Chad Jennings at LoHud spoke to Mark Newman, Yankees' vice president of baseball operations, to get a feel of the state of the farm system to this point and get an update on how a few of the injured prospects are progressing toward a return. Newman always has a lot of good information about injuries, which can be nearly impossible to follow with the extremely limited amount of information that comes out about them. Here are a few of the highlights of Newman's chat with Jennings. You can read everything Newman had to say over at LoHud here.
- The Yankees tried to rehab Jose Campos' elbow injury to avoid Tommy John surgery, but they ultimately felt like it wasn't going to get better without surgery. The injury dates all the way back to 2012 when Campos only made five starts for Charleston.
- Ty Hensley is still not particularly close to pitching in games, but he is on the verge of facing live hitters. Hensley has barely pitched for the Yankees since they took him in the first round of the 2012 draft due to multiple surgeries. Hopefully Hensley can make it back onto the field to pitch meaningful innings this season.
- Surprisingly, Slade Heathcott will likely be sent to Double-A Trenton next week when he makes his season debut. It seemed more likely that the team was going to try to bump Heathcott up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to begin the season, and he could still make it there before the season ends, but Slade desperately needs to prove he can stay healthy. Injuries have plagued him at virtually every step of his professional career so far.
- Tyler Austin and Bryan Mitchell are also about a week away from getting back into game action. Austin has been sidelined with a groin injury while Mitchell has been out with elbow soreness. The Yankees don't think Mitchell's case is a serious one, but it is, of course, something to monitor. Newman believes Mitchell may have over-extended himself during his brief call up to the Yankees. Danny Burawa and Fred Lewis are also recovering from injuries before returning to Triple-A. Burawa is due back in about a week with Lewis taking a little longer to recover from a blister on his finger.
- Manny Banuelos is on his way back from Tommy John surgery, and has been limited to roughly three innings in his starts between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. The reasoning behind this, according to Newman, is so that they don't run out of innings too early in the season. Newman thinks that if everything goes well for ManBan this season, he could potentially end up being a late-season option for the Yankees. That being the case, they don't want to use up all the innings they intend for the lefty to pitch this season before August or September. It seems like there is legitimate hope for Banuelos' major league debut as a September call up if he is able to pitch well at each level along the way.
- Newman is not at all concerned with the lack of power Aaron Judge has displayed so far for Charleston. Judge has a very impressive .311/.413/.415 line for the RiverDogs so far this season, but has been limited in the home run department. Judge is a massive player whose power seems almost inevitable. Charleston is also not the easiest place to hit home runs, as Greg Bird's home/away power splits from last season would tell you.
- Peter O'Brien is once again drawing rave reviews for his offense. The Yankees still have him primarily catching, but he's also seen time in the outfield for High-A Tampa. The team briefly tried to experiment with O'Brien at third base last season, but Newman indicates that that is more of a last ditch effort than a place where they believe he will actually play. Newman said finding O'Brien a place where he can carve a path to the majors is the goal, and that may be at first base or in the outfield. His bat will, of course, be what carries him.
- Dante Bichette Jr. has continued hitting like the player he was when he was still in Rookie Ball. After what amounts to basically two lost seasons at Low-A Charleston, Bichette is batting .308 for Tampa with three homers, matching his 2012 power output, already this season. Newman credits the change in DBJ's mechanics at the plate for some of his recent success. Cutting down on all of the movement in the box seems to have really paid off so far.
- Rafael De Paula blew away hitters at Low-A Charleston last year before struggling after his promotion to Tampa. So far this season, he has an incredible 12.2 K/9 rate and Newman sang the praises of De Paula's improved breaking pitches. Hopefully his improvement indicates that he has been able to adjust to a higher caliber of hitter at the next level and will be able to continue to climb the ladder toward the majors.
- Luis Severino is only 20 years old, and he's done very well for Low-A Charleston so far this season. Newman praised his "big-time arm" and commented on the fact that Severino has been able to sit at 95 mph and touch 97 mph, as well as keep up his 95 mph velocity in later innings. Severino has only walked seven batters in 31 innings so far this year.
- Eric Jagielo isn't hitting for a high average with High-A Tampa yet, but he has shown legitimate pop with seven home runs already. He's also worked 13 walks on the year. Newman was not concerned with the lack of average out of Jagielo so far, noting that he was aggressively started in High-A and not Low-A this year. The Yankees think that Jagielo's college bat is ready for a challenge, and that's certainly better than merely letting him toil away at Low-A for half a season. Jagielo has the ability to move quickly through the system if everything goes right, and the Yankees are in desperate need of infielders at the big league level.
- Nik Turley is close to re-signing with the team after he was released to clear room on the 40-man roster. Newman said that it was a situation like the one with David Adams last year where they felt like a release, rather than designating him for assignment, was the best chance at getting the player back when they needed some room on the roster. Turley has been injured since spring training, but he's continued to rehab at the Yankees' complex in Tampa. Newman says the release in no way means that the team has given up on Turley. It was merely procedural.
- Jake Cave, Abiatal Avelino, and Gary Sanchez were also mentioned as pleasant surprises by Newman. Newman also had kind things to say about last year's second round pick, Gosuke Katoh, who has struggled a bit in his first taste of Low-A.