Thursday, March 22, 2012

JoVa growing tired of Triple-A

By  at River Avenue Blues

Life as a 30-year-old Triple-A slugger can be tough, especially when you’re with the Yankees and there’s no clear path to the big leagues. That’s the life of Jorge Vazquez, who hit .262/.314/.516 with 32 homers in Triple-A last year but has received close to zero consideration for the DH spot or even a bench job in the Bronx. Unsurprisingly, he’s getting kinda fed up and looking for a change.
“If they don’t give him an opportunity this year, he wants them to trade him, or to go to [play] baseball in the East,” said the president of JoVa’s former Mexican League team recently (via MLBTR). “He doesn’t want to continue on in Triple-A anymore, not just with the Yankees, but with any other organization as well.”
We’ve heard rumors of Vazquez pursuing opportunities in Japan before, and yet he’s in camp with the Yankees right now. The guy has serious power but he’s a total hacker, striking out 314 times (28.6%) and unintentionally walking just 47 times (4.3%) since signing with New York midway through the 2009 season. He gets himself out too much and that power won’t show up consistently against big league hurlers because of it. I understand being frustrated, but if he wants to go, the Yankees shouldn’t stand in his way.

At long last, Rafael DePaula gets his visa


Update (6:16pm): Here’s is Ben Badler’s report. He says recent reports still have DePaula running his fastball up into the high-90s. The physical should be a non-issue — he’s been working out at the team’s Dominican complex for the last 14 months or so — and I assume the Yankees will hold him back in Extended Spring Training for a bit before bumping him to Low-A Charleston. DePaula figures to be on a faster track than most international free agent pitchers.
2:33pm: Via Ben-Nicholson Smith, Dominican right-hander Rafael DePaula has finally landed a visa. The soon-to-be 21-year-old was having trouble getting to States because of a suspension stemming from age and identity fraud several years ago. The Yankees agreed to sign him for $500k back in November 2010, though the deal was contingent on him securing a visa. With that taken care of, now all he has to do is pass his physical. DePaula is a significant prospect, arguably top ten in the system, but he lost a big chunk of development time this last year or so. Here’s some video.

Spring Training 3/22/12

Yankees At Red Sox tonight. Here are the lineups via Lohud

Spring training Game 20: Yankees at Red Sox

YANKEES (10-9)
Brett Gardner LF
Curtis Granderson CF
Andruw Jones RF
Eric Chavez 3B
Raul Ibanez DH
Brandon Laird 1B
Jose Gil C
Ramiro Pena 2B
Doug Bernier SS
RHP Adam Warren (0-0, 3.38)
Warren’s minor league career
RED SOX (9-7)
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Kevin Youkilis 3B
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
David Ortiz DH
Cody Ross LF
Ryan Sweeney RF
Kelly Shoppach C
Mike Aviles SS
RHP Aaron Cook (0-0, 0.00)
Cook vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 7:05 p.m., YES Network
WEATHER: Cloudy with a slight chance of rain. Temperatures in the 70s. Wind blowing right to left.
UMPIRES: HP Mark Lollo, 1B Tim Tschida, 2B Tim Timmons, 3B Manny Gonzalez
SOX PEN: Two former Yankees, Ross Ohlendorf and Mark Melancon, are both scheduled to pitch for the Red Sox tonight. LHP Jesse Carlson and RHP Scott Atchison are also scheduled to pitch.
SOUNDS FAMILIAR: While CC Sabathia was pitching in a minor league game in Tampa, Josh Beckett spent his afternoon pitchingin a minor league game in Fort Myers. Beckett also threw six innings. Team’s usually don’t like to have their starting pitchers face division teams late in spring training.
NEW PARK: The Red Sox new spring complex is actually called Fenway South. It has the same diminisions as Fenway Park in Boston and holds roughly 9,900 fans.

Pineda, Velocity, and AAA

I want to make it clear that the following is not from either Burch nor I. Joe Pawlikowski at River Ave Blues wrote it, and it was a great read in my opinion. Therefore I wanted to share it here at The Greedy Pinstripes.

Last year, when he was competing for a spot in the Mariners rotation, Michael Pineda did not face intense scrutiny. People watched and dissected his performances, as they do for every pitcher. But given the Seattle media market combined with the Mariners current place in the baseball world, the attention paid him was relatively mild. One year later, you can’t click on three Yankees-related links without seeing a Pineda mention. And most of it isn’t exactly glowing.

The level of scrutiny that Pineda faces is new to him, though it’s not to us. We’ve seen it happen dozens of times before. In Penda’s case it makes all the sense in the world. He’s a young pitcher with high expectations, due to his 2011 performance, his former top prospect status, and the trade that brought him to New York. Yet it seems that attention paid him has gone from intense to overkill. Let’s quickly review the timeline of Pineda’s brief Yankees tenure.

1. When the Yankees acquired Pineda, Brian Cashman himself said that Pineda adding a changeup to his arsenal was the key to his success. Many analysts and scouts agreed.

2. Pineda comes into camp overweight, a cause for instant criticism.

3. Pineda receives early praise for his changeup, and throws it often in his early spring outings.

4. Now lacking a point of criticism, the media turns to his missing velocity as a point of major concern.

5. He builds velocity over a few starts, going from 89-91 in his first start to hitting 94 in his most recent one. But that’s not 96-97, so the criticism continues.

It’s all a bit absurd, and it grows even more so. At least one beat writer has led the charge in calling for Pineda to start the season in AAA, criticizing him at every opportunity (and even when there is no clear opportunity). Thankfully, the Yankees don’t operate to satiate the media and their desire for clicks and page views. They operate in a manner that will benefit them on the field, both now and in the future.

Are there solid, logical arguments for Pineda to start the season in AAA? There is the issue of his service clock, which the Yankees could delay by starting him in the minors. That would afford them another year of control, making Pineda a free agent after the 2017 season rather than 2016. Held back long enough, they could even delay his arbitration clock, setting his first hearing for 2015 rather than 2014. That seems like a decent incentive, especially knowing the front office’s desire — nay, mandate, as Hal Steinbrenner tells it — to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season.

Today at FanGraphs Dave Cameron offered an additional argument. He points to Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who, like Pineda, experienced a drop in velocity when he came into camp before the 2010 season. Cameron admits that the situations don’t line up, but I think he undersells the degree of difference between Pineda and Bumgarner. Bumgarner had experienced his velocity dip during the 2009 season. When it persisted in 2010 spring training, the Giants decided to keep him in the minors. This is quite different from Pineda, who not only spent all of 2011 in the majors, but also retained his velocity throughout (discounting his final start, which came on 11 days’ rest).

What both the service time and the Bumgarner arguments miss is the effect a minor league assignment would have on Pineda. Instead of looking at the situation from your armchair, look at it from Pineda’s point of view. He pitched successfully for a full major league season. He has pitched reasonably well all spring — better, certainly, than at least Ivan Nova, if not others. And now the Yankees are going to send you to the minors to work on your velocity, with the added benefit of them gaining more of your services for a cheaper price. Oh, and by the way, the Triple-A team is on a perpetual road trip because of stadium renovations. How would you feel if you were in his shoes? It’s an important consideration — as Joe Torre liked to say, there’s a heartbeat to the game.

If the Yankees feel that they can get the most out of Pineda by sending him to the minors, and if they think his confidence won’t go into the crapper, then it’s something to consider. But by all indications, this is a guy who has given it his all this spring. He might have shown up a bit overweight, but are we going to blame a 23-year-old for taking it easy the off-season after experiencing his most intense workload ever? Even so, Cashman says he’s already dropped 12 pounds and has worked as hard as anyone this spring. Is that someone you want to send away? Or is it someone you want to put in your rotation? He is, after all, one of the five most talented pitchers in camp. It seems like he should be treated as such.

Prepare To Be Disappointed

Last night Chad Jennings at the LoHud Yankees Blog posted about Justin Maxwell, and the fantastic spring he's having. Justin's line this spring is .435/.519/.652, and he's within the top 3 Yankees in hits, doubles, runs, RBI, and stolen bases. Everybody should know that spring stats mean very little, especially when talking about a guy that has a line of .201/.319/.379 in 260 MLB plate appearances (all with the Nationals in 2007, 2009, and 2010), but Justin has made people take notice and ask "should the Yankees find a roster spot for him?"

My answer is "no". Not because I don't believe Maxwell could do something for the team, but because I like the roster the Yankees will most likely bring to the regular season. And there's just not room for Justin. Outside of the 8 position players, as well as Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones (who will platoon as the regular DH), there are only 3 bench spots. Eduardo Nunez is almost certainly going to be the utility IF, Eric Chavez is more than likely going to be ARod's regular back-up, and Francisco Cervelli is needed to be the back-up catcher (note: Ibanez or Jones, whoever doesn't DH, will be the OF on the bench).

Even if the Yankees were to go down to 11 pitchers, there's a good chance that the final hitting spot on the roster would go to Chris Dickerson. Dickerson didn't blow anybody away with a batting line of .241/.341/.325 in AAA last season, not to mention the line of .260/.296/.360 he put up with the Yanks in 55 plate appearances last season. But while Chris spent some time in MLB last season, Justin missed 87 games with major throwing shoulder problems last year. Perhaps the missed time and rehab is what Maxwell needed to figure things out. Who knows? But when it comes to the bench I believe the Yankees will go with the safer option.

The problem with Justin Maxwell isn't a matter of wanting to keep him or not. There's no doubt I'd love to see what he could do this season if healthy. But the fact of the matter is he's out of options, and can't be sent to AAA without clearing waivers. And I'd bet everything I have (not that it's much) that some team would pick him up as a 4th OF. So the only thing the Yankees can do with him to get something is through trade. But that's not a great option either, because they aren't going to get much of anything for him. While he'll peak somebody's interest due to his great spring thus far, no team is going to give up much of anything for a guy that had big-time throwing shoulder issues last year, has done little with his 260 MLB plate appearances, and turned 28 this past November.

So as a warning to Yankees fans... don't get all up in arms when Maxwell is traded for a "nobody". The Yankees are in a no-win situation here, so getting anything for Justin will have to do.