Just got off the phone with assistant general manager Billy Eppler, who answered a few questions about the non-roster guys invited to Yankees camp this spring.
Eppler confirmed that both Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers have been told to prepare as starting pitchers. They will essentially show up in Tampa as sixth-starter options — guys who could fill a rotation spot if someone else gets hurt — but Eppler didn’t rule out the idea of either Warren or Rogers pitching well enough to win a rotation job even if everyone else is healthy.
“I don’t know,” Eppler said. “I think you just walk into it with an open mind and just see. I think you just let it all play out. You usually don’t have to end up making the call. Situations and the players will make the call for you.”
Rogers pitched well as a starter in winter ball this offseason, and Warren was a legitimate rotation prospect throughout his minor league career (he made his big league debut as a starter back in 2012). For now, the Yankees seem to be looking at a five-man rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Capuano, while they wait for Ivan Nova to come back from Tommy John.
The Yankees expect reliever Andrew Bailey to be an active pitcher in camp. After missing basically all of last season while recovering from a shoulder injury, Bailey should be back on the mound this spring, presumably with a real chance to win a spot in the Yankees bullpen.
“He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” Eppler said.
Slade Heathcott is also expected to report to camp fully healthy. He had surgery yet again last season and played in just nine Double-A games, but the Yankees signed him to a new minor league contract this offseason.
“His progressions are moving forward really positively,” Eppler said. “The last checkup we had, he’s able to do full baseball activities, it’s just (a question of) how regular and how long of a duration.”
New reliever Johnny Barbato — acquired in the Shawn Kelley trade — is also healthy. Barbato didn’t get an invitation to big league camp, but Eppler said that’s not because of the elbow injury that kept him off the mound the second half of last season. Eppler said Barbato actually finished 2014 healthy and pitched in the Padres’ instructional league this offseason before the Yankees acquired him. They’re considering him a healthy and available pitcher, one that will continue to work as a reliever.
“He was cleared and good to go,” Eppler said.
MINOR LEAGUE ASSIGNMENTS
While he wouldn’t give an exact date, Eppler said that veteran pitcher Scott Baker does have an opt-out in his contract (pretty common for a veteran guy on a minor league deal). He’ll come to camp to provide rotation depth, but that could be a short-term thing. If he goes to Triple-A at all — and that might be a big, if — Baker might not be there very long before looking for an opportunity elsewhere.
As for Heathcott and Mason Williams — two prospects whose assignment, Double-A or Triple-A, seems pretty far up in the air — Eppler said their assignments will, in fact, be determined in spring training. This spring could be pretty important for each of those two.
“Any young player wants to make an impression,” Eppler said. “… But you want them to do so in a very cautious manner. (Joe Girardi) tells them, no one is making the team in the first week of spring training.”
Along those same lines, Eppler said the Yankees entered the offseason with strong interest in minor league infielders Noonan, Jonathan Galvez and Cole Figueroa — Galvez, in particular, was signed very quickly — and the team sees all three as potential Yangervis Solarte-types who could really capitalize on a fresh opportunity. Galvez is 24, Noonan is 25, and Figueroa is 27.
And for whatever it’s worth, Eppler said not to dismiss Cito Culver, the former first-round pick who’s hit just .233/.316/.321 in the minor leagues but still got an invitation to big league camp.
“When people look at Cito or whoever, when you look at a player, you’re throwing his offensive numbers in your face,” Eppler said. “We do feel that Cito Culver is a very high, high-end defender. Very high-end defender.”
Because of that defensive ability at such an important defensive position, Eppler said the Yankees still believe Culver could become a consideration should the Yankees have a need at shortstop in the big leagues. In the past, I’ve compared Culver to Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, also a first-round defensive standout who didn’t hit much in the minors but has seen quite a bit of big league time on pretty good teams.
Some of the more notable names left off the Yankees’ list of spring invites were, as expected, simply the victims of a numbers crunch. Taylor Dugas and Adonis Garcia each played well in Triple-A last season, but the Yankees have 10 other outfielders coming to camp, and Eppler pointed out that infielders Garrett Jones and Jose Pirela will also get some outfield time. As it is, that’s 12 outfielders for three spots.
A similar glut of third basemen kept Eric Jagielo and Dante Bichette Jr. from getting invitations, and Eppler confirmed that reliever Mark Montgomery is healthy, he was simply kept out of big league camp by the recent influx of bullpen talent.
“There’s a limited number of at-bats and innings to hand out in spring training,” Eppler said. “You don’t want to water it down.”
Associated Press photo
On the 40-man: Mason Williams • 02.05.15
Up next in our look at every player on the Yankees 40-man roster is a young center fielder once considered the top prospect in the system. Despite back-to-back disappointing seasons, the Yankees still chose to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He’ll be in spring training, trying to stay ahead of some non-roster invitees in terms of call-up potential.
Age on Opening Day: 23
Acquired: Fourth-round draft pick in 2010
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 this winter
In the past: Considered a Top 100 overall prospect by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com, Williams was at the top of Baseball America’s Yankees’ list following the 2012 season. He was labeled a “more athletic version” of Austin Jackson. The past two seasons, though, Williams struggled mightily at the plate, including a .223/.290/.304 slash line in Double-A last season. Speed, defense and potential were enough to get him added to the 40-man, but his stock has fallen considerably.
Role in 2015: With Jake Cave on the rise, Slade Heathcott back in the organization and Ramon Flores creeping out of the shadows, Williams needs a good year to stay on the radar. A return to Double-A seems most likely, but Williams no longer has a lock on any center field job. He might have to move around between left field and center, trying to hit enough to at least get to Triple-A this season. His level and his playing time all depend on his performance.
Best case scenario: At the peak of his value, Williams hit .298/.346/.474 between Low-A and High-A. That was only two years ago, in 2012, when his speed and defense came with a sense that he might have some pop in his bat. The best-case scenario is absolutely a return to that level of production, and if he gets there, Williams will surely get to Triple-A this year and become a strong candidate for a call-up. The best-case scenario has Williams in New York — in one role or another — in the month of September.
Worst case scenario: More of the same. We already know Williams can run, and we know he can play the field, but the worst case scenario is a repeat of last season. If that happens, Williams could very easily be on his way out of the organization. There’s too much left-handed, center field talent to keep a guy who simply can’t hit well enough to get out of Trenton.
What the future holds: In some organizations, Williams’ speed and defense alone might be enough to keep him around for a while, at least to serve as center field depth in Triple-A. In this organization, though — with Cave and Heathcott in the minors; Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in the majors — Williams could play his way out with another bad season. The fact the Yankees put him on the 40-man is a pretty clear indication that they still see potential, and that means he’ll get a chance, but he’s going to have to take advantage of the opportunity if he’s going to stick around.
Associated Press photo
With Slade Heathcott re-signed to a minor league deal, the Yankees now have a ton of outfield depth, but still not the kind of depth that necessitates a trade or a particularly difficult decision. It’s not like the Francisco Cervelli situation in which the Yankees have a player with a defined value, along with the need to move someone in order to open up the proper at-bats for everyone else. Here’s a rough look at the Yankees top upper-level outfielders. Each comes with some good, some bad, and some reason — either because of the team’s needs or because of his own value — that limits his trade possibilities.
The good: Already a borderline Hall of Famer expected to be healthy again after last year’s elbow injury.
The bad: About to turn 38 years old — are we sure last year’s .703 OPS was strictly the product of injury?
Trade him? Not a lot of trade value in an aging player, coming of a bad year, with $30 million left on his deal.
The good: Signed a hefty deal last winter and more or less delivered an as-expected season in his Yankees debut.
The bad: Even coming off a solid season, seven years and $153 million is a massive contract.
Trade him? Might be the best position player on the roster right now.
The good: Power numbers spiked, and for a while he looked like a better player than Ellsbury last year.
The bad: Still a rather streaky player with limited power for a corner outfielder.
Trade him? Might be the most valuable trade chip on the big league roster, but also signed to a reasonable extension.
The good: History of left-handed power with an ability to backup first base, right field and designated hitter.
The bad: Turns 34 in June and his power numbers have been down the past two seasons.
Trade him? Would be more of a salary dump than an actual effort to get anything valuable in return (also provides first base insurance).
The good: Returns to bring right-handed balance after reestablishing himself with a terrific September.
The bad: Other than one good month, last season was bad enough to get him released … by the Mets.
Trade him? Plays a role the Yankees need as a veteran right-handed bat with power and speed off the bench.
The good: Last year’s terrific second half brought back memories of how good a hitter he was earlier in his career.
The bad: A wrist injury contributed to much less exciting numbers before that second-half resurgence.
Trade him? Of all the outfielders ticketed for Triple-A, Austin probably has the most offensive impact potential.
The good: Left-handed hitters with speed and some defensive flexibility; looks like a nice fourth outfielder down the road.
The bad: Coming off an ankle injury and isn’t a great fit while Gardner and Ellsbury are on the roster.
Trade him? Low power potential probably limits his value to more of a second or third piece in a significant trade.
The good: Right-handed hitter who’s shown some speed, defense and on-base ability in the minor leagues.
The bad: Plucked off waivers, suggesting he was not exactly a high commodity (also put up bad winter ball numbers this year).
Trade him? Value is pretty low just a few months after being placed on the waiver wire; DFA might be more likely than a trade.
The good: Offensive utility man put himself back on the prospect map — and in the big league picture — with a terrific Triple-A season.
The bad: Can’t really play shortstop and hasn’t really established whether he hits enough to keep a job in the big leagues.
Trade him? First and foremost, he seems to have a legitimate shot at the big league second base job heading into spring training.
The good: Speed and defense were deemed major-league ready, enough to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter.
The bad: Hasn’t hit the past two years, doing a number on his once elite prospect status.
Trade him? Would be selling awfully low — Williams no longer has the value to remotely headline a significant deal.
The good: Might have surpassed Williams and Heathcott as the system’s top center field prospect.
The bad: Doesn’t have overwhelming speed or power, and doesn’t have more than 42 games above A ball.
Trade him? Could be a nice complementary trade piece; could also be the most viable center fielder in the minor league system.
The good: The guys gets on base way too much to ignore; played his way out of the shadows and up to Triple-A last year.
The bad: Never a standout prospect, doesn’t run much, very little power, has spent more time in left field than center.
Trade him? Has never moved the needle among prospect watchers, suggesting his stock is too low to be considered a real chip.
The good: Has been a solid hitter throughout the minor leagues, even when easily overshadowed by other prospects.
The bad: Always kind of a sleeper prospect, but not one who’s forced people to really wake up and take notice.
Trade him? Hasn’t done nearly enough; could more easily simply become a Double-A bench player behind all of this depth.
The good: Has been a pretty nice hitter both in Triple-A and in winter ball (able to play center field and third base in a pinch).
The bad: Turns 30 years old in April so the upside is probably limited.
Trade him? Sure, if some team values a 30-year-old with no major league experience; could be another Ronnier Mustelier.
The good: No one seems to question the former first-round pick’s raw talent and ultimate potential.
The bad: Just can’t stay healthy, which has cost valuable development time; hard to gauge his ceiling at this point.
Trade him? Was a free agent until yesterday; if another team valued him highly, he probably wouldn’t have come back.
The good: After a standout first full season, he emerged as the top offensive prospect in the entire minor league system.
The bad: Ultimately we’re talking about fewer than 500 minor league at-bats; he’s promising but unproven.
Trade him? Plenty of value here, but Judge could be the best middle-of-the-order bat the Yankees have developed since Robinson Cano.
Associated Press photos
Nearly a quarter of the Yankees 40-man roster is filled with outfielders, and most of those are left-handed hitters who can play center field. So why exactly did the team just add Mason Williams, a 23-year-old lefty who hit just .223/.290/.304 in Double-A last season?
Two reasons: Short-term ability and long-term upside.
It’s pretty easy to understand the 40-man additions of Tyler Austin, Branden Pinder and Danny Burawa — that’s a big bat and two big arms — but Williams comes with far more uncertainty. Just two years ago he was considered the organization’s top prospect, but he’s since struggled with upper-level pitching and lost much of his luster.
According to a team source, the Yankees factored in Williams’ chances of being taken in the Rule 5, along with his potential to outplay the recent numbers. The source said the Yankees consider Williams to be defensively ready to play center field in the big leagues, which made him easy to “hide in an extra (outfielder) role).” In other words, he was a legitimate Rule 5 candidate. The source said there’s also “clearly upside and athleticism present to allow continued growth.” In other words, the Yankees haven’t given up on Williams’ potential.
The situation was compared to Everth Cabrera in 2008.
That year, Padres took Cabrera from Colorado in the Rule 5 draft. Cabrera had spent the previous season all the way down in Low A, but he could run and he could play up the middle, and a player with upside in the middle of the diamond carries a lot of weight. Cabrera went from the Rule 5 draft, to winning a spot on the bench, to becoming the Padres regular shortstop.
There’s certainly no guarantee that Williams is about to follow the same path — I honestly thought the Yankees overwhelming outfield depth might keep him off the roster — but the Yankees decided not to take the chance of losing him.
Associated Press photo
The Yankees first significant signing came this weekend when they agreed to a new one-year deal with Chris Young, bringing some right-handed balance to the outfield and some power/speed potential to the bench. With that signing, the Yankees seem set in the outfield with no need to add either a big league bat or additional minor league depth.
As it is, the Yankees have seven full-time outfielders on their 40-man roster — that’s to say nothing of the three 40-man infielders who have a solid amount of outfield experience — and they’re likely to add one or two more outfielders when it comes time to protect Tyler Austin and possibly Mason Williams from the Rule 5 draft.
Just taking a look at the projected big league roster, and the potential options at the highest levels of the minor league system, it seems the Yankees should have all that they need in the outfield. The depth could also leaves the Yankees with trade options should they decide to make a move.
Granted, it’s not remotely a lock that Pirela is going to make the team, and there’s a solid chance Wheeler will be designated for assignment at some point, but this is still a clear picture of three obvious starters, an experienced fourth outfielder, and at least one infielder who can play the outfield regularly if necessary. This roster also has three guys who can play center field when necessary, so the Yankees are covered as the most difficult-to-fill outfield position. Maybe another outfielder comes to camp on a non-roster invitation just in case — stranger things have happened — but there’s no overwhelming need here. Especially if the Yankees carrying a versatile utility guy like Pirela, they have plenty of big league outfield options as it is.
Picking the three “starting” outfielders for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre next season isn’t an easy task. I assume Austin will move up after his finishing strong in Double-A, and the bulk of his playing time will surely come in the outfield corners (perhaps with a little bit of corner infield now and then). Flores and Perez clearly need regular at-bats as well — they could be first in line for an outfield call-up — and both Dugas and Garcia have played well enough to also deserve playing time. Chances are Refsnyder will be strictly a second baseman, but he’s listed here just to show the Yankees have yet another guy who could play some Triple-A outfield if necessary. There’s also the chance that Pirela and/or Wheeler could end up back in Triple-A providing even more depth. There’s not much big league experience here, but there are only so many Triple-A at-bats to go around, and the Yankees surely want to prioritize legitimate prospects ahead of minor league veterans. Bringing back a guy like Antoan Richardson or signing someone similar would only take away at-bats from young guys who need the playing time.
Kind of like the Triple-A outfield, the Double-A outfield has more than three guys who seem worth of everyday at-bats. The tough part here is predicting what the Yankees are going to do with Heathcott and Williams. Is Heathcott going to be healthy enough to stay on the field (and if so, is he going back to Double-A or finally jumping to Triple-A)? Is Williams going to be lost in the Rule 5 draft (and if not, would he get priority playing time ahead of the other guys listed here)? Like with Austin, I’m assuming Judge will be challenged with a jump up a level, which means right field is taken, and Cave has played too well to be anything less than an everyday outfielder next season. In terms of immediate outfield depth, the important thing to notice here is that Heathcott and Williams are still looming as upper-level outfielders who could be on the 40-man roster and still warrant playing time as well. That leaves the Yankees with a lot of outfielders who need at-bats.
Associated Press photo
State of the organization: Center field • 10.14.14
Up next in our position-by-position look at the Yankees organization is a position that has a long-term solution already in place at the major-league level. It’s also a position with quite a bit of depth — and a good amount of both disappointment and production — within the minor league system. The Yankees have a lot of young center fielders who might or might not work out, but right now there’s not really a place to put them even if they do emerge as immediate big league options.
Signed through 2020
The Yankees lineup didn’t have much in 2013, but one thing it did have was a speedy, left-handed, leadoff-hitting center fielder. And so, of course, when the Yankees got into the offseason and needed to find a high-end position player, they gave seven years and more than $150 million to a speedy, left-handed, leadoff-hitting center fielder. For the most part, Ellsbury lived up to expectation in his first season with the Yankees. He had a 113 OPS+ in 2013, then a 111 in 2014. He had 246 total bases in 2013, 241 in 2014. Home runs were up, stolen bases were slightly down, but ultimately this was a reasonable and productive year for Ellsbury. Whether the contract will still be reasonable and productive at the end of the decade remains to be seen, but for the time being, the Yankees seem to have gotten the player they expected. And having Ellsbury in center field has allowed the Yankees to move Brett Gardner back into left field, giving them a ton of outfield range and a double-dose of speed near the top of the order.
On the verge
I’m using Richardson’s name here mostly to make a point about the uncertainty of all the organization’s upper-level center fielders. The Yankees have a lot of center fielders who could push themselves onto the big league roster early next season — Can Slade Heathcott get healthy? Mason Williams has the defense, what about the bat? Will Jake Cave keep moving up? Is Taylor Dugas for real? Are Adonis Garcia and Ramon Flores good enough in center? — but this September, when the Yankees wanted a speedy center field type to bring up in September, they called on the veteran Richardson. Even with a lot of center field talent in Double-A and Triple-A, Richardson was the choice. Ideally, one of the true center field prospects will push for that sort of call-up next year. Williams is Rule 5 eligible this offseason. Heathcott and Flores are already on the 40-man. Cave and Dugas had great 2014 seasons. Both Garcia and Flores are intriguing hitters who primarily play in the corners but have center field experience. With both Ellsbury and Gardner on the big league roster, the Yankees have ready-made depth in center field, so the development of a center fielder isn’t overwhelmingly important. But the Yankees have a lot of upper-level talent at the position, and they’ll surely need some of that talent to play some sort of role going forward.
Two things are at play here. The first is all about Cave himself. The 21-year-old missed all of 2012 with a knee injury, but he made a strong showing with Low-A Charleston in 2013, and he did so well with High-A Tampa this season that he forced a mid-July promotion to Double-A Trenton. When he got there, Cave’s power numbers actually spiked. He finished the year with a .294/.351/.414 slash line between the two levels. He can run, but he hasn’t stolen a ton of bases. He has some power, but it mostly plays out in a lot of doubles. He’s noted for a strong arm in the outfield. Good as Cave has been these past two years, though, some of his move to the top of the organizational pecking order at center field is because of the decline of both Williams and Heathcott. Williams hit just .223/.290/.304, which was another a step backwards after a disappointing 2013. His speed, defense and upside might be enough for a 40-man spot this winter, but Williams’ prospect stock is falling fast. Heathcott, on the other hand, remains one of the highest-potential players in the organization, but he had yet another surgery this season. He simply missed too much time and remains too injury prone to still consider him the top center field prospect in the system.
Deeper in the system
The Yankees top five draft picks this year were all pitchers. The first position player they selected was Payton, a University of Texas center fielder who made a strong first impression by hitting .320/.418/.497 between Low-A and High-A. Just like almost all of the other center fielders in the system, Payton is a left-handed hitter, and most scouting reports suggest a fourth-outfielder upside. He seems to be one of those guys who does a lot of things pretty well but no one thing extremely well (could say that about a lot of the Yankees other center field prospects as well). Have to assume Payton will head back to Tampa next season, looking to basically follow Cave’s footsteps with a mid-season bump to Double-A. Also coming up from the lower levels, Dustin Fowler hit for some power in Charleston this year, but Leonardo Molina is the name to watch. He’s just 17 years old and put up bad numbers in rookie ball, but the Yankees see considerable potential. Needs time to develop.
Getting things right
It’s not unusual or surprising to see a lot of left-handed center fielders in the organization. Most high school teams tend to stick their best players at shortstop, but if that best player is left-handed, center field seems to be the best alternative. And it seems the Yankees organization is seeing the trickle-down impact. Ellsbury, Gardner, Cave, Dugas, Flores, Heathcott, Williams and Payton are all left-handed hitters. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a redundant thing. With Ellsbury and Gardner locked into multi-year contracts, the Yankees most immediate opening for a young center fielder is in fourth outfielder role, and it would be convenient to have that fourth outfielder bat right-handed (if only to balance the two guys already in place). At some point the Yankees might have to trade away some of this center field depth to find a player who’s not so repetitive within their own system. Problem is, Heathcott and Williams have lost considerable trade value, and guys like Flores and Dugas (and probably even Cave) aren’t likely to headline a particularly significant deal.
Associated Press photo
Last night on MLB Network, Jonathan Mayo and the crew at MLB.com counted down their Top 100 prospects in baseball. Three Yankees made the list: Gary Sanchez (36), Mason Williams (41) and Tyler Austin (75). The only player who I thought might make it but didn’t is Slade Heathcott, who will almost certainly shoot onto the list — probably pretty high on the list — if he has a full, healthy and productive season in Double-A.
What does a Top 100 list mean exactly? Not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a decent snapshot of the way players are viewed. There’s more or less no difference between No. 36 and No. 41. It’s mostly just interesting to see which players rank at the very top and which ones make the list at all.
State of the organization: Center field • 01.16.13
Three years ago, the Yankees traded their center fielder of the future (who was basically ready for the big leagues) to acquire a center fielder of the present (who had a team-friendly contract through four more seasons). For the Yankees, the trade looked a lot better at this time last year, before Granderson took a step back and Jackson took a step forward. Now that Curtis Granderson is entering the final year of his contract, attention has shifted to the next wave of center fielders. It’s generally assumed that Granderson won’t be back next year — might not even be in center field this year — there are two players who can legitimately claim to be the Yankees center fielder of the future.
Second year of arbitration
I can’t tell you who exactly is going to play center field next season, but because the Yankees have acknowledged considering the idea of Gardner in center, I’m heading into spring training expecting that to happen. It’s not based on concrete facts — I honestly believe the Yankees are open to either option – but we’ve seen Granderson run a little less in recent years, my gut says that Gardner would be a better defensively, and it might make sense to go ahead and use Gardner in center now and go shopping for a left fielder next winter. Either way, the Yankees have options (even Ichiro Suzuki has proven he can still handle center if necessary). Gardner is an elite defensive player with speed. Granderson is, at the very least, one of the top power hitters in the game. The position is not a short-term concern for the Yankees.
On the verge
Speed, power and defense make Melky Mesa a tantalizing young player. Strikeouts make him a player who might never get more than the two Major League at-bats he had last season. In the minors last year, Mesa struck out 118 times, and that was actually his lowest single-season total since he reached full-season leagues. His Triple-A slash line of .230/.271/.524 pretty much tells the story of a guy who can hit the ball out (if he actually makes contact). Mesa can also run, but he is perhaps best known for failing to touch a base during his late-season call-up last year. He might be an all-or-nothing wild card, but Mesa does give the Yankees immediate depth in center. Zoilo Almonte has also played some center field in his career, and speedy Abe Almonte could be another option if he can build on a solid 2012 season in Trenton (and if he can get playing time on a crowded Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster). Another name to watch here is Adonis Garcia. The Cuban outfielder played well in winter ball and could become an option if he hits.
Deeper in the system
I considered listing Slade Heathcott as an “on the verge” option, but I’m just not sure I buy Damon Oppenheimer’s optimism that Heathcott could be in the big leagues this year. Heathcott still hasn’t played above High-A Tampa, and although he was terrific in the Arizona Fall League, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees suddenly pushing Heathcott too hard (not when they’ve previously worked so hard just to keep him healthy). But even if he doesn’t arrive this year, Heathcott is on his way. So is Mason Williams. They are two of the Yankees truly elite prospects, and it seems likely that Heathcott will open this season in Double-A with Williams right behind him in High-A. Both have significant upside, but they still need some development time and some patience. Ravel Santana was a part of this conversation a year ago, but he struggled so badly in Staten Island last season — .216/.304/.289 — that his stock has taken a considerable hit.
On the move
Overshadowed on a stacked Charleston roster, 2010 10th-round pick Ben Gamel had a so-so first half last season, but after Williams was promoted, Gamel shifted from left field to center field and hit .320/.347/.419 in the second half. He doesn’t stand out in this system — and he might not see a ton of center field time considering the other options — but there’s something to like about him. It’s also worth noting that Ronnier Mustelier has played quite a bit of center field, including some time as a center field regular this winter. The Yankees have never shown signs of making that a go-to position for him, but he does have experience there. Like with shortstop, it’s rare to see a player shift from any other position into center field. It happens occasionally — Abe Almonte moved from second to center when he was extremely young — but for the most part, guys play their way out of center field, not into center field.
What to watch
There’s an fairly immediate decision to make. Are we going to see Gardner getting regular center field reps this spring? Are we going to see Granderson getting most of his time in left? The decision isn’t going to revolutionize the big league roster, but it’s going to be interesting to watch. For those who closely follow the minor leagues, it seems that every full-season team will have a center fielder worth watching. Can Mesa cut down on the strikeouts? Can Heathcott stay healthy? Can Williams carry his success to High-A? Can Santana get back on the prospect map (and will the Yankees make him repeat short-season ball)?
Associated Press photo; headshots of Gardner, Mesa, Heathcott, Williams and Gamel
Monday notes from the minor league complex • 03.26.12
I doubt the Yankees would ever frame it this way, but essentially they have to decide whether Phil Hughes will be more like the 2010 version of himself or the 2011 version. So far, he’s very clearly looked more like 2010, and he’s been able to maintain that level of performance throughout the spring.
“The beginning of that year, you come in and that real-season adrenalin starts to kick in,” Hughes said. “Everything is a little bit better, a little bit crisper. I don’t think I’m pitching that well at this point, but that’s not to say that it can’t be there when April rolls around and we get things going. I feel like I’m close.”
Hughes’ fastball velocity has been fairly consistent this spring, and I talked to one scout today who said he wouldn’t be surprised to see it topping out a little higher a month or two into the season. He’s started throwing a harder, tigher curveball, and his changeup seems to be even better than it was in 2010. He’s walked two hitters all spring.
“I think he’s very close (to 2010) right now,” Francisco Cervelli said. “He’s got to keep working, because the season is long. He has to keep getting stronger.”
He looks strong right now, and if he keeps pitching at his 2010 level, I’ll be surprised if Hughes isn’t in the rotation come Opening Day.
• Hughes was pitching for the High-A team. The Low-A group was also in Tampa today. Triple-A and Double-A were on the road in Clearwater. The Low-A Charleston lineup is really, really impressive. Check it out at the bottom of this post.
• Andy Pettitte will throw his second batting practice tomorrow, but Larry Rothschild said he’s not sure what comes after that. He’s also not sure whether Pettitte will get in a game this spring, but he doesn’t seem to be ruling out the possibility.
• Joe Girardi was home visiting his ill father this morning but Rothschild, Rob Thomson, Billy Eppler and Brian Cashman were among the Yankees decision makers watching Hughes pitch.
• Center field prospect Mason Williams and catching prospect Gary Sanchez have been moved from the Tampa group to the Charleston group (which was expected). J.R. Murphy has been moved from Trenton to Tampa. Those assignments are more in keeping with where they’ll almost certainly open the regular season.
• Speaking of Sanchez, he and Tyler Austin hit back-to-back homers in the Low-A game today.
• I didn’t see it, but apparently Ravel Santana made his spring debut today. He’s back from a ankle injury.
• George King reported yesterday that the Phillies might be interested in Ramiro Pena to help them fill their sudden hole in the infield. Today I heard it’s true that the Phillies might have some interest, but only at a cheap price. They’re not willing to give up much. Today the Phillies signed Chin-lung Hu to give them some utility depth.
• Very good to see P.J. Pilittere this afternoon. The former Yankees minor league catcher is now a coach in the Yankees system. Very good guy. Could be a natural manager some day.
• Here are today’s lineups for Tampa and Charleston. This might be the actual Opening Day lineup for Charleston, and it’s loaded with legitimate prospects. Pretty impressive, actually.
Eduardo Sosa CF
Kelvin Castro 2B
Ramon Flores LF
Rob Segedin RF
Kyle Roller 1B
J.R. Murphy DH (went to catcher in the seventh)
Zach Wilson 3B (made a nice play in the field today)
Carmen Angelini SS
Francisco Cervelli C
Mason Williams CF
Ben Gamel LF
Dante Bichette 3B
Gary Sanchez C
Tyler Austin RF
Cito Culver SS
Angelo Gumbs 2B
Reymond Nunez 1B
Anderson Feliz DH
• Finally, I’ll be hosting a chat here on the blog at noon on Wednesday. Stop by if you can. I’m sure we’ll jump into the rotation decision and some of the guys who have made noise this spring.
Associated Press photos
Williams: “I just want to come back here” • 03.19.12
When Mason Williams went to first base to pinch run for Mark Teixeira last night, Joe Girardi gave the 20-year-old center fielder the green light. Williams was in a big league spring training game for the first time, and he wasted little time. He took off for second base and was thrown out by Matt Wieters.
“(Girardi) said sometimes first-timers are scared out there or whatever,” Williams said. “But I felt comfortable. I thought I had a good enough jump, but I guess not.”
Williams was candid after the game, and he seemed relatively comfortable surrounded by a crowd of roughly a dozen reporters for the first time. It’s part of what the Yankees like about him, a humble confidence that makes Williams more than a talented young athlete.
“I definitely talked to a lot of players on the team, picked their head,” Williams said. “When I was on the bench, just watching the game, see how they play and see what goes on in the dugout, hopefully learn from it. … It makes me more hungry, and the adrenalin doesn’t stop here. It keeps going if I play tomorrow in a spring training game with the other guys across the street. I just want to come back here. I want to play as hard as I can and hopefully make an impact.”
After being thrown out, Williams stayed aggressive. In his first at-bat of big league camp, he swung at the first pitch and singled to left field. He had family in the stands, and they made plenty of noise. Williams got to first base and tried to play it cool, only later admitting that he was smiling on the inside.
“I was here watching people, picking brains,” he said. “It all starts there.”
Associated Press photo