Has Phil Hughes Finally Begun to Live Up To His Potential?

July 5, 2012

Well, he is at it again, that Phil Hughes. He is throwing the ball well and winning games for the New York Yankees. 

And despite an extremely shaky outing by Adam Warren in his major league debut last Friday night, the Yankee starting rotation hasn’t missed a beat since losing both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte last Wednesday afternoon.

One of the keys has been the transformation of Hughes, once the golden boy of the Yankee farm system since his selection by the Yankees as the 23rd pick in the first round of the 2004 draft*. The expectations have always been high for Hughes, who had worked up to the 2007 No. 2 overall prospect in baseball by Baseball Digest.

*An interesting fact is the Yankees were awarded this pick as compensation for the loss of a free agent by the name of Andy Pettitte, who signed with the Houston Astros after the 2003 season.

With a “dead arm” and reduced velocity over the last couple years (along with less than moderate results), much talk centered on Hughes pitching out of the pen for his Yankee future. However, the Yankee brass always discussed Hughes as a starting pitcher and, to their credit, kept him in the rotation mix over the last several years.

With improved velocity this spring training, and better results, Hughes “won” the fifth starting spot in the rotation. However, after a disastrous start to the 2012 campaign, people promptly wanted Hughes out of the rotation.

I cannot even understand all those Yankee fans who wanted Hughes banished to the bullpen. Don’t people realize that five starts do not make a starting pitcher? Whatever happened to the “small sample size” bullshit we hear about every stinking day? Did that not count for Hughes in April?

Hell, even the great Catfish Hunter had a disastrous start to his Yankee career, losing his first four starts after signing that huge 5 year, $3.2 million free agent contract.

Hughes had issues early on, primarily allowing an inordinate amount of home runs. Of the 19 HRs Hughes has allowed this season, 13 have been solo shots, and almost a third (6), have come in two games, both losses. So, similar to Catfish, despite the large amount of HRs allowed, they haven’t really hurt since the damage was usually one run, or in Hughes’ case were siphoned off in two games*.

*And in one of these games, the June 20th Atlanta game,  the Yankees banged out four home runs, too. That Wednesday afternoon was a hot and humid day just ripe for the long ball.

I remember one time I was telling a scout one time about guy who hit two HRs in a game, real bombs which travelled well over the fence. True no doubters. The scout asked me if any other HRs were hit. I said yes, quite a few and the scout said that the two hit by the kid were nice, but if the ball was flying out like that on that particular day, there were likely other factors invloved which helped the long balls that day.

But then Hughes turned his season around during an innocuous start in Kansas City, where Hughes allowed three earned runs in 6.2 innings, striking out seven and issuing one free pass. He still gave up a HR, but it was two-out, solo shot in the bottom of the 7th. Due to a pitch count of 115, and although the hurler appeared neither gassed nor in trouble of losing the lead, General Joe promptly removed Hughes from that game.

Hughes has then gone on a roll, winning 8 of his last 11 starts, helping form a solid Yankees rotation. Some of the reasons behind Hughes’ surge are his ability to get (and stay) ahead in the count, locate his fastball, throw his curve ball for strikes, and overpower hitters with his fastball. Another huge move was Hughes scrapping his cutter.

While many pitchers are in love with their cutter, I feel this pitch is the latest fad, along the likes of the splitter. Hughes fell in love with his cutter, too, but hitters began to look for it, and pounced. This is a piece I wrote back in 2010 about Hughes getting too predictive with his cut fastball.  Hughes threw it too much and I feel that is one reason why he lost velocity on his fastball and began to get those arm issues. According to FanGraphs, Hughes has thrown the cutter only 4% of the time, if that much.

From what I have noticed, early in games Hughes has gotten ahead most of the time with his fastball, then has used his curveball more often on the first pitch to get ahead later in the games. In his last start against the White Sox, Hughes only got behind on the count 2-0 to two batters, the leadoff guy in the first inning and then to Paul Konerko with two outs in the 8th inning.

While still making a few mistakes here and there (Such as why would Hughes throw a 2-strike curveball to Michael Morse in 3rd inning of his Washington start while he was blowing him away with his fastball the entire at bat), by and large Hughes is pitching smarter and with sustained velocity. Hughes was still popping his fastball up to 94 in the 6th inning of his most recent start and in that Washington game a few starts earlier.

That is progress which the Yankees wanted to see from their young pitcher.

And I do not believe this progress is “small sample size” garbage because it derived from a change in approach and improvement in repertoire. Hughes felt the need to eliminate his cutter and focus on his best pitches, the stuff which advanced him to the major leagues in the first place. This approach allowed him to throw harder and boost confidence enough to challenge hitters, something Hughes shied away from in the past. 

I have seen very good major league hitters fail against Hughes’ fastball late in games when everybody in the world knew it was coming. A perfect example is the 8th inning Kevin Youkilis at bat in Hughes’ last start. This was a massive 8-pitch at bat in a 4-2 game in an inning where most people thought Girardi was going to go to the bullpen and not let Hughes even start the inning.

And Hughes came through with a one, two, three inning against Youkilis, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, the heart of the White Sox lineup. It is that inning which necessitated this piece.

What to do with Phil Hughes?

Of course he is going to be a Yankee starting pitcher for the next two years. He has earned that right, even though the Yankees might make him “earn” his spot again next spring. That is just a joke…probably.

But what about after 2013, when Hughes can become a free agent? Still only 26 now, Hughes will be all of 28 when he gets to free agency, and with a solid year or two under his belt, if Hughes reaches free agency, plenty of teams will be calling for his services. Similar to Cole Hamels this off season, Hughes would still be in his “prime” years. And If Hughes continues his stellar pitching through next season, the numbers tossed around might even be too big for the Yankees to handle, especially if they are resigned to their self-imposed $189 million payroll noose.

So, despite the basic team motto of no negotiations during the season, the Yankees should approach Hughes and his agent to talk a long term deal.

Even before Curtis Granderson and even before Robinson Cano. Having a set starting rotation is of utmost importance in today’s game, especially a home grown kid for below market cost.

So, where to begin on numbers? Hughes is already earning $3.2 million this season through arbitration and would likely command $6-10 million next year. Hughes is 26 and a general lookup of 26 year old pitchers who have signed pre free agent deals turned up this one:

Jon Danks, who signed a 5 year/$65 million deal this past off season, then struggled before he was hurt and placed on the DL.

Other guys near Hughes’ age and history who signed long term deals during arbitration include Jon Lester (24, 5 yr/$30M), Johnny Cueto (24, 4 yr/$27M), Josh Johnson (26, 4 yr/$39M), Justin Verlander (26, 5yr/$80M), Jonathan Niese (25, 4 yr/25M).

Lester, Cueto and Niese were all younger and less established than Hughes, while Verlander, Johnson and Jered Weaver (29, 5 yr/$85) and Matt Cain (27, big money) were all established aces of their teams and were paid as such.

Hughes is very similar to Danks, but I believe Danks was paid too much. Danks likely received what he did because his length of work as a starter was established for several years, but I believe Hughes is a better pitcher. Somewhere in the middle of Danks and Cueto/Lester is about right for a probably Hughes deal.

How about offering Hughes a 4 year deal for $40 million with a club option for a fifth year at a slightly higher salary? Work from there and negotiate as the situation permits. That would keep Hughes in pinstripes through his key years and give the Yankees a certainty on a cost structure. If Hughes wants much more and test the free agent waters, then keep him for the two seasons and bid adieu.

But if Hughes rejects a long term deal and wants to test free agency, I would use him for 120 plus pitches each start next season. Let him really earn his free agent money.

As I said earlier, it is a credit to the Yankees brass (Cashman/Girardi) that they had the gumption to stick with Hughes in the rotation. A handful of starts are never a certainty when dealing with young pitchers, but with his new approach, Hughes has clearly turned the corner and has become a more consistent and durable pitcher for the Yankees. From his improved confidence and challenging hitters, Hughes has upped his strikeout rate this season while also lowering his walk rate.

Aren’t we told by the saber guys that this is a predictor of future success?

Sure, Hughes will still have a clunker now and then, but so does every pitcher.

I talked on Mike Silva’s radio show early this spring that the Yankees needed to at least give Hughes the chance to pitch through the All Star break to determine if he had a future in the rotation. I also said if the Yankees continued to jerk Hughes around like they did with Joba, NO WAY Hughes was going to give the Yankees an option regarding free agency. He would walk, and likely walk to the West coast (where he is from) or maybe the Boston Red Sox, his favorite team growing up.

It is time for the Yankees to pony up to keep Hughes in pinstripes. His youth and internal upbringing are keys to the future success of the Yankees rotation. Of course, the team could choose to lean on David Phelps, Adam Warren and DJ Mitchell in 2014 and beyond, or go on a free agent pitcher spending spree.

But it might be wise to combine the two and let Phelps work into the rotation and spend money on guys like Hughes who have already come up through the system and established themselves.

After all the hand wringing over the last couple years, it would a shame for the Yankees to lose their “golden child” of their system after he finally began living up to his potential.


Despite Second Super Bowl Win, Eli Manning is Still Not In Derek Jeter’s NYC Status

February 9, 2012

This is a response to Mike Silva’s piece on Saturday in which he raves about New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, and how if he helped the Giants win Super Bowl 46, could supplant Derek Jeter as New York’s sports darling and “catapult him to the top of New York sports.”

This is not a hit piece on Elisha, either. I have the utmost respect for Manning, who has endured the typical criticism of an impatient (and terrible) New York fan base who demands a championship every season.

And even though Eli helped lead the Giants to victory in Super Bowl 46 (his second Super Bowl win), neither he nor anybody else can supplant Jeter as New York’s sports hero. Jeter is at the top because the amount of World Series titles he has won (five, one more than Babe Ruth helped the Yankees win), and also the way he lives his life off the field – no scandals, is very charitable, clean living by being a homebody and avoiding the spectacle which is the press.

Eli is the same type of person. Two titles, married and like his brother Peyton, is pretty much a homebody living a quiet and very successful, scandal-free life.

Funny how Silva says that Manning is everything Jeter pretends to be

Silva starts his piece out by saying Jeter was in the “right place/right time” when he entered the major leagues, and then mentions later in his piece that “Jeter had the Yellow Brick Road paved for his glory; Manning has laid the bricks himself.”

That is factually incorrect as Jeter is one of the hardest working players in the game. Joe Torre once said of Jeter, “I trusted him more than any other player I had managed. I trusted him to be prepared mentally and physically every day, and to prioritize winning above all else. I trusted him to say the right thing, when talking to a teammate or the media. I trusted his instincts and his calm under the greatest pressure.”

The Yankees became a dynasty team with help from Jeter and his various high leverage exploits. His 704 career postseason plate appearances produced a slash line of .307/.374/.465 with 20 home runs. Does Mike forget Jeter’s leadoff home run off Bobby Jones in Game 4 of the 2000 World Series and then homered off Al Leiter in the 6th inning to tie the Game 5 clincher? Jeter was MVP of that 2000 World Series. Does Mike remember the game winning home run in the 2001 World Series, where Jeter received the Mr. November moniker?

Remember the flip play during the 2001 ALDS against the Oakland A’s? Jeter was in the correct position to back up an overthrow because he remembered they worked on that play in spring training – eight years earlier! A player who puts the time in the practice a play which might never occur is the epitome of a dedicated, hard worker.

Jeter also was approached by Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman a few years ago to discuss ways to improve his range on defense. Jeter worked diligently all off season to get quicker, then had one of his best defensive seasons of his career.

And with five World Series rings and as a first ballot Hall of Famer, Jeter looks like he has laid the bricks himself, too. No player wins titles by himself. Even though Eli plays the most important position in all of pro sports, he would not have won the Super Bowl four years ago without a great catch by David Tyree, a solid running game, a sturdy offensive line or that great pressure defense. He would not have won his second Super Bowl with some great catches by his wide receivers, a solid running game, a sturdy offensive line and that great pressure defense.

Of course, Jeter never won a title by himself either or might not have even been the best player on his team. But with the exception of Mariano Rivera, all those other players will have to buy a ticket to get into Cooperstown. So many factors go into winning a baseball World Series title, but Jeter was a big part in each of the five World Series titles the Yankees have won.

Throughout his piece, Mike says that Eli is just being himself and that Jeter is pretty much a phony. Mike actually stated, “I don’t even know if Jeter knows who or what he is.”

Let me answer that for you, Mike. Jeter is the ultimate team player who works hard to win. He stays out of the spotlight and doesn’t promote himself or get into any trouble. He lives a nice, clean life, and does things the correct way. His humble upbringing began as a kid when he signed contracts with his parents on what type of person he should be. And he continues to live his life in that very same clean manner his parents demanded of him.

Maybe if more kids were brought up that way, and went on and lived the same clean lives Jeter has, this country would be in much better shape than it currently resides.

Mike is fond of saying that despite being the Yankees Captain, Jeter isn’t a real leader because he is not a locker room presence. It was always Jorge Posada and now CC Sabathia who are more vocal leaders. But one former Yankee noticed Jeter did hold sway in the clubhouse. Former Yankee (one season – 2003) Chris Hammond said of Jeter, “It’s his leadership more than anything. Whenever there’s a problem in the clubhouse – there are a lot of little problems on the Yankees – Derek is the first one to step in and say, ‘What’s the problem? We’ve got to cut this out.’ I really looked up to him. Playing in New York is a pressure job. It’s hard being the captain of the Yankees. But he has never stumbled.”

That sound like a guy who has tremendous respect in the clubhouse and did not need to be as vocal to get his point across.

Derek Jeter and Eli Manning do not promote themselves. Mike constantly talks about the “Jeter brand” as to implicate Jeter has a itinerary to manage his every move, with a full-time public relations department running his life. What Mike does not realize is that most players who have been built up by the media is usually the result of the players play on the field, and not the player own self-promotion. The media builds people up, and when the players reach a zenith, very often that same media desperately tries to bring that player down.

Derek Jeter is the perfect example of that media ploy. There is nothing terrible in his past, no skeletons in the closet. Silva then has to make an issue of Jeter not going to the 2011 All-Star game or Jeter being “greedy and out of touch” regarding his last contract negotiation.

What athlete DOESN’T want to make the most money they can? Is that really out of touch or greedy? Not in any world. When the Yankees signed Jeter to his most recent deal, it was just as much for what he did for the Yankees over his prior seasons as much as what he was going to give them over the next three seasons.

Speaking of greedy, did Mike conveniently forget that Elisha and his father (also name Elisha) told the San Diego Chargers prior to draft day in 2004 to NOT draft him because he would never play for them? Both Elisha’s forced that draft day trade to the New York Giants.

I believe that is greedier and out of touch than anything Jeter has done to the New York Yankees. And like I said earlier, this is not a hit piece on Eli. I am just stating facts.

Regarding players and perceptions, Mike likes to live on the negative. When I went out to the 2010 AFL to scout many of the games top prospects, I texted Mike that I had a conversation with 2010 top overall pick Bryce Harper*. Mike’s reply asked, “Was he a jerk?” Once Mike has a negative thought process on players, he continues his negativity throughout the player’s career, especially if these players are Yankees.

*By the way, Bryce was definitely not a jerk, he was honest and forthright, and Bryce’s father, who I sat and talked with for an hour out in Arizona, was very pleasant and engaging.

Mike says, “In a lot of ways Manning is everything Jeter pretends to be.” What does Jeter pretend to be? A consistent player who is at the top of his sport, living a clean life with no drama? It is interesting that Eli “the savior” was almost run out of town in his first year. After becoming the starting quarterback, Eli struggled early then received a phone call telling him to keep his head up, keep playing hard, doing what he always has done, and things will work out.

That phone call was from Derek Jeter.

Maybe Eli can pretend to be the way Jeter really is. In fact, that article states how Eli wanted to emulate Jeter. Mike conveniently left this factoid out on his latest Jeter hit piece.

Mike then goes on to call Jeter a phony and says that Jeter’s Q-rating has taken a hit. According to this article from last season (around the time of his 3,000th hit), Jeter is the most marketable person in sports. Both Jeter and Elisha have been involved with several corporate sponsorships. The way Silva views corporations in general, I am surprised he didn’t mention that as another Jeter negative.

The fourth paragraph in Mike’s piece begins with “Even with his faults, Jeter…” Again, what faults is Mike referring? The fact that Jeter works hard at his game? That Jeter is not the demonstrative personality who gives great quotes or is constantly in the public eye? I truly find it difficult to even find one fault on this guy.

Not every player (or person) has the personality of Babe Ruth (whose birthday was yesterday), very outgoing and gregarious, loving all the attention adorned upon him. Ruth was virtually bigger than life. Those Yankee heroes of the past all had different personalities. While Ruth was the life of every party, Lou Gehrig was the total opposite with quiet consistency; Joe DiMaggio liked the nightlife of the Big Apple, but was always protected by his “friends” at his Toots Shor’s hangout, and vigorously protected his private life; Mickey Mantle was always partying and getting into trouble, while Yogi Berra was the married homebody.

Jeter appears to be a combination of Gehrig and DiMaggio, with a smattering of Mickey thrown in. He lives a bachelor’s life in the city during the season, and that hotbed of glitter, St. Petersburg, in the off season. He does go out, but avoids the popular places and the paparazzi, who primarily try to get the negative story on celebrities. Like DiMaggio, Jeter is very private about his personal life. He seems to have a few close (and trusted) friends and avoids the hangers-on, you know those types of acquaintances who helped bring down the careers of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.

Jeter stays clean and hasn’t done drugs and drank to excess like Gooden and Strawberry, or even like Keith Hernandez did during his playing days. And imagine if Jeter was known to have been drinking beer in the clubhouse like Hernandez was during Game 6 of a World Series?

Yet, despite any real negatives in his professional or personal life, Mike continuously rips Jeter, like he has a grudge against The Captain. He also has grudges against Joba Chamberlain, Brian Cashman, and to a lesser extent, Jesus Montero. Mike never passes up the opportunity to attack the New York Yankees, and especially these four individuals.

I don’t believe it is actually a grudge, but an intense jealousy of how good the Yankees have been, how good they currently are and how much better they will always be over their cross-town rivals, the New York Mets.

Over the years, Mike has been great to deal with. He has helped finance some of my baseball excursions (spring training and the Arizona Fall League), helped with credentials (Winter Meetings) and consistently has me on his radio show.

But Mike appears to have a vendetta against players who are popular players, and other who have been hyped by aggressive media.

Derek Jeter has always been No. 1 on his hit list.

No one is perfect, not even Derek Jeter. All people have their issues and faults, but when media members like Mike Silva have to constantly create things in his mind to denigrate one of the most upstanding and professional sports figures in the entire sports industry, his own faults come to the forefront.

That is jealousy and envy.

There is a possibility that Jeter is very protective of his quotes, career and his life because of the 24/7/365 nature of today’s society with everyone having a camera phone, ready to get the “scoop” on a celebrity behaving badly. But the Derek Jeter you see in today’s society is likely the Derek Jeter you would have seen during Ruth’s playing days.

And that is the Jeter who Jeter knows and really is.


Most Intriguing Yankee Prospects for 2012

January 22, 2012

This is not a “Top 20″ or even a Top 10 list of New York Yankee prospects, as most of those lists include players who might never play in a major league game, let alone one for the Yankees. I even saw a lsit one time of T0p 50 Yankee prospects. Fifty? I believe that was three years ago, where one guy listed at #48 was a 27-year-old still in High A!  

However, the Yankees are notorious for not giving many of their prospects an opportunity.

One area that the Yankees do use their young guys is in the bullpen. But it takes them awhile to have trust in guys.

This is a piece on guys who could make their mark on the Yankee landscape in a big way this 2012 season.

One of the first things Brian Cashman changed when he gained control of the entire New York Yankees baseball organization in 2005 was to improve the draft and development program. While the first draft provided nothing, the second year in 2006 likely is the best draft of any team in recent memory.

No fewer than 10 players from that Yankees draft have reached the majors, and the one I thought would have one of the greatest impacts, Tim Norton, would also have reached the majors but has been beset by various injuries.

Norton was a college starter who the Yankees converted to short reliever, who began to dominate even up to his latest injury last season.

As mentioned earlier, the Yankees have been very good in developing relief pitchers during Cashman’s regime. They have produced Joba Chamberlain (insert argument here) and David Robertson, both college pitchers who progressed very quickly through the Yankee system.

With the known uncertainty with relief pitchers year to year, it is imperative for organizations to produce their own homegrown relief talent before the major league team spends $35 million on a reliever the team really does not need.

That is why two of my five most intriguing Yankee prospects for 2012 are current relievers in their system.

With Chamberlain and Phil Hughes (I am not fully convinced Hughes can be a full time starting pitcher) becoming free agents after 2013, it is imperative the Yankees develop a few more major league quality middle relievers to both replace Joba and Phil, who both will leave to become starters elsewhere, and to help keep a lower payroll to add flexibility when the team needs to add salary.

The Yankees also need to find if their recent surge in starting pitching prospects will turn beneficial for the franchise. The Tampa Bay Rays have continuously developed starting pitching which have kept their payroll low and their potential for winning the AL East high.

Here are my five most intriguing Yankees prospects for 2012:

1) Mark Montgomery – RHP

This guy possesses the same type of repertoire as David Robertson, with a big fastball and dynamic breaking ball, although M&Ms out pitch is a wicked slider. With only four appearances, Montgomery blew through the NY-Penn League last year and dominated an overmatched Sally League upon his quick promotion. In both leagues, Montgomery has double digit strikeout rates per 9 innings.

Similar to Robertson in 2007, who pitched at three levels his first full year in the system, look for Montgomery to start 2012 in High A Tampa, but don’t be surprised if he ends up in Triple-A  or higher.

The Yankees need more strikeout reliever types in the higher levels.

2) Manny Banuelos – LHP

Over the last three seasons, the Yankees system has begun to produce high level starting pitching talent, with the 20-year old Banuelos the cream of the crop. With a very easy mid-90s fastball and plus changeup, Banuelos reminds me of a young Johan Santana. However, Banuelos has a much better delivery than Santana, which should keep his arm healthy in the future.

Manny dominated the lower levels, but even though he still was only 20 and in his first full year at the higher levels, he struggled with his control a little during his brief time in Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. While seeing Banuelos in person many times, he tends to nibble, but his stuff is good enough to throw the ball over the plate and get away with minimal contact.

Now that he has a few innings at the higher levels, this season is important for Banuelos and the Yankees, who thus far have resisted the need the trade their prized left handed prospect for a mediocre veteran starting pitcher.  He needs to improve his control and confidence in his pitches, and show the Yankees their patience will be rewarded.

3) Mason Williams – OF

In only his first full (semi-full actually) season in pro ball, Williams also dominated the NY-Penn League with a .349 BA/.395 OBP/.468 SLG slash line, including 3 HRs. He used his speed to register 11 doubles and 6 triples, while swiping 28 stolen bases. With the dearth of Yankee outfield prospects in the high minors, I want the Yankees to challenge the 20-year old. I look for Williams to skip Charleston and move directly from Staten Island to High-A Tampa, close to his Florida home.

This move is not without precedent as another Yankees speedster, Brett Gardner, skipped Charleston on his run to the majors.

How Williams performs will go a long way as to whether the Yankees need to begin signing free agent outfielders to long term deals (and thus crippling their payroll) or going the year-by-year route until guys like Williams become major league ready by the 2014 season.

4) Branden Pinder – RHP

SI’s Tom Verducci wrote this piece about the Yankees’ David Robertson which indicated the diminutive reliever gets more “hop” on his fastball because of his long stride and extension to home plate. Well, Branden Pinder, closer for the Staten Island Yankees in 2011 after M&M was promoted, has that same long extension and “hop”.

Bringing the heat at 93-95 all year for the Baby Bombers, his fastball was actually registering to hitters at 96-98. Although the pitch was consistently up in the zone, he was able to get away with it at this level. His slider was sharp on occasion, but not consistent and he does throw slightly across his body.

These are very minor and correctable faults.

I don’t expect the Yankees to put both Pinder and Montgomery at High-A Tampa, so Pinder will likely start in Charleston and move up quickly as his strikeouts progress and how well Montgomery performs early on in Tampa. The Yankees normally do not work with kids much until they reach High-A Tampa, and this should provide the Yankees with a reason to move Pinder quickly through the system. Get him to Tampa and have the Tampa staff work on improving that slider and delivery.

As with Montgomery, the Yankees want to continue their development with high impact relief arms and Pinder fits that profile very well.

5) Gary Sanchez – C

I had a few others considered for this spot including J. R. Murphy and David Adams, two kids who are always hurt.

However, depending how he improves, Sanchez gives the Yankees flexibility and options. Even with the trade of Jesus Montero, the Yankees are still heavy in catching prospects, and Sanchez, with his power arm and bat is likely the brightest of the bunch.

While hitting .256/.335/.485 as an 18 year old in Low-A Charleston, Sanchez produced 17 home runs in only 343 PA, the same HR total as Jesus Montero at this level, in 220 LESS PAs! He is less refined as a hitter than Montero but has typical catcher bat qualities; that is, a solid .270-290 batting average projection with immense power.

I saw him play several times and he looked lackluster in the field and in the box, almost appearing “entitled” and “bored” at the same time. If Sanchez improves his mental approach to the game, which he should in Tampa with all the brass watching, this talented kid could push the Yankees to move Austin Romine (who I feel is overrated) out of a potential starting job.

Honorable Mentions

J.R. Murphy (great plate discipline), Chase Whitley (rapidly moving reliever), Slade Heathcott (health) and David Adams (health).


With Recent Acquisitions, Yanks Need to Rid Themselves of Burnett

January 21, 2012

Since Brian Cashman traded Jesus Montero for RHP Michael Pineda, and then signed RHP Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal for $10 million, the Yankees are flush with starting pitchers. It appears that in all the frenzied moments of last Friday, the Yankees lost track of how many major league ready starting pitchers they really had in their organization. For purposes of this article, they have eight who have pitched in the major leagues plus three others on the precipice, who I believe are ready for the major leagues.

The starting rotation appears to be some combination of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda, with Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett battling for the final spot. Dellin Betances also has a few major league innings under his belt, but should pitch most of the 2012 season at Triple-A Rochester.

The old, but relatively new, adage is you can’t have enough pitching, especially quality starting pitching. With injuries invariably occurring within most starting rotations, smart organizations will have an additional veteran or several ready youngsters to fill in starts where needed.

See also: 2011 Boston Red Sox.

But even after these two starting rotation moves, if I told you the Yankees can get another veteran starting pitcher for their rotation, who, during various seasons, led his league in games started, strikeouts, lowest hits per nine innings and fewest home runs per nine innings, would you be interested?

And the guy is only looking for a two-year deal for a little over $15 million per, just enough time for Manny Banuelos to get a little more seasoning in Triple-A before he takes a spot in the rotation. And this veteran wouldn’t cost the Yankees a draft pick or any prospects.

Wouldn’t this be a good pickup? Don’t you want him? He would really round out that new rotation, wouldn’t he?

But the Yankees currently have three veteran arms vying for that fifth spot. Garcia threw very well last season (ERA+ of 122) in the difficult-to-navigate lineups of the AL East. Hughes threw the ball much better late last season, showing glimpses of his 2010 performance. However, many people believe Burnett, because he is being paid $16.5 million this season (and next), is a lock to get that final spot.

Most Yankee fans dislike Burnett, and I had previously written that the Yankees shouldn’t even have signed him.

If you had the opportunity, would you sign Burnett again if he were a free agent? Of course not. Not even for two years at a total of $33 million, that same amount the Yankees still owe him? Nope.

Yet, that veteran pitcher I previously mentioned for a two-year deal is A.J. Burnett. He did lead his league at one time in all of those categories.

Since he is getting paid very well, some people feel AJ should get that fifth spot, and somehow will make him a better pitcher.

The current theory is that since Burnett is getting all that loot, there is no reason to “waste” that money by shipping him to the bullpen to throw maybe twice every week. I disagree. A thought is that his win total likely would look better if facing the other teams’ fifth starter most of the time.

My win total would be better facing a fifth starter more often, too.

But there are several reasons why Burnett should NOT be considered for the Yankee rotation and, in fact, should not even be on their roster come opening day.

First, Burnett is not a good pitcher. Not even close. Many people say “he has great stuff.” A.J. does NOT have great stuff. Great stuff does not get you a 34-35 record in three seasons as a Yankee, especially with this offense, and ERAs over 5.00 each of the last two seasons. Great stuff doesn’t allow you to allow the most walks (2009), most hit batters (2010), most wild pitches (2009 & 2011) in the league while also allowing 81 home runs during these three seasons.

Second, A.J. has mostly been a malcontent. When things didn’t go his way in Florida late in 2005, he lashed out against the team and was suspended for the balance of the season. During his Yankee tenure, Burnett appeared with a black eye, which no one in the organization talked about. Do you really think that if his role with the Yankees was reduced, he would abide by Joe Girardi’s decisions regarding his reduced playing time?

And forget about Burnett to the bullpen. The Yankees already have Mariano, Robertson and Soriano, with Joba coming back mid-year. They don’t need Burnett stirring up garbage down there.

Third, A.J. will not improve his performance. He is what he is, a mediocre pitcher who USED to have the best fastball in baseball. He also has a good curve ball, which he cannot control and rarely throws consistent strikes with the pitch. He has no command over either pitch, and that costs him dearly. Like 81 HRs dear over the last three seasons. As I said last off season, new pitching coach Larry Rothschild would not be able to “fix” Burnett.

Even though Burnett did stop lots of his movement during his delivery, it still did not help his command. How many times have you seen the Yankee catcher set up outside and A.J.’s pitch is delivered up and in or, even worse, down the middle, and it gets whacked pretty hard?

Too many times to count.

Fourth, A.J. is getting worse. He was terrible the second half of last season, getting bombed in most of his starts. His slash line allowed was .316/.387/.554/.942 OPS with a 6.85 ERA and 1.746 WHIP. All that with a K/9 rate of 9.3. So much for a pitchers ability to get strikeouts.

In Burnett’s 13 year career, he has had eight full seasons with minimum of 25 starts. His two worst seasons of those eight? Yep, his last two seasons, all in Yankee pinstripes. And his 2009 season wasn’t all that great, either.

What makes you think AJ will suddenly turn it around? His glowing personality? The way he glares at Kim Jones after a biting question after another bad start?

If A.J. was in the starting rotation, the Yankees would get a .500 or worse pitcher who loses concentration on the mound, and cracks under pressure.

Fifth, the Yankees are paying Phil Hughes $3.2 million this season. The Yankees are not paying Hughes that much money to pitch in the bullpen…at least not during the first half of the season. Hughes has been the Yankee golden child since being drafted in 2004, and the Yankees want to see how he looks as a starter this season before deciding whether he will become another bullpen arm, especially after his improved performance late last season. I just wish Hughes would stop throwing that cutter, as I feel it’s a velocity reducer.

Sixth, Freddy Garcia is a better pitcher, with better stuff than Burnett, and is currently signed for 2011. In 2010, Garcia had a better season than Burnett and appears to be a better teammate. Garcia took Nova under his wing last year and was a guiding force in Nova’s development. Don’t think for a second that Garcia will not be as equally valuable to the recently acquired Pineda. Unless Garcia gives them permission (a possibility now), the Yankee cannot trade Garcia until at least June. I hope they keep him around.

Let’s say Burnett repeats what he averaged over the last three seasons. That would be a sub .500 record, ERA of 4.79, BB/9 rate of 4.0, HR/9 rate of 1.2 with a WHIP of 1.447. Those are the numbers of a kid prospect usually puts up his rookie season. Hell, Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles had a better season than Burnett last year. Would you rather have a kid prospect putting up those numbers or A.J. Burnett? I even feel that as a fifth starter, A.J.’s attitude would worsen and his actual numbers would not even be that good.

So why not have David Phelps or Adam Warren, two pitchers who I feel are major league ready get those necessary starts? I have confidence both guys could at least replicate, or likely better, Burnett’s numbers from the last two seasons. In his most recent chat (1/19/12), ESPN’s Keith Law said he feels both Phelps and Warren are “major league ready, back end starters.”

I agree, and the Yankee would be better off with one of them in the rotation rather than AJ Burnett.

With a plethora of major league ready pitchers plus two (if not three or four) major league ready prospect starters in the minors, there is no room for Burnett on the staff, either in the rotation or the bullpen.

That means he should not even be on the roster.

But no one wants to trade for Burnett. The Yankees found that out when they shopped him over the last couple months. But those trade proposals had the Yankees paying about half of Burnett’s salary for the next two seasons. No team in its right mind would trade for Burnett and pay $16 million to him.

Well, maybe Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox would, as he did for Alex Rios and Jake Peavy. Maybe Williams would trade Gordon Beckham for Burnett.

Seriously, though, the prior trade proposals did not match what the trend is for other veteran, high-price pitchers. That is for the current team to pay MOST of the salary, like the Chicago Cubs did with Carlos Zambrano to the Miami Marlins, and Atlanta Braves did with trading Derek Lowe to the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees should be willing to pay $30 million of the current $33 million Burnett is currently owed. That would then interest a few teams.

That is money wasted, but what good is it having Burnett pitch due to his salary, if he continues to pitch very badly? That is like a stock trader throwing good money after bad money when the bad stock goes down in value. Burnett’s salary is already a sunk cost. No reason to hurt the Yankees in 2012 by pitching Burnett, especially with good team like the Tampa Bay Rays, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and maybe the Toronto Blue Jays fighting the Yankees for the precious few playoff spots.

If the Yankees pay most of Burnett’s salary, certain teams like the San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, and Detroit Tigers might be tempted; all teams who pitch in big parks, which Burnett might benefit. But a team like the Kansas City Royals with all their kids, they might need a veteran to allow the kids like Mike Montgomery and to develop a little more.

As told to the Kansas City Star’s Bob Dutton after Kansas City re-signed Bruce Chen, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said “We’re not done. We’re still looking to add another pitcher.”

No matter what team would want Burnett, it is imperative for the Yankees to rid themselves of a guy who really isn’t any good. If no trades can be made, I would vote for an outright release. There are much better opportunities for the Yankees rotation and bullpen now and in the future.


New York Yankees Make Two Mistakes With Their 40 Man Roster Decisions

November 22, 2010

Let’s preface this piece by saying the Rule 5 draft is the most overrated way to obtain talent for your organization. The reason why is most teams know their own organizations players pretty well.

They know the players make up as well as their games.

Can the player handle pressure?

Do they have a good work ethic to get better as a player?

All players who play professional baseball have talent, but talent will get you only so far. Most guys left off 40 man rosters are at Double A and below, and if they have not performed well enough after 3+ years in the organization, they likely never will.

For a major league organization to select one of these lower-level, minor leaguers, they would have to keep them on their major league roster for the entire season.

With 25 man roster spots scarce, and the manner in which managers change pitchers during a game, most teams carry 12 pitchers. That leaves very few spots for non-regular position players. 

What team wants to carry a Double A type player who will not get much playing time, thus wasting a valuable bench spot?  

That is why positional players rarely get selected AND kept, while pitchers are the favorites, mostly selected by bottom feeder teams.

Craig_heyer_crop_340x234

If a team is bad, why not take a chance on the guy who throws 95 and stick him as the seventh man in the bullpen?  

Last week the Yankees assigned IF/OF Brandon Laird, RHP Dellin Betances and RHP Ryan Pope to their 40 man roster, removing them from being selected in the Rule 5 draft. All showed enough over the 2010 season that they could be selected—and kept—by a second division club.

All three probably would have been selected AND kept by their team for the full season.

Laird has power and can play all four corners, while Betances and Pope throw hard and did very well at Double A Trenton. Pope was a dominating closer at Trenton after being moved from the rotation to the bullpen mid-season.

Either hurler would make the Pittsburgh Pirates 12-man pitching staff.

But while these three selections are great moves, many times the New York Yankees have made some weird choices regarding their 40-man rosters. They have mostly stored young pitching on their roster, and over the last five seasons, the likes of Eric Hacker, Chase Wright, Jeff Kennard, Steven White and Matt DeSalvo have taken up 40-man spots.

Even Kei Igawa was coveted at one point and a 40-man roster member.

None of those guys made an impact in the major leagues, yet they were deemed worthy of future Yankee greatness and a cherished 40-man roster spot.

But why?

They were young pitchers who—at various times in the minor leagues—actually showed promise and with young pitching the most desired commodity in all of baseball, teams hoard the talent.

For example, Chase Wright was the High A Florida State League “Pitcher of the Year” in 2006. But his Yankee claim to fame was allowing four consecutive home runs to the Boston Red Sox in the third inning on April 22, 2007.

The other guys didn’t fare very well either although many never really got a chance. Almost two years ago I wrote a piece that the worst place to be for a young pitcher to be is on the Yankee 40-man roster.

Why do the Yankees save all these young pitchers with only mediocre talent?

Furthermore, why do they keep these pitchers and not give them a decent chance?

Keeping them on the 40-man roster means you think that these kids are able to pitch in the major leagues because if they are not protected, they can be claimed in the Rule 5 draft.

The three 2010 additions gave the Yankees 33 guys on their current 40 man roster, leaving seven available spaces. Add one each for Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and lets say for arguments sake, Cliff Lee, and that leaves three additional open spots.

And more if you really want to trim the fat of Reegie Corona (not needed with Eduardo Nunez above him) and Kevin Russo (obsolete with Laird on board).

Damaso Marte might not even pitch in 2011 either.

But while the Yankees did keep those three guys on the 40-man, they did not protect two guys who should have been protected, especially with three—or more—open spots. 

I would have also selected Craig Heyer and Lance Pendleton, both right handed pitchers.  

I have spoken of Heyer recently, having watched him since his first season in Staten Island in 2007. Heyer has spent the last two seasons at High A Tampa and is an extreme strike thrower, generating lots of ground balls.  

The reason he probably was sent to the AFL was to see how he fared against better competition than what he was accustomed in High A ball. Heyer answered the challenge and performed well out in the Arizona Fall League, basically having one bad outing.

He would fit nicely in the Trenton bullpen as a swing man, able to spot start on occasion. He impressed enough scouts in the AFL, that some teams (Arizona, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee) can take a chance on a guy who throws strikes and keeps everything at the knees or below.

I might even throw out a guarantee that the Diamondbacks grab him up, since new GM Kevin Towers saw Heyer pitch when he scouted for the Yankees this past summer. The D’Backs also need ground ball pitchers in that stadium.

Pendleton was drafted in 2005 from Rice University—the “arm injury waiting to happen” school.

Sure enough, Pendleton did have Tommy John surgery after being drafted, missing almost all of the 2006 and 2007 seasons. But since returning, Pendleton has started 23, 26 and 27 games over the last three seasons, quietly working his way up to Triple A.

He is very consistent in his walk and strikeout rates, and while he is not going to be a major league starter this year out of the gate, he sure is good enough to take a chance as a 12th man on staff.

But the main reason for keeping Pendleton is insurance.

While I respect the Yankees allowing Pendleton to maybe get a shot at the majors sooner with another organization, why let him walk for nothing instead of keeping him and letting him eat up innings at Triple A in 2011?

He threw 155 innings this past season, and could go 180+ this season pitching every five days.

The opening Scranton staff is likely looking at David Phelps, Hector Noesi and D.J. Mitchell at three of the spots with Kei Igawa, George Kontos and Romulo Sanchez battling for other starting roles.

Depending what happens with Pettitte and possibly Lee signing, Ivan Nova could also be starting the season in Scranton.

The Yankees also like to keep 30 year-old former injured hurlers in Scranton—with John Van Benschoten, Tim Redding, Jason Hirsch types permeating the AAA roster. Because of their major league “experience” those guys end up as the Dustin Moseley’s of the major leagues.

Not very good.

So Pendleton would at least give the Yankees starting pitching stability at the Triple A level, giving the organization another durable in-house option. 

The Yankees might not think he will be selected, or if he is, he might not last the year.

But why risk it? Especially with spots open.  

I believe the Yankees are going to make some trades this off season, moving around valuable minor league talent, with the need for Heyer and Pendleton as pitching depth much more important.

And it would only cost them two of those scarce, coveted, extremely valuable 40-man roster spots.

The same spots once occupied by the Steven White’s and Kei Igawa’s of the universe.


MLB Rumors: Texas Rangers or New York Yankees? Why Cliff Lee Ends Up In Texas

October 19, 2010

After last night’s performance, there is no way the Texas Rangers can let Cliff Lee walk as a free agent.

Even winning the World Series this season would not be worth it to the franchise if Lee walks, goes to a rival playoff team like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or even their division rival Los Angeles Angels*.

*I mean why not the Angels? They could sign Lee, then move the Dan Haren contract if they want. Then they would have a rotation of Lee, Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Joel Piniero and Scott Kazmir. I say they can move Haren because I do not believe anybody would take Kazmir, or Piniero. Both are free agents after this year anyway, so the Angels would save on those contracts in 2012.

I also think Lee would get a kick out of dominating a weak A.L. West many more seasons.

But the Angels probably can use a solid bat in the middle of the lineup rather than another arm.

But how would Texas feel if Lee signed with the Yankees, as is expected by almost everybody on the planet?

Terrible. Like the rest of baseball.

That would then make the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies the odds on favorites again next season to reach the World Series.

The Rangers need Lee to have the bonafide ace at the top of their rotation, and for him to keep working with C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, three more lefties in Texas.

It is not just Lee who does well when he is there. The other young pitchers also improve. Imagine Lee with another full season working with Wilson and now Holland?

With the combination of their current roster—plus one of the top minor league systems—if Lee stays, Texas will be tough to beat over the next five plus seasons.

But, as I said, most people believe that the Yankees are going to sign Lee. After what Lee has done over the last two post-seasons, it is a head scratcher if a team like the Yankees do not sign him.

They have the big market, the bigger money (they have many, many monies!) and good friends in CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett already on the roster. I even wrote a piece some time ago singing the virtues of such a marriage.

Now I firmly believe it will not happen Yankee fans.

One, Texas will want him back very badly. With their ownership situation stabilized and a new T.V. contract signed, they also have many, many monies.

And Lee being from Arkansas appears to fit in nicely with the other southern boys in Texas.

But another reason why Lee will not be in pinstripes next season is that the Yankees can’t afford him on a seven year, $160 million Sabathia type contract. How many nine figure contracts can one team have? Even if they are the Yankees?

The Yankees have $145 million already tied up for next year, add $40 million more for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and probably Andy Pettitte. Andy is not retiring, not after a game like he pitched last night. It is very tough to leave a game you played for so long, especially when the player is still performing at a high level.

And with the various arbitration cases of Phil Hughes, Joba and others, that is a lot of cash already spent. Plus Burnett’s contract is like an albatross around the Yankees luxury tax necks.

Adding another $20 million for seven more years of Lee pushes next years payroll to $205 million. Funny, but every time I saw Lee pumped his fist and smiling last night, I envisioned him counting higher and higher during winter negotiations.

And there could be lots of dead money for the Yankees next year, too.

What last night’s game solidified for me is that Alex Rodriguez can not play an adequate third base anymore.

He literally can not move to his left one foot to attempt to reach a ground ball in the hole. Several ground balls last night were not even hit that hard and got through there without Alex getting close.

Maybe that is one reason why Jeter seems to have limited range up the middle. He needs to compensate more to his right due to Alex’s limited range to his left. I did read this year that scouts have seen Jeter position himself in different spots this year, the first time all career he has done that.

Do not be surprised if Alex has more work done this off season on his surgically repaired right hip.

So if Alex has limited abilities in the field, he will need to be a DH sooner than expected, which limits his value for the money he receiving.

More somewhat dead money.

Too many older players on the roster already, more legendary Yankees to be signed this off season and too much dead weight money for Burnett and Rodriguez.

Doesn’t sound like it would be wise to add a 33-year-old pitcher to a $160 million contract guaranteed to age 40.

Brian Cashman is smarter than that and will try and work a trade for a younger, but still well established pitcher rather than try and sign Lee.

But rest assured, he will “remain in the bidding” to drive the price up for whoever lands Lee’s services.


New York Yankees: A.J. Burnett Needs to Start In The ALCS

October 14, 2010

We now know the New York Yankees roster and their pitching rotation for the ALCS.

A.J. Burnett will start Game Four in Yankee Stadium. And while many people feel it is the wrong move, it is definitely the correct move for the Yankees to make if they want to advance to the World Series.

While many fans want CC Sabathia to throw games One, Four and Seven on three days rest, it would be foolish to heap that much on the big guy. With better performances by Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes in the ALDS, it would benefit the Yankees if all three of their ALDS starters were scheduled for two games each on regular rest in this series.

I would much rather have all three of the Yankees top starters pitching two games each than CC running out there three times. Overall, the Yankees starters are much better than the Rangers starters, even including Cliff Lee.

And including A.J. Burnett.

Other than Lee and Wilson, the other two Rangers starters are not that good.

Colby Lewis was an All-Star for the first month of the season, but has thrown for almost a full run higher in the second half. Tommy Hunter is two runs higher in the second half, and much better at home than on the road.

He pitches at Yankee Stadium in Game Four, going up against Burnett.

I wrote it was a mistake for the Yankees to keep A.J. on the ALDS roster because he was never going to be used. First, he is not a relief type pitcher as he does not throw consistent strikes, the key ingredient to being a successful relief pitcher.

Second, keeping A.J. off the ALDS roster would allow him to stay fresh by going down to Tampa and pitching in real games down there, keeping himself in pitching shape. It would

The biggest issue for starting pitchers is when they pitch with too many days rest. Their command suffers. A.J. will have had 17 days off from live pitching when he toes the rubber in Game Four Tuesday night.

And Burnett is already having issues with his command now that he back throwing to live hitters.

Sabathia had eight days from his last start of the regular season to his ALDS start. CC lacked command in that start, allowed five hits, walked three and missed his locations all game long.

David Price missed the same amount of days before his first ALDS start and had a similarly outing. His second outing in the ALDS (although he received another loss) was much better command wise.

So, AJ has to many days off. So why should he still get a start in the ALCS?

It will make the other starters better. The time period between their first and second starts will be on normal rest. While I believe Sabathia on nine days rest will struggle again tomorrow night, he will grind through that game, and the Yankees will come out on top.

He could go on three days rest.

And both Hughes, the up and coming young stud, and Pettitte, the aging but still very effective (and oftentimes dominating) lefty, will not be thrown on three days rest. The Yankees will not do that to their No. 2 and No. 3 starters, at least not in the ALCS.

If Hughes and Pettitte were going on three days rest, they would likely be limited in the innings they throw in their first games, probably six. Limited innings would severely put an added emphasis on the back end of the bullpen.

The bullpen has been good over the second half of the season. The Brian Cashman trade for Kerry Wood has solidified an already strong pen, and has appeared to lift the performances of most others back there.

But if Hughes and Pettitte become six inning pitchers, I do not know if the bullpen will be able to get nine outs per game not started by Sabathia. CC’s three day rest start in last season’s ALCS was an eight inning gem, but the other pitchers all had that extra day of rest and went on regular rest.  

No extra day this season. Hughes and Pettitte are not three day rest guys this season.

Not when they have a starting pitcher in Burnett who can possibly go out in Game Four and pitch a good ball game like he did last year in Game Two of the World Series.

But if bad A.J. shows up, hitting the barrels of bats, going deep into counts and walking hitters, Joe Girardi will pull him early in Game Four.

That is why Sergio Mitre is again on the roster, and was pretty good during the season coming in relief. In 13 relief appearancesof more than one inning, Mitre only allowed a run in four of them.

Mitre will likely keep the Yankees in the game if Burnett falters early, but if Burnett is on, the Yankees will have easier access to a second straight World Series.


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