What: New York Yankees versus Tampa Bay Rays
Where: Yankee Stadium, New York, New York, USA
When: September 4 to 6, 2015
New York City is one of my favourite places in the world. London, Whitby (UK not Canada), Stratford-upon-Avon and New York are the places I love and not necessarily in that order. Being back there is always a good thing.
They call it the City That Never Sleeps and you can see why. But I guess in a city that never sleeps then sometimes changes seem to happen at double the speed. Some of my favourite things about this city are gone forever.
There was Mickey Mantle’s restaurant on 59th Street and its mashed potatoes and chicken. It’s not there are any more. There was the food and idiosyncratic shopping at the South Street Seaport. It’s been demolished. Of course, there was the old Yankee Stadium which you will look for in vain. It’s a long time gone. It’s not only Joe DiMaggio who we must ask where he is gone, some other favourites are gone too.
I first caught the baseball bug in the mid 80s but it was the mid 90s before I journeyed to New York to sit in that old Stadium that Ruth built. Then there was a players’ strike but like them I was to be back the following year. 1995.
1995. The year that a still developing centre-fielder called Bernie Williams was joined in the majors by four more developing stars. Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Somebody told me a few days ago that the New York Yankees buy their success. That’s fine rhetoric and oft repeated but the evidence won’t bear it. The Yankees are at their strongest when their farm system is at its strongest – whether it be the “Core Four” of 1995 or the debuts of Mantle, DiMaggio, Gehrig or Munson. Growing internal greats has always worked out best.
So here we are in 2015 and the Yankees who made up the “Core Four” are mostly monuments in Monument Park or on their way there. In addition, Paul O’Neill is on Colour Commentary for YES network, Hideki Matsui is a special advisor to the club and a big help to countryman Masahiro Tanaka. Joe Torre has moved on, quite a few years ago now and that wasn’t handled well but like with Yogi Berra, bridges have been rebuilt. We live in a post George The Boss era and today’s Steinbrenners are nearly as hands off as George said he was going to be back in ’73. Jeter was last to go and he seemed to close the door on the way out as he is seldom back. That time will come and monuments will be added and cars given away but it’s not yet.
Interestingly, there are new faces on the horizon coming through the farm system in greater numbers than in perhaps any year since 1995. Enough of them to keep the Yankees in contention and in the post-season playoffs even if it seems unlikely that there will be any additional trophies in that cabinet this year.
Who are they and what does their future look like?
Luis Severino. Severino is a right-handed starting pitcher who wears number 40 on his back. Exactly 6 foot tall, 195 lbs at the pre-season weigh-in. Prior to his start against Tampa Bay, he had made 5 starts, achieving 2 wins and 3 losses. However, those figures were a little deceptive. He didn’t really deserve to lose either of his first two games and his subsequent three saw him being absolutely over-powering with an ERA of less than 1 across the 18 innings he pitched. He is a tremendous prospect. 2016 will be crucial for him as the Yankees will need to think carefully about how to protect his arm against over use. As a mid-season call-up in 2015, that hasn’t been an issue this time around but next it certainly will be.
Greg Bird. Bird was called up to be a back-up first baseman or designated hitter but an injury to Mark Teixeira meant that he has had far more of a blooding than he could ever have estimated. He has become the main guy at first-base through August and September and this has thrown up some strengths and some shortcomings. The 6’3″, 220 lb-er who wears no. 31 is only 22 and has time to develop but his work in the field particularly when going to his right-hand side is not what it could be. He started out as a catcher and is still learning the first-base game. Offensively, he is around .240 and will need more power to justify his long-term involvement at this level unless he can boost that. Against Tampa in this 3 game series, he hit 3 for 10 with 1 double, 1 home run and 3 RBIs. If he could manage that all the time, his prospects would shine brighter but for now whilst Severino seems a straightforward long-term major leaguer, Bird has some more question marks to erase.
James Pazos. Now here’s a surprising one. 2012 draft pick Pazos has arrived as a September call up and seems to have a promising future as a lefty-against-lefty specialist. He pitched 2/3 of an innings in the middle game against Tampa Bay but he looks like he is to be used as a guy to bring in opposite the left-handed bat in the line-up and then swiftly back out again having achieved the out. Wearing no.67, he is a similar height to Bird but 10 lbs heavier. His future will depend on next Spring Training more than his brief September appearances but he may have a future either in this role or another.
Rob Refsnyder. And then a perplexing one. He’s highly rated by those outside of the organisation who put together “prospects” lists but it would seem not so well-thought of by Joe Girardi and his coaches. Second baseman Refsnyder was called up in July as Stephen Drew continued to be down in the offensive doldrums. but after just a week and 4 appearances, he was headed back to Scranton. To cut a long story short, his offense was no better than Drew’s or Ryan’s (in that very small sample) and his defense not to the same standard at all. He was brought back in September as the rosters expanded but by the end of the Tampa Bay series all he was accomplishing was becoming more and more familiar with the bench in the dugout and missing the Railriders failed attempt at winning their own playoffs. The 24 year old, no. 64, may have a future in the major leagues but it may take him away from the Bronx.
Jose Pirela. Another 2nd baseman who was a call up in September 2014 and really hasn’t advanced in the year that has passed. Having spent much of May, June and July in the Majors, he was found wanting at this level both offensively and defensively. Restored to the (expanded) roster in September, he has seen more opportunities than Refsnyder but is behind both Drew and Ryan in the pecking order which suggests that the Yankees will try to bring in a more reliable option from outside of the organisation in the close season. The 25 yr. old, no. 63 is probably running out of chances.
Caleb Cotham. Speaking of those who are running out of chances, here comes Caleb. It has taken him since the 2009 draft to work his way up the Yankees organisation to the top level and whilst he is suddenly finding himself on a list of possibles that Girardi can call upon in the late innings, he is not showing anything that will make him stick next year. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that so many of the lower ranking Yankees relievers don’t seem to be able to deliver a September out, then he might not be here now.
Nick Goody. Goody is 3 years Cotham’s junior and was drafted in 2012. Like Cotham, he wasn’t called upon at all in the Tampa series. Unlike Cotham, he has been consistent when given an opportunity.
Bryan Mitchell. Like Pirela, Mitchell was a second-half call-up last season. Like Cotham, he has been kicking around the organisation since 2009 waiting for his break. However, he is younger than Cotham – only 24 – and is being considered as both a starter and a reliever. The no.55 seems to be losing his direction the more he is with the big league club and whether there is a 2016 Yankees shirt in his future is debatable.
Branden Pinder. Pinder has been a frequent flyer between the Bronx and Scranton but when he has been in the Major Leagues he has done well, delivering an ERA which has stayed below 3. Like so many others here, he wasn’t used at all in the earliest days of September and this emphasises that the Yankees don’t rate him as highly as they might.
Nick Rumbelow. Number 50, Rumbelow delivered a solid innings in the final game of three against Tampa and has been on-and-off the Yankees roster since the latter end of June. The 24 yr old was a 2013 draft pick, so he has risen through the ranks more quickly than most of the guys I have listed here. However, like Bryan Mitchell he seems to have suffered performance-wise the longer he has been in the Majors and recently his ERA has begun swell.
Jacob Lindgren. Someone else who has played no role against Tampa and is not currently active on the roster is this young man who looked, earlier in the year, as though he might be a fixture by now. He started well when called up in May and remained solid if a little inconsistent through June. In June, after being sent back to the Minors, he was diagnosed with a bone spur which required surgery which effectively ended his season. However, he was only drafted in 2014 and certainly looks like one for the future now that his troublesome elbow has been cleaned out. Left-handed relievers are always an asset and Lindgren has progressed through the lower levels of the farm system so quickly, he could still make a home in the Bronx.
The Yankees took two out of three against Tampa but whilst their September roster is stocked with more youngsters than it has been since the halcyon days of ’95, there is no new “core four” here. Severino looks a cert as a no. 3 starter and then there are a lot of ifs, buts, and maybes and some who I don’t even expect to make it beyond next Spring. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.