As we’ve discussed here a few times, the Yankees have four young middle infielders on the 40-man roster, and unless they make a move to bring a veteran into spring training, one of those four will win the utility infield job in New York. Here’s Mark Newman’s take on the four candidates.
• Least experienced of the group, having advanced to Triple-A only for the playoffs last season.
• There’s little reason to question the bat. He hit .322 with nine homers and 19 stolen bases in Trenton, and Newman was encouraged by improved plate discipline in the second half.
• The ugly number is the 33 errors he commited. “There’s nothing more common than young infielders making errors,” Newman said. “It’s concentration and fundamental consistency.”
• It’s the need for consistency that will likely send him to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre instead of New York. “He’s needs to be more consistent defensively so that the staff (in New York) can be comfortable.”
• Has moved between second and shortstop throughout his career, but played a lot of short late last season in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. “He was better (at shortstop) than we thought he was going to be,” Newman said.
• Corona can run and he’s good enough on defense, especially at second base. He’s also shown a good eye at the plate throughout his career. He spent most of last year in Double-A and had more walks than strikeouts there.
• After a horrible first few weeks in Triple-A, and a demotion back to Double-A, Corona seemed to wake up at the end of the season and played well in the Triple-A playoffs. He’s continued playing well in winter ball.
• “We just needed to get his head out of his rear end in Triple-A,” Newman said.
• Probably the most advanced hitter of the bunch, but the one with the least shortstop experience. He’s been mostly a second baseman in his career, but shows a strong arm at third. Also has some time in the outfield.
• “He can play enough shortstop to be (a utility infielder),” Newman said. “And some outfield. I think he’s probably best at third.”
• Russo was the Triple-A International League’s postseason all-star at second base. He hit .326 with a .397 on-base percentage and 13 stolen bases. He started to show some power in the last month or so of the season.
• “He’s an interesting player,” Newman said. “There’s some Jerry Hairston in him, and Jerry was a heckuva player for us. Of course, the key with those guys is being good enough defensively that the manager is comfortable putting you out there.”
• If he were to open the season back in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pena would probably have to split time at shortstop with Nunez, but Newman doesn’t expect that to be a problem.
• “I think Pena is going to be in New York,” Newman said. “Those guys really like him.”
• Pena is the star defensive player of the group. He’s outstanding at shortstop and quickly proved himself at third, having hardly played the position in his life. He saw some time in center field late last year in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
• Pena has never been a great hitter in his career, but at the end of 2008, his bat started to show some signs of life. Those signs kept showing when he went to winter ball a year ago. Last year, in New York, he hit .287, higher than his single-season batting average at any minor league stop along the way.
• Ideally, with Pena in the mix, a team would like to have a second utility guy who handles the infield corners (kind of like Eric Hinske this year). “Get a little more bat off the bench with that corner utility guy,” Newman said. “And then have Ramiro Pena who can play anywhere and pinch run.” Getting that second utility guy depends on how the bench shapes up, though.