Sorting out the Triple-A Scranton roster

Improving the Yankee Stadium experience
Remaining one-year-deal starters (or what's left of them)
The everyday catcher at Triple-A, finally. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Now more than ever, clubs are using their Triple-A affiliate as an extension of the big league roster. The Yankees are no different, so you’ll see some spare parts filling out the Triple-A Scranton roster around the actual prospects his summer. There will be an extra outfielder and infielder, as well as a horde of spare arms. I don’t mean the kind of arms with long-term potential, I mean the disposable kind that can come up, get thrown to the wolves for a few days, then be cast aside and released. The Buddy Carlyle, Brett Tomko, and Amaury Sanit types. Those guys serve a purpose, albeit a small one.

The core of this year’s Triple-A team will be a deep pitching staff, particularly the starters. If everyone makes it through Spring Training healthy and the Yankees don’t need any of their young guys on the Opening Day roster, they’ll have to figure out how to squeeze six starters into five Triple-A rotation spots. The bullpen figures to boast a few power arms and a few savvy veterans, some of whom we’ll surely see at some point this coming summer.

Since we’ve sufficiently analyzed the big league roster to death, let’s take a second to look at what the Triple-A roster might look like when the season begins. Remember, it’s only a 24-man roster down in Triple-A, so there’s one less spot to play around with. Considering how infrequently the 25th man plays in the bigs, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Position Players (12)

Everyday Lineup: C Austin Romine, 1B Jorge Vazquez, 2B Corban Joseph, SS Ramiro Pena, 3B Brandon Laird, OF Colin Curtis, OF Dewayne Wise, OF Cole Garner
Bench: C Gus Molina, IF Kevin Russo, OF Dan Brewer, UTIL Jayson Nix

The DH will rotate in all likelihood, allowing Russo, Brewer and Nix to get semi-regular at-bats. Laird figures to see the majority of his time at third base, but he’ll also play some first base and left field. Curtis and Garner will see time in all three outfield spots, as will Brewer off the bench. JoVa will get the occasional start at third. It’s all about developing and maintaining versatility for these guys.

Speaking of Vazquez, there have been unconfirmed rumors that he may flee for Japan (where he’d make considerably more money), which would open the door for someone like Bradley Suttle or Cody Johnson to get their first taste of life above Double-A. A minor league free agent could also be an option for that spot, perhaps someone like Dan Johnson or even Nick Johnson. That would be kinda neat.

The two wildcards here are Justin Maxwell and Chris Dickerson, both of whom are out of minor league options and will need to clear waivers to be sent down at any point next season. If one of those guys manages to make it through waivers and starts the season in Triple-A, it’ll likely push Brewer back to Double-A. It would shock me if both clear, but in that case the Yankees would probably just release Wise and send Brewer back to Tripe-A.

Reegie Corona is still in the organization after finally being taken off the 40-man roster a few months ago, and he’s a prime phantom DL candidate. That means he’ll remain with the team but not be on the active roster, instead stashed away on the DL with a fake injury and ready to be activated whenever someone else actually does get hurt. Doug Bernier could be destined for the same fate as well.

Pitching Staff (12)

Another Opening Day start for Phelps? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Rotation: Hector Noesi, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, David Phelps, Adam Warren
Bullpen: D.J. Mitchell, George Kontos, Mike O’Connor, Matt Daley, Kevin Whelan, Adam Miller, ???

I’m working under the assumption that none of these guys will be needed in the big league rotation when the regular season begins, so everyone will get jammed in Triple-A. That creates a bit of a logjam because we’ve got six starters for five spots. Brian Cashman indicated during the Winter Meetings that Noesi will start somewhere (either in Triple-A or the bigs) in 2012, and they’re very unlikely to bump either Banuelos or Betances into the bullpen or back to Double-A. That leaves two spots for Phelps, Warren, and Mitchell.

As part of last week’s Yankees Top Ten Prospects Chat (subs. req’d), Baseball America’s John Manuel said Mitchell is “still viewed as more of a reliever long-term inside the organization,” mentioning him as a candidate for a “Ramiro Mendoza kind of swing role.” I called him a relief candidate back before the 2010 season, so it’s probably not a terrible time to make the conversion given that he has a full year of Triple-A starting under his belt. He can still work multiple innings out of the bullpen, and whenever one of the starters gets inevitably called up, he can step right into the rotation. Assuming he isn’t the one called up, of course.

Kontos and Whelan are the veterans in the bullpen, at least in the sense that they were with the team last year. The latter figures to again serve as closer. O’Connor and Daley are on minor league contracts and are ticketed for Triple-A, as is Miller barring an absolutely dominant camp and a surprise spot on the big league team’s Opening Day roster. I’m fairly certain that he’ll get some regular innings in the minors before being considered for a big league spot later on during the summer, assuming he pitches well enough to deserve the look.

That ??? bullpen spot is very much up for grabs. It could go to Ryan Pope, who started last year at this level, or possibly even Pat Venditte. Craig Heyer and Cory Arbiso are also possibilities. Hideki Okajima is on a minor league deal, but at the moment I expect him to make the Yankees roster to open the season. There’s always the minor league free agent pool, as the Yankees could bring back someone like Josh Schmidt or Eric Wordkemper, or go for some new blood instead. There is no shortage of arms still available on the open market (RHP, LHP).

Update: Cesar Cabral is also a Triple-A relief option, albeit in a roundabout way. Since he’s a Rule 5 Draft pick for the second time, he can elect free agency rather than be returned to his original team (the Red Sox) if the Yankees don’t want him. In that case, they can simply re-sign him and send him down. The Diamondbacks did the exact same thing with former Yankees farmhand Zach Kroenke.

* * *

The neat thing about Triple-A baseball is that even if the Opening Day roster ends up looking like it does in this post, it won’t matter a month into the season. There will be injuries, promotions, demotions, veterans opting out of contracts, you name it. The roster turnover at this level is insane, upwards of 70 transactions a year. It’s not enough to be 25 men deep these days, the Yankees need this depth tucked away in Triple-A to serve as viable replacements for those “just in case” moments.

Improving the Yankee Stadium experience
Remaining one-year-deal starters (or what's left of them)
  • Monteroisdinero

    Pitching is the most interesting part of our AAA roster this year. Not excited about any position players.

    • ADam

      Not even Romine?

      • Monteroisdinero

        I’ve seen him at Trenton, ST and on TV last September. He is a very good (not great defender) and has an average (at best) bat. Good demeanor. No fist pumping. Don’t see a HUGE upside.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          However, if he had that “Cervelli Fist Pump” going for him, all this would change. :-)

        • Romineisdevine

          Oh, you’re just tryin’ to talk my guy down because he’s the Yankees future starting catcher. : -)

          One player I am interested in watching in 2012 is Corban Joseph. His stock seems to be rising with some scouts believing he’ll soon start hitting for more power. We might see that in 2012 once he’s away from Trenton, which is not kind to hitting, especially righthanders.

          CoJo, Romine and Laird will all see time as Major Leaguers over the coming years. I agree that none of them have HUGE upside, but one of the three might surprise us.

  • JoeMoes

    Laird and romine don’t excite me but are interesting to watch.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    It is good to have a surplus of pitching in AAA to back up the MLB staff. This team should win the league’s crown if they can hit a little. Of course, I don’t know what the other teams in the league have. At least 2-3 of these pitchers will help the Yankees this year. If I’m Vazquez, I head for Japan ASAP. He is never going to get a chance with NY.

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

    I’ve been hearing the name “CoJo” for so long that it’ll be interesting to see if he has what it takes to make it to the next level, which would probably mean as a trade chip but, hey, developing trade chips is F-U-N.

    I also do slightly have a defensive ability mancrush on DeWayne Wise, and look forward to his game-winning hit, following a game-saving catch, for the Yanks sometime in May before being instantly DFA’d.

  • Mike

    If the Yankees don’t sign someone for the last bench spot I see Pena,Nix,Laird,and Russo probably fighting for it. I personally like Russo. He is very versatile has a decent bat and offers some speed. I know he has no power and his bat is not consistent but when I think of the 25th man he fits the role. Plus he will be 28 this July so its now or never. What do you think?

    • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

      I like Russo too, but that skill set along with “28” means more “never” than “now.” He is what he is, and what he is is something a lot of kids would kill to be.

  • Steve (different one)

    This strikes me as a ton of quality pitching ready in AAA. This can only mean good things. I still think the Yankees will pluck one more pitcher from the FA scrap heap, even if it’s someone like Colon or Harden, but we should see several of these guys in the bigs this year. Should be fun.

    • pat

      We legit have 4 or 5 guys in AAA who could likely hold down a back of the rotation spot if need be. That’s pretty sick depth. Who do the sox have? They barely have candidates to fill their MLB rotation.

    • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

      Not only that, but there’s joy in watching young players learn their craft. This is often lost in the whole “WE’RE THE YANKEES” talk and demand to win a championship every year.

      • Mike Axisa

        It’s a microcosm of life. All the failure and disappointment makes the success that much better. Most prospects fail, but every once in a while one turns into Robinson Cano and it’s awesome.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    I have to agree with the comments. The strength of AAA is the pitching. The problem with Pena, Russo and Laird. Their strengths are in different areas of the game. Not one seems to be a total package. My opinion is narrow because it comes from viewing during game action. Pena is the best defensive replacement for one game or late inning rest periods. With the offense that the Yankees employ, Pena’s job is flawless defense. Nunex is the weekly replacement for Arod, Jeter and Cano. Russo provides some more stick at third and second than Pena but you don’t want him long term. Laird could be a super bench player. He can play third, first and some corner OF. His bat like Nunez’s responds to opportunities. I know the Yankees are interested in Chavez but he may oppt. for West coast team. I would use Laird in the position that Chavez frequented though they bat from the opposite side of the plate.

  • The Manchine

    No off-topic for 2012 yet?

    Any chance Edwin would be interested in 3/$36ish deal? Madson/Boras just signed a 1yr deal. If Jackson lights it up, he could be due for a big deal at 31. Maybe a 5yr deal with opt out after 2??

    • Mike Axisa

      The Off-Topic Thread is in the same place it’s always been:

      We replace ’em when they get too full, not by date or anything.

      • The Manchine

        sorry the last comment being from Dec thru me off a lil, thought it might not be being used.

    • The Manchine

      CC, Edwin, Nova, Aj, Hughes/Garcia up top,

      Noesi, Banuelos, Betances, Phelps, Warren in AAA

      looks VERY good to me.

      I really think(hope) Edwin could retain the lessons he got from Dave Duncan and pair them with Rothchild’s(sp?) plus being able to pick the mind’s of CC & Mo and turn himself into a true 1A.

  • vin

    I’m hoping David Adams can crash that IF party sometime this season.

  • Monteroisdinero

    I think DJ Mitchell may be able to stick as a starter. He is very thin and may fill out (increase his strength and endurance) a bit with maturity. He has good stuff.

  • CJ

    So many 24 year old “prospects” in the system. They need to make the yanks or be traded to a team they can make for younger prospects of similar talent ceilings. For example if Oakland Pittsburgh San Diego or Minnesota houston are not interested in phelps or Warren for a rotation spot, then they are not major league prospects.

    • Mike Axisa

      For example if Oakland Pittsburgh San Diego or Minnesota houston are not interested in phelps or Warren for a rotation spot, then they are not major league prospects.

      Well then, glad that’s settled.

      • CJ

        Mike, the 24+ prospects have to play in majors before they rot. Phelps Warren noesi are each one third of a 7th starter? Is that their value?

  • Favrest

    I don’t know about Hideki Okajima. He’s a complete mystery. We have no idea how healthy he is. If he returns to form, he’d turn out to be a great pick up, but it’s probably not fair to expect it. Noesi should open the season at AAA and get used to starting. I’m loving our AAA rotation. It’s so promising.

  • tbord

    Austin Krum and to a lesser extent, Ray Kruml, are going to be in the hunt for at least a bench spot.