Ladies and gentleman the World Baseball Classic is right around the corner. If you didn’t know that by looking at the schedule or staying up to date you can see it by looking at who is in spring training camps right now and who isn’t and the Yankees camp is no exception. With many Yankees regulars gone to represent their respective countries in the WBC these men are now officially on the clock and on the watch list. It’s time to prove yourselves gentleman and here is the list of men I am speaking to directly when I say that.
Jordan Montgomery. Yes I cannot talk Yankees prospects this spring without mentioning Jordan Montgomery, it’s a problem, but that’s only because I truly believe that he has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. With the Yankees fourth and fifth starting spots in their rotation wide open now why couldn’t Montgomery slip in and steal a spot like Johnny Barbato did in the Yankees bullpen last year? I’m certainly not going to be the one to count him out and you shouldn’t either. Montgomery doesn’t have the upside of a James Kaprielian or a Justus Sheffield but he misses enough bats to survive, which is evident by his 8.8 K/9 ratio in the minor leagues, he limits his walks, see his 2,2 BB/9 ratio, and he simply knows how to get hitters out with a great consistency. Montgomery posted a 2.61 ERA last season across Double-A and Triple-A and will not likely gain much by returning to Scranton/Wilkes Barre to start 2017 in my opinion. He’s ready, unleash him. The Yankees won’t because of the 40 man roster crunch and the numbers game, we all know that by now, but they should because winning should, and used to, trump all.
Like the Yankees fourth and fifth spots in the rotation the Yankees bullpen and specifically their middle relief seems to be wide open right now. With that said arms like Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder could slip in and make the team with strong and impressive springs. Both men are already on the 40 man roster and will use their minor league options, presumably, anyway this season so why not? Heller did not impress in his 10 game stint in the Major Leagues last season but that is not indicative of what he did in the minor leagues last season and what he could do in the Yankees bullpen going forward. Heller owns a career 2.72 ERA in the minor leagues with an impressive 11.7 K/9 ratio as a reliever which would fit the mold of what the Yankees currently are filling their bullpen with, big guys with huge frames and even bigger strikeout numbers. Heller’s fastball sits at 96 MPH but he has been known to reach back and throw 100 MPH when he has to which simply cannot be taught, and to think he was a mere throw-in player in the Andrew Miller trade that brought back Justus Sheffield and Clint Frazier. Holder on the other hand was drafted by the Yankees in the same draft that brought the team Jacob Lindgren. Holder has been used as a starter since he was drafted in 2014 by the Yankees but made the transition back to the bullpen in 2016 where he took off. Holder struck out 101 batters in 65.1 innings while only walking seven across three levels including Triple-A Scranton. Holder pounds the zone and lives off a ton of movement and deception when he pitches which more than makes up for his “slow” 93 MPH fastball that he brings to the table.
Rob Refsnyder is a player that we discussed earlier this morning in trade rumors but is also a player that could make it impossible for the team to trade him. Refsnyder was drafted as an outfielder but was quickly converted to second base where he struggled defensively as a minor league player. Since coming up to the Yankees he has dabbled in both positions as well as first base and third base in a pinch making him a super utility player that any team would like and be lucky to have. A line drive hitter by nature, and admittedly my favorite Yankees prospect so there may be a tad bit of bias written into these words, that makes contact, can play all over the field and can hit close to .300 over the course of a season if given regular at-bats are hard to find. Again though, this is a numbers game and the Yankees are in the midst of a 40-man roster crunch and a roster crunch in general which could still make Refsnyder expendable. Refsnyder could still be traded but he’s also just one bad spring or injury from Ronald Torreyes away from being right in the thick of things once again in the Bronx, so stay tuned and keep your eyes peeled on this one.
The final piece is an unlikely player to make the team but I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention him anyway. Kyle Higashioka opened up a lot of eyes inside the Yankees organization last year, enough eyes to warrant a 40 man roster spot and roster protection from the team this winter despite having two young catchers in Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez on the roster at the time as well as a veteran backstop in Brian McCann. McCann has since been traded to the Houston Astros obviously and all signs point to Romine being the backup but it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities to see Higashioka grab the job with an impressive spring. Higashioka may be a prospect by all definitions of the word and he may lack MLB experience but at age 27 he is far from being raw or not ready for the big stage. Higashioka seems to be a late bloomer, I know this because I’ve watched him in the Yankees organization since they signed him back in 2008, and after a breakout 2016 season that included 21 home runs and a .847 OPS he may be ready to finally take that huge step to the Major Leagues. His defense his ready and if the adjustments he made to his swing stick the Yankees may have struck gold with this one thus making Romine expendable once again on the Yankees roster.