Ramon Flores is forcing the issue, but the Yankees don’t have a spot for him

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This spring, all eyes were on prospects Rob Refsnyder, Aaron Judge, and Greg Bird when Grapefruit League play opened. They’re three of the Yankees’ very best prospects and all could be in the big leagues sooner rather than later, especially Refsnyder. All three of them had strong Spring Trainings as well, at least offensively. This was a good spring to prospect watch. That’s for sure.

While those three were doing their thing and others like Slade Heathcott, Luis Severino, and Jacob Lindgren were flashing their ability, outfielder Ramon Flores flew under the radar and had a productive spring. His overall Spring Training numbers weren’t great (.239/.314/.413 in 51 plate appearances) but he finished very strong, going 7-for-18 (.389) with two doubles and a homer in the final two weeks, when big leaguers were getting most of the playing time.

Flores was one of the last cuts from big league camp and he went to Triple-A Scranton, where he hit for the cycle on Opening Day and had a two-homer game a week later. He has a .271/.340/.625 (188 wRC+) batting line with four homers in 53 plate appearances in the very early going, and has hit .251/.340/.473 (134 wRC+) with eleven homers in 324 Triple-A plate appearances overall since the start of last year. Flores would have played more with the RailRiders last summer had he not suffered a fluke ankle injury running the bases and missed more than two months.

Two years ago I aggressively ranked Flores as the fifth best prospect in New York’s system — Baseball America has never ranked him higher than 12th in the system (also prior to 2013), for what’s it worth — and said he is “a classic foul line-to-foul line hitter who will need to add some strength to turn his gap power into over-the-fence power down the road.” Well the over-the-fence power has started the arrive. Flores hit nine homers in only 68 total games last year after hitting six homers in 136 games in 2013 and seven homers in 132 games in 2014. And he’s already got four homers in eleven games this year. Development!

I consider Flores more of a high probability prospect than a high ceiling prospect, someone who is more likely to spend ten years in the league as a platoon left-handed hitting corner outfielder than someone who goes to a few All-Star Games at his peak. He’s a Seth Smith type, basically. That’s okay! That’s a very useful player and someone the Yankees should be happy to have only the phone call away in Triple-A. You need depth players like that. The cheaper and more homegrown they are, the better.

The problem is the Yankees have no real spot for Flores on the roster. Not now and probably not next year either. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are two of the best players on the team, and, like it or not, Carlos Beltran‘s contract and track record mean he’s going to have a very long leash. It’s not going to take one injury for Flores to get a chance with the Yankees, it’ll probably take two injuries because Chris Young and Garrett Jones are ready to step in if an outfielder gets hurt. It could happen, sure, but a lot needs to go wrong.

Right now Flores should be at the front of the line for a call-up, but there are other outfielders right behind him on the depth chart. Tyler Austin is also in Triple-A and has the advantage of batting right-handed, which the Yankees need more (both short and long-term) than another lefty like Flores. Judge is in Double-A and expected to be an impact player, not a role player like Flores. Jake Cave is also putting up numbers is Double-A and can legitimately play center field, unlike Flores. Heathcott and Mason Williams are trying to salvage their careers as well. Flores is at the front of the call-up line, but for how long?

These days we follow prospects from the day they sign their first pro contract, so it feels like Flores has been around forever, but he just turned 23 last month. He’s exactly one year younger than Refsnyder, who is considered the shiny new toy with two years and change of pro ball to his credit. Flores does have only 73 career games at Triple-A to his credit, so a few more weeks with the RailRiders wouldn’t be the end of the world, but, both short and long-term, it’s tough to see where Flores fits with the Yankees unless they do something unexpected like cut Beltran or trade Gardner. Flores is a quality player who doesn’t fit the current roster.

A trade is always possible but I’m not sure what the Yankees could get in return for someone like Flores, who’s cheap and figures to be productive but is unproven at the MLB level and doesn’t play a hard-to-fill position. The Tigers traded a similar player in Matt Joyce to the Rays for three years of Edwin Jackson during the 2008-09 offseason, but Joyce hit .252/.339/.493 (116 OPS+) with 12 homers in 92 big league games in 2008. He had some sort of MLB track record. Flores doesn’t and it’s hard to see how he’ll get much of a chance to prove himself in New York anytime soon.

“(Flores is) a guy who’s definitely on our radar. If something was to happen to one of our outfielders, I think he’d be a pretty strong candidate (to be called up),” said Joe Girardi to Ryan Hatch in Spring Training, and I totally believe it. Flores is the obvious call-up candidate if an outfielder hits the DL, but getting called up and actually playing are different things. Gardner and Ellsbury have to play, Young has earned some more playing time, and Beltran’s leash is long. In just about any other organization, Flores would be forcing his way onto the MLB roster right now. Instead, he’s stuck with the Yankees, where it’ll take multiple injuries or a surprising trade of a veteran to get a chance.

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Minor League Notes: Assignments, Spring Reports, Judge, International Spending

Pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)
The new pace of play clocks are up at PNC Field in Scranton. (RailRiders)

The Yankees open the 2015 regular season tomorrow, and a few days later the minor league season will get underway as well. Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, and Low-A Charleston all begin their seasons this coming Thursday. Here are some minor league notes to hold you over until then.

Opening Day assignments for top prospects

The full minor league rosters have not yet been released and won’t be a few days, though Josh Norris was able to get his hands on Opening Day assignments for most of the Yankees’ top prospects. The list:

Norris says the assignments could change slightly before the start of the season, but for the most part they’re set. Sanchez is going back to the Thunder to continue working on his defense with coaches and ex-catchers Michel Hernandez and P.J. Pilittere, which I don’t love, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I assume Avelino, Katoh, and Mateo will rotate between second, short, and DH like Avelino, Katoh, and Wade did last year before Avelino got hurt. I’m little surprised Mateo is going to Charleston — he’s played only games in 15 rookie ball, that’s it — but the Yankees have never been shy about aggressively promoting their best teenage players. Otherwise these assignments are fairly straight forward. No major surprises.

Notes from the backfields in Tampa

Both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Jeff Moore (no subs. req’d) recently posted a collection of notes after watching minor league games on the backfields all around Florida. Law got a look at Mateo, saying he likes “how well he keeps his hands inside the ball” and added he “liked the potential of the hit tool but was hoping to see more polish on both sides of the ball.” The polish will come. It’s only Spring Training and Mateo is still just a 19-year-old kid.

Meanwhile, Moore saw Judge, Bird, and RHP Bryan Mitchell. “What’s impressive is (Judge) seems to get a little better each time I see him. The at-bats have gotten tougher and more advanced, with a better plan each time out,” wrote Moore. He also said he sees Bird as “a potential regular first baseman” and his “power is very real, more real than he gets credit for.” As for Mitchell, Moore says his fastball/curveball combination “screams reliever, and possibly a darn good one.”

Law still ranks Judge 23rd in latest Top 50 Prospects list

Last week, Law released an updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in baseball (subs. req’d). There are only very minor changes from his top 100 list in February, with the most notable being the addition of Red Sox IF Yoan Moncada, who slots in at No. 16. Even with Moncada joining the list, Judge stays in the same No. 23 spot because he jumped over Rockies RHP Jon Gray, who hasn’t looked like himself this spring. Judge remains the third outfielder on the list behind Twins OF Byron Buxton and Cubs OF Jorge Soler. Law is the high man on Judge based on all this spring’s other top 100 lists. That’s cool with me.

Yankees spent $17.83M on international players in 2014

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees spent a ridiculous $17.83M on international prospects last year, easily the most in baseball. They spent more than the number two (Rays, $6.11M), three (Red Sox, $5.63M), and four (Astros, $5.42M) teams combined and more than the bottom ten teams combined ($16.9575M). Just to be clear, this is for the 2014 calendar year, not the 2014-15 signing period.

The Yankees handed out three of the five largest, six of the 14 largest, and 12 of the 40 largest signing bonuses to international prospects during the 2014 calendar year, according to Badler. We still don’t have a final number for the total bonuses the Yankees handed out during the 2014-15 signing period, but the total investment is clearly going to be north of $30M between bonuses and penalties. Most of that $17.83M last year was spent on July 2nd, the first day of the 2014-15 signing period. Now the Yankees just have to turn these kids into big leaguers and tradeable prospects.

Yankees release nine more minor leaguers

The Yankees have released seven more minor leaguers according to Matt Eddy: OF Yeicok Calderon, RHP Tim Giel, OF Robert Hernandez, RHP Stefan Lopez, RHP Matt Noteware, 1B Dalton Smith, and IF Graham Ramos. Dan Pfeiffer says OF Adonis Garcia was released as well, and OF Adam Silva announced on Facebook he was also released.

First things first: no more Yeicokshots!, sadly. Hernandez was signed in January, so his stint with the organization didn’t last long. Lopez led NCAA in saves in 2012 and had some potential, but he fell in love with his fastball so much in college that he lost all feel for his slider and became a one-pitch guy. The Yankees signed Giel, Noteware, and Ramos as undrafted free agents within the last two years to help fill out minor league rosters. That’s about it.

Old Timers’ Game coming to Triple-A Scranton

And finally, the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre franchise is holding an Old Timers’ Game on June 21st, reports Donnie Collins. The event will raise money for Parkinson’s disease research. “I expect the ballpark to be sold out — and standing room only. That’s the goal,” said RailRiders’ co-managing partner to Grant Cagle to Collins. A bunch of ex-Yankees will be in attendance — not sure who, exactly — to play in the Old Timers’ Game and/or mingle with fans during a meet-and-greet and autograph session. That should be fun.

Farm System Offers Some Help Now, More Help Later [2015 Season Preview]

Severino. (Presswire)
Severino. (Presswire)

Two years ago, the Yankees had a miserable season down in the farm system, with several top prospects either getting hurt, underperforming, or simply failing to move forward in their development. When big leaguer after big leaguer went down with an injury, the farm system had little to no help to offer. It was bad enough that Hal Steinbrenner and his staff essentially audited the player development system after the season, though they only made procedural changes.

Things were not nearly as bad last year, though they weren’t as good as they could have been either. Having three first round picks in the 2013 draft helped infuse high-end talent, and several other young lower level players took quicker than expected steps forward in their development. That didn’t stop the team from replacing longtime VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman and farm director Pat Roessler, both of whom were let go last October. (Newman retired, but his contract was up and all indications are he wasn’t going to be brought back anyway.)

Gary Denbo, who has worn many hats with the Yankees over the years, was tabbed as Newman’s replacement and he now oversees the player development system. (His official title is vice president of player development.) Eric Schmitt dropped the “assistant” from his old assistant director of minor league operations title and was promoted this offseason. Several other coaching and development staff changes were made as well, including the return of Greg Colbrunn (Low-A hitting coach) and Eric Duncan (Short Season defensive coach).

The Yankees are hoping those changes lead to a more productive farm system and soon. Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, and Steinbrenner all said his past offseason that young players were going to play a big role in the franchise going forward, which makes sense given Hal’s plan to get under the luxury tax threshold in two years or so. The system isn’t quite ready to graduate impact talent to the big league level, but there are several of those types of prospects on the horizon for 2016. Time to look ahead to the coming year in the minors.

The Top Prospects: Bird, Clarkin, Judge, Sanchez, Severino

You can rank them in whatever order, but I think most will agree 1B Greg Bird, LHP Ian Clarkin, OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, and RHP Luis Severino are the five best prospects in the system. Judge and Severino are a notch above the other three thanks to their sky high upside, though Cashman recently called Bird “by far the best hitter” in the organization and Clarkin might have the highest probability of the bunch. Sanchez has been around seemingly forever and I think people are getting sick of him, yet he just put up a 108 wRC+ at age 21 as an everyday catcher at Double-A. That’s pretty impressive.

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Severino is the sexy flame-throwing starter, but I consider Judge the more exciting and more polished prospect. He’s shown much better contact skills and a better approach than even the Yankees realized he had when they draft him 32nd overall in 2013, plus he also has huge raw power and is an asset defensively in right field. Judge needs to learn when to turn it loose so he can best tap into that power, but otherwise he’s a very complete prospect. Severino has big upside but still needs to improve his breaking ball and delivery.

With it looking more and more likely Sanchez will return to Double-A Trenton for yet another season, four of the Yankees’ top five prospects will be with the Thunder to start the 2015 season. Only Clarkin won’t be there — he’s slated to open the season with High-A Tampa, and while he could be promoted to Trenton later in the summer, the other four guys could be bumped up to Triple-A Scranton by then. Between Bird, Judge, Sanchez, Severino, and others like 3B Eric Jagielo and OF Jake Cave, Double-A is going to be a very fun affiliate to watch this summer.

Ready To Help Now: Flores, Lindgren, Pirela, Refsnyder

Inevitably, the Yankees will need help from within this year. Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to underperform, and the team will have to dip into the farm system for help. UTIL Jose Pirela suffered a concussion running into the outfield wall a week ago, but before that he was first in line to be called up whenever infield or outfield help is needed. His defense isn’t good anywhere; Pirela’s simply hit his way into the MLB picture.

With Pirela hurt, OF Ramon Flores figures to be first in line should outfield reinforcements be needed. I get the feeling Flores is going to spend about ten years in the league as a left-handed platoon outfielder, a Seth Smith type. He’s not a flashy prospect but he can hit, especially righties, and won’t kill his team in the field. 2B Rob Refsnyder isn’t ready for the big leagues defensively, but the Yankees could stick him at second base on an everyday basis this year and no one would think they’re crazy. He’s done nothing but hit since turning pro. Refsnyder just needs more reps on the infield after playing the outfield in college.

LHP Jacob Lindgren is New York’s best bullpen prospect and the most MLB ready, so much so that I think he should be on the Opening Day roster. Yeah, he could probably use a little more minor league time — Lindgren has yet to play at Triple-A, for what’s it worth — to work on his command, which is why he was sent to minor league camp yesterday, but Lindgren can get big leaguers out right now if the Yankees need him to. Pirela made his MLB debut last September and I expect Flores, Refsnyder, and Lindgren to make their debuts this year, sooner rather than later.

Ready To Help Soon: Austin, Bird, Judge, Rumbelow, Severino

As I mentioned earlier, much of the Yankees’ potential impact talent is likely to arrive in 2016, not 2015, including Bird, Judge, and Severino. I wouldn’t be surprised if Severino debuts this summer though. The Yankees have moved him very aggressively. RHP Nick Rumbelow is also likely to debut in 2015 as a strikeout heavy reliever, though he wasn’t as much of an Opening Day roster candidate as Lindgren. OF Tyler Austin figures to be a September call-up after spending the summer roaming the outfield with Triple-A Scranton.

Getting a cup of coffee and being ready to contribute are different things, however. Guys like Lindgren, Refsnyder, and Pirela are able to help the Yankees at the MLB level right away, at least in some aspects of the game. Others like Bird, Judge, Austin, and Severino aren’t big league ready and the Yankees shouldn’t plan on calling them up for help this year. They all need more seasoning in the minors. Next year we’ll be talking about them as players ready to help at the MLB level. They’re not ready at this very moment though.

Rumblin' Rumbelow. (Presswire)
Rumblin’ Rumbelow. (Presswire)

Breakout Candidates: DeCarr, Hensley, Mateo

You could make the case SS Jorge Mateo broke out last year, albeit in only 15 rookie ball games, but I think he has top 100 prospect in the game potential. Mateo, 19, is insanely fast with surprising power and a good approach at the plate to go with strong defensive chops at short. He received a ton of love last year and a full, healthy season in 2015 could have him atop New York’s prospect list and ranked among the best shortstop prospects in baseball.

RHP Ty Hensley‘s career has been slowed considerably by injuries, most notably two hip surgeries and a hernia that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season and the start of 2014 as well. He is healthy now and I get the sense the Yankees are ready to turn him loose with Low-A Charleston. Get him out there and let him pitch as much as possible early in the year just to make sure he gets those innings in, know what I mean? If they have to shut Hensley down in August to control his workload, so be it. He needs to make up for all the lost development time.

RHP Austin DeCarr was the Yankees’ third round pick last summer and is surprisingly refined for a kid just a year out of high school, throwing three good pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) for strikes. It’s unclear where the club will send DeCarr to start the season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he opened the year alongside Hensley in Charleston’s rotation. Other potential breakout candidates include OF Mark Payton, RHP Gabe Encinas, OF Leonardo Molina, OF Alex Palma, and SS Angel Aguilar.

Sleepers: Acevedo, De La Rosa, Haynes

Over the last few weeks RHP Domingo Acevedo has generated some buzz for his imposing frame (listed at 6-foor-7 and 190 lbs.) and a fastball that has touched triple digits. Perhaps he’s more of a breakout candidate than a sleeper? Is there a difference? Who knows. Anyway, Acevedo’s size and stuff make him super interesting, though his full season debut is likely a year away. He’s a deep sleeper.

RHP Kyle Haynes is a more traditional sleeper. The 24-year-old reliever came over from the Pirates in the Chris Stewart trade and has good stuff, specifically a mid-90s fastball and an average-ish slider. Command holds him back, which along with his age and role is the reason you haven’t heard much about him. The Yankees have had some success getting these big stuff, bad command guys to throw strikes in recent years (Shane Greene most notably), and Haynes could be next.

The most intriguing sleeper — even moreso than Acevedo — in my opinion is RHP Simon De La Rosa. The 21-year-old is a late bloomer who didn’t sign until age 19 in 2013 — he received a measly $50,000 bonus at that — but he packs mid-90s heat into his 6-foot-3, 185 lb. frame and also throws a curveball and a changeup. Despite his age, I don’t think the Yankees will aggressively move De La Rosa up the ladder because he’s so raw. The tools are there for a quality pitching prospect though.

The New Batch: DeLeon, Emery, Garcia, Gomez

Last summer the Yankees went on an unprecedented spring spree and signed many of the top available international prospects. I haven’t seen a final number anywhere, but estimates have the club shelling out more than $30M between bonuses and penalties. The two best prospects the Yankees signed are OF Juan DeLeon and 3B Dermis Garcia, though 3B Nelson Gomez, OF Bryan Emery, OF Jonathan Amundary, and C Miguel Flames are among the other notables. These guys will all make their pro debuts this season. That’s a big talent infusion in such a short amount of time.

Slade. (Presswire)
Slade. (Presswire)

Last Chance?: Campos, Heathcott, Williams

As is the case every year, the Yankees have several former top prospects facing make or break seasons in 2015. RHP Vicente Campos is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and is only throwing bullpen sessions now, so he’s unlikely to return to the mound until midseason. He’s thrown just 111.2 innings over the last three years. OF Slade Heathcott played only nine games in 2014 due to a pair of knee surgeries. He’s looked healthy in camp and needs to finally have a full season in 2015. Both Campos and Heathcott were non-tendered this offseason and re-signed to minor league contracts.

Some have called this a make or break season for Sanchez but I don’t agree with that at all. His defense needs to progress, absolutely, but he’s consistently been an above-average hitter throughout his career despite being three-ish years young for the level each step of the way. OF Mason Williams is definitely facing a make or break year, on the other hand. He hasn’t hit and has had to be benched for lack of effort on multiple occasions. Williams certainly doesn’t lack tools, he just hasn’t displayed the makeup and work ethic needed to be a big leaguer. More of the same will end his time as a prospect. Talent is important, but it will only buy you so many chances if you don’t put he work in.

The Defense First, Power Second Bench [2015 Season Preview]

Murphy and the skipper. (Presswire)
Murphy and the skipper. (Presswire)

From 2009-12, the Yankees did a good job of having a functional bench, giving Joe Girardi options to pinch-hit or rest players without the lineup taking a huge hit. That hasn’t been the case the last two years due mostly to injuries — many projected bench guys were pushed into everyday roles. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

The importance of the bench in today’s game is obvious, especially for the Yankees, who have an older roster and plenty of players who need regular time off. Three of the four bench spots were filled with new players this winter, and every member of last season’s Opening Day bench has since been jettisoned. It’s an entirely new crop of players. Let’s look at the reserves and where these guys fit in the big picture.

Catcher: John Ryan Murphy

Alternative: Austin Romine

Long-time backup Francisco Cervelli was traded away this winter for two (maybe three) reasons. One, the Yankees wanted to clear a spot for Murphy, who was impressive filling in during Cervelli’s hamstring injury last year. Two, they wanted to bolster their bullpen with Justin Wilson. (Three, they wanted to save a little cash.) The job is not Murphy’s just yet — he is competing with Romine in camp — but all signs point to him being the guy.

Murphy, 23, put up a .284/.318/.370 (93 wRC+) batting line in 32 big league games last year but his defense is his calling card. Anything he can do with the bat — he’s a year removed from a 117 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013, for what it’s worth — is a bonus. Murphy has ranked as a top shelf pitch-framer in his brief big league career and he’s considered a strong receiver who handles pitches in the dirt well.

The Yankees value catcher defense greatly. They wouldn’t clear the spot for Murphy if they didn’t believe he could excel defensively. Brian McCann is the clear cut number one catcher and will be asked to carry the majority of the workload behind the plate this year, so Murphy’s job is to get the pitching staff through the game whenever McCann needs a day off. That’s it. If he hits, wonderful. But that is secondary as far as the Yankees are concerned.

Infielder: Brendan Ryan

Alternative: Jose Pirela

Pirela. (Presswire)
Pirela. (Presswire)

Once again, the 32-year-old Ryan is dealing with a back injury in Spring Training. He started light workouts earlier this week but there’s no firm timetable for him to return to game action. That is opening the door for Pirela, just like last year’s back injury opened the door for Dean Anna. If Ryan has another setback — he’s already had one this spring — it’s hard to see how he’ll ready for Opening Day.

If healthy though, the backup infielder’s job is Ryan’s. The team owes him $2M this year and he’s still an above-average fielder at the hard to fill shortstop position. He can’t hit a lick — .167/.211/.202 (12 wRC+) in 124 plate appearances last year and that’s pretty much what you should expect going forward — but the Yankees are now a run prevention team and he fits the mold. Ryan is a guy who plays when someone else gets hurt or needs a day off, that’s it. He’s not a pinch-hitting option or even a pinch-running option.

Pirela is pretty much the exact opposite of Ryan. He can hit — or at least we think he can hit — but his glovework is very shaky. The 25-year-old hit .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with Triple-A Scranton last season and is off to an 8-for-15 (.533) start to Grapefruit League play, and that’s his calling card. Pirela’s a hitter. He’s not much of a defender but he can play just about every position other than pitcher or catcher. If Ryan can’t start the season on time, Pirela is the odds on favorite to start the year as the backup infielder.

Outfielder: Chris Young

Alternative: Pirela? Ramon Flores?

New York’s very first move of the offseason was re-signing Young to a one-year deal worth $2.5M. They grabbed him off the scrap heap last summer and he had a nice month of September in pinstripes (146 wRC+ with three homers), which earned him a new contract. Overall, the 31-year-old young hit .222/.299/.385 (95 wRC+) with the Mets and Yankees in 2014.

Young’s days as an everyday player are pretty much over. He’s a right-handed platoon bat because of his power, not his ability to hit for average, that’s what the Yankees need with two left-handed starting outfielders and a third who is a switch-hitter whose weak side is the right side. Young’s defense remains above-average — he can play all three outfield spots in a pinch — and he can even steal a base off the bench. He figures to be used most often as Carlos Beltran‘s defensive replacement in right field, though I’m sure he’ll get plenty of starts against southpaws as well.

The Yankees don’t have an obvious alternative to Young. Pirela is probably the best option and Flores is the most MLB ready of their upper level outfield prospects. Pirela is right-handed and Flores is left-handed, and that’s not insignificant given the makeup of the roster. Others like Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin need more minor league time before realistically being considered MLB options. If Young gets hurt, Pirela’s probably the guy. Assuming he isn’t filling in for Ryan, of course.

G.I. Jones. (Presswire)
G.I. Jones. (Presswire)

Utility: Garrett Jones

Alternative: Pirela? Austin?

The Yankees have been after Jones for years — they first tried to acquire him from the Pirates in the A.J. Burnett trade — and they finally landed him in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade this offseason. He gives them a backup plan at three positions where they have players who have battled injuries in recent years: first base (Mark Teixeira), right field (Beltran), and DH (Alex Rodriguez).

Jones, 33, hit .246/.309/.411 (99 wRC+) with 15 homers last year, though Miami used him as their everyday first baseman, and he’s not an everyday player. He’s a left-handed platoon hitter, one who’s hit .260/.314/.475 (116 wRC+) against right-handed pitchers over the last three years with this spray chart:


Source: FanGraphs
Yeah, Jones is going to enjoy hitting in Yankee Stadium. And that’s going to be his job. Come off the bench and try to yank something over the wall. Jones has made a nice little career of doing just that and that’s all the Yankees want him to do in 2015. Play some right field, play some first base, see a few starts at DH, mash some taters. Very straight forward.

As with Young, there is no obvious alternative to Jones, so I guess Pirela is the guy by default. Austin can also play first base, right field, and DH, but he has yet to play above Double-A, so he needs to spend some time in Triple-A before helping the big league Yankees. Jones will likely see the most playing time of the projected four bench players and that makes him the most difficult to replace.

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

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

Ramirez. (Presswire)
Ramirez. (Presswire)

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

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

No. 31: Danny Burawa

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

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

No. 30: Branden Pinder

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

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

No. 29: Jose Ramirez

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

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

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

No. 28: Jose Pirela

Pirela. (Presswire)
Pirela. (Presswire)

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

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

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

No. 27: Ramon Flores

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

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

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

No. 26: Mason Williams

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

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

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

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

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.

Outfielders, not only catchers, being showcased for trades this spring

Everyone's watching, Mason. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
Everyone’s watching, Mason. (Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

Early on in Spring Training, it was obvious the Yankees were showcasing their young catchers for trades. Gary Sanchez, John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine were (and still are) playing just about every game, either behind the plate, at DH, or off the bench. It’s no secret the Yankees need infield and bullpen help, and when you sign Brian McCann to an $85M contract, trading a spare backstop for help elsewhere makes sense.

We know at least two teams (Brewers and White Sox), have been scouting the Yankees’ catchers, so all that showcasing is not going to naught. Someone is out there watching and that’s exactly what the Yankees want. They can force anyone to make a trade. The young catchers are not the only guys out there being put on display though. The Yankees are also showcasing their extra outfielders this spring after signing both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner long-term, as well as sinking big money into Carlos Beltran on a shorter term deal.

Both Ramon Flores and Mason Williams have played in nine of the team’s first dozen Grapefruit League games so far, more than every outfielder in camp other than Adonis Garcia and Antoan Richardson, who have played in ten games each. Flores is second to Ellsbury in plate appearances among outfielders, and he’s played all three outfield spots as well. Williams has played both his usual center field as well as right, where he has zero career games in the minors. Even Ichiro Suzuki, who was shopped all winter, has started a game at each of the three outfield spots this spring as the Yankees continue to look for a taker.

Now, part of the reason why Flores and Williams are playing so much is injury. Had Slade Heathcott (knee) and Tyler Austin (wrist) been healthy this spring, they surely would have grabbed some at-bats and games in the outfield. For the purposes of showcasing their young outfielders — Flores and Williams are the team’s most tradeable outfield prospects in my opinion, though none of these guys are close to untouchable — the injuries allow the Yankees to give Flores and Williams (and even Ichiro) all that playing time. No team will trade for a player based on how he looks in Spring Training, but the extended looks give them a chance to update their internal evaluations. That can be a bad thing in some cases.

As with the catchers, the Yankees have a decent amount of outfield depth in the minors. They have a better (but more injury prone) version of Williams in Heathcott, who is also one level closer to the big leagues. Flores had an okay year in Double-A last season but he and Austin are similar players, though they bat from different sides of the plate. Holding onto every prospect isn’t a good idea no matter how badly you need homegrown players. Not at all. Some of them are going to flame out through normal attrition and knowing when to cut bait is just as important as knowing who the keep*.

* The Cardinals are great player development organization and it’s not just because of the guys they produce. When a Brett Wallace (2008 first round) or Zach Cox (2010 first round) goes bad, they get rid of them quickly (for Matt Holliday in 2009 and Edward Mujica in 2012, respectively). The Yankees did this with C.J. Henry (2005 first rounder, for Bobby Abreu in 2006) back in the day. Knowing your own players and being honest about their ability is super important.

What could the Yankees get for Flores or Williams? Who knows. A scout recently told Peter Gammons the Yankees “could be a player” for Astros third baseman Matt Dominguez, who fits their need for a young infielder. The 24-year-old Dominguez is a top notch defender with some power (21 homers in 2013) but a questionable bat in general. Would I trade Williams for five years of Dominguez? Yeah, I probably would. Double-A prospect for a young guy who can step right into the MLB lineup to fill a position of need? What else should are they supposed to trade him for? That’s just one example of a potential trade match that, as far as we know, isn’t actually on the table.

Anyway, the point is that the Yankees have some extra young outfielders and are giving teams an opportunity to scout them this spring. They’re doing the same for their extra young catchers. Given the obvious needs on the infield (and also in the bullpen, but less so) and the team’s depth in the outfield and behind the plate, showcasing these guys makes all the sense in the world. It’s due diligence, only the other way around. Instead of asking about guys, they’re letting other teams see their players. This is the time of year to showcase people, and so far the Yankees have done a lot of it.