YANKEES 3, NATIONALS 2
Kyle Roller, Aaron Judge and Cole Figueroa stroked consecutive two-out singles in the eighth inning with Figueroa scoring Roller with the tie-breaking run as New York defeated Washington on Sunday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez (1-0) pitched a scoreless eighth inning to earn the victory. Mitch Lively (0-1) took the loss. Jared Burton pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to pick up a save.
With the victory the Yankees are now 4-2 in Grapefruit League play.
If you walk up to Yankee special instructor Reggie Jackson and ask him who he believes is the team’s best young hitting prospect he does not hesitate to tell you that it is infielder Jose Pirela.
Pirela, 25, put those hitting talents on display on Sunday
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound native Venezuela opened the third inning with a double in the right-field corner and he scored on Brett Gardner’s two-out infield single to tie the game a 1-1.
He came up again in the fourth with two out and Brian McCann on third and Chris Young on first and chopped a infield single to give the Yankees a temporary 2-1 lead.
In his first week of spring games, Pirela is batting .455 (5-for-11) including a double, a triple and three RBIs. If you think that possibly could be just an aberration think about this: Pirela batted .305 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs in 130 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
He earned a September call-up to the Yankees last season and all he did was bat .333 in 24 at-bats and three RBIs.
Pirela is not rated among the Yankees’ top prospects and yet there is a scenario where he might leave spring training as part of the 25-man roster.
With backup middle infielder Brendan Ryan shelved so far this spring with a mid-back strain he suffered working out with weights, Pirela would stand to make the team as its middle infield reserve.
The knock on Pirela has always been his defense. Scouts do not see him as a potential starter because of that reason. That reputation largely was sewn because Pirela committed 37 errors in 111 games at shortstop in 2011 wit Double-A Trenton.
But Pirela has cut down on his errors in the past three seasons. He was charged with 11 in 2012, 16 in 2013 and 11 last season though he played first base, second base, shortstop and 45 games in the outfield.
The Yankees see Pirela as a “super sub” player along the lines of Jerry Hairston Jr. But the Yankees mostly need him as infielder for now. His bat, though, will always be his main calling card.
“I’m very thankful to the Yankees for this opportunity,” Pirela told reporters. “They’ve given me plenty of opportunities. I just want to continue doing my job and I just hope to keep getting a chance to show what I can do.”
- The Yankees trotted out their late-inning relievers in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively. Both looked relatively sharp. Miller, a 29-year-old left-hander, was making his second appearance of the spring and he threw a perfect inning with one strikeout. Betances, 26, made his spring debut and gave up a leadoff double to Clint Robinson but retired the next three hitters, the last two by strikeout. Manager Joe Girardi said no decision has been made on who the team’s closer will be or if the team will employ Miller and Betances as co-closers.
- Although he was charged with an unearned run in the seventh inning on a RBI groundout by Derrick Robinson, right-hander Luis Severino showed off his 97-mile-per-hour fastball to fan three of the seven batters he faced. Severino, 21, is ranked as the team’s top prospect. Despite being a power pitcher who has fanned 225 batters in 221 2/3 innings, Severino also has only walked 54 batters over that time, which just a bit over two every nine innings. There is a chance Severino could make his major-league debut at some point this season.
- Adam Warren, 27, made his second start of the spring and he looked pretty good despite surrendering a leadoff homer to Michael Taylor on his first offering of the game. Warren yielded just the one run on four hits and no walks with one strikeout in three innings.
- It is early but starting center-fielder and leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury is just 1-for-12 (.083) after going 0-for-3 on Sunday – all three were weak groundouts, including one in the third inning with Pirela on third and one out. Gardner followed with his RBI single to get Ellsbury off the hook. It would be nice to see Ellsbury get untracked before spring training ends.
- Carlos Beltran is 0-for-5 in his first two games of spring. Beltran, 37, is recovering from right elbow surgery last September and it is obvious his timing is off in the early going. The Yankees are counting on the perennial All-Star outfielder to produce big numbers batting third for the team this season.
It’s official: Masahiro Tanaka will make his first start in a spring exhibition game on Thursday night as the Yankees play host to the Atlanta Braves. Girardi made the announcement on Sunday. Tanaka, 26, has been monitored closely this spring after he suffered a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last July. Though Tanaka opted to rehab the elbow rather than undergo Tommy John surgery he has reported no issues with his elbow this spring. . . . CC Sabathia threw a bullpen session on Sunday and it appears he is just a week away from his first Grapefruit League start. Sabathia had surgery on his right knee last season and the Yankees are being cautious with the 34-year-old left-hander. Sabathia told reporters there is no doubt he will be ready for the start of the season.
The Yankees will play host to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda will make his first start of the spring for the Yankees. Pineda, 26, was 5-5 with a 1.89 ERA in 13 starts in a season cut short by a pulled muscle in Pineda’s right shoulder.
The Yankees are also scheduled to play their starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley.
The Rays will counter with right-hander Nathan Karns, who was 9-9 with a 5.08 ERA at Triple-A Durham last season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the YES Network and on a taped basis by the MLB Network at midnight.
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.
Stephen Drew, 31 (.162, 7 HRS, 26RBIs, 85 games)
It was not that long ago that the Yankees could boast about an infield of Mark Teixeira at first base, Robinson Cano at second, Alex Rodriguez at third and team captain Derek Jeter at shortstop. From an offensive and defensive standpoint it could have been considered the best in baseball.
Entering 2015, the Yankees may end up with one of the weakest infields in baseball because Teixeira is in a steep decline, Cano is playing in Seattle, Jeter has retired and Rodriguez is not considered the starting third baseman anymore.
But no place on the team is any weaker than second base because the Yankees declined to offer Cano a 10-year, $325 million contract last winter. Cano went to the Mariners and the Yankees opted to fill the void with then 36-year-old Brian Roberts, who had been allowed to leave the Baltimore Orioles after four injury-plagued seasons.
Roberts was nowhere near the player who had hit 18 home runs and drove in 73 runs while batting .314 for the O’s in 2005. Nor was he the player who stole 50 bases in 2007.
Instead the Yankees got a switch-hitter who batted .237 with five home runs and 21 RBIs in 91 games before the Yankees decided they had enough and they designated him for assignment on July 31 to make room for Drew.
(Roberts very smartly decided to announce his retirement this winter.)
The Yankees had dealt infielder Kelly Johnson to the Boston Red Sox in order to obtain Drew even though Drew was mired in one of the worst seasons in his career.
After sitting out all of spring training and the first two months of the season after rejecting a qualifying offer, Drew finally signed a deal with Boston and promptly struggled to hit .176 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 39 games with Boston before the trade.
Drew languished in limbo without any offers from other teams after he hit .253 with 13 homers and 76 runs driven in with Red Sox in 2013. His lack of timing at the plate was obvious all season.
He fared even worse with the Yankees, hitting .150 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 46 games.
To say that 2014 was a season to forget for Drew would be putting it mildly. Please also forgive Yankee fans to not get too excited about Drew starting at second base after Cano batted over the .300 mark for the sixth consecutive season with the Mariners last season.
Drew, who spent the all eight seasons of his career at shortstop before he joined the Yankees last season and was immediately shifted to second base since Jeter was playing his final season at shortstop for the Yankees.
There is still a possibility that Drew could wind up at shortstop this season if 25-year-old Didi Gregorius does not show an ability to be able to hit major-league pitching after the Yankees acquired him in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Detroit Tigers on Dec. 5 that cost the Yankees 26-year-old right-hander Shane Greene.
Gregorius hit .226 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 90 games with the D-backs last season. There is no doubt Gregorius is a major-league quality defensive player. He committed only five errors in 66 starts at the position last season and he also was utilized at second and third base.
Drew, however, is considered a steady fielder at shortstop and he is still learning the intricacies of second base, having played there all of 34 games (31 of them starts). Drew registered four errors at second base and three in 46 starts at shortstop between the Red Sox and Yankees.
The Yankees are not worried that Drew will be able to pick up second base enough to start. The only major question is whether he can snap out of what amounted to his worst season in the major leagues. The late start had to have a major part in it.
But, at the same time, Drew should have been able to get better at the plate as the season progressed. The fact he never did come around has Yankee fans scratching their heads as to why the Yankees elected to sign him to a one-year, $5 million contract that was made official on Jan. 16.
But there he is penciled in as the Yankees’ second baseman at the start of spring.
“If I could take a year back and kind of restart it, it’d be this year (2014), offense-wise,” Drew told reporters in September. “Other than that, you can’t do anything about it.”
Drew, who spent the first six seasons plus playing for the Diamondbacks has averaged .256 with 97 homers and 442 RBIs in his major-league career entering 2015. The Yankees are only hoping he hits closer to that career average and that he can play solid defense at second.
If Drew should continue to falter as he did last season the Yankees will have to put a ready-made Plan B in place.
Veteran infielder Brendan Ryan, 32, is slated to be the backup at both second base and shortstop for the Yankees in 2015. Offense, however, has never been a strong suit for Ryan. He batted just .167 with no homers and eight RBIs in 49 games with the Yankees last season.
Ryan was sidelined early in spring training with a neck injury and he was not activated until May 5.
The reason Ryan was signed to a two-year, $5 million deal last season was his ability to play defense at shortstop. In fact, because Gregorius struggles against left-handers Ryan is expected to get most of the starts at shortstop against lefties this season.
Ryan is a defensive wizard at short and he is well above average at second base. He committed only four errors with the Yankees in 176 innings at second, third and shortstop in 2014.
Fortunately for the Yankees they have a pair of Plan B alternatives who will be a phone call away in the minors this season.
Jose Pirela, 25, is on the team’s 40-man roster entering spring training after he made his major-league debut with the Yankees in late September.
Pirela showed some flashes of brilliance in hitting .333 in 24 at-bats. Pirela had batted .305 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 130 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season.
There are doubts that Pirela is a long-term solution at second base but the Yankees believe that he could eventually take over Ryan’s utility infielder role at some point. Pirela is a pretty versatile player having played first base, second, short and even 45 games in the outfield.
After making 37 errors at shortstop in 2011, Pirela was shifted to second base and his fielding has improved a great deal since then. If he continues to hit well, Pirela could be a super sub along the lines of Jerry Hairston Jr.
You could see him get a call-up this season. But he likely is returning to Scranton when spring training ends.
The Yankees are very excited by 23-year-old second baseman Rob Refsnyder, who is currently ranked as the Yankees’ sixth best prospect. There is a good reason why.
Refsnyder followed up a good 2013 minor-league season with an even better 2014 season between stops at Double-A Trenton and Scranton where he hit a combined . 318 with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs.
The former University of Arizona star burst onto the scene in 2012 by hitting .476 with two homers in leading the Wildcats to the College World Series title. He also was named the series’ Most Outstanding Player.
He was drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of 2012 First-Year Player Draft as an outfielder but was converted to second base in the minors.
Refsnyder is considered the best pure hitter in the organization and he shows a professional approach by using all fields. His power was unexpected bonus that could translate into 15-homer power at the major-league level.
His defense is shaky, at best, which is to be expected after being moved from the outfield. But Refsnyder has the ability to develop into an adequate defender at the position.
With Drew and Ryan already signed the Yankees would prefer to keep Refsnyder on track to play at Scranton to get more experience at second base under his belt. But his Expected Time of Arrival (ETA) is looking to be 2015 as a late-season call-up.
He could emerge as a starter in 2016 if he progresses as the Yankees expect.
Also keep an eye on 20-year-old Gasuke Katoh, who hit .222 with three homers and 37 RBIs in 121 games for Class-A Charleston (SC) in 2014. He was selected in the second round by the Yankees in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and the Yankees love his speed (20 bases) and his ability to get on base (.345 OBP).
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: INADEQUATE
I personally have some real doubts about Drew’s ability to bounce back from his horrible 2014 numbers.
In the past good Yankee teams have had such greats at second base such as Bobby Richardson, Willie Randolph and Cano. The decision the Yankees made to allow Cano to walk as a free agent last winter will have the Yankees paying dearly for a long time.
I doubt Drew will hit .150 again. But even if he hits .253 he is still going to pale in comparison to Cano, who is the best second baseman in baseball now. There is no doubt this position is in a transition phase and Drew is just placeholder until something better comes along.
The Yankees would be in big trouble if Gregorius fails at shortstop and they are forced to move Drew there. That would open up a huge hole at second base and the Yankees do not want to have use Pirela or Refsnyder at the position this season.
The Yankees want Drew, Gregorius and Ryan to remain healthy and productive throughout the 2014 season to allow Refsnyder to develop as a second baseman.
If they get that time Refsnyder might reward them by becoming a productive hitter with an adequate enough glove to hold the position for years to come. That is the hope anyway.
NEXT: THIRD BASE
The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
SHORTSTOP – DEREK JETER (7 HR, 25 RBIs, .303 BA, 43 R, 6 SB)
Who knew that suffering a calf injury that would land you on the 15-day disabled list would be a good thing? For Derek Jeter it was in 2011.
Jeter was forced to miss the 2011 All-Star Game so he could rehab his injured calf at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL. While there, Jeter also worked with one of his first hitting coaches in Gary Denbo to find his old swing. It was that work that likely turned Jeter’s season and his fading career around.
Jeter came off the disabled list lacing hits all over the yard and he picked up his 3000th hit by going 5-for-5 and hitting a home run for No. 3,000 off David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. From the point he returned to the Yankees until the end of the regular season Jeter hit .344. He ended the season hitting .297 with six home runs and 61 RBIs.
The question heading into 2012 was could he keep it up? Or was it just a fluke and he would continue his decline at age 38 this summer?
The returns are in for the first half of the 2012 season and it appears it was not a fluke. Derek Jeter is simply Derek Jeter again.
His 103 hits after 81 games was the third-bast total in the majors and Jeter was passing legends like Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken and Wade Boggs on the all-time hit list seemingly on a daily basis. There are thoughts that he might even have a shot at 4,000 hits, should Jeter choose to continue his career into his 40s.
Jeter simply may be among a handful of players that are the best singles hitters in baseball history. Along with Ty Cobb and Pete Rose, the current generation of players gives us Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and Jeter of the Yankees. These four have to be considered baseball’s elite at what they do best: Rack up hits in bunches.
Jeter’s career batting average is .313 and the fact he is hovering over the .300 mark at the halfway mark proves he has not lost the touch at age 38.
The only thing Jeter may have lost is a bit of his power, though the most he ever hit in one season was a pedestrian 24 in 1999. He also is not able to steal bases as he once did. In 2006, he stole a career-high 34 bags. But he has only stolen more than 18 bases once in his five full seasons after that.
But everything else is still there for Jeter.
The only disappointment this season is his rather low runs scored total of 43 at the halfway point. Jeter has failed to score 100 runs in only three seasons out of his 16 full years in the majors. Some of it can be attributed to the fact that the middle of the Yankees’ lineup – Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira – hit around .200 with runners in scoring position.
Some of it may have to do with age. But Jeter remains one of the smartest base-runners in baseball and he rarely commits a huge blunder to get himself thrown out on the bases.
When you bring up Jeter’s fielding, the sabermatricians go ballistic because Jeter’s range at age 38 is not anything like it was when he was 28. OK, I will give them that one. Jeter does not have the range of an Elvis Andrus or Alexsei Ramirez, who both are considerably younger shortstops.
But Jeter committed only six errors in the first half. The Yankees can live with that and they will. The fact is Jeter has won five Gold Glove awards, including in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and he is not going to give them back just because Bill James says he should.
IHe also is not going to give back his 13 selections in 16 seasons for the All-Star Game. Jeter will be starting in his eighth All-Star Game in Kansas City on Tuesday.
With Jeter, what you see is what you get. He is just a consummate professional who works hard at his craft and gives 100 percent each and every game. He is not only respected highly by manager Joe Girardi and his teammates but he also is admired by the players and managers on other teams.
Yep, “The Captain” who is affectionately nicknamed in the Bronx is just something very, very special. Cooperstown awaits when his career ends but who knows when that will be the way he is going now.
MIDSEASON GRADE: A-
BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (2 HRs, 6 RBIs, .228 BA)
Nix, 29, became Jeter’s backup when the Yankees decided that Eduardo Nunez needed work on his defense in the minor leagues.
With Jeter requiring a bit more rest, Nix has made seven starts at short in the first 81 games. He has acquitted himself well. He is not going to hit like Jeter and he does not have the dazzling range Nunez has at the position. But, then again, Nix is not going botch half of the balls hit to him like Nunez did.
Because Nix can also play second, third and the corner outfield spots he is very valuable in kind of Jerry Hairston Jr. sort of way.
Nix played his way on the Yankees’ 25-man roster by hitting .323 as a free-agent signee this spring. When Nunez was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Nix was recalled and it looks like he is going to keep his role for the rest of the season.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
After playing only four games for the Scranton Yankees, Nunez suffered a severely jammed right thumb and he has missed more than a month. He should be able to return soon but the injury apparently is worse than the Yankees thought originally.
Nunez, 25, is still considered the heir apparent to Jeter when he can’t play the position anymore or retires. After all, Nunez was hitting .294 after 51 at-bats when he was shipped out after committing four errors in the first 19 games he played.
Girardi said the Yankees should have not asked Nunez to play so many positions like the outfield. So the thought is that he will concentrate on shortstop mostly at Scranton. But the injury has retarded that development and so Nunez looks like he will stay in the minors until the September 1 call-ups.
Unfortunately the Yankees not only miss his bat but his speed.
With Brett Gardner of the 60-day disabled list and Nunez shipped out the Yankees lost 71 steals from their 2011 roster. Nunez still is tied for second with four Yankees with six steals behind the team leader Rodriguez, who has seven after 81 games.
With Nunez shelved, the Yankees’ old standby Ramiro Pena is playing short at Scranton. He is hitting .241 with one home run and 18 RBIs.
The Yankees pretty much know what they are getting in Pena, 26. He can play the infield near flawlessly, he is an adept bunter and is an aggressive switch-hitter with absolutely no power. He has decent speed but he is not an athlete or a speedster like Nunez.
It appears Pena’s time has past.
The Yankees have an intriguing prospect at Double-A Trenton in 22-year-old Jose Toussen, who is hitting over .300 there. But all eyes are on Cito Culver at Single-A Charelston (SC) in the Carolina League. He is rated as the ninth-best prospect in the organization. But that might take a hit.
Culver, 19, is hitting just .206 in 74 games there. Scouts are questioning why the Yankees made him their No. 1 in 2010.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A-
Barring injury, Jeter should maintain his climb up the all-time hits list while getting on base for the Yankees’ power hitters that follow him. The hope is those power hitters will actually drive him in more often. If Jeter hits over .300 with 100 runs scored and he hits about 15 home runs it will be a very good season for the future Hall-of-Famer.
Girardi has been smart in starting him in only 70 games at shortstop after 81 games. At the same time Jeter has played in 79 games by being used as a designated hitter or a late-game replacement. Girardi will continue to do this to keep Jeter healthy and fresh for the late season push for the division title and the playoffs.
With Nix, Pena and eventually Nunez is the wings, Jeter has three either current or former major-league players behind him. That is not bad depth.
But the Yankees really could not go very far without Jeter leading off and playing shortstop for them. He is much more valuable than you might think and he still remains the face of the franchise.
“I was running, so I wasn’t sure,” Matsui told MLB.com “I didn’t get a pretty good glimpse. I think the people watching on TV had a better angle of it. … I was running, thinking in my mind, ‘Please don’t! Please don’t!’ “