As I’ve mentioned before, many elements about spring training mean little to nothing. How Alex Rodriguez performs or if Mark Teixeira changed his diet may be feel good stories or look like concerns on paper, but ultimately, it leaves about a 50-50 chance the players perform to expectations this season.
But Spring Training games are upon us with the Yankees opening up against the Tigers this afternoon which means our first lineup is available as well.
RHP Luis Severino
While this could just be a collection of players who are healthy, in camp and ready to go today, there could also be more at work for each of these players based on their position, place in the lineup and why they were chosen to start in the very first spring game.
Didi Gregorius – We know he’s the starting shortstop and we know his second half was a lot better than the first. If Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury were to go down, is he the actual leadoff hitter? He’s not batting leadoff because Joe Girardi needs extra looks since his position is secure, so many his quality speed and middle infield role indicates Gregorius could be a top of the lineup hitter should the top of the lineup hitters go down.
Starlin Castro – Just about the only mild lineup controversy in my mind is where to hit Castro, particularly against left handed pitchers. Castro has been so inconsistent and is still so young he can range anywhere from a 2-9 hitter. In this case, again with Ellsbury and Gardner out, he is batting second. Should one of them go down it may be Castro, not Gregorius and not Carlos Beltran, who would bat second if he gets off to a hot start.
Brian McCann – No Beltran or A-Rod in the lineup but it’s still telling to me McCann is ahead of Tex. It could mean one of two things. Girardi sees Tex as the better run producer or Girardi sees McCann as the better all around hitter at this juncture. Or it could be as simple as putting a lefty in-between a righty and a switch-hitter specifically today. This is why it’s spring training.
Mark Teixeira – Girardi’s expectations of a healthy Tex reflect thrusting him immediately into the cleanup spot. As the younger player of the older middle of the lineup, Tex is playing today and he’s batting fourth. It’s a microcosm of his importance this year, both for the Yankees’ offense and his own chances of one last paycheck in a contract year.
Aaron Hicks – Guess what happens if Beltran, Ellsbury or Gardner miss time?
I was listening to MLB Network on the way home from work yesterday and they mentioned how Chris Young was an underrated loss and wondered if New York should pursue Jay Bruce. With all due respect, if you think Chris Young‘s departure will impact the Yankees’ lineup in any way shape or form, you weren’t paying attention this winter. Hicks, above Aaron Judge, above any other farm player, above Dustin Ackley or anyone else, is the next man up in the outfield and will play frequently at multiple positions. The Yankees see him as part of the future, unlike Young.
Dustin Ackley – Ironically, the one man who is likely to play upwards of three positions (he could see time theoretically at second, short, third and outfield this year) is DH’ing today. Why? My best guess is Girardi wants him to get at bats as often as possible and today is a day he can get his feet wet and not have to worry about spelling half the defense.
Aaron Judge – He is going to get a long, hard, look in spring training. In fact, some could argue spring baseball is made for players like Judge, top prospects on the cusp of the majors who likely won’t make the team but will be seen sometime this year. This is Girardi’s last look at Judge in person and he should be here throughout the spring, showing his offense and defense as much as possible, but lower in the lineup to soften expectations. With Hicks in the fold, expect Judge anywhere from June to September, unrealistically before September but very realistically sometime this year, assuming Judge can figure out AAA pitching.
Ben Gamel – He’s Judge-lite. Gamel is the next man up at the moment for outfielders in the Yankees’ system. He’s unlikely to be called up since he’s sixth on the totem pole in the Yankees’ system, but a healthy and productive year makes him an ideal September candidate. And if Judge is struggling, he might be more likely to be called up since Gamel is the lesser prospect. Slade Heathcott is a clear bet to get injured, Mason Williams is injured and Ramon Flores is no longer in the organization, which means Gamel fills the short term outfield needs while Judge and Hicks are moreso long-term solutions. And none of this says anything about Gamel’s trade value, which means he’s going to get his looks as much as possible and likely stay most of spring.
Donovan Solano – This speaks to the lack of third base depth in the organization. Chase Headley isn’t ready to play today, Castro is at his (new) natural position, Refsnyder isn’t ready to try third yet, Ackley is doing something else so it’s Donovan Solano, a legitimate option to be second on the depth chart for guys who exclusively play third, playing today. Eric Jagielo is gone and the Yankees are thin, so Solano could be the one to benefit.
Luis Severino – The prized young pitcher. If Masahiro Tanaka isn’t ready for Opening Day, is this foreshadowing of the Yankees’ choice in his place? The only other legitimate options are likely Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, but Eovaldi is taking precautionary time off and Severino gets the nod over Pineda. It could just be timing but it could also be indication of the franchise’s future.