Pitchers and catchers reported to Yankees camp on Wednesday but before the rest of the roster arrives on Sunday it’s time to take a look at some of the top storylines surrounding the club at spring training.
The Yankees enter Spring Training as the clear favorite to represent the American League in the World Series and for good reason. The offseason couldn’t have gone any better for New York for a lot of reasons, but mostly because of the addition of superstar ace Gerrit Cole.
The Yanks signed Cole away from the Houston Astros who have had a historically bad offseason after they were caught cheating their way to a championship in the 2017 season. The Red Sox are currently under investigation for a separate sign-stealing scandal during their championship run in 2018 and earlier this week they traded away Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.
It’s certainly not a given that the Yanks will make it back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2009, but if there was ever a season where they were set up to do so, this is the year. Now before we get ahead of ourselves I want to shift the focus to Spring Training and dive into some hot topics.
Who will win the fifth spot in the starting rotation?
The biggest position battle that will take place throughout Yankees camp will be for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation. Jordan Montgomery will enter as the heavy favorite to win the job because of his success in 2017, but he’s going to have to earn it over Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga and prospects Mike King and Deivi Garcia.
Cessa and Loaisiga are both better fits out of the bullpen and the 20-year-old Garcia is more than likely to start the year at Triple-A because the Yankees don’t want to rush his development. However, don’t sleep on the 24-year-old King who is built to be a starter and got his first taste of the big league last September following a strong second half in the minors.
That being said, as long as Montgomery stays healthy I’d be shocked if he doesn’t win the job out of camp. He proved in 2017 that he has a very bright future in this Yankee rotation and now that he’s more than a year and a half removed from TJ surgery I think he’s ready to remind everyone why.
The battle for the backup catcher job
The competition to be Gary Sanchez’s backup might not be as big of a battle as the one for a spot in the starting rotation, but that doesn’t take away from how important that job is going to be. The Yanks have been fortunate to have Austin Romine behind Sanchez on the depth chart over the past three seasons and now that he’s gone it’s essential they find the right man to replace him.
Sanchez had a very productive season offensively and returned to his All-Star form in 2019, but once again injuries were an issue. Hopefully, he can void the IL this season, but he hasn’t been able to throughout his young career, so there’s a chance his backup is going to play a decent amount yet again.
Kyle Higashioka deserves to be the favorite to win the job after being stuck at Triple-A the past two seasons, but his career.163 AVG in 146 big league at-bats shows he has a lot to prove. Being the only other catcher on the 40-man roster also gives him an edge over veterans Chris Iannetta, Josh Thole, and Erik Kratz, whoa ll signed minor league deals with new York this offseason.
Of the three, Iannetta has the most major-league experience and has put together a solid 14 year-career so he should be the biggest threat to overtake Higgy for the job.
Miguel Andujar’s transition to a utility role
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Andujar will compete with Gio Urshela for the starting third base job, but he’s also going to get reps at first base and left field so the Yankees can find a way to get his bat in the lineup as often as possible. It’s not going to be an easy transition at either position but management believes he’s a good enough athlete to pull it off, and Miggy is apparently very open to taking on the challenge.
Adding some versatility to his game could be a career changer for Miggy after he really struggled at the hot corner during his rookie season. We know what he’s capable of offensively and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to pick up where he left off at the plate in 2018 now that he’s healthy. However, that’s only if he gets consistent at-bats and playing multiple positions is the best way to ensure he does.
Other storylines to keep an eye on will be the health of Giancarlo Stanton after he missed the majority of last season due to injury. Expectations for Stanton since joining New York have been extremely high but he’s gotten off to a shaky start and he probably has more to prove this season than anyone on the Yankees roster. If he can stay on the field this could be a huge season for him and help him quiet all of his critics.
Finally, it will be interesting to see who earns the last couple of spots on the 26-man roster. In the bullpen, Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller will be in the mix to make the team as well as the aforementioned Loaisiga.
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On the position player side, Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, Clint Frazier, and Mike Ford will all battle for spots on the Yankees bench. It’s safe to say assume they will carry a four-man bench so two more roster spots could be up for grabs.