Weekly Mailbag: Impact Players Protected from the Rule 5 Draft, Clint Frazier, and an Extension for
Well, I said that the off-season would pick up this week with the Rule 5 protection deadline, and I was right. The Yankees finally decided to cut bait with Jacoby Ellsbury, and it sure seems like Greg Bird is on his way out as well. I wrote about the decisions made on Wednesday at greater length here, but it was good to see the Yankees put the ultimate growth of the team above extracting value from a significant investment. I mentioned it in the comments yesterday, but in the past couple of years, the Yankees may have tried to extract blood from a stone with Ellsbury just based on the money he is owed. I feel badly for both Ellsbury and Bird; I think that both guys worked their hardest to get back on the field so that they could be contributors to one of the best teams in baseball. Sadly, it just wasn’t meant to be.
With that, we come to the Weekly Mailbag. This week, we’ll talk about the guys protected from the Rule 5 draft, Clint Frazier, and what Stanton’s contract means for Aaron Judge. Let’s get at it:
Max asks: Can any of the players protected by the Yankees this week make an impact on the MLB roster in 2020? Some of them seem pretty far away.
As a refresher, the Yankees protected Nick Nelson, Estevan Florial, Deivi Garcia, Brooks Kriske, Luis Medina, Luis Gil, and Miguel Yajure from the Rule 5 Draft by adding them to the 40-man roster this week. Sadly, I think that the Yankees will further cull some exciting young talent from the 40-man via either waivers or trade because the Yankees are going to add to the roster via the Free Agent market and trades. That said, there are some obvious names on this list who can help the Yankees in 2020.
The three players most likely to help the Yankees this year are pitchers: Deivi Garcia, Brooks Kriske, and Nick Nelson. As all of you know, I hopped on the Garcia train early last year, and I’m still on it. Garcia has an electric fastball with secondary stuff to match. Garcia is still working to fine-tune his command and pitch sequencing, and multiple reports stated that the Yankees felt he tired at the end of the year in 2019. Garcia has a small build for a starter, but knock on wood, Garcia has been healthy throughout his short career. Garcia is just 21 years old in 2020, but he has the stuff and pitchability to make an impact.
I wrote about Kriske more extensively yesterday, but he is a guy who jumped on the radar in 2019. Kriske’s fastball went from the 90-92 MPH range to the 93-97 MPH last year, and that led to an overall jump in Kriske’s other offerings. Last off-season represented Kriske’s first “normal” off-season of his career, as he spent his first years as a pro rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery. Kriske had a good fastball and slider, and he added a splitter during the summer which has received universal praise from scouts. Kriske’s stats from last season are good, but it is not uncommon for minor league relievers to put up video game numbers in the minor leagues. Remember, a lot of people were clamoring for the Yanks to “unleash” Joe Harvey on the league last year because of his minor league numbers. That…didn’t work out so well. It’s possible that Kriske is another Joe Harvey, but Kriske has better secondary offerings than Harvey, so with more refinement at AAA this year, Kriske could find himself on the bullpen shuttle this year.
Nick Nelson is a really interesting prospect. Nelson has a very good mid-90s fastball, and a collection of fringy-to-average secondary offerings. He mixes his pitches well, and uses his fastball effectively up in the zone to achieve high strikeout rates. Unfortunately, Nelson struggles with command and control at times, alternately displaying high walk rates or high hit rates – at AA, Nelson walked 4.8 batters per 9 innings, and at AAA, Nelson dropped his walk rate significantly, but saw his hit rate rise by almost 2 batters per 9 innings. Nelson has a high-effort delivery, and may be suited to the bullpen long-term, but he has enough secondary stuff to survive as a starter. In either scenario, Nelson reached AAA in 2019, and is knocking on the door of the big leagues in 2020.
Then, we come to players I think of as the bubble guys: Miguel Yajure and Luis Medina. Yajure is different from the other pitchers the Yankees protected in that Yajure doesn’t wow you with stuff. Yajure sits at 92-94 MPH, with a solid curveball, a change-up that comes in at 85-88 MPH, and a cutter that sits in the high 80s. Yajure works around the zone, displaying low walk rates, while striking out opposing batters in 23.9% of plate appearances. Yajure threw 138.2 innings this past season, reaching AA at season’s end. Yajure needs experience against upper level hitters, but now that he has reached AA, he can be a real option on the Yankee staff by mid-season if his season goes well.
Medina is a name that many people would be surprised to see me tout as a bubble guy for next season. Medina seems very far from the big leagues. Medina has the best stuff in the system, with three pitches that multiple outlets have graded as plus at their best. Medina sits 96-98 MPH with his fastball, and has reportedly touched 100 MPH. Medina also employs a wipeout curveball, and a surprisingly good change-up for a guy who will be just 21 years old in 2020. The problem has been Medina’s control; not command, control. Medina has struggled mightily to find the plate in his pro career, and through the first half of the season, many observers were beginning to doubt whether Medina would ever harness his control enough to move up the organizational ladder. The breakthrough began at the end of the first half, and continued through the end of the season. By the end of the season, Medina was throwing nearly 60% of his pitches for strikes, and earned a call-up to A+ Tampa, where he looked dominant. If the newfound control sticks, Medina could be a very fast riser through the system. His stuff plays in the big leagues now, so it’s really about learning how to pitch, and Medina looks as though he is making strides in that department.
Florial is a player that many expected to be on the cusp of playing in MLB games by now, but injuries have destroyed the last two seasons for Florial. Florial has significant plate discipline and pitch recognition issues, and the only way to possibly rectify those problems is to play. There is an opening in CF currently, but it would be unreasonable to expect Florial to fill it.
Luis Gil is an exciting prospect, and he could have been picked in the Rule 5 Draft if left unprotected. Gil has big stuff, but still requires significant development to reach his potential. Gil is a similar caliber of prospect to Medina, but the stuff is just a tick lower, while control and command issues are similar. Gil might very well turn the corner next season, but the breakthrough hasn’t quite happened yet.
Brian asks: Can Clint Frazier still be the main part of a trade?
Multiple outlets have reported what has become clear to those of us who follow the Yankees everyday: Clint Frazier’s stock is way down from where it was a couple of years ago. Frazier is a good, but flawed player. Frazier’s defensive issues were very pronounced this season, and the league took notice. Frazier has plenty of pop at the plate, but he lost a lot of development time the last couple of seasons, and his plate discipline and pitch recognition have not taken the jump that could have reasonably been projected a couple of years ago. It’s not that Frazier can’t still develop! He very well might still continue to progress as a player. It’s just far less likely to project significant growth at the plate and defensively.
Clint Frazier has blue-chip prospect pedigree going for him, but the flaws are too big for other teams to ignore. The ultimate sign was during the trade deadline. Many fans and media were hard on the Yankee front office for not acquiring help for the pitching staff at the trade deadline, particularly since the Yankees seemed intent to keep Clint Frazier around as a spare part as opposed to a major cog in the offense. I have no doubt that Cashman tried to shop Frazier (and others) around the league for pitching help. As multiple reports have shown, teams were not willing to deal even back-end starters for a package headlined by Clint Frazier.
I still think Frazier will likely be playing for another MLB team next year. Frazier will be the secondary piece in whatever trade sends him elsewhere.
Mark asks: Do you think with Stanton possibly being the next Ellsbury…. are the Yankees reluctant to give Judge an early arbitration eligible 5yr $100m contract?
I am not sure that it’s fair to call Stanton the “next Ellsbury” yet. I admit, I am concerned by the injury issues Stanton had this season, and it brings back memories of the injury issues he had earlier in his career, but let’s see how 2020 goes before we put the nail in that coffin.
Judge is a fascinating extension case. Mark is thinking along the right lines by comparing Stanton and Judge, just due to their relative offensive impact and size. At this point, Judge is a better player than Stanton, particularly due to his defense in RF. I know that Judge got more press this year for his defense this season, but somehow, I still feel like the media underrates his ability to play the outfield. Frankly, it wouldn’t bother me to see Judge in CF for a game or two, that’s how good his defense is, relatively speaking.
If the Yankees were going to extend Judge, this off-season would be a great time to do it. There are a few factors working against it, though. For one, Judge came up to the Majors very late, so he is not eligible to be a Free Agent until 2023. 2024 would be Judge’s age-32 season, the end of most players’ primes. If you factor in the fact that none of us know how a player of Judge’s size will age, and it is very difficult to come up with a proper extension.
5 years/$100 million sounds light to me. Judge will likely be a $20+ million player in arbitration by 2022, and as a player, I would expect that Judge would want more than just one or two Free Agent seasons bought by the Yankees, since he will be an older Free Agent. I think Judge’s camp would push for an 8-year extension. If I were the Yankees, I would be more inclined to stick to 5 or 6 years. I see the years as a greater obstacle than the money.
I’ll write more about this during the off-season, but Mark is right to start thinking about an extension for Judge.
That’s all for this week! Thanks for reading, as always. Please keep sending questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week is Thanksgiving, but we’ll still have a mailbag the Friday after. You’ll see another post or two from me this week, but I hope all of you have a happy, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving this year. See you all next week!