Our long wait is over and baseball is back in our lives, with pitchers and catchers reporting today for the Yankees. After a disappointing season in 2016, the Yankees are looking to keep some of the momentum they built at the end of last year going as things kick off in Tampa. With 2016 being almost 2 different seasons (before and after mid-August) there are a ton of questions about this team but it all mostly boils down to “can (insert player over 30) rebound?” and “can (insert player under 30) take the next step?”. All those questions we can cover as it gets closer to the season, but for now let’s just look at the key things to watch in Spring Training.
- Gary Sanchez- In 2016, heading into Spring Training, the backup job was Gary Sanchez’s to lose, and he did just that. After hitting .091 in 14 games the Yankees had no choice but to break camp without The Kraken. After the team struggled Sanchez was called up and lit the world on fire with 20 home runs and 42 RBI in just 229 plate appearances, while finishing 2nd in the Rookie of The Year voting. This was good enough that the Yankees traded away Brian McCann so the pressure will be on to prove Brian Cashman right all year, but that starts with a strong Spring Training. If Sanchez struggles out of the gate there will be a lot of second guessing going on from the New York media.
- Rotation- It’s not uncommon for teams to have a battle for their 5th starter spot, but it is uncommon for the Yankees to have 2 spots up for grabs. With only Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia slotted in the rotation so far, this is by far our biggest weakness. Chad Green, Adam Warren, Luis Severino, Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell are going to battle it out for the last 2 rotation spots and with only a few innings per pitcher available in Spring Training, every pitch is going to matter. I would put Mitchell and Severino as the favorites but the team may see more value in keeping Severino in the bullpen to bridge the gap to Betances and Chapman when a starter only gives us 4+ innings. Obviously, you would rather see Severino turn into the starter he showed he can be in the minors, but if he can’t get through the order 3 times yet he can still be a valuable part of this team.
- First Base- At the end of 2016 we all knew the job at first would be split between Greg Bird and Tyler Austin, with Bird being our starter. After a strong 2105, Bird missed all last season but still had the resume and consistency when healthy that the job should be his to lose. Then last week the Yankees threw a curveball in and sign the NL home run leader for 2016, Chris Carter, to a one-year deal. As a team that has needed right handed power, the signing was a no-brainer for $3mil but it does mean that these guys are going to be competing for playing time and for Austin, a roster spot. Likely, though, Bird is the starter so we can build towards the future and Carter will platoon at first and DH until someone gets injured.
- Baby Bombers- The Yankees have one of if not the best farm system in baseball. With that they’ve invited some top prospects to big league camp so that they can get acclimated to being around the big club and see how they should carry themselves. But what if one of them plays their way onto the roster? Clint Frazier is close to a call up and Gleyber Torres is a clear part of our future so we will want to keep an eye on them, because a hot start will lead to the fans and media calling for them to be on the roster April 2nd.
- Right Field- Aaron Hicks stunk last year and Aaron Judge can be a strikeout machine. Brian Cashman is still high on both but only one can be in the lineup playing right. With Frazier and Austin also hoping to crack the big league roster this makes for the most interesting battle because unlike first base where it all seems like upside; right field could become a huge hole for the Yankees lineup if no one steps up.
As we get closer to the season we can look at lager 2017 storylines but first we need to just figure out who is going to be on this team.
PS: How great is it that David Ortiz is retired?