After Blockbuster Deals With Yankees, Cubs and Indians Set to Duel in Fall Classic

Clint Frazier (Cheryl Pursell)

Both the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs had the best records in their respective leagues on the morning of July 31. While both teams appeared destined to play late October baseball, the back end of their bullpens were anything but a sure thing. As it became apparent that the Yankees were not going to factor into the postseason race, both organizations called General Manager Brian Cashman in hopes of fortifying their ultimate weakness. Both teams were able to reach agreements in separate deals for the Yankees available left-handed closers and have now found themselves in an improbable match-up for the ultimate prize in baseball beginning on Tuesday night in Cleveland.

Gleyber Torres with the Tampa Yankees (Bryan Green)
Gleyber Torres with the Tampa Yankees (Bryan Green)

The movement began on July 25, when the Bombers shipped flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman and his expiring contract to the Cubs in exchange for shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, outfield prospects Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford and big-league reliever Adam Warren.

The 19-year old Torres was viewed as the centerpiece of this deal and the Yankees believe that he is their shortstop of the future. He was the top-prospect in the Cubs organization and was ranked as the number 27 prospect in the mid-season top 100 list by Baseball America in mid-July. He has the size and frame that could allow him to move over to third base if the Yankees opt to keep Jorge Mateo at shortstop.

In 125 games in High-A between Myrtle Beach and Tampa, Torres hit .270 with 11 homers, 66 RBI and 21 stolen bases and is the current Arizona Fall League batting leader at .429 after six games of action. He should begin next season at Double-A Trenton where he will get his first taste of the minor leagues upper-levels.

Meanwhile, the 28 year-old Chapman pitched 28 innings for the Cubs down the stretch and struck-out 46 batters and surrendered just three earned runs while converting on 16 of 18 save opportunities.

Billy McKinney (Photo by Martin Griff)
Billy McKinney (Photo by Martin Griff)

Chapman recorded a save in each of the Cubs three NLDS victories over the San Francisco Giants and was on the mound to close out the teams 5-0 National League pennant clinching victory over the Dodgers at Wrigley Field on Saturday night. The win ended a 71-year World Series appearance drought for the Cubs; to say the win was meaningful for a deprived fan base would be the understatement of the last seven decades.

Six days after Chapman was shipped to Wrigley, the Indians pulled the trigger on a deal that netted them southpaw Andrew Miller. The price tag on Miller was heftier than that of Chapman because he was signed to a contract through 2018 at a bargain rate of $9 million per season. Manager Terry Francona has long been praised for his use of the bullpen and Miller’s name was at the top of his wish list for a variety of reasons. He is versatile reliever; a closer who is satisfied with not closing, he can get both righties and lefties out while going multiple innings with ease, and he is viewed as the ultimate teammate in the clubhouse.

Clint Frazier . (Photo by Cheryl Purcell)
Clint Frazier . (Photo by Cheryl Purcell)

Indians President Chris Antonetti and General Manager Mike Chernoff knew that 2016 could be their year and they opted to ship a plethora of very talented prospects to the Bronx to get a deal done. Miller headed to Cleveland in exchange for outfielder prospect Clint Frazier and pitching prospects Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. All four prospects are at the Double-A level or higher and possess the upside of an above average big leaguer.

The 22-year old Frazier was ranked as the number 21 prospect in all of baseball in the mid-season top-100 list by Baseball America and he helped lead Scranton to the Governors Cup and National Championship titles this past September. In 119 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Scranton, Frazier hit .263 with 15 homers and 55 RBI.

In addition to Frazier, the Yankees badly wanted Sheffield in any deal that they would potentially make with Cleveland. The Bombers had been scouting both players heavily in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. The 20-year old power lefty had pitched all season at High-A and even reached Double-A before his season came to a close. Sheffield was ranked at 67 in the Baseball America mid-season top-100 and proved to be dominant after coming over to the Yankees.

In five games with the Tampa Yankees, Sheffield went 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA and fanned 27 in 26 innings of work; opponents hit just .157 against him. The organization promoted him to Trenton for his final regular season start and he shutout the Reading Phillies, the best team in the Eastern League, over four innings. The lefty struggled with control in two postseason starts for the Thunder but the experience will prove to be valuable as he projects to be the team’s ace in 2017.

Left-hander Justus Sheffield shows excellent mound presence for a 20-year-old in Double-A (Photo by Martin Griff)
Left-hander Justus Sheffield shows excellent mound presence for a 20-year-old in Double-A (Photo by Martin Griff)

Both Heller and Feyereisen are above average relievers and have closer-caliber stuff in the back end of the bullpen. Heller spent a majority of his him after the trade in the big leagues while Feyereisen went 5-of-5 in save opportunities and struck out 78 batters in 58 innings of work for Trenton.

An argument could be made the Miller has been the best player in all of the 2016 postseason. He was named the MVP of the ALCS after throwing 11.2 shutout innings with 21 strikeouts in the playoffs for the Tribe. He has pitched at least two innings in four of his six appearances and has gone longer than one inning in every outing.

While Chapman and Miller have put their respective teams in prime position to end historic championship droughts, the Yankees hope that their choice to sell them off will put them in the very same boat in the very near future.



Mets had all good choices with Daniel Murphy-Ben Zobrist-Neil Walker decision

ShortstopThe World Series is now set with a matchup of the Cubs and Indians, meaning a team that hasn’t won it all since at least 1948 will be champion. For a lot of people that will be the story of the 2016 MLB season. But one thing that perhaps shouldn’t be forgotten is how this was the year of elite second baseman.

There were seven guys who played primarily second base in 2016 who put up at least a 5.0 fWAR, the most people in the 21st Century. And that doesn’t include Jason Kipnis, who put up a 4.8 fWAR for the AL Champion Indians. Here’s our list:

6.7 – Jose Altuve
6.0 – Robinson Cano
5.9 – Brian Dozier
5.8 – Ian Kinsler
5.5 – Daniel Murphy
5.2 – Dustin Pedroia
5.0 – Jean Segura

It’s quite a change from last year, when only Kipnis, at exactly 5.0, reached this level.

The Mets had a question surrounding second base heading into the 2016 season. They offered arbitration to Murphy, who turned it down hoping for a long-term offer from the club, which never came. Their first preference was to sign Ben Zobrist, who five times in his career topped a 5.0 fWAR mark but who was going to play in 2016 at his age 35 season. The Mets were willing to go four years with Zobrist, which was quite a statement, given his advanced baseball age.

Zobrist rebounded nicely from an injury-influenced year in 2015, doubling his fWAR total to a 4.0 mark in 147 games with the Cubs. When the Mets missed out on Zobrist, they turned to Neil Walker, who they picked up from the Pirates for his last year before free agency. Walker had a great start to his season, then went through an extended period where he flirted with replacement level before finishing with another scorching hot stretch.

Walker finished with a 3.7 fWAR in just 113 games before having season-ending back surgery. His last game was on August 27, so if he was able to stay healthy and hot over the remainder of the year, he had a shot at being a 5.0 fWAR second baseman, too.

A lot of fans are engaging in revisionist history right now, claiming they were in favor of re-upping with Murphy. While it was far from a slam-dunk decision, the majority of people at the time were okay with moving on from Murphy. And given that Murphy put up a fantastic offensive season, it’s surprising how well second base worked out for the Mets. Especially when you recall how they missed out on their first choice to replace him.

Now the Mets have to decide how to proceed with Walker. The Qualifying Offer (QO) has been established at $17.2 million, meaning the Mets have to offer Walker that much on a one-year deal if they want to insure themselves getting a draft pick should Walker end up signing with another club. FanGraphs calculates the production of Walker’s 2016 season being worth $29.9 million on the open market, which means that a QO is not unreasonable.

But the club will also have to factor in Walker’s back surgery, the history of middle infielders in the QO-era and the decline rate of second baseman on the wrong side of 30. Walker turned 31 in September.

No one can predict when a player will decline, or more drastically fall off a cliff. The general aging model has a player improving through his early 20s, having a peak in his late 20s and then a decline in his 30s. We saw that model shattered during the offensive explosion of the late 90s-early aughts but it seems to be relevant again now.

But what’s true for the group doesn’t apply exactly to every individual or, specifically in this case – to every position. As an example of the former, Curtis Granderson has been more productive in his 30s than he was in his 20s. As for the latter, Mets fans can certainly attest to how second basemen like Edgardo Alfonzo, Roberto Alomar and Carlos Baerga fell from elite level early, and at an alarming pace.

The more time spent thinking about the Walker situation, the better the QO seems to me, assuming that the money doesn’t take away the ability to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes. Walker can fall off considerably from his production of last year and still be worth the money. And if he does indeed go off the cliff, you’re only responsible for one season with the QO.

But there’s still the doubt if Walker will accept it.

One of many Mets questions: Who’s on first?

whos-on-firstYou would think that a team that has reached the postseason two years running would be stable enough so that in mid-October its fans would know who will be playing the majority of the positions in the next season. And, of course, when it comes to the 2017 edition of the New York Mets that would be incorrect.

In fact other than Asdrubal Cabrera returning as the starting shortstop every other position is up in the air. It’s true that Curtis Granderson figures to be in one of the outfield spots but like a game of Three-card Monte you figure to be wrong if you put your money on any one position right now.

At catcher the Mets are saying that Travis d’Arnaud is still their guy. This player put in another half season while spending plenty of time at his summer place, the disabled list. But while he was active he did not hit a lick. His .247/.307/.323 slash line is bad even for a catcher. The team may say he’s the guy but you have to think they will be on the lookout for something better. And that something does not figure to be Rene Rivera who is a capable understudy that would be woefully miscast in the starring role.

Third base will be manned by David Wright if he’s healthy. But really we know that counting on his health at this point is a fool’s bet.

Second base hinges on what the team does vis-à-vis Neil Walker and what he does. Does he get a Qualifying Offer for $17 million? Does he accept it? Does he sign elsewhere? Does he return to the Mets in a multiyear deal? This will be up in the air for a while.

The whole outfield will be in flux until the Yoenis Cespedes situation is decided. Will he opt out? Probably. Will he resign with the Mets or move on to even greener (pun intended) pastures? If he stays left field is his. If he goes then that position may go to Granderson or Jay Bruce, another whose Mets’ future is in doubt.

Center field might go to Juan Lagares but Granderson also could land here based on the Cespedes and Bruce decisions.

Which brings us to Keith Hernandez’s old stomping grounds, first base. Here’s who tackled the position in 2016.

Name Pos Summary
Eric Campbell 1B-3B-LF-2B
Kelly Johnson 2B-3B-LF-1B-SS
Lucas Duda 1B
James Loney 1B
Rivera C-1B-DH
T.J. Rivera 2B-3B-1B
Ty Kelly 3B-LF-2B-RF-1B-CF
Wilmer Flores 3B-1B-2B-SS

Are you bowled over by these names? Agreed, this is a motley crew.

Clearly a healthy Duda is a legitimate fit for the position with adequate defensive skills and a power bat capable of launching 30 home runs in a season. Duda played fewer than a third of the team’s games in 2015 while recovering from a stress fracture in his back. The team will have an arbitration decision to make on him. The site MLB Trade Rumors is predicting that Duda will make about $6.7 million as an arbitration reward. This would be a perfectly reasonable sum for a healthy player with his skills. But backs are nasty injuries. If Sandy Alderson decides he can not count on Duda to return to his former self then he may not offer Duda a contract at all.

Other names you see from last year’s first basemen list are the overpaid but untalented Loney and the minimally paid but also overmatched Campbell. Loney was kicked to the curb by the Tampa Bay Rays because all he hit for them in 388 PA was a slash line of .280/.322/.357. Coming to Queens the Mets gave him 366 plate appearances and he similarly batted .265/.307/.397. I’ve written this before but will repeat it. This is not a major league player if his position is first base.

Campbell is also just quadruple A caliber at best.

Perhaps you could make a case for Wilmer Flores as the short half of a first base platoon but the club doesn’t have a candidate for the long half unless Duda is healthy and contributing.

With a possible glut of left hand hitting outfielders it might be possible to move either Michael Conforto or Bruce to first. Assuming the team picks up Bruce’s option he could be a reasonable candidate for the gig partly because he is not particularly spry in the outfield and he does throw lefty. He has played a few games in the majors at first but if given a full spring training, especially if Keith Hernandez could work with him a bit, he just might be competent by the time April rolls around.

The future at the position may belong to Dominic Smith. This is a young slick fielder who batted .302 at Double-A Binghamton last year. The knock on him has been his lack of power. He hit 14 homers in 2016. If he can improve his power stroke we may be seeing him at Citi Field some time in 2017 although it is more realistic to see him as a contributor to the 2018 squad.

So, who’s on first?

I don’t know.

Third base.

A crowded Mets infield presents options

WrightThe Mets suited up 12 different infielders (not counting catchers) in 2016. The opening day lineup featured  an infield of Lucas Duda, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, and David Wright. Wilmer Flores was the primary backup. Injuries beset all four starters and the Mets filled in with replacements from inside (Ty Kelly, Matt Reynolds, TJ Rivera, Gavin Cecchini) and outside (Jose Reyes, James Loney) the organization. Typically a team carries six infielders, but looking ahead to a season where it’s hard to rely on Wright to stay healthy, it might be wise to assume he’ll wind up on the DL and carry seven infielders – either by stashing an extra infielder in AAA or carrying a versatile player who could also serve as a fifth outfielder, like Johnson or Kelly.

Loney and Walker are not likely to be back and Johnson is a question mark. Here are four infield scenarios for the 2017 Mets:

A) Duda at first, Rivera at second, Cabrera at short, and Wright at third with Flores and Reyes backing up. In this scenario and others, Kelly, Cecchini, and Reynolds start the season in AAA and are ready to step in if needed.

B) Duda/Flores platoon at first, Rivera/Johnson platoon at second, Cabrera at short, Wright at third with Reyes the supersub.

C) Wright/Duda platoon at first, Rivera/Johnson at second, Cabrera at short and either Reyes or Flores at third, with the other serving as the supersub.

D) Duda gets traded. Wright/Loney platoon at first, Rivera/Johnson at second, Cabrera at short and either Reyes or Flores at third, with the other serving as the supersub.

Any of these options will come with questions. If Reyes comes off the bench then who bats leadoff when he’s not playing? If Wright is healthy, where does he bat in the lineup? Can he transition to first base the way Ryan Zimmerman has? Does Wilmer Flores deserve a chance to start at one position and play every day?

Which option do you think makes the most sense?


Mets360 2016-17 GM Project underway

Our MLB GM simulation is underway, back for a third season. All teams have a budget and we are tackling arbitration, trades and free agency. We have 30 people spread throughout the country who are doing this because they love the game and they hope to learn something along the way.

You’ll see a lot of familiar faces involved in this project. All current Mets360 writers were invited to participate and David Groveman, Matt Netter and yours truly are the ones who accepted the challenge. Former writers Joe Barbieri, Scott Ferguson, Sean Flattery, Stephen Guilbert, Jim Keller, Dan Kolton, Julian McCarthy and Joe Vasile are also participating. There are people with former ties to minor league baseball, collegiate sports information directors and people who run fantasy sites.

All 30 of the GMs will be offered the chance to write about their experiences and my hope is that the vast majority of them will. These will start hitting the site next week, with David’s piece on running the Atlanta Braves. At the very least, the 360 guys will spell out their week. My team is the Angels. They have perhaps the worst farm system in MLB but they make up for it by spending $24 million on Josh Hamilton to be elsewhere and $26 million to Albert Pujols to be a shell of his former self.

Stay tuned to see how David, Matt and I did, along with the other 27 owners. Earlier today I pulled off a quasi three-team trade with the Rays and Blue Jays. You won’t recognize the Mets after Matt’s had them for a week (don’t ask for details – just know that he’s been very busy) and watch David attempt to craft a pitching staff for the hated Braves.

Two Mondays from now, David will write a wrap-up piece for the project. If memory serves, last year he graded all 30 teams, so we should expect something similar this time around, too.

End of the Year Review Spencer Mahoney

With the minor league season wrapping up it’s time to start reviewing and analyzing some of the Yankees organizations better performers. These wrap-ups serve to give readers a glimpse in some of the Yankees strongest statistical performers. The first article will discuss the season of Spencer Mahoney, a member of the Pulaski Yankees.

This past off-season the Yankees signed right-handed Spencer Mahoney out of Interdependent baseball. Normally such signings aren’t noteworthy, but Spencer’s story is rather exceptional. That’s because Spencer was a position player before spending time at the Driveline facility a year ago. Driveline is a data-based training program, which uses EMG sensors, wearable computers, and high-speed cameras to help analyze training regimens. This program by both hitters and pitcher; pitchers could use it to improve both their velocity and command.

With the program’s help, Mahoney was reportedly throwing 100 MPH. Spencer attended the facility last year and happened to have had a throw-day, the same day that Danny Borrell—the Yankees minor league pitching coordinator was visiting the program. Borrell helped get the process started and soon enough the Yankees signed Mahoney to a minor league deal.

Spencer’s interesting background put him on my watch list, and I was very curious to see how he would perform in his first season as a pitcher. Now that his season appears to be over—The Pulaski Yankees wrapped up their season last week—it’s a good time to review his season.

Mahoney started the 2016 season as a starting pitcher and pitched 23.2 innings in 6 games before moving to the bullpen. With that said it wasn’t a big change as he was used in multiple innings as a reliever, and managed to pitch 15.2 innings in 6 appearances upon moving to the pen. One would think a pitcher as raw as Mahoney would have trouble throwing strikes, but that has not shown to be the case.

Mahoney had a 2.52 BB/9 this season and walked just three batters in the 15.2 innings that he threw as a reliever. In addition to seemingly having good control, Spencer also had great strikeout numbers; he put up a 12.81 K/9. Overall his K/BB rate of 5.09 was the 20th best ratio in the Yankees system, and it’s even better if you limit it to actual prospects and that’s including guys like Anthony Swarzak and Vinny Pestano, who have better rates but aren’t prospects.

Mahoney’s other stats are just as impressive he has a: FIP of 2.06, an ERA of 2.52, an HR/9 of .23, and a WHIP of 1.02. Overall his debut season as a pitcher went about as well as you could hope, and he could be on his way to prospect relevancy.

Charleston RiverDogs 2016 Year In Review

Dillon Tate in hist Yankees debut with the Charleston RiverDogs (Charleston RiverDogs)

Charleston RiverDogs manager Luis Dorante was in good spirits before the 2016 season began. While talking to reporters on the field on media day, he joked about last year’s constantly changing lineup. “This year with the club that I have, we’re going to spend more time with this club now, hopefully we can win the first half and then they can take my players. The last two years they’ve been taking my players way before the first half ends. It seems like this year we’re going to keep them,” Dorante said.

The RiverDogs finished five games ahead of second place Greenville to clinch the first half Southern Division championship with a 42-27 record. The RiverDogs would appear in the playoffs for the first time since 2005 as a result.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, the roster had turned over quite a lot with only a few players remaining from the first half champions. Charleston went 34-36 during the second half and fell to second half Southern Division champion Rome in an exciting three-game playoff series, 2-1.

The RiverDogs path to the playoffs started with a sizzling start to the season. Charleston went 16-6 in April and the pitching staff would establish itself as the backbone of the team. The pitching staff ended up leading the South Atlantic League with a 3.03 team ERA.

Domingo Acevedo was impressive with his fastball he could throw into the upper 90s with a nasty slider. Acevedo went 3-1 with a 1.91 ERA in eight starts before being called up by Tampa in the middle of June.

Brody Koerner started off strong with a 1.74 ERA in three starts with Charleston, consistently throwing strikes. Left-handed James Reeves, was impressive out of the bullpen pitching to a 2.70 ERA in 10 innings with 15 strikeouts in 10 innings. Reeves, from nearby Summerville, SC, was familiar pitching at Joe Riley Park, home of the RiverDogs, as he also pitched there for The Citadel in college. Both Koerner and Reeves were called up to the Tampa Yankees on April 26.

Josh Rogers would join Koerner and Reeves in Tampa two days later on April 28. The lanky left-hander went 2-1 posting an ERA of 1.59, striking out 25 batters in 22 and two-thirds innings.

Travis Hissong started the year in Charleston and quickly moved up to the double-A Trenton Thunder during 2016. He opened the year with the RiverDogs with a 0.54 ERA while striking out 23 batters in 16 and two-thirds innings. He moved up to Tampa from Charleston on May 9.

Despite the ever-changing pitching staff, the RiverDogs remained strong with pitchers such as Christian Morris, Nestor Cortes, Luis Cedeno and Yefrey Ramirez.

Cortes, Morris, and Cedeno would earn South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week honors for the RiverDogs. Cortes went 6-2 in 13 games with Charleston. He put up a microscopic 0.79 ERA striking out 75 batters in 68 and a third innings. His WHIP was a mind-boggling 0.746. He’d end up the year with Tampa, but made spot starts for Trenton and Scranton along the way. He earned his Pitcher of the Week honor for May 16-22.

Morris would be a mainstay all year long with the RiverDogs. He went 8-5 with a 2.99 ERA. Morris wasn’t afraid to pitch aggressively posting an impressive 1.07 WHIP in 120 and one-third innings in 22 starts. He won his Pitcher of the Week honor for the week of June 6-12.

Cedeno would join the fold from extended spring training on May 16. He earned his Pitcher of the Week honor for July 25-31. He ended up going 9-9 with a 3.68 ERA for the RiverDogs. On July 28, he was perfect through six innings against Lexington before allowing a walk and a hit to start the seventh. That was the only hit he allowed in seven innings pitched in a 1-0 RiverDogs victory. He was called up right before the playoffs to Tampa.

Ramirez went 4-2 in 11 starts with the RiverDogs with a 2.80 ERA. He struck out 66 batters in 61 innings allowing only 14 walks. He earned his spot on the Tampa Yankees roster on June 30.

Andrew Schwaab would be the right-handed sidearm closer for Charleston most of the season. Schwaab saved 20 games for the Dogs and ended up with a 4-1 record out of the bullpen with a 2.27 ERA. He made the South Atlantic League All-Star Team for the Southern Division, along with teammates Cody Carroll and Daris Vargas.

Carroll worked 91 and 1/3 innings out of the bullpen in 26 games. He struck out 90 batters with a 3.15 ERA. Vargas was 10-8 with a 2.95 ERA on the year. Vargas features a 97 mile per hour fastball along with a nasty slider and change.

The RiverDogs received an infusion of pitching talent courtesy of the Carlos Beltran trade. Dillon Tate, Erik Swanson, and Nick Green came over from the Texas Rangers organization on August 1. Tate was the biggest prize of the haul being the 4th overall pick of the 2015 amateur draft.

Tate showed great velocity on the mound with a biting slider in the mid-80s and a fast ball that reached as high as 96. There were reports that his velocity was down with Hickory this year, but that was not the case when he came over to the RiverDogs. Tate worked exclusively out of the bullpen putting up a 1-0 record with Charleston with a 3.12 ERA. He struck out 15 batters in 17 and a third innings pitched.

Green went 3-0 during the regular season with a 1.06 ERA and earned the Game 1 start in the playoffs. Swanson ended up with a 3.60 ERA pitching in five games, two of those starts, with Charleston.

Offensively, the RiverDogs had many impressive performances that landed much of the roster in Tampa. Thairo Estrada would be the first position player to earn a promotion to Tampa on May 22. In 35 games with the RiverDogs, Estrada hit .286 with five home runs and 19 runs batted in. He stole 11 bases in 14 attempts.

Connor Spencer was the next RiverDog to head up to Tampa after being called up on June 14. Spencer only hit five home runs in his time with Charleston, but that may be due to Joe Riley Park, a notorious pitcher’s park. He hit .253 while drawing 19 walks in 45 games.

Jeff Hendrix started off the year in center field for the RiverDogs and fought through two injuries in his time in Charleston. He injured his hamstring and spent time on the disabled list. After he came off the DL on May 28, he ended up winning Player of the Week honors for May 30 – June 5. During that stretch, he went 15-for-24 with three doubles and five RBI. He then sprained his wrist and landed on the DL again on June 14. However, when Hendrix came back, he picked up where he left off, earning a promotion to Tampa on July 17. Hendrix plays a very good center field and gets on base. He ended up hitting .299 with an on-base percentage of .401 with Charleston. He stole 11 bases in 14 attempts before his promotion.

Kyle Holder was another standout for Charleston. Holder is a sleek fielder who can play second base and shortstop. Holder ended up batting .290 in 88 games. He did have an undisclosed upper body injury and an ankle injury that landed him two disabled list stints. He was teamed up the middle with Hoy Jun Park, who also swapped between second base and shortstop.

Park is a solid fielder with a strong arm but seems more suited to second as he needs to work on his footwork. He also struggled at the plate hitting .225 while striking out 120 times. He did end up with 12 triples which led the league. He also needs to improve his base running instincts as he made many mistakes on the base paths. While Holder seems to be a good bet for Tampa next season, Park may need some more time in Charleston.

Chris Gittens had a very good season at first base for the RiverDogs. He hit .253 with 21 home runs and 70 RBI and was voted to the South Atlantic League’s Postseason All-Star Team. Gittens also won the 2016 Top Dog award as voted on by the fans. Gittens at times struggled with curveballs but improved against breaking stuff as the year went on. He has tremendous power and great pop off his bat.

Highly regarded Luis Torrens came back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him in 2015. Torrens did struggle offensively and defensively which was most likely a result of his time away from the game getting his shoulder back in shape. Torrens struggled with passed balls (16) during the season. At the plate, he hit .230 in 40 games.

In the playoffs, the RiverDogs faced a hot Rome Braves team built on pitching. In game one at Rome, Nick Green faced touted Braves prospect, Mike Soroka. Rome broke out first against Green, scoring on an RBI triple from Ronald Acuna that scored Ray-Patrick Didder.  Didder scored on an Austin Riley groundout to make it 2-0 Braves after one inning. Soroka shut down the RiverDogs, allowing only one run on a Hoy Jun Park RBI single in the fifth. Soroka went seven and two-thirds innings allowing seven hits, while striking out four, walking only one batter, picking up the win in the 3-1 Braves win.

In game two back in Charleston, the RiverDogs were on the brink of elimination down 3-0 in the bottom of the seventh. Kolby Allard, who was picked 14th overall in the 2015 amateur draft by Atlanta, shut down the Dogs for six innings, allowing no runs and only three hits. In the seventh, Chase Johnson-Mullins came in to relieve Allard and the Dogs furiously rallied to score four runs to take a 4-3 lead. Cesar Diaz scored Kane Sweeney with an RBI single for the first Dogs run. Vince Conde then scored Park and Diaz on a single to right field to tie the game at three. The Braves then went to the pen again and brought in Corbin Clouse. Jhalan Jackson scorched a grounder to third base that Austin Riley could not handle for the Braves which scored Holder for a 4-3 lead. Taylor Widener would earn the win in relief and Andrew Schwaab shut the door on the Braves for the save to secure the win and tie the series at 1-1.

Another promising prospect for the Braves would take the mound in game three. Max Fried would shut down the RiverDogs for seven and two-thirds innings, striking out 11 batters and allowing only one run. The Dogs only run came in the first when they took a 1-0 lead on a Park double that scored Sweeney. Christian Morris started for the Dogs and ran into trouble in the fifth. Riley doubled in Alejandro Salazar and Didder to give the Braves a 3-1 lead. Justin Ellison then drove in Riley with a double to left-center field to extend the lead to 4-1, which would end up being the final score and the RiverDogs season came to an end. Rome would end up defeating Lakewood two games to one in the South Atlantic League championship series.

RiverDogs defensive coach Travis Chapman summed up the season, “It’s been great. You look at the Kyle Holders, the Chris Gittens, and Jhalan Jacksons, the guys who have been here all year, Hoy (Jun) Park, those guys and the new guys who came in, they kept teaching how the RiverDogs play and kept them learning… It’s been a very successful season for the RiverDogs.” Chapman also had praise for pitching coach Justin Pope and the RiverDogs pitching staff, which was the strength of the team all year long.  “(Justin Pope) did a great job and really all the pitchers. They came in, Popey got them working, throwing strikes. We played defense behind our guys and our pitchers really battled. We got a lot of strikeouts, ground balls, got a lot of weak outs. You know Popey and really all of our pitchers did an excellent job.”

RiverDogs middle infielder Kyle Holder also reflected on the season and had this to say, “We had a great group of guys, we changed a lot, but somehow we were able to stay close as a team no matter who came into the clubhouse and I think that’s a big reason why we were so successful. Great group of guys and look forward to playing with them in the future.”

The RiverDogs had plenty of support in 2016, as the team broke its previous single-season attendance record set in 2015. 293,161 fans came through the turnstiles.

Before game two of the playoffs at Joe Riley Park in Charleston, the New York Yankees and RiverDogs announced they had renewed their player development contract for four years. The Yankees will supply Charleston with prospects through the year 2020.

2017 will see the RiverDogs open up the Riley Park Club. The addition is being built to the right of the press box and will provide 6000-square feet of event space that will be available not only during RiverDogs games but during the off-season as well. It will not only overlook the field but also give views of the Ashley River beyond the right field wall and the sunset over the wetlands along the first-base side of the ballpark.

On the field, the Yankees will field another strong team in Charleston for 2017 if the Staten Island Yankees 2016 season is any indication. Staten Island once again made the New York-Penn League playoffs, bowing out to State College in the first round.

Plan B if Yoenis Cespedes departs

Yoenis CespedesThree days after the 2016 World Series ends, Yoenis Cespedes can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. All signs point to this happening. If it does, the Mets could still sign him, but there will be plenty of competition for the consensus choice as the best free agent player on the market this year.

If the all-star outfielder does depart for greener (as in money) pastures, what should be plan b for replacing his .280 batting average, .530 slugging average and 31 homer production? Ideally it would be a right-handed batting outfielder since most of the current crop of outfielders minus Cespedes are left-handed, with the notable exception of Juan Lagares.

However the list of right-handed power hitting outfielders who are free agents this year is not all that impressive. Probably the best, after Cespedes, is Ian Desmond of the Texas Rangers. In 2016 he slugged .446 with 22 homers and 29 doubles, and played a pretty good center field. But he would probably draw a good many suitors, and it is likely the Rangers would be the favorites to re-sign him since Desmond pretty much resurrected his career by moving from shortstop with Washington to center field in Texas.

There is an intriguing possibility involving a trade. Yasiel Puig appears to have worn out his welcome with the Dodgers. This is a player who debuted in 2013 with a .319 batting average and a .534 slugging average. However he has regressed since that season, to the point where he spent some time at Triple-A ball this year.

At first glance, it would seem foolish for the Dodgers to boot Puig, since one of the team’s few weaknesses is hitting against lefties. However there are questions about his work ethic, and there have been more than a few clubhouse clashes involving him.

The case for obtaining Puig is that if he were to recover his early form, he is basically a rare 5 tool player. He can hit for average and for power, has good speed and has a cannon for an arm. Despite his regressed stats this year, he did play better in September after being recalled from the Minor Leagues. He is still young, he turns 26 later this year, and is under team control for the next three seasons. His salary is affordable, at over eight million dollars next season and nine million plus for 2018.

The case against him is that his production has declined yearly, this year resulting in a .263 batting average and a pedestrian .416 slugging average. His maturity is questionable, and he has a history of alienating his team mates.

That being said, if he can be acquired without giving up too much, he might be worth a flyer. The Dodgers would like to fortify their starting rotation, and southern California native Robert Gsellman would likely pique their interest, and the Mets, even if not all their starting pitchers are healed, could have a surplus of starters. The Dodgers would probably want more than just Gsellman since there is such an upside for Puig. If they would take Gsellman and a mid level prospect, I think that might do the trick. But if the Dodgers insist on Gsellman and say Juan Lagares, that would be too rich for my blood.

Cespedes seems comfortable with the Mets, and hopefully a contract can be worked out. But if not, Puig as plan b would be an option… if the price is right.

Staten Island Yankees 2016 Year in Review

Nick Solak  (Robert M. Pimpsner/RMP Sports Media, Inc.)

The 2016 season was a year of transition and prosperity for the Staten Island Yankees. Under veteran manager Dave Bialas, the Baby Bombers qualified for postseason play for the second consecutive season as the New York-Penn League’s wild-card finishing 3.5 games behind the Hudson Valley Renegades with a 44-31 record. Off the field, the club prepared to retire the Yankees team nickname and develop an identity of their own to attract a new legion of fans.

With a blend of recent draft picks and returning contributors, Staten Island set a franchise record with an 11-2 start and added to the history books during the first months of the season. Following a 20-inning marathon victory in Brooklyn in the season opener, pitchers Drew Finley and Josh Roeder combined for a ten-inning no-hitter in their first game at Richmond County Bank Ballpark. The no-hitter was the club’s first since Jason Arnold blanked the Vermont Expos in June 2001.

“It was an honor,” Roeder told Pinstriped Prospects. “It feels to a be a part of this organization and its history and to do this with one of my buddies Drew Finley, it’s a good feeling too. We went out there and did our job. We were successful in getting a no-hitter and now we are a part of history.”

Dominant pitching set the tone for Staten Island throughout the season, thanks to a rotation where 13 pitchers recorded at least one start. Kolton Mahoney, a key member of the pitching staff in 2015, emerged as the club’s ace with a 2.92 ERA in 61.2 innings and pitched a complete game shutout on July 31 against the Auburn Doubledays.

The rotation also received a boost in late June as former 3rd round draft pick and Foxboro native Austin DeCarr made a successful return from Tommy John Surgery. DeCarr took a few starts to regain his form but allowed just three runs in 19.2 innings between July 28 and August 18 showing marked improvement.

Other notable pitchers included Freicer Perez, a 6’8” righthander who stood tall making the jump from the Dominican Summer League and emerged as one of the organization’s top 30 prospects and Delaware alum Chad Martin, who went 4-0 in five late-season starts. Staten Island finished third in the NYPL with a 2.82 ERA and finished tied for first in the circuit with ten shutouts.

At the plate, Staten island took an opportunistic approach throughout the season and displayed a propensity to capitalize with runners in scoring position and support the strong efforts on the mound. First baseman Dalton Blaser opened the year with 7 hits in his first 11 at-bats and Mandy Alvarez batted .364 in his first 13 games to earn a quick promotion to Charleston.

Catcher Luis Torrens would also join Alvarez in Charleston in mid-July after a triumphant return from shoulder surgery. Torrens, who missed the entire 2015 season returned to form as the best catching prospect in the Yankees’ organization after Gary Sanchez, showing no ill-effects from the injury. In 12 games in Staten Island, Torrens threw out 39 percent of potential base stealers and recorded a .760 OPS at the plate.

“Luis can hit. He has a short stroke to the ball and his arm is healthy now. He is a future major league ballplayer without a doubt,” Bialas said prior to Torrens’ promotion to Charleston.

Throughout the summer, the Baby Bombers established a variety of offensive contributors despite a constantly shifting roster. Outfielder Timmy Robinson, a 21st round draft pick out of USC, led the New York-Penn League with 52 RBIs and paced Staten Island in five offensive categories, including home runs (8), triples (4), and total bases (111). Robinson broke out on July 21 against the Tri-City Valley Cats with a 2 HR, 5 RBI performance and was a potent offensive force throughout the season.

Third baseman Drew Bridges, a returning member of the club in 2016, had the finest season of his professional career, batting .258/.321/.377 with 5 HR and 32 RBIs in a team-high 67 games. The Carthage, Missouri native was one of three Staten Island players to receive a NYPL All-Star selection and sustained his impressive play into the postseason with an extra inning home run to stave off elimination against the State College Spikes.

Lauded for his consistency and makeup, second baseman Nick Solak made the biggest impression on most observers. A 2nd round draft pick out of Louisville last June, Solak led Staten Island with a .412 on-base percentage in 64 games and exceeded expectations defensively recording a .975 fielding percentage. Solak was also adept at hitting to all fields and finished fourth in the NYPL with a .321 average.

On September 3, Staten Island clinched the wild card spot in the NYPL postseason with a victory in Tri-City. The Baby Bombers would face top-seeded State College in the semifinals and lost to the eventual league champions in three games, falling one game short of pursuing their seventh NYPL title. Although Staten Island did not return to the championship series, there was a sense of accomplishment for their postseason journey.

“I know it meant a lot to me and a lot to these kids,” Bialas said. “These kids have battled every day and worked hard, putting in extra work when they needed to and busted their tails playing to him. These kids deserved to be in the playoffs and that chance to compete for a championship.”

Staten Island became the 5th team in the Yankees’ organization to qualify for postseason play after clinching the NYPL wild card. With the 2016 season in the books, Staten Island will officially retire the Yankees moniker after 18 seasons and embark on the next chapter of their history. By year’s end, the club will officially have a new name and rebrand with an eye towards the future and generate local interest for their product on the field, while remaining a Yankee’s affiliate.

Yanks’ Sanchez Among 2017 Topps #1 Card Nominees

sanchez-topps-nowYankees fans now have the opportunity to help make one of their new favorite players the face of baseball — or at least the face of Topps baseball cards, for 2017. (Strangely, no Mets made the cut…)

Gary Sanchez, who burst on the scene and made an immediate huge impact on the sport this summer, is one of 16 players nominated by the card company to be its iconic #1 card in Series One in 2017. Voting on the Topps Blog (click here to vote) began this week and continues through Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 11:59 p.m. Fans will be able to either “retweet” or “like” a tweet assigned to each of the sixteen nominees which will count as a vote. Thousands of online votes poured in last year, with Mike Trout the eventual Card No. 1 winner.

Previous players to achieve this prestigious honor in consecutive years include Ted Williams (1957-58), Hank Aaron (1973-76), Nolan Ryan (1990-92), Alex Rodriguez (2005-06 & 2008-09), and most recently Ryan Braun (2011-12).

Sanchez erased several rookie records during his 2016 campaign, slashing .299/.376/.657 and hitting 20 home runs in 201 at bats.

The list of 2017 Topps Baseball Card No. 1 nominees:

Adrian Beltre
Mookie Betts
Kris Bryant
Miguel Cabrera
Carlos Correa
Josh Donaldson
Bryce Harper
Clayton Kershaw
Francisco Lindor
Manny Machado
Yadier Molina
David Ortiz
Buster Posey
Gary Sanchez
Corey Seager
Mike Trout