Yankees Spring Training Stock Watch: Which Players Are on Fire, Slumping?

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2013

Yankees Spring Training Stock Watch: Which Players Are on Fire, Slumping?

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    Spring training wins and losses mean next to nothing, but the New York Yankees have gotten off to a slow start nonetheless with a 3-8 record entering play on Wednesday.

    Preseason is more about player evaluation than anything else, and the Yankees have players on both ends of the spectrum, with a handful of guys getting off to terrific starts and another group struggling mightily out of the gates.

    Here is a look at which players are on fire and which are slumping for the Yankees here in the early going this spring.

Slumping: 1B Dan Johnson

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    Stats: 0-for-13, 4 BB, 6 K

    Signed to a minor league deal this winter, Johnson was brought into camp to compete for a bench spot after the team parted ways with Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones in free agency.

    Best remembered for his game-tying home run for the Tampa Bay Rays on the final day of the season in 2011, the 33-year-old spent most of 2012 in Triple-A for the Chicago White Sox, where he hit .267 with 28 home runs.

    He's done nothing so far this spring to position himself for a big-league job, so he'll likely be heading back to Triple-A when the season kicks off.

Slumping: RP Mark Montgomery

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    Stats: 3 G, 2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2 K

    The No. 11 prospect in the Yankees system entering the season (according to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook), Montgomery is viewed as the Yankees' closer of the future.

    Last season, he posted a 1.54 ERA and 13.8 K/9 between High Single-A and Double-A while recording 15 saves.

    The 22-year-old doesn't figure into the team's plans for this season, but should Mariano Rivera opt to hang up his spikes after this season he could have a shot at closing in 2014.

Slumping: UT Eduardo Nunez

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    Stats: 3-for-18, 1 Double, 1 K

    Derek Jeter has yet to play a game this spring as he continues to rehab from offseason ankle surgery, and at this point he's questionable to open the season.

    If he can't go, the starting shortstop would presumably go to Nunez, who has served as the team's utility man the past two seasons.

    Still only 25, Nunez has some offensive upside, and his defensive versatility is invaluable, but so far he's struggled to get it going this spring.

Slumping: RP Cody Eppley

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    Stats: 3 G, 3 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K

    Selected off waivers from the Texas Rangers last April, Eppley wound up playing a significant role out of the Yankees' bullpen last season with a 3.33 ERA over 46 innings in 59 appearances.

    With Mariano Rivera and David Aardsma now healthy, the 27-year-old Eppley already had his work cut out for him if he hoped to break camp with the team.

    Now those chances seem slim to none given his early struggles, and he'll likely be relegated to Triple-A, where he'll be one of the first in line for a bullpen spot should injuries or ineffectiveness create an opening.

Slumping: 3B Kevin Youkilis

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    Stats: 0-for-6, 1 K

    After signing a one-year, $12 million deal to replace the injured Alex Rodriguez this offseason, Kevin Youkilis has not gotten off to the best of starts.

    In three games of spring action so far, he's hit-less in six at-bats, and he's committed one error in just three chances over at third base.

    On top of that, he's still trying to get out from under the comments he made earlier this spring, when he said the following (h/t ESPN New York):

    "I'll always be a Red Sock. To negate all the years I played for the Boston Red Sox, and all the tradition, you look at all the stuff I have piled up at my house and to say I'd just throw it out the window, it's not true."

    Not the best start to his time in pinstripes, but a few home runs and all will be forgotten.

On Fire: RP Francisco Rondon

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    Stats: 4 G, 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K

    Like Eppley, Rondon has his work cut out for him if he hopes to earn a spot in what is more or less a set Yankees bullpen. However, he's done a much better job putting himself in a position to do so.

    The 24-year-old spent most of last season in Double-A, and he posted a 3.93 ERA and 10.1 K/9 in 44 total minor league appearances.

    He may not have any chance to crack the Opening Day roster, but if nothing else, he's putting himself on the team's radar, and there's a good chance he'll make his debut at some point in 2013 as a result.

On Fire: LF Juan Rivera

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    Stats: 6-for-16, 3 Doubles

    Though he was vastly overpaid with a salary of $4 million, Rivera was a solid producer off the bench for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, with nine home runs and 47 RBI in 312 at-bats.

    That wasn't enough to drum up any interest this winter, though, and he settled on a minor league deal worth $1.2 million if he breaks camp with the big-league team.

    With Curtis Granderson sidelined to open the season, the starting left field job is up for grabs to kick off the season, and as of now Rivera has to be viewed as the front-runner for the gig.

On Fire: SP/RP Vidal Nuno

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    Stats: 2 G, 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K

    A former Cleveland Indians farm hand who was released in March 2011, Nuno has turned things around over the past two seasons in the Yankees organization.

    The 25-year-old split last season between High Single-A and Double-A, going a combined 10-6 with a 2.54 ERA in 31 appearances (21 starts).

    Clay Rapada and Boone Logan are entrenched as the bullpen's two left-handers, but he has at least put himself on the radar should the team need a southpaw at some point during the season.

On Fire: SP David Phelps

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    Stats: 3 G, 9 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K

    Phelps served as a key swingman for the Yankees in his debut last season, going 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA over 33 appearances (11 starts) while throwing 99.2 innings.

    Barring an injury, he'll fill that role once again, and he'll find himself one injury from being a key member of the team's rotation once again.

    For what it's worth, he was 2-2 with a 3.77 ERA in his 11 starts and 2-2 with a 2.76 ERA in his 22 relief appearances, so he's capable of filling either role effectively.

On Fire: LF Brett Gardner

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    Stats: 11-for-19, 1 Triple, 3 RBI, 2 SB

    Last year was essentially a lost season for Gardner, as he played in just 16 games before a right elbow injury ended his season.

    In 2011, he led the league with 49 steals and posted a respectable .345 on-base percentage, so there is a chance he could play his way into a spot at or near the top of the lineup with a strong spring.

    He's also making the defensive transition from left field to center field, a move that should only further showcase his terrific wheels and plus all-around defensive game.