Position players reported to camp this weekend, so it’s a good time to take a look at the non-roster guys trying to make an impression. As it stands, there’s little reason to expect one of them to break camp on the big league roster, but they’re hoping for an unexpected door to open at some point.
Coming off a pretty good showing in the Venezuelan Winter League, Gil is back in big league camp mostly to help handle the enormous number of pitchers throwing bullpens each day. He’s not considered much of a prospect, but he does seem to get a little more attention than he did a few years ago. Most likely he’s simply an organizational soldier, but he seems to be in line for regular playing time in Double-A Trenton this year.
First an admission: I really like Higashioka. I met him during his first stint in big league camp, and he’s just a nice, personable guy. Easy to talk to, easy to root for. He seems hungry to improve. That said, he would have to admit that the past two years have not been good. Defense has always provided the bulk of his prospect status, but the bat really hasn’t shown enough to keep him on the map. He’s a career .236 hitter in the lowest levels of the minors and stumbled in High-A Tampa last year. He needs some sort of offensive breakout to keep pace, especially in this catching-rich organization.
A veteran catcher with enough big league experience to not be blinding by the bright lights. He can handle a pitching staff, and that’s what the Yankees need from him. Just like last year, Molina is in camp on a minor league deal to provide veteran insurance. Last year he was rewarded with an unexpected spot on the Opening Day roster, but even that lasted only six at-bats. If plans fall through, Molina will once again be there as an insurance policy.
For me, Murphy is one of the most interesting prospects in the Yankees system. His calling card is his bat, which is good enough that the Yankees have explored using Murphy at third base and in the outfield. He could very well develop into a four-corners utility man who can also play behind the plate, but that’s not necessarily his ceiling. The Yankees plan to have Murphy continue catching regularly, and there’s enough offensive upside to consider him a real candidate to develop into a big league regular at one position or another.
This is Sanchez’s first invitation to big league camp — it’s Murphy’s too — an he’s arriving with considerable hype. Now that Jesus Montero is gone, Sanchez is certainly the team’s top catching prospect and might be their best position prospect (depending on how highly you place Mason Williams). Sanchez is still just 19 years old, and he showed some immaturity in Charleston last season. But he also showed a powerful bat that really emerged with a .544 slugging percentage in the second half. He seems to have more defensive potential than Montero, but reports also indicate that he has a long way to go behind the plate.
A strong defensive infielder, Bernier is likely to reprise his role as Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s utility man. He’s not a big guy, but his hands are outstanding at second, third or shortstop. He has limited big league experience with the Rockies, but his bat has never really shown enough to keep him in the mix for regular big league callups. The glove, though, is good enough that the Yankees have now signed him to a minor league contract three different times. He’s a true pro, and I have it on good authority that Scranton/Wilkes-Barre manager Dave Miley likes having him on the roster.
My first full year covering minor league baseball, Branyan was bouncing around the International League with a massive reputation for insane power. He’s kind of a veteran version of Jorge Vazquez, and he’s had at least 127 big league at-bats every year since 2000. Teams keep giving him playing time because he keeps showing that power (including a massive homer at Yankee Stadium two years ago). He was a darkhorse candidate for the Yankees platoon DH opening until Raul Ibanez signed. If nothing else, he’ll put on a show in BP.
A veteran with experience all over the diamond, Hall is coming off a brutal season split between Houston and San Francisco. In the past, though, he’s shown pretty good pop for a guy with such defensive versatility. He’s in camp on a minor league deal, but his experience and flexibility kept him in the running for a spot on the Yankees bench until Eric Chavez arrived. Hall’s a familiar name who’s sure to get some chances to prove that he’s better than he was last year. By all accounts, he’s also a terrific clubhouse guy.
Kind of a less-experienced version of Hall. Although Hall’s best offensive seasons have been better than Nix, Nix has reached double digit home runs twice and he does have big league experience at second, third, short and the outfield corners. He’s spent enough time in the Majors that the Yankees would probably feel comfortable bringing him to New York to fill a bench role at some point during the season (if he doesn’t opt out). He has to be considered a longshot to break camp with the team, but he can’t be ruled out for a big league role at some point.
Two numbers always standout with Vazquez: Home runs and strikeouts. In Triple-A last season, the slugging first baseman clubbed 32 homers but also struck out 166 times. He’s an all-or-nothing slugger who made a pretty firm impression in big league camp last spring. I guess he has to be considered an outside candidate for some DH at-bats, but the Yankees seem more eager to give those at-bats to a veteran (at least to start the season). Another impressive Triple-A stint could grab the Yankees attention, but there seem to be legitimate concerns about how well his minor league numbers — and incredible stats in Mexico — will translate at the big league level.
Take it easy this year, would ya, Colin? Last spring, Curtis hurt his shoulder making a diving catch in a Grapefruit League. Because he’s a good guy, Curtis liked to smile and call it a “sick catch,” but it cost him the season, and with no at-bats in 2011, he was taken off the 40-man roster this winter. Curtis is a left-handed hitter who does a lot of things well but not one thing extremely well. He has some speed and some power and can play all three outfield spots. He’s gotten some big league time with the Yankees, and the projected Triple-A outfield seems wide open for potential call-ups so Curtis is once again trying to catch the coaching staff’s attention.
I’ve learned not to trust Pacific Coast League stats, so despite the fact that Garner put up terrific numbers with Colorado Springs the past two years, I’m hesitant to call him a terrific offensive player. The Rockies did give him a big league call-up last season, though, and the Yankees Triple-A outfield doesn’t seem to have a can’t-miss front runner for a potential call-up this season. Chris Dickerson is probably at the top of the pecking order right now, but Garner could be in the mix for a fourth or fifth outfielder spot at some point. He’s shown some power and some speed in the past. He’s an interesting option, especially if those PCL stats really do carry over.
If you know him, chances are you know him for that catch in the Mark Buehrle game. For the Yankees, Wise is a lot like Gustavo Molina in that he has enough big league experience to make the Yankees feel comfortable putting him their outfield if someone gets hurt and a spot opens up. He’s a career .219/.256/.373 hitter in 445 big league games. He won’t hit much, but he can play the field and handle some of the little things, and that counts for something when it comes to guys like this.
Associated Press photos of Higashioka, Nix and Curtis