"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Prospects

Sox it to Me?

Yanks are in Chicago for a four-game series against Ozzie’s White Sox. This weekend, of course, they’ll be in Boston for three against the Red Sox.

Over at PB, Cliff has the preview. And Jay Jaffe write about the imminent arrival of Jesus Montero:

Montero’s overall .283/.342/.429 line at Scranton is still not terribly impressive, but he finally showed considerable pop in July, batting .271/.346/.514 with four homers, upping his season total to 10. He’s drawing his walks, too — eight in 78 plate appearances during the month, the second in a row in which he’s taken passes in at least 10 percent of his PA. His defense is still cause for concern, but there are modest signs of improvement; while he’s gunning down just 20 percent of would-be base thieves, opponents are running somewhat less often against him this year, and he’s cut his rate of passed balls almost in half.

On the other hand, Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein compared his defense unfavorably to one of the more notorious bat-first backstops of recent memory: “Mike Piazza is a MUCH better defensive catcher than Jesus Montero. We need to get away from that comparison, because it’s a bad one.” Ouch.

Left unsaid in the report of Montero’s near-imminent rise is where he’ll be picking up his at-bats. Aside from an early-season power spike, Russell Martin’s overall numbers (.225/.326/.366) are no better than in recent years, and since May 1 he’s hit just .201/.309/.287, which is basically what one might accomplish by swinging at pitches with a rubber chicken. Francisco Cervelli (.235/.305/.306) is even worse, as usual, and he’s thrown out just two out of 24 base thieves. Jorge Posada’s hitting .235 /318/.383 overall, and .284/.351/.406 since the Big Sitdown, having gone a whole month without homering; furthermore, he’s just 6-for-53 against lefties, with a lone double as his only extra-base hit. Andruw Jones (.227/.315/.445 overall) hit .242/.342/.545 in July, and is up to .268/.348/.524 against lefties; that thin slice may be the most likely segment of these players’ time to be preserved.

Jeter sits tonight as the Yanks go to a six-man rotation.

Brett Gardner LF
Curtis Granderson CF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Robinson Cano 2
Nick Swisher RF
Eric Chavez 3B
Jorge Posada DH
Eduardo Nunez SS
Francisco Cervelli C

Oh, it’s all just so exciting.

Let’s Go Yank-ees!

Trading in Futures

Where is the chatter about the approaching trade deadline? No discussions in the lunch room, no frantic refreshing at MLB Trade Rumors. The Yankees have one of the best teams in baseball and look like a great bet to make the Postseason without major roster modification, but that’s the case almost every year and there’s usually more buzz than this.

There is a lack of big names with expiring contracts for sale. The Red Sox and Yankees, usually two of the biggest dealers during this time, have better options in their farm systems than usual. The combination of top prospects and a shallow market might make these two clubs shy away from any blockbusters. Their relative security in the standings factors as well.

The Yankees hold a big lead in the Wild Card standings, but as currently constituted, are they a viable threat to the Red Sox in either the American League East or in a short series? Which target should Yankees aim at, the Red Sox or the Wild Card?

If the Yankees want to win the Wild Card, they shouldn’t do anything crazy. They have Rafael Soriano coming off the DL to enhance the bullpen and Jesús Montero and Iván Nova in the minors to bolster the lineup and rotation. It’s doubtful they could get much better than that on the trade market that would justify the expense in both dollars and players.

But is winning the Wild Card enough? The Yankees would probably have to win a road series in Texas (which they failed to do last year) to earn the right to face Boston in their park, for a best of seven ALCS (I’m giving Boston an easy win versus the AL Central champ. Prove me wrong, AL Central champ, prove me wrong.).

The Red Sox have trashed the Yanks thus far, but as 2009 showed, that early success can be irrelevant in October. And on paper, the Yanks and Red Sox don’t appear that far apart. The Yanks currently hold the better run differential and the better Pythagorean record. The Red Sox surge back ahead in both second and third order wins, though, so if you want to find the gap, you can.

Running the risk of oversimplifying a multi-faceted calculation, the quick-and-dirty in me sees two aces on Boston’s side and only one in New York. I also see Boston’s DH making a difference while New York’s sputters and fails. The Red Sox have the better top of the rotation, the better lineup, and the better bench. I don’t think the Yankees are winning a best-of-seven series against the Red Sox without the kind of good fortune that makes myths.

So what would it take to put that series in play? The Yankees want to pair another ace with CC Sabathia and they need to get something out of DH and/or catcher. For the Yankees to stand on even ground with Boston in October, they’d need to acquire the best hitter and pitcher available.

Right now, those seem to be Ubaldo Jiménez and Carlos Beltrán. To accommodate Beltrán, the Yankees could rotate men through the DH slot and demote Jorge Posada to back-up catcher and pinch hitter. Or they could cut him. And other than CC Sabathia, I think only Bartolo Colón has proven worthy for an October start, so plenty of room for Ubaldo.

Perhaps there are other big players hovering beneath the radar, but two major acquisitions would devastate Scranton, Trenton and probably Charleston as well. They’d certainly wave goodbye to their two best prospects, Montero and Manny Banuelos. And they’d probably lose Nova and a few like him who are ready for the Majors or close to it.

Even then, the Yanks would be underdogs in Fenway, where the Red Sox are their toughest. So the return for this huge expenditure is to move from severe underdogs to close underdogs. Is that enough to justify the cost?

I don’t think it does. If the top end talent in the Yankee system can help the Yankees in the very near future, they should hold onto them. The Yankees should know these kids better than anybody else and their job at the deadline is to not only make the team better for the upcoming Postseason, but to put them in the best shape possible for years to come.

What happens at this trade deadline will be a signal of the organization’s true feelings for their big prospects. If they are dumped for something less than stellar, we’ll have to conclude the Yankees didn’t believe in them. And if they hold onto them even though it concedes a clear edge to Boston from this point forward, that should mean they expect them to graduate to beating Boston as soon as next year.

Not Ready for Prime Time

Over at ESPN, Andrew Marchand has a piece on Jesus Montero:

Right now, there is one thing Montero is certainly not: He is not ready to start, let alone star, in the big leagues.

“It is all in becoming a first-rate professional and he is still in the middle of that process,” said Mark Newman, the Yankees’ senior vice president of baseball operations, who heads up the team’s minor leagues.

…Monte — as everyone in Scranton calls him — is developing at beautiful, tree-lined PNC Field in front of crowds that average around 4,000 fans per game. When you walk into the stadium a sign greets you, saying the Bronx is 128 miles away. Sometimes, it seems, that is where Montero’s head is located, too.

“I just get the feeling that Monte is so blessed physically — and I hate to say it — he is almost bored here in Triple-A,” said Scranton hitting coach Butch Wynegar, a former Yankees catcher. “Maybe if he went to the big leagues tomorrow, this kid might just go off and he just might lock in.”

Color By Numbers: Inside the Yankees’ Draft WAR Room

With the 2011 MLB Rule IV draft finally concluded, hundreds of amateur baseball players will now embark on their professional careers. For many, however, the promise of draft day will soon give way to the harsh reality of the minor leagues, and most will likely never see the light of day in the majors. That’s why it’s almost impossible to accurately assess the quality of a team’s draft until well into the future. So, while we wait to pass judgment on the likes of Dante Bichette Jr., Sam Stafford and Jordan Cote, let’s instead take a look at how well (or, in some cases, not so well) the Yankees have drafted in the past.

Yankees’ Draft History, Cumulative WAR by Year

Note: Reflects players drafted, but not necessarily signed, by the Yankees.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Not unexpectedly, the Yankees have had a very uneven draft history. Over the first 10 years of the draft, the team netted at least 10 WAR in all but two years (1966 and 1974), and selected such future all stars such as Steve Rogers, Thurman Munson, Fred Lynn, Ron Guidry, Scott McGregor and LaMarr Hoyt. In addition, the Yankees also drafted such useful contributors as Stan Bahnsen, Doc Medich, Mike Heath, Willie Upshaw and Jim Beattie. However, in the one year the Yankees had the first selection, they opted for Ron Bloomberg and bypassed on the likes of Ted Simmons, John Mayberry and Bobby Grich.

With the advent of free agency in 1976, the team’s focus shifted away from developing amateur players to signing established veterans. As a result, the Yankees’ drafts were relatively barren over the next five years. During that span, however, the Yankees did unearth a 19th round gem in Don Mattingly, but otherwise the only other notable selections were Howard Johnson and Greg Gagne.

Yankees Top Draft Selections by WAR, 1965-1979

Source: Baseball-reference.com

In 1981, the Yankees had one of their strongest drafts ever. In addition to selecting perennial All Star Fred McGriff, the team also picked up Bob Tewksbury, Eric Plunk and Mike Pagliarulo, a trio of players who would all contribute to the team during the decade. That year, the Yankees also selected a player who made it to the Hall of Fame despite never playing a single game in the majors. In the second round, the team opted for a two-way athlete named John Elway, but after a brief stint in the minors, the outfielder decided instead to play quarterback in the NFL.

The Yankees also had an impressive draft class in 1982, but most of the players selected, like B.J. Surhoff, Jim Deshaies and Bo Jackson, found success on other teams. Only Dan Pasqua spent some time in pinstripes, but he was eventually traded to the White Sox for Rich Dotson. Over the rest of the decade, the Yankees’ drafts were relatively poor, not the least of which was because the team had a first round draft pick in only two years (1984 and 1985). Despite the handicap, the Yankees often managed to find one nugget in the later rounds, but that player was usually traded before they could reap the rewards.

From 1983 to 1989, Todd Stottlemyre, Al Leiter, Hal Morris, Brad Ausmus, Fernando Vina and J.T. Snow were the only players drafted by the Yankees who posted a double-digit WAR, but none from that group made a meaningful contribution in pinstripes. With an aging major league roster and a farm system devoid of prospects, it’s no wonder that soon thereafter the team plunged into one of the worst four-year periods in franchise history.

Yankees Top Draft Selections by WAR, 1980-1989

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The Yankees were terrible on the field in 1990 and 1991, seasons that concluded with the fourth and fifth lowest winning percentages in franchise history. However, in the front office, the suspension of George Steinbrenner brought about a return to normalcy. So, under the watchful eye of Gene Michael, the Yankees slowly began to rebuild their farm system via the draft.

In 1990, the Yankees had their most successful draft in terms of total WAR. Although first round selection Carl Everett would have a successful career away from the Bronx after being selected by the Florida Marlins in the expansion draft, the Yankees really hit the mother lode in the middle rounds. With the 22nd and 24th picks, respectively, the Yankees selected a left handed pitcher named Andy Pettitte and short stop named Jorge Posada. By the middle of the decade, those two players would become key components of a brand new Yankees’ dynasty.

For the first time since 1967, the Yankees had the overall first round pick in 1991. When they selected Brien Taylor, a high school left hander who reportedly could throw over 100 mph, most observers predicted that the Yankees had acquired their ace of the future. Unfortunately, less than two years into his development, the young fire-baller dislocated his left shoulder in a bar room fight. Taylor was never able recover from the injury, and his once promising career was over before it started.

The Yankees rebounded from the disastrous 1991 draft class, which produced only player with a positive WAR (Lyle Mouton at 1.5), by adding the crown jewel to their burgeoning dynasty with the selection of Derek Jeter in 1992. This time, the team’s can’t miss prospect didn’t.

Yankees Top Draft Selections by WAR, 1990-1999

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Jeter, Posada and Pettitte, along with international free agents Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, wound up forming a homegrown core that by 1996 had already won a championship. While the Yankees were having historic success on the field, however, the team’s drafts weren’t as accomplished. From 1993 to 2004, the Yankees drafted only seven players who contributed a WAR of at least 4.5, and three of those players (Casey Blake, Mark Prior and Daniel Bard) didn’t sign with the team. In several years during that span, the Yankees failed to produce even one player who made a positive contribution in the majors. However, thanks to combination of savvy trades, opportunistic free agent signings and an increased focus on the international market, the Yankees were able to sustain their regular season success.

In 2005, the Yankees extended the contract of General Manager Brian Cashman, and in the process gave him more control over baseball operations. At the same time, the team promoted Damon Oppenheimer to scouting director. Since then, the Yankees have drafted several players who have made an early impact in the majors, including Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Dave Robertson and Drew Storen. The team also added several players now considered to be promising prospects, such as Dellin Betances, Austin Romine, Slade Heathcott and even Gerrit Cole, who, after spurning the Yankees in 2008, was selected first overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in this year’s draft.

Yankees Top Draft Selections by WAR, 2000-Present

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Who knows, maybe somewhere within one of the team’s recent drafts is the core of a new dynasty? Only time will tell, but like the players selected this week, it doesn’t hurt to dream.

Dante is a Scrub

And I ain’t getting my haircut, neither.

No, not that Dante…The Yanks picked Dante Bichette Jr. in the amateur draft yesterday. And I’ve no idea if he’s a scrub or not, no matter how much I disliked watching his old man’s theatrics back when. Here’s the early returns from Rivera Ave and The Yankee Analysts.

Is there a Draft in Here?

The draft is tonight and for weeks, the good people at River Avenue Blues and The Yankee Analysts have the topic on lock.

Be sure to check ’em out today to keep up on the latest.


On Tap


Over at The Yankee Analysts, EJ Fagan thinks it is time for Jesus Montero to replace Jorge Posada as the Yankees’ regular DH.

[Picture by François-Marie Banier]

Easy Cheese

Tyler Kepner on a young flame-thrower…

Fade to Black

The Yankee-Red Sox game was blacked out in most of the Metropolitan area last night, but Manny Banuelos didn’t pitch badly:

“That guy’s 20 years old?” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia asked. “He’s really good, and he seems to have an idea. Shoot, when I was 20, I was swinging with an aluminum bat [in college].”

“I think for this young man’s future they should go slow with him, very slow,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said with a smile.
(Costello, New York Post)

Alfredo Aceves started for the Sox, who beat the Yanks, 2-1.

Foot Fault

The foul ball that nailed Francisco Cervelli’s foot earlier this week has turned into a worst-case scenario, as further tests reveal a fracture.  Cervelli will miss a minimum of four weeks, with some estimates extending to eight weeks.

Paging Jesus Montero!

Clean Slate


George King on the improved fielding of Jesus Montero:

[David] Robertson’s eyes widened when asked about Montero, who went 0-for-3 and is 1-for-6 in two games.

“I first saw him when I signed here and it’s amazing how much better he has gotten,” Robertson said. “He sets up good, blocks balls in the dirt and stays down. He looks good.”

…“I like Montero, I think he is going to be a big-time player,” a scout said. “I know he is big (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), but he will be fine. All he has to do is just keep on catching.”

Left Behind

Found on the subway platform this morning…

Meanwhile, down in Tampa, the young guns are getting some burn: here’s John Harper on Manny Banuelos, and Jack Curry on Jesus Montero.  And for you old fogies, check out Harvey Araton’s column on Yogi and Gator.

Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects

Baseball America unveiled their Top 100 Prospect list today.

Six Yankees made the list:

3. Jesus Montero, c
30. Gary Sanchez, c
41. Manny Banuelos, lhp
43. Dellin Betances, rhp
78. Andrew Brackman, rhp
98. Austin Romine, c

In terms of sheer number of prospects, this is the best showing for the organization since 1999, when the Bombers also placed six in the top 100 (including SS Alfonso Soriano and 3B Drew Henson).

Montero’s #3 ranking is the highest for any Yankee prospect since Joba Chamberlain was the #3 prospect in 2008.  Montero was 38th on the 2009 list, and fourth last year.

In 2010, the Yanks placed only two names on this list (Montero and Romine).

Read more about the BA 100 here.

(photo: NY Daily News)

Spring Training, Prospects and the Circle of Life

It seems like a lifetime ago that YankeeWorld was obsessed with three minor-league pitching prospects: The Big Three of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. And even though our wildest dreams for that trio might not have come true, given the unpredictability of pitching prospects in general (TINSTAAPP!), it’s actually pretty impressive that they’ve had as much success as they have. Ian Kennedy is 26, started 32 games for the Diamondbacks last year and came out of it with an ERA+ of 111; Phil Hughes is still finding his way a bit, but at 24 gives every sign of becoming a solid stater; and Joba, well, if we’re all a little disappointed, he still may well end up being a valuable major leaguer. Hopes for those three were so high – it’s easy to forget that while they didn’t turn into the trio of aces that we might have imagined in our less guarded moments, all of them have been helpful to major league teams, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Anyway, spring training is the time to dream on these things. Now we’ve got a brand-new trio of new prospects to hang our hopes on, the junior Killer B’s: Andrew Brackman, New York’s own Dellin Betances, and Manny Banuelos. There have been encouraging stories and profiles on each of them recently – ’tis the season – and even for a cynical veteran of spring training coverage it’s easy to get caught up in the high hopes. Even as I was writing this post, we got this from the YES Network’s Jack Curry:

There’s a lot to like about each of those guys. Brackman  may be the one I’d most like to see succeed this year, just because he’s been in the organization the longest and, a year ago, looked like he might be a bust. Bettances is a NYC kid and, as detailed in the link above, was in the bleachers for David Wells’ perfect game – you’ve gotta love that. And Banuelos, from Mexico, very nearly a foot shorter than either of those guys and a crafty lefty in the making, will be a fine underdog in this six-footed race (although it seems horribly unfair that he’s already being compared to Andy Pettitte. No pressure or anything).

It’s human nature to dream on these kids but I hope we don’t have such crushing expectations for them that, as with The Big Three, it’ll seem disappointing if in three years they aren’t all dominant aces. Growing your own innings-eaters and relievers is nice too, and if all of these guys end up healthy and in the majors that’ll be quite a success in its own right.

Going Prospecting

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Goldstein runs down the Yanks’ Top 11 prospects. Here’s some tidbits on the big names:

1. Jesus Montero, C

The Good: . . . plus-plus power and hitting ability. . . . excellent bat speed, fantastic hands, quick wrists, and immense strength . . . drive balls out of any part of the park while maintaining a high batting average. . . . continued improvement in his approach . . .

The Bad: . . . remains a well below-average catcher . . . just isn’t designed to play to position. . . . poor receiver who handcuffs balls. . . trouble blocking pitches in the dirt, . . . arm strength  mitigated by the amount of time it takes his immense frame to get out of a crouch and release the ball. . . .

2. Manny Banuelos, LHP

The Good: . . . added significant velocity in 2010, with a fastball that suddenly was sitting at 92-94 mph while touching 96. His changeup is a true plus offering with excellent fade and deception . . . consistency with it rarely found in a pitcher so young. . . . a good curve, . . . extremely easy mechanics and clean arm action that combine to provide above-average command and control.

The Bad: . . .  curveball can be inconsistent, and he clearly loses feel for the pitch at times. . . . small frame is cause for some concern, and he has yet to throw more than 109 innings in a season, so his ability to handle a big-league workload is unproven.

4. Dellin Betances, RHP

The Good: . . . fastball sits in the low to mid-90s, consistently touches 97 mph, features some natural tailing action, and that’s not even his best pitch, power curveball . . . comes in hard and then falls off the table. . . . made some progress with a changeup, . . . delivery is much cleaner than the one from his pre-surgery days.

The Bad: . . . only pitched 85 1/3 innings last year, has thrown less than 300 in his five years as a pro, and he needs to prove that he can maintain his stuff over a full season. His changeup is still highly inconsistent, as he can lose feel on it and overthrow. He has put significant bulk on his frame over the past three years, and conditioning could be an issue down the road.

7. Andrew Brackman, RHP

The Good: . . . fastball generally sits in the low 90s, touches 96 mph, and his height adds considerable downward plane to the pitch, leading to plenty of ground balls. His curve was once a fringy offering, but he’s refined it into an easy plus offering by focusing more on spin than velocity. . .  scouts noted a much more consistent delivery.

The Bad: . . . had starts where his heat sat at 90-92, and others where he rarely went below 94, and still had some occasional struggles with finding the strike zone. His changeup remains a below-average pitch, as he telegraphs it with notably different arm action.

Pitching in the future

Over on Baseball Prospectus.com, Kevin Goldstein runs down the seasons of top Yankee pitching prospects.  Some excerpted highlights:

Andrew Brackman: . . . key to his breakout was more consistent mechanics . . the 92-96 mph heat suddenly showed up every time out . . . breaking ball now a big power breaker that gives him a second plus pitch.

Dellin Bentances: 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds . . . stuff is even better (than 6′ 10″ Brackman), with 1-2 mph more on his fastball, an equally solid curveball and even better command.

Manny Banuelos: 19 . . .  at Double-A this year, had a 2.51 ERA, struck out 85 in 64 2/3 innings . . . his velocity went from the low 90s to consistently sitting at 92-95 mph, while his curveball became a more consistent offering with sharp break and his changeup remained the plus pitch it always has been.

Down on the Farm…

If you are into following the Yankees’ minor leaguers, peep what Greg Fertel is doing over at Pending Pinstripes. Mike Axisa also does a good job over at River Ave, and now Stephani Bee is adding to the conversation over at PB.


Rites of Spring

I visited my friend Johnny Red Sox yesterday afternoon. John lives between York and East End on the upper east side, which is, in the words on my late father, “the ass-end of the world.” (When my brother lived in Brooklyn, Pop told him it was “the ass-end of the planet.” Ben said, “Don’t you mean the ass-end of New York?” And Dad replied testily, “You know what I mean.” As if there was a difference.) John I and trooped back west to Central Park. It was brisk and windy but very nice in the sun. Most of the grassy areas were roped-off, but eventually we found a spot to have our first catch of the year.

A father and son were there throwing a ball around. Shortly thereafter, two French kids–maybe ten and seven, respectively–showed up with mitts and an old ball. The older one was serious-minded. The younger kid was bored. Neither instinctively knew how to catch the ball, but the older one was trying very hard. I gave him a head-nod at one point, and you could tell he was thrilled by the gesture.

They moved around nervously as the ball came their way and dropped more than they caught. The younger kid kept catching the ball accidently with his bare hand. Nothing about the catch seemed fun for him. But the older kid was insistent. I caught glimpses of what they were doing as John and I threw the ball back-and-forth. I thought about helping them out but didn’t and got caught up in conversation with John.

When we took a break, I noticed that the two kids had put their gloves down and were now kicking a soccer ball around. Ah, the International version of having a catch. The little one was zipping around the dirt, enthused. The older one was still serious, but working on some fancy kicking moves. When he booted a ball past the little kid he issued an immediate, “Pardon” (my bad).

There was one infield that was open to the public and we saw two high school kids hitting grounders to each other. One stood at home plate with a mitt on one hand and a bat in the other. He dropped the ball from his glove, and smacked a grounder.

When he got back to John’s crib, the last inning of the Yankee game was on and we watched the highly-touted Jose Tabata hit. Did you guys catch that? It was an impressive at-bat. He looked at fastball outside for a ball, swung through a breaking pitch and then was jammed by a fastball that was in on his fists. He took the next pitch outside for a ball, and then looked at another fastball in on his hands, this time for a ball. (I don’t recall but he may have also fouled off a pitch or two.) The next pitch was a fastball on the outside part of the plate. Tabata lined it over the right field fence for a home run.

SI.com’s Bryan Smith was at the game and e-mailed me later. “Jose Tabata is going to be a star. Love the body on that kid.”

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver