Final Roster Spots: Utility Infielder

Throughout the day, I will be looking at the battles for the final spots on the Yankees roster: the last reliever, the battle for CF, and the utility infielder fight. I started with the 7th reliever, and will now continue by looking at the utility infielder role.

When the preseason started, most Yankees fans assumed that the UI role would come down to a battle between Cody Ransom and Angel Berroa. Although many hoped that they would go out and sign a veteran with a solid bat to fill that role, Brian Cashman’s reputation of skimping on the end of the bench made that unlikely. Alex Rodriguez’s injury and Derek Jeter’s involvement in the WBC changed the landscape a bit, as Ransom was given the starting #B job and Ramiro Pena looked good at short in Jeter’s stead. Before we dig into the spring stats, let us take a look at some praise for Pena:

“When I first saw him three years ago, you could knock the bat out of his hands,” said one veteran scout whose primary assignment is in the minor leagues. “But he was a magician with the glove and that made him someone to keep an eye on. Now that he’s gained a little weight, put on a little muscle, he’s no longer an ‘out.’ He can handle the bat. I always felt his glove would get him to the big leagues, but now I can see him as an everyday shortstop.”
Pena hit .266 at Double-A Trenton last year, but scouts who saw him say he appeared to be hampered from offseason shoulder surgery. That has not been the case this spring.
“Best looking young shortstop I’ve seen in a couple of years,” said one National League scout.

That sounds like a lot of hyperbole, and I spoke yesterday about the wisdom of trusting unnamed scouts. Pena has come out of nowhere, as he was not even on EJ’s top 30 prospect lists and has never been considered a legitimate starting prospect. That being said, he is not exactly competing with Honus Wagner for a job, as Berroa has had some epically awful seasons. While Pena may be more likely to be a part of the Yankees future, that should not guarantee him a spot on this year’s team.I think this is the type of battle that the Yankees could be justified in deciding solely based on spring training performance. Let’s look at the numbers:

1. Angel Berroa: 52 AB’s, .365/.377/.596, 5K/1BB, 9R, 19H, 6 2B, 2HR, 10RBI, 0SB/1CS
2. Ramiro Pena: 50 AB’s, .320/.370/.400, 5K/4BB, 10R, 16H, 2 2B, 1 3B, 7RBI, 4SB/2CS

It seems pretty close. While Berroa has obviously had a great spring with the bat, he has only taken one walk compared to 4 by Pena. Berroa has shown significantly more power, while Pena has been better on the basepaths. Defensively, although Pena has more errors than Berroa, he is widely considered a great defensive shortstop, while Berroa is deemed one of the worst. Joe Girardi is not going to have an easy answer here, as both players have earned a look. Personally, I would start the season with Berroa, being that this is doubtful to be a full season role. Once A-Rod comes back, Cody Ransom is likely to move to the bench, sending the winner of this job to the minors. The Yankees might be better off trying to catch lightning in a bottle with Berroa for a few weeks while allowing Pena to develop normally in Scranton.

What do you think?

0 thoughts on “Final Roster Spots: Utility Infielder

  1. Chris H.

    I’d like to see Pena get it because at least some of his tools (speed, defense) would be guaranteed whereas with Berroa, who knows what he’ll provide. However, Berroa could make the team and then get dismissed after A-Rod’s return, which would be nice for the Yankees.

  2. EJ Fagan

    I don’t think that there’s a contest here. For the past 2 years, Berroa has been an absolute butcher with the bat. A spring training where he happens to get a bunch of hits while swinging at everything doesn’t change that. He plays terrible defense everywhere, and adds little off the bench. Pena is a fantastic defensive shortstop and just as bad with the bat. The only upside to adding Berroa is that we could waive him the second we need his 40-man spot without thinking twice about it.

    • Moshe Mandel

      I have to disagree. Whoever wins this job is getting maybe 6-9 innings a week, at best. Why stick a young player at the end of the bench like that? If this was a long term type thing, obviously Pena would be the choice.

  3. @EJ’s roster comment, that’s what it comes down to I think. The Yankees should be looking at this like a chess game. This move affects future ones and depending on their plan with the bullpen and their plans on when Alex comes back I think that is going to have a big impact on whether they go with Berroa or Pena now.

    I’m interested in seeing what their plan is.

  4. EJ Fagan

    I should say though: Pena might be a better option right now than Cody Ransom too. We should remember that Ransom is a 33 year-old journeyman with power but little ability to make contact. And Pena has 3 option years.

  5. Greg F

    EJ: How does Pena compare to Alberto Gonzales?

  6. EJ Fagan

    About the same as a hitter, but a better glove.

  7. Trevor

    I hope Pena makes it. Yeah he’s young and you can send him down for more development. But Pena has been in the system for about 3 years now. His upside is that of a utility player. He certainly doesn’t have the upside of Angelini Joseph Lassiter… So I don’t feel if he makes the team his development is being taken away.

    • Chris H.

      That’s what I think, too. If he’s an all-glove player and was only projected to be a bench guy, who cares? But, after hearing all of these scouts say that he can be an everyday player, I’m sure that the Yankees have some people who say the same thing. Therefore, they’ll probably keep him in the minors to continue his development, at least until they know for sure that he can’t hit. As EJ said, if Berroa makes it, at least the Yankees can dump him without thinking twice about it.

  8. AAA for Pena, until or unless one of the two stumble badly. Even then, I would rather have him show his hitting skills improve somewhat.
    With his glove, he would only have to be around the .275(+/-) mark to be considered Big time ready.