Archive for May 2010

Yankees face a decision with Brandon Laird

May 27, 2010

Brandon Laird
(Photo by Dave Schofield)

TRENTON – With seven years and $174 million left on the record-setting contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the Yankees in 2007, it is fairly safe to say that unless Derek Jeter retires and A-Rod moves back to shortstop, Brandon Laird will never be the every day third baseman in the Bronx.
However, the Yankees will need to protect Laird on the 40-man roster following this season or risk exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft in December.
The July 31 trade deadline also will be here before long, and Laird is creating plenty of value for both himself and the Yankees.
With Rodriguez locked in through 2017, a change of scenery may not be such a bad thing.
“I think about it,’’ said Laird, who became just the second Thunder player to hit for the cycle Wednesday after his walk-off, two-run home run gave Trenton a come-from-behind, 7-6 victory.
“Whatever happens is going to be a good thing. If they protect me, that will be awesome. If they don’t, there is nothing I can do about it. As long as I get a chance to play in the major leagues that’s really my only concern. It’s all up to them. I am not trying to worry about any of that right now. When the time comes I will. Right now, I am just going to keep playing ball and hopefully keep driving in runs.’’
Because the Yankees have Rodriguez, they could afford to focus their energy elsewhere in the draft and, subsequently, at other positions in the minor leagues.
That has been painfully obvious at Double-A, as the parent club has sent Trenton the likes of Bryan Myrow, J.T. Stotts, first-round bust Eric Duncan, Kevin Howard, Marcos Vechionacci and the immortal Aarom Baldiris since 2003.
Laird went 4-for-5 Wednesday to lift his batting average to a season-high .305 and missed another home run by just a few feet in his first at bat when he flied out to the wall in straightaway center field.
Incredibly, Laird managed to trump the night enjoyed by Erie center fielder Wilkin Ramirez, who cracked three home runs to mark another Waterfront Park first.
“It hit me when I jumped on home plate after hitting the home run,’’ Laird said. “I was excited we won the game, and then I realized I had just hit for the cycle. I called my Dad right after the game and was getting text messages all night. It was a great feeling and very exciting.’’
Shawn Garrett is the only other Trenton player to hit a single, double, triple and a home run in the same game, accomplishing the feat on April 28, 2007 at Harrisburg.
Strangely, the popular Garrett was released by the Yankees a short time later.
That will not happen with the 22-year-old Laird, a 27th round draft pick whose 43 RBIs entering last night’s series finale led all EL hitters.
The all-star first half had by Laird has kept him on the Yankees’ radar after first opening the eyes of manager Joe Girardi and hitting coach Kevin Long during spring training.
Laird hit .267 in 13 games and remained with the big club until the final week of camp before being reassigned to the minors.
“I was there a lot longer than I thought and they were impressed by how I played,’’ Laird said. “I swung the bat well, but they said they were more impressed with my defense. I knew my bat would be there, so I just focused on playing a good third base; just showing them what I can do and putting it in their head that whether it’s this year or some time in the future I can play in the big leagues.’’

Yanks No. 9 prospect Bleich done for season

May 24, 2010

Jeremy Bleich
(Photo by Mike Ashmore)

TRENTON — All that starting pitching depth in the Yankees’ minor league system took another major hit today when it was learned left-hander Jeremy Bleich, rated the No. 9 prospect in the organization by Baseball America, is done for the season after suffering a torn labrum.
The 44th pick overall in the 2008 first-year player draft, Bleich was summoned to Tampa last week after being placed on the Thunder disabled list May 17 with a preliminary diagnosis of shoulder stiffness.
Closer examination by team doctors revealed the tear, officially shutting Bleich down after eight starts and a 4.79 ERA.
Surgery will be performed and Bleich faces a recovery time of between 10 and 12 months.
“He’ll be back,’’ Thunder manager Tony Franklin said. “Getting the surgery done now is the best thing to do so he can start rehabbing it for next season. There was something wrong there. He didn’t totally admit it, but he wanted to pitch like some guys do. There comes a time when you have to shut it down.’’
Bleich is the second Trenton pitcher this season to admit pitching hurt, only to suffer a season-ending injury.
Christian Garcia took the ball for the April 8 opener one day after insisting he was healthy after undergoing elbow surgery last June.
Garcia’s comeback lasted all of 69 pitches.
A second Tommy John ligament replacement surgery since 2007 was performed on Garcia’s right elbow in April, leaving the Yankees little choice but to release their third-round pick from the 2004 draft.
Since 2008, the Yankees have lost starting pitchers Alan Horne, George Kontos, Bleich, Garcia, Brett Smith and Ian Kennedy for extended periods of time due to injury or, in the case of Kennedy, an aneurysm.
Bleich, 23, was an unimpressive 12-12 with a 4.87 ERA in 36 starts since the Yankees used the compensatory “sandwich’’ pick they received for losing Luis Vizcaino to free agency on the former Stanford University star.
Bleich was 6-8 with a 5.92 ERA and walked 62 in 106 1/3 innings at Double-A. In 2009, Bleich allowed a staggering 84 hits in just 65 innings with the Thunder.

Chris Pittaro on tools, body types & “Moneyball”

May 19, 2010

A's director of pro scouting
Chris Pittaro (Photo by Mike Dill)

Chris Pittaro knows baseball.
More importantly for the Oakland Athletics, the former All-State infielder at Steinert High and big leaguer for the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins from 1985-87 has an eye for talent.
Pittaro, 49, has been a fixture at Waterfront Park and hundreds of other stadiums across the country for many years and is in his third season as the Athletics’ director of professional scouting.
Pittaro recently sat down with BareBones to provide some insight on what he looks for when scouting both amateurs and minor leaguers for Oakland and general manager Billy Beane.

BB: Is there a specific skill set you are looking for when scouting players at the Double-A level?

CP: “The higher a player moves up level-wise the more we focus on performance. You can have the skills and tools in the world, but if you can’t play the game those tools eventually become useless. At the lower levels we are looking at tools and scouting those guys as if they are amateurs. Up here (at Double-A) it tends to be more performance-driven.’’

BB: Are there some things you are willing to ignore, or at least put on the back-burner, when evaluating young players?

CP: “You have to remember most of the lower level guys are 18, 19-years-old and it’s their first time away from home. As a scout you have to be very forgiving. Basically, you project on body types, arm action and their swing. But those things become less and less important as they move up the ladder.’’

BB: What are some of the key criteria for performance?

CP: For pitchers, are they able to command their breaking ball and throw it for strikes? If they can’t do that in the higher levels, they are going to get crushed in the big leagues. Command becomes a big thing. Obviously, velocity is important. But it’s what they can do with the other stuff that helps separate them. Having a third pitch and a change up becomes very important.
“For hitters, the ability to know the strike zone is big. Guys that continually swing at pitches outside the zone are going to have a tough time succeeding at the higher levels. Swing paths and body types at this level and above become less important.’’

BB: Do you submit reports on every player?

CP: “We do. Given the time constraints we are under, we should sit with a team for five days in order to see all of their starters as well as the bullpen.’’

BB: What if a player was hot for two weeks and then is slumping by the time you guys arrive to evaluate him?

CP: “That’s the rub. History is very, very important in the minor leagues and you have to have a pretty good history on a guy in order to write an accurate report about him. A successful past history allows you to be a little more forgiving. Say a guy like (Thunder second baseman) David Adams starts hot and we happen to catch him in the midst of a slump. Well, because we’ve seen him do it before we have a better idea of the big picture with him. You have to be able to figure out whether a guy that is supposed to be a prospect is having a slump, or it is something mechanical, or does he just not have it? You have to take everything into consideration. It’s tough.’’

BB: “Moneyball’’ – the best selling book by Michael Lewis (published in 2003) – made public the Oakland Athletics’ unique philosophy on scouting, the amateur draft and the premium the organization places on so-called “Sabremetric’’ statistics such as on-base and slugging percentage. Has the A’s philosophy changed?

CP: “For as much of a bad rap that we got over the whole stats things with “Moneyball,’’ every team now uses it in some way. But it is not about just looking at stats. It’s really more about finding a niche that is undervalued. At that particular time, it was on-base percentage. It’s sort of come full circle. Now, it’s defense and speed. We can’t afford to go out and get an Alex Rodriguez, but we can get guys that fill needs with power, defense, speed and average. Sometimes you can get them all at once. I think we’ve taken the “Moneyball’’ experience and learned from it. At least I hope we have.’’

BB: The first-year player draft is June 7. One of the themes in “Moneyball’’ was your organization’s preference for college players over high school kids. Can you tell us about that?

CP: “A lot of teams are now leaning heavily toward the college end of it, especially in the first round. But we’ve been more open to taking high school guys the last couple of years and many of those guys have succeeded.’’

BB: Are college players historically less of a risk?

CP: “You can skew the information from all the studies any way you want. A lot of it right now says that a college position player is a safer bet. But it really depends on what you want. If you want to shoot the moon you can, and just let all that information tell you whatever you want. The problem with shooting the moon is the cost of being wrong, for some clubs, is very prohibitive. A team like the Nationals being wrong on a high school kid at $5 million, as opposed to taking a Stephen Strasburg (No. 1 overall in 2009) at $15 million, is significant. You want to be right on all your guys, but that’s not going to happen. You can dream all you want all year long, but when you get in that draft room at the end of the day it’s all about how well you have scouted and how well you have done your homework.’’

BB: Is your work here in Trenton geared toward preparing for the July 31 trade deadline?

CP: “Yes. The deadline and the Rule 5 Draft (in December).
We use the whole minor league thing to secure acquisitions. Billy (Beane) has found it easier to trade in early to mid-July rather than wait until the end near the deadline. We just think you get more in return that way. When you do a trade closer to July 31 teams know you are desperate, so they hold you over a barrel. But if someone comes to us and says they want, say, Ben Sheets, on July 31 we have to be prepared for that.’’

BB: How does a trade at the deadline usually go down?
CP: “Depending on who approaches whom, they will give you names of players they are interested in, or we will give them names of players we are interested in. Then it becomes a mix and match type of thing and sometimes it will end up involving guys that were not even on the original lists. It becomes a chess game to see who blinks first. Usually, though, the team that benefits will be whoever scouts better and who can swing the best deal.’’

Don’t miss our Q&A with Chris Pittaro

May 18, 2010

Be sure to check out our exclusive Q&A with Oakland Athletics Director of Professional Scouting Chris Pittaro.
Pittaro, the former all-state infielder at Steinert High and big leaguer with the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins from 1985-87, gave us a fascinating glimpse into what he looks for when evaluating players – from amateurs all the way up to Triple-A.
We also touch on the fallout of “Moneyball,” the 2003 best-seller written by Michael Lewis that chronicled the revenue-challenged Athletics’ unique, Sabremetric approach to scouting, player valuations and the draft.
We’ll tease some of the 1,200 word feature in this space tomorrow, while the full length piece will run later this week in The Times of Trenton and on http://www.nj.com/sports/times.

Thunder lose closer Duff; Schmidt sent back

May 18, 2010

Just hours before the start of a critical seven-game road trip in New Hampshire and Portland, the Thunder lost closer Grant Duff to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre today.
The Yankees were thoughtful enough to return Josh Schmidt to Double-A, but the truth is no one wanted to see Schmidt re-appear at Double-A after working so hard to get the hell out of there.
Duff, 27, was 0-2 with a 2.55 ERA and six saves in 17 appearances. he struck out 26 in just 18 2/3 innings.
Schmidt, 27, appeared in two games for SWB and was 1-0 with a 7.20 ERA.
With the Thunder, Schmidt is 1-0 with a 0.98 ERA. He was promoted to SWB, then returned, twice in a four-day span last week.

Hector Noesi debut moved to Friday vs. Portland

May 18, 2010

Noesi was 5-2 with
a 2.72 ERA in Tampa

TRENTON — The last pitcher sent to Double-A Trenton with the hype of Hector Noesi was Christian Garcia … and we all know how that turned out.
Three elbow surgeries since 2007 derailed the talented but injury-prone Garcia, who was released by the Yankees Friday.
From all reports, however, Noesi is the real deal and he will continue his journey to the big leagues with the Thunder beginning Friday at Portland.
Noesi, 23, replaces Ryan Pope in the starting rotation and after initially being penciled in to make his Eastern League debut Thursday morning at New Hampshire, Noesi instead will toe the rubber in the series opener against the Seadogs at Hadlock Field.
Noesi’s numbers at Class-A Tampa are fairly ridiculous.
In 43 innings spanning eight starts, Noesi (5-2, 2.72 ERA) has struck out 53, walked only six and has given up just 35 hits for a WHIP of 0.953. He delivered five shutout innings with six strikeouts and a walk in his final start Saturday, a no-decision, at Lakeland.
Signed by the Yankees in 2004 (which, incidentally, was the year Garcia was drafted in the third round), Noesi is a member of the 40-man big league roster and began the season averaging 8.54 strikeouts and 1.55 walks per-nine innings over the first 63 games of his minor league career.
Baseball America had him as the No. 24 prospect in the organization in December.
Then again, that same publication has Jeremy Bleich ranked ninth.
Seriously?
The only sign of an injury history was in 2007, when the 6-foot-2, 174 pound Noesi was shut down for the season after just five starts in late June with an elbow strain.
The only other blemish on Noesi’s resume was a 50-game suspension served at the start of the 2007 season for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Dan Brewer not so quiet anymore

May 18, 2010

TRENTON — Daniel Brewer had a built-in advantage when the Yankees sent him to Double-A Trenton to begin the 2010 season.
Hardly anyone outside the organization knew who he was.
Even his new manager, Tony Franklin, was scratching his head at the start of spring training when the Thunder work group began assembling at the team’s minor league headquarters in Tampa, Fla.

Brewer is hitting .348 over his last 12 games for Trenton

“You heard about (Brandon) Laird and (Austin) Romine, but you didn’t hear much about guys like Brewer,” Franklin said. “But I certainly know who he is now and I think a lot of other people in baseball do as well. He can hit. He’s a good base stealer. He doesn’t make mistakes and he’s a manager’s-type player. Just put him in there and let him do what he does, and that is to win and play good baseball.”
Brewer, all 6-foot and 185 pounds of him, flew in under the cover of higher profile prospects such as Romine, Laird and second baseman David Adams.
The anonymity served him well in April, as his .233 batting average was a non-story because Romine and Laird also scuffled, while Adams was tearing up the Eastern League.
Click here to read the rest of the Brewer feature that appeared in today’s Times of Trenton on nj.com.
Thanks to colleagues Josh Norris and Ken Mandel for helping out with some supplemental quotes.


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