With Xavier Turner's status up in the air, and likely suspended for most if not all of next season, news of the gilded glove of Vince Conde signing with the team who drafted him is not pleasant.
Conde, a 9th round draft pick, was offered $155,000 to sign, and like every last one of us, he did. Or at least the rational among us.
Let me explain. First of all, the Yankees offered Vince slightly above the slot value of $146,500 (every one of our juniors to sign with teams has received an over slot deal, by the way) which while it's a nominal difference, shows Senor Racha Caliente that they value him and will give him every chance to succeed in their system.
Secondly, barring slipping on a baseball in the back yard and having the team doctor say "Funky Butt-lovin'" as his fused arm slaps the crap out of the doctor's nose, and then miraculously being able to throw north of 100mph, Vince has likely come close to reaching his ceiling. Let's look at his year in comparison to his two previous seasons...
Loss to NC State in the Regionals
Third Baseman's Glove, Not Yet Broken In
Had to Replace Jason Esposito; Did Not Make us Forget Jason Esposito
11 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 46 K, 22 BB, 4/7 SB/ATT, .899 Fld %
Disappointing Super Regional Loss to Louisville
Regular Leather Type Glove
Moved from 3B to SS only Because of Dansby Swanson's Injury; Had to Replace Anthony Gomez
18 2B, 0 3B, 6 HR, 41 K, 29 BB, 3/4 SB/ATT, .963 Fld %
Gold Glove; Successfully Kept Swanson at 2B
9 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 42 K, 41 BB, 15/17 SB/ATT, .978 Fld %
What These Trends Indicate...
In short, the trends indicate a player who has come very close to maxing out on his potential. His freshman year... not pretty. For those of us who remember his late swings and near-constant deer in the headlights expression, it's amazing he turned into the type of player who you hate to lose. In 2012, Conde hit below the Mendoza, and if there was a fielding Mendoza line of .900, finished below that, as well.
Heading into the 2013 season, Conde was looked at by fans more as a liability than a strength, and if not for a string of injuries to Dansby Swanson, it's likely Vince would have been sent to the bench, or might have split time with Xavier Turner at third.
A lesser man would have struggled with the toughest defensive position and let that poor freshman performance at the plate carry over, killing his confidence and ending his prospect status entirely. Vince Conde, as we all know now, is not a lesser man.
He took his opportunity, cemented his place in the lineup, and put a stranglehold on the SS position, despite his somewhat limited range. In 2013, in a absolutely loaded lineup, Vince took advantage of the fact that opposing pitchers would have to throw him strikes, and became an aggressive hitter with power potential. He also did the unthinkable - he not only handled the switch to SS after committing far too many errors at third the year prior, but thrived there.
This year, despite people like me still wanting Swanson at SS - I still wanted Vince in the field, but at 2B - Senor Racha Caliente played such a solid short that he was awarded the Rawlings Gold Glove, and in a less than stellar lineup, was often the guy you wanted up in clutch situations. In Omaha, nerves got the best of him, and the wheels briefly came off, but until then, he was one of our best hitters (he finished tied for 4th in BA) and a man you could absolutely count on in the field.
Also, look at the trend in walks (22-29-41) and OBP(.280-.380-.397). They indicate a vast improvement in plate discipline, i.e. maturity at the plate.
He was offered a contract that will pay him an amount which values him as a prospect, but one that recognizes he will have to move off of short and battle his way to an eventual roster spot in three years or so. Though I see his likely future as a AAAA type player or Utility infielder, I wouldn't bet against him. It was absolutely the right call to sign that contract, as he was all but certainly offered more money than he would have been next year as a no-leverage senior signing.
What This Means for Next Year...
The easy answer is that Dansby Swanson will slide over to SS and compete for a Gold Glove and a Silver Spikes award. The more difficult question, though, is who will replace Swanson at 2B and Turner (who we'll most likely not see next year) at third. In all honesty, I can't answer that yet. Here are our options.
Tyler Campbell, Nolan Rogers, Ro Coleman, Will Toffey (fr.), Liam Sabino (fr.), Penn Murfee (rs fr.), and Bryan Reynolds (I'll explain).
Tyler Campbell, Nolan Rogers, Will Toffey (fr.), Liam Sabino (fr.), Penn Murfee (rs fr.), Joe Mundy (fr.).
This could go in a myriad of ways, and likely will not be settled until mid-season. Tyler Campbell did a great job stepping in for Xavier Turner in Omaha, so he's got the inside track at one of these spots. His arm, body type, range, and lack of a power bat makes it more likely he'll stick at 2B, but we know he can play third, so... your guess is as good as mine, here.
I'd like to think one of the incoming shortstops, either Will Toffey or Liam Sabino, will play well enough in fall ball to lock down the other spot, and there's the possibility that both come in hot and they're the answer at both SS and 3B, though that's unlikely.
Here's a third option: Even though Bryan Reynolds played a phenomenal OF all last year, he played some infield in high school, and with OF Jeren Kendall as our top incoming freshman bat, Corbin has to at least entertain the option of moving Reynolds to 2B, and starting John Norwood, Rhett Wiseman, and Jeren Kendall in OF. It optimizes our lineup while - most likely - not harming our defense. Of course, this is all based on the assumption that Reynolds could handle 2B. Again, I think it's worth trying him there in the fall to find out. Of course, if the freshman infielders look capable from the outset, we could really strengthen our defense by playing Reynolds at first and DH-ing Wiel.
Don't be surprised if there are many lineup changes in the first half of next season. Also, don't be surprised if Ro Coleman pulls a Vince Conde and looks like an entirely different player next year.