Ah, the Non-Roster Invitee list to Yankees Spring Training. What is there to say about you? Occasionally you'll give us glimmers of the future like last year when Manny Banuelos put himself on the baseball map with some impressive outings. Other times you'll give us old players trying for one last shot at the team; some are successful (Bartolo Colon), but most are not (remember when Todd Pratt tried to make the team?). Be sure to keep an eye on some of these players as they try to win one of the last spots on the Yankees, or possibly fill a role should a starter go down. The best case scenario is that all of the Yankees top players stay healthy and we don't have to hear much from most of these players again, other than a few bench roles.
Manny Banuelos- The currently top-rated Yankees prospect is looking to impress the team in Spring Training for a second straight season, and he's only turning 21 on March 13th. He'll likely work on his control, as he will try to lower his 2011 4.9 BB/9 mark in the new year. ManBan should start the season at AAA Scranton. Anytime your favorite team has a heralded 21-year old lefthanded starter in AAA, it's a good sign of his quick development.
Dan Burawa- We move from a name most Yankees fans have heard of to one that probably only the Burawa family has heard of. Burawa, a 23-year old righty reliever, was a 12th round pick for the Yankees in 2010 out of St. John's in Queens, and a nice 7.1 K/9 to go with a 2.75 BB/K ratio in '11 between A-ball Charleston and high-A Tampa is promising. His main pitch is a 93-95 mph fastball, and he's working on adding some breaking pitches. He'll probably start off '12 in Tampa again, though a promotion to AA Trenton is not out of the question with a good performance.
Juan Cedeño- After 8 seasons bouncing around the Red Sox, Royals, Dodgers, and Tigers organizations (never pitching above AA), Cedeño pitched in Korea in '09, then found himself pitching with the Independent Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings in 2011. Cedeño, a 28-year old reliever, was knocked around to the tune of 6.49 ERA in that league, but he did strike out 13.6 per 9 innings (although he hadn't struck out more than 6 per 9 innings since '07). Bottom line- he's lefthanded, and has a pulse, so he's getting a shot. If he's not cut, he'll probably be an organizational arm around the Yankees' lower minor league teams.
Matt Daley- He's shaking your confidence.... never mind. Daley, another righthanded Queens boy, pitched with the Colorado Rockies organization for 6 years and made it to the big leagues in 2009, when the Rockies won the NL Wild Card and he pitched 51 innings out of the bullpen, striking out 9.7 per 9 innings with a 4.24 ERA & 3.65 FIP, about as much as you could ask for from a reliever. The Bucknell grad started off 2010 fine, but he has been plagued by shoulder injuries, and has pitched less than 30 professional innings since June 10, 2010. Daley is 29, so he'll either head somewhere in the organization or try to catch on with another team if he's healthy but doesn't make the roster.
Manny Delcarmen- Delcarmen pitched well out of the bullpen for 6 years with the Red Sox, and he was so well-thought of that Boston apparently wouldn't move him in 2009 unless they received "a significant bat." Haaaa. Delcarmen turns 30 in February and split last year between Seattle's AAA Tacoma Rainiers and Texas's AAA Round Rock Express. He pitched to a 5.59 ERA between the squads and was cut for the season in mid-July. I probably wouldn't expect too much from him at this point, but there's always the chance for a surprise.
Brett Marshall- The 21-year Texan righthander was drafted in the 6th round of '08, and his 3.24 FIP last year in 26 starts with high-A Tampa should give him a good shot into a spot in the AA rotation.
Adam Miller- Miller, a 27-year old righthanded reliever, was originally a 1st round pick by the Cleveland Indians in the '03 draft, but he has never made it to the major league level. Miller's career was changed in 2009 by both reconstructive surgery on his right-hand middle finger and arm surgery, so he has subsequently struggled to return to form. In 44 innings high-A Kinston and AA Akron, he posted a 5.93 ERA, but he did have a 3.59 FIP in Akron. The Yankees obviously see something in him, so there may be hope yet.
Michael O'Connor- O'Connor is a 31-year old lefthanded reliever who has only pitched 15.2 major league innings since 2008, but a couple good seasons with the Mets' AAA Buffalo team (2.95 FIP in '10, 3.47 FIP in '11) have given him a shot as the "second lefty" in the bullpen that Joe Girardi cherishes.
Hideki Okajima- I guess it's a Red Sox reunion here, as the 36-year old lefty reliever is trying to win a spot on the Yankees as well. Okajima was a fairly reliable reliever for Boston from '07-'09, but he has not done much to impress since then and spent most of '11 with AAA Pawtucket. In 51 innings, he did strike out 8.47/9 and had a 2.29 ERA to go with a 2.61 FIP so maybe he's not done yet. However, it should say something that despite these numbers, Boston chose to keep him in Rhode Island most of the season.
Ryan Pope- Pope was actually picked by the Yankees in the 3rd round of the '07 draft out of the Savannah School of Art & Design; I'm surprised a school like that had a baseball team. Pope turns 26 in May, and he pitched as high as AAA in 2011, but was battered for a 8.14 ERA in 21 innings. Pope will probably end up back in Scranton or perhaps Trenton if he looks really bad.
Graham Stoneburner- There are not many players with better names in the organization than Stoneburner, and the 24-year old righty starter pitched to a 3.82 FIP in Trenton in 2011. Considering his age, the Yankees would probably like him to move to AAA, but since that rotation is crowded, he'll probably stay in Trenton unless he impresses.
Adam Warren- One of WWJD's favorites, the 24-year old UNC product has often appeared as the #10 prospect in the Yankees system, and the righthander started 27 games in AAA Scranton in 2011, pitching to a 3.60 ERA and 4.05 FIP. On any other squad, Warren would probably be competing for a major-league rotation spot, but since the Yankees have CC/Pineda/Kuroda/Nova/Burnett/Hughes/Garcia ahead of him, he'll start the year in Scranton.
Kevin Whelan- Remember Whelan's major league debut? Yeah, I'd rather not either. Unfortunately for Whelan, this one outing seemed to depict him as totally unreliable in Girardi's mind and despite a strong season as AAA Scranton's closer, he only appeared in one other major league game in '11. Whelan turned 28 in January, so time is running out for him.
Chase Whitley- The Yankees drafted Whitley out of Troy University in 2010, and at age 22, he has quickly moved up to AA Trenton in just his second minor league season. He needs to work on his control, as his 4.01 BB/9 in 42.2 Trenton innings indicates, but it's good to see him moving quickly through the system.
Jose Gil- The 25-year old Venezuelan is pretty much an organizational catcher at this point, and he's about minor-league average from both an offensive (106 wRC+ in AA) and defensive standpoint (31% CS%). He'll probably be in AA Trenton as the primary catcher for most of the season unless the Yankees decide J.R. Murphy or Gary Sanchez is ready for AA.
Kyle Higashioka- Higashioka, who turns 22 in April, is Jose Gil-lite, though younger. He has yet to post a wRC+ over 100 at any level, and he'll probably be the backup catcher somewhere at the A level behind Murphy or Sanchez.
Gustavo Molina- The prototypical organizational catcher is back, and hopefully he will not appear anywhere close to the major league roster like he did in the beginning of 2011. He's a good fielder, but his bat is absolutely atrocious. Gus will likely back up Austin Romine in AAA Scranton.
J.R. Murphy- The Yankees' 2nd round pick out of the 2010 draft is actually ahead of top offensive prospect Sanchez in the minor league system, although like Sanchez, he faces many questions about his catching defense. The team has tried Murphy at 3rd base a few times, so that remains an option if they want to move Murphy from behind the plate. Murphy hit his way out of Charleston (118 wRC+) and into high-A Tampa in '11, but a broken foot ended his season. Murphy will likely begin 2012 in Tampa, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Yankees tried him at 3rd base a few times in Spring Training. They don't seem too keen on offensive-minded catchers.
Gary Sanchez- The top hitting prospect, #3 on the team by MLB.com, is only 19 years old and had a .364 wOBA in 82 games with class A Charleston last year. However, Sanchez has struggled on defense like the departed Jesus Montero never did (26 passed balls last year). Though Sanchez is certainly awhile away, his bat looks very promising; hopefully they'll figure out his position soon.
Doug Bernier- Bernier is a 31-year old middle infielder who has precisely 4 major league plate appearances, with the Colorado Rockies in 2008. Bernier's played two out of the last three seasons with AAA Scranton and the wRC+ of 80 he posted last year was his highest since 2008 so... don't expect much. Ramiro Peña-lite.
Russell Branyan- Branyan has been a power hitter for a long time, and we have a post coming up tomorrow featuring Branyan, so I won't steal the author's thunder. Low-risk/decent-reward signing.
Bill Hall- Hall was a 35-homer player 6 years ago, but now he is a shadow of his former self. He was so dismal in 2011 that the 106-loss Houston Astros cut him in June. Mike Axisa at RAB did a good write-up of what he could bring to the team.
Jayson Nix- Nix is 29 and has been in the big leagues as an infielder since 2008, but he was absolutely awful with Toronto last year- a .169 batting average and a 50 wRC+ in 151 plate appearances. Like Bernier, I wouldn't expect much.
Jorge Vazquez- The man they call "El Chato" has big power but little much else and will be competing for a DH spot. Our own Frank Campagnola summed him up well a few days ago:
El Chato has had his name tossed around, but he has some major flaws, including a strikeout rate over 33% at Triple-A last season. Despite his power production (.255 ISO last season), Vazquez hardly walks and has some serious questions about his contact ability.
Colin Curtis- Curtis spent all last year recovering from shoulder surgery, but he did spend some time as a reserve outfielder in the majors in 2010 (although he only put up a 43 OPS+). It's okay though, White CC, we'll always have this moment. Curtis has proven himself to be a decent minor league hitter though, so he'll likely continue to wait in the wings at AAA should a Yankee outfielder go down with an injury.
Cole Garner- Garner spent a few days at the major league level with the Rockies in 2011, and he has put up wRC+s over 100 in the Rockies' system every year since 2008. There could be something there, although I feel like the Yankees will probably end up choosing a "proven veteran" over a 27-year old with little MLB experience.
Dewayne Wise- The man who will forever be known for saving Mark Buehrle's perfect game in 2009, Wise is probably older than you'd think, as he turns 34 in late February. He is still a plus defender, but a pitiful bat that has only produced a career .277 wOBA and 62 wRC+ will probably keep him on the AAA roster for most of, if not all of the 2012 season.
So these are the contenders for the last spots on the Yankees' 25-man roster. Let the games begin- baseball cannot get here soon enough.