If there’s a silver lining to be had in this recent bout of injury problems, one might say it’s the opportunity for the Yankees to call up more of their young players and get a look at what they might have in them. Nothing makes the “play the kids” decision easier than a lack of healthy bodies, and the Yankees are short more than a couple at the moment. To deal with that, they’ve called up outfielder Zoilo Almonte and right-hander Chase Whitley from Triple-A SWB, 2 older, fringe prospects who’ve spent plenty of time at the highest levels of the farm system. We’re definitely going to see one of them in action tonight and we may not see the other one at all, but each has a chance to carve out a role for himself and possibly earn a more long-term roster spot.
The player we might not get to see is Zoilo. He was called up when Shawn Kelley was placed on the DL, but the actual need for him and opportunity to play is based solely on the health of Carlos Beltran and Ichiro Suzuki. They’ve each been out nursing different injuries since earlier in the week, Beltran’s much more serious than Ichiro’s. Ichiro sounds like he’ll be ready to play by tonight or tomorrow, and if the few days of cortisone were enough to make Beltran’s elbow feel better, he’s going to play and the Yankees will be back to 5 healthy outfielders. When that happens, Zoilo goes right back down to Triple-A.
If it doesn’t happen, however, and Beltran does have to take a DL vacation of his own, Zoilo will get a few chances to contribute as the new 5th outfielder. I wrote about Zoilo a couple times last year, when he came up and played in 34 games as a part-time starter and part-time bench guy. In 113 Major League plate appearances, Almonte hit .236/.274/.302 and didn’t show much of the power or patience he was displaying in Triple-A. In his return to that level this year, his BB and K rates have both gone in the wrong direction from 2013. He is still producing though (.273/.324/.470 with 6 HR in 142 PA), and if he can show he’s learned something as a hitter from his time in the show last year, there might be a dash of hope left for him to develop into a decent 4th outfielder.
Whitley, who Susan profiled yesterday, is definitely going to play tonight. He’s the scheduled starter for the Subway Series finale at Citi Field. Dude’s making his MLB debut as an injury replacement in one of his team’s biggest rivalries during the season in which he was converted to a starter full-time and he also has to hit. No pressure. Also a great opportunity for a guy who was starting to look like a MiL lifer in the making. Whitley reached Triple-A in early 2012 and since then he’s never been able to crack the Majors as a reliever. Because he did well working multiple innings, the team decided it was worth a shot to try him as a starter when the Triple-A rotation had early injury problems and he’s been a most pleasant surprise with a 2.39 ERA/1.75 FIP split and 32 strikeouts in 26.1 innings pitched.
The bar isn’t going to be set very high for him tonight. If Joe can get Whitley through 5 innings with 4 ER allowed or fewer, I think he’d take that knowing he’s got a well-rested bullpen behind him. Still, this isn’t going to be a one-time shot for Whitley. With 2/5 of the rotation already on the shelf for the foreseeable future and CC Sabathia making a 15-day DL trip, Whitley is going to get a couple more starts after tonight’s. With Vidal Nuno and David Phelps not pitching all that well, the rotation needs a lot help and Whitley can be that help if he’s able to pitch better than them. He’s a month short of his 25th birthday, so it’s not like whatever prospect shine he did have has worn off. He has time to develop and he may have already found something to raise his Major League ceiling in this reliever-to-starter conversion. If nothing else, Whitley can give Joe something to think about with his performance over these next couple of weeks.
Players are always looking for an opportunity to make a name for themselves. Some of them do in situations like the ones facing Zoilo and Whitley. It’s why Yankee fans still remember names like Shane Spencer and Aaron Small. Zoilo had a chance last year and didn’t take advantage of it. Whitley’s getting his first and maybe the best one he’ll ever get. It certainly would be fun to watch one of them take advantage.