Tagged: Shane Greene

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Advertisements

Eovaldi, Headley Help Yankees Blank Astros

GAME 28

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.

FIELD FOCUS

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.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • 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.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I will not nitpick this one. If you toss shutout ball and score seven runs there is not much there to fix.

BOMBER BANTER

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.

ON DECK

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’ Starters Talented But Health Big Issue

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.

STARTING ROTATION

No. 1 – Masahiro Tanaka, 26 (13-5, 2.77 ERA in 20 starts)

No. 2 – Michael Pineda, 26 (5-5, 1.89 ERA in 13 starts)

No. 3 – CC Sabathia, 34 (3-4, 5.28 ERA in 8 starts)

No. 4 – Nathan Eovaldi, 25 (6-14, 4.37 ERA in 33 starts)

No. 5 – Chris Capuano, 36 (2-3, 4.25 in 12 starts)

The Yankees began the 2014 season with a rotation of Tanaka, Pineda, Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. At one point last season, Kuroda was the only one of the five still pitching.

In fact, the then-39-year-old veteran made 32 starts and was 11-9 with a 3.71 ERA for a team that struggled to finish six games over .500. Unfortunately, after pitching three seasons with the Yankees, Kuroda elected to exit Major League Baseball and go back to his native Japan to finish up his career.

That leaves a 2015 rotation steeped in talent and great possibilities. However, it also is a quintet laden with big question marks.

The Yankees made quite a splash last season with the signing of the Japanese star right-hander Tanaka to a seven-year, $155-million contract on Jan. 23. Tanaka was coming off a dream season in Japan where he was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013.

The Yankees saw Tanaka as a potential ace and they were hoping that his eight-pitch assortment including a world-class strikeout pitch in his split-finger fastball would translate to the American game.

After a spring training in which he was 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in five games, Tanaka hit the ground running and never really stopped. On June 17, Tanaka was 11-1 with a sparkling 1.99 ERA.

Ther was talk of a Cy Young Award and a Rookie of the Year Award buzzing around him until . . .

After losing three of his next three starts, Tanaka complained of pain in his valuable right elbow. Because Tanaka came to the United States after logging 1,315 innings since the age of 18 in Japan, he did come to the Yankees with some very inherent risks.

The Yankees discovered he had a partial tear in ulnar collateral ligament and left the choice to Tanaka whether to have surgery to repair it and likely miss two full seasons or rehab the small tear and hope that it healed on its own.

Tanaka chose the latter and came back to make two starts in September. Despite the fact he was shelled for seven runs (five earned) in 1 2/3 innings in his final start, Tanaka and the Yankees were encouraged enough to stay committed on not having Tommy John surgery.

So with two spring bullpen sessions under his belt, Tanaka has assured the Yankees and the media that his elbow is fine and he expects no further problems. To outside observers, however, Tanaka’s elbow is a ticking time bomb that can explode at any moment, especially for a pitcher who throws a splitter with so much torque on his elbow.

But the Yankees are willing to take that chance so that they can have their ace on the mound for 2015.

If he is right and he remains healthy the Yankees will have one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. Tanaka has proven to be the consummate pitcher capable of even changing his game plan if pitches are not working or batters change their approach.

Last season, pitching against the Twins at Target Field, Tanaka noticed that the Twins were laying off his split-finger pitch and it was causing him to get into some deep counts. So Tanaka switched gears and went to his slider, a pitch that he could throw for strikes. Tanaka ended up winning the game.

So Tanaka is far from just a thrower and his cerebral approach along with his stuff make him a very formidable foe for hitters. If the Yankees are to make any noise in the American League East they will need Tanaka at the top of the rotation pitching just as he did in 2014.

If patience is a virtue than the Yankees have it spades when it comes to Pineda.

The 6-foot-7, 290-pound right-hander was obtained in a much ballyhooed deal between the Yankees and Seattle in 2012 that sent the Yankees No. 1 prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, to the Mariners.

However, in his final start of the spring in 2012, Pineda complained of shoulder pain. He ended up undergoing season-ending surgery on the shoulder and he was only was able to make 10 minor-league rehab starts in 2013.

So the Yankees wanted to see what a healthy Pineda could do in 2014. Very quickly they learned he could do quite a lot. In spring training, Pineda was 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA in four games with 16 Ks in 15 innings.

The Yankees could not wait to see what he could do with a full season. However, after going 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA in his first three starts, Pineda decided to tempt fate once too many times by placing a glob of pine tar on his neck in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 23.

He was ejected from the game in the second inning and he was suspended for 10 days by Major League Baseball. In what only could be called “Pineda Luck,” while preparing for his first start after the suspension, Pineda strained the teres major muscle behind his right shoulder and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list. He would not return to the Yankees until Sept. 5.

In his final five starts, Pineda was 2-2 with an even more sparkling 1.62 ERA. So the Yankees open spring camp thinking they have a second top-drawer starter in Pineda IF ONLY he can stay healthy and off suspension.

It is obvious the talent is there. Pineda exhibits absolutely spotless control: He walked only seven batters in 76 1/3 innings and he only gave up 56 hits. How he lost five games is amazing but very understandable considering how weak the Yankees offense was last season.

With a full season under his belt in 2015, Pineda may take the next step into the elite class of pitchers and he forms a very tough one-two pitching punch with Tanaka.

At this point, the rest of the rotation takes a decided turn to the worse.

Sabathia, the team’s former ace, is coming off two consecutive very bad seasons.

In 2013, Sabathia saw his record slip from 15-6 in 2012 to 14-13 and his ERA exploded from 3.28 to 4.78. After pitching 200-plus innings for six consecutive seasons since 2007, Sabathia discovered he was losing velocity, which negated the effectiveness of his change-up.

He vowed to be better in 2014. He would somehow transition into a finesse pitcher capable of winning on guile instead on pure power as he had throughout his career.

He was 3-1 with 1.29 ERA in five spring starts so the early results looked encouraging. But when the regular season started the whole thing came crashing down on Sabathia.

He was 3-3 with a 5.11 ERA in April. He then made two very poor starts in May and that was all for Sabathia for the rest of the season. Swelling in his right knee forced him to the disabled list and after breaking down in a second rehab start on July 2, Sabathia finally called 2014 quits.

Yankee team doctors discovered that Sabathia had a degenerative condition in his right knee and underwent arthroscopic debridement surgery in July. Doctors also shaved out a bone spur.

Though Sabathia dodged a more invasive and career-threatening microfracture surgery, he will always have some pain in the knee because he has no cartilage between the bones. So Sabathia enters 2015 as one big fat question mark, literally.

Sabathia, claiming that he was too light the past two seasons, elected to come to camp 10 pounds heavier this spring. Sabathia said he expects to pitch this season between 295 and 305 pounds. Last season, he reported weighing 275 pounds.

It would seem to be counterintuitive for a pitcher coming off knee surgery with no cartilage in his knee would add weight. But Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the Yankees’ team physician, cleared him for the weight and manager Joe Girardi said it will not be an issue in camp.

Sabathia vows he wants to make at least 30 starts in 2015 and after his first bullpen session he said he already feels stronger than he has the past two seasons. But the jury on Sabathia remains out.

Just two seasons ago the Yankees provided Sabathia a six-year, $142 million deal. In retrospect, that deal is looking pretty disastrous now because it is doubtful that Sabathia will ever reclaim his status as the team’s ace.

The even larger question is can he adapt and become a the finesse pitcher he thinks he can? The left-hander sounds all the right chords but the results so far have be awful. So no one on the Yankees’ staff has more to prove that Sabathia in 2015.

With Kuroda unavailable the Yankees could have gone in a lot of different directions to replace him in 2015.

After all they did have young pitchers such as David Phelps, Adam Warren and Shane Greene on the roster. In addition, Brandon McCarthy pitched well for the team after he was acquired from the Diamondbacks last July.

However, the Yankees did not opt for Plan A, Plan B, Plan C or Plan D. They dealt Phelps and Greene away in separate trades and they allowed McCarthy to sign a four-year, $48 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They are now on Plan E as in Eovaldi, who the Yankees obtained along with infielder/outfielder Garrett Jones for infielder Martin Prado and Phelps.

The right-hander features a sizzling fastball that averages 95.7 mph. However, even with that hard fastball Eovaldi led the National League in hits allowed (223) and he recorded only 142 strikeouts.

The problem according to the Yankees: He needs to develop his secondary pitches  –  his splitter, slider and change-up. The thought is that if Eovaldi does that the sky is the limit for him as a pitcher.

“We’ve talked about developing his repertoire and having him establish confidence in all his pitches in all the counts,” Girardi told reporters. “It’s one thing to have three or four pitches, but it’s another thing to have the confidence to throw them at any time.”

So spring training will be an opportunity for pitching coach Larry Rothschild to refine the diamond in the ruff in Eovaldi and 2015 will be a proving ground to see how the pupil progresses with the lessons he is taught.

Eovaldi did throw 199 2/3 innings last season for a very weak Marlins team. Perhaps some improved offense from the Yankees combined with the refinements Eovaldi is making will translate into success for him in 2015.

The Yankees opted to bring back the veteran left-hander Capuano after he made 12 starts with the team last season.

Capuano was designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox on July 25 and he was signed to a minor-league contract on July 4 by the Colorado Rockies. After making two minor-league starts, the Yankees acquired him from the Rockies in exchange for cash considerations.

Capuano debuted on July 28 and he finished with a 2-3 mark with a 4.25 ERA.

Having a second left-hander in the rotation is advantageous for the Yankees, particularly at home with so many teams wanting to load up on left-handed batters to exploit the short right-field porch in Yankee Stadium.

The problem is left-handers hit .321 with a .942 OPS against Capuano last season. So he is going to have to work on that this spring.

Capuano has not started 33 games in a season since 2012, But if he can keep his ERA to his career mark of 4.28 the Yankees will be satisfied.

The Yankees also enter 2015 with a bit of a problem. The Yankees have a stretch at the end of April and the beginning of May where they are scheduled to play 30 games in 31 days.

In addition, they have Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia coming off injury-shortened seasons n 2014. So Giradi and Rothschild are planning to use a six-man rotation this spring and they may extend it into the regular season to ease the strain on their staff through that 30-game stretch in May.

As a result right-hander Warren, 27, looks to be in the best position to fill that role for the Yankees. Warren was 3-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 69 games last season, all of them in relief.

But Warren has been a starter throughout his minor-league career and he is well-suited to slip back into the bullpen when he is no longer needed.

Warren was one of the strengths of the bullpen last season and he seems to have settled into the role Phelps once held.

It would not be the Yankees unless they entered a season with one of their starting  pitchers rehabbing something and that is the case with the 28-year-old right-hander Nova, who ended up on the disabled list after four starts after he suffered a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament on his right elbow.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 29 last year, Nova will be unavailable to the Yankees until late May or early June, barring any unforeseen setbacks. However, it is unclear how effective Nova can be.

The Merriam-Webster definition of the word nova is “a star that suddenly increases its light output tremendously and then fades away to its former obscurity in a few months or years.” That could apply to the veteran from the Dominican Republic.

Nova burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2011 with a 16-4 record and a 3.70 ERA. However, in 2012, Nova regressed and finished 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA with 28 home runs allowed in 170 1/3 innings.

He then bounced back from an injury in 2013 to become the Yankees’ best pitcher down the stretch. He ended the season 9-6 with an excellent 3.10 ERA.

So 2014 was supposed to be Nova’s chance to build as a starter. But it ended early after the elbow flared up with a 2-2 record and a 8.27 ERA.

The Yankees are hopeful that Nova will be able to step into the rotation in late May or so. The reality is that it usually takes pitchers some time to find the feel for the pitches and trust that the repaired elbow will hold up.

Nova had developed a devastating curveball that just had batters shaking their heads. He also was able to throw his fastball in the mid-90s with good control. If that Nova is able to contribute to the Yankees in 2015 they may be able to shift Capuano to the bullpen and the rotation will look a lot better.

But Nova remains a big question mark for now.

The Yankees have options beyond these seven starters but there is a huge drop in quality also.

Chase Whitley, 25, made 12 starts for the Yankees last season. After going 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA in his first seven starts he collapsed. He was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in his last five starts.

However, he did pitch six innings of shutout baseball on seven hits on July 22 at home against Texas in his final start but still was shifted to the bullpen, where he ended the season.

It is unlikely that Whitley will start once the season opens but he could be a valuable swing man in the bullpen who is available to make a spot start if needed. Whitley has very good numbers as a reliever in the minors and the Yankees feel he is going to be an integral part of their revamped bullpen.

There also is Esmil Rogers, a 29-year-old right-hander signed as a free agent after he was designated for assignment by the Toronto Blue Jays on July 27. He made his debut with the Yankees on Aug. 4 and finished 2-0 with a 4.66 ERA.

Rogers was a failed starter with the Blue Jays before being shifted to the bullpen in 2014 and he seems more suited for that role. But he struggled with the Yankees in September with a 7.84 ERA.

Blessed with immense talent, Rogers just has not been able to put it all together yet at the major-league level and time is beginning to run out.

Another starter candidate is right-hander Bryan Mitchell, 23, who came up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in August and pitched in three games, one of them as a starter.

Mitchell was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings. He was a combined 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA at Double-A Trenton and Scranton.

Yankee insiders compare Mitchell’s build and stuff to that of A.J. Burnett because he possesses a power fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a power curveball that hits at 84 mph. Mitchell has also added a cutter but his change-up needs work.

If Mitchell can harness the command of his pitches he could be something special. He is ranked as the team’s No. 20 prospect.

If the Yankees have one pitcher coming to camp as a non-roster player that I can’t wait to see it is 21-year-old right-hander Luis Severino, the team’s top rated prospect in 2015.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2012, Severino began 2013 as a complete unknown quantity and finished it as the top right-handed pitching prospect in the system.

Though only 6-feet and 195 pounds, Severino showed uncommon strength to post a 4-2 record with a 2.45 ERA and 53 Ks in 44 innings between two rookie league teams.

He topped that in 2014 by sailing through three different teams, making it all the way to Trenton and he did not look overmatched at any of those stops.

After posting a 3-2 record with a 2.79 ERA at Class-A Charleston (SC) in 14 starts, Severino was promoted to Class-A Tampa. All he did there was go 1-1 with a sparkling 1.31 ERA in four starts.

So the Yankees sent him on to Trenton, where he was 2-2 with a 2.52 ERA in six starts. Over the course of 113 1/3 innings in his three stops, Severino punched out 127 batters.

To say he looks like the real deal is putting it mildly. He was chosen to participate in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and he has become the organization’s No. 1 prospect, period.

Severino’s fastball reaches up to 98 mph and has a natural sink at the low end of his velocity (94 mph). Severino also features a hard slider and a change-up that both have the potential to be big weapons for him.

The Yankees would love to see what he can do this spring but they are going to be deliberate and cautious with his development. But there is no doubt that Severino is on a fast-track to the major leagues and he could be in the rotation as regularly as soon as 2016.

Book it: Severino is a star in the making!

Just behind Severino is left-hander Ian Clarkin, 20, who was selected in the first round (33rd pick) by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

Clarkin recorded a 4-3 mark with a 3.13 ERA in stops at Charleston and Tampa using his 90-94 mph fastball mixed in with a 12-to-6 curveball and a change-up. The youngster also shows a lot of polish for a prep pitcher and the Yankees hope to have him ready for the majors by 2017.

He is ranked as the team’s fourth best prospect.

The Yankees also have very high hopes for No. 7 prospect Domingo German, 22, another player signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Miami Marlins in 2009.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander posted a breakout season in 2014 at Class-A Greensboro, going 9-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 25 starts. He also was selected to pitch in the SiriusXM Futures Game and then the Marlins packaged him with Eovaldi and Jones in the deal for Prado and Phelps.

German excels at command and scouts rave about his touch already on his breaking pitches. He features a power sinking fastball along with a above-average change-up. Right now his slider needs more break but he is developing it.

The Yankees also expect to see him around 2017.

These three gems have Yankee fans very excited and with good reason.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE

Though I truly believe that Tanaka and Pineda will not only be healthy all season but they will actually be among the best starters in the American League, the other three spots in the rotation have some question marks.

Even after surgery, Sabathia’s right knee could be a recurring problem for him and I fail to see the added weight will help it. But if Sabathia can remain healthy all season, eat innings and keep his ERA in 4.25 area the Yankees could settle for that.

Eovaldi was a real gamble. His arm, no doubt, is a good one. The question is can he finally put it all together to become a winning pitcher? Rothschild has had some success grooming young pitchers and if he gets Eovaldi untracked he should have his salary doubled.

The veteran left-hander Capuano is up there in age and he obviously is a placeholder while Nova rehabs his surgically repaired elbow. The problem with Capuano is can he pitch well enough to keep the Yankees in games.

Years ago the Yankees scoured the scrap heap for Freddy Garcia. Now it is Capuano in the same role. Let’s hope it works out.

The Yankees also have Warren if they need a sixth starter in the early part of the season. Warren has been excellent as a reliever so there is no reason to believe he can’t be successful as a starter.

The Yankees hope to get Nova back and they also have Whitley, Rogers and Mitchell who are capable of starting. Mitchell has the most upside of the bunch because Whitley is more suited to relief and Rogers has been too inconsistent to be considered much of a help at this point.

The future of the Yankees’ starting rotation is looking quite bright with Severino, Clarkin and German coming off sparkling 2014 campaigns. This is one area the team that looks much stronger.

The temptation is for Yankee fans to want Severino on the roster this season. But the Yankees are taking a very careful approach with him and it is going to pay off of them next season.

NEXT: BULLPEN

 

Yanks Hoping Gregorius Doesn’t Come Up Short

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.

SHORTSTOP

Didi Gregorius, 25 (.226, 6 HRs, 27 RBIs, 80 games)

It is tough to ask any player to take the place of a legend but it must be an even greater lift to ask Didi Gregorius to follow the 19 seasons Derek Jeter gave the New York Yankees.

Throughout the offseason the names of Troy Tulowitzki, Elvis Andrus and J.J. Hardy were bandied about in the press as the speculation on who would replace Jeter grew louder. When the Yankees elected instead to offer right-handed starter Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gregorius was anointed as Jeter’s replacement.

The shock may still have not worn off.

Gregorius has been a top prospect with the D-backs for several years after he was obtained from the Cincinnati Reds in 2012. His first taste of the majors came in 2012 when he was a September call-up of the Reds and he hit .300 in just 20 at-bats.

After his trade to Arizona, Gregorius played in 103 games for the D-backs in 2013 and he was a bit of a disappointment in batting .257 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs. The D-backs were expecting a lot offensively from a player that was so gifted defensively.

Looking at Gregorius’ 2014 numbers would have you surmise he was a complete failure. But the D-backs will tell you that was not the case. Instead, Gregorius was passed on the depth chart by fellow prospect Chris Owings, who hit .261 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 91 games after taking over as the team’s primary shortstop.

Ask anyone in the D-backs organization and they will tell you that Gregorius is far superior to Owings as a fielder (5 errors for Gregorius to 11 for Owings) with far superior range. They also will tell you although Owings won the job with his offense that Gregorius has a far higher ceiling with his offense than Owings.

So the Yankees were not taken. It actually may be that the Yankees took the D-backs.

The Yankees looked at lefty-swinging Gregorius’ splits against right-handers and left-handers and discovered that he batted . 262 against right-handers in 544 at-bats and only .184 in 180 at-bats against southpaws.

The Yankees are looking into the possibility of using Gregorius in a platoon with veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan this season. Ryan, 32, would take most of the at-bats against left-handers and leave Gregorius to face the right-handers he feasts upon.

The Yankees believe that Gregorius has the ability to hit double-digit homers at Yankee Stadium as he develops. Though Gregorius did steal 44 bases in the minors, including 16 for with two Class-A Reds farm teams in 2010, he has not developed into a skillful base-stealer at the major-league level.

It appears that 2015 is going to be a proving ground for Gregorius and Yankee fans obviously will compare their young shortstop to the legend that was Jeter.

But the Yankees point out that Jeter batted .256 with four homers and 50 RBIs in 145 games in his final season. The Yankees believe Gregorius could top those totals in 2015.

Should Gregorius falter to such a degree that he will have to be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees would be forced to move their starting second baseman Stephen Drew back to his original shortstop position.

Drew, 31, was shifted to second base by the Yankees after he was obtained from the Boston Red Sox in a deal for Kelly Johnson on July 31. The former Diamondbacks shortstop had only played shortstop since he began his major-league career in 2006.

But with Jeter in his final season Drew was forced to move and when the Yankees made the deal for Drew it was just assumed he would shift back to shortstop after Jeter retired. But the Yankees had other ideas.

The Gregorius deal at first seemed to indicate Drew’s stint with the Yankees was over but the Yankees finalized a one-year, $5 million deal in January with Drew and they installed him as the team’s starting second baseman for 2015.

Drew is coming off his worst offensive season of his career after hitting woeful .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games with Red Sox and Yankees.

Though Drew has never won a Gold Glove his defense is considered well above average at shortstop. He is coming to spring training still learning the intricacies of second base.

Should the Yankees be forced to send Gregorius down and shift Drew the team would need a second baseman. They have super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, who made a great impression with the team in his late-season call-up, hitting .333 in seven games

But the Yankees seem very committed to their new shortstop who was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He already appears to have the right attitude.

“You can’t replace a legend, and it’s not replacing,” Gregorius told listeners on MLB Network Radio. “He (Jeter) has been playing for a long time at shortstop and he decided to retire. The spot was open. So I’m not thinking about replacing anything. It’s just me just coming in there to try to play my game.”

The Yankees minor-league options at shortstop are not real good, hence the deal for Gregorius.

Carmen Angelini, 26, hit .212 in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton last season. Ali Castillo, 25, batted .254 with two homers and 42 RBIs in 120 games at Trenton.

Former first-round draft pick Cito Culver, 22, hit .220 with five homers and 48 RBIs at Class-A Tampa. Culver has major-league defensive tools but his offense is holding up his progress.

The big buzz at shortstop for the Yankees surrounds 19-year-old Jorge Mateo. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Mateo made his pro debut last June and teams are already asking about him in trade talks.

His biggest asset is his speed. He stole 11 bases in just 15 games with the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League team. He has a wiry build but he already shows an ability to hit for average and the promise provide double-digit home run power down the line.

Scouts are already saying that the Yankees have not had a shortstop at this level with as much of a ceiling since Jeter. That is high praise.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE

The decision to deal for Gregorius was a bold move and it will define what direction the Yankees will take in the post-Jeter era. General manager Brian Cashman has stayed away from high-priced free-agents to fill spots.

We will see if it is successful.

Gregorius can certainly field the position and that is going to be very helpful. His offense could be a problem but at least the Yankees are thinking of using a platoon in order to keep Gregorius hitting only against right-handers.

There also will be less pressure for the young shortstop batting ninth in this order. Plus, if the Yankees are correct about his power they could catch lightning in a bottle and have something very special for many years to come.

I know Yankee fans would have wanted Tulowitzki to play short so the Yankees could make a run at the World Series. However, Cashman and manager Joe Girardi may have more of a long-term strategy in mind.

Both Gregorius and Ryan are terrific defensive players and that is what you want in the middle of infield. Drew can also play the position so there is some depth.

The problem is that most of the Yankees’ minor-league shortstops are not real prospects. But keep an eye on Mateo. He seems to have the makings to be the real deal.

NEXT: OUTFIELD

Drew Thankful For Second Chance With Yankees

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.

SECOND BASE 

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

 

Rookie Murphy’s 3 RBIs Helps Yankees Drop Halos

GAME 24

YANKEES 4, ANGELS 2

When backup catcher Francisco Cervelli was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 15 and the Yankees recalled 22-year-old John Ryan Murphy instead of Austin Romine it raised a lot eyebrows since Romine had more major-league experience. But after Saturday’s game at Yankee Stadium the promotion of Murphy seems to make perfect sense now.

Murphy stroked a two-run single in the second inning and then blasted his first major-league home run in the fifth as he led New York to a nail-biting victory over the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim in front of a national TV audience on FOX Sports 1 and a paid crowd of 40,908.

Murphy was making only his ninth major-league start and his third of the season to allow starting catcher Brian McCann to rest during the day game after playing Friday night. Murphy made the most of it, too.

With the game tied at 1-1 after left-hander Hector Santiago balked in a run and runners on second and third in the second inning, Murphy slapped a 2-2 delivery from Santiago to the opposite field for a single that scored two runs and give the Yankees a 3-1 lead.

However, Yankees left-hander Vidal Nuno was unable to hold the lead for long.

Albert Pujols greeted him with single to lead off the fourth inning and Howie Kendrick followed by drawing a four-pitch walk. Erick Aybar then hit a grounder to Kelly Johnson at third.

Johnson retired Kendrick with a throw to Brian Roberts at second but Kendrick upended Roberts and Roberts’ throw to first landed in the Yankees’ dugout for an error that allowed Pujols to score while Aybar was awarded second base.

Chris Iannetta followed with a RBI double to center to score Aybar that again tied the game at 3-3.

With two outs, David Freese singled and J.B. Schuck lofted a shallow sinking fly ball to center that Jacoby Ellsbury made a spectacular diving catch on to keep the Angels from taking the lead.

Nuno was removed from the game with one out and one on in the fifth inning. Besides the two runs in the fourth, he also yielded a one-out solo home run to Mike Trout in the first inning.

Nuno was charged with three runs on five hits and two walks while he struck out four in 4 1/3 innings.

Murphy untied the game leading off the bottom of the fifth with a long drive into the left-field bleachers on the first offering from Santiago (0-4).

After Murphy’s home run, Santiago was tagged with back-to-back singles by Ellsbury and Derek Jeter. Santiago retired Carlos Beltran on a flyout and then was removed from the game, ending up being charged with four runs on six hits and a walk while striking three in 4 1/3 innings.

The Yankees bullpen was able to keep the hot-hitting Angels scoreless the rest of the way. But the Angels did have several excellent chances to score.

Dellin Betances (1-0) replaced Nuno in the fifth and he pitched 2 innings of scoreless baseball with three strikeouts to earn his first major-league decision.

Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton and David Robertson shut out the Halos for the final 2 2/3 innings to preserve the victory. Robertson was credited with third save in as many chances this season.

The Angels did have two runners and one out in the seventh inning after a Collin Cowgill single chased Betances and Kelley walked the first batter he faced in Trout.

However, Kelley was able to retire Pujols on a flyout and he struck out Kendrick to end the inning.

The Angels then threatened in the eighth when Iannetta stroked a one-out single and Ian Stewart laid down a bunt single against a exaggerated shift. But Freese flew out and Thornton relieved Kelley and got pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez to line out to right to end that rally.

Robertson yielded a one-out single to Trout and Trout was able to steal second. But Robertson got Pujols on another routine flyout and he struck out Kendrick on a 3-2 fastball to save the game.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 14-10. They now lead the American League East by two games over the Baltimore Orioles. The Angels, who have not been above .500 since they won their first game of the season in 2013, fell to 11-12.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • For years the Yankees have had a “defense-first” approach with their backup catchers. Murphy’s recall from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre indicates that philosophy has changed. Murphy batted .269 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs in 108 games in two minor-league stops in 2013. He has now passed Romine in the pecking order and if he keeps hitting he may eventually make Cervelli trade bait. Murphy is 4-for-13 (.308) with a homer and three RBIs in six games.
  • Betances, 26, shut the door on the Angels and was very impressive in his two innings of work. With Trout on second after Betances was called for a balk, Betances retired Pujols on a groundout and then induced a weak infield popup from Kendrick to end the fifth. Betances finished by striking out three of the final four batters he faced with his mid-90s fastball and a knee-buckling curveball.
  • Robertson passed his first big test after coming off the disabled list with a strained groin on Tuesday. After striking out Cowgill to open the ninth, Trout singled and reached second on a stolen base after a fan interfered with Mark Teixeira’s attempt to catch a foul ball off the bat of Pujols. But Robertson retired Pujols on a fly ball and fanned Kendrick with a flourish to gain a well-earned save.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Despite the fact that Yangervis Solarte has been hitting well, manager Joe Girardi elected to started the lefty-swinging Johnson at third against the lefty Santiago and Johnson went 0-for-3 and stranded four runners in the game. Johnson is 3-for-16 (.115) with one RBI in his past 10 games and his season average has sunk to .213.
  • Beltran had his four-game hitting streak stopped as he was 0-for-4 on Saturday. Despite his poor showing, Beltran still leads the Yankees with five homers and he is tied with Solarte for the team lead in RBIs with 13.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Saturday continued to shuffle their bullpen in the wake of the suspension of right-hander Michael Pineda. The Yankees selected the contract of right-hander Chris Leroux from Scranton and optioned right-hander Shane Greene back to the same club. In addition, to make room of the 40-man roster for Leroux, the team released left-hander Nik Turley. Leroux, 30, was 0-2 with a 12.79 ERA in two appearances with the RailRiders. Greene, 25, had no record with a 6.75 ERA in two appearances with the Yankees.  . . .  Yankees infielder Brendan Ryan, 32, will begin a rehab stint on Sunday with High-A Tampa in the Florida State League. Ryan has been shelved since March 4 with a cervical spine nerve injury. The Yankees hope to be able to activate him off the disabled list within a week.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to win the rubber game of the three-game weekend home series against the Angels on Sunday.

Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka (3-0, 2.15 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Tanaka held the Boston Red Sox to just two runs on seven hits and no walks with seven strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings on Tuesday. Tanaka, 25, has 35 K’s in 29 1/3 innings this season.

The Angels will start Garrett Richards (2-0, 2.52 ERA). Richards surrendered just one run on one hit and four walks with six strikeouts in six innings in a no-decision on Monday against the Washington Nationals.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN.

 

CC, Yankees Make Bosox Look Bad In Fenway Rout

GAME 22

YANKEES 14, RED SOX 5

If you could draw up the perfect scenario for the Yankees for Thursday’s rubber game against the Red Sox it played out to perfection on the field. For the Red Sox they did about everything wrong a team can do in a game to embarrass themselves in front of national television audience on the MLB Network and a paid crowd of 37.356 at Fenway Park.

CC Sabathia gave up two runs over six innings, Mark Teixeira blasted his first home run of the season and rookie sensation Yangervis Solarte collected two hits and drove in four runs as New York pummeled Boston to win for the fifth time in seven games against their heated rival.

Of  course, the Yankees had a lot of help in addition to the 14 hits they pounded out. The Red Sox defense committed an alarming season-high five errors and a passed ball and five pitchers combined to issue 12 walks and throw three wild pitches.

I thought it was Cowboy Up and not Down.

Sabathia (3-2) yielded only three hits, walked three and struck out eight batters to even his season record against the Red Sox at 1-1. He left after six innings with a comfortable 7-2 lead.

The Yankees, meanwhile, jumped all over left-hander Felix Doubront (1-3) for seven runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks while he struck out one in 2 2/3 innings.

Alfonso Soriano got the Yankees on the board in the first inning with a two-out RBI double to score Carlos Beltran.

Solarte added a two-run double in the second inning and he later scored on a wild pitch by Doubront.

Teixeira opened the third inning with a home run that landed on the top railing of the Green Monster. Later in the inning, Brian Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury added RBI singles that finally chased Doubront with the Yankees leading 7-0.

After the Red Sox scored a pair of runs in the third on a sacrifice fly off the bat of David Ortiz and a two-out RBI double by Jonny Gomes, the Yankees blew the game wide open by hammering left-hander Craig Breslow for five runs on four hits, an error and two walks as they sent 11 men to the plate in the seventh inning.

Solarte keyed the inning with a bases-loaded single that scored two runs. Ellsbury followed by lacing an RBI double and Derek Jeter added two-run single. By the time the dust had settled on another cold and blustery evening, the Yankees were leading 12-2.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 13-9 and they lead the American League East by 1 1/2 games over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox dropped to 10-13 and they are in the basement of the division, 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • You can rail about Sabathia’s lost velocity all you want but tonight’s game showed exactly what he can accomplish when he gets the run support. Sabathia used his fastball on both corners of the plate and kept the Red Sox off balance with his slider and change-up. To prove how off-balance the Red Sox were five of Sabathia’s strikeouts came looking.
  • Teixeira’s return to the lineup was supposed to be bad news for Solarte because he was playing third base while starting third baseman Kelly Johnson played first in Teixera’s absence. But manager Joe Girardi elected to start the switch-hitting Solarte against the lefty Doubront and he responded with a double, a single, a walk, scoring two runs and driving in four. This despite the fact he did not have a hit in his previous 12 at-bats. Solarte is hitting .310 with nine extra-base hits and he is tied with Beltran for the team lead with 13 RBIs.
  • Ellsbury weathered constant booing throughout the three-game series but he left his former team and their infantile fans with a parting gift on Thursday. He was 3-for-6 with a run scored and three RBIs. In the series, Ellsbury battered Boston pitching for 5-for-15 (.333) with three doubles, a triple, three runs scored and five RBIs. Guess he told those fans where to shove those boos.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

OK. Jeter did commit a bad fielding error and rookie Shane Greene was shelled for three runs (all unearned) in his major-league debut. But those are mere quibbles. This team rallied after last night’s John Farrell-induced loss to make the Red Sox like a team not even worthy to be on the same field. That is something very special and there is nothing negative in that.

BOMBER BANTER

An apologetic Michael Pineda admitted to using pine tar in Wednesday’s game and he told reporters on Thursday that he was not appealing his 10-game suspension, which started immediately. With an off day scheduled for April 28, Pineda actually could miss only one start and be available to pitch on May 5 against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, CA. The Yankees will have to play the next 10 days with a 24-man roster during Pineda’s suspension.  . . .  The Yankees made some roster moves on Thursday in the wake of Pineda’s suspension. They signed right-hander Bruce Billings to a major-league contract and recalled Greene from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and they optioned infielder Dean Anna and right-hander Preston Claiborne to Scranton.  . . .  The Yankees announced that right-hander Ivan Nova will undergo Tommy John surgery on Tuesday in Birmingham, AL. Dr. James Andrews will repair a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of Nova’s right elbow. It will require 12 to 18 months of rehab before Nova can come back. In a corresponding roster move, the Yankees transferred Nova from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list.

ON DECK

The Yankees fresh off there rump-kicking of the Red Sox head home to open a three-game weekend series with the Angels.

Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 4.07 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda gave up three runs on seven hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings in a no-decision in which the Yankees lost to the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday. He is 3-2 with a 2.26 ERA in six career starts against the Angels.

Left-hander C.J. Wilson (2-2, 4.21 ERA) will start for the Angels. Wilson was hammered for seven hits and he walked three while surrendering four runs (three earned) in five innings in a loss to the Detroit Tigers on Saturday. He has a career ERA of 2.58 in 38 1/3 innings against the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.