The Yankees used a franchise-record 56 players last season, and they’re well on their way to a similar number this season having already put 35 different players on the roster (with 33 getting in a game). Each offseason, we naturally spend a lot of time speculating about who might make the team and who might play a role, but here are 10 guys who have already been on the Yankees big league roster this season and might have been pretty tough to predict just two months ago. Some are more surprising than others, but for one reason or another, each of these 10 certainly had a good chance of getting through at least the first month without getting any time in the big leagues. They’ve all made it to the Yankees in one way or another.
Amazingly, Anna wasn’t the biggest surprise on the Yankees Opening Day roster. Even so, he’s a guy who was never so much as invited to big league camp during his minor league career with the Padres. The Yankees made a minor trade for him this winter, put him on their 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, and wound up carrying him out of camp when Brendan Ryan opened on the disabled list. Having a 40-man spot meant Anna came into camp with at least some chance to make the team, but considering the presence of Ryan and Eduardo Nunez, his chances of actually making the team seemed fairly slim. His best bet was a Ryan injury opening a need for a shortstop, and that’s exactly what happened.
The surprise of spring training. Almost any other season Anna would be the biggest surprise on the Opening Day roster, but instead it was Solarte who stood out as the Yankees broke camp. Not only was he largely unknown heading into spring training, but he seemed to be blocked by Nunez, a familiar face who appeared to be the clear favorite for a utility/platoon roster spot. Solarte won the job in spring training, and after 2,539 minor league at-bats, finally made his big league debut. He’s kept hitting while seeing his role expand.
A year ago, Greene was pretty easily overshadowed by other young pitchers in the Yankees minor league system. The team seemed to like his stuff, but Greene walked too many guys and had a 5.22 High-A ERA in 2012. By cutting down on the walks in 2013, Greene landed a spot on the 40-man roster. By pitching well this spring, he landed squarely on the radar. And he got his first big league call-up just nine days into the season despite having never pitched in Triple-A (and having pitched just a half season in Double-A). He’s now been called up three times this season, but he’s pitched a total of one-third of an inning in the majors (and only 2.2 innings in the minors). Weird and definitely unexpected first month for Greene.
Can’t say it’s stunning that Sizemore got a call-up. He came into big league camp with major-league experience and an ability to play both second and third — two positions where the Yankees have been mixing-and-matching — so he seemed like a potential fit from the very beginning. But let’s remember the fact that this guy tore his ACL each of the past two years. It was hardly an automatic that he’d ever play in the big leagues again, much less for the Yankees in the first month of the season. Now Sizemore is on the 40-man, optioned back to Triple-A and waiting for another opening in New York. There’s a non-zero chance that he’ll be back.
John Ryan Murphy
It’s not that anyone should be stunned to see Murphy in the big leagues. He came into this season having very clearly climbed to the top of the minor league depth chart at catcher — in terms of being on the verge of the big leagues — but there might be some surprise that Murphy is already the fourth catcher the Yankees have carried this season. They opened with Brian McCann and Francisco Cervelli, very briefly added Austin Romine as a third catcher when Mark Teixiera was hurt, and now they’ve brought up Murphy to replace Cervelli, who’s hurt. Four weeks into the season, already four catchers on the roster.
I would argue that Daley is the least surprising of this group. He spent parts of three seasons with the Rockies before getting hurt and landing with the Yankees, who stayed patient as he rehabbed and got himself back into minor league games. Then he got a September call-up last season and pitched well in limited opportunities. He signed back this offseason and made a strong case for the big league roster in spring training. Even so, he started the season as just one of many viable options on that Triple-A pitching staff, and he had no spot on the 40-man roster. Even when he finally did get a chance, Daley’s call-up lasted one day. He took one for the team that game and was sent back to Triple-A the next day.
Middle of last season, Claiborne seemed like a natural for this year’s team. Even heading into spring training, he seemed to have a strong chance of breaking camp in the big leagues. But Claiborne pitched so poorly in spring training — he’d also struggled in the second half of last season — that he seemed like more of a DFA candidate than a call-up candidate. But the Yankees had a short-term need and gave Claiborne another chance, which he made the most of by delivering two scoreless frames in extra innings against the Rays. He’s now allowed one run through four innings, and he just got his second call-up of the young season.
It was a one-day call-up, and he never got in a game, but it would have been pretty hard to predict that a pitching shortage and the quirks of the 40-man roster would have led the Yankees to bring up a 23-year-old who’d hardly pitched above A ball. Even now Mitchell has just four Double-A starts this season — he made three last year — with a 4.26 ERA. The lesson, as always: It’s good to be on the 40-man, and it’s good to be available for multiple innings. Mitchell was warming up in that extra-inning game against the Rays, but so far that’s as close as he’s come to a big league debut.
There were a lot of minor league veteran pitchers who stood out this spring, but Billings really wasn’t one of them. It’s not that he pitched poorly — he had a 3.24 spring ERA — but he was on his way to being stretched out as a Triple-A starter, and the guys who seemed to really grab the team’s attention were the Triple-A relievers. However, when the Yankees needed a new long man, it was Billings who got the call-up ahead of Alfredo Aceves (who pitched well for the Yankees in the past) and Chase Whitley (who pitched well in Scranton the past two years). Before making his one appearance of the season, Billings had not pitched in the major leagues since getting seven innings in 2011.
Unlike Billings, Leroux was one of those spring training standouts. He had no walks and a 0.66 WHIP through 13.1 spring innings, then the Yankees sent him to extended spring to be stretched out as a Triple-A starter. He made two Triple-A starts, lost both of them, and got a call-up. Clearly the Yankees liked what they saw in spring training. What actually makes Leroux a surprise call-up isn’t the fact he lost those two starts for Scranton, it’s the fact that one year ago he’d been designated for assignment by the Pirates and elected to pitch in Japan, where he ultimately had a 9.00 ERA before adjusting his approach in winter ball (more two-seam fastballs, getting away from his hard four-seamer). In a year he’s gone from a DFA pitcher struggling in Japan to being the latest Yankees attempt to find a new long man.
Associated Press photos