Spring training started last weekend. In some cases, fans were glued to their televisions or radios to tune into games that meant absolutely nothing.
I, for one, enjoy spring training. This season's sure to be a good one, as my beloved New York Yankees look to put together the puzzle that will send them back to the World Series and bring home title No. 28.
Also, if there's one thing to love about spring training, it's the non-roster invitees. The Yankees have a bunch this year, ranging from minor leaguers looking to get a shot in the majors, to veterans like Bartolo Colon (pictured at left) looking to return to glory.
Here are 10 Yankees under the radar, including Colon, who could make the Opening Day roster with strong springs.
This young man doesn't have any experience past Double-A Trenton, but he impressed enough last season to warrant a September call-up. He is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, but don't be surprised to see him called up midseason with the uncertainty surrounding the back end of the team's rotation. He might even have a shot at making the Opening Day roster.
Currently, Brackman is sidelined with a groin injury, but don't count him out just yet. He has great stuff that includes a fastball once topped at 99 mph, and a knuckle curve that hovers around 78-81. Pitchers with the ability to change speeds effectively are rare, so the Yankees are sure to keep Brackman around for a while, unless they get an offer for him that they can't refuse.
Plus, he's 6'10". That's going to intimidate hitters. With a Tommy John surgery already under his belt and his effectiveness not an issue, keep an eye on Andrew Brackman as the Yankees look to solve their pitching issues.
This young man will almost definitely not start the season in the majors, but is still worth watching. A hometown hero from Brooklyn, Dellin Betances has been someone general manager Brian Cashman has been pushing since 2006.
Like his teammate Andrew Brackman, Betances stands tall at 6'8" and throws four pitches. His fastball has been measured in the mid-to-high 90s, and he also has a slider and spike curveball in his repertoire. From what I've heard, his changeup isn't bad either.
This young man has only thrown one inning this spring, but he was beyond impressive. He struck out the side against the Philadelphia Phillies, and the fans roared. Expect Betances to start the season in Trenton, work his way up to Scranton and ultimately find his way to the Bronx, as either a spot starter or bullpen fill-in.
Scouts say he already has major league stuff and at the ripe young age of 22 (soon to be 23), don't be surprised if Betances becomes a factor this season and wins the final spot in the rotation.
Mark Prior hasn't pitched in the major leagues since 2006. His once-promising career has been derailed by shoulder and elbow problems, so why do the Yankees have him at spring training?
Well, manager Joe Girardi was actually Prior's catcher in Chicago back in 2002, the then 21-year-old's rookie season. Prior went 6-6 with a 3.32 ERA that year and had 147 strikeouts in 116.2 innings. If there's anyone who can get through to Prior, it's Girardi and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who held the same position during Prior's tenure in Chicago.
Prior is now 30, and his velocity has dipped significantly over the years. Still, team management believes he can be an effective member of the team. If he makes the team, he'll almost definitely start the year in the minor leagues, but that's just about the best Prior can hope for now.
He needs to work his way back to the major league level and if he impresses in spring training, don't be surprised to see him at the big ballpark in the Bronx sooner rather than later.
Listed at 5'10" and 155 pounds, Manny Banuelos is not what one would call an intimidating presence on the mound. Yet, in one inning of work this spring, he has shown the ability to get top hitters out. Against the Tigers, he struck out Jhonny Peralta and got Victor Martinez to ground out.
His velocity tops out in the low-mid 90s, and scouts go on and on about his changeup being one of the best strikeout pitches they've seen. Banuelos is only 19, so he has a long way to go in terms of development, especially after missing most of 2010 recovering from an appendectomy. Still, with his pitching repertoire and ability to handle top hitters, don't be surprised if he ends up making his debut sometime in 2011, possibly out of the bullpen on Opening Day.
In 2005, Bartolo Colon won the American League Cy Young Award with the then Anaheim Angels. Since then, he has struggled with injuries, as well as conditioning. He last pitched for the Chicago White Sox in 2009, going 3-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 starts.
The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal last offseason, and now Colon is competing for a spot in the rotation. He looked decent in his first start of the spring, giving a run and two hits over two innings, but he must do a lot better than that if he wants to outshine the younger prospects the team has in camp.
If he makes the major league roster and beats out all of the young guns for a spot in the rotation, look for Colon to potentially be a force down the stretch.
Unlike most of the new pitchers the Yankees have at spring training this year, Freddy Garcia was a full-time starter in 2010. He went 12-6 with a 4.64 ERA for the Chicago White Sox in a year that began with most experts writing him off at old and washed up.
Garcia is no spring chicken at age 36, but he proved last season that he still has what it takes to get major league hitters out. If he impresses Joe Girardi and the coaching staff in spring training, don't be surprised to see him as part of the starting rotation's back end.
I know what you're thinking. Ivan Nova is essentially a lock for the rotation and Opening Day this season, so why is he on this list? Well, because he's just that good!
Nova made a few starts down the stretch in the latter part of the 2010 season and impressed team management with his stuff. His durability and control were questionable, but that can be chalked up to his age (24) and major league jitters. It's a new year and Nova has probably done some training and growing up since the end of last season.
He has already impressed this spring, throwing two perfect innings in his first start. Look for him to keep the effectiveness up and continue to impress fans and team management in 2011.
Colin Curtis didn't do much offensively during his first season in the majors. He had one home run and eight RBI and only batted .186. Still, there is reason to believe that Curtis could make the Opening Day roster.
Despite his unimpressive performance at the plate in 2010, Curtis showcased great defensive prowess in the outfield. He has great range, a decent arm and can play all three outfield positions. With a bright future and Joe Girardi's stamp of approval, don't be surprised if Curtis sees more time if the Andruw Jones experiment fails.
Like Colin Curtis, Eduardo Nunez only saw limited time in the majors in 2010. Still, he made the most of his opportunity.
In 30 games, Nunez batted .280 with one home run and seven RBI. On top of that, he stole five bases and showed great range at shortstop.
Nunez was named the Yankees minor league player of the year in 2010, and he truly deserved it. This young man can hit for average, has some power and great speed. Plus he's an excellent fielder. With Ramiro Pena having peaked already, look for Nunez to make the Opening Day Roster as the team's utility infielder.
Ever since last season, Jesus Montero has been considered the Yankees' top prospect. A catcher who stands 6'4" and weighs in at 225 pounds, Montero has been touted as a young player with major league power and great ability to hit well for average. This year, ESPN's Keith Law has him ranked as the fourth-best prospect in all of baseball (behind Bryce Harper, Domonic Brown and Mike Trout).
Needless to say, Montero is sure to be a factor for the Yankees in the near future. He is currently competing for the backup catcher's spot with Francisco Cervelli and fellow prospect Austin Romine. As of now all signs point to him winning the job.
The only question mark surrounding Montero is his durability. With his size, can he be an effective everyday major league catcher? Regardless of what position he ends up playing, look for Montero to be hitting many a pitch into Monument Park come Opening Day and for many seasons to come.