3 surprise Yankees who are primed to make the 26-man roster

jimmy cordero, yankees
Mar 24, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Jimmy Cordero (70) throws a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the sixth inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Dave Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are gearing up for Opening Day in just four days against the San Francisco Giants. Before then, they have a number of serious decisions they have to make, including a determination of the shortstop and left field position battles.

However, there have been a few spring training performers who have made a strong case to land on the 26-man roster, so let’s take a look at a few stand-out players.

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Three Yankees who could make the 26-man roster:

1.) Jimmy Cordero

There is a good chance that 31-year-old bullpen arm Jimmy Cordero will land on the roster to start the regular season for the Bombers. At 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds, the right-handed relief pitcher earned a 6.07 ERA and 7.42 strikeouts per nine across 26.2 innings last year. He logged a 49.4% ground-ball rate and 56.9% left-on-base rate.

Those numbers surely aren’t inspiring, but he did post a 2.89 ERA and an 81.4% left-on-base rate across 37.1 innings back in 2019. This spring, though, he’s earned a 4.00 ERA with nine strikeouts across nine innings pitched. He’s only had one bad outing this spring, was dragged his numbers down significantly. Aside from giving up three earned runs and four hits over 1.1 innings against the Boston Red Sox on March 12, he’s only given up one earned run. With stellar velocity and meaningful MLB experience, Cordero has the makeup of a productive bullpen piece, giving him a good shot at making the roster.

2.) Jhony Brito

With significant injuries to the starting rotation, including Carlos Rodon, Frankie Montas, and now Luis Severino, the Yankees are prepared to supplement those issues. Clarke Schmidt and Domingo German are locked into rotation spots, but the Yankees could promote Jhony Brito, a 25-year-old prospect, to help at the back end.

Brito has pitched 7.2 innings this spring, hosting a 3.52 ERA, and striking out seven batters. In his first appearance on February 26 against the Blue Jays, he tossed two scoreless innings but gave up two earned runs over 2.2 innings against the rays on March 4. He backed it up with one earned run over three innings on March 10 against Detroit, so he’s had a few efficient performances that have showcased his talents.

Brito has the longevity to feature in a starting role, having pitched 108.2 innings back in 2019. He pitched 70.2 last year for Triple-A and 42 with Double-A Somerset, accumulating 112.2 total innings.

The Yankees have referenced Brito’s workhorse mentality, which suggests he’s in a good spot to fill the No. 5 slot in the rotation moving forward.

3.) Willie Calhoun

Willie Calhoun has struggled with injuries in the past, but the 28-year-old is performing well this spring. Across 47 at-bats, he’s tallied 14 hits with a home run and four RBIs. He’s hitting .298 with a .377 OBP and .781 OPS. Calhoun isn’t the best defensive player, but he’s capable as an outfielder, so he could fill more of a utility role with offensive upside. His best professional season came back in 2019 when he slapped 21 homers with 40 RBIs, hitting .269 with a .323 OBP.

However, his walk rate has steadily increased over time, and if he can hover around 10% and maintain his batting average, he could be an efficient player that offers a decent supplement to injury.

With Rafael Ortega struggling offensively this spring and Aaron Hicks having his fair share of ups and downs, I wouldn’t be surprised if Calhoun ended up making the roster.