Yankees: 3 key position battles to watch this Spring

yankees, dj lemahieu

As pitchers and catchers report next week, the Yankees are getting ready to rock this year. Baseball is indeed just around the corner, and with it, the competition begins. This spring, there should be a few exciting position battles to keep an eye on. Despite the fact that the Yankees’ lineup isn’t drastically different than last year, some positions are still up in the air at this moment.

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Three key position battles for the Yankees this spring training:

Left field

The talk of the offseason has been the Yankees’ left-field situation and what the team wants to do with the options they have. The favorite to start now appears to be Oswaldo Cabrera, though it’s been known that the team prefers to use him as a super-utility averse to limiting his role to just one position. The other option is Aaron Hicks, with various other internal guys throwing their hat in the ring as well. 

Hicks has had a few years worth of downplay, partnered with some injuries that have severely hampered his abilities. He does still walk at an elite rate, but the power that he used to have seems to be tapped. Oswaldo is the preferred option of the two, but Rafael Ortega and Willie Calhoun could also have a great spring and stake their claim. Ortega especially posted a 122 wRC+ back in 2021 and has some great power vs the opposite-handed pitching. Last year he also played 67 games in CF, which could mean he would be the backup to Bader in center. 

I think Cabrera will see a lot of time in left, but the Yanks also have a few prospects that can potentially get some PAs as the season goes on. Guys like Elijah Dunham and Everson Pereira could get their fair share of reps. The Yanks could also be looking into acquiring an outfielder at the deadline, as come July, many teams will be looking to sell off and recoup some capital for the next season. Left field is one of the biggest holes in this squad right now, though that could change if some guys exceed expectations. 

Shortstop

Shortstop could finally be sorted before the season even begins, as Oswald Peraza seems to have it on lock. Fortunately, the IKF stopgap experience appears to be over. With that being said, Cashman has still been very outspoken about how it’ll be a competition between numerous guys and how no one has earned the starting nod quite yet. Anthony Volpe will also be able to make a statement and potentially swipe either a bench spot or maybe even a starting role at either short or second. 

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The Yanks’ haven’t been super upfront about a lot of the decisions internally, nor do we really know what the future holds for Gleyber Torres. If Torres is on the roster come OD, he’ll undoubtedly be the starting 2B. If he is to be moved, then that means DJ LeMahieu will likely start at second as the team ushers in Volpe to begin the season. Shortstop is a much more open position, but Peraza should be able to take that with ease. The upside for him, after posting a 146 wRC+ in his 18-game sample size, is clearly far more exciting than IKF’s. 

Peraza can actually hit for power, play great defense at short, and has some solid wheels to boot. It’ll be a battle from the get-go, but if he does well in Spring, there should be no reservations over handing him the reins full-time. He waited his turn last season, far longer than he should’ve had to, and came up and didn’t miss a beat. He was so solid that the team trusted him enough to start him in the ALCS a few of the games, as they elected to bench IKF for the games that mattered most. That should speak bounds, and there can be no way they possibly go back with IKF as the starter. 

Third base

The third base position is probably going to be the one position where there is no true outright winner for it. I can see both JD & DJ getting their fair share of reps, as with Donaldson especially, the idea that he should bounce back has been talked about by fans and team personnel alike. Yankees hitting coach Dillon Lawson stated that he believes JD will be much better this season. I’m amongst that same crowd, where I think Donaldson can’t possibly be as bad as he was last year. He posted a 97 wRC+, which was the first sub-100 wRC+ season he’s had since his rookie year back in 2012. 

DJ LeMahieu should still be the starter come Opening Day, though I wouldn’t be shocked if he and Donaldson split time, with DJ also getting some time at both 2B and 1B to relieve Rizzo occasionally. Third base is probably the least problematic of these three spots, as even with JD being atrocious offensively last season, his defense was well above average. He and LeMahieu at third could form one of the better defensive units over there in the entire league, as both guys posted a combined 14 DRS to go with 11 OAA. Simply put, if JD even bounces back a smidgen, that’ll be one of baseball’s best hot corner groups. 

The Yankees team will be very good again this season, and in Spring Training, we’ll be able to see a few key position battles sort themselves out. From LF to 3B, there may honestly be a competition everywhere on the field — except for the obvious ones of Bader in CF, Judge in RF, and Rizzo at 1B. The rest of the field could begin to sort itself out as the months go by, but these three positions are the ones I’ve got my eye on.