Severino could help in 2015, but Yankees shouldn’t count on him making an immediate impact

(Trenton Thunder)
(Trenton Thunder)

At this point it goes without saying the Yankees have some major injury risks in their rotation heading into next season. We’ve been talking about it all winter. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka were all hurt for significant periods of time last year and Ivan Nova is still on the mend from Tommy John surgery. There’s no way to feel comfortable with this group from a health standpoint.

Of course, the Yankees did actually deal with a ton of rotation injuries last year, and they were still able to cobble together a decent staff. At one point five of the six best starters in the organization (Sabathia, Pineda, Tanaka, Nova, David Phelps) were all on the disabled list, yet Brian Cashman & Co. dug up a Chris Capuano here, found a Brandon McCarthy there, and made it work. Even with the injuries, the rotation had the fourth highest fWAR in baseball (14.9). It helps that no one can hit anymore.

As with Shane Greene last summer, the Yankees will inevitably have to dip into their minor league pitching reserves at some point this summer, and it appears Bryan Mitchell is first in line for a call-up after making his MLB debut last year. Chances are the team will need more than one fill-in starter though. That’s just baseball. Getting through a season using only five or six starters never happens these days. Add in the Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda injury risk and the Yankees are even more likely than most to need extra starters.

New York’s top prospect heading into the 2015 season is soon-to-be 21-year-old right-hander Luis Severino, who is the team’s best right-handed pitching prospect since pre-2008 Joba Chamberlain. In their midseason updates, Baseball America and MLB.com ranked Severino as the 34th and 62nd best prospect in baseball, respectively, and he’s only climbed further up those rankings since. You will find no argument that he is one of the top pitching prospects in all the land.

The Yankees have very clearly put Severino on the fast track — he made 14 starts for Low-A Charleston, four for High-A Tampa, and six for Double-A Trenton in 2014 — and there’s little reason to think they’ll slow him down now. I don’t expect him to start the season with Triple-A Scranton but he’ll be there soon enough, likely by May or at the latest June. Once he’s there, it’s only a matter of time before he gets the call to the show. The Yankees usually don’t let their top pitching prospects spend much time in Triple-A. It’s just a quick stop on the way to MLB.

There is a very clear path for Severino to join the big league team at some point in 2015, likely around midseason after a last little bit of token fine-tuning in the minors. His performance speaks for itself — he had a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) at those three levels last year — but we can’t forget there is more to prospecting that stats. Severino himself admitted he needs to improve his command of the outer half of the plate and the consistency of his slider at MLB’s Rookie Development Camp recently. Here, look:

Improving location and the consistency of his breaking ball are real issues Severino has to address and things that can be improved and worked on in the minors, where wins and losses don’t matter. Severino might be able to get by without pitching to both sides of the plate or by hanging a bunch of sliders against minor leaguers, but the big leagues are unforgiving. Execution is more important than potential.

Even if Severino does master the outside corner and learn how to throw his slider where he wants, when he wants, there is still the issue of his workload. Severino threw 44 innings plus some unknown amount in Extended Spring Training in 2013 and then 113.1 total innings in 2015. That puts him on track for what, 150 innings in 2015? Maybe 160 if you really want to push it? Perhaps that will be enough — Greene threw 145 innings last year, but only after that weird April in which he went up-and-down a bunch of times and never really pitched (6.1 total innings in April — but more than likely it only makes Severino a temporary solution until he has to be shut down.

The workload is just something the Yankees and Severino will have to deal with. I hope they have learned from the Joba fiasco in late-2009 and will simply shut young pitchers down when they approach their innings limit rather than try something silly like 35-pitch starts or something like that. (My goodness that was such a mess.) There are innings Severino will be able to contribute to the big league team before the shutdown, but only a finite amount, and the quality of those innings is a total unknown.

A quick search shows 40 instances (featuring 31 different players) of a pitcher age 21 or younger starting at least five games in a season for an AL team since the turn of the century, and, of those 40, only 17 had a league average or better ERA. Just four have done it since 2007. Here’s the list. It’s not often pitchers this young get a somewhat extended shot in MLB, and those who do are rarely more than serviceable. It’s one thing if the Yankees call up Severino in 2015. It’s another if they call him up hoping he makes an impact rather than simply allowing him to get his feet wet.

Believe me, I would love nothing more than to see the Yankees bring up a hotshot pitching prospect and have him dominate this coming season. And with all due respect to Greene, I don’t mean someone like him. Someone like Severino, who is among the best pitching prospects in the game and could be a rotation fixture for years to come. That would be amazing. I don’t see how anyone could realistically expect that though. Severino might get a chance to help the Yankees in 2015, but if it comes in a spot where they need him to make a difference, he’ll be coming up under the wrong circumstances.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 20-25

Over these next two weeks we’re going to subjectively rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re inevitably going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 26-31 and 32-40.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
Capuano. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

After spending the last two days looking at the 40-man roster players who might help the Yankees in some sort of limited capacity this coming season, we’re now getting to players expected to have regular roles during the 2015 season. We aren’t at the core of the roster yet, but some of these folks are more than fringe players.

Our 40-man roster ranking series continues today with Nos. 20-25, six spots split eventually between big league pitchers and prospects. There’s not much of a common theme in this group, that’s just the way the rankings fell. Boring, I know, but that’s the way it goes. Alright, let’s continue marching on …

No. 25: Chris Capuano

2015 Role: Fifth starter, maybe a swingman if a better rotation option comes along at some point. The Yankees re-signed Capuano to a little one-year contract worth $5M to add pitching depth and add some stability to the back of the rotation. Capuano did an alright job in pinstripes last year (4.25 ERA and 3.85 FIP in 12 starts) and the team will ask him to do more of the same in 2015.

Long-Term Role: Doesn’t really have one. I mean, yeah, the Yankees could always bring Capuano back in 2016, but he is very much a year to year guy at age 36. Maybe it’s more appropriate to call him a month to month guy instead. Capuano is nothing more than a stopgap rotation option. The Yankees just want him to soak up innings every fifth day and be a mentor to some of the younger pitchers on the staff. Capuano is important in 2015 because the rotation is full of injury concerns, though there’s no long-term plan here.

No. 24: Chasen Shreve

2015 Role: At worst, an up-and-down bullpen arm. At best, a bullpen fixture who serves as a reliable matchup lefty for Joe Girardi in the middle innings. The Yankees acquired the 24-year-old Shreve from the Braves in the Manny Banuelos trade a few weeks ago and while he isn’t guaranteed a roster spot come Opening Day, I think he is the leading candidate for the final bullpen spot. Either way, he’ll get a long look in Spring Training.

Long-Term Role: A bullpen regular. Shreve reinvented himself last season by simply airing it out — he stopped holding back velocity in an attempt to improve location, and the result was across the board improvement. Even to his walk rate. I don’t know if he has the pure stuff to be a late-inning reliever who can face both lefties and righties, but if the results stemming from the new approach are legit, Shreve is a guy who can hang around and contribute out of the bullpen for the next several years. I’m very intrigued by the pickup and am looking forward to seeing him this summer.

German. (Presswire)
German. (Presswire)

No. 23: Domingo German

2015 Role: Nothing at the MLB level. German came over from the Marlins in the five-player Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade after spending all of last season in Low Class-A. He’s on the 40-man roster because the Marlins opted to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft earlier this offseason. German will head to High-A Tampa this coming year and maybe, just maybe, he’ll earn a call-up to Double-A Trenton at midseason. I wouldn’t expect anything more than that.

Long-Term Role: German is one of the best pitching prospects in the organization — you could easily argue he’s the team’s second best pitching prospect behind non-40-man-roster guy Luis Severino — and that alone makes him an important part of the team’s future even if he won’t realistically make his MLB debut until 2016, if not later.

The Yankees want German to do one of two things: either become a long-term fixture in their rotation or continue improving his prospect stock so they can use him as the centerpiece in a trade. He’s much closer to the latter than he is the former right now. At 22, German is the youngest pitcher on the 40-man roster by 16 months and the second youngest player on the 40-man roster overall (behind Gary Sanchez), and that alone makes him an important part of the organization. He’s a key piece moving forward.

No. 22: David Carpenter

2015 Role: Setup man, replacing Shawn Kelley. Carpenter has been setting up Craig Kimbrel these last two years — he came over with Shreve in the Banuelos trade — and he’ll continue to work important innings in New York. It remains to be seen how the ninth inning will shake out, but if Dellin Betances gets the closer’s job, Carpenter is the leading candidate to be Joe Girardi’s right-handed complement to Andrew Miller.

Long-Term Role: Still setup man. Carpenter is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through the 2017 season, so he’s not going anywhere unless he’s just so terrible the team dumps him. The Yankees basically reacquired Kelley. He and Carpenter are very similar pitchers — fastball, slider, lots of strikeouts, lots of fly balls — and they’ll wind up filling the same role in pinstripes.

No. 21: Justin Wilson

2015 Role: Middle reliever but not just as a left-handed specialist. Wilson, who came over from the Pirates in the Frankie Cervelli swap, has a big fastball and a history of striking batters out and neutralizing both lefties and righties. The shaky control means he might never be a regular high-leverage option, but Wilson is a solid reliever who won’t have to be hidden from righties.

Long-Term Role: Wilson won’t qualify for free agency until after the 2018 season, so he’s expected to be a staple in the bullpen for the next several years. If the Carpenter is the next Kelley, Wilson is the next Boone Logan, a lefty with power stuff but questionable strike-throwing ability. Even with Miller on board, Wilson has a chance to grow into a traditional setup role if his control improves a la Logan because he isn’t held back by platoon splits.

Austin. (Star-Ledger)
Austin. (Star-Ledger)

No. 20: Tyler Austin

2015 Role: These last two seasons have been physically tough for Austin, who suffered a bone bruise in his wrist in April 2013 and had it linger all the way into the middle of the 2014 season. (It didn’t help that he played through it for most of 2013). He also missed several weeks with a hamstring strain last year.

Austin mashed before and after the wrist issues — he put up a .302/.355/.487 (133 wRC+) line in the final two months of the 2014 regular season and did more of the same in the Arizona Fall League (135 wRC+) — and he was added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He’s headed to Triple-A Scranton to start the year and could bypass Ramon Flores as the first outfielder to get called up when help is needed. So I guess that means his immediate role is up-and-down outfielder.

Long-Term Role: He’s not expected to be a star, but Austin has legitimate upside as an everyday MLB player, most likely in right field. He has also seen time at first and third bases in his career, but the hot corner ain’t happening. The Yankees have a full outfield at the moment, though Carlos Beltran will be an injury risk from now through the end of his contract. Among players on the 40-man, Austin has by far the best chance to come up, replace an injured outfielder, and make the team keep him in the lineup with his play.

The Yankees have a small wave of promising position player prospects at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, and Austin is in position to be among the first to get an opportunity in an everyday role. He could replace Garrett Jones as the part-time right fielder, part-time first baseman, part-time DH as soon as 2016 — Austin is a righty while Jones is a lefty, but that’s not a huge deal — before settling into a full-time role. Offense is at a premium and Austin has never not hit when healthy. If he contributes at the plate at the MLB level, he’ll stick around.

Coming Thursday: Nos. 17-19. Two pitchers at different points of their careers and a potential impact position player prospect.

2015 Payroll Breakdown: Part Three

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

We’re officially in the dog days of the offseason. All of the top free agents other than James Shields have signed, all of the top trade candidates have been traded, and there’s really nothing left to do other than count down the days until Spring Training. It would be a surprise if the Yankees made another notable move this winter, meaning something more than a minor trade or handing out a minor league contract.

Since our last payroll breakdown in mid-December, the Yankees have made five trades — including three that directly impacted the projected Opening Day roster — and signed one big league free agent as well as all of their arbitration-eligible players. They also did, in fact, pass on Max Scherzer. The 2015 payroll situation has both changed and stayed the same since our last update — the Yankees shuffled money around, they didn’t really cut any or take any on. Here’s an update on where the 2015 payroll sits.

UNDER CONTRACT (21 players signed for $216.535M)
Players: Alex Rodriguez ($27.5M), CC Sabathia ($24.4M), Mark Teixeira ($22.5M), Masahiro Tanaka ($22.14M), Jacoby Ellsbury ($21.86M), Brian McCann ($17M), Carlos Beltran ($15M), Brett Gardner ($13M), Chase Headley ($13M), Andrew Miller ($9M), Chris Capuano ($5M), Stephen Drew ($5M), Garrett Jones ($5M), Nathan Eovaldi ($3.3M), Ivan Nova ($3.3M), Chris Young ($2.5M), Michael Pineda ($2.1M), Brendan Ryan ($1.67M), Esmil Rogers ($1.48M), David Carpenter ($1.275M), Jose DePaula ($510k)

As a reminder, those numbers are luxury tax “hits,” not necessarily the player’s actual take home salary for the coming season. The Yankees seems to operate with the luxury tax payroll in mind — most of their multi-year contracts are paid out according to average annual value anyway — because I guess that’s the most important number to them. It determines how much extra they have to pay at the end of the season.

Anyway, Drew, Jones, Eovaldi, and Carpenter are all new additions since our last payroll update. Martin Prado, David Phelps, and Shawn Kelley have all been traded away. At the time of the last update, the Yankees had 16 players under contract plus four arbitration-eligible players who combined for $215.76M in tax hits. So all those trades last month resulted in one extra player and less than a million of extra payroll. Like I said, they just shuffled the money around.

DePaula signed a split contract, meaning he will earn one salary in MLB ($510k) and another in the minors ($175k). That’s standard for players in their pre-arbitration years. I included him in this section because one way or another, the Yankees are going to pay someone that sort of salary to fill out the last spot in the bullpen. It’ll probably be a revolving door of pitchers, all at that salary level. DePaula’s a placeholder, essentially.

Those 21 players listed above account for 20 Opening Day roster spots since Nova is going to start the season on the disabled list. The Yankees ended last season with a $225.6M payroll for luxury tax purposes and our estimate is already at $216.535M this year, for a little more than half the 40-man roster too.

PRE-ARBITRATION (19 players)
Players: Tyler Austin, Dellin Betances, Danny Burawa, Ramon Flores, Domingo German, Didi Gregorius, Chris Martin, Bryan Mitchell, John Ryan Murphy, Branden Pinder, Jose Pirela, Jose Ramirez, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren, Chase Whitley, Mason Williams, Justin Wilson

Like I said, these players will earn one salary in MLB and another in the minors. Betances, Gregorius, Murphy, Warren, and Wilson are all projected to be on the Opening Day roster and will earn something close to the league minimum. (Betances figures to make the most of this group next year because he has an All-Star Game to his credit.) Estimating them a $550,000 each brings us to $219.285M for 26 of the 40-man roster spots.

The other 14 pre-arbitration players are going to be in the minors, at least for part of the season. Some will come up because they perform well or there are injuries. There’s no real way to predict their playing time. I’ve seen salary estimates for the non-MLB roster portion of the 40-man roster range anywhere from $2M to $5M. I used $2M in our last payroll breakdown but I think the higher end of that range might be more appropriate because of the team’s injury risk in the rotation, at first base, right field, and DH. Guys like Mitchell, Pirela, and Whitley could wind up spending a lot of time with the Yankees this summer. Using the $5M, we’re at $224.285M for the full 40-man roster.

MISCELLANY ($3M guaranteed and up to $15.325M total)
Players: A-Rod ($6M bonus with six more homers), Prado ($3M to Marlins), Chris Young ($3.825M in incentives), Stephen Drew ($1.5M in incentives), Chase Headley ($1M in incentives)

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Bonuses and incentives do count towards the luxury tax, so while I’m not going to include them in our little running estimate, we do have to be aware of them. A-Rod needs six more dingers to get that $6M bonus, and the incentives for Young, Drew, and Headley are all based on plate appearances. Chances are at least some of that bonus money will be paid out.

The Yankees sent the Marlins money to help cover Prado’s contract as part of the Eovaldi trade — they’re sending Miami $3M this year and another $3M next year. That makes it nice and easy for luxury tax purposes. Unlike the incentives, that $3M is definitely going to the Marlins in 2015. It’s on the books. So our 40-man roster estimate jumps up to $227.285M. The Yankees closed the 2014 season with a $225.6M payroll for luxury tax purposes, for reference.

We’re not done though. Every team has to contribute $12M or so towards player benefits and that counts against the luxury tax, so the Yankees are really at $239.285M with their luxury tax payroll. The Yankees started last season with a payroll right around $200M for luxury tax purposes and it climbed to $225.6M by the end of the year thanks to the addition of Drew, Headley, Prado, and Brandon McCarthy. The team is starting this coming season at $239.285M.

So, in a nutshell, payroll is up approximately $40M from Opening Day last year. Most of that is because of A-Rod, whose massive salary comes back on the books now that his suspension ended. The Yankees also added Headley for the full season. Those two account for the extra payroll all by themselves, pretty much. Eovaldi is more expensive than Shane Greene, but Carpenter and Wilson are cheaper than Kelley and Matt Thornton. The non-A-Rod/Headley portion of the roster more or less balances out.

CURRENT 25-MAN ROSTER
The Yankees seem to be done with their offseason moves but I would never rule anything out. Hal Steinbrenner could wake up tomorrow and decide the team just has to have James Shields, for example. I don’t expect that to happen, but would anyone really be surprised if it did? No. So, with that perpetual caveat in mind, here is the projected 25-man Opening Day roster:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
McCann 1B Teixeira LF Gardner Sabathia Betances
2B Drew CF Ellsbury Tanaka Miller
DH SS Gregorius RF Beltran Pineda Warren
A-Rod! 3B Headley Eovaldi Carpenter
Capuano Wilson
BENCH DISABLED LIST Rogers
C Murphy OF Young Nova ?
IF Ryan UTIL Jones

The only real open spot is that final bullpen spot, which could go to DePaula or one of many other in-house options. Shreve, Burawa, Ramirez, Whitley, Jacob Lindgren … the Yankees have no shortage of cheap candidates to fill out the bullpen. I suppose Romine could beat out Murphy for the backup catcher’s job, but that would be unexpected. It wouldn’t change the payroll equation much anyway. I do expect the Yankees to keep Ryan since he can legitimately play short and that’s a good skill to have.

The Yankees set a franchise payroll record during the 2013 season, when they finished the year with a $237.012M payroll for luxury tax purposes. The 2015 team is starting at just about that number and payroll will inevitably climb higher due to call-ups and midseason acquisitions. There are only two ways the Yankees could realistically shed a significant amount of money this year: they could trade the very desirable Brett Gardner, or A-Rod could get suspended again. That’s pretty much it.

Although they are going to set a payroll record this year, the Yankees have not been increasing payroll as much as the rest of the league in recent years. Here’s a real quick and dirty graph showing the team’s payroll (in millions, duh) and the average payroll of the other 29 teams since the 2000 season (payroll data from Baseball Cube):

2000-14 NYY vs. MLB payroll

New York’s payroll shot up from 2000-04 and has held steady since 2005 with the exception of 2012, when the team lost so many players to injury and had to cover. The 2015 payroll will be the team’s second time pushing $230M+ in the last three years, so is this the start of another 2000-04-esque spike, or just a blip? Hal has strongly indicated the team will try to get under the luxury tax threshold when it presumably rises for the 2017 season, after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. That leads me to believe it’s just a blip.

Either way, blip or not, the Yankees will trot out a franchise record payroll this coming season and it might not be enough to get them back to the postseason. I’m not at all convinced one (1) Max Scherzer would have been enough to do the trick either. The Yankees have a lot really bad money on the books and it’s hamstringing them. It’s not just the money either, it’s the roster spots. They’re tied to these players. Until some of these bad contracts start expiring in two years, the team might not be major players for big name free agents at all.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Last week we learned new shortstop Didi Gregorius will wear No. 18 next season, and now I’ve got another new guy number to pass along. Well, potential new number. According to Jack Curry, Andrew Miller has requested No. 48, which seems to be the designated “top lefty out of the bullpen” number. Matt Thornton and Josh Outman wore the number last year, and before that it was Boone Logan‘s. Miller wore No. 48 with the Orioles, No. 30 with the Red Sox, and No. 23 with the Marlins.

Here’s the open thread for the night. The (hockey) Rangers are the only local team playing tonight, and there’s the usual slate of college basketball. Talk about those guys or anything else right here.

Yankees send Gonzalez Germen to Rangers for cash

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

The Yankees have traded right-hander Gonzalez Germen to the Rangers for cash, the club announced. He was designated for assignment last week when the team acquired Chris Martin for the Rockies. I’m guessing the amount of cash they’re getting from Texas is equal to whatever they sent to Colorado for Martin.

Germen, 27, was picked up from the Mets (for cash!) last month. The Yankees acquired him because they felt he was an upgrade over Preston Claiborne, who was designated for assignment and lost on waivers to the Marlins. They acquired Martin last week because they felt he was an upgrade over Germen. The circle of fringe reliever life.

Over the last two seasons, Germen had a 4.31 ERA (4.15 FIP) with good strikeout (8.91 K/9 and 22.7 K%) and meh walk (4.18 BB/9 and 10.6 BB%) rates in 64.2 relief innings for the Mets. As friend of RAB Eno Sarris likes to point out, Gonzalez’s changeup has the best swing-and-miss rate of any changeup in all of baseball last season (32.7%).

Germen joins fellow right-hander Dan Otero and Brian Schlitter as relievers who were both acquired and let go by the Yankees in one offseason in recent years. None of those three guys ever pitched in pinstripes. Not even in Spring Training. So long, Gonzalez.

Badler: Yankees held private workout for Yoan Moncada

(Bay Area Sports Guy)
(Bay Area Sports Guy)

According to Ben Balder, the Yankees recently held a private workout for free agent Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada. It’s unclear when the workout was held, but it has already happened. Moncada is in the process of showcasing himself for teams and Badler says he’s already had a private workout for the Giants as well.

Moncada, 19, is the latest prized free agent to come out of Cuba, and all reports indicate he is a potential star with five-tool ability. The Yankees have brought several other Cuban players in for private workouts, including Rusney Castillo and Aledmys Diaz last year, so this isn’t unusual at all. Getting an up close look at the player is pretty standard.

Badler recently wrote that, once signed, Moncada would slot in as one of the top 20 prospects in all of baseball with a good chance of being considered a top 15 or even top ten prospect. Here’s more on the situation from Badler:

From conversations with several industry sources, the Yankees are one of the frontrunners to sign Moncada, who has residency in Guatemala and is a free agent, though Major League Baseball won’t let him sign until he receives a specific unblocking license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). While the young Latin American talent in the organization is promising, the Yankees are light on young, impact position players. Moncada, a 19-year-old switch-hitter who would likely slot it at second or third base, would immediately change that, and slot in as the Yankees’ top prospect if he ended up signing with them.

Since the Yankees blew their international spending pool out of the water last summer, they will not be able to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. That won’t be enough to sign Moncada, who is expected to command a $30M to $40M bonus. (Whichever team signs him would then be taxed 100% for exceeding their pool).

For the Yankees to have a shot at landing Moncada, he needs to be unblocked by the OFAC before the end of the current signing period of June 15th. Actually, he needs to sign by that date, so he needs to be unblocked well before that so the two sides have time to negotiate. MLB has already declared Moncada a free agent, so they’ve done their part. This is all out of the Yankees’ hands. They’re waiting on the government to give him the okay.

The hype around these Cuban players has gotten out of control these last few years, though, by all accounts, Moncada is a future cornerstone player along the lines of Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu, not a complementary player (Yoenis Cespedes or Alexei Ramirez) or worse (Dayan Viciedo). Given his age and potential, the Yankees should clearly be serious about signing him. It’s just a question of whether he’ll be cleared by the OFAC in time.

Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 26-31

Over these next two weeks, we’re going to rank and analyze every player on the Yankees’ 40-man roster — based on their short and long-term importance to the team — and you’re going to disagree with our rankings. We’ve already covered Nos. 32-40.

Ramirez. (Presswire)
Ramirez. (Presswire)

Like every other team, the Yankees have several spots on their 40-man roster dedicated to prospects who may or may not provide immediate help. Those are the players who have been protected from the Rule 5 Draft despite not yet being MLB ready. Not all of them are top prospects, mind you, but they are young players with some projected future utility the club didn’t want to risk losing.

Our 40-man roster ranking series continues today with Nos. 26-31, spots that feature a collection of those young prospects who might be able to help the Yankees in some capacity this coming season. But, more than anything, they’re looked at as potential future pieces down the road. Guys who can help more in 2016 or 2017 than 2015. To the next set of rankings …

No. 31: Danny Burawa

2015 Role: An up-and-down bullpen arm who is behind several others on the call-up depth chart. Burawa was passed over in last year’s Rule 5 Draft and actually had to be briefly demoted to Double-A Trenton last year after a rough start to the season with Triple-A Scranton (5.95 ERA and 3.52 FIP). He’s ticketed for a return to the RailRiders to start 2015.

Long-Term Role: Burawa, 26, has some of the nastiest stuff in the organization. His fastball regularly sits in the upper-90s with run in on righties, and his hard mid-to-upper-80s slider is a swing-and-miss pitch at its best. He’ll also throw a changeup but it isn’t a key pitch for him out of the bullpen. Burawa is held back by his below-average control — 5.17 BB/9 and 13.2 BB% in Double-A and Triple-A from 2013-14 — and may never be a late-inning reliever because of that, though he has vicious stuff and can be a factor in middle relief for multiple years down the road.

No. 30: Branden Pinder

2015 Role: Another up-and-down bullpen arm who I think is ahead of Burawa on the depth chart. The soon-to-be 26-year-old Pinder was added to the 40-man this offseason, his first year of Rule 5 Draft eligibility, and took a nice step forward with his control last summer, going from a 9.0 BB% from 2012-13 to a 5.9 BB% in 2014. He’s another guy who will return to Triple-A Scranton to start the year, though I expect to see him in MLB at some point in 2015. Before September call-ups, I mean.

Long-Term Role: Pinder doesn’t have the same overwhelming stuff as Burawa but he isn’t going out there with a fastball you can catch with your teeth either. He sits 93-95 mph with his four-seamer and is able to vary the break on his low-80s slider, sometimes throwing a short slider (almost like a cutter) and other times throwing a sweepy slider that frisbees out of the zone. It’s a classic boring middle relief profile but Pinder is a very high-probability future big leaguer.

No. 29: Jose Ramirez

2015 Role: Yet another up-and-down bullpen arm, though this one has MLB experience. Ramirez made his big league debut last season (5.40 ERA and 6.43 FIP in ten whole innings) before going back to Triple-A and, unfortunately, getting hurt. The getting hurt part has become an annual thing for him. Ramirez will compete for the last bullpen spot in camp, and if he doesn’t win it, he’ll return to Triple-A and be among the first called up when a fresh arm is inevitably needed.

Long-Term Role: Ramirez is two years younger than Burawa, one year younger than Pinder, and out-stuffs both of them. He has a mid-to-upper-90s fastball with movement, a sharp slider, and a knockout changeup he uses against both lefties and righties. On his absolute best days, Ramirez goes to the mound with three swing-and-miss pitches. The stuff is there for future late-inning work.

The only question is whether Ramirez will stay healthy enough to reach that ceiling. The Yankees moved him to the bullpen full-time last year because he kept getting hurt as a starter — arm injuries too, shoulder and elbow — and he still got hurt as a reliever. Ramirez seems very much like a “let’s get something out of him before his arm gives out completely” type of pitcher, and whatever they get out of him could be very good based on the quality of his stuff.

No. 28: Jose Pirela

Pirela. (Presswire)
Pirela. (Presswire)

2015 Role: Versatile utility player who will be first in line for a bench spot if someone gets hurt in Spring Training. (As I said yesterday, I don’t think the Yankees are going to cut Brendan Ryan just because.) Pirela is the very poor man’s Martin Prado — he has a contact-oriented swing and can play second base and left field. (Prado was already a fourth year big leaguer by time he was Pirela’s age (25), hence the very poor man’s part.)

Pirela has torn up Double-A and Triple-A the last three seasons — .290/.353/.432 (118 wRC+) with a 7.9% walk rate and a 12.5% strikeout rate — and his versatility gives the Yankees some options. He can step in to help out in case of injury, back up multiple positions, or be the light half of a platoon. It’s the kind of player just about every manager loves to have … and fans tend to overrate. I don’t know why, but versatility has that effect.

Long-Term Role: Despite the minor league numbers, I’m not sold on Pirela as an everyday player at the big league level — I think he’s more likely to be another Eduardo Nunez than Prado lite — but he’s useful and flexible. There is plenty of room for a guy like that on the bench and in the organization in both 2015 and for years to come. In the best case scenario, Pirela becomes the player many people believed Chone Figgins was, the guy who plays a different position everyday (to rest everyone else) and produces. More than likely though, he’ll be a bench guy while in his cheap pre-arbitration years.

No. 27: Ramon Flores

2015 Role: With Eury Perez now gone, Flores is the de facto fifth outfielder who will be called up in case of injury. Well, I guess sixth outfielder when you include Pirela. The 22-year-old Flores had a .247/.339/.443 (116 wRC+) line with seven homers in 63 games with the RailRiders last season — he hit eight homers in 141 games in 2013 — before a freak ankle injury effectively ended his season on the first day of June. Chances are he would have been a September call-up had he stayed healthy.

Long-Term Role: Carlos Beltran is perpetually on the verge of injury and/or a permanent shift to DH, and, as a left-handed hitter, Flores has a clear path to getting regular at-bats as at least a platoon right fielder in the near future. The Yankees never did give Zoilo Almonte — a switch-hitter who was better against righties with more raw power and more stolen base ability than Flores — a shot in a similar role whenever the opportunity arose these last few seasons, so there’s no guarantee Flores will get a look. That is more or less his long-term outlook: lefty platoon bat in a corner outfield spot.

Williams. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
Williams. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

No. 26: Mason Williams

2015 Role: For the big league team, none. Williams has close to zero chance of helping the MLB team this coming season as anything more than a defensive replacement when rosters expand in September. He was added to the 40-man roster this offseason only because he is a former top prospect who was Rule 5 Draft eligible. Williams has hit .236/.298/.319 (74 wRC+) in over 1,200 plate appearances at High-A and Double-A the last two years. He has no business being considered for a 2015 role at the big league level.

Long-Term Role: Once upon a time, Williams had the potential to be a Jacoby Ellsbury type of player. A leadoff hitter with on-base ability, speed, and elite center field defense. That long-term outlook has changed considerably the last two years and a lot of has to do with makeup. Multiple reports say Williams has been insubordinate and plays with an utter lack of energy. He’s failing as a prospect, and it is definitely not due to a lack of physical talent.

Williams right now has no long-term role with the team. The Yankees are hoping he will get his career on track and improve going forward — perhaps the 40-man spot will serve as motivation — and if that happens, their intention may be to flip him in a trade as soon as possible. The club has been emphasizing strong makeup and work ethic for years and Williams has shown zero of that so far, leading me to believe he’s more likely to be dealt as soon as he rebuilds a modicum of trade value rather than be given a real big league opportunity.

Coming Wednesday: Nos. 20-25. Three veteran(-ish) big leaguers and three youngsters more important for the future than the present.