As expected, the league announced that teams will begin this shortened regular season with 30-man rosters. That’ll get trimmed down to 28 after a couple of weeks and 26 two more weeks thereafter. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Yankees shape up. I’ll break down who’s a lock to make the roster (barring injury or COVID-19) and who’s on the bubble. Let’s get started.
The position player locks
I count 13 players who’ll remain with the big league team once “summer camp” ends:
- C (2): Gary Sánchez, Kyle Higashioka
- 1B (2): Luke Voit, Mike Ford
- 2B (1): DJ LeMahieu
- 3B (1): Gio Urshela
- SS (1): Gleyber Torres
- OF (4): Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Tauchman
- IF/OF (2): Miguel Andújar, Tyler Wade
Any surprises included above? I don’t think so. Back in March, we probably would have seen Clint Frazier and one other (Rosell Herrera?) instead of Hicks and Stanton. Now the latter two are all but ready to go.
This leaves two spots open, though it may really be just one depending on…
…Aaron Judge’s readiness
We’ve gone from could be ready for Opening Day to optimism with Aaron Judge! This is good. Now, as you may have noticed, I excluded him from the list of players certain to break camp with the team, but obviously Judge will slot in as long as everything remains on track.
Should Judge prove not to be ready to go, the Yankees will probably run Gardner, Hicks, and Tauchman in the outfield with Stanton as the designated hitter (Stanton might not be ready to play the outfield, by the way). If Judge is good to go, Tauchman will serve as a bench player.
Vying for the last spot(s)
Of who’s left in the Yankees’ player pool, allow me to rank individuals from most likely to least likely to snag a roster spot (asterisk denotes player is on 40-man roster):
- IF/OF Rosell Herrera
- IF Matt Duffy
- OF Clint Frazier*
- IF Thairo Estrada*
- IF Kyle Holder
- OF Zack Granite
- C Chris Iannetta
- C Erik Kratz
- C Josh Thole
- C Max McDowell
- OF Estevan Florial*
Even though there’s now a 60-man player pool, teams still must follow the 40-man roster rules so the Yanks would have to make space for someone like Herrera or Duffy. Fortunately (well, unfortunately really), there’s one open spot on the 40-man because Luis Severino was placed on the 60-day injured list.
Herrera seemed like a pretty good bet to make the team back in March, so I don’t see much of a reason to waver now. He can play both the infield and outfield and is a good runner (82nd percentile in sprint speed in 2019).
Duffy, a very recent addition, is a versatile infielder who’s had a couple of very good big league seasons with the Giants and Rays, but has struggled with injuries as well. The Yankees really needed some infield depth and Duffy offers that. I think we’ll see him at some point this season, though probably not right away.
Poor Clint. Back in March, it looked like he’d have a real opportunity because of all the injuries. He’s been foiled again though, at least for now. With all of the Yankees2′ outfielders pretty much healthy, Frazier has been crowded out once again.
Estrada and Holder follow on my list, with the former ranked higher just because of 40-man roster status. Then comes Granite, yet another of the myriad of outfielders. After that, I’ve ranked a slew of catchers. I don’t foresee the Yankees carrying three backstops on the regular roster as they can quickly bring one aboard from the taxi squad when needed.
Finally, we get to Florial. The Yankees’ outfield depth along with Florial’s lack of experience above High-A places the 22 year-old at the bottom. Not totally unlike Frazier, Florial has had a ton of bad luck in recent years. Multiple injuries have stunted his development, and now, he’ll have even less playing time thanks to a pandemic.
Prediction: Herrera will join a healthy Judge on the 30-man roster, rounding out our position player total to 15.
The pitcher locks
I’ve got 12 arms on the roster to start:
- SP (5): Gerrit Cole, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, JA Happ, Jordan Montgomery
- RP (7): Aroldis Chapman, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga
That leaves us with three openings.
A long list of candidates
There are 33 pitchers in the player pool so I’m not going to do another ranking here. Let’s categorize them instead.
Favorites (3): Jonathan Holder*, Ben Heller*, and Michael King*.
All three of these guys are on the 40-man roster with varying degrees of big league experience, so it’s easier to get them on the big league team to start. Holder and Heller are more of the short reliever variety, though Holder can give a couple of innings as needed. King, meanwhile, is a starter by trade. He can be used as a longman or to piggy back someone in the rotation in the early going, especially as starters build up their workload.
In the mix (4): David Hale, Brooks Kriske*, Deivi García*, Clarke Schmidt.
The Yankees clearly like Hale. He’s thrown to a 2.98 ERA in 48 1/3 innings for the Bombers in each of the last two years even though he’s been on and off the roster on multiple occasions. Kriske was a somewhat surprising 40-man addition in the offseason, but has strikeout stuff and roster status in his corner. Then comes the two most interesting prospect arms in Deivi and Schmidt. I think we’ll see both of them at points this summer, with the former potentially in a bullpen role and the latter filling in the rotation as needed.
Big league veterans (5): Tyler Lyons, Luis Avilán, Dan Otero, Nick Tropeano, Tony Zych.
Nobody here is particularly exciting. Lyons actually appeared in 11 games for the Yankees toward the end of last year and was even on the postseason roster, so I suppose we can’t rule him out. I still feel like it would be odd to roster him, a lefty, given the existence of the three-batter minimum rule. Same goes for another southpaw like Avilán. Otero and Zych are righties who’ve had some decent seasons in the bigs, but don’t seem likely to play much if at all this season. Finally, Tropeano provides some emergency starting depth.
Unlikely prospects (5): Luis Gil*, Luis Medina*, Miguel Yajure*, Nick Nelson*, Albert Abreu*
I don’t anticipate seeing Gil, Medina, or Yajure this year given their limited track records above High-A. However, Nelson and Abreu could be with the Yankees at varying points depending on team health. Both can start, though I’d be particularly interested to see Abreu in a relief role. He can hit triple-digits pretty regularly.
Other arms (4): Daniel Álvarez, Domingo Acevedo, Adonis Rosa, Alexander Vizcaíno
Admittedly, I don’t know much about this group. Rosa had a brief cameo with the Yankees last summer, appearing in one game. Acevedo was once a pretty good prospect, but has lost velocity in recent years. Álvarez had very strong numbers in Trenton’s bullpen last season. Lastly, Vizcaíno ended last season with High-A Tampa and only threw 27 1/3 innings at that level, so he’s presumably a ways away from the majors.
Prediction: Holder, Heller, and King. Playing it safe here by going with the guys I listed as favorites. Hale is a close runner up.