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December 31, 2006

by Fabian

Mark Melancon, RHP, 21
Previously Ranked:
What Others Say:
Pinstripes Plus N/R, Baseball America 9th, John Sickels 13th (C+)

Physical Ability: Mark Melancon is, by most accounts, is the leading in-house candidate to replace Mariano Rivera. This title falls on Melancon’s shoulders because of his low to mid 90s fastball and 12-to-6 curveball. Some impressive movement accompanies the impressive fastball velocity. This allows Melancon to attach any part of the strike zone. Melancon also has solid command and control of both pitches. In addition to those two standout offerings, Melancon has dabbled with a sinking fastball as well as a change-up. Neither has proven to be a quality offering at this point.

What Happened in ’06: Despite being the top-ranked draft eligible reliever prior to the opening of the college baseball season, Melancon fell to the Yankees. The reason for his draft day drop was concern about the health of his elbow. Melancon’s violent delivery did not help matters. In the end, these concerns proved to be valid as Melancon had to undergo Tommy John surgery following his exit from the Hawaiian Baseball League. Prior to going under the knife, Melancon was a late season addition for the NYPL champion Staten Island Yankees. He seemed to be working off the rust during his regular season appearances, as he was lights out during the postseason.

What Lies Ahead: Tommy John surgery is not much of a concern these days, so I’m not worried about Melancon undergoing the procedure. Furthermore, Melancon has been widely lauded for his makeup, which increases my faith in his being able to successfully complete the rehabilitation process. Melancon should be expected back for the 2008 season and depending on how well he adjusts, he may even see big league playing time that very year.

Grade: Melancon has the mixture of outstanding stuff and excellent makeup that allows the future closer talk to seem reasonable. While he may be an afterthought for this upcoming season, he figures to play a big role for the Yankee organization in 2008. C+

Austin Jackson #13

December 29, 2006

by Fabian

Austin Jackson, CF, 19
Previously Ranked:
9th prior to 2006
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 17th, Baseball America N/A, John Sickels N/R

Physical Ability: A former Division I basketball recruit, Austin Jackson is one of the best athletes in the Yankee farm system. He stands 6’1’’ and weighs 185 pounds. Despite his amateur background, some doubts were raised about Jackson’s athleticism in regards to his play in centerfield. I feel that this should have been viewed as more an issue of him learning the nuances of his position than an indictment of his physical talent. Jackson is a 4.5 tool player with power being his worst projected tool. The best-case scenario for him in that department seems to be about 20 home runs.

What Happened in ’06: Austin played the entire 2006 season with the Charleston Riverdogs of the South Atlantic League. He got off to a hot start with an April OPS of .824 and was mediocre at best for the rest of the year. However, that hot start as well as his physical talent was enough for him to be selected to the league’s All Star Game. With 2006 being the first year that Jackson would focus solely on baseball, I expected him to struggle at the plate. With a .686 OPS on the year, it is clear that Jackson did struggle. While Jackson was adept at working the count, he struggled with making contact with good breaking balls late in the count. In addition, Jackson struggled with driving the ball consistently. Coupled with his aforementioned breaking ball issue this meant that Jackson was often in front of good breaking balls, pulling them to the SS or behind good fastballs and fisting them to the opposite field. Both situations made for easy outs. When Jackson did hit the ball correctly, he peppered line drives to all fields. Defensively, Jackson was rough around the edges. I’m going to chalk this up as the product of getting used to being the captain of the outfield along with some combination of Tim Battle, Jose Tabata, Estee Harris, James Cooper, Wilkins De La Rosa flanking you. That is, unlike your typical CF, Jackson had to deal with guys who could go get the ball. On the basepaths, Jackson was solid with 37 steals in 49 attempts.

What Lies Ahead: I wouldn’t mind Jackson opening the year back with Charleston, but it seems more likely that he will be with the Tampa Yankees. Either way, I am hopeful for Jackson’s chances to improve on his prospect status. Since power is not a big part of Jackson’s game at this point I don’t expect him to get as mentally ravaged by the FSL playing conditions as other hitters. Hopefully, this will lead to better statistical performance. In addition, if he can stay back on those breaking balls…he could hit .300 with 50+ steals for the year.

Grade: The Yankee farm system consists almost entirely of RHP. Amidst that ocean of pitching talent, Jackson is one of the few position players that matter. If everything works out for him, you’ve got Derek Jeter offensive performance with good defensive play in CF. If not, you may still have a 4th or 5th outfielder. The strikeouts in 2006 were scary, but I have a good feeling about Jackson and the way he plays the game, so hopefully he will prove me right in 2007. C+

Darrell Rasner #14

Extremely Early Projections
by SG

As we sit around waiting for a Randy Johnson trade that may come as soon as next week, I thought it'd be interesting to see where everyone projects now that Barry Zito's signed. So I took the CHONE projections I've mentioned here and ran them through Diamond Mind baseball 100 times, and here are the results. It's still way to soon to draw anything super meaningful from these.

W - Wins
L - Losses
RF - Runs For
RA - Runs Against
Div - Division titles out of 100 seasons
WC - Wild cards out of 100 seasons

Hmm, interesting to see the Yankees projecting as the best team in baseball, with Randy Johnson. We'll see how things look after a Johnson trade and the rest of the filling out of the rosters around baseball. That San Francisco projection shocked the hell out of me. They may regret that Zito signing in a few years, but for now it seems to have helped them become contenders. It looks like the Mets may regret not going the extra mile on Barry next year.

Like I said, there's still a lot of flux to come with the rosters. I will be running a larger set of these with a few different projection systems in February or March to get a hopefully better idea of how things are looking as we head into the season.

Make sure you scroll down and read Fabian's take on Darrell Rasner and the link he's provided to a couple of rotation studies too.

I'd also like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Unless you're a Red Sox fan.

Something To Think About
by Fabian

Click the post title to read Jeff Sackman's breakdown of just how good each spot in the rotation was in 2006. Based on his conclusions as well as the ZIPS projections for 2007, the Yankees current rotation lines up as 2 Number 1s (Mussina, The Big Useless), 3 Number 2s (Wang, Hughes, Pettitte), 2 Number 3s (Sanchez and Pavano). Just an interesting thing to think about as people fret about the state of the pitching staff. In addition, Jeff's follow-up piece can be found here.

EDIT: Another take on rotation analysis

December 28, 2006

by Fabian

Darrell Rasner, RHP, 25
Previously Ranked:
20th prior to 2006
What Others Say:
Pinstripes Plus N/R, Baseball America N/A, John Sickels 12th (C+)

Physical Ability:
Darrell Rasner is a 6’3’’ 210 pound right-handed pitcher. Rasner arrived in the Yankee organization as a gift from Jim Bowden. Since being drafted, Rasner’s velocity has declined and he currently works around 88-90 with the fastball. Rasner is able to keep his fastball low and generate his fair share of groundballs. In addition, while his overall repertoire can be described as mediocre, Rasner has the makings of a solid curveball. Unfortunately, he rolls the pitch more often than you would like, resulting in hard hit line drives and fly ball.

What Happened in ’06: Rasner began the year with Columbus and had a pretty ERA. His peripherals indicate that he was a bit lucky in this regard, but nevertheless he was able to work in some MLB time as a result of that performance. Unfortunately, immediately after he was first called up he got injured. After his second call-up, Jeff Karstens caught fire and got the bulk of the swingman innings, limiting Rasner’s major league exposure.

What Lies Ahead:
Rasner is a virtual lock to begin 2007 back in AAA. There he will serve as part of the Injured Reserve™ alongside Humberto Sanchez, Phil Hughes, Tyler Clippard, Jeff Karstens, and Steve White. Of the sextet, Rasner seems to best combine readiness and stuff. If called upon, expecting anything more than roughly league average pitching may be wishful thinking.

Rasner does not have much of a ceiling. If everything works out, you are most likely looking at a back of the rotation starter. That may seem negative, but the positive is that he is ready to contribute that type of production right now. In addition, if an organization is looking for someone to step in and immediately give them innings, Rasner is the type of guy you offer in a trade. Rasner is a poor man with an extra penny’s Jeff Karstens. C+

Jeff Karstens #15

December 27, 2006

NJ Star Ledger: Pitch for Johnson better from Padres
by SG

The San Diego Padres have made a more attractive offer for Randy Johnson than the Arizona Diamondbacks, but the Yankees will trade Johnson only if they consider it a good baseball move.

"Unless it's a deal (the Yankees) really want, there's not going to be a trade," said a baseball official familiar with the Yankees' plans, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of discussions.

The article speculates about Scott Linebrink as one of the pieces in the Padres' offer. I guess the Yankees want to carry an eight man bullpen. It also contains the outstanding news that Shea Hillenbrand is off the market.

December 26, 2006

Trading RJ
by SG

According to multiple stories, the Yankees are actively discussing trading Randy Johnson to a team in the West, with the Padres, Giants, and Diamondbacks the major teams in the discussions.

I'd be lying if I said I was a fan of Randy Johnson. I didn't like the trade that brought him here at the time, even with the subsequent disappointing performance of Javier Vazquez. The Yankees for whatever reason traded for the 41 year old Randy Johnson while expecting the 35 year old version, and it ended up costing them a chance to sign Carlos Beltran and Jorge Posada's possible replacement in Dioner Navarro, while not helping in their quest for another World Series. Thankfully Arizona didn't want Chien-Ming Wang or Robinson Cano when they were offered, or we'd really be cursing that trade.

With all that being said, Johnson still projects to be valuable in 2007 if he's healthy. Since he'd have to pass a physical to be traded, we can assume that will be the case to at least start the season.

Johnson had an odd year last year. His component ERA was in the 3.7 range, although his actual ERA was 5.00. This can be tied directly to his splits with runners on base versus runners not on base.

With no one on, batters hit .206/.271/.324 against Johnson, good for an OPS against of .595. However, once someone was on base, .321/.363/.564 for an OPS against of .927. That's basically the difference between Tony Womack and Albert Pujols.

Johnson exhibited similar splits in 2004 and 2005.

None on: .175/.215/.284 OPS .499
Runners on: .243/.294/.380 OPS .674

None on: .228/.282/.371 OPS .653
Runners on: .268/.304/.466 OPS .770

It's clear Johnson's effectiveness suffers from the stretch, although never to the extend that it did in 2006.

It's not as simple as saying Johnson was "unlucky" in 2006 and that he should improve in this area in 2007, because it's very possible that the physical limitations he dealt with (back and knee issues) are the reason for the struggles. Therefore, it's fair to question the likelihood of a rebound for Johnson based on his decent peripherals. That being said, here are some of the projections for Johnson heading into 2007, using Tango Tiger's Marcels, Sean Smith's CHONE, and Dan Szymborski's ZiPS.

The AL Average starter last year put up an ERA of 4.74, so the average of the three projections would make Johnson worth 16 runs above average. No, he's not an ace any more, but he is fine as a second or third starter, especially for a team like the Yankees who project pretty comfortably to be a 900+ run offense.

Trading Johnson puts the team in the position of having to rely on at least one of Carl Pavano(snicker), Darrell Rasner, or Jeff Karstens every fifth day, at least until one of the Phil Hughes/Humberto Sanchez duo is deemed ready to pitch in the bigs. That's potentially a two win downgrade over a full season.

If the Yankees can get something that strengthens them in another area, or that builds up their minor league depth while giving them salary relief, it still probably makes sense to move Johnson. That being said, he shouldn't just be given away, because he still has some value to the Yankees.

And ignore the nonsense about Barry Zito being in play if the Yankees move Johnson. It seems to be idle speculation made out of thin air with no basis in fact. However, it could mean a Roger Clemens return for the stretch run, which would seem to fit the Yankees' new MO with short-term contracts, much moreso than a six year deal to Barry Zito would.

December 25, 2006 Diamondbacks, Yankees talking Unit trade
by Fabian

I'm not a big Randy Johnson fan, no pun intended, so this excites me, no pun intended.

December 24, 2006

by Fabian

Jeff Karstens, RHP, 24
Previously Ranked: 17th prior to 2006, 17th prior to 2005
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 26th, Baseball America N/A, John Sickels N/R

Physical Ability: Jeff Karstens stands 6’3’’ and weighs in at about 175 pounds. He is a gangly right-handed hurler. Most Yankee fans should be familiar with him from his time with the big league club in 2006. For a refresher, he throws a fastball, curve, change, and slider. Karstens does not throw very hard, topping out at about 90, and his repertoire amounts to the definition of mediocrity. There’s no big breaking pitch or hard diving stuff here fellas.

What Happened in ’06: Jeff began the year with the Columbus Clippers, but was clobbered at AAA. Coaches/team scouts said it wasn’t due to a lack of stuff, but rather due to a lack of confidence. Having always been a mild fan of Karstens, I believed this explanation and was cautiously optimistic about his chance to bounce back. After working with wunderkind pitching coach, Dave Eiland, Karstens destroyed the EL and along with Phil Hughes and Tyler Clippard made summer trips to Trenton disastrous for Eastern League batters. Promoted back to AAA, Karstens continued to pitch well and ended his year as a semi-regular member of the big league rotation.

What Lies Ahead: Karstens will begin 2007 back at AAA. Exactly what his role will be remains to be seen because there are a ton of arms at that level. However, if/when anything happens to a big league long man or starter, given his 2006 performance, Karstens may be the first to get the call. I don’t expect him to do as well as he did at the level during his second trial there, but definitely better than he did in his first trial. He may also have some value in teaching Tyler Clippard, as he is somewhat of a poor man’s version of Clippard.

Grade: Jeff Karstens, for all intents and purposes, is what he was in his major league trial. Not the ERA, but the stuff. He’s not going to throw anything jaw-dropping and there are going to be occasions when you wonder how he isn’t getting creamed and some of those times he will then proceed to get creamed. So, don’t expect him to be posting lots of sub 4 ERAs in his career, but do expect him to be a decent long man or rotation stop gap. Despite lacking the sexy potential futures of some of the guys behind and ahead of him on this list, Karstens places this high because he has been to the big leagues and been effective, small sample size warnings and all, and he is a safe bet to return and be mediocre. Players like him eliminate the need for your team to trade for the Shawn Chacon’s of the world, which may help them keep the Ramon Ramirez’. At the same time, he is a guy you don’t hesitate to trade if a deal comes along. C+

Brett Gardner #16

December 23, 2006

by Fabian

Brett Gardner, CF, 23
Previously Ranked: 12th prior to 2006
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 10th, Baseball America 10th, John Sickels 11th (C+)

Physical Ability: Brett Gardner is a 5’10’’ 180 pound center fielder. He has a slight, but very muscled frame. As one might expect, he does not pack much pop in his swing. What he does have is a ton of speed. Gardner uses this speed to bunt for base hits, beat out groundballs, steals tons bases, and cover lots of ground in the outfield. In other words, he’s someone who seems to know his talents very well and utilize them. Gardner has an OK arm in the outfield and though he takes the occasional awkward route, he more than makes up for it with his aforementioned speed.

What Happened in ’06: Brett began the year playing CF for the Tampa Yankees and while just about all of his prospect teammates floundered, he was able to excel and earn a promotion to the Eastern League by June. Though he posted a very good AVG/OBP/SLG line in Tampa, it was a bit misleading as his BABIP was .416. In the last 3 major league seasons, the highest BABIP posted was .401 by Ichiro Suzuki in 2004. Needless to say, expecting Gardner to continue such success would be foolhardy. This was rectified in the Eastern League where his AVG/OBP/SLG dropped considerably as his BABIP dropped to .331. Given Gardner’s speed and proclivity for hitting the ball on the ground, such a number is much more reasonable and may even undersell his ability in this area. Brett’s last stop in a whirlwind season was the Arizona Fall League where he posted a .306 BABIP and low AVG/SLG numbers given the league he was in, but good OBP thanks to tons of walks. The common trend across all three levels for Gardner was that his offensive utility was largely dependent on his batting average, which is in turn hugely affected by BABIP. This is important because the more you strike out, the higher your average on balls in play is going to have to be to post a good batting average.

What Lies Ahead: As mentioned, Gardner is going to have to consistently post good BABIP to hold his value. To improve his chances of doing that, he’s going to have cut down on his strikeouts. While his strikeouts aren’t to the point where they are a glaring weakness there is work to be done there, and it presents a delicate situation. Gardner does not strike out due to lack of plate discipline, but rather because of perhaps too much discipline. He consistently works deep counts and waits for his pitch, but may have to attack earlier in the count to avoid strikeouts and their effect on his BABIP. I think it makes the most sense for him to begin the year back at Trenton and, you know, get his OPS over .700 at the least, but it seems that he may be starting in AAA. The shining light with that is that his approach is so advanced, it may affect him less than it would another prospect in the situation of being rushed.

Grade: If everything works out for Brett Gardner, he’s the player that many think Scott Podsednik is. Defensively, he’s rounding into shape, but can make the spectacular play on a regular basis due to his physical ability. Offensively, he is the definition of pest. It’s a truly enjoyable thing to watch him fluster minor league defenses by beating out base hits and successfully stealing on pitch outs. That said, I’m very concerned that things aren’t going to work out for him and that he is what he is, which right now is a defensive substitute and a pinch-runner. Gardner displayed just about no power during the minor league season as combined between Tampa, Trenton, and the AFL he only had 31 extra base hits. Given his speed, I would expect him to have collected more just off of the fact that anything in a gap or near a gap is an extra base hit for him. Unfortunately, a huge percentage of the balls he hits do not go much beyond the infield. So, despite the fact that he’s solid or better in the 5 tools, other than power, Gardner’s limitation in that department is so great that it potentially completely handicaps him. C+

George Kontos #17

December 22, 2006

by Fabian

George Kontos, RHP, 21
Previously Ranked: N/R
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 29th, Baseball America N/A, John Sickels 7th (B-)

Physical Ability: George Kontos is your prototypical current Yankee prospect. That means he’s big, 6’3’’ and 215 pounds, throws right-handed, and has a good fastball, regularly hitting anywhere from 90-94. In addition to that, and strange for a Yankee prospect given their organizational emphasis the past few years, Kontos also throws a pretty good slider. When not tossing a slider or a fastball, Kontos can be found fooling around with a curveball or a changeup. Scouts like Kontos’ stuff when he’s got consistent mechanics going. When he doesn’t do that he gives up walks and hits and is amongst the nation’s leaders in losses while playing for a good Northwestern team.

What Happened in ’06: As hinted, Kontos had a very poor college season prior to the Yankees drafting him in the 5th round. He played well in the previous year’s summer leagues so while it would have been nice for him to do something positive with his performance, scouts were able to surmise that he would likely improve against wood bats. The 2006 New York Penn-League would validate this belief as he turned out to be arguably the league’s best pitcher. Kontos piled up the strikeouts and had about twice as many groundballs as flyballs while limiting everything else. The only identifiable performance flaw he had as a professional was trouble with left-handed batters. This is a similar situation to Tim Norton in that it is the result of a lack of depth in his arsenal. Hopefully this will improve with experience.

What Lies Ahead: George Kontos seems like a good bet for the 2007 Tampa rotation where Tim Norton will once again join him. These two are very similar pitchers in terms of build and stuff, except you replace Kontos’ slider with Norton’s splitter. So, just like Norton and almost every other pitcher, I expect a good Florida State League performance. Another similarity between he and Norton is that there is some thought to placing him in the bullpen. Hopefully, that will be a last resort.

Grade: I like both Norton and Kontos. They are guys where, to this point, it seems the Yankee scouts really did their job, as neither had college track records that screamed “draft me”. I like Kontos just a bit more than Norton for three reasons. One, and this bears watching, he had a superior groundball rate. Two, he is about 2 years younger than Norton. Three, I feel that his secondary pitch, the slider, is more consistent than Norton’s though I believe Norton’s to be more devastating. Despite being a college product, Kontos is somewhat raw and will need to be consistent mechanically in 2007. If his walks are in check, he’ll be fine, if not…we’ll see. I feel that Kontos has the ceiling of a #2/3 type of pitcher, whether that will be reached remains to be seen. Even if he does struggle in that role, he has the type of stuff that allows for an easy switch to the bullpen and so there is some safety in him as a prospect. C+

Steven White #18

by SG

If the Yankees make the right one-year offer, Shea Hillenbrand is willing to listen. Until now the Yankees and other teams believed Hillenbrand was only interested in a multi-year deal. According to a friend, depending what a one-year offer looks like, Hillenbrand may be willing to take it.

The latest development makes Hillenbrand a lot more attractive to the Yankees, who have also engaged Doug Mientkiewicz and Mark Loretta to play first base. Mientkiewicz, a lefty swinger, is only interested in a one-year deal.

Let's hope the Yankees don't make the right one-year offer. Hillenbrand stinks.

December 20, 2006

by Fabian

Steven White, RHP, 25
Previously Ranked: 19th prior to 2006, 8th prior to 2005
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 20th, Baseball America N/A, John Sickels N/R

Physical Ability: Steven White is one of many big right-handed pitchers in the Yankee organization. The Baylor University product stands 6’5’’ and weighs in at 205 pounds. With his large frame comes a big fastball that regularly runs in around the low to mid 90s. While you wouldn’t call White a sinkerballer, per se, he does throw a heavy fastball. In addition to the fastball, White throws a serviceable curveball and a serviceable change-up. Neither pitch is consistent for him and both could use work, but for now they are enough to get by with.

What Happened in ’06: I criticized White prior to the season for not having lived up to his scouting reputation to that point of his career. White then essentially went out and made me look foolish, were the Yankee system not much deeper now than it was at the outset last year, his ranking would have shown as much. The first concern that White dealt with was the issue of scouts having always viewed him as an innings-eater despite his previous professional career high in innings being 117.1. This year he averaged over 6 innings a start in order to total 175.1 for the year. This total may have even been higher had he not struggled at times in AAA because unlike their other hurlers, the Yankees had no problem allowing White to go over 100 pitches. Given his age and frame, I have no issue with this strategy. The other issue White dealt with was his performance. All things considered, White performed well in 2006, striking out a decent amount of guys, keeping the ball on the ground and in the park. The one real fault in his overall game was that he still struggled with his control from time to time. By way of Yankee of interviews with Yankee officials courtesy of Pinstripes Plus, it seems this is more an issue of confidence than it is a physical problem. Corroborating that is that White’s walks in 2006 did seem to come in bunches.

What Lies Ahead: White’s Columbus ERA was not great, but some of that can be attributed to luck on balls in play (similar to how he wasn’t as good at Trenton as his ERA there would indicate). In addition, as has been established, his control DOES need to improve. The final concern in his game to be addressed would be that he struggles against left-handed batters. These struggles can be explained by the consistency he needs to develop with his secondary pitches. Lefty hitters are simply sitting fastball and ripping away, which is producing powerful results. White should begin 2007 in the Columbus rotation as one of many RHPs who could potentially be called up to help out the big league squad.

Grade: I am not a huge White fan. He has some glaring holes in his prospect status in terms of left-handed batters and walks. At the same time, thanks to a sexy fastball, if everything works out he could be a mid rotation workhorse, which I doubted much more last year than I do now. I’m not sure he has the repertoire to be able to fall back on a bullpen role like many other guys with big fastballs do, so he is somewhat of a boom or bust proposition. C+

Tim Norton #19

December 19, 2006

by Fabian

Tim Norton, RHP, 23
Previously Ranked: N/R
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 30th, Baseball America N/A, John Sickels 10th (B-)

Physical Ability: Standing 6’5’’ and weighing in at 230 pounds, Tim Norton has the ideal pitcher’s frame. His fastball is almost as impressive as that frame, regularly clocking in the low 90s and touching the mid 90s. It is a heavy sinking fastball that has to this point helped him put up big numbers against wood bats. In addition to that fastball Norton throws a splitter that is at times an average, get me over, pitch and at others a strikeout weapon. The rest of his repertoire is very underdeveloped. He has been playing baseball in cold weather states and only picked the game up in 8th grade. He has no changeup to speak of really and from time to time he tries to mix a slider in, but it’s no good either.

What Happened in ’06: The Yankees drafted Norton in the 7th round to little fanfare. While he had demonstrated a great fastball there were concerns about him in regards to what he possessed beyond that. Apparently for New York Penn League batters, the fastball was enough. Actually, that’s not entirely fair, as his splitter did come along a bit as well. Overall, Norton was just completely dominant. He performed well against left and right-handed batters, striking out tons of guys and keeping the ball on the ground.

What Lies Ahead: Most people would consider me to be an age relative to league Nazi. In that sense, it’s surprising that I have Norton rated as highly as I do. However, when it comes to pitching prospects, I also love strikeouts and groundballs and Norton gets lots of those. I’m also hoping that he’ll be able to move quickly through the system because it’s not as though he is old due to having been stuck in the system for some time. Finally, there’s also the matter that he shouldn’t be viewed in the light of your average 23-year-old pitcher because, as previously noted, he started late. Norton should begin 2007 in the Tampa rotation where I expect him to do very well given his stuff and performance to date.

Grade: Despite the fact that he was just drafted this year, I have a good feeling about Norton’s chances of making it to the majors. His role in the majors is still very much up in the air as he really only has one pitch at the moment. However, all it takes is one great pitch and one serviceable pitch to be at least a solid reliever. Furthermore, if the splitter comes along even more, Norton may be able to make it as a starter. As a starter his ceiling would be a middle of the rotation innings-eater. Another factor that makes Norton an appealing pitcher for me is that his one great pitch is a sinking fastball, which seems to be a great pitch for those of limited repertoire. C+

Christian Garcia #20

December 18, 2006

NY Times: Yanks May Deal Cabrera; Igawa Contract Is Close
by SG

The Yankees are in discussions with the Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates about a three-way deal that would send outfielder Melky Cabrera to the Braves from the Yankees, reliever Mike Gonzalez to the Yankees from the Pirates, and first baseman Adam LaRoche to the Pirates from the Braves, according to a baseball official.

The official, who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss trade possibilities publicly, also said that the Yankees were close to completing a five-year, $20 million deal with the Japanese pitcher Kei Igawa. The deal is likely to be completed tomorrow and is pending a physical

A possible Cabrera/Laroche/Gonzalez trade was a hot topic over the weekend, but seems to have cooled down quite a bit. While I'd hate to see Melky go, Gonzalez is a potentially great setup man, especially if he can recover his control to go with his mid 90s fastball.

If the Igawa deal is correct, the Yankees will have paid $46 million for 5 years. I guess he can't be worse than Carl Pavano, right?

Update: Regarding Melky and what his potential is, I noticed that his Baseball Reference Page did not have his list of similar players. However, I used their methodology to figure them out, and here's a list.

Gregg Jefferies 1989 (868)
Luis Rivas 2001 (861)
Adrian Beltre 2000 (844)
Wil Cordero (829)
Alan Trammel 1979 (823)
Harold Baines 1980 (821)
Mike Caruso 1998 (818)
Gary Sheffield 1990 (818)
Ivan Rodriguez 1993 (811)
Ozzie Guillen 1985 (804)

I guess he could end up being really good, or really bad.

Update 2: Igawa, Yanks reach 5-year deal.

The New York Yankees and Kei Igawa both played second fiddle in the posting sweepstakes. Igawa, though, got a first-rate deal it was learned on Monday, agreeing to a five-year, 20 million dollars contract with the Bronx Bombers.

The Yanks earned the right to negotiate with Igawa in late November and wasted little time getting the southpaw in pinstripes.

The deal for the 27-year-old, who was 14-9 this past season with a 2.97 ERA for the Hanshin Tigers, also includes incentives.

Negotiations were smooth thanks Igawa's agent, Arn Tellem, who has strong ties with the Yankees. Talks opened on Nov. 29 and Tellem made it clear that Igawa wanted a long-term deal.

The Yanks, who earned negotiating rights with a bid of a little more than 26 million dollars, thought highly of the Hanshin ace and both sides were determined to hammer out a deal before the 30-day negotiating deadline.

December 15, 2006

2007 Yankee Projections: CHONE
by SG

Yesterday I referenced projections from the Anaheim Angels all the Way blog, where Sean Smith has developed his own projection system, called CHONE (Comprehensive Holistic Objective Numerical Estimations). Here's how the Yankees project using this system in 2007.

First up, the position players.

And the pitching...

Projection systems are far from gospel, so make of these what you will. Projections for minor leaguers are based on what they may be expected to do in the majors in 2007. So apparently Phil Hughes projects to be the fourth best Yankee pitcher already.

Also, to save some of you the trouble of typing, I agree, Mariano's projection is ridiculous. He cannot be projected, because he does not fit into the group of normal human beings.

I'll be using these projections as part of my Diamond Mind simulations as spring training approaches.

December 14, 2006

Who's On First?
by SG

Right now the Yankees' roster is apparently short at a position that is traditionally the biggest offensive position in baseball. They have Andy Phillips and drafted Josh Phelps in the Rule 5 draft, but neither one is particularly inspiring. The Yankees have been linked to free agents Doug Mientkiewicz, Shea Hillenbrand, Eduardo Perez, and Craig Wilson. There have also been rumors about the availability of Richie Sexson in trade. One other name I haven't seen mentioned but who is available is Matt Lecroy.

None of these choices really seem all that appealing, but we can try and compare them based on how they project heading into 2007. To do this, I'm going to use the newest kid on the projection block, CHONE, by Sean Smith who runs the great sabermetric blog Anaheim Angels all the way. Smith's one of the guys who got me into zone rating for analyzing defense and does a lot of other interesting work.

So, using Smith's projections for offense and defense, here's how the people listed above compare for 2007.

In the table above, def is the player's projected defensive value in 2007. lw/600 is runs above/below average using linear weights and the projected numbers above for 600 plate appearances.

Richie Sexson's the best projected player going forward, but he'd also be the most expensive to acquire in terms of salary and talent. It's interesting to see that Andy Phillips still projects as the second best option despite his terrible season last year on offense. A lot of that is based on his solid minor league track record, but I don't have much confidence in him matching that projection after watching Phillips hit last year. While I think translating minor league numbers is useful in many cases, it has limitations and someone like Phillips may be an example of those limitations.

It seems that Doug Mientkiewicz would be the best free agent option available, as he makes up for a lackluster -7 offensive projection with +5 defense, which would net out at -2, which is close enough to average. I've been championing Craig Wilson due to his ability to balance out a heavily left-handed lineup, but overall he would project to be about as valuable as Mientkiewicz. Full season numbers in a case like this need to be tempered with the platoon difference in mind. If Wilson makes the Yankees worse overall but better in games started by left-handers, it may change what appears to be a similar full-season contribution, but I have no easy way of quantifying that.

Wilson didn't do much to impress the Yankees during his brief stint in the Bronx, and is supposedly looking for a long-term deal, so I'm not sure he's much of an option.

A little worse than the Phillips/Mientkiewicz/Wilson triumverate is the Matt Lecroy, Eduardo Perez, Josh Phelps, and Shea Hillenbrand group. None are very good defensively by the numbers. Perez and/or Phelps may have some use as lefty mashers who don't see a lot of defensive time. Lecroy is an average hitter but a pretty bad defender, and Shea Hillenbrand brings little to the table as far as I can see on either offense or defense.

So there you have it. A bunch of options, none of whom are that good. It doesn't seem that it matters much whether it's Mientkiewicz, Wilson, Phillips, Phelps or some combination of them. If only the Yankees could get Albert Pujols, who projects at +65 on offense+defense.

December 13, 2006 - Non-tender list
by SG

28 players were non-tendered yesterday according to MLB.

The 28 players who became free agents when their teams did not offer 2007 contracts before Tuesday's midnight EST deadline:

American League
Angels: Jason Bulger, RHP.
A's: Jerome Williams, RHP.
Mariners: Joel Pineiro, RHP.
Orioles: David Newman, OF; Aaron Rakers, RHP; Todd Williams, RHP.
Rangers: Mike Wood, RHP.
Rays: Damon Hollins, OF.
Royals: Scott Dohmann, RHP; Brandon Duckworth, RHP.
Tigers: Alexis Gomez, OF.
Twins: Luis Rodriguez, INF; Willie Eyre, RHP.
White Sox: Eduardo Sierra, RHP.
Yankees: Aaron Guiel, OF.

National League
Braves: Marcus Giles, 2B; Chris Reitsma, RHP.
Cardinals: Rick Ankiel, OF; Jorge Sosa, RHP.
Cubs: Jose Reyes, C; Adam Harben, RHP.
Dodgers: Toby Hall, C; Jayson Werth, OF.
Mets: Victor Zambrano, RHP.
Padres: Jon Knott, OF.
Reds: Brandon Claussen, LHP; Miguel Perez, C.
Rockies: Chin-hui Tsao, RHP

I am a bit surprised to see Aaron Guiel dumped, but it's not really a big deal. The intriguing name on there for me is Toby Hall. It seems like he'd be a perfect fit as the Yankees' backup catcher.

December 12, 2006

by SG

Is there anything the Red Sox and Yankees won't fight over? Now it's Pirates lefty reliever Mike Gonzalez.

While the Red Sox are engaged in the high stakes Daisuke Matsuzaka negotiations that have to be completed by midnight Thursday, they are trying to upgrade a bullpen that needs a closer since Jonathan Papelbon is being viewed as a starter.

The Yankees, who have tried countless ways to get a dependable arm in front of Mariano Rivera since Jeff Nelson's and Mike Stanton's first tour of The Bronx, believe Gonzalez could be the guy.

Gonzalez would be a pretty good pickup if the price is right. Thanks to J for the link.

December 11, 2006

ESPN: Outfielder-first baseman signs with Yankees
by SG

The New York Yankees signed Cuban prospect Juan Miranda to a four-year contract worth $2 million, the player told

The deal, which includes a signing bonus of $500,000, is a major league contract and requires the Yankees to place the outfielder-first baseman on their 40-man roster.

The signing was confirmed by a Yankees official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

I've never heard of Miranda, so I can't give you much information about him besides the fact that he's 23 years old in Cuban years. I'll scour the net for more information. At the very least he fills a position of need.

Here are Miranda's career stats in the Cuban league.

AB: 1138
H: 343
2B: 70
3B: 14
HR: 57
RBI: 205
BB: 197
K: 242
AVG: .301
OBP: .404
SLG: .538

December 10, 2006

by Fabian

Christian Garcia, RHP, 21
Previously Ranked: 5th prior to 2006, 12th prior to 2005
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 8th, Baseball America 6th, John Sickels 8th (B-)

Physical Ability: Garcia is often lauded as the most physically talented of the Yankee farm pitchers. I was one of the persons on this bandwagon. When healthy and focused, Garcia deals a mid 90s fastball, with the potential for upper 90s, as well as an outstanding curveball. His changeup was said to have come along this season due to time he spent working on it while hurt. That last word is the key when looking at Garcia.

What Happened in ’06: Garcia began the year hurt and the initial word was that he would be out a very short period of time and would then drop into Phil Hughes’ soon to be vacated slot in the Tampa rotation. Hughes was promoted and Garcia was still nowhere to be found. The Yankees are typically very secretive on player injuries, but eventually it came out that Garcia’s slight oblique injury, something the Yankees are very cautious about with pitchers, had caused him to have a bit of arm soreness. When he finally returned to the mound, Garcia was in the GCL for a short while, where he had his version of Spring Training, and then returned to the SAL. Garcia performed much better than he had at the level in ’05, due in large part to throwing more strikes. When it was all said and done he had compiled a 4:1 GB:FB ratio as well as struck out 25.7% of the hitters he faced. Garcia was then sent to the HBL for some winter fine-tuning where he was expected to continue to dominate, but ended up giving up lots of walks and runs. Garcia ran into a bit of bad luck with his defense, as did many of the other Yankee HBL hurlers, but the BB problem would soon be identified.

What Lies Ahead: The source of Christian Garcia’s problem was fixed with elbow surgery. While Garcia was healthy for his short stint in the Yankee system in 2004, he has battled injury the past two years, with this latest one obviously being the greatest blow. While elbow surgery is not nearly the concern it was years ago, and for many prospects wouldn’t be seen as a huge blow, I consider it to be the case with Christian Garcia. Prior to the word coming out on his surgery, I had him ranked in my Top 10, which was the standard for him at the time, but I had to drop him a lot since then. The consistent injuries are concern enough, but coupled with questions about his makeup, I’m leery of his chances at making it back and fulfilling his potential. There were some in the Yankee organization that prior to this year felt Garcia would not live up to his talent due to not having the dedication to do so and he apparently did little to quell those fears this year whether it was during the rehab, the regular season, or winter league. I would not expect him to pitch in 2007, except for perhaps a return to the HBL, assuming dedication and good luck in the recovery process. We’ll see how that goes.

Grade: On a rate basis, Garcia’s 2006 was dominating. Lots of groundballs, lots of strikeouts, just the way I like it. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to compile the impressive counting numbers due to injury. Even more unfortunately, he still has makeup concerns to answer. I like Garcia’s potential. Lesser Homer Bailey like his potential. Unfortunately, there seem to be too many questions piling up about him, but based off of his physical talent, he must be kept on the list. C+

Zach McAllister #21

December 8, 2006

ESPN: Pettitte returns to Yankees with one-year deal
by SG

Many thought Andy Pettitte should have never left New York. It looks like that issue has been rectified.

The left-hander and the Yankees have reached an agreement on a one-year deal with an option, sources close to the negotiations told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney on Friday.

Pettitte decided Wednesday that he would pitch next year rather than retire, a move that will set off negotiations with his hometown Houston Astros and the Yankees.

Good news for most Yankee fans.

Update: I've been working on my AL->NL conversion based on some feedback from readers. I took a look at all pitchers who switched leagues and compared their AL/NL totals. Using this information applied to Pettitte's ZiPS, I get the following projection for 2007.

That line compares very closely to Jose Contreras's 2006, which I ranked as the 21st most valuable season by an AL starter, and would make Pettitte worth about 1.5-2 wins better than average. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Pettitte outperform it, if he can stay healthy. - Villone declines Yanks' arbitration offer
by SG

Ron Villone declined the Yankees' arbitration offer Thursday, leaving the left-hander available on the free-agent market.

Villone, who returned Thursday from a 12-day vacation in Italy, spoke with his agent, Scott Boras, before making his decision. Villone has drawn interest from five or six teams, several of which may be willing to give the reliever a two-year contract.

I wouldn't mind bringing Villone back for one year, but if he can get a better offer somewhere the Yankees get a sandwich pick in the draft. That's good, but it then puts them in a position where they're going to need to get a second lefty for the pen, unless they think Sean Henn can do the job (which I think is pretty unlikely).

No news on Andy Pettitte, or the exciting hunt for a backup catcher and utility infielder. The Yankees did make some news when they selected Josh Phelps in the Rule 5 draft. Phelps had a solid season in AAA Toledo this year, hitting .308/.370/.532. His ZiPS projection for 2007 is .279/.338/.486. Unfortunately, Phelps is a butcher with the glove. He's played only 31 games at 1B in his career, and has a career zone rating of .744. That is actually better than Jason Giambi's .722 last year, but would equate to about a -18 over a full season. He probably doesn't replace Andy Phillips on the roster, but he could be useful as a backup DH against lefties and an occasional game at 1B. He does have a background as a catcher, although he hasn't played there in years so that's probably not a viable option for him either.

One interesting name did pop up yesterday as a potential backup catcher. Jim Leyritz is talking about making a comeback. He'll be 42 and hasn't played in six years. In this market that's probably worth $4 million.

December 7, 2006

NY Times: Yanks Appear Closer to Signing Pettitte
by SG

The Yankees’ solution for their immediate future may come from their recent past. Andy Pettitte is committed to pitching again, and Roger Clemens could eventually join him for a reunion with the Yankees.


The Astros would like to bring back Pettitte for one year and $12 million. But the Yankees are prepared to offer him $15 million for one season and would consider making a two-year offer if Pettitte wants it. Pettitte may also prefer a one-year contract with a player option for a second year.

The agent Randy Hendricks did not elaborate on Pettitte’s thought process. But he did confirm Wednesday that Pettitte, 34, would not retire. “Andy has decided to play,” Hendricks said in an e-mail message.

I'm fully onboard with a possible Pettitte signing now. Pettitte's ZiPS projection for Houston:

Andy Pettitte 35 3.94 13 11 32 31 194.0 195 85 22 56 154

Add about a half run for the move from the NL to the AL based on research by Nate Silver, and you're looking at about 200 innings of a 4.44 ERA. The average AL starter in 2006 put up an ERA of 4.74, that would make Pettitte worth about six runs above the average starter. Add in the fact that he'd be a short-term contract of one or two years, and it seems like a perfect fit.

Update:Yankees pick Josh Phelps in the Rule 5 draft

Yankees selected first baseman Josh Phelps from the Orioles in Thursday's Rule 5 draft.

Phelps, 28, was signed to a minor league deal by the Orioles last month. The former Blue Jay hit .308/.370/.532 with 24 homers in 464 at-bats for Triple-A Toledo last season. He'd make sense for a team with a left-handed-hitting platoon guy at first base or DH, but the Yankees aren't there yet. Phelps' defense is pretty rough, so even though he could surprise with the bat, we're skeptical he'll get a chance to win the starting job at first base.

Phelps is a butcher defensively, but there's definitely some offensive upside in his bat. He'd probably be a good option to rest Giambi against tough lefties at the very least.

December 6, 2006

by SG

While the Yankees met with Shea Hillenbrand's agent yesterday, another option at first base surfaced. And while Richie Sexson is an expensive alternative, it could be one for the Yankees.

The Mariners have let teams know they are looking to move Sexson and third baseman Adrian Beltre in order to reduce payroll. It's believed the Mariners are clearing money in order to go after free agent Barry Zito.

Depending on the price, Sexson would be a decent fit. He'd bring a power righty bat, although historically he doesn't show much of a career platoon split (.263/.369/.513 vs. L, .271/.344/.530). He's also not a very good defender, particularly of late.

A weighted average projection for 2007 would put him at a -6, which isn't very good, but he makes up for that pretty well with his bat. Overall he'd probably be about two wins better than someone like Craig Wilson in 2007. He won't be cheap to acquire though. I'd guess Melky Cabrera and more would have to be part of a package.

The Yankees have been fairly quiet in the winter meetings, although they're still rumored to be meeting with the agents for Andy Pettitte and Ted Lilly.

December 4, 2006

12/4/06: Odds and Ends
by SG

With baseball's Winter Meetings beginning to roll, there's no shortage of rumors and speculation rampant.

According to Newsday, the Yankees are holding a roster spot open for Andy Pettitte should he decide to come back to the Bronx, even though it's not very likely. Pettitte wouldn't be a bad option, as he'd likely come with a shorter time committment than someone like Barry Zito. He was overrated during his Yankee tenure, but he's a solid pitcher, and could probably put up an ERA in the 4.00 area while giving the team innings as long as he can stay healthy, something that is occasionally a problem for him.

In good news for Yankee fans, Tanyon Sturtze has signed with Atlanta. For some reason, the Braves are guaranteeing him $750,000. I guess a bellyful of guts is a valued commodity. There are rumors that the Yankees may look to deal Kyle Farnsworth. I don't think it'd hurt the Yankees to see what he could bring back, although I don't necessarily think he has to be dealt or anything. He had his good stretches and bad stretches last season, just like he has throughout his entire career. He's a decent bet to be useful next year, although his 2005 is pretty apparently the outlier in an inconsistent career.

A reader emailed me this page of Kei Igawa's 2006 splits from Yahoo! Japan. Since I can't read Japanese real well, I ran it through the World Lingo translator. Igawa had a Defense Ratio (ERA) of 2.97 last season. He had 3 Nothing Point Victories (shutouts). He suffered 180 Hits, 17 book Base Hits (HRs), got Three Swings (Strikeouts) 194 times, he gave 49 Annie Oakleys (BB, WTF?), and also gave six dead spheres (HBP). He allowed 77 losing points (Runs) and 69 Self-reproach points (Earned Runs).

Fun with translations aside, the lefty/righty splits were interesting.

Vs. Righties
AB: 518
H: 106
HR: 7
K: 138
BB: 33
HBP: 4
AVg: .205
OBP: .258
K/PA: .25
BB/PA: .06

Vs. Lefties
AB: 251
H: 74
HR: 10
K: 56
BB: 16
HBP: 2
Avg. .295
OBP: .342
K/PA: .21
BB/PA: .06

One year's splits can have a lot of noise, and it's also probable he was facing only the better lefties in Japan, but these aren't very good splits for a team that will be facing David Ortiz 19 times this season. This also tells me he's probably primarily a changeup pitcher, and his breaking ball is not very good.

The Yankees are still in the market for a 1B, backup C, and a utility IF. They may bring Miguel Cairo back, who isn't great by any means but isn't as bad as his offensive numbers make him seem thanks to his ability to play multiple positions quite well defensively. I still think Mike Lieberthal as a backup C makes all kinds of sense. As far as 1B, I still think Craig Wilson would be the best option, because he can help balance what's become a very heavily left-handed lineup. And yeah, I know he had 105 bad AB as a Yankee. Putting stock in that over the 1848 other AB he's had in his career is not really good player evaluation.

I pray the rumors about the Yankees interest in Shea Hillenbrand aren't valid, because I don't think I can stand rooting for him, and he's just not that good. I've seen mention of Doug Mientkiewicz. I'm not a huge fan of his, although he's a decent OBP guy and a pretty good glove. He's also a lefty with no pop, and spelling his name all the time on this blog would be a royal pain in the ...

December 1, 2006

Newsday: Bullpen needs could make Bernie odd man out
by SG

While Bernie Williams is eager for another season in pinstripes, a cloud of uncertainty hovers over his future.

General manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre both have spoken with Williams recently, but they have given him little indication whether they plan to have a spot for him on their 2007 roster, according to a person familiar with the situation.

When Torre spoke with Williams, the person said Torre echoed what he told reporters three weeks ago today: that Williams' future could be determined by whether the Yankees decide to go with an additional pitcher in the bullpen.

Bernie's been one of my favorite players, and I can't fault him for wanting to keep playing. If I was a player nearing the end of the line, they'd have to shoot me to get me off the field. All that being said, Bernie's no longer really got enough value to warrant a roster spot. It's going to be up to the Yankees to make that decision for him.