The last place anybody wanted to see Jose Pirela was sprawled out on the Tradition Field warning track in Port St. Lucie Sunday afternoon.
The 25-year-old native of Valera, Trujillo, Venezuela, had been forcing the Yankees to think about a few things after batting ,370 (10-for-27) in 15 Grapefruit League games. He also played several positions, including that ill-fated Sunday start in center field, where he has little experience.
It will likely take a bit of time for Pirela, who returned to the club today, to recover from a concussion – care has to be taken with such an injury – and it gives the Yankees a bit of grace time to figure out future moves. This is what happens with an improved farm system.
For instance, prior to Pirela’s injury, what would have been the better scenario for the Yankees? If Pirela had gone north as the utility player, he could have played second base when shortstop Didi Gregorius was given a day off, with Stephen Drew sliding over to shortstop. That would make the Yankees lineup stronger offensively than utilizing the weak-hitting Brendan Ryan in place of Gregorius.
As Spring Training winds down, any debate and comparison of that situation is put on hold. Likely the Yankees would have sent Pirela to Triple-A Scranton and stuck with Ryan, who has a player option for 2016, but the time is coming when the decisions won’t be that easy.
Drew was signed for 2015 as a caretaker at second base, with the Yankees not feeling comfortable at the position with either Pirela or Rob Refsnyder at this juncture. At this time next year, both ought to be ready. That is a minor logjam compared to some others. If Pirela is healthy and sent to Triple-A, and Refsnyder plays second base everyday, where does Pirela fit? Perhaps as a super-utility player.
At catcher, the debate is whether to take John Ryan Murphy, who hit 284 (23-for-85) in 32 games as Brian McCann’s backup last season, north, or to give the spot to Austin Romine, who has a .204 average in 76 big-league games and is out of options. Murphy’s overall game behind the plate is far superior to Romine’s at this point. McCann is signed through 2018 with a vesting option for 2019.
There are a few teams interested in Romine – the Phillies and Padres among them – and a trade makes sense. Otherwise, Murphy gets pushed back to Triple-A and Gary Sanchez, who is working with the Trenton group in Spring Training, back to Double-A. Luis Torrens, missing 2015 with a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, will eventually join this mix as well.
At first base, some analyze Greg Bird might start at Scranton, but Kyle Roller, who also has power, is still there. That places Bird back at Trenton, where he played in just 27 games in 2014. He ought to be ready in 2016, with Mark Teixeira’s contract expiring after that season.
“I have my goal, but you have to play well where you are,” said Bird, echoing what most prospects will state when asked about promotions in the system.
In the outfield, figure Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott at Scranton and Jake Cave, Mason Williams and Aaron Judge at Trenton. Also looking for playing time are Taylor Dugas at Triple-A and Ben Gamel likely at Double-A.
Meanwhile, in The Bronx, Carlos Beltran’s contract expires after 2016, when Judge and maybe others will be ready, but Jacoby Ellsbury is signed through 2020 with a team option/buyout for 2021, while Brett Gardner is inked through 2018 with a team option/buyout for 2019. Chris Young is on a one-year deal for 2015.
At third base, Chase Headley is in the first year of a four-year deal that takes him through 2018. Either Eric Jagielo, who will play at Trenton this year, or Miguel Andujar, who will start at Class-A Advanced Tampa, will be knocking on the door by then.
In addition, the Yankees have blue-chippers such as shortstop Jorge Mateo, third baseman Dermis Garcia and outfielder Juan DeLeon, the latter pair with immense power, as youngsters right now. What door will they be knocking on in three years?
The pitching situation is much more fluid, with right-handed starter Luis Severino and a group of talented relievers led by left-hander Jacob Lindgren seeing big-league time perhaps this season.
Granted some prospects will be traded, others may fizzle. Yet this situation is new to the Yankees. The farm system is to the point where talented younger players are ready to challenge at the big-league level.
There might be a few logjams now, but the dam will break sooner or later, and plenty of young talent will be gushing toward Yankee Stadium.