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Spring Training News & Notes, March 1: Aaron Judge Injury, Clarke Schmidt, Clint Frazier’s New Stance, & More

I really like this picture.

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.

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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:

Via YES Network

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:

Via YES Network

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:

Leftovers

  • 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).

Injuries Open Outfield Lanes

Yankees at Orioles 4/4/19

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but injuries are complicating the Yankees’ plans. Luis Severino is down for the next year and then some thanks to Tommy John Surgery. James Paxton had back surgery and won’t be ready for months. Giancarlo Stanton is probably a no-go for Opening Day and the news on Aaron Judge from yesterday wasn’t encouraging. Even if Boone thinks Judge’ll be ready by Opening Day, it’s hard to be optimistic about a situation that’s seemingly gotten worse, not better.

Given how things went last year and given how poor the Yankees have been at communicating injuries, it’s reasonable to assume the worst with Judge. There’s not much of a bright side here…unless you’re a player whose spot on the roster or role on the roster isn’t fully cemented. Enter Mike Tauchmann, Miguel Andujar, and Clint Frazier.

While the former two are more or less on the roster, their roles are as yet unspecified. Even with the injuries, Tauchmann is likely to be the fourth outfielder, but if both Stanton and Judge are down, that leaves him a lane to start more often than anticipated. He would add a little balance to the lineup as a lefty hitter and he plays good defense pretty much no matter where he is. He’ll never be the offensive equivalent of Stanton or Judge, but he can make up the ground in defense.

Andujar is essentially the opposite. No matter where he plays, his defense will be a question mark. But, no matter where he plays, his bat will likely be more than worth putting in the lineup.

Frazier fits somewhere in the middle. His glove isn’t as good as Tauchman’s but he’s probably a better OF than Andujar, having done it for, well, his whole career as opposed to a few innings in Spring Training. Frazier has plenty of potential left in his bat, too, but it’s likely not as good as Miggy’s. Still, the injuries to Judge and Stanton, as well as a 26th roster spot, bode well for Frazier, whose future with the team was murky even just a month ago.

If both Judge and Stanton are out and on the DL when the season starts, it’s easy to see all three of these players starting. Frazier and Tauchman will occupy one each of left and right with Andujar at DH. This also opens a bench spot, giving someone like Thairo Estrada to make the bench along with Kyle Higashioka, Mike Ford, and (presumably) Tyler Wade.

If only Stanton is out and Judge is ready to go, it’s likely he’ll need plenty of DH time as not to wear him down right away. This opens up at bats for all three players as things move around, especially given the Yankees’ penchant for depth and mixing things up when necessary.

Perhaps the Yankees could’ve gone with more depth in the outfield, given that every starter was a health concern or question mark. Cameron Maybin would make a lot of sense right now. However, they still have some firepower in the reserve tank and it comes with upside. It’s not hard to see Miguel Andujar hitting like it’s 2018 again. It’s not hard to see Clint Frazier putting it all together. It’s not hard to see Mike Tauchman stealing the show defensively.

While it would be better to have both Stanton and Judge healthy, that may not be the case. Luckily, the Yankees are talented enough to keep afloat at the least and still be excellent at best.

New positions give Miguel Andújar a challenge in spring training

Embed from Getty Images

Miguel Andújar isn’t Wally Pipp 2.0, but he has apparently lost his hold on the hot corner. And while Gio Urshela isn’t Lou Gehrig 2.0, Urshela deserves the inside track on the job after a terrific 2019. That leaves Andújar in a tough position come spring training. Not only will he have to fight for a roster spot, but he also needs show that his surgically repaired shoulder is back to full strength.

Assuming Andújar’s shoulder is fine and his bat reminiscent of his rookie year, the Yankees will find a lineup spot for him. However, since it’s hard to imagine Urshela losing the starting job barring injury, Aaron Boone has informed Miggy that he’ll work at first base and left field in camp. The only question is: well can he handle either of those spots?

Why not?

This isn’t the first time Andújar’s name has come up for a position change. There were concerns about his ability to play third base during his prospect days. In 2018, we saw those worries come to fruition. By all accounts, Miggy was quite poor defensively. Eye test or defensive metrics, it was no matter. Hence the talk of moving him off third base.

Now that talks of a position change are a reality, let’s discuss the Andújar’s outlook at first base and left field.

First Base

First base is often the first spot people bring up for any player needing to move off a position for defensive reasons. That doesn’t mean it’s easier, however.

Outs Above Average – Ending Position (Baseball Savant)

The graphic above depicts how Andújar handles batted balls in various directions. He mostly struggles to the backhand but is actually OK to the glove side. I suppose we can assume that those same tendencies will translate over to first base — poor range won’t dissipate simply because of a position change.

That said, perhaps DJ LeMahieu’s defensive prowess will be a saving grace for Andújar’s range. Keep in mind that there’s no second line of defense for a third baseman to the right. Instead, the grounders Miggy couldn’t get to toward the third base line resulted extra base hits. Going forward at first, they’ll either be singles or gobbled up by LeMahieu. LeMahieu isn’t the only benefit for Andújar, either. The hot corner gets a lot more action than first base, so fewer opportunities at first would hide Miggy to an extent.

One thing we can’t glean from Statcast are how Miggy will handle new responsibilities at first base. Brian Cashman has lauded his makeup, so it stands to reason that Andújar is willing and able to learn his new role. Still, there’s a lot to learn and evaluate in the time period spring training permits. A few new things come to mind:

  • Handling errant throws: from scooping to footwork around the bag
  • Different cutoff man responsibilities
  • Holding runners
  • Decision-making: attempt to field or cover base on grounders in 1B/2B hole

That’s a lot to get up to speed with, but it’s not an outlandish ask. That Andújar already has a feel for the infield, even if he’s not good at third base, will help him get started.

If the 24 year-old takes to first base well, he’ll still need to fend off Luke Voit and Mike Ford for playing time. They aren’t the best defenders themselves, so it may be more about who’s hot at the plate than any of their work in the field. Plus, there’s also the designated hitter spot that could allow Miggy and Voit/Ford to be in the lineup at the same time.

Left Field

Here’s where we’re completely in the dark. I mean, we know Andújar is a good athlete and has a strong arm. Whether or not that translates to left field is a mystery. Seeing Miggy play out there will be one of the big things to watch come spring training.

On the bright side, being good runner (77th percentile sprint speed per Statcast) and having a strong arm are a good starter kit for a move to left field. But things like instincts, first step, and decision-making can’t be evaluated until we see Andújar do it.

To be frank, I’m not so sure we see Andújar in the outfield during the regular season anytime soon. Spring Training, sure. But between Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner, and Mike Tauchman, the Yankees are pretty much set in the outfield. Aaron Hicks will be back eventually, too. Andújar in the outfield seems like a scenario that requires a lot of work in spring training and bunch of minor league reps in Triple-A before any major league exposure.


Struggling at one position isn’t necessarily a harbinger of things to come elsewhere in the field. It’s not the best starting point, but that doesn’t mean trying something new isn’t worth the shot. Maybe, for whatever reason, Andújar will adapt to first base with ease. Perhaps his athleticism and arm strength will make him passable out in left field. And if neither work, there’s always DH. As long as his shoulder is strong and his offense returns to 2018-levels, the Yankees are going to find a place for him.

Tinkering With the Lineup

(Keith Allison – CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s January 26th. We’re under a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting. But it still feels like we’ve got forever to go and aside from Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame election, there isn’t much going on in Yankee-land. So let’s do something fun, if futile: think about the Yankee lineup.

As we well know, lineup construction doesn’t matter that much over the course of the season, so long as you’re not putting the worst hitters up top and the best hitters down low. In the best possible way, it’s very hard to tell the good and bad hitters from each other in the Yankee lineup. This makes it difficult–again, in the best possible way–to figure out exactly what the best configuration is. What a wonderful problem to have, right?

The following lineup is pretty ‘standard,’ what I think Aaron Boone will trot out most days.

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Giancarlo Stanton, LF
  4. Gary Sanchez, C
  5. Gleyber Torres, SS
  6. Luke Voit, 1B
  7. Miguel Andujar, DH
  8. Gio Urshela, 3B
  9. Brett Gardner, CF

This lineup is more than fine by itself. You could make a few tweaks, I suppose–swap Urshela and Gardner, if you want; swap Stanton and Sanchez, too, if you please. No matter what, a combination of these nine guys is gonna score a lot of runs.

Here’s a slightly more than slightly altered version.

  1. Brett Gardner, CF
  2. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, LF
  5. Gary Sanchez, C
  6. Gleyber Torres, SS
  7. Luke Voit, 1B
  8. Miguel Andujar, DH
  9. Gio Urshela, 3B

This lineup has a slightly more traditional twinge with a fast, OBP guy at the top and a contact hitter second. Given Gardner’s on-base ability–and occasional power–it’s not hard to imagine DJLM’s contact skills driving in a few runs or putting a runner in scoring position in the first inning. New conventional wisdom says to put Judge second to get him more plate appearances, but this still guarantees him a first inning PA and gives him a decent chance to have guys aboard. This does, however, bury Gleyber a bit, which he probably doesn’t deserve. Maybe you swap him and Gary, depending on who’s hot. Again, this lineup is gonna produce no matter what.

Here’s one last lineup that’s maybe a touch different, a little friskier.

  1. Brett Gardner, CF
  2. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  3. Gleyber Torres, SS
  4. Aaron Judge, RF
  5. Giancarlo Stanton, LF
  6. Gary Sanchez, C
  7. Luke Voit, 1B
  8. Miguel Andujar, DH
  9. Gio Urshela, 3B

This lineup puts all the more contact-oriented players up top (minus one) and gives Gleyber his deserved spot at the top. This lineup is also just a power onslaught after the first three batters–who are capable of power themselves!

Regardless of how the Yankees line up this year, there will not be many landing spots, if any. There are questions, sure. Can DJLM keep tapping into power? Will Gardner keep up his production at an advanced age? How will Luke Voit and Miguel Andujar bounce back from their injuries? Hell, we don’t even know what the baseball is going to be like! But even with those (not very vexing) questions and whatever happens with the baseball, the Yankees are going to score. Often.

Sunday Thoughts

It’s been quite a week, hasn’t it? The last time I wrote here, the Astros, Red Sox, and Mets all still had managers and we hadn’t spent a chunk of an afternoon analyzing what was on Josh Reddick’s chest or under Jose Altuve’s jersey. Despite all that happened, it only tangentially touched on the Yankees, who’ve been relatively quiet since they signed Gerrit Cole. Still, I’ve got some thoughts, one on baseball in general and the other on the Yankees. Here they are.

The Sanctity of the Game

Given the Astros and the Red Sox, Hinch and Cora, and Beltran, the idea of the sanctity of baseball, the purity of the game, has floated around this week. This is as good a time as any to remind ourselves that such a thing has never really existed. At no point in baseball’s history was it pure. In the early 20th century, baseball battled gambling and allowed segregation. In the middle of the century, the supposed ‘golden age’ of the game, there was labor exploitation and the use of amphetamines. The rest of the century, and well into this one, saw the use of PEDs, not to mention two work stoppages and collusion, with another one potentially looming. Given all that, should we care all that much about the sign stealing business?

Hell yes we should. All of those transgressions above are worth fighting against to varying degrees. When these things happen, the illusion of the game gets blemished and can even shatter completely. When we discuss them, we’re healing those blemishes and repairing those cracks.

Will there always be sign stealing in baseball? Of course. But it shouldn’t be done electronically. Will players always try to get an edge, however they can? Of course. But it shouldn’t be done in a way that harms their health.

Perfection in baseball can never and will never exist, but that’s okay. We shouldn’t let that stand in the way of attempting to make the game more perfect, more inclusive, and more fair.

Platooning

The Yankees will be an excellent team once more, at least they should be. Bobby talked about their projections here and Derek did, too. The key to the Yankees being this good as that, simply, they have a lot of good players at a lot of positions. One of those good players is Miguel Andujar. As he returns from his injury, the Yankees will need to be judicious in deploying him, both for the sake of his skills and his health.

There’s little doubt that Andujar can hit. There’s much doubt, however, that he can adequately field his position at third base. The former certainty outweighs the latter doubt, though, and he should be in the lineup just about every day. Presumably, he’ll be the DH while Gio Urshela plays third base. Of course there are times when Urshela will need a day off and other players will need a DH day.

In cases of the former, perhaps they can slide whomever the utility IF is to third and keep Miggy at DH. In cases of the latter, they should plan for half days off when fly ball pitchers are on the mound. This will cover Andujar’s deficiency a bit while still keeping his bat in the lineup. Given that the Yankees like to plan days off ahead of time, this should be easy to accommodate. Will it always work out perfectly? Probably not. But it’s worth a shot.

This same plan could also work in reverse to give Brett Gardner days off. As good as he is, Gardner is up there in age and will need more time off as he’s manning center field. When a groundball pitcher is in, that’s when they can and should give him rest, with Mike Tauchmann in center. Like the Andujar plan, this won’t always work out, but it’s possible.

The easiest way to be a good team is to have good players. The next step is deploying them properly to take advantage of their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. The more the Yankees do that, the more they’re going to win..and they’re probably gonna do a lot of that anyway.

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