They are but babies, these Yankees. Have been since the big down-sizing of August, when Brian Cashman traded and forced into retirement both realized talent and an underachieving big contract.
And yet, as the Yanks head into an offseason to watch their Queens neighbors play a home wild card game and possibly more, they can stop and realize that big things await.
There are a bunch of good things on that roster of Baby Bombers, and just as encouraging items in the lower levels. All of which means that Cashman may well have an offseason quite similar to last year’s.
The sum total of his efforts produced unlikely excitement and, considering how the veteran-based roster played before the kids took over, an incredible run at a playoff spot. In the end, youthful inexperience showed and the Yanks wound up four games out of a playoff spot.
And yet, they offered so much hope for the future that the roster may not need much tweaking at all. Sure, they could use another veteran for the rotation. Michael Pineda is just never going to be consistent enough and, let’s face it, CC Sabathia will be a year older. But the kids showed enough grit and determination to make one believe the Yanks will be just fine without an expensive influx of veteran talent.
The war chest is rich.
Gary Sanchez and the bat that tied an 86-year-old record for quickest path to 20 homers won’t have Brian McCann to get in the way of his starting catcher’s spot. Aaron Judge will be there. Greg Bird should come back from shoulder surgery as good as new to replace Mark Teixeira, who said farewell to baseball with Sunday’s finale.
Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin, Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green all showed signs that they could eventually become part of the restoration of Joe Girardi’s rep to playoff status.
Frazier and Judge could be the two hitting keys notwithstanding Sanchez’ remarkable power streak, only because it would be difficult to think the catcher could continue such a pace over a six-month season. Frazier, who did well enough to get promoted to Triple-A just before his trade, is working hard in the Florida Instructional League to make sure he gets that call at some point next season. Playing for three teams, he hit .263 with 16 homers, a .335 on-base percentage, and a .447 slugging percentage.
He has plenty of promise. But most likely, he’ll start the season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Judge, however, is a roster certainty. His offseason goal will involve cutting down on the strikeouts. In just 27 games before a strained oblique ended his season, he showed potential with four homers, though he hit just .179. Those numbers can come up. But his free-swinging ways that caused him to strike out 42 times in 84 at-bats are a concern.
Bird and Austin will battle in spring training for Teixeira’s spot at first. Mitchell could land in the rotation after going 1-2 with a 3.24 ERA in five starts after coming back from a toe injury. Severino, who struggled mightily as a starter, could ultimately find a real home in the bullpen.
In another era, 84-78 with no playoffs would have triggered a slew of beheadings following a major reconstruction job. Millions of dollars would have flown out the door.
But these Baby Bombers showed enough potential that only some minor revisions will be necessary for next season.
With young vets like Castro, Didi Gregorius, and Dellin Betances holding down key positions, the kids might just be able to carry the rest of the load.
Tyler Austin only spent 30 games with the Yankees in 2016, yet he was an integral part of the second-half turnaround that managed to make the team watchable once again. Although no one expected much from Austin this year, he found his way into the spotlight with some big games that ultimately made him worthy of our attention.
A top prospect back when the youth movement was still in its infancy, Austin looked like the next big thing until a wrist injury sapped his him of his strength and made him look helpless. He was removed from the 40-man roster last season and it didn’t seem like we would be hearing much from Tyler Austin anytime soon.
To his credit, even when most had forgotten him, Austin pushed his way back into the picture. He started the season in Double-A for the fourth year in a row, where he managed to hit an adequate .260/.367/.395. In June he received a promotion back up to Scranton and became someone to watch again. Austin hit .323/.415/.637 with 13 home runs, but still needed to wait his turn.
Following the trade deadline sale and release of Alex Rodriguez, Austin finally received his long-awaited call up alongside Aaron Judge. The two quickly managed to make history as the first rookies to hit back-to-back home runs in their first plate appearances. Before anyone knew it, Tyler Austin was heading to Cooperstown and hype came along with it.
Now considered a future star by some, he was lumped in with top talent like Aaron Judge. Unfortunately, nothing went as planned in the first month as he only managed to hit .167/.189/.250 in August. It seemed like his career had peaked just as it was getting started, and as promising as his debut was, this was his true talent level. However, come September, Austin’s bat came to life and he finished with a .304/.385/.630 batting line the rest of the way.
He only managed to hit five home runs in his time with the Yankees, but he made them count. Four of them came when the game was either tied or the Yankees were behind, helping to bring the team back into the game. In the last month of the season, he hit a game-tying home runs, two go-ahead home runs, and had a walk-off against the Rays.
It wasn’t all great for him, though, as he proved why he probably won’t be an everyday player going forward. His strikeout rate approached 40% in his short exposure to MLB pitching, and he struggled mightily against right-handed pitching. It could all be a product of a small sample size, but as a right-handed hitter with minimal power, Austin might ultimately end up as a platoon bat.
That’s not a bad thing, though, because this team still needs role players who can contribute when they are needed. Austin has excellent opposite field power, which will help him succeed in Yankee Stadium. He also did an admirable job at first base, given all the uncertainty around the position this season. He was no Mark Teixeira (who is?), but he looked comfortable out there and managed to make a few impressive plays of his own.
Greg Bird will return in 2017, but Austin proved to be an adequate backup ready to contribute whenever he’s needed. He can also play the outfield and, with his help, maybe the Yankees won’t be completely useless against left-handed pitching next year.
Earlier this year, there was a lot of talk about Domingo Acevedo potentially being a breakout player in the Yankees' system. It wasn't hard to see why, even before farm director Gary Denbo mentioned that he could move quickly.
A starter whose fastball rises into the low-100s at its best and pairs with a nice changeup and developing slider, Acevedo has the makings of an ace. While some evaluators were more bearish on him, Baseball America ranked him number five in the Yankees’ system entering 2016, better than any starter except 2015’s top draft pick, James Kaprielian. Acevedo is a little older than most prospects since he didn't play baseball until he was 16 and was not signed until 19, but the right-hander should not be overlooked (at 6'7", it's hard to do that anyway).
That was a lot of hype for a man who had one start above short-season ball prior to 2016. Outside of Acevedo's health, the results ended up being pretty good. He flat-out dominated in Low-A Charleston over eight starts with a 1.90 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 48 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings.
That success led to a June promotion to High-A Tampa, where he continued to pitch well despite a few more hits and walks here and there. The final product was a 3.22 ERA, a 9.7 K/9, and a 1.27 WHIP in 10 starts. The Yankees liked it enough to make plans to promote him again to Double-A Trenton in early August.
Unfortunately, those plans could not materialize due to the only major bugaboo of Acevedo's 2016. He was able to make 18 starts, but he still missed a decent chunk of time, hitting the DL on three separate occasions. Back with Charleston, he missed a month due to a lower-body injury, and after consistently making starts for two months as he was promoted, he returned to the DL in early August with a back issue. He missed two weeks, returned for one more start, and then was shut down again, albeit close to his innings limit (he had never thrown more than 50 innings in a season before due to short-season ball and another injury).
While it would have been nice to see Acevedo get a chance at Double-A hitters if not for the injuries, he should receive that shot early next year. He just has to keep his health, which granted will probably never be too easy given his big body. At the very least, his big body means that he has a lot of power in the tank to propel those pitches.
It’s possible that the combination of injuries and up-and-down command despite fine control could make him a reliever in the end, but the Yankees have good reason to really like what Acevedo brings to the table. Keep an eye on him in 2017.
The Rule 5 Draft occurs in the offseason, but there are times when it dictates in-season decisions. Interesting prospects deserving of a call-up remain stuck in the minors because of their eligibility. If they don’t need to be protected in the coming offseason, sometimes there’s no point in bringing them up. That’s where Jonathan Holder found himself this season.
This year, those eligible in the draft were taken out of high school in 2012 or college in 2013. For international guys, it usually makes sense to consider them like high school players. Holder put together an impressive season in 2016, but because he was drafted out of college in 2014, he still had another year before he needed to be added to the 40-man roster. Despite his success, the Yankees debated over whether or not it was worth it to call him up this year. They ultimately chose to promote him, but he struggled in the little playing time he got. Was the decision a mistake?
A reliever in college, Holder was given a chance to start when he made the transition to professional ball. It worked out well for him before he was moved back into the bullpen this season and given a chance to move quickly through the system. He pitched to a 2.20 ERA in Trenton before getting the call to Scranton in July and pitching to a 0.89 ERA. He accumulated 101 strikeouts through the end of August before he was considered for a call-up.
The major-league bullpen had been in a constant state of flux all season long. Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances made the back end of the bullpen unhittable, but the middle relief group left much to be desired. The Yankees had sold at the deadline, but an August surge put them in playoff contention and they needed relievers who could actually get people out. Holder looked like he could be the guy, so they decided to make the call and give him a promotion, despite the Rule 5 implications.
Unfortunately for everyone involved he ultimately struggled in his short amount of time in the majors. Over just 8.1 sporadic innings, Holder had a 5.40 ERA and 4.94 FIP with troubling peripherals that included a 5.4 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9. It was a small sample size, so it’s hard to evaluate him based on his performance, but it was obviously Not What You Want.
Normally, there wouldn’t be much to talk about here if it wasn’t for the Rule 5 Draft. By calling him up now, the Yankees used up a spot on the 40-man roster they could have used to spare one of their players from being drafted this year. Looking over the team’s 40-man roster, which currently stands at 39, the Yankees have just two spots that will open up when Eric Young’s and Mark Teixeira’s contract expire with the team.
I won’t try to guess who will and who won’t make the cut, but I have a hard time believing the Yankees will rid themselves of most of the guys above. On the surface, it looks like they might be stuck without much of a way to open up roster spots for the draft, making the Holder move look like a mistake in the end. Luckily, they don’t have many players they will need to protect this year. Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin would have been eligible, but they are already on the 40-man roster. Jorge Mateo, Jake Cave, and Miguel Andujar are probably easy choices, but the rest are up for debate.
The draft is usually used by teams to grab relievers and bench bats who can be stashed away for long periods of time without having to contribute regularly. Guys like Luis Torrens and Domingo Acevedo are too young and far away to be worth protecting, but that leaves players like Dietrich Enns, Giovanny Gallegos, Cale Coshow, Caleb Smith, and Kyle Higashioka in need of protection.
The Yankees won’t save all of them, and it’s likely many of them don’t get picked up in the end, but putting Holder on the roster now might have cost them a spot to save someone like Dietrich Enns or Kyle Higashioka, who most teams could probably use over the course of a full season.
In the end, however, it might not matter all that much. Holder’s spot could have gone to someone like Gallegos this winter, but if the Yankees don’t think he’s a better pitcher or even worth protecting in the end, it’s probably better that they gave someone like Holder some experience. Roster management for the Rule 5 Draft is probably not the most crucial part of a season, so I doubt that giving Holder some extra time will cost the Yankees anyone vital to the future of the organization. They didn’t lose anyone for good last year, and they probably don’t have to worry much this year.
DBC (New York, NY): Hi Michael. I was surprised to see no Yankees on the list. Did Nick Solak, Freicer Perez and others get serious consideration? Michael Lananna: Yes, both Solak and Perez were considered, and they both just missed the cut. Solak’s ability to make contact, coupled with his speed, gives him the chance to be a productive player. However, scouts question his power and his defense. He doesn’t have the type of swing or size conducive to over-the-fence power, and he’s a fringe-average defender at second base whose power wouldn’t play in the corner outfield. His ceiling is directly tied to how much he hits. Those questions kept him off the list. Perez, on the other hand, is a big body with a big fastball, and the numbers look good (7-3, 3.23, 68 K in 69.2 IP), but he’s got work to do on his breaking ball. His long arm action leads to inconsistency with the pitch. At times he’ll throw a good slider, but it still doesn’t have the consistent bite or power you look for. Though he’s starting now, he has a reliever profile.
JKM (Scranton): Is Timmy Robinson a legit prospect? Michael Lananna: He’s a prospect but not an overly exciting one. He’s got some power and athleticism, but there are holes in his swing and a tendency to swing and miss. He probably has fourth outfielder ceiling.
Grant (NYC): How did Chris Gittens rate, according to your sources? Loved the power - could he be a fast riser? J.J. Cooper: The power was impressive. It’s legit plus raw and productive power, but it’s hard to call him a fast riser. He was a 2-year GCL guy out of a junior college, so he was a little old for the league. He has power, but in a big league like this he wasn’t among the just-missed list. Josh Naylor, Jose Pujols both would have made it as power-first guys before Gittens.
Marcus (New York): Not saying they belong on the list, but was there any buzz around Riverdogs like Park, Holder, or Gittens? J.J. Cooper: Everyone loved Holder’s defense. It earned plus grades from almost everyone I talked to about him, but there are serious questions about how much he’s going to hit. Park impressed more as a more well-rounded prospect. He’s a potentially above-average defender with above-average speed and more offensive potential. We talked about Gittens above. Big power, but tough profile (first base) and he’s a little old for the league.
Bobby (Chicago): How close did Dillion Tate come making the list J.J. Cooper: Not all that close. That was a terrible year for a top five pick. Tate’s stuff backed up dramatically–he was pitching in the high 80s at time. The Rangers decided to sell low by trading him away just 13 months after they picked him with the fourth pick in the draft. Tate’s stuff was a little better in August with Charleston, but right now he looks more like a potential reliever than the front-line starter that scouts hoped to see coming out of the draft.
Jimmy (NYC): How come Luis Torrens did not make the list and where would Acevedo be ranked if he stayed in the league J.J. Cooper: Torrens is working his way back from a very serious injury and showed the rust that comes with that. He didn’t do enough to really stand out. Acevedo would have been top 5-6. A 97-100 mph fastball with a quality changeup is pretty impressive.
On expectations Girardi had for the kids going into 2016: “I was pretty convinced in my mind that (Gary) Sanchez would help us at some point this year. When you look at Aaron (Judge), I thought he had a possibility of helping. I was not sure about Tyler (Austin) just because — the year before was pretty good — he had some physical issues. He was making a position change. But I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s adapted to first base. I hope he’s going to continue to get better. He works really hard and he’s done some things that at times I’ve been surprised what he’s done for us.”
Do you have to manage kids differently than veterans? “You manage every group somewhat different because they’re different types of players, but yes. I mean, obviously with (veterans) they’ve been through a lot … You have a history of how they handle those experiences and maybe those slumps. You’re not sure how (young players are) going to react and what they are capable of being, the situation, how they’re going to handle it. But again, you manage differently depending on their strengths and weaknesses.”
Who is Girardi looking forward to seeing in 2017? “(I’m) most excited to see some guys that I haven’t seen a lot of. I’m not sure who’s going to be in my 40-man roster either … There are some guys I haven’t seen because of the trades we’ve made. And next year could be an interesting Spring Training as a WBC year.”
On expectations for Gary Sanchez next year: “My hope is the expectations aren’t so large that no matter what he does, he can’t reach those expectations. But I think you can expect a talented player and a good player to go out there and improve.”
The expectations for Sanchez next season will be interesting. Interesting and scary. The kid hit like Babe Ruth for three weeks, and as good as Gary is, it’s completely unrealistic to expect him to do that again. Expectations for Luis Severino got out of control last season. I don’t think that contributed to his poor season, but a lot of fans set themselves up for disappointment by expecting an instant ace.
Hopefully Sanchez can be a middle of the order bat next season. I’m sure the Yankees will count on him to be exactly that. But asking him to be one of the best hitters on the planet again, especially across a full season, is not fair at this point. The learning curve for catchers can be steep. Sanchez hitting, say, .270/.320/.450 with 25 homers in 2017 would make him one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. I also feel like many folks would consider that a disappointment.