Assessing Trade Targets

Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Yankees are looking for pitching. It’s shocking, I know, but it’s going on. Even though they ‘found’ a pitcher yesterday by re-signing CC Sabathia to a one year, $10 million contract, it’s unlikely that they’ll just settle in with what they have. Sure, a rotation of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Sabathia, and Jordan Montgomery is solid, but that doesn’t mean they can’t and won’t add to it. We’ve seen the Yankees connected to free agent Alex Cobb a bunch of times this offseason. However, most of the buzz around the Yankees and pitching seems to be concentrated around the trade rumor mill.

Over the past two weeks or so, the Yankees have been linked to no fewer than four starting pitchers in trade rumors. One is division rival Chris Archer of the Rays. Another, also in the AL is Tigers’ starter and 2016 AL Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer. The other two hail from the National League–Gerrit Cole of the Pirates, the Yankees’ first round draft pick in 2008, and Patrick Corbin off the Diamondbacks (who became an absolute monster in one iteration of franchise mode in The Show for me many moons ago).

When considering a trade, we’ve got a multitude of factors to weigh, but they can be boiled down to three fundamental categories: cost, control, and performance.

Cost operates on two fronts: How much money and how many players will it take to get your target? Control considers the player’s current contract and that/those of the player(s) you’re giving up. And performance deals, of course, with whether or not the guy is any good or has done well. All three categories can and will intersect when evaluating whether or not to make a trade.

To bring work home with me even more than an English teacher already does, I developed a quick rubric of sors to judge each trade candidate using the aforementioned fundamental categories.

 

Category/Score 3 2 1
Cost $ Low $ Medium $ High $
Cost player Low player Medium player High player
Control 3+ years beyond 2018 1-2 years beyond 2018 Impending free agent
Performance High performance consistently AND recently Some inconsistencies, may be a rebound/regression candidate Consistently poor performance

For the acquiring team, you obviously want the cost to be low and the control and performance to each be high. The better that combination, the more desirable the trade target. Let’s use Giancarlo Stanton as a test case or model to implement this rubric. We have hindsight here and in a vacuum, without the Marlins’ apparently dire financial situation, Stanton would be high on all three categories. He’s got a big contract for a long, long time, and just won NL MVP; in a “normal” world, he would’ve cost an arm, a leg, and then some. But, in reality, Stanton was acquired for a low player cost and even the big cost of his contract–which has him under control for a long time, a double-edged sword, perhaps–is somewhat mitigated by the Marlins kicking in $30 million. By any rubric or measure, this was a no brainer trade for the Yankees to make.

Let’s lead off by looking at Gerrit Cole, the pitcher most consistently linked to the Yankees recently. Cole is projected by MLBTR  to make $7.5 million in 2018. That’s not bad at all. Additionally, he’s also under control for 2018 and 2019. The former puts him at a 3 for Cost $ and a 2 for control. Not a bad start. The player cost is where we hit a bit of a bump or a snag. Yesterday, it got out that the Pirates were going to ask for Gleyber Torres in exchange for Cole, which is, uh, not gonna happen. Good for them for asking, but I’d sooner bet on the snowball in hell. Failing Torres, though, it’s likely the Pirates will then ask for Clint Frazier and more–Chance Adams, perhaps, and another lesser piece. At first blush, that seems to be the going rate for a pitcher of Cole’s reputation, so that could just be the cost of doing business, right? You’ve gotta give to get and all that, and if both sides are hurting, then the trade is probably good. But Cole seems to have more in the bank on reputation than on performance lately. He was downright elite in 2015 but then just sorta good in 2016–and hurt–and pretty meh overall in 2017. He had a big home run spike last year–his HR/FB% more than doubled from the year before–which could explain a lot. But when you’re poised to give up someone as talented as Clint Frazier and a potential league-minimum, back of the rotation guy in Chance Adams, AND another piece, I’d want something more than a guy who’s pretty much the definition of a 2 on my rubric. The idea of Cole seems to be better than the reality.

(Brian Davidson/Getty Images)
(Brian Davidson/Getty Images)

Starting with the money, we get another manageable situation in Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin. He’s projected to make $8.5 million. Another 3 in the Cost $ category. Where he loses out, though, is that this is his last year of team control and he’s a free agent at the end of the year. Big time 1 in the Control category. That would likely bring his player cost down, too, as would performance that was okay-ish in 2017 (4.03 ERA, 4.08 FIP), his second full year back from injury after missing all of 2014. 2016, by the way, was pretty ugly for Corbin (5.15 ERA, 4.84 FIP). What stands out is a garishly high HR/FB% of 15.8% last year; his career mark is 13.8%. Granted he plays in a homer friendly park, but that wouldn’t be likely to move down in Yankee Stadium and the AL East. If I’m feeling generous, I give him a 1.75 in the Performance category and probably a high 1, low 2 for player cost. Overall, I don’t think this one would be worth it unless that player cost dipped way down low.

Archer. (Presswire)
Archer. (Presswire)

Chris Archer is a pitcher who, on the face of things, passes every mark for a Yankee trade target. He’s got a good reputation and has spent his entire career in the AL East. Beyond that, he’s got a team friendly contract that has him making $6.25 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019, $9 million in 2020, and $11 million in 2021; the latter two are club options with buyouts of $1.75 million and $250, 000 respectively. That all makes for a fantastic mark in both Cost $ and Control. Unfortunately, that also means he’d likely be a 1 in Cost Player. Add on the fact that the Yankees would be trading with a division foe and you’re looking at a very steep cost. In terms of the Performance category, Archer is sort of in the same territory as Gerrit Cole; based on the way we think and talk about him, you’d think his stats would be a lot more glowing. While he hasn’t been bad by any real stretch, he’s failed to repeat the great season he had in 2015. A big home run spike in 2016 and 2017 is likely the cause of that. Still, he throws lots of innings (200+ the last three seasons), strikes out lots of guys, and doesn’t walk a ton of batters. Throw in that with the with the contract and this is someone who, unlike Cole, I could see giving up some top-flight talent for.

(Justin Edmonds/Getty)
(Justin Edmonds/Getty)

Michael Fulmer is about to start his third year of MLB service, so his first shot at arbitration won’t be until a year from now. Per Cot’s , Fulmer is also going to qualify for Super 2 status, meaning he’s got an extra year of arbitration, giving his team control of him through 2022. Hot damn. That’s a 3 and then some on the Control category. Even if he signed some sort of extension or contract, his mark in Cost $ is going to be a 3 pretty much no matter what. In terms of performance, Fulmer more or less repeated his ROY season, though with a lower strikeout rate. He kept up a big ground ball rate, though, and did a good job of keeping the ball in the park. That would probably change in moving from Comerica Park to Yankee Stadium, of course. Still, he’s got good control and command and keeps the ball on the ground; if you’re not going to strike people out, those two are the next best things. All this, though, of course means that Fulmer’s player cost is going to be sky high. The Tigers would be justified in asking anything–non-Torres division–in exchange for Fulmer. While there would be doubts in my mind about paying the player cost for Cole and some minor ones in paying the player cost for Archer, those more or less don’t apply to Fulmer. A young, supremely controlled pitcher with history of solid performance? Yep.

Given all this, my preferred order of acquisition would look like this:

Fulmer, followed by Archer, then a toss up between Corbin and Cole. While Cole is definitely the better pitcher, the cost for Corbin would likely be a lot lower, which evens them out a little bit. I’m not sure, obviously, what’s going to happen, but if the Yankees are going to go hard for one of these guys, it should be Fulmer. The farm system would take a hit and it would suck to say goodbye to someone as fun and cool as Clint Frazier, but Fulmer would make an immediate impact and a lasting one.

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.

Gleyber Torres will compete for a roster spot next spring, and that’s a good thing even if he won’t win one

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

You know what’s pretty awesome? The Yankees have a great young core at the big league level in Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. That’s the unanimous 2017 AL Rookie of the Year and 2017 AL MVP runner-up, the third place finisher in the 2017 AL Cy Young voting, and the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up. All were All-Stars this season and none are older than 25. Pretty great.

Know what else is pretty awesome? The Yankees also have arguably the best prospect in the minors in their farm system. At some point next year Gleyber Torres, who MLB.com ranks as baseball’s No. 1 prospect, figures to join Judge, Sanchez, and Severino (and Greg Bird?) in that big league core. Heck, he might’ve joined them in the second half this season had he not hurt his non-throwing elbow in June. Healthy Torres maybe means no Todd Frazier trade. Hmmm.

Gleyber’s rehab from Tommy John surgery is going well — “(He’s) pretty close to 100%. He’d love to play some winter ball. We’re not going to let him,” said Brian Cashman to Mike Mazzeo last week — and he’s expected to be a full go for Spring Training. And, when Spring Training rolls around, Cashman said Torres will get an opportunity to compete for a big league job. Here’s what Cashman told Brendan Kuty last week:

Making the jump from Triple-A to MLB is tough enough. Making the jump from Triple-A to MLB when you missed the last half-season with a major elbow injury is even tougher. The Yankees will surely want to make sure Gleyber is back to normal after his surgery before turning him loose at the big league level. If there’s rust, they want him to work through it in the minors, where the games don’t count.

The second point is a secondary concern. The Yankees usually don’t obsess over service time. If they feel a player gives them the best chance to win, they tend to carry that player on the MLB roster. In Gleyber’s case, pushing back his free agency — two weeks in the minors in 2018 equals control of his age 27 season in 2024 — would be a byproduct of shaking off the post-Tommy John surgery rust. It could be enough of an incentive that the Yankees send Torres down on Opening Day juuust to make sure he’s all the way back, you know?

Now, that said, even if the odds are against Torres making the team out of Spring Training next year, there are reasons to let him compete for a job. One big reason, actually. Motivation. Motivation for Gleyber and motivation for the veterans. “It’s nice to have the young guys pushing up. It’s nice to have the older guys hear the footsteps,” said Cashman to Bryan Hoch last week. A little healthy Spring Training competition never hurt anyone.

It would seem Chase Headley, right now the starting third baseman, is the veteran most at risk of losing his job to Torres, but I suppose we can’t rule out Starlin Castro getting displaced. Third base is the more likely destination though. Headley will be entering the last season of his contract, and if he knows a talented kid is coming for job, it figures to make him push even harder. That’s a good thing!

I am skeptical Torres will truly have a chance to win a roster spot in Spring Training. The Yankees hold fake spring competitions all the time. Had he stayed healthy last season, oh sure, I’d 100% believe it. Clint Frazier having a chance to win a spot? I totally buy that. But Torres, after missing the last half of the season with a major injury? Eh. The Yankees always play it safe with injuries, especially injuries to important players, and Torres is important.

Giving Gleyber some motivation is a plus though, ditto letting Headley (and Castro?) know his job is not safe. Torres may not have a good chance to make the roster, but it is a chance, and that’s enough to let everyone know this won’t be a run of the mill Spring Training.

“Obviously,” Cashman said to Kuty, “whether it’s Gleyber Torres, whether it’s (Miguel) Andujar, whether it’s Clint Frazier, those guys are all serving notice on the more established players of, ‘Don’t sleep on us, because we’re trying to take what you got.’”

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.

Thoughts on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects

Adams. (The Citizens' Voice)
Adams. (The Citizens’ Voice)

Now that the 2017season is over, the crew at Baseball Prospectus is storming through their annual look at the top ten prospects (plus more) in each farm system. Yesterday they hit the Yankees. From what I can tell, the entire article is free. You don’t need a subscription to read the commentary.

“A year after being deadline sellers, the Yankees thinned out their farm with graduations and a pair of July 31st buys. The system is down a little, but has an elite 1-2 punch at the top and a bonanza of high-upside teenagers further down the organizational totem pole,” said the write-up. Here’s the top ten:

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

Both OF Clint Frazier and UTIL Tyler Wade exhausted their rookie eligibility this season, which is why they’re not in the top ten. Frazier exceeded the 130 at-bat rookie limit (he finished with 134) while Wade accrued too much service time. The rookie limit is 45 days outside the September roster expansion period. Wade finished with 50 such days, by my unofficial count. Anyway, some thoughts.

1. A year ago at this time the farm system was very position player heavy. The top four and six of the top nine prospects in the system were position players, per Baseball Prospectus. Six of my top eight were position players. Now Baseball Prospectus has seven pitchers among the top ten prospects in the organization. Furthermore, six prospects in the 11-20 range are pitchers as well. That’s a lot of quality arms! And the Yankees are going to need them too. Pitchers break down, they fail to develop a third pitch, etc. There are so many things that can derail development. Plus young pitching is the best currency in baseball. It can get you almost anything you want at the trade deadline. We could start to see the system strength shift from position players to pitchers earlier this year. Now this is damn close to a pitcher first farm system.

2. Speaking of pitchers, where’s RHP Jorge Guzman? He’s not mentioned in the Baseball Prospectus write-up at all. Not in the top ten, not in the next ten, nothing. In the comments it was explained the Yankees have a deep system and Guzman essentially got squeezed out by the numbers crunch, though I’m not sure I agree with him not being a top 20 prospect in the system. Heck, he’s in my top ten right now. When you have Medina in the top ten and RHP Roansy Contreras in the next ten, it’s tough to understand why Guzman isn’t there. He’s a more polished version of those guys, relatively speaking. Perhaps his age is the problem? Guzman will turn 22 in January and he’s yet to pitch in a full season league. That happens when you don’t sign until 18. I dunno. They don’t check IDs on the mound. If you can get outs, it doesn’t matter if you’re 21 or 31 or 41. Guzman’s stuff is as good as anyone’s in the system and he made great strides with his command and secondary pitches in 2017. Seems like a top ten prospect to me.

3. OF Pablo Olivares got some love. He’s been a little sleeper favorite of mine the last two years. The 19-year-old struggled in his quick stint with Low-A Charleston last season, but he .311/.420/.424 (149 wRC+) with 10.7% walks and 13.4% strikeouts in complex ball from 2016-17. Olivares is one of those guys who does a little of everything but nothing exceptionally well. “I project him to at least average across the board, led by a future 55 hit tool … (When) patient, he took walks and drove pitches to center and oppo. He’s bigger than his listed 6-foot, 160 pounds (likely closer to 170), and while just an average runner, his reads and instincts in center are good enough to stick with an average arm. With maturity and some added strength, he at least has a chance to see 50 power,” said the write-up, which included Olivares as a prospect in the 11-20 range of the farm system. I like him. I think he’ll establish himself as a no-doubt top 15 prospect in the system in 2018. There’s a “Thairo Estrada but an outfielder” quality to Olivares.

4. My favorite feature of Baseball Prospectus’ annual prospect write-ups are the “top talents 25 and under” lists. The ten best players in the organization no older than 25, basically. Straightforward, right? New York’s list has Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino in the 1-2-3 spots in that order, then slide the top ten prospects behind them. Noticeably absent: Greg Bird. Hmmm. I assume the injuries are the reason Bird was omitted from the top 25 and under talents — “As per usual, his future outlook depends almost entirely on his health,” said the write-up — but even considering that, I still feel like he belongs in the top ten somewhere. Why would injuries knock Bird out of the top ten but not, say, Abreu? He had injury problems of his own this year and he’s never pitched above High-A. Bird is quite risky given his injury history. He’s also shown he can be a productive big leaguer when healthy. Not sure I agree with knocking him down the list below prospects, who themselves are inherently risky.

DotF: Austin heads to winter ball, Abreu dominates in AzFL

Last week SS Thairo Estrada finished third in the annual Arizona Fall League Hitting Challenge behind Twins 3B Chris Paul and Mets C Tomas Nido. During the Hitting Challenge players aim for targets on the field to accumulate points. It’s pretty neat. The video is above. Here are some minor league notes:

  • SS Gleyber Torres has started hitting off a tee as he continues his rehab from Tommy John surgery, according to his Instagram feed. Good news. Seems everything is going well. Torres blew out his non-throwing elbow sliding into home plate in June and is expected to be ready in time for Spring Training.
  • Both 3B Miguel Andujar and 1B Tyler Austin will play winter ball in the Dominican Republic this winter, according to MLB Pipeline. Austin missed a bunch of time with injuries this past season, and could be a 40-man roster casualty this winter. Andujar needs to work on his defense. The more reps, the better.
  • LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 1) topped last week’s Prospect Hot Sheet following his dominant Arizona Fall League debut, then both RHP Albert Abreu (No. 2 ) and OF Estevan Florial (No. 7 ) made this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. I can’t remember the last time the Yankees had this strong a group of prospects in the AzFL.
  • Player development analyst Dan Greenlee has left the Yankees to join Gary Denbo with the Marlins, reports Joel Sherman. Greenlee will be Miami’s director of player personnel, which is quite the promotion. He’d been doing minor league analytical work for the Yankees.
  • The Yankees have started interviewing internal candidates to replace Denbo, reports George King. Pro scouting director Kevin Reese, director of minor league operations Eric Schmitt, director of performance science John Kremer, and field coordinator Carlos Mendoza have interviewed so far.
  • So long, 1B Ji-Man Choi. He elected free agency, reports Matt Eddy. We’ll always have those dingers. Also, the Yankees re-signed C Sharif Othman. The organizational depth catcher hit .223/.265/.345 (74 wRC+) in 72 games at three levels in 2017.

Arizona Fall League

  • SS Thairo Estrada: 10 G, 16-41, 9 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 9 K, 2 HBP, 2 SB (.390/.432/.512)
  • OF Estevan Florial: 10 G, 12-38, 9 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 6 BB, 18 K, 1 HBP, 1 SB, 1 CS (.316/.422/.447) — Josh Norris said Florial got chewed up by breaking balls in one of the games he saw, which included six swings and misses on breaking stuff
  • SS Kyle Holder: 6 G, 10-24, 3 R, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HBP, 1 CS (.417/.444/.625) — he’s on the taxi squad, so he only plays Wednesdays and Saturdays
  • 1B/OF Billy McKinney: 9 G, 11-36, 5 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 4 BB, 6 K, 1 HBP (.306/.372/.528) — so far he’s played five games at first base, three in left field, and one at DH … some AzFL parks are equipped with Statcast, and among the games recorded, McKinney had one of the ten hardest hit balls
  • RHP Albert Abreu: 3 G, 3 GS, 15 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 15 K, 1 HR (1.20 ERA and 0.80 WHIP)
  • RHP Cody Carroll: 5 G, 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 11 K (0.00 ERA and 0.86 WHIP)
  • RHP Andrew Schwaab: 5 G, 4.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 1 HB (8.31 ERA and 1.85 WHIP)
  • LHP Justus Sheffield: 4 G, 4 GS, 19 IP, 13 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 21 K, 1 WP (2.39 ERA and 0.79 WHIP) — Josh Norris has a write-up of Sheffield’s second AzFL start, and said his stuff was as good as his first start … “The 21-year-old sat between 94-97 mph with his fastball for most of his 4.1 inning out and touched 98 once. Just like he did on Tuesday, he also showed two potential plus offerings in his mid-80s slider and high-80s slider,” said the report.

[Read more…]

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.