Joe Girardi compared 2017 training camp to that of 1996, and bringing back open competition in Tampa could lead to the Yankees next great dynasty.
It may feel a little like NFL’s ‘Hard Knocks’ in Tampa for the Yankees in 2017 Spring Training. That unique feeling can be attributed to something many other baseball franchises go through, but one Yankee fans, players, and coaches are not so familiar with.
Traditionally going into past seasons, the Yankees front office has been nearly 100 percent sure what pieces will go where and how they will align personnel wise before even boarding a plane to sunny Florida. My how things have changed in the Bronx under the new regime.
Shedding salary, trading for prospects rather than away to acquire veterans, using words like rebuilding — all would have been unheard of in past eras. As foreign as all those aspects are in the Bronx Bombers world, none is more than open competition.
There won’t be any HBO camera crews, mermaids, or tackling drills in Tampa this spring but there is no missing the difference in intensity.
Hottest In-camp Rivalries
Right field, first base, and the final two pitching rotation spots all theoretically sit blank on the Yankees lineup card. Past ways of doing business prevented these types of open competitions that enable other organizations to make discoveries on players at lower levels of their organization.
Players in the past prospects used to come into Tampa knowing full well no matter what type of spring they had, it would not take playing time away from a high-priced veteran who had multiple years left under contract. That obstacle has since been removed for players like Greg Bird, who himself got a chance when perennial starting first basemen Mark Teixeira went down with injury in 2015.
Bird who had a break out season in ’15 but missed all of 2016 due to shoulder surgery will again have to prove himself. Tyler Austin brings a challenge to the everyday first base job for Bird. Austin, like Bird, put himself on the map in the absence of the former All-Star Teixeira, once again to injury.
Austin assumed he would be fighting Bird for playing time this spring, but some drama has already arisen in Tampa. According to Austin himself, he received a text message alerting him the Yankees had signed the NL home run king Chris Carter while on a fishing trip. Austin was admittedly bothered by the signing.
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Don’t expect Austin and Carter to go at it like two linemen in ‘Hard Knocks’, but the competition will be fierce for at-bats and a roster spot. Austin says he has been taking infield at third base, so it looks like Joe Girardi really wants him on opening day roster for a bench role at the very least.
A Dark Horse Rides Into Sunny Tampa
There aren’t many undrafted rookies who receive invites to camp like in the NFL, so for comparison sake, let’s replace them with prospects who have little to no experience. James Kaprielian is an intriguing dark horse in camp.
Kaprielian, the former first-round draft pick has only three games in the Yankee system under his belt but he is far from unpolished. Among his best college accomplishments are nine no-hit innings in a combined extra inning affair while at UCLA in 2015.
Although Kaprielian only pitched three games last season in single-A due to injury, those games were rather impressive. Not only did he only give up three runs in 18 innings pitched but he did so while picking up two wins and 1.50 ERA.
In an interview on WFAN, Brian Cashman said this about Kaprielian:
"“You sit behind home plate and you watch him pitch and he looks like a big leaguer right now.”"
Open competition and a successful spring are Kaprielian’s best hope for landing a roster spot. While Luis Severino, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Cessa are the early favorites for the No. 4 and No. 5 spots at the back-end of the rotation, don’t count out Kaprielian just yet.
There won’t be any HBO camera crews, mermaids, or tackling drills in Tampa this spring, but the intensity is just the same. The NFL style open competition could change the predicted opening day roster in a number of positive ways it never could in the past. When the Public Address Announcer sounds on April 2nd, Yankee faithful will know most of the available roster spots were earned, not given.