Yankees Blunder? #FREEROLLER
By Wayne Cavadi
The New York Yankees officially released their 40-man roster on Thursday. There were some big surprises to make the squad. Somehow, the walking injury-waiting-to-happen Slade Heathcott was left on and protected. Many people thought Tyler Austin was playing for his Yankees’ future in the AFL, and after ending his season with an injury, a few experts thought he would be shown the door. The Yankees decided to hold on to him as well, however. Names like Zelous Wheeler were shown the door, as was another Yankees’ Baby Bomber who I think got a bum deal.
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It simply makes no sense. I don’t mind Tyler Austin making the final 40-man roster. He caught fire in July after a terrible start to the 2014 MiLB season and had it not been for an injury, he was playing well enough to finish in the AFL Top 25 list that was recently released. Mason Williams and Heathcott have me completely befuddled when someone like Kyle Roller was shown the door.
Roller was drafted by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2010 draft. He had a nice debut half-season with Staten Island in 2010 and was quickly promoted to the RiverDogs Low-A team for the 2011 season. He lasted just 50 games at Low-A, tearing the cover off the ball before being promoted to High-A Tampa halfway through that 2011 season. He spent all of 2012 at Tampa where he put together a solid season. 2013 saw Roller as the starting first baseman for the Trenton Thunder, where he anchored first base for the Eastern League champions. When 2014 started, Roller hit .385 with 9 home runs over 21 games with the Thunder and was quickly promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Some Yankees’ minor league writers viewed Roller as the 2014 RailRiders’ MVP as he hit .283 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI while getting on base at a .378 clip in just three-quarters of the season. Now, after a remarkably consistent minor league career, he has been left off the 40-man roster and unprotected.
Here’s why it’s baffling. Like 2014, the Yankees will be heading into the season without a legitimate, experienced backup first baseman. This is especially discouraging when ol’ gimpy-wrist Mark Teixeira is slated as the Yankees first baseman. Last season, the Yankees used players like Kelly Johnson, Chase Headley and Brian McCann at first base, players who in their long major league career, had never, ever played first base with any regularity.
Roller would’ve provided a solid insurance policy off the bench. He hit at every level, and hit well. He wasn’t the next Albert Pujols, but he seemed to have a more promising future than an Ike Davis–type player. And no one is saying Roller would have ever started for the Yankees. He would have, however, served a nice role off the bench and held the spot tightly until Greg Bird was ready.
Instead they kept Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams. Heathcott, the Yankees first round pick in the 2009 draft, played nine games in 2014 recovering from an injury that limited him to 109 games in 2013. In 2012 he played a meager 65 games and in 2011 he appeared in just 53. In his brief time healthy with the Yankees, he has shown nice tools, but how has this guy continued to get hiss chance, and Roller is overlooked?
Williams was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. He was once the prize of the Yankees’ MiLB eye, considered a multi-tool speedster who could hang as a center fielder with anyone. In the five seasons since, he has showed no progression. In fact, you can argue he regressed this season, hitting a career-low .223 and getting on base at an also career-low .290. That’s right folks, the speed demon, leadoff hitter of the Yankees’ future got on base at a .290 OBP. I don’t care how fast you are, you can’t steal bases and score runs if you’re on the bench.
I read scouting reports and I can see what they say. But they aren’t always right. If they were Gerald “Gizmo” Williams and Hensley “Bam Bam” Muelens would have been part of the late-90s dynasty. I think the Yankees made an error on this one. Roller filled an immediate need heading into spring training. Williams and Heathcott present hope and are seemingly becoming more high-risk, high-reward prospects each ensuing season. Let’s hope Cash and his scouts got this one right, because as much as we all love Bird, he is still a few seasons away. Maybe, just maybe, nobody will snag Kyle Roller, and he can once again prove his worth to the Yankees brass.