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Sunday, March 10, 2013
New contender at third?

By Andrew Marchand

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- During pregame warmups, he looks like a 5-foot-10, 210-pound bowling ball as he moves around third base, smiling and laughing with each movement on the diamond. His physical appearance belies a man who glides very comfortably around a ball field.

Being in his first spring training with the New York Yankees is not only failing to overwhelm Ronnier Mustelier, but he might be making his way up the depth chart and is now even under consideration to be the team’s Opening Day third baseman.

Ronnier Mustelier
Will Ronnier Mustelier start at third for the Yankees on Opening Day?
"We are going to look at him," Joe Girardi said of Mustelier, who is hitting .353 in 17 spring training at-bats.

Mustelier (pronounced Moose-TELL-ee-ay) is listed at age 28. He emigrated from Cuba to pursue his baseball dream while sacrificing to provide for his family.

When he left Cuba five years ago, his son was just born. Ronnier Jr. has never really met his father.

"It's a very difficult time, especially because I'm missing out on him growing up," Mustelier said earlier in the spring through a translator. "It's part of the sacrifice. I'm doing all of this specifically for him."

Mustelier is the wild card in the Yankees' plans without Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. The Yankees basically know what type of production they will receive from Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Juan Rivera and Dan Johnson.

Mustelier, though, seems like a folk hero waiting to happen. With his roundish appearance to the joy he exudes, he appears like a guy that if he performed well in the Bronx would be a fan favorite.

For Mustelier, it is unimportant if he makes the team as third baseman or an outfielder. He just wants to be on the roster.

For Yankee officials, they have not been sure that Mustelier has a position. They had moved him to the outfield, believing that would be his best place to contribute on the major league level, but he points out he grew up at third.

"That is the position I played in Cuba," said Mustelier on Sunday, using Francisco Cervelli as his translator.

That is where Girardi is looking at Mustelier in the manager’s search for offense. If Mustelier can show he can play third, then his ability to be play two positions of need -- third base and left field -- could make him a guy that sticks.

Mustelier has heard the whispers that his position is nowhere. He says that is untrue. During Sunday 3-0 win over the Blue Jays, Mustelier played third.

He caught a pop-up and had no other chances. He struck out in his one at-bat.

No one questions if he can hit. From A-ball through to Triple-A, Mustelier has a .324 average and an .845 OPS in two seasons. Those type of numbers -- especially his .303 average and .815 OPS at Triple-A in 2012 -- translate to some success with the bat in the majors.

If he can stay on the team for the April Fool’s Opener against the Red Sox, he will be one of the most intriguing players to watch.