Thoughts as the Opening Day Roster Begins to Crystalize

Friends, it is Wednesday. Opening Day is just 22 days away and let me tell you: I am looking forward to it. Spring Training is great – and it’s nice to have some new videos and GIFs to share – but I am very much looking forward to the return of real Yankee baseball. Almost there.

In the meantime, we all get to participate in one of baseball’s oldest traditions: speculating over production in meaningless games. It’s a tale as old as Spring Training itself.

1. Other Fifth Starter Candidates: Yesterday I said that I believe Clarke Schmidt is pitching himself into the fifth starter’s role. I still believe that, even if it’s only been five innings to date and he only has 19 innings in Double-A. (He’s also not on the 40-man roster, but given the Severino injury, that’s an easy fix.) The case for Schmidt is more than five dominating innings, really: it’s the way the Yankees have used him. He’s getting action against MLB talent, he’s pitching before Jonathan Loáisiga, etc. But it’s far from a sure thing. The other two contenders real like Mike King and Deivi Garcia. Let’s go through the argument for each, shall we?

Mike King

Mike King has the MiLB experience, which feels like a pretty big plus. He has 94.2 IP in Double-A and 62.2 IP in Triple-A . That’s 156.1 total innings in the upper minors and he’s mostly been pretty successful in them. In 2018, when King rose three levels pretty rapidly, he put up a 1.79 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, .202 BAA in about 160 innings pitched. He limits walks and home runs – before the juiced ball hit Triple-A at least – and is someone the Yankees like quite a bit. The Yankees gave him some burn in September last year, so they think he’s MLB-ready (or at least capable) for sure.

He struggled a bit last year after returning from an injury that derailed his year, but that should be behind him now. So far, he’s given up 5 hits in 3.2 innings of work in the Spring but has not allowed a run. I expect King to get a very long look as the spring continues and into the season, as Derek noted here. It’s very possible he wins the job out of camp.

Deivi Garcia

Deivi Garcia was last year’s prospect superstar, wowing everyone with his flashy stuff and meteoric rise through the farm system. He hit some bumps in the road in Triple-A, sure, but Deivi is the jewel of every prospect loving Yankee fan’s eye. His tantalizing strikeout stuff is easy to dream on and I think there are many out there who want to see him win the job out of camp. It’s not difficult to see why. Fans who want to see the next flashy prospect understandably want to see what he can do. After all, the Yankees floated him as a late-season option last year. So why not carry not out of camp? That’s the idea, anyway.

However, I’d be surprised. He’s only pitched 2 innings this spring so far but will obviously get a very long look. But at such a young age – he’ll turn 21 in May – and so few upper level MiLB innings under his belt, a return to Triple-A makes the most sense. He can fine tune his stuff against upper minors hitters. That will set him up nicely for a midseason call-up to the Bronx. That’s pretty great, all things considered.


In other words, this really feels like a race between Schmidt and King. We’ll have to see how it goes moving forward. While I’m predicting Schmidt, that could be recency bias. Neither option would be all that surprising, really.

2. Opening Day Lineup: In exciting news, we basically saw the Opening Day lineup yesterday! That’s pretty exciting. Here it was:

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  2. Brett Gardner, CF
  3. Gleyber Torres, SS
  4. Gary Sánchez, C
  5. Luke Voit, 1B
  6. Miguel Andújar, LF
  7. Mike Tauchman, DH
  8. Gio Urshela, 3B
  9. Clint Frazier, RF

That seems pretty good to me. Gardner had a hell of a year in 2019 and the Yankees just love putting lefties at the top of the order to break up the righty barrage, so I can’t say I’m too surprised to see him batting second. He’s earned it. Hopefully, though, if when Stanton and Judge come back, they just stack them again. It’s time.

Otherwise, this looks pretty good. I’d expect Tauchman to rotate at DH with Mike Ford quite a bit, but otherwise this looks pretty good. (EDIT, 11:01 am: I am dumb and meant to say Frazier and not Tauchman here. Tauchman will certainly play more in the field than Frazier. Forgive me.)

Nice reminder of how good Luke Voit is – he should be in the middle of the order – and that Gleyber has successfully completed his ascent into superstardom. The bottom of the lineup is no longer a home for him.

3. Jon Gray, Trade Target: Per Brendan Kuty, the Yanks are inquiring about Jon Gray from the Rockies, a favorite trade partner of late. The Yanks feel perennially connected to Gray, whom they drafted in the 10th round of the 2011 draft. (He did not sign.) I’m all for a Gray trade personally. It can be difficult to evaluate pitchers in Coors Field, but there are reasons to want to buy on him.

For one, he’s had two very good seasons as a pro – 2019, when he slightly over-performed his peripherals, and 2017, when he underperformed them. In 2018, when he struggled, he still missed bats (24% K rate) and limited walks (7%). Last year, too, he took a step forward after working with Driveline in the offseason. Gray says it helped sharpen his secondary pitches, particularly his slider. It also clearly helped him get some of his velocity back:

Gray is open to advanced data and is pretty introspective about the way he pitches from what I can tell. I suspect that would work well with the Yankees’ suddenly-advanced pitching apparatus (and former Driveline expert Matt Blake). I’d be curious to see if the Yankees could help Gray unlock his potential and take that next step. Gray is worth a deeper dive at some point, but I’ve always been a fan. Maybe if the rumors get more serious.

4. ESPN’s Top 100 Prospects: Finally, Kiley McDaniel, formerly of FanGraphs and now of ESPN, released his Top 100 prospect list today (subs req’d). Check it out. There are 4 Yanks on the list, respectively:

  • Jasson Dominguez (39)
  • Deivi Garcia (45)
  • Clarke Schmidt (82)
  • Alexander Vargas (86)

No surprises on the first three, really. It’s about in line with what we’d expect given the other lists. He, like everyone, is in love with Jasson and notes that Schmidt, a former first round talent, is making waves in the spring. Par for the course.

Of note, he says that while Deivi is easy to like on paper, it can take a bit longer in person. He says “a role akin to that of Rich Hill or Lance McCullers Jr.  might be the best fit — a starter with rest built into his schedule or a reliever who can go multiples and spot-start — as a way to find the most important 100 or so innings to use Garcia’s playoff-caliber stuff rather than wasting it in less meaningful games.” That’s an interesting approach and not one I necessarily disagree with. It may be the best way to utilize Deivi, but we’ll have to see how he holds up in Triple-A first.

McDaniel is also very high on Alexander Vargas, who is an 18-year-old shortstop who featured on FanGraphs’ Top 100 list as well. (It makes sense for there to be some crossover.) Says McDaniel: “Vargas has a chance for four plus tools, with power the one lagging behind. He was under 150 pounds when he signed but has added bulk, and his current power won’t keep him from making contact.” Pretty exciting profile. He has just about 180 professional plate appearances – all in rookie level ball – so there’s a long way to go, but that’s an easy profile to like.

Vargas is another of those Yanks’ prospects – I recently called out Kevin Alcantara – that is worth keeping an eye on this season. A big year from guys like him, who are very high potential but several years away at least, can help vault the Yanks farm to the next level.

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11 Comments

  1. Chris

    I’m with you on Schmidt winning the number 5. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start with King to preserve team control on Schmidt. They also like King and they could let Schmidt get a least a little bit of high minors experience. If I’m the Yankees I want to see all three pitch in the majors this year before going into an off season with 3 starts being free agents.

    • Mungo

      Basically on board with that too. I won’t have an issue at all if Schmidt is added to the roster, but I suspect they’ll likely give King first shot. In some ways, Garcia and Schmidt being so valuable likely means the Yankees will be careful with them. We’ll know in a few weeks.

  2. chip56

    Tanaka recently said that the ball this spring feels more like the “old ball.”

    I mention this because if that’s true, it probably means you can expect a massive regression from Gardner this year.

    • Brian M

      I dunno, did you see how long of a HR Tyler Wade hit the other day? And the mammoth oppo HR Gleyber hit. Gio inside outing one to just right of dead center. Maybe the seams are a little higher but the balls still looked juiced.

      • RetroRob

        I read somewhere they use a different ball in Spring Training than they do in the regular season. Don’t know if that’s true or not. If so, Tanaka liking the current ball may not mean much. Maybe they’ve come up with some Brundlefly baseball hybrid that has higher seams but also still travels for distance. It’s crazy that the most basic part of the game, the ball, is a mystery!

  3. Brian M

    My preferred lineup without Judge/Stanton:

    1. DJ LeMahieu 2B
    2. Luke Voit 1B
    3. Gleyber Torres SS
    4. Miguel Andujar LF
    5. Gary Sanchez C
    6. Brett Gardner CF
    7. Clint Frazier RF
    8. Mike Ford DH
    9. Gio Urshela 3B

    • Yes Voit should be 2. But, as Bobby points out that probably means Gardy is the 3 hitter. Voit was such a beast when Judge wasn’t in that spot last year. I’d love to see a full healthy season for Voit, who is being seriously underestimated by most.

  4. Tauchman at DH makes no sense – he’s a far better fielder than Frazier or Andujar

    • Bobby

      correct. i said tauchman when i meant frazier at DH, which was a mistake. agreed that tauchman should be in the field more.

  5. Matt

    I assume you mean Tauchman at LF and Clint at DH

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