Continuing our series documenting the roster competitions, today let’s delve into the candidates shooting to be half of the DH platoon with Travis Hafner, plus some time in the outfield. Before we get to the details, in case you missed our previous related articles, you can review the following: breaking down some of the non-roster invitees, the utility infielder battle, and the catching candidacy.
The competition involves a couple of essentially washed up veterans, plus a few longshot minor leaguers. The guys you’ve most likely heard of include Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz, while others like Ronnier Mustelier, Thomas Neal, Zoilo Almonte, and Melky Mesa may get some consideration.
Almonte and Mesa are the least likely to make the opening day roster; it would probably take a few injuries to create the opportunity. Nonetheless, because they are on the 40-man roster, they’ll get an extended look this spring since no roster spot would need to be cleared in the unlikely event one of the two is selected. The biggest redeeming quality from both players is the power (both hit more than 21 home runs in the minors last season), but the lack of experience above Double-A is daunting.
Chris already broke down the merits of Mustelier and Neal in his article regarding the NRIs, so let’s take a look again. First, the Cuban defector:
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.
Here’s what Chris wrote about 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.
Now, the favorites of the competition: Rivera and Diaz. Both players have hit lefties very well in their heyday, but injuries and poor performance forced them into accepting minor league deals this winter. Unfortunately, PECOTA doesn’t see much good coming from either of the pair, but gives Rivera the slight edge. The projection system foresees a .252/.305/.412 slash line from Rivera, and .251/.305/.382 from Diaz. They’re projected to get on base at the same rate, but Rivera is expected to hit for more power. ZiPS virtually concurs, pegging Rivera and Diaz for .307 and .293 wOBAs respectively.
Based on the projection systems, Rivera is the sensible choice. Without using PECOTA or ZiPS, Rivera probably is the more logical choice, anyway. Diaz has done next to nothing the past two seasons and struggled to remain healthy, while Rivera has still shown the ability to hit lefties above average, per wRC+.
Barring injury, expect Rivera to make the cut. However, as we know, at lot can happen from now until opening day. Even if Rivera and Diaz went down in Spring Training, I don’t think the Yankees would be comfortable going with Almonte, Mesa, Mustelier, or Neal. I’d expect Brian Cashman to make some sort of move to resolve the situation.
Photo by Chrisjnelson at the English language Wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons