When the Indians signed Nick Swisher, the Yankees were officially given their second first-round pick in this year's Rule-4 draft. To make room for the ex-Yankee, Cleveland cleared the right-handed outfielder Thomas Neal from their 40-man roster. Though nothing is official yet, Neal has updated his Twitter bio, and it would appear he's now a New York Yankee. While we wait to see how the team solves the catching and designated hitter problems, I can't help but get excited when they add depth. The Yankees have grown exceptionally skilled at finding bench players, and Neal now joins Russ Canzler, Matt Diaz, and a number of in-house options, as the potential fourth outfielder.
He'll be 25-years old next season, but Neal has always been surrounded by high-hopes. In 2010, Neal was ranked the 96th overall prospect by Baseball America, thanks a year in High-A San Jose where he hit .337/.431/.579 with 22 home runs. Neal has continued to hit for average and take his walks, but outside of the hitter friendly California League, he's never shown the same power. In 2010, he put up a .799 OPS with just 12 home runs in Double-A. In 2011, he put up just a .734 OPS in Triple-A, but played most of his 277 plate appearances with shoulder and hand injuries. Last season, he regained some of his offense, hitting .314/.400/.467 with 12 home runs through 470 plate appearances in Double-A. With the potential he showed at an early age, you'd expect Neal to perform better at 24-years old, but his career has seen it's ups and down.
Defensively, Neal doesn't have the greatest range, but he makes this up with a solid arm. His tools make him a corner outfielder, but he's an above-average one that rarely makes errors.
Perhaps his greatest attribute is his makeup. The front office seems to always target players with strong work ethic, and Neal is highly praised for his dedication on and off the field. The Yankees have a knack for pairing coaches and players together, and finding the right chemistry. If Neal's work ethic is as high as it's touted, he'll be a nice fit for the team in Spring Training.
In regards to his splits, there's some questions about how he'd fit into the current outfield group. With three left-handed hitters starting, the Yankees obviously want right-handed outfield depth to counter left-handed pitchers. While Neal is indeed right-handed, he has somewhat of a reverse platoon split over the last two years. Against left-handers, he's hit .316/.382/.413 with 2 home runs in 228 plate appearances. In 514 plate appearances against right-handers, he's hit .297/.376/.448. The sample size isn't huge, but there doesn't seem to be much of a split to take advantage of.
His outlook for the 2013 season is likely a Spring Training invitation, but chances are that he'll start the season in Triple-A, assuming his contract allows for that. Depending on where the team puts Zoilo Almonte, Neal could be the youngest outfielder for the Rail Riders. Even at 25-years old, Neal has some breakout ability, and the Yankees are hoping he'll be an above-average fourth outfielder.