So, Spring Training is now well underway. The Yankees are playing games again! It’s great. Remember, you can check out their full schedule, along with how to follow along, right here. We’ve even made it a few days without a devastating injury! Pretty good stuff.
Also: in case you missed it, we’re playing fantasy baseball. We’d love to have you join us. More details here. Please send us an email if you want to play!
Anyway, I’ve been fairly derelict in keeping up with a daily news & notes post, which is my bad. Life and work. It all gets in the way sometimes, but these posts should be more consistent in the days ahead. To make it up to you, I’m doing a pretty comprehensive recap of the week in Yankee baseball, covering everything we’ve missed so far. Let’s get right into it.
The Big Story: Aaron Judge’s Injury
Unfortunately, the 2019 season really, really does not want to leave us alone. It’s pretty rude, actually. We got another frustrating update on the Yankees’ best player yesterday from Aaron Boone, who said that Judge is still feeling discomfort in his shoulder and pectorals. Boone told reporters that Judge will undergo further “testing” to get to the bottom of things and that there is no timetable for him to get into a Grapefruit League game. The tests will happen Monday.
On the bright side, I guess, is the fact that Boone thinks Judge might be ready for Opening Day. On the other hand, tests so far have been “inconclusive.” That’s better than showing a serious injury but it’s hard to feel particularly optimistic at this point, regardless of Boone’s cheery demeanor. I think we’ve all been stung by this bee a few too many times to really feel great about this for now.
Until we get more info, this phantom injury for Judge is going to be the spring’s biggest story. He’s the best player on the team and the unquestioned leader – especially with CC Sabathia spending his spring staring at the northern lights with his family. Losing Judge is a huge blow even if it’s just for a few weeks. It always is when you lose a guy of his stature, let alone factoring in the Stanton/Severino injuries. Skeptical as I can be, though, Boone did say today that neither Judge’s nor Stanton’s injuries classify as “long-term things”, which is good.
Hopefully, tomorrow’s tests get us some more clarity and make us all feel better. Fingers crossed for that.
Grapefruit League Takeaways
There’s been about a week’s worth of games now. With the obvious caveat that Grapefruit games are utterly irrelevant – remember Greg Bird’s perennial Spring Training success? – there are still several trends and developments worth following. So, for the first time in 2020, let’s get right to the takeaways!
1. Clarke Schmidt Looks Very, Very Good: I’m going to come out and say it now: I think Clarke Schmidt is going to be the Yankees’ fifth starter come March 26. I really didn’t think he had a chance a few weeks ago – I mean, he has never pitched above Double-A! –but it’s hard to deny that the 24-year-old has made a good impression so far. Really good, in fact.
In 3 innings, he’s allowed just 3 hits, walked 1, and struck out 3. That’s all good and dandy, but what’s more important is the fact that his stuff looks like it will play at the big league level. Check out these curves and change-ups:
That’s what new pitching coach Matt Blake is talking about when he says that “he’s got major-league quality stuff.” Schmidt’s stuff also drew the praise of an anonymous scout, who spoke about him to George King III of the Post. Anyway, Schmidt kind of feels like Jordan Montgomery did back in 2017 as someone who can make the jump to the Bronx and surprise everyone.
“He doesn’t have a lot of experience yet as a professional pitcher,’’ Aaron Boone told King. However, he added that “he is clearly advanced for that lack of experience. He has got a lot of the intangible things as well as the raw stuff to move quickly.’’
2. Clint Frazier’s New Stance: It is Spring Training, which means that it’s time for guys to make mechanical tweaks. One of the most prominent this year, in addition to Gary’s new defensive stance, is Clint Frazier. He’s changed up his stance at the plate. YES Network put out a nice graphic in a game the other day that shows it really clearly. Check it out:
Fairly noticeable difference. His left leg is turned up with his toes pivoted toward his right foot and his hip pointed toward the pitcher. Here’s another angle:
Frazier is clearly putting more weight on his back foot, which may make him a more powerful hitter at the plate. For what it’s worth, he absolutely obliterated a pitch in the game, so the early returns are good. Check it out:
[iframe src=”https://streamable.com/m/clint-frazier-s-back-to-back-jack” width=”100%” height=”500″]
Not bad! Obviously, offense has never been a problem with Frazier, but you always improve if you can. We’ll have to keep an eye out to see if the new stance sticks and if it makes any impact on his production. Given the state of the outfield, I’d expect to see Frazier in the Bronx later this month, so him improving offensively would be pretty cool.
3. Miguel Andújar in the Outfield: The outfield depth shortage is putting 2018 phenom Miguel Andújar to the test early, huh? Miggy was put to the test immediately in a game the other day, in literally the first at-bat of the game, when he fielded a pop-up. Baseball is ridiculous, isn’t it? The ball always finds you. Anyway, here’s some video:
He didn’t look so bad out there! More natural than I would have expected, anyway. It’s not much but it’s certainly better than looking horrible and uncomfortable, which is something that can easily happen. Learning a new position is not easy, but he seems to be doing well.
Reggie Willits, the Yankees outfield coach, told WFAN’s Sweeney Murti the other day that Andújar has “good instincts” and that he’s “come a long way” this spring. That was before the games started, but it seems pretty borne out by what we’ve seen. This is all very good. I love me some Miggy and I’m really hoping that he reminds everyone that he hit .297/.328/.527 (116 wRC+) with a boatload of extra-base hits as a rookie in 2018. Getting him back in the lineup regularly is pretty damn cool.
4. Jordan Montgomery’s Velocity Uptick: The frontrunner for the back of the rotation is absolutely Jordan Montgomery at this point, right? Right. While Monty was the best rookie pitcher in the league in 2017, I confess to being a bit underwhelmed by the Yanks’ sudden reliance on him. However, there are some reassuring signs that Montgomery is going to be just fine. Here are some highlights from his start yesterday, when he struck out four over two scoreless innings:
[iframe src=”https://streamable.com/m/jordan-montgomery-whiffs-four” width=”100%” height=”500″]
Overall this spring, Monty has thrown 4 innings, allowing just 1 hit, 1 walk, and striking out 7 in those frames. That’s encouraging even if Spring Training stats are meaningless. Even more encouraging, though, is the fact that he’s now touching 94 on the radar gun. (He previously 90-92 in 2017, for reference.) Improved velocity would be pretty cool.
Although there’s a tendency to attribute Tommy John to increased velocity – some pitchers do throw harder after the procedure, it seems – there’s evidence that the correlation doesn’t imply causation here. “In most cases the ligament has been wearing down for two or three years leading up to the rupture, and that wearing down may have diminished the pitcher’s velocity prior to the injury,” says Dr. J. Martin Leland, who knows more about this than most of us. So there’s that.
Still, the increased velocity would be cool. It’s worth following in future Monty starts for sure. “I’m excited to just have a real Spring Training,” Montgomery told Bryan Hoch. “I really worked hard this offseason to get my arm strong and have my body ready. I think I’m in a good spot right now.”
5. Rosell Herrera Turning Heads: The Yankees signed Herrara around the new year and brought him to camp as a non-roster invitee. The 27-year-old utility man is a lifetime .225/.286/.316 (63 wRC+) hitter in 149 MLB games, most of which have been with Miami. He is very fast, ranking in the 82nd percentile in sprint speed, per Statcast, and was a Baseball America Top 100 Prospect after the 2013 season. I didn’t consider him a factor when I was projecting the 26-man Opening Day roster a few weeks ago, but he is definitely turning heads so far in the Grapefruit League action. In fact, Aaron Boone said so himself.
He has really been mashing. He added a two-run double in the fifth inning of today’s game and went 3-3 overall. He’s hitting 7-14 (.500) in the first week of action, which has prompted some to say that he might make the team out of camp. I still doubt it, but who knows. The Yankees’ outfield depth is pretty thin, so anything is possible, but I’d be surprised. He feels like a real “Spring Training surge but it isn’t real” kinda guy.
Herrera has spent most of his time as a big leaguer manning the outfield, but he’s also been an infielder, too. That’s where he’s been with the Yanks so far. Here’s some video of him in action:
- James Paxton feels “good right now” but is aware that he can’t rush it. He’s listening to the training staff and his doctors, which is good. All you can ask for. He thinks that he should be throwing at the end of this week or beginning of next, which is good news. (Brendan Kuty) This all makes sense to me and seems to align well with the 3-4 month timeline. Assuming no setbacks, Big Maple should be good to go in May or June.
- Aaron Boone gave us an update on Aaron Hicks today, and it was actually not a bad one. He said that the switch-hitting center fielder could be back in June or July, much like Didi Gregorius last year. (Brendan Kuty) His rehab is going “according to plan”, the skipper said.
- Masahiro Tanaka is throwing a cutter now. That’s new! (Statcast says he’s thrown it 1.6% of the time, but that feels like a classification error more than anything else to me.) He told George King the other day that he threw “quite a few” in his first start and that he “liked the way it was coming out of my hand, how it was moving and I was able to see the hitter’s reaction.” This is a big season for Tanaka, so it’s cool to see him expanding his repertoire. I’m always rooting for that guy.
- Gary Sánchez’s new stance is officially all the rage. Jay Jaffe wrote it up over at FanGraphs and Jomboy has a pretty helpful video that shows it in action this spring. Check that out here:
- Finally, last year’s first-round pick, shortstop Anthony Volpe, got into a game today. He grounded out, but still cool. I’ll be watching him over the next few weeks just out of curiosity (he’s nowhere near MLB ready yet).