Happy Friday, everyone. Are you still watching the postseason, or have you fallen into post-Yankees depression and avoided the action? I’ll admit that I haven’t tuned into any games yet, although I think the Dodgers-Giants matchup is really compelling. I plan to watch that series at the very least. The AL field is so dislikeable and just too hard to watch. The odds of rooting against the Rays or Astros in the World Series are annoyingly high.
Anyway, it’s been a while since we’ve opened the mailbag, so let’s get back to it today. As always, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We’ll pick our favorites for the next edition. Here’s what we have this week:
Ryan asks: Now that the 2021 season is mercifully over, I’d like to take a look at the team’s ability to keep its players on the field. Did the organization make any progress in ‘21 on this issue? Is the revamped training and medical staff paying any dividends? Injuries seem to be a constant issue in the Baby Bomber era, but curious to see this narrative paired with some appropriate stats.
There was definitely positive progress, at least in terms of soft tissue and/or muscle injuries. The Yankees were still one of the top teams in terms of days spent on the injured list this season, though (via Baseball Prospectus):
While that’s a ton of time missed, the main concern in recent years has been the numerous muscle strains that seemed to occur on a daily basis. This year, by my count, only 280 of the team’s 1,838 days missed due to injury related to muscle or soft tissue issues:
- Luke Voit: oblique strain (27 days)
- Giancarlo Stanton: quad strain (14 days)
- Ryan LaMarre: hamstring strain (27 days)
- Gio Urshela: hamstring strain (25 days)
- Trey Amburgey: hamstring strain (30 days)
- DJ LeMahieu: sports hernia (3 days)
- Justin Wilson: hamstring strain (32)
- Zack Britton: hamstring strain (19 days)
- Darren O’Day: hamstring strain (92 days)
- Wandy Peralta: lower back strain (11 days)
Muscle injuries are inevitable every season. It’s impossible to eradicate them. While we can’t compare the number in terms of days to 2020’s shortened season, nor 2019 as it doesn’t appear Baseball Prospectus has that season tracked in this format, there are other indicators toward improvement.
For one, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combined to play in only 42.5 percent of regular season games in 2020 after various muscle strains. This year? 88.5 percent. And Judge’s time on the injured list wasn’t actually a physical injury this year, but rather, COVID-19. Meanwhile, Stanton’s quad strain in May turned out to be pretty short-term. Remember how his biceps injury in 2019 compounded in to other injuries, resulting in just 18 games played? We didn’t see setbacks like that this season (and not just for Stanton, I might add). Plus, Stanton held up just fine playing the outfield in the second half.
The one guy who still seems to be unable to avoid these types of injuries is Voit. Though he was healthy in 2020, he missed significant time in ’19 (abdominal strain, hernia) and again this year (oblique strain, though he also had knee issues).
The majority of health issues the team faced this year were things that the training staff can’t necessarily control. COVID was one of them: the team missed 129 days due to COVID outbreaks.
Others include serious arm injuries (Clarke Schmidt, Zack Britton, Darren O’Day, Clarke Schmidt, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Domingo Germán) that appear to be due to the inherent risk of pitching. There were also some unusual injuries, like Michael King’s extended absence because of a finger injury while weightlifting.
Wrist injuries for Aaron Hicks and Miguel Andújar didn’t necessarily seem preventable. We know Miggy has had wrist issues for a while, and as for Hicks, he seems to have something crop up every season unfortunately. Clint Frazier’s rough case of vertigo (and potential recurrence of post-concussion symptoms) was a major contributor to IL days too. Scary stuff, but also not something really preventable.
My ultimate point is that even though the Yankees were near the top in time missed due to injury, the training staff doesn’t seem worthy of blame this time around. We basically saw a full season of Judge and Stanton, which was pivotal to the team sneaking into the Wild Card in the first place. The frequency of muscle pulls and strains seemed to decline.
Andy asks: Many prospects who sign as shortstops eventually move off the position because of concerns about their fielding. I’ve read several pieces, for example, in which scouts are quoted as saying Volpe will eventually have to move over to second base because he lacks the arm strength for short. What’s your take? Of the highly-rated shortstop prospects in the organization, which are mostly likely to stay at the position — whether for the Yankees or elsewhere?
I don’t have a personal take on Volpe’s viability at shortstop. I’ve never seen Volpe play in person and I’m certainly not a scout. There have definitely been some rumblings about whether Volpe can stick at short down the road, though. And yet, I was pleasantly reminded that some top publications are pretty bullish on Volpe defensively.
Baseball America’s preseason rankings stated:
Defensively, Volpe earns high marks for his quickness and instincts at shortstop and shows enough arm strength to stick at the position in the long-term.
No arm strength issue to report there. Then there’s FanGraphs’ preseason report from Eric Longenhagen:
Volpe will likely be a plus shortstop defender — his feet, hands, and actions are all plus, his range is average.
Longenhagen also gave Volpe a 55 arm, which is slightly above average. Again, that works for the position.
Baseball Prospectus’ Jeffrey Paternostro has the most detailed report following a live look midseason:
“Volpe is a passable defender at short, and Hudson Valley’s aggressive shifting had him making plays all over the infield across my look. The individual infield skills all grade out around average, as does his range, but he’s an aggressive defender who makes more plays than you’d expect. He has a left side arm and throws well on the run. The defensive profile fits better at second or third, but Volpe is truly flexible in terms of infield role; he can handle all three spots.”
Paternostro isn’t as high on Volpe’s defense at short, but that’s still a good report. It doesn’t say he can’t play shortstop. One of the key phrases here is that he has a left side arm, which in other words is fit for shortstop (or third base).
All that said, Volpe could find himself at another spot even if he is good enough to remain at shortstop. The Yankees might splurge on one of the big free agents (Carlos Correa, please) which would block the position (unless Correa, or whoever signs, eventually moves off short).
Now, as for Andy’s second question: the shortstop prospects in consideration are Oswald Peraza, Alexander Vargas, and Trey Sweeney.
There’s one slam dunk to stay at short here, and it’s Peraza. There’s a consensus on his defense at the position, and it’s that he’s very good there already. He’s also the closest to the majors, having just wrapped up his season in Triple-A. Vargas and Sweeney are still pretty far from the majors, so a lot can still change. Vargas sounds like the better defender of the two anyway, with Sweeney being more of a bat-first prospect.
Aaron asks: Which minor leaguers do you see contributing next year? Any favorites in particular to watch out for? Who do you see surprising everyone, and who are you worried may not pan out?
I’m going to divide next year’s contributors in three categories: very likely, probable, and possible.
- Very likely: Stephen Ridings, Ron Marinaccio, Luis Gil
- Probable: Luis Medina, Clarke Schmidt, Donny Sands
- Possible: Josh Breaux, Deivi García, Estevan Florial, Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera, Ken Waldichuk, Hayden Wesneski
Hope I’m not forgetting anyone glaring here. Anyway, bullpen guys are always a pretty safe bet for helping out in some shape or form. Ridings was awfully impressive when he came up before his injury. Marinaccio, who’s a personal favorite of mine, could surprise some folks. Marinaccio, the team’s 19th round pick in 2017, broke out across two levels this season. He posted a 105-to-27 strikeout to walk ratio and 2.04 ERA in 66.1 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s Rule 5 eligible.
Ron Marinaccio. Remember the name Yankees fans.— Eli Fishman (@elijfishman) June 25, 2021
The @SOMPatriots reliever has looked really strong on the mound this season. Fastball has hit 100 MPH, and has a gross change and slider to go with it.
2021 so far: 19 IP, 30 K’s, 2,84 ERA. @Prospects1500 pic.twitter.com/JQQpeUv4rW
Also in the very likely group: Gil. We already saw Gil succeed in the majors this year, and while I expect him to start 2022 in Triple-A, he should be one of the first guys called up when there’s a rotational need.
Moving on to the probables: two 40-man pitching prospects in Medina and Schmidt along with backstop Sands.
I think Medina could follow a similar track to Gil’s 2021. At the very least, see what he can unleash in the bullpen at the end of the season with his nasty stuff.
I envision Schmidt to be in the majors in some shape or form as long as he’s healthy. He may spend some time in the minors to start the year, but I’d guess he’d be up relatively quickly. There’s no reason to waste his bullets in the minors if he’s healthy, because it’s so rare. If that means a bullpen role, so be it. I’m not sure if he has enough command to start, anyway.
All big league teams need a third catcher at some point, and I think there’s where Sands could come in. He’s been in the system for a long time (8th rounder in 2015) and made it up to Triple-A this year where he recorded a 116 wRC+. He’s been Rule 5 eligible for a couple of seasons now and I’m curious if the Yankees finally add him this offseason.
The list of possible guys include a bunch of prospects who are already on the 40-man (García, Florial, and Peraza) and guys who are Rule 5 eligible either this offseason or next.
Let’s talk about the non-40 man guys first. Breaux, another catcher, was the team’s second rounder in 2018. He reached Double-A this season and has big power, though his defense and strikeouts are concerning. I think he gets added to the 40-man, and if Sands isn’t also added, Breaux would be the third catcher. Cabrera, who just won the Double-A Northeast MVP award, might get some run as an extra infielder. The Yankees have been reticent to add him to the 40-man roster in prior years though, even when he was already Rule 5 eligible, so we’ll see if that changes this winter.
Meanwhile, Waldichuk and Wesneski are eligible after next season, but if they continue to have success after pitching well in Double-A, could get a big league cup of coffee before the major league season ends.
That leaves us with García, Florial, and Peraza. Deivi and Florial are two guys who I’m most worried about panning out, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. They both struggled mightily in Triple-A this year. Development is going to be a priority for both of them.
I don’t think the Yankees expect to need Peraza in the majors next year, but as one of the team’s top prospects, he could force the issue. Part of it depends on what the Yankees do at shortstop this offseason, of course. Another part will depend on injuries.