Unheralded minor league signings pay off for New York Yankees

Youngsters at a Yankees summer camp at Yankee Stadium.

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In every offseason, there are big moves by the Yankees that make the news and can completely change their games. But his year, the Yankees are showing how important minor league deals can be due to several injuries that have required them to rely on players who weren’t originally on the roster. Let’s focus on some players who initially signed non-roster contracts but have now earned significant playing time for the Yankees in 2023.

Yankees recent minor league deals

PlayerPositionDate of signing
Jake BauersOutfielder Dec 14, 2022
Ryan WeberRHPDec 23, 2022
Nick RamirezRHPDec 23, 2022
Willie CalhounOutfielder Dec 31, 2022
Billy McKinneyOutfielder Dec 31, 2022
Ian HamiltonRHPFeb 5, 2023

Throughout this year, the Yankees have encountered a series of significant injuries. Aaron Judge suffered a hip strain in early May, leading to his placement on the injured list. Unfortunately, he has returned to the IL once more due to a toe sprain. Similarly, Harrison Bader began the season on the injured list due to an oblique strain but managed to make a comeback. Regrettably, he finds himself back on the IL for the second time this season due to a hamstring strain.

Both Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson, who are currently part of the club, have experienced significant periods of absence due to their respective ailments. Alongside these injuries, the team has also had to confront Aaron Hicks’ struggles, which ultimately led to his release. As a result, these circumstances have created opportunities for other players, resulting in the inclusion of Calhoun, Bauers, and McKinney on the team’s roster.

Yankees minor league signings stepped in when needed

Prior to joining the Yankees, Calhoun had experienced opportunities with the Rangers and Giants, but he encountered challenges and had difficulty finding consistent success. His career batting line, as of this winter, stood at .240/.299/.404, resulting in a wRC+ of 84. However, it is worth mentioning that Calhoun exhibited strong hitting abilities during his time in the minor leagues and was once recognized as a top 100 prospect.

Now, Calhoun is a part of the Yankees team and has been given a spot on their roster. He has had the chance to bat 140 times this season. When at the plate, he has shown good discipline by walking in about 9.3% of his appearances. His strikeout rate is also low, at just around 12.1%. Along the way, he has hit five home runs.

Willie Calhoun is seen the Yankees game against Boston at Yankee Stadium, June 10, 2023.

His batting line, which shows his performance at the plate, is .238 for batting average,.307 for on-base percentage, and.413 for slugging percentage. His wRC+ score of 98 indicates that he has been slightly below league average in terms of overall offensive impact. Considering he was brought in as a temporary replacement, his performance has actually been quite decent. If he can increase his batting average on balls in play from.238 to something closer to the league average of.297, he may even achieve better results.

Bauers found himself in a similar situation, as he was once considered a top talent but faced challenges while playing for Tampa, Cleveland, and Seattle. Prior to this season, he had a batting line of .213 for batting average, .307 for on-base percentage, and .348 for slugging percentage in the majors, resulting in a wRC+ of 82, which is below average. However, since joining the Yankees and having 104 plate appearances this year, he has improved with a batting line of .222 for batting average, .308 for on-base percentage, and .456 for slugging percentage, resulting in a wRC+ of 109. Although he has a high strikeout rate of 32.7%, he also demonstrates good patience at the plate with a walk rate of 11.5%.

Just like Calhoun and Bauers, Billy McKinney was once considered a top prospect. He had the opportunity to play for several teams, such as the Yankees, Blue Jays, Brewers, Mets, Dodgers, and Athletics. However, by the end of 2022, his batting performance was not very strong, with a batting line of.206 for batting average,.277 for on-base percentage, and.387 for slugging percentage, resulting in a wRC+ of 77, which is below average. 

Recently, he was called up to the team and has played in only seven games so far this year. In that small sample, he has shown impressive numbers with a batting line of .320 for batting average, .320 for on-base percentage, and .640 for slugging percentage. This is a significant boost for the team. Especially since players like Bader, Judge, and Greg Allen are currently on the injured list. Additionally, McKinney’s ability to play center field is a valuable asset for the club.

Ian Hamilton of New York Yankees

They are key to the Yankees’ survival

The Yankees have faced difficulties in their bullpen as well. Scott Effross showed promise as an important player for them last year, but unfortunately, he had to undergo Tommy John surgery in October. This means he won’t be able to play at all in 2023. Jonathan Loaisiga, on the other hand, only made three appearances before needing surgery to address a bone spur. It will take several months for him to recover and return to the team.

At the start of the year, Lou Trivino was placed on the injured list and later had to undergo Tommy John surgery in May. This means he won’t be able to play at all this year. Tommy Kahnle was expected to have an important role in the team after signing a two-year, $11.5 million deal in the offseason. However, he spent the first two months of the season on the injured list and couldn’t contribute during that time.

Because of the injuries to some key players, the Yankees had an opportunity to give a chance to the minor league signees mentioned earlier. The Yankees selected Cordero’s contract toward the end of the previous year in order to keep him with the team. He has pitched for 27 and 2/3 innings, with a strikeout rate of 28.2%, a walk rate of 8.2%, and a ground ball rate of 55.9%.

His ERA (earned run average) is 3.58, which is decent, but he could actually have performed even better considering his strand rate of 66.4%. This suggests that he has been unlucky in leaving runners on base. When we look at other advanced pitching statistics like FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and SIERA (Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average), he has even better numbers with a 2.70 FIP and 3.07 SIERA. Ramirez has a smaller sample size, pitching only 11 innings, but he has been impressive with an ERA of 1.64. 

Hamilton, unfortunately, is currently on the 60-day injured list (IL), but before that, he had a remarkable ERA of 1.23 in 22 innings this season. Weber’s season is at risk due to a possible need for Tommy John surgery, but he performed well before his injury with a 3.14 ERA in 14 and 1/3 innings.

While none of these players are expected to win prestigious awards like Most Valuable Player or Cy Young, they have demonstrated the significance of having a deep roster. The Yankees have faced challenges with the absence of key players such as Judge and Bader, as well as some players experiencing a decline in performance. However, despite these obstacles, the team has managed to maintain a solid position in the standings. With a record of 39-30, they are still in contention for a playoff spot.

Even though the Yankees have one of the biggest payrolls in the league and many expensive star players, they’ve had games recently where their outfield consisted of players who were signed on minor league contracts. However, these players have made valuable contributions, and as the trade deadline approaches, the team is still in the running. There’s a saying that minor league deals are never bad, and right now, these signings are proving to be a good move for the Yankees.

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