BBB weighs in: Biggest storylines heading into Yankees' Spring Training

With Yankees’ Spring Training games starting this week, writers of the BBB weigh in on what topics and they are most interested in following early in camp.

Photo Credit: Eve Edelheit/New York Times

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Mary Grace Donaldson

The starting rotation. Sevy was inconsistent last season -- started out great, had a great showing in the Wild Card game, but his second half triggered a lot of nerves for fans and the coaching staff alike (though the coaching staff seemed a bit less concerned than the fans).  Happ did a great job, especially as far as consistency is concerned, but we’ll have to see how he does in Pinstripes for a whole season, instead of just coming in midseason.  Tanaka proved inconsistent all year.  CC is retiring at season's end and will probably log fewer innings pitched, even fewer than he logged last season.  The Yankees have needed a No. 2 starter (and on some days even a No. 1 starter) for some time now, and I’d love to see them go get Dallas Keuchel before it’s too late. While a few rookies may even get a shot at the starting rotation, including Jonathan Loaisiga, Chance Adams and Domingo German, it still isn’t enough pitching insurance. In today’s game, an ace pitcher will beat a slugger.  The Yankees’ bullpen is stacked, but it is far past time to fill the hole in the starting rotation.  Not to mention, when Sabathia is gone next year, they won’t have a choice.

Gus Wetekamp

The fight for first base is what I’m most interested in.  Luke Voit came out of nowhere last year to wow fans with his enthusiasm and mammoth home runs.  Greg Bird, on the other hand, had a 2018 marred by injury and poor performances.  This Spring, we will see what Bird is really made of.  Aaron Boone seemingly set an ultimatum, saying he couldn’t see both Bird and Voit making the opening day roster, and that he sees DJ LeMahieu as the backup 1st baseman.  This is the first time Bird has really been tested in terms of a position battle.  Both have started out the Spring well, but only time will tell who wins the job.

Alex Weir

There are a lot of big storylines for the Yankees heading into the 2019 season, with three of the biggest ones outlined above.  While I am interested in these three, one storyline that I think gets slightly overshadowed is how Gary Sanchez bounces back from his 2018 dud of a season.  Sanchez, as everyone should know, took the world by storm in 2016 and 2017 and established himself as one of the top offensive catchers in the game, in addition to a rocket arm behind the plate.  However, every single part of his game regressed in 2018, and he dealt with a nagging groin injury as well.  Now that he’s healthy, it will be very interesting to see whatever changes Sanchez could have made to his game play in order to prove that 2018 was just a fluke.  If he can manage to do this, and return to the offensive force that hit 33 home runs in 2017, the Yankees lineup becomes even more dangerous.

Nick Simonelli

While the easy answer to this question is definitely the first base competition between Greg Bird and Luke Voit, I think that no matter what, come season’s end, Luke Voit should have a firm grip on that job.  He put a lot of work in during the offseason, as seen by his magnificent workout instagram posts, and Greg Bird has had all the chance in the world over the past few seasons to cement himself as the first baseman of the New York Yankees and has come up short most of the time.

With that said, I am most interested in who gets the 25th spot on the Yankees roster to begin the season.  Aaron Boone has said that DJ LaMahieu will be the backup at First Base no matter who wins the Spring training battle, so that leaves the final roster spot between Clint Frazier and Tyler Wade.  There’s positives with each of them, Clint has a much higher ceiling of the two and hits for power at a better rate, but Wade is a much more versatile player and can play almost any position on the field.

I don’t think I have a preference over who gets the spot, as long as Boone doesn’t renege on what he has said and have Greg Bird be the backup at first should he lose the competition to King Voit over the next month.  I have been a huge fan of Clint since he came over from Cleveland and I think a lightning rod personality like him could be good for the Yankees, but I also think if Tyler Wade can prove his worth during Spring Training and in the early part of the season he can be a huge help to the team down the stretch of the season as well as once  October rolls around.

Jake Graziano

Heading into 2019, I’m most intrigued by how left field plays out throughout the season.  While it looks like the position is Brett Gardner’s to lose right now, a solid Spring from Clint Frazier can change that.  After all, Gardner is 35 years old and coming off his worst Big League season (.690 OPS) since 2008.  Frazier will obviously have to prove he’s healthy and ready to contribute after playing just 69 games last year, and he’ll be given a chance to do so over the next month.  Even if Frazier doesn’t earn more playing time, there’s still a chance Gardner loses his everyday gig this year.  While it seems like the Yankees want to limit Giancarlo Stanton’s defensive innings as much as possible (which is smart considering the decade-long investment they have in him), it wouldn’t be surprising to see him starting in left field at least against lefties.  And there’s obviously the chance that New York’s number one prospect, Estevan Florial, works his way up to the Bronx at some point this season, which would further muddle the left field rotation.  Overall, this is a position with so many question marks and so many different options to watch throughout 2019.

Spencer Schultz

I’m looking forward to the regular season and meaningful games.  With that being said, there’s important things to be learned in Spring Training, including the battle at first base and whether DJ LeMahieu or Troy Tulowitzki replace Didi Gregorius’ spot in the Opening Day lineup.  For me, the two things I’m looking forward to the most are how Clint Frazier and Tommy Kahnle do.  Frazier still has massive amounts of potential, but has yet to put it all together, in large part due to injuries.  Now would be the perfect time for Frazier to impress in ST and take over the left fielder role, as Gardner is getting up there in age and is likely not an everyday starter anymore.  IF Frazier did reach his potential, could you imagine how good the offense would be?

As for Kahnle, he was one of the nastier relief pitchers in all of baseball in 2017.  An odd injury-plagued, underperforming 2018 now has all sort of questions surrounding Kahnle heading into the season.  He wasn’t even on the big-league roster when he did become healthy last season due to his ineffectiveness.  This ST should be telling as to whether Kahnle can regain that 2017 magic or not.  If he can, you suddenly have seven great options in the ‘pen with Kahnle, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Zack Britton, and Jonathan Holder.

These may not be the two biggest storylines or players to watch in the Spring for the Yanks, but if these two can live up to their potential, it’ll make the team that much more potent.

Andrew Natalizio

For me, the biggest question marks on this roster are all centered around health and durability.  Jacoby Ellsbury has already been on the injury report since the start of camp, battling plantar fasciitis he suffered in his recovery from his hip labrum surgery last year, and there’s really not much to expect of him at all this season.  With an already crowded outfield, it’s probably for the best he’s nowhere near the 25-man roster. 

Brian Cashman made the controversial call not to break the bank for Manny Machado this offseason, and so, his bargain pickups of DJ LeMahieu, and more importantly, Troy Tulowitzki, will have to be a steadying force on the roster until Didi Gregorius can return from his offseason Tommy John Surgery.  So far, so good from Tulo, but he has an injury history that scares just about every Yankee fan.  He will need to prove he can stay on the field this year in order for Cashman’s decision to pass on Machado to pay off.  The addition of LeMahieu might be one of the most important under-the-radar moves Cashman makes this year if Tulo misses time, forcing Gleyber Torres to shift to shortstop and DJ into the everyday second baseman role.

The Yankees have very little depth in the starting rotation behind the current five guys, with the next men up being Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German - both whom showed flashes, but predominantly struggled in 2018 - until Jordan Montgomery can return later in the year from Tommy John Surgery.  Chance Adams, Domingo Acevedo and Albert Abreu are the only other near-MLB ready arms in the organization at this time.

And of course, the injury question marks will continue to surround Greg Bird until he can make it through Spring Training healthy.  As of now, Luke Voit appears to have the advantage in the 1B battle, after he ripped the job away from the corpse of Bird in 2018, but so much is still to be proven this Spring that nothing can be assumed until the final 25-man roster is announced.  Should Bird make the roster and remain healthy, he might finally be able to live up the expectations the organization has had for him for years.

Matt Graziano

I am most interested to see how the various position battles shake out.  With big names on the market, the Yankees opted to not make the big splash.  Instead of a Harper or Machado we will get to see the versatile DJ LaMahieu and the oft injured but still talented Troy Tulowitzski stake their claim to positions.  I’m excited for the potential contributions that these guys can make, especially Tulo if he can stay healthy.  Who will be the everyday shortstop is a big question that will need to be answered.  Relying on Tulo to do that at this point in his career would be hard but the versatility of DJ LaMahieu and Gleyber Torres should allow them to survive if they have problems with Tulo’s health.

The fight for the first base job is shaping up to be an interesting one, with both Greg Bird and Luke Voit off to good starts this Spring.  It doesn’t sound like the loser of this battle will have a guaranteed roster spot so I’m expecting to see some desperation on the part of both of these players.

The left field job is the last one I am looking at this Spring.  The Yankees did bring back long time starter Brett Gardner, but he struggled last year and eventually lost his starting spot after the acquisition of Andrew McCutchen.  While Gardy may be a solid depth and bench piece, there is a golden opportunity for someone like Clint Frazier to make a claim to the job this Spring.  Frazier has not been shy on social media that he feels ready and motivated to go win a job and left field is there for the taking.

While there is still a long way to go before any of these position battles are resolved, I do think that no matter how they are resolved that the Yankees could have a very deep and versatile bench going into this season and even more so when Didi Gregorius comes back from injury.

Ryan Thoms

I am a little biased in the storyline I am most interested in. The obvious choice is the first base position battle, which I believe will bring out the best in both Greg Bird and Luke Voit.  However, the storyline I am most intrigued to follow is Troy Tulowitzki’s path back to being an above-average everyday player.  Tulowitzki was my favorite non-Yankee growing up, so seeing him don the pinstripes with a chance at redemption is something I cannot wait to follow.  Personal anecdotes aside, if Tulowitzki can perform at even 75% of his prime production, he could be the steal of the Winter for the entire sport.  His combination of power and slick fielding will be a welcomed stop-gap for Didi Gregorius, until he is ready to return.  Tulowitzki finding his form will not only help the Yankees on the field, but will also allow them to be cautious with Gregorius and make sure he is 100% recovered before he rejoins the team.  The key for Tulowitzki is whether or not he can stay on the field.  Injuries have derailed what was a path to the Hall of Fame for Tulowitzki, and if he can stay on the field, he will definitely be playing this Spring with a chip on his shoulder.


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