Yankees: Who’s winning the remaining position battles?
By Alex DaSilva
We’re just over a week into Spring Training, and the Yankees are looking good. Not that Spring Training means much, but it’s nice to see some success. Especially for the guys fighting for playing time come Opening Day.
With limited roster spots available, the Yankees don’t have a ton of position battles, but nonetheless, there’s a fight for the playing time that does remain.
Over at first base, Greg Bird seems to be winning the race for the starting job — out-hitting his competitor, Luke Voit .462 to .300, respectively.
Yes, it’s early but Bird’s superb batting average goes in hand with a slugging percentage near 1.000 and an OBP just under 1.500. It’s hard to ignore Bird’s hot start, even if it is only 13 at-bats.
Bird’s also playing excellent defense — 25 chances thus far, all converted for outs, including a handful of scooped, under-thrown balls. That’s not to say Voit hasn’t been playing well — two home runs in just 10 at-bats is a pretty hot start to the preseason as well.
Voit’s defense has been respectable; he’s made all the plays just as Bird has, in the same number of innings. Overall, the two have made the early battle a good one.
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Bird’s numbers edge out Voit’s for the time being, but neither of the two have changed much. Bird’s still a fly ball hitter that strikes out a lot — and Voit a groundball hitter who sees the ball well.
Expect Bird’s stats to come back down to Earth a bit, but hopefully, they remain relatively high for the rest of Spring Training. Voit should continue to see similar success, perhaps a lower home run rate as he sees more playing time.
The infield race remains between veterans Troy Tulowitzki, D.J. LeMahieu and Tyler Wade, who made the Opening Day 25-man roster last season.
It seems each March; Wade is given a sizeable number of at-bats in Spring Training, showing his ability to hit on top of his undoubted defensive acumen and speed.
But once the regular season begins, Wade loses himself at the plate, soon followed by his roster spot. This preseason looks to be no different. Especially with two former All-Star infielders right next to him.
Wade’s three doubles and one home run in 15 at-bats puts him amongst the Bombers’ most productive hitters thus far. But while Bird and Voit have hit similarly to their previous incarnations, Wade has hit more fly balls this year than ground balls, something he has never done in a single season.
Tulo already has two home runs and a double in six at-bats, giving him a .500 batting average and a slugging percentage near 2.000. Impressive but one of the smaller sample sizes of those battling for playing time.
LeMahieu hasn’t fared as well as his counterparts — hitting just .167 in 12 at-bats, but again it’s early, making it doubtful that these 12 at-bats will be a precursor to LeMahieu’s regular season. Of his hits, both were singles, making his slugging percentage equal to his batting average.
With plenty of time to recover, though, I expect LeMahieu to earn a decent amount of playing time.
The outfield is pretty much set, but former first-round draft pick Clint Frazier is looking to show he can handle major league pitching after missing much of 2018 while battling post-concussion symptoms. However, his .214 batting average is working against him.
With the older Brett Gardner likely to take a player-coach type of role this season, Frazier is hoping to find some at-bats. With four strikeouts thus far, Frazier has still managed to get on base five times in 14 at-bats. If he can keep up his discipline at the plate, hopefully, Frazier can strut his stuff.
Just one week of baseball isn’t enough to judge how well a player will perform in the regular season, but for that matter neither is a month. If Spring Training numbers do indicate anything, Bird’s a surefire win for the first base job.
Keep an eye on these few guys as they fight their way through March in hopes of an April start.