With the first pitch of the Grapefruit League season on Saturday the Yankees are preparing for the game and the rest of the spring schedule. Here is some news, views and notes from Florida regarding the Yankees:
Manager Joe Girardi has chosen right-hander David Phelps to open the spring schedule on Saturday against the Atlanta Braves at Champions Field in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
Phelps, 26, is coming off a rookie season in which he was 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 33 games, 11 of those were starts. Phelps is competing this spring with Ivan Nova for the team’s No. 5 starter spot.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has scheduled left-hander Paul Maholm to pitch against Phelps. The game will begin at 1:05 p.m. EST and there are still tickets available through Ticketmaster.
The Yankees will open their home spring schedule at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday against an American League East rival in the Toronto Blue Jays. This will be a split squad for the Blue Jays.
Girardi has named rookie right-hander Adam Warren to start for the Yankees. Warren, 26, was 7-8 with a 3.71 ERA in 26 starts last season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has selected veteran left-hander J.A. Happ to pitch for the visitors.
The YES Network will broadcast the spring home opener against the Blue Jays beginning at 1:05 p.m. EST.
LACK OF STARS
If you are planning to attend spring training to see the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field and throughout their road schedule, be advised that this spring you will not see whole lot of Yankee stars.
Alex Rodriguez is recovering from hip surgery and is not even in Florida. He is rehabilitating in New York and and is not expected to attend any games.
Derek Jeter is just in the early stages of his recovery from surgery from a fractured left ankle he suffered in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. Although Jeter has made assurances he will be ready for Opening Day it is unlikely he will play much in the early stages of the spring schedule.
Mark Teixeira will be playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and will not return until the team is eliminated. In addition, Robinson Cano is playing for his home Dominican Republic team in the classic and he will not be around much.
Just feel lucky that catcher Francisco Cervelli reneged on his plan to play for Team Italy and Andy Pettitte also declined an invitation from Team USA.
In addition to the World Baseball Classic, fans will also have to navigate around a series of split-squad games. The Yankees will split their squads twice this spring.
On Feb. 28, the Yankees will play at home against the Houston Astros while playing a road game against Blue Jays. On March 16, the Yankees will host the Philadelphia Phillies will a road squad will face the Braves.
In addition, opposing teams will send a total of three split squads to Tampa, FL, to face the Yankees: The Blue Jays on Saturday, the Orioles on Feb. 27 and the Tigers on March 2. So do not expect to see many stars from the opposing teams on those dates either.
So just get used to watching a lot of Ronnier Musteller, Zoilo Almonte and Addison Maruszak this spring and feel lucky if you can get a autograph from Preston Claiborne.
Can you tell I am not much of a fan of the World Baseball Classic? Thanks, Bud Selig!
Thanks to the MLB Network and ESPN the Yankees will have a total of 22 games in Florida broadcast on national television this spring and a 23rd game against the Washington Nationals from Washington, DC, will be broadcast on March 29 by the MLB Network.
To open the spring schedule, the MLB Network will pick up the YES Network broadcast of the Yankees against the Blue Jays on Sunday. That will be among the nine games that will be broadcast live while the others will be shown on tape delay by the MLB Network.
The Yankees’ home contest against the Boston Red Sox will be broadcast live on March 20 by ESPN.
So if you can’t come to Florida or you can’t get a ticket for a spring game, the game will come to you on television.
HUGHES TO IT
The first injury of spring belongs to right-handed starter Phil Hughes, Hughes, 27, reported pain in his upper back just below his shoulder blade on Monday after he participated in a drill covering first base. The injury is not considered as serious but he will be sidelined for several days.
Hughes was 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA last season and he can become a free agent after the 2013 season.
Hughes saw a doctor on Tuesday and he is hoping to be able to resume workouts within a few days.
- Musteller got the attention of Phelps by rocketing a line drive right at him on Tuesday. Phelps was able to get out of the way but was shaken a bit. Musteller, 28, hit a combined .314 with 15 homers and 69 RBIs in 114 games between Double-A Trenton and Scranton last season. Musteller is listed as a non-roster outfielder but has experience as an infielder as well. “He’s a good hitter,” Phelps said. “He can swing it.”
Girardi is still mulling over whether to move Curtis Granderson to left in order to play Brett Gardner in center this season. Girardi said he has not made up his mind but he said if he does make the move it likely would come early in spring in order to allow Granderson to get used to playing in left. “I think Curtis has done a good job for us,” Girardi said. “The question for us to sit here and stew over is, ‘If you flip-flop them, does it make you better defensively?’ That’s what we have to figure out.”
Highly touted right-handed reliever Mark Montgomery resumed throwing on Tuesday. He had been sidelined for a short time due to back spasms. Montgomery, 23, is considered the team’s best reliever prospect after going a combined 7-2 with a 1.54 ERA and 15 saves Advanced-A Tampa and Trenton.
With the announcement of the signing of designated hitter/first baseman Travis Hafner to a one-year contract on Feb. 1, the New York Yankees are basically finished with their roster moves prior to the opening of spring training camp in Tampa, FL.
Hafner, 35, is a potential replacement for the loss of Raul Ibanez, who opted to sign with the Seattle Mariners this offseason.
Hafner hit .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 64 games with the Cleveland Indians last season.
Though Hafner has played first base in his career, he has not played in the field since the 2007 season. So it appears he primarily will be the team’s left-hand DH and will play first sparingly, if at all.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated fellow former Indians first baseman/outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment. If Canzler is not picked up by another team he could be reclaimed and invited to spring training with the Yankees.
In addition to Hafner, the Yankees added to their spring roster by inviting a total of 43 players to spring training.
Among those is left-hand hitting first baseman Dan Johnson, who most recently played for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox, and outfielders Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera.
Diaz, 34, hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 51 games for the Atlanta Braves last season. The right-hand hitting Diaz had his season cut short by a right thumb injury that required surgery in August.
Diaz is a career .291 hitter and he has an excellent chance to make the team as a backup corner outfielder and designated hitter.
Rivera, also 34, originally came out of the Yankees minor-league system and played for the team in portions of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being dealt to the Montreal Expos in 2004.
Rivera hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 109 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a career .274 hitter.
Rivera is also a corner outfielder and he likely will compete with Diaz for a roster spot.
Johnson, 33, has an excellent chance to make the roster as a replacement for Eric Chavez, who signed in the offseason with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson is a left-handed hitter who can play first and third base and as a corner outfielder.
He hit .364 with three home runs and six RBIs in late season call-up with the White Sox. But at Triple-A Charlotte, Johnson hit .267 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs in 137 games before being recalled in September.
With Hafner and Johnson both having good shots at making the team and Diaz and Rivera competing for a backup outfield and right-hand DH spot, the other battles for bench spots will come down to backup catcher and a utility infield spot.
The Yankees lost starting catcher Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent so the starting catcher spot will come down to a battle between Francisco Cervelli, 26, and Chris Stewart, 30. The loser of the battle likely will be the team’s backup.
The Yankees also invited former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to camp as a non-roster invitee. However, Wilson likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just in case Cervelli or Stewart are injured and he will back up rookie Austin Romine, 24, who is coming off a lower-back injury.
The backup infield spot will be a rematch of last season’s battle between speedy Eduardo Nunez, 25, and steady Jayson Nix, 30.
Nunez is a career .272 hitter with 38 steals in 46 attempts. He is the team’s second-best base-stealer behind Brett Gardner and is perhaps the best athlete on the team.
However, his glovework the past two seasons has been so bad the Yankees want him to primarily play shortstop and second base, which gives Nix a huge edge despite the fact he arrives in camp as a non-roster player.
Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees last season. He is able to play second, third, shortstop and the corner outfield spots.
Nunez possibly could make the team as a right-hand DH and he could play a lot of shortstop this season in place of 38-year-old Derek Jeter, who is recovering from a fractured left ankle he sustained in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Another option for Nunez is that he could be traded this spring if general manager Brian Cashman feels the need to add a player before the season begins.
Along with Johnson, Wilson, Nix, Diaz and Rivera, the Yankees invited the following players to camp:
CATCHERS: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez.
INFIELDERS: Gregory Bird, Cito Culver, Walter Ibarra, Addison Maruszak, Luke Murton, Jose Pirela, Kyle Roller, Gil Velazquez.
OUTFIELDERS: Abraham Almonte, Tyler Austin, Adonis Garcia, Slade Heathcott, Ronnier Musteller, Thomas Neal, Rob Segedin.
PITCHERS: Corey Black, Juan Cedeno, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, David Herndon, Tom Kahnle, Jim Miller, Bryan Mitchell, Mark Montgomery, Zach Nuding, Mikey O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Brandon Pinder, Ryan Pope, Josh Spence, Matt Tracy, Chase Whitley.
The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (20 HR, 50 RBIs, .316 BA)
If this had been written two weeks ago, it would be written from the standpoint of how the great Robinson Cano was underachieving this season. What a difference two weeks makes.
Cano, 29, has been on fire of late and it could not have come at a better time for the American League’s starting All-Star second baseman. He has driven in runs in eight consecutive games and has 23 in his last 17 games. On June 3, he was batting .284. He has reached the season’s halfway point hitting .316.
In his last 10 games he is hitting .429.
By any definition, Cano is red hot.
That is good for Cano, but it is even better for the New York Yankees.
For much of the first half of the season, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Cano have struggled to hit home runs and drive in runs, particularly with runners in scoring position. That has been borne out by the fact that Nick Swisher had led the team in RBIs for most of the first half until Cano passed him this week.
For most baseball experts, it is not a surprise that Cano has finally began to hit. The only surprise is that it took him this long.
Cano began April by .267 with one home run and four RBIs. That is not a misprint. It was just a single home run and four RBIs.
On May 6, Cano hit a grand slam home run against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium which doubled his production in just one at-bat. That lit a spark that brought Cano close to what he has always been for the Yankees: Their best pure hitter.
In fact, it is safe to say with Derek Jeter and Rodriguez in the twilight of their careers that Cano is simply the Yankees’ best all-around player, period, exclamation point.
Cano leads the team in batting average, is second in home runs, first in RBIs and he fields his position at a Gold-Glove level. He also hits in the middle of the order and he is the hitter opposing pitchers fear the most.
There is no second baseman in baseball that can touch him in the combination of average, power, production and fielding combined. Cano has been the Yankees’ Rock of Gilbraltar. He is the guy Reggie Jackson would say “stirs the drink.”
The only hole in his game this season has been the same problem from which the whole team suffered in the first half of the season: Getting a hit with runners in scoring position. Just a few weeks ago, Cano was last on the team with RISP, hitting a woeful .149 in those situations.
That kind of makes you scratch your head when you see Cano swing so beautifully balanced and with those lightning-quick hands sweeping his bat through the ball. But, for whatever reason, Cano just continued to fail to get hits with runners on base.
He has brought number up to .200 of late. It is still low but pitchers who are scheduled to face the Yankees in the second half may want to prepare for the worst when Cano comes up in those situations from now on.
Cano is on a pace to hit considerably more home runs than the 29 he hit in 2010. He could also shatter the 118 RBI plateau he reached in 2011. He has not come close to the .342 he hit in 2006 but don’t put it past Cano not to do that either. Cano could easily win a batting title or two or three.
The fact is while Teixeira and Rodriguez continue to struggle with their production, Cano is undoubtedly the most important part of the Yankee lineup going forward. If he can continue his pace of June and July, the Yankee offense should continue to be potent and will improve its numbers with runners in scoring position.
If you want to talk defense, Cano has committed just four errors this season. However, that just scratches the surface when you are talking about what Cano contributes in the field.
For years, Cano was overlooked as a defensive player because of the concentration errors he used to make. Cano, because he glides so effortlessly to the ball, often was viewed as a “lazy” fielder. But that ended in 2010, when he won his first Gold Glove.
He should win it annually anyway for his extraordinary range, his unbelievable arm strength and the smoothness with which he turns a double play.
His ability to range from the right-field foul line to left-center to catch pop flies is special in itself.
Yankee fans are very fortunate to be living at a time when the Yankees can boast the best shortstop in their history (Jeter) with the best second baseman in their history. They may not rival the Tigers’ middle infield of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell in terms of years played together but they are certainly more productive as hitters and just as good or better in the field.
Cano is a durable player as well. He has not played in less than 159 games since 2006, his second season with the Yankees when he spent his only stint on the disabled list. This season, he has started 78 of the Yankees’ 81 games and he has played in all of them.
Cano’s prospects for the second half are very good and the Yankees certainly need him to be that good as they head into the more difficult games with their division rivals. There is a chance this could be Cano’s best overall season and that is saying something considering how good his last two seasons have been.
MIDSEASON GRADE: A-
BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (2 HRs, 6 RBIs, .228 BA)
You won’t see Nix play this position much. Cano rarely gets a day off and apparently does not need one.
Since the Yankees chose to send Eduardo Nunez back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Nix has made just two starts for Cano.
He is pretty good as fielder in that he has not committed an infield error this season. But his range is very limited. You also suffer a big dropoff in production with Nix replacing Cano. But that goes without saying.
Nix, 29, is just a solid backup with average skills but has great versatility in that he can also play in the outfield. The Yankees just will miss Nunez’s line-drive bat and speed on the bases. But, then again, Nix will not throw the baseball all over the diamond and kick easy grounders as Nunez did with regularity.
That is the reason he is here and not Nunez.
MIDSEASON GRADE: C
The Yankees have a few really promising middle infield prospects in Claudio Custodio and Angelo Gombs who are far away from the majors. They also have David Adams, who has battled injuries but nonetheless was protected by being placed on the 40-man roster this winter. But it is obvious the Yankees have no plans to let Cano go when his contract expires in two seasons.
At Triple-A Scranton, Ronnier Musteller is trying to hold off up-and-coming prospect Corban Joseph.
Joseph, 23, is hitting .266 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 32 games played since his promotion from Double-A Trenton. Musteller, 27, is hitting .301 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs in 55 games. But at Musteller’s age the prospect label is pretty much been removed and Joseph is progressing nicely.
Meanwhile, Adams is doing pretty well at Double-A Trenton. The 25-year-old is hitting .284 with three home runs and 24 RBis in 40 games in the Eastern League.
None of these players will have an impact at the major-league level this season because the Yankees have Ramiro Pena and Nunez at Triple-A in case something happens to Cano.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A-
Cano is very simply the best second baseman I have ever seen. If you combine his ability to hit for average, power and produce runs with his great dexterity, range and arm in the field, there is just no second baseman in baseball that compares to him.
As his career progresses, he should pass Roberto Alomar and Ryne Sandberg as the best second basemen in the modern era.
But his prospects for 2012 look very good as well. Cano is dangerous when he is struggling but he is pure hell to face when he is seeing the ball and hitting with authority. Even when he makes outs he is hitting the ball hard. That should tell you how good he is as a player.
Cano also possesses the ability to carry the Yankee offense much the way Rodriguez used to be able to do. He is the one player the Yankees can least afford to loss due to injury and he is the team’s key to success in the second half.
He could ride this current hot streak the rest of the way into the playoffs and to a World Series, if the Yankees can get there. It is on that stage, Cano should shine.
He is shining pretty brightly now as the Yankees’ best player.