Tagged: Ben Heller

Always Sonny in Yankee Stadium…

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Adam Hunger)

Yesterday was a much better day… 

If the Yankees can win again today, it will be even better. After losing the first two games of the four-game set with the Baltimore Orioles, the Yankees have a chance to even up the series this afternoon before the Orioles hop on a plane to head home.

In one of the most overused phrases in the Yankees Universe, Saturday was a Sonny Day.  Sonny Gray gave the Yankees what they needed en route to the 8-3 victory. He held the O’s to four hits over six innings. He did give up a tying two-run double to Manny Machado in top of the third and a go-ahead run-scoring double to Pedro Alvarez the next inning, but from there, he held the Orioles in check. By the time he had exited after the sixth inning, Gray had only thrown 86 pitches (55 for strikes) and felt he could have kept going.

For a few minutes, it looked like the move to pull Gray and insert RHP Adam Warren for the top of the seventh might backfire on Manager Aaron Boone. Warren got the first batter out but proceeded to give up a single and a double to put runners at the corners. Enter David Robertson into the dangerous situation with the Yankees nursing a two-run lead. D-Rob did what he does best. He struck out Manny Machado (admittedly on a questionable call) and Jonathan Schoop to leave the runners stranded and get the Yankees out of the jam. Robertson shutting down the Orioles at that point and keeping the momentum with the Yankees was a very powerful moment in the game. In the bottom half of the seventh, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin padded the lead with three more runs…a run-scoring double by Judge and a two-run single by Austin (thrown out trying to stretch the single into a double but not before both runs had scored).

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Adam Hunger)

I was a little nervous when Luis Cessa entered the game in the top of the ninth despite the five-run lead, but he did his job. This is why I prefer Cessa in relief so that hitters do not get multiple looks at him. He retired all three batters he faced, two by strikeout. I remain hopeful that Domingo German will be the designated spot starter in place of the injured CC Sabathia.

Congrats to Miguel Andujar for his first 2018 hit…a single to center to lead off the bottom of the second inning. Andujar was 1-for-3 and knocked in the run that gave the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth. It would be great for the Yankees if Andujar can start hitting like we know he can.

Photo Credit: New York Post (Paul J Bereswill)

Also, nice job by Jace Peterson. He played Friday night in the season opener for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, got a call at 2 am Saturday morning telling him that he needed to be in New York for the 1:05 pm ET game on Saturday, and was game ready in the Bronx, starting in left field. The infielder with limited outfield experience made some good plays and was 1-for-3. Peterson’s time in the Bronx should be short with the expected return of Aaron Hicks by mid-week, but I am glad to see him take advantage of the opportunity.

The World always feels better, despite its many problems, when the Yankees win.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

They kept pace with the Boston Red Sox and remain 2 1/2 games behind the Beantown Bunch in the AL East standings. The Toronto Blue Jays lost so the Yankees (5-4) were able to move into a tie for second place. Hopefully the Yankees can make it two in a row this afternoon before the team departs for Boston. Monday is an off-day, then they’ll play the Red Sox at Fenway Park for a three-game series beginning Tuesday evening. The Red Sox have Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello lined up and waiting for the Yankees.

I still haven’t figured out the 40-man roster following Saturday’s flurry of transactions.  Excluding Ben Heller who is on the 60-day DL (more on Heller later), I count a total of 41 players on the 40-man roster reflected on MLB.com’s website. I am sure there’s a reasonable explanation but so far I have not seen one addressed.

The Ben Heller story took an unexpected turn yesterday. Before the season started, the Yankees had optioned Heller to Triple A. Then it was announced that the option had been voided and Heller was placed on the 10-day DL due to bone spurs in his pitching elbow. He was subsequently moved to the 60-day DL. Yesterday morning, Ben posted a pic on social media, talking about how his old elbow had served him well but it was time for a new one.

Later in the day, it was announced that Heller had undergone Tommy John surgery in addition to the removal of the bone spurs. I didn’t see this one coming. Heller had been my expected bullpen breakout this year, but now, the Yankees won’t see him until mid-2019 at the earliest assuming that they hold him a spot on the 40-man roster over the off-season. That’s not a given as the Yankees have cut the last couple of arms which required TJ surgery (Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Lindgren). Perhaps the goal was to re-sign them to minor league contracts outside of the 40-man roster but both times the moves failed as the pitchers signed with other organizations. Good moves with both of those pitchers due to subsequent surgeries which keep them sidelined but who knows what awaits Heller. I wish him the very best in his recovery and rehab and I truly hope he achieves the Major League success he seems destined for. I’d prefer to see it in Pinstripes but I will cheer for him regardless of what uniform he wears next time he takes the mound.

I am disappointed with the developments regarding third baseman Brandon Drury. I was such a fan of the trade that brought the former Arizona Diamondback to New York. It was one thing for Drury to be placed on the 10-day DL with migraine headaches yesterday but to subsequently find out that this is an on-going problem that has afflicted Drury for years was a shock.  Not that I want to be critical of GM Brian Cashman, but how did the Yankees not know about this?  Drury has exams scheduled for tomorrow so hopefully we’ll know more soon. I am hopeful that this is not a long-term problem or in Drury’s case, a life-threatening one. I am concerned but hopefully we’ll have better news tomorrow or later in the week.

I know many fans would love to see the Yankees sign pending free agent Bryce Harper in the off-season but with each loss, the pressure is on the Los Angeles Dodgers to make impact moves. They’ll need to do whatever it takes to keep Clayton Kershaw, but I fully expect the Dodgers to be in play for Harper. The Dodgers lost a heart-breaking fourteen-inning game to the San Francisco Giants last night after they had taken a one-run lead on a walk-off three-run homer by Andrew McCutcheon. The loss dropped the Dodgers, an expected World Series contender, to 2-6. It is their worst start since 1976. The Dodgers were Giancarlo Stanton’s preferred destination last off-season since he is a Los Angeles native. I am glad the Dodgers weren’t aggressive in pursuit of Stanton, leading the big man to New York, but underachievement this season will make the Dodgers desperate to make a big splash next year. Like the Yankees, the Dodgers are trying to reset the luxury tax penalties this season so if successful they’ll have the cash to spend big. LA is close to Harper’s Las Vegas home so all signs are pointing to the Dodgers as the slugger’s eventual new home.

Photo Credit: Getty Images (Rob Carr)

Well, it will be Gumby-Time in a couple of hours. Here’s hoping for another win by the home team. Austin Romine makes his second consecutive start in place of Gary Sanchez who was pulled for a leg cramp during Friday night’s loss.  I am optimistic the rest will help El Gary recapture his health and ignite his bat.

Photo Credit: Getty Images (Elsa)

Go Yankees!

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I’m Glad Giancarlo Stanton is a Yankee…

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Photo Credit: NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Don’t Worry, I’ve Got Your Back…

Aaron Judge recently put it in the best perspective. One of the things he likes most about the Yankees was something to the effect that if you don’t do your job, there are 24 guys ready to pick you up. I don’t remember the exact words but that really isn’t the point. This is a team and a group of guys that are ready to back each other, regardless of the circumstances. Team chemistry made the 1998 Yankees a very special team. I am not saying that the 2018 Yankees are the version of 20 years ago, but this is one of the most closely knit teams that I’ve seen in recent years.

Didi Gregorius had a huge night last evening for the Yankees, powering the team to victory with two home runs and eight RBIs, yet many Yankees fans chose to boo Giancarlo Stanton instead or trash him on social media. Whoa, please step away from the ledge and relax.

There’s no doubt Stanton had a night to forget with five strikeouts in his Yankee Stadium Pinstriped debut. But, never once did I find myself in a position wanting to boo the man. In jest, TGP’s fearless leader, Daniel Burch, tweeted #TradeGiancarlo. It was amazing how many Yankees reacted like that but with full sincerity. Granted, Daniel was not serious (he tagged the comment with #TotallyJoking) but the fans who booed Stanton acted like he was the biggest Yankee disappointment since Chris Carter.

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Photo Credit: NJ Advance Media for NJ.com (John Munson)

Stanton’s fault, if anything, was trying too hard to impress the Yankees faithful. He wanted to be the difference-maker, perhaps a little too much. There will be better days. That’s not just my opinion…it is fact. Looking at the attendance figures for the Miami Marlins, it’s obvious that Giancarlo has never played before an Opening crowd of over 47,000 people. The Marlins averaged barely more than 15,000 last year despite an MVP season by Stanton. Stanton has said the right words and we know that he loves New York and he wants to deliver. The pressure he puts on himself is far greater than the pressure we can put on him. He needs our support; not our boos. He didn’t stumble upon 59 home runs last year by accident. Pitchers weren’t lobbing him freebies to hit over the fence. I remember how Dave Winfield would carry the team on his back for weeks. Stanton is that kind of player, only better.

My favorite quote after the game was Stanton’s remarks about the incredible accomplishments by the Yankees shortstop who batted fourth behind Giancarlo. “That’s what a cleanup hitter does. You clean up the garbage in front of you.” He took ownership of his performance but was not going to let it defeat him.

Aaron Boone was asked about Stanton after the game and he talked about how the slugger can have an off-night and yet the team produces eleven runs. As Boonie said, “There’s going to be a lot of days when we jump on his back”. Boone added that he was not at all worried about Stanton. Why should he be? Stanton is a stud and I am glad he’s a Yankee.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images (Elsa)

What can you say about Didi’s performance?  It was the greatest game for a Yankees shortstop in franchise history. He was 4-for-4 and helped to ensure the snow-postponed, rain-delayed home opener was a success despite the questionable weather conditions. When interviewed after the game, Didi deflected the attention away from him individually and spoke how it was a team effort.

It was crazy in the off-season when everyone was developing top ten lists and Didi’s name was rarely mentioned in the conversations. I honestly cannot think of anyone that I’d rather have at shortstop for the New York Yankees than Sir Didi (with no offense to Manny Machado or others). Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa are incredibly gifted but I am glad we can call Didi Gregorius our own. He’s a worthy successor to Derek Jeter and has proven he is his own man. He’ll go down as one of GM Brian Cashman’s best trade acquisitions.

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Photo Credit: NJ Advance Media for NJ.com (John Munson)

I know all of us kind of wish that Jordan Montgomery had been allowed to go a little deeper into the game, but he was excellent for five innings despite the four walks he gave up. 80 pitches, two hits, one run, and four strikeouts to start the year with an ERA of 1.80. He has looked noticeably better than last year when he did a really good job as a rookie. You have to really like the progress he is making to become a reliable force in the rotation. In many cities, the fifth starter is either a Triple A performer or an older veteran trying to hang on. Gumby has the potential to be an October star. He’ll never be Luis Severino but you don’t need five Severinos to win a World Series championship. You need winners and Montgomery is one. A single run through the starting rotation this season and I am feeling very good about the state of the starting staff. Knock on wood that the present outfield injury plague doesn’t spread to the pitchers.

Speaking of outfielders, the Yankees claimed outfielder Trayce Thompson yesterday off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers. I realize that Thompson did absolutely nothing in 2017 (55 plate appearances, one home run, two RBIs, .122/.218/.265, .483 OPS) but I like the move. Thompson, 27, was well-liked by Dodger fans and his availability was due to the glut of right-handed outfielders on the Dodgers roster. Thompson, brother of Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and the son of former NBA player (and champion) Mychal Thompson, hit 13 homers in 2016 before a back fracture ended his season so he has some pop. The guy just needs to play. Sure, he could be back on the unemployment line once guys like Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier return to good health but I think it was worth taking a flyer on Thompson.  The Yankees have one coach who is very familiar with Thompson, bench coach Josh Bard. Bard served as the Dodgers bullpen coach for the two years that Thompson was in LA. So I am sure that Cashman sought input from Bard before making the waiver claim.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images (Lisa Blumenfeld)

To make room for Thompson on the 40-man roster, the Yankees moved reliever Ben Heller from the 10-day disabled list to the 60-day DL (right elbow bone spur). No word yet if Thompson will be immediately added to the 25-man roster or if he’ll start the season with extended spring training. He is out of options. While I am saddened to see Heller’s season start off on the wrong foot, kudos to the Yankees. They had optioned Heller to the minors, but when the decision was made to place him on the DL, they voided the demotion to keep him at the Major League level which means that he is accruing MLB service time and pay while on the disabled list.  I don’t know the circumstances behind the decision but it appears to me they could have placed him on the DL after the minor-league assignment which would have prevented the service time accrual at lesser minor league pay. Outwardly, it appears to be a very generous move by the Yankees to look out for Heller’s best interests. Heller was my breakout candidate for the year so I am hopeful that he has his opportunity before the season is done.

It’s a new day. When Giancarlo Stanton takes his position in the batter’s box later today, I know I’ll be cheering. Regardless of whether the result is a home run or a strikeout, I will be proud #27 wears Pinstripes. And #18 too, oh, hell yes!

Go Yankees!

Predicting the Opening Day Roster…

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Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Kim Klement)

Next Stop, Toronto Pearson International Airport…

 We should begin seeing some whittling down of bodies at Steinbrenner Field soon so it got me thinking about the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. March 29th, and a date with the Toronto Blue Jays, is only three weeks away so the regular season will be upon us before we know it.

Yankees-Blue-Jays-Rogers-Centre

Count me among those who do not place much stock in Miguel Andujar’s slew of home runs against mostly Double-A pitching. I think Andujar will make a contribution this year, perhaps a significant one, but I do not feel that he’ll head to Toronto with the team after they play their final Spring game in Atlanta against the Braves.  My guess is that he spends more time with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to work on his defensive game.

Here is my projection for the Opening Day Roster (with starting position players in italics).

Starting Pitchers

Luis Severino

Masahiro Tanaka

Sonny Gray

CC Sabathia

Jordan Montgomery

Closer

Aroldis Chapman

Setup

Dellin Betances

David Robertson

Bullpen Studs

Tommy Kahnle

Chad Green

Rest of the Pen

Adam Warren

Chasen Shreve

Catcher

Gary Sanchez

Austin Romine

First Base

Greg Bird

Adam Lind

Second Base

Tyler Wade

Ronald Torreyes

Shortstop

Didi Gregorius

Third Base

Brandon Drury

Outfielders

Aaron Judge, RF

Brett Gardner, LF

Aaron Hicks, CF

Giancarlo Stanton, DH

Jacoby Ellsbury

The guess is Judge will be exclusively a right-fielder and DH, with Stanton primarily filling the DH role but covering both outfield corner positions dependent upon the ballpark. When (not if) Ellsbury gets hurt (assuming that he recovers from the right oblique strain in time for Opening Day), Clint Frazier gets the first look as his replacement with Billy McKinney next in line.

I don’t know what happens with Tyler Austin. The way the Yankees keep trying to replace him leads me to believe that he is not in the long-term vision. I could very well be wrong about the backup first base job. Perhaps Austin does win it and Lind opts out of his minor league contract in a couple of weeks. But it’s hard to overlook Lind’s history of success at the Major League level so I won’t.

It remains my belief we’ll see Gleyber Torres as the starting second baseman during the season, maybe as early as the first of May. Assuming he doesn’t go to Baltimore in a mammoth mid-season trade for Manny Machado, I think Andujar will see extended time in the Majors for the Pinstripers too. Admittedly, if he keeps up his torrid hitting over the next couple of weeks as MLB starters are stretched out in preparation for the season, he could force his way onto the Opening Day Roster. If that happens, Lind (or Austin) could be the odd man out, with Drury and Romine serving as the less-than-desirable first base backups in addition to their other duties.

The first reliever on the Scranton Shuttle will be right-hander Ben Heller, followed closely by fellow righty Giovanny Gallegos. For emergency starter, I’d prefer to go with Domingo German over Luis Cessa but the team seems to love Cessa in spot starts despite the lackluster results.

The toughest call is the batting order but my choices from second to fifth would be Judge, Bird, Stanton, and Sanchez, respectively. Regardless of how this shakes out under Aaron Boone, I feel sorry for American League pitchers.

There’s still plenty of time for roster surprises but I think injuries would play the primary role in any deviations, in my humble opinion (which of course could be seriously flawed).

As the saying goes, time will tell as it often does…

If you haven’t already done so, you should check out Bryan Hoch’s new book, The Baby Bombers: The Inside Story of the Next Yankees Dynasty. The book is available through multiple outlets including Amazon.com (where I bought my copy).

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Go Yankees!

Fun Times at Steinbrenner Field…

Photo Credit: Associated Press (Lynne Sladky)

Shhh, the Yankees are playing…

The primary takeaways from Friday’s exhibition opener at Steinbrenner Field which saw the Yankees defeat the Detroit Tigers, 3-1, were how great Giancarlo Stanton looks in pinstripes and how comfortably Aaron Boone fits into the manager’s chair. Sure, I was carefully watching Gleyber Torres and I held my breath when he laid out for the first inning grounder he was unable to handle, but overall he was solid for his five innings of work after missing so much time last year following Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing arm.

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Kim Klement)

Stanton didn’t really do anything with the bat in the meaningless game but he has such a presence at the plate. You get the sense that when the games matter, this guy is going to be such a huge part of the team’s offense (in a classic statement of the obvious on my part). I watched parts of the Miami Marlins home game against the St Louis Cardinals later in the day and there is clearly a major difference in the vibe and energy generated by the home crowds (Tampa versus Jupiter). Starlin Castro hit a solid single to right before he was lifted for a pinch-runner in the Marlins game but maybe because I have no interest in the Marlins or the Cardinals, the overall mood of the game felt lethargic. Steinbrenner Field, by comparison, was buzzing with enthusiasm.

Photo Credit: New York Post (Corey Sipkin)

I couldn’t help but think of Joe Girardi when Austin Romine was batting, wearing Girardi’s #28 jersey. I am sure in time Romine will make it his number but for as much as I like Aaron Boone, I did sentimentally think of Girardi and what he meant to the team for ten years.

Photo Credit: Getty Images (Jeff Zelevansky)

The pitcher I am watching closely this Spring is Ben Heller. I think he’s capable of being the breakout reliever of the year for the Yankees. The right-hander is 26 (27 in August) and was 5-4 with 2.88 ERA last season with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. He struck out 82 batters in 40 games covering 56 1/3 innings. He spent limited time with the big league club, striking out 9 batters in 11 innings, while giving up only 5 hits and 1 run. In yesterday’s game, Heller followed starter Luis Cessa and gave up 2 hits but no runs in 2 innings of work, while striking out 3. Heller is a high character guy and I am really pulling for him to succeed with the big league club this year. He was acquired in 2016, along with Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and J.P. Feyereisen, from the Cleveland Indians in the deal that sent Andrew Miller to the Tribe. He may not break camp with the Yankees when they head north in late March but I am sure that we’ll be hearing his name frequently this season.

Photo Credit: Associated Press (Kathy Willens)

Waiting for J.D. Martinez and Scott Boras…

I haven’t been closely following the situation with J.D. Martinez in Fort Myers, FL with the Boston Red Sox but it’s funny that the team hasn’t announced the contract signing yet. Martinez took his physical on Wednesday but there’s been no word, good or bad. It is causing angst in the Red Sox Nation. I’ve heard things like the delay is normal in the off-season for free agent signings and that the team’s doctors are in Boston and not Fort Myers where Martinez had the physical. Manager Alex Cora has made comments that he is not concerned and I still fully expect Martinez to be in the heart of the Red Sox lineup this year but the drama surrounding his signing is enjoyable from afar. For the record, I find no humor in any potential physical issues that may be causing the delay. I do hope this works out for Martinez.

Help Wanted: Baseball Players to play for alleged MLB team in St Petersburg…

I really feel badly for the Tampa Bay Rays and their fans. It’s become worse than the Marlins situation as they continue to unload their best players. Days after being designated for assignment, the Rays traded their lone 2017 All-Star representative, outfielder Corey Dickerson, to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dickerson will help make up for the loss of offense when the Pirates traded star Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants. The Rays received reliever Daniel Hudson, a minor league prospect and cash considerations from the Pirates for Dickerson. The Rays will also be without the services of top pitching prospect Brett Honeywell, one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, after it was revealed he has a torn ulnar collateral ligament and will require Tommy John surgery. Looks like the Rays will be leaning very heavily on Chris Archer and “Nasty Nate”, Nathan Eovaldi, this season.

Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Times

Spring Training, Game 2…

The Yankees take on the Pittsburgh Pirates today at 1:05 pm for their second exhibition game. They’ll be at Lecom Park in Bradenton, FL. The lineup for today’s game is:

Tyler Wade, 2B

Brandon Drury, 3B

Tyler Austin, 1B

Clint Frazier, LF

Danny Espinosa, DH

Ronald Torreyes, SS

Estevan Florial, CF

Erik Kratz, C

Shane Robinson, RF

The starting pitcher will be Domingo German.

Credit to Bryan Hoch of MLB.com for this Aaron Boone quote, “I want us to be obsessed with controlling the strike zone. That’s one of our bumper stickers.”

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports (Kim Klement)

Hats off to the Yankees and Major League Baseball for the very classy decision to wear the Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps to honor the victims of the senseless tragedy in Parkland, Florida for the exhibition openers.

Photo Credit: Associated Press (Lynne Sladky)

It’s fun to watch the Yankees back on the field against live pitching even if the games mean absolutely nothing. Good times.

Go Yankees!

‘Twas the Day Before Christmas…

Coming Soon:  Salinas & Cabello, playing at a stadium near you… 

The more I read about the two international prospects signed by the Yankees, OF Raimfer Salinas and C Antonio Cabello, the more excited I get. These are the guys that will be viewed as the new Baby Bombers when Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez and others will be the “thirty-something” players on the roster.

Antonio Cabello (l) and Raimfer Salinas (r)

Per MLB.com:

RAIMFER SALINAS

Salinas will turn 17 next week. He’s 6’0” and 175 lbs, and was born in San Felix, Bolivar, Venuzuela. Salinas bats and throws right-handed.

Scouting Report: “For now, Salinas might be best known for his bat, but the rest of his tools are not far behind. In fact, there’s a belief the young outfielder has the potential to be a legitimate five-tool player and an impact player in the near future. For starters, scouts like Salinas’ body frame and its potential. He’s also a sound defender and his plus arm is already an asset. Salinas is already a decent runner, whether it’s on the basepaths or roaming the outfield, and there’s a belief he will get faster. At the plate, Salinas has shown an advanced approach and good bat speed. He’s been able to hit to all fields while also showing some home run power. Salinas’ overall tools package could land him in the middle of the lineup one day as a possible run producer. Scouts like his makeup and his overall confidence in his abilities.”

Salinas is ranked sixth on MLB.com’s list of Top International Prospects.

ANTONIO CABELLO

Cabello turned 17 last month. He’s 5’10” and 160 lbs, and was born in Puerto Ordaz, Bolivar, Venezuela. Cabello bats and throws right-handed like Salinas.

Scouting Report: “Cabello could be the most athletic prospect on the international market this year. The teenager is known primarily as a catcher, but Cabello could also play second base and center field. He has a strong body and has been clocked at 6.45 seconds in the 60-yard dash. Cabello also hits in games and his makeup is considered off the charts. He has built a reputation as a tough and hard-nosed competitor who hates to lose. Fellow Venezuelan catcher prospect Daniel Flores* might be a better defender, but Cabello has also earned praise as a good receiver with solid catching and throwing abilities. Cabello has been praised for his ability to block balls and a quick release that gives him a chance to throw out even the best of potential basestealers. Cabello is still working on fine-tuning his overall offensive game, and like most prospects his age, he is working on his approach against secondary and offspeed pitches.”

*Sadly, Daniel Flores, signed by the Boston Red Sox, died in November due to complications from treatment for cancer. Flores was the highest rated 2017 international catching prospect.

Cabello is ranked eighth on MLB.com’s list of Top International Prospects.

These were great signings by the Yankees. It will be a few years before they potentially start making noise for advancement to the Bronx but as the saying goes, ‘the future is so bright, I’ve got to wear shades’…

Moose Call…

Randy Miller of NJ Advance Media for NJ.com posted a good story this morning reporting the early results of 2018 Hall of Fame Voting. Presently, 101 votes out of an estimated 416 votes have been made (24.3%). The results show that it is very likely that Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, and Vlad the Great, Vladimir Guerrero, are blazing their path to Cooperstown. These three have 95% or better of the votes cast so far.

I do not dispute any of the above three. They are all Hall-worthy and I am glad to see the odds are on their side for next year. The votes that really bother me come down to former Yankees pitchers Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina.

Mike Mussina, who strongly deserves a place in the Hall of Fame in my opinion, has received 72 of 101 votes (71.3%). This is Mussina’s fifth time on the ballot. 75% is needed for induction. Roger Clemens, suspected of PED use, has the same number of votes as Mussina. That’s so wrong. I don’t care what numbers Clemens put up, he cheated.  Mussina played the game right and was good from beginning to end of his career. Moose was 270-153 in 537 games played, with 3.68 ERA. He struck out 2,813 batters in 3,562 2/3 innings pitched with 1.192 WHIP. Unlike Clemens, Moose does not need to make any apologies for his career. I am hopeful that the remaining voters provide Moose with the necessary 75%.

Credit:  Joy R Absalon, US Presswire

Clemens can rot in Texas.

That right hand is going to get sore…

Phil Nevin appeared on the MLB Network on Friday. The new Yankees third base coach is looking forward to training camp. “We’ve got a good group of guys. We’re energetic, really excited about getting going. The conversations we’ve all had as a group, we’re all excited about it. We’re all going to work well together. I think that’ll feed down into the players and create excitement amongst them as well.”

For Yankees fans, Nevin is best remembered as the first pick of the 1992 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros. The year the Astros bypassed a young shortstop out of Kalamazoo, Michigan by the name of Derek Jeter. He had an unremarkable overall career, with a few very good seasons with the San Diego Padres. Nevin accumulated 208 home runs. In the 2018 season as the third base coach, he’ll slap the hands of Yankee players on home run trots more than 208 times.

Credit:  Zimbio

I was kind of surprised that Yankees manager Aaron Boone didn’t name someone like Nevin as his bench coach, opting for the inexperienced Josh Bard. The San Francisco Giants apparently were ready to name Nevin as their bench coach had current bench coach Hensley Meulens gotten the Yankees managerial job. Nevin served as a Triple A manager from 2014 to 2016. During the MLB Network interview, he talked about how much he likes working third base and his perception that it is the closest thing to being on the field as a player.

Welcome to Pinstripes, Phil!

Now batting, Number 27…

Looking ahead to the 2018 schedule, there are a few dates that stand out. The Miami Marlins come to Yankee Stadium for two games in April (Monday, April 16th and Tuesday, April 17th). The Yankees will also visit Marlins Park on Tuesday, August 21st and Wednesday, August 22nd. It will be interesting to see how the Marlins fans react to the introduction of Giancarlo Stanton. Given the current adverse feelings toward Marlins ownership, I suspect that Stanton will get a rousing ovation.

Credit:  SunSentinel

The Yankees also visit Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA for three games with the Phillies beginning Monday, June 25th. The game will feature a reunion with former Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson, now the bench coach for new Phillies manager Gabe Kapler. It will be odd to see Thomson wearing Philly red.

The toughest stretch of the schedule appears to be very early. From Monday, April 23rd through Thursday, May 10th, the Yankees play 17 games against the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox. None of those games will be easy. The Yankees also have series against the Washington Nationals, Texas Rangers, Angels and Astros later in May. We will find out very quickly how strong the 2018 Yankees will be.

A Heller of a Good Time…

Here’s a shout out to Yankees reliever Ben Heller for his recent humanitarian trip to Guatemala with Forever Changed International. It was exciting to watch Heller’s daily tweets  (@BenHeller21) about helping the poverty-stricken youth of Guatemala. His last tweet from the trip read: “Thanks for following our trip and for all the support! I never expected to fall in love with these kids as much as I did – it was definitely a life changing experience. If you are interested in supporting them more, or going on a trip yourself – foreverchangedinternational.org

Thanks for making a difference in the lives of so many, Ben!

To all of the Yankees family, here is our wish for a very Merry Christmas and a most joyous Holiday Season! 

Go Yankees!

Just Another Game for the History Books…

Credit:  Noah K Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Yankees 11, Twins 3…

I don’t know, the Minnesota Twins might want to consider forfeiting the Wild Card game. Seriously, the Yankees seem to have the Twins number as evidenced by the sweep of the most recent three-game series. I only hope that it continues into October assuming the Twins are successful in holding off the Los Angeles Angels for the second Wild Card spot.

For the first two innings, the game appeared to be a pitching duel between Yankees ace Luis Severino and the ancient Bartolo Colon. A few isolated hits but no serious threats. Then, in the top of the 3rd inning, the Twins came out charging. Kennys Vargas singled on a soft bouncer to short that Didi Gregorius  tried to barehand..unsuccessfully…with one out. Jason Castro followed with a single, a line drive to right. Runners at the corners.  Brian Dozier drew a walk and the bases were full. Joe Mauer, battling Sevy for 13 pitches, singled to right, scoring Vargas. After a trip to the mound by Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild (which never seems to work), Jorge Polanco lashed a single to right just past a running Greg Bird who nearly had the ball, Castro and Dozier scored. The Twins were up, 3-0. Severino evaded further trouble by retiring the next two batters.  

All I could think was, “We’re going to let Bartolo Colon beat us? Really?”. Fortunately, the Yankees heard me.  Greg Bird led off the bottom of the 3rd with a double to the right field wall, sliding into second just under the outfield throw. After Brett Gardner struck out, Aaron Judge hammered a Colon pitch over the wall in right for a two-run home run.  It was Judge’s 45th of the year and his 100th RBI. Amazing. This was a guy who was almost beat out of a job by Aaron Hicks in Spring Training. 

Credit:  Bill Kostroun-AP

Gary Sanchez was up next and he delivered his 32nd home run with a shot to center in Monument Park. Drop the accolades for Judge and pick them up for Sanchez. 32 homers…the most ever for a Yankees catcher despite missing nearly a month of the season. More homers than Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada accomplished in one season. Incredible. The game was tied.

Credit:  Bill Kostroun-AP

Luis Severino did not return for the 4th inning. 3 innings worked, 5 hits, 3 runs, a walk, and 3 K’s on 71 pitches. He needed 46 pitches for the 3rd inning alone. A no decision that pushed his season ERA back over three (3.03).  

Credit:  Andrew Theodorakis-The NY Post

Chasen Shreve took over for Severino. Given Shreve’s recent performances, I was feeling a little shell-shocked. But he retired the first batter he faced, Max Kepler, on a swinging strikeout. Eduardo Escobar followed by flying out to left on a ball that took Brett Gardner to the warning track. Whew! So far, so good. Then, he walked Kennys Vargas. Are you friggin’ kidding me? Get that bum out of there! Nobody listened to me, so Shreve was able to pitch to the next batter, Jason Castro, who grounded out to second for the final out. Okay, Shreve, that wasn’t bad. I feel better now…

The bottom of the 4th arrived and, man, so did the rejuvenated September 2017 Yankees. Well, Matt Holliday excluded. He started the inning with a pop out to first in foul territory. Jacoby Ellsbury, playing like a man who is worth $153 million, tripled to left (actually, it probably should have been an error on left fielder Eddie Rosario who didn’t take a good route to the ball and it bounced out of his glove). Todd Frazier walked. Greg Bird doubled to the right field corner with Ellsbury scoring on the play and the Toddfather moving to third. The Yankees had their first lead of the game. Paul Molitor decided to make a pitching change and brought in Tyler Duffey to replace Colon. I was worried that our little rally was going to be short-fused. Silly me. Brett Gardner lined a single to center which scored Frazier. Bird moved to third. Aaron Judge struck out to briefly bring the return of my pessimism, but Gary Sanchez lightened my mood with a single to right, scoring Bird. Didi Gregorius was up next and he crushed a three-run homer to the second deck in right. It was Didi’s 25th home run of the year, giving him the most for a Yankees shortstop in franchise history. After the hit, Didi turned around and apologized to Jason Castro for dropping the bat in front of him.  Class act by a very classy guy.

Credit:  Bill Kostroun-AP

The Yankees had scored 6 runs and now led 9-3. Starlin Castro grounded out to short to end the inning but I was okay with that.

Chasen Shreve did his job in the top of the 5th with no complaints or inner dialogue from me. In the bottom of the 5th, former Yankees farmhand Nik Turley took over for Tyler Duffey. Matt Holliday, deciding he wanted to join the party, started the Yankees half of the inning with a single to center. Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk on four pitches. After a game delay when Todd Frazier hit a young fan with a foul ball, he flied out to center but Holliday tagged and moved to third. With Greg Bird at bat, Turley unleashed a wild pitch that got away from Jason Castro and Holliday came in to score. Ellsbury moved to second. Bird then singled on a grounder to first that the first baseman momentarily lost after stopping the ball to put runners at the corners.  It was another hit that probably should have been ruled an error. Brett Gardner was hit by a pitch in the back and the bases were loaded. That would be all for Turley and he was replaced by Michael Tonklin. Aaron Judge hit a fly to right, scoring Ellsbury. The Yankees were now up, 11-3.  Gary Sanchez singled to left to reload the bases, but Didi Gregorius struck out on a foul tip to end the inning.

Shreve returned with another solid inning in the 6th to help restore some of my confidence in the young Las Vegan left-hander. By the bottom of the 7th, both teams began making multiple substitutions. The Yanks rode the arms of Ben Heller and Domingo German to the finish.  Nice job by both but special mention for German.  He pitched two scoreless innings with no hits and a meaningless walk in the 9th.  He struck out a total of four Twins including Kennys Vargas to end the game.  The Yankees win!

The Yankees (85-67) increased their lead in the Wild Card standings to seven games over the Twins with 10 games to play. The Twins retained their 1 1/2 game lead over the Los Angeles Angels, who lost to the Cleveland Indians, 6-5.  The Boston Red Sox swept the Baltimore Orioles with a 9-0 win on Wednesday, so they remain three games in front of the Yankees.  The win clinched a post-season berth for the Red Sox.

Chasen Shreve (4-1), by virtue of Severino’s early departure, got the win. Three Yankees had three hits (Gary Sanchez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Greg Bird) and two had three RBI’s (Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius).  Sanchez had two ribbies. Judge now has 101 RBIs, becoming the fourth Yankees rookie to reach the 100 RBI mark, joining Tony Lazzeri (1926), Joe DiMaggio (1936), and Hideki Matsui (2003). Judge also became the third rookie in MLB history and eighth player in Yankees history with 100 runs, 100 RBIs, and 100 walks. This was yet another great team victory.  Thumbs down, Everyone!  

Next Up: Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada…

The Yankees enjoy their final day off of the regular season today (barring any rainouts) before embarking on their last road trip with a quick three-game set north of the border starting Friday night. The Blue Jays, picked by many to finish as high as second in the AL East prior to the season, have successfully held off the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, for rights to the AL East Cellar although they’ll need to keep losing to fend off the O’s.  

It may be a down year for the Blue Jays but they always seem to play the Yankees very tough. Here are the scheduled pitching match-ups:

FRIDAY

Yankees:  Masahiro Tanaka (12-11, 4.73 ERA)

Blue Jays:  Marco Estrada (9-8, 4.84 ERA)

SATURDAY

Yankees:  Jordan Montgomery (8-7, 4.06 ERA)

Blue Jays:  Joe Biagini (3-11, 5.33 ERA)

SUNDAY

Yankees:  Sonny Gray (9-11, 3.38 ERA)

Blue Jays:  Marcus Stroman (12-8, 3.01 ERA)

Marco Estrada, who had been due to become a free agent after the season, signed a one-year contract extension for $13 million this week. So, he’ll be a happy man on Friday night.  

I really hope that the Yankees find the perfect combination of excellent pitching from Sonny Gray and run support on Sunday.

Odds & Ends…

The downside to Wednesday’s victory was the injury of a young girl who was hit by the foul ball off the bat of Todd Frazier in the 5th inning.  The girl, a toddler, was attending the game with her grandparents.  She was apparently struck in the mouth. 

After the game, the Yankees released a short statement:  “The child who was struck with a batted ball today was given first aid at the ballpark and is receiving medical attention at an area hospital.  The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA, prevents the team from giving more information.  We will have no further comment at this time.”  

Our prayers and well wishes to the young girl for a full and speedy recovery.

Credit:  Bill Kostroun-AP

Credit:  Abbie Parr-Getty Images

Joe Girardi said after the game that the little girl was “doing OK”.  This was a wake up call for the Yankees organization to extend the netting to protect fans.

I do feel bad for the Twins fans. Many of them are fans of the Minnesota Vikings like me. The Vikings took one on the chin last Sunday when they were steamrolled by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 26-9, behind backup QB Case Keenum. So it has not been a great week for sports fans in and around Minneapolis/St Paul, MN.  But I certainly do not feel bad enough that I wanted the Twins to escape with a victory.  How sweep it is!  

Have a great Thursday!  It’s a day off…let’s enjoy!  Go Yankees!  

Monty & The Power of Three…

Credit:  Paul J Bereswill-NY Post

Yankees 9, Orioles 3…

Jordan Montgomery turned in one of his best performances of the season with six shutout innings to lead the Yankees over Buck Showalter’s Orioles. He was backed by three home runs in the third game of the four-game series with the O’s. Chasen Shreve was unable to get three outs in the ninth, but the Yankees emerged with their third consecutive victory over the Orioles.

The Orioles started a fly ball pitcher, Jeremy Hellickson, which is probably not the best of ideas at Yankee Stadium. To his credit, he held the Yankees at bay for 2 2/3 innings.  But then, with two outs in the 3rd inning, he walked both Chase Headley and Aaron Judge. Didi Gregorius made him pay for it with a three-run homer to the right field porch.

Credit:  Julie Jacobson-Associated Press

While Jordan Montgomery was cruising, the Yankees struck again in the 4th inning. Jacoby Ellsbury got it started when he ripped a double to the right field wall. After Todd Frazier walked, Greg Bird hit a home run into the second deck in right (“See ya!”) to make it a 6-0 game. It was the second consecutive game with a homer for Bird. Buck Showalter decided he’d seen enough of Hellickson and brought in Chris Tillman who got the O’s out of the inning.

The Yankees added a run in the 5th inning. Didi Gregorius reached base on a one-out single to second that was deflected by Tillman.  Starlin Castro was hit by a pitch on his right knee (Ouch!) which moved Gregorius into scoring position at second.  Jacoby Ellsbury’s single, through the fielders at third and shortstop into left field, brought Gregorius home and it was 7-0 Yankees.  

Tommy Kahnle took over for Jordan Montgomery in the top of the 7th inning.  It started well when Kahnle struck out the first two batters, but then JJ Hardy reached base on an infield single to third, a soft roller.  A wild pitch that got past Austin Romine moved Hardy to second.  Kahnle had Austin Hays down to two strikes (2-2 count) but lost him with two successive balls to put runners at first and second.  Fortunately, Kahnle struck out Joey Rickard to end the inning.

In the bottom of the 7th, the Yankees added to their lead.  Donnie Hart took over Chris Tillman on the mound.  Didi Gregorius hit an infield single to third, beating the throw to first, to lead off the inning for the Yanks.  Then, with two outs, Todd Frazier homered on a high fly to center, just to the left of Monument Park.  The Yankees had a commanding 9-0 lead.

Credit:  Jim McIsaac-Getty Images

From there, it was up to the second tier bullpen.  Ben Heller replaced Kahnle for the eighth.  I was a bit concerned when he walked the first two batters, but then he settled down and retired the next three batters.  Chasen Shreve took over in the 9th and was dreadful.  JJ Hardy took a one-out walk and Austin Hays followed with a homer to right in front of the Modell’s sign to spoil the shutout.  Shreve struck out Joey Rickard but then proceeded to walk the next three batters to load the bases.  Joe Girardi finally made the move to replace Shreve and brought in Giovanny Gallegos.  With Anthony Santander batting, Gallegos balked which brought Tim Beckham home from third to score.  I can’t say that I saw the balk but Joe Girardi didn’t argue the call. Aroldis Chapman was up in the bullpen but Gallegos was able to end the game when he struck out Santander.  The Yankees win!

The Yankees (82-66) won their fourth consecutive game but remain three games behind the Red Sox.  Boston beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-1, as both the O’s and Rays fade to oblivion.  The Minnesota Twins lost to the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-2, so the Yankees’ lead in the Wild Card Standings has increased to five games.  They remain six games up on the third place WC team, the Los Angeles Angels.  

Excellent job by Jordan Montgomery (8-7) in picking up his first win since July.  Pitching six scoreless innings, he only allowed 4 scattered hits and 1 walk while striking out six.  

Credit:  Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

What can you say about Didi Gregorius?  He’s been incredible and continued his dominance with a 3-for-4 day, scoring three runs and driving in 3 RBI’s.  At the beginning of the season, I would have laughed at the thought of Didi batting in the cleanup position.  I am not laughing anymore. He needs one more home run to match Derek Jeter for most HR’s in a season by a Yankees shortstop.  Jacoby Ellsbury, continuing his resurgence as a force in the lineup, also had a 3-for-4 day, with one run scored and an RBI.  Greg Bird, the Toddfather…it was yet another great team win.

With yesterday’s win, the Yankees assured themselves of their 25th consecutive winning season.  It is the longest streak in Yankees history since the Yankees won for 39 consecutive seasons between 1926 and 1964.

The series finale is set for this afternoon at 1:05 pm.  The Yankees have made a pitching change for the game.  Sonny Gray (9-10, 3.17 ERA) gets the start while the originally scheduled starter, CC Sabathia, has been moved to Tuesday to pitch against the Minnesota Twins.  Jaime Garcia gets the start on Monday versus his former team of six days in July.  The moves allow CC to avoid the series in Toronto and the artificial turf of Rogers Centre.  The Yanks also avoid sending Luis Severino out to face the Twins, their likely Wild Card opponent if the current standing remain unchanged.  Gray will be opposed by Ubaldo Jimenez (5-10, 6.75 ERA).

Odds & Ends…

Prior to yesterday’s game, the Yankees recalled 3B Miguel Andujar and RHP Jonathan Holder from Triple A.  Andujar made it into the game as a pinch-hitter but he grounded out in the 8th inning.  The Yankees also placed LHP Caleb Smith on the 10-day DL with a viral infection.

Have a great Sunday!  Let’s make it a sweeping success.  Go Yankees!