Tagged: Kelly Johnson

Pineda Reins In Phillies Before Rain Halts Play

GAME 26

YANKEES 10, PHILLIES 0 (CALLED IN SIXTH – RAIN)

Michael Pineda tossed five scoreless innings and the Yankees erupted for seven runs in the fifth inning as New York blanked Philadelphia in a rain-shortened contest on Friday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.

Pineda (2-0) looked impressive in limiting the Phils to five hits, he walked none and fanned five batters. The five shutout innings lowered Pineda’s spring ERA to 1.32.

The Yankees’ offense, meanwhile, jumped on left-hander Jake Diekman (0-1) for seven runs on six hits and a walk in just one-third of inning to put the game away in the fifth. The key blows in the inning were a two-run single by Stephen Drew, who was 3-for-3 in the game, and a two-run double off the bat of Chris Young.

The Yankees added three more runs in the sixth inning off right-hander Hector Neris and all three runs came on a bases-loaded double by Tyler Austin.

The game was played delayed 35 minutes by rain and finally was called with one out in the top of the sixth.

The victory improved the Yankees’ Grapefruit League mark to 14-11.

FIELD FOCUS

When it came time for the Yankees to settle upon a second baseman after Brian Roberts failed to produce last season, the Yankees decided against looking for the pedigree and instead went to the rescue shelter.

They traded infielder Kelly Johnson to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for a shortstop, Drew. You read that right. The Yankees traded for a shortstop to play second base.

Drew had been a shortstop his entire professional career, which started in 2005. He became the starting shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks at the end of the 2006 season and he stayed in that role through 2012.

Drew’s best season was in 2008 when he batted a career-high .291 with 21 homers and drove in 67 runs for the D-backs. Much like his older brother J.D., Drew came out of the minors tagged as a future star. After all, he was the team’s first selection and the 15th overall in the 2004 draft.

Though Drew had some fine seasons with the bat and he was a pretty steady fielder, stardom somehow eluded him and the D-backs traded him to the Oakland Athletics in 2012 in his free-agent year.

But he ended up signing a free-agent contract with the Red Sox in 2013 and he had a throwback season at the plate. He batted .253 with 13 homers and 67 RBIs and he ended up collecting a championship ring in the process.

But Drew’s fortunes went from penthouse to outhouse quickly when Drew refused the Red Sox’ qualifying offer and then ended up sitting out all of the winter, spring training and the early portion of the 2014 season without a place to play.

Drew finally relented and signed with the Red Sox at a huge discount. But without any spring training, Drew was basically thrown into the fray cold and it showed. He batted .176 with four home runs and 11 RBIs until the Red Sox made the deal with the Yankees for Drew.

The 32-year-old Georgia native did not fare much better with the Yankees, batting .150 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 46 games, most of them (34) at an unfamiliar second base.

Rather than cut Drew loose and look for another second baseman, the Yankees signed him this winter to a one-year, $5 million deal. But the onus on Drew is to produce with the bat quickly or be replaced by up-and-coming second base prospects Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder, who have both hit extremely well this spring.

Manager Joe Girardi ended the speculation early and stated that Drew was the team’s starting second baseman. But Drew has foundered at the plate and he was hitting just .167 going into Friday’s contest.

Drew has been changing his mechanics with new hitting coach Jeff Pentland. It may be starting to pay off.

Drew had a double and two singles, scored a run and drove in two. The good day at the plate raised his spring average to .231. It is not much yet, but it is a start.

The 2015 season will begin soon and there will be no player more scrutinized than Drew. He is no stranger to pressure and expectations. But this challenge may be the biggest he has to overcome in a long time.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pineda, 26, has simply been the most impressive starter the Yankees have this spring. That includes Masahiro Tanaka. Pineda has been absolutely unhittable this spring and he is showing the same great control. One scout said that Pineda has been the best starter he has seen in Florida this spring. Look for a big season from the right-hander if he can stay healthy.
  • Young, 31, has been real hot lately with the bat. In his past four games Young is 4-for-13 (.308) with two doubles, two homers and five RBIs. Young provides the team with solid right-handed power and a reliable outfielder who can play all three positions. He is going to be very helpful coming off the bench this season.
  • Alex Rodriguez was 1-for-2 in the game and now is batting .303 on the spring. The 39-year-old infielder has proven that he has not been overmatched at the plate. Though he might not be the A-Rod of 2007 when he was the American League Most Valuable Player, he has proven that he can be a productive contributor for the Yankees. They will need his right-hand power in 2015.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When your pitcher shuts out the opposition and your offense scores 10 runs there can be nothing to nitpick about. This was an impressive victory.

BOMBER BANTER

As expected, Girardi named Tanaka as the team’s Opening Day starter on Friday. Tanaka, 26, will be followed by Pineda, CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi. The team’s fifth starter will be named later this weekend and it is expected to be right-hander Adam Warren. It will be the first time in six seasons that Sabathia has not drawn the opening assignment.  . . .  The Yankees said on Friday that Rodriguez will play first base for five innings in Sunday’s exhibition game against the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, FL. Girardi envisions Rodriguez as a potential third option at first behind Mark Teixeira and Garett Jones. “I’m excited,” Rodriguez told reporters. “I told Joe to really keep a close eye on me. He said he will.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will return to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL on Saturday to host the Baltimore Orioles.

There was a switch in plans and Sabathia will start in a minor-league game instead of giving the Orioles a peak at him. In his place, non-roster right-hander Scott Baker will draw the start. Baker, 33, is 0-0 with a 4.32 ERA in three games this spring.

Baker will be opposed by right-hander Bud Norris, who is 0-3 with a 9.26 ERA in four spring starts.

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.

 

After Rally Yankees Fall To Phils In ‘Ruf’ Ending

GAME 18

PHILLIES 7, YANKEES 3

Darin Ruf broke up a 3-3 tie with a leadoff home run in the eighth inning and the Phillies added three more in the ninth as Philadelphia outlasted New York on Thursday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL

Ruf’s blast into the right-field bleachers came off right-hander Nick Goody (0-1). Left-hander Andy Oliver (2-0) pitched 1 2/3 innings and fanned four batters to pick up the victory. Right-hander Luis Garcia pitched a perfect ninth to notch his third save of the spring.

The Yankees trailed from the first inning until the bottom of the sixth when Didi Gregarious singled, Stephen Drew walked and Carlos Beltran followed with an RBI single up the middle off left-hander Joely Rodriguez.

The loss drops the Yankees to a 10-7 record in Grapefruit League play.

FIELD FOCUS

Ever since Robin$on Cano took his bat, ball and glove to the Pacific Northwest in an angry huff, second base has been sort of a mess for the Yankees.

General manager Brian Cashman tried to replace a Michelin tire with a well-worn B.F. Goodrich with a blowout patch on it in Brian Roberts last season.

The 37-year-old veteran batted .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 91 games until he was released on Aug. 1. The former All-Star who suffered through four previous seasons of injuries just had nothing left in the tank. He announced he was retiring on Oct. 18.

The Yankees shifted gears and dealt infielder Kelly Johnson to the Boston Red Sox for Drew with the intention of making him a second baseman.

Drew played 46 games for the Yankees and ended up batting .150 with three home runs and 15 RBIs. To say that second base was a black hole for offense in 2014 would be putting it mildly.

It is also why there were raised eyebrows when Drew was offered a one-year, $5 million contract to stay with the Yankees and he was quickly named this spring by manager Joe Girardi as the team’s starting second baseman.

Eyebrows were raised even farther when Drew began spring training 1-for-13 (.077).

Since then Drew has picked up his offense and he is in the middle of a very encouraging hot streak. He was 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI against the Phillies on Thursday.

That means in his past three games, Drew is 3-for-7 (.429) with a home run and four RBIs. Even when he is making outs now they are loud outs to the outfield.

The Yankees would like for Drew to return to his form of 2013 when he batted .253 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs for the Red Sox. Those numbers for a second baseman with the Yankees would look great compared to what they got from the position last season.

Drew is just hopeful that he can continue his steady progression with the bat throughout the rest of the spring. He may not be a Michelin but he just might still have a decent amount tread life left at age 32.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Considering the Yankees only managed four hits, the best thing you can say is that no one got injured. That is a positive, I guess.
  • Chase Headley continues to swing a red-hot bat. Headley cracked a solo home run with one out in the second inning off Phillies starter Aaron Harang. Although it seemed unwise last season for the Yankees to trade for a third baseman who was struggling with back issues, Headley seems to be over the back problems and he seems primed for a big season. He is batting .370 with two home runs and three RBIs.
  • Gregorius was 3-for-3 on Wednesday against the Braves in Lake Buena Vista, FL, and one of the hits came off a left-hander. On Thursday, he started a rally that tied the game in the sixth with a hit off the lefty Rodriguez. Perhaps he might be on the road to solving them after hitting below .200 against them for his career.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Yankee starter Esmil Rogers, competing to replace the injured Chris Capuano as the team’s No. 5 starter, was not sharp at all on Thursday. After not being scored upon this spring, the Phillies touched Rogers, 29, for single runs in the first three innings. Ryan Howard tagged him for a two-out RBI single in the first. Cody Asche hammered a leadoff homer in the second and Carlos Ruiz added a two-out RBI single in the third off Rogers.
  • Left-hander Chasen Shreve, acquired along with right-hander David Carpenter from the Braves in exchange for left-hander Manny Banuelos, is vying to become a third lefty in the bullpen behind Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson. But Shreve, 24, took a step backwards when he was shelled for three runs (two earned) on three hits in the ninth inning.

BOMBER BANTER

Jacoby Ellsbury told reporters that despite being restricted from all baseball activities for a week that he will be ready for Opening Day. Ellsbury, 31, sustained a mild oblique strain throwing in the outfield prior to Sunday’s game against the Phillies. “I think the good thing is we do have time and I’m fully confident that I’ll be there Opening Day, ready to play,” Ellsbury told reporters.  . . .  Right-hander Jared Burton, 33, sustained a strained lat and will undergo an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. Burton is a non-roster invitee who is competing for a bullpen spot this spring.  . . .   Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, who has been sidelined all spring with a mid-back strain, is scheduled to make his spring debut on Friday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland FL, on Friday to face the Detroit Tigers.

Adam Warren, who is battling Rogers for the fifth spot in the rotation, will start for the Yankees. Warren is 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in three starts this spring.

The Tigers will counter with right-hander Alfredo Simon, who is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be not be broadcast via TV or radio.

Tanaka Cruises Again As Yankee Bats Bash Braves

GAME 17

YANKEES 12, BRAVES 5

LAKE BUENA VISTA  –  Masahiro Tanaka continued his dominance by tossing 3 2/3 shutout innings and Stephen Drew and Brian McCann led a 12-run, 14-hit attack with a pair of two-run homers as New York hammered Atlanta at Champion Field on Wednesday.

Tanaka (1-0), making his second start of the spring, retired 16 of the 18 batters he faced while striking out three to get credit for the victory. The right-hander only gave up a single to A.J. Pierzynski in the second inning and a double to Freddie Freeman in the fourth.

The Yankees, meanwhile, took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning on Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (0-1) on a two-out RBI single by Chase Headley to score Didi Gregorius, who was 3-for-3 on the night including an RBI triple in the fifth.

But the Yankees really teed off on Braves left-hander James Russell, scoring six runs on seven hits in the fourth and fifth innings that included Drew’s deep two-run blast in the fourth and McCann’s nearly identically longball in the fifth.

It was the most runs the Yankees have scored this spring in a game since they defeated the Houston Astros 9-4 on March 7 in Kissimmee, FL.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 10-6.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Tanaka, 26, followed up his sensational two-inning debut against the Braves on March 12 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, with another dominant performance on Wednesday. Now maybe the media and fans will shut up about his right elbow and just admit that Tanaka is just fine. He is primed for another great season.
  • I have been on Drew’s case all spring so I have to admit that he is beginning to come around with the bat. Drew was 1-for-3 against the Braves and is 2-for-5 with three RBIs in his past two games, raising his spring average from what was a low of .077 on March 12 to .167.
  • McCann has been struggling this spring also. But he returned to what was his spring home field for nine seasons and raked big time. He was 2-for-2 with a walk, a single and a home run and that raised his spring average to .217. He came in hitting .143.
  • Gregorius is quickly making a name for himself as an exceptional fielder and tonight he showed that he is capable of swinging the bat. He was 3-for-3 with two singles, a triple, a stolen base and one RBI. He is hitting a solid .273 so far and he seems to have won over Yankee fans with his range and cannon arm.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The only big negative of the evening was a pair of two-out errors. The first was Garrett Jones on a ball off the bat of Alberto Callaspo in the fifth inning. Former Yankee Zoilo Almonte followed with a single and fellow former Yankee Kelly Johnson then hit a three-run home run off right-hander Jose Ramirez, who deserved a better fate.
  • The following inning Rob Refsnyder’s errant throw allowed Jesus Flores to reach first. Andrelton Simmons then singled and Callaspo followed with an RBI single off right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was making his first appearance in a game in 19 months when he pitched for the Boston Red Sox in 2013. That means that four of the five runs the Braves scored were unearned.

BOMBER BANTER

Once again, the Yankees soft-pedaled an injury to the media that turns out to be more serious. The Yankees announced on Wednesday that starting center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury will cease all baseball-related activities for a week due to what is being called a mild oblique strain. After the Yankees said Ellsbury would not require an MRI, he was sent for one and it revealed the strain. Ellsbury said he felt the injury before Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Manager Joe Girardi said that he still thinks Ellsbury will have enough time to be ready for Opening Day. “I thought he was in a pretty good place, as far as being in shape and playing multiple days,” Girardi told reporters “There’ll be plenty of time for him.”  . . .  Yankees left-hander Jose de Paula is scheduled to undergo an MRI on his left shoulder on Thursday.  De Paula has felt some lingering soreness for the past few days but had to stop throwing when the pain returned on Wednesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees return to Tampa to play host again to the Phillies.

The competition for the fifth starter’s spot heats up with right-hander Emil Rogers scheduled tho start for the Yankees. Rogers has no record and a 0.00 ERA in four games (two starts). He is one of the front-runners to replace the injured Chris Capuano in the rotation.

The Phillies will counter with veteran right-hander Aaron Harang, who is making only his second appearance of the spring. He is penciled in as the team’s No. 2 starter now that Cliff Lee has been placed on the 60-day disabled list with a left forearm strain.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yanks Hoping Gregorius Doesn’t Come Up Short

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.

SHORTSTOP

Didi Gregorius, 25 (.226, 6 HRs, 27 RBIs, 80 games)

It is tough to ask any player to take the place of a legend but it must be an even greater lift to ask Didi Gregorius to follow the 19 seasons Derek Jeter gave the New York Yankees.

Throughout the offseason the names of Troy Tulowitzki, Elvis Andrus and J.J. Hardy were bandied about in the press as the speculation on who would replace Jeter grew louder. When the Yankees elected instead to offer right-handed starter Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Gregorius was anointed as Jeter’s replacement.

The shock may still have not worn off.

Gregorius has been a top prospect with the D-backs for several years after he was obtained from the Cincinnati Reds in 2012. His first taste of the majors came in 2012 when he was a September call-up of the Reds and he hit .300 in just 20 at-bats.

After his trade to Arizona, Gregorius played in 103 games for the D-backs in 2013 and he was a bit of a disappointment in batting .257 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs. The D-backs were expecting a lot offensively from a player that was so gifted defensively.

Looking at Gregorius’ 2014 numbers would have you surmise he was a complete failure. But the D-backs will tell you that was not the case. Instead, Gregorius was passed on the depth chart by fellow prospect Chris Owings, who hit .261 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 91 games after taking over as the team’s primary shortstop.

Ask anyone in the D-backs organization and they will tell you that Gregorius is far superior to Owings as a fielder (5 errors for Gregorius to 11 for Owings) with far superior range. They also will tell you although Owings won the job with his offense that Gregorius has a far higher ceiling with his offense than Owings.

So the Yankees were not taken. It actually may be that the Yankees took the D-backs.

The Yankees looked at lefty-swinging Gregorius’ splits against right-handers and left-handers and discovered that he batted . 262 against right-handers in 544 at-bats and only .184 in 180 at-bats against southpaws.

The Yankees are looking into the possibility of using Gregorius in a platoon with veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan this season. Ryan, 32, would take most of the at-bats against left-handers and leave Gregorius to face the right-handers he feasts upon.

The Yankees believe that Gregorius has the ability to hit double-digit homers at Yankee Stadium as he develops. Though Gregorius did steal 44 bases in the minors, including 16 for with two Class-A Reds farm teams in 2010, he has not developed into a skillful base-stealer at the major-league level.

It appears that 2015 is going to be a proving ground for Gregorius and Yankee fans obviously will compare their young shortstop to the legend that was Jeter.

But the Yankees point out that Jeter batted .256 with four homers and 50 RBIs in 145 games in his final season. The Yankees believe Gregorius could top those totals in 2015.

Should Gregorius falter to such a degree that he will have to be sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees would be forced to move their starting second baseman Stephen Drew back to his original shortstop position.

Drew, 31, was shifted to second base by the Yankees after he was obtained from the Boston Red Sox in a deal for Kelly Johnson on July 31. The former Diamondbacks shortstop had only played shortstop since he began his major-league career in 2006.

But with Jeter in his final season Drew was forced to move and when the Yankees made the deal for Drew it was just assumed he would shift back to shortstop after Jeter retired. But the Yankees had other ideas.

The Gregorius deal at first seemed to indicate Drew’s stint with the Yankees was over but the Yankees finalized a one-year, $5 million deal in January with Drew and they installed him as the team’s starting second baseman for 2015.

Drew is coming off his worst offensive season of his career after hitting woeful .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games with Red Sox and Yankees.

Though Drew has never won a Gold Glove his defense is considered well above average at shortstop. He is coming to spring training still learning the intricacies of second base.

Should the Yankees be forced to send Gregorius down and shift Drew the team would need a second baseman. They have super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, who made a great impression with the team in his late-season call-up, hitting .333 in seven games

But the Yankees seem very committed to their new shortstop who was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He already appears to have the right attitude.

“You can’t replace a legend, and it’s not replacing,” Gregorius told listeners on MLB Network Radio. “He (Jeter) has been playing for a long time at shortstop and he decided to retire. The spot was open. So I’m not thinking about replacing anything. It’s just me just coming in there to try to play my game.”

The Yankees minor-league options at shortstop are not real good, hence the deal for Gregorius.

Carmen Angelini, 26, hit .212 in 110 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton last season. Ali Castillo, 25, batted .254 with two homers and 42 RBIs in 120 games at Trenton.

Former first-round draft pick Cito Culver, 22, hit .220 with five homers and 48 RBIs at Class-A Tampa. Culver has major-league defensive tools but his offense is holding up his progress.

The big buzz at shortstop for the Yankees surrounds 19-year-old Jorge Mateo. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Mateo made his pro debut last June and teams are already asking about him in trade talks.

His biggest asset is his speed. He stole 11 bases in just 15 games with the Yankees’ Gulf Coast League team. He has a wiry build but he already shows an ability to hit for average and the promise provide double-digit home run power down the line.

Scouts are already saying that the Yankees have not had a shortstop at this level with as much of a ceiling since Jeter. That is high praise.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE

The decision to deal for Gregorius was a bold move and it will define what direction the Yankees will take in the post-Jeter era. General manager Brian Cashman has stayed away from high-priced free-agents to fill spots.

We will see if it is successful.

Gregorius can certainly field the position and that is going to be very helpful. His offense could be a problem but at least the Yankees are thinking of using a platoon in order to keep Gregorius hitting only against right-handers.

There also will be less pressure for the young shortstop batting ninth in this order. Plus, if the Yankees are correct about his power they could catch lightning in a bottle and have something very special for many years to come.

I know Yankee fans would have wanted Tulowitzki to play short so the Yankees could make a run at the World Series. However, Cashman and manager Joe Girardi may have more of a long-term strategy in mind.

Both Gregorius and Ryan are terrific defensive players and that is what you want in the middle of infield. Drew can also play the position so there is some depth.

The problem is that most of the Yankees’ minor-league shortstops are not real prospects. But keep an eye on Mateo. He seems to have the makings to be the real deal.

NEXT: OUTFIELD

Headley Blocking A-Rod’s Return To Third Base

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.

THIRD BASE

Chase Headley, 30 (.243, 13 HRs, 49 RBIs, 135 games)

Like most Yankee fans Alex Rodriguez just assumed that after his season-long suspension from Major League Baseball for using performance-enhancing drugs that he would resume his spot as the team’s starting third baseman.

He (and we all) assumed wrong.

The Yankees, who acquired Headley from the San Diego Padres on July 22 last year in exchange for infielder Yangervis Solarte and right-handed pitching prospect Rafael De Paula, liked what they saw after the veteran hit .262 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 58 games after the deal.

So much so that the Yankees signed Headley to a new four-year, $50 million deal on Dec. 15.

They also have been giving A-Rod hints that they do not exactly want him real badly. They have made it clear they have no intention of paying him a series $6 million marketing bonuses due Rodriguez as he moves up the all-time home run ladder.

After installing Headley as the starting third baseman they made it known that Rodriguez may be tried out at first base as a potential backup to Mark Teixiera. On top of that they have indicated that newly acquired first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones will be the team’s primary designated hitter this season.

What’s next? Handing A-Rod a rake and telling him he will be part of the Yankee Stadium grounds crew.

There is no doubt that the 39-year-old three-time American League Most Valuable Player deserves the treatment he is getting because of the lies he has told about his drug use and the way he trashed the organization throughout his effort to have his suspension overturned.

But how it impacts Headley remains to be seen.

Headley is two seasons removed from a career year in which he hit .286 with 31 home runs and 115 RBIs for the Padres in cavernous Petco Park. On top of that he was awarded a Gold Glove that season and he won the Silver Slugger Award at third base.

Since then Headley has fallen victim to a recurring back injury that necessitated a cortisone injection last July. Headley faltered to hit .250 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs for the Padres in 2013 and he was hitting only .229 in July when the Yankees made the deal.

The Yankees were forced into making the deal because Rodriguez’s season-long suspension left them without an experienced third baseman on the roster.

The Yankees intended to start Kelly Johnson at the position despite the fact he had little experience there. But manager Joe Girardi quickly turned to the 27-year-old rookie Solarte after a hot spring and quick start with the bat in April.

But Solarte’s bat quickly cooled and the Yankees ended up using a series of players such as Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, Martin Prado and Zelous Wheeler until Headley was obtained.

Headley, a switch-hitter, does possess the ability to hit for power. He does have double-digit homers in five of the past six seasons. However, other than the 31 homers he hit in 2012 his next highest total was the 13 he has hit the past two seasons.

So is he a 30-homer guy or 13-homer guy? The Yankees would settle for 20 or so.

The RBI totals should not really be as much of an issue because Headley is expected to hit either sixth or seventh in the batting order. But they could use some production for the lower half of the order this season because their offense is not as powerful as Yankee teams have been in the past.

It is Headley’s defense the Yankees are extremely pleased about. Though Rodriguez played the position after having won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers he never really was considered more than a bit above average defensively at the position.

Headley is a considerable step up, particularly if his back issues are truly under control. He committed only eight errors at the position last season and the Yankees were very happy to see him there late last season after they watched a parade of players try to play the position earlier.

A late-season injury to Teixeira forced the Yankees to even shift Headley to first base to fill in for six starts. Headley had only played the position in two previous games but the Yankees were desperate because of the many injuries that ravaged their roster in 2014.

Headley will concentrate on playing third base and likely will not be using a first baseman’s mitt anytime in the foreseeable future.

As for A-Rod, he reported to spring training two days early on Monday and said he was looking forward to winning a roster spot with the team. What that spot will be remains to be seen because Girardi has no idea what Rodriguez has left in the tank.

After all, Rodriguez has only played in only 44 games over the past two seasons due to injuries and the suspension. He did play in 122 games in 2012 but underachieved by hitting .272 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs.

But A-Rod, to his credit, was optimistic on Monday.

“Right now, I’m just focused on making this team,” Rodriguez told reporters. “Obviously it was a rough year, but I’m very excited that’s behind me and I have a chance to hopefully make this team.”

Whether Rodriguez makes the team or not the Yankees are still on the hook to paying him more than $60 million for the next three seasons. So their options if he should falter in spring training are limited.

Cutting him loose is not an option really. A trade is possible but is there any team that would want a fading star who will get booed anywhere he goes? If there was a team that would want Rodriguez (such as the Marlins in his hometown of Miami) it would mean that the Yankees would still have to pay a major portion of his contract.

So Rodriguez remains the giant albatross that hangs around the necks of general manager Brian Cashman and the team’s managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. They can’t execute the moves they would like to improve the team because of this giant pain in the butt in Rodriguez.

Stay tuned.

Should the Yankees decide to rid themselves of Rodriguez they would have to find themselves a backup to Headley.

Ryan, 32, can play the position in a pinch but his bat would be a big liability. (He is career .234 hitter with absolutely no power.)

Among the non-roster invitees is 24-year-old Dominican Jonathan Galvez, who hit .280 with 10 homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A El Paso last season. But he has no major-league experience.

Super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, batted .305 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014. But he is primarily a middle infielder with only one minor-league game at the position in 2013.

Wheeler has been released and there is no player at the Triple-A level who is near a major-league quality option.

There is a long-range option for the position but he is nowhere near ready for the majors.

He is 22-year-old lefty-swinging Eric Jagielo, who the Yankees selected 26th in the first round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

The Yankees feel he has a tailor-made lefty power swing for Yankee Stadium and he already has put up 13 homers in 2013 and 16 last season. Jagielo also drove in 53 runs while batting .259 at Class-A Tampa in 2014.

Jagielo will not be Gold Glove winner at third but he is improving and he has excellent arm strength for the position. The Yankees do not think he will be ready until 2016. But they are hopeful he will continue to develop.

He is currently ranked as the Yankees third best prospect.

Their 18th-ranked prospect is Miguel Andujar, 19, who was signed out of Venezuela in 2011.

Andujar struggled early in the 2014 season but quickly rebounded to hit .319 in the second half of the season with Class-A Charleston (SC). The right-handed power threat has a very quick bat and he is projected to be able to hit 20 or more homers a season.

Andujar still needs to work on his plate discipline and that will help him raise his average. He also is obviously trying too hard in the field because he has committed 51 errors in 196 pro games at third base.

To say he is a work in progress is putting it mildly. But the Yankees will be patient with the youngster.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: ADEQUATE

The fact the Yankees had the courage to diss A-Rod by signing Headley to a long-term deal and handing him position is a good thing. The Yankees simply do not know if Rodriguez can play at a high level anymore and Headley is a decent fallback position.

The big hope has to be that Headley is able to shake off his back woes enough to hit 20 homers and drive in a decent amount of runs at the lower end of the batting order. Healey is a career .265 hitter and the Yankees would settle for that in 2015.

Headley also promises to be a big help defensively if he is healthy. The former Gold Glove winner has good quickness and agility at the hot corner and he is capable of making some spectacular plays. His defense will benefit the pitchers and the Yankees will need to limit the runs they give up this season.

Whether Rodriguez is able to make the team as Headley’s backup is an open question.

Over the years Rodriguez has been booed in every stadium he is played in except Yankee Stadium. That will change this season because even Yankee fans have tired of his lies and his selfish attitude.

The guess here is that Rodriguez will make the roster only because the Yankees do not have another third baseman to replace Headley should he go down at any point for any length of time. But the only at-bats A-Rod likely will get this will be as a right-handed designated hitter in a platoon with Jones.

As a right-handed DH in 2011, Andruw Jones received 190 at-bats in 77 games, hitting .247 with 13 homers and 33 RBIs. The Yankees would be happy with that from A-Rod and hope that he is not a distraction in the clubhouse or that he does not embarrass the team in the tabloids.

The Yankees options if they rid themselves of Rodriguez are limited. They likely would have to bring in a backup from outside the organization because Ryan and Pirela are ill-suited for the position.

However, the future looks bright if Jagielo or Andujar develop. Jagielo, a former Notre Dame star, looks like one of the most promising third base prospects the Yankees have had in years.

With Headley signed for four seasons they can for afford to be patient with them both.

NEXT: SHORTSTOP

Drew Thankful For Second Chance With Yankees

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.

SECOND BASE 

Stephen Drew, 31 (.162, 7 HRS, 26RBIs, 85 games)

It was not that long ago that the Yankees could boast about an infield of Mark Teixeira at first base, Robinson Cano at second, Alex Rodriguez at third and team captain Derek Jeter at shortstop. From an offensive and defensive standpoint it could have been considered the best in baseball.

Entering 2015, the Yankees may end up with one of the weakest infields in baseball because Teixeira is in a steep decline, Cano is playing in Seattle, Jeter has retired and Rodriguez is not considered the starting third baseman anymore.

But no place on the team is any weaker than second base because the Yankees declined to offer Cano a 10-year, $325 million contract last winter. Cano went to the Mariners and the Yankees opted to fill the void with then 36-year-old Brian Roberts, who had been allowed to leave the Baltimore Orioles after four injury-plagued seasons.

Roberts was nowhere near the player who had hit 18 home runs and drove in 73 runs while batting .314 for the O’s in 2005. Nor was he the player who stole 50 bases in 2007.

Instead the Yankees got a switch-hitter who batted .237 with five home runs and 21 RBIs in 91 games before the Yankees decided they had enough and they designated him for assignment on July 31 to make room for Drew.

(Roberts very smartly decided to announce his retirement this winter.)

The Yankees had dealt infielder Kelly Johnson to the Boston Red Sox in order to obtain Drew even though Drew was mired in one of the worst seasons in his career.

After sitting out all of spring training and the first two months of the season after rejecting a qualifying offer, Drew finally signed a deal with Boston and promptly struggled to hit .176 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 39 games with Boston before the trade.

Drew languished in limbo without any offers from other teams after he hit .253 with 13 homers and 76 runs driven in with Red Sox in 2013. His lack of timing at the plate was obvious all season.

He fared even worse with the Yankees, hitting .150 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 46 games.

To say that 2014 was a season to forget for Drew would be putting it mildly. Please also forgive Yankee fans to not get too excited about Drew starting at second base after Cano batted over the .300 mark for the sixth consecutive season with the Mariners last season.

Drew, who spent the all eight seasons of his career at shortstop before he joined the Yankees last season and was immediately shifted to second base since Jeter was playing his final season at shortstop for the Yankees.

There is still a possibility that Drew could wind up at shortstop this season if 25-year-old Didi Gregorius does not show an ability to be able to hit major-league pitching after the Yankees acquired him in a three-team trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Detroit Tigers on Dec. 5 that cost the Yankees 26-year-old right-hander Shane Greene.

Gregorius hit .226 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 90 games with the D-backs last season. There is no doubt Gregorius is a major-league quality defensive player. He committed only five errors in 66 starts at the position last season and he also was utilized at second and third base.

Drew, however, is considered a steady fielder at shortstop and he is still learning the intricacies of second base, having played there all of 34 games (31 of them starts). Drew registered four errors at second base and three in 46 starts at shortstop between the Red Sox and Yankees.

The Yankees are not worried that Drew will be able to pick up second base enough to start. The only major question is whether he can snap out of what amounted to his worst season in the major leagues. The late start had to have a major part in it.

But, at the same time, Drew should have been able to get better at the plate as the season progressed. The fact he never did come around has Yankee fans scratching their heads as to why the Yankees elected to sign him to a one-year, $5 million contract that was made official on Jan. 16.

But there he is penciled in as the Yankees’ second baseman at the start of spring.

“If I could take a year back and kind of restart it, it’d be this year (2014), offense-wise,” Drew told reporters in September. “Other than that, you can’t do anything about it.”

Drew, who spent the first six seasons plus playing for the Diamondbacks has averaged .256 with 97 homers and 442 RBIs in his major-league career entering 2015. The Yankees are only hoping he hits closer to that career average and that he can play solid defense at second.

If Drew should continue to falter as he did last season the Yankees will have to put a ready-made Plan B in place.

Veteran infielder Brendan Ryan, 32, is slated to be the backup at both second base and shortstop for the Yankees in 2015. Offense, however, has never been a strong suit for Ryan. He batted just .167 with no homers and eight RBIs in 49 games with the Yankees last season.

Ryan was sidelined early in spring training with a neck injury and he was not activated until May 5.

The reason Ryan was signed to a two-year, $5 million deal last season was his ability to play defense at shortstop. In fact, because Gregorius struggles against left-handers Ryan is expected to get most of the starts at shortstop against lefties this season.

Ryan is a defensive wizard at short and he is well above average at second base. He committed only four errors with the Yankees in 176 innings at second, third and shortstop in 2014.

Fortunately for the Yankees they have a pair of Plan B alternatives who will be a phone call away in the minors this season.

Jose Pirela, 25, is on the team’s 40-man roster entering spring training after he made his major-league debut with the Yankees in late September.

Pirela showed some flashes of brilliance in hitting .333 in 24 at-bats. Pirela had batted .305 with 10 home runs and 60 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 130 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season.

There are doubts that Pirela is a long-term solution at second base but the Yankees believe that he could eventually take over Ryan’s utility infielder role at some point. Pirela is a pretty versatile player having played first base, second, short and even 45 games in the outfield.

After making 37 errors at shortstop in 2011, Pirela was shifted to second base and his fielding has improved a great deal since then. If he continues to hit well, Pirela could be a super sub along the lines of Jerry Hairston Jr.

You could see him get a call-up this season. But he likely is returning to Scranton when spring training ends.

The Yankees are very excited by 23-year-old second baseman Rob Refsnyder, who is currently ranked as the Yankees’ sixth best prospect. There is a good reason why.

Refsnyder followed up a good 2013 minor-league season with an even better 2014 season between stops at Double-A Trenton and Scranton where he hit a combined . 318 with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs.

The former University of Arizona star burst onto the scene in 2012 by hitting .476 with two homers in leading the Wildcats to the College World Series title. He also was named the series’ Most Outstanding Player.

He was drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of 2012 First-Year Player Draft as an outfielder but was converted to second base in the minors.

Refsnyder is considered the best pure hitter in the organization and he shows a professional approach by using all fields. His power was unexpected bonus that could translate into 15-homer power at the major-league level.

His defense is shaky, at best, which is to be expected after being moved from the outfield. But Refsnyder has the ability to develop into an adequate defender at the position.

With Drew and Ryan already signed the Yankees would prefer to keep Refsnyder on track to play at Scranton to get more experience at second base under his belt. But his Expected Time of Arrival (ETA) is looking to be 2015 as a late-season call-up.

He could emerge as a starter in 2016 if he progresses as the Yankees expect.

Also keep an eye on 20-year-old Gasuke Katoh, who hit .222 with three homers and 37 RBIs in 121 games for Class-A Charleston (SC) in 2014. He was selected in the second round by the Yankees in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and the Yankees love his speed (20 bases) and his ability to get on base (.345 OBP).

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: INADEQUATE

I personally have some real doubts about Drew’s ability to bounce back from his horrible 2014 numbers.

In the past good Yankee teams have had such greats at second base such as Bobby Richardson, Willie Randolph and Cano. The decision the Yankees made to allow Cano to walk as a free agent last winter will have the Yankees paying dearly for a long time.

I doubt Drew will hit .150 again. But even if he hits .253 he is still going to pale in comparison to Cano, who is the best second baseman in baseball now. There is no doubt this position is in a transition phase and Drew is just placeholder until something better comes along.

The Yankees would be in big trouble if Gregorius fails at shortstop and they are forced to move Drew there. That would open up a huge hole at second base and the Yankees do not want to have use Pirela or Refsnyder at the position this season.

The Yankees want Drew, Gregorius and Ryan to remain healthy and productive throughout the 2014 season to allow Refsnyder to develop as a second baseman.

If they get that time Refsnyder might reward them by becoming a productive hitter with an adequate enough glove to hold the position for years to come. That is the hope anyway.

NEXT: THIRD BASE

 

Keeping Tex Healthy First Priority For Yankees

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.

FIRST BASE

Mark Teixeira, 34 (.216,22 HRs, 62 RBIs, 123 games)

There was a time not long ago that Teixeira was considered to be among the best players at his position and he was a feared hitter in the middle of Yankees’ lineup.

But the past three seasons Teixeira has had to deal with a series of injuries that have rendered him ineffective when he did play and unavailable to play for long stretches. He has played in only 138 games in the past two seasons largely because of a wrist injury he suffered in March 2013.

Teixeira was taking batting practice before an exhibition game for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic when he tore the sheath in his right wrist. Rather than surgery on the wrist, Teixeira elected to rehab it and come back to play for the Yankees in May of 2013.

However, after 15 excruciatingly painful games Teixeira had to admit he needed surgery and 2o13 ended up being a lost season after he hit just .151 with three homers and 12 RBIs.

So Teixiera entered 2014 hopeful that after the surgery in July and a chance to heal slowly that he would be back to averaging the 37 homers and 114 RBIs he put up for the Yankees from 2009 to 2012.

After a cautious spring things looked good when Teixiera displayed his old power and he was producing offense for a very weak Yankees’ lineup. There also were some hints along the way that things were still not right with the wrist.

Early in the season he suffered a calf strain that shelved him for two weeks and then there were short stretches where Teixeira had to admit to manager Joe Girardi that he could not play because wrist was sore.

Many MRIs and cortisone shots followed and Teixeira learned from doctors that the wrist surgery was successful and the soreness was normal. But it pained Teixiera that he could not suit up and play. Even more, he also could not produce the power and runs the team needed when it so badly needed it.

Teixeira was not able to generate much for the Yankees in the second half, hitting only five homers after the All-Star break. He also struggled from the right side of the plate, where he managed just four of his 22 home runs.

There also were signs of fatigue from not being able to work out over the winter as he would have liked because of the surgery. He also suffered through a ribcage injury, a left lat strain and an injury to his left pinkie finger.

The problem for Girardi and the Yankees was exacerbated by the fact that the Yankees had precious little power at all and there was no one on the roster who specifically was designated to play first base behind Teixiera in 2014.

As a result, the Yankees were forced to use eight other players when Teixeira was sidelined: Kelly Johnson (23 starts), Brian McCann (11), Chase Headley (6), Francisco Cervelli (5), Scott Sizemore (1) and Carlos Beltran, Brendan Ryan and Austin Romine were moved there during games.

None of these players had any significant experience at the position and it showed.

Teixeira has always been considered among the best fielding first basemen in baseball. He has five Gold Gloves to his credit, including three of them won with the Yankees. But even that skill left Teixeira to some degree last season.

After averaging 4.3 errors a season over 10 seasons in the major leagues, Teixiera committed six in just 116 starts in 2014.

The Yankees do have to be asking themselves if Teixeira is in a permanent decline due to advancing age or can he somehow regain his health enough to produce the 39 homers and 111 RBIs he produced in 156 games in 2011.

The other problem Teixeira has had to face is his sinking batting averages.

From his second season with the Texas Rangers in 2004 through his first season with the Yankees in 2009, Teixiera never hit below .281 while hitting all those home runs and driving in all those runs.

But since 2010 Teixeira has never batted above .256. Teixeira even understood this and tried to correct it in 2012. But he gave up when he realized that he was signed in 2009 by the Yankees to a eight-year, $180 million contract to hit a lot of home runs and drive in a lot of runs no matter where his batting average landed.

So Teixeira continues to take a pull-happy approach and utilize an uppercut swing designed to elevate the ball over the short porch in right-field. That is why he receives a pretty steady diet of breaking pitches and a lot of pitches on the outside corner that are harder for him to pull. Hence, the lower batting averages.

At this point, the Yankees open camp hoping that Teixeira is healthy and the wrist is no longer an issue. After all, both David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays were able to put up great numbers in their second season after similar wrist surgeries. The same should hold for Teixeira.

The Yankees, however, do have a fallback position for Teixeira in 2015 to make up for the grievously stupid mistake they made of not having an experienced backup in 2014.

The Yankees were able to acquire veteran first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones from the Miami Marlins in December as part of a five-player deal where the Yankees shipped infielder Martin Prado in exchange for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.

Jones, 33, is a left-handed hitter with power who hit 15 homers and drove in 53 runs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as their starting first baseman (122 starts).

Much like Teixeira, Jones is not looking to win a batting title. He has averaged .253 in his seven major-league seasons. But he also has hit 117 home runs in that span, including a career-high of 27 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012.

So Jones gives Girardi and the Yankees some flexibility if Teixeira can’t answer the bell for a game or two this season or is simply in need of a day off. Jones’ power also means the Yankees won’t suffer as much of a dropoff without Tex.

It is first time the Yankees have had a creditable backup for Teixeira since the Yankees had outfielder Nick Swisher, who the Yankees allowed to walk as free agent after the 2012 season.

The Yankees attempted to trade for Jones in the past when he was with the Pirates but were not successful. The reason general manager Brian Cashman wanted Jones so badly is because he has a swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium’s shorter dimensions in right field.

“Obviously, his left-handed bat is made for our ballpark,” Cashman told reporters. “You saw us go through a season last year where we didn’t have a legitimate backup first baseman. Now we do.”

Jones came to the major leagues as an outfielder and he is not considered a skilled fielder at first base. He committed 13 errors there last season. But even with the defensive shortcomings it is good to know he can play the position for significant stretches if he is needed.

Jones’ versatility also makes him a potential backup in right field for Beltran, who also went through a injury-plagued 2014 season that was derailed by a bone spur in his right elbow. Jones has started as many as 78 games in a season in the outfield in his career and Girardi would be comfortable playing him there if he is needed.

In addition, Jones is the odds-on favorite to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season. Because of Jones’ defensive shortcomings he is a natural DH because the Yankees would love to have his power bat available on a team that desperately needs it in 2015.

Behind Jones the Yankees may be doing some experimentation this spring with third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

The 39-year-old veteran might see some work at the position this spring since Headley is projected to start the season as the team’s third baseman. Though Rodriguez did move from shortstop to third base when the Yankees signed him as a free agent in 2004, he has never played a single game at first base in his career.

So it remains to be seen how A-Rod will fare at first base. But his former Rangers teammate Teixeira made the switch in 2003 and became proficient. The jury is out on Rodriguez being able to make the same switch at this advanced stage of his career.

And even should he be successful in making the switch, he will not be playing the position much with Teixeira and Jones ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Yankees also were very pleased with what they saw of McCann in the 11 games he started at first base in 2014. McCann, 31, showed good reflexes and some defensive skill at the position.

However, he would just be an emergency candidate in 2015, although we could see the Yankees eventually shift McCann to the position when Teixeira’s contract expires after the 2016 season.

The Yankees also have a potential replacement for Teixeira in their minor-league system named Greg Bird.

The 22-year-old former high school catcher for Baltimore Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman in Aurora, CO, has flourished as a hitter ever since he was moved to first base.

Bird, who bats left-handed, hit a combined .271 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs in 102 games between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last season.

Bird takes a very patient approach to the plate and he led the minor leagues with 103 walks in 2013. The Yankees believe he has the ability to hit for both power and average at the major-league level.

Bird was the sensation of Arizona Fall League in 2014. He was named the AFL Most Valuable Player representing Scottsdale this winter. The Yankees have issued him a non-roster invite to spring training.

Realistically, Bird has no shot of making the team. But he will get his first chance to see how he measures up against some of the best in the game. He is ticketed for Double-A with a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season possible.

In any event, Bird gives the Yankees a solid young player who could be a productive first baseman at the major-league level.

Kyle Roller, 26, hit .300 with 26 home runs and 74 RBIs in 125 games between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014. His 26 home runs actually was the not only the best minor-league total, it was also the best in the entire organization.

Unlike Bird, Roller takes more of an all-or-nothing approach to the plate as his 289 strikeouts in his past two minor-league seasons would attest. Though Roller does have very good power from the left side, his path to the majors is blocked.

He also is a non-roster invitee to spring training. He likely will end up at Scranton for another season but could see a temporary call-up should the Yankees need a backup first baseman.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

Because of Teixeira’s declining batting average and injury problems, he is no longer considered among the elite first basemen. Having said that the Yankees still do need a healthy Teixeira in 2015.

They need the more than 30 home runs and 100 RBIs he produced from 2004 to 2011. Only one other first baseman did that for a longer period of time and that was Albert Pujols.

If you throw in Teixiera’s sparkling defense and his ability to save his fellow infielders errors, you have the makings of a quality first baseman. However, Father Time seems to have caught up with Tex.

He begins the spring with a lot to prove this season. The Yankees hope he is up to the challenge. They see him as a player who will fill either the fourth or fifth spot in the batting order so they do have a lot riding on his health.

Having a quality backup like Jones available makes the Yankees feel a whole lot better have the parade of players they out there in 2014. Though his defense is nowhere near that of Teixeira’s, Jones gives the Yankees a productive power bat to deploy at first should Teixeira for some reason be unable to play.

Bird appears to be a potential star in the making if he continues to develop as he has in the minors. It gives the Yankees some hope when the Teixeira era at first base finally ends.

NEXT: SECOND BASE