Handicapping the Yankees' Hotly Contested Spring Training Position Battles
Spring training is almost here, and that means two things.
The first is that, thankfully, baseball is almost back.
The second is that there will be plenty of positional battles throughout major league camps as players try to cement their roles on big league rosters. Like every other team, that will be true with the New York Yankees as they prepare for Opening Day in Tampa, Florida.
The Yankees have a few questions surrounding their team, namely when it comes to backing up the backstop, plugging the middle part of the infield and filling out the rotation. With spring training less than a month away, let's find out who is going to be fighting—and winning—the battles this spring.
The Backup Catcher
With Francisco Cervelli having gone to Pittsburgh, the New York Yankees are going to have a new backup catcher.
The Yankees have several backstops on their 40-man roster—John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez—who could all have cases made for them when it comes to winning the job.
However, Murphy is the clear front-runner with camp coming soon. As good as he is defensively, Romine has shown little at the plate. Sanchez, on the other hand, is still young. He is a few years away from the majors and at this point he is a major liability behind the plate.
Murphy, however, has looked sharp in the limited major league time he has received. He hit .284 with 23 hits in 32 games for the Yanks last year in place of a hurt Cervelli. He looked to be a decent contact hitter at the plate and provided the team with solid defense in his second partial season.
Given his tools, his experience and the limitations of the competition, it should be Murphy backing up Brian McCann in 2015.
The Starting Second Baseman
Just about any Yankees fan you talk to is going to tell you that he or she wants Rob Refsnyder to be the team's starting second baseman come Opening Day.
To his or her dismay, that is likely not going to be the case.
The reason for that is the Yankees brought back veteran infielder Stephen Drew on a one-year, $5 million deal. The team, who has put a new-found emphasis on defense, likely believe that Refsnyder's glove work could use some improvement.
Drew, however, would give the Yanks the range and arm of a natural shortstop while also providing them with some flexibility.
The worry with Drew is that he plays anything like he did last year. Acquired from the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline, Drew hit an embarrassing .162 between the two clubs. If he puts up numbers like that, it will not be his position for long.
The 5th Starter
Of all the positional battles going on with the Yankees this spring, the one to focus on the most is the battle to be the rotation's fifth starter.
The top two candidates will be Chris Capuano and Scott Baker.
Capuano came over to the club midseason in 2014 and pitched rather well as the Yankees forced puzzle pieces to fit into their injury-plagued rotation. He was consistent, though far from spectacular, going 2-3 with a 4.25 ERA for the Yanks. He kept the Yankees in just about every game he pitched, which was certainly more than they could ask for at the time.
Baker, on the other hand, was once a staple in the middle of the Minnesota Twins' rotation. Now 33 years old, he won 38 games between 2008 and 2010 while averaging 181 innings a season with a 4.11 ERA over the span. He had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and has not been the same since, pitching just 95.2 innings since then.
Keep in mind that the winner of this job out of spring training is simply holding the spot down for Ivan Nova until he comes back from his own Tommy John recovery. He is expected back mid-season.
The edge here goes to Capuano for two reasons. The first is that the Yankees gave him $5 million this offseason, as opposed to the minor league deal they gave Baker. The other is that Capuano is a lefty, giving the Yankees two southpaws, him and CC Sabathia.
There is still time for New York to add one more low-risk, high-reward type pitcher.
All stats were obtained via Baseball-Reference.com.
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