A few things to know about new Yankees infielder Chris Nelson…
• He was a first-round pick in 2004, but he was no longer a full-time shortstop when he got into the upper levels of the minor leagues.
• He hit .319/.368/.510 during three partial seasons in Triple-A, but it’s hard to make much of Pacific Coast League numbers because those ballparks are so hitter friendly (light-hitting Doug Bernier once in nine homers for that same Colorado Springs team).
• He had an .810 OPS as a second baseman and third baseman with the Rockies last season, but he hit just .257/.292/.417 away from Coors Field.
• He doesn’t have significant platoon splits, but he has hit .293/.323/.409 against big league lefties and was hitting .278 in 18 at-bats against them this season.
• He’s still fairly young at 27 years old, and he seems to have a terrific clubhouse reputation, but it’s obviously telling that the Rockies decided to DFA him.
Ultimately, the Yankees decision to trade for Nelson seems to be all about need and availability, much like the spring moves to acquire Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco. As we’ve seen, some of those moves tend to work out better than others.
What we know now is that the Yankees infield has grown incredibly thin. Corban Joseph is more of a right-side-of-the-infield guy (where the Yankees have no room for another left-handed hitter). David Adams can’t be called up yet because he was released and re-signed (same sort of thing that’s going on with Clay Rapada). Ronnier Mustelier is just now getting Triple-A at-bats after that spring knee injury (and if he’s coming up, it’s probably to replace Ben Francisco anyway). And the rest of the Triple-A infield hasn’t hit very much at all.
So the Yankees needed infield depth — someone to make sure Chris Stewart isn’t the backup second baseman — and they needed a right-handed hitter. They’ve filled those criteria with Nelson. What he does and how the Yankees use him remains to be seen. Nelson’s never played first base, and neither has Jayson Nix, but the Yankees could really use someone other than Lyle Overbay against left-handers (Overbay’s been terrific against righties, but he’s just 2-for-26 against lefties).
Is Nelson a perfect fit? Probably not, but the Yankees have been patching holes for about two months now, and Nelson is another of those moves. Kevin Youkilis is expected back within two weeks, when means he could be activated by the time Adams is eligible to be promoted. I don’t think this is a sign that Mustelier has fallen off the radar, because he’s more of an outfielder anyway and could still be an eventual alternative to Francisco or Boesch.
The Yankees will give Nelson a look, and they’ll take him to Coors Field — where he’s had a ton of success — and when Youkilis is healthy, it will be time to decide whether Nelson has a legitimate place on this team or was simply plugging a temporary hole.
Associated Press photo