers no surprises. There were no last minute trades or waiver claims. Nothing like that. The roster is exactly as expected following all the roster moves over the last week or two. Here is the club’s Opening Day roster:

CATCHERS (2)
C Brian McCann
C Austin Romine (No. 27)

INFIELDERS (6)
UTIL Dustin Ackley
2B Starlin Castro
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
1B Mark Teixeira
IF Ronald Torreyes (No. 17)

OUTFIELDERS (4)
RF Carlos Beltran
LF Brett Gardner
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
OF Aaron Hicks (No. 31)

DESIGNATED HITTERS (1)
DH Alex Rodriguez

STARTERS (5)
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
RHP Michael Pineda
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEVERS (7)
RHP Johnny Barbato (No. 26)
RHP Dellin Betances
RHP Luis Cessa (No. 85)
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP Chasen Shreve
RHP Kirby Yates (No. 39)

MISCELLANY (4)
1B Greg Bird (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)
LHP Aroldis Chapman (restricted list, 30-game suspension)
RHP Bryan Mitchell (15-day DL retroactive to March 31st, broken toe)
OF Mason Williams (15-day DL retroactive to March 25th, shoulder surgery)

Romine beat out Gary Sanchez and I guess Carlos Corporan for the backup catcher’s job. Torreyes beat out Pete Kozma and Rob Refsnyder for the backup infielder’s job, and Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Barbato, Cessa, and Yates beat out a small army of relievers for spots on the Opening Day roster. They’re on the shuttle though; they could be send down for a fresh arm in short order.

Tanaka will start his second straight Opening Day tomorrow — Sabathia started six straight Opening Days prior to last year — and be followed in the rotation by Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino, and Sabathia in that order. Miller is going to pitch through the chip fracture in his right wrist, which is both admirable and awesome. After spending all winter talking about the team’s super-bullpen, the Yankees were dangerously close to starting the season with only one of their three elite relievers.

Chapman will return on May 9th, in the 31st game of the season. Bird is done for the season, Mitchell will miss a minimum of three months, and I’m not quite sure how long Williams will be sidelined. He’s been hitting and throwing at Tampa, so I assume his return is weeks away, not months. Chapman’s suspension means the Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot. Bird and Mitchell are 60-day DL candidates whenever more spots are needed.

Okay, that was entirely too many words about an Opening Day roster with zero surprises. Hooray for baseball being back. Go team.

Sorting through the 45 players the Yankees still have on their Spring Training roster

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Two weeks from today, the Yankees will open the 2016 regular season at home against the Astros. There are a 14 exhibition games to be played between now and then, and several roster decisions have to be made as well. The Yankees have made two rounds of roster cuts so far, paring the number of players in big league camp from 70 down to 45. Another 20 still must go.

It goes without saying some of those 45 players have a much better chance to make the Opening Day roster than others. You’d be surprised to see how few have close to no chance to make the team though. The Yankees have only a few open roster spots but an awful lot of candidates to fill them. Let’s look over the 45 players still in big league camp and figure out where they fit going forward.

Definitely Making The Team (20)

These are the easiest calls, so we might as well start here. These 20 players will definitely be on the Opening Day roster:

Coming into the spring I would not have considered Shreve a lock for the bullpen, but it’s pretty safe to say he’s in right now. He’s been phenomenal in camp, he was awesome most of last year, and Joe Girardi is talking about him like one of his regular relievers. Shreve’s going to break camp with the Yankees.

The Yankees insist they are having a true competition for the fifth starter’s spot, though sending Sabathia to the bullpen so Nova can start is one of those “I’ll believe it when I see it” things. Maybe the Yankees will figure out a way to stick Sabathia on the DL rather than send him to the bullpen, though that would surprise me. I’m sticking with what I said last week: I don’t believe Sabathia is truly competing for a rotation spot. He’s in.

Very Likely To Make The Team (2)

In Bryan Mitchell and Rob Refsnyder, the Yankees have two young players who are forcing the issue with their Spring Training performances. Both saw time in the show last year and both came to camp on the roster bubble. Mitchell keeps throwing fire and getting outs while Refsnyder has shown he can actually handle third base, a position he never played prior to this spring.

“(Refsnyder at third base) been better than I expected, to be honest. He’s never been over to that side of the infield. His reactions are really good. His arm’s good,” said Brian Cashman to Meredith Marakovits recently (video link). The Yankees need a backup third baseman now that Castro will stick to second, and Refsnyder has taken to the position quickly. He hit in his limited time last year and he adds some balance as a righty hitter.

As for Mitchell, the Yankees do have three open bullpens, and none of the shuttle relievers have impressed this spring. He’s been by far the best of the team’s bullpen candidates, and Girardi has mentioned him as a potential Adam Warren replacement, meaning a multi-inning reliever. Mitchell pitched pretty well in relief last year before taking that line drive to the nose. I wouldn’t call him or Refsnyder locks for the Opening Day roster, but they sure look like strong candidates right now.

Hurt Or Suspended (3)

Three of the 45 players still in camp will not be on the active 25-man roster when the season begins. Aroldis Chapman has to serve his 30-game suspension, and both Greg Bird and Mason Williams will start the season on the DL following shoulder surgery. Bird’s going to be out for the year. We know that already. Williams is doing pretty much everything — throwing, hitting, etc. — but still needs more time to finish up his rehab.

There are some 40-man roster implications here. Chapman will be on the restricted list and will not count towards the 40-man roster while suspended. Bird can also be placed on the 60-day DL whenever a 40-man spot is needed. The 60-day DL is kinda weird though. Teams can only use it when they need it, meaning another player has to placed on the 40-man right away. Bird will likely start the season on the 15-day DL, then be transferred over whenever a 40-man spot is inevitably needed.

Pazos. (Presswire)
Pazos. (Presswire)

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

This might as well be the shuttle reliever category. Johnny Barbato, Nick Goody, James Pazos, Branden Pinder, and Nick Rumbelow are all still in camp and they’re all on the 40-man roster. All but Barbato pitched in the big leagues last year too. Barbato has pitched the best during Grapefruit League play so far, which won’t hurt his case for the Opening Day roster. Then again, none of these guys have thrown more than seven innings this spring.

Based on everything I have above, five of the seven bullpen spots are claimed: Miller, Betances, Shreve, Mitchell, and Nova (or Sabathia). I honestly have no idea how those last two spots will shake out. I don’t even have an inkling which way the Yankees are leaning. Barbato has pitched well so far, though that doesn’t mean much. He’s got two weeks to make some mistakes. At the same time, the other guys have a chance to step up their game. The best way to describe the bullpen situation right now is: developing.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are also in the mix for a roster spot. They’re competing for the backup catcher’s job, and right now I’d say it’s advantage Romine. Sanchez has not had a good spring (1-for-17) and over the weekend Girardi said he seems to be pressing. There’s also the service time issue (35 days in the minors delays Sanchez’s free agency a year) and the fact that Sanchez probably could use some more Triple-A time to work on his defense.

Out of these seven players, all but Romine will go to Triple-A if they don’t make the team. Romine’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’ll go on waivers. And even if he clears, he can elect free agency. The Yankees can’t expect to keep him based on those conditions. That’s probably another reason Romine seems to be the favorite to back up McCann right now.

Oh Gosh, They Might Actually Make The Team (5)

Remember Chris Martin? He was that random offseason pickup no one really paid attention to last year, then bam, he was on the Opening Day roster. The five guys in this group are candidates to be this year’s Chris Martin. Here’s how they can make the team out of camp:

  • Chris Denorfia: Unlike most of the team’s depth outfielders, Denorfia hits right-handed and he has a lot of MLB experience. He strikes me as the top bench candidate should Ellsbury’s wrist injury linger.
  • Pete Kozma: What if the Yankees want to give Refsnyder some more Triple-A time to continue working at third? Kozma, a veteran utility man, is the annoyingly obvious alternative.
  • Tyler Olson: Having a very good spring and could fill one of the open bullpen spots. Olson is a true lefty specialist and Girardi sure does love his matchups.
  • Anthony Swarzak: Swarzak has been solid overall, and he’s another guy with MLB experience. The fact he can throw multiple innings may land him in the bullpen.
  • Kirby Yates: Quietly shoving this spring (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K) and he has big league time under his belt. With none of the shuttle guys standing put, Yates could grab a bullpen spot.

Yeah, you don’t have to try real hard to see one or two (or three) of these guys making the team, do you? It’s surprisingly easy, in fact. I swear, these guys just sneak up on you. You overlook them as cast-offs when they’re acquired, and before you know, they’re standing on the foul line and being introduced on Opening Day. Baseball, man.

Long Shots To Make The Team (8)

Never say never, but I am comfortable saying these last eight players are very unlikely to make the Opening Day roster. Catchers Carlos Corporan and Eddy Rodriguez remain in camp, though Girardi has dismissed them as backup catcher candidates. They’re still around so McCann, Romine, and Sanchez don’t have to catch every inning of every spring game. That’s all.

Chris Parmelee was signed to replace Bird as the Triple-A first baseman, so he’s going to Triple-A. The only way he makes the Opening Day roster is if Teixeira gets hurt. (I don’t think he’d make it if A-Rod got hurt. They’d use Beltran at DH in that case.) Ronald Torreyes had gotten a look at third base this spring and he’s been fine overall. At this point I think he’s behind Refsnyder and Kozma on the backup infield depth chart.

Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)
Kristen Orfia. (Presswire)

In addition to Denorfia, Slade Heathcott and Cesar Puello are the last remaining spare outfielders in camp. Heathcott has been brutal during Grapefruit League play (1-for-22!), and while that isn’t everything, I think it puts him behind Denorfia on the depth chart should Ellsbury stay hurt. Puello’s been great in camp, but this is a guy who played one game last season due to a back injury. I can’t see him sticking even if Ellsbury’s wrist problem lingers.

The last two arms in camp are Diego Moreno and Luis Cessa. The Yankees really like Cessa — Cashman in particular has talked him up — and he’s looked pretty good in his limited action. Those are the key words there, limited action. He’s appeared in only three Spring Training games, and if the Yankees were seriously considering Cessa for the roster, he’d get more looks. Pitching two innings once a week suggests he’s on the outside looking in. That’s fine. He could use more Triple-A time anyway.

The Yankees seem to like Moreno more than we realize — he’s been mentioned as a call-up candidate for two or three years now — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him again this summer. He is not on the 40-man roster right now, and he hasn’t pitched well in camp (six runs in 5.1 innings), so it seems safe to say Diego is way down on the Opening Day bullpen depth chart at the moment. The Yankees have too many other candidates.

* * *

With Opening Day two weeks away, it appears the Yankees have 22 of their 25 roster spots figured out. They need to pick a backup catcher and decide who will hold down the last two bullpen spots on a temporary basis. I assume those will be shuttle spots, with new guys cycling in and out as necessary, especially early in the season. The next round of roster cuts should be coming next weekend, and that may lend some clarity to the bullpen situation.

The New Second Baseman [2016 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have committed to a youth movement over the last 18 months or so, though they’ve done it in a unique way. Sure, they’re bringing up their own prospects from the minors and giving them a chance, but they’ve also traded for young players who fell out of favor with their former teams for whatever reason. Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, and Dustin Ackley were all acquired that way. Aaron Hicks too.

The most-notable and perhaps the riskiest such acquisition came at the Winter Meetings in December, when the Yankees shipped Adam Warren (and Brendan Ryan!) to the Cubs for Starlin Castro. Castro’s young and he’s had some very good seasons in his career. The Yankees also gave up a very valuable piece in Warren, someone Joe Girardi called “as big as any pitcher that we have in that room” last October.

The Castro trade was the first time the Yankees gave away a player they’re really, truly going to miss in one of these out of favor trades. Yeah, you could have argued they would really miss Shane Greene at the time of the Gregorius trade, but Greene was not nearly as established as Warren. Warren has been getting big outs for the Yankees for a few years now, and he’s been doing it in a variety of roles. That was a big piece of depth to give up.

Brian Cashman & Co. saw Starlin as too good to pass up, however. He’s 25 years old — Castro turns 26 this Thursday — with strong defensive chops at second base, offensive promise, and a team-friendly contract that can max out at $53M over the next five seasons. Those types of players rarely become available, and when they do, the asking price is usually much higher than an Adam Warren type. Warren will be missed, no doubt about it, but this was a deal the Yankees had to make.

Castro’s first impression has been great — he is 12-for-27 (.444) with two dingers so far this spring — though we all know Grapefruit League numbers don’t mean much, if anything. I guess it’s better than struggling in camp. After the trade Starlin instantly became part of what the Yankees hope is their next core, along with Gregorius, Luis Severino, Dellin Betances, Greg Bird, and some others. What does 2016 have in store? Let’s preview.

So Which Castro Will The Yankees Get?

There’s a reason the Cubs made Castro available. They didn’t trade him out of the kindness of their heart. Starlin’s stock has dipped in recent years because his offense has gone backwards since his promising debut back in 2010. Here is his wRC+ by year. Remember, 100 is league average and the higher the number, the better.

2010: 99
2011: 109
2012: 100
2013: 74
2014: 117
2015: 80

A 99 wRC+ at age 20 then a 109 wRC+ at age 21 is the kind of stuff you see from future stars. Not many players produce at that clip at such a young age, especially middle infielders. Since then Castro has had one league average year, one well-above-average year, and two well-below-average years. He barely outproduced Stephen Drew (76 wRC+) last season.

Last year Castro hit .265/.296/.375 overall, though it was split into .236/.271/.304 (53 wRC+) in 435 plate appearances as the starting shortstop, and .353/.374/.588 (161 wRC+) in 143 plate appearances as the starting second baseman. Small sample noise? Possibly. There were also adjustments made, however. Castro said he worked with Chicago’s hitting coaches to close his stance during his four days on the bench between going from short to second:

Starlin Castro stance

“Just moved my front leg,” said Castro to Meredith Marakovits over the winter (video link). “I think my front leg was just too open and I just tried to pull the ball. That’s why at the beginning of the season, I hit a lot of ground balls to third and to short. It’s not the type of player that I am. I just always hit the ball to the middle and right field. The adjustment that I did, I just closed the stance a little bit more and that helped me a lot to drive the ball to the opposite way.”

That numbers don’t show a drastic change in Castro’s batted ball direction — he had a 41.2% pull rate with the open stance and a 39.2% pull rate with the closed stance last year, so it wasn’t that big a difference — but he did hit the ball substantially harder. His open stance hard contact rate was 21.6%, which is far below the 28.6% league average. With the closed stance it was a 29.2% hard contact rate, right in line with a 29.1% hard contact rate he had during his 117 wRC+ season in 2014. Here are Castro’s average exit velocities by zone, via the intimidatingly great Baseball Savant:

Starlin Castro exit velocities

Starlin was only able to really drive pitches middle-away with his open stance last year. Once he closed it up in August, Castro was able to do a better job pulling his hands in to get to that inside pitch. We have to be aware that this is a small sample of data — again, he only had 143 plate appearances once he moved to second and closed his stance — though for that limited bit of data, Castro closed a hole in his swing on the inner half.

There is also definitely something to be said for having confidence and being comfortable on the field. That can absolutely impact performance. In Chicago, Castro was the guy for a long time. The Cubs won 97 games and were swept in the NLDS in 2008. They won only 83 games in 2009 and missed the postseason. Castro debuted in 2010, a 75-win season, and he was the face of the team’s rebuild. He was the next great Cub, and his success from 2010-11 only added more pressure. That’s a lot to take in at a young age.

With the Yankees, Castro is just one of the guys. Yeah, he’s very important in the long-term, but this season he’s going to hit near the bottom of the lineup and only be expected to help the offense, not carry it. This is a fresh start and of course he wants to impress his new team and his new fans. He’s not expected to be the face of the franchise though. Castro’s coming in with a clean slate and that can be a very good thing mentally.

We’ve seen the raw talent — Starlin hit a ball over the friggin’ batter’s eye last week (video) — and this is a player who is one season removed from a .292/.339/.438 (117 wRC+) batting line. The Yankees would sign up for that in a second. Castro is young, he has natural ability, he appeared to close a hole in his swing late last year, and now he no longer has to be The Man in the lineup. Those are all positives. Last year was rough overall. Now Starlin has a fresh start.

Second Base, Not Third

Cashman talked about trying Castro at third base as soon as the trade was made, though that plan was short-lived. The Yankees pulled the plug before he even had a chance to play a Spring Training game at the hot corner. He did nothing more than work out there in infield drills. That’s probably for the best. Castro is still learning second base, after all. He only played 258 innings there last year.

After spending his entire big league career at shortstop, Starlin said everything felt “backwards” once he moved to the other side of the bag, though he added it only took a handful of games to get comfortable. The numbers at second (+2 DRS and -0.8 UZR) are useless given the sample size, so we don’t have much reliable data. This play from earlier this month …

… shows that if nothing else, Castro has range and a strong arm, which you’d expect from an ex-shortstop. Can he make use of that range and arm consistently? That’s the big question. How is his double play pivot? Turning two at the bag is totally different as a second baseman than it is as a shortstop. The shortstop can see the play develop in front of him. The second baseman has to go in blind with the runner at his back.

“(His defense) will be significantly better because of the athleticism and putting Castro at second base, he has the ability to be a very good defensive player. Second base is a little easier for a guy like him,” said one scout to George King. Keith Law also said he would bet Castro is “above-average to plus” at second base. So if nothing else, there are two people on Earth who believe Starlin has the tools for be a real asset defensively on the right side of second base.

There are reasons to believe Castro will be a very good defender at second base, if not right away then in time, as he gains experience. I’m guessing we’ll see a wide range out of plays at second this year. Some truly spectacular plays and some goofs on routine plays, perhaps because Castro is still learning the nuances at second. The early returns at second last season were generally promising, both defensively and offensively. The Yankees want their new second baseman to build on that in 2016.