The back of the bench [2017 Season Review]

Higgy looking for hits (Al Bello/Getty Images)
Higgy looking for hits (Al Bello/Getty Images)

We’ve gone through just about every player who made an appearance for the Yankees this year. The good ones. The bad ones. Now let’s get to some of the players in between, the players who are easy to forget. These are the players that you miss on the 2017 New York Yankees Sporcle quiz.

First, let’s go a little more in-depth on a few players I went over in the miscellaneous first basemen review and then touch on the true bottom of the roster.

Rob Refsnyder

While Refsnyder had a five-game stint at first base, the Yankees didn’t use him primarily at first this year. He was called up on May 2 to replace an injured Greg Bird on the roster. Six days later, he was sent down for Chad Green.

In all, Refsnyder was up-and-down three times in May, once for the single-admission Derek Jeter/Mother’s Day doubleheader and another time to take the spot of Jacoby Ellsbury post-concussion.

I’ve already gone into his inability to hit this year. It was painful. But his fielding also reared its ugly head. The moment that sticks out was when he replaced Dustin Fowler after the rookie’s devastating knee injury. Refsnyder almost immediately misplayed a ball in right field during a game the Yankees lost by one run.

The dream was that Refsnyder could be a Zobrist-type, but he could neither hit nor field particularly well and it’s why he’s currently on his third organization in the last year (Yankees to Blue Jays to Indians). He played six games against the Yankees with the Blue Jays in the final two months of the year and went 2-for-12.

Tyler Austin

With 40 more at-bats in 2017, Austin is six at-bats shy of no longer being a rookie. And after a sub-par season due to injuries, it’s worth wondering where he fits in New York.

Two separate DL stints this season really set him back from a chance to prove himself as at least a bench bat, if not the righty side of a platoon. Now, he’ll likely start 2018 in Triple A if he makes it through the offseason on the 40-man roster.

Fun note: He is Pikachu in Didi’s postgame tweets. I don’t think any of these other players got an emoji.

Kyle Higashioka

Higashioka had an impressive 2016 in the minors, earning himself the opportunity as the No. 3 catcher out of spring. His calling card in 2016 was his power, although we didn’t get a chance to see it in the majors.

In his age-27 season, he walked twice and picked up no hits in 20 plate appearances while playing nine games in April. He got the chance after Gary Sanchez went down with a forearm injury, but Higgy couldn’t hack it in an extremely short sample size after debuting in the Yankees’ home opener.

As he did for much of his minor league career, Higashioka dealt with injuries for much of the season. The team had to have hoped he’d turned the corner health-wise in his breakout 2016, but alas, he was unable to do so.

The team had to seek out a new third catcher for September after he couldn’t make make it back from his back injury. Now he’ll have to prove himself again to make it through 2018 on the 40-man.

Mason Williams

The former top prospect spent his final games in pinstripes this season. Sad to see his time as a Yankee come to an end, but he became expendable this season with the team’s glut of young outfielders.

He made five starts in June and picked up four hits, stealing two bases. No extra-base hits though, which has been part of his issues. He just couldn’t hit for much pop, nor could he work many walks.

He was designated for assignment on June 29 to make room for Dustin Fowler. He spent the rest of the year in Scranton where he continued to show very little power but still produced with his legs (19 steals in 24 attempts).

Williams is now with the Cincinnati Reds, having signed with the club as a minor league free agent after the season.

Williams steals a base on Kozma! (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Williams steals a base on Kozma! (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Pete Kozma

Kozma may be the easiest 2017 Yankee to forget. He wouldn’t have made the roster at all if it wasn’t for Didi’s injury during the World Baseball Classic/Spring Training.

He played just 11 games in pinstripes and made just 10 plate appearances. He had just one hit and one walk. Didn’t do anything remarkable. He was DFA’d to make room for Didi on April 28 and spent the next 3.5 months with the Rangers. He was cut from their Triple A squad in mid-August.

Erik Kratz

The Yankees needed a third catcher down the stretch, so Kratz was acquired at the waiver deadline. He played in just four games and had just two at-bats. He delivered in both of them with a single and a double, finishing the season with a sterling 2.500 OPS. That’s good for a 600 wRC+. Oh snap!

He hung around the team during the postseason and stood up for Aaron Judge in a postgame interview after ALDS Game 5. That’s about it for his brief Yankees career.

DotF: Garcia homers, Charleston clinches a postseason spot

In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees acquired C Erik Kratz from the Indians for cash. He’s been assigned to Triple-A Scranton. Two other catcher notes from Conor Foley: C Wilkin Castillo (knee) was placed on the Triple-A disabled list and C Kyle Higashioka (shoulder) was healthy enough to take batting practice today. That’s good.

Triple-A Scranton (5-1 loss to Rochester)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 K — so I guess whatever led to him being pulled from last night’s game was no big deal
  • DH Matt Holliday: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB — 7-for-35 (.200) in ten rehab games … no surprise here, but manager Al Pedrique told Conor Foley that Holliday will rejoin the Yankees tomorrow
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-4, 1 2B — here’s video of the double, which might’ve been into the short porch in the Bronx
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 1-2, 1 BB, 1 K
  • LF Billy McKinney, RF Jake Cave & CF Mason Williams: all 0-3 — McKinney struck out twice, Cave once, Williams zero times
  • RHP Chance Adams: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 5/3 GB/FB — 65 of 102 pitches were strikes (64%) … this was his final start of the regular season … he finishes the year with a 2.45 ERA and a 135/58 K/BB in 150.1 innings … he had a 144/39 K/BB in 127.1 innings last year

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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.

* * *

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.

DotF: Cave homers as Scranton clinches division title

Got several days worth of notes to catch up on, so let’s get to it.

  • RHP Domingo Acevedo’s season is over, reports Matt Kardos. He’s been shut down due to his workload. Big Sunday had a 3.25 ERA (3.27 FIP) with 26.0% strikeouts and 6.2% walks in 133 innings at three levels this season. He threw 93 innings last year. Good season for Acevedo. A 40-man roster spot awaits this offseason.
  • Kyle Higashioka (shoulder) has a muscle strain, according to Conor Foley. He’s on the disabled list at the moment. There is no timetable for Higashioka’s return and that’s kind of a big deal with September call-ups looming and both Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine waiting on the appeals of their suspensions.
  • SS Thairo Estrada was named to the Double-A Eastern League end-of-season All-Star Team while 2B Nick Solak did the same in the High-A Florida State League. Also, High-A Tampa manager Jay Bell was named the FSL Manager of the year. Bell was recently named a top managerial prospect. Congrats to them.
  • According to Josh Norris, Estrada is expected to be among the players the Yankees send to the Arizona Fall League after the season. Thairo is on the 40-man roster bubble and the Yankees are probably using the AzFL stint to buy a little more evaluation time. That’s pretty common. The AzFL rosters should be announced fairly soon. Probably this week.
  • J.J. Cooper (subs. req’d) looked at this year’s top breakout prospects, and OF Estevan Florial is among them. “Florial’s strikeout rate is still frighteningly high, but he runs, has developing power and has a chance to be an impact defender in center field in addition to a dynamic power-speed threat in the batter’s box,” said the write-up.

Triple-A Scranton (5-3 win over Rochester) they clinched a postseason spot over the weekend, and this win clinches their third straight division title

  • 2B Tyler Wade & 1B Tyler Austin: both 0-4, 1 K — Wade is 2-for-13 (.154) with five strikeouts in three games since being sent down
  • CF Jake Cave: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — that’s his 20th home run of the season … his previous career high was eight, set last year
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 2-4, 1 SB — 18-for-47 (.383) during his 12-game hitting streak
  • RF Billy McKinney: 1-4
  • LF Mason Williams: 2-3, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 9/2 GB/FB — 50 of 72 pitches were strikes (69%)
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 20 of 33 pitches were strikes (61%)
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 4/0 GB/FB — 19 of 27 pitches were strikes (70%) … 44/11 K/BB in 39.1 innings since coming back from Tommy John surgery

[Read more…]

DotF: Andujar’s big game leads Scranton to a win

Two quick notes to pass along:

  • C Kyle Higashioka is on the disabled list with a shoulder problem, not a recurrence of his recent back injury, according to Conor Foley. He said his shoulder feels weak. No idea how long he’ll be sidelined, but with September call-ups right around the corner, you can bet Higashioka hopes to be back soon.
  • SS Tyler Wade, who has nine plate appearances in the last 19 days, lost his rookie eligibility through service time today. He dropped off MLB.com’s top 30 Yankees prospects list and RHP Trevor Stephan has jumped on.

Triple-A Scranton (3-0 win over Durham)

  • RF Jake Cave: 2-4, 1 R, 1 RBI
  • DH Starlin Castro: 1-4, 1 K — here’s video of the single he and Greg Bird, who had a scheduled off-day today, are traveling with the RailRiders for their road trip and will continue their rehab assignments this week, according to Conor Foley
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 3-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — eight homers in 45 Triple-A games now
  • LF Billy McKinney: 0-4, 2 K
  • CF Mason Williams: 1-3, 1 R
  • RHP Domingo German: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K, 4/5 GB/FB — 64 of 102 pitches were strikes (63%) … 69/19 K/BB in 65 Triple-A innings this year
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 24 of 36 pitches were strikes (67%)

[Read more…]

DotF: Bird stays hot on rehab assignment in Scranton’s loss

C Kyle Higashioka is back on the Triple-A Scranton disabled list, reports Conor Foley. Not sure if the back issue flared up again, or if this is something new. I wonder what the Yankees will do about a third catcher in September if Higashioka doesn’t get healthy in time. I guess C Eddy Rodriguez by default?

Triple-A Scranton (8-4 loss to Durham)

  • LF Jake Cave: 0-4, 2 K
  • 2B Starlin Castro: 1-3, 1 R, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) — played five innings in the field as scheduled … here’s video of the single
  • DH Greg Bird: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K — here’s video of the double … 6-for-14 (.429) in four rehab games so far
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 HBP, 1 SB
  • RF Billy McKinney: 0-3
  • LHP Joe Mantiply: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 4/0 GB/FB — 28 of 40 pitches were strikes (70%) … made the spot start because Caleb Smith is in the big leagues
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 WP, 4/0 GB/FB — 26 of 36 pitches were strikes (72%) … only the second outing in which he’s allowed a run this year … 19 of his 21 appearances have been scoreless
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 3 K — 14 of 21 pitches were strikes

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DotF: Austin hits walk-off homer in second rehab game

Here are the day’s notes:

  • LHP Justus Sheffield (oblique) has started throwing, reports Kyle Franko. He made 50 throws from 60 feet on flat ground. There is no timetable for Sheffield’s return, though the fact he’s throwing is good news. Maybe Sheffield will go to the Arizona Fall League to make up for the lost innings.
  • C Kyle Higashioka (back) has been throwing and the hope is he will get back into games within a week, according to Conor Foley and D.J. Eberle. Between the injuries and spending a month sitting on the big league bench, Higashioka has only 73 plate appearances this season. That’s not good.
  • Two Yankees on this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet: OF Billy McKinney (14th ) and 3B Dermis Garcia (20th). Also, RHP Deivi Garcia was the Helium Watch player. “He’s a smaller righthander with a big arm. His fastball has touched as high as 96 mph in the past, and he’s shown feel to spin a curveball as well,” said the write-up.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 win over Pawtucket, walk-off style)

  • LF-CF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 K — now a 19-game hitting streak
  • CF Aaron Hicks: 0-3, 2 K — played seven innings in his third rehab game, as scheduled
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 3-4, 1 R, 1 RBI — hitting streak is up to 17 games … I think the odds are pretty darn good he would outhit Matt Holliday from right now through the end of the season
  • DH Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — walk-off two-run homer
  • RF Billy McKinney & 1B Garrett Cooper: both 0-3
  • RHP Luis Cessa: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 47 of 69 pitches were strikes (68%), and Conor Foley says he generated 19 (!) swings and misses
  • RHP Jonathan Holder: 2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 25 of 33 pitches were strikes (76%)
  • RHP Ben Heller: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 19 of 27 pitches were strikes (70%) … really wish all those big league innings that went to Holder earlier this year had gone to Heller instead

[Read more…]