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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
YANKEES 4, CUBS 2 (13 INNINGS)
When a baseball team suffers through a spate of injuries it has to rely a great deal on its players from Triple A to fill in for those injured players. Add to the fact that when a team is in a 13-inning game they up asking players to do things they never have done before.
That is exactly what happened at Wrigley Field on Wednesday and those former Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders came up big for the Yankees.
Pitcher Preston Claiborne set down a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt in his first major-league at-bat in the top of the 13th inning, Brendan Ryan scored the tie-breaking run on a wild pitch and John Ryan Murphy drove in an insurance run on a single as New York rallied for two runs in the ninth to tie it and scored two in the 13th to down Chicago.
Claiborne (2-0), who was recalled from Scranton for a second time this season on April 27 to fill a void in the bullpen, pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory. David Robertson pitched a scoreless 13th frame to remain a perfect 9-for-9 in saves this season.
Former Yankee right-hander Jose Veras (0-1) took the loss.
Ryan, who entered the game as pinch-runner for Brian McCann and scored a run in the ninth, led off the 13th with a lined single to left off Veras. Yangervis Solarte then drew a walk to set the stage for Claiborne’s bunt.
The Yankees were out of position players and Robertson was only reliever left in the bullpen. That forced manager Joe Girardi into asking Claiborne, who had never had at-bat in major-league game, to put down a sacrifice bunt to advance Ryan and Solarte.
The Cubs, defending the bunt, actually put on the wheel play to cut down Ryan at third base, however, Claiborne’s bunt on the first pitch from Veras was deadened so much on the Wrigley Field turf that third baseman Luis Valbuena had only the play at first base.
While facing Murphy, who entered the game after Ryan pinch-ran for McCann in the ninth, Veras uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Ryan to score the tie-breaking run. Two pitches later Murphy, who was recalled from Scranton on April 15 when Francisco Cervelli was placed on the 60-day disabled list with a pulled right hamstring, laced a RBI single to right that scored Solarte.
Considering the effort of Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzjia, it is lucky that the Yankees were able to tie it in the ninth, much less win the game.
Samardzjia entered the game with a 1.62 ERA but was sporting an 0-4 record and a 15-start streak in which he had failed to win a game dating back to Aug. 24, 2013 victory over the Padres in San Diego.
He held the Yankees to just four hits and two walks while he struck out three in seven innings. That lowered his season ERA to National League-leading 1.46.
The Cubs, meanwhile, were able to push across a run in the fourth inning against right-hander Chase Whitley, who was recalled from Scranton on May 15 and who was making only his second major-league start.
Valbuena slapped a one-out single and Wellington Castillo followed with a single of his own. Then Nate Schierholtz slashed a liner off the glove of Mark Teixeira at first base for a single that loaded the bases.
Mike Olt scored Valbuena on a sacrifice fly.
Whitley left the game with one out in the fifth and Emilio Bonifacio on third with a leadoff triple. But right-hander Dellin Betances bailed him out of the inning by retiring Anthony Rizzo on a swinging strike and Starlin Castro on a flyout.
Whitley gave up on run on six hits and one walk along with three strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. In his two starts since being called up as an emergency fifth starter, Whitley has yielded one run on eight hits and three walks and seven strikeouts in nine innings.
The Cubs added a run in the seventh inning off right-hander Adam Warren when pinch-hitter Ryan Kalish lined a one-out triple to right and Bonifacio scored him on a bunt single.
But the Yankees both ruined Samardzjia’s great outing and saved themselves a loss by scoring two runs with the help of an error by Darwin Barney, who had just entered the game at second base as part of a double switch in the top of the ninth.
Teixeira opened the inning with a single off right-hander Hector Rondon, the Cubs’ closer. McCann followed by drawing a walk and he was replaced by Ryan.
Solarte loaded the bases with an infield single and Ichiro Suzuki followed by hitting a grounder to Castro at short. Castro fed the ball to Barney to retire Solarte but Barney’s throw to first skipped past Rizzo at first base to allow both Teixeira and Ryan to score.
Because of the length of the game, thousands of Yankee fans and a majority of the sellout crowd of 34,808 saluted Derek Jeter with repeated standing ovations when he came to the plate. Jeter ended the day 1-for-7 with a single in the sixth in his final game at Wrigley Field.
“I was hoping the game wouldn’t take that long, but I told you, the way the fans have been treating me on the road this year. It’s been unbelievable,” Jeter told reporters after the game.
With the victory the Yankees split the two-game series at Wrigley but won the inter-league season series three games to one. Their season record improves to 24-21 and they are in a statistical tie with the Toronto Blue Jays for first place in the American League East, a half=game ahead of the third-place Baltimore Orioles.
The Cubs fell to 16-28.
- Whitley certainly deserves another start after what he did against the Cubs on Wednesday. Girardi was pleased and only removed him in the fifth in favor of Betances with Bonifacio on third and Rizzo up because Girardi wanted a strikeout in the that situation. With Ivan Nova out for the season after Tommy John surgery and Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia on the disabled list, the 24-year-old right-hander is seizing a great opportunity after spending the past three seasons at Scranton.
- Let’s also give credit to the bullpen for pitching 8 2/3 innings of one-run baseball. They allowed only five hits and three walks while striking out 12 batters. Despite the loss of setup man Shawn Kelley, who is on the DL with a lower-back strain, the team is getting help from Betances, Alfredo Aceves, Matt Daley, Matt Thornton, Warren, Claiborne and Robertson. Robertson is certainly settling in replacing the legendary Mariano Rivera.
- Give Murphy, 22, credit for staying sharp with the bat despite getting limited playing time behind the perennial All-Star McCann. With Murphy’s single in the 13th he has raised his season average to .406. He is 13-for-32 with a home run and six RBIs. He is making Austin Romine and Cervelli irrelevant to the Yankees future plans as long as he continues to play this well.
- It is clear that Samardzjia is a good pitcher but the Yankees can not be happy that they played the weak-hitting Cubs for 17 innings heading into the ninth inning on Wednesday and they managed to score just a single run on 10 hits. The acquisitions of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and McCann were supposed to make the offense better than it was in 2013. But those three, so far, are failing to provide much. Ellsbury singled in the 10th and the 12th innings to snap a 1-for-27 slump and he only has one home run all season.
More bad news on the injury front. Kelley, 30, had his rehab placed on hold Wednesday due to a recurrence of his lower back pain. Kelley felt a twinge as he was playing catch on Monday and he was told to halt all baseball activities. Tests indicated no problems with the discs in his back. But plans for the right-hander to begin a minor-league rehab stint this weekend have been cancelled.
The Yankees stay in Chicago but their bus will head to U.S. Cellular Field on the south side of the city to open a four-game series with the White Sox beginning on Thursday.
Right-hander David Phelps (1-0, 3.33 ERA) will start for the Yankees coming off his best start of the season. Phelps shut out the Pirates on five hits and three walks in five innings on Friday. Though Phelps had command issues throughout his outing, he got out of jams and held the Bucs scoreless.
This is just how the Yankees’ season has gone. All-Star Chisox left-hander Chris Sale (3-0, 2.30 ERA) was not supposed to pitch in this series because he was on the 15-day disabled list with a left flexor muscle strain in his left elbow. However, after he fanned 11 batters in four innings in a rehab start last Friday, Sale was summoned to Chicago and he will be activated for Thursday’s game. Oh goody, goody!
Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
TWINS 7, YANKEES 3
TAMPA – Eric Farris hit a dying-quail bloop single just over Mark Teixeira’s head for a two-run double with one out in the sixth inning to break a 3-3 tie as Minnesota stormed back from an early 3-1 deficit to defeat New York on Friday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Farris’ lucky dunker came off reliever Manny Banuelos (0-1), who had loaded the bases with no outs on a leadoff bloop single and a pair of walks. The 23-year-old left-hander was charged with four runs on two hits and two walks in one-third of an inning in only his second spring appearance.
Twins left-hander Caleb Thielbar (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning of relief to get credit for the victory.
The Yankees greeted Twins starter Kyle Gibson with three runs in the first inning, keyed by an RBI double by Brian Roberts, and RBI single by Teixeira and an RBI groundout off the bat of Eduardo Nunez.
The Twins scored a run in the first inning and added another in the third off Yankees starter David Phelps.
Chris Colabello slapped a two-out RBI single in the first to score Aaron Hicks. Two innings later, Brian Dozier led off with a solo home run to left.
Phelps, who is still vying for the No. 5 starter position, yielded two runs on five hits and a walk while he fanned four batters in four innings.
The Twins tied the game in the fifth off right-hander David Herndon on a leadoff walk and stolen base by Dozier and an RBI single by Colabello.
The Yankees’ Grapefruit League record is now 8-7-2. The Twins are 6-7.
- It is always a good sign when Teixeira drives in a run. Though Teixeira is hitting only .167 on the spring, he is having no lingering issues after undergoing wrist surgery and looks to be ready to go for the regular season. The Yankees definitely need his power and production, not to mention his Gold Glove at first base.
- Roberts is also showing signs of coming around with the bat. He was 1-for-3 with a double, a run scored and an RBI in the game. Roberts is only hitting .150 but he will be the Yankees’ starting second baseman and the Yankees plan to use the switch-hitter every day despite his past injury problems.
- Dellin Betances has been the talk of camp and he pitched splendidly again on Friday. He pitched a perfect 1 2/3 innings with two strikeouts and he remains unsecured upon on the spring. If the 25-year-old right-hander is not on the 25-man roster leaving Tampa it will be a crime.
- The Yankees rapped out three hits in the first inning off Gibson and then they decided to take the rest of the afternoon off. The Yankees did not manage to get a hit for the rest of the contest against Gibson, Thielbar, Sean Gilmartin, Ryan Pressly and Aaron Thompson. Are these Twins no-name pitchers that good or are the Yankees’ hitters just that bad?
- Don’t get down on Banuelos too much. He was not hit hard. Both hits were bleeders. Remember that Banuelos missed most of 2012 and all of 2013 following Tommy John surgery. The Yankees need for him to pitch and build up his arm strength. The results may be ugly now but the young lefty deserves a chance to fulfill his promise with a full season at Triple A.
Nunez had to leave the game in the fifth inning after he was kicked above in the left knee on a unnecessary takeout slide by Colabello. Wilkin Ramirez hit a high-hop grounder to Nunez at short while Colabello was advancing from first and Nunez took the play himself by stepping on second. Colabello then leg-whipped Nunez even though the ball was not hit hard enough to turn a double play. Nunez was checked out by the Yankees’ medical staff and Nunez said he was fine.
The Yankees will be in two faraway locations on Saturday. A contingent of players are in a Panama to play against the Miami Marlins in two games called the Legend Series and reunite with future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Yankees will travel to Sarasota to take on the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium.
Left-hander Vidal Nuno will be making his second spring start for the Yankees. The Orioles will counter with right-hander Chris Tillman.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network.
In Panama, Adam Warren will start for the Yankees and Brad Hand will pitch for the Marlins.
Game-time will be 9:05 p.m. EDT and there will be no television or radio broadcast of the game.
YANKEES 7, TIGERS 7 (10 INNINGS)
TAMPA – The Tigers got four strong innings out of right-hander Anibal Sanchez and they pounded Hiroki Kuroda for six runs but New York rallied late to pull into a 7-7 tie after 10 innings at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday.
Sanchez gave up one run on three hits, did not walk a batter while striking out three.
Meanwhile, Kuroda was tagged for six runs on 10 hits and no walks in 3 2/3 innings.
The Tigers onslaught was led by Nick Castellanos, who smacked a two-run double to key a four-run first, and Trevor Crowe, who added a two-run double in the third inning.
The Yankees got a pair of solo home runs from backup catcher Francisco Cervelli, who connected for one in the third inning off Sanchez and one off reliever Evan Reed in the fifth.
The Yankees scored three runs in the eighth off reliever Ian Krol, keyed by a two-run bases-loaded ground-rule double by Zelous Wheeler.
Zoilo Almonte tied the game in the ninth with a two-run homer off Jose Ortega.
Neither team scored in the 10th inning and the game ended in a tie.
The Yankees’ spring record is now 7-5-2. The Tigers are 7-6-1.
- Cervelli is having a breakout spring and he has virtually locked up the backup catching job over Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy. Cervelli is out of options anyway. So it will be an easy call for the Yankees unless they opt to trade Cervelli.
- Give the youngsters some credit for rallying late to tie the game. They did the same thing on Sunday against the Rays. Almonte is buried behind a bunch of veterans and free agents but the Yankees feel he will benefit from a full season at Triple A after being rushed to the majors last season.
- The relievers held the Tigers to one unearned run on three hits over the last 6 1/3 innings to allow the Yankees to come back. Shawn Kelley looked particularly good, pitching a perfect frame in the fifth.
- Kuroda downplayed his poor outing but it was frustrating because CC Sabathia struggled so much the day before against the Nationals. Kuroda just could not keep his pitches down and I am not sure it is anything to worry about. Of course, if it happens again we might worry more.
- Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran and Brian Roberts were a combined 0-for-12 with five strikeouts. We need offense from these guys. They need to pick it up soon.
The Yankees will play a pair of games on Thursday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda will start at home as the Yankees play host to the Baltimore Orioles.
Meanwhile, Ivan Nova will start against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Both games are at 1:05 p.m. EDT.
The YES Network will broadcast the home game locally. There is no scheduled broadcast of the road contest.
Spring training is here!
We are days away from the New York Yankees’ spring home opener and camp is already abuzz about Derek Jeter’s final season, the anticipation of seeing Japanese star right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and the new boatload of free agents the team signed like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.
But before the games begin I have picked five players to watch this spring. They are not necessarily big names but they do bear watching because of how they will affect the makeup of the Yankees’ 25-man roster that will open the season.
In reverse order of importance, here are the five:
NO. 5 – DEAN ANNA, 27, INFIELDER
The name may not be familiar because Anna played for the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in Tucson and he batted .331 with nine homers and 73 RBIs in 132 games. The Yankees acquired Anna in a trade with the Padres for minor-league right-hander Ben Paulus. Anna is primarily a second baseman but he also has logged time at shortstop, third base and the corner outfield spots in his pro career. That versatility makes him potentially valuable to the Yankees if he can hit anywhere near his .286 minor-league career average. Anna will be battling Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez and Scott Sizemore for a backup infielding spot on the roster. His acquisition shows the Yankees do not have much faith in the development of Corban Joseph and David Adams was released after he flopped in his brief major-league trial last season. With injury-plagued veteran second baseman Brian Roberts as the starter and with Kelly Johnson the primary starter at third base with the suspension of Alex Rodriguez, Anna could back up at both positions. He has the bat to produce and his glove is more than adequate. If Anna impresses the Yankees, Nunez could be packaged in a deal to strengthen the bullpen or bench. If Anna fails to make the roster, he will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he will be phone call away should any of the infielders get injured during the season. Watch him closely.
NO. 4 – PRESTON CLAIBORNE, 26, RIGHT-HANDED RELIEVER
Claiborne was recalled from Scranton and made his major-league debut on May 5. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound right-hander made an immediate impression on manager Joe Girardi by not walking a single batter in his first 14 appearances. If you want to get on Girardi’s good side you don’t walk batters. Claiborne did that and also impressed everyone with his effectiveness out of the bullpen. By Aug. 9, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 2.13 ERA and a Walks-to-Innings-Pitched Ratio (WHIP) of 1.08 in 33 games. The Texas native, who was nicknamed “Little Joba,” for his resemblance to Joba Chamberlain had actually supplanted his namesake in the bullpen pecking order. However, a roster numbers crunch forced the Yankees to send Claiborne back and forth from the Bronx to Scranton five times in a 10-day period in August. Claiborne was not the same the rest of the season. In his final 11 appearances, Claiborne was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA and a WHIP of 2.00. With the retirement of Mariano Rivera and the free-agent losses of Chamberlain and left-hander Boone Logan, Claiborne will get a chance to prove he belongs in the big leagues. If he does and pitches as he did initially in 2013, the Yankees might have a stronger bullpen than the experts imagine. Claiborne has the ability. It is just a matter of doing well this spring,
NO. 3 – RUSS CANZLER, 27, INFIELDER/OUTFIELDER
Canzler actually was acquired by the Yankees last winter but was designated for assignment before the exhibition season started because the team had signed designated hitter Travis Hafner. Canzler instead was picked up by the Baltimore Orioles, sent to their Triple-A affiliate and then traded late in the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his two minor-league stops, Canzler batted .252 with 12 home runs and 52 RBIs in 125 games. Canzler’s value is that he is capable of playing both infield corner spots as well as both corner outfield spots. Last season he started 42 games at first, 13 at third and 16 in the outfield. He even started one game at second base. But Canzler’s calling card is power. The right-handed hitter has 118 career home runs in the minors. The reason he intrigues the Yankees is because the current depth chart lists Johnson as the primary backup to Mark Teixeira at first base. Teixeira is coming off surgery on his right wrist after playing in only 15 games last season. The Yankees could stand to have a player who can play the position. Johnson has only made two major-league starts at first. So Canzler could make the roster if he has an impressive spring. That would allow him to platoon with Johnson at third and back up Teixeira at first and he could even log some time in the outfield, if needed. The odds of Canzler making it are slim. But he bears watching.
NO. 2 – CESAR CABRAL, 25, LEFT-HANDED RELIEVER
Bad luck forced this 2012 Rule V draft pick from the Kansas City Royals via the Boston Red Sox to delay his major-league debut. Cabral came into camp in 2012 as a candidate to be a lefty specialist out the bullpen. Throughout the spring, Cabral battled Clay Rapada until the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Dominican fractured his elbow in his final appearance of the spring. He did not pitch at all in 2012 and he missed the early stages of the 2013 season while rehabbing the injury. But once he got started, Cabral got rolling. In three minor-league stops he was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA. That does not look impressive but he struck out 43 batters in 36 2/3 innings. That got him a September call-up to the Yankees. Cabral took advantage of the opportunity by going 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA and six strikeouts in 3 2/3 innings in eight games. Lefties hit .125 off him. Girardi was very impressed and Cabral enters the spring with an excellent chance of making the team as a lefty specialist. The other lefties on the team’s 40-man roster are starters and the two non-roster invitee lefties, Fred Lewis and Francisco Rondon, are huge longshots to make the roster. Cabral is worth watching because he has 376 career strikeouts in 383 2/3 innings in the minors. With the bevy of strong left-handed hitters such as David Ortiz, Prince Fielder and our old buddy Robinson Cano around, it helps to have a effective lefty who can get them out. Cabral could be that guy for the Yankees.
NO. 1 – MICHAEL PINEDA, 25, RIGHT-HANDED STARTER
This selection was really a no-brainer. Since the Yankees elected to trade promising prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Pineda and right-hander Jose Campos in 2012, the anticipation of seeing what Pineda could do has been palpable. After he made the American League All-Star team and was 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in his rookie season in Seattle, the Yankees could not wait to see this 6-foot-7, 260-pound righty bring out his best. Unfortunately, Pineda showed up to camp overweight in 2012 and he did not pitch well during the exhibition season. His velocity was down and he was getting hit hard. It ended with a shellacking from the Philadephia Phillies in his last start of the spring and Pineda admitted after the game his right shoulder was sore. That led to surgery to repair a partially torn labrum. Pineda, as a result, missed the entire 2012 season and he was not ready to answer the bell at the start of the 2013 season either. Pineda made three stops in the minors last season with hopes of receiving a call back to the majors in September. He was 2-1 with a 3.32 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings in 10 starts. But minor soreness in the surgically repaired shoulder ended his season. With the retirement of Andy Pettitte and the free-agent loss of Phil Hughes, the Yankees want Pineda to earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation. They figure it is about time he produce something. Pineda will battle right-handers David Phelps and Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno for the spot. But the smart money is on Pineda. His velocity may not be what it was but the Yankees think he can be effective. We will soon find out how effective Pineda can be.
With pitchers and catchers due to report in less than two weeks (Feb. 14) and the full squad coming in on Feb. 19, the New York Yankees have invited a total of 26 players to spring training.
Nine players have been signed to minor-league deals including right-hander Bruce Billings, infielder Russ Canzler, right-hander Robert Coello, right-hander Brian Gordon, right-hander Chris Leroux, outfielder Antoan Richardson, infielder Scott Sizemore, infielder Yangervis Solarte and infielder Zelous Wheeler.
Canzler (29 games), Coello (28), Sizemore (160) and Leroux (63) all have previous major-league experience. In addition, left-hander Matt Daley, infielder Corban Joseph and right-hander Jim Miller also received invites after spending time with the Yankees last season.
Among the position players with major-league experience, the infielders Canzler, Sizemore and Joseph will get opportunities to actually make the squad this spring.
If Canzler’s name is familiar it is because he was on the Yankees’ original spring training roster last season before he was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Travis Hafner. Canzler, 27, was then picked up by the Baltimore Orioles and he was later sent to their Triple A affiliate in Norfolk.
He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 13 and spent the rest of the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. Combined at the two stops, Canzler hit .252 with 12 home runs and 62 RBIs in 125 games.
Canzler is valuable utility player in that he can play both corner infield and outfield spots.
In his 29 games in the majors, he is a .271 hitter with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
The Yankees see the 6-foot-2 right-handed power hitter as a possible platoon at third base with left-handed-hitting Kelly Johnson and a fill-in for Mark Teixeira at first-base. The fact Canzler also can play the outfield would be a definite bonus.
Sizemore, 29, on the other hand, is primarily a second baseman who figures to be in line as a backup infielder at second, shortstop and third base.
The right-handed-hitting Sizemore, a product of the Detroit Tigers’ minor-league system, was dealt to the Oakland Athletics in 2011. In 160 games, Sizemore has hit .238 with 14 homers and 60 RBIs.
Sizemore elected to become a free agent this winter after knee injuries limited him to just two games since 2011.
Joseph, 25, is product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he made his major-league debut with the Yankees on May 13 during a doubleheader with the Cleveland Indians. Sizemore was 1-for-6 in the two games.
Primarily a second baseman, the lefty-swinging rookie can also play third base.
In 47 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Joseph hit only .239 with six homers and 19 RBIs. He was placed on the disabled list on May 31 and missed the remainder of the season with a right shoulder injury that required surgery.
With Brian Roberts entrenched at second and Johnson penciled in at third, Joseph’s chances of making the major-league roster in 2014 are virtually nil. The Yankees also have veteran backups such as Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez ahead of him as well as second base prospects Dean Anna and Jose Pirela knocking on the door.
Of the pitchers, Miller has the best shot to make the team after spending most of the 2013 season at Triple A, where he was 3-5 with a 3.55 ERA and six saves in nine chances in 43 games.
In one game with the Yankees, Miller, 31, had a 20.25 ERA in 1 1/3 innings. Miller also has pitched for the Orioles, the Colorado Rockies and the A’s in his career.
The list of 26 invitees also includes outfielder Mason Williams, right-hander Danny Burawa, outfielder Tyler Austin, right-hander Chase Whitley and left-hander Fred Lewis. All five were selected by the Yankees during the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
Williams, 22, is the team’s No. 2 prospect, and Austin, 22, is the team’s No. 3 prospect.
The organization’s Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2012, right-handed reliever Mark Montgomery, also was invited.
The other invitees include: Catchers Pete O’Brien, Francisco Arcia and Jose Gil; outfielder Adonis Garcia; infielder Pirela; right-handers Yoshinori Tateyama and David Herndon; and left-hander Francisco Rondon.
The 26 invitees brings the number of players invited to camp to 66, which is 18 fewer than in 2014. Among the 26 players are 13 pitchers, three catchers, six infielders and four outfielders.
YANKEES 5, RED SOX 2
There were some eyebrows raised from some Yankees when Hiroki Kuroda was not selected to pitch for the American League in last week’s All-Star Game. But Kuroda never said a word and just used the time to get rested up for the second half of the season.
That was bad news for the Boston Red Sox.
Kuroda (9-6) shut down the Red Sox on two runs on five hits over seven strong innings and the Yankees got three hits each from Lyle Overbay, Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez as New York downed Boston in front of a paid crowd of 37,601 at Fenway Park.
For Kuroda, 38, it was his firs career victory at Fenway and his first triumph in three starts against the Red Sox this season. The veteran right-hander walked one and struck out four while benefitting from some excellent Yankee defense that cut down two runners at home plate.
Meanwhile, the Yankees chipped away at Red Sox right-hander John Lackey (7-7) until they were able to chase the veteran from the game in the seventh inning.
The Yankees used a “Plan B’ offense to score their first run in the fifth inning when Nunez led of the frame with a lined single to left and he later stole second. Chris Stewart then laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Nunez to third but Luis Cruz slapped a ground ball right at Stephen Drew that allowed Drew to cut down Nunez at the plate.
But with Cruz at first, Lackey uncorked a wild pitch that permitted Cruz to move into scoring position and Gardner scored him with a two-out single to center.
The Yankees’ seventh began much like the fifth with Nunez opening the inning with a double off the Green Monster in left-center. Stewart advanced him to third with a slow bouncing groundout to first and Cruz delivered an RBI single to center that scored Nunez.
After Gardner singled, Red Sox manager John Farrell replaced Lackey with veteran left-hander Matt Thornton.
Thornton did get Ichiro Suzki to hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Gardner at second but Robinson Cano laced a opposite-field RBI single to score Cruz and Overbay followed with an RBI single of his own to give Kuroda and the Yankees some breathing room with a 4-0 lead.
Lackey was touched for four runs on 10 hits and he struck out seven in 6 1/3 innings for the Red Sox.
The Red Sox did manage to score a pair of runs off Kuroda in the bottom of the seventh after a leadoff single from David Ortiz and a double off the bat of Mike Carp. Jonny Gomes scored Ortiz on a sacrifice fly and, after Carp advanced to third on a groundout, he scored on a wild pitch from Kuroda.
But the Yankee bullpen tandem of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera shut out the Red Sox in the eighth and ninth innings to preserve the victory for Kuroda. For Rivera, his save in the ninth was his 31st in 33 opportunities this season and his 639th career save.
The Yankees added an unearned run off right-hander Pedro Beato in the ninth without the benefit of a hit.
Beato hit Cruz with a pitch to start the inning and Gardner reached on an fielding error by second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
Then with Suzuki at the plate, Cruz was caught taking too big a lead off second. But Cruz dashed to third on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s throw to second and he just beat Drew’s throw to third to get credit for a stolen base.
He then scored on a sac fly off the bat of Cano.
But the Yankees really owe their victory to some sterling plays in the field that frustrated the Red Sox all afternoon.
In the first inning, Daniel Nava was on second with two out when Ortiz laced a single to left-field. Nava stumbled as he rounded third and was thrown at the plate on a throw by Vernon Wells.
In the fifth inning, the Red Sox threatened with a pair of leadoff singles by Carp and Gomes. But Saltalamacchia and Drew were retired, leaving Carp at third and Gomes on second with two out.
Kuroda then tossed a 1-2 pitch to Jose Iglesias in the dirt that rolled away from Stewart, allowing Carp to head for home. But Stewart was able to corral the ball quickly and he made a perfect throw to Kuroda at home plate in time to nail a sliding Carp.
Stewart then capped off his day behind the plate with a spectacular play in the eighth inning.
Nava reached first on Robertson with a one-out single. Pedroia then fouled off a 0-2 pitch to the left of the screen. Stewart lunged into the first row of the stands to catch the ball and then fired a perfect one-hop throw to Cano at second base to easily nail a sliding Nava for a rare 2-4 double play.
The victory evened the three-game series at a game apiece and drew the Yankees to within six games of the first-place Red Sox in the American League East with a 52-45 record. The Bosox dropped to 59-40.
- If there was any doubt that Kuroda has been the Yankees’ best and most consistent pitcher of the season then his performance on Saturday had to be the clincher. Kuroda held a lineup that boasted six hitters sporting batting averages of .287 or better to only five hits – including two hits each for Ortiz and Carp. He really was never threatened other than in the fifth and the seventh, but he limited the damage to preserve an important victory that keeps the Yankees in the pennant race.
- Overbay was moved up in the batting order to cleanup and he delivered three hits – two of them doubles – and drove in a run. Other than Cano, Overbay has been the most consistent run producer the Yankees have had all season. He is now hitting .259 with 11 home runs and 43 RBIs. Though Overbay, 36, is not producing Mark Teixeira-type numbers, he is doing yeoman work for the team at the plate and in the field.
- Nunez’s 3-for-4 day with two doubles, a run scored and a stolen base must have Yankee fans wondering where he has been all season. Nunez was handed an opportunity to show what he could do at shortstop in the absence of Derek Jeter and up to now he has blown it. Nunez is hitting .226 with no home runs and eight RBIs in 38 games this season.
- Though Travis Hafner was dropped to the sixth spot in the order he still could not produce anything. With a right-hander pitching the lefty designated hitter was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. His season average is now down to .215. At age 36, it appears Hafner’s bat is too slow to catch up with fastballs and he has no clue when he is thrown tough breaking pitches. He needs to be benched.
- Though Wells was 1-for-4 on Saturday he looks similarly overmatched at the plate. He has not homered in his last 49 games and the pitches he was able to drive are now being fouled back to the screen. And when pitchers need Wells out they just throw him either a high fastball or a slider on the outside corner for a guaranteed strikeout. Lackey fanned him twice – once on the slider and once with the high fastball. Wells is hitting .239 on the season.
The Yankees were forced to place outfielder Zoilo Almonte on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday with a sprained left ankle. Almonte, 24, suffered the injury hitting the first-base bag hard running out a ground ball in the fourth inning of Friday’s game. The Yankees also designated for assignment infielder Alberto Gonzalez. Almonte was hitting .261 with a home run and nine RBIs in 26 games with the Yankees and the rookie switch-hitter had taken over as the team’s starting left-fielder for Wells. Gonzalez, 30, hit .176 with no home runs and four RBIs in 13 games with the Yankees. To fill the two roster spots the Yankees recalled outfielders Thomas Neal and Melky Mesa from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Neal, 25, was hitting .314 with two homers and 29 RBIs in 66 games at Scranton, In a previous stint with the Yankees, Neal hit .182 in four games. Mesa, 26, was hitting .249 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs at Scranton. . . . Alex Rodriguez was shifted from third base to designated hitter on Saturday for Scranton due to a tight left quadriceps. The Yankees, at this time, still plan to activate Rodriguez from his 20-day rehab assignment on Monday in time for the Yankees’ game in Arlington, TX against the Rangers.
The Yankees can win the three-game series against the Red Sox and draw to within five games of first place with a victory on Sunday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia ( 9-8, 4.07 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Sabathia is coming off a horrible first half that culminated with a game in which the team’s defense let him down against the Minnesota Twins on July 13. Sabathia gave up eight runs (only three of them earned) on eight hits and two walks in four-plus innings. He is 1-1 against the Red Sox this season, including a victory on 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on May 31.
The Red Sox were forced to scratch left-hander Jon Lester with an undisclosed injury. Right-hander Ryan Dempster (5-8, 4.24 ERA) will start in Lester’s place. Dempster did not make it out of the fourth inning of his last start against the Seattle Mariners on July 11. He was tagged for four runs on nine hits and a walk. He is 0-4 with a 7.22 ERA in his career against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN.
YANKEES 3, TWINS 2
It came in his 401st career start and it came in his second attempt at it, but CC Sabathia was able to join a very elite club of major-league pitchers on Wednesday.
Red-hot Robinson Cano keyed the offense with a huge two-run double in the sixth inning and Sabathia struck out nine batters in seven strong innings to earn his 200th major-league victory as he and New York continued their unbelievable dominance over Minnesota in front of a sellout crowd of 38,457 at Target Field.
Sabathia (9-6) became the 27th pitcher in major-league baseball history to win his 200th game before his 33rd birthday and only the eighth pitcher to do so after 1961.
The veteran left-hander held the Twins to only two runs on seven hits and three walks to run his record against the Twins to 11-0 in his last 12 starts – which includes the playoffs – dating back to Aug. 3, 2007.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have now won three straight against the Twins after they had dropped their previous five games.
Cano entered the evening 12-for-21 (.571) with four homers and eight RBIs, three of those home runs coming against the Twins. He struck again against rookie right-hander P.J. Walters after Walters had shut out the Yankees on only one hit and two walks in the first five innings.
With the Twins ahead 2-0, Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk and Ichiro Suzuki followed by slashing a line drive that struck the wall down the right-field line just inside the foul line for a double.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire elected to have Walters pitch to Cano with a base open and Cano made both Gardenhire and Walters pay for it when he lashed a two-run double to right-center.
Travis Hafner chased Walters (2-5) when he slapped an opposite field single to left to advance Cano to third.
One out later, Lyle Overbay plated Cano with the go-ahead by lining a sacrifice fly to center-field off left-hander Caleb Thielbar.
Walters was charged with three runs on four hits and three walks while he fanned three in five-plus innings of work.
The Twins took a 1-0 lead off Sabathia in the third inning when Brian Dozier drew a leadoff walk and Joe Mauer followed with an RBI double to the wall in left-center.
The Twins, however, missed a golden opportunity to add to their 1-0 lead in the inning when newly signed Yankee shortstop Luis Cruz airmailed a routine grounder off the bat of Ryan Doumit over Overbay’s head for an error that advanced Mauer to third with no outs.
Sabathia then struck out Justin Morneau swinging, retired Trevor Plouffe on a fly ball to shallow right and fanned Oswaldo Arcia swinging to end the threat.
The Twins did add a run with two out in the fifth inning when Plouffe connected off Sabathia for his eighth homer of the season to straightaway center.
But for the third consecutive evening the Yankees were able to come from behind to take the lead and hold it against the Twins.
David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Mariano Rivera shut out the Twins in the ninth for his 28th save in 29 chances this season. It was the 636th career save for the 41-year-old right-hander and 35 of them have come against the Twins.
With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 45-39 and they remain six games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. But they edged a half-game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in third place in the division. The Twins, who have now lost four in a row, are 36-45.
- It was nice to see Sabathia get his 200th victory after he threw five no-hit innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday only to end up losing the game 4-3. Despite the nine strikeouts, Sabathia did have some command issues that raised his pitch count in the early innings. He ended up throwing a season-high 121 pitches.
- Cano finished the evening 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and two RBIs. In his past six games, Cano is 14-for-24 (.584) with four home runs and 10 RBIs. It is odd that the Twins elected to pitch to him with first base open and no outs in the sixth, but Cano is beginning to deliver the big hit. In fact, when he lined out to center in the eighth it took a diving catch by Aaron Hicks to get him out.
- Rivera is continuing his farewell tour of American League cities and he is absolutely rolling in his final season. Rivera is 1-1 with 28 saves with an amazing 1.44 ERA. At 43 years of age Rivera is a lock to be invited to his 13th All-Star Game. The odd thing is they would not be inviting him out of sentiment. Rivera honestly is STILL among the elite closers in baseball. Amazing!
- The Yankee offense was poor on Wednesday. They made the soft-tossing rookie Walters look like Greg Maddux for the first five innings. The No. 5 through No. 9 spots in the order were a combined 0-for-15 with six strikeouts. It was just lucky they strung together three of their four hits in the sixth inning to take the lead.
- Cruz, who was recently released by the Los Angeles Dodgers, was signed as a free agent earlier in the day and ended up starting at shortstop for the Yankees. He was 0-for-3 and committed a throwing error that could have been costly if Sabathia had not pitched his way out of the jam. But Cruz did drive a ball to deep left in the fifth that Arcia grabbed at the wall to rob him of at least a double.
- Chris Stewart ‘s problems at the plate continue. He was 0-for-4 and now has not gotten a hit in his past 14 at-bats. His season average continues to plummet. His 0-for-4 evening dropped his average to .238. It looks as if the career .223 hitter is falling back to his norm.
The Yankees signed Cruz because they placed infielder Jayson Nix on the 15-day disabled list as of July 2 with a Grade 2 strain of his right hamstring. Nix sustained the injury running out a double in Monday’s game against the Twins. Crus, 29, was released by the Dodgers after hitting .127 in 45 games. He was designated for assignment on June 28 and opted to become a free agent rather than accept an offer to play for the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate. Cruz, a right-hand hitter, can play both shortstop and third base. Cruz becomes the fifth player to play shortstop for the Yankees this season in place of Derek Jeter. Eduardo Nunez, Nix, Reid Brignac and Alberto Gonzalez have also played the position this season.
The Yankees can actually sweep the Twins in the four-game series with a victory on Thursday.
Right-hander David Phelps (5-5, 4.95 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Phelps was treated like a piñata by the Orioles on Sunday. He gave up a career-high nine runs in 2 1/3 innings. He has never faced the Twins.
The Twins will counter with rookie right-hander Kyle Gibson (1-0, 3.00 ERA). Gibson gave up two runs on eight hits in six innings in his major-league debut on Saturday against the Kansas City Royals. Gibson will get his first look at the Yankees.
Game-time will be at 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
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.