Tagged: Tyler Austin

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.

 

A-Rod Homers Again As Warren Tames Tigers

GAME 19

YANKEES 11, TIGERS 2

Alex Rodriguez and Rob Refsnyder homered to help provide right-hander Adam Warren to six runs before he even threw a pitch as New York blistered Detroit pitching on Friday at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, FL.

The Yankees greeted right-hander Alfredo Simon (1-2) with four extra-base hits in the first inning, keyed by a two-run home run off the bat of Refsnyder. Jose Pirela  –  hitting a sizzling .370 this spring  – preceded Refsnyder with a two-run double off Simon, who was tagged for six runs on six hits and one walk over three innings.

Rodriguez launched an opposite-field shot to right-center in the fifth inning off right-hander Bruce Rondon.

Meanwhile, Warren (2-0) sailed through five innings, yielding only a leadoff home run to Yoenis Cespedes in the bottom of the fifth inning. He limited the Tigers to four hits, walked none and fanned three to stake a very strong claim on the No. 5 starter spot.

With the victory the Yankees also seemed to have set themselves as spring “road warriors.” They have scored 48 runs in nine road games in March while they have managed only 30 runs in 10 home contests.

Their overall Grapefruit League record stands at 11-7.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After right-hander Esmil Rogers struggled in his start on Thursday it was encouraging to see Warren pitch so well against the Tigers on Friday. Warren, 27, has a tidy 2.77 ERA and has not walked a batter in 13 innings this spring. Though the decision on who will replace injured left-hander Chris Capuano in the rotation will not be made until March 28, Warren seems to be the clear leader now.
  • Pirela and Refsnyder each drove in two runs in that six-run first inning and they both have had impressive springs. Pirela, 25, is an excellent line-drive hitter but he is not a real gifted fielder. He can play second, third and in the outfield. So he has some real value as utility player. Refsnyder, 23, is also a legitimate .300 hitter. But the converted outfielder is still learning second base. They both will start the season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but you could see both of them in Yankee Stadium this season.
  • Rodriguez, 39, has avoided off-field drama and played hard this spring. It is beginning to pay off as A-Rod may be winning the primary DH role. He is hitting .269 with two home runs and three RBIs in 11 games. But the real indicator that Rodriguez is progressing at the plate is the four walks he has drawn as opposed to only five strikeouts. That means the right-handed slugger is seeing the ball well.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

If a team scores six runs in the first inning and cruises to a 11-2 victory there hardly can be anything to criticize. It is nice to see the Yankees score 11 runs in each of their past two road games. It would be nice if they would score more often at home.

BOMBER BANTER

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan made his spring debut for the Yankees at shortstop and he doubled to drive in Brett Gardner in the first inning and later scored on Brian McCann’s RBI single. He ended the day 1-for-3 after five innings. Ryan, 32, has been sidelined by a mid-back strain he sustained while lifting weights just before the start of the exhibition season. Barring any setbacks, Ryan will be the backup middle infielder behind shortstop Didi Gregorius and second baseman Stephen Drew.  . . .  The Yankees trimmed their spring roster of five players on Friday including outfielder Tyler Austin. The team optioned Austin, right-hander Dan Burawa and left-hander Jose De Paula to Scranton. Outfielder Mason Williams was optioned to Double-A Trenton. Meanwhile, right-hander Wilking Rodriguez was reassigned to minor-league camp. That leaves the Yankees with 48 players on their spring roster.

ON DECK

The Yankees return home to George M. Steinbrenner Field to play host to the Houston Astros on Saturday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda will start for the Yankees hoping to continue what has been a very impressive spring. Pineda, 26, is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two starts. He has only given up one hit and one walk while he has fanned six in five innings.

The Astros will counter with their ace left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in two starts.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MLB Radio through KBME in Houston.

 

Yankees’ Rookies Rally Late To Overtake Astros

GAME 6

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.

FIELD FOCUS

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.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • 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.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • 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.

BOMBER BANTER

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.

ON DECK

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.

 

Austin’s Arm, Bat Give Yankees First Spring Win

GAME 3

YANKEES 2, PIRATES 1

Tyler Austin preserved a 1-1 tie with his arm in the sixth inning and then handed New York its first Grapefruit League victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday with a solo home run to lead off the eighth at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.

Austin fielded a single in right-field off the bat of Deibinson Romero in the bottom of the sixth inning and threw out Jeff Decker at home plate right after Decker had tied up the game with an RBI single that scored Willy Garcia from second base.

Two innings later, Austin blasted a tape-measure home run into the left-field stands off right-hander Deolis Guerra (0-1) that broke the 1-1 tie and eventually stood up as the game-winning run.

Left-hander Fred Lewis (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning in the seventh to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Taylor Garrison pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.

FIELD FOCUS

With all the early buzz in camp about 22-year-old right-fielder Aaron Judge’s 6-foot-7 size and his tremendous power potential, you could not blame Austin for feeling like a forgotten man.

Austin, 23, was once among what looked to be a golden group of young outfielders the Yankees had in the minor leagues. They included Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores, Mason Williams and Austin. In many circles, Austin was considered the cream of the crop.

While myriad injuries, off-field problems and poor performance have plagued Heathcott, Flores and Williams, Austin has had his share of misfortune also.

Austin was not a heralded 13th-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, but he had thrust himself into hot prospect status by batting a combined .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs in 110 games in four minor-league stops in 2012. He was named the organization’s best minor league player that season.

In 2013, he sustained both a thumb and a wrist injury that limited the right-handed hitter to a .265 average with six homers and 40 RBIs in 85 games in two minor-league assignments. Though he was injured, he remained the team’s third-rated prospect entering 2014.

Instead of getting untracked at Double-A Trenton, Austin slumped to a .275 average, nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games. The thumb injury he suffered in 2013 was still an issue, robbing him of his ability to hit the ball with authority.

As a result, he entered camp in 2015 as the team’s No. 15 prospect and Judge has shot past him to No. 5. So it has been Judge who has been getting all the attention early while Austin has quietly tried to put the injuries behind him and recover his patented line-drive stroke.

At 6-foor-1, 220 pounds Austin may not have the imposing stature of Judge. But if he can put up some good numbers this spring and have a rebound 2015 season, Austin might just get re-establish himself as a up-and-coming prospect again.

After Thursday’s throw from right-field and his game-winning home run it appears that Austin is well on his way to reopening some eyes in the organization. He obviously is hoping more of those days will come.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Both right-handed starter Emil Rogers and fellow right-hander Chase Whitley threw two scoreless innings for the Yankees. Rogers, 29, only yielded a two-out double to South Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang in the second inning. He fanned one and did not issue a walk in a 28-pitch outing. Whitley, 25, surrendered two hits, struck out one and did not walk a batter as he also threw 28 pitches. Both pitchers are eventually slated for the bullpen, but manager Joe Girardi wants Rogers, Whitley, Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell to be stretched out as starters in case the Yankees opt for a sixth starter early in the season or if they are needed to start in case of an injury.
  • Former Pirate Garrett Jones started at first base and was 2-for-2 with a double and he drove in the team’s first run off Pirates closer Mark Melancon in the fifth inning. Jones, 33, followed Chris Young’s two-out double with a hit that was scored as a double. Jones actually hit a routine fly ball that dropped between outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and second baseman Sean Rodriguez.
  • Second base prospect Rob Refsnyder, 23, has a horrible debut in Tuesday’s opener against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL. But he atoned for that on Thursday by going 2-for-3 against the Pirates. Refsnyder doubled to right in the second off starter Francisco Liriano but was thrown out attempting to stretch it to a triple on a perfect relay from Rodriguez to third baseman Justin Sellers. He then added an infield single in the fourth off right-hander Charlie Morton that loaded the bases with two outs. However, Cito Culver ended the threat with a weak popout.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I am going to give the Yankees a pass in this one because they managed to put together nine hits after collecting just five in their home opener on Wednesday. The pitching, led by Rogers and Whitley, also held the Pirates to just one run. On defense, the Yankees threw out two runners on the basepaths. All things considered it was a good effort.

BOMBER BANTER

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Thursday that he has no intention of issuing the title of captain to any Yankee in the near term. In fact, he even added that he thought retired shortstop Derek Jeter, who held the honor for 12 seasons, should be the last Yankee captain. “From my chair, it’s not something I think we have to fill,” Cashman said to reporters.  . . .  Outfielder Carlos Beltran, 37, is scheduled to play in right-field for the team’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates on Friday. It will the first game action for Beltran, who played in only 109 games last season due to a bone spur and three bone chips in his right elbow. As a result, Beltran batted a career low .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. So Beltran underwent surgery to repair the elbow last September. “I feel pretty good, making improvement every day,” Beltran told reporters. “I’m taking a lot of swings like I used to in the past in spring training. The elbow feels good.”

ON DECK

The Yankees will play on Friday in the first of what will be three scheduled split-squad games.

In the afternoon, the Yankees will play the Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater. It will be their third meeting with the Phillies in the past four days.

The Yankees will start Mitchell, a 23-year-old right-hander who was 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 23 games (21 of them starts) at two minor-league stops before making his major-league debut with the Yankees. He was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in three games (one of them as a spot starter).

Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley will be among the group of players who will play in the game.

The Phillies will counter with veteran left-hander Cole Hamels, 31, who was 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA in 30 starts last season. Rumors claim that the Phillies are shopping Hamels for a trade before the end of spring training.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by the MLB Network at 9 p.m.

The Yankees also on Friday will host the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, for what will the team’s first night tilt this spring.

Left-hander Chris Capuano, 36, will get his first start of the spring. Capuano was 2-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees after he was acquired last July from the Colorado Rockies for cash considerations. He also is the favorite to become the team’s No. 5 starter this spring.

Alex Rodriguez, coming off his excellent debut on Wednesday, will serve as the team’s designated hitter in the game.

The Pirates have scheduled 27-year-old left-hander Jeff Locke to start. Locke is competing to be the team’s No. 5 starter after going 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts with the Pirates last season.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live via MLB Radio through station KDKA in Pittsburgh.

 

Yanks Play Intrasquad Game, Prepare For Opener

The New York Yankees prepared for their spring training exhibition game scheduled for Tuesday with a simulated and intrasquad game on Monday at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.

Instead of live pitchers the team employed a pitching machine they call “Iron Mike” and simulated situations were set up for each inning. For example, in the first inning each squad started with a man on first.

“It’s hard to get the situations you want with the pitchers on the mound. We could throw the ball in the dirt when we wanted. Throw strikes. Guys can make contact. You just get a lot more out of it,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters.

Alex Rodriguez started the game as a designated hitter for one squad in what was his first game action in 17 months after being suspended by Major League Baseball for taking performance enhancing drugs.

He drew most of the attention of a small group of fans on an 80-degree-plus day with a bright glaring sun overhead.

Rodriguez grounded out to third and flied out to short right-field in his two at-bats.

Girardi said afterwards that he did not spot anything different in A-Rod’s approach at the plate and he added that he is not sure when Rodriguez will be given a chance to play in the field in an exhibition game.

Rather than evaluate Rodriguez by one day’s work Girardi told reporters that he will judge the 39-year-old infielder by the progress he makes throughout the spring.

“I think you’ll look at the progress he’s making from day to day, week to week. How his at-bats look day 10 as opposed to day one. Some guys come out swinging really great, but it’s usually the young guys,. So I think you just look at the progress more than anything,” Girardi said.

Rodriguez will not play in the team’s Grapefruit League opener on Tuesday but he is scheduled to be the designated hitter for Wednesday’s home opener.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi said that Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner will be among the group of players traveling to Clearwater, FL, for Tuesday’s opener will the Philadelphia Phillies. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley will not make the trip. But they will likely play in Wednesday’s home opener, which also will be against the Phillies. Outfielder Carlos Beltran, who is coming off surgery on his right elbow will not likely play until Friday. “Not because of anything that’s happened in camp. Just going a little slower with him,” Girardi told reporters.  . . .  Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka faced hitters for the first time in batting practice session on Monday. Tanaka, who missed all but late September starts after early July due to a partially torn tendon in his right elbow, threw just five pitches apiece to Gardner, Chris Young, Tyler Austin, Ramon Flores and Jonathan Galvez. Both Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman watched the session intently from behind the batting cage. “For the first time, I think it went well,” Tanaka told reporters through his interpreter.

ON DECK

Play ball!

The Yankees will open their spring schedule with a road game against the Phillies at Bright House Field.

Girardi selected right-hander Adam Warren, 27, to start the game for the Yankees. He likely will pitch just two innings. The Phillies named journeyman right-hander Jerome Williams to start opposite Warren.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be telecast on a delayed basis at 9 p.m. by MLB Network. The game also is available live through Philadelphia’s WPHT station on MLB Radio.

 

Beltran’s Health Key To Yankees’ 2015 Outfield

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.

OUTFIELD

RIGHT-FIELD: Carlos Beltran, 37, (.233, 15 HRs, 49 RBIs, 109 games)

CENTER-FIELD: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, (.271, 16 HRs, 70 RBIs, 39 SBs, 149 games)

LEFT-FIELD: Brett Gardner, 31, (.256, 17 HRs, 58 RBIs, 21 SBs, 148 games)

In the Yankees’ 2009 championship season they featured at outfield of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher that combined to hit 81 home runs. The 2014 edition of the Yankees only managed 48.

That tells you a lot about a team that limped to a 84-78 record and finished a distant second to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

The Yankees had envisioned a speedy and defensive outfield that also featured some power from Beltran and Ellsbury. Instead, Gardner wound up out-homering the group and doesn’t that say a lot on how bad things were last season?

Beltran was a major disappointment but it was not through any fault of his own. In late April, Beltran was suffering through a very painful bone spur in his right elbow. It was easy to see how it affected his offense, too.

On April 23, Beltran was batting .307 with five homers and 13 RBIs in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. From that point until he was placed on the disabled list on May 13, he hit .132 with no homers and two RBIs.

The Yankees can be faulted for signing the aging outfielder to a three-year contract. However, general manager Brian Cashman felt compelled to give in to Beltran’s demands for a third year after Robinson Cano left the team in a huff after the signing of Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million deal. The Yankees needed to find a solid No. 3 hitter and Beltran was the choice.

Beltran did return to the Yankees in June after attempting to rehab the elbow rather than have season-ending surgery. But he never was really the same hitter the rest of the season, batting .208 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs.

Beltran was basically playing with one arm and it showed. Even though he did return, he was unable to play the outfield until very late in the season because the bone spur in his elbow did not allow him to throw freely.

So Beltran decided to have surgery to remove the spur in September. He reported to training camp healthy and ready to prove himself as the player who hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.

So heading into 2015 the Yankees are counting on the switch-hitting Beltran to bat third and put up big home run and RBI numbers. As a player who has hit 373 career homers and driven in 1,376 runs while batting .281 over 16 major-league seasons, Beltran is certainly capable of doing that if . . .

Yep, there is that big if. The big if is can he remain healthy throughout the season? Beltran and the Yankees are anxious to find out.

“I trained hard, I did everything that I did in the past,” Beltran told reporters. “I want to be out there, no doubt.”

The Yankees are counting on Beltran, Mark Teixiera and Brian McCann to post numbers that will prevent the Yankees from ending up with the third-fewest runs scored in the American League as they did last season.

Much was also expected of Ellsbury after he signed that big contract to leave the Boston Red Sox.

For the most part, Ellsbury did deliver what was expected of him except when Beltran and Teixeira succumbed to injuries and Ellsbury was taken out of his comfortable leadoff spot and placed in the third spot in the batting order.

Ellsbury did not produce the runs the Yankees would have expected and his bat cooled off considerably as the season wore on. He ended up batting .155 in September and he did not even get close to the .298 average he put up in 2013 with the Red Sox.

By virtue of batting third, Ellsbury also did not get as many opportunities to steal bases, ending up with 13 less from his major-league-leading total of 52 in 2013.

The bottom line is that Ellsbury still led in the team in hits (156), doubles (27) and stolen bases while posting his best home run and RBI totals since 2011. He was, by all accounts, the Yankees’ most consistent hitter in 2014.

“Ellsbury is Ellsbury,” Cashman told reporters. “I thought he was basically right where he was when he left Boston. I thought he was terrific last year.”

There were moments last season that Gardner appeared to be on the verge of having a breakout season.

On June 20, Gardner was batting .290 with six homers, 28 RBIs and 15 SBs. For a club struggling with offense, Gardner was providing opportunities to score by getting on base.

But as the season wore on, a core muscle injury in his abdomen dragged Gardner down. He hit a terrible .218 with eight homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break. It ruined what looked to be what would easily be Gardner’s best in the majors.

After Gardner underwent surgery in October to correct the problem, he is reporting to camp at 100 percent.

With his return to health the Yankees would like for him to be more aggressive on the bases. After stealing 47 bases in 2010 and 49 in 2011, Gardner has regressed to just 24 steals in 2013 and 21 last season.

Manager Joe Girardi must also decide how to deploy Ellsbury and Gardner in the batting order. At this point, it appears Ellsbury will resume his leadoff role and Gardner will bat second. But Girardi likely will flip the two throughout the spring to get a feel how best to bat them.

One thing is clear, however. Both Ellsbury and Gardner give the Yankees excellent defense in the outfield. It stands to reason since they are both legitimate center-fielders.

Ellsbury won a Gold Glove with the Red Sox in 2011 and his fielding in 2014 was just as superlative. He committed only one error all season and playing the wide-open spaces of center in Yankee Stadium is not an easy assignment.

Gardner has never won a Gold Glove but he should have. Last season, Gardner committed just two errors and he was able to blend well with Ellsbury. Between the two of them it takes a lot to get a ball past them in left-center.

Beltran won three Gold Gloves with the New York Mets from 2006 through 2008. However, he will not be winning anymore of them. Knee problems have robbed Beltran of the range he used to have as a center-fielder.

He was charged with three errors in 31 starts in the outfield last season. But the good news is that right-field does not have as much ground to cover so the Yankees will only ask Beltran to catch what he can reach.

Though the Yankees realized his best days were behind him they will still miss the defensive prowess of Ichiro Suzuki in right-field. Suzuki has moved on to the Miami Marlins.

The Yankees have some depth in the outfield with a pair of players who have a lot of experience.

Garrett Jones was obtained in trade with the Marlins and is slated to have some important roles with the team this season.

Jones, 33, batted .246 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as a first baseman.

The Yankees would like the lefty-swinging Jones to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season because his swing is perfect for the short dimensions in right-field. In addition, Jones will back up Teixeira at first base and Beltran in right-field.

Jones is not a great fielder at first base (13 errors in 129 games in 2014) but he holds his own in the outfield. He does not have much range but he can make the plays. The Yankees feel they now have a serviceable backup for both Teixeira and Beltran and they are glad to have him.

The Yankees also have 31-year-old veteran Chris Young back after an impressive late-season audition with the team in 2014.

Young was cut loose by the Mets in early August and the Yankees signed him to a minor-league deal on Aug. 27. In the final month of the season, Young batted .282 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games.

On that basis the Yankees elected to re-sign the veteran to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He will be the team’s fourth outfielder and as a right-handed hitter he can give Gardner or Ellsbury a rest against a tough-left-handed pitcher.

Young is a power hitter who hit 20 or more home runs in four of five seasons between 2007 and 2011, including 32 in 2007. However, Young has never batted above .257 in any of his eight major-league seasons and he enters 2015 as a career .234 hitter.

Young still has some speed. He has 130 career steals and eight in limited play last season.

The former 2010 National League All-Star also can play all three outfield spots and he is an above average defender.

The additions of Jones and Young give manager Joe Girardi some flexibility in making out lineups and they are solid insurance policies should someone land on the disabled list.

One of the biggest failings of Cashman and the scouting department has been the inability of the Yankees to develop minor-league outfielders who can contribute to the Yankees. It seems that whatever prospects have been in the system are languishing and they aren’t progressing.

Zoilo Almonte, 25, has been up and down with the Yankees the past two seasons and has a .211 batting average in 47 games to show for it. The Yankees elected to let him go as a minor-league free agent and Almonte has since signed with the Atlanta Braves.

The other prospect names are virtually the same from last season: Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores. Further behind them is Slade Heathcott.

They all will get another look this spring but they all will not make the roster unless there are some injuries.

Williams, 23, was once considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system but he has slid to No. 16 this season after batting a horrible .223 with five homers and 40 RBIs in 128 games at Double-A Trenton.

Williams is a gifted athlete and he is sensational defensive outfielder. But at the plate he has become more of a slap hitter and it is obvious that he not making enough contact. Williams’ hustle has also been questioned and he was arrested on a DUI in 2013.

Austin, 23, also dropped as a prospect to No. 15. But he was a bit better at Trenton. He batted .275 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games last season. But after he batted .322 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 2012, Austin has been dogged a persistent sprained right thumb.

The Yankees still have hope that he can he can develop. The Yankees think he can become a high-average power hitter. Austin is mainly a corner outfielder and likely would figure in as a right-fielder in the majors.

Flores, 22, is ranked as the team’s 14th best prospect after he batted a .247 with seven homers and 23 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A high-ankle sprain kept him from progressing as the Yankees would have liked.

Right now Flores is pegged as all-fields hitter who lacks power. It’s that reason why he is beginning to look like more of a fourth outfielder than a starter. Though he can play all three spots he works out best as a left-fielder because he lacks speed.

Heathcott, 24, was a former first-round pick of the Yankees in 2009 and he was not tendered a contract offer by the Yankees in December. Yet the Yankees re-signed him and invited him to camp as a non-roster player.

Though Heathcott has great talent, his all-out style of play has landed him on the minor-league disabled list many times. In 2013, it was a knee injury that required surgery.

He played only nine games at Trenton in 2014 before re-injuring the knee and missing the rest of the season. It looks like the Yankees are offering Heathcott one last make-or-break attempt because he is 24 and he has not advanced past Double-A.

One non-roster player that the Yankees can’t wait to check out is 6-foot-7, 230-pound Aaron Judge, who was a first-round selection by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

Judge, 22, has a resemblance to NBA forward Blake Griffin and because of his size he has drawn comparisons to Dave Winfield and Giancarlo Stanton. But Judge does not just look the part.

In 131 games in two Class-A stops in 2014, Judge batted .308 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. His right-hand power stroke is awesome to see. Scouts say he does not just hit balls; he crushes them.

With his long swing he is prone to fail to make contact and strike out a lot. But the Yankees see him fitting nicely into right-field because for a big man Judge can move pretty well and he is a decent outfielder defensively.

He is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the organization and the Yankees can’t wait to see what he can do this spring.

The No. 8 prospect is 22-year-old Jake Cave, who hit a combined .294 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs between Class-A Tampa and Trenton.

Cave hits consistently from the left side. Not a big power threat, he mostly is a gap hitter. Cave is a above-average outfielder and as a former pitcher he has a great arm in center-field. He has good but not great speed but scouts love his max effort.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

The Yankees have been snakebit for the past two seasons with injuries and the one to Beltran really derailed the outfield and caused a significant drop in run production in 2014. It is easy to say that Beltran, Ellsbury and Gardner are an excellent mix of speed, power, run production and defense but they all have to stay healthy.

The fact that Beltran has not missed a lot of time in the past indicates the odds he will be able to play a full season and he should be able to provide some power (20 plus homers) and 90 or more RBIs. The Yankees will need that from him in the No. 3 spot in the order.

Ellsbury and Gardner combined for 60 stolen bases but they should steal a whole lot more this season.

The shift of Ellsbury to the third spot cut his steals to 39 and Gardner has seemed more and more reluctant to run the last two seasons. It is hard to figure out why.

But the Yankees need both of them to get on base, advance and score runs if the team is going to succeed. There is not as much power on this team as there once was and that is why Ellsbury and Gardner will have to make the engine go.

The fact the two combined to hit 33 home runs was a bonus. The Yankees would love to have a repeat of those numbers in 2015.

The Yankees are blessed to have two backup outfielders capable of hitting double-digit homers in Young and Jones.

Young can play all three positions and Jones is a corner outfielder. But Jones likely will get more work as the team’s primary DH and as the backup to Teixeira at first base.

But Jones could also end up as a starter in right-field if Beltran goes down for any length of time.

Most of the Yankees’ most advanced outfield prospects have been major disappointments. Williams, Austin, Flores and Heathcott have all been highly touted prospects but they have flamed out so far.

Of that group, only Austin appears capable of turning it around if he can overcome his injury problems.

The best news on the farm is that Judge appears to the man-mountain power threat he appears to be. The Yankees just have to hope he can keep the strikeouts in check and keep his average up. The Yankees would like to have Judge be more like Winfield rather than Dave Kingman.

He is worth watching this spring.

NEXT: STARTING PITCHERS

Pineda, Soriano Allow Yankees To Swarm Red Sox

GAME 22

YANKEES 8, RED SOX 1

TAMPA – It was buzzing all day long at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday and the day ended for the Red Sox much like Irwin Allen’s 1978 disaster horror film “The Swarm.”

Michael Pineda turned in 4 1/3 innings of shutout baseball and Alfonso Soriano drove in four runs – three of them on his first home run of the spring – as New York made like busy little bees and unmercifully stung Boston in front of a sellout crowd of 11,032 and national television audience.

Pineda (2-0) made a serious pitch for the team’s No. 5 starter’s job by yielding just four hits, did not walk a batter and struck out five. The 25-year-old right-hander, who has not pitched in a regular-season major-league game since the 2011 season due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required surgery, threw 45 of his 60 pitches for strikes and now has 14 strikeouts in nine scoreless innings this spring.

Meanwhile, the Yankees bugged left-hander Felix Doubront (0-1) for 3 2/3 innings in which Doubront was tagged for seven runs on 10 hits and three walks.

The Yankees scored a single run in the first on a two-out RBI single by Soriano and they added four runs in the second inning, keyed by a two-run single Mark Teixeira.

With the Yankees up 5-0 with two out in the fourth, Carlos Beltran singled and Teixeira drew a walk, which ended Doubront’s afternoon. Soriano then laced right-hander Brandon Workman’s fourth delivery over the left-field wall to put the game out of reach at 8-0.

Amid the frenzy of the crowd when these two storied rivals meet there actually was a real buzz that caused a seven-minute delay of the game in the third inning.

A massive swarm of bees along the left-field line was first noticed by Red Sox left-fielder Mike Carp, who informed the umpiring crew. Groundskeepers took to the field armed with the bug spray cans to drive the swarm away so the game could resume.

“Not a big fan of bees flying around my head,” Carp said. “It’s just one of those things I’ve never seen happen – or, I’ve seen it happen, but it’s never happened to me. I’m sure they’ll get their laughs on ESPN tonight.”

Boston’s lone run of the game came in the seventh inning off right-hander David Herndon. Jonathan Herrera scored Corey Brown on an RBI single.

The Yankees raised their Grapefruit League record to 11-9-2. The Red Sox fell to 8-11.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • For all intents and purposes, Pineda has won the No. 5 starting job even if manager Joe Girardi is not ready to make it official. Girardi said a decision would not be made until Sunday, which coincidentally is the day Pineda is scheduled to make his next start. I have said from the beginning of spring training that if Pineda was healthy he would get the job because David Phelps and Adam Warren are capable of working out of the bullpen and Pineda is not. In addition, Vidal Nuno has more value as a starter at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he can summoned should there be an injury to a starter during the season.
  • Soriano spent the first two weeks of the spring trying to regain his strength after a long battle with a persistent flu. It seems he is rounding back into form because he hit the ball hard all day long. Soriano will be a key member of the team because he provides 30-homer power from the right side of the plate.
  • Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli both continued their hot hitting of late. Gardner was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and he has raised his spring average to .313. Meanwhile, Cervelli is hitting like he is possessed. He was 2-for-3 on Tuesday and he is batting an even .500 on the spring. I am not sure a fire extinguisher would cool him off.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Hmmm! It was a beautiful sunny day, Pineda was absolutely dazzling, the Red Sox No. 5 starter Doubront was shelled and we got to see the Bosox get swarmed by thousands of bees. How could there be anything negative in any of that?

BOMBER BANTER

Starting center-fielder and former Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury was held out the lineup on Tuesday due to tightness in his right calf. Girardi said that Ellsbury will be held out of games scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday also. Though the injury is not considered serious, the Yankees want to make sure the injury has healed completely before Ellsbury returns to game action.  . . .  Girardi said that right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will make his next start on Saturday when the Yankees travel to Fort Myers, FL, to face the Minnesota Twins.  . . .  Outfielder Mason Williams, the teams’ No. 2 rated prospect, was among 12 players cut from the squad beforeafter Tuesday’s game. Outfielder Ramon Flores was optioned to Triple A while the others were reassigned to minor-league camp. The other players are: pitchers Bruce Billings, Robert Coello, Brian Gordon and Chase Whitley; catcher Francisco Arcia and Pete O’Brien; infielders Corban Joseph and Jose Pirela; and outfielders Williams and Tyler Austin.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Champion Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL, on Wednesday to take on the Atlanta Braves.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-1, 5.40 ERA) will make the start for the Yankees. Former Braves catcher Brian McCann will head a group of players including Derek Jeter, Beltran, Gardner and Soriano that will make the trip.

The Braves will counter with right-hander David Hale (0-1, 4.50 ERA).

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MLB Radio.

 

Canzler Among 26 Spring Yankee Camp Invitees

With pitchers and catchers due to report in less than two weeks (Feb. 14) and the full squad coming in on Feb. 19, the New York Yankees have invited a total of 26 players to spring training.

Nine players have been signed to minor-league deals including right-hander Bruce Billings, infielder Russ Canzler, right-hander Robert Coello, right-hander Brian Gordon, right-hander Chris Leroux, outfielder Antoan Richardson, infielder Scott Sizemore, infielder Yangervis Solarte and infielder Zelous Wheeler.

Canzler (29 games), Coello (28), Sizemore (160) and Leroux (63) all have previous major-league experience. In addition, left-hander Matt Daley, infielder Corban Joseph and right-hander Jim Miller also received invites after spending time with the Yankees last season.

Among the position players with major-league experience, the infielders Canzler, Sizemore and Joseph will get opportunities to actually make the squad this spring.

If Canzler’s name is familiar it is because he was on the Yankees’ original spring training roster last season before he was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Travis Hafner. Canzler, 27, was then picked up by the Baltimore Orioles and he was later sent to their Triple A affiliate in Norfolk.

He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 13 and spent the rest of the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. Combined at the two stops, Canzler hit .252 with 12 home runs and 62 RBIs in 125 games.

Canzler is valuable utility player in that he can play both corner infield and outfield spots.

In his 29 games in the majors, he is a .271 hitter with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

The Yankees see the 6-foot-2 right-handed power hitter as a possible platoon at third base with left-handed-hitting Kelly Johnson and a fill-in for Mark Teixeira at first-base. The fact Canzler also can play the outfield would be a definite bonus.

Sizemore, 29, on the other hand, is primarily a second baseman who figures to be in line as a backup infielder at second, shortstop and third base.

The right-handed-hitting Sizemore, a product of the Detroit Tigers’ minor-league system, was dealt to the Oakland Athletics in 2011. In 160 games, Sizemore has hit .238 with 14 homers and 60 RBIs.

Sizemore elected to become a free agent this winter after knee injuries limited him to just two games since 2011.

Joseph, 25, is product of the Yankees’ minor-league system and he made his major-league debut with the Yankees on May 13 during a doubleheader with the Cleveland Indians. Sizemore was 1-for-6 in the two games.

Primarily a second baseman, the lefty-swinging rookie can also play third base.

In 47 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Joseph hit only .239 with six homers and 19 RBIs. He was placed on the disabled list on May 31 and missed the remainder of the season with a right shoulder injury that required surgery.

With Brian Roberts entrenched at second and Johnson penciled in at third, Joseph’s chances of making the major-league roster in 2014 are virtually nil. The Yankees also have veteran backups such as Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez ahead of him as well as second base prospects Dean Anna and Jose Pirela knocking on the door.

Of the pitchers, Miller has the best shot to make the team after spending most of the 2013 season at Triple A, where he was 3-5 with a 3.55 ERA and six saves in nine chances in 43 games.

In one game with the Yankees, Miller, 31, had a 20.25 ERA in 1 1/3 innings. Miller also has pitched for the Orioles, the Colorado Rockies and the A’s in his career.

The list of 26 invitees also includes outfielder Mason Williams, right-hander Danny Burawa, outfielder Tyler Austin, right-hander Chase Whitley and left-hander Fred Lewis. All five were selected by the Yankees during the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

Williams, 22, is the team’s No. 2 prospect, and Austin, 22, is the team’s No. 3 prospect.

The organization’s Minor-League Pitcher of the Year in 2012, right-handed reliever Mark Montgomery, also was invited.

The other invitees include: Catchers Pete O’Brien, Francisco Arcia and Jose Gil; outfielder Adonis Garcia; infielder Pirela; right-handers Yoshinori Tateyama and David Herndon; and left-hander Francisco Rondon.

The 26 invitees brings the number of players invited to camp to 66, which is 18 fewer than in 2014. Among the 26 players are 13 pitchers, three catchers, six infielders and four outfielders.

Yankees Boast Outfield With Power, Speed Mix

For the Yankees, 2013 was pretty much a lost season and the biggest weakness on the team was in the outfield.

The projected outfield after the Yankees let right-fielder Nick Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians included Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, only Gardner had a productive season.

Granderson, 32, was struck in the right arm on a pitch from Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Jay Happ in his first at-bat of spring training and he missed the first month and a half of the season.

He returned on May 14 and played in just eight games before suffering a fractured left knuckle on May 25 after being hit by a pitch by Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos. He did not return until Aug. 2.

Granderson ended up his final season of a four-year contract with just seven home runs and 15 RBIs and a .229 batting average in 61 games. The Yankees opted not to make an offer to the outfielder and he signed with the crosstown New York Mets for 2014 season.

The Yankees, devoid of power they lost through free agency before the 2013 season, missed out on Granderson’s power that saw him slug a major-league best 84 home runs in the previous two seasons. But it is pretty safe to say that Granderson will not be hitting 40 home runs in spacious Citi Field and the Yankees will not miss the 364 strikeouts he compiled in the two seasons he hit the 84 home runs.

Granderson’s strikeout totals rose as his batting average dropped and the front office doubted his ability to play center-field by installing Gardner there in 2013.

Suzuki, 40, on the other hand, was perfectly healthy throughout the 2013 season. However, as the season wore on, Suzuki’s ability to get on base waned to the point that he ended up being benched for most of the final month of the season.

He hit a career-low .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, which also was a career low. Although Suzuki is in the second year of a two-year contract he signed with the Yankees, his spot on the roster is now tenuous at best. The Yankees package him in a trade before spring training starts.

But it is safe to say that Suzuki’s days as a everyday player with the Yankees have come to an end.

On July 19, Suzuki was helping a team that was ravaged by injury, hitting a respectable .283. From that point on the former American League Most Valuable Player and perennial All-Star hit .198. Father Time looks have claimed what little magic was left in Suzuki’s bat.

That is a shame.

Gardner, 30, ended up coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season to have his best season in the majors. He hit .273 with eight homers and 52 RBIs and stole 24 bases for a team that finished out of the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons.

He also played Gold Glove-quality defense in center-field.

But, like many of his teammates, Gardner succumbed to a strained left oblique on Sept. 12 and he missed the rest of the season. Before spring training in 2014, Gardner looks to be a player without a position because of the Yankees’ decision to trade for left-fielder Alfonso Soriano in the middle of the 2013 season and the free-agent signings of center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-fielder Carlos Beltran.

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine made it clear at the winter meetings that the team was not looking to trade Gardner. Levine said, the team “absolutely had no intention” trading the speedy outfielder.

But because the team has also said they will not carry a permanent designated hitter, Soriano looks to be the team’s left-fielder, leaving Gardner relegated to backup status. That would not seem to make much sense. However, the Yankees have had to make a lot of shifts to the outfield this offseason.

On Jan. 10, the Yankees designated for assignment veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, who was acquired in a late 2013 spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels to replace the injured Granderson.

Wells, 35, looked like a godsend on May 15 when had 10 home runs, 23 RBIs and was batting .301. But the league caught up to Wells’ aggressive approach at the plate and he ended up with just two home runs and 27 RBIs and hit only .145 the rest of the season.

Like Suzuki, Wells ended up being benched most of the final month of the season. His future with the Yankees was in serious doubt and the Yankees have opted to cut him loose now so that he might be able to sign with another team.

Unlike Wells, Soriano, 38, was a true revelation when he donned the pinstripes on July 26 for the first time since 2003.

Soriano was hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs with the Chicago Cubs when he was acquired. From that time on, Soriano hit .256 with 17 home runs and and 50 RBIs in only 58 games with the Yankees.

His impact was almost immediate for a team missing Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Soriano became the team’s cleanup hitter and he along with Robinson Cano gave the team a one-two punch the lineup had not had all season long.

On top of that, Soriano showed the Yankees he had improved as an outfielder. He committed only one error in the outfield for the Yankees and he made some pretty sparkling plays in the field for his old team. So enters 2014 as the team’s starting left-fielder.

The Yankees upgraded their outfield nicely by signing Ellsbury, 30, to a shockingly rich seven-year, $153 million contract that prompted Cano to pitch a temper tantrum and storm off to the Seattle Mariners.

Ellsbury is what the Yankees had hoped Gardner would be by this stage: A hitter who could get on base a lot and score a lot of runs by being daring and disruptive on the bases.

In 2013, Ellsbury hit .298 with nine homers and 35 RBIs while leading the American League with 52 stolen bases. Ellsbury is also an excellent defender, having won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2011 when he hit .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.

Ellsbury has compiled 241 career stolen bases and has a career success rate of 84 percent. Gardner, in contrast, has 161 bags with a 81 percent success rate. The Yankees envision both being in the lineup and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. However, in order to do that they would have to find a spot for Gardner to play.

The Yankees determined pretty early that with Swisher having left last season and Suzuki on his last days as a player they needed to upgrade right-field and they did that by signing Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract on Dec. 19.

Beltran, 36, hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs with the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. He also is a switch-hitter with a career average of .283 and 358 home runs and 1,327 RBIs. With Cano missing from the middle of the Yankees’ lineup Beltran will provide a powerful bat to replace him in 2014.

The trio of Beltran, Soriano and Teixeira could easily combine to hit 100 home runs for the Yankees in 2014, which would address one of their biggest shortcomings last season.

Though Beltran did win three Gold Glove awards from 2006 through 2008 with the New York Mets, knee injuries have cut down his ability to play center-field with the skill he used display. However, he is no slouch in right-field and he has an above-average arm.

So the Yankees’ quintet of Gardner, Ellsbury, Soriano, Beltran and Suzuki provide a nice mix of power and speed. They also provide superb defense.

The signings of Ellsbury and Beltran and the acquisition of Soriano are an admission that is painful for Cashman and the Yankee front office that the team’s minor-league outfield prospects are not progressing at a pace they would have wanted.

The Yankees entered 2013 with a handful of promising outfield prospects. But not many have stepped up and most were disappointments last season.

The team’s No. 2 prospect Mason Williams suffered a shoulder injury that cut short his season and he ended up hitting a combined .245 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 117 games between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

The 22-year-old speedster has the ability to become a smaller version of Bernie Williams with line-drive power, speed and a very good-fielding center-fielder. But he has to shake off the injuries that sidetracked him and accelerate his development in 2014.

The team’s No. 3 prospect, Tyler Austin, is also 22 and he also suffered some injury issues in 2013. A wrist injury cut his season short and he left the Arizona Fall League when it recurred.

Austin hit a combined .257 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 83 games with Trenton. Austin is a converted infielder who has the ability to hit for average (He hit a combined .354 in 2011.). But it does not appear he will hit for a lot of power as you might expect from an outfielder.

He has the ability to be an above average fielding right-fielder and the Yankees hope he shows some real progress as a hitter in 2014.

The No. 7 prospect, 2009 top draft pick Slade Heathcott, has been a victim of his all-out style that periodically kept him off the field up until 2013.

Now he is starting to put it all together and he hit .261 with eight homers and 49 RBIs with 15 steals in 103 games at Trenton last season. Heathcott, 23, has a line-drive bat that could develop into power and is way above-average fielder with a plus arm.

The Yankees just hope he can remain healthy enough to progress to the majors.

The No. 6 prospect actually played in the majors last season due to the injuries the team sustained. Zoilo Almonte, 24, was actually rushed to the majors despite the fact he did not spend a full season above the Double-A level.

In 68 games at Triple-A Sranton/Wilkes-Barre, Almonte hit .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs. He made his major-league debut on June 19 and he ended up hitting .236 with one home run and nine RBIs in 34 games with the Yankees.

Like most of the Yankees, he ended up on the 15-day disabled list on July 20 with a left ankle sprain. He was not activated until Sept. 9 and played sparingly the rest of the season. But the Yankees do believe he could turn into a solid run-producing outfielder.

Almonte is not a speedster and he will not win any Gold Gloves with his defense. But his bat could make him a solid starter or a real good fourth outfielder. The Yankees like the fact he is switch-hitter and they would like to see what he can do with a full season at Triple A.

His chances of making the roster are slim unless the Yankees choose to deal away Gardner or Suzuki.

Almonte’s Scranton teammate, Melky Mesa, also made his major-league debut with the Yankees last season. Mesa, batted .385 with no homers and one RBI in five games with the Yankees last season.

But Mesa, who will be 27 at the end of January, has pretty much played himself out of prospect status after hitting .261 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs with 13 steals in 84 games with Scranton. His 112 strikeouts in .314 at-bats pretty much make him a right-handed hitting version of Granderson.

His power is and speed are special but those numbers come at the cost of a lot of swinging at air. Mesa is an above-average center-fielder who can run down flies with the best of them. But his all-or-nothing approach at the plate make him less likely to have much success at the major-league level.

These are the Yankees’ cream of the crop outfielders at this stage. With Beltran signed for three years and Ellsbury signed for seven there will be lots of time for them to develop in the minors.

In the meantime, Beltran and Ellsbury have elevated the quality of the outfield and there is plenty of depth with former starters Gardner and Suzuki considered as backups for the time being.

The combination of power and speed with quality defensive play makes this the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster in 2014. It could very well be one of the best outfields they have fielded in some time.

 

Sabathia Fine In Debut As Yankees Hook Marlins

GAME 20

YANKEES 7, MARLINS 3

TAMPA  –  You can make a case that spring has not really sprung until a major-league team’s ace pitches in his first exhibition game. Well, for the Yankees it sprung on Friday as CC Sabathia toed the rubber for the first time and he pitched five solid innings.

Later the Yankees broke a 3-3 tie when Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto’s passed ball with the bases loaded in the bottom of seventh inning allowed Jose Pirela to score the tie-breaking run as New York went on to overtake Miami at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The Yankees added another run in the frame when Realmuto was charged with an error on an attempted pickoff of Ichiro Suzuki at first base that allowed Gil Velazquez to score.

David Robertson (1-0) pitched an inning of scoreless relief to get credit for the victory. Dan Jennings (0-1) took the loss.

The Yankees initially rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead on a solo home run by Francisco Cervelli in the second inning and a mammoth two-run blast to right off the bat of Travis Hafner in the third. The home runs were the first of the spring for both Hafner and Cervelli.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their spring ledger to 8-12. The Marlins fell to 7-10.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hafner finally provided the power the Yankees were looking for when they signed him to a one-year contract to be the team’s left-hand designated hitter. Hafner’s home run with one out in the third inning came off former Mets right-hander John Maine, who is attempting to win a starting rotation spot with the Marlins. Hafner, 35, is now hitting .174 with a homer and four RBIs.
  • The pitching line for Sabathia looks bad at first glance: Two runs on eight hits and one walk and two strikeouts in five innings. But most of those eight hits were not hard-hit balls. They included a bunt single, two bloop singles and a few others that just wriggled through holes in the infield. Sabathia, 32, was making his first start after recovering from offseason surgery to remove a bone spur in his left elbow.
  • Pirela, 23, has very quietly had a great spring. He entered the game in the fourth inning and ended up going 2-for-3 with a triple and a single and he scored the tie-breaking run and drove in another run in the eighth. Pirela, who hit .293 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 82 games at Double-A Trenton last season, is hitting .385 this spring.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • After a scorching hot start Brett Gardner is beginning to struggle a bit. He was 0-for-4 on Friday with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out the infield. In his last six starts dating back to March 7, Gardner is a miserable 1-for-18 and his spring average has plunged to .324.
  • Non-roster infielder Dan Johnson is seemingly playing his way out of a chance to make the 25-man roster. Johnson, 33, was 0-for-2 on Friday and he is hitting a ridiculously low .043 this spring with seven strikeouts in his 23 at-bats. With injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, Johnson had a great shot to make the team as backup corner infielder  –  the same role Eric Chavez filled last season. But it looks like that ship may have sailed unless Johnson gets awful hot in a hurry.
  • Even in scoring seven runs the Yankees still did not hit well with runners in scoring position. They were 1-for-8 in the game and it remains a major concern going forward.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees have added to their outfield depth by signing Brennan Boesch, who was released earlier this week by the Detroit Tigers. Boesch, 27, hit .240 with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs in 132 games with the American League champions in 2012. He was hitting .188 in 16 at-bats with the Tigers this spring. Boesch signed a one-year major-league contract for $1.5 million and $600,000 in performance incentives and he will give the Yankees a left-handed hitting corner outfielder as Curtis Granderson recovers from broken right forearm. It appears that Juan Rivera and the newly acquired Ben Francisco are competing for the right-hand portion of the corner outfield spots. Rivera also has been playing some first base in Teixera’s absence.  . . .  Utility man Ronnier Mustelier was forced to leave Friday’s game with multiple contusions on both legs after he ran into a metal dugout railing chasing a foul pop off the bat of Juan Pierre in the fourth inning. Manager Joe Girardi said Mustelier likely will be out until at least Tuesday. Mustelier, 28, has been a hitting sensation this spring and the Yankees have looked him at the corner outfielder spots and at third base.  . . .  Yankees relief prospect Mark Mongomery and rising star outfielder Tyler Austin were presented with 2012 Kevin O’Brien Lawn awards before Friday’s game. Montgomery, 23, received the “Pitcher of the Year” award after going a combined 7-2 with a 1.54 ERA and 15 saves between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Austin, 21, was named “Player of the Year” after batting a combined .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs in four minor-league stops last season. The annual awards are dedicated to Kevin O’Brien Lawn – the son of longtime Yankees Vice President and Chief of Operations Jack Lawn – who passed away in 1999.

ON DECK

The Yankees will play a pair of games on Saturday.

In one game the Yankees will play host to the Philadelphia Phillies. In the other game, the Yankees will send a split squad to play the Atlanta Braves at Champions Stadium in Lake Buena Vista, FL.

Hiroki Kuroda will start at home against the Phillies. He will be opposed by reliever Raul Valdes.

Game-time will be one hour earlier than usual at 12:05 p.m. EDT to accommodate an evening concert at Raymond James Stadium by country star Kenny Chesney.  The game will be telecast live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.

David Phelps, who is still in the running to be the team’s fifth starter, will pitch in the road contest. He will square off against left-hander Paul Maholm of the Braves.

Game-time will be 5:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast on tape delay by the MLB Network.