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Cito Culver with the Tampa Yankees in 2014 (Bryan Green)


Yankees Make Decisions, Protect Austin, Williams

There had been a good deal of debate on which players the Yankees ought to protect from the Rule 5 Draft. Today is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man rosters in preparation for next month’s selections.

Most of the talk centered around outfielder Tyler Austin and right-handed reliever Danny Burawa. Both were protected – added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster – as both were likely to be selected if exposed. The catch is the team drafting a player in Rule 5 must keep him on the 25-man roster the entire following season or return him to his original team.

Austin had a strong second half at Double-A Trenton, while Burawa had an up-and-down 2014 campaign split between Triple-A Scranton and the Thunder, but his arm and velocity are valuable.

There have been Yankees who have been selected and returned – infielder Reegie Corona (Seattle) and pitcher Ivan Nova (San Diego) – over the last few years. Last year, Colorado took right-handed reliever Tommy Kahnle, coming off an excellent season at Double-A Trenton, with him sticking on the big-league roster and going 2-1, 4.19 in 63 appearances.

The Yankees also protected outfielder Mason Williams, whom they have a monetary interest in, and inconsistent reliever Branden Pinder, who also has a plus arm and plus velocity and closed the season well at Scranton. Both are now 40-man roster players with oft-injured outfielder Slade Heathcott.

Several other players on the fence, namely right-handed reliever Mark Montgomery, slugging first baseman Kyle Roller, staring pitchers Matt Tracy and Nik Turley and starter-reliever Zach Nuding were left unprotected. All could draw an interest, but would a team keep them on their 25-man roster all next year?

Infielder Zealous Wheeler’s contract was sold to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Pacific League. Shortstop Cito Culver, the top 2010 draft pick who has never hit, was exposed to Rule 5. Chances are he will not be selected and might be tried as a pitcher.

Williams, a fourth-round pick by the Yankees in 2010 out of Winter Garden, Florida, is an interesting case. His defense is basically major-league ready, but his approach at the plate is little better than South Atlantic League, In repeating Double-A in 2014- he hit .261 (106-for-406) there in 2013 – he slumped to .223 (113-for-507) this past year.

The work was put in. Video was watched. Swings were adjusted. You name it, Trenton hitting coach Marcus Thames tried everything. There were flashes at times, but really no progress.

Williams has little plate discipline and, seriously, shows no inclination to improve. He does not recognize pitches well, and, instead of slapping at the ball and using his speed – he stole 21 bases on 2014 – he hits ball after ball to the warning track.

Outfielders such as Jake Cave and Taylor Dugas have roared past Williams in the system. He will likely spend a third season at Trenton, which will be crucial to his development.

Culver is a great guy and a terrific fielder, he has never hit. He batted .220 (102-for-508) at Class-A Tampa in 2014.  The Yankees have enough infielders who struggle at bat, including Brendan Ryan in The Bronx.

There is a kid named Ali Castillo, who hit .254 (104-for-410) at Trenton in 2014 who fields as well as Culver and has the penchant for getting key hits., He was the MVP of the Eastern League Playoffs in 2013. He is 25 and a bit older, but has made himself into a legitimate utility prospect.

Neither Culver – and for that matter – Carmen Angelini – deserved to be protected. Again, Roller, Montgomery, Turley, Tracy and Nuding could definitely draw interest as all have talent.

Again, granted few players follow Kahnle’s path and stick. Williams will indeed be a man on the spot like never before in 2015.


Written By

Have covered the Yankees and their system for over 20 years. I enjoy writing about future Yankees and where a prospect stands in the system. One rule: I only analyze and comment on prospects I have seen play and have talked to.

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