Tagged: Bobby Wilson

Phelps Strikes Out 9 As Yankees Outslug Orioles

GAME 31

YANKEES 11, ORIOLES 8

On a chilly evening in Sarasota, FL, Yankee right-hander David Phelps came out of the gates guns blazing and the offense caught fire late to back him.

Bobby Wilson broke a 3-3 tie in the sixth inning with a sacrifice fly that scored Jayson Nix and Phelps struck out nine Orioles in 5 1/3 innings of work as New York outslugged Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 8,660 at Ed Smith Stadium.

Phelps (3-3) gave up three runs on four hits and two walks to earn the victory. Journeyman left-hander Mark Hendrickson (0-1) took the loss for the O’s. Preston Claiborne pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.

The Yankees believed they had put the game away with a six-run seventh inning off Orioles reliever Chris Petrini, keyed by a two-run single by top outfield prospect Mason Williams, a two-run homer off the bat of Brennan Boesch and solo shot by Ben Francisco.

The Orioles did draw to within 10-8 with a five-run seventh inning off Yankees reliever Branden Pinder. Taylor Teagarden keyed the inning with a three-run home run.

The victory gave the Yankees a 13-17 record in Grapefruit League play. The Orioles are now 18-9.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Despite a shaky fifth inning in which he was touched for a two-run home run off the bat of Nate McLouth, Phelps was outstanding. Five of his nine strikeouts were called and he only gave up one hit with no walks in his other 4 1/3 innings of work. Phelps will open the season as a starter until Phil Hughes is activated off the disabled list.
  • A day after the Yankees completed a trade for outfielder Vernon Wells, the two outfield candidates most affected by the deal hit home runs. Boesch drove a blast to left-center on a 1-0 pitch in the seventh for his first homer of the spring. Francisco then followed him by launching a 2-1 pitch just to the right of where Boesch’s landed for his third home run of the spring. Neither Francisco or Boesch want to be cut or sent to the minors, However, it does appear there is no room on the roster for both of them.
  • Very quietly Eduardo Nunez is beginning to get hot with the bat. Nunez was 2-for-3 with a RBI and a run scored in Wednesday’s game. Since March 14, Nunez is 13-for-29 (.448) and he has raised his spring average to .293. Nunez will begin the season replacing Derek Jeter at shortstop.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I have no real reason to complain. Oh, Pinder giving up five runs in the bottom of the seventh did let the O’s back in the game. But Pinder is not going to make the Yankees’ 25-man roster. You can’t really complain when every Yankee in the starting lineup got at least one hit in the game.

BOMBER BANTER

Nix played second base on Wednesday because Robinson Cano had to be scratched with a stomach virus, manager Joe Girardi told reporters. In addition, Addison Maruszak was inserted at third base in place Ronnier Mustelier. The reason for Mustelier being removed was not disclosed.  . . .  Jeter will not play in a minor-league game until at least next week, general manager Brian Cashman reported on Wednesday.  . . .  Ivan Nova gave up seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and a walk in five-plus innings against the Toronto Blue Jays’ Class-A Dunedin club on Wednesday.  . . .  The Yankees on Wednesday claimed right-hander Sam Demel off waivers from the Houston Astros. Demel, 27, is 4-4 with two saves and a 4.95 ERA in 72 appearances with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2010 to 2012. To make room for Demel the Yankees released right-hander Daniel Otero, who they claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will wrap up their Grapefruit League season on Thursday at George M. Steinbrenner Field against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-2, 2.31 ERA) will make his last tuneup start for the Yankees. Left-hander Jeff Locke will pitch for the Pirates.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will not be telecast.

 

 

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Yankees Eclipse Rays Behind Three-Run Eighth

GAME 17

YANKEES 3, RAYS 1

Ivan Nova and Alex Cobb set the tone for the afternoon by matching zeros early and the Bobby Wilson’s two-run single in the top of the eighth inning helped allow the Yankees break through in this pitchers’ duel as New York downed Tampa Bay on Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Complex In Port Charlotte, FL.

Nova, who is vying along with David Phelps for the No. 5 starting spot for the Yankees, tossed four shutout innings and gave up four hits while striking out two batters.  His mound opponent, Cobb, pitched five shutout innings and gave up two hits and struck out six.

The game remained scoreless until the eighth when the Yankees got a leadoff single from Francisco Cervelli and a one-out single from Thomas Neal off Dane De La Rosa (0-1). Slade Heathcott followed with a potential double-play ball that Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee botched for an error that allowed Walter Ibarra – pinch-running for Cervelli – to score the game’s first run.

Wilson then followed with a sharp single to left to score Neal and Heathcott.

The Rays scored an unearned run in the bottom of the inning off right-hander Brett Marshall (1-0), which broke the Yankees’ 25-inning scoreless streak. However, the Yankees still have not given up an earned run in 27 innings and they have allowed only two earned runs over their last 41 innings.

Matt Tracy pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.

With the victory, their third in a row, the Yankees improved their spring ledger to 6-11. The Rays fell to 11-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Nova held the Rays scoreless he needed a lot of help from his defense to do it. Melky Mesa made a outstanding back-handed grab at the wall in center off Rays leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings in the first inning. In addition, Nova had to wriggle out of a major jam in the fourth. Kelly Johnson laced a single to right that Zoilo Almonte bobbled to allow Johnson to reach second. Johnson then advanced to third on a Leslie Anderson single. But Ryan Roberts lined out to third baseman Jayson Nix, Cervelli threw out Anderson as he attempted to take second and Nova struck out Sean Rodriguez swinging to end the threat.
  • In addition to throwing out Anderson in the fourth, Cervelli also threw out Mike Fontenot attempting to take second in the first. In both cases, Cervelli partially blocked pitches in the dirt and threw out both runners because they thought the ball had rolled to the backstop. Cervelli is solidifying his candidacy for the starting catching spot with his defense and throwing.
  • Neal, 25, was 2-for-3 in the game and has quietly raised his spring average to .333 with a homer and three RBIs. Neal was signed as a free agent out the Cleveland Indians organization and he is a non-roster invitee to camp. He has virtually no chance of making the 25-man roster but he could be valuable as a future call-up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees continue to commit errors in bunches. They were charged with three but only Ronnier Mustelier’s error in the eighth hurt. The other errors were charged to shortstop Eduardo Nunez and Almonte. For Nunez it is only his second error of the spring and both have been on throws.
  • Travis Hafner continues to struggle mightily at the plate this spring. Hafner was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and all came looking. Hafner is hitting .167 with no homers, one RBI and seven strikeouts thus far in spring. It is true that Raul Ibanez struggled through spring training in 2012 and ended up having a great season for the Yankees. But Hafner is either be pressing or may be taking things for granted since he has a major-league contract.
  • Though Mesa is playing excellent defense and he has been hitting for power this spring, he is in a bit of a hitting funk. He was 0-for-4 in the game is his spring average has dipped to .194. Even with all that, Mesa has a great chance to make the team as a spare outfielder because he is such a great defensive outfielder.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees’ decision to sign veteran outfielder Ben Francisco does not bode well for the hopes of non-roster invitee Matt Diaz. Francisco, 31, will make his first start in left-field with the Yankees on Wednesday. Diaz, 35, is hitting only .190 with no homers and two RBIs  Francisco, meanwhile, was hitting .400 with six doubles for the Indians when he requested his release so he could sign with the Yankees.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play host host to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Fans who plan to attend the game will see two important debuts. Left-hander Andy Pettitte will make his first start of the spring and Derek Jeter is expected to shortstop for the first time.

The Phillies will start left-hander Cliff Lee.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.

 

Jeter, Rivera Shine In Returns But Yankees Lose

GAME 14

BRAVES 2, YANKEES 1

TAMPA  –  To the Yankees and their fans, the tradition and history of the team is almost as important than the future direction of the franchise. On Saturday, the current legends of the team and the promise of the future were on proud display on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, fresh from a morning news conference to announce that 2013 will be his final season in pinstripes, and team captain Derek Jeter, rehabbing from offseason surgery to his left ankle, both made triumphant spring training debuts.

As a metaphor for the future, 23-year-old right-hander Jose Ramirez threw four shutout innings against the Braves, yielding just one hit and striking out four batters.

However, as a reminder of the team’s present, the Yankees’ offense could not match its excellent pitching and they fell to Atlanta for their fourth consecutive spring training defeat.

Rivera, 43, spurred the crowd of 10,973 to its feet as he trotted to the mound in the fifth inning serenaded by his personal anthem “Enter Sandman.”

It did not take the master long to establish his signature cutter as Dan Uggla hit a weak infield popup and Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson were caught looking in only 15 pitches. The gathered throng shot to its feet again as one of their heroes strode off the mound and tipped his cap just before he entered the dugout.

Their other “Golden Boy,” Jeter, wasted no time after his standing ovation as he stepped into the batter’s box in the first inning. He sent the initial offering from left-hander Mike Minor between the shortstop Tyler Pastornicky and the third baseman Francisco in left-field. Though Jeter’s gait appeared to be somewhat labored. It did not make a difference to the fans who cheered the captain they love so dearly.

In a spring marked by injury after injury, disappointment and mounting losses, the fans were just happy to have No. 2 and No. 42 back on the field.

Minor matched Ramirez with four shutout innings of his own. He gave up three hits and two walks.

The Braves scored their first run in the seventh inning on a one-out triple by Pastornicky and a two-out bloop RBI single to center by Uggla. They added an insurance run in the ninth on a Jordan Schaffer double and Schaffer later scored on a sac fly off the bat of Jordan Parraz.

That run proved significant because the Yankees ended a 19-inning spring scoring drought against the Braves that dates back to the team’s spring opener on Feb. 23. Thomas Neal scored Bobby Wilson on a groundout off reliever Alex Wood.

Anthony Vavaro (1-0) pitched a perfect sixth inning to get credit for the victory. Wood pitched two innings to earn his second spring save. Left-hander Francisco Rondon took the loss for the Yankees.

The punchless Yankees are now 3-11 this spring. The Braves improved to 8-8.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Of all the young pitchers, it’s Ramirez, 23, who’s looked the best. He’s gotten two starts and has pitched a total of shutout nine innings allowing four hits with one walk and five strikeouts. “He’s been great,” manager Joe Girardi said. “The kid has thrown the ball really well. He’s throwing strikes. He’s got an outstanding changeup. His slider is a work in progress. He spots his fastball with velocity. He’s had an outstanding spring.”
  • Ichiro Suzuki was 2-for-3 and a stolen base on Saturday. He is hitting .450 for the spring. It is just too bad that nobody in the No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5 spots can get enough going at the plate to score him. I bet Girardi is counting the days until mid-May when Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are expected back. Until then it is not much of an offense. It is just plain offensive is what it is.
  • Ronnier Mustelier may be built like a tank but he proved on Saturday that he can run when he stroked a two-out triple to right-center in the seventh. Mustelier, 28, is hitting a robust .375 this spring and Girardi even tried him out at third base on Saturday. Mustelier was moved to the outfield because he seems to be better there. But if he could play third well enough the Yankees might keep him because of his potent bat.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Surprise! The Yankees were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position on Saturday. It is apparent that the team’s downfall in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers has not been rectified. They are going to have to do better when the season starts.
  • Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera, two players who are likely going to make the team and are being counted upon in the absence of Granderson and Teixeira, were a combined 0-for-6 on Saturday. Rivera is hitting a respectable .273 but Diaz is struggling, hitting just .222.
  • Left-handed designated hitter Travis Hafner was 0-for- 2 and he’s hitting .167. It may not yet be time to panic but you may want to keep the Xanax handy.

BOMBER BANTER

Right-handers Phil Hughes, David Robertson and David Aardsma threw bullpen sessions on Saturday and all three reported feeling fine afterward. “All good news,” Girardi said. “Maybe the worm has turned.”  . . .  After the game right-handers Tom Kahnle and Kelvin Perez were optioned to minor-league camp.

ON DECK

The Yankees hope to seek a better result on Sunday on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL.

Right-hander David Phelps will make his fourth start of the spring for the Yankees. He will be opposed by J.A. Happ.

Game-time will be at 1:05 EDT and the game will be telecast on tape delay by the MLB Network at 3 a.m. on Monday.

 

Yankees To Showcase Four Huge Spring Battles

The pitchers and catchers of the New York Yankees have reported to spring training camp in Tampa, FL, and the position players will soon be joining them. The Yankees’ first scheduled exhibition game is a week away. There are very few jobs on the line this spring as it is with most seasons with the Yankees. But there are four battles worth watching this spring and the result may determine how successful the team will be in 2013. Let’s look at them.

4) STARTING CATCHER: FRANCISCO CERVELLI vs. CHRIS STEWART

With the departure of Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent, the Yankees will be looking at replacing him from within their own ranks. The Yankees elected not to sign such free agents as A.J. Pierzynski and Miguel Oilvo. The problem is that Martin not only provided the Yankees with Gold Glove-quality defense behind the plate, he also provided power despite the fact his batting average was stuck below .200 for most of the 2012 season. The two main candidates to replace Martin are Cervelli, 26, who had been the team’s primary backup catcher in 2010 and 2011 but was optioned to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre on the final day of spring training last season due to the acquisition of Stewart, 30, from the San Francisco Giants. Cervelli arrives as the team’s best hitting option because he owns a career .271 batting average. But he lacks power and, although he calls a good game behind the plate, his throwing can be very erratic. He has a career success rate of throwing out 19.8 percent of base-runners. In contrast, throwing out base-runners is Stewart’s forte. He has nailed 33.7 percent of potential base-stealers and Stewart’s other defensive skills are pretty much on par with Martin’s. The big negative with Stewart is that he is a career .217 hitter and he has no power. In addition to this battle, there are a pair of catchers looking to make an impression in rookie Austin Romine, 24, and non-roster invitee Bobby Wilson, 29. Romine is coming off a season in which he was plagued by a lower-back strain that limited him to just 33 games in the minors last season. Wilson, a former backup catcher with the Los Angels Angels, was released by the Toronto Blue Jays after spending the entire 2012 season at Triple A. Romine’s strong suit is defense and manager Joe Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, both former catchers, believe Romine is ready to catch at the major-league level now. The issue with Romine is that he has to prove he is healthy and he has to improve as a hitter. Wilson is almost a carbon copy of Stewart. He has nailed 27.1 percent of potential base-stealers but his career major-league batting average is .208.

PREDICTION: Cervelli should win the job, barring injury, which is a legitimate concern. Cervelli has suffered three separate concussions, a broken wrist and a broken bone in his foot over the past five seasons. So his durability is an issue. Stewart, on the basis of his solid season as backup in 2012, seems to be almost assured of retaining his job. But Romine is worth watching this spring. If he is healthy and he shows signs his hitting is improving he might get a promotion to the majors this season. But realistically the Yankees would prefer that he get in a full season at Scranton and he could be promoted in September with a hope he can compete for a starting role in 2014. Wilson will be insurance in case there is an injury to Cervelli or Stewart and he likely will share the catching chores with Romine at Scranton.

3) RESERVE INFIELDER: JAYSON NIX vs. EDUARDO NUNEZ

Although this is, in a sense, a rematch from last spring, it also is not. Confused? Well, Nunez was actually competing for the backup infield spot with Ramiro Pena and Nix, who was signed as a minor-league free agent, was just invited to spring training. Nunez, 25, easily won the role by hitting .372 while Pena hit .240. Nix, 30, was a longshot to make the team and did not. However, he did open some eyes by hitting .323 and flashing some solid defense at second base, third base and shortstop. Nix also proved valuable in that he could play the corner outfield spots. So he was optioned to Scranton and he hit .233 there before he was summoned on May 3. Nunez was hitting a sizzling .294 but his penchant to commit careless fielding errors doomed him. He was optioned to Scranton on May 11 and Nix became the team’s backup infielder. Nunez’s season pretty much fell apart after that. He suffered an injury to his right hand that sidelined him for most of the minor-league season. He was recalled to the Yankees when the rosters expanded on Sept. 1 but the Yankees top brass insisted that Nunez was being groomed as primarily a shortstop and that he would not used as a utility infielder anymore. Nix,meanwhile, flourished in his role, hitting .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 174 at-bats in 77 games. Though Nunez is clearly a better athlete, a better hitter and a better base-stealer, Nix was so much steadier in the field that the Yankees were pleased with his work. Nunez committed seven errors in 38 games with the Yankees while Nix was charged with only three. A quick look at the Yankees’ depth chart on yankees.com shows something interesting this spring. Nunez is listed as the primary backup at second, third, shortstop and leftfield. Huh? I guess the Yankees changed their minds about Nunez not being a utility player and he will battle Nix for the role. If anyone believes Nunez is going to shed his nickname of “Eduardo Scissorhands” this spring than I have some prime swampland to sell you. But the Yankees may need his hitting and his base-stealing ability more than they need his fielding this season. The Yankees lost a lot of power from the 2012 club and they may need to score more runs by moving runners around the bases and stealing more bases. That would favor Nunez, who actually embarrassingly was third on the team last season with 11 stolen bases despite playing in only 38 games. Nix is still in the picture because of his fielding and steady play. It is going to be a very close call either way it goes.

PREDICTION: Nunez not only has hitting and base-stealing advantages this spring. He also may benefit from the slow recovery of Derek Jeter from surgery on his fractured left ankle and the presence of camp invitee Dan Johnson. If Jeter can’t start the season at shortstop, Nunez will man the position in his place. The reason Johnson is important is that he is a left-handed power hitter who can play both first and third base. If Johnson can make the team and show he field third base adequately enough, Nunez would only need to back up at shortstop and second base. That would lessen the chances Nix would have to making the 25-man roster. Johnson would, in effect, replace Eric Chavez, who opted to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. That would allow Nunez to remain as a backup middle infielder and potentially a right-handed platoon designated hitter. If I was a betting man, I would wager that this is the scenario that likely will play out. Nix could accept a demotion to Scranton as insurance. It also is possible that Nunez could be packaged in a trade before the season starts. But that won’t happen until Jeter shows he will be ready to play by Opening Day.

2) BACKUP OUTFIELDER: MATT DIAZ vs. JUAN RIVERA

One of the reasons Nunez is listed as a backup in leftfield is because both Diaz and Rivera are non-roster invitees to spring training. But, rest assured, one of them make the team as a right-handed hitting backup outfielder. Diaz, 34, was released by the Atlanta Braves after suffering through a season cut short in August by season-ending surgery on his right thumb. Diaz hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs. He is a career .291 hitter and he has been an exceptional hitter against left-handed pitching. Rivera, 34, originally came up through the Yankees’ minor-league system and played with the Yankees in parts of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being traded to the then Montreal Expos before the 2004 season. Rivera was reserve outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs. He is a career .274 hitter and h also has been a much better hitter against left-handers. When the Yankees chose to allow Andruw Jones sign with a team in Japan, the Yankees opened up a spot on the roster for a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who could also serve as a right-handed platoon designated hitter. Neither player is considered as accomplished fielders though Diaz has a bit more range. As hitters, Diaz is a better hitter for average though Rivera boasts considerably more power. Because the Yankees starting outfield is an all left-handed-hitting group consisting of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki it is important that the Yankees have a right-handed-hitting option on the bench. So these two players will be fighting it out.

PREDICTION: Because of Rivera’s former ties to the club and the fact he hits with more power, he has a big edge over Diaz. Neither Gardner or Suzuki have much power so it will be important to have a hitter on the bench who can provide it from the right side. Should Girardi also need a right-handed DH, Rivera fits the Jones mold better than Diaz does. Diaz also has slipped significantly since the 2009 season when he hit .313 and he also is coming off surgery. Rivera, on the other hand, also has slipped from his 2009 season when he hit .287 with 25 home runs and 88 RBIs with the Los Angeles Angels. But last season was the first season in which he has failed to connect for double-digit home runs since the 2007 season in which he played in only 14 games. Rivera will likely win the job easily barring injury or something else unforeseen.

1) NO. 5 STARTING PITCHER: IVAN NOVA vs. DAVID PHELPS

Those other position battles are the undercard but this one is the Main Event. It is also odd that there is even a competition involving Nova considering how good he was in his rookie season in 2011. But Nova, 26, struggled from the minute spring exhibitions started in 2012 and it got so bad that he was taken out of the rotation in favor of Phelps by Girardi in September. Nova’s record in 2011 was 16-4 and he was 12-8 last season. However, his ERA jumped from 3.70 to 5.02 and, though he recorded a 1.26 ERA in June last season, his ERA in the other months was: 5.18 in April, 5.87 in May, 5.97 in July, 7.03 in August and 6.23 in September. Ouch! So that is the reason Phelps is challenging him for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. Phelps, 25, arrived in camp last spring voted as the organization’s best minor-league pitcher in 2011. Though scouts have always doubted him, Phelps rose through the minors and carries a record of 40-15 with a 2.51 ERA in 90 starts. In spring training, Phelps was 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA in seven appearances and was named the Yankees’ top rookie of the spring. He also earned a spot in the bullpen. Phelps then turned in some sparkling performances as a long reliever and spot starter with the Yankees. He ended the season 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 33 appearances (11 starts). This competition is hard to handicap because Nova – truth be told – has the nastiest stuff of any of the Yankees’ starters. Last season he just could not harness it and he got hit hard when he fell behind and had to throw fastballs. Phelps is pit-bull on the mound who has supreme confidence in himself and his stuff.

PREDICTION: I really have no idea on how this will turn out but I still believe that Nova has a bit of an edge on the basis of his rookie season. But Phelps has been doubted at every step of the way since he starred at Notre Dame. You can never measure desire and he has it. I can tell you the loser of this battle will not necessarily be heading to the bullpen. For one thing, Nova has little or no bullpen experience. Another reason is that the Yankees probably will want to make sure that the starter they do not select for the rotation remains “stretched out” as a starter at the minor-league level so they can step in case of an injury. I can also say it is refreshing to see that with homegrown starters like Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes already in the rotation and two homegrown starters like Nova and Phelps battling for the last rotation spot, that the Yankees’ minor-league system is beginning to churn out talent at a time when the payroll needs to be reduced.  It sure beats shelling out money to guys like Sergio Mitre and Freddy Garcia. That is progress.

 

Yanks Sign DH Hafner, Invite 43 Others To Camp

With the announcement of the signing of designated hitter/first baseman Travis Hafner to a one-year contract on Feb. 1, the New York Yankees are basically finished with their roster moves prior to the opening of spring training camp in Tampa, FL.

Hafner, 35, is a potential replacement for the loss of Raul Ibanez, who opted to sign with the Seattle Mariners this offseason.

Hafner hit .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 64 games with the Cleveland Indians last season.

Though Hafner has played first base in his career, he has not played in the field since the 2007 season. So it appears he primarily will be the team’s left-hand DH and will play first sparingly, if at all.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated fellow former Indians first baseman/outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment. If Canzler is not picked up by another team he could be reclaimed and invited to spring training with the Yankees.

In addition to Hafner, the Yankees added to their spring roster by inviting a total of 43 players to spring training.

Among those is left-hand hitting first baseman Dan Johnson, who most recently played for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox, and outfielders Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera.

Diaz, 34, hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 51 games for the Atlanta Braves last season. The right-hand hitting Diaz had his season cut short by a right thumb injury that required surgery in August.

Diaz is a career .291 hitter and he has an excellent chance to make the team as a backup corner outfielder and designated hitter.

Rivera, also 34, originally came out of the Yankees minor-league system and played for the team in portions of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being dealt to the Montreal Expos in 2004.

Rivera hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 109 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a career .274 hitter.

Rivera is also a corner outfielder and he likely will compete with Diaz for a roster spot.

Johnson, 33, has an excellent chance to make the roster as a replacement for Eric Chavez, who signed in the offseason with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson is a left-handed hitter who can play first and third base and as a corner outfielder.

He hit .364 with three home runs and six RBIs in late season call-up with the White Sox. But at Triple-A Charlotte, Johnson hit .267 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs in 137 games before being recalled in September.

With Hafner and Johnson both having good shots at making the team and Diaz and Rivera competing for a backup outfield and right-hand DH spot, the other battles for bench spots will come down to backup catcher and a utility infield spot.

The Yankees lost starting catcher Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent so the starting catcher spot will come down to a battle between Francisco Cervelli, 26, and Chris Stewart, 30. The loser of the battle likely will be the team’s backup.

The Yankees also invited former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to camp as a non-roster invitee. However, Wilson likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just in case Cervelli or Stewart are injured and he will back up rookie Austin Romine, 24, who is coming off a lower-back injury.

The backup infield spot will be a rematch of last season’s battle between speedy Eduardo Nunez, 25, and steady Jayson Nix, 30.

Nunez is a career .272 hitter with 38 steals in 46 attempts. He is the team’s second-best base-stealer behind Brett Gardner and is perhaps the best athlete on the team.

However, his glovework the past two seasons has been so bad the Yankees want him to primarily play shortstop and second base, which gives Nix a huge edge despite the fact he arrives in camp as a non-roster player.

Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees last season. He is able to play second, third, shortstop and the corner outfield spots.

Nunez possibly could make the team as a right-hand DH and he could play a lot of shortstop this season in place of 38-year-old Derek Jeter, who is recovering from a fractured left ankle he sustained in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

Another option for Nunez is that he could be traded this spring if general manager Brian Cashman feels the need to add a player before the season begins.

Along with Johnson, Wilson, Nix, Diaz and Rivera, the Yankees invited the following players to camp:

CATCHERS: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez.

INFIELDERS: Gregory Bird, Cito Culver, Walter Ibarra, Addison Maruszak, Luke Murton, Jose Pirela, Kyle Roller, Gil Velazquez.

OUTFIELDERS: Abraham Almonte, Tyler Austin, Adonis Garcia, Slade Heathcott, Ronnier Musteller, Thomas Neal, Rob Segedin.

PITCHERS: Corey Black, Juan Cedeno, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, David Herndon, Tom Kahnle, Jim Miller, Bryan Mitchell, Mark Montgomery, Zach Nuding, Mikey O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Brandon Pinder, Ryan Pope, Josh Spence, Matt Tracy, Chase Whitley.

 

Cervelli Tops Quartet Dueling For Catching Role

Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!

CATCHER – POSITION OPEN

When  it comes to catchers, Yankee fans have been pretty spoiled. The position has been manned by such legends as Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada.

Of course, there have been years when the position has been filled by less than legends like Rick Cerone, Mike Stanley and Joe Girardi. Yes, him.

It seems that 2013 is one of those years the Yankees will be fielding a catcher who will be even lesser of a legend. The departure of Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates has left this position open with a four candidates vying for it beginning this spring.

None of the four have anywhere near the power Martin provided. But some are just as adept defensively. The Yankees signaled this was the direction they were going when they chose let Martin walk and opted not to sign free agent A.J. Pierzynski.

Pierzynski, 36, hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBIs with the White Sox last season and he would have loved the short rightfield porch as a left-handed hitter. But the Yankees passed on him because of his defensive shortcomings and he signed with the Texas Rangers.

The Yankees four candidates are: former Posada and Martin backup Francisco Cervelli, 2012’s backup Chris Stewart, rookie prospect Austin Romine and former Los Angeles Angels backup Bobby Wilson.

The quartet are politely described as “defensive-minded” catchers, which in baseball-speak means they can’t hit a lick. For Yankee fans used to cyclical lineups without a weak link, the 2013 version will have one huge hole in it here. Whoever wins this job will be the opposing pitcher’s “escape hatch” out of big innings.

The leading candidate for the job appears to be Cervelli, 26, who ironically spent all of last season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre because of the presence of Martin and Stewart.

On the last day of spring training the Yankees swung a last-minute deal with the San Francisco Giants to acquire Stewart, who was out of minor-league options. The Yankees were so in love with Stewart’s defensive work behind the plate they opted to ship Cervelli out and he was not pleased about it – mostly because of the poor timing.

Cervelli went to Scranton determined to show the Yankees he belonged on the roster, but he hit just .246 with two home runs and 39 RBIs in 99 games. That is odd considering Cervelli had hit .271 with five home runs and 71 RBIs in 184 games over three previous seasons in the majors.

Cervelli admits that he was not happy about his demotion and it did affect his game.

Cervelli’s defense is considered pretty good. He sets a good target, he knows the hitters, calls a good game, has the respect of the pitchers and the coaching staff. His weakness lies in a somewhat erratic throwing arm. He has only thrown out 18.3 percent of base-stealers in his major-league career (23 out of 93 attempts).

He also has committed 20 errors in 177 games, most of those on throwing errors.

At Scranton, Cervelli threw out 30 percent of potential base-stealers but committed a whopping 15 passed balls.

So Cervelli’s defense is definite notch below what Martin and Stewart provided in 2012 and Cervelli is going to have to improve if he wants to win the starting job and keep it.

There is no doubt he is the best hitter of the bunch, albeit he lacks power. Cervelli is a spray hitter who is very adept hitting with runners in scoring position. He also is not bad a bunter and will give himself up to advance a runner. Those things should help the Yankees in 2013 since the team does lack power.

One concern with Cervelli is his penchant for injuries. He suffered a broken wrist in a home-plate collision in spring training in 2008. He also has suffered a trio of concussions the past few years and broke a bone in his foot in the spring of 2010 fouling a ball off his foot.

In winter ball in his native Venezuela, he suffered a whiplash injury, which later proved to be minor.

So durability is a definite issue with Cervelli.

Stewart, 30, has been a backup catcher throughout his career. The most games he has played is the 51 he started with Giants in 2011. He started 46 games for the Yankees last season and he batted .241 with one home run and 13 RBIs. Stewart actually improved some with the bat in 2012 because he is a career .217 hitter.

But he does not have a very high ceiling as a hitter.

Stewart enters the catching competition as probably the best defensive option the Yankees have.

This is despite that he set a personal high for himself of with eight passed balls last season. Then again, the Yankees’ pitchers are not the easiest to catch.

Stewart, however, committed only four errors and he cut down 22.8 percent of base-stealers after he threw out an amazing 39.2 percent with the Giants in 2011. Stewart not only has a strong arm, he is also accurate with it. It was obvious that not many teams wanted to challenge him last season.

Though Stewart won’t hit much, he will be an asset against teams that are aggressive on basepaths such as the Tampa Bay Rays and the Angels.

There was all kinds of talk this offseason that Romine, 24, was the organization’s choice to start behind the plate in 2013.

But general manager Brian Cashman recently addressed that issue by saying that it was extremely unlikely Romine would be able to win the job this spring coming off a season in which he was plagued with a serious back injury.

The son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine played in only 31 games in three stops last season. Romine batted .243 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in just 103 at-bats.

Despite playing in the shadow of Jesus Montero throughout his minor-league career, the Yankees have always felt that Romine was far superior to Montero on defense and they have hoped that he would develop as a hitter as he matured.

But the back injury, which a recurrence of a previous back strain, certainly has arrested his development. Romine is considered to have a good enough bat to hit for a decent average in the major leagues with low double-digit power potential.

It is likely that the Yankees will take a more cautious approach with Romine this season. He likely would benefit from playing a full season at Scranton to prove his back problems are over. There is no doubt that Romine’s defense is already major-league quality.

Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, two former catchers, absolutely love Romine’s defensive ability. They each say he is ready to play defense at the major-league level now. But the Yankees are waiting for him to prove himself healthy and they would like to see more improvement with his bat.

Wilson, 29, was a backup catcher with the Angels from 2009 through 2012. But he was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays late last season and he never played a game for them before not being tendered a contract offer this offseason.

The Yankees offered him a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. So he will be in the mix for a spot.

Wilson hit .211 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 75 games with the Angels last season. He is a career .208 hitter in the majors.

But like Cervelli, Stewart and Romine, Wilson is considered an excellent defensive catcher.

In 2012, Wilson committed only four errors and was charged with just two passed balls. He also threw out 28.6 percent of potential base-stealers and he has a 27.1 percent career mark of nailing runners.

Wilson’s only hope seems to be supplanting Stewart as the backup but Stewart’s defense may be just too good. So the Yankees might ask Wilson to accept a minor-league assignment so he can be recalled if either Cervelli or Stewart are injured. That way the Yankees could keep Romine on track for promotion in 2014.

Two years ago, with Martin as the starter and Montero and Romine in the pipeline, catching looked to the strongest position on the team from a long-range standpoint. But the Yankees were not satisfied with Montero’s defense and they traded him to the Seattle Mariners in return for right-hand starter Michael Pineda.

Now with Martin and Montero gone and Romine on the mend, the position seems to rest with catching prospects in the minors.

J.R. Murphy, 21, regressed a bit last season. In 110 games between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, Murphy hit .248 with nine home runs and 44 RBIs.

Scouts still believe that Murphy will develop power as he progresses because he has a short, powerful right-hand stroke. There are doubts about his long-term progress defensively. But, fortunately for Murphy, he also can play third base and he may eventually end up there.

But the player the Yankees are really salivating over is No. 1-ranked prospect Gary Sanchez, who turned 20 in December. Sanchez hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs between Class-A Charleston and Tampa.

The Yankees look at Sanchez as a Montero with better defensive potential. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Sanchez possesses above-average raw power and the potential to be excellent all-around hitter. He did regress a bit defensively last season, but Sanchez has a plus arm and he has time to develop into a good defensive catcher.

There have been rumors the Yankees might be willing to trade Sanchez but it is hard to see what the justification would be for Cashman. Catchers with good power bats like Sanchez do not come along too often and there are slim pickings in looking for a catcher who can match Posada’s or Martin’s production.

The Yankees may have been weakened by the loss of Martin, but the Yankees seem to be committed to starting a catcher with defensive ability and they will not care what they hit. Cervelli seems to have the inside track on the starting job and Stewart looks like he will be hard to beat as the backup.

That will allow the Yankees to get Romine another season of experience at Scranton and Wilson could be a call away at Scranton.

With Romine, Murphy and Sanchez in the pipeline, the Yankees do have some excellent young catchers on the way – particularly the gifted Sanchez. So if the Yankees can just withstand the short-term problem of having pure defensive catchers, the long-term prospects at this position are good.

But Yankee fans might be missing Martin’s power a lot this season.

NOTE: The only position I have not reviewed in this series is designated hitter. There is a good reason for that. The position has not been filled and may not be until spring exhibition games are under way. So this is the last part of the series. I hope it helped set the stage for how the team will fare this spring.

 

A-Rod’s Injury Clouds Yanks’ 2013 Pennant Hopes

PART 3: THE STARTING LINEUP

The New York Yankees enter the 2013 season with more uncertainty in their starting lineup than they have in the past two decades.

A combination of committed contracts to aging veterans, expired contracts to some helpful contributors, injuries and underperformance have left the Yankees in a real bind to fix their problems knowing they have an edict by the boss Hal Steinbrenner to trim payroll to $189 million by 2014.

The most significant issue is the impending January left hip surgery for third baseman Alex Rodriguez which will shelve him for at least half the season. Because Rodriguez has not played a full healthy season of baseball since 2007 it should not be considered that big a deal.

However, it points up the problem with offering lengthy and lucrative contracts to players past the age of 30. Players break down at a rapid rate after that and that is particularly true of players who have dabbled in the use of performance enhancing drugs as A-Rod has.

The plain fact of the matter is that Rodriguez IS NOT nor WILL HE EVER BE AGAIN the impact player he was in 2007 when he hit 54 home runs and drove in 156 runs for the Yankees. Unfortunately, the Yankees are committed to paying him through the 2017 season.

If you want to look up the definition of the euphemism “albatross around the neck” A-Rod’s picture would be displayed prominently.

Seemingly healthy to begin the 2012 season, Rodriguez neither produced with power or run production. Every day manager Joe Girardi cautioned the media that A-Rod always produced home runs in bunches and it would be any day now. But that day never arrived.

He was struck in the left hand by a pitch from Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners on July 24 and the injury sidelined him until the first week of September. At season’s end, Rodriguez had 18 home runs and 57 RBIs and batted .272. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Clutch when he was healthy either.

With runners in scoring position he hit a miserable .230 and with the bases loaded he hit .200.

Unfortunately, the Yankees may be saddled with A-Rod for the remainder of his contract because his skills have eroded so fast no team would be willing to take him and his bloated contract now that he is 37.

So all the Yankees can do is look to find a replacement for him for 2013 because there is no guarantee he will be able to come back in July.

Last year’s insurance policy, Eric Chavez, who hit 16 home runs and drove in 37 runs in 278 at-bats, has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Eduardo Nunez fielded to so poorly at third base he was demoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Yankees have vowed to keep him primarily at shortstop.

So the Yankees have signed free-agent Kevin Youkilis.

Youkilis, 33, has had some injury issues of his own. He does not have a season in which he has played more than 147 games. He had not played but one season in which he passed 136 games in four seasons. His all-out style was popular in Boston but it also led to some significant injuries and a decline in production.

After a 2011 season in which he hit only .258 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs, Youkilis ran afoul of then Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine and he was dealt to the Chicago White Sox. He ended up hitting a career-low .235 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs.

But the Yankees hope he can help fill the void at third while Rodriguez is out and fall into a right-handed designated hitter and corner infield backup role when Rodriguez returns. Though it may seem odd that the heart and soul of the Red Sox would be wearing pinstripes, Johnny Damon had no trouble adapting to life in the Yankee Universe. Neither did Wade Boggs or Roger Clemens. “Youk” would seem to be in the same mold.

There is an issue at shortstop as well.

Though Derek Jeter vows his broken ankle will be healed and he will be ready to go by Opening Day of 2013, he also is 38 years old. So the Yankees will want their captain and emotional leader to be cautious in spring training.

Jeter’s injury in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers pretty much sounded the death knell for a team that was already reeling in the midst of an horrific team batting slump.

Jeter was one of the few who actually contributed positively to the offense in 2012.

He led the major leagues in hits with 219 and he ended up hitting .316 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs. Though this is the not the Jeter who hit .349 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs in 1999, the Yankees are happy to have this more mature Jeter, who has learned how to adapt to his age and still produce positively to the team.

He simply was the team Most Valuable Player last season and the Yankees seem to have stopped talking nonsense like moving him to center-field or resting him two days a week. He will rest some but he will play a lot in 2013 because the Yankees need him at the top of the lineup.

The Yankees’ best player is also one who poses the most uncertainty heading into 2013. Robinson Cano, 30, is simply the best second baseman in baseball both with his glove and his bat. He also hit a career-high 33 home runs in 2013 while batting over .300 (.308) for the seventh time in his eight major-league seasons.

However, Cano hardly could call 2012 his “breakout” season because he drove in a paltry 94 runs hitting in the heart of baseball’s top run-scoring team. The reason: He hit poorly most of the season with runners in scoring position. Also, in a huge reversal in a trend, Cano hit just .239 against left-handers.

That will have to change in 2013 because he figures to continue to see a steady diet of them.

There is a big incentive for Cano to improve. His contract for 2013 was renewed by the Yankees but he can become a free agent after this season. With the Yankees looking to trim payroll, Cano’s impending free agency presents a huge challenge. Will general manager Brian Cashman have the financial backing to present a package that can keep Cano in pinstripes for the rest of his career?

That is huge question only the Steinbrenner family can answer. But one thing is certain: The Yankees would certainly regress in 2014 without their best player.

Speaking of regression, Mark Teixeira has found out just how fast a career can regress when you follow former Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi’s pull-happy approach at Yankee Stadium.

Teixeira, however, changed his tune about it in 2012. Instead of trying to change back as he did at the start of the 2012 season, he decided to keep the “pull” approach figuring the Yankees pay him to hit home runs and drive in runs. So he hit 24 home runs and drove in 84 runs in a season that was cut to just 123 games due to a calf injury he suffered in August.

He hit just .251 but that is coming off seasons in which he hit .256 (2010) and .248 (2011). So Yankee fans are just going to have to accept lower batting averages and big production out of Teixeira. He more than makes up for it with his glove.

He and Cano both won Gold Gloves in 2012 and they form the best right side of an infield in baseball history from a fielding and production standpoint. Can you name a better pair?

The Yankees will have one huge hole filled in their lineup in left-field with the return of Brett Gardner and having to fill two more at catcher and in right-field.

Gardner’s loss last season proved to be more problematic in hindsight than it was at the time. With Gardner, 29, sidelined and Nunez in the minors the Yankees lost their two best base-stealers for most of the 2012 season. That made the Yankees much more of a station-to-station team and brought to the forefront their reliance on the home run to win games.

It also goes beyond saying that Gardner’s Gold-Glove quality in defense in left was missed, too. The Yankees need Gardner to come back healthy, get on base consistently and be disruptive to the team’s opponents on the bases.

For the past two seasons, the Yankees have reaped the benefit of having a stalwart defensive catcher in Russell Martin, who actually deterred teams who like to run the bases with reckless abandon. Though Martin struggled most of the season hitting under the “Mendoza Line” until he got hot in September, his power will be missed also.

But Martin has signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Yankees are looking for a new catcher in 2013.

At the moment, the Yankees list Francisco Cervelli as the heir apparent. Cervelli, 26, was the primary backup for three seasons from 2009 through 2011 until the Yankees acquired San Francisco Giants catcher Chris Stewart in a trade just as spring training drew to a close.

Because Stewart, 30, was out of options, the Yankees elected to keep Stewart as the backup catcher in 2012 and shipped Cervelli to Scranton.

Cervelli hit .246 with two home and 39 RBIs in 99 games at Scranton in 2012. His defense is fine but his throwing can be erratic at times.

Stewart surprisingly hit .241 with a home run and 13 RBIs in 55 games with the Yankees. His defense and throwing are superior to Cervelli but his offense is severely lacking.

The Yankees did sign former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to a minor-league contract. Wilson was non-tendered a contract by the Blue Jays after he hit .211 with three home runs and 13 RBIs with the Angels in 2012. Wilson is excellent defensively but is a career .208 hitter in the majors. So it is hard to see how he will figure in as anything but a potential backup and insurance in case the Yankees need to trade a catcher or sustain an injury.

The Yankees do have very high hopes for 24-year-old rookie Austin Romine. They believe his defensive skills make him a major-league ready receiver but his bat and his chronic back issues have been delaying his progess. He missed most all of the 2012 season with a back injury.

He has been cleared to come to spring training and he has a shot at supplanting either Cervelli or Stewart if he can show some improved skills with the bat. But realistically, the team may take a more cautious approach with Romine and he could head back to Scranton to convince the front office his back issues are over.

This area seems ripe for a deal to obtain a free agent. Cashman did have former Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in mind. Pierzynski, 35, would fit in with the Yankees because he hits left-handed and he has some power. He hit .278 with 27 home runs and 77 RBis in 2012.

But Pierzynski elected to sign a contract with the Texas Rangers. So unless the Yankees elect to make a trade they will be choosing between the four catchers they have now.

The biggest hole in the Yankees lineup and perhaps the biggest blow to the bleacher bums in right-field will be the loss of fan favorite Nick Swisher.

Swisher might not have been a superstar but his consistency was his calling card. What you saw was what you got.

Swisher, 32, has played four seasons in pinstripes and did not deviate from between 24 through 29 home runs and between 82 and 93 RBIs. There are not many outfielders who can claim that and the Yankees would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the level, except perhaps the oft-injured star Josh Hamilton.

The Yankees did have an opportunity to sign the former Texas Rangers’ star if they wanted. But they have some restriction to them doing so.

If the Yankees were to sign Hamilton, Cano’s departure would be a foregone conclusion unless there was a major dump of salary after the 2013 season. Hamilton signed with the Angels and the Yankees played it safe.

The Yankees instead decided to bring back Ichiro Suzuki, who came over in a trade in June and sparked the Yankees down the stretch. At age 39, Suzuki is no longer the player he was when he was the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001 but he showed a renewed vigor in the Bronx in 2012, hitting over .300 after the deal.

He ended the season hitting. 283 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs and he stole 29 bases.

It is obvious if the Yankees want to return to a slash and dash attack Girardi favors, Suzuki would be the correct choice.

Center-field is an interesting situation for the Yankees.

The team renewed Curtis Granderson’s contract for 2012 but there are all kinds of rumors swirling around about him.

The Yankees first floated the idea they could move Gardner from left to center and put Granderson in left next season. They also sent Granderson to an eye specialist to check his vision because of his habit of losing balls in flight to the outfield and his penchant for swinging at pitches that bounced in front of home plate.

Granderson struck out a team record 195 times last season. The Yankees can live with the strikeouts for his 43 home runs and 106 RBIs, which were both team highs in 2012. But his .232 average is 30 points below his career average of .262 and he hit just .218 against left-handers last season. Granderson is also in the final year of his contract.

The Yankees also seemed intent on keeping outfielder and left-handed DH Raul Ibanez.

Ibanez, 40, was forced to play more than he was expected in the outfield because of Gardner’s injury. But Ibanez came through with 19 home runs and 62 RBIs while hitting .24o in 384 at-bats. But Ibanez’s biggest impact was the clutch home runs he hit down the stretch against the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox to get the Yankees into the playoffs.

He carried that into the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

His clutch hitting was not lost on the front office and they wanted him back badly in 2013. But Ibanez dealt a blow to the Yankees by electing to sign with his old Mariners team so the Yankees now have a huge hole at the DH spot.

The Yankees made it clear that right-hand DH Andruw Jones would not retained for the 2012 season and Jones shopped himself to a team in Japan. The Yankees likely will use a veteran free agent to fill the role until A-Rod returns in July. Rodriguez figures to DH a lot when he returns and Youkilis can fill the role when A-Rod does play third.

Nunez figures to have an opportunity to win the right-hand DH role until A-Rod returns. The left side of the equation might come down to an offer to Jim Thome or a similar veteran.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, most of their best minor-league hitting prospects are a few years away of making an impact at the major-league level.

The top prospect in the organization, catcher Gary Sanchez, is only 20. But he may be worth the wait because he hit a combined .290 with 18 home runs and 85 RBIs with Class-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 2012. Sanchez is being touted as “Jesus Montero with defense.” However, his glovework slipped a notch last season.

But the Yankees still believe he is their future behind the plate.

Outfielder Mason Wiiliams, 21, had a torn labrum ended his season his August. However, Williams was able to flash some five-tool talent by hitting a combined .298 with a 11 home runs and 35 RBIs and stole 20 bases at Charleston and Tampa.

Some are comparing him to another Williams named Bernie. He has a good bat and he is developing power as he progresses through the system. The Yankees absolutely love his high ceiling for improvement.  The lefty swinger looks like a future center-fielder for the Yankees.

Somewhat lost in all the talk about Sanchez and Williams is 21-year-old outfielder Tyler Austin, who hit an organization-best .354 in 2011 and hit .322 in four minor-league stops in 2012. He hit 17 home runs and drove in 80 runs while stealing 23 bases.

Austin played his first two minor-league seasons at the corner infield spots but was moved to right-field last season and the Yankees see him as the real deal as a right-hand hitter.

The Yankees also have a trio of promising outfielders in power-hitting Zoilo Almonte, 23, who hit 21 bombs at Double-A Trenton, and slash-and-dash hitters in 2009 No. 1 draft pick Slade Heathcott, 22, and Ramon Flores, 20.

Third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., 20, the team’s first selection in the 2011 draft, hit only three home runs at Charleston in 2012 but the Yankees believe he will develop into the kind of power hitter his father was. Called up to appear in an exhibition game against the Astros last March, Bichette hit a pair of solo home runs in only two exhibition at-bats. His star is definitely on the rise.

The Yankees also have a trio in promising infielders in Angelo Gumbs, 20; Jose Pirela, 23; and Austin Aune, 19. However, only Pirela has advanced as far as Double A and Gumbs and Aune may eventually be moved to the outfield. For now Gumbs and Pirela are second basemen and Aune is power-hitting shortstop.