The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Archive for February, 2012

Tuesday morning notes: Chamberlain on a full mound02.28.12

For the first time since last season’s Tommy John surgery, Joba Chamberlain pitched off a full mound this morning. He threw just 16 pitches, a typically light workload for a player getting on a mound for the first time.

“Sixteen pitches, you don’t think that’s much,” Chamberlain said. “But when you haven’t been on a mound since June, your legs get a little tired just from warming up, throwing my long-toss, then my flat ground, before I got on the mound. My legs are a little tired, which is a good feeling. Towards about 10, I could start to feel it. And that’s when you rely on your mechanics and trust your motion. I think I did a pretty good job of that. That’s a part of continuing to build up off the full mound, is getting to 25-30 pitches and getting legs under you.”

Chamberlain is still hoping he’ll be back sooner than expected. He has a best-case scenario in his head, but he said he’s going to “do a Mo” and not tell anyone.

“Everything went great,” Chamberlain said. “It looks like it’s a long ways away I can tell you that much. But it’s a great feeling. It’s great to just be able to get up there and trust my arm, and trust the work I’ve put in to this point. Just to let it go, it’s free and easy. And there’s really minimal effort to get it over there. It was just nice to be able to get on there and get this new chapter started and start the process from here and move on.”

Speaking of Tommy John surgery, David Aardsma has arrived. The former closer said this morning that he’s been throwing from 90 feet for five minutes at a time. I think the Yankees usually talk about rehab stuff in terms of total pitches, not total minutes, but Aardsma is obviously coming from another organization. How much longer will it be before he’s on a mound? “I try to stay away from asking,” Aardsma said.

Aardsma said several teams were interested in signing him, but most wanted to wait until after spring training, when rosters were set. “Right from the get go, the Yankees were the most aggressive team coming after me,” he said. The Yankees wanted to do a deal right away, and Aardsma liked that. He’s expecting to stay in Tampa for his rehab.

Based on usual Tommy John rehab, Aardsma is eyeing the all-star break as a potential return date, but he’s really trying not to think too far ahead. He said he doesn’t want to rush. “We’ve got a bullpen than can handle themselves,” he said. “… Really, when it happen, it happens.”

Rafael Soriano threw an early side this morning, meaning the key pieces of the late-inning Bridge To Mo were all on a mound already today. Dave Robertson and Boone Logan threw batting practice to David Adams and Corban Joseph this morning.

Speaking of which, I talked a little bit with Adams this morning. He said he’s still not quite 100 percent on his ankle. That injury has taken much longer than expected to heal, but Adams has been able to go through regular drills, with his only limitations coming in conditioning. He said he feels pretty good, and you can tell he’s anxious to get going after missing almost two full seasons. He’s a legit prospect, with a big bat for a second baseman.

Andy Pettitte is listed as a batting practice pitcher, but it looks like he’s supposed to throw batting practice in the indoor cage rather than on the field. Can’t say for sure though. Sometimes that schedule is a little confusing.

One workout added to the schedule today: Bunting drills, strictly for Brett Gardner and Dewayne Wise.

Thought it was vaguely interesting that one of today’s outfield drills is called “gap communication.” Should be subtitled, “How to say, ‘I got it.’”

Tomorrow’s early batting practice pitchers: Adam Miller, Mike O’Connor, Cesar Cabral, Ryan Pope and Chase Whitley.

One projected big leaguer is throwing batting practice this afternoon. Today’s batting practice pitchers:

Field 1
Ivan Nova (to Jose Gil)
Clay Rapada (to Jose Gil)
Dan Burawa (to Gary Sanchez)
Kevin Whelan (to Gary Sanchez)
Graham Stoneburner (to Kyle Higashioka)

Field 2
David Phelps (to J.R. Murphy)
Adam Warren (to J.R. Murphy)
Manny Delcarmen (to Gustavo Molina)
Brett Marshall (to Addison Maruszak)
Juan Cedeno (to Addison Maruszak)

Today’s batting practice groups are pretty much the same as always, except that Austin Romine is no longer listed and David Adams has moved into the group with Derek Jeter, essentially taking Robinson Cano’s place.

Group 1
David Adams, Derek Jeter, Brandon Laird, Eduardo Nunez

Group 2
Eric Chavez, Ramiro Pena, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Doug Bernier

Group 3
Russell Branyan, Bill Hall, Jayson Niz, Jorge Vazquez

Group 4
Francisco Cervelli, Jose Gil, Kyle Higashioka, Gary Sanchez

Group 5
Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher

Group 6
Chris Dickerson, Justin Maxwell, Cole Garner, Dewayne Wise

Group 7
Zoilo Almonte, Colin Curtis, Melky Mesa, Corban Joseph

Group 8
Addison Maruszak, Russell Martin, J.R. Murphy, Gustavo Molina

Same fielding groups, with Cano and Romine still listed here:

Group 1
C: Kyle Higashioka, Russell Martin, Gustavo Molina, J.R. Murphy
INF: Russell Branyan, Robinson Cano, Eric Chavez, Bill Hall, Derek Jeter, Brandon Laird, Eduardo Nunez
OF: Zoilo Almonte, Colin Curtis, Curtis Granderson, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Justin Maxwell

Group 2
C: Francisco Cervelli, Jose Gil, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez
INF: David Adams, Doug Bernier, Corban Joseph, Jayson Nix, Ramiro Pena, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Vazquez
OF: Chris Dickerson, Brett Gardner, Cole Garner, Melky Mesa, Nick Swisher, Dewayne Wise

Associated Press photo

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Back on the mound02.28.12

Dave Robertson and Boone Logan are scheduled to face hitters this morning, but today’s batting practice to watch might be thrown by a guy not on the roster. If Andy Pettitte does get to throw to some hitters today, you can bet there will be plenty of people paying attention. It’ll be nothing but BP fastballs over the middle of the plate, but still… It will be Pettitte, in uniform, on a mound.

“I know he’s thrown a lot to his son, so he shouldn’t get worn out,” Joe Girardi said. “We’ll find out though.”

Derek Jeter laughed at the idea yesterday, but Pettitte seemed to like it. How would Pettitte feel throwing BP to his former shortstop?

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Pettitte said. “I won’t hit him.”

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From one lefty to another02.27.12

Until last spring, Manny Banuelos had never been to big league camp. That means, until today, Andy Pettitte had never seen the Yankees top lefty prospect.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen him throw,” Pettitte said, after watching Banuelos throw batting practice to a group that included Alex Rodriguez. “He looks great, man. The ball just explodes coming out of his hand… You never know what anybody’s going to do until they get to the big league level, and they go out there and they are kind of battle-tested, you know what I’m saying? You can talk about people all you want, but he looks great. His stuff looks great. He’s just got a live arm, and from what I hear, he’s got a chance to do some good things. Obviously, I haven’t even had a chance to meet him yet, but I’ll try to introduce myself to him and talk to him, and if I can do anything to help him I would love to be able to do that, that’s for sure.”

Dellin Betances pitched immediately after Banuelos, on the same mound. Two top prospects with a lot of eyes on them before their expected assignment to the minor league complex. I’ve had people ask me how they look, and the truth of the matter is, it’s hard for me to say. Right now they’re blowing pitches past big league hitters, but it’s too early to know what that means. Derek Jeter literally refuses to swing during these early BP sessions.

“I think both (Banuelos and Betances) are improved,” Joe Girardi said. “I think they’re more consistent in the strikes they throw, in their mechanics, the quality of the pitches they throw. I can see it.”

A lot of people have seen the talent, but Pettitte has actually seen the path it takes to go from minor league prospect to big league standout.

“The difference between pitching at the Triple-A level, the minor-league level, and making the jump to the big leagues is obviously being able to repeat your mechanics and the consistency to be able to throw the ball on the corner,” Pettitte said. “You can’t throw the ball down the middle of the plate. That is so hard to do. It’s the repetition, the work in the bullpen, how seriously you have to take that bullpen work. Then mentally, trying to get to the place where you’re doing that kind of work like you’re in the game, because then it comes down to who can make the pitches in the crucial time during the game. That’s what separates good and great pitchers from being mediocre or being a Triple-A pitcher. It’s such a fine line, and it’s so hard. Sometimes all you need is an opportunity. You have to work hard. I know everybody says that, but a lot of it is a mental approach and mental makeup, the mental aspect than anything physical.”

Associated Press photo of Banuelos

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Monday notes: Hughes’ first spring start coming March 1102.27.12

If you’re in competition for the fifth spot in the rotation, but people keep talking about your proven ability to pitch out of the bullpen, it’s probably not encouraging to see your first spring outing will be in relief. You have to think Phil Hughes would like to distance himself from the bullpen talk, but his first spring appearance will be April 6, in relief of CC Sabathia.

Bad sign? Not really. Just a scheduling quirk. The Yankees have a split doubleheader five days later, so Hughes will be on turn to make a start on Saturday, March 11. Nothing official, but you can bet Sabathia will start at home that day. Hughes will make the road trip to face the Twins.

“(Hughes) is going to pitch just like a starter would,” Joe Girardi said. “And if I have to warm up another reliever in between to get it like it’s a rotation, that’s what I’ll do. It just works out that we have a split-squad coming up, and you can match up the split-squad.”

Counting the days to Opening Day, the current schedule leaves Sabathia lined up to start the opener on one extra day of rest (an extra day that I suppose could come at any point this spring). Hughes is actually lined up to be one regular rest for the fifth game of the season, assuming he pitches some sort of game on the March 5 off day.

• To be honest, notes were pretty light here on photo day. The Yankees are definitely in the no-news-is-good-news phase of spring training. It’s too early to get a great read on how guys are doing, and the only real news usually involves setbacks and injuries. Girardi said no one was added to the injury list today.

• Robinson Cano will be away from camp for a couple of days. His grandmother died yesterday, so Cano has flown home.

• Girardi was on the main field to watch Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances throw batting practice. There’s still no radar gun on these guys, and they’re still knocking off some of the rust, but Hughes seemed to be keeping the ball down and Banuelos got some swings and misses. “I actually thought they all threw really well,” Girardi said. “For some of these kids, they’ve thrown a couple times. Betances and Banuelos, very happy with what I saw from them. Very happy with what I saw from Phil and Kuroda as well. Lot of strikes today, which is important.”

• Derek Jeter’s take on live batting practice: “I didn’t swing. No, I don’t like it. I get claustrophobic, man. The cage, the screen — everything seems like it’s too close. But it’s always been like that. Everyone seems like they’re throwing 200 mph.”

• Jeter took BP against Hughes, so let’s get those headlines ready: Jeter says Hughes throwing 200 mph!

• George Kontos has been cleared to resume throwing on Friday. After he plays catch with no problems, the Yankees will schedule a bullpen. Kontos said he feels 100 percent, but the Yankees are obviously giving him some extra time just to be sure.

• David Aardsma still hadn’t shown up in the clubhouse by the time it closed to media this afternoon, but he did have a uniform hanging in it. No word of any sort of delay for him, I just haven’t seen him.

• Still hoping that a bench job will open, Bill Hall worked at third base, second base and the outfield today. He was in the outfield and at third base for popup drills, and he went to second base to take grounders during batting practice. With Cano gone, Eduardo Nunez got some reps at second base today, and I saw Ramiro Pena getting work at both shortstop and third base. Jorge Vazquez also took some grounders at third today.

• Andy Pettitte said he’ll only be in town for a few days. Bernie Williams is also planning to show up as a guest instructor, but Girardi’s not sure when Williams is scheduled to be here.

• Does it make Jeter feel old to have old teammates like Pettitte and Williams in camp as guest instructors? “I feel the same age whether they’re here or not,” Jeter said. “I was always younger than all of them and I’ll always be younger than all of them.”

Associated Press photos (yes, some of the Photo Day pictures are apparently taken in the bathroom)

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Pettitte: “I just came to hang out, really”02.27.12

Andy Pettitte was perfectly serious, and Joe Girardi said he liked the idea. It was Derek Jeter who thought the whole thing was a joke.

“I told them I can throw batting practice,” Pettitte said on Monday, making his first spring appearance since his retirement. “I’m doing it every day at my house for the Pony League team. If they need a left-handed arm to throw BP, why not?”

Jeter laughed.

“No chance,” he said. “It’d be a waste of both of our time.”

Brian Cashman asked Pettitte to come down to spring training last year, but Pettitte said he needed the time away. He’d made his retirement decision, and he didn’t want to show up as a distraction. These days, his oldest son is playing varsity baseball, and Pettitte is coaching his 13-year-old’s team. He’s also an assistant basketball coach for his daughter and youngest son.

“I had a little break from the kids’ ballgames so just figured I’d shoot down here,” Pettitte said. “… I think I throw more now than I did when I played. It’s hot in Houston, so you’re always outside. The kids are always throwing. Baseball is in full-tilt already.”

On what he’s doing down here
“I’m just hanging. They just want me to be down here, whenever I can get down here to get down here and be part of the guys. I’m not looking to try to coach anybody or anything. If the guys want to ask me questions or anything, I’ll be more than happy to talk to guys and stuff like that but I just came to hang out, really.”

On whether this makes him think about doing it again
“I’d say yeah, just being honest with you to a certain degree. Then you take a step back. You evaluate where you’re at, what you’ve been doing and the reasons that I retired — to be with the family and spend time with them. Things are good. Things are really good, just loving life. No doubt, when you get around here and get close to it, you’re like, ‘Man, you’re 39 years old and Mo is 42.’ It’s just good to be here and be around the guys.”

On whether he could physically play again
“I’m sure I could. You start training, working out and getting yourself into shape. I’d imagine you could. I retired, I felt, after one of my better years. I felt like I was at the point where I just kind of knew what I was doing mechanically out there on the mound. I retired to go home and be with my family.”

On whether he watches the games from home
“I don’t. It’s crazy. I have four kids and I don’t know how my wife did it. It’s just like, what in the world? As soon as I pick them up from school, it’s just every night it’s something. I hate to say it, but I hardly got a chance to watch any of the games. I tried as hard as I could but my kids, it’s in them. They’re just ate up with it. They’re letting me know everything that’s going on, my oldest Josh and Jared. They keep me posted.”

On Phil Hughes, who Pettitte watched throw batting practice
“Well, I think for him, still being a young player, is just establishing yourself. I think he still needs to try to establish himself. I had some years that were rough, but you were kind of like, OK, I kinda got a track record and sometimes you’re just not going to have a great year, things just aren’t going to work out. But Phil’s kinda still in the mode of competing for a starting spot. He’s just got to show that he can go out there and have the consistency that he needs to go out and pitch at the big league level. The great thing about Phil is he can start and he can relieve so he just needs to go out, work hard, throw the ball well, and things are going to work out for him, that’s for sure.”

On whether Pettitte would like to do this every spring
“Yeah, I think so. If I can. Cash, we’ve stayed in touch. He wants me to be part of it. I’m going to try to do what I can as far as getting down here… There’s no substitute for being in there, so it’s kind of hard to stay really too, too closely connected.”

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Yankees make the Chavez signing official02.27.12

Eric Chavez has been working out for three days now, but his signing didn’t become official until today. Here’s the announcement. Even though they didn’t have to open a 40-man spot, the Yankees went ahead with plans to place David Aardsma on the 60-day disabled list.

The New York Yankees today announced they have re-signed six-time Gold Glove Award-winning infielder Eric Chavez to a one-year Major League contract.

Chavez, 34, batted .263 (42-for-160) with 16 runs, seven doubles, two home runs and 26 RBI in his first season with the Yankees in 2011. He was limited to 58 games (42 games at third base, seven games at designated hitter and three games at first base) after missing nearly three months with a left foot fracture (May 6-July 25). He did not make an error during the regular season, making him the only player to appear in at least 40 games at third base without a miscue in 2011. Additionally, Chavez batted .415 (17-for-41) with 22 RBI with runners in scoring position, marking the highest such batting average by a Yankee last season (minimum 40AB with RISP).

A 14-year Major League veteran, Chavez has appeared in 1,378 combined games with Oakland (1998-2010) and the Yankees (2011). He owns a .267 (1,318-for-4,943) career batting average with 289 doubles, 21 triples, 232 home runs and 813 RBI. Along with San Francisco’s Aubrey Huff (241 HR), is one of just two active players to hit at least 200 home runs without ever having been selected to an All-Star team.

The Los Angeles, California native was originally was selected by the Athletics in the first round of the 1996 First-Year Player Draft. His defense garnered him six consecutive Gold Glove Awards at third base with the A’s from 2001-06, tied with Buddy Bell for the second-most awards by an American Leaguer at the position behind Brooks Robinson (16). In 2006, he set an Oakland record for fielding percentage by a third baseman with a .987 mark.

In an additional roster move, the Yankees placed RHP David Aardsma on the 60-day disabled list. The Yankees’ 40-man roster currently stands at 39 players.

Associated Press photo

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Early spring rotation set02.27.12

March 2: Adam Warren
March 3: Ivan Nova
March 4: Freddy Garcia
March 5: Michael Pineda
March 6: CC Sabathia/Phil Hughes
March 7: Hiroki Kuroda

What month is this? I wrote April while I was still in Girardi’s office. Obvoiusly meant March. Sorry about that. In my defense… maybe I don’t have anything in my defense. Just kind of forgot about an entire month.

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Monday morning notes: Big enough to block the sun02.27.12

CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda are each listed at 6-foot-7. They’re intimidating figures at the best of times. Imagine seeing them on a mound, early in the morning, when you’re facing live pitching for the first time of the spring.

“It was good,” Colin Curtis said. “Because the sun was up there, and they were kind of blocking it.”

Sabathia and Pineda threw live batting practice to Curtis and Melky Mesa. At this point, we all know what to expect from Sabathia, but Pineda is still in the process of making a first impression. It was the slider that most impressed Curtis, but it’s still a little early to get a great read on a pitcher. Curtis said he didn’t see any changeups, but he saw a few thrown to Mesa.

Last time Curtis faced live pitching? It was few weeks before spring training, and he badly wanted to get on a field, so he put together a scrimmage with some high school kids in his home town. Not exactly the kind of thing that prepares a guy for Sabathia and Pineda.

“Facing sophomores is a little different than facing these two guys,” Curtis said.

David Aardsma’s locker is still empty, but he’s now on the schedule for pitchers conditioning. He’s in a group with Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano. Aardsma was originally scheduled to arrive today, so he could show up at some point.

Joba Chamberlain said this morning that he’s scheduled to finally throw off a full mound tomorrow. He’ll do standard long toss and flat ground, then he’ll throw 20 pitches off a mound. He said the mound has felt huge during PFP, so he’s looking forward to making it feel familiar again.

Tomorrow’s early batting practice pitchers are Dave Robertson and Boone Logan. They’ll be pitching to David Adams and Corban Joseph.

Today’s batting practice pitchers:

Field 1
Phil Hughes (to Russell Martin)
Hiroki Kuroda (to Russell Martin)
Manny Banuelos (to Jose Gil)
Dellin Betances (to Kyle Higashioka)

Field 2
Freddy Garcia (to Gustavo Molina)
Cory Wade (to Gustavo Molina)
D.J. Mitchell (to J.R. Murphy)
Cesar Cabral (to Gary Sanchez)

Today’s batting practice groups are the same as yesterday. They’ll probably stay the same for a while now.

Group 1
Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Brandon Laird, Eduardo Nunez

Group 2
Eric Chavez, Ramiro Pena, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Doug Bernier

Group 3
Russell Branyan, Bill Hall, Jayson Niz, Jorge Vazquez, David Adams

Group 4
Francisco Cervelli, Jose Gil, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez

Group 5
Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher

Group 6
Chris Dickerson, Justin Maxwell, Cole Garner, Dewayne Wise

Group 7
Zoilo Almonte, Colin Curtis, Melky Mesa, Corban Joseph

Group 8
Kyle Higashioka, Russell Martin, J.R. Murphy, Gustavo Molina

Same fielding groups too:

Group 1
C: Kyle Higashioka, Russell Martin, Gustavo Molina, J.R. Murphy
INF: Russell Branyan, Robinson Cano, Eric Chavez, Bill Hall, Derek Jeter, Brandon Laird, Eduardo Nunez
OF: Zoilo Almonte, Colin Curtis, Curtis Granderson, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Justin Maxwell

Group 2
C: Francisco Cervelli, Jose Gil, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez
INF: David Adams, Doug Bernier, Corban Joseph, Jayson Nix, Ramiro Pena, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Vazquez
OF: Chris Dickerson, Brett Gardner, Cole Garner, Melky Mesa, Nick Swisher, Dewayne Wise

It seems that everyone made it through photo day with no problems. I’m sure that’s always a big concern.

Associated Press photo

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Big Man on the mound (so is the Big Kid)02.27.12

Even when he’s lost some weight, CC Sabathia is still a big man. And he’s not the only one in the Yankees rotation. Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia are both big guys, and Ivan Nova is a full 6-foot-4. But none of the Yankees starters measures up to Sabathia quite like the new guy. If Sabathia is the Big Man, then Michael Pineda is surely the Big Kid.

“That dude’s a monster,” Nick Swisher said yesterday. “I didn’t know he was that big. We’ve got him and CC, those two guys look like brothers standing next to one another. Two big boys.”

This morning, those two big boys are throwing batting practice for the first time this spring. It might not be a significant step, but it’s a necessary step. And it’s what’s next for two of the most important pieces of this Yankees pitching staff. They’re going to be hard to miss.

Associated Press photo

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Taking a look at the non-roster position players02.26.12

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.  

Catchers

Jose Gil
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.

Kyle Higashioka
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.  

Gustavo Molina
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.

J.R. Murphy
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.

Gary Sanchez
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.

Infielders

Doug Bernier
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.

Russell Branyan
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.

Bill Hall
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.

Jayson Nix
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.

Jorge Vazquez
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.

Outfielders

Colin Curtis
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.

Cole Garner
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.

Dewayne Wise
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

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 37 Comments →

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