25th Spot Candidates: Brandon Laird

2011 Season Preview: Robbie Cano
RAB Friday Afternoon Chat
(Charlie Neibergall/AP)

The focus this spring is on the final two rotation spots, but that’s not the only position battle in Yankees camp. There is also a competition for the final spot on the bench. The main contestants, it seems, are Eric Chavez, Ronnie Belliard, Brandon Laird, Justin Maxwell, and Greg Golson. Each player brings something different to the table, so the Yankees will have options. In fact, it is exactly that — options, but in a different sense — that might keep the best of the lot in AAA to start the season.

Usually when a player is drafted twice, his position improves the second time around. Not so with Laird. The Indians took him in the 27th round of the 2005 draft. Then, when he entered two years later, the Yankees took him in the same round. He signed the second time and played the rest of the season in the rookie Gulf Coast League, where he produced unsurprisingly solid numbers. But it wasn’t until 2010 that he’d really break out.

Despite playing in a home park that hitters typically hate, Laird produced incredible power numbers in AA Trenton, slugging 23 homers to go along with his 22 doubles. The end result was a .291/.355/.523 line and a late-season promotion to AAA. It also opened the Yankees’ eyes a bit. Knowing that he probably wouldn’t fit at third base — the team is set there for a number of years, after all — they decided to have him try the outfield in the Arizona Fall League. He enters camp this year as a guy who can play first, third, and the corner outfield positions. That makes him more versatile than a number of other 25th spot contestants.

When you see Laird’s breakout and then read stories like the one Marc Carig published this morning, it’s tough not to root for Laird. He is much improved on defense, and he could very well have the best bat of the guys competing for that spot. The problem, of course, is that the Yankees don’t necessarily want to pigeonhole him as a utility guy just yet. That’s probably the only role he can fill on this team, unless his bat takes another big step forward this year. The best option, then, is to send him down to AAA and let him get regular reps. He can provide depth in case of injury or ineffectiveness, and he might be a useful chip at the trade deadline.

If the Yankees were picking the 25th roster spot based on versatility and production potential, I’d have to think Laird would get the nod. He can play more positions than Eric Chavez, and he has a better bat than Belliard and Golson, and probably Maxwell, too. But since the Yankees have options, and since he’s young and potentially valuable down the road, they’ll most likely preserve their depth and go with someone else in the 25th spot. Meanwhile, Laird can get more reps, especially in the outfield, which will go towards building his value as a bench player or a trade chip.

Make no mistake: the Yankees have a valuable player in Laird. It just doesn’t seem as though this is his year to break camp with the team. If he continues hitting like he did last year, he’ll get his share of shots. But this year the Yankees will be better served by letting Laird play every day and taking someone else in a spot that might account for 150 PA during the course of a season.

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2011 Season Preview: Robbie Cano
RAB Friday Afternoon Chat
  • pete

    Agreed. Not worth having him sit on the bench five days a week when the team has already got Andruw Jones and Eduarmo Penuna

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

    They really should have traded him this winter. Stock is at an all-time high, hard to see him as much more than a four-corners bench player on the Yankees.

    • pete

      agreed. Laird, Warren, Phelps, Nunez probably would have been at least comparable to the package KC got for Greinke.

      • http://www.yfsf.org AndrewYF

        That’s great, but the Royals wanted Montero AND Banuelos from the Yankees, because they are their best prospects.

        It doesn’t make a lot of sense to accept another team’s lesser prospects just because they have a shitty farm system and those represent the best of what they have, but hey, we’re dealing with Dayton Moore here. He can talk to the Twins about how that strategy ends up turning out (could have had Lester or Hughes for Santana instead of the pile of crap they have now).

        • Ted Nelson

          In fairness all the guys the Twins got were highly thought of to one extent or another. They got two BA top 50, plus a guy who just fallen out of the top 100, plus a guy who dominated the minors and made AAA in his second pro season. Something like getting Betances/Banuelos, Sanchez, Romine, and Warren from the Yankees right now. If a team got that they might have nothing to show in a few years, but you also wouldn’t say they got ripped off.

      • Ted Nelson

        The package the Royals got has a whole lot more upside than that group.

    • http://www.yfsf.org AndrewYF

      Oh yeah? For what? He wasn’t going to headline a trade.

      Unless another team sees him as a starting 3rd baseman (and values him as such in a trade), the Yankees should just hold on to him as a future RH utility player and depth at 3B, rather than making him a throw-in where you could probably just slot in David Adams or Corban Joseph.

      Laird is more valuable to the Yankees than even a better prospect like Adam Warren. They have a ton of RHP options in their system, they have pretty much zero RHH power options. It would be an inefficient use of resources to trade him for whatever just because.

      • Ted Nelson

        “Oh yeah? For what?”

        Exactly… I doubt the Yankees held him out of a no-brainer trade because they view him as a future HOFer. I also doubt any team was willing to give up much of anything for Laird.

        His value was higher mid-summer before he stunk in AAA, and it can get higher if he shows he can hit AAA or even MLB pitching. Laird isn’t even in the Yankees top 10 on most lists I see, so selling now might actually still be selling low. If he repeats 2010 between AAA and NY, I know that’s a big if, his value would likely sky-rocket.

        Not totally comparable, but the last late-blooming 3B prospect taken by the Yankees in the 2X round I remember was Mike Lowell. The Yankees at least for a top 50-100 type prospect for him. If they had traded him after his 22 year old season they likely would have gotten a whole lot less. He didn’t crack BA’s top 100 till after 23, and rose from 71 to 58 after 24. If the Yankees think Laird can hit AAA pitching close to the way he hit AA pitching… I think they should probably hold (unless some team values him more than the Yankees of course).

  • Marc

    Brandon: So I point out the guy like this and that’s when my brother attacked him at the Sun games. It was crazy, Gerald came at him like a spider monkey.

  • mike_h

    doesnt seem people think he can repeat his 2010 performance, I think he is the natural in house succession to ARod. Keep him in AAA for 2011 and 2012 then platoon him in 2013 with ARod at 3B before taking over full time

  • CS Yankee

    Possible Brandon lines:

    1) “It was that guy over there that was hitting on Diaz.”
    2) “Is that Phat Elvis in the cage?”
    3) “2nd row up, 4th seat over…”

  • ColoYank

    I wanna know why Alex isn’t wearing the spring training hat. Maybe it’s picture day and Alex just forgot?

  • YANKS1FAN

    LAIRD SHOULD DEFINATELY BE IN AAA…SINCE HE COULDNT HIT WHEN HE WENT THERE LAST YEAR! HE NEEDS TO PROVE HIMSELF IN AAA FIRST, BEFORE ANYTHING. BELLIARD AND CHAVEZ HAVENT PRODUCED IN FIVE YEARS, AND GOLSON IS NOT A MAJOR LEAGUE HITTER. THE LAST SPOT ON THE BENCH SHOULD BE JORGE VAZQUEZ. HUGE POWER BAT THAT WILL HIT FOR POWER AND AVERAGE SPOTING AROD AND TEX, AND MIXING IN AT DH. HE DOES NOT NEED TO PROVE ANYTHING. HE HITS, AND HITS FOR POWER WHEREVER HE HAS BEEN. AND HIS FIELDING IS MUCH BETTER THAN WHAT PEOPLE SAY. .998% FOR THE WINTER. HE IS EXPERIENCED AND READY, AND WILL HELP!!!

    • CS Yankee

      Why are you yelling at us?

      • pete

        BECAUSE HES THE YANKEES #1 FAN!!!!

        • CS Yankee

          Too funny.

          Glad I didn’t buy that “Yanks #1 fan” mug; I would have been living a lie.

    • pete

      dude, Jorge Vazquez sucks. He’d hit like .240/.310/.420 in the bigs with zero defensive value.

  • CS Yankee

    If Liard maintains or improves a bit, is he someone that could take over in RF in a couple of seasons?

    His bat has grown and Trenton isn’t really a HR park. I would think if the bat grows a bit more and that a 3B arm could handle RF; dare I say he could replace the Swish.

    Cheap, young and in control to help offset the extreme IF age that will be likely playing in 2013; he might be a viable choice.

    • pete

      He’d need to step it up a little more, I think, but if he turns into a .265/.335/.475 hitter with solid RF defense (both major ifs), he could certainly hold down the position for a couple of years (considering the offensive talent at other positions)

      • Plank

        If the Yankees were a mid-market team, that would be fine, but if he hits .265/.335/.475, the Yankees aren’t going to start him, they will get a superstar for RF. That’s just how the Yankees are run.

  • Ultimate Yankee Warrior (James)

    Or he struggles to OPS .800 in AAA and his stock drop like a rock.

  • Steve Karsay

    I’m generally against the Yankees ridiculous codling of players with innings limits etc but with Laird I really agree with the prospect of giving him continued reps in AAA and seeing how far this improvement trend goes.

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