clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Yankees' inability to develop infielders should haunt the team in 2014

The Yankees have nothing in their farm system to help fill the needs across the infield and it will surely come back to bite them this season.

Rich Schultz

For years, Yankee fans have complained about the team's inability to produce starting pitching from their farm system, and rightfully so. Since 2005, the Yankees' system produced three good years of Chien-Ming Wang, Ian Kennedy (who was only good for about two years with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but helped fetch Curtis Granderson), two league-average years of Phil Hughes (2010 and 2012), one league-average year of Joba Chamberlain (2009), two separate good, half-seasons of Ivan Nova (2011 and 2013), and a little bit of David Phelps mixed in. You think that's bad? The Yankees have produced nothing from infielders in that same span.

When Robinson Cano emerged out of the Yankees' system, he gave the team nine incredible years from 2005-2013. He hit .309/.355/.504 with a 126 wRC+ in nearly 5800 plate appearances. His 37.1 fWAR from 2005-2013 was the ninth-highest total in all of baseball and second to only Chase Utley among second baseman. Now, he's gone. To help try to fill the hole at second with Cano in the Pacific Northwest, the Yankees will turn to the likes of Brian Roberts, Dean Anna, or even some guy named Yangervis Solarte.

During Cano's tenure with New York, the team produced next to nothing in terms of infielders. Once Cano made his debut, the best infielders the Yankees produced were Eduardo Nunez (career -1.9 fWAR); Brandon Laird (-0.2 fWAR), who had trouble finding playing time for the friggin' Houston Astros; and David Adams (-0.2 fWAR), who somehow got a guaranteed Major League deal from the Indians after looking over-matched last summer in the Bronx. Add it all up and those three players have produced a -2.3 fWAR in 366 games and 1117 PAs of pure awfulness. You can argue that C.J. Henry, a shortstop the Yankees drafted in 2005 and used to help acquire Bobby Abreu in 2006, has given the Yankees the most value among their homegrown infielders since '05, and Henry never reached the majors and was last seen playing for the Evansville Otters in the Independent League. Let that one sink in for a moment.

Now, of course the Yankees didn't necessarily need infielders from, say, 2005-2012. With Cano at second, the Yankees still had Derek Jeter at short and Alex Rodriguez at third base, with Jason Giambi and some Doug Mientkiewicz and whatnot mixed in up until 2009. It was then in '09 when the Yankees signed Mark Teixeira to complete, possibly, the greatest single-season infield in the history of baseball, with Rodriguez, Jeter, Cano, and Teixeira combining for a 19.7 fWAR that season. The quartet continued to provide plenty of value from 2010-2012, producing a 46.6 fWAR. The team was in no need for infield help from the minors, though it would have been nice if they came up with a decent infield prospect or two just to use as trade chips for other needs.

However, 2013 happened, and we got a first-hand look of how ugly it can get when you have nothing coming from the minor leagues to help fill needs around the infield. Aside from yet another awesome season from Cano, the Yankees got almost nothing from their infielders as a whole, which included only 76 games from Jeter, Rodriguez, and Teixeira, thanks to injuries. They had to search under every last rock and crevice to find anything they could use infield-wise, including signing Lyle Overbay, who ended up being the team's primary first baseman, three days prior to Opening Day. Guys like Chris Nelson, Luis Cruz, Brent Lillibridge, and Alberto Gonzalez were brought in during the year to replace the regular backups, Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix, after they got hurt.

If you're impatiently waiting for infield help to come from the minor leagues in 2014, like I am, you'll have to wait a little longer. Non-first base infielders, including third baseman Eric Jagielo, second baseman Rob Refsynder, and shortstop Abiatal Avelino, are all several years away from reaching the majors. Jagielo will perhaps start in High-A Tampa (and he should, given he spent three years at a pretty big baseball program at Notre Dame); Refsynder could begin 2014 in Double-A after his solid 2013 in High-A, but he still needs to improve defensively at second base; and Avelino might start 2014 in Low-A, but he'll only be 19 years old in February, so it wouldn't come as a surprise if he were sent to Staten Island in June instead.

In the meantime, the Yankees will have to go dumpster diving. They've done a lot of that this off-season, in fact, by signing Roberts and Kelly Johnson to help fill out second and third base, respectively. They've also made a flurry of minor league signings/trades, including Scott Sizemore, Zelous Wheeler, Russ Canzler, Anna, and that Solarte fellow. We even have fans suggesting the team to sign Chone Figgins for crying out loud. This is the very definition of dumpster diving, at least in baseball terms.

As for actual infielders who were already in the Yankees system and are relatively close to the majors, there's Ronnier Mustelier and Jose Pirela. Last season, Mustelier got hyped up by the fanbase following his strong showing in spring training and could have made the team on Opening Day if not for a knee injury he suffered late in camp. He had a couple of big hits (including a walk-off home run off noted rapist Josh Lueke), has some versatility, and has a cool name, so of course he becomes a fan-favorite. Unfortunately, he isn't much of a prospect at all. He turns 30 in August, and when he returned from his knee injury last season, he hit just .272/.319/.398 with a 101 wRC+ in Triple-A and never got a chance to show himself in New York, even after all of the injuries.

As for Pirela, his name has caught fire this off-season thanks to him hitting .332/.415/.514 down in the Venezuelan Winter League. However, it took him three separate seasons and 334 games just to get out of Double-A. To his credit, he did hit a solid .272/.359/.418 with a 118 wRC+ last year in his third go-around in the Eastern League. Unfortunately, Pirela doesn't have much power at all (career .118 ISO in the minors) and is pretty rough around the edges defensively at second base and shortstop. To me, both Mustelier and Pirela might end up being just organizational players and I would be happy even if they ended up being halfway useful utility players in the majors, if they even get that far.

Sadly, this is the current state the Yankees are in, infield-wise. The days of A-Rod, Jeter, Cano, and Teixeira anchoring down the infield while still in their primes are over and are never coming back. There is very little/no help whatsoever coming from the farm system to solve the team's woes, and the interesting players they do have in the system are still years away from even reaching the majors. You can absolutely assign blame for these failures.

This is something that has gone on for nearly a decade; it isn't "bad luck" or "not having high draft picks." This is about as clear as an organizational flaw as it gets. You can blame Mark Newman for failing to develop any infielders over the last eight years. You can also blame Damon Oppenheimer for failing to draft any useful infielders as well, and that includes his complete whiffs on Dante Bichette Jr. and Cito Culver, who were both questionable-at-best picks to begin with.

Both Newman and Oppenheimer were under fire this winter and both could be shown the door at the end of the 2014 season if the farm continues to make very little strides. For now, though, the Yankees will have to try to stay afloat by searching for every last infielder available off the street, because the farm system won't provide much at all in 2014, and potentially in the years that follow.