Judge, Mateo, Kaprielian headline 2016 Spring Training invitees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Yankees announced their list of non-roster Spring Training invitees for the 2016 season. A total of 25 non-roster players were invited, so add in the guys on the 40-man roster, and the Yankees will have a total of 65 players in Spring Training this year. Last season they had 68.

Here are the 25 non-roster players who will be in Tampa this spring. As always, everyone on the 40-man roster will be there as well.

CATCHERS (6)
Carlos Corporan
Francisco Diaz
Kyle Higashioka
Eddy Rodriguez
Sebastian Valle
Santiago Nessy

INFIELDERS (6)
Jonathan Diaz
Pete Kozma
Jorge Mateo
Deibinson Romero (recently signed as a minor league free agent)
Donovan Solano
Tyler Wade

OUTFIELDERS (3)
Dustin Fowler
Aaron Judge
Cesar Puello

PITCHERS (10)
LHP Richard Bleier
RHP Tyler Cloyd (recently signed as a minor league free agent)
RHP Domingo German (rehabbing from Tommy John surgery)
RHP Chad Green
RHP James Kaprielian
RHP Brady Lail
RHP Diego Moreno
RHP Vinnie Pestano
RHP Anthony Swarzak
LHP Tyler Webb

Obviously some players have a much better chance of making the Yankees than others. Mateo, for example, has close to zero chance of making the Opening Day roster. He’ll be in camp so the big league coaching staff can get a firsthand look at arguably the top prospect in the organization. The same applies to Kaprielian, last summer’s first round pick, and Judge.

Right now the Yankees have five open big league roster spots: three in the bullpen, the backup catcher, and the final bench spot. Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine are the main candidates for the backup backstop job along with Corporan. It seems like the Yankees want Sanchez to be the guy, but there are service time reasons to send him to Triple-A for a few weeks (35 days in Triple-A equals an extra year of team control). All those extra catchers will be in camp to help catch bullpens and stuff.

Brian Cashman has confirmed the Yankees intendt the use their final bench spot as something of revolving door. They want to rotate players in and out based on their needs at the time, and that includes adding an eighth reliever on occasion. Remember, position battles do not end when Spring Training is over. Whoever gets those three bullpen spots and the two bench spots will have to produce during the regular season to keep the job.

Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Tampa on Thursday, February 18th. That’s two weeks from yesterday. Position players will report on Wednesday, February 24th, and the first full squad workout will follow on February 25th.

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.

DotF: Pulaski blows late lead to force Game Three

Some notes:

  • Chad Jennings spoke to Billy Eppler about the thinking behind the team’s Arizona Fall League assignments. Eppler also provided some injury updates: 3B Eric Jagielo (knee) is close to resuming baseball activities, C Gary Sanchez (hamstring) is basically day-to-day at this point, LHP Tyler Webb (hand) is close to returning following a tendon issue, and LHP Jacob Lindgren (elbow) is still on a throwing program but has not yet thrown off a mound.
  • I missed this the other day, but Low-A Charleston was on the wrong end of an upheld protest. They won Tuesday night’s game on a walk-off, but apparently no one noticed time was called before the winning run crossed the plate. The other team protested, the league upheld it, they resumed the game from the point of the protest Wednesday, and the RiverDogs walked off again. Two walk-offs in one game! Here’s the box score.
  • RHP Domingo Acevedo placed tenth on this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet, the final Hot Sheet of the season. “He hit triple digits in each of his past three starts, including as high as 103 mph in a recent outing … Acevedo couples his fastball with an above-average changeup and improving slider. At 6-foot-7 and 200-plus pounds, he has big-time potential,” said the write-up. Golly.

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 win over Buffalo) their season ends Monday and they’ve already clinched the division title

  • RF Ben Gamel: 0-2, 2 BB, 1 K
  • CF Jake Cave: 1-3, 1 2B, 2 K
  • LHP Chris Capuano: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 8/2 GB/FB — 47 of 71 pitches were strikes (66%) … wonder if he’ll be back with the big league team once the Triple-A postseason is over … probably, right?
  • RHP Chris Martin: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 15 of 22 pitches were strikes (68%)

[Read more…]

Sanchez, Jagielo, Wade headline 2015 Arizona Fall League rosters

Sanchez. (Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

Earlier today, the bulk of the 2015 Arizona Fall League rosters were announced. This year the Yankees are sending C Gary Sanchez, 3B Eric Jagielo, SS Tyler Wade, OF Dustin Fowler, LHP Chaz Hebert, and LHP Tyler Webb to the AzFL. Josh Norris says they still have two more pitching spots available, if they choose. They don’t have to send anyone else.

Sanchez and Jagielo are the headliners. I had them as New York’s No. 3 and No. 8 prospects in my most recent rankings, respectively. They’re both hurt right now — Sanchez pulled a hamstring last week while Jagielo has been out since mid-June following knee surgery — and will be making up for lost time in the desert. The fact both are on the roster is an indication the team expects them to be healthy.

Jagielo, 23, was scheduled to play in the AzFL last year before being hit in the face by a pitch in Instructional League. He hit .284/.347/.495 (140 wRC+) with nine home runs in 58 games for Double-A Trenton this season before the knee acted up. The 22-year-old Sanchez put up a .274/.330/.485 (134 wRC+) line with 18 homers in 93 games split between Double-A and Triple-A this summer.

I ranked Wade as the team’s No. 11 prospect a few weeks ago, so he’s not too far behind Sanchez and Jagielo. Wade, 20, has hit .258/.322/.332 (100 wRC+) in 119 games this year, doing most of the damage with High-A Tampa (117 wRC+ in 98 games) before struggling at Double-A (17 wRC+ in 21 games). The 20-year-old Fowler owns a .302/.339/.403 (117 wRC+) line with five homers in 118 games between Low-A and High-A this year.

Like Sanchez and Wade, the 25-year-old Webb is on the rehab trail after pitching to a 2.84 ERA (3.23 FIP) in 38 innings for Triple-A Scranton. He hasn’t pitched since late-June and I’m not sure why. Some kind of injury. Couldn’t have been too bad if the Yankees expect him to pitch in the AzFL. Hebert, 22, has had a breakout year, posting a 2.58 ERA (3.05 FIP) in 129 innings at three levels in 2015. Fowler, Webb, and Hebert did not make my most recent top 30 prospects list.

One of those last two pitching spots could go to LHP Jacob Lindgren, who’s been out since mid-June after having bone spurs removed from his elbow. He is currently on a throwing program but has not yet thrown off a mound, so he might not be ready in time for the AzFL season. The 22-year-old southpaw had a 1.23 ERA (1.88 FIP) in 22 Triple-A innings this season before throwing seven big league innings and getting hurt. The AzFL seems like a good opportunity to make up for some lost innings if healthy.

The other spot could go to LHP Ian Clarkin, I suppose, but that seems very unlikely. Clarkin, the team’s No. 7 prospect, has not pitched at all this season due to a lingering elbow problem. He is currently on a throwing program and has apparently been throwing off a mound recently. That said, the AzFL is an extreme hitter’s league, so most teams do not send their top pitching prospects. The Yankees might not want Clarkin pitching in such a rough environment after missing the season.

There’s no sense in adding Lindgren or Clarkin to the AzFL rosters before they complete their throwing programs, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens with those last two spots. This season Yankees farmhands will play for the Surprise Saguaros alongside Royals, Brewers, Cardinals, and Rangers prospects. Here’s the full roster. The 32-game AzFL season begins October 13th and runs through November 19th. The Championship Game is scheduled for November 21st.

Depth Arms: Miscellaneous Non-40-Man Roster Pitchers [2015 Season Preview]

Yesterday afternoon we took at look at the Yankees’ pitching depth heading into the 2015 season, specifically the 40-man roster players expected to start the season in the minors with a chance to get called up at some point. Today we’re going to focus on non-40-man roster pitchers in the same position. Guys expected to report to the minors come Opening Day with a chance to see the Bronx at some point during the summer. Some are more likely to be called up than others, of course.

Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)
Bailey. (Bryan Hoch)

Andrew Bailey: The Ex-All Star

The Yankees signed Bailey last offseason knowing he was unlikely to pitch in 2014. Like Jon Lieber in 2003 or David Aardsma in 2011, the Yankees signed an injured established big leaguer with an eye on the following season. Lieber paid dividends in 2004, Aardsma didn’t in 2012. Such is life. Bailey rehabbed last year and instead of picking up his $2.5M club option for 2015, the Yankees signed him to a new minor league contract this offseason.

Bailey, 30, has finally returned to the mound this spring after needing close to 20 months to rehab from surgery to repair a torn shoulder capsule, a potential career-ender. He’s looked okay in camp — “rusty” is the word I would use — striking out four and allowing one unearned run on two hits and a walk in three innings. His fastball has been mostly 90-92 mph, which is encouraging, and his curveball is still a little loopy. All things considered, Bailey’s looked alright given the nature of his injury, though it’s clear he still needs some time to get ready for MLB action.

There’s only a week to go in Spring Training and it’s hard to see the Yankees taking Bailey north on Opening Day. He has yet to pitch with fewer than two days of rest between appearances and there simply isn’t enough time left in camp to get him to where he needs to be to be considered for the big league bullpen. That’s okay, that’s why he’s on a minor league contract. Bailey can go to the minors for a few weeks — I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts with High-A Tampa to stay close to the home base (and also avoid the cold weather) — and continue to work his way back.

It’s unfair to expect Bailey to return to his 2009-11 form, when he was the 2009 Rookie of the Year and a deserving two-time All-Star, but there’s at least now some hope he can help the big league bullpen. He’s fully rehabbed from his surgery and pitching in actual games, and he says he feels great too, which is important. Hopefully Bailey is able to come up at some point this summer and help the Yankees, even if he’s only a sixth or seventh inning middle reliever type. Getting that much out of him would be a win.

Baker. (Presswire)
Baker. (Presswire)

Scott Baker: Here For Use & Abuse

Baker is a good example of what Tommy John surgery can do to marginal big leaguers with okay stuff who rely on precise location to succeed. The 33-year-old returned from surgery with stuff and command that was down a grade or two across the board, hence his 5.47 ERA (4.78 FIP) in 80.2 innings for the Rangers last year. Baker is now three full years removed from Tommy John surgery, so perhaps his stuff will tick up a bit this year, but otherwise there’s very little reason to think he can contribute to the Yankees in a meaningful way in 2015. If he is on the big league roster at some point, he’ll probably be stuck working in a mop-up role until something better comes along. It’s harsh, though at this point of his career Baker’s the kind of guy the Yankees can run into the ground then designate for assignment when someone better comes along.

Nick Goody: 2015 Possible, 2016 More Likely

Goody is the first actual prospect/non-veteran retread in this post, though that’s only because I listed the players alphabetically. The 23-year-old Goody returned from Tommy John surgery at midseason last year and had a 4.60 ERA (3.63 FIP) with a 32.9 K% in 31.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A, though his walk rate (10.7%) was a bit high, which isn’t surprising for a guy coming off elbow reconstruction.

Goody was invited to big league camp and had a nice but brief Grapefruit League season before being sent to minor league camp (4.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K). He’s a classic low-90s fastball/mid-80s slider righty reliever and I think the team’s bullpen depth will push him back to Double-A to start 2015. Goody could get called up this year, but with so many bodies ahead of him, a 2016 debut seems more likely.

Jacob Lindgren: The Strikeout (& Ground Ball) Factory

Lindgren. (Presswire)
Lindgren. (Presswire)

We know all about Lindgren’s strikeout exploits by now, but I think my favorite fact is that he had a 79% ground ball rate in college and an 81% ground ball rate in pro ball last year. He’s an extreme strikeout pitcher and there’s reason to believe he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher too. His slider is that good.

As I said earlier this week, I believe the 22-year-old Lindgren is big league ready and belongs on the Opening Day roster. If the Yankees don’t agree, he’ll go to Triple-A Scranton for a few weeks before inevitably being called up. It would be a major upset if Lindgren does not make him MLB debut in 2015. He is by far the team’s best bullpen prospect and one of the very best in the game period.

James Pazos: Lefty With Velocity

When the Yankees let Matt Thornton go on trade waivers last August, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman both mentioned Pazos by name when discussing the team’s lefty relief depth. The 23-year-old had a 2.42 ERA (2.38 FIP) with a very good strikeout rate (27.4%) and an okay walk rate (9.1%) in 67 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2014. Pazos has had a nice big league camp (4.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K) but he really stands out for his stuff, specifically his mid-90s fastball and low-80s slider. He could start the season at Triple-A Scranton, but with so many lefties on the depth chart ahead of him, Pazos may end up waiting for 2016 like Goody.

Nick Rumbelow: Unconventional Dominance

Fun fact: Rumbelow leads all Yankees pitchers with 12 strikeouts this spring. (Well, he’s tied with Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka, but they’ve thrown more innings.) The 23-year-old shot up the minor league ladder last summer, posting a 2.62 ERA (2.05 FIP) with outstanding strikeout (34.0%) and walk (7.4%) rates in 58.1 innings while climbing from Low-A Charleston to Triple-A Scranton. He was lights out.

Rumbelow is a relatively little guy at 6-foot-0 and 190 lbs., and he racked up all those strikeouts with a mid-90s fastball and big overhand curveball coming from an extremely high arm slot. It’s straight over the top and unconventional:

Nick Rumbelow

You don’t see many big leaguers with that arm angle — Josh Collmenter of the Diamondbacks comes to mind, but that’s it — so it’s an uncomfortable look for hitters. The Yankees seem to like Rumbelow a lot — he still has not been reassigned to minor league camp and he was invited to Captain’s Camp in January — and I can’t blame them. He’s got good stuff and has put up remarkable numbers since being a seventh round pick in 2013.

It would surprise me if Rumbelow made the Opening Day bullpen but I guess it’s not impossible. More than likely though he’ll return to Triple-A and wait for a call-up. Rumbelow is more like Lindgren than Goody or Pazos in that I expect him to make his MLB debut this season, probably in the second half. Once he gets there, he has the potential to stick around for a while.

Luis Severino: The Top Prospect

I decided to include Severino in this post rather than next week’s farm system preview because it sure seems like the Yankees have him on the fast track, which sets him up to make his MLB debut this summer. The just turned 21-year-old right-hander climbed three levels last year, going from Low-A to High-A to Double-A on the strength of a 2.46 ERA (2.40 FIP) with great strikeout (27.8%) and walk (5.9%) rates. In fact, Severino had the lowest FIP among the 551 minor league pitchers to throw at least 100 innings in 2014. That’s pretty awesome.

As good as the numbers are, Severino is not a finished product. Most 21-year-olds aren’t. His fastball is electric, sitting in the mid-90s and regularly bumping up into the high-90s, and his changeup is very advanced for a kid his age. Severino’s slider is still a work in progress though, and there are concerns about his delivery as well. They were easy to see during his brief Grapefruit League cameo; he doesn’t use his legs much and his arm does a lot of the work:

The slider and delivery are things Severino needs to work on before becoming a regular big league pitcher. The only question is whether the Yankees will give him the opportunity to work on those things in Double-A and/or Triple-A this year, or if they’ll continue to rush him up the ladder and call him up at some point. It’s easy to understand why they like him. It’s also easy to see he could benefit from some more development time in a place where results don’t matter. Severino is a big league option this year because the Yankees are treating him that way, not necessarily because he’s ready for it.

Tyler Webb: Lefty Without Velocity

Webb, 24, is another quick riser, pitching to a 3.80 ERA (2.71 FIP) with very good strikeout (32.2%) and walk (7.5%) rates in 68.2 innings last year while climbing from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton. Unlike the other young guys in this post, Webb doesn’t have standout stuff, sitting mostly in the upper-80s and occasionally touching the low-90s with his fastball. He also throws a curveball and a changeup. Webb is a stats before scouting report guy, but when a southpaw puts up numbers like this, he’s tough to ignore. He’ll return to Triple-A to start the season, though the Yankees have a lot of lefties ahead of him on the depth chart. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pazos gets the call before Webb either.

Judge, Severino, Bird, Lindgren, Refsnyder headline Spring Training invitees list

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

Two weeks from tomorrow, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa for the start of Spring Training 2015. Baseball’s getting closer, folks. On Thursday, the Yankees officially announced their list of Spring Training invitees, a list that runs 66 (!) players deep.

As a reminder, everyone on the 40-man roster automatically goes to big league Spring Training, because duh. Here’s the 40-man roster and here are the 26 non-40-man roster players who have been invited to big league camp, which include some of the Yankees’ top prospects:

POSITION PLAYERS
C Francisco Arcia
C Trent Garrison
C Juan Graterol
C Kyle Higashioka
C Eddy Rodriguez
1B Greg Bird
1B Kyle Roller
IF Cito Culver
IF Cole Figueroa
IF Jonathan Galvez
IF Nick Noonan
IF Rob Refsnyder
OF Jake Cave
OF Slade Heathcott
OF Aaron Judge

PITCHERS
RHP Andrew Bailey
RHP Scott Baker
RHP Jose Campos
RHP Nick Goody
LHP Jacob Lindgren
RHP Diego Moreno
LHP James Pazos
RHP Wilking Rodriguez
RHP Nick Rumbelow
RHP Luis Severino
LHP Tyler Webb

Obviously the biggest names here are Judge, Bird, Severino, Refsnyder, and Lindgren, five of the team’s very best prospects. Lindgren, the Yankees’ top pick in last year’s draft, has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster. So does Refsnyder, but he has more bodies ahead of him on the depth chart. I can’t see any scenario in which Judge, Severino, or Bird make the roster out of camp.

Bailey has been rehabbing from shoulder capsule surgery for nearly two years now and appears to finally be healthy. Could he step in and close with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller working as setup men? Bailey has closer experience, you know. Graterol, Figueroa, Galvez, Noonan, Baker, and the two Rodriguezes were added a minor league free agents for depth this winter. The rest are farm system products. Guys looking to put themselves on the map for a midseason call-up.

Teams always need extra catchers to help catch all those early-Spring Training bullpen sessions, which is why the Yankees are bringing five non-roster backstops to camp in addition to the four catchers already on the 40-man roster. The last bullpen spot is up for grabs — it could be more than one if Adam Warren and/or Esmil Rogers are needed to help the rotation — so camp is a big opportunity for these pitchers, especially guys like Rumbelow, Webb, Goody, and Pazos, who aren’t top prospects.

Prospect Profile: Tyler Webb

(Robert Pimpsner)
(Robert Pimpsner)

Tyler Webb | LHP

Background
Webb, whose full name is Jon Tyler Webb, is from the tiny little town of Nassawadox on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. He pitched at Northampton High School. Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank him as one of the 31 best prospects in the state for the 2009 draft, and Webb ultimately went undrafted out of high school. He instead followed through on his commitment to the University of South Carolina.

Webb worked as a swingman during his freshman year with the Gamecocks, pitching to a 3.96 ERA with 36 walks and 13 strikeouts spread across seven starts and ten relief appearances. He held the same role as a sophomore, and while Webb improved to a 3.00 ERA in 36 innings across five starts and 17 relief appearances, he struck out only 28 and walked 17. USC won the College World Series both years.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Webb, who was a draft-eligible sophomore, as one of the 40 best prospects in South Carolina after the 2011 college season. The Reds selected him in the 48th round (1,465th overall pick) of the 2011 draft and whatever bonus they offered Webb wasn’t enough. He opted to return to school for his junior season.

USC moved Webb into the bullpen full-time as a junior and he was excellent, pitching to a 1.56 ERA in 39 appearances. He struck out 58 and walked 18 in 57.2 innings. Despite that performance, Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Webb among the top prospects in the state for the 2012 draft and he went undrafted, so he returned to school for his senior season. (The draft was shortened from 50 rounds to 40 rounds in 2012.)

Webb took over as the team’s closer as a senior and saved 17 games with a 1.47 ERA in 43 innings. He struck out 60, walked 14, and, for the second straight year, did not allow a homer. That earned him a spot on the All-American Third Team. Webb appeared in 32 games that spring and set the school’s all-time record with 110 career pitching appearances. He finished his career at USC with a 2.34 ERA and a 182/62 K/BB in 173 innings.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Webb as the 17th best prospect in South Carolina for the 2013 draft but not as one of the top 500 draft prospects overall. The Yankees selected him in the tenth round (314th overall) as a way to save draft pool space — they signed him to a well-below slot $30,000 bonus almost immediately, saving a little more than $100,000 in draft pool space. (That money eventually went to Aaron Judge‘s above-slot bonus.)

Pro Career
The Yankees assigned Webb to Short Season Staten Island after the draft but he didn’t stay there long. After striking out eight and walking two in five hitless innings, they bumped him up to Low-A Charleston. Webb had a 3.86 ERA (3.25 FIP) with 40 strikeouts and only six walks in 30.1 innings across 16 appearances with the River Dogs to close out his first taste of professional baseball.

Assigned to High-A Tampa to open the 2014 season, Webb made only eight appearances there before being moved up to Double-A Trenton. He had a 2.77 ERA (1.24 FIP) with 17 strikeouts and one walk in 13 innings and eight appearances with Tampa. Webb’s stint with the Thunder was also relatively short — he was there for only 35.2 innings and 23 appearances, during which he had a 4.04 ERA (2.65 FIP) with 51 strikeouts and 14 walks.

The Yankees moved Webb up to Triple-A Scranton late in the season and he had a 4.05 ERA (3.76 FIP) in 20 innings across 17 appearances with the RailRiders. He struck out 26 and walked seven. All together, Webb had a 3.80 ERA (2.74 FIP) with 94 strikeouts (32.1%) and 22 walks (7.5%) in 68.2 relief innings at three minor league levels in 2014.

Scouting Report
First things first: Webb is huge. He’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. Not a small man. Despite all that size, Webb’s fastball is only average, usually sitting in the 90-92 mph range even as a full-time reliever. His upper-70s curveball is a decent second offering but not a knockout pitch. I’m guessing the Yankees had him tinker with a cutter at some point as well. Here’s some video from his senior year at USC:

Webb’s average-ish stuff plays up a little bit because he has some funk in his delivery and hides the ball well. It’s a classic lefty specialist profile — lefties have hit .216/.264/.353 with a 40.5% strikeout rate and a 4.0% walk rate against Webb as a pro for what it’s worth, which isn’t much because it’s only 126 plate appearances spread across parts of two seasons — without a ton of upside. Webb has an okay fastball, can spin a breaking ball, and uses his delivery to create deception. Textbook matchup southpaw.

2015 Outlook
Given his zoom up the ladder and proximity to the Major Leagues, I expect Webb to get an invitation to big league Spring Training come February. I don’t think he has much of a chance of winning a bullpen job, but it will be an opportunity to show the staff what he can do and put himself in position for call-up later in the season. Kinda like Preston Claiborne in 2013. Either way, impressive camp or not, Webb is ticketed for a return to the Triple-A Scranton bullpen to start next season.

My Take
I like Webb in a “he’s exceeded all expectations a senior sign in the tenth round” kind of way. He’s a little older than the typical prospect (turns 25 in July), but if all he ever does is reach MLB and throw about ten good innings, it’s successful draft pick. Webb might be most useful to the Yankees as a trade chip though — granted, players like this don’t have a ton of value, but some team might like him as the second or third piece in a trade — because the organization has a lot of left-handed relief depth at the moment. Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, and Jacob Lindgren are ahead of Webb on the depth chart and James Pazos is right behind him. Webb will get an opportunity to open eyes in Spring Training, and not only the Yankees’.