The Arizona Fall League opens its 32-game season Tuesday and, according to the posted Scottsdale Scorpions roster, the Yankees’ contingent has been changed a bit.
Reliever Branden Pinder, who is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, is not on the Scorpions roster, replaced by Class-A right-hander Kyle Haynes. Also, infielder Eric Jagielo, who was struck in the face by a pitch in an Instructional League game and required surgery, has been replaced by infielder Dante Bichette Jr.
The player attracting the most interest is outfielder Aaron Judge, who impressed many during his 2014 debut season.
The Yankees supply prospects to Scottsdale with the Mets, Phillies, Pirates and Giants. Players can be substituted for during the season and the Nov. All-Star Game will be televised by MLB Network:
Here is a look at who the Yankees have on the Scottsdale roster as of today, and why each of the players might be there:
RHP Caleb Cotham – Selected in the fifth round of the 2009 draft out of Vanderbilt, Cotham has been used as both a reliever and starter with some success along the way. Injuries have also slowed him. He was 0-4, 4.67 in 16 appearances (11 starts) at four levels in 2014 and is certainly in Arizona for evaluation.
RHP Kyle Haynes – Originally not listed among the Yankees’ contingent, Haynes is a reliever acquired from Pittsburgh in exchange for catcher Chris Stewart. He went 5-5, 3.49 in 39 relief appearances for Tampa with a strikeout/walk ratio of 55-33. He had one save and Florida State League hitters batted .262 against him. The Yankees likely want to get a look at him against the type of hitters he would face in the upper minors.
RHP Alex Smith – Smith was a free agent signee in 2012 and posted mediocre numbers in Staten Island in his first season. With the Yankees has found himself as a reliever, earning a trip to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game in 2013 and pitching well at Tampa for part of 2013 and 2014. With the Tampa Yankees Smith recorded a 5-5, 2.74 mark with seven saves in 2014. His strikeout/walk ratio 60-21 was excellent and Florida State League hitters batted just .227 against him. He is ticketed for the Double-A Trenton bullpen in 2015 and will benefit from facing more-advanced hitters.
C Kyle Higashioka – Something of a forgotten catcher in the Yankees system with prospects like John Ryan Murphy, Gary Sanchez and Luis Torrens on hand. Since his selection in the seventh round of the 2008 draft, he has shown good defense and game-calling skills while scuffling at the plate. He got off to a great start at Trenton in 2013, batting .320 (8-for-25) in seven games before an injury shelved him for the season. He hit just .224 (11-for-49) in 17 games in 2014 and needs at-bats.
IF Dante Bichette Jr. – Taken in the compensation round of the 2011 draft, Bichette played well in the field at third base, but struggled at the plate until this past season, when he batted a respectable .271 (109-fpr-402) with 27 doubles at Tampa. That earned him a late-season promotion to Trenton, where he hit .224 (16-for-57) in 18 games. Perhaps pushed by Jagielo, he seemed to get his game together in 2014 and a solid effort in Arizona will enhance his status.
IF Greg Bird – His performance at first base opened the way for the Yankees to trade Peter O’Brien to Arizona for Martin Prado. Had an excellent 2014 season after being sidelined early by a back injury. Hit .271 (100-for-369) with 30 doubles and 14 home runs combined for Tampa and Trenton with an excellent .848 OPS. His goal is to succeed Mark Teixeira as Yankees first baseman. Has advanced approach at the plate.
OF Tyler Austin – Injuries and other issues have taken the luster off this once glittering prospect. Hit over .300 in July and August in Trenton this past season, which made some in the organization feel his game was returning to previous high levels. Often looked like he was pressing at the plate in 2014, hitting .275 (109-for-396) in 105 games at Trenton. He also can play first base. His season ended a week early due to a “personal issue.” Eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, this stint in Arizona may determine whether or not the Yankees protect him or not.
OF Aaron Judge – One of the Yankees’ three first-round draft picks in 2013 and the top position player in the system. Has been compared to Giancarlo Stanton. Hit .308 (144-for-467) combined with Tampa and Trenton with 17 home runs, 78 RBIs and an OPS of .904. The entire package at 6-foot-7, Judge is the player all fans and scouts want to see. He will start at Trenton in 2015 and could reach The Bronx by 2016.