Discussing some position battles and how they will shape the Yankees bench
With Spring Training approaching, the Yankees’ roster appears to be all but set. The Yankees have their guys now and all that is left to figure out is the configuration in which the team will deploy them. Although most of the team’s starting positions appear to be set, last season gave us an opportunity to get a look at several players who could be a factor for a position on the bench with the big league club to start the season. With the MLB roster limit being 25 players, most teams usually break down this number with either 13 position players and 12 pitchers or vice versa. Most teams barring injuries to the pitching staff will go with 13 position players to allow for a full four man bench consisting of a backup catcher, a fourth outfielder, a backup infielder and a utility guy. Carrying 13 position players would leave them with five starters and seven relief pitchers. This is the model Joe Girardi and the Yankees have gone with the last several years and it is the model I expect them arrive with on Opening Day.
|Photo Credit: Kim Klement|
As I mentioned previously, most of the Yankees’ starting spots appear to be filled. The Yankees official depth chart lists the starting position players as: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury Aaron Judge, Chase Headley, Didi Gregorious, Starlin Castro, Greg Bird, Matt Holiday and Gary Sanchez. Most of those players are established major leaguers who have been around for a while, either here or somewhere else. The notable exception to that is Gary Sanchez and the catcher position, and Greg Bird at first base, who will be competing with Tyler Austin for the starting first base job. As for Sanchez, he should anchor the lineup in the three-hole, and they still have backup Austin Romine in house. There are however a few of these positions that may be left up to training camp competitions to truly determine the starting unit and two major bench roles.
First base could be one of these positions. Mark Teixeira is now gone and the Yankees did not pursue a big name replacement in free agency. Matt Holiday made his debut at the position this past season but he would be a backup at best. The competition at the position appears to be shaping up between Bird and Tyler Austin. Austin is capable of playing several positions but he played a lot of first down the stretch last season with Teixeira ceding some playing time so that Austin could develop. Bird is coming off a lost season due to a torn labrum so penciling him in as an opening day starter is far from a certainty, especially since he didn’t log much time in the bigs before the injury.
The Yankees like Bird though, with Brian Cashman expressing hope that Bird can claim the position and make it his own earlier this winter in an interview with MLB.com. Bird was one of the higher ranked prospects in the Yankee’s system before his cameo with the team in 2015 and impressed down the stretch that year, hitting 11 home runs in 178 plate appearances. He also posted a .261 batting average, driving in 31 runs and taking 19 walks.
Austin, his primary competition, in 90 plate appearances batted .241 with five
home runs, 12 RBI and seven walks. Even though it is hard to really get
anything from these stat lines because of the small sample size, it seems both
of these men feel they are ready to compete for a major role on this year’s roster.
They have both had successes in the minors that have gotten them to this point
and some success already in the majors. The Yankees’ preference appears to be
with Bird but they also seem ready to let these two compete throughout the
spring with the second place finisher of that battle likely taking a key role
on the bench.
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|Photo Credit: Brad Penner | USA TODAY Sports|
Unlike first base, the Yankees have depth in their outfield and if Judge does not perform this spring it is not out of question for him to be sent back down to Triple-A to sort out his issues. An adjustment period is not out of the ordinary no matter how highly regarded a prospect is especially for bigger guys and power hitters like Judge who often struggle with long swings and a lot of strikeouts. In his 95 PAs last season Judge struck out 42 times, which is obviously far too high of a percentage for any player to maintain and still be a consistent hitter. Judge has the talent to be a feared hitter in the majors but if he doesn’t show an improvement over last season he may not find himself in a bench role, he may very well find himself back in Scranton.
|Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin | NY Daily News|
|Photo Credit: Adam Hunger USA TODAY Sports|
|Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac|
However, It is not out of the question for the team to consider having an open-competition between Kyle Higashioka and Romine at Spring Training. Higashioka was added to the 40-man roster this past offseason to protect him from being taken in the Rule-5 Draft, and coming off a system high 21 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, Higashioka could given Romine a run for his money. Romine has been around for a while and I’m sure the Yankees feel comfortable with him but if an injury or something else gives them reason to be unsure in Romine, you could see the 26-year-old catcher Higashioka backing up Sanchez come opening day.
|Photo Credit: Cheryl Purcell|
|Photo Credit: Rick Schultz | Getty Images|
|Photo Credit: Adam Hunger | USA TODAY Sports|
|Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac | Getty Images|
No matter what happens, Cashman has given the team a lot of possibilities for shaping their bench. There are a lot of different combinations they could go with but if the team’s plans play out the way they would like, you should see an opening day bench of Austin Romine, Tyler Austin, Aaron Hicks and likely Ronald Torreyes (though it could be Refsnyder with a strong spring). There is of course a lot of time between now and first pitch so you could see new players enter the discussion and old players fall out, but because of the work Cashman has done recently I feel a lot more comfortable with what the team's bench will be entering this season.
Article by: Matt GrazianoFollow @mattgraz930