Juan Rivera may be the most interesting man in New York Yankees camp. Coming in as a non-roster invitee with the intention of competing for a reserve outfielder’s role who could potentially see a little bit of time at first base, Rivera is now squarely in the thick of the discussion at first base as well.
Rivera’s versatility and manager Joe Girardi’s preference as to where to play him will ultimately play a large role in determining the makeup of the roster. Additionally, Brian Cashman proved earlier this week with the addition of OF Ben Francisco that he is not done making transactions that could affect the Opening Day roster.
With just over two weeks left until Opening Day, let’s look at how five of the major battles in New York Yankees spring training are panning out:
Joe Girardi revealed on Tuesday that Francisco Cervelli had all but made the Yankees, which comes as little surprise with his strong spring. After “losing” out to Chris Stewart for the backup’s role last season, Cervelli’s strides on defense may have now helped him overcome Stewart for the majority of the playing time. It seems unlikely that we will see a starter versus backup for the majority of the season, but it may be safe to assume that Cervelli gets the bulk of the playing time behind home plate.
The pick: Francisco Cervelli
Anyone who followed my writing for BronxPinstripes.com last season knows that I am a huge Ronnier Mustelier fan. The kid can flat out hit, can play the outfield, and can play third base. If given the opportunity, I think Mustelier would be more than serviceable at third base, and would allow the Yankees to shift Kevin Youkilis to first base, where he won a gold glove in 2007. Unfortunately for Mustelier, this is the New York Yankees, and it takes an awful lot for a rookie who is not considered as a prospect to get a shot. Juan Rivera has excelled this spring, and the Yankees may be more interested in going with a veteran option.
The pick: Kevin Youkilis at first, Ronnier Mustelier at third
The Yankees did not sign non-roster invitees Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera to play the outfield full-time, and newly acquired Ben Francisco is better suited for a reserve’s role. Zoilo Almonte was thought to be a contender, but the Yankees optioned him to Triple-A prior to Wednesday’s game. Melky Mesa, who is the only remaining option on the 40-man roster, may be the favorite due to his skills in the field, as well as the intriguing power/speed combination he brings to the plate. With Rivera likely to be the option at first base, it seems likely that the Yankees will go with Francisco or Mesa in the outfield to begin the season.
The pick: Melky Mesa
The fourth outfielder
In any reserve’s role, versatility is key. If the Yankees go with Rivera at first base, I have no doubt that Ronnier Mustelier should be the team’s fourth outfielder. With a combination of Rivera and Mustelier on the roster, the Yankees would be able to cover the corner outfield positions, first base, and third base on a daily basis. This would increase their depth significantly. Should the Yankees choose to go with Rivera in the outfield, it likely means that Mustelier has impressed enough at third base to earn regular playing time, with Kevin Youkilis shifting to first base. The other candidates for this role would be Matt Diaz, who has hardly impressed this spring, and Ben Francisco, who was signed on Tuesday. Melky Mesa is not likely to be considered for a part-time role, as the Yankees will want him to see regular playing time
The pick: Juan Rivera
The final infielder
Based on the projections earlier in the article, the Yankees would open the season with Kevin Youkilis, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, and Ronnier Mustelier as their starting infield. Eduardo Nunez would get the first reserves spot, but is expected to be limited strictly to shortstop. Therefore, the team will have to carry one more option. With Corban Joseph optioned to Triple-A, the battle for this final spot is between Jayson Nix and Dan Johnson. Typically, a team would need someone who has the ability to play first base, but it remains likely that Juan Rivera will make this team in some capacity, eliminating the necessity. That would seem to give Nix, who can play second base, third base, or shortstop, an edge over the less versatile Johnson.
The pick: Jayson Nix
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