Tagged: Double-A

Young’s Homer Boosts Yankees Past Nationals

GAME 34

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 3

Chris Young blasted a two-run homer in the eighth inning off Nationals closer Drew Storen to propel New York to a come-from-behind victory over Washington on Saturday at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Young’s third home run of the spring, which all came off the Nationals, followed a one-out single by Didi Gregorius.

Storen (0-1), who has been hampered all spring with blister on his right foot, took the loss.

David Carpenter (2-0) pitched one-third of an inning in the seventh to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Dellin Betances earned a save by striking out the side in the ninth despite making things interesting by yielding a single and a walk in between.

The Yankees concluded their exhibition season with a 17-16-1 record.

FIELD FOCUS

Chris Martin pitched a perfect inning of relief in sixth with two strikeouts. Just the fact he is even pitching on a major-league roster is a miracle in and of itself.

Martin was named a member of manager Joe Girardi’s seven-man bullpen on Friday. But there was a time the 6-foot-8 right-hander was just a regular working stiff at an appliance warehouse.

Down in Arlington, TX, Martin was loading 650-pound refrigerators onto dollies for delivery. The only doubleheaders Martin knew were the shifts he previously worked at the lawn and garden section at Lowe’s warehouse and then evenings at UPS.

Before all this Martin, 27, was drafted as a senior from Arlington High School by the Detroit Tigers in 18th round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. Instead of signing Martin opted to attend McLennan Community College in Waco, TX.

That following year, the tall right-hander was chosen in the 21st round by the Colorado Rockies. Again, Martin opted to stay in school.

However, that fall, Martin severely injured his shoulder. On the advice of Dr. Keith Meister, the team physician for the Texas Rangers, Martin tried resting the shoulder. But with the pain too great, Martin underwent surgery in 2007 to repair the labrum and release the shoulder capsule.

When the shoulder healed, Martin tried out with the Fort Worth Cats of the United Baseball League. When the shoulder still didn’t feel right, Martin quit baseball and went to work at Lowe’s and then at night with UPS for the insurance benefits.

Martin later caught up with former Arlington alum Jordan Bostwick, who graduated a year after Martin. Bostwick urged Martin to come to work for him at Texas Appliance in Arlington.

In June 2010, Bostwick broke out a left-handed catcher’s mitt during a lunch break and had Martin play catch with him. Martin’s pitches busted the seams off the mitt and nearly broke Bostwick’s right thumb.

More importantly, Martin informed Bostwick his shoulder felt really good.

Soon Martin signed a contract for $800 a month with the Grand Prairie Airhogs, an independent team operated by former major-league slugger Pete Incaviglia.

The radar readings of Marin’s pitches were hitting 95 miles per hour. Martin went on to a 4-0 record with a 1.95 ERA in 13 games with the Airhogs.

Incaviglia called the Boston Red Sox on behalf of Martin and the Red Sox signed him for $1,100 a month after a tryout arranged at Martin’s expense in Fort Myers, FL. After stops in Class-A Greenville and Salem, Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Martin was dealt to the Rockies in December 2013.

Martin made his major-league debut with the Rockies against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 26 of last year.

He ended up with an ERA of 6.89 in 16 games with the Rockies before his contract was purchased for $75,000 by the Yankees in January.

Martin was among a large group of non-roster pitchers trying to making the Yankees’ bullpen this spring. At best, he was a long-shot. He ended spring training on Saturday with a 0-1 record and 4.09 ERA in 11 appearances. But the Yankees were enamored more by his 18 strikeouts with only one walk.

So Martin now will have a chance to open the season in the major leagues in 2015. It does not appear he will be making those shifts to load refrigerators in Texas anymore.

Instead he will be living out a dream that looked to be over just a short time ago.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Despite the fact starter Nathan Eovaldi gave up three runs on three hits in the first inning, he settled in nicely afterwards. Eovaldi, 25, held the Nats to just one hit over the next four frames. In five innings, Eovaldi struck out six while walking three. He ended his spring with a 1-1 record with a 1.93 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.
  • Stephen Drew ruined right-hander Doug Fister’s six-inning outing by lashing a two-out, two-run home run in the fifth inning to draw the Yankees to within a run of the Nationals at 3-2. It was Drew’s third homer of the spring and he ended up batting .259 with three homers and nine RBIs. On March 12, Drew was hitting .077. From then on he was 16-for-34 (.471).
  • Betances earned a save by striking out the side in the ninth. But he also yielded a one-out single to Reed Johnson and a one-out walk to Pedro Severino. Betances topped out at 95 mph on the radar gun, which is still a bit off the 97 mph he was throwing at last season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The offense is still pretty inconsistent. The Yankees did not get their first hit until the fourth inning and they managed just six hits overall. Fortunately, home runs by Drew and Young bailed them out. The Yankees got great pitching from Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Eovaldi and Adam Warren this spring. It would a shame not to give those guys the support they deserve.
  • Alex Rodriguez started at designated hitter and batted seventh in the game. But A-Rod probably would like to forget about it because Fister fanned him twice and reliever Craig Stammen did it once  –  all three strikeouts came on sharp curveballs.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner set the table exactly as Girardi would have liked in the fourth when Ellsbury reached after being hit by a pitch from Fister. Gardner followed with a sharp single to left. But Carlos Beltran grounded into a force play and Mark Teixiera rapped into a 4-6-3 double play. The RBI guys are paid to produce and Beltran and Teixeira must do it consistently if the Yankees are to contend at all.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees elected to retain John Ryan Murphy as their backup catcher to Brian McCann as they designated for assignment Austin Romine on Saturday. Murphy came off the bench in seventh inning to catch and was 0-for-1 to end the spring with a .238 average. Romine was 6-for-35 (.171) with 10 strikeouts. Romine was out of options so now any team may claim him. If he is not claimed he would remain with the Yankees and be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  . . .  In other roster moves, the Yankees added backup infielder Gregorio Petit to the 25-man roster and they placed infielder Brendan Ryan (calf strain), left-hander Chris Capuano (quad strain) and right-hander Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) on the 15-day disabled list. Infielder Jose Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL.

ON DECK

The Yankees will rest on Sunday and prepare to open the season on Monday at Yankee Stadium against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Tanaka, 26, will start for the Yankees after ending up 1-2 with a 3.07 ERA in four spring starts. It is the first time since 2008 that a pitcher other than CC Sabathia has started the season for the Yankees.

Right-hander Drew Hutchison will pitch for the Blue Jays. Hutchison, 24, was 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in four spring outings. He surprisingly won the starting assignment over former Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

 

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Yank Rookies Nuno, Warren Hang Zeros On Tribe

GAME 38

YANKEES 7, INDIANS 0

To borrow from the sage philosopher Forrest Gump, the 2013 version of the New York Yankees are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get.

Rookie left-hander Vidal Nuno pitched five very impressive shutout innings in his first major-league start and the Yankees sent 10-men to the plate in a six-run seventh inning as New York hung up a goose egg on Cleveland to split a doubleheader at Progressive Field on Monday.

Nuno (1-0) held the Tribe to just three hits and three walks while he struck out three batters in what was only his second major-league appearance.

All the more impressive was that Nuno pitched with only a run in support of his effort and that came in the first inning on some sloppy infield play by the Indians.

Jayson Nix stroked a one-out single off right-hander Trevor Bauer (1-2) and Robinson Cano rolled what could have been a double-play ball to Carlos Santana at first base. However, Santana was unable to field it cleanly and then threw behind Bauer covering first for an error that allowed Nix to advance to third.

Vernon Wells then hit what also could have been an inning-ending double play ball to Asdrubal Cabrera at short. Cabrera flipped to second to retire Cano but Mike Aviles’ relay tailed wide of first as Nix scored an unearned run.

But Nuno made that run hold up through five innings when he left after having thrown 89 pitches, 14 more than manager Joe Girardi set as his original limit.

With the bullpen depleted because of the unavailability of setup man David Robertson and closer Mariano Rivera, Girardi turned to rookie Adam Warren. The 26-year-old right-hander responded with four innings of shutout relief to earn his first major-league save.

Warren gave up just two hits, did not walk a batter and he struck out four.

Meanwhile, the Yankees chased Bauer and left-hander Nick Hagadone in the seventh with a six-run explosion that turned what was a nail-biter into a laugher.

Rookie catcher Austin Romine keyed the rally by following a leadoff double by rookie Corban Joseph with a one-out RBI double that sent Bauer to the showers.

Two batters later, Nix scored Romine with a bloop single to shallow right-field off Hagadone following a walk to Brett Gardner.

Wells added a two-out RBI single and Lyle Overbay capped the six-run rally with a two-run double to the wall in right-center.

Despite the loss in the first game, the Yankees have now won seven of their past eight games and they improved their season ledger to 24-14. They remain a full game ahead of the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Indians fell to 21-16.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It was a great game for a pair of Scranton RailRiders pitchers. Nuno and Warren combined to give up no runs on five hits and three walks in nine innings. Nuno, 25, was a 48th round draft in 2009 of the Indians and was released after the 2010 season. The Yankees spotted him pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Washington Wild Things in 2011 and signed him. He recorded a 2.10 ERA in two seasons in stints from Class A to Double A before winning the James P. Dawson Award this spring as the team’s top rookie this spring.
  • Warren surprisingly won a spot in the bullpen as a middle reliever despite an 0-2 record and a 8.15 ERA in spring training. But Warren is now 1-0 with a 1.45 ERA in 18 2/3 innings covering seven appearances. He has yielded only three runs on 14 hits and six walks while striking out 15 batters.
  • Wells and Overbay both drove in a pair of runs in the game as “The Replacements” continue to produce with a lot of the Yankees’ star players on the disabled list. Wells is hitting .299 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs. Overbay is hitting .252 with six home runs and 22 RBIs.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Nothing to complain about here because the Yankees won with two rookie pitchers combining for a shutout and they played the game with two rookies (Joseph and Romine) and what amounts to the team’s fourth-string shortstop in 30-year-old journeyman Alberto Gonzalez in the lineup.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees on Monday optioned outfielder Brennan Boesch to Scranton and promoted right-hander Brett Marshall from the RailRiders to bolster the bullpen for the second game of the doubleheader against the Indians. Boesch, 27, was 1-for-4 after starting in right-field in the first game and he was hitting .209 with two home runs and five RBIs in 43 at-bats over 20 games. Marshall, 22, was 2-2 with a 4.60 ERA in six starts with Scranton.  . . .  After the second game the Yankees optioned Joseph back to Scranton. The 24-year-old rookie infielder was a combined 1-for-6 in the two games. His double in the seventh inning started the Yankees’ six-run explosion and the hit was his first in the major leagues.

ON DECK

The Yankees will be home on Tuesday to open a homestand beginning with a three-game series against the Seattle Mariners.

Lefty ace CC Sabathia (4-3, 3.23 ERA) will get the ball in the opener for the Yankees. Sabathia pitched four shutout innings against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday and he was in line for a victory. However, a two-hour rain delay forced him to end his outing early. Sabathia is 12-4 with a 2.46 ERa in his career against Seattle.

The Mariners will counter with their ace right-hander Felix Hernandez (5-2, 1.53 ERA). Hernandez has given up just three earned runs over his past fiver starts. He is 8-5 with a 3.08 ERA lifetime against the Yankees and 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA at Yankee Stadium.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Lose Granderson, Game On Gloomy Day

GAME 2

BLUE JAYS 2, YANKEES 0

TAMPA  –  A dark cloud hung over the Yankees before spring training even began as they lost third baseman Alex Rodriguez for half the season due to hip surgery. They opened their home exhibition season on Sunday under a blanket of gloomy dark clouds that hung over George M. Steinbrenner Field throughout the game.

But that was nothing compared to the dark cloud casting a pall over the team upon learning that starting outfielder Curtis Granderson would be lost to the team until mid-May with a fractured right forearm after he was struck by J.A. Happ breaking ball in his very first at-bat of the spring in the first inning.

While the business of spring training will continue manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman will be tasked with trying to find a way to replace Granderson’s 43 home runs on a team that is already missing 109 home runs from last season’s squad.

The game was pretty much academic. The result did not matter.

Emilio Bonifacio followed an Anthony Gose triple with an RBI single in the third inning and Sean Ochinko doubled in a run in the eighth while the Yankees pounded out 11 hits but went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left 13 runners on base as Toronto blanked New York in front of a crowd of 10,184.

Happ (1-0) gave up three hits in two innings but got credit for the victory. Cody Eppley (0-1) took the loss. Rich Thompson pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • As far as we know no other Yankee starters were injured in the contest.
  • Kevin Youkilis made his debut in pinstripes and came within about 10 feet of a grand slam home run in the first inning but Jays outfielder Ryan Langerhans made a running catch on the warning track. Youkilis also slapped a screaming line drive to third with two on and two out in the third that was caught by Brett Lawrie. In his final at-bat, Youkilis led off the sixth by sending a drive to the warning track in center that was run down by Gose. That pretty much defined the Yankees’ day.
  • Robinson Cano followed his home run on Saturday with three line drives but he ended up with just one hit because his old pal Melky Cabrera robbed him of a hit in the first with a sliding catch.
  • Adam Warren, 25, started the game and pitched two scoreless and hitless innings. Warren looked sharp with his location and fanned two batters. Though Warren is ticketed for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he could be factor later in the season if does well this spring.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Eppley proved why he is a specialist used primarily against right-handers. After striking out the right-handed-hitting Lance Zawadzki, left-handed-hitting Gose tripled and the left-handed-hitting Bonifacio singled him in. Eppley showed why he is exposed as a pitcher when he has to face lefties.
  • Though Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki were on base after three of their six plate appearances neither of them stole a base. Suzuki did attempt a steal in the third inning with Cano up but Cano fouled the pitch off. Neither made another attempt to steal. It would seem that as home run hitters are dropping like flies for the Yankees that running the bases a lot would be a good idea.
  • This game had the look of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. No home runs, plenty of chances with runners on base but no big hit came. This might be a repeating scenario and we will have to watch it closely this spring.

BOMBER BANTER

Derek Jeter is targeting March 10 for his first spring training action as he recovers from surgery on his fractured left ankle, Cashman said on Sunday. Jeter ran for the first on the infield at Steinbrenner Field on Saturday and he hopes to begin spring play as a designated hitter with an eye on being ready to start at shortstop at home on Opening Day on April 1 against the Boston Red Sox.  .  .  .  With Granderson out of action for 10 weeks the immediate outlook would dictate that non-roster outfielders Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz may now be vying for a starting outfield spot. The Yankees do have minor-league outfielders Zoilo Almonte and Melky Mesa on the 40-man roster but the Yankees may not elect to use either as starters, Almonte has not played above Double-A Trenton. Cashman could also look to engineer a trade but it is pretty clear the Yankees do not want to add much to the current payroll and other teams are going to drive hard bargain because they know the Yankees might be a bit desperate. Not making an offer for the Washington Nationals’ outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse is looking like a real bad move now. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners instead.

ON DECK

The Yankees head to Sarasota, FL, on Monday to face the Baltimore Orioles.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno, 24, will get the start for the Yankees. The Orioles are scheduled to start left-hander Brian Matusz.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be telecast nationally on tape-delay at 9 p.m. by MLB Network.

 

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.

 

Cano’s Contract Push May Lead To Breakout Year

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!

 SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (33 HRs, 99 RBIs, .313 BA)

I remember very well a day before a spring training game in 2005 seeing this tall, thin Yankee rookie swatting line drives all over the field in batting practice. The swing was smooth and effortless while the ball jumped off his bat.

I asked someone about this kid Robinson Cano and what I heard back impressed me. “Cano is just a colt now. But very soon he will be a thoroughbred,” he said.

Eight years later his words ring true. Cano has grown up before our very eyes and now he is the best player in pinstripes. He is no longer a boy among men. He is the man the team revolves around.

Sadly, this very well could be Cano’s last season with the Yankees. The team is under a strict edict from owner Hal Steinbrenner to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and Cano can become a free agent after this season.

After a season in which he set a career high in home runs and hit above .300 for the seventh time in his nine major-league seasons and won his second Gold Glove and fourth Silver Slugger awards it is a pretty sure bet that Cano would command a lot of money on the open market. Add the fact his agent is Scott Boras and you can, pardon the pun, bank on it.

The Yankees are going to have to be mighty creative to find the dollars to keep Cano, 30. But they likely will make every attempt to open the vault wide enough to keep their best player. It would be a good thing, too.

With Alex Rodriguez saddled with a string of injuries the real foundation of the team’s growth is Cano. Second basemen who can hit home runs, drive in runs and hit above .300 are not exactly plentiful. Cano is simply the best second baseman in baseball and there is no one in the Yankee organization, let alone any organization, that can really replace him.

So you would think it would be wise for Yankee fans during spring training to watch Cano carefully because it could be the last time they see him. One problem with that: Cano is committed to play his native Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.

So the Yankees likely will not get Cano back until the latter stages of March.

Cano’s 2012 season was marked by some milestones. But it was hardly the banner season the Yankees expected from him.

Cano struggled in two major areas: (1) In the first half of the season Cano was woefully inept at driving in runners in scoring position. That is why he failed to drive in more than 100 runs. (2) He suddenly ran into trouble hitting left-handers. He hit just .239 against them while he pounded right-handers at a .357 clip.

Cano actually rescued his season with an incredible stretch of games in late September. After Sept. 1, Cano hit six home runs and drove in 24 runs while batting .348. The Yankees would appreciate more consistency from Cano and they hope he can return to bashing left-hand pitching as he did in throughout his career up until last season.

Given that this is Cano’s contract season and given his past track record, this could be the breakout season everyone has been predicting for him. With a bit more discipline at the plate Cano could very well win a batting title, hit 30-plus home runs and drive in more than 120 runs.

Cano’s big failing at the plate has been a product of his immense talent. Cano can simply put a swing on any pitch in or out of the strike zone. So pitchers lure him with a lot of breaking pitches out of the strike zone and then pound him with hard stuff inside to tie up his swing.

Cano obliges them by swinging at less than optimum pitches and he gets himself out. If Cano ever lays off pitches out of the strike zone consistently throughout a season he might very well hit .340. He is just that good.

Over the years, Cano has been saddled with the tag “lazy.”

That is a product of his nonchalant style of play. But last season there were times that Cano made outs on the bases he should not have made. Here is something that might surprise you: Cano is simply a terrible base-runner and he always has been.

Some players have good instincts on the bases like Derek Jeter and some players like Cano don’t. Cano never was called upon to bunt or steal bases throughout his minor-league career because he was such a productive hitter. It has just carried over to the major leagues.

He is not a fast runner and he just never worked on base-running much because he never had to really worry about it. Last season it was obvious.

Cano attempted five steals last season and was succcessful three times. In his career he has stolen 31 bases but he been thrown out 27. Rickey Henderson he is not!

But Cano was able to score 105 runs, the fourth season in a row he has topped the century mark in runs scored. So as long as the Yankees do not have him running wild on the bases, Cano’ s weakness will not hurt the team.

The “lazy” tag also has had a serious effect on how Cano’s fielding has been judged. Early in his career, Cano did make careless errors by trying to look cool fielding routine grounders. Since then he has grown into an exceptional fielder who should have won the last six Gold Gloves instead of just two.

Cano simply has more range than second baseman in baseball. That applies to ground balls and pop flies. No one can range as far into the outfield to catch pops and few can master the play to his right on grounders better than Cano.

His arm is exceptionally great for a second baseman and Cano does not credit for being accurate with it also. Roberto Alomar may have set the standard for fielding during his career but Cano is shattering that standard and setting one of his own.

The other thing that sets Cano apart is his turn of the double play. In the last six seasons, Cano has turned no less than 92 double plays and no one can turn and flip to first better than he can. In doing all that work in the field last season, Cano committed only six errors. Wow!

That 2012 Gold Glove award was well deserved.

Another Cano attribute throughout his career is his durability despite playing a middle infield spot. In his last six seasons, Cano has never played less than 159 games. He played in 161 games last season.

When you add it all up you get one very exceptional player and one who is destined to be a very rich one come the 2014 season.

Behind Cano last season was Jayson Nix, not that he was needed much.

Nix, 30, made only five starts at second and he did not commit an error there. Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees after being recalled on May 8 to replace Eduardo Nunez as the Yankees’ backup middle infielder.

Nix obviously will never match Cano with his bat or his glove. The Yankees just ask him to play his solid, nonflashy game and not make mistakes. Nix does that very well and he will get a chance to do it again in 2013.

Though he was designated for assignment on Nov. 30 after reliever Mariano Rivera was re-signed, Nix accepted assignment to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he will compete with Nunez for the backup middle infield spot this spring.

Nunez, 25, won the backup infielder job over the recently released Ramiro Pena in 2011 but promptly lost early in 2012 season when he began treating ground balls like hand grenades. Nunez made so many sloppy fielding errors that he was dispatched to Scranton to work on exclusively playing shortstop.

He enters camp in 2013 with some very positive things in his favor. Nunez can hit (his career batting average is .272) and he can run (38 steals in 46 career attempts). The right-hand hitter also could be valuable as a replacement to Andruw Jones as a platoon designated hitter.

But Nunez likely will get most of his work in spring training at shortstop replacing Jeter, who is in the process of rehabbing after surgery on a fractured left ankle he suffered in the first game of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Jeter’s rehab is expected to run through part of the exhibition schedule and it is unclear if he will be ready to start for the Yankees on Opening Day. So Nunez will be of more value at shortstop, which is his natural position.

Nunez did make one start at second base last season and characteristically he committed an error there. It is good thing Cano is durable.

The Yankees will have a chance in Cano’s absence this spring to look at a pair of young second basemen who are on the 40-man roster, David Adams and Corban Joseph.

Adams, 25, hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs in 86 games at Double-A Trenton. He has carried that into the Arizona Fall League, where he is hitting .286 with three home runs and 15 RBIs and was named Player of the Week in the fifth week of the season.

Adams, a third-round pick of the Yankees in 2008 out of the University of Virginia, has been hobbled most of his minor-league career with a serious ankle injury. But he is healthy now and he is hoping to regain his prospect status.

Joseph, 24, hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 131 games at Trenton and Scranton.

Selected in the fourth round of the 2008 draft out of Franklin (TN) High School, Joseph has more power than Adams and he has the advantage of passing Adams to Scranton while being a year younger.

Neither player looks to be threats to Cano at all, obviously. But they will get a chance to develop just in case Cano departs in 2014.

Further down the line the Yankees have Jose Pirela, 23, and Angelo Gumbs, 20.

Pirela hit .293 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 82 games at Trenton. The Venezuela native is being looked upon as a potential middle infield backup utility infielder with a good line-drive bat but he lacks speed.

Gumbs, the team’s No. 8 prospect, was signed as a shortstop but has played second base in his two years in the minors. He hit .272 with seven home runs, 36 RBIs and 26 stolen bases at Class-A Charleston (SC) in the South Atlantic League. An elbow injury ended his season in June.

Gumbs plays an aggressive style and shows that he has a good bat, which makes him a young player worth watching in 2013.

But Gumbs is a long way away from making the majors and Cano simply is the industry standard at his position. It also looks like he will be that standard for some years to come.

There is no doubt Cano will be motivated to produce in 2013 and he could have that monster season for which everybody has been waiting. The Yankees will need that from him in a season that appears the team will be lacking some power and a team that will be minus Rodriguez for much of the season.

The Yankees simply will go as far as Cano can possibly carry them this season.

NEXT: First Base

 

Jeter’s Availability For Opening Day Up In Air

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!

 SHORTSTOP – DEREK JETER (99 R, 15 HRs, 58 RBIs, .316 BA, 9 SB)

To say that Derek Jeter is the living, breathing embodiment of all of what the New York Yankees is about is pretty obvious.

Jeter has been the face of the franchise since he was a rookie in 1996 and, at age 38, he still plays with the same youthful enthusiasm and holds an appreciation for the game he loves so dearly.

This season Jeter does not have to overcome the whispers that he is a washed up player on the downside of a brilliant career. He collected a major-league-best 216 hits last season and his batting average was actually three points higher than his career average of .313.

After a 2010 season in which he hit .270 and he spent the first half of the 2011 languishing around .250, Jeter rediscovered his “old stroke” while rehabbing a calf injury over the All-Star break and he has not stopped hitting since. The whispers about his age have been muted.

In fact, he was the team’s Most Valuable Player in 2012.

Of course, age not only brings wisdom. It also invites nagging injuries and Jeter had a brush with that reality during the Yankees’ pennant push in 2012. A deep bruise on his left ankle had him hobbling most of the latter stages of the season. Perhaps he should have sat out a week but Jeter insisted on playing to help his team win the division.

Then he led them to a victory in five games in the American League Division Series over the Baltimore Orioles by hitting a robust .364.

He had high hopes of leading them to a victory in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers but the noble team captain fractured his ankle in the 12th inning of the game of the series and the Yankees went down in flames in four straight games to the Motor City Kitties.

Jeter had surgery on the ankle in October and Jeter will need four to five months to recover from the procedure. That puts his participation in spring training in question. Manager Joe Girardi said that he will not count out his 13-time All-Star shortstop from playing on Opening Day.

Jeter is reportedly in Tampa, FL, but he is keeping weight off his ankle. So a lot of Jeter’s preparation and conditioning work for the 2013 season will be delayed. That likely means you will not see much of Jeter during the exhibition season, which begins on Feb. 23.

The Yankees obviously will take a very cautious approach with Jeter throughout the spring. If it were any other player, you would doubt he would be ready for the opening bell. But Jeter has a way of surprising Yankee fans.

The question will be what kind of season will Jeter have? Will he continue to hit as he did in last season or will he regress to what he did in 2010?

Much of that answer rides on how healthy Jeter will be and how healthy he can remain for the 162-game schedule. Yankee fans know enough about Jeter to know that if he is 100 percent and he can stay healthy that he likely will come very close to his 2012 numbers.

Jeter spent most of the season as the team’s leadoff hitter, a role he pretty much has held for the past four seasons. Though he never again will approach his career high of 34 stolen bases in 2006, Jeter remains one of the smartest base-runners in the game.

He rarely gets picked off, thrown out stealing or fails to take an extra base when he can. His instincts are impeccable and he can steal a base when he asked to do so.

The biggest question Jeter will face in 2013 will come in the field even though Jeter has won five Gold Gloves in his career. Range for a 38-year-old shortstop is already a question. The larger question is will the ankle injury cut down his range further?

The Yankees won’t know until they see how Jeter plays in the field this season. Two things are in Jeter’s favor, however.

First, as a veteran who knows where to play the hitters, Jeter is able to get to balls a more inexperienced shortstop might not anticipate. The second thing is that Jeter rarely makes careless errors on the balls he does reach. In 133 starts at shortstop last season, Jeter committed only 10 errors, two less than he committed in 2011 in 121 starts.

His .980 fielding percentage was four points above his career mark. So Jeter is no slouch in the field despite his shortcomings with his range.

One thing will be clear during spring training, Yankee fans will see a lot of Eduardo Nunez at the position.

Nunez, 25, would be considered the heir apparent to Jeter if Jeter did not have two seasons left on his contract with the Yankees. After all, in 180 major-league games Nunez has a .272 average with seven home runs and 48 RBIs and 38 stolen bases.

As a right-hand batter Nunez has a line-drive stroke that finds the gaps and he can run like the wind on the bases. The Yankees think he could start for a lot of teams at shortstop because of his bat and his athleticism. But there is huge caveat here.

Nunez has been unable to harness his skills in the field. There is no doubt Nunez has superior range to any shortstop the Yankees have had in recent memory. But Nunez also is inclined to make careless fielding and throwing errors, hence his nickname among Yankee fans as “Eduardo Scissorhands.”

He began the 2012 season as the Yankees’ backup infielder. But after committing a series of baffling errors at third base in early May, Girardi and the front office elected to ship Nunez back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with the idea of returning him to exclusively at shortstop.

Nunez, however, was unable to hone his skills much because he landed on the disabled list for a huge chunk of the season with a right hand injury.

The reason the Yankees still have him on the roster is they would need him if Jeter were somehow unable to return for the first part of the season or if he suffered some sort of setback in his rehab.

Nunez could open 2013 as the starting shortstop and then could remain as a right-hand designated hitter and backup middle infielder for the Yankees because his bat and his speed could be desperately needed on a team that has much less power than it had in 2012.

Nunez actually led the Yankees in steals for much of the season, even though he was sent out in May, until Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki passed him for the team lead in September. That is how bad the Yankees fell off in stolen bases in 2012. Nunez ended up with 17 stolen bases in just 44 games.

Over a full season, Nunez could easily reach 30 to 40 bases and Girardi might see a lot of value in that.

The Yankees also have veteran infielder Jayson Nix to play shortstop.

Nix was signed as a minor-league free-agent and invited to spring training last season. He hit well over .300 in the spring and impressed the team enough to get an assignment to Scranton. When Nunez was shipped out, Nix was pressed into service and he had a solid season.

Nix, 30, hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs and filled in well at second, third and short. He also played some outfield. Though Nix will never wow you with his bat or his glove, he also does not make careless mistakes in the field either. He committed only four errors in the 52 games he started last season.

Nix was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Nov. 30 to make room on the 40-man roster for reliever Mariano Rivera, who was re-signed to a one-year contract. But Nix agreed that of he was not picked up by another team he would accept assignment to Scranton.

So Nix will be invited to spring training with the same opportunity he was offered last season. He will have a leg up on Nunez because Nix can play third and Nunez likely will not be used there again.

There is a chance that if Jeter proves he is healthy and Nix has a good spring that Nunez could be packaged in a deal for players the Yankees might need for the roster. The Yankees are looking for a backup corner infielder to replace Eric Chavez, who signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Nunez may be the best trade bait the Yankees have right now.

In the minor leagues, the Yankees have a trio of middle infielders who are among their Top 20 prospects, however, only one of them has reached Double-A Trenton. So help at this position is years away.

Jose Pirela, 23, was signed as shortstop but has played all over the diamond. The 5-foot-10, 191-pounder out of Venezuela hit .293 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 82 games at Trenton last season. He has line-drive power and only average speed. He is now being thought of as a potential middle-infield backup at the major-league level.

Angelo Gumbs, 20, was also signed as shortstop out of high school in Southern California but he played his first two seasons as a second baseman. The team’s No. 8 prospect hit .272 with seven home runs, 33 RBIs and 26 stolen bases in 67 games at Class-A Charleston last season. An elbow injury he suffered in June shelved him for the rest of the season.

Gumbs is very raw but he does show promise as a hitter and he plays with an all-out style scouts love.

Austin Aune, 19, is a pure shortstop who hit .273 with a home run and 20 RBIs while stealing six bases in 39 games at Class-A Tampa in the Gulf Coast League. Aune is a potential five-tool player out of Texas who bats left-handed with plus power. He has good range and a great arm at short but the former two-sport star who spurned Texas Christian to sign with Yankees may end up as an outfielder at some point.

The Yankees know their future at the position is a long way off. The immediate concern is getting their captain and their leader Jeter healthy for the coming season. Though 38-year-olds tend to take longer to heal, Jeter is more than capable of making a full recovery in time for the start of the season.

The Yankees are lucky to Nunez available to play until Jeter is ready. Nix provides even more insurance at this position.

Shortstop does not to be appear to be a major concern. The only way it would is if Jeter has a major setback and Nunez is traded. A season with Nix starting at short would be disaster. The Yankees still need Jeter as much as Jeter needs them.

NEXT: SECOND BASE

 

Yankees Hoping Youkilis Healthy, A-Rod Returns

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!

THIRD BASE – KEVIN YOUKILIS (19 HRs, 60 RBIs, .235 BA)

With Alex Rodriguez headed for surgery to his left hip this month the Yankees were forced to take a plunge into the free-agent market for a replacement and they chose 33-year-old Kevin Youkilis.

The former Red Sox nemesis has had his own issues with injuries throughout his career but the Yankees needed someone who could play the position and provide some offense until Rodriguez is ready to to return to action, which won’t come until at least June.

Youkilis enters 2013 free of the swirling rumors of his commitment to the game former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thrust upon him last season. After he was traded to the Chicago White Sox he did pick up his production, hitting .236 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs, largely batting second.

After undergoing sports hernia surgery that ended his 2011 season, Youkilis suffered through the early part of 2012 with a groin injury that landed him on the disabled list. When Will Middlebrooks produced good numbers in his absence, the Red Sox decided to send him packing to make room for the rookie.

Youkilis has never played in more than 147 games in any of his seven full major-league seasons, which was in first full season with the Red Sox in 2007. His best season with the Bosox was in 2008, when he hit 29 home runs and drove in 115 runs.

But Youkilis’ all-out style of play has also left him susceptible to nagging injuries, which have lessened his power and production numbers. In addition, Youkilis’ unusual batting style, which worked well for him when he was younger (He hit a career-high .312 in 2008), has left him less effective the last two seasons in which he has hit .258 and .235.

It will be the job of hitting coach Kevin Long to get Youkilis back on track at the plate with is timing and to get Youkilis driving the ball as he did so well at Fenway Park. As a right-hand hitter, the Yankees will not be looking for big-time power from Youkilis. But they would like him to get back to hitting closer to his lifetime .283 average and driving in runs.

There is a good possibility that Youkilis might slide into the No. 3 or No. 5 spots in the batting order to separate left-handers Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. That means the Yankees will be counting on Youkilis to provide solid production in the heart of the batting order.

A lot will depend if Youkilis is 100 percent healthy when he reports to camp in Tampa, FL, and he can remain healthy. He will have to because the Yankees’ options behind him are quite limited and much less productive.

As a fielder, Youkilis is considered an excellent first baseman. He won a Gold Glove for his work there in 2007. However, he is not as accomplished as a third baseman. Of course, he is actually still considered above average at the position.

There is no doubt that injuries have had an effect on his fielding at third the past two seasons. He made nine errors in 2011 and he committed the same total in 2012. So the slip in his fielding percentage at third had to be due in large part to the sports hernia and groin injuries.

His career fielding percentage at first is .997 but at third it is .966. But the Yankees feel if he is healthy, he can play the position more than adequately. Fielding, after all, was not a strength of A-Rod’s game either.

Of course, it is hard to know what the strength of Rodriguez’s game is really. Last season was another one of those seasons that he has failed to provide the production the Yankees needed and his season ended with a late injury which may or may not have contributed to his poor postseason.

After playing in just 99 games in 2011, largely due to a right knee injury, Rodriguez played in 122 games in 2012. He missed more than a month of the season and returned in early September after being struck in the left hand with a pitch from Seattle Mariners ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.

But when he was healthy, Rodriguez did not produce much in the way of power or runs batted in. He finished the season hitting .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs. Batting in the middle of the most productive lineup in baseball in 2012, A-Rod  hit .200 with the bases loaded and .230 with runners in scoring position.

But the most telling statistic is this: Rodriguez hit a home run every 25.7 at-bats in 2012. In his career, he has hit a home run every 14.9 at-bats. To say the 37-year-old three-time Most Valuable Player is suffering through a serious erosion of his skills is putting it mildly. It even lead to his being pinch-hit for at a critical point in the 2012 American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.

So even when Rodriguez returns the question is how much can the Yankees count on him? Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since 2007.

What looked to a be a lock that he would eventually break Barry Bonds’ dubious all-time home run record of 762 looks to a longshot now. But the real problem is the Yankees are on the hook for paying Rodriguez, in sickness and unproductive health, through the 2017 season.

So unless A-Rod gets tired of being booed, looking like a fool striking out against mediocre pitchers and he decides to retire, the Yankees have a 6-foot-3, 225-pound albatross around their necks. General manager Brian Cashman has been ordered to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and it will be hard to see how they can remain competitive as long as they are paying big bucks to an unproductive has-been.

But we will see how it all plays out when Rodriguez does make it back to the field in 2013.

Likely, he will not play much third base.

Though Rodriguez two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers in 2002 and 2003, he has never been considered a very good fielder at third base. His career fielding percentage at the position is .964 and it was .957 in 2012. He committed eight errors in 81 games at the position last year.

The previous injury to his right hip pretty much has robbed him of some of the lateral quickness and smoothness he needs to field at the hot corner.

So upon Rodriguez’s return it is more likely he will assume the designated hitter role for most of the rest of the season in order to keep his surgically repaired left hip from acting up again.

The Yankees do not have much in the way of options at third base behind Youkilis.

They were hoping that they could convince Eric Chavez, 35, to come back for a third season. But the free agent elected to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Though Chavez was unable to physically handle playing third base on a daily basis, he did contribute mightily to the Yankees at third and first base and as a DH and pinch-hitter. He hit .281 with 16 home runs and 37 RBIs in 2012. He also played 64 games at third base and flashed some of the form that led to him winning six consecutive Gold Gloves at the position from 2001 through 2006 with the Oakland Athletics.

He and his left-hand bat will be missed in 2013.

Instead the Yankees will have to look to Jayson Nix, 30, as the primary backup in 2013.

Nix entered the 2012 season as a minor-league player invited to spring training by the Yankees. After hitting over .300 in the spring Nix was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he was recalled on May 3 when the Yankees decided that Eduardo Nunez was ill-suited to be a utility infielder.

Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats as largely a backup to Rodriguez at third base and Derek Jeter at shortstop.

Nix was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Nov. 30, 2011 to make room on the 40-man roster for All-Star reliever Mariano Rivera, who was signed to a one-year contract. But Nix agreed to accept an assignment to Triple A in order to remain with the team. He will be invited to spring training and he has an excellent chance of retaining his backup infielder role.

Though Nix will not knock down any fences, he will play solidly in the field and give a good effort at the plate. That is what the Yankees hope he can do.

Nunez, 25, started the season as the team’s infield backup but his careless errors in the field cost him the job. Manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees’ front office agreed to send Nunez back to Triple A to play shortstop exclusively.

However, Nunez spent most of his time in the minors sidelined with a right-hand injury. There are no questions about Nunez’s bat. He is a career .272 hitter with the capability of stealing 40 bases in a full season.

But Jeter, 38, is still the shortstop and Nunez is a butcher in the field, hence the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” He was on a pace to commit 42 errors if he had played every day in 2012.

The Yankees look at Nunez as a potential right-hand DH in 2013 at this point. Nunez is not a home run hitter but he could possibly hit 10 home runs and drive in 60 runs if he got 425 or so at-bats. The Yankees also missed his speed last season.

Nunez stole 22 bases in 112 games in 2011 and he actually led the Yankees for most of the 2011 season with 11 until A-Rod and Ichiro Suzuki passed him in September. Nunez along with left-fielder Brett Gardner and Suzuki would give the Yankees a speed game they were lacking in 2012.

But the Yankees likely will not use Nunez at third base and there is a good possibility that Nunez could be traded to a team needing a shortstop before the season starts. They will listen to offers anyway.

Behind Nix the Yankees do not have a lot of major-league-ready options at the position.

David Adams, 25, and Corban Joseph, 24, are on the 40-man roster but both are primarily second basemen.

Adams hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs at Double-A Trenton in 2012 while Joseph hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton.

Adams, a third-round draft selection out of the University of Virginia in 2008, has been held back by a severe ankle injury. Joseph is a fourth round pick in 2008 out of Franklin High School in Franklin, TN.

Joseph would seem to have more upside because of his power and the fact that he bats left-handed. The Yankees could use a left-handed hitting infield backup. But Joseph is not considered as a shortstop. The same for Adams.

Both were elevated to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule V draft in 2013 and both will get opportunities to play in spring training. But Nix and Nunez have a huge upper hand on them because neither of the youngsters have played a significant amount of time at third base. In addition, neither player is among the Yankees’ Top 20 prospects.

The only third baseman among the Top 20 prospects is the Yankees’ first selection in the 2011 draft Dante Bichette Jr., son of the former Colorado Rockies slugger of the same name.

Bichette, 20, opened eyes last spring when he was placed on the traveling squad for an exhibition game against the Houston Astros and he hit a pair of solo home runs in his two at-bats in the only game in which he played. However, his 2012 season was a major disappointment because he hit only three home runs, drove in 46 runs and batted .248 at Class-A Charleston (SC).

But because he was the Most Valuable Player of the Gulf Coast League in 2011 and he has adapted better than expected at third base, the Yankees have high hopes for the Maitland, FL, native. However, he appears to be more than two years away from being ready for the major leagues.

Third base appears to be a big issue for the Yankees entering 2013.

Rodriguez is sidelined once again and his replacement Youkilis has had issues with injuries of his own. There appears to be an adequate backup in Nix but the Yankees have limited options behind him. The jury on Bichette is out for now but the Yankees remain optimistic he can follow in his father’s footsteps.

This is definitely not the Yankees’ strongest position entering the season and there will be a lot of people crossing their fingers Youkilis stays healthy and Rodriguez come back strong. It seems an awful lot to ask for at this point.

NEXT: SHORTSTOP