Friday, February 22, 2013

2013 Spring Training Roster Battles: Utility Infielder

(Courtesy of Barton Silverman/NY Times)

The last real roster battle in this year's camp is definitely the least exciting of all the battles, but is one that could have more importance than people realize.  The left side of the Yankee infield is full of more health-related questions than answers thanks to A-Rod's hips, Jeter's ankle, and Youkilis' entire body.  At the very least the Yankees are going to have to lean on their utility guy more in the first month of the season to give Jeter time to get into everyday game shape and to make sure that Youkilis doesn't get too worn down from playing every day.  At most, the utility guy might have to step into an everyday role for a period of time if Jeter or Youkilis hit the DL.  The Yankees have gotten by with average-at-best production from this spot in the last few years, but average-at-best might not cut it this season now that Eric Chavez has moved on.  Without a real solid corner infield option, the utility infielder role will expand in 2013, and these are the fellas competing for the job.

The Favorite- Eduardo Nunez

Despite the Yankees continuing to flip-flop on their decision of how to best utilize Nunez and contradicting their own previous statements, Nunez wins the right to be called the favorite in the early part of camp based solely on the fact that he's the only player really being discussed.  His defensive deficiencies are well-documented, and early reports from camp indicate that nothing has changed in that department, but Nunez's athleticism and physical tools still make him the best option for handling a utility role.  He's got the arm strength to play short or third, the range to play up the middle if needed, and the contact skills and speed to be useful at the plate.  His .308 career wOBA and 88 career wRC+ don't make him an ideal option to fill a starting role if it comes to that, but as a bench piece they're a little easier to swallow.

The Underdog- Jayson Nix

He was the first arbitration-eligible Yankee to re-sign this offseason, and surprisingly agreed to come back on a non-guaranteed MiL deal.  That gives some insight into Nix's willingness to stay with the organization and had to make Cash and Co. feel a little more comfortable that they would have a backup plan for the UTIF role if Nunez flubbed his way back to Triple-A again.  Nix is a much steadier defensive player than Eduardo Scissorhands and can be counted on to make the routine play, but his range is limited and his pure arm strength not up to par with that of Nunez.  His .304 wOBA in 202 PA last season puts him about even with Nunez in terms of production potential, but Nix isn't nearly as big a threat to steal bases as Nunez and strikes out more than twice as much.

The Sleepers- David Adams & Corban Joseph

It's difficult to pick which of these two would have the edge over the other because of their different skill sets, so they get lumped in together.  CoJo is a lefty swinger who just experienced his first real power boost in Triple-A last year, making him a more attractive offensive option.  But his range at second is below average and his arm is even worse, which eliminates him from consideration for SS or 3B duties.  Adams is a balanced right-handed hitter who has already gotten work in at third base, but he likely wouldn't be able to handle playing shortstop either.  It will be interesting to see if the Yankees give either of these guys a go at short in a game this spring to see if they can fake it there as a 1-game option.  If so, their stock will rise, but for now they're sitting backseat to the N&N boys.

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