Friday, February 15, 2019

Meet the 2019 Yankees: Kyle Higashioka

Every team has three catchers, whether they are all on the 40-man roster or whether they stash one down in Triple-A just to be sure, and that is especially true for the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers actually have some serious depth at the catcher position and that depth begins and ends with the man that will likely begin the season receiving down in Triple-A Scranton with the RailRiders, Mr. Kyle Higashioka. Let’s meet the Yankees 3rd catcher that has arrived with their spring training pitchers and catchers this week down in Tampa.

Kyle Higashioka, 28-years old, is a right-handed hitting and throwing catcher from the New York Yankees system. Higashioka stands 6’1” tall and weighs in at 205 lbs. Higashioka is a steady hitter that doesn’t have a huge swing and miss ratio, but he doesn’t make enough contact to ever progress from a backup catcher at the Major League level in my opinion.

Kyle Harris Higashioka was born on April 20, 1990 in Huntington Beach, California where he attended Edison High School. Higashioka played for the school’s baseball team and committed to the University of California, Berkley to play college baseball for the California Golden Bears. Before playing for the Cal Golden Bears he caught the attention of the New York Yankees and their scouts, who subsequently selected Higashioka in the seventh round of the 2008 MLB First Year Players Draft. Higashioka signed with the Yankees for $500,000 rather than attend college and immediately began his professional career.

Higashioka’s climb through the Yankees system was a slow one, especially after missing all but 13 games combined in 2013 and 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and suffering a broken thumb. Higashioka became a minor league free agent after the 2015 season, but ultimately decided to re-sign with the organization for the 2016 season. Kyle started the 2016 season in Double-A Trenton and finished the season in Triple-A with the RailRiders, finding himself just one step away from the Major League level. The Yankees added Higashioka to their 40-man roster following the 2016 season and optioned him to AAA to begin the 2017 season.

Following an injury to Gary Sanchez in 2017 the New York Yankees selected the contract of Higashioka and promoted him to the Major League level. Higashioka started his MLB career 0-for-18 before being optioned back down to Triple-A when Sanchez was activated off of the disabled list. Kyle was back in the majors by June 16, again following an injury to Gary Sanchez, and was returned to Scranton once the Yankees starting catcher returned from the DL. Higashioka suffered an injury of his own once returning to the minors in 2017, limiting the Yankees catcher to just eight comes during the months of August and September.

Higashioka got called back up to the Major Leagues on June 27 of 2018, following another injury to Sanchez, and had another sluggish start with the bat. After starting his MLB career 0-for-22, he had his first major league hit, a home run off Boston Red Sox starter David Price. His next two MLB hits, one on July 3rd and another on July 4th, were also home runs, making him the ninth player since 1920 to have three home runs for their first three hits of their career.

Kyle will likely start the 2019 season, barring injuries, back in Scranton, but the New York Yankees know that he is just one phone call (and a Scranton Shuttle) away from being back in the Bronx. We look forward to seeing you this season, Kyle. Good luck!

Meet the 2019 Yankees: Aroldis Chapman

The New York Yankees have their ace, but what good is an ace without a solid bullpen, and especially a lockdown closer? Not very good, ask the Boston Red Sox this season (wishful thinking, maybe). The good news for the New York Yankees is that they have that lockdown closer, a couple of them actually, in Aroldis Chapman. Let’s get reacquainted with him before the start of the 2019 season.

Aroldis Chapman, 30-years old for a few more days, is a left-handed throwing closer for the New York Yankees that possesses absolute gas with his left arm. Chapman throws a four-seam fastball that averages out at about 99 MPH, but has gone as high as 105 MPH, an 87 MPH slider, a 102 MPH sinker, and a rarely thrown 91 MPH changeup. All of Chapman’s pitches results in either swings and misses or hard ground balls that are easily fielded by his defense behind him, making him the best closer the Yankees could have pitching inside their home field of Yankee Stadium. If a 105 MPH fastball and a `102 MPH sinker wasn’t intimidating enough, Chapman does this with a 6’4” and 212 lb. frame and borderline violent mechanics.

Albertin Aroldis Chapman de la Cruz was born on February 28, 1988 in Holguin, Cuba. While Chapman and his family were raised in Cuba, it is only because of his grandparents emigrating from Jamaica in order to get a better education for the future generations. Chapman, at just 15-years old, was a first baseman for a local baseball team when a coach noticed how hard Chapman could throw, pushing him to become a pitcher in 2003. Chapman joined the Holguin Sabuesos of the Cuban National Series League in 2006 and was used mainly as a starting pitcher. Chapman was also part of the Cuban national team at the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2009 World Baseball Classic before defecting from Cuba.

Chapman has attempted to defect once in 2008, but he was caught and given a condition reprieve from Raul Castro. Chapman’s second attempt was successful while in Rotterdam, Netherlands where the Cuban national team was participating in the World Port Tournament on July 1, 2009. Chapman established residency in Andorra and petitioned MLB to be granted free agent status. Chapman was declared a free agent by MLB and was quickly snatched up by the Cincinnati Reds who signed him to a six-year contract worth $30.25 million on January 10, 2010. Chapman made his MLB debut that same season, on August 31, 2010, and the young lefty was also added to the Reds postseason roster. Chapman was a reliever for Cincinnati in 2011 but the Reds introduced Chapman as a starter out of the spring in 2012. Injuries to key members of the Reds bullpen didn’t allow that to happen and by May of 2012, Chapman was named the team’s closer by manager Dusty Baker. Chapman was named an All-Star in 2012 and 2013, but during the 2014 season tragedy would strike Chapman, literally.

Chapman was struck by a line drive off the bat of Salvador Perez on March 19, 2014, a spring training game between the Reds and the Kansas City Royals. Chapman had to undergo a surgery to fix a skull fracture above his left eye and a metal plate was inserted into his head to stabilize the fracture. Chapman began the season on the 15-day disabled list but would return on May 10th of that year. Chapman was once again named an NL All-Star in 2015 before being traded to the New York Yankees on December 28, 2015. The Yankees gave up Caleb Cotham, Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo and Tony Renda in the deal after the Reds learned that Chapman was involved, and subsequently suspended, for violating the league’s domestic violence policy. Chapman was suspended for the first 30 games of the 2016 season before the Yankees, who were falling out of contention, traded their closer to the Chicago Cubs for Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, Adam Warren and Rashad Crawford. Chapman would lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and eventually their first World Series championship in over 100 seasons.

Chapman hit the free agent market before the 2017 season and was quickly signed by the Yankees on December 15, 2016 for his second stint with the club. Chapman received a five-year deal worth $86 million, at the time the richest deal for a relief pitcher as of 2017. Chapman has been closing games for the Yankees for two seasons now and has led the team to two straight Wild Card berths, but not yet a World Series. Not until the 2019 season, anyway.

Welcome back, Aroldis. I hope the knee inflammation and tendinitis you battled last season is behind you, because we have a lot of work to do here in 2019. No pressure but make us proud. Go Yankees!!

Meet the 2019 Yankees: Luis Severino

You’ve met the newest additions and you’ve met some of the catchers that have been put in place to catch their heat, but no team goes to the playoffs without an ace. No playoff team makes the postseason and goes far into October without a top-of-the-rotation type guy, and for the New York Yankees that guy is Luis Severino. Let’s get reacquainted with the Yankees ace (yes… ace, whether you agree with it or not), Mr. Luis Severino!

Luis Severino, 24-years old, is a right-handed starting pitcher for the New York Yankees that will likely take the ball for the club on Opening Day 2019. Severino, all 6’2” and 215 lbs. of him, possesses a 98 MPH four-seam fastball, an 88 MPH slider, an 89 MPH changeup and a 92 MPH cutter that he rarely uses. Maybe Mariano Rivera, who vows to teach the Yankees arms how to “pitch” after being inducted into the Hall of Fame this season, can help Severino throw that cutter not only more often, but more effectively as well.

Luis Severino was born on February 20, 1994 in Sabana de la Mar, Dominican Republic. It has been reported that Severino grew up as a fan of the New York Yankees, most notably of fellow Dominican-born player Robinson Cano, in the small Hato Mayor province of the DR. It was there that the Yankees found him and signed him as an international free agent on December 26, 2011. Severino signed a $225,000 signing bonus, spurning the Colorado Rockies who also offered him the same deal that the Yankees later matched. Severino worked his way through the Yankees system and up the ladder in the Yankees organization, earning a trip to the 2014 All-Star Futures Game. It was the 2015 season that the Yankees finally had seen enough of Severino in their minor league system and called the flame throwing right-hander up to the Major Leagues after an injury to Michael Pineda made the Yankees short a starter.

Severino’s MLB debut came against the Boston Red Sox on August 5, 2015 at just 21-years of age. Severino started 11 games for the Yankees in 2015, posting a 5-3 record with a 2.89 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 62.1 innings pitched. Severino looked to build on that success the next season, but a trip to the disabled list for right triceps inflammation, along with struggles finding the strike zone, forced Severino into the Yankees bullpen for much of the season. Severino’s stat line was ugly overall for the 2016 season, but his 3-0 record and 0.39 ERA and 0.77 WHIP as a reliever gave the Yankees some hope, and Severino some confidence, going forward towards the 2017 season.

Severino won the Yankees 4th starter job out of spring training in 2017 and led the team to the postseason as the American League Wild Card winner. Severino was given the ball to start against the Minnesota Twins, but the Yankees young right-hander struggled early as nerves got the best of him on the big stage. Severino gave up three earned runs in the first inning against the Twins and left just one-third of an inning. Severino looked better overall in the postseason, helping the Yankees to a Game 7 of the ALCS before ultimately losing to the Houston Astros, but was never able to find that dominance that he saw during the regular season. Severino finished the 2017 season with a 14-6 record, a 2.98 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and 230 strikeouts, which was good for a third-place finish in the American League Cy Young Award vote.

Severino was named the Yankees Opening Day starter in 2018 and he came out blazing in the first half. Severino was named to his second consecutive All-Star Game in 2018 after finishing the first half with a 14-2 record and a 2.31 ERA in 20 starts with 144 strikeouts, but the second half was not as kind to Luis as the first. Severino struggled for much of the second half and finished the season with a 19-8 record and a 3.39 ERA overall. Severino once again started the Wild Card game for the Yankees, but this time he pitched much better in a Yankees victory over the Oakland Athletics.

Severino will look to not only build on a 19-win season in 2018, but also look to pitch better in the postseason here in 2019. The Yankees will be there, but they won’t go very far without their workhorse at the top of the rotation. No pressure, Luis, but everything rests on your right shoulder and arm. Let’s do this.

TGP Trivia and Fact of the Day for February 15th, 2019

Good morning Yankees family! Trivia on a Friday, let's go!!

Who was the first Yankees pitcher to throw an immaculate inning, striking out the side on nine pitches? Hint: Later on on his career, he gave up a very famous home run while pitching elsewhere.

Highlight below, no cheating :) , to see the answer... but leave your guesses in the comments section below. Thank you!

Al Downing in the second inning on August 11, 1967 against the Cleveland Indians. Downing also allowed Hank Aaron's 715th home run of his career as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

And a special good morning to my amazing wife, Kari. I love you more than words can describe and I always have... and I always, always will.