Jobu breaks down the guys who might be the opening day Left fielder for the Yankees in 2013.
Originally, this post was meant to be a breakdown of what lucky guy would get to be the backup right handed hitting outfielder for the Yankees. Curtis Granderson‘s first at bat of the spring certainly changed all that, didn’t it? Granderson (pictured above) was struck on the arm by a fastball from Blue Jays hurler J.A. Happ (less), and the result was a broken forearm. Grandy will be out for ten weeks, so now the Yankees need a left fielder for at least the first month of the season.
Now, before Yankees fans panic, a month of having a starting outfielder out with an injury is not the end of the world. Of course, if the Yankees hadn’t dumped 100 homers from their lineup via this year’s free agency, I might feel a little better about the whole thing. The Yankees didn’t really plan on a big injury, and now they’re going to be left picking off the scrap heap to see who can contribute in an every day role come April. Just another pothole in the road to $189MM, eh Hal? Anywho, here are the current in-camp candidates for the job.
1. Matt Diaz
Diaz, like the rest of these guys, was in camp trying to win the role left open by the departure of Andruw Jones, who attacked his wife on Christmas and then signed with a Japanese team. By the way, he pronounces it Dye-az… so he’s got that going for him. Anywho, who is Matt Diaz? Up until the last couple of years, Diaz was a platoon only right handed outfielder who absolutely mashed lefties. Recently, he’s become just a platoon only right handed outfielder.
Diaz was originally drafted by the Rays in 1999, and made his big league debut in 2003 at the age of 25. After a couple of seasons of being unable to make an impact in the majors, was eventually claimed off waivers by the Orioles and signed as a free agent by the Royals, who traded him to the Braves in 2005. From that point forward, he just plain hit lefties. From 2006 til 2009, he hit .365 against southpaws in 547 at bats and only once did his OPS dip below .800. Those are very impressive numbers, and that’s why he stayed on Atlanta’s roster. In 2010, he signed with the Pirates.
In 2011, Diaz seemed to lose his stroke. He struggled mightily, hitting only .259/.303/.324 in 216 ABSs and not managing to hit one ball out of the ballpark. The Pirates traded him back to the Braves late in September, and he managed to hit a very soft .286 in his 16 games with the Braves (only one XBH). He stayed with the Braves in 2012, but utterly stunk, hitting .222/.280/.333 in 108 ABs. Apparently, a gardening accident is to blame for his terrible play. According to the Lohud Yankees Blog, in 2006, while gardening at his house, Diaz was stabbed by a palm leaf. The first time he had surgery on it was after the 2009 season. in 2010, because of a puss filled infection, he had to be cut open in the clubhouse. An MRI revealed two more pieces. Now, Diaz says he’s feeling great and ready to contribute to the club.
Can he do it? That remains to be seen. He’s not ridiculously old or anything, as he’ll be 35 this season. While that’s doesn’t make him a spring chicken, it’s not exactly “Yankees Old” either. If his problems really did stem from the chronic infection caused by his sinister plant life, I could see Diaz rediscovering his stroke against lefties and really contributing. He won’t look too hot when he’s playing every day while Granderson is gone, but once Grandy comes back, Diaz could be a great weapon off the bench.
2. Juan Rivera
Most Yankees fans will remember Juan Rivera quite well. The Yankees signed the Venezuelan outfielder as an international free agent in 1996, and he eventually spent parts of three seasons in the Bronx, before being traded in the first Javier Vazquez deal in 2003. He spent 2003 in Montreal, but was traded to the Angels by the franchise when it moved to Washington, D.C. before the 2004 season. It was on the Angels where Rivera really discovered his stroke. He became a pretty legitimate power threat with the Angels, twice bopping over 20 HRs and reaching as many as 88 RBI in a season.
Before the 2011 season, Rivera was traded to the Blue Jays along with Mike Napoli for Vernon Wells and cash considerations (Napoli was eventually traded to Texas), but didn’t make it through the full season north of the border. His contract was purchased by the Dodgers in July. After one more year in Los Angeles, Rivera signed a minor league deal with the Yankees this past off-season.
There’s a lot to like about Rivera. Number one, he’s got legitimate power. I’m not talking 40 HR power or anything, but he’s a guy that can put one in the seats from time to time and help the club score runs. Another thing to like is that the guy is a contact machine. Usually guys who don’t walk a ton tend to swing and miss a lot, but Rivera’s career high in strikeouts is only 76, and that was in 2011.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot to dislike too. I’m not sure what his injury history is, but he runs like a guy whose torn every ligament in his body more than once. Seriously. Dude is slow. Because of this he’s a base clogger, and he certainly has very little business playing in the field… especially left field in Yankees stadium. Remember when Gardner got hurt last year and Ibañez had to play left field all those games? It’s probably worse than that. The guy is only 32 years old, but he might as well be 40. That being said, he’s a guy that is trying to prove that his down season last year wasn’t the start of his downfall, but rather a blip in the radar.
3. The Wild Cards
This is where we put those young guys that, if given the chance, might be able to do some real damage at the big league level. Most of them aren’t ready to do so, but there’s a couple guys I’d like to see be given the chance to shine. These are guys like Melky Mesa, Ronnier Mustelier and Zoilo Almonte.
We remember Melky Mesa from his late-season call up last year. Remember when he got his first major league hit and then missed third on what should have been the game-winning hit by A-Rod in that crazy game against the A’s? The Yankees won eventually, which made that incident a lot funnier than it would have been if they hadn’t. The book on Melky is that he’s got some speed and some power, but lacks the ability to make constant contact with the ball. We’ll see him at some point in 2013, but I’m not sure he’s ready for an every day role.
To me, Ronnier Mustelier is the guy they need to be looking at very, very closely. The Cuban born 28-year old defected in 2011 and was signed by the Yankees for only $50K. Since he’s joined the organization, all he has done is hit the baseball, putting up a .324/.378/.497 slash line with 18 homers in 595 minor league ABs. This includes the 89 games he played in AAA last year, where he hit .303/.359/.455 with 10 HRs and 49 RBI. He’s proven he can hit, and the Yankees like his bat, but he’s a converted infielder who is just learning the OF, which makes the team weary. I say, I’d rather have an unknown out there than some old guy we know is awful… but that’s just me.
Zoilo Almonte has only recently put himself on the short list of Yankees prospects. Often overshadowed by blue-chippers like Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams, last year Almonte reached AA Trenton, and he showed that he might be someone to be reckoned with in the Yankees future OF picture. With the Thunder, Almonte hit .277/.322/.487 with 21 HR, 70 RBI and 15 SB, showing a combination of speed and power that really intrigues me. The one scary number for Zoilo is the 25 walks and 103 Ks in 419 ABs. He’s going to have to make better contact if he’s not going to walk a lot. Considering he hasn’t played above AA, I’d consider him a no-shot to make the roster this spring, but we might see him later in 2013, or 2014 depending on how this year goes.
Featured image courtesy of: Matt Slocum/Associated Press
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