We’re almost there. In less than a week’s time, the Yankees will begin playing actual games. Sure they don’t count for anything, but it’s exciting nonetheless. Historically, spring training has been regarded as a great opportunity for lesser-known minor-leaguers to show what they can do. This is especially true for the 2013 Yankees given all of the uncertainty regarding the Yankees roster. There are more position battles than there have been in recent memory this year. As a result, there will undoubtedly be more opportunities for minor-leaguers to step in and make an impact. In addition, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira will be absent during spring training due to the World Baseball Classic which will allow even more playing time for non-roster guys.
Due to sample-size caveats and watered down competition, spring training stats are close to meaningless. But more qualitative things like a player’s approach or physical tools definitely go a long way in forming an impression. Here’s a look at some guys who are not on the 40-man roster but could contribute at some point this season. I’m leaving out players like Juan Rivera, Matt Diaz, Jayson Nix, Dan Johnson, and Bobby Wilson who have significant major league experience. We’ll cover these guys when we cover the Yankees’ positional battles.
Ronnier Mustelier: Mustelier is the dark horse in the right-handed OF/DH competition. The 28 year-old Cuban expat signed with the Yankees in June 2011 and has done nothing but hit in the minors. He holds a healthy .324/.378/.497 line over 150 total minor-league games. Much of that was against pitchers 6 or 7 years younger than him so it’s best not to put too much stock in these numbers. At this point, it’s hard to gauge exactly how good Mustelier is or what he’ll become, but there’s certainly reason to be optimistic. While he has experience at second and third, it seems the Yankees see him as a better fit in the outfield. Barring a monster spring, he’ll start the year in AAA due to his lack of experience. But given his competition, he will get an opportunity to show what he can do if he hits in AAA.
Thomas Neal: Like Mustelier, Neal has an outside shot at cracking the roster as a platoon OF/DH, but is more likely ticketed for AAA. A 36th round draft pick, Neal became a prospect after a monster 2009 in high A ball. Since then, he’s stalled offensively. He did perform well in AA with the Indians last year, but he was also old for the league (24). He’ll get his shot if he hits in AAA.
Gil Velazquez: Velazquez is a 33-year-old journeyman infielder who’s only seen minimal time in the majors. He has hit well in AAA the last couple of years and can play second, third, and short. Velazquez might be useful in a pinch, but has literally no upside. He’ll probably spend most of the year in AAA but may see some time in the Bronx if the Yankees need short-term infield depth.
Addison Maruszak: Maruszak is already 26 and has yet to make it out of AA. The clock is ticking on his career. He can play all over the infield though and did have a minor breakout last season (117 wRC+) so there’s reason to be optimistic. He’ll probably head to AAA and may get a cameo if there’s an injury or two in the infield. He’s in the same boat as Gil Velazquez.
J.R. Murphy: This one may be a bit of a stretch. But if things break right, Murphy could see action behind the plate in the second half. An offensive-minded catcher, Murphy’s been a bit of a disappointment after being chosen in the second round in 2009. Murphy hasn’t even turned 22 yet so there’s certainly no need to rush him. Given the Yankees’ current catching options though, a breakout season by Murphy in AA might push the organization’s hand.
Mark Montgomery: The 22-year-old reliever has been a strikeout machine in the minors and has consistently posted FIP’s in the low 1’s. He’s just about as good as they come as far as relief prospects go and definitely has the stuff to succeed at major league level. Barring something unforeseen, he should be in the Bronx by mid-season and could end up working some high leverage innings down the stretch. For what it’s worth, his top comp by Pecota is Pedro Martinez which is definitely encouraging.
Chase Whitley: Whitley spent all of last season in AAA and performed posted a solid 3.25 ERA backed up by a 3.70 FIP. He’s still just 23 so there’s certainly no rush, but he’s just about ready for the bigs. Between Whitley and Montgomery, the Yanks should receive solid bullpen reinforcements come mid-season.
Jim Miller: Miller has bounced around quite a bit in his career and wasn’t really given a shot until last season despite a good amount of success in AAA. He performed admirably with the A’s last year (2.59 ERA, 4.29 SIERA in 33 games). Miller will report to AAA yet again, but could get the call at some point to soak up some middle-relief innings.
Josh Spence: This Australian-born Spence raced through the Padres’ minor league system after being drafted in 2010. He saw time in the majors in 2011 and 2012 but struggled with walks (14% BB%). He throws with his left hand which will certainly open many doors for him in his career. The Yankees currently have 4 loogys on the 40-man roster so his path to the majors looks unclear. But if the Yankees finally give up on Cesar Cabral and something happens to either Boone Logan or Clay Rapada, Spence would probably get the call.
David Herndon: Yet another fringy reliever, Herndon’s spent the last 3 years with the Phillies and was essential replacement level. He underwent Tommy John surgery last June so he wouldn’t be an option until mid-season. If anything, he’ll probably (hopefully) see nothing other than low-leverage innings.
Photo by frank wouters from antwerpen, belgium (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons