Tampa Yankees rebranded as the Tampa Tarpons

Let's call them the Tarps for short. (MiLB.com)
Let’s call them the Tarps for short. (MiLB.com)

As part of MLB’s directive to rename all minor league teams sharing a name with their parent club, the High Class-A Tampa Yankees have been renamed the Tampa Tarpons, the team announced today. The Yankees retain ownership of the Tampa franchise, which plays its games at George M. Steinbrenner Field. It’s a rebranding only.

“We wanted to establish our own identity that connected us with the Tampa community and its baseball history,” said Tampa GM Vance Smith. The original Tampa Tarpons were a Class-D and later High-A minor league affiliate for several teams from 1957-87 before the franchise was relocated to Sarasota, so the name is being recycled.

MLB does not want minor league teams sharing a name with their parent club to avoid confusion. When someone says “Yankees,” they want people thinking New York Yankees and not Tampa Yankees. I know, it’s silly, but that’s the thought process here. MLB wants the New York Yankees to be the only Yankees, and the same for every other team.

As part of MLB’s directive, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees changed their name to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders back in 2013. Fans voted for the new name. The Staten Island Yankees are currently in the process of rebranding, though the fan vote was put on hold. It’s only a matter of time until the Pulaski Yankees rebrand as well.

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.

Al Pedrique leaves Yankees to join Athletics coaching staff

Clint and Al. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Clint and Al. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

Triple-A Scranton manager Al Pedrique has left the Yankees to become the Athletics first base coach, the A’s announced. Pedrique was speculated as a possible managerial candidate for the Yankees, though he never did get an interview. Over the years he’d been very open about his desire to manage in the big leagues again at some point.

Pedrique, 57, had been with the Yankees since 2013. He managed Low-A Charleston in 2013, High-A Tampa in 2014, Double-A Trenton in 2015, and Triple-A Scranton in 2016 and 2017. The RailRiders won their division the last two years — they won the Triple-A championship in 2016 — and Pedrique was named International League Manager of the Year both years.

Prior to joining the Yankees, Pedrique had worked as a scout — while with the Astros, he was the scout who recommended signing Jose Altuve — and minor league coach with several organizations. He was the Diamondbacks third base coach in 2003 and their interim manager for part of 2004. That is his only MLB managerial experience to date.

Pedrique had worked with basically every notable prospect in the system the last few years. He managed Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres, you name it. Now the Yankees will have to find a new Triple-A Scranton skipper. Such is life. Minor league managers usually don’t stick around long-term.

Mayo: Yankees are “looking closely” at Julio Pablo Martinez and Yunior Severino

According to Jonathan Mayo, the Yankees are “looking closely” at Cuban outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez and Dominican infielder Yunior Severino. This is obviously in response to suddenly having $3.5M in international bonus money to spend after getting rejected by Shohei Ohtani.

Martinez, who Mayo says has a showcase scheduled for Friday, left Cuba earlier this month and is said to have been one of the top young players on the island. The 21-year-old hit .297/.345/.449 with seven homers and 20 steals in 57 games this past season. Here is a piece of Ben Badler’s scouting report:

At around 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Martinez is a lefty with a promising combination of power and speed … Based on his present ability, he’s probably ready to go to a high Class A or Double-A team.

For what it’s worth, Eric Longenhagen said Martinez “profiles as a fringe regular who hits in the bottom of the lineup and plays a solid center field” back when he saw him in 2016. Martinez still must establish residency and be unblocked by the Office of Foreign Assets Control before he can sign, but Badler says that should happen at some point before the 2017-18 international signing period ends June 15th.

Severino, 18, is one of the 13 former Braves prospects who became a free agent after the team was punished by MLB for their international impropriety. He hit .270/.345/.420 (121 wRC+) with three homers in 58 rookie ball games this summer, during his pro debut. Here’s what Longenhagen had to say about Severino recently:

Signed for $1.9 million out of the Dominican Republic, Severino is a switch-hitting middle infielder with surprising power for his size. Scouts think his long-term defensive home is second base and are skeptical about his long-term ability to make contact. He takes big, violent swings.

Per MLB’s terms, Severino gets to keep his $1.9M bonus, and can receive a new bonus when he signs with a new team. Every penny over $200,000 will count against the hard cap, though teams can choose to apply it to next year’s hard cap space, if they choose. Severino and the other Braves prospects are free to sign starting tomorrow.

It’s unclear whether the Yankees are interested in Kevin Maitan, the big name prospect no longer with the Braves, though I imagine they’ll check in. That $3.5M is a nice chunk of change. Now that Ohtani is off the table, expect the Yankees to invest that money in other international players, like Martinez and Severino and Maitan and others. They won’t let it go unused.

Cashman confirms Shohei Ohtani will not sign with Yankees

(Masterpress/Getty)
(Masterpress/Getty)

Shohei Ohtani will not sign with the Yankees. At a charity event tonight, Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty and Bryan Hoch that Ohtani informed the Yankees he will not sign with them. Ohtani’s camp said the Yankees made a great presentation, but ultimately, he wants to play in a smaller market and on the West Coast. The Red Sox and Twins have also been ruled out, reports Ken Rosenthal.

The Yankees had been considered the favorite to sign Ohtani for weeks now because they have as much international bonus money available as any team ($3.5M), also because they have a great young roster loaded with talent. It looks like they’ll be a World Series contender for years. Ohtani could’ve joined the rotation, taken aim at the short porch between starts as the DH, and had a great chance to win. Alas.

Because he is only 23, Ohtani is subject to the international hard cap, meaning the Yankees could not blow him away with an offer. They couldn’t simply continue adding millions to their offer until he said yes. The financial playing field was level, so Ohtani’s personal preferences are going to drive his decision, and his preference is to play on the West Coast. He has every right to make that decision.

Cashman confirmed the Yankees were planning to pursue Ohtani aggressively, but that is off the table now, so they’ll move on to other business. That $3.5M in international bonus money will go to other prospects, maybe the guys the Braves lost, and the Yankees will look for rotation help (CC Sabathia?) and another bat for the lineup. At least Ohtani didn’t string them along. The Yankees can move on with their offseason now.

DotF: Andujar continues to struggle in winter ball

MLB.com put together a neat feature on OF Estevan Florial, who is a star prospect on the field and the team chef off the field. Florial regularly cooked for his teammates while playing in the Arizona Fall League this year. Pretty cool. The video if above. Here are some minor league notes:

  • Jim Callis ranked the top 25 prospects in the AzFL this year. Braves OF Ronald Acuna topped the list, predictably. Florial (No. 8), LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 9), RHP Albert Abreu (No. 10), SS Thairo Estrada (No. 15), and RHP Cody Carroll (No. 23) all made the list.
  • Bill Mitchell also ranked the top AzFL prospects. He ranked ten. Acuna was No. 1, of course. Sheffield (No. 4), Abreu (No. 5), and Florial (No. 8) all made the top ten while Estrada earned an honorable mention. Sheffield and Abreu above Indians C Francisco Mejia is pretty wild. Mejia is a top ten prospect in baseball in my opinion.
  • Jonathan Mayo wrote about the top breakout prospects in the AzFL. Abreu, Carroll, and Estrada were among them. Also, Mike Rosenbaum wrote about AzFL prospects who most stood out to him. Estrada and Carroll both made his write-up. Carroll’s getting some love this fall, huh?
  • The Yankees signed C Chace Numata to a minor league deal, according to Matt Eddy. The 25-year-old is a former 14th round pick. He hit .249/.318/.351 (83 wRC+) in 84 Double-A games with the Phillies this season. Numata’s an organizational depth catcher.

Arizona Fall League

  • SS Thairo Estrada: 20 G, 27-79 (.342), 13 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 10 R, 3 BB, 19 K, 3 SB, 1 CS, 2 HBP (.342/.381/.430) — all told, the Summer of Thairo featured a .307/.356/.397 line in 142 games this year
  • OF Estevan Florial: 19 G, 20-70 (.286), 14 R, 5 2B, 2 3B, 4 RBI, 10 BB, 29 K, 2 SB, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.286/.383/.414) — considering he only has about a month of High-A time under his belt, this was a real nice AzFL showing for Florial … too many strikeouts, for sure, but everything else looks good
  • SS Kyle Holder: 11 G, 15-45 (.333), 5 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.333/.367/.511) — hot take: Holder’s going to be on the 40-man roster 12 months from now … he’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible next year and the bat is kinda sorta starting to come around
  • 1B/OF Billy McKinney: 19 G, 19-68 (.279), 8 R, 5 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 20 RBI, 11 BB, 16 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.279/.373/.426) — thought he would’ve hit for more power out here given his regular season, but weird things happen in 19-game samples
  • RHP Albert Abreu: 6 G, 6 GS, 27.2 IP, 21 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 14 BB, 23 K, 3 HR (2.60 ERA and 1.27 WHIP) — a few too many walks, but otherwise that’s a really strong AzFL showing
  • RHP Cody Carroll: 9 G, 11.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 5 BB, 18 K (0.00 ERA and 0.60 WHIP) — seven pitchers did not allow a run in the AzFL this year and Carroll led those seven in innings
  • RHP Andrew Schwaab: 9 G, 11.1 IP, 14 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 7 BB, 8 K, 1 HB (6.35 ERA and 1.85 WHIP)
  • LHP Justus Sheffield: 5 G, 5 GS, 20.1 IP, 14 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 22 K, 3 WP (3.10 ERA and 0.84 WHIP)

The AzFL season ended a few weeks go — the Peoria Javelinas beat the Mesa Solar Sox in the Championship Game — so those stats are final.

[Read more…]

Quick Notes: Managerial Search, Shohei Ohtani, Non-Tenders

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This morning Brian Cashman took a practice run rappelling down the Landmark Building in Stamford as part of the annual Heights & Lights Festival. He also spoke to reporters and passed along two important pieces of information, one surprising and one not so surprising. Here’s the latest, via all the wonderful reporters in attendance.

Managerial interviews are over

First the surprising news: Cashman said the Yankees will not interview any more managerial candidates. The job will go to one of the six men they’ve interviewed: Carlos Beltran, Aaron Boone, Hensley Meulens, Rob Thomson, Eric Wedge, and Chris Woodward. (Mark Feinsand says a clear frontrunner emerged during the interview process.) Furthermore, Cashman said there will not be a second round of interviews in Tampa. The next step is making a final recommendation to Hal Steinbrenner and that’ll be that.

Also, interestingly enough, Cashman said he consulted Alex Rodriguez several times during the process. A-Rod didn’t want the job — “He never expressed interest in any way, shape, or form,” said Cashman — but Cashman said he got Alex’s insight on the various candidates. A-Rod and Beltran are super close. The fact this is all suddenly wrapping up, with the second round of interviews canceled, right after Beltran’s interview is intriguing. Coincidence? Maybe. But intriguing. Anyway, a poll:

Who should be the next Yankees manager?
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Yankees will pursue Shohei Ohtani

Now the not-so-surprising news: the Yankees will indeed pursue Ohtani, Cashman confirmed. They are prepared to let him both pitch and hit, which seems like a prerequisite for signing him. Here’s a snippet of what Cashman said about Ohtani:

“It’s a big stage here and it’s meant to have the best talent to play on it. Ohtani represents the next great talent that is available in the world of baseball. This stage is made for players like this … This is an impact type player that we feel would make us better. I think we have a great situation going on here with a lot of young players … I think he’d be a perfect fit for us.”

Ohtani was officially posted earlier today, and already there are some wild rumors floating around. He’s narrowed his list down to three teams! He doesn’t want to play with another Japanese star! I get the sense we’re going to hear lots more stuff like that over the next three weeks. For now, all we know for certain is that Ohtani has been posted, and Cashman said the Yankees will pursue him.

Yankees tender all eligible players

One last quick note: the Yankees tendered all their eligible players contracts prior to today’s deadline, the team announced. Can’t say I’m surprised. Austin Romine was the only real non-tender candidate and I never thought the Yankees would actually non-tender him, and they didn’t, so there you go.