Not many people sit at home this time of year scanning Twitter for the latest minor league signings. We’re waiting for news, big news, and minor league depth signings don’t move the needle at all. But as we’ve seen with several players in recent years — from Andrew Bailey to Zelous Wheeler — minor league free agents often find their way into at least a small role on the big league roster.
The Yankees’ farm system has evolved to the point that the team doesn’t have to plug many Triple-A holes through free agency. They have legitimate guys ready to provide immediate depth in the outfield, throughout the pitching staff, and at select positions in the infield. But there is still a need for the Yankees to address a few positions through minor league free agency. Third base and shortstop in particular look awfully thin at the moment.
Here’s a look at the upper-level minor leaguers who are ready to provide depth next season, which paints a pretty clear picture of the positions where the Yankees might need a minor league free agent or two.
Upper-level standout: Gary Sanchez
Other options: Francisco Diaz, Eddy Rodriguez, Kyle Higashioka
Uncertain: Austin Romine
By trading away John Ryan Murphy, the Yankees cost themselves some young catching depth. With Murphy, the Yankees were sure to have Sanchez open the season back in Triple-A. Without Murphy, Sanchez could fight for a big league job out of spring training, which would leave the Yankees extremely thin at the position (could be that Romine or a veteran free agent will be the big league backup out of camp, leaving Sanchez in the minor leagues at least temporarily). To combat this lack of depth, the Yankees have already signed three minor league free agent catchers who could plug some upper-level holes.
Upper-level standouts: Greg Bird, Eric Jagielo
Other options: Tyler Austin, Rob Segedin
Uncertain: Dante Bichette Jr.
First base is well covered because of Bird. Even if something were to happen to either Mark Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees would have a ready replacement in Bird who currently seems on track to open the season back in Triple-A. The team still doesn’t have a real go-to backup first baseman on the big league roster, but Bird gives the Yankees readily available depth in the minors. Third base, though, is a different story. Jagielo has upside, but even his best-case scenario probably doesn’t put him on the big league radar until the second half at the earliest. Beyond Jagielo, the Yankees upper-level third-base depth is uncertain at best now that Jose Pirela is gone. Another Cole Figueroa type would be a nice fit.
Upper-level standout: Rob Refsnyder
Other options: Tony Renda, Tyler Wade
Uncertain: Cito Culver
With Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley, the Yankees have a couple of fairly young second base options already in place. Those two could be platoon players, but they each have everyday potential. Refsnyder could provide depth either as a bench player or as a Triple-A regular. Beyond him, though, the Yankees middle infield situation is thin without Pirela. Renda is coming off a decent Double-A season and could be an option waiting in Triple-A (but it says quite a bit that the Yankees did not feel the need to protect him from the Rule 5). Wade is a promising young middle infielder, but he might not be ready at any point next season. Culver has the glove, but his bat has never been enough to have a spot on the big league radar. The Yankees could really use some sort of free agent shortstop to play regularly in Triple-A and provide some additional depth.
Upper-level standouts: Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams
Other options: Jake Cave
Uncertain: Taylor Dugas
Center field depth is not at all an issue for the Yankees. Not only do they have three fully capable center fielders on the big league roster — Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks — they also have Heathcott, Williams and Gamel on the 40-man roster (Gamel might be the worst defender of the bunch, but he can handle the position if the Yankees want him to). There’s also Cave, who was left exposed to the Rule 5 draft but also has some upside. Ultimately, there’s absolutely no reason for the Yankees to sign minor league depth for center field. They have plenty of center field depth both on the big league roster and in line for the Triple-A roster.
Upper-level standouts: Aaron Judge, Ben Gamel
Other options: Tyler Austin, various center fielders
Uncertain: Rob Refsnyder
With the emergence of Gamel and the potential of Judge, the Yankees have some legitimate on-the-verge depth in the outfield corners. Add in the wild card possibility of Austin and the additional depth of all the young center fielders, and the Yankees really have plenty of outfield depth. They could also play Ackley in an outfield corner and possibly Refsnyder if absolutely necessary. As the Yankees go about finding minor league free agents worth signing to Triple-A contracts, they clearly have a greater need for infielders than outfielders. Their outfield is pretty loaded — in fact, some Triple-A outfielders could certainly be crowded back to Double-A — so depth at those positions is a non-issue.
Upper-level standouts: Bryan Mitchell, Brady Lail
Other options: Rookie Davis, Jaron Long
Uncertain: Jordan Montgomery, James Kaprielian
The Yankees most immediate rotation depth is vying for roles on the big league roster. Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi seem like near locks for rotation spots, with CC Sabathia, Adam Warren and Ivan Nova also in the mix. That’s seven guys for five spots, with the two leftovers probably heading for the bullpen. With Chase Whitley claimed off waivers, the Yankees have lost some of their immediate rotation depth. Mitchell is now the only starting pitcher on the 40-man who seems to have a strong chance of opening the season in Triple-A. Will Lail, Davis or Long pitch well enough to become a big league option fairly quickly? How quickly can Montgomery or Kaprielian rise through the ranks? Might need a veteran arm or two just to fill out the Triple-A rotation out of spring training.
Upper-level standouts: Nick Goody, Nick Rumbelow, Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos
Other options: Branden Pinder, Johnny Barbato, Tyler Webb
Uncertain: Caleb Cotham, Dietrich Enns
Young upper-level relievers take up eight spots on the Yankees’ 40-man roster, and that’s not counting guys like Warren and Mitchell who could pitch in either a starter or reliever role. Bullpen depth is not an issue for the Yankees, thought none of the young reliever aside from Chasen Shreve really established himself last season. A healthy Lindgren could change that, and Pazos looked pretty good in September, but ultimately this is a list of relatively uncertain pitchers who might be capable of handling a key role or might be DFA fodder by mid-summer. The Yankees could go after another veteran wild card like Andrew Bailey — every team seems to bring at least one of those guys to spring training — but it doesn’t seem necessary. Bullpen depth isn’t an issue. Bullpen experience is another issue.
Associated Press photo