There aren’t many spots left on the Yankee 25-man roster, but it appears as though one new face may come as a second lefty specialist. On Wednesday we saw three of the four potential secondary LOOGYs make appearances, Michael O’Connor, Clay Rapada, and Cesar Cabral each pitched effectively against the Ray’s late inning lineup, with Juan Cedeno the odd man out. Cabral was most impressive, though he gave up two hits, a wild pitch, and a balk in his two innings of work, he struck out six. Rapada was close behind with a clean single inning of work coupled by two strikeouts. O’Connor only earned one strikeout in his single inning, and also allowed a hit. Thus far, it appears O’Connor and Cedeno, who respectively own a 9.64 and 8.31 ERA in their short springs, are out of the discussion for the available lefty spot. That leaves us fans wondering who will make the team, the 31 year old Clay Rapada who has yet to give up a run this spring, or the 23 year old Cesar Cabral who has struck out 11 and only walked one so far.
I predicted the Yankees would target Clay Rapada over a month ago, and though I expected him to be highly effective against lefties, he’s pitched better than anyone could have imagined. In his 6.1 innings of work this spring, the lefty has faced 24 hitters, 12 of which were lefties. In his career, Rapada has held lefties to a .150 average, owning a 3.89 BB/9 and a 9.35 K/9. In his 12 chances against lefties thus far, he’s struck out seven (including Bryce Harper, Luke Scott, and Carlos Pena), gotten four ground outs, and walked one. Though he’s also been successful against righties in his 12 chances, he’s been somewhat lucky. Against righties he’s seen only two strikeouts, three groundouts (including Evan Longoria), one popup, two lineouts, two singles, and two walks.
My major qualm with adding Rapada to the roster was his numbers against righties, and though the lineouts are of concern, he’s certainly been serviceable. I would still keep the southpaw as a strict LOOGY to start the season, but the way he’s pitched, there is a chance he earns more work throughout the season. Rapada doesn’t have a killer fastball, but his arm angle and movement on his slider can tear apart lefty bats. There is a chance he has a better LOOGY year than Boone Logan, but his versatility against righties could be a huge factor in the final decision.
Unlike Rapada, Cesar Cabral has long term value. As a rule 5 draft pick, the Yankees need to keep Cabral on the team to maintain contract control. While some may see his rule 5 status as a drawback, the southpaw could end up under long term team control for the Yankees, which is far more valuable than one year of Rapada. Cabral has shown his ups and downs in his short Yankee career. His first three outings (3.0 innings) he failed to strike a single batter out, and gave up five hits. In his last four outings (5.1 innings) he’s struck out 11 batters and given up five hits. In regards to splits, eight of his eleven strikeouts have come against lefties. (which include Luke Scott, Bryce Harper, Matt Joyce, and Freddie Freeman) Though he’s been successful striking out lefties, especially recently, he’s held righties to a .267 batting average. His mid 90′s velocity and repertoire of pitches should lend him more success against righties than Rapada, and thus more versatility.
When the Yankees essentially traded up in last winter’s rule 5 draft, it was for Cesar Cabral, which says a lot about their interest in him. If the 23 year old hadn’t struck out 11 over his last four outings we wouldn’t be talking about him right now, but he’s shown some inspiring upside. Clay Rapada has outpitched the youngster, but Cabral’s potential long-term value to the team could be the final factor in any decision. Both players have played well enough to earn a spot on the team, but the Yankees have a tough decision to make in the next two weeks.
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