Somebody cue the music because we’ve reached the final countdown. We’re now only a week away from Opening Day. This time next week we won’t be talking about who’s going to make the bullpen or win the 5th starter competition or what the batting order should look like because all of that stuff will be decided. That means the guys in camp still competing for roster spots or clearer roster definitions don’t have much time left to prove their worth. A little less than 3 weeks ago, I singled out some of the early winners and losers in Spring Training. In the time since, the winner/loser landscape has almost completely changed, as it’s wont to do when the sample sizes become a bit larger and roster cuts start being made. With a handful of ST games remaining, here is the updated list for who’s sitting pretty and who’s not.
Dellin Betances– The only player to appear on the same list both times, Betances hasn’t missed a beat since his hot start. He didn’t give up a run in his first 5.1 IP and he’s only given up 1 in the 5.0 innings he’s pitched since then against a better level of competition. Betances’ current spring line stands at 9 G, 10.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 9 K, exactly the type of production the Yankees could use in their middle relief corps. The walks are always a tad worrisome, but Betances has shown a greatly improved ability to bear down and make pitches when he has to. Case in point, in his last appearance he worked out of a bases loaded, 1-out jam by striking out Jose Bautista and inducing a lazy flyout from Edwin Encarnacion. He’s even working primarily with his offspeed stuff at times. It’s almost impossible to think he doesn’t have 1 of the open bullpen spots wrapped up.
Dean Anna– The only other player who was named in both posts, things have taken a turn for the better for Anna heading into this final ST week. Sure, that’s come at the direct expense of Brendan Ryan and his back injuries, but sometimes that’s what it takes for a player like Anna to get his shot. Looking at what he’s done objectively, it’s hard to say Anna has earned the right to take over for Ryan as Jeter’s interim backup. He’s hitting .265/.375/.265 in 18 games, has made a few errors in the field, and profiles as exactly the type of Major Leaguer his limited skill set makes him out to be. But he has the advantage of being on the 40-man roster, something Yangervis Solarte cannot say. With Eduardo Nunez looking like he’s got the utility infielder job nailed down, that should be enough to carry Anna north with the Yanks when camp ends.
Michael Pineda– Quick quick, tell me the last time a guy came to the Yankees, missed 2 full seasons because of a serious shoulder injury, then became the sneaky fan favorite of Spring Training the next year. That’s pretty much what Pineda has done this spring and it’s been good to see for him and the fans. I was worried he could be heading for Carl Pavano territory where the fans would always resent him for being hurt and more worried that he’d come back and get hurt again. None of that has happened and all indications are that Joe will announce Pineda as the winner of the 5th starter competition today. He’s shown flashes of the 1st year brilliance that inspired the Yankees to trade for him in the first place this spring. His fastball velocity is trending up to the mid-90s, his slider has been supreme, his changeup is much improved, and he’s throwing the ball smooth and easy. It’s officially time to get excited about Michael Pineda again.
Scott Sizemore– I thought Sizemore would have an easy time winning the utility infielder competition. I really did. He fits the Yankee mold so much better than everybody else he’s up against, and at his best he’s probably a better defensive second and third baseman than Nunez. Problem is we haven’t had the chance to see him at his best. Sizemore’s start to ST was delayed because of his previous ACL injuries and he missed a chunk of time recently because of a quad issue. He’s looked decent in the games he has played (.250/.368/.313 in 19 PA). He just hasn’t played enough of them to prove he can hold up physically to the day-to-day grind. It looks like it’s going to be Triple-A for him to start the year.
Ichiro Suzuki– 2014 was already shaping up to be a tough year for Ichiro. He was pushed down the depth chart to 5th outfielder as a result of the Yankees’ offseason moves, he’s admitted that it was going to be hard to make the adjustment to a greatly diminished role, and there hasn’t been much of an indication from Joe as to what that role is going to be once the season starts. Now the rumors about the Yanks trying to move Ichiro are popping up again, this time with the report that they are willing to eat salary as part of a trade. It’s clear the Yankees have no use for Ichiro and would rather get rid of him than keep him on the roster, but it’s going to be hard to find a taker who’s willing to pay millions and give up a decent prospect for an outfielder who can’t hit. Tough situation for a HOFer to be in.
Russ Canzler– Could have snuck into a bench spot with a strong spring performance given the Yankees’ need for a backup first baseman. Instead he’s suffered a similar fate to Sizemore’s, falling victim to health problems that have limited his playing time and left him susceptible to negative small sample size bias. Canzler has hit just .150/.190/.150 in 21 PA with 9 strikeouts, hardly enough to earn himself a place in the bench discussion against better performing competition with 40-man roster spots.
Preston Claiborne– This is more of a “maybe” pick, as Claiborne has been mentioned by Joe before as one of the guys he envisioned having a job in the Opening Day ‘pen. If that wasn’t set in stone, however, and Joe was open to other options, Claiborne hasn’t exactly made a great case for himself. He’s been very hittable in his 6 games, giving up 10 in 5.2 innings and not striking out as many batters as you’d like to see. Claiborne’s “meh” performance has left the door open for guys like Cesar Cabral, Vidal Nuno, Matt Daley, or maybe even Chris Leroux to steal the last bullpen spot, and he does have MiL options left…
(Photo courtesy of the AP)