COMMENTARY | With Alex Rodriguez's arbitration hearing postponed until next month, it appears that the New York Yankees will head into the Hot Stove without knowing whether they'll be able to call upon their overpriced third baseman next season.
In the meantime, the team's future third baseman may be playing in Arizona.
Saturday, the Yankees will have two representatives at the Arizona Fall League's midseason Fall Stars Game. Most Yankees fans know one -- outfielder Mason Williams, the team's second-ranked prospect and ranked 36th among all major league prospects by MLB.com. The other? Currently unranked third-base prospect Peter O'Brien.
The Yankees' minor league system is loaded with catching prospects, with J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez chiefly among them, so the Yankees' 2012 third-round draft pick, selected as a catcher, was moved earlier this season to a spot where the team may have an immediate need -- third base. (New York's only other prospect at that position is 21-year-old Eric Jagielo, the team's 2013 first-round draft pick.)
The free-agent market for third baseman this offseason looks to be average, at best. Kevin Youkilis and Mark Reynolds, who played for the Yankees this season, will be among a free-agent crop that will also include Michael Young, Juan Uribe, and Jhonny Peralta. For the Yankees -- a team that is looking to cut payroll in 2014 -- it may be wise to give O'Brien a shot at third base this spring rather than trading for a big-name star like Pablo Sandoval or, as the New York Post's Joel Sherman reported, Chase Headley.
Spending more the time at the hot corner than catcher, the 23-year-old O'Brien ended 2013 with a combined 22 home runs and 39 doubles -- tops among Yankees minor leaguers -- while batting .291 (.350 OBP, .544 SLG) in 119 games for New York's Single-A affiliates in Charleston and Tampa.
This fall, O'Brien has been splitting his playing time between the two positions, but he hasn't stopped hitting. Although he's 6-for-36, 3 of his hits have been for home runs. He also impressed fans by winning the Arizona Fall League's home run derby-like Bowman Hitting Challenge earlier this month.
O'Brien is no stranger to success and may be poised in spring training to show that he may not require much more minor league experience.
In 2010, O'Brien, out of Bethune-Cookman University, where he was named a Freshman All-American by Louisville Slugger and Baseball America in 2008, was 1 of 22 college players named to Team USA. That summer, he played alongside current major leaguers Gerrit Cole, Sonny Gray, Brad Miller, and Jackie Bradley, Jr.
The following June, after being dubbed the best college catcher in the nation by some experts, O'Brien was selected in the third round in 2011 by the Colorado Rockies but did not sign. Instead, he opted to play one year at the University of Miami before being drafted by the Yankees in the second round of the 2012 draft.
With the A-Rod situation still unresolved, it seems the Yankees are better off waiting to see what pans out at A-Rod's arbitration hearing than spending money or talent on a replacement-level starter. Yankees fans saw what that scenario bought last season and it wasn't pretty.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.
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