Yankees fans everywhere exhaled a collective sigh of relief on the morning of January 15. On that day, which will hopefully not live in infamy, represented the end of a too-long tango between the team’s front office and DJ LeMahieu, when the 32-year-old re-signed for 6-years and $90 million. The idea of an offense without LeMahieu – who led the team in batting average, on-base percentage, wRC+, and WAR over the last two years – was the baseball equivalent of existential dread, so the news of his return may well have been the best possible news for Yankees fans this off-season.
LeMahieu’s excellence in pinstripes cannot be overstated, either. He’s 12th in the majors in fWAR since the beginning of 2019, sandwiched between Ronald Acuña Jr. and JT Realtmuto. His 146 wRC+ is 10th, just behind reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger. And his .336 batting average, passé as it may be, is the best in the business. LeMahieu has been nothing short of elite in pinstripes, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.
Speaking of, let’s check-in on the projection systems:
.295/.360/.450 (122 DRC+)
.306/.357/.463 (117 wRC+)
.294/.353/.453 (114 wRC+)
All three projection systems are essentially splitting the difference between LeMahieu’s last season in Colorado (87 wRC+) and his first season in the Bronx (135 wRC+), and I’m not all that surprised. After all, he’s 32 and has more than four times as many plate appearances in Colorado. And, given that 2020 was heavily abbreviated, his back-to-back career years involve just 871 PA. I would be at least a bit disappointed in any of those lines – though, all three would be rock solid.
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:
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:
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).
A lot to cover with the Arizona Fall League coming to a close.
News & Notes
Greg Bird is playing for Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican Winter League. The first baseman missed all but 10 games in 2019 and has played just 190 games of baseball, Minor Leagues and AFL included, since the end of 2015.
Some former Yankees MiLBers playing winter ball in the Dominican include Melky Mesa, Ryan McBroom, Abiatal Avelino and Jorge Mateo
Baseball America released its draft report card (subs req) for 2019. Anthony Volpe and Josh Smith were named NYY’s best pure hitters in the class while Volpe also earned “Best Defensive Player” honors. BA has 13th-round pick Nelson Alvarez, he of a 100 mph fastball, as a potential steal.
BA also had their top prospects for each Minor League this year. The Yankees were well represented in the lower minors with four players (including Volpe) in the Appy League, three players (including Smith and Ezequiel Duran) from the NY-Penn League and four players in the GCL.
Surprise Sagueros… They went 17-12 before losing in the AFL Championship Game
RHP Glenn Otto: 6 starts, 24 IP, 10 H, 5 R, 13 BB, 26 K, 2 HR — Otto displayed his talent in his AFL stay, finishing seventh in strikeouts and 10th in ERA in the prospect-laden league. His 13 walks were tied for the league-high though. After missing plenty of time in 2019, this gives him a needed boost into next season.
RHP Daniel Bies: 10 G, 11.1 IP, 14 H, 6 R (5 ER), 2 BB, 14 K — The strikeout and walk numbers are encouraging, just as they were when the 6-foot-8 righty floated between levels this season.
RHP: Aaron McGarity: 10 G, 11.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 15 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP — After pitching mostly in the low minors, this was impressive. McGarity could find himself a quick riser as another Yankee college reliever.
RHP: Derek Craft: 3 G, 2.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 0 K, 1 HR — Craft came to the AFL late and barely got a chance to pitch. The 2018 16th-round pick pitched for Pulaski and Staten Island this year.
C Donny Sands: 16 G/62 PA, 11-for-54, 3 2B, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 8 BB, 12 K — Sands batted.204/.306/.315 overall with both his ISO and walk rate going up from the regular season.
1B Brandon Wagner: 20 G/84 PA, 15-for-70, 4 2B, 2 HR, 21 RBI, 12 BB, 27 K, 0-for-1 on SB — Wagner’s line from the AFL reads .214/.333/.357, which is much better than his .570 regular season OPS. The 2018 breakout player in the system took a step back in Trenton in 2019, so the 24-year-old New Jersey product got a chance to prove himself after a tough season.
OF Josh Stowers: 20 G/77 PA, 8-for-61, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 13 BB, 27 K, 4-for-7 on SB — Stowers clearly didn’t hit, either for power or average, yet he maintained his walk rate at 16.9 percent. The 2018 draft pick missed time at midseason, yet he still played in 105 games, so there’s a chance he was just tired from the long year as happens to plenty of AFL players.
It’s that time of year again. Now that the draft has come and gone, talent evaluators are updating system rankings to reflect the changes. FanGraphs updated theirs yesterday, as Steven noted in last night’s Down on the Farm. Check that out if you haven’t yet.
Anyway, since it’s Friday afternoon, I just wanted to quickly pull out a few observations I had from their updated NYY list.
Deivi Garcia Shoots Up The Rankings
Deivi, our monitored prospect and my large Small Prospect Son, shot up their league-wide prospect rankings. He now sits at number 64 overall, out of 124 total. Deivi’s small frame has always made him an interesting prospect to follow, and as most of you likely know, he had a phenomenal year last year.
FanGraphs has this to say about him:
Garcia is a very good athlete, which is what allows him to repeat his delivery, throw so many strikes, and have at least average command despite a delivery that has crossfire, recoil, and effort at release. We’re hesitant to knock Garcia’s delivery simply because it’s unusual, or due to his size, because his performance at this age has also been remarkable. He has a rising fastball with which he operates up in the zone, and he knows exactly how to use his high spin curveball, which has been over 3000 rpm at times. A well-located fastball up, a high-spin curveball down, and a changeup down to keep hitters honest is a good combo, and Garcia knows how to use them in sequence to set up hitters.
His success this year so far–I could look at those strikeout numbers all day–is another sign that he has serious stuff. There are legitimate concerns about his size and therefore his durability, but it’s not hard to fall in love with the kid. I mean, look at this:
Come on now. That’s just unfair. Here’s more video, this time courtesy of FanGraphs:
Baseball fans love to have prospect crushes, and Deivi has become nearly every Yankee fan’s darling over the past 12 months. It’s not difficult to see why. Nice to see him get some love in the rankings, too.
Estevan Florial is Still A Top 100 Prospect
Florial, who recently returned to game action following injury, remains one of the most notable offensive prospects in the system. He hit .255/.354/.361 (110 wRC+) in about 350 plate appearances in 2018. This year he’s at .250/.351/.406 (120 wRC+) in an extremely small sample. He’s still striking out a ton, though, and his contact skills remain his biggest flaw.
Anyway, FanGraphs ranks him the 99th best prospect in the league. FanGraphs says this:
He crushes anything down and in, has sufficient plate coverage to hit fastballs middle away, and has enough power to do damage to the opposite field. He also has good ball/strike recognition so, again like Moncada, there should be power, walks, and up-the-middle defense. We think Florial is likely to be an exciting but flawed everyday player, though it’s not audacious to think his relative youth (he was a 20-year-old at Hi-A in 2018) and inexperience (he also missed a year of reps due to a suspension for bad paperwork) leave more room for growth than we anticipate.
It would be great to see Florial make contact more consistently. He’s only 21, so a lot of time for development yet, but that’s what to watch with him. He’s a while away, as Derek noted today. Anyway, Florial could be a trade chip for New York this year. Time will tell!
Here’s some video, if you want it:
Anthony Volpe Ranks 11th by Future Value
Anthony Volpe, the shortstop from Delbarton the Yanks took in the 1st round and that Derek profiled here, recently signed with the Yankees. Not much more to say about Volpe that hasn’t been said already, really. Just wanted to point out that FanGraphs ranks him 11th in the Yankee system by future value. Here’s their report (obviously written before the draft):
The steadiest infield defender in the class, Volpe compares similarly to Oakland A’s shortstop, Nick Allen, when he was a high schooler. Volpe will likely be a plus shortstop defender and has good feel for contact, but he lacks strength and physical projection that enables teams to anticipate it will come. He also reportedly wants about $3 million to sign, which is too rich for lots of teams and much more than Allen got a couple years ago. Volpe may end up at school, but if he signs he projects as a low-end shortstop regular.
He’s only 18 and coming from high school, so there’s a lot of speculation in there.
Mauro Bonafacio is Another Large Outfielder
Finally, a fun little observation from poking further down the boards: a 17-year-old outfielder named Mauro Bonafacio, signed as an IFA from the Dominican Republic last July. He’s 6’7, 226 lbs and this is his scouting report:
XXL frame with massive power, high risk size and defensive projection, potential swing and miss issues due to lever length.
Does that sound familiar to you? It sounds familiar to me.
FanGraphs ranks him at 51st in the Yanks system, which isn’t a surprise, as he’s only 17 and there are always concerns with guys that large. Aaron Judge’s are very rare, but I think it’ll be fun to keep an eye on Bonafacio over the next few years. The Yankees love their massive outfielders, and I have to say: so do I.
Rob Manfred reoponed old wounds when he announced that the Yankees selected Anthony Volpe, a high school shortstop, with their top pick. The organization has taken prep shortstops with their first selection in the past, and though it couldn’t have gone any better with Derek Jeter, more recent busts like CJ Henry and Cito Culver immediately come to mind.
Of course, drafts of years past have nothing to do with the caliber of player Volpe is. There’s an understandable frustration about the lack of success most of the club’s first rounders have had over the last decade or so, but perhaps Volpe can make a difference. I’m no expert, and won’t pretend to be, so let me present you with what others opine on him. I’ll leave you with my take on the pick at the end, but take it with a heaping grain of salt.
A local product from New Jersey, Volpe just graduated from Delbarton High School in Morristown where he was teammates with Jack Leiter. Volpe is young for his class, having just turned 18 in April. There are often concerns about drafting older prep players, but that’s not the case for Volpe.
As you’d expect, Volpe had a prolific senior year at Delbarton, though the school’s campaign isn’t done just yet. The team is playing for the NJSIAA Non-Public A title this afternoon.
Some basics on Volpe: he hits and throws right-handed. Though the Yankees drafted him as a shortstop, he does have some experience at second base as well. He’s not a big guy, standing at 5-11 and 180 pounds.
Along with his teammate Leiter, Volpe is committed to play college ball at Vanderbilt. Considering the stature of Commodores’ program, the Yankees must feel confident that they can convince Volpe to go pro.
Lastly, as a bonus, it sure looks like Volpe is a Yankees fan:
Before we get to thoughts from independent publications, here’s what the Yankees’ vice president of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer had to say:
We like a lot about him, he’s going to be a shortstop: the guy can hit, he can run, he’s got plus actions, he’s got really good hands, and he’s got a shortstop’s arm. He’s got tools. He’s been on the big stage with the USA national teams, so he’s got performance, and with a deluxe make-up, the kid brings it every day.
There’s a bit to unpack from that quote, which I’ll get to in a moment. Let’s dive into his on-field abilities first.
Offensively, it doesn’t sound like Volpe will ever be much of a power threat. Given his stature, that’s not a big surprise. However, he’s already earned praise for his approach at the plate and ability to put the bat on the ball. Granted, that’s against high school competition in the northeast, but positive nonetheless.
While Volpe’s hitting potential doesn’t sound like much, his defensive tools stand out. Fangraphs called him “the steadiest defender in the class” and “likely to be a plus shortstop defender”. They already assigned him a present 50 fielding and present 55 arm, which is impressive for a high schooler. Baseball America more or less agrees with Fangraphs’ opinion, though the site did note that he lacks elite arm strength. BA’s comment on his arm contradicts Oppenheimer’s assessment.
On-field skills aside, it’s pretty clear the Yankees love Volpe’s makeup. Oppenheimer made that pretty clear and so did MLB Pipeline:
Volpe is the kind of player who grows on evaluators the more they see him, with his whole being greater than the sum of his parts. He gets an 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale for his makeup and work ethic.
There’s no question that the Yankees emphasize character in their scouting ranks. We’ve heard very similar things said about numerous draftees in recent years, so it’s no surprise that we’re hearing the same in this instance.
Will he sign?
The slot amount for the 30th pick is $2,365,500, but Volpe will get more than that if he signs. Why? His commitment to a big time college program gives him some leverage. The Yankees have gone on a run of college selections after the first round, ostensibly to divert savings from those choices to the team’s first rounder.
If there was any consternation about Volpe’s signability, allow his high school head coach, Bruce Shatel, to assuage those concerns:
Anthony loves the game so much, he was willing to sacrifice the Vanderbilt education and college experience and just play baseball everyday.
Sheesh, talk about a dead giveaway. Look, nothing is official until the ink is dry, but that was more or less an admission that Volpe is going to sign. The only question now is: for how much money?
There’s a good chance that the Yankees knew they’d be able to sign Volpe, by the way. Though it’s technically against the rules, the two sides could have come to a pre-draft agreement which essentially gave the Yankees the go ahead to select him.
If Volpe can pick it at short as scouts seem to indicate, he should be able to carve out at least a utility infielder role. That’s valuable! Still, it’s not an overly exciting outcome for a first rounder.
Obviously, the Yankees expect more out of Volpe than a future role player, especially considering the glowing reviews of his character. My guess is that they think his makeup gives him a better chance at maximizing his potential, most importantly his hitting ability. That definitely is his make or break tool that the team is banking on.
Personally, I preferred louder tools, but that doesn’t make Volpe a bad choice. Based on what I read, I liked Kameron Misner, a powerful left-handed outfielder from Missouri. He was still available at 30, but what do I know.