The LoHud Yankees Blog

A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News

Yankees spring: The good, the bad and the uncertain

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Misc on Mar 10, 2014 Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

Yankees Astros Spring Baseball

Two reminders…

1. We’re doing a chat today at noon, so stop by.  Plenty to talk about.

2. Today’s an off day here in Yankees camp, so things have just stopped. Nothing to do.

Without so much as a simulated game to cover this afternoon, let’s start the day with a look at the good, the bad and the uncertain of Yankees camp so far. And for the time being, let’s acknowledge that — as a general rule — things are going pretty well in Yankees camp so far. There’s been no devastating realization. At this time last year, the first baseman and left fielder were already hurt, the shortstop wasn’t moving very well, and even the general manager was in a wheelchair. By comparison, this spring has been ideal.

Derek JeterTHE GOOD

Ankles and wrists are still attached
Derek Jeter has already played seven spring training games. He’s running the bases without any sort of limp, and he’s moving in the field without hesitation. Jeter’s been saying since camp opened that his health was a non-issue, but he was saying the same thing at this time last year, so he’ll have to forgive us for being a little slow to believe him. But the early results back his claims. Jeter seems to be healthy. It’s basically the same for Mark Teixeira, who’s been taking more than 100 swings a day while reporting no setback in his surgically-repaired wrist. He’s been eased into playing games, but the early progress seems promising. There are no other major health problems on the major-league roster, either.

New league, new country, new team — no problem
The attention on Masahiro Tanaka has been overwhelming. There’s a massive amount of Japanese media in Yankees camp, and the American media is also providing intense coverage of the player with the largest international free agent contract in Major League Ballball history. But Masahiro Tanaka seems perfectly unaffected. He’s been friendly and available off the field, and he’s been effective and occasionally terrific on the mound. Teammates seem to like him, and Tanaka seems to have already adjusted to his new life. The early results suggest his talent is major-league ready, but the more definitive analysis is that his personality seemed suited for this situation.

Competition bringing out the best
The Yankees have to choose a fifth starter, they’re filling several spots in their bullpen, they have an infield bench job up for grabs, and they are — at least in theory — sorting through three backup catcher candidates. It seems that each of those competitions has brought out the best in the candidates. Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno have pitched well, as have various young and old bullpen candidates. Yangervis Solarte has stood out among several infielders off to a strong start, and both Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine have hit pretty well (especially Cervelli). Every roster spot that’s up for grabs has plenty of options making a strong case.

CC SabathiaTHE BAD

Minor leaguers banged up early
So far, health is a real plus on the big league roster, but the minor leaguers in camp have had a little more difficulty. It’s likely Slade Heathcott won’t play in a major-league spring training game because he’s being eased in after last year’s knee surgery. Tyler Austin also has yet to play because he experienced a return of the same wrist problems that bothered him last season. And right-handed pitcher Jose Ramirez became one of the first cuts after oblique issues returned, robbing him of what seemed like a decent chance to make the team as a reliever. Nik Turley and Francisco Rondon have also missed time because of injuries, and Jose Campos is still being eased with without having pitched in a game yet. No huge injuries or overwhelming setbacks, but a little bit of disappointment for some young guys who would have been interesting to see.

No miraculous winter for the big man
If you were holding out hope that CC Sabathia would show up this spring having somehow rediscovered a mid-90s fastball, his first spring start was a disappointment. Not sure this really qualifies as a “bad” sign for early spring training, but Sabathia topping out at 88 mph certainly wasn’t the best-case scenario. Essentially, the situation is exactly what we thought it was. Sabathia’s going to have to transition into a new phase of his career, learning to be effective without a huge fastball. He’s working on a cutter, and he believes added strength and fitness will help him deal with some fatigue issues that affected him last season. Nothing at all saying Sabathia can’t be a very good pitcher this season, but any hope for a sudden velocity spike seems to have faded away completely.

Reinforcements heading elsewhere
Spring training was just getting started when the Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez. Didn’t take long for the Orioles to also add Nelson Cruz. Now Ervin Santana is said to be choosing between one-year offers from the Orioles and Blue Jays, meaning he too is likely heading into the American League East as a late addition to either further boost Baltimore or give some help to Toronto. Just yesterday, Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz signed with the Cardinals. The Yankees, meanwhile, seem set on making no further additions until absolutely necessary. They’ve added Andrew Bailey, but there’s a chance he won’t be ready this season. To be fair, the Yankees did commit nearly a half-billion dollars this winter, but it seems unlikely that someone like Stephen Drew is going to be a surprise addition at this point.


How much do they have left?
Health is one thing. Production is another. Jeter, Teixeira and Sabathia are healthy, but 12 games isn’t nearly enough to know how well they’re going to perform this season. Jeter’s moving around just fine, but he’s still had only 17 at-bats. Teixiera’s played in only two games, and he’s taken live batting practice only twice before those games. Sabathia’s pitched in one actual game, plus one sim game, and this spring is going to be a process of strengthening and refining. Early spring has also done little to inform us about the durability of Hiroki Kuroda, Jacoby Ellsbury or Brian Roberts.

Which surprise should we take seriously?
At this very moment, a guy named Yangervis Solarte — who I’d literally never heard of until he signed with the Yankees this winter — is hitting .588/.632/.941 while playing second base, third base, shortstop and left field. He’s been the best hitter in camp, and he’s never played in a single big league game. Out of the bullpen, the pitcher with the lowest WHIP and lowest ERA among pitchers with at least three innings pitched is Yoshinori Tateyama, a 38-year-old who last pitched in the big leagues in 2012 and spent last year as just one of several quality veteran relievers in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Cesar Cabral, Chris Leroux, Matt Daley, Fred Lewis and Jim Miller also have a sub-1.00 WHIP so far this spring. Adonis Garcia, Jose Pirela and Dean Anna are also hitting better than .350 while playing multiple positions. Which of these has enough staying power to actually earn some roster consideration? Early games won’t tell us that.

Where do they line up, one after the other?The lineup isn’t the only one-after-another order in baseball. There’s the rotation; the plan for the bullpen; the pecking order in the minor leagues. So far this spring, we’ve seen Brian Roberts bat fourth several times (just to get at-bats) and we’ve seen Mark Teixeira hitting third (also to get at-bats), but we don’t yet know how exactly Girardi is planning to stack the middle of the order (we can safely assume Roberts will be near the bottom, and it seems Teixeira is going to be no higher than fourth). We also don’t know a rotation order, and although we could try to guess, Girardi has said he’s planning various amounts or rest for different guys, so things could change in the next few weeks. A go-to reliever in the sixth, seventh and eighth? Bullpen usage in March isn’t particularly indicative. And when the Yankees inevitably need help from the minors, we’re still a long way from knowing who’s going to stand out in those times of need.

Associated Press photos




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