The Yankees have a lot to sort out for their MLB club this spring. We’ll be watching Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon fight for rotation spots. We’ll check in and see if Derek Jeter‘s swing is indeed corrected, or if Joba Chamberlain is actually as fat as people are reporting. But Tampa will also be filled with about 200-some minor league players looking to continue their journey to the big leagues. Here are five players who deserve to be watched during spring training.
Jesus Montero - A few months ago, he was set to enter Spring Training as the presumptive Yankees starting catcher. Now, he’s sidelined behind Russell Martin, and will probably return to Triple-A for at least another half season. However, Montero could change all that with an impressive spring. He will probably stick around until the final round or two of cuts are made, and a big performance could change the Yankees mind. To complicate things, Russell Martin is both coming off an injury and has a lot of things to correct with his swing. If Jesus is belting home runs all spring while Martin is grounding out to 2nd, Montero could win the job.
David Phelps - I don’t know if David Phelps is underrated or overrated. The Yankees probably don’t know either. Phelps has put up two electric seasons in a row in the minor leagues. He throws three fastballs, but has been inconsistent with other pitches. I think there’s good reason to believe that his curveball jumped enough of a step last year, but we’re still waiting to see. Most clubs would have already penciled in a pitcher who put up a 2.50 ERA in 158 innings between Double-A and Triple-A as a starting at this point, but the Yankees are opting to wait and see. He’s not a favorite for the MLB club, but a big spring training could definitely change that. At the very least, Phelps will have an extended stay in the MLB camp while auditioning for the 6th starter role.
Austin Romine - Unlike Phelps and Montero, Romine enters camp with something to prove. He had a standout first half of the season, but turned in a terrible performance once summer hit. He’s now faced with the likely prospect of having to repeat Double-A to start 2011, as Montero has the full-time gig in Scranton nailed down. Romine risks fading into obscurity without a strong performance this season. He’s been criticized for a lack of progress blocking balls and stopping runners despite obvious talent and athleticism. He has hitting concerns as well, but his mission during Spring Training will be to impress Joe Girardi and the Yankee brass while catching big league pitchers.
Cito Culver – Most of the 2010 high school hitters drafted by the Yankees will probably stick in Extended Spring Training until the short season leagues open up. Cito Culver is one of those guys who may be able to play himself onto the Charleston Riverdogs. Because Culver signed early (only waiting for his High School graduation), he managed to play a robust 56 games and 233 plate appearances, thoroughly wetting feet in professional baseball. While he hit only .251/.325/.330 between the GCL Yankees and Staten Island, he received strong reviews for his defense and had some positives on the hitting side. The Yankees will want to avoid the same mistakes they made with Carmen Angelini if Culver is not ready, but a strong case can be made that another trip to short-season ball isn’t necessary. He won’t get much if any time in front of the YES cameras this year, but listen for optimistic reports about Culver as training gets underway.
Brett Marshall - Marshall has a good a shot as any at becoming the next Yankee Killer B pitching prospect. Brett came back better than ever from elbow surgery last season, pitching in the mid-90s with a sharp breaking ball and loads of confidence. There’s a good chance that he could improve further a year into his recovery. As he becomes more comfortable post-surgery with his new ligament, Marshall could start to dazzle us from Tampa with reports of 97-98 mph fastballs. Marshall previously could throw that hard, but held back both because of the elbow and to combat control issues. But more importantly, look for reports to Marshall’s curveball to both have more bite to it and for it to be thrown for strikes. Marshall is still only 21 years old, so a strong performance in camp could be a sign of big things to come in 2011.
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