Monday, July 28, 2008

Melancon Promoted To AAA

It's about time.

After dominating and piling up 75 innings between Tampa and Trenton, Marky Melancon is finally on his way to Scranton.

By now you know all the stats. If not, click on the "Mark Melancon" label at the bottom of this post. The numbers speak for themselves, to go along with glowing scouting reports on his make-up, work ethic, etc.

One would assume this is where the Yankees begin regulating Melancon's innings a bit more, so that he is only pitching a frame per outing. For Tampa and Trenton Melancon often times pitched three or more innings per appearance - which can be somewhat deceiving due to the extremely low number of pitches-per-inning he was requiring.

Yesterday's NY Post article on Melancon quoted a scout as saying the following:
"Just a year [after the surgery], to have everything back with his kind of stuff . . . that's exceptional," the scout said. "A kid can't come back the way he did without working hard."

"There are some guys who are middle relievers, that don't have the mentality to come in at the end of the game," the AL scout said. "But the way he goes about his business and gets the job done . . . once you see him, you'll know."
The article also cited the scout as saying Melancon's plus fastball currently sits 92-94 mph and his filthy power curveball is between 81-84 mph. When I saw Melancon at Trenton his fastball topped out at 95, so that sounds about right.

With the hearty workload Melancon's tasted so far this year coming back from Tommy John surgery, it's not certain whether he will enjoy a September call-up. However, he may receive the same treatment which prospects like a teenage Phil Hughes received before breaking into the majors by visiting the Yankees clubhouse when the team's at home - though he would not be allowed to sit in the dugout.

Also, Brian Cashman called buzz that Phil Coke had a torn labrum "completely false." As was the plan all along, Coke has been moved to the bullpen to limit his innings.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fallout: The Nady/Marte Deal

Goodbye Tabby...

A great trade for the Yankees? Absolutely.

A gut-punch for many Yankees fans? Definitely.

Like the old adage goes, when making an important trade each team should feel some pain once the deal is done. This one was no different.

Though the original reported trade was incorrect, the the actual deal announced today is as follows:

Yankees get: LHP Damaso Marte and OF Xavier Nady
Pirates get: OF Jose Tabata, RHP Ross Ohlendorf, RHP Dan McCutchen and RHP Jeff Karstens
The last two names were in place of RHP George Kontos and LHP Phil Coke.

While I am no scout by any means, I was fortunate enough to see every one of the six mentioned Yankees prospects in person. It hurts to lose a kid as talented and projectable as a teenage Tabata because the Yankees really sold low on him. However, having control of Nady until after the 09 season and more importantly, having Austin Jackson [who leapfrogged Tabata as a prospect this year] marginalizes the hit.

I still believe McCutchen could be a mid-rotation starter or [through his versatility] could come out of the bullpen in the late innings to help a ballclub. And I love his make-up and bulldog persona; they don't call him "Danimal" for nothing. He has thrown a couple of complete games at AAA, shows an ability to consistently throw strikes [evidenced by his low walk rates] and is not afraid of anything on the mound.

However, trading guys like McCutchen, Ohlendorf and Karstens [all RHP's] is dealing from a position of absurd strength for the Yankees. Consider this, the Yankees still have guys like Melancon, Horne, Betances, Brackman, [soon Cole], McAllister, Heredia, Cox, Patterson, Sanchez, Marquez and a host of other righties in their system. With the lack of lefthanded pitching in the system, it's encouraging that a currently surging Coke - the only legitimate upper level lefty prospect in the system - will remain a Yankee. Though, with the Jarrod Washburn talks still ongoing, it is uncertain if that will remain true.

Though Keith Law's take on the trade is generally agreeable - the ESPN writer says it's win-win for both teams - I feel he truly undersells Kontos and particularly Coke in saying they would "never" contribute to the Yankees' big club anyhow. Law states that Kontos throws 90-92 and that Coke utilizes a fringe-average fastball.

When I saw Kontos, he touched 96 mph with his fastball and, though I agree with Law that his command is at times shaky, the Northwestern product possesses a big league slider, decent curve and serviceable change. In my mind, Kontos could have a lot of value if/when he moves to a bullpen role in that his fastball which is characteristically 91-93 may jump up to the mid-90's to compliment a consistently hard slider.

Coke, who has come from out of nowhere to lead the Eastern League starters with a 2.60 ERA, struck out 109 [over 114 innings] to just 38 walks and has been absolutely dominant. Furthermore, the southpaw has seen a jump in velocity of late and is now throwing 91-93 mph and touching 94. For an already cerebral lefty, that type of power fastball is extremely impressive considering his original billing as a crafty southpaw type. If nothing else, Coke offers the Yankees a starting option from the lefthand side or a future LOOGY should one become necessary behind Marte.

To say the Yankees were given Nady and Marte for nothing is an absolute joke. Tabata, until this season, had hit .300 or better at every level and more often than not was the youngest hitter at each respective stage of his development. His power element could at any time reveal itself, especially once his wrist injury is fully healed following offseason hamate surgery and he learns to pull the ball to left. Tabata's off-field problems could return or he may never reach his full potential, but make no mistake, the kid is a legit top prospect who's had a terrible season [again, at age 19] on and off the diamond.

Considering the Yankees' need for an impact bat with the uncertainty surrounding Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui and even Johnny Damon, and due to the fact that the team has zero lefthanded relievers in the already excellent bullpen, the trade made sense. Now, the team can more effectively absorb losing Posada for the season and will offer a versatile setup man to bridge Mariano Rivera in the ninth.

However, the Pirates did not hurt themselves either, picking up a blue chip positional prospect to compliment future star outfielder Andrew McCutchen as well as two young versatile right handed pitchers in Cutch/Ohlie who can provide power in the rotation or out of the pen.

Though it'd be tough to see Tabby eventually turn into Man-Ram lite, the Yankees have undeniably pushed their chips into the center of the table and can now chuckle at the clueless sportswriters decreeing this a transitional year in which the Yankees would not chase a postseason berth.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

De La Rosa Torching Competition

Wilkins De La Rosa is a name you should file away in the back of your mind so here's a little scouting report.

The 23 year-old began his professional career as a toolsy outfielder signed by the Yankees way back in 2001. But, when it became evident his hitting prowess did not match his mammoth arm in the outfield, the organization decided to put him on the mound instead.

The results have been nothing short of dazzling thus far. I first started following De La Rosa last season when he tossed 24 innings of relief for the GCL Yankees, striking out 32 batters, walking 11, allowing 20 hits and posting a 2.63 ERA. At that early stage of his pitching career, De La Rosa was reportedly already pumping fastballs 92-95mph and touching the high 90s when he needed it.

Considering the dearth of lefthanded pitching in the Yankees farm system at that time [hello Phil Coke, Anthony Bleich], De La Rosa became an intriguing must-monitor prospect for me. His rise has been fun to watch.

Moving up a level to Low-A Charleston this year, De La Rosa continued torching through hitters with ease and striking out opposing hitters at an absurd rate. Though his slider is a bit inconsistent in terms of command it projects to be a solid weapon in the future, and De La Rosa does have a solid grasp of his changeup right now to compliment a surprisingly repeatable delivery.

The result has been a stellar 2008 campaign, headed by his 94 strikeouts over 75.2 innings, .189 opponent batting average and sparkling 2.26 ERA. After spending the bulk of his year as a shutdown multi-inning reliever for the Riverdogs, De La Rosa was recently converted to the rotation. As has become a trend for De La Rosa, he again excelled in the new role. [And, believe it or not, his numbers have actually improved since becoming a starter]

Of his six starts this year, De La Rosa has only been truly stretched out as a starter for his last four outings. Over those last four starts the 6-foot-3 lean lefty tossed 23.1 innings, struck out 26 batters, walked just 5 and allowed only 4 earned runs. For a converted outfielder to not only pick up the art of pitching this quickly but simultaneously dominate his competition is rare, to say the very least.

Below are De La Rosa's last four starts:
July 2nd..... 5.1 innings, 2 hits, 1 ER, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts
July 7th...... 6 innings, 2 hits, 0 ER, 0 walks, 9 strikeouts
July 13th.... 6 innings, 3 hits, 1 ER, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts
July 18th.... 6 innings, 7 hits, 2 ER, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts
And finally, De La Rosa's career stats as a minor league pitcher:
2.32 ERA, 93.2 IP, 63 hits, 119 strikeouts, 44 walks, 1 HR
11.49 K/9 - 1.15 WHIP - 6.08 H/9 - 0.10 HR/9 - 4.25 BB/9
It's safe to say that Wilkins has catapulted himself from an underwhelming outfielder limited to minor league limbo into a bona fide major league pitching prospect.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ahh Good Ol' China Bringing
Racism To The Olympics

Sure it's totally irrelevant to baseball and the Yankees' 7-1 blowout of the Athletics tonight [how about that D-Rob striking out the side on 11 pitches in the seventh] but this new story is too insulting to ignore.

Apparently bars with an international clientele in the party town of Sanlitun - not far from Beijing - were told not to serve black patrons before or during the Olympic games. How does a country who lets atrocities go unchecked [Tibet], promotes racism as a means of crime control [above link] and whose Olympic sailing venue was until recently unnavigable, handed the most prestigious, unifying, camaraderie-driven event on the planet? That IOC has got some kind of sick humor.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sanchez Making Progress in GCL

Bronx, NY native Humberto Sanchez - like fellow organizational arms JB Cox and Mark Melancon - is making his way back from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow.
Sanchez began his rehabilitation work for the GCL Yankees on June 24th, and has been very effective in [mind you] a very small sample size. Including yesterday's outting, Sanchez has now made seven appearances in the Gulf Coast League, and over those 6.2 innings-pitched he has allowed just one earned run on three hits while striking out nine and walking three.
The only run Sanchez has allowed thus far came during his first appearance on June 24th, the first time he'd pitched in a profressional game since 2006. According to a source, Sanchez is already throwing in the low-90s mph with his fastball and may soon again reach the mid-90s with his heater in the coming months.
Before his arm surgery, Sanchez complimented a bowling-ball heavy fastball with a filthy 12-6 curveball, power slider and serviceable changeup.
Humberto's surgery was performed by James Andrews on April 17th of last year which means he is exactly 15 months out of surgery. The standard recovery period cited for most pitchers is 12-18 months, with the latter being the expected time table for the pitcher to really feel his velocity, command and strength return.
With that said, the time table for Sanchez remains a big, fat question mark at this point as every athlete responds differently to the surgery. Therefore, any belief that he could contribute to the big club in 2008 currently seems unwarranted at this juncture.
However, Sanchez's last season of work saw him dominate AA hitters for the Tigers to the tune of a 1.76 ERA over 11 starts, with 86 strikeouts in 71.2 innings and allowing just 47 hits and 27 walks. Those are some serious numbers for a starting pitcher at the proving grounds of AA level baseball.
So, if his rehab were to continue at this rate without setback or incident, and he breezed through Tampa/Trenton as a reliever, a short stay at AAA might allow him to break into the majors in September. A lot of things have to go right, however, for that to occur.
Should the Yankees begin to stretch Sanchez out with the intent of keeping him as a starting pitcher, I would believe the chances of seeing Sanchez in the Bronx in '08 would then be nil.
The best plan for Sanchez this year and for the future is as a potential closer or setup man as it will play up an already dangerous pitching arsenal and keep his innings count down which should help him avoid another injury. Whatever the case may be, Sanchez will be an entertaining prospect to watch in person if he hits the northeast later this Summer.

This'll Get My $10 Next Summer

I will give The Dark Knight the IMAX treatment this summer, but it looks like Christian Bale is again going to force me into the absurdly large and loud theater in the summer of 2009 because Terminator: Salvation looks pretty sick. I give you Exhibit A:

What's Bale got on tap for Summer 2010? Casablanca: Redux?

Nevermind, he's only filming this. A film tracing the exploits of John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd that is directed by Michael Mann and stars Bale, Johnny Depp, Billy Crudup, Giovanni Ribisi and Marion Cotillard? Where do I sign up?

Bale is putting together quite a career. Underrated in Harsh Times, absolutely disgusting in The Machinist and harrowing in Rescue Dawn, just to name a few less commercial efforts.

Meanwhile, one can only hope Terry Gilliam can work his evil genius into completing this film too.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rest In Peace Lemon

Bobby Murcer dead at the age of 62. A sad, sad moment for the Yankees, Major League Baseball and all of his fans. Unfortunately, great human-beings aren't immune to cancer.

Lemon inspired countless individuals, myself being one of them. All you need to know about Bobby Murcer is the events of August 6, 1979. In the morning Murcer buried his best friend Thurman Munson and gave the eulogy during his funeral.

That night Murcer knocked in all five runs, including a 3-run homer and a walk-off two run single, generating an eruption from the jubilant Yankee Stadium crowd as well as relief within an emotionally charged home dugout.

Prayers go out to his family and friends during an obviously tough, tough time.

Friday, July 11, 2008

McCutchen Getting Close

"Danimal" McCutchen is starting to knock on the major league door with a little more authority after another solid performance Thursday night.

As of today, McCutchen has 10 starts at the AAA level and is posting an impressive 3.32 ERA. It will sound excusatory, but in nearly every one of his starts for Scranton, McCutchen's struggled and surrendered runs in one particular inning while dominating before and after.

During the five starts listed below, McCutchen has been able to avoid the one bad inning syndrome which blew up his ERA from what would have been an even more impressive number in the 2.00's. Excluding one poor start on June 20th, here are the last five outings for Cutch at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre:
July 10th.. 6 innings, 7 hits, 2 ER, 6 strikeouts, 1 walks
July 5th.... 9 innings, 5 hits, 0 ER, 10 strikeouts, 0 walk
June 30th. 6 innings, 6 hits, 1 ER, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk
June 25th. 6.2 innings, 7 hits, 3 ER, 3 strikeouts, 3 walks
June 14th. 9 innings, 6 hits, 0 ER, 4 strikeouts, 0 walks
Over these five starts, Cutch piled up 28 strikeouts over 36.2 innings and walked only five. The 28 to 5 strikeout-to-walk ratio speaks to his excellent control, but more importantly, it highlights that McCutchen's command is improving as well. Over those five starts, Danimal's WHIP is just under the 1.00 mark, which also supports the idea of a spike in command.

While he hasn't been Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain dominant, the Danimal has been consistently very, very good in the minors. Just go back and take a look at his numbers the past two years at Tampa, Trenton and now Scranton and remember he holds a 2.63 career minor league ERA over 284 innings-pitched. On a year split between AA and AAA, Cutch has a 2.97 ERA with 102 strikeouts to just 28 walks and 112 hits over 118 innings.

Look out Rasner/Ponson.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Justin Upton Is A Freak

Don't you wish you could be 20 years old, play in the major leagues and be capable of hitting 484 foot homeruns? If you haven't seen Justin Upton's mammoth, record-breaking homer from Sunday night, I recommend checking out the above link.

[N]ESPN Pulls Spygate Part II?

I had heard rumors about ESPN going above and beyond their normal dugout camera duties Sunday night. Using MLB.TV I went back and checked it out for myself.

While Brett Gardner led off the eighth inning, the ESPN cameras peered into the tunnel - which they're not supposed to do - and caught Bobby Abreu showing Alex Rodriguez how Manny Delcarmen tips his pitches.

As opposed to cutting the cameras and respecting the gamesmanship of the sport, the cameras inexplicably continued to roll. Immediately, Joe Morgan said, "I don't think we should have showed that," and he was right. Morgan then promptly explained what Abreu and Rodriguez were doing.

Over the past few years, baseball fans have been jokingly calling the world wide leader [N]ESPN to make fun of the channel's love affair for the Red Sox. I had always considered it to be conspiracy theory at best, and merely ESPN showing love to a team who had won two World Series over the past four years.

However, that Sunday night expedition into the private confines of the Yankees dugout tunnel makes me think twice before dismissing the [N]ESPN theorists. Now this wasn't an ALCS game or anything, but revealing to one of Boston's key late-inning relievers how he tips his pitches is absolutely inexcusable. Imagine if Abreu and A-Rod had been talking about Jonathan Papelbon's tell - those kinds of advantages can determine who wins or loses a tight game in the late innings.

There's no doubt in my mind ESPN understood that they were breaking the rules in filming such a discussion. And it makes you laugh considering I've never seen such a scene captured in the Red Sox dugout. Next time ESPN wants to use an in-game dugout cam, the Yankees should chuckle and reply no thanks.

If a reliever is tipping his pitches he will in all likelihood eventually realize that the hitters are picking up on something. But it is completely ridiculous for a tv network to literally broadcast that pitcher's mistake so he can then make the adjustment. Looks like Boston got the benefit of Spygate II - and nobody even realizes it.

This Better Be Just A Rumor

As we all know, the Yankees [and several other teams] have a mancrush on Brian Fuentes and hope to add the hard throwing lefty to their bullpen. According to Ed Price of the Star Ledger, the Rockies have begun scouting the Yankees farm system and have their eye on Mark Melancon.

Not that Melancon has proven anything at the major league level, but I firmly believe the current lights-out Trenton Thunder closer [who should be pitching at AAA] may very well surpass Fuentes in terms of effectiveness within the next couple years. Remember, Fuentes is 32, a whole nine years older than Melancon.

Giving up a talent like Melancon for a guy like Fuentes would be discarding a potential high-caliber closer for the next decade in exchange for a very good lefty reliever who could sign elsewhere this offseason.

This is not to marginalize the current Colorado closer's career, but there is some question as to whether he could even handle New York and he had been relieved of closing duties due to ineffectiveness in the past.

I'm all for acquiring an arm as talented as Fuentes, but only if it makes sense. You don't give up a 23 year-old closer type knocking on the big league door who, in the very near future, could be as good or better than the player you're trading for.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Brewers Acquire Sabathia

According to multiple sources, the Brewers and Indians have agreed to a trade involving CC Sabathia and Matt LaPorta. This is a good move for Milwaukee as they now have two ace starters in Sabathia and Ben Sheets. The question is whether or not Doug Melvin and company will pony up the dough to keep Saba in Miller Park.

Damon DLed For First Time

Johnny Damon was placed on the disabled list for the first time in his major league career today and Justin Christian has been called up to fill the roster spot. This is the opportunity of a lifetime for Brett Garder - as the speedy outfielder now has free reign in leftfield [or center], and the chance to prove himself on the highest stage.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

McAllister Surpassing Betances,
Cutch Shuts Out Syracuse

Zach McAllister is quickly [and surprisingly] leaving Dellin Betances in the dust.

The pair of 20 year-olds were expected to spend 2008 together in Charleston dominating Sally hitters alongside Jairo Heredia. Unfortunately, while McAllister is keeping up his end, Betances hit a period of shoulder soreness recently and is still working his way back into the Charleston rotation.

In the mean time, McAllister was promoted to High-A Tampa on May 31st, has already started seven games there and is posting a very impressive 2.47 ERA against the next level of minor league hitters.

Though Betances oozes the projectability and raw stuff that makes scouts take notice, McAllister has shown the maturation, versatility and maintained health teams love to see in a young prospect.

Thus far this season split between Charleston and Tampa, McAllister has logged 106 innings, with a 2.46 ERA while striking out 85 [to only 13 walks], allowing 103 hits, a promising 1.62 groundball to flyball ratio and a .252 opponent batting average.

The 6-foot-6, 235 lbs. Illinois product has only had one bad outing at the High A level which came in his Tampa debut. That poor start was the only time McAllister did not give his team a quality start - and Yesterday's start may have been McAllister's best outing yet at Tampa as he pitched 8 innings, struck out 9 batters, walked zero, and allowed two runs on five hits.


Tonight, Dan McCutchen posted his second complete game shutout for Scranton this season, allowing just five hits, zero walks and striking out 10 on 109 pitches [with 77 for strikes].

According to Chad Jennings, the Danimal "was hitting 93 consistently in the seventh." That's more than enough velocity to work with - and the new addition of a slider to compliment his curve, change and plus fastball makes for a solid arsenal for Cutch.

After a pedestrian start to his AAA campaign, McCutchen's latest shutout lowered his ERA to a very respectable 3.36 for Scranton. The shutout was his second at AAA since June 14th, which could be an encouraging sign of things to come.

Should that be the case, McCutchen may supplant the mediocre Jeff Karstens as the next internal rotation option should Darrell Rasner's downward spiral continue. The fact that Alan Horne is currently on the DL and Ian Kennedy has yet to again earn a spot in the big league rotation helps him as well.

And, if the Yankees swing a trade for a starting pitcher [in a deal not including him], McCutchen has the versatility to move to the bullpen and contribute there if necessary. Though this appears to be a long shot right now.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Can't Wait To Read About This
For The Next Six Months

Alex Rodriguez has reportedly split up with his wife Cynthia. Maybe her psych classes weren't going over so well at home. She kind of seems like the ultimate control freak wife - but in the absurdly passive aggressive mold and not in the nuttier than Planters, Jackie Christie style.
Not that Alex is suddenly Mr. Perfect but rumors that Cynthia spent time with Lenny Kravitz doesn't quite help either. Hey, after seeing in person last night how hard A-Rod hit a ball the opposite way and into the right field stands, here's to a long and unhealthy relationship with C-Rod.