The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Yankees organizational depth: Outfield corners01.14.11

For this sort of exercise, it’s much easier to lump left field and right field into one category. They aren’t exactly the same position — teams prefer a better glove in left, a better arm in right — but in terms of organizational depth, the two positions are pretty interchangeable. In New York, though, they’re occupied by two very different players.

In the big leagues
Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher are different hitters who share a similar approach at the plate. They are two of the most selective hitters in baseball, but that’s where the common ground ends. Gardner’s game is built on speed, Swisher’s is built on power, and each had his own sort of breakout season in 2010. Gardner is 27 years old and established himself as a legitimate everyday outfielder. With over-the-top patience, he led the Yankees in on-base percentage and stolen bases. He’s arguably the best defensive left fielder in baseball with exceptional range and a better-than-expected arm. Swisher just turned 30 and made his first all-star team. He’s in the final year of his contract, but there is a club option for 2012. With no obvious replacement in the upper levels of the minor league system, the Yankees could exercise that option if Swisher has another productive year.

On the verge
Unless one of them finds a spot on the big league roster, a Triple-A outfield of Colin Curtis, Greg Golson and Jordan Parraz will give the Yankees plenty of reserves: All three on the 40-man, all three able to play each outfield spot, and all three ready to play a role in New York as needed. Third baseman Brandon Laird will also get some time in the outfield, and his power bat fits the profile of a corner outfielder. The Double-A outfield is more of a hit-or-miss group. Center fielder Melky Mesa has more than enough arm for right field and is perhaps the biggest wild card in the system’s upper levels. Cody Johnson, acquired from the Braves this winter, is a former first-round pick who’s shown significant power but a complete inability to hit for average. Dan Brewer — who could jump to Triple-A if there’s an opening — hit 10 homers and 34 doubles in Trenton last season, but he’s never been considered a prominent prospect.

Deep in the system
Long-term, the Yankees depth in the outfield corners will probably be built on their current depth at other positions. For now, Slade Heathcott, Eduardo Sosa, Mason Williams and Abe Almonte are best suited for center field, but they could move to the corners as necessary. Catcher J.R. Murphy will see some time in right field this season, as will third baseman Rob Segedin. For now, the lower levels should have guys like Zoilo Almonte, Taylor Grote and Kelvin De Leon getting considerable time in the outfield corners (all three have generated some prospect buzz but haven’t done much either because of injury or lack of production). The name to remember seems to be Ramon Flores. One talent evaluator was raving about him during the Winter Meetings, comparing him favorably to former Yankees prospect Jose Tabata. Flores hit .303/.390/.419 last year and should be ready for a full season in Charleston.

Organizational depth chart
My own rough guess. It’s far too early for the Yankees to settle on who will be where next season.
New York: Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher
Scranton/WB: Colin Curtis and Jordan Parraz
Trenton: Cody Johnson and Dan Brewer
Tampa: Taylor Grote and Zoilo Almonte
Charleston: Eduardo Sosa and Ramon Flores

The big league depth chart is incomplete until the Yankees sign a fourth outfielder. The Yankees have been strongly linked to Andruw Jones, and if he’s signed, Jones will become the primary backup in both left and right field. The Yankees have no shortage of additional players ready to step into a corner outfield role as necessary: Curtis, Golson, Parraz, Laird and Kevin Russo are all in the mix.

Lower in the minor league system, I based my projections on Heathcott opening in Charleston, forcing Sosa to open in left field instead of center. As is always the case, the Yankees have plenty of additional outfielders who could see time in the corners. In rough top-to-bottom order: Austin Krum, Damon Sublett, Jack Rye, Raymond Kruml and Deangelo Mack are among the guys who will get corner outfield time for the full-season teams. The impact of multi-position guys like Segedin and Murphy, though, will probably be more significant.

Associated Press photo of Swisher, headshots of Gardner, Curtis and Zoilo Almonte

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 88 Comments →

Yankees organizational depth: Center field01.13.11

A little more than a year ago, the Yankees sacrificed their perceived center fielder of the future to obtain a proven center fielder of the future (and the present). Within months of the trade, the Yankees watched Austin Jackson get off to a terrific start in Detroit while Curtis Granderson struggled in New York. By the end of the season, the tide had shifted, and now the Yankees are left hoping Granderson’s second-half momentum carries into 2011.

In the big leagues
The Yankees gave up a lot to land Granderson. He was seen as a plus defensive player with unusual power for a center fielder, and he was also significantly more proven than Jackson, whose lack of power and strikeout totals were obvious concerns. Granderson finished last season by hitting .261/.356/.564 in his final 48 games, and he carried that into a terrific postseason. The Yankees are one of the few teams with two legitimate big league center fielders — Brett Gardner is also more than capable in center — but there’s no question Granderson will be the everyday man at the position. The only question is whether he’ll continue to improve as he steps further into what should be the prime of his career.

On the verge
Greg Golson and Colin Curtis are able to play a role in the big leagues right now. They proved that last season, and although neither got much time in center field at Yankee Stadium, both are able to play the position. Curtis and Golson seem likely to go into spring training competing with Jordan Parraz to be the Yankees fifth outfielder (if the Yankees carry five outfielders). Coming up behind them is one of the great wild cards of the Yankees system. Melky Mesa has tools to spare — arm, speed, power — but he also struck out 297 times the past two seasons, and his .260 average and .338 on-base percentage last season were both career highs, by a lot. If he makes progress, Mesa could be a legitimate everyday player in the big leagues. If not, he could top out at Double-A.

Deep in the system
Abraham Almonte is still on the prospect radar after a injury shortened season in Tampa — my friend Patrick Teale has always been very high on Almonte — but most of the Yankees young center field talent is coming up from the very lowest levels. Slade Heathcott, the Yankees first-round pick in ’09, didn’t put up big numbers in Charleston last year, but he’s still very young with considerable tools and talent. If Heathcott returns to Charleston this season, he could be joined in the outfield by Eduardo Sosa, a natural center fielder who’s bat has yet to match his glove. A half step behind them is last year’s fourth-round pick Mason Williams, another super-athletic kid taken out of high school. There is a lot of raw talent and athleticism here, but that talent has a long way to go. It’s just as you’d expect from this position in the lower levels.

Organizational depth chart
My own rough guess. It’s far too early for the Yankees to settle on who will be where next season.
New York: Curtis Granderson
Scranton/WB: Greg Golson
Trenton: Melky Mesa
Tampa: Abe Almonte
Charleston:
Slade Heathcott

The true center field depth chart in New York is two names deep: Granderson and Gardner. Both are plus defenders, and the Yankees showed last season that if Granderson gets hurt, Gardner will immediately slide over from left field. Golson and Curtis can certainly handle the position, but as long as at least one of Granderson and Gardner is healthy, there will be no reason for anyone else to see significant time in center field.

As for the minor leagues, the system is full of outfielders who are able to handle center field, it’s a matter of prioritizing that playing time. Curtis will get some center field time in Triple-A, and Damon Sublett could get some time in Double-A. It gets a little more tricky in the lower levels depending on assignments. Whether he’s in Tampa or Charleston, Heathcott will almost certainly be the priority in center field, but Sosa, Williams and Gumbs are coming up behind him and also need time at the position. If the Yankees decide Heathcott needs a little more Low A time — that’s how I have it predicted, at least to start the season — Sosa could see significant time in the outfield corners for the first time. If Heathcott does open in Charleston, the best-case scenario would be for him to finish in Tampa.

Associated Press photo of Granderson and Gardner, headshots of Granderson, Mesa and Almonte

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 95 Comments →

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