The Yankees 40-man roster is going to evolve quite a bit this offseason. Right now, it includes 39 players, but that’s not counting either Brian McCann or Brendan Ryan. And you can bet those won’t be the only free agents added this winter. The current 40-man is loaded with non-tender candidates (Stewart, Huff, Daley, Nix) and young players who could be cut simply to open spots (Marshall, Flores, maybe even Adams and recent trade acquisition Dean Anna).
Last week, the Yankees made one of their most significant 40-man roster decisions when they selected five minor league prospects to protect from the Rule 5 draft. This sort of thing isn’t for everyone — there are surely some of you who have never heard of a guy like Shane Greene — but I love this stuff. It’s the only minor league writer in me. I can’t help it. So, if you’ll forgive me, here’s a quick look at the newest 40-man additions.
27 years old
Why he was added: The Yankees made a minor trade to acquire Anna from the Padres. He can basically play any position but center field and catcher, and throughout the minors he’s shown a great ability to get on base (he slugged .482 last year, but I’m going to largely dismiss that because he was in the Pacific Coast League). Remember last year when the Yankees struggled to find help at shortstop and third base? Seems safe to assume that’s what triggered the Anna addition. One rival evaluator who’s seen a lot of Anna said his best position is “definitely” second base, and described him as a “grinder type player who plays better than his tools.”
Short-term role: Depth. We’ve said it over and over, and it remains true, that the Yankees upper levels are thin in the infield. Moving Tyler Austin back to the infield corners might help some, but guys like David Adam and Corban Joseph — who was taken off the 40-man last week — have not emerged as reliable options, and there’s very little at the shortstop position. Anna has at least one strong skill in his ability to work an at-bat, and he can play anywhere.
Long-term future: Not much, but Anna is still the type of player the Yankees needed in the short term. He fills an immediate hole and gives the Yankees a bit of depth at several positions where they’ve proven to be short-handed. Best-case scenario probably has Anna emerging as a cheap Jayson Nix type for the next few years, but anything beyond that would significantly exceed expectations.
21 years old
Why he was added: Because the upside is significant. Campos was the lowest-level prospect involved in the Pineda/Montero trade, and he immediately became one of the Yankees top pitching prospects. He lost most of 2012 because of an elbow injury, but he rebounded nicely in 2013 with a 3.41 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in Low-A Charleston. He was under a strict innings limit, and will be limited again this year, but he has significant potential.
Short-term role: None. He’s being protected strictly because of his upside. For a team that has quite a bit of upper-level pitching depth, it’s hard to expect Campos to play any sort of big league role this year, and probably not even next year. More likely, Campos is heading to High-A Tampa to try to get a little more stretched out and build on his encouraging 2013 season.
Long-term future: Too early to say, really. Best-case scenario is pretty good, maybe even a No. 2 or No. 3 starter, but Campos has a long way to go and last year’s injury significantly slowed his progress. He has to build innings and advance into the upper levels. There are a lot of hurdles, and there’s at least some chance that he’ll never do a single thing in the big leagues, but the potential remains significant. Campos is still one of the better pitching prospects in the system.
25 years old
Why he was added: Because he was one of the Yankees real breakout prospects in 2013. He cut his walks in half — even better than half, actually — while keeping his strikeout rate pretty high at 8-per-nine-innings. Vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman has raved about the steps Greene took this season, and it’s not out of the question that he could be in Triple-A by the second half of next season.
Short-term role: In spring training, Greene is likely to be overshadowed by guys like David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno. Immediate fifth-starter and long relief opportunities are far more likely to go to one of those guys rather than Greene. That said, Greene’s new-found ability to throw strikes, and the fact he’s already 25 years old, means the Yankees could give him a chance if he pitches well early in the season. There’s a non-zero chance that Greene could play some sort of big league role next season.
Long-term future: A year ago, Greene was a very fringy prospect coming off a 5.22 ERA in High-A Tampa. If he falls back to that level of production, he could very easily become forgotten by the middle of the year. However, if last season’s improvements carry into 2014, he could become a Phelps-type who breaks into the big leagues as a mopup guy with a chance to pitch his way into spot-starter consideration. Greene made a pretty significant leap in 2013, and it’s not out of the question that he could keep moving forward in 2014.
23 years old
Why he was added: Because he’s still one of the Yankees top prospects, and he’s finally advanced to the point of wondering whether he could play a big league role within the next year or so. His overall numbers in 2013 were solid but nothing special — .261/.327/.411 in Double-A — but the Yankees were encouraged by the fact he was young for that league and hit .279/.339/.514 in his final 111 at-bats.
Short-term role: Injuries have been a problem for Heathcott, and he was hurt again at the end of last season. The Yankees don’t believe the latest setback is a significant one, but Heathcott certainly needs more at-bats. He has yet to reach 400 at-bats in a season, which is another way of saying that Heathcott’s most immediate goal is more about playing than playing a significant role. If he stays healthy, hits pretty well and gets significant Triple-A time, his 2014 season should be considered a success. There’s at least some chance that he could hit his way into the big league picture, but first things first, he just needs to play to try to keep moving toward his relatively high-end potential.
Long-term future: As a convenient comparison, Heathcott’s upside has been described as Brett Gardner with power. Heathcott’s a good center fielder with a plays-all-out reputation. He can run, and he’s shown some ability to drive the ball. His best-case scenario is basically replacing Gardner as the Yankees everyday center fielder, possibly as early as 2014. But as with any prospect who has yet to reach Triple-A, there is still some question about whether he’ll ever come close to reaching his potential. Heathcott had a pretty good 2013, and with a strong and full 2014, he could reassert himself as a significant piece of the Yankees future.
22 years old
Why he was added: I would say this is the Rule 5 choice I was most curious about. Mitchell has never put up particularly good numbers — he had a 5.12 ERA in High-A this year — but scouts and Yankees personnel have always raved about his stuff. The kid has a great arm, and the Yankees have clearly decided to protect his potential rather than risk losing him due to lack of results. Mitchell was protected ahead of other Rule 5 eligible pitchers like Tommy Kahnle, Danny Burawa and Chase Whitley. Those three would seem to have more short-term polish, but the Yankees chose to protect Mitchell’s long-term potential.
Short-term role: More advanced than Campos, but in a similar boat. Basically, Mitchell has no short-term role unless he has a tremendous breakout year and forces his way into the big league picture. His stuff is good, but he’s still waiting for the kind of results that make the Yankees confident he’s ready to live up to his potential. He did pitch pretty well after a late-season call-up to Double-A, so maybe there’s something there.
Long-term future: Could be something pretty good — maybe a middle-of-the-rotation starter, maybe even better than that if things go extremely well — or he could fade away entirely. The Yankees have a lot of solid upper-level starting pitchers, but Mitchell provides an upper-level arm that has a fairly extreme upside. Gonna have to actually show some results, though. Stuff and potential mean quite a bit in the lower levels, but the Yankees begin looking for real results once a player reaches Double-A and Triple-A. Mitchell is in the real results phase of his development.
20 years old
Why he was added: Because he’s the best position prospect in the system. His offensive potential is high enough that Sanchez could be a viable big leaguer even if he has to move to first base or designated hitter, but his potential impact is fairly extreme if he’s able to stay behind the plate. Even though he’s not on the Yankees big league radar at the moment, some non-contender could have absolutely taken him in the Rule 5 and shown patience in hopes of an eventual payoff.
Short-term role: As I’ve written before, I don’t think the Brian McCann signing means the Yankees have to trade Sanchez. They could trade him if the return is significant, but by the time Sanchez is ready for the big leagues, McCann may be ready to move into a sort of C/1B/DH role. For the time being, Sanchez seems ticketed for Double-A in hopes that he continues to develop both behind the plate and at the plate. With Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy also on the 40-man, I’m not even sure Sanchez is a strong September call-up candidate in 2014.
Long-term role: Well, considering he’s the best position prospect in the system, the long-term role could be fairly significant. In a best-case world, Sanchez is able to stay behind the plate while emerging as a middle-of-the-order run producer. He could yet another of the franchise’s offensive-minded catchers. He’s still young, though, and at times he’s shown some maturity issues. The Yankees, though, seem happy with his 2013 progress. It’s worth remembering that Sanchez is still just a kid, but he’s also becoming advanced enough that a big league job could be his within a couple of years or so. Has to progress, though.
Associated Press photo of Mitchell