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.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Mid-season Top 20 Yankees prospects

Believe it or not we are already past the mid-point of the 2017 minor league season. A lot has happened on the farm, mostly some good, some bad, and unfortunately plenty of injuries. This list is going to have some tweaks compared to the pre-season list, but 15 of those on the pre-season list return on this mid-season list. As per usual, standard disclaimer: I'm not a scout, I don't go to any minor league games because I live on the other side of the country. All my information comes from reading around those who cover/scout the players, and from my untrained eye watching Enjoy.

20. Jorge Guzman -- SP, Short-Season Staten Island Yankees

After a stint in Extended Spring Training, Guzman has come out throwing fire for the SI Yankees. Reaching as high as 103 mph, Guzman's fastball not only is hard, but it comes with plenty of arm-side movement as well, allowing him to collect ground balls. Yankee coaches have noticed improvement with both his slider and change-up during Extended, and the results have shown in actual games. Still plenty of risk for someone who is still all the way in Short Season ball (bullpen risk, always a chance for injury, etc),
but plenty of upside as well.

19. Zack Littell -- SP, Double-A Trenton Thunder 

Coming over from the Seattle Mariners in an off-season trade, Littell has done nothing but provide consistent, positive results. His four-pitch combo of fastball-curve-slider-change helped guide him through the Florida State League, and is now leading him through the Eastern League. Scouts are mixed about the quality of his stuff, however, leading some to believe if he'll be "only" a fifth starter/swing-man type, but there should be room for more in there.

18. Nick Solak -- 2B, High-A Tampa Yankees

Both the reports and on-field results of Solak's hit tool have been very positive, some saying he has a chance for a 60, or even higher, hit tool. Statistically, he's put up a 155 wRC+, identical to his mark with Staten Island last season. Defensively, he is a capable defender at second base, so the overall package should be more than a Rob Refsnyder type (not exactly setting the bar high there). Solak's power has shot up in the last month (.268 ISO), and he'd probably be in Trenton if not for Jorge Mateo and Thairo Estrada already being there. But should this power surge continue, Solak could really shoot up lists even more.

17. Domingo German -- SP, Triple-A Scranton RailRiders

The slim right-hander is able to get his sinking fastball up to the high-90's and pairs it with a curve and change, all of which he can get swings and misses with. Tommy John surgery is on the resume, and there are questions as to if his (listed) 6' 2", 175 lb frame will hold up through the course of a season in a big-league rotation. However, he has a chance to be dynamite out of the bullpen if starting does not work out.

16. Albert Abreu -- SP, Injured

Armed with high-octane stuff, like some of the other arms already shown on this list and others still to come, Abreu has done a better job throwing strikes with all of his pitches compared to season's past. Unfortunately, injury his struck twice, once an elbow issue earlier in the season, and now a shoulder problem that has shelved him since early June. But the total package is a potential top-end of the rotation type of starter with three plus pitches, in fastball, slider, curve, and an average-better change.

15. Freicer Perez -- SP, Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

Quite possibly the breakout arm of the system, Perez has really taken off, especially the last month or so, for Charleston. He has one of the best fastballs in the system, reaching the upper-90's with running movement. Perez was fastball-curve-changeup coming into the season, but in mid-May he added a slider, and the results have been breath taking:

9 starts, 55.1 IP, 38 H, 1.79 ERA, 55 K, 11 BB

Perez is tall, listed at 6' 8", so it'll always be worth watching to see if his mechanics stay in check. Lately, that hasn't been quite a problem, as he hasn't walked a batter in his last three starts. The added slider has really helped, and Perez has a chance to really shoot up rankings as he moves forward. The upside is really high here.

14. Clarke Schmidt -- SP, Injured 

It's always a risk taking someone in the draft who just had Tommy John Surgery, but in the end this gamble by the Yanks could pay off in a big way. When right, Schmidt can get his fastball up to the mid-high 90's with late, hard life. His slider is considered a plus pitch as well, touching the low-90's, an above-average/plus curve, and an average change-up. There are some questions with his delivery, some don't like his arm action, but should Schmidt succeed at the next level he wouldn't be the first one to do so with a less-than-ideal motion/delivery. Plenty of risk, but lots of reward if things break right.

13.  Domingo Acevedo -- SP, Double-A Trenton Thunder

The same two questions about Acevedo apply now as they did coming into the season: will his slider improve enough to be a legit third offering and can he keep his mechanics under control enough to throw quality strikes? As the season has progressed Acevedo has alleviated those questions at least a bit. He has shown the ability to get swings-and-misses with his slider in Double-A, and the Yankees continue to refine his delivery so he finishes more straight forward to the plate, and less so off to the first base side. His two strengths also remain: his fastball and change-up. There haven't been as many 100+ mph readings from Acevedo this season as there have been in the past, but that is by design, as he's lessened the effort in his delivery in an "effort" to retain his mid-90's velocity late into outings. Sure there's still reliever risk here, but Acevedo is taking the right steps forward to answering his questions.

12. Dillon Tate -- SP, High-A Tampa Yankees

A shoulder problem sidelined Tate up until mid-June, but he has come back strong, allowing just seven runs in 23.2 innings for Tampa. The fastball is back, too, sitting in the mid-high 90's. Tate's slider and change have been very good as well, giving him a three pitch mix he was lauded for coming out of UC Santa Barbara a couple years ago as the number 4 overall selection. Scouts have always liked Tate's athleticism and delivery as well, and if you put everything together, there is a chance at a special arm at the next level.

11. Miguel Andujar -- 3B, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 

Once again Andujar has continued his trend of struggling at a new level for a while, adjusting, crushing the opposition, then moving up the minor league ladder. He's done that this season, starting over at Trenton after underwhelming a bit in 2016, but took off in early May. Andujar had a brief one-game trial with the Yankees, collecting three hits, including a double, but now finds himself in Scranton where he's so far down pretty well against Triple-A competition. As per usual, Andujar has an aggressive approach, but when he connects the ball can  go a mile. His defense has slowly made strides as he's advanced through the system, but he still needs some work overall, mainly with his throws across the diamond.

10. James Kaprielian -- SP, Injured 

The man they call Kap is on the shelf with Tommy John Surgery and won't be back until sometime in 2018. The TJ doesn't come as too much of a surprise, as he battled elbow problems for most of 2016, before coming back for the Arizona Fall League. When right, Kaprielian sat in the mid-high 90's, and displayed upwards of three plus off-speed pitches. Scouts are skeptical of his delivery, specifically in regards to his arm lagging behind the rest of his body before his front foot lands during his motion, and they wonder if that was the cause of his UCL snapping. Nevertheless, if he can recover from the surgery and regain his stuff, Kaprielian has sky-high potential.

9. Tyler Wade -- INF/OF, New York Yankees 

Several players on this ranking are where they're at because of the combination of their risk/upside, but Wade is in this spot because of his high probability of being a productive major leaguer. Originally a shortstop, the Yankees have moved Wade around all over the diamond in an attempt to expand his versatility. Overall, Wade has the potential to be an everyday player at second or shortstop, but it's always nice to have the ability to move to the outfield or third base in a pinch. Wade can put great at-bats together, he hits lasers to all fields, has plus speed, and has a good glove up the middle. On top of that, he's done a better job of crushing low and in pitches, giving him a chance to hit for a little power as well.

8. Jorge Mateo -- SS, Double-A Trenton Thunder

It took quite a while, 203 games to be exact, for Mateo to get out of the Florida State League and up to the Eastern League, but it has happened. I don't think anyone is happier to move from Florida to New Jersey outside of Mateo, and the early returns on the field show that. Although it's only been a couple weeks, Mateo has shown a great ability to drive balls to the opposite field gaps, and even over the fence as well. The speed and defense, which now include some time in center field, are and always will be there. But if Mateo continues this early trend of using the whole field at the plate, his stock will skyrocket.

7. Justus Sheffield -- SP, Injured 

Sheffield has been solid, not exactly spectacular, in his stay in Trenton thus far. Statistically, he hasn't missed as many bats as you'd like for a prospect of his caliber (7.9 K/9), and the walks (3.3 BB/9) and homers (1.3 HR/9) are a bit high, especially the latter figure. But the lefty has three pitches that range from average/plus and has an athletic, albeit with some effort, delivery. The ceiling isn't sky high, but he's avoided arm troubles (although he is currently on the shelf with an oblique injury) his entire career and is still quite young (he turned 21 in May).

6. Blake Rutherford -- OF, Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

Last year's first round pick has stepped into full season ball and has sorta held his own for the most part. As he was coming out of the draft, Rutherford is an all fields hitter, although you'd like to see more extra base power. Sure, Charleston is no hitter-friendly ballpark (he has a .628 OPS at home vs an .823 OPS on the road), but coming in I'd hope Rutherford would have more than one home run on the season through close to 70 games played. Surely, part of this has to do with Rutherford hitting the ball on the ground a lot (50.3%) There has also been some talk, however, of Rutherford not making enough hard contact, and that could be another reason for the lack of power. Hopefully a late July/August power/hard contact surge is in the works.

5. Estevan Florial -- OF, Low-A Charleston RiverDogs

Florial might just be the most interesting prospect in the entire system. Really, he does everything: hit for big-time power, swing-and-miss a bunch, take a walk, run like the wind, have a cannon of an arm. The upside is very high: a possible five-tool star, but the downside is quite big as well if he can't manage the swing-and-miss (15.3% whiff-rate, 10th highest among 89 Sally League qualifiers). How he'll adjust moving up the minor league ladder will be fascinating to watch in the coming years.

4. Dustin Fowler -- OF, Injured 

Fowler would be higher on this list, perhaps as high as third, if not for the gruesome and extremely unfortunate torn patellar tendon injury he suffered attempting to catch a foul ball in his major league debut a few weeks ago. Everything was coming together for Fowler, especially in the power department, where he clubbed 40 extra-base hits and sported a .249 ISO (fourth-highest in the International League). But the knee injury puts a damper in his stock, at least a bit, until he shows it doesn't affect his speed, which helped made him a legit center fielder.

3. Chance Adams -- SP, Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Adams had a spectacular first full season in the system in 2016 and has only built on that in 2017. His four-pitch mix is lead by his plus fastball and wipeout slider that can get swings and misses from both righties and lefties. Adams' curve is a good third pitch, and his change-up has come along as well. There has been some odd fear-mongering about Adams' lack of grounders, but the fact is he misses bats, gets a high number of infield popups, and has arm-side movement on his fastball. Sure, he'll give up some homers at the next level (who doesn't), but Adams should be just fine as a starter. The question is how much he'll improve on his change-up and if he can get quicker outs and be a little more efficient than what he's shown in Triple-A thus far.

 2. Clint Frazier -- OF, New York Yankees

As some have seen for the first time, Frazier's "legendary bat speed" is as good as advertised (despite what Suzyn Waldman tells you). He is an all-fields hitter and can poke extra base hits down each line. His patience has really come on this year as well, making him a classic Yankee-type hitter, for lack of a better term, with his combination of patience and power. The defense, specifically route-running, could use some work, but I expect that to improve with further major league instruction. At the end of the day, the bat is Frazier's meal ticket, and it has a chance to be a very special one.

1. Gleyber Torres -- SS/3B, Injured 

Torres was well on his way to reaching the majors this season as a 20-year-old before a very fluky elbow injury sliding home, which resulted in Tommy John Surgery, ended his season in late-June. He was crushing the competition in both the Eastern and International Leagues, and was seeing extended time at third base as well. Torres could be a legit 60-60 hitter (hit and power tool), or even better, and can play a strong shortstop. Did I mention he was only 20 years old? Sure, the Tommy John Surgery sucks, and sure he loses some development time, but for now it's only a small bump in a very promising road ahead.

Closing Thoughts

First observation: Injuries Suck. Six of these 20, or six of the top 15, are currently hurt; four of those are out for the rest of the season, another (Sheffield) could be out the rest of the way if the Yankees want to be extra cautious, and we don't know when the last (Abreu) will be back. Not to mention a couple others (Rutherford, Tate) have seen time on the DL as well. Injuries happen, but as fans we can do nothing but cross our fingers and hope their recoveries go well.

Now, despite the injuries, the Yankees' farm is still pretty damn stacked. Consider: Aaron Judge and Jordan Montgomery have both graduated from prospect status this season, yet the Yankees have seven players on Baseball America's mid-season top 100 list. Also, when guys like Guzman, Littell, and Solak are at the back of an org top 20, things are going pretty well. The future is very much bright.

I'm sure people will quibble about the order, everyone does at every list, but I will say this: the 3-7 rankings are very tightly close together. Had Fowler not gotten hurt, he'd be number 3. So weighing Fowler and his injury, Rutherford's and Sheffield's okay seasons, Florial's high-risk/high-reward profile, and Adams' stuff and close-to-MLB-readiness, made for a difficult ranking. The separator: Adams is close to MLB-ready, has at least two plus pitches, and the growing consensus is that he'll be able to stick as a starter.

Prediction time: between now and July 31 do you see anyone from this list getting traded? I expect Brian Cashman to do some buying (and buying beyond a Tyler Webb-Garrett Cooper type deal), at least for a reliever (and perhaps another first baseman); maybe a Brad Hand or Ryan Madson type reliever. Obviously, someone like Torres or Frazier won't go for a reliever, but perhaps someone or two from the back half of this list will go. Cashman has called himself "an aggressive trader" in the past. We'll see if that'll be the case by the end of the month.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Some scattered thoughts on's top 30 Yankee prospect list

With Spring Training games already underway we are seeing Prospect Season come to a close. Several outlets have released their top 100 global prospects and individual team lists over the past few months. The general consensus is the Yankees have seven top 100 prospects in baseball, and while that's awfully impressive, it is the depth after those top 100 guys that puts the Yankees' farm in the upper-echelon of systems across the game. released their top 30 prospects in the second-ranked Yankee farm system. It's a pretty straight forward list for the most part (not too many surprises until you get to the back-end of the list) but I have some thoughts

The top 15 players, not necessarily the order, just the players themselves, are identical to my top 15. The only differences we had among the top 15 were a few players we had one spot lower or one spot higher. Great minds think alike, I guess? Jokes aside, I do think you can put the top 15 in tiers: The Gleyber Torres and Clint Fraizer tiers by themselves at 1 and 2, respectively; the rest of the consensus top 100 guys, Aaron Judge, Blake Rutherford, Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian, and Justus Sheffield in the 3-7 range in whatever order; the Chance Adams, Dustin Fowler, Albert Abreu, and Miguel Andujar tier to round out the top 11; then the Jordan Montgomery, Tyler Wade, Domingo Acevedo, and Dillon Tate tier to finish off the top 15. After that, it's kind of a free-for-all of sorts, but interesting how my list and's were so similar in that regard.

These are the Chance Adams tool grades: Fastball: 65, Slider: 60, Changeup: 55, Curveball: 50, Control: 55, Overall: 55. Pretty impressive. Should Adams be able to stick in the rotation long-term he will have plenty of success. Two plus or better pitches to pair with another above-average change and above average control is a fine recipe for success. If he has just a semblance of command, I can easily see a number 3 or better starter out of Adams. Of course, there are reasons to believe Adams won't be a starter long-term (straight fastball, only 6' tall, quirky arm action), but should he clear those hurdles, watch out.

I agree with MLB's notion that Acevedo will end up in relief. Acevedo has a max-effort delivery, had shoulder problems last year, and the slider is still pretty below-average. He should be an effective reliever nonetheless with that high-octane fastball, plus change combo, however. Some are still holding out hope he sticks as a starter, I just wouldn't keep my hopes up.

They still have some faith in Tate, labeling him with a plus fastball, a 55 slider, and average change and control. Given his rough 2016, that's not too bad. The scouting report says Tate is 6' 2" and 165 lbs., but seeing pictures of him that weight total seems a bit light. Nonetheless, MLB says Tate could use some weight gain so he doesn't wear down through the riggers of the season as a starter. After being acquired from the Yankees, the team allowed Tate to revert back to his original mechanics, which the Texas Rangers tweaked after they drafted him; I'd have to think that will help in the long run. It'd be great if Tate saw, say, a half-grade jump on all four of his tools, that would bring him back to where he was coming out of Santa Barbra in 2015. Fingers crossed.

It looks like MLB is back on the Tyler Austin bandwagon. After not appearing on their Yankees' top 30 in 2016 and 2015, Austin appears at 16 in 2017. That's what a .294/.392/.524 season combined at Double-A and Triple-A, plus a 31-game look in the Bronx where he clubbed five homers and a .758 OPS can do for you. They give him four average-to-above average tools, and after being left off the prospect map the two seasons prior, you take that and run (although I do think they are selling him short a bit on power, giving him a 50 rating there).

Estevan Florial and Zack Littell are ranked 17 and 23, respectively, and for those who follow me on twitter I have made it known that I like those two a lot, and I can see both of them make big jumps this season and onto next year's lists. Florial is a human tool shed (with Keith Law saying he may have five plus tools some day, which would make him a bonifide star) that will get his first extended taste of full season ball. Littell is a guy who throws strikes with all of his pitches, is durable, and collects ground balls. They note that Littell's fastball is in the more 89-91 mph range, but I wonder if the Yanks could get a velocity spike out of him like they have out of so many others in the system.

Nolan Martinez at 19 was interesting, particularly due to the fact that the scouting report notes that he had the highest spin rate (2685 rpm) on his fastball among the 2015 World Wood Bat Association World Championship. They say the higher the spin rate on a fastball the more likely there will be swings and misses on it, so that's a good sign. Should his 89-92 mph fastball bump up as he fills out more, it should gain perhaps another grade from his 60 rating. The Yankees value statistical analysis pretty highly and I'd have to imagine Martinez' high spin rate on his fastball played some kind of role in him being selected (and receiving an over-slot bonus). Also, he's from Southern California, so you know Scouting Director Damon Oppenheimer loved him from the get-go.

Ian Clarkin checks in at 21 and if you were to just read the scouting report you'd think he would rank a bit higher. MLB gives him three above-averages pitches with average control. His fastball is in the low-mid 90's and the changeup has progressed well. His curve has taken a bit of a step back but is still a solid offering. Certainly his past injury problems play a role in this ranking, but should he stay healthy I can see Clarkin slot in as a no. 3-4 starter.

Kyle Holder is at 25, which I guess you can argue on the surface (I'd probably have him lower in the 30's), but when you look at his tools, specifically the hit tool, he probably deserves to be ranked higher, possibly as high as the mid-teens. MLB rates Holder as a 70 defender and 55 thrower at shortstop, which is right along with the consensus (some may think he's an 80 defender). But they have his hit tool as a 45, which kinda shocked me. Coming out of the draft and now in pro ball I have seen plenty of reports saying he's a 30 hitter, which is terrible, and a grade-and-a-half between the two is considerable difference. Scouts rate a 45 hitter as a .250 average, and that would be a really good outcome for Holder. Someone who Holder could turn into at the major league level is Andrelton Simmons, albeit with a still very strong 70 glove compared to Simmons' 80. Simmons is also a career .261 hitter, which rates right at a 50-grade on the scouting scale. One grade lower glove and a half grade lower hit tool is still a big leaguer in some capacity.

Another intriguing player is Donny Sands at 27. The Yankees selected him as a third baseman in the 2015 draft, but moved him to catcher. They did this with Luis Torrens, who was a third baseman as an amateur, and aside from injuries that has worked out well. MLB lists Sands as a future 50 defender at catcher, and that would be pretty swell from a converted infielder. And Sands can hit too. With the graduation of Gary Sanchez and the (temporary?) loss of Torrens to the San Diego Padres, the Yanks could use another quality catching prospect.

To round out this post and MLB's list is Taylor Widener. Widener was selected as a reliever in the 12th round out of the University of South Carolina. He had such great success in his debut season last year, coupled with great stuff, the Yankees will try him out as a starter in 2017. It's hard not to think of Chance Adams in this instance, someone the Yanks drafted as a reliever but saw traits as a starter, gave it a go in the rotation the following season, and it looks like the Yankees may have struck gold there. They'll be looking to do the same with Widener in 2017. But to have Widener, a relative unknown to most at draft-time, at 30 on this list that could have easily been expanded to 45  says a lot about his ability and potential.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

2017 Top 20 Yankees Prospects

This long slog of an off-season is slowly coming to a close, and with that prospect rankings from the various outlets across the web are out in droves. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, MLB, and several others have shared their opinions on the stacked Yankee farm system and I will do the same. By no means am I a professional or a scout; I just pretend to be one, so take all of this with a large grain of salt.

Given how deep the Yanks' farm is, it was very tough to come up with a top 20 list, as there were several others who are not on this list but received consideration for making the cut. I could have easily expanded the list beyond 20 to 30, 40, 50, maybe even 60, but I decided to keep it at 20 instead. It makes for a good challenge to figure out who really deserves it. Without any further explanation, here are my top 20 Yankee prospects for the 2017 season:

20. Estevan Florial

Perhaps no one will have Florial this high on a prospect ranking, but it's hard to deny the loud tools and high upside. Despite putting up just okay numbers in the Appalachian League last summer, Florial has 70 speed, arm, and raw power. He has the potential to be a plus defender in center field as well. There is obvious swing and miss to be corrected, but he is still very young at 19 years of age. Still a long ways to go, but Florial has some of the highest upside of anyone in the farm system.

19. Ian Clarkin

With a system that is chocked full of high-upside talent, Clarkin may now be a bit under the radar. The lefty from San Diego features a four-pitch mix of fastball, curve, change, and slider; the heater sits around 91-93 mph and the change-up, as of now, may be his best off-speed delivery. While it was his curve that was his best secondary pitch, the pitch regressed a bit this past season, so it will be a key for him to rediscover its previous form. Clarkin re-worked his delivery last season, which now most notably includes a much shorter leg kick from his previous days. Clarkin is a hard worker and is willing to make adjustments; should things go right he can become a dependable middle-of-the-rotation starter.

18. Zack Littell

Of all the trades the Yankees made, the Littell-for-James Pazos deal could end up being quite the steal for the Yankees. Littell doesn't have huge upside, but he has the chance to pitch in the middle/back of the rotation. His fastball sits in the low-90's, but with a good amount of sink that generates plenty of grounders. Littell's curveball is a true downer and his best off-speed pitch; the change is his third pitch and how it develops may determine how effective he'll be as a starter going forward.

17. Tyler Austin

Austin's reemergence on the prospect map was one of the more brighter stories of the past season. He had gone from DFA'd, to unclaimed off waivers, back to Double-A Trenton for a fourth time, up to Triple-A Scranton, raked, and up to the big leagues where he hit a number of big home runs down the stretch. Austin is a solid bet to be at the very least a productive bench bat that can fill in at first and corner outfield. His power is very real, even so his opposite field power, where he hit all five of his home runs last season.

16. Jonathan Holder

One of the big breakout performers of 2016, Holder went back to his original role of reliever, after starting in 2015, and shot through the upper levels of the minors and to the Bronx. He posted unbelievable numbers in the minors, including striking out 101 batters in 65.1 innings across three levels to just seven walks allowed. Holder's fastball isn't completely overpowering, sitting in the low-mid '90s, but he has a hard, breaking cutter and an absolute hammer of a curveball. His cutter-curve combo conjures up visions of David Robertson, and Holder has that type of potential.

15. Domingo Acevedo

Acevedo powered his way with his high-90's fastball through the South Atlantic League and almost through the Florida State League last season before a shoulder injury cut his season short in August, thus halting a late-season promotion to Trenton. To go with his high-octane fastball with sink, Acevedo features a plus change-up; although his slider still needs work. Acevedo is a pretty big guy at 6' 7", 248 lbs* and his mechanics can get a little out of whack, giving him command issues at times. I think it's more likely he ends up in relief, mainly because of the inconsistent slider and high-effort delivery, but I can see him ending up as a setup man or closer.

*According to Acevedo's good buddy @PeterDjSazon on twitter, Acevedo is 248 lbs instead of the listed 190 lbs on MiLB's site. That sounds much more realistic.

14. Dillon Tate

Tate's stock has dropped quite a bit since the start of last season, thanks to a hamstring injury that forced him to miss a few weeks in April while still in the Rangers' organization; as a result, his fastball velocity and overall results took a hit. While the Yankees used him exclusively in relief after the trade last August, he will be used as a starter now and hopefully moving forward. When right, Tate has three potential above-average/plus pitches in his fastball, slider, and change-up; he has a good, clean, athletic delivery. There was a reason he went no. 4 overall in the draft just a couple years ago, and the Yankees will look to unlock his high upside in his first full season in the org. Lots of risk, but lots of reward if it breaks right.

13. Tyler Wade

There are plenty of shortstops in this system with higher upsides and flashier tools than Wade, but few are "safer" bets to contribute at the MLB level. Wade has improved with the glove at short and second, and he even saw some time in the outfield during the Arizona Fall League. There won't be much power from Wade, if any, except for gap power and legging out singles into doubles and doubles into triples, but that's okay. Overall I see Wade doing a little bit of everything as a utility man on a playoff team or a starting SS or 2B on a lesser team.

12. Jordan Montgomery

In the span of a couple seasons Montgomery has gone from prototypical high-floor, low-ceiling college starter to an upper level arm with a pretty decent amount of upside. His upside has gone up thanks in no small part to an increase in fastball velocity, now sitting in the low-mid '90s, up from his previous 88-90 mph fastball he had coming out of South Carolina. The 6' 6" left-hander has added a cutter/slider hybrid to his four-pitch mix, which also features a plus change-up and solid curve.

11. Miguel Andujar

Andujar broke out in 2016, at least in Tampa, before getting an extended taste of Double-A in the second half of the season. The power output he displayed in Tampa (10 HR's, .191 ISO) didn't translate in his stay with Trenton (2 HR's, .092 ISO), but Andujar has a history of starting off slow at a level before adjusting and taking off. Defensively, he still has room to improve, but he has the skills to be above-average at the hot corner with a rocket arm.

10. Albert Abreu

A flame-throwing right-hander acquired in the Brian McCann deal over the off-season, Abreu has potential top-half of the rotation potential. Abreu can consistently hit the mid-high 90's with his fastball, and his curve is a hammer as well. Abreu's change-up and slider are coming along and are more than just "show-me" pitches, but he will need to do a better job of throwing strikes if he wants to live up to his potential. Still only 21 years of age, Abreu still has plenty of time on his side to improve his strike-throwing ability.

9. Chance Adams

Adams burst onto the scene in a big way this past season by not dominating in relief, a role he filled in college, but in the rotation between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Because he was able to hold his stuff and velocity during a late-season, five-inning appearance during his junior year at Dallas Baptist, the Yankees decided to try Adams in the rotation and it has paid off greatly thus far. Adams' fastball sits in the mid-high 90's; he also boasts a sharp slider that grades at plus or better, and a change-up which is more than a "show me" pitch; a curve is his fourth offering. There are concerns given his 6' 0" size and if he will get enough plane on his fastball going forward, but he wouldn't be the first 6-foot starter to have success in the big leagues should it all work out. If starting doesn't work out, he should be a lights-out reliever in the back end.

8. Dustin Fowler

He may be a bit higher ranked than most, but Fowler has the skill-set to be an impact hitter atop a Major League lineup and a plus defender in center. He is able to slash the ball from line to line and gap to gap, and he even showed off some pop in the second half with Double-A Trenton last season. Fowler's speed should allow him to steal 20+ bases annually and save plenty of runs in the outfield. His biggest bugaboo is his possibly over-aggressive approach at the plate, where he is prone to whiffing at off-speed low and away, though he wouldn't be the first prospect to have that issue. How much he improves his patience at the plate will determine where he'll hit in a major league order, whether that be at the top or the bottom of the lineup.

7. Justus Sheffield

Although he doesn't have the ideal pitcher's height of 5' 10", Sheffield has a well-built lower half which he uses to power his mid-90's fastball. Sheffield complements his heater with a sharp slider and developing change. The southpaw saw his walks climb in 2016, so that will be something to watch for as he gets his first extended taste of upper level ball. While there is a possibility he ends up in the bullpen, he should still be given every opportunity to start; lefties with his type of stuff just don't grow on trees. If things break right, I can see Sheffield turn into a Scott Kazmir type of starter, with lots of strikeouts and solid run-prevention, even if he's a bit inefficient.

6. James Kaprielian

Described as a "vanilla" pick during the 2015 draft, Kaprielain has been anything but since entering pro ball. His stuff spiked after being drafted, to the point where his fastball velo of originally 88-92 mph at UCLA sits more in the 93-97 mph range. Kaprielian also features a slider, curve, and change as his secondary offerings, all three of which can be plus. Couple the stuff with the size and ability to pound the strike zone, you have the potential for a top-of-the-rotation caliber starter. Unfortunately, Kaprielian made only three regular season starts in High-A and missed the rest of the season due to elbow problems, leading to some scouts wondering if his delivery was the reason for the injury. Fortunately, Kaprielian returned and pitched in the Arizona Fall League, where his stuff appeared the same as it was pre-injury, and, most importantly, came away unscathed. The upcoming 2017 season will be a big one for Kaprielian, as he looks to regain lost time.

5. Jorge Mateo

Mateo got off to a blazing start in 2016, dazzling Yankees' spring camp with his speed and surprising pop. Those tools carried over into the first month of the season, but came to a screeching halt soon after. He got suspended two weeks for violating team policy in the middle of the summer, though what exactly the policy he broke remains unclear to the public. His stock may be down now, but I still see Mateo as a good bet to have a productive big league career; he still has his 80-grade speed, and he has added some defensive versatility by playing second base in the regular season and some center field in instructs. Ultimately, I can see Mateo sticking in center field long-term, even if he gets moved in a trade at some point.

4. Blake Rutherford

The Yankees were able to steal Rutherford, a consensus top-10 talent entering the 2016 draft, with the 18th overall pick, due to age and signability concerns. They should thank the 17 teams ahead of them who decided to pass on Rutherford. Rutherford's sweet left-handed stroke, coupled with good patience, and the ability to show power to all fields, makes him a good bet to hit and hit big in the future. Although he's a center fielder at present, he doesn't quite project to have the necessary speed to man the position in the future. A move to an outfield corner could be in order for Rutherford, though the bat will play anywhere. Even though Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa are glorified hitter's graveyards, it wouldn't shock me if Rutherford cleared both levels and got to Trenton in 2018; his bat is that special.

3. Aaron Judge

While he may have taken a hit in some circles after his strikeout-filled cameo in the big leagues, I still have faith Judge can reach his upside as 30+ homer slugger. Especially in the upper levels, Judge has had to go through an adjustment period; at each stop, he has been able to make the adjustment and advance to the next level. Just this past season in Triple-A Judge has worked with some form of a leg kick and has lowered his hands at the plate; those adjustments helped him burst through the International League after a slow start. Should he make further adjustments at the big league level, I can see Judge ultimately become a .250+ hitter, with 30-35 HR's at his peak, to go along with the solid defense in right field. Judge will always strike out a healthy amount because of his size and long arms, but he has the talent to be a productive middle-of-the-order bat.

2. Clint Frazier

Lauded for his "legendary" bat speed, Frazier slots in as the number 2 prospect in the system. When everything's right, Frazier can be a five-tool type of talent. Frazier had a strong year overall in 2016, but he struggled after being acquired as the headliner in the Andrew Miller trade. Those struggles, however, could be attributed to further adjusting to Triple-A competition and him trying to do too much at the plate, something Frazier admitted to after the season. When he's going well, Frazier will shoot line drives from line to line and gap to gap; he doesn't need to try to do too much because the natural talent is there. Frazier will be one of the youngest players in the International League this season, and should he make the necessary adjustments, we will see him in the Bronx sometime this summer.

1. Gleyber Torres

Acquired as the headliner in the Aroldis Chapman trade with the Cubs, Torres is the top prospect in a stacked Yankee farm. Just 20 years old, Torres is the complete package: advanced approach, can hit to all fields, has developing pop, some speed, and can pick it at short to go with a plus throwing arm. The overall numbers in the 2016 regular season weren't eye-popping by themselves, but when you realize he put up a .775 OPS as a (then) 19-year-old shortstop, while playing in pitchers' parks, it's pretty impressive. As if Torres' stock wasn't already high enough, he had to (not literally) explode in the Arizona Fall League, winning the league's MVP and batting title, thus adding to the hype. This season Torres will get his first real taste of upper-level ball in Trenton. I don't think we should expect Torres to reach the Bronx this season, but we shouldn't completely dismiss it, either. He has a world of talent and has breezed through every stop thus far.

Expanded thoughts

Wow, is this system deep, or what? Guys like Florial, Clarkin, and Littell, the 20th, 19th, and 18th best prospects would be hovering, or even inside, the top 10 in a lot of other systems across the game, I'd imagine. Florial, although he's still far away, has an All-Star type of ceiling, while Clarkin and Littell can be mid-rotation type of starters. Not too shabby.

Guys like Dietrich Enns, J.P. Feyereisen, Drew Finley, Dermis Garcia, Wilkerman Garcia, Ben Heller, Kyle Holder, Billy McKinney, Hoy Jun Park, Fracier Perez, Yefrey Ramirez, Nick Solak, Steven Tarpley, and Mason Williams were in consideration, among others, for this list. It was pretty tough trying to squeeze 20 names in, but a fun challenge regardless.

Look at how much the trade deadline and off-season trades impacted this list. Six of the top 20, four of the top 10, and three of the top seven were acquired in trades. This may be worth another post for another day, but Brian Cashman's legacy may come down to how well the rebuild goes, and he's off to a flying start with all the potential impact talent he's added the last six months.

It's hard to predict how this all shakes out, but I'm hoping Mateo has a bounce-back season so the Yankees can move him as part of a package for a front-line type of starter (*cough* Jose Quintana). Should Torres take the next step to the big leagues, he figures to play either second or third base with Didi Gregorius manning shortstop. Starlin Castro would presumably be at third or second, Greg Bird at first, and Chase Headley off the team. I mentioned how Mateo's home could eventually be center field, but the Yankees' first hope, I'd imagine, is for Judge and Frazier to fill the outfield corners, and Jacoby Ellsbury isn't going anywhere with that contract. Perhaps someone doesn't work out and Mateo can find a spot on the Yankees down the road, but my money is on him being moved at some point for some pitcher. We'll see.

You can add Andujar and even Tyler Wade as guys who may have to be dealt elsewhere because there aren't enough spots to go around on the big league team, especially so for Andujar. If Andujar isn't the everyday third baseman, what value does he have on the Yankees? Like with Mateo, maybe some guys don't work out and a spot eventually opens, but I'm not sure Andujar has a long-term future with the Yankees. With Wade, it's not crazy to see him unseating Ronald Torreyes as the utility guy, but if a team views him as an everyday SS or 2B and wants him in a deal that makes sense, by all means move him.

The top five prospects in the system are bats, but overall it is solid mix of bats and arms. The arms, as most do, carry more risk, mainly with Kaprielian's injury past; Sheffield and Adams' smaller sizes; Abreu's suspect control; Tate's inconsistencies; Acevedo's reliever risk; not sky-high upsides for Montgomery, Littell, and Clarkin, but they all have their strengths too.

They say one in every three pitching prospect pans out in some way, the second performs poorly, and the third gets hurt. I think a good example of this is the "Killer B's" Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman, and Manny Banuelos. Betances has flourished in relief and has made the All Star game in each of his three big league seasons; Brackman couldn't find the strike zone with a GPS in the minor leagues and, as of 2013, is playing basketball overseas; Banuelos had Tommy John surgery and has had trouble staying on the field in subsequent seasons.

So with that in mind, using these nine starting pitching prospects (Holder is already a reliever, so we'll exclude him), and this "Rule of Three" methodology, the Yankees should get three pitchers out of this group to pan out in at least some way, be that as a starter or reliever. Obviously three starters would be amazing, two would be really nice as well. We'll see how it plays out. If they can get one no. 3 type of starter and two late-inning relievers (let's just say Kaprielian's the no. 3 starter and Sheffield and Acevedo are the relievers, for argument's sake) that would be nice as well. Pitching prospects are very volatile; look at the Atlanta Braves, they have been stockpiling arms in recent years, knowing that most will not work out.

One starter I'm looking forward to watching closely this season is Littell. He had a really nice breakout year in the Mariners' org last season and it may be for real. Littell has always been a strike-thrower, he racks up lots of ground balls, and his strikeout rate spiked as well. His curve is already an out-pitch and his change-up is coming along. At just 20 years old last season Littell threw over 165 (!) innings, which was the 21st most innings among 676 pitchers. Brian Cashman confirmed in an interview with YES that Littell will begin the season in Trenton; it will be fun following his progress.