Five days before the Yankees’ first spring workout, we’ll keep counting down the key decisions to make in spring training. We’ve already looked at picking a backup catcher, setting a lineup, figuring out Triple-A depth, rounding out the bullpen and choosing a fifth starter. Today we’ll look at a decision that’s a combination of individual evaluation and full roster analysis.
What’s the best way to setup the Yankees bench?
The bench is all about role players. It’s about having backups at every position, about having some speed and defense in the late innings, and about using match-up hitters when necessary. It’s not about simply choosing which young catcher should play once a week; it’s about truly maximizing every spot on a 25-man roster.
Assuming a pretty standard roster construction — 12 pitchers, 13 position players — the Yankees have four bench spots to work with. Here are the projected reserves, their projected roles, and a few alternative ways of approaching each spot.
1. Chris Young
Role: Right-handed fourth outfielder
Similar option: Tyler Austin
Alternative approach: Right-handed utility man
Clearly the Yankees re-signed Young to be on the Opening Day roster. He brings right-handed balance to the outfield, and a bounce-back season would make him a real bargain. Ramon Flores would standout as a homegrown alternative, but he’s a lefty, which limits his value in an outfield that already has two lefties in Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner (and could have another in Garrett Jones). If being a right-handed hitter is a key aspect of this role, the alternative way of approaching it might involve thinking beyond the outfield. Both Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder have outfield experience, meaning they could bring Young’s right-handed balance, but also provide some infield utility. Young has decent speed and potential for impact at-bats against lefties, which will probably be tough to pass up.
2. Garrett Jones
Role: Left-handed outfield and first base depth
Similar option: Ramon Flores
Alternative approach: Prioritize either the bat or the glove
A secondary piece of the Nathan Eovaldi trade, Jones has left-handed power that makes him a solid match-up hitter against certain right-handed pitchers. He also brings value because of his ability to backup a first base, right field and designated hitter, three spots where the Yankees have significant age, health and production concerns. Flores also hits left-handed and has some first base experience, but he doesn’t bring nearly the same amount of power. Austin could be a right-handed version of the same thing. To use this roster spot differently would be to prioritize one or the other: either the bat or the glove. Either give the spot to a true utility guy (someone like Pirela who adds more defensive flexibility than Jones) or give the spot to a pure hitter (someone like Kyle Roller, who barely plays a passable version of first base, but just might bring more offensive upside). Either of those alternatives seems unlikely. Jones has just enough flexibility and just enough platoon power to actually fit the roster pretty well.
3. Brendan Ryan
Role: Backup shortstop/infielder
Similar option: Nick Noonan
Alternative approach: Let Stephen Drew back up at shortstop
If Drew is strictly a second baseman, then Ryan stands out as the only experienced option as a backup shortstop. Minor league free agent Noonan is probably next in line — seems likely to play shortstop in Triple-A — largely because guys like Refsnyder and Pirela aren’t really shortstops (Pirela’s done it in the past, but not well enough to stick at the position). Thing is, the Yankees don’t have to think of Drew strictly as a second baseman. Even if Drew is playing second base regularly, he also serve as the No. 2 option at short (kind of like Brett Gardner plays left field, but is still the No. 2 option in center). By treating Drew as the backup shortstop, the Yankees could open Ryan’s roster spot for someone who’s a lesser defender but a better hitter. In that case, either Refsnyder or Pirela could be a strong fit. It’s worth noting that losing Ryan would cut into the Yankees shortstop depth should either Drew or Didi Gregorius get hurt. Basically, the Yankees would be an injury away from having either Noonan or Cito Culver on the big league roster.
4. John Ryan Murphy
Role: Backup catcher
Similar option: Austin Romine
Alternate approach: Catcher as designated hitter
Every team needs a backup catcher, so there’s really no way to approach this roster spot with any sort of radical change. One way or another, the Yankees need two catchers. The only way to look at it differently would be to use the backup catcher as a regular designated hitter. If, for example, Alex Rodriguez looks lost at the plate and Murphy looks like one of the best right-handed bats in spring training, perhaps the Yankees could regularly put both Murphy and Brian McCann in the lineup. It would essentially open a spot on the bench for Rodriguez or someone else, while also opening the possibility of losing the DH if the starting catcher can’t finish a game. Seems unlikely as an everyday approach. More likely, the Yankees will simply choose a backup catcher and use him as such.
Associated Press photo
Eight days before the Yankees’ first spring workout, we’ll continue looking at some of the key issue the Yankees have to figure out in spring training. We’ve already discussed the backup catcher competition and the batting order possibilities, today we’ll look at a fairly hard to define bit of decision making.
Who’s first in line to fill the inevitable roster needs during the season?
While much of spring training is spent sorting out the Opening Day roster — assigning roles and weeding out the lesser candidates — the Yankees have to pay especially close attention this spring to the guys who won’t break camp with the team. That’s an impossible to ignore aspect of a team that has serious health concerns in the rotation and serious production concerns in the lineup. It’s also a good bit of reality for an organization that finally has a wave of young players getting close to the majors.
Basically, the Yankees have to figure out who can help right away, because chances are, they’re going to need some help at some point.
And in the case of this group of next-in-line possibilities, there are few cut-and-dry decisions. The Yankees have a lot of upper-level outfielders, but there’s not one who definitely fits the current roster better than anyone else. Is Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder the best choice for an infield opening? Is Gary Sanchez ready if the Yankees need another catcher? What about that long list of relievers; who stands out in that pack?
Spring training gives the entire organization — especially the big league coaching staff — a chance to really evaluation the options, and there’s a good chance one of these mid-season call-ups will end up playing a much bigger role than some of the guys who make the Opening Day roster. Last year, the Yankees had to make moves to fill holes. The hope is they can plug holes from within this time.
A few possibilities they’ll have to consider:
1. What if the Yankees need an outfielder?
Right now, it seems Chris Young and Garrett Jones are fourth and fifth on the outfield depth chart, but the Yankees have four other outfielders on the 40-man (counting Jose Pirela) and another three outfielders coming to camp on non-roster invitations. That’s a big group to consider, and who gets the call might depend on need and production. When the time comes for a call-up, is there room for another left-handed bat, and if so, who stands out among Ramon Flores, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams? If an offensive-minded right-handed hitter fits best, does Tyler Austin seem ready? How close is Aaron Judge? Has Pirela picked up where he left off last season?
2. What if the Yankees need an infielder?
Obviously this question could depend on specific positions, but the Yankees have enough flexibility with Jones, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan that they could move pieces around and simply call-up the best infielder available. That means, even if they don’t make the team, Pirela and Refsnyder will be competing for big league attention. And after seeing Yangervis Solarte last season, it’s hard to dismiss a guy like Nick Noonan (how good is he at short?) or Jonathan Galvez (can he hit enough to be a big league utility man?).
3. What if the Yankees need an offensive boost?
Given what we saw last year, it’s not out of the question that the Yankees might need a bat at some point. Maybe Alex Rodriguez stinks at designated hitter, or Carlos Beltran hasn’t fully recovered from elbow surgery, or Mark Teixeira’s still battling nagging injuries. If the Yankees have to go looking for offense, Kyle Roller should be worth serious consideration. Maybe Austin is still rolling after last year’s strong second half. Maybe Judge or Greg Bird deserve consideration straight from Double-A.
4. What if the Yankees need a catcher?
If the Yankees pick Austin Romine as their backup and option John Ryan Murphy to Triple-A, then this question is easy to answer. If, however, the Yankees keep Murphy and lost Romine on waivers, it could get complicated. Sanchez is on the 40-man and should be playing everyday in Triple-A, but he also carries significant questions about his defense and maturity. Is he ready for a big league job (even a part-time one) at this point, or should the Yankees keep an eye on guys like Eddy Rodriguez and Francisco Arcia as just-in-case alternatives.
5. What if the Yankees need a spot starter?
When the rotation began to fall apart last season, the Yankees first turned to a pair of relievers in David Phelps and Vidal Nuno. This year, though, Phelps and Nuno are gone. If there’s a need early in the season, perhaps Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers could play the Phelps/Nuno role, sliding out of the bullpen and into the rotation. If not, who’s the best alternative among Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, Jose De Paula, Kyle Davis and Scott Baker? Whitley got an early call-up last year. Mitchell pitched well late in the season. Shane Greene made a strong first impression in big league camp last spring, and we all know where that led.
6. What if the Yankees need a reliever?
Inevitable, isn’t it? Bullpens always evolve in the course of a season, and the Yankees are loaded with upper-level relievers who seem fully capable of filling in at any point this season. If all goes as planned, the Yankees will have just one bullpen opening out of spring training, but they’ll have no fewer than 10 guys looking to fill it (Bailey, Whitley, Mitchell, Ramirez, Pinder, Burawa, Martin, Rumbelow, Shreve, Lindgren, Webb). There won’t be room for everyone in New York, so the Yankees will have to make some judgments about who ranks 13th and 14th on a 12-man pitching staff.
7. What if the Yankees need to make a trade?
Kind of the opposite of every other question on this list: the Yankees not only have to figure out who can help them in the short term, they also have to decide which players are most expendable in the long term. If Sanchez looks less and less like a catcher, maybe he looks more and more like trade bait. If Williams, Heathcott and Jake Cave all seem to be making strides toward playing a role in New York, maybe it’s best to whittle down a group of similar players. If that bullpen depth is legitimate, maybe it’s easy to include an arm as a way to push a trade package over the top.
Associated Press photos
Kind of a pointless exercise — you could probably say that about 80 percent of offseason stories and blog posts — but it occurred to me last week that you could put together a pretty decent organizational all-star team based on the guys who played in winter ball this year. The pitching is thin, and there’s not really a standout behind the plate, but otherwise the Yankees had one pretty solid young player at almost every position.
Just because it’s a Friday, here’s an attempt at a starting lineup of guys who played in winter ball this year. Let’s consider this a kind of recap of the winter standouts.
1. Ramon Flores CF
A lot of corner outfielders in the mix, so Flores shifts from left to center. He hit .347/.435/.505 in Venezuela and could be the first outfielder in line for a big league call-up this season. If he weren’t left-handed, he might have a better shot of making the team out of camp.
2. Jose Pirela 2B
Pulled from the Venezuelan playoffs because of a relatively minor hand injury, Pirela showed once again why he’s a candidate for a utility job with the Yankees. He hit .296/.394/.515 while playing second base, third base, left field and right field.
3. Aaron Judge RF
Probably the top offensive prospect in the Yankees system, Judge capped his professional debut by hitting .278/.377/.467 in the Arizona Fall League. That’s after he hit .308/.419/.486 during the regular season. Seems headed for Double-A. Question is, how quickly can he move up?
4. Greg Bird 1B
Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League, Bird hit .313/.391/.556 and established himself as one of the top first-base prospects in the game. The converted catcher has always had an advanced approach at the plate, but this year the power seemed to really arrive.
5. Tyler Austin LF
Primarily a right fielder — with time at first base and third base — Austin started playing some left field in the Arizona Fall League, perhaps setting up the possibility of a big league bench role this season. His bat is still the key, and Austin hit .304/.392/.449 in Arizona.
6. Dante Bichette Jr. 3B
After a strong regular season, Bichette went to the Arizona Fall League and fell flat with a .260/.317/.274 slash line. That said, 2014 restored some of his prospect status as he seemed to make meaningful adjustments at the plate to hit .264/.345/.397 across two levels. That’s an OPS jump of basically 100 points better than the previous two years.
7. Adonis Garcia DH
His team lost in the Venezuelan championship series, but Gracia was key in simply getting them that far. He hit .313/.369/.468 as a regular in the middle of the order for Navegantes del Magallanes. After playing only the outfield corners in the winter ball regular season, he saw some time back at third base in the playoffs.
8. Ali Castillo SS
Not really considered much of a prospect, but in the Yankees’ thin system, Castillo might be the top upper-level shortstop (even if he’s more of a utility man). He hit .305/.346/.408 while playing all over the field in Venezuela this winter, but he might have to return to Double-A this season.
9. Francisco Arcia C
Despite all the catching depth in the minor league system, the Yankees didn’t have a big name behind the plate this winter. Kyle Higashioka got into just six games in the Arizona Fall League (hit .409/.480/.682 in those limited chances). Arcia was in Venezuela and hit just .184/.228/.218 through 87 at-bats. He hit a little better (.235/.316/.353) in the playoffs.
Starting pitcher: Esmil Rogers
Certainly not a prospect at this point, but Rogers was pretty much the headliner among Yankees pitchers in winter ball. He had 18 strikeouts and just four walks through 11.1 innings in the Dominican Winter League (he worked strictly as a starter), then he got into the playoffs and pitched to a 3.55 ERA and 1.26 WHIP with 28 strikeouts and six walks through five starts.
Left-handed reliever: Jose De Paula
Although he’s really a starter, De Paula’s quickest path the big leagues is probably as a reliever. Signed to a major-league deal this offseason, De Paula made just two appearances in the Dominican Winter League — both starts — with 10 strikeouts, one walk and one run through 10 innings.
Right-handed reliever: Kyle Haynes
The Yankees were position player heavy in their Arizona Fall League assignments. Branden Pinder was on the initial list and would have been the pitching standout, but he was replaced by Haynes, the hard-thrower acquired in last winter’s Chris Stewart trade. He had a 2.31 ERA in Arizona, but an ugly 1.63 WHIP.
Associated Press photo of Pirela
On the 40-man: Ramon Flores • 01.29.15
Continuing to look at every player on the Yankees 40-man roster, we’ll next examine an outfield prospect who could be ready for a big league role almost immediately if the right doors begin to open for him.
Age on Opening Day: 23
Acquired: International free agent in 2008
Added to the 40-man: Protected from the Rule 5 draft in 2012
In the past: Long overshadowed in the Yankees’ minor league system, Flores was long thought of as a second-tier prospect without the upside of Slade Heathcott or Mason Williams, but he’s put up steady numbers throughout the minor leagues. Primarily a left fielder, he can play center field, right field and has some time at first base. Last year he hit .247/.339/.443 in Triple-A, but his year was cut short by an ankle injury. He rebounded to put up terrific numbers in Venezuela this winter.
Role in 2015: For now, Flores looks like the everyday left fielder — perhaps getting a lot of time in center — for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but he could also be considered the top outfielder in line for a call-up or an Opening Day job if someone gets injured. If Flores weren’t a left-handed hitter, he might be a better fit on the current Yankees roster, but with Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Garrett Jones already hitting from the left side, the Yankees have more bench need for a right-handed hitter like Chris Young. That’s why Flores looks more like a Triple-A outfielder at this point.
Best case scenario: Although he’s still not necessarily getting hype as a future everyday player, Flores is beginning to get more credit among Yankees prospects as a dependable young player whose ceiling might not be the highest, but whose floor is certainly not the lowest. Best-case scenario would have Flores hitting too well — against both lefties and righties — to avoid giving him a shot in New York. It’s certainly not the best-case scenario for the team as a whole, but if Gardner, Ellsbury or Carlos Beltran is hurt, there would have to be some realistic hope that Flores could at least be a regular platoon player against righties.
Worst case scenario: If there’s a downside to Flores it’s the fact he doesn’t do any one thing especially well. He hits for good average, but not a great average. He has some speed, but he’s only once had more than 13 steals in a season. He has some power, but probably not double-digit home run power. He can play center field, but he’s better in left. On-base ability might be his best high-end tool, but is that enough for a corner outfielder who doesn’t run a lot? Worst-case scenario is that Flores has enough across-the-board skill to thrive in Triple-A, but not enough to stick in the big leagues. A low-end comparison might be, I don’t know, maybe Colin Curtis (and that’s coming from a guy who still believes Curtis could have stuck on a big league roster if he hadn’t been hurt; so I mean that as a good thing).
What the future holds: This should be the last year Flores can be optioned to Triple-A (burned one option in 2013, one in 2014 and now 2015). That could limit his future within the Yankees organization. The signing of Ellsbury and the extension for Gardner limited his ability to fit nicely on the big league roster, but considering none of the lefties involved — including Flores — has overwhelming career splits, there could still be room for all three in the right situation.
Associated Press photo
The Yankees picked Didi Gregorius to be their shortstop. They chose Chase Headley to play third base. Chris Capuano was signed to be the stopgap fifth starter, David Carpenter was added to pitch some key innings of relief, and Garrett Jones was added to back up at three key spots. We know these things because the Yankees roster seems more or less set at this point.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some position battles to watch for in spring training.
This morning’s Pinch Hitter post was all about the final out, which led to a post about who should be the Yankees closer. But choosing which reliever should handle the ninth inning isn’t the only roster decision the Yankees have to make this spring. Here are a few roster competitions to keep in mind:
1. Who starts at second base?
Right now it looks like Stephen Drew, but that doesn’t seem set in stone. Far from it, actually. A one-year deal worth $5 million doesn’t necessarily guarantee a player’s spot in the starting lineup. There a ways to get creative with the roster, and if either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder is too good to ignore, the Yankees might have to make some adjustments. Second base has a favorite heading into camp, but it doesn’t have a sure thing.
2. Is Alex Rodriguez really the designated hitter?
No one knows what to expect from this guy, which means this question goes two ways. Is it possible he could play so well that he’s more of a third baseman who gets quite a bit of time at DH? Also, is it possible that he’s so bad he can’t be trusted with regular at-bats in any role? At the very least, with Garrett Jones offering a left-handed alternative, a DH platoon seems possible. There seems to be at least some chance Rodriguez can’t stick on the roster, much less play every day.
3. What’s the shortstop situation?
Clearly the Yankees want Didi Gregorius to be their regular shortstop. Ideally, he’ll hit well enough to play against both lefties and righties, but at the very least he should be the starter against right-handed pitching. That said, the Yankees do have Drew in camp. If Gregorius falls flat on his face, could Drew take the job? It’s not remotely ideal, but there are two veteran shortstops who will provide alternatives at the position.
1. Who starts on Opening Day?
It’s not really a roster battle, so maybe this is a weak argument. But it’s certainly going to be a discussion at some point. Whether you like him on the mound or not, CC Sabathia is definitely a leader in the clubhouse, and his role as leader of the pitching staff might win him another turn on Opening Day. Masahiro Tanaka, though, is the clear ace. Frankly, the answer to this question might have more to do with health than anything else.
2. Is Chris Capuano really the No. 5 starter?
Brian Cashman has made it clear that Capuano was signed to be a starting pitcher. He’s coming to camp with a rotation spot. But logic seems to dictate that someone could force the Yankees to change their plans. What if Adam Warren works as a starter in spring training and looks fantastic? Same for Bryan Mitchell or Esmil Rogers. What about Luis Severino? Is it possible the Yankees top pitching prospect — or anyone else — could force the Yankees to change their minds at the back of the rotation?
3. What’s the sixth starter situation?
This could have an impact on another roster spot. Let’s say a guy like Chase Whitley pitches extremely well in spring training and could make the team as a long reliever, but he also looks like their best bet to make a spot start should someone get hurt early in the season. Would the Yankee carry Whitley in the bullpen or send him to Triple-A to stay stretch out? Same question for a guy like Mitchell or Jose De Paula.
1. Who’s the backup catcher?
Perhaps the second most obvious position battle in camp. The Yankees traded away Francisco Cervelli specifically to open a big league job for one of their young catching prospects. Logic says that John Ryan Murphy is the heavy favorite after he won the backup role last year while Cervelli was hurt, but Austin Romine has big league experience, some prospect potential of his own, and he’s out of options. Can he beat the odds and win the job?
2. Is Brendan Ryan really the backup infielder?
The Yankees signed Ryan to give themselves some much-needed shortstop depth for the immediate future. He backed up Derek Jeter last year, and right now he’s positioned to back up Gregorius. But with Drew also in the mix, the Yankees could cut ties with Ryan, carry Gregorius and Drew as their shortstops, and make room for either Pirela or Refsnyder or anyone else who plays too well to leave behind. Ryan seems to be going into spring training with a roster spot, but does that have to mean he’ll leave with one?
3. What’s the outfield situation?
We know the five names: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Chris Young and Garrett Jones. Those seem to be the big league outfielders — a group that bring flexibility and balance and leaves a couple of decent pinch hitters on the bench. But given all of the outfield depth in the upper levels of the minor league system, is it possible for someone else to sneak into the picture? Ramon Flores, maybe? Tyler Austin? Injury could obviously open a door, but that’s always the case. The question is whether a Triple-A outfielder could play his way to New York without an injury.
1. Who’s the seventh reliever?
I wrote that backup catcher is the second most obvious position battle. That’s because this is the most obvious. If the Yankees stick with their projected rotation, that will leave six obvious favorites for the bullpen, meaning there’s one spot that’s completely up for grabs. And it really does seem to be a wide open competition. Maybe a lefty like Chasen Shreve, a long man like Chase Whitley, a hard-thrower like Chris Martin, a prospect like Jacob Lindgren, or a total wild card like Andrew Bailey. This is the one roster spot that’s completely up the air (unless the Yankees sign a veteran closer between now and Opening Day).
2. Is Esmil Rogers really guaranteed a spot?
He has some guaranteed money tied to his new contract, but does that mean the Yankees have to stick with a guy who’s never really had sustained success in the big leagues? Clearly the Yankees think Rogers can help them — either as a spot starter or a long reliever or in short stints — but there are so many bullpen options coming to camp, it’s Rogers whose spot seems most uncertain. He’s penciled in for now. By mid March, he might not be.
3. What’s the closer situation?
This was addressed earlier today, but it’s too obvious to leave off of this list. For the first time in a long, long time, the Yankees are heading into spring training without a clear closer (even last year, Dave Robertson was the obvious choice even before he took the job). Could the Yankees choice of a closer — if it’s not Dellin Betances or Andrew Miller — impact the way they build the rest of their bullpen? Could they make a late decision to add an experienced closer to the mix?
Associated Press photos
Winter leagues playoffs are wrapping up, and the Yankees might have dodged a bullet down in the Venezuelan postseason.
Utility man Jose Pirela was finishing off a terrific winter when he was hit by a pitch in the right hand (he went 2-for-3 in that game, by the way). There was lingering soreness so Pirela went for X-rays, which were negative, but an MRI revealed a bruise near the bottom of his hand (base of his second metacarpal if you’re into exact details).
It was a mild injury, but Pirela was shut down for the rest of the winter. He didn’t play in his team’s final 12 postseason games, but Yankees assistant general manager Billy Eppler said Pirela is back to working out and going through normal offseason drills.
“He’s all good to go,” Eppler said.
With no serious damage to the hand, Pirela is expected to be in big league camp to make his case for a spot on the big league roster. He hit .333/.529/.417 in his four Venezuelan postseason games after hitting .296/.394/.515 in the Venezuelan regular season. That bat is interesting as a bench guy who can play all over the field.
A few other notes from winter ball:
• In the Dominican Winter League, Esmil Rogers has a 3.55 ERA through five postseason starts for Estrellas de Oriente. He has 28 strikeouts and six walks through 25.1 postseason innings. Rogers last pitch on Tuesday, but his team is in the Dominican championship series, so he could get another start before the playoffs finish. I still wonder if he could come into spring training as basically a sixth starter candidate who could move into a long-man role if all the other starts stay healthy.
• Navegantes del Magallanes have advanced to the Venezuelan Winter League championship series, and they’ve gotten there with Adonis Garcia generally hitting cleanup. Garcia hit .313/.369/.468 in the regular season, but he’s hit just .237/.286/.305 through 14 playoff games. After playing only the outfield corners during the regular season, Garcia’s actually gotten a little bit of time at third base in the postseason. He’ll likely return to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, trying to squeeze into that crowded outfield.
• Also down in Venezuela, Ramon Flores hit just .200/.289/.300 in the postseason but didn’t play in his team’s last three games (Eppler said there’s no injury). Flores had a terrific winter ball regular season. … Pirela’s winter ball teammate, Ali Castillo, hit .250/.361/.288 in the playoffs. He did a pretty good job getting on base all winter. … Reliever Diego Moreno pitched four hitless innings in the postseason. He got a lot of closer opportunities with Aguilas del Zulia in the regular season, but the Yankees now have so much Triple-A bullpen depth that Moreno could be crowded back to Double-A this year.
• By the way, the go-to starter for Magallanes in the postseason has been former Yankees up-and-down long man Chris Leroux who has a 1.93 ERA and 0.99 WHIP through four playoff starts. He had a 1.23 ERA in five regular-season starts. He’s not still in the Yankees organization, but he’s pitched well this winter.
• New Yankees outfielder Robert Hernandez — the former pitcher signed to a minor league contract this winter — hit .264/.350/.358 while playing each outfield corner during the Venezuelan regular season. He played just one game in the postseason (1-for-4 with a double and a strikeout).
Associated Press photo
Winter leagues are into the postseason at this point, which means we have complete regular season numbers from Venezuela, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. The results are pretty solid for most of the Yankees who had significant playing time.
The standout, in my mind, is left fielder Ramon Flores. This was the first winter Flores received significant at-bats in his home country of Venezuela. At 22 years old, he was the everyday left fielder for the Tigres de Aragua, and by the end of the season, he was their regular No. 3 hitter. And he finished with a flourish.
In his final eight regular season games, Flores had 14 hits including three doubles, a triple and a home run. He finished with a .347/.435/.505 across 196 at-bats. That’s a .940 OPS, by the way, .007 points lower than the OPS that earned Greg Bird MVP of the offense-heavy Arizona Fall League. Flores led the Venezuelan Winter League in on-base percentage, finished third in batting average and was fifth in runs scored. He’s hit .286/.333/.571 with one home run and eight RBI through three playoff games.
Flores has a spot on the 40-man roster and he was having a pretty solid Triple-A season before a severe ankle injury sent him to the disabled list for roughly half of the season. He can play all three outfield spots (and has some first base experience), he can run a little bit, and he’s general shown an ability to get on base, hit for a solid average and provide a very little bit of power. He stands out as an obvious fourth outfielder type, with the only problem being that he hits left-handed (which makes him not a great fit behind fellow lefties Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner).
In what’s likely to be a crowded Triple-A outfield, though, Flores could be at the top of the pecking order for an early season call-up. Tyler Austin has never played at the Triple-A level, Adonis Garcia doesn’t have a spot on the 40-man, Mason Williams has struggled offensively (and could certainly return to Double-A rather than going to Triple-A), no one seems sure what to expect from Slade Heathcott (or at what level he’ll open the season), and Eury Perez could be easily outplayed (could even be DFA when Stephen Drew is added to the roster).
Can’t make too much of winter league numbers, but for a young kid like Flores coming off a season cut short by injury, an impressive winter seems to keep him on the map as a legitimate big league candidate sooner rather than later.
Some other winter ball updates:
• Here’s a regular season slash line nearly as impressive as Flores: Jose Pirela finished his Venezuelan season hitting .296/.394/.515 with 21 extra-base hits in 47 games. He split his time pretty evenly among second base, third base and left field, though he’s stayed in the outfield through four playoff games. Pirela did not finish the season particularly strong — no extra-base hits in his final 11 games — but he’s hit .333/.529/.417 through his first few playoff games. His chances of making the big league roster seemed to take a hit when the Yankees signed Stephen Drew, but he could still force his way into the mix with his versatility and right-handed bat. This winter has only further established the fact he can hit and play all over the field.
• One of Pirela’s teammates in Venezuela is middle infielder Ali Castillo, who’s generally been easy to dismiss as little more than an organizational utility man. Given the lack of upper-level infield depth, though, Castillo manages to stand out a little bit, and he had a strong season with the Aguilas del Zulia hitting .305/.346/.408 while playing shortstop, second base, third base and left field. He was the team’s primary leadoff hitter, and he’s been their everyday second baseman in the playoffs. He led the league with 16 stolen bases. That said, a solid winter isn’t enough to declare Castillo a legitimate candidate for the big league roster, in fact, on the infield depth chart he’s probably behind each of the minor league free agent additions. But Castillo was the everyday shortstop in Trenton last season, and he could continue to play his way into regular minor league at-bats while trying to prove he’s more than organizational fodder.
• Looking for an especially strong finish in winter ball, check out the way Adonis Garcia reestablished himself as a corner outfielder capable of providing right-handed power. In his final 13 games, Garcia hit four home runs, a triple, and five doubles, raising his winter slugging percentage from .377 to .468. He finished second in the league with 41 RBI and had a .313/.369/.468 slash line. Although he’s played some center field and a little bit of infield in the past, he got all of his winter playing time in the outfield corners. He so far has one homer but just four hits through five playoff games. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees use Garcia this season. He turns 30 in April, so if they’re going to get any sort of big league impact out of him, it has to happen soon. Guys like Austin and Flores probably deserve priority at-bats.
• Not such a great winter for Eury Perez. The Yankees late-season waiver claim has held onto his 40-man spot so far this offseason, but his stint in the Dominican Winter League could not have inspired much additional confidence. Perez opened the season as the regular left fielder and leadoff hitter for the Leones del Escogido, but he finished the season on the bench getting just scraps of playing time. He hit .194/.202/.258 with no walks and 21 strikeouts. He tried to steal two bases and was caught each time. Now that Slade Heathcott has re-signed, adding even more center field depth for the upper levels, I wonder if Perez could fall off the 40-man at some point. Losing him on waivers wouldn’t be crushing (though I think the Yankees do like his defense, sped and right-handedness).
• Possibly putting him on track to come into spring training as a rotation candidate (if only to provide depth just in case someone gets hurt before opening day), Esmil Rogers has worked as a starting pitcher this winter. He made three starts in the regular season and he’s so far made three more in the postseason (he’s pitching for a different team in the playoffs for whatever reason). His final regular season start spanned five scoreless innings with only one hit and 10 strikeouts. In the playoffs he’s had a 1.10 WHIP with 18 strikeouts and two walks through 16.1 innings. His most recent two starts came on Jan. 3 (six innings, one run, four strikeouts) and on Thursday (5.1 innings, two runs, nine strikeouts).
• New Yankees reliever Gonzalez Germen — the guy acquired from the Mets who basically replaced Preston Claiborne on the roster — made 10 appearances in the Dominican Winter League. He allowed nine hits and six earned runs through seven innings, strikeout out four and walking three. He hasn’t pitched since December 11.
• A few quick hits: Triple-A reliever Diego Moreno finished with a 1.43 WHIP through an up-and-down winter in Venezuela. He’s pitched two scoreless innings with one save so far in the playoffs. … Young shortstop prospect Abiatal Avelino got in one game for his Dominican Winter League team (super young guys like that rarely play much). He went 1-for-4 with a double. … Newly acquired left-handed starter Jose De Paula pitched in a couple of Dominican games before signing with the Yankees, but he didn’t pitch at all this winter beyond October 24. …. In the Mexican Winter League, low-level minor leaguer Luis Niebla had a 2.87 ERA with a 1.25 WHIP in nine starts (none of them coming after November 29), while Giovanny Gallegos had a 1.69 ERA and 1.31 WHIP through 16 relief appearances (none of them coming after December 1).
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
I had this post planned before the Yankees got busy making moves. If you’re interested in things not involving the loss of Martin Prado and the addition of a young starter, here are a few updates from winter ball:
• A little less than two weeks ago, Esmil Rogers reported and began pitching a little bit in the Dominican Republic. Rogers has made three appearances this winter, and all three have been starts. His first start was pretty good (four innings, six strikeouts, one earned run), his second was brutal (2.2 innings, six hits, five earned runs), and his most recent start was outstanding. On Thursday, Rogers went five scoreless innings with one hit, one walk and 10 strikeouts. Brian Cashman has mentioned Rogers as a potential rotation candidate in spring training, so the fact he’s getting stretched out this winter seems at least mildly significant.
• Because of the Winter Meetings, it’s now been two weeks since we did one of these winter ball updates, and in that time, Adonis Garcia has gone nuts at the plate. He has six multi-hit games — and 18 hits total — in his past 12 games. Three of those hits have been home runs and five have been doubles. Garcia wasn’t having a particularly good winter down in Venezuela, but now he’s hitting .305/.356/.450 while spending all of his time in left field and right field (not time in the infield this winter). The Yankees Triple-A outfield will be crowded next season, but Garcia’s an interesting right-handed bat.
• Speaking of that crowded Triple-A outfield, Ramon Flores continues to put up great numbers while getting his first dose of significant winter playing time. As the regular left fielder for the Tigres de Aragua, Flores has a .320/.403/.456 slash line with nearly as many walks (24) as strikeouts (28). In his past five games, Flores has walked five times and struck out only once. Flores has gotten a little bit of time in center field and right field this winter, and he could be an interesting bench option for the Yankees at some point next season.
• And while we’re speaking of bench options, it seems Jose Pirela is a legitimate favorite to win a spot as a big league reserve next season. And his production this winter is doing nothing to diminish his chances. While playing mostly second base and third base — he’s gotten a little bit of time in the outfield corners, but he’s mostly played the two spots where he could most easily backup in New York — Pirela has hit .313/.415/.560 in Venezuela. After not stealing a bag all winter, he now has one stolen base in each of his past two games. He’s also has exactly as many walks (24) as strikeouts (24).
• Pirela’s winter ball teammate, Ali Castillo, has seen his numbers slide a little bit, but he’s still having a nice winter while getting time at shortstop, second base, third base, left field and designated hitter. Castillo has five hits in his past nine games, but two of those were triples and two were doubles, so he’s still hitting .299/.342/.397. Castillo was the regular shortstop in Trenton last season, but it’s worth wondering if the Yankees offseason minor league additions will crowd him out of a Triple-A promotion next season.
• Acquired late last season and so far kept on the 40-man roster for outfield depth, Eury Perez has seen his winter go from bad to worse. He opened the season as the regular left fielder and leadoff hitter for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. He’s since lost his everyday job, and in a part-time role his bat has gone completely silent. Perez hasn’t had a hit since November 18, going 0-for-19 while playing very sparingly. In those past 19 at-bats, he’s struck out seven times, and he currently has 21 strikeouts with no walks this winter. He’s hitting .194/.202/.258 and he’s been caught stealing the two times he’s tried to swipe a bag.
• Outfielder Adam Silva has barely played in regular season minor league games since joining the Yankees in 2013, but this winter he’s getting some regular at-bats back home in Australia. The 20-year-old is hitting .270/.343/.365 as a regular right fielder.
• Just when reliever Diego Moreno was getting on a roll again in Venezuela, he’s hit another rough path. Since our last update, Moreno’s pitched just three times and has allowed six earned runs on five hits, a walk and a hit batter. His winter ERA is up to 5.40 with a 1.45 WHIP and a .291 opponents’ batting average. He does have at least one strikeout in 10 straight outings.
Associated Press photo
We’ve known for months that the Yankees would lose their longest-tenured, homegrown player this offseason. But as it’s turned out, Derek Jeter’s not not the organization’s only familiar face who’s moved on this winter. The Yankees lost some of their other longest-tenured, homegrown players when Zoilo Almonte reached free agency, Francisco Cervelli was traded to Pittsburgh, and Dave Robertson signed a contract with the White Sox.
It’s now kind of amazing now to look at which players stand as the longest-tenured Yankees who have never played for another organization. Based on the year they were acquired (without nitpicking about the precise date) here are the 10 longest-tenured, homegrown Yankees who remain in the system.
1. Ivan Nova
Signed: international free agent, 2004
Debut: May 13, 2010
The Yankees nearly lost Nova before they had a chance to really see what he could do. Back in 2008, Nova was left exposed to the Rule 5 draft, and the Padres picked him. Coming off a solid but uninspiring year in High-A, Nova got a little bit of a look in spring training, didn’t make the San Diego roster, and returned to the Yankees. The next year, he was added to the 40-man roster, and now he stands — with the next two players on this list — as one of the top three homegrown big leaguers in the organization. He’s coming off Tommy John surgery, but would otherwise have a rotation spot waiting for him in spring training.
2. Brett Gardner
Signed: amateur draft, 2005
Debut: June 30, 2008
One of the most talked-about drafts of the past several decades, the 2005 draft was mostly a bust for the Yankees. They thoroughly missed the boat on first-rounder C.J. Henry, and second-rounder J.B. Cox was too injured to ever reach his future-closer ceiling, but their third-round pick was one of their most successful of the decade. Gardner has outplayed his detractors to become a legitimate everyday outfielder, and the Yankees have rewarded him with a long-term deal through the 2018 season. By the way, despite being mostly a bust for the Yankees, that 2005 draft also yielded Austin Jackson, another of the Yankees best draft picks of the past decade.
3. Dellin Betances
Signed: amateur draft, 2006
Debut: September 22, 2011
That 2006 draft class was a great one for the Yankees. Ten picks made it to the majors and seven are still legitimate big leaguers in some capacity, but the only one who’s still with the Yankees is Betances. Slow to develop with a lot of bumps along the way, Betances could very well replace one of his draft-mates as the Yankees closer this season. The other members of that Yankees draft class to reach the big leagues: Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Zach McAllister, Colin Curtis, George Kontos, Mark Melancon, Daniel McCutchen, Dave Robertson and Kevin Russo.
4. Jose Pirela
Signed: international free agent, 2006
Debut: September 22, 2014
Signed out of Venezuela, Pirela built some prospect status as a teenager in the lower levels of the minor league system. As he climbed into the upper levels, though, he was moved away from shortstop, his offensive production faded and Pirela more or less fell off the prospect map. He hit his way back on the map with a couple of strong years in Double-A, a potent year in Triple-A, and finally a September call-up. Now with a spot on the 40-man roster, Pirela has a legitimate chance to win a big league bench job. And he’s still just 25 years old.
5. Austin Romine
Signed: amateur draft, 2007
Debut: September 11, 2011
Immediately after that successful class of 2006, the Yankees had a real letdown with the draft of 2007. Andrew Brackman was the first rounder, and the only others to actually reach New York were Brandon Laird and Romine. There’s a solid chance that, by the end of spring training, the Yankees won’t have anyone from that class left in the organization. Remarkably, shortstop Carmen Angelini — largely seen as a bust — is actually one of the more successful members of that class.
6. Jose Ramirez
Signed: international free agent, 2007
Debut: June 4, 2014
On the 40-man roster, with 10 innings of big league experience and his 25th birthday coming up in January, Ramirez is a longtime prospect who’s put himself in position to begin playing a legitimate role in the big leagues. Of course, that’s largely a matter of staying healthy, which has been an issue throughout his career. Once seen as a high-potential rotation prospect, Ramirez is now an interesting bullpen option. From a year when the Yankees didn’t add much lasting talent into the organization, Ramirez stands out as a possible exception. He could play at least some role in the immediate and long-term future.
7. Ali Castillo
Signed: international free agent, 2007
Doesn’t have a spot on the 40-man roster, and doesn’t have much chance of actually playing a role in New York, but Castillo remains one of the longest-tenured players in the organization. Signed out of Venezuela in late 2007, he’s been essentially an organizational utility man. He’s putting up nice numbers in winter ball this offseason, and he spent the regular season as the starting shortstop in Double-A Trenton. He signed a new minor league deal this fall. Could play a role in Triple-A this season, if only because the Yankees lack middle infield alternatives.
8. David Phelps
Signed: amateur draft, 2008
Debut: April 8, 2012
In the first 10 rounds of the 2008 draft, the Yankees selected five guys who have reached the big leagues. Their top pick was Gerrit Cole (who wouldn’t sign and wound up with the Pirates years later), then they went on to draft David Adams, Corban Joseph, Brett Marshall and D.J. Mitchell. Those four played minor roles in New York, and it’s now 14th rounder Phelps who stands out as the key piece of that draft class. That draft class, by the way, is the one that just reached free agent status this offseason, so Phelps really has emerged as the last man standing (though catcher Kyle Higashioka has re-signed on a minor league deal).
9. Manny Banuelos
Signed: international free agent, 2008
Two years ago, it seemed Banuelos was knocking on the door to the big leagues and on the verge of taking a lasting spot in the Yankees rotation. Then he had Tommy John surgery and his steady climb was thrown off track. Now Baneulos is back to the doorstep of the big leagues, but taking that next step will be a matter of pitching effectively one year after an inconsistent season in Double-A and Triple-A. Banuelos still has an option remaining, so he doesn’t have to make the big league roster out of spring training. It remains to be seen whether he’ll live up to his lofty potential and become a rotation mainstay for years to come.
10. Ramon Flores
Signed: international free agent, 2008
There are a few other players from the international class of 2008 who are still hanging around, but Flores and Banuelos stand out as the ones with easily the most reasonable chance of actually playing a role in New York at some point (the others are not on the 40-man and not making much impact in system). Back in 2008, Flores got the 10th-highest bonus during the international signing period (he was a much bigger name than Baneulos at the time). If it seems lousy that the Yankees have so little impact from that international class, check out the other names who got top-20 international bonuses that year. Those young international guys always come with a high level of risk.
Associated Press photo