Mar
08

2013 Season Preview: The Third Basemen

By

Starting this week and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.

(Star-Ledger)

(Star-Ledger)

For the first time since 2003, the Yankees figure to have someone other than Alex Rodriguez play the majority of their games at third base this season. A-Rod is recovering from a(nother) hip surgery and will be out until midseason, leaving the team without one of its most potent right-handed hitters following an offseason that saw a few too many power bats depart via free agency.

The Starter(s)
It was supposed to be A-Rod, but the surgery will keep him on the sidelines until the All-Star break if not longer. The Yankees replaced him by signed Kevin Youkilis to a one-year deal worth $12M, and suddenly he’s become a very important part of the offense now that Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira will open the year on the DL.

Youkilis, who turns 34 one week from today, put up a .235/.336/.409 (102 wRC+) batting line in 509 plate appearances for the Red Sox and White Sox last summer. He did go deep 19 times and drew his usually high amount of walks (10.0%), but his game has been on a steady decline for years now. Just look at his graphs page on FanGraphs, everything is heading in the wrong direction. Youkilis is hitting more and more ground balls with each passing year, which is a classic symptom of an older player losing bat speed. To his credit, he worked with hitting coach Kevin Long in the offseason to shorten his stride and compensate.

Despite that decline, Youkilis is still a useful player. He absolutely annihilates left-handers, tagging them for a .275/.386/.492 (135 wRC+) line last year and a .323/.436/.598 (174 wRC+) line over the last three seasons. No hitter in baseball has been more productive (by wRC+) against southpaws since 2010. His defense at the hot corner is below-average but not a disaster, plus he can slide over to first base without a problem. Youkilis is injury prone, having visited the DL in each of the last three seasons (thumb, back, hernia). The Yankees need him to stay on the field in 2013, especially early in the season.

(Getty)

(Getty)

Of course, Youkilis is only the third baseman because A-Rod will miss the first half of the season. He’s visited the DL every year since signing his $275M scarlet letter prior to the 2008 season, but this injury is the most serious: a torn left hip labrum, a bone impingement, and a cyst. The doctors say he will make a full recovery but the Alex of old is long gone. His .272/.353/.430 (114 wRC+) performance in 2012 was solidly above-average but far below his career norms. Like Youkilis, almost everything on A-Rod’s graphs page is going in the wrong direction.

For all intents and purposes, the Yankees have to proceed under the assumption that Rodriguez will not be back this season. They can’t count on him for anything, let alone to ride in on a white horse to save the offense in the second half. It’s unclear how the new hip procedure will impact his swing — he was unable to use his lower half as much following the right hip surgery in 2009, and that injury was less severe — or his defense or his mobility. Anything the club gets out of Alex in 2013 is total gravy. Youkilis will be counted on as the starter until his contract expires as far as I’m concerned.

The Backup
With the Yankees continuing to groom Eduardo Nunez as a shortstop and Dan Johnson both failing his Spring Training hot corner audition and being needed at first base in the wake of Teixeira’s injury, the backup third baseman is Jayson Nix. The 30-year-old is a versatile little player who does almost all of his offensive damage against lefties (97 wRC+ in 2012 and 94 career) and has surprising pop (career .157 ISO). Unless the Yankees swing an unexpected trade before the season begins, Nix will be Youkilis’ primary backup at the hot corner and he could play pretty much full-time against southpaws if Johnson takes over at first.

It hasn't been pretty for CoJo at the hot corner in camp. (Presswire)

It hasn’t been pretty for CoJo at the hot corner in camp. (Presswire)

Knocking on the Door
The Bombers do have some third base depth in Triple-A Scranton. David Adams and Corban Joseph are both second basemen by trade, but the 25-year-old Adams shifted over to third late last year while the 24-year-old Joseph has played the position quite a bit in the spring. Outside of one being a right-handed hitter (Adams) and the other being a lefty (Joseph), the two players are very similar. They are both willing to take a walk and can hit for doubles power, though their glovework leaves something to be desired. Joseph in general has trouble making the long throw across the diamond. He’s expected to open the year at second base in Triple-A while Adams mans third, but both will surely get reps at each position to stay fresh.

It’s worth mentioning 28-year-old Ronnie Mustelier here, who played third base in yesterday’s Grapefruit League game — Joe Girardi said that was planned before Teixeira’s injury — and has played 26 games at the position in the minors since signing two years ago. The Yankees have moved him down the defensive spectrum from second to third to left in the last 20 months or so, but it’s fair to wonder if they’ll give him a longer look at third in the coming weeks. Mustelier can hit a fastball and put the ball in play, but the defense is a question. I don’t think he’s a legitimate third base candidate at the big league level but we shouldn’t rule it out.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

The Top Prospect
There’s a pretty strong case to be made that the team’s best third base prospect is an outfielder. Tyler Austin — who ranked third on my preseason top 30 prospects list — moved off the hot corner last year in deference to 2011 first rounder Dante Bichette Jr., and he mashed (.322/.400/.559 and ~163 wRC+) his way up to Double-A Trenton while settling into right field. The Yankees have considered moving him back to third base, but as far as we know that won’t happen. It’s not like the club has a long-term right fielder in place, so no big deal. He’ll open the year back with Trenton and we shouldn’t rule him out as a big league factor for 2013, but it’s unlikely. Boy can he hit though.

Outside of Austin and multi-position infielders Adams and Joseph, the Yankees’ top true third base prospect is Bichette. I ranked him 27th on my preseason top 30 for a few reasons, most notably because he fell back into some bad swing habits and had a miserable season with Low-A Charleston (.248/.322/.331 and 85 wRC+). Bichette was named the MVP of the rookie level Gulf Coast League Yankees after signing in 2011 because he made some adjustments at the plate, but he has to get back to being that guy if he wants to avoid becoming a non-prospect less than three years after being drafted. The Yankees will return him to the River Dogs this year and he’s a long way from being a big league factor.

The Deep Sleeper
New York spent $750k to sign 18-year-old Miguel Andujar out of the Dominican Republic back in 2011, then he hit .232/.288/.299 (80 wRC+) in 191 plate appearances for the rookie level GCL club in his pro debut last summer. Disappointing performance aside, Andujar is the team’s best lower level third base prospect because he’s a solid all-around player with no carrying tool but no real weakness. He has good pop and hitting ability from the right side to go along with strong defense at the position. If he grows into some more power or suddenly becomes a much more adept defender, Andujar will raise his profile quite a bit. He’ll open the year back in Extended Spring Training before joining Short Season Staten Island in June, though he doesn’t have a ton of breakout potential.

* * *

The Yankees have a decent amount of third base depth at the upper levels, but they lack a true impact player at the position. I suppose Youkilis could surprise and revert to his 2008-2010 ways, but he’s a deal pull right-handed hitter who will no longer have the advantage of the Green Monster. Despite its general hitter friendliness, Yankee Stadium is not kind to pull-happy righties. Nix, Adams, Joseph and even Mustelier are decent alternatives and emergency options, but the front office should keep their eyes peeled for corner infield help while Teixeira is out, even if it means acquiring a new starting third baseman with Youkilis sliding over to first.

Other Previews: Catchers, First Basemen, Second Basemen, Shortstops

Categories : Players

39 Comments»

  1. Eddard says:

    We’ll be just fine at 3B with Youk and Nuney/Nixy as backups. Don’t care what A-Rod does, hopefully he retires.

    But enough about that and on to more pressing issues. Mike, we have yet to get an answer on this mobile site settings fiasco. We have yet to hear what the problem is or when it will be fixed. Therefore, I have decided to engage in a Rand Paul style fillibuster until we get the answers that we deserve. I will talk until I can no longer speak, or until I run out of characters, whichever comes first.

    When I was growing up my two favorites movies were Finding Nemo and Silence of the Lambs. One taught me how important it is to have a relationship with my father and the other taught me not to be so laissez faire when serving extra rare lamb chops to a serial killer. But neither movie could equal my love for baseball.

    I remember watching the 96 world series with my dad. It was Game 4 and the Yanks were down 2-1 in the series and they were down 6-3 in the ballgame. Things weren’t looking good. But up strolled Jimmy Leyritz with two men on base and back at the track at the wall we were tied. If he didn’t hit that HR it would have been tough for the Yanks to win the series, he was the hero. Can you imagine the outcry today if Leyritz had been playing in a world series game? This is why I’m not so worried about the catcher not hitting 25 HRs a year. Jorgie Posadas are a rarity. The most important job of the catcher is handling the pitching staff and any offense they give you is gravy. That’s the way it usually is until we were spoiled by Jorgie.

    There’s been a lot of panic lately over injuries. Why? It’s March 8th, not September 8th. Teixera never hits in April anyway. Surely Hafner can equal what Teixera has done at the plate in recent Aprils. I think it’ll be good for the offense. People need to realize that you don’t have to hit 4 solo HRs a game in order to win. You can steal bases, move runners over, and score enough runs to win with above average starting pitching. It’s fine to have a couple boom or bust players in the lineup but last year it was filled with them and that was our downfall.

    I think this Yankee team has a really good chance to make the playoffs. The rest of the division is better. Don’t sleep on the Os. Are they a 93 win team? No. Are they an 85-90 team? Maybe. They’ll be there till the end. Jays are vastly improved, Rays never go away and the Sox can’t be any worse.

    Yesterday we heard that Mo will retire and this will be the last year for the Key 3. Mo has a career .70 postseason ERA. That’s just unthinkable as he pitched all of his career in an offensive era. I think Mo is announcing his retirement now because he wants to get it out of the way and so it becomes a rallying point for this ballclub. The whole team should work harder to get Mo that elusive 6th ring. He deserves to go out on top and close the 9th inning of the World Series clincher. Jete and Andy deserve another chance as well.

    Today I also want to bring to light parking lot etiquette. I was pulling into a spot this morning and I like to park so I can just drive straight out for an easy getaway, not back out. And in swoops this other SUV and I was clearly there first. Did she back down? Did she even acknowledge my presence? Not one hand wave, not one mouthing I’m sorry. She just pulled in like she was entitled to that space. We should be able to turn these people in to some type of government authority. It’s theft and should be treated as such.

    • Jim Is Bored says:

      Knife the tires.

      • Eddard says:

        I did consider this, Jim. There are security cameras out in the parking lot so I suppose the risks outweigh the rewards. It’s that type of cost-benefit analysis that the Yankees should be doing with Robbie Cano dontcha know.

        Hal said he didn’t do extensions, then he gave an extension to play by play man Michael Kay. Then he said we’ll do an extension but it has to be on our terms. Then we heard the Yankees made a “significant offer.” What’s next, Hank takes over negotiations and gives Cano 12 years for $300 million? These contracts have gotten way out of hand and it’s time for someone to draw a line in the sand.

    • MannyGeee says:

      Ohhhhhhhh. MY. FKING. GOD!

      Big Member better watch his ass, New Eddard is absolutely KILLING IT right now.

    • Barry says:

      What’s next going to quote unused lines from “The Godfather?” “A lawyer with a brief case can steal more than a hundred men with guns can steal!”

      Anyone else perplexed by the current blizzard..?

    • Pat D says:

      I agree with your parking lot sentiments, but I’m afraid this isn’t really at Rand Paul levels. If it was, you’d still be going.

      Oh, shit, I just encouraged him.

      PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THIS HANDLE NAME!!

    • jjyank says:

      This….this is fucking brilliant.

      • Jim Is Bored says:

        It’s Eddard’s magnum opus.

        • Havok9120 says:

          So far. It’s a long season, and this one could be longer than usual. If he and Big Member can get into a competition for Best RAB Joke-Troll…

          This might just be the tip of the iceberg. Now we just need some Romaine and celery caps.

          • Jim Is Bored says:

            True. I might have jumped the gun there.

            Although honestly I think Big Member does it on purpose, whereas Eddard actually believes what he types, and isn’t batshit insane on occasion.

            I’m not sure I’d consider Eddard a troll at all, really.

    • Havok9120 says:

      Bravo to you, sirrah.

    • trr says:

      I feel your pain dear Eddard, need I say that driving is like a gigantic, real-life video game in which there are no courtesies, no do-overs, only actions and their sometimes dreadful consequences.

      having said that, did you ask the bitch if she can play third?

  2. Barry says:

    Youk is coming into town on a gravy train with biscuit wheels baby!

  3. pat says:

    I don’t think Tyler Austin moved in deference to Bichette. I think he was just bad in the field.

  4. your mom says:

    Where’s Marcus Thames when you need him?

  5. Vern Sneaker says:

    I was thinking about Eddard’s comments about catchers. Nobody can possibly be more spoiled than Yankees fans. Even putting Bill Dickey aside, there’s been the last 60+ years that had 40+ of Yogi, Elston, Thurman, and Jorge.

  6. Havok9120 says:

    And now the Daily News is reporting that the Padres are ready to listen on Headley trade offers.

    1) Since when were they NOT listening to trade offers. If someone had blown them away I’m pretty sure their GM wouldn’t have been going “lalalalalala…I CAN’T HEAR YOUUU!”

    2) What the heck is the Daily News doing breaking this story? What, do NY beat reporters have some secret ties to a team in the other league based out of the exact opposite side of the country?

    3) Oh, God, it’s going to be TRADE FOR HEADLEY NOW month all over again.

  7. JRod says:

    Tabloid hacks want to create a drumbeat to trade our top 16 prospects, Gardner, Babe Ruth’s 24k emerald encrusted keg tap, The USS Intrepid, and Girardi’s magic binder to San Diego for Headley. After all, what is the role of a hometown newspaper except to set up Cashman to get hoisted upside down by his broken ankles and shaken until the change falls out of his pockets? The beauty part is you can snipe and howl in outrage for weeks when the trade doesn’t happen.

    • Havok9120 says:

      Including the Intrepid in the deal is brilliant. San Diego even has room for it with the navy drawing-down on surface ships.

      /outsidethebox’d

  8. Ramondo says:

    When was the last time A-Rod was considered a potent right-handed hitter?

  9. I am not the droids you're looking for... says:

    Is that Bizarro Eddard up there? Some really strange shit is going down.

  10. Jersey Joe says:

    Does Adam Kennedy seem like a good idea for corner infield to start season?

  11. Jersey Joe says:

    When ARod gets back, what is supposed to happen to Hafner? Would he just be a pinch-hitter and DH vs. tough righties?

  12. Jersey Joe says:

    Hmmmm.

    OK, a ton of people have asked this before, but doesn’t Abreu make a lot of sense?

    I mean a righty bat would be good to have in this crisis, but people are talking about the need for baserunners for Cano to drive in. We also seem to be lacking a 1-2-3-4 tandem.

    Ideally, we would stick Ichiro and Gardner in left and center. Then, Abreu in right field in a platoon with Rivera, who would split time at first base, DH, and around the OF. Having Bobby in RF would balance out his lack of range.

    1. Gardner Cf
    2. Jeter SS
    3. Abreu RF
    4. Cano 2b
    5. Youkilis 3b
    6. Hafner DH
    7. Johnson 1B
    8. Cervelli
    9. Ichiro LF

    Abreu can still draw walks, and he still has an arm, which is all we need at this point.

    As far as 1st and 3rd, I would like a right-handed acquisition, but seeing what Musteiler can do while playing 1b seems like an interesting possibility. Which reminds me, if Tex is getting older and more fragile, and CoJo has a bat, but not much else, in a few years, why don’t we put CoJo at 1st for a few games. Once ARod and Jeter are gone and we won’t need to put them at DH, CoJo could be a 18-19 HR guy in YS3 with a .370+ OBP who also keeps Tex from his fragility.

    • MannyGeee says:

      NO way to Abreu. I can’t be the only one with vivid memories of him being afraid of his own footsteps any time he got over to the warning track. He’d make you miss Marcus Thames.

      • Jersey Joe says:

        The last time we had Abreu, Damon and Melky were roaming center field, along with Matsui/Nady in the other corner. I think with Ichiro and Gardner, the overall OF defense would not suffer too much.

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