Help Wanted: A Fifth Outfielder (Left-Handers Need Not Apply)

In a show of incredible endurance, Ben Francisco sat on the Yankees' 25-man roster until May 26th. It clearly wasn't his contributions that kept him on the roster, rather it was the need for a right-handed outfielder for Joe Girardi to play against left-handed starters. With Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis on the precipice of rehab assignments, there was finally little need for a guy who had just 3 hits in 40 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. cc

To replace Francisco, the Yankees stacked their bullpen for the time being with 13 pitchers, something that will not likely last. The newest edition, David Huff, has already been replaced by Joba Chamberlain, but that hasn't stopped the Yankees from carrying a 13 pitchers. It's not the worst plan, as the team will likely need some innings eaters as the team deals with injuries to Andy Pettitte, and some questions in their rotation around Hiroki Kuroda, who took a liner to the calf, David Phelps, who took a liner to his pitching arm, and CC Sabathia, who's battling a cold streak. Roster-wise, the pitching staff should see some cut backs as soon as Youkilis and Teixeira return, which could happen as soon as Friday.

But after five and a half years of watching Joe Girardi, it's rare to see a roster with just four outfielders. As it stands, Vernon Wells, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, and Brennan Boesch are all that remain after an injury to Curtis Granderson and the Francisco DFA. I find it hard to imagine, that with all of Girardi's match ups and platoon maneuvers, that he isn't lobbying for that 5th right-handed outfielder as we speak. But where will he find one?

Triple-A of course, which sports four possible right-handed outfield bats. Zoilo Alonte, Melky Mesa, Ronnier Mustelier, and Thomas Neal are all waiting in the wings for that call up. Of them, just Almonte and Mesa are on the 40-man roster, but both of them have good reasons to stay in Triple-A. The 26 year old Mesa is struggling this season, batting just .246/.272/.410 in 191 plate appearances. Worst of all, he has 75 strike outs and 5 walks, which gives him a 39.3 K% and a 2.6 BB%. Meanwhile, the 24 year old Almonte has been hitting seemingly well in his promotion to Triple-A, batting .279/.365/.413 in 208 plate appearances. Though the numbers look good, the switch-hitter has hit considerably better as a left-handed bat, posting an .842 OPS as a lefty and a .597 as a righty in 2013. This platoon trend began in 2012, and the Yankees will need to keep him in Triple-A if they want him to ever develop as a right-handed hitter.

On the other hand, Mustelier and Neal are hitting well, but have no spot on the 40-man roster. Mustelier has hit .290/.317/.390 since returning from his knee injury in Spring Training. He's really found his stroke over the last 10 games, batting .396/.408/.500 in 48 at bats. One possible problem with calling up the 28 year old is his platoon split. In 2013 he's actually hit right-handed pitchers far better than lefties, keep in mind the small sample size. Looking back to 2012 and 2011, the platoon splits look much more neutral, but perhaps the Yankees are waiting for Mustelier to get some more at bats against lefties before they start to rely on him in the Majors. Calling up Mustelier could also spell Jayson Nix of his utility needs if Eduardo Nunez and Derek Jeter ever manage to make it back, as Mustelier can handle third base in case of emergencies.

If the Yankees want to call up the hottest hand, the guy who probably deserves it the most, Thomas Neal gets the call. Neal has been hitting the ball everywhere that isn't over the fence. He's put together a .348/.441/.426 slash in 136 plate appearances. This isn't far off from his .314/.400/.467 slash in 470 plate appearance last season. Despite some up and down seasons, Neal still seems to have some considerable upside in his bat, and he's hitting .355/.459/.484 against left-handed pitchers. Unfortunately for him, his defense in the outfield has been criticized of late, and the team will have a tough time finding a way to get him on the same roster as Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis.