Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Starting Pitchers

Welcome back! A few days ago, we dug in to Yankees position players in the first post-2020 season installment of “Take ’em or Trash ’em“. Over the next two installments, we will break down the pitching staff from ace starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to closer Aroldis Chapman, and everyone in between.

Let’s get started with the Yankees rotation, next time we will tackle the bullpen.

Starting Pitchers

Gerrit Cole – Cole proved why the Yankees were wise to give him a nine-year, 324 million dollar contract last December. After his first eight starts while paired up with catcher Gary Sánchez, Cole looked fairly pedestrian with a 3.91 ERA. He gave up home runs at an alarming rate, twelve round-trippers in only 46 innings. Beginning in September, Manager Aaron Boone had Kyle Higashioka catch for Cole. The results were strikingly better. The Yankees ace was unstoppable down the stretch. Over four September starts, Cole struck out 34 batters over 27 innings, allowing 14 hits, three earned runs and only two homers over that span. That success continued over three October starts, with the Yankees winning two of them. Look for Cole and Higgy to continue working together in 2021.

Do I really have to ask? Take him (duh).

Masahiro Tanaka – While job security isn’t an issue for the aforementioned Gerrit Cole, Tanaka may have pitched in his final start for the Yankees. It doesn’t seem all that long ago Masa signed a seven-year contract, after spending the first seven years of his career pitching in his native Japan. While Tanaka may not command the 22 million dollars a year he got in his last deal, he certainly is worth hanging on to. In 2019, Tanaka pitched to a 4.45 ERA while struggling to make his trademark splitter work. This year, he lowered his ERA almost a full run to 3.56, while increasing his K rate closer to his 2014-2018 levels. It was troubling to see Tanaka get roughed up in both postseason starts, and he will soon be 32 years old.

If Tanaka is gone, we’ll have this lasting image of him, Cole and their wives on a sushi dinner date.

Take him (but only if the price is right).

James Paxton – 2020 was rough for the Big Maple. After rehabbing his back over the winter, the root of the problem wasn’t discovered until February. He had surgery and rehabbed while Major League Baseball waited out COVID-19. When the season started, Paxton was building his pitch count. He was clearly behind and it showed. Paxton got pounded early, his fastball lacked it’s normal velo. Normally 96-98 mph, his fastball sat 91-92. By the mid August, Paxton’s fastball improved. Things went south when he allowed one hit against the Rays. He walked the bases loaded before allowing a double, emptying the bases. He left with a flexor tendon strain, never to return. Paxton is a free agent. With Tanaka and Happ also free agents, the Yankees need starters. I would offer Paxton a one year deal with incentives. If he wants a lot of guaranteed dollars, I let him walk.

Trash him. 🗑

J.A. Happ – Most of “Yankees Twitter” can’t stand Happ for various reasons. He pitched poorly in 2019, the first two outings of 2020 and the ill-fated Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series against the Rays. Most people don’t realize Happ was the Yankees most dependable starter for six weeks, including Gerrit Cole. From August 15 through September 19, Happ pitched to a 1.93 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP. After expressing his feelings regarding his usage (his contract situation earlier in the season to his role in Game Two of ALDS), It’s safe to say he won’t be coming back. However, Yankees fans shouldn’t be shitting all over Happ. He wanted to be treated fairly and used the way he is used to (and successful with). Happ didn’t ask too much. He’s now 38 and it’s hard to say how much he has left. Trash ’em“. 🗑

Deivi García – From the second oldest player (Happ) on the Yankees to the youngest, García pitched much better than his ERA (4.98) indicates. If you take away his start against the Red Sox on September 20, García’s ERA drops to a much better 3.73. What I’m saying here is this young man has a bright future. Deivi didn’t look like a typical 21 year old out there, and didn’t get rattled. Best of all, he drew praise from none other than Pedro Martínez, his idol.

I look forward to seeing what García will do over a full season in the Yankees rotation. There’s a spot open for him. Take!

Jordan Montgomery – Monty had his ups and downs in his first full season back from Tommy John Surgery. It’s been said one of the last things to come back for a pitcher recovering from TJS is command, and Montgomery’s command was spotty at times. This resulted in a season ending 5.11 ERA and high pitch counts that made for short outings for the 27 year old lefty. Monty’s stuff is there, and may be even better after his surgery. Look for Jordan to have a more stable 2021 season with the Yankees at the back end of their rotation.

Take him!

Luis Severino – It seems like forever since we last saw Sevy pitching in a Yankees uniform. After a shoulder injury sidelined Severino for most of 2019, he tore his UCL in spring training late in February. As of this writing, the plan is for Sevy, still only 26 years old, to be able to pitch early in the 2021 season. While the Yankees are known for being conservative, his return will be a welcome sight for the team and their fans. Take!

Domingo Germán – Germán sat out the 2020 season after a MLB investigation proved his guilt in a domestic violence incident late in the 2019 season. He has not been back with the team since. His suspension ended this past September but was ineligible to pitch in the postseason. Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner did not commit to bringing Germán back in 2021. However, Hal’s father, George M. Steinbrenner III gave players second chances. Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden are two of the most famous examples. That said, no one George Steinbrenner gave a second chance to was guilty of domestic violence. Personally, I think Yankees should trash him. 🗑

Clarke Schmidt and Michael King – Both Schmidt and King are guys the Yankees have high hopes for, but neither are ready for full-time rotation spots. Yet. Before everything went to hell in a handbasket in March with COVID, both guys were looking good in Florida in spring training. When everything resumed, King found himself in the Yankees bullpen as a long reliever/mop-up man. Schmidt returned to the team’s “alternative site” in Scranton/Wilkes Barre to keep sharp in simulated games. Both King (age 25) and Schmidt (24) were victims of infrequent use, resulting in ERA’s over 7.00 and wasting a year of their careers. Hopefully they will begin 2021 in Scranton-Wilkes Barre to refine things and cement their statuses as upper level prospects. If injuries hit, or Yankees don’t add a starter or two in free agency, one or both could start the new season on the big league staff.

Take ’em both – but they could use a little more seasoning in the minors.

In the next installment of “Take ’em or Trash ’em”, we will wrap things up with the Yankee bullpen. Join us!

 

MLB: Just Find a Way to Make it Work

It’s been a hot minute since I have written anything on The Titanium Spine. My last post was on March 6, but with everything the country has gone through with COVID-19, it feels longer. I hope everyone reading this has stayed healthy along with your families and friends.

Major League Baseball owners and the Player’s Union are currently battling over finances and salaries for this season, and if it’s not resolved there may not be baseball in 2020. Yesterday, the owners submitted a proposal to the players union that would pay players on a sliding-scale. Players who are under team control, and thus generally paid less than one who has a larger contract stand to benefit the most.

 

Needless to say, the players aren’t happy with this proposal. Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer tweeted this out late Wednesday night.

 

Keep in mind this was a baseline offer and the players union will counter. Minor league players are already suffering, although for now all teams are paying them a monthly stipend. But the Oakland A’s intend to stop paying after this month ends.

 

Not all teams are taking this hard stance. The San Diego Padres plan to pay their kids through August, so this is by no means a universal thing in Major League Baseball.

 

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and baseball can return this summer. A lot of players, workers and fans could really use some normalcy in their lives.

Non-Roster Invitees – National League East

We survived! I’m so excited because MLB spring training baseball games begin today. Baseball is back, baby!

In our last piece, we looked at a few notable non roster invitees from each team in the American League West. Today we begin the National League, starting with the East division. Let’s get started, down south in Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves

Ian Anderson (RHP) – Ian Anderson is a 20 year old righty who was a first round draft pick (#3 overall) in the 2016 amateur draft. Standing 6’3″ tall and 170 pounds, Anderson employs three pitches. He features a good fastball (92-96 mph), a swing and miss curve and a change-up. Ian works continuously to improve his off-speed pitches, and was rewarded for it with excellent results in 2018. Anderson made 20 starts in High-A ball with the Florida Fire Frogs, logging a 2.52 ERA. He struck out 118 over 100 innings, allowing 73 hits and 40 walks. Ian was bumped-up to AA Mississippi and made four more starts, punching-out 24 over 19.1 innings and posting a 2.33 ERA. Anderson needs to work on control and command, but what 20 year old pitcher doesn’t? His ceiling is high, but the Braves won’t rush him.

Austin Riley (3B) – Riley was taken by Atlanta late in the first round of the 2015 amateur draft. He is a power-hitting third baseman who was a two-way player in high school. Reportedly, many teams looked at him as a pitcher, but the Braves were more impressed with his bat. He worked his way through the system and split 2018 between AA Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett, slugging 19 HR’s and producing a combined slash-line of .294/.360/.522. Riley was on target for a potential September call-up to Atlanta, but he sprained his knee diving for a foul ball. With an impressive spring, he could easily be playing with the big league club this season.

Pedro Florimon (Utility) – The well-traveled 31 year old utility-man spent the last two seasons with the Phillies. In late May, Florimon fouled a ball off his foot, breaking a bone near his big toe. He finished the at-bat before leaving the game, but didn’t return until Sept. 1. The switch-hitter went 1-14 in September, rendering his 2018 season a washout. The Braves inked him to a minor league deal in November. Pedro is a useful guy to have because he can play anywhere on the field except catcher and first-base.

Miami Marlins

Victor Victor Mesa (CF/OF) – I have to admit the first time I heard Victor Victor’s name, I thought of this scene from the 1980 comedy film, “Airplane!”

Now that we got that out of the way, 22 year old Mesa is Miami’s second ranked prospect in their organization. He and his younger brother, Victor Jr. defected from Cuba last May. In October, both brothers signed contracts with the Marlins, with the elder Mesa getting $5.25 million — a franchise record for an amateur position player. Victor Victor’s strongest points of his game are currently defense and speed and awareness on the basepaths. On offense, Mesa makes good contact, but is lacking in power. He hasn’t drawn many walks because he’s so good at making contact, but has to learn patience to work the counts. Mesa projects to begin in Double A.

Nick Neidert (RHP) – Neidert, 22, was taken in the second round of the 2015 amateur draft by the Mariners. He was acquired in the 2017 deal that sent Dee Gordon to Seattle. At 6’1″, 190 lbs, he doesn’t overpower but can top out at 93 mph, and has a plus-change-up that is his second best pitch. Nick spent the entire 2018 season in AA Jacksonville, where he went 12-7 with a 3.24 ERA. He struck-out 154 over 152.2 innings and walked only 31, a rate of 1.8 per nine innings. Expect Neidert to begin 2019 in Triple-A, and could reach the big-leagues if Marlins have injury problems or ineffectiveness.

Curtis Granderson (RF) – The “Grandy-Man” still can! Curtis Granderson has enjoyed a long and distinguished career, entering what will be his 16th season in the major leagues. He signed a minor league deal on February 5, making the Marlins the fifth organization Granderson has been with since 2017. He began 2018 with the Toronto Blue Jays, and was acquired by Milwaukee on the last day of August for their push to the playoffs. Curtis will turn 38 years old in a few weeks. He’s not an everyday player anymore, but can be productive in a platoon-role against right-handers and as a defensive replacement. He’s also a good clubhouse guy and young Marlins players will benefit from his presence.

New York Mets

Peter Alonso (1B) – Pete Alonso, a 24 year old out of Tampa, FL, is a hulk of a man at 6’3″, 245 lbs. He was picked in the 2nd round of 2016’s draft, and has torn through the Mets system in his two and a half seasons. Last year, Alonso began in AA Binghamton and was elevated to Triple-A Las Vegas midway through the season. When it was over, Peter compiled a slash-line of .285/.395/.579 with 36 home-runs and 119 RBI. On defense, he made only nine errors in 110 games. He’s ready now, but the Mets may use their legal right to gain an extra year of team-control by keeping him Syracuse, their new AAA affiliate until May. You’ll see him soon.

Andre Gimenez (SS) – Gimenez is a 20 year old shortstop from Barquisimeto, Venezuela. He is the top-ranked prospect in the Mets system. He spent most of 2018 in High-A, and later promoted to Double-A where he played almost 40 games. Combined, Gimenez hit .281, with 6 HR’s and 46 RBI in 122 games. On the bases, he’s a threat to steal, swiping 38 bags. He has a quick left-handed bat, but not a power guy at 5’11”, 160 lbs. He’s your prototypical lead-off hitter, able to work the counts and get on base. He bears watching, but you won’t see him until 2020, at the earliest.

Tim Tebow (LF) – How many of you expected Tim Tebow to still be in baseball after he said he wanted to switch sports in 2016? Admittedly, I did not. Tim had the best season of his short baseball career in 2018, putting up a .273 average with 6 HR’s and 36 RBI. He still struck out too much, 103 K’s in only 298 plate appearances. He has been a model teammate by all accounts, and no one has more drive and determination. He may be promoted to AAA Syracuse Mets to begin 2019, and if he plays well enough, who knows? Are you going to bet against Tebow? I’m not.

Philadelphia Phillies

JoJo Romero (LHP) – Romero is a 6’0″, 190 lb. southpaw who was selected in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. He has five pitches, including a mid-nineties fastball, to go with his slider, curve, cutter and change (all average to above-average). He breezed through Rookie League and all levels of A-ball by the end of 2017 with ERA’s under three at each stop. Romero began 2018 at AA Reading, PA of the Eastern League. On May 9, his ERA stood at 6.68 with an 0-4 record. He then seemed to figure things out, going 7-2, 2.35 ERA over his next dozen starts, when a strained oblique short-circuited and ended his season. Romero could start 2019 in Reading, but a move to Triple-A Lehigh Valley could come quickly.

Adam Haseley (CF/OF) – Haseley was the Philly’s top pick in the 2017 amateur draft. So far, he’s made quick work of each stop, hitting everywhere he goes. 2018 began in Clearwater, FL in A+ ball. Adam hit .300 in 79 games in the Sunshine State, with five HR’s and driving in 38. Haseley played his final 39 games in AA Reading, where he hit even better. He nailed six homers to go with his .316 average. Best of all, he struck out less in Double-A and drew walks at a higher rate. Plan for Haseley to finish 2019 in Triple-A, and if he continues progressing at this rate, you’ll see a September call-up.

Drew Butera (C) – Butera was middling along with the rest of the Royals in the basement of the AL Central, when opportunity came knocking in the form of a trade. The 35 year old veteran backstop was shipped to the Colorado Rockies on August 31, as insurance against injury to regular catchers Tony Wolters and Chris Iannetta. It helped that Butera had playoff experience and was familiar with closer Wade Davis. He can’t hit water if he fell from a boat, but his money is earned working with pitchers. Plus he’s a damn good Twitter follow (@drewbutera).

Washington Nationals

Carter Kieboom (SS) – Kieboom, 21, was the Nationals’ 1st round draft choice in 2017’s amateur draft. At 6’2″, 190 lbs, Kieboom hits for power and average. He started last season in High-A Potomac, where he smacked 11 home-runs, driving in 46 in roughly 60 games. Carter, the younger brother of Nationals catcher Spencer Kieboom, was promoted to AA Harrisburg halfway through 2018. He was challenged more there, but still hit a respectable .262 with five home-runs in 62 games. Of interest, Kieboom played 21 games in the Arizona Fall League, nine of which he played at 2nd base, a position he hadn’t played professionally. With Trea Turner firmly entrenched at shortstop in DC, a move to second base would be a way to make room for Kieboom in 2020. Brian Dozier can keep things warm until then.

Aaron Barrett (RHP) – Aaron Barrett is attempting a comeback from not one, but TWO catastrophic arm injuries. He last pitched in the majors with the Nationals in 2015. The story in the embedded tweet from @MiLB is worth reading and gives context.

Barrett pitched well in 20 games for Low-A Auburn Doubledays in the NY-Penn League, giving up only four earned-runs in 20.1 innings. He struck out 26 and walked eight. You can follow Barrett on Twitter here.

Henderson Alvarez (RHP) – It seems hard to believe, but Henderson Alvarez is still only 28 years old. Injuries derailed his once promising career, but to his credit he doesn’t give in. The last time Alvarez pitched a full season in the bigs, it was 2014. He went 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA that year, spinning three shutouts. He still has velocity (low 90′ but his stuff is nowhere near the same after his injuries. I hope he can get back on track, but if not — we’ll still have his walk-off no hitter from September 2013 when he was with Miami.

So that’s it from the NL East. Please join us next time when we continue on in the National League Central!

Finesse Pitchers: A Lost Art

A couple weeks ago, I bought tickets to watch my local minor league team, the Rochester Red Wings play the Norfolk Tides in a doubleheader. Norfolk won both games, each by a score of 1-0. Obviously both games were well-pitched affairs, with runs at a premium.

In the first game, Norfolk had a tall lefty on the mound by the name of John Means. As I watched him in the 1st inning, I noticed he didn’t throw all that hard, sitting about 87-88 mph with his fastball. He mixed in a curve and a change, and seemed to command all three pitches. Means went on to breeze through the Red Wings lineup and never got into trouble, effectively shutting them down. He pitched a three-hit shutout, struck out six and walked no one. His fastest pitch of the day reached 89 mph. He painted like Picasso against a Rochester lineup that had six players who played in the major leagues at one time or another. It really was enjoyable to watch.

 

Before that day, July 19, I never heard of John Means. He’s 25 years old, 6’3″, 230 lbs. and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 draft from West Virginia. As of this writing, Means has started 15 games in Triple-A, with a record of 5-3, an ERA of 3.25 and a WHIP of 1.2. Decent numbers, but not eye-popping. After watching him pitch in person and reading his overall career stats, he can throw strikes and he can strike people out. These minor league stats show that he’s always been able to do both regularly. So why are the pitching starved Orioles not taking a look at this guy in the big leagues? He’s not in their Top 30 minor league prospects, probably more suspect than prospect. Means is not even on their 40 man roster.

With everyone from fans to front office executives to MLB league executives in love with the velocity craze, I worry guys like Means may never get a fair shot to prove their worth in the major leagues. Guys who throw (not necessarily pitch) at 95 or better seem to get fast-tracked to the big leagues, while the finesse pitchers seem to get left out in the cold, ending up minor league filler. Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer, both drafted by the Cubs in 1984, recorded 624 big league wins between them, logging over 9,000 combined innings. Neither one of these men would probably get a second look in today’s MLB. Each of them made incredibly good livings for many years with fastballs that rarely, if ever touched 90 miles per hour. They learned to pitch because they had no choice, and they won a lot of games as a result. Same with Trevor Hoffman, who survived and thrived on an 86 mph fastball and a deadly change-up. He went into the Hall of Fame mere days ago, having saved more than 600 games over his long career. With relievers throwing near 100 mph, it would to envision him even getting a shot if he were a young pitcher in today’s game.

Maddux, Moyer and Hoffman are just a few examples, but there are many more who pitched with lower velocities and won many games. Tom Glavine comes to mind. Flame throwing pitchers and strikeouts seem to draw fans in, and more fans equals more attention, which can bring more revenue. Everyone loves the oohs and ahhs. But there should be room for pitchers like John Means. Finesse pitching doesn’t have to be a lost art.