This week's acquisition of outfielders Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco, recently released from their respective squads, means only one thing concerning the New York Yankees' attempts to improve their roster: They continue to be content with picking from the scrap heap rather than trusting their young upcoming prospects.
In the offseason, starting catcher Russell Martin and starting right-fielder Nick Swisher, along with important bench pieces in Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez all left to free agency. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson have all suffered injuries and will be out for at least a month and a half (In A-Rod's case, perhaps the entire year).
With no ML starting catcher, no regular CF (Brett Gardner will switch from LF to the 8 spot for Grandy), and half the infield gone, the Yankees are in dire straits, and have done a very poor job to replace them.
With Teixeira and Rodriguez out, former Red Sox nemesis Kevin Youkilis looks to carry the load at 1B and 3B along with Eduardo Nunez and returning Yankee Juan Rivera. Rivera, Matt Diaz, and the recently signed Boesch and Ben Francisco will compete for the fourth outfielder spot. The catching duties will be apparently shared between Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.
I don't think I have to pull up any numbers to make it clear that all these guys are mediocre at best. Even Youkilis struggled in 2012 with both Sox squads, hitting .235 with a 99 OPS+, both career lows. Injury plagued for the last couple of years, he could still be a good pickup if healthy
But the fact is, the Yankees could have simply brought some youth up to help deal with these injuries rather than waste what little money they allowed themselves to spend this past winter.
Keith Law's 2013 edition of his annual Top 100 prospects has four Yankees prospects on it. Catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielders Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott could have helped the Yankees in their situation if they were ready, but they all seem to be another year or two or perhaps three away.
As a result, the Yankees should look for help from less touted players, preferably right-handed to off-set the likes of Ichiro, Granderson, and Hafner. There are a few players in Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre that can easily fill the empty spots on the Yankees' major league roster in the Bronx until those injured can return.
Of course, the favorite to help fill in the holes the Yankees have is Eduardo Nunez, a lazy choice at best. His 88 OPS+ is not nearly enough to make up for his atrocious, Chuck Knoblauchian defense. He is not the answer at third base with both Teixeira and A-Rod out.
One guy that can fill some holes in both the OF and 3B is Ronnier Mustelier, a 28-year-old Cuban defector with just 150 games and 595 at-bats under his belt. However, he has impressed with the bat, putting up an impressive .324/.378/.488/.859 line with 18 HR, 96 RBI and 19 stolen bases in those games climbing up the system.
Despite being mediocre or average at best with the glove, Mustelier can still play both 3B and LF, so Brett Gardner can take over CF with Ichiro in right. Mustelier's hitting skills are too solid to ignore, and he more than deserves to come up with the big league club in April, especially over Nunez.
A guy who deserves a chance to become the Yankees' fourth outfielder is Melky Mesa. Yes, that's right. Another Melky. He is just 26 years old and broke out in 2012 at Double-A and Triple-A, hitting 23 HR, slugging .480, stealing 22 bags, and putting up an .805 OPS. What you also get with him, however, is a long swing causing a lot of strikeouts and not a lot of walks. Still, he's still a very good option as a fourth OF and should win the job over the likes of Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, Boesch or Francisco.
Another OF option is Zolio Almonte, 23. He hit 21 HR in 2012 at Trenton and could find his way to the big leagues if he continues to improve. He has played all three OF positions regularly, primarily right, but should have no problem if asked to play left at Yankee Stadium, as difficult as it surprisingly is. Like Mesa, however, he strikes out a lot and walks very sparingly.
If Nunez is not the answer (most likely) at utility infielder, another kid may be a better option. Corban Joseph, just 24 years old, could eventually find himself as the starting second baseman for the New York Yankees if Robinson Cano leaves after this year. Joseph has only played second in recent years but improved with the bat in 2012
If he ever (that is, EVER) gets healthy, a potential dark horse option for the infield eventually could be David Adams. He has been plagued by injuries for much of his professional career, which caused a potential Yankee trade for Cliff Lee in 2010 to be killed.
Lastly, and most unlikely is the catcher's spot. The job looks as if it will be shared by Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, two seriously flawed and poor at best MLB players. Both have absolutely no business starting for the New York Yankees. They're both backups at ABSOLUTE BEST.
The best option the Yankees have right now at catcher may be another minor leaguer, 24-year-old Austin Romine. He was limited last year due to back problems, and so far hasn't fully developed his hitting skills. But between him, Cervelli and Stewart, Romine may be the best option defensively, so it makes sense after dealing with Jorge Posada starting for over 14 years.
Sadly, it's likely that these guys won't be able to get a chance to help the club, as the Yankees continue to go with the scrap heap to fill their holes. Worked out sometimes and sometimes not. They basically replaced Johnny Damon with the likes of Randy Winn and Austin Kearns in 2010. Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon somehow managed to replace Andy Pettitte's production in 2011. Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez did well as bench pieces last two years.
But now should be the time for that to end, with the core players of this team aging and getting ready for the end of their careers (Mariano Rivera). The Yankees can't plug their leaky holes with old vets anymore. There needs to be a youth movement in the organization, eventually centering around the likes of Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams and Tyler Austin.
But with those three two years away, less touted guys need to step in and help. Who knows? Ivan Nova did well in 2011 and David Phelps looks to make his mark now. There could be guys just like them waiting for their chance, but the Yanks need to give it to them.
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