By Sweeny Murti
Some Murti Musings heading into the home stretch:
*The Yankees have to feel a lot better about their pitching now than they did a month ago. Andy Pettitte came back healthy and Phil Hughes has held up pretty strong, with every inning he throws from here on out establishing a new career high.
A.J. Burnett is still a mystery. Joe Girardi felt in necessary to sit him down in the office last week to make sure his head was in the right place. Both Girardi and Burnett felt good about the conversation and the direction they were headed. Then Burnett came back with a black eye. At least it wasn’t a broken jaw, or arm, or leg, etc. Whatever happened, he pitched okay and continues to give you a little hope that an outing like Game 2 of last year’s World Series is possible. Unfortunately, so is one like Game 5.
That’s what you might call “A.J. being A.J.”
*After Curtis Granderson hit 30 home runs last year for the Tigers, some in the Yankee organization and others around baseball believed he could hit 40 as a Yankee in 2010. Granderson was slow out of the gate and missed 23 games with a strained groin. He struggled all the way into August before what amounted to a two-day intervention with Hitting Coach Kevin Long.
Granderson emerged from that lesson with renewed power. Granderson hit 10 home runs in his first 309 at-bats, then hit 11 homers in the next 120 at-bats.
Overall, this isn’t the type of year that Granderson was hoping for, but he’s heating up just in time for the playoffs. Although he had a poor World Series for the Tigers in 2006 (2 for 21), he was 10 for 32 (.313) with 3 home runs and 7 RBIs over the first two rounds of that year’s postseason, and he’s already gotten some big hits this year against the Red Sox and Rays.
With Mark Teixeira continuing to struggle through injuries, Granderson could become a key part of the Yankee lineup in October.
*Meanwhile, in Detroit the Tigers are loving Austin Jackson, the key prospect the Yankees gave up in the trade to acquire Granderson. Jackson is a top Rookie of the Year candidate, batting .300 and leading all AL rookies in hits, doubles, triples, and stolen bases. Jackson’s defense can’t be ignored either (you would have remembered his perfect-game saving catch this year if Jim Joyce hadn’t gotten in the way).
The Yankees believed Jackson was a good player, they just weren’t sure he would hit in the big leagues so soon. He still hasn’t developed power (4 HR in 570 AB), but in every other way is exceeding the expectations for this stage of his development (still only 23 years old).
*And before fans start lamenting the loss of Jackson to another team, remember…it’s a good thing when players you trade become good. It means your system is producing talent and makes other teams more willing to trade with you. In fact one major league executive told me last week that the Yankees “have enough talent in the system to trade for any player in the big leagues.”
Rival scouts have told me how much they admire Yanks VP of Scouting Damon Oppenheimer’s drafts the last couple years. The 2006 Yankee draft has already produced 7 players that reached the big leagues (including Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson), with the best one of the bunch—RHP Dellin Betances—still on the rise after a couple of injury-plagued years.
Maybe even better than Betances is Manny Banuelos, a 19-year old lefty that one scout said was the best minor league pitching prospect he’s seen all year. Banuelos made it to AA-Trenton this year and is said to have exceptional command and feel. Then there’s Andrew Brackman, who still just 24 and finally found some control this year.
And while we talk a lot about Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, scouts say teenagers Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy are just as desirable.
The Yankees will always be players on the free agent market—but just like they weren’t afraid to try to trade for Cliff Lee back in July, the word on the street from other MLB teams is that the Yankees can get what they want the old-fashioned way too.
*I agree that sometimes our eyes, heart, and mind lie to us, thus the reason for objective analysis and the need for advanced baseball statistics. But am I really supposed to believe that Mark Teixeira is costing his team runs defensively? Show me all the numbers you want, I’m just not buying it.
*Catch a great profile on CC Sabathia on the latest HBO Real Sports. A fine story about the big boy and his parents. And after watching the beginning of this piece you’ll decide like me that you’ll never want to get into a dodgeball game against CC.
*If you missed Joe Torre and Don Mattingly with Mike Francesa this week, check out the conversation here. Also, check out www.joetorre.org for tickets to this year’s annual Safe At Home gala at Chelsea Piers. The date is November 11th, and the honoree is Derek Jeter.