Nearly every year, the Yankees have a Shane Robinson. Last year it was actually Shane Robinson, but almost every roster dating back to 2013 (which was basically a team of Shane Robinsons at points) has one.
What I mean by that is someone who you would not expect to play before the season, who not only gets called up, but ends up a fixture in the lineup for a couple weeks. Last July when Aaron Judge got injured, Robinson was an understandable call up at the time. He was already on the 40-man roster, having had a short stint in New York in April.
However, what was not understandable was how much playing time Robinson then got. He went from a “break in case of emergency” option in spring training, to playing 23 out of 34 games in late July and August. Thankfully that was remedied by the acquisition of Andrew McCutchen and then Judge’s recovery and return. Robinson still was a fixture in the lineup for basically a month though.
As I said earlier, there’s at least one every year. In 2017, Garrett Cooper started nearly every game at first base for two weeks. There was the weird Billy Butler stint in late 2016 as the Yankees clung onto slim playoff hopes. The options from 2013 include, but are not limited to, Brennan Boesch, Luis Cruz, and Alberto Gonzalez.
In theory, the Yankees shouldn’t have to use a Shane Robinson-type in 2019. There are four outfielders rotating among three spots, and that doesn’t even count Clint Frazier who’s waiting in the wings. There are two options at first base, and then another four for the other three infield slots. Five when Didi Gregorius returns from injury. Kyle Higashioka is also around as a third catching option.
It seems like there are plenty of players, but that’s not how this works. Injuries can and very well might happen. A couple key Yankees are already expected to miss the start of the season. History dictates someone random will get some playing time. Let’s try and figure out who.
With Aaron Hicks expected to miss some time to start the season, an outfielder seems like a decent place to start. Someone with major league experience, but not good enough to make a major league roster and therefore might end up in Triple-A is a good bet. That makes Billy Burns the most likely option.
Burns has played parts of four seasons in the majors since making his debut in 2014. He finished fifth in rookie of the year voting the following year, but hasn’t put up an OPS+ above 60 since. He’s got the pedigree of having been a competent major leaguer at least once, so he’s theoretically not a bad guy to stash in Triple-A for depth. And if you’re wondering if he’s hitting well enough in spring training that another team might want to poach him: .050/.174/.100.
As mentioned, the Yankees aren’t really lacking in infield options. However, Troy Tulowitzki’s had injury problems over the years. All it takes is him and maybe one other to get another infielder on the roster. Gio Urshela’s probably the best bet there.
Unlike Burns, Urshela played in the majors last year. While he wasn’t exactly successful, he can play multiple infield positions if need be. He could very easily end up getting 70 at-bats if things go wrong.
There will almost definitely be at least one unexpected pitcher to make an appearance in New York this season. Pitchers already cycle through rosters enough as it is, and the Yankees already have a couple pitchers out.
It would not be shocking if Rex Brothers ended up throwing 10-20ish innings at some point in 2019.
Brothers has the ignominy of having an infinity ERA last season. He appeared in one game for the Braves last year, facing two batters and retiring neither of them. The Yankees do like them some high strikeout pitchers, though, and Brothers has had decent K/9 rates at points in his career. He could very easily be this season’s A.J. Cole.
Hopefully we never have to see any of these types of players. No offense to them, but if they wear a Yankees uniform, it probably means someone is injured. History dictates that someone along these lines will play more than a handful of games for the team next season. If or when it happens, we will all be frustrated by it, and we will completely forget about them by this time next season.