Short On Opportunity

Two young shortstops learn to play in Derek Jeter's shadow




TAMPA—"No Parking, No Standing, No Chance of Playing."

That's the sign the Yankees have had planted at shortstop since 1996, the year Derek Jeter arrived in The Bronx. But it's not that other shortstops haven't tried.

Cristian Guzman developed into a two-time all-star after he was dealt to the Twins for Chuck Knoblauch. D'Angelo Jimenez was moved from short to third, played a handful of games for the Yankees and drifted away. Contemporary Alfonso Soriano developed into an impact big leaguer, but did so on the other side of the second base bag.

Erick Almonte filled in for six weeks at the start of 2003 when Jeter separated the right shoulder, but he was a non-factor before and after Jeter's return. Alberto Gonzalez, dealt to the Nationals last year, had the hands and arm to play defensively in the majors.

Take heed, Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez. Both shortstops come fully equipped with impressive defensive tools and are young enough to still have improvement in front of them.

Jeter's contract ends following the 2010 season, but he isn't going anywhere. That means the best Pena and Nunez—switch-hitters both—can hope for is a backup infielder's gig . . . or perhaps interest from other clubs looking to deal this summer.

The 23-year-old Pena, from Monterrey, Mexico, batted .266/.330/.357 in 111 games for Double-A Trenton last year. Nunez, 21 and from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, batted .271/.305/.383 in 94 games for high Class A Tampa.

But while there are questions as to how much each will hit in the big leagues, farm director Mark Newman sees signs they will improve at the plate.

"(Pena) has dealt with plate discipline, but how much stronger he gets (he's 5-foot-11, 165 pounds) will determine how good of an offensive player he will be," he said.

Though a slim 6-foot, 155 pounds, Nunez is a bit stronger. "If he swings at good pitches he will be a good offensive player because he can drive it," Newman said.

"Pena is a really good defensive player and runs well," Newman said. "Nunez is one of the faster runners in the system behind (Brett) Gardner. He also has a great arm and needs to refine his tools."

YANKEE DOODLES

• Righthander Andrew Brackman, 23, was optioned to low Class A Charleston, making the 2007 first-rounder one of the spring's first cuts. The 6-foot-10 phenom missed all of 2008 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and he signed too late to pitch in 2007. "His stuff was crisper than it was at the end of last year in the bullpen when I caught him in St. Pete. He needs innings," manager Joe Girardi said.

• The Yankees placed outfielder Michael Jones, a 29th-round pick out of Arizona State last June, on the restricted list. A wide receiver in football, Jones, 22, was readying himself for April's NFL draft He batted .184/.273/.286 in 49 at-bats last summer with the GCL Yankees.