YANKEES 9, TIGERS 8
In a pattern that is all to familiar the “Baby Bombers” once again snatched victory from the jaws of defeat on Tuesday.
Ramon Flores laced a three-run homer just barely over the right-field wall in the bottom of the ninth inning to bring New York all the way back from an 8-2 deficit to a walk-off victory over Detroit at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.
Flores, with the Tigers one pitch away from victory, connected on an inside fastball off right-hander Rafael Dolis (0-2) for his second home run of the spring to cap a four-run rally in the final frame.
Trailing 8-5, Aaron Judge started the rally by drawing a walk and stealing second base. John Ryan Murphy followed with a one-out RBI single.
Ali Castillo drew a two-out walk and Flores sent what was left of the crowd of 10,921 happy with his game-winning shot.
Diego Moreno (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to get credit for the victory.
The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 13-9.
When discussing the Yankees talented young players it is as if Flores is an afterthought.
That is probably because the 5-foot-10, 190-pound outfielder is not blessed with tremendous power (36 career home runs in the minors) or blazing speed (59 stolen bases). His career minor-league average is a rather ordinary .271.
But somehow when you put it all together Flores remains a viable young prospect at 22. (He will turn 23 on Thursday.)
His dramatic home run against the Tigers on Tuesday is not real surprising in that Flores has two home runs and five RBIs this spring despite the fact he is hitting just .172 (5-for-29).
Flores was considered one of the hottest prospects in the Yankees’ organization after his 2012 season as he hit a combined .303 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 132 between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
But he has been kind of running in place since then. He batted just .260 at Trenton in 2013 and had an injury-plagued season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014.
Though he will not make the 25-man roster this spring, Flores remains a pretty important player for the Yankees heading in the 2015 season. The reason is that should any of the Yankees’ outfielders sustain an injury, Flores likely would one of the first players the Yankees would look to call up.
That suits Flores just fine. He would love to get a chance to prove what he can do in the majors. He really opened some eyes on Tuesday.
- Give the young Yankees credit for bringing the Yankees back from a 8-2 deficit as the game entered the bottom of the seventh. The Yankees managed to bat around against left-hander Kyle Ryan and the Tigers. Chris Young doubled, Didi Gregorius slashed an RBI double and Slade Heathcott was hit by a pitch. Jonathan Galvez drew a walk to load the bases. Francisco Arcia drove in a run with a RBI groundout and after, another walk loaded the bases, Kyle Higashioka drew a bases-loaded walk off right-hander Buck Farmer, who had replaced Ryan. This three-run rally set up the game-winning rally in the ninth.
- Gregorius’ RBI double in the seventh came off a left-hander. The knock on Gregorius is that he was incapable of hitting lefties. But manager Joe Girardi is giving Gregorius the chance to prove he can hit them. Thus far, the 25-year-old shortstop is 4-for-13 (.308) against left-handers this spring and he is (5-for-20) .250 against right-handers. It is now appearing that Girardi will not use a platoon of Gregorius and Brendan Ryan at shortstop.
- Brett Gardner took a more aggressive approach on the bases on Tuesday and he ended up with his first two stolen bases of the spring. However, Gardner was also cut down in the first inning trying to take third on a fly ball off the bat of Chase Headley. Center-fielder Anthony Gose stunned Gardner on a perfect throw to Nick Castellanos at third for a double play.
- Esmil Rogers was making his last start as a contender for the No. 5 starter position and things did not go well for the 29-year-old right-hander. He was tagged for six runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks with two strikeouts in three innings. The reason only one run was earned was due to his own error in the second inning on high chopper off the bat of Jose Iglesias. That opened the floodgates to a two-run single by Ian Kinsler and a two-run double by J.D. Martinez.
- Stephen Drew actually did get a single in the fourth inning off starter Anibal Sanchez, which is wonderful because Drew entered the contest batting .161. But Drew either is crazy or he was not paying attention when Gose cut down Gardner. Trying to stretch the single into a double, Drew ended up a dead duck at second on a perfect throw from Gose. It was not a very bright play, Drew.
The Yankees will play host on Wednesday to the New York Mets.
Masahiro Tanaka will start his third contest of the spring. He is 1-0 with 0.00 ERA. His positioning also has him lined up to open the season for the Yankees on April 6 at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Mets will counter by starting right-hander Rafael Montero, who is 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA in two appearances this spring. This will be his first start.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.
Didi Gregorius, 25 (.226, 6 HRs, 27 RBIs, 80 games)
It is tough to ask any player to take the place of a legend but it must be an even greater lift to ask Didi Gregorius to follow the 19 seasons Derek Jeter gave the New York Yankees.
Throughout the offseason the names of Troy Tulowitzki, Elvis Andrus and J.J. Hardy were bandied about in the press as the speculation on who would replace Jeter grew louder. When the Yankees elected instead to offer right-handed starter Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gregorius was anointed as Jeter’s replacement.
The shock may still have not worn off.
Gregorius has been a top prospect with the D-backs for several years after he was obtained from the Cincinnati Reds in 2012. His first taste of the majors came in 2012 when he was a September call-up of the Reds and he hit .300 in just 20 at-bats.
After his trade to Arizona, Gregorius played in 103 games for the D-backs in 2013 and he was a bit of a disappointment in batting .257 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs. The D-backs were expecting a lot offensively from a player that was so gifted defensively.
Looking at Gregorius’ 2014 numbers would have you surmise he was a complete failure. But the D-backs will tell you that was not the case. Instead, Gregorius was passed on the depth chart by fellow prospect Chris Owings, who hit .261 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 91 games after taking over as the team’s primary shortstop.
Ask anyone in the D-backs organization and they will tell you that Gregorius is far superior to Owings as a fielder (5 errors for Gregorius to 11 for Owings) with far superior range. They also will tell you although Owings won the job with his offense that Gregorius has a far higher ceiling with his offense than Owings.
So the Yankees were not taken. It actually may be that the Yankees took the D-backs.
The Yankees looked at lefty-swinging Gregorius’ splits against right-handers and left-handers and discovered that he batted . 262 against right-handers in 544 at-bats and only .184 in 180 at-bats against southpaws.
The Yankees are looking into the possibility of using Gregorius in a platoon with veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan this season. Ryan, 32, would take most of the at-bats against left-handers and leave Gregorius to face the right-handers he feasts upon.
The Yankees believe that Gregorius has the ability to hit double-digit homers at Yankee Stadium as he develops. Though Gregorius did steal 44 bases in the minors, including 16 for with two Class-A Reds farm teams in 2010, he has not developed into a skillful base-stealer at the major-league level.
It appears that 2015 is going to be a proving ground for Gregorius and Yankee fans obviously will compare their young shortstop to the legend that was Jeter.
But the Yankees point out that Jeter batted .256 with four homers and 50 RBIs in 145 games in his final season. The Yankees believe Gregorius could top those totals in 2015.
Should Gregorius falter to such a degree that he will have to be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees would be forced to move their starting second baseman Stephen Drew back to his original shortstop position.
Drew, 31, was shifted to second base by the Yankees after he was obtained from the Boston Red Sox in a deal for Kelly Johnson on July 31. The former Diamondbacks shortstop had only played shortstop since he began his major-league career in 2006.
But with Jeter in his final season Drew was forced to move and when the Yankees made the deal for Drew it was just assumed he would shift back to shortstop after Jeter retired. But the Yankees had other ideas.
The Gregorius deal at first seemed to indicate Drew’s stint with the Yankees was over but the Yankees finalized a one-year, $5 million deal in January with Drew and they installed him as the team’s starting second baseman for 2015.
Drew is coming off his worst offensive season of his career after hitting woeful .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games with Red Sox and Yankees.
Though Drew has never won a Gold Glove his defense is considered well above average at shortstop. He is coming to spring training still learning the intricacies of second base.
Should the Yankees be forced to send Gregorius down and shift Drew the team would need a second baseman. They have super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, who made a great impression with the team in his late-season call-up, hitting .333 in seven games
But the Yankees seem very committed to their new shortstop who was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He already appears to have the right attitude.
“You can’t replace a legend, and it’s not replacing,” Gregorius told listeners on MLB Network Radio. “He (Jeter) has been playing for a long time at shortstop and he decided to retire. The spot was open. So I’m not thinking about replacing anything. It’s just me just coming in there to try to play my game.”
The Yankees minor-league options at shortstop are not real good, hence the deal for Gregorius.
Carmen Angelini, 26, hit .212 in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton last season. Ali Castillo, 25, batted .254 with two homers and 42 RBIs in 120 games at Trenton.
Former first-round draft pick Cito Culver, 22, hit .220 with five homers and 48 RBIs at Class-A Tampa. Culver has major-league defensive tools but his offense is holding up his progress.
The big buzz at shortstop for the Yankees surrounds 19-year-old Jorge Mateo. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Mateo made his pro debut last June and teams are already asking about him in trade talks.
His biggest asset is his speed. He stole 11 bases in just 15 games with the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League team. He has a wiry build but he already shows an ability to hit for average and the promise provide double-digit home run power down the line.
Scouts are already saying that the Yankees have not had a shortstop at this level with as much of a ceiling since Jeter. That is high praise.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE
The decision to deal for Gregorius was a bold move and it will define what direction the Yankees will take in the post-Jeter era. General manager Brian Cashman has stayed away from high-priced free-agents to fill spots.
We will see if it is successful.
Gregorius can certainly field the position and that is going to be very helpful. His offense could be a problem but at least the Yankees are thinking of using a platoon in order to keep Gregorius hitting only against right-handers.
There also will be less pressure for the young shortstop batting ninth in this order. Plus, if the Yankees are correct about his power they could catch lightning in a bottle and have something very special for many years to come.
I know Yankee fans would have wanted Tulowitzki to play short so the Yankees could make a run at the World Series. However, Cashman and manager Joe Girardi may have more of a long-term strategy in mind.
Both Gregorius and Ryan are terrific defensive players and that is what you want in the middle of infield. Drew can also play the position so there is some depth.
The problem is that most of the Yankees’ minor-league shortstops are not real prospects. But keep an eye on Mateo. He seems to have the makings to be the real deal.