Here’s an interesting lineup note: Tonight’s Scranton/Wilkes-Barre infield has Ronnier Mustelier at third, Corban Joseph at second and David Adams at first.
We’ve already seen the Yankees send Joseph to first base a few times this season. Now Adams is getting a turn, and as far as I can tell, it’s his first time ever playing the position.
As for what to read into that…
Given the current first base situation in New York, where Lyle Overbay has no real backup, it makes sense to have two pretty solid utility-types learn the position. But it’s also worth noting, that while Joseph and Adams are pretty good offensive infielders, neither one stands out as a first-base type bat. Learning first base in order to play it in a pinch makes sense, but it’s hard to imagine either one being truly converted to the position.
Another thing to consider is that it makes sense to use first base almost like a second DH. The Yankees want to give Adams some time at second base, and when that happens, they can keep Joseph in the lineup by playing him at first. They also want to give Mustelier some time at third, and when that happens, they can move Adams to first. First base could be little more than a way for these guys to get at-bats.
More playing time, with a little extra defensive flexibility? Why not?
• This morning, Zoilo Almonte was named International League Player of the Week. He had a hit in all eight RailRiders games, batting .355 with two home runs and a league-best seven RBI. His season slash line is pretty terrific — .293/.393/.455 — but the problem with Almonte, from the Yankees perspective, is that he’s a switch hitter who’s much better from the left side. He’s hitting .299/.400/.494 against righties, but .273/.370/.318 against lefties. He has 10 extra-base hits this season, only one of them against a left-hander. The Yankees would have far more use for Almonte from the right side.
• Chien-Ming Wang is making another Triple-A start tonight. Wang’s numbers are terrific — 0.95 ERA through three starts — but Brian Cashman said last week that the Yankees want Wang to be more effective with his offspeed stuff. He still has the sinker, but it doesn’t have the same velocity that he had when he was a 19-game winner. The Yankees believe he’ll need to use his secondary stuff to have success with the current fastball.
• If this Eduardo Nunez rib cage injury is a real issue that requires a DL stint, who would the Yankees bring up? Gil Velazquez is a steady veteran, but he’s hitting .197 with no extra-base hits in Triple-A. Addison Maruszak is less proven defensively, but he has a .390 Triple-A on-base percentage and can play basically any position except pitcher. The bigger issue might be this: There’s not another shortstop on the 40-man roster. If the Yankees had to make a call-up, it might make more sense to recall Joseph and simply consider Chris Nelson the emergency shortstop for a couple of weeks.
• This really has little impact on the big league roster, but it seems like a real issue for the Triple-A team: Cody Johnson, Dan Johnson and Luke Murton have combined for three home runs for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Dan Johnson has always raked at that level, and both Murton and Cody Johnson have — at the very least — shown legitimate power in Double-A. I have to imagine that the Yankees expected their Triple-A roster to get a power boost from at least one of those three.
• Down in Double-A, Slade Heathcott is hitting just .198/.276/.291, Tyler Austin is slugging just .394 — granted, his on-base percentage is also .394 — and Ramon Flores recently hit a cold spell that’s dropped his batting average from .333 to .263 in a span of two weeks. So who’s the prospect standout in Trenton? It has to be catcher J.R. Murphy who’s hitting .309/.408/.543 with more walks than strikeouts.
• It’s worth noting that Rob Segedin was also putting up terrific Double-A numbers — .338/.390/.606 with 10 doubles — before landing on the disabled list with a hip injury. The down side: He’d also made nine errors at third base, the most errors of anyone in the system.
• After making a huge impression in spring training, Jose Ramirez was kept back in extended spring for a few weeks before finally making his regular season debut with four scoreless innings on April 26. He then pitched five innings with one hit and one unearned run on Wednesday. He’s scheduled to make his third appearance tomorrow. So far, he has 12 strikeouts and two walks through nine innings.
• Francisco Rondon as a starter this season: 7.16 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, 22 strikeouts and 17 walks through 27.2 innings. Wonder how long this experiment will continue if the numbers don’t improve drastically.
• Most eye-opening offensive stats in the Yankees organization? Has to be Rob Refsnyder. An NCAA standout at Arizona, Refsnyder is moving from the outfield back to second base — where he played in high school and, I believe, early in college — and his 11 errors show that there’s a bit of a learning curve. But the bat… my goodness. Refsnyder has already been promoted from Low-A to High-A, and between the two stops he’s hitting a combined .374/.486/.504 with more walks than strikeouts and 12 stolen bases without being caught. His numbers have actually been better since the promotion. He’s played 16 High-A games, and he’s had multiple hits in eight of them. Crazy.
• Yonkers native Dan Fiorito — signed last year out of Manhattanville after impressing the Yankees during a workout for non-drafted players — was sent to Tampa on April 22 to help out at shortstop. He’s basically become the everyday guy hitting .400/.478/.425 through 40 at-bats. He’s not a name on the prospect radar, but because of where he’s from I know him a little and was actually paying attention to him every time I was at the minor league complex this spring. He really, really stood out as a guy who seemed willing and able to lead. Heard him talking to teammates a lot between innings. A lot of “Let’s go, we can do this” kind of stuff. It stood out considering it was coming from a guy who’d never been in spring training and didn’t have the draft pedigree of most of the guys around him. Not saying he’s a future Jeter, just something that caught my attention.
• Back-to-back two-hit games by Gary Sanchez and his slash line is back up to .269/.355/.472 with five home runs, most of anyone in the system.
• Big strikeout numbers from Tampa starters Corey Black (36 in 30.2 innings), Mikey O’Brien (34 in 26.2 innings) and Shane Greene (33 in 36.1 innings) but the Tampa starter with the lowest ERA and lost opponents batting average is Bryan Mitchell with a 3.06 ERA and .235 opponents average. His down side has been the 18 walks. Lowest WHIP in that Tampa rotation belongs to the other starter, Scottie Allen, at 1.19. Pretty decent young arms in that group.
• We head all the way down to Charleston to find the organizational leader in walks. Low-A first baseman Greg Bird has 25 walks, good for a .425 on-base percentage. He slugged .494 in limited at-bats last season, but that power hasn’t shown up so far this season (only a .364 slugging percentage with one homer) but obviously the approach is encouraging for a 20-year-old.
• Less encouraging are the numbers for Low-A third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., who’s still trying to recapture his standout 2011 results. Sent to Charleston for a second season, Bichette is hitting just .186/.246/.265 with two homers, seven walks and 33 strikeouts. Speaking of repeating Low-A, shortstop Cito Culver has always been a glove-first player, but his .212/.305/.354 slash line is basically the same as last season except with a more power (Culver hit two homers last year, he’s already hit three this year).
• Want more good news in the Charleston lineup? Catcher Peter O’Brien has seven hits in his past three games and is hitting .313/.348/.563 for the year. He played in 21 games and has more than one hit in nine of them. He’s thrown out just over 25 percent of base stealers, which ranks him near the bottom of the South Atlantic League.
• Welcome to the U.S., Rafael De Paula. I was beginning to think he was more myth than man, but he’s finally pitching in the states and has an unreal 46 strikeouts through 27.1 innings with Charleston. Opponents are hitting .188 against him. That’s called living up to the hype, but Gabe Encinas is not sitting quietly in the shadows. Drafted in 2010, Encinas hasn’t put up particularly impressive numbers until this season. Through six starts he has a 0.84 ERA while holding opponents to a .175 average. His 28 strikeouts aren’t as impressive as De Paula’s massive number of Ks, but Encinas’ 1.05 WHIP is lower than De Paula’s 1.21.
Adams photo from my great friends at the Scranton Times-Tribune; headshots of Almonte, Murphy, Refsnyder and Bird
State of the organization: Corner outfield • 01.18.13
There’s a reason — beyond the obvious talent — that Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and Mike Morse generated so much trade talk among Yankees fans this winter. A big, power-hitting, prototypical corner outfielder would fit incredibly well on this roster. The minor league system might have a legitimate outfield slugger on the way, but he’s at least a year away, and for the time being, the Yankees outfield is filled with two small-ball players and one all-or-nothing free agent to be. Those are three legitimate pieces, but the Yankees outfield could certainly make room for one of Brian Cashman’s big, hairy monsters if he could find one.
Curtis Granderson / Ichiro Suzuki
Signed through 2013 /2014
We know Suzuki will be in right field. We can only guess whether Granderson or Brett Gardner will be in left (as I wrote a couple of days ago, I’m heading into spring training expecting Gardner to shift to center). Either way, the Yankees are going to have considerable speed in their outfield and should cover a lot of ground. They’re going to count on Gardner and Ichiro to run on offense, and on Granderson to hit home runs. What’s still unclear is who they’re going to count on to hit against lefties. Matt Diaz is coming to camp on a minor league deal, and Russ Canzler is going to try to win a job in spring training, but Cashman has made no secret of the fact he’d like to add another right-handed hitting corner outfielder. Nick Swisher gave the Yankees a steady right field presence for four years, and he’s been difficult to fully replace this winter.
On the verge
Maybe Tyler Austin can play his way into the big league picture this year, but it’s more likely that immediate help will have to come from either Zoilo Almonte or Ronnier Mustelier, two players who really weren’t even worth watching two years ago. Almonte was signed way back in 2005, but he didn’t put himself on the map until 2011 when he cut down on his strikeouts and hit .276/.345/.459 between High-A and Double-A. His power numbers went up during a full Double-A season last year, and now he has a 40-man spot with a Triple-A job on the way. He’s a switch hitter who was especially good against righties last year (it hasn’t always been that way). Mustelier is a Cuban defector who didn’t join the Yankees until 2011 when he was already 26 years old. He’s too old to be considered a typical prospect, but he’s hit .324/.378/.497 through two pro seasons, including a pretty good 89 games in Triple-A last year. He’s played some second base and center field, but Mustelier’s ticket to the big leagues might be his ability to play all four corners. He’s kind of a less proven version of Canzler, who’s probably higher in the pecking order. Under certain circumstances, center fielders Melky Mesa and Abe Almonte could also factor into the corner conversation.
Deeper in the system
Austin is easily the top corner outfield prospect in the system, and he appears to have been a 13th-round steal. Drafted out of high school in 2010, Austin was the unquestionable breakout star of the Yankees minor league system last year. He hit .322/.400/.559 while climbing all the way from Charleston to Trenton. Despite that little bit of Double-A experience, the Yankees are considering sending Austin back to High-A to open this season. If he repeats last year’s results, he won’t stay there for long. Austin’s breakout season easily overshadowed Ramon Flores, a left-fielder who has a knack for getting on base (.362 on-base percentage in his minor league career). Flores was added to the 40-man this winter and is ticketed for Trenton. It’s hard to mention all of the system’s mildly interesting corner outfielders — converted third baseman Rob Segedin, under-the-radar Cuban prospect Adonis Garcia, does-a-little-of-everything Ben Gamel, and 2012 draftees Taylor Dugas and Nathan Mikolas are names worth knowing — but I’ll save room for Jake Cave, the Yankees sixth-round pick in 2011 who’s hardly played since being drafted because of a knee injury. Cave could have been drafted as either a left-handed pitcher or an outfielder, but the Yankees liked his bat. There’s upside to him, just no professional track record.
On the move
College outfielder Rob Refsnyder played right field for the Yankees Low-A team last year but seems likely to shift to second base next season. On the flip side, long-time middle infielder Jose Pirela began to see considerable time in left field last year and kept at least a little bit of prospect status alive with a strong Double-A season. The Yankees have shown a willingness to move players into the outfield corners when necessary — that’s how Austin got there after signing as a corner infielder — and they could eventually do that with last year’s second-round pick Austin Aune, who will first get a chance to sink or swim as a shortstop. Obviously, if top center field prospects Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott each get to New York, one of them will have to shift to left field.
What to watch
The development of Austin is among the most interesting aspects of the Yankees system this season. Last year was a revelation, the kind of year that suggested he just might be a real life, in-house, power-hitting corner outfielder that can rise through the system and get to New York within two years. That would be huge for the Yankees. For now, the thing to watch is the Yankees on-going pursuit of a right-handed outfield bat and the how-long-can-he-last uncertainty of Ichiro’s two-year deal.
Associated Press photo; headshots of Granderson, Ichiro, Almonte, Mustelier, Austin, Flores, Williams and Heathcott
Almonte making an impression in Yankees camp • 03.11.12
Zoilo Almonte wasn’t necessarily organizational filler, but for too long he’d been an intriguing young hitter with so-so results. He had a pretty nice year with Staten Island in 2009 — .274/.355/.440 — he followed it with a kind of all-or-nothing 2010 split between Charleston and Tampa. There was always something to like, but rarely anything to love, and he remained firmly on the fringes of prospect buzz.
Last spring was the breakout that landed him a spot on the 40-man, and his first week and a half in big league camp have him on the radar.
“His at-bats are really good,” Joe Girardi said today. “His defense has been good. He’s run the bases. Everything that you’d ask a player to do, he’s done. This is a young man that really kind of burst on the scene a little bit. He showed up on the radar, (and) we might really have something. He’s just continued to do it in camp. Has there been a hitter more productive?”
Counting his big game against South Florida, Almonte is 6-for-10 with seven RBI. You could certainly make the case that Alex Rodriguez and maybe even Jose Gil have been just as good, but Almonte has made himself a player worth watching. He hit .293/.368/.514 before a promotion to Trenton last season, and this year’s trick will be continuing that production at the Double-A level. The upper levels of the Yankees system are thin in the outfield, so Almonte could easily put himself on the verge if he continues to hit.
In some ways, Melky Mesa is a cautionary tale. Mesa was also a fringy prospect who landed a 40-man spot after a big season in Tampa only to follow it with a disappointing year in Trenton, but Almonte is younger — still just 22 – and hasn’t shown the same consistently extreme strikeout totals. Almonte is far from a sure thing, but he’s an interesting guy in an organization that’s waiting for a big-league-ready outfield prospect to emerge. Even if he’s nothing more than a switch-hitting fourth outfielder, Almonte could be helpful in these money-saving days.
Associated Press photo
Tuesday notes: “I didn’t want any excuses” • 03.06.12
Joe Girardi didn’t exactly rip Phil Hughes this morning, but he did address the fact that Hughes wasn’t in great shape last spring. Girardi talked about expectations, entitlement and work ethic, and Girardi more than implied that he wasn’t happy with the way Hughes approached last spring.
“There’s a concern,” Girardi said. “The thing is, I’d seen him work very hard before. But yeah, it does question where their mindset is. Where’s their mindset?”
“I think you could tell by the way he came into camp that there’s a little bit more of an edge,” Girardi said.
After the game, Hughes was very good about addressing those conditioning concerns. It’s not the kind of thing players like talking about, but Hughes touched on a little bit of everything, from the disappointment of last season to the notion that complacency might have played a role.
“Last year was a failure and I didn’t want to do that again,” he said. “I didn’t want any excuses coming into spring. I needed to be strong and I needed to pitch well, so that’s on me. Everyone can want you to succeed as much as they want but at the end of the day I have to go out and do it.”
On last winter’s training program: “Maybe I thought I needed more rest than I really did in that off-season. Maybe just didn’t push it as hard as I could have. At the end of the day, it falls on me, and I paid for it with a disappointing year.”
On this winter’s training program: “I don’t think there was necessarily a message sent in my direction. I did my offseason program on my own. I actually had to call the team and make sure it was OK that I did it. So it wasn’t like I was being punished and sent to boot camp somewhere. It was something I wanted to do.”
• In his first spring start CC Sabathia allowed hits to the first three batters he faced, then he retired the next five. “I’ve still got a little work to do, but my arm feels good and my body feels good,” Sabathia said.
• Someone asked whether Sabathia can more easily dismiss some of those first-inning hits because they were helped by the wind. “No because the two balls that were outs in the next inning were crushed,” he said. “It’s just baseball.”
• Hughes was at 38 pitches when he came out of the game in the third inning. He laughed about Larry Rothschild’s trip to the mound that inning. “That was kind of a stall there, a little bit,” Hughes said. “I think he talked about the hitter that was up there. I’m pretty sure he was making it all up.”
• With Hiroki Koroda pitching tomorrow, the Yankees starters will slide into their regular five-game routines. It’s pretty much the usual rotation — with Hughes and Sabathia on the same day — from here on out. Girardi said Sabathia might pitch in a minor league game when it comes his turn next week.
• Despite the fact he played today, Derek Jeter said he’s planning to play tomorrow. He didn’t explain, but it’s pretty easy to look at the schedule and figure out why. Tomorrow and Friday are home games. Thursday and Saturday are on the road. Jeter might not be Mariano Rivera, but he’s got some clout.
• Girardi said he didn’t think Mark Teixeira was scheduled to play tomorrow, so if he’s out of the lineup, don’t read anything into it. Today’s thumb incident — he jammed his thumb a little bit applying a tag — seems to be a non-issue.
• George Kontos came through long toss yesterday with no problem. He was cleared today to resume full workouts with core work and regular lifting. He’ll do long toss again tomorrow and hopes to be in a bullpen within a few days.
• Zoilo Almonte’s perfect spring training came to an end with an 0-for-1 afternoon. He was 5-for-5 until now.
• None of the Yankees had more than one hit. Justin Maxwell and David Adams each had doubles — Adams’ came off former Yankees prospect Dan McCutchen — and there were singles from Jeter (first hit of the spring), Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Mesa, Chris Dickerson and Ramiro Pena. Mesa showed off his arm a little bit, throwing out Jake Fox at third base from center field.
• Brett Marshall had the pitching line of the day with 1.2 hitless innings. Graham Stoneburner allowed a run on four hits through two innings and Chase Whitley gave up three runs and five hits in the eighth.
Associated Press photos
Monday notes: A strong first impression • 03.05.12
The first time Michael Pineda was approached by a massive group of Yankees reporters, he’d just thrown batting practice in Tampa, and as soon as the crowd began to surround his locker, Pineda looked like a deer in the headlights. It had been quite a while since he’d pitched — he wasn’t mobbed as soon as he got to the clubhouse — but he seemed overwhelmed by the attention. You couldn’t help but wonder if it would be a bit much for him.
Today, he stood up in the corner of the clubhouse and gave an easy, light-hearted interview. Asked whether he was nervous to pitch today, he said “Hell no!” and started laughing. He didn’t come across as arrogant, just young and confident and perfectly at ease.
“I feel very good now,” he said. “I feel (a part of) the Yankee team right now.”
Freddy Garcia said yesterday that Pineda has been asking a lot of questions about what it’s like to pitch in New York. Larry Rothschild said he’s been more than willing to try new things that might make him better. Russell Martin was impressed with his willingness to use his developing changeup his first time out.
“In the meeting we had before the game, he was like, ‘I really want to work on my changeup today,’” Martin said. “And I told him, we’re going to use it, and use it the way you would use it during the season. I like him because he wants to work on stuff that he hasn’t mastered yet. He has a really good feel for his slider, his fastball. The velocity wasn’t where it’s going to be during the season but he has good fastball command and that was key.”
What I’ve seen of him, Pineda seems mostly quiet but confident. After today’s start, he was engaging. A language barrier sometimes limited him to one-word answers, but he seemed happy to talk and willing to consider his answers. He said he hadn’t been surrounded by so many reports since last year’s all-star game. As far as first impressions go, this was a good one.
“He seems to have that attitude that nothing really seems to bother him,” Joe Girardi said. “I’m curious to see as we move along how he carries himself on an everyday basis because I don’t know him. You try to learn a guy as soon as you can but you want to see, as they go through things, how they carry themselves.”
• No radar display at the stadium, but I was told Pineda’s fastball was roughly 89-91 mph and reached 92 once. That’s quite a bit lower than he’s expected to be in the season, but Larry Rothschild seemed unfazed. “Not what it’s going to be later in spring,” he said. “A little bit below, which you expect. Guys that are power pitchers usually take a little bit longer.”
• Pineda said earlier this spring that he showed up weighing about 10 pounds more than last season. He said today that he’s already lost seven to eight pounds and would like to drop two to four more.
• Nick Swisher fouled a ball off his shin but should be fine. No real concerns there.
• Dave Robertson struggled with his command in his spring debut. He allowed a run on a hit and a walk. “Sloppy, very sloppy,” Robertson said. “I just felt like my timing was off… Usually I feel like if you can throw it pretty close to the strike zone, the guys are going to swing (because) they’re not used to seeing it. I wasn’t able to get it in that zone today. I just couldn’t quite find it.”
• Jimmy Rollins stole two bases in that third inning, and Robertson said neither one was Russell Martin’s fault. “Nothing Russ could do about it,” Robertson said. “Because I was so slow to the plate.”
• The thing you really care about: Robertson said he’s thinking about sticking with the stirups this season. He wore them in college and for a while in the minor leagues – I can’t remember whether he had them in Scranton – and he’s taking them on something of a test drive this spring. “Have a bunch more outings like that and I won’t,” he said.
• I was down in the clubhouse and didn’t see much of Ryan Pope’s 1.2 hitless innings, but things were out of hand before that because Adam Miller and Juan Cedeno really struggled. They combined for four walks, five hits and eight earned runs. Miller also hit a guy. Cesar Cabral threw a scoreless fourth inning, but he was hit pretty hard. “You want them to get some outings under their belt before you really start analyzing what they’re doing,” Girardi said.
• Zoilo Almonte. 1-for-1. RBI. Still the late-inning star of these first few games.
• The only Yankee with more than one hit was Gustavo Molina who went 2-for-2. Brett Gardner had a triple, Nick Swisher, Eric Chavez, Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena, Jayson Nix and Colin Curtis each singled.
• As planned, George Kontos threw long toss today. That’s his next step back from a sore oblique.
• After failing his physical with the Yankees, Hideki Okajima has signed a deal to return to Japan.
• Newly acquired reliever David Aardsma did a Q&A with the blog Yankees Fans Unite. Check it out.
Associated Press photos
Yankees at the break: Outfield corners • 07.13.11
Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher each started the season with horrible numbers. Gardner lost his grip on the leadoff spot by the end of April, and Swisher sat for two days so that he could get his swing together. Lately, they’ve both been back to last year’s level of production.
As recently as May 25, Swisher was hitting just .208 with just two home runs. He was frustrated and it was beginning to show. Since then, he’s hit .302/.420/.566 with eight homers and the same over-the-top attitude that made him a fan favorite. Gardner was hitting .188 with a .273 on-base percentage at the end of April, but in the past two and a half months he’s hit .292 with a .374 on-base. He’s also become a much more dangerous and effective base stealer. He’s been streaky, but he’s also been productive, and he’s played his usual Gold Glove caliber defense.
Unless the Yankees decide to replace Andruw Jones on the bench, they really have no need for an outfield upgrade. Gardner’s not a typical corner outfielder, but he’s been effective with his unusual approach at the plate and his game-changing speed on the bases. Swisher has regained last year’s form and is once again one of the Yankees most dangerous and versatile hitters. Where they best fit in the lineup might be a legitimate question, but whether to play them regularly shouldn’t be.
Justin Maxwell was crushing the baseball in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and might have hit his way onto the big league roster if not for a season-ending injury. With Maxwell on the DL, Jordan Parraz as been the top corner outfielder in Triple-A, and Tampa left fielder Ziolo Almonte has been the best corner outfielder in the system. Almonte has been hitting for average and power while stealing bases, and he has to be considered a promotion candidate in the second half. Ray Kruml has emerged as a terrific leadoff man in Trenton, while Ramon Flores has lived up to his reputation for outstanding plate discipline for a teenager in Charleston.
Is Gardner about to win his first Gold Glove?
Gardner’s always had great speed, and last year he seemed to slowly make people realize just how well that speed plays in the outfield. This year, he’s also been effective throwing the ball. His four outfield assists aren’t near the AL leaders, but runners seem to be respecting his arm a little bit more this season and not taking as many chances. I’m guessing manager have noticed.
Gardner is heading for his first year of arbitration, so he’s still relatively cheap for next season. Swisher has a $10.25-million club option for next year, and the Yankees have to decide whether to exercise it. Given the money that Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth got this winter, they might not think twice about getting Swisher at that price.
Associated Press photo
For this sort of exercise, it’s much easier to lump left field and right field into one category. They aren’t exactly the same position — teams prefer a better glove in left, a better arm in right — but in terms of organizational depth, the two positions are pretty interchangeable. In New York, though, they’re occupied by two very different players.
In the big leagues
Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher are different hitters who share a similar approach at the plate. They are two of the most selective hitters in baseball, but that’s where the common ground ends. Gardner’s game is built on speed, Swisher’s is built on power, and each had his own sort of breakout season in 2010. Gardner is 27 years old and established himself as a legitimate everyday outfielder. With over-the-top patience, he led the Yankees in on-base percentage and stolen bases. He’s arguably the best defensive left fielder in baseball with exceptional range and a better-than-expected arm. Swisher just turned 30 and made his first all-star team. He’s in the final year of his contract, but there is a club option for 2012. With no obvious replacement in the upper levels of the minor league system, the Yankees could exercise that option if Swisher has another productive year.
On the verge
Unless one of them finds a spot on the big league roster, a Triple-A outfield of Colin Curtis, Greg Golson and Jordan Parraz will give the Yankees plenty of reserves: All three on the 40-man, all three able to play each outfield spot, and all three ready to play a role in New York as needed. Third baseman Brandon Laird will also get some time in the outfield, and his power bat fits the profile of a corner outfielder. The Double-A outfield is more of a hit-or-miss group. Center fielder Melky Mesa has more than enough arm for right field and is perhaps the biggest wild card in the system’s upper levels. Cody Johnson, acquired from the Braves this winter, is a former first-round pick who’s shown significant power but a complete inability to hit for average. Dan Brewer — who could jump to Triple-A if there’s an opening — hit 10 homers and 34 doubles in Trenton last season, but he’s never been considered a prominent prospect.
Deep in the system
Long-term, the Yankees depth in the outfield corners will probably be built on their current depth at other positions. For now, Slade Heathcott, Eduardo Sosa, Mason Williams and Abe Almonte are best suited for center field, but they could move to the corners as necessary. Catcher J.R. Murphy will see some time in right field this season, as will third baseman Rob Segedin. For now, the lower levels should have guys like Zoilo Almonte, Taylor Grote and Kelvin De Leon getting considerable time in the outfield corners (all three have generated some prospect buzz but haven’t done much either because of injury or lack of production). The name to remember seems to be Ramon Flores. One talent evaluator was raving about him during the Winter Meetings, comparing him favorably to former Yankees prospect Jose Tabata. Flores hit .303/.390/.419 last year and should be ready for a full season in Charleston.
Organizational depth chart
My own rough guess. It’s far too early for the Yankees to settle on who will be where next season.
New York: Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher
Scranton/WB: Colin Curtis and Jordan Parraz
Trenton: Cody Johnson and Dan Brewer
Tampa: Taylor Grote and Zoilo Almonte
Charleston: Eduardo Sosa and Ramon Flores
The big league depth chart is incomplete until the Yankees sign a fourth outfielder. The Yankees have been strongly linked to Andruw Jones, and if he’s signed, Jones will become the primary backup in both left and right field. The Yankees have no shortage of additional players ready to step into a corner outfield role as necessary: Curtis, Golson, Parraz, Laird and Kevin Russo are all in the mix.
Lower in the minor league system, I based my projections on Heathcott opening in Charleston, forcing Sosa to open in left field instead of center. As is always the case, the Yankees have plenty of additional outfielders who could see time in the corners. In rough top-to-bottom order: Austin Krum, Damon Sublett, Jack Rye, Raymond Kruml and Deangelo Mack are among the guys who will get corner outfield time for the full-season teams. The impact of multi-position guys like Segedin and Murphy, though, will probably be more significant.
Associated Press photo of Swisher, headshots of Gardner, Curtis and Zoilo Almonte