Final Predictions for Every Yankees Spring Training Position Battle
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The New York Yankees will sport a different look and feel entering the 2013 season thanks to open battles for starting spots on the squad this spring training.
Given the numerous injuries the team has already suffered, and the loss of fixtures in the lineup to free agency, manager Joe Girardi has had more than one contest to decide upon prior to Opening Day.
First base was supposed to be set in stone this season. Following a disappointing 2012 campaign that saw him play less than 156 games for the first time as a Yankee, Mark Teixeira was looking to return to his normal run-producing numbers (he averaged 37 HR and 114 RBI in his first three years in pinstripes).
That hope was dashed when he suffered what appeared to be a wrist strain during batting practice with Team USA prior to the World Baseball Classic. The situation became even more serious as news broke that the injury is more than just a strain and could require season-ending surgery.
Manager Joe Girardi toyed with the idea of playing center fielder Curtis Granderson in left field. The thought was that the team could make the most of Brett Gardner's talents by playing him in center.
On Granderson's first spring at-bat, that idea was put to rest.
Ivan Nova was guaranteed a rotation spot going into last year. He was coming off a stellar 2011 season that saw him put up a 16-4 record with a 3.70 ERA. As a 24-year-old, his potential was endless.
The bottom fell out in 2012, though, as Nova posted a career-worst 5.02 ERA and yielded 28 HR in 28 starts.
Now a spot is no longer guaranteed and he is engaged in an intriguing battle for the role of fifth starter.
Let's take a closer look at who is winning their respective positional battles.
Francisco Cervelli has silenced his critics this spring.
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With Russell Martin gone and both Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez not quite ready to assume a starting role, the battle for starting catcher in 2013 comes down to Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart.
Both have major league experience and both have served in backup roles with the Yankees (Cervelli for Jorge Posada and Stewart was Russell Martin's backup last season).
Both also have had their critics, as many have been quick to dismiss Cervelli because of past struggles defensively and Stewart because of his lack of prowess in the batter's box.
Looking at how each has played this spring reveals similar statistics at the plate but a large discrepancy behind it.
And it's not what you think.
To date, Stewart has played in 13 games and Cervelli 12. Stewart has a slight edge offensively, hitting .219 with one HR and four RBI to .200 with one HR and two RBI for his counterpart.
At backstop, the numbers give a decisive edge to Cervelli, who has thrown out five of eight potential base stealers. Stewart has managed to gun down just three of nine runners.
George King of the New York Post writes:
Since camp opened Girardi has preached he is looking at defense as the top priority behind the plate. The front office believes the catchers will prevent enough runs to offset losing Martin’s 21 homers and 53 RBIs to the Pirates in the offseason.
A closer look at Francisco Cervelli reveals that when he first came onto the scene in 2009, he threw out 43 percent of the runners who challenged him. That dropped to 14 percent in both 2010 and 2011, but during his season in the minor leagues in 2012, it jumped back to 30 percent.
It would seem that he has regained the form he began his career with, and his performance has impressed Girardi.
As a .271 hitter at the major league level (Stewart is a career .217 hitter), the edge has to go to Cervelli in the battle for starting catcher with the New York Yankees.
Ivan Nova has done enough to stay in the Yankees rotation.
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If the Yankees were to decide who will occupy the fifth starter's spot based upon spring statistics, then David Phelps would have a distinct advantage over Ivan Nova. In 19 innings pitched, he has a 2.37 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. Nova has a 3.21 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP in 14 innings of work. Phelps has held opponents to a .243 batting average while the batters Nova has faced are hitting .269.
Only the Yankees aren't going to base their decision solely on the statistics of spring.
Both pitchers are age 26 with promising careers ahead of them. So, what sets them apart?
In terms of major league experience, Nova has thrown over 377 innings to Phelps' 100. If there is anything that the Yankees truly love in a starter, it is experience.
Both have a decent repertoire. Nova features a fastball that ranges from 93 to 97 MPH and follows that with a curve and slider. Phelps' fastball goes anywhere from 91 to 94 MPH and he complements it with a sinker, cutter and curve.
Ivan Nova will come at a hitter with power to get his outs while Phelps depends more upon consistent command and control.
Nova's 2011 season showed the Yankees just how high his ceiling can be and the team will use the fact that he has pitched decently this spring as a sign he will rebound back to that form in 2013.
While Nova will secure the fifth starter's role on the team, Phelps need not worry, as he will see plenty of starts given the team's fragile health. Phil Hughes is already a question mark to begin the season on time as he works back from a bulging disc, so there is a good probability it won't be long before David Phelps takes the mound as a starter for the team.
Former Tiger Brennan Boesch was quickly signed by the Yankees and will likely platoon in the outfield until Granderson's return.
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Curtis Granderson's injury certainly threw a wrench into the Yankees' outfield plans, and a number of candidates have placed their claims to occupy one of the corner positions.
Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, Ben Francisco, Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz all have played in spring games, hoping to land a spot on the roster.
Boesch is a left-handed hitter with average power, decent speed and good fielding skills (he had five outfield assists last year). It is likely that he will platoon with Francisco and Rivera in the field until Granderson's return.
Francisco is a 31-year-old right-handed hitter with a career .257 average. In the field, he is average (.978 fielding percentage in 2012) and is not known for being a speed demon (he last stole a base in 2011).
Rivera is 34, right-handed and a 12-year MLB veteran. He carries a lifetime .274 batting average and .984 fielding percentage. He is also a former New York Yankee (2001 to 2003), so he is familiar with the organization.
The young Mesa remains in the mix. He leads all Yankees outfielders in home runs this spring but is only hitting .196, and that will likely buy him a ticket to another season in the minor league system.
Granderson will be back in early May and the Yankees hope that some combination of Boesch, Rivera and Francisco can adequately hold down the fort until then.
Juan Rivera may share first-base duties to open the season for the Yankees.
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Mark Teixeira has become a source of power and consistent fielding for the Yankees since he donned their uniform in 2009. His injury leaves the team with a large void in the lineup and on the field.
As Peter Botte reports for the Daily News, the team has been primarily using Dan Johnson and Juan Rivera this spring at first base.
It appears they are who the team will go with if GM Brian Cashman cannot find an upgrade while searching the market.
Johnson is hitting just .069 this spring and .237 for his seven-year career. Rivera is better suited for playing in the outfield and has played a total of 106 games at first base in 12 seasons.
Yankees fans can only hope that Cashman finds someone better equipped to spend a season at first base.