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  • Writer's pictureAndy Singer

SSTN Mailbag: Depth, Rodon, Volpe, and Monty!



We're back! It always feels incredibly strange taking a week off from the Mailbag. If I'm not mistaken, we ran our first SSTN Mailbag sometime between February and April of 2019. That means that sometime either in the last few weeks or coming up, we're celebrating the 5th anniversary of the inaugural SSTN Mailbag! Wow, is all I can say to that. In that time, I think I've only cancelled the Mailbag 7 times (sometimes I've run a Not The SSTN Mailbag when something more timely comes up, but this column has run weekly). I was, frankly, honored when Paul asked me to do the Mailbag all those years ago. Firstly, I wasn't sure anyone would write in with questions, trade proposals, comments, etc...boy was I wrong, and I am thankful all the time for that.


If you gave me truth serum in 2019 when Paul approached me to manage the SSTN Mailbag, I didn't think we'd still be running strong with it in 2024. I guess what I'm really getting at is: thank you. Without all of you, this weekly column is not possible. Through this column (and others, to be fair, but this one has been a real driver), I've gotten to know many of you, and that interaction makes this community so much better. Thank you for writing; thank you for holding us to a high standard; thank you for respectfully challenging; and thank you for making the SSTN Community what it is. Here's to more strong years!


As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll talk about depth, Carlos Rodon's progress, Anthony Volpe, and Jordan Montgomery! Let's get at it:


Steve asks: We've been spending a lot of time on Yankee blogs talking about the big names, but I'm much more interested in the depth of the bench. Do the Yankees have enough if the big guys are out for any length of time? I'm worried..

There are clearly levels to this conversation. Not to be a complete downer, but the reality is that almost no team can truly withstand a full-season loss of their best player, particularly when that player is at an MVP caliber, like Aaron Judge. With Aaron Judge in the first half of 2023, the Yankees struggled, but were likely still a Wild Card contender. The Yankees' season ended the day Judge ran into the wall against the Dodgers. If the Dodgers lost Mookie Betts, or the Angels lost Mike Trout, etc., those teams necessarily take a 5-9 win hit right off the top-end of their projection, and the bottom-end gets way worse as well. Depending on how good a team is otherwise, maybe that team still makes the playoffs, but for others, that's the ballgame.


The Yankees have added solid depth this off-season. There is just barely enough in the outfield, that the Yankees are better prepared for a temporary loss of their best player, but it's still 5-7 wins if Judge were to miss the entire season. That is the player that could really impact the season. The current concern is for the Yankees' ace, Gerrit Cole. The Yankees have done a lot to accumulate starting pitching depth, mostly 5th starter types, while buying their good AA and AAA pitching prospects another half season of development in the minors (hopefully). The Yankees' pitching staff has the most volatile projection of the entire team. At the top end, if everyone is healthy and performs to their peak capability, the team can certainly weather the loss of Gerrit Cole until June/July. However, even with Gerrit Cole, I think the Achilles heel of this team has always been the lack of innings projections from the starting 5. For that reason, I started the off-season with hoping for a reunion with Jordan Montgomery (more on that in a minute). I think the Yankees could really use one more starter capable of eating real innings.


Besides that, I think the Yankees have improved the bench over previous years. Trent Grisham is a great defender, a solid baserunner, with good plate discipline and some pop, though he will not make a lot of good contact. That's perfect for a fourth outfielder that gets 350-400 ABs this year. The catching tandem of Austin Wells and Jose Trevino is far superior to Higgy and Trevino. I expect some offensive bounce-back from Oswaldo Cabrera, and he's a valuable defender all over the diamond. As for the last piece of the bench, I have long advocated for a veteran bench infielder that is capable of covering SS for some period of time, if necessary. Multiple veterans that fit that description are beginning to lose jobs at the end of Spring Training, and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Yankees dive headfirst into a deal with someone like that.


In short, I'd like to see some supplementation, but I think the depth is better than last season.


Jeff M. asks: You have been gung ho about a Rodon resurgence - how do you feel about that with what you've seen in spring training?


I feel reasonably good about my projection on that front. The results weren't necessarily there early on, but he was also really mixing and matching pitches to try to work on some other things as opposed to pitching for results. He went through the dead arm period that a lot of starters go through, and his velocity bounced right back. In his last start, he pitched with a plan that will much more closely resemble what we'll see in the regular season, and he was outstanding, flashing fastball command and life, with a 65-70 grade slider to match. Mixing in the occasional cutter and change-up on those good days, while being more comfortable with those pitches on the bad days should help bump his floor up enough to make the Yankees feel good.


In short, I see a starter with two 60+ grade pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale, enough secondary pitches to get by, and a much cleaner, repeatable delivery. I have no way of knowing if Rodon will stay healthy, but if he does, I think he can put together a 4+ bWAR season.


Brad asks: How do you feel about Volpe's prospects this season? He's making a lot more contact this spring and he's hitting to all fields again. Is this what you wanted to see and what more does he need to do?


I am stunned by how thoroughly different Anthony Volpe is at the plate right now. However, I have to point out a rather large misconception. What Volpe is doing right now bears no resemblance to what he did throughout the vast majority of his minor league career. Volpe was never an all-fields hitter in the minors, at least since the pandemic when we have good numbers to support the description. Volpe was a pull hitter who could also go back up the middle. He launched the ball more than almost any regular shortstop in minor league baseball who put up good numbers. Volpe is essentially remaking his approach and swing on the fly at the Major League level, which is both very rare and very challenging.


I will say that Volpe is making a lot of contact, though I think this swing will necessarily cause his power numbers to drop significantly. That being said, Volpe hit his first homer the other day...an opposite field shot, a rarity for him throughout his professional career, so he still has hand strength and enough swing speed to drive the ball even to the opposite field. This is not the direction I would have told Volpe to go; this is much more risky and volatile, much as it seems to be a more well-rounded approach, particularly for someone who is a good baserunner, like Volpe. Making wholesale changes as opposed to getting back to what worked in the minors is incredibly risky, and I am typically much more conservative in my assessments, because it is touch to change biomechanics, particularly for swing paths and movements that have been ingrained over 10s of thousands of swings.


In short, I am impressed so far, but I am very curious to see how it looks in the regular season. I will do a more thorough mechanical analysis then, because these changes are so significant, that they might change again when the pressure is on.


Brian asks: The news is that the Yankees have reopened talks with Monty. Good or bad?


I'm all for it. Monty is the guy I wanted from the start, because the Yankees' greatest gap in the rotation is someone who can be counted on to eat significant innings. That goes even more so now that Cole is out for a significant chunk of time. I will believe that the Yankees will sign Monty when I see it, and I don't expect Monty to sign until after Spring Training ends, which is when there will no longer be a Qualifying Offer and related compensation attached to his signing (assuming he opts out after this year to try free agency again), but Monty and the Yankees are a perfect fit. I hope it gets done, but I'm not holding my breath.

12 Comments


jeff
Mar 23

Looks like the Yankees are going to go "Full Monty" in hopes of filling a hole in their pitching staff.


Monty comes with several question marks, though.


The big one is how effective will he be after missing all of Spring Training? Spring Training is a critical time for pitchers to ramp their stuff up to regular season effectiveness, in addition to trying out new pitches they will be adding to their arsenal and making adjustments that all pitchers have to make in order to keep opposing hitters guessing.


Another one is how will Monty respond to going back to Matt Blake and the Yankees pitching coach methods. Monty seemed to have more success as a pitcher when Mike Maddu…


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Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Mar 22

I don't care about Volpe's power. I want him on base with spray hits and walks. If upper-cutting and pulling got him to the Majors, in has failed him utterly in the Majors. This is a guy who hit 21 HRs with a .383 SLG. Do you know how bad you have to be in the other 520 ABs to put up those numbers? It's a .179 BA and .237 SLG. Trying to kill the ball killed his year at the plate.

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jeff
Mar 23
Replying to

The change and the vast reduction in homers is a great change for Volpe, because I envision him as ultimately being the Yankees long time leadoff hitter, because I firmly believe the most prolific base stealer on the team should be in the leadoff spot, as long as he is a prolific hitter and has a high enough On Base Percentage. This switch from upper-cutting homers to increased spray-hits and walks is exactly what will make him the perfect leadoff hitter. Having a leadoff hitter getting on base and either stealing or presenting a major threat to steal automatically makes the hitters behind him (Soto, Judge, Rizzo, Stanton) that much better, because hitters like Judge, Rizzo, and Stanton thrive …

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Alan B.
Alan B.
Mar 22

I honestly believe, Hal is going to have to step in if there's a prayer to sign Monty. If not for Hal, Judge would've been gone too because of Cashman.


As long as Schmidt duplicates his 31 GS, and the trio of Cortes, Stroman, & Rodón combine for 86 GS, with Gil, Warren, & Beeter make 16, and Cole makes 14 (my guesstimation is being activated at the ASB), and 5 between bullpen games and DH, Yankees should be fine. Not worried about finding the other 10 GS.


Depth, I'm not worried too much. You have to rely on too much bench/depth, you're in trouble anyway. Sitting in AAA to start are a bunch of guys: Durbin, Rice, Vivas, Pereira,…

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jjw49
Mar 22

Volpe should be better this year than last because if he isn't then Yankees have made a huge mistake on this player.... I'm betting Volpe has a much, much better year!

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Andy Singer
Andy Singer
Mar 22
Replying to

I believe the same thing; I'm just concerned when I see someone make such wholesale changes that are in direct opposition to what they did to get to the Majors.


I am still betting on Volpe being successful, but if he manages to do it while making the significant changes I see, I will be incredibly impressed.

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fuster
Mar 22

Volpe continues to impress. he's demonstrating a whole lotta fortitude guided by intelligence as he experiments with hitting to the right instead of continuing to go to his pull side.

he's quite likely to revert to what he knows when the games again count, but what he's in the process of learning will be valuable.... especially so if the team is best served by relying on Volpe to post a high OBP

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jeff
Mar 23
Replying to

I like the change in Volpe's hitting, because while it may drastically cut down on the number of homers he hits and it also may cause him to not turn on a ball with as much authority, his increase in hits and walks will make him perfect for the leadoff spot. A "classic leadoff hitter", one who is a severe threat to steal bases at the top of the order will fill what I see if one of the Yankees biggest needs. I envision Volpe as ultimately being the Yankees long time leadoff hitter, because I firmly believe the most prolific base stealer on the team should be in the leadoff spot, as long as he is a prolific hitt…

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