Two recent ESPN articles bring mention of former and current Yankees prospects. Baseball Prospectus wrote an article special to ESPN about “The Ruben Rivera 4-A All Stars,” listing players who are borderline major leaguers who deserve a shot at a big league roster spot. Two former Yankees make the list:
SS Erick Almonte, Cubs Non-Roster Invite
2008: Toledo Mudhens, .232 EqA
What’s He Do? Picks it pretty well for a guy who recently turned 31. Almonte’s not a hidden gem, having bounced out of the Yankees organization (where he was buried by some guy named Jeter) and taken a spin playing independent league ball, but he has a wee bit of sock and he’ll take a walk. In an industry that is giving Adam Everett seven-figure guaranteed deals, he’s playable.
RF Ruben Rivera, Campeche Pirates, Mexican League
2008: .350/.464/.637, which boils down to a .313 EqA
What’s He Do? Long since absent from the big-league scene after achieving infamy as the guy in the Yankees’ clubhouse who stole Derek Jeter’s glove during spring training in 2002 to sell to a memorabilia dealer, Rivera last played in affiliated ball in 2006 for the Charlote Knights (the White Sox’s Triple-A team); there, he slugged 450. While I wouldn’t want to get too worked up over his crazy-good Mexican League performance, it still looks like the man can hit a little; he’s been playing center in Mexico (and well, at that, up six in Fielding Runs last year), but I’m making an allowance for age and anticipating a move to a corner.
Rivera was touted as being the next Mickey Mantle, a five tool guy who would be the next member in a long line of excellent Yankees center fielders. As it turned out, he was never able to put it all together, while Bernie Williams seized the CF job and the spot in the pantheon of Yankee greats. In regard to Almonte, he was never a major prospect, but he did gain fame for replacing Derek Jeter when Jeter separated his shoulder on Opening Day 2003. Almonte actually notched a few big hits, but his overall performance with the bat was weak. It would be nice to see both guys get another chance.
Now that we have been reminded that prospects fail all the time, we can look at Jayson Stark’s very brief list of players who have done better than expected this spring. The list is three players long, with two of them being Yankees:
Brett Gardner, Yankees (.393, 6 SB): Gardner is involved in a center-field competition with Melky Cabrera. But even though Cabrera is hitting .375, it’s Gardner’s stock that continues to rise: “If he just does the things he’s done down here, he’ll help that team,” said one AL scout. “They should just put him out there, let him run and inject some speed in that lineup.”
Phil Coke, Yankees (1-0, 2.25 ERA, 8 IP, 1 BB, 6 K’s): Coke was the guy who almost got dealt to the Pirates in the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade in July 2008. But he’s starting to emerge as a guy who could win a bullpen job right now. “I love that kid,” said an AL scout. “He can help them. He shows no fear.”
I thought both would win jobs in spring training, and I think a lot would need to change for either player to be left behind when the team goes north. Gardner’s speed by itself makes him better than Melky, who does not do anything particularly well. Coke has shown that his performance at the end of last season is no fluke, as he continues to pound the strike zone. Both should be substantial members of the 2009 Yankees. But as the sad tale of Ruben Rivera shows us, until a player proves himself in MLB games, it is hard to accurately predict how they will react to the pressure of being a big league player.
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