Get that Enter Sandman track ready to play.
Mariano Rivera is expected to arrive in Yankees camp tomorrow. He talked to Joe Girardi last night and said he would fly to Tampa tonight, arriving in time to report to camp in the morning. He’s been away to stay with one of his kids, who’s sick with something flu-like.
“Whenever Mo gets here is fine,” Brian Cashman said.
Truth is, Rivera wouldn’t be pitching right now even if he were in camp. He follows his own schedule and doesn’t start throwing until much later. This early in camp, all he does is long toss and fielding drills. In theory, how long could he wait to actually show up?
“As long as we don’t let it out – I don’t want him getting any ideas next year – he could have went for a while,” Joe Girardi said.
• Sounds like the infield is a priority for the Yankees bench. Girardi said the team might very well carry Andrew Jones as the only reserve outfielder, leaving room for both a utility man and a second backup infielder (maybe Eric Chavez or Ronnie Belliard). “The dynamics of how many outfielders we carry probably depends on the infielders,” Girardi said.
• Speaking of Jones, he stopped by the clubhouse this afternoon and said he chose the Yankees largely because he thought it was a good opportunity to get fairly regular playing time. “I look at him more as a corner guy that’s going to play against lefties, a lot sometimes,” Girardi said. Girardi said he doesn’t need Jones in center field — “Not with the two guys that we have,” he said — so he’ll simply move Brett Gardner to center field on the days Curtis Granderson gets a day off.
• Girardi said the Yankees could find creative ways to get Jesus Montero or Austin Romine at-bats if they were to break camp as the backup catcher. “You can develop a lot playing twice a week too at this level,” Girardi said.
• Girardi said it’s “fair to say” it’s a three-man race for the backup catching job: Montero, Romine and Francisco Cervelli.
• Cashman on releasing Neal Cotts: “You go through the medicals for a reason. He had his physical, and from that, we decided to release him.”
• Hector Noesi is still dealing with visa issues. It’s unclear when he’ll actually arrive in Tampa.
• The New York Post reported this morning that catching prospect Gary Sanchez was sent for medical tests on his heart, but the test revealed nothing serious. “There’s no worries now with Gary Sanchez,” Cashman said. “Simple as that. Nothing more to talk about.”
• Nick Swisher was among the position players hitting at the Yankees minor league complex today.
• One non-weight note about Joba Chamberlain: He’s made a small adjustment with his hands during his delivery. “When I talked to (Larry Rothschild) about the idea, he said yeah, that was one of the things that I noticed,” Chamberlain said. “Just my hands traveling away from the center of my body, and that’s when your hand doesn’t catch up. And that’s where they were when I first got called up. I thought I’d go back and try that to get away from my hands being back up here because I bounce a lot and don’t get over the rubber.”
Associated Press photos: Cashman, Billy Eppler and Girardi watching the bullpen sessions; Pedro Feliciano throwing a bullpen
Derek Jeter and A.J. Burnett need to bounce back. Phil Hughes and Brett Gardner need to keep moving forward. CC Sabathia needs to stay healthy, Mariano Rivera needs to keep defying father time and the Yankees need to find a couple of starting pitchers from a pile of unknowns.
The spring performance of Daniel Brewer is nowhere near the list of Yankees concerns this spring. I get that.
But I can’t help myself.
I’ve always liked seeing players who were fighting to get themselves on the radar. Even if they’re fighting for nothing more than the last spot on the bench or a role in the September bullpen, the non-roster invites are an interesting lot. You might forget about them completely by this time next year, but right now, you just never know.
Eric Chavez and Mark Prior
Just trying to stay healthy
Of all the veterans invited to big league camp, it’s rotation candidates Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia who have the most important challenge ahead of them. But the most intriguing challenge might belong to Chavez and Prior, once very good big leaguers whose careers were torn apart by injuries. It’s impossible to ignore these two, even if they are fighting for bit roles on the bench and in the bullpen.
A rising star
Manny Banuelos is generally considered a Top 50 minor league talent. David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell finished last season in Triple-A. It’s natural that those non-roster invites would generate some attention. What’s surprised me this offseason is how often Warren’s name has been mentioned. Not that I doubt his talent — the numbers paint a pretty compelling picture — but Warren has only 10 games of Double-A experience. Is that really enough to put himself in the mix for a big league spot?
A hitter who can catch, or a catcher who can hit?
It’s kind of ridiculous to include Montero on this list because everyone is going to be paying attention to him. He had a very real chance to be the Yankees Opening Day catcher until Russell Martin signed this winter. Instead, he’s coming to camp as something of a long shot — Francisco Cervelli probably has a leg up on the backup role — but Montero will have a chance to force the Yankees hand and convince them that another year in Triple-A would be a waste of time. It’s impossible to ignore huge talent that’s knocking on the door, and Montero might knock that door of its hinges.
Outfielder turned reliever
What’s not to like about this story? Once considered among the top center field prospects in baseball, Anderson got some time in the big leagues, couldn’t hit, and moved to the mound for the first time since high school. Now he’s trying to establish himself all over again. I have no idea whether it will work, but it will be interesting to see him try. Plus, the guy is one of Shelley Duncan’s good friends. What’s not to like?
A prospect on the verge
Brewer reminds me a little bit of what Colin Curtis was last spring: Not on the 40-man, and not a big-name prospect, but a guy who does enough things well that he couldn’t play himself into a big league role at some point this season. Working against Brewer is the fact the 40-man is loaded with similar outfield options — Curtis, Justin Maxwell and Greg Golson — but if Brewer builds on last season and one of those three takes a step back, the Yankees could have another outfielder to consider if/when a mid-season hole presents itself.
Jorge Vazquez — The power is real. Is everything else ready for the big leagues?
Manny Banuelos — Youngest guy in camp, and arguably the best young arm in the system.
Neal Cotts and Andy Sisco — They’ve been to the big leagues before, and lefties always have a chance to open some eyes and get another shot.
Austin Romine — How would you feel if you were one of the 10 best catching prospects in baseball and were still completely overshadowed in your own organization?
Doug Bernier — He hit .181 in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre two years ago and the Yankees still brought him back. Tells you how good he is with the glove.
Just arrived in Tampa, having discovering this morning that it’s now possible to buy bottles of Honest Tea in the Delta terminal of LaGuardia. That’s going to make my summer just a little bit better.
The bulk of the beat writers began arriving yesterday, and a few more will get to town this weekend. Meanwhile, more and more of the people you really care about — the actual Yankees themselves — have been arriving at the team’s minor league complex.
A few Twitter highlights from today…
• Eric Chavez was among the new arrivals. He said he’s been healthy all winter, and he has a “new heartbeat” with the Yankees. By the way, I blatantly stole this Chavez picture from Bryan Hoch. Let’s all say thank you by following him on Twitter.
• Worth mentioning that Chavez did some work at third base. Given his history as a Gold Glover, I doubt the Yankees are especially worried about his defense, but I guess you never know when a guy has missed as much time as Chavez missed the past three years. I’m sure he’s just taking grounders as a matter of course.
• Also new to the scene, and apparently healthy: Minor league signee Mark Prior.
• Prospects Dellin Betances and Adam Warren were among the pitchers throwing bullpen sessions this morning.
• Lefty Neal Cotts, signed to a minor league deal this winter, also threw a bullpen.
• Other position players at the complex today: Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, Francisco Cervelli, Colin Curtis and Jesus Montero. I’m sure there were others, but those were mentioned by name on Twitter.
• Other pitchers at the complex: Andrew Brackman, Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes. Again, I’m sure there were plenty of others, but those were mentioned specifically by the reporters who beat me to Florida.
Unable to address their rotation needs, the Yankees have instead built what should be one of the better bullpens in baseball. Of their three major league additions this offseason, two have been relievers. They’ve also locked up two more years with the game’s greatest closer.
In the big leagues
Whether you like the Rafael Soriano deal or not, it clearly gives the Yankees one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. They have two legitimate closers, the Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera, and the new guy Soriano, who could step in should Rivera actually begin to show his age. Joba Chamberlain and Dave Robertson give the Yankees two young right-handers, while Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan give them two legitimate lefties. As long as everyone stays healthy, the last spot in the bullpen will likely go to a long reliever, probably Sergio Mitre as long as he’s not needed in the rotation. The wild card here is Mark Prior, the former elite young starter trying to make his way back to the big leagues after a series of injuries.
On the verge
The Yankees have proven that a pitcher on the verge of helping the big league bullpen doesn’t necessarily have to pitch out of a minor league bullpen. There’s a solid chance at least one of the minor league starters will play some sort of bullpen role this season. Just last year, Ivan Nova made his first big league appearance out of the pen. There has always been some outside-the-organization talk of Andrew Brackman’s potential as a reliever. The same could be said for Graham Stoneburner and Shaeffer Hall, each of whom is expected to be in the Double-A rotation this year. For now, though, all of those pitchers will continue to develop as starters. The Yankees will keep them there until development or need forces a change.
Of the young pitchers actually expected to pitch as minor league relievers this season, right-hander Ryan Pope, lefty Steve Garrison and newly acquired Brian Schlitter are the only ones on the 40-man. Early call-ups will be wide open now that Mark Melancon and Jonathan Albaladejo are out of the organization, and those three would certainly be the easiest to move to New York. Assuming they open the season in Scranton, minor league signees Prior and Neal Cotts could also be in the call-up mix. It might be a long shot, but if Brian Anderson, a converted outfielder, can continue to make strides as a pitcher, he could build some level of prospect buzz as a potential major league reliever. He throws pretty hard and had some short-term success last season despite having not pitched in years.
Deep in the system
The top low-level pitching prospects usually develop as starters — regardless of long-term plans — but the Yankees actually have some notable young pitchers already working as relievers in the lowest levels. The stats that stand out come from three college kids taken in last year’s draft.
Tommy Kahnle was the Yankees fifth-round pick — the highest pitcher they took in the draft — and he allowed just three hits while striking out 25 through 16 innings in Staten Island. Chris Whitley (15th round) allowed a .157 opponents batting average and had 44 strikeouts in Staten Island before finishing the season with High-A Tampa. Preston Claiborne (17th round) also skipped straight to Tampa after a 1.18 WHIP with 30 strikeouts in Staten Island. All three could skip Charleston completely to open in Tampa this season, probably depending on how they do in spring training. The wild card here might be Conor Mullee, a 2010 draftee who moved from shortstop to the mound and put up good numbers in the Gulf Coast League.
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: Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Dave Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano, Boone Logan, Sergio Mitre
Scranton/WB: Ryan Pope, Brian Schlitter, Mark Prior, Brian Anderson, Eric Wordekemper, Neal Cotts, Andy Sisco
Trenton: Craig Heyer, Pat Venditte, Adam Olbrychowski, Josh Schmidt, Noel Castillo, Steve Garrison, Wilkins Arias
Tampa: Tommy Kahnle, Scottie Allen, Benjamin Watkins, Ryan Flannery, Francisco Gil, Ronny Marte, Ryan Acosta
Charleston: Preston Claiborne, Chris Whitley, Conor Mullee, Danny Burawa, Kramer Sneed, Manny Barreda, Juan Marcado, Brett Gerritse
If things go to plan, the Yankees seem to have no room for either of their Rule 5 draft picks, Daniel Turpen or Robert Fish. Things also don’t look good for Romulo Sanchez, the hard-throwing right-hander who’s out of options but could make a run at beating Mitre for the long-reliever spot.
In the minor leagues, George Kontos will surely fit somewhere — probably in Scranton — if he doesn’t stick as a Rule 5 pick with the Padres. There are always more relievers than there are spots heading into spring training, and guys like Buddy Carlyle, Kevin Whelan, J.B. Cox and Phil Bartleski should also be in the running for relief spots in Double-A and Triple-A.
Figuring out lower-level bullpens is tricky to say the least. A lot of my predictions are only mildly educated guesses. Some of those assignments will ultimately be determined by spring training performance. Right now, it’s hard to know which of the 2010 college draftees will skip Charleston to open in Tampa and which of the high school draftees will be ready for a full-season assignment instead of a trip to extended spring training. It’s also hard to know what the plans are for new addition Scottie Allen — who came over in the Juan Miranda trade and has worked as both a starter and a reliever — and it’s hard to know what the Yankees will do with young guys coming back from injuries (Manny Barreda, Caleb Cotham, Gavin Brooks, Brandon Braboy, etc.).
Associated Press photo of Rivera, headshots of Robertson, Pope and Claiborne
Next year’s Royce Ring • 11.24.10
In all the chaos of the Derek Jeter negotiations, one small move kind of slipped through the cracks. It’s nothing to get worked up about, but the Yankees have signed veteran Neal Cotts to a minor league deal.
As far as minor league signings go, this is a fairly big name. Cotts is a former second-round pick with nearly 300 games of big league experience. He’s 30 years old and working his way back from Tommy John and hip surgery.
Nothing flashy here, just a guy to give the team a little bit of left-handed depth alongside Wilkins Arias and Steve Garrison.