5 New York Yankees Players Who Will Be Fighting for Roster Spots This Spring
The moves made by the New York Yankees this offseason will necessitate some roster shuffling from within, and that will make it difficult for several members of the roster to crack the 25-man out of spring training.
They'll be in stiff competition with other candidates right from Day 1 of workouts.
General manager Brian Cashman has made it a priority to spend big this offseason in an effort to improve his club. Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka are all newcomers to the team, as are lesser-profile players like Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson.
These moves should increase the Yankees' chances of getting back to the postseason.
With that being said, Cashman failed to really address the bullpen (aside from signing Matt Thornton) after the departure of Mariano Rivera. This is where there will be the most competition for a spot on the team.
Spring training for the Yankees is more often than not a warmup for the team's star-studded roster. This year will be just a bit different. For the first time in quite some time, there will be some legitimate competition for potentially prominent spots on the team.
1. Dellin Betances, RHP
A vast majority of manager Joe Girardi's bullpen is up in the air.
Presumably, only Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson will be guaranteed roles. That leaves either four or five spots (depending on how many Girardi wants to run with) up for grabs.
Former top prospect Dellin Betances should be given a long look during spring training. Kelley currently lines up as the setup man for Robertson, but Betances has late-inning stuff coming out of the pen.
Originally a starter, Betances seems to have found his niche coming on in relief. If you take away a four-run outburst by the Los Angeles Angels in Betances' first game of 2013, the tall right-hander would have finished the year allowing just two runs in 4.1 innings pitched.
While not great, it's respectable for a young player adjusting to a new role. Perhaps more important is the fact that he struck out 10 batters and walked just two in his five total innings in the bigs.
Look for him to have a big-time impact on the Yankees bullpen if he makes the team.
2. Preston Claiborne, RHP
Preston Claiborne became one of Joe Girardi's favorite options out of the bullpen in 2013. After his call-up from the minors May 5, Claiborne pitched important innings and generally produced favorable results.
In 44 games (50.1 innings), the 26-year-old had a 4.11 ERA and 1.291 WHIP. He walked just 14 men and allowed only seven home runs. His semi-bloated ERA is because of his tendency to pitch to contact without dominating stuff, but that's something that should improve as he gets more of a feel for the bigs.
Claiborne doesn't profile as a late-inning reliever that can close games in a pinch, but he's a nice option for the sixth or the seventh inning if a starter fails to give significant length.
Because he is a bit of a lesser-known pitcher, many forget that he'll be in the mix for the 2014 bullpen. He has a very good chance of locking down a spot, but that will all depend on how Brian Cashman approaches the rest of free agency.
With not too much veteran talent in the bullpen to date, Cashman might look to add a few veteran free agents into the mix. This would impact Claiborne's candidacy.
3. Michael Pineda, RHP
Michael Pineda and David Phelps will be in competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation right from the onset of spring workouts.
Phelps has more experience coming out of the pen. This might end up influencing Joe Girardi's decision-making a bit, but in the end, the No. 5 spot will be awarded to the guy that best performs in Tampa.
Pineda hasn't thrown a big league pitch since his fantastic rookie season in 2011 with the Seattle Mariners. An injury, a trade and more injuries have taken place since the last time he stepped foot on a mound, but the Yankees will be banking on him to make his return at some point in 2014.
Wisely, the Yankees won't come out and say that Pineda is healthy or that they are expecting big things from him. Should they do this, high expectations will soon follow that may not be lived up to.
Even the most casual of Yankees fans knows just how how the Yankees faithful reacts to unmet expectations.
A strong spring will put Pineda in the discussion. The loser of the battle will be relegated to bullpen duty, however, he will be called into action if the winner of the battle falters for any stretch.
4. Austin Romine, C
MLB.com's Bryan Hoch considers Francisco Cervelli to be the "front-runner" for the Yankees' back-up catching duties, but you can expect Austin Romine's name to be in the mix as well.
Cervelli will have the edge over Romine in that he has far more experience in the bigs and has won over the support of most of the fans because of his hustle and hard-nosed style of play. Mostly be default, Cervelli was favored to be the semi-everyday catcher in 2013 before an injury and suspension ended his year.
Adding Brian McCann into the fold severely limits how creative Joe Girardi can get with his catchers, which isn't a bad thing.
McCann will be catching the bulk of the games—likely somewhere in the 120-game range—meaning the team's reserve will only be called on about 40 times. Leaving Romine in Triple-A to develop more might be the best option.
Cervelli profiles as no more than a reserve at this point in the 27-year-old's career, thus making him the ideal candidate.
Even still, Romine will compete this spring for the position.
5. Eduardo Nunez, SS
For some Yankees fans, the fact that Eduardo Nunez won't be guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster will force them to emit a sigh of relief. The defensive circus that is Nunez has certainly been interesting to watch over the past few seasons.
The fact remains that Nunez has competition that will likely prove too strong to overcome. Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Brendan Ryan were all inked to multimillion dollar, major league deals this offseason. Nunez, who can still be sent down to the minors, will likely find himself at Triple-A.
A very strong showing this spring might change that, however.
Nunez does have the added versatility of being able to play a corner outfield spot in an emergency, so he does have that going for him. Maybe that'll help him out.
Pure speculation on my part, but I could see the Yankees packaging Nunez with a lesser prospect this spring to bring in a veteran for the bullpen. Smaller-market teams might be apt to give Nunez another shot in the majors.
After all, his bat isn't horrible. His speed is above average as well; he just needs to learn how to run the bases better.
Nunez is a work in progress that the Yankees cannot afford to give time to anymore. He'll compete for a 25-man roster spot, but don't be shocked if he doesn't get one.
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