NEW YORK—General manager Brian Cashman likes to tell people the Yankees have built a strong minor league system.
New York has quality and depth at catcher and on the mound, the two most difficult commodities to develop. Headed by catchers Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez, righthander Dellin Betances and lefty Manny Banuelos, the organization's top seven prospects play one half of the battery or other.
Now the Yankees appear to be developing depth, if not eye-popping quality, at shortstop.
The position has long been a dead end for Yankees prospects because of the presence of Derek Jeter, who will remain in the Bronx for at least three more years. That hasn't stopped the organization from building a stable of reserves at short.
At the big league level, Ramiro Pena has been a capable utility infielder the past two years. Triple-A shortstop Eduardo Nunez's bat and strong arm have many believing he can play every day in the big leagues.
Behind them, 21-year-old shortstop Jose Pirela is gaining steam.
"He is an interesting guy," farm director Mark Newman said of Pirela, a Venezuela native who signed in July 2006.
He hit just .252/.329/.364 for high Class A Tampa last season, and his struggles continued in the Arizona Fall League, where he fizzled to 16-for-89 (.180) while playing exclusively second base. Pirela rebounded in the Venezuelan League, batting .333/.387/.471 in 102 at-bats for Zulia, playing second and third base.
"He is a line-drive hitter who impacts the ball," Newman said. "He doesn't elevate the ball, so he hasn't hit home runs."
Defensively, the Yankees believe Pirela will improve with experience. He committed 30 errors last year, but he's slated to continue at shortstop for Double-A Trenton this year.
"Like all young shortstops, he makes some errors, but he is getting better," Newman said. "He catches the ball and will be real solid."
While Jeter's replacement may not yet be in the system, having depth at a premier position gives the Yankees ideal trade chips.
• After a one-year absence, Luis Sojo will return to manage Tampa. The popular skipper spent last summer in Venezuela tending to business interests.
• The Yankees claimed righty reliever Brian Schlitter on waivers from the Cubs, where the 25-year-old made his big league debut last season and got rocked for 11 runs in eight innings. He touches 97 mph and struck out 42 in 46 Triple-A innings last season.