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).


New York Yankees: Can They Pry Away Zack Greinke From the Kansas City Royals?

October 11, 2010

I want to preface this by saying that I heard from a friend who was at several of the Kansas City Royals instructional league games/practices/workouts last week. All the general talk amongst Royals people was Zack Greinke and if he will be traded this offseason.

Greinke has a contract which runs through 2012, when he will be all of 29 when he reaches free agency.

But general consensus of those associated Royals employees was NO, Greinke would not be traded this offseason. The most likely scenario is he could be moved during the 2011 or even 2012 trade deadline.

And the Royals would want top dollar in trade value if and when he might be traded.

The same questions arise when a pitcher of Greinke’s caliber (and prime age) might become available via trade:

1) What teams have the financial capability to pony up the type of money to bring on $26 million over the next two seasons and possible demands via an extension?

2) What team has the type of prospects, especially Major League-ready pitching prospects, which a team like the Royals would want back in trade?

There are the typical teams which have the dollars, such as the New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves and both Chicago teams. But none of those teams has anywhere near the prospects that several other teams do.

The Mets’ and Red Sox’s systems are not that deep, the Angels just traded for Dan Haren and like their top system guys and the White Sox appeared to have traded their entire farm system for Jake Peavy and Manny Ramirez.

The Braves have quaite a few young pitching prospects, but they are at lower levels, and the Royals want at least one arm with Major League ready talent. The Florida Marlins have tons of good top level and Major League prospect players, but they are in the same boat as the Royals.

They keep their young guys to replenish the Major League team with good, young and cheap talent. In fact, the Marlins followed the Royals’ lead by signing their top pitching stud, Josh Johnson, to a multi-year deal. Guys like Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, Chris Coghlan, and Chris Volstad are not going to be moved to take on more payroll.

The Cardinals have a few good young pitchers in their system and also have the somewhat disgruntled Colby Rasmus possibly available. If Tony LaRussa returns to St. Louis, could Rasmus be part of a deal for Greinke? 

Probably not. The Cardinals might not have enough money for their own guys. They need to re-sign Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter (at least one of the two) and Albert Pujols to longer deals in the next year or two.

The Tampa Bay Rays inquired about Greinke this past trading deadline, and would have done a deal if available. They have the prospects and were willing to handle the current salary structure.

But I believe they were looking for in-season help, and while not looking to trade this offseason, the Rays could possibly try and work something out next season if the need arises. Tampa seems pretty satisfied with what they have now. 

David Price, Matt Garza, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and probably Jeremy Hellickson taking over for James Shields, who also could be traded, provide Tampa with a formidable rotation for 2011.

There are just not that many teams which have the financial and prospect capabilities to pull off this type of trade.

Well, except one.  

The New York Yankees have the money. And with the player development side built up behind General Manager Brian Cashman, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and Senior V.P. Mark Newman, they now have one of the top farm systems in all of baseball.

I don’t care what Baseball America says or how they rank the Yankees. The pinstripe parade of young talent has already produced quality Major League talent, and is strong at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, especially in the area of pitching.

Good arms like Manny Banuelos, Adam Warren, David Phelps, Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, D.J. Mitchell, and Ivan Nova not only provide the Yankees with multiple arms ready to contribute in the Bronx, but also valuable trade bait to obtain top major league talent.

There are only so many spots open in a Major League starting rotation, and the Yankees, with their penchant in spending money on Major League arms, are not going to keep all this talent in house.

It is just not possible. They can keep several of these kids in the Minor Leagues for a few more seasons, but most need to be brought up or moved. No way they all get their Yankee chance.

They already tried to trade Warren as part of the Cliff Lee deal this past July, adding him when Seattle balked at the injured David Adams. And I still believe the Mariners made a terrible decision by taking the Rangers deal over that of the Yankees.  

I have seen most of the above Yankee farm hands pitch several times and while many are keepers, most are trade chips.

I love Banuelos, Warren, and Phelps, and with his power fastball and knee bucking breaking pitch, I believe Brackman is more suited to a late inning relief role. Betances is good, with great strikeout capabilites, but I do not believe he has the strike zone command yet to be the top of the rotation starter most others believe.

Most guys look at the size and wow factor and deem them “high ceiling” guys. Power guys get all the attention, but guys who get hitters out with an array of pitches are better suited in the majors. I like my starting pitchers who can throw consistent strikes to both sides of the plate and have command within the strike zone.

Like Banuelos, Warren and Phelps.

I have seen Dellin pitch several times, he is a nice kid, but throws too many fat pitches over the middle of the plate. He does not have that great command right now, and I don’t believe he can get that down the road.

But he can be one of the key chips to get Greinke from the Royals. Why? Because many others believe he is a top of the rotation starter. 

He had a good season coming back from Tommy John surgery, and with Cashman coming out saying he was possibly “the best pitching prospect we have ever had,” his value might be highest right now, especially with the history of arm injuries.

And since Brackman is better suited for the pen, and ready for the Majors sometimes in 2011, that makes Joba Chamberlain expendable, too. The Royals want two top pitching guys and the Yankees have that in Betances and Joba.  

And Phil Hughes isn’t going anywhere.

I would package those two right handers and and any positional prospect not named Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy, or Gary Sanchez. While I am not enamored with Romine, I do believe that the young catcher would be more valuable traded for a need sometime next season.  

But will the Royals trade their ace?

The Royals have several young pitchers who are very highly rated in Mike Montgomery, Danny Duffy, Christopher Dwyer, and John Lamb, all left-handed and all who did well at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, a very tough park to pitch. Will Smith and former top pick Aaron Crow are also in the mix.

Throw in former top picks Mike Moustakas at third base and Eric Hosmer at first base, and the Royals have pitching and sluggers to anchor what looks like a solid core of young players, ready to all contribute in 2012.

And that is the rub. Do the Royals keep Greinke around to provide mentorship (and a right handed arm) for all the youngsters or do they trade him an help replenish with more Major League ready talent?

They will never be able to pay Greinke that type of big time money he will be due in 2013, and will save about $26 million over the next two seasons.

The trade would benefit the Royals. They would definitely allow the somewhat local product Joba to be a starter again, and he and Betances would add two right-handed power arms to the flurry of lefty pitching talent on the rise. As the Minnesota Twins proved all year, Joba would fare much better in the weaker A.L. Central.

The Royals will not really be a good team with Greinke now, they will not be able to afford him in two years, and they could get two power arms and a position player in return. If I were the Royals, I would shoot for the versatile Eduardo Nunez.

Besides recent first round pick shortstop Christian Colon, the Royals do not have another top middle infield prospect in the system. But if the Royals really want a catcher, then Romine is also expendable, maybe in addition to the two pitchers and Nunez. 

The Royals would be best suited to trade Greinke and the Yankees have the prospects to make the trade.


Javier Vazquez Back Into The Yankees Starting Rotation, But Why?

September 1, 2010

Back in 2007, the Yankees had a starting pitcher in the minors who blew through several levels of play. He regularly hit the gun at 95-97, even as late as the 7th inning inone game for the Trenton Thunder.

He was good starting pitching prospect, but the Yankees needed his power arm in their bullpen. So Joba Chamberlain was in the bullpen for the 2007 post season.

He was tried as a starting pitcher and despite not being Wes Ferrell right off the bat, he still did well considering he was restricted in more ways that Stephen Strasburg laughs at him.

But Joba was perceived to be a better pitcher as a reliever (where he was needed) and the numbers appeared to show this fact. Even before this inconsistent season from the pen, Joba has a lower ERA, WHIP, and higher strikeout and K/BB rates as a reliever.

Despite only starting 43 games, Joba was better in the pen than as a starter. The debate was fierce and everyone had an opinion.

However, the Yankees are going in a different direction with another pitcher who gets much better results when he comes out of the bullpen.

Manager Joe Girardi said today that Javier Vazquez will move back into the rotation on Saturday, replacing Dustin Moseley. This comes on the heels of Vazquez’ two really good relief appearances over the past week.

In the first one on August 25th, Vazquez came in the middle of the 4th inning to replace Phil Hughes. Javy completed the game, going 4.1 innings, allowing two hits, one earned run, while walking one. He struck out two.

The second appearance was on August 30th, where Vazquez replaced the increasingly ineffective Moseley. Once again, Javy finished the game, cruising through almsot five very effective innings. He finished with 4.2 IP, allowing two hits, one earned run, walked one hitter while striking out six batters.

In his last two appearances, both in relief of ineffective starting pitchers, and totaled nine innings of two run ball. He kept the Yankees in the first game (an eventual loss to Toronto) and got the win in relief of Moseley.

He also got the win in the May 17th game versus Boston, when he came in relief and struck out Kevin Youkilis in a big late inning situation. That was the game which Marcus Thames homered off of Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the 9th inning.

As a reliever, Vazquez has a 1.93 ERA, 0.643 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 4.5 SO/BB and a .125 BAA. All those numbers are considerably better than the 5.07 ERA, 1.366 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 1.9 SO/BB, and .257 BAA.

So then why put Vazquez back into the rotation? He pitches so much better out of the pen in his long-man role. At the point when Vazquez enteres games, either the Yankees are behind a few runs or the game is close and the Yankees have scored a bunch of runs already.

The game is already in its groove, and the big pressure of starting is off. Does Vazquez relish this lack of pressure role, where he is being used to give the Yankees innings?

Probably. Although he is a veteran pitcher, the pressure of New York was the reason why many people thought he wouldn’t pitch well this year after the off season trade with the Atlanta Braves.

With Ivan Nova, Moseley’s spot, and Phil Hughes commanding three straight starts in the current rotation, that is a lot of possible innings for the bullpen to pitch. You need a long man to maybe keep the Yankees in the game if one of those guys hit the showers early.

Like Hughes did on August 25th, and Moseley did two days ago.

Vazquez and Chad Gaudin (unbelievably surprising!) have formed a nice, recent one-two middle relief punch. Gaudin pitched well last night, throwing three innings in relief of another short Hughes outing.

But Moseley is not a very good pitcher, and should not start this Saturday. He is 2-1 but averages fewer than five innings a start. He’s walked 13 and struck out 11 while allowing five home runs, resulting in a 6.41 ERA.

But who to start on Saturday? You can always go the Sergio Mitre route, but that doesn’t excite me.

Nova has done well in his recall from Triple A so why not got down that well once again? While Moseley ws blowing up Monday night in the Bronx, David Phelps was throwing five innings of opne run ball in Triple A.

Phelps has a 3.23 ERA in 11 appearances. While he does allow a fair share of hits, Phelps is similar to Nova in that he does not walk many hitters (13 in 62 AAA innings). You can give up hits or walks, just don’t be good at allowing both in the same game.

Phelps doesn’t need to be on the Yankees 40 man roster until after next season, I can not see him spending all his time in AAA all next year. He will pitch in the majors sometime in 2011.  

The Yankees have too many wasted spots on their 40 man roster, such as Chad Huffman, Wilkin De La Rosa, Reegie Corona and even Mitre is expendable. He will never get a post season roster spot.

So I say lets go with Phelps and see what he can do. It won’t be for long since Andy Pettitte will be back in two weeks.

Vazquez needs to stay in the bullpen now. He is performing well in that role.

Let Phelps pitch and if he does well, you might have an idea for next years rotation with two guys (Nova and Phelps) who could challenge for a 2011 rotation spot. At the very least, it will increase his trade value in the off season.


The New York Yankees Should NOT Include Manuel Banuelos for Dan Haren

July 25, 2010

The Dan Haren trade has been discussed for a couple of days with the Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher coming to the Yankees in exchange for Joba Chamberlain and Triple A starting pitchers Zach McAllister (22 years old) and Ivan Nova, who is 23 years of age.

The last place Diamondbacks are also insisting that the Yankees pay all of the remaining salary for Haren, but also taking on either unreliable Chad Qualls or catcher Chris Snyder, both of whom have money let on their contracts. Qualls has about $750K left on his one year deal, while Snyder’s contract runs through next year to which he would be owed around $7 million total.

Paying Haren’s contract is fine, and teams which trade for a player should assume the contract. But asking for the trading team to assume the big contract and then to tell them they also must take another bad player or bad contract is a little greedy.

Especially when you are getting three talented arms, two of which the Diamondbacks can plug into their current pitching staff.

The Yankees rightfully declined that offer, insisting that while they will take on Haren’s contract, they are supposedly not interested in trading Joba or taking back another player.

Now the Diamondbacks are asking the Yankees for another pitcher, High A left-handed ace Manuel Banuelos. I have seen Banuelos pitch several times this season in Tampa, and reported on Banuelos a few weeks ago. Unless the Yankees are getting absolute top talent back, they should never trade Banuelos.

He will be a star.  

Although I believe the Yankees should make the three-for-one trade, I believe the Yankees are holding off on trading Joba to try to get the Diamondbacks to pay a portion of Haren’s salary. Any money the Yankees can get back on the Haren deal could be used next year for a run at potential free agent Cliff Lee.

If Haren becomes a Yankee, they will have about $58 million tied up in their four starting pitchers of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes (eligible for arbitration) and Haren. Based upon what he does this year in the post season for the Texas Rangers, Lee would want at least $20 million per season.

Either way the Yankees decide to go, Manuel Banuelos should never be included in a deal for Haren.

Banuelos is just too good.


New York Yankees: Top Five Replacements for the Great Mariano Rivera

July 14, 2010

Well replacement might be a tough word, because no one is going to ever replace the supreme production supplied by Mariano Rivera.

Replacing someone was as great as Rivera in their own line of work is the ultimate no-win situation. It rarely works out the same way, and no one usually remembers the replacements.

Quick: Who replaced Lou Gehrig at first base? Who replaced John Wooden at UCLA? Answers below.

Mariano is the greatest closer of all time. Not the greatest relief pitcher (that would be Rollie Fingers because of his multiple inning durability), but Mo is the one pitcher you want on the mound for three ninth inning outs holding a one run lead.

Finding a new closer is going to be a difficult challenge as no one knows how long Rivera will continue to want to pitch.

At age 40, Rivera has shown no signs of vulnerability. He still sports one of the best closer ERAs with 1.05 and 20 saves, and a WHIP of 0.641. He also retired an incredible 24 straight batters in the month of June.

Still highly effective, how long will Rivera want to pitch? Similar to Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, the Yankees will allow Rivera to make up his own mind when he wants to leave the game.

Rivera has mentioned that signing a series of one-year deals (similar to what Pettitte has done) would be acceptable to him.

I believe Rivera will pitch at least two more seasons after 2010. The “Core Four” will begin to gradually leave the team after this season (Pettitte retiring) and after 2011 (Jorge Posada not being re-signed).

If I were Mo, I would not want to retire the same season as another long time Yankee does.

I believe Rivera will then leave after the 2012 season, which makes getting my preferred replacement very difficult, as that guy is available sooner than the 2013 season.

Here are the five top candidates for the eventual new Yankees closer spot, and Joba Chamberlain is NOT on the list.

Answer to above questions: Gene Bartow replaced the Wizard of Westwood, and Babe Dahlgren replaced Gehrig at first base after his 2,130 consecutive games streak ended.

5 – Mark Melancon, Yankees Scranton AAA team

If they ever give this guy a chance of more than a couple mop up appearances, then he will show the Yankees that he will be the eventual closer.

Mark Melancon was drafted in 2006 with the idea of becoming the eventual Yankees closer. He was the very effective closer for the University of Arizona, a pitcher with a great mound demeanor and a bulldog want-the-ball attitude.

He has done everything you could ever want and need in the minors, including some dominating times in Triple A.

Melancon does three things you want in a relief pitcher: 1) He throws strikes, as he only walked 35 batters in three minor league seasons coming into 2010; 2) he strikes out hitters with his 95 MPH fastball and knee-buckling curve; and 3) he can go multiple innings.

He has struggled a little this season, but most of the damage has come in a few different games in his 34 appearances this year.

He deserves more of a major league opportunity than Chad Gaudin or Dustin Moseley. 

And when he gets more of an opportunity, he will show the Yankees that he can and will perform the function that he was drafted for in 2006.

Being the Yankees future closer. 

Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 50:1

4 – Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers

Valverde was a relatively unknown closer who toiled for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros for five and two seasons respectively, before signing with the Detroit Tigers prior to the 2010 season.

Valverde saved 47 and 41 games in 2007 and 2008, and has not slowed down since joining the senior circuit.

He sports a miniscule 0.92 ERA this year, allowing a scant four earned runs in 39 innings. Valverde has a WHIP of 0.821, walking 3.7 per nine innings, but allowing very few hits. Hitters are batting .125 off of him this season.

His strikeout rate has steadily declined over the years from a high of 12.6 per 9 IP in 2006 to a “measly” 8.3 per 9 this season.

Have no fear as Valverde usually gets two strikes on most hitters he faces, and finishes them off with a strikeout or weakly hit ground ball off his devastating splitter.

But one thing hurts Valverde’s chances of becoming the next Yankee closer.

Mariano will likely pitch two more seasons after 2010, and Valverde will be a free agent after 2011.

With the lack of quality closers available, some team will overpay for Valverde, and it is very likely he re-signs with the Tigers.

At the grand age of 34 when he becomes a free agent, I do not see Valverde accepting an eighth inning role for a year or two so he can eventually close with the Yankees.

And unless Rivera retires after one more season, I do not see the Yankees aggressively going after Valverde.

Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 20:1

3 – Jonathan Broxton, Los Angeles Dodgers

He is the current Los Angeles Dodgers closer.

Broxton is big and strong (6’4″ and close to 300 lbs!) with a massive lower body that screams high heat. He can register the guns all the way up to 100 MPH, and regularly hit 98-99 on the gun in closing the All-Star game out last night for the National League.

Over the last two seasons (his only two full years as a closer), Broxton has struck out about 13 hitters per nine innings, while having a WHIP around 1.000.

Those are two great traits for a dominating closer.

Like Jose Valverde, the only issue is that Broxton can become a free agent after the 2011 season, and will have many suitors vying for his work.

If Rivera wants to continue pitching, will the Yankees fork over big money for Broxton over four years, using him as a very highly paid set up guy for a season or two, then letting him close once Rivera retires?

This could happen as Broxton will only be 28 when he reaches free agency.

Will having the opportunity to eventually close for the New York Yankees be enough of a luring card for Broxton to forego his closer role for a year or two?

Or, since Rivera will be 42 in 2012, could both he and Rivera alternate as closer two years from now?

Broxton is the perfect fit for the Yankees, but what does scare me is his arm action, which is shown above. This type of action is ripe for injury, and not something which should be taken lightly, especially for a guy who throws as hard as Broxton does.

He is the perfect candidate to step right in as the future Yankee closer, but the timing of his free agency hurts his overall chances.

Odds of being the next Yankee closer –  7:1.

2 – Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals

Since he closes for the lowly Kansas City Royals, Soria is the best closer in the game that no one really talks about.

But people have been noticing him work lately as many have Soria pegged as possibly being traded to the Yankees as a set up man to Rivera for 2010.

Soria has put up dazzling numbers with a 162 game average of 2.13 ERA and a 0.994 WHIP with 37 saves. He walks only 2.5 per nine IP while striking out over 10 per nine IP.

He is signed through the 2011 season, with three club otions for 2012 ($6M), 2013 ($8M) and 2014 ($8.5M).

I do not believe the Royals will be wanting to pay Soria $8 million per in 2013, and could trade the closer to the Yankees sometime in 2012. If Soria is still effective two years from now, the Yankees will certainly have enough trade chips to whet the Royals’ appetite.

And two years after 2010 is when Rivera is likely to retire. But his odds decline a little as another team needs to be involved, and it is not just a straight free agent signing.

Odds of being the next Yankees closer – 5:1

1 – Huston Street, Colorado Rockies

Basically this deal works timing wise more than anything.

Huston Street will probably be a free agent after the 2012 season, just when I believe Mariano Rivera will retire.

When healthy, Huston is nothing less than very effective. He throws strikes, changes speeds and strikes out hitters at a good (although not great) rate.

Street just does not allow many hitters to get good contact off him. His career WHIP is 1.023 in 343 career innings.

Street is signed through 2012, but has a player option for $9 million in 2013. Assuming he is healthy and still effective at the then age of  28, if Street knows Rivera is retiring and the Yankees (among others) need a closer, Huston would be smart to decline the option and become a free agent.

The Yankees could easily give him a multi-year deal at $10 million per.

Street was rumored to be coming to the Yankees near the 2009 trade deadline, but the Yankees will have to wait a few seasons for his eventual arrival.

Odds of being the next Yankee closer – 3:1.

Honorable Mention – Current Yankee Farmhands

I would always allow a younger player to get an opportunity over a major league free agent, but the future job of Yankee closer is going to have so much scrutiny, it might not be a good idea to have a young player in that role.

It would not be fair to that youngster, and not fair to the fans, who would demand instant success. The role of closer is not allowed to have any failures, especially coming off the retirement of Mariano Rivera.

But the Yankees do have an abundance of young pitchers with strong arms, routinely hitting 95 MPH, with good control and two out pitches.

If the eventual closer was from the current ranks of farmhands, one of these young pitchers would likely be the next one:

Andrew Brackman – this 25 year old stands 6’10” and has finally become the prospect he was once destined.

Now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Brackman has been successful this year as a starting pitcher at High A Tampa, andwas then promoted to Double A Trenton.

He finally harnessed the one negative in his game—pitching control. Cleaning up some mechanical issues has allowed Brackman to reduce his walks to only 16 in 80 innings in 2010.

During the debacle which was his 2009 season in Low A Charleston, Brackman’s only success was when he was sent to the bullpen. While better than normal his first handful of relief appearances, his last four stints were stellar.

He did not walk anyone over those ten innings, allowing only six hits with no runs, HBP, or wild pitches while striking out nine.

Here is my report last year on his bullpen success.

Brackman has now begun to throw a sharp slider at 87 MPH to go along with his hammer curve and fastball which has now hit 96 MPH.

With all the Yankees’ starting pitcher prospects in the system, Brackman might be better suited in the bullpen.

History has already shown he can succeed there.

Graham Stoneburner – this guy has what it takes to be successful as a major league bullpen arm. He has a fastball at 95-96 MPH and a nasty slider which generates lots of swings and misses.

Here is my report on him from one of his Charleston starts.

He walks relatively few hitters, allows few hits and has one of the best WHIPs in the entire minors. He has also struck out exactly a batter per inning so far in 2010.

He was promoted so far this year from Low A Charleston to High A Tampa and likely will stay in steamy Florida State League all season.

It is only Single A baseball, but Stoneburner continues to impress the Yankee brass with his stuff and mound presence.

If he does not consistently generate a third pitch, like his improving change up, Stoneburner could make his major league debut in the bullpen as soon as next season.

Tim Norton – a real long shot as this 27-year-old has spent most of his career on various disabled lists, including missing the entire 2008 season with a shoulder injury requiring surgery. 

But I have liked his pitching style since seeing him in short season Staten Island in 2006.

But when he recently returned this season, he was nothing short of dominant, striking out well more than one per inning and having a WHIP well below 1.000. Norton has scrapped his splitter, which I have always said harms shoulders more than any other pitching factor.

But Norton, who has a serious nasty pitching mentality to dominate, is hurt again and on the Double A Trenton disabled list.


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.


The New York Yankees: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Segment No. 4

June 15, 2010

This is the latest installment of the 2010 New York Yankee progress, honoring the epic Clint Eastwood movie of the same name. According to the astute readers of imdb.com, the Baseball-Reference of the movie and T.V. industry, “Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ” is ranked as the No. 4 movie of all time .

What is more important is that the Yankees have vaulted themselves into the No. 1 record in the major leagues. With Sunday’s 9-5 win over the Houston Astros, combined with Tampa Bay’s 6-1 loss to the Florida Marlins, the Yankees and Rays are tied atop of the AL East with identical 40-23 records , the best record in MLB.

The Yankees have been 9-3 in June, fattening up on the Baltimore Orioles (5-1) and the Houston Astros (recent three game sweep), while losing two of three to the pitching-rich Toronto Blue Jays.

All numbers are from the last 14 days, unless noted.

Il Buono

No. 1 Robinson Cano —has slashed .395 BA/.469 OBP/.605 SLG/1.074 OPS, with three doubles, two homers, seven RBI and 13 runs scored. Even more impressive are his numbers over the last month at .443/.476/.660/1.136.

During one stretch of his recent 17 game hitting streak, Cano had multiple hits in eight straight (19-33, 3 2B, 3 HR, 14 RBI).

Simply ridiculous, and at the top of the leaderboards for American League MVP.

No. 2 Brett Gardner —How can you not love Brett the Jet?  After a mini-slump which brought his numbers down considerably, Gardner began to hit again (and walk), by slashing .455/.552/.773/1.324 over the last week. Included were a double, triple, and his third home run.

Until Sunday, that homer tied him for the New York city left field lead with the New York Mets Jason Bay, he of the $66 million contract. Bay hit his fourth home run Sunday, but Gardner still leads the very wealthy Bay in OPS (.822 vs. .806).

No. 3 Derek Jeter —Do you really think he was going to stay on the bad list forever? After going through a long funk at the plate and in the field, which prompted the annual “Is Derek Jeter Done?” articles, Jeter has ripped a .333/.391/.514/.906 line over the last month.

While many do not like it when Jeter goes after the first pitch, he is hitting .404 with a .908 OPS when hacking at the first offering. The key is swinging at good strikes.

No. 4 Curtis Granderson —While Granderson’s overall numbers since returning from the disabled list are not great, the team has picked up its pace since Curtis returned to the lineup and his position in center.

That is because we saw less of Randy Winn (before being released), Marcus Thames and rookie Kevin Russo.

The Yankees are 12-4 since his return, but were only 7-11 in the last 18 games he was out of the lineup.

I would still like Granderson to sit back more when he swings, as he is often out in front on the right leg during swings and misses.

No. 5 Nick Swisher —He is turning in to one of my favorite Yankee players. I was not a fan of the trade which brought him here, but he has done very well, and has been instrumental in the lengthening of the 2009 and 2010 lineups. Has hit a very consistent .308/.402/.495/896 with 19 runs, eight doubles, three homers and 16 RBI over last month.

No. 6 CC Sabathia —What? He is struggling, right? Well, he is 2-0 with a 3.21 ERA in his two June starts. A 6-3 record thus far should be 8-3, but CC lost a win at Boston because of a rain delay and another when Joe Girardi pulled CC early against the Sawx and the bullpen blew the game.

This is a durable pitcher who should be allowed to throw 125-135 pitches each start.

No. 7 Andy Pettitte —Happy Birthday to Pettitte, who turns 38 today. Imagine on Thursday when Pettitte faces Jamie Moyer, who is seven years older than Andy?

Age is no factor for Pettitte, who is still dominating lineups by changing speeds and hitting corners. Again, why do scouts always worry about velocity and arm strength when a guy who does not top 90 MPH can consistently get guys out?

No. 8 Yankee bullpen —Over the last two weeks, the main part of the bullpen, Mariano Rivera, Joba, D-Rob, Chan Ho Park and Damaso Marte have been outstanding. They have thrown 21 innings, allowing 12 hits, five walks, and struck out 23. That is a WHIP of .809 and the one earned run allowed leads to a miniscule 0.43 ERA.

No. 9 Javier Vazquez —He is 4-1, 3.03 ERA over the last month with a 0.918 WHIP. While he has allowed five home runs, Javy has only walked five over his last 33 innings. He has been the most consistent starter this side of Pettitte.

He is similar to Andy by changing speeds and hitting that outside corner to RH hitters with his curve ball being the key to his success.

Il brutto

No. 1 Francisco Cervelli— Wow! He has come back down to earth faster than the Space Shuttle. Over the last month, the Cisco Kid has hit under .200 with an OPS of .522. He still dos come through with key RBI singles.

His 13 hits (all singles) over the last month have produced 12 RBI. He is still a force on defense and calls a great game.

I love the way he watches the batter before he puts down the sign. Concentrate on Cervelli during a couple at bats tonight and you will see what I mean.

No. 2 Alex Rodriguez —it has nothing to do with his lack of power, because he is still hitting the ball hard. But his injury could be more severe than a few missing days. Any long term time missed could hurt the Yankees lineup at a time when it was finally complete. (I do not count Nick Johnson).

No. 3 Jorge Posada —Two swings doesn’t make a season. Posada was brutal before his two grand slam weekend, but he also swung the bat better in other at bats during the Houston Series.

Posada gets into a taking pitches groove once in a while, taking good hitting strikes. This leads to indecisiveness and too much thinking at the plate.

When Posada is aggressive and still taking his walks by not swinging at balls outside the zone, he is a much better hitter.

Stay aggressive and hit good pitches, Jorge!  

Il cattivo

No. 1 AJ Burnett —An 0-2 record with 7.11 ERA in June with four home runs allowed in two games. Combine that with five walks and 14 hits in 12.2 innings pitched, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Bad AJ go home, but tell your twin brother, good AJ, to come back out and play.

No. 2 Marcus Thames —basically it is the entire bench which stinks, but since I think Thames never should have made the team in the first place, he is my poster boy.

Thames is 2 for his last 22 with eight strikes out and an OPS of .322. By the time his injury heals, I hope Chad Huffman (or Jorge Vazquez from Triple A) takes his roster spot – for good.

Combine Thames with Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo and Chad Moeller, and the bench is 14 for 81 with four doubles and six RBI over the last month.

That is why Alex needs to be back in the lineup soon.

No. 3 Chad Gaudin —There is no conceivable reason why Gaudin actually pitches in games or is on the roster. He stinks!

Having been released twice already this season, once by the Yankees should only reiterate how bad this guy is.

There is no reason why Gaudin should have been in the June 5th game in the bottom of the 13th in a tie game at Toronto. It only took nine pitches before the Yankees were walking off the field.

That 13th inning rundown: Batter One – leadoff walk on FOUR pitches. Batter two – sac bunt on second pitch. Batter three – game winning single on an 0-2 count!

No way the Yankees should lose on the road to a division rival without using your best relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera.

Get rid of this loser, Gaudin, and bring up Mark Melancon for good.


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