Minor leaguers to watch

March 9, 2014 | 3 comments | in Farm System | by SJK

The Yankees’ farm system is much maligned, and deservedly so. There is reason for hope as a major organizational revamp is reportedly in the works.

Yet, even though the Yankees’ farm system is the butt of many jokes, it doesn’t mean there aren’t some kids worth tracking for one reason or another. So, if you aren’t a big prospect junkie, here’s a handful of Yankee minor leaguers worth familiarizing yourself with — either because they appeared frequently on our in-season Minor League Players of the Week feature or because this year is a particularly important one for them.

The ‘We Could See Them in the Bronx in 2014′ List

Dellin Betances, 26 (March 23), RHP
Why he’s worth watching: Could be part of the MLB bullpen

Betances is yet another example of the club’s deficiency in developing young starters. However, after he was converted to the bullpen in May of 2013, the Brooklyn native’s career was resurrected. He pitched great out of the Triple-A bullpen, and finally began to not walk EVERYBODY. In 60 IP of relief, he had 83 K (12.45 K/9) and walked 26 (3.9 BB/9 – still not great, but much better). He also had a 1.35 ERA. The 6’8″ 2006 draft pick could evolve into a decent weapon out of the pen if he continues to improve in his new role.

Chase Whitley, 24, RHP
Why he’s worth watching: Could be part of the MLB bullpen

We’d put Chase Whitley in the Preston Claiborne camp — basically a kid who had a successful under-the-radar minor league career, which culminated in a solid 2013 campaign at Triple-A: 67.2 IP, 8.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 3.06 ERA, 3.05 FIP.

What makes Whitley more interesting is that he was transitioned to a starting pitcher for the last month of the minor league season, and performed well in that role. So, he could give Girardi some flexibility as a multiple-inning reliever.

The ‘Big 2013 Campaigns’ List

Peter O’Brien, 23, RHB 3B/C
Why he’s worth watching: Had a very successful 2013 season

Peter O’Brien was all over MLPW last season. The 2012 2nd round draft pick lit up Low-A Charleston, hitting .325/.394/.619 (181 wRC+) in 226 PA. He also hit well upon his promotion to High-A Tampa — .265/.314/.486 (122 wRC+) in 280 PA. O’Brien was shifted to 3B after his promotion, after manning the catcher position since being drafted by the Yankees.

Greg Bird, 21, RHB 1B
Why he’s worth watching: Had a superb 2013 season

If there was one player who appeared more in our weekly minor league feature than Peter O’Brien, it was 2011 draft pick Greg Bird. The Colorado native tore up Low-A Charleston, hitting .288/.428/.511 (170 wRC+) over a full season (573 PA). We openly asked why he wasn’t promoted to High-A, and we still don’t know why he wasn’t. Bird’s most impressive quality was his plate discipline. He led the SAL in walks with 107, with the player in 2nd with only 74 free passes. We never like to get too excited over success at the lower levels of the farm, so we’ll see how he does once he starts to face better competition.

Robert Refsnyder, 22, RHB 2B
Why he’s worth watching: Breakout year in 2013

Drafted out of the University of Arizona in 2012, Refsnyder had an excellent campaign at High-Tampa last season. The 22-year old hit .283/.408/.404 (140 wRC+), while walking (78) more than he whiffed (70). He was the best-hitting second baseman in all of the Florida State League.

The ‘Make it-or-Break It’ List

Gary Sanchez, 21, RHB C
Why he’s worth watching: Consensus best prospect in NYY system, but underwhelming 2013

Sanchez is very young, so it may be a bit unfair to label his 2013 as ‘underwhelming.’ However, he did slip in the prospect rankings of minor league publications, so there is belief that his shine dimmed last season.

For someone lauded for his power, he didn’t flex his muscles in either High-A or Double-A. At Tampa, he hit .254/.313/.420 (108 wRC+ / .166 ISO). When promoted to Trenton, he hit .250/.364/.380 (113 wRC+ / .130 ISO). Those aren’t bad numbers at all, but worthy of top prospect billing?? Probably not, and the drop in his consensus rankings reflect that. There are also many questions about whether he’ll be able to catch in the bigs, as the jury is still out on his defensive abilities. This season will be an important one to gauge whether Sanchez has All-Star potential or if he’s been overhyped.

Mason Williams, 22, LHB CF
Why he’s worth watching: Consensus 2nd-best prospect in NYY system, but disappointing 2013

This is an important season for Williams, as his 2013 campaign was certainly disappointing. He hit only .261/.327/.350 (95 wRC+) at High-A Tampa, and looked awful in his brief stint Double-A Trenton: .153/.164/.264 in 76 PA. He also still hasn’t figured out how to use his speed to effectively steal bases (64% MiLB success rate). It’s no surprise why he slipped in just about major prospect list. Still, he’s very young and has faced primarily older pitchers. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but this season will be very telling of his real future with the Bronx Bombers.

Tyler Austin, 22, RHB RF
Why he’s worth watching: Consensus 3rd-best prospect in NYY system, but disappointing 2013

If you’re noticing a theme here, it’s because there is one. The consensus is that the Yankees’ top prospects all took a step back in 2013. Our boy Tyler Austin was one of them. Plagued with a wrist injury that has mildly flared up again during this spring training, Tyler had a pedestrian Double-A campaign, hitting .257/.344/.373 (103 wRC+). It was a stark contrast to all of his previous stops in the Yankees’ system. He’s dropped off the Top 100 lists as a result, and like Sanchez and Williams, this is a critical season for evaluating his potential future role with the big club.

Mark Montgomery, 23, RHP
Why he’s worth watching: Was on the fast track to the bigs as D-Rob v2, but experienced first difficulties in 2013

Mark Montgomery put up video game numbers for much of his minor league career, prompting David Robertson comparisons. In every stop prior to Triple-A, he struck out more than 13 hitters per nine innings, and looked to be a future cog in the Yanks’ big league pen. Last year, Mark experienced his first hiccup. While he still struck out over 11 hitters per nine, he lost his control, walking 5.63 BB/9. He also allowed 4 HRs in 40 innings of work, while he only allowed 1 HR in his previous two years. He still had a decent season (3.38 ERA / 4.00 FIP), but it was different than his previous trajectory as a potential high-leverage reliever. Hopefully, he can get back to his best in 2014.

VOTE: 5th Starter

March 9, 2014 | 5 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by SJK

It’s safe to say that Hal Steinbrenner puts more thought into his hair products than we do about spring training numbers…but….

Pineda: 2.0 IP, 4 K, 0 BB, 1 H, 0 ER
Phelps: 4.2 IP, 6 K, 1 BB, 1 HR, 7 H, 2 ER
Warren: 4.1 IP, 3 K, 2 BB, 1 HR, 6 H, 1 ER
Nuno: 2.0 IP, 3 K, 0 BB, 1 HR, 2 H, 1 ER

Report: Seattle & Milwaukee snooping around

March 5, 2014 | 11 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by Vizzini

NY Post / George King III:

The Mariners had a scout watch Phelps, who is the leading candidate to be the Yankees’ fifth starter but who could be expandable with Adam Warren or, possibly, Michael Pineda finding his way into that slot.

The Mariners weren’t the only club represented at GMS Field looking specifically for Yankee players to acquire. The White Sox, who have infielders to deal and need a backup catcher, had a scout at the game. So, too, did the Brewers, who are looking for a backup catcher. They could dangle second baseman Rickie Weeks or third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Both make big money and general manager Brian Cashman said any additions from the outside would be inexpensive.

However, the Brewers might want to swallow some of the money to make a deal that possibly would include Francisco Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy or Austin Romine.

We’ve advocated trades for both Nick Franklin and Rickie Weeks. GK3 also suggests Aramis Ramirez? Ramirez is one of the best 3B in MLB. Over the last three years, he has a 136 wRC+ — that ranks 6th-best among all 3B. We highly doubt the Yankees have the assets to get that trade done.

Franklin for Phelps+ — we’d do that all day. Weeks would come cheaper (in terms of players exchanged) and we’d do that too.

Juice cleanse

March 5, 2014 | 8 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by SJK

And yet still able to hit the ball out of the park.

Francisco Cervelli Pee Cup PED Steroids NoMaas Yankees
Francisco has passed the early spring training test

Know your role, Ichiro

March 2, 2014 | 9 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by SJK

Ichiro Yankees NoMaas The Rock Know Your Role

Ichiro via ESPN NY:

“There’s no reason for me not to play every day.”

Well, we can think of a couple. Over the last 3 seasons, Ichiro has been one of the worst hitters in MLB. His wRC+ of 80 (20% below average) over that time frame ranks 2nd-worst among ALL MLB OFs. Who is #1, you ask? Well, that would be Vernon Wells!

In 2013, Ichiro hit rock bottom. His wRC+ of 71 was dead last for MLB OFs with at least 500 plate appearances. His on-base percentage was 2nd-worst at .297. At this point, Ichiro is a putrid hitter.

If Ichiro is playing every day, then something either went very wrong with the team or he possesses the same naked pictures of Brian Cashman that Eduardo Nunez does.

Ichiro’s role this year is simple. He’ll make for a very nice defensive replacement and pinch runner. That’s it. Period.

*** CC Velo Alert ***

March 1, 2014 | 12 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by SJK


But, it’s really not that big of a deal. It is what it is. We know it’s happening. We know CC is in decline. However, we still expect good things from him in 2014, even with his reduced velocity. Here’s some of what we wrote last September, and it still applies today.

There’s hope for CC in 2014:

If you look at his peripherals this season, they look very similar to 2009 and 2010 — both years in which he finished Top 4 in Cy Young voting. Peep it.

His K and BB rates are very, very similar — thus why his xFIP is so close for all three years. Sabathia hasn’t lost the ability to whiff hitters and hasn’t seen an uptick in his free passes. The issue this season has mainly been the home run ball and stranding runners on base — both statistics which can be flukey.

He has been hit harder this season as you can see by the differences in his line drive rates. And we all know that his fastball velocity has dropped, with an average of 91.3 mph this season versus the 94 mph he was throwing between 2009-2010. That has caused his fastball to go from a plus-pitch to a much less effective offering. Sabathia definitely has problems that won’t get better with age.

However, as his peripherals indicate, he still has a high skillset. He’s still maintaining some of the very skills that made him one of the top pitchers in MLB. While we firmly believe he’s in decline, we believe the decline will be slower than what this season suggests

And this was the chart we included to illustrate our points:

Now, if we could only do something about those Sabathia Rules.

Is there a player who is a better fit for a particular city than…

March 1, 2014 | 2 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by SJK

AJ Pierzynski.

Boston Globe:

According to a 2012 Men’s Journal poll, Pierzynski is the Most Hated Player in Baseball.

“I just laugh at it,’’ he said. “I think it’s cool. I’ve won it a bunch of years in a row. They just change the title around. They change a couple of words.’’

True. In various other polls, Pierzynski has been cited as “Player You Would Most Like To See Beaned” and “Meanest Player’’ in baseball.

“I think I’ve won it before so it’s just an easy answer,’’ he added. “But I think A-Rod took over for me this year.’’

Pierzynski is a wise guy. He’s the consummate provocateur. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci described him as “a professional irritant.’’ He can be hard-headed with teammates, and grating on opponents. He runs over the pitching mound after making outs. He sometimes steps on the hitter’s bats. He has been known to show up opponents.

And they’ll love him in Boston for those exact reasons.

And we hope he tries this stuff with the Yankees.

Yanks smartly go cheap on bullpen spending

February 28, 2014 | 9 comments | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by Vizzini

Wendy Thurm consistently contributes some of the best articles on Fangraphs. Her most recent entry looks at how much each team spends on its starting lineup, starting rotation, bullpen, and bench — per percentage of its overall payroll.

From our perspective, the most interesting nugget from her article was that the Yankees project to spend only 6.30% of their overall payroll on the bullpen. This is the lowest percentage in MLB.

…And we like it! For all of its flaws, the front office definitely gets it when it comes to bullpen pieces.

Relief pitchers are a fungible and unpredictable commodity. The majority of them have a pretty narrow range of skills and it’s very hard to tell which ones are going to rise above the pack. Remember, all relievers are failed starters — even the great Mariano.

For sure, if you have a reliever who is clearly better than the rest, and you think he can keep that up year after year, spend some money on him (extend D-Rob!).

However, the one thing you can count on with most relievers is that you can’t count on them. It’s therefore just smart strategy to put most of the resources you have into hitters and more reliable starting pitchers.

Thursday humor – Girardi: “Nuney is an exciting offensive player.”

February 27, 2014 | 20 comments | in Binder Watch | by SJK

Hilarity ensues at 3:20:

Major League Career: .267/.313/.379
Minor League Career: .272/.315/.365

La Di Da Di: We’d like to party with Slick Rick

February 27, 2014 | 0 comment | in Quick Analytical Blurbs | by Vizzini

According to GK3 over at the NY Post, the Yankees are keeping tabs on Rickie Weeks, with an eye towards a possible trade for the inconsistent second baseman.

The Brewers have 2B prospect Scooter Gennett, who busted on the scene last year with a 131 wRC+. Milwaukee’s perennial budgetary pressures also make it likely they will look to offload some of Weeks’ $11 million salary for some cheaper pieces. In addition to his salary, Weeks has an $11.5 million vesting option that triggers IF he has 600 PAs in 2014 AND he is not on the disabled at the end of the season.

Considering the $$$, his below-replacement level 2013 season, and injury history, he should be accessible to the Bombers, even with their meager farm system offerings.

Of course, that list of pejoratives adds up to a far less than ideal player. However, he’s probably the best the Yankees can do at this point. The only remaining 2B free agent is the aged and useless Miguel Tejada.

What you do get with Rickie Weeks is:

1) Another option for when Brian Roberts breaks. Currently, the Yankees would be forced to play either Punch and Judy hitter, Brendan Ryan, or shift over Kelly Johnson which would leave a void at 3B.

2) Upside. Weeks is a gamble for sure, but at least he’s a gamble with a worthwhile jackpot. He was an elite prospect and is 8th in career wOBA among current second basemen. From 2009-2011, Rickie Weeks posted a 126 wRC+. That put him behind only Robinson Cano, Chase Utley, and Ben Zobrist on the list of the top hitting second basemen in those 3 seasons — and ahead of Dustin Pedroia, Dan Uggla, and Ian Kinsler.

3) A potential immediate upgrade at 3B. We could be stretching it here, because Weeks has never played third. However, Kelly Johnson has only started 12 games there himself. If he’s healthy, Weeks has the better bat.

2011 isn’t exactly ancient history, and Weeks is still only 31 — that’s like full grown puppy stage in Yankee years. He’s a flawed player, but one whose low sticker price and high hitting potential makes him a worthwhile roster addition for the Yankees.

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