As you probably can tell, I like to follow each Pinch Hitter post with a related post of my own. Sometimes the posts are intensely personal, and I let those stand on their own, but for the most part I like to build off whatever our guest posters have started.
But it’s awfully hard to follow Tyler’s post. Maybe a post about where Brian Roberts will one day fit on that list of great Yankees second basemen?
What really stood out to me was Tyler’s point about second base being kind of an underrated position in Yankees history. There have been a lot of good second basemen for this franchise (good enough that a player like Robinson Cano might be only the third-best in franchise history).
I started thinking about that same idea – positions of strength, positions of weakness – in terms of the here and now.
Right now — based on what the Yankees have on the big league roster and in the minor league system — which positions are the strongest and weakest for this team? Here’s the ranking I came up with.
1. Center field
The Yankees just signed one of the best center fielders in baseball. Their roster also includes another guy who could be an everyday center fielder if necessary. Plus, they have prospect depth at the position. They have impact in the short-term, depth readily available, and significant potential coming up through the system. There are still serious questions about the ultimate impact of Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams – and we’re not sure yet whether Aaron Judge can play center – but having Jacoby Ellsbury locked up long-term helps to minimize those concerns.
Some of the same things that apply in center field, also apply at catcher. The Yankees just signed multi-year deal with Brian McCann, who’s one of the best at the position. They also have plenty of big-league-ready depth in backup options Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy. They also have significant prospect upside in Gary Sanchez, Peter O’Brien and Luis Torrens. I’ll put catcher behind center field, though, because of questions about Sanchez’s ability to play the position and uncertainty about Cervelli, Romine or Murphy being everyday players.
3. Corner outfield
Hard to split left field and right field for something like this. Each position is largely pulling from the same group of candidates (granted, with a handful of exceptions). For now, the Yankees have three corner outfielders for two big league spots. They also have Ichiro Suzuki, with Zoilo Almonte basically big league ready (but obviously unproven). Carlos Beltran might be able to play at least a handful of games in right field for another year or two. In the farm system, Tyler Austin still has significant upside, Aaron Judge could be a big-time right fielder, and those young center fielders might have enough bat for the corners.
Hard to rank something like pitching depth against individual positions, but I’ll put the rotation here. Masahiro Tanaka adds a lot of long-term potential, and there’s still hope that Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda could be both short-term and long-term starters. If CC Sabathia weren’t coming off such a bad year, the rotation would rank higher. For rotation depth, the Yankees have plenty of fifth-starter types both on the 40-man and in the minor league system. Question is whether guys like Manny Banuelos and Rafael De Paula can be more than that.
5. First base
Says a lot about the current uncertainty in the bullpen, and the long-term uncertainty at the other infield positions, that first base makes it this high on the list. I’m putting it right in the middle because the Yankees have at least the potential for a well-above-average first baseman in the short term, and an impact prospect in the long term. Mark Teixeira’s wrist injury is a problem. If it weren’t, this position would rank much higher. Greg Bird’s upside gives the Yankees a potential everyday first baseman of the future (but he has a long way to go).
I’m a big believe in Dave Robertson, and the Yankees have quite a few minor league arms that have real potential as big league relievers, but there’s so much short-term uncertainty that I have a hard time putting the bullpen any higher than this. If Robertson can close, and Dellin Betances can throw strikes, and Mark Montgomery can bounce back, and a guy like Jose Ramirez can break in as a reliever, the bullpen might be just fine for this year and beyond. But there are still a ton of questions to be answered.
7. Third base
Hard to know what to make of this position. Eric Jagielo could be a fast-riser and an everyday player for many years, but we have yet to see him play a full season of pro ball (and Dante Bichette and Eric Duncan are certainly cautionary tales at the position; though admittedly different because they were high schoolers). The bigger problem is looking at the short-term situation at third. Can Kelly Johnson be productive enough (and good enough with the glove)? Who’s the right-handed part of that inevitable platoon? What’s Alex Rodriguez’s role in 2015 and beyond?
8. Second base
Short term, this just might be the most problematic position on the diamond. The Yankees seem willing to ride Brian Roberts until he breaks, at which point it’s anyone’s guess who might takeover at second. Eduardo Nunez? Dean Anna? Corban Joseph? What’s keeping second base out of the very bottom spot is the fact the minor league system actually has some interesting options coming up from the lower levels. Gosuke Katoh had an awesome pro debut, Rob Refsnyder looks like he can hit enough to get on base, and Angelo Gumbs is still a toolsy guy who badly needs to get healthy.
Too many questions both short term and long term. The position still belongs to Derek Jeter, and for the better part of two decades, that’s been a good thing. But now there’s no way of knowing whether he can legitimately play the position (or if he can still hit enough to be a top-of-the-order bat). The Yankees best backup plan is all-glove, no-bat Brendan Ryan, and the minor system’s best shortstops are in the extreme low levels of the minors. Abiatal Avelino is interesting, but he’s never played above short-season ball. Cito Culver can field, but his bat has been brutal. For the Yankees, no position carries more short-term and long-term uncertainty than shortstop.
Associated Press photos