(up to and including March 16th)
Spring training hasn’t brought any huge revelations for the Yankees – no huge “ups” but, thankfully, no huge “downs”. This is not to say that things have gone entirely to plan or that Training has been easy. Of their first 15 games, they won 5, lost 8 and saw 2 games called at a tie. 17 players were reassigned but of those only Jacob Lindgren and perhaps Matt Tracy had much hope of making the 25 who would see service on Opening Day. And there have been no players breaking down to major injuries and only Brett Gardner suffering a major delay to his first appearance because of prior ailments.
There was never really a question that Brian McCann was going to be the Yankees main man behind the plate in 2016 and his .333 average up to today has done nothing to hamper the expectations the team will have of him. He has shown little power so far but that will come. The question is how much consistency he can show in the batting average column and the Yankees aren’t expecting him to display his current level of .333 when the regular season begins.
The backup catcher? Well, Gary Sanchez has done little so far to help his case. He hasn’t played badly behind the plate but Austin Romine will always be expected to be the better option defensively. So Sanchez needs to show that he can hit against Major League pitching – not only in Spring but when the real season begins — and so far he has shown no sign that he can hit in the pre-season games. So far he has 1 hit in 14 times at the plate whilst Romine is batting .313 with 3 doubles. There are a number of non-roster guys who are still in the mix but journeyman, Carlos Corporan is also struggling at the plate and 25 year-old Kyle Higashioka lacks Major League experience.
At the moment, it would seem that the job is Romine’s to lose which just makes the decision to let John Ryan Murphy depart (who had been higher on the Yankees depth chart than Romine for the last two years) even stranger.
2nd baseman, Starlin Castro has been the hot topic of Spring Training amongst the offensive players with some sterling glove-work and a team-leading 9 for 21 in his first 8 Grapefruit League games with 2 doubles and a home run.
His middle-infield partner, Didi Gregorius is not far behind with 7 for 21 so far. It is much less straightforward to predict who will spell the two of them off the bench now that Brendan Ryan has gone. Rob Refsnyder has been working hard to improve his game at 3b as the Yankees have made it clear that they don’t see Alex Rodriguez as an option at that position any longer, but his batting average is only coming up at .211 with little power. Dustin Ackley might make better sense (currently hitting .273 with 2 doubles) as he can play the outfield well too. But to leave Refsnyder in Scranton would leave considerable questions about who covers third base if Headley’s throwing comes up short again.
The corner infielders have been less sharp at the plate with first baseman, Mark Teixeira (always a slow starter) producing only .136 and still looking for his first roundtripper. Meanwhile, Headley, who we have already mentioned has sometimes raised doubts in the field, is a little better at .227. As well as Refsnyder, someone else who has been given lots of opportunity to show his worth is non-roster man, Chris Parmelee who has made 11 appearances already with .263 and 3 doubles. Someone who the Yankees are taking a look at is Delbinson Romero. Romero, a 29-year-old career minor league man, can play both 1st and 3rd but, so far, he seems to be failing to take his chance with a lack-lustre performance at the plate, producing only .111 with no extra base hits in 18 plate appearances.
The outfield situation seems to be less complicated. Ackley will give them extra depth there and aside from Gardner who has only just played his first Spring Training game everything seems very straightforward. Jacoby Ellsbury is batting .333 with a double and a triple. Carlos Beltran is .316 with 1 double. Fourth outfielder seems very likely to be recent signing Aaron Hicks who has 7 hits including 2 doubles and a homer.
Gardner went hitless in his Spring debut and the Yankees have been taking an extended look at their other options in case he is not ready. Amongst these are Lane Adams, who has seen a little service with Kansas City; Ben Gamel, who was a 2010 draft pick for the Yankees; Dustin Fowler, a 2013 draft pick who has been given a surprising number of outings for his age; Cesar Puello, a career minor-leaguer who was previously with the New York Mets; Chris Denorfia, who has seen Major League service in almost every year since 2005; and Slade Heathcott who came up with some crucial moments for the Yankees towards the end of last season. All of these seem only options that the Yankees will call upon if Gardner is not ready as it seems extremely unlikely that they will carry 5 outfielders plus Ackley
Alex Rodriguez has a clear field at the start of the season to fill the designated hitter role. No-one expects him to replicate what he did last season but then nobody expected that then. He opened Spring Training with a home run in his first at-bat but he hasn’t repeated that feat since but he has gathered 7 singles. The Yankees, though, are going to need to find some power from somewhere. Their lack of run production in the Spring so far has been worrying .
When the Yankees want to rest A-Rod then Beltran, Teixeira, Ackley and Hicks look like the ones most likely to gobble up the available time. The main question is just how many games Rodriguez will play in and even more, just how many of those he will produce in.
So if Spring Training closed tomorrow who would I expect to be heading north from amongst the offensive players?
36 – McCann
43 – Romine
25 – Teixeira
14 – Castro
18 – Gregorius
12 – Headley
33 – Refsnyder
36 – Beltran
22 – Ellsbury
11 – Gardner
31 – Hicks
13 – Rodriguez
If they have to go with someone to sub for Gardner, I would expect Denorfia to win that spot. Sanchez and Parmelee remain outside chances to make the roster in some capacity.
Next time we look at the pitchers…