It’s been three weeks since pitchers and catchers opened spring training, two weeks since the position players joined the workouts, and a little more than a week since the Grapefruit League schedule started. Opening Day is 25 days away.
So, what have we learned?
Phil Hughes showed up ready to compete
He wasn’t guaranteed a spot this spring, and plenty of folks were down on him, but Hughes arrived early and arrived significantly better off than he was a year ago. Obviously he’s still shaking off some of the winter rust, but Hughes looks strong and his fastball has some zip. He’s still going to need to prove he can command the strike zone and put away hitters, but he looks prepared to make his case for a spot in the rotation.
There’s not much to play for
The most significant developments of the spring might have happened in that week before position players showed up. A.J. Burnett was traded, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez were signed, and pretty much every roster spot was accounted for. There seems to be a wide open competition for the last spot in the bullpen, but otherwise, there’s not much up for grabs. Justin Maxwell has been hitting this spring, and Bill Hall has been playing all over the field, but unless this Eduardo Nunez injury is much worse than anyone expects, there doesn’t seem to be a spot for them.
That Triple-A rotation is what we expected
No matter what they do in big league camp, it’s a forgone conclusion that David Phelps, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances will open the season in Triple-A. But so far this spring, those five have shown why the Yankees are excited about their upper-level pitching depth. There have been some rusty, early spring moments, but you can see the talent and the assortment of pitches. So far, the kids look pretty good. And that’s to say nothing of the next-wave guys like Brett Marshall and Dan Burawa.
The nonsense is out of the way
Girardi doesn’t like to commit to something before he has to, but on a few issues this spring, he’s made his intentions clear. Instead of spending weeks pretending to consider significant lineup alternatives, Girardi’s been pretty straightforward about his plans to bat Derek Jeter first and Robinson Cano third. He’s said all along that Nunez, Chavez, Andruw Jones and Francisco Cervelli are expected to fill the bench. He’s made it clear that Dave Robertson and Rafael Soriano will not be swapping late-inning roles. Maybe we didn’t need to “learn” these things, but it’s nice to have them out of the way early.
Rivera’s potential retirement is the story of the spring
When he hinted at retirement three weeks ago, Mariano Rivera opened the flood gates. His first live batting practice was attended by more than a dozen reporters. His first spring appearance was headline news. With the very real chance that we’re watching him for the last time, there’s is a new appreciation for the game’s greatest closer, and that could carry into the regular season.
A few early standouts in big league camp
Brett Marshall isn’t part of that Triple-A rotation group, but he has yet to allow a hit through 3.2 innings. … The Yankees strikeout leader at this point? Would you believe it’s Clay Rapada? The side-arming left-hander is giving the Yankees something to think about. He looks sharp this spring (so does Boone Logan, by the way). … Zoilo Almonte, obviously, is having a great spring so far. He’s the young standout among the hitters. … Of the guys who are on the verge but probably crowded out, Justin Maxwell and Ramiro Pena have each been awfully good. If they had a spot to play for, they’d be making an early strong impression.
If you’ll be around on Wednesday, I’m going to host a chat that day starting at noon. We’ll try to go for about an hour before the game starts at 1:05.