The Yankees have to this point in Spring Training (22nd March) achieved more wins than any other team. On one hand this could be due to the fact that they have lost less players to the World Baseball Classic (WBC) nations than most teams, but, on the other, winning games can never be a bad sign. Spring Training is no great way of measuring the outcome of the regular season but being top of the Grapefruit League beats the heck out of being at the bottom.
If we look back at the players who were on the opening day roster in 2016, there were inevitably going to be changes.
Gone even before the Spring started were:
Alex Rodriguez (retired)
Mark Teixeira (retired)
Dustin Ackley (out of contract)
Carlos Beltran (traded)
Brian McCann (traded)
Nathan Eovaldi (out of contract)
Andrew Miller (traded)
Kirby Yates (claimed off waivers)
In addition, Bryan Mitchell and Aroldis Chapman missed opening day last year because of injury and suspension respectively.
Incoming and guaranteed a place have been young phenom Gary Sanchez who spent most of last year at Triple-A; Tyler Clippard who came in on a trade; Adam Warren who returned to the club on a trade; and veteran Matt Holliday who came in as a free agent during the close season.
As their 18 wins might indicate very few of the Yankees’ players have under-performed this Spring and some have done more than expected.
Greg Bird, who missed 2016 because of injury and then struggled in the Arizona Fall League, has done more than sufficient to be first choice at first base. His .421 with 4 home runs puts him well ahead of free agent signing Chris Carter’s .129 BA. The other possibility for second-choice first baseman, Tyler Austin has missed the Spring games with a broken left foot.
Starlin Castro has had an excellent Spring (.313 BA/ 2 HRs) and was sure to be the first choice second baseman anyway. Didi Gregorius, who was expected to start at shortstop on opening day was used principally as a DH by the Netherlands in the WBC and then suffered a shoulder injury which will keep him out beyond opening day. This means that Ronald Torreyes (.282 BA) who was expected to back up the infield slots from the bench, could start the season at shortstop or second base (with Castro changing roles to his old Cubs position). The main alternative would mean retaining a player who would otherwise end the Spring period reassigned. The most attractive fan choice would be high-ranking prospect Gleyber Torres who has been a non-roster invitee during March and has done much better than expected (.464 / 2 HRs). Most likely would be though that the Yankees go with Torreyes with someone like Rob Refsnyder taking his spot on the bench.
Third baseman, Chase Headley (.257 with 4 extra base hits) has been less than convincing but he has no serious challengers for the role. Gary Sanchez has pretty much picked up where he was at the end of last season and will, of course, be in the catcher’s role. Last season’s second choice, Austin Romine has been pushed close by Kyle Higashioka but the fact that Romine is out of options and Higashioka has no previous major league experience means that Romine will start the season in pinstripes.
The Yankees will carry 4 outfielders and there have been six possibles for those positions throughout the Spring. One of these, Mason Williams has just been reassigned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and is no longer being considered. The big surprise has been Billy McKinney (.450 BA/3 HRs) but it will take a lot for him to go ahead of either Aaron Hicks or Aaron Judge. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are guaranteed starting spots so it looks like McKinney will just miss out.
Designated hitter will be Matt Holliday who will have the sort of power that A-Rod could no longer deliver towards the end of his tenure.
Next time we will look at the pitchers which is a slightly more complicated picture…