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Yankees not built to lean on veteran depth this year

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When Michael Pineda’s shoulder went out last spring, the Yankees had Freddy Garcia — and eventually Andy Pettitte — to fill the void. When Brett Gardner kept having setbacks, Raul Ibanez was available to play left field. When Alex Rodriguez broke his hand, Eric Chavez was a ready replacement.

“I don’t think you really know how good your depth is until you get tested,” Joe Girardi said. “And then, once you go through what we went through last year, we found out it was pretty good. But until you go through it, and you have to run guys out there every day — a lot more than they’re supposed to — you don’t really know how good it is.”

It’s true, we can’t say anything definitive about the Yankees depth this season, except for this: It’s very different from years past. Instead of having a series of veterans in backup roles, the Yankees are designed to lean on their youth in a time of need.

“There’s less experience there,” Girardi acknowledged.

Thing about the Phil Hughes injury. It looks like he’ll be back in plenty of time for Opening Day, but if he’s not, second-year spot starter David Phelps is the natural replacement. Beyond Phelps? Adam Warren and Dellin Betances are the only other starters — outside of the obvious big leaguers — who have even one big league start.

[3]Who fills the Yankees depth chart this year?

First string: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova
Second string: David Phelps, Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, Dellin Betances, Michael Pineda (eventually)
The Yankees did not go out of their way to bring an additional veteran starter into camp. They might find someone before Opening Day, but for now, the veteran options go away quickly.

First string: Mariano Rivera, Dave Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, David Aardsma, Boone Logan, Clay Rapada
Second string: Cody Eppley, Shawn Kelley, Jim Miller, Chase Whitley, Josh Spence, Juan Cedeno, David Herndon (eventually) Cesar Cabral (eventually), Mark Montgomery (eventually)
This is the one place where the Yankees actually do have quite a few experienced backups. Granted, guys like Eppley and Kelley aren’t proven setup relievers, but no team has that sort of proven relief pitcher just waiting around in Triple-A. The Yankees have stockpiled a handful of guys who have had some success in the big leagues, and they have some upper level relief prospects in the mix as well (including several I didn’t even list here).

First string: Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli
Second string: Austin Romine, Bobby Wilson
Hard to tell much difference between the first string and second string at this point, and these names could flip flop before the end of spring training. The Yankees catching problem actually isn’t about depth — they have plenty of legitimate backups — it’s about not knowing whether any of these guys can be an everyday player.

First string: Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano
Second string: Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix, Corban Joseph, David Adams, Gil Velazquez
Last spring the Yankees brought Bill Hall to camp as a just-in-case option. The spring before that, they had Ronnie Belliard. This year, it’s all familiar faces plus Velazquez, who’s started a total of 15 big league games in his career. Nunez is actually one of the most expierienced options.

First string: Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis
Second string: Dan Johnson, David Adams, Corban Joseph, Ronnier Mustelier, Alex Rodriguez (eventually)
No more Eric Chavez. At some point, the Yankees expect Rodriguez to come back and add some corner depth, but for now there’s not much keeping the Yankees from using guys who haven’t played above Double-A.

First string: Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Ichiro Suzuki
Second string: Matt Diaz, Juan Rivera, Melky Mesa, Thomas Neal, Ronnier Mustelier, Zoilo Almonte
Most likely, there’s room for only one of Diaz and Rivera, and those two are really platoon options. Beyond that, there’s no Dewayne Wise or Chris Dickerson under contract. Mesa (2 at-bats) and Neal (23 at-bats) are the only other outfielders with big league experience. There’s a chance guys like Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin and Adonis Garcia could play their way into the conversation at some point, but that would take something fairly extreme.

Associated Press photos