Friday, February 18, 2005

El Brujo and the rest of the NRIs 

I can't believe it's been almost three weeks since I started going through the Yankees non-roster invitees to spring training. I really do apologize for the lack of posts thus far in 2005. This is just my ninth post this year. That's one every 5 1/2 days, and that just won't do. Thankfully, spring training is under way and there should be plenty of reasons for me to write in the very near future.

First, let's finish of the Yankee NRIs with the infielders and catchers (here are the pitchers and outfielders):


Russ Johnson Johnson provides a solid glove at second and third (not so much at short) and knows how to take a walk, posting a .349 OBP (against a .265 average) in 818 major league at-bats with the Astros and Devil Rays from 1997-2002. He also has doubles power, having hit 10 in 156 ABs in 1999 and 19 in 248 AB's in 2001. Johnson spent last year with the Iowa Cubs in the Pacific Coast League, where he hit a lot of doubles and drew a lot of walks while playing second, third and first. Johnson turns 32 on Tuesday and would seem to be a more desirable utility infielder option than 37-year-old Rey Sanchez and his .280 OBPs, if not a worthy challenger to Tony Womack at second base.

Homer Bush At age 31, Homer tried to come back from a year of retirement last year, but in 234 at-bats with the Clippers, failed to get on base at a respectable rate despite a .291 average (.327 OBP). Though primarily a second baseman, he saw a lot of time at third in AAA last year, but seems to have lost almost all of his value as a baserunner and defender to a career full of leg injuries. Still, he managed to eeke out 9 games with the Yankees (7 AB, 0 H, HBP, SB, 2 R, GIDP, 2 K) in 2004. That and his presence in camp again this year are likely due entirely to his time spent with the Bombers in 1998.

Caonabo Cosme a career minor leaguer, Cosme will turn 26 next month. He cracked AAA for the first time last year, playing 63 games and second and short for the Clippers while continuing to be a dud at the plate.

Utility player Damian Rolls was covered with the outfielders. As for the catchers, teams tend to bring a ton of them to spring training, just to give their pitchers someone to throw to, but with the Yankees' Catcher of the Future squatting in Dodger blue in Arizona, the Yanks will have to find a third-stringer out of this group of NRIs:

Ryan Hankins 28-year-old Hankins is a career minor leaguer out of UNLV who has spent the last seven years slowly moving up the White Sox system. After first breaking into AAA in 2003, he adjusted nicely in 2004 hitting .296/.366/.468 (.282), which isn't a far cry from his career minor league numbers. Like Johnson he's an older player with patience and doubles power and could be worth a look should an injury befall Flaherty or (God forbid) Posada.

David Parrish Lance's son and the Yankees first-round draft pick from 2000 is now 25. He was on the major league roster for three days last May, but saw no action. The man can't hit. End of story.

Joe DePastino A long-time Boston farmhand, DePastino is 31 and has exactly two major league at-bats to his name, both with the Mets in 2003. He struck out once and failed to reach base in the other. He spent 2004 with the Richmond Braves. He seems to have lost the modest power he once had and never could draw a walk.

Jon-Mark Sprowl Sprowl's primary ability is his way with a walk, but in Tampa last year he appeared unable to do much else. At 24, Sprowl is much to old for A-ball, but he's never played at a higher level.

Omir Santos Also known as "Pito," Santos is basically Sprowl without the ability to draw a walk. Which is to say he's in camp to catch bullpen sessions.

Irwil Rojas Rojas's stats on Baseball Cube and Baseball America tell me nothing about him. The only useful info I can track down comes from Steven Goldman's Pinstriped Bible when he did a very similar breakdown of the NRIs. Goldman's column on the NRIs actually went up a few days after I started my NRI breakdown, but unlike your lazy and overworked host, the ambitious and overworked Steamin' Steve Goldman did the whole lot at once. At any rate, here's his take on Rojas:
20, is a Venezuelan signed by the Yankees when he was 17. He's just here for some seasoning and to give the pitchers someone extra to throw to. Rojas is young and needs to cool his jets a bit. When playing for a Yankees team in Santa Domingo, he showed good contact and the willingness to take a walk, though no power. Transferred to the Gulf Coast League in the States, he still had no power, still made good contact, but the walks completely disappeared. Ask about him again in two years.
To this lot the Yankees have added yet another member of the Two-Timer Club, Ramiro Mendoza. Even in his glory days as the Yankees brujo, Mendoza was fragile, constantly expressing his desire to start only to break down when given the opportunity. With the Red Sox over the past two seasons that fragility overcame his ability, inflating his ERA to 6.75 in 2003 and limiting him to a career low 30 2/3 innings in 2004. Mendoza had rotator cuff surgery on January 11 and will be unable to pitch at any level until May, at which point the Yankees will likely try to get him in shape to serve as insurance after they trade one of their many veteran righty relievers for a real-life second baseman (*cough*Polanco*cough*) at the trading deadline, or in the hope that he can recreate El Duque's cavalry-like performance from last season.

Summing up the NRIs, then, the most potentially useful, in order, are:

Russ Johnson - 2B/IF
Buddy Groom - LOOGY
Ryan Hankins - third-string catcher
Ramiro Mendoza - El Sturtze
Damian Rolls (UT)/Doug Glanville (CF) - defensive replacements

posted by Cliff at 12:48 AM

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