Tuesday Morning News And Notes: 7/21/15

Yesterday was an off-day and I’m staring down the barrel of another long day of professional development training today, so the creative juices aren’t exactly flowing.  Here are some updates on the goings on around Yankeeland instead.

– The early trade deadline target rumors are in, courtesy of Jon Heyman, and they’re what you would expect them to be for the Yankees: a starting pitcher, a righty bat, and a righty reliever.  I have to imagine reliever is lowest down on the priority list with the return of Adam Warren to the ‘pen, but the Yanks have been good at finding and acquiring undervalued relief talent over the years.

Via Chad Jennings, top prospect Aaron Judge has missed the last few Triple-A games with what Cash called “some minor stuff”.  Take that news however you want.

– On the positive side, Mason Williams has started playing catch again and it sounds like his shoulder has finally started getting better.  Slade Heathcott is also better and reportedly close to playing in some rehab games.

– Keeping on the prospect topic, Gary Sanchez was promoted to Triple-A over the weekend.  He went 2-4 with a homer and 3 RBI in his first game on Saturday.  The Yankees now have arguably their top 4 prospects playing together at Triple-A, top 5 depending on how highly you regard Refsnyder, and could have their top 6 if Eric Jagielo hadn’t gotten hurt.

As first reported by Brendan Kuty, the Yankees released Triple-A SS Nick Noonan yesterday after activating him from the DL.  In a way, this was the organizational depth result of Refs going down and Brendan Ryan staying on the 25-man.  With Refs, Figueroa, Petit, and Pirela all still around, there was no space for Noonan anymore.  Tough break.  Hate to lose assets like this before the deadline.

– Pitching matchups for this 3-game set against the Orioles: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Wei-Yen Chen tonight, Ivan Nova vs. Kevin Gausman tomorrow night, Masahiro Tanaka vs. Ubaldo Jimenez on Wednesday.  That one will be worth watching. Continue reading Tuesday Morning News And Notes: 7/21/15

Minor League Stories of the Week

It was an exciting week in the Yankees farm system, with a few fun storylines to watch play out. With his recent promotion, Gary Sanchez plays the biggest role, but after the way he has been playing and his apparent new focus on his professional career, it is well deserved. Without further adieu, here are the big stories from the week.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders:
Sanchez made his Triple-A debut in style on Saturday. The Yankees’ much vaunted catching prospect spent the last couple seasons in Trenton, but after a strong showing over the last month, and an appearance in the Futures Game, he got the call to join the RailRiders. In his last nine games with Trenton, the young backstop hit .342 with four homers and four doubles. On Saturday, Sanchez wasted little time in announcing his arrival, as he drove a three-run shot over the wall inhis very first at-bat. It was Sanchez’s thirteenth homer of the season and he finished the night going 2-4, accounting for all of the RailRiders runs, as they fell to Louisville 6-3. Continue reading Minor League Stories of the Week

Sanchez and Judge at the Futures Game

sanchez futuresAs we get ready for the Major League All-Star Game, the minor leagues celebrated some of the best up-and-coming prospects this weekend in Cincinnati. The Yankees had a couple top prospects taking swings in the exhibition game. Aaron Judge played for the US Futures Team, while Gary Sanchez started for the World Futures Team. The US had little trouble in dispatching their World counterparts, falling behind 1-0 in the top of the first only to come back and take the 10-1 victory, the sixth straight US Futures game win.

Kyle Schwarber, the Cub’s catching prospect, had a two-run triple in the bottom of the third that gave the US the only lead they would need yesterday. The 2014 fourth overall pick took home the MVP award, and he didn’t have to go very far with it, as the catcher grew up just north of Cincinnati. Pirates’ prospect, Josh Bell, knocked a two-run homer in the fourth.

Both Yankees’ prospects contributed to their teams efforts on Sunday. Judge played the whole game at DH, going 1-4 with a pair of strikeouts and a run scored, while Sanchez started at catcher and went 1-2 with a double. Judge has continued to make a great impression on Yankees fans and the front office, getting called up to Scranton earlier this season after crushing the ball in Trenton. He’s only 22, but it is hard to believe it will be that long before the big outfielder gets a trip up to the Bronx.

Sanchez, formerly the top ranked prospect in the Yankees’ system, had slipped a bit over the last year, but he is in the midst of a resurgence.  The tools have always been there, but his attitude and defense were suspect. In fact, if Cashman and Sanchez are right, it sounds like the young catcher has really turned the page. Cashman stated, “All you hear about the buzz is that the light bulb has gone on and the thirst, the desire, the hunger has matched the talent now. His receiving is significantly improved. He’s still young for that league and performing really well. At some point, you’re going to see him moved up to Triple-A, too. He’s going to be an everyday Major League catcher, no doubt in my mind.” Sanchez echoed this by simply saying, “I just came in this year with the mentality that I wanted to work hard. It’s time for me to be in the big leagues.” Continue reading Sanchez and Judge at the Futures Game

The Farm Report: June

Well, I don’t know about you all, but June flew by for me. I can’t believe we are already in July, but here we are. Let’s take a look at how the Yankees’ farm teams did last month and what the rest of their season may hold.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders:
The RailRiders currently hold a half game lead over Rochester for the top spot in the North Division of the International League. They went 18-11 in June, including five-game and seven-game win streaks. They ended June on a sour note, however, taking five straight losses. They lost their first game of July as well, but managed to turn around and stomp Pawtucket last night to stop the skid.

The RailRiders continue to find success primarily through their batting. While they have some strong pitches both in the rotation and in the bullpen, Scranton’s overall pitching numbers has them generally in the middle of the pack. Batting is another story entirely. As a team, Scranton is hitting .271/.342/.384, for the highest average and on base percentage in the IL. Their slugging percentage is second. Continue reading The Farm Report: June

Prospect Profile: Brady Lail

Brady LailI’ve noticed Brady Lail working his way through the Yankees’ farm system the last few years, but at times he has seemed to fly under the radar, particularly given some some of the bigger name pitching prospects that are working their way up to the Bronx. The right-hander from Utah has pitched pretty consistently as he climbed the ladder and is putting together a solid season for the Trenton Thunder, so let’s find out a bit more about him.

Name: Brady Joe Lail
Birthdate: August 9, 1993
Birthplace: South Jordan, UT
Bats: RightThrows: Right
Height: 6’2
Weight: 205

Drafted in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, Lail started his professional career right out of high school and has the potential to be one of those late round drafts that pays off, which is why I love following the minors. His career started in the Gulf Coast League, where he managed to put together a strong five games in 2012. He returned to the GCL in 2013, where he had a 2.33 ERA in 54 innings, along with giving up no homers, striking out 51 batters and only walking five. Lail spent most of 2014 with Charleston, where he had a 3.71 ERA in 97 innings. He gave up six homers, seventeen walks and struck out 95 batters. Lail was promoted to Tampa, where he appeared in seven games and put up some equally solid numbers. Continue reading Prospect Profile: Brady Lail

Catching up with the Thunder

thunderWhen I wrote about the RailRiders earlier this week, it wasn’t intended to start a series of similar posts, rather I was just excited by what is happening in Scranton. However, much like Scranton, Trenton is putting together a nice season, after a rather disappointing 2014. While some of the names are the same, the reasons for Trenton’s success are less clear.

Last year, the Thunder went 67-75, landing in fourth place in the EL Eastern Division. Today, they are sitting at 37-29, just half a game behind the New Britain Rock Cats. If the season ended today, Trenton would be back in the playoffs, a feat they have managed to pull of a little over half the time that Trenton has been in the Yankees’ system.

As I mentioned on Monday, offense has been the driving force behind Scranton’s strong season thusfar. Trenton’s strength seems to lie more with their pitching. As a team, Trenton has a 3.58 ERA and is tied for the most shut outs with seven. They are limiting damage with only 26 homers, the least in the EL, and they have the second most strikeouts with 491. They also have the most walks issued, however, giving up 224 free passes. Continue reading Catching up with the Thunder

Catching up with the RailRiders

refWhen I first started covering the minor leagues for IIATMS about four or five years ago, the truly exciting prospects were in the lower levels and, in some cases, weren’t even stateside. It often felt like Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was stocked with players who were either desperately trying to make it back to the majors, even though their prospects looked bleak, and those who had once been greatly touted, but were never able to breakthrough (see Eric Duncan). This is one of the many reasons I have gotten such a kick out of seeing players like Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores and Mason Williams all make their debuts this year.

It’s been pretty exciting for me to watch some of these guys as they move along. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some (Chase Whitley wasn’t off my radar, but I didn’t expect much from him) and disappointed by many (Graham Stoneburner – who just seemed destined to put on pinstripes with a name that translates to Steinbrenner, Dante Bichette, Jr., Jesus Montero, and so on). Despite most of the prospect talent having been lower in the farm system, the RailRiders had some surprisingly successful seasons, but they struggled quite a bit the last couple seasons. This year so far seems to be a different beast entirely. Continue reading Catching up with the RailRiders

Five Reasons Why Mason Williams Might Be the Best Outfielder in the Yankee Farm System

The Yankees have a lot of outfielders in the high minors who will probably have some kind of MLB career. In book, that list includes, in no particular order: Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge, Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores, Jake Cave, and Mason Williams. Aaron Judge is still the best prospect of the group. But I think there is a decent chance that Mason Williams is the best player of the group. Here’s why:

He’s got a pedigree

It wasn’t that long ago that Mason Williams was considered a top-top prospect. In 2013, Baseball America ranked him #1 in the Yankee system and #32 in all of baseball. He was coming off an injury-shortened season where he hit .298/.346/.474 between Low-A and High-A as a 20 year-old, showing off a kick-ass 13% strikeout rate and just a .319 BABIP. He was a dynamo on the bases and in the field, and looked like a star.

Of course, Williams has played two full seasons since then, and the results have been horrible. Still, the Yankees have steadily promoted him despite his troubles. He’s now just 23 years old at Triple-A, and on the 40-man roster.

He’s Hitting Again

I’ll spare you the two years of bad statistics and get to the good part: Williams is tearing up the ball in 2015. He hit .317/.407/.375 in Trenton, before being promoted to Scranton, where he’s up to .340/.392/.489 in 11 games. Better yet: he’s showing his trademark control of the strike zone, with a 12.5% strikeout rate against a 14% walk rate.

Better yet: he’s hitting in tough hitting environments. Trenton is a big time pitchers park, and both the Eastern and International leagues favor pitchers quite a bit. His BABIPs aren’t out of control either: .365 in Trenton and .325 in Scranton. Small sample warnings aside, Williams’ batting line is legit.

He’s a Strong Defensive Outfielder

Brett Gardner wasn’t always a great hitter. In 2011, Gardner hit just .259/.345/.369, good for a 97 wRC+. Yet, fWAR put him at 5 wins above replacement due to excellent outfield defense. A strong defensive outfielder doesn’t need to hit all that much to be valuable.

Williams is a strong defensive outfielder. How strong? We don’t really know. He’s a 60-70 runner, depending on who you ask, with a good arm. Some people will say he takes poor routes to balls. Others will say he’s an above-average center fielder. No one thinks he is anything worse than an average center fielder. Stick him in left or right and you’ve got a plus defender, not unlike Brett Gardner.

He Never Really Lost His Skills

I know what you’re thinking right now: I’m being overly optimistic about a player after just 44 games, and I’m ignoring the previous 245 games between 2013 and 2014, where Williams was terrible. Williams hit .245/.304/.337 in 2013 and .223/.290/.304 in 2014. He was benched a few times for attitude problems, and for the most part fell off the collective prospect radar.

But I don’t think Williams just suddenly lost his talent for those year. His strikeout rate stayed firm at around 13%, and his BABIPs were below average. He fought nagging injuries. He had promoted very quickly up until that point, was playing in very unforgiving hitting environments, and was probably a bit unlucky. That’s not to excuse his poor performance, but rather to mitigate it. Williams was very bad for 2 years, but the underlying talent that made him a top prospect was still visible, if barely.

He’s Got Both a High Ceiling and Floor

Barring some kind of injury, I think Williams is a slam-dunk to have some kind of MLB career. He has speed, puts the ball in play with authority, and can play defense well. Guys like Adam Eaton, Jon Jay and Kevin Pillar are valuable 2ish WAR type players who get a lot of playing time. Williams is a pretty safe (prospect caveats apply) bet to be at least that type of player. He’s not made of glass like Heathcott or questionably tweenery like Flores and Austin. In the age of infield shifts and low run scoring, a 13% strikeout rate is a great skill to have, especially since his other skills should raise his BABIP above league average.

But really, Williams could be a lot better. When he’s on, he’ll hit for power. In Yankee Stadium, he could hit his share of home runs. Pick a comp and dream: Denard Span, Jacoby Ellsbury, Angel Pagan, A.J. Pollock. All of those guys are speedy center fielders with a sub-15% strikeout rate in 2015. All are approximately Williams’ size, and all but Ellsbury had higher strikeout rates in the minors than Williams. And better yet: none were full-time MLB players at Williams’ age. Only Ellsbury debuted during his age-23 season, and he played just 23 games.

The smart money is still on Aaron Judge to be the better player. But I think Williams could surprise a lot of people. And his MLB call-up could be any day now.
Continue reading Five Reasons Why Mason Williams Might Be the Best Outfielder in the Yankee Farm System

How Soon Should We Expect Luis Severino?

I’m not a big minor league guy, so I’m not here to tell you whether or not Luis Severino will be the next Pedro Martinez or another busted prospect. However, the way the Yankees have handled Severino has certainly peaked my interest.

Severino was promoted to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre a little faster than expected. He only pitched 67.2 innings at Single-A Charleston before getting promoted, 20.2 innings at Single-A + Tampa and 63 innings at Double-A Trenton before this promotion.

Severino is only 21 years old and moving through the system at a very rapid pace. Meanwhile, another top prospect Aaron Judge has almost 200 very productive at-bats at Trenton and is already 23, but has not been promoted yet. Is it because the Yankees have a logjam in the outfield and see no way Judge makes MLB this season? On the other side of the coin, the Yankees have very little pitching depth and maybe they see Severino making a contribution in the Bronx this season?

Severino seems to be the exception for the Yankees in how quickly they move prospects. I already mentioned Judge, and Rob Refsynder still can’t get a chance even with Stephen Drew looking like he is swinging at wiffle balls four at-bats a game. Also, even though Jacob Lindgren got promoted he hasn’t seen any significant innings. To me, it says a whole lot about how the Yankees feel about Severino and that they think he’s truly legit.

The weird thing is every time I check out Severino’s stats it seems like the Yankees never let him surpass the 80 pitch mark. I suppose they’re doing it for health reasons, although who knows if that actually helps anything. If the Yankees wanted him starting in the big leagues this season they would have to let him pitch deep into games.

Maybe they want Severino to help out a struggling middle relief? For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Keith Law has always seen him as a reliever, but the Yankees have always maintained that he will be a starter. The Yankees certainly don’t really need another Joba Chamberlain situation. However, if the middle relief is still bad, and the Yankees are in the race in September, it might not be the worst idea.

Perhaps, they do see Severino as a starting pitcher injury away from joining the MLB rotation. Masahiro Tanaka is joining the rotation next week and hopefully Chris Capuano is designated for assignment. Although, with the Yankees paying him $5 million this season I have my doubts. That’s probably the same reason Drew is still employed. Wasting $10 million on those two players for a cost-cutting team is a travesty.

The Yankees may want to move Adam Warren to the bullpen when Ivan Nova is ready to come back. If they do that and another starting pitcher goes down maybe Severino gets promoted over Bryan Mitchell. It does not add up that the Yankees are moving him this quickly without any possible plans of him reaching the Bronx this season. How this plays out the rest of the season will be very interesting. Continue reading How Soon Should We Expect Luis Severino?