With Spring Training beginning and position players reporting just days from now, a lot of questions remain for the New York Yankees on how the 25 man roster may play out, and on who may start where. Today we dive into the four biggest position battles the Yankees face this spring.
Left field and the extra outfielder:
It remains very obvious that Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks will start in right field and center field, assuming Brian Cashman doesn’t sign Bryce Harper. After Brett Gardner had a rather poor season and Clint Frazier is healthy again, we have ourselves a rookie vs. veteran for a starting outfield position.
Clint Frazier reported on twitter a few weeks ago that he is “cleared to participate in spring training”. Red Thunder has overall had success in his time called-up from AAA, and had a walk-off home run in 2017. Frazier often served as the Yankees “26th man” on doubleheader days last year, without using a minor league option. Frazier bat .265 last season in the majors in 34 at-bats.
Brett Gardner bat just .236 last season, well below his .261 career average. By the end of last season, it seemed that he couldn’t really hit a thing, and with the acquisition of Andrew McCutchen, he saw his playing time go way down in September. In Game 1 of the ALDS, Aaron Hicks went down with a pulled hamstring, forcing Gardner to start games two and three. He ended up going 0-for-8.
You also have Jacoby Ellsbury. He would be more of an option to be the “extra outfielder”, but with him playing poorly over the years and him already having injury issues this season, he is already behind and prone to get hurt again and struggle.
The Yankees have a two-man race for the first base position, and from what we saw last season, Yankees fans assume that it will be Luke Voit starting at first base over Greg Bird.
In all of 2018 (Cardinals and Yankees), Luke Voit bat .322 with 15 home runs in 143 at-bats. His incredible strength and power helped fill the slack of the injured Aaron Judge when he joined, but the success didn’t stop once Judge returned. Having Voit in the lineup gives the Yankees three players who can hit the ball all the way into downtown Manhattan.
Greg Bird has been, well……. playing rather poor in his MLB career. He is batting a career .214 in 576 at-bats, and bat just .199 last season. Voit had double the stats of Bird last season in about half as many at-bats. If Bird has a poor spring, could this finally be the end for Bird with the Yankees? Sending him down may be a bad option, the Yankees actually have two great first basemen at the AAA level in Mike Ford and Ryan McBroom, Ford being invited to the major league camp. It’s always possible that the super-underdog could steal the show.
DJ Lemahieu does remain a viable option, but he will focus more on the middle infield. Aaron Boone did say in his first press conference something along the lines of Andujar learning first base a bit, but it isn’t a focus for him or the team. Any way in which the Yankees choose to go; there will be depth.
The middle-infield cluster
The Yankees have four middle infielders for just two starting spots. Those players are Troy Tulowitzki, DJ Lemahieu, Gleybar Torres, and Tyler Wade.
The Yankees kinda shocked the baseball world and signed Troy Tulowitzki for a one year deal, to help fill-in for the injured Didi Gregorius, who appears to be making great progress in his recovery. But Tulo himself has had injury problems, and his stats have been on a decline over the last four years. His fielding, however, remains one of the best in the league. Could he maybe start at shortstop this season? Anything is possible.
Then there is last years starting second base sensation, Gleybar Torres. Remember, he came up as a shortstop and moved to second base due to Didi Gregorius. So with that, he may be the Yankees opening day shortstop with Lemahieu or possibly Wade at second.
Lemahieu remains the most likely option for the opening day second base spot, as that’s where he played with the Rockies for the most part. The only concern in the play of Lemahieu is his struggles away from Coors Field, where he hit so well it. But many Yankees players who can deal with the New York pressure hit well at Yankees Stadium with the short porches making the stadium extremely hitter-friendly.
Tyler Wade will likely not be a starter for the Yankees but should find his way onto the team and the field. He has a pretty solid glove, is a great base-runner, and his versatility can take him out of the infield and into the outfield when need be. His hitting has struggled big time in the majors, but he should be a solid non-offensive option.
A middle relief spot or two is still available
The Yankees have a lot of power guys that are known to help in the final innings but still lack a few middle relief options. Your power relievers are Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zack Britton, and Adam Ottavino. Chad Green and Jonathan holder are high leverage, middle relief guys. You have one or two spots available for low leverage situations, let’s see what they have:
In 2017, the Yankees acquired Tommy Kahnle in a trade with the White Sox. He was great in 2017, but an early-season injury in 2018 derailed his season. Once he returned, he never got his high 90s velocity back and spent most of the season in AAA. This season would be a perfect time for a comeback season.
Danny Farquhar missed most of the 2018 season with the White Sox with a brain aneurysm. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal this Winter with an invite to camp. His career ERA is 3.93, and is pitching with a chip on his shoulder this season. He could be a valuable asset for the Yankees bullpen, too.
Chance Adams pitched just one game last season: an emergency start against the Red Sox, and struggled as presumed. He had ups and downs last season at AAA, but I don’t think he is MLB ready yet. He would be used however as a long reliever if he made the club.
Stephen Tarpley started last season in AA, but made it up all the way come September. Once he got adjusted, he was actually really good, especially against lefties. He would be a great lefty specialist option. If he pitched like he did last season, he should have a good shot at the MLB club.
My 25 man roster prediction:
SP: Severino, Tanaka, Paxton, Happ, CC
RP: Chapman, Betances, Britton, Ottavino, Green, Holder, Tarpley
C: Sanchez, Romine
INF: Voit, Torres, DJ, Wade, Tulo, Andujar
OF/DH: Judge, Stanton, Hicks, Gardner, Frazier
26th man: Ellsbury? Kahnle?