Greetings, IIATMS readers! For those of you who know me, I’m Brad V. from TYA and An A-Blog for A-Rod. For those who don’t, I’ll allow you a few minutes to peruse the archives of either of those sites and familiarize yourselves with my work. I’ll be holding down the morning slot here on the new IIATMS/TYA Yankee superblog, and in the interest of full disclosure I might as well tell you right now that once the season starts I’m probably going to use this slot to nitpick and complain about whatever went wrong in the previous night’s game. I’ll also be using it to comment on and analyze some bigger picture trends I’ve noticed in the team’s or an individual player’s recent performance. With that idea of trends in mind, I’d like to use my introductory post here to take a look at the early winners and losers in Spring Training. We’ve got two weeks of full-team workouts and games under our belt, and while that’s not enough of a sample size to make definitive declarations, it’s still enough to comment intelligently.
Brett Gardner- Spring Training stats are usually only slightly less meaningless than Spring Training W-L record, but in the case of Gardner, a guy who missed almost all of last season and didn’t get many ABs when he returned to get his timing back, I think I’ll make an exception. Gardner has looked very good at the plate, 9-16 with 3 RBI, 2 BB, and 2 SB, and has looked comfortable and confident playing both center and left field. The Yankees could probably use someone with Gardner’s speed and on-base skills at the top of the lineup to start this season while Derek Jeter works his way back, and despite the lack of reps in the last 10+ months Gardner looks up to the task.
David Phelps- Phelps would have been a bigger winner with his strong first two outings had the Phil Hughes injury scare of last week turned out to be a bigger deal, but he has still done enough to serve notice that he’s taking this year’s 5th starter competition seriously. He came into camp ahead of every other pitcher and has already made two starts this spring, allowing no runs and five hits in 5.0 IP. Assuming Hughes recovers in time to start the season, Phelps is still probably ticketed for the ‘pen to start the season, but he isn’t going to let Nova coast and he should be ready to step into the rotation when the first in-season injury happens.
Francisco Cervelli- If there’s one guy who could have used a good spring regardless of whether it won him a job, it was Cervelli. He didn’t do much in Triple-A last season after getting the last-minute demotion and got his name tied up in the Biogenesis case, but nobody’s been talking about that since Cervelli got to camp. He’s only 3-12 at the plate with a pair of walks, but Cervelli has thrown out 4 of 5 potential base stealers behind the plate and looked much improved defensively from where he was the last few seasons. Cervelli has corrected his throwing problems and made the starting catcher competition a little more exciting (as exciting as a competition between two replacement-level catchers can be).
Melky Mesa/Zoilo Almonte- The spring outfield competition became wide open when C-Grand got plunked on the arm a week ago, and the two top young roster competitors have taken early advantage of the opportunity presented to them. Mesa has played in the most spring games, is tied for the most spring ABs with 18, and has made the most of those ABs with 2 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, 2 SB and solid defense all around the outfield. Zoilo turned heads with a spring season opener HR and outfield assist and has continued to look good since. It’s still too early to call either of them favorites, but both Mesa and Almonte have done themselves a service with their early performances.
Matt Diaz- Matty D was going to fight an uphill battle from the minute he signed his contract this offseason, and that battle has become more of an uphill one with the way camp has started for him and the rest of his competition. While Juan Rivera is hitting the ball and getting on base, and the kids above are flashing their youthful skills, Diaz is hitting for nothing (3-13, 0 XBH, 0 R, 0 BB) and picking up the slack in GIDPs while Jeter is rehabbing. We have no insight as to how much the Yankee decision makers like Diaz compared to everybody else, but based solely on performance he has to be trending down.
Eduardo Nunez- Every year it seems like there’s excitement building about Nunez finally putting everything together and every year it’s more of the same. Nunez has gotten plenty of reps while Jeter is out of game action, but hasn’t done much to convince anybody he can be a viable everyday replacement if needed. In 17 ABs this spring, Nunez has just 3 hits. He hasn’t drawn a walk, he’s thrown a ball away for one error, and I believe he bobbled one in an earlier game that could have been two. He’s still got time to turn things around, but this hasn’t been a confidence-inspiring start from Scissorhands in what was already an uncertain spring for him.
Dan Johnson- Johnson had a decent shot at winning a roster spot due to the Yankees’ lack of legitimate corner infield depth, but he hasn’t done much so far to show he’s worthy or capable of handling one of those roles. Johnson doesn’t have a hit in 10 ABs, but does have five strikeouts, and were it not for his 4 BB he’d have contributed nothing offensively. In the field, Johnson has been shaky at best at both corner spots, and has already made two errors at third. His DH chances are next to nil thanks to Travis Hafner‘s presence, so Johnson needs to start flashing some leather to stay in the roster hunt.
Corban Joseph- Speaking of bad defense, CoJo hasn’t helped his roster-making chances with his poor performance at the hot corner. He’s bobbled a ball and thrown another away for two early errors, speaking to the defensive limitations that are always a part of his scouting report. Joseph hasn’t been overmatched at the plate, picking up a couple hits and walks in his plate appearances, but his chances of making the Opening Day roster were always going to depend heavily on his defensive play. In fairness to CoJo, he has very little third base experience at this level, but his defense still hasn’t been good and his chances of winning a roster spot aren’t either right now.
We’ve still got a month of spring baseball left, so a lot can change. But these are the guys who have stood out in the early part of ST.