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Five key spring training questions for the Yankees

Gary Sanchez, first base, Jacoby Ellsbury and more.

Gary Sanchez of the Yankees follows through on

Gary Sanchez of the Yankees follows through on an eighth-inning two-run home run against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium on June 20, 2018. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Will 2019 be the return of Scary Gary?

After a terrific 2017 season in which he hit .278 with an .876 OPS and 33 homers in 122 games, Gary Sanchez backslid in 2018. Two stints on the disabled list because of a right groin strain didn’t help, but the 26-year-old catcher is the first to say he simply wasn’t very good. Not on offense, as he had a .186/.291/.406 slash line, 18 homers and 53 RBIs, and not on defense, a career-long struggle that got worse last season (despite playing only 89 games, he led the majors with 18 passed balls). Sanchez, who had debridement surgery on his left shoulder in early November — general manager Brian Cashman, consistently and firmly in the catcher’s corner all offseason, described it as “a cleanup” procedure — will be among the most-watched Yankees in camp.

Who’s on first? (sorry, too easy to pass that up)

It is a competition between Luke Voit and the oft-injured Greg Bird, but Aaron Boone and Cashman have made it clear that the job is Voit’s to lose. Voit, 27, an under-the-radar deadline acquisition in 2018, took off after bumping Bird to the bench, hitting .351 with a 1.190 OPS and 14 homers from Aug. 24 on. It will be an uphill climb for Bird, 26, at one point considered a can’t-miss prospect.

How many open competitions are there really?

Not many. The rotation is set, as is the infield, and the outfield would seem to be as well, with Brett Gardner in left, Aaron Hicks in center, Aaron Judge in right and Giancarlo Stanton as the occasional fill-in in left and right while serving mostly as the DH. As for the bullpen, it’s loaded. Assuming health and the Yankees choosing to go with 12 total pitchers out of camp, the seven relievers figure to be Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Jonathan Holder and Tommy Kahnle. Holder and Kahnle, though, will have to do more than just show up to earn their spots.

Remember Jacoby Ellsbury?

The outfielder, who missed all of last season with a variety of injuries, has two years remaining on the seven-year, $153-million deal he signed before the 2014 season. With the Yankees seemingly set in the outfield with Gardner, Hicks, Judge and Stanton, Cashman has said Ellsbury will have a chance to compete in spring training for a reserve role. That could get dicey if Ellsbury struggles to stay on the field or is unproductive in spring training and outfield prospect Clint Frazier plays well. Frazier finally seems over the concussion issues that cost him most of last season.

Can CC Sabathia continue to defy the odds?

The 38-year-old lefthander, who has announced that this will be his final season, is coming off an offseason in which he had another cleanup procedure on his often-bothersome right knee and an angioplasty procedure to open a blocked artery. Health issues aside, Sabathia, 246-153 in 18 seasons, has been durable, making 29, 30, 27 and 29 starts the last four years.

 

— Erik Boland

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