YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 3
Some rallies are loud and thunderous. Others are executed with a little pluck and a lot of luck.
On Wednesday night, the Yankees came from behind using the latter method.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees sent nine men to the plate and scored three runs thanks to a wind-blown double, two hit batters, a wild pitch, an intentional walk and a single that hit off a pitcher’s glove and rolled into left-field.
Chase Headley’s single off left-hander Brett Cecil’s glove scored Brett Gardner with what proved to be the winning run as New York pulled off late-inning comeback to down Toronto in front of a chilly crowd of 31,020 at Yankee Stadium.
Dellin Betances (1-0) got credit for the victory despite struggling mightily with his command in the eighth inning. Andrew Miller pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first save with the Yankees and only the second of his career.
The Yankees opened the eighth against left-hander Aaron Loup (0-1) with a pinch-hit double off the bat of Chris Young that just eluded second baseman Devon Travis 25 feet behind first base. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a lined single to center that advanced Young to third.
Loup then hit Gardner on the right forearm to load the bases. Manager John Gibbons replaced Loup with Cecil and, with Carlos Beltran batting, the Blue Jays closer uncorked a wild pitch that scored Young.
After Cecil fanned Beltran, Gibbons elected to walk Mark Teixeira to reload the bases but it backfired when Cecil hit Brian McCann with a pitch to bring in the tying run. Headley then followed with his game-winning single.
The Yankees actually squandered what was an excellent outing from right-hander Michael Pineda, who limited the Blue Jays to two runs on six hits and one walk and struck out six in six innings of work.
The Blue Jays used a lot of luck of their own to score their two runs, using an infield roller by Kevin Pillar, a double by Justin Smoak and another infield single off the bat of Travis to score their first run in the third inning.
They added another run on a one-out single by Travis, a infield bouncer by Jose Reyes followed with a throwing error by Stephen Drew that allowed Travis to reach third before Russell Martin hit a sacrifice fly to score Travis.
The Yankees cut the lead in half in the sixth when Ellsbury singled, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on Beltran’s sacrifice fly.
But Betances struggled with one out in the sixth by walking Jose Bautista, allowing a single by Edwin Encarnacion and a walk to Josh Donaldson.
However, Bautista actually scored to make 3-1 when McCann threw wildly to first base in an attempt to pick off Donaldson.
The implosion of the Blue Jays’ bullpen spoiled a solid effort from knuckeball right-hander R.A. Dickey, who limited the Yankees to one run on four hits and three walks and struck out four in 6 1/3 innings.
- Ellsbury reached base in all four of his plate appearances with two walks and two singles and he scored two runs. In addition, he stole a base. His only negative was he allowed himself to get picked off first base by Dickey in the first inning. But replays showed Dickey actually got away with a balk by moving his left knee.
- Based on what I saw on Wednesday, I am not sure that Betances will be able to wrest the closer’s role away from Miller. The 6-for-7 left-hander overpowered pinch-hitter Danny Valencia, breaking his bat on an infield roller, struck out Travis and retired Reyes on a grounder. As long as Betances struggles, Miller should be the main man.
- The Yankees were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position until Headley’s game-winning single in the ninth. Give Headley credit because he put the ball in play and Cecil could not field it cleanly. Headley was 2-for-4 in the game after going 0-for-4 in the opener on Monday.
- Granted, it was a cold and windy evening that made both teams have to resort to “small ball.” But the Yankees offense again looked sluggish against Dickey. They managed just four hits off him. Of their three hits in the eighth, only Ellsbury’s single was hit hard. I think Yankee fans are just going to have to resign themselves to the fact this Yankee team is going to have trouble scoring runs.
- Betances not only is dealing with less velocity. He also is dealing with some messed up mechanics. He was missing his spots badly and the Blue Jays were able to make him throw 32 pitches in the inning. Fortunately, Betances got out of the mess by inducing both Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar to hit weak comebackers to the mound.
- In a close game, errors can kill you. The errors by Drew and McCann both were costly because the Blue Jays scored a pair of runs off them. Defense was supposed to be a strength of this team. They need to tighten it up.
Catcher Austin Romine cleared waivers and the Yankees outrighted him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Romine, 26, lost a spring training battle to unseat John Ryan Murphy, 23, as the backup to McCann. Romine has batted .204 in 76 games with the Yankees. Murphy has a .252 average in 48 games. Romine is the son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine and the brother of Andrew Romine, who is an infielder with the Detroit Tigers.
The Yankees will play the rubber game of their three-game home series with the Blue Jays on Thursday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia, 34, will start for the Yankees for the first time since May 10 of last season. Sabathia missed the rest of the season and underwent surgery on his right knee. He was 0-3 with a 8.10 ERA in spring training but showed that his velocity has returned.
The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander Daniel Norris, who will be making only his second major-league start. The rookie was 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA in seven spring starts.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 8, BLUE JAYS 2
During the course of the 2013 season the nickname Bronx Bombers did not fit at all. This spring training training it looks like the moniker definitely applies.
Eduardo Nunez, Carlos Beltran and John Ryan Murphy each connected for home runs on Sunday as New York pounded Toronto at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.
Nunez unloaded for a two-run homer to left-field off right-hander Todd Redmond and Beltran followed with his first home run as a Yankee and of the spring to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
Murphy’s blast came in the eighth inning off right-hander Neil Wagner after leadoff singles by Antoan Richardson and Yangervis Solarte that extended the Yankees to their final 8-2 margin.
Minor-league right-hander Bryan Mitchell (1-0) gave up two hits, no walks and struck out three batters in his two innings of relief to get credit for the victory. Redmond (1-1) was saddled with the loss.
The Yankees have now won their past three Grapefruit League contests and are 3-2. The Blue Jays have the same record.
- There is no doubt that the catching position currently is the strongest position on the Yankee roster and Murphy’s three-run blast on Sunday added to the group’s impressive spring. Brian McCann, Francisco Cervelli, Kevin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Francisco Arcia and Murphy are a combined 12-for-32 (.375) at the plate with three homers and eight RBIs. Perennial All-Star McCann, obviously, will be the starter. But a real competition has erupted between Cervelli, Romine and Murphy for the backup spot. Sanchez and Arcia are heading back for minor-league seasoning.
- Nunez’s home run proved to be the game-winner and it came at a good time for the 26-year-old infielder. Nunez is battling to be part of a platoon at third base with Kelly Johnson. The problem for Nunez is his shaky fielding and the fact that 27-year-old Dean Anna is playing like he does not want to go back to the minor leagues. Anna played third base on Sunday while Nunez played short and Anna went 1-for-2 with an RBI single in the second inning. Anna is hitting .375 in the early going and he has been impressive in the field.
- Solarte, 26, and Adonis Garcia, 28, also have been impressive this spring. Solarte, who can play second, short and third, added another two hits in two at-bats on Sunday and he is 6-for-7 (.857) with two home runs and five RBIs. Garcia, who can play third base and the outfield, was 3-for-4 with two runs scored on Sunday and he is 5-for-8 (.625) with two RBIs. Neither seems to have a shot to make the Opening Day roster, of course. But they are opening a lot of eyes with their play.
Nunez and Corban Joseph committed errors and the pitchers gave up 10 hits but that would really be nitpicking. There is not much to complain about when the team gets three big home runs and wins by six.
Fresh off his much ballyhooed major-league debut on Saturday, Masahiro Tanaka learned from manager Joe Girardi on Sunday that he will make his next start on Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL. Tanaka, 25, threw two scoreless innings against the Phils, yielding two hits, no walks and striking out three. . . . Mark Teixiera will make his first start of the spring on Thursday or Friday, Girardi told reporters on Sunday. The 34-year-old first baseman is coming off surgery to repair his right wrist and he is working back into the lineup slowly. . . . Meanwhile, outfielder/designated hitter Alfonso Soriano probably will not make his spring debut until early next week due to a very bad case of the flu. Soriano was scheduled to play on Sunday but he told trainers he was still feeling dizzy and weak. . . . The long awaited spring debut of right-hander Michael Pineda is scheduled for Friday. Pineda, 25, pitched two innings of a simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Sunday. Girardi plans to use Pineda for three innings in relief of Hiroki Kuroda against the Detroit Tigers at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Pineda is in the four-man mix for the last spot available in the Yankees’ rotation. He has not pitched in the major leagues since 2011, having missed two full seasons recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum.
The Yankees return home to Tampa to play a contest on Monday against the Washington Nationals.
Right-hander Ivan Nova will make his second appearance of the spring while shortstop Derek Jeter, outfielder Brett Gardner, second baseman Brian Roberts and McCann are all expected to start.
The Nationals will counter with 27-year-old left-hander Ross Detwiler, who was 2-7 with 4.04 ERA in 13 starts with the Nationals last season. He is battling right-hander Tanner Roark, who also is slated to pitch on Monday, for the No. 5 spot in the team’s rotation.
Game-time will 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
It is no big secret that the New York Yankees are pretty much nearing their yearly limit on their healthcare plan. So much for “A-Rodcare,” literally! But with the slew of injuries has come the necessity for the Yankees to dip into their minor-league system for rookies. With the team in first place it is obvious that they are getting contributions from the so-called “Baby Bombers.” Let’s see how they are doing and rank them by their potential for what they will provide the team in the long run.
1) PRESTON CLAIBORNE, RIGHT-HANDED RELIEVER, 0-0, 0.69 ERA
Claiborne’s star has been rising quickly the past two seasons. At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, the 25-year-old Dallas native presents the typical power arm frame.
At Double-A Trenton in 2012, Claiborne was 2-2 with a 2.22 ERA and he saved five of the six games he closed. He struck out 49 batters in 48 2/3 innings over 30 appearances. He moved up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and was 4-0 with a 4.05 ERA and saved one of his two opportunities. He struck out 29 in 33 1/3 innings there.
But the Yankees were absolutely ecstatic over his performance during spring training. He was 1-0 with a 0.84 ERA and he struck out 11 batters in 10 2/3 innings over 10 appearances. Manager Joe Girardi praised Claiborne for not looking overmatched against top-flight major-league hitters. But the Yankees’ bullpen was full and Claiborne was assigned back to Scranton.
In eight games there, Claiborne was 0-0 with a 3.48 ERA and he had saved all three of his save opportunities.
So when right-hander Joba Chamberlain was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain on May 3, Claiborne was summoned to get his first taste of the majors. By the way Claiborne has pitched, he does not want to wash that great taste out of his mouth for a long time.
The rookie flamethrower is 0-0 with 0.69 ERA and he has struck out 10 batters without issuing a walk in 13 innings covering nine appearances.
It is odd that Claiborne has replaced Chamberlain so seamlessly because most scouts compare the two. He even has been called “Joba Jr.” because of his resemblance to the veteran reliever.
Claiborne features a fastball and slider combination with an occasional change. Girardi likes him because he is fearless in attacking hitters, which shows in the fact he has not issued a walk yet. Though Claiborne is not looked upon as a future closer, he could contribute nicely as a late-inning setup man in the mold of David Robertson or Chamberlain before injuries sidetracked his career lately.
Claiborne is, by far, the most impressive rookie the Yankees have used this season and he probably has the highest long-term ceiling because of his refusal to nibble on the corners. Claiborne is an attack pitcher with a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a slider with a good bite.
He may be less heralded than Chamberlain was because he was not a No. 1 draft pick. He was chosen in the 17th round in 2010 out of Tulane University. But he has exceeded expectations much like the way David Phelps has progressed through the minors as a starter.
Claiborne looks like a long-term keeper for the Yankees and he should not be sent down when Chamberlain returns from his rehab stint. Unfortunately, it is looking like either he or right-hander Adam Warren will have to go.
2) DAVID ADAMS, INFIELDER, 2 HRS, 3 RBIs, .306
You can probably call Adams the “greatest forgotten Yankees prospect in history.” The reason is that Adams has been detouring through the system because of a nagging ankle injury he suffered in 2010 at Double-A Trenton.
That was the famous injury that killed the Cliff Lee trade with the Seattle Mariners. Adams was packaged along with Jose Montero and Ivan Nova in July 2010 in a deal for Lee. But the Mariners rejected the deal because of Adams and they asked for shortstop Eduardo Nunez instead.
At that asking price, general manager Brian Cashman balked and Lee was traded to the Texas Rangers instead.
Since then Adams has been trying to get back on what he hoped would be a major-league track. Adams’ ankle injury was far more serious than anyone thought at the time and he missed pretty much all of the 2011 minor-league season.
The former 2008 third-round pick out of the University of Virginia did manage to play in 86 games at Double-A Trenton in 2012 and hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs.
However, the Yankees ran into a bit of a jam with their 40-man roster this spring. Adams, who was not invited to spring training, was released by the Yankees so they could get outfielder Vernon Wells on the roster. Because no other team called Adams with an offer he remained a free agent.
So the Yankees re-signed him and shipped him to Scranton, where he was hitting .316 with homer and three RBIs in 27 games. If the Yankees had a choice they would have recalled Adams when Kevin Youkilis was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lower back sprain on April 30.
But major-league rules prevent teams from calling up former free agents re-signed by their original club until May 15. So the Yankees recalled fellow rookie infielder Corban Joseph for a time and then they signed Chris Nelson when he was released by the Colorado Rockies.
But on May 15, which also was Adams’ 26th birthday, the Yankees released Nelson, brought Adams up from Scranton and he was installed as the team’s starting third baseman that very evening.
Originally a second baseman, Adams has been used at third base during stretches of his career because Joseph was the team’s biggest prospect at second base.
But Adams – now fully recovered from that nagging ankle injury some thee years later – is showing why he was such a highly touted prospect all those years. In nine games, Adams has at least one hit in eight of them and he is batting a robust .306 (11 for 36) with two home runs and three RBIs.
Though Adams’ defense is not listed by scouts as a strong suit because the ankle injury kept him off the field and perhaps reduced his range a bit, his defense with the Yankees has been better than advertised. He has not committed an error in his first 26 chances but it is obvious that a Gold Glove is not is in future either.
But playing solid defense while contributing offensively is just what the Yankees want him to do until Youkilis is activated from the disabled list sometime within the next week or so.
Adams likely will have to be sent back to Scranton but there is no doubt he has made an impression on the Yankees.
With Alex Rodriguez and Youkilis ahead of him at third base, Adams future there is a bit murky. But Robinson Cano can leave the Yankees as a free agent in 2014 and Youkilis only has a one-year contract. So Adams does have some potential value to the Yankees in the next year.
Adams also could have some value in potential trades the Yankees might consider down the line. But there is no doubt that after three seasons of futility dealing with a serious injury, Adams is back on track for a major-league career.
The Yankees are pleased with what he has contributed so far. If it were up to Adams it would be more of a long-term engagement.
3) VIDAL NUNO, LEFT-HANDED STARTER, 1-1, 1.93 ERA
While Adams and Claiborne were products of the Yankees’ farm system, Nuno actually was a 48th round draft pick in 2009 of the Cleveland Indians.
But after two seasons in the Cleveland minor-league system, he was released and he ended up signing with the Washington (PA) Wild Things in the independent Frontier League. There Nuno developed a change up and he caught the eye of scouts for the Yankees.
The Yankees signed him and the 25-year-old southpaw has breezed through the Yankees’ minor-league system the past two seasons.
In two stops in 2011, Nuno was 7-1 with a 1.38 ERA in 15 games (seven starts). In 2012, Nuno was a combined 10-6 with a 2.54 ERA between stops at High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
But Nuno really opened eyes when he became a late addition to the Yankees’ spring training roster. Nuno was 1-1 with a 0.61 ERA in seven games (two starts) with the Yankees. But what really opened the Yankees’ eyes was in a game he pitched against the Yankees as a loaner to the Dominican Republic team in an exhibition game.
Nuno shut out the Yankees over five innings and he ended up being selected as the winner of the James P. Dawson Award as the team’s top rookie of the spring.
Though Nuno was shipped out to Scranton he had made an impression.
So when Nova was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 27, Nuno was called up to take his place on the roster.
In his major-league debut, Nuno pitched three scoreless innings of relief against the Houston Astros on April 29.
On May 13, he shut out the Indians over five innings in his first major-league start and was promptly optioned back to Scranton on May 14. But he was recalled on May 17 when Andy Pettitte was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left trapezius muscle.
Nuno finally got tagged for his first run and home run allowed and took his first major-league loss on Tuesday when gave up a leadoff walk-off solo home run in the 10th inning to Nate McLouth of the Baltimore Orioles.
But, in true bounce-back fashion, Nuno pitched well in his second major-league start by limiting the Tampa Bay Rays to just one run on five hits in six innings on Saturday.
It is easy to see why Nuno was rapidly released by the Indians when you look at his fastball velocity. It is in the upper 80s and rarely reaches 90. That means Nuno must stay away from the middle of the plate and rely on his control to be effective.
Of course, little did the Indians know, but Nuno excels at throwing strikes and limiting walks. In 385 innings, Nuno has walked only 69 batters while he has struck out 371. That is nearly a 5 1/2 strikeouts per walk ratio.
The Yankees plan to send him back to Scranton when Pettitte is activated on June 1. But Nuno may have a future as a starter with a major-league team, even if it is not the Yankees. Nuno mainly will have to prove he can continue to get hitters out and he does a need a season at the Triple-A level.
But his long-term future can be bright with the Yankees because Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda are pitching under one-year contracts and Phil Hughes can hit the free-agent market this winter. So Nuno may be needed to fill a vacancy in the rotation next season.
If nothing else, Nuno could fill a need as a left-hander out the bullpen, though Nuno has shined much more brightly as a starter throughout his minor-league career.
In any event, Nuno has carved out a big spot in the Yankees’ future plans because left-handers with control can have very long careers in the major leagues. Ask David Wells.
4) AUSTIN ROMINE, CATCHER, 0 HRs, 2 RBIs, .118 BA
Unlike the others, Romine is in the Yankees’ listing of the Top 20 prospects in the organization. He is ranked at No. 17.
The main calling for Romine, 24, is his defense, which Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena rate as “major-league quality.” Romine has managed to remain with the Yankees while Montero has not because of his defense.
The only things that have held Romine back is a recurring back problem – which Romine has deal with on a daily basis with stretching exercises – and his bat. Romine is a career .280 hitter in the minors but it has not, as yet, translated to the major-league level.
But when Francisco Cervelli sustained a fractured right hand on April 26, Romine was summoned from Scranton, where he was hitting .333 with a homer and four RBIs in 14 games.
Chris Stewart was elevated to the starter behind the plate and Romine was expected to catch a game each week, at best.
But Stewart suffered a mild strain of his left groin on May 16 and Romine was thrust into the starter’s role for six games this week until Stewart returned on Saturday. Romine was 3-for-18 (.167) with no home runs and one RBI. Overall, he is hitting .118 with a no home runs and two RBIs.
What Romine lacks as a hitter he still excels at as a catcher. He calls a solid game (that is a work in progress), he is excellent at blocking pitches and he has a very good arm that deters base-stealers. He has thrown out 25 percent of potential base-stealers at the minor-league level in his career.
With Cervelli sidelined until sometime after the All-Star break, Romine will remain the backup catcher for the Yankees until he returns.
That will allow Romine to have some time to develop his hitting at the major-league level and learn more of the fundamentals of defense from Girardi and Pena.
The Yankees are actually loaded at the position with their No. 1 prospect Gary Sanchez and hard-hitting J.R. Murphy making their way through the Yankees’ system. The Yankees are going to have to make a determination of where Romine fits in their long-range plans.
They hope he can improve with the bat enough to stick with the Yankees. They would love for him to take the starting job in 2014. That, however, is up to Romine and how much he able to benefit from the major-league experience he is getting now.
The son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine will have to step it up overtake Cervelli and Stewart soon and keep Sanchez and Murphy at bay down the road. There is a long way to go and Romine just happens to have time on his side.
In addition to these four rookies who debuted this season, two other rookies have played for the Yankees this season: right-hander Warren and infielder Joseph. Warren, 26, was not included in the original list because he made his major-league debut in 2012, but he is still considered as a rookie this season. Joseph, 24, was called up from Scranton on April 30 to replace Youkilis. But he hit .167 in six at-bats before he was sent back Scranton May 14. Warren, however, is contributing very well out of the bullpen, where he is 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA.
The rookie pitchers (Claiborne, Nuno and Warren) are 2-1 with a 1.24 ERA and 34 strikeouts and 10 walks in 50 2/3 innings covering 22 appearances (two starts). Adams, Romine and Joseph have combined to go 16-for-76 (.211) with two home runs and five RBIs. Those contributions from the rookies has been a huge part of the reason why the Yankees have been able to weather the devastating injuries to their veterans this season and remain in first place. It is a testament to the scouting and the evaluations made under the direction of Cashman. The odd thing is these rookies are not considered among the team’s top prospects. There are many more at the Double-A and Single-A levels. That would indicate that the Yankees might not need to be signing many high-priced free agents in the immediate future.
Training camp opens in just a few weeks and the New York Yankees’ first exhibition game is a month away. Unlike past springs, the Yankees do not arrive as odds-on favorites in the American League East, a division they have dominated since 1996.
Because some players are recovering from injuries and others are participating in the World Baseball Classic it will be an opportunity to see a lot of backups, minor-league prospects and camp invitees to play a lot of innings this spring.
I have decided to boil those players down to a list of five players who fans should watch as the exhibition season unfolds. They are not necessarily players who will have an immediate impact on the Yankees. But they could very well determine the future direction of the franchise over the next five years.
Let’s take a close look at my five future impact players in reverse order:
5) MARK MONTGOMERY, 22, RELIEF PITCHER
Montgomery was taken in the 11th round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft and to say he is on a fast track to the major leagues is putting it mildly. Though he does not look intimidating at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Montgomery has blazed a rapid trail through the Yankees’ minor-league system. Last season he opened at High-A Tampa by going 4-1 with a 1.34 ERA and 14 saves. But the real eye-catcher is his 61 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings. He was quickly promoted to Double-A Trenton and he was 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 1 save. There he struck out 38 batters in 24 innings. Much like Joba Chamberlain, Montgomery features a nasty slider and he gets a lot of swings and misses with it. His fastball sits in the low 90s. The Yankees see him as a potential contributor as soon as this season. Manager Joe Girardi wants to see how he measures up against some major-league hitters and with Mariano Rivera heading into retirement it might be a good idea to have a guy like Montgomery knocking on the door.
4) AUSTIN ROMINE, 24, CATCHER
Romine’s value increased the day this offseason Russell Martin elected to sign a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Romine, the son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine, was the Yankees’ second selection in 2007 First Year Player Draft but his development in the minors was overshadowed by the presence of Jesus Montero. With Montero also gone via a trade last season, Romine will have an opportunity this spring to flash his vaunted defensive skills. Both Girardi and bench coach Tony Pena, who were major-league catchers themselves, believe Romine’s defense is major-league quality now. Two things have held Romine back: A recurring back injury and his offense. After missing most of 2012 with a back strain, Romine has been pronounced healthy. Romine as a hitter does not possess much power but makes good contact and rarely strikes out. The real problem is he is rusty from inaction and his bat is slow. Though it is doubtful Romine will overtake Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, the Yankees are anxious to see the former El Toro (CA) High School star stake his claim as the heir apparent at catcher. The No. 1 prospect in the organization, 20-year-old Gary Sanchez, is right on his heels and has been described as a “Montero-type power hitter with defensive skills.”
3) MASON WILLIAMS, 21, OUTFIELDER
With Curtis Granderson in the final year of his contract, the Yankees might be looking at Williams as a potential replacement down the road. The fourth pick of the Yankees in the 2010 First Year Player Draft is a potential five-tool player who is currently ranked behind Sanchez as the team’s No. 2 prospect. Williams hit .304 with eight home runs and 28 RBIs at Class-A Charleston and then was promoted to High-A Tampa, where he hit .277 in 22 games before having his season cut short by a torn labrum in his right shoulder. At only 6 feet and 150 pounds, Williams is expected to grow into a solid power hitter with excellent speed and above-average defensive skills. The Yankees have no doubt he will hit for average because he is way ahead of his peers in his approach at the plate. This spring Williams can open some eyes and perhaps have a shot to become a starter by 2015.
2) CESAR CABRAL, 24, RELIEF PITCHER
Cabral has been a forgotten man except for the team’s scouts who can’t wait to see him this spring. Cabral actually was a contender for the left-handed relief specialist job that Clay Rapada eventually won in 2012. However, Cabral was 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings before he suffered a stress fracture in his left elbow last spring. He did not pitch for the rest of the season. Cabral was a Rule V pick last season who had come off a 2011 season in which he struck out 70 batters in 55 innings in two stops in the Boston Red Sox minor-league system. Cabral is 100 percent healthy and he will get another chance to supplant Rapada in the bullpen. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound lefty has a low to mid-90s fastball but he gets a lot of swings and misses on an excellent circle change. The Yankees love his smooth delivery and if there would be any pitcher who could be a big surprise this spring for the Yankees it would be Cabral. He has great potential.
1) ZOILO ALMONTE, 23, OUTFIELDER
Almonte opened the eyes of Girardi last spring with his bat. Almonte then put together an excellent season at Double-A Trenton in which he hit .277 with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs in 106 games. Signed at age 15 out of the Dominican Republic in 2005, Almonte offers a combination of both power and speed with the plus of being a switch-hitter. The Yankees have a set outfield of Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Granderson. They also have Russ Canzler, who was acquired from the Cleveland Indians, and veteran spring invitee Matt Diaz vying for reserve spots. However, Almonte or 26-year-old Melky Mesa could make the team with really good spring showings. Almonte is not considered as good a defender as Mesa but he provides the Yankees with a lot of potential power off the bench. It would be hard to see Almonte skip Triple A and make the Yankees. But if anyone could do it it would be Almonte. Watch him closely this spring.
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.