Yankees Spring Training Report: A Look at the Veterans
Yankees camp has been all about the kids. But the team is a mix of both youth and experience, which can be a great combination. And everyone still needs to play at a high level for the Yankees to have a winning season. So, it is time to see if veterans like Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Michael Pineda look ready for big years.
Yankees spring training over the last few years has been mostly about older players and careers coming to a close. The talk focused on aging veterans—Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, etc.—players who have left—Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano et al.—and incoming experienced free agents (Curtis Granderson, Brian McCann, and so many others) and the hope of one more run with the old gang.
Not so for the Yankees in 2017. Most of the talk out of spring training has been about the baby Yankees. That is an easy overview: the kids are alright (thank you, Pete Townshend). But for this team to win this year, not just be an exciting team on the come, the veterans have to play at a high level. And the message is clear: earn your contract or receive a ticket out of town. I hear the Minnesota Twins are looking for a few good men.
With that in mind, it is time for a look at how the veterans are doing in camp…and at the rising rookies who might replace them.
And we’ll start with some easy ones.
CC had a good year last year and is in the final year of his contract; that means he is in the rotation. And CC epitomizes the type of player whose spring training numbers are irrelevant. 2016 saw him put up his best ERA (3.91) since 2012 and his most innings pitched (179) since 2013. His home runs were high (22) but he did give up fewer hits than innings pitched (172/179).
His ERA in spring training is sky high; I am writing this on Saturday the 18th, and he just lowered his to 9.45 to go with his eight strikeouts. But CC is a vet, and he seems likely to figure out what is wrong as he has in the past. He is having a rough spring, but his spot is secured.
Tanaka had a great year last year and looks even better in spring training. The further he gets from his elbow injury, the better and stronger he looks. He has put up a 0.00 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 13 innings. And his whip is 0.38; wow.
It is unlikely that Tanaka will maintain this pace throughout the year. But even if he disappointingly gives up a run at some point during the regular season, he still looks every bit the ace the Yankees are paying him to be. He has done his part to keep hopes high in the spring.
Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius
These two are so comfortable that they can be handled as a twofer. Didi is off with the Netherlands, but his spot is secure. He killed it last year, even with his only average defensive metrics, and looks great again. He has slashed .348/.385/.652 with four doubles and 8 RBI’s with the NED. He might not be facing the same level of pitching as he would in camp but showing you can dominate average pitching makes the same statement. Spring is showing Didi ready to either repeat last year or improve on it.
Starlin is still becoming the player he will be for the next ten years. He played well if not spectacularly last year and is going to get another full year to show what he can do. Gleyber Torres may well push Starlin out of the Bronx, but that does not mean Castro is the second coming of Stephen Drew.
That is particularly the case if Castro can come anywhere close to what he is doing in spring training. He is quietly slashing .313/.353/.884 with three home runs and 6 RBI’s. That is far better than what he did for the Yankees last year, hitting .270/.300/.734 with a very respectable 21 homers. Observers such as Paul O’Neil think he can be a star; Castro’s spring training numbers support that idea and could mean he is ready for a breakout year.
Now for the real intrigue.