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.

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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.


What Happens if Andy Pettitte Falters During his MLB Comeback?

May 13, 2012

Today marks the long anticipated return of New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, who has done his best Michael Jordan impersonation by retiring then un-retiring. His first start back is conveniently against the weakest hitting team in baseball, the Seattle Mariners. They are near the bottom of all the slash categories and near the top in strikeouts.

The Mariners are a good place to start for anybody, but especially a veteran stalwart coming off a year and a half absence and whose stuff in several minor league starts was not all that impressive.

Bet Ivan Nova wishes he were getting the ball today.

Coming back from a long absence is not easy. Some examples of success were Michael Vick’s return after missing two full seasons due to jail time, and running back Paul Hornung’s comeback was successful after he and Alex Karras were suspended for the entire 1963 NFL season for betting on football games. Both cemented their HOF credentials after they returned. Jordan’s comeback to the NBA was good after his stint as a baseball player. It goes to show what a tough sport baseball really is when the best athlete in the world at the time couldn’t cut it on the diamond.

And in baseball there were dozens of former players like Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller and others who successfully came back to the game after serving for years overseas in World War II.

But all of those players weren’t 40 years old.

Pettitte’s last game in pinstripes was in the 2010 ALCS in a Game Four start against the Texas Rangers.  He allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings, suffering the loss in an 8-0 Rangers win. The Rangers were only up 2-0 entering the 9th inning but the Yankee bullpen couldn’t hold them, with David Robertson allowing five runs. It got so bad that Sergio Mitre even pitched!

Pettitte allowed a two-run home run to Josh Hamilton and that was it.

It was a sturdy performance by Andy, and he kept the Rangers hitters off balance all night, mixing his curve and cutter in and out, but rarely breaking 90 MPH.

Now after that long layoff, reports had Pettitte topping out at 87 MPH during his comeback starts, with his fastball generally in the 83-85 range. That might not get it done against major league hitters, especially if he isn’t locating very well. Pettitte hasn’t exactly had good performances against the minor league hitters he has faced, getting knocked around much more as his pitch counts were rising.

His last start a week ago saw him allow eight hits in five innings, allowing five runs, three earned. And his only Double-A start saw Pettitte also allow three earned runs with seven hits in five innings. But strangely, expectations are better for Pettitte while facing much better hitters.

I think all of us probably kind of expect that we’re going to see Andy Pettite (sic), what we’re used to seeing,” Girardi said. “A guy that grinds out starts. That has the ability to get double plays. That doesn’t panic out there. I think you can only go back on what you’ve seen from him. It’s not like he’s trying to reinvent himself. I think his stuff is going to be pretty similar to what he had when he walked away in 2010. That’s kind of what I feel. Will I be right? I hope so, but we’ll find out.”

But what if Pettitte isn’t that guy again, the guy who was 11-3, 3.28 ERA his final season? What if the major league hitters get fat pitches over the middle of the plate, and flat cutters with no bite like the 2012 minor league hitters were seeing? What if Pettitte allows five earned runs today in 2 2/3 innings? It would be easy to demote Phil Hughes back to the pen or David Phelps back to Triple-A if the kids were really bad, but would it be easy to give up on a Yankee icon?

GM Brian Cashman and Girardi will definitely give Andy another start or three, likely many more as it seems his spot in the rotation now is secure.

But what if that type of performance continues where he was the way Hughes started the season, or God forbid, the way Freddy Garcia started? Start after start of getting knocked around, with a good performance here and there for effect? Does Andy get the benefit of the doubt because he is a veteran with 240 career wins?

If Andy falters, my feeling is that Girardi will give Andy as many starts to “right the ship” and “find his stuff” all to the detriment of the Yankee bullpen and record.

When all the Pettitte comeback talk was on back in February, I wrote that the Yankees should be doing this for Pettitte’s October experience. I offered they Yankees should let Pettitte work in slowly, getting in to some game after the All-Star break and working towards a post season start. The team needs to find out how Nova would do in his second season, they needed to find out if Hughes can become the starter everyone expected.

Then Michael Pineda got hurt, Garcia bombed and Hughes was roughed up in his early starts. All hell broke loose in Yankee-land and Pettitte’s time frame was pushed up.

It is not like Hughes has continued his decline or Phelps (2 GS, 8.2 IP, 2 ER, 8 Ks, 4 BB) has been terrible in his time on the mound. These kids have been pretty good so far. Although it is not been reported yet (Girardi never says any concrete until after it happens), but it is likely Phelps will go back to the bullpen, or maybe even Triple-A to “get his innings up” similar to how Eduardo Nunez was sent down to “play SS full-time.”

Pettitte was brought back for his experience but now he is “needed” to solidify what was once perceived to be a formidable rotation. I still believe the rotation is fine as it is, and gives the Yankee kids like Phelps some much needed major league starting experience.

I hope Pettitte does well and helps lead the Yankees to the post season. But the odds are not great for similar success he had in 2010, and if he does not perform well, things could get ugly quickly for the Yankees and one of their icons.


The Boston Red Sox Decline Was Accurately Predicted Before Last Season

May 11, 2012

Back in December 2010, I wrote this piece  indicating the Boston Red Sox were “trying to keep up with the Joneses” ie: the New York Yankees, when they traded for then San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

The premise behind the story was that the Red Sox didn’t have the kind of money the Yankees have, and they would likely fall the way of the old Soviet Union if they tried to keep up with the Yankees in spending. Paying tons of money and trading young kids to win now over the Yankees would make the Red Sox worse in the long run when their farm system becomes incapable of producing new players to fill in for their aging stars when those stars suffered declines or get injured.

I was ripped twice as hard about this story as I was in my Jason Bay Would Be a Huge Mistake for the New York Mets piece I wrote a year earlier. And Mets fans really ripped for that piece.

But in both instances I was completely wrong.

It really didn’t take as long as I originally thought for both those thought processes to prove fatal for each team.

The Boston piece was more about their thoughts on trying to outspend the Yankees rather than actually getting Gonzalez, but by using their top prospects for trades and signing free agents to win now. The Yankees spent lavishly after not making the playoffs in 2008, inking CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett to over $400 million, then promptly won the World Series in 2009.

The Sox thought having overpaid superstars at every position would help them, so in successive big name transactions they traded for Victor Martinez (during 2009) and Gonzalez, plus signed John Lackey (5/82.5), Mike Cameron (2/15.5), Carl Crawford (7/142), Bobby Jenks (2/12) and Marco Scutaro (3/17) to multi-year free agent contracts. Josh Beckett was also re-signed to a big extension  (4/68) prior to 2010.

And before all this, Daisuke Matsuzaka has cost the Sox over $110 million for one good season. He missed most of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Scutaro has since been traded but Lackey, Crawford and Jenks have all been hurt, Beckett was good last season until he started drinking beer (1-2, 5.48 ERA down the stretch), and has his own problems this season*. In addition, they are now paying Gonzalez $21 million over the next six seasons.

* I was at the Winter Meetings a few years ago and was speaking with someone who knew Beckett pretty well, and told me a few pretty intersting stories from his Florida Marlins days. Let’s just politley say that Beckett isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.

That is now $458 million to be paid out to five players (AGon, Beckett, Crawford, Jenks, Lackey) of which only one is now playing equal to what was expected. But did you also know that so far this season Gonzalez has the fewest number of extra base hits of any Red Sox starter with 100 or more plate appearances?

But, with all that outlay of cash and traded away young players) the Red Sox haven’t won a post season game since 2008. They haven’t even made the post season since 2009 where they were swept by the Los Angeles Angels in the ALDS. Martinez didn’t help them win in that series, did he?

Here is a direct quote from my Gonzalez piece: “...the Red Sox do have a set pitching staff entering 2011 with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Beckett, Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Felix Doubront, who the Padres did not receive, is a very capable reserve starter.

That is it, though. There are no other starting pitchers in their higher up system who is any good. So the Red Sox have a top six with no others to complement them if there is an injury.”

They collapsed last season in September when they blew a nine game lead and most of that collapse centered on the lack of healthy and effective starting pitchers who could win just one game! Maybe Justin Masterson (traded for Victor Martinez) might have helped. Casey Kelly might have been good enough to come up from Double A and win one game. They also had some bullpen issues last year which Nick Hagadone (also traded for Martinez) might have helped. Hagadone is a hard-throwing lefty who has also been one of the Cleveland Indians best relievers this season with a 0.87 ERA, .484 WHIP and 8.7 K/9 ratio.

This year, under new manager Bobby Valentine, similar events are occurring to this organization, especially injuries and much ineffectiveness. Lackey is out for the season, Matsuzaka and Crawford have not played in 2012, Youkilis is hurt again (a nagging back injury), Jacoby Ellsbury is sidelined (again), and the starting pitching has been brutal.

Plus, in their quest to convert their top set up man Daniel Bard to the rotation, the two big arms looked on to fill the bullpens late innings, Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon, are both not with the team. Bailey has been hurt all year and Melancon (who I really like as a reliever) was ineffective early and shipped to Pawtucket. Similarly, the player they received for Theo Epstein, Chris Carpenter – another late inning reliever, is also disabled.

And you probably thought only the New York Yankees had miserable results with pitchers they traded for?

And like last season, there is not a lot in the Red Sox minor league system that can help now. Sure, Will Middlebrooks was brought in for Youkilis and has performed well (can I throw out a SSS here?) but not many of their other top prospects are remotely close to helping out in 2013, let alone this season. When Ellsbury went down, the Sox had to trade for an almost finished Marlon Byrd; when the bullpen needed help, they turn to Vicente Padilla and Andrew Miller, one of the failed starters from September 2011. 

Now, the Red Sox look to bolster their offense with the promotion of Daniel Nava. Lol.

I am not saying that trading for Gonzalez was a bad idea in and of itself. Obviously, he is a quality player who can consistently put up big time, MVP caliber number each season. But he is committed to the first base position for several years, until David Ortiz is gone and then AGon will likely move to DH.

But with all that money spent with no titles, no ready prospects to fill in when injuries occur, was it really wise to try and spend like the Yankees and lose young players at the same time? If the Red Sox let Anthony Rizzo play at Triple-A last season and then come up this year, would the Red Sox be any worse than they are now? Which, of course, is mired in last place, a full 7.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.

Was it worth it to try and buy a title last season?

It is interesting that both teams the baseball pundits thought would be in the 2011 World Series, the Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, didn’t even make that World Series and are mired in last place this season. Like the Sox, the Phillies lost key contributors Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, and after they traded many of their top prospects, they have no one to come up and contribute on offense. Plus, like the Sox situation with Crawford, the Phillies owe an already performance declining Howard over $100 million for next FIVE years.

But unlike the Red Sox, the Phillies do have a trio of tremendous starting pitchers in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels.

Those teams which try to win every year by overpaying for talent eventually have problems when injuries and ineffectiveness occur. Too much money for very little return puts a damper on their current team and down the road when young kids are blocked by overpaid bums.

Most of the World Series championships won over the last 30 years have been won with home grown players who, when allowed to develop and contribute, provide their organization with quality value with quality play.  San Francisco won with their home grown starting pitching and Texas has been in the last two World Series with mostly young players who have come up through their system. Of course there are exceptions (like the 2009 Yankees), but these are exceptions and not the rule.

The Red Sox do have some promising kids in their system, but they are all down in the Low-A and High-A. It would behoove the Sox to allow these kids to develop and be ready for 2014 and beyond. Trading away any of these kids for an arm or big bat now will only continue the circle of idiocy. But one small issue like not being very good for a couple years might have to be stomached by Red Sox nation.

So, what to do? Let the kids play.

The Red Sox have an average age of over 30 for their team, way too old for the young game played today. The Sox need to get younger and use some of the tools they have in their system. The aformentioned Middlebrooks. Keep him in the lineup. Mike Aviles is a nice player, but is he your future at shortstop? You have a top prospect at Triple-A in Jose Iglesias. Why not let him play? From his days with the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, Bobby Valentine appears to work well with young players and wanted to have Iglesias as his starting shortstop at the beginning of the season, but was “overruled” by GM Ben Cherington. Ryan Lavarnway is a power hitting catcher who would fit nicely in Fenway Park.  

Time the change the attitude in the clubhouse.

When the Red Sox tried to win it all every year after year by obtaining Victor Martinez, John Lackey, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, costing themselves cost-controlled young talent and future draft picks, then re-signing the intelligently challenged Josh Beckett, the hierarchy put a process in place which could affect their ability to win over the next few years.

If I was a conspiracy theorist, I might believe that Theo Epstein, who conveniently left to become grand pooh-bah of the Chicago Cubs, did this on purpose.

My prediction of the Red Sox demise by not having quality young players to help in case of injuries to overpaid talent came to roost last season with no pitchers who could win a game down the stretch, and this downfall continues at the beginning of this season.

I am sorry Red Sox fans, but this case of Keeping up with the Joneses has pushed this team into pre-foreclosure status.


The New York Yankees are at a Crossroads

May 6, 2012

Well, the New York Yankees are at a crossroads.

And that was well before Mariano Rivera tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee.

I was talking with Mike on Saturday, saying how this Yankee team was in a serious situation. They have a veteran team, aging superstars and aging bench players. Guys right now are playing every day that weren’t signed this season to play every day.

An aging and expensive team in a young man’s game. And the team is only getting more aged and will be getting more expensive.

So, these Yankees are at that crossroads and there are several reasons for this.  

First, there are the exorbitant salaries paid to aging players whose careers are on a decline. You see the decline already. Alex Rodriguez and especially Mark Teixeira are in their decline phases of their careers, former top of the line talent now slowly sinking down the rope to the floor below.

I wrote about Teixiera here, saying if he doesn’t change his approach (not trying to pull every pitch), his carrer as we had known it is effectively over. And over and over again I see Alex beaten inside with moderate to advanced fastballs, indicating his bat speed is further slowing.

Two guys, who play the infield corners for the Yankees, earning a total of $51.5 million this year, are in slow to moderate declines. They are owed a combined $204 million over the next 4/5 years. I bet the Kansas City Royals wouldn’t trade their current infield corners, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer (who had all four RBI in last night’s game) for Alex and Teixeira, even if the Yankees paid upfront to the Royals all of Alex and Teixeira’s salaries for balance of their careers.

Second, there is the self-imposed salary cap of $189 million for 2014.

It is this number which the Yankees owners have said they want the team payroll to be in 2014. This number will allow the Yankees to avoid huge luxury tax monies required to be paid to MLB. Not that the Yankees couldn’t afford higher salaries and additional luxury tax monies. They could even get a rebate if they remain under that amount for 2015 also.

With the $78 million tied up in Alex, Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter ($8 million player option) for 2014, the Yankees would “only” approximately have $111 million available for 21 other players. And they still have to re-sign Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano to extensions likely to cost $15 million each on an annual basis. Then by 2014, players such as Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Eduardo Nunez and Ivan Nova will all be eligible for arbitration or will be locked up for “below market” multi-year contracts.

That’s a lot of players important to the roster who will be making mucho more cash.

Third, the Yankees will very likely lose Russell Martin and Nick Swisher to free agency after this year. During every long Yankee run of titles, the team has a high quality catcher and right fielder. The Yankees have had such a history at catcher with Wally Schang (an OBP machine), Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada. In right field they had Babe Ruth, Bob Muesel, Tommy Henrich, Hank Bauer, Roger Maris, Reggie Jackson and Paul O’Neill. But now, two important starters in highly Yankee-fabric positions of catcher and right fielder need to be replaced.

Both Martin and Swisher will likely command three year deals for $8-12 million per year. That might be too rich even for the 1% Yankees.

These open spots lead to the fourth reason the Yankees are at a severe crossroads. They have a severe lack of quality position player depth at their higher levels of the system. They have ZERO, repeat ZERO help on the way to fill any open starting position players for at least the next two seasons.

And I hope you aren’t saying to yourself, what about Zoilo Almonte, who impressed the spring training? Well, he wasn’t that good the first time playing at Double A, and it is a stretch to see him seriously contributing at the major league level until at least 2015. Other strong players such as Austin Romine (remember him?), David Adams, are always hurt, with Romine having chronic back issues. That isn’t good for a major league starting catcher.

All the other position players are three years away, and with the Yankees patient nature in developing young players, it may be even longer.

Yankee fans are now suffering through injuries, lack of production and, even though the playoffs were expanded, a feeling that they just might not be strong enough to make this postseason, let alone make a run to the World Series. New York fans, in particular most Yankee fans, have what have you done for me now relationship with their players.

Many have written that maybe the Yankees should have traded Gardner before last season when his value was highest; saying his success in 2010 was never going to be improved upon. But now they miss his OBP skills, speed and quality defense on an everyday basis.

After Swisher struggled again last October, almost all Yankee fans wanted to trade Swisher this past off season. But you see how Swisher and Gardner are very important to the Yankee lineup. Along with Jeter, they are the only two Yankee hitters who consistently go the away with pitches, opening up the field and therefore, getting more hits.

Now these same Yankee fans seriously wish both could come back from their injuries quickly. The New York fans love to react to those small sample sizes.

What the Yankees have done by playing the Ponzi scheme method of long term deals to players who are now aged and much less productive is coming home to roost. There is now dead money for guys, who aren’t producing up to their salary levels, will continue to decline and because of their salaries, would be blocking any young players the organization might have developed.

So, what to do?

The Yankees could continue with what they have always done and go with the veteran presence at most positions, eschewing young talent in their system and paying big dollars to players who are getting older, and will decline over time.

Let’s all admit it right now; the 2009 World Series title was bought with shelling out over $400 million to Sabathia, Teixeira and AJ Burnett. It sucks that the rules were changed in the middle of playing the game, and the luxury tax threshold was inserted. But that is the hand you are currently being dealt. Try to think of it as the Turn card in Texas Hold ‘Em improving the odds for your opponents.

The key for any team is to constantly work in young players with established veterans, letting certain veterans go free agent when they have kids ready for the majors. But the Yankees have not produced enough young players or given them a serious chance before pulling them, benching them or having fans ridicule them every time they make a mistake (like Nunez).

I say continue with letting David Phelps get starts, let Robertson now close and bring up another reliever (Chase Whitley) if they need a one inning type arm. I wrote about Whitley here. Since there isn’t a great need in the bullpen even with Mariano out, let Phil Hughes continue to start and get his innings in and see what you have over a full season.

You really don’t know what Hughes can do. Let the guy throw the ball as a starting pitcher. Starting pitching is the largest annual expense for teams, especially if you have to go out on the free agent market and attempt to sign a Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke type starter. Except for a game here and there, Hughes can barely make it out of the fifth inning most games because that he what he is used to throwing. That is the way he has been developed. Hughes has made 77 career starts and pitched 7+ innings only 13 times, most recently in his last start when Joe Girardi finally let Hughes throw 115 pitches, only the second time he has reached this plateau in his career.

In regards to the veterans on the team, offer Cano and Granderson semi-long deal of 4-5 years at $15 million each. First one to take it gets his money, the other needs to re-evaluate. With the self-imposed $189 million payroll, this is more important than ever. You can’t let a player dictate what the team can afford.

But if the Yankee brass decides they can withstand higher salariesand go over the $189 million threshhold, all bets are off. Sign away and watch the aging team get even older. The only way the Yankees survive is letting their kids play and develop. You know how the other way works now.

They might not make the postseason each and every year via development, but then again, this 2012 team is no lock right now either.


David Phelps Should NOT Be Just a Short Term Solution

May 1, 2012

I was in the midst of writing a “Girardi Needs to Yank Garcia from the Rotation” piece when the Yankees announced Sunday that Freddy Garcia is being removed from the rotation. He will not make his next scheduled start and will remain as the mop up guy* in the bullpen.

  • As opposed to the 9th inning guy (Rivera), the 8th inning guy (Robertson), the 7th inning guy (Soriano), the 6th inning guy (Wade/Logan), the LOOGY (Rapada), and multi-inning guy (Logan/Wade).

In a related transaction, Triple-A starting pitcher D.J. Mitchell, who many feel could be a good, multi-inning reliever, has been promoted with Cody Eppley, who has thrown well since he was recalled last week, was sent down to make room for Mitchell. Since Eppley threw 3 innings yesterday, he was likely not available today or tomorrow, and with Phelps also not likely available due to his three inning stint yesterday, he wasn’t available either.

They still have 13 pitchers on their 25 man roster. That is at least one too many.

With Cory Wade and now Garcia in the bullpen, why the need for Mitchell right now? Did Girardi expect CC Sabathia to get knocked around early today?

The bringing up of Mitchell told me that he will not be the starting pitcher the next Thursday (Garcia’s next scheduled start). And after the game we hear that Phelps will indeed start in Garcia’s stead.

That is a great move, with Phelps GETTING a role in the Yankees starting rotation is long overdue.

I say getting because the way the Yankees have developed their own starting pitching (not good) with ways most other successful teams do develop starting pitching (pretty good) is completely different.

The Yankees force their young pitchers to pitch well in the minor leagues, and then pitch extremely well in spring training to “earn” your spot. After you “earn” your spot, then a Yankee pitching prospect needs to pitch like an ace right off the bat to keep that rotation spot. Then that kid has to pitch well again the NEXT spring training to keep that spot.

What other team (besides the Yank-Mees) in their right mind would force a 16 game winner in the prior season to have to EARN a spot in the rotation for the next season the way the Yankees made Ivan Nova do this spring training. There was serious talk in late March of Nova being sent to minor leagues after his sub-par spring training. The minor leagues! Ship out a kid who won 16 games last year, with an ERA well below 4.00.

And all that might not even get you a sniff of the major leagues, since the Yankees are always seeking to “improve” their rotation each year with the biggest name free agent available.

Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays develop their pitchers. Each of their current starting pitchers were brought up in the middle (or end) of their first major league season to start games when the Rays needed them.  Then that guy was inserted into the starting rotation for the next season, and in several instances veteran starters were traded away to allow these kids that opportunity. Guys like Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel (who seems to have turned his career around) were shipped out to allow new starters an opportunity.

Same thing has been done in San Francisco and Texas.

So after a career minor league record of 38-15, 2.61 ERA, Phelps has now been granted an opportunity to start a major league baseball game, AFTER he had to “earn” that spot this spring training to get on the major league roster. I have written about Phelps many times before, most recently here but now people are finally realizing this kid is pretty good.

http://nybaseballdigest.com/2012/03/05/david-phelps-impresses-on-the-mound-what-else-is-new/

He throws strikes with four pitches, moves the ball nicely around the zone and can blow the ball by hitters when he needs to.

However, despite his four quality appearances out of the bullpen, he also had two outings where he allowed three earned runs in each. It was in these two games which Phelps has given up three of his four home runs allowed. In fact, five of his seven runs allowed have been caused by the four long balls.

I am sure that has really destroyed that precious xFIP.

It is these two outings which has many in the blogosphere very nervous. Let me break down these two appearances.

In the Boston game on April 21st, Phelps allowed six hits, three ERs while walking one in four innings. His ERA for that game (6.75) is less than Phil Hughes ERA of 7.88 this season and well below Garcia’s. This game saw Phelps give up a bunch of ground ball singles, a double and a two-run home run to Cody Ross, who he had whiffed in a prior at bat. He also retired Adrian Gonzalez twice including getting him to hit into a double play.

I guess Phelps was just lucky on that grounder.

Anyway, he was ahead of most of the hitters that game as he was in the Texas game. But in the Texas game, Phelps allowed two solo home runs, three walks (2 IBB) in 2.1 innings. He threw good pitches which were hit out, a 1-1 up and in fastball to Mitch Moreland, and a 0-2 low and away fastball to Mike Napoli. Both pitches weren’t exactly where they were supposed to be, but weren’t great fat pitches to hit either. I actually thought he should have bounced a curve ball to Napoli 0-2 after getting ahead on two straight fastballs.

There are times when a pitcher can make the most perfect pitch (and up and in and low and away fastballs are two great pitches), but if a hitter is looking for a particular pitch they can still hit it very hard. That is why it is imperative to get ahead (which Phelps consistently does), which forces many hitters to expand the strike zone.

I am not making excuses for Phelps, but despite two “bad” outings, he didn’t pitch as bad as the numbers suggest.

I saw Phelps throw in his last outing. He moved the ball in and out; throwing the ball very well against a pretty good lineup. Just ask Garcia, he’ll agree. Phelps jammed Miguel Cabrera on and inside fastball on the black and had Prince Fielder pout in front on an outside curveball, which induced the slugger to bounce into a double play. He threw a 3-1 changeup to get Phelps also set up Austin Jackson like he was a little leaguer, striking AJax out on three pitches, finishing him off with a high fastball which Jackson swung through.

It is not practical for the Yankees to not have another young arm in the rotation. Most successful teams continue to produce solid starting pitching, many of whom are not even first round pick. And if the Yankees feel they will sign Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke next year for contracts well over $100 million (the way Hamels is throwing, he might command near $200 million), then they are nuts. As a west coast guy, if Hamels did become a free agent, he will never sign with the Yankees. And after the crap Michael Pineda endured this spring training, Greinke will run far away from the Bronx.

Who else is a possible free agent? A Joe Blanton, Kyle Lohse or Brandon McCarthy? Please.

And what type of Mat Latos or Gio Gonzalez deal are you going to swing now since your biggest trade chip, Jesus Montero, was shipped out to Seattle?

There is a great strong chance Hiroki Kuroda and/or Andy Pettitte will not be around next season due to cost (Kuroda) and effectiveness (Pettitte). And will Phil Hughes begin to fulfill all his promise as a starting pitcher and become a fixture in the Yankee rotation?

The best situation for the Yankees is to develop and use another pitcher from their system in their starting rotation. And that doesn’t include a rehash of the 40 year old Andy Pettitte. Ivan Nova has proven he belongs, and it is time for the Yankees to allow Phelps a similar opportunity. He has been their best minor league starting pitcher since he has entered their system. 

If the choice is between a 25 year old David Phelps with a four pitch arsenal to both sides of the plate or a 40 year old Andy Pettitte who can barely break 86 MPH, and from what I have seen and heard throws many his pitches over the middle of the plate, the choice is very easy.

Phelps has shown he can get out many of the game’s best hitters, and has the composure, confidence and repertoire to succeed at this level. There is no reason why he shouldn’t be GIVEN the balance of starts this season.

David Phelps needs to not be a short term stop gap and become part of the long term solution.


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.