There hasn't been any Yankee news at all over the last week, so there hasn't been much to report. So I am going to talk about my sleeper picks for the 2009 Yankees in this post.
RHP David Robertson
We saw David Robertson sky rocket through the Yankees minor league system last year. After a very good 2007 season, he started the year in AA but he didn't stay there very long. He posted a jaw-dropping 0.96 ERA and struck out 26 batters in just 18 2/3 innings earning him a promotion to AAA. He didn't miss a beat there either, going 4-0 with a 2.06 ERA and striking out 51 batters in 35 innings. The Yankees had seen enough and gave him a shot with the big club. At the time, the Yankees had moved Joba Chamberlain into the rotation and were looking for a set-up man to replace him in the bullpen. GM Brian Cashman said that Robertson 'could be that guy' who replaces Chamberlain at the back of the bullpen. Robertson didn't dominate like he did in the minors, looking completely over matched at times while also showing dominance at other times. The Yankees open 2009 with Mariano Rivera, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte the only locks to get a spot in the bullpen, leaving likely 2 spots to be fought for. Robertson, Phil Coke, Alfredo Aceves, Jonathan Albaladejo, Humberto Sanchez, Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy all battling it out for the final spots in the bullpen. I see Coke and Robertson being the ones who grab those jobs, and I see Robertson emerging the way Edwar Ramirez and Jose Veras did last year.
Projected season: 5-2, 3.55 ERA, 52 IP, 62 SO
CF Brett Gardner
Brett Gardner isn't really a typical sleeper pick since he is the head candidate for the Yankees center field job next year, but I think he is going to have a much better season than people expect. Him and Melky Cabrera will likely battle it out in Spring Training for the chance to start in centerfield for the Yankees on opening day. Since Gardner adds a whole new dimension to the Yankees line-up, I believe he will be the one who claims the job. There will be a very little amount of pressure on Brett in 2009, he will just be looked at to catch the ball in center, play above average defense and lay the bunt down when needed. In my mind, he will greatly defy those expectations. His speed at the bottom of the order is going to install fear into pitchers when he's on base causing pitchers to make more mistakes to the top of the order. He isn't going to hit many home runs, if any, but he will get on base, lay down the bunt for a hit or a sacrifice, steal bases and will play the defense the Yankees need in center. He is the secret weapon for the Yankees heading into 2009 and will be the spark plug all season bringing a whole new type of game to a line-up of sluggers. The Yankees need to play him everyday.
Projected season: .272 AVG, 2 HR, 54 RBI, 55 SB
RHP Zach McAllister (A)
Here is a player who likely isn't going to contribute in 2009, but is definitely a player to keep your eyes this year. Zach McAllister was the Yankees 3rd round pick in 2006 and spent a while changing his arm angle and pitches. He went back to his original set of pitches this past year, and took off. He started the year in Low-A ball and earned a promotion after going 6-3 with a 2.45 ERA. If you think that is good, he did even better at the High-A level. He dominated with the Tampa Yankees tossing a 1.83 ERA and an 8-6 record. Possibly his most impressive stat, in 151 innings pitched this year, he allowed only 21 walks. His great season earned him the #6 ranking among Yankee prospects by Baseball America in the off-season. As BA puts it "McAllister has the body, mechanics and repertoire to be a mid-rotation workhorse. After making terrific progress in 2008, he figures to spend most of 2009 in Double-A." I couldn't agree more and he looks like he could develop into a Nick Blackburn type pitcher, and could arrive in the Bronx in 2010.
These are some players to keep an eye on in 2009.