Aaron Judge tops Keith Law’s top ten Yankees prospects list

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last week Keith Law published his annual top 100 prospects list, which included four Yankees: OF Aaron Judge (No. 36), SS Jorge Mateo (No. 55), C Gary Sanchez (No. 57), and RHP James Kaprielian (No. 87). Earlier today Law took an in-depth look at New York’s farm system (subs. req’d), examining their top ten prospects and beyond.

“The Yankees’ system is trending back upward, despite some trades and disappointing performances from upper-level prospects, thanks to a couple productive drafts that have helped restock the lower levels,” wrote Law. Here is his top ten:

  1. Judge
  2. Mateo
  3. Sanchez
  4. Kaprielian
  5. LHP Ian Clarkin
  6. OF Dustin Fowler
  7. SS Wilkerman Garcia
  8. RHP Drew Finley
  9. SS Kyle Holder
  10. SS Tyler Wade

Law has long been a Clarkin fan and he’s higher on both Finley and Holder than most. Finley is a “super-polished high-school arm with a plus curveball and outstanding command and feel for pitching” while the divisive Holder is “a plus-plus defender at short with mixed reviews on the bat, though he doesn’t have to hit that much to be a big leaguer, thanks to his defense.” Law also notes there “could be more growth here than with a normal college product,” referring to Holder, who split time between baseball and basketball for most of his life.

Within the write-up, Law dives deeper into the system and looks beyond the top ten. He ranks RHP Brady Lail as the 11th best prospect in the system, and Lail is followed by OF Ben Gamel (12th), LHP Jacob Lindgren (13th), RHP Luis Cessa (14th), C Luis Torrens (15th), OF Mason Williams (16th), RHP Trey Amburgey (17th), 2B Rob Refsnyder (18th), 3B Miguel Andujar (19th), and RHP Chance Adams (20th). 3B Dermis Garcia, RHP Domingo Acevedo, IF Abi Avelino, RHP Ty Hensley, RHP Austin DeCarr, OF Bryan Emery, SS Diego Castillo, C Miguel Flames, 3B Nelson Gomez, C Jason Lopez, and RHP Johnny Barbato all get mentions as well, though they’re unranked.

Law listed Lindgren and Barbato as the prospects most likely to have an impact in 2016, which is sorta cheating because they’re both bat-missing upper level relievers, but I’ll allow it. Fowler and Torrens are his sleepers. “Fowler has top-100-prospect tools and has performed rather well to date, despite aggressive promotions. He and Torrens are the best bets to make the leap in 2016,” he wrote. Torrens is coming off major shoulder surgery, so his road to top 100 prospectdom is a bit rockier than Fowler’s.

Based on the write-up, it’s pretty clear Law is high on the Yankees’ farm system, particularly their lower level guys like Wilkerman, Amburgey, and all the 2014-15 international signees. He ranked the Yankees as having the 13th best farm system in the game and that’s with Luis Severino and Greg Bird having graduated to MLB. That’s is pretty darn cool.

Position Battles of Note [2016 Spring Training Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The long marathon that is the 2016 season will begin Thursday, when Yankees pitchers and catchers report to Tampa for Spring Training. Position players will follow next Wednesday. The first Grapefruit League game will be played March 2nd, two weeks from Wednesday. Real live baseball is coming soon.

This spring the Yankees will not have many position battles to follow. Their nine starting position player spots are set, the five rotation spots are pretty much set, the back-end of the bullpen is set, and two of four bench spots are set. It might even be three of four. You could argue as many as seven roster spots are up for grabs. In reality it’s probably more like four. Here are the three battles to watch.

The Backup Catcher

The Yankees have had some pretty good backup catchers in recent years, from the defensive-minded Jose Molina to the occasionally great Frankie Cervelli to the solid all-around John Ryan Murphy. Murphy is now a Minnesota Twin, meaning the backup job will go to Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, or non-roster invitee Carlos Corporan. Sebastian Valle, another non-roster player, is the deep sleeper. He’s an outstanding defender and the Yankees value catcher defense highly.

Sanchez had a strong 2015 season in terms of production, development, and maturity, which helped make Murphy expendable. Brian Cashman said he would “like to unleash the Kraken” this year, referring to Sanchez, but there are big picture aspects to consider. Is Sanchez the best backup catcher candidate? The answer is almost certainly yes. Is sending Sanchez to Triple-A for a few weeks a good idea? That answer is almost certainly yes as well.

A total of 35 days in the minors this season will delay Sanchez’s free agency another year. Thirty-five days in 2016 equals control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022. That’s a long time away and who knows whether Sanchez will be worth keeping around in 2022, but 35 days? That’s it? Sending him down for five weeks to gain control of his age 29 season is a no-brainer in my opinion. It’s a little 2016 pain for potentially a lot of 2022 gain.

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Keep in mind five weeks for a backup catcher equals maybe six or seven starts. The Yankees have a ton of April off-days like they do every year — five in first four weeks! — so keeping Brian McCann in the lineup will be rather easy. Those six or seven starts might actually be more like four or five starts. Is sacrificing four or five Sanchez games in 2016 worth it to gain control of his age 29 season? Hell yes. The system makes this an obvious move.

Romine and Corporan, Sanchez’s two chief competitors, are in different situations. Corporan is on a minor league contract and can be easily stashed in Triple-A for depth this season. Romine is on the 40-man roster and out of options, meaning he can’t go to the minors without being exposed to waivers. That was the case last year, when Romine did slip through waivers unclaimed, but since this would be his second outright assignment, he could elect free agency.

If he doesn’t make the team, Romine in all likelihood would elect free agency and look to join a team that offers a greater big league opportunity. With McCann and Sanchez in tow, it’s hard to see how any upper level catcher gets MLB time in the Bronx without an injury. The position is locked down for at least three more seasons (the duration of McCann’s contract). I see four possible outcomes for the spring backup catcher competition:

  • The Best Team: Sanchez in MLB with Corporan in Triple-A and Romine out of the organization.
  • The Most Depth: Romine in MLB with Sanchez and Corporan in Triple-A.
  • The Eh I Get It Plan: Corporan in MLB with Sanchez in Triple-A and Romine out of the org.
  • The WTF Plan: Valle in MLB with Sanchez and Corporan in Triple-A and Romine out of the org.

As best I can tell Corporan does actually have a minor league option remaining, so the Yankees could carry him as the backup catcher for some period of time, then send him down once Sanchez’s service time is in a good place. They would still presumably lose Romine, but at least they’d keep Corporan.

Now, if Corporan does not have an option left — that’s possible, this stuff can be difficult to pin down — then the Yankees would need to drop him from the 40-man roster when the time comes to promote Sanchez. Going with the Eh I Get It Plan means the team could be faced with the possibility of losing Romine and Corporan once Sanchez is called up.

Maybe that’s no big deal. Romine and Corporan aren’t great by any means, but I do think you need an extra catcher or two in the organization. The Yankees got really lucky with McCann and Murphy last season — those two combined to catch every inning of every game in 2015 — and I wouldn’t count on that kind of health again. It just doesn’t happen at catcher. It’s a brutal position.

Carrying Sanchez as McCann’s backup likely gives the Yankees the best possible team to start the season. The benefit of manipulating his service time — especially since we’re only talking about losing him for a handful of actual starts — means sending him to Triple-A to start the season is the best thing for the organization long-term. Rolling with Romine or Corporan for five weeks is the price to pay for Sanchez’s age 29 season, and that’s not bad at all.

(Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

At Least Three, Likely Four, Maybe Five Bullpen Spots

At some point soon we’re going to hear something about Aroldis Chapman‘s seemingly inevitable suspension. Rumor has it commissioner Rob Manfred will hand down the suspension before Spring Training, meaning it could be any day now. Chapman will not be charged with a crime stemming from his October domestic dispute incident but that’s irrelevant. The collectively bargained Domestic Violence Policy explicitly says no arrests or charges are necessary for a suspension.

It seems very likely Chapman will be suspended for some length of time. How long? Your guess is as good as mine. (I’ve seen a few reporters suggest a 15-game ban is coming.) Either way, any sort of suspension opens a bullpen spot come Opening Day. Right now the Yankees have Chapman, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Ivan Nova locked into spots, leaving three open three bullpen spots. Chapman’s suspension would make it four open spots and an injury to a starter would make it five since Nova would have to jump into the rotation.

For the purposes of this post, let’s just assume the rotation stays healthy and Nova is indeed the long man come Opening Day. A reach? Eh, maybe. We’ll deal with the injuries as they come. Regardless of the number of open bullpen spots, the Yankees have no shortage of relief options this year. Check out the list of bullpen candidates coming to camp this spring:

Some of those guys are more likely to land a big league job than others — Kaprielian won’t be breaking camp with the Yankees, for example — but they’ll all be in Spring Training and therefore theoretically capable of winning a roster spot.

The Yankees have relievers of all shapes and sizes. Righties, lefties, strikeout guys, ground ball guys, guys with big league experience, guys who has yet to pitch above Single-A … you name it and the Yankees will have it in camp this year. And here’s the thing: aside from Shreve, who was so excellent the first four and a half months last season, I’m not sure anyone has a leg up on a spot.

It’s great the Yankees have so many bullpen options, because they’re inevitably going to need them. This is a position battle that won’t ever end. The Yankees once again figure to employ a bullpen shuttle this year to ensure Joe Girardi always has a fresh arm or two available, meaning whoever wins a spot on the Opening Day roster may only be there short-term. I can’t imagine that’s comfortable for the players, but that’s life. That’s the way the roster is built.

My guess is Shreve will get one of the open bullpen spots barring a catastrophic showing in camp. The other open spots could be decided by Spring Training performance (as silly as that may be) and roster considerations. The Yankees may not want to free up 40-man space just yet, for example. They open the season against the Astros and could opt to carry an extra lefty (for Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, Jason Castro, etc.) before going with an extra righty for the second series of the season against the Tigers (almost their entire lineup is right-handed). We’ll see.

Spring Training will be an audition for all of those pitchers. Even Kaprielian, who wants to make a strong impression as he prepares for his first full pro season. If you don’t win a bullpen job in camp, you still want to put yourself in position for an early call-up. Make the Yankees remember you. That’s what Preston Claiborne did a few years ago. Someone like Campos could do the same this year.

Kozma. (Presswire)
Kozma. (Presswire)

The 25th Man

Cashman is on record saying the Yankees hope to use their 25th roster spot as a revolving door depending on their need at the time. If they need an extra reliever, they’ll use that spot for an extra reliever. If they need a position player, they’ll call up a position player. So on and so forth. Good idea in theory. How will it work in the real world? We’re going to find out soon enough.

The Yankees have three off-days within the first two full weeks of the season, so using that 25th roster spot on an eighth reliever out of Spring Training qualifies as overkill. I understand the starters are still getting stretched all the way out and whatnot, but eight relievers with all those off-days? Nah. Carrying an extra bench player early on makes the most sense, and the Yankees have plenty of infield (Jonathan Diaz, Donovan Solano, Pete Kozma, Ronald Torreyes, Rob Refsnyder) and outfield (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Ben Gamel) options.

The 25th man decision is going to depend entirely on Starlin Castro‘s ability to play third base, because if he can’t do it, the Yankees will need to carry a backup third baseman. So moreso than the backup catcher and bullpen battles, the 25th man competition is going to be influenced by outside factors. Castro’s the big one, but health with be a factor too, as will 40-man roster considerations. Is it worth designating someone for assignment to carry Kozma for two weeks? Maybe it is. That’s up to the Yankees.

Mateo, Sanchez, Judge rank among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects

Mateo. (Presswire)
Mateo. (Presswire)

Prospect season continued last night as Baseball America announced their annual top 100 prospects list. Dodgers SS Corey Seager sat in the top spot — he was the No. 1 prospect on every top 100 list this year — with Twins OF Byron Buxton and Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada behind him in the top three.

The Yankees landed three players on Baseball America’s list: SS Jorge Mateo (No. 26), C Gary Sanchez (No. 36), and OF Aaron Judge (No. 76). Mateo is the highest ranked Yankees prospect* since Jesus Montero ranked third behind Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in 2011. Yes, that was a thing that happened.

* I’m not counting Masahiro Tanaka, who ranked fourth on the 2014 list. Tanaka was no prospect. C’mon.

Anyway, here is some really hardcore analysis of this year’s various top 100 prospect lists. You’re not going to find in-depth analysis like this anywhere else. Prepare to have your mind blown.

Baseball America Baseball Prospectus MLB.com Keith Law Average
Judge 76 18 31 36 40
Mateo 26 65 30 55 44
Sanchez 36 92 59 57 61

The Yankees have three top 60-ish prospects according to the consensus rankings and that’s pretty cool, especially since Judge and Sanchez are in Triple-A and knocking on the door of the big leagues. Give me upper level prospects over kids in the low minors eight days a week and twice on Sundays.

In addition to the top 100, Baseball America also posted their farm system rankings a few days ago. The Yankees ranked 17th overall, up from 18th last year. They were 18th the year before that too. Considering Luis Severino and Greg Bird graduated to MLB in 2015, I’d say 17th is a nice step up.

Yankees place four on Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Yesterday Keith Law posted his annual farm system rankings, and earlier today he followed up with his top 100 prospects for the 2016 season (subs. req’d). Dodgers SS Corey Seager predictably claims the top spot. He is the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball this spring. Twins OF Byron Buxton and Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito round out the top three.

The Yankees landed four players on Law’s 2016 top 100 list: OF Aaron Judge (No. 36), SS Jorge Mateo (No. 55), C Gary Sanchez (No. 57), and RHP James Kaprielian (No. 87). Law seems to be the high man on Kaprielian. He hasn’t shown up on any other top 100 lists this spring. The other three guys are pretty clearly top 100 caliber. Reminder: RHP Luis Severino and 1B Greg Bird are no longer prospect eligible. Too much big league playing time in 2015.

“(Judge) has 70 raw power that hasn’t shown up in games because his swing is relatively short and he hits more line drives than big flies … Learning to cover the outside corner — or lay off pitches just off of it — while maintaining (his) plate coverage inside is the main challenge for Judge if he wants to become an impact bat in the majors,” said the write-up. Law adds Judge has “30-homer power and should make enough hard contact to keep his average up even if he still punches out 150 times a year.”

As for Mateo, Law writes “shortstop prospects with his skill set — glove, speed, contact — tend to fare pretty well even if they never learn to hit with any authority, giving Mateo a high floor as long as he makes some small adjustments to help him on routine plays.” I’m not a fan of the term high floor but I get what Law is saying. Mateo, even though he’s a 20-year-old in Single-A, is a good bet to contribute at the MLB level in some capacity because he can impact the game in so many different ways.

The scouting report on Sanchez is as exciting as any you’ll see in the top 100. “(He) could easily get to .290/.330/.500 with his power and contact,” wrote Law. “That hitter, as a mediocre catcher who can still nail one out of three runners, is a borderline MVP candidate, and if Sanchez wants to get there, he can.” Sanchez has that kind of ability, but up until last year with work ethic and approach to the game were questionable. He matured big time in 2015. Hopefully that continues going forward.

“Kaprielian will sit 93-95 mph as a starter with a wipeout slider, showing above-average control but still-developing (that is, it’s not yet average) fastball command. He gets on top of the ball well to get good downhill plane on the fastball and to keep his changeup low in the zone. He’s very aggressive, attacking hitters with strikes, and working to both sides of the plate,” wrote Law on Kaprielian. Grandmaster Kap has been invited to Spring Training, which indicates the Yankees want to move him up the ladder fast.

Seeing the Yankees with four top 100 prospects is pretty cool, especially since two of them (Judge and Sanchez) are at Triple-A and knocking on the door of the big leagues. Sanchez could be on the Opening Day roster, in fact. Kaprielian may move quickly too. Heck, even Mateo could see MLB time this coming season. He’s Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason and the Yankees could bring him up early to serve as their September pinch-runner. That’d be neat.

Minor League Notes: Mateo, Garcia, Signings, Releases

 
The video above is OF Aaron Judge discussing his experience at MLB’s annual rookie development camp. SS Tyler Wade was there as well. I saw him walking around in the video. Not sure who else was there. I’ve got a whole bunch of minor league notes and links and whatnot that I’ve been collecting for the last few weeks, so I’m going to dump them all here in this post. Enjoy.

Mateo rated fastest runner, toolsiest infield prospect

Over at MLB.com, Jonathan Mayo looked at the toolsiest prospects in the minors. He simply added up each player’s 20-80 scouting scale grades in the five tool categories on their top 100 prospects list. SS Jorge Mateo came in third behind only Twins OF Byron Buxton and Nationals OF Victor Robles. Mateo is the toolsiest infielder on the top 100. I don’t necessarily agree with adding 20-80 grades — 60 hit/60 power is definitely not the same as 80 hit/40 power even though they both add up to 120 hitpower (?), for example — but that’s what Mayo did, and Mateo scored well. Hooray.

Also, Jim Callis examined the top individual tools in the minors, and Mateo is listed as having the best speed. “Mateo has outstanding raw speed — he can go from the right side of the plate to first base in less than four seconds — but he’s more than just a raw speedster,” said the write-up. “He has succeeded on 83 percent of his steal attempts as a pro and led the Minors with 82 in 2015, his first year in full-season ball. Mateo’s quickness gives him plenty of range at shortstop, and he also exhibits some surprising power potential during batting practice.”

Garcia a potential top 100 prospect for 2017

The crew at Baseball Prospectus released their top 101 prospects list last week, and earlier this week they looked at ten players who were not on this year’s top 100, but could jump into next year’s. SS Wilkerman Garcia is among the ten listed. The article is free. You don’t need a subscription. Here’s a snippet of their write-up:

He is the complete package up the middle, with some of the smoothest hands you’ll see from an 17-year-old, and the arm and range to stick at short for the long haul. Garcia is still raw at the plate, but he’s a switch-hitter with some feel for the barrel from both sides. That is a nice little top-prospect starter kit. The one thing he is lacking right now is a track record outside of the complex, something he will remedy this season.

I feel like each Garcia scouting report is better than the last, which is cool, but it’s also the offseason, so I’m not really sure what changed. Either way, Wilkerman is an exciting prospect and so far the best to come out of the Yankees’ massive 2014-15 international spending spree, though it’s still super early.

Minor League Ball’s top 20 Yankees prospects

John Sickels at Minor League Ball published his annual list of the top 20 Yankees prospects a few days ago. You already know who the top four guys are. We could argue the order for days but the top four are clearly the top four. RHP Domingo Acevedo comes in at No. 5. He seems to be a very divisive prospect. Some people are super high on him. Others … eh. Sickels seems to be pretty high on SS Kyle Holder, who he ranks ninth in the system. I don’t think you’ll see Holder ranked that high anywhere else this prospect season.

Yankees sign four players, release 13 others

According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed the following minor league free agents: RHP Tyler Cloyd, 3B Deibinson Romero, OF Jared Mitchell, and RHP Wandy Soto. They have also released the following players, per Eddy: C Isaias Tejeda, 2B Angelo Gumbs, IF Bryan Cuevas, OF Jordan Barnes, OF Griff Gordon, OF Jose Infante, OF Teodoro Martinez, RHP Gean Batista, RHP Francis Joseph, RHP Matt Borens, RHP Lee Casas, RHP Taylor Garrison, and RHP Corey Holmes.

Cloyd and Romero both received invitations to Spring Training after spending last season in Korea. The 28-year-old Cloyd had a 5.81 ERA in 159.2 innings for the Samsung Lions while the 29-year-old Romero hit .253/.328/.449 with 12 homers. I should note the KBO is very hitter friendly. The league averages in 2015 were a 4.90 ERA and a .279/.356/.429 batting line. Mitchell, 27, hit .209/.298/.308 in 100 games between Double-A and Triple-A with the Angels and White Sox in 2015. Both Cloyd and Romero are Triple-A depth. Romero’s mostly a third baseman but has played a bunch of first over the years, so he’ll help fill the gap created by Greg Bird‘s injury. Mitchell, a former first round pick, is probably going to Double-A.

Among the released players, the most notable is Gumbs. He was New York’s second round pick out of a California high school in 2010. Gumbs was one of those super toolsy prospects with a ton of upside who was crazy raw. He played quite well with Low-A Charleston in 2012 (.272/.320/.432) but he’s had some injury problems in recent years and just stopped hitting. Gumbs put up a .176/.224/.213 line with High-A Tampa last year.

Links: IFAs, AzFL Review, Mahoney

Here are a couple stray links I have lying around that are worth checking out. So go check them out:

Just a heads up, the four full season minor league affiliates begin their regular season on Thursday, April 7th this year. That’s three days after the big league Yankees behind their season.

Mateo, Judge, Sanchez all rank among MLB.com’s top 100 prospects

Mateo. (Post and Courier)
Mateo. (Post and Courier)

Last night, MLB.com wrapped up their preseason prospect ranking series with their annual top 100 list. Dodgers SS Corey Seager grabbed the top spot and was followed by Twins OF Byron Buxton and Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito in the top three. As always, MLB.com’s scouting reports are free. They’re a great resource.

The Yankees landed three players on the top 100 list: SS Jorge Mateo (No. 30), OF Aaron Judge (No. 31), and C Gary Sanchez (No. 59). Mateo was the 11th shortstop on the list, Judge was the eighth outfielder, and Sanchez was the second catcher. Three top 60 prospects is pretty darn good considering RHP Luis Severino and 1B Greg Bird graduated to MLB last year.

Mateo led professional baseball with 82 steals last year, so it’s no surprise the scouting report calls him a “true top-of-the-scale runner.” He’s also lauded for his “wiry strength,” though the power he shows in batting practice has yet to translate in games. That’s not unusual for kids that young. “With his actions, range, hands and arm, he’ll stay at shortstop for the long term,” said the write-up.

“Depending on how much Judge balances power versus discipline, he could be a higher-average hitter with 20 or so homers per season or more of a masher who delivers 30-plus long balls,” said MLB.com. Judge will work on tightening up his strike zone in Triple-A next season before getting an opportunity to assume the big league right field job long-term.

As for Sanchez, the scouting report says if he “stays behind the plate and realizes his power potential, he can be an All-Star.” That’s not surprising. Sanchez has always had the raw tools. He just had to work on turning those tools into baseball skills, and he’s done that in recent years, especially behind the plate. Sanchez still has work to do defensively, of course.

There’s a good chance Sanchez will graduate to the big leagues this summer, and Judge may do the same depending on his strike zone coverage progress in Triple-A. Interestingly, Jim Callis says Mateo has the potential to jump into the top five prospects next year. The global top five. All prospects, regardless of position. The Yankees haven’t had a top five prospect since Jesus Montero.

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.