Previewing the Yankees’ potential Spring Training invitees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Four weeks from yesterday, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa and the Yankees will open Spring Training. It’s the best non-news day of the year. Nothing really happens that day, but hey, it’s the start of Spring Training, and that’s exciting. The offseason is boring. This one especially so.

At some point in these next three weeks and six days the Yankees will announce their Spring Training non-roster invitees. There are usually 20-something of them. The number varies year to year. The 20-something non-roster players plus the 40-man roster means 60-something players in big league camp. This is a World Baseball Classic year though, so the Yankees might bring a few extra bodies to camp to cover for the guys who leave to play for their country.

Non-roster players take on all shapes and sizes. Some are veteran journeymen trying to hang on. Others are top prospects. Heck, some are middling prospects. Very few of them actually have a chance to win an Opening Day roster spot. Most non-roster players are hoping to open eyes in camp and earn an early-season call-up whenever reinforcements are inevitably needed. That’s what Preston Claiborne did a few years back. He pitched well in camp and made himself a name to remember.

This spring should be extra exciting because the Yankees have such a robust farm system, and so many of their top prospects are close to the big leagues. Spring Training is a great time of year for prospect watchers. The Yankees will surely bring a bunch of their top youngsters to camp, even if only for a few weeks, just to expose them to big league life. So, with all of that in mind, let’s preview this year’s crop of potential non-roster players. Let’s call this … educated speculation.

Catchers

The Yankees, like every other team, invite a ton of non-roster catchers to Spring Training. Why? Well, who else is supposed to catch all those bullpen sessions? That’s really all it is. Teams need lots of catchers in camp because there are lots of pitchers in camp, and someone has to behind the plate for those guys. Last year the Yankees brought six non-roster catchers to camp. The year before it was five.

New York is pretty devoid of catching prospects at the moment, now that Luis Torrens is (temporarily?) a member of the Padres. Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, and Kyle Higashioka are all on the 40-man roster, so they’ll be in camp. Donny Sands and Miguel Flames, the team’s two best catching prospects, are rookie ball kids still transitioning behind the plate, so they won’t be in big league Spring Training. Too soon. Their time will come. That means an unexciting crop of minor league signees and journeyman roster fillers behind the plate.

Mike’s Prediction: Wilkin Castillo, Kellin Deglan, Francisco Diaz, Jorge Saez, plus one or two others yet to be signed. Diaz was in camp as a non-roster player last year and re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent earlier this offseason. Castillo and Deglan signed as minor league free agents over the winter. Saez, 26, was a minor league Rule 5 Draft pick from the Blue Jays. The Yankees brought Santiago Nessy to camp last spring after picking him in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. I’m guessing Saez gets the same treatment.

Infielders

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Alright, now we’re talking. Gleyber Torres, the best prospect in the system and one of the best prospects in all of baseball, is a lock to be invited to big league camp, I believe. The Yankees have historically brought their tippy top prospects to camp — Jorge Mateo was there last year, remember — and Gleyber is the best they have to offer. Torres could hang around until mid-to-late March too, depending on how much playing time is available.

Among the other prospects, Tyler Wade is the other non-roster lock in my opinion. He’s not a Torres-caliber prospect, but he’s pretty darn good himself, and he’s slated to open the 2017 season in Triple-A. The Yankees had Wade play some outfield in the Arizona Fall League last year, so they’re starting to groom him for a big league utility job. Getting him in camp so he can work with the big league instructors is the next logical step.

The Yankees have a small army of infield prospects in the low minors, guys who are better served going to minor league camp. Wilkerman Garcia, Hoy Jun Park, Kyle Holder, and Thairo Estrada fit into this group. I thought maybe the Yankees would bring Mike Ford to camp as an extra first baseman, but the recent Ji-Man Choi signing takes care of that. Choi will “compete” with Greg Bird and Tyler Austin (and Rob Refsnyder?) for the first base job.

Mike’s Prediction: Choi, Torres, Wade, Cito Culver, Donovan Solano, and Ruben Tejada. Solano and Tejada are big league veterans on minor league deals, so yeah, they’ll be in camp. Culver gets the call because both Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro could end up playing in the WBC, meaning the Yankees will need infielders. Cito re-signed with New York as a minor league free agent a few weeks ago, and it wouldn’t surprise me if an invite to Spring Training was part of the deal. Keep in mind Mateo and Miguel Andujar are on the 40-man roster and will be in Spring Training automatically.

Outfielders

Remember last spring, when the Yankees had both Mateo and Aaron Judge in camp as non-roster players? That was so fun. They even hit home runs in the same game (against the Red Sox!). To the very necessary action footage:

Ah yes, that’s the good stuff. Anyway, I bring this up because Torres and Clint Frazier and going to be this year’s Mateo and Judge. The top prospect infielder-outfielder tandem we all tune in to see every Spring Training broadcast. Frazier is one of the Yankees’ best prospects and he’s already played in Triple-A, making a non-roster invitation to Spring Training is a no-brainer.

One top outfield prospect I don’t expect to see in big league camp is Blake Rutherford. The Yankees bought James Kaprielian to camp last year and that was a rarity — Kaprielian was the first first round pick the Yankees brought to Spring Training as a non-roster player one year after the draft in at least a decade. Not even Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain got non-roster invites in 2007. Rutherford is fresh out of high school. Big league camp isn’t the appropriate place for him. Lame, but it is what it is.

Mike’s Prediction: Frazier, Dustin Fowler, Mark Payton, and Jake Cave. I’m going to go against the grain and say Payton over the more heralded Billy McKinney. Payton is not a top prospect by any stretch, but he can do a little of everything and is a performer. He’s going to carve out a career as a fourth outfielder, and I think the Yankees will want to get him in camp at least once before he becomes Rule 5 Draft eligible next winter. Cave is a Triple-A vet, hence the non-roster invite. Fowler is one of the team’s top prospects and he’ll be in Triple-A this year, so I expect to see him too. Mason Williams (and Judge) is already on the 40-man.

Right-handers

Kaprielian. (Presswire)
Kaprielian. (Presswire)

We’re going to see some nice prospects arms in camp this year, me thinks. Kaprielian, Chance Adams, and Dillon Tate are the three big names. Kaprielian was in Spring Training last season, and since he was healthy enough to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, I don’t think the Yankees will hesitate to bring him to camp this year. Adams broke out last year and is going to start the season in Triple-A. Prime non-roster fodder.

Tate is the interesting one and I don’t think a non-roster invite is a lock, but I do think it’s likely. He regained velocity after the trade last year and threw well in the AzFL. Tate is going back to starting this season and I think the Yankees will look to move him quickly. And you know what? I think the Yankees want to show him off too. Tate was the fourth overall pick in the draft two years ago and one of the big name prospects they acquired at the deadline last summer. They’ll strut him out there and let him air it out for a few Grapefruit League innings because hey, why not?

Other big name prospects, like Domingo Acevedo and Albert Abreu, seem unlikely to get an invite to big league Spring Training this year. There are only so many innings to go around, and the Yankees will need them to a) decide the fourth and fifth starter race, and b) sort through a bunch of candidates for the remaining bullpen spots. This might be a year ahead of schedule for Acevedo and Abreu. I’m open to being wrong. We’ll see.

Mike’s Prediction: Adams, Kaprielian, Tate, J.P. Feyereisen, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, plus two or three others yet to be signed. At some point soon the Yankees will sign some pitchers to minor league deals for depth and Triple-A roster filler. The Anthony Swarzaks of the world we all love to hate. Feyereisen is a reliever with a chance to pitch in the show next year, hence the invite. Pinder and Rumbelow are still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, so they won’t actually pitch this spring, but they have big league service time and the non-roster invite is basically a courtesy. They’ll get big league meal money and lodging. It’s better than rehabbing in minor league camp.

Left-handers

As with the righties, I think we’ll see some good left-handed pitching prospects in Spring Training, most notably Jordan Montgomery and Justus Sheffield. Montgomery pitched very well at Double-A and Triple-A last summer, and the odds are strongly in favor of him making his MLB debut at some point in 2017. Spring Training is a chance for Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild to get their eyes on him. Giving Montgomery a non-roster invite makes all the sense in the world.

Montgomery. (Jason Farmer/Scranton Times-Tribune)
Montgomery. (Jason Farmer/Scranton Times-Tribune)

As for Sheffield, I do think he’ll get the invite to big league camp even though the odds of him pitching in the show this year are extremely small. Sheffield is a top prospect who reached Double-A last year, and he’s going to spend much of 2017 there as well, which could be enough to make him a non-roster candidate. And like Tate, I think the Yankees are going to want to show him off a bit. Sheffield could be one of those guys who makes one Grapefruit League appearance before being sent to minor league camp.

Mike’s Prediction: Montgomery, Sheffield, Jason Gurka, Joe Mantiply, plus one yet to be signed. Gurka signed a minor league deal a few weeks ago and has big league time with the Rockies, so he’ll get the non-roster invite. Mantiply is in a similar situation. Other southpaw prospects like Ian Clarkin, Nestor Cortes, Stephen Tarpley, and Josh Rogers will have to settle for minor league camp and a possible one-day call-up for a split squad game or something.

* * *

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the chances of me being wrong (very wrong) here are quite high. This is all nothing more than guesswork based on the farm system and New York’s recent non-roster tendencies. Okay, so after all of that, I came up with 30 possible non-roster invitees:

  • Catchers (6): Castillo, Deglan, Diaz, Saez, plus up to two others yet to be signed.
  • Infielders (6): Choi, Culver, Solano, Tejada, Torres, and Wade.
  • Outfielders (4): Cave, Fowler, Frazier, and Payton.
  • Pitchers (14): Adams, Feyereisen, Gurka, Kaprielian, Mantiply, Montgomery, Pinder, Rumbelow, Sheffield, Tate, plus as many as four yet to be signed.

Last year the Yankees brought 25 non-roster players to camp. The year before it was 26 and the year before that it was also 26, so my total of 30 is in ballpark when you consider each team will probably bring a few more players to camp to help cover for the WBC. If anything, 30 might be a little light since Pinder and Rumbelow won’t actually pitch. (The Yankees brought 44 players to camp in 2013, the last WBC year, which was insane.)

The Yankees announced their non-roster invitees on February 5th each of the last two years. Three years ago it was January 29th. They tend to do it very late in the offseason, so we still have a few weeks to go before things are made official. Either way, this promises to be a very prospect filled Spring Training. Guys like Torres, Frazier, Kaprielian, Montgomery, Fowler, and Wade will all be in camp, plus all the 40-man guys like Mateo, Andujar, Judge, and Bird. Should be fun.

Cashman: A-Rod invited to Spring Training as instructor

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

According to Christian Red, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees have invited Alex Rodriguez to Spring Training as an instructor. His special advisor role runs through the end of this year. “He’s certainly invited to participate in Spring Training, but Alex is also free to do as he pleases, if he wants to try and keep playing,” said Cashman.

There has been no indication A-Rod wants to continue playing — he’s living the dad life on social media — and even if he wanted to, who’s going to sign him? Rodriguez hasn’t been an effective hitter since August 2015 and free agency is loaded with righty sluggers. Teams would sign Mike Napoli or Chris Carter before A-Rod. Heck, the Yankees chose Billy Butler over A-Rod late last year.

“Alex is enjoying his time off and looking forward to heading to Spring Training to work with the young guys as he has said all along,” said Ron Berkowitz, A-Rod’s spokesman, to Red. That sure seems to indicate Rodriguez is done playing and plans to report to Spring Training to help out as an instructor in a few weeks.

Although A-Rod’s official title is “special advisor,” his role is to work with young players, so he’s more like a special instructor. The Yankees had Rodriguez at Instructional League last September to work with several of their top prospects, including Clint Frazier, Jorge Mateo, and Blake Rutherford.

A-Rod at Instructs. (@AROD)
A-Rod at Instructs. (@AROD)

“We welcome the opportunity for him to impact our young players at Spring Training,” added Cashman. “Alex would work directly for Hal (Steinbrenner). All the parameters have been vocalized and they remain the same from last year. He’s got a life to live too, and I’m sure he’s going to have a lot of opportunities in broadcasting, in business. People will be tugging him in a lot of different directions.”

The Yankees bring a ton of guest instructors to Spring Training each year. A ton. A-Rod’s arrangement is pretty unique though. He was released as a player and the Yankees gave him this special advisor role, essentially so they can extract some value out of the $21M they’ll pay him in 2017. Most guest instructors stick around camp for a few days before heading home. Will Rodriguez be around longer than usual? I guess we’ll find out pretty soon.

Update: Yankees announce 2017 Spring Training schedule

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

November 18th: For whatever reason, the Yankees have pushed back their reporting date for pitchers and catchers one day, the team announced. Pitchers and catchers will now report Tuesday, February 14th. The rest of the Spring Training schedule remains the same.

November 7th: Earlier today, the Yankees announced their 2017 Spring Training schedule. Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Tampa on Monday, February 13th. That’s 98 days away. Position players will follow on Saturday, February 18th. The first full squad workout is scheduled for the next day.

The Yankees begin Grapefruit League play on Friday, February 24th, at home against the Phillies. They’re also going to play an exhibition game against Team Canada on Wednesday, March 8th. That’s a tune-up game prior to the World Baseball Classic. The Yankees close out Spring Training with an exhibition game against the Braves at brand new SunTrust Park on Friday, March 31st.

All told, the Yankees will play 35 exhibition games next spring, including 17 at the newly renovated George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. The Yankees and every other team scaled back on their number of Spring Training broadcasts last year — I guess those mid-week afternoon split squad games don’t draw many eyes — and I assume that will be true next spring as well.

Eventually the Spring Training schedule will make its way on to the official site. Perhaps even by time this post goes live. Spring season tickets are on sale right now. You can buy them here. Individual spring game tickets don’t go on sale until Friday, January 13th. The Yankees open the 2016 regular season on Sunday, April 2nd, on the road against the Rays.

Tuesday Links: Chapman, Jansen, CBA, GMS Field, AzFL

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Pretty soon — as in 48 hours or less — the 2016 World Series will be over the offseason can officially begin. The free agent class is pretty weak, so I think we’re going to end up seeing a lot of trades this winter instead. That’s cool with me. Trades are much more fun. Anyway, I have some news and notes to pass along, so let’s get to them.

Yankees will target Chapman over Jansen

No surprise here: Jon Heyman says the Yankees are planning to target Aroldis Chapman in free agency before Kenley Jansen. Those two as well as Mark Melancon will hit the open market in the coming days now that the World Series is close to being complete. This upcoming free agent class kinda stinks, but there will be three high-end relievers available. Competition for them should be fierce.

A few weeks ago we heard the Yankees are planning to target a top reliever in free agency. I figured that would happen following the Chapman and Andrew Miller trades at midseason. The Yankees had the opportunity to flip those two for high-end prospects, then replenish the bullpen with free agents in the offseason. They did step one, now they have to do step two. Chapman won’t cost a draft pick plus the Yankees know him from his time in New York, so it’s no surprise he’s their Plan A. I prefer Jansen, but whatever.

MLB, MLBPA optimistic about finalizing new CBA

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on December 1st, which isn’t all that far away now, and Joel Sherman hears MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to “very few key issues” so far. Both sides are optimistic about avoiding a work stoppage, however. “I’m optimistic as well. The good thing is everyone understands and appreciates the issues,” said union chief Tony Clark.

Apparently free agent draft pick compensation is a hot topic and many potential changes are being discussed, including eliminating the need to surrender a pick. The team that loses a qualified free agent would still receive a compensatory draft pick, but the signing team would get to keep their first rounder. Sherman also hears it’s possible the current rules could remain in effect this offseason before a new system kicks in next winter. As long as there’s no work stoppage, and I don’t think there will be, it’s cool with me.

Yankees renovating GMS Field

Yankee Stadium is not the only park getting a facelift this offseason. George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa is being renovated as well, the Yankees announced. The ballpark is getting $40M worth of upgrades that will bring new seating sections, a shaded cabana area, and a huge new gift shop. Construction started in August — High-A Tampa had to play all their postseason games on the road this year — and will be presumably completed in time for Spring Training.

“The renovations, which include an increased number of fan-friendly vantage points, social gathering spaces and shaded areas, will provide our guests with the modern amenities necessary for an exceptional game day experience. We are equally excited about furthering the Yankees’ commitment to the Tampa community and look forward to unveiling a beautiful facility for our fans to enjoy for years to come,” said Senior VP and CFO Tony Bruno in a statement. Neat. Here are renderings of the upgrades and construction photos, if you’re interested.

Torres, Tate selected for Fall Stars Game

Gleyber Torres and Dillon Tate were selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Star Game, the league announced. Here are East and West rosters. Torres is the best prospect in the game according to MLB.com’s top 100 list. He’s hitting .313/.421/.656 (187 wRC+) with three homers, six walks, and five strikeouts in nine AzFL games so far. Tate has a 3.86 ERA (5.24 FIP) in 9.1 relief innings with the Scottsdale Scorpions.

The Fall Stars Game is more of a prospect showcase than a true All-Star Game. They pick the biggest names each year regardless of their AzFL performance. Also, they don’t disrupt pitching schedules, which is why Tate and not James Kaprielian was selected to the roster. Kaprielian’s not scheduled to pitch the day of the game. The Fall Stars Game is this Saturday at 8pm ET. It’ll be broadcast on MLB Network and streamed live on MLB.com. It’s a good time.

Saturday Links: A-Rod, Rowson, Braves, Gardner

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later this afternoon the Yankees and Rays will continue their four-game series with the third game at Yankee Stadium. First pitch isn’t until 4pm ET, so here are some miscellaneous links to help you pass the time.

A-Rod expected to appear at Instructs

According to Brendan Kuty, Alex Rodriguez is expected to make an appearance at Instructional League later this month. As a special instructor, of course. Not as a player. “I’m very pleased to have somebody with Alex’s experience and time in the game to be able to share those experiences with our young players. Our best young players are all going to be part of Instructional League,” said farm system head Gary Denbo.

This year’s Instructs roster hasn’t been released yet but it’ll come out soon enough. It’s usually a collection of top prospects, recent draftees, and players who missed time due to injury. Greg Bird will face live pitching for the first time since shoulder surgery in Instructional League, for example. My guess is A-Rod will wind up spending a bunch of time with the team’s small army of middle infield prospects, specifically Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo.

Rowson joins Yankees

Minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson joined the Yankees earlier this week and has been with the team since, reports Dan Martin. Rowson has worked with Aaron Judge a ton over the years. “He’s trying to get comfortable here. Everything is new to him and he’s had his battles before and made the adjustments,” said Rowson. “He’s been through rough times, especially with the punch outs and he’s always come out on the other side. So I feel like he’s going to do that again.”

This is not all that uncommon, really. A handful of minor league coaches will join the big league team for a homestand in September pretty much every year. Every single one of the Yankees’ full season minor league affiliates qualified for the postseason this year though, so those coaches and instructors haven’t had a chance to come up yet. This isn’t Rowson’s first stint with the big league team and it won’t be his last. Chances are he didn’t join the team specifically to work with Judge.

Update: Minor league pitching coordinator Danny Borrell is with the Yankees as well, reports Chad Jennings.

Yankees to open SunTrust Park

(Braves)
(Braves)

The Yankees and Braves will open the brand new SunTrust Park with an exhibition game on Friday, March 31st next year, the Braves announced. Apparently only “A List Members” (season ticket holders) will be allowed to attend. Lame. Atlanta is moving into their new 41,500 seat ballpark just 20 years after moving into Turner Field. The Yankees and Braves opened Turner Field with an exhibition game in 1996 as well.

This year the Yankees closed out Spring Training with a pair of exhibition games at Marlins Park. Last year they played two at Nationals Park. The Cubs came to New York for two exhibition games in 2009, when the new Yankee Stadium opened. They do this stuff every year. Also, the fact this exhibition game is scheduled for March 31st suggests the 2017 regular season will begin on Monday, April 3rd. Next year’s schedule should be announced soon. Possibly next week.

Gardner nominated for Roberto Clemente Award

Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ nominee for the 2016 Roberto Clemente Award, MLB announced. Here are the nominees from each team. The award is given each year to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Three Yankees have won the award: Derek Jeter (2009), Don Baylor (1985), and Ron Guidry (1984).

Amazingly, MLB turned an award recognizing community involvement — and an award named after an iconic player and a great humanitarian — into a popularity contest. Each nominee has an official hashtag and the player who receives the most votes on Twitter and Facebook will win. Incredible. MLB really knocked this one out of the park, eh? I’m sure fans will recognize each player’s off-the-field work and definitely not vote for their favorite player. No way.

Yanks agree to stay in Tampa for Spring Training through 2046; GMS Field to get $40M in renovations

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and the Tampa Sports Authority have agreed to a new deal that will keep the team in Tampa for Spring Training through 2046, the two sides announced Monday. As part of the deal, Gorge M. Steinbrenner Field will get $40M in renovations. Upgrades will also be made to the Himes minor league complex across the street.

“The Steinbrenner family is extremely proud to have called Tampa Bay home for decades and extending the New York Yankees’ agreement with the community through 2046 is very important to us,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement. “We are excited to see these improvements to Steinbrenner Field, all of which will significantly improve the fan experience.”

“The New York Yankees have been great partners in our community for decades and having these improvements and commitment thru 2046 will be a major economic benefit for our area,” added Eric Hart, president and CEO of the Tampa Sports Authority. “I would like to thank the Hillsborough County administration and the New York Yankees for their efforts to ensure the continuation of this great partnership.”

According to the press release, the renovations to GMS Field will include new outfield concourses and more “social gathering areas” with shade. The plan still needs approval from several governing parties, and once they dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s, the renovations will begin. Construction is expected to be completed in time for Spring Training next season.

I assume GMS Field will still be playable this summer and High-A Tampa won’t have to play their home games somewhere else. There was nothing about that mentioned in the release. A few years ago PNC Field underwent extensive renovations, forcing Triple-A Scranton to play an entire season on the road. That was not fun for the players.

The renovations will be paid for by Hillsborough County, the state Spring Training Retention Program, and the Yankees. Public money for stadium renovations. Blah. Unfortunately that is happening all over the country.

Open Thread: April 2nd Camp Notes

The Yankees and Marlins are playing another un-televised game this afternoon. The good news is this will be the last un-televised Yankees game until next spring. Following today’s game the team will head to New York, enjoy an off-day tomorrow, then begin the regular season Monday. Pretty cool. Today’s game begins at 1pm ET. Here’s the Gameday link so you can follow that way. Here are some quick notes from Miami:

  • Andrew Miller (wrist) will pitch an inning today. He’s been wearing a brace since getting hit with the line drive a few days ago, but he needs to get MLB approval before using it in a game. [Anthony Rieber, Ryan Hatch]
  • Joe Girardi confirmed Aaron Hicks will indeed be in the starting lineup against Dallas Keuchel on Opening Day. He hasn’t decided who will sit, however. My take: if Jacoby Ellsbury‘s wrist is still sore from that hit-by-pitch two weeks ago, even a little bit, sit him and give him the extra rest. If not, well, he’s probably the one who should sit anyway. [Hatch]
  • Chase Headley did not play last night and he is not playing today because he’s sick. It’s unclear if he’ll be back to full strength in time for Opening Day. [Rieber]
  • If you missed it late last night, Kirby Yates has reportedly won the final bullpen spot.

Here is the open thread for the rest of the day. MLB Network is showing live games all day: Red Sox vs. Blue Jays in Montreal (1pm ET), Giants vs. Athletics in Oakland (4pm ET), and Dodgers vs. Angels in Anaheim (8pm ET). All three local hockey teams are in action, plus you’ve got both Final Four games later tonight. Have at it.