My favorite part of spring training is always the part where we get to watch prospects play and figure out what to expect from some of the under-the-radar guys. For this reason, the non-roster invitees are very important to me. It’s like they somehow represent the everyman on the baseball field, even though many are either super skilled athletes or are working on a free agent contract for over $500,000 a year. Either way, speculating about who might make the cut is something I like to do every winter.
At this point in the offseason, several teams have already announced who they are inviting to spring training. The Yankees have not. They have signed only a handful of minor league free agents, which is fine, since they have so many prospects now, but it leaves us with almost nothing to talk about in the middle of winter. Just because we have no news doesn’t mean we can’t discuss who will be invited to spring training.
All 40 members of the team’s 40-man roster will be in Tampa next month. The Yankees roster was inundated by prospects in the offseason, when Dietrich Enns, Giovanny Gallegos, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, Yefrey Ramirez, Kyle Higashioka, Miguel Andujar, and Jorge Mateo were all added and spared from the Rule 5 Draft. Aside from them, we know that most of the team’s top 30 prospects will be there, including the likes of Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, James Kaprielian, Dustin Fowler, and others.
The few guys who were signed to minor league deals will be at spring training too. Cito Culver and Donovan Solano return to the organization. Catcher Kellin Delgan, left-handed pitcher Jason Gurka, infielder Ruben Tejada, and newly-signed first baseman Ji-Man Choi will also be in attendance.
I have, however, come up with five additional prospects who I hope will make the cut. These guys either aren’t on the team’s top 30 prospect list or are just too young to be conventionally thought of as an invitee. Because they seem to be out on the edges at the moment, they are the perfect players to root for this spring.
I have been all over Cortes for a few years now. He is a former 36th round pick back in 2013, and he remains in the picture. The left-hander is more of a finesse pitcher, however, his peripherals have remained excellent with a 9.8 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, and 0.5 HR/9, showing that he can strike batters out, remain in the zone, and keep the ball in the ballpark.
In his first year out of rookie ball, Cortes moved through four different levels. His lack of experience in the upper minors keep him on the fringes, but he is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next offseason and should receive attention at some point over the season.
One of the relievers acquired in the Andrew Miller trade, Feyereisen pitched to a 1.70 ERA with a 12.0 K/9 in Double-A last year. His fastball velocity, mixed with a deadly fastball-slider combo, should make him someone on the major league radar this year. The only real holdup is his troubling control numbers, which jumped to 3.0 BB/9 in 2015 and then 4.0 in 2016. It could ultimately be his undoing, but he doesn’t have much time to correct it with Rule 5 eligibility coming next year.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing who this is because Hissong was a non-drafted free agent signed by the Yankees after the 2014 Draft. Though nothing was expected from him, he has developed a full repertoire of pitches with two different types of fastballs, a slider, and a changeup. He’s certainly worked out so far with an outstanding strikeout of 10.5 K/9 and solid walk rate of 2.2 B/9. He is by far the least likely to get an invite out of the five players here, but Hissong is already 25, so the Yankees need to start taking him seriously now before he gets too old.
At first it would seem like putting Rutherford here is a mistake, since he is the team’s no. 5 prospect, however he’s just 19 years old and still in rookie ball. Maybe he’s still too young and inexperienced to take hacks against big league-caliber players, but, it might be a good idea to allow him access to the pros in order to instill in him a better, more mature approach to the game.
You might think this sounds like a load of trash, but we frequently discuss here how important it is for prospects to receive time in the major league dugout in September. Players can learn a lot by seeing how the veterans do it on the field and in the locker room. If Rutherford is as highly regarded as expected, a gesture like this could go a long way toward instilling confidence in this young man.
The only player on this list who has seen significant time at Triple-A, Wotherspoon has quietly put together a solid minor league career. In the last two years he has gained experience at four levels between the bullpen and the rotation. As a potential swingman, Wotherspoon can offer some mileage while also striking enough people out. Considering he will be eligible for the rule 5 Draft next winter, he could be someone who comes into focus as the big league club’s relief depth burns down over the summer