Tyler Austin is currently raking for the Charleston RiverDogs, to the tune of a .444 average with three home runs and ten runs batted in following last night's 2-for-4 performance. I know it's early, and I know it's Single A-ball, but this start is certainly worth discussing and looking at a bit closer. For some further analysis, let's turn to someone who recently got the chance to watch Austin in person, for a first hand perspective...
There are plenty of scouting reports out there on Austin, and if you so choose, feel free to do a search on your own and dig them up. Since I'd rather give the traffic to a fellow SB Nation site, I'll direct you to John Sickels over at MinorLeagueBall.comfor his brief take on Austin, and the ensuing discussion in the comments section of his Top 20 Yankee Prospects:
9) Tyler Austin, 3B, Grade B-: Borderline C+. I don't know why this guy doesn't get more attention. Polished bat for a 19-year-old, defense needs work, has stolen 18 bases without getting caught in his career so far.
Since this write-up, Austin has made the switch to the outfield, and seems to be adjusting well to his new position. That said, let's move on to the good stuff.
Mike Newman of ScoutingTheSally.com does some fantastic work, and scouted the Charleston RiverDogs (this read is HIGHLY recommended) this past weekend. He offers up an entire write-up on what he saw during the opening game over at Fangraphs, and offers up this viewpoint on Austin's performance from that game:
Right fielder Tyler Austin hit long home runs to both right and left field, showing impressive present power. However, both were on bad balls left up in the zone proving his ability to handle mistakes, but a longer look is needed to see how Austin makes adjustments to quality pitches as he beat balls from Tim Hudson into the ground. Of course an A-ball hitter facing a professional on a rehab stint who induces ground balls for a living isn’t exactly ideal to draw judgments from, but it’s the sample I have to work with.
Newman praised Austin on Saturday over on Twitter, noting his impressive bat speed and the loft on his swing. He goes on to note that Austin has been the most positive surprise during his evaluation of the RiverDogs.
So does that automatically put Tyler Austin on the Top 100 prospect radar? Not exactly. It's a good opening few weeks, and the signs are there to suggest a breakout season. Scouting reports will get around on him, and pitchers will make adjustments, and that's when we'll really see what Tyler Austin is made of as a hitter. Sure, he can beat up on A-ball pitchers, but will he see the same results at Double-A and Triple-A in the future? Only time will tell, and we can only hope he sees this success as he advances.
One skill that Austin has yet to display is his speed, and despite it being merely above average, he was a perfect 18-for-18 on steal attempts last season in 47 minor league games. It's little things like this which make him such an intriguing prospect, and there is something to be said for a guy with solid skills who comes to the park everyday and just performs, even if the initial scouting reports aren't glowing.
On Tuesday, I took a look at the early-season performance of some of the Yankees’ top prospects across the minor leagues, but particularly in Charleston. Today, I will be looking at the performances of some guys who have flown under the radar.
Adam Warren, who should be motivated by the presence of longtime rival David Phelps in the major leagues, is off to a bit of a slow start to the season. He got rocked in his first outing, giving up 6 runs in 3 innings of work, but settled down in his second outing, surrendering just 2 runs in 6 2/3 innings. Overall, in 9 2/3 inning, Warren has given up 14 hits, 6 walks, and struck out only 2 batters.
DJ Mitchell has had more success in the Scranton rotation so far. Overall, Mitchell has put up a 2.12 ERA over his 3 starts (including 8 innings of shutout ball last night) with 15 strikeouts against just 5 walks.
In the Scranton lineup, DeWayne Wise, while old for a prospect, has torn the cover off the ball. Wise is batting .517/.548/1.034 with 3 homers on the year, and could wind up in the bigs at some point if Brett Gardner is out for a while.
Down in Trenton, Melky Mesa is off to a great start for the Thunder. Mesa has posted a .283/.340/.587 line thus far, with 4 homers, 3 stolen bases, and good reports on his centerfield defense. Probably the most encouraging sign so far is that Mesa only has 6 strikeouts on the season, as this has been a big problem for him throughout his career. While Mesa is old for a prospect at 25, his raw tools are still worth getting excited about.
Abraham Almonte, a longtime favorite, has put up a solid .283/.340/.478 line on the season, with 2 homers and 3 steals. The 10 strikeouts in 12 games are a little higher than you would like to see, but not a deal-breaker if the other productio is good. Although it seems like he has been around forever, Almonte is only 23, and has the speed to play centerfield long-term.
Shaeffer Hall has been up-and-down in the Trenton rotation, sandwiching a 7-inning 1-run outing between 2 mediocre efforts. Overall, Hall has posted a 3.94 ERA in 16 innings of work, with 8 strikeouts and 3 walks.
Jose Mojica, once a big name on the Latin American free agent market (under a different name and age) is off to a great start in Tampa. The 23 year-old shortstop is putting up a .361/.410/.583 line in the early going, and if he continues to hit well, he could establish himself as a legitimate prospect going forward.
Nik Turley has probably been the most impressive Tampa pitcher so far, as he has given up just 2 earned runs in 18 innings of work. The 6’6″ lefty, taken in the 50th round of the 2008 draft, could be in for a breakout season. Turley has 20 strikeouts so far against 5 walks, and at age 22 still has plenty of time to establish himself as a legitimate prospect.
Relief ace Mark Montgomery has largely performed as expected, giving up 2 runs in 6 1/3 innings of work, with 10 strikeouts and 4 walks. He was one of my picks to be a fast riser this season, and if the strikeout rate stays that high, he very well could be.
For Charleston, Caleb Cotham to be bouncing back strong from his previous injury problems. In 13 innings of work, the righty from Vanderbilt has given up 3 runs on 11 hits and 3 walks, while striking out 10. I still think he probably ends up a reliever long-term due to his health history, but it is nice to see him having success as a starter.
Team: low Class A Charleston (South Atlantic) Age: 20 Why He's Here: .520/.586/.960 (13-for-25), 10 R, 4 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBIs, 4 BB, 6 SO, 1-for-1 SB The Scoop: Feast your eyes on the hottest hitter in minor league baseball. As you can see on our leaderboard, Austin ranks fifth in the minors in average (.432), first in slugging (.932) and first in OPS (1.411). Considering Austin brought a .350/.402/.542 career batting line into the 2012 season, it's hard to call this a fluke. He's easily been the best hitter in a very loaded Charleston lineup. He also may have found a home defensively. Last year, Austin, a high school catcher, tried to adjust to playing third base, but it didn't go well, as he made 11 errors in fewer than 30 games. Austin is now playing right field where his speed and arm fit, while his less than ideal footwork is not as much of a problem. Austin was part of what was considered an outstanding 2010 high school draft class in Georgia. Two years later, this 13th-round pick is outproducing the five Georgia first-rounders who preceded him.
**New York Yankees outfield prospect Mason Williams made a lot of noise last summer by hitting .349/.395/.468 for the Staten Island Yankees in the New York-Penn League, hitting excellently while also showing a superior center field glove. He entered 2012 with lofty expectations, and so far he is off to another fine start, hitting .315/.339/.463 through 12 games for Low-A Charleston in the South Atlantic League. He's stolen six bases in seven attempts, and he's only struck out twice in 54 at-bats. On the other hand, he's only drawn one walk, but at this point of his career the extremely low strikeout ratio stands out as a huge positive. Williams has made good progress learning to use his speed on the bases, and it looks like he has a shot at living up to the pre-season hype.
The Low-A Charleston River Dogs are one of the most prospect-laden teams in the minors, with four of the Yankees’ top seven prospects calling South Carolina a home this season. Keith Law was in attendance for Friday night’s game against West Virginia and shared his observations in a blog post yesterday. Here are a few highlights…
Dante Bichette Jr. did not play in the game but he did take batting practice. Law said he “has cleaned [his swing] up significantly since signing” and is better equipped to use the entire field. “He’s much more balanced and upright through contact without costing himself any of the hip rotation that helps him generate power,” he wrote.
Mason Williams appears to be selling out for power and didn’t show the same disciplined approach as he has in the past. He remains a top-flight defensive center fielder and Law believes there “will be plenty of power there when his body matures.”
Gary Sanchez‘s bat remains ridiculous, with power to all fields despite an exaggerated leg kick. His defense was a “pleasant surprise, as he’s substantially improved over where he was last year in both receiving and throwing.”
Mike Newman of FanGraphs got a look at Sanchez earlier this week and did not agree with Law’s assessment of his defense, for what it’s worth. The video above comes from Newman’s article, which you should read.
Tyler Austin has a swing that is “effortless [and] balanced throughout with a strong finish for line-drive power.” Law said he was unable to make adjustments to a series of changeups in the dirt and fastballs inside, however.
Kelvin DeLeon is the same guy he’s always been. He hits the ball a mile when he connects but can also swing and miss with the best of ‘em. I saw DeLeon a few times back in his Staten Island Yankees days, the kid hadn’t met a pitch he didn’t think he could hit.
Charleston is the Yankees’ most interesting minor league affiliate this season and it’s not particularly close. The Triple-A pitchers are closer to helping the big league team, but most of the prospect star power — especially position players — is down in Low-A. They won’t all work out, that’s why it’s important to have so many of ‘em.
The Yankees have a plethora of pitching options at the MLB level and a superfluous amount of “arms in waiting” in Triple-A ready to pitch in the major leagues at the drop of a hat. Fans see this with the impending vacancy in right field, and feel the Yankees should deal from a position of strength and go after a cost controlled, young stud right fielder. I’m here to tell you they don’t need to make a move in order to clear space for other rising prospects, and that this type of move would actually be a bad idea. Let’s get into it.
Starting with the major leagues, the Yankees have eight options for the rotation. Of those, Pettitte, Garcia, and Kuroda are on one year deals. This leaves five options for the major league team next season. Hughes’ contract ends after the 2013 season, and besides that he may not be a starter for much longer. This leaves Sabathia, Nova, and Pineda as the only definitive options for next season. Hughes and Phelps are options, but there are many questions surrounding these two and they may not be options for 2013. Now that Pineda’s health is a concern, even he is a question mark.
D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances of Triple-A Empire State will compete with Hughes and Phelps for the last two spots. These players are not guaranteed to be ready. Warren, Banuelos, and Betances have all struggled out of the gate this season, and DJ Mitchell has historically been considered a future reliever. Hughes has had a sluggish start to the season, but Pineda’s injury probably bought him some time. Phelps, Mitchell, and Hughes are the only players who’d be ready for the MLB if the 2013 season started today. The others are all question marks.
The upper minors starting pitching situation is not as much of a logjam as you might expect. There are four legitimate prospect starters in Triple-A right now, with one open slot. There are only two players in Double-A projected to even be Triple-A starters, let alone MLB starters. Those are Brett Marshall and Graham Stoneburner. Stoneburner is currently on the 7-day DL, and we haven’t seen enough of him in Double-A to know whether he’ll be a future starter or not. Marshall should be ready for Triple-A by next season. Shaeffer Hall and Josh Romanski project more as left-handed relief pitchers. The Yankees have to go year to year with Romanski’s contract, so he may not be with the organization next year if other opportunities beckon. Craig Heyer is more of a Lance Pendleton type.
There are also players in High-A Tampa who will probably be in Trenton before the season’s end, and a few more could be there by next season. Nik Turley, a big lefty who throws hard and has great stuff, is mowing down batters in High-A. He’ll likely be in Trenton this season. Mikey O’Brien is another pitcher dominating the competition at this level, and may be in Trenton soon. Shane Greene, Zach Nuding, and Jose Ramirez will stick around longer, but any of them could push their way to Trenton with strong performances.
Now, to summarize. There is currently one starting rotation position available in Triple-A, and two people capable of seizing that spot, but realistically one. There are two to three starting rotation positions that could be occupied in Double-A, and there are two guys looking to occupy those positions soon. If Marshall and Stoneburner get promoted as they should, there will be three slots in Double-A for Greene, Nuding, and Ramirez next season.
With the major league team in need of back of the rotation pitching and, as always, relievers, next season some of the starters in Triple-A will undoubtedly be with the major league team. This adds more space to the rotation there. Assuming only one of the Triple-A starters gets promoted, there’s room for both Marshall and Stoneburner next season.
Long story short, the team is two seasons away from having a logjam that would prevent appropriate promotions. This cannot be used as a reason to trade some of the starting pitching depth.
There are a few sayings that apply here. The first is “you can never have enough pitching.” Another is “a position of strength and depth can turn into a position of weakness at the drop of a hat.” We saw this at catcher in the preseason. The team went from having an abundance of upper level catching talent to having no major league ready catchers behind Francisco Cervelli. This led to the trade of Kontos for Stewart, which has worked out well. At the time it looked like Stewart would be a downgrade from Cervelli though.
You can never have enough pitching because pitchers get hurt. They are delicate and can lose a season with one awkward pitch. They go down with nagging injuries that force them to miss starts, etc. Not only that, but pitchers are prone to inconsistency and failure. Even Tim Lincecum has struggled out of the gate this season. As a matter of fact, the Yankees are having trouble with this right now. There’s talk of replacing Hughes and Garcia in the rotation with Pettitte and Pineda.
In order to obtain a young, cost controlled, Nick Swisher caliber right fielder or a young catcher for that matter, the team would have to part ways with a considerable package of prospects. This likely means Banuelos (teams aren’t that interested in Betances anymore), and more pitching depth. Couple this with losing three MLB starters after this season, and all of a sudden the depth for 2013 is obliterated. Obviously if the perfect trade comes along you jump on it, but those opportunities are few and far between.
A closer examination of the pitching depth in this organization shows us that this is not yet the time to trade from a position of power. The major league team is riddled with one year contracts and question marks. There are only a few legitimate options from the minor leagues for the back end of the rotation in 2013. The minor leagues are not yet in a state of logjam so as to necessitate a trade, and finally, the cost of a young, cost controlled right fielder or catcher would kill the team’s depth. Not only is a trade uneccessary, it is actually a big time no-no.
Recently, Josh Norris and I sat down with Yankees pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras.
For a really, really long time.
Q: Where have you been so far this season?
A: I started the season off with the Empire State Yankees, where it was a lot of cold and bad weather. The 30s, rain, some snow, wind. It wasn’t pretty.
Q: So you’re happy to be here, is what you’re saying?
A: Well, Erie (the Thunder’s second stop on their road trip) was pretty ugly too, pretty freezing. Yesterday here was pretty nice, last night got nippy.
Q: So how hard is it for guys to pitch in awful weather like that?
A: It’s really tough. Warren’s first game was in that cold. D.J., it was freezing the day he pitched. Manny wasn’t good. Dellin (was) for the first two or three innings and then he wasn’t (good), so it seemed like everybody was having problems with that weather, and the scores let you know it.
Q: Do you think the cold contributed to Manny’s injury?
A: I would think that. It was a lat muscle. It was hard to stay warm. I know that when we’re in the stands and he’s doing charts, he was freezing. He was just shivering all over the place, and that was just sitting in the stands. When you’re out on the mound, it just makes it tough.
Q: Is there a way to better prepare them for that stuff?
A: Spring training is in Florida, how can you prepare them? You’ve just got to hope for real warm weather (when the season starts).
Many years ago, when I started doing this for the Yankees, my first stop was Trenton. It was in the 30s, windy, and I said ‘I’m never going to do that again,’ so every year after that I would start at Tampa, Charleston, somewhere warm.
Now, with my new scheduling I’ve (only) got Triple-A, Double-A and the Dominican Republic, that’s all I’m doing, so I had to start up north anyway.
Q: Who’s going to be in charge of watching Tampa and Charleston?
A: Greg Pavlick, who’s our rehab coordinator, he’s going to take care of that for me. I still talk to the pitching coaches and stuff, but I don’t have to go visit.
Q: What role does the cold weather play in dictating his assignment or whether he gets promoted here at some point early in the year?
A: It doesn’t. Toronto, they don’t send their best pitching prospects to (Triple-A) Vegas. They send them to this league because of how crazy it is there. What can you do? Are you going to send all your best guys to Tampa and Charleston when they should be at the higher levels? That’s not going to happen.
We’ve got lot of young, real good pitching at younger baseball, so you just deal with it. Warren, now, he’s pitching well. D.J., last time out he pitched eight shutout innings, so it’s real warm. I think Rick Down (Yankees hitting coordinator) just came from there and said it was 80 degrees.
Q: With Warren, which of his secondary offerings has improved the most?
A: His change-up is really, really good. His curveball was a tremendous improvement this spring training. I think it was a major league average-quality pitch, so that’s improved, and he’s always had the slider. The change-up came first, and now the curveball has come.
Q: I assume improving those offerings are what he needs to do get himself to the next level?
A: He may be a starting pitcher for some other organization right now. Noesi’s a No. 3 guy in Seattle, and he would have been our No. 5 here if everything had stayed the same.
Q: How far has D.J. Mitchell’s change-up come?
A: D.J. Mitchell’s change-up has always been good, from Tampa days. He’s just more in command of it now, so he had the pitch from his Tampa days. He didn’t have it when he first signed. Once he got to Tampa he really developed the change-up.
The command of it (has improved), same thing now with command of his curveball. Now we’re waiting on the command of his fastball. Once he commands his fastball to go with his other two pitches, he’s going to help us in the big leagues.
Q: In terms of big-league readiness, when you compare Mitchell and Warren, is there someone who has an edge right now?
A: David Phelps is there now. He’s ahead of them, and he’s pitching really well, and then we’ve got Mitchell and Warren. As a starter, if we need a starter, it’s going to be one of those two. (If there’s a decision to be made), I’ll just tell them what I feel and what I saw, but it’s hard to tell them what I saw because the weather was so bad.
Q: Is it safe to say that better command set Phelps apart from Mitchell and Warren in big league camp?
A: He commands four pitches. His curveball was the last to come, just like Warren. He was predominantly a slider guy in college, so that’s come, and he’s always been a strike thrower.
Q: How do you project how well a guy will fare in the big leagues based on what you see in the minors?
A: It’s just command of their pitches. Do they have pitches to get major league hitters out, and can they repeat their delivery to be able to command those pitches? Of course David Phelps leads the three. Warren is pretty close to doing that — he was the last guy cut, I believe.
Q: Have you guys changed the way you assign workloads for your prospects? I’m noticing more 90-pitch counts for the Thunder rotation this April.
A: It’s all depending on how many pitches we get them to in spring training. If a pitcher goes out and he has a pretty good outing, and there’s no rain — it’s all about weather and how they pitch that day. He may have 50 pitches (suggested), but if he throws 38 or 39 in the first inning, that might be the end of what he does. He’s going to have to hit that 50 level again (in his next outing).
Q: I ask because I saw, in a two-game stretch, Shaeffer Hall pulled after 70 when he was cruising, and then Brett Marshall left in for 90 when he was getting hit around.
A: Marshall was in major league camp, so he was at 50 pitches when he came to us. So we started him at 65 and not 35. Those are things that happen.
Q: Have you seen Marshall this season?
A: I saw him just the other day, and he was very good, so hopefully he repeats that outing.
Q: What do you like about him?
A: He has an air about himself and he attacks the zone, great power change-up, sinks the ball, and now his slider has improved.
Q: He’s said he’s adding a curveball around June or July. What do you want that to add to his overall game?
A: A fourth pitch, as a get-me-over, so he doesn’t have to use his change-up and slider, which are the two better-quality pitches, earlier in the count. So instead of throwing all fastballs or throwing that slider or change-up first pitch, he can throw that curveball first pitch. Or if he gets to 1 ball, no strikes, he can the curveball in that count. It just gives him a fourth pitch that hitters will have to think about.
Q: With Pat Venditte, how unique a challenge is that for you, to take an ambidextrous pitcher and try to develop him for the major leagues? In other words, how long does it take to develop two arms?
A: It’s just using it, that’s all it is. I’m ambidextrous. I’ve got an inning in pro ball left-handed. I’ve played outfield and first base in pro ball left-handed. I grew up doing it. I didn’t pitch much doing it. I was a switch-hitter and a switch-pitcher.
My catcher growing up, who went to the big leagues for the Cardinals, Giants and Expos, John Tamargo, was my No. 3 hitter — I was the No. 4 hitter — and he was the same way, ambidextrous and a switch-hitter.
Q: So how’d you develop that ability?
A: Just growing up doing it with my father. Since I pitched a lot, he saw a lot of power in my right arm, so he said ‘Let’s use your left arm so you can play other positions,’ and a lot of practice. That’s what Venditte had to do too. His power arm is his right arm and he tricks them with his left hand.
Q: How long did it take you to believe you were going to be able to do things ambidextrously?
A: I don’t that. I screwed up my son growing up. He was a lefty, a complete left-hander, and I know (because I’m) in professional baseball, what they’re going to see in a left-hander, and maybe with my genes, they’re going to put him on the mound, so I changed my son from a lefty to righty so that he could play baseball completely right-handed.
He’ll shoot right-handed and left-handed in basketball, golf lefty-righty. He’ll write left-handed. It’s funny how does things with both hands, but that was the practice growing up.
Q: How difficult, then, is it for Pat not to just rely on his power arm or focus on it. Would it benefit him to focus on one arm?
A: His arm is his power arm, but it’s not a powerful arm. It’s a tick below average. But he kind of tricks guys from the right-hand side, but he’s got more velo from the right side than the left side. He still does some things right-handed that he does left-handed, but he’s got more power with the right hand.
Q: Could he a big league pitcher with both arms?
A: Yeah he can, but he’s got to be in command, that’s the key. Guys who are not blessed with that 94, 95, 96, they’ve got to be able to pitch a lot more, a lot better, than someone who doesn’t have that power.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you’ve got a lot of arms coming from the lower levels. Who might the Thunder see, if everything goes right and there’s space, toward the second half of this year?
A: There’s a kid named Turley, there’s a kid named Nuding, there’s a kid named Pinder. Those three are on the top of my mind. Ramirez, he’s got a power arm with great stuff, Dominican kid. One day, if it clicks, there’s no limit.
Nuding’s big power, Turley’s a lefty — 6-5, curveball, downhill, sinks it. His velo’s come up now from where it was as a young kid. We’ve got Shane Greene also at Tampa, who’s throwing the ball really well. He’s mid-90s guy, slider, change-up, hard sinker. It’s just being consistent, that’s all.
Q: Did you see Campos at all?
A: I saw him in spring training. He’s a guy that, when we make changes, he’ll probably go to Tampa, when Turley or Nuding or both or whatever we’ve got going there (come to Trenton).
Q: To go back to something you mentioned earlier, you said that Marshall needs to get the slider before he gets the curveball. What does he need to do to refine the slider enough?
A: Use of it, that’s all. He likes to go with his two fastballs — four-seam, two-seam — and he puts that slider in the back. Well, we’ve spent time in the bullpen with the slider.
We know he has the change-up, we know he has both fastballs, but needs to develop that slider and the use of it and how to use it. He used it a few times that last outing there in Erie when I watched him, but not always at the right time. There’s not only right times, but right locations. Those are things that he’s got to learn how to do with that slider.
Q: You saw Romanski yesterday, yes?
A: Romanski was pretty good. He had that rough first inning, but with his new (arm) slot, he had one left-hander face him, and he made that left-hander look ugly. That’s the key to Romanski. He’s a situational-type pitcher in the big leagues. He has that slot, he can sink it, he has a change-up, he has a cutter that he can throw against right-handers, and he has that hard breaking ball to lefties. Strikes, getting consistency with that new slot of his, and he’s got the breaking ball to go with it.
Q: When you have to change arm slots as a pitcher, is that something that he organization tells him to do, and how do you get him to buy into the change?
A: That is something I asked him to do last year, and he really wasn’t very sure about using it last year. He came to spring training sure that he probably could do it. I gave him reasons why — I always give these guys reasons — and he’s capable of doing it. Not everybody’s capable of making those changes. I couldn’t tell Dellin Betances, let’s become a submariner, he couldn’t do that. You’ve got to know the pitcher and what are the upsides and what are the downsides when you make these suggestions for them, not for us, for them.
Q: If a guy’s come over the top his whole career, how difficult is to make him go to, say, high three-quarters or even sidearm?
A: It’s the individual. Everybody’s different, so some guys will take on (the challenge). Some guys, you say, it’s not going to work, so don’t even try it. You’ve got to hope he makes something out of what he’s at, and that’s it. Some guys — Romanski was an outfielder, he was an outfielder, he did some things — I know if I asked him to drop down submarine, he’s capable, because he’s limber enough to do that stuff
-- The second edition of 2012, covering April 16th - April 22 games --
Pitcher: DJ Mitchell, 24, RHP, AAA 8 IP, 7 K, 1 BB, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 HR Notable: 2.12 ERA over 17 IP, 3.08 FIP
One of the three pitchers who was reportedly in the running for the long relief spot out of Spring Training (which went to David Phelps), Mitchell went eight innings and allowed only two hits versus Rochester (Triple-A for the Twins). The soon-to-be 25-year old (in May) really has nothing left to prove in the minors.
As we've remarked several times in the past few months, Mitchell's future with the Yankees looks very limited, especially with the additions of Pineda and Pettitte pushing him further down the depth chart. In fact, Phelps would still be in AAA if if weren't for injuries. However, with Pineda being shut down and poor performances by Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes, Mitchell may have a glimmer of hope of cracking the Bronx.
Hitter: Gary Sanchez, 19, RHB C, A 454/.478/.636 in 23 PAs Notable: 4 2B, 1 BB, 3 SBs
The heir to the Montero throne, Sanchez logged 10 hits on the week, including four doubles. He also stole 3 bases, and get this...they all came in one game. In fact, he's stolen 5-for-5 on the season (career-high), in addition to hitting .356/.414/.458 in 55 PAs.
Jose Campos, 19, RHP, A 11 IP, 12 K, 2 BB, 12 H, 3 ER, 0 HR Two more impressive starts from other piece in the Montero deal, 23 K / 5 BB in 22 IP for the season
Nik Turley, 22, LHP, A+ 12.1 IP, 14 K, 4 BB, 10 H, 3 ER, 0 HR Another solid week for the lefty. 27 K / 9 BB in 23.1 IP for the season
Pedro Guerra, 22, RHP, A 3 IP, 7 K, 1 BB, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 HR 6 appearances in 2012, 14 K / 2 BB in 10 IP
Tyler Austin, 20, RHB COF/1B/3B, A .333/.384/.625 in 26 PAs (2 2B, 3B, HR, 2/2 SBs) Last week's MLPW winnerjust hits
Abe Almonte, 22, SHB OF, AA .333/.419/.555 in 31 PAs (2B, 3B, HR, 3/4 SBs) First season at AA, hitting .262/.318/.443
In the 'I'm Losing My Prospect Status' Category...
Dellin Betances, 24, RHP, AAA 9 IP, 7 K, 10 BB, 10 H, 10 R, 7 ER, 0 HR 17 BB in 17.1 IP this season
By Mike AxisaThe Double-A Trenton Thunder have announced that all home games this season will be streamed live on MiLB.tv. The season package is only $40 and includes all levels, so you’ll also be able to see select Triple-A, High-A, and Low-A games as well. In fact, all four games of Low-A Charleston’s series with Lexington this week will be broadcast live, and that’s a team worth watching. The Yankees don’t have a ton of prospects at Double-A right now — Brett Marshall, David Adams, and Zoilo Almonte are the next of the bunch — but you will be able to catch Andy Pettitte’s rehab start this Wednesday. Hooray for that.
Gary Sanchez is one of the top prospects in the Yankee system, almost entirely because of his hitting prowess. Sanchez’s profile as a prospect is very comparable to that of Jesus Montero: an offense-first catcher with the potential to hit for power and average in the long-term, but major question marks about their ability to remain at the position.
Unlike Montero, who many believed was simply too big for the position, it is a little easier to project the 6’2″ 220 Sanchez as physically being able to handle the position. Montero’s slow windup and release made catching attempted basestealers a difficult feat (usually hovering around 20%), whereas Sanchez has been relatively successful at throwing out runners (31% last year, 28% so far this year).
Receiving pitches has historically been an issue for Sanchez, and the statistics back that assertion up. In 2011, Sanchez allowed a whopping 26 passed balls in 60 games behind the plate, and there were rumors that he stopped calling breaking pitches because he had difficulty blocking them, and did not want to inflate the passed ball total any further.
It wasn’t clear whether the passed balls were due to a physical issue, a technique issue, a lack of focus, or some combination thereof, but it is worthy of note that the passed ball rate dropped dramatically after Sanchez returned from his suspension. Sanchez has gotten off to a good start in that department in 2012, only committing 1 passed ball in 12 games so far.
This year, we have had the good fortune to have some early reports on Sanchez’s defense. ESPN’s Keith Law and Fangraphs’ Mike Newman both saw Sanchez recently, and saw some progress in his work behind the plate, but still plenty of room for improvement.
Newman, who also provided some nice video in his report, was mixed on what he saw from Sanchez. He was impressed with Sanchez’s catch-and-throw skills, clocking him at above the major league average in the speed of his release, and saw him make some nice, accurate throws to second. However, Newman noticed that Sanchez still struggled somewhat with his receiving, especially in the area of pitch-framing (an area of catcher defense which has recently been quantified). Newman attributes part of Sanchez’s receiving problems to his very low crouch, wondering if it limits his agility behind the plate. He also questions whether further growth by the 19-year-old Sanchez could exacerbate his receiving problems.
Keith Law, who has consistently been pretty bearish on Sanchez’s defense, had a more positive outlook (insider-only). Law saw Sanchez’s defense as a “pleasant surprise…substantially improved over where he was last year.” He didn’t observe Sanchez having any particular difficulty receiving on that day, and saw him show impressive arm strength and above-average pop times.
While these reports conflict somewhat, that doesn’t mean that we should adhere to one and junk the other. Neither of these guys has seen a whole lot of Sanchez this year (one game for Law, and probably several for Newman), and some variation in Sanchez’s performance could be expected, depending on who is on the mound, the opposing team, etc. Sanchez probably still has receiving issues, as Newman observed, but there could be days when they are less of a factor (as Law observed).
The passed ball problem seems to be solved, at least based on what we’ve seen from Sanchez so far this season. His throwing skills also seem like they should be at least adequate at the big league level. What he needs to work on at this stage, based on the current reports, is continuing to refine his receiving so he is softer with his hands behind the plate, and more adept at framing pitches rather than stabbing at them. Although there may be some physical limitations, these seem like areas where improvement can come from experience and hard work, if Sanchez is willing to put in the effort. There is still a lot of work to be done if Sanchez is going to be able to stick at catcher in the bigs, but if he can, his bat could make him a legitimate star.