Non-Roster Invitee Infielders: The Great Pumpkin and Friends

Will the Great Pumpkin come out again late in 2013? - J. Meric

Some vets, kids, and Addison Maruszak.

Considering the news about the New York Yankees’ non-roster invitees to Spring Training is over a week old by now, let’s take a quick gander at the rest of the position players coming to camp. There are ten infielders and nine outfielders vying for either a spot on the big-league bench or a significant impression on manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman. Some were born before the days of Wham!; some were born when the public thought MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice were the "bomb diggity" (or whatever). We’ll start with the infielders in the morning and hit the outfielders in the afternoon.

Infielders

Greg Bird, 1B/C
Bats: Left Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 20 (born 11/9/1992)
2012 (Rk): 62 PA, .286/.419/.367, 2 2B, .384 wOBA, 143 wRC+
SS-A): 47 PA, .400/.489/.650, 4 2B, 2 HR, .518 wOBA, 229 wRC+

A fifth-round draft pick from the 2011 class, Bird can catch somewhat, but he was mostly used as a first baseman last year due to a back injury. That’s where he profiles going forward, which makes him a less interesting prospect. However, if Bird can stay healthy and hit like he did last year in a shortened 28-game season between Rookie League and Staten Island, then the Yankees should keep an eye on him. For now, though, he will either return to the SI Yanks or maybe even report to Low-A Charleston if the higher-ups like him enough.

Cito Culver, SS
Bats: Both Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 20 (born 8/26/1992)
2012 (A-): 550 PA, .215/.321/.283, 14 2B, 6 3B, 2 HR, 22 SB, 11 CS, .293 wOBA, 75 wRC+

Culver was a questionable selection as the Yankees’ top pick of the 2010 Draft. Considering that two players taken in the very next round have already made their big-league debut (Drew Smyly and Andrelton Simmons, with Jedd Gyorko hot on their trail) while Culver cannot hit his way out of a paper bag, can you blame the frustration? Not even his baserunning is up to snuff thanks to a mere 67% stealing success rate. About the only thing he has going for him right now is his solid defense, but even with a strong arm and good range, he committed 22 errors last year. The Yankees are probably only one or two 2012-esque seasons away from moving him to the mound.

Walter Ibarra, SS/2B
Bats: Both Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 25 (born 11/1/1987)
2012 (AA): 166 PA, .276/.307/.417, 15 2B, 1 HR, .324 wOBA, 97 wRC+

A seven-year veteran of the Yankees’ minor league system, Ibarra spent most of last year backing up infielders in Trenton. A true organizational guy, he’s been with High-A Tampa more than any other team during his career, 256 games. Ibarra isn’t much of a hitter, but he has experience all around the infield. He will report wherever the Yankees need him.

Dan Johnson, 1B/3B
Bats: Left Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 33 (born 8/10/1979)
2012 (MLB): 31 PA, .364/.548/.818, 1 2B, 3 HR, .550 wOBA, 254 wRC+
(AAA): 587 PA, .267/.388/.492, 21 2B, 28 HR, 390 wOBA, 144 wRC+

The infamous "Great Pumpkin" of the still-young Tampa Bay Rays lore, Johnson did his usual late-season surprise last year with much less fanfare, homering thrice on the meaningless final day of the regular season with the Chicago White Sox. He ran roughshod over International League pitching, which should not be surprising since he was MVP of that league in 2010. Despite Johnson’s random outbursts in one or two MLB games a season since 2008, he has often struggled in the pros.

Johnson’s first few seasons as a mostly-full-time-player with the Oakland Athletics were decent for a first baseman (.249/.344/.420 with 54 doubles and 42 homers in 317 games), but he always flopped whenever the Rays gave him a chance. He’s actually a career .168/.282/.336 hitter in 81 games with Tampa from 2008-11. That being said, Johnson would probably be first up from the Triple-A Scranton should 25-man lefty masher Travis Hafner go down with an injury, which is likely to occur at one point or another. Cross your fingers and hope Johnson will continue his tradition of late-season surprises; there’s a non-zero chance he could help even more considering his power and the Yankee Stadium short porch.

Addison Maruszak, SS/3B/1B
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 26 (born 12/21/1986)
2012 (AA): 458 PA, .276/.330/.457, 25 2B, 16 HR, .353 wOBA, 117 wRC+

Perhaps my favorite name on this list, Maruszak was a late 17th round pick in ’08 out of USF, and he plays all around the infield. Although last season was his first very strong season on offense since ’08, he was steadily moving through the system at a higher level each year until 2012, when he was blocked by Eduardo Nunez. It was Maruszak’s second season in Trenton, but it stands to reason that he could move up to Triple-A since there is no clear frontrunner for the Scranton starting shortstop position and the Yankees seem to want Nunez with them. He’s no Ozzie Smith there, but his positional versatility and decent offensive numbers could attract the interest of the big club should one of the Yankees’ backups get injured.

Luke Murton, 1B
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 26 (born 5/21/1986)
2012 (AA): 526 PA, .249/.327/.464, 21 2B, 25 HR, .353 wOBA, 117 wRC+

Like Maruszak, Murton was a late-round pick, except in the following year’s draft class. Like Maruszak, he moved up a level per season for his first four years in the system, but unfortunately also like Maruszak, he will probably have to repeat Double-A due to superior players on the Scranton roster. The aforementioned Dan Johnson is likely to start in Scranton, but should he opt out of his contract or join the Yankees for whatever reason, the RailRiders (sigh) would be wise to call Murton up since he raked in Trenton. Hell, he might even make the Scranton roster anyway as a part-time 1B/DH.

Jayson Nix, UTIL
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 30 (born 8/26/1982)
2012 (MLB): 202 PA, .243/.306/.384, 13 2B, 4 HR, .304 wOBA, 88 wRC+
(AAA): 35 PA, .233/.314/.367, 4 2B, .310 wOBA, 89 wRC+

After I dismissed Nix as a Doug Bernier clone last year, he went out and exceeded all expectations, spending the majority of the season as a useful utilityman for Joe Girardi. While he didn’t do too much with the bat, his ability to play virtually everywhere certainly gave him some value on the 25-man roster. Nix is the most likely contender for one of the last spots on the main roster unless he hurts himself or another player really impresses Girardi. That would force Girardi to not use the nickname "Nixy" as much this year though, and you know he doesn’t want to lose that.

Jose Pirela, UTIL
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 23 (born 11/21/1989)
2012 (AA): 358 PA, .293/.356/.448, 19 2B, 8 HR, .362 wOBA, 123 wRC+

The Nix of Trenton, Pirela played 82 games off the bench last year and saw time at second base, third base, and left field. He’s a natural shortstop too; he was Trenton’s starter there in 2011 and was only bumped from the position because manager Tony Franklin preferred Maruszak. Take his good offensive statistics from last year with a grain of salt—in 2011, he had a 76 wRC+ in Trenton and in 2010, he only had 102 wRC+ with Tampa. Pirela will probably head back for a third season with the Thunder, although he could crack the Scranton roster via a possible utility gig.

Kyle Roller, 1B
Bats: Left Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 24 (born 3/27/1988)
2012 (A+): 482 PA, .266/.357/.471, 22 2B, 18 HR, .378 wOBA, 135 wRC+

Roller is a lefthanded Murton—a prospect with attractive hitting potential hindered by his inability to play anywhere except first base. Roller posted similar statistics last year to what he had in 60 games at the same level in 2011 (.265/.365/.427 with a 124 wRC+). His progress to Trenton though will probably depend on whether or not Murton moves up to Scranton.

Gil Velazquez, SS/2B/3B
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 33 (born 10/17/1979)
2012 (MLB): 57 PA, .232/.246/.250, 1 2B, .220 wOBA, 32 wRC+
(AAA): 461 PA, .309/.389/.382, 15 2B, 4 HR, .352 wOBA, 106 wRC+

One has to admire the tenacity of a guy like Velazquez, who has toiled around professional baseball for 15 seasons with only 32 games in the pros from 2008-12 with three different teams to show for it. The Yankees will be Velazquez’s sixth organization, but his infield versatility is overshadowed by Nix, so he is unlikely to make the cut considering that fact and his horrid hitting. Look for him to be waiting in the wings in Scranton, even though he could very well be passed on the depth chart by Maruszak.

Coming up in the afternoon… the NRI outfielders, starring Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, and old prospect Juan Rivera.

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