Moving around the diamond in our look at the Yankees heading into spring training, our next stop is perhaps the position that’s changed the most in the past 12 months. The best second baseman in baseball is long gone, replaced by a bunch of question marks.
Top of the depth chart: Brian Roberts
Backup options: Kelly Johnson, Eduardo Nunez, Brendan Ryan, Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore
Also coming to camp: Yangervis Solarte, Corban Joseph, Jose Pirela
Deeper in the system: Gosuke Katoh, Rob Refsnyder, Angelo Gumbs
Despite a series of injury problems the past four years, Roberts is coming to camp as the Yankees top choice at second base. When Cano priced himself out of the Yankees plans, the team went looking elsewhere in a thin market to fill a position that’s often underwhelming to begin with. In Roberts they found a switch hitter who used to be one of the best in the game, but also a guy who has not played more than 77 games since 2009.
Lingering question: Just how many games can Roberts play?
For a while, it seemed fair to wonder if the Yankees saw Roberts as a lineup regular, part of an eventual platoon, or even as a just-in-case option who would hold down the position if – and only if – the Yankees couldn’t find someone else. Then Joe Girardi said this in January: “I’ll sit down and have a conversation and try to get a feel what he thinks the optimal level of games that he’s going to play, but we’d like to play him pretty often.” Maybe they’ll simply use Roberts until he breaks, and then hope a new solution has presented itself.
Worth watching this spring: Dean Anna
We basically know the story with Eduardo Nunez, we know Kelly Johnson is penciled in at third base, and we know a guy like Scott Sizemore is primarily a right-handed platoon option at either second or third. What we don’t know is what exactly Anna is capable of doing. Acquired from the Padres this winter, he can play almost anywhere, but he’s best at second. And offensively he’s shown an ability to get on base. As a left-handed hitter, he doesn’t really fit that glaring search for a right-handed platoon player, but he just might emerge as a legitimate backup option should Roberts get hurt.
Best-case scenario: Roughly 500 at-bats
Given his age and injury concerns, there are plenty of reasons to wonder what Roberts is capable of doing this season. But look at the other options coming to camp. It’s not like there’s a sure thing in that clubhouse, and there’s not a standout prospect either. The best-case scenario revolves around Roberts staying healthy enough – and productive enough — to be something close to an everyday player. If he’s not able to handle the workload, the Yankees will have to fall back on a group of players who carry no more dependability than Roberts.
Worst-case scenario: Remember third base in 2013?
In a way, the Yankees have tried this sort of thing before. Just last year, as a matter of fact, they knew Alex Rodriguez was going to miss at least part of the season at third base, and so they got a familiar name – Kevin Youkilis – who was both aging and had some recent injury problems. Of course, we all know what happened next. Youkilis was hurt again, and none of the second-string, third-string, or fourth-string options was able to provide any sort of stability. If things go wrong this year, second base could be heading the same direction.
Keep an eye on this year: Rob Refsnyder
The Yankees actually have a handful of interesting young second basemen, headlined by last year’s supplemental-round pick Gosuke Katoh, who had a tremendous professional debut in rookie ball last season. He’s little, but the guy raked last season, and his defense gets positive reviews. But the Yankees are going to need help at second long before Katoh is ready, and that’s where Refsnyder comes in. He was primarily an outfielder in college, but the Yankees have moved him to the infield. What’s most interesting is his bat. The guy hit .293/.413/.413 between Low-A and High-A last season. If the bat shows similar numbers in the upper levels – and the glove keeps making progress – he could become a part of the second base picture. Not remotely a sure thing, but he’s interesting.
Associated Press photos