Though the competition for the fourth and fifth starter jobs took most of the attention in spring training, of the three pitchers who entered camp locked into their slots — Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda — only Tanaka threw consistently in Grapefruit League play. And with no one effectively grabbing the Nos. 4 and 5 spots — which allowed rookie Jordan Montgomery to push his way into the discussion — those pitchers remain huge question marks until proven otherwise.
The back end should be solid if not stellar with Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances setting up Aroldis Chapman. Though the club feels reasonably confident in lefty specialist Tommy Layne and hard-throwing righty Ben Heller, who came over from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller deal, other than the big three in the back, there’s uncertainty. And good as he was late last season, Clippard doesn’t belong with Betances and Chapman in the sure-thing category.
Yankees fans seem far more enthusiastic about the middle infielders in the minor leagues — Tyler Wade and Gleyber Torres, to name two — than the ones on the roster, the slick-fielding Didi Gregorius at short and Starlin Castro at second, even though they totaled 41 homers last season. But Gregorius’ shoulder injury, incurred during the World Baseball Classic, could sideline him until May, if not longer. It put Wade, a natural shortstop who is being groomed as a super-utility player, in play as a possibility for Opening Day. Castro, as capable of making the great play at second as a head-scratching one, is sure to be the subject of trade speculation if Torres is as impressive in the minors as he was in spring training.
First baseman Greg Bird put to rest concerns about the surgery on his right shoulder that cost him all of 2016, hitting the ball consistently to all fields. Third baseman Chase Headley, who has two years left on his four-year, $52-million deal, didn’t distinguish himself in the field or at the plate, but the 32-year-old isn’t the first veteran to have a rough exhibition season. Still, as much praise as opposition scouts heaped on Bird, it was the opposite regarding Headley.
Brett Gardner continues to be solid in left but no longer is the base-stealing threat he once was. Same for Jacoby Ellsbury, whose arm has been in decline for several years and whose legs, one scout said, “seem to be gone.” Aaron Judge never did put the stranglehold on the job in right that the club would have liked, meaning Aaron Hicks very well may get the nod there for the opener.
So how would Gary Sanchez, 24, approach spring training after his unprecedented debut in August 2016 that almost singlehandedly kept the Yankees in playoff contention? That question was overwhelmingly answered with positives, which pleased the Yankees. Austin Romine is a capable backup, standing out in particular as a receiver. But after the season starts, keep an eye on Kyle Higashioka, who had a breakthrough 2016 in the minors and has his share of backers in the organization.
Matt Holliday, who has hit at least 20 homers in 10 of his 13 seasons in the big leagues and is slated to be the full-time DH, enjoyed a pretty good spring. Ronald Torreyes can play three infield positions well and makes consistent contact at the plate. Chris Carter, at least in spring training, seemed lost in his undefined role.