The Latest Before the Yankees’ First Intrasquad Game

Tonight is the closest we’ve been to “real baseball” since Spring Training. The Yanks will play the first of two consecutive intrasquad games under the lights at Yankee Stadium tonight. YES will have the broadcast both nights, beginning at 6 pm EDT. I’ve been pretty agnostic to all of this so far – I will need to see the season to believe it at this point – but I’m going to be honest: I am psyched for this. So is Gleyber:

Anyway, there will be actual baseball to discuss soon! That is pretty exciting. It all starts today, really, as it’s the first time we’ll see the Yankees in “action” since March. (Unless there’s rain, which, as I glance out the window now, seems incredibly likely.) I don’t really care that it’s even less meaningful than Spring Training matchups. Baseball is baseball. Here are the big things in Yankeeland from the past few days.

The Big Story: Schmidt vs. Happ

Via Lucas Apostoleris

Remember way back in Spring Training when Clarke Schmidt was all the rage? I was convinced that he was going to pull a Jordan Montgomery, surprise everyone, and win a spot in the rotation out of camp. He was certainly doing his part: in 7 innings, he allowed just 2 ER, struck out 8 guys, and walked 3. His quality of opponent was just below AAA level, per Baseball-Reference, but that’s worth taking with a grain of salt: Spring Training was barely underway. Bigger opportunities were coming.

More importantly, he’d started to develop some really nice stuff. His curve in particular (see above) was turning heads. So, when the Yankees announced that Schmidt would be starting the first intrasquad game against J.A. Happ, I definitely noticed. Schmidt is clearly still in the conversation even after all of this time. (For more on that, see Derek’s breakdown from earlier today.)

Here are two additional items worth keeping in mind tonight:

  • It’s A Different Rotation: Back in March, James Paxton was on the shelf nursing a back injury. He’s now fully recovered and should be in the big league rotation come Opening Day, so that, in theory, means one fewer spot to win. But with Tanaka’s new injury (more below), that spot may be open again.

    Gerrit Cole, James Paxton, Jordan Montgomery, and Happ all figure to be a lock for the rotation out of Camp: Part II. That leaves one open spot for Schmidt to win, figuring he’ll be competing against Mike King and possibly Deivi Garcia for that final slot. (It also wouldn’t necessarily shock me to see a six-man rotation this year for many reasons, but we’ll get there when we get there.)
  • Every Game Matters: The big difference between now and Spring, though, is the added importance of each game. Look, I know April games always counted – and boy did I miss them this year – but it’s all taken on a different significance this year. A 60-game season means each game is that much more important. That means each start is more important, as there are fewer of them to go around. Obvious stuff. But how the Yanks divvy up those starts, especially at the beginning, will tell us a lot about how they feel about these guys. I wonder if they’re ready to give Schmidt regular starts in this new context. We’ll find out, I guess.

I’d talked myself into Schmidt in the spring – he certainly was looking ready – but that is ancient history now. It really is. It’ll be really interesting to see how things develop tonight.

The Big Story Pt. II: Tanaka’s Concussion

I’m sure we’ve all seen this by now, but man oh man was Tanaka absolutely drilled on Saturday. That is one of the scariest moments I can ever recall seeing on a diamond, honestly. (Watch at your own peril.) A few folks were saying that the team should have used L-screens, but I don’t think it would have even mattered in this case. It was also meant to be a live at-bat, clearly, which has to happen at some point.

In any event, nobody can react quickly enough to get out of the way. The ball left the bat at 112 mph. It was just one of those freak accidents that happen sometimes. Tanaka was taken to the hospital and released later that night, later saying that he “feels it a bit right now”:

He was subsequently diagnosed with a “mild concussion” (if such a thing exists), and entered into the league’s concussion protocol. Who knows if he’ll be ready for Opening Day in a few weeks. I have my doubts – head injuries are no joke, and even missing a few days of camp, which would be the bare minimum here, will have snowball effects for getting ready – but it is what it is. We’ll see how this develops.

What is more important is that Tanaka seems to be okay for now. He “came in around noon or 12:30 today and was in really good spirits — he got a good night’s sleep, no loss of appetite. I think all the signs are pointing that he really dodged the bullet there. We’re encouraged where he is, but we’ll take it day by day,” Aaron Boone said yesterday.

Leftovers

A bunch of stuff happened over the weekend. Here’s the most important leftover information not mentioned above:

  • Gary, Chapman Arrive: Camp is starting to fill out. Gary Sánchez and Aroldis Chapman both arrived yesterday, so we’re almost at full capacity.
  • Paxton Ready to Go: As I indicated above, Paxton is all good and ready to go. That’s good news, and hopefully Big Maple puts on a dominant season to position himself for some big bucks this offseason, when he’ll be a free agent. (Bryan Hoch)
  • Hicks is Healthy: Aaron Hicks also appears healthy and ready to play, which would make him the first player in MLB history to get Tommy John surgery and not miss a single game. It makes sense given Didi’s timeline last year, and it’s a real win for the Yankees. They’re much better with his patience at the plate and stellar defense in center. (Bryan Hoch)
  • COVID & the Yankees: DJ LeMahieu and Luis Cessa both tested positive for COVID over the weekend and are resting at home. (They never made it to the Bronx, obviously.) LeMahieu is asymptomatic while Cessa is feeling sick. Everyone in camp already tested negative, per Aaron Boone. (James Wagner)
  • Testing Issues: A number of MLB teams – the Angels, Astros, Athletics, and Nationals among them– have experienced issues with the new testing protocol. The Yankees, too, had their own issues. Mass testing at this scale was always going to be a massive logistical operation, and it’s definitely not a surprise that there are some kinks to iron out, but the league is going to need to figure this out sooner rather than later if a real season is going to happen.
  • Hair Policy: Former (and, in my eyes, forever) Yankee Andrew McCutchen spoke out against the Yankees’ archaic hair policy today. Preach on, Cutch. You’re right. The policy is dumb and outdated. It should change.

It feels good to be back, doesn’t it? As I said above, YES Network will have the broadcast tonight beginning at 6pm and first pitch at 7pm. Enjoy the “game”, everyone.

UPDATE (4:45 pm): Well, would you look at that. A lineup graphic! Check it out:

A few quick notes: 1) looks like Tyler Wade is getting a shot with the A-team, 2) Matt Duffy playing short sure is interesting, 3) this will help elevate the “quality” of Clarke Schmidt’s spring opposition, 4) I assume Clint is supposed to be in left field (not a second DH) and 5) Estevan Florial, emergency catcher. A real lineup! Imagine that.

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Revisiting how the Yankees will handle prospect starters this year

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It’s been four months since I wrote about this year presenting a big opportunity for a handful of the Yankees’ pitching prospects. Over a long 162 game season, I posited that guys like Deivi García, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King would have ample time to showcase themselves for the 2021 rotation. Given the looming free agencies of Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and potentially JA Happ, alongside Luis Severino’s rehab, it made plenty of sense to audition the prospects this year. But now that we have a 60 game season at hand (if we have a season!), things will be different.

The tricky thing is that the Yankees’ 2021 situation hasn’t changed: Tanaka, Paxton, and Happ could all be gone. Severino won’t be around for at least the first few months of the season. Only Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, and Domingo Germán are under team control, leaving at least two rotation spots open. Simply handing both of those spots to inexperienced youngsters seems doubtful. Yes, the Yankees gave a spot to rookie Montgomery out of camp in 2017, but that was a rare exception.

The easy answer to the 2021 problem is to re-sign Tanaka and Paxton, thereby giving more time to incorporate the rookies into the rotation. I can’t say that I’m confident both impending free agents will be back, though. Maybe one will. In any case, the Yankees still need to find out how ready the young arms are. It’s just that the organization can’t trot out any of them with a ten game division lead in mid-August. That ship has sailed.

So, the Yankees will have to accept additional risk to get a true sense of how ready García, Schmidt, and King are. At first glance, none of them could be any worse than Happ was last year, right? That’s easy to say though. Things can always be worse! Nonetheless, trying any of the aforementioned three as openers or in piggyback roles might make some sense, especially paired with Happ. Remember, Happ’s 2021 vesting option lingers. I’m sure the Yankees want to prevent it from triggering.

Using the prospects as openers or as piggyback starters seems like the best balance of risk-reward. It avoids overexposure, at least in the early going, in a season where each inning is much more meaningful. It would limit each of them to two-to-three inning outings, thereby avoiding the multiple times through the order penalty. At the same time, it also allows real looks at how these young arms do against big league hitters. And if all goes well, the team can lengthen the appearances.

Pairing the prospects with Happ seems like a decent enough idea. Best laid plans, though. Not much has been under anyone’s control this year, so it’s hard to imagine everything going according to plan for the pitching staff. At times, the team might have no choice but to start Deivi or Schmidt or King. COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon and no one in the rotation is immune, prospects included. And aside from the pandemic, the Yankees might be without Tanaka at the start of the season too. Fortunately, he was diagnosed with a mild concussion after he was hit by a line drive, but we all know that concussion recovery isn’t necessarily predictable. Oh, and last but not least, pitchers break.

Ultimately, opportunities should still exist this season one way or another. Anything conventional, however, is probably out the door. Would it have been nice to enjoy, for instance, Schmidt’s debut in a meaningless August game? Certainly. Instead, the Yankees could need to rely on young arms like him in big spots this year. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. Yes, it’s a bit riskier, but these pitchers are going to have to pitch under pressure at some point. In a year where absolutely nothing is normal, these young arms will likely be used on an as-needed basis, traditional development be damned.

Expectations

Expect the unexpected and you’ll never be surprised, right? Although if you’re expecting it, is it unexpected? Regardless of that philosophical quandary, it’s safe to say that when the Yankees played their final game of 2019, none of us would have expected the situation we’re in now. But here we are now, unsure of what to expect going forward.

There are some things laid out for us: an expanded roster (which was coming anyway), a universal DH (thank the baseball gods), and a condensed, sprint of a schedule against a limited spate of opponents.

Given what we know about baseball in general, combined with these unique circumstances, here are a few things I expect, some more serious than others.

I expect that the pitchers will be ahead of the hitters. This is a baseball truism that, like all baseball truisms, doesn’t always hold, uh, true, but for now, I certainly expect it. Gerrit Cole is reportedly already up to the mid-high 90’s with his fastball and I’d imagine a lot of other pitchers are pretty geared up. It’s likely been easier for them, generally speaking, to ramp up to their game shape than it has been for hitters. Despite the universal DH–more on that shortly–I think the beginning of the season, league-wide, will be a little lower scoring than normal.

As for the universal DH, I expect that fans of the NL will finally come around. First, they’ll see it’s not the unholy abomination they think it is. Second, they’ll realize how much more appealing it is to watch nine real hitters instead of eight. Third, they’ll realize that the double-switch is not the be-all, end-all of baseball strategy.

But, unfortunately, what I expect is actually…nothing. And by that I mean I don’t expect a single meaningful pitch to be thrown this year. There are still a few weeks until the start of the season, but with news trickling in every day about players testing positive for COVID and with David Price deciding to sit out the year, I feel like things are coming to a head. We even got one hell of an omen yesterday with Masahiro Tanaka taking a line drive to the head (all well wishes to him for a speedy recovery, of course). Every day, holding a season feels more and more irresponsible and less and less ethical or likely.

Do I want there to be a baseball season? I used to say yes but that I knew there shouldn’t be. At this point, I don’t even think I really want it anymore. The risks are too great and the rewards too small.

And one last expectation, though this is more for you: I’m about to be a dad a second time over, so I’ll likely be gone from this space (and the podcast) for a little bit. Please don’t miss me too much.

The Views From 314ft Podcast Episode 17: Survival of the Fittest

Randy and Matt team up to finally address some of the on-field topics for the upcoming 2020 season. With this season being unlike any other we’ve seen before, the podcast brothers discuss the critical role health will play in the fate of the Yankees season. We also talk about the potential ramifications of the Yankees’ lack of critical middle infield depth and what the initial 30-man roster will look like on Opening Day. There is also a brief update on Randy’s hair and an even more critical update on Derek’s recovery from his Nintendo Switch boxing injury.

Despite New York City remaining in Phase 2, we are still recording remotely. We are operating over Skype so we apologize in advance for any sound quality issues.

The podcast is now available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher so please subscribe, drop a five-star rating, and spread the word. We hope this gives you some distraction from all the craziness in the world right now. 

Again, we apologize for any sound quality issues. We’re making the most of a tough situation as all of you are. Please don’t forget to subscribe to the pod and spread the word.

The obligatory 30-man roster speculation post

As expected, the league announced that teams will begin this shortened regular season with 30-man rosters. That’ll get trimmed down to 28 after a couple of weeks and 26 two more weeks thereafter. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Yankees shape up. I’ll break down who’s a lock to make the roster (barring injury or COVID-19) and who’s on the bubble. Let’s get started.

The position player locks

I count 13 players who’ll remain with the big league team once “summer camp” ends:

  • C (2): Gary Sánchez, Kyle Higashioka
  • 1B (2): Luke Voit, Mike Ford
  • 2B (1): DJ LeMahieu
  • 3B (1): Gio Urshela
  • SS (1): Gleyber Torres
  • OF (4): Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Tauchman
  • IF/OF (2): Miguel Andújar, Tyler Wade

Any surprises included above? I don’t think so. Back in March, we probably would have seen Clint Frazier and one other (Rosell Herrera?) instead of Hicks and Stanton. Now the latter two are all but ready to go.

This leaves two spots open, though it may really be just one depending on…

…Aaron Judge’s readiness

We’ve gone from could be ready for Opening Day to optimism with Aaron Judge! This is good. Now, as you may have noticed, I excluded him from the list of players certain to break camp with the team, but obviously Judge will slot in as long as everything remains on track.

Should Judge prove not to be ready to go, the Yankees will probably run Gardner, Hicks, and Tauchman in the outfield with Stanton as the designated hitter (Stanton might not be ready to play the outfield, by the way). If Judge is good to go, Tauchman will serve as a bench player.

Vying for the last spot(s)

Of who’s left in the Yankees’ player pool, allow me to rank individuals from most likely to least likely to snag a roster spot (asterisk denotes player is on 40-man roster):

  1. IF/OF Rosell Herrera
  2. IF Matt Duffy
  3. OF Clint Frazier*
  4. IF Thairo Estrada*
  5. IF Kyle Holder
  6. OF Zack Granite
  7. C Chris Iannetta
  8. C Erik Kratz
  9. C Josh Thole
  10. C Max McDowell
  11. OF Estevan Florial*

Even though there’s now a 60-man player pool, teams still must follow the 40-man roster rules so the Yanks would have to make space for someone like Herrera or Duffy. Fortunately (well, unfortunately really), there’s one open spot on the 40-man because Luis Severino was placed on the 60-day injured list.

Herrera seemed like a pretty good bet to make the team back in March, so I don’t see much of a reason to waver now. He can play both the infield and outfield and is a good runner (82nd percentile in sprint speed in 2019).

Duffy, a very recent addition, is a versatile infielder who’s had a couple of very good big league seasons with the Giants and Rays, but has struggled with injuries as well. The Yankees really needed some infield depth and Duffy offers that. I think we’ll see him at some point this season, though probably not right away.

Poor Clint. Back in March, it looked like he’d have a real opportunity because of all the injuries. He’s been foiled again though, at least for now. With all of the Yankees2′ outfielders pretty much healthy, Frazier has been crowded out once again.

Estrada and Holder follow on my list, with the former ranked higher just because of 40-man roster status. Then comes Granite, yet another of the myriad of outfielders. After that, I’ve ranked a slew of catchers. I don’t foresee the Yankees carrying three backstops on the regular roster as they can quickly bring one aboard from the taxi squad when needed.

Finally, we get to Florial. The Yankees’ outfield depth along with Florial’s lack of experience above High-A places the 22 year-old at the bottom. Not totally unlike Frazier, Florial has had a ton of bad luck in recent years. Multiple injuries have stunted his development, and now, he’ll have even less playing time thanks to a pandemic.

Prediction: Herrera will join a healthy Judge on the 30-man roster, rounding out our position player total to 15.

The pitcher locks

I’ve got 12 arms on the roster to start:

  • SP (5): Gerrit Cole, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, JA Happ, Jordan Montgomery
  • RP (7): Aroldis Chapman, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga

That leaves us with three openings.

A long list of candidates

There are 33 pitchers in the player pool so I’m not going to do another ranking here. Let’s categorize them instead.

Favorites (3): Jonathan Holder*, Ben Heller*, and Michael King*.

All three of these guys are on the 40-man roster with varying degrees of big league experience, so it’s easier to get them on the big league team to start. Holder and Heller are more of the short reliever variety, though Holder can give a couple of innings as needed. King, meanwhile, is a starter by trade. He can be used as a longman or to piggy back someone in the rotation in the early going, especially as starters build up their workload.

In the mix (4): David Hale, Brooks Kriske*, Deivi García*, Clarke Schmidt.

The Yankees clearly like Hale. He’s thrown to a 2.98 ERA in 48 1/3 innings for the Bombers in each of the last two years even though he’s been on and off the roster on multiple occasions. Kriske was a somewhat surprising 40-man addition in the offseason, but has strikeout stuff and roster status in his corner. Then comes the two most interesting prospect arms in Deivi and Schmidt. I think we’ll see both of them at points this summer, with the former potentially in a bullpen role and the latter filling in the rotation as needed.

Big league veterans (5): Tyler Lyons, Luis Avilán, Dan Otero, Nick Tropeano, Tony Zych.

Nobody here is particularly exciting. Lyons actually appeared in 11 games for the Yankees toward the end of last year and was even on the postseason roster, so I suppose we can’t rule him out. I still feel like it would be odd to roster him, a lefty, given the existence of the three-batter minimum rule. Same goes for another southpaw like Avilán. Otero and Zych are righties who’ve had some decent seasons in the bigs, but don’t seem likely to play much if at all this season. Finally, Tropeano provides some emergency starting depth.

Unlikely prospects (5): Luis Gil*, Luis Medina*, Miguel Yajure*, Nick Nelson*, Albert Abreu*

I don’t anticipate seeing Gil, Medina, or Yajure this year given their limited track records above High-A. However, Nelson and Abreu could be with the Yankees at varying points depending on team health. Both can start, though I’d be particularly interested to see Abreu in a relief role. He can hit triple-digits pretty regularly.

Other arms (4): Daniel Álvarez, Domingo Acevedo, Adonis Rosa, Alexander Vizcaíno

Admittedly, I don’t know much about this group. Rosa had a brief cameo with the Yankees last summer, appearing in one game. Acevedo was once a pretty good prospect, but has lost velocity in recent years. Álvarez had very strong numbers in Trenton’s bullpen last season. Lastly, Vizcaíno ended last season with High-A Tampa and only threw 27 1/3 innings at that level, so he’s presumably a ways away from the majors.

Prediction: Holder, Heller, and King. Playing it safe here by going with the guys I listed as favorites. Hale is a close runner up.

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