The Farm Report: 5/31/12

Trenton beat Erie 11-0:
Luke Murton and Kevin Mahoney hit back-to-back singles in the second and Murton scored on a sac fly from Jose Gil.  Addison Maruszak started the third with a single and stole second.  Abraham Almonte drew a walk and Corban Joseph hit into a force out, with Almonte out at second.  Maruszak scored on a ground out from David Adams and Cody Johnson followed with a homer to right, giving Trenton a 4-0 lead.   The Thunder used a double from Mahoney to score another run in the fourth.  Almonte and Joseph hit back-to-back singles int he fifth.  Adams hit into a force out at third.  Luke Murton walked to load the bases.  A passed ball allowed Joseph to score and a single from Gil plated Johnson for a 7-0 lead.  The Thunder scored two more on a homer from Murton in the seventh.  Trenton continued to put away Erie, scoring two runs in the eighth and taking an 11-0 win.  Almonte went 3-4 with a run scored.  Adams went 2-5 with two runs scored, a double and two RBIs.  Murton was 2-3 with a pair of runs scored, a homer, two RBIs and two walks.  Brett Marshall made the start, going six innings and holding the SeaWolves scoreless.  He gave up six hits and a walk, while striking out two.

Tampa is tied 9-9 after 12 innings.

Charleston beat-up Greenville with a 13-2 win:
The RiverDogs scored quickly, as Reymond Nunez singled in the second and Kelvin De Leon drew a walk.  Ali Castillo singled, loading the bases.  A walk to Angelo Gumbs pushed the first run across the plate.  A ground out from Cito Culver plated another run, giving Charleston a 2-0 lead.  Back-to-back doubles from Tyler Austin and Gary Sanchez gave Charleston another run, while Greenville scored their first of the day in the bottom of the inning. Gumbs hit a two run homer in the fourth and Sanchez did the same in the fifth.  It was Dante Bichette’s turn for a two-run shot in the sixth, his first homer of the year.  Austin doubled and moved to third on a wild pitch before Sanchez knocked his second homer of the day.  The RiverDogs plated two more runs in the seventh and took a 13-2 win over the Drive.  Sanchez had another great day, going 3-5 with two runs scored, a double, two homer and five RBIs.  Austin was 2-4 with three runs scored, a pair of doubles and a walk.  Wilton Rodriguez went four innings, giving up one unearned run on two hits, two walks and three Ks.  Brett Gerritse got the win with three innings of work and one run on two hits, two walks and a strikeout.

How to Approach the 2012 Yankee Draft

The 2012 amateur draft is just one week away. Draft day is my favorite baseball day of the year, because I get 20-30 new prospects to start thinking and writing about. We’ll be providing you extensive coverage here at TYA on draft day and immediately thereafter. Eric is planning some pre-draft analysis as well.

While I think this is valuable for a lot of people, you won’t find me speculating about who the Yankees will draft. I don’t think its productive – I’d rather suggest an overall strategy, then sit back and see who falls to the Yankees. Eric did however nail the Slade Heathcott pick a few years ago, so definitely pay attention to what he writes later this week.

The Yankees are going to be at a slight disadvantage, relative to past years, at the draft, due to new signing bonus rules. Their draft budget sits at $4.19 million, well below the roughly $6 million that we are are used to them spending every year. While this is a hit, I don’t think we’ll feel it very much. The Yankees draft strategy from the last few years – going cheap in the first round while spending in 2-9 – will still work this season. Overall draft prices should also come down, and the Yankees may be able to sign most of the players they normally would have signed otherwise. Negotiations get a lot easier with a mostly hard slotting system.

The amateur draft is going to return to being a contest of scouting. The Yankees can buy players out of their college commitments (in particular, I could see the Yankees loading up on $100,000 players in the later rounds), but for the most part have not signaled that they will try to game the system in any particular way. Luckily, the Yankees have more picks than in recent years, having retained all of their picks during the offseason and holding a compensation pick in the 2nd round for failing to sign Sam Stafford.

All of that said, I’d like to offer some general thoughts on draft strategy:

  • Spread the money out. The Yankees would be making a mistake to pay $2 million, half their draft budget, on a first round pick. I’d rather sign five $500,000 players than one $2,500,000 player. The Yankees have had mixed success out of the high-priced guys anyway lately – Mason Williams was a successful pick, but Brad Suttle, Carmen Angelini and Garrison Lassiter were all spectacularly bad at baseball despite the size of their signing bonuses.
  • High school second round picks. Recent years have been very kind to Yankee 2nd round picks out of high school. They’ve selected Angelo Gumbs, Austin Romine and JR Murphy. That group of prospects have generally been successful, and one or two could even be stars. When the Yankees have veered into college territory in the 2nd round, results have been less promising: Scott Biddle and Sam Stafford both were not signed due to injury concerns, and J.B. Cox failed in all kinds of ways.
  • Later round college picks. The Yankees have been really good lately at finding college talent on a budget. Guys like D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, Mark Montgomery, David Phelps and Rob Segedin should serve as examples of low-cost signings to replicate.

So, those are just some preliminary thoughts. I’ll be back next week with more detail, plus my mid-season top 30 prospect reranking. Spoiler alert: Tyler Austin is going to jump up a few spots.

When Do You Promote Tyler Austin To Tampa?

Tyler Austin hasn’t hit a home run in his last 10 games. Instead, he’s just hit a pedestrian .452/.540/.595, raising his average all the way to .323. His walk rate has significantly increased in the month of May, even as his strikeouts have remained elevated. He’s even chipped in on the bases with 7 stolen bases without being caught over his last 10 games.

The dude’s on fire, and has been for a long time now. Austin is now sitting at .336/.408/.618 in 98 career minor league games. If he were drafted in the 1st round instead of the the 13th, we would probably be talking about in as a top-10 prospect in all of baseball this year.  He wasn’t drafted in the 1st round for good reason, but the longer Austin continues to destroy pitchers who are on average older and much more experienced than he is, the more he starts to look like that prospect, even if he profiles as a 1st baseman long term.

At some point, Austin will be promoted to High-A Tampa. As far as I can tell, there are three possibilities for the timing of his promotion:

Promote him after the All-Star Break – The South Atlantic League will play its All Star game on June 19th.  The festivities will be pretty cool, and includes a home run derby on the USS Yorktown. Austin will no doubt take part in that event. The Yankees love to promote players around this time, and the break would provide a good opportunity to make a move.

The logic behind a quicker promotion is all about challenging Tyler Austin. He’s hitting as well as he possibly could hit in Low-A, and doesn’t seem to have much to learn there. Players who aren’t challenged can develop bad habits. Furthermore, a quicker development path means that Austin will progress to the major leagues sooner. An early promotion holds open the possibility of a 2013 season that starts in Double-A, at just 21 years old. He could even end up in the Arizona Fall League, if they are ambitious.

The con to this approach is that Austin may be rushed. He’s still just 20 years old, and young for his level. He is hot now, but you’d like to see Austin struggle for a little bit, make adjustments, and then be able to recover and gain his confidence back. When you rush a prospect, you face the possibility of that prospect not successfully making adjustments, and in the best case losing confidence in his abilities, and in the worst case straining and risking injury or changing their approach in an unproductive way. Obviously, whether or not this is a problem is a call that only the Yankee staff can make.

Promote him in late mid-t0-late July – The Yankees also have tended to push rising prospects to a higher level with about 40-50 games remaining in the minor league season. They gain a significant amount of experience at the higher level, but not enough to complete that level and move up after the offseason.  This accelerates a player’s progression somewhat, but not nearly as much as an early promotion would.

I don’t think there’s too much to say about the pros and cons of this kind of promotion. It offers a balance between the above and below options.

Promote him after the season – The Yankees would stay very patient, and keep Austin at Low-A no matter how well he hits. They’d probably do what they did with Montero and flat-out tell him that no matter how well he hits, he isn’t getting promoted. This would conceivably help him to focus on development instead of trying too hard to move up.

Beyond that, I can think of two big reasons why the Yankees might wait a full season. First off, if you view Austin as a future 1st baseman, the Yankees may not have a good spot for him for some time. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are under contract for a long time, and likely will block Austin at the position. Given that the non-prospect Reymond Nunez has been the Riverdogs’ primary 1st baseman, I don’t doubt that the Yankees are playing Austin mostly in right field in order to try and work around this problem. However, despite his strong baseball IQ, scouts have made it clear that Austin’s speed isn’t going to cut it much in the outfield long term. Given the logjam at 1st, the Yankees have an incentive to take their time in promoting Austin.

The second reason why they may wait is more of a hunch. We’ve heard a lot of quotes about how the 2011 short-season Yankee prospect crew really bonded as a group of highly-talented prospects. This group includes Angelo Gumbs, Mason Williams, Cito Culver, Dante Bichette and Ben Gamel. The Yankees may want to, for the most part, keep the unit together. I can see value in that kind of camaraderie among highly talented prospects. I don’t put Gary Sanchez in this group, but I might add in Bryan Mitchell and Jose Campos. The unit won’t stay together forever, but the Yankees may see benefit in moving them in some kind of tandem. Unfortunately, none of them have started out as hot as Austin, and everyone in the group other than Williams has struggled, clearly not ready for promotion.  The response to this argument is that Gumbs, Culver, and Bichette, the group that is struggling most, are all 19 year-olds, while Williams, Sanchez (19, but been around longer), and Austin are more experienced.

Personally, I lean toward the more aggressive side of things. Austin isn’t an 18 year old kid signed a year ago out of the Dominican Republic, like Montero was at Low-A. He’s old enough that physical development is less of an issue than experience. If he’s not getting the experience he needs, you have the opportunity cost of lost development time.

I’m going to be ranking Tyler Austin very high in my pre-draft prospect rankings. On top of that, you can be sure that if he’s hitting .336/.410/.620 at the end of the season, Austin all of the sudden be one of the very best prospects in all of baseball. He’s not there, yet, but he is a lot closer than he was at the start of the season.

We could have had Don Mattingly

I remember those days really well. It was a personal blow to lose Torre, who for some of us, was like the uncle figure to our Yankee universe. Others were happy to see him go. And as those days unfolded, the choice for the Yankees’ brain trust came down to Mattingly and Girardi. Personally, I don’t think Mattingly was ever strongly considered. Yes, he was a Yankee icon and hero and was billed as a tragic figure for never getting his ring and for losing his MVP-caliber career to back troubles. But he had no managerial experience and Girardi had won the Manager of the Year Award for his time leading the Miami Marlins. The choice may have been personally disappointing for fans who loved Mattingly, but it seemed a pretty clear-cut decision.

So Mattingly followed Joe Torre to the Dodgers and once Torre retired, inherited the job there. Last season brought no glaring triumphs in Mattingly’s first season in LA other than the emergence of Matt Kemp as a superstar. The Dodgers won only 82 games and were never a factor. But the reality is that a season over .500 in what was then a real mess in Los Angeles was a pretty decent outcome. And it seems to compare favorably to Joe Girardi’s first year as Yankees manager, the only year in recent memory when the Yankees finished out of the playoffs.

Just as Girardi’s team exploded in 2009 in that manager’s second season at the helm, Mattingly’s charges are roaring in the National League West in his second year as that team’s manager. And you like what you hear about Mattingly. The story has been told that he spoke to Andre Ethier after the last game of the season last year and told him that he needed to be more focused every day. Ethier has responded and is having as big a season as he has had in his career, right after Kemp did the same thing last year. Mattingly seems to be the same kind of player’s manager that Girardi is and to this observer, remains both of their greatest strengths. Both also have good coaches around them.

But who is to say how Mattingly would have performed in New York? An ex-superstar managing his former team can sometimes bomb spectacularly. One need only remember what happened to Alan Trammell in Detroit. Despite the fact that the Tigers’ struggles during those years were due to a lack of talent, it did manage to tarnish a bit of Trammell’s luster in that fan base. Would the same thing have happened to Mattingly in New York if say, like Girardi, his team had failed to get by the Tigers last season in the playoffs? Maybe.

I seem to remember Mattingly going through some family troubles during the time directly after the Yankees decided not to choose him. I cannot remember if those memories are accurate and a Google searched failed me. But I think I remember that right. How would Mattingly have handled 2008 during that personal crisis? Those “what if” kinds of questions really have no answers.

The problem, of course, as mentioned in that Girardi piece I wrote here, is that it seems impossible to measure how well a manager affects a team’s won-loss record. The players, the front office, injuries and pure, darned luck have a lot to say in how things turn out. As part of a fan base that worshiped at the alter of Don Mattingly, it is difficult seeing him succeed for an organization that is not in New York. Mattingly had the kind of reputation around baseball that Derek Jeter has now. But would he have been a better fit for the Yankees than Girardi? We will never know. My sneaking suspicion is that it would not have made that much difference at all. But that’s just one man’s opinion.

Off-day draft links

While I generally keep up with the state of amateur baseball and draft prospects, I don’t really give them much coverage or feel compelled to write about them here. There’s a lot of reasons for that, and one of the big ones is that it’s just so hard to know what a team like the Yankees is going to do at the bottom of the first round, or lower. You can even feel like you have a good sense of a dozen or so players the team is interested in and may take with their first pick, only to have them go and pick someone who was more or less off the radar. In fact, that’s basically what they’ve done in each of the last two drafts in picking Cito Culver and Dante Bichette Jr. To that end, I won’t be doing any draft prospect profiles or anything, but if you do want to read something like that, I’d recommend Mike Axisa’s series over at RAB.

If mock drafts are more your speed, here’s a rundown of the latest versions of the major ones:

  • Baseball America’s latest, which has the Yankees drafting high school shortstop Addison Russell.
  • Keith Law’s mock draft 2.0, which has the Yankees selecting high school third baseman Joey Gallo, while Law reports that he’s hearing the team is heavily focused on pitching.
  • MLB’s Jonathan Mayo, who has the Yankees taking Texas A&M outfielder Tyler Naquin.
  • Finally, Jon Sickles’ community draft. 

On the other hand, if raw data is what you’re after, Baseball America has ranked the top 500 prospects in the draft, and provided scouting reports on each to subscribers.

As for myself, I’m probably most interested in Russell and Gallo. The latter is probably the best power prospect in the draft, but he projects as a first baseman long term, which means his bat has to carry him, and he swings and misses a lot. On the other hand, he doubles as a pitcher with a mid-90’s fastball. Russell is a slimmed down shortstop prospect who gets good marks for his bat speed and power, and projects as someone who can stick in the infield. The big knock on him is his mechanics. He’s also being represented by Scott Boras, so with the new slotting rules in play for the first time, I wouldn’t be surprised if signability concerns push him down the board too.

One final note, we’ll be hosting a live chat for the first and supplemental rounds of the draft Monday night. The festivities will start at 6:45 P.M., a few minutes before the draft kicks off on MLB Network. Hope to see you there!