In 2018, the Yankees came into Spring Training riding high off of the hot stove acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, who would join Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner in what had quickly become a crowded outfield, with prospect Clint Frazier also waiting in the wings.
Shane Robinson appeared in 54 games for the Yanks that year. You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.
The season is often a war of attrition and a team’s success is often just as much a product of its depth as its star power. So with that in mind – and ahead of position players reporting Monday – let’s take a look at some of the non-roster invitees who might have their name called in 2020.
David Hale, RHP
Say this about Hale — Aaron Boone seems to trust him, which probably gives him a leg up over other veteran righty relievers joining this year’s camp like Dan Otero, Nick Tropeano and Tony Zych. After two separate — and very brief — stints with the Yankees in 2018, Hale threw 37.2 innings for the team in 2019, all in relief. He posted a 3.11 ERA (3.32 FIP) with a 1.22 WHIP. He doesn’t blow hitters away, sporting a meager 14.7 percent strikeout rate in 2020 (the league average was 23 percent), but he doesn’t walk many batters either — 4.5 percent last year compared to a league average of 8.5 percent.
His stuff is definitely not going to make fans blush with excitement, but he’s had at least some success at keeping hitters off balance. His barrel rate, which measures how often hitters square up his pitches, was just 2.4 percent last year, comfortably better than the league average of 6.3 percent. And he was quite good at suppressing home runs - just two allowed – in a hitter-friendly park during a bonkers power season. He’s not bad depth to have.
Chris Iannetta, C
After the Yankees let free agent catcher Austin Romine walk this offseason, ostensibly turning over the backup duties to Kyle Higashioka, the Yankees were briefly bereft of organizational catching depth. They quickly changed that, first bringing in veteran Erik Kratz, then Iannetta and finally former New York Met Josh Thole, all on minor league deals.
Considering all the knocks catchers take during the course of a season, it’s a good bet that at least one of these three will see some action. I’d favor Iannetta at this point. Kratz is entering his age-40 season and literally posted a zero OPS+ last year. Thole, while the youngest of the trio at age 33, hasn’t played in the majors since 2016. Iannetta, 36, has certainly declined in the last couple of years, but has the best bat of the bunch and is just two years removed from a 120 wRC+ season in Arizona.
Kyle Holder, INF
Without much established infield depth — the Yanks at this point will be relying on either Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada to fill their utility infield role — Holder may just get an opportunity if things break right for him. Touted as an elite defensive shortstop ever since the Yankees took him in the 1st round (30th overall) of the 2015 draft, the only question has been whether Holder would hit enough to justify a roster spot.
He may have turned a corner in 2019 with Double-A Trenton, slashing .265/.336/.405. A contact hitter who’ll never be confused with Gleyber Torres offensively, Holder might yet carve out a role for himself as a slick-fielding, versatile backup infielder. He’ll be an intriguing prospect to watch, probably starting the year at Triple-A Scranton. From there, anything’s possible.
Clarke Schmidt, RHP
The Yankees drafted Schmidt in the 1st round (16th overall) of the 2017 draft despite the fact that he’d undergone Tommy John surgery a month earlier. That’s how much the team liked his stuff, polish and makeup. After rehabbing for the rest of 2017 and most of 2018 he began to make good on the Yankees’ gamble last year, tossing 90.2 innings across three levels (Rookie GCL, High-A Tampa, and Double-A Trenton) and compiling a 3.47 ERA, 1.18 WHIP with 102 strikeouts and just 28 walks.
The starter’s best numbers came with Trenton – a 2.37 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 19 strikeouts, 1 walk in 19.0 innings. Schmidt’s still pretty far down on the starting pitcher depth chart, but the soon-to-be 24-year-old will have an opportunity to open some eyes this spring and perhaps force his way into the conversation if he continues his upward trend.
Domingo Acevedo, RHP
Once a tantalizing starting pitcher prospect because of his size (he towers at 6-7, 250 lbs.) and velocity, Acevedo fell out of favor in recent years. Acevedo was released by the club in August, but re-signed on a minor league deal just days later. Now, his Yankees future rests in his ability to convert into a full-time reliever.
Acevedo tossed 51.2 innings, all out of the bullpen, across Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2019. It was a mixed bag, as his ERA bloated to 4.35 due to giving up 11 home runs. However, he pitched to a 1.08 WHIP with 54 strikeouts and just 14 walks. There may still be something there worth salvaging and this spring will be a huge chance for him to prove he’s still got a future.
He’s probably a longer shot than the five players I featured here, but I’ll give an honorable mention to Chris Gittens, the big, righty-swinging first baseman who’s been with the organization since 2014. He mashed in Double-A Trenton last year (.281/.393/.500 with 23 home runs in 478 plate appearances) in his age-25 season. He’ll probably spend 2020 in Scranton, but it’d be fun to see him get a cup of coffee in the Bronx at some point this year.