Tuesday Morning News And Notes: 4/26/16

There were a lot of little stories coming out yesterday, zero of which we touched on here.  Let's catch up on them in a little rapid fire notes blog. - A-Rod's MRI on his oblique came back negative, so the Yankees elected to not make a roster move for either him or Aaron Hicks.  They played last night with a 23-man roster.  I'm actually a little surprised they haven't just put Hicks on the DL retroactive to the date he got hurt and called somebody up, but it sounds like A-Rod might be available again soon.  He did take BP yesterday.

- I don't remember where I saw it, but apparently Hicks played catch yesterday before the game.  He hadn't been doing much of anything before then, so I guess the advancement to "baseball activities" is a good thing.

- Branden Pinder has decided to have Tommy John Surgery to repair his UCL tear.  He'll be out for the next 12-14 months, which is a major bummer for him and the SWB Shuttle.

- With Pinder and Rumbelow out and Jacob Lindgren going back on the DL with an elbow injury in High-A, the Yankees made a move to bring back lefty reliever Phil Coke.  He had been pitching in the Independent Atlantic League and was mostly bad last year at multiple levels for multiple teams, but he is a former True Yankee and that's something that can't be measured.  Being left-handed is so awesome if you're a baseball player.

- The worst news of the day yesterday might have been the James Kaprielian elbow injury.  He was placed on the DL with "elbow inflammation" and there is no timetable for his return.  The Yankees confirmed that an MRI showed no structural damage in his elbow, so there is no surgery planned for him.  The plan is to treat Kaprielian "conservatively" with rest and throwing, so at the bare minimum we can stop dreaming of him making it to the big leagues this season.

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Profiling the (Probable) Opening Day Bullpen

With just under seventy-hours separating us from Opening Day, the Yankees bullpen is mostly settled. Andrew Miller will be the closer (assuming he can pitch through his injury). Dellin Betances will be the fireman (assuming that Miller is able to pitch; if not, he'll be the closer). Chasen Shreve, Johnny Barbato, Luis Cessa, and (probably) Kirby Yates will be the bridge from the starters to Deldrew Millances one-two punch. And Ivan Nova will (probably) be the long man. There are still several issues to be sorted out, it seems, but CC Sabathia, Nova, and Yates are the only pitchers remaining in camp that do not have a set role with the team at this juncture. The smart money is on Sabathia being named to the rotation, so the rest is simply an educated guess.

Earlier today, Twitter user @detectorsarcasm asked that we offer a bullpen breakdown - and we aim to please. However, given the above, I felt that we needed at least a bit of exposition before getting underway. With that out of the way, let's dive right in.

Andrew Miller

Miller was light's out in his first season with the Yankees, posting a 2.04 ERA (2.16 FIP) while striking out 40.7% of the batters he faced, converting 36 of 38 save opportunities along the way. Surprisingly (insofar as fastball/slider LHP are concerned), he was far more effective against RHH, limiting them to a .130/.227/.217 slash line - though, to be fair, lefties only hit .227/.277/.326. Miller is a two pitch reliever, working with a fastball that sits around 94 mph and an 84-ish mph slider. As per PITCHf/x, batters hit only .092/.172/.123 against his slider last year ... so it's probably a reasonable that his dominant breaking ball represents 54.1% (!) of his offerings.

Dellin Betances

Would it be too much of a cop out to call Betances a right-handed version of Miller? Dealin' Dellin's fastball has more velocity, averaging 97 mph last year per PITCHf/x, and he struck out slightly fewer batters (39.5%) - but their pitch usage was virtually identical, and both are big, intimidating presences that flamed out as starters and found great success in the bullpen. And, most importantly, both are among the very best relievers in all of Major League Baseball.

Chasen Shreve

Acquired last off-season (along with David Carpenter - remember him?) in exchange for Manny Banuelos, Shreve was excellent for most of his rookie season. Through the end of August (52.1 IP), he posted a 1.89 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 2.4 K/BB. His last month, however, looked like this: 6.0 IP, 16 H, 8 BB, 5 K, 4 HR, 13.50 ERA, .500 BAA. To say that Shreve struggled down the stretch would be putting it very, very lightly. The 25-year-old lefty is a true three pitch reliever, working with a low-90s fastball, splitter (possibly his best pitch), and a slider. The reasoning behind Shreve's struggles can't easily be explained, as his stuff (at least in terms of velocity) was there throughout the season. The best case scenario is that it was a small sample size and/or fatigue related issue, which doesn't seem unlikely.

Johnny Barbato

Barbato was also acquired last off-season, in exchange for Shawn Kelley. The 23-year-old righty has worked his way through the minors slowly but surely, spending at least half a season at each level since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft. He missed time in 2014 and 2015 due to an elbow injury that did not require surgery, else he may have made it to the show already. Barbato features a mid-90s fastball and a big breaking curveball in the upper 70s (a legitimate swing and miss pitch). His command and control are more good than great, but he tends to keep the ball down which mitigates his occasional bouts of wildness. He fits the Yankees mold of flamethrowing relievers to a T.

Luis Cessa

Cessa and fellow RHP Chad Green came over from the Tigers in this off-season's Justin Wilson deal. The soon to be 24-year-old was signed by the Mets as a shortstop in 2008, but was converted to pitching in 2011 due to his inability to hit a baseball. Cessa has surprisingly solid mechanics and a consistent delivery that belies his relative inexperience, and he has three usable pitches in his low-90s fastball, change-up, and slider. No one pitch stands out as a plus offering, but he commands all three fairly well, and keeps the ball on the ground. Cessa profiles best as a middle reliever or back of the rotation starter, but he has shown incremental improvements over the years, so the best may be yet to come.

Kirby Yates

I first heard of Kirby Yates (which I was certain was a made-up name) in this FanGraphs post, which explores some potential bargain-level relievers. Despite some disconcerting numbers in 56.1 IP at the big league level (including a 5.27 ERA, 5.51 FIP, and 2.24 HR/9), Yates has posted excellent strikeout numbers throughout his career on the strength of a low-90s fastball and a couple of big breaking balls. He's a flyball pitcher, which may not play well in Yankees Stadium - but he has big time strikeout potential and has earned a shot at the last spot in the bullpen (particularly with Bryan Mitchell shelved for three months or so).

Ivan Nova

Nova has only 16 relief appearances in his professional career, so coming out of the bullpen will be a fairly new experience for him. He has averaged just under 93 mph on his fastball for his career, so there's a good chance that that plays up significantly in relief, and his curveball is a legitimate strikeout pitch when it's working. Stacey already predicted that he would pull a 2009 Phil Hughes, and he certainly has the stuff to do so. For the time being, though, I wouldn't be shocked if he ended up as a handcuff for Sabathia so that he can remain stretched out in case the Yankees need a spot start.

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Friday Morning News And Notes: 4/1/16

Grapefruit League 2016 is over and done with for the Yankees.  They'll be in Miami for the next 2 games before traveling back to New York on Sunday to prepare for Opening Day.  The news is coming fast and furious now as we draw closer to the deadline to set rosters.  Here's the latest: - There were 2 split-squad games yesterday and both of them were losses.  Michael Pineda got knocked around in his final spring tuneup start, giving up 4 home runs.  Actually both Yankee starters gave up 4 home runs in their respective outings yesterday.  Finishing on a high note.

- Joe announced during one of the games yesterday that both Austin Romine and Luis Cessa have made the Opening Day roster.  Romine has been the backup catching favorite for a few weeks now, but Cessa is a bit of a surprise just because he wasn't considered a big part of the competition when camp started.  I know I saw him as more of a Triple-A starting option with all the other righty relief depth available.  Congrats to them both.

- Joe also announced that Masahiro Tanaka will be the starting pitcher on Opening Day.  As if there was ever any real doubt.  Tanaka will be followed by Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Luis Severino in that order.

- Via Bryan Hoch, the 5th starter decision is still unmade.  Ivan Nova definitely made things more difficult with his 6 shutout innings the other day, but I still say the job is CC's to start the season.

- Anthony Swarzak and Cesar Puello were reassigned to MiL camp yesterday.  Kirby Yates is the last man standing in the bullpen competition.  Have to think that means he's the last man in barring another injury this weekend.

The Reds put Jake Cave on waivers yesterday, so he could be returned to the Yankees if nobody claims him.  They have already received Evan Rutckyj back from the Braves.

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Mid-Day News And Notes: 3/31/16

Sorry about the lack of updates this morning, gang.  Technical issues.  But we're back up and running now and there's a lot to catch up on.  Here we go in rapid fire succession. - The CT scan on Andrew Miller's right wrist revealed a chip fracture to a small bone.  Miller has already said he doesn't plan to miss time because of this, but he is going to meet with another specialist first.

- The news is not as good for Bryan Mitchell, who basically has a broken big toe in his left foot.  Via Jack Curry, he's expected to be out at least 3 months and he will also meet with a specialist to decide if surgery is necessary or not.  Such a terrible break for Mitchell.  He was looking like the next big piece of the bullpen.  Now another spot is up for grabs.

- The Yankees announced that Ronald Torreyes beat out Pete Kozma for the final bench spot yesterday.  Good for him and good for the decision makers for making the higher-upside decision.  Now let's see how Joe uses him and how often.

- The Yankees also triggered Carlos Corporan's opt-out clause yesterday by emailing the rest of MLB and letting them know that he was available, so Austin Romine is going to be the backup catcher on Opening Day.

- Haven't seen it officially announced by the team yet, but it sounds like Johnny Barbato is getting one of the open bullpen spots.  The team did just announce that he was the winner of this year's James P. Dawson Award as the best rookie in camp.

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Quick Hit: More Bullpen Roster Cuts

I haven't done a great job keeping up with all the recent roster cuts, but now that we're coming down to the end of the spring, every one means more in terms of setting the final 25-man roster.  This one announced earlier by the team has a significant impact on the bullpen competition.

Pinder and Goody were both prime candidates for one of the last bullpen spots based on their SWB shuttle service time last year.  I thought Goody was in good shape for a spot heading into the end of last week based on how he had been pitching, but he served up 3 home runs in a 24-hour period and that surely got him cut.  Pinder just didn't pitch all that well this spring, not well enough to stand out against the rest of the competition at least, and Olson was too far below others on the lefty depth chart.

So with these 3 gone, I think we're down to 34 or 35 guys still in big league camp.  The remaining candidates for the 'pen are Kirby Yates, Johnny Barbato, Anthony Swarzak, and Luis Cessa.  Yates has to be close to a lock at this point, so it's the other 3 for 1 spot.  Based on ST performance and what's best for the organization, I think we'll see Barbato get the final spot.  There's no reason to convert Cessa from a starter now to be the 7th guy in the big league 'pen when there are already a ton of other righty options available for that job.

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Monday Morning Musings A Week Away From Opening Day

It's close now, real close.  In less than a week the 2016 MLB regular season will officially be underway, and in a few hours more than a week the same will be true for the New York Yankees.  The roster trimming continues, the speculation about who will and won't nab the last few Opening Day 25-man slots has intensified, and the anticipation of first pitch next Monday is rising.  Here are some assorted thoughts on where the Yankees stand a week away from that first first pitch. - At the start of camp, I didn't think there was any way that Gary Sanchez wasn't coming out of ST as the backup catcher.  I also didn't think there was any way that Rob Refsnyder would come out of camp with a big league roster spot.  Two weeks ago, I completely flip-flopped on both of those thoughts and then Refs took a few ground balls off the dome and everything changed again.  The Yankees have made a clear commitment to get younger and build from within over the last few seasons, but it's good to know that they still recognize when guys aren't quite ready and are willing to give them the time they need to be fully prepared to come up to the show and contribute.  Sanchez has swung a cold bat all spring and Refsnyder needs more work at third base if he's truly going to be an option there for Joe.  There's nothing wrong with letting them work on those things in the lower-pressure environment of Triple-A, especially when there are other options for their positions available.

- We already know who that other option is going to be at backup catcher.  Now with Refs getting sent down yesterday, the question becomes who fills in for him as the final utility infielder.  It's a 2-man race between Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes and I'm hoping with every fiber of my being that it ends up being Torreyes.  If ST stats mean anything, he's been the much better hitter this spring (.313/.333/.375 in 32 ABs compared to .167/.231/.250 in 24 ABs for Kozma) and that should give him a leg up.  He's also younger, he's been healthier in camp, and he can play the same mix of positions that Kozma can.  I've said all along that I don't want Kozma on this team.  He's basically a Brendan Ryan clone and I think using a roster spot on a player like that is a waste.  Torreyes comes with a little bit of projectability thanks to his young age and his high-contact approach is a great fit for a part-time bench gig.  If it comes down to these 2 for the last bench spot, Torreyes is the clear choice in my mind.

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Predicting The 2016 Opening Day Roster Part IV

I haven't updated my Opening Day roster prediction since before Spring Training started and a lot has gone down since then.  With less than 2 weeks until Opening Day, I think it's about time for another revision and I think this is going to be the final prediction.  So mark it down, lock it in, here we go.  Barring injuries, here is the official prediction for Joe's 25-man roster on April 4th: Starting Lineup:

1) Jacoby Ellsbury– CF 2) Brett Gardner– LF 3) Alex Rodriguez– DH 4) Mark Teixeira– 1B 5) Carlos Beltran- RF 6) Brian McCann– C 7) Chase Headley– 3B 8) Starlin Castro– 2B 9) Didi Gregorius– SS

Starting Rotation:

1) Masahiro Tanaka 2) Michael Pineda 3) Luis Severino 4) Nathan Eovaldi 5) CC Sabathia

Bench: Austin Romine, Dustin Ackley, Aaron HicksRob Refsnyder

Bullpen: Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve,Bryan Mitchell, Ivan Nova, Kirby Yates, Nick Goody

A few notes:

- I have no clue why I had Beltran over A-Rod in the batting order in the first few editions.  That's obviously not happening.

- It looks like it's going to be Austin Romine's backup job based on the last few weeks.  He's playing better than Gary Sanchez, he's getting more work, and he's hitting higher in the batting order.  Again, this ultimately isn't a big deal.  Sanchez will get his turn and there's nothing wrong with using a little more Triple-A time to get him swinging a hot bat again and bump back his free agency.  And if Romine surprises us in the first month and plays well, well that'd be just fine.

- If you would have told me the last time I did this that Rob Refsnyder was going to make the roster as the backup third baseman, I would have laughed in your face.  But who else could it be at this point?  Nobody left in camp to compete with him has hit worth a lick and Refs' added positional flexibility and better stick make him even more valuable to Joe as a bench piece.

- Those first 5 bullpen spots are rock solid in my opinion, and I think Mitchell could already be starting to carve out a role as the #2 righty reliever behind Betances.  After that, though, it's still wide open.  When the dust settles, I think we're going to see Yates and Goody and in there.  Goody has pitched a lot and he's been the most consistent of last year's shuttle group.  He also hasn't walked a batter in 7 appearances.  Yates has been sneaky great so far in ST (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K in 4 apps.) and he has 50+ innings of big league experience.  That'll carry some weight with Joe when it comes time to make a decision, so go ahead and call Yates this year's Chris Martin, the guy nobody expected to get a spot when camp opened but ended up sneaking on in the end.

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Quick Hit: First Round Of ST Roster Cuts Announced

The Yankees announced their first round of roster cuts after this afternoon's game and it's quite the list.  In addition to the players named above, the Yankees also re-assigned Jacob Lindgren, Aaron Judge, Dustin Fowler, and Lane Adams to MiL camp.  This takes a serious chunk of depth out of the original list of ST invitees and demonstrates a concentrated effort on the team's part to separate its top prospects who are not in line for an Opening Day roster spot and org depth players from the true OD roster contenders.

From a purely entertainment standpoint, it's disappointing to see guys like Judge, Mateo, and Kaprielian get cut.  They all got chances to show what they're capable of in different ways and they did a good job stoking the prospect hugging fire with their performances.  Lindgren comes as a bit of a surprise because he was considered a legit candidate for a bullpen spot, but he struggled with his command in his appearances and clearly it's better for him to get some MiL time and get his feel back after the elbow surgery.

More moves will come, but this elimination of MiL talent narrows the focus on the major ST roster battles.  Now we can really start to dissect who's in the best position to take the last few open spots, and I'm sure we'll see one or two of today's cuts back up in the big league dugout/bullpen at some point this season.

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Quick Hit: Castro As Backup Third Baseman Is Over Before It Began

The final bench spot competition shifted yesterday with the report that the Yankees have already scrapped plans to try Starlin Castro at third base.  Via George King, Joe announced before yesterday's game that the Yankees would continue to use Castro as the backup shortstop but not at third because "we want to make sure he is comfortable at second." This is obviously great news for Rob Refsnyder, who has been impressive at the plate in the first week of ST games and handled his business at the hot corner in his few games there.  That said, I'm not sure if this is a move that signifies the Yankees are sold on Refsnyder as Headley's backup at third.  For once, I actually take the Yankees at face value when they give an explanation for a decision.  I said a while back that I didn't like the idea of making Castro the backup third baseman in addition to backup shortstop and starter at second.  He wasn't brought in to be a utility guy and there's no need to put too much on his plate when he's still adapting to second base and making the transition to a new team in a big market.  Let him settle in there and work on improving his hitting.  Joe and Castro both sound like they're on that same page and I'm glad the third base experiment has been aborted.

While I do think this decision is more about Castro than Refsnyder, there is no denying that Refsnyder becomes the favorite to take that last bench spot now.  He's the only contender for the spot who's shown anything with the stick at the Major League level (obligatory SSS reference) and most of his primary competition is hurt and not playing in games (Kozma, Solano).  It's too early to call anything, but I expect to see the Yankees give Refs more time at third in practices and games over the next few weeks.  If he keeps making the plays he's supposed to make there, it's his backup third base job to lose.

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Yanks To Try Refsnyder At Third Base This Spring

Looks like we can consider Rob Refsnyder the early favorite for the 25th roster spot now.  After moving him to second base when he was drafted, staying committed to making him an everyday second baseman for the last few years, and presumably shopping him as such on the trade market, the Yankees have switched course on Refsnyder and will try him at third base this spring.  Team decision makers held a meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the possibility, decided it was worth a shot, and Refsnyder worked out at third base during the first full-squad workout yesterday. The move was somewhat unexpected considering the team's recent commitment to keeping Refsnyder at second and previous comments by Brian Cashman stating the team would not consider moving Refsnyder from that spot.  But as the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention and finding a reliable backup third baseman is a major necessity this spring.  Chase Headley showed a lot of disconcerting signs in his performance last year and there isn't another viable backup anywhere on the current roster.  Alex Rodriguez and his old hips are staying at DH, Starlin Castro is going to get some time at third as well to see if he can handle the position, and Dustin Ackley looks like he's going to be primarily a first baseman/5th outfielder.  The Yankees really have nothing to lose trying Refsnyder at third, nor does Refsnyder.  Given the team's acquisition of Castro, this could be Refsnyder's best chance at nailing down a Major League job.

He will have to prove that he can play the position, however, and there are a few things working against him in that department.  Third base is about quick movements and reaction times, skills that don't come into play a lot at second base or in right field.  Typically you want a guy with a strong arm at third base to make the long throws across the diamond, and Refsnyder is not known to have a strong arm.  His throwing arm might be the weakest part of his defensive game, which is part of the reason he got moved to second base in the first place.  He won't have to worry about foot placement and movement around the bag to turn a double play, but third base and second base are completely different worlds and it's going to be a challenge for Refsnyder to show he's got what it takes to handle the hot corner in a short amount of time.

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