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Jordan Montgomery (© Mark LoMoglio/Yankees)


Column: Thoughts A Third of The Way Through

Thoughts after the first third of the Yankees season.

There’s an old baseball saying: you can’t win a division in April, but you can lose it. The 2016 New York Yankees went 8-14 in April. Although they finished strong and ended the season 84-78, it was a constant uphill battle because of the poor start to the year.

The 2017 Yankees started out the complete opposite, going 15-8 in the season’s first month. This has set them up to be relevant all summer long.

Now that May is over and the season is officially one-third over, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect this season. Many of the question marks that the team faced two months ago have been answered — at least to some extent. The sample size is now large enough to give an indication of what is to come.

We are going to review the season to date as well as try to anticipate some of the Yankees’ moves throughout the organization. The system is stocked with players that are ready for promotion, but are currently being blocked.

What will the Yankees do with Masahiro Tanaka?  (Tom Hagerty)

Coming out of spring training, some of the uncertainty surrounding the roster included:
How would the rotation perform behind ace Masahiro Tanaka, specifically the fourth and fifth starters?
Who would play shortstop in place of the injured Didi Gregorius?
Would Greg Bird be able to continue his hot spring into the regular season?
Would Aaron Judge be able to make the necessary adjustments to succeed in the major leagues?
Would Aaron Hicks’ potential ever translate onto the field?
What would happen if Gary Sanchez were to be injured?

The rotation, ironically with the exception of Tanaka, has performed very well. Michael Pineda has seemingly found the ability to put it all together — that we knew was there, hiding behind the inconsistency. CC Sabathia has turned into the wily veteran, gutting out performances. Luis Severino has returned to his 2015 form — with added confidence, and has been even more dominant. Rookie Jordan Montgomery has also been a key contributor in the team’s strong start.

Ronald Torreyes once again proved himself a very useful backup infielder, holding down the shortstop position while Gregorius was out. And, since his return, Gregorius has once again established himself as an elite shortstop.

Bird had some nagging injuries early in the season. He was never comfortable at the plate and it resulted in some terrible looking at-bats. Finally, the team put him on the disabled list to try to get him healthy. During this time, free agent Chris Carter has gotten regular playing time, but has been unable to find his power stroke. His days in pinstripes are likely numbered as Tyler Austin will be returning from his broken foot soon.

Judge has become “must-watch TV”. He has won the Rookie Of The Month award each of the first two months this season. He has made the necessary adjustments at the plate, and is fast becoming a super star. According to Statcast, there have been 37 balls hit with an exit velocity of 115+ mph in the majors this season. 17 different players are on this list, including Yankees’ Matt Holiday and Gary Sanchez, but Judge stands out as he has done it an astounding 12 times.

Jacoby Ellsbury is suffering the effects of a concussion. (Tom Hagerty)

Jacoby Ellsbury has missed quite a bit of time , most recently from the concussion he sustained making a catch at the wall. The Yankees’ fourth outfielder has stepped in and has been one of the team’s hottest hitters. Aaron Hicks has long been known to have great speed, an above average defender, and one of the best arms in the game. He has finally added the bat to his repertoire that management knew was there. So, expect a logjam of outfielders very soon.

Just a couple of days into the season, the unthinkable happened. Gary Sanchez injured his shoulder on a swing. The team’s best player down the stretch last year missed about a month, but Austin Romine stepped up and the backup catcher showed that trading Brian McCann in the offseason was the right move.

Aroldis Chapman, fresh off his 5-year/$86M, began the year throwing his typical heat. As expected, three of the fastest six pitches thrown this year were by Chapman. However, he too has missed significant time due to inflammation in his pitching arm. The Yankees will be holding their collective breath that he will return from the DL the same pitcher as before. In the meantime, Dellin Betances has stepped into the closer role. This should make for an interesting arbitration hearing after the season.

Starlin Castro has begun the season very strong and currently seems headed for the all-star game. However, he still has not been very selective at the plate — a trait that will eventually be exploited by opposing pitchers.

Chase Headley started out the season very strong, racking up lots of extra-base hits. Since then, he has really struggled at the plate. The rumblings are growing increasingly louder that the team will promote top prospect Gleyber Torres to take his spot. Torres started the year in Trenton where he was tearing the cover off the ball which earned him a promotion to Scranton last month. Expect to see Torres make his debut in the Bronx soon.

On the flip side, Brett Gardner got off to a slow start before turning it around in May. He has become one of the league’s hottest hitters. If General Manager Brian Cashman decides to trade Gardner to make room on the roster for one of Scranton’s young outfielders, he will be a hot commodity.

Three players have made their Major League debuts for the Yankees this season, so far. Catcher Kyle Higashioka was promoted while Sanchez was out. Left-handed starter Jordan Montgomery earned a spot in the rotation out of spring training. Righty Giovanny Gallegos was brought up as an arm out of the bullpen.

Three players have also exceeded their rookie status this season to this point. Aaron Judge, Jordan Montgomery and Jonathon Holder have each been on the roster beyond the minimum time required.

Using Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement, the top performers on the Yankees to date are Aaron Judge with a 3.5, Brett Gardner at 2.6, Aaron Hicks at 2.3, and Luis Severino at 2.1.

Through the first 58 games, the Yankees are 35-23, in first place in the American League East. At their current winning percentage, they would finish with 97 wins. If they play an even .500 the rest of the season, they would have 87. The average of the two would give them 92 wins and a ticket to the playoffs.

MLB.com has a standings breakdown which gives the team record in several different situations: at home, on road, vs E, vs C, vs W, interleague, vs R, vs L, extra innings, 1-run games. The Houston Astros are the only team with a .500 or better record in each category. The Washington Nationals (extra innings) and the Yankees (3-4 vs West) are the only team .500 or bettering in all but one category. This shows good balance in their results.

Here is how the Yankees rank among the 30 MLB teams in several key statistical categories:
(All stats are from MLB.com as of 6/9/17)
Runs (4th) 323
Home runs (3rd) 93
RBI (4th) 305
SB (9th) 36
BA (3rd) .269
OBP (1st) .345
SLG (3rd) .460
OPS (3rd) .805
Wins (7th) 35
ERA (2nd) 3.62
Strike outs (10th) 534
WHIP (2nd) 1.19

The Charleston RiverDogs are 30-30 and are seven games behind first place in the South Atlantic League. They have scored 269 runs while allowing only 229. Their batters’ age average only 20.3, which is the youngest in the league. Here are some of their leaders. (All minor league stats are from MiLB.com as of 6-9-17)

Nick Green leads the RiverDogs in innings pitched (Jerry Coli)

Avg Dalton Blaser .370
HR Estevan Florial & Isiah Gilliam 7
RBI Isiah Gilliam 29
Runs Estevan Florial 42
XBH Estevan Florial 23
OBP Mandy Alvarez .500
SLG Dalton Blaser .741
OPS Dalton Blaser 1.192
BB Isiah Gilliam 27
SB Blake Rutherford & Estevan Florial 9
Wins Phillip Diehl 6
Saves Anyelo Gomez 7
IP Nick Green 59
Sub-2 ERA Trevor Lane 0.93; Raynel Espinal 1.35; Kolton Mahoney 1.53; Christian Morris 1.72; Albert Abreu 1.84; Anyelo Gomez 1.93
SO Brian Keller 58
K/9 Anyelo Gomez 14.8
Albert Abreu 13.5
Garrett Mundell 13.1
WHIP Raynel Espinal 0.60

Trey Amburgey leads the Tampa Yankees with eight home runs (Mark LoMoglio/Yankees)

The Tampa Yankees are 32-30, 2.5 games out of first in the Florida State League. They have scored 212 runs while allowing 208.
BA Chris Gittens .301
HR Trey Amburgey 8
RBI Trey Amburgey 29
Runs Jorge Mateo 31
XBH Jorge Mateo 24
BB Nick Solak 36
OBP Nick Solak .402
SLG Chris Gittens .500
SB Jorge Mateo 22
OPS Chris Gittens .898
Wins Zack Littell 8
Saves Dillon McNamara 8
IP Zack Littell 66.1; Taylor Widener 54
SO Taylor Widener 56; Zack Littell 53; Domingo Acevedo 52
Sub-2 ERA Dillon McNamara 1.17; Ian Clarkin 1.56; Zack Littell 1.76; Jose Mesa 1.88
K/9 Matt Marsh 15.4; Colton Brewer 14.5; Cody Carroll 13.5
WHIP Dillon McNamara 0.70; Josh Rogers 1.01

Thairo Estrada has quietly been the top hitter for the Trenton Thunder (Martin Griff)

The Trenton Thunder is 38-21. They are in first place in the Eastern League Eastern by three games. They scored 280 runs and allowed 181. They are second in the league, scoring 5.28 runs per game. Their ERA is a league-best 2.69.

BA Thairo Estrada .325
HR Miguel Andujar 6
Runs Zach Zehner 30; Thairo Estrada 30
RBI Miguel Andujar 43
XBH Miguel Andujar 26
SB Rashad Crawford 6; Zach Zehner 5
BB Mike Ford 33; Billy McKinney 25
OBP Mike Ford .407; Thairo Estrada .397
SLG Jake Cave .512
OPS Mike Ford .873; Thairo Estrada .830
Wins Ronald Herrera 7; Yefrey Ramirez 6
Saves Cale Coshow 10
IP Justus Sheffield 62.1
SO Yefrey Ramirez 58
Sub-2 ERA Chance Adams 1.03; Ronald Herrera 1.07; Domingo Acevedo 1.62; Matt Wotherspoon 1.67; JR Graham 0.00
WHIP Ronald Herrera 0.75

Tyler Wade has continued his hot hitting into the season (Cheryl Pursell)

The defending International League Scranton RailRiders are 34-24. They are in second place, five and 1/2 games out in the North Division. They have scored 272 runs and have given up 233.

BA Tyler Wade .307
HR Clint Frazier 11
Runs Tyler Wade 42
RBI Clint Frazier 34; Dustin Fowler 28
XBH Dustin Fowler 31; Clint Frazier 29
SB Tyler Wade 14; Mason Williams 12
BB Clint Frazier 28
OBP Mike Ford .432; Gleyber Torres .403
SLG Mike Ford .750; Dustin Fowler .542
OPS Mike Ford 1.182; Dustin Fowler .881; Clint Frazier .860
Wins Daniel Camarena 4; Tyler Jones 4
Saves Ernesto Frieri 7; Ben Heller 3
SO Caleb Smith 56
IP Luis Cessa 65
Sub-2 ERA Dietrich Enns 1.64
K/9 Giovanny Gallegos 15.5
WHIP Dietrich Enns 0.64; Tyler Webb 0.78

A couple of players that have been promoted during the season so far are Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Domingo German, Anyelo Gomez, Chance Adams, Josh Rogers, Mike Ford, Gleyber Torres, and JP Feyereisen — who has looked sharp all season long.
Abreu has struck out 41 in 37.2 innings.
Acevedo has 83 strikeouts in 74.2 innings.
German has 65 strikeouts in 59.1 innings.
Gomez has 39 strikeouts in 29.1 innings.
Adams is a combined 7-2 with 59 strikeouts in 64 innings.
Rogers has 66 strikeouts in 65 innings.
Ford has 26 extra base hits, 38 RBIs, and 35 runs.
Torres has 20 extra base hits, 29 runs, and 29 RBIs.

The three players (Tyler Jones, Caleb Smith, and Tyler Webb) selected in the Rule 5 Draft and returned are a combined 10-1, with 118.2 innings and 139 strikeouts.

Some key injuries in the system include 2015 No. 1 draft pick James Kaprielian who went under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Also, Dietrich Enns (shoulder strain) and Dillon Tate (hamstring) have been inactive for most of the season. Nick Rumbelow has recently joined the Thunder after missing 13 months following TJ surgery.

This is the calm before the storm. Short season leagues are about to begin play. This means five more affiliates will be taking the field. The amateur draft will be taking place next week, resulting in some 49 new members to the organization. The international signing period will start at the beginning of July and the trade deadline is at the end.

Lots of roster moves will be made. Ruben Tejada, recently traded to Baltimore, was the first of many dominoes to fall. Several top prospects are ready for major-league action including Fowler and Frazier, however, they are blocked by players with guaranteed contracts. Adams and Torres will also be ready to advance before long, but need roster spots to open up. Each level has players blocking lower level players from deserved promotions.

The Yankees were designed to compete in 2018 or more likely 2019, but they have overperformed expectations. Does management remain patient, living with the growing pains of a young team or do they rush it and trade the future for the present?

Other teams are salivating at the amount of talent that the Yankees have, knowing they will be unable to protect them all. Some of the possible roster casualties will be Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Chris Carter, Rob Refsnyder, and Mason Williams. With the exception of Carter, each of these players will command some kind of return. Each of these players will probably also find more big league playing time in another uniform.

Other potential trade candidates that Cashman may try to deal in order to alleviate roster concerns include: Chase Headley, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Starlin Castro, and Dellin Betances.

Regardless of the moves that are made in the next several months, Cashman, along with player development guru Gary Denbo, have reworked the entire farm system. The organization is set up for a lot of success in the upcoming decade.

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