THE NRI GUYS, PART I
I was going to do a long rundown of the 20 non-roster invitees to Spring Training the Yankees announced on Monday, but the swell fellows at the LoHud blog have done that already, so instead I’ll pick out a single thought about each in alphabetical order:
Wilkins Arias, LHP: There will likely be two southpaws in the big league bullpen. Damaso Marte will be one ("if healthy" is the unstated premise to every evaluation of the Yankees roster), but anything can happen with the second spot -- it’s not like Boone Logan is Sparky Lyle. Arias is a 29 year old who just got established at Double A last year, but just because a pitcher’s career isn’t going to be long doesn’t mean it can’t be good. The problem with Arias is that a 3.65 ERA at Trenton, one of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball, is not impressive. His peripherals look good, but the results are going to get dialed back a bit in a more evenhanded ballpark.
Jeremy Bleich, LHP: If a 3.65 ERA at Trenton is unimpressive, what do you call a 6.65? That’s what Bleich did last year. The Yankees are still hoping to get a back-end starter out of their only surviving pick from the 2008 draft’s first three rounds. Nascent groundball tendencies are a positive sign, but that aside, his train is headed to Middle Relief Junction.
Colin Curtis, OF: He hit nearly .400 with five home runs in 78 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League and .250 with no power or walks in 464 at-bats at Double A and Triple A. It would be heartwarming to see Curtis turn it around and get to live the dream, but he’s 25 and a career .264/.334/.375 hitter in 431 games. Unless you can play center field like Gary Pettis, and Curtis can’t, it’s hard to make it as an outfielder if you can’t hit more than that.
Grant Duff, RHP: Drafted by Miller Huggins back in 1923, Duff has been duffing his way through the Yankees minors ever since, reaching Double A last year at the age of 26. More than any position, relievers can bloom from any crack or crevice, like a mold or a fungus. Track record means less with relievers than any other position. It’s not likely that the Yankees will catch lightning in a bottle with Duff, especially with so many quality right-handers already ticketed for the bullpen, but injuries happen and the standards for trash-time relievers are low.
Reid Gorecki, OF: Twenty-nine-year-old journeyman who has hit .273/.342/.432 in 518 at-bats at Triple A. That doesn’t leave you with a whole lot once you adjust it for a Major League difficulty level. Nothing about Gorecki’s hitting jumps out at you, but his fielding does, and not in a good way: he’s been highly prone to errors. Last year, in 38 games in center field at Triple-A Gwinnett, he made seven errors. He made one more playing right field, and made another playing left field in the Majors. That’s not defense you can live with, particularly from a light hitter.
Kyle Higashioka, C: Still too young to buy a drink, Higashioka is getting to rub shoulders with the big leaguers. There are always more pitchers in spring training than there are backstops, so it’s all hands on deck.
Jason Hirsh, RHP: Has the player to be named the Yankees surrendered to acquire Jason Hirsh been named yet? The Rockies might be waiting a long time. Maybe they’ll settle for a backrub. Coors Field was Hirsh’s Waterloo and Colorado Springs his Moscow, as he’s a scary fly-ball guy. He was just getting established in 2007 when a J.J. Hardy liner broke his leg. Then shoulder problems set in. His approach might not play very well in the new Yankee Stadium or the DH league, but hey, he’s at sea level, and he pitched so well upon moving to Scranton (1.35 ERA in six starts) that you have to at least have an open mind about him.
Kei Igawa, LHP: Like I said, any pitcher might suddenly step forward and assert himself as a second lefty, even this guy. Although Igawa was shown decent control at Scranton and won himself a few games, his strikeout rates have been unimpressive. Shockingly, despite spending the last two years in exile, Igawa has not been given an extended trial in the bullpen.
Zach McAllister, RHP: He led the Eastern League in ERA, but his 90 mph fastball and so-so secondary offerings suggest his best destiny might be in the bullpen. Either way, take a close look because he should be on the short list for a recall if anyone gets hurt.
Jesus Montero, Sorta-C: You’ve already heard bucketfuls about this 20-year-old wunderkind. He didn’t play much during the winter, and for now the big question is how his recovery from a fractured middle finger is going. If he’s healed up, he could put on a show if Mr. Girardi gives him some playing time. With their offseason moves, the Yankees have nowhere to play him even if he does hit up to expectations, but he could be a Nick Johnson case of the sniffles (in his case, probably the fractured sniffles) from getting some big league experience.