This spring, there aren’t many roster spots up for grabs. The fifth starter job, backup catcher, utility infielder, and starting second baseman had the feeling of a competition at certain points this month, but they really all seem predetermined. Adam Warren unofficially the fifth starter, John Ryan Murphy has the inside track as Brian McCann‘s backup, and the Yankees put the kibosh on Brendan Ryan and Stephen Drew losing their jobs as utility infielder and starting second baseman respectively. At this point, the only roster spot(s) available are in the back-end of the bullpen.
Assuming the Yankees run out a 12-man pitching staff as they’ve been accustomed to in recent years, there are two vacancies. There might even be three if the Yankees are disenchanted enough with the way Esmil Rogers has pitched this spring, although that’s probably a stretch. Here’s how the ‘pen shakes out:
I know I already stated that Warren is going to be the fifth starter, but I lumped him in with Rogers just as a formality. The race isn’t technically over, as Joe Girardi hasn’t made his announced. As for the last two spots, there are a bunch of guys in the hunt. It all depends on how the coaching staff and Larry Rothschild want to construct it: do they want another lefty? An extra long-man? Both? In no particular order, here are the pitchers I surmise to still be in the running:
The Yankees picked up Martin from Colorado in January, clearly putting some stock in his height (6’8″) and velocity (94.6 MPH average). Other than his stature, Martin hasn’t done much to stand out this spring. He hasn’t been awful, but because he still can be optioned to the minors, expect the Yankees to stash him in Scranton.
Mitchell has better stuff than anyone else competing for the fifth starter job, but his lack of major league experience is holding him back. With 41.2 innings at Triple-A, he probably could stand to get more seasoning. It wouldn’t be fair to bring him to the Bronx as a long man, as the development time in Scranton would be much more useful. I’m sure we’ll be seeing him get a few starts in the majors this year, but not to start the year unless a tidal wave hits the Yankees’ rotation.
Acquired from the Braves with Carpenter, Shreve is one of the plethora of southpaws in camp. He had an impressive cup of coffee with Atlanta last September, but his spring with the Bombers has been forgettable. Surrendering seven runs in eight innings isn’t a great way to get earn a roster spot, but Shreve’s presence on the 40-man does put him in a favorable spot if the Yankees want a third lefty. Jacob Lindgren has outpitched Shreve, but doesn’t have a spot on the 40-man just yet.
There’s nothing special about Whitley, but there’s no doubt he can soak up innings when needed. He doesn’t need any more development time in Triple-A, but he’s also not a big piece of this team’s future. With that in mind, plus the fact that he’s performed well in March, I have a feeling he’ll earn one of the final two spots.
After Chris Capuano got hurt, Baker became a fringy candidate for the fifth starter job. With Warren basically sealing the deal, he’s now battling for mop-up duties along with Whitley. Baker’s been up and down this spring, but he also hasn’t been good in a few years. He’s also on a minor league contract with an unspecified opt-out date, but if that date isn’t before opening day, expect the Yankees to send him to Triple-A. No need to use a 40-man spot on a guy that the Yankees can play wait-and-see with, especially considering Whitley’s been better and is already entrenched on the 40-man. Even if Baker could opt-out before spring training’s end, I don’t think he’s done enough to convince the team to not let him walk.
Burton was pretty effective in 2012 and 2013 with the Twins, but struggled last season. Buying low, the Yankees added the veteran righty on a minor league deal. Last week, the ex-Twin strained his lat and was set to undergo an MRI. We haven’t heard anything since, but the veteran righty seemed to have a decent chance at breaking camp with the Yankees. Burton is on a minor league deal like Baker, except we do know his opt out dates with the first one coming on Monday. If he doesn’t opt out then, he has to stick around until June. Unless I’ve missed some news, it doesn’t sound like he’s pitching anytime soon, so I highly doubt Burton leaves the Yankees next week. He’ll likely take advantage of being able to rehab with the club, and latch on with another organization in a couple of months if he doesn’t get his chance in the Bronx.
The team’s top draft pick from a year ago has been very impressive this month, and by all accounts is major league ready. Nonetheless, he might be better served getting regular work in Triple-A to begin the season. He’d be behind Betances, Miller, Carpenter, and Wilson in the pecking order if he broke camp with the team, so I think the Yankees will give him regular reps in Scranton to start the year. It’s probably between him and Shreve assuming the Yankees carry another southpaw, Shreve’s place on the 40-man gives him a slight nod despite Lindgren’s good work this spring. I wouldn’t be stunned if Lindgren did beat out Shreve, I’m just not anticipating it.
You might be wondering where Andrew Bailey stands. There’s no rush to get him ready for opening day considering the injury he’s recovering from and how deep the back-end of the ‘pen already runs, so expect him to stay back for at least a few more weeks. He’ll get his chance, just not come April 6th.
My prediction for the sixth and seventh spots? I think Whitley and Shreve will be in the Bronx for the opener. Indeed, there are only 39 players on the 40-man currently, so adding a perhaps more worthy Lindgren over Shreve wouldn’t be difficult. However, I don’t see the harm in giving Jacob some regular work in Triple-A to start the year. Let him get into the swing of things in April with Scranton, and then work him into the regular bullpen mix by May. Again, I foresee the Yankees rounding out the bullpen with Whitley as a long man and Shreve as a third reliever.