Double A Prospect Report: Yankees Tyler Austin Looks Legit, but Slade Heathcott Needs Work

May 1, 2013

My home state of New Jersey is home to two affiliated minor league franchises, the Double A Eastern League Trenton Thunder, a New York Yankee affiliate, and the Low A South Atlantic League Lakewood Blue Claws, a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate. The Trenton home field is about 40 minutes away, while the Lakewood field is a mere 15 minutes away. I also get to see the short season Staten Island Yankees, the short season Yankee affiliate.

So I get a great opportunity to see three different levels of professional baseball, and two of the local major league teams for me. The Phillies actually play closer to my Jersey Shore home than either of the two New York teams.

I do like to see guys on more than one occasion before I assess their talent, especially here in the northeast, where early weather (usually rainy and cold) can cause slow starts by many players who are not used to such terrible weather*.

*One of the reasons Mike Trout wasn’t drafted higher than 27th in 2009 was because he played in New Jersey, which typically doesn’t get the same game opportunities of kids in Florida, Texas and California. Trout had scouts at his games, but during his senior year, the rainy weather was especially bad, and had canceled opportunities for many scouts to see Trout play. Can’t really draft what you don’t get to see.

However, I did see a couple games played by Trenton, when they hosted the Cleveland Indians Double-A affiliate Akron Aeros, and the Richmond Flying Squirrels, a San Francisco Giants affiliate, and will give my early reports. Since I am a Yankee fan, I generally follow the Yankee minor league teams closely and have seen games from every one of their affiliates.

Let me first get the analysis of the Akron team out of the way: I did not see anyone on this roster that will have an impact for the Cleveland Indians major league franchise. No one. Not anyone in their lineup, not even a single reliever. Chien-Hsiu Chen did not play in the game I saw, but has mostly DH’d this season. I saw a bunch of mid-range type players, with some who might become major leaguers, but few which warrant much conversation. One, a very large first baseman named Jesus Aguilar, has shown power in the past but he does not possess a good build and is brutal around first base.

Unless the Indians sign a bunch of quality free agents who perform, they could be bad for quite awhile. A handful of garbage they received in trades for CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee didn’t help their system.

The Richmond team had a couple of interesting players, former top picks. Joe Panik, a former 2011 first round pick, is similar to current Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford as he is a quality fielder who will never hit for any type of power. Panik was converted to second base this season and showed an ability to put the bat on the ball with two opposite field singles. He kept his hands tight on both hits, basically pushing the ball out to left field. These were hits more reminiscent of dead ball era game than the power game of today. While he does have strike zone discipline, he is similar to many of these “work the count” guys who take way too many hittable pitches over the middle of the plate. His second at bat saw Panik take two (very hittable) pitches down the middle, getting behind 0-2 before working the count even then pushing that first base hit.

The Giants 2011 second round pick, catcher Andrew Susac, showed good pitch recognition, never once flinching on off speed pitches out of the zone. He walked three times, and was especially impressive laying off several two strike sliders from one of the hard throwing Yankee relievers.  I wasn’t a big fan of his pre-swing hand movements, and his tendency to pull his front shoulder out too early which forces his arms to cast out from his body. But those are easily correctable faults a decent hitting coach should be able to fix in the cage.

Behind the plate Susac receives the ball well and has good footwork when throwing. Who knows what the Giants will do with Buster Posey a few years from now (maybe move him to 1B?) which could all depend on how well Susac develops.

The Yankees Double A squad is full of top prospects, with three of their top 11 at this level, all of which are on the offensive side. There are also boatloads of bullpen arms, many who can bring the heat.

First, the offense.

Tyler Austin

Austin is ranked by MLB.com as the third ranked Yankee prospect, behind Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams, both who are a level below. Austin is not very patient at the plate (he often is a first pitch swinger), but does draw his share of free passes as he has a pretty good idea of the strike zone. However, he sometimes expands the zone early in the count, especially on the first pitch. While I love first pitch hitters, especially with runners in scoring position, it is usually better to swing at pitches in your zone in 0-0 counts.

Austin has a wait and be quick approach, allowing the ball to get deep before unleashing quick hands directly to the ball. In one at bat, Austin belted a line drive single up the middle on a 1-2 change up, waiting for the outside corner pitch to get there before he attacked. He also pulls his hands in pretty well on inside heat, often getting the barrel on the ball.

He never appears off balance whether swinging the bat or taking pitches. In one at bat versus a submariner, Austin calmy fouled off two tough breaking pitches before working an eight pitch walk.

Austin didn’t have many opportunities in the field, but he appears to have strong instincts, often adjusting his pre-pitch positioning due to the count.

It is these factors which will propel Austin up the ladder to the majors. Although he has started slow this season with the average and power numbers, these should improve due to Austin’s quality approach.

Slade Heathcott

I had seen Heathcott a couple seasons ago in Charleston, and he was raw, showing great speed, good outfield range and strong throwing arm, but lacked refinement. I heard quite a few great things from his Arizona Fall League appearance, and was looking to see Heathcott improve on his quality 2012 season.

Man, was I severely disappointed.

Heathcott was often off balance when swinging (vs. a LH starter), mainly all upper body, and using nothing from his lower half. This caused him to move over his front side several times and end up swinging one handed. His swing was very reminiscent of current Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner, another hitter who rarely uses his lower half.

Heathcott showed his tremendous speed in forcing the shortstop into an error on a routine ground ball, and putting down a great bunt to the first baseman for a single. Bunting is an important part of Slade’s game, even from his time in Charleston.

With Heathcott’s injury history it is very apparent the Yankees want him healthy all season. On one play a shallow fly ball was hit to center and Slade rushed in, then slowed to let the ball fall just in front of him. A clean hit for sure, but I was thinking the old 110% effort Slade would have dove for that ball. It is very clear to me the Yankees have spoken to Heathcott about not going all out on outfield plays.

I was disappointed that Heathcott has such a terrible swing at this point of his 2013 season, a season which has such high promise. It is time for the Thunder hitting coach to get some extra cage time with Heathcott to change his overall mechanics to use his lower half (that is where power is derived) and stay back.

Ramon Flores

Flores is a tweener guy who shows very good hitting skills, great strike zone discipline, but doesn’t project for me as having much future power.

He takes an inordinate amount of pitches, early and late in the count, ahead and behind, many just off the plate even with two strikes. Flores just doesn’t swing at bad pitches or good pitchers pitches, which is very important. He has a great line drive stroke and quick bat, but no loft where home runs will come. He is adequate in the outfield, and has shown the ability to play each of the outfield positions. This versatility, plate discipline lends Flores as a fourth outfielder type, but if he gets to the major leagues, working with Kevin Long could help Flores in the power department and boost his potential.

Kyle Roller

Speaking of power, Kyle Roller has immense power. The over sized, but compact left handed hitter is mostly pull oriented, often pulling off the ball and letting his hands get away from his body. Roller has a slight drop to his hands and sometimes gets over his front side, bringing his hands along for that ride. However, on one swing Roller kept his hands in and belted a very high and long home run, which had tremendous back spin – a true major league blast. If Roller can get his swing a little more compact, and stay back more consistently, he could do major damage with a short right field porch.

He was smoother than I expected around the first base bag, shifting his feet well and showing the ability to throw to second base, but he lacks range and wouldn’t be a long term, full time defensive option.

Rob Segedin

A very solid hitter who consistently puts the bat on the ball and can work the ball from line to line. But Segedin could be had inside and I don’t project much home run power with his type of swing. He also rotates too much, pulling up and out on the ball, and can roll the ball over too much.

He is also very shaky on defense, both with a consistent glove and ability to make a quality throw.

Neil Medchill

There has been lots of talk about the possibility Medchill has resurrected his prospect status with a hot start including four home runs.

Stop the talk, please. Medchill still has a long swing which causes him to come around the ball far too often. During the Richmond game I saw, I was sitting behind a Flying Squirrel starting pitcher keeping a chart. On one pitch Medchill swung and fouled off a pitch. I said to the pitcher, “You can get this guy inside all day long with that swing.” He replied, “You see that too?” NEXT PITCH on inside corner splintered Medchill’s bat for a weak ground ball to second base.

Medchill can connect on mistakes over the plate once in a while, but at higher levels when pitchers can locate much better, his power will be non-existent, but the strikeouts will still be there.

Daniel Burawa

Burawa was flat out filthy the first time I saw him. Fastball was between 94-96 and he hit 97 six times. Everything was down in the zone, and the fastball and slider was getting quite a few swings and misses. He was also able to back door his slider for called strikes.

His arm gets up high pretty early and he throws slightly across his body, with his foot plant off by a couple inches in his direct line to the plate. I would try and clean up his mechanics a bit.

However, the second time I saw him, Burawa was all over the place. The velocity once again was there, but the command was not. His slider was also flat, and could use some tightening and consistency. Major league hitters will slap around that pitch when flat. It seemed Burawa could “get comfortable” with the fastball and lose the zone with a lack of concentration.

Tommy Kahnle

Another power arm in Trenton, Kahnle has a smooth delivery with a solid fastball sitting 94-96. He located very well, even his slider, peppering the low outside corner to RHH. Control has always been an issue, but he had command and control in this one inning. However, there have been a couple games this season where he makes Daniel Cabrera look like Greg Maddux.

When he locates his pitches, Kahnle is virtually unhittable as his fastball and slider grade even higher.


Adam Warren and Jose Quintana – A Review of Two Rookie Hurlers

June 30, 2012

I am prefacing this by saying I have seen Adam Warren pitch about a half dozen times, from Staten Island up through Scranton.

I have never seen him as bad as he was in his major league debut Friday night at Yankee Stadium. And I don’t mean bad by results oriented bad, but approach on the mound bad, stuff bad and command bad.

Warren can be a pretty decent major league pitcher, and it would be a mistake if the Yankees ended up giving Warren the Chase Wright treatment of permanent banishment to the minor leagues after one bad start to a major league career.

But that will likely happen. Look for David Phelps to get the missing CC start next week.

Warren did get the first two guys out in the first inning, but then walked the next two. Granted they were the biggest power hitters in the Chicago White Sox lineup, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, but attack the strike zone with two outs and no one on base! Solo HRs won’t kill you, but two-run shots will.

What I did notice was Warren has a pretty good change up last night, striking out the leadoff batter on a change up and throwing a 2-0 change to Dunn for a called strike after falling behind on two curve balls out of the zone. Memo to Warren and Chris Stewart: Adam Dunn takes a lot of pitches. He never faced you before and was likely going to take the first pitch you threw him no matter what.

With two outs and no one on, throw a 0-0 strike.

However, Warren only threw a couple other change ups in his 2.1 innings, which generated swings and misses or outs. I am surprised Warren didn’t throw more as the change up was the only effective pitch he had all night. I am also surprised the catcher, Stewart, didn’t call for more changes.

Warren was throwing his fastball with good velocity (up to 93) in the first inning, but the pitch lacked pop and the extra giddy-up required to get a fastball by major league hitters. What it also severely lacked was movement. It was as straight as an arrow. It was the lack of movement that allowed Dunn to receive that first inning walk. A 3-2 fastball was just off the inside corner, perfectly placed under Dunn’s hands, but with any tailing movement to the pitch, Warren probably gets the called third strike.

But Warren’s fastball was straight all night. I don’t remember Warren having that straight of a fastball, and he used to throw a 2-seamer once in a while, but never saw it last night.

Warren also had a very ugly slider/cutter* last night. In the past, I have seen this pitch get lots of swings and misses during his minor league stints. But it was always much tighter and with good, sharp bite and he often threw it for strikes.

*I saw Warren in back to back to back starts a few seasons ago. The first two were in High-A Tampa, which saw Warren dominate both games. He was then promoted to Trenton and I saw him that next week pitching in Double-A. He did a double take when I saw him in Trenton, “like what are you doing here, weren’t you in Tampa?” type look.  Anyway, we talked about his slider and he said it was not a slider but a combination slider/cutter, which I quickly said, “You mean like a slutter?” He laughed and said that it was funny I said that, because that is what his father called the pitch – the slutter. (His dad was in Trenton for his Double A debut, and, obviously as you saw on T.V. was in Yankee Stadium for his major league debut).

But last night, Warren often started the pitch out of the zone and the slurvy break just brought the ball further low and away, a very easy pitch for major league hitters to recognize and avoid. Last night’s slutter was more an A-ball type offering rather than a major league pitch. It has been better in the past and should (needs to) be better in the future.

Plus, if the hitters weren’t chasing the pitch, he needed to throw it for strikes early in the count to hitters. Just to show them he can and to begin to bring the strike zone back into play, to the hitter and the umpire. I am not a big Lou Piniella in the TV booth guy (too general, not enough insight) but he did say a couple things last night worth noting. One was that Warren needed to throw more strikes to keep the umpire on his side, especially as a major league debut guy. A young pitcher needs to establish the strike zone to the umpire.

Without that extra pop on his fastball, the White Sox hitters knew Warren couldn’t blow the ball by them. He may have been throwing up to 93 MPH, but it sure seems like David Robertson’s 90 MPH fastballs have more juice. When hitters know you can’t blow the ball by them, they sit on certain pitches and wait patiently until they get that pitch.

Perfect example is the double hit by Gordon Beckman in the second inning. Beckham easily fouled off two outside pitches, one maybe off the plate and when Warren came inside on 1-2, he stroked a solid double down the left field line on a 93 MPH fastball. As Warren had done often early, he worked outside early to hitters, and then came inside with two strikes. Beckham recognized this and patiently waited for the inside pitch he could handle, then…well, he handled it.

Warren walked only two batters (both in the first), but he was nibbling with his fastball all night, just missing off the outside corner. I suggest throwing the ball over the plate more, then working to expand the zone later in the game when you have established the zone to both hitter and umpire.

So to summarize, Warren had brutal stuff – a very straight , medium pop fastball, with no movement at all; a slutter with no bite, was recognized all night, didn’t get chased and wasn’t thrown for strikes; PLUS a seldom used change up which happened to be his best pitch all night.

As I said at the top, it was a very bad night for Warren in terms of approach, stuff and command, which obviously had terrible results on the scoreboard. He is better than what he showed last night, and I sincerely hope the Yankees (and their fair weather “fans”) given him another opportunity.

His opponent was Jose Quintana, who pitched last year for the Yankees High-A Tampa team, before being released in a 40-man roster crunch. Quintana was to become a minor league free agent, and needed to be placed on the 40 man roster at the end of 2011. But despite very good numbers in each of his prior minor league seasons, the Yankees chose to not keep Quintana.

Since the White Sox brought up Quintana, I have read a few reports how the Yankees blew it with Quintana, how he would be perfect fit with the major league team, etc. If the Yankees did offer their final 40 man roster spot to Quintana last winter, he would be no higher than Double-A Trenton and would never sniff the major leagues before 2014, if then. He would be on strict pitch counts and innings limits, placed on the phantom DL to limit his work and he would be buried behind all the arms at Scranton (including Russ Ortiz and now Chris Schwinden – lol).

The only chance Quintana would have had to pitch in Yankee Stadium was if it was for another team. Which last night it was.

The White Sox do things differently than the Yankees. They take risks, play young players and generally think outside the box. And they have patience with young players.

Actually, I didn’t think Quintana was all that impressive last night. He has slight movement to a nothing fastball, a weak breaking ball and so-so change up. But he has been successful thus far by keeping hitters off balance and locating his pitches well. Doesn’t sound like a Yankee pitching prospect, huh?

He has a smooth easy delivery and despite getting into a few jams last night, shows the poise of a 10 year veteran. He also trusts his stuff and throws strikes.

You know who Quintana should be? He is exactly what Yankee left handed pitching prospect Manuel Banuelos SHOULD be. But Banuelos is hurt again and has pitched only 24 innings this season.

What was impressive last night was rookie White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who confidently left Quintana in the game during the 6th inning. With an 8-6 lead, two outs and no one on base, a fielding error allowed a runner on second base, and there a right handed reliever warmed up in the bullpen. However, Quintana was allowed to pitch to Derek Jeter, a right handed hitter facing the rookie for a third time.

I guarantee Joe Girardi hooks a rookie starter in that spot, if he was allowed to start the inning at all.

Quintana calmly retired Jeter and finished his night. Ventura made a gutsy, good call leaving in Quintana. The worst case scenario the game becomes tied with a Jeter two-run homer. But more importantly Ventura gave a huge boost of support to his young pitcher, which not only helped last night but also in future appearances.


Scouting the Double A Yankees – Mets Hitters: Havens/Den Dekker/Adams/Almonte

June 13, 2012

I posted a report yesterday about the pitchers I saw during the two games I saw between the B-Mets and Trenton Thunder. This report is about the hitters I saw. One hitter, Matt Den Dekker, was subsequently promoted to Triple-A Buffalo right after the series with Trenton. It’s funny, but the same thing happened with Jordany Valdespin, who was promoted immediately after I saw him play last year in Trenton.

If an B-Mets players want me to come out next time they are in town, I do take donations.

I asked one of the B-Mets players on Sunday when Den Dekker was getting the promotion, and the kid smiled, likely knowing it was soon. Looking at the Buffalo roster that night it was apparent Den Dekker was better than a couple of the Bison outfielders. And the success Kirk Nieuwenhuis has had in the majors was probably another factor to push the other left-handed hitting center fielder.

The B-Mets show a deep lineup, with one player, Josh Rodriguez, having 14 plate appearances (PAs)  in 2011 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. There is power from the top through the seven spot, and a nice mix of right-handed and left handed hitters.

Reese Havens

Once again Havens will not have a full season of baseball, having missed most of April with another injury, this time a bad back/oblique. However, he is healthy for now, and back with Binghamton. Being the top pick in 2008, many Mets fans had hoped Havens would already be in the majors by now or at least knocking on the door.

Havens showed his quick bat once again, and his swing is similar Yankees Triple-A second baseman Corban Joseph. He homered and singled on Saturday night, but also struck out five times in 10 PAs. His inability to make consistent contact is recognition of pitch location, specifically the upper and lower levels of the strike zone. Once Havens gets more reps his recognition will improve and so will his contact rates and offensive output.

In the field, Havens showed more range than he had last year, grabbing two ground balls clearly destined for center field.

However, another injury or two and it might be too late for Havens to have a decent career. He needs to stay on the field and get his reps. He’s not as good a hitter as Jason Kipnis of Cleveland, but has potential to be Kipnis lite.

Matt Den Dekker

As mentioned above, Den Dekker was promoted to Buffalo after the series with Trenton. Den Dekker has improved his power this season, banging out eight home runs, 21 doubles and four triples. His bat is much quicker than last year, with an improved swing path, much more direct to the ball.

In my notes from last season, I had written Den Dekker swung at lots of bad pitches, mostly breaking pitches in the dirt. However, these last two games showed to be a more patient (but still aggressive) hitter. He recognized pitches out of the zone, but was aggressive early in the count to attack hittable pitches. If you have read any of my prior pieces, you know I love aggressive hitters early in the count.

Den Dekker will be a doubles machine at the higher levels, with his above average speed as much as his gap power and ability to hit line drives down the RF line. His fourth inning double saw him get behind 0-2 to Brett Marshall but banged a hanging slider into the RF corner. He was also aggressive on other first pitches throughout the series.

Funny, but even though Den Dekker is a pretty good outfielder, more to his great speed rather than his initial routes*, during night games I have twice seen him muff long drives to centerfield in Trenton – once last season and once this past Saturday night.

*Some people think that route running is very important. It is important, but not for really fast guys. I have seen outfielders such as Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson and Den Dekker change their routes during fly balls, but turn on that “extra gear” to outrun the ball. Curtis Granderson is pretty good in center field, but always seems to change his routes. Routes are more important to slower outfielders who can’t outrun the ball. It is one of the more difficult skills to master in baseball.

If Den Dekker continues to hit in Buffalo and Jason Bay continues to struggle in the majors, don’t be surprised if Den Dekker gets a call in August.

Jefry Marte

Marte has skills to hit, with quick and strong hands, with good lower body movement to drive the ball. However, based upon the way he carried himself, it appears that Marte lacks drive. I only saw three PAs since Marte appeared to hurt his hand during a swing and was removed in Saturday night’s game. (UPDATE: Actually, Marte hurt his hand on a ground ball which popped up and hit his hand. A ball which almost took his face off.)

Anyway, his power numbers are improving each season, and will continue as he ages and gets naturally stronger. Some people feel they need to write a kid off if he doesn’t produce huge power numbers at the lower levels, but Marte was 17/18 to begin in Low-A Savannah (19 his second season) and not many kids translate raw power to games at that level. In addition, Marte is not listed on any top Mets prospect list, which might build into his favor and he has to work to get noticed again.

Marte might be one of those guys whose power readily improves as he matures – both physically and mentally. Give him time, let him play and he likely will surprise people.

Juan Lagares

Lagares is a guy who does lots of things decent, but nothing great. He started to hit last season in time split between High-A and Double-A, but is aggressive in that he doesn’t walk much or strikeout. But even with this aggressiveness, there is simply no power production, and his swing seems to bear out that it will not get there, either.

Lagares shows good range in the outfield, with a strong throwing arm, but without any significant offensive tools, his defense might get him to the majors, but it won’t be as a full-time starter.

David Adams

Finally back on the field after basically two seasons off from a busted ankle, Adams showed why the Yankees have been patient with the RHH hitter.

Adams showed tremendous plate discipline, the ability to recognize pitches early out of the hand, and the intelligence to read the pitcher based upon what was thrown to prior hitters. Over the two games, Adams consistently took very tough sliders off the outside part of the plate, not even twitching towards the pitch. Once, after a particularly tough slider from Greg Peavey, I blurted out “Wow, tough pitch!”

Adams also took tough change ups and fastballs just off the plate Friday night from left-handed Darin Gorski, waiting patiently for his pitch when ahead in the count.

It was when he got his pitch did Adams pounce. Despite going 1-7, a double, walk, K, and sac fly, Adams hit the ball hard three other times. He has quick hands, nice lower body rotation and remained balanced throughout his swing. He hit the ball hard to left and right field, ahead and behind the count, hammering a two-strike pitch from Peavey on the outside corner to RF for a sac fly.

He hasn’t hit for power yet this season, but with more reps the power will come back.

Adams also is a better fielder than I thought. He gets to ground balls well, has good hands and turns a quick double play, not flinching when a runner was charging towards second base. This was important since his injury was a lower body one, and second baseman sometimes get their legs taken out from them.

Adams has potential to help the Yankees (or another major league team) within two years, or be trade bait for an outfielder. With Cano in New York and Corban Joseph moving ahead of him, it’s not like the Yankees have much room at the second base area. However, Adams has played some third base in the past, and it is likely he could begin taking some reps there later in the season.

Zoilo Almonte

I was surprised when Zoilo Almonte performed well in spring training and began to become talked about in the blogosphere about possibly being the next Yankee starting outfielder. Even Joe Girardi heaped praise on Z.A.

Why was I surprised? I just don’t think Almonte is major league caliber. I saw him last summer after his promotion to Trenton and saw a guy who constantly got beat on hard stuff inside, then waved (and missed) at the better breaking balls he finally began to see. Looking at his career numbers, I noticed Almonte (like many hitters before him – Brett Gardner was one), who struggled at a new level when promoted but when they started the next year at that same level begins to produce.

But Almonte is the same hitter as he was last season, and has not yet produced at Double-A.

He was late on inside fastballs, and while he didn’t wave at many breaking balls out of the zone, there were a couple of instances where he was overmatched, like the first pitch slider from Adrian Rosario in the 10th inning on Sunday.

Almonte has some tools, but is prone to get on hot streaks and then cool off.  Zoilo is not going to replace Swisher in RF anytime soon, and likely will not help the Yankees in any significant way down the road. I like Melky Mesa much more than either of the Almonte’s.

Melky Mesa

There once was a time I thought Melky Mesa could strike out 200 times in a full season at Double-A. In fact, if both stayed healthy, I predicted he and Bradley Suttle would combine for 350 Ks in Trenton. But both were hurt part of the year in 2011. And Suttle has basically retired.

I saw last year that Mesa began to lay off many out of the zone off speed pitches at Trenton. He was also becoming more selective on pitches in the zone, too. However, he did continue to strike out at alarming rates, usually around 30%. That is not good for a guy who can really run, and should pattern his game more around his legs.

Mesa was even more selective this past weekend. A big at bat was his working a two-out walk in the bottom of the 10th inning, eventually scoring the winning run in Sunday’s game. He regularly took pitches just off the plate, both fastballs and breaking pitches, and used his hand speed to hammer a few pitches in his zone. Mesa has no trouble catching up to good fastballs, and with his bat speed and slight loft in his swing, he does put good backspin on the ball and hit some major league quality deep fly balls.

Many of those will eventually go out of the park. He does have seven home runs already this season, playing half his games in the challenging Waterfront Park.

Mesa has tremendous speed, a great throwing arm and covers lots of ground in CF. With the lack of quality outfielders at their higher levels, it is time to give Mesa an opportunity to test his newfound plate discipline at the Triple-A level.

Cody Johnson

I saw Johnson last year and he was a mess. Bounced his hands up and down, huge hitch and went from A to C on his swing with a big layover at B. After all this movement, he couldn’t hit anything inside with any velocity. He went for 34% Ks in 2008 and progressed each year to a high of 41% last season.

It was amazing then when I saw Johnson in April of this year, and his hands started down near his back hip, raised up slightly on ball travel, then Johnson would flick his hands out (a la Rod Carew) on his swing. This new style produced much better contact rates, lots of base hits, quite a few home runs and mucho less strikeouts. Thunder hitting coach Tom Slater helped Johnson with his new approach, something which begun in the offseason.

All good things for Johnson and his team.

However, to my surprise Johnson was back to his old (and less productive) ways this past weekend. He was in the midst of a huge slump (3 for 30, 17 Ks) entering the B-Mets series. I do not know if Johnson reverted back to his old way after his slump began or whether the new/old method of hitting precipitated the slump.

Whatever the reason, Johnson is back to missing fastballs, striking out lots and making very little contact. Johnson whiffed three times Sunday afternoon, getting pummeled by belt high fastballs over the middle of the plate by Greg Peavey. He did hit two balls hard, but the pitchers mistakenly threw him off speed pitches over the outer two-thirds allowing Johnson to quicken his bat.

His bat path is once again A to B to C, which translates to many more Ks down the road.

Johnson will hit his home runs because he has immense power in hitting mistakes, but he might want to revert bakc to the shorter swing path if he wants to move up and succeed in the organization.


Scouting the Double-A level Yankees – Mets pitchers: Gorski/Peavey/Marshall

June 12, 2012

After a few solid weeks of scouting high school and college games, and watching my former college and high school teams win their respective National and State titles, I am back to watching the pro game and will begin evaluating various minor (and major) league talent.

I saw two games between the Double-A Binghamton Mets and Trenton Thunder, the Yankees affiliate. It’s my second trip to Trenton.I travelled to Trenton earlier in the season, watching the April 21, 2012 Double-A game between the Trenton Thunder and Harrisburg Senators. You can see my report on that game here.

Unfortunately, I did not get to see top prospect Zack Wheeler pitch or the underrated Collin McHugh throw. Here is a report o n McHugh from last year. See, the Mets now have a SIX man rotation at Binghamton. I would bet big money the Mets pitchers don’t like it one bit.  

I will discuss the Yankees – Mets pitchers first.

On Saturday night, Binghamton’s Darin Gorski matched up against Shaeffer Hall, a guy who is always on the mound when I go to see a game. See April game link above. Hall seems to have lower velocity readings every time I see him (FB now around 84) and gets hit around quite often when he doesn’t get the calls on the corner. His future is maybe as a lefty reliever since his breaking pitch is usually pretty good against LHH.

Darin Gorski

Gorski is a tall left hander (6’4”, 200 lb.) who’s big out pitch is a very nice change up. He was not on the radar until last season, when he posted an 11-3, 2.08 ERA record with a WHIP below 1.00.

People have reasoned that Gorski’s ascent up the prospect ladder was because he was too old for the FSL (he was 23 last year), and I love that argument from people who never played baseball. Regardless of age, an ERA around 2.00 is pretty damn good no matter where you are pitching in pro baseball. It’s not like he was 23 and pitching against high school kids. Most of the FSL lineups consist of pretty good talent, guys who are trying to become major league ball players, and whether they are a year or two younger than Gorski should not be considered a “negative” on Gorski’s success.

Anyway, during this 2012 campaign Gorski has decent numbers at Double-A. Over 11 appearances, Gorski has a 4-3 record with an ERA under 4.00. His impressive hit numbers have remained steady in Double-A (7.9 H/9), but his walk rate has jumped (4.0/9 IP), and K/rate has dropped a little (7.2/9 IP).

Saturday night Gorski was pretty good, limiting the Thunder lineup to seven hits, very few which were hit hard, walking none and striking out four.

Gorski was usually 88-91, a few times bumping up but was back to the velocity of his 2009-2010 seasons. There was some talk of him consistently sitting in the low 90s last season, but I did not see this Saturday night. He could extend his stride more and clean up his timing to get this velocity back. His breaking ball (slurvy curve/slider) was ineffective with no bite and Gorski seemed to give up on it as the night wore on. That is something he should NOT do, especially in a game like this which was over by the middle innings.

However, what I did see was an impressive change up, a pitch which constantly kept the Thunder hitters off-balance. This pitch has nice drop (almost looking like a split without the tumble), but not much fade. When they weren’t swinging and missing this pitch, the hitters were hitting lazy fly balls. This change up is likely the reason Gorski has a significant fly ball rate, and low BABIP.

He simply doesn’t allow a whole lot of hard hit balls.

He showed a good ability to throw fastballs to spots on both sides of the plate, and was not afraid to come inside versus right-handed hitters, even backing up an inside fastball to a RHH with another. He did get three of his strikeouts on called third strikes against RHH.

I like Gorski as he has a pitchability factor, but unless he gets control of his breaking ball, his future is limited. I do believe guys can be two-pitch pitchers, but they both have to be plus and without some fade to his change, hitters at the higher levels will learn to lay off the pitch or just wait for it. And without a consistent breaking ball, Gorski likely does not have a future as a lefty reliever.

One interesting feature about Gorski is his success against teams not located in New Hampshire. In three starts against the Fisher Cats, Gorski is 0-2, 11.70 ERA with almost three runners per inning. Against other teams, he has darn good numbers.

In Sunday’s game, the mound matchup was pretty good with the B-Mets Greg Peavey opposing Brett Marshall. Both were drafted out of high school by the Yankees, but while Marshall eagerly signed (almost a million bucks will do that), Peavey went to Oregon State and was later selected by the Mets.

Greg Peavey

Peavey went five innings (99 pitches), and was consistently 90-92 with several 93s. He threw a sharp breaking curveball, much like a slider with severe downward break. Quite a few times he tended to get on the side of it, with the pitch flattening out and backing up. He went after most hitters, especially the weaker ones and was in trouble only once. However, except for the contact challenged Cody Johnson, Peavey didn’t get many swing and misses.

Peavey fields his position very well, twice going after slow dribblers down the 3rd base line showing good athleticism. What I liked about both plays was that Peavey got his chest over the ball both times, not simply reaching for it, which oftentimes leads to dropping the ball before the throw or making a bad throw via improper balance.

Peavey didn’t show much consistency, can’t put guys away and from the one start I have seen, doesn’t have much of a chance to start for the big club if he continues this trend.

Armando Rodriguez

Since Peavey only went five innings, the bullpen needed to get in some overtime. The first guy out of the pen was Armando Rodriguez, a hulking figure who basically said “Here it is, see if you can hit it” with a 92-93 MPH fastball, which seemed to get up to the hitter even faster and has a natural cutting action. According to a couple B-Mets I spoke with, Rodriguez simply attempts to throws it over the middle of the plate. But on this day, he was peppering the outside corner to every RHH on pitch after pitch with his fastball, getting lots of called strikes and weak contact over his three very efficient innings.

He located a slider pretty well, too, but it’s not a great pitch. It’s basically a pitch which is a velocity change to his fastball. I am surprised he didn’t throw a change up much, because I was told Rodriguez was working on one and it showed promise. Rodriguez (who is reminiscent of another Armando Mets fans should know), up until this season has been a starter his entire career, but with a plethora of Mets minor league starting pitchers, was switched to the bullpen. His already impressive numbers are now even better.

If Rodriguez can continue locate that fastball to the outside corner like he did Sunday, and improve his slider, Rodriguez could be an option in the major league bullpen down the road.

Adrian Rosario

After A-Rod’s three solid innings and a shaky 9th inning by former top arm Brad Holt, B-Mets closer Adrian Rosario came in to close out the game. Rosario was part of the K-Rod trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. He is a wiry 6”4”, 180 pound, 22-year-old RHP with a solid fastball which ranged from 92-94 with several 95s. He showed a good change up around 85 with solid movement and a sharp breaking slider thrown at 82. Rosario throws from the extreme first base side of the rubber, has solid arm action and drives straight to the plate. Very clean all around.

Rosario got the first two outs in the 9th, but then allowed a bloop single to right field based solely on the notorious “no doubles” defense where the outfielders were playing on the warning track. He ended up walking the next hitter, throwing a wild pitch and giving up a game winning two-run soft line drive single.

What impressed me about Rosario was his first pitch to Zoilo Almonte with two outs, nobody on. After starting both prior hitters with popping fastballs, Rosario began Almonte with a sharp breaking slider to garner a quick swing and miss. He then came in to Almonte with a fastball, jamming him.

What I didn’t like was him not locating pitches to either of the first two hitters. He got behind on David Adams before Adams lined out and after all other pitchers this day were getting Cody Johnson out on inside fastballs, Rosario allowed him to get his arms out and drive a deep flyball to left center.

Rosario has potential and is a guy to keep an eye on. If he can continue to work ahead, his solid change up and slider will be even more effective.

Brett Marshall

When Brett Marshall was drafted, he was paid big money to keep him from a Rice University commitment. He started slowly, had Tommy John surgery, and then completely revamped his mechanics and mindset. Credit Danny Borrell, who had lots of one-on-one time with Marshall during his rehab, for this transformation. Borrell improved Marshall’s mechanics and talked the Yankees brass into allowing Brett to scrap his curveball and throw the slider – even after the TJS.

Marshall is much different now than he was two years ago. He looks more mature on the mound with natural aging filling out his formerly thinner frame.

With his new, smoother mechanics Marshall was pumping his fastball anywhere from 91-93, but rarely topping that. He effortlessly moved the ball in and out, mixing in all of his pitches just in the first inning!

He threw hard biting sliders to both LHHs Reese Havens and Matt Den Dekker, striking out both. The nasty slider (mostly 83-84 MPH), darted to the back foot of each lefty hitter. On one occasion in the third inning, Marshall got on the side of a slider to Havens then threw another one down and in on the next pitch for a swing and miss. Marshall realized he overthrew the first one, then relaxed and threw a better pitch. The slider was tough to hit all day long, heading to the back foot to LHH, and mostly right on the outside corner to RHH.

He flashed a pretty good change up, too, anywhere from 79-81 MPH. This was thrown to right and lefty hitters, getting swings and misses from each side. However, the pitch was somewhat easily seen out of his hand with the fingers spread out above the ball. He did get a few up, some which were hit as fly balls to the outfield.

Marshall was efficient all day long, throwing strikes with all his pitches, making one mistake on a hanging slider which Den Dekker hit into the right field corner for a double. He later scored on a wild pitch when Marshall overthrew a change for a wild pitch, one pitch after getting the hitter to swing and miss on a great change up.

It was a pretty dominating performance, especially considering the B-Mets put out a darn good lineup which banged out 19 hits and 12 runs the night before, and 15 hits and nine runs two nights earlier. Over his last seven starts, Marshall has thrown 47 innings (at least 6 IP in each), allowing 35 hits, 14 walks and 29 Ks. His ERA over this stretch is 1.67, with most of the damage coming in two starts. Some people have lamented his lack of strikeouts over his career, but he did show strikeout stuff and generates lots of weak ground balls.

The Yankees are clearly limiting Marshall’s innings as they pulled him after six great innings, and he had only throws 80 pitches. I heard the Yankees are high on Marshall and have no plans to trade him. If this is true, there is no reason to take him out in a game like this which he was dominating. They need to find out if he can get through the 7th inning, what I call the “money inning” as by consistently going seven innings in the majors, a pitcher will get the really big money come free agent contract time.  By getting through the 7th inning, starting pitchers help their teams in many ways; one major way is letting most of a major league bullpen rest for a night.

Most teams at this level would be wise to start getting starters and relievers into the major league mode, getting the better pitchers more work rather than allowing mop up guys (guys who have NO shot at the majors) “get their work in.” But that is a piece for another day.

Yankee Relievers

The Yankees used multiple relievers this weekend. On Friday night, Ryan Pope and Kelvin Perez got pounded. Perez has had a good year number wise, and although he did hit 95 Saturday night I have never been a fan of his. He is all over the place with no significant out pitch. Because Perez couldn’t get out of his first inning, Ryan Flannery threw 1.2 perfect innings throwing a splitter which acts much like a sharp dropping curve ball, moving down and away to RHH. He doesn’t throw as hard as I had him two years ago; sitting 88-90, but his split is a legitimate out pitch. He has worked his way very slowly through the system, and I hope he gets a shot before its too late.

Backing up Marshall on Sunday was Preston Claiborne, who was 93-95 with good pop, a change of pace slider with little bite but a pretty good change up having significant drop and fade. He threw inside very well and generally worked low in the zone all day. If he can limit walks, he is the type of relief guy the Yankees like with two solid offerings.


New York Yankee Minor League Report – Trenton Thunder (Shaeffer Hall, Christian Garcia)

April 24, 2012

I made a trip out to Trenton this past Saturday for a rare 5:05 start to watch the Thunder play host to the Washington Nationals Double-A affiliate, Harrisburg Senators.

Some seasons have seen Thunder manager Tony Franklin blessed with tremendous pitching staffs with zero hitting, and other seasons have seen him write in a tremendous lineup while wondering if his pitchers can limit the opposition to single digits.

This year he has both hitting and pitching somewhere in the middle.

On the mound for the Thunder was left hander Shaeffer Hall.

As a 25th round draft pick out of Kansas, Hall appeared nothing more than a sturdy arm for the organization. But I saw him throw two years ago in Charleston and Tampa and saw a pitcher with pretty good control and command, with pitching smarts to know how to attack hitters.

This pitching intelligence is much needed as Hall doesn’t throw overly hard. He was usually 88-89 in 2010, but was pretty much 84-86 all day long on Saturday. However, he is in his second season of throwing a cutter (with slider tilt and movement), which he can get in on the hands of right handed hitters.

It was this pitch and his changeup which kept hitters off balance and grounding the ball towards the extremely organizational infield the Thunder put out that day.

Hall is a pitcher who relies on changing speeds and location. He needs an umpire to give him the calls on the corners, then can work from there to expand the zone and get batters to chase pitches. This requires him to constantly get ahead and stay ahead of the hitter, which is always a good thing. If Hall gets an umpire with a tight zone, he has to come over the plate more and his stuff likely will not translate to quality outings.

A perfect example is when Hall tried to come inside to Jeff Kobernus, the Senators second baseman. Kobernus just missed powering two balls out of spacious Waterfront Park, but each drive was held up by a stiff wind, which allowed both deep drives to fall harmlessly into the glove of the Thunder left fielder.

Hall is a nice kid but his style doesn’t appear to be what the Yankees hierarchy likes in their starting pitchers. With injuries and ineffectiveness to hard throwers like Michael Pineda, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and the 2011 released Andrew Brackman, maybe the Yankees should change their preferences to pitchers rather than throwers.

The Yankees also let Francisco Rondon throw the final inning, and he allowed a deep drive home run to center by Senators LF Chris Rahl (who had 3 RBI & was a double short of the cycle). Rondon was fluid with a fastball with some life, usually 89-91, and hit 93. He showed a pretty good slider (82-83), which he wasn’t able to control and a decent changeup, but which had a tendency to stay up.

Rondon has been in the organization since 2006 and has become less hittable as he has moved up, but also shown an increased inability to throw strikes. The way teams can always use hard throwing left handed relievers, Rondon has a chance to progress further but need to trust his stuff more.

Luke Murton has three hits on the day, but showed total pull tendencies, similar to what I saw in Charleston in 2010. His swing is mostly arms and upper body, barely using his lower half. I saw him reach for quite a few pitches during the day, out front but still put the good part of the bat on the ball indicating pretty good hand-eye coordination. He is a hard worker who is constantly working in the cage and oftentimes off a tee just minutes before a game, and has the personality and build of former Yankee Shelley Duncan.

Cody Johnson was a former first round pick for the Atlanta Braves in 2006 and came to the Yankees in a minor league trade. He had shown a tremendous ability in the past to swing and miss*, and this was attributed to a severe hitch which caused him to not get around on good fastballs. He also was susceptible on breaking stuff, especially when behind in the count. However, he has eliminated the hitch by keeping his hands really low, behind his back hip. They do come up slightly during his load, but not that much higher. This keeps Johnson’s path to the ball much quicker allowing him to wait longer on pitch recognition.

*Johnson’s strikeout rate has increased each season as a pro, going from 34% in 2008, to 35% in 2009, 39% in 2010 to 41% last year.

In one at bat, Johnson basically flicked his wrists the way Rod Carew used to for a nice line drive single to left center. In two other at bats, Johnson showed good power to left field (going with the pitch) putting balls to the warning track, one which likely would have been out for a booming homer if not for the strong wind blowing in.

He does hit the ball very hard when he makes contact, and with his new hand placement he has made better contact. I still believe better fastballs will eat him up inside (he was never tested inside during this game), but with his changes and improved contact rate (30% K rate thus far) while still hitting for power, he is someone to keep an eye on.

Zoilo Almonte, the 22 year old switch hitting outfielder who impressed Joe Girardi in spring training, is on the disable list and did not play. I saw him last year and he appeared overmatched in the couple games I saw. But, a la Brett Gardner, Zoilo does have a track record of struggling at a level when first promoted, then improving considerably when he returns to start at that same level the following year. 

The Senators had a few guys impress who I had not seen before. The aforementioned Kobernus, a second baseman is very quick to the ball. He stands very quiet at the plate until he unleashes a very quick swing, going direct to the ball. His swing has some loft which provided nice backspin. As I said earlier, he would have had two long home runs if not for the wind.  He also showed pretty good speed down the line on a ground ball. At same body type (6-2, 210 or so), the position he plays, and the fact they attended the same school (Cal), Kobernus reminds me of Jeff Kent. He might not hit with the power Kent developed but Kobernus can hit the ball, which will be his ticket to the higher levels.

Destin Hood is a former second round pick for the Nationals, one of those highly athletic “toolsy” guys who never seem to work out because they really don’t become baseball players. They don’t develop the instincts and work ethic to improve and advance beyond just playing the game. Hood has changed for the better since I saw him last in 2010 in the Low-A Sally League. Hood showed great bat speed and foot speed, easily beating out a slow roller to third base, and easily scored from first on ground ball down the left field line.

In his second at bat, Hood got behind two strikes, but calmly stayed off a cutter low and in from Hall. While Hood eventually struck out a better version of that pitch, he was on the ball with a good swing. Hood is aggressive at the plate, but has shown an improved ability to attack better pitches and to stay away from off speed stuff out of the zone.

That is a good combination.

The right hander who closed the game out in the Senators 4-01 win was former Trenton Thunder pitcher Christian Garcia. The tall right hander was one of the Yankees top starting pitching prospects a few years ago, but injuries (two Tommy John surgeries) and a lack of desire to work hard hampered his career. He is back now as a reliever, and now healthy, continues to possess a tremendous repertoire including an easy fastball at 93-94, moving it easily around the zone. I remember a few years ago that Garcia had a tendency to sometimes overthrow his fastball (maybe why he was always injured?), but it was no longer the case – at least in this game. He also threw a solid hook and plus, plus major league quality change up.

The change up has always been Garcia’s out pitch, and he uses it extensively, playing is very nicely off his solid fastball keeping his arm speed the same on both pitches. Both his strikeouts this game came on change ups, making the Thunder hitters look foolish. According to a couple Senators players, Garcia has been tremendous all season, with his changeup getting swings and misses on most occasions. It is a pitch which doesn’t necessarily need to stay down to be effective, as it is almost impossible to recognize early. I asked about his desire and work ethic (not his strong suit in his Yankee career), and both said they have not seen any slacking on his work habits.

Garcia showed good bite and downward action on his curveball, a plus pitch which he appears now to throw in basically offering something else to the hitter. Garcia was very popular when he played in Trenton, and many of the locals were glad to see him back healthy and performing well.

If he stays healthy Garcia could move quickly towards a bullpen spot with the major league club.


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.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.