Thursday, February 8, 2018

2018 Yankees' Top 20 Prospects

It's that time of year once again: Prospect List season. Publications from all over the webs release their opinions of farm systems across the game of baseball, and I will offer my take on the Yankees' farm. As always, I'm not an expert. I scour the web for scouting reports, and I give a big thanks to publications like Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus,, ESPN's Keith Law, Fangraphs, Pinstripes Plus, etc for all of their content. I watch games for myself all through the season on as well. For eligibility I use the standard 130 at-bats for position players and 50 innings for pitchers cutoff; but I exclude service time. Sitting on the bench and hardly playing shouldn't exclude you from being a prospect, in my opinion. Obviously, these rankings are entirely subjective. I try to weight everything: ceiling, floor, risk, proximity, health, performance, you name it. Add it altogether and you have the 2018 top 20 Yankee prospects:

20.  RP Ben Heller

As the third piece of the Andrew Miller trade, Heller has had a couple cups of coffee with the Yankees but hasn't cemented a role in New York's bullpen just yet. The 2018 season could be the year for that. Heller has video game stuff: a darting two-seam fastball, and a slider that was once a slurve but has gotten sharper. He has even improved his change-up and his funky delivery is sure to give batters fits.

19. OF Billy McKinney

A knee injury that seemed to nag him for years, McKinney was healthy in 2017 and had his best season in years. McKinney was solid with Trenton, his third season at the Double-A level, but at Triple-A a swing change helped him clobber the ball in his first taste of the level. If the added power is real, McKinney has real value. I like the swing, it's quick, and that could do wonders at Yankee Stadium if he gets a real chance there. A natural corner outfielder, the Yankees had McKinney play some first base during the Arizona Fall League to add some versatility.

18. RHP Taylor Widener

Widener has turned into a nice find for the Yankees, picked in the 12th round in the 2016 draft, where he was a reliever for the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Yankees put him into the rotation going into his first full-pro season in 2017 and they were rewarded pretty nicely. Widener can touch mid-90's with the fastball, has a put-away slider, and a decent change-up. As a former reliever, Widener pitches exclusively out of the stretch and his delivery reminds me of former Yankee Chase Whitley. Widener can be better than Whitley, though, as it's possible Widener can turn into a solid back-end starter.

17. RHP Matt Sauer

A classic power right-handed prep arm, Sauer was nabbed by the Yankees with their second-round pick in the 2017 draft out of (Matt Vasgersian voice) Santa Maria, California. Like typical prep right-handed arms, Sauer reaches the mid-90's with his fastball and has an out-pitch curve. The change-up has potential, but is still a work in progress, and that is understandable. Some scouts, however, believe the delivery is violent and Sauer does throw across his body a bit.

16. RHP Jonathan Loaisiga

Loaisiga has jumped onto the prospect scene some, even with only 32.2 innings pitched (all below Low-A) in 2017, and has earned the Yankees' trust to add him to their 40-man roster this winter. Loaisiga has a solid three-pitch mix of fastball, curve, and change. The delivery is also smooth, and for a guy who is only 5' 11", having that arsenal and delivery aren't bad starting points. However, Loaisiga is already 23 years old, has had Tommy John surgery, and only has compiled 103.2 innings pitched since 2013. The 2018 season will be a big one for Loaisiga; another injury-plagued season could push him off the 40-man roster next winter with another batch of high-end prospects set to be due up for protection. And because he's on the 40-man, I expect the Yankees to move Loaisiga quickly, even as a starter. Don't be surprised if he sees some time in Double-A Trenton towards the latter end of the season if he coasts through the A-ball levels.

15. 2B Nick Solak

Drafted out of Louisville, the 2016 second round pick's first full season of pro ball went just about as expected; rake in High-A and get a good taste of Double-A in the season's final month. Solak has a good approach at the plate, hitting the ball hard to all fields, but the swing is a bit level, so his future power output may be limited some. Defensively at second base Solak is okay, he's made improvements since converting from the outfield, but progress with his footwork should help him going forward. Noted as someone who is a bit "scrappy," Solak has a chance to be an everyday second baseman or a solid utility guy that can go between second base and the outfield, possibly even center field.

14. RHP Clarke Schmidt

A bit of a surprise pick at the time, the Yankees took Schmidt with the 16th overall selection despite the right-hander having undergone Tommy John surgery earlier in the spring. But when healthy Schmidt features a four-pitch mix of a fastball in the mid-90's with good sinking action, a plus slider, and a good curveball and change-up. Some question the delivery, but it doesn't look too violent from my admittedly untrained eye. I think some are sleeping on Schmidt (and admittedly I may be doing the same with this ranking), and with his arsenal and track record of pitching in the SEC, Schmidt can really rise once he recovers from Tommy John and pitches in pro ball.

13. RHP Luis Medina

Signed out of the Dominican for just under $300,000, Medina may have the highest upside of any pitching prospect in this system. At 18 years of age, Medina sits in the mid/upper 90's, and has touched 100 mph with his fastball, that features cutting action. His change-up and curve also have the potential to be plus pitches down the line. The delivery looks similar to that of current Yankees' ace Luis Severino, but Medina does seem to use his lower half more than Severino. The two drawbacks are his issues throwing strikes and the fact that he's only pitched in Pulaski; hopefully the first corrects itself with further experience and refinement, and I also wouldn't be surprised if the Yankees had Medina start the year in Low-A Charleston. A year from now, Medina could rocket high up this list.

12. RHP Domingo Acevedo

Acevedo has had a nice steady climb through the minors the past few seasons (getting over his blister problems from years' past doesn't hurt), thanks in part to his plus fastball-plus change combo. Acevedo used to rip it as hard as he could in starts (hence him touching 103 mph in the past), before wearing down quickly. Now Acevedo sits more in the mid 90's and can hit 100 mph when he needs to. The change-up is still his primary out pitch, and the slider is still behind that. Acevedo throws two different kinds of sliders, one that is softer with more break and another that is harder, almost cutter-like. From watching him, I prefer the harder, cutter-like slider.

While he has toned down the effort in his delivery a bit, there's still a lot of moving parts and plenty of effort, which may affect his command. Especially for a guy his size, Acevedo does a good job of throwing strikes, but can struggle with commanding his pitches within the strike zone. Ultimately, there's still a decent chance Acevedo ends up in the bullpen, but as long as he stays healthy he should continue to get more opportunities to start.

11.  SS Thairo Estrada

Estrada has climbed steadily through the system, and his stock continues to rise after his all-around solid 2017 campaign. He showed off his smooth, plus defense up the middle at short and second. Estrada can make all the plays at both positions, and has a strong arm. The soon-to-be-22-year-old's defense is so smooth, in fact, that he reminds me a little bit of former Yankee Robinson Cano in that regard; Estrada just makes it look easy defensively.

At the plate Estrada is a line drive hitter who makes a lot of contact. He makes so much contact, in fact, that I wonder if he could benefit from adding more loft in his swing, which could tap into more power, and he can live with an increase in strikeouts. If he doesn't add power, though, Estrada projects to be at least a very fine utility player at the next level, and could start for a number of teams.

10. RHP Dillon Tate

Since being acquired by the Yankees a couple summers ago, Tate has gone back to his old mechanics that helped make him the number 4 overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft. Tate is back to the upper 90's with his fastball, although it can be a little straight. His slider and change-up also can be above-average too. Tate is athletic, has a deceptive delivery, and overall should project as a starter long-term as long as he can stay healthy. Staying healthy could be a big "if," however, as Tate missed part of 2016 with hamstring problems and a good chunk of 2017 with a shoulder problem.

9. RHP Freicer Perez

Signed for relative peanuts during the Yankees' international spending spree that was the 2014-15 international class, Perez has moved up the ladder steadily and has even more room to grow. Perez is listed at 6' 8", but looks taller, closer to 6' 10". Sitting in the mid-90's, Perez can touch the upper 90's as well, with a slider that he added in May of last season that helped him take off. Perez boasts a change-up and curve that are improving as well, which gives him a solid four-pitch mix. Scouts note that Perez' arm slot can tend to vary through his starts, which may telegraph some pitches. Otherwise, the delivery is clean.

8.  RHP Domingo German

In what looked like to be a lost trade involving Nathan Eovaldi coming to the Yankees and Martin Prado with David Phelps going to the Miami Marlins, German gives the Yanks a chance to salvage that deal. Although slight and slender, German can get swings and misses with all three of his pitches: fastball, curve, and change-up. He can touch the upper 90's, and hold that velocity late in starts. Listed at 6' 2", 175 lbs , you wonder if he will be able to hold up as a starter in a Major League rotation. It will be interesting to see what direction the Yankees go with German; he can easily stick in the bullpen or they can continue to start him with his strong three-pitch mix.

7. SS Tyler Wade:

Wade fits under my eligibility guidelines; he accrued 81 days of service (45 days is normally the maximum), but spent a lot of time on the bench, and thus only had 58 big-league at-bats. And in those 58 at-bats, Wade struggled mightily. But that's not the real Wade. When right, Wade hits to all fields, has good patience, and plus speed on the bases. I can see him hitting for more power than people think, too; he has bulked up and did a better job of crushing mistake pitches while in Triple-A. Defensively, he can play all over the infield and outfield; he may be mistake prone at times, but he has the foot-speed and hands to make all the plays. The potential, I think, is a Brett Gardner type of skill-set that can play all over the field.

6. RHP Chance Adams

The first four months of last season Adams looked electric, showing a mid 90's fastball, a hard, biting slider, and a solid curve. He looked like a potential mid-rotation starter during that period, but August happened and Adams appeared to be running on fumes during that final month of the season. It was Adams' second full season of starting, but it's certainly not something you want to see out of one of your better pitching prospects. By all accounts Adams was healthy and he should see some time with the Yankees this season (if he's not traded), but if the August downturn was a sign of things to come, a shift to the bullpen could be in the cards.

5. RHP Albert Abreu

Acquired in the Brian McCann trade last off-season, Abreu showed off his high-octane stuff across two A-ball levels. The fastball sits in the upper-90's, and the curve and off-speed flash plus as well. Abreu did miss a chunk of time this season with a shoulder injury, which is obviously never good, but he did display his top-shelf stuff in front of scouts in the Arizona Fall League. Prior to 2017 Abreu had struggled with control, walking 4.5 batters per nine innings during his three years in the Houston Astros org. But in 2017 Abreu cut down that number to 3 per nine. For Abreu it's all about staying healthy (he recently had appendix surgery and the start of his spring training will be delayed) and throwing strikes. If he does that, he can reach his high potential.

4. OF Estevan Florial

There has never been a Haitian-born player to reach the big leagues, but with his gaudy tool-set, Florial should be the first. He's got a quick bat that could help him hit upwards of 30 HR's at the next level, he's a plus runner, and has a strong arm out in center. The biggest drawback is his rawness for the game. While he can work good at-bats at times at the plate, he can tend to get over-aggressive and swing at bad pitches as well: fastballs up, breaking stuff down away, etc. In the field he can make the great catch, but at times his routes can be poor. This isn't to say these problems aren't correctable, it's just he needs time, and at 20 years old, time is still very much on his side. The upside here is high: think of Curtis Granderson with a better throwing arm.

3. LHP Justus Sheffield

The top pitching prospect in the system, Sheffield had a solid regular season in Trenton; up to the mid 90's with his fastball, good slider and change-up. During that season, however, Sheffield suffered an oblique strain that sidelined him for several weeks. He did come back for a final tune-up start in the regular season before making a couple of starts in the playoffs, and he looked good there as well. But the reports when he later pitched in the Arizona Fall League were extremely glowing: consistently hitting the upper 90's, great slider, plus change-up. There is still some modified effort in his delivery, but so far he hasn't had any arm troubles.

2. 3B Miguel Andujar

Andujar had climbed up through the farm system quietly, often having to adjust to a new level when he arrived, but in 2017 after a slow start in April, the third baseman took off. From watching him it appeared that Andujar added some loft to his swing, and that resulted in a career-best 16 home runs. That may not sound like a lot, but his home ballparks in Trenton and Scranton are very much pitcher-friendly. It's not hard at all to see Andujar hit 25+ annually at the next level; the bat-speed is tremendous and the ball flies off the bat when he makes contact. He can get over-aggressive, sure, but he still does a good job putting the bat on the ball even when he expands the zone.

Defensively, it's easy to say he's not great, but he's not terrible, either. He has all the physical tools to play the position, he just needs more reps and getting major-league instruction should help; he figures to be the Opening Day third baseman for the Yankees should the team opt to not sign a veteran. One of his drawbacks defensively is his throws; the Yankees have tried to lift his arm a bit while making throws across to first and second to prevent the ball from sailing on him. In the end, he should be fine, but it's the bat that will carry him long-term.

1. SS Gleyber Torres

The crown jewel of the farm system. Torres would not be on this list had he not suffered season-ending Tommy John surgery last June, but he is raring to go in 2018. Torres has the potential to be a perennial All-Star; he has power to all fields, his approach at the plate continues to improve; he is smooth as glass defensively with a cannon arm. It is not at all hard to see him as a .300+ hitter, with 20+ HR's, and above-average-to-possibly-plus defense wherever he ultimately lands defensively. Torres can definitely play shortstop long-term, but Didi Gregorius is entrenched at that spot at the big league level, so second base may be Torres' home. His only blemish, if you can really call it that, is sometimes he can get over-aggressive on the basepaths; he doesn't have the fastest speed and at times he can push the envelope a little too far, but that is correctable. Overall, this is a guy you can build around.

Here are some who were in consideration for making the list, not necessarily the next 10, but those you should keep a close eye on. Listed in alphabetical order by last name:

RHP Cody Carroll - Carroll has battled control problems over the years, but you don't have to be pinpoint in the bullpen. He sits in the upper 90's with his heater and has a slider and splitter as his secondaries. As a reliever it will be interesting to see if he sticks with both of those secondaries or decides to scrap one down the road and just stick with two total pitches. Carroll could see some big league time in the Yankees bullpen this summer.

OF Jake Cave - Cave has added loft to his swing and as a result hit 20 home runs after hitting 17 the previous three years combined. Also as a result to the added loft, his swing is quite long and he is susceptible to left-handed pitching. Cave plays all three outfield spots, but I don't think he has quite enough foot-speed to play everyday in center.

RHP Deivi Garcia - Garcia is a sleeper arm that could pop up more on lists with a good 2018. He is a skinny right-hander that can touch the mid-90's with his fastball. His best secondary pitch is a curveball, that reportedly reaches 3000 rpm's, which is nuts.

IF Dermis Garcia - Right now Garcia is a one-tool player, but if you have one tool it may as well be power, I suppose. It's true light-tower power and he can hit bombs to all fields and at all ballparks. He does run a little better than I had thought, but speed clearly will not be an asset for him long-term. Originally a third baseman, Garcia may wind up having to move to first base or DH. I can see Garcia becoming a Peter O'Brien type, but with more walks, and that could be enough to carve out a role as a masher off the bench for someone.

OF Isiah Gilliam - A bit of a sleeper, Gilliam provides patience and pop from both sides of the plate. Gilliam has worked hard on making adjustments with his swings and the results have shown, posting an .825 OPS in the South Atlantic League. Originally a first baseman, the Yankees moved Gilliam to the outfield after they drafted him. At the least, Gilliam should be serviceable in the outfield corners, and that increases his value. I think he has a real chance to break out on the national prospect scene in 2018.

SS Kyle Holder - Always a plus-plus defender at short, Holder hit okay in 2017, but his .271 average was pretty empty and he didn't draw many walks or hit for much power at all. I still think the best-case scenario here is utility infielder, and that's not bad, but I don't see him sticking with the Yankees long-term.

RPH Nolan Martinez - Lauded for his pitchability coming out of Culver City, California in 2016, injuries have hampered Martinez' stock. Sidelined for the majority of the 2017 season because of shoulder problems, Martinez sits low 90's with a good curve and quality change-up when he does appear on the mound.

RHP Glenn Otto - There will always be concerns with pitchers coming out of Rice University given their heavy workloads there (and Otto did have some shoulder problems early last spring), but Otto displays impressive stuff. He sits in the mid 90's with a strong curveball, and an improving change-up. There have been talks that Otto, a college reliever, will make the transition to the rotation a la Chance Adams and Taylor Widener.

RHP Trevor Stephan - Stephan was the Yankees' third-round pick in this most recent draft. He has a strong two-pitch mix with his fastball and slider; the fastball hits the upper 90's and the slider is sharp. I don't really like the delivery, there's a timing issue with his arm as he plants his front leg; there's not much of a change-up either. I think the bullpen is likely long-term, but he has a chance to dominate there.

RHP Juan Then - Picked up by the Yankees in exchange for Nick Rumbelow going to the Seattle Mariners, Then has turned some heads in his lone season. He's more in the low 90's now with his fastball, but projects for more velocity as he further grows into his body. There's also a chance for a couple above-average secondaries, and the delivery is clean. Some were surprised the Mariners gave up Then, although he only pitched in the Dominican Southern League, for Rumbelow. This could turn out to be a nice steal for the Yankees down the road.

Friday, January 5, 2018

18 bold Yankee predictions for the 2018 season

The new year is upon us, and with that baseball is, albeit slowly, inching closer to a return. It may be just me, but it feels like ages ago when the Houston Astros clinched their first World Series title over the Los Angeles Dodgers. With that said, there will be a day (39 days until Pitchers and Catchers, to be exact) where baseball returns, and as we all know, some surprising, or in this case bold, things tend to happen. Here are 18 bold predictions (all of which will probably be wrong) for the Yankees this season.

The return of Jaime Garcia

The Yankees have been linked to several starting pitchers, although they have five guys penciled into their rotation already. There has been several back-and-forth chatter about the Yankees acquiring Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but GM Neal Huntington's asking price is too high for Brian Cashman's taste. Cashman has also reportedly made offers to the Detroit Tigers for Michael Fulmer and for the Rays' Chris Archer, but has been turned down. I expect the standstill between Cashman and opposing GM's to remain because those opposing GM's don't have  to move their pitchers just like Cashman doesn't have to acquire another starter because he already has five guys penciled in.

Even with that said, the Yankees still apparently want to add another starter, hence their reported aggressiveness. As much as I would like the Yankees to sign Yu Darvish, I don't think it will happen (but I can still dream until he officially signs elsewhere) because of the $197 million luxury tax soft cap; the same applies with Jake Arrieta. I also don't think forfeiting a second and fifth round pick, plus $1 million in the 2018-19 IFA bonus pool is worth it for guys like Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn.

This is where Jaime Garcia comes in. The Yankees know him; they traded a pretty decent prospect in Zack Littell for him last summer, and while Garcia wasn't great with the Yankees, he can be a serviceable sixth-starter option or swing man out of the bullpen. He posted a 94 ERA+ with the Yankees last year, which is fine for that role. Because of the luxury tax plan and the high prices for trade targets, I can definitely see the Yankees acquire a starter of Garcia's ilk on a cheap one-year deal or even a minor-league contract. I chose Garcia simply because of the familiarity and being left-handed doesn't hurt either.

Jacoby Ellsbury stays put, and plays more than we think

It was an albatross the second it became official. Jacoby Ellsbury's seven-year, $153 million contract he signed three winters ago has been a disaster, there's just no two ways around it. He lost his center field job to Aaron Hicks in the postseason, and all indications are that will be the case going into 2018. Some wonder why he hasn't been flat-out released, but I don't think it makes sense to do that just yet. I'm not here to defend Ellsbury, but he does still have some speed in his legs and can play a solid center field. Plus the catchers' interferences. On the surface it doesn't appear there is much interest from many teams acquiring Ellsbury, although there has been speculation that he could be a fit for the San Francisco Giants or Arizona Diamondbacks. In the end, though, I think Ellsbury stays, and plays more than we think. Aaron Hicks injured his oblique twice last year, Brett Gardner will be 35, and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are big dudes. What's the saying, the bigger you are the harder you fall? Odds are someone gets hurt, and I'm not saying anyone will get hurt for a long period of time; just some nicks and bruises here and there that will get Ellsbury in the lineup enough that he won't just collect dust on the bench.

Tyler Wade returns with a vengeance

There's no way to sugar coat it: Tyler Wade was bad in his stint with the Yankees. He looked nervous, he looked tense. But that's not out of the ordinary for a 22-year-old getting his first taste of big-league ball. Despite that I think Wade will turn into a solid big-league player, and I can see that with the Yankees. He's a lot like Brett Gardner, in a way; Wade works counts well, he can hit to all fields, and can run like the wind. Wade also has versatility and can play all over the diamond, unlike Gardner. But like Wade, Gardner struggled in his first taste of big league ball in 2008, came back in 2009 and posted a respectable .724 OPS. That would be a big improvement if Wade can reach those levels, especially when you add in the defensive versatility. I can also see Wade hit for some power; he has bulked up in recent seasons and was able to punish mistake pitches more while with Triple-A Scranton last year. With the current opening at second and third base, I think Wade will get a legit shot this spring to show his worth, even if he ultimately becomes the utility infielder.

Domingo German becomes The Next Big Thing out of the bullpen

The Nathan Eovaldi trade hasn't exactly worked out in the Yankees' favor. Eovaldi was very up-and-down during his time in pinstripes, while Martin Prado and David Phelps provided good value for the Miami Marlins. But there was a fourth piece to that trade in Domingo German. German was a live-armed lottery ticket at the time of the deal, and he's gone through his shares of ups and downs the last several years, including Tommy John surgery along the way. But I think 2018 will be the year he truly breaks out, and it will be in the bullpen. Sure, he has three pitches he can get whiffs on, but he is rail thin and who knows if he'll be able to endure a season in a big league rotation. And yes the Yankees' bullpen is incredibly deep on paper right now, but injuries and poor performance happen, thus others need to step up. Using German in a Chad Green sort of role out of the bullpen, pitching multiple innings at a time, could do wonders. We saw a brief taste of it late last year -- he was outstanding at times -- and I think we'll get a much larger taste of it this season.

CC Sabathia throws a no-hitter 

How about this for bold. A guy like Sabathia who has trouble pitching beyond 5-6 innings, throwing a no-hitter. I'll explain. It'll be a warm June afternoon in the Bronx against the Tampa Bay Rays. Evan Longoria is now with the Giants, and we know CC is rejoicing over that. The Rays are a very free-swinging club, and they led American League in strikeouts last year; that figures to hold true again in 2018, especially with the departure of Longoria. CC will have the backdoor slider working on this June afternoon, painting the corners and baffling opposing Rays' hitters. It'll be a challenge in the late innings, but at 110 pitches Sabathia will complete the first Yankee no-hitter since David Cone's perfect game in 1999. A no-hitter could end up being quite the bow to a possible Hall of Fame career for Sabathia.

Jordan Montgomery makes the All-Star team

Montgomery seemingly came out of nowhere last spring to claim the fifth and final rotation spot for the Yankees and he ultimately pitched better than anyone could have thought. One-hundred and fifty five innings of 116 ERA+ ball in the AL East is nothing to sneeze at. For at least the first half of the 2018 season, I think he takes another big step forward. Some starts last year his slider would be his best pitch, others it would be his curve, and others it would be his change. Imagine if it all comes together in 2018. He recently turned 25 years old, and it will be his second season pitching in The Show. He knows what it's like now and sometimes that's all it takes.

Luis Torrens comes home 

Over the years the Yankees have seen a massive improvement with their farm system. Couple the trades they made in the summer of 2016, plus steps forward for the prospects they already had, and you have yourself a massively deep system. That can be a double-edged sword, however. A massive farm system comes with difficult decisions in who to keep and who to leave off the 40-man roster. Torrens was a casualty of this, and was scooped up by the Cincinnati Reds in the Rule 5 draft, then traded to the San Diego Padres. Torrens managed to stick on San Diego's roster all season, a rarity for a Rule 5 catcher, so he is now theirs. But I'm here to tell you he won't be theirs for long. Despite Sanchez being entrenched as the big league catcher, the Yankees lack catching depth in their system. Kyle Higashioka will turn 28 years old soon and is basically made of glass, while the reviews of Donny Sands' progress behind the plate are mixed at best. The Yankees, obviously, know Torrens and they like him, and I bet they will trade for him and bring him back home.

The Yankees make a massive splash at the Trade Deadline

Remember the Yankees negotiating and making offers for the likes of Gerrit Cole, Michael Fulmer, and Chris Archer but (so far) coming up short? Well, my guess is someone in the rotation gets hurt (not bold) and talks for these three will pop up again in July. Which of these three will the Yankees land? These are bold predictions after all, so I'll go with Fulmer. I think nabbing Archer from the division-rival Rays may be a little too bold. Looking into my faux crystal ball, Fulmer will take another step forward as a legit no. 2 or even 1 type starter. That next step would be getting more strikeouts, and with his stuff, it's not difficult to see that happen. He'd also be under control for four-and-a-half years by then, or in other words, five Octobers. My proposed package would be Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Tyler Wade, and Domingo German. Let's further break this down.

Frazier has big-time upside as a power bat that can play in one of Detroit's corner outfield spots. Deepening how you look at it, Frazier could be "blocked" and it sure seems Cashman is willing to move him now than he has ever before. Will that be the case in six months from now? I'll say yes.

Sheffield may be the toughest guy to move, given his upside as a left-handed starter and his reported place on the Yankees' "untouchable" list, but you have to give to get. While he has tremendous stuff, he's under six-foot tall, has pretty moderate effort in his delivery, and missed a good chunk of the 2017 season. While he'll be difficult to pry away, my suspicion is that Cashman would be okay moving Sheffield in a deal for Fulmer because of the years of control.

And assuming Wade and German perform like I have them performing, they'd be awfully nice third and fourth pieces. Wade could be Detroit's future leadoff man at second base and German could start or relieve for the Tigers. Yeah, it's bold. In reality, as of now, I don't see a scenario where Cashman gets Fulmer without including star prospect Gleyber Torres... except this one. Cashman will once again work his magic and pry Fulmer from the Tigers, adding the final piece to what could be a championship season.

Didi Gregorius has a monster season, finishes top 5 in MVP voting

Gregorius has taken steps forward each season since becoming a Yankee, and in 2018 he'll take an even bigger step as an elite player. He is already an excellent defensive shortstop, his swing is built for Yankee Stadium, and at 28 years of age he will be smack dab in the middle of his prime. Gregorius is similar to Jose Ramirez, where they had a rough start early in their careers but made strides each year. Ramirez had his big breakout in 2017, clubbing 91 extra-base hits and finishing third in the MVP voting. Gregorius has the talent to do the same in 2018.

Gary Sanchez takes the next step behind the plate

Sanchez' 2017 season was a strong one. Despite missing a month, the catcher hit 33 home runs, made his first All-Star team, and won his first Silver Slugger. Despite this, Sanchez' blocking behind the plate drew plenty of criticism, some deserved, some not. There's no doubt he needs to work on his blocking, and I expect he's working on it as we speak. It's not a lack of ability on Sanchez' part, necessarily, but more focus and anticipation could do wonders. We've seen him make plenty of big blocks in his one-plus seasons in the majors, including the playoffs. Should Sanchez do this, and you add that to his bat, his cannon throwing arm, and his plus framing skills, we're talking about the unquestioned best catcher in baseball.

Dellin Betances' career gets back on track

Despite earning his fourth All-Star bid in his fourth full season in the big leagues, Betances struggled mightily with control once again down the stretch and in the playoffs. We all know what he's capable of, hence the four All-Star selections. But I wonder if his struggles late in the year had something to do with Joe Girardi, who would often unnecessarily warm him up in games that were out of hand. Not to mention Betances' 306.2 innings since the beginning of 2014 may have something to do with it as well. Perhaps new manager Aaron Boone will keep Betances' workload in check, knowing this team is extremely likely to make the playoffs; they have the depth in the bullpen to scale back on their 6' 8" right-hander a bit and still win. I can't help but fear if Betances is going down the Daniel Bard path and one day he just losses his control entirely and can never find it again. It'd be wise to let the foot off the Betances gas pedal a bit, and that should get him back to a more consistent form in 2018.

Thairo Estrada gets in on the Flyball Revolution

Estrada has quietly moved up the ranks in the Yankees' farm system over the years as a guy who can field the heck out of shortstop and put good at-bats together. Those aren't necessarily the flashiest kinds of prospects, but prospects that still hold plenty of value. Estrada once again showed off his defense and strong contact ability at the age of 21 in Double-A, thus earning him a spot on the 40-man roster. But I'm predicting another step forward in 2018, which includes something he currently lacks: power. Getting the ball airborne and hitting for more power isn't exactly a new concept (I mean, who knew that more flyballs could lead to more home runs?!?) but one that is seemingly being adopted more throughout the game. Maybe Estrada is next to do this.

Estrada is a guy who hardly strikes out (10.3% strikeouts in 2017, third-lowest in the Eastern League), so possibly he can afford to add a little more loft to his swing without adding too many more K's to his ledger. In recent years I've noticed guys like Miguel Andujar and Jake Cave add loft to their swing, and it showed with their power output. On one hand you may think, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And that's a valid point. Estrada could easily be a good utility guy or even a starting middle infielder the way he's going now. That's not bad! And who knows, maybe Estrada doesn't mind he's a low-power guy. But on the other hand, virtually every player has room for improvement. Estrada's stock would soar if he can add power to his game, and I'm guessing that he will.

Dillon Tate emerges as a top pitching prospect 

Drafted number 4 overall by the Texas Rangers in the 2015 draft, Tate has had an up-and-down professional career. You can even say there have been more downs than ups. But Tate's career has began to trend towards the right direction since the Yankees acquired him as part of the Great 2016 Summer Sell-off. Tate's stuff has ticked up; his fastball is harder with more movement, his slider has shown more bite, and the change-up is a swing-and-miss offering. Some in the past wonder if Tate will be a starter or reliever, given his up-and-down stuff and injury past (he missed a chunk of 2017 with a shoulder injury and a chunk of 2016 with a hamstring). But 2018 will be the season he puts it altogether and becomes a high-end pitching prospect not just in the Yankees' system, but among all of minor league baseball.

The Yankees win the division by 10 games

Looking back, the Yankees not winning the division was one of the bigger surprises of the season, if you think about it. Their roster was so much deeper than Boston's; they had eons of more power than the Sox, their starting pitching was better, and they had more reliable arms in their bullpen. The two big reasons why the Yankees didn't win the division last year: their mid June-mid July stretch of poor play, plus the Sox' 15-3 extra-inning record.

The Yankees' bullpen was unfathomably bad from June 13-July 19, en route to a 10-19 record. Blown saves left and right, and Tyler Clippard was a main culprit. This prompted Cashman to acquire relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle (plus Todd Frazier) from the Chicago White Sox. As an added bonus, it also included Clippard being sent to the South Side. It has so far been a fantastic trade for the Yankees and one that should help them improve on their 18-26 record in one-run games and come closer to matching their 100-62 Pythagorean record in 2017 to their actual 2018 record.

Boston went an unthinkable 15-3 in extra innings, easily the best extra-inning record in baseball. Their 15 extra-inning wins were the most in baseball (Balitmore was second with 12) and the most in their franchise's history since 1943. It would be a fool's errand to assume they will repeat that in 2018. Even if they had gone 10-8, still a winning record, in extra-innings, they would have stood at 88-74 and second in the division. Honestly, given their roster last year, that sounds more reasonable. They seriously lacked power, and I expect them to sign JD Martinez at some point, but the overall talent and depth falls well behind the Yankees. Not only should the Yankees win the division, but they should win it by 10 games. Boston could win 90-93 games, and the Yankees could win 10 more between 100-103.

The Yankees break the single-season home run record  

Twenty-one years ago the 1997 Seattle Mariners set the single-season home run record with 264 homers. That team had Ken Griffey Jr (56 HR's), Jay Buhner (40 HR's), Paul Sorrento (31 HR's), Edgar Martinez (28 HR's), and Alex Rodriguez (23 HR's), among others in their lineup.  The 2018 Yankees have Aaron Judge, Sanchez, Gregorius, and are going to add the NL MVP in Giancarlo Stanton and his 59 homers. Plus hopefully have a full-season of Greg Bird as well; we've seen what Bird is capable of in the power department when healthy. That is a chance for an extremely lethal 2-6 part of the lineup, but it won't be just those five who capture the all-time home run record. Guys like Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and whoever plays second and third base (I imagine we'll see plenty of Gleyber Torres at some point) will need to chip in. Who knows, the secondary guys, so to speak, could be the deciding factor in if the Yankees get this record on not.

Below is Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections of the 2018 Yankees and their home run totals. :

Stanton: 55 HR's
Judge: 43 HR's
Sanchez: 32 HR's
Gregorius: 20 HR's
Bird: 19 HR's
Gardner: 15 HR's
Hicks: 14 HR's

Frazier: 20 HR's
Tyler Austin: 18 HR's
Torres: 17 HR's
Miguel Andujar: 17 HR's
Wade: 10 HR's
Ellsbury: 8 HR's

Todd Frazier is included on this ZiPS post because he played with the Yankees last season; they have him projected for 33 HR's. I don't know if the Yankees bring him back, but if they did those HR's would be a big help to eclipsing 264.

Altogether, he Yankees' top seven that is currently on the club is projected for 208 HR's, while the top seven home run hitters on the '97 Mariners combined for 213. Bird is only projected for 19 HR's because ZiPS has him at 372 PA's. Given Bird's propensity to land on the disabled list over the years, that's fair. But he is definitely the key x-factor here in the Yankees trying to break the single-season home run record; if they get a full season of Bird, there's a very real chance for 35-40 total HR's from him. Which leads us to...

Greg Bird stays healthy, abuses the right field porch at Yankee Stadium

In spurts we have seen what Greg Bird's potential can be. The final two months of 2015, spring training 2017, late in the 2017 season and into the playoffs. As much as a few years ago Bird has been touted as the Yankees' best pure hitter in their system, a system that included Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. That's some high praise. Now all he has to do is stay healthy. It's far from a given, but in 2018 Bird will stay healthy, at least enough, and take great advantage of the Yankee Stadium porch over a full season, hitting close to 40 HR's.

Aaron Boone becomes first rookie skipper in 17 years to win a World Series title 

This may or may not count as being "bold" because the Yankees will be a very popular pick to win the World Series when predictions come out. But it'd still be impressive given Boone's status as an inexperienced manager. The last rookie manager to win the World Series was Bob Brenly in 2001 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and I don't think I need to explain how that all went about. Boone's hiring came with some criticism because of his lack of experience; he literally went from playing, to television, to becoming the manager of a Yankee team with sky-high expectations. Even Brenly had coaching experience on the San Francisco Giants staff before becoming Arizona's skipper. Sure, there are bound to be some mistakes along the way, but when the dust settles I see Boone hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy in late-October. 

Aaron Hicks has an all-time memorable inning to clinch the World Series

Let's cap off these bold predictions with a crazy one. I'll set the stage: Yankees are up three games to two over the Washington Nationals in the World Series. Game 6 is in the Bronx, and with the score tied at 5-5 in the top of the ninth Bryce Harper steps up to the dish in what will end up being his final at-bat as a National. With Aroldis Chapman pitching, Harper sends a deep drive to center. Harper thinks it's gone, Chapman thinks it's gone, the Nationals' dugout thinks it's gone. But don't tell that to Aaron Hicks, as the center fielder goes back to the center field wall, leaps, and robs Harper of a go-ahead home run. The Yankees escape the top half of the inning, keeping it tied, and Hicks steps up to the plate with one out in the bottom half. Hicks sends a shot to right-center, but it stays in the ballpark. Harper races from right field to catch the drive, but the ball ricochets off the tip of his glove. Center fielder Victor Robles is unable to get the ball, as it scooted by him after the Harper deflection. The ball rolls harmlessly towards center field, and Hicks rounds the bases full speed. That's right, it's an inside-the-park walk-off home run to win the World Series. The ninth inning of this game will be remembered forever, and because of it Hicks will one day get a plaque in Monument Park. Bet you didn't think that was possible after his horrendous 2016, huh?

That about does it for the 18 bold predictions for the 2018 season. Some more bold than others, some also more serious than others, but that's what makes it fun. This off-season around the game has been a total drag for the most part and I'm just ready for the season to finally start.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Yankees send shockwaves though baseball with Giancarlo Stanton trade, add on to already jam-packed roster

GM Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees made a statement this weekend with a blockbuster trade, acquiring superstar outfielder and NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton from Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins in exchange for Starlin Castro and minor leaguers Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. Being one win away from the World Series with an already very talented and deep roster, this just further adds to the fire power in the middle of the lineup. If you're any of the 29 other teams around baseball, you're afraid. Very afraid.

First, let's look at the trade itself. Now, I'll be first to admit I was very skeptical of the Yankees acquiring Stanton in the first place. I figured he would land with a west coast team like the Dodgers, who tend to say "screw you" to the luxury tax, and that there were too many moving parts with the Yankees' luxury tax plan to make it work. Apparently that was not the case. Not even close. The Dodgers, who have as deep of pockets as anyone, just couldn't afford to add Stanton to their already bloated payroll. Meanwhile, the Yanks were able to unload Castro and his remaining salary to Miami, with the Marlins eating $30 million (should he not opt-out after 2020) of Stanton's remaining $295 million contract. The luxury tax hit of the Stanton contract is around $22 million, or in other words, about the same as Jacoby Ellsbury's. In total, the Yankees sit at about $168.6 million, with $197 million being the luxury tax cap.

And let's be honest, the Marlins had no leverage here. The Marlins are in extreme debt ($400 million to be exact), they just had to move as much money as possible from Stanton's deal. Stanton then turned down trades to both the San Francisco Giants and St Louis Cardinals with his no-trade clause, and would reportedly only allow trades to four teams, including the Yankees. Of course the Marlins weren't going to get big-name prospects (more on that in a bit) back. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros really didn't have much of a chance here, and the Dodgers were basically out as well with their luxury tax situation. The Yankees, really, were the only logical destination.

Talking about the total value of this Stanton deal, and the average annual value, as it pertains to the luxury tax, will be about $22 million. Think about what Bryce Harper will get next off-season: certainly a lot more than $22 million per year for 10 years. A lot more. I'd imagine he'll get somewhere around $35-to-maybe-$40 million per season, across, who knows, maybe 13 years (with I'm sure an opt-out mixed in). Ask yourself this: would you rather have Stanton for 10 years with a $22 million luxury tax hit while giving up Castro, Guzman, and Devers or would you rather have Harper and that potentially massive deal? I know what I'm taking: this Stanton deal, and pretty decisively.

Giving up Castro, for me, is great. I'm just not much of a Castro fan. The defense is poor (I don't think he's a second baseman), the plate discipline has never really improved since he got into the league, and the instincts on the basepaths aren't great either. Talented player, no doubt, but the baseball IQ doesn't come close to said talent. Though with that said, I do feel sorry for Castro. This may very well end up being a situation just like his time with the Cubs, where his team got to the LCS, lost, then gets traded during the winter. There's already talk the Marlins could flip him to a team like the Mets, which I guess is better than Miami? At least they have somewhat of a prayer of making the playoffs as a Wild Card if things break right. Hard to spin this as a good situation for Castro.

The two prospects, Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers, are solid, but come from a position of extreme strength in the farm at both right-handed pitching and middle infield. Guzman is the better of the two, and he reportedly averaged 99 mph with his fastball this year, which is insane, even during this era of uber-high fastball velocities. But reports on his slider aren't great, with Baseball America calling it an average offering. Jose Devers, meanwhile, is the cousin of Red Sox' Rafael Devers. He's a thin, slick-fielding shortstop who put up respectable numbers in his first professional season. Both Guzman and Devers have yet to reach Low-A, and losing these two hardly puts a dent in what is quite possibly the deepest minor league system in the game.

Back to the big league roster, and without a doubt expectations are going to be sky-high. The Yankees came within a game of reaching the World Series and they added the game's premier slugger and NL MVP in Stanton, so of course they will be. And there's no other way I'd have it. You'd much rather have a loaded roster like this and the giant expectations that come with it than have a lesser roster and lesser expectations that come with that. I'll gladly take the trade-off there.

I also think this roster is the best Yankee roster of the 21st century. Yes, even better than 2009. Obviously, games and World Series aren't won on paper, and the 2018 Yankees aren't a lock to win the whole thing, but I think there's more depth here. The pitching staff is loaded in the rotation (I expect CC Sabathia to sign at some point, which only helps), the bullpen, and down on the farm. The lineup also has a shot at breaking the single-season home run record, set by the 1997 Seattle Mariners at 264 home runs. The 2017 Yankees hit 241 homers, which were 17th-most all-time. You add Stanton and (hopefully) a healthy Greg Bird, and there's a legitimate shot this group, along with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and others, breaks this record. It will be exhilarating to watch, without a doubt.

Now of course Stanton and Judge are right fielders, so who gets right field on the Yankees? Buster Olney speculated on a podcast the other day that Judge would move to left field, given he is more athletic than Stanton in the outfield, but who knows. There could be a rotation of sorts, with a Stanton, Judge, Brett Gardner, and Aaron Hicks rotation among outfield spots and DH. Judge could go between left field, right field, and DH; Stanton could go between right field and DH; Gardner could go between left field, center field, and DH; and Hicks could go between center field and DH. It will be interesting to see how manager Aaron Boone goes about it.

With Castro gone second base is open. The sexy pick is top prospect Gleyber Torres getting the spot right out of Spring Training, and sure, that's a possibility. I'm not ruling it out. But he is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and the Yankees could feel that getting a little more seasoning in Triple-A is the best for him than just a few weeks of at-bats in Spring Training. As of today my pick for playing second base on Opening Day is Tyler Wade. Yes, Wade looked pretty bad in his, albeit brief, Major-league stint in 2017, but the tools are still there for him to be an everyday player at the big league level. I think his speed and overall patience at the plate are ingredients for him to become a leadoff hitter someday. And even if he's not an everyday player down the line, he has the skill set to be a very valuable utility player that could play all around the diamond.

This is obviously way premature, and the Yankees could wheel and deal their way to add even shinier names to this roster (and take off less-than-shiny names ie Ellsbury), but as of now here is what the 2018 roster could look like, with Stanton now included:

C: Sanchez, Austin Romine
1B: Bird
2B: Wade, Ronald Torreyes
SS: Didi Gregorius
3B: Chase Headley
OF: Stanton, Judge, Gardner, Hicks, Ellsbury

SP: Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, Sabathia (re-signing pending)

RP: Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, Domingo German

Wow. Talk about stacked. I'm pumped. In 2013 and 2014 the Yankees were mired in mediocrity, depending on cast-offs and over-the-hill veterans, but Brian Cashman has turned this team into an absolute juggernaut. In theory he didn't need to acquire Stanton; the 2017 group could reasonably win the World Series in 2018. But he seized the moment. Stanton was there for the taking; the Marlins were desperate to unload his deal, former Yankee VP of Player Development and now Miami VP of Baseball Operations Gary Denbo knows the Yankee system well; and before you know it, Stanton is a Yankee. Incredible. Let's get the 2018 season started.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tough way to finish, but 2017 season was a very memorable one for the Yanks

One win. One win away from a trip to the World Series. Despite the incredible ride it was to get this far it just wasn't meant to be for the Yankees. There will be a lot of talk of the Yankees scoring only three runs in four games played at Minute Maid Park during this ALCS, and rightfully so, but what should be remembered most this season is the campaign as a whole and the journey the Yankees took to get this far.

What better way to start than the season Aaron Judge had? Coming in, we had no idea what to expect from Judge; .179/.263/.345 with 44% K's was hardly the start we had hoped for when he first arrived to the scene in 2016, but also not a shocking one given his size, long-arms, and just the overall difficulties of facing Major League pitching for the first time. But what we saw in his second at-bat of the first Spring Training game on February 24 was a sign of things to come in the 2017 season: a monster shot off the left centerfield scoreboard. From that point forward, Judge didn't look back.

Judge took the league by storm, clubbing a now-rookie-record 52 home runs, while also drawing an absurd 127 walks. His defense, especially for a man his size at 6' 7", 282 lbs, was nothing short of awesome, as he showed tremendous athleticism in chasing down flyballs and displayed a cannon of an arm in right field. There was a speed bump, a pretty big speed bump at that, from the start of the second half up until September, but it sure seemed like a shoulder injury played a significant part in that. All told, Judge hit .284/.422/.627 while leading the AL in homers, walks, and runs scored (128). He should win the AL Rookie of the Year award unanimously, and for my money he should win the MVP as well, but we'll let the voters decide that. But one thing I do know for sure is Judge has cemented himself as a star in this league and a true building block player this team and its fans can appreciate for years to come.

Another major bright spot, coming from someone that we didn't know what to expect, was Luis Severino. We know the story: burst onto the scene in 2015 down the stretch, then fell flat as a starter in the following 2016 season. We didn't know if we'd get the 2015 version or the 2016 version this year, and man, he exploded past those question marks; Severino had an elite season as a 23-year-old. His 2017 included 193 innings through 31 starts, a 2.98 ERA and 3.08 FIP, his first career All Star appearance, and possibly at least a top-5, perhaps top-3, finish in the AL Cy Young voting. Like Judge, Severino has become a building block type of player and someone you can see (and hope) headlines this rotation for many years to come.

As for someone who didn't have a rough 2016: Gary Sanchez followed up his spectacular 2016 with another strong campaign in 2017. Despite missing a month early in the year due to a biceps injury, Sanchez finished with 33 home runs, the most ever for a Yankee catcher in a single season, and a .278/.345/.531 batting line in 525 PA's. Overall behind the plate he was an asset as well, throwing out 38% of base-stealers to go with a +9.7 runs-above-pitch-framing-average according to Baseball Prospectus. The blocking need works, no doubt, and I thought it got better, especially in the postseason. But Sanchez has gotten this far defensively already, after being a big question mark in the lower minors; I have to believe this is something that will get further ironed out as time goes on. As another All Star, Sanchez himself has turned into a franchise building block player this season.

The player you could say that started this whole youth movement is Didi Gregorius. Never in a million years did I think Gregorius would be a legit 25 homer threat when the Yankees first acquired him back in the winter of 2014, yet here we are. At 27 years old Didi had a career season, despite missing the first month with a shoulder injury, hitting .287/.318/.478 in 570 PA's with those 25 HR's and his usual spectacular defense at shortstop. With two seasons left until free agency, a contract extension is something the Yankees and Gregorius should absolutely explore this winter.

Two young arms that exceeded expectations were Jordan Montgomery and Chad Green. Through Spring Training the Yankees had a deep competition for the fifth starter spot in the rotation, and by the end of camp Green and Montgomery, the latter of whom wasn't in the competition when camp opened, were the two finalists. Montgomery ultimately won the competition and pitched to a 3.88 ERA and 4.07 FIP in 29 starts and 155.1 IP. His curveball really came on as the season went along, which gives him a legitimate out pitch; the Yankees may have their first legitimate homegrown left-hander since Andy Pettitte.

Green, on the other hand, started the year in Triple-A, waited for his turn until a reliever was needed at the big league level, came up in May, and never looked back. The 26-year-old right-hander pitched to an astounding 1.83 ERA and 1.75 FIP, with all but one of his 40 appearances coming out of the bullpen in 69 total innings. As a former starter I get the sense that some may want to try him out in the rotation again. But with his slider being just ok, not having a true third pitch, and the uber success he had in the bullpen, pitching multiple innings in relief seems like the best plan for him going forward.

Next you can look at someone like Aaron Hicks. Coming over for John Ryan Murphy a couple off-seasons ago, Hicks was supposed to be the team's fourth outfielder, but stumbled badly in that role in 2016. He came back better than ever in 2017, putting up a career-best .266/.372/.475 line with 15 homers and 10 steals, while playing his usual good defense in center field. Do I think he's an everyday outfielder long-term? I do. The plate discipline is very good, there's some pop in the bat, he can run it down in center, and the arm will always be a cannon. Brian Cashman was always high on him, even when Hicks struggled mightly in 2016, saying the Yankees need to be patient with Hicks the same way the Red Sox were patient with Jackie Bradley Jr. That patience paid off big time in 2017, and I have to think that will extend into 2018 as he's expected to be the team's everyday centerfielder.

As a team, the Yankees started off a lot better than most had hoped; they stood at 38-23 on June 13 and were in first place in the AL East. They were on the west coast against the LA Angels and won the first game of that three-game set, but the wheels began to fall off for a while after that. The main culprit was the bullpen, as some injuries, inconsistent performances (or just downright awful performances if you're Tyler Clippard), and inexperienced arms faltering in big spots really outdid the team for over a month.

But on July 18 Cashman completed a deal to bring in relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, along with third baseman Todd Frazier. It was a deal that had to be made; the Yankees were right in the thick of the AL playoff picture, despite going 10-21 from the second game of the aforementioned west coast trip up until the trade was made, and they needed relief help very badly. Robertson was incredible in his second stint with the Yankees, pitching to a 1.03 ERA and 2.10 FIP in 35 innings in any role Joe Girardi chose to deploy him. Kahnle pitched well in his return to the Yankees' org, throwing 26.2 innings of 2.70 ERA and 2.30 FIP ball after the trade. As an added bonus, Robertson is under team control through 2018, while Kahnle is around through the 2020 season.

Frazier was also a nice pickup, as the Yankees were unable to get any production at first base following Greg Bird's ankle injury; thus the Yankees acquired Frazier to play third and slid Chase Headley over to first base. Frazier contributed at the plate, putting up a .222/.365/.423 line in 241 PA's while playing solid defense at the hot corner. Frazier has been a key member in the clubhouse too, keeping the team loose. A team rallying cry of sorts was the "thumbs down" signal he, and eventually the rest of the players, gave back to the dugout when he and others reached base. This whole thing started when the Yankees were playing the Rays in Citi Field in September due to Hurricane Irma hitting the Tampa, Florida area. Frazier hit a three-run home run in the first game of the series, and a Mets fan who was attending the game was shown on cameras pointing his thumb down. Needless to say it caught on with the rest of the team like a wildfire.

A couple weeks after the Robertson-Kahnle-Frazier trade, the Yanks acquired Sonny Gray from the Oakland A's. As I said at the time, it was a deal that was necessary for the Yanks. And while Gray had his share of ups and downs after being acquired, he should be able to settle in next year during his first full season with the Yanks. He nibbled a bit too much around the strike zone at times, and as him and Gary Sanchez continue to work with each other I'd have to think that'll get ironed out.

There were plenty of other positives on the team; guys like Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar, Tyler Wade, and other youngsters getting their feet wet (some more so than others) through the course of the season should only help their causes going into next year. Veterans like CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner having solid years; Masahiro Tanaka bouncing back in the second half and dominating in the postseason, even Starlin Castro finding himself on the AL All-Star team were positives as well. But a really nice story was Greg Bird returning from what was basically another lost regular season, before having a huge 2017 playoffs, hitting .244/.426/.512, including a huge go-ahead home run off Andrew Miller in Game 3 of the LDS.

The playoff run itself was quite memorable, and it's vital experience the young players can build on going into next season. From getting 8 2/3 dominant innings out of the bullpen when Severino didn't have it in the Wild Card game, to backing up their manager after he didn't challenge the hit-by-pitch call in Game 2 of the ALDS and ultimately winning three in a row to take the series in five games. Then another 0-2 comeback, this time to the Astros, in the LCS, to make it 3-2, before dropping games 6 and 7 in Houston. But at the end of the day, 2017 was a year I'll never forget, and it may end up being a stepping stone to something even more special in the years to come.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Looking ahead to the 2017 AL Wild Card Game

For all the (Wild Card) marbles, the Yankees and Minnesota Twins will square off in the Bronx on Tuesday night to decide who gets to play the defending American League champion Cleveland Indians in the ALDS on Thursday. This Wild Card matchup will be a battle between two teams who were not expected to be here at the start of the season, especially so with the Twins who lost 103 games last season. The Yankees, meanwhile, exceeded expectations to a lesser degree and have a roster full of high-end talent that should carry them to a win on Tuesday.

Before diving into the individual matchups, let's take a quick guess as to what the Yankees' roster will look like for this Wild Card game. As a reminder, this one-game Wild Card has its own 25-man roster. Whoever advances from this game can reset their roster for the Division Series.

Catchers: Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, Erik Kratz

Infielders: Greg Bird, Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius, Todd Frazier, Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Wade, Tyler Austin

Outfielders: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks

DH: Matt Holliday

Starting pitchers: Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Jaime Garcia

Relievers: Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Chasen Shreve

There are a few players on here (ie: Tyler Austin, Tyler Wade, Erik Kratz, Chasen Shreve) that are probably on the bubble, but for the most part it's pretty straight forward. You have your bats that play everyday, the usual bench players, plus Severino starting, and the main relievers. Gray and Garcia make the roster because you need backup plans should something go awry before or during the game, and as starters they give you length. Gray, if he were to pitch, would have four days' of rest. Garcia was originally penciled in to start Saturday's game against the Toronto Blue Jays, but was scratched in favor of CC Sabathia because the AL East was still in play. Garcia last pitched on 24th, and it'd probably be a pretty extreme circumstance if he pitched in this game.

As for the rest of the aforementioned bubble players, I have Kratz because should Sanchez be pinch-ran for, you have two backups behind him. Wade would be that pinch-runner, presumably, as he has plus speed and has a very high success rate at stealing bags in the minors this season (26 steals, 84% success rate). Austin as an extra bat off the bench, though that could  go to someone like Clint Frazier instead, that can play first base if needed. Shreve would be the final reliever, though that could go to someone else like Ben Heller, because he is a left-handed veteran; Joe Girardi loves those guys. Unless it's a crazy situation, I'd be surprised if Shreve, or whoever is the last reliever that makes this roster, pitched in this game.

Now, for the lineup, against Twins' starter Ervin Santana. Here's how I'd construct it:

LF. Gardner
RF. Judge
C.  Sanchez
SS. Gregorius
2B. Castro
1B. Bird
CF. Hicks
DH. Ellsbury
3B. T. Frazier

SP. Severino

Pretty straight forward. There was more hand-wringing by the media after Gary Sanchez' passed ball issues popped up again in Thursday's loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, leading some to say that Sanchez should DH on Tuesday with Romine catching instead. Thankfully, that was squashed quickly by Girardi, saying "(Sanchez) is my catcher." It'd be completely egregious if Romine, who is actually inferior to Sanchez defensively altogether, would get the call behind the plate, thus pushing Sanchez to DH and taking an additional bat out of the lineup in the process. Not to mention Romine is a total zero at the plate, hitting  .221/.275/.296 in 249 plate appearances. People love Romine defensively because he is a better pitch-blocker than Sanchez, and while that may be true, it comes nowhere close to negating the overall package (hitting, pitch-framing, throwing out runners) that Sanchez has Romine clearly beat.

I have four outfielders in this lineup. Judge and Gardner are obvious themselves, Ellsbury has been on fire the last month, and Hicks has picked up where he left off before getting hurt. Ellsbury's the DH, because you just have to have the Aaron's and their cannons in the field, and Gardner is an excellent left-fielder; someone had to draw the short straw, and on Tuesday that's Ellsbury.

Probably the biggest omission from the lineup is Headley, who is a very streaky hitter and is in the middle of a cold stretch this last week or so. Normally "playing the hot hand" (in this case that would be playing Ellsbury and Hicks) is not an ideal strategy, but when you have as many options as the Yankees do, that could be the decider here. The individual numbers against Santana (Headley: .742 OPS, Ellsbury .739 OPS, Hicks 0/6) are just okay and come in a small sample. Holliday stays on the bench, a theme for him the last month, because he has not hit right-handed pitching well at all this year (.218/.299/.407, 324 PA).

As for the pitching strategy, it's an easy call: Severino is the only answer here. There's been talk from various media outlets about the Yankees doing a bullpen game, and no, just, no. There is too much on the line for the Yankees to mess around like that. On the season, Severino has been absolutely fantastic, better than anyone could have hoped for at the start of the season. His last, and only, start against the Twins was a dud where he only completed three innings, with his final inning being a very laborious one, throwing 46 pitches and yielding three runs. Honestly, I think that will have no effect on Tuesday's game. Severino saw the Twins and now may have a better idea of how to attack their lineup.

Of course it'd be ideal if Severino threw, say, a 90-pitch perfect game, but ideal outcomes almost never happen. The strategy here would be to see how long Severino can go (and he'll have a shorter leash than normal because it's an elimination game), and preferably only use Green, Robertson, and Chapman out of the bullpen. It's clear the last couple weeks or so that those three are firmly in Girardi's "Circle of Trust" and will be used in the middle/late in close games. If I had to guess, the Yankees will aim for Severino to pitch somewhere between 5 and 7 innings in this game, and Green, Robertson, and Chapman pitch the rest of the way, should this game not go into extra innings. If the Yankees need a long man, Gray would be my first choice. Warren and Kahnle I would be comfortable, to a degree, pitching in this game. And if Betances had to pitch I'd make sure someone else is ready and warmed while he's in; the leash for Betances would be very short if he had to pitch in this game.

On the Twins side of things, they have Ervin Santana, who you may remember pitched in relief and picked up the win in Game 5 of the 2005 ALDS between the Yankees and Los Angeles Angels. That was the game where Bubba Crosby and Gary Sheffield collided in the outfield on a catchable ball, resulting in two runs for the Angels. Hopefully, something like that doesn't happen in this game, for everyone's sake, including Hicks/Ellsbury, who probably wouldn't get the best of that collision between him and Judge.

Anyway, Santana is a well-traveled veteran whose had a pretty strong year for the Twins, results-wise anyway, though that may come with some smoke and mirrors mixed in. Santana doesn't miss many bats (7.1 K/9), allows plenty of flyballs (42.5%) and homers (1.3 HR/9); as a right-hander that is not a good mix for Yankee Stadium. He last pitched against the Yankees at the Stadium on September 18, going 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits, a walk, and three strikeouts. Judge got him for an oppo solo homer in the first, and the bottom of the lineup manufactured a run on a T. Frazier sac-fly that knocked Santana out in the sixth inning. That outing basically resembled what Santana is these days: a crafty right-hander who mixes his stuff well, keeps you off balance, does a good job of keeping runs off the board, and gives his team a chance to win. He throws a four-seamer, sinker, slider, and change; he throws the slider a hair more than he does with his fastball. Although he can still get it up there to 93-94 mph, Santana will try to out-smart the Yankees' bats on Tuesday.

Backing up Santana may very well be what was considered another option for this start, Jose Berrios. The Twins used Berrios in relief on Friday, and manager Paul Molitor mentioned that it could be something we see on Tuesday, if needed. Berrios, I would say, is a poor-man's Severino; he was a top pitching prospect for years in the Twins' organization, struggled mightily in 2016, and has bounced back very nicely in 2017. His fastball-curve combo is death on righties, but in comparison he has pitched poorly against left-handers (.783 OPS against lefties, versus .616 OPS against right-handers). Berrios pitched at Yankee Stadium on September 19, getting knocked out in 4th inning, allowing three runs on five hits, four walks, and four punchouts.

The Twins' bullpen is thinner than it was pre-trade deadline; that's because at the time the Twins were 50-53 at the deadline and 4.5 games back of the second wild card, with three teams to jump over. Minnesota traded their then closer, Brandon Kintzler, to the Washington Nationals (and Jaime Garcia, who they had for one whole start, to the Yankees). Guys like Trevor Hildenberger, Taylor Rogers, Tyler Duffey, Alan Buesenitz, Matt Belise are some arms we could see out of the Twins' 'pen in this one.

The key x-factor for the Twins is Miguel Sano, who missed the last month-plus with an ankle injury. He came off the DL this past weekend and is shooting to be the team's DH on Tuesday.  But he hasn't seen much live pitching, getting only a handful of at-bats this weekend. Are this weekend's at-bats enough to shake off the rust? I'd still be very careful against Sano; he's killed the Yankees so far in his short career and is exactly the kind of hitter with his power that can wreck a game like this for the Yankees.

Byron Buxton, who is a very streaky hitter, but incredible defensively in center field, and Joe Mauer, who doesn't have much power these days, are still guys who can do damage as well. Brian Dozier is probably their next-best power threat after Sano, hitting 34 homers after going deep 42 times in 2016. Eddie Rosario has hit 27 homers, with 17 of them coming since the All Star break. The Twins have some good bats in their lineup, so this will be a test for Severino.

If you held a gun to my head I would say the Yankees win this game; and there's probably about 60-40 odds that they indeed win. They have the better pitcher starting, with a deeper lineup, and much deeper bullpen. Of course the Yankees' dominance of the Twins over the last 15 or so years will be brought up, but that doesn't matter in this game. The Yankees won six-of-eight ALDS contests against the Twins in 2003 and 2004, and none of those players are here today; there are also only a small handful of players left from the 2009-2010 ALDS sweeps. Even the most recent series against the Twins at Yankee Stadium a few weeks ago doesn't really matter that much either; anything can happen in one game. The one-game Wild Card format is a total farce, but it is what it is and the Yankees will do their best to try to survive it and advance.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Six Yankees' prospects set to go to Arizona Fall League

Today MLB released preliminary rosters for the upcoming Arizona Fall League. As always, the league is loaded with high-end minor league talent from all over the sport, and some of that high-end talent is coming from the Yankees' system.

The best prospect from the Yanks' farm that will be heading to the desert is Estevan Florial. At first I was a little surprised Florial would be sent to the AFL, given he's just 19 years old and doesn't have too much time under his belt at the High-A level, but clearly the Yanks want to give him some exposure to a league that is considered to be more advanced than High-A (although baseballs are much more prone to flying out of the ballpark in the desert than in the Florida State League, for obvious reasons). The Yankees have sent several power bats to the Fall League in recent years (Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, to name a few) and Florial has a chance to put up some big-time numbers this fall if he can make enough contact.

Two of the Yanks' best pitching prospects, Justus Sheffield and Dillon Tate, will head to Arizona as well. This is Sheffield's first time in the Fall League, while Tate was there last year. Both pitchers are being sent to Arizona to make up for lost time due to injury: Sheffield's oblique and Tate's shoulder have sidelined the two for a chunk of the season.

Next up are infielders Thairo Estrada and Kyle Holder. Estrada is currently with Double-A Trenton and having the best season of his career, and will once again be Rule-5 draft eligible. With the Yankees looming Rule-5 roster crunch it will be interesting to see if the Yanks' protect Estrada; they have Ronald Torreyes doing a superb job at the Major League level in his utility role, and Tyler Wade is on the 40-man as well. My guess is ultimately Estrada will be protected.

Holder was having a dreadful first three months of the season at High-A Tampa, went on the DL, came back in mid-July and has hit very well since (although a near-.400 BABIP doesn't hurt). He's still unquestionably the best defender in the system and one of the best defensive shortstops in minor league baseball. Holder is set to start 2018 in Trenton, so giving him some at-bats against more advanced competition will help him prepare for next season.

Chris Gittens is the sixth member sent to the Fall League and overall his 2017 has been pretty solid at the High-A level. There's power and lots of strikeouts, and as a right-handed hitting first baseman Gittens being able to hit for power is a must as he climbs the minor league ladder. Also noteworthy: as a college pick in 2014 Gittens will be eligible in the Rule 5 draft, but I'll be surprised if the Yankees ultimately protect him this off-season.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Yankees make necessary trade to upgrade rotation in Sonny Gray

About an hour before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Yankees acquired Sonny Gray (along with $1.5 million in International Bonus pool money) from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for prospects Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian. This move, along with previous acquisitions of David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and Jaime Garcia, are clear indications the team is in "go-for-it" mode and gives them every chance possible to win the World Series now and in upcoming seasons.

When right, Gray, who is under team-control through 2019, is a no-doubt number 2, maybe even a little better, type of starter in a rotation. He strikes guys out, limits walks, and gets ground balls; three keys to success. Gray is also someone you have no problem giving the ball to in a big game; he is a fierce competitor and has shoved in the playoffs before. No doubt there is a bit of a dark, should I say gray, cloud over him, given the past injury problems (lat, forearm) and rough 2016 season (5.69 ERA, 4.67 FIP), but the upside is too great to ignore. The Yankees have a strong, deep farm system and trading three players, albeit good prospects in their own right, that may or may not have had a long-term future (at least in regards to the position players in Fowler and Mateo), is a good call.

To put it mildly, the Yankees, particularly in regards to their pitching staff, are stacked. The rotation options include Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Jordan Montgomery, Garcia, and now Gray. Pair that with a bullpen of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Robertson, Kahnle, Chad Green, and Adam Warren, 1-12 the Yankees may just have the best pitching staff in the American League. The staff has the ability to get length out of their starters, as well as shortening the game with their bullpen. It's a deadly combination that I'm sure every team in the AL is fearing come playoff time, should the Yankees take care of business and get there.

As for the playoffs, this move, along with the others, makes the Yankees the favorite to win the AL East. The Red Sox have been reeling of late; they've lost 14 of their last 23 games, David Price is back on the Disabled List, Rick Porcello hasn't come close to 2016 Cy Young form, and the offense is lacking power compared to last season. The Tampa Bay Rays have made some nice moves at the deadline themselves, but I don't think they have the firepower to jump over the Yanks in the standings; we saw a glimpse why last weekend in which the Yanks took three-of-four games. Even the AL West Houston Astros, who are steamrolling through the regular season, have question marks in their rotation. GM Brian Cashman smelled blood in the water and decided to strike.

I think the prospect package Oakland got was a good one, despite some feeling a little underwhelmed at what Oakland got. Fowler and Kaprielian, both out for the rest of the season (Fowler: knee surgery, Kaprielian: Tommy John surgery), have a lot of upside, especially Kaprielian, who has the upside of a top-of-the-rotation caliber arm. Mateo offers plenty of high potential as well, it's just a question of how much he'll hit. He showed some power to right field and right center after being promoted to Double-A Trenton, which had to get Oakland excited; not to mention the 80-grade speed and ability to play shortstop, second base, and center field. Fowler will have to show he can still run well after the knee surgery, but he was a legit center fielder with plus speed and improving power before getting hurt. All throughout talks that got leaked to the media it appeared Oakland wanted a shortstop and center fielder, and they got just that. Kaprielian's stuff is off-the-charts good according to scouts, but we'll have to wait and see how he does coming back from Tommy John. Overall this trade helps Oakland further advance their rebuild. There's risk on both sides of this deal, but also a trade both clubs needed to make.