By Mike DeSanto
Finally, it is time for Spring Training!
Spring Training is the pre-season period of the MLB season when teams take part in a training camp and then play games against each other, giving younger players who want to make the regular season roster a chance to showcase their talents.
As a New York Yankees fan through and through, I am interested to see who makes the team from the medley of young players that will be with the major league team camp, especially those who were acquired last season in the Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller trades.
But there are some storylines that stand out heading into the next couple of months.
What’s happening at first base?
This one is interesting because the answer is supposedly already clear. It is supposed to be a platoon of Greg Bird and Tyler Austin. Cut, print, and roll the credits. But I don’t think it is that cut and dry anymore. There are a few things to consider: the current options for the team, the condition of Bird and Austin and what type of player they want to play there.
Bird is coming off a lost season, due to a torn labrum which required surgery. He was able to play in the Arizona Fall League, giving him some much needed at bats prior to camp, but the question of how hard to push him is still relevant, despite having a measure of success (11 home runs and 31 runs batted in in 46 games) in 2015.
Austin started strong last year when he debuted, but tailed off down the stretch, showing signs of inconsistency typical of a rookie who is adjusting to major league pitching. He has shown himself to be a capable defensive player at first base, and holds the added bonus of being able to play the corner outfield spots. But, there is some debate over whether he is ready to take a full-time role or not.
Then there are the incoming veterans, Matt Holliday and Chris Carter. Holliday is a fantastic hitter that has been a consistent hard worker and contributor anywhere he has been, but he is just transitioning into being a first baseman, so there could be some issues until he completely learns how to play the position. Carter is another great bat and a cheap one at that, leading the National League in home runs last year and only costing the Bronx Bombers $3 million this year. But I question his defensive ability at first compared to guys like Bird and Austin. His value is probably better at designated hitter.
Who is playing right field?
I could see it being one of two people: Aaron Judge or Clint Frazier. Judge is technically the incumbent to the position, albeit for the last two months or so of last season after the Carlos Beltran trade, but if Frazier has a good camp he might take the spot.
Frazier was acquired last season as the main piece in the Andrew Miller trade to the Cleveland Indians. I’ve heard him called “the ginger Mike Trout,” which if that ends up being the case I will be ecstatic. He spent a majority of last season in AA before moving to AAA shortly before he was traded and then finishing the season with the Yankees AAA team in Scranton. He finished 2016 batting .263 with 16 home runs and 55 runs batted in, which is pretty good production over 119 games played. However, he is only 22 years old, so he does have time to grow and develop before the point where “they need to call him up.”
That point came last year for Judge, who joined the Yankees for the final stretch of the season and got his opportunity to prove his worth. He made at least one plate appearance in 27 games, batting .179 with four home runs and 10 runs batted in, mostly due to a slump similar to that of Austin’s. While the decline in production does appear to pose a problem, an entire Spring Training camp with major league level pitching should help him continue to adapt to his surroundings.
Both Judge and Frazier are around 97 percent for fielding percentage in right field, so that is a toss-up.
Overall, I think the Yankees have a lot of young talent coming their way that will change the landscape of the team and usher in a new era of Yankee baseball.
The race for 28 is on!