Yankees: Which non-roster invitee has the best chance to make the team?

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 26: Rosell Herrera #5 of the Miami Marlins runs to third base during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on May 26, 2019 in Washington. DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 26: Rosell Herrera #5 of the Miami Marlins runs to third base during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on May 26, 2019 in Washington. DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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Which of the Yankees non-roster invitees to spring training have the best chance of making the Opening Day roster? Only one name really comes to mind.

The Yankees invited 21 players to spring training camp this year and the majority of them will not make the team. Once the 26-man roster is set a lot of the younger players will be sent back to the minors leagues while some of the veterans will ask for their release to become free agents and hope to sign on with another team looking for help at the major league level.

Take Chris Iannetta for example. With Kyle Higashioka pretty much locked in as Gary Sanchez’s backup catcher, I’d expect Iannetta to become a free agent if he doesn’t make the roster instead of agreeing to be the starting backstop at Triple-A Scranton.

That’s how things usually play out across the league because all these players enter camp at a disadvantage since they’re not members of the 40-man roster. It’s a huge challenge to overcome which is why a couple of things need to happen for them to even have a fighting chance.

Obviously, the main thing is they have to make a strong impression and play well throughout the exhibition schedule. That’s the most important thing, but it might not be enough because they also need to get a little bit lucky. Nobody would ever wish for someone on the major league club to get hurt, but if it happens an even bigger opportunity opens up for non-roster players to earn a spot on the team.

Before spring training was suspended last week because of the coronavirus the Yankees major league roster was plagued by injuries for the second year in a row, especially in the outfield. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have both been out of action throughout camp and that opened up a lot of playing time for non-roster invitee Rosell Herrera.

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The 27-year-old has arguably been the Yanks best hitter this spring and has had the opportunity to showcase his versatility to the coaching staff on a daily basis. In 25 at-bats he’s hit .400 with 4 XBH, 4 RBI and an OBP of .444. He’s also shown good speed on the base paths and defensively he’s caught the eye of manager Aaron Boone with his ability to play multiple positions. He’s looked good at third and second base, but he’s played more outfield which is where he’ll likely play the most if he ends up making the team.

Herrera has always been a player with plus tools but he hasn’t hit enough to ever really stick in the big leagues. In 383 career at-bats, he’s hit  .225 during stints with the Reds, Royals, and the Marlins most recently in 2019. The sample size is a small one and he’s still relatively young so his best days could definitely still be ahead of him. That was the case with Gio Urshela a season ago when he had a breakout campaign for the Yanks after entering the year as a career .225 hitter himself.

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Prior to MLB suspending operations, I think Herrera was very much in the mix for a roster spot, but that could change now that the season is delayed until mid-May at the earliest. Judge and Stanton will both have a lot of time to get themselves healthy before play resumes which is not only bad news for Herrera but also potentially for Clint Frazier.

That being said the great thing about Herrera is he’s not just an outfielder so he could still fight for a spot on the team as a utility infielder. Right now his main competition is Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada and between the three of them, it’s likely only one of them will make the team. Herrera has had the best spring by far, but both Wade and Estrada are already on the 40-man roster and they’re better defenders at shortstop which is important.

I hope the front office seriously considers putting him on the team when decision time comes, but it’s more probable than not he’ll start the year at Triple-A. If that’s the case, it’s not a bad place to be because of the Yankees inability to stay healthy over the past year. Just ask guys like Urshela and Mike Ford.

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They both started last season in the minors and weren’t on the 40-man roster, but ended up making a huge impact to help the Yankees win 103 games. All spring Herrera has looked like he belongs in the big leagues so it wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up following in their footsteps.