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Yankees in for slew of firsts in Grapefruit League opener

Yankees manager Aaron Boone on Feb. 22, 2018. talks about a riskier game plan for Friday's spring training opener and first few games to test skillsets of his players Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. — It doesn’t officially get real Friday afternoon, but it gets real enough.

When the Yankees open Grapefruit League play at Steinbrenner Field against the Tigers, there will be a slew of firsts.

The first game in pinstripes for Giancarlo Stanton and newly acquired third baseman Brandon Drury. The first chance for those competing for open jobs to make an impression on evaluators, which include Aaron Boone, who will be managing his first game for the Yankees.

“There’s been a lot of tent poles,” Boone said of his tenure, which began in December. “The first this [or that]. Pitchers and catchers, the first day when the whole team was here, then certainly tomorrow with games starting and trying to get into that good routine. But yeah, there’ll be a little excitement with the crowd and the pinstripes and actually playing a game. I’ll get some juices flowing for that.”

Fans, and plenty of people wearing Yankees uniforms as well, had that kind of excitement earlier in the week while watching Stanton, who hit 59 homers in winning the National League MVP award with the Marlins last season, and Aaron Judge, who hit a rookie-record 52 in being named AL Rookie of the Year and finishing second in the AL MVP voting, take batting practice together.

The games, of course, won’t count for another month-plus, but Boone is looking forward to seeing Stanton, who has credited closing his stance for last year’s success, in game action.

“He’s got such a tremendous skill set, such unique bat speed and power,” Boone said. “It’s unlike anything you see. Just standing behind him and seeing how closed he is, that’s something that probably would be difficult for a lot of people. But he’s so uniquely skilled. Very few impact it like he does.”

Drury, whom the Yankees acquired from Arizona in a three-team trade Tuesday, described himself as “pumped” to be putting on the pinstripes. The 25-year-old, who grew up in Grants Pass, Oregon, as a Yankees fan, enters camp as the prohibitive favorite to land the starting job at third.

The righthanded-hitting Drury had a .267/.317/.447 slash line, 13 homers, 37 doubles and 63 RBIs last season. He changed his swing in the offseason in an attempt to turn a portion of those doubles into something more.

“The homers, you can’t force them, but they’re going to come more since I put so much work into getting the ball more in the air naturally,” he said. “If I could take even 10, 15 of those doubles and turn them into homers, the power numbers are going to be decent.”

Drury was on a playoff team last season, but looking around the clubhouse, he shook his head.

“I want to win the World Series, that’s the goal here, and we’ve got the guys to do it,” he said. “To join a group of guys like this is special to me.”

Barring injuries, the roster is mostly set, though there are competitions to watch. Jordan Montgomery is a heavy favorite to win the fifth starter job but could be pushed by Luis Cessa (who starts Friday), Chad Green, Domingo German and perhaps even prospects Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield. Second base is wide open, with Tyler Wade, Gleyber Torres, Ronald Torreyes, Danny Espinosa and Jace Peterson the contenders. Some in that group also will get some time at third, as will prospect Miguel Andujar, though general manager Brian Cashman said Drury has a “leg up” on the job. Jacoby Ellsbury, meanwhile, has an uphill battle in trying to dislodge Aaron Hicks as the centerfielder.

“Trying to get a feel for skill sets and what we think different guys are capable of doing,” Boone said, speaking generally of the exhibition season. “I really look at it as an individual thing and really it’s about getting individuals ready. Tomorrow’s the start of that.”

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