Sorting out the projected 2016 Triple-A Scranton roster

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Over the last few seasons Triple-A rosters have become extensions of the 25-man big league roster. There is no better example of this than last year’s bullpen shuttle. Teams use their Triple-A rosters not only to develop prospects, but also to stash depth players at each position should they be needed due to injury or poor performance. And they will be needed. Baseball always makes sure of it.

Brian Cashman has already said the Yankees hope to use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door based on their needs at the time. If they need an extra bullpen arm, they’ll call up a pitcher. If they need an extra outfielder because someone is banged up, then they’ll call up an extra outfielder. It sounds like a great plan. Will it work as well in reality as it does on paper? We’ll see.

So, with that in mind, let’s sort out the projected Triple-A Scranton roster as it sits right now. After all, these guys are the backup plans for the big league team. I have zero doubt we’ll see several of these players in the Bronx this coming summer, including guys none of us would ever expect. Remember Kyle Davies? Matt Tracy? Yeah. Let’s start with the position players. Asterisks (*) denotes players on the 40-man roster.

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Utility
Gary Sanchez* Greg Bird* Slade Heathcott* Tyler Austin
Carlos Corporan Rob Refsnyder* Mason Williams*
Eddy Rodriguez Pete Kozma Ben Gamel*
Sebastian Valle Donovan Solano Lane Adams*
Jonathan Diaz Aaron Judge
Cesar Puello

There are 25 roster spots in Triple-A and, believe it or not, that is relatively new. Triple-A and Double-A teams had 24-man rosters as recently as 2011. It’s pretty common for Triple-A teams to carry three-man benches and eight-man bullpens because of workload limits and whatnot, especially early in the season before guys are fully stretched out. I’ve got 16 position players in the table there, so three or four won’t make the cut one way or another.

Catchers: All signs point to Sanchez being the big league backup catcher, though that’s not set in stone just yet. The Yankees could send him to Triple-A for regular playing time and to work on his defense. As an added bonus, sending Sanchez down for 35 days or so will delay his free agency another year. Assuming Sanchez makes the MLB team, Triple-A catching duties will belong to Corporan and either Rodriguez and Valle. They’re all defense-first guys who can’t hit.

Austin Romine, Sanchez’s primary competition for the backup job, is out of minor league options and has been outrighted before, meaning if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, he has to go through waivers and can elect free agency if he clears, which I imagine he would do in an effort to find a better opportunity. There appear to be only two ways for Romine to remain in the organization beyond Spring Training: he gets the backup catcher’s job, or he gets hurt in camp and is placed on the MLB DL.

If Sanchez doesn’t make the big league roster, he’ll be the starting catcher in Triple-A with either Romine or Corporan backing up Brian McCann. If Romine backs up McCann, Corporan will be in Triple-A. If Corporan backs up McCann, Romine will be gone and either Valle or Rodriguez will be with Sanchez in Triple-A. For now, I’ll say Sanchez makes the big league roster. The Yankees leaned on their prospects a lot in 2015 and I think that’ll continue in 2016.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Infielders: Barring injury, Bird and Refsnyder will start the season with the RailRiders. “That’s the optimal” according to Cashman, at least when it comes to Bird. The Yankees lost Ronald Torreyes on waivers earlier this week but still have Kozma, Solano, and Diaz on minor league contracts. I expect them to compete for a big league bench job in camp, and hey, one of them might win a spot.

In that case, Bird and Refsnyder will hold down the right side of the infield while the other two guys handle the left side. That means the RailRiders still need a utility infielder. There are going to be five infielders on the roster no matter what. Cito Culver and Dan Fiorito are the best candidates for that job right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees brought in one more minor league infielder these next few weeks. A minor league contract or waiver claim, something like that. One pulled hamstring in camp and the Yankees could be real short on upper level infield depth.

Outfield: The Triple-A outfield picture is crowded and yet crystal clear. Judge, Slade, Williams, and Gamel will be the four regular outfielders. They’ll rotate around the outfield and at DH. Simple, right? Puello, who played exactly one game in 2015 due to a back injury, is an obvious candidate for Double-A. Between the two catchers, the five infielders, and the four outfielders, we’re already at eleven position player spots.

So right now there is room for only one more position player since an eight-man bullpen is rather common in April. That last spot comes down to Adams and Austin. Both stunk in Triple-A last season and had to be demoted to Double-A in the second half. Adams is two years older and a better defender, but Austin has the advantage of being able to play a little first base as well. Plus he has seniority in the organization. That can’t hurt.

My guess — and this is nothing more than a guess — is Adams will get the Triple-A spot over Austin. Adams is older and on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees probably want to figure out what they have in him as soon as possible. If he can’t hack in Triple-A, they’ll cut him and move on. In that case Austin would anchor a Double-A Trenton lineup that is a little light on prospect power. He, Puello, Taylor Dugas, and Mark Payton would be the Thunder outfield.

After all of that, the Triple-A roster looks like this on the position player side:

Catchers (2): Two of Sanchez, Corporan, Rodriguez, and Valle.
Infielders (5): Bird and Refsnyder, Kozma, Diaz, and Solano. If one of them lands a big league job, Culver or Fiorito are candidates to fill the spot in Triple-A.
Outfielders (5): Judge, Heathcott, Gamel, Williams, Adams.

Position battles in Spring Training will determine the exact roster, as will injuries and things like that. The last big league bench spot is wide open, and the backup catcher’s job is not Sanchez’s just yet. Now let’s move on to the pitchers.

Starters Righty Relievers Lefty Relievers
Bryan Mitchell* Nick Rumbelow* Chasen Shreve*
Luis Cessa* Branden Pinder* Jacob Lindgren*
Anthony Swarzak Nick Goody* James Pazos*
Brady Lail Kirby Yates* Tyler Olson*
Chad Green Johnny Barbato* Tyler Webb
Jaron Long Vinnie Pestano
Eric Ruth Tyler Jones
Ronald Herrera Mark Montgomery
Caleb Smith

Lots and lots of pitchers. I have 22 names in the table for 12-13 Triple-A spots and three big league bullpen spots, so 6-7 of those guys are going to get stuck in Double-A. Of course, not everyone will get through Spring Training healthy. A handful of pitchers always get hurt in March. (There always seems to be a rash of Tommy John surgeries in Spring Training as pitchers ramp up their throwing.) It’s a vicious part of the baseball calendar.

I honestly think the Yankees will use those final three MLB bullpen spots to take the players they believe give them the best chance to win, regardless of previous role or handedness. If it’s three lefties, so be it. If it’s three guys who are starters by trade, fine. Remember, the Yankees took David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno north as relievers back in 2013 because they were the best options. The team didn’t worry about leaving one or two stretched out in Triple-A.

Mitchell. (Presswire)
Mitchell. (Presswire)

Trying to predict who will make the bullpen right now is impossible and a waste of time. No one expected Preston Claiborne to come to camp throwing fire three years ago, putting him in position for a big league call-up. Shreve might have a leg up on everyone else because he was so good for the first four and a half months last season. Aside from that, good luck figuring out who starts in MLB and Triple-A. And besides, the shuttle ensures these guys will be rotating in and out all year anyway.

I will say that of those 22 pitchers listed, I believe Ruth, Herrera, Smith, Jones, and Montgomery are mostly likely to be squeezed down to Double-A due to a roster crunch. (Herrera’s the guy who came over in the Jose Pirela trade.) I wouldn’t necessarily call them non-prospects. They’re just low priority prospects in the grand scheme of things. They lack the upside of the other pitchers in the table, relatively speaking.

Among the deep depth arms are lefty Chaz Hebert and righty Kyle Haynes. They’re among the starters who will open the season in Double-A and jump to Triple-A whenever a spot start is needed because of call-ups and whatnot. Ruth, Herrera, and Smith are in that group. There’s no doubt the Yankees have a ton of upper level pitchers, particularly in the bullpen. Now they just have to figure out which of these guys can stick in the big leagues.

Mailbag: Prospects, All-Stars, Castro, Samardzija

Got a dozen questions for you this week, including a bunch about prospects. We’re starting to get an overwhelming amount of questions each week — I had over 50 marked for consideration this week — and I’m trying to answer as many as I can each Friday. Don’t take it personally if yours is not included. Keep sending them in.

Aaron Judge and Michael O'Neill. (Moultrie News)
Aaron Judge and Michael O’Neill. O’Neill is 6-foot-1. (Moultrie News)

Brendan asks: If some of these prospects stay hot (Aaron Judge), when is the earliest we could expect a call up?

Judge is the one guy who I think will get moved up sooner rather than later. The Yankees said they started him with Low-A Charleston because he didn’t play at all after signing last year and they wanted to take it slow, but now that he’s showing no rust and is raking, a quick move up to High-A Tampa is in order. As for other everyone else, I think we’re still a good two months or so away. The season is young and most promotions don’t come until midseason, after each league’s All-Star Game.

Toki asks: Now that Dante Bichette Jr. is hitting (SSS), who has the higher ceiling among Bichette and Eric Jagielo?

Jagielo, no doubt. It would still be Jagielo for me even if Bichette had hit well these last two years. I have less questions about Jagielo’s all-around offensive game as well as his defense. Maybe Bichette will have a higher offensive peak if it all works out, but I think Jagielo projects to be the better all-around player and it really isn’t all that close. Bichette’s been great this year, but three weeks do not erase the last two years.

Upstate Yanks asks: When are we going to see Mark Montgomery come up? Could be a future late-inning guy no?

Probably in the second half and yes. I actually think I ranked him too high in my Preseason Top 30Danny Burawa jumped him on the depth chart before getting hurt — and I’m not quite as bullish as I was last year at this time. The slider still misses bats though, and has long as that continues to happen, he’ll project to be a late-inning arm.

Glenn asks: I know he’s only been in the system a short time but it always seems like Caleb Smith is putting up nice numbers. Is there potential in him for the future?

Oh yes, absolutely. Smith might be the best sleeper in the organization right now. The Yankees grabbed him out of Sam Houston State with their 14th round pick last year, gave him $100k, and he has a 1.78 ERA (~2.24 FIP) with a 26.7% strikeout rate in 65.2 pro innings. That was before yesterday’s 13-strikeout performance. The walks are a bit high (9.2%) but Smith is a big lefty (listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.) with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and two legit offspeed pitches (low-80s slider and changeup). Is he the next Randy Johnson? No, but there’s legit MLB potential there.

Dan asks: Peter O’Brien is hitting the cover off the ball, what are the chances he gets called up to AA this year? Since he seems to be completely blocked at C, do you see the Yankees moving his position? Same questions for Gary Sanchez: if his bat can make an impact in the next couple of years, is there any chance they try him out at a different position, because he’s blocked by McCann? Do you see him being promoted to AAA this year?

O'Brien. (Presswire)
O’Brien. (Presswire)

O’Brien to Double-A will definitely happen at some point. That will be one of the midseason promotions I mentioned earlier. He’ll eventually move off catcher because he’s a pretty bad catcher, not because he’s blocked. O’Brien worked out at third base last year but that didn’t work. They’re giving right field a try early this year. I assume first base is next. As for Gary Sanchez, he should stay behind the plate as long as possible regardless of Brian McCann and whoever else is ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s way more valuable there. Let him develop behind the plate and worry about where he fits into the MLB roster when the time comes. If nothing else, staying behind the plate makes him more attractive to other teams in trades. As for the promotion to Triple-A Scranton, yeah I think that will happen later this summer.

Jack asks: Among the following 4: a) would you rank the most likely (if any) to succeed as a major league regular, and b) has the ability to stick at 3B at the majors: Jagielo, DBJ, Andujar, Austin.

To answer the first question, I’d rank them Jagielo, Tyler Austin, Miguel Andujar, and Bichette. I had Austin over Jagielo in my Preseason Top 30 but they were right next too each other (almost interchangeable) and Austin has dealt with some injury problems in recent weeks. As for sticking at third base, I’d have them Jagielo, Andujar, Austin, and Bichette. I’m not married to the order of the last two and I wouldn’t argue Bichette over Austin. Jagielo and Andujar are legit third baseman. The other guys are maybes at the position who are better off elsewhere.

Paul asks: Too early, I know, but so far the only Yankees worthy of All-Star berths are Masahiro Tanaka and maybe Jacoby Ellsbury, right? Nobody else is standing out to me. Who do you think the fans will vote for? Derek Jeter seems like a good shot considering he’s Jeter and has avoided falling on his face. Anyone else?

I think Jeter will win the fan vote by a mile at shortstop. Who will take votes from him? Jose Reyes? That’s the only other reasonable candidate and he’s hurt all the time. The current AL shortstop landscape is a wasteland. Jeter has hit well this year and I think he’ll go to the All-Star Game. Tanaka and Ellsbury are both worthy right now — Ellsbury’s not a maybe for me, he’s been too good to be on the bubble — and I think Carlos Beltran will get some consideration, though there are always a ton of qualified outfielders. McCann also has a shot, especially if his recent offensive surge is a sign he’s getting back to being himself at the plate. The AL catching crop is weak, though Jason Castro and Matt Wieters are legitimate alternatives.

Matt asks: Could the Yankees look to make a deal with the Cubs for Starlin Castro, being that he had sort of a rocky season last year with the organization, and the presence of their prospect Javier Baez (though he is struggling now) seemingly on the way? Obviously depending on how he performs, what do you think it would take to get a deal done for Castro at the end of the season?

Yes, I think so. Obviously it depends how he rebounds from that disaster last year. Castro isn’t a shortstop — I don’t know what he is, really. Maybe a second baseman? — and he’s a hacker at the plate, but he has some power and speed. He also just turned 24, so he’s still very young with the potential for improvement. The contract is scary if you don’t think he’ll rebound (owed $49M through 2019), but that’s the Cubs’ problem. I’m interested but I want to see what happens this year. There haven’t been many players like Castro traded over the years, so figuring out what it would take to get him is mighty tough. How do you value him? As a future star or just an okay infielder?

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

New Guy asks: Now that Ivan Nova is out for a while, what would it take to make Jeff Samardzija a Yankee? I’ve always liked him and he is always liked to trade rumors. Are you interested?

I was about a year ago, but Samardzija didn’t improve much (if at all) last season and this year is more of the same. His strikeout rate this year is actually way, way down, but it is still very early. Samardzija strikes me as a classic “whole is less than the sum of the parts” guy, like Edwin Jackson and A.J. Burnett. The stuff says he should be an ace and you keep waiting for him to turn into an ace, but he leaves you waiting and waiting. All while he’ll show enough flashes to keep you interested. Samardzija is affordable ($5.345M in 2014, free agent after 2015) and he’s a fine mid-rotation horse, but he’s already 29 and I’m not sure how much longer you can wait for him to live up to the potential. The Cubs are marketing him as an ace and he just isn’t that.

Josh asks: You just did a piece of the Yanks trying to make a move for Cliff Lee. What do you think about Kyle Kendrick. Younger, and would come a lot cheaper. Hasn’t had a great start, but maybe they could buy low.

I’m not a fan of Kendrick. He’s a solid back of the rotation type who limits walks and gets grounders, but he is surprisingly expensive ($7.675M this year) and I’m not sure an upper-80s sinker/low-80s changeup righty is someone I trust in the AL East. I’d rather give David Phelps a try before giving up prospects for Kendrick. Lee is (still) an elite pitcher and I’m not a fan of cutting corners when it comes to those guys. Play the price and add a true difference maker. No one gets upset over traded prospects in October.

Joe asks: Watching the Yankees so far this season, they are definitely going 1st to 3rd and 2nd to home A LOT more than previous years. Was wondering if you could do a comparison between this year and previous years.

Sure can. These numbers do not include last night’s game (couldn’t wait around for Baseball Reference to update overnight), but here are the team’s first-to-third numbers (small sample size, yadda yadda yadda):

1st to 3rd Opps. 1st to 3rds 1st to 3rd % Overall XB%
2014 40 16 40% 48%
2013 275 65 24% 35%
2012 280 78 28% 37%
2011 287 71 25% 38%
2010 328 87 27% 38%

Joe is correct, the Yankees have absolutely been going first-to-third more often this season. They’ve been taking the extra-base in general — score from second on a single, score from first on a double, etc. — more often as well. The league average for taking the extra-base is around 40% and the Yankees were a bit below that the last few years. This year they are well above-average.

The reason for the improvement is pretty obvious. Ellsbury, Yangervis Solarte, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts are quicker than the guys they replaced, and both Jeter and Beltran are very smart base-runners who make up for their lack of speed with instincts. I think their first-to-third and overall extra-base rate will come down a bit as the season progresses just because guys will start to get tired and stuff like that, but they should still be quite a bit better than the last few years. Between all the defensive shifts and better base-running, this is a new breed of Yankees baseball.

Draft Signing Updates: Judge, Kendrick, Webb

Yesterday we learned the Yankees agreed to sign California HS LHP Ian Clarkin (1s) to a straight slot $1.65M bonus. Here are some more updates on various draft picks (draft round in parenthesis):

  • Fresno State OF Aaron Judge (1s) has already been offered slot money, reports Jon Heyman. He has yet to accept, however. As the 32nd overall pick, Judge is slotted for a bit less than $1.68M. I’m hopeful this will get done soon, as in this week.
  • Auburn LHP Conner Kendrick (9) has signed, or at least agreed to sign according to his Twitter feed. No word on the bonus, but he’s slotted for a bit more than $140k. Doubt he got any more than that.
  • South Carolina LHP Tyler Webb (10) has signed, which you probably realized when he pitched in last night’s Short Season Staten Island game. Webb was slotted for just over $135k, but he signed for only $30k as a college senior with little leverage. Nice chunk of change saved there.
  • San Diego State RHP Phil Walby (12) and Sam Houston State LHP Caleb Smith (14) both signed for $100k, report K. Levine-Flandrup and Jim Callis. The team announced both signings last week. Slot money for every pick after the tenth round is $100k, with any excess spending counting towards the pool.
  • Oklahoma LHP Ethan Carnes (21) has signed for $75k, reports KL-F. It’s below-slot but there are no draft pool savings here. That stuff only applies to the first ten rounds.
  • Texas HS RHP Shane McCarley (33) will talk to the team about possibly signing this weekend, reports KL-F. He’s a good but not elite quarterback prospect with a scholarship to Old Dominion in his back pocket.
  • Washington State SS Ty Afenir (39) has signed, the team announced. No word on the bonus, but again, anything over $100k counts over the pool. I highly doubt he got that much.
  • The Yankees have signed USF OF/RHP Chad Taylor as an undrafted free agent, reports Nicholas Flammia. No word on his bonus, but anything over $100k counts against the draft pool. UDFA’s almost never get six figures though. Most don’t even get five figures. I don’t know if the Yankees intend to use Taylor as an outfielder or pitcher — he did both in college and spent most of 2013 on the mound — but I guess we’ll find out eventually.

All of the team’s draft selections can be seen at Baseball America, and you can keep track of the draft pool situation with our 2013 Draft Pool page. It looks like the Yankees might wind up with enough leftover pool money to make a run at one or two of their late-round gambles — Missouri HS 3B Drew Bridges (20) and Florida HS LHP Nestor Cortes (36) seem most likely — though, we have to see what happens with Judge and California HS 2B Gosuke Katoh first.

Draft Signing Updates: Judge, Clarkin, Coleman

Earlier today we learned first round pick 3B Eric Jagielo and fourth round pick SS Tyler Wade had signed for straight slot bonuses, now here are some more updates on various Yankees draft picks (draft round in parenthesis):

  • Fresno State OF Aaron Judge (1s) said he is “real confident” he will sign soon, according to Bryan Hoch. Judge took batting practice with the team yesterday in Oakland. Slot money for the 32nd overall pick is $1,677,100, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he took straight slot money like Jagielo.
  • California HS LHP Ian Clarkin (1s) will travel to Tampa on Monday according to K. Levine-Flandrup, presumably to get his physical out of the way. The San Diego commit is slotted for a bit more than $1.65M, and I’m guessing he’ll sign close to the deadline for more than that.
  • California HS SS Gosuke Katoh (2) will also travel to Tampa on Monday after graduating tomorrow, according to KL-F. Yesterday it was reported Katoh said he “should be a Yankee by next week.” Slot money is just under $846k, but I think he winds up with less.
  • Texas HS OF Kendall Coleman (11) has agreed to terms pending a physical, reports KL-F. No word on the money yet, but every pick after the tenth round is slotted for $100k. Anything in excess of that counts against the draft pool. Coleman is a bat-first prospect with power from the left side.
  • Hoch has a handful of late-round signings to pass along: San Diego State RHP Phil Walby (12), Sam Houston State LHP Caleb Smith (14), Northwest Mississippi JuCo CF Jordan Barnes (15), Kent State IF Derek Toadvine (22), Appalachian State RHP Sam Agnew-Wieland (24), Fresno State C Trent Garrison (28), and Appalachian State IF Hector Crespo (34). No word on the money for any of these, but it’s safe to assume it doesn’t exceed the $100k slot.

All of the team’s draft selections can be seen at Baseball America, and you can keep track of the draft pool situation with our 2013 Draft Pool page.