With their most turnover in five years, the Yankees have an especially important spring to monitor. Unlike the last few seasons when New York was perfectly moderate in its winter dealings, the Yankees went on a spree this off season, needing to add some stability before a spring full of auditions and new opportunities.
While Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian Mccann, Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Beltran are certainly new to the Pinstripes, their respective roles were solidified before March ever rolled around. Three of them will be in the lineup through at least 2016 and the final one will be relied on to play an integral role in the Yankees’ rotation going forward. For most of those players, spring numbers mean very little.
Whether Mccann hits .800, Ellsbury gets on base constantly or Beltran struggles to make contact, spring is nothing more than a warmup for veterans. A player like Tanaka has some spring expectations in that it’s the first time American fans, media and players can see the Japanese import up close, but even so, short of an injury this spring, Tanaka’s performances will carry little impact into the regular season.
Simply put, spring is for open jobs between prospects and fringe players and it’s those numbers likely to carry actual impact when April rolls around. Here are some early Yankees’ impact players in Tampa:
Yagervis Solarte: Easily the most impressive early on, Solarte is 10/17 with a pair of long balls, walks and strikeouts. He’s making contact and he’s getting on base, a timely hot streak for a player who primarily mans second base, the one position without an obvious starter for a full season. While Brian Roberts is going to start if he stays healthy, chances of Roberts doing so and Kelly Johnson playing third base full time while also backing up first base are very slim.
There is a door open for a reserve infielder on the roster and a ton of options and openings for the infield in general. Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts are all injury prone, Johnson is an unknown commodity over a full season and Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna and Scott Sizemore are not cemented with any sort of role. The 26-year-old, Solarte, has as good a chance as anyone to make an impact on the infield in 2014, whether it’s in April or August. A strong spring is only helping his case.
Adonis Garcia: Much like Solarte, Garcia is more of an afterthought to break camp with the big league squad but he’s doing all he can to change that mindset early on. A 28-year-old Cuban defector, Garcia has more or less hit wherever he’s gone thus far. After having last spring cut short with injury, Garcia is 6/14 as an encore to his Venezuelan Winter League performance where he hit : .313/.371/.438. Garcia is 5’7″ and was exclusively an outfielder until recently, but for a team with Alfonso Soriano in a walk year and an infield riddled with question marks, an invite to the 40-man-roster and a potential callup to the big leagues could be a forced issue this season if Garcia continues to rake.
Francisco Cervelli: For a player who has quietly shown signs of long-term potential during his big league time, Cervelli sure doesn’t carry much expectation. Suspended 50 games for his role in the Biogenesis scandal and also battling both repeated injuries and a bout of forgetting how to throw to second base, Cervelli has faced his share of adversity early on in his big league career. Still just 28-years-old, Cervelli is 6/14 this spring with a home run and solid defense behind the plate. Having had experience already catching most of the pitchers in the Yankees’ system and carrying a big league resume over multiple seasons, Cervelli was and remains the favorite to backup Brian McCann. While McCann is the present, Gary Sanchez is the future, JR Murphy is the intriguing name and Austin Romine is the most recent to have done the job behind the plate, Cervelli should be in the Bronx and playing a couple of times per week come April.
Michael Pineda: This will seem absurd considering Pineda has thrown two innings this spring, but the mere fact he’s on the mound and feeling healthy is a major step forward for the Yankees’ organization in general. Add to the fact he looked good, his fastball was around 93 miles per hour and four of his six outs were via strikeout and Pineda qualifies as a standout despite the insanely small sample size. Hiroki Kuroda could show his age, CC Sabathia may never find his fastball, Ivan Nova might be more first half, 2013 bust than second half stud and Tanaka could go through league adjustment, but if Pineda is healthy and the pitcher he was slated to be in 2012, the Yankees’ rotation could go from solid to elite. Pineda will be worth monitoring and though it’s his job to lose, may not even be the fifth starter next month. Still, the upside here is impossible to ignore, especially given the once major prospect showing a glimpse of dominance his first time back.
Dellin Betances: At 6’8″ and featuring a big fastball, it’s no wonder Betances was once an elite Yankees’ prospect. After years of inconsistancy with his mechanics and the strike zone as a starter, Betances found himself as a reliever, putting up almost an entire season of dominant numbers out of the bullpen in the minor leagues last year. Now fighting for a legitimate spot in a relatively unknown bullpen, Betances has shined the brightest of any reliever this spring. In 5.1 innings, Betances has struck out four and allowed only three runners to reach base, one via a hit and none crossing home plate. As a soon to be 26-year-old, Betances has a legitimate shot at a late inning relief role, joining, Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne and Dave Robertson, and could go as far as becoming the setup man if his hype meets his performance by the end of the 2014 season.
- Welcome back, Manny Banuelos, finally back in game action since 2012. After three consecutive base runners reached, including a home run, the 22-year-old lefty settled down to finish his debut. With Hiroki Kuroda on a one year deal, the Yankees should have another rotation audition in 2015, and a healthy Banuelos could be a top candidate to win the spot.
- Mark Montgomery has quietly looked solid early on, retiring all eight batters he has faced in three games. The Yankees have seven legitimate big league starters and a dozen potential relievers, but few pitchers have Montgomery’s upside should he find it and stay healthy.
- Cesar Cabral has done nothing to jeopardize his role as a lefty reliever this season. Matt Thornton‘s secondary stuff may be more fiction than fact at this stage of his career and Cabral has a real chance to pitch his way into major matchups in late game situations this year.
- Derek Jeter is quietly starting to find his timing, assembling four hits in two games before his 0/3 on Sunday against Tampa. That mini hot streak broke an 0/9 from Jeter to start the spring.