YANKEES 7, ASTROS 0
KISSIMMEE – Chase Headley pounded out three hits, including his third home run of the spring, and drove in three runs to support Nathan’s Eovaldi’s strong 4 2/3 innings of shutout baseball as New York blanked Houston on Sunday at Osceola County Stadium.
Headley got the Yankees’ offense started against right-hander Scott Feldman (0-2) with a two-out solo home run in the third inning that hit the top of the right-field field wall and bounced over. He later broke the game wide open in the sixth with a two-out, bases-loaded single off right-hander James Hoyt that drove in two runs to cap a four-run rally and extend the Yankees’ lead to 7-0.
Meanwhile, newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (1-1) continued a string of impressive appearances this spring by shutting down the Astros on just three hits. He did not walk a batter and he fanned five.
For the Yankees it was their second consecutive road shutout of the spring. On Friday, the Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 10-0 in a game called in the sixth inning due to rain.
With the victory the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 15-12.
The Yankees have historically leaned towards trading away young pitchers and acquiring veteran pitchers on the north side of 30.
There are many examples of young pitchers the Yankees traded before they became stars like Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, Ted Lilly and Ian Kennedy. Just this winter the Yankees traded David Phelps and Shane Greene. It is just something for which Yankee fans have grown accustomed.
The script got flipped, however, when veteran infielder Martin Prado and Phelps were packaged to the Miami Marlins in a trade for first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, Eovaldi, a 25-year-old right-hander, and a promising 22-year-old right-hander Domingo German.
Basketball coaches always say that you can’t teach size and baseball managers say accordingly that you can’t teach a pitcher velocity. Eovaldi has a gifted right arm that possesses outstanding velocity. His fastball can reach as high as 98 miles per hour.
In fact, FanGraphs.com ranked Eovaldi’s fastball as the fourth highest in velocity last season among major-league pitchers. The oddity was Eovaldi led all National League pitchers in hits allowed (223) and he only managed 142 strikeouts in 199 2/3 innings.
His 6-14 record and 4.37 ERA also would have you scratching your head after you saw that sizzling heater of his.
So Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild did some tinkering with Eovaldi’s fastball and his secondary pitches this spring to bring his hits allowed down and raise his strikeout totals. In short, they want him to take the next step in being a dominant pitcher.
After Sunday’s sterling effort, it appears that Eovaldi – with Rothschild’s help – is doing just that. In Eovaldi’s four spring appearances (three starts) he is 1-1 with a team-best 0.66 ERA. He has yielded just one run on 10 hits with no walks and 14 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.
If you add a potentially dominant Eovaldi to 26-year-old right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and 26-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda then you might have an excellent trio of young starters to build a team around.
But don’t just take my word on Eovaldi. You can hear it from a fellow graduate of his from Alvin High School in Alvin, TX, who was watching Eovaldi on Sunday in his role as an executive advisor to the Astros – some guy named Nolan Ryan.
“I haven’t watched him in person, only on television, but I’ve followed him ever since he’s been in high school,” Ryan told reporters. “I really think that the better part of his career is still ahead of him.”
The Yankees might just have something special in this young Eovaldi. And the best part is he is not 34 years old and past his prime.
- I really ripped this team for how bad they looked on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, against the Baltimore Orioles in a 10-2 loss. But they bounced back nicely on Sunday and scored seven runs and collected 11 hits and drew seven walks. But he oddity this spring is that the Yankees are 8-5-1 and have outscored their opponents 77-44 on the road while they are 7-7 and have been outscored 64-46 at home. This may be because the young players have been doing most of the hitting this spring and they are playing more on the road.
- In addition to Headley’s three hits, the Yankees got another stellar effort at the plate from Rob Refsnyder. The 24-year-old second baseman was 2-for-3 with two doubles and two runs scored and an RBI. Refsnyder is now 12-for-35 (.343) with five doubles, one home run and five RBIs. He is ticketed for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he does need to get better in the field, but this young player has all the makings of a great hitter.
- Esmil Rogers, 29, may have blown his opportunity to be the team’s No. 5 starter this spring. But he still has some value in the bullpen. Rogers looked sharp in retiring all five batters he faced and he fanned two of them.
I will not nitpick this one. If you toss shutout ball and score seven runs there is not much there to fix.
Alex Rodriguez made his major-league debut as a first baseman on Sunday and handled three chances flawlessly in his three innings of work. Manager Joe Girardi envisions Rodriguez as potential fill-in at first base behind starter Mark Teixeira and Jones. “Catching the ball, I’m not worried about that. I’d think he’d be pretty good around the bag, even scooping, because you get a lot of those hot shots at third base,” Girardi told reporters. . . . Teixeira suffered a right knee contusion on Sunday playing in a minor-league game at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa. Teixeira left the game immediately and was limping afterward. But he told reporters that he was “fine.” . . . Shortstop Didi Gregorius received treatment and said there was improvement in his strained left wrist that he sustained in Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Gregorius said he is sure he will be ready to play on Opening Day. . . . The Yankees released right-hander Scott Baker but they hope to re-sign him to a new minor-league contract. Baker, 33, originally was signed to a deal that would have forced the Yankees to pay him a retention bonus. The Yankees would like Baker to sign a minor-league deal without the bonus. That is the same basis they re-signed right-hander Jared Burton on Sunday. Burton, 33, had been released three days ago. He only pitched in four games this spring because he suffered a strained lat. In addition to the Burton signing, the Yankees also optioned right-hander Bryan Mitchell to Scranton and sent right-hander Kyle Davies to minor-league camp. The team also optioned outfielder Ramon Flores to Triple-A and re-assigned catchers Francisco Arcia and Kyle Higashioka, infielders Cole Figueroa and Jonathan Galvez, outfielder Slade Heathcott, left-hander Jacob Lindgren and right-hander Nick Rumbelow to minor-league camp.
The Yankees will take the day off on Monday before resuming their final week of spring training games on Tuesday at CenturyLink Sports Complex in Fort Myers, FL, as the Yankees play the Minnesota Twins.
Tanaka will make what will be his final spring appearance before he opens the season on April 6 at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. Tanaka is 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA in his three spring starts.
The Twins will counter with left-hander Tommy Milone, who is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 3, PADRES 0
It would have been easy for the Yankees to have given up on 26-year-old right-hander Ivan Nova after a disastrous 2012 season and when he started 2013 with a 1-1 record and a 6.48 ERA after four April starts. But their patience with the 6-foot-4 Dominican is being rewarded now.
Nova (5-4) hurled seven shutout innings while striking out eight and Curtis Granderson blasted a two-run homer in the seventh inning on Saturday as New York blanked San Diego in front of a sellout crowd of 44,184 at Petco Park.
Nova held the Padres to just four hits and a walk while he strung together a stretch of retiring 15 straight Padre batters to win his first game since July 10.
The Yankee offense, meanwhile, struggled initially against right-hander Tyson Ross (2-5).
Ross held the Yankees hitless through the first 4 1/3 innings before Lyle Overbay stroked a one-out opposite-field single in the fifth.
The Yankees did not score until Alfonso Soriano opened the seventh inning with a bloop single to shallow center. Granderson followed with his second home run of the season, a long, high drive that reached the bleachers in right-center, to give Nova and the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
Ross gave up the two runs on only three hits and three walks in six-plus innings while he fanned a season-high nine batters, mostly recorded with a devastating slider.
The Yankees managed to tack on a run in the ninth off right-hander Dale Thayer after Granderson opened the inning with a single, stole second and he scored on a two-out single by Jayson Nix.
The Yankees’ bullpen came through with two shutout innings to close out the victory for Nova.
David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth and Mariano Rivera came in to hurl a perfect ninth for his 35th save in 37 chances this season. It also was his first save that he has ever recorded at Petco Park in what will be his final season.
The victory improved the Yankees’ season ledger to 57-52 and they remain in fourth place in the American League East, 8 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. The Padres fell to 51-60.
- Nova finally got some run support, although it did come late in the game. Nova pitched well but had lost his past two starts because the Yankees did not score him any runs. Since coming off the disabled list on June 23, Nova is 4-3 with a 2.15 ERA in nine games, six of them starts. It looks as if Nova has regained his 2011 form when he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA.
- Granderson looked absolutely overmatched in the fifth inning when he struck out swinging on a slider from Ross that ended up in the dirt. But he bounced back in the seventh by driving a high fastball into the seats in right-center with Soriano aboard. Granderson, 32, had been 0-for-6 since be activated form the disabled list before going 2-for-2 with a stolen base, two RBIs and two runs scored in his final two at-bats.
- While Rivera deservedly is getting all the accolades in his final season, Robertson’s brilliance in the eighth inning is being overlooked. The 28-year-old right-hander’s scoreless eighth gives him a string of 16 2/3 scoreless innings covering 17 appearances dating back to June 19. He has lowered his season ERA from 2.93 to 1.79 during that span.
With Nova pitching brilliantly, the bullpen doing its usual great job and Granderson providing the team with much needed power there is not much to complain about. This is the way it was supposed to be before all the injuries decimated this team.
Shortstop Derek Jeter did not play in Saturday’s game and will not play until Monday at the earliest due to a right calf and leg injury. Manager Joe Girardi did not know if the injury was related to the Grade 1 quadriceps injury that landed Jeter on the disabled list on July 12. He will continue to receive treatment for the injury and the Yankees are hoping he can avoid going back on the disabled list for a third time this season. Jeter is hitting .211 in five games with the Yankees. Eduardo Nunez replaced Jeter in the lineup on Saturday and was 0-for-3 with a walk. . . . Right-hander David Phelps has a sore right elbow and was scratched from a rehab start scheduled for Double-A Trenton on Sunday. Phelps was placed on the 15-day disabled list on July 5 with a right forearm strain. Phelps is 6-5 with a 5.01 ERA in 18 games (12 starts) this season with the Yankees. . . . Girardi told reporters on Saturday that if Alex Rodriguez is available to play with the Yankees on Monday he will be penciled into the lineup against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Rodriguez walked in all four of his plate appearances and scored a run for Trenton on Saturday as part of his rehab assignment from left quad strain. However, it is possible that Rodriguez could draw a suspension from Major League Baseball before he is able to take the field on Monday.
The Yankees will have a chance to win the rubber game of the three-game series with the Padres on Sunday.
Right-hander Phil Hughes (4-9, 4.58 ERA) will start for New York. Hughes gave up five runs on nine hits in four innings in a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on July 28. Hughes has never faced the Padres in his major-league career.
Hughes will be opposed by former Yankee right-hander Ian Kennedy (3-8, 5.23), who will be making his debut with the Padres. Kennedy was obtained in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks before Wednesday’s trade deadline. Kennedy allowed three runs on six hits in six innings in a loss to the Rays on July 30. He has not faced the Yankees.
Game-time will be 4:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.
On Feb. 15, 2007, the course of history for the New York Yankees took a huge turn and the current state of the team begs the question: What if it did not happen?
Though the Yankees were still be operated ostensibly by managing general partner George Steinbrenner, the actual day-to-day operations were being run by Steinbrenner’s son-in-law, Steve Swindal, who was named the successor to Steinbrenner in June 2005.
Swindal was chosen over Steinbrenner’s two sons, Hal and Hank, because Steinbrenner felt more comfortable with Swindal’s leadership and his vast baseball knowledge.
However, while the Yankees were in the midst of spring training in 2007, Swindal’s vehicle unfortunately cut off in traffic a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office cruiser driven by a female deputy. A chase ensued in which Swindal’s vehicle was clocked at 61 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone before he was stopped by St. Petersburg police.
Swindal declined to take a Breathalyzer test but failed a field sobriety test and was charged with driving while under the influence.
Swindal’s wife, Jennifer, later that year filed for divorce from her husband and Swindal’s stake as a general partner and chairman of the Yankees’ parent company was bought back by the Steinbrenner family in November of that year. Hal was shifted into Swindal’s role with the club and the history of this franchise was forever changed.
The Yankees were known in the Wild West days of early free agency as the major-league team with the largest saddlebags. Under George Steinbrenner’s regime from when he purchased the team in 1973 through November 2007 the Yankees tossed around millions like pennies in a fountain to lure the free agents they coveted.
In some cases, the elder Steinbrenner would be so ruthless in negotiations with free agents he would even increase a bid that already was more than any rival team was offering – actually bidding against himself.
Of course, that led to such signings as Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Dave Winfield. Between free agent signings and some shrewd trades the Yankees won a pair of World Series in 1978 and 1979 and Steinbrenner and the Yankees were being cursed all around baseball for “buying their way” to prosperity.
Though Steinbrenner’s money did re-establish the Yankees in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Yankees actually failed to make the playoffs from 1982 through 1994. A combination of some poor signings and trades doomed the Yankees until their minor-league system began turning out a solid of corps of young stars such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Those players along with the acquisition of Paul O’Neill and the signings of pitchers such as Jimmy Key, David Wells and David Cone pushed the Yankees into an amazing run in which they won four world championships from 1996 through 2000.
Since then the team has only failed to make the playoffs in one season – 2008. They won their 27th world title in 2009 after dipping heavy into the free-agent market in signing pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira.
But in 2003, Major League Baseball instituted its first luxury tax, which was supposed to operate alongside revenue sharing to allow small-market teams to draw money from teams who were over a threshold payroll limit, which was set at $178 million in 2011. All teams shared the remaining revenue.
Only four teams have ever exceeded the established luxury tax limit: the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Angels and the Detroit Tigers. However, only the Yankees and Red Sox have ever exceeded it twice and the Yankees have paid in 95 percent of all the luxury tax since its inception.
When Hal Steinbrenner took control of the team he decided that the Yankees’ philosophy of paying top dollar and ignoring the luxury tax would have to come to an end.
In 2014, the payroll threshold will be increased to $189 million. By a complicated formula set up by the teams, there would be refunded revenue sharing streams for teams who remain under the luxury tax threshold. That gives the Yankees an added incentive to cut payroll below $189 million in 2014.
Not only will the team save money by trimming payroll; they would receive a considerable sum of refunded revenues as well. This explains why the Steinbrenner family informed general manager Brian Cashman that he will have to pass on high-priced free agents and he will have to pass on trading for players with huge long-term contracts.
So Yankee fans have watched a stream of free agents like Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jose Reyes, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes sign with other teams instead of with the Yankees. The Yankees are already on the hook for long-term deals to Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia and Teixeira.
Those three contracts alone are worth $73,875,000 plus player benefits worth an additional $10.8 million, which will also count against the $189 million.
That leaves a remainder of a little less than $105,000,000 to pay the remainder of the team’s 40-man roster in 2014.
That is why the Yankees have let Nick Swisher and Russell Martin go this offseason and it is likely that Curtis Granderson will follow them out the door sometime within the next year.
The team will also have another group of expiring contracts such as one of Robinson Cano. Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are working this season under one-year contracts.
The question is will the Yankees make an effort to offer Cano a lucrative multiyear contract to remain a Yankee? Can they afford to do it? What will they do with Jeter, who is a significantly aging commodity at shortstop?
Some Yankee fans were quick to point out that if Rodriguez is found to have taken performance enhancing drugs past the 2003 date he previously claimed that the Yankees could easily just void his contract and dump him. But that may be a pipe dream.
First, Major League Baseball must have proof that he did it and then mete out a 50-game suspension. But Rodriguez can appeal the procedure and delay its effect. He also could have the suspension tossed out.
The Yankees would find it very difficult to find relevant clauses in his contract to escape from the $114,000,000 they owe Rodriguez through the 2017 season. The Players’ Association and his agent would certainly fight it and that could lead to a prolonged court battle with no guarantee the Yankees could win.
In addition, should the Yankees lose they would still have to pay Rodriguez and play him. He may not be in any mood to produce much for them either. He gets paid no matter how bad he is. So any thought of voiding his contract is going to have to be very carefully weighed.
The long-term effect of what has been an austerity program the Yankees have been under since the 2009 season ended is that the balance of power in baseball is widening out to teams who have lots of money to spend under the current salary threshold like the Tigers, the Angels, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Texas Rangers.
These are the teams that have been active in the free-agent market and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays have benefitted from what was a talent fire-sale by the New York Mets and the Miami Marlins.
The Red Sox traded most of their high-priced players like Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez away last season to the Dodgers to restock their 2013 roster while keeping well below the looming $189 million limit.
That is why the Yankees’ prospects for the 2013 season are not as bright as they might have been under the old George Steinbrenner regime or the short-lived rule of Swindal.
Would old George or Swindal have allowed the Yankees to wither on the vine for the past three seasons and basically pinch pennies and risk the team missing the playoffs in 2013?
Hal Steinbrenner has already stated quite clearly that he expects the 2013 club to remain a top-quality team within the confines placed upon Cashman and the team’s scouts. The result is the current Yankee roster is full of 40-year-olds like Rivera and Pettitte and players in their late 30s such as Rodriguez, Jeter, Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki and the newly signed DH Travis Hafner.
Cashman spent a lot of time and effort stocking the minor-league system with talented young players over the past five years and Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and Brett Gardner have provided some support to an aging corps of veterans.
However, the two best minor-league prospects the Yankees have produced in that time, Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero, were both packaged in trades. Jackson was sent out in three-player swap between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tigers that yielded Granderson for the Yankees. Montero was sent along with two other players to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-handed pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
While Jackson is thriving with the defending American League champions, Granderson has provided the Yankees with two consecutive seasons of 40-plus home runs and a lot of strikeouts. And though Montero has proven to be lackluster on defense as a catcher, his power in Yankee Stadium will be missed in a season in which the Yankees are choosing between singles-hitting catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.
In addition, both Pineda, 25, and Campos, 20, suffered injuries and had their 2012 seasons cut short. Pineda is recovering from right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and he could miss a portion of the 2013 season and may not be 100 percent until the 2014 season. Campos was shut down with a right elbow injury that did not require surgery.
The Yankees have a number of very good prospects within their minor-league system, including a catcher who hits as well as Montero and has better defensive skills in Gary Sanchez, 20. They also have a pair of good-looking outfielders in Mason Williams and Tyler Austin and an up-and-coming star reliever in Mark Montgomery.
But the question is will the Yankees allow these players to develop long enough to make the roster or will they package and ship them out as they have done with Jackson and Montero?
The problem with young players – most especially pitchers – as they develop in the minors is that they need to be promoted to learn at the major-league level. Too often the Yankees pull a player back and ship them back to the minors when they initially fail.
The Yankees did that with Hughes and right-handed pitcher Ian Kennedy in 2008. They both got off to shaky starts (a combined 0-7 record) and the Yankees believed they could not afford to keep them on the roster.
Anyone want to guess what the records of Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were in their first full season with the Atlanta Braves?
Glavine was 7-17 with a 4.56 ERA in 1988 and Smoltz was 2-7 with a 5.48 ERA in 12 starts the same season.
If Glavine and Smoltz were with the Yankees in 1988 they would have been sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for another season and their major-league development would have been stilted. In 1989, Glavine was 14-8 with a 3.68 and Smoltz was 12-11 with a 2.94 ERA.
The point is that players have to learn at the major-league level and when you are constantly shipping them back out they will never learn how to succeed in the major leagues. A good case in point is when the Yankees elected to ship right-hander Ivan Nova back to Scranton in the middle of the 2011 season despite the fact he ended up the season with a 16-4 record.
The Yankees are pretty rough on their prospects. If they are not ready to contribute on Day One they get sent back down. Sometimes players in the late 20s like Colin Curtis find themselves drifting in the Yankees’ system but never even given the chance to play in the majors much.
Then there are the Monteros and Jacksons who succeed just enough in the minors to be traded. Then there are the Kennedys, who are traded and ended up going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA for the Diamondbacks in 2011. So the Yankees show patience with players like Curtis, who never made it in the majors, and a lack of patience with players like Kennedy, who succeeds with another team.
If the Yankees are to adhere to this stringent luxury tax threshold in 2014 they are going to have to stop making the mistake of trading their great prospects away or, at the least, if they are going to trade them they better get something of real value back for it. They also could benefit by being a bit more patient with their young players when they call them up.
The Montero-Pineda deal is but one example of those mistakes. Cashman can’t afford to do that much going forward.
The Yankees are going to need good young athletes and skilled pitchers coming out of their system on a regular basis to retool this franchise through the end of the decade. It will certainly lower payroll, make the team better-suited for healthy runs at championships and may prove – ultimately – that Hal Steinbrenner had the right approach.
Otherwise, there will be hell to pay and old George will be have cigar smoke coming out of his ears as he rolls around in his grave. If a ghost could ever fire a son, old George will figure out a way to get that done.
With the advent of the free-agent signing season coming, the New York Yankees obviously are in the market for some starting pitching help. We have already detailed the Yankees’ likely interest in the Rangers’ C.J. Wilson, Japanese star Yu Darvish and longtime White Sox ace Mark Buerhle. But what if the best laid plans of general manager Brian Cashman do not work out as planned and the Yankees sign none of those players? What if they are unable to make a trade for a starter? Let’s see if there is a creditable Plan C if free agents and trades are unavailable. This is a two-part report. The first part already dealt with the Yankees options at the major-league level. Part two will deal with their minor-league options.
PART 2: MINOR-LEAGUE OPTIONS
Yankee history is littered with young pitchers they developed only to use as in trades for more experienced hitters or pitchers. For years the veteran pitchers the Yankees acquired fizzled and the young pitchers they let go later on helped other teams.
The list includes Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, Al Leiter, Ted Lilly and look at the record Ian Kennedy posted with the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.
But general manager Brian Cashman would eventually like to end that history. The problem is with the Yankees always aiming their sights on winning the World Series it is hard to allow young pitchers develop at the major-league level as other teams might. Patience is a virtue that the Yankees have never shown with very many pitchers they have developed. That possibly could change soon.
The Yankees boast a collection of six pitchers who can potentially contribute as starters with the Yankees in 2012. They include: right-hander Hector Noesi, right-hander Adam Warren, right-hander D.J. Mitchell, right-hander David Phelps, right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Manny Banuelos.
Let’s look at each one and see if any of them have the potential to help the Yankees in 2012:
Noesi, 24, pitched most of the season in bullpen for the Yankees, logging 56 1/3 innings in 28 relief stints and two late-season spot starts. He was 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA. At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he was 1-1 with a 3.28 ERA in five starts.
Despite the fact he was needed to fill a spot in the bullpen in 2011, he is still considered a starter by the Yankees. He also comes into spring training with a leg up on the other five because he has the most major-league experience and manager Joe Girardi was comfortable using him out of the bullpen down the stretch.
Noesi’s main calling card is his exceptional control. But he did walk 3.5 batters per nine innings with the Yankees last season. He also gave up six home runs, which would translate to 24 in a 200-inning season. But Noesi was nevertheless effective enough as a middle-inning reliever to stay with the club.
Noesi was slow to reach the majors because he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2007. But he rose like a meteor in the Yankees’ eyes because of his exceptional minor-league walk rate of 1.6 and an exceptional 2009 season with Double-A Trenton and Scranton. Last season, Noesi was considered a “second-tier” pitching prospect behind Betances, Banuelos and Andrew Brackman (who has since been released). Noesi has a nice 91-94 mph fastball and a decent curve and change-up. But his long-term pitching prospects with the Yankees are clouded because so many other pitchers in the organization have what is perceived to be better stuff.
So Noesi must enter spring training throwing strikes and proving he can get outs without having what would be considered strikeout stuff. If he exhibits any sign of wildness or a propensity to give up gopher balls in the spring, he is likely to be ticketed for Scranton again. But if injuries should crop up in the bullpen, Noesi could be offered a return engagement since he did not embarrass himself there in 2011.
Mitchell is also 24 and he put a pretty good season together at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2011. He was 13-9 with a 3.18 ERA and was the ace of the staff.
The 6-foot, 175-pound right-hander also struck out 112 batters and walked 63 in 161 1/3 innings. He is part of a trio of right-handers (along with Warren and Phelps) who were selected in the draft as college players. Mitchell attended Clemson and was selected in the 10th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
Mitchell has an excellent two-seam fastball, which translated into an impressive 62% ground-ball rate in the minors. He also has a smooth and controlled delivery. Scouts believe his two-seam fastball is enough of a weapon to get him and keep him in the major leagues. Mitchell can not only induce ground balls with his sinker, he can strike out batters with also.
Mitchell is still working on his secondary pitches and his curve has developed into a plus pitch, too. His four-seam fastball sits in the 91-93 mph range and he is even developing a cutter to use on left-handed batters. His change-up needs a lot of work.
Mitchell’s stuff is good enough to help the Yankees at some point but it is unclear whether that will come as a starter or as a reliever. Mitchell enters spring training as a longshot to make the Yankees’ starting rotation but he might be an excellent choice for a in-season call-up to fill in as a starter or reliever. He could actually benefit from another season at Triple-A to fully develop his secondary pitches.
There is a lot to like about Mitchell. It is just up to him to step up his game when he is given chances to pitch in spring training.
Unlike Mitchell, Warren has been on a fast-track to the major leagues despite the fact he is also 24.
Warren is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound right-hander the Yankees selected in the fourth round of the 2009 draft out of the University of North Carolina. Like Mitchell he spent all of the 2011 season at Scranton.
His record was nothing special at 6-8 but his ERA was 3.60 and he fanned 111 batters and walked 53 in 152 1/3 innings. Like Mitchell, Warren is a command and control pitcher who will not blow hitters away. He pitches in the 88-92 mph range and pounds the strike zone and changes speed on his pitches well.
He gets a lot of ground balls off his two-seam fastball and change-up but he needs work on some of his other secondary pitches like his curve and slider. Warren has pitched in high=pressure games at North Carolina and he has a competitive streak in him. The question becomes how high is Warren’s ceiling?
At this stage, Warren might make a nice No. 4 starter someday but he lacks the weapons to be considered anything more. He will get an honest look in spring training and you can’t help but root for a guy who flew under the radar for the past two seasons before his rise to Scranton last season.
The Yankees are hopeful he will be able to contribute down the road but Warren looks like a lock to spend the season back with Scranton.
If you ask Cashman about Phelps, his first reaction is a wide smile. Phelps, also 24, is one of those pitchers who has a habit of exceeding expectations.
Last season, Phelps began pitching at Double-A Trenton and was promoted quickly to Scranton. His combined numbers were a modest 7-7 with an eye-popping 2.99 ERA. Even more impressive was his 95 K’s and just 27 walks in 114 1/3 innings.
Phelps was selected by the Yankees in the 14th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of Notre Dame. Phelps was written off by a lot of scouts after his junior season at Notre Dame did not measure up to his spectacular sophomore season in which he was 8-5 with a 1.88 ERA in 15 starts.
Phelps promptly became the ace of his rookie Staten Island team in 2008 and he has succeeded at every level he has pitched since. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander just exudes confidence on the mound and he attacks hitters despite not possessing an above-average fastball.
Phelps throws in the low 90s but has impeccable control, as the 27 walks he issued in 2011 indicate. What sets Phelps apart from Warren and Mitchell is his slider, which translated into a 7.51 K rate at Class-A Tampa. His pitches to contact and that also keeps his pitch count down.
His deceptive delivery actually makes his average fastball seem livelier than it actually is and Phelps is an absolute bulldog on the mound, brimming with confidence to throw any of his pitches in any count.
There are a lot of pitchers like Phelps in the minor leagues. Some make it to the majors and some don’t. The Yankees actually might motivate Phelps by betting that he won’t because Phelps is determined to prove doubters wrong and be successful in the major leagues. Don’t bet against him.
This spring training the Yankees hope to see that Phelps has improved his curve and change-up. The rest of the arsenal is there and Phelps already has the makeup any pitching coach would love all his pitchers to have. Phelps is the most likely of the three college right-handers who could be of help in 2012.
Of course, that could come as a starter or a reliever, given what the Yankees may need. Phelps has a chance, like Ivan Nova, to develop into a nice starter for the Yankees at some point. It is just a matter of time. But he will be a middle of the rotation guy, at best. But isn’t it there where the Yankees need the help?
He is Brooklyn boy, though at 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds, he is very large boy at age 23.
Betances was selected by the Yankees in the eight round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft despite the fact the velocity on his pitches dropped in his senior season at Grand Street Campus High School.
But the tall righty overcame that and some forearm tightness in his first minor-league season to pitch very well with Charleston in the South Atlantic League in 2008. Betances was 9-4 with a 3.87 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 115 1/3 innings. That caught the Yankees’ attention and he advanced to Class-A Tampa in 2009.
But Betances was shut down with elbow pain and ended up having elbow reinforcement surgery. But he overcame that and became one of the prize pitchers in the Yankees’ farm system with a 8-1 record and an eye-popping 1.77 ERA in 14 starts for Tampa. He struck out 88 batters in 71 innings.
I guess the elbow was fixed.
It was no surprise that a lot of Yankees wanted Betances to succeed in spring training in 2011. He and Banuelos had their every move documented for fans interested in seeing the two most prized pitching prospects in the organization. But it was a foregone conclusion that Betances would be sent to Double-A Trenton to work on his command and his secondary pitches.
Betances features gas. He can dial it up to 98 mph on his fastball but he throws in the mid-90s mostly. His height allows him to force a downward plane on his pitches so the Yankees want him to work on a two-seam fastball. He also features a power knuckle curve that could be a solid swing-and-miss pitch for him. He has pretty good command of the curve.
Betances’ weakness is his large frame. Much like CC Sabathia at a young age, Betances finds that it is hard to keep his balance in his delivery. When he flies open he is apt to miss with his pitches, fall behind in counts and either he gets hit or walks batters. Finding a consistent release point is a struggle for him.
Last season, Betances was a combined 4-9 with a 3.70 ERA between Trenton and Scranton. He struck out 142 in 126 1/3 innings. But he also walked 70.
Betances is a pitcher worth being patient with because he is a potential front-of-the-rotation pitcher. If he stays healthy and progresses in finding a way to repeat his delivery consistently he could one of the best pitchers the Yankees have developed in their minor-league system. He is that good.
He will get a long look in spring training but realistically it would be very surprising if Cashman would allow Betances to make the 2012 major-league roster. Betances really needs to put in a season at Triple-A honing his craft. If he was pitching for a team like Kansas City he could learn at the major-league level. But not with the Yankees.
Cashman believes in being cautious especially given Betances’ past elbow problems. Betances could be called up late in the 2012 season when the rosters expand. But set your clock on him for 2013. That is when he should get a shot to make the rotation.
At age 20, Banuelos is already a legend in smart Yankee circles.
The reason is that Banuelos’ promise is limitless and there is so much to like about the 5-foot-11, 155-pound left-hander.
Signed as a non-drafted free agent in March 2008 out of Vergelito, Mexico, Banuelos impressed the Yankee scout who signed him just when he was warming up with his brother before showing the scout what he could really do. The scout marveled at the ease in which the ball came out of Banuelos’ hand.
He advised the Yankees he needed to sign him quickly and the rest is history.
Banuelos features a fastball, a change-up and a curve. But the pitch that draws the most raves is actually the change-up because so few young pitchers ever truly master the pitch. Banuelos has a quality change-up that makes his fastball even more deadly. Betances has better velocity on his fastball. But because of Banuelos’ change-up his 92 mph fastball looks like it 100 mph compared to it.
Banuelos, unlike Betances, has a nice, free-and-easy motion that makes it easy for him repeat his delivery over and over again. That also means he can maintain control and Banuelos – at a tender age – has learned how to add and subtract his pitches. That makes him special and it also places him as the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Yankees’ farm system.
Last spring training, Banuelos was pressed into starting against the Red Sox in a spring training start in Tampa. The most impressive pitch Banuelos threw was a 3-2 change-up that absolutely stunned Jason Varitek. Varitek watched it glide over the plate, shook his head and walked back into the dugout stunned.
The legend of Banuelos was born.
There was some hope the Yankees might promote Banuelos to pitch out of the bullpen for the stretch drive, given their need for a second lefty. But Banuelos was just 6-7 with a 3.75 ERA and he struck out 125 and walked 71 in 129 2/3 innings between stints at Trenton and Scranton. The Yankees felt his control needed more refining before they could bring him up.
So Banuelos will get his chance to pitch a lot in spring training in 2012 but he is likely going to be ticketed for Scranton. (If you have some money to bet you might want to put it on Scranton winning the International League with its projected starters).
But do not bet against Banuelos making it up to the majors at some point in 2012 – as a starter or reliever. Make no mistake, Banuelos has a chance to be a very special pitcher for the Yankees and that is the reason Yankee fans absolutely buzz about him as much as they do about Jesus Montero.
The Yankees are well-stocked with pitchers just on the verge of making the major leagues as starters. You would think the Yankees would be looking to push a few into what is undoubtedly the biggest weakness on the team in 2012. But the Yankees are not a team who promote young pitchers and ask them to take them to a World Series.
The Yankees look for veterans and free agents who can buy them time to develop pitchers to either promote or trade.
At the moment, Mitchell, Noesi and Warren are the most advanced of the young pitchers in experience. However, they also are the pitchers with lower ceilings. One of them could surprise but they likely will either stay in Triple-A or be dealt or released down the line.
But Phelps, Betances and Banuelos are worth watching. They seem to have the ability, they know how to pitch and they are determined to make it to the major leagues. Phelps is loaded with heart, Banuelos is wise beyond his years and Betances looks like a budding right-handed version of Sabathia.
Though 2013 looks like the year they might reach the big stage, don’t be shocked if any one or all three of them pitch in some capacity for the Yankees in 2012.
Like the old saying goes: “You can never have enough pitching.”
We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record.
CENTER-FIELD – CURTIS GRANDERSON (.267 BA, 22 HRs, 57 RBIs)
Last season, the trade that brought Curtis Granderson looked like a bust. Granderson missed a month early in the season and did not hit well we he returned.
He was not hitting for a lot of power, not hitting for average, he was striking out a lot and forget about it when he faced left-handers. After the Yankees dealt away lefty reliever Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to Detroit and starter Ian Kennedy to Arizona, the Yankees might have felt they had been had.
But Granderson turned around his season (and perhaps his career) thanks to some tutoring from hitting coach Kevin Long in the first week in August. From that point on Granderson has been much more like the player he was with the Tigers in 2007 when he .302 with 23 home runs and 74 RBIs as primarily a leadoff hitter.
Granderson closed the season on a high note with a big September finish and he hit very well in the playoffs.
The question was could he keep it going in 2011?
Looking at his midpoint statistics, you would have to say the answer is resounding yes. In fact, with Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira not exactly having first halves that were at the top of their game, Gramderson has been the Most Valuable Player on this team.
Afetr 81 games, he leads the major leagues in runs scored with 73, he is second on the team in home runs with 22 and second in RBIs at 57. He is second in stolen bases and he is hitting .271. His career batting average is .268. So in just about any measure you can quantify, Granderson has been very good.
The other thing is nine of his 22 home runs have come off left-handers this season. That is most of any player in the majors leagues. In fact, Granderson is actually hitting left-handers not much worse than he hits right-handers (.263 vs. lefties and .272 vs, righties). That says a lot about Granderson’s commitment to improving and the help Long gave him seems to have rejuvenated his career at age 30.
Granderson has spent most of the season hitting behind Derek Jeter and ahead of Mark Teixeira in the No. 2 spot. Granderson’s .369 on-base percentage shows he is getting on base ahead of the power hitters and scoring runs in droves. He is on a pace to score 148 runs, which would obliterate his career high of 122 in 2007.
Not to mention the fact he could hit 44 home runs and drive in 114 runs, which would, far and away, be new career highs. This is pretty lofty heights for Granderson but they are well-deserved — as was his selection by the fans to start in the All-Star Game.
Now Cashman is looking like a genius for making the trade. That is why it is tough to evaluate a trade based on just one season. It is looking very good for the Yankees now.
Another thing about Granderson is that this season he appears to be more comfortable playing center-field in Yankee Stadium. Last season, he misjudged some fly balls and took some odd routes to flag them down. But this season, he likes the Yankee strategy of playing shallower in the outfield. Granderson seems effortless in going back on balls and he still is able to reach the sinking liners and weak pops that normally fell in shallow center last season.
Granderson has committed only one error and he has three outfield assists. But teams will still challenge his very average arm in the outfield. He does not have as strong an arm as Nick Swisher and he is not as accurate on his throws as Brett Gardner. But in almost every other aspect of the game, Granderson is exceptional.
His base-running is excellent. Granderson already has seven triples this season and he is on a pace to break his career high in stolen bases at 26. He has 14 steals after 81 games and he should have even more opportunities to steal in the second half.
What is there no to like about Granderson?
Yankee fans have gravitated towards him and he is such a great ambassador of the game off the field, too.
I have to give Granderson a solid A for his first half. The reason he is not getting an A+ is because the batting average needs to be a bit closer to .300 to make his season complete. Granderson also leads the team by 20 in strikeouts. Most of them have come on change-ups in the dirt. Granderson is being fed a steady diet of breaking balls lately and he is going to have to adjust to keep his great season going.
As long as he stays committed to the swing Long has worked on with him he should be OK. He is more balanced as the plate, his swing is shorter to the ball and he is keeping both hands on the bat. Though he does not consider himself a home run hitter, Granderson is taking full advantage of the short porch in right-field.
Most Yankee fans would have considered it shocking if he hit 30 home runs this season. Now they would be surprised of he does make it to 40. Such are the way Granderson’s fortunes in pinstripes changed so dramatically.
I would think Granderson’s second half should be just as productive as his first if he remains healthy. It seems he has it all working for him now.
I will discuss others and prospects when I review the performance of right-fielder Nick Swisher. But Granderson started 79 of the first 81 games and Gardner is the only other player on the roster who started in center. This is Granderson’s position and as long as he is healthy and productive, he will not see much rest in the second half. I am sure that is just fine with Granderson.
FIRST HALF GRADE
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A