Giving The Kids The Keys

Zoilo Almonte

(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

Call me crazy, but I saw something significant in the small flurry of personnel moves the Yankees made last Friday.  No, it wasn't the end of the saddest SS platoon in history, although it did get a little dusty in here when I read that Reid Brignac was gone (not really).  It was the commitment being made to the young guys on the active roster that stood out to me.  In making that move to dump Brignac, call Alberto Gonzalez back up from Triple-A, and make Jayson Nix the everyday shortstop, the Yankees were also in effect giving the everyday starting third base job back to David Adams.  Add to that the insertion of Zoilo Almonte into the everyday lineup for Vernon Wells and it looks like the Yankees are finally ready to follow the demands of tons of fans out there and let the kids play.

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Should We Believe In David Adams' Bat?

At the beginning of every season, we bloggers tend to have some fun with bold predictions. Not to toot my own horn, but I did pretty well in 2012. I had Zack Greinke being traded and headlining the free agent market for starters in the fall over Cole Hamels, then I had Jesus Montero, Michael Pineda, and Hector Noesi struggling with Jose Campos being the most impressive piece of last year's trade, and then I had the Nationals' starting rotation beating out the Phillies'. This season I predicted that the Yankees would have a Rookie of the Year contender. adamsWhen I made this prediction, I was purposely vague, as I honestly had no idea who it would be. The Yankees have an above average farm system, but most of the top prospects are at least a year away from the major leagues. I made this prediction based on injury concerns, and knowing that players in Triple-A would get a chance at some point. It could have been Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, Ronnier Mustelier, Thomas Neal, Zoilo Almonte or a number of other potential replacements that we watched in Spring Training. There has been some truth to it, as it's only May and we've already seen a ton of rookies get a chance to play with the Yankees, yet none of them have succeeded enough to start considering them for RoY contention.

SMALL SAMPLE SIZE WARNING: David Adams has only had a handful of at bats, but he's certainly received the most hype. Through 27 plate appearances , the infielder has already hit 2 doubles and 2 home runs while playing a very impressive third base. 7 games isn't enough to judge any player, but his early showing has been extremely positive, and fans have already started talking about what the team should do when Kevin Youkilis returns.

Personally, I don't buy the glove. I've seen him make some terrific plays, but with just 60 minor league games played at the hot corner, and a less than positive reputation by scouts, it's hard to believe that Adams could continue to play a flawless third base. Regardless, Adams knows that he'll live and die by his bat, and the only way he'll stay with the major league team is to keep hitting the ball. The question remains, is his bat for real?

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First Impressions Of Adams And Romine

Adams vs BAL

While the unexpected success of veterans like Wells and Hafner dominated the early headlines, lately it's the kids getting the bulk of the spotlight as the Yankees continue to get helpful contributions from rookies.  5 in all have made their Major League debut already this season, something that the Yanks haven't done since guys like Mo and Jeter debuted back in '95.  For a team that's had its MiL system defined by a lack of upper-level impact talent, it's notable not only for the number of players but also for the fact that the team continues to win ballgames and have those rookies be major contributors to those victories.  Vidal Nuno throwing shutout starts, Preston Claiborne getting late-inning outs in big spots, David Adams raking from the middle of the order, it's all great.

Whether you're a prospect hugger or not, something like watching a bunch of  homegrown rookies come up and play well is always exciting from a fan's perspective.  Those guys are easy to root for and I always find myself paying more attention to their at-bats and plays in the field to see how they look as Major Leaguers.  For a number of reasons, I hadn't watched a live Yankee game in a couple weeks up until last night's ESPN broadcast.  I got my first ever look at Adams and Austin Romine last night, two guys who I ID'd last year as rookies I expected to contribute this season, and as a fan and a pseudo-prospect hugger here's my take on them.

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David Adams Release Reaction

Adams AZFL

The Irrational Fan's Take:

'"What are the Yankees doing??  Why would they get rid of Adams?  He's only 25 years old and he's coming off the best year of his career.  He hit .306/.385/.450 and he can play second base and third base.  The Yankees are going to need infield depth this season and possibly next depending on what happens with A-Rod and Cano and they just gave away one of their top young players at those positions to clear a roster spot for Vernon Wells!  That guy Brad V. from IIATMS/TYA ranked Adams 14th in his Top 30 Prospects this year, so he's gotta be good.

Not to mention the fact that Adams and Corban Joseph could have made a nice lefty/righty platoon DH on the bench if Hafner got hurt this season and then transitioned to second in 2014 if Cano doesn't get re-signed.  I don't get it.  How can they start playing Adams at third base last season and then just dump him for a player they didn't even need?  This is why the Yankees never develop any good young position players.  They never give them a real shot.  They've got a bunch of kids in the Minors who can play and now they're getting rid of them to get older.  Horrible move.  Cash should be fired right now."

The Rational Fan's Take:

"Adams could have developed into a nice bench player for the Yankees within the next year, but realistically what did they give up by losing him?  He turns 26 in less than two months, so he's already old for a prospect, he's never had a single at-bat above Double-A, and that career best year he put up in 2012 was in his second trip back to Double-A.  Yeah he can play two infield positions, but I've never read any scouting reports that say he can play either of them that well and I really don't think the Yankees are going to let Cano walk and hand the position over to a still somewhat unproven guy like Adams and a limited ceiling guy like CoJo.

Not to mention the fact that Adams has had some serious injury problems in his career.  That ankle injury from a few years ago really hurt his development and probably sapped some of his physical skills, and he's been battling a back injury all spring.  We don't even know how he's going to hold up physically over a full 162-game season.  Plus, I read some tweets from Josh Norris that made it sound like this was the right move for the Yankees to make if they wanted to keep Adams.  They're not the type to just dump productive young players like that.  They felt they had to address a need now, a need that Adams couldn't fulfill, and their 40-man roster situation put them in a tight spot.  We may not like the move to add Wells, but we've got to give Cash the benefit of the doubt when it comes to managing the roster and see what happens in the next day or so."

I'll give you two guesses on which take was mine when I first heard the news and which one was mine after I read the Norris updates.

P.S.- I wasn't implying that my prospect rankings were irrational.  Personally I think they're pretty damn good.  Tamar's are probably still better, though.

(Photo courtesy of Jordan Megenhardt/

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The Young Guys Most Likely To Contribute In 2013

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

There's still the possibility of a blockbuster trade, something I think almost all of us are secretly hoping for after the excitement-less Winter Meetings.  But with the Yankees holding firm on their free agent signing plans for this offseason, and with that plan assuredly continuing into the next offseason when the payroll goal will loom largest, the likelihood of the Yankees having to use their top-level Minor Leaguers as more than just emergency filler or roster expansion fodder is very high.

We all know the Yankees don't have much high-impact, high-level talent in their system, but that's not to say they don't have players capable of contributing as useful bench or bullpen pieces or even winning a starting job if it comes to that.  The only "top" prospect with a shot at making the show in 2013 is Tyler Austin, and even that is a longshot, but here are some other guys who could see some significant PT at the Major League level next season.

Austin Romine- C

I know 2012 was a lost season for him, I know he didn't hit in the AZFL, I know he hasn't hit much at all since making it to Triple-A, and I know he needs more ABs to try to get his offensive game back together.  I also know that the Yankees are probably heading into spring camp in 2013 with a collection of hot garbage to pick through to find their starting catcher (no offense, guys).  With Russell Martin on his way to Pittsburgh, Jesus Montero out in Seattle, and the luxury tax goals looming, this is probably Romine's best shot at breaking in as the Yankees' catcher of the future.  Fellow TYA writer Mike Jaggers-Radolf wrote about this yesterday, and while he didn't have an especially rosy outlook on Romine's potential, I'm of the opinion that if Romine impresses in ST there's no reason not to take him on the Opening Day roster.  Even if he doesn't make the team out of camp, Romine is going to be on the cusp of getting called up all season as long as he stays healthy.

David Adams- 2B/3B

A little bit of a stretch considering Adams is still in Double-A, but with the investment the Yankees put into Adams in 2012 (trying him at third base, sending him the AZFL) it's pretty obvious they have bigger plans for him than they do for Corban Joseph.  CoJo's limited defensive skills and late power breakout this season make him an ideal add-on as part of a trade package, while Adams' defensive flexibility and more well-rounded offensive game make him an attractive option as a utility infielder on the bench.  The competition won't be too steep, and now that he's come all the way back health-wise from his ankle injury Adams could find himself on the fast track to Triple-A and the Majors if he's swinging a hot bat early in 2013.

Ronnier Mustelier- IF/OF

What do you do when you have a subpar defensive player with no natural position who can rake?  You find a way to shoehorn him into the lineup.  That's basically what the Yanks have done with Mustelier in the Minors since they first signed him before the 2011 season.  He doesn't have the skills to handle second or third base, even though he could probably fake third in a pinch, so he was used primarily in the outfield in 2012.  But on a team that was painfully rigid in their roster breakdown this past season, Mustelier could be a useful piece because of that bat.  Dude doesn't draw a ton of walks, but he makes a lot of contact and hits for good average and power.  At 28, he's way beyond the age limit for being considered a "prospect," but he could be a great fit for a club trying to build their bench on a budget.

Melky Mesa- OF

If it seems like Mesa has been around the Yankee farm system forever, it's because he has.  A lot of players have come and gone since he made his Rookie League debut in 2006, and Mesa found himself on the Yankee bench to end 2012 after going 20-20 across the top 2 MiL levels.  My conspiracy theory about Mesa taking Andruw Jones' roster spot didn't pan out this year, but that bench spot is one that still needs to be filled for 2013 and Mesa's skill set should make him a prime candidate if he has a strong spring.  He has power, speed, and plus defensive skills, all things that translate well to a 4th outfielder role, and like Mustelier he's getting a little long in the MiL tooth (turns 26 at the end of January).

Mark Montgomery- RP

Sooner or later I'm going to have to come up with a clever nickname and possibly a Photoshop for Montgomery, and by the looks of how quickly he's mowing through the Minors it will probably have to happen sooner.  Amongst the Yankee brass and coaching staff, it's probably already an unspoken agreement that Montgomery's name will be at the top of the list for bullpen reinforcement duty once the season starts.  If the rotation gets hit by injuries early, it also wouldn't surprise me to see Montgomery get bumped up to the 'pen to allow David Phelps to fill in for an injured starter.  Montgomery's stuff is just too good to waste in the Minors, and if he isn't pitching out of the Major League bullpen by the end of the summer I would be shocked.

Chase Whitley- RP

Whitley isn't nearly as sexy a prospect as Montgomery, and definitely hasn't gotten the coverage Montgomery has, but he's no slouch himself.  Whitley has advanced through the entire MiL system in less than 3 full seasons, putting up consistently good but not eye-popping numbers along the way, and will still be just 23 at the start of next season.  He was every effective in over 80 Triple-A innings this past season, striking out 66 batters to 25 BB and posting a 3.25/3.70 ERA/FIP slash, and his improving slider could turn into an effective out pitch to go with his assortment of fastballs.  He won't get any "next D-Rob" comparisons, but Whitley could definitely contribute some of those classic Yankee under-the-radar bullpen innings that help the team every year.

It wouldn't surprise me if the Yankees went with all veterans to open the season and none of these guys made the team out of camp, just because that's the Yankees' MO.  But the time for them to hold their younger players back is quickly coming to an end.  They're old, they're playing things cheap, and they need to find some diamonds in the rough to help build for the future.  There very well may end up being other MiL names who force themselves into consideration, possibly even The Mediocre Relief Pitcher Formerly Known as Dellin Betances, but if I were a betting man these are the names I'd put my money on for getting some run in 2013.

Filling the Empty Corner

Before the announcement that Alex Rodriguez would--again--need hip surgery to repair a torn labrum, the Yankees' roster situation was dire enough. Perhaps "dire" is overselling it a bit, but going into yesterday, the Yankees were without a legitimate catcher, right fielder, and designated hitter. Now, they find themselves without a wholly viable third baseman. With A-Rod's absence looming, the Yankees will have to patch up the hot corner for an extended period of time. Internally, they've got options, even if they're not great. First on the list would be Eduardo Nunez by default. Though the team is committed to him at shortstop, he's seen a good deal of time at third. Brian Cashman seemed to dispel the idea on Monday, but I don't think it's possible to rule it out completely. The organization does see something in him, even if I don't. He's been able to hit for an empty average (though he's been better against lefty pitching). As for his defense, well...The other option, however much a long shot, could be David Adams. Adams, on whom I'm higher than most, has shown an ability to hit in the minors (career .825 OPS), but he's not yet reached AAA , is often injured, and just moved to third base during the latter part of the 2012 season.

Externally, I see three main options. Each guy has at least one positive and at least one negative. I should clarify that by "externally" I mean free agency. Anyway, the three are Eric Chavez, Kevin Youkilis, and Mark Reynolds. Chavez's best trait is his reliability. By that, I mean you know what you're going to get from him. He's going to play solid defense and be a decent bat at the plate. However, that reliability is a double-edged sword because you also know what you're not going to get from him, and that's health and a lot of plate appearances. Replacing A-Rod with Chavez full time is simply replacing an injured player with another, and that's not desirable. That also brings us to Kevin Youkilis. His main drawback is also health; he hasn't played in more than 125 games since 2009. Youk's defense is also a bit suspect and it would be weird to root for him after a long campaign of unadulterated loathing against him. Still, when he's on the field, Youk produces and maybe he'll come at a bit of a discount after a down year in 2012. And while this may be a bit overrated, but Youk's shown the ability to do it in the A.L. East; he knows the territory and is used to the intense play of the ever difficult division. After his stint with Baltimore in 2012, the same can be said for Reynolds. He and his prodigious power were tested by the A.L. East in 2012 and Reynolds showed he can hack it. Of course with him, "hack it" takes on a double-meaning. However, he does balance it out with walks (11.85 career walk rate) and the aforementioned power (16.43 AB/HR & .240 Iso). The biggest concern I'd have, though, wouldn't be the whole in his bat, but the one in his glove at third. Reynolds has the reputation of a butcher over there and that could hurt.

The more and more I think about it, my mind keeps going to Youkilis. While he's far from a perfect choice for this role, he's the most well-rounded of the options. And while that might lead to a logjam when A-Rod returns, their collective spotty health records will make it easy for the Yankees to rotate them at 3B/DH/off. The Yankees are sorely in need of quality right handed hitting and Youkilis could help them bridge the gap until Rodriguez gets back. I've got no idea what his price-tag will be, but he's best worth the shot.