The video above is a little bit of footage from Alex Rodriguez’s introduction to first base. It came during pitchers’ fielding practice this afternoon, and as you might guess, the drills were really designed for pitchers, not for a novice first baseman. Rodriguez basically just covered the bag a few times and scooped some slow grounders. You’ll be able to tell from the video above that this was not a thrown-into-the-fire situation. Rodriguez really didn’t do much.
And when the workout was over, as Rodriguez stood in the clubhouse talking about his determination to learn the position, he realized he’d actually lost his brand new first baseman’s mitt.
Perhaps the transition will be harder than anyone realized.
“As we go through these drills, I think it’s important that he go over there and tries to get a better understanding of what the position entails, and the spots he’s supposed to be at,” Joe Girardi said. “… It’s one of the few places that you hold the runner on, in a sense, and then you have to sprint and change the way you’re shaped for a ground ball, so your setup is different. All your responsibilities on cuts and relays. It’s just different. And you’re looking, in a sense, the opposite way.”
Of course, it’s worth wondering if this “learning first base” situation is more smoke than fire, getting a lot of attention strictly because it’s A-Rod and not because it actually matters to the Yankees. If Mark Teixeira is healthy, he’ll surely play first base almost every day. And Teixeira is weakest from the left side, so when he gets a day off, might make more sense to let experienced left-handed hitter Garrett Jones play the position, not inexperienced right-handed hitter Rodriguez.
Girardi, though, dismissed the idea that this is an insignificant experiment.
“I think we’ve seen over the last two years, there’s a lot of times you don’t think someone would ever play a position, and then things change,” Girardi said. “I think you definitely think about playing him on days when you’re giving Mark a day off. Maybe Garrett’s playing right field, maybe your DH is moving around a little bit, maybe you’re DHing Carlos (Beltran) a day. There’s a lot of things you can do.”
Ultimately, Rodriguez’s ability to play first base will be more valuable if he’s hitting well enough that an extra position keeps him in the lineup more often. Even Girardi has acknowledged that hitting is, by far, the most important aspect of his return to the team. So is there some chance that learning a new position is adding an unnecessary wrinkle to this already uncertain process?
“I do whatever they tell me,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just happy to get some playing time. … It’s too quick to tell (how it’s going). I’m anxious to learn, though.”
• The Yankees have their first injury of the spring. Brendan Ryan is expected to miss about five days of baseball activity because of a mild strain in the middle of his back. He hurt himself lifting weights before reporting to Tampa. Specifically, he was hurt doing biceps curls. “It’s an eyewash exercise anyway,” Ryan said. “… I don’t know what I’m doing in (the weight room) in the first place, you know? What am I going to go from hitting two homers to four?”
• CC Sabathia threw a bullpen today and has been wearing a protective brace on his surgically repaired right knee. “The fact that he’s wearing a brace or not wearing a brace doesn’t concern me anymore,” Girardi said. “If they feel that he’ll stay healthier wearing the brace, then I would tell him, wear the brace.”
• Because of that knee issue, the Yankees are moving slowly with Sabathia. “We’re taking it slow with him, knowing that we don’t really think that he’s behind and he’s got plenty of time,” Girardi said. “We’re not rushing it because of his knee, and we want to take it step by step.”
• Along those lines, Girardi said he will wait until tomorrow to announce the starting pitchers for those early exhibition games. Marly Rivera of ESPN Deportes reported that Adam Warren is “probably” going to start Tuesday’s opener.
• Before Tuesday’s spring opener, the Yankees are scheduled for an intrasquad game on Sunday. Girardi said he expects Monday to be a fairly light day leading into the Grapefruit League games.
• For whatever it’s worth, I was told today that Teixeira and Carlos Beltran have made a strong impression from the way they reported to camp. Apparently their early workouts have been impressive, and both are in great shape. Three other names singled out as having reported to camp in especially good shape: Austin Romine, Mason Williams and Cito Culver.
• Also heard a lot of good things about Luis Severino’s sim game today. “Young kid with a great arm,” Giradi said. “Good slider, good changeup. It’s something to get excited about.”
• And Nathan Eovaldi’s two-inning simulated game: “Really good stuff,” Girardi said. “Powerful arm. I think he has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do. He has pretty good command. He threw some good splits today. Athletic. So I think he’ll do a good job in those parts of the game where you have to be an athlete. I liked what I’ve seen and we like where he’s at right now.”
• One personal observation: When Aaron Judge takes batting practice, he doesn’t hit the towering fly balls you might expect from a power hitter his size. It’s all line drives — hard line drives — up the middle and toward the gaps. He didn’t hit very many out today. One that did go out probably never got higher than the top of the scoreboard. Just a line drive that he clobbered. You know who from Judge’s group might have hit the most homers? Ramon Flores.
• Hideki Matsui was the batting practice pitcher for the group of Williams, Romine, Slade Heathcott and John Ryan Murphy.
• Noticed today that Cole Figueroa (who was at second yesterday) got some time at shortstop during defensive drills. Jonathan Galvez (who was at third) got some time at second, and Nick Noonan (who was at short) got some time at third. A lot of utility types who seem destined for Triple-A but could follow the Solarte/Wheeler path to New York.
• A source of annoyance this afternoon: writing a blog post that would have been posted hours ago, if only I’d hit the “public” button instead of the “save draft” button. I guess it’s spring training for everyone.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Rodriguez learning first base: “I think he’s trying to learn. I think he was paying attention and trying to learn. He’s never taken balls over there, he’s never seen what a bunt defense looks like from over there, and that’s going to take some time.”
Associated Press photos
Alex Rodriguez was no where to be found, but even so, it was hard to ignore what was happening on the back field here at the Yankees spring training complex this morning.
Top pitching prospect Luis Severino vs. top hitting prospect Aaron Judge
It was live batting practice, and it’s so early in camp that pitchers are well ahead of the hitters (some guys don’t even like to swing this early, they just track pitches when the step in for live BP). But there’s a lot of fascination about these two key pieces of the Yankees’ plan to get younger through player development.
Severino was part of a pretty impressive group of pitchers facing hitters on the back field. He alternated “innings” with Nathan Eovaldi, then Jacob Lindgren and Branden Pinder came out for an inning apiece. Those are four hard-throwers against a group of four hitters — Judge, Kyle Roller, Jake Cave and Tyler Austin — who just had their first official workout yesterday.
“Not the guys you want to face,” Roller said. “That was rough. Glad we got that out of the way. Everything should look slower now.”
Cave said Severino threw him everything, and while he missed some spots with the offspeed pitches, even those pitches looked sharp. Cave sounded impressed by Severino, but then again, he said Severino always looks impressive.
I think I saw only two Judge vs. Severino at-bats. The first was just as I got onto the back field, and Judge rolled over a ground ball to the shortstop (would have been in the hole, not an easy out but not the kind of thing Judge was trying to do). The second at-bat is the one filmed above. It was a six-pitch at-bat with Judge swinging once and ultimately striking out on a 3-2 pitch.
• The Yankees have some meetings this morning, so today’s workout won’t start until a little later than usual. Batting practice isn’t until around 12:30. All of the pitching stuff was handled earlier this morning.
• Last thing I saw as the Yankees clubhouse closed to media was Mariano Rivera sitting near his old locker, talking to new reliever David Carpenter and Justin Wilson. Carpenter said earlier in the morning that he has so much respect for Rivera, he feels like he should get dressed up just to have a conversation with him.
• Talked to Mason Williams for a little while this morning. I’m sure I’ll write more about it at some point, but Williams said he honestly thinks last season — when he hit just .223/.290/.304 in Double-A — might have been the most important year of his career. He feels like he learned a lot about what he’s been doing wrong and about the way upper-level pitchers are going to attack him. He got a trainer at home in Orlando this offseason and reported to camp in better shape than I’ve ever seen him. This is going to be a big year for him. He has a lot to prove. He also has a spot on the 40-man and said his eyes are set on helping the big league team before the end of the season. Good speed and defense, just needs to show he can hit again.
• Today was photo day in Yankees camp. Lots of photography stations setup all around Steinbrenner Field, and the players had to go to each one, one at a time, to get a series of pictures and videos done. Players … don’t love it.
CC Sabathia (to Brian McCann)
Andrew Bailey (to Juan Graterol)
Esmil Rogers (to Austin Romine)
Ivan Nova (to Roman Rodriguez)
Jose Campos (to Roman Rodriguez)
• Live batting practice:
Facing Jake Cave, Kyle Roller, Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge
Nathan Eovaldi (to John Ryan Murphy)
Luis Severino (to Gary Sanchez)
Jacob Lindgren (to Austin Romine)
Branden Pinder (to Eddy Rodriguez)
Facing Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Jose Pirela, Rob Refsnyder
Chris Capuano (to Francisco Arcia)
Scott Baker (to Kyle Higashioka)
David Carpenter (to Trent Garrison)
Dellin Betances (also to Trenton Garrison)
• Infield drills:
Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Alex Rodriguez, Kyle Roller, Mark Teixeira
Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones, Jose Pirela
Nick Noonan, Rob Refsnyder, Brian McCann, Eddy Rodriguez
Cito Culver, Jose Pirela, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
Stephen Drew, Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Garrett Jones
Greg Bird, Cole Figueroa, Jonathan Galvez, Kyle Roller
Tyler Austin, Carlos Beltran, Jake Cave, Chris Young
Ramon Flores, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Jacoby Ellsbury
Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine
Francisco Arcia, Trent Garrison, Kyle Higashioka, Gary Sanchez
Associated Press photo
Last night I was asked what I’ll be keeping an eye on the rest of spring training. And for the most part, the answer is obvious.
Now that camp is in full swing, the Yankees have clear points of interest with their trying-to-stay-healthy starting pitchers and their trying-to-stay productive veteran hitters. Alex Rodriguez is his own sort of curiosity, but the success and failure of the Yankees seems to hinge on Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia on the pitching staff, and Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann in the lineup.
Having a pair of good leadoff hitters doesn’t mean much if no one can drive them in, and having a deep core of relievers doesn’t mean much if they aren’t given a lead.
So that’s what I’ll be keeping an eye on … the obvious things.
But I’m also curious about the Yankees middle infielders. Not so long ago, shortstop and second base belonged to Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. Now belong to a whole lot of unknowns.
Can Didi Gregorius take the next step toward being a legitimate everyday player?
Can Stephen Drew rebound from a horrible season to become a real free agent bargain?
Can Rob Refsnyder hit his way onto the lineup?
Can Brendan Ryan’s glove win him a role that comes with some regular playing time?
Can Jose Pirela keep himself on the radar and prove he’s a big leaguer (and maybe more than a big league utility man)?
Can someone like Jonathan Galvez emerge as this year’s Yangervis Solarte?
The middle of the Yankees infield probably won’t make or break the team, but it’s going to be an interesting storyline throughout camp. It’s not really an area that hinges on massive health concerns or aging veterans. There’s some youth at those positions, and there’s some real possibility for better-than-expected production.
Speaking of which, up top is some video of Refsndyer taking batting practice and fielding a few ground balls yesterday. As you can tell from the footage, yesterday’s defensive drills weren’t exactly high intensity. It’s extremely early. We’ll have a better idea of what exactly Refsnyder can do as the Yankees get into the exhibition schedule next week.
Fairly uneventful return to Yankees camp for Alex Rodriguez this afternoon.
Participating in his first official spring workout since 2012 — coming back from surgery in 2013; suspended in 2014 — Rodriguez went through a typical first day of drills. He took warmed up in the outfield, took ground balls at third base, hit in the cage, and lifted inside. The reaction from fans was overwhelmingly positive (whenever there was any reaction at all).
So how’d he look? In a word: Fine. He moved around alright, but it’s not like he was sprinting around the bases. He fielded grounders cleanly, but he wasn’t ranging more than a half step in any direction. He hit some home runs during batting practice — I thought his last two rounds of BP were especially sharp — but these were batting practice fastballs.
There was really nothing to learn today. If anything stood out, it was the fact that a relatively small crowd in attendance was clearly focused on Rodriguez, but had little reaction to him. What reaction did come was overwhelmingly positive, including a pretty big cheer after his final round of batting practice.
“I saw his batting practice today,” Mark Teixeira said. “Not many guys are hitting the ball like he is right now. First day is always kind of a breaking in time for most guys. He looked great out there today, and hopefully that continues.”
Essentially, that’s what today was about. Rodriguez looked perfectly fine in his first workout with the team. He hit some balls pretty hard, and did all that was asked of him in the field — but no one was asking for much.
“I’ve said all along I don’t think it’s fair to judge him early, I really don’t,” Joe Girardi said. “When you’ve played as few games as he has the last two years, the speed of the game is what you have to get used to. I don’t think it’s fair to judge. I don’t judge a lot of our players the first two weeks of games. You just don’t, because they’ve been off of playing five or six months, and it’s just something different. A lot of the time you’ll find that the people who played winter ball are much further ahead that the people who weren’t playing winter ball. So you have to give them time.”
When will we start to have any idea what he’s really capable of doing?
“Probably the last two weeks of spring training,” Brian Cashman said. “In fairness, let him knock the rust off and let him get his feet back on the ground. In terms of trying to make judgments of what potentially he will be, in fairness to him, it won’t take place until the last two weeks of camp, despite him going through everything all these guys are going to be going through.
“He’s on the team, and so it’s more like: let’s get him prepared for the season and have a better view of what he can provide toward the end of camp, not anywhere close to the beginning.”
Associated Press photo
Yesterday morning, Andrew Miller threw his first bullpen since big league camp opened. Within hours — if not minutes — Miller’s spring debut was completely overshadowed by Alex Rodriguez’s arrival, but for a while, Miller was a prime attraction of the day, a reminder of his significance on this roster.
Back in the December, the Yankees let Dave Robertson walk away and essentially replaced him with Miller, who got a closer’s contract despite the fact he’s never actually been a closer, and despite the fact it’s unclear whether the Yankees actually want him to close this season.
“This question obviously is coming up every day for me in the short time we’ve been here,” Miller said. “But honestly, my goal is not to show Joe that I can close. It’s to show Joe that I can get an out whenever they need it. That’s all I know. I’ve never been a closer. I’ve never had that set ninth-inning role, so I can’t say that I want that or need that or anything, because I haven’t had it. My goal is just to show that I can be trusted against anybody. I felt like the last few years, I’ve started to really show that to the league, and I hope that I can show that to him and be useful in whatever role.”
Up top is some video of yesterday’s bullpen. Joe Girardi said it was impressive, and Larry Rothschild showed some confidence by standing in the batter’s box for every pitch.
“It took courage for him to stand up there like that,” Miller said. “For me, that’s a good thing. Any sort of challenge, throwing early in the morning with your new pitching coach standing in, if you can survive that, it’s a good way to work your way into the season. I was really happy the way I threw.”
It’s interesting that the Yankees top two ninth-inning candidates are each failed rotation prospects who have blossomed since moving into the bullpen. Unless Andrew Bailey really wows the Yankees this spring, it seems inevitable that someone will be thrown into the ninth-inning fire this season, either Dellin Betances or Miller.
“Until you do it, it would be foolish to stand in front of you guys and say I know exactly what it’s going feel like or exactly what’s asked of you,” Miller said. “It’s a great situation to be in. It’s like being a starting pitcher. It’s a great situation to be in if you’re doing your job because you know exactly when you’re going to pitch and the situation to prepare yourself and all of that stuff. And if you’re not doing well, you’ve got to stand in front of you guys all the time and take credit for the loss. It’s on your shoulders. Your name’s attached to it. That’s no fun. Nobody wants to be that guy. So there’s advantages and disadvantages.
“I’ve shown that I can pitch in big situations. I proved a lot to myself personally last year down the stretch. I think playoffs game and some of the situations I came in are probably more stressful than saving a game in May. I don’t know, but I feel I’ve really improved. I’ve shown that left handers, right handers, speed guys, slap guys, power hitters, I’m finding a way to get them all out on a pretty consistent basis, and that’s my job as I see it right now.”
This is the time I’d usually do a blog post full of fresh notes for the day, but honestly, this wasn’t a “notes” kind of day. It was all Yoan Moncada in the morning, and all Alex Rodriguez in the afternoon. Somewhere in the middle — right around noon — the Yankees actually had a workout today.
That workout centered on live batting practice for a bunch of young pitchers. As luck would have it, the Yankees had pro-scouting meetings today, so there were a ton of scouts watching guys like Luis Severino and Jacob Lindgren face hitters on the main field.
Among those scouts was Matt Daley, the former Yankees reliever, who retired this offseason so that he could take a job in the Yankees’ pro scouting department. Also joining the scouting department: former top Yankees prospect Drew Henson, who spent the past few years as a low-level coach in the minor league system.
Several scouts I talked to were predictably impressed by what they saw from the young arms on the mound this afternoon. Above is video of Severino’s session.
A white piece of paper in the Yankees clubhouse said this was going to be a light day. One big league reliever throwing a bullpen, then a handful of young guys throwing to hitters. Quiet day. Easy day.
Two days earlier than expected, Alex Rodriguez returned to Tampa and turned a day of monotony into whirl of activity. He went to Steinbrenner Field for a morning physical, drove to the minor league complex for an hour-long workout of ground balls and batting practice, and then addressed dozens of reports for a little more than eight minutes, treading lightly on the subject of his suspension but speaking candidly about earning his keep.
“I’m here to earn a spot on the team,” he said. “… It reminds me of when I was 18 years old and I was trying to make Lou Piniella’s team. I’m excited. I love to compete. I’m here a couple of days early trying to get a jump start. I love baseball. I just love to be in uniform and so grateful to have an opportunity to be back in baseball.”
Rodriguez fielded ground balls at third base this morning, and he said he’s still training to be able to play the position despite the presence of Chase Headley.
“I think Chase is an excellent addition to our team,” Rodriguez said. “We had a nice conversation a little bit ago. Talked about winning, talked about how great it is to play in New York, in front of the greatest fans. Talked about the Stadium. I’m looking forward to being his teammate.”
Rodriguez did not take any ground balls on the right side of the infield. He said he’s open to playing first base if necessary, but he has yet to do any work at the position.
When his workout was finished, Rodriguez signed autographs for a large group of fans outside the Yankees’ minor league clubhouse. The reception — at least for a day — was positive. Despite all that’s happened, Rodriguez said he feels welcomed back.
“I do,” he said. “Surprisingly enough, I feel very welcomed. I have a lot of strong relationships in the locker room.”
As for any lingering bad feelings, Rodriguez said: “I created a big headache for a lot of people.”
Rodriguez said he believes he can still play third base. He said he thinks he will still be productive as long as he’s healthy. He said, flatly, that he’s not currently taking any illegal substance.
“No mistake that I made has a good answer, or no justification,” he said. “And that’s on me. I’ve dug a big hole for myself and paid a price. I’m fortunate for a lot of people, especially the commissioner’s office, the players’ union, the Yankees, to give me an opportunity to play the game that I love.”
Associated Press photos
Here’s some video from today’s first Yankees workout at Steinbrenner Field. It’s hard to get great video of the bullpen sessions, but this early in camp, I just tried to get some basic footage of everyone who pitched (at least one pitch from each guy).
I didn’t think there was one clear takeaway from today’s workout. None of the pitchers were necessarily dialing it all the way up. I will say that once Jacob Lindgren started letting loose a little bit, I thought he looked really good. Someone in the organization told me that just a few days ago, at the minor league complex, Lindgren made some really good hitters look really bad. Breaking ball looks good already, I was told.
Looked good to me, but heck, I can’t hit any of this stuff anyway.
It’s also worth noting that CC Sabathia has put on a lot of the weight that he lost the past two offseasons. Said he always felt off balance without the extra weight. Still not as big as he used to be, but not as small as he was the past two springs.
Looking for something to take your mind off the Cy Young rotation heading to Yankee Stadium this week?
Here’s a quick distraction.
For today’s Journal News, Phil Reisman wrote about a bit of rare Babe Ruth footage that has surfaced. It’s amateur video of Ruth hitting a game-winning home run against the Washington Senators. Follow the link for Phil’s story about the video itself, and here’s a clip:
Video: Yankees introduce Carlos Beltran • 12.20.13
I have a lot more to come from today’s Carlos Beltran press conference — some of it about Beltran, and some about other potential offseason activity — but here is Carlos himself to get things started.
Video by Vincent Z. Mercogliano/The Journal News