It’s the same story ever year when it comes to the first Spring Training game.
The Yankees play the first game in their home pinstripes, but every game after that sport their navy blue batting practice jerseys. There are critics who say, “It’s Spring Training. Who cares? These games don’t matter.” Then there are so-called “marks” (like me) who say, “Baseball is back. It’s not exactly Opening Day, but we are watching a Yankee baseball game in the winter.”
There are players wearing numbers in the high 90s and contrary to regular season games, Spring Training games can end in ties. What’s more, by the time the game reaches the sixth inning, there’s usually no one but minor leaguers on the field.
Still, it’s baseball. And a lot of people remain interested in these exhibitions.
Today the Yanks began their Spring Training journey with a 5-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies…or basically Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Raul Ibanez and a whole bunch of Phillies who will either be backups or start the 2011 regular season in the minors.
Most of the Yankee regulars played today, aside from Russell Martin–his knee is still recovering from surgery and according to Yankee skipper Joe Girardi, he might be behind the plate catching live by the end of next week.
Francisco Cervelli started at catcher today and got the Yankees on the board in the bottom of the second. After Robinson Cano reached on an error (originally ruled a base hit) Cervelli laced a double down the left field line to knot the game at one.
Mark Teixeira looked good in his first game with an RBI triple in the fifth to score Eduardo Nunez.
Minor Leaguer Jorge Vazquez had two hits, one being a bomb. Vazquez smashed a two-run home run over the batter’s eye in centerfield, which gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh. Unfortunately their lead was short-lived.
A blooper by Dan Sardinha in the top of the eighth off Eric Wordekemper plated two runs for the Phils and gave them a 5-4 lead.
The Phillies previously scored two runs in the fifth off reliever and 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, David Phelps. Pete Orr doubled to score Wilson Valdez and Orr later came to the plate on an RBI single by Ross Gload.
Jeff Larish grounded into a 6-4-3 double play which scored Ben Francisco to give the Phils a 1-0 lead in the top half of the second. Francisco tripled to reach third on a ball Nick Swisher could have played for a single.
Was it an ugly game? Yes, but most Spring Training games are. Are the Yankees looking to win? Yes and no. It’s more to get a feel for the season and to prepare, and even the most jaded fan can tell they are not “loading up with big bullets and guns,” so-to-speak.
Bartolo Colon got the nod to start by Girardi, who felt Colon would be ready to pitch since he played winter ball. Colon’s line wasn’t terrible: two innings pitched, two hits, an earned run, a walk and no strikeouts. He only tossed 36 pitches.
For Philly, Hamels made the start and his line was almost identical to Colon’s: two innings pitched, one hit, an earned run, a walk, and two Ks.
The Yanks and Phillies will travel across Tampa Bay and play again at the Phillies’ home base in Clearwater tomorrow afternoon.
Notes & Things to Out Look For
· The Yankees honored the late George Steinbrenner with a ceremony before their first Spring Training game today. Only fitting, considering it was their first preseason game without their boss. It was a beautiful gesture and I am sure the Steinbrenner family is appreciative of all the love the Yankees are showing their fallen boss.
· Ken Singleton of the YES Network said A.J. Burnett threw to hitters during live batting practice the other day and looked exceptional. According to Singy, Burnett’s fastball was “crackling,” his curveball had tilt, and his delivery “has been re-visited.” It sounds as if new Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild has helped him a lot and the season hasn’t even started yet. He will pitch Wednesday March 2 vs. the Houston Astros.
· It’s already been established that Joba Chamberlain will be a bullpen pitcher this season. He does look heavier, but he was pretty good in relief today. Chamberlain pitched a 1-2-3 third inning with one strikeout. He topped out on the speed gun in the mid-90s.
· David Robertson pitched a scoreless fourth inning with two strikeouts, no hits, and a walk. He and Chamberlain might be battling this spring for the primary middle relief role, what with Rafael Soriano in the eighth inning role. Either way, the Yankee bullpen will shape out. I think they will be a solid corps of relievers and probably be at the top of the league.
· Top pitching prospects Dellin Betances, Andrew Brackman, and Manuel Banuelos have been nicknamed “The Killer B’s.” All will be starting 2011 in the minors but can make that push for the bigs. Girardi said Banuelos is “way ahead of his age” (only being 19, but will turn 20 on March 13).
· David Phelps is a 14th round draft pick out of Notre Dame and the Yankees’ Pitcher of the Year for 2010. He didn’t really impress me much today, giving up two earned runs on three hits. But it’s only the first game. Lucky for him, he has time to impress.
· Alex Rodriguez hit a double today but didn’t score. He looks good and I expect him to have a typical “A-Rod season,” if you will. No need to overanalyze him.
· Andruw Jones played in pinstripes for the first time today. He drew two walks and struck out, and was also picked off at first base. He isn’t as fast as he used to be, but he will definitely be a better defensive player than Marcus Thames. Jones is wearing Johnny Damon’s old number, 18.
· The end of the top of the seventh inning today ended in style. Outfielder Justin Maxwell, who was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the off-season, made a sweet diving catch to end the frame. Very nice work from Maxwell; he could be a great asset to the Yanks. Or trade bait. Today I read Francisco Liriano is on the Yankees’ radar.
· When I said that Jorge Vazquez’s home run was a bomb, I meant it. He crushed the ball over the batter’s eye in centerfield–not a cheap home run. He also had a base hit in the ninth to keep the Yankees’ little rally alive, although they couldn’t finish it. If that isn’t making a great first impression, I don’t know what is. Finally, a guy named Vazquez doing something positive for the Yankees…
· Bartolo Colon is fat. We all know.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. And right now, it’s really no secret the Yankees are turning to desperate measures. As reported yesterday, the Yankees signed Bartolo Colon to a deal worth $900,000 plus incentives. According to Buster Olney, Colon pitched for Tony Pena’s team this winter, which may have played into the Yankees’ decision to sign him.
This signing caused a little bit of an uproar from Yankee fans and analysts. One source said, “Bartolo? Maybe he can be Alex Rodriguez’s personal batting practice pitcher. 22-for-51 lifetime with eight home runs.”
Colon is 14-21 with a 5.18 ERA since 2005. His signing puts him in line with Mark Prior, another starting pitcher the Yanks acquired with a history of injuries. The Yanks inked Prior to a minor league deal this off-season and to my best estimate would be a bullpen pitcher, if he is healthy and makes the team.
On the edition of Yankees Hot Stove I watched tonight, the starting rotation and lineup for 2011 were both projected. As far as the rotation goes, the YES Network has CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, and Sergio Mitre penciled in as the five starters.
Nova in 2010 was 1-2 with a 4.70 ERA. He allowed 21 earned runs in 42 innings, which doesn’t seem bad. He also hasn’t really had the opportunity to showcase his stuff, but for some reason he doesn’t excite me. Nova will get the chance next year to show what he’s got.
I just hope that he doesn’t become another Ian Kennedy or Darrell Rasner.
Mitre was 0-3 in 2010 with an ERA of 3.33 in 27 appearances. Since becoming a Yankee, Mitre has only three wins under his belt and hasn’t been very effective, to say the least. The only start of note Mitre made was in August of 2009 against the White Sox when he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Eventually he ended the outing with 6 1/3 scoreless innings recorded with one hit allowed.
Aside from that outing, Mitre hasn’t done much to benefit the team.
The Yankees have now made several moves in terms of signing free agents. But judging by tonight’s Yankee hot stove report, they will be turning to the Minor Leagues this year. It seems as though they have a few youngsters who will be looking to make the team and from their own words, the Bronx is where they want to be come March 31 when the Yanks open up at home against Detroit.
Since we already know the so-called “Baby Bombers” might get a taste of the show this year, I have singled out five top Yankee prospects that we could see in the Bronx this season–and others we will surely see in the near future. Some of them may have to wait a few more years; others may get the call to the show in ’11.
Nonetheless, we’ll undoubtedly see each of them in Spring Training at the end of next month.
5) Cito Culver
He is a player I do not expect to see in the Bronx in 2011. However, we could be looking at the heir apparent to Derek Jeter’s shortstop throne.
I saw Cito Culver play this summer. The Hudson Valley Renegades, the Minor League affiliate of the Rays (and a team I interned for this past summer), played the Staten Island Yankees a few times, as both teams are in the McNamara Division of the New York Penn League. With that I was able to watch him play, but the only game he played in: 0-for-2 with a walk.
Not much to look at there.
Culver, who will be 19 this August, has played in 56 games since getting drafted in June of last season–51 with the Gulf Coast Yankees and 15 with the Staten Island Yankees. So far in his young career he has a .251 batting average and has only hit two home runs with 18 RBIs. He has shown ability to hit the ball in the gap, as he has legged out eight doubles and a triple over that span.
He is very young and is a work in progress. But by the time Jeter’s contract expires in 2014, Culver might be developed enough to succeed him. Culver will still be in his early 20s while Jeter will be in his early 40s.
If I were the Yankees I would start getting him ready now. If they play Culver wisely, he produces, and he doesn’t he injured, he can potentially be the next long-term Yankee shortstop. From the scouting reports I have read, he has great bat speed for a kid his age and can play above average on defense.
4) Manuel Banuelos
The majors in 2011? Maybe. Maybe not. Right now, I am thinking not.
Left-handed pitcher Manuel Banuelos is going to be 20 years old on March 13 and has risen through the ranks of the Yankees’ Minor League system. He has been down on the Yankees’ farm since 2008 and had his best season in 2009.
For the Tampa Yankees and Charleston River Dogs in ’09, Banuelos compiled a 9-5 record with a 2.64 ERA, making 19 starts and 26 appearances. In three Minor League seasons, he is 13-10 with an ERA of 2.59 which includes 37 starts and 215 2/3 innings.
An upside about Banuelos: he seems to be a strikeout machine while not allowing as many free passes. In the 215 2/3 innings he has logged in the minors, he has sat down 228 batters on strikes–only issuing 66 career walks.
228:66 strikeout-to-walk ratio: not bad.
Banuelos has only been up to the Double-A level, pitching three games in Trenton last year. He will have to prove himself worthy again with a tough 2010 (0-4 overall with a 2.51 ERA coming off his solid ’09 campaign) but expect good things from him in the future.
If he has a great bounce back year, he may be a September call-up. A scouting report said he features a smooth, easy delivery and he demonstrates the ability to repeat it. They say he throws a devastating 12-6 curve ball. His fastball has been clocked at 94 on the speed gun and shows tailing action on right-handed batters.
The same report compared him to Johan Santana.
3) Dellin Betances
The Show in ’11? Yes. I can see him there.
I think what benefits the 6’8, 245-lb. right-handed starting pitcher is his age. Dellin Betances will be 23 by the time the 2011 season begins, unlike most of his comrades who are still in their late teens. Betances has been in the Yanks’ system since 2006 and has put together a career Minor League record of 20-14.
He has registered 349 strikeouts over that span, but has walked 135 batters. He has given up less than a run per inning, as he has thrown 299 2/3 innings for his career and has given up 134 runs.
One of his downsides is the fact that he has had reconstructive surgery, which was apparently a ligament reinforcement procedure. His surgery may have been what has stopped him from making it all the way to the majors this early in his career.
Scouting reports indicate Betances exhibits a fastball, a curve ball, and a changeup. His fastball has been gunned at 96-97 and he has the ability to pound the strike zone with it. From what they say, he starts most hitters off with his fastball and eventually finishes them off with it, using it as an out pitch.
His curve ball is said to stay down in the zone and he does not overuse it. The changeup is about 82-85 mph and if he can obtain better command of it, it will become faster over time.
Betances has the ability to be an ace. Look out for him. With the lack of starting pitching this year, he may finally get his chance to show Yankee Universe what he has got. I think it will all depend on how he performs this spring.
2) Austin Romine
Not only will he probably make a big league appearance this year, he has the possibility to make the team out of Spring Training.
Austin Romine, 22, was the Yankees’ second-best prospect in 2010 according to Baseball America. Drafted in 2007, Romine has been a solid catcher down on the Bomber farm. In 2007 he played one game for the Gulf Coast Yankees and had one hit, a walk, and two runs scored in that game.
From there on out, he has had at least 10 home runs in every season he has played and through four Minor League seasons, he has batted in 191 runs. He has played as high as Double-A Trenton and his overall batting average is .281. He also won the 2009 Florida State League Player of the Year Award and participated in the 2010 Futures Game.
Scouting reports say he is a well-rounded catcher, but his defense is a hair above his offense. They say his arm strength is very good and it will probably get better as he develops. What’s more, he is a gap hitter with 84 career doubles and four career triples.
“Expect those extra base hits to turn into home runs as he fills in his 6’1, 195-lb. frame,” one report suggested.
Romine said he hopes it comes down to the wire in Spring Training in terms of making the team. He would like to do battle for the final roster spot with…
1) Jesus Montero
The Yankees’ number one top prospect and the fifth best prospect in all of baseball.
The cream of the crop. The sure thing? Perhaps.
Catcher Jesus Montero, 21, has already been declared ready for the majors by Yankee Hitting Coach Kevin Long. However, his defense is what has kept him down. His height (6’4) is what apparently makes him not a viable catcher. Some have even suggested that he switch positions, moving to first base or a corner outfield position.
While that remains to be seen, he has demonstrated stellar offensive numbers. In 380 career Minor League games he has recorded 449 hits with 58 homers and 251 RBIs. Last season in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he averaged .289 with 21 home runs (a career-high) and 75 RBIs.
Montero obviously has it right on offense. A source called him the Yanks’ best hitting prospect since Jeter–that’s something that cannot be taken too lightly.
One scouting report said he is expected to eventually average .300 with 30 homers a year.
The Yankees have signed Russell Martin this off-season, which gives them the chance to continue to mold Montero on defense. I suppose they can try him out at different positions during the spring if his defense at the catcher spot is a major concern and will keep him down.
Either way, expect big things from him. And soon.