Masahiro Tanaka was able to increase his velocity during Thursday’s bullpen session


Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka

If Masahiro Tanaka can pitch as effectively as he did last season, and only miss three or four starts unlike last season, the Yankees’ chances at getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 will be greatly increased. During the 2014 season, Tanaka missed 2.5 months between the beginning of July and the end of September as a result of a partially-torn UCL in his right elbow.

However, when Tanaka was healthy, he was one of the best starters in baseball, especially before he went on the disabled list. He made 20 starts in his rookie season after coming over from Japan, and he had an outstanding 2.77 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 13 wins, 141 strikeouts and only 21 walks in his 136.1 innings pitched. He allowed two runs or less in 13 of his 20 starts, which proves how much he is able to keep hitters off balance and throw the right pitches at the right time.

Tanaka relied primarily on his splitter (87mph), slider (84mph), four-seam fastball (93mph), while also mixing in a sinker (91mph), cutter (89mph) and curve (74mph). His six-pitch arsenal helped him record seven or more strikeouts in 12 of his 20 starts last season. If he can throw his splitter, slider and fastball with the movement and accuracy that he did last season, to start the 2015 campaign, he could be an All-Star this season.

In Tanaka’s final start of last season (his second after coming off of the disabled list) he allowed five earned runs on seven hits in only 1.2 innings. So far during spring training he is proving that that start could have just been one day when he did not have his stuff.

Last week, on Feb. 19, he threw his first bullpen session and had no discomfort. He threw 21 fastballs during a session that lasted about seven minutes. On Thursday, during his third and most intense bullpen session, Tanaka threw 40 pitches at George M. Steinbrenner field with increased velocity. He said that the location of his pitches during this bullpen session was better than the previous one, which is a positive sign.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild is confident with his progression so far. Tanaka is not thinking about his elbow, and has no pain, which will hopefully mean that the injury will not reoccur this season.

“I will check with him Friday,” Rothschild said. “Based on what I saw today, I don’t see anything getting in the way of our schedule. Everything is progressing the way we like it, so we keep going.” The next step will be for Tanaka to throw batting practice.

This most recent bullpen session was more important than his first one, and Tanaka’s first spring training game will be more significant than yesterday’s bullpen session. However, each day that Tanaka makes it through pain free while throwing his pitches the way he wants to is a sign that he could dominate like he did during the 2014 season.

The Yankees let their rival sign 19-year-old sensation Yoan Moncada


Hal Steinbrenner.

Hal Steinbrenner.

The Yankees missed the chance to sign Yoan Moncada, who is a 19-year-old Cuban sensation. He has been compared to Robinson Cano, and he obviously could have been the long-term replacement for Cano if the Yankees had signed him.

On Monday, the Boston Red Sox gave Moncada a record-setting 31.5 million bonus, which will translate to a nearly $63 million hit to the Red Sox because they have exceeded the amount allowed by the league for international signings. They had seven of the top 100 prospects in baseball before signing him, and Moncada will now likely move to the top of that list.

The Yankees reportedly offered Moncada $27 million, which was $4.5 million less than the bonus that the Red Sox gave him. Brian Cashman wanted to sign him, but Hal Steinbrenner didn’t want to pay what would have amounted to about $60 million to the 19-year-old because the Yankees are also above the limit for international signings. However, spending the extra money for Moncada would have been worth it because he could have prevented the best prospect in baseball from playing for their rival to the north.

Keith Law thinks that Moncada is on par with other stars that have come out of Cuba in recent years such as Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu. There is obviously a small chance that Moncada does not pan out, but it was worth the risk because he could turn out to have a similar impact that Puig and Abreu had in their first seasons. When Moncada was in Cuba’s 18U national league in 2012, he led the league in batting average, OBP and slugging with a league-best 20 steals.

Since Moncada hasn’t played in organized games since December of 2013 he will spend spring training with minor leaguers and most likely will not reach the majors until the 2016 season.

Brian Cashman spoke glowingly of Moncada, but he was not able to convince Hal Steinbrenner to increase his offer.

“He’s got a lot of ability and projects to be a quality player,” Cashman said. “I don’t think anybody disagrees with the ability. It just comes down to how much money you were willing to commit.” The Yankees were obviously not willing to commit the amount of money ($4.5 million) that the Red Sox were to sign a potential star who could play second or even right or left field. The $4.5 million is about what the Yankees are paying mediocre starting pitcher Chris Capuano.

The Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and Yankees each made initial offers of about $25 million, but Boston was the team that wanted him more than the other three. It is likely that if George Steinbrenner was still alive that he would have outbid the Red Sox for Moncada so that Yankees could have had the next Cuban sensation. The last true impact Cuban that played for the Yankees was Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez (he helped the Yankees win three championships), but the latest Cuban import will be in enemy territory making an impact for the Red Sox instead.

Alex Rodriguez could head to the minors for part of spring training


Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez will return to spring training for the first full squad workout on Feb. 26, and he is a compelling storyline since the Yankees have no idea what they will get production wise from him. The 39-year-old did not play a single game in the 2014 season because of his 162-game suspension for violating the league’s Performance Enhancing Drugs policy, and in 2013, as a result of hip surgery, he only played in 44 games.

In those 44 games during the 2014 season, he hit only .244 with seven homers and 19 RBIs. His first homer came off of Justin Verlander on August 11, and with that home run he passed Stan Musial for fifth in career RBIs. Even though he is not nearly what he used to be, A-Rod will likely be on the roster for the next three seasons because he still has three years and $63 million left on his contract.

As of right now, Garrett Jones and Rodriguez are slated to compete for at-bats as the DH. However, since the Yankees signed Chase Headley to play third, Rodriguez will primarily be the DH and Jones will be the back-up in right field and first base. The Yankees need to figure out how to get something out of A-Rod who will presumably not have the benefit of steroids this season.

This means that it will be important for him to get as many reps as possible in games before the regular season starts. Manager Joe Girardi emphasized that A-Rod will have to prove himself for playing time. If he doesn’t have much power or consistency in spring training then it would make sense if Jones is the primary DH.

Jones has power and is consistent as he has slugged 15 or more homers in each of the last six seasons and hit a career-high of 27 in 2012. If Rodriguez can hit 15 homers this season he can form a solid DH combo with Jones, but A-Rod hitting only two fewer homers than he did in 2012 is a big if.

Rodriguez will have to get his timing down during the next seven weeks, which is why Girardi is thinking about doing something unconventional to help him do so. He doesn’t nearly have the mobility that he used to have, based on having surgery on both of his hips, which means that he is basically a liability at third.

It is very rare that a player who has played in 20 seasons could get at-bats in the minors during spring training, but that is exactly what Girardi is thinking about doing with A-Rod.

He is going to need to get his at-bats,” Girardi said. “Will it come to a point where we have to send him to the Minor Leagues to get eight at-bats one day, maybe, to try to catch him up and speed up the process? It is a balance.” This could help him get the at-bats that he needs to prove what he has left. He will be the Yankee under the most scrutiny and media pressure during spring training, and it will be important that he is not a distraction for other players.

Pitchers and catchers reported for the Yankees today in Tampa


Joe Girardi

Joe Girardi

It might not feel like it in New York City, but spring training has officially begun for the Yankees in Tampa, Florida.

Pitchers and catchers officially reported for their physicals at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa this morning. The Yankees will have their first full squad workout on Feb. 26 and will play their first spring training game on March 3 in Clearwater against the Philadelphia Phillies.

One pitcher that the Yankees will need to keep healthy the whole season is Masahiro Tanaka. He was outstanding when healthy last season, as he had 2.77 ERA, 141 strikeouts and only 21 walks in his 20 starts, but he missed 2.5 months because of a partially torn UCL in his right elbow. Tankaka also allowed five earned runs in only 1.2 innings in his final start of the 2014 season.

However, there is positive news from Tanaka as he threw his first bullpen session yesterday and came away feeling normal. He threw 21 pitches with pitching coach Larry Rothschild watching. A lot can’t be taken out of bullpen session at the minor league complex, but it is a good sign that he came out of it without any pain and “smiled and waved” after it was finished. Tanaka also added that he is confident that he will be able to make it through the whole season.

During Joe Girardi’s start-of-spring-training press conference, Girardi answered questions about distractions that A-Rod might cause, the injury question marks in the rotation (CC and Tanaka), the increased youth on the roster, the competition for various spots, the possibility of a six-man rotation and the possibility of co-closers. He said that they could decide to have a six-man rotation when they play 18 games in a row without an off day early in the season.

Here is Girardi’s response when he was asked about Alex-Rodriguez’s recent hand-written apology:

John Ryan Murphy should be the back-up catcher for the Yankees


John Ryan Murphy

John Ryan Murphy

John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine will be competing in spring training to be Brian McCann’s back-up at catcher. Murphy, who will be 24 in May, has the advantage because he was the one chosen to be the back-up catcher last season when Francisco Cervelli was put on the 60-day disabled list because of his hamstring injury.

Romine, who is already 26, was not very impressive when he filled in as Chris Stewart’s back-up in 2013. In 135 at-bats (60 games), Romine had a .207 average with one homer, 10 RBIs, a .255 OBP and 37 strikeouts. He has also been called up for short stints in 2011 and 2014. In 76 games (181 plate appearances), he has a .201 average with one homer, 11 RBIs, 10 doubles, 46 strikeouts and a .281 SLG%. On the defensive side, he has four errors and has only thrown out 24% of potential stolen base attempts.

Going into the 2010 season, Romine was rated the Yankees’ second best prospect, according to Baseball America. In the 2010 season, Romine was a participant in the All-Star Futures Game, which is for the best up-and-coming players in baseball. However, he has obviously not developed as anticipated.

On the other hand, Murphy had a .284 average with one homer, nine RBIs, four doubles and a .370 SLG% in 81 at-bats (32 games). His eight-game hitting streak from the end of April to the middle of May included three multi-hit games, which proves that he can help the team offensively for a sustained stretch of games. In his 48 games between 2013 and 2014, he has a .252 average with one homer, 10 RBIs, five doubles and a .327 SLG%.

Murphy has also produced better on defense than Romine. He has one error and his caught stealing percentage is 28%. (His CS% was 17% in 2014) League average for a catcher last season was 27%, which is basically the same as his CS% was in the minors (26%).

Brian McCann will ideally play in 140 games like he did last season, which means that the back-up catcher will not have much impact. In addition to McCann’s off days, he will be the DH for some games giving the back-up additional time behind the plate.

Murphy should and most likely will get the edge over Romine because he hits for a higher average, is more consistent, is more reliable behind the plate. The back-up catcher should be able to be productive when called upon while helping the team win a few games and that’s exactly what Murphy can do.

Romine is out of options, which means that he can’t go to Triple-A Scranton without passing through waivers. He will be trying to impress the Yankees in spring training, and competition is always a plus, but Romine hasn’t proved to be an asset on the major league level. Romine will make more sense starting the year with Triple-A Scranton or with another team.

The Yankees have signed veteran relief pitcher Jared Burton to a minor-league contract


Jared Burton pitching for the Twins in 2012.

Jared Burton pitching for the Twins in 2012.

On Monday, the Yankees announced that they had signed relief pitcher Jared Burton to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training. The 33-year-old veteran spent his last three seasons with the Minnesota Twins after pitching his previous five seasons in the Cincinnati Reds organization.

Last season he was 3-5 with a 4.36 ERA in 64 innings for the Twins. In 2014, he relied on his change (88mph) and four-seam fastball (93mph), and also mixed in his slider (86mph) and sinker (92mph). He is a fly ball pitcher and his signature pitch is a splitter-changeup that he calls a splangeup.

He did not locate his pitches last season like he has in previous seasons as his career ERA is a good bit lower than it was in 2014. In 361 innings as a relief pitcher with the Reds and Twins, he has an 18-19 record, a 3.44 ERA, 305 strikeouts and 136 walks.

Burton, who went to Western Carolina University, had his most productive season in 2012. During that campaign as Minnesota’s primary set-up man, he had a career-low 2.18 ERA, 18 holds, 55 strikeouts, a career-low 2.3 walks per nine innings while throwing 62 innings.

The Yankees currently have a lot of depth in their bullpen and are basically already set in terms of the relief pitchers who will make the major league roster, which means that Burton will most likely start the season with Triple-A Scranton and be ready in case of an injury. If he pitches the way he did in 2012 during spring training, it is possible that he earns the last spot in the bullpen. However, it doesn’t seem like that will happen since his stats have gotten worse from 2012 to 2013 and from 2013 to 2014.

This move makes sense because the Yankees have nothing to lose since they didn’t give up anything, and he could help the Yankees win a few games this season if the regains some of the effectiveness that he previously had.

Andy Pettitte Day will happen in the Bronx on August 23rd


Andy Pettitte pitching at Yankee Stadium

Andy Pettitte pitching at Yankee Stadium

Andy Pettitte will rightfully be honored in the Bronx on August 23rd after pitching for the Yankees for 15 seasons. According to his son Josh, his No. 46 will be retired and he will receive a plaque in Monument Park. The Yankees haven’t made an official announcement yet but will likely do so in the next few days.

He will follow other other notable Yankees who have either received a plaque or had their number retired. Goose Gossage, Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez all received plaques in Monument Park last summer while Joe Torre’s No. 6 was retired during the 2014 season. It has also been announced that Bernie Williams, who won four World Series rings with the Yankees, will be honored in 2015, and Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada are obviously the next candidates to have a day dedicated to them at Yankee Stadium.

Torre was elected into the Hall of Fame last summer based on his four World Series championships with the Yankees, Martinez and O’Neill helped him win those rings in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000. Gossage pitched for the Yankees for six seasons and part of a seventh, and he was an All-Star four of those seasons while helping the Yankees win the World Series in 1978.

Pettitte was a key member of the pitching staff when the Yankees won the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. Throughout his career, the lefty with an intense stare could always be relied on to pitch well after the Yankees had lost a game. The 42-year-old from Louisiana who grew up near Houston embraced pitching for the Yankees, and his fire and desire helped him finish with a record of 219-127 with the Yankees.

In those 15 seasons with the Yankees (he pitched three seasons for his hometown Houston Astros), he had 15 or more wins seven times, started 30 or more games 11 times, pitched 185 innings or more 11 times and had 150 or more strikeouts five times. He could always be relied on to keep the team in the game, get an out or double play when he needed one and come up big under pressure. He was an All-Star three times, finished second in the Cy Young voting in 1996 and had a 3.94 ERA.

He is the team’s all-time leader in strikeouts (2,020). Pettitte is third on the Yankees’ all-time wins list (219), third in innings (2,796.1) and is third in pitching WAR (51.6). A case can be made that he is one of the top-three starting pitchers in franchise history, which makes him deserve having his number retired and having his image live forever in Monument Park. No. 46 will be the team’s 18th retired number, and when Jeter’s No. 2 is retired this season or next season there will officially be no more single digit numbers available.

Nathan Eovaldi thinks that pitching coach Larry Rothschild is awesome


Nate Eovaldi pitching for the Marlins.

Nate Eovaldi pitching for the Marlins.

The Yankees acquired Nate Eovaldi on December 19, 2014. They traded Martin Prado and David Phelps to the Miami Marlins for Domingo German, Garrett Jones and Eovaldi. Eovaldi’s 25th birthday is today, and this trade gives the Yankees a flamethrower who has the potential to help the rotation for years to come.

In 2013, Eovaldi’s ERA (3.39) and WHIP (1.317) were the lowest of his four-year career.  Eovaldi allowed the most hits in the National League last season and had a high 4.37 ERA, but he did set career highs with 33 games started, 142 strikeouts and 199.2 innings pitched. The hard-throwing righty averaged 95.5 miles per hour on his fastball last season, which was the fourth fastest in all of baseball.

However, he does need to improve and rely on his secondary pitches more, in order to keep hitters off balance, and Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild could be the pitching coach to help him do just that.

According to Evoaldi, the two have developed chemistry so far. Pitchers and catchers have not officially reported yet, but Eovaldi has already thrown a few bullpen sessions with Rothschild watching. “We’ve already begun to work on things,” Eovaldi said after a workout at the Yankees’ minor-league complex this week. “He’s awesome. It’s going to be a lot of fun working with him this year.”

In 2014, Eovaldi primarily threw a four-seam fastball, slider (87mph) and curve (77mph). His slider generates more groundballs than other pitchers’ sliders and is harder than usual. He threw a change and sinker much less frequently last season. He often reverted to his fastball when he was in a in trouble last season, and the opposition came to expect it, so if he can improve his slider and curve in spring training he could have an ERA closer to the one he had in 2013.

In their bullpen sessions so far, they have been working on getting more consistency in his off-speed pitches. If he can successfully mix in his off-speed pitches while continuing to accurately throwing his elite fastball, he could go from being a average starter with a an elite heater to a consistently reliable one with All-Star ability.

(He is due to have a lower ERA this season because his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching – strikeouts, walks and home runs calculate what the ERA should have been) last season was a career-low 3.37 as a result of allowing about the same amount of walks and 64 more strikeouts than he did in 2013.)

He also recently reflected on his 2014 season, which had some positives and negatives. “I accomplished a lot that I wanted to,” Eovaldi said. “I stayed healthy. I got a lot of innings under my belt, controlled my walks. But my ERA was a lot higher than I would have liked it to (have) been and I gave up too many hits.”

The young emerging pitcher is proving to have a desire to improve on last season since he is putting in extra work with Rothschild. The fifth-year Yankees pitching coach, who helped Ivan Nova win 16 games in his rookie season, is very good at dealing with the mental and mechanical aspect of pitching, which should help Eovaldi improve his non-fastball pitches as well as adjust to pitching at Yankee Stadium and in the AL East.

CC Sabathia answered a variety of questions during his appearance on His and Hers


CC Sabathia was on the His and Hers show today with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith. They talked about his friendship with Kanye West, his expectations for the 2015 seasons after only making eight starts in 2014, how he is reinventing himself as a pitcher, Alex Rodriguez’s adjustment back into the clubhouse and his opinion on a possible 20-second pitch clock to speed up the game. They also obviously talked about Derek Jeter’s retirement and how the team will be so different without his leadership. Sabathia said that he will miss the humor that he brings to the clubhouse and bench.

They went into his love of the Iron Man superhero movie and his love of Captain Crunch cereal towards the end of the interview. Sabathia is fully healthy now, and his goal is to be able to make 30 starts once again. He said that he feels great, which is obviously a positive sign. The Yankees will need a bounce back season from him to be able to return to the playoffs for the first time sine 2012.

Yankees 2015 Preview: Justin Wilson


Justin Wilson pitching for the Pirates.

Justin Wilson pitching for the Pirates.

Justin Wilson, who is a relief pitcher that played for the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first three seasons of his career, was traded to the Yankees on November 12 for back-up catcher Francisco Cervelli. The 27-year-old has a 2.99 ERA, 1.229 WHIP, 127 strikeouts and 61 walks in his 138.1 innings pitched (136 games).

In 2012, he made his major league debut on August 20 and would make seven more appearances the rest of the season. He only pitched 4.2 innings in those eight games, but Wilson was able to record seven strikeouts and only one run.

This successful stint at the end of the season led to him having a prominent role in the bullpen in 2013. During his age 25 season, he had a 6-1 record, 15 holds, a dominating 2.08 ERA, 1.059 WHIP, 59 strikeouts, a career-low 3.4 walks/9 innings and held lefties to a .501 OPS in 73.2 innings pitched (58 games). His very low WHIP and ERA gave him one of the best seasons in baseball among set-up men.

He was not as successful last season as he finished with a 4.20 ERA after allowing 28 earned runs, but he was able to improve his strikeouts/9 innings from 7.2 to 9.2. He had three wins, three blown saves and 16 holds in 60 innings (70 games). His ERA was higher last season because he allowed 11 more runs in 13.2 fewer innings. Wilson is due for a bounce back season because many players go through a “sophomore slump” after playing well as a rookie.

Last season, Wilson relied on his four-seam fastball (96mph), sinker (96mph), cutter (91mph) and curve (80mph). The rising action on his four-seamer results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers. His sinker also results in more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers.

Wilson is entering his fourth season, and third full season, which means that he still has room for improvement. His main weakness is that he has some control issues, as he has 4.0 walks per nine innings for his career. The strikeout pitcher will give the Yankees a second reliable lefty in the bullpen. Another positive is that he isn’t even arbitration eligible until 2016.

He will combine with Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Esmil Rogers and Adam Warren to give the Yankees one of the best bullpens in baseball. Another positive to having Wilson is that he will combine with Betances, Miller and Carpenter to give the bullpen four flame-throwers. He will likely primarily pitch in the seventh inning along with Carpenter.

Prediction:

2.98 ERA

1.210 WHIP

60 Strikeouts

17 holds

65 Games

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