Pinstripe Alley is currently doing a series on prospects, but one name you won't see featured is Ronnier Mustelier. The man some call "Musty" is kind of in a grey area when it comes to determining prospect status. He has not played in the majors before, but he turned 29 last August, so it's not like he's a kid. Instead, he's in that vague Jorge Vazquez/Japhet Amador area where he has a chance to be potentially useful to a major league team, but probably not for long.
Nonetheless, Mustelier deserves a serious look in Spring Training since, if you haven't noticed, the Yankees have a gaping hole the size of Hank Steinbrenner's Pop-Tart collection at third base. No one is going to confuse him for Graig Nettles at third (though if you do, I would like to meet you), but Mustelier can play third base. In fact, he appeared in just about half of his 2013 games at third for Triple-A Scranton, so he certainly has more recent experience there than Kelly Johnson, who appears to be lined up to start at third for the Yankees if Opening Day was tomorrow.
As of now though, Mustelier is not even on the 40-man roster, so he will likely enter Spring Training as a non-roster invitee (update: lolno) and a true wild card for the third base job. Obligatory:
Mustelier has definitely made an impression on a certain niche of Yankees fans since they signed him out of Cuba in 2011. Strong showings with the bat in High-A Tampa and the Arizona Fall League that year earned him a starting gig with Double-A Trenton in 2012. Playing mostly at third in a home park that is notoriously difficult for hitters, Mustelier demolished Eastern League pitching in 25 games with a .353/.412/.598 triple slash.
Given his age and hot start, the Yankees saw no need to keep Mustelier down there for much longer and quickly found a spot for him on their Triple-A roster in left field. (Apparently, giving Brandon Laird and Kevin Russo playing time at third was more important than trying to improve his defense at the hot corner.) He continued his hot hitting in the International League by batting .303/.359/.455 with 21 doubles, 10 homers, and a 128 wRC+ in 89 games. Although he did not receive a September call-up, it was an impressive season for a guy who the Yankees acquired for only $50,000. Following an offseason in which he stayed busy by hitting a solid .284/.345/.471 with nine homers in 55 Mexican Pacific League games, Minor League Ball's John Sickels had some nice things to say about him in a short dossier on the hard-hitting Cuban:
He has a nice clean swing with some pop to all fields. He makes contact and does a fair job controlling the strike zone. So far, he hasn't had any problems with professional pitching, and his track record in Cuba was good too. Yeah, I know, he's 28. Too old to be a prospect. But that also means you don't have to worry about messing up his long-term development if he doesn't pan out.
The Yankees had an opening at third in their Opening Day lineup for 2013 given Alex Rodriguez's hip surgery and Mark Teixeira's wrist injury that moved the fragile Kevin Youkilis to first base, and Mustelier appeared to be getting a legitimate shot to fill the void at third. Unfortunately, on March 15th, Mustelier ran hard into a padded steel railing trying to catch a foul ball and that resulted in some ugly leg contusions. The knee soreness made him a non-factor for the rest of Spring Training, and he did not return to Scranton until May 2nd.
In 2013, Mustelier split time between third base and the outfield, but despite the Yankees' glaring offensive holes at both positions, he never got a shot. Of course, that can partially be blamed on Mustelier himself, who struggled to match his 2012 campaign. He missed a month with a mild groin strain and perhaps due to slow recoveries immediately following his injuries (.705 OPS in May, .456 OPS in July), his performance lagged. Mustelier finished the season at a decent .272/.319/.398 clip with a 101 wRC+.
There were some positives to take out of Mustelier's 2013 campaign though. He didn't have any dramatic declines in hitting approach; his 6.8 BB% from 2012 basically stayed stagnant with a 6.4% in 2013. He proved that he still matched Sickels' report of maintaining frequent contact thanks to a nearly identical strikeout percentage between seasons. He also hit exactly as many doubles as he did in 2012 and only came three homers shy of matching his 2012 total in that category as well. The big differences appeared to be in singles (73 vs. 63) and oddly, hit by pitches (7 vs. 0). A roughly 30-point difference in BABIP between the two seasons (.325 vs. 297) could help explain some of the missing singles, and the hit by pitch numbers are more fluky than anything else. Once he was finally playing consistently, he seemed to be hitting a little bit better too, as indicated by his .301/.358/.460 triple slash in Scranton's final full month, August. He hit nine doubles and three homers that month, showing off that surprisingly strong swing:
He's a small guy at 5'10", but swings like those are why he's the human fire hydrant (the uniform helps, too). There's no denying that 2013 was overall an off-year for Mustelier, but it wasn't all bad. A healthy campaign in 2014 could change the outlook on him, and with a glaring opening at third, the Yankees should give him a shot. If his bat and versatility prove that he can be helpful, it will be hard to deny that Mustelier is really a worse option at third than any of the other assorted random people in camp.
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