Billy McKinney and the Yankee Stadium short porch

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last week, prior to the Rule 5 Draft protection deadline, the Yankees added three recently acquired prospects to the 40-man roster. The first and most notable is Gleyber Torres, who came over in the Aroldis Chapman trade and is arguably the best prospect in the minors. Albert Abreu, who has a case for being the top right-handed pitching prospect in the system, came over in the Brian McCann trade and was added the 40-man as well.

The third recently acquired prospect is outfielder Billy McKinney, a 2013 first round pick — he was the 24th overall selection, taken two picks before Eric Jagielo — who went from the Athletics to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija trade, then from the Cubs to the Yankees in the Chapman trade. A knee injury sabotaged his 2016 season, though this year, McKinney bounced back with a .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) line and a career high 16 homers in 124 games at Double-A and Triple-A.

The Yankees like McKinney enough to bring him to Spring Training as a non-roster player earlier this year — he had a knack for hitting homers in the middle of mid-game interviews — and before adding him to the 40-man roster last week, they had him spend time at first base in the Arizona Fall League. They’re looking for a way to get his left-handed bat into the lineup. Maybe not right away, but down the road at some point. The more positions he can play, the better.

McKinney, who turned 23 in August, is never going to be much of a defender. He’s a bat-first prospect whose innate hitting ability got him drafted in the first round and earned him a $1.8M signing bonus. A bat-first prospect who doesn’t hit gets thrown into a trade as the third piece for a guy like Chapman. A bat-first prospect who does hit works on a new position in the Arizona Fall League and gets added to the 40-man after the season.

In McKinney, the Yankees added a prospect who very well might have a swing tailor made for Yankee Stadium. I have no doubt that was a consideration when asking for him in the trade. McKinney’s a lefty hitter who has not only shown a tendency to pull the ball, but pull the ball in the air. Here’s one of the ten home runs he hit for Triple-A Scranton this summer:

McKinney opened his hips and looked to yank that ball to right field. He wasn’t trying to filet a single over the shortstop’s head or find a gap. That was a swing designed to do exactly what McKinney did, and that’s hit the ball out of the park.

Perhaps the home run and the swing in the video was a function of the game situation. The RailRiders were already up 10-4 in the fifth inning and had the bases loaded with one out. If there was ever a time to get a little selfish and swing for the fences, that’s it. Then again, look at this home run swing from Spring Training:

See? I told you McKinney had a knack for mid-interview home runs during the spring. He hit like three of them.

Anyway, yeah, that’s the same type of swing from the previous video. McKinney opened up …

billy-mckinney-swing

… and was looking to get around quick on the ball and drive it to right field. That is not a man trying to stay inside the ball, let it travel deep in the strike zone, then slap it the other way. McKinney wants to pull the ball with authority. And that is completely cool with me. I know people freak out these days when a left-handed hitter pulls the ball because of the shift, but it’s okay. I promise.

McKinney’s tendency to pull the ball has existed throughout his minor league career. And again, it’s not just pulling the ball. It’s pulling the ball in the air. The easiest way to hit a home run, basically. Some quick numbers:

Levels Pull % Middle % Oppo % Ground Ball %
2014 A+ 44.2% 24.3% 31.5% 41.1%
2015 A+ & AA 46.2% 23.4% 30.4% 44.4%
2016 AA 43.7% 25.3% 31.0% 43.4%
2017  AA & AAA 46.3% 25.4% 28.3% 35.0%

That is a lot of balls hit in the air and a lot of balls hit to the pull field. And this season, his big breakout year, McKinney posted the highest pull rate (barely) and the lowest ground ball rate (by a lot) in his four full minor league seasons. Not coincidentally, he shattered his previous career high in homers. His previous career high was eleven dingers in 126 games in 2014. This year he hit 16 in 124 games at higher levels.

Yankee Stadium of course rewards left-handed hitters who pull the ball in the air with regularity, and that’s something McKinney has done very well in his career to date. Will he be able to do it against Major League pitching? Well, no one knows. That’s the mystery. We’re not going to know until McKinney gets an extended audition at the big league level. Life would be pretty boring if we could predict prospects and baseball.

The Yankees do not appear to have an opening for McKinney. They’re five deep in the outfield (Jacoby Ellsbury, Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge) and two deep at first base (Greg Bird, Tyler Austin), not that McKinney has much experience at first. He played only eleven games at first in the AzFL. The lack of an obvious opening doesn’t matter though. Injuries happen, and if you perform, they’ll make room for you. It’s that simple.

For now, McKinney bounced back from his knee injury and down 2016 season — he fouled a pitch into the knee and suffered a small fracture, similar to Mark Teixeira‘s shin three years ago — and earned a spot on the 40-man roster. He’s forcing the Yankees to make room for him. And his ability to drive the ball to right field as a left-handed hitter is well-suited for Yankee Stadium, so even if he settles in as a platoon bat long-term, he could do real damage in the Bronx.

Yanks add Gleyber Torres, five others to 40-man roster prior to Rule 5 Draft protection deadline

Torres. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)
Torres. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Monday night was the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft, and, as expected, the Yankees added top prospect SS Gleyber Torres to the 40-man. Also added were RHP Albert Abreu, RHP Domingo Acevedo, IF Thairo Estrada, RHP Jonathan Loaisiga, and OF Billy McKinney. The 40-man roster is now completely full. Garrett Cooper, Caleb Smith, Nick Rumbelow, and Ronald Herrera were all traded away in recent days to clear space.

Torres, 21 next month, is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow, and is expected to be ready in time for Spring Training. He came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade and hit .287/.383/.480 (141 wRC+) in 55 games between Double-A and Triple-A this season. MLB.com currently ranks Torres as the best prospect in baseball. Protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft was a no-brainer.

The 22-year-old Abreu is the second best prospect added to the 40-man, at least in my opinion. He came over from the Astros in the Brian McCann trade. Abreu had a 3.37 ERA (3.12 FIP) with 27.6% strikeouts and 8.1% walks in 53.1 Single-A innings around elbow and lat injuries this year. He then went to the Arizona Fall League and threw 27.2 innings with a 2.60 ERA in six starts. Great finish to the season, that was.

McKinney, 23, is a former first round pick who went from the Athletics to the Cubs (Jeff Samardzija trade), then from the Cubs to the Yankees (Chapman trade). He bounced back in a big way this season, hitting .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with career high 16 homers in 124 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. The Yankees had McKinney start learning first base in the Arizona Fall League to increase his versatility. We heard he’d be added to the 40-man a few weeks ago.

The 21-year-old Estrada is a personal favorite, and he had a breakthrough with Double-A Trenton this season, hitting .301/.353/.392 (107 wRC+) with a tiny 10.3% strikeout rate. He’s a good defensive shortstop who also has a lot of experience at second and third bases. Guys with good bat-to-ball skills and strong defensive chops on the middle infield are worth keeping around. The Yankees added a lot of talent to the 40-man today, but don’t sleep on Thairo. Kid can play.

Acevedo, the prospect who goes by Big Sunday, threw 133 innings with a 3.25 ERA (3.25 FIP) with 26.0% strikeouts and 6.0% walks at three levels this season. The 23-year-old is one of the more divisive prospects in the system. On some days Acevedo will look like a future ace and on others he’ll look like a middle reliever with little more than a big fastball. It’s worth keeping him around to see how he develops, for sure.

Loaisiga, 23, is a lottery ticket the Yankees picked up a few years ago, after he had been released by the Giants. Loaisiga had Tommy John surgery last year, returned this year, and threw 32.2 innings with a 1.38 ERA (2.17 FIP) in the various short season leagues.

Johnny Lasagna has been getting talked up as a breakout prospect in recent weeks, and these days rebuilding teams have no problem popping low minors kids in the Rule 5 Draft and stashing them on the roster all year. That’s what the Padres did with Luis Torrens last year.

Among the notable prospects the Yankees are leaving exposed to the Rule 5 Draft are IF Abi Avelino, LHP Nestor Cortes, OF Rashad Crawford, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, 1B Mike Ford, RHP Anyelo Gomez, RHP Brady Lail, OF Alex Palma, and LHP Stephen Tarpley. I suspect Cortes and Gomez will get selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Feyereisen and Tarpley are candidates to get picked.

As a reminder, players selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on their new team’s 25-man active big league roster all of next season, or be placed on waivers and offered back to the Yankees. Most Rule 5 Draft players do not stick. The Yankees lost four players in the Rule 5 Draft last season (Torrens, Smith, Tyler Jones, Tyler Webb) and all but Torrens were returned.

Sheffield and Estrada picked for AzFL Fall Stars Game

Sheffield. (Presswire)
Sheffield. (Presswire)

Earlier today the Arizona Fall League announced the rosters for their Fall Stars Game, the league’s annual top prospect showcase. Yankees prospects Justus Sheffield and Thairo Estrada were selected for the game, plus both Billy McKinney and Estevan Florial are on the Final Two ballot. Here’s the ballot. Go vote one of them into the game. Here are the East and West rosters.

Sheffield, who came over in the Andrew Miller trade, is New York’s top pitching prospect in my opinion. He threw 93.1 innings with a 3.18 ERA (4.58 FIP) around an oblique injury for Double-A Trenton this year, and so far he has a 2.37 ERA with 21 strikeouts and two walks in 19 innings in the notoriously hitter friendly AzFL. The scouting reports have been glowing too. From Keith Law (subs. req’d):

Sheffield was absolutely filthy in his AFL debut, sitting 94-96 with a plus slider at 86-87 and above-average changeup at 86-89, better at the 86-87 part of that range. He’s always been athletic with a good delivery that’s online to the plate, but now his arm looks faster than ever, and he has a real breaking ball in the slider — he didn’t throw a curveball at all. He was on my top 100 last winter on the promise of his athleticism and changeup, but now he’s got more fastball and a potential out pitch in the slider.

Estrada has long been a personal favorite. He’s hitting .390/.432/.512 through ten AzFL games after hitting .301/.353/.392 (107 wRC+) with a 10.3% strikeout rate as a 21-year-old at Double-A during the regular season. Estrada will be Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter, so a big showing in the AzFL could push the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster. Middle infielders who can hit are worth keeping around.

The AzFL Fall Stars Game is this Saturday at 8pm ET, and the game will be shown live on MLB Network and MLB.com. Players on the Fall Stars Game rosters are going to play. It’s not like an All-Star Game where some guys might not get in. Sheffield might even start the game. That’d be neat.

McKinney and Carroll added to Arizona Fall League roster

The Yankees have assigned outfielder Billy McKinney and right-hander Cody Carroll to the Arizona Fall League, the league announced last week. They’ll join fellow Yankees prospects infielder Thairo Estrada, outfielder Estevan Florial, first baseman Chris Gittens, infielder Kyle Holder, lefty Justus Sheffield, and righty Dillon Tate in the desert this year.

Back when the AzFL rosters were announced, the Yankees had two pitching spots left open, and it appears they managed to swap one of those pitching spots for another outfield spot for McKinney. That’s not too uncommon. Teams will barter roster spots. I need an extra outfield spot and you need an extra pitching spot, so let’s trade. That kinda thing.

McKinney, who came over in the Aroldis Chapman trade last year, will reportedly begin working out at first base in Instructional League, and I assume he’ll continue working there in the AzFL. The Yankees are planning to add him to the 40-man roster after the season. As a bat-first corner outfielder, adding the ability to play first base to his skill set will only help.

As for Carroll, the 24-year-old threw 67.1 relief innings with a 2.54 ERA (3.04 FIP) to go with 32.1% strikeouts and 10.8% walks for High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this year. He was the team’s 22nd round pick in the 2015 draft and really broke out this year. MLB.com ranks him as the 26th best prospect in the system right now. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

Carroll worked in the low 90s as a college starter but now operates at 96-98 mph and reaches triple digits with his fastball. Hitters can’t afford to sit on his heater because he also has a hard breaking ball that can reach the upper 80s, pairing slider velocity with curveball depth … Despite a relatively easy delivery, he didn’t throw a lot of strikes in college and hasn’t as a pro.

The Yankees are sending a really strong crop of prospects to the AzFL this year. Of course, Sheffield and Tate are going to make up for innings lost to injuries, and that’s never great. Still, Florial and McKinney makes for a pair of interesting position player prospects, and Holder tore the cover off the ball in the second half. Would be cool to see him continue it out in the desert.

The 2017 AzFL season begins Tuesday, October 10th and will end with the Championship Game on Saturday, November 18th. Yankees prospects will be on the Scottsdale Scorpions with players from the Angels, Giants, Mets, and Reds organizations.

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.

Saturday Links: Cave, McKinney, Gardner, Robertson, Top Tools

McKinney. (Times Leader)
McKinney. (Times Leader)

The Yankees and Orioles will continue their four-game series with the third game later this afternoon. That’s a 4pm ET start for whatever reason. Here’s some notes and links to check out in the meantime.

Yankees planning to add Cave, McKinney to 40-man

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees plan to add outfielders Jake Cave and Billy McKinney to the 40-man roster this offseason. Unless they trade them first, of course. McKinney, who came over in last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade, will be Rule 5 Draft eligible this December. Cave is due to become a minor league free agent, so he’ll have to be added to the 40-man pretty much right after the World Series. McKinney doesn’t have to be added until late-November.

Cave, 24, hit .305/.351/.542 (145 wRC+) with a career high 20 home runs this season. He reportedly made some swing changes in an effort to get the ball airborne more often, which explains the career high home run total, career low ground ball rate (43.1%), and career high strikeout rate (26.3%). The 23-year-old McKinney hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with 16 homers this year. Both he and Cave split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. I’m not sure either guy is a long-term piece for the Yankees, but you can’t lose them for nothing either, so on the 40-man they will reportedly go.

Several Yankees among Law’s best tools

Last month Keith Law published his rankings of the best tools in baseball (hitting, fielding, pitching). Best hit tool, best power, best fastball, so on and so forth. I always enjoy lists like this. Anyway, several Yankees pop up in the various categories, so let’s round ’em up:

  • Best Power: Aaron Judge (second to Joey Gallo)
  • Best Fastball: Aroldis Chapman (second to Chris Sale)
  • Best Splitter: Masahiro Tanaka (first)
  • Best Curveball: David Robertson (fourth behind Corey Kluber, Lance McCullers Jr., Aaron Nola)
  • Best Catcher Arm: Gary Sanchez (fourth behind Willson Contreras, Jorge Alfaro, Yadier Molina)
  • Best Outfield Arm: Aaron Hicks (second to Bryce Harper)

The only real surprise to me is no Luis Severino in the best fastball category. (The top five was Sale, Chapman, James Paxton, Joe Kelly, and Justin Verlander.) Nothing else seems out of place to me. Sorta bold prediction: Chad Green tops the best fastball list next year, unless the only criteria is velocity. Green’s fastball is ridiculous.

Gardner, Robertson nominated for awards

Within the last few weeks MLB and the MLBPA announced nominees for two prestigious awards. Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award while Robertson has been nominated for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. Both awards are decided by fan voting, which seems ridiculous, but whatever. Here is the Marvin Miller Man of the Year ballot. Voting for the Roberto Clemente Award doesn’t begin until October. Here are the nominees.

The Roberto Clemente Award is giving annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Curtis Granderson won the award last year and Derek Jeter won in 2009. As for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, that one goes to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” Granderson won that last year too. Mariano Rivera won it in 2013. Congrats to Gardner and Robertson. Just getting nominated for these awards is an honor.

MLB, NPB negotiating new posting agreement

Before Shohei Otani can come over to the big leagues, Major League Baseball and Nippon Pro Baseball must first agree to a new posting system. The release fee system, which brought Tanaka to MLB four years ago, had to be renewed each year, and earlier this year MLB requested a renegotiation. There’s technically no posting system in place right now, so there’s no official way for Otani to leave Japan for MLB.

Anyway, Jim Allen recently broke down the latest posting system proposals. In both proposals, the compensation paid to the player’s former NPB team would be a percentage of the money he receives from an MLB team. It’s basically 15% up to a maximum of $20M. So, for example, if the Yankee were to sign Otani for $2M, they’d pay the Nippon Ham Fighters a $300,000 release fee. Needless to say, NPB teams are not having it. Under the now expired system, the NPB team sets the release fee ($20M max) and the MLB tam pays it when they sign the player.

Previewing the Yankees’ upcoming September call-ups

Matty H. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Matty H. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

This coming Friday, on September 1st, all 30 big league teams will be allowed to expand their active rosters from 25 players up to 40 players. Most teams end up going with 30-35 players in September. Maybe two or three clubs a year actually go with the maximum 40 players. Either way, rosters are going to expand in a few days and every club has reinforcements coming.

The Yankees have been fairly aggressive with September call-ups in recent years. Aggressive in the sense that they call up a lot of extra players in general, especially on September 1st. Last year they called up six players on September 1st. The year before it was seven players. The year before that it was nine players. Nine call-ups on September 1st! Good gravy. The Yankees tend to call up plenty of help the first day possible. I’m surprised more teams don’t do the same.

So, with September call-ups only a few days away, there’s no better time to look ahead at who the Yankees could bring to the big leagues once rosters expand. Let’s take a trip through the organizational depth chart. Come with me, won’t you?

The Injured Guys

Might as well start here. The Yankees currently have five players on the MLB disabled list: Luis Cessa, Garrett Cooper, Clint Frazier, Matt Holliday, and Michael Pineda. Pineda’s done for the season following Tommy John surgery. I’m not really sure what’s up with Cessa. We haven’t heard any updates on him since he was sidelined by rib cage issue on August 15th. Should Cessa get healthy before the end of the season, he’ll join the Yankees, I’m sure.

Both Holliday and Cooper are on minor league rehab assignments right now and in all likelihood both will be activated Friday, the first day rosters expand. Frazier recently started taking swings and going through some other baseball activities, so he’s a little further behind Cooper and Holliday. Once he gets healthy and goes through the requisite minor league rehab assignment — assuming there are still minor league games being played at that time — Frazier will be activated and join the Yankees for the rest of the season. Pretty straightforward here.

The September Locks

Monty. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Monty. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

As always, the safest bets for September call-ups are guys who were up earlier this season. There are eleven such players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ben Heller, Ronald Herrera, Kyle Higashioka, Jonathan Holder, Bryan Mitchell, Jordan Montgomery, and Tyler Wade. All eleven of those guys have seen big league time this year. Some more than others.

Like I said, the Yankees have been fairly aggressive with their September 1st call-ups in recent years, so I expect several of these players to join the Yankees on Friday. Montgomery is an absolutely lock. He’s going to get a September call-up and step right back into the rotation, I suspect. Mitchell, Holder, and Gallegos have been the primary up-and-down relievers this season, and since the Yankees like to load up on pitching reinforcements whenever possible, my money is on all three guys showing up to Yankee Stadium this Friday.

Austin and Wade are all obvious September call-ups candidates as well, though there is a catch here. They were both sent down recently and need to wait out the ten-day rule first. Wade was sent down Friday, when Starlin Castro was activated, so he can’t come back up until Monday. Austin was sent down Saturday to make room for Greg Bird. He can’t come back until Tuesday. The ten-day rule is a bit of a hassle. It is what it is.

The Guys Who Might Have To Wait

As noted, there are eleven players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues right now. I expect four to be called up on September 1st: Mitchell, Montgomery, Gallegos, and Holder. That’s all. The other seven will have to wait a little bit for different reasons. Austin and Wade have to wait because of the ten-day rule. Here’s my thinking on the remaining five guys.

1. Higashioka and Herrera are both hurt. Pretty good reason for not calling them upright away, I’d say. Herrera is currently pitching in rookie ball rehab games and is expected to join the Double-A Trenton rotation (or maybe Triple-A Scranton rotation) for the postseason next week. Herrera was called up twice this year as an emergency fill-in. It was one of those “crap we need a long man and he’s the only guy lined up” situations. Well, two of those.

Higashioka, meanwhile, is currently out with a shoulder injury that is not believed to be serious. There’s even some talk he could be ready to go by time rosters expand Friday. That would be cool. A third catcher is a September staple, and keep in mind Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine have suspensions pending. They’re appealing, though at some point they’re going to have serve at least part of their suspensions, and having Higashioka on the active roster will make it much easier to get by without those guys. He has to get healthy first though.

2. The Yankees have mostly avoided Andujar and Heller. There have been plenty of opportunities to call up both guys this year, and they have seen big league time. Andujar had the one great game against the White Sox. Heller has made two appearances with the Yankees this season, most notably throwing two scoreless innings in the 16-inning win at Fenway Park right after the All-Star break.

Andujar. (Times Leader)
Andujar. (Times Leader)

The Yankees could have easily — and justifiably — called up Andujar and/or Heller on several other occasions this season, but choose to go in another direction. With Andujar, he’s a bonafide prospect who needs to improve his defense, so keeping him in Triple-A to work at the hot corner rather than play sporadically at the MLB is understandable. Heller? I’m not sure. The Yankees seem to prefer Gallegos and Holder for whatever reason. I’m a Heller guy. The Yankees aren’t.

Point is, because these two have been passed over for call-ups these last few weeks, I don’t think they will be September 1st call-ups when rosters expand. Both will likely have to wait until the Triple-A postseason ends, which could be as early as next weekend or as late as September 19th. There aren’t going to be many at-bats available for Andujar, and with Heller, how many mop-up relievers does a team need? I think both will have to wait until the RailRiders are done playing.

3. German needs to pitch. From June 6th through July 28th, a span of 52 days, German made eight appearances and threw 350 total pitches. That’s all. This kid’s a starter! But he spent so much time with the Yankees as their seldom used eighth reliever that it took a few Triple-A outings to get stretched all the way back out. German has thrown 115 total innings this season and that’s not much at all. This is his first full season since Tommy John surgery, so I imagine the Yankees are monitoring his workload closely. I still think they want German to log more innings this season. That’s why I think he’ll stay with Scranton, start every fifth day through the end of their season, then come up to sit in the bullpen.

Non-40-Man Roster Guys

Every once in a while the Yankees will take a player who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, add him to the 40-man roster, and call him up September. Rather than wait to add the player to the 40-man at the November deadline, they get a head start on things and call him up in September. Romine received his first taste of the big leagues that way in September 2011. The Yankees did the same thing with James Pazos in 2015.

That does not happen often, however, and I do not think the Yankees will do it this September. Gleyber Torres is hurt, Domingo Acevedo has been shut down due to his workload, and Albert Abreu missed a big chunk of the season with injuries and has yet to pitch above High-A. They’ll all be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and the Yankees will add them to the 40-man roster prior to the November deadline, no doubt. Not a second earlier, however. Torres and Acevedo are unavailable and Abreu is a Single-A kid. Calling them up would be pointless.

Other 40-man roster hopefuls like Jake Cave and Billy McKinney wouldn’t have a defined role in September. Romine was the third catcher. Pazos was the third lefty. Cave and McKinney would be … the seventh and eighth outfielders? Not exactly a big priority. I suppose the Yankees could add Cave to the 40-man roster — he’s going to be a minor league free agent this winter, so the Yankees will have to add him to the 40-man pretty much right after the World Series to avoid losing him — as a reward for his great season, but nah. Roster space is at a premium.

E-Rod. (Scranton Times Tribune)
E-Rod. (Scranton Times Tribune)

Now, that all said, there are two non-40-man players who I think could get a September call-up. One is Eddy Rodriguez, and he will only get called up if a) Higashioka doesn’t get healthy reasonably soon, and b) both Sanchez and Romine have their appeals heard and must serve their suspensions. So basically only if the Yankees run out of eligible catchers. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. If it does, the Yankees will have no choice but to clear a 40-man roster spot to call up Rodriguez.

The other non-40-man call-up candidate? I don’t know. It’ll be the designated September pinch-runner, whoever that ends up being. Last year it was Eric Young Jr., the year before it was Rico Noel, and the year before that it was Antoan Richardson. Back in 2009 it was Freddy Guzman. Guzman was on the postseason roster all three rounds that year. True story. The Yankees have made it clear they value the designated September pinch-runner.

Jorge Mateo has been traded and I don’t think the Yankees would use Jacoby Ellsbury as their designated pinch-runner — besides, he’s starting to hit a little bit now, so I imagine he’ll find himself in the starting lineup a little more often going forward — so they don’t have an obvious in-house candidate for that role. If the Yankees are willing to open a 40-man roster spot, they’ll likely go out and get someone to come off the bench and run in September. Not a big trade — they got Young for cash last year — but a trade nonetheless.

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As is often the case, this year’s batch of September call-ups is fairly straightforward. Holliday and Cooper will return from the disabled list Friday while Montgomery, Mitchell, Holder, and Gallegos figure to came up from Scranton, giving the Yankees six extra players on the first day rosters expand. Others like Andujar, Austin, German, Heller, and Wade are likely to come up shortly thereafter. Cessa, Frazier, and Higashioka will join the Yankees once they’re healthy, and if Higashioka doesn’t get healthy soon, Rodriguez figures to come up instead. Herrera and a pinch-runner are other possibilities.

I am pro-September call-ups — there are a lot of weirdos out there who don’t like expanded rosters — and it’s always fun to see the young guys come up, but here’s something to keep in mind: the Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot. They’re not going to play Andujar (or Cave) for the heck of it. Joe Girardi is going to stick with his regulars because the Yankees need to win, and the regulars give them the best chance to do that. The call-ups are around for blowouts and emergencies. That’s about it.