Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The biggest surprise of Yankees’ camp is…

Alex Rodriguez.

The New York Yankees might have expected a circus and a completely overmatched player. They saw the former thanks to the mainstream media (not A-Rod) and they witnessed something completely different from a player performance standpoint – competence.

Throughout the first few days of camp it was difficult to stay away from the condescending and unnecessary tone of some beat reporters and their constant tweets about Rodriguez's performance during batting practice. They had already soaked up enough ink detailing for days on end what it was going to be like when the "circus came to town," and in fact the circus did not arrive until the beat and national baseball media did.

Rodriguez stayed above the fray, worked out, played baseball and was accessible to the media.

Monday, March 30, 2015

One week to go; Yankees have unanswered questions

In one week the New York Yankees officially begin their 2015 regular season slate of 162 games at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays. As Spring Training winds down and the club begins to pack up to head north, the Yankees still have a handful of unanswered questions. Some of these are simply official announcements that need to be made; others have been handled with flat out vagueness to date.

Is Adam Warren the fifth starter or what?

It’s an uncertainty as to what the holdup is here. Warren has established himself as the best option and whether good or bad for the Yankees, it hasn’t been much of a competition. So, why not just say it?

Esmil Rogers is simply not to be trusted and the only other player who I suspect was given a true look was Scott Baker, who was released Sunday after getting knocked around Saturday. Bryan Mitchell was in the proverbial competition, but I believe a lot had to go wrong with the rotation for Mitchell to break camp.

Warren will get the official nod at some point soon.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Who grabs Yankees’ final bullpen spots?

Now that Adam Warren is 99 percent of the way to being named the New York Yankees fifth starter, who is going to claim the last three bullpen spots?

The certainties in the bullpen are Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter and Justin Wilson. Earlier this week, we discussed why the setup guys are every bit as important as Betances and Miller.

Make no mistake; the final three spots are fairly crucial as well. The candidates on the 40-man roster are plentiful – right-handers Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley, Chris Martin, Danny Burawa and Jose Ramirez with Chasen Shreve the lone lefty.

There will be at least two pitchers placed on the disabled list when the season begins; Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova, with the latter potentially hitting the 60-day DL which would open up one spot on the 40-man roster. Of that crop, the Yankees have Scott Baker, Andrew Bailey, Nick Rumbelow and Wilking Rodriguez from the right side and Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos and Tyler Webb from the left side.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Spring Training stats do matter for certain Yankees

Spring Training is just practice, right? The New York Yankees should not be overly concerned or exceedingly hyped about statistics generated over the course of a few weeks which are mixed with minor league and rehabilitating players.

Not so fast.

There are certain circumstances in which the Yankees should take heed in the stats produced this spring particularly when they make roster decisions or anticipate future moves this season.

The argument is that while Spring Training statistics cannot be looked at as the sole factor in determining the future results of a player, they should and can play a large part in comparing like players, verifying whether a player is on a path similar to previous seasons, understand if injuries are resolved or help to alert the coaching staff to inefficiencies in the player’s mechanics.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Setup men are equally important to Yankees’ success

The news around New York Yankees camp the last couple of days is that the club is not ready to name a closer between Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller; and they might not name one once the regular season begins. But, of equal importance to the club's success, the Yankees employ some very competent arms who will provide setup support for whoever grabs ninth inning duties.

The Yankees have a fragile starting staff, one which manager Joe Girardi might choose to handle with kid gloves early on this season. There could be plenty of situations where the starter is ahead in the game and could be out by the sixth inning requiring up to four innings from the bullpen.

That type of situation necessitates a strong setup crew and the Yankees have exactly that. Obviously Betances and Miller will handle the eighth and ninth innings on most nights regardless of the order they are used, but how would innings six and seven be handled?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Yankees fine tuning on several fronts

The New York Yankees are now exactly two weeks from the start of the regular season and the name of the game is fine tuning. Plain and simple, this is the time to work out the final kinks for pitchers and for the hitters to nail down their timing. It's going to get real very soon.

Sabathia’s velocity encouraging despite rough command

CC Sabathia stepped on the hill Sunday for his second start of the spring and while it was encouraging to see he had the same life on his fastball as his first start, he certainly needs more time to work on his command.

Sabathia's fastball has been sitting the low 90s consistently and reached 94-mph Sunday which is a great sign. However, he allowed three home runs along the way so while the uptick makes his offspeed deliveries harder to distinguish, he cannot afford to leave the fastball in the zone.

Sabathia said he feels much better than he did last year at this time and manager Joe Girardi is pleased with the added velocity and notes there is time in camp to get sharper.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Are the Yankees wasting roster spots?

There is some debate about when to bring younger players into the mix all over Major League Baseball, and it is no different for the New York Yankees. Often, this question pertains to the status of a “can’t miss” rookie like the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant who is simply being held back to push his arbitration/free agency eligibility out another year. But other times a club’s thought process inhibits the upward movement of fringe prospects like the Yankees’ Jose Pirela or Bryan Mitchell (there are more to share later).

Pirela is a late-bloomer and Mitchell might still be finding his way to consistency, but it can be argued that the Yankees are failing to allow them (and others) the shot right now, because they’d prefer a potentially “safer’ bet in veterans. What’s troubling about this view is that the vets they are handing spots to are not exactly top of the line players. They’re each below replacement-level players at their best, so why waste roster spots on them?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Yankees' Ellsbury suffers "mild" oblique strain; club not overly concerned

After a relatively quiet few weeks of Spring Training, the New York Yankees have had a couple of injuries pop up in the last few days, most notably a “mild” oblique strain for Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury will be out at least seven days with no baseball activity according to multiple reports.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi couldn’t use the word “mild” enough when describing Ellsbury’s situation following Wednesday’s clobbering of the Atlanta Braves. Girardi is correct in suggesting it is best to take it slow at this time of the year and Ellsbury will have over one week to get back into the swing of things before the regular season occurs.

"Six, seven days we'll give him off and see where he's at, Girardi said according to Paul Casella of MLB.com. "I'm not really concerned about it, because it's really mild. This is the time of year we can protect him a little bit, don't have to rush him back."

But, here’s the tricky thing; oblique strains linger at times. And for a baseball player, the constant movement of the area will cause discomfort if not fully healed, and could get worse. While it does not look like this will affect Ellsbury’s ability to be reading for Opening Day, it is certainly something to watch.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Yankees’ Sabathia hopes to follow Tanaka’s, Pineda’s footsteps

Tuesday night, New York Yankees starter CC Sabathia will be on the mound in a game for the first time since May 10, 2014. Thus far we have seen Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda take successful turns on the hill in their first tests this spring. They have been healthy and equally as important, they have been sharp. Sabathia hopes to keep the positive vibes going.

The difference for Sabathia is that he was not performing to expectations for much of 2013 and what little of last season he participated, while Tanaka and Pineda were very good in 2014. Certainly health is the main focus for Sabathia after having knee surgery last summer, but regaining at least some of the top of the line production is also important to the Yankees.

By no means does Sabathia have to win 20 games, nor does he need to maintain an ERA under 3.00, but he cannot be the pitcher he was the last two seasons. It will be interesting to see how much of Sabathia’s struggles can ultimately be related to diminished strength and his injury, or if his poor performance simply relates to declining abilities after throwing over 2,900 innings including the postseason in 14 seasons.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Yankees weekend news wrap: Eovaldi showing promise

With each trip to the mound this spring, New York Yankees right-hander Nathan Eovaldi has shown something more than the previous outing. Sunday, he stymied the Philadelphia Phillies through four innings of shutout ball. Eovaldi allowed just two hits, walked none and struck out three batters. He faced the minimum 12 hitters, throwing 45 pitches in his third appearance of the spring.

Eovaldi is working on all his pitches at this point and so far the results have been promising. Across nine innings, he’s allowed just one run, seven hits and struck out nine without walking a batter. Allowing zero walks is impressive when combined with a strikeout per inning, and Eovaldi was pleased with his progress.

"Today, overall everything felt pretty good," Eovaldi said according to MLB.com’s Adam Berry. "For the most part today, I was able to throw all four of my pitches, so that's a good sign."

Friday, March 13, 2015

Yankees’ Tanaka gets start under belt; can he make 105 more?

New York Yankees ace starter Masahiro Tanaka is the key to the success of the club now, in 2016 and beyond. He took a very small step Thursday night, tossing two spotless innings against the Atlanta Braves in his first start of spring. He needs to make about 105 more starts before the Yankees can truly take a breath.

If Tanaka, 27, can come close to that 105 mark by the end of the 2017 season (figure 35 starts each year between spring and regular season), it means that his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament has held up. It is also likely that Tanaka prospered during the time period. When Tanaka is healthy, there is very little holding back his abilities. Tanaka looked just fine Thursday, albeit in 19 pitches.

The idea of making it through the 2017 season unscathed is not arbitrary. After the 2017 season, Tanaka can evoke an opt-out clause in his contract. Understanding this is far down the line, but if Tanaka, who would be entering his age-30 season in 2018, has shown durability and continues to be a stellar pitcher to that point he could take the chance to cash in on another long-term deal with significantly more in guaranteed salary. Even then, Tanaka might not generate a ton of interest because of the ticking time bomb in his right arm.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Many Yankees’ regulars showing no signs of offense

The New York Yankees have yet to receive much on the offensive side of the ball from many of their anticipated regular lineup members. Do you know which lineup regular has the most hits? If you guessed Alex Rodriguez, you win.

That’s right; the man who missed 17 months of baseball is pretty much the only player who has showed some consistency in his at-bats early on this spring. A-Rod is hitting .455 (5-for-11) with a bloop double and a home run. Who saw that coming?

There are certain players that do not require much worry – Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Chase Headley have had some pretty good plate appearances. Brian McCann has hit the ball hard at times. But, only Headley is hitting above .200 among the four players (.308, 4-for-13).

Ellsbury and Gardner showed they could be offensive threats for most of the 2014 season, and the latter parts of the season were productive for Headley and McCann. Worrying about them is not necessary at this point.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What should Yankees do with Jose Pirela?

The New York Yankees have made it crystal clear in recent days that Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew are the double-play combination in the infield. Neither player is a force with the baseball bat, but both are considered above-average fielders. That said, these are not the only players keeping Jose Pirela off the Yankees 25-man roster at this point; add Brendan Ryan to the list.

Should Ryan maintain his utility role if he comes back from his back strain and makes it through the rest of Spring Training unscathed? Or should the Yankees send Ryan packing and give the spot to Pirela?

The dilemma is that if Gregorius continues to put terrible at-bats together against left-handers (.184/.257/.233 career slash line versus southpaws) is it any better to slot Ryan in at second/short (lifetime .234/.295/.314 slash)? Or should they slide Drew to short and have Pirela play second when a lefty is on the mound?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Yankees’ pitching could carry club further than expected

From top to bottom the New York Yankees have a quality pitching staff, but health of course is an underlying issue. As Spring Training rolls along, and March turns to April, can the staff continue what has been an impressive beginning?

Yes, pitching is often ahead of hitting at this stage in camp, and it is also no secret that baseball has become a pitching dominant sport of late. But is it too early to suggest that this staff could be better than many let on?

No one will declare this is a top of the league rotation, but is that based solely on the premise that each of the top three starters has injury concerns attached to them? While those exclamations are valid, what if health is not a concern? Take away health for a minute and look at the players here.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Pineda, Eovaldi strong in Yankees' victory

The New York Yankees have to be pleased with Monday’s performances from Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, as the young guns combined for five scoreless innings in the club’s 4-3 win against the Tampa Bay Rays at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. It is early, but there is reason to believe both pitchers can parlay strong spring performances into success during the regular season.

It was Pineda’s first start of the spring and he looked quite good. He threw 25 pitches in all, pounding the strike zone as was the case much of last season. Pineda allowed one hit and struck out two along the way. In the second inning Pineda induced three easy groundballs to finish off a smooth and relaxed performance.

Pineda’s importance to the Yankees in 2015 cannot be understated. If he is able to remain healthy and pitches to his abilities he could be a mainstay at the the top of the rotation.

Not only is his performance and durability important for this season, but for the next few seasons as he remains under team control through 2017. Pineda, 26, being able to make 30+ starts in consecutive seasons would truly benefit the Yankees’ long-term plans.

One day, plenty of good for Yankees

It is difficult to get too excited about a Spring Training day in early March, but the New York Yankees turned in a good performance Sunday and there was plenty to be happy about in addition to the 3-2 victory over the Washington Nationals.

First and foremost, Sunday was another day of good health. CC Sabathia tossed 29 pitches in a simulated game and appears ready to take the next step. All indications point toward him breaking camp with the rest of the rotation. Some comments and video from Chad Jennings of The LoHud Yankees Blog here.

Alex Rodriguez made the start at third base and in his five innings had just one ball hit his way. He handled it cleanly and made an accurate throw to first. Both Rodriguez and manger Joe Girardi stressed after the game that the 39-year-old veteran will not be at the hot corner on a regular basis. Rodriguez’s comments seemed to concede that he’ll be primarily a designated hitter going forward.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Yankees don’t need a captain now, but Derek Jeter won’t be last one

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman brought Derek Jeter to the forefront of Spring Training Thursday when he suggested to Mike Lupica on his ESPN New York radio show that the club should not name another captain – ever.

“As far as I’m concerned – and I’m not the decision-maker on this – that captaincy should be retired with No. 2,” Cashman said, as reported by Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. “I wouldn’t give up another captain’s title to anyone else.”

That’s a strong declaration and it delighted some Yankees fans and annoyed some others. Cashman’s belief might be a bit over the top, but the general sentiment provided by Yankees manager Joe Girardi rings true – the Yanks don’t need a captain now; they have plenty of leaders in the clubhouse scattered through the factions of the team.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Early thoughts on Yankees’ spring

The New York Yankees have been gathered in Tampa, Florida for just about two weeks now and by and large there have not been any significant developments  even with Alex Rodriguez in camp. This is a good thing as any big on-field news story would likely have to do with an injury.

The entire pitching staff is coming along with each member at the spot the club hoped for at this point. Adam Warren and Nathan Eovaldi each have two innings under their belt and threw well in their appearances. Warren will make the team, but his role is unknown, while Eovaldi seems a lock for a rotation spot.

Masahiro Tanaka could see game action next week after completing another successful bullpen session Wednesday. Michael Pineda feels strong and CC Sabathia, while taking it slow, is feeling no effects from his knee surgery.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez hitting second, Nathan Eovaldi gets start Wednesday

It is the second game of Spring Training for the New York Yankees and for the first time since Sept. 25, 2013, Alex Rodriguez’s name is in the starting lineup. A-Rod will be the designated hitter as he officially begins his comeback from a one-year suspension due to his involvement in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal.

Rodriguez is batting second as the Yankees take on the Philadelphia Phillies at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.

Rodriguez has been getting work in since a few days before position players had to report to camp. He’s participated in live batting practice and in Monday’s intrasquad game Rodriguez failed to get a hit in two at-bats.

The real test begins this afternoon with Kevin Slowey on the mound. Expectations about Rodriguez are all over the map, but the Yankees intend to give him as many plate appearances this spring as possible in an effort to help him regain his timing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Aaron Judge leads Yankees to tie in spring opener

Fans of the New York Yankees who cannot wait for the future to take shape were provided a glimpse into coming seasons when Aaron Judge unloaded a game-tying, two-out, three-run homer in the ninth inning of the club's Spring Training opener against the Philadelphia Phillies. The game ended in a 5-5 tie.

Judge is certainly an imposing figure at the plate standing in at 6 feet 7 inches tall and 255 pounds. He took a 3-2 pitch just over the left center field wall off lefty Mario Hollands. Judge drove in fellow prospects Jake Cave and Slade Heathcott with the bomb. The home run was one of four extra-base hits on the day for the Yankees.

Yankees’ Adam Warren starts spring opener; will he stick in rotation?

The New York Yankees have Adam Warren in camp this spring as a starter; is it because they feel he’s best suited for that role or by necessity as the club hedges its bets that the front line of the rotation is going to suffer an injury?

Warren gets the start in Tuesday’s Spring Training opener for the Yankees in Clearwater, Florida against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees have decided to go with a six-man rotation this spring which could be reintroduced in the middle part of April when the club begins a 30-game stretch across 31 days.

Warren is competing for the final rotation spot with Chris Capuano, Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell with Capuano being the favorite. With the chances of injury looming over the Yankees’ heads, Warren could see himself further up the chain once the regular season begins.

Is Warren best suited to be a starter, as an option to take over David Phelps’ role as swingman or be one of the setup guys in the sixth or seventh innings?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Yankees weekend news wrap: Let the games begin

New York is covered in snow, but Monday the Yankees will be playing a baseball game in warm Tampa, Florida. Albeit an intrasquad game, it is nonetheless a ballgame, as the club begins its trek through exhibition games to help determine what the 25-man roster will look like come April.

The batters will face a pitching machine during the game, so this one is about hitting and fielding. Pitchers will have bullpen sessions and toss batting practice in the morning. Tuesday, the Yankees will face the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Florida with Adam Warren getting the start.

The Yankees are trying to work with a six-man rotation this spring in hopes of bringing the fragile starting staff along a little slower. It is uncertain when CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka or Michael Pineda will get into games. Nathan Eovaldi is set for Wednesday’s start and Esmil Rogers begins Thursday's game according to Chad Jennings of The LoHud Yankees Blog. Chase Whitley, Chris Capuano and Bryan Mitchell are likely to get work in games before the Yankees’ top three.