2014 Season Preview: Final Bench Spot

King: Mariners scouting David Phelps
Open Thread: 3/5 Camp Notes
Yangervis. (Presswire)
Yangervis. (Presswire)

Barring injury or a trade, 12 of the 13 position player spots are already set. Joe Girardi made it clear Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson will be the starting second and third basemen, respectively, leaving Brendan Ryan on the bench with Frankie Cervelli and Ichiro Suzuki. The fourth and final bench spot is up for grabs in Spring Training and the Yankees have indicated it will go to an infielder. More than a few players are competing for the job.

IF Dean Anna
Acquired in a minor November trade with the Padres, Anna had a big year in Triple-A (.331/.410/.482) but was unable to land a 40-man roster spot with San Diego. They flipped him to the Yankees for a Single-A reliever rather than lose him for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft. The 27-year-old lefty hitter has a ton of experience on the middle infield and a little at third, making him prime backup infielder fodder.

Anna lacks a standout tool but he’s okay at everything. His plate discipline is his strongest skill but there is more to life than minor league strikeout and walk rates. Last year was the first year in which he hit higher than .280 and he’s never been much of a power guy or base-stealer. His defense is generally regarded as solid even though last Saturday’s play in the hole makes you think he’s the best defender ever. It’s a classic backup infielder’s profile and a strong spring could push Anna onto the Opening Day roster.

1B/OF Russ Canzler
As of right now, Johnson is the backup first baseman according to Girardi even though he only has 18 career innings at the position. The 27-year-old Canzler is the only other true first baseman in camp, though he has a good amount of left field experience as well. The Yankees had him working out at third base earlier in camp in an attempt to increase his versatility. Canzler is a pure right-handed platoon bat, hitting .307/.390/.531 against lefties in Triple-A over the years compared to .267/.346/.442 against righties. He only has 102 career big league plate appearances to his credit. Canzler is a long shot for the bench despite his ability to play first, so he’s likely ticketed for Triple-A.

IF Corban Joseph
CoJo, 25, made his very brief big league debut last season before needing season-ending shoulder surgery. They Yankees dumped him off the 40-man roster over the winter and he went unclaimed on waivers, giving you an idea of how he’s regarded around the league. Joseph had a big 2012 season split between Double-A and Triple-A (.276/.375/.465 with 15 HR) and while he’s versatile in that he can fake first, second, and third bases, he’s a liability everywhere. If he shows he can hit like he did two years ago, Joseph might have value as a bench player. If not, well there’s really nothing he can offer. He seems to be well behind the rest of the pack in the race for the final bench spot.

IF Eduardo Nunez
Boy did Nunez blow a golden opportunity last summer. Rather than cement his place in the future of the team by playing well at shortstop during Derek Jeter‘s various leg injuries, he got hurt himself and showed little improvement at the plate or in the field. Nunez had a strong September as the (almost) everyday third baseman, but one good month wasn’t enough to salvage his season, nor should it be.

Nunie. (Presswire)
Nunie. (Presswire)

Nunez, 26, came to camp as the incumbent backup infielder but that doesn’t guarantee him anything. The Yankees could have very easily handed him the job and been done with it — they really seem to like Nunez, don’t they? — but instead they brought in several players as legitimate competition. It definitely appears as though he fell out of favor with last summer’s continued lack of progress. I don’t think they would bring in so many infielders if they were comfortable with him.

We all know what Nunez can do at this point, right? He is a high contact hitter who can run but doesn’t have much power — he did say he spent most of the winter trying to bulk up and add strength, for what it’s worth — and his defense is a complete wildcard. He’ll make a stunning play one inning and botch a routine one later in the game. Unfortunately the bad plays outweigh the good ones. Nunez is not being handed a bench job and if he doesn’t make a strong case for one in camp, he has a minor league option left and can go to Triple-A.

2B/3B Scott Sizemore
After missing all but two games over the last two years due to back-to-back torn ACLs, the 29-year-old Sizemore signed a minor league contract and got into his first post-surgery Grapefruit League game last night. He had a nice half-season with the Athletics in 2011 (.249/.345/.433 with 11 HR) but given the sample size and the long layoff, I don’t think we can say that’s the real Sizemore. Healthy or not, he’s a tough guy to predict for the upcoming season.

If you’re a believer in uniform numbers being an indicator of a player’s roster chances, then Sizemore is sitting pretty after being issued Robinson Cano‘s old #24. Everyone else in this post other than Nunez has a number north of 70. Maybe that’s a sign the team considers Sizemore the favorite for the job as long as he’s healthy. Who knows. Either way, he has a lot to prove after missing two full years. I believe Sizemore has a best chance of being a league average player (that’s very valuable!) out of everyone in this post but making the team is not a given.

UTIL Yangervis Solarte
I didn’t expect to include the 26-year-old Solarte in this post initially, but he’s hit the snot out of the ball early in camp (.778/.800/1.444) and is very versatile, spending a bunch of time at the three non-first base infield positions as well as both corner outfield spots in his career. That would be nice to have off the bench. The switch-hitting Solarte has hit .282/.332/.404 in 1,145 Triple-A plate appearances the last two years, which is pretty underwhelming considering how hitter friendly the Pacific Coast League is.

The Yankees have shown a willingness to give roster spots to big Spring Training performers in recent years (2009 Ramiro Pena and 2012 David Phelps, most notably), so it’s not completely out of the question that Solarte could sneak onto the Opening Day roster if he keeps raking. A versatile switch-hitter would be nice to have. Then again, nothing in his track record suggests he’s some kind of hidden gem or in the middle of an early spring breakout.

* * *

Others like Zelous Wheeler and Jose Pirela have utility man profiles and are technically competing for that bench job in camp, but they are clear long shots to me. Solarte really belongs in that group as well, hot spring start notwithstanding. Because of the questionable starting infield arrangement and various injury risks, whoever gets that final bench spot may wind up playing a larger role than expected. Despite being the 24th or 25th spot on the roster, this bench spot offers quite a bit of opportunity.

King: Mariners scouting David Phelps
Open Thread: 3/5 Camp Notes
  • Darren

    Not a bad bunch of choices for the final roster spot. If Solarte continues to rake like he is, I think they give him the spot as a way of inspiring the minor leaguers. They want to show that you can earn your way on to the team due to performance.

    Everyone else (including Sizemore) can go the minors until at least May 1 while we see if Tex is still injured, if Roberts gets injured, and if Johnson can play third.

    • mitch

      The fact that all of them can go to AAA is nice and should make the competition much more fair. There won’t be any Ben Francisco’s making the 25 just because they can’t be sent down.

      • gageagainstthemachine

        Cashman must have finally ponied up the ransom for whatever incriminating photos Francisco was holding onto, huh?

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com GT Yankee

        Is Anna able to go to AAA? I wasn’t sure. If he can I guess a trade automatically makes the Rule 5 issue go out the window.

        • Need Pitching & Hitting

          He has all of his options remaining.
          He’s not at all subject to Rule 5 rules, as he wasn’t acquired in that manner.

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com GT Yankee

            Reason I was asking is that San Diego traded him because he was going to be eligible for the Rule 5. Does trading him away automatically reset his eligibility clock?

            • Tom K

              No. He will be eligible again in December, if the Yankees don’t protect him.

              • Winter

                Sending him down doesn’t leave him unprotected though. You can keep him on the 40-man roster and in the minors, as long as you’re willing to burn an option year.

            • Preston

              San Diego didn’t put him on the 40 man roster. The Yankees did. He is protected from the rule 5 draft. He will be a Yankee until they either take him off the 40 man roster (at which point he will pass through waivers) or his minor league options run out (he has all three left and after they run out he will become a FA).

              • http://www.riveraveblues.com GT Yankee

                If Anna isn’t protected I’d be in favor of trading Ichiro. Then you can keep both Anna and Solarte up. Inevitably one or more of Jeter, Roberts or Nunez will get hurt and you will have lost no one as long as Sizemore is brought up prior to his opt-out date.

                • wolfgang’s Fault

                  Definitely would like to have both Anna and Solarte travel North when the season starts. Girardi had Solarte playing LF against the Orioles last night, so that type of versatility could mean they’re looking outside the box for a way to find a spot for him. I think Anna has a more difficult way to go with Kelly Johnson blocking him, but I’ve really liked his A/B’s so far, even w/the 3 K’s over the past two days. His “D” has been real eye opening as well. Both players look real solid. Hope to see them both in Pinstripes this summer.

  • gbyanks

    In an ideal world we would find a way to trade ichiro and carry 3 infielders with 2 center fielders in the outfield and johnsons ability to play the OF corners. Having a few infield options would be nice.

    • I’m One

      If Ichiro we gone, they could carry 2 of Sizemore/Canzler/Solarte (Anna or Nunez). Canzler and Solarte provide that 5th outfielder while allowing Johnson to remain at 3B.

    • nsalem

      This is so true. Love Ichiro but his time has come. There are so many better options at this point. If we were a team with absolutely no speed I could see an argument for his roster spot, but that is not the case here.

      • Donny

        I agree with you guys, but playing devil’s advocate, do any of you think they actually will cut ties? While I agree that roster spot is valuable, his name still brings value in terms of the Asian market. I get the team has that with Kuroda and Tanaka, people get nostalgic for Ichiro – just look at everyone on this site that sided with him last year (admittedly, myself included). For whatever reasons, the type of value he brings is still worth more than what any of these 26 – 30 guys can bring. At least, that’s how I read this situation. If I’m wrong, just let me know. My wife told me to tell her the first time that happens.

  • nycsportzfan

    Nunez can hit. I’d rather have a guy who has speed, can make the spectatcular play on defense, can hit, and play multiple spots.

    Nunez 3-3 with a sick bunt single today so far. Then again, Solarte is doing big things, and is exciting to see him day in and day out as well.

    • NCS

      What can Nunez hit? I know you aren’t referring to baseballs, since he has cost the Yankees runs at the plate and in the field every year he has been with the team. Eduardo is a liability everywhere but on the bases.

      • Winter

        Just wait until someone trips on his helmet…

    • Winter

      “Nunez can hit”

      I’m glad you call a career 86 wRC+ hitting. Hell, he’s only cracked 100 wRC+ in a single season once including the minor leagues (it was 2009 in AA).

  • nycsportzfan

    Nunez can hit. I’d rather have a guy who has speed, can make the spectatcular play on defense, can hit, and play multiple spots.

    Nunez 3-3 with a sick bunt single today so far. Then again, Solarte is doing big things, and is exciting to see him day in and day out as well.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      How is solarte’s dephense?

      • http://flickr.com/photos/roadgeek Roadgeek Adam

        Not a great hot corner guy, .933 FLDGavg at 3B vs. .975 at 2nd base.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Sounds like he’s a decent phielder.

    • nsalem

      Nunez can make an occasional spectacular defensive play. Unfortunately in is 4 years as a Yankee he has been unable to make the routine play at any position with any kind of consistency. He is a below average MLB hitter over his 700 or 800 AB’s. He may be a tad above average offensively as a SS but his proven inability to field that position removes him from any consideration of ever playing their on a regular basis. I used to think he had Juan Samuel type potential where his offense, speed and versatility would allow him to stick in the majors on a long term basis. Up to now though he has not shown nearly enough offense to make up for his lack of defense. His 3 for 3 and great bunt in an early March game notwithstanding. I hope for the better of the team he somehow proves the current Yankee assessment of him to be incorrect.

      • TWTR

        What’s the longest consecutive stretch that Nunez has ever played at one ML position?

  • nycsportzfan

    Solarte also has a couple more knocks today.

  • Dan

    It feels to me like Nunez has the inside track. He’s got some upside, and I feel like the Yankees aren’t ready to give up on him yet. It just feels like a tie (or close to it) goes to Nuny.

  • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

    Scott. Sizemore!

  • Reuben Sierra’s Chains

    Drew would be better

  • Manny

    Why are you so low on Yangervis Solarte? You never know.

  • ropeadope

    Nunez had a strong November as the (almost) everyday third baseman, but one good month wasn’t enough to salvage his season, nor should it be.

    My memory has recently tanked. Could someone kindly remind me which league Nunez was playing in during November?

    • Darre

      Extraordinary Gentlemen

    • gageagainstthemachine

      What league were the Rockford Peaches in again?

  • gageagainstthemachine

    Problem solved!
    On the final day of spring training the Yankees hold a no-holds-barred-last-man-standing cage match between Sizemore and Solarte to decide who gets the final roster spot. 30 minutes. To the death. No weapons are allowed except for Nunez’s helmet, which will be neutrally placed in the middle of the ring prior to the whistle proclaiming the start of the match (a la Dodgeball rules). If both men are alive at the end of 30 minutes, they are immediately optioned to AAA and Nunez gets the job.
    Of course…we all know you can’t stop Sizemore, you can only hope to contain him. Best of luck to you, Yangervis!

    • http://www.draftstreet.com/register.aspx?r=Jedile Jedile

      Scott Sizemore will be the 5th man in the rotation.

      • gageagainstthemachine

        The Yankees just need to clone him and then they can solve all their problems!!

  • emac2

    Adonis Garcia assuming solarte cools off and size more needs time

  • Farewell Mo

    Solarte vs. Sizemore in a Hell in the Cell match for the final roster spot.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    Scott Sizemore does not get the final roster spot. Motherfucker gets the FIRST roster spot.

  • WhittakerWalt

    You really can’t beat a strong November.

    • Wheels

      Mr. November, Eduardo Nunez.

      • WhittakerWalt

        Our patience has finally paid off. It just takes Nuney a little time to get going.

  • Mikhel

    I want to watch more of both Wheeler and Adonis García playing third base.

    Wheeler, a good 3B played a marvelous LF with México’s representative when they won the Caribbean Series a few weeks ago, he couldn’t play 3B because this year there were various 3B with power and good average plus good defense (Yuniesky, a Cuban, played for the mexican representative in Venezuela).

    Wheeler faced Adonis García in the championship game vs Puerto Rico… and I could say that 4 of the Top 5 Defensive plays were made by Wheeler and Adonis (with a cat-like reflexes), the other one by Caribbean Series MVP and former minor leaguer Chris Roberson.

    Though maybe both Wheeler and Adonis won’t get make the roster… we’ve seen in the past players imported by the Yankees from the Mexican Pacific League who after having maginific ST were relegated to the minor leagues and were not promoted even if they batted very well at AAA and at the MLB level they needed players like them (talking about slugger Jorge Vázquez and Ben Webber… Webber also played with the Mexican representative and has helped Mexico win 3 of the past 4 caribbean series vs Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Dominicana, with this year also participating Cuban team Villa Clara).

    • Giancarlo Murphy

      Don’t give up on Vazquez. After losing Granderson and Overbay, Joe has about 200-250 Ks to replace in the lineup.