Tagged: Pete Kozma

The Trials and Tribulations of a Young Club…

In life we do not always get what we want.  I wanted to take the three game series in Pittsburgh but it was not meant to be.  Former Yankees starter Ivan Nova set the tone from the start of Sunday’s game when he struck out the side in the first inning en route to Pittsburgh’s 2-1 victory over the Yankees.  The loss gave the series to the Pirates, 2 games to 1.  

Give Nova credit, he pitched very well against his former club.  He went seven strong innings, surrendering only four hits and one run.  The one run came courtesy of a Jacoby Ellsbury home run in the seventh inning.  For the season coming into the game, Nova had walked just three batters.  He only walked one on Sunday but the batter was a guy who hadn’t picked up a bat since his high school days (Yankees pitcher Jordan Montgomery). For the game, Nova struck out seven, picking up his second win of the year.

The Yankees had their chances to win the game.  They had a runner at third in the eighth with two outs, but Starlin Castro struck out.  In the ninth, they loaded the bases but the game came down to light-hitting shortstop Pete Kozma, who had pinch run for Chris Carter the prior inning.  After Aaron Hicks had struck out, Kozma came to bat with two outs, but grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game.  It’s unfortunate that Hicks was not able to come through as it placed the game in the hands of a career .221 hitter.  

Kudos to Jordan Montgomery.  After the game, he admitted that he didn’t have his best stuff.  Loading the bases in the first inning with no outs, he escaped with only one run across home plate.  He would go on to pitch six innings, allowing only two runs.   Pirates were able to get seven hits off him.  He walked two batters while striking out five.  The two walks proved costly as both batters eventually scored (the only runs the Pirates would score in the game).  Montgomery’s ability to throw a “quality game” despite not having his pitches speaks volumes about the heart of this pitcher.  I am anxious and excited for his next start. 

 Credit:  AP

Even though the Yankees lost the series to the Pirates, they were in all three games and could have won either of the losses.  As the younger guys gain more Major League experience and assuming the veterans continue to hit, the Yankees will begin to win these types of games with greater frequency.  The bench is going to look much stronger soon when Didi Gregorius returns and Ronald Torreyes retakes his utility role from Kozma.  

Sadly, Greg Bird was not able to get untracked in Pittsburgh.  His 0-for-3 day dropped his batting average to .104.  I still think he is very close so hopefully Fenway Park will ignite his bat.  If not, we’ll probably start to see a few more Chris Carter starts at sprinkled in at first in the coming days.  

I am glad that we’re headed back to American League parks so that Matt Holliday can knock the rust off and resume his role as the team’s designated hitter.  His offensive capability is too great to be limited to pinch-hitting in National League cities.  

The Yankees have today off and will begin a three game series in Boston tomorrow against the Red Sox.  The Red Sox are coming off a 6-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles  on Sunday that kept the Yankees 1 1/2 games behind the O’s in the AL East.   The Red Sox (11-8) are just a 1/2 game behind the Yankees (11-7).  The Orioles play this evening (at home against the Tampa Bay Rays) so they could extend their AL East lead to two games.  Or going the ‘glass is half full’ route, drop back to only a one game lead.  

The Yankees have a chance to make a statement in Boston.  While they may or may not win the series, they need to prove that they can hang with the Red Sox.  Boston won the head-to-head battle in 2016, 11 games to 8.  The Red Sox swept the first season series last year (April 29th to May 1st).  It would be great if the Yankees could return the favor.  My primary goal for the series is three competitive games with the Yankee hitters attacking the strong Boston rotation.  If they can get to the Boston bullpen early, I really like their chances.    The last run through the Yankees starting rotation was mostly a collection of off-nights so hopefully this run through the rotation will yield superior results. So begins the Battle of the AL East…

Have a great Monday!  Rest up and be ready to take charge on Tuesday!

The State of the Curious…

With the impending returns of shortstop Didi Gregorius and catcher Gary Sanchez within the next few weeks, the Yankees have some decisions to make.  Granted, Kyle Higashioka goes back down to AAA to become the starting catcher for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, retaining his seat at the table (the 40-Man roster).  But for Pete Kozma, the future is less certain.

There’s no reason to protect Kozma on the 40-man roster.  It is possible that the Yankees stash him at AAA when Didi returns for insurance, but, realistically, why?  As I type this post, shortstop Tyler Wade is the top hitter for the RailRiders with a .386 batting average (17-for-44 in 11 games).  He has also stolen 6 bags.  With Ronald Torreyes moving back to the super-sub role, Wade represents the greatest shortstop insurance going forward.  Therefore, if it’s my call, Kozma is DFA’d upon Didi’s return.  If he clears waivers, assign him to AAA.  If he is claimed, so be it.  It’s no great loss.  The downside to assigning Kozma to AAA is the fight for playing time with Wade.  So, I’d probably just cut him outright and send him on his way.

The decision then becomes what to do with the 40-man roster spot vacated by Kozma.  It probably doesn’t make sense to give it to Wade (not yet anyway).  I could see the Yankees giving it to a pitcher like Tyler Webb to be part of the bullpen shuttle throughout the summer.  The harder decisions about the 40-man roster will have to be made after the season and before the Rule 5 Draft in December.  For now, the roster decisions are about who can help us today, not tomorrow. 

I know that we didn’t quite make it, but there is something about a ten-game winning streak that I’ve always loved.  It cures all ails.  It is so fun to go more than a week without feeling the agony of defeat.  The Yankees missed making it ten-in-a-row by two games but it was still a fun ride.  The sad part is that with a few clutch hits here and there and no error by the aforementioned Kozma, the Yankees probably could have extended the win streak to nine.  But as they say, that’s the way the ball bounces, so I guess I’ll just have to look forward to the next streak to achieve my self-fulfilling objective for ten. 

Coming into the season, I really had my doubts about Luis Severino and his ability to be a quality major league starter.  I was starting to feel that his stuff played best in the bullpen.  At a quick glance, his stats do not tell the story.  He is 1-1 with a 4.05 ERA in three starts.  It sounds very pedestrian, but then you look at 20 innings pitched (an average of nearly 7 innings per game) with 27 strikeouts.  More impressive is his 0.80 WHIP (14 hits and 2 walks).  He is currently behind only five pitchers for the lowest WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).  The only pitchers with better WHIP are Ervin Santana of the Minnesota Twins (0.45), James Paxton of the Seattle Mariners (0.57), Dallas Keuchel of the Houston Astros (0.62), Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers (0.70), and Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox (0.74).  Severino is in very good company.  I know it’s just three starts but this is a significant improvement over last year and it does appear to be sustainable.

Credit:  Noah K Murray/USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to the improved performances of both Severino and Michael Pineda, there is reason for optimism with every starter in the rotation.  This also supports that the Yankees could have another extended winning streak coming their way in the not-so-distant future.  Good times at Yankee Stadium. 

The Yankees signed LHP Nestor Oronel, 20, to a minor league deal.  The Pittsburgh Pirates released Oronel after three years in March.  My first thought was that Oronel is just fodder for minor league starting pitching depth.  But being a lefty and only 20 years of age (he doesn’t turn 21 until December) leads me to believe that he might be viewed as a reclamation project.  

Gleyber Torres has been placed on the 7-day Minor League DL with his shoulder injury.  Manager Joe Girardi said on Wednesday that he just has some inflammation in the shoulder and shouldn’t be down too long.  So, it does sound as though the team (and Torres) dodged a bullet, and he will be back in the Trenton Thunder lineup soon.

The Yankees returned to the win column with Wednesday night’s win over the Chicago White Sox, 9-1.  Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have his best stuff, but he still went 7 innings, giving up only a single run.  He struck out 6 and walked two while scattering six hits.  The Yankees need this guy to be hitting on all cylinders, and he’s getting closer.  It was a great offensive night as every starter had a hit, and the team was homer happy with four.  

The Yankees only allowed former closer David Robertson to get one save opportunity as they took the three game set from the White Sox, two games to one.  At 10-5, the Yankees are percentage points behind the Baltimore Orioles (9-4).  They lead the third place Boston Red Sox by a game, although the Red Sox can cut the distance by a 1/2 game with a win today (an off day for the Yankees).  Since the Orioles also play today, the Yankees could either be 1/2 game behind the O’s at the end of the day or they could be the AL East Leaders.  

Friday, the Yankees head to Pittsburgh for a weekend series with the Pirates.  Like the White Sox, the Pirates feature a few former Yankees.  Catchers Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, and Pitchers Ivan Nova and Wade LeBlanc.  You could loosely throw Gerrit Cole into the category although he was never officially a Yankee.  He was a former top draft pick who never signed.   Although Nova wears Andy Pettitte’s number (46) for Pittsburgh, his first start against his former team will pit him against his old number (47) when he matches up with Jordan Montgomery on Sunday.  

The Yankees deserve this day off.  They’ve exceeded expectations and have been a very exciting team to watch.  It’s amazing to think it’s only going to get better when Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius are back and Greg Bird is hitting like we know he can.

Have a great Thursday!  One in row, Baby!  Let’s make it two on Friday!

The Dawn of the New Season…

It seems like we were just getting excited about pitchers and catchers reporting to training camp.  Now, here we are at the end of the Grapefruit League season and awaiting the first pitch to start the 2017 MLB season.

It was a very successful Spring for the Yankees.  It was far better than I could have imagined.  Heading into Spring, we were concerned about Greg Bird.  He hit well late in the 2015 season but missed most of last year due to his shoulder injury.  There was doubt about how he would perform and if the shoulder would hold him back like, say, the way Mark Teixeira’s wrist did.  Bird smashed any concerns that he is ready.  I know that Spring stats do not really mean much, but Bird led the Yankees with 8 home runs and was second on the team behind Gary Sanchez with 15 RBI’s.  He played first base like a veteran and by all accounts, he is posed to be a future star in New York.  I’ve always thought of Bird as a professional hitter and not one who will be susceptible to prolonged slumps.  I am very glad to see that he is ready to fly (no pun intended).

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Credit:  John Raoux, AP

What can you say about Gary Sanchez?  He continued the great success from last Fall without missing a beat.  His bat delivered (5 homers and 16 RBI’s), and do did his arm (.983 fielding percentage in 102 innings worked, with a sub .500 stolen base percentage against him as he threw out 6 runners while only allow 4 SB’s).  He is arguably the most exciting Yankees catcher since Jorge Posada or to place him higher, Thurman Munson.  Good times ahead for the catching position, no doubt.

Aaron Judge held off Aaron Hicks to win right field in the Battle of Aarons.  I feel bad for Hicks because I know that he needs to play every day to be successful.  It’s hard to get into rhythm with limited, spot starts.  But I would have been very disappointed to see Hicks get the right field job over Judge.  At this point, sending Judge down to Triple A serves no purpose.  He has proven himself at that level.  He needs to master the Major Leagues and he can only do that by being here and playing every day.  His ceiling, if successful, is so much greater than Hicks.  Dating back to the days of Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield, I love powerful right fielders at Yankee Stadium.

If I was the General Manager of the Yankees, Brett Gardner would be living in a different zip code.  Nothing against Gardner, he’s been a good Yankee but his best days are behind him.  He needs to open the way for younger guys.  I’d prefer to start Hicks in left over Gardner, so I’d find a way to move Gardy even if the return is not ideal.  The perfect scenario would be to trade Jacoby Ellsbury and move Gardner to center, but that’s not going to happen with nearly $90 million left on Ellsbury’s contract.

In the starting rotation, Luis Severino won the fourth spot but it was not an overpowering Spring performance.  Last year, Severino chased his first win as a starter without success (he picked up a few wins in the bullpen but was 0-8 in his starts).  I really hopeful that we do not go weeks or months trying to get that elusive first win this year.  Severino has so much potential but he still leaves so many wondering if his stuff plays better out of the pen.  It would be nice if he could prove those naysayers wrong (including me) to become a vital part of the rotation.

Manager Joe Girardi has delayed his decision for a fifth starter.  With three scheduled off days during April including two days in the first week, a fifth starter is not needed until Sunday, April 16th at home against the St Louis Cardinals.  Of the competitors for the fifth spot, only Bryan Mitchell made the Opening Day roster as a reliever.  Chad Green will go down to AA Trenton while Jordan Montgomery will go to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  Both Green and Montgomery will have early April starts in the minors for further auditions.  I am sure that Mitchell will get some audition opportunities through long relief.  Mitchell had been my favorite for the rotation but Jordan Montgomery changed my mind.  So, I am hopeful that Montgomery gets the call-up when it is time for the fifth starter.

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Credit:  Associated Press

I was glad to see Chasen Shreve make the Opening Day roster as the second lefty behind Tommy Layne.  Well, technically the third but Aroldis Chapman doesn’t really count since he’s on the mound at the end of games regardless of who is at the plate.  When the Yankees toyed with the minor league signings of Ernesto Frieri and Jon Niese, I was fearful that Shreve would be one of the odd men out.  Perhaps he still is given the Yankees’ propensity for the using the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle to keep the bullpen fresh.  Another young reliever I am happy for is Jonathan Holder.

Utility player Ronald Torreyes won the interim shortstop role while Didi Gregorius begins the year on the Disabled List.  I am not excited about Torreyes in an every day role, but there were limited internal options.  The Yankees will make room on the 40-man roster to bring up Pete Kozma to back up Torreyes, but Kozma has no bat.  It did not make sense for the Yankees to trade for a shortstop since Didi will be back by the end of April or early May, and, unfortunately,  prospect Tyler Wade is not quite ready.  I also didn’t want to see the Yankees slide Starlin Castro back to short.  He is still relatively inexperienced at second and needs to continue his work at the position.  The Yankees obviously agreed as they never played Castro at short during training camp.  Many thought the Yankees should have slid Castro to short to allow Rob Refsnyder to start at second.  I am not sure that Refsnyder, for whatever reason, will ever get a legitimate chance in the Bronx.  He was sent down to AAA for the start of the season with earlier reports that he was on the trading block.

I am not expecting this to be a playoff year for the Yankees.  They could surprise and nab a Wild Card spot but I don’t think this is their year to unseat the Boston Red Sox as AL East Champions.  They are still a year or two away from being a legitimate World Series contender.  I do think this will be a more exciting team than last year’s team from beginning to end.  The Baby Bombers proved that last year when the deadline deals moved Chapman to the Cubs and Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians, and Alex Rodriguez was released.  It was only a preview of the excitement and energy the younger players can bring, which is further enhanced by the presence of Greg Bird this year.

Despite the quick arrival of the regular season, I am ready.  Play ball!…

Baseball Equipment Laying on Grass

Warp Speed to Opening Day…

At the conclusion of the World Series, the off-season seems like it will be so long.  We wait for the opening of free agency, then the winter meetings  which generally brings a short frenzy with signings and trades.  Then we wait through the holidays, and go through a quiet January.  Finally, around Valentine’s Day, we are able to get our baseball fix as training camps begin to open.

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Then, we blink, and here we are a week away from Opening Day.  Cubs fans are probably still trying to recover from the hangovers, but the rest of us are anxious to begin the new year and at this point, everyone is optimistic.

The Yankees’ off-season was relatively quiet.  The major move, aside from the return of Aroldis Chapman, was to sign free agent Matt Holliday, now the team’s starting DH.  Matt’s days in the field, at age 37, are over but the bat remains effective and so do the leadership abilities.  I’ve been very pleased this spring with the impact that Matt has had on the younger players, most notably Aaron Judge.  With only a one-year contract, it is possible that this is Matt’s only year in pinstripes.  Time will tell, but given what I’ve seen so far, I hope the team is able to find a way to bring him back next year.

Matt Holliday

Credit:  Matt Rourke, AP

I am not sure what can be said about Masahiro Tanaka other than he’s been amazing this spring.  Through five starts and 18 2/3 innings, he’s only surrendered six hits while striking out 22 to go with a sparkling 0.00 ERA.  I realize that spring stats do not mean a great deal but Tanaka appears to be setting himself up for a career year.  Of course that carries good news/bad news as Tanaka can opt out of his contract at the end of the year, but that’s something to worry about after the season.  For now, let’s just enjoy what could be a tremendous year for the young right-hander.

Manager Joe Girardi has announced that CC Sabathia, rather than Michael Pineda, will slot in the rotation behind Tanaka.  It was something of a surprise given CC was fighting for the fifth spot last spring.  Girardi gave the ‘right-left’right’ strategy as his logic for the move, putting the left-handed Sabathia between two righties.  He also referenced Sabathia’s numbers last year…3.91 ERA in 30 starts.  His record was only 9-12 but wins and losses are deceiving for pitchers as they are dependent upon run support.

I am not sure how Pineda will react to the move back to third in the rotation.  If it motivates him to overcome his inconsistency, I am all for it.  The starting rotation needs a solid year from Pineda if it is going to be successful.

The fight for the last two spots in the rotation has been interesting.  At the start of training camp, I felt the favorites were Luis Severino and Bryan Mitchell.  Severino started strong and then has struggled with starts recently (although he did throw three hitless innings in relief yesterday).  Mitchell has been good but not great.  Chad Green has probably pitched the best among the contenders but the dark horse that is emerging is tall left-hander Jordan Montgomery.  Luis Cessa, one of the early hopefuls, has already been sent to minor league camp for re-assignment.  At 6’6” with an ability to pitch inside, I am very intrigued by Montgomery. He has proven himself at both the AA and AAA levels, and I think the 24-year-old is ready for the major leagues.

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Credit:  Reinhold Matay, USA TODAY Sports

In the right field competition, I think Aaron Judge has done enough to hold off Aaron Hicks.  The stats are fairly comparable.  Judge is batting .300 (15-for-50) with 2 HR and 4 RBI.  Although he is still among the leaders in strikeouts (with 12), he is striking out less than he did last season in the Bronx.  Hicks is batting .279 (12-for-43), also with 2 HR and 4 RBI.  Hicks has struck out seven times.  Judge has also displayed a terrific arm in right.  For me, Judge has done what he needs to this spring and deserves the opportunity to take right field.

Greg Bird has been named the starting first baseman to the surprise of no one.  Bird currently carries a .432 BA (19-for-44) with 6 HR and 11 RBI.  I don’t think there was any chance that Chris Carter was going to beat out Bird, but Carter has been almost non-existent during training camp.  He is currently batting .136 (6-for-44) which is actually up from where it was a few days ago.  He only has one home run to go with 22 strikeouts.  I think there’s a very strong argument for why Carter should be DFA’d when Tyler Austin returns from his foot injury.

With the final days of training camp winding down, the greatest uncertainty lies with shortstop.  Didi Gregorius is out for the next month after suffering the shoulder sprain in the World Baseball Classic, so the question is who will replace Didi at short.  The most logical move would be to slide Starlin Castro to short, and use a platoon of Ronald Torreyes and Rob Refsnyder at second.  For me, it’s not ideal because Castro is still learning the nuances of second base and it should remain his focus.  The only problem is there are no other true shortstops on the 40-man roster.  Prospect Tyler Wade is the most advanced shortstop in the system and he’s probably my favorite for the temporary replacement but he’s young (only 22).  He’s batting .342 in Grapefruit League action (13-for-38) but doesn’t have much power.  Other possibilites are non-roster invitees Pete Kozma and Ruben Tejada.  Didi’s bat will certainly be missed while he is away.

With the latest minor league re-assignments, the Yankees have 39 players remaining in camp.  This includes the injured players (Tyler Austin and Didi Gregorius).  With Opening Day just a week away, there will be more cuts this week as the Yankees pare down to 25 for the trip to St Petersburg to face the Tampa Bay Rays on April 2nd.

This has been a fun spring.  The Yankees have the best record in the Grapefruit League (or the Cactus League for that matter).  I know that spring stats mean nothing when the regular season starts but winning is always fun.  We’ve seen some great stuff from the talented super-prospects in the organization like Gleyber Torres and James Kaprielian.  Although they won’t be heading north with the big league club, they’ve given us glimpses of their incredible futures.  Gary Sanchez has continued to impress and Greg Bird has shown that last year’s shoulder injury is no longer an issue.  I am anxious and ready for the season to start.  The Cubs are yesterday’s news.