Jorge Vazquez Should Replace Injured Eric Chavez on Yankees Roster

May 5, 2011

When Eric Chavez came up limping running out his third inning triple today, the first thing I thought was that Jorge Vazquez will finally get his chance to play in the major leagues.

Also, another reaction to the injury was a similar problem which Chien-Ming Wang had a few years ago in Houston. That of breaking a bone in his foot while running the bases.

Most non-players believe that the simple task of running the bases should be easy enough, and most of the times it is. But there are many times where the sprinting and turning take a toll on the feet. When players sprint, they run on their toes, and when a player is making a 90-degree turn while running on their toes, foot injuries can occur.

That is what happened to Wang in Houston while turning third base and now to Chavez while turning second base.

With Chavez now on the disabled list, the first and third back up role should be Vazquez’ now. It might have been Brandon Laird’s job, but Laird has not been hitting well enough at Triple A Scranton. In fact, since Laird’s great debut in Triple A last season when he hit two homers, it has been virtually all downhill for the Yankee youngster.

One thing against Vazquez is he is not on the 40 man roster, while Laird and Ramiro Pena (another possibility) are on the 40 man roster, No big deal. Just drop Kevin Russo, he of no shot of being a Yankee major leaguer. And who cares if someone (Pirates, anybody?) claim him., Guys like Russo are a dime a dozen.

Yankee fans should give Vazquez some space and patience because Jorge does not have much patience at the plate. He only has walked four times this season in 110 plate appearances. He only walked 18 times in over 350 PA last season.

Vazquez will swing at many first pitches, including some out of the zone, many times getting himself out. And he will strike out LOTS OF TIMES. And I mean lots of times, basically every third at bat, Vazquez will walk back to the dugout.

He is not the patient hitter Yankee fans are used to having in their lineup. Sometimes hitters are patient and work counts, etc, but many hitters do not like to take pitches, especially with men on base.

Vazquez is one of those guys.

He can play both first and third base, but does not have nearly the range, glove or arm as Eric Chavez. However, Vazquez does have decent footwork at both positions so it will not be a total loss.

He started the year very good at Scranton, hitting .323 with 9 homers and 27 RBI in April, but has struggled over his last ten games.

Vazquez is streaky and when he gets hot, look out, but when he struggles, the Ks really pile up.

Yankee fans should have patience with Vazquez. With Posada struggling a little, maybe Vazquez can also step in a DH a few games against LH pitchers.

I would also drop Eduardo Nunez. Maybe not right after the two-error game today, but maybe some time next week. Bring up Ramiro Pena, a guy I have always liked for his glove. When your reserve infielder does not play much, all you need is a good glove. Any offense is icing on the cake.

Pena has a great glove, and is more secure at all three infield positions.

So look for two moves by the Yankees. Vazquez replacing Chavez and Pena eventually replacing Nunez.


Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game: Starting Lineups

November 6, 2010

Here at the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game and the East team is finishing up with batting practice.

The game is being broadcast live in the MLB network (9:00 PM EST start), so if you are staying in, have a look. If you are heading out, then record it and watch later. Many of these kids will be in the majors within two years, some as soon as 2011.

Last year, Buster Posey, Stephen Strasburg, Ike Davis (NYM), Mike Leake (CIN), Drew Storen (WAS)and Mike Minor (ATL) played in this event, and then made it to the majors leagues this past season.

Both teams look pretty stacked, but that is the way it is with all All-Star games.

The starting lineups include three New York Yankee players, the most of any organization.

Here are the lineups:

EAST DIVISION 

1) Trayvon Robinson (LAD)  CF;  

2) Charlie Culberson (SF)  2B;

3) Brandon Belt (SF)  1B;

4) Brandon Laird (NYY)  LF;

5) Austin Romine (NYY)  C; 

6) Marc Krauss (ARI)  RF;

7) A.J. Pollock (ARI)  DH;

8) Ryan Adams (BAL)  3B;

9) Tyler Pastornicky (ATL)  SS;

and Manuel Banuelos (NYY)  is Pitching.

WEST DIVISION

1) Ben Revere (MIN) CF;

2) Caleb Gindl (MIL)  LF;

3) Dustin Ackley (SEA)  2B;

4) Eric Hosmer (KC)  1B;

5) Ryan Lavarnway (BOS)  C;

6) Leslie Anderson (TB)  RF;

7) Eric Thames (TOR)  DH;

8) Zach Cox (STL)  3B;

9) Jose Iglesias (BOS)  SS and

and Mike Montgomery (KC) is Pitching.

I could have updates throughout the night, but will not do an in-game blog.

However, there will be a complete piece on the game by Monday morning.

It is a virtual Who’s Who here at Surprise Stadium, spring training home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. Tons of Player Development execs and a few General Managers.

Players so far, I have seen which have impressed include 1B Brandon Belt of the San Francisco Giants, who could move into the starting first base job by 2012, and Dustin Ackley, who is a line-drive machine with good patience at the plate.

Jeremy Jeffress of the Milwaukee Brewers hit 101 on the radar gun here the other day. He is pitching for the West Squad. I saw Jeffress in July down in the Florida State League, and he could barely find the strike zone but has improved his command during the end of the 2010 season and here.

A local product from New Jersey, Brad Brach (SD), is here as well, pitching for the West Squad. A graduate of Freehold HS and Monmouth University, Brach has great size (6’6″ 210lbs) with good arm action and a really nice breaking pitch, which he can throw for strikes or bury it low. He had 41 saves this past season in the High A California League, a notorious hitters haven.

And he leads the AFL this season in WHIP and is second in Batting Average Allowed.

So enjoy the game, and if you cannot watch it live, record it and enjoy later.

UPDATES:

Brandon Laird (NYY) has an RBI FC and Austin Romine (NYY) has a two-out RBI single in the third. The pitch to Romine was a fastball over outer half, and he knocked it up the middle.

However, this appears the only type of fastball that Romine can handle.

He was jammed his first time up, hitting a weak humpback liner to short. Also allowed another passed ball to allow and unearned run in third inning. It was his second PB in two days and at least his fifth this AFL.

Manny Banuelos (NYY) had two impressive innings to start the game.

He hit 95 several times and was able to work it in to left-handed hitters with ease. Struck out Dustin Ackley (SEA) looking at a 95 MPH heater to end the first inning.

Banuelos then chucked back-to-back change ups to Jose Iglesias (BOS) to strike him out to end the second. These 83 MPH change ups had significant downward tailing action. He was anywhere from 79 to 83 on the change up.

Jeffress was his usual self, all over the place with lack of fastball command, but an easy delivery with the ball exploding out of his hand. He hit 100, then 101 in the same at bat to Laird, who struck out without taking the bat off his shoulder.

Jeffress received a loud ovation in both instances, and a few ooh’s and aah’s from the scouting crowd.

Then Chris Carpenter (CHI CUBS) also hit 100, and the triple digit room got more crowded.


Arizona Fall League: Analysis of New York Yankees Prospect Brandon Laird

November 3, 2010

I have been here for three days in Arizona to see the MLB Fall League, and I have yet to see a cloud. It is simply tremendous weather here, usually about 85 degrees during the day with bright sunshine. At night the temperatures dip to the mid-to-high 60s, and the air is slightly crisp.

It is perfect baseball weather.

And while the weather is great, the best part of the Grand Canyon State this time of year is the baseball games played by many of the games top prospects.

I am here to follow up on my original pieces of various New York Yankee farmhands and to see some top players from other organizations, namely some guy named Bryce Harper.

Today is my first day to see Harper play and he just hit four balls out in BP, and the wind is blowing in. Even the players stood around to watch him hit.

However, my first game this week was Monday at Surprise Stadium, spring training home to the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals. Due to a serious car rental delay, I arrived right before “Play!” was called by the home plate umpire. Pulling into the complex, I saw a group of Rangers prospects on a side field going through team defensive drills.

Third hitter in the lineup for the visiting Phoenix Desert Dogs was left fielder Brandon Laird. Yankee catching prospect Austin Romine was hitting sixth.

Laird also hit third on Tuesday in Phoenix, 20-year-old Jose Pirela was playing second and LHP Manuel Banuelos was on the mound. Right handed pitcher Craig Heyer also pitched. Romine had Tuesday off.

This report is on Brandon Laird, new Yankee multi-positional prospect. A separate report will come on Romine, and a group report will be made on the pitchers.

Having seen about 30 or so games at Double A Trenton, I have become a fan of Laird’s.

He can turn on the inside fastball, stays inside the ball well with his hands and hit with some authority to the opposite field. Laird also produced his share of timely hits, including a walk-off grand slam in Trenton.  

His defense was not Graig Nettles-like at third base (or even Scott Brosius good), but he was adequate, making his share of good plays and his share of errors, too. But Laird is a hitter who has always hit well in his baseball career.

Many people have said this is Laird’s breakout season, but he actually hit more home runs (23 to 17) and slugged higher (.498 to .491) than Jesus Montero did in Low A Charleston in 2008. And Laird did that in 63 less (569 to 503) plate appearances than Montero.

Laird is a third baseman by trade with some playing time at first base. One need the Yankees have for the future is a right handed bat off the bench with power, who can play multiple positions.

Marcus Thames is not that guy, so enter Laird stage left.

The Yankees are trying to make Laird that versatile corner man, using him in left field in the AFL.

He looked good out there during instructs, not Carl Yastrzemski or Brett Gardner good, but he held his own. Not a “toolsy” guy or “five-tool” prospect, Laird is just a blue-blooded baseball player.

Laird continued his good 2010 season here in the AFL, knocking six doubles, three home runs and driving in 11 runners.

However, Laird appears to now have an issue with the outside fastball. In Monday’s game, Laird took four hittable pitches on the outer third (twice on first pitches). He almost swung several times and actually cocked the gun, but simply could not pull the trigger.

When he did swing at the outside fastball, it was only with two-strike counts, with most swings weak flails at the offerings. No authority to the right side, and no real attempts to go the other way.

Laird appears to have become a pull hitter, trying to hit for even more power than he showed this season. Have the 25 home runs he hit in 2010 changed Laird’s hitting approach?

Not completely.

He still showed the ability to hit line drives up the middle, getting his pitch on the inner third, keeping his hands in and hitting two rockets (one each day) through the pitchers box.  The one on Monday almost maimed the pitcher, but the ball deflected off his glove (possibly saving his life) to the second baseman who threw Laird out at first.

As I said in the piece earlier this season, Laird looks for a certain pitch and location and is not afraid of hitting from behind in the count. He still shows ability to lay of the low breaking pitch and can hit the curve when it is thrown for strikes. But he does need to start going more the other way.

As for defense, Laird performed admirably in left field, but often took initial steps back before adjusting to the ball. These were balls hit off the end of the barrel, sounding good off the bat but were simply routine fly balls.

Continuously going back on the ball is common for a new outfielder. Newbies are extremely conscious of fly ball going over their heads, and to compensate for the lack of confidence (and a fear factor) by taking first steps back on almost all fly balls. A ball landing on the warning track looks much worse than a ball landing in front of you, and costs your team more bases and runs.

Laird did make a nice place on a fly ball towards the left field line, taking a direct route to the ball and even turning on the jets the last couple strides to make a catch off the bat of Davis Stoneburner*, turning a possible two-run double into a routine sacrifice fly.

*Davis is the older brother of Yankee pitching prospect Graham Stoneburner.

Laird also made a decent throw behind a runner at second base who aborted an initial attempt to go from first to third on a single to left center. Laird was quick to the ball, thwarting the advancement, and then made an accurate (but not overly strong) throw to second base, just missing the scrambling runner getting back to the bag.

Laird is still a prospect under Yankee standards, and unless he is out here as trade bait, his ability to hit with power and play adequate defense at a few positions will bode well for him and the parent club. His defense will continue to improve with more drills and reps.

But in order for Laird to stick long term with the Yankees or in the majors as a utility corner guy, he needs to be able to hit to all fields, especially in Yankee Stadium. If Laird continues his current trend of becoming pull happy and not going after the outside fastball, major league pitchers will eat him up on the outside corner.


Brandon Laird: Is the Yankees Minor League Slugger the Future or Just Trade Bait?

June 17, 2010

Last week, I went to Trenton for my second trip to see the New York Yankees Double-A Minor League team, the Trenton Thunder.

It is always a pleasure to go to Trenton, as I get to talk baseball and strategy with the Thunder manager, Tony Franklin, one of the true good guys in the entire pro game. Interestingly, one player who Franklin played with in his second pro season was Yankee minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras.

The main reason for going back to Trenton was to again see the Thunder’s young slugger Brandon Laird . I had gone to see the Thunder earlier in the season, and had seen Laird about a dozen games in 2008 during his stay at Low-A Charleston.

Laird was impressive then, and he is even more impressive now.

When the Yankees drafted Brandon Laird, they selected him out of a junior college with their 27th round pick in the 2007 draft .* Laird couldn’t wait to play pro ball, signed right away, and was immediately tested by the organization in the Gulf Coast League.

*The Yankees draft guys at the bottom of the draft very well. In that same draft, they selected current Washington National stud reliever Drew Storen out of high school with the 34th pick, but couldn’t sign him. Storen ended up going to the Nationals with their second first-round pick (10th pick overall) in the 2009 Stephen Strasburg draft.

The Yankees also drafted Luke Murton late in that same draft and Scott Bittle, a RHP from the University of Mississippi. Both guys would not sign but were later drafted again by the Yankees, with Bittle being a wasted second-round pick in 2008. Murton is now doing well in Charleston .

Laird dominated the GCL that year, hitting .339 with eight home runs and 29 RBI in 45 games. He then moved in 2008 to full season, Low-A Charleston, clubbing 23 home runs, including an amazing 11 during the month of August.

It was this time when I saw Laird in the middle of his August streak. He had a great four-games series at Lakewood, NJ, booming balls over the park. Laird has always been a great hitter in August , hitting .332 with a 1.041 OPS.

Laird actually out-slugged teammate Jesus Montero at Charleston (.498 vs. 491) with more homers, as Jesus “only” hit 17 dingers.

Last season in Tampa, he was as consistent a hitter as he was in Charleston, except his power numbers declined to only 13 home runs. The Florida State League (FSL) is the toughest league to hit in with the tremendous pitching, spacious stadiums, and heavy humidity.

You can probably add at least a half dozen or more home runs to a power hitter’s stats in the FSL, as the ball does not travel as far. When I asked Laird about this, he just smiled and said, “it really had no effect on my performance.”

Laird doesn’t give much away in regards to negative situations or tough questions*, but other players I have spoken to say the ball seems like it could be out of the park, but just dies into the outfielder’s gloves.

*After a few questions and “boiler plate” answers, I turned off the recorder and said to Laird, “The Yankees teach you guys very well in how to respond to questions, huh?” He almost laughed and said, “Pretty much, yeah. They’re good.

These FSL variables do not just affect home runs, but doubles, too, further reducing a hitter’s slugging marks.

Entering his Double-A season, Laird was not looked upon as a prospect as much as Jesus Montero or Austin Romine.

And with good reason.

Both Montero and Romine are catchers, a more premium position. Good hitting catchers are exponentially more important. Also, Montero was doing his damage at a younger age, while Romine was the FSL Player of the Year last season.

But Laird is now making his mark, leading the Minor Leagues with 62 RBI. His current pace would give him over 120 RBI. That is amazing for a Minor League hitter.  

Tuesday night, Laird hit another three run homer off Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect Tim Alderson. That was coming off the heels of a three-run towering bomb the prior Friday night against the Binghamton Mets.

Laird’s power is unassuming. He is not a massive guy in the sense that Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, or Albert Pujols are big guys who you assume will hit home runs.

Laird is listed at 6’1″ and 215 lbs. Ok, good enough, but the Yankees do pad their size stats a little.

What Laird has is a tremendously easy, compact swing, which is well-balanced from the load (which is slight) to the follow-through. While he will swing and miss (mostly on outside pitches), he still is almost never offbalance on those swings.

Probably his best hitting attribute, Laird stays inside the ball very well. I saw him line a single to right field on a fastball on the outer third of the plate, and hit a couple rockets to left, including that Friday night home run.

Those rockets were both on inside pitches. The Friday night home run was on an 0-1 curve ball over the inner half, after he took a fastball over the middle of the plate.

In taking that first-pitch fastball, then banging that curve for a three-run dinger, showed me that Laird is not afraid of hitting while behind in the count. Most good hitters do not mind hitting while behind, and Laird is no exception.

“No, I don’t mind at all,” said Laird when I asked him after Friday night’s game about hitting with two strikes. “If I am behind in the count, I still look for a strike to hit and try to put a good swing on it.”

What about that 0-1 curve ball he hit for a home run? I asked Laird if he looks for a type of pitch or is sitting location. “In that situation, I look for a specific location instead of a particular pitch. If a pitcher throws it to my location, I try to make that mistake hurt.”

Good to hear, as I believe the higher up in level a hitter gets, the better off he is looking location rather than specific pitch. The exception, of course, is with two strikes, where the idea is to protect the plate and put the ball in play.

On defense, similar to the time I saw him in Charleston in 2008, Laird has played both first and third base at Trenton. While he has made 11 errors thus far in 2011, Laird exhibited pretty good footwork around first base. He even made the Armando Galarraga non-perfect game play with ease.

However, his defense at third needs improvement in regards to footwork, which is sometimes awkward in moving to the ball. Surprisingly, the bulkier Javier Vazquez (recently promoted to Triple-A Scranton) moved to the ball better than Laird.

While Laird’s throwing arm from third is not tremendous in strength, it is accurate, with most throws I saw at the first baseman’s chest.

Among other players (catchers Romine and Montero, SS Eduardo Nunez), Laird is being mentioned as a possible trade chip for pitcher Cliff Lee and maybe a full-time designated hitter, one such as Chicago’s Paul Konerko.

As I have mentioned many times before, if everyone is healthy, the Yankees do not need anybody to defend their 2009 World Series title. They have a really good rotation, a solid bullpen, and a pretty deep lineup.

Even the innings limit on Phil Hughes will only strengthen the bullpen when, like last season, he becomes part of the back end.

Laird has tremendous baseball qualities, including a very quick bat and a very astute idea of what he wants (and needs) to do in each plate appearance. His strikeout numbers are somewhat higher this season, but he remains a good, high-contact power hitter who does not walk a lot.

His deficiencies on defense can be improved, if not entirely corrected, with solid infield coaching and about 100,000 more ground balls. He has the time.

And with the Major Leagues on the horizon (most Double-A All-Stars do make the Major Leagues) the desire to improve should be there for Laird. According to others I have spoken with, Laird has a good work ethic.

Laird’s swing and demeanor reminds me of Bob Horner , the former third sacker for the Atlanta Braves, and 1978 National League Rookie of the Year. Horner went from college superstar at Arizona State straight to the majors. Like Laird, he was another high-contact power hitter who did not strike out or walk much.

Looking at the numbers and seeing him play in person many times over the course of a couple seasons, Laird is a Yankee keeper who should not be traded away. With age creeping up on Alex Rodriguez (who might be a full-time DH), Laird could be in line for an eventual Yankee Major League third base job.

He could also improve his stock as an all-around player with some work in the outfield, a sort of Kevin Russo-type with a much better bat and more power.

Since the Brian Cashman regime took over full control in 2005, the Yankees have been very good at promoting their own players into the Majors. Players such as Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, David Robertson, Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, and Russo have been developed from within and been productive as Major Leaguers.

In a few years, I see no reason why Brandon Laird cannot join that list.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.