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.

The Yankees have a poorly constructed bench, but there’s not much they can do it about it right now

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night the Yankees dropped a heartbreaker of a game to the Red Sox, mostly because Aroldis Chapman blew his fourth save in 19 chances this season. The Yankees turned a one-run lead over to their closer and he couldn’t make it stand up. Rafael Devers hit an insanely impressive home run to tie it, but still, this is a results business, and Chapman didn’t get the results.

The Yankees had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth inning and geez, it was a mess of an inning, both in terms of execution and decision-making. For both teams, not just the Yankees. Red Sox manager John Farrell tried to make an illegal mound visit to change pitchers and had to be told to go back to the dugout. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that before.

A quick recap of the inning: Chase Headley walked, Ronald Torreyes bunted him over to second, pinch-hitter Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out, Brett Gardner struck out. Why didn’t Tyler Wade pinch-run for Headley? Who knows. Why didn’t Craig Kimbrel start the inning instead of coming in after the mess was made? Who cares. Why did the Yankees not have a better pinch-hitting option than Ellsbury? That’s the real question.

Right now the Yankees are carrying eight relievers and three bench players. Those three bench players for last night’s game: Wade, Ellsbury, Garrett Cooper. Wade never plays, Ellsbury has played so poorly this year he had to be demoted into the fourth outfielder’s role, and Cooper is a right-handed platoon first baseman who apparently doesn’t even start against left-handers anymore. (He didn’t start against lefties Saturday or Sunday.)

Usually Austin Romine is on the bench in place of Ellsbury or Cooper, though he was in the starting lineup for the fifth time in the last ten games last night (!), so Gary Sanchez was the DH. After Ellsbury pinch-hit for Romine in that ninth inning, the Yankees had to forfeit the DH to move Sanchez behind the plate. It didn’t matter — the pitcher’s spot never came up again — but still. Second time in three games the Yankees did that.

As it stands, the Yankees don’t have a whole lot of utility on the bench. Wade can pinch-run and play just about anywhere in a pinch, but clearly Girardi doesn’t trust him, so he never plays. Wade has played twice in the last eleven days, both times playing defense for a half-inning at the end of a blowout. The Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot and Girardi is going to stick with Torreyes at second, and he’s been fine. Great at times, bad at others, fine overall.

Wade doesn’t play. Cooper provides zero flexibility as a first base only guy. Ellsbury? Meh. He’s had his moments the last eight days or so, but generally speaking, he’s on the bench more often than not these days for a reason. The bench right now is not very good, and the worst part? There’s really nothing the Yankees can do about. There are three reasons for that.

  1. Injuries. Starlin Castro, Greg Bird, and Matt Holliday (and Clint Frazier) are all on the disabled list. Those guys, when healthy, would push Cooper, Wade, and the eighth reliever to Triple-A, and Torreyes and Romine to the bench more often than not. (At least in theory.)
  2. The pitching staff. The Yankees are without Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, and lately, getting length from the starter has been a tall order. Seven times in the last 17 games the starter failed to complete five innings. The Yankees need that eighth reliever given the state of the rotation.
  3. Lack of options. The Yankees have two healthy position players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues: Miguel Andujar and Tyler Austin. Austin is essentially a Cooper clone. Swap the two and nothing changes. The Yankees have clearly deemed Andujar not big league ready, and besides, he can only play third. Non-40-man options in Triple-A include, uh, Donovan Solano? Jake Cave? Billy McKinney? Not much there.

The Yankees could go out and make a waiver trade to bolster the bench — Neil Walker would’ve helped and I’m sure Jed Lowrie could be had — and I’m sure the Yankees are exploring every option. That said, it really feels like the Yankees are just trying to hang on and get by until the injured dudes return. Aaron Hicks came back late last week and both Castro and Bird are due to begin minor league rehab assignments this week. Holliday took batting practice yesterday. They’re coming.

For now, the Yankees can’t do much more than bide their time until the regulars get healthy or a sensible trade option becomes available. I’d bet on the former happening before the latter. Forfeiting the DH to pinch-hit for the backup catcher who starts way too often with less than ideal pinch-hitter options isn’t something that can last forever. The Yankees need to improve their bench, and the best way to do that is to get the regulars healthy.

Sunday Links: Walker, Best Tools, Bullpen, Food Safety

Random photo is random. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Random photo is random. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox will wrap up their three-game weekend series with the ESPN Sunday Night Game later today. The game should end sometime Monday morning. Anyway, here are some bits of news and notes to check out.

Yankees, Mets had Walker deal

More Yankees-Mets trade deadline drama. According to Mike Puma, the Yankees and Mets agreed to a Neil Walker trade prior to the trade deadline, but the Yankees backed out due to medical concerns. Puma says the Mets believe the Yankees used the medical concerns as an excuse to back out after finishing the Sonny Gray trade. Hmmm. Walker returned from a partially torn hamstring a few days before the trade deadline and had back surgery late last year.

Walker, 31, was traded to the Brewers last night and is hitting .264/.339/.442 (107 wRC+) with ten home runs in 299 plate appearances this season. Although he’s primarily a second baseman, the Mets also used Walker at first and third bases. He’s an impending free agent and the Yankees would have presumably used Walker at second base until Starlin Castro returned, then shifted him into a utility role. Eh, whatever. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little sick of this Yankees-Mets drama.

Baseball America’s best tools survey

One of my favorite features of the year is Baseball America’s annual best tools survey. They poll managers and coaches and scouts about the best tools and players in their leagues, from MLB all the way down to Low-A. Here’s where the various Yankees ranked:

Bell, the longtime big leaguer, is in his first season managing High-A Tampa after spending 2013 as the Pirates hitting coach and 2014-15 as the Reds bench coach. I’m curious to see what the Yankees do with him going forward. If Bell is a highly regarded managerial prospect as the survey suggests, either the Yankees are going to have to move him up the ladder, or they’ll lose him to an organization that will move him up.

Also, must be a down year for relievers in the Sally League, huh? Lane, who has since been promoted to High-A Tampa, is a 23-year-old former tenth round pick, and a sinker/slider lefty with middling velocity and a low arm slot. A classic left-on-left matchup profile. He’s got really good numbers this year, throwing 57 innings with a 1.26 ERA (2.26 FIP) and strong strikeout (27.1%) and walk (6.7%) rates. Not sure he’s much of a prospect though.

Yankees top ZiPS bullpen projections

Not surprisingly, the Yankees sit atop the ZiPS bullpen projections for the rest of the season, so says Dan Szymborski. Projections don’t really mean anything, of course. They’re not predictions. They’re more like an estimate of talent level. Anyway, here’s what ZiPS has to say about New York’s new-look bullpen:

Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman was already one of the best, if not THE best, one-two relief punch in baseball. Now you add in David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, the latter possibly the most underappreciated player acquired this deadline. Even Adam Warren has been lights-out, with a 1.97 ERA/2.69 FIP. Not to mention the team’s remaining big acquisition: Adding the complete absence of Tyler Clippard.

The bullpen before the Robertson/Kahnle trade: 3.39 ERA (3.33 FIP). The bullpen since the Robertson/Kahnle trade: 2.09 ERA (2.64 FIP). That 3.39 ERA (3.33 FIP) before the trade is a little deceiving too, because Jonathan Holder and especially Clippard had become wholly unreliable. They started the season well before crashing hard. The Yankees needed to fix their bullpen at the trade deadline, and they did exactly that. Too bad the starters are all getting hurt and the offense has since gone in the tank.

Yankees lagging in food safety rankings

Earlier this week Tanner Walters, using public inspection records, compiled ballpark food safety rankings. How clean are the facilities, is everything stored properly, so on and so forth. Yankee Stadium ranks 21st among the 28 parks in the rankings (data wasn’t available for Progressive Field or Comerica Park), and ranking 21st among 28 teams seems not good? From Walters:

Yankee Stadium led the league with critical violations (62% of its stands), and an infestation of flies highlighted the inspections from late July in the Bronx. Inspectors handed out citations at over a dozen food entities around the ballpark for observation of flies and improper vermin-proofing. The city doesn’t give detailed observations in its reports, but nearly a quarter of the stadium’s violations came from improper maintenance for non-food surfaces. Last year, even without a fly problem, Yankee Stadium would have finished in the same spot in our rankings. The ballpark had fewer overall violations but more that were critical, mostly from the restaurants and suites.

Kinda gross! Even with recent improvements, the concessions at Yankee Stadium lag big time in quality and selection behind the rest of the league — the concessions at Citi Field are so much better it’s not even funny, and it’s not just Shake Shack — and apparently they’re lacking in cleanliness and proper food safety too. Yuck.

With Ronald Torreyes locked in at second, the Yankees should let Tyler Wade play everyday in Triple-A

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Last night, for the first time since last Thursday, Tyler Wade got into a game with the Yankees. He played one half-inning in the field at the end of a blowout. That’s all. Wade has not started a game since last Thursday and he’s played only one full game in the last ten days. He is the quintessential utility infielder right now. Use only when absolutely necessary.

Wade has been glued to the bench basically since that ugly 0-for-5 with three strikeouts game against the Rays, in which the big spot kept finding him and he couldn’t come through. Predictably, Joe Girardi has gone with Ronald Torreyes almost exclusively at second base since then, and hey, Torreyes has played well. He’s gone 12-for-42 (.286) in eleven games since Wade’s disaster against Tampa.

Starlin Castro is currently working his way back from his hamstring injury, and given the way things have gone the last week and a half, there’s no real reason to believe Girardi won’t continue to stick with Torreyes at second base in the interim. Torreyes is in the position player Circle of Trust™. Wade has been an overmatched rookie. It happens. The Yankee are trying to contend and Torreyes gives them a better chance to win.

That said, is sitting on the bench the best thing for Wade at this point of his career? I don’t think so. I totally believe being in the big leagues can be a great learning experience for a young player, even when he’s not playing, but is that experience so valuable that the lost at-bats don’t matter? Maybe it is. I’m not so sure. Wade is a 22-year-old kid who hasn’t played a full Triple-A season yet, and lately he hasn’t been playing at all.

Castro is tentatively scheduled to start a minor league rehab assignment next week, which means he’s probably two weeks away from the returning to the lineup, give or take. Unless Girardi reverses course and starts playing Wade — he hasn’t even been playing against right-handed pitchers — that’s another two weeks on the bench on top of the two weeks he’s been sitting on the bench already. That’s an awful lot of sitting.

The solution here is pretty clear. Send Wade down to Triple-A so he can actually play, and call up a different player to serve as the utility infielder for the time being. Someone with no real long-term future with the Yankees. Someone who won’t make you lose any sleep if he goes two weeks between at-bats. Donovan Solano, Jonathan Diaz, and Cito Culver are with Triple-A Scranton and they all fit the bill. (I’d go with Solano, but that’s just me.)

There are 40-man roster considerations that are relatively minor. The Yankees do have an open 40-man spot, so adding Solano or Diaz or Culver would be a piece of cake. They would have to be removed once Greg Bird is activated off the 60-day DL, and since Bird is reportedly ahead of Castro in his rehab, there’s some conflict here. You can’t not have a utility infielder. The Yankees might have  to call Wade back up for a few days in that case. Point is, the 40-man roster aspect of calling up a different utility infielder is workable.

Anyway, the point here is Wade has not played much at all, and there’s little reason to believe he will get much playing time going forward. Sitting on the bench for a month isn’t the best development plan for a 22-year-old prospect. I know Wade has looked overmatched, and he has been, but he’s awfully talented. He’s good defensively, he’s athletic, he’s fast, and he can really work an at-bat. We’re not seeing it right now, but it’s in there. The skills have to be honed.

My preference would be Wade playing second base against righties, but since that’s not going to happen, sending him down is the next best thing. Let someone else rot on the bench. A 22-year-old kid with a chance to be part of the long-term future shouldn’t be the one stuck sitting for weeks on end. Teams go out and get journeymen like Solano and Diaz for exactly this reason. So kids like Wade wouldn’t be in the position he’s currently in.

The Yankees still live in the past even when focused on the future

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

We live in a world in which the corporate culture is, as always, dominated by brands. In terms of sports, the Yankees are arguably the most famous and valuable brand out there, at least on this side of the Atlantic. At this point, the Yankees have built that brand on a tradition of winning and a tradition of, well, tradition itself. In the past few weeks, that idea has manifested itself in a bunch of frustrating ways.

Most recently, there was the manufactured controversy of new acquisition Todd Frazier‘s number of choice. For his entire Major League career–up until this past week, of course–Frazier had worn the number 21. Now he’s wearing number 29. Why? Because of the past. Paul O’Neill’s 21 has gone unworn–save for by Latroy Hawkins and Morgan Ensberg, briefly–thanks to some limbo the Yankees are playing. They won’t retire it, but they won’t issue it. This is beyond silly. I saw a lot of fan reaction in support of Frazier NOT wearing the number because he’s not Paul O’Neill, he’s not “The Warrior” and he hasn’t “earned his pinstripes.” This is hogwash. You now how Todd Frazier earned his stripes? By being traded to the Yankees. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone; he’s done that over his career. If wearing a number makes him more comfortable at the plate, in the field, in the clubhouse, wherever, whenever, then he should be allowed to wear that number. Stop living in the past if you’re not going to retire the number 21.

First, let’s praise Clint Frazier for picking 77 as a great troll move. Yes, he gave the reason that he liked the way 77 balanced Aaron Judge‘s 99 in right, but it’s easy to see that Clint is having a little fun with his number controversy–also fake–from earlier in the year. Second, we got word that when Aaron Hicks returns from the disabled list, he’ll be going down. If this happens, that’s a mistake. Big time. Frazier is clearly one of the three best outfielders on the team, and will likely to continue to be when Hicks comes back; even then, he’s one of the four best and should get every day at bats. Sending him down, even for a brief time, would be ill-advised and really only serve to placate Ellsbury.  Granted Hicks is still a ways away from coming back, but if Frazier is sent down in late August or early September, those are crucial games he’ll be missing with a lesser player getting his at bats. This would betray not only the future in depriving Frazier of developmental at bats, but also the present in that it would actively hurt the Yankees’ chances at the playoffs.

With Starlin Castro now on the DL–again–the Yankees need to think of the future once again: play Tyler Wade every day. He’s up here, he might as well play. Ronald Torreyes is NOT an every day player. Running him out at second will hurt the team in the present. Wade didn’t show too well at the plate in his first cup of coffee, but he deserves to play, since he, unlike Torreyes, has the potential to be a future starter. He should–at the least–play against right handed pitching.

The Yankee organization has done well to market this year around their young stars like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. They need now to make a full commitment to that future, because those players–as well as Frazier, Wade, and even the regrettably absent Greg Bird–are the brightest parts of the current team and the signs of things to come. Living in the past by deferring to tradition and veterans serves a losing cause.

2017 Midseason Review: The Infielders

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

In the weeks leading up to Opening Day, our expectations surrounding the infield were fairly high. Greg Bird was raking in Spring Training, and it seemed as though he hadn’t missed a beat; and, in the event that he did, Chris Carter was around as an overqualified back-up. Starlin Castro had shown flashes of brilliance in 2016, and had been hyped-up by some as a potential breakout player. Chase Headley … well, his defense had improved, and he was better after a calamitous first month. And Didi Gregorius was coming off of a great all-around season. What could possibly go wrong?

The First Basemen

Expectation: Bird and Carter would form a more than competent platoon, of sorts, with Carter playing first against tougher LHP, and allowing Bird to rest a bit more often than a normal team composition would dictate. ZiPS projected a .234/.307/.449 line for Bird, and .223/.316/.509 for Carter.

Reality: Bird is on the disabled list for the second time in his career, as the result of an ankle injury. He’s played just 19 games, and is hitting on a .100/.250/.200 slash line. And Carter has earned himself two DFA’s by hitting .201/.284/.370 and absolutely brutal defense at first. The starter is currently Ji-Man Choi.

I almost don’t want to write more about first base, as it’s rather depressing. Bird’s injury (and the resulting fallout from the front office) has cast a shadow over the team’s season, and it has only grown darker as the team struggled over the last few weeks. His return is still up in the air, and surgery is a distinct possibility. And it is that uncertainty that is most frustrating.

And Carter – the should-have-been safety net – failed catastrophically. We always knew that he was a feast or famine hitter, but that had still resulted in a .221/.318/.474 slash line (116 wRC+) in five seasons as a regular. There was some sentiment that he was struggling as he adjusted to playing part time, but that excuse went out the window once he became the full-time first baseman. His 73 wRC+ ranks dead last among first basemen.

Choi is the starter for the time being, and he has made a decent impression in a four games. He’s hitting .182/.308/.727 in 13 PA, with 2 HR and 2 BB, and there’s no real challenger for his position in the organization right now. And, for what it’s worth, he does have a career .853 OPS in 851 PA at Triple-A.

Second-Half Forecast: The Yankees will acquire a first baseman via trade, and shut Bird down sooner rather than later.

The Second Basemen

Expectation: Castro would continue to be a competent yet frustrating presence at the keystone. ZiPS projected a .272/.305/.419 slash line, which isn’t too far off from his career norms (in 4000-plus PA).

Reality: Castro is currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, which was a major blow to the team’s lineup. He’s currently slashing .313/.348/.486 (121 wRC+) with 12 HR in 313 PA.

The 27-year-old Castro absolutely raked in April, batting .352/.362/.549 (154 wRC+) with 5 home runs. He also had a 7.1% walk rate, which is impressive for the free-swinger. His performance dipped in May (97 wRC+, 3.4 BB%), but he showed improvements in June (117 wRC+, 4.2 BB%) prior to hitting the DL. Castro earned an All-Star nod for his first-half, but had to be replaced due to that injury.

Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes have filled-in since the injury. I’ll have more on them in a bit.

Second-Half Forecast: Castro will be back soon, and his numbers will continue to fluctuate. With so much strong production in the bank, however, we may end up seeing a career year.

The Third Basemen

Expectation: Headley would be a warm body at the hot corner, with competent defense. And maybe, just maybe, he’d be a bit better with the bat. ZiPS had him at .247/.324/.376.

Reality: Headley has been a warm body at the hot corner, but his defense has regressed. His offense (91 wRC+) is right in-line with 2015 (92 wRC+) and 2016 (92 wRC+), even with a blistering hot start.

This is who Headley is at this point. He’s batting .254/.329/.373 (92 wRC+) since Opening Day of 2015, and his highs (142 wRC+ in April) are always met with ridiculous lows (15 wRC+ in May). That’s fine when he’s playing strong defense, as he did in 2016, but he has been a borderline disaster out there in 2017. DRS has him at -5 runs already, and he has already surpassed last year’s error total.

Second-Half Forecast: More of the same, unfortunately. Though, I could see a Miguel Andujar cup of coffee happening down the stretch.

The Shortstops

Expectation: Gregorius would continue to win our hearts with his surprising power, slick defense, and top-notch Twitter game. ZiPS was bearish on the power spike, projecting a .262/.308/.404 line.

Reality: Pretty darn close, albeit with nearly a month lost to a shoulder injury suffered at the World Baseball Classic. He’s hitting .291/.321/.458 with 10 HR (104 wRC+) on the year, and nearly made the All-Star team.

Gregorius is one of the most likable players in baseball, as evidenced by the fun he had trying to garner that final vote. The fact that he has proven that last season wasn’t a fluke helps, too, and he is currently a top-10 shortstop by both WAR (7th in MLB) and wRC+ (9th). And keep in mind that WAR is a counting stat, so the fact that he’s 26th among shortstop in PA helps to bring that number down. He may not be a Hall of Fame talent, but that’s perfectly acceptable – he’s still really, really good.

Second-Half Forecast: Gregorius will keep it up. He’s the safest bet among the infielders to be an above-average player for the remainder of the season, and I’m confident that he will.

The Reserves

Expectation: Ronald Torreyes and Co. would be perfectly adequate bench players.

Reality: Torreyes and Co. have been perfectly adequate – but they’ve had too play more often than anyone would have wanted.

Torreyes spent most of April as the team’s starting shortstop, and he was surprisingly competent. He posted a .313/.313/.433 slash line (95 wRC+) while Gregorius was on the mend, and his defense was more than passable. He has been overextended and a bit exposed since then, though, as he has already surpassed last year’s PA mark, and stands to play more as the season wears on. He’s another fun player, but he shouldn’t be counted on for much more than what he’s done already.

Wade was called upon to shore up the bench when Castro landed on the DL, and he has picked up five starts at second in those two weeks. He has yet to get on-track (.107/.219/.179 in 32 PA), but his versatility and speed should earn him more opportunities in the coming months. Wade hit .313/.390/.444 (134 wRC+) with 5 HR and 24 SB at Triple-A this year, and he might just be the best reserve the team has right now.

Rob Refsnyder is still around, too, but the Yankees seem to have decided that he’s a 1B/LF/RF. He’s batting .135/.200/.216 in 40 PA, and he hasn’t played since July 2.

Second-Half Forecast: This may be optimistic, but I’m hoping that we’ll see more of Wade, and less of Torreyes (and Refsnyder, if such a thing is even possible). The Yankees have been grooming him for this exact role for some time now; it’s his time to shine.

Game 75: Win it for Starlin

(Matt Hazlett/Getty)
(Matt Hazlett/Getty)

The Yankees are down yet another player. Starlin Castro was indeed placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain today. He left last night’s game with the injury. Castro joins Aaron Hicks (oblique), CC Sabathia (hamstring), Adam Warren (shoulder), and Greg Bird (ankle) on the shelf. Also, Matt Holliday is still out with his mystery illness/allergic reaction.

The show must go on though. Every team deals with injuries and no one feels bad for the Yankees. The Yankees did get back in the win column last night, though not before the bullpen made things unnecessarily interesting. I could really go for a blowout win. When’s the last time the Yankees had one of those? The bloodbath series against the Orioles, I guess. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. DH Tyler Austin
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 1B Austin Romine
  9. LF Rob Refsnyder
    RHP Luis Severino

It’s a bit cloudy in Chicago and on the cool side. There’s no rain in the forecast though, and that’s the most important thing. This evening’s game will begin at 8:10pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Castro has a Grade I strain. There’s no word on an exact timetable, but those usually take 2-3 weeks. Sometimes even less … Holliday went for tests but still doesn’t feel right. If it lingers another day or two, he could be placed on the disabled list … Austin’s hamstring is sore, which is why he’s the designated hitter tonight.

Roster Moves: In addition to placing Castro on the disabled list, the Yankees also sent down Jonathan Holder, and called up both Tyler Wade and Tyler Webb. The Yankees already had an open 40-man roster spot for Wade, so no other move was required. Technically Webb replaces Castro on the roster since the injury allows the Yankees to get around the ten-day rule. Wade is replacing Holder. The active roster is now 16% Tylers.