It was a warm Labor Day afternoon, and first baseman Greg Bird’s season, split between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, had just ended.
His regular season, in which he hit a combined .271 (100-for-369) with 30 doubles, 14 home runs and 43 RBIs with the two teams, may have ended, but not his season.
“I have plenty to work on,” said the 21-year-old native of Aurora, Colo. “Looks like I’ll be going to “instructs” and then to the Arizona Fall League. I think it’s great, because, with my back, I missed sometime this spring.”
Fall is now upon us, however, and the Yankees’ Himes Complex is as busy now as it is in March. None other than Masahiro Tanaka helped kickoff the Yankees 2014 Instructional League, which, as of Friday, has 65 players on its roster, 29 of whom are pitchers. The “season” opened with Pittsburgh’s team playing the Yankees Sept. 17 and runs through Oct. 3, when Pittsburgh visits. A team with Toronto prospects is also in this mix.
Why does a player find himself assigned to “instructs.” There really is nothing negative about it. Some need work, as Bird mentioned, while others, like left-hander Manny Banuelos, one of the 29, may be looking to build strength and sharpen his command. Lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren is also there after taking a break to recharge after throwing 25 innings in the Gulf Coast League, at Charleston, Tampa and Trenton, That may not seem like a lot, but the Yankees’ top pick in the 2014 draft through 55.1 innings at Mississippi State.
In addition, some high-priced young talent – recently signed International Free Agents – are getting a look, led by 16-year-old Dominican third baseman Nelson Gomez, who signed for a $2.25 million bonus. Also in attendance are outfielder Juan de Leon ($2 million), Venezuelan outfielder Jonathan Amundaray ($1.5 million) and Korean shortstop Hoy Jun Park, an 18-year-old signed for $1.1 million.
Other 16-year-olds dot the roster, giving Yankees evaluators – mostly minor-league coaches – a chance to evaluate conveniently at the Himes Complex.
Here is a look at a few key players in each position group the Yankees’ staff certainly want to get a read on:
PITCHERS – High-ceiling relievers Nick Goody, a right-hander and Tyler Webb, a lefty, both have velocity but can work on command. Righty Mark Montgomery, now 24 and slowed by injuries, continues on the road back that could land him in The Bronx in late-2015. Among the starters, Gabe Encinas, a 22-year-old righty whose stuff was electric at Class-A Charleston in 2013 before injury sidetracked him, continues on the road to recovery.
CATCHERS – Luis Torrens, the 18-year-old Venezuelan who opened eyes with his play at Staten Island, batting .270 (50-for-185) with a 21-game hitting streak, works on technique and calling a game. He likely starts at Charleston in 2015, with Tampa a possibility later in the season.
INFIELDERS – Third baseman Eric Jagielo, the Notre Dame product and former first-round pick, who will also play in the Arizpona Fall League, and International Free Agent shortstop Wilkerman Garcia are names to watch, but both shortstop Cito Culver and second baseman Gosuke Katoh are looking to improve. Both are the kind of guys you want to succeed, but both also have to hit better than the .220 area to complement their superb fielding.
OUTFIELDERS – Mason Williams’ name jumps out at you. He hit just .223 (113-for-507) at Trenton in 2014. His defense in center field is at Major League-level. His plate management is another story. Michael O’Neill, who had a solid year at Charleston, batting .256 (125-for-499) with 10 homers, 42 stolen bases and 57 RBIs, looks to improve on plate management as well. He struck out 133 times. Cut 40 off that total and the Yankees have a player who could provide a lot of headaches at Tampa in 2015.
Every player invited to “instructs” has a purpose for being there. Coaches may want to look at one facet of a player’s game. Others work to improve. Just another step on the road to building a career.
Check out the full roster below.