Tuesday, March 17, 2009


PHILLIP COKE, Brett Gardner and Cody Ransom. They’re three of the lesser-known names on the New York Yankees’ roster but a trio who could make a significant contribution during the 2009 season.

There’s an old saying in baseball that spring training counts for nothing. If you’re looking for a stat to back that up then here’s one for you: Kei Igawa, the Yanks’ $46 million Japanese misfit, has yet to give up a run in nine innings pitched.

Igawa has been such a disappointment in Major League Baseball that he couldn’t even make the Japanese squad for the World Baseball Classic.

So does anyone seriously believe that this is anything more than a flash in the pan or that he’s going to force his way into the starting rotation some time this year? Probably not.

But just as Igawa’s improved performances may catch the eye of another team desperate for pitching, so Ransom, Gardner and Coke have been earning brownie points from manager Joe Girardi.

Up until a few weeks ago, Ransom could expect to play only a cameo role from the bench. Now, with Alex Rodriguez recovering from hip surgery, he is the Yanks’ first-choice third baseman.

For a man of his age (33), Ransom has made remarkably few plate appearances. He’s no A-Rod, but with nine runs and 14 hits in 35 at bats in spring training (.400 ERA) so far, he’s done enough to convince general manager Brian Cashman he can hold the fort until Rodriguez is ready to return.

Three musketeers earn shot at stardom

With eight runs (three of them homers) and 12 hits in 32 at bats for an ERA of .375, Gardner has been equally impressive. Already, he’s earned the right to start the season at center field ahead of Melky Cabrera. 

An excellent fielder, Gardner has tremendous speed and is always a threat to steal a base or two. Nobody is expecting him to be a power hitter in the majors. His job is to get on base and then distract the opposing pitcher.

If he can do that – and the signs are encouraging – then he will be a tremendous asset to the Yankees.

Coke, 26, started 2008 pitching in Double-A baseball for Trenton Thunder. He finished the year in the Yankees bullpen, allowing just one run in 14.2 innings.

Again, those stats could be misleading as the Yanks were out of playoff contention by then.

But Coke has continued where he left off in spring training, conceding only two runs in eight innings.

He’s made such a good impression with Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland that he could conceivably become the main lefty out of the pen ahead of the injured Dámaso Marte.

Of course, when the curtain goes up on the 2009 MLB season on April 6th, the spotlight will be on CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira.

But keep an eye on The Three Musketeers who are earning their shot at stardom down in Tampa.

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