Wednesday is report day for Yankees pitchers and catchers, with the first official workout of spring training on Thursday.
Storylines abound — as they always do this time of year — and the Yankees face myriad questions, especially after an 82-80 playoff-less season that general manager Brian Cashman has described as “a disaster.”
In the offseason, Cashman set about trying to fix what went wrong in that train wreck of a regular season, one caused primarily by an inconsistent and far too often inefficient offense.
The main move addressing the offense was the December acquisition of outfielder Juan Soto, one of the premier hitters in the sport, who can become a free agent after this season. Alex Verdugo, who like Soto is a lefthanded-hitting outfielder, also was brought aboard, as was standout defender Trent Grisham, yet another lefty-hitting outfielder.
The Yankees also entered the offseason in need of rotation help, something addressed with the signing of Marcus Stroman, a pivot move after their first choice, Japanese star righthander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, signed with the Dodgers.
“I think we’ve improved,” Cashman said Jan. 18 during a Zoom news conference discussing the Stroman signing. “I think our team was better than how it finished, regardless of last year. You’ve heard me say that already. But despite all that, we’ve, I think, jump-started in a lot of areas, especially the offense.”
While that offense will command much of the discussion during spring training, exactly how much improvement was made there won’t begin to be answered until the regular season starts March 28 in Houston. Regardless of how good or bad the hitters look during Grapefruit League play, spring training results simply don’t matter when it comes to veteran players.
Which doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to focus on during the upcoming six weeks of Yankees spring training. Far from it.
Among the headline topics:
Giancarlo Stanton. The “I’m in the best shape of my life” phrase that gets made fun of at the start of spring training every year (players make fun of the cliche as much as anyone) is always truer for some more than others. Stanton, who turned 34 in November, is one of the fittest players ever to come through the Yankees' clubhouse. However, that hasn’t kept him from pretty much yearly stints on the injured list during the last half-decade. Stanton, mostly miserable at the plate last season, promised unspecified “changes” to his offseason workout routine, which likely will mean significantly less bulk on his 6-6 frame. “Giancarlo is going to have a good year,” manager Aaron Boone said several times this offseason. “I am confident in that.” Though Stanton prefers to mix in some time in the field to go with his regular DH duties, the glut of outfielders on the roster, at least as of now, means those opportunities will be minimal, if they come at all.
Anthony Volpe. As a rookie, he won the starting shortstop competition in a runaway, captured a Gold Glove and showed some surprising pop, hitting 21 homers. But Volpe, now 22, showed little of what scouts raved about during his quick climb through the minors: mainly his ability to get on base, aided by the combination of his speed and talent for putting the ball in play. Volpe hit .209 with a .283 OBP, striking out 167 times in 601 plate appearances. Even though the results in spring training don’t matter, it will be worth paying attention to Volpe’s approach at the plate.
Open roster spots. As the roster currently stands, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of real competition, though a bullpen spot or two could be won. The infield is set with DJ LeMahieu at third, Volpe at short, Gleyber Torres at second and Anthony Rizzo at first. From left to right in the outfield, it will be Verdugo, Aaron Judge and Soto. Starting catcher is one position that could be up for grabs. The Yankees liked just about everything they saw from rookie Austin Wells after his Sept. 1 call-up, but don’t be surprised if Jose Trevino, a clubhouse leader whom pitchers generally love throwing to and who is coming off right wrist surgery, exits camp as the catcher getting the majority of reps. As for any roster-changing deals, though they’re not as common in spring training, they’re not unheard of. The Yankees’ mid-March trade in 2022 of Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela to the Twins is one example.
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
March 28: Yankees at Astros, 4:10 p.m.