Higashioka Seizing his Opportunity

Yesterday afternoon, New York Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch of MLB.com sent a tweet saying Aaron Boone is giving more playing time to catcher Kyle Higashioka.

Given Gary Sánchez’s trouble making contact at bat and spotty defense behind the plate, it’s easy to understand why. But make no mistake, Higashioka has earned the right to play more. His hitting stats are the best on the team, by far. Going into tonight’s game against the Orioles, Higgy’s slash-line is .320/.414/,880. His OPS (1.294) is over 400 points higher than Aaron Judge (.885), who has the second highest.

On the defensive side of the ball, the 31 year old Higashioka has proven to be dependable behind the plate. When he is catching, Yankees Twitter is a much calmer place to be during the game. It’s no secret Gerrit Cole likes working with Higgy, who knew Gerrit when both were being scouted by David Keith in 2008 for the Yankees. Sánchez caught Cole on Opening Day, and hasn’t done so since. It’s interesting to note the Yankees have a record of 5-3 in games Higashioka started behind the plate, and the team is 5-12 in games Gary Sánchez started. That’s not all on Gary, but I believe there’s certainly more comfort on days Higgy catches.

It’s been a long road for Higashioka, who’s been with the Yankees his entire career. He spent a lot of years riding buses in the minor leagues, climbing each rung of the ladder. I got a close up look at Higgy when the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Railriders played the Buffalo Bisons on Opening Day 2019.

(Kyle Higashioka signing a few autographs before first pitch in Buffalo on April 4, 2019)

 

No doubt, Higashioka has earned his way over the years. With so many bonus babies being fast-tracked to the majors, it’s rewarding to see someone like Kyle succeed and thrive.

 

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Yankees 20 Game – Plus one – Report

The last time we covered the Yankees “Ten Game Report”, the team was 5-5 and they were coming off a pair of wins. They salvaged an 8-4 win in St. Petersburg against the Rays, and beat the Blue Jays in the first game of a three-game set in nearby Dunedin, FL. Things were beginning to look up, right?

Wrong. The Yankees proceeded to lose six of their next seven games, the wheels fell off and now the Yankees are 9-12 after twenty-one games. The offense continued to be offensive. Gerrit Cole has been himself (3-1, 1.71 ERA), but the rest of the starting rotation has continually came up short, leaving the bullpen to cover several innings most games. In the sixteen games Cole didn’t start, Yankees starters are averaging 4.25 innings. Jordan Montgomery has provided the most innings behind their ace, while Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and Domingo Germán have struggled to give length.

Yankees relief corps are still giving excellent innings, led by Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga. Lucas Luetge, who has been a wonderful story since spring training, notched his first win since 2013 in relief of Montgomery in a 5-3 win on April 23. The collective workload the bullpen has taken on in the early going is a concern, however. Green and Loaisiga have already appeared in ten and nine games, respectively. Luis Cessa and Darren O’Day have appeared in eight games each, and Luetge seven. This kind of workload isn’t conducive to success, and the overwork can lead to injuries. This is reason to worry, especially to a guy like Loaisiga, who’s had injury problems in the past.

On offense, the Yankees as a team are hitting .206 with a collective on base percentage of .302. Aaron Judge has overall been the team’s most reliable everyday hitter, with a slash-line of .246/.366/.449 and 4 HR’s. Giancarlo Stanton has been mostly cold, but did smoke a pair of blasts in the aforementioned 5-3 win in Cleveland. A positive spin – Stanton does lead the team with 14 RBI. Kyle Higashioka has seen increased playing time, a big reason is hitting almost 100 points higher than Gary Sánchez, with just as much pop in his bat. The other reason is his overall catching abilities, which frankly are much better than Sanchez. Yankees manager won’t say it, but Higgy is Cole’s personal catcher for most intents and purposes.

The last eleven games have been ugly. There’s no sugarcoating it. But the weather has been brutally cold, especially so in the game I went to at Yankee Stadium on April 21. The Atlanta Braves were in town for a two-game series and Wednesday’s game was frigid, with temperatures hovering in the low 40’s with sustained 20 mph winds. When the calendar turns to May in a few days, the weather should soon warm up. Getting Luke Voit back will only help, and he’s currently at the Alternate site in Scranton ramping up his rehab.

It’s hard to stay patient, especially for Yankees fans who expect wins, runs and homers. Sensing fans frustrations, General Manager Brian Cashman called a Zoom meeting/press conference on Monday, April 19 to attempt to calm the masses. It didn’t really work, but the right thing to do is continue to stay the course. For now.

Fans didn’t really buy it, but something had to be done even for the sake of doing something. Time will tell, but I feel confident the Yankees bats will warm up. Hopefully the rotation will pick things up and ease the burden on the relievers.

See ya next time! 😎👋🏽

Yankees 10 Game Report – 2021 Season

It’s that time again! Last year, I broke down the Yankees season in chunks, ten game increments. I am going to do the same thing in 2021, because it’s simply more manageable. I don’t want the reports to be super long, and I can better detail what’s happening with the team this way.

The Yankees are 5-5 after ten games. They lost two of three at home against the Blue Jays to kick things off. They followed that by taking two out of three against the Orioles. The Bronx Bombers went to St. Petersburg and promptly lost the first two of a three-game set against the Rays. The Yankees avoided the sweep by winning the final game of the series, and won again last night against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL.

  • Pitching

Gerrit Cole has been as-advertised, racking up 29 strikeouts over 18.1 innings. His ERA is a scant 1.47 and WHIP is 0.82. Cole is a pitching savant, and guys flock to him. On April 11, YES Network cameras captured Jordan Montgomery talking to Cole shortly after Monty was removed from the game. A reporter asked him about it after the game.

 

Montgomery wasn’t as sharp in his start against Tampa Bay as he was in his first start, but kept his team in the game. In his two starts, “Gumby” has a 3.27 ERA in eleven innings. Corey Kluber‘s first pair of starts (7 runs, 6.1 innings) leave something to be desired, but he’s a professional. Despite early troubles, I think Kluber will be ok in the end. Domingo German stunk it up in his two starts (12 hits/7 runs over seven total innings) and was optioned to the Alternate site (AAA Scranton Wilkes Barre) account of several off days. Jameson Taillon‘s first start in Pinstripes went well. Despite not pitching in a major league game since 2019, he wasn’t rusty, giving up only two runs in 4.2 innings (he was on a pitch count).

Yankees relievers have been very dependable in the early going. Aroldis Chapman, Darren O’Day, Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga have all provided valuable scoreless relief. Chad Green suffered a pair of “Rob Manfred runs” (including an extra-innings loss), thanks to his stupid extra innings runner on 2nd base rule. Otherwise, Green has been money. Youngster Nick Nelson was flogged by the Rays in a mop-up outing. Lucas Luetge gave up a few runs in his three appearances. Without a doubt, the bullpen has been valuable.

  • Position Players

The bats have been lagging, which isn’t unusual early in the year. It’s April and it’s cold. Yankees hitters have left a not-so-nice 69 runners on base. Overall, the team is hitting .232 with 41 runs scored in ten games. Gary Sanchez has hit quite well, with a pair of home runs, four RBI and a slash-line of .296/.406/.556. D.J. LeMahieu has been his usual steady self (.268/.362/.415), with at least one hit in eight of ten games. Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton struggled at times, but still have found a way to drive in a combined twelve runs. Gleyber Torres has an anemic slash-line of .205/.295/.231, and is also struggling in the field. He already has a pair of errors and just seems shaky out there. Also, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge have contributed with their bats and outfield glovework. Clint Frazier has lagged, but I’m confident he will shake it.

Rougned Odor made his Yankees debut at Tropicana Field and quickly made his mark, driving in the go-ahead run in the 10th inning.

I like the move, trading for the 27 year old second baseman. No question, Odor has more upside than Tyler Wade (who was optioned to AAA Scranton). With his soft hands, I can eventually see him getting work at 3rd base and perhaps even shortstop.

Ok that’s it for the Yankees ten game report. We’ll see you again after the next set of 10 games!

 

2021 MLB Season Preview – The AL East

Happy Opening Day! After an miserable year in 2020, including an abbreviated sixty game schedule, fans are looking forward to a full 162 game season. Best of all, fans will be allowed in MLB ballparks. The stadiums will not be sellouts at first, but as COVID vaccinations continue, capacities will increase. Normalcy is slowly returning.

The AL East Division is always competitive, and will continue to be in 2021. Today, we’ll take brief looks at each team in the East and assess their chances of winning the division. Let’s get started!

  • Boston Red Sox – After last year’s disaster, there’s nowhere to go but up. Alex Cora is back to manage the team after a year away from baseball account the much publicized Astros sign stealing scandal. Over the winter, the Red Sox added Kike Hernandez, Franchy Cordero, and Marwin Gonzalez to their lineup. They brought in former Yankee Adam Ottavino to their bullpen and Garrett Richards for the rotation. This team will hit, but their success will ride on pitching. Nathan Eovaldi is back throwing 100 mph seeds and Eduardo Rodriguez is back after missing 2020 with post-COVID related heart issues. Chris Sale (recovery from Tommy John surgery) is slated to re-join the team after the All Star break. If their bullpen holds up and does the job, the Sox will be much better in 2021. However, they’re still behind upper-echelon teams like the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays.
  • New York Yankees – Last year’s Yankees finished 2nd behind the Tampa Bay Rays. Injuries are a big reason why, as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton each missed more than half the season. Remaining healthy is the biggest concern for manager Aaron Boone and the Bronx Bombers. If the bodies hold up, the Yankees are the most talented team in the division. The Yankees lineup is basically unchanged from last year. Good health also goes for pitching – if newcomers Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon make all their starts, good things will happen.
  • Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays are for real. Sure, things change every year because the team’s salary structure dictates they must. Kevin Cash is a top-notch manager (other than that Blake Snell World Series thingy) and gets the most from his players. Willy Adames, Mike Brosseau, Randy Arozarena and Tyler Glasnow make up a formidable core. They have the lineup to compete and score a lot of runs. As with most teams, pitching well – especially in relief – is key to success. Beyond Glasnow, the Rays rotation is a patchwork quilt of recycled and older starters. Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks and Chaz Roe are good at shutting teams down. They’ll be at or near the top the entire way.
  • Toronto Blue Jays – What a lineup. After the Yankees, these Baby Jays have the best lineup in the AL East, and maybe the entire league. Over the winter, GM Ross Atkins brought in CF George Springer, 2B Marcus Semien and starting pitcher Steven Matz. The Jays and manager Charlie Montoyo have young flamethrower Nate Pearson slotted in behind Hyun-Jin Ryu in the rotation. Again, pitching well will be important – especially in this loaded division.

Enjoy the games today and the entire season! There’s no day quite like Opening Day. For me, it’s better than Christmas.