Yankees Bullpen Forecast – Opening Day

In 16 days, the New York Yankees will play their first game of the 2019 season. A couple days ago, I gave my thoughts on how the Yankees rotation might look on Opening Day. Today I’ll dive into their bullpen and give my thoughts on who will be there.

Manager Aaron Boone will probably carry 13 pitchers from the get-go. The Yankees will have their usual cast: Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green and Dellin Betances, plus newly acquired Adam Ottavino. That leaves three spots to fill.

Tommy Kahnle – 2018 was basically a washout for Tommy. He never had the same velocity he carried after being acquired from the Chicago White Sox in 2017, and was injured in an early appearance in April, which he didn’t disclose. Tommy kept pitching with a sore arm, fairing so poorly he ended up back in AAA. Kahnle says he is feeling much better this spring and says “the ball is coming out of his hand better”. He is out of options and would require passing through waivers unclaimed to stay with the Yankees organization if sent down. Therefore, Tommy will get every opportunity to make the club and bring the heat.

Kahnle cranks up heat

Stephen Tarpley – The 26 year old Tarpley came to the Yankees in August 2016 as part of the deal that sent Ivan Nova to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He rose quickly through the system in 2018, progressing from Double-A Trenton to Scranton Wilkes Barre, posting a composite ERA of 2.20 at both levels. He was rewarded with a September 1 call-up, and made his big-league debut at Yankee Stadium the next day. Tarpley pitched so well in September that Aaron Boone added him to the postseason roster for the ALDS against the Red Sox. “Tarp” is able to pitch multiple innings and is effective against both lefties and righties, making him all the more valuable.

Jonathan Holder – Jonathan’s overall ERA (3.14) in 2018 isn’t bad in itself, but it IS deceiving. Four rough outings in his 60 appearances skewed his numbers. Back to back appearances in early April and another pair of outings at the beginning of August were enough to make his ERA balloon more than 2.5 times it’s size. In his other 56 games, Holder’s ERA was 1.29 and WHIP was 0.88.

Chance Adams – In a way, Chance’s 2018 season was kind of similar to Kahnle’s because of injury. In an article by NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty, Adams had surgery after the 2017 season to remove bone chips from his right elbow, and it took longer to recover than expected. He didn’t have the mid-90’s velocity when he did return, nor the results to match. Chance will probably begin his 2019 season in Triple-A Scranton where he can start every fifth day, stay stretched-out and is only a phone call away if needed in New York.

Ben Heller – Ben missed all of 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and will hopefully contribute during the second half of 2019. Heller and Jordan Montgomery are pretty much on the same timetable.

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Yankees Starting Rotation Taking Form

Yesterday, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone announced that Masahiro Tanaka will be their Opening Day starter when they face off against the Baltimore Orioles on March 28 at Yankee Stadium.

With Luis Severino not expected back from shoulder inflammation for roughly a month, Boone had to make new plans for the Yankees’ first game. Tanaka made it an easy choice because he’s thrown the ball well in each of his starts this spring.

James Paxton and J.A. Happ will follow Tanaka in the rotation, but who will follow them still remains to be seen. Domingo Germán has pitched well in Florida, allowing two runs over 7.1 innings with 12 K’s in the early going. Yesterday, Luis Cessa started against the Tigers, retiring the first 11 batters before allowing a hit. He has surrendered one run on five hits in his nine innings in his three appearances. Both Cessa and Germán are candidates to for the back end of the rotation with Sevy and CC Sabathia both unlikely to begin their seasons until late April.

What about Jonathan Loaisiga you ask? It’s a fair question. He has looked very good this spring, and he’s not ruled out by any stretch. But the Yankees are going to want to take it easy with him, especially after some injury problems limited him to 80 innings in 2018. Over Loaisiga’s professional career, he has thrown only 196 total innings in his four years. Chances are Jonathan will continue to hone his craft in Triple-A Scranton by starting every five days, building up his innings in a carefully controlled environment.

Cessa is out of options, and would require clearing waivers if the team tried sending him back to Scranton-Wilkes Barre, so he’s going to get every opportunity to make the team. Aaron Boone may decide to go with a five-man rotation right out of the gate. I see the rotation something like this until Severino and Sabathia return:

  1. Tanaka
  2. Paxton
  3. J.A. Happ
  4. Germán
  5. Cessa

 

Of course after Sevy and CC join the rotation, some decisions will have to be made for Germán and possibly Cessa, but I think both righties can hold down the fort in the meantime.

MLB Non-Roster Invitees – American League East

Spring training is finally here! Pitchers and catchers are already with their teams in Arizona and Florida, along with a good number of position players looking to get a head-start on things.

There are always a ton of players in MLB camps every spring, the majority of them being players on the 40-man rosters. Every team also has a number of players who are “non roster invitees”. The term is pretty self-explanatory. These guys are players who are not on the 40 man, but are invited to major league camp so the front office, manager and coaches can take a look at them. It’s generally a mix of young talent (think early round draft picks) and older players who are looking to looking to latch on with teams, hoping to continue their careers.

Today we’re going to look at a few players on each team in the American League East Division, and we will cover the remaining AL and National League divisions in future articles. Here we go!

Baltimore Orioles

Sean Gilmartin (LHP) – Gilmartin is a 28 year old soft-tossing lefty pitcher who first broke in with the New York Mets in 2015. He pitched very well in the ’15 season, but has scuffled in succeeding years, kicking around the minor leagues. He surfaced in Baltimore in 2018, pitching to a 3.00 ERA in 27 innings. He may come in handy for the O’s in 2019, and lefties have a way of sticking around.

Jace Peterson (Utility) – Peterson began 2018 with the New York Yankees, but was gone by the end of April when the Orioles plucked him off waivers after playing only three games in the Bronx. He didn’t hit well, ending the season on the Mendoza-line (.200 average), but he proved to be handy because he can play anywhere on the field. The Orioles have little talent, so the 28 year old handyman may end up sticking. Being a left-handed bat helps.

Mike Yastrzemski (OF) – Does the name Yastrzemski sound familiar? If you know your baseball history, it should. Yes, Mike is the grandson of former Red Sox legend and Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. The 28 year old bats left-handed like his grandfather and plays good defense in the outfield like him. In 2018, he spent the bulk of the season in Triple-A Norfolk, where he had a slash-line of .265/.359/.441. If young Yaz has a productive spring, he could fill a gap with the big club until some of their OF prospects are ready down the line.

Boston Red Sox

Erasmo Ramirez (RHP) – It seems like the former Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners hurler has been around forever, having made his debut back in 2012, but he’s only 28 years old. After Seattle acquired him in the middle of the 2017 season, he pitched reasonably well, compiling a 3.92 ERA down the stretch. Things went sideways last season. Ramirez made ten starts, pitching to the tune of a 6.50 ERA over 45.2 innings. He spent a few months on the DL with a shoulder injury, which might have been why he was so ineffective last season. The Red Sox’s rotation is pretty well set, but a good spring could land him a bullpen spot or a MLB deal elsewhere.

Zach Putnam (RHP) – The 31 year old Putnam hasn’t pitched since April 2017, when he injured his elbow in the middle of a game, resulting in Tommy John Surgery. He signed a minor league deal in December. He doesn’t throw hard (91-92) but was effective in 2016 (2.30 ERA), striking out more than a batter per inning. If Putnam stays healthy, he could provide good bullpen depth.

Rusney Castillo (OF) – The Red Sox signed the Cuba-born outfielder prior to the 2014 season to a seven year deal worth more than 72 million dollars. For all this money, the Sox have received a grand total of seven home-runs and 35 RBI since Castillo signed his name to the contract. He played a half season in 2015 in Boston and a handful of games in ’16, after which the Sox correctly figured Castillo was a bust. They have to pay him anyway, so he may as well be in big-league camp. He will probably be paid another 11 million to play in Pawtucket in 2019. His contract has an opt-out after this year, but I’m pretty sure he’ll want the 14 million he will be owed in 2020.

New York Yankees

Danny Farquhar (RHP) – Danny’s 2018 season came to an abrupt halt in late April after he suffered a brain hemorrhage in the White Sox dugout in the middle of an appearance. He made an incredible recovery after having life-saving brain surgery, and the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal on February 1. Farquhar has good stuff, but with mixed results over his career. If the soon to be 32 year old stays healthy, he will be excellent bullpen depth. This is such a great feel-good story, it won’t matter if he throws another pitch because he’s already won. I’m rooting for him.

Ryan Lavarnway (C) – The Yankees signed Lavarnway to a minor league deal in early November with an invitation to big league camp. The 31 year old will likely spend 2019 in Triple-A Scranton Wilkes Barre as depth and to add a veteran presence to work with the organization’s young hurlers such as Michael King, Domingo Acevedo and others. This is a nice addition.

Mike Ford (1B/DH) – 26 year old Mike Ford is a power-hitting first baseman who has worked his way through the Yankees minor league system. In 2017, he hit 20 home runs between AA Trenton and AAA Scranton, but was left unprotected on the 40 man. The Seattle Mariners took him in that winter’s Rule 5 Draft, meaning the M’s had to keep him on their big league roster for all of 2018, or have to return him to the Yankees organization. The latter happened, and he was returned. He hit 16 homers last year in Triple-A, and provided a slash-line of .253/.327/.433. His strong left-handed bat is good insurance if Luke Voit and/or Greg Bird go down.

Tampa Bay Rays

Ryan Merritt (LHP) – Remember him? The former Cleveland Indians pitcher who made a strong postseason start in Toronto back in 2016 has battled shoulder injury problems ever since. He was released last fall and quickly signed a minor league deal with the Rays. Merritt, soon to be 27 years old, never threw hard but does throw strikes —  and the Rays have a way of getting a lot out of their pitchers, so who knows?

Emilio Bonafacio (Utility) – Bonafacio is yet another guy who seemingly has been around forever, but is “only” 33 years of age. He’s played on eight different MLB teams, and if he makes the Rays squad, it’ll be nine. The switch-hitting utilityman spent most of 2018 with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, where he hit .348 and stole 20 bags. With a young team, his veteran presence could go a long way, and his hard work would set an example for the kids.

Oliver Drake (RHP) – This poor guy must always keep his bags packed. He spent time on the rosters of five (FIVE!) different major league teams in 2018, having been plucked continuously off waivers. Despite all this time migrating from once place to another, he managed to make 44 appearances (1-1, 5.29 ERA), recording 51 strikeouts over 47.2 innings. Hopefully the 32 year old Drake will find a home with the Rays.

Toronto Blue Jays

Eric Sogard (INF) – Sogard spent the last two seasons in Milwaukee after spending parts of six seasons with the Oakland A’s. He was released by the Brewers on Sept. 1 with an anemic .134 average. Tampa signed him to a minor league deal in December and will add depth. There’s not much chance of him making the big league squad, as there are too many guys ahead of him. The 32 year old Sogard will likely be slated for Triple-A Buffalo. He’s a pro and young kids such as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will benefit from his tutelage.

Mark Leiter, Jr. (RHP) – 27 year old Mark Leiter, Jr. was selected off waivers on Sept. 1 by the Blue Jays after the Phillies DFA’ed him. He came up as a starter in the Philadelphia organization and made a handful of starts for the Phillies in 2016 with mixed results. Leiter, the son of former MLB pitcher Mark Leiter and nephew of Al Leiter, pitched exclusively out of the pen last season. He’s not overpowering, topping out in the low 90’s and will probably be minor league filler in 2019.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (3B) – I saved the best for last. This is Vladdy Jr’s first big league camp. To be sure, it will be his last as a non-roster invitee. The 19 year old son of MLB Hall of Fame right-fielder Vladimir Guerrero tore the cover off the ball between AA and AAA in 2018, to the tune of a .381/.437/.636 slash-line. He hit 20 home runs in 95 games and had 227 total bases. What stands out to me is the fact he only struck out 38 times in 357 at bats, walking 37 times. I had the privilege of watching him at a game in Buffalo last August. Here he is facing Scranton Wilkes Barre’s lefty Nestor Cortes, Jr.

 

 

Vladdy will likely begin the 2019 season with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, to give the Blue Jays an extra year of team control. I can’t wait to see what he can do when he’s called up, which will likely be early May.

In our next entry, we’ll take a look at some non-roster invitees in the AL Central. I hope you’ll join us!

Dreaming of The Game

I’m sitting here on Thursday afternoon, looking outside at the trees covered with a thin layer of ice. It’s a far cry from the beautiful 63 degree day we had in Rochester, NY only three days prior. The week before that, we had blizzard conditions with wind-chill temps in the minus-twenties. This winter has seemed to go on forever and have more personalities than Sybil, and it’s still only the end of the first week of February.

Despite Old Man Winter being firmly parked here across the United States, I’m dreaming of warm temperatures and baseball.

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I took this photo at PNC Field in Moosic, PA last July 4, when I went to a game between the Buffalo Bisons and the Scranton Wilkes Barre RailRiders. I’ll describe this scene as I remember it. It rained and stormed most of the afternoon, but it all cleared out about an hour before I took this photo, taking the humidity with it. It was a pleasant 72 degrees, the air and grass smelled fresh and the smell of popcorn and hot-dogs were in the air. The PA system was playing upbeat music and there was a buzz of excitement in the crowd because New York Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka (on rehab assignment) was the RailRiders starting pitcher this day. Tanaka pitched well, allowing a pair of runs over five innings in a 4-2 win over Buffalo.

Spring training begins next week, with exhibition games beginning within a couple weeks. It’s still cold outside, but us baseball die-hards are most of the way through the darkness of the off-season. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the smells and sounds of the ballparks. 😎🌭🍿⚾

Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Catchers

As I sit here on Wednesday morning, I’m sipping my second cup of coffee and thinking back on what an entertaining World Series we just watched between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. Game Three’s 18 inning marathon won by LA and Saturday night’s back and forth see-saw game in Game Four, eventually won by Boston have made this series a classic — the many antics by Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado not withstanding.

While the city of Boston watched the Red Sox victory parade today, the rest of Major League Baseball teams are sorting out what went wrong in 2018 and planning ahead for 2019. The New York Yankees and their front office are doing the same thing.

In the third installment of “Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em”, we will take a look at the team’s catchers. Let’s get started!

Gary Sanchez – (.186, 18 HR, 53 RBI) Good Lord. Sanchez went from runner up for AL Rookie of the Year (in less than half a season, no less), to All Star in 2017 to the outhouse in 2018. If you are looking for a positive, the Kraken walked six more times than he did in 2017 despite 150 less plate appearances. I guess that’s a good thing, considering his average dropped 90 points to an anemic .186 on the season. Gary just never seemed to get into a groove as he did in 2016 and ’17. His defense behind the plate went from bad in 2017 to worse in ’18. He allowed two more passed balls (league leading 18) than he did in 2017, despite playing in 28 less games. Sanchez threw out 30% of base stealers, down from 38% and 41% from 2017 and ’16, respectively. He got crossed up with his pitcher more times than I could count because he couldn’t remember what pitch he called and basically seemed disinterested back there. Sanchez missed a bunch of time on two different occasions with right groin strains, which may have played a small role in his regression.

This game-ending play from July stands out. Yankees were down a run in Tampa, and Gary loafed down the line and was easily thrown out. Although he ended up on the disabled list the next day, he admitted he needed to run harder.

I think a change of scenery would be good for both Sanchez and the Yankees both. I think he needs some kind of wake-up call. The Miami Marlins are always looking to shed payroll. With New York possibly thinking of offering the aforementioned Manny Machado a contract, it’s not optimal to have two players known for loafing in the same lineup. Perhaps Yankees GM Brian Cashman could whip together a package to land fellow catcher JT Realmuto, who wants to be traded? Sanchez has more team control at a lower price, which would suit Marlins owner Derek Jeter.

Trash him (Meaning trade him).

Austin Romine – (.244, 10 HR, 42 RBI) Romine played quite a bit in 2018, with starter Gary Sanchez sidelined two separate times with a strained groin. He did what he always does, bringing his lunch-pail and goes to work. In 265 total plate appearances (close to half a season’s worth for a full-time starter), Romine knocked ten balls over the fence and drove in 42 runs. He had four games of three hits and several other games here he had two hits. As the season wore on (hey, catchers get banged-up), his average started dropping through August and September. Romine earns his money off the field and on, being a very good defensive catcher and mentoring Gary Sanchez and most importantly, working with and having the respect of the pitching staff. Dollar for dollar, the Yankees are getting their money’s worth.

Take him.

Kyle Higashioka – (.167, 3 HR, 6 RBI) Drafted by the Yankees way back in 2008, the 28 year old Higashioka was recalled by New York on both occasions when Sanchez was injured. He got his first major league hit on July 1 at Yankee Stadium, when he hammered a no-doubter down the left-field line into the second deck off Red Sox starter David Price in the bottom of the 4th inning.

That was probably his most memorable moment of 2018, as he ended the season with more strikeouts (16) than hits (12). Historically, the “Higster” has never been a good hitter (.202 average at Triple-A Scranton in 2018), and is minor league filler. I wish for him to do well, but spots on the “40 man” are valuable and I think the Yankees are better suited to move on with younger talent.

Trash him.

In our next installment of Yankees “Take ’em or Trash ’em”, we will whip it around the horn, covering the infielders. See you then! 👋🏼

Yankees Youth Movement is in Overdrive

After the New York Yankees played their 60th game of the season, the team was on a roll with five consecutive wins and sported a 37-23 record. In those five straight wins, against the Red Sox and Orioles no less, they outscored them by a mind-numbing 55-9. Aaron Judge went 4-4 in that 60th game of the season and crushed a 496 foot home-run that you most certainly have seen by now, unless you are living under a rock.

Everything was going right with the Bronx Bombers, right up until the team boarded the plane for California. The Yanks beat the Angels in Anaheim to start the road-trip and promptly lost the next two games. They traveled north and were swept by an Oakland A’s team that is currently 35-43. Making things worse, Yankees players started dropping like flies. Since the beginning of the road trip, they have lost Adam WarrenCC SabathiaAaron HicksStarlin Castro and Matt Holliday to injuries and in Holliday’s case, illness. Greg Bird had been on rehab assignments in Tampa and Scranton, but pain has returned in his problematic right ankle and hasn’t responded well to a cortisone injection.

With all the injuries, a number of kids we saw in Spring Training have been promoted. Tyler Austin, who himself was injured, was recalled from Scranton. Young pitchers Tyler Webb, Ben Heller and Ronald Herrera were called up to help in the bullpen. Tyler WadeMason Williams and Miguel Andujar (who had a big night in his Yankees debut) have already made contributions. Dustin Fowler is reportedly headed to Chicago to join the Yankees today.

Not only have these kids been called to New York to fill the void of injured players, they have contributed and excited Yankees fans and management alike. The Yanks are still only 5-11 since June 11, but the kids are playing well enough to give Yankees fans optimism now and for the future.

See you next time!

Charlie