Previewing The Spring Training Roster Battles

Miller ST 2015 The dust is still settling from yesterday's Yoan Moncada decision, and to be perfectly honest I can't figure out how I feel about it or how I should respond to it.  The Yankees' entire process leading up to the decision and their explanation after the fact aren't adding up to me, they have me in a mental pretzel, so I'm just going to back burner that for a second and move forward with normal Spring Training activity.

Roster battles are always one of the more fun ST storylines.  Something about the spirit of competition and the possibility of an unsung player performing well enough to earn himself a shot at the big time, it's classic sports storytelling.  The Yankees don't have a ton of really exciting roster battles on tap this spring, but there are a few that are worth following.  Here's a quick roundup of the key ones to watch.

Second Base

The only regular starting position that seems to be up for grabs this spring is second base, where veteran free agent re-signee Stephen Drew will square off with the 2-headed prospect monster of Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela.  His veteran status should give him the advantage if we're going on the standard Yankee decision-making rules, but he was awful last year and Cash left the door open for Refsnyder to snag the job with a strong spring.  How strong will he need to be?  Good question.  I think it will come down more to how bad Drew is rather than how good Refs is.  If Drew hits well enough to not bring up memories of last year's noodle-batted results, the job should be his to lose.  Pirela is the longshot contender, who will likely only get a real chance to take the job if one of the others gets hurt.

Backup Catcher

Not a lot of sizzle to this one, as John Ryan Murphy appears to have the job all but locked up.  But Austin Romine comes into camp knowing this is probably his last chance to nail down a regular role on the Yankees and he's reportedly been training hard all offseason in preparation.  It wasn't all that long ago that Romine was a near consensus top 5-10 Yankee prospect, and I don't think 181 career PA is enough to officially declare him a bum offensively.  He's auditioning for a job one way or another, and he could at least force the Yankees to consider him for the backup spot if he significantly outperforms Murphy.

Backup Shortstop

This battle is the undercard to the second base competition, as I still think there's a slight chance the Yankees will give one of the kids the everyday second base job and use Drew as an infield super sub to back up both young middle infielders.  If that is in the cards, then it will most certainly spell the end of Brendan Ryan's time in pinstripes.  This battle won't be so much about Drew winning this job as it will be about Ryan fighting to prove he's worth keeping around.

7th Man In The Bullpen

Most of the Opening Day bullpen looks pretty set.  Miller and Betances are going to be the co-closers (or something like that), Carpenter and Wilson will be middle relievers, and Warren and Rogers will be there as long relief support/spot starters/possible setup man in the case of Warren.  That leaves 1 available spot up for grabs and there are a ton of different routes the Yankees can take here.  They can load up on lefties and go with someone like Chasen Shreve.  They can add another veteran presence and go with Andrew Bailey.  They can choose someone from the Quad-A pool like Chris Martin, Chase Whitley, or Jared Burton.  They can choose someone from the bevy of high-velocity righty prospect arms they have (Burawa, Pinder, Ramirez, Rumbelow).  Or they can give last year's top draft pick an early chance to sign and go with Jacob Lindgren.

Plenty of live arms, plenty of viable options, and there will surely be plenty of chances for all these guys to show what they can do.  It's not for a glamorous position on the roster, but this might be the most competitive battle in camp.

Closer

This is a sneaky battle candidate based solely on Joe's recent ambiguous comments about what he wants to do with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.  He suggested the possibility of utilizing them in a "co-closer" format based on matchups, but also didn't fully commit to it.  Both guys have the stuff to close and both proved themselves last year of being able to handle high-leverage situations.  I think this might just be a case of Joe not wanting to tip his hand or make any early decisions before he's had a chance to tinker in ST games, and it's not like he can go wrong with either guy.  There's still a slight chance that neither ends up being the closer and instead team up to dominate the 6th-8th innings.

If you want to call the A-Rod/Garrett Jones DH platoon scenario a roster battle, I won't argue.  I think both players are going to end up getting some semi-regular at-bats, so it's not a big deal to me.  For the first time in years there doesn't appear to be a competition (real or fixed) for the 5th starter spot, but that doesn't mean this ST will be without some roster drama.  If 1 or 2 of these battles actually heats up, it will add a little extra intrigue to what is already shaping up to be a very interesting camp.