Getting started a little late today. The Yankees have a night game, so the clubhouse won’t open to media until the early afternoon. Until then, here are a few random thoughts and observations from the few few weeks of spring training…
1. Derek Jeter really does seem to be moving pretty well. Looks nothing like he did last spring. The movements are easy and natural, whether it’s running the bases or playing the field. I’ve more or less stopped thinking of him as an injury risk — or perhaps I’ve just stopped thinking of him as a guy coming back from an injury — and the bigger question now is simply about his production. How much is he going to hit? How’s his defense? Not sure we’ve seen enough to answer those questions one way or the other.
2. When the Yankees had their team outing to play pool, Derek Jeter’s partner was his new double-play partner, Brian Roberts. That makes sense, right? You know who Masahiro Tanaka’s partner was? Francisco Cervelli. The Yankees haven’t said this — and I can’t imagine why they would — but it certainly seems as if they might be positioning Cervelli to be Tanaka’s personal catcher this season. And it makes some sense. Figure Tanaka, more than the other pitchers, really needs someone to get to know him extremely well. Hard for Brian McCann to do that when he’s trying to learn an entire pitching staff, but Cervelli already knows most of the guys. He can spend a lot of time with Tanaka this season and give the new guy a source of comfort behind the plate. In bullpens and BP and games, Cervelli’s caught Tanaka much more than anyone else.
3. Thursday is a big day with Mark Teixeira scheduled for his first game. If that wrist isn’t strong enough for him to be an impact player, the Yankees really don’t have a proven alternative. Russ Canzler is an interesting option against lefties, but there’s no big league track record there. Corban Joseph is an interesting young hitter if he’s a second baseman, but I’m not sure his bat profiles at first. If Teixeira ends up back on the disabled list, I would absolutely expect the Yankees to open the season with someone not currently in camp playing first base.
4. It’s certainly notable that CC Sabathia’s fastball topped out at 88 mph on Saturday, but I’m not sure it’s any sort of surprise. We’ve said for quite some time that Sabathia is going to have to transition into becoming a different type of pitcher, one who can be effective with a fastball that doesn’t crack the low 90s. My guess is that his velocity will improve a little bit these next few days and weeks (maybe months) but it’s not going to be overwhelming. Movement. Location. Changing speeds. These things are going to matter. We knew that going in, no matter the radar said.
5. Pitchers are supposed to be ahead of the hitters right now, so maybe this doesn’t mean much, but there are a lot of guys pitching pretty well. The thin and inexperienced bullpen hasn’t really been a topic of discussion around Yankees camp, except for the fact that basically every pitcher in camp legitimately feels there’s an opportunity to make the team. Dellin Betances and Cesar Cabral have pitched extremely well. There’s also one row of lockers that includes Matt Daley, David Herndon, Jim Miller and Chris Leroux. I wouldn’t be stunned if one of those — or Yoshinori Tateyama — found a way to make this team. Someone is going to be this year’s Shawn Kelley.
6. One of the unexpected joys of this job has been the opportunity to cover Ichiro Suzuki. He’s a fascinating personality, and he’s a player unlike any other I’ve seen. As a fan of baseball, it’s been very cool to get some sense of what he’s like on a day-to-day basis. But I have no clue what to think of him this year. His speed and defense make him a pretty nice fourth/fifth outfielder, but if any team is willing to give up something remotely valuable for him, I don’t see how the Yankees could turn down the offer. That said, if Ichiro is still with the Yankees when they break camp, I bet he’ll play more often than we’re expecting. Not sure how or why it will happen — injuries, rest, matchups — but guys like him always seem to play a little more than expected.
7. This year’s Ronnier Mustelier? So far it’s Yangervis Solarte. A year ago, Mustelier had a great spring that put himself on the radar, and he might have stayed there if not for an injury at the very end of camp. This year, Solarte has arrived on a minor league deal and gotten off to a terrific start in spring training. I’m not ready to consider him a strong candidate for a utility role — he would be a kind of Eduardo Nunez alternative — but he’s made a strong first impression. I’d never heard of him until the Yankees signed him. His minor league numbers are solid (not overwhelming considering he was in the PCL last year), and he has experience everywhere. Bonus points for having an awesome name.
8. I think I wrote something about this last spring, but it’s still true this spring: David Phelps has changed the way minor league pitchers look at things. He wasn’t all that highly touted as a prospect, but he was a surprise addition to the Opening Day roster in 2012. Then he pitched well, and suddenly he’s a rotation possibility who seems guaranteed one role or another. I really think Phelps’ arrival, followed immediately by Adam Warren and Preston Claiborne — two more guys who were far from the biggest names in the system — has given every young pitcher in camp a feeling that they’re going to get a real look. Pitch well and doors will open. That matters. I’ve covered minor leaguers who felt the opposite, and it’s not a good situation.
9. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think Kelly Johnson is going to have a nice year. I don’t know the guy well at all — only talked to him a few times, usually in big group settings — and I haven’t seen him play a ton, but he just seems like a solid fit. I didn’t realize he played so much shortstop in the minors. That’s made me think third base isn’t much of a stretch, and he has some left-handed power that might play nicely in Yankee Stadium. Of the smaller additions, he’s the one who I kind of expect to have a nice year. Not overwhelming, just a nice year.
10. He’s not going to make the team — in fact, he might not even be in a position to make the team a year from now — but Mason Williams looks better this spring than I’ve ever seen him in the past. Not his numbers, and not necessarily his performance, but he just looks older and stronger and more mature. He’s never been in big league camp, but he’s been quietly going about his business. Hasn’t seem flustered and he hasn’t appeared cocky.
Associated Press photos