Saturday, March 31, 2012

2012 AB4AR Minor League Season Preview: The Lower Levels

With the herd being thinned out through cuts at Major League camp, the Minor League spring training work has gathered pace over the past few weeks.  With Josh Norris releasing the roster breakdowns yesterday, the pictures are becoming more and more clear for each level of the Yankee farm system, at least to start the season, which makes it as good a time as any to take care of the season previews for each team.  We'll start with the lower levels, the rookie GCL, Short Season Staten Island, and Low-A Charleston, today and finish with the upper levels tomorrow.

Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees

The majority of this roster will be filled out by 2012 draft picks, but there are a few names already in the system worth keeping an eye on for the GCL Yankees, including pitchers Jordan Cote and Hayden Sharp.  Some of the Yankees' recent international signings could also make their American professional debuts in the GCL this year, but the most interesting possibility could be Rafael DePaula, the 21-year-old right hander who finally got his US work visa and began his Yankee career with a bullpen session and simulated game this week.  He's got great stuff and an easy release, and talent-wise is probably well suited for a full-season A-ball league.  But with the Yankees having seen very little of him, they could decide to be cautious and send him to the GCL club or Staten Island after he completes his work in Extended Spring Training.

Short Season Staten Island Yankees

The biggest name amongst the group here will be Ravel Santana, still working his way back from the bad ankle injury that prematurely ended his 2011 debut season.  If he shows no lingering effects of the injury and produces similar to how he was last season, he could be promoted quickly, but there's no reason for the Yankees to rush him.  There is a lot of talent around Santana in the lineup, mainly guys drafted last season who didn't get the promotion to a full-season league like Dante Bichette, Jr. did such as catcher Greg Bird, third baseman Matt Duran, and outfielder Jake Cave.  It will be interesting to see how Bird's playing time is managed with 20-year-old Isaias Tejada and his .443 wOBA from the GCL last season also in the fold.

Up the middle, Staten Island has a pair of prospects who don't get the ink that other Yankee IF prospects do but are definitely worth keeping an eye on in Claudio Custodio and Jose Rosario.  On the mound, the staff will be led by Gabe Encinas and Evan Rutckyj, two names I had just off my AB4AR Top 30 Prospects list, as well as right-handed Taylor Morton.  Rookie Davis and Daniel Camarena are 2 other names to remember.

Low-A Charleston River Dogs

If you're a prospect hugger then this is where the majority of your attention will be this year.  The River Dogs lineup could sub for a Low-A All Star team minus a few spots, with Gary Sanchez returning to start the season in Charleston as the catcher and Bichette, Jr. and Mason Williams making their full-season debuts at third base and center field respectively.  It will be interesting to see how long Sanchez stays at this level before getting bumped up to Tampa, especially with the Bird-Tejada logjam behind him.  Williams will be flanked by sleeper prospect Ben Gamel in left field and converted third baseman Tyler Austin and his bag of tools in right.  If my biggest mistake in my Top 30 wasn't having Austin all the way down at 30, it might have been leaving second baseman Angelo Gumbs off the list altogether.  He and Cito Culver round out the collection of talented names in the lineup as they look to continue to progress towards becoming the Yankees' double play combo of the future.

On the mound, the stars of the show will be righties Bryan Mitchell, making the jump to a full-season league after 2 years in the system, and Jose Campos, the other piece acquired in the Monter-Pineda trade in January.  Unfortunately, Josh Norris has Evan DeLuca and Matt Tracy penciled in for rehab work to start the season, but eventually both of them should join Mitchell and Campos to make a very talented rotation.  Out of the bullpen, Phil Wetherall and Caleb Cotham are the 2 big names to watch, and don't sleep on Mariel Checo and his stuff.

** Coming up tomorrow- previews for High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and Triple-A Empire State. **

Pineda To The DL With Shoulder Inflammation

(Courtesy of The AP)

Somehow I don't think this is what Cash had in mind when he made the big trade back in January to bring Michael Pineda to the Bronx.  After a spring full of questions and storylines about Pineda's physical condition and velocity, everything came to a head last night when he failed to make it out of the 3rd inning in his final ST start, allowing 6 earned runs on 10 combined hits and walks and then complaining of soreness in his right shoulder.  Pineda was scheduled for an MRI this morning and multiple beat guys are reporting that the MRI revealed inflammation in the right shoulder.  Now, instead of being the team's #2 starter behind CC, the scenario that Cash and the entire organization surely envisioned when they pulled the trigger on the trade, Pineda will open the season on the DL.

There are already multiple theories coming out on why this happened.  Pineda reportedly didn't work out at all over the winter and came into camp overweight, which certainly could have explained the diminished velocity all spring.  He could have been using spring camp to pitch himself into shape, and Joe commented last night after the game that Pineda's mechanics were different last night, suggesting he was trying to overthrow to add velocity.  Both Cash and Joe said last night that they have asked Pineda multiple times during ST if his arm felt alright and every time he said it was fine, until last night.  There's no way to know for sure how long his shoulder had been bothering him, but it's not unreasonable to think that Pineda was trying to push through the injury knowing he was in a competition for a rotation spot this spring.

To be honest, I really don't know how I feel about all of this right now.  I've been one of the biggest Pineda supporters this spring, constantly banging the "don't worry about his velocity, he's pitching fine" drum and preaching patience with the kid and now this happens.  All the comparisons to Phil Hughes' 2011 that I've been trying to brush aside now look far more realistic and I can't help but question if this entire season will end up being a wash for Pineda much like 2011 was for Hughes.

I'm surprised that the Yankees didn't do their due diligence in checking on what Pineda had been doing during the offseason to prepare when they were discussing the trade, and would be even more surprised if they did check and still decided to make the trade anyway.  That would go against everything the organization stands for when evaluating players.  At the same time, I'm relieved that all the MRI showed was inflammation, and Pineda will only be on the 15-day DL instead of the 60-day.  At his age, and with his upside, this is not the end of the world and the Yankees can still come out in the positive on the trade if Pineda can fully recover and get in better shape.

No matter where you stood on Pineda this spring, almost everybody was in agreement that the Yankees' surplus of pitching depth was a good problem to have and this latest development proves why.  They lose a potentially dominant piece of the rotation but are still covered with CC, Kuroda, Nova, Hughes, and Freddy to open the season, with Andy waiting in the wings.  That being said, it's still disappointing that a trade for what should have been a #2 starter and key piece of the rotation for the long-term future has resulted in these negative early returns.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Afternoon "One Week 'Til Opening Day" Linkapalooza: 3/30

We're one week away from Yankees Opening Day, people.  This time next week we can put aside the talk of velocity, platoons, injury concerns, and roster battles and just kick back and watch some baseball, which is awesome.  I still have to figure out how I'm going to watch the game, since I'm a cheapskate and don't have any kind of MLB viewing package on my TV or computer.  But at least I won't have to miss the game because I'm stuck at work.  Good Friday indeed!  Onto the links.

- On Monday, Ran Shulman of Yanks Go Yard welcomed D-Rob back to the bullpen by giving a refresher course on just how nasty Robertson was in 2011 and how valuable he is for 2012.

- On Tuesday, Rebel Yankee Chick flirted with the Dark Side by taking the Fenway Paahhk tou-ah.  She gave it a positive review.

- Trevor Wolff of Sliding Into Home posted a friendly reminder to not dismiss the Yankees' relief pitching prospects.  Given how good some of them have been early in their careers, I would have to agree with Trevor.

- Rob Steingall of Pinstripe Alley offered up his picks for prospects he'll be keeping a close watch on this season, and I commend him for picking guys outside the normal group.

- Joe Pawlikowski of RAB debated whether the Yankees should trade or hold some of their players who have been drawing interest from other teams, specifically Freddy, Ramiro Pena, and Justin Maxwell.

- On Wednesday, Bryan V of The Greedy Pinstripes explained why he feels Russell Martin is the most important player in the Yankee lineup, at least from a health standpoint.  I can buy that.

- Greg Corcoran of Bronx Baseball Daily scoured the Yankees' MiL affiliates to identify the players who he thinks could be fast risers through the system this season.

- Matt Filippi of Beyond the Box Score offered his 2012 season preview for the Yankees, touching on their improved rotation and age concerns in the lineup.

- On Thursday, Jamie Insalaco of Bomber Banter made his 2012 predictions.  He sees rebounds for Hughes and The Horse and another AL East title for the Yankees.

- Hippeaux of IIATMS discussed the trend in baseball of shuffling guys from the bullpen to the rotation, touching on the Yankees' recent following of the trend with Hughes and Joba.

- Fishjam25 of Yankees Fans Unite looked at the evolution of the Yankees' strategy when building their rotation and the shift to focusing more on homegrown pitching talent.

- Dave Schoenfield of ESPN's Sweet Spot set the over/under for Yankee wins at 93.5 and inquired about their ability to reach 100.  I'm not sure about 100, but I would definitely take the over on 93.5.

- Today, Mike Eder of TYA crunched the numbers on Teix's ST at-bats to show just how much he's focused on hitting the other way from the left side.  Hopefully that carries over to the regular season and translates into an overall improvement in his stats.

- Mike did the same thing on Wednesday with Phil Hughes' batted ball profile to show the improvements in Hughes' game this spring.

For the Friday Jam, I'm going back to my middle school days with some Orgy.  They've recently reformed, although lead singer Jay Gordon is the only original member still involved, but they're still pretty badass.  I remember being 13 years old when their "Blue Monday" cover started to become popular and thinking I was the coolest cat on the block because I bought a CD called "Candyass" by a band named "Orgy."  Hell, I'm 26 now and I still think it's cool that the band is called "Orgy."  I don't think it came with a parental advisory sticker, but I definitely hid it from my folks for a while.  I was such a loser back then.  Anyway, if you're somehow still an Orgy fan like I am, you'll appreciate this one from 1999.

Enjoy your weekends, everybody.

2012 AB4AR Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Bench*)

(Frankie breaks out his best chicken dance.  Courtesy of The AP)

* I'm including Russell Martin in this group simply because I'm an idiot and didn't remember to include him in the infield post on Monday.  I'm also lumping Ibanez into the bench group as a platoon player, even though he will be the starting DH.

What We Know- Russell Martin is Playing for a Contract

Russell resurrected his career last season in his first year in pinstripes.  He played in 125 games, hit 18 HR, posted a .325 wOBA, made the All Star Game, and played all-around solid defense behind the plate.  That being said, he did only hit .237 and didn't contribute much in the Yankees' ALDS loss to Detroit, so the Yankees weren't quite convinced that he was back and only gave him a 1-year deal this year.  At 29, Martin is right smack in the middle of his prime years and will be one of the top catchers available on the free agent market after this season.  He got in great shape again in the offseason to prepare himself for a big year, and if he has one chances are he'll be brought back by the Yankees on a 3-4-year deal.  If they decide they don't want to bring him back, or can't afford to, some other team will definitely be in the market for his services.

What We Don't Know- Whether That Will Impact Cervelli's Playing Time

Martin knows he needs to be on the field to showcase his skills and earn himself that new contract, so he's going to be pushing to play as much as possible.  Playing the catcher position, it's a sure thing that he's going to get banged up at some point, and chances are he will try to play through the pain.  What Joe will need to decide is how often he wants to let Martin do that as the season progresses and the bumps and bruises start to pile up.  Francisco Cervelli is once again lined up to be Martin's backup behind the plate and we know what he is at this point.  He can hit a little bit here and there and he won't embarrass himself defensively, but when Martin is healthy and at his best there isn't anything that Cervelli can do better than him.  130-135 games for Martin would be good, with Cervelli catching the rest.

More after the jump

Will There Be Any Friday Funny Business Today?

2 weeks ago Friday it was Andy's comeback.  Last Friday it was Joba's failed attempt to be an Olympic gymnast.  So what's in store for us today?

I'm almost scared to check LoHud for news updates.  I'm afraid it's going to be something like Larry Rothschild getting kidnapped by Colombian drug lords or Curtis Granderson suddenly going blind.  Hopefully it can just be a nice calm day and we can continue to talk about finalizing the rotation order and why Michael Pineda isn't throwing 200 MPH.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 AB4AR Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Bullpen)

(Best in the world.  Courtesy of The AP)

Infield's done, outfield's done, rotation's done.  Now onto the relief corp.

What We Know- The Bullpen Pecking Order

The merits of having defined roles in the bullpen can be argued, but that's the way Joe operates and those roles for 2012, at least heading into the start of the season, are pretty well set.  Mariano Rivera is the closer and official 9th Inning Guy, and only injury or the end of the world will change that.  Behind him, Dave Robertson will be the setup man and official 8th Inning Guy after his dominant 2011 season and Rafael Soriano will slot into the 7th inning role.  Boone Logan will retain his spot as top lefty ace, although Joe has talked about expanding his role if the Yankees decide to carry a 2nd lefty.  Cory Wade is in place as the Middle Inning Relief Guy and the loser of the 5th starter competition, most likely Freddy Garcia, will be the long man.

What We Don't Know- How Quickly It Will Become Subject to Change

Mo is set in stone, but behind him there is always opportunity for change and that change could come pretty early.  D-Rob certainly earned the right to hold the setup role this season after the way he pitched last year, but he's had very little time on the mound this spring thanks to his foot injury and could get off to shaky start if he's still working the kinks out.  His history of wildness and Soriano's big contract could lead to a swap of spots if Robertson is ineffective.  Cory Wade, who has struggled this spring and likely would have been the first out of a job when Joba or David Aardsma returned in the summer, should also be on notice.  Even Freddy could get forced out of his spot when Andy returns and kicks someone from the rotation into the bullpen.

More after the jump

The NY Spring Training Double Standard

Lost in all the talk about Ivan Nova's command, Andy Pettitte's return, and Michael Pineda's velocity is the rather pedestrian spring being had by another Yankee starting pitcher. This pitcher has made only 4 official starts this spring and in those 4 starts has thrown 14.0 total innings. In those 14 innings, he has allowed 7 earned runs on 19 combined hits and walks while striking only 10. As a back-of-the-rotation candidate, these numbers could be acceptable. For a guy being paid top dollar who is expected to anchor the starting rotation of the New York Yankees they are hardly encouraging and yet there hasn't been a peep from anybody in the media about him or his performance this spring.

As you probably guessed, the pitcher in question here is CC Sabathia. CC has reached almost Mo-like levels of media non-coverage this spring, as the only time his name has been mentioned is on the days he's scheduled to pitch. His ST stat line suggests that he's had problems commanding his stuff and locating his pitches during his outings, and Sabathia himself has admitted that he had issues with his changeup earlier in camp and his 2-seamer still isn't where he wants it to be. On the surface, these should probably be just as important as MSM talking points as Pineda's velocity is. A team's ace, who also happens to be the highest paid pitcher in baseball, giving up more hits and runs than you'd like to see and heading into his final start of the spring before Opening Day without full command of his pitches should be a big story, especially with the New York sports media involved. They normally can't jump all over a story like this fast enough.

What prevents that from happening in this situation is track record. CC has spent 3 seasons in New York and has been a beast in all 3 of them. He's made 101 starts in a Yankee uniform, won 59 of them, pitched over 230 innings in each of his 3 seasons, and finished top 4 in the Cy Young voting in each of his 3 seasons. Oh, he's also got a World Series ring on his finger too. All things being equal, CC probably deserves to have his ST performance dissected just as much as Pineda's if not more given his role on the team. After all, Pineda has given up fewer runs and struck out more batters per 9 innings in his ST outings than CC has. But when you've got the kind of resume in New York that CC has, that pretty much takes equality out of the equation.

In a perfect world, Michael Pineda would probably be getting a little more credit for how well he's pitched this spring without his top-shelf velocity and CC would probably have a few more stories written about him and his command issues. That would be fair. But things are hardly ever fair in the world of the New York sports media and this is just the latest example. They've seen CC get the job done on a consistent basis over the past 3 seasons, they expect him to do the same this season regardless of how well or how poorly he pitches in Spring Training, and so he gets the free pass from them. Pineda doesn't have the track record in New York to fall back on, so he gets put through the meat grinder.

Perhaps we in the blogosphere, even those of us going to bat for Pineda, are just as guilty of feeding this double standard by writing about Pineda and not about Sabathia. I know I'm not concerned at all about CC based on his ST performance and fully expect him to deliver this season just like he has the past 3. For better or worse, this is how it is in New York and Michael Pineda is finding that out firsthand. At least he can take solace in the fact that if he follows CC's path in his first couple years here, he'll never have to hear any griping about his fastball velocity in March ever again.

Austin Romine's Back Is Killing Me (And Probably Him Too)

Austin, bro, you're killing me.  I had faith in you.  I stood by you after a rough 2011 season and kept the faith.  I ranked you #4 in my Top 30 Prospects when nobody else even had you in their top 5 because I honestly believe you can be a good Major League catcher.  I put myself out there for you and this is how you repay me?  By hurting your back again?  It's bad enough that you haven't done jack shit in ST because of your back injury, and then when you're on the cusp of returning you tweak it again and now you're going to miss the start of the Triple-A season.  You're a young man for crying out loud!  You shouldn't have back problems.  Clean that shit up, dude.  A catcher with back issues is not a good look.

Somebody get this guy a Shiatsu massage chair, one of those big metal back braces like the one Sweet Dee wears in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," and some Icy Hot back patches, stat!

P.S.- Russell Martin's agent must be loving this.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rapada Vs. Cabral For The Final Bullpen Spot- Who Ya Got?

As the roster continues to be trimmed down, it's becoming more and more clear that the competition for the final roster spot is down to Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral for the 7th and final spot in the bullpen.  Joe has acknowledged that this is the case and said he envisions using whichever guy is chosen as the true LOOGY and making Boone Logan a general middle reliever.  So that being the situation, who makes more sense for the Yankees to take?

Both Rapada and Cabral have pitched very well this spring, and their stat lines stack up very well:

- Rapada: 8.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 11 K in 9 appearances
- Cabral: 10.1 IP, 11 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 12 K in 9 appearances

Rapada has been more consistent over the course of the spring while Cabral has come on of late, allowing 0 runs, 3 hits, and striking out 9 over 5 IP in his last 4 appearances, including an impressive 2-inning, 6 K performance against Tampa a week ago.  Where the comparisons really start to drift apart is in the L/R splits.  Rapada has been murder on lefties this spring, allowing just 1 baserunner (on a BB) and striking out 8 in 4.2 IP against left-handed hitters, but has given up more hits and more walks against righties, living up to his extreme career L/R split.  Cabral has actually been better against right-handed hitting, blanking righties over 5.2 IP while giving up the majority of his hits and all his runs allowed against lefties.  The small sample size curse could be at work here, though, as 8 of Cabral's 12 strikeouts have come against left-handed hitters.

Ultimately the decision will come down to how much upside the Yankees think Cabral has.  At 23, he is considerably younger than Rapada and conceivably could be developed into a more effective and possibly complete relief pitcher.  Rapada would be viable as a LOOGY and LOOGY alone.  With the success each has had this spring, they are very likely to get a job elsewhere if they aren't chosen, Rapada because of his MiL deal and Cabral because of his Rule 5 draft pick status, so the Yankees are going to lose whichever guy they don't pick.  I was high on Rapada earlier in camp, but I'm leaning towards Cabral now because of his youth and better performance against righties.  Having that kind of flexibility in the 'pen with Cabral and Logan makes the entire bullpen that much deeper.

2012 AB4AR Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Rotation)

(Can this guy stay in the rotation all season?  Courtesy of The AP)

The hitters have been covered, and there aren't a whole lot of new knowns or unknowns about that group as they've all been here before.  We move to the pitchers today, starting with the rotation, where there are a couple of new faces and a new old face that's returned for another go.

What We Know- There's No Shortage Of Available Bodies This Year

There's depth aplenty in the Yankee rotation in 2012.  No bargain-bin Bartolo Colon signings or hope for unproven young starters this year.  The Yankees have 7 viable, capable Major League starting pitchers on hand right now, and any combination of 5 out of that 7 has the potential to make up the best top-to-bottom rotation in baseball if they all pitch to their ceiling.  There is also a good mix of old/older veteran pitchers who know the deal and young pitchers still putting the pieces together to reach their potential and figure out exactly where their ceilings top out.  And if this group is hit by a plague of injuries, the Yankees have 3 quality arms in Triple-A they can use to plug holes in David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell, and Adam Warren.

What We Don't Know- How Much They'll All Be Used

It's already been said plenty of times this spring that too much starting pitching is a good problem to have, and it is.  But it is a problem none the less, and at some point the Yankees are going to have to deal with it.  The young guys are the most likely to take a back seat or get shuffled around, as both Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have Triple-A options remaining and Phil Hughes has experience working out of the bullpen.  Injuries could also factor into the shuffling of the rotation deck when that time comes.  CC Sabathia is a workhorse, no doubt about it, but that workload and his size always make him a candidate for a DL trip.  The Yankees have been lucky enough to not have to deal with that so far, but you never know.  In the interest of managing workloads, the dreaded 6-man rotation is always an option as well.

More after the jump

As The Ankle Turns...

(Hipster Joba loves his son.  Courtesy of The AP)

See what I did there?  With the ankle line?  Because he dislocated it??  Pretty f'ing clever, huh?

Seriously, though, what's the deal with this Joba ankle situation now?  He's saying he didn't even dislocate it, it wasn't that bad, and he's going to pitch this year.  Cash is saying he talked to the doctors and confirmed that it was an open dislocation and it's still unknown if Joba can pitch this year.  Again, I don't have a medical degree, but it seems like something as horrific as an open dislocation of your ankle is a pretty black-and-white situation that even people outside the medical field could look at and diagnosis.  Why Joba is trying to downplay everything is very confusing to me.  The only thing I can think is that he's trying to make Cash and his doctor out to be the heels to set up a match at Wrestlemania against his doctor for the right to be medically cleared to pitch in 2012.

Actually, that would be pretty awesome.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 AB4AR Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Outfield)

We covered the knowns and unknowns around the horn in the infield yesterday.  Today we venture beyond the infield dirt to see what questions and answers are looming in the outfield grass.

What We Know- This Group Can Play Some Defense

Part of what makes the trio of Gardner, C-Grand, and Swish so valuable. and arguably the best OF group in baseball, is the fact that they are all 2-way players.  Nobody is out there hidden in a corner outfield spot because they're an embarrassment with the glove but the Yanks need their bat in the lineup.  Brett Gardner can flat out cover ground out in left field, and makes plays that other left fielders would have no chance to make look easy, something that is not the easiest thing in the world to do in left field at Yankee Stadium.  Nick Swisher, while not being as fleet-footed as Gardner, gets good jumps on balls, takes smart angles, and can flash the cannon to hold a runner or throw a guy out.  And Curtis, defensive metrics be damned, can make some spectacular plays thanks to his speed.  All three of these guys contribute in their own ways at the plate, and then go out in the field and supplement their offensive value by playing good defense and preventing runs.

What We Don't Know- Just How Good Curtis Granderson Is Defensively

Advanced defensive statistics are still nowhere near as accurate as offensive ones, and if you try to use them to judge Curtis Granderson you'll see a perfect example of that.  In his first 2 full seasons in Detroit he posted UZR/150 values of 13.6 and 14.5, both of which are pretty damn good.  He followed that up with 2 consecutive years of negative UZR/150 values, then was back to positive with a 7.9 in his first year with the Yankees.  Last year, though, C-Grand put up his second worst number to date, -5.3, which begs the question of just how good is he out there in center?  He doesn't always get the greatest jump on the ball, sometimes his routes are a little circuitous, and his arm isn't top notch, but when I think back to plays like the one he made in Game 4 of last year's ALDS I'm reminded of how good he can be. 

(Courtesy of The AP)

More after the jump

Phil Hughes And The Perils Of Pitching Well During A Surplus

While the majority of the ST pitching storylines have been dedicated either to Michael Pineda's velocity ("ZOMG!!! He's only throwing 93!!!111!1!1) or Andy Pettitte's return (ZOMG!!!! Andy's back!!!!11!1!!1), the starting pitcher with the most to prove this season has been putting together the best spring out of all the rotation candidates. Most people were justifiably indifferent to the stories of Phil Hughes rededicating himself to conditioning this offseason after his disastrous 2011 and wanted to see how that would translate into his performance on the mound before declaring him "back" or even on his way to being back this spring. Hughes' performance thus far in camp, albeit in small sample sizes and against various levels of watered down competition, has been very encouraging and should earn him a spot in the rotation to open the season. But could it also end up working against him?

The devastating fastball-curveball combo that Hughes used to build his reputation as a top prospect has always been hit or miss during his time as a Yankee. Last season they were nowhere to be found thanks to his poor preparation for the season and resulting shoulder fatigue. This spring, Hughes has brought his two main offerings back from the dead and has been showcasing them in the way we always expected to see them. His fastball velocity has been consistently in the 90-93 MPH range since his first outing on March 6th, with some 94s here and there, and his curveball has been swing-and-miss good, something I don't remember seeing since the early parts of 2010. Hughes has also made significant strides in the development of his changeup, something that we've been waiting to see for a few years now, and he looks much more comfortable using it regularly with the rest of his offerings. He's attacking hitters, throwing strikes, mixing his pitches well, and doing a much better job of putting guys away with 2 strikes.

It would seem like all of this should add up to Hughes not only locking himself into the 5th starter spot to open the season, but also guarantee him that spot moving forward if he can continue to pitch this well. Despite his seemingly long tenure with the organization, Hughes is still younger than me at 25 and still seemingly with his peak years ahead of him. He's on the books for just $3.2 million this year, will be arbitration-eligible again next year before becoming eligible for free agency in 2014, and even with a solid season in 2012 he still stands to be a very cost-effective option for the Yankees as part of future rotations. He's a valuable pitcher to have as is and even more valuable if he can pitch well.

Given the bevy of starting pitching depth possessed by the Yankees, however, Hughes' success this spring could actually serve to accelerate his departure from the Yankee organization via trade. Freddy Garcia is the first name that comes to mind when talking about potential trades to ease the rotation logjam, especially after a report of the Yankees offering him to Miami surfaced this weekend, but don't discount Hughes as an option. The same things that make him attractive as a rotation piece for the Yankees also makes him a far more attractive trade chip than Garcia, and the better he pitches the more attractive he becomes to other teams that need pitching. The Yankees can get far more in return for Hughes than they can for Garcia, possibly a young position player that can help the goal of trimming payroll for 2014 (like Philly's Domonic Brown), and not be at risk of negatively impacting their rotation because of the remaining depth.

Keeping the payroll goals in mind, even if Hughes isn't traded this year, he could still force himself onto the trade block by pitching well through this season and next season and pricing himself out of the Yankees' range after 2013. A big 27-year-old right hander with plenty of experience coming off of 2 consecutive good seasons will command much more than the $3.2 mil Hughes is making now. With the cheap internal options in Triple-A expected to be ready and contributing by then, the Yankees could decide that Hughes is too rich for their blood. Not wanting to end up like the Mets with Jose Reyes this past offseason, they could decide to strike while the iron is hot and get something valuable in return for Hughes while they still have the chance. By the same token, given Hughes' uneven track record in the Majors, his trade value could be crushed by another poor season or another demotion to the bullpen. The Yankees have to know that the line between high trade value and very little trade value is razor thin with Hughes. Better to move him when he's on the good side of the line rather than the bad.

Admittedly it's a bit early to be talking about any trade scenario involving Yankee pitchers. Too much depth is a better problem to have than too little, and the smart move would be to carry all 7 guys until Andy is ready to come back and rejoin the rotation. But the possibility of Hughes being moved is one worth monitoring as the season progresses, especially considering that Buster Olney reported during the Yanks-Sawx game last Thursday that the Yankees were "listening to offers" from other teams for Hughes. His value to the Yankees is maximized by either being in the rotation or as trade bait, so moving him to the bullpen to accommodate Andy would be a waste. Hughes' strong spring is doing a lot to get him back in the good graces of the organization and the fans right now, and should get him a spot in the rotation to open the season. If he continues to pitch well, though, he could end up pitching himself right out of town.

Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 AB4AR Season Preview: What We Know & What We Don't Know (The Infield)

(Courtesy of The AP)

We kick off the 2012 season preview today with the knowns and unknowns surrounding the infield.

What We Know- Who The Usual Suspects Are

For the 4th straight year, the Yankees will open their season with the same quartet starting around the infield. And while they aren't as sure a bet to be named the hands down best infield in baseball as they were a few years ago, there's still plenty of hardware spread around the dirt that opposing teams and opposing pitchers have to respect. Offensively, these four will continue to be the driving force of the Yankee attack, occupying 4 of the top 5 spots in the lineup. Defensively, despite Jeter's continuing issues with declining range, this group still boasts two of the best in the business at the corners in A-Rod and Teix and a Gold Glover at second in Robbie Cano.

What We Don't Know- How They Will Follow Up on Their 2011s

This group is coming off a season of mixed results last year, some having better numbers than were expected, some having worse, and some sitting right about where they were expected to be. With some of the team's older players located in the infield, there will be concerns about injuries and age-related decline in 2012, especially on the left side with Jeter and A-Rod, both of whom spent time on the DL last year. On the right side, the questions are a bit fewer and the concerns are a bit smaller. Teix is still an above-average power hitter and run producer in the middle of the lineup, but his overall hitting profile was brought into question after a 3rd straight season with declining BA/OBP/SLG numbers. Cano is the constant amongst this group; always on the field and always contributing.

More after the jump

Maybe Jeter Should Hurt His Calf All The Time

He suffers a calf injury last year, misses a few weeks, comes back and hits .331/.384/.447 from July 4th on.

He suffers a calf injury this spring, misses a week, comes back and hits 3-5 with a HR and a double in his first 2 games back.

Maybe the Yankee training staff should get Jeter on a calf straining regimen for the season.  Every 4-5 weeks or so have him strain the calf, take 7-10 days off to recharge, and then come back to the lineup well rested and mashing.  If it leads to production like he put up in the second half of 2011 and more Jeterian HR swings to the opposite field like we saw yesterday, I'm all for it.

(Screen cap courtesy of

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Site News: AB4AR 2012 Season Preview & A Personal Message

You may have noticed the series of "2012 Storylines" posts that ran this past week on the site.  If you missed any, here's your chance for a quick refresh.

Monday- Rotation (Over)Depth
Tuesday- Elder Statesmen of the Lineup
Thursday- Playing For a Job
Friday- The Season of Mo

They marked the unofficial start of the 2012 AB4AR Season Preview series.  Tomorrow will mark the official start of the 2-week AB4AR season preview, beginning with the "What We Know & What We Don't Know" series this week and continuing the following week with the official "2012 Season Preview" series.  I know I'm a little behind a lot of the other sites with my season preview work, but to be honest I don't see the value in running season preview posts a full 3-4 weeks before the actual start of the season.  There's just too much that can happen in that time that can render points covered in a season preview post completely meaningless, so I'm doing what I did last year and waiting for the last 2 weeks before the start of the season to roll with my previews and wrap them up on Yankees Opening Day.

As for the site itself, you might have noticed a few small changes recently.  I've started labeling the posts to make them easier to search and create a little more of a professional feel to them.  I've also started linking to posts less frequently on the AB4AR Facebook Page and instead have been using that as an outlet to keep everybody updated on the rest of the daily Yankee news that I don't devote individual posts to.  Despite the urgings of some of my fellow Yankee bloggers, I don't see myself creating a Twitter account for the site any time soon, and this new method seems to be the easiest way for me to be able to cover everything within the context of the rest of my life.  So if you just need to know what's going on in Yankeeland, then hit the Facebook page, and then come to the site and read the new stuff when you've got the time to really read it.

When I stared this blog in August of 2009, I wasn't really thinking about what I wanted it to be.  I knew I loved the Yankees and I knew I loved to write and it seemed like a natural way to bring those 2 things together.  Since then I think the site has really grown, and I've made a much more conscious effort to make AB4AR more than just the random rantings of a Yankee fan who curses a lot.  I've tried to get more involved with the analytical side of the game, and I know I've made strides in my statistical knowledge and analysis skills.  But I've also tried to never lose the theme of the site, that being that this is all coming from the heart of a true Yankee fan and a fan's perspective.

At the end of the day, that's what I am and that's what I want this site to be about.  A Yankee fan trying to talk intelligently about the Yankees, nothing more and nothing less.  You'll notice that the design of the site is basic and hardly ever changes, and you'll notice that there are no ads anywhere here, and that's because that's the way I want it to be.  I'm not looking to make money off of this, I'm not looking to expand, and I'm not looking to link up with some other blogging network.  I do this because I love it.  I'm just one man who loves the Yankees working to bring you the best independent Yankee blog he can, and as a one-man operation I happen to think I've got one of the best damn blogs out there.  There is no staff of writers here, no team, no support.  Just me.  Just me trying to churn out as much quality writing as I can each and every day.

I hope everybody who visits AB4AR enjoys the site and enjoys what I write because I can honestly tell you that I greatly enjoy writing for you.  Even if you don't enjoy a post or any posts and think nothing I say makes sense, I sincerely hope you come back and read more.  But if you are a fan of AB4AR, I would ask you to please help drive the site.  Mention it to your friends who are Yankee fans, comment on posts, check the Facebook Page, and while you're there please, for the love of Tim Tebow, click the "Like" button.  I truly appreciate each and every comment or "Like" I get.  Knowing there are people out there reading and thinking and commenting on my writing is what makes this that much more fun, and it inspires me to work harder and put more time and effort into writing more.

I'm really looking forward to this season and I hope everybody else out there is too.  And I hope that when you make your rounds through the Yankosphere you make the choice to stop at AB4AR and check out what I have to say.

** Don't forget, the 2-week Season Preview series kicks off tomorrow. **

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Effects Of The Joba Ankle Injury

(Courtesy of MCT/Christopher Pasatieri)

With the good news continuing to come out on Joba's dislocated ankle, it looks like the worst-case scenarios that were in play earlier yesterday are no longer a concern.  He's going to be released from the hospital tomorrow and there is still mention of him possibly getting back on a mound in July to start/continue his rehab.  That being said, factoring in the lost time in his TJS rehab that will occur because of this injury and the delicate nature in which his ankle rehab will have to take place because of it being his push-off leg, I think it's safe to say that we won't see Joba in any kind of game action in 2012.  With that being the case, here are the effects that Joba's absence will have this season and beyond.

Joba Update: Some Good News

After words like "career-threatening" and "life-threatening" were thrown around yesterday when talking about Joba's ankle injury, this bit of news from Sweeny Murti is a relief today:

"Joba could be released from hospital today. He told Cashman that dr said he could step on a mound by July. But MRI results not back yet."

Using my vast amount of medical knowledge that I accumulated as a business major at UConn, I imagine the results of the MRI and other tests from yesterday will have to be known to confirm whether or not the possibility of Joba returning to the mound in July is real.  But I also imagine that his doctor wouldn't say things like that to Joba to give him false hope, so the early returns on the surgery and tests must be positive.  Ankle injuries are serious in the baseball world, just ask David Adams and Ravel Santana, and Joba's certainly sounded like it was far more severe than the injuries those two suffered.  If there's any chance he can make it back on a mound this year, that's a good thing.

More thoughts on Joba later today.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Afternoon Linkapalooza: 3/23

Andy's return last week, Joba's potential demise this week.  I'm almost scared to think of what could happen next Friday.  On Joba, I've flip-flopped between loving him and hating him multiple times since he became a Yankee in 2007, and had gotten back closer to the positive side in the last year.  As much as I want to jump down his throat for being stupid and putting himself at risk of injury, I really can't knowing that it happened spending time with his kid.  As a single man with no children and no plans to have any, I don't feel it's my place to criticize someone for doing something with his son who he obviously loves.  Just an incredibly unfortunate break for Joba and hopefully he is able to make a full recovery.  On that somber note, onto the links.

- On Monday, Rebecca Glass of Pinstriped Bible touched on the impact Andy Pettitte's presence will have on guys like Adam Warren, David Phelps, their chance to make the show this year, and what the Yankees should do with them.

- William Juliano of The Captain's Blog wondered how Freddy Garcia fits into the Yankees' plans now that Pettitte is in the fold and suggested a very reasonable win-win trade scenario involving Garcia.

- On Tuesday, friend of the blog Rasheeda Cooper of Bomber Boulevard explained what each non-CC/Kuroda member of the rotation must do to follow Joe's "You have to produce" edict and not lose their rotation spot to Andy.

- On Wednesday, Trevor Wolff of Sliding Into Home came out with the most straightforward anti-Andy's return post I've seen yet.  As someone who feels similar and also doesn't want to see Andy handed a rotation spot on a silver platter, I applaud his candor.  Tip of the cap to you, Trevor.

- Matthew B of Yankees Fans Unite played the Over/Under game with Pineda and Nova for 2012.  This has been my favorite O/U post that YFU has done to date because what these 2 do this season will likely be the difference between the Yankee rotation being good or being great.

- Larry Koestler of RAB used the new and improved Brooks' PITCHf/x tool to break down Andy's last few seasons and project what he can do in 2012.

- On Thursday, Mike Ashmore of Thunder Thoughts examined the early season MiL home schedules to try to figure out when and where Andy will be pitching as part of his April ST schedule.

Also on Thursday, the other Matt from YFU, Matt S., had a prospect profile on lefty pitcher Nik Turley, which featured my sleeper write-up on Turley from TYA Prospect Week.  Thanks for the shout out, Matt.

- New addition to the Bronx Baseball Daily team Curtis Clark thinks Teix is due for a big comeback season in 2012, and goes so far as to throw the MVP award into the discussion.

- On Friday, Casey of Bleeding Yankee Blue asked what everybody thought the starting rotation should be this season.  His choices- CC, Kuroda, Pettitte, Pineda, Nova.

- Mark Feinsand of the Daily News has some sour grapes quotes from Bobby V on last night's game ending in a 4-4 tie.  I will say that it would have been a perfect opportunity for Joe to use Pat Venditte to keep the game going, but nobody told Bobby V to lay down a suicide squeeze play in a ST game.

- Tamar Chalker of IIATMS has been rolling through season previews for each Yankee MiL affiliate this week, and he saved the best for last with the preview for Low-A Charleston.  If everybody plays up to their potential, that's practically a Low-A All Star team.

- From the TYA team, on Thursday, Eric Schultz profiled Dominican prospect Rafael DePaula, who finally got his US visa yesterday and can now begin his Yankee career.  Very little is known about DePaula but he's a big, 21-year-old righty who can throw high-90s.

- Matt Imbrogno looked at Pineda's 2011 monthly fastball velocity breakdowns to try and stem the ever-growing concern about where Pineda is sitting on the gun this spring.  The supposed fall-off from 2011, something that may be contributing to the negative hype this spring, was a bit overblown.

I had a song picked out for today, but it only seems right to play something for Joba so I'll call an audible and go with his entrance music.  Here's hoping this injury doesn't set back him for too long and we get to see him come jogging out to this again.  Get well, bud.

Enjoy your weekends, everybody.

2012 Storylines: The Season Of Mo

(No caption necessary.  Courtesy of EPA)

Since the mid-90s, when the last Yankee dynasty rose to power in the American League, there has been one constant in the Yankee roster that perfectly captures and represents the "Yankee Way."  Even more than Derek Jeter, the official captain and face of the franchise, this one man is the symbol of what it means to be a Yankee.  I'm talking, of course, about the great Mariano Rivera, the single greatest athlete at doing one particular thing in the history of professional sports.  As Mo has continued to stay on the top of the mountain at an age when most guys are getting jobs as ESPN analysts, the joke over the last couple seasons has been that he's ageless, not human, and that he could pitch forever, but all indications point to 2012 being Mo's final season as an active player and that is one storyline that nobody should forget about this season.

BREAKING NEWS: Joba Suffers MAJOR Ankle Injury

Details of the story are still coming in, but according to Jack Curry, Joba Chamberlain suffered a serious ankle injury yesterday and had surgery last night.  He's currently in the hospital recovering and is expected to miss significant time.

The injury was an "open dislocation" of his right ankle, which is basically the same thing as a compound fracture where there is bone breaking through skin.  He suffered the injury playing with his son at a children's play center yesterday.  There is no timetable for his return, but it doesn't sound like we're going to see Joba at all in 2012 and the injury could be career-threatening.  Cash said, “We’re worried significantly about him right now for him as an individual,” when asked to comment.

More details to come as they become available... 

** UPDATE- 10:21 AM- Multiple tweets coming in from the Yankee beat reporters describe Cash as being very somber and visibly shaken when delivering the news on Joba.  Definitely not a good sign. **

** UPDATE- 11:18 AM- Via Kieran Darcy of ESPN, the injury will prevent Joba from putting any weight on his right leg for 4-6 weeks, after which a lengthy rehab will have to take place.  He's scheduled for an MRI and CT scan today to review the damage and results of last night's surgery.

This is just my speculation, but it doesn't sound like Joba will play at all in 2012.  When asked if the injury was career-threatening, Cash said, "I couldn't say, I just couldn't say. I'd like to say no. My heart and my gut tells me no, that's not the case."

** UPDATE- 3:43PM- Via Anthony McCarron of the Daily News: "Joba Chamberlain lost so much blood Thursday when he hurt his ankle while playing with his son that there initially was concern for his life, a Yankees' source said."

Jesus Christ, that is horrible.  Still no more news on the results of the tests today.  Given the nature of the injury, I would imagine some more surgeries may be necessary.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Yanks-Sawx "First Televised Game I Get To Watch This Year" Live Blog

(F*ck you, Saltalamacchia.  Courtesy of The AP) 

It's only Spring Training, there are only three regulars in the Yankee lineup (Gardner, C-Grand, Ibanez), and Adam Warren is the starting pitcher for the Yanks, so obviously this game means less than nothing.  But it's being televised on ESPN, which means I have the ability to finally watch some live Yankee baseball this year, and that means it's the perfect opportunity for the first official AB4AR live blog of the season!

Coverage starts at 7PM EST/6PM Central, with first pitch some time right after that.  Come hang out, check in, and feel free to add a comment or two.  I'm more than capable of entertaining myself with bad jokes and commentary on how bad Ibanez's swing looks, but it's always more fun with more people.  If nothing else, we can laugh at what I'm sure will be ridiculously one-sided, Bobby V ball-licking commentary from the announcers together.

Yankee Starting Lineup-

1) Brett Gardner- LF
2) Curtis Granderson- CF
3) Andruw Jones- RF
4) Eric Chavez-3B
5) Raul Ibanez- DH
6) Brandon Laird- 1B
7) Jose Gil- C
8) Ramiro Pena- 2B
9) Doug Bernier- SS

SP) Adam Warren- RHP

Fraud Sawx Starting Lineup-

Who gives a damn?

2012 Storylines: Playing For A Job

(Will there be a new face doing the three-way back bump after this year?  Courtesy of The AP)

Roster turnover is a part of any baseball season.  Over the course of 162 games, there are going to be a multitude of injuries, signings, trades, promotions, and demotions that will affect the breakdown of the 25 men on the active roster, and the 25-man on Opening Day will assuredly look different than the one on the last day of the regular season.  The Yankees come into the 2012 season with the majority of what will be the Opening Day roster intact, with a spot or two still up for grabs.  Thanks to their big budget, a well-stocked farm system, and some shrewd MiL contract deals, they are well positioned to handle any kind of change to the roster as the season progresses.

But there is another factor that will affect roster turnover this year, a factor that usually isn't part of the Yankee equation.  That factor, of course, is the goal of getting the payroll under $189 million by 2014.  There are players on the team right now who likely won't be wearing pinstripes by then as part of cutting costs and players whose involvement in future plans will be determined by how they perform over the next couple years.  The payroll goal will become more of a behind-the-scenes storyline once the regular season starts, but it will always be there and could have influence over roster decisions during the season.  Between that and the regular ebb and flow of roster changes, there are multiple groups of players who will have more to play for this season than just winning a championship.

Phil Hughes Looking Good

(Courtesy of The AP)

Don't look now, but Phil Hughes- the man involved in his 3rd straight rotation competition, the man coming off the worst year of his professional career, the man who's being talked about as the leading candidate to either be sent to the bullpen, sent to the minors, or traded if he doesn't pitch well this year- has been the best starting pitcher in Yankee camp.

I know technically he's only made two starts, but in the other two outings where he backed up CC he was working as a starter and that's good enough for me. After yesterday's 5-inning performance he has now thrown the most innings out of all the starting rotation contenders (with a game in hand on CC and Kuroda) with 13.1, and he has been the most consistent pitcher of the group. He's the only one with a WHIP below 1.00, he's attacking hitters and throwing a lot of strikes, and if it wasn't for a poorly placed cutter to Matt Joyce yesterday he would only have 1 ER allowed on his ledger.

More important than that, though, is the fact that his stuff is back. Hughes' velocity on his fastball has been sitting 91-93 since the first time he took the mound, with a 94 here and there, which is right where he needs to live to be effective. His curveball has also looked much sharper than it did last year, and he's getting bad swings on it. And his changeup, a pitch that we've been waiting to see him use consistently for a couple years now, has evolved into a pitch that Hughes is confident in and willing to throw. I specifically remember him getting Evan Longoria to fly out weakly on a change yesterday as well as Joyce striking out swinging on it in the at-bat after his HR. He's working the cutter as well, but if Hughes can mix fastball-curveball-changeup consistently he can be very good.

This is the Phil Hughes we were expecting to see last year. He still has a lot to prove and it won't be fair to say he's "back" until he does it in the regular season, but the way he looks and the way he's pitching this spring certainly has to inspire confidence that he's on the right track. Freddy's hand injury probably sealed the deal for him, but even if he didn't get hurt it should be a no-brainer that Hughes gets a spot in the rotation to open the season.

The Importance Of Spring Training

No one needs to be reminded of how unimportant Spring Training stats are (but if you did, there's another reminder). But what about the overall format of Spring Training itself? It's structured such that players are eased into full-scale baseball activities, but how much do they really need that structure? Every player is different and needs to do different things to get themselves into full game shape. Some guys need lots of time in the cage and on the field to get right and some like Mo seem to be able to roll out of bed and be at the top of their game. There are some Yankee regulars that have missed significant amounts of time with injuries this spring, and thus find themselves well behind the typical Spring Training schedule. None are expected to miss Opening Day, but when you consider the sport being played it's worth asking how effective they can be without a full spring routine under their belt.

Baseball isn't a sport that requires tremendous amounts of continuous physical exertion, at least not compared to sports like hockey and football, but it does require an incredible amount of skill to be successful. That skill is rooted in things like mechanics, timing, balance, body control, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination, all things that aren't as simple as running or jumping and thus require more practice time and more repetition. It makes sense to me that missing significant portions of that practice time in Spring Training would have an adverse reaction on a player's preparedness for the regular season. I'm sure Dave Robertson, Derek Jeter, and Nick Swisher all had their own individual ways of working out and training this past offseason to prepare themselves for 2012, and I'm sure they all had certain plans and things they wanted to accomplish in the structure of the Spring Training schedule to continue that preparation. Falling out of that schedule, scrapping those plans, and not being able to work on the things they planned to must have a negative impact on their game, no?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Let's Talk About Nick Swisher's Groins

It's not typically a topic of discussion I like to approach when it comes to baseball players, but Swish has now had two separate issues with his left and right groins over the past week or so and he's looking at missing another week after the tweak that caused him to leave last night's game early.

Swish was amongst the "best shape of their lives" group coming into camp, and with good reason seeing as how he's entering a contract year as a player in his 30s.  The prevailing thought amongst he and the Yankee trainers is that he might have hit the weight room a little too hard and his leg muscles are tight (like a toiger).  It doesn't sound like a huge deal right now, just rest and probably some more stretching, but I'm curious to see how the missed game time will affect Swish once the season starts since he didn't exactly get off to a fast start last year (.293 wOBA in April).  Definitely something to keep an eye on.

P.S.- I wonder if Joanna is jealous of all the attention Swish's groins are going to receive over the next week or so.

No Reason To Panic On Pineda (Still)

Michael Pineda made his 4th start of the spring last night, and I'm sure people are going to be up in arms about this one too.  He gave up 2 hits and 2 runs in the 1st inning thanks to a HR by Andrew McCutchen and didn't seem to be able to locate very well.  His fastball velocity was a little higher than it has been, sitting mostly 92-93 with a few 94s sprinkled in, but still not at the upper-90s level that will quiet the panic alarm being sounded.

What the people on the "Pineda's a bust" bandwagon will fail to acknowledge is that he made an adjustment after the first inning when Larry Rothschild told him he was opening his lead shoulder and proceeded to strike out 5 batters over his last 2 innings of work, including the side in the 2nd.  He didn't go as deep into the game as Joe wanted to see, but he showed the ability to make in-game mechanical adjustments successfully, threw 72 pitches, finished strong, and said he felt good after the game.  As a young pitcher still learning the finer points of his craft, how much more can you reasonably ask for?

Here's some food for thought.  One year ago today, when Pineda was turning heads in Mariners' camp, he had made 4 starts in Spring Training.  In those 4 starts he totaled 11 IP, 4 ER, 4 BB, and 8 K.  In Yankee camp this spring Pineda has 11.1 IP and he's allowed 5 ER, 5 BB, and 12 K.  He has gotten hit a little bit (12 H allowed) but remember, last year he was coming out of nowhere and nobody knew anything about him; he was a big hulking kid throwing fireballs by everybody.  Now he's been around for a year, teams are more familiar with him, there's a book on him, and he's in camp focusing on learning a new pitch to make it usable and effective for the regular season.  He's not out there "throwing gas;" he's pitching.  He's a pitcher.  And the results he's generated in his 4 outings are almost identical to what he did last year.

The moral of this story is, stop freaking out about Pineda's velocity.  He's a young, unpolished pitcher getting a real deep coat of polish this spring from one of the best pitching coaches in the business.  He's still a big hoss, he's still a power pitcher, and he's still damn good.  It's March 21st and Pineda is throwing low-to-mid 90s with his fastball and doing just fine.  There's no reason to think that when the season officially starts he won't be able to dial it up when he needs to.  If it's April 21st, and he's still throwing low-90s, then come back and talk to me.  Until then, just be calm, be patient, and be happy that you aren't watching He Who Shall Not Be Named throw errant curveballs to the backstop.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kim Jones' Replacement Has Been Found

As you may remember, I was a bit distraught when it was announced in January that Kim Jones would not be returning as the clubhouse reporter for the YES Network this season.  Her replacement was announced to say, and dare I say I think she will be more than enough to help me get over the loss of my precious Kimmy.  Say, "HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" to Meredith Marakovits.

She's worked for SNY and with the Philadelphia 76ers and Phillies, so to get to graduate from the scuzz heap that is the NL East to the big leagues in Yankeeland is obviously a huge upgrade for her.  I don't know how I'm going to feel about her taking a pie after a walk-off win this year, if the Yankees are dumb enough to try to keep that tradition going, but if she can give a good interview I think she and I will get along just fine.  She's a peach, Jerry.  A peach.

2012 Storylines: Elder Statesmen Of The Lineup

("Hey, guy.  My calf hurts."  Courtesy of The AP)

When you're operating with the biggest payroll in baseball, your team should be potent offensively.  The Yankees are just that and have been for some time now.  They're coming off a 2011 season that saw them rank 1st in total team HR, 2nd in runs scored, 3rd in wOBA, and tied for 2nd in wRC+, and with almost the entire gang who collectively racked up those numbers back for 2012 they're looking at more of the same.  In looking at the projected starting lineup, it's expected that the group of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Brett Gardner will produce in a fashion similar to their 2011 output.  It's not a coincidence that those gentlemen are the younger members of the lineup, still in their physical primes.  The wild cards when predicting just how good the Yankee offense will be in 2012 are the older group of everyday players, specifically the infield trio of Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez.  They're all coming off of interesting 2011 seasons to say the least, and so far have had mixed results in ST, making it difficult to pinpoint how effective they'll be once the regular season grind starts.

Jeter and A-Rod, at 37 and 36 respectively, are the resident "old guys" of the Yankees lineup and clearly the ones most affected by age-related decline.  Jeter looked damn near dead in the water after the 2nd half of 2010 and the first half of 2011, but rebounded after his DL stint to hit .331/.384/.447 from July 4 on.  I've already discussed what Jeter needs to do this season to try to keep the momentum from his 2011 2nd half going, but results have been mixed in ST as he's been hitting a lot of balls on the ground and has been out for almost a week with a calf strain.  The Horse, on the other hoof, has looked fantastic this spring, both physically and from a baseball perspective.  He's got 7 hits in 24 AB, 4 of them for extra bases, and hasn't reported any physical issues with the knee or hip while pushing himself hard on the field and on the basepaths.  130-140 games of a healthy A-Rod will be a huge boost to the Yankees, especially if he can produce the way we know he's capable of.

Teix isn't quite as long in the tooth as his left side counterparts, and is still technically in his prime at 32, but he's coming off a down year that's not attributable to age-related decline or injury, his third straight year of offensive decline since becoming a Yankee.  With five more years left on his deal, the Yankees need him to right the ship and correct his issues from the left side of the plate.  Teix reportedly worked on his left-handed hitting in the offseason, shed some weight, and has been saying and doing all the right things in camp (including not trying to bunt against the shift).  He's also had mixed results at the plate, with 5 hits in 21 AB and little to no power, but he's drawn 5 walks and gone the other way a couple times.  The lack of power can likely be chalked up to him making a conscious effort to focus on his approach from the left side more than driving the ball, so there's really no cause for concern yet.

They aren't infielders, but the tag team tandem of Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones are expected to carry the bulk of the load from the DH spot in the lineup this year, and at 39 and 34 respectively they aren't young and haven't exactly been filling anybody with confidence with their early spring performances.  They're currently a combined 6-55 this spring with only 1 XBH and 13 K.  Ibanez has been particularly ugly to watch as neither his timing nor his swing look very good and he offers very little value defensively if forced into outfield duty.  Jones had offseason knee surgery and also got into better shape before camp to attempt to be a bigger contributor in 2012, but both need to produce more than they have so far once the games start to count or the Yankees may be fishing for a new DH at the trade deadline.

If none of these guys improve upon their 2011 offensive output the Yankees will still be a very good offensive team.  But they can be a force with a pair of bounce-back seasons from A-Rod and Teix in the middle of the lineup, and Jeter maintaining a production level above replacement level at the top of the order would be gravy.  If, however, the downward trend continues for this group, things could start to get dicey for the Yankees as they move to the latter parts of the season and further into the future.  Jeter, The Horse, and Teix are all under contract for the next handful of seasons at a hefty price and will become even bigger anchors to the payroll and lineup if they don't produce, and Ibanez and Jones will have people pining for The Jesus if they continue to scuffle.

Andy Pettitte And The Balance Between Nostalgia And Necessity

(Hopefully Andy-Wan Kenobi's presence doesn't disrupt the development of the young Padawans)

Let me preface this post by saying that this is not meant to be me taking a shot at Andy Pettitte. Andy is one of my favorite Yankees of all time and I'm happy that he's coming back for another go. I was bummed when he decided to hang it up after the 2010 season, especially when it was clear that he could still get the job done. If you're a believer in the "you can never have too much pitching" theory (and you'd be an idiot not to be), you have to be a fan of this move. Any time you can bring in the all-time leader in multiple postseason statistical categories who also happens to have won five championships as a member of your team as your de facto 7th starter, that's a good move. What bothers me about the situation, though, and has from the time I first heard the breaking news on Friday afternoon to right now, are the implications that this has been in the works for a while and that Pettitte deserves to be shoehorned into the rotation at some point simply because he's Andy Pettitte.

As more of the backstory leading up to the signing has come out, it has become clear that this wasn't so much Andy suddenly getting the urge to pitch again as it was a mutual back-and-forth discussion between him and Cash about the possibility of him coming back that goes back to last December. During last Friday's press conference, Cash stated that he offered Andy a $10-12 million deal as a way to force his decision and implied that had Andy accepted the offer, the Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda moves might not have happened. At the time, the Yankee rotation was CC, Nova, a recently re-signed Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, and He Who Shall Not Be Named. Pettitte likely would have been an upgrade over at least one of those options, but the idea that the Yankees were willing to throw 12 mil at him when he had been retired for a year and hadn't really been working out as a pitcher rather than pursue guys like Pineda and Kuroda is a little frightening. If you would have asked me back in December whether I would rather have a 39-year-old Andy Pettitte coming off a year away from the game for $12 million or Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda for less than that, I would have chosen Option B.

Once those moves were made, this behind-the-scenes story should have died. But because Pettitte kept working out and informed Cash that he wanted to pitch when he showed up at camp a few weeks ago as a guest instructor, here we are in mid-March with Andy Pettitte back in a Yankee uniform. In the time that has passed since he and Cash talked in December, the Yankees have put together a blueprint for their 2012 rotation (whether they publicly admit it or not) that includes both Pineda and Kuroda as well as a third consecutive ST competition for the 5th spot between Hughes and Garcia. In addition to those six, the Yankees have also gotten strong spring performances from David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell, guys who are close to banging their heads against the Triple-A glass ceiling and not getting any younger. On paper, they're as deep as they've ever been in the rotation and well-stocked with young talent to cover any injury or performance-related issues. If ever there was a season where the Yankees didn't necessarily NEED a cheap veteran starter, this was it. This is where my concern comes in.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Slade Heathcott Out Until May

This might have flown under a lot of people's radars over the weekend, what with St. Patrick's Day and the Yankosphere still buzzing about the Andy Pettitte signing.  I almost missed it myself until I saw the post up on RAB yesterday, but Slade Heathcott is still rehabbing from the left shoulder surgery that ended his 2011 season and isn't expected to be fully recovered and ready to play until May.

This is a big blow to Heathcott.  He was having a solid season before he went down last year and was expected to be the starting center fielder for High-A Tampa, but his shoulder issues continue to hinder his development.  This was the 3rd surgery on his left shoulder in the last four years, and as a prospect who is still very raw and in need of refinement of his overall game these surgeries are starting to become an issue.  Even if he's physically ready to play in early May, Heathcott likely won't be fully rounded into game form until June, and there's no way to get that two months of missed plate appearances back.

I'm very high on Heathcott because of the tools he brings to the table and how hard he plays the game.  Like many others, I had him in my top 10 list of Yankee prospects but this latest setback has him at serious risk of tumbling down the rankings.  It's bad enough that Heathcott struggles to stay healthy and has yet to play a season where he's accumulated more than 300 PA.  Now with Mason Williams and Ravel Santana on the map and breathing down his neck in Charleston, Heathcott is dangerously close to being lost in the shuffle of high-ceiling OF prospects in the Yankee system.