KISSIMMEE, Fla. - If nothing else, the Yankees' infield on Opening Day should be better than the one that took the field in Houston to begin last season.
A year ago, it was a far-from-healthy Mark Teixeira at first base, an on-the-back-nine-of-his-career Brian Roberts at second, a range-limited 39-year-old Derek Jeter at shortstop and an overmatched Kelly Johnson at third.
"One of the worst defensive infields I've seen,'' an opposing team scout said. "Anywhere.''
The quartet offered little offensively, but its defensive deficiencies were especially glaring.
From that standpoint, the unit the Yankees intend to send out as their starting infield this season will be a vast improvement.
Teixeira, for one, is healthy. Even if he doesn't hit and even though shortstop is his natural position, Stephen Drew, is an upgrade over Roberts. Didi Gregorius, 25, is far superior in the field to the aging Jeter and Chase Headley is a world away from Johnson.
"I think we can be one of the top infields in baseball,'' Teixeira said after the Yankees rallied for six runs in the ninth inning Saturday for a 9-4 victory over the Astros at Osceola County Stadium. "I think you have two solid veterans on the corners and then basically two shortstops up the middle. I think most teams would take that.''
Gregorius made a spectacular diving play to his right on a ground smash by leadoff man Jose Altuve, though Teixeira, in a full stretch, couldn't quite scoop the shortstop's low throw. Still, it was another fine play by Gregorius, an indication, perhaps, of what is to come all season.
"Didi, the first impression of him, he's one of the best shortstops I've ever seen,'' Teixeira said. "And that's not an overstatement. That guy has the range, the quickness, the glove, the arm. This guy's got it all.''
Though not impugning the players he had last season and speaking in general terms, Joe Girardi said shoddy infield defense has a "cumulative effect'' on a pitching staff.
"Each out puts more pitches on the starter and then the bullpen [may have to work more] and that all adds up during the course of the year,'' Girardi said. "A guy may throw five or six extra pitches in an inning and all of a sudden you work a little bit harder than you should and you're [taken] out an inning sooner and your bullpen has to log [innings]. It has an effect. Those outs are so important.''
Teixeira's importance, both offensively and defensively, can't be overstated. He is one of three veterans who need to have bounce-back seasons at the plate in 2015 -- Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann are the other two -- for the Yankees to have any chance of making the playoffs. And although he struggled offensively last season, Teixeira's defense was better than that played by anyone else the Yankees trotted out at the position.
The 34-year-old Teixeira, 2-for-7 in three exhibition games, has not experienced any issues with the surgically repaired right wrist that gave him trouble pretty much all of 2014.
"Feels really good,'' said Teixeira, who hit .216 with a .313 on-base percentage, 22 homers and 62 RBIs in 123 games last season. "Really strong, no problems. I'm going to continue doing my strength work and doing all my postgame ice, but it feels great right now.''
Girardi is cautiously optimistic.
"His body's responded well, which has been really good,'' he said. "That's something we really have to watch because he's really, really important to our lineup. I hope [he's over the wrist issues], but you can't really tell until you get into the rigors of the long season and the back-to-backs and day after day after day. But I sure hope so.''