Friday, December 30, 2011

AB4AR Top 30 Yankee Prospects: 15-11

15) Brandon Laird- 3B- Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

Laird is teetering on the edge of no longer being a prospect after making some cameo appearances for the Yankees in 2011, but considering that cameo consisted of just 25 plate appearances I think it's fair to keep him on this list.  2011 actually represented a bit of a step back for Laird, who struggled out of the gate mightily at the plate before rebounding to finish with a .260/.288/.422 line and .310 wOBA in 489 PA.  His banner year was 2010, when he hit .291/.355/.523 with a .383 wOBA for Double-A Trenton and took home the Eastern League MVP award for his efforts.  As it stands right now, Laird is still a solid piece for the Yankees to have in their system at 24 years old, both as backup infield depth and as a potential trade piece.

Laird is known as a right-handed-hitting third baseman, but has also seen some time at first base and is even capable of playing the outfield in a pinch.  He has decent size at 6'1"/215, but does not come off as physically imposing.  Laird's calling card at the plate is a powerful swing capable of putting the ball over the fence on the regular and a disciplined approach that has always left him with solid K rates (17.2% in 2011).  That discipline hasn't translated to a BB rate that you'd like to see from a power hitter, however, and that lack of walks was one of the main reasons for Laird's struggles in 2011, but he still possesses enough tools and experience to be a serviceable hitter at the Major League level.  He's solid with the glove at both corners of the infield, but by not being at the head of the group of backup Yankee infielders, it's likely that Laird will start 2012 at third for SWB again.

14) Graham Stoneburner- RHP- Double-A Trenton

A college pitcher drafted in the 14th round of the '09 draft, Stoneburner appeared to be on the fast track to the upper levels after a dynamite 2010 season that saw him post a 2.73 FIP and rack up 137 K over 142 IP in A-ball.  He started the 2011 season in Double-A but was quickly derailed by a neck injury that significantly affected his ability to repeat the success he has in 2010.  Stoneburner made only 11 starts for the Thunder in 2011, pitching to a 4.17/3.82 line with 5.55 K/9 and 3.09 BB/9, and spent the remainder of his time on the mound doing rehab outings in the GCL and Charleston.  Stoneburner pitched just 91.1 total innings in 2011, and with a track record of serious injuries going back to his HS and college days, there should be a bit of concern surrounding his health and durability coming into 2012.

Those question marks aside, there is a lot to like about Stoneburner as a pitcher.  He has already established 3 pitches that he uses: a two-seamer that runs in the low-to-mid 90s and is flat out nasty when he locates it, a solid curveball, and a developing changeup.  There were talks of moving Stoneburner to the bullpen prior to the 2011 season, most likely related to his injury history and lack of a 3rd pitch, but for now he'll stay working as a starter as he continues to improve the change.  When he's on, Stoneburner has an excellent combination of stuff and command, his 2010 K and BB rates speaking to that, but he can still stand to improve his command to be more consistent and his ability to mix pitches as he goes through a lineup multiple times.  He should be back to 100% to start the 2012 season and will almost certainly open back in Trenton, but he could be in line for a promotion if he shows the form he had in 2010.

13) Corban Joseph- 2B- Double-A Trenton

A 23-year-old second baseman cut from similar cloth as David Adams, CoJo stepped into Adams' vacated spot full time for the Thunder in 2011 after murdering the ball at High-A Tampa in 2010 (.302/.378/.436, .367 wOBA).  After some growing pains in limited late-season action for Trenton in 2010, Joseph had a much better year in 2011, posting a .277/.353/.415 line and a .346 wOBA in 564 PA.  Putting up solid offensive numbers has been the norm for CoJo at every level he's reached so far in the MiL system, and right now he's likely leading the charge of sub-Triple-A position players who could be poised to break in with the Major League team in the next 2 years.

Joseph is slightly built at 6'0"/170, and doesn't generate nearly the power with his left-handed swing as Adams, but he makes up for it with a smooth swing and smart approach at the plate.  His ability to draw walks (10.5% BB rate in 2011; never lower than 9.8% in his MiL career) and make consistent contact (18.4% K rate in 2011) make him a prototypical Yankee-type hitter, and projects future success as he continues to move through the system.  Defensively, Joseph is a bit more of a question mark than Adams, as he's not particularly smooth moving to the ball, and the Yankees have experimented with him at third base in the past.  But his arm is solid and CoJo held his own at second in 2011, so some more work on improving his hands could be enough for him to stick there full time.  With Adams rounding back into shape health-wise, CoJo should get the bump up to Triple-A in 2012.  If he continues to produce at the rate he has been, he could be in line for a late-season cup of coffee in the show and some serious consideration for a utility IF role for the Yanks in 2013.

12) D.J. Mitchell- RHP- Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

I'll probably take some heat for this selection, as I seem to be the only one out there who thinks this highly of Mitchell, but in looking at the guy's numbers I see no reason why people shouldn't be giving him more props.  In a well-stocked 2011 SWB rotation, Mitchell pitched just as well as anybody, posting a 3.16 ERA and 3.98 FIP in 161.1 IP.  He's advanced from A-ball to Triple-A in just 2 seasons, pitching 140+ innings in '09, 150+ in 2010, and then the previously-mentioned 161.1 in 2011, exhibiting the ability to be both effective and healthy.  There are some questions about whether or not his future will be as a starter or a reliever, but either way Mitchell has shown that he can be a useful piece of a pitching staff.  It's important to remember that this kid has only been pitching full-time since his sophomore year in college, so there's room for improvement.

The biggest thing holding Mitchell back is his stuff.  He stands 6'2" but only weighs about 170 pounds and so he doesn't generate a lot of velocity.  He's mainly a sinker-slider pitcher, with the sinker sitting high-80s-low-90s, and he also has a decent changeup and will mix in the occasional curveball.  The lack of velocity on the sinker and lack of a true out pitch in his secondary offerings combine to have Mitchell not miss as many bats as you'd like to see (6.25 K/9 in 2011), and his BB/9 consistently sitting in the mid-3.00s suggests he needs to harness his command.  But moving through the Yankee system in 2 years with the numbers he's put up points to there being plenty of talent and natural pitching ability there to work with, and adding some weight and tweaking his mechanics a bit could bring some of that added velocity necessary to make Mitchell a true top-tier pitching prospect. There is also the belief that Mitchell's stuff could play up out of the bullpen where he could throw his best pitches more often, so it will be interesting to see how he's used in 2012 when he'll start out in the SWB rotation again.

11) Brett Marshall- RHP- High-A Tampa

Another Tommy John Surgery recipient, Marshall went under the knife in 2009.  Since returning to the mound in 2010, Marshall has flashed the type of electric stuff that future aces are made of, making him arguably the top pitching prospect below the current crop of Triple-A arms the Yankees have.  In 2011, his first full season since the surgery, Marshall focused on building his innings and arm strength back up, and did just that by throwing 140.1 total innings at High-A Tampa over 26 starts.  But he wasn't just pitching for quantity, he also pitched well, posting a 3.24 FIP and striking out 7.31 batters/9 innings.  He'll turn 22 right before the start of the 2012 season and could be in for a big year as he continues to move further away from his surgery.

Marshall has decent size at 6'0"/195, and generates a ton of velocity on his 2 different types of fastballs he throws.  His 4-seamer sits mid-90s and can touch the uppers at times, and his 2-seamer sits low-90s with plenty of movement in on right-handed hitters.  He also throws a hard slider with a lot of late movement and is in the early stages of developing a curveball.  With a repertoire like that, it's easy to see why the ceiling is high for Marshall.  He has decent control of his stuff right now, but a 3.08 BB/9 in 2011 suggests that there's still plenty of room for him to tighten up his command to become even more effective.  Like D.J. Mitchell, Marshall hasn't been pitching for very long, so his approach on the mound and mechanics aren't totally refined.  As he continues to learn the nuances of pitching, the opportunity is there for Marshall to develop into a top-tier pitcher.  There are some openings in the Double-A rotation after the promotion of the Killer Bs late last season, and I would expect Marshall to get bumped up and fill one of those spots in 2012.

Update For The Rest Of The Year

OK, people.  Here's the deal.  I've got 15-11 going up this afternoon for the continuation of the AB4AR Top 30, but I'm heading up to Bahhston for New Year's with my buddies so that's the last you'll be hearing from me in 2011.  I know, I know, it's enemy territory.  How could I betray my own Yankee fandom like that?  But no worries.  I'm loaded to the gills with Yankee clothes and will be wearing my new Yankee hat with pride all weekend, so rest assured.

I'll be back in writing shape some time on Monday, January 2nd when I get back out to Wisco, so the plan is to pick up the Top 30 then and finish it out with the unveiling of the Top 10 on Monday and Tuesday.  And then from there we'll focus on moving forward towards pitchers and catchers reporting.  So from me to you, have a happy and safe (and hopefully like me, hammered) New Year's Eve and I'll see you on the other side of the calendar change.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

AB4AR Top 30 Yankee Prospects: 20-16

20) Zoilo Almonte- OF- Double-A Trenton

He's been in the Yankee system since 2007, signed as an international free agent at 16, but has consistently flown under the radar while other position players get more attention.  Now 22, 2011 was Almonte's coming out party, as his performance at High-A Tampa (.298/.373/.522, .402 wOBA in 292 PA) forced people to take notice of him.  Now Almonte is being looked at as a possible replacement for guys like Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson in the next couple of years after a promotion to Double-A Trenton and after the Yankees added him to the 40-man roster prior to this year's Rule 5 Draft.  His production dipped a bit at Trenton (.246/.304/.371, .308 wOBA in 191 PA), but Almonte possesses all the tools to become a very good player.

He's not very big at 5'11"/165, but Almonte is a very good athlete with a plus arm who has worked to make himself a better defensive player.  At the plate, his-switch hitting approach is very patient and mature, evidenced by his consistently solid BB rates, and he has developed some more power over time despite his small frame (15 total HR in 2011).  He'll never be a 30 or possibly even a 20-HR guy in the Majors, but he can hit to all fields and can stretch balls into the gaps for extra bases thanks to his speed.  The big drop in production at Double-A suggests that Almonte still has some learning to do at that level in 2012 and he will likely start the season there, but he experienced a similar scenario when he made the jump for Low- to High-A ball in 2010, so we should be prepared for improvement across the board and perhaps a late season promotion to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

19) Dante Bichette Jr.- 3B- SS Staten Island

Like the Culver pick in 2010, many of us scoffed at the announcement that the Yankees drafted Dante Bichette Jr. with their 1st-round pick in 2011.  And many of us were quickly shut up after the season Bichette put together in the GCL.  After a slow start, Bichette went on a tear for the rest of the season, finishing with a .342/.446/.505 line, .438 wOBA, 23 XBH, and 47 RBI in 240 PA over 52 games, taking the GCL MVP with him in the process.  He even made a cameo appearance for SS Staten Island, hitting a HR in his 2 games of late-season action, and was named the #1 GCL prospect by Baseball America ahead of teammate Ravel Santana.  Unlike Culver, Bichette has already done a lot to prove the doubters wrong and establish himself as a legitimate Major League prospect.

Even at just 19 years old, Bichette is big and strong at 6'2"/215, and will likely put on some more weight as he moves through the system.  He is a right-handed hitter and already has a very mature approach at the plate for a HS hitter, working counts and taking plenty of walks when he doesn't get anything to hit (12.5% BB rate).  He's got good bat speed and power but also doesn't K a ton (17.1% K rate), suggesting an advanced eye at the plate and ability to recognize offspeed pitches.  His future position has yet to be determined, but Bichette held his own at the hot corner this year and could stick with more work.  One of his biggest assets is his attitude, likely forged by being the son of a former Major Leaguer, as there were reports of Bichette taking a leadership role with the young GCL team this past season and often getting in extra sessions of BP.  He will likely start the 2012 season in Staten Island, but a quick promotion to Charleston to get a look at how he handles a full season of games is equally likely.

18) Bryan Mitchell- RHP- SS Staten Island

Drafted in the 16th round of the '09 draft out of high school, Mitchell is one of the more intriguing pitching prospects in the Yankee system.  He had a pretty good year for the GCL Yankees in 2010, pitching to a 3.67 ERA and 3.90 FIP in 41.2 innings of work, and was bumped up to SS Staten Island full time in 2011.  His performance there was uneven this past year, mainly due to inconsistent control of his stuff, but a 4.09/4.09 line and 8.61 K/9 from a 20-year-old kid isn't horrible and shows that there's plenty of talent there to work with.

Mitchell is a tall, lanky right-hander at 6'2"/175, and right now is still primarily a 2-pitch pitcher.  His fastball sits low-90s but can hit 94-95, and his out pitch is a very good knuckle curveball.  Right now there's no indication that Mitchell has started to add a 3rd pitch to his repertoire, something he will have to do to be successful at the upper levels, and he could stand to add some bulk to his frame to improve his velocity.  Mitchell's biggest weakness right now is his command.  He's had BB rates in the mid-to-upper 4.00s at both levels, but if he can start to harness his stuff, that knuckle curve can be devastating.  Mitchell should still be looked at as a project, and I believe he should start this season in Staten Island again.  But if he starts to show better command and development of a 3rd pitch, he should be moved up to Low-A to start stretching his arm out and to get more innings under his belt.  The Yankees have been patient and careful with him so far; 2012 should be the time to take the training wheels off.

17) Rob Segedin- 3B- High-A Tampa

The Yankees' 3rd-round pick in the 2010 draft, Segedin is a bat-first prospect in a similar mold to Bichette, although he has some more years and experience on Bichette as a college player who turned 23 this year.  After a quick audition in the GCL and SS Staten Island in 2010 (.243/.321/.400 in 78 PA), Segedin was assigned to Low-A Charleston to start the 2011 season and hit the ground running.  In 260 plate appearances, Segedin hit .323/.396/.482, good for a .394 wOBA and a mid-season promotion to High-A Tampa.  There he experienced some growing pains adjusting to a higher level of competition, hitting just .245/.312/.310, but he has the hitting makeup to adjust and improve this upcoming season and beyond.

Segedin is a right-handed hitter who stands 6'3" and weighs 220 pounds.  His approach at the plate isn't quite as patient as some of the other top hitting prospects, but he makes up for that by making a ton of contact and a ton of good contact at that.  He doesn't have the over-the-wall power you'd expect from a guy his size, but there's plenty of power to the gaps and a low K rate (15.0% in Charleston) that speaks to his ability to consistently make contact.  Defensively, Segedin is a bit more of a question mark than Bichette at 3rd, and the Yankees have already started experimenting with him in the outfield, but his bat is more than enough to carry him as a legit prospect.  I expect Segedin to follow a similar path in 2012 as the one he was on in 2011: a start back in Tampa to see how he's improved and then a mid-season promotion to Double-A Trenton if the progress is there.

16) Ramon Flores- OF- Low-A Charleston

In an organization that prides itself on patience and working counts at the plate, Flores might very well be the prospect who does that best.  And as a 19-year-old who doesn't turn 20 until March of next year and a lefty, that makes him a very good prospect to follow.  After hitting 3 levels of the system in 2010, mainly as an injury replacement, Flores settled into Low-A Charleston in 2011 and spent a full season there putting his advanced hitting talents on display.  In 534 PA over 125 games, Flores posted a .265/.353/.400 tripleslash, a .350 wOBA, 39 XBH, 59 R, 59 RBI, and 13 SB.  For a 19-year-old playing A-ball while most others his age were still in short-season leagues, that's pretty damn impressive.  It's not hard to see why Flores is ranked where he is on this list.

What makes Flores' production at the plate even more impressive is the fact that he's not a big kid by any stretch of the imagination.  Standing just 5'10"/150, calling Flores lanky might even be an overstatement, but he uses his smooth lefty swing to generate solid consistent gap power and his incredibly advanced batting eye to take plenty of walks (11.6% BB rate in 2011) if he doesn't get anything he likes.  Continuing to fine tune his swing and adding some muscle will only make Flores more dangerous as a hitter as he moves through the system.  He's also no slouch defensively, boasting an above-average arm in the outfield that should keep him there permanently after the Yanks experimented with him in different spots and even at first base in 2010.  Like Zoilo Almonte, Flores hasn't gotten a ton of ink yet, but I expect 2012 to be his big introduction to the masses as a solid prospect as he makes a full-season return to High-A Tampa.

** Coming up tomorrow- Spots 15-11. **

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

AB4AR Top 30 Yankee Prospects: 25-21

25) Mark Montgomery- RHP- Low-A Charleston

Of all the young nasty relievers currently in the Yankees' system, Montgomery might very well be the nastiest.  He's not as big as Branden Pinder or Tommy Kahnle at 5'11''/205, but the numbers he put up in his first pro season in 2011 were even more eye-opening.  Drafted in the 11th round of this year's draft, Montgomery was assigned to SS Staten Island and then quickly moved to Charleston after striking out 10 of the 19 batters he faced over 4 innings of work.  At Charleston, Montgomery continued to miss bats at an incredible rate, striking out 41 more over 24.1 IP and racking up 14 saves.  All totaled, Montgomery's K/9 was 16.2 over his 28.1 innings of work.  I don't care what level you're doing it at, that's damn impressive.

Montgomery's fastball sits in the low-90s but can be dialed up to 94-95 when he needs to reach back for something extra.  His biggest asset, though, something that neither Pinder nor Kahnle have established yet, is a good secondary pitch.  Montgomery's slider is his big out pitch and has already been graded by scouts as "major league plus."  He, like almost every young pitcher, still needs to harness his command of his stuff, but at just 21 and with 2 plus pitches in his repertoire, Montgomery is set up to become a Dave Robertston-type relief ace.  He should start 2012 in Tampa and could be in line for another quick promotion if he dominates that league.  If the command comes around, we could be looking at Montgomery as the next big piece of the Yankee bullpen in 2013.

24- George Kontos- RHP- Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

A guy who is older than me probably shouldn't qualify as a prospect, but with the reinvention that Kontos has had to go through after Tommy John Surgery, and the fact that he is practically a Major League-ready reliever right now, I think that's enough to get him on the list.  Originally drafted in '05 as a starter, Kontos experienced success rising through the system until the TJS shut him down in mid-2009.  Since then, Kontos has rehabbed his arm and rebuilt himself as a very effective relief pitcher.  In 89.1 innings at SWB in 2011, Kontos posted a 2.62 ERA/3.85 FIP with a 9.17 K/9 and 2.62 BB/9 to boot, and then struck out another 6 in his 7-outing, 6-inning cup of coffee with the Yanks at the end of the season.

Kontos is another big body (6'3"/215) and has seen his stuff play up a bit since the surgery and conversion to a relief role.  He throws a low-90s fastball that he can run all over the place and did in his late-season audition with the Yankees, and a mid-80s slider that generates lots of swings and misses when it's on.  He's got a few problem areas that could be cause for concern at the next level, but he'll be given a long look in Spring Training in 2012 and could very well win the last bullpen spot out of camp.  If Soriano has injury problems again and the clock strikes midnight on Cory Wade, the opportunity is there for Kontos to get some higher-leverage innings.  If he can throw strikes consistently, he could be a useful piece in the Majors next season.

23) Ravel Santana- CF- GCL Yankees

We haven't touched "toolsy young position player" territory since opening with Tyler Austin, and players don't get much more toolsy than Santana.  Signed as an international free agent in 2009 at age 17, Santana tore up the Dominican Summer League in 2010 to the tune of a .322/.440/.533 tripleslash, .493 wOBA, 21 XBH, and 22 SB in 244 plate appearances.  He was doing similar things in 2011 for the GCL Yankees (.296/.361/.568, .423 wOBA, 23 XBH, 10 SB) until his season was ended by a brutal ankle injury suffered on a stolen base attempt.  Still only 19, Santana is long and lean at 6'2" and 160 pounds, but has plenty of time to add some weight as he advances.

Santana's hitting approach for such a young player is very mature, evidenced by his solid BB rates, and he has good bat speed and power for such a thin frame.  He complements his hitting skill with tremendous speed and a great arm that make him a plus defender in center field and a constant threat on the basepaths.  In a short time, Santana has already flashed the makings of an outstanding 5-tool player, and was ranked as the 7th best prospect in the Yankee system by Baseball America last week after being ranked as the #2 prospect in the GCL in 2011 behind another Yankee teammate.  But his injury was a serious one, and it's still unknown how that will affect him in 2012.  Early reports have him on schedule to start the season, but I expect the Yankees to err on the side of caution and ease Santana back into things in Staten Island.  If he shows he's fully recovered, expect a quick promotion.

22) David Adams- 2B- Double-A Trenton

He hasn't played at the Double-A level since suffering a bad foot/ankle injury (sound familiar?), but before that injury David Adams may have been the best position prospect in the Yankee system not named after the son of God.  He's a right-handed hitter who was consistently in the .290-.300 BA range with an OBPCano.  At worst, Adams projected and probably still does project as a solid backup infielder, even at 24 years of age.

Adams started working his way back from the injury this year with limited time in the GCL and High-A Tampa, but amassed only 121 PA.  His blossoming gap power was nowhere to be found in Tampa (only 3 XBH in 57 PA, all doubles), suggesting that he's still not quite back to full strength.  Adams is scheduled to arrive in Tampa early to continue his rehab work before Spring Training begins in 2012, and injury or not, the Yankees thought enough of him to add him to the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft.  I would imagine Adams will start the season in Tampa again to test out the ankle and see how he feels, and if all signs are positive we can expect to see him back in Trenton before long.

21) Cito Culver- SS- SS Staten Island

The much-maligned 1st-round pick of the 2010 draft continues to try to silence the critics.  Culver posted a respectable .312 wOBA in 2010 between the GCL and Staten Island, and put together a solid campaign for SI again in 2011, hitting .250/.323/.337, good for a .324 wOBA, in 312 plate appearances.  The low SLG is a bit of a concern, but adding some weight to his 6'0" frame could help add some pop to his bat, as could some refinement to his switch-hitting swing.  What he lacks in power, though, Culver makes up for offensively with his ability to draw walks (9.6% BB rate in 2011) and his speed on the basepaths.

Anybody still looking to criticize Culver or the Yankees for taking him should remember that he'll enter the 2012 season still just 19 years old.  And a comparison of his 2010 totals to his 2011 show that he's trending in the right direction, especially in regard to his decreased K rate, down to 18.3% this past season.  He'll never make any of us forget Derek Jeter in his prime with the bat, but Culver is more than capable of being an everyday shortstop at the next level thanks to solid range and a very strong throwing arm.  And being so young, he's got plenty of time to improve his hitting and at least be able to step into the box at the Major League level and not get the bat knocked out of his hands.  The next step is to see how Culver handles a full season of games, and that should start in 2012 with a promotion to Low-A Charleston.

** Check back tomorrow afternoon for spots 20-16. **

The Horse Is Getting Experimental With His Knees

"Kobe Bryant can be credited with an assist to Alex Rodriguez.

According to multiple sources, the Yankees third baseman recently followed a recommendation from Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star, and traveled to Germany for an experimental therapy called Orthokine on his bothersome right knee.

The innovative procedure was performed on Rodriguez — with the Yankees’ blessing — within the last month, according to one source. The Yankees first cleared the procedure with the commissioner’s office to avoid the appearance that Rodriguez might be receiving impermissible treatment....

Orthokine involves taking blood from the patient’s arm and spinning it in a centrifuge, a machine used in laboratories to spin objects around a fixed axis. The serum is then injected into the affected area — in this case, Rodriguez’s knee."

I've watched 2 of the 3 Lakers games since the NBA season started and Kobe looks pretty good, so I guess this is a good attempt at keeping The Horse and his knees healthy and on the field in 2012.

One question, though.  Did he get a discount on the price for doing 4 knees instead of just the one?

(Quotes courtesy of The NY Post)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

AB4AR Top 30 Yankee Prospects: 30-26

30) Tyler Austin- 3B- SS Staten Island

Drafted in the 13th round in 2010, Austin didn't see much playing time that year after breaking his wrist on a HBP in his 2nd pro game.  As a result, he started 2011 in Extended Spring Training and then was moved up to the GCL when that season started.  Austin thoroughly dominated the GCL and more than held his own for SS Staten Island after being promoted.  All in all, Austin put up a .354/.418/.579 tripleslash in 47 combined games at both levels along with 26 XBH and a perfect 18-for-18 on steals.

Austin is young (just turned 20 in September), big (6'2", 200 pounds), and athletic.  His calling card is his bat, which has already shown to be well above average.  He has shown some pop to all fields and an approach at the plate that's slightly more advanced than it should be for your average 20-year-old.  His final position has yet to be determined, but the Yankees appear to be settling on using him at the hot corner.  Austin possesses all the tools to become a very good pro, and with nothing left to prove at the lower levels, he'll get his first real test in 2012 with a full season at Low-A Charleston.  A solid showing there should have him shooting up a lot of people's rankings.

29) Branden Pinder- RHP- SS Staten Island

Pinder is practically cut from the pages of the "future big-time reliever" catalog.  He's a big body (6'3", 210), a power arm, and a 22-year-old college pitcher who was drafted in the 16th round of the 2011 draft.  After being assigned to SS Staten Island, Pinder became the team's closer almost immediately and he did not disappoint.  In 31 IP over 24 appearances, Pinder allowed only 24 combined baserunners and 4 ER, good for a 1.16 ERA and 1.94 FIP, while batters hit just .152 off of him.  And just for the sake of padding the kid's stat line, I'll also mention that he was a perfect 14-for-14 in save opportunities and had an 11.03 K/9.

Pinder uses his big body to bring the thunder, a lively fastball that sits mid-90s and above, but as a college pitcher he possesses some command to pair with that great stuff as evidenced by his sterling 1.45 BB/9.  He needs that command to be successful right now, as Pinder doesn't really have a solid secondary offering.  But like Austin, he's already proven that he's too good for the short season leagues and he should start 2012 in Charleston, where he needs to work on improving his offspeed pitches.  If he continues to put up these kind of lights out numbers, there's no reason for him to not be on the fast track up through the system, especially if he develops a reliable offspeed pitch.

28) Kyle Roller- 1B- High-A Tampa

Whether it's for better or worse, Roller is almost a Nick Johnson clone.  He's a big, burly left-handed hitter at 6'1"/235 with a solid combination of power and patience at the plate.  After putting together a solid season in the NY Penn League in 2010, Roller was promoted to Charleston to start the 2011 season and then received a promotion to Tampa after hitting .305/.379/.545 for the River Dogs in 50 games.  His 2011 totals are nothing to sneeze at (.284/.371/.482 w/ 31 2B, 16 HR, 57 RBI, and a wOBA in the .380s in 455 PA), but Roller often falls below the radar when compared to other higher-profile Yankee hitting prospects.

The lack of talk could be attributed to Roller being a college hitter, already 23 years old, and to him not being the most athletic cat on the block.  He's really only built to play first base, and could have a future as a DH on the horizon if he doesn't show the ability to play the field well at higher levels.  But Roller can hit, and has shown the kind of patience that the Yankees love (9.0% BB rate in High-A).  He might start the season in Tampa again, but should receive the bump to Trenton quickly.  He's definitely not the type to blow you away with mind-blowing peripherals or tools, but he's a solid hitter worthy of our attention in 2012 as he takes the next step.

27) Tommy Kahnle- RHP- Low-A Charleston

Like Pinder, Tommy Kahnle is a big power pitcher at 6'1"/220 who comes at you with the big, stinky cheddar.  A high-profile Division II pitching prospect in the 2010 draft, Kahle opened eyes immediately with 25 Ks in just 16 IP in 2010 for SS Staten Island.  Expectations were high for Kahnle in 2011 as he moved to Charleston, but his ascent hit a bit of a speed bump as he experienced problems with command (5.44 BB/9).  Despite that, Kahnle is still an intriguing prospect who could be fast tracked in 2012 if he bounces back to his 2010 form.

Kahnle's fastball sits mid-90s but can be dialed up to 97-98 when needed.  His usual secondary offering is a changeup, but the Yankees have been trying to get him to develop a slider, which could have been a contributing factor to his higher walk totals in 2011.  In 97 career MiL innings, Kahnle has 137 strikeouts, so the stuff is clearly already there as a foundation for future relief success.  And command issues or not, Kahnle did experience some bad luck in 2011 as his FIP was almost 2 runs lower than his 4.22 ERA.  He'll still be 22 when the 2012 season starts, so Kahnle has time to refine his skills.  If all goes well, we could see him finish next season in Trenton.

26) Nik Turley- LHP- High-A Tampa

Drafted in the 50th round out of high school in '08, 2011 was Turley's 4th season in the Yankee system and the first in which he finally started to put the pieces together.  22 years old, Turley is a long, lean lefty, standing 6'7" and 195 pounds.  In 15 starts for Low-A Charleston this past season, Turley posted a 2.51 ERA/3.53 FIP along with an 8.96 K/9 and 2.30 BB/9 in 82.1 IP, earning himself a late-season promotion to Tampa.  He only made 2 starts there with limited success, but he did enough for the River Dogs to make himself one of the more intriguing starters in the lower levels.

He doesn't blow anybody with his fastball, but his height and arm angle can give hitters fits, and Turley can maximize the value of both of those things by being a lefty.  He was considered a project and the Yankees have been patient with him so far, but he needs to develop some consistency with both his stuff and his command.  2012 will be a big year for Turley in terms of keeping himself in the ever-crowded mix of Yankee starter prospects.  Adding some bulk to his frame could go a long way in helping him take the next step to the higher levels.

** Coming up tomorrow- Spots 25-21. **

Another Trade Possibility To Consider

(No word on whether or not Joba's TJS rehab includes the same Mickey Mouse workouts he did in 2010)

With all or almost all of what would have been considered "real" trade targets for the Yankees either already traded or re-signed, it's looking like a near certainty that we won't be seeing any new rotation arms for 2012.  But there is one guy on the Yankees' roster who could bring back some value in a trade and actually might make sense to move.  That guy is Joba Chamberlain.  I know he's still injured and won't be pitching until some time in the summer of 2012, but early reports have him ahead of schedule in his rehab, and at this point he might hold more value to the Yankees as a trade piece than as a piece of the 25-man roster.

The "Joba as a Starter" experiment has already been conducted by the Yankees, and despite there still being pleas from those in the Yankosphere to give it another go, the Yankees have never shown interest in reviving that option.  They're set with their 5-man rotation right now and have Hector Noesi on standby as the 6th starter if/when needed.  And with the emergence of D-Rob in the bullpen in 2011, it's suddenly become a little crowded at that inn as well.  Joba would be looking at another partial season behind Mo, two more years behind Soriano and multiple years behind D-Rob before he could be considered a serious contender for even a setup role.  And with the Yankees already having a stockpile of young arms who can step in and cover middle relief innings, Joba becomes less important as an insurance policy and space filler in that role.

And yet, by the time he is fully recovered from his Tommy John Surgery, Joba will still be a 26-year-old power arm with experience as a starter.  Last time I checked, the Yankees weren't the only team in need of starting pitching help, and Joba is dangerously close to becoming an afterthought in the Yankee organization for the reasons mentioned above, so why not try to stir up some interest around baseball and see if there's a market for him?  I'm not saying they SHOULD move Joba, but if Cash was trying to sell people on Francisco Cervelli earlier in the offseason, he might as well see what the market is, if there even is one, for Chamberlain.  They won't get the value in return that they would have a couple years ago, but you have to think Joba could bring back more than A.J.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Precursor To The Top 30

At long last, the AB4AR Top 30 will begin to be unveiled tomorrow.  But before I jump in headfirst and open myself up to your criticism for why I didn't put this guy in or why that guy is ranked so low, I figured I'd give you a look inside my mental lab so you know how I came up with my list.

As someone who admittedly doesn't have enough time to devote to following the Minors as I'd like to, I rely heavily on the input of others and the prospect lists of others, namely Mike Axisa of RAB, EJ Fagan of TYA, and Baseball America.  I also try to read as many scouting reports and prospect profiles on players as I possibly can, and then I combine all of that with my own set of judging criteria.  I tend to put much more weight on consistent production and improvement than tools and potential, as I think guys who have advanced through the system and gotten themselves closer to the show are more of a known commodity and sure thing than lower-level guys.  As a result, you'll generally see the bottom 15 of the list heavier on short-season and A-ball guys and the top 15 with more Triple-A guys.

Other things you should know:  I have an unhealthy love affair with power relief arms.  Guys who are already settled into a relief role can be moved through the system more quickly and, in my opinion, more accurately projected as Major League players.  When I see guys come in and start blowing hitters away as a relief pitcher, at any level, I get excited, so be prepared to see a few relievers on the list that you might not have expected.  And this one is something that most intelligent baseball fans probably agree with, but I like hitters who already have the ability to take pitches, draw walks, and avoid strikeouts.  It shows a more advanced hitting approach, so if you can do it at the low levels it's one less thing you have to learn when you make it to the Majors.

So there you have it.  A quick look inside the process that determined this inaugural list.  Now that we've covered that, here's a quick look at some of the guys who just missed the cut.

AB4AR Top 30 Honorable Mentions

37) Ryan Pope- RHP- Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre

Recently converted to the bullpen after showing some promise as a starter, Pope made his Triple-A debut this year.  He had a rough go, but has a combination of solid stuff and decent command that could lead to future success as a late-inning guy if he can harness both of them.

36) Jose Ramirez- RHP- High-A Tampa

Ramirez had a very good debut in 2010, but took a step back this season as he moved up to High-A Tampa.  The stuff is there but the command was spotty at best.  The good news is he'll be just 22 when the season starts, but a bounce back to his 2010 form is needed to make him a serious prospect.

35) Evan DeLuca- LHP- SS Staten Island

Flashed the stuff to draw interest for Staten Island in 2011, but needs to show some command.

34) Melky Mesa- OF- Double-A Trenton

Your classic "tools" guy, Mesa has never been high on my radar.  He'll be 25 years old this year and still in Double-A, and hasn't gotten closer to cutting down on his strikeouts than he was in '06.

33) Evan Rutckyj- RHP- GCL Yankees

See "DeLuca, Evan."

32) Chase Whitley- RHP- Double-A Trenton

He's moved through the system quickly in 2 years, but Whitley hit a bit of a speed bump when he made the jump to Double-A in 2011.  As a reliever, though, he should continue to ascend if he can show improvement in 2012.

31) Angelo Gumbs- SS- SS Staten Island

Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft, Gumbs has tools for days, is only 19, and could very well turn into a better shortstop prospect than 1st-round pick Cito Culver.  If he continues to put everything together in 2012, there's no reason he can't finish the year in Tampa.

** Check back tomorrow for prospects 30-26 **

A Belated Bullpen Stocking Stuffer

In case you haven't been keeping up with Joba's rehab from Tommy John, he provided an update early on Christmas Eve day the other day:

"Update on arm: feels great, throwing bullpens for a couple weeks. Now taking 2 weeks n resting my arm. Start throwing after the New Year"

If he's been throwing for a couple weeks already, that would put him ahead of schedule for his return.  Instead of June-July, we could be seeing Joba back in the 'pen some time in May, assuming he continues to progress on his schedule and doesn't have any setbacks.  As I've stated here before, he probably falls  behind Mo, D-Rob, and Sour Puss in the bullpen hierarchy, making him more of a luxury than a vital piece at this point.  But you never know what can happen with injuries, so the more late-inning depth the Yankees have, the better.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Quick Christmas Message

It's that time of year again.  It doesn't seem like I've been doing this for that long, but somehow the 3rd Christmas here at AB4AR is almost upon us.  And while Cash and the rest of the front office don't seem willing to fill out their Christmas wish list or fill our fan stockings with a new starting pitcher, at least we can all take happiness and joy from knowing that we get to share Christmas with our friends and families.  Or something sentimental like that.

In all seriousness, I want to thank everybody out there who supports AB4AR in one way or another for helping to make this the most enjoyable year I've had running the site.  Whether you're reading, commenting, telling your friends, whatever, it's that interest that makes doing this worthwhile.  So I thank you all for that.  And a big thanks to all my colleagues over at The Yankee Analysts for thinking enough of my work to extend an invite and bring me aboard a few months back.  To work with them and to be able to get my thoughts and opinions on the Yankees out to a wider audience has been fantastic.

So to everybody out there who reads, I hope you all enjoy your time with your families over the next few days, and I hope you continue to read and follow the site.  As is tradition here at AB4AR, I leave you with what is undoubtedly the greatest Christmas song in the history of music.  Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Maybe This Whole Payroll Cutting Thing Started Earlier Than We Thought


- The Yankees luxury tax for 2011 will be $13.9 million.

- The luxury tax they paid last year was $18 million.

- The luxury tax they paid in 2009 was $25.7 million.

Maybe I'm just slow on the uptake here, but I was surprised to read that today.  But now that I think about it, that makes perfect sense.  After they made their big splash with CC/A.J./Teix before '09, we haven't seen the Yankees be very active in the free agent market or at the trade deadline.  Lot more short, cheap deals like Bartolo, Freddy, Eric Chavez, etc.  Maybe there were already plans in the works to trim payroll before the new CBA even came to be.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Baseball America's Top 10 Yankee Prospects Revealed

(New prospect list means time for a new Jesus Photoshop)

And prospect day continues here at AB4AR.  Probably as a way to temper the buzz that was sure to come once I started to drop hints about the AB4AR list, Baseball America has released their Top 10 Prospects list for the Yankees this year.  That list is as follows:

1) Jesus Montero
2) Manny Banuelos
3) Dellin Betances
4) Gary Sanchez
5) Mason Williams
6) Dante Bichette Jr.
7) Ravel Santana
8) Austin Romine
9) J.R. Murphy
10) Slade Heathcott

My quick thoughts:

- No surprise in the top 3.  Montero, ManBan, and Betances are pretty much the unanimous top 3 across the board anywhere you look, which probably explains why every team is asking for at least 2 of them in any trade for a starter.

- I get Sanchez at 4, but I still think Austin Romine is being undervalued a bit because of his lower ceiling.  Sanchez is still a long ways away from the show; Romine has already been there.  In my book that makes him a higher-ranking prospect.

- In that same vein, I can understand being high on Bichette and Santana, but to rank them solidly in the top 10, ahead of Major League-ready guys like Romine, is a bit of stretch.  If BA really projects Romine as a .270 hitter with 10-15 HR and good defense in the Majors, that should be enough to rank him higher than 2 guys who have yet to play a full professional season.

- In THAT same vein, it's crazy to me how David Phelps and Adam Warren keep getting overlooked.  These are guys who have succeeded at every level of the Minors and could step in and pitch in the Majors tomorrow.  How that track record gets factored in less than a good short season is beyond me.

- With the inclusion of Santana, the Yankees are suddenly stacked with high-ceiling OF prospects.  Williams and Heathcott have been on the radar for a while, but now there's 3 guys in the top 10 who could be future CFers.  It should be interesting to see how fast or slow the Yankees move these 3 this year if they perform well, especially considering C-Grand's contract will be coming up in the near future.

The Fun And Frustration Of Being A Yankee Fan On A Budget

As the Yankees continue down their path of self-imposed penny pinching, focusing on the big picture and future benefits of cutting payroll for 2014 rather than the immediate benefits of signing someone like Roy Oswalt or Hiroki Kuroda, we Yankee fans and distinguished members of the Yankee blogosphere suddenly find ourselves in some unfamiliar territory.  By now we are (or should be) used to the Yankees not always getting their man during Hot Stove season.  But to see them take a backseat approach to the offseason proceedings and not really attempt to get any man or even make other teams think that they're trying to get their man?  That's Dimension X-level weirdness to many, and it's already starting to get to some of us.

Because we know the Yankees have needs.  They aren't glaring needs, but any relatively smart Yankee fan knows that this team has needs, mainly another big-time starter.  Cash himself came out and openly admitted that to us at his year-end press conference when he name dropped improving the rotation.  Sure, bringing back CC was a great move, and Freddy provides depth, but did bringing back 40% of 2011's rotation to join up with the remaining 60% really make the 2012 rotation any BETTER?  Probably not.  And we've been conditioned to expect big things when the Yankees make it known what their target areas of need are.  But this offseason we've seen them content to linger in the background, seemingly ignoring the very holes in their roster that Cash admitted they have while those who could conceivably fill those holes are snatched up by the competition.  This is frustrating.

The frustration, almost certainly rooted in our being conditioned to expect the Yankees to always get their guy, is understandable to a degree.  With the resources and money at their disposal, there is no reason that the Yankees couldn't have snatched up both C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, continued to pursue guys through a trade, and build a brand new mega-rotation.  But the Yankees appear to have decided to re-allocate their resources, namely the ones with the $$ signs, and plan for the future rather than address the present.  It's not a familiar strategy for us as fans to see play out.  New CBA or not, the Yankees are still the biggest dog in the uncapped MLB yard, and they shouldn't be letting the smaller, weaker dogs come up and steal their Kibble.  But that appears to be the path they're planning to take to achieve their future goals, which means we could have to get used to this kind of offseason for the next few years.

On the positive side, in focusing so much on controlling costs and moving further away from the quick-trigger, free-wheeling spending days of the early 2000s, the Yankees are setting the stage for their latest crop of young homegrown talent to step up and establish themselves, and that should be fun to watch.  With Bernie and Andy and Jorge gone, and Jeter and Mo closer to the ends of the playing careers than their primes, the core of the most recent dynasty is almost gone.  Now we get to see who can step up and replace them, who can live up to the hype, who can fly under the radar and surprise us, and who can start to build the foundation to the next great Yankee dynasty.

Will Manny Banuelos replace Andy as the big-game lefty in the rotation?  Will Mason Williams blossom into a new generation Bernie Williams 2.0?  We don't know.  But what we do know is that the Yankees aren't trading all these young assets off like baseball cards to fill the holes they don't fill through free agency anymore.  And if the Yankees aren't going to be the big spenders on the block for the foreseeable future, and aren't going to trade their youth for a quick fix, they are going to have to fill holes from within, which means it's very likely that many of these guys are going to get a real shot to become the next generation of Yankee greats.

It'll suck if the Yankees continue to be bystanders during the next few offseasons, no doubt.  But to be able to witness the potential beginning of the next generation of homegrown Yankee stars isn't a bad trade-off.  And while offseasons might not be quite as exciting as we're used to while the cash isn't being thrown around, the infuse of young talent and all the possibilities that lie with it should ensure that the next few seasons are exciting.

The AB4AR Top 30 Is Coming

I know I've been teasing this forever, and I teased it again yesterday on the Facebook page, but this time it's for real.  It's really happening.  No more dragging it out and promising dates and then missing them like Dr. Dre making the "Detox" album. The first ever AB4AR Top 30 Prospects list is done and it's coming out.  I sat down, did the research, ranked the players, and it's finally going to happen.  This is truly a Christmas miracle.

Starting next Tuesday, December 27th, the list will be unveiled in posts of 5 players per day.  It will conclude with the top 5 on January 3rd, pretty fitting with the whole "new year" theme.  Clearly I put a lot of thought into this.

So be on the look out for the Top 30 starting next week and prepare your comments for all the crummy choices I made and guys I left off.  That's what prospect lists are about, right?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Oh Come On!!

You''ll willingly scrape Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon off the bottom of the scrap heap last year on one-year deals when each represented significant risk, but won't shell out for a bona fide top-tier starter who's practically throwing himself at you this year on another one-year deal?

I don't get it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oswalt On A One-Year Deal? Absolutely!

It's real simple.  If this report from Jerry Crasnick is true, and all indications are that it is, then Brian Cashman should be on the phone with Roy Oswalt's agent right now.  And within a few days Roy Oswalt should be the newest member of the New York Yankees.  Because right now, Roy Oswalt is exactly what the Yankees are looking for in every way.

In Oswalt, the Yankees are getting just the type of player they need, a true top-of-the-rotation stud.  And not just one with a couple good seasons under his belt, but a real true stud.  A guy with All Star Games and big postseason performances and Cy Young votes under his belt.  Inserting Oswalt behind CC in the rotation immediately makes it better AND deeper than it is right now.  And in Oswalt, the Yankees are getting a guy who is highly motivated and will be busting his balls to pitch well and have a great year.  Oswalt's no fool.  He knows there's no market out there for him right now for a multi-year contract because he's such a ticking time bomb with his bad back.  If he can have one good year where he's healthy the whole time, he can probably convince a club to give him one more multi-year deal before he retires.  He won't be coming in just to hang on and collect a paycheck; he's playing for a career.  Bad back or not, "former ace and Cy Young candidate with a huge reason to pitch well" = "Good Investment."

And if it doesn't work out?  He gets hurt again, misses a lot of time, misses the season, whatever.  You know Cash wouldn't be stupid enough to move A.J. or Hughes because he would want a contingency plan for Oswalt, so the rotation would be right back where it would have been if the Yankees didn't sign Oswalt, which is where it is right now.  And on a one-year deal, Oswalt poses little or no threat to the Yankees' continuing-to-become-more-apparent plan to cut payroll for 2014.

But if it does work out, and Oswalt comes into camp in great shape, stays healthy throughout the season, and pitches to the ability of his still-very-existent talent?  Then the Yankees have to get vaulted right back to the top of the list of World Series favorites.  And Joe can feel a hell of a lot more confident coming up with a postseason rotation in 2012.

Anything between those two outcomes is gravy, even if it's just a handful of starts, because it would almost assuredly be better than what A.J. would give the team as a 5th member of the rotation.  And when you know it's a one-year deal, you just hope for the best and know that no matter what happens, you're out from under it and free after one year.  It's basically the same situation the Yankees were in last offseason when they signed Freddy and Bart.  And even at more money, Oswalt is still a better investment than many of us thought Colon and Garcia were because of the higher reward potential.

We look at the rotation and we see a lot of 3s and 4s, most of them with question marks attached related more to how much worse they'll do in 2012 than better.  Roy Oswalt is a no-doubt upgrade over all of those guys and he's available for a one-year commitment.  If the Yankees are or were considering giving $12 million for one year of Hiroki Kuroda's services, then they shouldn't even have to think about picking up the phone to make a similar deal to Oswalt.

How The Cuddyer/Willingham Contracts Help Nick Swisher (And Potentially Hurt The Yankees)

Nick Swisher will head into the 2012 season on the last year of his current contract, one that has been incredibly friendly to the Yankees considering the production they have gotten since fleecing Kenny Williams trading for Swish prior to the 2009 season.  In typical Yankee fashion, they have not  discussed a new contract for Swish, instead choosing to pick up his 2011 option and then see where they are after the season.  That could end up working out well for Swish if he has a big year in 2012, but that won't be known for months.  What is known is that two players comparable to Swish both signed new contracts this past week, essentially laying the groundwork for a starting point to Swish's new contract.

Josh Willingham took a 3-year/$21 million deal from the Minnesota Twins to replace the departed Michael Cuddyer, who then signed a 3-year/$31.5 million deal with the Colorado Rockies.  If we're using these two as a measuring stick for Swish, at first glance it appears that we're looking at three incredibly similar players.

There's a little more consistency to Willingham's wOBA plot (purple), and some surprisingly similar fluctuation to Swish's and Cuddyer's breakdowns (green and orange respectively), but on average these guys appear to be basically the same hitter.  Swish sports a .254/.360/.466 tripleslash, .357 wOBA, and 117 wRC+ in 4,389 career PA, Cuddyer a .272/.343/.451, .345 wOBA, 111 wRC+ line in 4,555 PA, and Willingham a .262/.371/.477, .364 wOBA, 123 wRC+ line in 3,166 career PA.  All three guys have some pop and some patience at the plate to help cover for the fact that none of them are natural "elite" hitters in terms of batting average.  Working in these broad strokes, there is some basis for Swish's market value being set in a similar $8-12 million range

The advantage that Swish has over his counterparts is time, both in terms of the time he has on his side as a younger player and what he's already done with the time he's spent in the Majors.  Swish will be 31 next year, still in his physical prime, while both Cuddyer and Willingham will turn 33 before Opening Day 2012.  Those 2 years in hand put Swish in a much better position to demand more years and more money.  And looking at what Swish has already accomplished in a similar span of years helps to further separate him from Cuddyer and Willingham.  When these 3 players are compared in terms of WAR, the gap between them starts to increase in Swish's favor.

In a comparable amount of playing time, Swish (blue) has racked up significantly more cumulative WAR than both Cuddyer (green) and Willingham (red).  This added value for Swish can be attributed to his durability (at least 131 games played in every season since his first full one in '05 and at least 150 games played in every season since '06), his higher BB rate (13.5% career), and Swish establishing himself as an above-average defensive player at multiple positions over the span of his career.  Swish has provided positive defensive value as a corner outfielder and first baseman while Cuddyer and Willingham haven't done anything to get themselves confused for Gold Glovers anywhere in the field.  Not only is he younger, Swish is a more well-rounded baseball player who produces at a higher level.

That being the case, what kind of deal can Swish expect to get if guys who rate lower than him are pulling in 7 and slightly over 10 mil per year in their new deals?  As a player who will still be younger than Cuddyer and Willingham were this offseason, and one who has a better health track record, a 4-year deal should be expected to be the minimum offered to Swish in terms of contract length, with 5 not being out of the question if he has another good season in 2012.  And if he does continue his 3-year trend and have another good all-around season, Swisher would be in position to expect a significant boost in salary from the $10+ million he'll make this coming season.  $14-15 million per year wouldn't be out of the question, perhaps more if some teams were really interested in Swish's services.

And this is where things could get interesting for the Yankees.  One way or another, they're going to need a right fielder after the 2012 season unless they break their normal operating procedure and negotiate with Swish during the season.  But if the Yankees are serious about getting down to $189 million in payroll for 2014, which seems more and more likely with each passing day, then a "4-5-year/$15ish million per"-type contract might not fit into those plans.  As Larry Koestler pointed out yesterday, the OF free agent market in 2012 isn't a particularly deep one, so Swish very well could be the best available right fielder.  And there isn't anybody in the upper levels of the Yankee system who they can expect to step into the full-time RF role in 2013, unless Zoilo Almonte or Melky Mesa go completely off-the-charts H.A.M. in 2012.  Swish is going to have all the bargaining power with the Yankees and the Yankees are going to have a serious decision to make with Swish.

They could try to paint with broad strokes like we did earlier, show how Swish's career offensive numbers compare to guys like Cuddyer and Willingham, and attempt to lowball him on an offer for $10-12 million a year.  But if he posts his fourth straight season of 3-4-WAR production, Swish and his agent will know he's worth more than that, and they'll be proven right when other teams who are interested offer more.  If the Yankees weren't willing to get involved with a pitcher in his early-30s this year when the price was around $15 million per for 5 years and they had a clear need for rotation help, how likely are they going to be to get involved with an outfielder in his early-30s for the same figures when they don't have a clear need for offensive help?

There's a lot that could happen that could affect this situation once the season begins.  Swish could get injured and miss a lot of time, the Yankees could have some big improvements or regressions from some key lineup members in 2012 that could make losing Swish's production easier or more difficult to handle in 2013.  Who knows?  But right now, with the deals Cuddyer and Willingham got, and how favorably Swisher compares to them as a baseball player, the price and negotiating power in a deal are both increasing for Swish.  And if the Yankees have a desire to include Swish in their future plans AND trim payroll, that might not be a good thing for them.

(Graphs via FanGraphs.  Click for larger version)

Totally Nailed The Darvish Bidding

I know it was only 5 days ago, so it's not like I possess any kind of real prognostication skills, but I do recall making this statement after the bidding period closed for Yu Darvish last week:

"With some estimates on the winning bid being in the $40-50 mil range, there isn't much chance the Yankee bid will be the winner.  Smart money would be on the Rangers.  After losing Wilson they have the biggest need for a high-end starter."

Haha, how do ya like them apples?  Didn't need any fancy insider information or anonymous league sources, just good old fashioned logic and my keen Polish intellect.  Yes sir, I can smell a job offer from ESPNNY on the horizon.  Andrew Marchand and Buster Olney better watch their fucking backs because I've got my finger on the pulse of Major League Baseball.

P.S.- $51.7 million just for the rights to negotiate with the guy???  I know I said the Rangers needed a top-flight starter, but that's a serious price to pay.  By the time the contract gets done, they're looking at $100-120 million committed to Darvish.  That makes it a little more understandable as to why the Yankees didn't get heavily involved.

Monday, December 19, 2011

What The 25-Man Roster Would Look Like Today

(Who would be joining these fine gentlemen on the bench today?  Courtesy of The AP)

A fun game to play during slow periods in the offseason is constructing the 25-man roster from what is currently available.  Since the entire offseason has basically been a slow period for the Yankees after they signed CC and Freddy, some sites are already turning to this post idea.  The problem, though, is that people aren't being real about their selections.  They're leaving the open bullpen and bench slots open, as if the Yankees were going to say, "you know what, we haven't signed or traded for the guys we really want in these roles, so we're just going to go with 21 players and some blank spaces if that's alright."  Come on, people.  That takes all the fun right of it.  If the season were starting tomorrow, the Yankees would have to at least have 25 warm bodies on the roster and on the bench to play the game, not "???" as the 4th outfielder or "--" as the long man out of the 'pen.  So I'll take it upon myself to play this game the RIGHT way and give you the 25-man roster as it would stand today.


C- Russell Martin
1B- Mark Teixeira
2B- Robinson Cano
SS- Derek Jeter
3B- Alex Rodriguez
LF- Brett Gardner
CF- Curtis Granderson
RF- Nick Swisher
DH- Jesus Montero


SP- CC Sabathia
SP- Ivan Nova
SP- A.J. Burnett
SP- Freddy Garcia
SP- Phil Hughes


RP- Mariano Rivera
RP- Dave Robertson
RP- Rafael Soriano
RP- Boone Logan
RP- Cory Wade
RP- George Kontos
RP- Brad Meyers**


C- Francisco Cervelli
IF- Eduardo Nunez
OF- Chris Dickerson
IF- Brandon Laird

The lineup and the rotation are obviously set (for now), so no big discussion points there.  But shit starts getting a little iffy as we move to the back of the bullpen and the bench area.  With Joba still on the shelf recovering from TJS until the summer, I looked at the rest of the guys on the 40-man and determined that George Kontos was the most likely to get a spot based on his 2011 body of work.  And with Hector Noesi already being penciled into the Triple-A rotation to keep him stretched out as a starter, Brad Meyers was the best option as long man out of the 'pen.**  With a core group of Mo-D-Rob, Sour Puss, Boone Logan, and Wade, that's still a damn good bullpen.

The bench, on the other hand, is a desolate wasteland of Quadruple-A talent.  Francisco Cervelli will likely be on as a 3rd catcher again since the Yankees don't seem interested in having Jesus carry that load on his own.  And for now, it would be Nunez, Dickerson, and Laird filling out the backup spots, although those are the spots most subject to change if the Yankees agree to new deals with guys like Andruw Jones and Nakajima.  Hopefully they do make some deals to beef up the bench, because I could probably grab 3 people from around my office to fill those spots and our production would be comparable.

It's not as strong or as deep as it will be once Spring Training rolls around.  But you have to work with what you've got, and right now this is the roster the Yankees would have to roll with if Game 1 was tomorrow.

**- If you didn't want a 7-man bullpen, substitute somebody like Ramiro Pena or Justin Maxwell in as a 5th bench body for Meyers.

Yankees Once Again The Most Evil Empire

With Kim Jong-Il dying today, that has to put the New York Yankees back at #1 on the list of Evil Empires in the world, right?  I mean, they haven't exactly been bullying other teams around and flexing their evil muscles this offseason, but they're still pretty evil.  And true evil sometimes stays low on the radar, to lure others into a false sense of security.  No doubt that's what the Yankees have been doing, just biding their time, letting old KJ mentally and physically over-work himself to death and then swooping in once he croaks to re-assume the evil throne that is rightfully theirs.  Jong-il's goofy little son may be running the show in North Korea now, but that goober doesn't hold a candle to Hank and Hal, or Cash for that matter.

It wouldn't shock me at all if it turned out the Yankees had a hit man on that train with Kim, and Cash gave the go word on the hit personally.  It'd certainly be the biggest move by the Yankees so far this offseason if he did.

P.S.- If anybody from North Korea is reading this, I'm just playin'.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Yoenis Cespedes: The Sequel

You knew he wasn't just going to leave us hanging out there without hitting us with a sequel.  A new Yoenis Cespedes video has hit the internet, and it's a collection of highlights from his pro day workout.  No weirdass ab exercises in this one; definitely more geared towards actual baseball skills, even if most of the video showed him getting ready to do those baseball skills rather than actually doing them.

If you were paying attention, you probably noticed Tony Pena and Billy Eppler around the 4:15-4:16 mark, confirming that the Yankees have been among the teams who have scouted Cespedes the most.  I'm still not sold on him being a game-changing prospect based off of this video, but I will say that Cespedes has some skills and the dude is definitely a monster athlete.  Jay Bilas would be creaming his jeans if Cespedes was a basketball prospect and not a baseball one.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Yanks Win More Awards

Last night, Major League Baseball had its own awards, the Greatness in Baseball Yearly Awards or GIBBYs.  Unlike many of the other major awards given out each year in baseball, the Yankees weren't shafted in the voting for the GIBBYs.  In fact, they cleaned up last night, taking home 3 awards.

- Dave Robertson: Setup Man of the Year.  Well earned when you check his stat line at FanGraphs.

- Robinson Cano: Wow Factor.  Don't really know what that award means, but I know I say "wow" a lot when I'm watching Cano hit and field.  So this makes sense.

- Moment of the Year: Derek Jeter.  When you're one of the game's most popular players and have been for over 10 years now, and you go 5-5 on the day that you get your 3,000th hit including a home run for that 3,000th and the game-winning RBI on your fifth hit, you're probably going to win Moment of the Year.  That's some hardcore Disney shit and I still can't believe it happened.

So there you go.  The sting of the ridiculous voting in the MVP and Cy Young awards earlier has been eased a little.  And the Yankees can carry the pride that comes with winning 3 prestigious GIBBY Awards in one season into Spring Training.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Would Not Getting Yu Darvish Be The Final Sign That The Yankees Are Serious About Cutting Costs?

 (Better to save for 2014 than to spend in 2011?)

I ask because it's looking that was already a strong possibility with the way Cash has gone about his business this offseason, and the word around the MLB water cooler since Wednesday night has been that the Yanks' bid was relatively low and the Blue Jays' bid was a monster one.  3 years ago, the last time the Yankees made a declaration that they were going to improve the rotation, the roles would have been reversed.  But in 2011 the Yankees have been the model of fiscal responsibility while those around them spend gobs of money to lock up the top FA targets available.

And it's more than just not spending the money on guys.  The Yankees haven't even really been as deeply involved with the big names as they typically are.  They declined a second meeting with C.J. Wilson and his agent, only had "preliminary" talks with Mark Buehrle, didn't even try to get their name connected to Albert Pujols, and now reportedly came in with a small posting bid for Yu Darvish, a guy they've spent 3+ years scouting.  And with what's left out there (Oswalt, Kuroda, Edwin Jackson), there are hardly any substantial rumors connecting any of those 3 to the Yankees.  Right now, they seem very content with what they've done in bringing back CC and Freddy and content to keep their payroll at or only slightly above what it currently is.

We always have to keep our minds open to the possibility of Cash and Co. pulling one over on everybody, and maybe next Tuesday it will be the Yankees who win the Darvish posting with a large bid.  But it doesn't look that way right now, and if they don't win the posting I think that signals them taking a serious approach to shrinking payroll and wouldn't expect to see any more major pitching acquisitions this offseason and possibly next.  The efforts on getting the payroll down, an effort that would reap some rewards in future years, rather than the usual "World Series or bust" offseason approach is a smart one, and I can get on board with it.  It will just take some getting used to.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Talking About The New Labor Deal Details

A bunch of details of the new labor detail were released earlier this week.  And as someone who's on the record as a hater of all things CBA-related, I have to say that I'm liking a lot of the stuff I read about these new changes.  It's nothing earth-shattering, but many of the changes are very simple, very reasonable, and stand to make the game better.  If simple, basic logic was used like this all the time when making decisions about the game, I could probably get into the business side of baseball.  For example:

- Instant Replay: Expansion to cover fair/foul calls, trapped catches, and fan interference (still needs to be approved by the umpires).

It's about damn time.  Baseball has been and is the furthest behind the times of the 4 major sports when it comes to replay, and it seems like the more replay has been talked about over the past couple seasons the more we've seen plays happen where the right call could have been made if umpires could check the replay.  Adding these situations as reviewable plays by replay is a big step forward in closing the gap and should help to ensure that it's the play on the field that determines the winner and not the umps.

- All-Star Break: Changed from 3 days to 4, with the option of moving the HR Derby back from Monday to Tuesday and the ASG from Tuesday to Wednesday.

Makes perfect sense to me.  I mean, 3 days is hardly a break.  That's just a long weekend in my book.  Now everybody gets a little more time to rest, a little more time to see their families, and a little extra time to travel to wherever the ASG is being held.  If this doesn't help bring a little more star power and relevancy back to the ASG, nothing will.  Now if only they could agree to shrink the rosters back down so we aren't stuck watching the Watered Down Pool of Very Good Players Game every year, that would be something.

- Game Schedules: Re-alignment to six 5-team divisions, with each team playing 17 or 18 games against each divisional opponent and no more than 20 interleague games per team.

Another very simple, logical decision.  Houston moves to the AL, all the divisions are finally balanced, and facing divisional opponents is still the most important part of a team's schedule.  I'm a firm believer that the shtick of interleague play has long worn off, so the fewer interleague games the better in my book.  Just keep it to the geographic and historical rivalries and let that be that.

- Scoring Decisions: A ban on players a/o coaches asking official scorers to change decisions.  Instead, a formal appeal must be sent to MLB with video evidence.

No more home cooking from the stadium scorers.  If you think you deserve a hit or an RBI, prove it and let the governing body make a decision.  Nothing wrong with that.   The less I have to see clips of David Ortiz barging into postgame press conferences to whine to his manager about a scoring play, the happier I'll be.

- Uniform Number Changes: Players must inform MLB 8 months in advance if they want to switch their uniform number while still on the same team, or be willing to buy up all the merchandise that has the current number.

This is the Chad Ochocinco Rule, right?  I have to admit that I haven't heard of any situation where a baseball player has caused a merchandise-related issue by switching numbers mid-season, but in case anybody was thinking about it, now there's a rule for it.  This should come in handy for the guys who get stuck with crummy numbers in the 60s and 70s when they first come up and want to switch to  "real" number.

- Playoff Matchups: Teams from the same division can now face each other in the Wild Card round.

Duh.  This is one that never made any sense to me.  Record should determine playoff seeding, simple as that.  But that goes out the window in baseball if the two teams that would match up based on record are from the same division?  Why?  What does it matter if they play in the Wild Card Round or League Championship?  Truth be told, I'd rather see the Yankees playing the Rays in the first round as opposed to the ALCS.  Get it out of the way early.  Now that can happen.

- Tattoos: No tats allowed showing corporate logos.

Again, I didn't realize that this was such a potential epidemic amongst the players.  But if Robbie Cano was thinking of treating himself to a big old CM Punk-style Pepsi tattoo on his forearm some time in 2014, he's going to have to think again.  And really, MLB and the teams already do enough to pimp themselves out to corporate sponsors.  The players were really the only thing left that wasn't being used to sell ad space.

- 40-Man Roster Perks: Everybody on the 40-man during Spring Training gets his own room.

Can you just see the Triple-A guys on the 40-man who are only there as emergency injury backups high fiving each other when they get to sunny Tampa?  My own room?!?!  NICE!!  It's a little thing, but as somebody who despised having roommates I can see why this would be important to a player.  You're a grown man working at your profession.  You don't need to feel like you're at freshman orientation weekend in college.

It's not quite enough to make up for shafting the Yankees out of their monetary advantages, but if these changes help improve the product on the field as I expect them to, then I'm happy with them.  Of course, this is just one man's opinion.  What say you, Yankee faithful?

Bidding Closed On Darvish

And all indications point to him wearing a uniform other than the Yankees pinstripes in 2012.  David Waldstein reported last night that the deal was "not huge" and was only submitted in the final few hours before the 5PM deadline, and Jon Heyman called the Yankees' bid "modest" while saying the winning bid was "sky-high."

My guess?  With the latest contract rumors for Darvish starting at 5 years/$75 million and the Yankees likely wanting to keep their total spent on Darvish below $100 mil, I think they probably bid somewhere between $20-25 million to keep themselves at the 100 mil ceiling.  With some estimates on the winning bid being in the $40-50 mil range, there isn't much chance the Yankee bid will be the winner.  Smart money would be on the Rangers.  After losing Wilson they have the biggest need for a high-end starter.

To scout a guy who fits your rotational needs for 3 years and then submit a low bid in the final hours of his posting period is not the typical Yankee way of going after a target.  This fiscally responsible, cost cutting initiative is starting to look more and more real each day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

No Rush To Re-Sign Russell Martin

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

Russell Martin is all but guaranteed to be a Yankee in 2012 after he was among the group of players to whom the Yankees tendered contracts on Monday.  He was almost a steal for $4 mil this past season, rebounding from his injury problems to put up a .237/.324/.408 tripleslash, .325 wOBA, and 3.1 WAR in 125 games and finally putting an end to the Jorge Posada Catching Era.  And while his contract this year will be for more money, Martin is still going to be a bargain for the Yankees in 2012.  Already, though, there is chatter starting to leak out about extending Martin beyond this upcoming season, to which I must say "shhh."

There is no reason to even entertain any thought of signing Martin to a multi-year deal right now.  Yes, he's a solid all-around catcher still on the good side of age 30, but let's not forget that he's also just one year removed from being non-tendered by his former team thanks to his constant injuries and nosediving production.  2011 was a step in the right direction for him, but was still just one step.  Before we start talking about guaranteeing more years and more money to Martin, shouldn't we wait to see how he does in 2012?  Make sure that 2011 was not just a blip on the downtrend radar?  This is where his one-year status works to the Yankees' advantage.  It gives them another chance to assess his performance and health over a whole season and make an informed decision on where they'd like to go with him in the future.

The other benefit that Martin's one-year situation gives the Yankees is an in-house backup plan to any plans they might have to break in Jesus Montero and Austin Romine behind the plate.  There are questions about whether either of those 2 can be full-time catchers at the Major League level, and 2012 should be the time for them to show what they can or can't do.  If the Yankees decide Jesus or Romine can handle the job full time in 2013, then they aren't tied to Martin for more years and more money as a backup.  They can let him go and move on smoothly.  If the young'ns can't hack it, the Yankees have Martin right there available to re-sign, and after another year of seeing how he holds up.  He might cost a bit more at that point, but it's money that the team can be more confident in spending.

The situation with Russell Martin is a win-win for the Yankees any way you look at right now.  He provides stability and flexibility at the same time, and to extend his contract now would take that away.  Cash has been big on preaching patience the last few years and that's exactly what the Yankees need to be in handling Martin.  Patient.  Let him go out in 2012 and earn that new contract.

Get Me Lou Piniella On Color Commentary, STAT!!

I missed it yesterday, but this story from The Daily News about Lou returning to the Yankees in 2012 as a ST instructor and YES commentator might very well be the best acquisition the Yanks have made this offseason.  It also is the latest reason for me to curse myself for ever moving out to Wisconsin and missing out on the convenience of having the YES Network any time I wanted it.

The stable of YES guys is already pretty strong.  I like O'Neill, I like Flaherty, I like Leiter, and I LOVE me some David Cone.  Adding Sweet Lou to that mix is like including that one last ingredient on Chopped that brings all the flavor profiles together.  He'll be the managerial yin to the other guys' yangs (gross) in terms of breaking down a game, he might be able to provide a little insight into what Joe is thinking when he makes some of his bizarre bullpen decisions, and he's still Lou Piniella.  He's a crazy old guy who's likely to still have some of that old fire in his belly.  I can't wait to hear him the first time he gets fired up about a bad play or bad call.  It'd be like watching a game with your crazy uncle.

I also wouldn't mind seeing him pull one of these on Michael Kay in the booth the first time they disagree on something: