A few Yankees will head over to George M. Steinbrenner Field for treatment, and Robinson Cano will be there for a workout with Team Dominican Republic, but otherwise today is a true off day in big league camp. No simulated games. No bullpens. No official workout. Three weeks after pitchers and catchers show up, this is the first break, and it’s a good opportunity to assess.
The Yankees are 3-7 in the Grapefruit League. They’ve lost Curtis Granderson to a broken arm, which seems to have cost them an opportunity to shuffle the outfield and put Brett Gardner in center. Phil Hughes is dealing with a sore back, which has created at least some concern about his ability to be ready for the start of the season. Boone Logan and Slade Heathcott are also dealing with seemingly minor injuries, while CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera have yet to get in actual games.
It’s too early to know much, but here are a few thoughts on what we’ve seen so far.
• Every time Joe Girardi talks about the top of the order, he’s careful to say that he can’t make any decisions until he knows for certain whether Derek Jeter is going to be ready. That said, with or without Jeter, the top spot is surely going to either Brett Gardner or Ichiro Suzuki, and right now Gardner is making a significant push. Ichiro has been good, but Gardner has been outstanding. He’s the early star of this camp, and with one more hit, he’ll have matched his hit total for all of last season.
• I wrote this for the paper a couple of days ago, but it’s worth repeating here: There’s a real sense of hope and opportunity among the upper-level minor leaguers in camp; more than I remember in the past. It’s a byproduct of the Yankees public plans of cutting payroll, giving players on the verge a real reason to believe they might get a look this season. We’ve already seen it play out in Melky Mesa’s decision to skip the World Baseball Classic. Young guys are playing with a purpose this spring.
• I’ve written it before, but I’m reminded of it every once in a while: Ichiro Suzuki is a ton of fun to cover. There’s no one else in that clubhouse — or anywhere, as far as I know — quite like him. Yesterday, when the American media asked for the details that led up to his car wreck, he started by saying “I turned on the engine and started driving home.” Hilarious. And it never gets old hearing him call Derek Jeter, “Sanderson.”
• Kevin Youkilis is going to be popular in New York, you wait and see. Obviously he has to hit for that to happen, and I realize that’s not a sure thing, but I think his personality will ultimately fit the market really well.
• It’s impossible to have any real sense of the Yankees pitching staff right now. I think there’s a pretty clear set of favorites to make the roster, but only two projected starters have gotten into a game, and none of the projected relievers has pitched more than twice. I’m curious to see David Aardsma and Joba Chamberlain pitch a few more times.
• This year’s David Phelps? So far, Adam Warren, Brett Marshall and Vidal Nuno are each making a case. Those three are probably heading for the Triple-A rotation, but they’ve pitched well this spring. For the record, so has Phelps.
• The first time Travis Hafner hits a home run down here, it’s going to be a big story. He’s the best bet to help the Yankees make up for some of those home runs lost to free agency and injury. The Yankees aren’t going to ask him to play the field or hit against lefties. He’s here to drive the ball against right-handed pitchers. That’s it.
• Seems like Girardi wants to give Dan Johnson a chance to make this team as a new version of Eric Chavez (left-handed pinch hitter, backup at the infield corners) but so far Johnson has more errors (2) than hits (0). He’s wonderfully nice guy, and he leads the team in walks this spring, but he’s going to have to hit and prove he can legitimately play third to have a role.
• Not sure this should come as a surprise given how many times the Yankees said Austin Romine was projected to open the season in Triple-A, but Romine is clearly a secondary part of this catching competition. Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli are getting all of the starts while Romine remains in the shadows with Bobby Wilson. I came into camp thinking Romine had a good chance to force his way into the big league job. Now I’m not so sure.
• It’s a small thing, but isn’t it a little bit odd that first basemen were the first two position players cut from camp? It’s only strange because Mark Teixeira is going to be gone for a while, and now Johnson and Luke Murton are the only typical first basemen on the roster. I wonder if we’ll see guys like Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz get some time at first base to get them ready to possibly back up Teixeira this season.
• Two years ago, Manny Banuelos really jumped onto the radar with that terrific performance in big league camp. He went from a fairly well-known prospect to a real, tangible player on the rise. I wonder if something similar could happen with Jose Ramirez this spring. He doesn’t have the same prospect hype that Banuelos had, but he’s been awfully impressive. If he sticks around long enough and keeps pitching like this, he could put himself on the map.
• Five players hitting at least .500 in Yankees camp: J.R. Murphy (3-for-6), Jose Pirela (5-for-9), Brett Gardner (9-for-16), Tyler Austin (4-for-7) and Francisco Arcia (2-for-3).
• Who needs home runs? The Yankees are 8-for-9 stealing bases this spring. Gardner and Melky Mesa have two apiece; Ichiro, Thomas Neal, Corban Joseph and Matt Diaz each have one. Slade Heathcott is the only Yankees runner caught stealing this spring.
• Don’t forget … Chat at noon!
Associated Press photos