Filling the WBC Gap: Yankees first basemen
While five of those seven are either young prospects or guys you might label “organizational depth,” the absences of two big names in Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano will mean that at least a handful of prospects will get some increased reps on the right side of the infield even after the point where the regular season starting nine starts to play the majority of the innings.
So who are some of the players that could make a name for themselves while the big guns are blazing elsewhere? In Part I of a two-part series, we profile a handful of the names that could be “made” while the Yankees’ regular first baseman is sending “Tex Messages” for Team USA, and on Saturday, we will capsule those who can fill the bill in Robinson Cano’s absence.
Last weekend, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Mark Teixeira was set to play five of the Yankees’ first eight Grapefruit League games, and on Wednesday, Teixeira himself confirmed he was heading to the WBC on Sunday after playing Thursday against the Blue Jays and Saturday against the Tigers.
The Yankees have used five different players other than Teixeira at first base so far this spring; two of them, Greg Bird and Kyle Roller, are lower-level prospects who likely are headed to Class-A Charleston and Double-A Trenton respectively, but the other three are guys who could put themselves in solid Major League contention with strong springs.
Johnson perhaps has the most to gain, as he is in camp on a Minor League deal and is looking to nail down a roster spot as a “corner utility” guy. He hasn’t done much in the Majors since a trio of strong seasons with Oakland from 2005-07, but he’s been a beast in the Minors, hitting .267-28-85 at Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox affiliate) last year and actually winning the International League MVP Award in 2012 while with the Rays’ affiliate in Durham.
He has plenty of power, is a lefty bat, and will get time at first, third, and perhaps even one of corner outfield spots – so if he can man the corners well enough and show some pop, he could end up winning a reserve job, at least at the outset while Curtis Granderson is on the shelf. If not, he has a later opt-out date for his deal than any of the other Minor League signees, so he could be stashed in Triple-A without worry for at least a little while.
Murton hit 25 home runs at Double-A Trenton last year, leading all Yankees Minor Leaguers, and is most likely slotted in as the first baseman at Triple-A Scranton this season. Murton has his drawbacks – notably, he has 36 errors in 350 Minor League games at first base, and his average and on-base percentage have declined over his four years in the system while his power numbers have gone up – but if he can rake this spring the way he did at Trenton, then his time at Triple-A could be short-lived if the Yankees decide at some point they need a power infusion in the mold of Shelley Duncan in 2007.
Maruszak has been a utility guy throughout his career in the system, and played all four infield positions at Trenton last year before settling in as the Thunder’s starting shortstop down the stretch. Maruszak put together a solid season in 2012 (.276-16-59) and will likely settle in somewhere in the infield at Scranton come April, but if he can hit this spring and continues to develop on the infield corners, he could find himself in line for an Andy Phillips-esque utility role sometime in the near future.
Wild Card: Juan Rivera
Rivera has yet to see any time at first base this spring, exclusively playing the outfield or serving as the designated hitter – but after playing 92 games at first the last two seasons, he may see some time there in Teixeira’s absence, and solid work there could help him get a leg up over Matt Diaz and others in the race for a bench spot and/or the starting left field job in Curtis Granderson’s absence.
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