The Yankees were back at Pirate City today, this time with the low-level minor leaguers. To get right to the highlight of the day, it clearly was Jameson Taillon pitching the first two innings in the low A game. Taillon struggled a little with his command at first, falling behind and allowing a double and single to the first two hitters, but he settled down after that. He showed the stuff that made him the second overall pick in 2010, sitting at 96 with his fastball in his first inning. His velocity dipped a little in the second, but as I mentioned a couple days ago, that’s not unusual at this stage. Taillon threw a few curves. The first one hung a bit and got whacked for a single, but the others had sharp, late break. He allowed three hits in his first inning and two in his second, but the latter weren’t hit hard. Taillon walked none, fanned three and allowed one run.
It was a difficult day to get a read on the minor league hitters, because there were four players from the major league team taking regular turns at the plate: Pedro Alvarez, Garrett Jones, John Bowker and Dusty Brown. Alvarez alternated walking and striking out in all of the at-bats I saw but the last, when he lined a ball over the left field fence. It was a bit disconcerting considering it was class A pitching. Of the four, Brown swung the bat the best. In fact, he’s consistently made good contact when I’ve seen him this spring.
Joel Hanrahan started the high A game, probably because the Pirates wanted him to work on consecutive days. He had a rough inning. I didn’t see the specifics because I was watching Taillon, but every time I looked over to the other field there were Yankees running around the bases. Hanrahan is not a guy I’d worry much about, though, and he threw very well against the Red Sox yesterday.
Kyle McPherson followed Hanrahan and didn’t have a good outing. His first inning was quick and he pitched out of trouble in his second, but he never got three outs in his third. He got hit hard that inning and walked in a run, among other things. He finally took a mulligan with the bases still loaded and at least 3-4 runs in. He was throwing mostly 92 initially, then actually threw a little harder later. He used his change, which is his out pitch, to get out of trouble against LH batters in his second inning, but nothing worked after that.
I didn’t see a lot of the later action, especially in the high A game, because I got distracted by a scrimmage involving some of the young players who are ticketed for the Gulf Coast League–more on that later. McPherson was followed by Eliecer Navarro, Yerfi Taveras and Emmanuel De Leon, none of whom ran into much trouble. Navarro is amazingly similar to Jhonathan Ramos; he’s a short, stocky LHP who throws in the upper 80s–mainly 88-89, as opposed to Ramos’ 87-88–and mixes in a lot of breaking balls. He relies more on his fastball than Ramos, or at least he did today. Taveras is a probable organizational pitcher and I watched him only briefly, long enough to see that he sits around 90-91. De Leon was the most interesting of the three. He signed for a moderate bonus out of the Dominican. He’s not a big guy, but he threw 92-94 with good life and the hitters today struggled to make contact against him. His control is a work in progress.
In the low A game, lefty Nate Baker followed Taillon. I was a little surprised to see him in that game; I thought he might have a chance to open at AA this year, but it may just have been a matter of finding the innings the staff wanted him to get. He’s evidently further along than most of the pitchers because he threw four innings, the longest outing I’ve seen the last three days, and he used all four of his pitches. His fastball ranged from 88-93 and his other pitches looked solid. He had a rough start, allowing a walk and homer right off, but settled down quickly and had little trouble the rest of the way.
Baker was followed for an inning apiece by Nick Kingham, Bryce Weidman and Rinku Singh. Kingham, the fourth round pick in 2010, had a quick inning. His fastball was 90-91 and he seemed to command it well, but I didn’t get much chance to see him. Weidman’s debut last year was cut short by an off-field accident, but he’s evidently fine now. He threw only 86-87, but also had a quick inning. Singh was topping out at 85 and struggled through the last inning. He has a stiff motion and doesn’t finish his pitches very well. I’m not sure the million-dollar arm is going to go much farther, but it’s amazing he’s gotten as far as he has.
The lineup in the high A game was Elias Diaz catching; Matt Curry, Drew Maggi, Gift Ngoepe and either Elevys Gonzalez or Andy Vasquez (they both played third, but I can’t remember who started) around the infield; and Wes Freeman, Rogelios Noris and David Rubinstein (who homered in the game) in the outfield. Jarek Cunningham served as DH. The major leaguers batted so much in this game, though, that I saw little of these guys at the plate. Ngoepe continued to impress me with his glove, though. Benji Gonzalez no doubt will start at short for Bradenton this year, but Ngoepe may be the regular for West Virginia.
In the low A game, newcomer Kawika Emsley-Pai started behind the plate. I think it’s likely he and Diaz will be the catchers at West Virginia. The infield was Michaelangel Trinidad (check the photo in case you’re wondering why the team kept him in Venezuela so long), Kevin Mort, Jose Solano and Walker Gourley. I expect Ngoepe and Maggi will be the middle infielders at West Virginia, as Mort and Solano are probably organizational players. I’m not sure about third. At this point it may be a contest between Gourley, who struggled very badly in the New York-Penn League last year, and Eric Avila, who hit well in the GCL and who’s been seeing action in the low A games. The outfielders were Dan Grovatt, Gregory Polanco and Mel Rojas, Jr. Grovatt and Rojas are probably set for West Virginia, and the Pirates may be considering whether to send Polanco there. He’s an interesting player, as he’s tall (6’4″) and very fast, and looks like he could hit for power if/when he fills out. Right now, though, he’s still very skinny and has a loopy swing that’s slow getting underway. He looks like he just needs to get stronger. Rojas, on the other hand, swung the bat better than when I saw him last year. He looked less tentative and didn’t swing as defensively. He seems to have a good eye at the plate and doesn’t chase many bad pitches, or at least I haven’t seen him do it much.
The scrimmage involved mostly players who haven’t been seeing action in the exhibition games, with all of them probably slated for the GCL. The pitchers included the team’s two Eastern European signees, Lithuanian Dovydas Neverauskas and Belarussian Alex Lukashevich. The latter was throwing in the mid-80s; he’s still only 16 or 17 and pretty thin, so he’s probably got a lot of projection. Neverauskas was the big surprise, throwing in the low 90s and reaching 94. He just turned 18 and also could fill out quite a bit. Among the other pitchers were Christopher Richardson, a lefty from the Dominican who threw about 88 and had trouble throwing strikes, and Logan Pevny, who threw 86-87 with pretty good command. After the scrimmage was over, recent Cuban signee Cesar Lopez threw to hitters from behind a screen. He’s evidently behind the other pitchers right now.
The hitters in the scrimmage probably will make up much of the GCL entry this year. One of the big differences in the minor league camp between now and the old Dave Littlefield days, apart from the presence of pitchers with fastballs that deserve the name, is the presence of big, physical players who are still very young. In the past, the Latin American players in camp were largely limited to small, skinny shortstops. Among the players in camp now are two very strong-looking outfielders, Luis Urena (who was participating in the scrimmage) and Jose Osuna (who wasn’t). Urena is a very raw 18-year-old with power potential who struggled in his first year in the Dominican Summer League. In the scrimmage, he hit a triple off the base of the center field fence into a stiff breeze. Also there was infielder Alen Hanson, who had a good debut in the DSL last year. He’s a smallish, wiry player who runs well and hits the ball with some authority–among other things, he lined one over the fence in right off Lopez. Other hitters in the drill were outfielder Junior Sosa, who’s cut out of the Juan Pierre mold; first baseman Jared Lakind; and infielders Ashley Ponce and Francisco Aponte.