We're still less than a week into the game schedule, but it already feels like Spring Training has been going on for a while. Does it feel like that to anybody else or am I just a weirdo? Either way, all the spring storylines are starting to churn into motion with the beginning of games and it's been mostly positive in Yankee camp thus far. Here are some random thoughts on the early goings on. - Masahiro Tanaka is going to start on Opening Day. Barring any unforeseen physical setback, that's clearly the plan and one the Yankees started executing with his start yesterday. It's no coincidence that pitching yesterday lines Tanaka up to start on April 4th. The Yankees have a timeline laid out for Tanaka to be ready to open the season and Tanaka seems both healthy enough and far enough along in his throwing to stick to it. He threw a 60+ pitch bullpen session last week and I thought his stuff all had good movement yesterday. He revved the fastball up into the low 90s and threw a lot of different pitches, so he doesn't appear to be limited at all by the offseason surgery. As long as he keeps hitting his pitch counts in every start from here on out, he's getting the ball on 4/4.
- Sample sizes are way too small to be meaningful, but Rob Refsnyder has to be making an impression on the coaching staff. He did a little of everything in yesterday's game, singling, drawing a walk, stealing 2 bases, and making a couple of nice plays at third base. They were pure reaction plays and Refsnyder made them and made the throws. That's what the Yankees are looking for. Refsnyder continues to show that his bat is ready for the big leagues. If he can just handle his business in the field and make the plays he's supposed to make, I think he gets the last bench spot easily.
- Joe pretty much came out and said it's a 2-horse race for backup catcher between top prospect Gary Sanchez and faded former prospect Austin Romine. Both of them had notable days yesterday with Sanchez getting the nod to catch Tanaka's first start and Romine coming off the bench to hit 2 doubles. The Yankees don't appear to be too concerned about losing Carlos Corporan and they've got Eddy Rodriguez and a few other guys to handle things in Double and Triple-A. I think they're going to end up stashing Sanchez in SWB for a few weeks to push back his free agency, let Romine show what he can do as the season-opening backup catcher, and then try to sneak him back through waivers when it's time to call Sanchez up. That might not work if Romine plays well, but it's the smart business decision. One way or another, these next few months are likely Romine's last hurrah as a Yankee. Hopefully he does well enough to get himself a big league job somewhere else.
- Question. Does anybody want these last few open bullpen spots? I know it's early, but a lot of those back end guys have not pitched well out of the gate. I don't know who I'd take after Miller, Betances, Shreve, Mitchell, and Nova if I had to choose right now.
- Joe said during Saturday's game that the team was planning on getting Brett Gardner into games next week, the third week of the game schedule. Gardner will graduate to taking full BP on the field this week, either tomorrow or Wednesday, so he's pretty far behind the rest of his teammates. I could see a scenario where Gardner isn't ready to start the season, and that would explain the heavy early playing time for guys like Slade Heathcott and Ben Gamel. They're going to get long looks as temporary Gardner replacements.
- Today's game should be a fun one to watch, with Michael Pineda and Luis Severino scheduled to pitch. Of course nobody will get to watch it because this game isn't being broadcast anywhere. At all. Online or on TV. I'm not going to pretend to know all the ins and outs of the MLB TV deals and how that impacts ST games. All I'll say is that it sucks to not be able to watch some of your team's most exciting young players and projected #2 and #3 starters in the rotation pitch.
- Jorge Mateo has been eye-opening so far. I've never seen him play and I'm starting to understand why some publications have him ranked ahead of Judge and Sanchez. Dude has so much natural talent and athleticism, and his speed is MLB-ready right now. When he got on base yesterday and immediately stole second on the first pitch, that was awesome. He still has a lot of developing to do and there's no need to think about what happens when he's ready to break into the bigs, but the Yankees got themselves a good one in Mateo.