Sorting out the projected Triple-A Scranton roster

Almonte is likely to anchor the RailRiders' lineup. (Presswire)

Almonte is likely to anchor the RailRiders’ lineup. (Presswire)

Every offseason I put together a post looking at the projected Triple-A Scranton roster even though it’s almost completely unpredictable. So much can and will change between now and the start of the season that it’s impossible to pin down more than a few spots. At the same time, the Triple-A club is just an extension of the MLB club, so I think it’s important to look at. We’ll see a lot of these guys in the show next summer.

From the looks of it, the Yankees are planning to hold three competitions in Spring Training: one for the fifth starter’s spot, one for the extra infielder, and one for the bullpen in general. That last one will be a bunch of smaller competitions, really. Injuries could open up even more spots, as we learned last year. For now, here’s an early breakdown of who figures to head to Northeast Pennsylvania at the end of camp:

Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Russ Canzler Zoilo Almonte LHP Manny Banuelos RHP Jim Miller
Corban Joseph Slade Heathcott RHP Bruce Billings RHP Mark Montgomery
Zelous  Wheeler Antoan Richardson LHP Nik Turley RHP Y. Tateyama
ST Comp. Loser 1 ST Comp. Loser 1 RHP Chase Whitley
ST Comp. Loser 2 ST Comp. Loser 2 ST Comp. Loser 1
Utility Guys
ST Comp. Loser 2
Catchers Ronnie Mustelier ST Comp. Loser 3
J.R. Murphy Jose Pirela
Austin Romine Yangervis Solarte

Barring injury, Frankie Cervelli will back up Brian McCann this summer, leaving Murphy and Romine for Triple-A. Murphy should get playing time priority but they’ll both get plenty of at-bats, including some at DH. I wouldn’t be surprised if Murphy sees some time at third base, as he has in the past. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the team carried a third catcher (Jose Gil?) if the plan is to regularly DH those guys on the days they aren’t catching. If so, Solarte or Wheeler could wind up with Double-A Trenton or released.

The infield is pretty straight forward. Canzler, Joseph, Pirela, and Wheeler will get an opportunity to win that last bench job with the big league team but they are at a disadvantage for various reasons. Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, and Dean Anna seem to have the best chance of winning that spot. The other guys will be there for show. The two losers of that competition (ST Comp. Loser 1 & 2) will wind up with the RailRiders. If I had to bet, I’d bet on Nunez and Anna landing in Triple-A with Sizemore in the big leagues. That’s just a guess though.

The outfield is mostly set. I do believe both Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores will return to Trenton to at least start the year. Midseason promotions are always possible, but Austin has to stay healthy and Flores has to hit before moving up becomes a realistic possibility. The biggest outfield wildcard is Almonte, who is the odds on favorite to take over as the MLB team’s extra outfielder should Ichiro Suzuki get traded. If not, he’ll play everyday in Triple-A and await the inevitable call-up due to injury. Mustelier, Solarte, and Pirela are utility men with experience all over the field, so that position player crop features quite a bit of versatility.

Billings was picked up last week to be the team’s veteran innings guy. Every minor league team needs one. That non-prospect you can run out there for 110 pitches every five days just to save the bullpen and lighten the load on the actual prospects. Turley pitched well enough last year to move up from Double-A and Banuelos is finally healthy after missing close to two full years. It’s possible he may start the season down in Tampa with the warm weather, however. The organization could ease him back into things that way, and no, I do not think he has a realistic chance of winning the fifth starter competition. He missed too much time and wasn’t a finished product before blowing out his elbow anyway.

(Tod Shapiro/Flat Iron Hot! News)

Pineda. (Flat Iron Hot! News)

That fifth starter competition will feature David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, and Michael Pineda. Maybe David Huff as well, though I think he’s more likely to be removed from the 40-man roster in the coming weeks than anything. I think Phelps and Warren have to be considered the favorites in that competition and I expect both to be on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster. One as a starter and one as a long reliever. That would leave Nuno and Pineda for Triple-A, though Pineda could start the year in Tampa like Banuelos. After two missed years, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bring him along slowly.

Miller, Montgomery, Whitley, and Yoshinori Tateyama are Triple-A holdovers without much of an opportunity to win a big league bullpen job. Getting passed over in the Rule 5 Draft tells us not a single team thinks Whitley can help at the MLB level right now. Montgomery needs to rebound from his injury-plagued year before getting a chance to become a big league factor. I suspect we’ll see him at some point in 2014, probably in the second half. He just hit a little developmental speed bump, that’s all. The slider is still nasty.

The group of guys expected to compete for a bullpen gig in camp is really long. I count eight pitchers in the running: Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Robert Coello, Matt Daley, Brian Gordon, David Herndon, and Jose Ramirez. We can include Huff in this mix as well, but again, I don’t think he is long for the roster. Realistically, there are three bullpen spots open in Triple-A and three open in MLB behind David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, Matt Thornton, and Phelps/Warren. I’d love to see the Yankees sign two starters and push both Phelps and Warren down the depth chart another notch, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Eight pitchers for six spots means two guys are going to be left hanging, but that’s not worth worrying about now. Ramirez could step into the Triple-A rotation if Banuelos and/or Pineda start the year in Tampa and chances are someone will get hurt at some point. There are too many guys listed here to think they’ll all make it through Spring Training healthy. Spots will open in the coming weeks, guaranteed. Others like Danny Burawa (42 walks in 66 Double-A innings in 2013) and Pat Venditte (coming off shoulder surgery) figure to return to Trenton to open the year.

Unlike that fifth starter competition, I’m not sure we can handicap the bullpen competition right now. Betances, Cabral, Claiborne, and Daley may seem like they have a leg up, but Coello was pretty awesome before getting hurt last year and Ramirez could show up in Tampa and blow everyone away. Maybe Claiborne is at the front of the line after logging a decent amount of big league innings last summer, but otherwise I don’t think there’s much of a pecking order in the bullpen. Whoever impresses the most in camp will probably get the job, but either way, I’m willing to bet we’ll see a whole bunch of these guys in 2014.

As I said before, this is just a snapshot of the Triple-A Scranton roster. We learned last year just how much things can change during camp. For now it seems like a good chunk of the RailRiders roster is set aside from those competitions, which are vast and numerous. The Triple-A team is basically a taxi squad for the big league club and that will be especially true for the 2014 Yankees. Those competitions are not limited to Spring Training, remember. Those spots will be revolving doors all summer.

Categories : Minors
  • DERP

    It’s also possible that Kahnle will be back with the organization and figure into the bullpen mix.

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    Do you have Shane Greene repeating AA?

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

      Yep, Newman said it at some point. I’ll try to find the link.

      • Andy in Sunny Daytona

        That’s kind of shocking. But I guess with the way the Yankees “develop” pitching nothing should surprise me.

  • Nick

    What about Adonis Garcia?

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

      I don’t expect him to stick around much longer. Having a big winter but it’s not the first time. Maybe if Ichiro is traded and Zoilo is in MLB, but I think Garcia is a goner before the start of the season. Jorge Vazquez-esque.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner

        I’m surprised. I thought the third base experiment was them trying to see if they’ve got a quicker route for him.

        Does he have a Chato-sized hole in his bat?

      • IRememberCelerinoSanchez

        Mike, what do you base that opinion on? We all knew Jorge Vazquez was not a prospect. But Garcia has not been portrayed that way in the past.

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

          He’s not that young (29 in April) and he doesn’t do anything particularly well. The Yankees have a lot of outfielders and he’s one of the most expendable.

  • Chris

    Hey Mike, do you mind doing one of Trenton for us NJ folks?

    • Chris

      Should have a pretty stacked outfield next year from what I understand. I believe Austin, Williams and Heathcott?

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

      Predicting AAA is hard enough, no way am I doing AA. Austin, Flores, Mason Williams, Gary Sanchez, Bryan Mitchell, and Shane Greene will all be there though.

      • Chris

        Ok, that’s fair. Thanks for the reply!

  • http://www.twitter.com/vinnyscafuto Vinny S.

    Heathcott is definitely starting at AAA?

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

      Not definitely but I expect him too.

  • Brandon

    What happened to Yamaico Navarro, no love for him? Have to think he makes the team. Same with David Herndon. Isn’t he better than Jim Miller?

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

      Navarro was released a few weeks after working out a deal with a team in Korea. Herndon is one of the eight guys I mentioned who will compete for an MLB bullpen job in camp.

  • Kevin

    Is it possible that Mark Montgomery makes the big league roster after spring training? If not, what do you think the Yankees can expect out of him this season?

    • Kevin

      Never mind, I somehow skipped the paragraph that included all the info needed on Montgomery.

  • TopChuckie

    You list Miller atop the bullpen, does that mean you expect him to close, or do they let Montgomery?

    Personally, I wouldn’t be shocked if Montgomery breaks camp in the big league pen. I hope he becomes the next shut down 8th inning guy, then we’ll see what happens with Robertson from there…

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

      Miller is on top because the players are listed alphabetically under each position, with the ST competitions at the bottom.

  • Brandon

    You see Canzler as the opening 1B over Mustelier?

    • RetroRob

      I wonder if Canzler might have a decent chance at the big club, especially if Ichiro is moved. OF/1B. Right now there is no backup for Tex on the roster.

      • Chris H

        Right now McCann is probably the backup at first, I expect him to see a reasonable amount of time at the position in 2013 for a multitude of reasons.

  • Chris H

    If they land Tanaka I’m really hoping they open the books and sign Jimenez as well for the reason you stated, pushing both Warren and Phelps out of the rotation and one or both to the pen while still having Pineda, Nuno, Ramirez, et al starting in the minors is a great way to turn a questionable rotation into a deep strength. I’d like to see Balfour added too but I doubt they sign all three and Tanaka/Jimenez is more valuable than Tanaka/Balfour.

    To be honest I don’t see Tanaka having the same upside as many seem too, but if he’s the difference in scrap heaping to get under 189 and blowing past it altogether with another big signing or two I’m all for it. Though just Tanaka probably isn’t enough to build a contender.

    • Brandon

      Wouldn’t you rather see Tanaka and Drew added than Tanaka and Jiminez. Jiminez really is a complete unknown, as he was abysmal in 2012 and pretty bad in the first half of 2013 as well. With Drew, if he’s willing to play 3B/2B, you know you’re getting a proven, above average left handed hitter who hits RHP very well and can defend well too. 3 years/39 mill can probably get it done for both players. I’d much rather have Drew.

  • Brandon

    Wouldn’t you rather see Tanaka and Drew added than Tanaka and Jiminez. Jiminez really is a complete unknown, as he was abysmal in 2012 and pretty bad in the first half of 2013 as well. With Drew, if he’s willing to play 3B/2B, you know you’re getting a proven, above average left handed hitter who hits RHP very well and can defend well too. 3 years/39 mill can probably get it done for both players. I’d much rather have Drew.