YANKEES 9, ASTROS 4
“It’s never over until it’s over.”
– Yogi Berra
KISSIMMEE, FL – This wise old saying should be on the lips of every young prospect in Major League Baseball. It certainly rang true for the young Yankee prospects on Saturday
Fueled by home runs Jake Cave and Greg Bird, New York scored two runs in the eighth inning and six runs in the ninth as New York rallied from a 4-1 deficit to stun Houston at Osceola County Stadium.
Through the first seven innings, Astros pitchers held the Yankees to one run (a Ramon Flores home run to lead of the sixth) and three hits but Cave started the rally with his solo home run to lead off the eighth off left-hander Darin Downs.
Nick Noonan then chased Downs by following Cave’s homer with a double. Then Jose Pirela greeted reliever Jordan Jankowski with an RBI triple to bring the Yankees to within 4-3. However, Pirela later in the inning was thrown out at home plate by first baseman Matt Duffy on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Bird to preserve the Astros’ 4-3 lead.
The Yankees then loaded the bases with one out in the ninth off Jankowski when Cave hit an infield roller for a single. Noonan drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game and Pirela, one out later, gave the Yankees their first lead with a two-run single to left.
Jankowski was replaced on the mound by left-hander Kent Emanuel, who then balked to allow Noonan to score and Bird – later in the same at-bat – cracked a 410-foot home run to right-center that closed the scoring.
Chris Cotham (1-0) escaped a one-out jam with runners at second and third in the bottom of the eighth to get credit for the victory. Jankowski (0-1) took the loss.
The Yankees are 3-2 in the first week of Grapefruit League action.
Much has been said about how dysfunctional the Yankee’s minor-league system has been over the years. This spring maybe marks a stark change to the idea that the Yankees do not have much talent in their system.
Cave, Bird, Flores, Refsnyder and Pirela are prime examples the Yankees do have young position players who soon will be knocking on the door to get opportunities to play at Yankee Stadium.
As this blog pointed out in earlier posts, the Yankees have legitimately talented young players at every position:
CATCHER – Gary Sanchez, FIRST BASE – Bird, SECOND BASE – Pirela and Refsnyder, THIRD BASE – Eric Jagielo, OUTFIELDERS – Cave, Flores, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin among others. The shortstop position has 25-year-old Didi Gregorius, who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
If you add in young starting pitchers like Luis Severino (the team’s No. 1 prospect), Ian Clarkin and Domingo German and up-and-coming relievers such as Branden Pinder, Jacob Lindgren, Danny Burawa and Tyler Webb it becomes clear the Yankees might have a strong corps of young players who can contribute.
So while the 2015 season might hold a lot of dark clouds on how the Yankees will do with so many questions surrounding veterans like Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia. There is just a bit of hope for the near future.
Seeing it all play out with an eight-run rally in the final two innings in Kissimmee on Saturday was pretty fun to watch.
- Bird, 22, is batting a red-hot .444 in the early going and it is no accident. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman was named the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League for Scottsdale this winter and he has just picked up where he left off there. Bird likely will open the season at Double-A Trenton but he could possibly move up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- Refsnyder, 23, may have to work on his fielding at second since he is a converted outfielder but he can flat-out hit. After going 1-for-2 on Saturday he is batting an even .500 on the spring. He is a career .297 hitter in the minors and hit .318 in 137 games in two minor-league stops in 2014. He is ticketed for Scranton but he could advance to the major leagues should Stephen Drew get injured or fail to succeed in his switch to second base.
- Cave, 23, was 2-for-2 including his home run and now is hitting a scorching .571 early. Cave only has nine career minor-league home runs so power is not really his thing. Cave is more of line-drive gap hitter with some speed. The 6-foot, 180-pound Cave hit a combined .294 in two minor-league stops in 2014. He likely will start off in Trenton.
- Scott Baker, a 33-year-old former Minnesota Twins ace, started for the Yankees and was tagged for three runs on six hits as the Astros batted around in the first inning. Chris Carter smacked a two-run double and Luis Valbuena followed with an RBI single. Baker is a non-roster invitee trying to make the team as a spot starter and long reliever. Unfortunately, the Astros jumped on Baker’s fastball early in the count and did some damage because Baker’s fastball had very little movement. Baker was 3-4 with a 5.37 ERA in 25 games with the Texas Rangers last season and was rewarded with his release.
- The Yankees started their starting infield of Teixeira, Drew, Gregorius and Chase Headley. After leaving in the sixth inning they were a combined 2-for-11 with a walk. The exception was Teixeira, who smacked an opposite-field single in the second and lined out in the fourth. Teixeira is showing signs of recovering fully from his wrist surgery in 2013 and he also is sporting a trimmer look due to a new diet.
Masahiro Tanaka threw 29 pitches in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Saturday and told reporters later that he feels he is ready to pitch in exhibition games. “He’s exactly where you want him to be at this point in spring training,” Rothschild told reporters. . . . Rodriguez, 39, will play third base in one of the next two home games on Sunday or Monday, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Saturday. In two previous spring games Rodriguez has been the designated hitter. Rodriguez is 1-for-4 with two walks and single in the early going.
The Yankees will play host to the Washington Nationals today at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Right-hander Adam Warren will make his second start of the spring. Warren looked sharp in his first outing on Tuesday against the Phillies at Bright House Field In Clearwater, FL, giving up just one hit in two innings of work.
The Nationals will counter with veteran right-hander Doug Fister, who led the Nationals in 2014 with 16 victories and a 2.41 ERA.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis at 8 p.m. by the MLB Network and live by the YES Network. It also will be available on a live broadcast by WFAN in New York via MLB Radio.
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.
Chase Headley, 30 (.243, 13 HRs, 49 RBIs, 135 games)
Like most Yankee fans Alex Rodriguez just assumed that after his season-long suspension from Major League Baseball for using performance-enhancing drugs that he would resume his spot as the team’s starting third baseman.
He (and we all) assumed wrong.
The Yankees, who acquired Headley from the San Diego Padres on July 22 last year in exchange for infielder Yangervis Solarte and right-handed pitching prospect Rafael De Paula, liked what they saw after the veteran hit .262 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 58 games after the deal.
So much so that the Yankees signed Headley to a new four-year, $50 million deal on Dec. 15.
They also have been giving A-Rod hints that they do not exactly want him real badly. They have made it clear they have no intention of paying him a series $6 million marketing bonuses due Rodriguez as he moves up the all-time home run ladder.
After installing Headley as the starting third baseman they made it known that Rodriguez may be tried out at first base as a potential backup to Mark Teixiera. On top of that they have indicated that newly acquired first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones will be the team’s primary designated hitter this season.
What’s next? Handing A-Rod a rake and telling him he will be part of the Yankee Stadium grounds crew.
There is no doubt that the 39-year-old three-time American League Most Valuable Player deserves the treatment he is getting because of the lies he has told about his drug use and the way he trashed the organization throughout his effort to have his suspension overturned.
But how it impacts Headley remains to be seen.
Headley is two seasons removed from a career year in which he hit .286 with 31 home runs and 115 RBIs for the Padres in cavernous Petco Park. On top of that he was awarded a Gold Glove that season and he won the Silver Slugger Award at third base.
Since then Headley has fallen victim to a recurring back injury that necessitated a cortisone injection last July. Headley faltered to hit .250 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs for the Padres in 2013 and he was hitting only .229 in July when the Yankees made the deal.
The Yankees were forced into making the deal because Rodriguez’s season-long suspension left them without an experienced third baseman on the roster.
The Yankees intended to start Kelly Johnson at the position despite the fact he had little experience there. But manager Joe Girardi quickly turned to the 27-year-old rookie Solarte after a hot spring and quick start with the bat in April.
But Solarte’s bat quickly cooled and the Yankees ended up using a series of players such as Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, Martin Prado and Zelous Wheeler until Headley was obtained.
Headley, a switch-hitter, does possess the ability to hit for power. He does have double-digit homers in five of the past six seasons. However, other than the 31 homers he hit in 2012 his next highest total was the 13 he has hit the past two seasons.
So is he a 30-homer guy or 13-homer guy? The Yankees would settle for 20 or so.
The RBI totals should not really be as much of an issue because Headley is expected to hit either sixth or seventh in the batting order. But they could use some production for the lower half of the order this season because their offense is not as powerful as Yankee teams have been in the past.
It is Headley’s defense the Yankees are extremely pleased about. Though Rodriguez played the position after having won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers he never really was considered more than a bit above average defensively at the position.
Headley is a considerable step up, particularly if his back issues are truly under control. He committed only eight errors at the position last season and the Yankees were very happy to see him there late last season after they watched a parade of players try to play the position earlier.
A late-season injury to Teixeira forced the Yankees to even shift Headley to first base to fill in for six starts. Headley had only played the position in two previous games but the Yankees were desperate because of the many injuries that ravaged their roster in 2014.
Headley will concentrate on playing third base and likely will not be using a first baseman’s mitt anytime in the foreseeable future.
As for A-Rod, he reported to spring training two days early on Monday and said he was looking forward to winning a roster spot with the team. What that spot will be remains to be seen because Girardi has no idea what Rodriguez has left in the tank.
After all, Rodriguez has only played in only 44 games over the past two seasons due to injuries and the suspension. He did play in 122 games in 2012 but underachieved by hitting .272 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs.
But A-Rod, to his credit, was optimistic on Monday.
“Right now, I’m just focused on making this team,” Rodriguez told reporters. “Obviously it was a rough year, but I’m very excited that’s behind me and I have a chance to hopefully make this team.”
Whether Rodriguez makes the team or not the Yankees are still on the hook to paying him more than $60 million for the next three seasons. So their options if he should falter in spring training are limited.
Cutting him loose is not an option really. A trade is possible but is there any team that would want a fading star who will get booed anywhere he goes? If there was a team that would want Rodriguez (such as the Marlins in his hometown of Miami) it would mean that the Yankees would still have to pay a major portion of his contract.
So Rodriguez remains the giant albatross that hangs around the necks of general manager Brian Cashman and the team’s managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. They can’t execute the moves they would like to improve the team because of this giant pain in the butt in Rodriguez.
Should the Yankees decide to rid themselves of Rodriguez they would have to find themselves a backup to Headley.
Ryan, 32, can play the position in a pinch but his bat would be a big liability. (He is career .234 hitter with absolutely no power.)
Among the non-roster invitees is 24-year-old Dominican Jonathan Galvez, who hit .280 with 10 homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A El Paso last season. But he has no major-league experience.
Super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, batted .305 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014. But he is primarily a middle infielder with only one minor-league game at the position in 2013.
Wheeler has been released and there is no player at the Triple-A level who is near a major-league quality option.
There is a long-range option for the position but he is nowhere near ready for the majors.
He is 22-year-old lefty-swinging Eric Jagielo, who the Yankees selected 26th in the first round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
The Yankees feel he has a tailor-made lefty power swing for Yankee Stadium and he already has put up 13 homers in 2013 and 16 last season. Jagielo also drove in 53 runs while batting .259 at Class-A Tampa in 2014.
Jagielo will not be Gold Glove winner at third but he is improving and he has excellent arm strength for the position. The Yankees do not think he will be ready until 2016. But they are hopeful he will continue to develop.
He is currently ranked as the Yankees third best prospect.
Their 18th-ranked prospect is Miguel Andujar, 19, who was signed out of Venezuela in 2011.
Andujar struggled early in the 2014 season but quickly rebounded to hit .319 in the second half of the season with Class-A Charleston (SC). The right-handed power threat has a very quick bat and he is projected to be able to hit 20 or more homers a season.
Andujar still needs to work on his plate discipline and that will help him raise his average. He also is obviously trying too hard in the field because he has committed 51 errors in 196 pro games at third base.
To say he is a work in progress is putting it mildly. But the Yankees will be patient with the youngster.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: ADEQUATE
The fact the Yankees had the courage to diss A-Rod by signing Headley to a long-term deal and handing him position is a good thing. The Yankees simply do not know if Rodriguez can play at a high level anymore and Headley is a decent fallback position.
The big hope has to be that Headley is able to shake off his back woes enough to hit 20 homers and drive in a decent amount of runs at the lower end of the batting order. Healey is a career .265 hitter and the Yankees would settle for that in 2015.
Headley also promises to be a big help defensively if he is healthy. The former Gold Glove winner has good quickness and agility at the hot corner and he is capable of making some spectacular plays. His defense will benefit the pitchers and the Yankees will need to limit the runs they give up this season.
Whether Rodriguez is able to make the team as Headley’s backup is an open question.
Over the years Rodriguez has been booed in every stadium he is played in except Yankee Stadium. That will change this season because even Yankee fans have tired of his lies and his selfish attitude.
The guess here is that Rodriguez will make the roster only because the Yankees do not have another third baseman to replace Headley should he go down at any point for any length of time. But the only at-bats A-Rod likely will get this will be as a right-handed designated hitter in a platoon with Jones.
As a right-handed DH in 2011, Andruw Jones received 190 at-bats in 77 games, hitting .247 with 13 homers and 33 RBIs. The Yankees would be happy with that from A-Rod and hope that he is not a distraction in the clubhouse or that he does not embarrass the team in the tabloids.
The Yankees options if they rid themselves of Rodriguez are limited. They likely would have to bring in a backup from outside the organization because Ryan and Pirela are ill-suited for the position.
However, the future looks bright if Jagielo or Andujar develop. Jagielo, a former Notre Dame star, looks like one of the most promising third base prospects the Yankees have had in years.
With Headley signed for four seasons they can for afford to be patient with them both.
YANKEES 6, MARINERS 1
The last time Phil Hughes faced the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium on May 15 he gave up seven runs, six hits and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning. He was in the clubhouse before some fans had returned to their seats with their hot dogs and popcorn.
But Hughes got a huge measure of revenge against the Mariners on Thursday at Safeco Field in Seattle.
Hughes pitched seven-plus innings of dominant baseball while the Yankees sent 11 men to the plate and strung seven consecutive hits together against veteran right-hander Aaron Harang to score six runs as New York cruised past Seattle in front of paid crowd of 18,776.
Hughes (3-4) held the Mariners to just three hits and a walk while he struck out seven heading into the eighth inning. But Hughes opened the frame by walking Kelly Shoppach and Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced him with Preston Claiborne.
After a fielder’s choice grounder off the bat of Brendan Ryan erased Shoppach, Jason Bay slashed a one-hopper that skipped between Kevin Youkilis’ legs for an error. Boone Logan replaced Claiborne and was greeted by an RBI double by Kyle Seager that scored Ryan with Seattle’s only run, albeit an unearned one.
Meanwhile, the Yankees staked Hughes with all the runs he really needed in the third inning off Harang (2-6).
Jayson Nix opened the frame with a single to left, the Yankees first hit of the game. One out later, Brett Gardner executed a perfect hit-and-run singe to right to advance Nix to third. Then Robinson Cano lined his 15th home run of the season deep into the bleachers in right-field.
Mark Teixeira followed two pitches later with his third home run in only his seventh game of the season.
Travis Hafner singled and Youkilis doubled him to third before Vernon Wells blooped an RBI single over the head of second baseman Nick Franklin to score Hafner. Ichiro Suzuki closed out the scoring and ended Harang’s evening with a lined single to left that scored Youkilis.
Harang was tagged for six runs on eights hits and he struck out three in 2 1/3 innings. The pounding raised his season ERA to 6.70.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge replaced Harang with Blake Beavan, who was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma earlier in the day. The right-hander shut down the Yankees over the final 6 2/3 innings on a single hit, a leadoff single by Hafner in the eighth inning.
With the victory, the team’s fourth straight, the Yankees are now 35-25 and they remain in second place in the American League East, 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Mariners dropped to 26-35.
- This was the fewest hits Hughes has allowed in a start since he limited the Minnesota Twins to only two hits on Aug. 11, 2011. Though Hughes has been wildly inconsistent this season, he looked dominant in this start because he kept his pitches out of the middle of the plate and he did not get bogged down in deep counts. Hughes lowered his season ERA to 4.80.
- Cano’s home run was his first since one he hit against the New York Mets at Yankee Stadium on May 30. Cano entered the game mired in a 2-for-20 (.100) skid dating back to May 31. Despite the slump, Cano still leads the Yankees in home runs (15), RBIs (39) and batting average (.280).
- Teixeira is off to a great start from a power standpoint. He has three homers and eight RBIs in his first seven games. Of course, he also has struck out 10 times in his first 22 at-bats and his season average is .227. But the Yankees will overlook the punchouts and low average because they certainly need his power.
- The only hitter in the lineup who did not record a hit in the game was Austin Romine, who was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and he did not get a ball out of the infield. The Yankees knew when they recalled Romine from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre they were getting a good defensive catcher with limited offensive skills. Romine is confirming that assessment because he is hitting an anemic .146. He had the distinction of making the first and third outs in the Yankee’s six-run third inning.
- Youkilis’ third error of the season in the eighth inning ended up costing Hughes a potential shutout. If Youkilis had stopped Seager’s grounder it would have resulted in an inning-ending double play.
The Yankees selected left-hand-hitting third baseman Eric Jagielo, a junior at Notre Dame, with the 26th pick in the first round of the amateur player draft on Thursday. Jagielo, 21, was named the Big East Player of the Year in 2013 and he hit 13 home runs in the Cape Cod League last summer. With the 32nd pick in the first round, the Yankees selected 6-foot-7, 255-pound outfielder Aaron Judge out of Fresno State. Judge, 21, batted .369 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs for Fresno State this season. With their final choice of the first round at No. 33 the Yankees selected left-hander Ian Clarkin from James Madison High School in San Diego. Clarkin, 18, was 9-2 with a 0.35 ERA this season.
The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the Mariners on Friday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (6-4, 2.59 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Kuroda is coming off a rain-shortened 3-0 loss against the Red Sox on Sunday. He is 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA lifetime against the Mariners.
The Mariners will counter with journeyman right-hander Jeremy Bonderman (0-1, 13.50 ERA). Bonderman yielded seven runs on nine hits, three of them home runs, in 4 2/3 innings against the Twins on Sunday. He is 3-9 with a 5.62 ERA against the Yankees in his career.
Game-time will be 10:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.