It seems like we were just getting excited about pitchers and catchers reporting to training camp. Now, here we are at the end of the Grapefruit League season and awaiting the first pitch to start the 2017 MLB season.
It was a very successful Spring for the Yankees. It was far better than I could have imagined. Heading into Spring, we were concerned about Greg Bird. He hit well late in the 2015 season but missed most of last year due to his shoulder injury. There was doubt about how he would perform and if the shoulder would hold him back like, say, the way Mark Teixeira’s wrist did. Bird smashed any concerns that he is ready. I know that Spring stats do not really mean much, but Bird led the Yankees with 8 home runs and was second on the team behind Gary Sanchez with 15 RBI’s. He played first base like a veteran and by all accounts, he is posed to be a future star in New York. I’ve always thought of Bird as a professional hitter and not one who will be susceptible to prolonged slumps. I am very glad to see that he is ready to fly (no pun intended).
Credit: John Raoux, AP
What can you say about Gary Sanchez? He continued the great success from last Fall without missing a beat. His bat delivered (5 homers and 16 RBI’s), and do did his arm (.983 fielding percentage in 102 innings worked, with a sub .500 stolen base percentage against him as he threw out 6 runners while only allow 4 SB’s). He is arguably the most exciting Yankees catcher since Jorge Posada or to place him higher, Thurman Munson. Good times ahead for the catching position, no doubt.
Aaron Judge held off Aaron Hicks to win right field in the Battle of Aarons. I feel bad for Hicks because I know that he needs to play every day to be successful. It’s hard to get into rhythm with limited, spot starts. But I would have been very disappointed to see Hicks get the right field job over Judge. At this point, sending Judge down to Triple A serves no purpose. He has proven himself at that level. He needs to master the Major Leagues and he can only do that by being here and playing every day. His ceiling, if successful, is so much greater than Hicks. Dating back to the days of Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield, I love powerful right fielders at Yankee Stadium.
If I was the General Manager of the Yankees, Brett Gardner would be living in a different zip code. Nothing against Gardner, he’s been a good Yankee but his best days are behind him. He needs to open the way for younger guys. I’d prefer to start Hicks in left over Gardner, so I’d find a way to move Gardy even if the return is not ideal. The perfect scenario would be to trade Jacoby Ellsbury and move Gardner to center, but that’s not going to happen with nearly $90 million left on Ellsbury’s contract.
In the starting rotation, Luis Severino won the fourth spot but it was not an overpowering Spring performance. Last year, Severino chased his first win as a starter without success (he picked up a few wins in the bullpen but was 0-8 in his starts). I really hopeful that we do not go weeks or months trying to get that elusive first win this year. Severino has so much potential but he still leaves so many wondering if his stuff plays better out of the pen. It would be nice if he could prove those naysayers wrong (including me) to become a vital part of the rotation.
Manager Joe Girardi has delayed his decision for a fifth starter. With three scheduled off days during April including two days in the first week, a fifth starter is not needed until Sunday, April 16th at home against the St Louis Cardinals. Of the competitors for the fifth spot, only Bryan Mitchell made the Opening Day roster as a reliever. Chad Green will go down to AA Trenton while Jordan Montgomery will go to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Both Green and Montgomery will have early April starts in the minors for further auditions. I am sure that Mitchell will get some audition opportunities through long relief. Mitchell had been my favorite for the rotation but Jordan Montgomery changed my mind. So, I am hopeful that Montgomery gets the call-up when it is time for the fifth starter.
Credit: Associated Press
I was glad to see Chasen Shreve make the Opening Day roster as the second lefty behind Tommy Layne. Well, technically the third but Aroldis Chapman doesn’t really count since he’s on the mound at the end of games regardless of who is at the plate. When the Yankees toyed with the minor league signings of Ernesto Frieri and Jon Niese, I was fearful that Shreve would be one of the odd men out. Perhaps he still is given the Yankees’ propensity for the using the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre shuttle to keep the bullpen fresh. Another young reliever I am happy for is Jonathan Holder.
Utility player Ronald Torreyes won the interim shortstop role while Didi Gregorius begins the year on the Disabled List. I am not excited about Torreyes in an every day role, but there were limited internal options. The Yankees will make room on the 40-man roster to bring up Pete Kozma to back up Torreyes, but Kozma has no bat. It did not make sense for the Yankees to trade for a shortstop since Didi will be back by the end of April or early May, and, unfortunately, prospect Tyler Wade is not quite ready. I also didn’t want to see the Yankees slide Starlin Castro back to short. He is still relatively inexperienced at second and needs to continue his work at the position. The Yankees obviously agreed as they never played Castro at short during training camp. Many thought the Yankees should have slid Castro to short to allow Rob Refsnyder to start at second. I am not sure that Refsnyder, for whatever reason, will ever get a legitimate chance in the Bronx. He was sent down to AAA for the start of the season with earlier reports that he was on the trading block.
I am not expecting this to be a playoff year for the Yankees. They could surprise and nab a Wild Card spot but I don’t think this is their year to unseat the Boston Red Sox as AL East Champions. They are still a year or two away from being a legitimate World Series contender. I do think this will be a more exciting team than last year’s team from beginning to end. The Baby Bombers proved that last year when the deadline deals moved Chapman to the Cubs and Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians, and Alex Rodriguez was released. It was only a preview of the excitement and energy the younger players can bring, which is further enhanced by the presence of Greg Bird this year.
Despite the quick arrival of the regular season, I am ready. Play ball!…