The gamble that is the Yankees youth movement

By: Nick Scott

In Yankeeland there appears to be two differing schools of thought. The first is that we need to channel our inner George Steinbrenner and spend big on every big name out there. The second is that we should burn the evil that is signing star players and move towards an all farm team system. Obviously, both schools of thought are a bit ludicrous. We can’t simply rely on spending money to fill our roster and we also can’t field a team full of home grown players due to lack of MLB ready talent, underperformance, etc.
For the last few years I think it’s pretty clear the Yankees were taking the first approach as evidenced by spending huge on guys like CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsubry, Masahiro Tanaka, etc.

I wouldn’t exactly consider these all failures; in fact Sabathia and Teixeira were key parts to the Yankees 2009 World Series title. However, I will say there have been some hiccups due to injury and underperformance of several of the big contracts signed in these recent years.

The result? It appears the masses are calling for the end of signing star players and movement towards youth. I am not opposed to putting a stop to overpaying past their prime veterans and picking up and developing, young, talented players, but I think it is important we keep in mind the following: Youth does not equal talent.

Sure, it is always better to have younger talent than older talent, but age does not determine the skill level a player has. To all those who are crying for the team to infuse some youth into the club I ask you, do you want the team to get younger or better?

As I stated earlier I am absolutely in favor of acquiring and developing young and talented players. My issue is I feel while the Yankees have made an effort at doing so, it will be in vain. I would like to discuss three potential youth movement mistakes the Yankees have made in its relation to the fallacy that youth is talent.

Didi Gregorius
Replacing the greatest shortstop of all time (Yes, Derek Jeter is the best shortstop of all time) is no easy task, both for the GM and the player he selects to do so. Brian Cashman didn’t exactly blow anyone away when he traded up and coming pitcher Shane Greene in a three way deal to acquire Arizona middle infielder Didi Gregorius.

To begin, Gregorius is nothing special with the bat. This last year the soon to be 25 year old hit a paltry .226 AVG, less than the 40 year old Derek Jeter; youth equals talent right? In case you try and point to this being an off year, Gregorius’s highest average in his two year stint in the majors was .252, which isn’t the worst, but isn’t blowing anyone away and not to mention is still worse than Jeter’s age 40 season. The most concerning factor about Gregorius at the plate is his horrible .290 OBP. 50 qualifying players had a higher batting average than this and is a big reason Gregorius was sent back to the minors to work on sharpening his tools without any success. Simply put, Gregorius isn’t an offensive player and there’s no visible reason to think he will suddenly become a plus hitter.

I can hear you saying “Gregorius derives his value from defense rather than offense.” Don’t we already have a guy on the roster specifically for shortstop defense, Brendan Ryan? Now I am the smallest Brendan Ryan fan in existence, but it makes no sense to me to give up a decent arm in Shane Greene for something you already had.

The more disturbing point, is Gregorius is actually a below average defender when looking at the numbers. In 2014 Gregorius was a -3 in Rtot (essentially the defensive version of OPS+) showing he was below average when it comes to his fielding as a whole saving runs. Worse yet Fangraphs gave him an overall defensive rating (Def) of 3.9, which was 24th among all qualifying major league shortstops. To compound things, the same source ranked him 19th among all shortstops in UZR rating with of -3.9. Simply put, Gregorius has glaring issues with the bat and in the field, which explains my confusion over acquiring him.

The issues don’t stop on the field as multiple sources have been quoted as saying he lets things ‘get to him.’ Many within the Diamondbacks organization questioned his work ethic. These factors certainly shouldn’t have anyone thinking he has the ability or drive to turn things around and replace such a historic figure in baseball history. If Gregorius is seen as the long term answer at short there are going to be a lot of headaches the next few years in the Bronx at short. If he is seen as a stop gap, I have to ask why we gave up an asset for him when we could have just gone with almost an identical player in Brendan Ryan. Simply put this is a clear case where youth does not equal talent and this gamble could be a big bust for the Yankees.

Nathan Eovaldi
I wrote about how Nathan Eovaldi the other day in my article about the potentially disastrous rotation the Yankees are fielding and this man is a big part. The Yankees gave up a big piece in Martin Prado when they traded for the 24 year old Eovaldi.

Eovaldi has a big arm and for a few years many around the league have thought him to be someone who could turn out to be pretty good pitcher. Those thoughts are fading though, as Eovaldi gave a league leading 223 hits the last year. The heart of his issues is that his fastball is ‘straight as an arrow’ according to scouts. Velocity will only hurt you if batters can easily read it. Unfortunately for the Yankees natural run on a fastball is something that can’t necessarily be taught.

Now I personally felt it was time for his time in Pinstripes to end, but Hiroki Kuroda is a perfect example here of why that youth does not trump age if it isn’t talented. Kuroda Pitched to an ERA of 3.71 and an ERA+ of 104 whereas Eovaldi posted an ugly 4.37 ERA and 87 ERA+: These numbers should speak for themselves.

The Yankees are really playing with fire in giving up a great hitter and fielder in Martin Prado for a pitcher that was one of the worst in the league this last year, especially with no foreseeable fix in sight. Sure he’s young, but I would rather have one or two years of a solid older player, than more years of poor performer.

Rob Refsnyder
I am probably going to upset a few people with this one, but I am only here to discuss the facts. I have a bad, bad feeling Rob Refsnyder is going to turn out exactly like Eduardo Nunez. In other words, Refsnyder is not the stud prospect he’s been overhyped as.

I would have a hard time disputing his ability to hit. Rob raked .318 with 14 homeruns between AA and AAA this last season. He only hit under .283 in the minors once and that was his first season. In other words Refsnyder appears as if he will be an above average hitter at the next level.

The biggest issue is his defense. In two seasons at 2B in the minors Refsnyder has committed 37 errors. By comparison Martin Prado has made 23 errors at 2B in eight seasons in the majors. In other words Refsnyder has very real and troubling defensive issues and I am not alone in this thought as many baseball folks around the leagues have stated Refsnyder’s stock has been the result of internal overhyping.

Anyone else remember a middle infielder that could hit but always had defensive trouble? Yup, Eduardo Nunez.

My biggest issue with all of this is that the Yankees had a proven 2B who could hit and field far above league average in addition to playing most other positions on the field. We traded him for a league worst pitcher, terrible first baseman, and once decent prospect. Not wise at all. Perhaps Refsnyder can find the ability to field, but if not this will be one more issue as a result of the Yankees youth movement.

So What?
So what is my point? Surely I’m some spend happy fool who thinks we should we should trade the entire system for Troy Tulowitzki. I in fact do no propose we undergo another huge offseason spending spree.

I feel we should just make our moves more cautiously. It appears the Yankees are picking up failed prospect reclamation projects and are paying a price more than they should have to for wild cards like these guys. I can understand selling a guy off for a solid few prospects, but Martin Prado was not the guy to give up for an inadequate return with no sure replacement in sight.

Additionally, spending big on free agents isn’t an awful thing either. Max Scherzer is the perfect example of a wise move to spend big on. He really tightens that rotation and would give the team two ace pitchers or at least one, in the event Tanaka reinjures his elbow. Spending big for past their prime players? Definitely no. But it is equally as dimwitted to avoid spending money on useful players, especially when you’re the New York Yankees.

Sure, these mentioned players could turn out alright and this youth movement could be a very wise move. However, I simply aim to point out there is no real reason to think they will and I am deeply concerned about the direction the team is heading in. Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Luis Severino are legitimate prospects that may be years off, though hopefully not too far off, or the next few years are probably going to be rough with too many bust possibilities on the team to be comfortable with.

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