It’s a curious time for the Yankees outfield corners. They have a young, cheap, homegrown left fielder — but he’s getting more expensive by the year. They have a productive, affordable right fielder — but he’s in the final year of his contract. Behind them, the organization offers no obvious replacements.
In the big leagues
Plate discipline is one of the few things that connect Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher as players. They’re close and friendly teammates, but as outfielders, they’re very different. They both take their walks, but Gardner’s best tool is his speed, Swisher’s is his power. Although Gardner remains an untraditional corner outfielder — a center fielder playing left — he’s perhaps the best defensive left fielder in the game, and although he didn’t repeat his 2010 numbers, Gardner remained a dangerous presence at the bottom of the order. Swisher, meanwhile, bounced back from a slow first half to finish with 23 home runs and 85 RBI (only four fewer than the year before). Swisher’s contract expires at the end of this season, Gardner is headed for a second year of arbitration, and backup Andruw Jones is on a one-year deal. The Yankees have to decide whether to lock up Swisher, whether to commit big money to Gardner and whether one of their veterans — Derek Jeter? — might eventually need to move into the outfield.
On the verge
In spring training, Chris Dickerson and Justin Maxwell will provide corner outfield depth, but those two are out of options, so sending them to Triple-A might not be an option. Instead, the Yankees immediate corner outfield depth will come from Colin Curtis and Cole Garner, two toolsy outfielders with limited big league experience. Third baseman Brandon Laird also has some outfield experience and could help as a four-corners utility man. The most significant upper-level upside might be in Double-A right fielder Zoilo Almonte, a 22-year-old added to the 40-man this winter after he hit .276/.345/.459 between Tampa and Trenton last season. He’ll join a wild card outfield with Abe Almonte and Melky Mesa, each of whom has intriguing talent without consistently encouraging results.
Deep in the system
Most of the Yankees outfield depth is currently playing center field, and that’s probably the way the organization likes it. It’s much easier to move a center fielder to a corner than to do the opposite. But the low-level corner outfielders aren’t to be dismissed completely, especially not Ramon Flores, a left fielder who put up a modest .265/.353/.400 slash line in Charleston last season but draws raves for his plate discipline. Not yet 20 years old, he’s a legitimate prospect in the mold of former Yankees prospect Jose Tabata (thought not nearly as touted). Ben Gamel played well in Staten Island last year, and the Yankees are curious to see what last year’s sixth-round pick, Jake Cave, can do in his first real taste of pro ball. Ultimately, though, a third baseman like Rob Segedin, a catcher like J.R. Murphy and a center fielder like Ravel Santana might eventually factor into the corner outfield conversation more than anyone previously mentioned. That’s the nature of the outfield corners.
Organizational depth chart
My rough guess. It’s too early for the Yankees to decide who will be where next season.
New York: Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher
Scranton/WB: Colin Curtis and Cole Garner
Trenton: Abe Almonte and Zoilo Almonte
Tampa: Ramon Flores and Eduardo Sosa
Charleston: Ben Gamel and Shane Brown
Honestly, beyond Triple-A and Double-A, the outfield corners are tough to predict. Some of it depends on where some multi-position guys end up — what level and position will Ronnier Mustelier play? — and which players are deemed ready for full-season ball out of spring training. At some points, the outfield corners will be used to give players at bats and to add some defensive versatility.
Associated Press photo of Swisher, headshots of Gardner, Zoilo Almonte and Flores