Snubs, Surprises and Grades for New York Yankees' Final 25-Man Roster Selections
It's finally here.
It took a long month of spring workouts and practice games, but Opening Day is finally here. As a result, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi and his coaching staff had to finalize the 25-man roster that will make the trip to Houston to take on the Astros during the first series of the season.
There was a lot to take from this year's spring camp. With new faces aplenty, the Yankees figure to be one of the more interesting teams this season. In terms of new talent, the Yankees look like the same team that won the 2009 World Series after spending boatloads of money that offseason.
Injuries and other uncontrollable factors—such as each player's age—will obviously work to counteract some of the moves.
This team has potential, however, and it will look to get the ball rolling April 1 against Houston. Given that the Yankees will be fresh out of camp, look for more contributors than usual. Some veterans and pitchers still aren't at full strength, so look for some others to step up.
The final roster was full of snubs and surprises, and we'll take a look at them here. We'll also give grades to every player on the roster based on spring numbers. This is pretty much everything you need to know about the team's Opening Day roster.
Snub: Preston Claiborne
Spring Stats: 0-1, 14.29 ERA, 5.2 IP, 5 K, 1 BB
Preston Claiborne's spring numbers suggest that he shouldn't have made the team—which he didn't. But I think that Joe Girardi made a bad move by cutting Claiborne and sending him to the minors.
Last season, he was a reliable member of a bullpen that wasn't all that deep. With even less depth in the bullpen this year, Girardi really could have used Claiborne right out of camp. I'm sure he'll be up at some point in the season, but he really should be working out the kinks against major leaguers.
Claiborne logged 50.1 innings to the tune of a 4.11 ERA in 2013, establishing himself as one of the more consistent pitchers coming out of the pen. He worked primarily in the sixth and seventh inning. That being said, he was versatile enough to come in whenever needed.
Claiborne doesn't really do anything special. He has just above-average stuff and pitches to contact. Sometimes those pitchers will go through a bad couple of games, and I think that's what happened in the spring.
Despite the poor numbers, I think Claiborne was a snub.
Snub: Zoilo Almonte
Spring Stats: .410/.452/.615, 16 H, 5 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 4 SO, 3 BB
Cutting Zoilo Almonte couldn't have been easy. The young outfielder was great this spring, and he showed again why he has a possible future with the team. Unfortunately, he was likely cut this time around because of the presence of Ichiro Suzuki on the roster.
Ichiro is currently without a defined role, and the Yankees were probably better suited to actively look to find a new home for him while in Tampa. He is really just a fringe starting outfielder at this point in his career, though there are several teams that could still use outfield help.
For either salary relief or a veteran reliever, a trade of Ichiro would have made sense for the Bombers.
A trade also would have paved the way for Almonte to make the roster. He showed promise with a brief stint with the Yankees in 2013.
Almonte is blocked from starting for at least the next three years (the length of Carlos Beltran's contract), but he can gain valuable experience by staying with the big league club until then. He'll be up at some point this season, but he truly deserved to make the 25-man roster. His spring numbers were amongst the team's best.
Surprise: Masahiro Tanaka
Spring Stats: 2-0, 2.14 ERA, 21.0 IP, 26 K, 3 BB, .190 BAA
It's not surprising that Masahiro Tanaka made the roster, but his performance certainly was. The Yankees were obviously hoping for this kind of dominance from Tanaka, but nobody expected him to make the transition from Japan to the States look so easy. A bigger ball and increased competition were supposed to make things difficult for Tanaka in his first few games in the bigs.
Even though it was only spring training, the results were both impressive and reassuring.
The Yankees made a big-time investment in the young right-hander, and it looks as if they'll be getting a borderline ace early on. There's still time for things to go wrong, but Girardi and Co. have every right to be excited right now.
What made Tanaka so great this spring was his ability stay poised on the mound. He didn't surrender many hits or walk many guys, but when in trouble, he stayed calm and executed each of his pitches.
Tanaka showed off some great pitches this past month, but none more dominant than his splitter. That splitter of his is going to make many AL East opponents pull their hair out.
Surprise: Yangervis Solarte
Spring Stats: .429/.489/.571, 18 H, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 7 SO, 5 BB
Yangervis Solarte was so good at the plate this spring that the Yankees cut Eduardo Nunez—a 25-man roster staple of the past several seasons.
By all accounts, though, it was the right move. Nunez still can't field and is a free-swinger. He makes good contact and can run, but those two aspects of his game show that he is still immature as a ballplayer.
Solarte, while not particularly fast, can make the routine plays on defense at multiple different positions while holding his own at the plate. His offensive ceiling is maybe a bit higher than Nunez's, but it's his defense that sets him apart.
Left field, second base, shortstop and third base are no problem for Solarte, though middle infield is where he fits best. The Yankees will probably—read: hopefully—never need him in the outfield given their depth, so expect him to see time at the other three positions.
Newcomer Dean Anna also earned himself a spot on the roster over Nunez, though that was much less surprising than Solarte's incredible spring.
Brian McCann Spring Stats: .200/.265/.333, 9 H, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 11 SO, 4 BB
Francisco Cervelli Spring Stats: .405/.450/.811, 15 H, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 6 SO, 2 BB
Going into the spring, there was an open competition for the reserve catcher's role. Francisco Cervelli's performance was the best of all Yankees backstops (Brian McCann included), so he locked up the role with ease.
He won't boast that same power (four homers in 37 at-bats) during the season, but you can count on Cervelli to post a .250-plus average with a respectable on-base percentage. He's a more-than-serviceable reserve catcher.
McCann's numbers, on the other hand, were less than pleasing. Don't be worried, though. He is a near lock for 20-plus homers in Yankee Stadium. He makes his real impact with the pitching staff, as he's widely regarded as one of the better backstops to throw to.
Mark Teixeira Spring Stats: .086/.289/.114, 4 H, 4 RBI, 11 SO, 10 BB
Brian Roberts Spring Stats: .279/.333/.302, 12 H, 3 RBI, 8 SO, 4 BB
Dean Anna Spring Stats: .262/.367/.286, 11 H, 4 RBI, 9 SO, 6 BB
Derek Jeter Spring Stats: .137/.214/.157, 7 H, 2 RBI, 10 SO, 5 BB
Kelly Johnson Spring Stats: .267/.389/.422, 12 H, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 8 SO, 7 BB
Yangervis Solarte Spring Stats: .429/.489/.571, 18 H, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 7 SO, 5 BB
The spring wasn't really kind to the big names of the Yankees' infield—Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira—but both stars are still working to get themselves back to full strength after disappointing, injury-riddled 2013 seasons.
Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts will be the new regulars at third base and second base, respectively, and they both put up solid numbers. Those numbers projected over a full campaign, barring injuries, would be nice additions to the lineup.
You can't count on Roberts for more than 100 games, unfortunately, so the contributions of Anna and Solarte will be crucial. When Brendan Ryan returns from injury, he'll be an important piece of the puzzle as well.
Anna will likely get the brunt of the time at second behind Roberts. He showed great plate discipline this spring and shows above-average patience for a younger hitter. Solarte will grab the reserve time at short and third, most likely.
Jacoby Ellsbury Spring Stats: .174/.321/.391, 4 H, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 6 SO, 5 BB
Brett Gardner Spring Stats: .306/.386/.347, 15 H, 5 RBI, 8 SO, 7 BB
Carlos Beltran Spring Stats: .275/.288/.451, 14 H, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 10 SO, 1 BB
Ichiro Suzuki Spring Stats: .240/.283/.280, 12 H, 7 RBI, 2 SO, 3 BB
Alfonso Soriano Spring Stats: .238/.250/.310, 10 H, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 9 SO, 1 BB
Like the infield, the outfield's production in 2013 is going to come down how healthy the big bats can stay. If injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran occur, then Suzuki will need to step in and play everyday.
As we saw last season, Ichiro really isn't the same hitter he used to be.
In fact, his spring line is something similar to what we might expect projected over a full season. He's a singles hitter who really doesn't hit a ton of singles. Generally speaking, there isn't a ton of room for those types of players on major league rosters.
Beltran and Brett Gardner put up strong numbers this spring. Each will be a catalyst for the lineup in 2014.
Alfonso Soriano is grouped with outfielders because of his default position. He'll serve as the full-time designated hitter, though he'll be spelled by Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Beltran from time to time. When Beltran is the DH, look for Soriano to play the field.
The outfield is a far better group than the infield, but both units have major injury risks.
Grades: Starting Pitchers
CC Sabathia Spring Stats: 3-1, 1.29 ERA, 21.0 IP, 16 K, 3 BB, .178 BAA
Hiroki Kuroda Spring Stats: 1-0, 4.76 ERA, 11.1 IP, 12 K, 1 BB, .326 BAA
Ivan Nova Spring Stats: 2-1, 3.66 ERA, 19.2 IP, 21 K, 2 BB, .276 BAA
Masahiro Tanaka Spring Stats: 2-0, 2.14 ERA, 21.0 IP, 26 K, 3 BB, .190 BAA
Michael Pineda Spring Stats: 2-1, 1.20 ERA, 15.0 IP, 16 K, 1 BB, .246 BAA
The starting rotation proved to be a strength this spring, even if Hiroki Kuroda struggled to the tune of a 4.76 ERA and .326 BAA. Hitters were simply on him in March, but that shouldn't be a problem moving forward.
Working out the kinks is what the spring is for.
Despite low velocity, CC Sabathia showed that he is not just a thrower. The big lefty pitched excellently. He effectively worked both sides of the plate and kept hitters off balance with his slider. The strikeouts were up, and the contact was down. That's the perfect recipe for success for Sabathia.
The biggest story is really a toss-up between Tanaka and Michael Pineda. Both exceeded expectations, but in different ways.
Nobody really knew what to expect from Pineda. Everyone hoped he would grab the No. 5 starter's job, but it was hard to predict where he would be in terms of consistency. He proved to everyone that he can be consistent—consistently dominant, that is.
Tanaka put all the pressures of pitching in a new league behind him this spring. While the Opening Day jitters might still exist for the Japanese import, all signs point to him having a pretty successful rookie season.
Grades: Relief Pitchers
David Robertson Spring Stats: 0.00 ERA, 6.0 IP, 1 H, 5 K, 2 BB, .059 BAA
Shawn Kelley Spring Stats: 1.35 ERA, 6.2 IP, 4 H, 7 K, 0 BB, .174 BAA
Matt Thornton Spring Stats: 1-0, 6.75 ERA, 4.0 IP, 2 K, 0 BB, .368 BAA
David Phelps Spring Stats: 1-1, 3.38 ERA, 21.1 IP, 14 K, 5 BB, .271 BAA
Adam Warren Spring Stats: 1-1, 1.69 ERA, 10.2 IP, 10 K, 4 BB, .256 BAA
Vidal Nuno Spring Stats: 3.38 ERA, 8.0 IP, 8 K, 1 BB, .172
Dellin Betances Spring Stats: 0.73 ERA, 12.1 IP, 11 K, 4 BB, .116 BA
Despite a strong veteran contingent, the Yankees bullpen appeared to be a strength in the spring. Girardi chose the best group of pitchers to make up his relief unit, and you can bet that all of the members of the pen will be utilized strategically in the early weeks of the season.
Vidal Nuno was a surprise addition to the bullpen. He was in the mix for the No. 5 starter's job, but instead of putting him in the minors to continue as a starter, Girardi chose to make him the second lefty in the pen. This is likely because Matt Thornton wasn't as dominant as Girardi would have liked.
Nuno's presence is what likely bumped Claiborne to the minors.
A pitcher to watch in this group is Dellin Betances. While David Robertson will garner most of the attention as Mariano Rivera's heir apparent, Betances has the potential to be the most dominant member of the bullpen.
His spring numbers were great. His ability to keep batters off balance with devastating stuff makes him a late-inning threat. The only thing that might hurt him in the future is his occasional lack of control. If he can limit baserunners, then Betances can be great.