New York Yankees 2013 Preview: Ken Singleton on the future of the outfield
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted prior to the Yankees’ pursuit of Vernon Wells
Curtis Granderson will miss the first month-plus of the season with a fractured forearm, leaving a theoretical hole in the middle of the Yankees’ outfield until at least mid-May.
Because the injury happened so early in Spring Training, manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman had plenty of time to evaluate the in-house candidates and bring in even more, as Cashman did in signing Ben Francisco and Brennan Boesch later in March.
Exactly who opens the season as the third starting outfielder – whether it be the recently-acquired Boesch or Francisco, potential acquisition Vernon Wells, one of the previous veteran Minor League signees, or an in-organization prospect – and where he plays likely won’t be determined until April 1, but Ken Singleton is of the mindset that the Yankees might be best served looking into the future to plug the hole in the present because of one potentially pleasant “side effect.”
“Obviously, whoever plays the best is going to get the opportunity, but I’d prefer to see a younger guy; even if you have to send him back to the Minor Leagues when Granderson comes back, at least he’s had the opportunity to play in the Majors,” Singleton said, “and sometimes that can give you some incentive to step your game up even more in the Minors and get back.”
As camp comes to a close, the only true candidates left for the Yankees in that regard are Ronnier Mustelier and Melky Mesa, both of whom began 2012 at Double-A Trenton and moved up to Triple-A early on. Mesa made a cameo in the Bronx in September and may end up in pinstripes sooner rather than later anyway, as Singleton believes he has the best combination of tools of anyone on the cusp right now.
“Mesa has made some good plays; he can play a little defense, and he can run, so Joe Girardi can use him in various ways,” Singleton said of the 26-year-old. “He’s a centerfielder but can play all three positions, so maybe he might be the best bet. He can hit too, he's hit some big home runs this spring, but his average has tailed off a bit of late and that hurts him right now.”
The competition will go down to the wire, but if it’s a veteran and not Mesa, Mustelier, or even a younger signee like Thomas Neal who gets the final slot, Singleton hopes that someone can do for them what a Hall of Famer did for him when he was the last cut from Mets camp in 1970.
“The Mets were the reigning World Champs, and although I didn’t expect to make the team, it still hurt because I had a really good spring…maybe there’s someone on this Yankee team who can console these young players as Tom Seaver did for me,” Singleton explained. “When I was packing my bags to go over to Minor League camp, Seaver walked across the clubhouse – he didn’t have to do it – but he walked across and put his arm around me and said ‘get off to a good start and you’ll be back in the Majors this year.’ That June, I made my debut and never looked back.”
Beyond Mesa, the Yankees have a handful of top outfield prospects on the horizon; Almonte and Mustelier both showed some power in their spring innings, and Singleton praised Slade Heathcott as “speedy and aggressive with a quick, powerful bat” – but he also mentioned that the pair that looks likely to join Heathcott in the Double-A outfield this summer makes up the other two-thirds of a very promising trio.
“Tyler Austin, he seems to have a real good plan every time he goes to the plate; he’s not as fast as Heathcott, but that outfield at Double-A Trenton this year is going to be very good with Heathcott and Austin and maybe Ramon Flores,” Singleton said. “And, there’s Mason Williams, who we didn’t see this spring because he’s coming off shoulder surgery; he seems to have all the attributes the other guys have and more, so he’s going to be fun to watch.”
With all that depth, Singleton did note that it’s both natural and positive that competition may begin to develop among them as they jockey for what can only be three spots in a future Yankees outfield. Heathcott and Williams have both said during the spring that everyone tries to learn from one another and they all push each other to succeed, and because they all have different strengths and weaknesses, Singleton offered a piece of advice that worked for him on his way to “The Show.”
“When I was coming up, I had a lot of competition, and Leroy Stanton was one guy who was usually on my team coming up through the Mets system,” Singleton recalled. “I knew he did certain things better than I did – he was a faster runner than me, for one – so I just told myself each and every year I was going to have to outhit him…and that’s how I got to the Big Leagues.”
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