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.

Three notable Spring Training invitees and three notable omissions

Jagielo. (MiLB.com)
Jagielo. (MiLB.com)

A few days ago the Yankees announced their list of 26 non-roster Spring Training invitees, so they’ll have a whopping 66 players in big league camp this year when you include the guys on the 40-man roster. The crop of non-roster invitees is pretty standard in the sense that some are top prospects, some are journeymen on minor league contracts, and some are spare bodies who will help carry the workload in March. Extra arms, extra catchers to catch bullpens, that sort of thing.

Some of the non-roster invitees are more interesting than others, of course, and there are several other players who are notable because they did not receive an invitation to big league camp this year. We’re all jonesin’ to see OF Aaron Judge and 1B Greg Bird and RHP Luis Severino in action in the coming weeks, but here are three other non-roster invitees I’m looking forward to seeing. And, on the flip side, here are three guys we somewhat surprisingly won’t get to see in camp.

Notable Invitee: RHP Andrew Bailey

The Yankees signed Bailey to a minor league contract last offseason knowing he likely wouldn’t pitch in 2014 following shoulder capsule surgery. The move was geared towards 2015, and, after Bailey suffered a few setbacks last summer, the Yankees opted to decline is 2015 club option (reportedly worth $2.5M or so) and instead re-signed him to another minor league contract.

Bailey is supposedly healthy now — “He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to Chad Jennings recently — and will get a chance to show what he can do post-capsule surgery in camp. Torn shoulder capsules are very serious and there’s a really good chance Bailey will never get back to where he was from 2009-13 (2.64 ERA and 3.13 FIP), but that doesn’t man he can’t help. Instead of being a shutdown late-inning guy, maybe he’s only a serviceable reliever. That’s still useful. Spring Training will give us a chance to see if Bailey has anything left.

Notable Omission: 3B Eric Jagielo

Jagielo, the team’s first of three first round picks in the 2013 draft, did not get an invitation to Spring Training. Judge, the team’s second first rounder that year, did get the invite. (The third first rounder, LHP Ian Clarkin, is a Single-A pitcher less than two years removed from high school, so he understandably didn’t get an invite to camp.) Judge has obviously passed Jagielo as a prospect but it’s still surprising the team didn’t give a recent first rounder — a polished college hitter at that — an invitation to big league camp.

Now, it’s important to note this could be health related. Jagielo took an errant pitch to the face in Instructional League back in late-September and suffered fractures that required surgery. He didn’t suffer a concussion and there was no other neurological damage. Jagielo was expected to need 4-6 weeks to heal from the injury, but, since it’s a head injury, the Yankees could never be too careful. Jagielo’s recovery might be going slower than expected and that could be why he didn’t get the invite to camp.

If that’s not the case, Jagielo was simply the victim of a number’s crunch. Not only will Chase Headley and yes, Alex Rodriguez, get work at third base in camp, so will Brendan Ryan, Jose Pirela, Nick Noonan, Jonathan Galvez, and Cole Figueroa as well. Maybe even Stephen Drew. “There’s a limited number of at-bats and innings to hand out in Spring Training. You don’t want to water it down,” said Eppler to Jennings. It’s understandable yet still a bit of a bummer Jagielo wasn’t invited to camp if he is indeed healthy and over his facial injuries.

Notable Invitee: RHP Nick Goody

Goody. (AP)
Goody. (AP)

The Yankees have built quite a bit of bullpen depth this offseason, and that’s all on top of the bullpen prospects they have in the minors. RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Wilking Rodriguez, RHP Diego Moreno, and LHP Jacob Lindgren are all Triple-A relievers coming to camp as non-roster players. Goody has been lost in the minor league bullpen shuffle so to speak because he’s only thrown 66 innings since being the team’s sixth rounder in 2012. You can blame Tommy John surgery for that.

Goody, 23, returned with his new elbow in the middle of last season and had a 4.60 ERA (3.63 FIP) in 31.1 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, showing the control problems (10.7 BB%) that typically plague a pitcher soon after having his elbow rebuilt. He still missed bats though (32.9 K%), and he was dynamite before getting hurt, putting up a 1.29 ERA (1.76 FIP) with excellent strikeout (40.4 K%) and good walk (8.2 BB%) rates in 35 innings from 2012-13.

Goody is a short little righty (listed at 5-foot-11 and 195 lbs.) with a low-to-mid-90s heater and a sharp low-80s slider, and he was projected to be a quick moving strikeout artist before blowing out his elbow. All the bullpen depth means he may not get to MLB this summer — I expect Goody to start the season with Double-A Trenton — but he’s someone who could be on the map for 2016. He’s a nice little relief prospect and I think he’ll sneak up on some people and open eyes during Grapefruit League play in March.

Notable Omission: RHP Johnny Barbato

Acquired from the Padres for Shawn Kelley a few weeks ago, the 22-year-old Barbato had a 2.87 ERA (3.31 FIP) with a 25.6 K% and 7.8 BB% in 31.1 innings for San Diego’s Double-A affiliate last season. He missed the second half with an elbow strain that did not require surgery. Eppler told Jennings that Barbato is healthy and even pitched in Instructional League for the Padres in the fall, so it doesn’t seem like he was excluded from camp for health reasons. It appears he was another victim of the numbers crunch.

Despite his strong performance last year, Barbato will likely return to Double-A this season because there doesn’t figure to be any room for him at Triple-A. At least on Opening Day. Like Goody, he is probably looked at as more of a 2016 bullpen candidate than a 2015 bullpen candidate, yet one is going to big league camp and one isn’t. Weird. I just figured the Yankees would invite Barbato to camp after getting him in a trade for a real live big leaguer. But I suppose there just aren’t enough innings to go around.

Pazos. (Robert Pimpsner)
Pazos. (Robert Pimpsner)

Notable Invitee: LHP James Pazos

Even before signing Andrew Miller and trading for Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve, the Yankees had built up a healthy amount of left-handed bullpen depth. Lindgren is the most notable as last year’s top draft pick, and Webb put up unignoreable numbers at three levels last year, but Pazos shouldn’t be overlooked either. In fact, after the Yankees let Matt Thornton go on waivers last August, both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi mentioned Pazos by name when discussing the club’s lefty bullpen depth.

The 23-year-old Pazos was New York’s 13th round pick in 2012 and he had a 2.42 ERA (2.38 FIP) with a ton of strikeouts (27.4 K%) and perhaps a few too many walks (9.1 BB%) in 67 innings split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last year. According to PitchFX data from the Arizona Fall League, he averages 94 mph with his fastball and the low-80s with his slider, so he’s not some soft-tosser. A hard-throwing lefty who has had success at the Double-A level is always worth keeping an eye on.

Notable Omission: RHP Mark Montgomery

Three years ago, Montgomery was the top relief prospect in the organization after a ridiculous 2012 season in which he posted 1.41 ERA (1.56 FIP) with a 40.2 K% and 9.1 BB% in 70.1 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Then he suffered a shoulder injury in the middle of the 2013 season and hasn’t been the same guy since, mostly because his once low-90s fastball is now more mid-80s, and his trademark slider simply isn’t as effective.

Montgomery was invited to big league camp in both 2013 and 2014, but he didn’t get an invite this year because he’s not nearly the same level of prospect anymore. Jagielo and Barbato appear to have been squeezed out by the numbers crunch. That’s not the case here. Montgomery’s stuff hasn’t been the same since the shoulder injury and he’s not much of a prospect anymore. That’s baseball. And that’s why you need a deep reserve of relievers.

Mailbag: A-Rod, Protected Pick, Pineda, Homers

I’ve got seven questions for you this week. If you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or comments or links or whatever, just use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar at any time.

Many asked: What about playing Alex Rodriguez at shortstop next season?

We get asked this question a shocking number of times each week and I guess we can’t ignore them any longer. Alex can not play shortstop anymore. He hasn’t had the mobility for the position for about five years now based on his play at third. His arm is fine and his baseball instincts are literally the best I’ve ever seen, so I’m sure he knows what to do and all that, but physically he doesn’t move like he once did. Remember, we’re talking about a 39-year-old with two bad hips who has played 44 games total from 2013-14. By time Opening Day rolls around, it will have been 12 years since Alex played short. I’m am confident saying there is zero chance of this happening.

Assuming the Yankees don’t release A-Rod once his suspension is over — earlier this year I thought they would for sure, I think I wrote that somewhere, but now I don’t think that’s likely because he’s such a rating and ticket sale powerhouse — I’m sure they’ll try him at third base next year but wind up playing him at DH most of the time. I guess that would mean Martin Prado at third? Maybe they can teach Rodriguez to play some first base as well. But anything that requires actual mobility? I can’t see it. He’ll have to overcome a lot of physical obstacles to play the field regularly next season. Part-time third base, part-time first base, part-time DH seems like the best we could hope for going forward.

Justin asks: How does Jon Lester compare in age, innings pitched and injury history to CC Sabathia prior to his signing with the Yanks? Am I wrong to think off the top of my head that he would be well under CC’s innings total?

Sabathia was only 28 years old when he signed with the Yankees, remember. At the time of his free agency he had thrown 1,684.1 big league innings between the regular season and postseason, and his only notable injury was a torn meniscus following the 2006 season. Lester will turn 31 this offseason and he’s at 1,623.2 big league innings, so he’ll finish the year in the 1,650-1,700 range. He missed two weeks with a lat strain in 2011 and went through the cancer stuff back in the day. When Sabathia was Lester’s age, he had thrown 2,450.1 total innings. He started breaking down the next season (2012). (I’m not saying Lester will break down at the same age.) Lester’s arm is much fresher than Sabathia’s at the same point of his career, theoretically.

Paul asks: Approximately how bad would the Yankees have to be the rest of the way to get a protected draft pick? Where do you think they’ll end up picking (or which pick will they be losing to sign a qualified free agent if that’s what you think will happen)?

Because the Astros did not sign first overall pick Brady Aiken, they will receive the second overall pick as compensation next year. That pick as well as the first ten “natural” first round picks are protected from draft pick compensation. The Yankees currently have the 13th best record in baseball at 64-61, putting them in line for the 18th overall pick. The Mets have the tenth worst record at 60-68, a .469 winning percentage. Let’s say the Yankees would need to finish with a .460 winning percentage to secure a protected first round pick. That would mean a 74-88 overall record, or 10-27 in the final 37 games. The Yankees stink, but I can’t imagine they’ll play the .270-ish ball they would need to play the rest of the season to get a protected first rounder. In all likelihood they’ll end up picking in the 15-20 range.

Charlie asks: Just curious, how much longer is Big Mike under team control for? Does all of his injury time delay his arbitration? Thanks.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees did delay Michael Pineda‘s free agency and arbitration one year by activating him off the disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A last July. He should have been in his first arbitration year right now and scheduled to become a free agent after the 2016 season. Instead, Pineda will be arbitration eligible for the first time next year and hit free agency after the 2017 season, when he’ll still only be 28. Time spent on the DL is the same as the active roster for service time purposes.

Mark asks: It seems to me that as bad as the Yankees power output has been this year, a larger percentage of the few HRs that they hit have been solo HRs. Is that true?

The Yankees have hit 112 homers this season, which are broken down into 75 solo homers (67%), 27 two-run homers (24%), eight three-run homers (7%), and two grand slams (2%). Two grand slams! Remember when they hit three grand slams in one game a few years ago (video)? Good times. Good times. Anyway, the AL averages this year are 57% solo homers, 29% two-run homers, 11% three-run homers, and 2% ground slams. So yes, the Yankees have hit far more solo homers than a) any other type of homer, and b) the league average this year.

Drew asks: I know no prospect is perfect but which Yankee hitting prospect has the most complete tool set? My first initial thought was Aaron Judge, or am I missing someone? Does most complete tools equal best prospect? I’m not too sure, and it depends on how high you value a particular skill set and ceiling.

I would say Judge has the most complete set of tools in the system right now. In fact, I think he does easily. I’m not even sure who’s close at this point. Tyler Austin lacks speed and a strong arm, Greg Bird has all the hitting tools but not much else, and Jake Cave lacks power. Slade Heathcott probably has the second most complete set of tools in the system but he’s never healthy. I wouldn’t say the most complete tools automatically equals the best prospect, the quality of the tools matter as well. I would rather have a guy with 80 power, 20 speed, and 40 everything else (to use the 20-80 scouting scale for a second) than someone with 50s across the board, for example. Having a well-rounded game is good! It’s not everything though.

Drew asks: Is Mark Montgomery really having that bad of a season? Yes the walks have been an issue but overall it looks like his numbers have been pretty good. I don’t think he is a realistic option for the pen in September but more like the middle of next year after starting the year in AAA. Yes we thought it was going to happen this year but, hey things happen.

It’s about more than just the numbers, remember. Here’s what Brian Cashman told Nick Peruffo just the other day:

He used to have much bigger velocity, and now its settling at a lower level. He still has the performance behind it, its just not the power stuff it was before. He’s still someone that’s on our radar.

Montgomery has a 2.30 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 47 innings with a 24.1% strikeout rate and a 12.8% walk rate between Double-A and Triple-A this year. During this sicko 2012 season at High-A and Double-A, he had a 1.54 ERA (1.62 FIP) with a 39.4% strikeout rate and an 8.8% walk rate in 64.1 innings. Montgomery’s stuff hasn’t been the same since he hurt his shoulder last year and it shows in the numbers. He’s still a good relief prospect, just not the potential shutdown late-inning force we all thought he would be two years ago.

Minor League Injury Updates: Bailey, Jagielo, Flores, Avelino, Montgomery

Jagielo. (MiLB.com)
Jagielo. (MiLB.com)

Chad Jennings spoke to VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman about a variety of minor league topics this week. The entire post is worth a read, but here are the important injury updates (obligatory reminder that Newman’s timetables have a tendency to be … optimistic):

  • RHP Andrew Bailey (shoulder) is throwing bullpen sessions in Tampa, fastballs and changeups only. No breaking balls just yet. He is coming back from a torn capsule and, if he does become an MLB option at some point this year, it won’t be until very late in the season.
  • 3B Eric Jagielo (ribcage) is currently rehabbing at the complex in Tampa and is expected to return to the High-A Tampa lineup within ten days or so. He’s been out since late-May and had a 144 wRC+ before suffering the injury.
  • OF Ramon Flores (ankle) is still “a ways away,” said Newman. He has not yet resumed baseball activities and it will be a while before he does. Flores was having a real nice year (122 wRC+) for Triple-A Scranton before getting hurt.
  • RHP Mark Montgomery (shin) is currently in Tampa working out after being hit in the shin by a comebacker. Seems like they’re taking the injury as an opportunity to work on some mechanical stuff as well.
  • SS Abi Avelino (quad), RHP Branden Pinder (groin), and OF Adonis Garcia (hamstring) are all 10-14 days away from returning to their respective teams.

2014 Season Preview: Help From Within

It's Dellin's time to shine. (Presswire)
It’s Dellin’s time to shine. (Presswire)

Last year, the Yankees got close to zero help from their farm system. The only player to come up from the minors and establish himself as a big leaguer was Adam Warren, who spent the year as the swingman. Guys like David Adams, Preston Claiborne, and Zoilo Almonte got off to hot starts, but they all tailed off once they were pressed into regular playing time. Austin Romine also failed to impress as the backup catcher. The system offered close to no help as the injuries mounted and the poor stretches turned into poor seasons.

The Yankees were not oblivious to this — Hal Steinbrenner called a staff meeting and essentially had the scouting and player development staff audited to figure out why there were no internal solution. No major personnel changes were made, but some procedural changes were implemented and the minor league complex in Tampa was renovated. Turning around the system probably won’t happen overnight, but the team did take some steps in the right direction these last few months.

At some point this season, the Yankees will have to dip into their farm system for help. It’s inevitable. Injuries will strike and fringe players will play their way off the roster. When that happens, the first attempt at fixing the problem will come from within. The Yankees have shown they will be patient and not jump right into the trade market when they need help these last few years and I have no reason to think that will change in 2014. Here are the prospects who could come up and help the MLB team this summer.

Catcher: John Ryan Murphy
Murphy, 22, got his first taste of the big leagues late last year, but that was nothing more than a September cup of coffee following a breakout season in Double-A and Triple-A. He hit .269/.347/.426 with 29 doubles and 12 homers between the two levels and has improved so much defensively that he is now viewed as a no doubt catcher long-term. Had the Yankees not signed Brian McCann, the temptation to start Murphy in 2014 would have been be great. Instead, he figures to bide his time in Triple-A and await an injury after jumping Romine on the depth chart. Of course, he might be nothing more than trade bait. Sleeper: Eh, there really isn’t a sleeper behind the plate for 2014.

Anna. (Getty)
Anna. (Getty)

Infield: Dean Anna
Similar to Murphy, Anna figures to be the first called up whenever injury strikes the infield. The Yankees acquired the 27-year-old from the Padres in a minor offseason deal and he can do a little of everything except hit for power. He can get on base and play both second and short, where the offensive bar is pretty low. I’d say the chances of Anna coming up and being an impact player  this summer are remote, but he does enough to potentially help the team both at the plate and in the field if pressed into duty. Sleeper: Jose Pirela, who’s hit .264/.334/.401 and played four positions (second, short, third, left) at Double-A the last three years.

Outfield: Zoilo Almonte
Technically, Almonte had his chance to help the MLB team last year. He came up in mid-June and had five pretty great games to start his career, but it went downhill fast and he finished the year with a .236/.274/.302 batting line in 113 big league plate appearances around an ankle injury. Almonte, 24, offers sound corner outfield defense and a switch-hitting bat, and there’s a case to be made that he’s a better fit for the bench than Ichiro Suzuki right now. Instead of making the Opening Day roster, Zoilo will have to settle for a trip to Triple-A, where he will be the first called up whenever an extra outfield body is needed. He’s the clear first in line. Sleeper: Ronnie Mustelier, who didn’t get a shot last year but could hit his way into the conversation again.

Right-handers: Dellin Betances, Mark Montgomery, Jose Ramirez
Of everyone in this post, the 25-year-old Betances probably has the best chance to crack the Opening Day roster. He finally found something resembling sustained success in the bullpen last year, pitching to a 2.06 ERA with a 93/28 K/BB in 65.2 innings after shifting into a relief role. It feels like a foregone conclusion that Betances will get a chance to not only stick in the big leagues this year, but also assume a high-profile, late-inning role. The time is now for Dellin.

Had Montgomery not gotten hurt last year, he probably would have been called up instead of Claiborne. Instead, the 23-year-old struggled to throw strikes while missing time with shoulder problems. Montgomery will likely have to show he’s back to being the guy he was from 2011-12 before getting a chance to help the MLB team with his wipeout slider. Ramirez, 24, has had trouble staying healthy over the years and sure enough, he’s already been sidelined with an oblique problem in camp. When right, his fastball-changeup combination is electric and could have a huge impact out of the bullpen, assuming the Yankees are ready to give up on him as a starter given his career-long lack of durability. Sleeper: Danny Burawa, assuming he can figure out how consistently throw strikes.

Cabral. (Getty)
Cabral. (Getty)

Left-handers: Cesar Cabral, Vidal Nuno
I wouldn’t be a complete shock if either Cabral or Nuno made the Opening Day roster, but, more likely, they figure to serve as up and down arms this season. The 25-year-old Cabral is a pure lefty specialist with a low-90s fastball and a sweepy slider, and his late-season cameo was impressive (nine lefties faced, six strikeouts). Nuno, 26, has a deep enough repertoire to start and we saw him do that last summer before his groin injury. In a perfect world, he’d turn into a left-handed 2009 Al Aceves, a rubber-armed swingman who could come in for one batter or four innings without much of a problem. Sleeper: Fred Lewis, who lacks sexy numbers but has the fastball-slider combination to help as a specialist.

* * *

The Yankees do not have a Xander Bogaerts or a Gregory Polanco in their farm system, that super high upside MLB ready prospect with a clear path to big league playing time in 2014. Any help they get from within this summer figures to come in small doses, from bench players or relievers. Sure, Murphy could take over as the starter if McCann gets hurt or Nuno could grab the fifth starter’s spot and run with it, but that would be a surprise. The system is not a position to provide an immediate impact right now unless it involves trading prospects for a big leaguer.

Minors Notes: Hensley, Katoh, Montgomery

Montgomery. (Presswire)
Montgomery. (Presswire)

The Arizona Fall League season begins next Tuesday while the various Caribbean winter leagues start a few weeks later. Until then, here are some minor league notes:

  • Chad Jennings reports RHP Dellin Betances has asked the Yankees for permission to pitch in winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He wants to stay sharp and continue throwing following a very successful transition to the bullpen. Betances will be out of minor league options next season and is a super-early favorite for the Opening Day bullpen, so his workload is worth monitoring. You don’t want the kid pitching ten months out of the year.
  • RHP Ty Hensley is done with physical therapy, according to his Twitter feed. He started a throwing program last month but probably hasn’t progressed to the point of throwing off a mound yet. I imagine the Yankees are taking it slow with last summer’s first rounder. Hensley missed the entire season after having surgery to correct an impingement in his right hip.
  • According to Sanspo (translate article), 2B Gosuke Katoh recently tore a finger ligament during Instructional League in Tampa. He saw a specialist in New York and the recovery time is four weeks, but he can continue taking batting practice with his finger taped. The article says Katoh may head to Instructional League at the Dominican Republic complex later this month if the finger is healed.
  • RHP Mark Montgomery has recently started throwing off a mound, according to his Twitter feed. His season ended in mid-August due to continued shoulder problems. The team’s top relief prospect coming into the season had a 3.38 ERA (4.00 FIP) with a lot of strikeouts (11.03 K/9 and 28.0 K%) and a lot of walks (5.63 BB/9 and 14.3 BB%) in 40 innings for Triple-A Scranton this summer. I wonder if Montgomery will play winter ball.
  • Ben Badler (subs. req’d) named Cuban LHP Omar Luis one of ten sleepers from the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League. “Luis didn’t pick up a baseball for eight months in Haiti [because of visa problems], which led to considerable rust … He showed swing-and-miss stuff with his 89-95 mph fastball, slider and changeup,” wrote Badler of the $4M southpaw. Luis had a 5.68 ERA (~3.08 FIP) with a good strikeout rate (12.22 K/9 and 26.2 K%) and an awful lot of walks (8.24 BB/9 and 17.7 BB%) in 31.2 innings.

Heathcott and Montgomery placed on minor league DL

6:05pm: Nick Peruffo reports Heathcott is heading to the team’s complex in Tampa and will have an MRI. He says it sounds like the outfielder is done for the year. The minor league season ends in less than three weeks anyway.

5:00pm: Via Mike Ashmore: OF Slade Heathcott has been placed on the Double-A Trenton DL with with right knee tendinopathy, which, from what I understand, is damage to the tendon without the typical inflammation that comes with tendinitis. No word on how long the team’s third best prospect will be sidelined. The 22-year-old Heathcott has a long injury history, mostly involving his twice surgically repaired left shoulder. He’s hit .261/.327/.411 (103 wRC+) with eight homers and 15 steals in a career-high (by far) 444 plate appearances for the Thunder, including a .283/.355/.448 line over his last 60 games.

In other minor league injury news, RHP Mark Montgomery has been placed on the Triple-A Scranton DL according to Donnie Collins. He left Saturday’s game with a shoulder issue and I assume the DL stint is related. If so, this is his third shoulder-related DL trip of the season. Montgomery, 22, has a 3.38 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 40 Triple-A innings with an excellent strikeout rate (11.03 K/9 and 28.0 K%) that is actually well below what he had done in previous years (14.56 K/9 and 40.0 K% from 2011-12). His control has completely deteriorated this summer (5.63 BB/9 and 14.3 BB%). I ranked Montgomery as the the team’s 17th best prospect in my latest update. Had he been healthy and productive this year, chances are he would have been in the big leagues already.