Making a change at third base would require the Yankees to make a change with the highest paid player in baseball. It will have to happen at some point, but for now, such a change would do more harm than good. Health permitting, that change won’t happen for a long time.
In the big leagues
The Yankees have committed a lot of money and a lot of years to the belief that Alex Rodriguez will remain an elite player for the better part of a decade. He’s had some lower-body injuries the past two years — hip surgery in 2009, a hard-to-define hip/groin problem in the early part of last year, a strained calf that landed him on the disabled list back in August — but indications are that Rodriguez is perfectly healthy this winter. When the season ended, Rodriguez said he was looking forward to falling back into his usual offseason routine, which he was hoping would bring him back to his old self in 2011. Even in a down year, Rodriguez remained a productive hitter last season. With Rodriguez, though, being productive only scratches the surface of what’s expected.
On the verge
The Yankees drafted three third basemen in 2009. Brad Suttle was their fourth-rounder, but injuries have slowed his progress enough that he passed unprotected through this year’s Rule 5 draft. Braedyn Pruitt was their 14th-round pick, but he was released after only a year and a half in the organization. In the 27th round, the Yankees took Brandon Laird, and it’s Laird who’s poised to help the big league club at some point this season. Laird has consistently hit, and 2010 was a breakout season with .281/.336/.482 line between Double-A and Triple-A. Laird has worked in the outfield corners, but he’s primarily a third baseman. If Laird struggles, the Yankees still have Kevin Russo ready to play third base, and Trenton offers three interesting possibilities in Suttle — who seems finally healthy — along with Corban Joseph and possibly regular second baseman David Adams.
Deep in the system
The Yankees used their first three draft picks on infielders last season. Their first two picks were shortstops, but their third-rounder was Tulane third baseman Rob Segedin. There seems to be a chance Segedin will eventually play the outfield, but third base has been his primary position and that’s where he played late last season in Staten Island. Ahead of him is 2009 sixth-rounder Robert Lyerly, who hit .312/.352/.425 last year in Charleston. Coming up maybe a half step behind Segedin is Fu-Lin Kuo out of Taiwan, who made an impression in extended spring training last year and cracked the Top 50 prospects list over at Pinstripes Plus.
Organizational depth chart
My own rough guess. It’s far too early for the Yankees to settle on who will be where next season.
New York: Alex Rodriguez
Scranton/WB: Brandon Laird
Trenton: Brad Suttle, Corban Joseph
Tampa: Robert Lyerly
Charleston: Rob Segedin
After Rodriguez, the big league depth chart at third base first goes to whoever wins the utility job — probably either Eduardo Nunez or Ramiro Pena — but if Rodriguez is injured and the Yankees need longer-term solution, Laird might have the upper-hand assuming he proves he can hit in Triple-A.
Much like second base, third base should be something of a mix-and-match situation in Triple-A and Double-A. Suttle, Joseph and David Adams could get time at the hot corner in Trenton, while Laird, Russo and Jorge Vazquez could get starts there in Scranton. Catcher J.R. Murphy is also slated to get some third base time in either Charleston or Tampa, and Kuo could get some time in Charleston after (probably) opening in extended spring training. Garrison Lassiter, Kevin Mahoney, Addison Maruszak, Justin Snyder and Doug Bernier also fit into the third base mix as utility types.
Associated Press photo of Rodriguez, headshots of Rodriguez, Laird and Lyerly