Brian McCann said he was looking forward to Panama. He’s never been, and any other spring, such an unusual road trip would have been a welcome break from the monotony. But when the Yankees approached him on Wednesday about a change of plans, McCann was on board.
“I’m catching quite a bit because I need to see these guys,” McCann said. “I’m going to start catching back-to-back. I’ve done it once, I’ll do it again, and by the end I’ll probably catch three in a row, which in spring training you don’t usually do. Down here I need to see everybody multiple times. … I have to. I need to. It’s a big deal to see them.”
McCann stayed in Tampa specifically to catch Masahiro Tanaka on Sunday and Hiroki Kuroda on Monday.
“I think I’ll get probably two more starts with each of them and we’ll be ready to roll,” McCann said. “I know their stuff and I know what they like to do. If the season started tomorrow I’d be comfortable calling a game for both of them. Just two more times will probably get me more acclimated to them and we’ll go from there.”
McCann expects to have caught each of the Yankees starters at least twice, some of them three times, before camp breaks in a little more than two weeks. He would have caught CC Sabathia had he made the trip, but the Yankees decided to — for now — prioritizing giving him time with Tanaka and Kuroda, the two Japanese starters.
“The conversations when some guys don’t speak English, (including) Latin players who don’t speak English, it’s baseball,” McCann said. “Everybody knows the key words to get the job done. … They know ‘fastball,’ ‘curveball,’ ‘split.’ We’re good.”
McCann indicated that communication is a non-issue, it’s more about familiarity. He’s studied video and he’s seen everyone in either a bullpen or a game, but now it’s about a sense of execution and possibility.
“I know what their stuff looks like now,” McCann said. “So now I can start studying the opposing hitters we’re going to be facing in the A.L. East — guys who swing early, guys who don’t — little things like that and put our pitchers’ stuff with what matches up with their hitters’ weakness. … I’m getting a better grasp of it every day, guys who are going to be middle-of-the-order bats in this division. It’s coming along pretty good.”
· There are paper name tags attached to several lockers in the clubhouse, covering up the names of each stall’s previous occupant. The name tags are for those who have been brought up for a few days to help fill in while the roster is thin. When minor league guys come up for a day, they rarely get name tags, they just kind of find a place to fit, but it looks like guys like Wes Wilson, Ben Gamel and Jake Cave are going to be here throughout the Panama trip.
· Speaking of those fill-in guys, I had a long conversation with Rob Refsnyder this morning. I’ll write more about it later, but for now I’ll just say that I don’t remember a young player making a stronger first impression. The Yankees have a lot of smart and engaging young players — Refsnyder is certainly not the only one — but I was impressed by the way he talked about his work at second base, his approach to pitch sequences, and his own road ahead trying to get to the big leagues.
· For whatever it’s worth, Refnsyder says Cito Culver looks much, much better this spring now that he’s had a full year of hitting exclusively right-handed. Culver has certainly earned his share of doubters with his offensive struggles up to this point, but he’s still just 21 years old and Refsnyder’s bullish on him. We’ll see.
· Russ Canzler is finally getting a chance to play a position other than first base. He hasn’t hit this spring, but he was a long shot to break camp with the team even if he did hit. It’s still in his best interest to get some time at third and the outfield if he’s going to have a shot at a big league role at some point this season.
· Minor league players in big league camp today: RHP Branden Pinder, LHP Aaron Dott, LHP James Pazos, C Wes Wilson, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Carmen Angelini, 3B Rob Segedin, UT Ali Castillo, OF Ben Gamel, OF Taylor Dugas, OF Jake Cave.
· Hiroki Kuroda (to Pete O’Brien) and Shawn Kelley (to Francisco Arcia) are scheduled to throw bullpens today.
· In Panama, the Yankees traveling squad is scheduled to see the Panama Canal today. The players are also going to some sort of big official team dinner. Third base coach Rob Thomson is here serving as manager while Joe Girardi is out of town.
· Today’s scheduled relievers: Manny Banuelos, David Herndon, Fred Lewis, Dellin Betances (with Dan Burawa, Mark Montgomery, James Pazo, Aaron Dott and Branden Pinder available if necessary)
· Batting practice groups:
Group 1: Jacoby Ellsbury, Eduardo Nunez, Brian Roberts, Brian McCann, Austin Romine
Group 2: Russ Canzler, Ramon Flores, Scott Sizemore, Mark Teixeira, Mason Williams
Group 3: Carmen Angelini, Jake Cave, Rob Refsnyder, Francisco Arcia, Pete O’Brien
Group 4: Ali Castillo, Taylor Dugas, Ben Gamel, Rob Segedin, Wes Wilson
· Tomorrow’s travel squad to Sarasota:
Pitchers: Danny Burawa, Brian Gordon, Shane Greene, Mark Montgomery, Vidal Nuno
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Pete O’Brien, Austin Romine
Infielders: Russ Canzler, Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts
Outfielders: Ramon Flores, Ichiro Suzuki, Mason Williams
Minor league pitchers: Diego Moreno, Joel De La Cruz, Graham Stoneburner, Manny Barreda, James Pazos, Branden Pinder
Minor league hitters: Wes Wilson, Rob Refsnyder, Cito Culver, Carmen Angelini, Rob Segedin, Ali Castillo, Dan Fiorito, Ben Gamel, Jake Cave, Taylor Dugas
Associated Press photos