TAMPA, Fla. — Aaron Boone enters his third training camp as Yankees manager with the best roster and fewest questions of his tenure.
The Yankees, with pitchers and catchers set to report Wednesday and their first workout on Thursday, are loaded, and they’ll start camp with not a heck of a lot to figure out before the season opener March 26 in Baltimore.
The primary issue to be sorted out?
Who will emerge to take the rotation spot vacated by James Paxton, who will miss the next three to four months after undergoing back surgery early last week.
Once just about everyone involved with the club is done answering questions about the Astros and sign-stealing, that competition is sure to dominate much of the day-to-day news cycle before camp breaks at the end of March.
Losing Paxton, who went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA in his first season with the Yankees, including 10-0 with a 2.51 ERA in his last 11 starts of the regular season, is a blow to the rotation but shouldn’t be a fatal one. The Yankees still have new ace Gerrit Cole atop the group and a deep pool of candidates to fill Paxton’s spot.
The prohibitive favorite is lefthander Jordan Montgomery, 27. He came out of nowhere in spring training in 2017 — at the time, general manager Brian Cashman called him a “dark horse” — to capture a rotation spot.
Montgomery went 9-7 with a 3.88 ERA in 2017, finishing sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting.
He got off to a good start in 2018 — 2-0 with a 3.62 ERA in six starts — before an elbow injury forced him from a May 1 start in Houston. He underwent Tommy John surgery that cost him the rest of 2018 and most of last season (he returned toward the end of 2019 and appeared in two games).
“Monty has proven himself at this level,” Boone told reporters Thursday in Tampa in comments reported by MLB.com. “For him to get back last year was big, just for his frame of mind. We weren’t expecting him to necessarily pitch for us last year, but we felt like he was doing so well that it would be good for him to get out there and pitch.
“The fact that he was able to get back, get some work done and get into some games was big for him and his mindset moving forward. I feel like he’s had a really good offseason.”
Although Montgomery is the favorite to win the spot, he still will have to earn it. Also in contention are Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga (whose long-term role in the big leagues may well be in the bullpen) and prospects Mike King and Deivi Garcia.
Garcia, 20, rated as the club’s top pitching prospect, started last season with high Class A Tampa and finished the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He is the long shot of the crew.
He’s not considered big league-ready yet by opposing team scouts — or the Yankees behind the scenes, for that matter — but all it takes is a strong spring training to change that perspective.
“I don’t want to put anything on anyone,” Boone said Thursday. “These things will kind of declare themselves. Bottom line is Deivi is someone we’re very excited about . . . I don’t want to put any expectations on him right away. It is his first camp. He’s got a really bright future and we’ll see where it leads.’’