Heathcott, Neal, Or Mesa?

nealWe're nearly two weeks away from opening day, and the Yankees haven't designated a third or fourth outfielder yet. In recent days, Zoilo Almonte, Tyler Austin, and Ramon Flores have been optioned down, Adonis Garcia has suffered an injury, Matt Diaz has looked awful, and Ronnier Mustelier and Juan Rivera have been getting looks in the infield. The front office did acquire Ben Francisco earlier this week, but Cashman called him a bench option. Slade Heathcott, Thomas Neal, and Melky Mesa are all that remain. On paper, Heathcott seems like an unlikely choice. He's been in the Yankee system since 2009, but he has just 869 plate appearances thanks to a number of injuries. The highest level of the minor leagues he's seen is High-A, where he hit very well this year, but would be in a rare position to jump from such a low level to the major leagues. Regardless, Brian Cashman called him a "dark horse candidate" for the outfield job. Heathcott was briefly sidelined with a thumb injury, but he's still left a lasting impression with his defense in center field. Though he hasn't hit, the outfielder has shown defensive tools that Cashman called major league ready. If Cashman was sincere about the organization's evaluation on Heathcott, the left-hander seems to offer everything you'd want on defense, and upside in the bat. The only problem is that you risk some developmental time in the minor leagues, and there's always worry about a player's confidence if they fail.

Click “view full post” to continue.

Read More

Time To Trade For An Outfielder

There's a lot to say about this year's offseason, but most of it is far from positive. The Yankee front office typically aims for a 95 to 100 win team, but this year it looks like they may barely get to 90. Will it be enough? We won't know until the season is over, but no AL East team looks exceptionally good. Even with the current roster, most reports have the Blue Jays or the Yankees as favorites.

The Yankees usually go above and beyond to put together a team that'll leave the rest of the division far behind them, but they'll lose $20+ million in payroll in 2014, and they have filled a lineup with one year deals and minor league gambles in preparation.  To replace Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Rafael Soriano, and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees brought in Kevin Youkilis, Bobby Wilson, Shawn Kelley, Juan Rivera, and Matt Diaz. Needless to say, the front office has brought in some disappointing replacements.

Now with Curtis Granderson out for at least the first month of the season, the Yankees have no major league third outfielder on their 40 man roster. The three outfielders outside of Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki are Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, and Ramon Flores. Of these three, only Mesa has played above Double-A, where he hit .230/.271/.524 in 133 plate appearances. Though the outfielder has some pop, he is awful at drawing walks, and last year in Triple-A he struck out 43 times next to his 7 walks.

There are also outfield options on minor league deals that could make the team. As I mentioned earlier, Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz are available, have some upside, though both couldn't crack an on base percentage higher than .290 in 2012, and their slugging was equally awful.

I haven't heard much about him from the media, but perhaps the highest upside player is Thomas Neal. Through the Giants farm system, Neal was a highly touted prospect up until he reached Double-A. In 2009, the right-hander hit 22 home runs and batted .337/.431/.579, but followed that up with a less than inspiring 2010 where he hit .291/.359/.440. In 2011, Neal was probably sent to Triple-A prematurely, and then traded to the Indians after a mediocre season. In 2012, Neal rebounded in Double-A, hitting .314/.400/.467 with 12 home runs. Most impressive from the outfielder was his patience at the plate, where he took 46 walks to his 71 strikeouts.

At 25 years old this season, Neal is probably the most mature and best fit of the young guys, assuming the Yankees are willing to move him to the 40 man roster. However, the team needs to continue to look for another viable outfielder. With Granderson breaking his arm, Gardner out for nearly all of last season, and Ichiro 39 years old, the amount of games these three can stay on the field for is a big question. The Yankees really should have a decent fourth outfielder with such risky players.

Even before the Granderson injury, Cashman was still looking for another right-handed outfielder, though the rumors had stopped as of late. Now he has little choice but to start adding depth to this outfield. The team doesn't need to add a Giancarlo Stanton or even Alfonso Soriano, but a young outfielder like Casper Wells or Tyler Colvin should be able to step in and play replacement level ball or better. With only two major league outfielders on the team, and hardly any reasonable choices for a third or fourth, a trade is overdue.

Yankees Add More Outfield Depth, Sign Thomas Neal

When the Indians signed Nick Swisher, the Yankees were officially given their second first-round pick in this year's Rule-4 draft. To make room for the ex-Yankee, Cleveland cleared the right-handed outfielder Thomas Neal from their 40-man roster. Though nothing is official yet, Neal has updated his Twitter bio, and it would appear he's now a New York Yankee. While we wait to see how the team solves the catching and designated hitter problems, I can't help but get excited when they add depth. The Yankees have grown exceptionally skilled at finding bench players, and Neal now joins Russ Canzler, Matt Diaz, and a number of in-house options, as the potential fourth outfielder.

He'll be 25-years old next season, but Neal has always been surrounded by high-hopes. In 2010, Neal was ranked the 96th overall prospect by Baseball America, thanks a year in High-A San Jose where he hit .337/.431/.579 with 22 home runs. Neal has continued to hit for average and take his walks, but outside of the hitter friendly California League, he's never shown the same power. In 2010, he put up a .799 OPS with just 12 home runs in Double-A. In 2011, he put up just a .734 OPS in Triple-A, but played most of his 277 plate appearances with shoulder and hand injuries. Last season, he regained some of his offense, hitting .314/.400/.467 with 12 home runs through 470 plate appearances in Double-A. With the potential he showed at an early age, you'd expect Neal to perform better at 24-years old, but his career has seen it's ups and down.

Defensively, Neal doesn't have the greatest range, but he makes this up with a solid arm. His tools make him a corner outfielder, but he's an above-average one that rarely makes errors.

Perhaps his greatest attribute is his makeup. The front office seems to always target players with strong work ethic, and Neal is highly praised for his dedication on and off the field. The Yankees have a knack for pairing coaches and players together, and finding the right chemistry. If Neal's work ethic is as high as it's touted, he'll be a nice fit for the team in Spring Training.

In regards to his splits, there's some questions about how he'd fit into the current outfield group. With three left-handed hitters starting, the Yankees obviously want right-handed outfield depth to counter left-handed pitchers. While Neal is indeed right-handed, he has somewhat of a reverse platoon split over the last two years. Against left-handers, he's hit .316/.382/.413 with 2 home runs in 228 plate appearances. In 514 plate appearances against right-handers, he's hit .297/.376/.448. The sample size isn't huge, but there doesn't seem to be much of a split to take advantage of.

His outlook for the 2013 season is likely a Spring Training invitation, but chances are that he'll start the season in Triple-A, assuming his contract allows for that. Depending on where the team puts Zoilo Almonte, Neal could be the youngest outfielder for the Rail Riders. Even at 25-years old, Neal has some breakout ability, and the Yankees are hoping he'll be an above-average fourth outfielder.