Crystal's Yankees tenure may have ended after one at-bat, but Cody Ransom is still in camp. What's more, he appears to be building momentum toward winning a spot on the Opening Day roster.
A non-roster invitee who played last year in the Astros system, the 32-year-old started again on Thursday, taking Derek Jeter's usual spot at shortstop for a game against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. In his first at-bat, Ransom did nothing to hurt his cause, drilling a run-scoring double down the left-field line off right-hander Kane Davis.
The Yankees aren't completely certain they'll carry an additional utility man, but if the final days of camp convince them that one would be useful, Ransom appears to be at the head of the pack.
"I've been impressed with his ability to play so many different positions," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He has good at-bats and anywhere we've put him in defensively, he's done a good job. He's made some really good plays, too. I'm not just talking routine plays."
Ransom has had a smattering of big league experience, first appearing with the 2001 Giants as a September call-up. A .236 hitter in 133 Major League games, Ransom spent most of last year at Triple-A Round Rock, but made it into 19 games with the Astros last September, batting .229 (8-for-35) before signing with the Yankees as a free agent in November.
Complicating Ransom's chances at winning a spot on the roster is the presence of Wilson Betemit, whom the Yankees like for his youth (24) and ability to play all four infield positions. Despite Betemit's all-but-assured spot on the roster, Ransom has received more than an extended look, playing all around the infield and also left field.
"I've just gone out and tried to be myself, and played the way I know I can," Ransom said. "Defense has always been what I've been able to do. I don't know if that's intrigued them or not. You can always use versatility as a utility guy. I can catch it if it's hit to me, and I don't really care where I play."
At least one of Ransom's competitors, veteran Chris Woodward, fears that he may have lost some ground by missing time with a tight right hamstring. Woodward still has yet to return to action, though he was scheduled to play in a Minor League game on Thursday.
Meanwhile, fellow non-roster invitee Nick Green had something of a relationship with Girardi coming in as a former National Leaguer, but it is Ransom -- a virtual unknown coming in -- that has drawn the manager's attention.
The Yankees have a number of ways they could go in the last week of camp, directions which would ticket Ransom for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Corner infielder Morgan Ensberg plus outfielders Jason Lane and Brett Gardner are not out of the running for roster spots, and Girardi believes the Yankees' decision could go down to the last two Spring Training games in Miami.
"The roster will shape out here fairly quickly," Girardi said. "We're just trying to give everyone a fair look and make an evaluation on what will help this team the most. We've talked about possibly going a couple of different directions. Now we're down to 10 [days]. We'll make that decision."
Regardless of how the final roster shakes out, Ransom said that this has been one of his most memorable Spring Trainings. Not only did Crystal compensate him for borrowing his No. 60 for an afternoon -- Ransom, wearing No. 67 that day, homered -- but he was also included on the Yankees' travel roster to Virginia Tech and has been able to chat with legends like Yogi Berra and Goose Gossage.
"I've had a lot of fun," Ransom said. "It's a great team and a great organization. I'm enjoying myself. Performance-wise, I think I've done OK. We've got a week left and we'll see what happens."
Plenty down below: Joba Chamberlain may be the new model for converting a Minor League starter into a big league reliever, but it's a process the Yankees are continuing to fine-tune. After Chamberlain dominated and Ross Ohlendorf also found success last year, there may be future candidates looming at the high levels of the farm system.
Girardi said that some of the Yankees' first cuts of Spring Training, like Dan McCutchen, Mark Melancon and Steven White, showed the promise to re-join the club later in the season.
"I've seen a lot of those kids, that I think even though they're not here now, they can pitch up here," Girardi said. "All the kids that we sent down in the first wave, I still believe that they can have an impact at some point this year."
Speed thrills: Playing against the Pirates on Wednesday in Bradenton, Fla., Brett Gardner perfectly placed a bunt up the third-base line, rushing catcher Ryan Doumit and forcing a wild throw to sail down the right-field line.
Regardless of whether he makes the Opening Day roster -- and he is still in the mix -- the Yankees believe the 24-year-old Gardner has shown enough this spring to prove he can help them as soon as 2008.
"He brings a speed dimension that I like to call a pest dimension to the game," Girardi said. "Pitchers can never relax when he's on base, and infielders can never relax when he's up at the plate. He plays very good defense, he plays hard, and we like him."
With Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera and Bobby Abreu guaranteed to be in the Yankees' outfield, there may be no room at the inn for Gardner, who could benefit more from playing every day in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre than by riding the bench in New York. Girardi said he has encouraged Gardner along those lines, telling him to keep his head up and wait for his chance.
"I think he's got a chance to be a really good big league player," Girardi said. "It's like the pitching staff here, obviously, we can only take so many when we leave [Florida]. If you don't go with us when we break camp, you need to be ready at all times, because you never know when that call is going to come."
On the pine: Andrew Brackman continues to progress through his rehab from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, but he will not pitch in 2008. ... Humberto Sanchez is scheduled to throw off a mound on March 28, the first time since surgery. Francisco Cervelli will miss at least the first six weeks of the season after suffering a broken right wrist in a March 8 home-plate collision against the Rays.
First-rounders: Eric Duncan (2003) was reassigned to Minor League camp early because of the Yankees' glut of first basemen. ... Phil Hughes (2004) is a lock to be in the starting rotation. ... C.J. Henry (2005) is back in the Yankees' Minor League system after being dealt in the Abreu trade. The club believes that Henry can rebound after correcting vision problems that hampered him with Philadelphia. ... Chamberlain (2006) will be in the Yankees' setup mix. ... Ian Kennedy (2006) will be in New York's rotation. He allowed one run on six hits in 4 1/3 innings vs. Toronto on Thursday.
The Yankees have eight players on their spring roster who were originally selected in the first round or compensation rounds of the Draft. The others are Damon (Royals, 1992), Derek Jeter (1992), Mike Mussina (Orioles, 1990), Alex Rodriguez (Mariners, 1993) and Billy Traber (Mets, 2000). Bullpen coach Mike Harkey and third-base coach Bobby Meacham were also first-round picks.
They said it: "It's kind of a test here in Spring Training. You come off the bench in the sixth or seventh innings and even if you're not starting, you have to stay ready. For a guy like me, I can come off the bench and help in the field or on the bases with my speed. That's part of what I have to do to help the team win." -- Gardner
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.