Backfield Banter: Yankees/Pirates Instructs

I’ve been to the Yankees backfields a lot in 2018. Often times, there are a few fans, few scouts, and lots of players and coaches in the stands. Most of the time, crowds are light and there are plenty of spots to post up and get video and scout. However, I was not prepared for the circus of the Instructional League. Maybe it was news that Albert Abreu would be starting. Maybe it was the 3 weeks of no local baseball. Whatever it was, the crowd was reminiscent of a Minors Spring Training game. The bleachers were packed and there was a buzz in the air.

Before I dive into the game action though, I should start with a public service announcement. Instructs are great for fans….not so great for players. It’s hard to judge these guys when they look gassed after a long season. The Florida heat and humidity can also be taxing. Furthermore, a few of the Pirates players brought up a good point about the timing. Instructs starts 2-3 weeks after the MiLB season ends. Most of these guys rest and relax before being called back to camp and thrust into game action. The fatigue and the rust are evident. And if these guys are being completely honest, some of are probably going through the motions. A few players mentioned their preference to have Instructs start immediately after the season so they can keep the momentum going before shutting down for the off-season. When it comes to baseball, they have a point. Two to three weeks off before ramping back up after an already long season seems a bit counter intuitive, especially given how brief instructs are.

Now that I’m off my soapbox, let’s talk about the players. That’s why you’re here and that’s why I sat and baked in an unrelenting Florida humidity.

After only throwing 126 innings in 2017 and 2018 combined, Albert Abreu did not look fatigued. In fact, his stuff looked better than I’ve seen in a while. Granted, the level of hitter he was facing was not advanced, his FB had life and his off-speed looked sharp at times.

In earlier looks, Abreu’s fastball was always hard, despite sitting 96-97 and touching 99. His sequencing was alsoFB dominant. Approximately 75% FBs. Those FBs were straight and usually hit pretty hard as he struggled with command. There were starts where he generated 2-3 swing-and misses total. Not the type of stuff you would expect from a top 100 prospect or even a candidate to become a starting pitcher. On Tuesday, September 25, Abreu looked really good. His FB sat 94-95 and flashed some late sink. And speaking of sequencing, he started 8 of 11 hitters off with breaking balls. A sharp change from my previous 4 looks.

Abreu threw 4 pitches. The aforementioned FB, plus two breaking pitches, and a change-up. The change, arguably his best off-speed was used very sparingly. His curveball was 76-77 and was a tight-spinning hammer that he used early to LHH. He also threw a harder breaking ball with a slurvy feel. It sat 82-83 with inconsistent shape and feel. From a command standpoint, Abreu threw a total of 44 pitches, 24 for strikes. He generated 4 swing-and-misses in only three innings.

Opposing Abreu for the Pirates was Max Kranick. I hadn’t seen Kranick before but he looked a little gassed. The stuff lacked life. The FB was straight at 90-91 while the SL/CH were firm. He used a little bit of moxie and pitchability to miss barrels although I suspect that was more due to the aggressiveness of the young Yankee hitters. The only real damage came from a 1st inning Thairo Estrada HR. He worked 4 innings, 4 strikeouts, 3 walks, 2 hits, and 1 run.


The Pirates ran out a lot of the same players from my previous Instructs look. Here are a few others of note.

Conner Uselton, 20 years old

Athletic build for age, strong. Pull heavy, aggressive approach. Trouble with spin, especially away. Swing is long with a hitch at load. Looked over matched in multiple looks across Extended and Instructs.

Fernando Villegas, 20 years old

Small frame. Lacks present strength to project power. Loose at the plate. Keeps hands inside the ball, doesn’t try to do to much. Flashes ability to find the barrel and a good feel at the plate. Aggressive on the bases.

Ji-Hwan Bae, 19 years old

Athletic build, lacks present strength. Defensive swings, slap hitter approach. Plays to contact and with focus on oppositie field infield hits. Showed patience against advanced pitchers. Clocked 4.05 home-to-first. 70 grade runner. Stiff hands at SS with fringe arm. Move to 2B in future. Could develop into interesting piece based on speed/athleticism.

For Yankees fans, I wrote up a more detailed game piece for Pinstriped Prospects. However, a few players of note.

Stanley Rosario is a guy that I am really high on. He has an adult body with projection at only 17. Both he and fellow 17 year old, Anthony Garcia bring a certain physicality to the batters box that you don’t often see in 17 year olds. Both have long swings with pull heavy approaches. It’s very telling how the Yankees view them considering the amount of time they play in Instructs, especially given their age and experience.

Dermis Garcia, the much bandied about former top international free agent, had two good at bats. He rifled a high FB for a line drive single in his first at bat. His next time up, he hit the hardest ball of the day, a line drive right at the thirdbaseman.

Wilkerman Garcia, SS, looks the part. He brings a certain smoothness to the position that translates well at the higher levels. The bat is behind the glove but he showed a nice ability to keep his hands back a drive a low curveball to CF for a 1B.

Nelson Gomez is every bit as thick as Dermis. He was out front all game, consistently lunging and swinging over and through off-speed pitches before being blown away with a 90 mph FB. Ezequiel Duran showed much of the same aggressiveness. Both guys swing at everything. Big swings with poor balance at the plate will certainly zap whatever bat speed is there. Both kids are still very raw and possess some intriguing offensive tools. Their ability to show patience and hit off-speed will determine if those tools show up in games.