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Five questions facing the Yankees as MLB gets set for return to spring training

The Yankees' Aaron Judge runs on the field

The Yankees' Aaron Judge runs on the field during a spring training workout on Feb. 18 in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP/Frank Franklin II

Baseball, finally, is starting up again. As the Yankees congregate for their second spring training of the year — this one at Yankee Stadium — here are five questions they’re facing. 

Exactly what kind of shape is everyone in?

All players have been working out during the pandemic so they will be in shape. But exactly what kind of baseball shape when spring training resumes is very much a question. Players have a long stretch of time off between when a typical season ends and spring training for the following year begins, but during those winter months, they have access, regardless of where they live in the offseason, to gyms, parks, indoor batting cages, etc. That has not been the case for the most part since spring training officially was suspended March 13 as most states instituted stay-at-home orders of some kind, hence, making those kind of facilities unavailable.

Are a slew of injuries inevitable?

Behind the scenes, the short answer given by a cross-section of those in the game — everyone from managers to players to scouts to medical staff — is probably. Some of which relates to the issues mentioned above. The Yankees’ team physician, Christopher Ahmad, recently wrote about the topic, expressing his worry, as others have, on the impact of a sudden restart.

“The coronavirus pandemic may greatly compound and exaggerate the risk factors associated with the spring Tommy John surgery spike,” Ahmad wrote on Medium early last month. “The enthusiasm to get back to baseball right now is simply enormous. Players and their families have been understandably craving baseball for months at this point and are growing impatient . . . That translates to maximum effort throwing.”

Theories abound on how to prevent a tidal wave of injuries. But, for now, they remain just theories.

What will Aaron Judge’s status be?

Public comments from the Yankees regarding Aaron Judge and the progress made with the right rib fracture that kept him mostly sidelined in the spring have been vague at best. On March 25 Aaron Boone said the fracture “was still in the healing phase,” and well over a month later, on May 5, Boone told MLB Network Radio, “hopefully this time down allows that rib to heal properly." When asked during this down time, Boone has been far more specific regarding the rehab progress of Giancarlo Stanton, James Paxton and Aaron Hicks than he has been of Judge’s, which has only deepened the mystery.

Just how stretched out can the starters get?

Spring training lasts as long as it does — six weeks — solely for the purpose of stretching out starting pitchers in time for the regular season. It is now all but accepted that Spring Training II will last about three weeks, meaning rotation members likely will be in the 3-4 inning range when the regular season starts. That will be the case for every team, giving a distinct advantage to the clubs — and the Yankees are near or at the top of this list — with deep bullpens.

Are there any starting position battles to be won?

Not really. Entering the spring, third base was Gio Urshela’s to lose, as was Luke Voit’s spot at first. Neither, three weeks into the spring, had done anything to lose those positions. The rest of the infield was set in stone with Gleyber Torres at short and DJ LeMahieu at second. If Hicks is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery — a possibility — he’ll be in center, which puts Brett Gardner in left. There’s too much uncertainty surrounding Judge’s rib to pencil him in rightfield so, early on at least, that will likely be manned by Mike Tauchman and, perhaps later if he can prove his fielding difficulties are behind him, Clint Frazier. Rosters could have as many as 50 players, depending on the final agreement reached between MLB and the MLBPA. The most interesting part of a spring training reboot for the Yankees just might be figuring out how to best use, outside of injuries, the extras.

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