The Prospect Debuts [2017 Season Review]

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

Even though the Yankees were not considered a slam dunk contender going into the 2017 season, there were plenty of reasons to be excited. Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge were two of them. We were also looking forward to seeing some of the team’s top prospects make their MLB debuts at some point. Gleyber Torres and Chance Adams didn’t debut this year for different reasons, but plenty of others did.

Because so many things went right at the MLB level (Aaron Hicks breaking out, for example) and because the Yankees went out and made in-season upgrades (Todd Frazier trade), the Yankees did not have to lean heavily on any of their position player prospect call-ups. They came up, got their feet wet, and that’s about it. Time to review the four young position player prospects who made their MLB debuts this summer.

Miguel Andujar

Andujar finally had that big breakout season in 2016, and after hitting .312/.342/.494 (126 wRC+) with seven homers in 67 games with Double-A Trenton to start 2017, the Yankees moved him up to Triple-A Scranton. Nine days later he was in the big leagues, replacing the ill Matt Holliday. Against the White Sox on June 28th, his first MLB game, Andujar went 3-for-4 with a double, a walk, and a stolen base. He also drove in four runs.

Andujar became the first player in Yankees history to drive in four runs in his MLB debut. He was the first player with three hits and four runs driven in in his big league debut for any team since … Steven Matz? Steven Matz. Matz went 3-for-3 with a double and four runs driven in during his MLB debut on June 28th. Okie dokie. He’s a pitcher, you know.

The Yankees sent Andujar back down the next day — he returned for a day as an injury replacement a few days later, but did not play — because their plan was to use him against the left-handed Carlos Rodon before bringing up a more permanent replacement. Andujar returned in September and appeared in three games, all as a late-inning replacement in blowouts. He went 4-for-8 with two doubles as a big leaguer while hitting .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) with 16 homers and a 13.6% strikeout rate in 125 games split between Double-A and Triple-A.

Andujar of course survived the 40-man roster purge last month and, more surprisingly, he was not included in the Giancarlo Stanton trade. That surprised me. A cheap, young, and talented MLB ready third baseman seemed like someone the Marlins would target in the deal, but nope. Third base is open long-term for the Yankees, especially now that second base is clear for Torres. Andujar needs to work on his defense, sure, but chances are he’ll get a longer opportunity to help the Yankees at some point next year.

Dustin Fowler

Hands down, the worst moment of an otherwise wildly fun and exciting 2017 season for the Yankees was Fowler’s injury. The injury itself wasn’t particularly gory or gruesome, though the circumstances were awful. In literally his first inning as a big leaguer — Fowler was called up on June 29th, as the more permanent replacement for Andujar — Fowler crashed into the side wall chasing a foul pop-up at Guaranteed Rate Field, and blew out his knee.

Fowler suffered an open rupture of the right patella tendon and needed emergency surgery, which ended his season. In his first inning as a big leaguer. Terrible. The kid didn’t even get an at-bat. He was due to lead off the next inning. Fowler spent the rest of the season on the disabled list — at least he got to accrue 95 days of service time and big league pay while on the disabled list, as if that’s some consolation —  and was included in the Sonny Gray trade at the deadline. Had he been healthy, I’m not sure he gets traded. It might’ve been Estevan Florial instead.

Prior to the injury Fowler ripped up Triple-A, hitting .293/.329/.542 (138 wRC+) with 13 home runs and 13 steals in 70 games before getting called up. He is no longer with the Yankees, but the good news is that according to John Shea, Fowler’s rehab is progressing well and he is current working out at the A’s complex in Arizona. MLB.com ranks him as the third best prospect in Oakland’s system and their center field depth chart is very weak. Fowler is expected to be ready for Spring Training. I hope he wins the center field job in camp.

Clint Frazier

Spring Training got off to a pretty ridiculous start for the headliner in last summer’s Andrew Miller trade. First the Yankees made a spectacle of Frazier getting a haircut to conform to the team’s hair policy rules. Then there was a flat out made up story that Frazier asked to wear Mickey Mantle’s No. 7, which required an apology from Suzyn Waldman. The damage had already been done though. Clint became the new media whipping boy.

Anyway, Frazier opened the 2017 season with Triple-A Scranton, where he got off to a bit of a slow start, but he eventually picked it up and hit .256/.344/.473 (123 wRC+) with 12 home runs in 74 games before being called up on July 1st. Frazier replaced Andujar, who replaced Fowler, who replaced Andujar, who replaced Holliday. Got all that?

Frazier’s big league debut — and his first few weeks in pinstripes, really — was quite eventful. He went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer in his first MLB game, and in his first 15 games, Clint went 17-for-56 (.304) with five doubles, two triples, and three homers. That’s ten extra-base hits and seven singles. One of those three homers was a walk-off three-run shot against the Brewers on July 8th.

That bat speed, man. Frazier turned around a 97.3 mph heater from All-Star Corey Knebel like it was a batting practice lob. By both win probability added and championship probability added, the walk-off blast was the second biggest regular season hit of the year for the Yankees, behind only Brett Gardner‘s three-run jaw-dropper at Wrigley Field.

Frazier stayed in the lineup on an everyday basis because Holliday was hurt, Hicks was hurt, and Jacoby Ellsbury was largely ineffective. He wound up on the disabled list himself on August 10th, after tweaking his oblique during batting practice. The injury kept Frazier out until mid-September, and when he returned, he was largely a bench player who played in blowouts. All told, he hit .231/.268/.448 (82 wRC+) with four homers in 142 MLB plate appearance.

Like Andujar, Frazier somewhat surprisingly wasn’t included in the Stanton trade, so he remains in the organization. The Stanton trade does create some uncertainty about Frazier’s long-term role, however. In Judge and Stanton, the Yankees now have two of best corner outfielders in baseball, so where does Frazier fit? Triple-A depth/injury replacement? DH? Make him fake center field long-term? Trade bait? I’m not sure, and the Yankees might not be sure right now either.

Oh, and by the way, Frazier initially wore No. 30 after being called up, though he gave it up when David Robertson was reacquired. His new number? No. 77. I have no idea whether that is a troll move following the Spring Training nonsense, but I’m going to pretend it is.

Tyler Wade

The players in this post are listed alphabetically, but it all started with Wade. He was the first in the parade of prospect debuts. Wade started the season in Triple-A before being called up on June 27th. He debuted the day before Andujar, who debuted the day before Fowler, who debuted two days before Frazier. That was quite a week. Arguably the four best non-Gleyber position player prospects in the system made their MLB debuts in the span of five days.

Unlike the other guys in this post, Wade did not make his debut as a starter. He came off the bench. Wade hit .313/.390/.444 (135 wRC+) with five homers and 24 steals in 71 Triple-A games before coming up, and his first taste of the big leagues came as a pinch-hitter. He pinch-hit for former teammate Rob Refsnyder against future teammate Tommy Kahnle. Wade worked a seven-pitch walk against Kahnle that sparked the go-ahead rally. Too bad the bullpen blew that game.

Wade started in left field the next day and went 1-for-5 with a double, his first MLB hit. He started the next day at second base and went 1-for-4. He started in right field the day after that and went 0-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored. Three different positions in three days in his first three starts as a big league ballplayer. You can do that when you have the athleticism to make plays like this:

After those three starts at three different positions, Wade slipped into a utility role, and he barely played. He accrued 81 days of service time and had only 63 plate appearances. There was also a short Triple-A stint in August mixed in there. Joe Girardi stuck with Ronald Torreyes at second base while Starlin Castro was injured, so from July 1st through the end of the season, Wade was on the MLB roster for 73 games and appeared in only 26.

One of those 26 games came against the Rays on July 27th, in a rare start. Wade had a brutal game, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and a double play. Two of the strikeouts and the double play came in the late innings with either the tying or go-ahead run in scoring position. Ouch. At least the Yankees won. Wade finished the season with a .155/.222/.224 (17 wRC+) batting line in his 63 big league plate appearances, and a .310/.382/.460 (136 wRC+) line in 85 Triple-A games.

As with Andujar and Frazier, Wade was not included in the Stanton trade, so he remains in the organization. And depending what the Yankees do the rest of the offseason, it’s entirely possible Wade will go into Spring Training with a chance to win the starting second base job. I imagine it would be between Wade, Torreyes, Torres, and the journeyman infielder the Yankees will inevitably sign to a minor league deal. I like Wade. His MLB stint this year was terrible, no doubt about that, but he has some skills and can be a nice contributor as soon as next season.

Thoughts on Baseball America’s top ten Yankees prospects

Guzman. (MLB.com)
Guzman. (MLB.com)

Now that we’re a month into the offseason, Baseball America has started their annual look at the top ten prospects in each farm system. They hit on the Yankees yesterday. The list and system overview is free for all. The scouting reports and the chat are not, however. They’re behind the paywall.

There are no big surprises in the top ten. The top few spots are as expected — at least the names are as expected, we can quibble about the order until we’re blue in the face — before dipping into the plethora of power arms in the system. Here’s the top ten:

  1. SS Gleyber Torres
  2. OF Estevan Florial
  3. LHP Justus Sheffield
  4. RHP Chance Adams
  5. 3B Miguel Andujar
  6. RHP Albert Abreu
  7. RHP Jorge Guzman
  8. RHP Luis Medina
  9. SS Thairo Estrada
  10. RHP Domingo Acevedo

Quick reminder: OF Clint Frazier is no longer prospect eligible. That’s why he’s not in the top ten. He exceeded the rookie limit by four at-bats this year. Anyway, nice to see my main man Thairo get some top ten love. It’s been fun to watch him climb from sleeper to 40-man roster player. I have some thoughts on the top ten, so let’s get to them.

1. This is a pitching system now. I mentioned this as part of the Baseball Prospectus top ten write-up and it is worth repeating. The Yankees are loaded with pitching now. A year ago at this time they were a position player heavy farm system and hey, that’s great. I’d rather build around bats long-term than arms. Now though, the farm system is full of power pitchers. Six of the top ten prospects are pitchers, and among the pitchers who didn’t make the top ten are RHP Domingo German, RHP Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP Freicer Perez, RHP Matt Sauer, RHP Clarke Schmidt, RHP Dillon Tate, and RHP Taylor Widener. When those dudes are not among the six best pitching prospects in your farm system, you are packed to the gills with pitching. Inevitably many of these guys will get hurt or flame out, but when you have as many quality arms as the Yankees, your chances of landing some long-term keepers is quite high.

2. Guzman’s velocity is super elite. It’ll be a year or two before the Yankees get some impact from the Brian McCann trade, but so far things are looking good. Both Abreu and Guzman are among their top ten prospects, and, according to the Baseball America scouting report, Guzman “averaged 99 mph with his four-seamer in 2017 and just a tick less with his two-seamer.” That is pretty insane. Among qualified pitchers, Luis Severino led MLB with a 97.8 mph average fastball velocity this year. Guzman averaged 99 mph, prompting J.J. Cooper to say he “has a strong argument that he’s the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in baseball.” There is more to pitching than fastball velocity, of course, but the various scouting reports say Guzman made big strides with his secondary stuff and his command this year, so he’s starting to figure some things out. He’s not going to average 99 mph forever because no one does, but he’s starting from such a high baseline that even after losing some velocity in the coming years, he’ll sit mid-90s no problem.

3. Spin rate is a thing in the minors now too. I wrote a little bit about spin rate last week, and while it is still a relatively new concept to fans and analysts, it’s been a thing within baseball for a while now. The Baseball America scouting report mentions Medina has a “high-spin curveball,” and in the chat, Josh Norris notes RHP Deivi Garcia has a “hook that measures at 3,000 RPMs.” Only three big leaguers topped 3,000 rpm with their curveballs this season, for reference (min. 100 curveballs). RHP Drew Finley (curveball) and RHP Nolan Martinez (fastball) both earned notoriety for their spin rates as draft prospects. As I’ve said, spin rate is like velocity in that it’s only one tool in the shed, it’s not everything, but clearly it is something teams — the Yankees, specifically — target nowadays. The general belief is that spin is not really teachable. It’s either in your wrist or it’s not. The Yankees aren’t just hoarding pitching prospects. They’re hoarding high-spin prospects, the guys who are now very in demand at the big league level.

4. Mechanical changes contributed to Gilliam’s breakout. OF Isiah Gilliam, the team’s 20th round pick in 2015 and the recipient of a well-above-slot $550,000 bonus, was one of the easiest to overlook breakout stars in the farm system this summer. The switch-hitter spent most of the season at age 20, and he hit .275/.356/.468 (137 wRC+) with 15 homers and 10.8% walks in 125 Low-A games. That’s a damn fine season. Norris notes in the chat that Gilliam “saw significant benefits to the changes he made with his stance and swing mechanics,” and that’s pretty interesting. Amateur and minor league video can be tough to come by, so here’s what I dug up on Gilliam’s right-handed swing:

isiah-gilliam

That’s Gilliam in high school in 2014 on the left (video) and Gilliam with Low-A Charleston in 2017 on the right (video). I did my best to grab each image at the moment Gilliam begins to lift his front foot as part of his leg kick. Two things stand out. One, Gilliam has a wider base underneath him now. His legs are further apart. I suppose that could just be a camera angle issue, however. And two, his hands are much lower now. There’s no funny camerawork there. His hands used to be way up near to head and now they’re down by his chest, so yes, he has made some adjustments, at least to his right-handed swing. (There isn’t much old video of his left-handed swing, weirdly.) Anyway, Gilliam had a real nice season, and is one of those quality under-the-radar prospects that makes the system so deep.

5. So apparently Wade’s stock has dropped. Although he did not eclipse the 130 at-bat rookie limit this year, SS Tyler Wade is no longer rookie eligible because he accrued too much service time this season. Baseball America does not, however, consider service time when ranking prospects, so Wade is still prospect eligible. And yet, he’s not in the top ten. In the chat, Norris said Wade “did not come close to (making) this list” even though “he still has a big league future … probably as a utility infielder.” I like Wade. Have for a long time. I like the athleticism, the speed, the defense, and the strike zone knowledge. He just hit .310/.382/.460 (136 wRC+) with seven homers and 26 steals (in 31 attempts) in 85 Triple-A games as a 22-year-old. That’s really good! I know Wade stunk in the big leagues, but he had 63 plate appearances in 81 days of service time. The kid never played. Last year Aaron Judge got called up, struggled in his brief MLB debut, then tumbled down the prospect rankings. Baseball America ranked Judge as the sixth best prospect in the system coming into this season, behind SS Jorge Mateo (who didn’t hit) and RHP James Kaprielian (who was hurt all last year). Now Wade rips up Triple-A, struggles in an insignificant amount of big league playing time, and now he “did not come close” to ranking in the top ten prospects. Eh. I know I’m the high man on Wade, but if he’s not close to the top ten prospects, the system is even deeper than I realized.

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Nine goals for the final week of the regular season now that the Yankees have clinched a postseason spot

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the weekend the Yankees clinched a postseason spot — heck of a rebuilding transitioning year, eh? — and pretty soon they’ll lock down homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game. The magic number to do that is one because the Yankees hold the tiebreaker over the Twins. The Yankees are mathematically alive in the AL East race, but forget that. Wild Card Game it is.

Because the Yankees clinched with a week to spare in the regular season, they have the luxury of using these last few regular season games to prepare for the postseason. Line up the rotation, rest the regulars, give those bumps and bruises a chance to heal … that kinda stuff. The obvious stuff every team hopes they get a chance to do before playing in October.

“I think the physical part of it is really important for our players so that they are strong going into the playoffs, and they’re not beat up and they feel rested. That’s really important,” said Joe Girardi yesterday. “There’s a balance there because you want everyone to feel confident and feel good about where they are going into the playoffs … Going into the playoffs, you want guys to feel confident and feel that they’re right where they want to be.”

Resting players and lining up the postseason rotation — right now Luis Severino is lined up to start the Wild Card Game and Sonny Gray is lined up to start Game One of the ALDS, so that part is done already — are the obvious big picture goals this week. What else do the Yankees need to accomplish before their season is on the line in the Wild Card Game one week from today? Here are nine other goals for the Yankees this week, in no particular order.

Clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game

A formality with the magic number sitting at one, yes, but the Yankees have to actually do it at some point. They can’t go into cruise control just yet. Clinch homefield advantage and do it soon. The sooner the better. Lock into the top Wild Card spot and be done with it. That’s not something you want to let linger, you know?

Try to get Betances straightened out

(Presswire)
Dellin. (Presswire)

I gotta say, I was pretty surprised to see Dellin Betances go five days between appearances last week. It’s not like Girardi didn’t have chances to use him. The Yankees won by eight runs Wednesday and lost by seven runs Friday. Want to get Dellin straightened out in low-leverage spots? Well, there were two low-leverage spots, and Betances was nowhere to be found. Hmmm.

The Yankees are a potentially dominant postseason team because their bullpen is so deep with power arms, so they figure to have the advantage in the late innings pretty much every night. Betances is a big part of that bullpen, and the Yankees need him to be at his best in October. Dellin’s not going to right the ship by sitting in the bullpen. Heck, the longer the sits, the worse he gets. He has to get enough work this week to try to figure things out.

“I think best case scenario is we’ll be able to get Dellin in three — maybe four — games this week if we can to get him going,” said Girardi. “If you feel like he’s going and you don’t need to push him as hard, you can do that too. He’s important to us. Much like (Aroldis Chapman) — Chappy had a little period where he was struggling, and we got him going. We need to do the same with Dellin.”

Let Green pitch back-to-back days

With Betances still having control problems, Chad Green has taken over as the third option in the bullpen behind Chapman and David Robertson. You could argue Green is the best option out of the bullpen, though that’s a waste of time. They’re all pretty great. Girardi clearly trusts Green and he’s going to see plenty of high-leverage work in the postseason. Lately Girardi has been using him as a one-inning setup man, which is kinda new.

Anyway, because he’s done the multi-inning reliever thing pretty much all season, Green hasn’t pitched back-to-back days much. Just once, in fact. He threw 14 pitches in a perfect inning on July 22nd, then threw 37 pitches in 2.1 perfect innings the next day. Green hasn’t pitched back-to-back days since. Should the Yankees advance to the ALDS, they’re probably going to need to use Green back-to-back at some point, and you don’t want that to be a new experience. Get his feet wet. Use him two straight days at some point this week so he knows what’s up.

Keep running Bird out there

(Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

For the first time all season, Greg Bird really looks comfortable at the plate. He’s gone 6-for-14 (.429) with three doubles and two home runs in his last four games — he was 5-for-40 (.125) in his first 14 games this month — and you want him to keep building on that. I know this is the time to rest players and all that, but it shouldn’t be for Bird. He was out too long earlier this season. Play him every game the rest of the way — against righties and lefties — and let him continue to find his stroke. Bird can be a impact hitter and provide a big time boost to the lineup.

Let Sanchez catch Montgomery

For whatever reason Austin Romine has become Jordan Montgomery‘s personal catcher. Romine has caught Montgomery’s last ten starts now, and I guess this is why:

  • Montgomery with Romine: 3.78 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 102.1 innings
  • Montgomery with Sanchez: 5.19 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 26 innings

That’s all well and good, but here’s the thing: Romine can’t play in the postseason. He just can’t. Girardi twice started Jose Molina in the World Series so he could catch A.J. Burnett, but Romine is no Molina. Molina was at least a great defensive catcher, plus he’d occasionally run into a fastball for a double. Romine does neither of those things. (Plus Burnett was much more important to the 2009 Yankees than Montgomery is to the 2017 Yankees.)

As things stand, Montgomery will not be in the postseason rotation. He might not even be in the postseason bullpen. But! If the Yankees need a replacement starter due to injury at some point, Montgomery figures to get the call over Jaime Garcia, and he and Gary Sanchez need to be on the same page. The postseason is no time for personal catchers, especially with your fifth starter. Montgomery is starting tonight and could start Game 162 as well. Let Sanchez catch him so they can get reacquainted. You don’t want them paired up for the first time in three months in a postseason game.

Play Hicks as much as humanly possible

Earlier today the Yankees activated Aaron Hicks off the disabled list, so he will be in uniform tonight. And now that Hicks is back, the Yankees should play him as much as possible. Basically every game from here on out. Even if Hicks is slated to be a bench player in the postseason, it wouldn’t take much to push him into regular duty and the Yankees should want him ready in case that happens. He’s missed a lot of time and needs the at-bats.

Girardi said yesterday the Yankees plan to give the regular outfielders a rest this week — they’ve played a ton the last month or so — and that creates the perfect opportunity for Hicks. Play him every game, move him around the outfield as needed, give the regulars rest. Heck, bat Hicks first or second too, so he could maybe get that one extra at-bat each game. Every little bit helps. We saw Hicks be an impact player earlier this year. After the long layoff, giving him as much playing time as possible to help get him back to being that impact player is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

Make sure Warren gets all the way back

Warren. (Presswire)
Warren. (Presswire)

As with Hicks, the Yankees will get Adam Warren back from injury this week, and they need to make sure he’s on track prior to the postseason. Warren, who hasn’t missed nearly as much time as Hicks in the second half, will throw a simulated game today, and figures to be activated as soon as tomorrow if that goes well. The big name late-inning guys get all the attention, but Warren is a really important part of the bullpen as the Swiss Army knife reliever who can get one out in the tight spot or throw two innings in the middle of the game or fill-in as the setup man for a day. He’s an underappreciated weapon for Girardi and the Yankees want to make sure Warren is ready to go come October.

Test Wade as a pinch-runner

With Jacoby Ellsbury playing his way back into the starting lineup and the Yankees not bringing in an Eric Young Jr. or Rico Noel type to pinch-run this month, Tyler Wade is the obvious designated pinch-runner candidate for the postseason. And maybe the Yankees decide they don’t need that guy. Even if they don’t, it would be smart to give Wade a bunch of pinch-running opportunities this week. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but coming off the bench cold and stealing a base in a big spot is not easy. Wade’s been an everyday player pretty much his entire life. Getting him prepared for a potential pinch-runner role makes sense even if the Yankees aren’t planning to carry him on the postseason roster. One injury could land him on the postseason bench.

Win at least three more games

In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing important about this. Heck, once they clinch the top wildcard spot, you could argue the Yankees should lose as much possible to improve their draft position! I won’t do it, but I’m sure someone out there is thinking it. Anyway, I want the Yankees to win at least three more games because damn, a 90-win season sure would be sweet. Lots of people, myself included, pegged this team for 82-84 wins. Somewhere in that neighborhood. Plenty of pundits were picking them to finish under-.500 for the first time in an eternity. It’s not happening. Seeing the Yankees join the 90-win club for the first time since 2012 sure would be a nice cherry on top of an otherwise wildly successful rebuilding season.

Minors Notes: Top Triple-A & Breakout Prospects, Rodriguez

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The 2017 minor league season is officially over. Durham beat Memphis in the Triple-A Championship Game at PNC Field in Scranton last night. The Triple-A Championship Game rotates sites each year like an All-Star Game, and it just so happened to be played in Scranton this year. Too bad the RailRiders didn’t make it. Anyway, here are some minor league notes to check out.

Three Yankees among top International League prospects

Earlier this week Baseball America started their annual series looking at the top 20 prospects in each minor league. They covered the Triple-A International League (subs. req’d) yesterday, with Braves OF Ronald Acuna claiming the top spot. Three Yankees made the list (four if you count OF Dustin Fowler, who was traded away but makes the list at No. 17 due to his time with Scranton):

  • 9) RHP Chance Adams: “One evaluator said that between Adams’ four offerings, he has a chance for three above-average pitches with above-average control … He drew comparisons with Bud Norris and Jordan Zimmermann.”
  • 15) 3B Miguel Andujar: “Andujar drew rave reviews from managers and scouts for his uncanny ability to barrel baseballs with authority as well as his energetic nature on the field … He has a plus arm, quick-twitch actions and a strong work ethic at third base, but below-average footwork and hard hands could be too much to overcome.”
  • 16) OF Clint Frazier: “(Some) evaluators think he always will pair home runs with strikeouts and low batting averages because of a limiting, rigid swing. With sufficient pitch recognition, though, he can be an impact power hitter.”

Hmmm. I’m pretty sure I’m the biggest Andujar fan out there, but even I wouldn’t rank him above Frazier on a prospect list. Frazier seems like one of those prospects people look for reasons not to like. The kid has insane bat speed, the ball explodes off his bat, he works the count well, and he’s fine in either corner outfield spot. What’s the problem here? Anyway, in the chat Carlos Collazo said SS Gleyber Torres would’ve ranked in the top three had he not gotten hurt and fallen short of the playing time minimum. SS Tyler Wade was a consideration for the list as well.

McKinney to begin working out at first base

OF Billy McKinney, who will be added to the 40-man roster after the season, is going to begin working out at first base in Instructional League, reports Robert Pimpsner. Sounds like an assignment to the Arizona Fall League in possible as well, though the Yankees already have a first baseman going to the desert (1B Chris Gittens) and their position player spots are full. Someone could get be getting pulled though. We’ll see.

McKinney, 23, came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade and hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with a career high 16 home runs in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A this summer. He’s a bat first prospect — his defense in the corner outfield is not great — so it makes sense to increase his versatility and get him time at first base. We still don’t know whether Greg Bird can stay healthy and/or produce consistently. Given the team’s outfield glut, getting McKinney familiar with first base seems like a no-brainer.

Loaisiga, Widener among top 2018 breakout candidates


The crew at Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) posted a list of ten breakout candidates for the 2018 season, and two of the ten are Yankees: RHP Jonathan Loaisiga and RHP Taylor Widener. Keith Law had good things to say about Loaisiga last week. Widener was a reliever in the college before the Yankees moved him into the rotation, Chance Adams style. A quick recap of the write-ups:

  • Loaisiga: “(He) features a potentially plus fastball-curveball combination with the ability to throw either pitch for strikes in any count. The fastball consistently hovers around 95 (t97) with late movement … expect him to start shooting up prospect lists.”
  • Widener: “Widener was in the low-to-mid-90s with the fastball, topping out at 96, and it was moving around pretty good … Widener commanded it like a good Double-A starting prospect, not a guy making his first Double-A appearance … Widener projects as an interesting mid-rotation prospect at the upside, with a more likely outcome as a good reliever.”

So I guess Johnny Lasagna being a prospect is a thing now? He originally signed with the Giants out of Nicaragua back in 2013, but they released him a year later after some injury issues. The Yankees picked him up, he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery last year, and came back looking good this year. Loaisiga turns 23 in November, and he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 lbs., plus he has an injury history, so there are some things working against him. Still, the Yankees picked him up off the scrap heap, and now he’s being written up as a breakout prospect. Pretty cool.

Rodriguez is “99%” sure he’s retiring

C Eddy Rodriguez, who spent the last three seasons with Triple-A Scranton (and part of one season with Double-A Trenton) is “99%” sure he’s retiring, reports D.J. Eberle. For much of this year Rodriguez was third on the catcher depth chart while C Kyle Higashioka was hurt, though he never did get a call-up. His one MLB cameo came with the Padres in 2012. He took Johnny Cueto deep in his first at-bat.

Rodriguez, who defected from Cuba with his family when he was a kid, is still only 31 years old. He’s not much of a hitter — he hit .189/.240/.308 (51 wRC+) in 446 plate appearances with the RailRiders the last two years — but he’s long been regarded as a great defender and clubhouse guy. Rodriguez wouldn’t reveal his post-playing days plan to Eberle, but he seems like the kind of guy we’ll see on a Yankees minor league coaching staff/instructor list in the near future. Either way, the Yankees need a new veteran good guy backup catcher for Scranton next year.

The Yankees’ late-season pinch runner is already on the roster

Wade (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Wade (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Most seasons, the Yankees would have had to look to the outside for that pinch running help down the stretch. But this year, they’ll only have to look a little further down their 40-man roster.

As you may remember, the Yankees tend to acquire a pinch runner every year around the end of August. That allows them to add the player in time to be eligible for the postseason while adding some small value in September.

There are plenty of past examples. Eric Young Jr. fulfilled the role last year. Rico Noel the year before. The one that sticks in my mind is Freddy Guzman during the 2009 World Series run. These players are easy to forget and wouldn’t be a useful part of a 25-man roster from April to August, yet they earn their spot once the roster expands in September or becomes more position player friendly in the postseason.

The thing is, the Yankees didn’t acquire anyone at the August waiver deadline this season.

That could mean one of two things. One possibility is that they can’t afford to take someone off the 40-man roster for someone in such a minute role. They’ll be able to put the extra relievers to good use and they already gave Erik Kratz a 40-man spot on Friday.

But the more likely explanation is that they have their pinch runner on the roster already. Two in fact.

Therefore, Tyler Wade is likely the Yankees’ late season pinch runner.

Wade was added to the active roster on Monday. He hit extremely poorly in his first cup of coffee with a .135/.211/.212 (10 wRC+) line. Yikes. And with Ronald Torreyes/Starlin Castro/Didi Gregorius ahead of him up the middle and plenty of depth on the corners, he won’t be seeing a start unless everything goes wrong or there are meaningless games at the end of the month.

He’s a fine defensive replacement, particularly because he can play almost anywhere, and he should be able to hit as he adjusts (second for International League batting title), but for now, he can just show off his blazing speed. He’s a 75 percent base stealer in his minor league career and has stolen 27 in 32 attempts (87 percent) this year. He’s third in the International League with 26 steals while swiping one base against the Astros two months ago.

He hasn’t had enough opportunities in the majors to place on Statcast’s sprint speed leaderboard, but suffice to say, he’s an above-average runner.

Jacoby Ellsbury, of course would have been the perfect pinch runner for October, but that’s not going to happen after Aaron Hicks‘ injury. Like it or not, he’s going to be playing center field an awful lot, even after Clint Frazier returns from injury. That’s just the way it is. Joe Girardi trusts him enough to give him those starts and Hicks’ oblique injury makes Ellsbury starting a potential playoff game a likely possibility.

Ellsbury had already been quite useful as a pinch runner this season. In seven pinch running appearances, he’s stolen four bases and been caught once. He even helped the Yankees tie up a game in the ninth inning with a clutch steal before scoring on a single vs. the Mariners in July.

Even though he’s looked overmatched at the plate and has lost a step, he’s still an efficient base stealer and that alone means he’s worth the roster spot down the stretch. His 28.1 ft/s sprint speed is over 1 ft/s above average. He’s not a 70-base stealer anymore, but he can still be a menace on the basepaths. Therefore, it’s a shame he’ll be in the lineup instead of lying in wait on the bench.

Ellsbury (Elsa/Getty)
Ellsbury (Elsa/Getty)

Before Saturday, Wade may not have even been a likely member of the playoff roster. He has the positional flexibility to make the 25-man roster, but Girardi certainly wouldn’t want him at the plate. Can you blame him? The first opportunity for the 22-year-old was uninspiring.

But Hicks’ injury bumps Ellsbury up from inch runner to everyday player. Wade was already essentially a lock for the Wild Card Game roster where you have room for 16-17 position players, but now he’s the best pinch running option for the ALDS and beyond. This assumes there will be room for a pinch runner, which there should be if the Yankees

This assumes there will be room for a pinch runner on the ALDS roster, which there should be if the Yankees carry 11 pitchers as would be expected if the Yankees get that far.

Wade is a much more dynamic player than just a pinch runner and you shouldn’t let 57 poor PAs in his first try at the majors define him. He has potential to be a solid everyday shortstop or a Ben Zobrist-type if he hits his ceiling.

But for 2017, the best way the 22-year-old can make an impact down the stretch will be solely with his legs.

Game 137: Quick Turnaround

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

Last night’s win was one of my favorite games of the season, but because baseball can be a real jerk, the Yankees have a quick turn around today and can’t enjoy it too much. They’re in Baltimore for a Labor Day matinee after playing a night game in New York last night. I’m sure Jordan Montgomery, today’s starter, flew ahead and got a good night’s sleep. The rest of the team? Not so much.

Anyway, this three-game set against the Orioles is pretty darn important. The Yankees currently sit in the first wild card spot and are two games up in the Twins, and 3.5 games up on both the Angels and Orioles. You know Buck Showalter wants to make up a lot of ground these next three days. The Yankees haven’t won a series at Camden Yards since September 2013. Seriously. Would be nice to get off the schneid this week. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. DH Chase Headley
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

Great baseball weather in Baltimore today, according to the internet. The sky is clear and it warm but not oppressively hot. This afternoon’s series opener will begin at 2:05pm ET. YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Suspension Update: Gary Sanchez‘s suspension was reduced to three games and he begins serving it today. He can work out with the Yankees and all that, but he can’t be in the ballpark during the game. There’s a pretty good chance Gary was going to sit today anyway — it’s a day game in Baltimore after a night game in New York, and he’d caught each of the last four games, including a day game Saturday after a night game Friday (plus Romine is Montgomery’s personal catcher) — so he’s really only missing two games. No word on Romine’s suspension yet, though I imagine he’ll begin serving it after Sanchez’s suspension ends.

Roster Move: Tyler Wade has been called up, the Yankees announced. They now have 31 players on the active roster. Wade is the de factor fourth outfielder until either Aaron Hicks or Clint Frazier returns from the disabled list. The minor league regular season ends today, so Wade finished with a .310/.382/.460 (136 wRC+) batting line and seven homers and 26 steals (in 31 attempts) in 85 games with Triple-A Scranton. Unless Twins journeyman Matt Hague can miraculously add 15 points to his batting average today, Wade won the International League batting title by a large margin. He’s also only three points off the OBP lead.

News: The Yankees announced today they are donating $100,000 to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, and the Yankees players themselves have pledged $9,000 per win the rest of the season. That’s another reason to root for a great September and a run to the AL East title. Also, the Yankees and Red Sox will auction off autographed items from last night’s game — including all game-worn jerseys — with all the proceeds going to the relief effort. Here are the Yankees and Red Sox auctions.