Monday, March 26, 2018

Meet a Prospect Special Edition: Giancarlo Stanton

Wow guys, Daniel Burch be slacking. Somehow, someway the New York Yankees shocked the world acquiring the reigning National League MVP from the Miami Marlins in Giancarlo Stanton and I did not formally and officially introduce him to the Greedy Pinstripes family. My apologies, I do not know how this one slipped through the cracks. With that said, and I don’t need to say much because it is Giancarlo freaking Stanton we are talking about here, let us honor and introduce one of the newest members of the Yankees the only way we know how. This is Meet a Prospect Special Edition: The Giancarlo freaking Stanton Edition baby!!

Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton was born on November 8, 1989 as a future man of many names. I say this because his mother calls him Cruz, but his father and other relatives call him Mike or Mikey. Stanton was known as Mike Stanton all the way through High School, his minor league career and through the 2011 season MLB season before letting it be known that he preferred to be called Giancarlo. Giancarlo comes from African American, Irish and Puerto Rican descent and grew up idolizing both Roberto Clemente and Ivan Rodriguez, who are both from Puerto Rico.

Stanton attended Verdugo Hills High School in Tujunga, California for two years before transferring to Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California where “Mike” became a three-sport athlete. Stanton obviously played baseball, but also played wide receiver and cornerback in football, and also played basketball. Stanton was offered football scholarships from UCLA, UNLV and USC to play football but decided that baseball was his passion leading him to accept a scholarship from Tulane to play baseball, thus beginning his amateur career. Well, that was the plan anyway until the Florida Marlins came calling in the second round, 76th overall, of the 2007 Major League Baseball First Year Players Draft with a $475,000 signing bonus. Rather than go to Tulane to play baseball like he committed to Giancarlo was headed to the minor leagues instead with the Gulf Coast League Marlins.

Giancarlo was moved through the Marlins system quickly after signing making quick pit stops in the Gulf Coast League, the Class-A Short Season New York – Penn League, and A-Ball through the 2008 season. While in A-Ball with the Greensboro Grasshoppers Giancarlo showed the Marlins what kind of power he could possess hitting 39 home runs with a .293 batting average and 97 RBI. Giancarlo opened a lot of eyes within the Marlins organization and even received an invitation to the 2009 Marlins spring training camp after winning numerous post-season awards for his performance in the 2008 minor league season. With that showing Giancarlo was ranked as the 16th best prospect in all of Major League Baseball according to Baseball America, all at age 18 (soon-to-be 19).

Stanton continued his quick move towards the Major Leagues in 2009 with stops with Class A-Advanced and a trip to Double-A after being named to the All-Stars Futures Game for Team USA. After the season Giancarlo represented the Marlins in the Arizona Fall League and was named the 3rd best prospect in all of Major League Baseball and the top prospect in the Marlins system according to Baseball America and John Manuel. Stanton began the 2010 season in Triple-A for the Marlins, but he was not long for the league as Florida decided to call up Giancarlo to the Major Leagues on June 6th of 2010. Giancarlo was just 20-years old at the time of his call up making him the third youngest player in Marlins history to be called up to the Show behind Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cabrera. Stanton debuted with a 3-for-5 night with two infield singles and two runs scored. Giancarlo had a great rookie season that ended with him being named as an outfielder on Baseball America’s 2010 All-Rookie Team as well as an outfielder on the 2010 Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team.

For as many highs as Giancarlo had in 2010 he had just as many lows in 2011 due to leg and eye injuries that kept the outfielder from really being consistent at the plate. Stanton overall finished the season with 34 home runs and 87 RBI in 516 at-bats but finished with just a .262 batting average. Giancarlo used the injury riddled season as motivation for him in the 2012 season which saw Stanton be named to the National League All-Star Team for the first time in his MLB career. Giancarlo was slated to participate in the Home Run Derby as well that season but ended up missing both events after undergoing knee surgery in July of 2012. Despite the injury and missing the Mid-Summer Classic Giancarlo finished the season with a .290 batting average, 37 home runs, a .361 OBP, and a .608 slugging percentage. The 2013 season was another typical season for Giancarlo, just with a few more injuries than he would have like sprinkled in.

Stanton represented Team USA in the World Baseball Classic before the 2013 season, but it was downhill after that as by the end of April the right fielder was on the disabled list with a Grade II hamstring injury. Stanton missed six weeks of the season ending the season with just 425 at-bats, a .249 average, 106 hits, 62 RBI and 24 home runs including his 99th and 100th of his career. Stanton came into the 2014 season more determined than ever to stay on the field and stay healthy, and that he did with another NL All-Star Game appearance representing the Marlins. Stanton finished the 2014 season with a .288 batting average, 37 home runs, 105 RBI, and 94 walks, but his 2014 season may best be remembered as the season he took a fastball to the face off then Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers. Stanton was hit in the face with the ball resulting in multiple facial fractures, lacerations and dental damage which is why he wears the protective head piece on his batting helmet that he can be seen wearing even today, four years later. Stanton, despite the injury, finished second in the NL MVP vote behind Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw. The runner up position in the NL MVP vote was likely disappointing, but he wasn’t disappointed long after the Miami Marlins approached their right fielder about a contract extension that offseason.

On November 17, 2014 the Marlins and Stanton agreed to the most lucrative contract in sports history when the two teams decided on a contract that would pay Stanton $325 million over the next 13 seasons. The deal included a no-trade clause and an opt-out clause written into the contract that Stanton could exercise after he turns 30-years old. Stanton’s salary would increase each year he played for the Marlins per the terms of the deal. Heading into the 2015 season all eyes were on Stanton and whether he could live up to the most lucrative contract given in all the major North American sports and Stanton did everything he could, and everything his body would let him, to do just that. Stanton hit bombs in 2015, 27 of them in 74 games, but his season would end prematurely once again due to injury in 2015 after breaking the hamate bone in his left wrist during the month of June. Once again, a season ended much earlier than it should have for Stanton.

Stanton was determined to make the 2016 season not only a full season, but his best season yet at the Major League level. Stanton did not get elected to the National League All-Star team in 2016, but he was selected to participate in the 2016 Home Run Derby and Stanton made a statement for all to see on that eventful Monday night. Stanton hit a total of 61 home runs winning the Derby, a new record for a single Home Run Derby, including the 10 longest home runs hit that night and 18 of the 19 longest among the eight competitors. Stanton once again missed time in August and September after suffering another Grade II hamstring strain, this time missing 22 games. Stanton ended the season with a .240 batting average, 27 home runs and 74 RBI. While this was a down season by all accounts for Stanton he was able to make it back on the field by the end of the 2016 season, something that his doctors and the training staff did not see happening after the hamstring injury.

Stanton finally put it all together for a complete season in 2017 earning his fourth selection to the All-Star Game as a representative for the National League. Stanton once again participated in the Home Run Derby but lost in the first round by one home to the New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez despite putting on another show for the fans. Stanton set a Marlins franchise record for the most home runs in a season with his 43rd home run on August 14, passing Gary Sheffield’s 42 home runs set in 1996, and even hit a home run in six consecutive games in 2017, also a franchise record. Stanton ended the 2017 season with 59 home runs, 132 RBI and a .281 batting average earning Giancarlo not only his second Hank Aaron Award of his career, but his first National League Most Valuable Player Award as well, beating out Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto by two voting points.

During the offseason of the 2018 season the Miami Marlins ownership changed hands to a group that included former Yankees legend Derek Jeter. New ownership sought to dump salary and start fresh with the organization which began and ended with Stanton. The Marlins began the process of trying to deal Stanton and his no-trade clause to the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants, but Stanton exercised his NTC in both deals. In the end the New York Yankees acquired Stanton and cash considerations from the Marlins for Starlin Castro and minor leaguers Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. Stanton became just the second player in Major League history to be traded the season after hitting 50 home runs, the other being Greg Vaughn, but instantly the reigning NL MVP became first in the hearts of Yankees fans after his acquisition.

Stanton has immediately become a fan favorite in New York and the “best friend” (as evident by the tweet sent by his new teammate on Twitter after news broke of the trade) of current Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge. Stanton will split time between the outfield and the DH position here in 2018, something that will hopefully keep him fresh and healthy all season long and should be penciled in for about 173 home runs this season. Marlins Park was named one of the six hardest parks to hit a home run out of in 2017, so hitting inside Yankee Stadium III at least 81 games a season should truly benefit the right-handed slugger.

I know I am late and I know this has probably been said numerous times before, but better late than never. Giancarlo, Mike, Cruz, whomever. Welcome to New York, welcome to the biggest stage, welcome to the team, welcome to the tradition and the history that is the Yankees, and most importantly WELCOME TO THE FAMILY!!!

Meet a Prospect Special Edition: Neil Walker

I said it during the Brandon Drury showcase post here on the blog, but it begs repeating, when Brian Cashman wants someone on his team he generally gets him. It might take Cashman a little longer than he would like, and damn us fans can be impatient when any snippet of news or a rumor is leaked on Twitter, but in the end, Cashman usually wins no matter what. He is, in fact, Ninja Cashman for a reason and that same principal applied this winter in the Neil Walker negotiations. Reportedly the Yankees and Walker had been progressing towards a deal for quite a while before New York acquired Drury in the three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Rays and while many thought once that acquisition was finalized that they could put the “Walker to the Yankees” rumor to bed, and many would have been wrong. In the end Cashman went out and finalized a deal with Walker anyway worth $4 million, plus incentives, on a one-year deal. Walker should be a huge addition to the team and it won’t block the future of either Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar, so once again we have ourselves a “win, win.” With Opening Day just a few days away and Walker set to be a huge part of the 2018 Yankees, if healthy, let’s take the time to officially meet him. This is Meet a Prospect Special Edition: The Neil Walker Edition.

Neil Martin Andrew Walker was born on September 10, 1985 to a former MLB pitcher, Tom Walker, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Walker grew up outside Pittsburgh in the suburbs of North Hills where he attended Pine-Richland High School and played for the school’s baseball, football and basketball teams. Walker was a catcher for the baseball team, a wide receiver on the football team and a guard on the basketball team until his senior year. Neil grew up a Pittsburgh Pirates fan and grew up hearing stories about a once great Pirates player, Roberto Clemente. Clemente was a former teammate of Neil’s father, Tom, which made it all the more special when his favorite team drafted him in the first round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First Year Players Draft.

Walker spent three seasons in the Pirates organization before garnering an invitation to spring training camp in 2007 where the team converted the backstop from a catcher to a third baseman. With the new position to learn the Pirates sent Walker walk to Double-A for the 2007, which is where he spent the majority of the season. Walker would work on his defense at Triple-A for the majority of the 2008 and 2009 seasons before ultimately getting the call up to the Major Leagues on September 1, 2009. Five days into his Major League career Walker collected his first hit against St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jason Motte, a single to right field, but primarily Walker was a part-time player for the remainder of the 2009 season. Walker would receive another spring training invitation for the 2010 season, but he would ultimately start the season in Triple-A once again. Walker spent 43 games with the Pirates Triple-A affiliate before being called up to the Major Leagues on May 25, 2010 due to a sprained ankle suffered by then Pirates first baseman Steve Pearce.

Walker was making the case to stick with the Major League team due to his bat, but the problem that Pittsburgh had was the fact that the team has named Andy LaRoche their everyday third baseman during that season. The Pirates second baseman Akinori Iwamura was struggling at the time leading then manager John Russell to try Walker at second base, a position that Neil had only played 23 career games at any level. Walker flourished at second base with Pittsburgh and finished his rookie campaign with a .296 average, 12 home runs and 66 RBI, 54 of those runs batted in coming after the All-Star Break which was the third highest total after the break in the National League that season. With that strong season Walker was officially a mainstay in the Pittsburgh dugout and at the second base position going forward.

Walker enjoyed another strong season in 2011 with Pittsburgh but it was the 2012 season that brought the Pirates second baseman the back problems that would still haunt him to this day. Walker dealt with various back issues in August and September of 2012 that ultimately ended his season on September 29th after being diagnosed with a herniated disc in his back. Walker was back on the disabled list to start the 2013 season, but was activated by May 13th, and would continue this trend for much of his Pirates tenure through the 2015 season. Walker was amazing with the bat, especially for a second baseman, but his lingering back issues and emergency Appendectomy just continuously kept him off the field more than he or his team would like.

On December 9, 2015 the Pirates traded Walker to the New York Mets for starting pitcher Jon Niese thus ending his tenure with the team Neil grew up rooting for as a child. Walker signed a one-year deal with the Mets in 2015 worth $10.55 million avoiding arbitration and went on to have another Neil Walker type season in Queens. Walker appeared in 113 games for New York and hit 23 home runs with a .282 batting average, but he also missed time after undergoing a lumbar microdiscectomy a year before he was set to hit free agency for the first time. The New York Mets offered Walker a qualifying offer before the 2017 season that equated to a one-year deal worth $17.2 million and rather than test the free agency market fresh off another back surgery Walker accepted the deal to remain with the Mets. Walker had another solid season in 2017, and also missed some time after suffering a partial tear in his left hamstring, learning the first base position as well as his middle infield duties. The Mets were not competing in 2017 and decided to trade Walker to the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named later on August 12.

Walker was brought in by Milwaukee to try and get the team over the hump and into the postseason down the stretch but both Walker and the Brewers fell just short seeing their seasons end on the final weekend of the regular season. Walker had another strong season in 2017 but no one could have predicted the absolute slow and boring offseason that awaited him and many free agents before the 2018 season. Walker, like many free agents around him, sat and waited on an offer to come for months before the New York Yankees finally came calling in 2018. The team talked to Walker for weeks and were reportedly moving closer to a deal before the team acquired Brandon Drury in a three-team trade, thus filling their third base vacancy. Many thought that the idea of Walker to the Yankees was all but dead, including myself, but Walker and Yankees GM Brian Cashman continued their conversations and were eventually able to hammer out a deal for the upcoming 2018 season.
Walker signed a one-year deal worth $4 million in base salary, plus incentives for reaching various at-bat plateaus this season.  Walker may not have followed the most traditional way to the Bronx, and it probably wasn’t the easiest route to the Bronx either, but all that matters is that he is here and is likely to play a huge role on the team here in 2018. Walker will play primarily second base for Aaron Boone and company, but you can expect him to also bring a third baseman’s and first baseman’s glove with him to the Bronx as well. Versatility, depth and flexibility are the key to any MLB team these days and Walker brings all of that with him to the Bronx for the 2018 season. I wasn’t the biggest fan of his signing when it happened, but I must say I am warming up to the idea of it and warming up to the idea of what he could bring with the bat if he stays healthy and plays to the back of his baseball card this upcoming season.

Welcome to the team, welcome back to New York, and most importantly welcome to the family Neil! We are lucky and excited to have you here.

Meet a Prospect Special Edition: Brandon Drury

The New York Yankees and their General Manager Brian Cashman did what the New York Yankees and GM Brian Cashman do during the winter months, they stuck to their guns. What do I mean? In recent years the Yankees have presumably been difficult to negotiate with when it comes to offseason and hot stove trades because when Cashman says something, he generally sticks to his guns. Cashman made it very clear that he was interested in then Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Brandon Drury but refused to succumb to the demands of the Diamondbacks GM for much of the offseason. A few weeks back, though, the Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks attempted to strike a deal that would have included Steven Souza Jr. going from Tampa Bay to the desert, these two teams could not make it work so they called into the Bronx for a little bit of help. Long story short, the Diamondbacks got Souza Jr. to replace JD Martinez and the Yankees and Cashman got their man in Drury for two good prospects who didn’t appear to have a future with the Yankees MLB team. Where I am from they call that a win, win, and win the Yankees will with their new infielder Drury. Let’s meet him. This is Meet a Prospect Special Edition, the Brandon Drury Edition.

Brandon S. Drury was born on August 21, 1992 and is currently playing third base for the New York Yankees, his second Major League team. Drury came over to the New York Yankees in a three-team trade involving the Arizona Diamondbacks, Drury’s former team, and the Tampa Bay Rays. New York gave up RHP Taylor Widener and 2B Nick Solak in the deal to acquire Drury who comes with four years of team control and a pre-arbitration salary through the 2018 season.

Drury attended Grants Pass High School in Grants Pass, Oregon where he played shortstop for the school’s baseball team. Drury caught the attention of the Atlanta Braves in 2010 leading the team to draft him in the 13th round of the 2010 MLB First Year Players Draft. Drury signed with the Braves and almost immediately made his professional debut with the Gulf Coast Braves finishing his first season with a .198/.248/.292 triple slash with three home runs in 192 at-bats. Drury spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons in the Braves minor league system including the 2011 season where the infielder won the Appalachian League MVP Award where he hit .347/.367/.525 with eight home runs n 265 at-bats. The Braves loved what they had in Drury but in 2013 the organization decided they liked Justin Upton a little better leading the team to trade him alongside Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill and Nick Ahmed to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson.

Drury made a great first impression with his new team in 2013 batting .302/.362/.500 with 15 home runs in 134 games with the South Bend Silver Hawks leading the team to promote him to Double-A during the 2014 season. Drury was on the fast track to the Major Leagues, which was never more evident than it was when the team announced that Drury would be one of the team’s representatives in the Arizona Fall League following the 2014 season. Drury was on the radar with the big league club and his efforts both in the Minor Leagues and in the Arizona Fall League earned him an invitation to Spring Training camp in 2015, although Drury was eventually reassigned to a minor league camp back in Double-A. Drury eventually made his way to Triple-A during the 2015 season after being called up to the Reno Aces on June 23. Drury was added to the Diamondbacks 40-man roster and was called up to the Major Leagues on September 1, 2015 making his debut the same day.

In Drury’s MLB debut the right-handed faced the Colorado Rockies and Jon Gray who gave up Drury’s first MLB hit, a single. Drury would hit his first home run 21 days later on September 22, off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Adam Liberatore. Drury opened eyes with the Diamondbacks in 2015 and his efforts earned him another invitation to Spring Training camp with Arizona to start the 2016 season, an opportunity Drury took full advantage of. Drury made the team out of spring training and despite being listed as the team’s backup outfielder on the roster, Drury also found at-bats at second base and third base in order to keep his bat in the lineup. Drury did find himself back in the Minor Leagues for a week during 2016, the team needed to find a spot for Shelby Miller who was coming off the disabled list, but he was immediately called back after an injury to outfielder Socrates Brito occurred.

Drury spent the 2017 season with Arizona and did Brandon Drury things. Drury hit for a good average slashing .267/.317/.447/.764 while hitting 13 home runs and showing “doubles” and gap power inside what is considered to be a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Drury also spent time at three different positions including second base, third base and the DH position while the Diamondbacks were in an American League park. Drury had a Drury-type season showing consistency across the board and an ability to handle himself at any position and on all sides of the game.

The efforts of Drury caught the eye of Yankees GM Brian Cashman who sought his services for much of the winter via a trade. Arizona was quite fond of Drury and refused to part with him for less than a King’s ransom until the Tampa Bay Rays dangled outfielder Steven Souza Jr. in front of their eyes, forcing the hand of the Diamondbacks to include him in the three-team trade including the Yankees. The Diamondbacks got Souza Jr. in the trade to replace the recently departed JD Martinez and the Yankees, and Brian Cashman, finally got their man in Drury. Now Drury will be manning the hot corner inside Rogers Centre on Opening Day 2018 as the starting third baseman for the New York Yankees. No pressure, Brandon. I am sure you will do fine. Welcome to the team, welcome to the city and most importantly welcome to the family!!