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Four non-roster Yankees to watch this spring

02/19/2013 1:07 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Chase Whitley has quickly risen through the Yankees system and could reach the Bronx in 2013.(AP)
Spring Training is now in full swing, as Yankees position players reported to camp on Monday. Those around the diamond won’t have too long to get their legs under them, as the Yankees’ Grapefruit League opener is scheduled for Saturday, but with a handful of bench spots up for grabs and a trio of starters busy with the World Baseball Classic, there will be plenty of opportunities for non-roster invitees and organizational prospects to impress.

This year, the Yankees have 44 non-roster invitees in camp. Five of those, including Juan Rivera and Dan Johnson, are players signed to Minor League deals this winter, and a handful more (like Jayson Nix or pitchers Juan Cedeno, David Herndon and Josh Spence) are journeymen who either played in the Minors last year or were signed by the Yankees and later outrighted to make room for others.

The rest are prospects from inside the organization, and while players like the ones listed above often seem to be the most likely to make a team out of the gate, it’s not unheard of for a homegrown surprise to crop up and play his way onto the team.

For the 2013 Yankees, the players profiled below are four from the organizational depth chart that bear watching this spring based on their skill set and the Yankees’ needs; they’re likely all headed to Scranton to start the season and will be parlaying strong springs for the future, but as Nix and David Phelps and Jayson Nix proved last year, almost anything is possible.

OF Ronnier Mustelier
At 28, Mustelier is perhaps too old to be a “prospect,” but the Cuban defector has been in the Yankees system for not even two full years and has already risen to Triple-A. In 150 career Minor League games over four levels, Mustelier has hit .324 with 18 homers, 96 RBI, 19 steals, and an .879 OPS, and he has played all three outfield spots as well as third base in that time.

Flat out, the Yankees need a right-handed hitting outfielder, and Joe Girardi has said that he would like to find a righty DH as well. Last year, Girardi told Bronx Baseball Daily that he Mustelier was “someone we’re keeping an eye on,” so he’s already on the radar – but given his flexibility and Eduardo Nunez’s defensive struggles at third base last year, some good showings at the hot corner this spring could only boost Mustelier’s stock higher.

1B Luke Murton
Last year, Luke Murton played 126 games and hit .249-28-68 with 21 doubles for a Trenton team that reached the Eastern League Championship Series; that would normally earn him some nominal playing time behind fellow Georgia Tech alum Mark Teixeira in camp and a ticket to Triple-A, but with Teixeira headed to the World Baseball Classic and few other first base options in camp, there will be plenty of playing time and opportunity for Murton this spring.

Murton is a righty hitter, which the Yankees seem to desire more of, but the fact that he is a one-position player (as opposed to someone slightly more versatile like Dan Johnson or Juan Rivera) means he’s likely headed to Triple-A no matter what. That said, though, if he shows in camp that he can hit and is willing to work elsewhere, then the Yankees may find a role for him like the Angels did for Mark Trumbo – even if it is biding time in Triple-A and waiting for a chance to be the second coming of Shelley Duncan.

RHPs Chase Whitley and Preston Claiborne
It goes without saying, but it’s a very rare feat for the 12 pitchers a team comes north with to be the only dozen they use all season. The Yankees have a few fallbacks in place in case someone in the rotation has to miss one or more starts, but it’s in the bullpen where they’ll likely have to get creative at some point this season; at the very least, a handful of arms have opportunities to impress for the future, and given their skill sets, Whitley and Claiborne could be the standouts among that group.

Whitley, 23, was a 2010 draft pick of the Yankees and has risen quickly through the system, reaching Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in just his second full season. He was 9-5 with a 3.25 ERA in 41 appearances (two starts) for SWB, but his biggest asset may be the number of innings he pitched: 80.1. Whitley is used to throwing multiple innings at a time and may be considered as a future starter by the Yankees, so his swing potential could be very intriguing should some kind of rotation realignment produce the need for a longer relief arm.

As for Claiborne, who was also a 2010 draftee, his rise through the system was very similar to Whitley’s, except for the fact that he spent all of 2011 at Class-A Advanced Tampa (whereas Whitley was promoted to Trenton mid-season), so he spent more time at Trenton in 2012 before moving up to Triple-A.

Overall, the 25-year-old was 2-2 with five saves and a 2.22 ERA in 20 games for the Thunder and 4-0 with one save and a 4.05 ERA in 30 games at Scranton last year, boasting nearly a strikeout per inning and walking just 36 in his 82 innings, and at 25, is less of a project and more of a known quantity. Cody Eppley wasn’t on the Yankees’ radar until April 1 last year, and given that Claiborne has developed a strong changeup to go with his fastball/slider combo, he could earn himself a later call-up with a strong spring.

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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