Yangervis Solarte. Billy Traber. Cesar Cabral. Jorge Vazquez.
We all know this type of player. Whether it's a unheralded minor leaguer, a veteran looking to catch on with an organization as a spring training invitee, or organizational filler, there always seems to be one or two random players every spring that perform unusually well in Grapefruit League action.
Without fail, fans and reporters start to wonder aloud whether these players should be included on the Opening Day roster, even though their hot spring almost always turns out to be a fluke. Some of these players, however, do end up breaking camp with the team, like Solarte in 2014 and Traber in 2008. Most do not, though some, by right of their impressive springs, may become one of the first considered for a promotion in the event of an injury on the big club, like Zoilo Almonte and Preston Claiborne in 2013.
With that said, the Yankees' roster is primarily set, save for a couple bullpen spots, the backup catcher, and backup infielder. So the chances of someone making the roster solely based on a torrid spring seem to be pretty low this year. However, that doesn't mean there aren't interesting names to consider as Grapefruit League action approaches who could help the team out at some point during the year.
OF Lane Adams (non-roster invitee)
Adams, 26, was taken off waivers from the Kansas City Royals last month, and was the reigning champion's 15th best prospect according to Baseball America following the 2014 season. Here is part of BA's scouting report on Adams from that year:
He is a plus-plus runner who is a plus defender in center field. He's not a good fit in right field because of his fringe-average arm. Offensively, Adams has some strength and shows pull power, but he projects as an average hitter with the ability to hit 8-10 home runs and plenty of doubles. He most likely winds up as a fourth outfielder.
The Yankees already have plenty of homegrown fourth outfielder types in the upper levels of the system with Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams and Ben Gamel. However, each of those three are left-handed hitters. The 6-foot-4 Adams is a right-handed hitter who has shown the ability to drive the ball into the gaps. In his seven minor league seasons, he has topped 20 doubles four times, while thrice topping 30 steals. Against left-handed pitchers over his last five minor league seasons, Adams has slashed .262/.349/.417 in 555 at-bats. While nothing to get too excited about, a right-handed, doubles-hitting outfielder who rates as an above-average defender surely can provide some value to the team.
P Mark Montgomery (non-roster invitee)
Drafted out of Longwood University (Virginia) in 2011, many expected the right-handed reliever to quickly move through the Yankees' system. Baseball America ranked Montgomery as the organization's eleventh best prospect following the 2012 season, saying that he "had the system's best slider the day he signed, and some scouts give it plus-plus grades at times. It has uncommon depth to go with low- to mid-80s power, and it gives him the consistent swing-and-miss pitch that closers need." Throw in a low-to-mid-90s fastball and that's the makings of a solid relief prospect.
Since then, Montgomery has experienced a fall from grace. Thanks to a shoulder injury in 2013, he has seen a dip in his fastball velocity and in the crispness of his slider. From 2011-13, he averaged 13.92 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2014-15, that averaged dropped to 9.18, while also struggling to limit walks (3.86 career walks per nine in the minors).
Despite all of this, he has continued to produce solid results even with his reduced stuff, pitching to a 2.66 ERA, limiting batters to a .191 batting average against, and allowing just two home runs in 50.2 innings at Double-A and Triple-A in 2015. While only in camp as a non-roster invitee this year, a spring that mirrors or bests last season's numbers might cause the Yankees to put him back on their radar.
OF Cesar Puello (non-roster invitee)
Puello might be the unlikeliest of players to see any action at the big league level in 2016, let alone make the club out of spring training, but hey, the whole point of this is to identify the unlikely and the surprises.
Like Adams, the 24-year-old Puello was once ranked as one of the top 30 prospects in another organization, this time the team being the New York Mets. The outfielder actually was listed as the 77th best prospect in the game by BA prior to the 2011 season. However, Puello served a suspension in 2013 as part of the Biogenesis scandal, and in 2015, he essentially missed the entire season with a back injury before he was released by the Mets in August.
In his last full season, Puello did post a .355 OBP while hitting seven home runs and stealing 13 bases (in 14 attempts) as a 23-year-old with the Mets' Triple-A club, so he is not far off from some positive production. While the Yankees project to have a ton of outfield depth in Triple-A this year, a good spring might cause the Yankees to stash Puello at Double-A and see if he can regain some of the form that made him a top 100 prospect.
IF Ronald Torreyes (40-man roster)
Torreyes is one of those guys that hits at almost every level he plays at, but because of his size (5-foot-10, 150 pounds), was never considered an exceptional prospect.
Signed out of Venezuela by the Cincinnati Reds as a 17-year-old in 2010, Torreyes has bounced around five organizations so far, including three in 2015 alone (Houston Astros, Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers). He spent the majority of 2015 with the Dodgers, slashing .299/.344/.399 in 298 at-bats with Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City (he also received the first eight plate appearances of his big league career for the Dodgers in September). The Yankees actually acquired him twice this offseason, first in a trade with the Dodgers in January, then earlier this month off waivers from the Angels after the Yankees designated him for assignment only days after the trade with the Dodgers (the Yankees let Torreyes go in order to make room for the acquisition of Lane Adams).
His 2015 numbers with the Dodgers are right in line with the 23-year-old's career minor league numbers (.298/.353/.409) and his ability to play second, short, and (perhaps more importantly for the 2016 Yankees) third, and his inclusion on the 40-man roster, might be a sign that the Yankees plan on giving him a long look this spring as potential infield insurance. This is especially true thanks to Triple-A backup Pete Kozma's recent back injury, which will shut him down for the next several weeks.
Honorable Mentions: RHP Vinnie Pestano, OF Ben Gamel, RHP Nick Goody