With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
ORIOLES 3, YANKEES 1
Manny Machado went 3-for-3, drove in a run and stole a base while left-hander Wei-Yin Chen held the Yankees to one hit in three innings as Baltimore edged New York on Tuesday at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, FL.
Jonathan Schoop and Machado broke up a scoreless tie in the fifth inning with back-to-back RBI hits off right-hander Branden Pinder. The Orioles added a run in the seventh when Rey Navarro blasted a home run over the left-field fence off left-hander Chasen Shreve.
The Yankees scored their lone run of the game when catching prospect Gary Sanchez notched his first home run of the spring in the eighth inning off right-hander Logan Verrett.
Right-hander Kevin Gausman followed Chen with two shutout innings to get credit for the victory. Pinder (0-1) took the loss. Despite giving up the home run Verrett earned a save.
The Yankees’ spring record dropped to 5-3.
Though he was handed the third-base job the second he signed a four-year, $52-million contract to remain with the team, Chase Headley is almost an invisible man in spring camp.
All the attention seems to be going to Alex Rodriguez, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Judge and Masahiro Tanaka. But, hey, that is just the way the 30-year-old Colorado native likes it. He just focuses on his work.
Headley entered the day 1-for-10 in early Grapefruit League action. But he fixed that by going 3-for-3 with two singles and ringing double off the wall in left-center in his last at-bat in the sixth inning. He exited the game for a pinch-runner and is now 4-for-14 (.286).
So much was made of A-Rod’s return to baseball it seemed that few people noticed that Headley was the third baseman, period. If Rodriguez wanted a job with the Yankees he would have to look elsewhere.
The Yankees became enamored with Headley after they acquired him from the San Diego Padres in July trade for Yangervis Solarte and right-hander Rafael De Paula. Headley batted .262 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees.
More important than his hitting was the fact that the former Gold Glove third baseman brought stability to a position that was pretty much a mess all season because Rodriguez was under a full season suspension by Major League Baseball for using performance enhancing drugs.
The Yankees want Headley to stabilize the position for the immediate future and Headley is just fine with that.
Tuesday was just another day at the office for him. It showed in his humility after the game.
“Personally, it’s early and you don’t take a whole lot out of it, good or bad,” Headley told reporters. “But it’s definitely nice to hit the ball on the barrel a few times and feel good about yourself. You know that the work you’re doing in the cage is starting to carry over a little bit.”
Keep working, Chase.
- It is a good thing that Headley was on the bus for Sarasota because if you erase his three hits the rest of the Yankees only managed three other hits. The Yankees are hoping that the back issues that Headley suffered through in 2013 and 2014 are behind him because Headley is capable of more than the 13 homers he has produced in the past two seasons.
- Sanchez, 22, may not getting much buzz either because of flashier prospects like Judge, Greg Bird, Luis Severino and Rob Refsynder. But make no mistake that he is a prized prospect still. Sanchez’s long blast to left-center showed how much he can contribute offensively as a catcher. He hit 13 homers at Double-A Trenton last season. He is still young and the Yankees love his potential.
- Chase Whitley, 25, started for the Yankees and did a bit of a Houdini act by escaping unscored upon despite giving up three hits and two walks in three innings. With two men on in the first Whitley managed to escape by getting Adam Jones on a popup and Matt Wieters on a groundout. Though he was not as sharp as he would have liked, Whitley at least battled to keep the Orioles off the board.
- Gregorius went 0-for-3 and is now 1-for-12 (.083) with four strikeouts this spring. The Yankees are letting the 25-year-old shortstop hit off lefties this spring and it is obvious it is a work in progress. Gregorius did not look comfortable against Chen at all.
- It was obvious that Pinder, 26, did not have it all. When he entered the game in the fifth he immediately yielded a single to Ryan Lavarnway, threw a wild pitch and then gave up the RBI double to Schoop and the RBI single to Machado. Pinder is coming off an injury-plagued season even though he was 3-0 with a 2.04 with three teams last season.
- I will keep saying it until I am blue in the face but second base is the weakest position in the Yankees 2015 lineup. Stephen Drew was 0-for-3 in the game is now 1-for-11 (.091). With Jose Pirela and Refsnyder breathing down his neck you think he would push himself to do better after hitting .162 last season.
The Yankees will play host to their hated rival Boston Red Sox on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
The Yankees will call upon left-hander Chris Capuano (0-1) to start. Capuano, 36, was tagged for a two-run homer by Tony Sanchez in the second inning and took a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in his first outing on Friday.
The Bosox will counter with 26-year-old right-hander Joe Kelly, who was hammered for seven hits and four runs in 1 2/3 innings in his first start.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 9, ASTROS 4
“It’s never over until it’s over.”
– Yogi Berra
KISSIMMEE, FL – This wise old saying should be on the lips of every young prospect in Major League Baseball. It certainly rang true for the young Yankee prospects on Saturday
Fueled by home runs Jake Cave and Greg Bird, New York scored two runs in the eighth inning and six runs in the ninth as New York rallied from a 4-1 deficit to stun Houston at Osceola County Stadium.
Through the first seven innings, Astros pitchers held the Yankees to one run (a Ramon Flores home run to lead of the sixth) and three hits but Cave started the rally with his solo home run to lead off the eighth off left-hander Darin Downs.
Nick Noonan then chased Downs by following Cave’s homer with a double. Then Jose Pirela greeted reliever Jordan Jankowski with an RBI triple to bring the Yankees to within 4-3. However, Pirela later in the inning was thrown out at home plate by first baseman Matt Duffy on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Bird to preserve the Astros’ 4-3 lead.
The Yankees then loaded the bases with one out in the ninth off Jankowski when Cave hit an infield roller for a single. Noonan drew a bases-loaded walk to tie the game and Pirela, one out later, gave the Yankees their first lead with a two-run single to left.
Jankowski was replaced on the mound by left-hander Kent Emanuel, who then balked to allow Noonan to score and Bird – later in the same at-bat – cracked a 410-foot home run to right-center that closed the scoring.
Chris Cotham (1-0) escaped a one-out jam with runners at second and third in the bottom of the eighth to get credit for the victory. Jankowski (0-1) took the loss.
The Yankees are 3-2 in the first week of Grapefruit League action.
Much has been said about how dysfunctional the Yankee’s minor-league system has been over the years. This spring maybe marks a stark change to the idea that the Yankees do not have much talent in their system.
Cave, Bird, Flores, Refsnyder and Pirela are prime examples the Yankees do have young position players who soon will be knocking on the door to get opportunities to play at Yankee Stadium.
As this blog pointed out in earlier posts, the Yankees have legitimately talented young players at every position:
CATCHER – Gary Sanchez, FIRST BASE – Bird, SECOND BASE – Pirela and Refsnyder, THIRD BASE – Eric Jagielo, OUTFIELDERS – Cave, Flores, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin among others. The shortstop position has 25-year-old Didi Gregorius, who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
If you add in young starting pitchers like Luis Severino (the team’s No. 1 prospect), Ian Clarkin and Domingo German and up-and-coming relievers such as Branden Pinder, Jacob Lindgren, Danny Burawa and Tyler Webb it becomes clear the Yankees might have a strong corps of young players who can contribute.
So while the 2015 season might hold a lot of dark clouds on how the Yankees will do with so many questions surrounding veterans like Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia. There is just a bit of hope for the near future.
Seeing it all play out with an eight-run rally in the final two innings in Kissimmee on Saturday was pretty fun to watch.
- Bird, 22, is batting a red-hot .444 in the early going and it is no accident. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman was named the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League for Scottsdale this winter and he has just picked up where he left off there. Bird likely will open the season at Double-A Trenton but he could possibly move up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- Refsnyder, 23, may have to work on his fielding at second since he is a converted outfielder but he can flat-out hit. After going 1-for-2 on Saturday he is batting an even .500 on the spring. He is a career .297 hitter in the minors and hit .318 in 137 games in two minor-league stops in 2014. He is ticketed for Scranton but he could advance to the major leagues should Stephen Drew get injured or fail to succeed in his switch to second base.
- Cave, 23, was 2-for-2 including his home run and now is hitting a scorching .571 early. Cave only has nine career minor-league home runs so power is not really his thing. Cave is more of line-drive gap hitter with some speed. The 6-foot, 180-pound Cave hit a combined .294 in two minor-league stops in 2014. He likely will start off in Trenton.
- Scott Baker, a 33-year-old former Minnesota Twins ace, started for the Yankees and was tagged for three runs on six hits as the Astros batted around in the first inning. Chris Carter smacked a two-run double and Luis Valbuena followed with an RBI single. Baker is a non-roster invitee trying to make the team as a spot starter and long reliever. Unfortunately, the Astros jumped on Baker’s fastball early in the count and did some damage because Baker’s fastball had very little movement. Baker was 3-4 with a 5.37 ERA in 25 games with the Texas Rangers last season and was rewarded with his release.
- The Yankees started their starting infield of Teixeira, Drew, Gregorius and Chase Headley. After leaving in the sixth inning they were a combined 2-for-11 with a walk. The exception was Teixeira, who smacked an opposite-field single in the second and lined out in the fourth. Teixeira is showing signs of recovering fully from his wrist surgery in 2013 and he also is sporting a trimmer look due to a new diet.
Masahiro Tanaka threw 29 pitches in a simulated game in Tampa, FL, on Saturday and told reporters later that he feels he is ready to pitch in exhibition games. “He’s exactly where you want him to be at this point in spring training,” Rothschild told reporters. . . . Rodriguez, 39, will play third base in one of the next two home games on Sunday or Monday, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Saturday. In two previous spring games Rodriguez has been the designated hitter. Rodriguez is 1-for-4 with two walks and single in the early going.
The Yankees will play host to the Washington Nationals today at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Right-hander Adam Warren will make his second start of the spring. Warren looked sharp in his first outing on Tuesday against the Phillies at Bright House Field In Clearwater, FL, giving up just one hit in two innings of work.
The Nationals will counter with veteran right-hander Doug Fister, who led the Nationals in 2014 with 16 victories and a 2.41 ERA.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis at 8 p.m. by the MLB Network and live by the YES Network. It also will be available on a live broadcast by WFAN in New York via MLB Radio.
YANKEES (SS) 4, PHILLIES 1
Didi Gregorius capped a three-run inning in the fourth with an RBI double and made a sensational play in the field in the first as a New York split squad downed Philadelphia on a damp and rainy day at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Rookie right-hander Bryan Mitchell set the tone for the Yankees’ pitchers by facing the minimum in two innings. Jaron Long (1-0), the son of former hitting coach Kevin Long, took over for Mitchell and pitched a scoreless third to get credit for the victory. Branden Pinder did not give up a run in the final two innings to earn a save.
The Yankees batted around in the fourth off losing pitcher Michael Nesseth (0-1).
Mark Teixeira singled to begin the inning and Greg Bird followed with an RBI double to score Kyle Roller, who pinch-ran for Teixiera. One out later, Ramon Flores plated Bird with a single. Two batters later, Gregorius scored Aaron Judge with a ringing double off the wall in right-center.
The Yankees added a run in the sixth on an RBI single by Nick Noonan.
The Phillies scored their lone run when Xavier Paul led off the seventh with a home run off the first offering from right-hander Mark Montgomery.
Replacing a legend is not easy but Gregorius does not see himself as replacing Derek Jeter. He says that he is playing the same position Jeter did.
But he is not going to try to be Jeter. He is just going to be the best Gregorius he can be.
That was on display on Friday when speedy Odubel Herrera, who stole three bases in an exhibition game against the Yankees on Wednesday, slapped a high hopper to Gregorius’ left to start the game.
Aware of Herrera’s speed, Gregorius quickly gloved the ball, did a 360-degree spin behind the bag and fired a strike to Teixeira at first to beat Herrera by a step. Then, after a Freddy Galvis single, Mitchell fielded a Grady Sizemore comebacker, whirled to throw to Gregorius covering second and the 25-year-old shortstop lost the grip on the ball.
After recovering the ball, Gregorius fired quickly to first to nip Sizemore on what was a nifty recovery to save the double play.
Yankee fans realize though Jeter won five Gold Gloves in his storied career that his range over the past few seasons was not that good. Watching Gregorius glide to his right and to his left makes this new shortstop very dynamic.
His skills are going to be very obvious. Defense is no problem.
But when Gregorius added the RBI double in the fourth, it gave manager Joe Girardi a sign that just maybe there may be a bonus if Gregorius’ offense improves.
For now, it is only spring training. There will be time to develop that offense. It will just take a little time and a little patience. But get used to seeing Didi’s plays on ESPN pretty frequently. He is that good.
- Yankee pitchers Mitchell, Long, Nick Goody, Matt Tracy, Montgomery and Pinder held the Phillies to only four hits. They struck out four and walked two. Mitchell, 23, made his major-league debut last season and he was impressive in his two innings. Mitchell has an outside shot at making the team as a reliever but more likely will go to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a starter and be available as a emergency starter should the Yankees require one.
- The Yankees succeeded with a very balanced offense. They rapped out 10 hits in the game and no player collected more than one. Phillies pitchers made things harder for themselves by issuing six walks.
- Bird continues to impress with the bat. The 22-year-old power-hitting first baseman broke open the scoring with a double in the fourth and he is hitting .429 in the early going. With Teixeira entrenched at first for a few more years the Yankees can afford to allow the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Bird develop as a hitter. He batted .271 with 14 homers and 43 RBIs in 102 games in two minor-league stops last season.
- The only real negative was that the Yankees struck out 11 times in the game. Top catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 22, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.
The features BOMBER BANTER and ON DECK will be included in the next post.
PHILLIES 3, YANKEES 1
Odubel Herrera went 3-for-4, stole three bases and scored two runs to spark Philadelphia to a victory over New York and spoil their 2015 Grapefruit League home opener at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, on Wednesday.
Non-roster right-hander Kevin Slowey (1-0) started for the Phillies and pitched two scoreless innings to earn the victory. Justin De Fratus weathered a late Yankee rally that fell short to earn a save. Newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (0-1), making his first start for the Yankees, was tagged with the loss.
The buzz around Alex Rodriguez started early with ESPN actually cutting away from their regular programming to show the former three-time American League Most Valuable Player taking batting practice even though they were not televising the game.
Rodriguez, 39, also drew a rousing chorus of cheers and a small smattering of boos during pregame introductions and before his three at-bats. He did end up providing the fans with a bit of a show in going 1-for-2 with a walk in his three plate appearances.
After a 17-month absence due to a 162-game suspension from Major League Baseball for being involved in a performance enhancing drugs scandal, Rodriguez was just grateful just to be back on the field.
“This is as much fun as I’ve had in a long time in spring training,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I’m just feeling really good that I get to play the game that I love.”
A-Rod batted second and was the team’s designated hitter.
In his first plate appearance against Slowey. Rodriguez took two rusty looking swings before shooting a soft line drive into left for a single. In the third inning against right-hander Paul Clemens he ended the inning by hitting into a force play.
He completed his day in the sixth with the Yankees trailing 2-1 and two on and nobody out against right-hander Ethan Martin. Most of the announced crowd of 9,673 urged Rodriguez on as he worked a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.
Kyle Higashioka was sent out to pinch-run and Rodriguez’s first day back was done.
Rookie catching prospect Gary Sanchez followed with a sacrifice fly that scored the Yankees’ only run of the game.
Rodriguez told reporters after the game that he did hear the boos but was pleased by the cheers. “Once you hit rock bottom, anytime you hear a few cheers these days, it’s a pleasant surprise,” he said.
Girardi said he tentatively plans to start Rodriguez at DH again on Friday at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But there also is a chance he could play the field. Either way, Rodriguez is just glad to put the suspension behind him and just play baseball again.
- Though he was the losing pitcher, Eovaldi did look good in his debut. He gave up a run on two hits with no walks and one strikeout in 31 pitches over two frames. The 25-year-old former Miami Marlins right-hander did strike out Maikel Franco to start the second inning with a split-finger fastball, a pitch the Yankees would like Eovaldi to feature more this season.
- Left-hander Andrew Miller also made his Yankee debut by pitching in the third inning. Though he gave up a single and two stolen bases to Herrera in the inning, Miller was able to strike out Freddy Galvis and Domonic Brown before retiring Ryan Howard on a groundout to keep Herrera at third base. Miller, 29, was signed as a free agent this winter and he is expected to compete with right-hander Dellin Betances for the closer role.
- Since he was drafted in the first round in 2009, Cito Culver has always shown an ability to field but his bat has held him back. Culver, 22, made a spectacular play going deep into outfield grass in left and throwing in time to get Darin Ruf by a step.
- The Yankees did not get a very good day out of Stephen Drew, who is penciled in as the team’s starting second baseman – though he has played only 34 games there. All of those came with the Yankees last season after he was acquired from the Boston Red Sox. Drew was retired on two weak infield grounders and on defense he committed a fielding error on the first play of the game. Later, he threw a routine chance into the dirt and only a agile scoop from first baseman Mark Teixeira saved him from another error.
- The Yankees seemed to sleepwalk offensively throughout the afternoon. They managed only five hits and drew two walks off some pretty ordinary Phillies pitchers. The Yankees recorded a total of five 1-2-3 innings.
- The Yankees had the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth and, after Sanchez’s sac fly scored the first Yankee run, catcher/first baseman Francisco Arcia grounded into a double play to shut down the best chance the Yankees had to score multiple runs all day.
Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka threw a 30-pitch bullpen session in Tampa on Wednesday and told reporters that he is nearly ready to pitch in a Grapefruit League game. Tanaka, 26, is trying to recover from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Manager Joe Girardi said Tanaka will throw again in a simulated game and could make his first start in a game late next week. . . . For the first time in 20 seasons, Derek Jeter was not playing shortstop for the Yankees. Didi Gregarious, 24, made his debut with the Yankees and went 0-for-1 with a walk. Gregorious was obtained from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that included the Detroit Tigers. “It was an amazing feeling, I’m not going to lie,” Gregorius told reporters. “It was amazing for me just wearing the pinstripes, to go out there with all my teammates.” . . . Before the game, the George M. Steinbrenner High School band performed. The Yankees then introduced former Yankee greats who are assisting the team as special instructors such as Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Hideki Matsui.
The Yankees will travel to Bradenton, FL, on Thursday to face the Pirates at McKechnie Field.
Right-hander Esmil Rogers is scheduled to start for the Yankees. Rogers, 29, was 2-0 with a 4.68 ERA in 18 games with the Yankees after being picked up as a free agent from the Toronto Blue Jays. Outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are scheduled to make the trip.
The Pirates will counter with veteran left-hander Francisco Liriano, who was 7-10 with a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts last season.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. and the game will not be telecast. However, it is available live from station KDKA in Pittsburgh through MLB Radio.
With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them all beginning with the catching position.
Brian McCann, 31 (.232, 23 HRs, 75 RBIs, 140 games)
When the Yankees signed McCann to a five-year, $85 million free-agent contract last winter they were hoping they had solved the team’s problem with offense from the catching position that had festered since Jorge Posada retired in 2011.
McCann, a native of Athens, GA, left the Atlanta Braves hoping to duplicate his eight full seasons of averaging 21 homers and 80 RBIs. He pretty much did that by producing 23 homers and 78 RBIs last season. The issue with McCann was a slow start and the fact he hit 50 points below his career average of .272.
The Yankees have said that they believe McCann’s slow start and his low batting average was a product of his unfamiliarity with pitchers in the American League. That seems like a plausible reason and the Yankees are sure hoping that was the case.
The fact is that McCann’s batting averages for the past three seasons since he hit .270 in 2011 have been .230, .256 and .232. The Yankees do not want to think of those marks as McCann’s new normal because they need his bat in the middle of the order this season.
For a team that is woefully lacking in power and RBI production McCann, when healthy, provides it. His left-hand power translates well to the short dimensions in right-field at Yankee Stadium and McCann seemed able to find the right stroke to get 19 long balls out at home. However, McCann was virtually absent on the road, where he hit just four homers and drove in a paltry 22 runs. The Yankees would like to see him do better away from the friendly confines.
“I think McCann came on strong for us in the second half, and I think next year we’ll have a full season of what we expected from him,” general manager Brian Cashman told reporters. “It’s important. Bottom line, it’s important. We need to be a better offensive club than we were last year.”
McCann drew rave reviews from his pitchers for his game calling, blocking and pitch framing behind the plate. Although McCann has never won a Gold Glove he is considered above average behind the plate. He committed just four errors and last season he managed to throw out 37 percent of potential base-stealers, the highest rate of his career.
With power at a premium and the speed game on the rise throughout Major League Baseball, McCann does provide a pretty good deterrent to the running game.
But perhaps McCann’s largest contribution to the Yankees this season will be his leadership in the clubhouse. With the retirement of team captain and future Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter, McCann is going to be expected to take care of business behind the scenes and be the team’s main face to the media.
One of the more unexpected developments from last season was McCann’s emergence from behind the plate to play first base. That was out of necessity due to the extended periods of time Mark Teixeira was unavailable last season. McCann had never played the position.
Manager Joe Girardi pressed McCann into service and he started 11 games at the position. The surprise was that McCann – though no threat of winning a Gold Glove there either – proved he was more than adequate. He made only one error.
Though he is not going to be expected to play the position much if at all this season, it does provide a potential landing spot for him later in his contract with the Yankees. It would allow the Yankees to keep his bat in the lineup and free the veteran from the wear and tear of catching.
The Yankees entered 2014 with an extremely strong group of catchers at the major and minor-league levels.
They broke spring camp with 28-year-old Francisco Cervelli as McCann’s backup. Throughout Cervelli’s six-year stint with the Yankees he has been prone to injury and 2014 was no different for him.
Cervelli pulled his right hamstring running the bases in Boston on April 14 and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list, short-circuiting yet another season for the Venezuelan native. When Cervelli did return it was in September and he ended up batting .301 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 49 games.
In the offseason the Yankees elected to trade Cervelli to the team where former Yankee catchers seem to find a home: the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Veteran catcher Russell Martin left the Yankees after two seasons in the winter of 2013 to sign a free-agent contract with the Bucs. He was joined in 2014 by veteran backup catcher Chris Stewart, who the Yankees let go last winter.
But now that Martin has left the Pirates to sign a five-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, Cervelli figures to start for the Pirates in 2014 with Stewart as his backup.
That leaves the Yankees with a pair of catchers vying to be McCann catching caddy in 2015.
One is 23-year-old John Ryan Murphy, who made his major-league debut when Cervelli landed on the disabled list last April. Murphy quickly drew rave reviews from the Yankees’ coaching staff for his defense.
Murphy also proved that he could be productive as a hitter, which was his history in the minors. Murphy batted .284 with one home run and nine RBIs in 32 games (21 starts) with the big club after hitting .246 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 51 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
It was Murphy’s emergence last season that allowed the Yankees to trade Cervelli to the Pirates on Nov. 13 in exchange for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson.
Last season catching instructor Gary Tuck compared Murphy’s catching style to that of Girardi and told the Wall Street Journal that he “as good as anybody I’ve ever had – and that’s 40 years of some of the greatest catchers who have ever been behind the plate.”
Murphy’s spring competition will be 26-year-old Austin Romine, who batted .242 with six homers and 33 RBIs at Scranton in 2014. He played in only seven games with the Yankees in 2014 and hit .231.
Romine is considered a major-league quality catcher defensively, however, his weak bat has been holding him back. Though he averaged .275 throughout his minor-league career, he has only batted .204 in span of 76 games with the Yankees.
So he enters spring training behind the younger Murphy on the depth chart. However, there is one thing in Romine’s favor for supplanting Murphy as McCann’s backup: He is out of options.
That mens the Yankees would not be able to option Romine back to Scranton at the end of camp. They would be forced to trade or release him. So there is a scenario where the Yankees could elect to install Romine as the backup and allow Murphy to catch on a regular basis at Triple-A to further his development.
The Yankees perhaps further weakened the catching position by electing to trade 24-year-old Pete O’Brien to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trade deadline on July 31 last season in exchange for infielder Martin Prado.
O’Brien had hit a combined 65 home runs over three minor-league seasons with the Yankees after being selected in the second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. O’Brien had hit a combined .267 with 23 doubles, 33 homers and 70 RBIs with Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton up to that point.
Though the Yankees were enamored with his prodigious power, O’Brien struggled defensively behind the plate. He ended up being shifted to first base and outfield for long stretches of last season.
The Yankees also ended up dealing Prado to the Miami Marlins on Dec. 19 as part of a five-player deal than allowed the Yankees to obtain right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, who is expected to be a starter with the Yankees this season.
But even though the Yankees dealt O’Brien away, the Yankees still have their second-best prospect in 22-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez, who batted .270 with 13 home runs and 65 RBIs in 110 games at Trenton last season.
The Dominican was signed in 2009 at age 16 and he has been impressive at every stop along the way. He has hit at least 13 home runs in each of his minor-league seasons and the scouts believe his stroke will make him a very good all-around hitter at the major-league level.
His defense is still a work in progress but he does feature a very good arm.
Sanchez has no chance of making the team’s roster but he will be ticketed to Triple-A. He will have a chance to play there regularly. There is a chance that if an injury develops at the position Sanchez could make his major-league debut in 2015.
If Sanchez develops as the Yankees hope he does they might have the flexibility to move McCann to first base eventually when the young catcher is ready. It is rapidly becoming sooner rather than later.
But time is still on the side of Sanchez.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: EXCELLENT
McCann was a seven-time All-Star selection and he won five Silver Slugger awards with the Braves so there is no reason to believe that he could not regain that status with the Yankees in 2015. He is going to be asked to shoulder a big burden this season.
He is being asked to handle the pitchers, call games, hit for power, drive in runs and be a team leader in the clubhouse. Because McCann is more than capable of doing all those things well there is nothing standing in his way now.
Look for a huge comeback season for the veteran catcher.
It does not really matter who gets the backup job. However, Sanchez will develop much quicker at Triple-A if Murphy is around. Look for the Yankees to keep Murphy and allow Romine to walk as a free agent.
The catching prospects for the Yankees look bright for many years to come if Sanchez delivers as advertised when he is ready to assume the job in a few years. The Yankees, however, would be wise to find another young catcher to groom like Sanchez.
NEXT: FIRST BASE
YANKEES VS. PIRATES (CANCELED RAIN)
The New York Yankees’ exhibition game scheduled against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL, was canceled on Monday due to rain.
The Pirates placed the tarp on the field 30 minutes before the scheduled 1:05 p.m. EDT start time and they opted to cancel the game 40 minutes later because of weather reports indicating an advancing storm that was expected to cover the Florida Gulf Coast the rest of the day.
The Yankees were scheduled to start right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-0, 6.48 ERA), who was coming off a start last Wednesday against the Detroit Tigers in which he was raked for six runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings.
Right-hander Stolmy Pimentel (1-0, 0.00 ERA) was the scheduled starter for the Pirates.
With most of the Yankees’ starters returning from the Legends Series in Panama this weekend, the Yankees only brought three starters: second baseman Brian Roberts, first baseman Mark Teixeira and catcher Brian McCann on the trip to Bradenton.
The Yankees split the two-game series against the Miami Marlins at Rod Carew Stadium in Panama City, Panama. They were no-hit by a combination of four Marlins pitchers on Saturday en route to a 5-0 defeat. Brad Hand (2-0) pitched five perfect innings to get credit for the victory. Adam Warren (1-1) gave up a run on two hits while fanning six in 4 1/3 innings to take the loss. CC Sabathia got himself and the Yankees back on track on Sunday by pitching five hitless innings as the Yankees got even with the Marlins for a 7-0 victory. Sabathia struck out five and evened his record to 1-1. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (0-1) was tagged with the loss. Francisco Cervelli and Yangervis Solarte led the offense with three hits apiece and catching prospect Gary Sanchez added a solo home run. The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 10-9-2. The Marlins fell to 11-6. . . . The Legends Series was a chance for the Yankees to honor retired closer Mariano Rivera in his native country and most of the proceeds from the series will go to Rivera’s foundation.
The Yankees will return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday to play their fiercest rival in the Boston Red Sox.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (1-0, 0.00 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Yankees coming off two shaky outings. The Yankees are also expected to play most of their starters in this game. However, former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury will not play due to tightness in his right calf.
The Red Sox will counter with left-hander Felix Doubront (0-0, 0.00 ERA). The Red Sox are scheduled to bring Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp and David Ross.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.