New York Yankees: 5 Surprise Players Who Can Make the Opening Day Roster
It seems as though the Yankees empire of the 1990s and 2000s is drawing to a close. Their "core four" has lost a member to retirement while the remaining three are not far behind. Their only real stars in their prime are Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, both of whom are over 30 years old as well.
What's more troubling than the aging roster is the lack of young talent ready to come in. Even as recently as the late 2000s, the Yankees always seemed to have at least one big-time prospect ready to make an impact. Phil Hughes in 2007, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy in 2008 and Jesus Montero in 2011 excited Yankees fans with their youth and talent.
Now, with their top prospects hurt (Manny Banuelos), ineffective (Dellin Betances) or far from the majors (the entire Charleston Riverdogs/Tampa Yankees outfield), the Yankees find themselves looking for players to fill out the roster. Ahead are five surprise players who could be among the 25 chosen to open the season in the Bronx versus the Red Sox.
Currently, Melky Mesa seems to be the popular choice to fill the Yankees' fourth outfielder spot, and rightfully so. Mesa is a very talented player who could impact the Yankees lineup with semi-regular playing time this season.
However, Almonte should not be overlooked. Zoilo has improved in almost every season he has played, setting a career high in OPS with .808 last season while hitting 21 home runs and batting .277 at Double-A Trenton.
Along with his very obvious bat skills, Almonte is quite the baserunner. In his career, he has stolen 72 bags (15 last season) while being thrown out only 28 times for a 72 percent success rate. In the spring, he will compete with Mesa for a backup outfield spot on the roster, and if he plays well enough, could certainly beat him out.
In 2012, Warren and David Phelps were in fierce competition to determine which would be the first call-up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre to replace an arm in the Yankee rotation. One year later, Phelps has earned himself an almost guaranteed spot on the Yankees roster and Warren seems to be the odd man out of the starting pitcher/long-relief conversation.
However, Warren will still be one of the first called upon in the event of an injury. If a Yankee starter goes down this spring, Warren will become the favorite to start in his place on the Opening Day roster.
While it may seem a long shot for Warren to rely on others' injuries to play in the big leagues, it is not his only option. He could also push another young Yankee starter from his spot. Ivan Nova, a stellar rookie two seasons ago who regressed terribly last season, has been an enigma and it seems that Yankee management may be losing patience with him.
If Nova continues to falter and Warren impresses this spring, he could replace Nova on the roster come April.
Montgomery is one of a few Yankees draft success stories of late. Drafted in 2011, he has risen quickly through the minors and is knocking on the door of the Yankees bullpen.
Montgomery brings a mid-90s fastball and a slider that scouts have deemed "almost untouchable." This gives him a good enough mix of pitches to have racked up 99 strikeouts in 64.1 innings last season and compile a 1.88 ERA in 15 appearances and 24 innings in Trenton.
He will begin the year in Triple-A in all likelihood, but don't be surprised to see him crack the roster if he impresses this spring and immediately provide depth in the late innings.
Juan Rivera is exactly the type of player the Yankees have valued on the bench in the past few seasons. A low-risk and possible value player, he could provide depth as a right-handed bat in the outfield or at DH.
Currently, the Yankees starting outfield and DH (Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Ichiro Suzuki and Travis Hafner) are all left-handed hitters. Rivera has power from the right side and is familiar with New York from his younger days as a Yankee.
While he once displayed 20-plus home run power, he will probably sit between 10 and 20 in limited at-bats. If he makes the roster (he is a non-roster invitee to camp), he will fill the role Andruw Jones occupied for two seasons.
Joseph is another long shot to make the Opening Day roster and is in a situation similar to Adam Warren. An injury or poor play from Jayson Nix could potentially open up a spot, but the Yankees loved Nix's reliable play and clutch hitting all over the field last season.
The spot Joseph will be competing for is Eduardo Nunez's. Nunez has a strong bat and can definitely hit at the major league level, but effort and fielding focus have been a problem for him thus far in his career.
If Joseph comes out focused and shows his power potential while remaining steady in the field and Nunez has more of his infamous mental lapses (he made 20 errors in 90 total games at third base and shortstop in 2011), he could be looked at as a potential utility infielder come Opening Day.