By Sweeny Murti
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Some notes and thoughts in the midst of this three-city West Coast trip, and the recently completed amateur draft:
— CC Sabathia is the type of pitcher who gets on a roll after putting a couple starts in a row like he did against Boston and Cleveland. That’s why it was a surprise to see him get lit up again against Oakland.
“Disappointing” is how Sabathia described it, and that’s certainly the case. It would be a lot more alarming if the last two starts didn’t happen at all. Sabathia handled two very good offenses quite well, racking 19 strikeouts in those two games.
Still, 6-5, 4.07 ERA is not what you’re used to seeing from Sabathia this deep into the season. His next two starts come against the Angels and (GULP!) the Rays, who have knocked Sabathia around twice already this season.
— One of the strangest things about Robinson Cano’s month-long slump is watching him struggle against left-handed pitching. In 2011 Cano hit .314 vs. LHP, down to .239 last season, and only .200 this season. Cano has been one of the most dangerous hitters in the league because of his ability to hit lefties, and that advantage has disappeared recently.
Hitting coach Kevin Long told me that Cano — who is an excellent off-speed hitter — has actually struggled with his timing of fastballs against the lefties. So Cano has been working on being a little quicker to pull the fastballs that have been giving him more trouble than they should.
The Yankees have had success in beating many left-handers this year, but they are so heavily loaded with lefties in their lineup that getting Cano productive again in those spots will be of great importance.
— Brett Gardner has been very hot, but has anybody noticed Jayson Nix? Nix was batting .281 with a .365 OBP in the last month since Eduardo Nunez went on the DL and Nix became the everyday shortstop. The Yankees did not expect to go this far into the season without Derek Jeter, and they didn’t know Nunez was going to miss this much time either. Essentially the third string shortstop then, Nix has excelled over the last month in an everyday role, something that is a bit of a surprise.
As a utility man Nix has been viewed as a useful player in short bursts of playing time, but now he is the everyday shortstop. He’s made 27 starts at short, almost all of them since Nunez got hurt. Before this season Nix hadn’t played more than 20 games at shortstop in any season since 2001, his first year in the minors. With Nunez slow to recover from every injury, and Jeter still weeks (months?) away, the Yankees are fortunate to have gotten so much productivity from Nix, but as I mentioned to Mike Francesa on Tuesday, the Yankees might have to at least consider looking for an upgrade as they get closer to the July 31st trading deadline, especially if Jeter has another setback.
— Mariano Rivera continues his farewell tour with this final trip through the West Coast cities in the American League. His sit-down Q&A sessions with locals in each city continue to be touching events, the kind that separate Rivera from other superstar athletes. These are not just meet-and-greets where Rivera shakes a hand and smiles for a picture. He spends nearly an hour answering questions thoughtfully and letting people into his life and his world, talking about the commitment to career and family that has carried him every day, every year. Even for someone like me, who has covered Rivera for 13 years, I learn something about his passion and his dedication each time I sit in on one of these sessions.
Rivera has taken care of those closer to home, too. The number of items a player like Rivera is asked to autograph can be overwhelming on a day-to-day basis. However, Rivera did not hesitate when asked recently to sign jerseys for 30 members of the Yankees amateur scouting staff as a thank you for their hard work during the year. “Anything for the scouts,” Rivera said, recognizing the effort put forth at all levels of the organization and the dedication to making the Yankees what they are.
— As we look at the Yankees draft, it will obviously take a few years to figure out how well they did. Keep in mind how teams view success in the draft—generally, teams feel that if they can get three or four players to the big leagues out of the 40-50 they draft, then they have done well. That’s just reaching the majors, not even talking about producing regulars or All-Stars. This is how hard it is to evaluate 17- to 21-year-old kids in this sport.
While some of the Yankees higher draft picks in recent years haven’t developed as they had hoped, the organization has had some success finding good arms in the middle rounds like David Robertson (17th round, 2006) and David Phelps (14th round, 2008) and to some degree Preston Claiborne (17th round, 2010), who hasn’t had as much big league time as the others. All three were drafted out of college, and this year the Yankees took nine college pitchers between rounds 5-20. Based on past history, I would keep an eye on Nick Rumbelow (seventh round, LSU), Connor Kendrick (ninth round, Auburn), and Tyler Webb (10th round, South Carolina), all guys who could move quickly through the system over the next two years.
— While statistics rule today’s baseball world, there is still a great deal of importance placed on character, and the draft is probably the place where that emphasis is most important. Statistics at the amateur level can tell you that a player is good, but only good scouting and background work can tell you about a player’s work ethic and commitment.
To that point, this picture was placed on the draft board in the Yankees war room:
It is of Gregory Campbell of the Boston Bruins, staying on the ice and continuing to play — in obvious pain — after breaking his leg during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Pittsburgh. The caption placed underneath it by scouting director Damon Oppenheimer read, “This is the kind of makeup we’re looking for.”
How you play the game. It still matters to some people.
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