New York Yankees center fielder Harrison Bader is expected to begin the 2023 season on the injured list with a current timetable of six weeks until he can dive back into action. This has arguably proven to be the most costly Spring Training injury for the Bombers because of their lack of outfield depth.
Bader and Aaron Judge were expected to be the constants, with left field as the mystery position, but Bader's absence now puts everything in flux. Does Judge now play more CF than the Yankees were hoping? Do they even dare put Aaron Hicks back out there? Has Oswaldo Cabrera made his case with a few performances in center this spring? Will Giancarlo Stanton see more time on defense? Should Estevan Florial be considered, due to the familiarity aspect, or will Willie Calhoun/Rafael Ortega make the roster?
Does ESPN have the answer for us? According to the Yankees depth chart on their website, Ortega and Florial are on there behind Judge, Stanton, Bader Hicks and Cabrera. Interesting.
Here's out the Spring Training battles are taking shape for players currently without a spot on the active roster:
- Rafael Ortega - .267 AVG., 1.343 OPS, 6 runs scored, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 6 BB, 1 SB (15 at-bats)
- Willie Calhoun - .364 AVG., .985 OPS, 4 runs scored, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 3 BB (22 at-bats)
- Estevan Florial - .136 AVG., .390 OPS, 0 runs scored, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 4 SBs (22 at-bats)
What's the Yankees' outfield solution after Harrison Bader's injury?
Here's what we can rule out from the onset: Stanton will not be playing more defense at the start of 2023; Florial probably won't make the Opening Day roster after largely failing to prove himself thus far in Spring Training; and Aaron Hicks won't be inheriting a brunt of the lost CF reps.
For the sake of consistency and insurance, we'd bet both Ortega and Calhoun earn nods come March 30, and Cabrera will take on most of the starts in center (with Judge getting the others, hopefully opening up the door for Stanton to play some right field).
As for Ortega and Calhoun, Ortega has center field experience as recent as 2021 (73 games) and can be utilized at all three OF positions, while Calhoun (his only defensive position in the bigs) will likely split reps with Hicks in left field.
As much as we'd love to see the Yankees' best hitter this spring, Jasson Dominguez (.429 AVG., 1.500 OPS, 4 HR, 9 RBI), make the Opening Day roster, he only has minimal Double-A experience, so the team won't be pushing the envelope with one of their most promising prospects when they already face a similar issue with Anthony Volpe, who's further along in his development.
Look for a more stable approach with the Yankees better utilizing Cabrera, prioritizing veteran bats, and pulling the plug on young talent that's still not panning out.