Soccer and metal detectors for the Stadium’s seventh season [2015 Season Preview]

Although Mike promised an end to the season preview series with his excellent haikus, I’m here to break that promise. Mike’s and Joe’s exhaustive previews touched on everything but the stadium, and while Yankee Stadium in its seventh season isn’t undergoing major changes, there are a few additions — not all welcome — to the House That George Built. So as fans start to line up in a few hours for another season of Yankee baseball in the Bronx, what changes can they expect to see this year?

Another summer at the Ballpark in the Bronx looms. (Via River Ave. Blues on Instagram)
Another summer at the Ballpark in the Bronx looms. (Via River Ave. Blues on Instagram)

All fans screened via metal detectors

It’s been a long time coming, but 2015 marks a turning point for security at Yankee Stadium. Under pressure from outside security consultants, every MLB fan will be screened as they enter the Stadium, and the screening won’t just involve a cursory glance through the contents of a bag. This year, the Stadium will feature metal detectors and wanding at every entrance.

According to an email the Yankees sent out this weekend to their fans, the new screening procedures are part of an effort, in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security, to “elevate and standardize security practices across the game.” The Yankees are warning fans to arrive early and budget extra time for security, but for many trying to catch first pitch of a 7:05 game after a day in the office, this suggestion ranges from impractical to infeasible. I know plenty of fans who have a tough time arriving for first pitch without added security, and I fear this move will simply push fans to watch more games from one. I know one season ticket holder willing to give up her package if the security lines take too long.

The Yankees recognize the challenges, but the early indications are that this screening will lead to long lines. The Barclays Center has struggled to move fans through metal detectors, and even in the Bronx, NYCFC fans faced disorganized and slow screening procedures in March. The utility of this move — which sounds more akin to security theater than actual security — is up for debate as well.

“We will do everything we can to minimize the entry time to Yankee Stadium,” team COO Lonn Trost said in a statement. “However, proper screening as mandated by Major League Baseball requires a longer and more elaborate entry process than fans may be accustomed to. We urge fans to arrive as early as possible, and we appreciate their understanding as we try to ensure their security.”

Soccer in the Stadium

Speaking of NYCFC, 2015 marks a milestone in the Steinbrenner family initiative to bring more than just baseball to Yankee Stadium. We’ve seen a few soccer friendlies in the past and some off-season football games, but this year — and until their stadium scenario is clarified — New York City FC and the New York Yankees will be sharing the Stadium.

Throughout the baseball season, NYCFC will play 17 home games in the Bronx, and as Dan Barbarisi explored a few weeks ago, Yankee fielders are expecting the worst for their playing surface. “It’ll definitely cause an issue, but it’s nothing that we can control, so we can’t worry about it,” Mark Teixeira said to The Wall Street Journal reporter. “It’s terrible for a field.”

Barbarisi detailed the initiatives in place to guard against field damage. The grounds crew will have a few days to restore the grass following soccer games, and the pitcher’s mound isn’t in the field of play on the soccer pitch. Still, the players recognize that they need to watch the new grass; Brett Gardner speaks to The Journal knowingly about root systems and turf patches. The Front Office though maintains the grass will be fine, but they have much to lose.

Hopefully, sharing the field won’t put the Yankee defenders at risk of injury or error, but they know it’s going to be a concern this season. “I’m going to fall on the side of erring aggressively,” Brendan Ryan said, “much, much more so than staying back and trying to read some hop that’s unpredictable.”

A very slightly improved Stadium beer scene

As those who follow me on Twitter know, I’m a big fan of craft beer (Untappd!), but I’m not a big fan of the Yankee Stadium beer situation. While Stone has set up shop in Petco Stadium, Boulevard fills cups in Kauffman Stadiu, and the Mariners are known for their beer selections, due to the demands of the dollar, Yankee Stadium is exclusively the home of InBev-Anheuser Busch products. Thanks to recent acquisitions by InBev, Yankee fans can now find Blue Point beers, and a recent photo from an NYCFC game shows Long Trail available too (though the Vermont brewery is not connected to InBev). It’s a step in the right direction, albeit a small one, and I yearn for the day when we can find a Bronx Brewery beer at the Stadium or even a SingleCut, Finback or Other Half brew.

A Haiku for the Rest of MLB [2015 Season Preview]

Does Donnie like Haikus? Of course. (Presswire)
Does Donnie like haikus? Of course. (Presswire)

Opening Day is now only three days away. We’ve spent the last four weeks previewing the Yankees and the upcoming season, and yesterday we broke down the rest of the AL East. Today we’re going to wrap up our 2015 Season Preview series with a quick preview of the other 25 teams in baseball. After all, the Yankees are going to have to try to beat those teams this season too.

If you’ve come here looking for a serious preview post, you’re not going to get it. It’s Friday afternoon, Opening Day is right around the corner, and this year’s preview series is over. Instead, we’re going to have some fun and preview those other 25 teams in Haiku form. I encourage you to tell me how much my haikus suck and to make some of your own — pro tip: use the Haiku Counter to make sure you have the right number of syllables — and leave ’em in the comments. Enjoy.

Atlanta Braves
Traded their best bats
For a whole bunch of pitchers
They know scoring’s down?

Arizona Diamondbacks
Is Nuno their ace?
The answer just might be yes
Payback for ’01!

Chicago Cubs
Bleachers aren’t ready?
No prob, Bryant won’t notice
He’s in Iowa

Chicago White Sox
D-Rob and Melky
Back together in ChiTown
Growing ugly beards

Cincinnati Reds
Good enough to win?
Nah, not in that division
Can we have Cueto?

Cleveland Indians
Brantley is awesome
Kluber is really great
World Series pick? Eh

Colorado Rockies
Troy’s still a Rockie
Kyle Kendrick, OD SP?
Wait for ski season

Detroit Tigers
Miggy, Price, V-Mart
Lots of stars and real big names
Bullpen still a mess

Houston Astros
I don’t understand
You won “process World Series?”
That doesn’t exist

Kansas City Royals
Pennant last season
Volquez is replacing Shields?
For real? Yeah, for real

Los Angeles Angels
They have that Trout guy
I wish the Yankees had him
It’s Teixeira’s fault!

Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw is the best
Donnie Baseball gets his ring?
If not, just blame Puig

Miami Marlins
Paid Giancarlo
They’re going for it again
When’s next fire sale?

Milwaukee Brewers
They all hate Ryan Braun
But not as much as A-Rod
This team is boring

Minnesota Twins
Phil’s still homer prone
Nunez’s helmet still falls off
Just like the old days

New York Mets
Take back New York, huh?
Orange and blue like the Knicks
But with fewer fans

Oakland Athletics
Ballpark is ugly
Beane traded everyone again
What’s a Stephen Vogt?

Philadelphia Phillies
Rebuild? Finally!
Cole will be traded real soon
Then skip to next year

Pittsburgh Pirates
Cervelli pumps fist
McCutchen cut his dreads
A World Series team?

St. Louis Cardinals
Contender again
Such a boringly good team
Gets boring haiku

San Diego Padres
Kemp, Upton, Myers, Shields
But what about Yangervis?
Solarte Partay!

San Francisco Giants
The World Series champs
But it’s an odd number year
So no repeat then

Seattle Mariners
You can have Robbie
You are still stuck with Jack Z.
Yankees win the trade

Texas Rangers
Could this be the year
That Elvis Andrus will hit?
Hah, made myself laugh

Washington Nationals
Awesome rotation!
Future Yankee Bryce Harper
Has nice ring to it

A New Era of Widespread AL East Mediocrity [2015 Season Preview]

For the first time since 2006 and only the fourth time since the wildcard system was implemented in 1995, just one AL East team qualified for the postseason last year. The AL East’s reign as baseball’s dominant division is over. The Orioles won the division by 12 games last season but there is no clear cut favorite heading into 2015. It’s just a jumbled mess of mediocrity. There’s a very real chance the division will be without a 90+ win team for the first time since the 2000 Yankees took the AL East with 87 wins. Here’s an overview of the Yankees’ division rivals heading into the new season.

"Hmmm. Who will win this terrible division?" (Presswire)
“Hmmm. Who will win this mediocre division?” (Presswire)

Baltimore Orioles

Biggest Strength: I say roster depth in general. They have five average or better starters — well, that’s with Kevin Gausman in the rotation and Ubaldo Jimenez in the bullpen — and a quality set of relievers to go with some power bats and a versatile bench. The defense is also very good, especially on the infield. And Buck Showalter is a difference-making manager. His strategic on-field moves are arguably the best in the game. On any given day, Baltimore can win with their pitching or their offense. They’re well-rounded.

Biggest Weakness: The lack of on-base guys — losing Nick Markakis will only exacerbate that — and injury issues. The O’s led baseball with 211 homers last year (the Rockies were a distant second with 186) but were only eighth with 705 runs because their team .311 OBP ranked 17th out of the 30 clubs. The O’s could easily lead MLB in homers again even without Nelson Cruz and that’s great. Homers are awesome! But they’re better when guys are on base.

As for the injury issues, both J.J. Hardy (shoulder) and Matt Wieters (Tommy John surgery) will open the season on the DL. Manny Machado is coming off right knee surgery and has already had surgery on both knees before his 23rd birthday. Will that hamper his mobility at third base? Machado’s an elite defender with a good but not great bat. Any decline in his defense will take a big bite out of his overall value. The starting catcher and left side of the infield carry health concerns.

The O’s In One Sentence: They lost some key players to free agency this past offseason, but there’s no way I’m going to write them off as a contender.

Hanley's back. (Presswire)
Hanley’s back. (Presswire)

Boston Red Sox

Biggest Strength: The offense. Hanley Ramirez is going to be a big help, even if he only plays 120 games. And even though Pablo Sandoval has gotten overrated — I’m guessing there are many fans who’ve only seen him play in the World Series and think that’s who he is all the time — Red Sox third basemen have hit .226/.280/.351 (85 OPS+) the last two years. He’ll be a big upgrade at the hot corner.

We have no idea what Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo can do across a full MLB season yet, but expectations are high, especially for Betts. (They’re so insanely high at this point that there’s basically no way he can meet them.) Mike Napoli and David Ortiz are still annoyingly productive, and there’s at least some hope Dustin Pedroia can halt his decline now that his thumb’s healthy. The Red Sox are going to mash, especially at home.

Biggest Weakness: The rotation. My goodness. Forget the “they don’t have an ace” stuff. Do they even have two league average starters? Rick Porcello was quite good last year, with a 116 ERA+ in 204.2 innings, but Clay Buchholz had a 72 ERA+ in 170.1 innings. Justin Masterson has an 83 ERA+ in his last 528 innings (!) and those three miles an hour he lost off his fastball last year haven’t come back this spring. Wade Miley had an 86 ERA+ in 201.1 innings last year and Joe Kelly had a 91 ERA+ in 96.1 innings. Also, this group has combined for an 18.0% strikeout rate the last three years, so they miss a below average number of bats. Who’s going out there to stop a losing streak?

The Sawx In One Sentence: If the Red Sox are going to contend, they’ll have to contend like the mid-2000s Yankees and outhit their own pitching staff.

No. 2 starer. For real. (Presswire)
No. 2 starer. For real. (Presswire)

Tampa Bay Rays

Biggest Strength: I … I … I don’t know. I guess the revamped outfield defense with Kevin Kiermaier in center and Desmond Jennings in left? Otherwise the Rays don’t seem to be particularly good at anything. Evan Longoria is a really good player, Chris Archer is a quality starter, and the Jake McGee/Brad Boxberger bullpen duo is as good as it gets, at least once McGee comes back from offseason elbow surgery. That’s about it. Unlike the Orioles, who don’t have an obvious strength but are solid all around, the Rays don’t have an obvious strength and have questions all around.

Biggest Weakness: The rotation. Remember when the Rays used to add a new immediate impact rookie starter to their rotation year after year? That doesn’t happen anymore. They needed 24 starts from Roberto Hernandez in 2013 and 15 starts from Erik Bedard in 2014. Matt Moore (Tommy John surgery), Alex Cobb (forearm), and Drew Smyly (shoulder) are all hurt, so Tampa Bay had to scramble to trade for the extremely homer prone Erasmo Ramirez a few days ago and will start Nate Karns in the second game of the season. He had a 5.08 ERA in a full season at Triple-A last year. This rotation won’t be Devil Rays caliber bad, but it is in no way a strength.

The Rays In One Sentence: Ex-manager Joe Maddon and ex-GM Andrew Friedman jumped ship and not a moment too soon.

Reyes, Donaldson, and Encarnacion. And none of 'em is Toronto's best hitter. (Presswire)
Reyes, Donaldson, and Encarnacion. And none of ’em is Toronto’s best hitter. (Presswire)

Toronto Blue Jays

Biggest Strength: Middle of the lineup. The 3-4-5 combination of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson is straight up terrifying. They rank 10th, 11th, and 20th in OPS+ the last two years (min. 800 PA) and 7th, 2nd, and 18th in homers, respectively. Those three are going to generate a ton of runs, especially when Jose Reyes is healthy and leading off. Bautista and Encarnacion were scary enough these last few years. Adding Donaldson to the mix is unfair.

Biggest Weakness: Top heavy roster and extreme reliance on youth. Toronto is going to have two rookies in the rotation (Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez), two rookies in the lineup (Dalton Pompey and Devon Travis), and two rookies in the bullpen (Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro). For a team looking to contend, they’re putting a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of young players with no real backup plans. Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, Donaldson, R.A. Dickey, and Mark Buehrle have to produce as expected for this club to have a chance. They don’t have the pieces to cover for a disappointing season from one of the veterans.

The Jays In One Sentence: Once again the Blue Jays made some big splashes in the offseason but stopped short of adding all the pieces they need, especially pitching.

Same Skipper, Familiar Faces Headline New-Look Coaching Staff [2015 Season Preview]

For the first time in several years, the Yankees made sweeping changes to their coaching staff this past offseason. Joe Girardi returned despite a second straight postseason-less year, but hitting coach Kevin Long did not. The base coaches were also shuffled around. It all adds up to a new-look coaching staff that still features some familiar faces. Let’s look at the coaching staff heading into the new season.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Joe Girardi: More Responsibility Than Ever Before

It goes without saying that being a big league manager comes with a ton of responsibility. Managers don’t just bring in relievers or wait for the thumbs up to ask for instant replay. We see a very small part of what managers actually do. Most of their work happens behind the scenes, in the clubhouse or on the field hours before or after first pitch. They have 25 players and 25 egos to manage. More than that when you include support staff.

Girardi is about to enter his eighth season as Yankees manager and over these last seven years we’ve learned a lot about him as an on-field strategist. He’s very good at ensuring his hitters get the platoon advantage — the Yankees had the platoon advantage in 62.9% of their plate appearances the last three years, sixth best in baseball. Girardi is also very meticulous with his bullpen and making sure his relievers are rested.

This season, the Yankees heaped more even more responsibility on Girardi’s shoulders by building what amounts to a pitching and defense team. They built up a ton of bullpen depth and are counting on Girardi not only deploying his relievers in the best way possible, but also ensuring they are rested for the long season. That’s the formula. Scratch out a few runs, then turn it over to Girardi and the bullpen. He won’t have many opportunities to platoon his hitters this season though, with only Chris Young and Garrett Jones on the bench as usable platoon bats.

Girardi is also going to have to manage the Alex Rodriguez circus. That hasn’t been too crazy in Spring Training, but it will be once the regular season starts, at least at first. Trips to visiting parks will be headaches. Girardi and the Yankees dealt with this when A-Rod returned in 2013 and that went about as well as everyone could have hoped, so hopefully the chaos will be kept to a minimum. Either way, Joe’s got his work cut out for him in 2015, on and off the field.

Larry Rothschild: The Fixer

The Yankees hired Rothschild during the 2010-11 offseason and since then they’ve handed him several project pitchers. He’s been able to fix some (Brandon McCarthy) but not all (A.J. Burnett). This year, Rothschild will be tasked with not only helping Nathan Eovaldi take a step forward in his development, but also implementing a plan to keep Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia healthy. Right now, that plan seems to be extra rest whenever possible early in the season. And, of course, the Yankees will look to acquire McCarthy-esque pitchers at a discount price during the season and hope Rothschild turns them into top shelf producers. The Yankees seem to have had two or three pitchers kinda come out of nowhere to contribute each year under Rothschild. They’ll need him to do it again in 2015.

Jeff Pentland & Alan Cockrell: It Was Him, Not Us

Pentland. (Presswire)
Pentland. (Presswire)

When the Yankees missed the postseason for the second straight year in 2014, someone was going to take the fall. And once Brian Cashman signed his new contract, Long was the obvious scapegoat. He was fired in October and eventually replaced by not just one hitting coach, but two. Pentland is the hitting coach and Cockrell is the assistant hitting coach. It’s a two-man job these days.

Simply put, Pentland and Cockrell will be asked to show Long was the problem with the offense the last two years, not the team’s collection of aging, past-prime hitters. The hitting coach duo has to get Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann to overcome the shift, coax a productive year out of soon-to-be 38-year-old Carlos Beltran, convince Stephen Drew he isn’t a true talent .162 hitter, get Brett Gardner to repeat last year’s power output, and help Didi Gregorius take a step forward. Nice and easy, right? Good luck, fellas.

Gary Tuck: Catching Instructor Extraordinaire

Tuck, the Yankees’ bullpen coach, has long been regarded as an excellent catching instructor. The Yankees value defense behind the plate very much, so while Tuck is the bullpen coach first and foremost, part of his job this year will be developing the glovework of either Austin Romine or John Ryan Murphy, whoever wins the backup catcher’s job. The pitchers are Rothschild’s responsibility. Tuck is in charge of the catchers.

Tony Pena & Joe Espada: Base Coaches

In addition to firing Long, the Yankees also fired first base coach Mick Kelleher and shuffled around their coaching staff. Rob Thomson moves from third base coach to bench coach, Pena moves from bench coach to first base coach, and Espada moves from the front office to third base coach. Thomson had a knack for bad sends — I blame some of that on the offense, Thomson had the push the envelope on occasion to score runs — and hopefully Espada is an upgrade there. We really don’t know what to expect from him though. Evaluating base coaches is pretty tough, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They’re important enough that the Yankees remade the staff to get new ones this winter.

The Summer of A-Rod: Looking At Upcoming Milestones [2015 Season Preview]

As Yankees fans, we’ve been fortunate to see a lot of historic moments over the years. Derek Jeter seemed to pass someone on some all-time list every other game last season. Mariano Rivera rewrote the record book for closers and others like Roger Clemens and Ichiro Suzuki had historic moments while passing through the Bronx.

The 2015 season is shaping up to be a good but not great milestone season for the Yankees. Some players will hit a few nice round numbers but we’re not going to see anything like we did with Jeter and Mariano the last few seasons. Well, that’s not true. The Yankees do have one all-time great close to reaching not one, but three historic milestones. The problem is everyone hates the guy.

As we get closer to wrapping up our season preview series, let’s look at some notable upcoming milestones. We’re only going to focus on the major, somewhat historical milestones though. No one really cares Andrew Miller is ten strikeouts away from 500 for his career, right? Right. Let’s get to it.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Summer of A-Rod

3,000th hit: 61 away
2,000th RBI: 31 away
660th home run: six away

Now that his suspension is over, Alex Rodriguez is able to continue his pursuit of some seriously historic milestones. With good health, he can become the 29th player in history with 3,000 hits and only the fourth ever with 2,000 RBI this season. He can also tie Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time homer list, triggering the first of his five $6M bonuses. Needless to say, the health part is far from guaranteed. Alex wasn’t particularly durable in the years immediately prior to the suspension, remember.

Here’s the coolest part: A-Rod could reach all three milestones on the same swing. It’s extremely unlikely to happen, but the math suggests it’s possible. One swing … bam. He gets his 3,000th hit, 2,000th RBI, and 660th homer all at once. It would be amazing. Jeter and Wade Boggs are the only players to go deep for their 3,000th hit, which is kinda funny since neither was a home run hitter, and it’s been almost a half-century since a player reached the 2,000th RBI plateau. Hank Aaron was the last to do it in 1972. (Babe Ruth and Cap Anson are the other members of the 2,000 RBI club.)

Should A-Rod reach the three milestones at some point this year, all on one swing or otherwise, I don’t think they’ll come with the usual celebration from fans and the Yankees. Announcers will mention it and writers will write about it, but I don’t think we’ll sit through some kind of massive chase like when Jeter was going after his 3,000th hit. That got non-stop, wall-to-wall coverage. That’s fine. Alex made his own bed and he has to sleep in it. I’m still rooting like hell for him though.

CC Sabathia

3,000th inning: 178.2 away
2,500th strikeout: 63 away

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time, we would laugh at the idea of Sabathia throwing “only” 178.2 innings in a season. This is a guy who averaged 215 innings a year from 2001-11, which is bonkers. But, between last year’s knee surgery and his natural age-related decline, getting to 178.2 innings is hardly a guarantee for Sabathia. Should he get there, he’d be the 135th pitcher in history to reach 3,000 innings and only the 32nd lefty to do so.

Getting to 2,500 strikeouts is a much bigger deal, historically. Sixty-three more punch outs would move Sabathia into 31st place all-time and make him only the ninth lefty in history with 2,500 strikeouts. That’s not a “stop the game so his teammates can run on the field to congratulate him” type of milestone, but it’s still pretty cool. That kind of longevity and effectiveness is quite an accomplishment.

Carlos Beltran & Mark Teixeira

400th home run: Beltran is 27 away, Teixeira is 37 away

Both of these seem pretty unlikely, though I suppose they aren’t completely impossible. Four hundred dingers is a nice round number and one heck of an accomplishment, but remember, these two are switch-hitters. Only three switch-hitters in history have hit 400+ dingers: Mickey Mantle (536), Eddie Murray (504), and Chipper Jones (468). Beltran is fourth all-time in homers by a switch-hitter and Teixeira is sixth. (Lance Berkman is fifth with 366.) If they don’t get to 400 this year, hopefully both do it before their contracts expire following next season.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Joe Girardi

1,272nd game managed with Yankees: 138 away
1,340th game managed overall: 44 away

When the Yankees play the Orioles at home on September 9th, Girardi will manage his 1,272nd game with the Yankees, jumping over Ralph Houk and into fifth place on the team’s all-time games managed list. Fifth place! It feels like Girardi was just hired yesterday, doesn’t it? My goodness. He has a long way to go before moving into fourth place — Miller Huggins managed 1,796 games in pinstripes — so after Girardi passes Houk, he’ll sit in fifth place for a few years.

If you’re wondering about wins, Girardi has managed 648 of those with the Yankees, the fifth most in franchise history. Huggins is fourth with 1,067 wins. So yeah, it’ll be a while before Girardi moves up a spot on that list. The Yankees have missed the postseason the last two years and could very well miss the playoffs again this year, though I don’t think Girardi is in danger of being fired. Hal Steinbrenner seems to like him very much and that’s the guy you want in your corner. Besides, I don’t see any reason why Girardi should be on the hot seat. If anything he’s helped prop the team up higher than their true talent level the last two years.

Anyway, Girardi will manage his 1,340th career game overall on May 24th, at home against the Rangers, which will move him into the top 100 on the all-time games managed list. Baseball-Reference says 686 men have managed at least one game in the show — I would have guessed more, though that doesn’t include bench coaches who took over in a particular game after the manager was ejected — and Girardi is close to joining the top 100 in games managed just a few months after his 50th birthday. That’s impressive. Joe’s still got a lot of managing left ahead of him.

Farm System Offers Some Help Now, More Help Later [2015 Season Preview]

Severino. (Presswire)
Severino. (Presswire)

Two years ago, the Yankees had a miserable season down in the farm system, with several top prospects either getting hurt, underperforming, or simply failing to move forward in their development. When big leaguer after big leaguer went down with an injury, the farm system had little to no help to offer. It was bad enough that Hal Steinbrenner and his staff essentially audited the player development system after the season, though they only made procedural changes.

Things were not nearly as bad last year, though they weren’t as good as they could have been either. Having three first round picks in the 2013 draft helped infuse high-end talent, and several other young lower level players took quicker than expected steps forward in their development. That didn’t stop the team from replacing longtime VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman and farm director Pat Roessler, both of whom were let go last October. (Newman retired, but his contract was up and all indications are he wasn’t going to be brought back anyway.)

Gary Denbo, who has worn many hats with the Yankees over the years, was tabbed as Newman’s replacement and he now oversees the player development system. (His official title is vice president of player development.) Eric Schmitt dropped the “assistant” from his old assistant director of minor league operations title and was promoted this offseason. Several other coaching and development staff changes were made as well, including the return of Greg Colbrunn (Low-A hitting coach) and Eric Duncan (Short Season defensive coach).

The Yankees are hoping those changes lead to a more productive farm system and soon. Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, and Steinbrenner all said his past offseason that young players were going to play a big role in the franchise going forward, which makes sense given Hal’s plan to get under the luxury tax threshold in two years or so. The system isn’t quite ready to graduate impact talent to the big league level, but there are several of those types of prospects on the horizon for 2016. Time to look ahead to the coming year in the minors.

The Top Prospects: Bird, Clarkin, Judge, Sanchez, Severino

You can rank them in whatever order, but I think most will agree 1B Greg Bird, LHP Ian Clarkin, OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, and RHP Luis Severino are the five best prospects in the system. Judge and Severino are a notch above the other three thanks to their sky high upside, though Cashman recently called Bird “by far the best hitter” in the organization and Clarkin might have the highest probability of the bunch. Sanchez has been around seemingly forever and I think people are getting sick of him, yet he just put up a 108 wRC+ at age 21 as an everyday catcher at Double-A. That’s pretty impressive.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Severino is the sexy flame-throwing starter, but I consider Judge the more exciting and more polished prospect. He’s shown much better contact skills and a better approach than even the Yankees realized he had when they draft him 32nd overall in 2013, plus he also has huge raw power and is an asset defensively in right field. Judge needs to learn when to turn it loose so he can best tap into that power, but otherwise he’s a very complete prospect. Severino has big upside but still needs to improve his breaking ball and delivery.

With it looking more and more likely Sanchez will return to Double-A Trenton for yet another season, four of the Yankees’ top five prospects will be with the Thunder to start the 2015 season. Only Clarkin won’t be there — he’s slated to open the season with High-A Tampa, and while he could be promoted to Trenton later in the summer, the other four guys could be bumped up to Triple-A Scranton by then. Between Bird, Judge, Sanchez, Severino, and others like 3B Eric Jagielo and OF Jake Cave, Double-A is going to be a very fun affiliate to watch this summer.

Ready To Help Now: Flores, Lindgren, Pirela, Refsnyder

Inevitably, the Yankees will need help from within this year. Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to underperform, and the team will have to dip into the farm system for help. UTIL Jose Pirela suffered a concussion running into the outfield wall a week ago, but before that he was first in line to be called up whenever infield or outfield help is needed. His defense isn’t good anywhere; Pirela’s simply hit his way into the MLB picture.

With Pirela hurt, OF Ramon Flores figures to be first in line should outfield reinforcements be needed. I get the feeling Flores is going to spend about ten years in the league as a left-handed platoon outfielder, a Seth Smith type. He’s not a flashy prospect but he can hit, especially righties, and won’t kill his team in the field. 2B Rob Refsnyder isn’t ready for the big leagues defensively, but the Yankees could stick him at second base on an everyday basis this year and no one would think they’re crazy. He’s done nothing but hit since turning pro. Refsnyder just needs more reps on the infield after playing the outfield in college.

LHP Jacob Lindgren is New York’s best bullpen prospect and the most MLB ready, so much so that I think he should be on the Opening Day roster. Yeah, he could probably use a little more minor league time — Lindgren has yet to play at Triple-A, for what’s it worth — to work on his command, which is why he was sent to minor league camp yesterday, but Lindgren can get big leaguers out right now if the Yankees need him to. Pirela made his MLB debut last September and I expect Flores, Refsnyder, and Lindgren to make their debuts this year, sooner rather than later.

Ready To Help Soon: Austin, Bird, Judge, Rumbelow, Severino

As I mentioned earlier, much of the Yankees’ potential impact talent is likely to arrive in 2016, not 2015, including Bird, Judge, and Severino. I wouldn’t be surprised if Severino debuts this summer though. The Yankees have moved him very aggressively. RHP Nick Rumbelow is also likely to debut in 2015 as a strikeout heavy reliever, though he wasn’t as much of an Opening Day roster candidate as Lindgren. OF Tyler Austin figures to be a September call-up after spending the summer roaming the outfield with Triple-A Scranton.

Getting a cup of coffee and being ready to contribute are different things, however. Guys like Lindgren, Refsnyder, and Pirela are able to help the Yankees at the MLB level right away, at least in some aspects of the game. Others like Bird, Judge, Austin, and Severino aren’t big league ready and the Yankees shouldn’t plan on calling them up for help this year. They all need more seasoning in the minors. Next year we’ll be talking about them as players ready to help at the MLB level. They’re not ready at this very moment though.

Rumblin' Rumbelow. (Presswire)
Rumblin’ Rumbelow. (Presswire)

Breakout Candidates: DeCarr, Hensley, Mateo

You could make the case SS Jorge Mateo broke out last year, albeit in only 15 rookie ball games, but I think he has top 100 prospect in the game potential. Mateo, 19, is insanely fast with surprising power and a good approach at the plate to go with strong defensive chops at short. He received a ton of love last year and a full, healthy season in 2015 could have him atop New York’s prospect list and ranked among the best shortstop prospects in baseball.

RHP Ty Hensley‘s career has been slowed considerably by injuries, most notably two hip surgeries and a hernia that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season and the start of 2014 as well. He is healthy now and I get the sense the Yankees are ready to turn him loose with Low-A Charleston. Get him out there and let him pitch as much as possible early in the year just to make sure he gets those innings in, know what I mean? If they have to shut Hensley down in August to control his workload, so be it. He needs to make up for all the lost development time.

RHP Austin DeCarr was the Yankees’ third round pick last summer and is surprisingly refined for a kid just a year out of high school, throwing three good pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) for strikes. It’s unclear where the club will send DeCarr to start the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he opened the year alongside Hensley in Charleston’s rotation. Other potential breakout candidates include OF Mark Payton, RHP Gabe Encinas, OF Leonardo Molina, OF Alex Palma, and SS Angel Aguilar.

Sleepers: Acevedo, De La Rosa, Haynes

Over the last few weeks RHP Domingo Acevedo has generated some buzz for his imposing frame (listed at 6-foor-7 and 190 lbs.) and a fastball that has touched triple digits. Perhaps he’s more of a breakout candidate than a sleeper? Is there a difference? Who knows. Anyway, Acevedo’s size and stuff make him super interesting, though his full season debut is likely a year away. He’s a deep sleeper.

RHP Kyle Haynes is a more traditional sleeper. The 24-year-old reliever came over from the Pirates in the Chris Stewart trade and has good stuff, specifically a mid-90s fastball and an average-ish slider. Command holds him back, which along with his age and role is the reason you haven’t heard much about him. The Yankees have had some success getting these big stuff, bad command guys to throw strikes in recent years (Shane Greene most notably), and Haynes could be next.

The most intriguing sleeper — even moreso than Acevedo — in my opinion is RHP Simon De La Rosa. The 21-year-old is a late bloomer who didn’t sign until age 19 in 2013 — he received a measly $50,000 bonus at that — but he packs mid-90s heat into his 6-foot-3, 185 lb. frame and also throws a curveball and a changeup. Despite his age, I don’t think the Yankees will aggressively move De La Rosa up the ladder because he’s so raw. The tools are there for a quality pitching prospect though.

The New Batch: DeLeon, Emery, Garcia, Gomez

Last summer the Yankees went on an unprecedented spring spree and signed many of the top available international prospects. I haven’t seen a final number anywhere, but estimates have the club shelling out more than $30M between bonuses and penalties. The two best prospects the Yankees signed are OF Juan DeLeon and 3B Dermis Garcia, though 3B Nelson Gomez, OF Bryan Emery, OF Jonathan Amundary, and C Miguel Flames are among the other notables. These guys will all make their pro debuts this season. That’s a big talent infusion in such a short amount of time.

Slade. (Presswire)
Slade. (Presswire)

Last Chance?: Campos, Heathcott, Williams

As is the case every year, the Yankees have several former top prospects facing make or break seasons in 2015. RHP Vicente Campos is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and is only throwing bullpen sessions now, so he’s unlikely to return to the mound until midseason. He’s thrown just 111.2 innings over the last three years. OF Slade Heathcott played only nine games in 2014 due to a pair of knee surgeries. He’s looked healthy in camp and needs to finally have a full season in 2015. Both Campos and Heathcott were non-tendered this offseason and re-signed to minor league contracts.

Some have called this a make or break season for Sanchez but I don’t agree with that at all. His defense needs to progress, absolutely, but he’s consistently been an above-average hitter throughout his career despite being three-ish years young for the level each step of the way. OF Mason Williams is definitely facing a make or break year, on the other hand. He hasn’t hit and has had to be benched for lack of effort on multiple occasions. Williams certainly doesn’t lack tools, he just hasn’t displayed the makeup and work ethic needed to be a big leaguer. More of the same will end his time as a prospect. Talent is important, but it will only buy you so many chances if you don’t put he work in.

Depth Arms: Miscellaneous Non-40-Man Roster Pitchers [2015 Season Preview]

Yesterday afternoon we took at look at the Yankees’ pitching depth heading into the 2015 season, specifically the 40-man roster players expected to start the season in the minors with a chance to get called up at some point. Today we’re going to focus on non-40-man roster pitchers in the same position. Guys expected to report to the minors come Opening Day with a chance to see the Bronx at some point during the summer. Some are more likely to be called up than others, of course.

Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)
Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)

Andrew Bailey: The Ex-All Star

The Yankees signed Bailey last offseason knowing he was unlikely to pitch in 2014. Like Jon Lieber in 2003 or David Aardsma in 2011, the Yankees signed an injured established big leaguer with an eye on the following season. Lieber paid dividends in 2004, Aardsma didn’t in 2012. Such is life. Bailey rehabbed last year and instead of picking up his $2.5M club option for 2015, the Yankees signed him to a new minor league contract this offseason.

Bailey, 30, has finally returned to the mound this spring after needing close to 20 months to rehab from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule, a potential career-ender. He’s looked okay in camp — “rusty” is the word I would use — striking out four and allowing one unearned run on two hits and a walk in three innings. His fastball has been mostly 90-92 mph, which is encouraging, and his curveball is still a little loopy. All things considered, Bailey’s looked alright given the nature of his injury, though it’s clear he still needs some time to get ready for MLB action.

There’s only a week to go in Spring Training and it’s hard to see the Yankees taking Bailey north on Opening Day. He has yet to pitch with fewer than two days of rest between appearances and there simply isn’t enough time left in camp to get him to where he needs to be to be considered for the big league bullpen. That’s okay, that’s why he’s on a minor league contract. Bailey can go to the minors for a few weeks — I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts with High-A Tampa to stay close to the home base (and also avoid the cold weather) — and continue to work his way back.

It’s unfair to expect Bailey to return to his 2009-11 form, when he was the 2009 Rookie of the Year and a deserving two-time All-Star, but there’s at least now some hope he can help the big league bullpen. He’s fully rehabbed from his surgery and pitching in actual games, and he says he feels great too, which is important. Hopefully Bailey is able to come up at some point this summer and help the Yankees, even if he’s only a sixth or seventh inning middle reliever type. Getting that much out of him would be a win.

Baker. (Presswire)
Baker. (Presswire)

Scott Baker: Here For Use & Abuse

Baker is a good example of what Tommy John surgery can do to marginal big leaguers with okay stuff who rely on precise location to succeed. The 33-year-old returned from surgery with stuff and command that was down a grade or two across the board, hence his 5.47 ERA (4.78 FIP) in 80.2 innings for the Rangers last year. Baker is now three full years removed from Tommy John surgery, so perhaps his stuff will tick up a bit this year, but otherwise there’s very little reason to think he can contribute to the Yankees in a meaningful way in 2015. If he is on the big league roster at some point, he’ll probably be stuck working in a mop-up role until something better comes along. It’s harsh, though at this point of his career Baker’s the kind of guy the Yankees can run into the ground then designate for assignment when someone better comes along.

Nick Goody: 2015 Possible, 2016 More Likely

Goody is the first actual prospect/non-veteran retread in this post, though that’s only because I listed the players alphabetically. The 23-year-old Goody returned from Tommy John surgery at midseason last year and had a 4.60 ERA (3.63 FIP) with a 32.9 K% in 31.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A, though his walk rate (10.7%) was a bit high, which isn’t surprising for a guy coming off elbow reconstruction.

Goody was invited to big league camp and had a nice but brief Grapefruit League season before being sent to minor league camp (4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K). He’s a classic low-90s fastball/mid-80s slider righty reliever and I think the team’s bullpen depth will push him back to Double-A to start 2015. Goody could get called up this year, but with so many bodies ahead of him, a 2016 debut seems more likely.

Jacob Lindgren: The Strikeout (& Ground Ball) Factory

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

We know all about Lindgren’s strikeout exploits by now, but I think my favorite fact is that he had a 79% ground ball rate in college and an 81% ground ball rate in pro ball last year. He’s an extreme strikeout pitcher and there’s reason to believe he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher too. His slider is that good.

As I said earlier this week, I believe the 22-year-old Lindgren is big league ready and belongs on the Opening Day roster. If the Yankees don’t agree, he’ll go to Triple-A Scranton for a few weeks before inevitably being called up. It would be a major upset if Lindgren does not make him MLB debut in 2015. He is by far the team’s best bullpen prospect and one of the very best in the game period.

James Pazos: Lefty With Velocity

When the Yankees let Matt Thornton go on trade waivers last August, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman both mentioned Pazos by name when discussing the team’s lefty relief depth. The 23-year-old had a 2.42 ERA (2.38 FIP) with a very good strikeout rate (27.4%) and an okay walk rate (9.1%) in 67 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2014. Pazos has had a nice big league camp (4.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) but he really stands out for his stuff, specifically his mid-90s fastball and low-80s slider. He could start the season at Triple-A Scranton, but with so many lefties on the depth chart ahead of him, Pazos may end up waiting for 2016 like Goody.

Nick Rumbelow: Unconventional Dominance

Fun fact: Rumbelow leads all Yankees pitchers with 12 strikeouts this spring. (Well, he’s tied with Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka, but they’ve thrown more innings.) The 23-year-old shot up the minor league ladder last summer, posting a 2.62 ERA (2.05 FIP) with outstanding strikeout (34.0%) and walk (7.4%) rates in 58.1 innings while climbing from Low-A Charleston to Triple-A Scranton. He was lights out.

Rumbelow is a relatively little guy at 6-foot-0 and 190 lbs., and he racked up all those strikeouts with a mid-90s fastball and big overhand curveball coming from an extremely high arm slot. It’s straight over the top and unconventional:

Nick Rumbelow

You don’t see many big leaguers with that arm angle — Josh Collmenter of the Diamondbacks comes to mind, but that’s it — so it’s an uncomfortable look for hitters. The Yankees seem to like Rumbelow a lot — he still has not been reassigned to minor league camp and he was invited to Captain’s Camp in January — and I can’t blame them. He’s got good stuff and has put up remarkable numbers since being a seventh round pick in 2013.

It would surprise me if Rumbelow made the Opening Day bullpen but I guess it’s not impossible. More than likely though he’ll return to Triple-A and wait for a call-up. Rumbelow is more like Lindgren than Goody or Pazos in that I expect him to make his MLB debut this season, probably in the second half. Once he gets there, he has the potential to stick around for a while.

Luis Severino: The Top Prospect

I decided to include Severino in this post rather than next week’s farm system preview because it sure seems like the Yankees have him on the fast track, which sets him up to make his MLB debut this summer. The just turned 21-year-old right-hander climbed three levels last year, going from Low-A to High-A to Double-A on the strength of a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) with great strikeout (27.8%) and walk (5.9%) rates. In fact, Severino had the lowest FIP among the 551 minor league pitchers to throw at least 100 innings in 2014. That’s pretty awesome.

As good as the numbers are, Severino is not a finished product. Most 21-year-olds aren’t. His fastball is electric, sitting in the mid-90s and regularly bumping up into the high-90s, and his changeup is very advanced for a kid his age. Severino’s slider is still a work in progress though, and there are concerns about his delivery as well. They were easy to see during his brief Grapefruit League cameo; he doesn’t use his legs much and his arm does a lot of the work:

The slider and delivery are things Severino needs to work on before becoming a regular big league pitcher. The only question is whether the Yankees will give him the opportunity to work on those things in Double-A and/or Triple-A this year, or if they’ll continue to rush him up the ladder and call him up at some point. It’s easy to understand why they like him. It’s also easy to see he could benefit from some more development time in a place where results don’t matter. Severino is a big league option this year because the Yankees are treating him that way, not necessarily because he’s ready for it.

Tyler Webb: Lefty Without Velocity

Webb, 24, is another quick riser, pitching to a 3.80 ERA (2.71 FIP) with very good strikeout (32.2%) and walk (7.5%) rates in 68.2 innings last year while climbing from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton. Unlike the other young guys in this post, Webb doesn’t have standout stuff, sitting mostly in the upper-80s and occasionally touching the low-90s with his fastball. He also throws a curveball and a changeup. Webb is a stats before scouting report guy, but when a southpaw puts up numbers like this, he’s tough to ignore. He’ll return to Triple-A to start the season, though the Yankees have a lot of lefties ahead of him on the depth chart. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pazos gets the call before Webb either.