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Morning Bits: Girardi, Hughes, C.C. vs Shields and more…

Hope many of you are enjoying a nice day off from work as summer ends.   The playoff push is getting interesting as the Yankee continue to struggle.  An important next two series begins today with Tampa and after them will be at Baltimore.  A-Rod should be back in the lineup today.  Hopefully that helps the lineup.

Enjoy the day and now for some links.  Enjoy!

Mike Mazzeo of ESPN NY has the thoughts of Girardi which is “We need to play better baseball.”

Matt Ehalt of ESPN NY writes that Girardi sticking with Hughes late backfired.

Ethan Asofsky of mlb.com has the preview of today’s matchup between C.C. vs. Shields which starts at 1:10PM EST.

Zach Schonburn of The New York Times writes that Yankees have the lead in the division but the O’s have the momentum.

Andrew Burton of The Bleacher Report has seven reasons the Yankees shouldn’t re-sign Nick Swisher.

— Matt Tracy won his SWB debut yesterday as the SWB Yanks won 6-2.  Read the recap of the game.

Interview with LHP Matt Tracy

Matt Tracy led Staten Island to a Championship (photo from Mike Ashmore's Thunder Thoughts)

I had the privilege to speak with Yankee left-handed pitching prospect Matt Tracy who is down in Minor-League Training Camp in Tampa.  Tracy was a 24th-rd selection by the Yankees in the 2011 draft out of the University of Mississippi. The 6’3” 212 pound southpaw pitched out of the bullpen for the Staten island Yankees and was extremely effective allowing just 1 earned run in 22.3 IP and holding hitters to a puny .108 Batting Average.

His effectiveness out of the pen led Manager Tom Slater to stretch him out to see what he could do as a starter. It took Tracy a few weeks to build up innings and he made 6 starts to finish the regular season.  In the post-season, Tracy really stepped up, throwing a pair of 6-inning shutouts to lead Staten Island to the NY Penn League Championship. Overall, Tracy finished the year going 3-2 with a 2.43 ERA/1.06 WHIP , 56 Ks & 17 BBs in 59.3 IP. He held hitters to a .211 BA with just 1 HR and an impressive 2.26 Ground Out to Air Out Ratio.

Tracy was overlooked by a lot of prospect evaluators (myself included) because he was an older college grad in the NYPL who pitched most of the season out of the pen. He’s a very promising lefty with 3 quality offerings who can induce grounders and be effective vs. LH & RH hitters. 2012 will be an opportunity for Tracy to pitch as a full-time pitcher for the first time right out of ST and could move up through the system very quickly. My questions are in BLUE.

You were drafted by the Marlins after your Junior year in college but elected not to sign and returned to Ole Miss. What went in to that decision?

I felt like I still wanted to finish up my degree so I had that out of the way, and I felt there was still stuff for me to do at Ole Miss. I wanted to see how the team could do my Senior yr and I just wasn’t ready for pro ball yet.

You were a 2-way player in college at Ole Miss as an OF and Pitcher – Do you think that may have hurt your development as a pitcher?

Its definitely a challenge when you are doing both because you don’t get to spend your full time and energy on one specific thing. But it also helped me in ways too because I learned how to be a hitter and how I don’t like to be pitched and stuff like that so I had the hitters perspective.

You pitched in a big-time baseball conference in college at Ole Miss – how did the competition in the New York Penn League compare to the SEC?

The NYPL has a lot of talented players. That’s the way it will be in pro ball – these guys are here for a reason. In the SEC I faced a lot of talented guys as well. It’s the toughest college baseball conference in the country so I think it prepared me very well for this type of setting.

After they drafted you, did the Yankees discuss whether they viewed you as a Starter or Reliever?

Not much was discussed, I went to Staten Island to see where I fit in. They used me in the pen and then about half way through the season they had me starting.

What was it like to make the transition from relieving to starting in the middle of the season?

There’s a little bit of a difference but starting is something I did my whole career. I did it growing up, in high school and I did it in college. I’m used to it so it wasn’t a huge difference to make the transition.

What does your arsenal consist of?

Fastball – 2-seamer & 4-seamer, Curveball & Change Up.  The Fastball was between 90-94 mph this summer

What is your best pitch?

I like my Fastball. I think its one of the most important pitches for a pitcher. Having good command of the Fastball and being able to attack hitters with that. My best off-speed pitch is my changeup

On video your changeup looks very effective pitch against RH hitters – Is that why you had success vs. Righties? ( RH hitters hit .221 vs. Tracy while LH hitters hit .270)

My out-pitch depends on the hitter but I generally feel real comfortable against RH hitters because I have a good feel for my Changeup.

Have you noticed a change in your stuff or velocity once you started pitching full-time with Staten Island?

Yes, I definitely saw an up tick in velocity this summer. I started throwing a little harder this summer because I was surrounded by a couple of great coaches. First we had Danny Borrell, pitching coach for Staten Island, he helped me out tremendously with my mechanics and cleaning everything up. Then Rosie (coach Jose Rosado) came up when Danny got hurt and he also helped me out. Definitely, mechanic-wise, because of the good coaches, I feel more comfortable and the ball seems to be coming out a little better. There were small things we saw while looking at tape, some stuff with my leg kick and some stuff with my front side.

You only got 6 starts under your belt as a starter before the post-season started. What clicked for you in the Playoffs that made you so successful?

I just got back to the same old stuff that makes a good pitcher – making quality pitches, getting ahead of guys, attacking hitters and making good quality pitches down in the zone. As the season progressed, my Curveball got a little better and more consistent. That helped me out, having that 3rd pitch that I could throw for a strike that maybe wasn’t there for me in the middle of the summer.

What is your approach out there on the mound?

My approach on the mound is to attack the hitters and make quality pitches. Its really as simple as that – just trying to execute. I attack different hitters differently – I throw more changeups to righties and more Curveballs to lefties.

After the season ended in late September, did you pitch in the Fall and what were you trying to improve upon?

I went to the Instructional League here in Tampa for 2 weeks. I enjoyed that. Working on my delivery in front of a lot of different coaches. I worked on my Curveball a lot down in Instructs – that was my main focus. I think I improved that and played in some games. I got some stuff done and got a little better.

How about the Winter – where did you workout?

Working out down at Ole Miss with 6 or 7 other pro guys from Ole Miss. Working out and throwing. Good to be surrounded by other guys with the same goals to push each other. Worked on full-body stuff, Core, legs & upper body.

What was it like wining a championship at Staten Island in your first year of pro ball?

NY Penn Lg Championship Cup (photo from Mjtracy17 twitter's page)

It was definitely cool. We had a great group of guys and some good team chemistry. I really like all those guys and we clicked really well. Winning is fun. Any time you’re in a postseason atmosphere when the games mean a little more, it’s a really great feeling to win.

Your SI team was filled with talent -which of your teammates really impressed you?

We really did have a lot talented guys. Game to game someone else stood out.  Mason Williams in CF was terrific all yr. What was impressive was a lot of those guys were so young to be able to perform at that level. We had a lot of HS guys, it’s a different dynamic and I thought we meshed really well – the college kids and the HS kids.

What do you feel you need to improve and what are your goals for 2012?

Continue in my progression as a pitcher. Getting more consistent with my Curveball is definitely going to be up there – getting more consistent all around that’s what makes you a good pitcher. Being able to attack the zone and throw quality strikes to make things tough on hitters

What pitchers in the majors do you try to emulate or who would you compare yourself to?

I’m a huge baseball fan and there’s stuff I pick up from a bunch of guys. I like watching all the great pitchers to try and pick something up whether its Chris Carpenter or Roy Halladay they’re both so great I love watching them pitch.

I know you grew up as a Cardinals fan in St.Louis – What was it like being drafted by the Yankees?

Been a great opportunity to be part of this organization and they do things right so its definitely a blessing.

Minor League Recap – Short Season A Staten Island Yankees

The Short-Season Staten Island Yankees won the regular season 14-team New York Penn League with a 45-28 record and also won the league post-season championship.  They did so with a strong all-around team that was 2nd in team average (.265), 3rd in runs scored and 5th in team ERA (3.50).  The success of the Yanks 2 lowest level teams (Staten Island and Gulf Coast Yanks) proves the success of the latest drafts in 2010 & 2011 and bodes well for the future of the organization.

HITTERS
CF – Mason Williams – 20, 6’0″ 150

Impressive rookie year for Mason Williams

Williams was arguably the best prospect in the entire NY Penn Lg and he did nothing to disappoint with his on-field performance.  He tore up the league finishing 2nd with a .349 average and 1st with 28 stolen bases & 94 Hits. He also finished in the top 10 in OBP (.395), SLG(.469), OPS(.863), Triples(6), Total Bases(126) and Runs(42). Mason is a wiry athlete with plus speed, a plus arm and a smooth left-handed stroke.  He has a good feel for the strike zone but was very aggressive at the plate.

Williams has been compared to Brett Gardner because of his outstanding speed and defense.  He projects to add more power as he grows into his slim frame and could end up being a cross between Gardner & Curtis Granderson.I was impressed to see that despite his immense physical talent, his coaches also regard him as a very hard worker who lives in the batting cage and has an infectious personality.  Be prepared to see Williams in everybody’s Yankee  Top 10 prospect lists this year and with his skill set & work ethic he could rocket through the system. He’s shown the ability to make hard contact so it will be interesting to see how much power he can generate as he starts to add more strength and weight to his 6’0″ 150 lb frame.

1B – Zachary Wilson – 21, 6’1″ 205

Wilson was a 21st round pick out of Arizona State who finished 2nd in the lg with 10 HRs plus a big solo shot for the 1st run in the 2-1 championship game. He hit .256 with a .346 OBP & .456 SLG% but doesn’t do anything particularly well except hit for power.

2B – Angelo Gumbs, 18 – 6’0″ 175

Angelo Gumbs - 2010 2nd round Pick

Gumbs is an athletic, up the middle player taken by the Yanks in the 2010 Draft. He got a $750,000 bonus as a 2nd -rd pick and has flashed all of the tools the team paid for despite tailing off at the end of the season due to injuries. He has great bat speed and a lot of raw power which he used to  hit .264/.332/.406 with 3 HRs. Gumbs showed off his good speed with 11 SBs & 4 triples. This speed may make him better suited as a CF or LF moving forward because he wasn’t great at 2B with 9 errors.

SS – Cito Culver, 19 – 6’0 185

The Yanks were criticized for taking Culver with their 1st pick in 2010 but he’s impressed scouts with his rocket arm and a nice compact swing from both sides of the plate. Like most players right out of HS, he was inconsistent during the season but he showed a good approach at the plate but his poor August had him finish at .250/.323/.337. Cito is going to take a while to develop both offensively & defensively as he must cut down on his 17 errors. One area he is advanced in is his base running, as he shows good instincts and above average speed which he used to steal 10 of 10 bases.

3B – Tyler Austin, 20 – 6’2″ 200

Tyler Austin mashed all year long

Austin was a 13th round pick in 2010’s draft who started the season in the Gulf Coast Lg where he mashed the ball to a .390/.438/.622 clip in 20 games before he was promoted to Staten Island.  He kept on hitting after the promotion in 27 games to finish a combined .354/.418/.579 for a .997 OPS.  Tyler was also a perfect 18 of 18 in Stolen Base attempts.

Leading up to the draft Austin was considered a high ceiling H.S. player with big time power and solid speed & arm strength. But many thought he was a project but he has come out mashing.  Tyler overcame testicular cancer as a teenager and battled back from a broken had last yr.  He also has a reputation as a “gamer”, a hard-nosed type of player.  He sounds a lot like Bichette to me and it seems the Yanks are looking for guys like this based on their recent draft picks. With his MLB power, solid speed & attitude, Austin is one of my favorite prospects and I will be following him closely as he develops.

PITCHERS

RHP – Bryan Mitchell – 20, 6’2″ 175

Raw righthander Bryan Mitchell

Mitchell is a tantalizing prospect with a high ceiling but is still very raw. He has plus stuff but his questionable mechanics and inconsistent arm angle make him a project. The couple of videos I saw of him look like 2 different pitchers. Mitchell had a mediocre season but finished with 4 strong starts at the end of the season during which he gave up 3 ER in 21 IP.  Overall, he went 1-3 with a 4.09 ERA, 8.6 K/9,  4.5 BB/9 & impressive 2.19 GO/AO ratio. The high strikeout & ground ball rates are very encouraging as he is likely to improve his command/control as he refines his mechanics.

LHP – Evan DeLuca – 20, 6’1″ 195

DeLuca is a New Jersey kid who played his HS ball at Immaculata in Somerville where he was picked in the 44th rd of the 2009 draft by the Yankees.  Like Mitchell, he has taunted with his amazing stuff and wild bouts of inconsistency.  I read scouting reports on him in the beginning of the season where he was sitting at 91-93 and topping at 94-95 and was getting excellent results at 3-1 2.19 ERA through July 22.  But later reports had him at 87-89 which led to him getting ripped in his last 4 starts and eventually finish the yr on the DL.

LHP – Matt Tracy – 22, 6’3″ 212

Tracy was a 24th rd pick out of U of Mississippi this yr who had a solid season splitting time as a starter and reliever.  He was 1-2 with a 3.04 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 9.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 2.26 ground out to Air out ratio. He was the team’s best starter in the post-season going 2-0 including 6 shutout innings of 3-hit ball in the clincher.

RHP – William Oliver – 24, 6’2″ 185

Oliver had a strong season going 5-2 with a 3.45 ERA, 7.5 k/9, 3.7 bb/9 & 1.83 GO/AO rate.  The 35th rd pick in 2010 out of Palomar College is a lot older than most of the players in this league so will need to prove himself at a higher level to show he’s a prospect.

RHP – Branden Pinder – 22, 6’3″ 210

Branden Pinder dominated NYPL hitters

Pinder was a 16th rd pick out of Cal State Long Beach this year and quickly got himself comfortable as Staten Island’s closer.  He used his 94-95 MPH fastball with excellent command to finish 2-2 with 14 saves and a minute 1.16 ERA. He held hitters to a .152 BA and had a 11.0 k/9 & 1.5 bb/9 in 31 ip.  He really has no quality secondary offerings but with command of a mid 90s heater he need only develop one other pitch to advance as a MLB reliever.