Archive for April 2011

Cashman talks prospects, Hughes in Lakewood

April 28, 2011

BareBones and Josh Norris of Minor Matters, far left, catch up with Yankees GM Brian Cashman Wednesday in Lakewood (Photo by David Schofield)

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman spent a third straight day evaluating some of the top minor-league position players in the Yankees’ organization Wednesday.
No, Cashman was not scouting Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where top prospect Jesus Montero and 2010 Eastern League Most Valuable Player Brandon Laird are stationed.
Nor was Cashman in Richmond checking out Thunder catcher Austin Romine, or at Class-A Tampa getting the lowdown on infielders Walter Ibarra and Luke Murton, who are hitting .362 and .338, respectively.
With $6.45 million in signing bonuses tied up in three of the top four hitters in the Single-A Charleston lineup, Cashman again traveled to FirstEnergy Park to monitor the Yankees’ considerable investment in 2009 first-round draft pick Slade Heathcott, second-rounder J.R. Murphy and 18-year-old Dominican catching phenom Gary Sanchez, who alone accounts for $3 million of those bonus checks authorized by Cashman.
“You just want to see tools, both internationally and in the draft’’ Cashman said. “Obviously, there are high-end caliber guys here and they need to get their reps in. If the GM is down here seeing them play it lets them know we are connected all the way to the top and that is important. It’s also important for them to know I am following their progress, watching the box scores and reading the player development reports on a daily basis. I care about putting these guys in the best possible position to succeed.’’
Although Cashman had to be thrilled with the results of his center fielder Heathcott (.370, 2 HR) and catcher Murphy (.347, 3 HR) yesterday, when they went a combined 5-for-9 with three RBIs against 2010 Phillies first-round pick Jesse Biddle (0-3, 7.16 ERA) and three Lakewood relievers, the GM clearly was soured by the medical predicament of starter Phil Hughes.
Cashman said his 18-game winner from last season, on the 15-day disabled list with what was initially diagnosed as a “dead arm,’’ went for more tests yesterday after a pair of MRIs Tuesday.
Hughes also is being checked for a possible circulatory disorder, but whatever the ultimate diagnosis Cashman sounded as if he is planning for life without Hughes.
“They are trying very hard to find out what is going on,’’ Cashman said. “It’s always concerning when you don’t have somebody pitching active for you. He’s not active and it does not look like he will be for awhile.’’
In parts of five seasons with the Yankees, Hughes is 31-19 with a 4.46
ERA. He has logged 379 1/3 innings, with 176 1/3 coming last season, after being treated with kid gloves in the minors, particularly with the Thunder in 2006.
Cashman fired former Trenton manager Bill Masse after comments to The Times questioning the organization regarding its cautious handling of Hughes, a talent Masse felt needed to be stretched out more than what the Yankees were willing to do at the time.
Cashman denies the conservative approach to Hughes in the minors could have somehow contributed to his current medical dilemma.
“No,’’ Cashman said. “No chance. We have a general pitching program and obviously it gets specified for each individual. It can be altered because everyone is different physically. They might have different issues, and other things we have to avoid, so you adjust accordingly. Our doctor will continue to run tests and when he collects all the information he’ll be in a better position to diagnose something … if he does find something.’’

Yanks system still thin on position players

April 17, 2011

Brett Gardner and Derek Jerer, right, are the only Yankees
starting position players drafted in-house.

This story is also available in Sunday’s editions of The Times of Trenton.

The contributions of homegrown players Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams helped the Yankees win five World Series Championships from 1996 to 2009.
This season, with Brett Gardner off to a dreadful (.150) start and Eduardo Nunez on the bench as a utility infielder, All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano is the only everyday position player developed by the Yankees’ farm system.
Gardner (3rd round, 2005) and Jeter (1st round, 6th overall, 1992) are the only Yankees starting position players actually drafted by the organization.
Years of neglect in the draft and far too many resources directed toward high-priced free agents in the waning years of George Steinbrenner’s stewardship of the franchise were to blame for the dearth of major league-ready talent in the minor-league system.
From 1997 to 2005 the Yankees drafting and player development was among the worst in baseball, with only 10 position players produced and those players combining for less than 900 major league at bats.
Cano became a full-time player in 2005, but he was an undrafted amateur free agent from San Pedro de Marcoris in the Dominican Republic.
In 2006, general manager Brian Cashman began overseeing the player development system and things began to change, albeit slowly.
“It is an area that has lagged somewhat,’’ senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said of the lack of top-tier position players at the higher levels of Yankees system. “But Nunez is there now and Gardner is one of the better young outfielders in the game. The young catchers we have are some of the best in the business, and we’ve got some quality young guys lower in our system right now.’’
The Yankees boast four minor league catchers they think will one day play at the highest level in Jesus Montero at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Austin Romine with the Thunder and Class-A backstops Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy.
Romine is the top-rated and highest-round player (second round, 94th overall in 2007) selected by the Yankees on the Double-A Trenton roster, but with the exception of center fielder Melky Mesa (undrafted/amateur free agent) no other Thunder position players are currently on anyone’s major league radar.
Designated hitter Cody Johnson (24th overall/2006) and outfielder Brian Anderson (15th overall/2003) are former first-round draft picks, but they were selected by the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox, respectively.
Newman insists help is on the way, with players such as Sanchez, Murphy and recent first-round picks Slade Heathcott (OF) and Cito Culver (SS) still very early in their development.
“There is a wave of position players behind Double-A and Triple-A, and some of those guys that we’ll run through (low Class-A) Charleston this year are pretty impressive,’’ Newman said. “It’s really hard given the draft to take pitching and position players at the same time. There is no doubt we have devoted a lot of time, scouting hours and money to pitching over the years. We’ve done the same with position players the last few years and that was not really done by design. That’s just where the talent was.’’
And talent, not necessarily draft status, is what it is all about, according to Thunder manager Tony Franklin.
“That’s it,’’ he said. “Numbers are attached to everything you do in this game but talent is the bottom line. This is not about being smart, or about a kid’s draft status, it is about being good or bad. Can you play the game? The guys that can play are the ones that are going to go to the big leagues. It’s as simple as that.’’

New age of media for Yankees farmhands

April 3, 2011

Yankees top prospect Jesus Montero surrounded by media at the 2008 Futures Game

This story also appears in The Times of Trenton and at nj.com/thunder.

Churning out some of the biggest prospects in baseball is nothing new for the Yankees.
The eruption of new media and social networking tools now documenting their every move is.
The image of minor-league baseball played in ramshackle structures depicted in films such as “The Natural” and “Bull Durham” is gone, replaced by fan-friendly, revenue-generating ballparks and an expanding media capable of covering the game’s players like never before.
Imagine downloading video of Yogi Berra taking practice at Newark of the International League in 1946?
How about a YouTube clip of Mickey Mantle shagging fly balls at Municipal Stadium for the Kansas City Blues in 1951?
Or perhaps sending a Facebook friend request to Derek Jeter during his days at Albany-Colonie in 1994?
How times have changed.
It is common knowledge that some of the most renowned and respected sportswriters in history looked the other way when players (Mantle and Babe Ruth immediately come to mind) ran afoul after hours.
Today?

Yankees general Brian Cashman and VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman help prospects deal with the explosion of media covering the organization.

ESPN and sites such as TMZ and Deadspin can be at the scene before the squad-car door closes.
“It is a blessing and a curse,” Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said of the ever-expanding role of the media. “Most of us here have been doing this a long time, but things are a little more intense now because of the explosion of the different media sources and an increased emphasis on prospects. Believe me, our players understand the difference between what is hype and what is real, and if they forget they will be reminded.”
Helping prospects such as Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos deal with the hype connected with their ascension through the Yankees’ farm system has become part of the development plan.
Since 2007, the Yankees have made their young players take media training on the first day of spring training and, while helpful, Newman says that is really just a couple of days of videos, mock interviews and some guest speakers.
Living it every day over the course of a 142-game season, alongside the media and all their new tools stationed at affiliates such as Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is a far more realistic classroom.
“When you play in New York you are going to deal with a lot of those things anyway, so if you can get started learning at an early age that helps,” Newman said. “Guys that go through our system tend to handle that stuff pretty well. I remember when (Yankees All-Star second baseman) Robbie Cano first came up and started poorly, a headline in one of the tabloids said: “CANO CAN NOT.” So, they get that, too. They get the hype and they get vitriol, and they have to learn to deal with it.”
Some top-tier prospects, such as Betances, take advantage of their time in major-league camp to get advice from veterans that have been through the media pressure cooker in New York.
“I definitely have gotten some feedback from CC Sabathia and Mariano (Rivera) about how to go about your business,” said Betances, the likely Thunder starter for Opening Day Thursday at New Hampshire. “Staying focused and working hard is what it’s all about. You know it’s there, but you try not to worry about all that other stuff.”
Waterfront Park will be buzzing for the Thunder home opener April 14 against Harrisburg, but more than a week earlier the 2011 club will take part in media day as reporters, bloggers, Tweeters and internet scouting services will be on the field obtaining and relaying instant information from the latest crop of Yankees farmhands and Trenton coaches.
“The landscape of sports media has changed dramatically since I started in 2003,” successful blogger and “Thunder Thoughts’ beat writer Mike Ashmore said.
Ashmore’s blog is one of the most widely read sites in the minor leagues, closing in on 1 million hits since its inception.
“Twitter didn’t even exist. Now, it is arguably the best source for information around. With so many online outlets, whether it is blogs, or websites and so on, getting it right and getting it first – and it isn’t always in that order, sadly – has become much more important.”


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