With the Yankees first workout now seven days away, we’ll continue counting down some of the key spring training decisions by looking at the most wide open spot on the roster. The Yankees have a two-way competition for the backup catcher, they could be convinced to change their plans at second base, but there’s only one roster spot that has a slew of candidates and no obvious favorites heading into camp.
Who’s going to fill the final spot in the bullpen?
Granted, that one open spot could be two or three open spots by the time Opening Day rolls around. But that’s always the case. What’s unusual about this particular bullpen spot is there’s really no telling which direction the Yankees might go.
To be clear, these are the 11 spots on the pitching staff that have clear favorites:
Rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Capuano
Bullpen: Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, David Carpenter, Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, Esmil Rogers
Of course “favorites” aren’t guarantees, but based on what we know today, those 11 feel like safe bets. The 12th spot, on the other hand, is thoroughly up in the air. The Yankees could go several directions with that final spot in the bullpen, and nearly every direction comes with its own set of options.
A hard-throwing right-hander
Based on pure numbers, this might be the most likely decision. Protecting Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder from the Rule 5 draft added two hard-throwing, right-handed prospects to the 40-man roster. Acquiring Chris Martin from the Rockies added yet another. As long as Jose Ramirez is fully healthy, he’ll be another possibility (having made his big league debut last season). Nick Rumbelow isn’t on the 40-man, but he was invited to big league camp and finished last season in Triple-A. Minor league free agent Wilking Rodriguez seems like a long shot, but he did pitch in the big leagues with the Royals last season. It’s worth remembering that one of these guys could fill, essentially, the role Betances had at the beginning of last season. Joe Girardi often talks about taking the 12 best pitchers, and it’s worth wondering if one of these guys could really take advantage of the opportunity.
A third left-hander
With Miller and Wilson, the Yankees seem to have two left-handed relievers with big league spots waiting for them. Miller is certainly going to make the team, and Wilson seems like a near lock, if not an absolute lock. But is there room for a third lefty? Neither Miller nor Wilson is purely a left-on-left specialist, the Yankees could ease a young pitcher into the big leagues by starting him in a situational role. Maybe that’s the way top draft pick Jacob Lindgren gets his feet wet. Or it could be the way the Yankees get their first up-close look at Chasen Shreve, who broke into the big leagues with Atlanta last season. Tyler Webb didn’t have standout splits last season, but he did put up good numbers in Triple-A. James Pazos would seem like the long shot of this group, but he was dominant against Double-A lefties last year.
A former big league closer
Only one guy in all of Yankees camp fits this description, and it’s not any of the guys listed as favorites for the big league bullpen. After missing all of last year while recovering from shoulder surgery, former Oakland closer Andrew Bailey signed a new minor league deal with the Yankees this offseason. He’s said to be healthy and expected to be pitching off a mound this spring. It’s hard to know what to expect from Bailey, but that’s part of what makes him so intriguing. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2009, an all-star in 2010, and as recently as 2013 he had huge strikeout numbers with the Red Sox. Hard to know what he can do at this point, but there could be high-end potential if he’s close to his pre-surgery form.
A pure long man
With plans to have Warren and Rogers work as starters in spring training — just in case they’re needed in the rotation — the Yankees projected bullpen already has two guys who could serve as long relievers. They also have both Betances and Miller who aren’t necessarily restricted to one inning at a time. But there could still be room for a long reliever/sixth starter. Perhaps Chase Whitley, who worked as a reliever most of his career before getting to the big leagues as a starter last season. Or maybe Bryan Mitchell, who’s become one of the Yankees top upper-level rotation prospects, but could find an immediate role in the bullpen. Long relief could also open a big league door for new lefty Jose De Paula. If the Yankees prefer a veteran, both Scott Baker and Kyle Davies are coming to camp, each with multiple years of big league rotation experience.
Associated Press photo of Whitley
The Yankees have invited 26 non-roster players to spring training. Here’s an attempt to rank them in terms of significance these next two months. It’s totally pointless, but it’s also a random Thursday in early February. What else is there to write about today?
Obviously, this isn’t a prospect ranking, and it’s not an attempt to determine ultimate upside or talent. It’s simply an attempt to evaluate which players have a chance to have an impact — whether by making the big league team, affecting minor league assignments, or climbing to the verge of a call-up — based on what they do in big league camp. Basically, for which players does getting an invitation really mean something?
1. Rob Refsnyder 2B
For me, this an easy choice as the Yankees’ most relevant non-roster invitee. Refsnyder brings a perfect combination of long-term potential and short-term opportunity. A big spring could push him into the Opening Day lineup, and if he gets there, he could stick around for the next decade. The Yankees have Stephen Drew penciled in at second base. Refsnyder could change their minds.
2. Jacob Lindgren LHP
Maybe Refsnyder is 1A and Lindgren is 1B. Lindgren also has that combination of long-term potential and short-term opportunity, though the Yankees’ crowded bullpen could diminish Lindgren’s immediate impact. Even if he makes the team, he would likely open in a smaller role like Dellin Betances did last season. Big time potential, though, even if it doesn’t show right away.
3. Luis Severino RHP
Seemingly very little chance of actually making the big league roster out of spring training, but I’m keeping Severino this high because a big spring — making a big impression on Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild — could accelerate his development, push him to Triple-A to open the season, and put him on the verge of a call-up if/when the Yankees need rotation help. Top pitching prospect in the system. Impossible to overlook.
4. Andrew Bailey RHP
This might be too high considering he missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, but the Yankees must have seen something positive in his rehab because they brought him back for another look. The Yankees have at least one wide-open spot in their bullpen, and Bailey has been a very good reliever in his career. Still just 30 years old, too. Might be an all-or-nothing situation; either he’s healthy and valuable or he’s a complete non-factor.
5. Kyle Roller 1B
An admittedly aggressive ranking, but here’s my thinking: The Yankees don’t know what they have in Alex Rodriguez at DH, and they can’t feel totally confident about Mark Teixeira at first base. Roller hit .283/.378/.497 in Triple-A, and this is “don’t forget about me” moment. With Greg Bird on his heels, Roller’s window of opportunity with the Yankees could be very small. This spring, he can make a case that he’s the solution if and when the Yankees need a big bat this season.
6. Nick Rumbelow RHP
Still not Rule 5 eligible, otherwise he’d be a slam dunk for a 40-man roster spot. He’s one of many in a crowded field of relievers, but Rumbelow has impressed and moved quickly — got to Triple-A in his first full season of pro ball — so he belongs on the big league radar. If he outpitches a guy like Danny Burawa or Branden Pinder, Rumbelow could take one of their 40-man spots when the Yankees go looking for bullpen help.
7. Scott Baker RHP
The only veteran starter signed to a minor league contract, Baker is coming to a big league camp in which on starter is a lock for the disabled list (Ivan Nova) and three others carry significant health concerns (Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia). There might not be a spot for Baker right now, but that could certainly change before Opening Day. Baker is trying to prove he has enough left to fill a spot if one becomes available.
8. Tyler Webb LHP
Drafted just a few rounds after Rumbelow back in 2013. Now, those two are in roughly the same spot in terms of call-up potential. Webb has big strikeout numbers and got to Triple-A last season. I’m putting him behind Rumbelow largely because the Yankees already have two lefties locked into big league jobs, plus they have Lindgren and Chasen Shreve also in the picture. But Webb has a real chance to pitch in New York this year.
9. Slade Heathcott CF
Hard to know what to make of Heathcott, which is why I’m keeping him in the top 10. What does he look like after missing nearly all of yet another season because of yet another injury? In a system loaded with left-handed center fielders, can Heathcott do enough to get back on the radar? His status will be more heavily affected by the regular season, but big league camp is a chance to make a real statement.
10. Aaron Judge RF
He’ll get a ton of attention for obvious reasons, but I’m keeping just this low because I’m not sure he can do anything in big league camp to change the fact he’s heading to Double-A to open the season. A big spring might speed up his development a little bit and slightly increase the chances of maybe getting to the big leagues this season, but this is really just a first impression. His regular season will determine who quickly he moves.
11. Greg Bird 1B
Very similar to Judge, except that Bird might have an even greater obstacle standing in his way with both Teixeira’s contract and Roller’s Triple-A success standing between him and New York. Bird is going to be fascinating to watch this spring, but no matter what he does, he’s almost certainly headed to Double-A with only a slim chance of getting to the big leagues this season.
12. Nick Goody RHP
Injuries have slowed his progress significantly, but Goody has a good arm, and spring training might be a chance to make a statement and get himself back on the radar. He’s clearly jumped ahead of Mark Montgomery in the organizational pecking order, so he shouldn’t be taken lightly. Big league camp could be a “remember me” moment.
13. Nick Noonan SS/2B
I really think there’s some chance Noonan is too low on this list. Still just 25 years old. Former first-round draft pick. Has big league experience. Hits left-handed. Able to play all over the infield. The Yankees apparently like his defense at shortstop. Given the lack of infield depth in the Yankees’ system, a guy like Noonan could make a strong impression and get on the radar. The fact the Yankees like him at short seems significant. Maybe a Dean Anna-type.
14. James Pazos LHP
A lot of walks but not very many hits in Double-A last season. Has a non-zero chance of pitching in New York this season, but of the six left-handed relievers coming to camp, Pazos is probably sixth on the depth chart. His spring could be more about making sure he doesn’t get completely overshadowed.
15. Jonathan Galvez 3B
Just turned 24 years old. Coming off a pretty good season in the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League. And the Yankees signed him early this offseason, which would seem to be a sign of serious interest (they also signed Zelous Wheeler really early last offseason). Can’t say that he has a great chance of making the roster at some point, but Galvez seems awfully similar to both Wheeler and Yangervis Solarte (or even Jose Pirela). Could be absolutely nothing, or he could be a surprising something.
16. Wilking Rodriguez RHP
Pitched two games in the big leagues last year. Signed with the Yankees very briefly, became a free agent, then signed again. He turns 25 in March, and not that long ago he was considered a pretty solid prospect in the Rays’ system. Probably gets buried in the Yankees bullpen depth, but shouldn’t be dismissed. A lot of strikeouts (with a lot of walks) in his minor league career.
17. Cole Figueroa INF
Similar to Noonan and Galvez in that the Yankees lack of upper-level infielders could create an opportunity for Figueroa, who played 23 games for the Rays last season. He plays all over the infield and has shown a real knack for getting on base. He’s another left-handed hitter. Could make a spring impression and eventually get a call-up like Wheeler did last year.
18. Eddy Rodriguez C
Cuban catcher who got a cup of coffee with the Padres back in 2012. He’s basically the token veteran catcher brought in to add some experience. If the Yankees lose Austin Romine on waivers and aren’t satisfied with Gary Sanchez’s progress in Triple-A, then I guess Rodriguez could be in the mix for a call-up if the Yankees need help behind the plate. It’s a long shot, but he does have some experience.
19. Cito Culver SS
Hard to know what to make of this one, but the Yankees have repeatedly said that they haven’t given up on Culver, and they seemed to back up those words by inviting him to big league camp. Strong glove, but he’s shown no offensive ability in the minors. Clearly he’s still on the radar. Does a big spring push him to Double-A with a chance to get to Triple-A at some point? Does he still have a big league future? He plays shortstop in a system that’s thin at the position in the upper levels. That can’t be overlooked.
20. Jake Cave CF
Interesting young prospect, one that has jumped ahead of Heathcott and Mason Williams to become the top center field prospect in the organization. He’s this low on the list not because of his long-term potential, but because of his short-term opportunity. Best-case scenario is probably that he plays well enough to end the season in Triple-A.
21. Jose Campos RHP
This is a definite “remember me” opportunity for a guy once considered to be among the top pitching prospects in the organization. Tommy John surgery derailed his development so much that Campos was released this winter. He ultimately re-signed, and a good big league camp — probably with very limited appearances — would simply be a chance to get his name back on Girardi’s radar.
22. Diego Moreno RHP
Came to the Yankees from Pittsburgh in the A.J. Burnett trade back in 2012. He pitched alright in winter ball this year; has good Double-A numbers but didn’t pitch well in his first taste of Triple-A last year. Probably a non-factor, but again, it’s worth recognizing that he got a big league invitation ahead of a guy like Montgomery. Clearly Moreno is on the radar somewhere.
23. Kyle Higashioka C
Got some big league invitations early in his minor league career, but he’s also dealt with injuries while putting up unimpressive offensive numbers. The Yankees like his glove, and like him as a prospect enough to send him to the Arizona Fall League for a few at-bats this offseason. Not a lot of standout, mid-level catchers in the Yankees system. Higashioka is basically trying to earn regular minor league at-bats again.
24. Trent Garrison C
Little surprise that the end of this list is loaded with catchers. Every team brings catchers to camp who have no real chance of impacting the big league roster. I’m putting Garrison ahead of the next two because he was drafted in 2013 and played in High-A last season. Still fairly young and could become a regular among non-roster invitees the next few years.
25. Francisco Arcia C
Hits left-handed. Played in Triple-A last season. Got some playing time in winter ball. It tend to think of Arcia as an organizational catcher who will basically play wherever the Yankees have an opening (could be A-ball, could be Triple-A). I don’t think of him as a factor, but I did have one scout suggest that a team really desperate for catching could have considered Arcia in the Rule 5 draft, so there’s that.
26. Juan Graterol C
Right down to the birth year, the home country, and the little bit of time at first base, it’s hard to see a ton of difference between Arcia and Graterol. Maybe I’m completely missing something, but Graterol seems like additional organizational filler, except this one’s less familiar than Arcia.
Photo from the Charleston RiverDogs
Pitchers who drop down to pitch from an extreme arm angle aren’t always matchup relievers, but quite often they are. And they can be effective if used in very specific roles, as the Yankees learned a few years ago with Clay Rapada and Cody Eppley. This morning, Ben looked back at a few sidearming Yankees, and that group predictably included a couple of fairly recent left-on-left specialists.
Which is kind of interesting, because the Yankees don’t necessarily have a true left-on-left specialist on this roster. They have lefties — actually could carry three lefties out of spring training — but that doesn’t mean they have a guy like Rapada who’s meant to primarily handle left-handed matchups.
If enough right-handed relievers can retire left-handed hitters, the lack of a true LOOGY doesn’t matter very much. Here are the numbers against lefties for the Yankees five most obvious go-to relief options.
Career vs. LHB: 0.86 WHIP — 12.9 K/9 — 6.4 K/BB — .179/.234/.220
2014 vs. LHB: 0.74 WHIP — 12.9 K/9 — 8.3 K/BB — .161/.205/.200
Career vs. LHB: 1.45 WHIP — 12.2 K/9 — 2.5 K/BB — .241/.341/.359
2014 vs. LHB: 0.77 WHIP — 16.6 K/9 — 9.6 K/BB — .161/.206/.261
Career vs. LHB: 1.44 WHIP — 8.9 K/9 — 2.1 K/BB — .260/.346/.394
2014 vs. LHB: 1.10 WHIP — 9.9 K/9 — 4.0 K/BB — .220/.286/.349
Career vs. LHB: 1.15 WHIP — 7.4 K/9 — 2.7 K/BB — .232/.297/.320
2014 vs. LHB: 1.29 WHIP — 8.1 K/9 — 2.7 K/BB — .253/.314/.367
Career vs. LHB: 1.01 WHIP — 8.3 K/9 — 2.3 K/BB — .243/.320/.421
2014 vs. LHB: 1.34 WHIP — 9.8 K/9 — 2.9 K/BB — .170/.253/.271
Predictably, Miller and Betances have pretty dominant numbers against lefties, but the Yankees aren’t going to use either one as a strict left-on-left specialist. Miller will surely get some key matchups against tough lefties in the very late innings, but he’s going to face tough righties too. Carpenter and Warren each showed quite a bit of improvement against left-handers last season (Warren was actually better against lefties than against righties last season; the extreme opposite was true in 2013).
For middle-inning matchups, the most obvious left-hander right now is Wilson, but he actually pitched better against right handers last season. He gets quite a few strikeouts, but he’s never really fit the profile of a stereotypical one-batter, matchup lefty. Maybe the Yankees can help him in those left-on-left matchups, but so far he’s been more of a full-inning kind of reliever, not necessarily a situational guy.
Expecting these five in the bullpen, plus a long man — perhaps Esmil Rogers — leaves the Yankees with one open bullpen spot to use any number of ways. They could use that spot to carry one of these additional lefties, all of whom are expected to be in big league camp.
Acquired from the Braves this winter, Shreve took a giant step forward with the Braves last season. With a velocity spike, he made his big league debut and faced 25 lefties (struck out eight of them, gave up six hits). He’s basically been this kind of pitcher for only one year, so it’s kind of hard to say what kind of matchup guy he might become. Kind of a wait-and-see prospect, but an interesting one.
Jose De Paula
Signed to a major-league contract despite having no major-league time, De Paula seems to be a more natural fit as a Triple-A starter rather than a major-league reliever. Triple-A lefties hit .286/.344/.429 against him last season, and Double-A lefties hit .290/.302/.339 against him in 2013, so perhaps matchups don’t play to his strengths.
The Yankees top draft pick last season, Lindgren is generally seen as more of a future setup man, and not so much as a future situational reliever. Could he ease into a late-inning role, though, by first handling some matchups? He was awfully good against lefties in the minor leagues last season. If he looks like one of the seven best relievers in camp, maybe open the season with Lindgren in a relatively small matchup role with hopes that he does what Betances did last season and basically pitches his way into bigger and more varied situations?
A college lefty drafted in 2013, Webb got to Triple-A last season and the Yankees seem to like his big league potential. Triple-A lefties hit him hard last season — .308/.308/.731 but with a lot of strikeouts — though it’s worth acknowledging it was a small sample size. and lefties hit for no real power against him earlier in the season in Double-A.
Another college lefty, this one drafted in 2012. Pazos got to Double-A last season and held lefties to a .163/.222/.163 slash line (he was pretty good against righties as well). He’s another guy who throws pretty hard, and while he’s probably behind Shreve, Lindgren and Webb in the pecking order, he’s certainly worth mentioning and could be worth considering if he pitches well this spring.
Associated Press photos
Looking ahead to September • 08.18.14
This post contains way too many words about possible September call-ups.
Why is this way too many? Because aside from the possibility of a left-handed reliever, there really don’t seem to be any impact September call-ups on the horizon. A few guys will come up to provide pitching and bench depth, but that’s about it. There isn’t a ton of playing time up for grabs, and there aren’t many obvious auditions that could take place. A left-handed reliever might get into some key situations, but that’s about it. If the Yankees fall completely out of contention, I suppose they could give a guy like Bryan Mitchell a start or maybe give Zoilo Almonte a chance to make a fresh impression with some right field starts. Ultimately, though, I wouldn’t expect a ton out of the September additions.
But, I like minor league baseball and I think September call-ups are interesting, so here are a few thoughts and possibilities broken into four pretty typical September call-up categories.
Pretty standard September addition. The Yankees have been playing with an eight-man pitching staff for quite a while now, but even so, they’re still likely to add a few guys just to give them depth down the stretch.
Best bet: RHP Bryan Mitchell
He’s been up and down a few times, and he’s been pitching well out of the Triple-A rotation. He’s pretty much custom-made for providing innings, and there’s a real benefit to giving him some more big league experience. Seems like a strong candidate to be a rotation candidate at some point next season, even if he opens the year in Triple-A.
Keep in mind: RHP David Phelps
Worth remembering that Phelps is currently on the disabled list but due to be reevaluated today. Phelps was pitching pretty well before that mess of a start in Boston, and he could certainly move right back into the rotation once he’s healthy again. That could essentially push Chris Capuano into a bullpen role as another long man.
Uncertainty: RHP Preston Claiborne and RHP Matt Daley
Both are on the 40-man roster, but both are also on the Triple-A disabled list. If they’re healthy, it would be easy to call up both Claiborne and Daley to be extra middle-inning or extra-inning arms. Claiborne seems pretty close to coming off the disabled list. Another injured Triple-A reliever, Jose Ramirez, won’t be healthy in time to come up next month.
Worth mentioning: RHP Brandon Pinder, RHP Diego Moreno, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Danny Burawa
Montgomery and Burawa have been demoted to Double-A, which probably isn’t a good sign for them getting a call-up to the big leagues. Worth mentioning, though, because all four have been pretty good at times this season, and all four should be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If any of these pitchers are going to be protected in the offseason, might make sense to go ahead and add them to the roster now. My guess would be that Pinder is at the top of this particular pecking order right now. Veteran RHP Jim Miller could also be part of this discussion if the Yankees want a short-term roster addition just to provide some innings.
Probably not: RHP Nick Rumbelow
He’s moved quickly through the system and has been alright since getting to Triple-A, but he’s not Rule 5 eligible yet and there’s probably no reason to have him filling a 40-man spot all winter just so he can get a mopup inning or two in September.
The Yankees might very well bring up a new lefty before September 1, but given the fact they’re not carrying a true left-on-left specialist, it seems like a solid bet that they’ll eventually give some young lefty a call-up. Might even try more than one.
Best bet: LHP Manny Banuelos
Can’t say for certain that Banuelos is the “best bet” to come up as a left-on-left reliever, but he’s the only option who’s currently on the 40-man roster. He’s also pitched pretty well lately, which is surely easing some of the concerns about his early season inconsistency. Whether a career starter — and a young one at that — would be a viable situational lefty, I have no idea. But having a spot on the 40-man makes him an easy call-up if the Yankees want to either get his feet wet or see what he can do in a fairly important role.
Keep in mind: LHP Jacob Lindgren
The Yankees first-round draft pick back in June was a college reliever who throws pretty hard from the left side, and the Yankees have already pushed him all the way to Double-A. Pitching in Trenton isn’t exactly knocking on the door, but Lindgren has a big arm and a bunch of strikeouts and it’s not unheard of for a team to push a college reliever all the way to the big leagues in his first pro season.
Uncertainty: LHP Chris Capuano
He won’t be a September call-up, but Capuano factors into this discussion because of David Phelps. If Phelps is ready to return to the rotation fairly quickly, he could takeover for Capuano, who could move into a left-on-left role out of the bullpen. A possibility if the Yankees aren’t sure any of the young guys can handle the job.
Worth mentioning: LHP Tyler Webb, LHP James Pazos, LHP Francisco Rondon, SHP Pat Venditte
My guess is that all of these except Webb should be considered real long shots. I mention Pazos because he has good numbers in Double-A and the Yankees seem to like his arm; Rondon because he was once on the 40-man and has had the Yankees attention at various points; and Venditte because he’s been a pretty solid reliever for years now and has generally been pretty good with that side-arm delivery against lefties. Webb, though, is the left-handed relief prospect who’s most on the radar. Doesn’t have to be protected from the Rule 5 draft yet, but the Yankees have been pretty aggressive with him and he’s probably their most advanced left-handed relief prospect.
Probably not: LHP Nik Turley
There are actually a ton of lefties on the Triple-A pitching staff right now, including Turley, Matt Tracy and Jeremy Bleich, all of whom would be capable of giving multiple innings and — in theory — matching up against a left-handed hitter. My thinking, though, is: If the Yankees are going to try a long-time starter in this role in September, why not just try Banuelos? That’s easier than putting some of the other non-traditional relievers onto the roster. Know who else is a probably not? Cesar Cabral. The guy was actually in the big leagues at one point this year, but he’s fallen completely off the radar. Double-A lefties are knocking him around.
Happens basically every September that teams give themselves an extra catcher for the final month of the season. The question with the Yankees isn’t whether they’ll call up a third catcher, it’s whether they’ll call up a fourth catcher.
Best bet: C John Ryan Murphy
Even thought it was Austin Romine who came up when Brian McCann went on the disabled list, I’m still going to bet that Murphy is the best bet for a September call-up. I’m basing that almost entirely on the fact that Murphy played well during his extended big league call-up earlier this season, and based on the fact that Mark Newman has said Murphy is likely to come off the Triple-A disabled list pretty soon.
Keep in mind: C Austin Romine
These days, Murphy generates much more prospect buzz than Romine. But, down in Triple-A, it’s actually Romine who has better offensive numbers this season. He’s also played a decent amount of first base and could, in theory, fill in for Mark Teixeira in some late innings. Romine hasn’t played much in August, but he hit .342/.385/.466 in July, and it’s not like the big league staff is unfamiliar with him.
Uncertainty: Why not both?
Does it make sense to go ahead and bring both Murphy and Romine to the big leagues in September? Maybe leave one of them behind to play that last Triple-A game, and then just carry four catchers in the final month? In blowouts, one could get behind the plate and the other could rest Teixeira by playing first base.
Worth mentioning: C Francisco Cervelli
There’s only one other catcher call-up candidate worth mentioning, and we’ll get to him in a second. For now, it’s worth mentioning that the Yankees are facing an offseason decision about whether to bring back Cervelli — who’s been awfully good — or to give the backup catcher job fulltime to either Murphy or Romine. If the Yankees are out of it in September, one of these September call-up catchers could step into some serious playing time just to see what they’ve got.
Probably not: C Gary Sanchez
He’s on the 40-man roster, and he’s one of the biggest names in the Yankees minor league system, but it’s hard to predict a Sanchez call-up this year. He’s been alright this season, but he’s also been benched for disciplinary reasons, and it’s hard to imagine much playing time being available for him. Just doesn’t seem that he’s on the verge of getting his feet wet, but I guess you never know. If he’s sorted out his disciplinary issues, maybe he’s rewarded. My guess is that he won’t be.
VERSATILITY ON THE BENCH
There’s no one currently in the system who seems on the verge of a September call-up to play a significant role in the everyday lineup. Position players who come up are most likely going to be complimentary pieces given very occasional playing time.
Best bet: OF Zoilo Almonte
Joe Girardi hasn’t seemed sold on Almonte ever since his so-so performance last season, but he’s still a powerful left-handed hitter — technically switch hitter, but he’s significantly better from the left side — and he’s on the 40-man roster with some big league time already this season. Not sure he’ll actually get at-bats, but he seems like an obvious choice to bring up at least serve as an option for some pop as a pinch hitter or occasional platoon starter.
Keep in mind: UT Zelous Wheeler
In a lot of ways, Wheeler is an ideal September call-up. He’s already on the 40-man, he’s held his own in the big leagues already this season, and he can play almost any position on the field, which means he provides terrific versatility down the stretch. As long as Wheeler stays on the 40-man roster, there’s little reason not to give him a call-up.
Uncertainty: UT Jose Pirela
The one reason not to call up Wheeler would be to call up a somewhat similar but younger player in Pirela. Wheeler is probably the better defensive player, but they’re both versatile right-handed hitters who are putting up good numbers in Triple-A. If the Yankees aren’t planning to keep Wheeler through the offseason — but are interested in keeping Pirela — they could basically swap the two, putting Pirela on the roster in Wheeler’s place and giving Pirela the September call-up. Pirela can play second base and left field, and he could play third base, first base, right field and presumably shortstop in a pinch.
Worth mentioning: OF Ramon Flores, 1B Kyle Roller, OF Adonis Garcia, OF Taylor Dugas
Of these four, only Flores is on the 40-man, and he’s a nice fit for September. He can run, he can play all three outfield spots, he has some first base experience, and he was playing pretty well in Triple-A before an injury. Indications are that Flores could be off the DL and active by the time September rolls around, but would the Yankees call up a guy who’s hardly played since the start of June. The other three listed are not on the 40-man, and I’m not sure they’d play roles significant enough to find a way to get them on the roster. Dugas in particular has been terrific this year, but he’s not yet Rule 5 eligible, so there’s probably little sense having him take up a 40-man spot all winter. I would suggest OF Antoan Richardson as an interesting possibility as well — speed off the bench, ability to play all three outfield spots — but he’s currently on the temporarily inactive list, and I’m not sure what that’s about or how long he’ll be there. Could temporarily add him without worrying about a DFA this winter.
Probably not: 2B Rob Refsnyder
Arguably the most buzzworthy September call-up possibility. Probably is, Refsnyder is just like a handful of guys on this list in that he’s playing in Triple-A already but won’t be Rule 5 eligible this winter. If he’s only going to come up to sit the bench and maybe get his feet wet, is that really worth taking up an otherwise valuable 40-man spot all winter? If he were coming up to play every day, that would be one thing. But bringing him up to backup Stephen Drew probably isn’t worthwhile.
Associated Press photos
Haven’t done this in a while, so here’s a quick update on a few guys in the minor league system. Now that we’re approaching the end of August, there’s a heavy emphasis on the upper-levels in this post. Just seems more relevant with September call-ups around the corner. Minor league seasons will end in just a few weeks, and at that point it will be a little easier to take a big-picture look at what everyone — including the low-level guys — did and did not do this season. For now, it seems more worthwhile to focus on the Triple-A and Double-A guys who could be on the big league radar either next month or early next year.
• Strictly my own speculation, but don’t rule out Manny Banuelos as either a September call-up candidate or perhaps a left-handed relief possibility. Once the Yankees top pitching prospect — and one of the better left-handed pitching prospects in baseball — Banuelos is beginning to look like a standout again. On Tuesday he returned to Triple-A for the first time since his 2012 Tommy John surgery, and he allowed one run on two hits through five innings. He had an up-and-down year in Double-A, but in his last five Trenton starts before the promotion Banuelos had a 3.00 ERA with a .151 opponents’ batting average through 21 innings. Probably still some work to be done, but at least showing signs of life again.
• Other left-handed pitchers to have in mind now that the Yankees don’t have a true lefty specialist: In 10 games since moving up to Triple-A, Tyler Webb has 18 strikeouts through 13.1 innings. Lefties, though, are hitting .357 with two home runs against him. Nik Turley is still working as a Triple-A starter, with kind of up-and-down results, but lefties are hitting just .179 against him (with a bunch of walks). Not sure the Yankees would go that direction, but I suppose it’s a possibility. Down in Double-A, first-round pick Jacob Lindgren has faced just two lefties in three games, but he was dominant against them in similarly limited chances with High-A Tampa. Another Double-A reliever, James Pazos, is having a really nice year and has a .143/.205/.143 slash line against lefties (though surely if he were close to a big league call-up, he would have been pushed to Triple-A at this point). There’s also Pat Venditte, who’s overall Triple-A numbers are solid, with lefties hitting .246/.313/.298 against him.
• Rob Refsnyder just keeps hitting in Triple-A. He’s hit .300/.345/.440 in the month of August and he’s hitting .300/.391/.480 overall since getting to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. True to Brian Cashman’s word, Refsnyder has not played right field since the trade deadline. He’s strictly a second baseman with a few DH turns that let Jose Pirela get occasional time at second.
• If the Yankees can get Carlos Beltran into the outfield, I wonder if they would consider giving DH at-bats to Kyle Roller. Clearly Joe Girardi isn’t sold on Zoilo Almonte, who would also seem to be a prime candidate to bring some left-handed power to the lineup. But Roller might be an interesting alternative. Strictly a first baseman when he’s in the field, Roller is hitting .284/.374/.510 against Triple-A right-handers — and lefties don’t exactly give him trouble, he has an .858 OPS against them. Plus, Roller’s hit .316/.420/.600 in his past 95 overall at-bats, and he’s homered in three of his past six games. This guy has been forced to perform in order to keep himself (or get himself) on the map. Not a big name, but plenty of people speak pretty highly of his bat and work ethic.
• Been a strange year for pitching throughout the upper levels of the Yankees organization. Obviously the big league issues are well documented, but all of the injuries and turnover in New York have left Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shorthanded several times this season. Last night, Venditte had to make a spot start, and that game went 13 innings — Venditte and four other relievers pitched at least two innings — ending with outfielder Taylor Dugas making his second pitching appearance of the season. Everything can run smoothly, and Triple-A pitching staffs are still left short-handed from time to time. It’s the nature of the beast, but it’s occasionally gotten awfully tough for the Railriders this season. They’re feeling the impact of all of those big league pitching problems.
• By the way, when he’s not filling in on the mound, Taylor Dugas is having an awfully good season. When the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury and extended Brett Gardner, it seemed a little odd at least partially because the Yankees farm system was already overloaded with left-handed center field types. At this point, though, Ramon Flores has been hurt most of the year, Slade Heathcott once again had season-ending surgery, Mason Williams has underperformed, and Ben Gamel hasn’t hit a ton. Dugas is kind of the last man standing, having emerged from that group with a .299/.393/.398 slash line between Double-A and Triple-A. Doesn’t get nearly the recognition of those other guys, but he’s the only one consistently performing and staying on the field. We’ll see if that means anything this winter. Could make a case for himself as a fifth outfielder type.
• Speaking of left-handed outfielders, another emerging possibility is Jake Cave. He’s always generated some prospect attention, but because of injuries he’d never reached high enough into the upper levels to join the conversation with Williams and Heathcott. That’s surely changed at this point. Still just 21 years old, Cave moved up to Double-A in mid July and has hit .287/.368/.455 since getting there. He’s played all three outfield positions, occasionally forcing Williams into the corners. Cave already has five triples in 25 Double-A games.
• When the Yankees picked Cave in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, it came one round after they selected first baseman Greg Bird. Both were high schoolers at the time, and both have already reached Double-A. Bird jumped up to Trenton at the beginning of August, so he has just a 10-game sample size. So far, though, he’s hitting .273/.400/.636 with three home runs, all of which came in a pair of back-to-back games. Bird basically came up to Double-A as soon as Pete O’Brien was traded away. Bird got the available first-base playing time (and I have to believe Bird’s steady bat is part of the reason the Yankees felt comfortable trading O’Brien). Different kind of hitters, for sure, but each seemed more likely to settle in at first base than at any other position. Bird, by the way, was also drafted as a catcher, just like O’Brien.
• In case you’re curious about Pete O’Brien, he was assigned to Double-A and landed on the disabled list just four games after the trade. Interestingly, he didn’t play first base in any of those four games after the trade. He caught three times and played right field once after moving into the Diamondbacks organization.
• One more note about that 2011 draft class: It’s top pick, Dante Bichette, is also up to Double-A at this point. Having rejuvenated his prospect stock down in Tampa, Bichette was moved up to Trenton a week ago. He has five hits in six games. He was hitting .271/.352/.410 in Tampa.
• And one last note about that 2011 draft class: Big relief pitcher Branden Pinder has pitched 3.2 scoreless innings in four appearances since coming off the Triple-A disabled list. I wouldn’t necessarily consider him a favorite for a September call-up, but he is Rule 5 eligible this winter, and he’s been a pretty good reliever, and the Yankees currently have both Jose Ramirez and Preston Claiborne on the disabled list, meaning they might not be healthy enough to come up in September. If the Yankees are planning to protect Pinder this offseason, might make sense to give him a 40-man spot next month and bring him on up. Maybe. They could just bring up Banuelos, Matt Daley and Bryan Mitchell — guys already on the 40-man — and have a pretty massive pitching staff for the final month (especially if Masahiro Tanaka and David Phelps are off the disabled list at that point).
• Top pitching prospect Luis Severino has been placed on the Double-A disabled list with that oblique injury that was previously described as “very slight.” Could be that it really is a very slight injury, and the Yankees are just being extra cautious with their best young arm. Not like it would be unusual for them. Another top prospect, Ian Clarkin, has also been added to the disabled list. I emailed Mark Newman today to ask about the severity of the injury — could be little more than innings management with Clarkin — but I haven’t heard back just yet.
• A few very quick hits from the lower levels: Tampa right fielder Aaron Judge continues to be pretty awesome, in my mind solidifying himself as the team’s top hitting prospect ahead of Gary Sanchez. He’s homered three times in his past eight games, and he’s still taking a ton of walks. … Tampa shortstop Cito Culver‘s bat has actually regressed in the second half of the season. … Also in Tampa, third baseman Eric Jagielo is back from the disabled list and continues to hit for more power than average. He’s hit .233/.346/.433 in 90 at-bats since coming off the DL. He’s homered in his past two games. … In Charleston, second baseman Gosuke Katoh has hit .280/.378/.382 through 49 games in the second half. That’s after hitting .190/.302/.315 in the first half.
Associated Press photos of Banuelos and Roller; headshots of Dugas, Bird and Pinder