- IF David Adams took at-bats against Phil Hughes during yesterday’s simulated game and “should” be playing in games later this week according to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman. He missed big league camp due to a back issue that required an epidural.
- OF Tyler Austin was hit by a pitch in the hand recently, but thankfully x-rays were negative. It’s not anything serious. Austin had his right wrist broken by a pitch back in 2010.
- RHP Ty Hensley is nursing a pulled abdominal muscle and will miss a few weeks. It’s nothing serious but it will likely delay the start of his season. Hensley was the team’s first round pick last year and figures to open 2013 with Low-A Charleston.
- OF Ravel Santana is not playing right now due to stiffness in his right ankle. That’s the same ankle that was basically destroyed when he caught a spike sliding into second base two seasons ago. No word on when he might return to action.
- IF Rob Lyerly has decided to retire and finish his degree. He’s had two shoulder surgeries and just isn’t up for the grind anymore. Lyerly hit .292/.336/.416 with 17 homers in 288 minor league games after being the team’s sixth round pick in 2009. He topped out at Double-A.
Our season preview series continues this week with the starting rotation, though the format will change just slightly. Since there’s no clear starter/backup/depth lineage when it comes to starting pitchers, we’ll instead look at each type of pitcher — ace, number two, back-end, etc. — at different levels.
Number two starters don’t garner the attention of aces nor generate the same kind of rosterbation as back-end guys, but they’re obviously very important to a team’s success. The Yankees are lucky to have two pitchers who would qualify as a number two in most rotations, though the club figures to slot in a right-hander behind CC Sabathia to break up the lefties.
It’s funny to look back and remember that at this time last year, Hiroki Kuroda was considered a question mark. He was an older pitcher moving from a big park in the NL to a small park in the AL, and that is usually the recipe for a disaster. Instead, the 38-year-old right-hander was the team’s most consistently excellent starter from Opening Day through the postseason, pitching to a 3.32 ERA (3.86 FIP) in a career-high 219.2 innings. Kuroda liked his time in New York so much that he turned down more lucrative offers from other clubs this winter to take a one-year deal worth $15M from the Yankees.
Despite that performance, the combination of age and career-high workload — 236.2 innings between the regular season and postseason — make Kuroda a bit of a question mark going into the season. He battled fatigue last September, so much so that he had to stop throwing his regular between-starts bullpen to stay fresh. Kuroda modified his offseason routine in an effort to stay fresher later into the season, but it remains to be seen how much good that will actually do. Heck, it might even do bad for all we know.
One thing we do know is Kuroda is tough as nails — this story is still mind-blowing — and incredibly savvy on the mound. He battles every time out and his dud starts have nothing to do with a lack of effort of preparation. I do wonder how being away from Russell Martin will impact Kuroda — his worst full season in terms of ground ball and homer rate came the year Martin didn’t catch him, which could just be a coincidence but is obviously something no one wants to repeat — given all the time the two worked together both last year and with the Dodgers. There will have to be some adjustments there on both the pitcher’s and catcher’s part, hopefully a seamless one.
As was the case last summer, the Yankees are going to rely on Kuroda as their number two starter behind Sabathia and will expect the same kind of reliable, consistent performances. He’s a year older with a few more miles on the arm, but he’s not carrying those NL-to-AL, big park-to-small park transition questions. Frankly I think the transition stuff is a greater concern than age, but that’s just me. Kuroda’s smarts and deep arsenal make me feel really good about his chances to repeat last season’s success.
Knocking on the Door
Just like with the ace-caliber guys yesterday, the Yankees won’t have a projected future number two starter in Triple-A this summer. Left-hander Manny Banuelos would have been that guy had he not blown out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery, but he won’t be a factor until 2014 at the earliest. Then again, durability is one of the things keeping from that frontline starter ceiling. I guess that means if he was healthy, Banuelos wouldn’t have projected as a number two, but instead something more. Anyway, the Yankees definitely have some future number twos in the system, but none of them are in the upper minors. Bummer.
The Top Prospect
New York’s top number two starter prospect outside of the injured Banuelos is last summer’s first rounder, righty Ty Hensley. He ranked eighth on my preseason top 30 prospects list. The 19-year-old from Oklahoma has a dominant fastball-curveball mix and the size — listed at 6-foor-4 and 220 lbs. — that suggests future durability, but he lacks command and a third pitch. He needs the latter more than the former to reach his ceiling, both figuring out both in the next few seasons would give him true ace potential. For now he’s someone you close your eyes and see a future number two starter without having to try real hard.
The Deep Sleeper
I’m a big fan of right-hander Gio Gallegos, who didn’t crack my preseason top 30 but did make the not top 30 list as a prospect who could jump into next year’s top 30. His top atrribute is his command and control of a solid fastball-curveball mix, but he needs to work on his third pitch and show he can hold up while starting every five days across a full season. I might be stretching a bit with the “future number two starter” stuff here, but like I said, I’m a big fan of Gallegos. Forgive me for being a little extra optimistic.
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Kuroda is among the best number two starters in the game, a proven veteran with a great package of stuff, savvy, and command. His importance to the Yankees is easy to understate given the bigger names on the roster, but the club needs him to be as strong and reliable as he was a year ago. It’s imperative thanks to the depleted offense. The minor league system offers a few prospects who project as number two type starters down the road, but none at the upper levels of the minors or capable of making an immediate impact.
Keith Law published his list of baseball’s top 110 prospects yesterday, and he followed up today by releasing individual top ten prospects lists for each American League club (subs. req’d). The top five prospects are the same guys from the top 110 yesterday (in the same order), and numbers six through ten are RHP Ty Hensley, LHP Manny Banuelos, RHP Jose Campos, RHP Mark Montgomery, and 2B Angelo Gumbs.
Within the write-up, Law notes the system is top-heavy with high-end guys, and their only real impact prospects for 2013 are Montgomery and RHP Dellin Betances if he takes to the bullpen. He lists Hensley as the organization’s sleeper, saying the shoulder abnormality hasn’t stopped him from running his fastball up to 98, and “if he can just show that kind of stuff and last for a 120-140 inning season in 2013, he’s a likely top-100 guy.” Interestingly enough, he notes the Yankees love OF Ben Gamel, and they expect him to show more power this summer after bulking up thanks to his offseason conditioning program.
Baseball America published their list of the top ten Yankees prospects today, and the list is free for all. The scouting reports, however, are not. You need a subscription for them. The four names atop the list shouldn’t be a surprise (the order might), but things do get a little wacky after that. Let’s break it down…
- OF Mason Williams
- OF Slade Heathcott
- C Gary Sanchez
- OF Tyler Austin
- RHP Jose Campos
- RHP Brett Marshall
- 2B Angelo Gumbs
- LHP Manny Banuelos
- RHP Ty Hensley
- RHP Rafael DePaula
Two things stand out about the list. First, the Yankees are suddenly very top heavy with position player prospects, particularly outfielders. Outside of Jesus Montero, their recent top tens were mostly dominated by upper level arms. The Yankees are going to need that infusion of young bats and relatively soon, but Heathcott is only position player on the list who I think will open next year at Double-A. Austin has a chance, but it would surprise me a bit.
Secondly, everyone’s hurt. Five of those ten guys missed significant time this season due to injury, and that doesn’t include Hensley’s shoulder “abnormality” or the month Austin missed with a mild concussion. Heathcott (shoulder) obviously came back healthy and Gumbs (elbow) has as well (based on the fact that he’s playing winter ball), plus Williams (shoulder) was just cleared to resume workouts. Banuelos will miss all of next season with Tommy John surgery though, and a club official said Campos (elbow) will “hopefully” be ready for Spring Training in the subscriber-only write-up. That doesn’t sound promising, but what can you do.
The write-ups include scouting grades (on the 20-80 scale) for each team’s top prospect and the grades for Williams are just insane — 60 hit, 60 power, 70 speed, 70 defense, 50 arm. That’s four above-average tools and one average one. Those are future grades and not present — they think he’ll grow into a 60 hitter, not that he is one today — but they still seem a little optimistic, particularly the power. A 60/60 bat is a .290-.300 hitter with 25 or so homers. Add the 70 speed and 70 defense and you’ve got 30+ steals and near Gold Glove defense. That’s a star player, it’s Grady Sizemore in his prime, but again the grades strike me as optimistic based on everything we’ve heard about Williams to this point.
Elsewhere in the write-up they note that Heathcott offers “explosive tools” — yesterday Keith Law said Heathcott has louder tools than Williams, though Mason is more refined — and that while Sanchez doesn’t stack up to Montero offensively, he has a much better chance of sticking behind the plate. Campos was “electric” before getting hurt while Banuelos was still struggling to command his fastball. They call DePaula the biggest x-factor in the system and say his “ceiling is as high as any Yankees minor league pitcher.” He’ll make the big jump to High-A Tampa next year.
With Banuelos essentially out for the season, the only top ten prospect who figures to spend significant time at Triple-A next year will be Marshall. The Yankees will have Adam Warren and maybe a veteran signing or two ahead of him on the call-up depth chart, possibly even Dellin Betances if things break right. The talent gap that has been slowly climbing the ladder in recent years has hit Triple-A, meaning the Bombers will have to make sure they bring in some depth pieces via free agency to shore up potential holes on the big league roster. The team’s top prospects just aren’t in a position to help next year, and maybe not in 2014 as well.
Ty Hensley | RHP
Raised in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, Hensley was a two-sport star at Sante Fe High School before giving up his quarterback gig to focus on baseball as a senior. He pitched to a 1.52 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 55.1 innings with the Wolves this spring, earning him Gatorade Oklahoma Player of the Year honors and several other awards. His father Mike was a second round pick who was a long-time college pitching coach after injuries derailed his playing career.
In an Insider-only piece at ESPN, former Yankees intern Kiley McDaniel provided an extended scouting report on first rounder Ty Hensley from his first pro outing. He said the right-hander looked completely healthy despite the shoulder “abnormality” that led to a below-slot signing bonus, while also noting that he still looked “like an 19-year-old power arm learning to harness his stuff.”
McDaniel clocked Hensley at 90-93 and said he was “hitting 95 mph with two-seam life.” His mid-70s curveball “flashed plus” and the report on his changeup was surprisingly positive. “Hensley also threw an 80-82 mph changeup that has a chance to be above-average — better than many of the top prep arms from his class that I scouted this year,” wrote McDaniel. “That may be the most encouraging thing, as Hensley’s challenge will be channeling pure power into a mix of power and finesse, and feel for a changeup at this age is a good indicator that he’ll be able to accomplish that. The Yankees will work with him to clean up his delivery, as he’s a heel-lander with a little noise in his motion, but the elements are here for a frontline starter if Hensley can make the necessary adjustments.”
Also check out McDaniel’s reports on OF Tyler Austin, OF Slade Heathcott, OF Mason Williams, C Gary Sanchez, and others in case you missed them. Hensley pitched for the Rookie Level GCL Yankees this afternoon, allowing three unearned runs on one hit and two hit batsmen in 2.2 innings. He struck out a pair and got four other outs on the ground.
Making his professional debut after signing a below-slot $1.2M deal due to an “abnormality” in his shoulder, first rounder Ty Hensley allowed three runs in two innings for the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Yankees this afternoon. The first inning was rough, going double, homer, line out, strikeout, walk, walk, ground ball. Hensley allowed two singles to open the second before getting a ground ball double play (run scored) and another grounder to escape the jam. All told, he allowed the three runs on four hits and two walks in two innings.
ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel was in attendance and clocked Hensley at 90-93 with some 95s, saying he threw three pitches (presumably fastball, curve, changeup) and was rusty with his command and delivery. After a two or three month layoff from game action, that’s understandable. The 95s are an indication that the shoulder abnormality is nothing serious, at least in theory.