The Tampa Yankees currently sit last in the Florida State League North with a 16-20 record. Though they are just five games behind the Clearwater Threshers.
The Yankees hitting has been the leading cause of their slow start this season and continues to be the issue more often than not. A 6-4 record in their last 10 games has helped stayed somewhat in the ‘first-half’ race, there’s still things they need to focus on.
Some players have at least started to come into their own. Here’s what’s changed and what fans should keep an eye out for moving forward, in regards to the New York Yankees High-A affiliate.
I’ll start with the lineup since it has the biggest implications on the team thus far. The most followed player, Jorge Mateo, has had a floating batting average, going between about .215 and .225. Of course, as I write this after his best game of the season, where he went 4-6 with two home runs and no strikeouts, his average sits at .244, the first time its been above .240 since April 21st.
Could this be the start of the Jorge Mateo everyone has been waiting to see? The Mateo that took the FSL by storm in the first two months of the season in 2016?
Multiple scouts I’ve spoken to have said they bet on him coming back around. I’ve seen his swing and stance get better, his patience to take the first pitch and not chase it, no matter where it’s thrown. He’s been such a curious case, and it’s led to him falling out of the Yankees’ prospect headlines.
As someone who has watched Mateo play on a weekly basis since the start of last season, I can attest to his skill. He has legitimate power in his bat, the ability to hit the ball to any side of the field, and before mid-season last year, he had consistency. Mateo was often compared to Billy Hamilton, of course for his legendary speed, but Mateo has always been seen as having plus power, something Hamilton doesn’t have.
In the ongoing case for Mateo, it’s not that he hasn’t proven he can hit, he definitely can, it’s getting his body to do it again. What do I mean by that? What I mentioned with the patience, for the most part, this season, he’s looked like he’s been on ice-skates when batting. His feet are still all over the place, his arms are moving where his diaphragm isn’t, and he’s lunging forward to swing.
The one thing that can’t be explained is the one thing that seems to sneak up on prospects when they’re younger, why these things are happening. It’s not like Mateo forgot how to swing (though, it does look like it at times), he showed last night he can surely still hit. He plays with a lot of emotion, yes, most players do, but with Mateo, you can feel his blood boiling when he isn’t playing well. It’s a good thing, but it’s also one of his faults. In sports you have to keep a clear mind, whether the world is for you or against you, it happens. Of course, you also have to bear in mind, Mateo is still just 21 years-old (22 next month), he went from being the Yankees’ future this time last season and being placed on the back-burner the month after.
Mateo’s game at shortstop continues to get better, the way he glides to a ball and so easily throws with his solid arm strength is something that’s seemingly being overlooked. With his fielding at short, if that bat comes back, Mateo is easily back to a top-25 prospect in baseball (again). He’s young, and scouts (as do I) believe he can get back to swinging the bat like he did up until last June. Last night the whole Yankees lineup hit (which hasn’t happened many times so far this season), but Mateo is the type of player where confidence can be all he needs. He definitely needs to be watched moving forward, if he returns to what his top level is, he can be extremely useful to the Yankees in many ways.
Tito Polo started the season with a .261 average after just six games, a trip to the DL had him out until the 26th, since then he’s boosted his batting average up to .322, hitting with five doubles, a pair of triples and home runs, and a .489 slugging percentage. It’s only been about a month into the season, but Polo is a player who can be in Double-A Trenton soon enough. One thing to work on would be the strikeouts, he’s currently fourth on the Tampa Yankees with 28.
As for Nick Solak, who had a .200 batting average up until April 18th, he now sits with a .284 batting average, .397 OBP, 20 walks, 20 strikeouts, and nine XBHs. His 20 walks within 109 ABs leaves only one other player in the FSL that has more walks with fewer at-bats than him.
Since May 3rd, Solak has been hitting .355, but his issues can be found in the field. Though Solak has made some of the Yankees’ most astonishing web-gems this season, he also leads the team with six errors after just about a month of the season. If the 2016 second-round draft pick can clean his defensive game up and keep making the flashy plays while hit bat stays red-hot, he can start thinking about Trenton comes later this season.
Another player I continue to be impressed with is Jhalan Jackson, who now has his batting average up to .232. Since May he’s finally been able to stay above .200 after staying around .175-.190 up until then.
Jhalan is a big guy, like Aaron Judge, he struggles with anything below the waist, and he’ll carry a high strikeout ratio along with it. However, in my first Tampa Yankees Notes of the season I stated how he was working the count extremely better, not always drawing the walk, but making the pitcher work instead of going down on one or two ball counts.
With that, he’s hit .303 in his last 10 games and is now working himself in nicely to High-A ball. Jhalan has other tools besides his tremendous power. He tracks balls down exceptionally in right-field, and his arm is very underrated. There’s no rush to Jhalan’s season, he’ll be able to work on his patience and eye at the plate in High-A throughout the year. He’s another interesting player to look at, his progress won’t be seen primarily on the stat sheets, but the adjustments are starting to show on the field for him.
As for pitching, which has been strong for Tampa, in fact, best in the FSL, it’s been their saving grace to equal out an inconsistent offense. Tampa leads the Florida State League in ERA (2.83), they’re the only team with an ERA below 3.00. They also have given up the least amount of earned runs (103), lead in WHIP (1.13), and are third in walks with just 93.
The Yankees rotation has been mixed around quite a lot aside from Domingo Acevedo, Ian Clarkin, Josh Rogers, and Taylor Widener. Erik Swanson (one of the players received in the trade for Carlos Beltran) has fit into the rotation nicely making three starts so far giving up just two runs through 17 innings pitched.
Clarkin still holds an ERA below 3.00 (2.15). However, he finds himself currently on the DL. There’s no update on his injury right now, but it is apparently just a 7-day stint.
Josh Rogers continues to stick around a 3.00 ERA after 39 innings pitched this season. With Clarkin’s injuries, Acevedo inconsistency, and Albert Abreu still on the DL, Rogers (just as last season) continues to be Tampa’s most reliable pitcher. Swanson and Rogers are proving to be a solid pair of starters for Tampa if Clarkin and Abreu can come back and continue their success Tampa will really have a strong rotation in the next couple of weeks.
I’ve noted that this team (with the current roster) is built for second half success. Not many of them are going to hit Trenton this season, Polo, possibly Solak (but not anytime soon), Mateo is anyone’s guess, Rogers can be on his way at any point, Acevedo is still working on a lot of things, and some bullpen guys are really the only ones who have a chance to be promoted any time this season.
It’s better to look at who will be joining Tampa from Low-A Charleston as the most enticing part when thinking about second half success. For now, this is a very young team finding their way, compared to this time last season having Mike Ford, Billy Fleming, Abiatal Avelino, Miguel Andujar, all guys who were already on the cusp of hitting Trenton as is.
As Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Trenton play musical chairs, this Tampa team will, for the most part, get to grow together without any huge expectations over their heads.