DotF: Torres closing in on Arizona Fall League MVP honors

SS Gleyber Torres has a new fan: Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Reggie told William Boor he loves Gleyber’s “personality and character and presentation as a person,” among other things. Pretty neat. Here are some notes before we get to the weekly updates:

  • Matt Eddy has the full list of 534 minor league free agents. Here are the ten Yankees: RHP Tyler Cloyd, IF Cito Culver, RHP Claudio Custodio, IF Jonathan Diaz, RHP Gabe Encinas, C Santiago Nessy, OF Cesar Puello, C Eddy Rodriguez, UTIL Jose Rosario, and C Sebastian Valle. Culver and Puello are the most notable.
  • The Yankees have re-signed LHP Evan Rutckyj, according to Eddy. Kinda funny after he talked some trash about the Yankees while with the Braves as a Rule 5 Draft pick in Spring Training. Here’s what he said, in case you missed it.
  • Brian Cashman confirmed Torres will start next season with Double-A Trenton and “we’ll see where it goes from there,” reports Erik Boland. Reaching Triple-A as a 20-year-old would be pretty crazy. By the way, according to Cashman, the Yankees have not yet decided where SS Jorge Mateo will start 2017.
  • Cashman told Brendan Kuty the Yankees will continue to have Mateo work in center field in Spring Training. “He’s athletic as hell. In the Instructional League, it was very easy for him. So, if that’s a direction that we choose to go, it’s something he’ll be very good at,” said the GM.
  • For the second straight offseason, OF Aaron Judge will work with the team’s hitting gurus in Tampa, reports Kuty. “Got a couple of games (in MLB), saw what it’s like and now just get ready to prepare and come into next year not as an unknown. I’ll know what’s going on and what the league is and I’ll be prepared,” said Judge.
  • OF Edel Luaces and OF Erick Mendez were each suspended 50 games after failing performance-enhancing drug tests, MLB announced. Luaces tested positive for an amphetamine while with the rookie GCL Yankees. Mendez test positive for Propylhexedrine while with rookie Pulaski.
  • And finally, Torres claimed the top spot in this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. He currently leads the Arizona Fall League in batting average as a 19-year-old. No one under 21 has ever won the league’s batting title.

Arizona Fall League

  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 16 G, 17-55, 9 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 9 BB, 7 K (.309/.400/.382) — Cashman said teams are asking for Andujar in trades
  • 1B Greg Bird: 16 G, 13-62, 8 R, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 11 BB, 16 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.210/.338/.355) — started out well but has slowed down of late … as long as the shoulder is healthy, I don’t care what the numbers are
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 15 G, 20-51, 13 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 13 BB, 6 K, 3 SB, 2 CS (.392/.516/.667) — leads the league in AVG, OBP, and OPS, and is second in SLG … Gleyber’s got a pretty good chance at being AzFL MVP, I’d say
  • UTIL Tyler Wade: 13 G, 8-40, 12 R, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 9 BB, 10 K, 6 SB (.200/.347/.250) — he’s played one game at second, one at third, two in left, five in center, and four in right
  • LHP Nestor Cortes: 4 G, 5 IP, 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 6 K (7.20 ERA and 2.00 WHIP)
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 8 G, 10 IP, 12 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 13 K, 1 WP (3.60 ERA and 1.80 WHIP) — last five outings: 6 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 11 K
  • RHP James Kaprielian: 6 G, 6 GS, 22.2 IP, 21 H, 16 R, 13 ER, 6 BB, 22 K, 4 HR (5.16 ERA and 1.19 WHIP) — Kyle Glaser says Kaprielian was 95-96 mph with his fastball, 85-87 mph with his slider, and 82-83 mph with his changeup in his last start, and he missed bats in the strike zone with all three
  • RHP Brody Koerner: 5 G, 3 GS, 16 IP, 19 H, 13 R, 11 ER, 9 BB, 10 K, 1 HR, 1 WP (6.19 ERA and 1.75 WHIP) — returning in the AzFL after missing a bunch of time with an injury usually equals a rude awakening
  • RHP Dillon Tate: 6 G, 9.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 2 HR 2 HB (3.86 ERA and 1.07 WHIP) — hasn’t appeared in a game since October 29th, so that’s not good

Dominican Winter League

  • IF Abi Avelino: 8 G, 3-13, 2 R, 2 K (.231/.231/.231) — he’s a bench player and pinch-runner here
  • IF Jorge Mateo: 12 G, 6-41, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 2 BB, 10 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.146/.205/.220) — still playing shortstop exclusively
  • RHP Anyelo Gomez: 1 G, 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K
  • RHP Adonis Rosa: 2 G, 1 GS, 5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K (0.00 ERA and 0.40 WHIP)

Mexican Pacific League

  • OF Tito Polo: 16 G, 14-58, 11 R, 4 2B, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 17 K, 8 SB, 1 CS, 3 HBP (.241/.323/.310) — left a game with an injury last week, but he returned to action this week, so it was nothing serious

The Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League (Puerto Rico) started its season last week. IF Vince Conde and OF Aaron Judge are both listed on rosters, though they haven’t played yet. Considering Judge ended the season hurt (oblique) and is slated to work in Tampa this offseason, I’m guessing he won’t play either.

Venezuelan Winter League

  • IF Angel Aguilar: 8 G, 2-8, 4 R, 4 K, 1 SB (.250/.250/.250)
  • C Francisco Diaz: 22 G, 15-63, 5 R, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 13 K, 1 SB (.238/.294/.349) — with C Kyle Higashioka ticketed for Triple-A Scranton, the soon-to-be 27-year-old Diaz figures to be the regular catcher at Double-A Trenton next year
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 3 G, 1 GS, 8.1 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 1 GB, 2 WP (5.40 ERA and 1.56 WHIP)
  • RHP David Kubiak: 7 G, 2 GS, 17 IP, 18 H, 15 R, 13 ER, 7 BB, 14 K, 1 HR, 2 HBP, 3 WP (6.88 ERA and 1.47 WHIP)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 5 G, 3.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K (7.36 ERA and 1.91 WHIP)
  • LHP Miguel Sulbaran, RHP Daniel Alvarez, 3B Daniel Barrios, RHP Alex Mejias, 3B Andres Chaparro, OF Andres Fernandez, and C David Vergel are all listed on rosters as well.

The Bullpen Shuttle [2016 Season Preview]

Shreve. (Presswire)
Shreve. (Presswire)

Over the last few years the Yankees have done a good job finding interesting bullpen prospects in different places. The late rounds of the draft, waivers, minor league free agency, whatever. These guys are not future ace closers or anything like that, but they look like serviceable bullpen options, so the Yankees put them to work last year. They cycled relievers in and out as part of their bullpen shuttle. They called someone up, got a few innings out of him, then sent him down for a fresh arm. Over and over again.

The Yankees will again employ a bullpen shuttle in 2016, perhaps even moreso than last year. They have multiple open bullpen spots and a small army of relievers with options, so they can send these guys up and down as much as they want this summer. And they will. We’re going to see pitchers come up, throw in a game or two, then get sent down. Big league stints will be measured in days, not weeks. Here are the main bullpen shuttle candidates for the coming season, presented alphabetically.

The Spring Standout

An offseason ago the Yankees flipped Shawn Kelley to the Padres in what was widely believed to be a cost-cutting move. Kelley was solid, not great, and he figured to be a key piece of the 2015 bullpen. Instead, the Yankees traded him for a Double-A relief prospect with a balky elbow. That prospect: Johnny Barbato. And one year after the trade, Barbato is in position to make the bullpen.

“Definitely came in trying to open some eyes,” said Barbato to Chad Jennings over the weekend. “Just worked my butt off this offseason to get ready, and I think I did. I think coming in here feeling confident, feeling comfortable — I lost a bunch of weight — just came in feeling good, and I think I’ve done well enough to open some eyes.”

Barbato, 23, had a 3.19 ERA (3.45 FIP) with a 24.8% strikeout rate and a 9.2% walk rate in 67.2 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A last year. The concerns about his elbow blew over. He’s been healthy since the trade. This spring he’s allowed two runs (both in the same game) in 8.2 innings with an 11/1 K/BB. Barbato’s done it with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, his trademark curveball …

Johnny Barbato curveball

… and a little slider/cutter thing. The Yankees added Barbato to the 40-man roster over the winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, and while taking Grapefruit League numbers to heart is a fool’s errand, Barbato has clearly opened some eyes in camp. With most of the other shuttle relievers struggling, he has put himself in very good position to be on the Opening Day roster. Either way, Opening Day roster or not, we’ll see Barbato in the big leagues this summer.

The Offseason Pickup

It’s funny how history repeats itself, isn’t it? Last offseason this Yankees traded someone we all thought would be a big part of their 2015 bullpen (Kelley) for a prospect, and everyone said they were doing it to save money. Now that prospect looks pretty good. They did the same thing this past offseason, sending Justin Wilson to the Tigers for two Triple-A starting pitcher prospects, one of which is righty Luis Cessa.

Cessa, a former shortstop, has been traded twice in the past eight months. The Mets sent him to the Tigers in the Yoenis Cespedes deal, then the Tigers sent to the Yankees for Wilson. The 23-year-old Cessa has been solid in limited action this spring (7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) and Brian Cashman has praised his work thus far. The GM could just be pumping up a recent addition, though ultimately the words do not matter. What matters is what happens on the mound.

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

In all likelihood Cessa, who is starting tonight’s game against the Tigers, will open the season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation. Don’t think that’s significant? Four of the five pitchers who opened last season in the Triple-A rotation ended up in the big leagues at some point. (Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, Kyle Davies, Danny Burawa. Jaron Long was the exception.) Cessa, who is on the 40-man roster, is a fastball/slider/changeup pitcher with surprisingly good command for a converted position player, though he still needs some fine-tuning.

After Ivan Nova, Cessa could very well be the first pitcher to brought up from the minors to make a spot start in 2016. Mitchell started last season in the Triple-A rotation before getting some extended time in the MLB bullpen, and a similar path is a definite possibility for Cessa, though I think the Yankees really believe in him as a future starter. I’m sure he’ll reach the show at some point this year anyway. Similar to Barbato at the time of his trade, Cessa’s true coming out party may be a year away.

The Minor League Stats Guy

You’re not going to find a shuttle reliever with better minor league numbers than Nick Goody. The 24-year-old righty missed most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons due to Tommy John surgery, then, in his first full season with his rebuilt elbow, Goody had a 1.59 ERA (2.06 FIP) with a 33.2% strikeout rate and an 8.3% walk rate in 62.1 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015. He also threw 5.2 innings in the show.

Goody was on the shuttle last year and he’ll be on the it again this year. He hasn’t had a great Spring Training (8.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K) but the Yankees have not yet reassigned him to minor league camp, so his Opening Day roster hopes are still alive. Goody is a low-90s fastball/low-80s slider guy, so since he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, his presently shaky command probably isn’t good enough for high-leverage work. Perhaps his command can improve the way David Robertson‘s did. For the timing being, he’s the quintessential up-and-down middle reliever.

The Former Top Pick

Less than a year after being the Yankees’ top selection (second round) in the 2014 draft, left-hander Jacob Lindgren was in the big leagues, getting a chance to show he belonged long-term. (When they needed a roster spot, the Yankees cut the veteran David Carpenter and kept Lindgren.) Lindgren struggled in his seven MLB innings and eventually had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, ending his season.

Lindgren, 23, was the very first 40-man roster player and Opening Day bullpen hopeful reassigned to minor league camp this spring. His numbers were not great, though it was basically one disaster outing in three appearances:

Jacob Lindgren stats

Joe Girardi said the Yankees felt Lindgren was pressing because he was trying to make the team, so they sent him down to clear his head and get regular work. Lindgren’s calling card is his wipeout slider, though he lacks command, lacks a big fastball (mostly 89-91 in pro ball), and has just good enough control to make it work. That’s the recipe for a frustrating reliever.

That slider gives Lindgren the best chance to be a late-inning reliever among the shuttle guys, though he’s going to have to throw more strikes going forward. That’s the goal this season with elbow surgery in the rear-view mirror: more strikes. A wipeout breaking ball is no good if you’re behind in the count. Lindgren is definitely a shuttle candidate, but I wonder if the Yankees will leave him in Triple-A for an extended period of time to iron out that control.

The Starter Turned Reliever

Real Talk: If the fifth starter competition was a real thing, Bryan Mitchell would be winning in a landslide. He’s been fantastic this spring (14.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K) and he was very good out of the bullpen for the Yankees last year before taking a line drive to the nose. At this point it’s hard to believe Mitchell won’t be on the Opening Day roster. How could he not be?

The stuff as never been in question. Mitchell, who will turn 25 next month, has a mid-90s heater and a knockout curveball, and his third pitch is a cutter. He’s never been able to pick up a changeup, so he has to use the cutter against lefties. That lack of a changeup and career long command issues are Mitchell’s biggest flaws. One of those will have to improve — ideally both — for Mitchell to hack it as a starter at the next level.

For now, Mitchell is certain to open the season in the bullpen, and Girardi has talked about using him in the Adam Warren role. That versatile reliever who can go multiple innings and even pitch in the late innings on occasion. The Yankees shouldn’t close the door on Mitchell as a starter and I don’t think they will. For now, they need him in the bullpen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the big leagues for good. Mitchell may be too good to shuttle up and down.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

The Lefty Specialist

Every year the Yankees (and every other team) make a series of small pickups in the offseason, and those small pickups can be easy to overlook. Left-hander Tyler Olson, who came over in a minor trade with the Dodgers, was one of those easy to overlook pickups this winter. He’s a pure left-on-left matchup guy with a funky delivery, a mid-to-upper-80s heater, and a loopy breaking ball, so his usefulness is limited.

Olson, 26, has had a pretty strong spring up until his last appearance or two. Having a spare lefty specialist you can bring up whenever you’re getting set to face a lefty heavy lineup is nice, but of all the shuttle relievers, I think Olson is most in danger of losing his 40-man roster spot. The Yankees have other lefties and they have other relievers who can throw full innings. Chances are we’ll see Olson at some point this summer. I would be surprised if he carved out a role and stuck around long-term, however.

The Other Lefty Specialist

The Yankees really seem to like James Pazos. He was reportedly on their list of untouchable prospects at the trade deadline — I refuse to believe that. It can’t possibly be true, can it? — and the club called him up last September before he had to be added to the 40-man roster. Pazos is a hard-thrower — PitchFX clocked his average fastball at 94.5 mph last September — though he lacks consistency with his slider and seems to be prone to bouncing pitches in the dirt.

Pazos was sent to minor league camp this past weekend, taking him out of the running for an Opening Day bullpen spot. But, like I said, the Yankees really seem to like him, and I have little doubt we’ll see him this season. Improving that slider will be his focus in Triple-A for the time being. Pazos seems to be the middle man between Olson (short-term fill-in) and Lindgren (potential long-term solution) among the shuttle lefties. Regardless, he’s going to get an awful lot of chances in this game because he’s a lefty and he throws hard.

The Shuttle Veteran

None of the shuttle relievers threw more big league innings (27.2) or made more up-and-down trips (six!) than 27-year-old Branden Pinder last season. The fastball-slider right-hander was called up at least once each month last season, so he’s a pro at this by now. He is well-versed in this shuttle reliever thing after only one year and that’s good, because he’ll be riding that shuttle again in 2016.

Pinder has had an steady but unspectacular spring (6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 6 K) and he remains in big league camp, giving him a chance to make the Opening Day roster. That said, even if he makes the Opening Day roster, he’s a candidate to be sent to Triple-A whenever a fresh arm is needed. Pinder lacks a reliable weapon against lefties and he’s prone to missing over the plate, limiting his ceiling. Still, his stuff is good, and I feel like he’s going to carve out a lengthy career as a journeyman middle reliever. A Chad Qualls/Jason Frasor type.

Rumblin’ Rumbelow

Aside from Lindgren, no minor league reliever climbed the ladder as quickly as Nick Rumbelow in recent seasons. Rumbelow went from Low-A Charleston to Triple-A Scranton in 2014, then he made his big league debut in 2015. He threw 15.2 mostly forgettable innings with the Yankees a year ago, and over the weekend he was reassigned to minor league camp, meaning he’s not going to be on the MLB roster to start the new season next week.

Rumbelow, 24, has three pitches, unlike most of the other shuttle bullpeners. PitchFX had his average fastball at 93.3 mph last year, and he also throws a low-80s curveball and a mid-80s changeup. The curveball was Rumbelow’s go-to secondary pitch when he first signed as the team’s seventh round pick in 2013, but nowadays he prefers the changeup. He’ll double up on the change and throw it to righties.

Three pitches, a funky delivery, and good enough control are a nice recipe for a big league career. Rumbelow has fine-tuning to do before he sticks long-term — anecdotally, he seems prone to overthrowing and leaving pitches up in the zone — but the tools are there, and he’ll surely get plenty of chances to show what he can do this year. Rumbelow figures to see lots and lots of shuttle time this year. He might supplant Pinder and be the top shuttle guy in 2016.

The (Temporary) Seventh Inning Guy

I’m not sure anyone in camp needed a good spring more than Chasen Shreve. Shreve, who is still only 25, was very good for the first four and a half months of 2015, but he crashed hard down the stretch, and no one really knew why. There was talk he was tipping his pitches, talk the league figured him out, stuff like that. Most with the Yankees said they believe it was fatigue, which sounds like a cop-out, but it was a plausible explanation.

So far this spring Shreve has been untouchable: 8 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 8 K. The only base-runner against him came on an error. The numbers are great, but, more importantly, Shreve looks comfortable on the mound and he’s throwing with conviction. His body language wasn’t so great late last year and that was understandable. Opponents made him pay for every mistake. Shreve looks rested and he’s been aggressive. It’s been a good spring.

At the outset of camp, Girardi talked about Shreve like one of his regular relievers, as if he had a bullpen spot locked up. Fans were understandably skeptical given his finish last season, but if the Yankees felt the same way, they weren’t showing it. Shreve is not only a lock for the Opening Day bullpen at this point, it seems likely he will assume seventh inning work while Aroldis Chapman serves his suspension. Shreve held that role last when Andrew Miller was on the DL.

It’s probably unfair to lump Shreve in with the other shuttle relievers at this point given what he did last year. He wasn’t just pretty good, remember. He was dominant from April through mid-August, using his low-90s fastball/low-80s splitter combination to neutralize both righties and lefties. If the Yankees have to send Shreve down to Triple-A at some point in 2016, something went wrong. I think he’s up for good.

The Darkhorse

Similar to Olson, right-hander Kirby Yates was a nondescript offseason pickup who was easy to overlook coming into camp. Now, with Opening Day a week away, the 29-year-old Yates appears to have a legitimate chance to make the team, especially since so many of the other shuttle guys haven’t had good Grapefruit League seasons. He’s been very good in camp (6.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K) and he has big league experience, throwing 56.1 innings with the Rays the last two seasons.

Yates is a generic low-to-mid-90s fastball/mid-80s slider guy, so lefties give him a problem, which limits his ceiling. That fine though. We’re talking about a possible low-leverage middle reliever who gets shipped in and out whenever the team needs a fresh arm. If nothing else, Yates opened some eyes this spring and cemented himself as a shuttle candidate. Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he’s put himself in position to be among the first called up.

Yates. (Presswire)
Yates. (Presswire)

The Non-40-Man Roster Options

In addition to all the 40-man guys, the Yankees have several non-40-man roster pitchers who could see time on the shuttle this season. Remember, guys like Kyle Davies and Matt Tracy and Joel De La Cruz went from afterthoughts to big leaguers a year ago, simply because they were available. Journeymen like lefty Richard Bleier and righties Anthony Swarzak, Vinnie Pestano, Tyler Cloyd, and Diego Moreno could all be temporary call-ups in 2016.

As for actual prospects, lefty Tyler Webb and righties Chad Green and Brady Lail seem most likely to be called up this summer. Maybe Mark Montgomery too. Green, the other prospect acquired in the Wilson/Cessa trade, and Lail are ticketed for the Triple-A rotation. Webb is going to return to the RailRiders’ bullpen. Depending on their Triple-A performance and the big league team’s needs, those guys could see the show this year.

Calling up someone like Bleier or Pestano is no big deal because the Yankees could drop them from the roster no questions asked. Call him up, get whatever innings you need, then move on. You can’t really do that with someone like Green or Lail because they’re actual prospects and you can’t simply drop them from the 40-man roster when a spot is needed. That’s a serious roster consideration. Is it worth clogging up a 40-man spot (and burning an option year) to get, say, two innings from Lail on a random June afternoon because you played 15 innings the night before? Probably not.

For now the Yankees appear to have plenty of bullpen shuttle candidates on the 40-man roster. I have ten 40-man relievers listed in this post even without counting Shreve. The Yankees are going to cycle through those pitchers all year, and with any luck, one or two will stand out from the pack and earn extended opportunities in the big leagues. With the Yankees unlikely to get much length from their starters, the extra bullpen arms will again be very important in 2016.

Position Battles of Note [2016 Spring Training Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The long marathon that is the 2016 season will begin Thursday, when Yankees pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for Spring Training. Position players will follow next Wednesday. The first Grapefruit League game will be played March 2nd, two weeks from Wednesday. Real live baseball is coming soon.

This spring the Yankees will not have many position battles to follow. Their nine starting position player spots are set, the five rotation spots are pretty much set, the back-end of the bullpen is set, and two of four bench spots are set. It might even be three of four. You could argue as many as seven roster spots are up for grabs. In reality it’s probably more like four. Here are the three battles to watch.

The Backup Catcher

The Yankees have had some pretty good backup catchers in recent years, from the defensive-minded Jose Molina to the occasionally great Frankie Cervelli to the solid all-around John Ryan Murphy. Murphy is now a Minnesota Twin, meaning the backup job will go to Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, or non-roster invitee Carlos Corporan. Sebastian Valle, another non-roster player, is the deep sleeper. He’s an outstanding defender and the Yankees value catcher defense highly.

Sanchez had a strong 2015 season in terms of production, development, and maturity, which helped make Murphy expendable. Brian Cashman said he would “like to unleash the Kraken” this year, referring to Sanchez, but there are big picture aspects to consider. Is Sanchez the best backup catcher candidate? The answer is almost certainly yes. Is sending Sanchez to Triple-A for a few weeks a good idea? That answer is almost certainly yes as well.

A total of 35 days in the minors this season will delay Sanchez’s free agency another year. Thirty-five days in 2016 equals control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022. That’s a long time away and who knows whether Sanchez will be worth keeping around in 2022, but 35 days? That’s it? Sending him down for five weeks to gain control of his age 29 season is a no-brainer in my opinion. It’s a little 2016 pain for potentially a lot of 2022 gain.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Keep in mind five weeks for a backup catcher equals maybe six or seven starts. The Yankees have a ton of April off-days like they do every year — five in first four weeks! — so keeping Brian McCann in the lineup will be rather easy. Those six or seven starts might actually be more like four or five starts. Is sacrificing four or five Sanchez games in 2016 worth it to gain control of his age 29 season? Hell yes. The system makes this an obvious move.

Romine and Corporan, Sanchez’s two chief competitors, are in different situations. Corporan is on a minor league contract and can be easily stashed in Triple-A for depth this season. Romine is on the 40-man roster and out of options, meaning he can’t go to the minors without being exposed to waivers. That was the case last year, when Romine did slip through waivers unclaimed, but since this would be his second outright assignment, he could elect free agency.

If he doesn’t make the team, Romine in all likelihood would elect free agency and look to join a team that offers a greater big league opportunity. With McCann and Sanchez in tow, it’s hard to see how any upper level catcher gets MLB time in the Bronx without an injury. The position is locked down for at least three more seasons (the duration of McCann’s contract). I see four possible outcomes for the spring backup catcher competition:

  • The Best Team: Sanchez in MLB with Corporan in Triple-A and Romine out of the organization.
  • The Most Depth: Romine in MLB with Sanchez and Corporan in Triple-A.
  • The Eh I Get It Plan: Corporan in MLB with Sanchez in Triple-A and Romine out of the org.
  • The WTF Plan: Valle in MLB with Sanchez and Corporan in Triple-A and Romine out of the org.

As best I can tell Corporan does actually have a minor league option remaining, so the Yankees could carry him as the backup catcher for some period of time, then send him down once Sanchez’s service time is in a good place. They would still presumably lose Romine, but at least they’d keep Corporan.

Now, if Corporan does not have an option left — that’s possible, this stuff can be difficult to pin down — then the Yankees would need to drop him from the 40-man roster when the time comes to promote Sanchez. Going with the Eh I Get It Plan means the team could be faced with the possibility of losing Romine and Corporan once Sanchez is called up.

Maybe that’s no big deal. Romine and Corporan aren’t great by any means, but I do think you need an extra catcher or two in the organization. The Yankees got really lucky with McCann and Murphy last season — those two combined to catch every inning of every game in 2015 — and I wouldn’t count on that kind of health again. It just doesn’t happen at catcher. It’s a brutal position.

Carrying Sanchez as McCann’s backup likely gives the Yankees the best possible team to start the season. The benefit of manipulating his service time — especially since we’re only talking about losing him for a handful of actual starts — means sending him to Triple-A to start the season is the best thing for the organization long-term. Rolling with Romine or Corporan for five weeks is the price to pay for Sanchez’s age 29 season, and that’s not bad at all.

(Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

At Least Three, Likely Four, Maybe Five Bullpen Spots

At some point soon we’re going to hear something about Aroldis Chapman‘s seemingly inevitable suspension. Rumor has it commissioner Rob Manfred will hand down the suspension before Spring Training, meaning it could be any day now. Chapman will not be charged with a crime stemming from his October domestic dispute incident but that’s irrelevant. The collectively bargained Domestic Violence Policy explicitly says no arrests or charges are necessary for a suspension.

It seems very likely Chapman will be suspended for some length of time. How long? Your guess is as good as mine. (I’ve seen a few reporters suggest a 15-game ban is coming.) Either way, any sort of suspension opens a bullpen spot come Opening Day. Right now the Yankees have Chapman, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Ivan Nova locked into spots, leaving three open three bullpen spots. Chapman’s suspension would make it four open spots and an injury to a starter would make it five since Nova would have to jump into the rotation.

For the purposes of this post, let’s just assume the rotation stays healthy and Nova is indeed the long man come Opening Day. A reach? Eh, maybe. We’ll deal with the injuries as they come. Regardless of the number of open bullpen spots, the Yankees have no shortage of relief options this year. Check out the list of bullpen candidates coming to camp this spring:

Some of those guys are more likely to land a big league job than others — Kaprielian won’t be breaking camp with the Yankees, for example — but they’ll all be in Spring Training and therefore theoretically capable of winning a roster spot.

The Yankees have relievers of all shapes and sizes. Righties, lefties, strikeout guys, ground ball guys, guys with big league experience, guys who has yet to pitch above Single-A … you name it and the Yankees will have it in camp this year. And here’s the thing: aside from Shreve, who was so excellent the first four and a half months last season, I’m not sure anyone has a leg up on a spot.

It’s great the Yankees have so many bullpen options, because they’re inevitably going to need them. This is a position battle that won’t ever end. The Yankees once again figure to employ a bullpen shuttle this year to ensure Joe Girardi always has a fresh arm or two available, meaning whoever wins a spot on the Opening Day roster may only be there short-term. I can’t imagine that’s comfortable for the players, but that’s life. That’s the way the roster is built.

My guess is Shreve will get one of the open bullpen spots barring a catastrophic showing in camp. The other open spots could be decided by Spring Training performance (as silly as that may be) and roster considerations. The Yankees may not want to free up 40-man space just yet, for example. They open the season against the Astros and could opt to carry an extra lefty (for Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, Jason Castro, etc.) before going with an extra righty for the second series of the season against the Tigers (almost their entire lineup is right-handed). We’ll see.

Spring Training will be an audition for all of those pitchers. Even Kaprielian, who wants to make a strong impression as he prepares for his first full pro season. If you don’t win a bullpen job in camp, you still want to put yourself in position for an early call-up. Make the Yankees remember you. That’s what Preston Claiborne did a few years ago. Someone like Campos could do the same this year.

Kozma. (Presswire)
Kozma. (Presswire)

The 25th Man

Cashman is on record saying the Yankees hope to use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door depending on their need at the time. If they need an extra reliever, they’ll use that spot for an extra reliever. If they need a position player, they’ll call up a position player. So on and so forth. Good idea in theory. How will it work in the real world? We’re going to find out soon enough.

The Yankees have three off-days within the first two full weeks of the season, so using that 25th roster spot on an eighth reliever out of Spring Training qualifies as overkill. I understand the starters are still getting stretched all the way out and whatnot, but eight relievers with all those off-days? Nah. Carrying an extra bench player early on makes the most sense, and the Yankees have plenty of infield (Jonathan Diaz, Donovan Solano, Pete Kozma, Ronald Torreyes, Rob Refsnyder) and outfield (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel) options.

The 25th man decision is going to depend entirely on Starlin Castro‘s ability to play third base, because if he can’t do it, the Yankees will need to carry a backup third baseman. So moreso than the backup catcher and bullpen battles, the 25th man competition is going to be influenced by outside factors. Castro’s the big one, but health with be a factor too, as will 40-man roster considerations. Is it worth designating someone for assignment to carry Kozma for two weeks? Maybe it is. That’s up to the Yankees.

Minor League Notes: Mateo, Garcia, Signings, Releases

 
The video above is OF Aaron Judge discussing his experience at MLB’s annual rookie development camp. SS Tyler Wade was there as well. I saw him walking around in the video. Not sure who else was there. I’ve got a whole bunch of minor league notes and links and whatnot that I’ve been collecting for the last few weeks, so I’m going to dump them all here in this post. Enjoy.

Mateo rated fastest runner, toolsiest infield prospect

Over at MLB.com, Jonathan Mayo looked at the toolsiest prospects in the minors. He simply added up each player’s 20-80 scouting scale grades in the five tool categories on their top 100 prospects list. SS Jorge Mateo came in third behind only Twins OF Byron Buxton and Nationals OF Victor Robles. Mateo is the toolsiest infielder on the top 100. I don’t necessarily agree with adding 20-80 grades — 60 hit/60 power is definitely not the same as 80 hit/40 power even though they both add up to 120 hitpower (?), for example — but that’s what Mayo did, and Mateo scored well. Hooray.

Also, Jim Callis examined the top individual tools in the minors, and Mateo is listed as having the best speed. “Mateo has outstanding raw speed — he can go from the right side of the plate to first base in less than four seconds — but he’s more than just a raw speedster,” said the write-up. “He has succeeded on 83 percent of his steal attempts as a pro and led the Minors with 82 in 2015, his first year in full-season ball. Mateo’s quickness gives him plenty of range at shortstop, and he also exhibits some surprising power potential during batting practice.”

Garcia a potential top 100 prospect for 2017

The crew at Baseball Prospectus released their top 101 prospects list last week, and earlier this week they looked at ten players who were not on this year’s top 100, but could jump into next year’s. SS Wilkerman Garcia is among the ten listed. The article is free. You don’t need a subscription. Here’s a snippet of their write-up:

He is the complete package up the middle, with some of the smoothest hands you’ll see from an 17-year-old, and the arm and range to stick at short for the long haul. Garcia is still raw at the plate, but he’s a switch-hitter with some feel for the barrel from both sides. That is a nice little top-prospect starter kit. The one thing he is lacking right now is a track record outside of the complex, something he will remedy this season.

I feel like each Garcia scouting report is better than the last, which is cool, but it’s also the offseason, so I’m not really sure what changed. Either way, Wilkerman is an exciting prospect and so far the best to come out of the Yankees’ massive 2014-15 international spending spree, though it’s still super early.

Minor League Ball’s top 20 Yankees prospects

John Sickels at Minor League Ball published his annual list of the top 20 Yankees prospects a few days ago. You already know who the top four guys are. We could argue the order for days but the top four are clearly the top four. RHP Domingo Acevedo comes in at No. 5. He seems to be a very divisive prospect. Some people are super high on him. Others … eh. Sickels seems to be pretty high on SS Kyle Holder, who he ranks ninth in the system. I don’t think you’ll see Holder ranked that high anywhere else this prospect season.

Yankees sign four players, release 13 others

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed the following minor league free agents: RHP Tyler Cloyd, 3B Deibinson Romero, OF Jared Mitchell, and RHP Wandy Soto. They have also released the following players, per Eddy: C Isaias Tejeda, 2B Angelo Gumbs, IF Bryan Cuevas, OF Jordan Barnes, OF Griff Gordon, OF Jose Infante, OF Teodoro Martinez, RHP Gean Batista, RHP Francis Joseph, RHP Matt Borens, RHP Lee Casas, RHP Taylor Garrison, and RHP Corey Holmes.

Cloyd and Romero both received invitations to Spring Training after spending last season in Korea. The 28-year-old Cloyd had a 5.81 ERA in 159.2 innings for the Samsung Lions while the 29-year-old Romero hit .253/.328/.449 with 12 homers. I should note the KBO is very hitter friendly. The league averages in 2015 were a 4.90 ERA and a .279/.356/.429 batting line. Mitchell, 27, hit .209/.298/.308 in 100 games between Double-A and Triple-A with the Angels and White Sox in 2015. Both Cloyd and Romero are Triple-A depth. Romero’s mostly a third baseman but has played a bunch of first over the years, so he’ll help fill the gap created by Greg Bird‘s injury. Mitchell, a former first round pick, is probably going to Double-A.

Among the released players, the most notable is Gumbs. He was New York’s second round pick out of a California high school in 2010. Gumbs was one of those super toolsy prospects with a ton of upside who was crazy raw. He played quite well with Low-A Charleston in 2012 (.272/.320/.432) but he’s had some injury problems in recent years and just stopped hitting. Gumbs put up a .176/.224/.213 line with High-A Tampa last year.

Links: IFAs, AzFL Review, Mahoney

Here are a couple stray links I have lying around that are worth checking out. So go check them out:

Just a heads up, the four full season minor league affiliates begin their regular season on Thursday, April 7th this year. That’s three days after the big league Yankees behind their season.

Judge, Mateo, Kaprielian headline 2016 Spring Training invitees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees announced their list of non-roster Spring Training invitees for the 2016 season. A total of 25 non-roster players were invited, so add in the guys on the 40-man roster, and the Yankees will have a total of 65 players in Spring Training this year. Last season they had 68.

Here are the 25 non-roster players who will be in Tampa this spring. As always, everyone on the 40-man roster will be there as well.

CATCHERS (6)
Carlos Corporan
Francisco Diaz
Kyle Higashioka
Eddy Rodriguez
Sebastian Valle
Santiago Nessy

INFIELDERS (6)
Jonathan Diaz
Pete Kozma
Jorge Mateo
Deibinson Romero (recently signed as a minor league free agent)
Donovan Solano
Tyler Wade

OUTFIELDERS (3)
Dustin Fowler
Aaron Judge
Cesar Puello

PITCHERS (10)
LHP Richard Bleier
RHP Tyler Cloyd (recently signed as a minor league free agent)
RHP Domingo German (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery)
RHP Chad Green
RHP James Kaprielian
RHP Brady Lail
RHP Diego Moreno
RHP Vinnie Pestano
RHP Anthony Swarzak
LHP Tyler Webb

Obviously some players have a much better chance of making the Yankees than others. Mateo, for example, has close to zero chance of making the Opening Day roster. He’ll be in camp so the big league coaching staff can get a firsthand look at arguably the top prospect in the organization. The same applies to Kaprielian, last summer’s first round pick, and Judge.

Right now the Yankees have five open big league roster spots: three in the bullpen, the backup catcher, and the final bench spot. Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine are the main candidates for the backup backstop job along with Corporan. It seems like the Yankees want Sanchez to be the guy, but there are service time reasons to send him to Triple-A for a few weeks (35 days in Triple-A equals an extra year of team control). All those extra catchers will be in camp to help catch bullpens and stuff.

Brian Cashman has confirmed the Yankees intendt the use their final bench spot as something of revolving door. They want to rotate players in and out based on their needs at the time, and that includes adding an eighth reliever on occasion. Remember, position battles do not end when Spring Training is over. Whoever gets those three bullpen spots and the two bench spots will have to produce during the regular season to keep the job.

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Tampa on Thursday, February 18th. That’s two weeks from yesterday. Position players will report on Wednesday, February 24th, and the first full squad workout will follow on February 25th.