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Hoping and wishing for a few of the kids to get a taste of the major leagues this upcoming season. Who can be exciting enough to surpass the favoritism the team has seemingly shown veterans in the past?
Mark Montgomery: It's doubtful that you haven't heard of this kid by now, but Montgomery is a right-handed relief pitching prospect with a devastating slider that might be the best single pitch down on the farm right now, and hasn't met its match at any level Montgomery has been to in his short professional career to this point. His ERA has only been above 2.00 twice (4 games at Low-A Charleston in 2011 and 9 games in the Arizona Fall League this offseason) since becoming a Yankee. Montgomery's minor league success and ability to quickly move through the system has drawn comparisons to fellow Yankee reliever David Robertson, and his path to the majors could end up being quite similar. In 40.1 IP at Tampa, Montgomery was striking out batters at a 13.61 per nine innings rate that improved to 14.25 per nine innings after his promotion to Double-A Trenton for 24 innings. He has allowed only one home run in his two years as a professional. Montgomery will have a chance to show his stuff against major leaguers in Spring Training, and the Yankees will almost certainly want to see what he's got against Triple-A hitters, at least, but seeing him in the Bronx this season seems like a decent bet.
Zoilo Almonte: Zoilo placed himself on the radar a year ago in Spring Training and followed up his impressive play there with a strong season for Double-A Trenton in 2012. It's unlikely that the Yankees would carry him on the bench instead of letting him play everyday in Triple-A when camp breaks, but if an injury befalls one of Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, or Ichiro Suzuki, Almonte could find his way into regular playing time at the major league level in 2013. A recent pattern for Zoilo has been a vast improvement in his numbers when returning to a previous level the next season. His sub-100 wRC+ offense at High-A and Double-A was improved to a 145 and 120, respectively, when he followed up there the following season. If that pattern holds true, we may not get as much as we'd hope for out of Almonte in his first season of Triple-A duty, but he's earned strong consideration if a spot opens up in New York at some point.
Corban Joseph: CoJo put together an impressive season offensively at Double-A and Triple-A last year that gave his prospect status a bit of a boost. Being added to the 40-man roster gives him the potential to step in should tragedy strike and Robinson Cano need to miss any considerable amount of time. Questionable defense probably precludes him from being considered for a utility infielder spot, and the Yankees decided David Adams should be moved to third base instead of CoJo because of a question of Joseph's arm being able to handle the hot corner. It seems that he is firmly entrenched at second base, and if the Yankees sign Cano to a long term deal this offseason, CoJo's future as a Yankee will look pretty bleak unless he can regain the ability to play shortstop, the position he was drafted at. Joseph probably finds himself behind Jayson Nix and possibly Eduardo Nunez at the backup infielder spots for now, but making the majors at some point in 2013 is definitely possible, if only at the end of the season. I wrote more about CoJo in his 40-man roster profile here.
Tyler Austin: This one is a longshot, sure; but if Austin keeps hitting the way that he has so far, the Yankees would have no reason to keep him back if a spot opened up. Tyler has really done nothing but tear the cover off the ball in his professional career thus far, and if that continues at the upper levels of the minors, there should be no reason he couldn't at least be called up for a cup of coffee in September if he can find his way onto the 40-man roster. Right out of big league Spring Training, Austin could end up with either the High-A Tampa Yankees or starting in the Double-A Trenton outfield if a spot is available. After making it to Trenton at the very end of last season, it wouldn't be crazy to see him begin the season there, but he has been shuffled through the levels quickly, so a return to High-A wouldn't be the end of the world either. He represents the best chance of seeing one of the top prospects in the bigs this year, even if that chance looks very small at the moment.
Austin Romine: Were it not for a back injury that kept Romine off the field for most of last season, he may be the obvious choice for Opening Day catcher in 2013. As it stands, the Yankees front office seems to be unanimous in the decision that Romine will instead be starting the year with Triple-A Scranton regardless of how Spring Training goes. The bat comes with plenty of questions, but seeing as the other options are Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, or Bobby Wilson, there isn't a catching option that comes without plenty of questions. Romine has recently seen his stock as a prospect fall and the back injury keeping him out of baseball for nearly an entire season surely didn't help that at all, but with the lack of any clearly better option, 2013 might be a decent time to see what exactly Romine can do both at and behind the plate at the major league level. It's almost a foregone conclusion that he will see big league time this season, and just how much might depend on whether he can sink or swim when given that opportunity.
Ronnier Mustelier: If a 40-man roster spot would open up, the soon-to-be 29-year-old Mustelier could be considered for a utility-type role in the majors, thanks to all of his versatility in the field. He can play corner outfield, he could play third base in a pinch, and he's not getting any younger, so why not see what he can do? As a prospect, Mustelier is old and no one would argue with the assertion that his time to make a real impact needs to be sooner rather than later. Spending time at both Double-A and Triple-A last season, Mustelier managed impressive results with his bat (179 wRC+ and 128 wRC+, respectively) and it seemed reasonable that the team might have him brought up toward the end of the year, but it never happened. Though he will likely be passed over in Spring Training for the likes of Matt Diaz or Juan Rivera, at least Mustelier could present a shred of upside as a fourth outfielder. He will almost definitely be ticketed for a return to Scranton to begin the season, but getting himself onto the 40-man roster would go a long way toward making him one of the first call-up options if an injury in the outfield occurred.
David Adams: Blocked by Corban Joseph and Robinson Cano no more, Adams has a chance of making the major leagues if Kevin Youkilis cannot stay healthy in place of the already unhealthy Alex Rodriguez. A move to third base began last season in Double-A for Adams, and with the position being rather full of uncertainty, it's possible that Adams could end up with a taste of the majors at some point in 2013. The catch is that Adams might truly be made of paper-thin glass that breaks if looked at sideways. He has been notoriously fragile in his minor league career, earning the nickname Day Off Dave because of all his regularly required vacations from the field. It has already been announced that David will be behind in spring training because of a back injury, which doesn't help his case. If Adams wants a chance at making the majors, which he could earn because of his ability to play two premium infield positions, he'll need to find a way to actually stay on the field. His is another story of a rapidly ticking prospect clock where age is starting to become a factor. Impressing at Triple-A to start the season would be huge for him.
This list doesn't encompass every farm hand that has a chance of making the majors, but these are the ones that might have the most impact if they were able to make it to the big leagues this season. Anyone on the 40-man roster could theoretically be called up -- Adam Warren might not be permanently banished to the Triple-A rotation for forevermore, or maybe Dellin Betances consults a witch doctor that repairs his mechanics and he's suddenly worth writing words about again. The Yankees aren't exactly spring chickens, and with that, unfortunately comes the possibility of injury, which opens the door for younger players on the verge of breaking into the bigs. If the Yankees end up being a disappointment, it would be easier to stomach if giving the kids a shot is a part of it. The ideal scenario, of course, would be giving them a shot anyway. Some of them are definitely good enough to warrant a chance to prove their worth. Let's hope the team is willing to give it to them instead of sticking with the more familiar names at all costs.