Yankees Interested in What A Healthy McKinney Can Do

Many observers, both inside and outside the Yankees organization, are anxious to see what kind of 2017 season outfielder Billy McKinney puts together.

A native of Plano, Texas, who was Oakland’s first-round pick in the 2013 draft, signed by Athletics scout Armann Brown, came to the Yankees last July 25 with heralded shortstop Gleyber Torres, outfielder Rashad Crawford and right-hander Adam Warren in the Aroldis Chapman trade.

He was listed as the Cubs’ No. 7 prospect by Baseball … [visit site to read more]

MLB’s Arbitration Process Mess Needs to be Revised

This past Saturday, we saw just how nasty and negative MLB’s arbitration process can be.

It was somewhat messy on all sides with Yankees pitcher Dellin Betances, but even messier in both Betances’ agent and the Yankees sides. From this point of view, there were no winners, and makes one wonder if the process needs to … [visit site to read more]

Jordan Montgomery – The Underrated Yankees Rotation Possibility

We’re really starting to think Yankees left-handed pitching prospect Jordan Montgomery is being underrated in the scheme of things.

The 6-foot-6, 225-pound native of Sumter, S.C., taken by the Yankees in the fourth round of the 2014 draft from the University of South Carolina, is almost never mentioned in discussions involving pitching prospects in the system. Yet, he’s the closest to the majors and may go north with the big club.

“I really like Montgomery, and think he could really help … [visit site to read more]

What Became of the Yankees’ Top 2001 Prospects

It’s hard to believe, but we have been using prospect publications since 1990 – first John Sickels’ Notebooks, published by STATS,  then Baseball America’s Prospect Handbooks since 2001.

These, along with what we see live and hear in interviews, have formulated our coverage, first in the newspaper industry, then for MLB, and now proudly for Pinstriped Prospects, where we strive to offer the best in that area for Yankees fans and additional observers.

Our 2017 Baseball America Prospect Handbook arrived Thursday as it snowed, added to the collection of all such ever produced and Sickels’ excellent efforts on our bookshelf. The 2001 edition was the first, and it’s fun to look back at who were the Top 10 Yankees prospects as analyzed 16 years ago and what became of them:

1. Nick Johnson, 1B  – A minor-league superstar hitter who was ticketed to succeed Tino Martinez. Johnson, Larry Bowa’s nephew, had a 10 year career with the Yankees, Montreal/Washington, Florida and Baltomore, batting .268 in 832 games as a series of injuries limited him.

2. Alfonso Soriano, SS – He played 16 years, starting in the Yankees infield and ending in the Yankees outfield. In between, with Texas, Washington and the Cubs, he hit 412 home runs and was a dynamic player. Sent to the Rangers in 2004 with fellow infield prospect Joaquin Arias for Alex Rodriquez.

3. D’Angelo Jimenez, SS – Was highly touted, but played just seven games with the Yankees. Spent most of an eight-year career with Cincinnati, mostly as a reserve.

4. Adrian Hernandez, RHP – A Cuban defector, “El Duquito,” pitched in just 14 games with the Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers as he struggled with control.

5. Alex Graman, LHP – Made just five appearances with the Yankees, but found some success in both Japan and Korea that lasted over a decade.

6. Randy Keisler, LHP – Pitched in just 14 games with the Yankees, but earned work as a reliever with Cincinnati, Oakland and St. Louis through 2007.

7. Erick Almonte, SS – An athletic type. the highpoint in his career came in 2003 when he filled in for an injured Derek Jeter. He drifted to Japan for several years and the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League. He returned to the majors for 16 games with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011, and became the first player to be placed on MLB’s concussion-based 7-day disabled list.

8. Deivi Mendez, SS – Bounced around the Yankees system for several years and also tried a comeback as a pitcher, He was suspended 30 games for drugs in 2005, with did not go well at the time.

9. Wily Mo Pena, OF – Signed by the Yankees in 1999 and received a $3.7 million bonus after contracts with both Florida and the Mets were declared invalid. He was traded to Cincinnati for 3B Drew Henson and OF Michael Coleman in 2001 and hit 26 hone runs in 110 games for the Reds in 2004. He also had chances with Washington, the Mets, San Diego, Arizona and Seattle. Appeared with the Atlantic League’s Bridgeport Bluefish in 2010 and in Japan. Signed a minor-league contract with the Cleveland Indians Feb. 6. He is thus active at 34.

10. Todd Noel, RHP – Obtained from the Cubs system in 1999, Noel threw his fastball at 98 mph and had elite secondary stuff. He also had shoulder issues and never advanced past Class-A Tampa. He now is an account manager for Paramount Beauty South on Tampa, and calls on clients who buy products for hair stylists.

A few other names stand out on the rest of the Top 30 list, namely outfielder Juan Rivera (No. 11), RHP Chien-Mong Wang (No. 13) and outfielder Marcus Thames (N0. 30), who is now the Yankees’ Assistant hitting coach.

 

2017 Could Prove Crucial for Andujar

To his credit, Miguel Andujar, the Yankees’ top third-base prospect, is beginning to be noticed by more and more observers. He is coming off an excellent effort in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .284 (19-for-67) in 19 games, committing just three errors.

The native of San Cristobal, D.R.’s selection to the AFL All-Prospects team capped off a 2016 campaign in which he battled .273 (140-for-512) with 26 doubles, four triples, 12 home runs and 83 RBIs in 130 games between Class-A Advanced Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

“Andujar had an excellent all-around season,” said a National League East scout. “He’s progressing, but there are still parts of his game he needs to work on.”

We agree with that scout’s opinion, which is typical of a player with just 72 games of Double-A experience. There are some who feel he has “put Chase Headley on notice,” and could reach the majors sometime in 2017. Not so fast, my friends.

Andujar does have soft hands, a good arm and potential power among his attributes, but he has not quite put it all together yet. He actually can steal a base here and there, and charges balls well.

“My goal is to improve each time I go out there,” said Andujar during his tine in Trenton in 2016. “I know I have some things I have to work on.

“This (Double-A) is a new level and I know there will be adjustments.”

For instance, while Andujar hit 10 homers in 58 games at Tampa, he only hit a pair out in 72 at Trenton. Double-A pitchers were a bit tougher than those at lower levels. In the field, while he had seven errors and was part of 10 double plays at Tampa, he had 15 at Trenton and was part of just two double plays.

A big deal? Not at all. He’s a young player, just short of 22, who is learning and adjusting to the speed of the game as he advances. Is he ready for Triple-A? We think not at the start of the 2017 season,  If all goes well in April, May and June in the Garden State, we can see him reaching Scranton at mid-season.

His AFL performance was impressive because he seemed to tire toward the end of the Eastern League season and the ensuing playoffs, in which Trenton reached the EL Championship Series before falling to the Akron Rubber Ducks, Cleveland’s Double-A club.

To keep improving, Andujar must be more consistent defensively. Many of his errors in Trenton came on throws that went awry. The game will continue getting faster and faster as he advances. In the majors, defensive consistency is a must. Andujar is not there yet.

At the plate, he also needs a bit more consistency and plate control, which will certainly come in time. He has the potential to hit 15 homers annually in the majors.

Andujar certainly can earn a spot in the Yankees infield by 2018. He has all the raw skills, an array of abilities that simply need to fall into place. Right now, he is a typical Double-A guy on the way up. Part of his game is at major-league level. Part needs work.

Which is why 2017 is a key season for him.

It’s Time to Trade Faded Prospect Refsnyder

He was once the darling of many Yankees fans, a Twitter MVP if there ever was one.

Such is the case of Rob Refsnyder, a Yankees prospect whose star has fallen, his magic evaporated, his chances of being an infield stalwart for the next several years in The Bronx vanquished.

It is time for the Yankees to cut their losses and trade Refsnyder, who is a used Corvair compared to a brand-new Escalade named Gleyber Torres. There really is no room for the 25-year-old native of Seoul, South Korea. It’s time for the Yankees to get something in return – maybe a pitching prospect – and give Refsnyder a fresh chance in a fresh organization.

We were never as high on Refsnyder as some on Twitter, who were mesmerized by a 60-gaame performance at Trenton in 2014, in which he hit .342 (78-for-228) and earned a promotion to Triple-A Scranton, finishing that season with a .318 (164-for-515) mark.

Though he still hit well – .302 (13-for-43) in 16 games with the Yankees in 2015, and .316 (66-for-209) in 54 games with Scranton, in 2016 – his OPS, a superb .933 during those 60 games in Trenton – never came all that close to that ever again. In fact, his OPS in 74 games with the Yankees, is just a mediocre .686.

Meanwhile, while given several chances, Refsnyder’s fielding never really improved to the level it needed to assume a regular middle-infield spot in a Major League lineup at second base. His arm is really not suited for an outfield spot. His only real role with the Yankees is as a bench player who can hit a bit. He is not a defensive replacement.

Yet, he likely still has value to a team that could use his bat, maybe recapture the type of plate performance that excited so many in 2014 in Arm&Hammer Park. He would be useful on a club that could hide his defensive shortcomings.

Many might feel the Yankees ought to keep a 25-year-old faded prospect, for which there is really no room in Triple-A in 2017, but there is a bit of a dark side to Refsnyder.

We saw it in Trenton during those 60 games in 2014. Yes, he was in a zone at the plate like few had previously seen, even at the Double-A level. That was one side of the coin. The other was his defense, which was not up to Eastern Leah level at that point.

Certainly Refsnyder was buoyed by his hitting – pitches must have looked like a beach ball to him during that run – but he almost seemed to resent defense, and what had to be done to improve. He had issues with learning shifts and complained about what was being executed on more than one occasion.

In all seriousness, that doesn’t play all that well in a clubhouse. It didn’t during a first call-up with the Yankees as well.

The Yankees system has changed in a big way since 2014, with numerous outstanding middle-infield candidates having been added since then. Players like Torres and Jorge Mateo certainly have more overall ability and are younger, and there are other outstanding middle-infield candidates set to play at every level in 2017.

To be fair, Refsnyder had bis chances. It’s time for the Yankees to cash in their chips with him.

 

 

 

Double-A is the Make-or-Break Level

Over the years, we have had the good fortune to see all levels of Minor League Baseball.

The game in the Triple-A International League is much faster – not just in speed, but in execution – s compared to how quickly plays are completed in Single-A. That is the way it is supposed to be.

“In the Yankees system, we want a player to dominate a certain level before he advances to the next level,” said long-time manager Tony Franklin, who now serves as the system’s Rehabilitation Coach in Tampa. “We challenge them and try to explain consistency is the key to advancing to the majors.”

Naturally Yankees fans are excited by infielders Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo, pitchers James Kaprielian, Dillon Tate, newcomer Zack Littell and others. Same with potential sluggers such as first baseman Chris Gittens, Does the potential of these players excite us? Certainly. Are any of them proven? Not quite yet.

The Double-A hurdle is the toughest to clear for any player. More than a few have been stopped after stellar seasons at lower levels.

“If a player is able to advance to the Double-A level, part of his game is major-league ready, while part of it is not,” said Franklin. “A player knows exactly what he needs to work on.

“That is the challenge. If they improve the areas that are needed at Double-A, the road to the majors is there. If not, this could be it.”

This is not to say progress below Double-A doesn’t count, but Double-A is the level the one that culls the herd, separates prospects from suspects, brings reality to the game and challenges players more than any.

“Double-A often shows us more than anything about a player,” said a scout from a National League East team. “The jump from Class-A Advanced to Double-A is the toughest in the minors.”

With the privilege of watching the Eastern League for almost 25 years, this premise is certainly confirmed. For instance, a pitcher who features a straight fastball that hits 97 or 98 and blows away Class-A hitters, finds several of his best pitches hit 400 feet over walls at the Double-A level.

Conversely, a starting pitcher who dominates Class-A batters with just a fastball and one other pitch, could find himself getting hammered a month or so into the season.

At Double-A, a reliever needs at least an auxiliary pitch – even better two – to dominate and advance. A starting pitcher needs a fastball, or sinker-slider combo and at least an auxiliary pitch – again even better two – to stay on the road to the majors. And it gets tougher in Triple-A and the majors.

In the batters box, a hitter who pounded Single-A pitching may be frozen by off-speed stuff after Double-A hurlers discover his, “Trouble with the Curve” within a few weeks.

Fielders see the difference in how quickly double plays are turned, throws are made from the outfield and would-be base stealers are thrown out. Only the best of the best in Class-A Advance to Double-A, stay there and move on.

For all the highly touted prospects in the Yankees system, even the ones who performed like men among boys in Single-A, that Double-A hurdle awaits. Only then will a true judgment of their talent and potential will be realized.

 

 

 

 

Mystery or Not, Adams’ Chances Are Excellent

For some reason, there seems to be a split among the rank-and-file about who right-hander Chance Adams is, and whether or not he could eventually fill a spot in the Yankees rotation.

The division is as sharp as what we see today between Republicans and Democrats. In this case it’s between those who have seen Adams pitch and those who have not. We have, and are among the believers.

Adams, 22 (he won’t turn 23 until Aug. 10), was simply the best pitcher in the Double-A Eastern League in 2016, He put together, between Class-A Advanced Tampa and Trenton a 13-1, 2.33 mark with a strikeout/walk ratio of 144-39 in 127.1 innings. His WHIP was an absurd 0.903.

To say he dominated in 25 appearances (24 starts) would seriously be not giving his performance enough credit. If he continues at the same level at Triple-A Scranton the first half of 2017, those based at 161st and River will be calling. The only thing that stopped him last season was an innings limit.

“Everything about him this season is what you are looking for in a young starter,” said a scout from a National League East team. “He places all his pitches well, fools hitters and is determined. I really like him.”

So what propelled this 6-foot, 215-pound native of Scottsdale, Ariz., who was drafted by the Yankees out of Dallas Baptist University in the fifth round in 2015? Yes, he spent all of 2015 as a reliever passing through Staten Island, Charleston and Tampa with a fastball  that hit 99, thus the innings limit last season.

“It would have been great if we had him for the playoffs,” said Thunder manager Bobby Mitchell, who led his team to the Eastern League Championship Series, where it fell to the Akron Rubber Ducks, Cleveland’s talented Double-A club. “He was excellent for us, often as a stopper.

“He kept getting better, but we have to protect young arms.”

Adams enters 2017 with a biting fastball that sits at 94-95, and has touched 96-97, a changeup that improved so much between 2015 and 2016 that it prompted the Yankees to make him a starter and a fair cutter that morphed into a decent curve. His velocity has increased from his college days.

The Yankees evaluated a dozen young pitchers in Spring Training last year and switched roles of several. So far, Adams’ move to the rotation has proven to be the right one so far..

“I was really excited they gave me a chance to start,” said Adams. “I have I have the approach that is needed to win as a starter.”

He sets a high bar for himself.

“I have my fielders behind me, but a lot of the game depends on how I pitch,” Adams said. ”I go out there with same approach every game, and don’t worry what stuff I have on a given day. I pitch when I’m supposed to pitch and try to get to challenge the hitters and get the best of them.”

His exhibited outstanding control last season, allowing just nine homers in those 127.1 innings.

Perhaps, since he emerged as a major prospect just last season, we understand how some may not be all that familiar with him. But, as they say, especially with Adams, seeing is believing.

 

 

 

Franklin to Serve as Rehab Coach for Yankees Organization

For the first time in 10 seasons, Tony Franklin, who will turn 66 June 9, will not be managing a Yankees farm team in 2017.

And, he’s happy as he can be with his usual enthusiasm and captivating smile. Also, he is still firmly entrenched and valued in the Yankees organization.

“So a lot of you wanted to what I’d be doing this year?” Franklin said via phone from his home in Los Angeles Friday afternoon. “I was offered a great position in Tampa by (Yankees Vice President of Player Development) Gary (Denbo) and I’m really excited about it. It’s a chance to help more players in the organization than I ever have before.”

Franklin, based in Tampa, will serve as the system’s Rehabilitation Coach for position players who are sent to Tampa after injury. It could be a Double-A Trenton player, it could be a major-league player. Franklin will help them smooth their respective roads back.

“I’ll be working with these players on the baseball part of it,” he said. “After the doctors and trainers give them the go-ahesd, I’ll be working with them on drills, getting their timing back. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Having the always upbeat Franklin in this position can only help. Attitude is a big part of rehab for injured players, as Yankees first baseman Greg Bird explained.

“Tampa is a great place to be when it is in Spring Training. You want to be there then,” said Bird, who is the front-runner to play first base for the Yankees this season. “But when you are hurt, and you are down there during the season, it’s the last place you want to be.

“You have to be there and follow your program. The people working with you do seem to grasp what we go through when we’re trying to get back on the field.”

Franklin. who brought out the best in players during his 21 seasons of managing – 10 years in the Yankees system and eight with Double-A Trenton that produced three Eastern League championships – fits this rehabilitation role perfectly. Few in the Yankees system empathize with players the unique way he can.

While Jay Bell, an excellent baseball man, joins the Yankees organization and will pilot the Class-A Advanced Tampa Yankees in 2017, Franklin’s managerial experience and game management will also be put to use this spring and summer.

“This is another part of this that really has me excited,” he said. “Beside the Tampa Yankees, we have two other teams down here in the Gulf Coast League (GCL Yankees East and GCL Yankees West) and a lot of younger coaches just getting a start.

“I’ll be working with those teams as well. I’ll assist our younger staffs wherever ( can.”

Franklin certainly could have gone back to Appalachian League Pulaski, where he has been the last two seasons, but jumped at the offer to stay in warm weather all season.

“It’s good for my bones,” he said with a chuckle. “At this stage of my career, this works out perfectly for me. “I really enjoy working for the Yankees, and they have been great to me.”

And, Tony Franklin, you have been great for the Yankees system as well, and the organization is glad to have you.

 

 

 

 

 

Mateo One Blue-Chipper Who is Tradable

There’s been a lot of talk about the Yankees trading – or not trading – any of their top prospects for a starting pitcher or any other needed piece for 2017.

So far, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has rejected any trades involving Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier and the like for whatever was being offered. Yet, there is a prospect – a top prospect – which we feel is tradable. In fact, for what infielder Jorge Mateo could bring in return, Cashman could make him the centerpiece of a package.

Mateo, 21 (he’ll turn 22 in June)  is a prime talent, 0ne who would help any team within the next year or so. The 6-foot, 190-pound native of the Dominican Republic has all the tools – speed, power – that can be developed, defense that is bound to improve. He is rated highly by several other teams who would love to have him in their organization.

When one analyzes the Yankees system, he is the one top prospect who is indeed expendable.

With Torres in the house, showing both more maturity and more ability at every infield position he has played, Mateo really doesn’t have a position. His fielding is too erratic to take over at shortstop from Didi Gregorius, his throws likely not the best from third base if he was put there. The Yankees future could live without him if it had to.

And there is no reason to consider Mateo for center field – even if Brett Gardner is ever traded and the Yankees somehow find a taker for Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees have an excellent future center fielder in Dustin Fowler, who had an excellent season at Trenton in 2016, batting .281 (152-for-574) with 30 doubles, 15 triples, 12 home runs and 88 RBIs in 132 regular-season games with the Thunder last season.

Fowler will take his .770 OPS to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2017, and could likely receive a September call-up. The 22-year-old native of Cadwell, Ga, is outstanding defensively, runs balls down in the gap easily, and handed the Eastern League easily at 21.

So, there is no need to push Mateo to center field in the Yankees system. Fowler has that well-in-hand for future seasons and works hard to keep improving his game. He’s the type of player the Yankees front office loves.

This has nothing to do with Mateo’s suspension last summer, one which cost him both a promotion to Trenton and a spot in the 2016 Futures Game. He made a mistake, pure and simple. It cost him at the time, but good play in 2017 will certainly erase that. Young kids can get impatient, wonder why teammates were promoted before them. Such is life in any minor-leagie system.

Mateo ended up hitting .254 (118-for-507) with 16 doubles, nine triples, eight home runs and 47 RBIs in 113 games for Class-A Tampa, also swiping 36 bases. His OPS was .685. He will start at Double-A Trenton in 2017, competing for time in the middle infield with Torres and Abiatal Avelino, who is a solid player in his own right.

But if a piece that will make a difference in a mid-seas0n swap – or even before – Mate0 is the one blue-chip prospect who could be moved to seal a deal. This was not the case a year or two ago, but is certainly reality now.