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Looking at the Yankees’ non-roster hitters

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Could any of these hitters on non-guaranteed deals be able to stick with the big club?

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Looking over the annual crop of non-roster invitees (NRI) is a spring training tradition. Each team signs dozens of guys to non-guaranteed minor league contracts with the hopes that they prove there’s still something in the tank; if there’s not, they can easily cut bait.

Peter looked at the Yankees’ list of NRI pitchers last week, and now that the Yankees’ list is officially out, it’s time to do the same for the team’s group of NRI position players.

Jay Bruce

Bruce is the biggest NRI in camp, figuratively and literally. The hulking slugger has long been a thorn in the Yankees’ side, from the time the Mets refused to trade him to the Yankees to when he was almost single-handedly responsible for Cleveland’s near-defeat of New York in the 2017 ALDS. Now, he’s officially in pinstripes, but is it too little, too late?

At this stage of his career, Bruce is really a pinch-hitter type more than anything. He was never much of a contact hitter, but hitting .217 over his last three seasons is concerning. He still hit the long ball at a 30-home run pace over that span, and added the ability to play first base. He could run into a few balls during spring training, but Bruce probably isn’t a serious upgrade over the likes of Mike Ford or Chris Gittens.

Derek Dietrich

It was surprising to see Dietrich on the Yankees’ list of NRIs, in part because there’d been no indication they were ever talking to him. However, Dietrich could provide some of what the Yankees are looking for as a bench player.

Although he is capable of playing first, second or third base and also has some corner outfield experience, Dietrich’s main calling card is his bat. From 2015-2018 with Miami, Dietrich slashed .262/.344/.428, good for an OPS+ of 112. Since then, he’s slashed .189/.332/.462, which shows that he’s no longer hitting for average but is still providing value with an ability to get on base and plus power.

Of course, Dietrich may be best-known for being at the focal point of a 2019 Reds-Pirates brawl, in which he took his time admiring a long home run of his against Chris Archer. Archer subsequently drilled him in his next at-bat, starting a fight. Dietrich responded by hitting six more home runs vs. Pittsburgh over the course of the season, and embracing his bad boy role by saying he just tries to have fun on the diamond.

Dietrich’s fit with the Yankees will be interesting to follow this spring. He could be a sneaky-good addition, or he could be a complete culture clash.

Robinson Chirinos/Rob Brantly

After Erik Kratz’s retirement, the Yankees needed a new third-string catcher. One of Chirinos or Brantly should be able to fill that role. Chirinos is more of an offensive catcher while Brantly offers more defensively, but neither will seriously challenge Gary Sánchez or Kyle Higashioka. However, they offer capable depth in case of injury.

Ryan LaMarre/Socrates Brito

LaMarre and Brito are interesting invites given the Yankees’ need for more depth in the outfield, even after news broke of Brett Gardner’s impending return. LaMarre had one extended stretch in the big leagues during 2018, and hit .279 while playing all over the outfield. Brito was one of the Yankees’ earliest NRI signings. He’s another speed-and-defense type who has struggled hitting at the big league level, but posted a .923 minor league OPS in 2018 and an .838 figure in 2019.

Both players have top-10-percent speed per Baseball Savant, but offer very little big league power. They’re harmless camp invites to challenge Mike Tauchman and Greg Allen, but if either one is playing regularly in the outfield for the Yankees this year, then there are likely bigger problems afoot.