Spring Training is always more fun with legitimate battles taking place, but that doesn’t project to be the case at New York Yankees camp, where manager Aaron Boone’s depth chart is all but complete. Barring injuries or Hal Steinbrenner opening up the coffers for Bryce Harper, the final 25-man roster is one that’s easy to project, with competition limited only to first base, two bullpen spots and an extra bench guy. So step right up and meet the 2019 Bronx Bombers!
Catcher (2): As mighty and frightening as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are, when it comes to hitting, C.C. Sabathia insisted last spring that Gary Sanchez was the teams most dynamic hitter.
“I think Sanchy’s probably the best hitter in the lineup, you don’t talk about him at all,” the veteran southpaw told reporters. “He has power to all fields. He reminds me of a young Manny Ramirez. That’s enough said right there.”
The young catcher didn’t back up Sabathia’s comments, posting a .186 average, 18 homers and 53 RBI in 89 games. Along the way, Sanchez spent time on the disabled list twice, never appeared in shape and was a disaster behind the plate. The 26-year old underwent relatively minor surgery on his left shoulder back in November, removing loose debris from the non-throwing shoulder.
The hope is Sanchez is healthy, in shape and has a chip on his shoulder to prove last season was a fluke. Once again, Austin Romine expects to serve as the backup, with Kyle Higashioka starting the year at Triple-A Scranton.
First base (1): Outside of Mark Teixeira’s 2015 semi-renaissance, the first base situation has mostly been a black hole for a franchise that went from Don Mattingly to Tino Martinez to Jason Giambi and then Teixeira. This spring, the position might be the team’s biggest question mark with Greg Bird and Luke Voit needing to prove themselves.
It’s remains to be seen if the Yankees will carry both on the Opening Day roster and there is still plenty of questions about each player’s sustainability. Bird with his health and whether or not the burly Voit is a one-hit wonder. Is Bird just another Nick Johnson or is Voit just another Shane Spencer?
Second base (1): While Boone has said he has no preference whether wunderkind Gleybar Torres plays shortstop or second base to open the season, it appears the 22-year old will spend the bulk of his time at the keystone. He’s offensively elite, defensively gifted and should have no problem playing either second or short depending on Troy Tulowitzki’s health and how Boone deploys DJ LeMahieu all over the infield.
Third base (1): Miguel Andujar basically Wally Pipped Brandon Drury after he went down with migraines and blurred vision early last season. Andujar, the Rookie of the Year in my estimation, has plenty of work to do on the defensive side of the ball but without Manny Machado in the picture, the hot corner is Andujar’s for 2019 and possibly for many years to come.
Shortstop (1): There will be no Machado and there will most definitely be no Didi Gregorius – at least not for a few months after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October. To fill the void of Sir Didi, Brian Cashman brought in a pair of former Colorado Rockies All-Stars.
The 34-year old Tulowitzki signed a league-minimum deal and LeMahieu signed a 2-year pact worth $24 million. Tulowitzki, who has played 589 of a possible 1,134 games in the past seven years and didn’t play at all last season is a lottery ticket and LeMahieu is here for his glovework, contactability and versatility.
Utility (2): While LeMahieu will serve as depth in the infield, the Yankees will have one bench spot up for grabs. If both Voit and Bird, who has a minor league option, impress over the spring it’s not out of the question both make the team to round out the roster. Clint Frazier could rake and force his way on the team.
Once again, youngster Tyler Wade will have an opportunity to show he’s more than just a speedster while shifting all around the diamond. Non-roster invitee Gio Urshela, who was known for his defensive prowess during his stay in Cleveland, is in camp. Light-hitting outfielder Billy Burns, who hasn’t played a big league game since 2017, is also vying for a job on a minor league contract.
Outfield (4): There’s a false notion going around that the Yankees have too many outfielders. This argument has been used against the team shelling out big bucks for Harper and the reupping of Brett Gardner shouldn’t hinder the richest team in sports chasing one of the sports brightest young stars. For now, the 35-year old lifelong Yankee is penciled in at left field, but a strong spring from Frazier could change things.
Free-agent-to-be Aaron Hicks will be patrolling center field while Judge and Stanton will share duties in right field and at designated hitter on a semi-regular basis. Frazier appears all the way back from concussion problems but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him start in the minors and get everyday at-bats instead of playing in a timeshare with Gardner.
Starting pitchers (5): The first four slots will go to Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and newcomer James Paxton, leaving the No. 5 spot for the 38-year old Sabathia. The Yankees should feel confident handing the ball to their starter game in and game out, but when it comes to rotation depth things get tricky.
Jordan Montgomery’s rehab from Tommy John surgery has been going well and he’s on track to be back pitching in the big leagues by the All-Star break. Of the organizational products, the familiar trio of Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German will be in the mix to soak up innings. The name to watch is Mike King, who will be shut down for three weeks after an MRI discovered a stress reaction in his right elbow.
The 23-year old righty was acquired from the Marlins last winter and rapidly shot his way up the Yankees’ system, rising from Single-A Tampa all the way to Triple-A Scranton. He dominated at every level, posting a 1.79 ERA in 161 innings. If he’s healthy and pitching well, he could be in the majors sooner than later.
Bullpen (8): Fangraphs currently has the New York bullpen projected for 7.9 WAR, which is the best in the game by a wide margin. The Yankees swapped out the trusty David Robertson with Brooklyn born Adam Ottavino, who signed on for 3-years, $27 million. Zack Britton is back to join the core group of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green and Jonathan Holder.
Figuring the team moves forward with 13 pitchers and three bench players, there are two bullpen spots up for grabs. Someone needs to start in the first turn through the rotation when Sabathia serves his five-game suspension and maybe that’s Cessa, who is out of minor league options. Loaisiga, German and Chance Adams have a chance to show their worth. Perhaps journeyman Drew Hutchison, who is on a minor league deal, can pitch himself onto the roster.
If the Yankees want to keep a southpaw around the early favorite is Stephen Tarpley, who held lefties to a .067 average and three walks in 18 plate appearances during his brief Bronx cameo in 2018. Veteran Rex Brothers is in camp fighting for a job and the forgotten about Tommy Kahnle will also be in the mix to complete the 2019 Yankees Opening Day roster.