Predicting New York Yankees Depth Charts a Month Ahead of Spring Training
The New York Yankees remain a team in flux, heading into spring training with a roster that could contend—or fall short of the playoffs for the fourth time in the past five years.
Veterans like Brian McCann (traded) and Mark Teixeira (retired) are gone, replaced by youngsters who are big on upside—but light on experience. That could lead to some growing pains in 2017, but it's a pain that general manager Brian Cashman believes fans are ready to endure.
"(The fans are) willing to walk through that (the ups and downs) with you as long as they have some legitimate players they can really grow with," he recently told Mike Mazzeo of the New York Daily News. "We're really now in a better position to provide a group of talent where hopefully some will really be part of the next championship core."
Some of those players will be competing for a spot on the 25-man roster this spring. Others still need more minor league seasoning before they can officially join the fray. How will things shake out when it's said and done?
Let's take a look.
Starter: Gary Sanchez (RHB)
After hitting .299 with 20 home runs, 41 RBI and a 1.032 OPS in 53 games, nearly carrying the Yankees to the playoffs in the process, it's impossible not to be giddy like an eight-year-old in Toys R Us over the prospects of what Gary Sanchez might be able to do over the course of a full big league season.
Sanchez looks like a franchise player, but let's avoid calling him "the Sanchize." The last player affixed with that moniker, former New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, was assuredly not a franchise talent—and he famously butt-fumbled his was out of Gotham.
There was little fumbling on Sanchez's part behind the plate last year, as he nailed 41 percent of potential base stealers and proved to be a capable game-caller and solid all-around defender. Those skills drew praise from an unlikely source—Boston manager John Farrell.
"I think defensively, he has been much more than maybe we had anticipated—the accuracy to his throws, the arm strength that he has, his blocking ability," Farrell said in late December, per MLB.com's Bryan Hoch. "He's a front-line player."
Backup: Austin Romine (RHB)
Austin Romine is most assuredly not a front-line player. Once considered the heir apparent to Jorge Posada in the Bronx, Romine has been mediocre over parts of four MLB seasons, though he is coming off his best season to date, hitting .242 with four home runs, 26 RBI and a .650 OPS.
Romine's experience and familiarity with the pitching staff give him the edge over the only other catcher currently on the team's 40-man roster, Kyle Higashioka.
Waiting in the Wings
Kyle Higashioka (RHB)
The 26-year-old enjoyed a breakout season at the plate, hitting a combined .276 with 21 home runs, 81 RBI and a .847 OPS split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and he could give Romine a run for his money this spring.
That said, it seems a foregone conclusion that he'll start the year at Triple-A, waiting for his chance to show what he can do in the big leagues.
1B: Greg Bird (LHB)
As far as Greg Bird is concerned, 2017 is more about him picking up where he left off in 2015 than it is about replacing the retired Mark Teixeira at first base in the Bronx.
“I don’t look at it like that,” Bird explained last month to George A. King III of the New York Post. “In a sense, you’re always replacing somebody. But  was a good experience for me. It eased the transition for me. I came into a clubhouse with older guys, and that helped on and off the field.”
Shoulder surgery kept Bird as a spectator in 2016, but the 24-year-old with the made-for-Yankee Stadium swing is convinced he can pick up where he left off in 2015, when he hit .261 with 11 home runs, 31 RBI and a .871 OPS over 41 games.
“I think there will be work that has to be put in to get used to the swing again and get used to everything," he recently told the New York Daily News' Mike Mazzeo, "but I have no doubt in my mind that I can go out and perform this year like I want to perform."
2B: Starlin Castro (RHB)
Starlin Castro delivered a mixed bag in his first season with the Yankees. On one hand, he stayed relatively healthy, provided adequate defense at the keystone and hit a career-high 21 home runs. On the other hand, he struck out more than he ever has, rarely walked and struggled to reach base.
If he's ever going to turn the corner and get back to playing at the All-Star level he flashed while with the Chicago Cubs, now's the time for him to do it.
SS: Didi Gregorius (LHB)
Coming off a breakout season at the plate that saw him set new career highs in nearly every statistical category, Didi Gregorius isn't content to rest on his laurels. "I'll work in the offseason on trying to make my swing a little bit shorter and try to stay consistent with it," he told MLB.com's Hoch in late September.
Solid defensively, Gregorius has become the all-around shortstop the Yankees hoped he'd be when they acquired him from Arizona before the 2015 season.
3B: Chase Headley (SH)
Chase Headley bounced back from a brutal April to put up a respectable .265/.338/.418 slash line the rest of the season while playing above-average defense at the hot corner. While he's been the subject of trade speculation this winter, he's the Yankees' best option at third base.
DH: Matt Holliday (RHB)
The team's one big addition to the lineup this winter, Matt Holliday should thrive as a full-time designated hitter, limiting the wear and tear on his body that limited him to just 183 games over the past two seasons.
Perhaps more important than his contributions offensively will be his contributions in the clubhouse. With the departures of McCann, Alex Rodriguez and Teixeira, Holliday will be looked upon to serve as a veteran leader on what has become a fairly young ballclub.
1B/OF: Tyler Austin (RHB)
Tyler Austin is going to do what he can to force the Yankees to consider deploying him as the right-handed part of a platoon with Greg Bird at first base, but the more likely scenario will find the 25-year-old playing once or twice a week as a reserve first baseman/corner outfielder and occasional DH.
2B/SS/3B: Ronald Torreyes (RHB)
The Yankees have a slew of players who could fill this role, including Donovan Solano and Ruben Tejada, who received non-roster invites to camp. But Ronald Torreyes has three things working in his favor: familiarity with the current coaching staff, youth (he's only 24 years old) and speed. He's the current leader for the utility role, but things could change.
Waiting in the Wings
IF/OF: Rob Refsnyder
Once thought of as the possible long-term replacement for Robinson Cano at second base, Rob Refsnyder has embraced the fact that he'll have to be versatile if he wants to stay in the Bronx.
"Every role is pretty filled," he told NJ Advance Media's Brendan Kuty last August. "Maybe something will happen in the offseason but for me to make the team I've got to be a utility guy. So as long as I'm a Yankee, I've got to play a lot of different positions."
It wouldn't be shocking if he nudged Torreyes out of the utiliy role in spring training.
LF: Brett Gardner (LHB)
The Yankees have received plenty of inquiries on Brett Gardner this winter, but Cashman recently told MLB.com's Hoch that he's yet to find a deal he believed was worth his time to make. He'll serve as the team's table-setter atop the lineup until Cashman finds a deal he likes.
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury (LHB)
Jacoby Ellsbury is never going to live up to the expectations that came along with the seven-year, $153 million deal he signed with the Yankees before the 2013 season. That said, he remains a solid defender at a premium position and a threat to cause problems when he does get on base.
RF: Aaron Judge (RHB)
Aaron Judge flashed his enormous power in his first taste of the big leagues last season, but the holes in his swing led to an absurd 44 percent whiff rate. He'll break camp as the starter in right field but could find himself back in Triple-A if he doesn't make adjustments.
1B/OF: Tyler Austin (RHB)
OF: Aaron Hicks (SH)
A solid defender capable of playing all three outfield positions, Aaron Hicks was exposed at the plate with extended playing time, hitting just .217 with a .617 OPS. The Yankees aren't going to give up on him as a fourth outfielder, but he'll have to fend off Mason Williams in the spring.
Waiting in the Wings
Mason Williams (LHB)
Williams has shown the ability to handle big league pitching, hitting .292 with a .758 OPS over parts of two MLB seasons but has two things working against him this spring. Not only is he blocked in center field by Ellsbury, but the Yankees likely want him getting regular playing time, not riding the bench.
Barring an injury, he'd be doing just that were he to break camp with the club.
No. 1: Masahiro Tanaka (RHP)
Masahiro Tanaka isn't just New York's ace—he's the only starter the team can reasonably count on to keep the team in games every fifth day. He answered questions about his durability with a 31-start, 199.2-inning season in 2016 that saw him go 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.
No. 2: CC Sabathia (LHP)
The former workhorse is coming off his best season since 2012, but the Yankees can't reasonably count on CC Sabathia to deliver a repeat performance in the final year of his deal. If he can stay healthy, eats some innings and keep the team in games, that'd be considered a successful season.
No. 3: Michael Pineda (RHP)
As frustrating a pitcher as there is in baseball, Michael Pineda alternates dominance with inconsistency from start to start. The more you watch him, the more you wonder how awesome he'd be as a full-time reliever.
No. 4/No. 5: Luis Severino (RHP)/Bryan Mitchell (RHP)
We're grouping the back end of the rotation together because it's going to be in a constant state of flux throughout the regular season. The Yankees have a number of young arms to fill these spots, but none has the upside of Luis Severino.
The 22-year-old got hit hard last season (5.83 ERA, 1.45 WHIP) but still has the makings of a front-line starter. Bryan Mitchell isn't quite on Severino's level and has struggled with his command, but the 25-year-old's experience in the big leagues gives him a slight edge over the rest of the field.
Waiting in the Wings
Chad Green (RHP)
Like many of the other young arms the Yankees will consider to fill out their rotation, Chad Green had some good moments—and some not-so-good moments—in 2016. But the 25-year-old showed that he knows how to miss bats, fanning 52 over 45.2 innings of work. He'll bide his time in the bullpen until he's needed in the rotation.
Closer: Aroldis Chapman (LHP)
The Yankees used Aroldis Chapman to bolster their farm system at the 2016 trade deadline, then re-signed the flame-throwing southpaw this winter. He was stellar in the first half of the season with the Yanks, converting 20-of-21 save opportunities while pitching to a 2.01 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.
Setup: Dellin Betances (RHP)
Dellin Betances, 28, never looked entirely comfortable as the Yankees closer after the trades of Chapman and Andrew Miller. He returns to the setup role in which he's thrived and become one of the game's most dominant relievers.
Setup: Tyler Clippard (RHP)
He's not the dominant All-Star he once was in Washington, but Tyler Clippard seemed re-energized with a return to the Yankees, the team with which he broke into the big leagues. Over 29 games in the Bronx, the veteran pitched to a 2.49 ERA and 1.22 WHIP while averaging a strikeout per inning.
Lefty Specialist: Tommy Layne (LHP)
A waiver claim from Boston, Tommy Layne didn't join the Yankees until August. But he made an impression, pitching to a 3.38 ERA and 1.06 WHIP while holding left-handed batters to a .571 OPS.
Middle Relief: Chad Green (RHP)
Middle Relief: Adam Warren (RHP)
Part of the package the Yankees sent to Chicago for Starlin Castro, Adam Warren came back to the Bronx in the Chapman trade, giving the Yankees another veteran reliever who, in a pinch, can be called upon to start as well.
Long Reliever: Luis Cessa (RHP)
Another young arm who will factor into the rotation mix, Luis Cessa did an admirable job in this role last season, pitching to a 4.35 ERA and 1.11 WHIP despite allowing 16 home runs in just 70 innings of work.
Waiting in the Wings
Chasen Shreve (LHP)
Chasen Shreve was awful in 2016, allowing 19 earned runs and 29 hits over 33 innings of relief, but he's had success in the majors before with the Yankees. That familiarity bodes well for an early call if another reliever is needed.
IF: Donovan Solano (RHB)
Miami's starting second baseman a few years ago, Donovan Solano will look to take Ronald Torreyes' utility infielder spot with a strong showing in camp. The 29-year-old posted a .715 OPS over nine games with the Yankees last season.
IF: Ruben Tejada (RHB)
OF: Clint Frazier (RHB)
He's not yet on the 40-man roster, and the Yankees won't promote him until they can give him regular playing time (and he gets a haircut), but Clint Frazier is just about ready to unleash his impressive bat speed and massive power on the Bronx.
SP/RP: Chance Adams (RHP)
Like Frazier, Chance Adams isn't on the 40-man roster, but the team's fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft has flown through the minors, reaching Double-A in his first full professional season. Developed as a starter, his fastball/slider combination could play up in a relief role.
SP: Dietrich Enns (LHP)
Buried on the organizational depth chart, Dietrich Enns has dominated in the minors over parts of five seasons, pitching to a career 1.86 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. More of a finesse pitcher than a flame-thrower, the Yankees won't be able to pass him by for a promotion for much longer.