The Yankee position players reported to camp on Sunday and took their physicals yesterday. Today the team will hold its first full-squad work outs. Here at the Banter, we’ve taken a look at the Yankees three major position battles, covered a couple of early controversies, and gotten some actual news about the pitchers and catchers who reported last week. With that, it’s time to take a look at the 63 players who will be in camp with the Yankees this year. To begin with, here’s how I expect the 25-man roster to shake out come Opening Day:
1B – Doug Mientkiewicz (L)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Bobby Abreu (L)
CF – Johnny Damon (L)
LF – Hideki Matsui (L)
DH – Jason Giambi (L)
R – Chien-Ming Wang
R – Mike Mussina
L – Andy Pettitte
L – Kei Igawa
R – Carl Pavano
R – Mariano Rivera
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – Scott Proctor
L – Mike Myers
R – Luis Vizcaino
R – Chris Britton
L – Ron Villone
The last two spots in the bullpen are the most tenuous, as Villone is in camp as a non-roster invitee and Britton is a new arrival who, despite having excelled for the Orioles last year, will have to fend off numerous rivals in order to maintain his spot. What’s not in question, however, is that both of those rosters spots will go to relievers. Upon arriving in Tampa a week ago, Joe Torre reiterated the need for the Yankees to carry 12 pitchers, in large part because of the dearth of innings that can be expected from LOOGY Mike Myers, Kyle Farnsworth’s frustrating inability to pitch multiple innings or on consecutive days, and Torre’s desire to limit the 37-year-old Mariano Rivera—who missed three weeks last September due to a muscle strain in his right forearm—to the ninth inning as much as possible.
Of course, Torre also threw into question the roster spot currently designated for a right-handed first baseman by suggesting that he’ll consider playing Giambi in the field and telling reporters that he has encouraged Bernie Williams to come to camp to challenge for that spot and that spot only. Bernie still hasn’t agreed to come to camp, however. So, for the moment, Phelps and Phillips still have a fight to finish to fill that first-base fissure.
Most of the players above are familiar, and some we’ve looked at earlier this week or this offseason as per the links, but since there are a few who fall into neither category, here’s a quick look at three of the lower profile new faces (ages in parentheses are as of Opening Day):
1B – Doug Mientkiewicz (32) B:L T:R
It’s hard to believe that Mientkiewicz, who is joining his fifth team in four years, is still only 32 years old. Surely his body is older. With the Mets in 2005, he tore a hamstring while stretching in the on-deck circle. In August of that year, he bruised his back sliding in to second. A year later, as part of the Royals’ eyechart infield with Mark Grudzielanek, he developed a herniated disc that weakened one of legs. His 2006 season came to an end in late July. On August 29 he had part of that disc removed. While the surgery should benefit Mientkiewicz in the short term, he hasn’t amassed 400 at-bats in a single season since 2003, which was also the last season that he was above league average at the plate. Mientkiewicz’s has consistently hit lefties as well or better than righties over his career. That combined with his superior defense and solid on-base abilities make him a valuable reserve, but he’s neither productive nor durable enough to play regularly.
R – Luis Vizcaino (32)
The lone major leaguer acquired in the Randy Johnson trade, Vizcaino is an established righty setup man who has been thrown into three high-profile trades over the last three winters. After sandwiching two solid seasons around one stinker in Milwaukee, he was sent to Chicago in the Carlos Lee deal. After winning a World Championship with the White Sox (though the Sox only needed him for one postseason inning), he was shipped off to Arizona in the El Duque-Javy Vazquez swap (which will likely soon be known as the Chris Young trade). Vizcaino pitched well in both Chicago and Arizona, but his normally impressive strikeout rate took an alarming dip during that brief stint in the DH league. Then again, it rebounded to a career-high in the desert. Vizcaino also posted a career-high walk rate last year, but the real item of concern is his tendency to serve up the long ball. That one stinker season in Milwaukee was largely the result of a dreadful 2.32 HR/9. That rate has been closer to league average over the last two years, but Vizcaino seems to be walking a very fine line and doesn’t bring anything particularly unique to a bullpen that already features Scott Proctor and Kyle Farnsworth.
R – Chris Britton (24)
The husky right-handed reliever acquired for Jaret Wright, Britton was the Orioles’ second best reliever (after closer Chris Ray) as a rookie in 2006. Britton’s pro career got off to a slow start due to a pair of injuries. In 2002 he took a line-drive off the face and required surgery. He then lost all of 2003 to bone chips in his elbow. After returning in 2004, he was converted to relief and his career took off. Britton dominated the high-A Carolina League in 2005, then threw just 16 innings in double-A in early 2006 before getting the call to the big leagues. Take away his two worst outings and Britton put up a 2.29 ERA in 51 innings as a rookie. His strikeout rate took a tumble with his big jump to the majors, but that should improve as his out-pitch is a highly-regarded curveball. Meanwhile, he keeps men off the bases and the ball in the park. You can’t ask for much more than that.
As for those trying to break through the Yankees’ glass ceiling, let’s kick off with the infielders.
All of the infielders on the 40-man roster are listed above save for one:
SS – Alberto Gonzalez (23) B:R T:R
The sole position player acquired in the Randy Johnson trade, Gonzalez is considered an elite defensive shortstop, but his offensive game largely based around batting average. He’ll likely be the starting shortstop in Scranton this year, but will only help the Yankees as a budget-priced utility man or trade bait. Hey, anything to distract him from his “duties” as Attorney General.
The rest of these guys are non-roster invitees:
1B/3B – Eric Duncan (22) B:L T:R
Once the Yankees’ top prospect, Duncan doesn’t even make the top-10 anymore, but the organization is as much to blame as he is. Part of the problem is that, blocked by Alex Rodriguez at third base, he’s been moved across the diamond to first, where the requirements of prospectdom are much higher. Far worse, however, is the way the Yankees have tried to tinker with his swing to make him a pull hitter and rushed him through the system. After tackling two levels a year in his first two pro seasons, Duncan struggled to make the transition to double-A as a 20-year-old in 2005. He did, however, win the Arizona Fall League MVP that autumn, so the Yankees, ignoring the fact that he had never hit above high-A ball and was ahead of schedule anyway, thrust him right into triple-A to start 2006. Unsurprisingly, Duncan struggled tremendously, earning a demotion in early June. Back in double-A, Duncan rebounded nicely, rediscovering his power stroke and walking nearly as often as he struck out, but he’s still never really crushed the ball in a full-season league, and struggled in a return stint in the AFL. The Yankees should learn from their past mistakes, start Duncan out in Trenton this year, and let him earn his way up to Scranton. He’s still young enough to take his time. If Duncan’s able to hit his way to triple-A this year and master that level in 2008, he could enter the Yankees’ first-base picture in 2009 as a 24-year-old rookie. Don’t count him out just yet.
SS/2B – Andy Cannizaro (28) B:R T:R
Tulane product Andy Cannizaro wasn’t even on my radar when he earned a surprise September call-up last year, and there’s no reason he should have been. An organizational soldier, Cannizaro is entering his seventh season in the Yankee system. A solid defender, he’s shown some modest on-base skills in that time, but no power (despite cracking a homer in his fifth major league at-bat), and no speed. There’s really no reason to expect him to ever wear a major league uniform again.
SS/2B – Chris Basak (28) B:R T:R
Basak, a product of the University of Illinois, was the Mets’ answer to Cannizaro until he became a minor league free agent and decided to take Cannizaro on head-to-head. Also a solid defender, Basak has more power than Cannizaro and can contribute on the bases, but hits for lower averages and thus gets on base less frequently.
SS/3B – Angel Chavez (25) B:R T:R
The Panamanian Chavez took a rather circuitous route through the Giants’ system, spending parts of five seasons with high-A San Jose, while skipping up and down levels due to wildly inconsistent performances. In 2005, he jumped from San Jose straight to triple-A Fresno, despite a brutal performance in double-A the year before, and performed well, earning a September call-up. That winter he signed with the Phillies as a minor league free agent. Having split the 2006 season between double-A Reading and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he finished it in the Orioles system after being the player named later in the Jeff Conine deal. In each of the last two seasons, Chavez has hit better in triple-A than at lower levels, but overall there’s not much to see here. He doesn’t walk, no longer steals bases, and his power is both modest and erratic.
SS/2B – Ramiro Peña (21) B:S T:R
The Yankees are clearly very high on Peña, as they’re inviting him to camp for the second year in a row despite the fact that he has yet to hit at any level. Signed out of the Mexican professional leagues prior to 2005, Peña has a reputation as a spectacular defender, but was rushed up to double-A in his first American season and struggled. He then spent most of last year at high-A Tampa and slugged just .317.
3B – Marcos Vechionacci (20) B:S T:R
Vechionacci is the Venezuelan version of Peña. A spectacular defender of whom the organization is clearly fond, his glove is miles ahead of his bat. He did manage to rediscover his on-base skills in the Sally League last year, but he still has a very long row to hoe. Fortunately, he won’t even be old enough to drink until the first week of the season. Both Vechionacci and Peña could play defense in the major leagues right now, but neither of them can hit in high-A. Nonetheless, when they take the field, the late innings of spring training games get a lot more fun to watch.
There are four outfielders on the 40-man roster who are not expected to make the Opening Day roster:
Kevin Thompson (27) B:R T:R
The consensus preference to make the roster over Bubba Crosby last year everywhere but in the manager’s office of Legends Field, Thompson is a scrappy, speedy outfielder, just like Bubba, with the exception that he’s younger and has actually hit outside of the launching pad of triple-A Las Vegas. In his first full season in triple-A last year, Thompson held pretty close to his career minor league averages, which aren’t terribly impressive (.275/.367/.436), but betray a willingness to walk which, combined with his speed and all-out style of play, make him a perfect fifth outfielder should the Yankees decide to drop that twelfth pitcher at any point during the season. It don’t hurt that he went 9 for 30 with three doubles, a homer, two stolen bases in two tries, and six walks in his three stints with the big club last year.
Kevin Reese (29) B:R T:L
Judging by the numbers, this is the lesser Kevin. He’s also the elder Kevin. Reese has seen his triple-A performance decline in each of his last two seasons (he first cracked Columbus in 2003), and last year his season came to an end in July when he separated his shoulder in a collision with Russ Johnson. Reese has also done well in his tiny major league opportunities (5 for 13, 2 walks), but Thompson has passed him at this point, which is just as well given the Yankees all-lefty outfield. The organizational outfield depth provided by the lefty-righty duo of Kevins Reese and Thompson is yet another reason why Bernie Williams need not bother reporting to camp.
Bronson Sardinha (23) B:L T:R
Once one of the Yankees’ top prospects, Hawaii native Bronson Sardinha has taken a curious route to Yankee camp. Drafted as a shortstop out of high school, he was shuffled between third, short and the outfield before finally settling in right field. While struggling to find a position, Sardinha’s bat struggled to develop. His power actually declined as he passed his 20th birthday, but the Yankees have continued to promote him almost in spite of his production or lack thereof. Then last year, after an unmotivated promotion to triple-A, the 23-year-old Sardinha started to hit, ultimately putting up a .286/.365/.492 line in 185 triple-A at-bats. That’s not an overwhelming line (evidence of just how weak his offense had been prior to that), and could very well be a small-sample fluke, but if Sardinha really has found something at the plate, he could prove to be a valuable utility man given his range of experience in the field. Sardinha is another positive data point on the resume of newly promoted Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long, who, as the hitting coach at Columbus, had similar success with the previously unimpressive bats of Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera in recent years.
Juan Miranda (23?) B:L TL
A Cuban defector turned Dominican citizen, Miranda has spent the past couple of years working out in the Dominican Republic in search of a major league contract. He finally got one from the Yankees this winter for $2 million over four years. That contract is the only reason why this outfielder-first baseman is on the 40-man roster. He’s expected to start the year in the Florida State League. Other than some reports of a nice power stroke, he is a largely unknown quantity at this point.
In addition the Yankees have two of their top prospects in camp as non-roster invitees:
Brett Gardner (23) B:L T:L
The Yankees’ third-round pick in 2005 after Bobby Abreu trade bait C.J. Henry and relief prospect J.B. Cox, Gardner is a lightening-quick center fielder who knows how to make the most of his speed in the field, on the bases, and by drawing walks to reach base in the first place. The primary concern is his lack of power. Having been drafted out of college, Gardner doesn’t have much time to find some pop in his bat. Still, he should be a solid fourth outfielder at worst, and could prove to be a solid starting center fielder and leadoff man. He should start the season back in double-A Trenton with a solid chance of moving up to Scranton before the year’s out.
Jose Tabata (18) B:R T:R
The Venezuelan Tabata is widely regarded as an elite prospect, the second best in the Yankee system after Phil Hughes. The problem is he’s so young and has seen so little professional action (just 475 at-bats over two seasons, in part due to a thumb injury that ended his 2006 season prematurely) that it’s hard to know exactly what kind of player he’s going to be. For now he’s a left fielder who hits for average, draws walks, and steals bases. That’s not a bad start, especially for an 18-year-old who spent all of 2006 in the full-season Sally League. The big questions are how much power he’ll develop, if he can play center, and, more pressingly, how much he’ll be slowed by the hand injuries he suffered last year (his stint in the Venezuelan Winter League was ended by a wrist injury). Stay tuned . . .
Because of the sheer number of pitchers in spring training, teams invite far more catchers than would otherwise be necessary simply so that those pitchers will have someone to throw to. Of the following, only Wil Neives, who is out of options, is on the 40-man roster. Even Todd Pratt, who is listed on the 25-man roster above, is in camp as a non-roster invitee:
Wil Nieves (29) B:R T:R
Ben Davis (30) B:S T:R
I pretty much covered these guys in my position battle post. All I really have to add is the trivia that Nieves and Davis were both drafted by the Padres in 2005 (Davis second overall, Nieves in the 47th round, 1286th overall), but Davis was so far ahead of Nieves’s pace that they were never actually teammates until synching up in Columbus last year. In part due to Davis’s need to reestablish himself after mid-2005 Tommy John surgery, Nieves is the more likely to challenge Todd Pratt for the major league backup job this spring, and when you look at their career minor league lines, there’s not much difference there (Nieves hits for more average, Davis has a shred more power). One wonders if Nieves relishes the fact that he’s essentially surpassed Davis, or if Davis’s 1,430 extra major league at-bats still hold sway over the relationship.
Raul Chavez (34) B:R T:R
Chavez has a solid defensive reputation, but that can’t make up for the fact that he’s one of the worst non-pitchers ever to achieve 400 major league at-bats. Chavez’s major league career line is .212/.253/.284 in 405 at-bats (career OPS+ of 39!). His minor league career line is .258/.309/.338. He signed with the Astros at age 17 out of his native Venezuela and has spent 12 of his 17 pro seasons with that organization. In 2005 he made it to the World Series as the ‘Stros backup catcher. He should have retired then and there. Anyone looking for evidence of the fallacy of small samples, just check out Chavez’s career postseason line: .500/.571/1.000 (4 for 10 with a homer and one walk). So clutch!
Omir Santos (25) B:R T:R
The starting catcher in Trenton the past two years, Santos is the definition of a spring training backstop. His entire career is based on his ability to keep the ball from hitting the umpire.
P.J. Pilittere (25) B:R T:R
Drafted out of Cal State Fullerton in 2004, Pilittere has now spent two and a half years in A-ball and is running out of time to climb the ladder to the majors. That said, in a system devoid of useful catchers in the upper levels, his .302/.355/.416 line with high-A Tampa last year sure looked enticing, as did his monster performance in the Arizona Fall League. Still, he has yet to pass the no-hit Santos and has had trouble throwing out basestealers. That’s a long way to go for a 25-year-old. Even the late-blooming Posada was a big league backup by Pilittere’s age.
Francisco Cervelli (21) B:S T:R
Another Venezuelan, Cervelli has yet to play in a full-season league, but was very impressive for the short-season Staten Island Yankees in 2006. Signed as a shortstop, he was moved behind the plate and excelled on both sides of the ball. He’s definitely one to watch, though he’s a long way away right now.
That takes care of the position players, now for the pitchers . . .
There are three men on the 40-man roster who will spend the spring throwing banana peels in Carl Pavano’s path in the hope of making the Yankee rotation:
R – Darrell Rasner (26)
A brilliant waiver claim from the Nationals just prior to Pitchers and Catchers a year ago, Rasner missed a huge chunk of last season with what seemed like a mysterious shoulder soreness, but in his brief big league opportunities, both in Washington and New York, has proved that he’s got what it takes to fill in as a fifth starter if need be. In contrast to his rival Jeff Karstens, Rasner excels at keeping the ball in the park and has shown solid control despite modest strikeout rates. There’s little doubt that he’d be a part of the Nationals’ Opening Day rotation had they held on to him. Then again, the Nationals’ currently have Tim Redding lined up as their number-two starter, so perhaps that’s not as impressive as it sounds.
R – Jeffrey Karstens (24)
Karstens appeared to pitch well in his late-season call-up last year, but between his 0.67 groundball-to-flyball rate (which would have been the second worst among major league qualifiers), his 3.37 K/9, and his .238 opponents’ batting average on balls in play, every sign is pointing toward disaster should he pitch exactly the same way going forward. Getting to the majors and acquitting yourself well at age 23 is impressive in and of itself, but Karstens is no prospect and by year’s end should rank behind most of the starting pitchers on this list on the Yankees’ organizational depth chart, provided the Yanks haven’t tricked someone else into taking him as a throw-in in a mid-season deal.
R – Humberto Sanchez (23)
The key player in the Sheffield trade, Sanchez is considered a top prospect, but will have to prove that he can stay healthy to have a shot at the Yankee rotation. That’s been a problem thus far as he’s made no more than 23 starts in any given season and was shut down in July of last year due to tenderness in his pitching elbow, a reoccurring problem. Still, he’s got great strikeout rates, has been bringing his walk rate down, and was ultra-stingy with the long ball last year thanks to a mid-90s sinker. Having cracked triple-A for the first time last year, he’ll start out in the Scranton rotation along side Phil Hughes, hoping to prove that he has the endurance to avoid a move to the bullpen (though many believe he’d excel in a relief role and could be a dominant closer). Raised just blocks from Yankee Stadium, Sanchez is a great local-interest story and comes across as a warm, thoughtful fellow in interviews. If he makes it with the Yanks, he should be a huge hit with the Bronx faithful.
L – Chase Wright (24)
A third-round draft pick in 2000, Wright has spent six years in the Yankees system without cracking double-A. He’s made large strides over the last three seasons however. Check these trends:
Wright claims the difference has simply been an uptick in confidence. I suppose it could be that after bottoming out in 2004 he figured he couldn’t do any worse if he just challenged hitters. If so, it worked. Wright’s best pitch is a changeup that works off his low-90s fastball, and he’s working on developing his curve. He’s still a work in progress, but it’s certainly encouraging to see such rapid progress by a lefty starter. Indeed, he’s come far enough that the Yankees had to add him to the 40-man to protect him from the Rule 5 draft last fall.
Six more starters are in camp as non-roster players:
R – Philip Hughes (20)
I’m not sure I need to say much here. Hughes is the Yankees’ best prospect and was named the second-best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein. Already a major league quality pitcher with a wide variety of pitches that include mid-90s heat, a devastating curve, a wicked changeup, and a developing slider, he also has impeccable control, a strong sense of how to pitch (rather than simply throw), and composure well beyond his 20 years. He’s dominated at every level through double-A and will start the season in Scranton with a very good chance of joining the major league rotation mid-year. The only catch is that he’s so young and so valuable to the future of the organization that the Yankees have to be very careful with his workloads. He’ll be limited to 180 innings this year, as well he should be. The Yankees have done everything right with Hughes thus far.
R – Tyler Clippard (22)
Though legitimately overshadowed by Hughes, Clippard has been consistently excellent over his four-year minor league career. Derided by scouts because he’s more of a finesse pitcher, lacking much hop on his heater, his minor league peripherals have been as good or, in most cases, better than his ERAs and win-loss records (career 4.42 K/BB). The Yankee Clippard gets by on the three C’s: curve, changeup, and control. He’s also well regarded as a very heady pitcher, willing to both challenge hitters and come inside. Thus far, his career highlight has been the no-hitter he threw last August against the National’s double-A squad. He should be a part of that devastating Scranton rotation along with Hughes and Sanchez.
R – Ross Ohlendorf (24)
Drafted out of Princeton in the fourth round of the 2004 draft, Ohlendorf moved quickly through the Diamondbacks’ system before coming over as the key prospect in the Randy Johnson trade. A sinkerballer, Ohlendorf gives up a fair number of hits, but limits his walks and homers. He’s not a future ace by any stretch, but if he can keep his strikeout rate from plunging too far as he continues up the ladder (a mighty if as it dropped nearly 2K/9IP with the leap to double-A last year), he could emerge as a useful mid-rotation starter, though that seems to be his ceiling. He should join Hughes, Sanchez, and Clippard in the Scranton rotation in April.
R – Steven Jackson (25)
Supposedly the lesser of the two starters obtained for Randy Johnson, Jackson followed Ohlendorf up the D’backs’ ladder since being drafted out of Clemson in 2004. Unlike Ohlendorf, who’s succeeded at every level but is fighting to keep his strikeout rate from diminishing as he advances, Jackson wasn’t terribly impressive in A-ball, but broke out in double-A last year. Jackson is a big dude who throws hard and relies on a wicked slider to retire hitters. Given that, his strikeout rates haven’t been what you’d expect, but his 7.52 K/9 last year was a career high, and matched up well with an increase in control that netted a 2.77 K:BB ratio. He was also stingy with his hits and long balls. The big question is if he can keep it up, and if there will be any room for him in the triple-A rotation this year. Long term, there’s no reason that Jackson couldn’t turn out to be the more successful of the two Arizona imports.
R – Steven White (25)
This is the entirety of what I wrote about Steven White last year: “Drafted by the Yankees out of Baylor in the fourth round of the 2003 amateur draft, White cracked the rotation of double-A Trenton in 2005 with dismal results. He’ll likely return there this year for his age 25 season.” As you can tell I was unimpressed. I still am. White did return to Trenton and pitched well in eleven starts (4-1, 2.11 ERA, 0 HR, 52 H, 68 1/3 IP), but his K:BB ratio remained an unimpressive 1.60. Promoted to Columbus he was decidedly average despite increasing his strikeout rate and continuing to keep balls in the park at a solid rate. His prospectdom seems largely based on his mid-90s fastball, and he’s said to lack the poise of the Yankees’ other pitching prospects. Given the depth of the Yankees minor league starting pitching, I just don’t see room for White in this organization.
R – Matt DeSalvo (26)
Speaking of guys getting squeezed out of the system. Matt DeSalvo has been fighting an uphill battle ever since the Yankees signed him as an undrafted free agent in May 2003. A small-bodied finesse pitcher, he’s never been well regarded by scouts, but, much like the doughy, side-arming Colter Bean, has done nothing but get guys out in the minor leagues. Well, until last year that is. Here’s DeSalvo’s career line through 2005:
22-14, 2.62 ERA, 322 2/3 IP, 238 H, 328 K, 131 BB, 14 HR, 1.14 WHIP
That got him a spot on the 40-man roster last year, but as soon as DeSalvo got a seat at the table his chair collapsed out from under him. After a strong showing in double-A in 2005 tempered only by a climbing walk rate, DeSalvo started the year in triple-A and bombed out about as badly as one can (1-6, 7.68, 7.91 BB/9). He then returned to Trenton and pitched only moderately better (5.77 ERA, 6.81 BB/9). On the year, he walked 93 men and struck out just 82. He was designated for assignment to make room for Miguel Cairo on the 40-man roster in January and should return to Trenton in April where he’ll likely remain until he leaves as a minor league free agent.
Finally we get to the competitors for Villone’s and Britton’s roster spots. There are five relievers not included on the roster above who are on the 40-man roster. Four of them could very well head north with the team in place of the non-roster Villone:
R – Brian Bruney (25)
Drafted out of high school in 2000, Bruney made his major league debut with the Diamondbacks at the age of 22 in 2004 and briefly served as the team’s closer in 2005 only to crash and burn in part due to extreme wildness. Last May, he suffered an elbow strain and was released after allowing 12 runs in just 2 2/3 triple-A innings. Claimed by the Yankees, he impressed in Columbus, and earned a mid-August call-up. Bruney throws in the upper 90s and was dominant in his 20 2/3 Yankee innings with one very glaring exception: his walk rate of 6.53 BB/9. Unfortunately that sort of wildness is completely in character for Bruney (on the field that is) and is likely the only reason he’ll have to fight for a roster spot this spring. Having earned Joe Torre’s trust last year, as evidenced by his three appearances in the Yankees four-game postseason, he’ll be back in the major league pen in no time if he can find some semblance of control in Scranton (something in the area of a Farnsworth-like 4 BB/9 would suffice).
R – T.J. Beam (26)
Theodore Lester Beam (no idea where the J comes from) didn’t make the leap to double-A until his fourth professional season despite being drafted out of college (the University of Mississippi to be exact). After being converted to relief in 2005, that double-A debut came last year. Beam dominated in 18 appearances there as well as in 19 appearances at triple-A, working his way all the way up to the Show . . . where he was lit up like a six-foot-seven Christmas tree. Like Scott Proctor before he figured out how to use his curveball, Beam throws hard and straight. In the major leagues, those pitches tend to come back hard and straight, and often far. Beam gave up five dingers in just 18 major league innings last year and saw his impressive minor league strikeout rate cut nearly in half. He’ll have to find another pitch or get that heater to move if he wants to stick in the bigs. Proctor, who finally wised up at age 29, should serve as inspiration and perhaps even guidance.
R – Jose Veras (26)
The big Dominican’s challenge heading into 2006, his first year in the Yankee system, was to reduce his walks without losing effectiveness elsewhere. Done and done. Veras’s dropped his walk rate from 4.82 BB/9 to 2.87 BB/9 while maintaining a strike out rate of well over ten per nine innings, and a homer rate down around 0.5 per nine. Along the way he shaved nearly a run and a half off his ERA, saved 21 games for the Clippers, and made his major league debut. The big question is, can he do it again.
L – Sean Henn (25)
A draft-and-follow in 2000, Henn signed in 2001, then missed 2002 due to Tommy John surgery. After starting his repeat of double-A in 2005 with four strong starts, he was called up to the majors to make a spot start for Randy Johnson and got lit up, as he did in two more spot starts later that year. When not being battered by major league hitters in 2005, he turned in a solid triple-A performance, but injuries and ineffectiveness pushed him to the pen in 2006. He returned to the Yankees last year as a September call-up in an early audition for Ron Villone’s job this year. With Villone back in the fold and Henn out of options, however, it seems likely that Henn will go the way of Alex Graman, another Yankee lefty whose career followed a very similar trajectory, save for the surgery. Incidentally, flipping through my copy of Baseball Prospectus 2001 I stumbled upon Graman’s comment which identified him as the Yankees’ top pitching prospect at the time. My how things have changed.
R – Jeff Kennard (25)
Another 2000 draft-and-follow, Kennard had a solid season at double-A last year . . . at age 25 . . . in his fourth attempt at the level. His improvement at double-A had a lot to do with his adding a sinker to his hard heater, and prompted the Yankees to add him to the 40-man to keep him safe from the Rule 5 draft. Still, I don’t see a reason to get excited about this guy just yet.
Oh, and Colter Bean managed to sneak back onto the roster. I hardly have the heart to give him a comment here, but, aw heck:
R – Colter Bean (30)
A big, doughy, side-arming righy setup man out of Auburn, Colter Bean has been the great lost hope of stat-minded Yankee fans for as long as I’ve been blogging. Bean’s walk rate has increased in each of the last two years, which won’t win him any converts within the organization, nor with the fact that he’s now in his 30s (then again . . .). Still, his career minor league line bears repeating:
2.69 ERA, 459 2/3 IP, 337 H, 587 K, 204 BB, 20 HR
Finally, the non-roster relievers:
R – Kevin Whelan (23)
A catcher with Texas A&M, the stocky Whelan started making relief appearances during his sophomore season after discovering that he could throw mid- to high-90s heaters. He converted to pitching full-time as a junior, and was drafted by the Tigers in the fourth round that June. In his two professional seasons, he’s dominated save for a pesky walk rate of 4.26 BB/9. Control will be his primary focus as he continues to move up the ladder. He should start the year in double-A, where the Trenton faithful will get a kick out of his ex-catcher’s throwing style (think of the way Keith Foulke used to bring the ball straight back out of his glove from the set position like he was rearing back to punch some one).
L – Ben Kozlowski (26)
Kozlowski will push Villone and Henn for the second lefty job, but there’s no reason to expect either to budge. Joe Torre has already praised Koz, but the extent of that praise was that he is big (6’6″, 220), and lefthanded. That’s true, as is the fact that he’s on his fifth organization in his ninth year of professional ball and has just ten major league innings to show for any of it. Those came in a pair of starts with the Rangers in 2002. In fact, Kozlowski has been a starter through most of his career, though he pitched primarily in relief last year and his only real chance with the Yankees is in the pen. It’s actually pretty impressive that Kozlowski is the only real minor league journeyman hurler in camp this year. Last year the Yanks had Dusty Bergman, Frank Brooks, Matt Childers, Kris Wilson, and Mark Corey. The year before that it was Brad Voyles, Marc Valdes, and some scrub named Aaron Small. This year? Just Kozlowski.
Missing from this list:
R – J. Brent Cox (22)
Drafted in the supplemental round in 2005 out of the University of Texas, where he succeeded Houston Street as the Longhorns closer, Cox was dominant in double-A in his first full professional season. He was to be one of the more closely watched players in camp this spring as his ability to suppresses hits and homers with a strong groundball rate and solid control has lead to expectations that he’ll advance quickly through the Yankee system. Unfortunately, just before Christmas he broke a bone in his pitching hand in what his agent has called a “minor altercation,” and will thus spend the first half of the year healing and reflecting on Crash Davis’s immortal advice. I’d expect him to return to action in double-A, but to jump up to Scranton as soon as he proves he’s healthy. He remains a top candidate for a September call-up and remains a candidate for the 2008 pen.
That’s not a bad group at all, and a significant improvement over last year’s crop, in large part due to the increased pitching depth and the relative absence of dead weight outside of the backup catcher candidates. Of the 64 players listed above, 27 did not appear in Tampa last spring, among them Bobby Abreu, Andy Pettitte, Kei Igawa, Humberto Sanchez, Tyler Clippard, Ross Ohlendorf, Steven Jackson, Chris Britton, Brian Bruney, Kevin Whelan, Jose Tabata, Brett Gardner, P.J. Pilittere, and Francisco Cervelli.
Okay, enough preparation. Bring on the baseball!
Links to the stats for all of the above players can be found on the side bar, as can links for the members of the 2006 Yankees who are no longer with the organization.