Last week, Aaron Boone told the media that he envisions one or two bullpen openings on his ballclub. Yet, unless that means Jonathan Loaisiga’s spot is in jeopardy, or the team will carry four starters until a fifth one is needed (April 7th), there’s really just one spot up for grabs.
At the outset of spring training, Albert Abreu looked like the odds-on favorite. We went all offseason assuming that Abreu was out of minor league options. If the Yankees didn’t want to keep him in the Bronx, he’d have to pass through waivers before getting to Scranton. Given his tantalizing 100 MPH fastball and nasty secondaries, there was no way he’d go unclaimed. Not even his poor control would prevent another team from nabbing him. However, it’s apparent that the assumption that he’s out of options was incorrect, as noted in last night’s notes.
It’s a bit unclear how Abreu (and others) has an option remaining: either he qualified for the mysterious fourth option year or the 2020 option didn’t count. Regardless, his updated roster status significantly levels the competition. It also means that the Yankees could keep trying Abreu as a starter.
Enter Nick Nelson, Brooks Kriske, and a collection of non-roster invitees.
Got a few tidbits to pass along today. Not much yet with regard to the hot stove, but there are a few things Yankees-related that have happened in recent days. Let’s get to it.
An update on Yankees in LIDOM
Domingo Germán pitched in his first professional game since his suspension for domestic violence began at the end of the 2019 season. He contributed four no-hit innings with seven strikeouts in Toros del Este’s combined no-hitter in its season opener. We still haven’t heard anything about Germán’s future with the Yankees other than Hal Steinbrenner’s words last month.
Hal Steinbrenner on Domingo Germán: "There's no doubt he has to prove he's turned his life around and that he absolutely realizes how horrific that was."
(The details of the incident that led to Germán's suspension under the league domestic violence policy are not public.)
Here are my thoughts/notes on the system, the deadline and more:
1. The Yankees’ system didn’t take the step forward everyone expected: Going into the season, Baseball America had the Yankees ranked as the No. 20 system in baseball. That was the general consensus: Not the worst system, but clearly not in the upper echelon.
However, with plenty of young, talented players, primarily pitchers, in the lower minors, the Yankees’ farm system was projected to move up as those pitchers did.
Instead, most of the system stagnated or slowed, giving the team very little upper minors depth from which to deal. They’re now No. 21 on BA. As much as one would love to just trade a bunch of Low-A and rookie-ball players for Marcus Stroman, the Blue Jays and Mets rightfully would want something more than a lottery ticket.
That isn’t to say there haven’t been some risers. Deivi Garcia and Luis Gil are great examples even despite Deivi’s rough Triple-A debut. They both give the Yankees a chance to have a homegrown talent in the rotation soon.
However, the upper minors remain barren. Just eight of BA’s Yankees Top 30 prospects at midseason were at Double-A or higher. Thairo Estrada, at No. 22, is the highest-ranked position player above High-A. That obviously doesn’t include Clint Frazier, who is still prospect-y and can help team from Triple-A. Furthermore, the team doesn’t need much offensive help at the MLB level right now, though there’s still little from which to trade.
2. The Harvey trade and 40-man crunch: The one trade the Yankees did make was for LHP Alfredo Garcia of the Rockies in exchange for RHP Joe Harvey. Garcia just turned 20 and is in full-season ball for the first time. He has an ugly 6.28 ERA with 109 hits, 11 homers and 38 walks in 90.1 IP, though he’s fanned 103 batters. Surely, the Yankees see something more than those first few numbers suggest.
But this deal is indicative of the Yankees’ roster situation. As Fangraphs detailed in recent days, the Yankees are one of many teams in an upcoming 40-man roster crunch. Harvey is the first casualty. The Bombers have had to make many trades of a similar ilk in recent seasons with players like James Pazos, Caleb Smith and Garrett Cooper. Funny enough, Zack Littell was acquired for Pazos, then dealt instead of being added to the 40-man a year later.
The Yankees have had success on their end of these deals, adding Gil (in the Tyler Austin/Lance Lynn trade last year) and Michael King (for Smith/Cooper), though the latter trade doesn’t look quite as good in retrospect.
The point being: The Yankees exchanged a 40-man player they’d have otherwise likely non-tendered for a younger player a few years from Rule 5 eligibility. There will be a few more trades like that this offseason (or in August with non-40-man players) and some players exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
3. Don’t forget about recent graduations and trades: When evaluating a team’s MiLB system in a snapshot, it’s easy to forget about the recent past. The Yankees have gotten a lot out of their farm system.
Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Domingo German and Frazier, plus Nestor Cortes Jr., are recent graduations from the farm system to help the big league team stay afloat the last couple seasons. They wouldn’t be on pace to win 100+ games for the second straight season without them. (Again, that doesn’t even include Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino).
The Yankees already used plenty of prospect depth: The Yankees have been active at the previous few trade deadlines and offseasons, dealing over a dozen prospects for Sonny Gray, J.A. Happ, James Paxton, Tommy Kahnle and others.
Plenty of those players dealt, as I wrote about earlier this year, haven’t been good enough in their new homes for the Yankees to regret trading them. Some also would have been 40-man roster casualties.
But all of that adds up to players the Yankees can no longer trade, chips already cashed in. They still have some, or had some in relation to yesterday, but some of their depth was no longer free to trade.
4. Injuries and Florial’s step back hurting team: Part of why the Yankees’ farm system hasn’t taken a step forward is the ole injury bug. 2018 draft picks Josh Breaux and Anthony Seigler are both on the IL with Breaux dealing with an arm issue after an impressive beginning to his South Atlantic League season. Seigler, meanwhile, didn’t hit when healthy but was also delayed by injuries this year and likely has been banged up for all of his first full pro season.
The Yankees’ top Triple-A pitching prospect, Michael King, just made it to Triple-A yesterday after an arm injury kept him out for 3+ months. That’s a killer. If he’d continued on his trajectory from 2018, he could have helped the Major League roster by midseason or been a useful trade chip.
Furthermore, Garrett Whitlock was one of this season’s risers as a former 16th-round pick, but now he needs Tommy John surgery after showing well in Trenton.
However, Estevan Florial’s season has to be the most disappointing. The Yankees’ only consensus top 100 prospect going into the year, Florial suffered a significant injury for the second straight year: A dislocated wrist during Spring Training.
The injury kept him out until June, and he hasn’t found his swing since. In fact, he’s taken a step back from his 110 wRC+ with High-A Tampa last year. Repeating the level, he’s batting just .227/.277/.343 with an 85 wRC+. His walk rate has been halved and his strikeout rate is back up to concerning levels (34.7 percent).
Back-to-back years with hand injuries has made it so he hasn’t shown much power in 2018 or ’19. Still, he’s just 21 years old and will be 22 next year. The Yankees will still add him to the 40-man roster, or be able to use him in trade. However, his value has diminished significantly from top-prospect status.
5. A closer look at a few full-season pitchers: We got an email this week about Clarke Schmidt, and then he promptly figured into the Yankees’ failed Robbie Ray pursuit. While BA has him at No. 16 on their Yankees list, the right-hander is No. 11 on Fangraphs’ big board and is all the way to No. 5 for MLB.com.
The Yankees’ first-round pick in 2017 (No. 16 overall), Schmidt has pitched sparingly in the Minors. He was selected despite having undergone Tommy John surgery just before the draft and he’s dealt with injuries since turning pro. Still, the 23-year-old college arm has had a strong season.
In 53.1 IP for High-A Tampa, he has a 3.38 ERA (2.97 FIP) with 56 strikeouts to 19 walks, allowing just two home runs. Between his injuries and 6-foot-1 stature, some evaluators believe he’s ticketed for the bullpen long-term. Still, he has a future in the org.
Meanwhile, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Miguel Yajure. The 21-year-old has a 2.06 ERA with Tampa while keeping the ball onto the ground. Unlike Schmidt, he’s been able to go full-tilt this year a few seasons removed from TJ surgery, throwing a career-high 109.1 IP so far this year. He doesn’t overpower with his fastball-changeup combo, but he’s shown enough to get 40-man consideration after the year.
Finally, Albert Abreu is No. 7 on both MLB.com and BA, though Fangraphs has him at No. 20. The soon-to-be 24-year-old has struggled to find the plate consistently but is still able to get outs anyway, unlike fellow Yankees prospect Luis Medina, who has an ERA and BB/9 above 6.8. Abreu could be feeling the roster crunch this offseason as he’s already on the 40-man.
6. Brief notes on Canaan Smith and Kyle Holder: I really like Canaan Smith. As a 20-year-old in Single-A, he’s batting .317/.415/.474 with a 158 wRC+ and a walk rate (14.3 percent) just 6.4 percent lower than his K rate. At this point, he’s shown all he can in Charleston.
However, the question with Smith isn’t just his bat. As a corner outfielder, the question is whether he can hit enough to justify his place at a lesser position in the Majors. The Yankees have plenty of outfield depth in the Majors right now, though plenty can change by the time Smith would be ready.
Kyle Holder, meanwhile, has been one of Double-A Trenton’s best hitters with a .278/.335/.434 batting line and 124 wRC+ this year. He’s good at putting his bat on the ball and already was a wizard with the glove. His future as a middle infielder in the Majors looks brighter than it did a year ago.
7. Recent picks showing off in Pulaski, Staten Island: As the last point, just want to point out some of the good hitting going on in the low Minors for the Yankees. I’m of the belief that you can judge most pitching prospects until they get at least to Single-A, so I’ll hold off on T.J. Sikkema’s strong debut for now.
But Anthony Volpe and Josh Smith have gotten off to good starts. Volpe didn’t hit for about a month — He is, after all, an 18-year-old, playing pro ball — but he’s started to find his swing and he’s raised his wRC+ to 98 after being about half that a few weeks ago. Best part is his walks as he posts a 14.6 percent walk rate. Smith only debuted a week ago after signing later. Still, it’s hard not to like how he’s walked five times and struck out just once in Staten Island.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on Chad Bell, Ryder Green and Ezequiel Duran at those same levels. Bell, a 19-round pick out of college, has a 146 wRC+ thus far, though also sports a 32.8 percent K rate, while Green (138 wRC+) and Duran (164 wRC+) have taken real steps forward as they repeat the low minors.
UPDATE: RHP Albert Abreu exited his start Tuesday after just 20 pitches and four batters faced. The Trentonian’s Greg Johnson reported that Abreu will see the doctor and undergo an MRI on his right biceps after feeling tightness.
The low lights: Trevor Stephan fell off the list after his demotion while C Josh Breaux, currently on the IL, reportedly is dealing with an elbow injury that doesn’t let him throw the ball back to the pitcher.
RHP Brady Lail was sent back up to Scranton from Trenton after posting a 1.99 ERA in Double-A.
C Francisco Arcia rejoined the Yankees’ org on an MiLB deal and played for Trenton in Game 2 of its doubleheader. C Jerry Seitz went back to Staten Island while RHP Nick Ernst went from Charleston to Staten Island.
Thanks for sending in your questions this week. As a reminder, send a note to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com if you’d like to ask us something for future mailbags.
A couple people ask: What’s with James Paxton’s struggles in the first inning? Should the Yankees use an opener for him?
First and foremost, more runs are scored in the first inning than the remainder of the game. This year, the league has a 4.72 ERA in the first frame and a 4.48 mark in all others. So, it’s not just a Paxton issue. And this makes sense: only the first inning guarantees that the opponent’s best hitters will bat (i.e. the top of the order).
Now, Paxton has taken this split to the extreme this year. He has a 10.12 ERA in the first inning and a 2.44 ERA in all others. Historically, Paxton has been worse in the first inning (4.85 vs. 3.20 career), but never quite like this. Regression has to be coming. This is definitely a thing for Paxton (like just about everyone else), but this is unsustainable. That said, there’s evidence that it’s not just the opponent’s top of the order that’s made the first inning difficult.
First, there’s this:
Paxton’s fastball velocity is at it’s lowest in the first inning but gains steam as the game goes on. By the fourth inning, he’s almost one mile per hour ahead of the beginning of the game.
There’s also this:
The Big Maple’s location is worse in the first inning. Granted, Paxton works over the heart of the plate quite often because his stuff is so good. That said, he’s a little more on the edges later in the game.
If you’re also asking me how he can fix this: I don’t know. He’s definitely been unlucky to an extent, but I can’t deny that some of the problem is his own. It’s plausible that his pre-start routine is at the root of his early struggles.
My problem with using an opener for Paxton is that he shouldn’t need one. For one, there’s no guarantee he’d start with a higher velocity if he were to enter a game in the second or third inning. But more importantly, he’s too talented to need an opener. Nothing against Nestor Cortes, but there’s a reason Chad Green opened for him a handful of times. Paxton’s got markedly better stuff (and past results).
“jdk” asks: If the Yankees do trade for another starter how will they use him (assuming the current five stay healthy)?
Here are the current healthy starters:
As the saying goes, this sort of thing usually resolves itself. Nonetheless, the Yankees have options, including a six-man rotation. The Yankees have a busy upcoming schedule and only have four off days before August 31st. The slate also includes a doubleheader. So, it might help to have some extra rest built into that stretch.
Further, the Yankees are going to have to figure out how to handle Germán’s innings limit. That figure isn’t public knowledge, but he’s at 88 innings to date after throwing 94 at all levels last year. I can’t imagine the team pushing him much farther than 130 or 140 innings this season, which means he’ll either need to be shut down or sent to the bullpen. That itself opens up a spot.
Andrew asks: What are your thoughts on Carlos Martínez of the Cardinals as a trade target?
Even though St. Louis is only three games out of first place, Ken Rosenthal reported the Cardinals would be open to trading Martínez. With Jordan Hicks out for the season, Martínez has stepped into the closer role, so I’m not sure it makes sense for the Cardinals to deal him. Nonetheless, let’s just run with it.
If you asked me before last summer, I’d have been very interested. He was stellar in St. Louis from 2015 through 2017. However, a handful of injuries have cropped up since. Last year, he hit the shelf three times with: a right lat strain, a right oblique strain, and a right shoulder strain. Yikes. This year, he began the season on the injured list with rotator cuff inflammation. Two shoulder issues in recent memory? That makes me skittish.
Another issue is that he seems to be a bullpen-only option this year. The Yankees could use help in relief, but they need a starter more. After returning from injury this season, Martínez has done nothing but relieve, and the Cardinals have no plans to return him to the rotation this year. I’m not sure how (or if) any potential acquiring team could get him in the rotation at this point of the year.
However, Martínez is under contract for two more seasons at a very reasonable price. And hey, the Yankees pitching staff is going to need help down the road too. Martínez has yet to turn 28, and his stuff is still good despite some of the recent shoulder woes, so it seems like he could help over the long run.
Ultimately, I’d say pass on Martinez now. His recent injury history and limitation to the bullpen this year probably isn’t worth the pursuit.
Micah asks: Deivi for Thor: would you do it?
That’s really hard to answer! I think I would. My first inclination was no, but I probably am overly enamored with the long-term prospects of Deivi García. Noah Syndergaard would have a real chance to impact the Yankees’ title odds this year.
Now, I’m aware that Thor has struggled this season. His ERA starts with 4, his strikeouts are down, and his home runs allowed are up. Still, as a 26-year-old with a 132 ERA+ in 518.1 innings entering this season, his upside is tantalizing. From a high level, part of the problem seems to be lost slider velocity (~3 MPH) and less usage of the pitch as a result.
I’d understand any skepticism the Yankees’ ability to “fix” Thor. But, how could his talent be passed up in a year the Yankees could win the World Series? No one else on the trade block has his skillset. Plus, Syndergaard would be around for at least 2020 and 2021 too. García may not reach his best until after then, when the team’s window could already be closing.
Robert asks: People are saying that Deivi Garcia’s ceiling is lowered by his slight frame. Is there any truth to this belief that if you’re short and skinny, you can’t be a true ace? I can think of lots of true aces that were short and skinny – Pedro Martinez and David Cone come to mind immediately.
Zimmerman found that although pitchers shorter than six feet are twice as likely to hit the disabled list, they put up better statistics. Now, there’s selection bias at play here as teams are likely to be pickier for shorter players – they really have to stand out in terms of stuff.
So if Pedro as an example wasn’t enough, the numbers make it clear that height doesn’t matter. It may affect the length of time one can remain an ace, but not the ability to achieve it.
Duncan asks: Saw some clips on YES of Albert Abreu’s recent outings. What are your thoughts on him overall? And how do you see his trajectory impacting decisions made this deadline and the offseason? Could he be a rotation candidate next year?
Abreu seems ripe for a relief role to me. He’s got a deep repertoire but little idea of where the ball is going. Nonetheless, he still has another option year so there’s no need to give up on him as a starter just yet. He should open next season as a starter too, but he’s slow out of the gate, send him to the ‘pen.
At the deadline, Abreu’s name is certain to come up in trade talks. He’s not a good enough prospect to be a deal headliner, but he might be a nice second or third piece in a deal. There’s enough risk in his profile that the Yankees might be willing to part with him, too.
If he sticks around, I don’t foresee him as a rotation candidate next season. A couple of spot starts? Maybe. As I’ve said, I just don’t think he’ll improve his control to force his way into the rotation.
Paul asks: Is it possible that the Yankees will let Didi walk at the end of the year? They can slide Torres to SS and DJ to 2nd.
As Kevin Garnett says, anything is possible. I just really hope not; I love Didi. If they do go that path, they’d have to be pretty confident in Miguel Andújar reverting to his old form or Gio Urshela to be for real.