The backup catcher competition was one of the major position battles of spring training for the Yankees. It seems like with the 23-year-old Gary Sanchez being sent to Triple-A late last week that the 27-year-old Austin Romine will start the season in the Bronx.
Sanchez, who only had one hit in 21 at-bats in 13 spring training games before being sent to minor league camp, was likely putting too much pressure on himself. He has been in the Yankees minor league system since he was drafted when he was 17 out of the Dominican Republic and is thought of as being the next Yankees starting catcher after Brian McCann‘s contract is finished after the 2018 season.
Sanchez played well at Triple-A and in the Arizona Fall League (AZFL). He had a .295 (132 at-bats) average with six homers, 17 runs scored, 26 RBI and a .500 slugging percentage in 35 games with Triple-A Scranton to end last season. Also, as one of the team’s top prospects, he played in the AZFL, and he had a .295 average (88 at-bats) with seven homers, six doubles, four steals, 21 RBI and a .625 slugging percentage in 22 games for the Surprise Saguaros. He hit the most homers on his AZFL team and his RBI total was tied for the team lead.
However, even though he performed well offensively with Scranton and in Arizona, it makes sense that he will be starting the 2016 season with Triple-A. His weakness is his defense and Sanchez will be able to better improve his mechanics behind the plate by playing everyday with the RailRiders than once a week with the Yankees.
Another factor that has caused his development to take longer is that in the 2014 season the Double-A Trenton Thunder manager Tony Franklin benched him multiple times to discipline him because of his behavior.
“That benching was the low point of his career, it was his rock-bottom,” a team executive told Pinstriped Prospects. “He has come a long way in the last year and a half, his attitude has seen a drastic improvement and it has allowed him to grow as a player and a person.” It is a plus that his attitude has drastically improve but it can only help for him to continue to improve his leadership abilities as a catcher at Triple-A.
Sanchez has greatly improved defensively in the last few years but there is still some room to grow. He allowed a very high career-worst 26 passed balls in 2011 for Single-A Charleston, but with determination he was able to bring that number down to only two in 2015.
Sanchez, who is 6-2 and 230 pounds, allowed fewer errors last season than he did in 2014, proving his defense is getting better, but his skills behind the plate still need some more refining. He had 17 for Double-A Trenton in 2014, but with Double-A and Triple-A combined in 2015 he had 10 errors. In comparison, John Ryan Murphy, who was the Yankees backup catcher last season, only had three errors in 2015 and in 46 starts for Triple-A in 2014, he only had two errors.
Another benefit of Sanchez beginning the season at the Triple-A level is that 35 days in the minors this season will delay Sanchez’s free agency by another year. That is significant because five weeks with the RailRiders could equal control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022.
Romine, on the other hand, performed better in spring training than Sanchez did. Romine had seven hits in 27 at-bats (.259) with five RBI and four doubles. He had two and 13 at-bats respectively the last two seasons, but in 2013, Romine had a .207 average in 135 at-bats with only one homer, 10 RBI and a .296 slugging percentage. He had 37 strikeouts and eight walks.
However, the California native who was drafted by the Yankees in 2007 is more known for his defense and if he can hit about .240 or .250 then he can be serviceable as the backup catcher. He has experience being the backup from his 60 games in 2013 and will be a catcher that most of the pitchers have experience with. Romine was out of options and couldn’t be sent to Triple-A out of spring training, which means that the team’s depth at the catcher position would have been hurt if Sanchez had opened the year in the Bronx.
Sanchez will likely serve an important role at some point this season once his defense improves. His bat is likely already ready and when the Yankees feel that his skills behind the plate are on par he could be able to win some games with his offense, and there are not many backup catchers who are potent offensively as he is. Sanchez slugged 25 homers in 119 minor league games last season, which proves how much power he has.
CC Sabathia, who at 35 will likely be the Yankees No. 5 starter after struggling the last two seasons, recently said “I feel the best I have in three years.” That could be a sign that the former ace will produce much closer to how he did in 2012, when he finished with a 3.38 ERA, a 1.140 WHIP, 197 strikeouts and 15 wins, than he did last season.
Sabathia, who went on the disabled list on August 23 with right knee soreness and then had to miss the team’s wild-card playoff game due to checking himself into alcohol rehab, finished the 2015 season with a 4.73 and a 1.422 WHIP in his 29 starts. However, he pitched much better after returning from the DL than he did before and a factor that led to his improved results was that he started wearing a knee brace on September 9.
In his five starts while wearing the brace, the former Cy Young winner had an outstanding 2.17 ERA, which included winning the game that clinched the team a birth in the wild-card playoff game. Sabathia allowed one earned run or less in four of his five starts after coming off of the disabled list and the opposition only hit two homers off of him in those five games.
If he can stay healthy like he did in 2013 and have an ERA mid way between the ERA he had in 2012 (3.38) and in 2013 (4.78) then he will be a valuable pitcher at the backend of the rotation. The brace combined with being out of rehab could lead to him allowing fewer homers and having a much more respectable ERA this season. The 28 homers that he allowed last season were the second most in the American League.
Sabathia also said in a text to the NY Post that he is excited to get to Tampa with a clear head and a healthy body. Sabathia said in December that he had been sober since his stay in rehab when he checked in the day before the wild-card game, but also added that he is in the early stages of his recovery from alcohol abuse.
“I’m definitely in a good place,” Sabathia said in an interview with the Daily News. “You’ve never got this think beat; it’s always there and I’m always going to be a recovering alcoholic, but I’m in a good place. I’m excited about what’s coming ahead, not only in the season, but personally. I’m ready to go.”
Another positive development is that the big lefty said that his knee feels much better and his upper body feels stronger than it was when he had a 4.73 ERA last season. Sabathia was an All-Star in 2012 and then his velocity decline began in 2013. However, his struggles the last three seasons might have been due alcohol issues, undergoing arthroscopic surgery in his left elbow to remove a bone spur in lat October of 2012, losing 40 pounds in 2013 and then being put on the DL on May 12 of 2014 due to right knee inflammation, which ended up leading to a stem-cell shot in his knee.
Sabathia experienced swelling in his right knee in a rehab appearance for Double-A Trenton and ended up only making eight starts in the 2014 season. His renewed health in his elbow and knee combined with his stay in rehab could lead to him being a reliable workhorse similar to what he was a few seasons ago. He was able to locate his pitches where he wanted them, which included using his changeup very effectively, after coming off of the DL last season, and that could be a preview of what is to come in 2016.
The Yankees will need Sabathia, who has the PitCChIn Foundation that supports inner city youth, to be a better pitcher than he was in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons if they are going to make the playoffs again this season.
Based on how Rob Refsnyder has improved defensively since the beginning of the season at Triple-A Scranton and how he has produced offensively with the RailRiders and in his two games with the Yankees, he should be the starting second baseman and Stephen Drew should be the back-up for the rest of the season.
In 81 games (310 at-bats) with the Scranton RailRiders this season, Refsnyder had a .290 average with seven homers, 10 steals, 17 doubles, 37 RBIs and 45 runs scored. He had a very good strikeout to walk ratio as he had 44 strikeouts and 44 walks. Before being called up after his game with Scranton on July 9, Refsynder was on a seven-game hitting streak and had one or more hits in 16 of his previous 17 games.
Refsnyder had proven that he had mastered Triple-A pitching, but he just had to show that his defense had improved. His defense at second base was his main question mark coming into the season, and was what was holding him back from being called up, and it did improve from April until July.
He made 11 errors in the first month and a half of the season, but made only two since May 23. This proves that he has drastically cut down on his defensive miscues, and in the past 10 games he was hitting .412 with two homers, 10 walks and three strikeouts. It is rare that a player as young as Refsnyder (24) has three times as many walks as strikeouts.
Refsnyder, who will remain with the Yankees after the All-Star break according to the NY Daily News, went hitless in his first five at-bats and then singled and homered in his final two at-bats on Sunday. He played against the Red Sox on Saturday and Sunday and his two-run homer over the Green Monster on Sunday ended up being the game-winner.
In addition to his first homer, he also had his first major league error in Sunday’s win, which proves that he is more ready offensively. He was not able to handle Andrew Miller’s throw to second on what should have been a game-ending double play. The positive that can be taken out of this play was that it was not an error fielding a grounder or throwing to first.
On the other hand, Stephen Drew, who has been the starter at second base this season, only has a .182 average in 247 at-bats. His on-base percentage is also a very low .257. Drew’s batting average is second lowest among all players in the American League who have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title and his on-base percentage is fourth worst in the league. The only bright spot for him offensively is that his 12 homers are second most in all of baseball among second basemen.
The second reason besides his power that he should stay on as a back-up (and not get released) is that he has been reliable defensively. He only started playing second after coming to the Yankees in the middle of last season, but he has made only three errors at second this season and he has shown the ability to turn the double play as he has 32 of those. His .988 fielding percentage this season is even better than his last full season at shortstop, which proves how well he has made the adjustment.
However, the Yankees need to a higher average and on-base percentage from their second baseman, which is why Refsnyder should be the starter until he proves that he can’t handle it. Drew will be able to come on as a defensive replacement late in games and serve as a mentor for Refsnyder. There is not much doubt that Refsnyder will be able to handle major league pitching and he will give the Yankees a player at the bottom of the lineup who should be better than most eight or nine hitters.
Refsnyder, who is playing second base in his third season after playing outfield at the University of Arizona and in his first season as a pro, should only get better defensively from here. He also showed improvement in the 2014 season as he made nine errors in 58 games with Double-A Trenton, but he only made three errors in 53 games with Triple-A Scranton.
The Yankees should go ahead and designate Gregorio Petit for assignment because he only has a .167 average and five RBIs in 42 at-bats. He also has one error in 13 games. Brendan Ryan, who began a rehab assignment on July 9, will be able to back-up Didi Gregorious at shortstop and Chase Headley at third.
Refsnyder reflected on his first MLB hit and home run in the below video.
On Thursday, David Carpenter, who was designated for assignment by the Yankees on June 3 because he wasn’t effective, was traded to the Washington Nationals in exchange for minor-league infielder Tony Renda. According to Baseball America, Renda was the Nationals’ No. 12 prospect after the 2014 season. That is a lot of value to get for a player who was designated for assignment.
Renda was the Nationals’ No. 12 ranked prospect after the 2012 season and the No. 13 ranked prospect after the 2013 season. He is a 24-year-old from Santa Rosa, CA, who went to University of California, Berkeley. In 2011, Renda won the Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year award. Renda was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 42nd round in 2009 and then was drafted again after his junior season at Cal in the second round by the Nationals.
The Yankees have officially assigned him to the Double-A Trenton Thunder. In his four seasons in the Nationals minor league system across four different levels, Renda had a .288 average, a .366 on-base percentage, four homers, 153 RBIs, 83 doubles and 73 steals. In 2014, while playing for the Potomac Nationals at the advanced A level, he had a .307 average, 47 RBIs, 19 steals and 21 doubles in 107 games. So far this season, while playing for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, he had a .267 average, with one homer, 23 RBIs (third most on the team), 10 doubles, 13 steals and seven errors.
Renda has proven to be able to drive in runs at a solid rate for a second baseman while getting a lot of steals and hitting for a good average. He is currently on a six-game hitting streak with three multi-hit games in that span. In addition to second base, Renda also played eight games at shortstop last season and two this season, which proves that he adds some versatility.
After their off day on Thursday, the Yankees will now play a three-game series against the fourth place Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees are in first place with a 33-26 record and the Orioles are four games back with a 29-30 record. The Orioles are coming off of a three-game sweep in Baltimore against the Red Sox.
RHP Michael Pineda (7-2, 3.33)
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (3-3, 3.02)
7:05 p.m., YES Network
LHP CC Sabathia (3-7, 5.25)
RHP Bud Norris (2-4, 8.63)
7:15 p.m., FOX
RHP Adam Warren (4-4, 3.64)
The Yankees had an off day on Thursday, but the organization did see one rehabbing player and one top prospect perform very well in the minor leagues. Masahiro Tanaka had an encouraging first rehab start with the Triple-A Scranton RailRiders and top prospect Luis Severino could not have pitched any better for the Double-A Trenton Thunder in his return from the disabled list.
Tanaka, who has been on the disabled list with a mild forearm strain and wrist tendinitis since April 29, had a 3.22 ERA and an outstanding 0.94 ERA in his four starts before going on the DL as a result of a bullpen session that he had. During his start on Thursday for the RailRiders against the Durham Bulls at PNC Park in Moosic, PA, he pitched three shutout innings while throwing 41 pitches. He was taken out of the game after three innings because his pitch limit for his first rehab start was 45 pitches.
He allowed only a single and a double, struck out two and did not issue a walk. During his three innings, 25 of his 41 pitches were strikes. His fastball was consistently between 91 and 92 mph, which is similar to how fast it was before he went on the DL. He will likely need at least one more rehab start, but it has not been revealed yet when or where his second one will be.
“I was looking to obviously pitch all my pitches with force and I think I was able to do that tonight,” Tanaka said afterward through an interpreter, the New York Daily News reports.
“I feel pretty confident about all the pitches,” Tanaka said.
Adam Warren, who has pitched well in his last two starts as he has allowed five earned runs combined in 13.1 innings, will probably make two more starts and then be replaced by Tanaka in the rotation. Warren will then be able to give the bullpen more depth while helping the overworked relievers, and Tanaka will be able to combine with Michael Pineda to form the best number one and two starter combo in the AL East.
In the Double-A Trenton Thunder’s game against the Bowie Baysox, Severino threw five no-hit innings in his first start since coming off of the DL. Severino, who is the team’s No. 1 prospect, struck out five and didn’t allow a walk. The only batter who got to first did so on catcher interference by Gary Sanchez with two outs in the fifth inning.
“It was a great outing for him, it was great to bounce back after those 10 days out,” Trenton pitching coach Jose Rosado said. Severino, who is only 21, now has a very good 3.27 ERA and 39 strikeouts in his seven starts with the Thunder this season. He could be able to help the Yankees as a September call-up if he continues pitching how he has been so far this season.
The organization’s No. 2 prospect, Aaron Judge, hit the game winning sacrifice fly in the 13th inning to drive in Cito Culver.
On Wednesday, Adam Warren was officially named the No. 5 starter by manager Joe Girardi. It was known that there would be a strong possibility that Warren would be the No. 5 starter since last week when Brian Cashman said that he was the favorite in the competition.
“Right now if we had to make the decision today, we all know what the decision would be,” Cashman said before the Yankees had their game on March 25. “There is a Secretariat in this race. Right now Warren has a big lead in this.”
Chris Capuano, who had a hamstring injury a few weeks ago, will likely push Warren back to the bullpen once he is healthy. (Ivan Nova will takeover for Capuano when he is healthy.) Warren, who is entering his third full season, has a 2.70 ERA in five spring training starts (16.2 innings). He has allowed 17 hits, has 11 strikeouts and only one walk.
Girardi said that Warren won the job thanks to his impressive work on the mound including his “four-pitch mix, that he throws strikes…has the ability to get left-handers and right-handers out.” Girardi said Warren holds runners well, and “does the little things, fields his position.” Warren throws a four-seam fastball (95mph), slider (87mph), circle change (86mph) and knuckle curve (82mph).
Warren pitched better than any of the other No. 5 starter candidates this spring and also has minor league stats that prove that he can be a quality fill in starter. In 2010, in his first full season while pitching at Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, he had an outstanding 2.59 ERA in 25 starts with 126 strikeouts and 33 walks. In 2012, while pitching at the more challenging Triple-A Scranton, he had a solid 3.71 ERA in 26 starts 107 strikeouts, 46 walks and one shutout. He had a high 1.295 WHIP, but in spring training his WHIP is only 1.08, which proves that he can improve in that category.
Warren made his debut in 2013 and was drafted in the fourth round by the Yankees in 2009 out of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. He has made three starts and 101 appearances out of the bullpen. He should be able to make a smooth transition to starting again based on his stats so far and his history in the minors.
Hector Olivera, who defected from Cuba last September and still has to be cleared by the U.S. government before signing, is a 29-year-old second baseman who has received interest from the Yankees. The other teams that have interest in him are the San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves.
According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.Com, more than 200 scouts attended Olivera’s workout in the Dominican Republic last week. Baseball America ranked him as the No. 6 player in Cuba last August, which proves how talented he is. However, he missed the entire 2012-13 season due to thrombosis in his left biceps and hasn’t played in international competition since then.
During the following season, in his return to Serie Nacional, he batted .317 with seven homers over 273 plate appearances. He was impressively able to accumulate more walks (38) than strikeouts (25). In the 2011-12 season, Olivera proved that he could truly do it all on offense as he hit .341 with 17 homers, 44 walks and only 22 strikeouts in 214 plate appearances. He ranked third in the league in slugging behind only Jose Abreu (who won the Rookie of the Year in 2014) and Alfredo Despaigne.
A factor that takes away from Olivera’s value is that he spent most of last season at DH, which means it is still unknown if he can play second like he did before his injury. It is likely that he has regained some of his range and ability at second because those 200 scouts attended his workout, but it’s not known for sure.
The Yankees should not sign Olivera because he is already 29 and has had a serious injury. He might have a few productive years left, but the Yankees already have Rob Refsnyder, who will be only 24 on March 26. Stephen Drew will likely be the second baseman to start the season, but it could take away from Refsnyder’s development if the Yankees sign another second baseman to compete with him.
Refsnyder is coming off of a season where he greatly improved defensively (12 errors in 2014 / 25 in 2013) and produced very well on offense as he had a .318 average with 14 homers, 63 RBIs, 38 doubles and nine steals in 137 games with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. The only thing he could improve on offense is reducing his strikeout to walk ratio since he had 105 strikeouts and 55 walks.
Olivera is not worth the risk since the Yankees already have Refsnyder, who will either start the season in the Bronx, or be called up when he is ready defensively.
The Red Sox have recently hired Chili Davis as their next hitting coach. He previously did well as the hitting coach with the Oakland Athletics, since they scored the fourth most runs in baseball, played with the Yankees during the last two years of his career from 1998-1999 and would have been an ideal next hitting coach for the Yankees.
As of now, the hitting coaches that the Yankees should target should be Marcus Thames or James Rowson. They both have good reputations and have a few years experience as hitting coaches.
Rowson is currently the Yankees’ minor-league hitting coordinator. He has already interviewed for the position that has been vacant since Kevin Long was fired after the season. Rowson served as a hitting coach in the Yankees organization before leaving for the Cubs in 2012 when he took over as their hitting coach midway through that season. He left after the 2013 season to return to the Yankees.
Rowson knows New York well since he grew up in Mount Vernon, which is just outside of the Bronx, and went to high school at Mount St. Michael in the Bronx. He was drafted in the 9th round of the 1994 draft by the Seattle Mariners. He is 38 years old so he will be able to relate well to the veterans and younger players on the team. He played five seasons in the minors with the Mariners and Yankees before retiring in 1997 at the age of 20. He played in an independent league when he was 21.
The candidate that would likely be a better choice is the 34-year-old Thames. He has more success in Major League Baseball and was the Double-A hitting coach at Trenton this season. This means that he has experience with many of the up and coming hitters and already likely has some experience with the established players on the Yankees.
Thames is from Louisville and was drafted by the Yankees out of Texas State University in the 30th round in 1996. He also went to East Central Community College in Decatur, Mississippi. He would play seven games for the Yankees in 2002 and then played for the Texas Rangers in 2003, the Detroit Tigers from 2004 to 2009, the Yankees again in 2010 and then his last season was with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2011. In 2010, he hit 12 homers and had a career-high .288 average with the Yankees.
He had 115 homers, 301 RBIs and 83 doubles in his career mostly as a fourth outfielder. Thames averaged a home run every 15.4 at-bats and reached 100 homers in 1,549 at-bats which is few than any other player who has 100 homers. He also holds the Tigers franchise record for average at-bats per homer, at 14.8. He was in the Yankees minor league system from 1996 to 2001, so he knows what it takes to develop young hitters.
Thames helped Rob Refsnyder, who could be the second baseman (or the back-up second baseman) next season, retool his swing at Double-A. In 2013, the was the Yankees Single-A hitting coach in Tampa. A benefit with Thames is that he knows the young prospects well and will be able to make sure the continue to improve once they are called up.
He is also a young coach who has made a difference in his first few years, which is a pleasant change from Long because he was older and didn’t make much of a difference last season. A hitting coach doesn’t always make a huge difference, a new voice with new ideas could be the difference between making the playoffs and advancing to the next round.
The Yankees were 13th out of the 15 teams in the American League in runs scored in 2014, and Marcus Thames could make a difference with the players who underperformed such as Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. It will also be important for those three to stay healthy the whole season.